Authors: John Creasey
The man who had taken the case was out of sight.
The young man who had stolen it from the girl had recovered his balance, and was standing irresolute, hands clenched, looking first in one direction, then the other.
The porter asked in a soft and gentle voice: “Are you all right, miss?”
After a pause, the girl answered: “Yes. Yes, thank you.” She knew she would never be able to find the man who now had the briefcase, whom she had seen only for a moment, yet she had this message, a promise that she would get it back in Chicago â where she had planned to meet her father.
“Can I help you?” the porter asked with soft-voiced persistence.
“The train called the Broadway Limited, is it in, do you know?”
“It's loading right now at track nine, miss. You can go aboard any time you wish.”
“I'd like to go at once,” she said, but hesitated, watching the young man swing round, scowling, and rush out of the hall in what was surely futile pursuit. He disappeared. “Yes, I would like to go at once,” the girl repeated, more firmly.
“Is your baggage on board, miss?”
She thought: “Baggage?” and then added hastily, to save explanations: “Yes. Yes, it is.”
“Then you go right on that train,” repeated the porter, pointing. “Down that slope, right there. You can't miss it.”
She walked quickly towards a barrier where a red noticeboard said BROADWAY LIMITED-SIX P.M., and went down a long flight of steps at the foot of which three uniformed men were standing on a poorly-lit platform; this was rather like an underground station. The men were talking at the side of a huge silvery train; even in her preoccupation the girl noticed that all three had white carnations in their buttonholes. She hovered by them.
“What car do you want?” one man inquired.
“Do you have a ticket?”
“Yes, of course.” She took the ticket from her handbag, aware that the three were watching her, probably curious because she kept looking back up the steps. One man took her ticket, glanced at it, and said: “Car 178, miss â right next to the diner. Two cars that-away.” He pointed.
She walked along the platform, mammoth silvered carriages towering above her. Even in its own right, this subterranean part of the station â which seemed so dark with its enormous cars, the wheels and undercarriages of which were on a level with her waist â would have been strange and alarming; now it added to her apprehension and to the shock of what had happened.
Another porter, very dark-skinned, looked at her and asked offhandedly: “What car, miss?”
“Number 178, please.”
“Okay. What bedroom?”
“IâI'm not sure.” She handed him the ticket.
“That's okay, miss â Room H. Just follow me.” Slow moving, he led the way up the iron steps, into the carriage, along a narrow corridor. Two or three doors were open, including one with a sign outside it saying âH'. “How about your baggage, miss?”
“IâI haven't any.”
“You mean it ain't arrived yet?”
What was the use of trying to explain that she had come here at a minute's notice, not daring to go back to her hotel room, where her luggage was? Once again she took the line of least resistance, saying: “I hope it will catch up with me soon.”
“I'll bring it right along, miss.” The porter turned away, leaving her alone in a tiny bedroom with metal walls, two chairs, innumerable lights and switches and gadgets; everything was painted grey-green. The blind at the window was down, and she pulled it up to see a porter trundling a large truck, crammed full of suitcases. The station looked gloomy and dirty, and also very different from an English station. Feeling suddenly homesick for familiar things, she closed the narrow door and dropped into a chair.
Exhaustion overwhelmed her, for she had flown from England only that morning, and for a few moments she leaned back, her eyes closed. Then, drowsily, she opened her bag and took out the printed note the porter had given her:
GO ON TO CHICAGO â YOU'LL GET YOUR CASE BACK THERE.
The man who had taken the case must have felt absolutely sure he would get it from the thief, to write such a note beforehand. How had he known about the case? Who was he? A vague picture of a handsome man with an easy smile hovered in her mind's eye â and then she fell asleep.
When she woke, the train was moving.
She started up, astonished, leaned forward and pulled up the blind. Beyond a black void was a peppering of tiny, very bright lights. The train did not seem to be going very fast, its motion remaining smooth and comfortable. She glanced at her watch.
It was after eight o'clock.
“I can't believe it,” she said aloud. “Goodness! I'm even hungry!”
She felt rested, and surprisingly free from depression as she began to look about her. A narrow door led to a tiny W.C. compartment, a hand-basin opened out of the side of the carriage by the window, paper cups were in a metal holder close to a tap marked ICE WATER. She ran some, childishly delighted to find that it
ice cold. For the first time, she felt a touch of exhilaration, anxiety was shelved to the back of her mind. She could even think composedly of last night's transatlantic telephone call from her father, his request for her to bring him the packet in the briefcase, her hurried telephoning to arrange the flight by B.O.A.C. VC-10, another telephone call from her father soon after she had reached the New York hotel to which he had told her to go.
“Did you bring the packet, Ethel?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I can't come to New York, after all, I'm sorry. If I did, I would be exposed to unnecessary danger. I want you to bring it to me in Chicago â I'm staying there for a few days before flying to San Antonio. Get here as soon as you can, and come by train. Is that clear?”
“Yes. But Daddyâ”
“Don't worry, now. Just bring it. When you arrive in Chicago, telephone this number â¦”
It had all been mysterious, a little worrying, even exciting â until the young man who had later followed her to the station and stolen the briefcase, had tapped at the door of her hotel room and tried to force his way in.
She pushed the thought of both encounters out of her mind, touched her hair, and went into the passage. The porter, hatless and unrecognisable, was coming out of a compartment a few doors along.
“Your baggage didn't arrive, miss.” It was a dirge-like complaint.
“I can manage. Where is the dining-car, please?” He showed her the way.
Soon, she was studying the menu, writing down what she wanted on an order form, listening to the soft, warming voices of the stewards, intrigued by the polish of the cutlery and the snow-white linen, the ebb and flow of diners, the steady movement of the train. Twice it stopped, but she did not pay much attention.
It was half-past nine when she asked for her bill â “Your check, ma'am,” her waiter corrected her smilingly. She paid him, and made her way back along the corridor. Opening her compartment door, she saw that the bed had been pulled away from the wall and made up. She could go to bed at once, if she wanted to. At least there was no need to worry about undressing; she need only slip off her suit, take off her shoes and stockings, and that would be that. She didn't relish going to bed without brushing her teeth, but managed an improvised toilet fairly adequately. In five minutes she lay with the sheet over her. The events of the day drifted through her mind, dream and nightmare overlapping. She thought more and more of the handsome man who had taken the briefcase; she could picture his smile in her mind's eye.
There was a small light, close to the bed. She touched the switch, and it turned from white to blue, so that she could just see about the room. Soon, she began to doze again, lulled by the movement of the train.
Suddenly, a shadow loomed over her: black; menacing.
In a surge of terror, she opened her mouth to scream. But there was no chance to scream.
A man's hand clamped down over her mouth, making her gulp for breath. She began to choke.
“Quiet!” he breathed. “Quiet.”
Her breast was heaving, she felt as if she would suffocate. “Quiet!” he repeated, slapping her stingingly across her cheek.
She lay on her back, gasping for breath, seeing the sly face of the young man who had first stolen the briefcase, taking on a demoniac glow in the pale blue light. His hand pressed against her throat, seeming to threaten greater pressure. He shifted his position, so that he could sit on the edge of the bed. One hand was heavy on her shoulder, the other on her neck.
“If you shout, I'll choke the life out of you,” he threatened.
She didn't attempt to reply.
She nodded, in sharp alarm.
“Don't forget. Who was the guy who took the briefcase from me?”
“IâI don't know.”
“Don't lie to me, you silly bitch!”
She shook her head helplessly.
“Listen,” the man said viciously, “I'll choke the life out of you if you don't tell me.” He pressed more heavily against her, and she believed he might carry out his threat. She hated the touch of his hands and felt nauseated, but she stayed motionless. He leaned forward, his face very close to hers, and she could feel his breath against her skin. “
Who was he
? Answer me!”
“IâI tell you I don't know!”
“Listen,” the man said in a rasping voice, “I can do what I like with you. I've got a knife. I could lay your cheeks open, so you'd be scarred for life. Or I could put one of your eyes out.”
Her breath hissed between her teeth.
Who is the guy
He would never believe that she did not know, and if she continued to tell the truth, he might do unspeakable things to her. She remembered her father's voice on the telephone. “If I did, I would be exposed to unnecessary dangerâ”
The man's hands were pressing harder, and she found it more and more difficult to breathe; his mouth was only inches from hers when he repeated: “
Tell me who he is.
What could she say to make him ease the pressure? What could possibly convince him? She sought desperately for something, and then burst out: “He's a friend of my father!”
“What's his name?”
She hadn't anticipated the question, she didn't know what to say.
“IâI don't know!”
He drew back, giving her a moment of exquisite relief, and then slapped her again across the face, sharply enough to hurt as if his hand were red-hot. It made her cry out â and made her strike out instinctively. She would never know how it happened, but her tormentor slipped, and fell to the floor, with a thud. As she realised what had happened, she sat up quickly, snatched her pillow from behind her, and struck at him as he tried to get up. The blow shot him backwards again. She saw the lighting switch panel and drew her palm down it; light after light clicked on, vivid bright. The man on the floor was as dazzled as she. She put a hand to her eyes.
“If you don't go, I'll call the porter!”
“Why, you little bitch, Iâ”
“I'll call him, I tell you!”
The man raised himself on his elbow, raking her with a glance she hated. She became acutely aware that she was wearing only a flimsy slip. He began to get up, very slowly, fixing his gaze on her breast; the way his lips moved, the red wetness of them, told her what was in his mind.
She gripped the pillow tightly with one hand, and stretched out towards the call-button with the other.
“If you do that,” the man said, “your father won't live the week out.”
“And if I don't get the briefcase back, neither of you will live,” he threatened, his gaze still raking her up and down. “That would be a bad deal, you could give a lot of guys a lot of pleasure.”
Surprisingly calmly, she said: “You're a dirty-minded beast. Don't move.” There was just room to squeeze past him, to a bigger space near the wash-basin, so that he was between her and the door, with his back to it. “Get out,” she ordered.
“My father can look after himself. So can I.”
She was far enough away from him to feel safer; now that she was standing up she believed she could cope, even the threat to her father troubled her less. If this man would only leave her aloneâ
The man was getting slowly, warily, to his feet.
If he went out she could bolt the doorâwhy
she forgotten to bolt it when she went to bed?âand so be safe until the morning; gaining such a respite seemed the only thing that mattered. But would he go? Or was he planning some new kind of attack, seeking a way to put her off her guard?
He was on his feet again, and had only to lunge forward to reach her. But as his hand swept round to slap her â hard enough to knock her back against the bed â the compartment door swung open and a man stood framed in the doorway.
It was the man who had taken the briefcase.
Knife by Night
Before the girl's assailant had time to turn, the newcomer dropped his hands on to the other's shoulders. Gripping hard, he began to shake him, with greater and greater violence, until his victim's head jerked to and fro, his breath coming in broken gasps. There was grimness on the newcomer's face. His brown eyes were hard and relentless, his lips set tightly.
At last the shaking stopped.
The newcomer pushed his victim back into the bedroom, manoeuvring him so that he collapsed on to the bed. His eyes were rolling and his mouth was slack; saliva dribbled from one corner.
On the instant, the stranger's expression changed. He smiled at the girl, and slipped a hand into his pocket, pulling out the doeskin glove he had taken from the taxi driver. He held it towards her.
“I think you dropped this. Your briefcase is quite safe, by the way â but I think I'd better keep it until we get to Chicago. Our friend here”âhe nodded towards the unconscious manâ“might have an accomplice.”
The girl took the glove. “Thank you,” she said gravely. She laid it across the back of the chair, hesitated for a moment, then looked directly into the stranger's eyes. “Who are you?” she asked simply.
“My name is Mannering. John Mannering.”
“I'm Ethel Alundo.”
“Professor Arthur Alundo's daughter?”
“How on earth did you guess?”
“It isn't the most common name,” said John Mannering dryly. “And Professor Alundo is a most uncommon person.”
“Do you know him?”
“No. I've often wanted to meet him.”
“Then you may be able to in Chicago,” Ethel Alundo remarked. “Or San Antonio.”
John Mannering closed the compartment door as he asked: “What made you say San Antonio?”
“Because he's going there for the opening of some big exhibition, or whatever it's called.”
Mannering smiled faintly.
“The HemisFair, I believe.” He did not explain how he came to know, but glanced again at the man on the bed. “Do you know
“He is Enrico Ballas,” Mannering told her quietly.
“I don't think I've ever heard of him,” said Ethel Alundo, half-frowning.
“You would remember if you had,” Mannering said, dryly. “He is an unusual mixture of jewel connoisseur, thief, andâ” he paused, before articulating the next words with great precision: “Knife-artist.” After another pause, he went on: “Do you know what a knife-artist is?”
Slowly, as if perplexed, the girl answered: “A man who uses a knife as a weapon?”
“A man who uses a knife as a means of torture,” Mannering corrected.
Ethel shuddered. “How horrible.”
“He is horrible. He comes from horrible stock. And for the rest of time, he will hate us both: me, because I have humiliated him; you, because you have witnessed that humiliation.”
Ethel didn't answer.
“I can look after myself, but youâ” Mannering looked at the girl's slender frame reflectively. “Ethel, do you know the significance of what I'm saying?”
“Yes,” she answered. “I think so, anyway.”
The peculiar thing was the calmness with which she accepted Mannering's warning that from this moment on she would be in danger from Enrico Ballas â danger of injury, of being scarred for life. Ballas would hate her; from the first moment she had seen him she had recognised his capacity for hatred; for evil.
Mannering looked at her almost sternly.
“You must never take any chances with Enrico Ballas.”
“I shall certainly try not to,” she assured him.
“Or anyone of the same name,” Mannering went on. “There is an older Ballas, Enrico's uncle, who is very jealous of his family's honour.”
“You make him sound as if he's as bad as his nephew.”
“Some say that he is worse,” said Mannering.
“Do you know him?”
“Not personally,” Mannering answered. “We've had business dealings, that's all.”
Enrico Ballas was still lying in a huddle on the bed, but there was tension in his body, a stiffening of his arms and legs. Mannering noticed this when he glanced down, and so did the girl; but Mannering did nothing and made no comment. In fact his smile seemed even more relaxed as he said: “That's good. When did you first come across him?”
“This morning. Mr. Manneringâ”
“At my hotel. Mr. Manneringâ”
“Why did he come to see you?”
Ethel drew in her breath. “Mr. Mannering, who
As she asked the question, she saw the change in Mannering's expression, saw him swing round, saw the flash of steel in Ballas's hand the glint of malevolence in his eyes. His body was convulsed, the knife with its vicious-looking, pointed blade stabbed towards Mannering. Mannering struck the wrist of the hand holding the knife and, with his other hand, struck Enrico Ballas on the chin. There was a sharp crack of sound, and Ballas fell limply back on the bed.
The knife lay on the floor: shimmering.
“You have to give him full marks for trying,” Mannering said dryly. “Would you care to get dressed while I deal with him?”
For the first time since Mannering had entered the bedroom, Ethel Alundo remembered the inadequacy of her clothing. She flushed, caught a glimpse of laughter in Mannering's eyes, laughed herself â and then saw him turn his back and bend over the man whom he had knocked out. He was still bending over Ballas as she finished dressing, and she watched, fascinated. He had taken the man's shoes off, and his trousers; he had tied the trousers about the other's legs, at the knees, using each leg as a rope. Now he took off the man's jacket and went through the pockets, dropping the contents on to the bed â a wallet, a key, handkerchief, comb, some tickets, two ballpoint pens, and some loose change. As he finished examining the jacket, he glanced round.
“Care to lend a hand?”
“While I hold him in a sitting position, you put his jacket on back to front, and button it up.”
“Back toâ” Ethel began, and then her voice rose. “Oh! Like a straight-jacket.”
She fastened the buttons with quick efficiency, and Mannering laid Ballas down, punching a pillow into position beneath his head. Then he picked up a white handkerchief and tied it round his prisoner's head and face.
“Not that he's likely to shout even if he could,” Mannering said. “I doubt if he wants to be found by the train crew. But just in case.” He turned to Ethel. “Are you all right?”
Faintly, Ethel said: “Oh, I'm fine.”
“I've got a compartment in the next car,” Mannering told her. “Let's go and talk there.”
Leaving her own compartment with some relief, Ethel followed Mannering as he led the way in the opposite direction to the dining-car. At a door marked E he stopped, but he did not immediately open it. Instead, he put his ear close to the metal, kept it there for an appreciable time, drew back, opened the door slowly, and then sent it crashing back. Nothing stirred. He went inside, looking swiftly round him before beckoning to her.
“I'm sorry to be so melodramatic,” he apologised, “but Enrico Ballas has friends and allies as well as relations.”
Ethel made no comment.
The bed, she noticed, was not made, and two easy chairs stood by the wide blind-covered window. He motioned her to one, then took out a slim, gold cigarette case.
“Will you have a cigarette?”
“No, thank you.”
“Do you smoke?”
“Would you care for a whisky?”
She hesitated. “Is it easy to get?”
“Nothing easier.” Mannering drew a small leather case from beneath the bed, and opened it; inside were four flasks. He touched one, looked up, and asked: “Would you prefer brandy?”
“I think I would. I needâsomething to steady my nerves.”
She was looking at him out of clear, light grey eyes, very intently. The line of her face was a little too long for real beauty, he noticed, yet there was beauty in her.
He handed her a glass, and she sipped, appreciatively, before she asked: “Mr. Mannering, how long were you outside the door?”
“I followed our friend along the passage. When I saw him go into your compartment I waited to see if you needed any help.”
“And you allowed that beast to jump at me, to frighten the wits out of me?” Indignation sparked in the grey eyes.
“I had to find out what you were talking about,” Mannering admitted gravely.
“You knew he'd taken the briefcase from me. You must have realised how frightened I was on the station!”
“Or how cleverly you pretended to be,” Mannering murmured.
“If he had wanted me to regard you as a damsel in distress, he could hardly have done it better,” reasoned Mannering. “I had to be quite sure that it wasn't all an act put on to make me believe you were very sweet and trustworthy.”
“Are you seriously telling me that you thought
might beâbe an accomplice of that man?”
“The thought had crossed my mind.”
“Well, I am not!”
“After hearing the conversation in your room I feel sure you're not,” said Mannering. “But I had to
sure. And now I'll tell you what you need to know about me. I am an antique dealer, and also deal in
and jewels. Occasionally I am consulted by the police; and occasionally clients, who don't want the police to know they have been robbed, ask me to investigate losses for them. I followed Enrico Ballas from London to New York because I thought he had stolen two valuable pieces of jewellery from one of these clients. He gave me the slip in the Grand Park Hotel. Is that where you were staying in New York?”
“Yes,” Ethel said, and her eyes were growing wider. “Are you
John Mannering? The man who's called the Baron?”
“The truth will out,” Mannering said, wryly. She stared at him, wonderingly. “You're quite
“So is Professor Arthur Alundo.”
“Be an angel, and forget it,” Mannering said. “I caught up with Ballas at an apartment on Park Avenue, just as he was leaving. I followed him â and saw you come out of the hotel and get into a taxi. Directly afterwards he came tearing out, and asked a doorman which way you'd gone. I followed â that's how I happened to be at Pennsylvania Station.” Mannering's eyes positively danced as he went on: “I wondered if those stolen jewels were in your briefcase.”
“I know. I've looked.”
Quite spontaneously, Ethel burst out laughing; and Mannering chuckled with her. He had a way with him which not only intrigued but enchanted her, and she was more than ever aware of his attractiveness. He was in the middle-forties, she guessed â but with his dark hair and slightly tanned skin, fine eyes and regular features, the middle years did not weigh heavily on him.
“Would you mind telling me your story?” he asked.
She realised that was just what she wanted to do. Her faith in a man now revealed to her as a renowned detective, and her alarm for her father, made her talk with great fluency. Mannering lay back in his chair, glass in hand, listening to her pleasing voice, noticing the way her expression changed as she talked, now showing fear, now alarm, now anger, now apprehension. She could not be more than twenty-one or two, he felt sure, and in some ways she had the naÃ¯vetÃ© of a child in her early teens; in others, she was a mature woman.
One thing seemed certain: she was very much afraid for that remarkable man, her father.