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Authors: Dolores Gordon-Smith

A Hundred Thousand Dragons

BOOK: A Hundred Thousand Dragons
The Jack Haldean Mysteries
by Dolores Gordon-Smith
Dolores Gordon-Smith
This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
This first world edition published 2010
in Great Britain and in the USA by
9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright © 2010 by Dolores Gordon-Smith.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Gordon-Smith, Dolores.
A Hundred Thousand Dragons.
1. Haldean, Jack (Fictitious character) – Fiction.
2. Novelists, English – Fiction. 3. World War, 1914–1918 –
Veterans – Fiction. 4. Detective and mystery stories.
I. Title
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-045-6   (e-pub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-6910-4   (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-253-6   (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
To Helen, with love
I would like to thank Major Gordon Corrigan (author of an outstanding book about the First World War:
Mud, Blood and Poppycock
, plus many others); Professor D.B.G. (Beatrice) Heuser; and Mrs Maria Cochrane for their generously given technical advice. I am very grateful to you all.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
n the lounge of Claridge's Hotel, Jack Haldean met his cousin Isabelle's irate glare. ‘I am not,' he said firmly, ‘appearing at the Stuckleys' fancy-dress ball in what is virtually a state of nudity, Isabelle. Absolutely, definitely not.'
‘But I don't see
, Jack. You'll look wonderful.' Isabelle turned to her fiancé, Arthur Stanton, for support. ‘Won't he?'
‘Altogether now,' murmured Jack. ‘Or should that be,
the altogether now?'
Arthur Stanton gave a snort of laughter, which he tactfully cut short at the sight of Isabelle's outraged expression. ‘I think it'd be very striking,' he said diplomatically.
Isabelle looked triumphantly at her cousin. ‘You see, Jack! Arthur agrees.'
‘Well . . .' temporized Arthur.
Isabelle pushed her chair back and stood up. ‘Maybe you can talk some sense into him,' she said in exasperation. ‘I've never known anyone so
.' She picked up her handbag. ‘I'm going to freshen up. I hope you're in a more reasonable frame of mind when I return.'
‘Fat chance,' said Jack, politely getting to his feet with a charming, if insincere, smile.
Isabelle gave an irritated toss of her head, put her handbag under her arm and marched off, her shoulders rigid with annoyance.
Arthur raised his eyebrows ruefully. ‘You've upset her. She had her heart set on it, Jack.'
‘Tough,' said Jack.
Arthur Stanton sighed. In less than a month he and Isabelle would be married. Isabelle, he thought, was the tops, but there was no denying that she liked her own way. It was probably his imagination, but Isabelle's hair seemed to turn a deeper shade of red as she realized that Jack was flatly refusing to cooperate.
‘I'm not,' said Jack, ‘fancy-dress ball or no fancy-dress ball, making an idiot of myself. Good God, Arthur, you'd agree if you weren't goofy about the girl.'
Arthur gave a sheepish smile. ‘Well, if you want the truth, I do, but I thought it'd be better coming from you.'
Jack looked at him with dawning comprehension. ‘You sly devil. You knew perfectly well that I'd put my foot down.'
‘Shall we order another cocktail?' asked Stanton innocently.
Jack grinned. ‘All right. You'd better get another Mother's Ruin for Belle, too. With any luck it'll put her in a better mood. I'd rather talk to her about your wedding than the fancy-dress ball, and that's saying something.'
For the last month, his cousin Isabelle had been a voice at the end of a telephone. Her wedding plans were going well; rapture. Her wedding plans had hit a snag; deep gloom. Did he think that St George's, Hanover Square was suitable? Well, yes of course he did.
With Clarice Matherson and that dreadful mother of hers making it a byword for showy ostentation? Could he be
Did he expect her to
? Wouldn't it be better, more dignified, more in keeping with the solemnity of the occasion, to be married at the village church which she had attended all her life? Wouldn't that mean
Well, he supposed it might. Did he
She was glad of that, anyway.
And, by the way, added the Champion of Solemnity, he was coming, wasn't he, to the Stuckleys' fancy-dress ball?
What did he mean, ‘Oh God?' . . . He wasn't talking about the wedding, was he? Oh, the
 . . . So what if Marjorie Stuckley was going to be there? If Marjorie Stuckley chose to think he was the bee's knees, that was her lookout. Besides, Marjorie made sheep's eyes at everyone. Don't mention it.
It was Marjorie Stuckley who suggested to Isabelle that Jack would look very dashing as a sheikh. (‘He's got those black eyes, Isabelle, and that dark hair. He could look so exotic. So
Which was, as Isabelle said to Arthur, very true, but in her opinion, sheikhs, since Hollywood and Rudolph Valentino had taken the world by storm, had been done to death. She wanted something more unusual, something outstanding, something memorable.
Jack, sitting across from her in Claridge's Hotel, listened to her ideas for their fancy-dress costumes, his eyes wide and his jaw open. It would be memorable, all right, he said. Good God, neither he nor Arthur would ever be allowed to live it down.
For Isabelle, entranced by an article in
about classical influences in fashion
had decided to be Diana, goddess of the hunt. She could have a golden bow, her hair would look wonderful, and the dress, a diaphanous, floating affair, was nothing short of dreamy. So far so good, and Arthur Stanton had agreed wholeheartedly with Isabelle's estimation of how she would look. What he didn't agree with – what, in fact, he was privately horrified about – was her announcement that, as she was going to be Diana, he would, of course, be Apollo. Tactfully, he hadn't disagreed but suggested that, as Jack was coming as well, the three of them should all be Greek gods. Jack, he said, having a fairly accurate idea of how his friend would react, could be Cupid. They would, he added, discuss it over lunch.
' said Jack when the idea was broached. ‘
' he repeated in a dazed voice. ‘Like the statue in Piccadilly Circus, you mean?'
Isabelle's knowledge of the Classical pantheon was more or less limited to
. ‘Isn't that Eros?' she asked, her nose wrinkling.
‘It's the same thing.'
‘Is it? I don't know why all these gods have so many different names, but whatever you want to call yourself, I'm sure you'll look really
Jack gave a laugh which Isabelle described as coarse. ‘Absolutely I'd look different. Are you seriously suggesting I should turn up at the Stuckleys' in bare chest, gold skirt and sandals, proclaiming I'm the God of Love?'
‘Well, perhaps not that then, but there's lots of gods. Mercury, for instance.'
‘That's gold skirts, too! And,' said Jack, turning on Arthur, ‘I don't know why you're laughing. What the devil d'you think you'll look like, rigged out as Apollo?'
‘Go on, Jack,' pleaded Isabelle.
Politely, firmly and, as Isabelle had remarked, stubbornly, he said he would go to Ronald and Scott's, the outfitters, and choose a costume which, although it might be less spectacular, would at least mean he was fully clad. A Greek god? ‘Nothing,' said Jack firmly, ‘doing.'
‘So you're not playing ball?' said Arthur.
‘Too right. If she's that desperate to see my chest, I'll arrange a private viewing. What on earth put it into her head?'
‘It was some article in a magazine. After reading it she was torn between Greek gods and ancient history. It's nobody's business what they wore then, Jack. She talked about Tutankhamen –' Jack hid his head in his hands – ‘but she went off that idea.'
‘Assyrians,' said Jack from behind his fingers. ‘What about Assyrians? Purple and gold. They came down like the wolf on the fold, if you remember, according to the poem, with all of their cohorts in purple and gold. That's long robes. They'd be all right.'
‘It'd mean beards,' said Arthur doubtfully. ‘Great big curly things. Isabelle dragged me round the British Museum the other week and I saw the Assyrian Bulls. The legs would be awfully hard to do and they had bare chests, too, and beards. I can't say I'm too keen on the legs. I don't see how we'd bring it off, even if we wanted to.'
‘I wasn't thinking of being an Assyrian Bull, just an Assyrian,' said Jack.
‘It still means beards,' said Arthur. ‘You've got to be careful with beards. Food and so on gets stuck in the hair.'
He turned to summon a waiter and nodded his head to where a sturdy, aggressively bearded, middle-aged man was standing in the entrance to the lounge. ‘That chap over there is a bit of an Assyrian Bull himself, isn't he?'
The man by the entrance had evidently just come in and was gazing impatiently round the room. He looked, thought Arthur, out of place in Claridge's. He was conventionally dressed in a suit and tie, but looked as if belonged on the quarterdeck of a ship, traversing the Arctic or scaling some mountain peak. Even without his brindled beard he would have been a striking man. An Assyrian Bull wasn't a bad description of him. He was strongly built, with large hands, massive shoulders and his skin was as deeply tanned as if he'd been carved out of some dark, solid wood.
Jack glanced round, then froze. The smile petrified on his lips and the colour slowly drained from his face.
‘Jack?' asked Arthur, shocked. ‘What's wrong?' Jack was staring at the man as if he'd seen a ghost.
Jack dragged his gaze from across the room. He bowed his head, shielding his face with his hand. ‘It's Craig,' he said quietly. ‘Durant Craig.'
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