The Master Criminal - Fred M. White - ebook

The Master Criminal ebook

Fred M White

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Rarely do writers make the main character intelligent villains. However, Fred M. White decided to do just that. His main character, Felix Graida, is a brilliant criminal. This is a book about incredible adventures and exciting stories by Felix Grade.

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Liczba stron: 264

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Contents

I. THE HEAD OF THE CAESARS

II. AT WINDSOR

III. THE SILVERPOOL CUP

IV. THE “MORRISON RAID” INDEMNITY

V. CLEOPATRA’S ROBE

VI. THE ROSY CROSS

VII. THE DEATH OF THE PRESIDENT

VIII. THE CRADLESTONE OIL MILLS

IX. REDBURN CASTLE

X. “CRYSOLINE LIMITED”

XI. THE LOSS OF THE “EASTERN EMPRESS”

XII. GENERAL MARCOS

I. THE HEAD OF THE CAESARS

CHAPTER I

The history of famous detectives, imaginary and otherwise, has frequently been written, but the history of a famous criminal–never.

This is a bold statement, but a true one all the same. The most notorious of rascals know that sooner or later they will be found out, and therefore they plan their lives accordingly. But they are always found out in the end. And yet there must be many colossal rascals who have lived and died apparently in the odour of sanctity. Such a character would be quite new to fiction, and herein I propose to attempt the history of the Sherlock Holmes of malefactors.

Given a rascal with the intellect of the famous creation in question, and detection would be reduced to a vanishing point. It is the intention of the writer to set down here some of the wonderful adventures that befell Felix Gryde in the course of his remarkable career.

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EVERY schoolboy knows the history of the rise and progress of the Kingdom of Lystria. Forty years ago a clutch of small independent states in South-Eastern Europe, the lapse of less than half a century had produced one of the most powerful combinations on the face of the universe. As everybody also knows, this result was produced by the genius of a quartette who in their time made more history than falls to the lot of the most stormy century. For years they kept the makers of atlases busy keeping pace with the virile growth of Lystria.

But time brings everything in due course; the aged makers of Empire laid aside the pen and the sword, and death came at length to the greatest of the four, even unto Rudolph Caesar, whom men called Emperor of Lystria. Wires, red-hot with the burden of the message, flashed the news to the four corners of the earth; column after column of glowing obituary were thrown together by perspiring “comps”; Caesar’s virtues were trumpeted far and wide. It was the last sensation he was like to make.

Meanwhile Mantua, the capital of Lystria, had arranged for a month of extravagant funeral pomp and circumstance fitting the occasion. The papers teemed with the sombre details. The laying in state–a matter of eight days– was to be a kind of glorified Lyceum stage effect. The cold Caesarian clay was to be given over to no vile earthworm, but had been embalmed without delay.

All this pageant Felix Gryde had read of in the seclusion of his London lodgings, in Barton Street. The florid extravagance of the Telegraph awoke in him a vein of poetic heroism–daring with something Homeric in it. The slight, quiet-looking man with the pale features and mild blue eyes did not look unlike the popular conception of a minor poet, save for the fact that Gryde was clean of garb and kept his hair cut.

A smile trembled about the corners of his sensitive mouth.

“Here is a chance,” he murmured, “for a really clever soldier of fortune like myself to distinguish himself. I can see in this the elements of the most remarkable and daring crime in the history of matters predatory. Here is a handful of glorified dust guarded night and day by the flower of an army. The stage is brilliantly lighted, passionate pilgrims are constantly coming and going. What a thing it would be to steal that body and hold it up to the ransom of a nation.”

Gryde sat thinking this over until the roar of London’s traffic sank to a sulky whisper. He might have been asleep, dead, in his chair. Then he rose briskly, lighted a cigarette, and turned up the lamp again. He rang the bell, and a servant entered. The man waited for his master’s orders.

“Lye,” said Gryde, “I am going away for a day or two. You will get everything ready for me to leave Charing Cross by the nine train in the morning. You will get a letter from Paris saying when I shall return.”

The man bowed silently and went out. Then Gryde retired to bed and slept like a child till the morning. Before nightfall he found himself speeding along in a certain continental express towards his destination. Through the blackness of the next night, looking out of the window of the carriage, he could see a faint saffron arc of flame beating down from the sky, the reflection of the countless points of fire in the city of mourning. Gryde’s destination was reached, for Mantua was at hand. The train drew into the station.

“One against half a million,” Gryde muttered: “a pin’s point to a square of bayonets. A good thing I speak the language perfectly.”

He took up his handbag, and plunged unheeded into the heart of the city.

CHAPTER II

NOTHING more sombre and at the hangings same time more magnificent in the way of a spectacle had ever been witnessed than the ceremonial daily taking place in the chancel of the cathedral at Mantua.

Every window in that immense structure had been darkened by crape the Corinthian columns were draped in the trappings of woe, dark cerements which only served to show up the genius of carver and architect.

The cathedral was faintly illuminated by thousands of candles. The body of the dead monarch lay upon a bare wood bier which made a vivid contrast to the velvet trappings, the piled-up pyramids of flowers, and the brilliant uniforms of the surrounding guards.

These latter, men picked for their fine physique, stood almost motionless around the bier. All down the nave a double line of them were drawn up, and every faithful subject had to pass between them on the way to pay a last tribute of respect to the dead monarch.

They came literally in their thousands, quiet, subdued, and tearful. It was easy for a stranger to mingle with the throng and notice everything: there were dusky corners and quaint, deep oaken stalls where those who cared could hide and watch the progress of the pageant.

Two men had crept behind the gorgeous line of guards into one of these. They had no fear of being detected, lost as they were in the gloom. An additional security was lent by the nebulous wreath of smoke rising from thousands of candles. The features of one of the men were pale, his build as slight; he had deep blue eyes and a sensitive mouth. As to his companion, it matters very little. He was merely the confederate necessary to the carrying out of Gryde’s scheme. Gryde did not require his tools to think: that part of the business he always looked to himself. All he wanted was one to faithfully carry out his instructions, to act swiftly, and to possess indomitable courage. There was not a town in Europe where Gryde could not lay his hand upon a score such. For the rest this man passed under the name of Paul Fort.

“A devil of an undertaking,” muttered the latter.

“Nothing of the kind,” Gryde replied: “the thing is absurdly simple. I admit that on the face of it the stealing of an Emperor from under the eyes of his people is a difficult matter. You shall see. The easiest conjuring tricks always seem the most astounding. From our point of view, £100,000 lies waiting on those bare boards for us. Some people may call those the ashes of departed Caesar–they represent a carcase which, will prove a valuable market commodity.”

“But you must get your carcase first.”

“I am going to. How? By a conjuring trick. I shall spirit the departed Caesar right from under the eyes of his afflicted people. When? This very evening when the crowd will be at its thickest. Do you see that grating right behind the bier? Well, that communicates with the vaults. The custodian of the vaults will sleep very soundly when he retires this evening, and he will temporarily lose possession of his keys. Not that he will be any wiser for that. It was very thoughtful indeed for the architect who built this place to prepare and execute so minute a plan of the building. I have been studying it very carefully in the library here. This grating now supplies the chancel with hot air. You have already gathered that this evening I shall have the keys of the vaults. Now you hear what to do. Be good enough to repeat your instructions.”

“I am to come here alone,” Fort said, “about ten o’clock. Then I am to make my way up into the gallery, the key of which you have given me, and I am to remain out of sight till you give a certain signal. Then one by one, at intervals of half a minute, I am to drop those big glass marbles you gave me into the chancel and amongst the congregation. Then I am to leave by the leads, climb down the lightning-conductor at the end of the Chapel of Our Lady, and join you at our lodgings without delay.”

“Good,” Gryde muttered. “There is no more to be said. Go.”

*     *

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