The Milan Grill Room - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Milan Grill Room ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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The Milan Grill Room” is a series of ten connected short stories featuring the character of Louis, a crippled veteran of World War I and maître d’hôtel, who solves crimes from his table in the Grill Room of the hotel and who is able to provide invaluable assistance to the British police and Secret Service. Tracking spies, catching traitors, uncovering plots, often in the company of Major Charles Lyson of the Secret Service, Louis is never ruffled, and always resourceful. These ten connected episodes, centering around the activities of the good Louis are replete with adventure, intrigue and romance. Also these short story collection by Mr. Oppenheim including: „The Calais Gun”, „The Third Key”, „The Kidnapping of Mr. Peter Jardine” and so on.

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Liczba stron: 284

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Contents

FOREWORD

I. “MARIE LOUISE WILL BE THERE”

II. THE KIDNAPPING OF MR. PETER JARDINE

III. THE CALAIS GUN

IV. THE THIRD KEY

V. THE SHADOW MAN

VI. £100,000 RISK

VII. THE KNAVES’ MESSENGER

VIII. A BROKEN SABBATH

IX. THE MAN IN THE GREY SUEDE GLOVES

X. MRS. MASTERS AND HER PLAYBOY

FOREWORD

IN VIEW of the many curious adventures for which his unique appointment was largely responsible, Louis has asked me once again to explain exactly how it came to pass that he was first placed in that very exceptional position.

In 1914, after seven years of service in the one and only Grill Room which London seems ever likely to possess, he threw up his very lucrative position and departed for France. In 1919 he limped back from the war with two crutches and many medals. He presented himself at the Milan.

“I have called because you asked me to, sir,” he said to Sir Edward Rastall, chairman of the directors. “There is nothing I can do for you, though. A maître d’hôtel on crutches could scarcely get through an hour’s work a week.”

Sir Edward took him by the arm and led him across the Court to the Grill Room entrance. It was five o’clock in the afternoon and the place was empty. Louis, who had turned his head away as he had driven up in his taxi to the front entrance of the hotel, looked sorrowfully at that fascinating wilderness of white linen and sparkling glass. Every one of those private corners, vantage places from which one could see and not be seen, and those other more flamboyant tables plumped down in full view of everybody, mostly in demand by the fair sex, brought its own peculiar memories. If he had been alone his eyes would soon have been dim.

“Louis,” his companion said, “do you know why we thought you worth two thousand a year to us before the war?”

“Because I was reasonably good at my job, I hope, sir,” the maître d’hôtel suggested.

“That, of course, but there are hundreds of others who are good at their jobs. You had what we thought a flair for placing your patrons. You see all those tables? It would take a diplomat to deal with the streams of people you had to deal with, to offend no one and please those who were worth pleasing. You did it, Louis. I have watched you sometimes–the plan in your hand, a speculative look in your eyes, a welcoming smile always there. You never made a mistake. Then, of course, just before the war the other thing came. You began “to. be a useful man for your adopted country, long before the first shot of the war was fired.”

“Strange things have happened here,” Louis reflected.

“And stranger things may come,” Sir Edward commented gravely. “If you will turn your head you will see that we have done away with that ridiculous little bar and made what seems to be a low pulpit just inside the revolving doors.”

“I was wondering what that was for, Sir Edward,” Louis acknowledged.

“It is for you, my lad.”

“What on earth could I do there?”

“Go on earning your two thousand a year, of course,” was the prompt reply. “Every day you will have a fresh plan of the room and all correspondence with regard to the ordering of tables will be handed to you. You know the weaknesses of every one of our habitués. You will study them and you will know exactly what clients to encourage and which we are better without. You will sit in your easy chair there, watch the people come in, and seat them at your discretion. They will be satisfied–that is if we want them to be satisfied–and you will continue to draw your two thousand a year. A few more details later on. You start on Monday.”

Sir Edward waved his hand and hurried away to avoid what he hated most in life–thanks. Monday morning found Louis ensconced in the easy chair that later on was to become historic.

I. “MARIE LOUISE WILL BE THERE”

IT WAS José, the maître d’hôtel and supervisor of the tables at my end of the Milan Grill Room, who brought me the little scribbled note from Louis, who was occupying his usual place upon the raised and enclosed dais generally called “The Pulpit.” I untwisted the scrap of paper and read:

Please come to me for a moment.

I had only just sat down–I had not as yet even ordered my luncheon–so I rose at once and went to Louis’s desk. He held out his left hand with a little gesture for me to wait whilst he continued his conversation with two young people immediately in front of him. To my surprise he summoned José and calmly directed them to my table.

“Here, what are you up to, Louis?” I protested.

“Isn’t José making a mistake?”

“Major Lyson,” he replied, “I beg you to remain where you are for a moment. You see, I purposely keep my head turned away but I wish you to look carefully at the third table down the main aisle.”

“It is occupied,” I observed, “by a young man who sits alone.”

“Quite true,” Louis assented, his pencil making idle marks upon the paper. “Do you notice anything unusual about him?”

I glanced down the room again. The prospective luncher was harmless enough in appearance but in a sense I understood Louis’s suggestion. He seemed to belong to an ordinary type of well-born young Englishman, very freckled, fair and good-looking, but just at this moment he appeared to be suffering from the jitters. I passed on my impressions to my companion.

“Jitters,” he murmured, “is not a word with which I am familiar but I will tell you, Major, how he looks to me. You see that his eyes never leave the door. He is watching for someone to come in. Give him your whole attention for one moment. I shall he occupied with this menu.”

I did as was suggested. I visualized that young man in a few seconds quite differently. He was no longer the harmless, good-looking Englishman awaiting the service of his luncheon. He was like a man who was either in fear of his life or who had designs upon someone else’s. His eyes were hard and glacial. He watched the door with an attention that was altogether unnatural. The fingers that held the menu card were shaking. His lips moved–perhaps he was giving an order. It might have been so, for the waiter presently withdrew. The young man’s eyes, however, were still fixed upon the door.

“You are quite right,” I admitted. “There is something wrong with that fellow.”

“I shall ask you of your kindness,” Louis said, “to oblige me. That is why I have given your table away. I want you to make your approach and ask to be allowed to share his.”

I hesitated. Louis himself knew how unusual such a request would be from a perfect stranger.

“Supposing he refuses?”

Louis stroked his chin thoughtfully.

“In that case,” he decided, “take the small table on the other side. It is the nearest from which you can observe him. It is promised to Mr. Thomson of the Star Film Company but I will arrange that.”

It was a barren overture to one of those little incidents in the famous Milan Grill Room which had developed now and then into full-blown adventures. Nevertheless, I had learned to recognize Louis as the leading spirit in these enterprises and also to understand the wisdom of asking no more questions than necessary. I strolled down the room as though looking for a table and paused at the one occupied by the freckled young man. He started violently when he saw me standing there, shrunk a little away and his hand went into the pocket of his jacket; His eyes were full of dumb terror as he looked up at me.

“I’m very sorry to intrude,” I said, smiling at him as though I recognized nothing unusual in his manner. “The fact is that Louis has unintentionally given away my table. The place is very full, as you can see. I wondered if you would allow me the vacant seat at yours?”

The young man’s voice might under ordinary conditions have been a pleasant one, but all its natural qualities seemed drawn from it by the fear which was consuming him. I was not particularly enamoured, either, of the shaking hand, the fingers of which were grasping some article in his pocket.

“The place is already taken,” was the hoarsely spoken reply. “I am expecting a guest. Sorry. Please go away.”

I tried my best to behave as though my request were a usual one and my persistence perfectly natural.

“Couldn’t I sit here for a few minutes?” I suggested. “My own table will probably be free then.”

He was looking past me towards the door and there were beads of perspiration upon his forehead. The freckles which would have been becoming enough upon a sunburnt skin were ghastly blotches by reason of his unnatural pallor.

“Go away at once, please,” he insisted. “My–my friend is coming.”

I accepted my defeat, left him with a good-humoured nod and made my way to the small table on the other side of the gangway. There I sat and watched with curiosity the approach of my neighbour’s prospective guest. She was coming down the carpeted way–a very small, very young girl, walking with the insolent grace and wearing the clothes of a gamine from the boulevards who had suddenly inherited a fortune. Everything about her was of the latest and the most extreme fashion and she presented without a doubt a striking picture. The young man staggered rather than rose to his feet and grasped the back of his chair with his left hand. She sank into the place opposite him and her black eyes flashed with mingled contempt and amusement. She crossed her legs, leaned back in her chair and summoned a waiter.

“I starve,” she announced in a voice which was perfectly audible from where I sat. “Bring the hors d’oeuvres and an apéritif–Pernod or Dubonnet glacé.”

The waiter looked at her in surprise but bowed and hurried away. She leaned forward and patted her companion’s hand. It was impossible to hear what she said but I gathered that she was endeavouring to infuse a little courage into his tortured apprehensions, He interrupted her with a fiercely asked question. He spoke in bad but easily comprehended French in a voice which must have carried it good deal farther than my table a few yards off.

“He will come here, you believe, this loathsome fellow whom I detest?” he demanded. “Smile no longer, Marie Louise. You make me furious. He will follow you here? You believe that?”

She became a little graver and nodded a good many times. The young man was speechless. She leaned over the table, continued to pat his hand and dropped her voice so that I heard none of their conversation. All the time, though, I could see that right hand moving restlessly in his pocket. Whatever she was saying to him produced no soothing effect. Others besides myself were noticing his abject state. I rose to my feet and strolled back to Louis’s desk.

“Mon ami,” I warned him, “there will arrive a tragedy at that table.”

Louis nodded and waited for me to continue.

“The young man refused me a place. He was evidently awaiting the arrival of this French flapper from the streets. She seems to be trying to give him courage, but alas I cannot hear their conversation.”

“Difficult!” Louis murmured.

“Yes, but one thing is certain to happen,” I declared. “He has one of those small revolvers in his right-hand pocket and he is twiddling it about with fingers that are shaking all the time. He will either shoot himself or someone else in a few minutes.”

Louis sighed.

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