"Give him a coin," my two hosts explained with impatience, as if it was basic etiquette to throw away money in Switzerland. I was a poor exchange student, uncomfortable with the idea.
Juliet whispered in my ear. "He's a Gypsy. It's bad luck if you don't."
I thought I felt the flicker of her eyelashes, but turned to find that she retained a proper distance. She was biting her lower lip. I would have liked to have bitten it myself just then, an impossibility, of course, with Thomas right there watching.
"I know you Think he's a Gypsy," I whispered right back at her with a wink, "but I'm pretty sure we're looking at Sherlock Holmes in one of his clever disguises."
"Here," Juliet said as she pulled a franc from her change purse and clapped it in front of me. She was suspicious of my detective skills. "Now you can give it to the nice man, dear," I expected her to add. She easily could have placed it at the edge of the table herself and avoided the middle man.
I thought about putting it into my pocket instead, out of spite, but never had the chance. Thomas reached across the table and slid it over for me. The Gypsy picked it up, tipped his hat, and moved on to the next table.
Once he had passed from earshot, I feigned outrage. "Why did you do that? You could have given him away. I tell you Moriarty must be in this very room," I said, and then scratched my chin for a dramatic pause. "In fact, he could be at this very table . . . Ah yes . . . But which one of us is the villain?"
From their expressions it was clear that I was only amusing myself. Thomas pinched his cigarette a little tighter and drew smoke from it. He liked to talk while the gray ribbons curled out of his nostrils. "You are very strange, Jacob," he observed, his tone clinical, cold.
"Yes, and now unlucky, but we like you anyway," Juliet added. She sent a quick, heat-seeking glance toward Thomas. I had become accustomed to their silent arguments.
"Hold on," I said, motivated by an idea. "I need all the luck I can get." I sprung from the table and caught up with the man in black. "Mr. Rathbone?"
His slow turn gave me time to retrieve an entire pocket full of loose change. It was a sizeable collection, which had accumulated because I always paid with paper money to avoid communication problems. I spoke only a little German and much less of the Swiss dialect."I want you to have these."
I poured them into his large outstretched hand once he understood and reacted to the offer. He slipped the donation into the deep pockets of his cloak and tipped his hat.
When I returned Juliet was smiling. She clapped her hands together in a soundless manner. "Now you are safe," she said.
Thomas brushed nonexistent ashes from his shoulder.
"He said to beware the sign of the wolf," I shared, after resuming my place.
Thomas exhaled sharply and then began to tap out his cigarette in the ashtray, at first in his usual casual manner, but then he began to concentrate on the task. He pressed harder until the filter split. "Everything is so fucking Hollywood with you!"
The mood became tense and quiet with the unexpected force of his statement. Juliet gulped down the remainder of her beer, preparing to leave.
I could not suppress a wide grin, the same my mother used to see when as I was of school age and she had confronted me with some minor sin. I slipped into a Nigel Bruce imitation with an exaggerated double take between the Gypsy and Thomas. "You astound me Holmes!"
Thomas looked away and shook his head.
We left a few minutes later in silence. I sat alone in the back seat of the Citroyen during the drive back and wondered. How long had he known? Would he say anything to Juliet?
That evening in bed I could not relax until she finally appeared. As she slid in beside me, I began in hushed tones to explain the subtle distinctions between varieties of Turkish tobacco and then examined her with an imaginary magnifying glass, although without my usual finesse. It became clear to me then that it was time to go home. Playing so many different roles both day and night had become exhausting.
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