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Authors: Patricia Wentworth

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“Well, sir, I went to Middle Carrick Row. The people at No. 13 are a Mrs. Reade and her daughter. She's a widow and a bit of an invalid. The girl was out when I got there, but I saw the mother. Just what you'd expect from the girl's letter—very respectable, very worried at the idea of the girl being mixed up with anyone who wasn't. And this is what she told me. Molly is only sixteen. She goes out as a sort of daily help to some people called Lester—Sycamore Lodge, Wood Lane, Putney. There are three or four children and she helps look after them—takes them out for walks and that sort of thing. Next door to Sycamore Lodge is The Acacias—Dr. Ernest Long. The families don't know each other, but Molly met this Jimmy she wrote the letter to coming out of Dr. Long's. His name is Jimmy Nash. I think he's Blinking Jimmy. It's the sort of job he might easily be mixed up in. One of the Lester children had fallen down and barked its knees. Nash picked it up and scraped acquaintance. That was about ten days ago. He's been waylaying Molly and asking her to go to the pictures—Mrs. Reade's a good deal bothered. She'd got as far as this when the girl came in. Nice child—friendly—pleased at Nash's attentions—no feelings involved. Something put it into my head to ask her whether she'd ever seen Nash in a car—a dark Morris 12 for choice. She said no, he had a motorbike, but Dr. Long had a black Morris car. She didn't know one car from another herself, but it was a black one, and the elder Lester boy, who is ten, said it was a Morris 12. And when I asked her if she had ever noticed the registration number she said she had, because she'd got a friend with the initials J.M.C., and wasn't it funny, he was twenty-two and the car number began that way. And what do you think of that, sir?”

Antony felt as if he had received an electric shock.

“Did she know the rest of the number?”

“No—quite vague. Interest obviously confined to the coincidence with the friend's initials and age.” He turned back to the Inspector. “I tried her with the description of Barend Roos, but it was a wash-out. She said a lot of people came to see Dr. Long. Added helpfully she supposed they'd be patients. And then, just as I was going out of the door, she said it wouldn't be any good my going to see Dr. Long, because he was in hospital. He got hurt in an air raid a week ago—‘Mrs. Long is ever so worried about him.'”

Inspector Lamb pushed back his chair and got up.

“Looks to me as if she'd got more to worry about than that,” he said. “I think we'll be paying a call on Mrs. Long. I'd like to ask her who has been using Dr. Long's car whilst he's been away in hospital.”

XVIII

Delia put back the telephone receiver. It would be nice to get out of the house for an hour. Simmy was a pet, but they had already spent the whole day together, and there would be at the very least another two hours after dinner, filled up tight with anecdotes of all the pupils Simmy had ever had—dear Doris Penfold—dear Lilias—dear Mary—dear Dilys—Enid—Bronwen.… Once started, there was no end. She didn't really mind of course, but it would be rather nice to go over to Cynthia's for an hour and meet her new young man. She wondered what he was like. Rather an odd accent, but perhaps that was just the telephone—telephones did awfully queer things to your voice. Anyhow she gathered that it was his car and he was driving Cynthia home. They would pick her up at the bottom of the drive, and Dr. Kyrle would bring her back for dinner.

She came out of the study and told Parker. Then she ran up for a coat and slipped out of the house without Simmy hearing her. She felt very well pleased with herself. Everything was going splendidly. She had seen Antony today, and perhaps she would see him tomorrow. Uncle Philip was getting better, and as soon as he was well enough to be bothered, they could tell him they were engaged, and that would be the end of Cousin Leonora. Because Uncle Philip would be frightfully pleased. He loved Antony, and they would put the engagement in the
Times,
and everyone would write and tell them how lucky they were.

As soon as Delia got into the drive where she could not be seen from the house she began to run. She had on a blue tweed skirt, a hand-knitted jumper, and a long matching coat. She was bare-headed. The coat fell open and flapped behind her as she ran, and she could feel the wind in her hair. It was just after half past six. It was dusk everywhere in the drive and quite dark under the trees, but there was plenty of light on the road beyond the gate. When she saw the black humped shape of the car just short of the entrance she checked and came to the window, laughing.

“Cynthia, what a life-saving angel—”

She got as far as that and no farther. Mr. Barend Roos, who had been standing on the far side of the car, came up behind her. She felt an arm at her waist, and then before she had time to turn or cry out a heavy hand came down over her face and was held there. She hadn't a chance to do anything. A powerful man was holding her. She was just enough out of breath to make her inhale deeply. Her nose and throat were full of the reek of chloroform. There was a moment of anger, a moment of fear. And then everything going away from her. She couldn't see her feet or the arm at her waist. There was only the horrible sweet smell like a horrible sweet fog, floating in, flowing in, blotting her out. Nothing mattered. There wasn't any Delia—

She went limp. Jimmy Nash, in the driver's seat, leaned back and opened a rear door. Barend Roos swung Delia on to the seat and got in beside her. He shut the door and said,

“That went very well. Now we can go.”

They drove through Lane End and over Lane Hill, after which they took two right-hand turns and ultimately came back upon the London Road with Wayshot a safe three or four miles behind them.

Delia stayed where she had been thrown, half sitting, half lying. If she could have felt anything she would soon have been cramped and stiff, but everything that could have told her this was asleep.

As they came towards London, there was a red glare in the sky, and against the glow, like Roman candles, an incandescence of bursting shells. Jimmy Nash blinked at them with considerable disfavour. He slowed down and said over his shoulder,

“Not going into that, are we?”

“Certainly we are.”

“You couldn't have called your friends off tonight, I suppose? What's the idea? Who's going to be any the better if we stop a bomb?”

“I do not think we shall, but if you like, we can wait for half an hour. It would be better for us if the streets were not too bright. You never know who will see a car and notice the number. I do not mind being on the safe side.”

Jimmy said, “Safe!” in an angry, contemptuous voice. He hadn't liked this job from the beginning, and he was liking it less and less. It was the sort of job that looked all right when you went into it, and ended by landing you in Queer Street. He'd met that kind of job before—the man at the top got clear and left you to take the rap. And as for driving right into the middle of an air raid, that wasn't in the bargain and he wasn't going to do it for nobody.

He pulled in by the side of the road under trees and watched the glow fade and flare and the shells go rocketing up. The noise was horrible. He thought, “Who knows they won't come this way? Any minute they might. This is a fine job, this is!” He thought about that nasty dream he'd had Tuesday night after he'd coshed the old girl by mistake. He couldn't rightly remember it now, but that only made it worse. Spiders—millions of them—coming after him—and he didn't know whether they got him or not. He'd waked up sweating and calling out. He was sweating again now at the thought of it.

He let down a bit of the window to get the air. Barend's voice came from behind him, saying angrily,

“Don't do that! Do you want to bring her round?”

He jerked the window up again. Who was Mr. Barend Roos? A blinking foreigner! He might call himself Brown as much as he pleased, but he didn't take in Jimmy Nash. Jimmy knew his real name all right. Jimmy had made it his business to find out, and he'd found out more than he cared about. A blinking dangerous business and one he'd be glad to get shut of.

In the back of the car, Delia slipped down and gave a kind of moaning sigh. Barend's hand went into his pocket. Jimmy heard the plop of a cork. A reek of chloroform reached him. He let the window down again in a hurry.

“Here—what are you up to—you'll have us all off! Put the perishing stuff away; I thought you wanted the girl to talk. She won't be able to if you smother her.”

Barend said, “She moved. We can't have her coming round yet. Shut that window!”

“You won't have her coming round at all if you don't mind your step. And I'll shut the window when that stuff's blown out and not before—see? I don't mind being bombed, and I don't mind being copped by the police, but I'm hanged if I'll be asphixerated in a car with a girl, like a blooming suicide pact.”

It was a good deal more than half an hour before the noise died down. There was still that glow in the sky, but fainter now. They went in over Hammersmith Bridge. A quarter of an hour's driving, and the smell of fire was all about them. Jimmy threw a glance over his shoulder.

“Running into it a bit, aren't we?” he said, blinking.

Barend said nothing. He was looking anxiously out of the window. They drove on slowly. Then he said,

“Where are we? Which is our turning?”

Jimmy dropped to a crawl.

“First to the right and straight on into the fire by the look of it.”

Barend said, “Stop!” and then, “Go on and see what has happened. If the house has not been touched, we must go on.”

He sat there chafing until Jimmy came back.

“Well?”

“Not a bit of good, mister. They won't let you down the street for one thing, and for another, as well as I could see, number twenty-four has copped it good and proper. First floor front's in the cellar, and the bathroom out in the middle of the street by the look of it. And do you know what come to me?”

“I do not want to know.”

“Well, I'll give it you free, gratis, and for nothing. I thought how perishing lucky we were not to be under that first floor front, which we might have been if I hadn't made you stop the other side of the river. So now what?”

Barend set his jaw.

“We must go back to Mrs. Long's. She must take us in until I can make arrangements.”

Jimmy whistled.

“She won't like that,” he said.

“It does not matter whether she likes it or not,” said Barend Roos.

Delia began to come back. She did not know where she had been, but she was coming back. There was a fog with a funny smell—a sweet, heavy smell. Chloroform. The word came into her mind and went out of it again. For a long time there was nothing there but the fog. Then there were sounds—people moving—talking. Light coming through the fog—light, and sounds. They worried her, and she wanted them to go away. The first thing she heard distinctly was Barend Roos saying,

“She ought to be coming round.”

He held a candle close to her face, moving it to and fro so that the light fell on her eyes. The fog brightened. Some of the wax fell on her wrist, but she did not feel it at all, though she could hear someone say “Oh!” in a gasping, frightened way. She sank down into the fog again.

Ina Long snatched the candle out of Barend's hand.

“I told you she wasn't shamming. Why can't you believe me? Now you've burned her.”

He gave an uneasy laugh.

“A little candlegrease—what does it matter?”

Mrs. Long blew out the candle and put it down on the chest of drawers beside the bed. The room was a small, comfortable bedroom. There was a square of blue carpet on the floor. The rather uneven boards were well polished. There were bright chintz curtains with a pattern of delphiniums and poppies.

Delia lay on a low divan bed with her fair hair loose on the pillow. She had one hand at her throat. That was where the wax had fallen. Both arms lay bare outside the blue coverlet. The clothes which Mrs. Long had taken off her lay tossed down upon an ottoman at the foot of the bed, their blue repeating the blue of the carpet and of the delphiniums in the chintz. It was eight o'clock in the morning, and the curtains had been drawn back, but there was very little light coming in from outside. A heavy murk that was not quite a fog tinged everything with its own sallow gloom.

Mrs. Long turned round from putting down the candle.

“When are you going to take her away?” she said, half breathless, half accusing.

Barend Roos frowned. “Is that a reasonable thing to ask? Do you expect me to carry her out to the car like this, in daylight?”

“You shouldn't have brought her here. It wasn't in the bargain—you know it wasn't.”

His frown deepened. He came round the bed and stood over her, a big, angry man.
Dangerous.
The word went through her mind on a shuddering breath of cold. He said,

“I am always forgetting that women are not reasonable creatures. I will say it all over again very plainly, but I will only say it once. After that you must remember. If you do not, you know who will suffer.” He saw with satisfaction that she shrank and trembled. A tiresome young woman, but amenable to a good loud crack of the whip. He went on in a cold, displeased voice. “It is not for you to talk about bargains, it is for you to do as you are told. You do not imagine that I wished to bring her here, do you—you are not as stupid as that. The house I would have taken her to was a great deal more suitable. There were empty houses on either side and over the way, but since it no longer exists, I have to make other arrangements, and meanwhile she must stay here. You will have to go and put your daily woman off. What excuse will you make?”

She looked at him in a frightened way. He would think she ought to have told him before. She didn't know why she had not done so, except that perhaps it had made her feel safer. If he thought Mrs. Clarke would be here by ten o'clock he would be in a hurry to get the girl away before she arrived, but now she had to tell him. She said, “She isn't coming.”

BOOK: Pursuit of a Parcel
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