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AN ACE UP MY SLEEVE
JAMES HADLEY CHASE
HELGA ROLFE crossed the lobby of the Konigshof Hotel, her mink coat draped
over her shoulders, aware that two stout German business men were eyeing
her, their eyes taking in the coat, the black two piece suit, the red blouse and
the mink trimmed hat. The eyes approved, but by now, she was used to
approving male eyes. Approval no longer interested her: she needed more
She dropped her room key on the desk and the Hall Porter, bowing,
gathered it up as if it were a thing of value.
“You need your car, madame?”
His guttural English irritated her. She spoke German, French and Italian
fluently, but he knew her to be an American and to him, all Americans spoke
“No ... I’m shopping.” She spoke in German. “I am leaving tomorrow at eight
o’clock. Please have my car serviced and ready.”
The Hall Porter’s fat fingers closed on a pencil and he made a note.
“Yes, madame.” He persisted in his English. “Then at eight. I will have your
account ready. Is there anything else?”
She shook her head as she slid her arms into the coat before a page could
move to help her. Giving the disappointed boy a smile, she left the hotel.
The sky above Bonn was the colour of lead, and it was cold. Already flakes of
snow were falling to disappear on the. sidewalk, making it wet and slippery.
Helga hated the cold. Her body cringed inside the comfort of her expensive
coat and she walked briskly, trying to stir her blood, pampered by the
excessive heating of the hotel.
She walked under the arch of the University, paused to let a stream of fast
moving cars go by, then crossing the street, she headed towards the shopping
centre where cars are forbidden.
The time was 11.35. She had slept late. She had gone to her room the
previous evening immediately after dinner. What could a woman do on her
own in any big city after –dinner except go to bed? She knew the Maitre
d’hotel regarded her as a nuisance when she came into the restaurant on her
own, but he was impressed by her mink stole and her diamonds. He gave her
service because he knew he would be well tipped. She had eaten quickly,
enduring the steady stares from the fat German business men, eating alone
and wondering about her. As soon as the meal was finished, she had left and
taken the elevator to her room. The sleeping pills were on the bedside table.
Sleep was her antidote to loneliness.
Now, walking briskly, she plunged into the crowds moving along the traffic
empty streets, aware that women were eyeing her coat with envy. It was a
beautiful coat, chosen by her husband when he had had one of his infrequent
moods to please her. She knew that mink was now old hat, but to her, it was
still luxury and still elegant. At her age, what did it matter? Her age? She
paused to look in a mirror at the back of a shop window. Forty? Or was it
forty–three? Why bother about three years? She stuthed her slim figure, the
carefully made–up face with its high cheek bones, its large violet coloured
eyes, the short, rather beautiful nose. Forty–three? She looked thirty, even
with the east wind like an icy shroud around her.
Her eyes shifted from her own reflection to the reflection of a tall man
standing across the way, apparently looking at her. The peaked baseball cap,
the black leather jerkin, the faded blue jeans and the red cowboy shirt told
her as nothing else could he was a compatriot.