The Razor’s Edge Chapter 1

ONE MORNING, six months later, in April, I was busy writing in my study on the roof of my house at Cap Ferrat when a servant came up to say that the police of St. Jean (my neighboring village) were below and wished to see me. I was vexed at being interrupted and could not imagine what they wanted. My conscience was at ease and I had already given my subscription to the Benevolent Fund. In return I had received a card, which I kept in my car so that if I was stopped for exceeding the speed limit or found parked on the wrong side of a street I could unostentatiously let it be seen while producing my driving license and so escape with an indulgent caution. I thought it more likely then that one of my servants had been the victim of an anonymous denunciation, that being one of the amenities of French life, because her papers were not in order; but being on good terms with the local cops, whom I never allowed to leave my house without a glass of wine to speed them on their way, I anticipated no great difficulty. But they, for they worked in pairs, had come on a very different errand.

After we had shaken hands and inquired after our respective healths, the senior of the two—he was called a brigadier and had one of the most imposing mustaches I ever saw—fished a notebook out of his pocket. He turned over the pages with a dirty thumb.

“Does the name Sophie Macdonald say something to you?” he asked.

“I know a person of that name,” I replied cautiously.

“We have just been in telephonic communication with the police station at Toulon and the chief inspector requests you to betake yourself there (vous prie de vous y rendre) without delay.”

“For what reason?” I asked. “I am only slightly acquainted with Mrs. Macdonald.”

I jumped to the conclusion that she had got into trouble, probably connected with opium, but I didn’t see why I should be mixed up in it.

“That is not my affair. There is no doubt that you have had dealings with this woman. It appears that she has been missing from her lodgings for five days and a body has been fished out of the harbor which the police have reason to believe is hers. They want you to identify it.”

A cold shiver passed through me. I was not, however, too much surprised. It was likely enough that the life she led would incline her in a moment of depression to put an end to herself.

“But surely she can be identified by her clothes and her papers.”

“She was found stark naked with her throat cut.”

“Good God!” I was horrified. I reflected for an instant. For all I knew the police could force me to go and I thought I had better submit with good grace. “Very well. I will take the first train I can.”

I looked up a timetable and found that I could catch one that would get me to Toulon between five and six. The brigadier said he would phone the chief inspector to that effect and asked me on my arrival to go straight to the police station. I did no more work that morning. I packed a few necessary things in a suitcase and after luncheon drove to the station.