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Dr. Gideon Fell series detective. "Sensational. A master explicator of the impossible." --The New York Times Book Review_
Understand, Brian, I have no proof against this woman. Even the Foreign Office have no proof. But I don't want my daughter to associate with her.
Yes, he thought wryly, that was fair enough. Brian Innes had no need to reread the letter in his pocket; he knew it almost by heart.
Audrey will fly BEA from London on the same day you return to Geneva from Paris. She will spend one night at the Hotel Metropole, Geneva, before going on to this woman's villa. For old friendship's sake, then, I rely on you to see Audrey and stop her from going there.
Old friendship's sake, eh?
Load me with the dirty work. That could be called characteristic too.
It was past seven in the evening when Brian Innes left the airport at Geneva. The customs-examination did not detain him; they knew him there and waved him on. Then, after hailing a taxi, he hesitated. There could be no great hurry. He could at least drop his suitcase at his own flat before he went on to see Audrey.
"Monsieur?" prompted the taxi-driver.
"Number three, Quai Turrettini," said Brian, and pitched his suitcase inside. "No, wait!" he added in his excellent French.
"I'll change that. Hotel Metropole, Grand Quai."
The taxi-driver gave a massive shrug like a diplomat at the United Nations. The door slammed, the metal flag snapped down.
On clear days, when you drove away from this airport, you could see the peaks of the nearer Alps outlined ghostly white against a pale sky. They were invisible this evening. Thick overcast air, a hollow of thundery heat, pressed down on the mind and spirits in early August. It was more than twenty minutes, growing darker, before he watched suburbs thicken into a grey-white city round its lake.
Tram-cars clanged through the more modern section of Geneva, always bustling. But no breeze stirred from the lake; the jet d'eau, lonely out there against a vast sweep of water, seemed to fling up motionless spray. And over on the south bank, beyond all those bridges, the quais below the Old Town looked half-deserted and even a little sinister.
Brian Innes sat back in the cab, his black Homburg hat across his knees.
Damn this conscientiousness! But there it was. Possibly he had more interest in Audrey Page than he would ever have confessed.
He was forty-six years old, though not much grey showed in his wiry red hair. Long and lean, easy-going, with much imagination and a sardonic sense of humour, he himself looked like the popular notion of a diplomat.
The sense of humour didn't help much. He was, in fact, a successful painter of what they called the conventional school, though Brian himself much disliked those terms. Northern Irish, he belonged to that international group who maintain residence abroad while still keeping up British nationality.
Restless and uneasy, most of them! Geneva was their point and their focus. Without Geneva, he supposed, this situation might not have arisen at all.
De Forrest Page, compelled to remain in London and with various tricks to nurse what was left of a once-great fortune, usually managed to keep his daughter in London too. De Forrest seldom lost his temper and never lost his head. And yet his worry rang through every line of that last letter.
The point is, Brian, that you know the real story about Eve Eden and her late boy-friend in Germany just before the war. I don't know it. However unsavoury that story is—
Unsavoury? Well, yes.
—I rely on you to tell Audrey. She's not a child any longer; she is nearly thirty; and it's time she developed a sense of responsibility. You seem to be the only one who's got any influence with her.
"Kindly forgive me," thought the recipient of this, "if I utter a loud haha."
Then Brian woke up.
His taxi had been speeding along the Grand Quai, hushed and dusky before street-lamps were kindled, with the formal stretch of the English Garden on the left. On the right ran tall formal houses, after the French fashion in this French part of Switzerland. An even sedater-looking building of the eighteen-nineties, all massive stone outside and red plush inside, loomed up near the intersection of the rue d'Italie.
"Hotel Metropole," the driver said rather grandly. "Is one required to wait?"
"No, one is not," said Brian, climbing out. "Good God!" he added under his breath.
The unexpectedness of what happened, when he had scarcely put on his hat and paid the driver, took him aback. A small cool whirlwind, high heels rapping, marched out of the hotel and hurried towards him.
"What on earth do you mean by this?" cried a familiar voice, soft and breathless. "You're too early! You'll spoil everything! And worst of all—"
"Good evening, Audrey," he observed with much politeness. "Were you expecting somebody else?"
"Well, really!" said Audrey Page, and stopped short.
She was rather elaborately dressed for dinner, in a low-cut white gown that set off the firm sleekness of her shoulders. Though her face remained in shadow, a dim light from the hotel-foyer touched her heavy, glossy dark-brown hair. As usual, breathing out emotion, she seemed all contradictory qualities: stolidness and yet fragility, poise and yet indecision.
Audrey moved a little sideways. Long blue eyes, black-lashed and a little slanted up at the outer corners, regarded him with an innocence which did not hide either anger or uneasiness. She carried a handbag and a short wrap, at which her fingers were beginning to pluck.
"Well, really!" she breathed. "I shouldn't have expected this honour. Brian Innes, of all people! May I ask what you're doing here?"
"You may. I live here."
"Here?" Her eyes flashed towards the suitcase. "At this hotel?"
"Not at the hotel, no. Here in Geneva. You hadn't forgotten that, I hope?"
"Whether I forgot it or not," answered Audrey in a shaky voice, "I think this is a bit much and I'm getting fed up with it. I came here for a few days, just a few days, to visit a friend of mine who's got a villa just this side of the French border on the road to Chambéry."
"Yes; so I've heard."
"Oh. I see. Then he did send you here."
"De Forrest. My father. He sent you here to spy on me."
Brian began to laugh.
"Hardly that, young lady. I seldom carry a suitcase when I go spying. And please don't make all those gestures as though this were high tragedy." His tone changed. "But I do want to talk to you about your friend Eve Eden, the former film-star with the improbable name."
"Her real name," cried Audrey, "is Eve Ferrier. Mrs. Eve Ferrier. All the same, she's got a right to the other name too. She used it on the screen. Lots of people call her that." Then Audrey stamped both feet. "Ugh, you red haired goblin! I could cut your wretched heart out!"
"That would be a pity."
"I'm not so sure it would be. If ever once in the past you'd been willing to take me seriously, just once and for a change, so many things might have been different between us. But, oh, no! You think I'm stupid; you want to treat me as a child whatever I say or do; you make me so cross I want to kill you."
"Audrey. Listen to me."
Both their voices rang louder in the shadowed street. Thick heat pressed down. Distantly, through the quiet of the pre-dinner hour, motor-horns hooted above a clanging of trams.
"In the first place, Audrey, I don't think you're stupid."
"Definitely no. In the second place, since your father wants me to prevent you from going to this woman's house—"
"He's got rather a nerve, hasn't he?"
"Maybe I think so too. Don't imagine I enjoy being here; it's none of my business. However, since I seem to have been saddled with the responsibility, I'll tell you what he wants me to tell you and then you can please yourself. Suppose we sit down and have a drink for just five minutes?"
"Even if I wanted to sit down and have a drink, Mr. Brian Innes, you're too late. There's someone coming to take me out to dinner, and he'll be here at any moment."
"You won't miss him. We can wait in the bar."
"Oh, no, we can't! This hotel hasn't got a bar."
"Damn it, woman, surely there's a lounge of some kind?"
"Even if there is, what have we got to talk about? Eve, of all people! I've heard all those old rumours, thanks very much."
"What particular rumours?"
Audrey made a gesture with her handbag.
"Just before the war, when Eve was a great star, she kept saying she favoured Hitler and the Nazis. All right; so did a lot of people. But that was seventeen years ago; they were wrong and they've admitted they were wrong, just as Eve has. Isn't that what you want to tell me?"
"No. That's only a part of it."
"Is it her love-affairs?"
"No. Except indirectly."
"Then what on earth are you accusing her of?"
"I'm not accusing her of anything. The woman may be entirely innocent. On the other hand"—and doubt, brooding indecision swept over him like his attraction towards Audrey Page—"on the other hand, if that business in '39 didn't happen to be an accident, she was guilty of a neat little murder."
"That's what I said. She killed Hector Matthews for his money; she's the only one who could have done it; and this blonde charmer is about as safe a bedmate as a king cobra."
"I don't believe it. You're joking!"
"It's anything but a joke, I can assure you. Come with me."
That was the moment when the street-lamps flashed on.
They glowed out white against the trees of the English Garden; they made a necklace westwards along the great length of the Grand Quai to a traffic-mutter round the Place du Rhône.
Audrey, gripping her handbag, had thrown back the heavy, glossy brown hair which curled almost to her shoulders. Her expression as she looked up at him, mouth partly open, carried behind its incredulity some emotion which he ought to have studied more closely.
"Brian, you're not to be silly! I never heard...."
"You wouldn't have heard. Come along."
The Hotel Metropole was a luxury establishment, though not the most luxurious and far from the most modern. To the left of the front door, past a tiny foyer and a lift like a rosewood coffin, Brian impelled his companion towards a lounge with a high ceiling and high windows overlooking the quai and the lake.
Its massive oppressiveness lay unbroken. Dim lights from corners shone on arsenic-green furniture, on much gilding, and on naked goddesses carved and painted in plaster. Audrey, throwing handbag and wrap on a table, faced him with a mood in which curiosity struggled against defiance.
"Audrey, when and where did you meet this woman?"
"Oh, good heavens, does it matter?"
"Probably not, but we'd better have the record straight. When and where did you meet her?"
"I met her in London last winter. She was there with her husband, going to all the theatres. And her husband is Desmond Ferrier, if you know who he is?"
"Yes. I know who he is, and I know those two were married during the war."
"Well, I can't say I did at first. In the old days, it seems, Mr. Ferrier was as famous a star of the legitimate stage as Eve was on the screen. Though I'm afraid I'd never even heard of him except in a vague sort of way."
"That's not surprising. Desmond Ferrier was a great actor; there's never been a better Othello or Macbeth. You're too young to remember him."
"Young! Young! Young!"
(And yet it's true, my dear. You are twenty-seven and look much younger; I am forty-six and look older. It's damnably and undeniably true.)
A car whushed past in the street outside, making dim lights vibrate. Audrey hurried to one window and glanced out; the car did not stop, and she returned to the table.
"I don't think Eve and Mr. Ferrier get on very well. They're both retired, and they don't like it. Anyway," Audrey lifted one shoulder, "I was telling you about meeting her. Eve took a tremendous fancy to me. She invited me to visit her at any time I liked. Later she began writing to me, and three weeks ago she set a definite date. That's all there is to it."
"She invited you to the villa, and yet you're putting up here at this hotel?"
"Of course! Naturally!"
"I don't quite follow you."
"It's a sort of party, with other guests too; it doesn't begin until tomorrow. Well! Considering how my father spies on me, naturally I—I sneaked the chance to have twenty-four hours on my own. But Phil 'phoned and asked me to dinner, so of course I said yes."
"Philip Ferrier." The soft voice rose up. "He's Desmond Ferrier's son by a previous marriage. I met him in London too, if you insist on knowing. He's serious-minded, and he doesn't laugh at me; and he's nice and rather thrilling too."
"Good for Phil." (Another car whushed past outside; Audrey turned her head.) "You're anxiously awaiting him, I take it?"
"Yes, I am! Really, Brian, what are all these questions in aid of?"
"Nothing at all. I was trying to find some connection, where admittedly none exists, between a villa in the hills towards Chambéry and something that happened above Berchtesgaden in July of '39."
"Berchtesgaden?" Audrey cried.
"Yes. At the famous Kehlsteinhaus, Hitler's 'Eagle's Nest' high up at the southeastern end of the Bavarian Alps. That's where somebody's brain turned. That's where Hector Matthews died."
Neither he nor Audrey had sat down. Though he pressed the bell to summon a waiter, it was not answered; only the naked goddesses yearned down from the ceiling as though regretting they were immured there.
And Brian made a baffled gesture.
"I can tell you very briefly what happened," he said. "But it won't mean much unless you understand the mood, the background, the atmosphere: as many microphones as there were flags and banners, and mobs roaring, 'Sig heil!' like the delirium of that whole summer.
"Even then it won't help without some knowledge of the human motives behind this woman's behaviour. What prompted her? What did she think she was doing? And that's where I bog down.
"Your friend Eve couldn't have been any older then than you are now. She was at the peak of a fairly successful Hollywood career. Early in June she visited Germany. Immediately she began praising the New Order right and left.
"The New Order loved it. In addition to being a well-built blonde, she spoke very good German for an Englishwoman. They'd never dreamed of such propaganda and they couldn't do enough for her. She was all over the newspapers, the newsreels, the magazines. She seldom took a step without being photographed on the arm of a Nazi V.I.P.
"A publicity stunt? Possibly. But some people doubted it.
"First, it wasn't doing her career any good outside Germany. Second, I understand that in private life she tries hard to be the sort of character she usually played on stage and screen: voluptuous, world-weary, all that. Except for some reason far stronger than a publicity stunt, she'd never have gone about saying that woman's place is in the home and that man ought to grab all the limelight from her."
Brian hesitated, glancing sideways.
"You've met her, Audrey. Does that strike you as being a fair estimate?"
"No, it's not fair! It's making her sound like a bundle of affectations."
"And isn't she a bundle of affectations?"
"Well ... maybe. Why ever is it so important?"
Here Audrey's gaze slid away from him.
"The clue, if it is a clue, must lie with Hector Matthews. In the middle of all this turmoil and heiling, while Eve made a tour of the Fatherland, Matthews went with her.
"I can't give you much information about him except what's in the official record. A self-made man, a Yorkshireman, a hard-headed man. Bachelor, aged fifty-eight: a food-faddist who never ate breakfast and wanted to tell you all about it.
"His hosts laughed at him and slapped him on the back and welcomed him. You'll see his bowler hat at the edge of every photograph. When they presented her with a bouquet of flowers or a consecrated flag, he carried it for her. When a brown-shirt or a black-shirt got too attentive towards her, his jaw was there too.
"He was the most devoted of her worshippers. He was also the richest. It was known he had followed her to Germany because she begged him to. However, few people knew that before leaving England he had made a will in her favour."
Audrey took a step back beside the table.
"A will? Are you insinuating ...?"
"No. I'm telling you what happened. At Munich, where she ended her tour, Miss Eden said that she and Mr. Matthews were engaged to be married.
Excerpted from In Spite of Thunder by John Dickson Carr. Copyright © 1960 John Dickson Carr. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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