Foley even dozed some while I pointed the Grumler at the nearest diner. It wasn’t a usual, but that was fine. My goons came along after us. Glancing at Foley, carelessly asleep, I had a flash of professional pride and satisfaction: I must be on the side of good and true, escorting this classy act around. Linda’s crew was probably jealous.
As breakfast began to flow into Foley, she perked up even more, almost filling the entire booth herself. This diner was noisy, a lot of coming and going, my back was against the wall, and I had a good view of the room. Eventually my shadows took seats at the counter; I made sure Foley saw them.
“What you’ll find in the packet is a distillation of what we’ve found out, we don’t have photo stats of anything, owing to the nature of the sources documentation.
“Sicherheitsnivelo inherited and enlarged a fortune in wool and other textiles, both in Europe and around the world. He owned or had part interests in just about everything you could imagine: cotton, wool, alpaca, linen, looms, spinning, fabrics, garments, you name it. He did indeed sponsor a lot of artists and artisans over several decades. All that is true and accurate, and from what we can tell, he was sincerely interested in all this. He was an extremely driven man, with a great deal of passion and knowledge about everything he’s involved in. Artists flocked to him.
“It was also a convenient cover for his many other activities. Sicherheitsnivelo ran a spy ring on behalf of a group of wealthy philanthropists, also for decades. An old boy network of these rich guys came together with Sicherheitsnivelo as their spiritual leader, and he also took direct control of operations. From what we can determine, this spy ring existed to try to foil dictators, prevent wars, stop crime, save-the-world type stuff. We don’t know the full extent of these operations as of this packet, there’s a lot more to learn. It was very well funded, it at least involved intelligence gathering and dissemination, but it may have also involved more active projects.
“We know that some of the artists he supported at his enclave were also part of these other activities. The artist cover was generally a good one: you could travel with your art, teaching about it or selling it, you could keep odd company at all hours in circumstances squalid to elegant, and you wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary for an artist, even then, and even for artists not working in the sexy, high-rolling arts. We think your Berdine Sofakissen was one of these.
A second helping of biscuits and gravy arrived greasily at this point, the competent spy role collapsed to reveal the greedy woman. “God, you just can’t get this in Paris, I love the courier gig. Mm.”
“You eat up like a big girl, and I’ll play Sherlock Holmes here for a bit.” She didn’t need any encouragement. “Thirty years ago, the spy ring collapses, let’s say because of internal fighting, or maybe some outsiders who don’t really want the world saved. Rolf bites it, no good leader is available, the spy ring has to scatter. The artist enclave probably also has to scatter, since the enclave is also the spy headquarters. Everybody has to leave in a hurry. Sofakissen flees to America to try to lead a quiet life.”
“That last part we don’t have information on, but the first part is largely what we’ve found. We think that it was in-fighting, that some of the younger, newer agents wanted the ring to formally branch out into profit-making ventures, related to organized crime. Apparently there had already been some of this activity going on secretly, Sicherheitsnivelo came to find out late. Sicherheitsnivelo could not control them, and there was a fight. Greek law enforcement’s attention was attracted by the French and English having leads on the new blood. The Fleurgebiet, and all the activities it stood for, had to collapse.”
“So the old boy has recruitment problems, the new blood isn’t so dedicated to the cause.”
“Exactly, and by the time Sicherheitsnivelo, then in his eighties, realized the full extent of the problems, it was too late, his neck was already in the noose.”
“Does the name Fringle come up in any of your findings?”
“Yes, it does, as a matter of fact. Sonja Fringle, the assumed name of one of the new bloods with interest in profit, and one of the artists. She, like several of the others, turned up elsewhere in Europe with small comfortable fortunes. She apparently made off with some portable valuables, and tried to live a good life. Fringle, however, met an early end, boating accident in the Netherlands three years after the collapse of the spy ring. What’s the Fringle connection here?”
“I’ve met someone calling themselves Linda, who might be a Linda Fringle, and who might be the crook driving the whole case. Do you know if Fringle had a daughter? This Fringle might be forty now, too young to be Sonja.”
Thoughtful frown, “I don’t think there was anything about a daughter, but that does not signify either way. Our important sources are first-hand accounts from a survivor of the save-the-world camp, public records of names we can find, and some diaries salvaged. None of these paint complete pictures of any of the people involved, and we know that there are gaps in the record.”
“Jack never told me his operation was so big and important: you’ve moved a lot of intel in a very short time.”
This won me a dazzling smile, “No, Jack has not told you that. I won’t tell you that, either. You should probably try to forget that you had that thought, and think of Jack only as a bumbling American ex-cop trying to do business as a private investigator in quaint, stodgy old Europe. I will tell you that Jack thinks the world of you, Joseph Spline.”
Jack, you rascal, what are you caught up in? “Well, all right then.” I raised my coffee cup, “To Jack.”
The smile became a grin, “To Jack!” Another bite, “That all said, Jack felt this matter important enough for him to send me as the courier, and for me to deliver the following unwritten message in person: whatever you find out in this case, he’d like to hear about it in detail.”
I was supposed to say something here. “I will, Foley. Tell Jack he can count on that.” This seemed to be enough of the right thing. “Speaking of which, when will you be telling Jack that? Do I need to take you somewhere?”
Still eating, “Yes, I have a place I need to go to, and I would love to get a ride to a place where I can get a taxi. Yeah, I know, it would be easier for me if you dropped me off,” apparently my face said some of this reaction, “but then Jack would fricassee me for not following instructions and procedures,” and again, “and, no, I can’t tell you anything.”
“Fair enough, Foley. Can I at least fill you with more cheap breakfast?”
“I think I’m good for now, but maybe I could take this with me…”
We got back to the car. “Did you uncover many specifics about Berdine Sofakissen’s life or activities?”
“We didn’t find much specific, you’ll see in the packet the details we did have from the survivor and the diaries. They are fragmentary: the survivor had known of Sofakissen, but had not worked with her. Different kind of art, slightly different generation.”
“Do you knit, Miz Foley?”
The prize this time was the quirk of the eyebrows, “No, I do not knit, why do you ask?”
“Everyone else in this case does, I thought I’d ask. Sofakissen on this side of the Atlantic is the bee’s knees for knitting, seems. If Fringle is who I think it is, she’s also one. It’s funny, this underground of knitting.”
“What’s it like?”
“Knitting. Do you do it yourself?”
“No, haven’t. I’ll ask Frieda for a lesson.”
“I meant to ask, does Frieda Sofakissen know anything about her mother’s past?”
“No, no clue. The old lady did a pretty good job keeping it under wraps. Frieda was not yet two when they arrived here. Speaking of which, was there a father at all in your research? None mentioned on this end.”
“No, now that you mention it, no. You might get another packet in a few days with more, but I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in this one. And I want that cab!”
I pulled up behind the cab. “I’ll make sure my tail follows me, not you. Take it easy, kiddo.”
“It’s been a pleasure, Spline!” She dragged her little suitcase and doggie bag to the taxi, hopped in, and the cab darted into traffic.
Cute kid. And young, or maybe I was older than I thought. Jack, though, what was old Jack involved in? Best not think too hard about that. So long, Gladys Foley, cute kid and secret agent.