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Authors: Dennis Wheatley

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BOOK: The Sword of Fate
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I then related how I had found that he was not alone, seen the Grand Mufti through the keyhole, listened for some minutes to scraps of conversation, been discovered and been within inches of meeting with a sticky death from being thrown head first over the balcony.

I gave the whole of the latter part of my story exactly as it had occurred, and Cozelli’s eyes gleamed in his cadaverous face, as I recounted all that I had overheard relating to an invasion by air-borne troops and the great sum in English, French and Indian currency which was to be used for bribery. He made me repeat the phrases used several times, cross-questioned me on them, and had one of the plain-clothes men, who was a detective-sergeant, take down a verbatim report of that part of my story.

The inspector and sergeant were given the job of finding the secret wireless transmitter which von Hentzen had mentioned as being concealed in the roof. The other plain-clothes man set about taking fingerprints from glasses and door-knobs, while the uniformed policeman was posted in the hall to detain anyone who might enter the flat. Major Cozelli then declared his intention of searching it, and told me that I had better give him a hand.

No crime had been committed there, and how far Cozelli’s powers extended I had no idea; but apparently he considered my word good enough that the place was being used by enemy agents. Some counter-espionage officers are naturally hesitant in doing anything which might result in their receiving a rap over the knuckles from some fusty old gentleman who has not yet awakened to the fact that Hitler is the greatest gangster of all time and out to plunder the world, irrespective of all so-called rights, decencies or customs; but Cozelli was evidently of a very
different school, and prepared to risk trouble with his superiors, if there was any hope of getting results against the enemy by immediate action.

He picked up a large suit-case, emptied the contents, which were mainly clothes, out on to the bed, and told me to carry it round after him while he set about a systematic inspection. Pulling open every drawer, he ran swiftly through its contents and threw anything he thought might prove of interest into the suitcase, which I held open behind him. Such drawers as were locked he opened with the help of a bunch of skeleton keys, at the manipulation of which he appeared to be an expert.

We did the bedroom first, and in it there were not many items which he selected to take away, apart from a small collection of maps and guide-books to Egypt, and an out-of-date passport. But in the sitting-room he made a much bigger haul.

At one end of the long, low room there was a handsome bureau. The papers in the upper part did not appear of any special interest. They were mostly old bills, unused notepaper, foolscap, a few letters from local tradesmen and a big pack of newspaper clippings. The lower drawers had in them a nice stock of cigars, cigarettes and crystallised fruit. Having flung the letters and the newspaper clippings into the bag, the Major took all the drawers right out of the bureau and kneeling down began to fiddle about inside it.

“I thought as much,” he muttered. “The drawers aren’t so deep as the bureau, you see, so there’s a secret compartment in the back of it.”

After a few moments’ fiddling he found the spring that released the panel, and as it opened I saw that there were a number of pigeon-holes behind it, nearly all of which were stuffed full of papers.

One by one he passed the bundles out to me. There were several wads of banknotes, in English and Egyptian currency, which one could see at a glance amounted to considerable sums, about half a dozen blueprints, and at least two hundred documents.

The cache was very nearly empty when he turned to hand me a pack of about eight letters held together by a rubber band. As I took them a sudden terrifying apprehension made my heart miss a beat, and I almost dropped the packet. I knew that heavy angular writing, so unlike a young girl’s, far too well to be mistaken. They were from Daphnis.

Chapter XVI
Grim Moments

My first impulse was to slip Daphnis’ letters into my pocket instead of putting them in the suit-case, but before I had time to do so the Major had turned to hand me the last two bundles of papers from the back of the bureau. We were both kneeling on the floor face to face with the open suit-case between us. I had absolutely no option but to drop the letters into the case with the rest, and he promptly slammed the lid to.

“I’ll just have a look round the other rooms,” he said, “but I don’t think there’ll be anything worth taking. It’s pretty certain that the cream of the stuff was kept behind this secret panel.”

I had a wild hope that he might leave me there so that while he was gone I would be able to open the case again and retrieve that bundle of letters upon which I felt my whole future happiness might hang. But as he rose to his feet he picked up the case, and carried it with him through the door out into the hall.

I followed, still hoping desperately that he might put it down again and there would be a chance for me to get at it while he was not looking. He did put it down in the richly-furnished dining-room, while he took a quick look through the drawers of the sideboard and a cupboard which only contained table glass and drinks; but nothing engaged his attention long enough for me to dare to touch the case.

There was, of course, just a possibility that Daphnis’ letters might be completely innocent, but everything pointed to their being highly incriminating. Count Emilo de Mondragora was definitely acting as an agent for the Axis Powers, and Daphnis had strong Italian sympathies. That she had been in the habit of meeting him in secret was clear from the conversation I had overheard between them in which she had regretted the fact that he could not come openly to the house, and he had replied that it was quite impossible because her stepfather hated him so much.

At last I saw a possible explanation for that passage in their talk over which I had so often puzzled in vain. Old Nicholas Diamopholus had evidently known Mondragora at some time or other and discovered, as I had, that he was an international crook of the highest order. But in any case the fact of the letters having been hidden in one of the secret pigeon-holes was an almost certain
indication that they were highly confidential and contained incriminating passages.

For the moment Daphnis was still safe, because Major Cozelli had as yet had no time to examine his haul. But once he sat down to go through it, item by item, God alone knew what he might learn about her anti-British activities. Very probably enough to have her tried and imprisoned, perhaps even enough to have her shot. At the thought my brain reeled.

I tried to reassure myself with the accepted belief that the British never shoot women spies, but I was by no means dead certain of that, and we were not now in England but in Egypt. Egyptian law was probably quite different, and the code of penalties in states the bulk of whose population is coloured is usually much harsher than in Anglo-Saxon countries.

While I was still turning these nightmare thoughts over and over in my mind, the negro policeman came in from the hall to say that the inspector had found the secret wireless sending apparatus. It was concealed between the ceiling of the boxroom and the roof.

“Now’s my chance,” I thought. “Cozelli is certain to go and ook at it, and he’ll leave the suit-case here.”

But once again my hopes were doomed to disappointment. The Major picked up the suit-case and handed it to the man as he said: “Right, Ahmed, I’ll go through and have a look. Hang on to this and carry it down to the car for me when we leave.”

Left alone with the policeman, I wondered what the hell to do. He was now gripping the suit-case by its handle with a hand the size of a ham and his shiny face was by no means the countenance of a fool. He did not look at all the sort of man whom I could trick into handing the case over to me by any ruse thought up on the spur of the moment.

The desperate impulse to attack him, snatch the suit-case and make off with it came to me. If only I could get clear of Ambassador Court with it and retain it in my possession for five minutes afterwards, that would be enough. Later I could give myself up and plead a brainstorm.

Wild horses would not drag from me the real reason for my act, and what did it matter if I got into trouble with the police about it if only I had managed to get Daphnis’ letters out of that case, and either destroy them or dispose of them in some place where they would not be found? I would be court-martialled for assaulting a police officer and obstructing others in their duty,
but that would be a small price to pay if only I could once and for all eliminate the evidence which would cause Daphnis to be connected with Mondragora.

It may be thought that, in putting Daphnis before my country, I was acting a traitor’s part, but I do not consider that I was. The restrictions with which Daphnis was hedged about by her family made it quite certain that she could be only a static agent, collecting information which happened to come to her in her own home and passing it on. It was most unlikely that she had more than one contact, and that contact had now been unmasked. Everything about the secret cache indicated that there was enough stuff there to put an end to all Mondragora’s activities in Alexandria and land him in prison on the gravest charges if he were caught. If that happened, all the better. I hoped that they’d shoot the swine. But if he succeeded in evading the police and smuggling himself out of Egypt, the effect as far as Daphnis was concerned would be just the same. With her contact gone there would be no one else to whom she could pass on her information, so she would automatically be rendered incapable of doing any further harm.

But that was allowing for the very worst possibilities of the case. Daphnis’ passion for Italy had suffered a severe setback when Mussolini’s Fascists had attacked Greece, and I felt certain that it had been further neutralised by our engagement. In justice to her, whatever she might have done in the past, unless it was proved or she admitted it herself, I refused to accept the suggestion that she had been communicating with the enemies of Britain since she had become engaged to me.

Major Cozelli would have plenty to employ him in rounding up the really dangerous gang who had been conspiring in the flat that night, and following other leads that his haul of documents had given him, without chivvying a young girl who, possibly months before, had contributed a few pieces of gossip to a spy’s budget out of a romantic passion for what, after all, was her father’s country.

Those were my views on the ethics of the thing and, whatever Daphnis had done, I was determined to protect her in any conceivable way that I could. What man would not have felt the same in such circumstances?

The ghastly problem was—
to set about it? The negro-policeman stood there actually looking at me. He was a huge six-footer, with a deep chest, and shoulders almost as broad as von Hentzen’s. If I suddenly went for him he would drop the bag to
defend himself, and taking advantage of his surprise there might be just time for me to snatch it up; but even if I rushed him I felt that there was little chance of my being able to knock him down and none at all of getting away with the bag before his shouts had attracted his officers across the hall. As they came running to see what was the matter they would inevitably cut me off from the front door.

It was the man himself who unconsciously put me on the track of the opportunity that I had been seeking. Having stared at him in silence for a moment I closed my eyes and passed my hand over them. It was no more than an automatic reaction, due to the strain which events of the night had placed upon me, and I was just about to pull myself together when I heard him ask with concern if I were ill.

Instantly I realised the possibilities that such an opening offered. I took a hesitant step forward and staggered to a chair. Then letting my head fall between my hands, as though I were trying to prevent myself from fainting, I murmured: “I’m about all in. Water! Get me a glass of water.”

The good-natured negro immediately put down the bag and left the room. He was hardly across the hall before I was kneeling by it. I could still hear the bathroom tap running when I already had Daphnis’ letters in my pocket and the case shut again. By the time the negro returned I was sitting on the chair where he had left me.

He had only just given me the water when Major Cozelli came back into the room.

“Hullo! You feeling ill, Day?” he asked.

I raised a sickly smile. “It’s the reaction, I’m afraid, sir. It’s not a very jolly experience to be told that in a few minutes time you’re to be thrown over a high balcony so that you’ll be dashed to pieces on the pavement.”

“No, I should have thought of that before,” he said very decently. “I shall want to see you in the morning, of course, to take a more detailed statement, so you’d better report to Police Headquarters at ten o’clock; but you can get off now. We’ve finished here in any case.”

Having thanked him, I drank the rest of the water and made a show of pulling myself together. The detective-sergeant was left in charge of the flat and the rest of us went out on to the landing together.

As we went down in the lift I was smiling inwardly at the thought of my unexpected triumph. The evidence that Daphnis
had been a Fascist agent was now in my pocket, so it would be impossible for Cozelli to bring any charge against her. Yet we had hardly reached the entrance-hall of the block when a new thought came, like an ice-cold douche, to quell my smug self-satisfaction. What if among the mass of papers that Cozelli still had in the case there was a list of agents and Daphnis’ name appeared upon it? Or references to her occurred in letters from some of Mondragora’s other correspondents?

Directly he got back to Headquarters, Cozelli and half a dozen of his assistants would begin a frantic sorting out of the captured documents. Speed of action was absolutely vital if the maximum results were to be obtained from the haul, and Cozelli was nothing if not efficient. Within an hour or so he would have given instructions for the arrest of perhaps half a hundred people. Only by not losing a second could he hope to catch Mondragora’s principal associates before the Portuguese had a chance to warn them that, the police having raided his own flat, their whole organisation must now be considered in danger.

BOOK: The Sword of Fate
8.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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