THE CELEBRITY OF ANDERS HECHT - NOVEL
*You can buy any of the books by clicking on the book`s name where it appears in red or on the image of the cover. That will take you to the appropriate Amazon page which will also give more information
The Celebrity of Anders Hecht was my first published novel. The first chapters are a little bit dense, I agree, but I was ambitious. There was so much I wanted to say about relationships. So much I wanted to say about how we ask others to fulfil our dreams, whether they be lovers, political leaders or religious leaders. Then we destroy them when they can`t meet the unreasonable demands we`ve made of them. I agree it takes a little more stamina and attention than the others but those who have stayed with it have ,in general, found it rewarding, apart from my former neighbour, a very admirable and likeable man, who found it `turgid and unreadable`.
It`s a murder story and the first introduction of `the man with no passions`, the courteous, aloof Spanish detective, Miguel Rojas who will appear in further books.
I have recently been reminded that although this novel has never sold well some readers have liked it a lot and it may do much better as an e-book.. So, it now exists in that format and we`ll see if they`re right.
FROM THE CELEBRITY OF ANDERS HECHT
Hatchard shambled off, the brandy having brought some colour back to the waxen cheeks. Rojas, perennial insomniac, returned to the deck. At first he didn`t notice the large figure seated almost where Hatchard had slumped. It was motionless and made no sound. As Rojas padded closer a pair of eyes glinted and a head turned. Then a throaty voice rapped an introduction.
`Inspector, we should talk.` The voice in the darkness was uncanny, eerie. Coming from the large motionless frame only dimly visible by the distant harbour lights it evoked strange feelings. Rojas mentally surveyed the guests on the boat and dismissed all of them easily as the owners either of that sizeable frame or that unnatural voice. The only comparable physique was that of Hatchard whom he had just left and whose quivering, traumatised voice did not at all resemble the dark, languid, guttural, east European sounds that he now heard. This was the voice of a man who was not anxious, not haunted or traumatised. Perhaps the voice of one more accustomed to threatening than to being threatened. A thrill of excitement went through the impassive Inspector, not quite a shudder but a frisson.
`Who are you?`asked Rojas steadily. There was no immediate response. The figure made no apparent movement. Rojas heard the sound of a glass being filled . Whoever this was did not feel the anxiety of the others he had interviewed that day. The Inspector could have gone closer but he was already certain this was no one he had ever met, no one he would recognize.
`I am not on your list of suspects, Inspector. I would not expect to be because people do not really know me. I have good Polish vodka here, Inspector. Will you join me?` The visit interpreted the silence as refusal. ` Yes, perhaps it is too warm a night for vodka.`
Rojas was intrigued to be in such a position. He normally assumed a level of anxiety in those he met professionally. He normally assumed control of the conversation was his. Suddenly he was guessing with no clue where this strange encounter would lead.
`I am Gregor Kryzskowiak. I am the cook on this boat, ` came the strange voice after a further pause. Perhaps he had wanted more of a reaction from Rojas, more fear and bewilderment.
The Inspector settled in front of the tall muscular shape. He was less prepared for interrogation with this man than with any other guest. His knowledge of the man was as shadowy as his frame now appeared to him. Immediately he wondered at the peculiar voice, the east European accent, the appearance now at night.
`Delighted, where should we begin?`
Gregor put a small cigar in his mouth and lit it.
`I have been ashore. I have made friends before on your island. Up in the north. In Santa Cruz and in El Puerto. I like these towns, Inspector. The people are very nice. The food is very good. I sat in the sun this afternoon, in a Spanish courtyard near El Botanico in El Puerto. I sat with my old friend and a bottle of good wine. There were some ladies who joined us. And I looked out at the blue sea and the big sun shone down and it was very nice.`
`I`m glad you like our island.`
`Well, there are too many foreigners here, but you know that already.`
`We need their money.`
`Well, maybe you do and maybe you don`t. Who needs money in a place like this? If you have no house you do not freeze at night. You can sleep on the beach. If you cannot buy food there`s fruit everywhere and fish in the sea. It is not like my home. My home is Gdansk in Poland. There if you are too poor to find a roof then you freeze or you die of pneumonia. Even with money it is hard to find food. And your women! Your women know what it is to be a woman. No, it is very beautiful up there on the hill beside El Botanico looking down at the sea.`
Rojas sat listening to the eerie voice. It came out as if distorted by some filtering process. Perhaps too much smoking or too much alcohol had damaged the vocal chords, but the sound was unnatural. As ever, Rojas was patient, letting the man speak as he wanted to.
`I have been here before, Inspector. It was fifteen years ago
I first came. It was not so busy then with the Germans and the British. They have changed your island a lot have they not?`
`Perhaps some change was needed.`
`Maybe. They`ve cultivated the south now. That is miraculous. I see these gardens now where there was only volcanic ash. And what gardens they are. If you come from the north like me , Inspector, it awakens something in your heart. Here in the heart, to see all this light and the colour of your flowers and the huge butterflies. I love the big butterflies, the mariposas. That is not like Poland. In Poland the sea is cold and we do not sit outside with bottles of wine. But we have imaginations, Inspector. We are romantics. That is why we travel. And you cannot sit outside at night in Poland like this and feel the warm air around you. You could make love to a woman on the beach here at night and you would be warmer than in a Polish bed.`
He stopped and looked back at the lights of Las Americas, drawing at his cigar. Rojas said nothing. He thought of Gregor`s words and wondered why he was saying them. The voice began again.
`I am Gregor Kryzskowiak, `he repeated. `I come from Gdansk in Poland. I cook for Professor Hecht.`
`You mean you stay with the Hechts and prepare all their meals?`
The response was a dry laugh, almost more strange than the voice.
`No, no. That would drive me mad. No, I cook when he holds
special events like this one.`
`You seem an unlikely cook.`
`Just one of my uses.`
`The other ones?`
Again the strange laugh.
`I have different uses for different people.`
Rojas pondered this for a time.
`For which of your uses did Professor Hecht first employ you?`
`Ah. Then I was very young man. I had escaped from Poland when I was fifteen. That was my second attempt. The first time a German bullet stopped me or I stopped it. In my neck.`
`Ah, ` thought Rojas.
`But when I recovered I went again and this time I got through. Though I was captured first in East Germany and I escaped from there. So I knew about escape.`
`So you helped Professor Hecht to leave France?`
`Exactly. You`re a clever man.`
`Was he in such danger that he needed your kind of help?`
`Maybe he was not. But Mrs. Hecht was.`
`She had been threatened?`
Gregor grunted assent.
`Powerful men in France wanted to silence Professor Hecht. Such a dangerous man to them. They were not nice people.`
`Right wing groups?`
`Gregor drew at his cigar and looked out at the dark waves.`
`I am not a politician, Inspector, but I have the impression that there were business men and politicians and there were trade union men too. I think some of the men became quite famous later. Ruthless men. They had done these things before. Professor Hecht seemed to frighten many people.`
`Would it have been dangerous for them to leave France in the normal way?`
`They would not have been allowed to leave. Something would have happened to them.`
`You mean they would have been arrested?`
`No, oh no. Professor Hecht was too powerful. The government could not come out of the cupboard and say:" arrest this man." No, there would have been an accident.`
`You knew this?`
`Professor Hecht had a lot of friends in a lot of organisations. We heard what was to be secret.`
`And they were both happy to leave?`
`No, no they were not happy. They were not at all happy. Mrs. Hecht was very angry. Very angry.`
`But did she not recognize the danger?`
`No, I believe she thought such things could not happen to her. She had not grown up knowing dangerous people. Or maybe she just believed you should not try to escape them. She was a very brave woman, Mrs. Hecht. She told Professor Hecht that she would gladly have died for their cause. And you see, she thought he should have been the same.`
`You mean, she thought the Professor should have been prepared to die if necessary, but not run from his Destiny. And Professor Hecht disagreed.`
Gregor laughed throatily.
`They had such clever arguments with each other. He always replied that if it was his Destiny there would be no way he could escape it.`
Rojas pondered this for a time and Gregor continued.
`You know, Inspector, my father was in the Polish resistance. he saw a lot. He saw too much. A man can see too much, Inspector. And he told me some of what he`d seen. Hell exists, Inspector. Hell exists and it walks about inside people. Sometimes these people are good people, but they have the devil inside them. Well my father saw all that. But he used to say to me, Inspector, that some heroic people he knew just needed to die. They were looking for a reason to die. Not for a reason to live.`
`And you think Cornelia Hecht was a person like that.`
`Yes, sir, that is what I think about Mrs. Hecht.`
`So was she looking for a reason to die last night?`
Gregor drew deeply on his cigar.
`You are quiet, Mr. Kryzskowiak. Are you silent because you have nothing to say or because you know too much?`