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Authors: John Creasey

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The Mask of Sumi

BOOK: The Mask of Sumi
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Copyright & Information

The Mask of Sumi

 

First published in 1964

© John Creasey Literary Management Ltd.; House of Stratus 1964-2013

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

 

The right of John Creasey to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.

 

This edition published in 2013 by House of Stratus, an imprint of

Stratus Books Ltd., Lisandra House, Fore Street, Looe,

Cornwall, PL13 1AD, UK.

 

Typeset by House of Stratus.

 

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library and the Library of Congress.

 

ISBN
 
EAN
 
Edition
0755130197
 
9780755130191
 
Print
0755133900
 
9780755133901
 
Mobi
0755134303
 
9780755134304
 
Epub

 

This is a fictional work and all characters are drawn from the author's imagination.

Any resemblance or similarities to persons either living or dead are entirely coincidental.

 

www.houseofstratus.com

 

 

About the Author

 

John Creasey – Master Storyteller - was born in Surrey, England in 1908 into a poor family in which there were nine children, John Creasey grew up to be a true master story teller and international sensation. His more than 600 crime, mystery and thriller titles have now sold 80 million copies in 25 languages. These include many popular series such as
Gideon of Scotland Yard, The Toff, Dr Palfrey and The Baron
.

Creasey wrote under many pseudonyms, explaining that booksellers had complained he totally dominated the 'C' section in stores. They included:

 

Gordon Ashe, M E Cooke, Norman Deane, Robert Caine Frazer, Patrick Gill, Michael Halliday, Charles Hogarth, Brian Hope, Colin Hughes, Kyle Hunt, Abel Mann, Peter Manton, J J Marric, Richard Martin, Rodney Mattheson, Anthony Morton and Jeremy York.

 

Never one to sit still, Creasey had a strong social conscience, and stood for Parliament several times, along with founding the
One Party Alliance
which promoted the idea of government by a coalition of the best minds from across the political spectrum.

He also founded the
British Crime Writers' Association
, which to this day celebrates outstanding crime writing.
The Mystery Writers of America
bestowed upon him the
Edgar Award
for best novel and then in 1969 the ultimate
Grand Master Award
. John Creasey's stories are as compelling today as ever.

 

The Baron On Board

The fabulous Sumi crown jewels are up for sale – including the Mask of Sumi, a beautiful yet strangely repellent object. When the jewels are stolen, and taken on board ship by a woman, the Baron follows, only to find himself involved in a murder and in the midst of some very messy Oriental politics.

 

Chapter One
EXPECTED VISITOR

 

It was said that sooner or later the four corners of the world met at Quinns, in Hart Row, Mayfair; and in a way this was true. Certainly the dealers in precious stones, in
objets d'art
and in miniature paintings came to Quinns whenever they were in London, as they would go to Sotheby's or Christies. They went for the same reason, too; at Quinns they might find precisely the thing they wanted to buy or sell.

They came to England by the normal ways; more by air than by sea, more by sea than by train, more by train than by road. Many of them were well-known figures in their own restricted but exclusive world, the world of precious and of beautiful things, some created out of man's mind, some dug out of the dark earth and polished and cut and diligently worked upon by man to bring out their true beauty.

The owner of Quinns was as well known as the sixteenth-century shop itself. The experts, be they dealers or collectors, sellers or buyers, came to him as to an equal. Some said that John Mannering was the world's greatest expert on antique jewellery, but Mannering disclaimed it.

“I know a little about a lot,” he would say. “The real experts are the specialists.”

“Such as?”

“Men and women who've dealt in the same kind of valuables all their lives,” Mannering would reply. “Often they're comparatively little known. Most of them make their living out of their special knowledge.”

On a day in July Mannering was in the small office at the back of the narrow shop, expecting such an expert – Nikko Toji, from Bangkok. He did not know Toji well, but had met him in West Berlin and in New York, but never in London. Toji's reputation was beyond reproach. His special subject was Oriental jewellery, but like Mannering he always disclaimed being the greatest connoisseur in the world.

“In Oriental, Japanese and Chinese jewellery, yes, perhaps, I know some things. Of European or Middle Eastern jewellery I know practically nothing.”

In fact, of course, he knew a great deal.

He had cabled Mannering to say that he would like to see him in London this morning, and that a letter was in the post. Mannering had received it only a few hours ago. In excellent English, it said:

 

“I have the honour to present myself as the agent for Prince Asri of Sumi. Prince Asri is the owner of the Asri Dynasty jewels and for good reasons wishes to find a buyer for them. He would prefer to sell to one person or group, not to break up the Collection. He also wishes the matter to be kept secret and confidential until at least one year after the negotiations are complete. For these reasons I am about to request your assistance, Mr. Mannering, in finding a suitable buyer, and your assistance alone. I will cable you the date and time of my arrival as soon as I am able positively to say which flight I shall catch.

 

With my respects and good wishes,

Yours very sincerely,

Nikko Toji.”

 

The cable, pinned to the letter, said that Toji would arrive at eleven o'clock today. It was now nearly twelve.

Mannering had two books open on his desk,
Oriental Crown Jewels
and
Oriental Dynasties.
The Asri Dynasty was an old one; the family of the Princes of Sumi for over five hundred years.

There was a note:

 

“The last ruling member of the dynasty, Prince Asram, died in 1961. Sumi is now a republic with a democratically-elected president.”

 

There was no mention of Prince Asri.

There was a brief mention of the Crown Jewels of Sumi in the other book, but very little in the way of details.

Mannering tried to make sure that he jumped to no conclusions, but he found himself wondering whether the democratically-elected President of Sumi knew about the proposal to sell the jewels, or whether the Prince required that year of silence so that it would be too late to do anything if the Government did find out.

Mannering glanced at his watch; it was exactly twelve o'clock. Almost on the instant, there was a tap at the door.

“Come in.” He began to get up, expecting Toji. Instead his manager, Josh Larraby, came just inside.

“Mr. Toji is very late, sir.”

“His aeroplane is probably delayed,” Mannering said.

“I have just telephoned the airport and was told that the aircraft from Singapore came in at nine o'clock – on schedule,” Larraby said. “Mr. Toji was on board. He had some little difficulty with Customs but was allowed through at nine-thirty. I talked to Inspector Justin, who said that he will try to find out what happened afterwards.”

“I hope he isn't lost in London,” remarked Mannering lightly. “Was he alone?”

“Yes, sir.”

“If he hasn't arrived by one o'clock call Justin again, will you?” As soon as Larraby went out Mannering picked up the telephone and dialled the number of the British Museum. He talked to one of the librarians, a man whom he knew well.

“The Asri Dynasty and the Sumi nation – I have a note of your requirements, Mr. Mannering. I will look through the index and take out any book which might be of interest. Will you call for them yourself?”

“I'm more likely to send Larraby,” Mannering said.

Almost as soon as he replaced the receiver the telephone bell rang. He hoped it was Toji; instead it was an enquiry from a London dealer about a Genoese silver table which stood in the window of Quinns, unpriced because it was virtually beyond price.

Mannering forgot Nikko Toji in his negotiations for a sum for the table which would satisfy its owner.

It was a quarter to one when the telephone rang again.

“Mannering,” said Mannering automatically.

“London Airport Police calling. Hold on, please.” Mannering waited for a few seconds, then heard the deep voice of Inspector Justin.

“Mr. Mannering.”

“Hallo, Inspector.”

“I've some news about your man from Thailand.”

“That's good.”

“He left here in a private car, a large Austin,” Justin said. “It was driven by a young woman.”

“Do you know anything about her?”

“Nothing at all,” Justin replied. “The attendant at the car park thought she was a wow. Blonde, bouncy, and beautiful, he says. They headed for London in a thick stream of traffic.”

“Did anyone follow them out of the main gates?”

Justin chuckled.

“I had a feeling you'd ask that. My man says not.”

“Thanks,” said Mannering, and asked quickly: “Do you know what caused the delay in Customs?”

“Toji had some jewellery with him for exhibition. He signed all the necessary forms and guarantees, and was allowed to leave. They were old jewels – antique is the word.”

“Thanks very much,” said Mannering, giving no trace of his growing anxiety “Do you know the name of the Customs officer who dealt with him?”

“A man named Perks.”

“Thanks.”

“Any time,” said Justin.

Mannering rang off and made some pencilled notes to remind him of the salient points of that report. He had no idea whom Toji had met, and was surprised that anyone had been at the airport, but he tried to thrust his disquiet to the back of his mind. The man from Bangkok was shrewd and knowledgeable, and could surely take care of himself. He was also courtesy itself, Mannering knew; at the root of that disquiet was the fact that Toji had not sent a message to apologise for his lateness.

Mannering sent a junior assistant for a sandwich and some coffee, then asked Larraby to pick up the books from the British Museum.

By half past two Larraby was back with two thick volumes.

“Has there been any message from Mr. Toji, sir?”

“Nothing,” Mannering answered. “I'm really puzzled now.”

He was also really worried.

It would be simple to telephone Scotland Yard and to report his disquiet, but it might create a great deal of embarrassment for Toji. Mannering read the letter again.

And your assistance alone
” was quite positive, but the blonde who had met Toji was not necessarily connected with the reason for his visit to London.

There was one small paragraph in one of the books from the British Museum about the Crown Jewels of Sumi which added to Mannering's scanty knowledge of them.

“… are said to be of great value but no comprehensive account of them is available and no detailed list. The most valuable piece is said to be the Mask of Sumi, the equivalent of a crown in other countries, which is placed over the face of the new ruling Prince. It is said the Prince must not be seen in public without this mask for the first twelve weeks of his reign, or he will forfeit his right of accession and his next of kin (male) will replace him.”

 

The extract was from a book published in 1907, and there were no later references.

Mannering looked at his watch. It was nearly three o'clock. It was inconceivable that Toji would stay away for so long and not send a message. He must begin to make inquiries.

He rang for Larraby, who came in at once.

“Josh, find out if Toji has been to any other dealer, will you?”

“Yes, sir, I will. But it isn't at all likely.”

“None of this is likely,” Mannering said drily.

Larraby went out, and almost at once Mannering's telephone bell rang. By now he was so preoccupied that he did not want to concentrate on other business, and snatched up the receiver.

“Mannering.” He was almost brusque.

“John,” said Lorna, his wife.

Over the years, Lorna's voice had wooed him out of great anxieties, dark moods of depression, and moments of dangerous indecision. He forgot Toji at least for the moment.

“Hallo, darling!”

“John, a queer thing just happened.”

“How queer?”

“A man telephoned and asked if I was expecting a visit from a Thai – a man from Bangkok – named Toji, Nikko Toji.”

“Oh,” said Mannering heavily. “You weren't but I was.” He shut his mind to urgent questions, and went on: “What else did he say?”

“He said that this Toji was dying,” Lorna announced with a catch in her voice. “He also said he was asking for me all the time.”

“Did he say where Toji is?” asked Mannering tensely.

“In the Compton Hotel, Bayswater,” Lorna told him.

 

The Compton Hotel was a house in a terrace of tall Georgian houses in a turning off the Bayswater Road. It had been newly painted black and white, and the high gloss paint had an artificial appearance. Black letters on massive round pillars announced the name. Cars were close-parked outside. The front door was wide open, and as Mannering paid off his taxi and went in he saw a man and a woman in the dark hall.

They turned round as he entered.

“Are you Mr. Mannering?”

“Yes. How is Mr. Toji?”

“A doctor and a policeman are with him,” the man said. “Will you go straight up, please? It's the second door on the right at the front landing.”

Mannering hardly noticed the couple, except that the man was grey-haired and plump and the woman tall and thin. He ran up the stairs. The door on the right was open. Beyond was a big, spacious room with huge windows. Against a wall was a double bed, and in the middle of the bed was Nikko Toji.

He was obviously at death's door.

His eyes were half-closed, his mouth open and slack. His jet-black hair made his pallor like wax. His hands were outside the sheet, waxen-white too, except for the nails, which shone with natural-coloured varnish.

On either side of the bed was a man, one elderly and grey-haired, the other young, red-faced, alert-looking.

“Mr. Mannering?” this man asked.

“Yes.”

“I am Detective Officer Druitt, sir, Divisional Headquarters. Is it true that you know this man?”

Mannering looked intently into that almost lifeless face. After a pause, he said: “Yes, I know him slightly. He had an appointment with me at eleven o'clock this morning, at my office.”

“That was the time he arrived,” said the detective. “He told the proprietor that he was to meet you here.”

The tone of the man's voice was heavy with suspicion.

 

BOOK: The Mask of Sumi
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