The Fox Prowls - Valentine Williams - ebook

The Fox Prowls ebook

Valentine Williams

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Opis

A hard boiled mystery and suspense thriller set in Ukraine. A rich American magnate Stephen Selmar and his daughter Melissa are lured into Rumania by an arms dealer, the sinister Barm de Bahl „"The Fox"”, as part of a plot to boost the arms industry by fomenting a war between Rumania and Russia. Enter the British Secret Service... „"The Fox Prowls"” by Valentine Williams is a fine bunch of villains cooking up international deviltry in romantic surroundings; inextinguishable hero; lovely gal; continuous thrills. In it, a bit of mystery with a rundown Bessarabian castle, a hidden treasure, a gang of international crooks, and an officer of the British Intelligence, disguised as a crude chauffeur. Highly recommended for people who like to treat a mystery story as a solvable riddle!

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Liczba stron: 381

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Contents

I. R.43 STARTS IT

II. “IN RE BOREANU, NÉE CELMAR, DECD.”

III. ENTER THE BARON DE BAHL

IV. A WANDERER COMES HOME

V. FIRST BLOOD

VI. RENDEZVOUS IN PIERCE STREET

VII. STEPHEN BLURTS OUT A SECRET

VIII. MELISSA MEETS THE BARON

IX. A KING IS DEAD

X. THE BARON PRESENTS HIS FRIENDS

XI. “THE VOICE OF FATE”

XII. CASTLE ORGHINA

XIII. THE FIRST WARNING

XIV. BLOOD IN THE SNOW

XV. BOULTON BLOTS HIS COPYBOOK

XVI. MELISSA HAS A MIDNIGHT VISITOR

XVII. WHEN A NAIL IS NOT A NAIL

XVIII. THE LIGHT BEGINS TO BREAK

XIX. A SUMMONS FROM CHARLES

XX. IN THE MOSQUE

XXI. THE MAN ON THE BALCONY

XXII. THE DNIESTER SQUARES AN ACCOUNT

XXIII. STEPHEN HITS THE NAIL ON THE HEAD

XXIV. THE BARON HAS A PLAN

XXV. THE FERRYMAN’S HOUSE

XXV. “NOT OF THE LION, BUT THE FOX”

XXVII. FRONTIER INCIDENT

XXVIII. THE POT BEGINS TO BOIL

XXIX. A TAP AT THE WINDOW

XXX. THE CAT’S NINTH LIFE

XXXI. MONEY TALKS

XXXII. A SHOT IN THE DARK

XXXIII. VON WAHLCZEK COMES BACK

XXXIV. MONSTERS OUT OF THE NIGHT

XXXV. UNDER THE BOYAR GATE

XXXVI. EPILOGUE IN THE FOG

I. R.43 STARTS IT

Ferdinand Vermuiven, underpaid drudge in a Bucharest money-changer’s office, started it. It was his somewhat grubby hand, protruding from under its paper cuff, that lit the fuse. Fizzing and spluttering it ran from Bucharest to Belgrade, from Belgrade back to Bucharest, and from Bucharest to London where it detonated a bomb in a certain quiet suburban mansion.

If Ferdinand Vermuiven had not looked up from his desk that morning, the whole course of Don Boulton’s life would have been changed.

Glancing casually through the plate glass window at the seething traffic of the Calei Victorei, the clerk perceived a large, rather untidily dressed man sauntering along in the sunshine. He carried his hat in his hand and displayed a crop of crisp, white hair. He was accompanied by a spruce individual with a black and restless eye which he flashed ardently at every woman they passed. It was upon the second of the two men that the clerk’s gaze dwelt. An hour later, at the humble brasserie where he was wont to take his mid-day meal, he called for pen, ink and paper and wrote to one Peregrine Dyson, importer, at Belgrade:

Hon. Sir,

The undersigned has honour to report that Guido is back. I see same this A.M. in Victory Street with person unknown. Description of said person, age circa 50, white complexion, ditto hair, respectably dressed. Regret that business prevented immediate pursuit of said Guido Miklas as per yr. esteemed instructions at our last meeting but on receipt your hon. orders will follow up prompt, habits of party concerned being familiar to yrs. truly but in latter event small advance for indispensable expenses humbly asked (by telegraph s.v.p.!)

Your oblige servant to command, Hon. Sir, Yours faithfully, R.43.

Two days later Vermuiven had a companion when he left the office to pay his customary evening visit to the café. But instead of going to the obscure establishment he usually frequented, he took his friend to a noisy place with mirrors, potted palms and a gypsy orchestra, where a man with a shock of white hair sat with a jaunty individual with a restless eye. Thereafter, Vermuiven escorted his companion to the main telegraph office, after which they drove to the airport where the clerk saw his charge on to the plane for Belgrade.

To London, into a restful suburban square, the fuse led hissing. Miss Hancock, the Chief’s secretary, signed for the telegram: Breakspear in the Ciphers upstairs, across the landing from the Secret Inks, decoded it. Like a flame the news ran round the Cipher Room: Major Armitage, working in the Chief’s outer office, knew it, even before the buzzer summoned him.

“You’re for Bucharest, Geoffrey,” the Chief greeted him. “‘The Fox’ is on the prowl again.”

II. “IN RE BOREANU, NÉE CELMAR, DECD.”

When old Countess Boreanu died at the age of eighty-eight in her shabby apartment at Bucharest and left Castle Orghina to Stephen Selmar by will, Selmar was crossing to Europe in the Queen Mary. It was the first real vacation he had had in Europe since his college days. His previous visits had consisted of a whirlwind round of the Selmar agents in Britain and on the continent; but now that he had retired from business, he felt entitled to relax and enjoy himself. Moreover, he was planning to test out on a long motor trip through Switzerland and Italy the new Selmar model which would not be on the market until the New York Automobile Show in the fall.

He had a very happy seven weeks loafing between the Alps and the heel of Italy, especially as the new car came up even to his highly critical standard of performance. His only regret was that Melissa had refused to accompany him. But Melissa was temporarily interested in a young man with a wave in his hair and a job in refrigeration and, having had him included in an invitation she had received to a camp in the Adirondacks, was spending the summer in America. Arguing that a millionaire’s only child is privileged to indulge in such whimsies and reflecting that young Barnes was an improvement on the dubious Italian prince who had been Melissa’s penultimate passion, Selmar bore his daughter’s defection philosophically, relying on her promise to join him in Europe later on. He contented himself with sending her daily cables, mostly of a facetious order:

“ZERMATT. TRY NOT THE PASS THE OLD MAN SAID–STOP–BALONEY TO THAT–STOP–THE SELMAR EIGHT FLIES THEM ALL–STOP–MISSING YOU LOVE STEVE”: “VENICE. THIS HOTEL LIKE AN OVEN–STOP–TELL BOY FRIEND GREAT OPENING FOR AIRCONDITIONING HERE–STOP–-WHY NOT BRING HIM OVER LOVINGLY STEVE.”

He liked Melissa to call him by his first name: it kept him young, he used to tell her.

October had come round before Maître Grigorescu’s letter, mailed to Selmar at the works in Michigan, caught up with him in London. He found it at his bank there when, having reached Paris at the end of his trip and garaged the car, he flew across the channel to visit tailor, hosier and shoemaker. Melissa was to join him later–he had a vague plan of spending the winter on the Riviera–but that would not be for another month at least. Already he was beginning to find time hang heavy on his hands and the lawyer’s letter came to him as an amusing diversion.

He read it as he sat, a big, bronzed figure in his holiday grey tweeds, in the chair at the manager’s desk. The letter was in English. Written from a Bucharest address on paper headed “Grigorescu & Sapiro,” it said:

IN RE THE COUNTESS BOREANU, NÉE CELMAR, DECD.

Dear Sir,

We have the honour to inform you that our late client, the Countess Boreanu, deceased the 17th July last, has bequeathed to you under her will the family property situated on the River Dniester, in the province of Bessarabia, known as Castle Orghina...

“Well, I’ll be hornswoggled!” ejaculated Selmar and turned the letter over, as though further elucidation were to be discovered on the other side. Finding nothing, he read on:

The passage in our client’s will relative to the bequest, rendered into English, is as follows:

To Stephen Selmar, automobile manufacturer, of Lansing, Michigan, the only descendant of our ancient house who has accomplished anything useful in my lifetime, the historic family stronghold, Castle Orghina, which came back to the family with the expulsion of the Russians and the reunion of Bessarabia with Rumania in the Great War. The aforesaid Stephen Selmar may not be aware of his descent from the illustrious Stephen cel Mare, Moldavia’s mighty hero of the 15th century and the founder of our line, but I regard him as a worthier representative of our famous ancestor than my useless grandnephews, Georges and Michel, whom I am delighted to disinherit utterly. If only through the excellent motor-car which bears our name (though, unfortunately, in the American spelling) and to whose qualities I can speak, having derived much enjoyment from my Selmar limousine in my declining years, he has revived the family lustre. To him, therefore, I deed Castle Orghina, built and held against the pagan hordes across the Dniester by our common ancestor upon whom Pope Sixtus IV conferred the title of “Athlete of Christ.” I ask him to receive an old lady’s blessing, coupled with the hope that he will spare from his millions the few thousand dollars required to preserve the family stronghold from total ruin...”

“Crazy as a coot!” Selmar murmured, pushing back his hat with a bewildered air. The letter wound up by assuring him that his obedient servants, Grigorescu and Sapiro, were prepared to take his instructions, by letter or in person, at any time.

“Where’s Bessarabia, Joe?” Selmar asked the bank manager. Mr. Harper wasn’t very sure, but he’d send for the atlas. Meanwhile, Selmar read the letter through again.

He knew the family tradition, of course. The first Celmar to land in America had come from Vienna, after receiving a bullet through the lungs with the Austrian infantry at Austerlitz, had gone back to soldiering in the war of 1812 against the British, and retired with a grant of land to the Ohio Valley, the name thereafter appearing alternately as “Selmer” or “Selmar.” Aunt Agatha, who dabbled in genealogy, had dug up the yarn about the family’s descent from Stephan cel Mare: “cel Mare” meant “the Great” in Rumanian; but Stephen had not paid much attention to her–he was too busy building motor-cars.

Wilks, the office messenger, brought the atlas. Selmar and the manager pored over it together: Harper pointed to Bessarabia north-east of Bucharest, with Soviet Russia bordering it on the east. Selmar had grown thoughtful. “How does one get to this place?” he demanded.

“Through Bucharest, I’d say,” replied the bank manager. “Let’s see, doesn’t the Orient Express go to Bucharest, Miss Wheeler?”

His blonde secretary spoke up from her desk in the corner. “That’s right, Mr. Harper.”

“How about flying?” Selmar demanded.

“I guess you could fly if you wanted, Mr. Selmar,” said Harper. “I’ll have someone enquire about the services for you if you like.”

“Thanks, Joe. And they’d better book me by the first available plane. Can I give Miss Wheeler a cable?”

“Sure.” The stenographer came forward, pad in hand. “To your daughter, is it, Mr. Selmar?” she asked–she had taken cables for Selmar before.

“That’s right. The same address.” He drew reflectively on his cigar and began to dictate:

“GET OUT YOUR ATLAS–STOP–WE HAVE BEEN LEFT A CASTLE–STOP–ITS IN BESSARABIA MAP REFERENCE RUMANIA–STOP–GOING DOWN TO LOOK IT OVER–STOP–HOW DO YOU FANCY BEING A CHATELAINE–STOP–LOVE STEVE.”

The same evening the reply came back.

“ARE YOU CRAZY OR ARE YOU CRAZY–STOP–WHO LEFT US CASTLE AND CAN YOU SEND IT BACK–STOP–DOES IT HAVE AIRCONDITIONING–STOP–IF NOT CAN QUOTE REASONABLEST TERMS–STOP–I RUMPLE YOUR HAIR MELISSA.”

At breakfast-time next morning Selmar boarded the Bucharest plane at Croydon.

III. ENTER THE BARON DE BAHL

The streets of Bucharest were hot and dusty in the sunny October afternoon. The Baron de Bahl had doffed his wideawake hat disclosing a shock of snow-white hair and was sponging his face and neck with his handerchief as he turned in out of the glare and clatter of the Calei Victorei under the cool porch of the Hotel Metropolis. It was the hour between tea and dinner and the big hall was rather full. The sensuous strains of a Viennese valse softly played came through the palms where a gypsy orchestra in national dress made a patch of white. Faint perfumes and the languid murmur of voices overlaid the air. People came and went. Rumanian officers in gay uniforms, with lack-lustre eyes and powdered cheeks, established at small tables, ogled the women over their grenadine.

The newcomer bowed amiably to an elegant brunette nursing a griffon who smiled at him and saluted with a condescending wave of the hand a grizzled Rumanian colonel who read the evening paper at one of the tables. He did not stop but, with the relentlessness of a tank, made straight for the telephone desk. He was a big man in a loose, rather over-plump way, but it was less his bulk than the air of authority he dispensed that made people get out of his path. A young fellow well-tailored in a dark suit had risen in the rear of the hall on de Bahl’s appearance and now with cat-like gait came towards him. His skin was olive and he had dank, black hair.

At the telephone desk the Baron coughed diffidently. “Anything for me, Fräulein Ileana?” he asked in German.

The pretty Austrian telephone attendant was most deferential. “Your friend, Monsieur Volkoff, called from Monte Carlo, Herr Baron–the Herr Baron’s secretary took the communication. Trieste rang. The gentleman left no name. He wished to speak to you personally–he’ll call you back. And, warten Sie ein Bissl, Paris was on the line...”

“Monsieur Jaffé, was it?”

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