The Unlawful Adventure - Aidan de Brune - ebook

The Unlawful Adventure ebook

Aidan de Brune

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How many R S Allersons can there be in Sydney? More to the point, how many gang bosses named R S Allersons? The master mystery-story teller Aidan de Brune presents another breathtaking novel „"The Unlawful Adventure"”, written in 1932. It is a highly entertaining little thriller with absorbing interest and complicated plot. The characters are broadly drawn but vivid, the plot movers along at a breakneck pace, and it’s rather luridly sensationalistic for its era. The book is highly recommended for people who like to treat a mystery story as a solvable riddle.

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Liczba stron: 246

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER I

“SORRY, Miss Allerson, ‘fraid I can’t make use of you. Now, if you had only come here a couple of days ago. Mr. Montague Butte’s secretary would have filled our job well. As it is, well you know, we’ve engaged a young lady, and–”

Matthew Chalmers, managing director, of the States Finance Company Limited, looked across his desk at the young girl. Quickly he added:

“If you’ll leave your address, Miss Allerson–”

“Will that be of any use, Mr. Chalmers?” Ray Allerson’s voice was low and pleasant. It was one of her greatest assets.

“Can’t say,” the stout, good-humoured managing director grinned. “We don’t like to chop and change here. Our assistants are old friends, as well as old servants. They stay with us and we find that suits our business. Now, this young lady we’ve just engaged. Must give her a fair show. Say, three months. If then–”

“I may not be here in three months.” Ray spoke dejectedly. She was thinking of the remaining few shillings in her purse.

“Sorry, Miss Allerson. We’d have liked to have had you. Excellent references–and all that–”

“Thanks, Mr. Chalmers.” Ray turned to the door. “At present I am staying at the Occidental Private Hotel. If I change I will advise you.”

“Do.” Chalmers strode around the big desk. “And–and Miss Allerson, come and see me again, some time. I may hear of something that will suit you. See?”

Ray nodded, blinking back the tears that burned her eyes. She went quickly through the big offices to the street, longing for the open air.

How many times had she heard Montague Butte speak in that manner to applicants for positions when she sat secure in her position, at her desk? The words were kind; they were meant kindly, but they carried nothing tangible.

Now she was an applicant for work; she who had felt herself so secure in her position as personal secretary to the managing director of the Rayonon Hosiery Company. Montague Butte had died suddenly. A new man had occupied his chair–a man who wanted to bring in with him new people.

Ray had resigned under pressure, confident that her savings, would carry her through until she obtained new work. But Melbourne had proved barren, and she had come to Sydney.

Days had passed and she had grown desperate. Now her last hope had failed. She doubted if she had the pluck to try again–she had not the money to wait.

Ray turned down the long street towards the harbour, careless where she went. It was late afternoon. Soon she would have to turn towards the private hotel where she lodged. She feared to go there. Hints would be thrown out that she had not paid her last week’s bill. Perhaps there would be more than hints–plain speaking. She might be asked for the money, and she did not have It.

Oscar Beringer! He stayed at the private hotel. A little shiver shook the girl when she thought of the man. He was suave, polite, subservient. But, under that manner, she sensed the predatory animal. At first she had rather liked him. Incautiously, she had let him know her position. He had offered her help–but with the offer had come a change of manner. He had tried to be possessive; hinting at arrangements that brought the hot colour to her cheeks.

She quickened her pace. What was she to do? She was young, strong and healthy. She could work, and work well. She wanted work–and there was no work for her.

Unconsciously she halted, abruptly, and looked about her. She had wandered into Macquarie Street and stood before Taunton House. Oscar Beringer had his rooms in that building. Why had she come there? The rich colour flooded her face and neck. She turned away, then hesitated.

Oscar had offered to lend her money. Could she accept his offer?

Why was she allowing sex to intervene? For all she knew the man had spoken in good faith. Had she wronged him, reading into his words and manner a meaning he had not intended? Something drew her to the building. She could not go home without money or work. If Oscar would lend her enough to settle her hotel bill, she knew she could get work soon. Then she could repay him; thank him for his friendship. She climbed the stairs, fearing to face the questioning eyes of the lift attendant.

Oscar Beringer’s dental parlours were on the fifth floor. Ray was tired and distrait, when she stood before the closed door. She hesitated a moment, then summoned her courage and knocked gently. Then she knocked louder.

There was no answer to her summons. She knocked again, still louder; then tried the door-handle. The door was locked. With almost a sigh of relief she turned away. He must have gone home.

Again the distaste to return to the private hotel seized her. On the stairs she paused and counted her money. Could she remain in the city, seeking a modest meal at some cheap restaurant? She could not make up her mind.

Now she feared the streets, rapidly emptying of the homeward hurrying crowds of workers. To delay leaving the building she took to walking the corridors on each floor, scanning the names of the tenants painted on the frosted glass of the doors.

Half-way down a corridor on the third floor she halted suddenly before a door. On it was only a name–“R. S. Allerson.” Ray chuckled.

Who was R. S. Allerson? Herself? That might be. She was Ray Sara Allerson–R. S. Allerson.

Some little quirk of devilment held her before the door. Who was this R. S. Allerson? Male or female? A strong curiosity possessed her. Before she left that building she must know.

Ray tapped lightly at the door. No one answered. She tried the handle, pushing gently. The door gave to her touch. Beyond it she gazed on a handsomely fitted lounge-room.

What was R. S. Allerson? Taunton House was mainly occupied by doctors and dentists. Which profession did this person follow? Ray looked around her, inquisitively. Nothing in the room gave a needed clue. She crossed the room, her steps deadened by the thick-pile carpet, to a door on the right. The door was ajar. Ray pushed it open and stepped into the adjoining room. She gave a little gasp on finding herself in a bedroom.

Now Ray found clues to answer one of her questions. “R. S. Allerson” was a woman. No one but a woman would fit a bedroom in that manner. The girl looked around her, appreciatively. She felt akin to her unknown namesake. R. S. Allerson was a woman of remarkably good taste.

A door on the opposite side of the room stood partly open. Ray went to it and peeped beyond. She looked on a room peculiarly feminine–the exclusive boudoir of the unknown. The zest of exploration overcame Ray’s scruples. Beyond the boudoir she found a bathroom and a beautifully appointed kitchenette.

The girl sighed enviously. Who was this R. S. Allerson who could occupy so wonderful a suite in the city’s most exclusive quarter? The rent of the place must be enormous. The furnishings represented many years’ income for the business girl. A strange curiosity to see and study her namesake came over Ray. She passed quickly through boudoir and bedroom to the first floor. She named it the reception room.

Reception room, to what? There were no signs of trade or profession in the suite. Certainly “R. S. Allerson” could not be a dentist. Nowhere were there signs of the multitudinous instruments and machines peculiar to that industry. The room had not the atmosphere of a surgery or consulting room.

Ray dropped, tiredly, into a comfortable chair and leaned back restfully. Her cloche hat irritated and she plucked it off, throwing it and her bag and gloves on a nearby table.

A quirk of mischief seized Ray. She would wait there until “R. S. Allerson” came, and introduce herself. She wanted to see the woman who bore her name. Did she do so in full? Were there two Ray Sara Allersons. In the world?

For some time Ray sat, cosily relaxed. The humour of the situation had faded–now only curiosity remained. She kicked off her shoes and wriggled her toes lazily. It was good to be there–to allow that restful chair to possess and comfort her tired body–to close her eyes, knowing that around her were beautiful, soothing things, comforting to her rather material soul–to close her mind–and–

Ray slept, while the long shadows of the afternoon blended into the grey of dusk. She slept, serene and confident, gradually falling into that deeper slumber where dreams and Imaginings cease to exist.

“MISS ALLERSON! Miss Allerson!” A woman’s voice lifted Ray again into this world. She opened her eyes and drew her stockinged feet under the chair. By her side was standing a woman, tall, fair and buxomly built.

“Miss Allerson!”

“Yes,” Ray answered, vaguely. She sat up. “Have I been asleep?”

“I should say so.” The woman laughed. “We found the door open and–”

“I found the door open,” Ray interrupted. “I came in and sat down for a moment and–”

“And went to sleep.” Again the woman laughed. “S’pose I must introduce myself. I am Maude Penlop–Miss Maude Penlop, y’know.”

Ray nodded. The name meant nothing to her. She wondered how the woman had come to call her by name.

“I knew you by your photograph–cute to send it to us so that we should recognise you.” There was subservience in Maude Penlop’s voice that Ray disliked intensely. “Oh, by the way! Mr. Frederick Dutton, one of our–er–assistants. You know him?”

Ray nodded, although she had not even heard the name before. The woman and man intrigued her; she wanted to know more before she revealed herself.

“It’s fine to meet our chief, at last.” Dutton, a short stubby man with a florid face decorated with a tooth-brush moustache, spoke easily. “We have long admired your brains, Miss Allerson. It is a compliment to be allowed to work under you. In the short space of time in which you have built up your organisation–”

“We’ve found it damned profitable, eh, Freddie?” Maude laughed hardly. “Don’t take any notice of Freddie’s talk, Miss Allerson. He can spin on like that by the hour. The worst is that he can’t snap out of it. Keeps if flowing, even when he’s among friends. Just fancy you coming in and dropping down in the first chair asleep. My, but you must be tired.”

“I was.” Ray stifled her bewilderment. Organisation! Compliment to be allowed to work under you! She wanted to laugh. She, who that day had been refused a chance to work!

“All talk, Maudie.” Dutton sauntered across the room. “You talk and forget what you came here for. Remember, Miss Allerson has came off the long train journey from Melbourne, has no doubt had a busy afternoon and drops asleep directly she gets into her rooms. Now I suggest that you help her to a bath and a change. I’ll amuse myself for half-an-hour.”

With a gesture he opened the door leading into the bedroom and waited for the girls to pass him. Maude nodded.

“Bright idea! Come on, Miss Allerson I’m lady’s maid for this occasion. I unpacked your things, as you requested and put everything in order. My, your frocks are ‘IT!’”

Thoroughly bewildered, Ray allowed herself to be led into the bedroom. As she passed Maude the woman closed the door, at the same time touching her on the arm.

“See this, Miss Allerson?” She touched a button on the wall. Immediately another door slid across the opening. “Gives you all the privacy you want. You shut yourself in your private rooms, leaving the reception room apart. Great idea. Isn’t it? I thought of it and Freddie designed the works. There’s other doors to the corridor you can use when you don’t want to go through that room. See!”

Ray nodded. She was looking for a door to the corridor to the bedroom. There was not one. Quickly she passed into the boudoir. There were doors to the bathroom and the kitchenette, but not one to the corridor.

“But these rooms were designed as offices?” she commenced. “Why is there no door–”

“Oh, you mean the corridor there,” Maude laughed. “Come and look–”

She went to a section of the wall in the boudoir and touched a spring. Two panels slid aside. The woman opened a door then revealed, swinging it back. On the glass was painted “J. Tomlinson.”

“Each door has a different name on it,” the woman explained. “All the rooms have been taken in the names of different tenants. Now watch!”

She pulled Ray into the corridor and shut the door.

“The panels slid across directly the door was shut.” Maude explained. “Here are the keys. When you put the key in the lock a spring rolls back the panels and you can open the door. Get it? Now come in and tidy up.”

In half an hour Ray followed her companion into the reception room, bathed, refreshed and clad in a dress that was a dream in green. As she entered Dutton sprang to his feet, admiration glowing in his eyes.

“Miss Allerson!” he murmured. “Jove I never thought–”

“You never do, Freddie,” laughed Maude, as if she had scored a personal triumph. “You’ll soon forget the little Maude you profess to love when you view the resplendent Miss Allerson. S’pose I must fall in line–a mere mistress of the ceremonies. Ah!”

A knock sounded at the door Maude went and opened It.

“Now I commence my duties,” she announced, dramatically. “Miss Allerson, allow me to announce and present our local chief.”

Ray turned, a premonition tugging at her heart–to look into the keen, suspicious eyes of Oscar Beringer.

CHAPTER II

FOR some moments Beringer stood just within the doorway staring at Ray with narrowed eyes. The girl’s heart missed a beat. Would he identify, denounce her or, as the others had done, accept her as the owner of the apartment?

Ray hardly dared to move her eyes from the man. Oscar Beringer a crook! She had been introduced to him as one of the leading men of his profession in the city. She had thought him wealthy, influential. Yet, there had always been a doubt. He had money she knew that. He was generous, in some ways, but–

“Miss Allerson!” The man advanced until he stood before her. “Jove, the likeness is wonderful!’

“You mean–” Ray varied the tones of her voice slightly.

“There is a girl where I live,” The crook spoke slowly, “who is your very double. For the moment I thought you were her.”

“And now?”

“Your voices are not alike,” Beringer declared finally. “You have–What shall I say–an accent–no, an intonation, that is far different.”

“Thank you.” Ray laughed, slightly accentuating the nasal twang she had assumed. “Perhaps I acquired that during the years I spent in the States.”

“Well, Oscar?” Maude broke in, impatiently. “That’s all you’ve got to say to our new chief?”

A slight flush of anger came on the man’s cheeks. Ray suddenly remembered that Maude had spoken of him as the head of the Sydney gang. With a light laugh she turned to the girl.

“Still head, Maude. I am only a visitor in this city.”

“Very pretty,” Dutton broke in. “Miss Allerson abdicates her authority. But–there are others who may have something to say to that.”

Maude turned, suddenly. Ray looked up at the two men and caught the challenge that silently passed between them. For a brief moment she saw the truth looking out of Maude’s eyes.

Her heart bounded gaily. Beringer might be chief of this city’s gang of crooks, but his authority was not unquestioned. Dutton was jealous of him. And Dutton held Maude. The woman would follow his lead. Ray was elated she hardly knew why. She knew that she had usurped the place and authority of some woman who bore her name and a remarkable physical resemblance to her. She knew that this unknown woman–this R. S. Allerson–who like herself had come from Melbourne, was a crook. She knew that Maude Penlop and Freddie Dutton were crooks.

What would they say when they knew that she was an imposter? A shiver shook her. She had read much fiction. She knew that these men and woman who stood without the pale of the law, had no mercy for those who trespassed on their secrets.

She had drifted into an impossible position. Soon the real R. S. Allerson, the owner of the apartment, would arrive and denounce her. What would happen then? She looked up at Beringer, suddenly. His eyes were on her face; a slight cruel smile curving his lips. Did he truly suspect her?

“Well?” she challenged.

“That’s right, Miss Allerson,” Maude applauded. “These men will talk all night, if you let them. Freddie can’t help it–it’s his stock in trade, Oscar, well, he’s so used to telling his patients that it won’t hurt that he thinks he can put it over everyone.”

Beringer’ laughed, lightly. His eyes were still on the girl, as if trying to pierce down to her soul. Ray knew that he still harboured doubts; that back of his mind lingered suspicions waiting for an incautious word from her to bring into open hostility.

She wanted to get way, out into the clean open air. Why had she allowed herself to become mixed up in this riddle of crime? A word would have saved her, when the man and woman had discovered her asleep.

But their acceptance of her as their leader; their knowledge that line for line, feature for feature, she was the living image of the woman who reigned over this gang of crooks, had intrigued her. She had waited, to learn more–and had allowed herself to become too far entangled to withdraw in safety. For the present she must go on, penetrating their secrets, until she found an opportunity to escape–or denounce them.

And, somewhere near at hand–to be discovered or discover at any moment–lurked the woman she was impersonating.

“This leads nowhere,” Ray spoke impatiently, daringly. “I wanted to see you to-night, for a certain purpose; I am tired, very weary, after my journey. Mr. Beringer, wont you sit down?”

Her assumption of leadership tensed her companions. Seated, they leaned towards her, expectantly.

“I have not been, satisfied.” The girl continued, coldly. “Affairs in Sydney have not progressed as I expected, wished.” She paused. So far she had spoken of what she had learned from the woman crook! Now she must venture.

“Will Mr. Beringer explain?”

“Is explanation necessary?” The man spoke cynically. “We know why Miss–er–Allerson is here. She says that she is not satisfied. What does she expect?”

“Action,” Ray retorted, quickly. She saw the trap into which the man was trying to lead her to expose her ignorance. “Mr. Beringer, I ask you to explain.”

The man bowed. For a full minute he was silent. “So far we have failed in our endeavours,” His lips straightened as he spoke. “Of course, we have not had much time. Perhaps in a few days–”

“What have you done?”

“Amy Warren has been removed from her position,” he answered tersely. “That leaves the way open.”

“Amy Warren?”

“I beg your pardon. I forgot.” Beringer laughed. “Miss Warren was personal secretary to Matthew Chalmers, managing director of the States Finance Company.”

Ray tensed. What was the man leading to?

“Well?”

“That leaves the way open to placing one of our operators in a confidential position with the company.”

“You have a plan?” A slight smile parted Ray’s lips.

“We have distinct hopes–in fact, I may say we are assured of success.”

“Have you seen your operator lately?”

“I left her but an hour ago. She is very confident.”

“Unwisely so.” Ray laughed. “Mr. Beringer, I am afraid you have missed badly. Mr. Chalmers engaged a personal secretary some days ago.”

“What?” The exclamation came from Maude.

“I know.” Again Ray laughed. “The position is filled. What now, Mr. Beringer?”

The man bit his lip.

“Who is the woman?”

“That is for you to discover.”

The girl’s derision stung the crook to anger.

“She must be removed.” Beringer sprang, to his feet and paced the room. “As for that little fool–”

“Another–fool, Mr. Beringer?” Ray’s voice was dangerously sweet. Maude giggled.

“There will be no strong-arm business.” The girl stated, emphatically. “You have failed, Mr. Beringer, on that point. Have you more to report?”

The man shook his head.

“We awaited your arrival before taking further steps,” he added.

“And your instructions?”

“You know them.” Beringer answered defiantly. “Why ask me to go through them again? I must have time to consider what steps I can take to carry out our plans.”

“Our plans, Mr. Beringer?” Ray was daring much; “Will you inform me what part you had in framing those plans?”

“Miss Allerson’s right.” Dutton struck his hand, heavily, on the arm of his chair. “The scheme comes from Melbourne. All we’ve ‘got to do is carry out our instructions. That’s the agreement.”‘

“Freddie’s right!” Maude laughed. “Fact is, Miss Allerson, Oscar’s too fond of his own way. All we’ve–”

“That’s enough.” Beringer spoke angrily. “I’ll answer Miss Penlop and Dutton in another place.”

“With your strong arm bunch to support you,” Maude sneered. “No, Oscar, now Miss Allerson’s here we can do without you and your Chi methods.”‘

Beringer turned on his heel and strode to the door. “That’s enough from you,” he snarled. “We’ll see what the gang has to say. Listen, there’s a meeting tomorrow night. I’ll answer then. The crowd’ll decide if we run our own show or are we to be run from Melbourne?”

“Sit down.” Ray spoke softly. To her surprise the man obeyed. “You have fallen down on your instructions, Mr. Beringer.” She paraphrased the information she had gathered. “Melbourne frames a scheme and calls on Sydney for help, under our definite agreement. You want time to revise the scheme to meet your own particular ideas. Is that in our agreement?”

“No.” Dutton answered. “Melbourne leads, we obey orders and get one-third of the loot. If Sydney had framed the scheme then Melbourne would have followed our instructions and taken one-third of the proceeds.”

“And because our instructions have not been followed I have had to come here?”

“That’s so.” Maude nodded. “Tough isn’t it? Oscar’s messed it up, considerably.

“Do you know the full scheme?” Ray turned to Dutton.

“No.” The crook glanced, uneasily, at Beringer. “Y’see, your letter was addressed to Beringer. He told us of it and gave us instructions.”

“But not the full details?”

“No.”

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