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Under the Waves

Chapter Text

The gentleman woke when the first light of dawn came through the windows of the hotel room. He got out of bed, took off his pyjamas and quickly put on swimming trunks, flannel trousers, a cotton shirt, a sports jacket and linen shoes. Then he stuffed a towel and a bathrobe in a citybag and went downstairs.

The night clerk at the reception desk gave him a puzzled look. ‘Your car, Monsieur?’ he stammered drowsily. ‘There is no valet now to drive it round.’ ‘Please give me the key to the gate, I’ll do it myself,’ the gentleman said.  

The sky was tinged with soft pink and blue stripes when he got into his Rover, but when he had left the village, the orange glow of the sun in the east grew stronger.

No one was awake but for some bread delivery boys on bicycles, who touched their caps when he drove past them.

A few miles further on the rocks came into sight. They marked the end of the public beach and reached far into the Mediterranean Sea. He left the road and slowly drove onto a gravel patch where a single car was parked. When he switched off the engine, he checked the clock on the dashboard. It was a quarter past six.

He took his bag, got out, locked the car and walked onto the beach. The heat from the previous day still lingered in the soft sand. This place was too far away and too shabby for the tourists who stayed at the large hotels. It was mainly used by young locals. There were no parasols or stacks of folding chairs or changing cabins. The beach was deserted, but the gentleman hid behind a rock to strip down to his swimming trunks and put on his bathrobe.

When his clothes were neatly folded and stowed away in the bag, he chose a spot where he had a good view of the cliff, which towered about ten yards over the sea. He slumped down in the sand and lit a cigarette.

The murmur of the waves was gentle, but it carried far on the cool breeze that smelled of salt and seaweed.

The gentleman breathed in the air, exhaled and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, the sun had disappeared behind a veil of clouds in the east. The temperature dropped palpably, which made him shiver and let his eyes wander to the rocks.

A figure appeared, obviously ascending from the other side, dressed in sports clothing. The man stopped on the lowest part of the ridge, looked around and undressed leisurely. Then he slowly walked up the cliff until he reached the peak. There he stood for a while, facing the horizon. When he stretched and held his arms over his head, fingers locked, the clouds moved away from the sun.

The man bent over backwards, hands on hips, catching the warm rays with his naked body. Then he thrust his arms forward, jumped and flew down in a large, supple arc. There was no splashing sound when he disappeared under the water.

Now the gentleman got up from the towel, took off his bathrobe and walked to the shoreline. He stooped down, splashed some water on his face and chest and waded on until a wave rolled towards him. He dived into it, came up for air and started crawling with long strokes.

The other swimmer was alternately floating and diving about fifty yards away from the cliff.

The gentleman slowed down and let the waves carry him until he was close enough to get a look of the other man’s face. The stranger nodded, smiled and called out ‘Good morning,’ in English.

‘Good morning,’ the gentleman said too. ‘The water is lovely today, isn’t it?’

‘Most certainly,’ the other agreed. Then he arched his back and disappeared smoothly under the water.

The gentleman turned around, swam to the shoreline and walked to his spot. Facing the still deserted coastal road, he toweled himself off and put on his clothes and shoes. Without looking back, he plodded up the slope to the patch of gravel. He put his bag in the boot of the Rover, took his gilded case from the glove box and started hunting for his lighter. When he found it, he heard modest footsteps behind him.

He closed the car door, turned around and saw the other swimmer walk by, carrying a sports bag, fully clothed and also wearing a grey linen jacket and glasses.

Their eyes met. ‘I was not expecting this,’ Clive said.

‘Let’s not go into that,’ Maurice retorted, fishing a car key from his pocket.

Clive looked at the vehicle that was parked next to his. German make, British number plates, steering wheel on the right, top down.

‘Is it yours?’ Clive asked. ‘Mmm-hmm,’ Maurice mumbled, bending over to put his bag on the back seat.

Clive opened his cigarette case. ‘Will you have one?’ he asked. Maurice shook his head, produced a crumpled pack of Lucky Strikes and lit up.

‘I’m staying at the Breitner in Le Lavandou,’ Clive then said. ‘In fact, I’m having luncheon with Baron von Tettnigg and Miss Ethel Olson this afternoon. He fled from Vienna a few months ago, only days before the Anschluss came into effect, and she’s from Hollywood and…’

Maurice held up a repelling hand. ‘I’ve no time to keep abreast with yellow press gossip,’ he mumbled, with his cigarette dangling from his lips. Then he got into his Daimler and looked up at Clive.

‘Well, have a pleasant day then,’ he said.

The roar of the engine was deafening when the car shot back in reverse, turned around skidding, sending up a cloud of choking dust and fumes, and sped towards the coastal road.