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Authors: Leslie Charteris,Robert Hilbert;

The Saint in Action

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INTERNATIONAL SWINDLE

A brutal Spanish general meets a notorious Polish counterfeiter behind guarded doors. They plan the greatest of all international swindles—with armies poised and waiting for the outcome of their meeting.

Outside their rendezvous, the London fog lifts briefly, revealing the figure of Simon Templar— The Saint. With cat-like tread he approaches the house, his blood racing to the thrill of danger and the lure of international intrigue and plunder. Silently, swiftly, he enters the misty doorway to keep his date with adventure.

Don’t miss other Charter titles in the Saint series:

THE SAINT ABROAD

THE SAINT AND THE PEOPLE IMPORTERS

VENDETTA FOR THE SAINT

CATCH THE SAINT

THE SAINT AND THE HAPSBURG NECKLACE

THE AVENGING SAINT

ALIAS THE SAINT

FEATURING THE SAINT

THE SAINT AT THE THIEVES’ PICNIC

THE SAINT IN ACTION

LESLIE CHARTERIS

CHARTER

NEW YORK

A DIVISION OF CHARTER COMMUNICATIONS INC.

A GROSSET & DUNLAP COMPANY

THE SAINT IN ACTION

Originally published under the title THE ACE OF

KNAVES

Copyright 1937 by Leslie Charteris

A Charter Book published by arrangement with Doubleday

and Company

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review, without permission in writing from the publisher.

All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A Charter Book

Charter Books

A Division of Charter Communications Inc.

A Grosset & Dunlap Company

51 Madison Ave.

New York, N.Y. 10010

First Charter Edition August 1980

1357908642

Manufactured in the United States of America

To

PATRICIA CHARTERIS

Hoping She May Meet a Saint

Some Day

CONTENTS

The Spanish War 3

The Unlicensed Victuallers 101

The Beauty Specialist 201

Part One

The Spanish War

I

Simon templar folded his newspaper with a sigh and laid it reverently to rest in the wastebasket.

“We live in a wonderful country,” he observed. “Did you read how two policemen and one policewoman practically lived in a night club in Brighton for about three weeks, drawing their wages from the ratepayers all the time and drinking gallons of champagne at the ratepayers’ expense, until they finally managed to lure some poor fathead into the place and get him to buy them a drink after time? And that’s what we pay taxes for. Our precious politicians can go to Geneva and swindle the Abyssinians with all the dignity of a gang of bucket-shop promoters and slap the poor deluded Spaniard on the back and tell him he’s just dreaming about Italians and Germans helping the rebels in his so-called civil war; but the honour of England has been vindicated. A bloke is fined fifty quid for selling a whisky and soda at half past eleven and another bloke is fined a fiver for drinking it; two policemen and one policewoman have had a wonderful free jag and helped themselves towards promotion, and the world has been shown that England respects the Law. Rule Britannia.”

Patricia Holm smiled tolerantly.

“I love you when your gorge rises,” she said; and the Saint chuckled.

“It’s a beautiful gorge, darling,” he answered. “And talking about the Law, it seems a long time since we saw anything of dear old Chief Inspector Teal.”

“‘He doesn’t go abroad very much,” Patricia pointed out. “If you stayed at home for a bit I expect you’d see plenty of him.”

Simon nodded.

“There’s plenty of him to see,” he agreed, “and I suppose we’ll be seeing it. I can’t go on being respectable indefinitely.”

He got up from the breakfast table and stretched himself lazily by the open windows. The spring sunshine lay in pools between the trees of the park and twinkled on the delicate green of the young leaves that were still too freshly budded for the London air to have dulled their colour; and the same sunshine twinkled in the smile with which the Saint looked back at Patricia. It was a smile that made any disclaimer of respectability seem almost superfluous. Respectability was a disease that could never have attacked a man with a smile in which there was so much unconquerable devilment; it couldn’t have found a foothold anywhere in any one of the seventy-two inches of slimly muscular length that separated his crisp black hair from the soles of his polished shoes. And with that smile laughing its Irresistible way into her eyes Patricia felt again as fresh and ageless as if she were only meeting it then for the first time, the gay, disreputable magic of that incomparable buccaneer whom the newspapers had christened the Robin Hood of modern crime and whom the police and the underworld alike had called by many worse names.

“I suppose you can’t,” she said resignedly and knew that she was stating one of the few immutable certainties of this unsettled world.

Simon lighted a cigarette with an impenitent grin and turned to the door as Orace’s walrus face poked itself into the room.

“Someone wantin’ to see yer,” said Orace; and the Saint raised his eyebrows.

“Does he look like a detective?” he asked hopefully.

Orace shook his head.

“Nossir. ‘E looks like a gennelman.”

Simon went through into the living room and found his visitor standing by the table flicking over the pages of the New Yorker. He dropped the magazine and turned quickly as the Saint came in. He was a youngish man with brown curly hair and a lantern jaw and rimless glasses. The Saint, whose life had depended more than once on his gift for measuring up strangers with a casual glance, guessed that Orace’s diagnosis was probably correct and also that his visitor was slightly agitated.

“Mr Templar? I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting you, but I’ve seen your picture and read about you in the papers. I’ve really got no business to come and take up your time, but–-“

The Saint nodded. He was used to people who really had no business to come and take up his time—it was one of the penalties of fame, but it had often turned out to be a profitable penalty. He held out his cigarette case.

“Sit down and let’s hear what’s on your mind,” he said soothingly. “I’ve never met you either, so anyway we start square.”

“My name’s Graham—Geoffrey Graham,” The young man took a cigarette and sat on the arm of a chair as if he expected to bounce off at any moment.

“I don’t know how much you want to know about me— I’m an articled pupil in an architect’s office, and I live in Bloomsbury—my family live in Yorkshire, and they aren’t very well off–-“

“Have you murdered somebody?” asked the Saint gravely.

“No. No, I haven’t done that–-“

“Or burgled a bank?”

“No, but–-“

“It might have been quite exciting if you had,” said the Saint calmly. “But as things are, suppose you tell me what the trouble is first, and then we’ll decide how far back to go into the story of your life.”

“Well–-“

The expectation was justified. The young man did bounce off the chair. He pulled a bundle of large folded papers out of his pocket, disengaged one of them and held it out.

“Well, look,” he said. “What d’ you think this is?”

Simon unfolded the document. It was printed on crisp heavy paper and very beautifully engraved; it looked as if it might have been valuable, but most men would have studied it for some time before venturing to define it. Simon held it up to the light, rubbed it between his fingers and flipped it back onto the table.

“It seems to be one of the new American government short-term loan thousand-dollar bearer bonds,” he said in much the same way as he might have said, “It seems to be a bus ticket to Wimbledon”; but his blue had settled into a quiet and rather watchful interestedness.

Graham pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead.

“My God,” he said. He breathed heavily once or twice. “Well, that’s what I’d come to the conclusion it was, only I couldn’t believe it. I thought I’d better make sure. You know, I’ve read about those things in stories, like everybody else, but I’d never seen one before. My God!”

He blinked down at the handful of papers which he was still clutching and threw them down on the table beside the specimen.

“Look,” he said in an awe-stricken voice. “There’s thirty-four more of ‘em. That’s thirty-five thousand dollars—seven thousand pounds—isn’t it?”

Simon picked up the collection and glanced through them.

“It was when I was at school,” he said. “Are you making a collection or something?”

“Well, not exactly. I got them out of a fellow’s desk.”

“There must be money in architecture,” said the Saint encouragingly.

“No, it wasn’t at the office. This was a fellow who lived in the same boardinghouse with me when I was living in Bayswater. You see–-“

The Saint studied him thoughtfully. His uninvited callers in the past had included more than one optimistic gentleman who had tried to sell him a machine for making diamonds or turning water into lubricating oil, and he was always glad to listen to a new story. But although the opening he had just listened to might well have served as a prelude to one of those flights of misdirected ingenuity which were the Saint’s perennial joy and occasional source of income, there seemed to be something genuine about the young man in front of him which didn’t quite fit in with the Saint’s shrewdly discriminating suspicions.

“Why not start at the beginning and go on to the end?” he suggested.

“It’s quite simple, really,” explained Graham as if he didn’t find it simple at all. “You see, about six months ago I lent this fellow a tenner.”

“What fellow?”

“His name’s David Ingleston. I knew him quite slightly, the way you know people in a boardinghouse, but he seemed all right, and he said he’d pay me back in a week. He hasn’t paid me back yet. He kept promising to pay me back, but when the time came he’d always have some excuse or other. When I moved my digs to Bloomsbury it got worse—if I rang up or went to see him he’d be out or he’d have been sent abroad by his firm or something, and if I wrote to him he didn’t answer, and so on. I’m not very well off, as I told you, and a tenner means quite a bit to me. I was getting pretty fed up with it.”

The young man stared resentfully at the sheaf of bonds on the table, as if they personified the iniquity of their owner.

“Well, the other day I found out that he was back in England and that he’d moved into a flat in Chelsea. That made it seem worse, because I thought if he could afford to move into a flat he could afford to pay me my ten quid. I rang him up, and I happened to catch him at home for once, so I told him what I thought of him. He was very apologetic, and he asked me to go round and have a drink with him last night and he’d pay me the tenner then. I was there at half past eight, and he was out, but the maid said I could wait. I kicked my heels for half an hour, and then I began to get angry. After I’d waited an hour I was thoroughly furious. I guessed that he’d forgotten the appointment, or he just wasn’t going to keep it, and I could see I’d be waiting another ten years before I got my tenner back. The only thing I could think of was to take it out of him some other way. I couldn’t see anything worth pinching that was small enough for me to sneak out under my coat, so I pulled open a drawer of the desk, and I saw those things.”

“So you borrowed them for security.”

“I didn’t really stop to think about it. I didn’t know what they were, but they looked as if they might be valuable, so I just shoved them into my pocket. Then the maid came in and said she was going home because she didn’t sleep in the flat, and she didn’t think she’d better leave me there alone. I was just boiling by that time, so I told her she could tell Ingleston I’d have something to say to him later and marched off. When I got home and had another look at what I’d pinched I began to get the wind up. I couldn’t very well take the things into a bank and ask about them, but I thought that you … Well, you know, you–-“

“You don’t have to feel embarrassed,” murmured the Saint kindly. “I have heard people say that they thought my principles were fairly broad-minded. Still, I’m not thinking of sending for the police, although for an amateur burglar you do seem to have got off to a pretty good start.”

The young man’s lantern jaw became even longer and squarer.

“I don’t want Ingleston’s beastly bonds,” he said, “but I do want my tenner.”

“I know,” said the Saint sympathetically. “But the Law doesn’t allow you to pinch things from people just because they owe you money. It may be ridiculous, but there it is. Hasn’t Ingleston rung you up or anything since you pushed off with his bonds?”

“No; but perhaps he hasn’t missed them yet.”

“If he had you’d probably have heard from him— the maid would have told him you’d been waiting an hour for him last night. Let’s hope he hasn’t missed them, because if he felt nasty you might have had the police looking for you.”

Graham looked slightly stunned.

“But I didn’t mean to keep the things–-“

“You pinched them,” Simon pointed out. “And the police don’t know anything about what people mean. Do you realize that you’ve committed larceny on a scale that ‘d make a lot of professionals jealous and that you could be sent to prison for quite a long time?”

The other’s mouth fell open.

“I hadn’t thought of it like that,” he said feebly. “It was all on the spur of the moment—I hadn’t realized–-My God, what am I going to do?”

“The best thing you can do, my lad,” said the Saint sensibly, “is to put them back before there’s any fuss.”

“But–-“

There was something so comical about the young man’s blankly horrified paralysis that Simon couldn’t help taking pity on him.

“Come on,” he said. “He can’t eat you, and the sooner he gets his bonds back the less likely he is to try. Look here—I’ll drive over with you if you like and see that he behaves himself, and we’ll take a tenner off him at the same time.”

BOOK: The Saint in Action
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