The Amazing Partnership - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Amazing Partnership ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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E. Phillips Oppenheim wrote most famously of secret agents and duplicitous diplomats, secret treaties and international conspiracies, moonlit Riviera casinos, Swiss hotel suites, perilous yacht trips, and glamorous trans-European express trains. Known in his time as „the Prince of Storytellers,” Oppenheim, like the brand names of today’s best seller lists, offered readers in the first half of the 20th century a steady, predictable, and entertaining supply of pop fiction. „The Amazing Partnership” is one of E. Phillips Oppenheim’s most intriguing stories. This story deals with a young man and a young woman who make an informal partnership in criminal investigation.

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Liczba stron: 334

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Contents

CHAPTER I. PRYDE’S FIRST COMMISSION

CHAPTER II. THE MYSTERIOUS RESCUE AT DOVER

CHAPTER III. THE MYSTERIOUS IDOL

CHAPTER IV. THE HUMAN FOUR

CHAPTER V. THE UNPUBLISHED TRAGEDY OF MRS. DELAMOIR

CHAPTER VI. A NEW DEPARTURE

CHAPTER VII. THE ETERNAL WEAKNESS

CHAPTER VIII. THE SILENT PEOPLE

CHAPTER IX. BACK IN BERMONDSEY

CHAPTER X. THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MONSIEUR DUPOY

CHAPTER XI. THE MYSTERY OF THE CAFÉ SUPRÊME

CHAPTER XII. THE SPIDER’S PARLOUR

CHAPTER XIII. THE MARVELLOUS ESCAPE OF MR. HASLEM

CHAPTER XIV. “THE GIRLS OF LONDON”

CHAPTER XV. THE TRAGEDY AT CHARLECOT MANSIONS

CHAPTER XVI. A HOLIDAY BY THE SEA

CHAPTER XVII. THE HOUSE OF REST

CHAPTER XVIII. THE SIMPLE LIFE IN BERMONDSEY

CHAPTER XIX. THE PRINCE WHO RAN AWAY

I. PRYDE’S FIRST COMMISSION

MR. STEPHEN PRYDE having finished a somewhat protracted lunch leaned back in his chair and, under cover of a sheltering newspaper, carefully felt in each one of his pockets and counted the coins which were the result of his search. His worldly wealth apparently amounted to six shillings and fourpence halfpenny; the bill for his luncheon to three shillings. He called the waiter.

“Charles,” he said, “the luncheon was unusually good this morning.”

Charles stood in an attitude of pleased attention.

“I trust, sir,” he replied, “that it will be the same always.”

Mr. Stephen Pryde sighed. “Alas! henceforth it will be others who will realize that the Café de Lugano is the best restaurant of its sort for the poor man in London. You may let my table when you will, Charles. This afternoon I depart.”

The smile faded from the smooth white face of the attentive waiter. He was three parts a fraud, of course, but Stephen Pryde was certainly his favourite customer. “I am indeed sorry, sir,” he said gravely. “It will be but for a short time, I hope, that monsieur leaves us?”

Stephen Pryde shook his head gloomily. He was as a rule a particularly cheerful-looking young man, which made his gesture the more significant. “Alas!” he declared, “it may be that I shall eat no more of these excellent lunches. I go a long way away. My meals for the last few weeks, if you only knew it, Charles, have been precarious affairs. There is one question I would ask you, Charles, before we shake hands. You know every one of your regular customers. Tell me, who is the young lady who sits always in the opposite corner there?”

Charles half turned his head. The lady in question was sipping her coffee, apparently absorbed in the newspaper propped up before her. She was dressed with extreme simplicity in sombre black. Her cheeks were pale; her brown eyes were large and soft, and distinctly her most noticeable feature. She was a young woman of negative personality. She might almost have occupied any station in life.

“The young lady, sir,” Charles repeated, “in the corner? She is like monsieur, a regular client, but I do not know who she is. She never speaks except to order her luncheon or dinner; nor does she ever look about her.”

“That’s where you are not quite right, Charles,” Stephen Pryde objected. “The young lady has been watching me over the top of her newspaper.”

Charles smiled a little doubtfully.

“Mademoiselle has indeed a charming appearance and beautiful eyes,” he agreed, “but–” He held out his hands expressively.

Pryde laughed shortly. “Oh! I am not flattering myself particularly,” he remarked. “She has rooms in the same block of buildings as myself, so I have had opportunities of observing her. She is assuredly not of the type who seek adventures. Yet when she looks at one, one feels that she sees a good deal. Do you understand that, Charles?”

Charles seemed a little doubtful. His assent, too, was more polite than spirited.

“Not the type of person, I perceive,” Stephen Pryde continued, “likely to inspire you, Charles, with even curiosity. Nevertheless, I must confess that it would give me a certain satisfaction to discover the calling of that young lady. She does something in life–I am convinced of it. I am equally convinced that she is not a manicurist, or a milliner, or an actress… . The affair, after all, is of no consequence. There are three shillings for my bill, Charles, which you will have stamped at the desk and bring me back receipted. We will speak of the other little matter afterward.”

Charles retreated with a bow and stood awaiting his turn at the desk. Stephen Pryde glanced for a moment in the mirror at his right hand. Over the top of her paper the girl was watching him through half-closed eyes. He turned his head suddenly, but not suddenly enough. She had disappeared behind the newspaper.

“For some reason or other,” he murmured to himself, “she seems to take a certain interest in me. I wonder if she guesses.”

For a moment or two the faintly quizzical smile passed from the corners of his lips. He stared at the plate in front of him. His face had assumed an unusual gravity. For those few seconds it seemed to him that he was inspired with something very much like second sight. He saw into a dark world, and he shivered.

Stephen Pryde emerged from Soho into New Oxford Street, and, taking a turn to the left, proceeded a little way down a side street and entered a block of tall buildings. For one moment, as he entered, he turned round and glanced down the busy street which he had left. There was a certain significance in the moving traffic, the restless crowds of people, the panorama of living, which he had perhaps never wholly appreciated before. Then, with a little shrug of the shoulders, he began to mount the stairs. Arrived at the fifth floor, he took out a key and let himself into the single room which had been his abode for the last few weeks. He hung up his hat and seated himself in the only chair before a small desk.

He was not in the habit of talking to himself, but the day was an unusual one with him. His little sitting-room, stripped bare during the last few weeks of every ornament and most of its furniture, certainly contained neither living person nor inanimate object likely to inspire conversation. Even his desk was devoid of its ordinary accessories. The luncheon from which he had just returned had been paid for with the proceeds of a silver-mounted ink-stand. Its place was taken now by a somewhat cumbersome-looking revolver of ancient pattern, yet with grim suggestions of efficiency in its very ugliness. Stephen Pryde looked at it intently.

“I fear,” he exclaimed softly, “that you must be my final choice! All my life I have been an obvious and commonplace person. I am forced now into an obvious and commonplace end. Not that it really matters–not that anything really matters.”

A knock at the door disturbed his meditations. With a little sigh he thrust the revolver into a drawer.

“Everything happening wrongly,” he murmured as he rose to his feet. “Even this interruption is stereotyped. Enter beautiful stranger with a pocketful of bank-notes. For choice, let her be the girl at the restaurant. Come in.”

The door was at once opened. The beautiful stranger was a myth. A fat and irritable-looking man of middle age, with exceedingly red face and exceedingly white hair, entered. Stephen Pryde glanced at him curiously, then gave a little sigh of relief.

“Neither philanthropist nor fairy princess,” he muttered under his breath. “Come in, sir, and shut the door,” he added in a louder key; “that is, if you think it worth while. First, though, let me warn you that, whatever you want, I haven’t got it.”

The new-comer stood without moving. In the podgy fingers of one hand he held the handle of the door, with the other he beckoned to Stephen Pryde.

“Young man,” he said, “come here.”

Stephen Pryde did not move. “Why should I?” he expostulated. “In the first place, I am not a young man. I am thirty-four years of age–thirty-five next month. In the second place–”

“D–n the second place!” the old gentleman interrupted fiercely. “Come here.”

Stephen Pryde was almost taken aback. The new-comer seemed suddenly to have become furiously and almost dangerously angry. The veins on his forehead stood out in unpleasant fashion. The very hairs upon his head seemed to bristle. He appeared to be on the verge of an apoplectic fit.

“Since you insist,” Pryde murmured, rising to his feet. “Calm yourself, I beg of you.”

He crossed the room and joined his visitor upon the threshold. The latter pointed with shaking finger to a plain visiting-card pinned upon the panel of the door.

“Your card, sir?” he demanded.

Stephen Pryde stared at it a little blankly. It was, without doubt, his own visiting-card. Its inscription was unmistakable:

Mr. Stephen Pryde, 32A Colmayne Court.

And in the corner:

St. Botolph Club.

“That,” he admitted, “is my card.”

“Of course it is,” the old gentleman replied testily. “Now, then, where do I sit?”

Stephen Pryde closed the door with one last puzzled glance at the card. “I am not sufficiently acquainted with your habits, sir, to answer that question definitely,” he remarked; “but, if you intend to sit down here, it must be either on my one chair or on the floor.”

The old gentleman snorted. “Who do you think I am?” he demanded.

Stephen Pryde shook his head gently.

“You are not a fairy princess,” he murmured. “You have no appearance of being a benevolent stranger. I think that you must be my uncle from India. Your complexion would seem–”

“D–n my complexion, sir!” the old gentleman shouted.

“By all means,” Stephen Pryde agreed. “Powder it, if you like. In fact, you can do what you jolly well please with it. Of course I don’t possess an uncle in India or anywhere else; so who are you? Make a clean breast of it.”

“I am John Picardo,” the visitor announced.

“I ought to have known it,” Stephen Pryde declared. “I congratulate you, Mr. Picardo. I congratulate you most heartily.”

The old gentleman regarded him dubiously.

“What on?” he demanded.

“Your name, sir,” Stephen Pryde answered glibly. “It suits you. It is unique. I am proud to know you, Mr. John Picardo.”

“Young man,” his visitor asked, “are you a humorist?”

“How can I tell?” Stephen Pryde replied. “No one has ever accused me of it. I may have unconscious gifts.”

“You don’t know who I am?”

“Not from Adam.”

“I am a possible client,” Mr. John Picardo announced.

For one moment Stephen Pryde was staggered.

“I am very busy,” he murmured.

“Busy! Rubbish!”

“You may be right,” the puzzled young man admitted. “You probably are. You have the air of a man who is generally right.”

Mr. Picardo glanced at his watch.

“Let us talk business,” he insisted.

“At once,” his companion agreed. “My next appointment–”

“Never mind your next appointment,” Mr. John Picardo interrupted. “Listen to me. I am wealthy. I am not a mean man. I shall offer you an enterprise which will appeal to your imagination. Name your price for your exclusive services for twenty-four hours.”

Mr. Stephen Pryde blinked for a moment. Then he rose to his feet–he had been sitting on the edge of the desk. “Excuse me for one moment,” he begged.

He left the room and stole out on to the landing, studying intently the visiting-card upon the door.

“If only there had been the slightest indication as to my profession!” he sighed. “I may be a dentist or a clairvoyant, a phrenologist, or a pedicurist!”

He returned to the room. His face wore an expression of relief. “It is arranged,” he declared. “For the period of time you name I am at your service.”

Mr. Picardo betrayed a satisfaction which was in itself puzzling. “There remains only to name your fee.”

Stephen Pryde opened his mouth and closed it again. “It depends, of course, upon the nature of the–er–”

“Say a hundred guineas,” Mr. Picardo interrupted, his hand travelling towards his pocket; “one hundred guineas, and your expenses, of course.”

“My expenses, naturally,” Stephen Pryde murmured.

Mr. John Picardo produced a capacious pocket-book and counted out ten ten-pound notes. “One can never tell,” he said, dropping his voice a little. “I pay you these in advance. Spare nothing.”

He passed the notes across the table with one hand, and with the other he produced a copy of the Daily Times from his pocket.

“Look here.”

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