Sinners Beware - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

Sinners Beware ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim



This is another collection of interlinked short stories about the good life in Monte Carlo and Beausoleil after the first World War. Ten stories about Peter Hames, the former Inspector on the New York police department that got tossed off the force when he tried to stop an innocent man being railroaded by a corrupt police force. Disillusioned, but after inheriting a million dollars, he moves to France to become a painter. But the detective instincts never left and he gets involved in various adventures. Oppenheim follows three characters through adventures wherein they solve crimes, thwart criminals, and are duped by professionals.

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Liczba stron: 259

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II. “anon. £1000.”










PETER HAMES, who had pushed open the door of the café and made abrupt entrance, paused within a yard or two of the threshold to shake the rain from his dripping mackintosh, and gazed about him with indifferent curiosity. The interior of the place was like the interior of many of the other Beausoleil bars. The staging, however, was unusual. For some reason or other, the electric supply in the immediate vicinity had failed. The lights were dim and inconstant, and, to amplify them, some one had lit an oil lamp which stood upon the edge of the counter. In the whole place there were only four people. Toby, the popular barman, was seated on the low stool onto which he sometimes subsided when waiting for clients, completely out of sight, except for the top of his head. Old man Delous, the crazy saddler from across the way, coatless and collarless, sat in a distant corner, mumbling to himself. A drunken man sprawled upon a bench on the opposite side, and on a high stool at the end of the bar remote from Toby, was perched a girl whose too lavish use of cosmetics and lipstick disguised her so effectually that one could only say she was young and had good features. She wore a hat which was between a beret and a jockey’s cap, slouched low over her forehead, and she was smoking Caporal cigarettes from a holder of unusual length. She scrutinised the newcomer wearily and apparently without interest.

“Wake up, Toby!” the latter enjoined, advancing a step or two nearer the bar. “My car is broken down at the bottom of the hill and I am wet through tinkering with it. A glass of the best brandy, quickly!”

Toby, who appeared to be sleeping, made no reply, nor did he attempt to rise to his feet. From the old man in the corner came a long, mirthless chuckle. Peter Hames, who had recovered his breath, took even closer note of his surroundings. The place was like some horrible study in still life. Someone had recently spilt liquor across the boarded floor; a chair was overturned; the sickly and indistinct illumination of the place became absolutely ghastly with the glimmering of a steely twilight, which found its way in through the uncurtained window, precursor of the leaden dawn.

“What’s wrong with this place to-night?” the newcomer demanded. “Wake up, Toby! I want some brandy, I tell you.”

The young man made no movement. He seemed to have fallen asleep, leaning forward on his stool. The girl knocked the ash from her cigarette and gazed down the length of the counter in insolent silence. Peter Hames lifted the lamp above his head with one hand and with the other shook the recumbent figure. Again the old man in the distant corner chuckled.

“What’s the matter with you, Toby?” customer enquired sharply. “Are you drunk, or what?”

Almost as he spoke, Peter Hames was conscious of that queer sensation about his fingers. He snatched bis hand away and held it under the lamp. The blood was dripping from his fingers on to the counter. He stood staring at it, the horror sealing his lips, paralysing even his nerves. The lamp slipped from his grasp and fell crashing on to the floor.

“Fool!” the girl exclaimed, as she flung a mat upon the thin flames. “Have you never seen a dead man before?”

A spiral of thick, black smoke was mounting to the low ceiling. With the extinction of the lamp, the sole illumination now was the streak of grey, forbidding light from that parting between the lowering clouds. The drunken man, snoring on his bench, old man Delous chuckling hideously in his corner, and the girl, back again on her stool with the cigarette holder once more between her lips, were all alike grotesque and vaguely-realised figures, phantasies in some foul nightmare. The smoke recoiling from the ceiling filled the place with an evil-smelling vapour. Through it, Peter Hames stepped swiftly to the door, re-crossed the threshold, and vanished into the lampless night.

A very dignified-looking manservant, of Franco-Italian extraction, entered his master’s studio one afternoon a few days later, with an announcement upon his lips. Peter Hames, in blue jean overalls, and the flowing tie of his professional confrères, was standing with his back to the window, painting rapidly in oils upon a small canvas.

“A young lady desires to see Monsieur.”

Peter Hames went on painting.

“You know very well, Vittorio,” he said reproachfully, “that I do not see strange young ladies.”

Vittorio was apologetic and fluent.

“The young lady is not of the type of Monsieur’s undesired visitors,” he declared. “She is chic and a young lady of the world. I will undertake to promise Monsieur that she is not a model.”

“Is she by chance possessed of a name?” Peter asked, still painting.

“It is to be expected, Monsieur,” the man agreed, “but not knowing that I was Monsieur’s servant of many years, and a person of discretion, she preferred to keep it to herself.”

His master, after stepping a little way back to inspect his work, continued to paint.

“I am intrigued, Vittorio,” he admitted, “but I do not wish to see the young lady. Use all your arts of diplomacy and get rid of her for me.”

Vittorio’s cheerful face became clouded.

“It will be a difficult matter, Monsieur,” he confessed.

“It will be impossible,” a very lazy, but pleasant feminine voice intervened. “I owe you all the apologies in the world, Mr. Hames, for this intrusion. Still, I had to see you, and I thought it might save time to follow your servant.”

She came slowly forward across the rush-carpeted studio with its simple, almost primitive furnishings. Peter Hames stood for a moment watching her in silence–a slim, elegant figure in severely cut coat and skirt of some dark material. She was fair, with grey eyes, which, from the moment of her entrance, held his, and the faint insolence of which marched with the lines of her mouth. Her complexion was innocent of all cosmetics; her lips were untouched. Even the fierce sunlight which surrounded her, streaming through the high windows, could show her no disfavour save for the slightest lines of fatigue or sleeplessness under her eyes. Peter Hames accepted fate, but first he wheeled his canvas around and turned it to the wall.

“What can I have the pleasure of doing for you, Mademoiselle?” he asked, pushing a chair into an adjacent corner of the studio, where the light was a little less penetrating. “Will you sit down?”

Vittorio, in response to a gesture from his master, left the room, his head high and full of the beatific consciousness of having done the right thing. The young lady sank into the chair and smiled up at her host.

“Well, to begin with,” she said, “you can tell me why you left the Café Régal so abruptly the other morning?”

He looked at her in puzzled fashion.

“The Café Régal?” he repeated. “I was afraid when I was informed of your visit, Mademoiselle, that you were making some mistake. I know of no such place.”

She nodded slowly.

“And I thought,” she murmured, “that Anglo-Saxons only lied–forgive the melodramatic touch–for the honour or the safety of their lady friends.”

“Are you so far removed from the Anglo-Saxon race?” he asked.

“Touché,” she admitted. “You can fence with me just as long as you wish, though. I like your studio and I am quite content to pay you a long visit. May I smoke?”

“By all means,” he assented. “I am afraid I can’t offer you anything very choice in the way of tobacco,” he added, producing a case.

She shook her head.

“Please don’t trouble,” she begged, “I smoke my own.”

From a plain suede bag, with a very beautiful clasp, she drew out a holder of exceptional length, fitted a cigarette into it, accepted a light from her host’s briquet, and leaned a little farther back in her chair.

“So you did not call for a glass of brandy at the Café Régal that night,” she murmured, “and stumble upon a tragedy? I rather envied you your entrance. An almost Rembrandtesque interior, wasn’t it?”

“Some day, when you have discovered your mistake,” lie suggested, “I shall ask you to take me there. Then I may be able to answer your question.”

She studied him pensively. Then an idea seemed to strike her and she leaned towards the wall. Easily anticipating his attempt at interference, with a swift turn of the wrist, she swung around the easel. They both looked at the picture together–at the sordid café, with its sombre, melancholy lighting effects, the girl, typical cocotte of the region, sprawling on her stool, the drunken man in his corner a shape only, old Père Delous, with his idiot but terrible face, showing his yellow fangs in that meaningless laugh. Behind the counter–nothing.

“A marvellous effort, from memory only,” she declared. “Did I really look like that?”

“Worse,” he answered tersely. “For all I know, you are. Appearances either way are deceitful. In any case what do you want with me?”

She sighed.

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