Authors: John Creasey
In this room was a pile of beautifully prepared brochures about the HEMISFAIR, and another pile marked: GRAND OPENING â APRIL 6th. Mannering slipped one of each into his wallet.
There was no sign of woman's clothing â and no indication that anyone but Alundo and Ricardi were staying in the apartment.
Mannering found nothing to associate Ricardi with Alundo; only with wealth.
He went back to the sitting-room; no one had stirred.
He was used now to the eeriness of being with three unconscious people, and returned, once again, to Alundo's bedroom. The one spare suit was of poor quality, the oddments were all mass-produced and popular-priced. There was a travelling sample case which had been converted to a kind of travelling office, and in this were copies of the lecture itinerary, which had been arranged by the National Lecture Agency, with an address on 43rd Street, New York. Mannering tucked one of the copies into his pocket. He went through everything else in the case, but found little except letters about the lectures â praising, admiring, none of them critical. There was also a batch of correspondence about Alundo's forthcoming Peace Lecture, one of a programme of weekly lectures to be delivered in a place called the Convention Centre. Some of the most distinguished names in the philosophical and political world were here; Alundo was in excellent company.
Mannering closed the sample case, then turned to two shabby suitcases, but once again he found nothing of especial interest. And now the only thing unexamined was a battered brown leather briefcase.
This was locked.
He forced the lock without difficulty and opened the case with care. It was filled with neatly tied bundles of letters and telegrams, and two packets of press cuttings. He slid out two letters, and read furious attacks on Alundo â as a Communist, as a peace-at-any-price advocate; several more letters were in the same strain. The first three telegrams Mannering read were abusive; the fourth obscene.
At a rough calculation there were a hundred letters, fifty or so telegrams, and as many press cuttings. A typical headline of these read:
SEND THIS BRITISH RED HOME!
Mannering felt almost as concerned as if the attacks had been made on himself; yet running through this concern was a crack of doubt.
there be anything in the accusations?
he wrong about this innocent-seeming old man?
As he stood pondering, he heard a faint sound, the first he had noticed in the apartment. He moved swiftly but silently towards the partly open door, and glanced cautiously along the passage without revealing himself.
Professor Alundo was approaching, stealthily. In his right hand was an automatic pistol, on his lined face an expression of grim determination.
He was alone.
Mannering did not open the door wider, but moved to one side of the room, looking about until he found a spot where he could watch Alundo in the mirror. He dropped easily into a chair, positioning himself so that he could see without having to twist round, or be at a physical tension.
The older man seemed a long time coming.
Mannering found a confusion of thoughts passing through his mind. Even about this, there was a near-comic quality; the grim determination on Alundo's face was almost funny. Yet the situation might be graver than he yet knew; that microfilm could be carrying important secret information. Or was he letting his imagination run away with him?
Why was Alundo taking so long?
Mannering could hear his laboured breathing. He sat quite still, waiting expectantly while he wondered whether it was possible that Alundo would simply step round the door, and shoot.
The door moved slightly and a moment later Alundo's right hand appeared, the gun in it; then the side of a peering face. Mannering, watching the forefinger on the trigger, was prepared, at the slightest significant movement, to fling himself forward.
Alundo came farther inside the room, and Mannering saw that his hand was shaky. So was his voice.
“Stayâstay where you are!” he ordered shrilly.
Mannering stared as if taken by surprise.
“Stay there!” Alundo cried. “Don't move, or I'll shoot!”
Mannering felt fairly sure that even if he did, he was unlikely to score a hit.
you?” Alundo demanded.
Mannering said, quietly: “Professor Alundo?”
“Never mind who
am; I want to know who
“John Mannering,” Mannering said, and began to move.
“Stay where you are!” Alundo cried.
Mannering said: “If it weren't for me, your daughter would probably be dead. Put that gun away, and let's talk.”
“How do I know you're not working for
“I don't know what you're talking about,” Mannering said, and paused. “I'm now going to get up. If you touch off that trigger, you'll have a murder on your conscience.” He placed his hands firmly on the arms of the chair and began to rise. Every second seemed age-long, but at last Mannering was standing upright, facing the old man and the quaking gun.
“Don't come any nearer,” Alundo warned.
“Don't you want to catch the man who robbed you?”
“How do you know I was robbed?”
“Because Ethel brought the briefcase to you, and when I arrived, I saw a man leaving with the case under his arm.”
Alundo's eyes were bright behind his dark horn-rimmed glasses.
Why didn't you stop him
“I had to find out what had happened in here.”
“But it's more important to get that package back.”
“Is it? Why?”
“But I do mind why,” Mannering said. “That's what's brought me here. What is the secret of those notes? What have you been up to?” As he spoke he moved slowly, casually, nearing the old man, studying him closely. Several things surprised him about the lined face â the well-shaped lips, for instance, feminine lips, very like Ethel's; and the startlingly blue eyes, the beautifully soft silvery hair. There was something curiously winsome about him; it was as if a Michelangelo cherub had suddenly grown old.
“Don't come any nearer,” Alundo repeated, nervously. “I don't want to shoot anyoneâ”
“If you shoot me you won't have a chance of getting the microfilm back,” Mannering said.
“What do you mean? That man has it.”
Mannering said: “I mean what I say.” He was almost within reach of the gun, and could snatch or knock it from the Professor's hand, without risk. But if he simply ignored it he would not injure Alundo's pride so much, and he was coming to believe that pride played an important part in this man's life. “I mean that you are quite helpless against these people, but I am not.”
aren't you?” demanded Alundo. “If you're not a criminalâ”
“Oh, don't talk nonsense,” Mannering said sharply. “What happened? How did he put all three of you out?”
Alundo lowered the gun, as if he had forgotten that it was in his hand.
“I don't know,” he said helplessly. “I was here on my own, waiting for Ricardi and Ethel, and there was a knock at the door. This man said he was from the Lecture Agency, so I let him in. When he was inside he told me he had come for theâthe microfilm. When I told him it wasn't here, he called me a liar. I'm not a brave man, and I freely admit he frightened the life out of me! He asked me where the film was, so I told him I was expecting Ethel and Ricardi to bring it. Heâhe stuck a needle into my arm. I can remember feeling the numbness before I lost consciousness.” Alundo was speaking very quickly, as if he were still afraid. “I came round just now and saw the others, andâI heard someone in here. That's all I can tell you.” He flung the statement out almost defiantly, as if defying Mannering to disbelieve him.
Mannering asked: “Do you know who he was?”
“Do you know that his accomplice â or a man I believe to be his accomplice â was murdered on the train from New York last night? What is in that film to make men commit murder?”
Alundo remained silent; but he looked appalled.
“What is in that film? You must tell me, Professor.”
?” The blue eyes flashed with sudden anger, the well-shaped mouth tightened. “Who are you to tell me what I must tell you?” Alundo raised the gun, but his finger was not on the trigger. “
will be the judge of my behaviour,
will decide what I shall do. And I shall
tell you what is in the microfilm.” The barrel of the gun actually touched Mannering's chest. “Please don't ask me again, because I mean what I say.”
Mannering backed to a more comfortable distance.
“I'm sure you always mean what you say â but I don't think you're always right.”
“I don't give a damn what you think. Every man has the right to think for himself. If he
that is,” Alundo added icily. “If he
My goodness, if only people could think instead of reactâif only they used their minds instead of their reflexes, if only they used their heads instead of their hearts. That's what we need, Mannering â people who can think for themselves, who don't have their thinking done for them. Now you're an intelligent man,” he added simply, his burst of rage subsiding as quickly as it had arisen. “Do
accept this lunatic contention that war will settle anything? Tell me,
you?” He peered anxiously into Mannering's eyes. “Do
think war, violence, weapons, enmity, hatred â any of these things â will help humanity's problems?”
He paused for breath, allowing just enough time for Mannering to say: “No, but apparently you do.”
Alundo appeared not to hear him.
“Because they won't. The first thing this world needs is the outlaw of war and violence. Once that's done, once men realise there is nothing to be gained by fighting and hating,
we'll be on the way to understanding between peoplesâ
I said.” He waved the gun again, more vigorously, and his voice rose: “I mean
not people. People understand each other. The man and woman who meet in the street, on trains, on buses, on tubes, in the theatre â
don't hate, they don't want to fight. But peoples,
â they are the tools and the fools of governments, of those imbecile, moronic, self-seeking, power-lusting maniacs who rule nations.
can be made to do anything â hate, fight, rape, robâ”
He broke off.
Mannering said, offhandedly: “If there's one thing I can't stand, it's a man who doesn't practise what he preaches.”
Alundo stared at him, aghast.
“Are you suggesting
don't practise what I preach?”
“That gun in your hand is a weapon,” Mannering said, coldly.
“Gun?” Alundo, startled, glanced down, saw the pistol, raised it, then laid it on a small table. He threw out his hands. “But I wouldn't have shot you.”
“How was I to know that?”
“You have my word for it.”
“Professor Alundo,” Mannering said gently, “don't you think that is one of the world's greatest problems â that people and peoples, politicians and governments, use weapons to frighten, and the frightened people then use other weapons to defend themselves against an attack which was never meant to be anything more than a threat. And that is what leads to war.”
Alundo frowned, moved, dropped into a chair, crossed his legs, interlocked his fingers, and said: “These are dialectics.”
“You would have scared some people out of their wits with that gun.”
“Don't you think
“Yes,” Mannering said, judicially. “But frightened people are dangerous. I think perhaps you are frightened too often and too easily. And nowâ” He paused. “What is in that microfilm?”
Alundo's mouth set obstinately, and Mannering was trying to decide what to say and do next, when the telephone bell rang.
He thought: “That's my call to Scotland Yard.”
Alundo glanced impatiently at the telephone, as if willing it to stop. It rang with an impression of great urgency. Mannering moved towards it, glanced down and spoke as he lifted the receiver.
“This is Whitehall 4-31495.”
“Mr. John Mannering?”
“This is the international operator. Your call to London is about to come through, Mr. Mannering.”
“Thank you.” Mannering looked across at Alundo, wondering whether to try to get the man out of the room, and then decided not to. “Shall I hold on?”
Mannering looked at Alundo, who began to get to his feet.
“It's for you, I suppose. Shall I leaveâ?”
“It's a call from Scotland Yard,” Mannering said. “I'd like you to hear what I say.” There were a few odd noises on the line, and then he heard the voice of Superintendent William Bristow, once an enemy, now an old and trusted friend.
“Did I hear aright? That's John Mannering?”
“You heard me, Bill.”
“You sound as if you're in the next room.”
“I want you to hear me loud and clear. Bill â do you know anything about Professor Arthur Alundo?”
“Alundo? The self-styled peacemaker?”
“That's the man.”
“I know he's a crank,” Bristow said, and added quite unexpectedly: “He often seems to me to talk a lot of good sense, though.”
Alundo was standing, now, too taken aback to protest.
“Do you know anything else about him?”
“Is he a Communist?”
“Really!” exploded Alundo.
“He's got some red-tinged friends, but I don't think he's one himself.”
“Is he a security risk?” asked Mannering.
I must insistâ
“Not as far as I know,” answered Bristow, and then added suspiciously: “Until a few seconds ago, it wouldn't have occurred to me.”
“Do you think Alundo might know Enrico Ballas or his uncle?”
“Good God, no!” exploded Bristow. “What on earth makes you think he might?”
“A remarkable coincidence,” said Mannering dryly. “Ballas was interested in the Professor and I'd like to find out why.”
can't tell you,” Bristow stated. “What's on, John?”
“I think Alundo may be in trouble over here.”
Mr. Mannering, will you pleaseâ
“What kind of trouble?” asked Bristow.
“I don't know, except that Ballas tried to rob him, and someone else has succeeded. Ballas was only interested in jewels, wasn't he?”
Bristow said: “Old man Ballas has the most fantastic collection of jewellery and antiques outside a museum, and you know it. He got most of it by theft, and his nephew was one of the cleverest thieves in the business. Johnâ”
“What do you know about the nephew's death?” demanded Bristow.
“So you heard about that?”
“He'd just been to England, and the
Chicago Daily News
rang us.” Bristow was silent for a moment, and when he went on he sounded very grave: “I should have connected a call from Chicago with the murder, but I didn't. Did
have anything to do with it Mannering?”
“No. I knew it happened, though.”
“John,” Bristow said with an earnestness which came very clearly over the telephone, “don't make any mistake about this. You're on your own. You can't expect any help from the Yard if you get yourself into trouble in Chicago. And the
took pleasure in reminding me that Enrico Ballas was one of his uncle's highly organised and very dangerous gang of international thieves. They are utterly amoral and unscrupulous, and if there was enough in it for them they'd probably sell out all the country's secrets. I haven't often heard the editor of the
excited, but he was excited over this. If you've got yourself involved you could be between two fires â very dangerous fires. Are the police after you?”
“No,” Mannering said, heavily.
“Come back to England before they are,” advised Bristow.