Authors: Conrad Allen
Also by Conrad Allen
Murder on the Lusitania
Murder on the Mauretania
Murder on the Minnesota
Murder on the Caronia
Murder on the Marmora
MURDER ON THE MARMORA.
Copyright © 2004 by Conrad Allen. All rights reserved.
Originally published by St. Martin’s Press
First eBook edition
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Print ISBN 0-312-30791-8
First Edition: January 2004
To my beloved granddaughter, Carys Ellen, in the hope that she may one day read this book.
he was a disappointment. The first time that he saw her, George Porter Dillman felt as if he had somehow been let down. After the Cunard liners on which he had regularly crossed the Atlantic, the
looked curiously small and unimpressive. Built in 1903, she was the first P&O vessel to exceed ten thousand gross tons but that meant she was still only a third of the size of the
, so beloved by Dillman, who had been fortunate enough to sail on the maiden voyages of both ships. While the two massive Cunarders each carried over three thousand people aboard, the
had little more than nine hundred. Nor could the P&O ship hope to match them for pace. The greyhounds of the seas could achieve a maximum speed of over twenty-six knots. At full pelt, the
could only edge above eighteen knots and was more comfortable at an unhurried fourteen or fifteen.
It was, Dillman realized, unfair to measure the smaller ship against two giants of oceanic travel. He was not comparing like
with like. The
was no transatlantic liner, built to power its way through the most dangerous waters on the globe. It was an elegant vessel that cruised halfway around the world, taking its passengers on a more leisurely and varied route, filled with visual interest. For that reason, Dillman was looking forward to his first voyage with his new employer, P&O—or, to give the line its full name, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. Since they were setting sail in December, he would be spending Christmas at sea, and that would be a novel experience for him.
When he went up the gangway at Tilbury, therefore, he did so with alacrity. The
posed a new challenge and it was one that he was eager to accept. Like everyone else streaming onto the ship, he was wrapped up warmly against the cold weather. Dillman wore a heavy overcoat, a homburg hat, scarf, and gloves but his luggage contained clothing for much warmer climes. The festive season would be celebrated in blazing sunshine.
As soon as he had been shown to his cabin, he unpacked his things then went off to report to the purser, Brian Kilhendry. He was invited into an office that had an overwhelming sense of order about it. Documents and papers on the desk were stacked in neat piles, and even the artificial flowers in a vase on the wooden filing cabinet had been arranged in the tidiest positions. As a private detective, Dillman worked very closely with the ship’s purser and he had always enjoyed a cordial relationship with those holding the office on Cunard ships. They had been courteous, efficient, and extremely helpful.
From the moment he met Brian Kilhendry, however, he had the feeling that this purser would be the exception to the rule. The Irishman was a stocky man of middle height with curly ginger hair that was starting to thin rapidly. Now in his thirties, Kilhendry, a striking figure in a spotless uniform, had the face of a professional boxer. The broken nose lent him a strange charm. He gave Dillman a brisk handshake before waving him to a chair.
“So,” said Kilhendry, eyeing him shrewdly through narrowed lids, “you’re the famous George Dillman, are you?”
“I don’t lay any claims to fame, Mr. Kilhendry,” replied Dillman.
“You’re far too modest.”
“Apparently,” said the purser with the tiniest hint of mockery in his voice. “I’ve a friend who works for Cunard and he tells me that you’re a one-man law enforcement agency. You solve crimes almost as soon as they’re committed.”
“If only that were true. But I’m afraid it isn’t.”
“To begin with,” said Dillman, “I’m not a one-man operation. I work in tandem with my partner, Genevieve Masefield. She deserves as much credit as I do for any success that we’ve enjoyed.”
“Oh, yes. I know. My friend told me lots of things about Miss Masefield.”
“Complimentary things, I hope.”
“For the most part.”
Dillman did not like the smirk that accompanied Kilhendry’s remark. There was an implied criticism of his partner to which he strongly objected. The purser’s manner was annoying him. Dillman concealed his irritation behind a bland smile.
“On which ship does your friend sail?” he asked.
“He’s second officer on the
“She’s a trim vessel. We made four crossings in her.”
“Arresting people right, left, and center, from what I hear.”
“Only when they deserved it, Mr. Kilhendry.”
“You even solved a murder on the
,” the purser noted.
“We did what we were paid to do,” Dillman said quietly, “and we’ll endeavor to provide the same service on the
“I doubt very much if it will be needed.”
“All passenger lists tend to have a small criminal element in them.”
“Yes,” Kilhendry said airily. “We do have the occasional thief, pickpocket, and cardsharp aboard but I pride myself on being able to spot them before too long. I’ve a nose for villains, Mr. Dillman, and so does my deputy, Martin Grandage. There’s not much that gets past us, I promise you.”
“How do you know?”
The purser was checked. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” said Dillman, “how can you be sure that dozens of crimes have not taken place on board that you and your deputy simply failed to detect? Anyone can spot the obvious crooks, but some are very sophisticated these days. They plan things with great care and know how to cover their tracks.”
“Not on the
,” boasted Kilhendry. “I run a clean ship.”
“That remains to be seen.”
“I know this vessel, Mr. Dillman—you don’t.”
“Granted,” said the detective. “But even you don’t have an intimate knowledge of every passenger on this voyage. There’ll be over four hundred and fifty of them in all. Your nose will have to be ubiquitous to sniff its way through that lot.”
The purser’s eyes flashed. “Don’t you get clever with me!” he warned. “I’m just trying to let you know where we stand.”
“Oh, I’ve worked that out, Mr. Kilhendry. You don’t really want us here.”
“What I don’t want is to have anyone treading on my toes.”
“In other words, you’re marking out your territory.”
is my ship.”
“Captain Langbourne might dispute that,” Dillman said wryly. “So might P and O. However possessive you may feel about it, the ship is owned by the company. They hire all of us to sail in her with specific duties. And I may as well tell you now,” he added, rising to his feet, “that we intend to earn our wages from P and O, even if that means treading on a few toes.”
“I can see we’re not going to get on,” said Kilhendry, curling a lip.
“You’d decided that before I even came in here.”
“With good reason, Mr. Dillman. I don’t like Americans.”
“Ah,” sighed the other. “So that’s what you have against me: my accent.”
“No—your attitude. Americans always seem to think they own the world.”
“It’s not a delusion from which I’ve ever suffered,” said Dillman with a grin. “Beware of generalizations, Mr. Kilhendry. They’re always misleading. For instance, I’ve heard that all Irishmen are pugnacious yet you are the soul of restraint.”
The purser’s body tensed and his eyes flashed again but he quickly regained his composure. Reaching for some papers on the desk, he handed them to Dillman and became businesslike.
“Here are the passenger lists for first and second class,” he explained. “As you know, we have no third class or steerage. Unlike Cunard, who pack their liners with emigrants, we only cater to people who can afford some luxury.”
“Then they’re entitled to get what they pay for,” said Dillman.
“I’ve also given you a diagram of the ship. The
has only five passenger decks. I’m sure that you’ll soon find your way around each one of them.”
“We will, Mr. Kilhendry.”
“Make yourself known to my deputy.”
“Yes,” said the purser. “We have royalty aboard until we reach Port Said. That means that I’ll have my hands full. I don’t want you bothering me every five minutes to tell me you caught someone stealing a handkerchief or that you think a certain passenger is cheating at poker. Report to Martin Grandage instead.”
“What if a serious crime is involved?”
“We don’t have serious crimes on P and O ships, Mr. Dillman. At least, not on the ones where I’m the purser. I told you before. I run a clean ship.”
“There’s always someone who’ll try to dirty it for you.”
“That’s where you and Miss Masefield come in,” said Kilhendry with a touch of disdain. “Wipe up the mess before I even see it. Do you think that you can manage that?”
“We’ll do our best.”
“Good.” He gave a cold smile. “Welcome aboard, Mr. Dillman!”
Genevieve Masefield had done it so many times before that it had become a matter of course. She traveled to the port with the other passengers, befriended a number of them on the way, then slipped aboard as part of a small group. On this occasion, she had a choice of companions. The Cheriton family, who had met her on the way to Tilbury, were more than ready to adopt her but Genevieve chose instead to board the ship with Myra and Lilian Cathcart, whom she had rescued from the attentions of an overzealous customs officer. In the space of a few minutes, Genevieve had got to know and like the two women. All three of them came out of the customs shed and paused to take a first approving look at the
with her sleek lines, her two tall funnels, and her distinctive P&O flag, fluttering at the masthead. Genevieve saw her as a refreshing change from the Cunard liners to which she had become accustomed.
“You’ve obviously been abroad before, Miss Masefield,” observed Myra with admiration. “I could see it from the way you handled that bossy individual in the customs shed. Have you sailed on a ship as big as this before?”
“Oh, yes,” said Genevieve.
“We’ve only been to France on a ferry from Dover. This is the first time we’ve been farther afield and we’re so terribly excited about it.” She turned to her daughter. “Aren’t we, Lilian?”
“Yes, Mother,” said Lilian with a diffident smile.
“My husband hated to travel,” Myra continued. “That’s why we always spent our holidays somewhere in England. It was an effort to get Herbert to take us anywhere. Wasn’t it, Lilian?”
“That’s not a complaint, mark you. I was happily married for twenty-four years and I have the fondest memories of my husband. But I do wish he’d been a little more adventurous with regard to travel. Don’t you, Lilian?”
“Yes, Mother,” her daughter agreed obediently.
Myra Cathcart was a tall, slim, handsome woman in her late forties with a zest about her that was not muffled by the thick fur coat and hat she was wearing. She seemed to exude vitality. While Lilian had inherited her mother’s classical features, she had nothing like the same spirit. Shy and self-deprecating, she glanced around nervously as if expecting someone to tap her on the shoulder and accuse her of some nameless transgression. She looked so young and hesitant that it was difficult to believe that she was twenty-two years of age. Having mourned her late husband for a decent interval, Myra was embarking on the cruise of a lifetime with real enthusiasm. Lilian, by contrast, gave the impression that she was being dragged reluctantly along.
“Well,” said Myra, nudging her daughter, “what do you think of the
“Very big,” replied Lilian.
“It will take us all the way to Egypt.”
“But it’s such a long way to go, Mother. Will we be safe?”
“P and O has an excellent safety record,” said Genevieve, trying to reassure Lilian. “Have no fears about the
. She’s done the trip a number of times without the slightest mishap.”
“Lilian is a worrier by nature,” said Myra. “She’ll feel better once we’re aboard.”
Her daughter was doubtful. “Will I, Mother?”
“You know that you will, dear. Come along.”
The trio joined the other passengers who were walking toward the ship. Myra Cathcart moved forward with a confident step but
Genevieve noticed how wary the daughter was. The closer they got to the vessel, the more unsettled Lilian became. Without warning, she came to a sudden halt, as if having second thoughts about the whole enterprise. The other women stopped beside her.
“What’s wrong, Lilian?” asked her mother.
“I don’t know.”
“This is a special moment for us. Savor it.”
“I wish that I could, Mother,” said Lilian with a shiver, “but I’m frightened.”
“Of what? Of whom?”
“That’s perfectly normal,” said Genevieve, taking over. “The first time I was about to cross the Atlantic, I was quietly terrified. I imagined all kinds of disasters taking place. In the event, it was a very smooth voyage with no problems at all.”
It was not exactly true, but Genevieve was certainly not going to tell her new friends about the murder that took place on board the maiden voyage of the
, or describe the way she had become involved in helping to catch the killer. Lilian needed to be soothed, not further alarmed by the story of a gruesome crime at sea. Genevieve felt great sympathy for her. She put a comforting hand on Lilian’s arm.
“Think of the tales you’ll be able to tell your friends when you get back to England,” she said. “They’ll be green with envy when they hear that you rubbed shoulders with royalty.”
“Yes,” said Myra, smiling at her daughter. “The Princess Royal and her husband will be traveling with us. I wonder if she’ll wear a crown for dinner. It will be such fun to find out, Lilian, won’t it?”
“I suppose so,” murmured her daughter.
Myra became concerned. “What is
“Do you feel unwell?” asked Genevieve. “They have a doctor aboard, you know.”
Lilian shook her head.
“Why are you holding back like this?” asked Myra.