Murder at Monte Carlo - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

Murder at Monte Carlo ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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One of many great works by E. Phillips Oppenheim, who styled himself as the „prince of storytellers,” and is credited with creating the ‘rogue male’ genre of adventure thrillers and was one of the earliest writers of spy fiction from the late 19th and early 20th Century England. The hero in this one is Roger Sloane, a well-off American bon vivant who decides to blow the whistle on a gang of transplanted American gangsters who have abandoned New York and set up a sophisticated crime syndicate on the French Riviera and in Monaco. Robbery, murder, secret hideouts, fast cars, and beautiful women all figure in this tale of roaring 20’s. Roger meets a wild and beautiful child of the hills, Jeannine, who reappears as the protege of his Aunt, and the belle of the casino.

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Liczba stron: 353

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER I

Paul Viotti tapped with the tips of his finger nails the five cards which lay face downwards before him upon the green baize table. His four companions took the hint and prepared to listen. This was no ordinary card room in which the five men had met. It was the Holy of Holies in the most famous gambling club of New York. He would be a brave man who sought entrance there while a séance was being held.

“To-night,” he said, “we are to speak of serious things. Perhaps I am more careful of my health than you others. Anyway, I know when the going is good. One gang against us was dangerous enough. We had all we could take care of when Tim Rooney brought his boys out. Now there are two. I am for fighting when I think that we’ll win. Now I am sure that we shall lose if we go on, I say let us get away.”

His four companions listened in absorbed interest. The game was momentarily forgotten. The cards lay untouched, the chips uncounted. Each seemed to have adopted a different attitude. Marcus Constantine–he was known under a different name in Paris and on the French Riviera–a long, graceful-looking youth, pale of complexion, with dark eyes and a curiously sensitive mouth, slouched across the table, his head supported between his hands, his eyes fixed upon his chief as though afraid of missing a single word. Matthew Drane, a good-looking, elaborately dressed man with smoothly brushed brown hair, pink-complexioned, with a humorous mouth and a right hand which was reputed to be the quickest in the world at drawing a lethal weapon from the obscurity of a hidden pocket, listened with equal interest but more geniality. Tom Meredith, his neighbour, the flamboyant beau of the party, a pudgy-faced, narrow-eyed man of early middle age, dressed in imitation Savile Row cut tweeds, a shirt of violent design and a shameless tie, grunted his impartial approval of the scheme, whilst Edward Staines opposite, a tired-looking man who had the appearance of a successful but hard-working lawyer, listened with the slightly cynical air of one predisposed towards pessimism.

“That’s all very well for you, Paul,” the latter remarked. “You’ve got a country to go to where you can buy a mountain or two and an old castle and live like a lord for a few dollars a year. What the hell are we going to do, fussing about Europe? I’ll admit we’re up against a tough proposition here with this gang of Tim Rooney’s hanging about after our territory, but what about lying low for a few months?”

“No damn’ good that,” Tom Meredith objected. “While we are lying low, Tim would be organising and we should never get our feet in again. Seems to me we’re about through with this racket. We’ve got to either split up or find some place where the Star Spangled Banner doesn’t flutter. We’ve had the cream. Let’s leave the slops for Tim.”

Paul Viotti, a swarthy, black-haired Corsican, expensively dressed, clean-shaven and perfumed, shook a fat forefinger at them all, a forefinger upon which flashed a wickedly assertive diamond.

“I’ve got a hunch for you,” he announced. “There’s only one place for us in the world. Money there for the picking up and a clear field.”

Marcus Constantine looked swiftly across the table.

“Where’s that?” he demanded.

“The South of France,” was the prompt and triumphant reply. “Listen, I got a brother there and I know something. Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo–why at the baccarat there there’s millions, millions you can handle, mind, in good mille notes, changes hands every night. Suckers there by the thousands and not a nursemaid to look after them. Hauling liquor round here has been a good-enough job while it lasted, but the shooting’s getting a bit too free and easy for me.”

The long young man, Marcus Constantine, tapped a cigarette upon the table and lit it. There was a gleam of excitement in his eyes.

“I’ll say that Paul is dead right,” he declared. “As you fellows know, I’m over there every year. I’ve got crowds of friends and I know the runs. Matthew isn’t exactly a stranger there, either.”

Paul Viotti smiled upon them all beneficently with outstretched hands.

“You hear Marcus?” he exclaimed. “He knows what he talks about. My brother over there, too. He knows. He’s not in the game, but he knows. What I say is that we wander over there separately, take our time about it, mind; look at Paris and London first. Wait until people have forgotten what they may have heard about us out here. Time enough if we begin in, say, twelve months. My brother, he can get ready what we need. It won’t be much. Just a place where we can meet and no one guesses–like here.

“There is one thing,” Matthew Drane remarked. “I guess we’ll have to take care of Luke Cheyne. Last we heard of him, he was out that way.”

There was a moment’s silence. Paul Viotti was stroking his black moustache.

“A pity about Luke,” he sighed. “He should not have left us. Luke will have to go. Only a few days ago I had a pleasant little chat with Inspector Haygon down at Police Headquarters. I am afraid there is no doubt it was Luke who tipped Conyers off. He didn’t clear out for nothing.”

“What about the stock?” Edward Staines demanded.

“Never been so low,” Viotti confided. “And listen, boys, I’ve an offer for the lot. Four hundred and fifty thousand cash. The stuff’s worth more, but it would clean things up nicely.”

“I’m for making the move,” Tom Meredith declared. “I’d sooner find myself alive at the Ritz Bar this time next month, taking one with Charlie, than feeding the worms up at Woodlawn.”

“Disgusting fellow,” Marcus Constantine drawled. “I take it we’re all agreed upon the move. We’ve drunk many a highball to our luck in this little room before we’ve gone out into the hard world. We’ll drink one now to ‘La Belle France’!”

They all crowded around the sideboard and helped themselves, for no waiter ever crossed the threshold of their sanctum whilst their session was in progress. Paul Viotti alone remained at the table. He had made a million dollars by bootlegging, but it was his boast that he had never yet touched a drop of hard liquor in his life.

“Come along, you boys,” he called out presently. “Let’s start the game. I ante five hundred. Very cheap to see me. Come along, all of you.”

They took their places. The heavily curtained windows reduced the roar of the avenue beyond the square to something stifled and monotonous, but the rattle of the overhead railway and the sirens from the steamships and ferries on the river came as reminders that they were in the heart of the great city.

“I guess,” Tom Meredith remarked thoughtfully, “it will seem quiet at first in Monte Carlo.”

“Maybe we’d soon all be quieter,” Paul Viotti grinned, “if we stayed on here.”

That was the afternoon when it was decided that the most dangerous gang of liquor dealers in the United States should disband and enter upon a fresh sphere of operations in Europe.

Certainly Roger Sloane’s environment was all right. He was seated in a wisteria-wreathed arbour with his back to the snow-capped Alpes-Maritimes and before him the most enchanting landscape in the world. Little wafts of perfume floated up to him from a grove of orange trees just below, and beyond, the mellowing meadows and flower farms faded downwards to the blue streak of the Mediterranean. The Estérels made a silvery background on his right. The ancient hill town of La Bastide hemmed him in on the nearer left–a village so ancient that it was almost impossible to tell the inhabited dwellings from the crawling masses of grey stone. The sunshine was a live thing that morning, dancing and gleaming through the trees and amongst the flowers which stocked his garden. Without a doubt his environment was beyond reproach, yet before him on the rude Provençal table was a neat pile of manuscript paper clipped into a leather case, it’s pages virgin of even one disfiguring scrawl. For three successive mornings he had lounged in this miniature paradise, had soaked himself in the sunshine, been sung to by countless sweet-throated birds, had feasted his eyes upon this mass of colouring and absorbed the perfume of an everchanging nosegay of delicious scents. Not a line written. And he called himself an author!

Along the stony footpath which fringed his domain came an unusual sight, a pedestrian tourist. His attire was strange and his gait peculiar. He walked with a loping slouch, a staff in his right hand, and although more than fully grown, he wore what seemed in the distance to be the undress uniform of a Boy Scout. As he drew nearer, he paused in the middle of the path to stare at Sloane–a little rudely, the latter thought. The occupant of the arbour rose to his feet and sauntered to the wall. The newcomer was, at any rate, a curiosity worth looking at. Besides, there was something familiar about his slouch.

The two men scrutinised one another in perfunctory fashion, perhaps at first a little insolently. Then came almost simultaneous recognition.

“Holy Jupiter!” the pedestrian exclaimed. “It’s the poet!”

“Erskine!” the other young man gasped. “Pips Erskine!”

They babbled a few senseless commonplaces. They had been at a preparatory school and Oxford together, but during the four years since they had slipped into the larger world they had not met.

“How are things with you, Pips?” Roger Sloane asked.

“So-so. And you?”

“I keep free from debts and melancholia. What,” he continued, “for the love of Mike, is the meaning of that musical-comedy costume of yours? Have we gone back to the days of Drury Lane? Are you Dick Whittington searching for the Lord Mayor of these parts? You won’t like him when you find him. He’s a small fruit farmer and seldom sober. He comes of a Corsican family, his name’s Viotti, he hasn’t got a gilliflowers and carnations and even the wild roses, which had taken root in its moss-encrusted interstices. His climb had been long and strenuous. He had always possessed the gift of concentration and his eyes were fixed thirstily upon the villa. His friend struck a gong.

“Gin and tonic, whisky and Perrier or country wine?” the latter enquired.

“Gin and tonic,” was the prompt response. “A double, if you don’t mind. I have walked from Nice.”

Sloane gave the order to the white-coated butler who had hastened out from the house. Then he established his friend in a comfortable wicker chair, pushed the cigarettes across to him and filled his own pipe.

“So you really are a lord,” he exclaimed, with a touch of the young American’s curiosity toward an inherited title lurking in his tone.

“I certainly am,” Erskine assured him. “Only a baron, I regret to say. But, after all, I’ve always had a lurking weakness for barons. Ancient history is full of the records of their deeds. Runnymede, for instance–”

The drinks were brought and served. Sloane gave orders for luncheon.

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