Authors: Stephen Marlowe
Death Is My Comrade
Open Road Integrated Media Ebook
For my father,
er name was Eugenie.
She flew into Washington on a Thursday in June, was almost rapedâor said she was almost rapedâFriday night, tangled with the cops, the State Department and the Russian Embassy over the week end and was declared
persona non grata
on Monday. Quite a history for a seventeen-year-old girl fresh out of a finishing school in Montreux, Switzerland. But then, there aren't many seventeen-year-old girls like Eugenie.
I first saw her late on a hot, muggy Friday night. I'd driven across the John Philip Sousa Bridge with Marianne Baker and out of Washington across the Maryland tidewater flats to Lucienne Duhamel's summer cottage near Chesapeake City. Earlier, Marianne and I had bent elbows and made small talk with Washington's dinner-jacket set at Lucienne's Chevy Chase town house. Lucienne Duhamel was Eugenie's mother.
As I stopped the car Marianne chided me: “Don't they make speed limits for private detectives, Chet?” But she was smiling.
“You told me I'd like Eugenie.”
“Lecher,” Marianne said, and we got out of the car. “She's all of seventeen.” Which gave Eugenie ten years on Marianne Baker, who's twenty-seven.
Marianne is small and blonde with a year-round natural tan that makes her hair look like platinum, especially on a moonlit night in June in tidewater Maryland. She has laughing brown eyes and a short upper lip and a full lower one and twin six-month-old sons back in the apartment in Georgetown. The boys' father, Wally Baker, is dead. I am their godfather. They're called, one for Wally and one for me, Wallace and Chester. Since they'd only recently been weaned, this was almost Marianne's first night out since her husband was killed. I'd wanted her to enjoy herself. The laughter had gone out of her eyes when Wally died. I thought it high time some of it came back. She looked happy now.
Eugenie was going to change that.
Arm in arm we went along the walk to the front porch of Lucienne Duhamel's summer cottage. I could hear the tidewater lapping against wooden pilings in back. It was very hot and very still, with a lot of moon but no wind. Light showed in the front windows of the small, cedar-shingled cottage.
“I'll say there aren't any speed limits for private detectives,” Marianne told me. “Lucienne and Mr. Laschenko aren't even in sight yet.”
Then we both heard their car driving up, and its headlights raked the cedar shingles. I had gotten one foot on the porch when I heard the back door slam.
“That's funny,” Marianne said. “Who do you suppose it was?”
“Not Eugenie, I hope, after the build-up.”
Marianne made an exasperated sound.
Behind us, Laschenko tromped once on the gas pedal of his car and cut the motor. Getting out, he called in his booming voice: “Eugenie? A surprise, Eugenie!”
The surprise was that since Eugenie hadn't wanted to attend the party at her mother's town house, Lucienne Duhamel had brought the dregs of the party here. The dregs consisted of Semyon Laschenko, Russia's special cultural attachÃ© in whose honor the party had been given; Lucienne herself; Marianne, who would do a piece for
magazine on Lucienne's latest bid to oust Perle Mesta from her role as the hostess with the mostest; and a private eye named Chet Drum who would rather spend his time with Marianne Baker than with anyone else.
“Surprise, Eugenie!” Laschenko called boomingly again.
That was when Eugenie screamed. Not before, not when Marianne and I had first driven up and not even when the back door slammed. When she heard Laschenko's booming voice. She had held her scream for then.
I crossed the porch in two strides and pulled open the screen door. I heard Laschenko's and Lucienne's running footsteps on the crushed-shell path. Marianne said something as she came in right behind me. We saw Eugenie before Laschenko and Lucienne reached the cottage.
What she was doing was leaning against the hi-fi console in the living room. She wore brief black shorts rolled tight and even shorter against her long smooth thighs. She also wore an aqua blouse that clung to her breasts electrically in the hot muggy air. She was barefoot. Her auburn hair was drawn back tightly from her temples into a single long, thick braid which fell over her shoulder and down across her right breast. Her mouth was moistly red with no lipstick on it. Her big eyes looked scared, or tried to. Not quite terrified. She wasn't that good an actress.
What else she was doing was ripping the neckline of her aqua blouse. Her hand froze there, with four inches of the fabric ripped, when she saw me.
“What's the matter,” I said to her, “don't you like it any more?”
She squinched her eyes shut. When she opened them, she'd managed to produce a single tear that rolled down her left cheek. Then Marianne stood beside me, looking anxious and concerned. Eugenie jerked her head toward the rear door. The big braid swung. The tear reached her lips, and she licked at it. “A man,” she said. “I â¦ I didn't lock the door. He â¦ he tried to rape me.”
It was as good a cue as I was liable to get. I ran across the living room and along a narrow hall to the rear door. Marianne went to Eugenie, placing an arm around her shoulders. I wondered if she had seen the trick with the blouse. But hell, I thought, someone
high-tailed it out of there.
The screen door in front slammed as I went out the back door. I hit sand on my first half-dozen strides, then the boards of a dock. In the moonlight at its end a figure was crouched over the kicker in an outboard motorboat. One of his arms went forward and pulled back. The motor sputtered, growled and died.
He saw me then. He jumped out of the boat, rocking it in the water. His shoes slapped the boardwalk as he ran along its edge. So did mine.
I brought him down with a tackle at the edge of the sand. He twisted over and his arms flailed at me. He threw sand in my face, and' got up. Pawing at my eyes, I rose right after him and he hit me with everything he had. I stumbled back two steps. He swung at my jaw again. This time I caught his wrist. I turned it and started to turn him.
He clawed at his jacket with his free hand and came up with a small automatic. Sweat gleamed on his face.
“Don't make me use it, mister.”
“Put it away, kid. You don't want to use it.”
“Let go of me. I'm getting away.”
He spoke pretty good English, even in his fear and desperation, but had a slight accent I couldn't identify. He had a short shock of blond hair and a thin face with high, delicate cheekbones, almost like a woman's. He didn't look more than twenty-three or -four.
“Laschenko?” he said suddenly. The automatic hung in his hand, pointing down toward my legs. He'd almost seemed to have forgotten he held it.
“Don't take me back in there. You don't know what you're doing.”
I was still holding his other wrist, and I could feel him trembling. He was as scared as anybody I'd ever seen. Eugenie had hollered rape, had tried to make it look like rape by ripping her blouse. From where I stood it didn't look like rape, attempted or consummated or any other kind.
“Please, mister. You're an American? Let go of me. You don't know what.â¦”
The back door banged. When the kid looked up, I made a grab for the gun. I held both his wrists now. They were sweaty, turning in my hands. The gun squirted from his fingers, hit once on the boardwalk and splashed into the water. Laschenko came out of the house running.
“Drum?” he called. “You have him?”
I nodded. The blond boy sighed and stopped struggling.
Semyon Laschenko had been in Washington since April. He was a big shaggy bear of a man who wore tweeds till the middle of May and then suddenly appeared in wash-and-wear cords that would weigh less than two pounds dripping wet. He looked as English as Harold Macmillan or roast beef and Yorkshire pudding; he was as Russian as Nikita Khrushchev or a brass samovar. But that spring the cold war had entered one of its unexpected thaws, and Laschenko, extroverted, charming, had been sent to Washington to co-operate with a group of American businessmen who were setting up an American trade exhibition in Moscow's Gorky Park. Laschenko was a Party man, but he was also a party man.
When he reached us, puffing a little because he was big and forty-five or so and had run hard, he did a slow double-take. “You?” he gasped. “You, Ilya?”
The blond boy didn't say anything. Laschenko yanked at his free arm, shaking him. The boy took it docilely.
“You attacked Eugenie?” Laschenko cried.
The boy didn't speak, but I felt him stiffen. The attempted rape idea, I thought, was a new one to him, as new as it had been to Eugenie when we busted in on her.
Laschenko shook the blond boy again. He was still panting.
“That's enough,” I said. “You'll wear yourself out.”
Laschenko looked at me. He looked at the blond boy, Ilya. He had a clipped graying military moustache and he drew his upper lip into his mouth to suck at it. He released the boy and let his hand fall slowly.
“Let's go inside and see what this is all about,” I said.
ut what it was all about when we went inside was still rape. What it was all about was Eugenie, with a light robe over her torn blouse now, saying Ilya had tried to attack her. What it was all about was Ilya admitting the attempt with a nod and a shame-faced look and an occasional word. I even got the impression that Ilya liked the idea, as much as he could like anything, considering the pickle he was in.
Lucienne Duhamel sat solicitously near her daughter now. Lucienne was one of those agelessly beautiful women who could hover in her early thirties longer than a hummingbird can hover over a bush, and with even less effort. She had jet black hair worn in a short Italian cut that set off the wide pale brow and dark eyes and heavy cheekbones and softly full lips. She wore pendant earrings the color of her hair; though less lustrous, if anything, and a white sheath of a dress with gold thread sewn into the fabric. Her dark eyes usually held an amused, cynical, very Gallic look.
Not now, though. Now it was just short of one-thirty of a Saturday morning, and Lucienne's daughter, fresh from the finishing school in Montreux, had almost been raped. Lucienne was not amused.
“You realize, dear,” she told Marianne, “that none of this is for publication.”
Marianne said that
magazine was no scandal sheet. Lucienne nodded, and patted her daughter's hand. She asked me abruptly: “Are you bonded as a private detective in the state of Maryland, Mr. Drum?”
“D.C., Virginia and here in Maryland,” I said.
“Then it is your duty to call the police?”
“A private detective isn't a policeman,” I told her, “and when I'm not on a case I'm just a private citizen. So don't mind me.”
A look passed between Eugenie and Ilya. “Besides,” Eugenie said quickly, “he can't call the police. Or if he did it wouldn't do any good. Ilya is on the staff of the Russian Embassy. He has diplomatic immunity. Doesn't he, Mr. Laschenko?” Eugenie smiled a little.
Lucienne remembered her Gallic wit long enough to ask: “Child, are you
he tried to rape you?”
Eugenie said, trying to look shocked and not succeeding.
“Well, the way you act, the way you answer our questions.â¦”
“He made a mistake,” Eugenie told her mother. “Perhaps I led him on.” Lucienne looked shocked with no trouble at all. “A little,” Eugenie added in a small voice. “That is, it may not have beenâactuallyâthat he attacked me. But I was frightened and.â¦”
“And I suppose you tore your own blouse?” Lucienne said.
Eugenie darted a glance at me. I kept silent.
Semyon Laschenko cleared his throat, paced, sat down, stood up, and paced again, sucking at his moustache. “I can assure you,” he told Lucienne, “that Ilya is finished at the Embassy. He goes home as soon as we can arrange transportation.”
Ilya sighed. Eugenie sighed. I scowled at Marianne. I had the impression I was watching a play in which all the actors had forgotten their lines and were ad-libbing until the curtain went down.
“That's all?” Lucienne demanded.
“What else can we do?” Laschenko said. “Eugenie is right. Ilya has diplomatic immunity.”
“Unless he waives it,” Lucienne said.
Laschenko snorted. “Would you, my dear, in his position?”
“Even if he did,” Eugenie said, “I wouldn't testify.”
Lucienne looked at her coldly. “You wouldn't have to. You are under age. The word, I believe, is statutory.”