The Case of the Man in the Shroud - Max Brand - ebook

The Case of the Man in the Shroud ebook

Max Brand

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In a sinister cabaret the dancing feet of Anthony Hamilton tap out a message of life or death for an uncrowned czar. Anthony Hamilton, head of the U.S. counter-espionage service, flew to Monte Carlo when it was rumored that the Number One secret service agent of Japan, Henri de Graulchier, was planning a coup that would bring on another World War. „"The Case of the Man in the Shroud"” is a novelette by Max Brand, one of the greatest western authors of all time. The plot is well constructed with well drawn subsidiary characters and provides a number of interesting twists. Great read with Max’s leading off to unexpected places with characters you come to know personally. Max leads the reader to characters bigger than life.

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Liczba stron: 93

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Contents

PREFACE

I. THE CAT'S-PAW OF JAPAN

II. THE RED CAB

III. THE FINGER OF THE GAY PAY OO

IV. THE EXECUTIONER

V. SIGHTSEERS IN HELL

VI. HAMILTON—IS SERIOUS

VII. DE GRAULCHIER STRIKES

VIII. HELP FOR DE GRAULCHIER

IX. THE WOLF OF THE GAY PAY OO

X. THE MAN IN THE SHROUD

XI. THE EMPTY CHAIR

PREFACE

ANTHONY HAMILTON, head of the U.S. counter-espionage service, flew to Monte Carlo when it was rumored that the Number One secret service agent of Japan, Henri de Graulchier, was planning a coup that would bring on another World War.

At the Villa Mon Sourir, de Graulchier sheltered the Czarevitch of All the Russias, who had miraculously survived the massacre of his family by the Soviets. A hetman of the Cossacks was being brought to Monte Carlo to convince himself that his Czarevitch was still alive. He would go back and start a revolt in Russia. That would give Japan a free hand in the Far East.

Hamilton could enter Mon Sourir by pretending to be a playboy and fool, hopelessly in love with Mary Michelson, the beautiful agent of de Graulchier. Thus the American agent managed to kidnap the Cossack hetman, and to turn the Czarevitch himself over to the grim agents of the “Gay Pay Oo", the Soviet secret police. He had saved Russia from revolution and Europe from another World War.

But he is determined that neither the hetman nor the Czarevitch shall pay for his success with their lives. He releases the hetman, and shows him how to win a pardon from the Russians. And Hamilton is now trying to rescue the Czarevitch.

I. THE CAT’S-PAW OF JAPAN

HARRISON VICTOR, besides his name of Louis Desaix in the French Sûreté, carried such shining wax on his long mustaches and such wine-red in his cheeks that he looked the very spirit of the militant Latin. He was so far inside his role of French detective that it was hard for him to step out of it even when he was reporting to his eminent chief. He had been in the American counter-espionage service half his life, but he could not speak English without the taint of a French accent. Now he came into the room of Anthony Hamilton, chief of American counter-espionage, with a brisk, military step.

“Harrison,” said Anthony Hamilton, “why do you keep yourself sweating in an outfit three times too heavy for the Riviera climate?”

“All good Frenchmen always dress till they’re in a sweat,” answered Harrison Victor. “The great thing to do about a chill is to prevent it. But never mind that. There’s something for you to sweat about. I’ve trailed Koledinski, the Cossack hetman the Japanese secret service brought here to meet the Czarevitch, and who was to go back and start a revolt against the Soviets. He’s left Monte Carlo, and taken the Blue Train for Paris.”

“I’m glad he’s gone. He wasn’t alone, though, was he?”

“Do you think the Gay Pay Oo would let the old Cossack travel around entirely alone? The Soviet secret service is not so stupid. No, there was a handsome young Greek along with the Russian. That Greek is an agent of the Gay Pay Oo, of course.”

Hamilton closed his eyes while he counted results.

“That means Koledinski has been to the Russian, consulate with his faked-up story, and the consulate has handed him over to the Gay Pay Oo. They swallowed his story. He told it exactly as I suggested, and the Russians are convinced that he is, the devoted patriot, ready to die for the Soviet Union.”

“I had him tailed to the Russian consulate,” agreed Harrison Victor. “Go on. Tell me what else happened.”

“When he told them that he had seen the son and heir of Nicholas II alive–that Ivan Petrolich was really the Czarevitch–they were not quite as shocked as he expected them to be. Because, of course, they knew it already. But if they’ve taken Koledinski into their midst it means that the Czarevitch is still alive, Harrison. It means that instead of cutting his throat, the Gay Pay Oo reserved him for some other purpose. And they want near him just such devoted Bolos as Koledinski.”

“It means all of those things,” agreed Harrison Victor. “What else does it mean?”

“It means that while the Czarevitch lives, Japan still has a chance of carrying out her plan of putting him back on the throne of the Russias... That would mean a revolt in Russia, and while Europe was burning up with war, the Japanese could gobble up China.”

“It means that, all right,” agreed Victor. He polished and pulled his mustaches with delicate finger tips.

“Then the Japanese–I mean, that devil de Graulchier, Japan’s Number One secret service agent–must not know that the Czarevitch is alive, and that Koledinski is heading straight for him.”

“Unfortunately,” said Harrison Victor, “as the train pulled out I saw in the crowd that pretty-faced snake of a Rumanian–that Matthias Radu. He was watching Koledinski. Which means that de Graulchier will know at once that the old hetman is on his way to Paris to join the Czarevitch. Which means that de Graulchier will certainly be in Paris himself before long. Which means you have reason to sweat.”

Hamilton lay back in his chair and began to sing softly.

He kept on smiling, though smiles were not what he felt like.

“I thought of that,” he said at last. “I knew there was some danger, but I couldn’t imagine that de Graulchier would be so omniscient.”

“He probably has a spy in the office of the Russian consulate.”

“He may. And now the whole dance starts all over again.”

“There’s one good point,” said Harrison Victor. “De Graulchier himself can’t mix into the investigation too deeply. He can’t show himself too much, I mean, because by this time the Gay Pay Oo knows what he is. Most of the other men at Villa Mon Sourir are known, too. If they come too close to the Gay Pay Oo they’ll be spotted.”

“De Graulchier has a thousand agents,” said Hamilton.

“But his best men are at Mon Sourir.”

“That’s perfectly true, and the Russians have spotted the lot. Disguises are not a great deal of good in these days with agents trained to remember the look of the back of a head, or the angle of the neck, or even the contours inside an ear. A disguised man is usually just uncomfortable, not useful.”

Harrison Victor nodded. “It looks as though de Graulchier will have to work with second-hand brains on this job,” he said. “His first-class outfit is no use to him. But what do we do?”

“Get to Paris ahead of the Blue Train and trace Koledinski to whatever place the Gay Pay Oo takes him. My bet is that the Czarevitch is already safely hidden away at the same destination.”

“That poor devil of a Romanoff!” murmured Harrison Victor. “I pity him, Anthony.”

“If we can get him free from this danger,” said Hamilton, “he’ll probably be thoroughly shot in every nerve and willing to drop back into oblivion, like a stone into dark water.”

THE telephone rang. He answered, made a sign to Harrison Victor. Then was saying: “Certainly, de Graulchier. My dear vicomte, why not come right up to my room with Mary?”

A moment later he hung up the instrument.

“Not de Graulchier and Mary Michelson! Not coming up to your room, here?” exclaimed Victor.

“A little unconventional,” said Hamilton, “but why not? I wish to God that I played the game as de Graulchier plays it. He’d never walk out of this room again alive, and Japan’s secret service would be crippled for years, at least.”

“Listen!” exclaimed Victor. “Why not play the game along de Graulchier’s lines? Murder is his trump card. I’ve got May and Drew at hand. They can be ready in two minutes, There are twenty other ways of working the trick. Something in de Graulchier’s drink that will drop him in his tracks an hour later–”

“Steady, old fellow!”

“After the torture he gave Bessel? After the murder of poor young Carney that he ordered? I’d kill him like a rat! Anthony, be reasonable!”

“Be reasonable, even if I hang for it, eh? I feel as you do, Harrison. But not murder! He’s coming here freely, and he’s going to leave freely.”

“I know,” sighed Harrison Victor. “You won’t play it the other way. But one of these days being honorable among thieves is going to do you in. I’ll get out of here, and let you handle them. But–”

He went towards the door, but Hamilton halted him.

“They won’t be here for another minute. Look me over.” He had been throwing off his sack coat and donning a very costly Japanese kimono of black silk figured over with an exquisite arabesquing of gold. Now, sleeking his hair back and fitting a monocle into his eye, he did a dance step, and faced Victor. “How do I look?”

“Like a rich young jackass of almost any nation, with an empty head and educated feet,” said Harrison Victor. “Anthony, how do you do it? Even your face is new!”

HE went out of the room hastily. Hamilton tossed a polo magazine onto the couch, opened a detective story and laid it face down on the desk, and then heard the rap on the door. He opened it for them, and saw Mary Michelson against the dimness of the hall, like a jewel against velvet.

She came in with her best smile, and not an assumed one, he was sure. The chiefest of all mysteries to him was: how she could be genuinely fond of him, when he had showed her nothing but the feather-brains of a witless young spendthrift.

De Graulchier’s swarthy face was at its most, amiable, but even at the best there was always a hint of a sneer in his expression. He had a way of striking straight into the heart of an idea. He struck now, before there was even a chance to sit down.

“Anthony,” he said, “here’s Mary in an agony because a tenth cousin of hers has been made to disappear by some sort of a conjuring trick. Every man at Mon Sourir is at her service, but she stops crying long enough to say that there is only one man who really can do the work: Anthony Hamilton! So here we are.”

“Did you say that, Mary? Did you mean it?” exclaimed Hamilton, “Why, of course you’re right! Anything–I’d do anything for you. But who is it? Disappeared, did you say? A cousin?”

“Ivan Petrolich,” said the girl. She looked wistfully at Hamilton. “Right out of our garden the other day. You know, when we found that poor fellow out of his head in the cellar room at Mon Sourir? When we came up stairs Ivan was gone–vanished–and the big fellow with him was gone, too. And there isn’t a trace! Not a trace!”

“I’ll go out and look about,” said Hamilton. “You know, I’ve read about such things. You look for finger-marks on doorknobs and things. You hunt everywhere for foot-prints–always find something–”

“Yes, in books,” said de Graulchier. “But this is not quite a story. In a word, Hamilton, the Gay Pay Oo has snaked Ivan Petrolich away!”

“Hello! That’s the Russian outfit that cuts your throat while you’re laughing at their last joke? What jolly rotten luck for poor Ivan Petrolich! Look here, Mary. I’m hideously sorry. Do let me come out and take a look around–”

She said with a queer abruptness:

“Anthony, doesn’t it turn your blood cold to think of working against the Gay Pay Oo?”

“Blood cold? Of course, of course! But I’d rather face the Gay Pay Oo than an audience all settled back in its seats ready to sneer at you before you sing your first song. I remember once I had a really hot number; brand new dance and a song called–”

“You’re going to work with Mary?” demanded de Graulchier. “Even if the trail goes as far as the moon?”

“Ah, a trail?” said Hamilton. “Of course! Regular hunt I hope it’ll! be.”

“Anthony,” said the girl, “I think the first step is from here to Paris. The vicomte has managed, to get hold of a plane for us. Will you make the trip in the air?”

“Why, that’s where I live!” cried Hamilton. “When do we start? I mean–it’ll be the two of us only?”

“Yes. I’ll be ready to go inside an hour.”

“I’ll be there, then! Give the directions. I’ll be there, flying suit and all. And wrap up’ warm. It’s going to be cold above the mountains. I’m sorry Petrolich disappeared, but this means more to me than a trip to the moon!”

THEY were hardly gone before he had Harrison Victor back in the room.

“De Graulchier was tied in a knot, exactly as we thought,” said Hamilton. “And the result is that he’s turning me loose on the trail of Ivan Petrolich, so-called. Turning me loose with a brain to go along and tell me what to do. And that brain is to be Mary Michelson!”

He laughed, but Harrison Victor said:

“He thinks you’re a fool, but a cool-headed fool. But how long will you be cool-headed if you have Mary Michelson along with you? You’ll step out of the song-and-dance into your own character, one day; you won’t be able to keep it up, Anthony.”

Hamilton merely said:

“Think of the calculation of that fellow de Graulchier. What a brain, Harrison! What a beautiful brain! But if I can act my part, we’re going to tie the hands of the vicomte behind his back, before long; and then I think that the Gay Pay Oo will do the throat-cutting.”

“What do I do while you’re gone?”

“Watch Mon Sourir. See how many of them leave. De Graulchier will go to Paris, of course, and lie low. Some of the others may follow him. Send me word. You know where to address me there. Tell May and Drew to fly up today. I may have use for them.”

“Old son, how do you feel about trailing the Russian bear with a girl to slow up your steps?” said Harrison Victor with anxiety.

“Slow it up?” Hamilton laughed, “Harrison, Mary and I are going to dance through this whole number!”

II. THE RED CAB

IT was a fast little monoplane with a little too much engine for its spread, so that there was a good deal of vibration and a lot of roar from the motor, but the speed was the thing that Hamilton knew and loved in the air. Mary and he rose out of the golden warmth of the Riviera, shot over the mountains, and then slid up the valley of the Rhone into the twilight of January and the cold. The electrically warmed suits kept them comfortable enough, but a low ceiling formed overhead and he had to fly in a narrowing wedge of clear air, coming closer and closer to the ground as they neared Paris. Snow began to fall, throwing dangerous shadows down from the clouds, but the girl paid no heed to trouble.

She herself was an aviator, he knew, and every bit of the danger must have been apparent to her. But she lay back in the padded seat with a perfect indifference, and such a smile as she might have worn while sunning herself on a beach.

He was beginning to understand her better with every mile he flew. She liked him. That was one small part of her pleasure. She was assigned a task great enough to shake the political world of Europe, and that was another part of her enjoyment. But most of all she was basking in the delight of all adventurers–danger itself, and for its own sake.

Their conversation was limited chiefly to smiles and gestures until they shot down onto the field of Le Bourget. A little later they were in a taxicab bound for Paris. She was as quiet as when the roar of the motor had stifled talk, but now it was thought that kept her silent. Hamilton watched her, smiling, but taciturn for once, despite his role of playboy.

“Where will you stay?” she asked.

“The Crillon, I suppose,” said he.

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