The Doomsday Conspiracy

Chapter Eleven


Bern, Wednesday, October 17th
Bern was one of Robert's favourite cities. It was an elegant town, filled with lovely monuments and beautiful old stone buildings dating back to the eighteenth century. It was the capital of Switzerland and one of its most prosperous cities, and Robert wondered whether the fact that the street cars were green had anything to do with the colour of money. He had found that the Berners were more easy-going than the citizens from other parts of Switzerland. They moved more deliberately, spoke more slowly, and were generally calmer. He had worked in Bern several times in the past with the Swiss Secret Service, operating out of their headquarters at Waisenhausplatz. He had friends there who could have been helpful, but his instructions were clear. Puzzling, but clear.
It took fifteen phone calls for Robert to locate the garage that towed the photographer's car. It was a small garage located on Fribourgstrasse, and the mechanic, Fritz Mandel, was also the owner. Mandel appeared to be in his late forties, with a gaunt, acne-pitted face, a thin body, and an enormous beer belly. He was working down in the pit of the grease rack when Robert arrived.
"Good afternoon," Robert called.
Mandel looked up. "Guten Tag. What can I do for you?"
"I'm interested in a car you towed in Sunday."
"Just a minute till I finish this up."
Ten minutes later, Mandel climbed out of the pit and wiped his oily hands on a filthy cloth.
"You're the one who called this morning. Was there some complaint about that tow job?" Mandel asked. "I'm not responsible for ..."
"No," Robert reassured him. "Not at all. I'm conducting a survey and I'm interested in the driver of the car."
"Come into the office."
The two men went into the small office and Mandel opened a file cabinet. "Last Sunday, you said?"
"That's right."
Mandel took out a card. "Ja. That was the Arschficker who took our picture in front of that UFO."
Robert's palms felt suddenly moist. "You saw the UFO?"
"Ja. I almost brachte aus."
"Can you describe it?"
Mandel shuddered. "It ... it seemed alive."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I mean ... there was a kind of light around it. It kept changing colours. It looked blue ... then green ... I don't know. It's hard to describe. And there were these little creatures inside. Not human, but ..." He broke off.
"How many?"
"Were they alive?"
"They looked dead to me." He mopped his brow. "I'm glad you believe me. I tried to tell my friends and they laughed at me. Even my wife thought I had been drinking. But I know what I saw."
"About the car you towed ..." Robert said.
"Ja. The Renault. It had an oil leak, and the bearings burned out. The tow job cost a hundred and twenty-five francs. I charge double on Sundays."
"Did the driver pay by cheque or credit card?"
"I don't take cheques and I don't take no credit cards. He paid in cash."
"Swiss francs?"
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. I remember I had to check the rate of exchange."
"Mr Mandel, do you happen to have a record of the licence number of the car?"
"Of course," Mandel said. He glanced down at the card. "It was a rental. Avis. He rented it in Geneva."
"Would you mind giving me that licence number?"
"Sure, why not?" He wrote the number down on a piece of paper and handed it to Robert. "What is this all about, anyway? The UFO thing?"
"No," Robert said, in his sincerest voice. He took out his wallet and pulled out an identification card. "I'm with the IAC, the International Auto Club. My company is doing a survey on tow trucks."
Robert walked out of the garage, and thought dazedly, It looks like we have a fucking UFO with two dead aliens on our hands. Then why had General Hilliard lied to him when he knew Robert would discover that it was a flying saucer that had crashed?
There could only be one explanation, and Robert felt a sudden, cold chill.