C.I.D - Talbot Mundy - ebook

C.I.D ebook

Talbot Mundy

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Author Hulbert Footner (1879-1944) brought the excitement of the 1920s and 1930s to Madame Storey’s cosmopolitan adventures, moving away from Edwardian and Victorian flavors of the mystery genre. Beautiful and aloof. Her secretary/narrator/companion is Bella Brickley. Rosika lives near Gramercy Park in NYC and has a pet monkey. She seems to solve cases by use of good guesswork, „practical psychology” and fortuitous prior knowledge of certain facts or people. So we are introduced to the fascinating Madame Rosika Storey, fearless and intelligent, who plays cat-and-mouse with killers, goes undercover to break up criminal gangs, and unravels deadly mysteries.

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Liczba stron: 303

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Contents

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER 1 “There is no such person. There is no such country.”

CHAPTER 2 “I am sent by Soonya”

CHAPTER 3 “Isn’t that brute dead yet?”

CHAPTER 4 “This is from the fat babu who ate your dinner”

CHAPTER 5 “I need a new knife, sahib”

CHAPTER 6 “The trouble with impossibilities is that they so often happen”

CHAPTER 7 “You should have been the Unknown Soldier”

CHAPTER 8 “It happened thiswise, sahibs”

CHAPTER 9 “Talk with one another”

CHAPTER 10 “Whoever it is, is as scared as I am”

CHAPTER 11 “How about a permit?”

CHAPTER 12 “The devil quotes scripture, sahib”

CHAPTER 13 “Let us hope you have no conscience”

CHAPTER 14 “We nibblers at the thread say nothing”

CHAPTER 15 “Not yet!”

CHAPTER 16 “I kiss feet, Heavenborn!”

CHAPTER 17 “Sappier and verbier than you guess! Hurry! Hurry!”

CHAPTER 18 “I know devils when I see them!”

CHAPTER 19 “C.3 meant to do that, if he did it”

CHAPTER 20 “It will probably be something!”

CHAPTER 21 “What are good guys for?”

CHAPTER 22 “You shall drink with it to your own health, you devil!”

CHAPTER 23 “A tiger comes quick as a punch in the eye!”

CHAPTER 24 “Simple! Since they wished it, why not?”

CHAPTER 25 “Accept my humble praises, sahib”

CHAPTER 1

“There is no such person. There is no such country.”

It was typical south-west monsoon weather, about as bad as Noah’s deluge. Due to choked drains and innumerable other troubles, some parts of the single track lay two feet under water; and it was next thing to impossible to see through the driving rain, so the “up mixed” reached the terminus three hours late. It crawled dejectedly and grumbled to a standstill in Narada Station, with curtains of water drooling from its eaves. The drum of the rain on the iron station roof seemed to add to the gloom of the lamp-lit platform. Stanley Copeland stuck his head out through a first-class compartment window and received not less than a gallon of water on the back of his neck. Cursing all things Indian, he opened the door then and jumped for comparative shelter – simultaneously with a very obese Bengali babu,* who was traveling second and apparently possessed no other luggage than a black umbrella.

“What chance of getting a porter?” he asked the babu.

“None whatever, sahib. Haven’t you a servant?”

Copeland had not, but he had a smile worth money. He had to pitch his voice against the splash of torrents from the eaves, the crash of thunder and the scream of the engine’s safety valve; but his voice was sonorous, not harsh:

“Someone was to have met me, but apparently he hasn’t. If they tried to auction India–”

The babu interrupted him. He chuckled amiably, pointing to the railway dining-room.

“You go in there and order dinner for us both,” he said, “and whisky pegs in two tall glasses; those are most important. Do you see those elephants?”

Three huge brutes loomed and swayed in lamplit shadow on the far side of the platform. One had an awninged, nickel-plated howdah, dyed tusks and vermilion paint around its eyes.

“There is a royal personage on this train,” said the babu. “He monopolizes all the porters. Is your luggage labeled? How many pieces? How many more in the compartment? Very well, my servant shall attend to them and I will supervise him. I am good at watching other people work. Go in and order dinner.”

As he spoke, a dish-faced, coppery-hued fellow in a dirty turban and a ragged cotton blanket left off talking to a pair of yellow-smocked, ascetic- looking pilgrims by the door of a third-class carriage and ran to receive the babu’s orders. Rather fascinated by the pilgrims, Copeland stared at them. To him they seemed more interested in the crowd than most such pious people are, when they have sworn a vow of poverty and set forth with staff and begging bowl in search of some religious rainbow’s end. However, they walked away and the shadows swallowed them. Copeland, finding himself alone, made tracks for the gloomy dining-room, sat down in the farthest corner at a fly-blown tablecloth beside a window, and ordered dinner from a bare-foot Goanese who knew enough to bring the drinks first.

He had to wait for the babu. He had swallowed one drink and ordered another when a dark-skinned man in a blue European suit, a raincoat, and a turban, entered. He glanced at Copeland shrewdly and then took a seat as far away as possible, but sat facing him. He had keen eyes and a look of self- assurance, but there was something sinister about him.

His gestures were those of a conjurer “with nothing to conceal,” and his very shapely hands were too conspicuous; a ruby, that perhaps was genuine, in a ring on the middle finger of his right hand suggested a danger signal; and Copeland was not prejudiced in his favor by the fact that he wore a gold chain- bracelet on his right wrist. His stare was lynx-like when the babu entered. He appeared to suspect, if not to recognize him, but the babu took no notice. A cane chair creaked under his weight as he sat down with his back towards the other man and swallowed, almost at a draught, the long drink that awaited him. Then he plunged into conversation:

“It will be a rotten dinner, but you will learn that without my telling you. What is the use of your talking to me, unless I tell you what you can’t discover for yourself? I am a reprehensible and graceless babu named Chullunder Ghose – investigator; don’t, however, waste your time investigating me, for there is no such person. Out there on the platform you were about to speak of India. There is no such country.”

“Where, then, have I spent the last six months?” Copeland asked him. “The visa on my passport calls it India.”

“If I should call myself a surgeon,” said the babu, “would that prove it? India speaks more than fifty languages, but can’t explain itself. It has a hundred heavenly religions, and is going to the devil. It has two hundred governments, no two alike, and more misgovernment per square mile than a colony of monkeys in a madhouse. India is misunderstood by itself and by every one else, the same as you and me, but would like to be understood, the same as you would; I, myself, however, pray that nobody may ever understand me. If I understood myself, I should inevitably die of boredom. You, sir, are a surgeon. Don’t deny it. I know all about you.”

“Why should I deny it?” Copeland answered. “There is nothing to know about me. I’m a specialist from the neck up – eye, throat, nose, and ear. Just now I’m studying cataract, if you know what that is. I came here because I heard that the next State, Kutchdullub, is full of it. I operate on anyone who’ll let me.”

“So does that man,” said the babu with a backward motion of his head, “but sane people don’t let him.”

Copeland glanced at the man at the far corner table. “Does he know you?” he asked.

“Not yet.”’

“He’ll remember the shape of the back of your head!”

“He shall remember more – much more!” the babu answered. “If only other people had longer memories, he might not now be drawing such a fat retainer as the medical wizard in charge of the Prince who came on our train. Even wealthy Indian Princes are as silly as peasants and lots of other people; they will listen to and pay a charlatan, but send a reputable doctor to the devil. Do you find it easy to get patients?”

Copeland smiled reminiscently. He had merry eyes and almost comically large ears, but a studious face and an unself-assertive manner.

“I’ve had better luck than I expected,” he answered. “Lots of Mohammedan patients, and some Hindus. In the hospitals I’ve had no difficulty with the Hindus – even women. However, if I understand the situation, now I’m up against State rights. Narada seems to be the jumping-off place into ancient history, as well as railroad terminus and border-town. The Rajah of the next State doesn’t even answer letters.”

“Perhaps, if he were sober –” said the babu. “Oh, is that the trouble? I was told he has religious prejudices against modern medicine and surgery.”

“Prejudices!” said the babu. “The religious member of that family is the Rajah of Kutchdullub’s cousin. It was he who arrived on our train. It is he who would inherit if the present Rajah should die childless. The present Rajah inherited because his elder brother did die childless. I am an investigator. Verb. sap.“*

“I should say, then, that the cousin would be wiser not to cross the border. Why does he do it?”

“And in this weather! There are always seven reasons for everything that anybody does. I know three: politics, health, religion. And the greatest of these is human nature! That is not a reason, but a good joke. His political adherents in Kutchdullub aren’t so sticky that it doesn’t pay to see them now and then and spread more tanglefoot. He has a country villa where his medical adviser, whom you see behind me, tells him that the medicinal springs are curative of ulcers of the stomach. As the hope and ewe lamb of the high church party, it behooves him at certain seasons to be sacramented by the priests. The other four reasons are what I am here to find out. But why are you here?”

“Me? I’m hoping,” said Copeland. “I want to see Kutchdullub, and I want to shoot a tiger. There’s a small dispensary in this town, and the Sikh in charge of it has offered to let me hold a clinic. So I’ll stay here for the present. What did you mean by saying there is no such person as yourself?”

“Am dead just now, as happens frequently. Was mixed up in a case near Quetta, and some murderers were hanged. But certain other murderers and friends of same were not caught, it being out of the question to catch and hang the total population; because no government is wise or reasonable; they always compromise: Therefore the C.I.D. – you have heard of it? Criminal Investigation Department – had me murdered and cremated as a precaution against revenge, and then removed me to this sweet solitude for a vacation.”

“Taking chances, aren’t you?”

“No, I never take them. One of them will take me some day. Until then I am taking long odds, but betting only on certainties.”

Copeland studied him a minute, while they both dipped spoons into abominable soup. He decided that the man’s obesity might be as deceptive as his mild brown eyes and his almost bovine calm.

“What I meant,” he remarked, when thunder had ceased crashing, “is, why do you tell me your name and what you are? I might betray you.”

He was answered by a chuckle. Then: “Do you suppose the C.I.D. would send me here because I don’t know the country intimately? Knowing, I am naturally known; and, once known, not so easy to forget! If His Highness the Rajah of Kutchdullub happens to be sober, his spies will tell him before midnight that you and I have dined together. So why should I observe secrecy towards you? On this side of the border what harm can you do me?”

“Will they let you cross, or must you sneak in?” Copeland asked him.

“I would go in with a brass band, if there were one,” said the babu. “Some of them will welcome me as small boys do a teacher, telling me the little secrets better to conceal the big ones. For I tell you, that secrets are not kept by being secretive; nor can you discover them by looking like a questionnaire in a headsman’s mask. But tell me, have you ever shot a tiger?”

“Can’t say I have,” said Copeland. “But a fellow needs a steady nerve at my trade. There isn’t much room for error when you operate on eyes, for instance. I can handle a rifle. I’ve a good one that I’ve used quite a bit. Say, look here! I don’t know of anything that I can offer you, but perhaps you can think of something. You can get into Kutchdullub, and you’re going. I want people suffering from cataract to come and see me. And I want to shoot a tiger. Help me in either of those respects, and name your quid pro quo. If I can match you, I will.”

Swiftly, penetratingly, and only once, the babu glanced at him; his brown eyes almost changed their shape during that fraction of a second, and their color glowed like amber with a light behind it. Then he looked down at his goat chop.

“Do you ever gamble, sahib? Do you bet blind? Do you have an intuition that you trust against the evidence of all your senses?”

“Sometimes.”

“Care to bet on me? I have a nuisance value. Not even God can guess the value of a nuisance, or He would not have created such a paradox. A nuisance is superior to Einstein’s square root of minus one; that has no demonstrable existence but can solve a problem by creating greater ones. I would exact a promise.”

Thunder again, chain lightning, and a volley of rain on the iron roof. The man in the far corner washed his ruby in a tumbler, polished it on a napkin, turned up his overcoat collar and walked out, letting in a gust of wind that blew off tablecloths and smashed some crockery.

“I would ask you to promise,” said the babu, “not to cross the border into the State of Kutchdullub until I send for you or come and fetch you.”

“What’s the big idea?”

“Take no chances,” said the babu. “Sahib, it is paradoxically true in this world that the simplest way to get what you are after is not to try to get it. Say no, and resist temptation when you mean yes and already have fallen for it like an apple on to Newton’s nose.”

“O.K., I get you. Very well, I promise.”

“But I promise nothing,” said the babu. “It is contrary to my religion to make any promise that I don’t intend to break. I am a slave of my religion.”

“You’re ‘a high-caste Hindu, aren’t you? How comes it that you eat with me, and eat meat?”

Chullunder Ghose took up a bone in his fingers and gnawed it before he answered:

“Sahib, why do you cut cataracts off eyeballs?”

“For the practice. Hell, I’m learning!”

“Same here! Self am also surgeon – of impossibilities! I amputate them. Why? For the experience. I like it. And one does not get experience by being holier than other people.”

“But the Hindu religion, as I understand it–”

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