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From the Publisher“Bradby’s best book yet… enjoyable and atmosheric.”
Former New York cop Joe Quinn is a maverick whose methods run against the grain of the British military police. But he is tasked with uncovering the truth and in spite of the circumstances determines to do so — in his own way. Is...
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Former New York cop Joe Quinn is a maverick whose methods run against the grain of the British military police. But he is tasked with uncovering the truth and in spite of the circumstances determines to do so — in his own way. Is this merely a straightforward case of espionage or something rather more intimate?
Quinn rubbed tired eyes, tugged at his shirt collar and tried to shift the grit from round his neck. He had not slept but, then, he had not expected to. This day had approached with grim inevitability.
'Sir?' Madden said.
'Are you awake?'
'Then what do you think?'
Quinn closed his eyes. Sure, they knew what he was really thinking. It was a day upon which any distraction was welcome, but none would hold his attention for more than a few moments.
What did he make of the issue at hand? What other conclusion was there? The document in front of him was stamped, 'MOST SECRET. Cairo, Evacuation Plans', and was an admission of failure that Allied chiefs dared not make but could not avoid much longer.
He glanced at the maps on the wall. The first depicted in pink the British Empire in Africa and the Middle East as it had been at the start of the war, stretching from Libya to Palestine. The second showed how fast it was shrinking. The waves of defensive line upon defensive line, drawn and redrawn in grease pencil, were moving closer to Cairo. The Desert Fox was no more than a day's drive away.
'Where's Rommel this morning?' Quinn asked. He no longer attended briefings. The British top brass had made it clear he wasn't welcome.
'It's still confused, but we appear to be massing here . . .' Madden placed his finger between the sea and the Qattara Depression. 'Just by the railway halt at El Alamein. They reckon it won't give him much room for manoeuvre.'
Quinn thought of the battle-weary troops he'd seen pouring in from the north at dawn. 'So this is the last stand? If Rommel breaks through to Alexandria, the way to Cairo is open?'
'I suppose so. You know what they're saying — that the Nazis can read our every move.'
As a rule, Quinn ignored gossip: if it was to be believed, the city was awash with Rommel's spies.
He listened to the sound of a train rattling into the station below and glanced out of the window. One of the city's scavenging kites hovered high in the hard blue sky. He wondered if Mae was up yet, imagined her dressing in front of the chipped gold mirror in the corner of their bedroom. She'd want to look her best today.
'That's what the unit commanders are saying in the field,' Madden said soberly.
'Hmm.' Quinn took out a packet of Cape to Cairo cigarettes, lit one and threw the thin carton across the table. Madden helped himself and passed it on to Kate Mowbray. They smoked in silence. Quinn tapped the edge of a report Madden had typed on their previous case. He needed to sign it off this morning. 'What happened last night?' he asked. He'd driven them through the previous investigation until they were all hollow-eyed with tiredness.
'Seven arrests. Nothing to interest us.'
Quinn had left Madden on duty, but he ought to have been there himself. The city was edgy, fractious, tormented by the weather and the relentless nature of Rommel's advance.
'I walked across to the railway station,' Madden went on, 'just after midnight.'
'Getting close to it. I saw the last train to Jerusalem pull out.'
'People fighting to get on?'
'Not fighting, but . . .' he shrugged '. . . it was crowded.' He stretched his long back. He was a tall man, the impression heightened by a gaunt frame and a thick mop of curly ginger hair. The desert sun had burnt his pale, freckled skin.
Quinn heard laughter in the next room. He stood up and saw, through the window in the partition door, that a woman was talking to one of his assistants, Sergeant Cohen. As she leant back in the chair, her long, dark brown hair cascaded over her shoulders. Cohen was laughing, too.
Quinn caught sight of Effatt, chief detective of the Cairo Police, who appeared to be sharing the joke. At least it was good to see him smiling. 'What'd you suppose Effatt's doing here at this time in the morning?' he asked. In theory, his friend dealt only with crimes among the local populace, Quinn exclusively with those involving the hundreds of thousands of soldiers circulating through the city. In practice, they often worked together.
Neither of his companions answered, so Quinn put his halffinished cigarette in the wooden ashtray on the desk and opened the door. The clock between the windows on the far wall showed just before eight. In the richer, more textured light of evening, you could make out the tips of the Pyramids from here, but for the rest of the day they were indistinguishable through the haze. 'Good mornin',' Quinn said.
Cohen stood alongside Effatt, but the woman remained seated. 'This is Mrs Amy White.'
'Sure, we've met.' Quinn offered his hand. She took it, her grip firm and palm dry. Cool green eyes scrutinized his. She wore a white silk scarf to shield her face from the dust outside, a brown jacket and cream trousers.
'You know one another?' Effatt asked.
'Mrs White is a volunteer at the same hospital as my wife.'
Effatt coughed. 'She came to my office a few minutes ago. She said she had heard a commotion in the apartment above her own but received no answer when she went up to check upon its cause.' Effatt spoke English with a faint American accent, the legacy of a year spent at the University of Michigan shortly before the war.
'Not really a matter for us,' Quinn said.
'Mrs White went up a second time. She found the apartment had been . . . disturbed. She believes the gentleman who occupies it works at GHQ.'
'What's his name?'
'Captain Rupert Durant,' Amy said.
Quinn nodded at the sergeant. 'Cohen, go get me-'
'Q Branch, sir. I've already checked. He works at Movement Control.'
Quinn frowned. Movement Control was a sensitive department, its staff processing detailed information on the deployment and fighting strength of every unit in the field. He waited for Amy White to continue, but she made no sign of intending to do so. 'Tell me, ma'am, what did you find inside?' he asked. He kept his tone formal. He'd met her a couple of times while he was waiting for Mae in the hallway, away from the stench of the wards.
'The apartment looked like a bomb had hit it,' she said. 'I didn't figure Durant as the untidy kind.'
'You knew him?'
'To exchange greetings.'
'How'd you know he worked at GHQ?'
'It was something I heard.'
'You aware of what he did there?'
'You didn't know which branch he worked in?'
'No, Major, I did not.'
'When did you last see him?'
'Yesterday. Maybe the day before.'
'What about his sufragi? You—'
'He doesn't employ one.'
'He ain't got no servants?'
Ed Madden and Kate Mowbray were also frowning. For a British officer in Egypt, it was unusual.
'Not that I know of. You'd have to ask him.'
There was the sudden wail of an air-raid siren from the roof. Commonplace at night, it was rare in the day, but increasing in frequency. Quinn walked to the balcony and pushed open the doors. The siren howled against an empty, peerlessly blue sky. Quinn squinted, trying to make out the black dot of an aircraft, or the rumble of its engines, but he could hear only the bustle of traffic around Bab el Hadid. He watched the kites circling the tall spires of the Turkish mosque in Saladin's citadel, then looked across to the railway station. A large crowd had gathered: people were sitting on suitcases or searching for pools of shade. Two uniformed military policemen strolled among them, with their distinctive red caps and webbing. A waiter dressed in a white djellaba and bright red fez skipped at their heels, offering a silver tray laden with small glasses of tea.
He turned back in, closed the doors against the heat and the wind. He sat down, leant against the Imperial typewriter on Cohen's desk and rested his feet on a grey filing cabinet. The phone trilled beside him and he lifted the mouthpiece, then let it fall. Amy White hadn't moved. 'So, you heard a commotion in Durant's apartment?' They were in the centre of the atrium between the two corridors, so his voice was partially lost to the circling fans high in the domed roof above.
'Something like that. A thump, chairs pushed around.'
'How'd you figure—'
'I wanted to check if he was all right.'
Quinn examined Amy White's face. It seemed to him that there was a note of self-justification in her voice, which the circumstances did not appear to warrant. He turned. 'Kate, go—'
'I saw him.'
He swung back. Amy White's expression was sombre now. 'You saw whom?'
'Ten minutes or so after I first heard the commotion, the door opened upstairs and there were rapid footsteps. I pulled open my own door.'
Quinn waited. 'And what did you see?'
Amy leant forward, her arms wrapped round her shoulders, as if she was trying to ward off a chill. 'A man. Tall. He hesitated a moment, looked at me, then walked on past. He didn't say anything.'
'You get a good look?'
'He wore a hat, a fedora, pulled low over his eyes. He was about your height and dressed in a white linen suit, with immaculate shoes. His eyes were bright, like a wolf's.'
'A white guy?'
'Yes. He had a cleft chin. Like you.' She pointed to Quinn. 'A smaller nose, a distinctive mole in the centre of his right cheek.'
It was a lot to take in from a single glance. 'And after he'd gone you went upstairs?'
'No. I went back into my apartment. But I got to thinking. What was the noise I'd heard? Why hadn't anyone answered my knock? Was Captain Durant all right? So I went back up.'
The office was filling up, the typists, language officers and specialists of the central pool arriving at their desks. On the far side of the atrium Major Alastair Macleod, head of Field Security, stood outside his office, arms crossed, deep in conversation with his Egyptian adviser, Reza.
'Hang on there.' Quinn ducked into his own office to retrieve a revolver from his desk drawer. As he did so, he saw Kate Mowbray looking at him through small pebble glasses, her straight auburn hair damp with sweat against her forehead. Instinctively, he knew she did not approve of Amy White.
Technically Kate was only his driver, but she was smart and efficient, and since he was chronically short of staff he'd integrated her into their unit, the detective division of the Royal Military Police. She was from Cape Town and had come here with the South African Women's Auxiliary Arms Service.
Quinn pulled on a desert jacket, concealed his revolver, then checked he had his pink Special Investigation Branch warrant card. 'Ed, better go round to Movement Control, see if you can find Captain Durant. If you do, bring him over to his apartment. Don't tell him nothin'. We'll see you there.'
'You're going out?'
'Colonel Lewis is holding an evacuation briefing over at GHQ at lunchtime. You haven't forgotten?'
'We'll be back in an hour.'
'Colonel Lewis said our presence was mandatory, sir.'
'We'll be there.'
'He asked me to give you this.'
Ed Madden was holding an envelope. Quinn took it. He glanced at his name on the front, then pulled out the note inside. Dear Joe, it read, I shall be thinking of you today. I can only imagine how difficult it will be to get through, but thank you for all your hard work and dedication over the past year in such trying circumstances. Best regards as ever, yours, Charles.
Quinn slipped the note into his pocket, looked up. They were all watching him. 'How'd he know it was today?'
'It would be hard for any of us to forget,' Ed said.
'Sure.' Quinn felt embarrassed. 'Thank you.'
He led the way out of his office and across the atrium. As he reached the stairs, he noticed Reza standing on the half-landing, gazing out of the window as a couple of his assistants unloaded a group of Egyptian men from the back of an Austin utility vehicle in the courtyard below. The prisoners' arms were bound behind their backs with white rope, which suggested they were probably students from one of the universities — 'subversives', as Macleod and Reza called them.
Reza liked to conduct interrogations himself, and sometimes, as you passed over the ventilation grilles by the main entrance, you could hear cries from the cells below.
The Egyptian turned, a waft of his perfume catching in Quinn's nostrils, his dark eyes fixed on the party coming down the stairs towards him. He was short, almost like a dwarf, his black hair pomaded to disguise its thinness, his skin dry and marked like that of a dead snake. He wore a ring on each of his fingers and carried a short silver and ivory stick.
Quinn didn't offer a greeting or break his stride. He'd learnt to avoid being drawn into conversation with this man. It didn't help matters.
From the Hardcover edition.