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Authors: Agatha Christie

They Came to Baghdad

BOOK: They Came to Baghdad
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Agatha Christie
They Came to Baghdad

To all my friends in Baghdad

Contents

One

Captain Crosbie came out of the bank with the pleased…

Two

Victoria Jones was sitting moodily on a seat in FitzJames…

Three

The Savoy Hotel welcomed Miss Anna Scheele with the empressement…

Four

It says a good deal for the buoyancy of Victoria's…

Five

The boat that had left the marshes two days before…

Six

Richard Baker sat in the outer office of the British…

Seven

Life, thought Victoria, life at last! Sitting in her seat…

Eight

On the fifth floor of a block of offices in…

Nine

Young Mr. Shrivenham of the British Embassy shifted from one…

Ten

Victoria, breathing in hot choking yellow dust, was unfavourably impressed…

Eleven

Victoria awoke to a morning of vivid sunshine. Having dressed,…

Twelve

Victoria arrived back at the Tio, rather footsore, to be…

Thirteen

It had been Victoria's intention to go to bed and…

Fourteen

Victoria lay in bed with her light out, listening through…

Fifteen

“Of course you must stay at the Consulate,” said Mrs.

Sixteen

“Find your young man?” asked Mr. Dakin.

Seventeen

It proved fairly simple on the following morning for Victoria…

Eighteen

When Victoria regained consciousness, it was with a sense of…

Nineteen

Richard found Dr. Pauncefoot Jones in the excavations squatting by…

Twenty

On the following afternoon Dr. Pauncefoot Jones uttered a disgusted…

Twenty-One

They started into Baghdad early. Victoria's spirits felt curiously low.

Twenty-Two

Her blonde hair carefully arranged, her nose powdered and her…

Twenty-Three

The big Skymaster swooped down from the air and made…

Twenty-Four

Baghdad was transformed. Police lined the streets—police drafted in from…

Twenty-Five

“What bothers me,” said Victoria, “is that poor Danish woman…

I

C
aptain Crosbie came out of the bank with the pleased air of one who has cashed a cheque and has discovered that there is just a little more in his account than he thought there was.

Captain Crosbie often looked pleased with himself. He was that kind of man. In figure he was short and stocky, with rather a red face and a bristling military moustache. He strutted a little when he walked. His clothes were, perhaps, just a trifle loud, and he was fond of a good story. He was popular among other men. A cheerful man, commonplace but kindly, unmarried. Nothing remarkable about him. There are heaps of Crosbies in the East.

The street into which Captain Crosbie emerged was called Bank Street for the excellent reason that most of the banks in the city were situated in it. Inside the bank it was cool and dark and rather musty. The predominant sound was of large quantities of typewriters clicking in the background.

Outside in Bank Street it was sunny and full of swirling dust
and the noises were terrific and varied. There was the persistent honking of motor horns, the cries of vendors of various wares. There were hot disputes between small groups of people who seemed ready to murder each other but were really fast friends; men, boys and children were selling every type of tree, sweetmeats, oranges and bananas, bath towels, combs, razor blades and other assorted merchandise carried rapidly through the streets on trays. There was also a perpetual and ever renewed sound of throat clearing and spitting, and above it the thin melancholy wail of men conducting donkeys and horses amongst the stream of motors and pedestrians shouting,
“Balek—Balek!”

It was eleven o'clock in the morning in the city of Baghdad.

Captain Crosbie stopped a rapidly running boy with an armful of newspapers and bought one. He turned the corner of Bank Street and came into Rashid Street which is the main street of Baghdad, running through it for about four miles parallel with the river Tigris.

Captain Crosbie glanced at the headlines in the paper, tucked it under his arm, walked for about two hundred yards and then turned down a small alleyway and into a large khan or court. At the farther side of this he pushed open a door with a brass plate and found himself in an office.

A neat young Iraqi clerk left his typewriter and came forward smiling a welcome.

“Good morning, Captain Crosbie. What can I do for you?”

“Mr. Dakin in his room? Good, I'll go through.”

He passed through a door, up some very steep stairs and along
a rather dirty passage. He knocked at the end door and a voice said, “Come in.”

It was a high, rather bare room. There was an oil stove with a saucer of water on top of it, a long, low cushioned seat with a little coffee table in front of it and a large rather shabby desk. The electric light was on and the daylight was carefully excluded. Behind the shabby desk was a rather shabby man, with a tired and indecisive face—the face of one who has not got on in the world and knows it and has ceased to care.

The two men, the cheerful self-confident Crosbie, and the melancholy fatigued Dakin, looked at each other.

Dakin said, “Hallo, Crosbie. Just in from Kirkuk?”

The other nodded. He shut the door carefully behind him. It was a shabby looking door, badly painted, but it had one rather unexpected quality; it fitted well, with no crevices and no space at the bottom.

It was, in fact, soundproof.

With the closing of the door, the personalities of both men changed ever so slightly. Captain Crosbie became less aggressive and cocksure. Mr. Dakin's shoulders drooped less, his manner was less hesitating. If anyone had been in the room listening they would have been surprised to find that Dakin was the man in authority.

“Any news, sir?” asked Crosbie.

“Yes.” Dakin sighed. He had before him a paper which he had just been busy decoding. He dotted down two more letters and said:

“It's to be held in Baghdad.”

Then he struck a match, set light to the paper and watched it
burn. When it had smouldered to ashes, he blew gently. The ashes flew up and scattered.

“Yes,” he said. “They've settled on Baghdad. Twentieth of next month. We're to ‘preserve all secrecy.'”

“They've been talking about it in the souk—for three days,” said Crosbie drily.

The tall man smiled his weary smile.

“Top secret! No top secrets in the East, are there, Crosbie?”

“No, sir. If you ask me, there aren't any top secrets anywhere. During the war I often noticed a barber in London knew more than the High Command.”

“It doesn't matter much in this case. If the meeting is arranged for Baghdad it will soon have to be made public. And then the fun—our particular fun—starts.”

“Do you think it will ever take place, sir?” asked Crosbie sceptically. “Does Uncle Joe”—thus disrespectfully did Captain Crosbie refer to the head of a Great European Power—“really mean to come?”

“I think he does this time, Crosbie,” said Dakin thoughtfully. “Yes, I think so. And if the meeting comes off—comes off without a hitch—well, it might be the saving of—everything. If some kind of understanding could only be reached—” he broke off.

Crosbie still looked slightly sceptical. “Is—forgive me, sir—is understanding of any kind
possible?

“In the sense you mean, Crosbie, probably
not!
If it were just a bringing together of two men representing totally different ideologies probably the whole thing would end as usual—in increased suspicion and misunderstanding. But there's the third element. If that fantastic story of Carmichael's is true—”

He broke off.

“But surely, sir, it can't be true. It's
too
fantastic!”

The other was silent for a few moments. He was seeing, very vividly, an earnest troubled face, hearing a quiet nondescript voice saying fantastic and unbelievable things. He was saying to himself, as he had said then, “Either my best, my most reliable man has gone mad: or else—this thing is true….”

He said in the same thin melancholy voice:

“Carmichael believed it. Everything he could find out confirmed his hypothesis. He wanted to go there to find out more—to get proof. Whether I was wise to let him or not, I don't know. If he doesn't get back, it's only my story of what Carmichael told me, which again is a story of what someone told
him.
Is that enough? I don't think so. It is, as you say, such a fantastic story…But if the man himself is here, in Baghdad, on the twentieth, to tell his own story, the story of an eyewitness, and to produce proof—”

“Proof?” said Crosbie sharply.

The other nodded.

“Yes, he's got proof.”

“How do you know?”

“The agreed formula. The message came through Salah Hassan.” He quoted carefully:
“A white camel with a load of oats is coming over the Pass.”

He paused and then went on:

“So Carmichael has got what he went to get, but he didn't get away unsuspected. They're on his trail. Whatever route he takes will be watched, and what is far more dangerous, they'll be waiting for him—here. First on the frontier. And if he succeeds in passing
the frontier, there will be a cordon drawn round the Embassies and the Consulates. Look at this.”

He shuffled amongst the papers on his desk and read out:

“An Englishman travelling in his car from Persia to Iraq shot dead—supposedly by bandits. A Kurdish merchant travelling down from the hills ambushed and killed. Another Kurd, Abdul Hassan, suspected of being a cigarette smuggler, shot by the police. Body of a man, afterwards identified as an Armenian lorry driver, found on the Rowanduz road. All of them mark you, of roughly the same description. Height, weight, hair, build, it corresponds with a description of Carmichael. They're taking no chances. They're out to get him. Once he's in Iraq the danger will be greater still. A gardener at the Embassy, a servant at the Consulate, an official at the Airport, in the Customs, at the railway stations…all hotels watched…A cordon, stretched tight.

Crosbie raised his eyebrows.

“You think it's as widespread as all that, sir?”

“I've no doubt of it. Even in our show there have been leakages. That's the worst of all. How am I to be sure that the measures we're adopting to get Carmichael safely into Baghdad aren't known already to the other side? It's one of the elementary moves of the game, as you know, to have someone in the pay of the other camp.”

“Is there anyone you—suspect?”

Slowly Dakin shook his head.

Crosbie sighed.

“In the meantime,” he said, “we carry on?”

“Yes.”

“What about Crofton Lee?”

“He's agreed to come to Baghdad.”

“Everyone's coming to Baghdad,” said Crosbie. “Even Uncle Joe, according to you, sir. But if anything should happen to the President—while he's here—the balloon will go up with a vengeance.”

“Nothing must happen,” said Dakin. “That's our business. To see it doesn't.”

When Crosbie had gone Dakin sat bent over his desk. He murmured under his breath:

“They came to Baghdad….”

On the blotting pad he drew a circle and wrote under it
Baghdad
—then, dotted round it, he sketched a camel, an aeroplane, a steamer, a small puffing train—all converging on the circle. Then on the corner of the pad he drew a spider's web. In the middle of the spider's web he wrote a name:
Anna Scheele.
Underneath he put a big query mark.

Then he took his hat, and left the office. As he walked along Rashid Street, some man asked another who that was.

“That? Oh, that's Dakin. In one of the oil companies. Nice fellow, but never gets on. Too lethargic. They say he drinks.
He
'll never get anywhere. You've got to have drive to get on in this part of the world.”

II

“Have you got the reports on the Krugenhorf property, Miss Scheele?”

“Yes, Mr. Morganthal.”

Miss Scheele, cool and efficient, slipped the papers in front of her employer.

He grunted as he read.

“Satisfactory, I think.”

“I certainly think so, Mr. Morganthal.”

“Is Schwartz here?”

“He's waiting in the outer office.”

“Have him sent in right now.”

Miss Scheele pressed a buzzer—one of six.

“Will you require me, Mr. Morganthal?”

“No, I don't think so, Miss Scheele.”

Anna Scheele glided noiselessly from the room.

She was a platinum blonde—but not a glamorous blonde. Her pale flaxen hair was pulled straight back from her forehead into a neat roll at the neck. Her pale blue intelligent eyes looked out on the world from behind strong glasses. Her face had neat small features, but was quite expressionless. She had made her way in the world not by her charm but by sheer efficiency. She could memorize anything, however complicated, and produce names, dates and times without having to refer to notes. She could organize the staff of a big office in such a way that it ran as by well-oiled machinery. She was discretion itself and her energy, though controlled and disciplined, never flagged.

Otto Morganthal, head of the firm of Morganthal, Brown and Shipperke, international bankers, was well aware that to Anna Scheele he owed more than mere money could repay. He trusted her completely. Her memory, her experience, her judgement, her cool level head were invaluable. He paid her a large salary and would have made it a larger one had she asked for it.

She knew not only the details of his business but the details of his private life. When he had consulted her in the matter of the
second Mrs. Morganthal, she had advised divorce and suggested the exact amount of alimony. She had not expressed sympathy or curiosity. She was not, he would have said, that kind of woman. He didn't think she had any feelings, and it had never occurred to him to wonder what she thought about. He would indeed have been astonished if he had been told that she had any thoughts—other, that is, than thoughts connected with Morganthal, Brown and Shipperke and with the problems of Otto Morganthal.

So it was with complete surprise that he heard her say as she prepared to leave his office:

“I should like three weeks' leave of absence if I might have it, Mr. Morganthal. Starting from Tuesday next.”

Staring at her, he said uneasily: “It will be awkward—very awkward.”

“I don't think it will be too difficult, Mr. Morganthal. Miss Wygate is fully competent to deal with things. I shall leave her my notes and full instructions. Mr. Cornwall can attend to the Ascher Merger.”

Still uneasily he asked:

“You're not ill, or anything?”

He couldn't imagine Miss Scheele being ill. Even germs respected Anna Scheele and kept out of her way.

“Oh no, Mr. Morganthal. I want to go to London to see my sister there.”

“Your sister?” He didn't know she had a sister. He had never conceived of Miss Scheele as having any family or relations. She had never mentioned having any. And here she was, casually referring to a sister in London. She had been over in London with him last fall but she had never mentioned having a sister then.

With a sense of injury he said:

“I never knew you had a sister in En gland?”

Miss Scheele smiled very faintly.

“Oh yes, Mr. Morganthal. She is married to an Englishman connected with the British Museum. It is necessary for her to undergo a very serious operation. She wants me to be with her. I should like to go.”

In other words, Otto Morganthal saw, she had made up her mind to go.

He said grumblingly, “All right, all right…Get back as soon as you can. I've never seen the market so jumpy. All this damned Communism. War may break out at any moment. It's the only solution, I sometimes think. The whole country's riddled with it—riddled with it. And now the President's determined to go to this fool conference at Baghdad. It's a put-up job in my opinion. They're out to get him. Baghdad! Of all the outlandish places!”

BOOK: They Came to Baghdad
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