Chapter no 112 – Loudenvielle‌

All the Light We Cannot See

The Pyrenees gleam. A pitted moon stands on their crests as if impaled. Sergeant Major von Rumpel takes a cab through platinum moonlight to a commissariat and stands across from a police captain who continually drags the index and middle fingers of his left hand through his considerable mustache.

The French police have made an arrest. Someone has burglarized the chalet of a prominent donor with ties to the Natural History Museum in Paris, and the burglar has been apprehended with a travel case stuffed with gems.

He waits a long time. The captain reviews the fingernails of his left hand, then his right, then his left again. Von Rumpel is feeling very weak tonight, queasy really; the doctor says the treatments are over, that they have made their assault on the tumor and now they must wait, but some mornings he cannot straighten after he finishes tying his shoes.

A car arrives. The captain goes out to greet it. Von Rumpel watches through the window.

From the backseat, two policemen produce a frail-looking man in a beige suit with a perfect purple bruise around his left eye. Hands cuffed. A spattering of blood on his collar. As though he has just left off playing a villain in some movie. The policemen shepherd the prisoner inside while the captain removes a handbag from the car’s trunk.

Von Rumpel takes his white gloves from his pocket. The captain closes his office door, sets the bag atop his desk, and pulls his blinds. Tilts the shade of his desk lamp. In a room somewhere beyond, von Rumpel can hear a cell door clang shut. From the handbag the captain removes an address book, a stack of letters, and a woman’s compact. Then he plucks out a false bottom followed by six velvet bundles.

He unwraps them one at a time. The first contains three gorgeous pieces of beryl: pink, fat, hexagonal. Inside the second is a single cluster of aqua-colored Amazonite, gently striated with white. Inside the third is a pear-cut diamond.

A thrill leaps into the tips of von Rumpel’s fingers. From a pocket, the captain withdraws a loupe, a look of naked greed blooming on his face. He examines the diamond for a long time, turning it this way and that. Through von Rumpel’s mind sail visions of the Führermuseum, glittering cases, bowers beneath pillars, jewels behind glass—and something else too: a faint power, like a low voltage, coming off the stone. Whispering to him, promising to erase his illness.

Finally the captain looks up, the impress of his loupe a tight pink circle around his eye. The lamplight sets a gleam on his wet lips. He places the jewel back on the towel.

From the other side of the desk, von Rumpel picks up the diamond. Just the right weight. Cold in his fingers, even through the cotton of the gloves. Deeply saturated with blue at its edges.

Does he believe?

Dupont has almost kindled a fire inside it. But with the lens to his eye, von Rumpel can see that the stone is identical to the one he examined in the museum two years before. He sets the reproduction back on the desk. “But at the minimum,” the captain says in French, his face falling,

“we must X-ray it, no?”

“Do whatever you’d like, by all means. I’ll take those letters, please.”

Before midnight he is at his hotel. Two fakes. This is progress. Two found, two left to find, and one of the two must be real. For dinner, he orders wild boar cooked with fresh mushrooms. And a full bottle of Bordeaux. Especially during wartime, such things remain important. They are what separate the civilized man from the barbarian.

The hotel is drafty and the dining room is empty, but the waiter is excellent. He pours with grace and steps away. Once in the glass, as dark as blood, the Bordeaux seems almost as though it is a living thing. Von Rumpel takes pleasure in knowing that he is the only person in the world who will have the privilege of tasting it before it is gone.

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