When the Chinese Revolution exploded, General Chang was one of the most vicious military leaders, committing atrocities so savage that even his comrades in the Red Army feared him. Decades later, the aging killer has become a respected diplomat, and is on his way to New York for a United Nations summit. Although the State Department doesn’t like it, Chang’s status demands the finest treatment. And in New York City, there is no place finer than the Beaumont Hotel. Providing hospitality for the unhinged general falls to Pierre Chambrun, the Beaumont’s unflappable manager. Finding enough rooms for the diplomatic party is a headache, but the more pressing challenge is protecting Chang from Neil Drury, a onetime character actor whose parents were tortured to death by the general. Drury has a new face, a false identity, and possibly a room in the hotel. Chang could have no better bodyguard than Chambrun, for within the Beaumont’s walls, the manager is more powerful than Red China itself.
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A Pierre Chambrun Mystery
By Hugh Pentecost
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1972 Judson Philips
All rights reserved.
The state department man was a very cold fish. He looked like a Madison Avenue advertising executive—Brooks Brothers suit with a vest, crew-cut prematurely gray hair. He wore a wedding ring on his left hand, which suggested that somewhere in his life there was some unexpected warmth or sentimentality. He talked about human life and death as though the people involved were numbers in a computer, or toy soldiers with nameplates on them. Perhaps you develop the habit when you're accustomed to dealing with the war casualties in Indochina—numbers, not humans.
"We have to believe," he said, "that the man we are after has absolutely no concern for his own survival. He will attempt to find a way to confront General Chang and kill him. After that nothing else will matter to him."
We were in Pierre Chambrun's office on the second floor of the Hotel Beaumont in New York. Chambrun is my boss. I am the public relations man for the hotel. The Beaumont is New York's top luxury hotel, although Chambrun would question that description. Top luxury hotel in the world, would have been his designation. He had been its resident manager for twenty years. He didn't think of it as a hotel. He had often referred to it as "a way of life."
The office reflected Chambrun's cosmopolitan tastes. It was a large room with no office equipment visible except for the three telephones on Chambrun's carved Florentine desk. The floor was covered by a magnificent Oriental rug. Facing the desk on the far wall was a Picasso, the artist's blue period, a personal gift. The furniture was substantial, comfortable. On a teakwood sideboard was a Turkish coffee maker that was constantly in operation. After two cups of Colombian coffee at breakfast, Chambrun drank his Turkish brew the rest of the day.
Chambrun is a short, dark man, black eyes buried deep in heavy pouches—eyes that can show compassion and understanding, or can be as cold and hard as a hanging judge's. That morning he was the hanging judge, slumped down in his big desk chair, eyes narrowed against the smoke from his Egyptian cigarette.
"You are proposing to turn my hotel into a shooting gallery, Mr. Foster," he said.
"I propose to keep it from becoming a shooting gallery," Foster said. "Roy Worthington Foster" his official card, lying on Chambrun's desk, proclaimed him to be. Like I said, a cold, cold fish.
"There must be a hundred other places where you could hide your Chinese Napoleon," Chambrun said.
"He can't be hidden," Foster said. "His mission is public. He is here to appear at the United Nations. He has to be seen, interviewed by the press and by television and radio reporters. He has to be kept safe or the international repercussions will be at a disaster level."
"We make strange friends in this day and age," Chambrun said. "But why here? Why must he be kept safe here?"
Foster wasn't trying to butter up Chambrun when he said: "He would be expected to stay at the best hotel in the city. Other foreign diplomats he will want to confer with, unofficially, live at the Beaumont. For him to stay anywhere else would be illogical."
"And if I say 'No'?"
Foster's face was expressionless. "The United States Government wants him here," he said. "The President himself has made matters clear to Mr. Battles, the hotel's owner. You cannot say 'No,' Mr. Chambrun."
Chambrun put out his cigarette and lit a fresh one. I know him so well. He was seething with anger but it didn't show. Mr. George Battles, the Beaumont's owner, lives on the French Riviera, presumably counting his endless supply of money. He is rumored to be the richest man in the world. To him the Beaumont is a sort of prestige toy. To the best of my knowledge he hasn't been in the place for fifteen years. He rarely puts any pressure on Chambrun and when he does it is usually over some trivial matter: a rowdy friend whom Chambrun would normally kick out on his ear, a lady whose morals are questionable, credit for someone who doesn't rate credit. He would, I guessed, have been much flattered by a personal request from the President of the United States. Foster was right. Chambrun couldn't say 'No.'
Chambrun's mouth was compressed into a thin line. "Details," he said.
Roy Worthington Foster took a small notebook out of an inside pocket. "General Chang's party arrives at Kennedy Airport tomorrow at 3 P.M. There are twenty-two members in the mission—a valet; two secretaries, female; one secretary, male; thirteen subofficials, three married couples and seven single males; four male bodyguards, two to a room on each side of General Chang's suite; in addition there are four FBI agents and two CIA men. All these people must be installed in adjoining rooms on the same floor."
"Impossible," Chambrun said. "We don't have any such vacancies."
"Make it possible," Foster said.
I thought Chambrun would explode, but he didn't.
His eyes were two glittering dots in their deep pouches.
"Your own security staff—I presume you have one—will cooperate with the CIA man who will be in overall command of the forces protecting General Chang," Foster said.
"And your psychotic assassin who doesn't care if he dies or not?"
Foster put his notebook back in his pocket. For the first time I thought I detected some sort of personal emotion. "His name," he said, "is Neil Drury. If you watch any of the late movies on television—"
"I do not," Chambrun said.
"I've seen him," I said. "A very good young character man." A forgotten memory stirred. "Don't I recall that his father was in your department, Mr. Foster? He was abducted and murdered by Communist revolutionaries—in Argentina, wasn't it?"
"In Argentina, five years ago," Foster said. He took a carefully folded handkerchief from his breast pocket and touched his lips with it. "Walter Drury was shot by a firing squad. His wife and daughter were brutalized, raped, murdered—in Drury's presence before he died." Foster touched his mouth again.
Chambrun's eyes widened. "And General Chang was the impresario of that horror?"
"Young radicals in South America were schooled and indoctrinated by trained terrorists from other Communist countries, notably Cuba and Red China. Chang is known to have been operating in that field."
"So we roll out a red carpet for him," Chambrun said. "So help me God—"
"We have no choice," Foster said. "Neil Drury, quite understandably, wanted revenge. He demanded redress through diplomatic channels, without success. Then he tried to handle the matter himself. Chang was back in Peking. Neil Drury went to Hong Kong, dreaming that he could somehow get into Red China and find his way to Chang. It was an absurd notion. Drury was well known as an actor, his face familiar. Chang's men were waiting for him and he just did escape from Hong Kong with his life, with Red hatchet men and our agents on his trail. We have been looking for him ever since."
"So he walks in here, his face familiar, and Chang's boys write him off," Chambrun said.
Foster was looking intently at the toe of one well-polished shoe. "He won't be readily recognized," he said. "We understand he has undergone extensive cosmetic surgery. I could sit next to him in your Trapeze Bar, Mr. Chambrun, and not know him."
"You would have known him before the surgery?"
A nerve twitched in Foster's cheek. The man did have feelings. "I was Drury's department boss at the time he and his family were massacred. I sent him to his death. I knew Neil well."
"But now you are protecting General Chang!"
"Lucky you," Chambrun said.
"And your job, Mr. Chambrun," Foster said. He blotted at the little beads of sweat on his upper lip.
Chambrun is not a man to cry over his bad luck or moan about his outrages. I knew that morning how much he resented being put behind that particular eight ball. The only perfect day for him is one when nothing whatever disturbs the Beaumont's Swiss-watch operation. Because he is a perfectionist, I guess there has never been such a day, but everything is relative. Mr. Roy Worthington Foster left Chambrun that morning with a massive headache. To begin with, the need for adjoining space for some twenty-eight people was a hotel man's nightmare. The demand for accommodations at the Beaumont is endless; people make reservations weeks in advance. We have what we call "house seats," a phrase borrowed from show business. We keep two suites and a half dozen rooms available for emergencies. The Beaumont is a sort of headquarters for foreign diplomats; we get unexpected requests to house important people. Important people in all walks of life think of us as a home away from home. Our reservations manager, Mr. Atterbury, juggles these house seats as people come and go. Last minute requests from old patrons can usually be filled, but twenty-eight Chinese diplomats, bodyguards, secretaries, plus FBI and CIA agents, in adjoining rooms, was impossible. Knowing Chambrun, I knew it would be managed. Accomplishing the impossible is his specialty.
The threat of some kind of violence in his hotel was far more disconcerting to Chambrun than trying to juggle room assignments. In my years with the Great Man there have been more than a few violences and Chambrun has shown a special talent for dealing with crime, but he takes violence in the hotel as a personal affront. It's as if an attack has been intended on him. I should like to go on record as saying that he is a pretty tough counterpuncher.
"We have to be ready for this invasion by noon tomorrow, Mark," Chambrun said to me when Foster had left us. "Atterbury and I will do the juggling of the rooms. It's going to involve some very special pleading. I have a job for you."
"Get ready for the army from the press who will be in the General's wake," I said, guessing brightly.
"That's ordinary routine," he said. "I want you to locate Neil Drury."
I just stared at him. The Chinese secret agents, the State Department, the FBI and the CIA had been looking for Neil Drury without success. Mark Haskell, public relations director of the Beaumont, didn't seem like a very probable hero in this department.
"Where would you suggest I start looking?" I asked. "He doesn't look like himself. He's managed to hide from the best intelligence services of two countries. You're not serious."
"Deadly serious," Chambrun said. "Try thinking a little, friend."
"You're not a detective," Chambrun said. "I know. But you are a hotel man, and I have sometimes suspected that you have a pretty sound knowledge of people and what to expect from them."
"I'm flattered. I'll remind you of that when the day comes you decide to fire me."
"I haven't time for jokes," Chambrun said. He was already asking the switchboard to connect him with Atterbury. He held his hand over the receiver. "I don't know Neil Drury, but it's not hard to make some shrewd guesses about him." Atterbury evidently came on and Chambrun ordered him to report on the double. He put down the phone. "Our Mr. Foster didn't suggest it, so I wonder if something fairly obvious has occurred to him and his FBI and CIA geniuses."
"Nothing obvious has occurred to me," I said.
"Neil Drury is not your paid professional political assassin. Foster implied that, when he told us Drury wasn't concerned with his personal safety—after he gets to Chang. This is a man eaten away with the need for personal revenge. It isn't going to be good enough for him to put a bullet through the General's head from some sniper's post. He needs to face him; he needs to have Chang feel some of the terror Drury's family felt before they were slaughtered; he wants to hear Chang plead for mercy before he cuts out his heart. So he has got to get to Chang long enough to relish such a moment."
"The General must know that," I said.
Chambrun nodded. "Knows it and has surrounded himself with personal protectors, along with skilled help from Uncle Sam. On the face of it one would have to think that Drury hasn't got a chance. Unless—" Chambrun's eyes narrowed.
"Drury must have a plan. It will involve making himself completely familiar with all the routines we set up to protect the General. He'll need a few days to study and check every precaution we take. Don't you see, Mark, there's only one obvious place to look for Drury."
"Here in the hotel!"
"Where else?" Chambrun got up and crossed over to his Turkish coffee maker. "As of this morning there were a thousand and fourteen guests in the hotel. We have chapter and verse on ninety percent of them. That leaves a hundred and two people we don't know as old customers, though some of them have stayed here before. Some of them are women. I doubt if there are more than fifteen or twenty men we can't wipe off the list of possibilities. Check them all, down to the brand of toothpaste they use, Mark. Check with people in their towns, their businesses, their families. The minute you come up with one who doesn't phase out, let me know at once."
"That's really routine your staff can handle, Mark. The main problem is to identify Drury. Dig back into his history. He can change his face, but if he is six feet two he can't shrink, and if he's five feet seven he can't grow. Find out, if you can, who his friends were before he went into hiding behind his new face, his women, his habits. Does he smoke? Does he drink in moderation or to excess? What kind of liquor does he drink? What are his eating habits? Hobbies—does he read, go to movies? I want the most detailed rundown on him you can provide, Mark."
"Foster could have supplied you with a lot of those answers," I said.
Chambrun leaned back in his desk chair, the tips of his square fingers pressed together. "Interesting character, Foster," he said. "He has a job to do for his department—protect General Chang—and he'll do it to the best of his ability. Personally he would like to protect Drury. He sweats a little when he thinks about it. He'll close up like a clam if we ask him for help, because he'll be afraid it might get back to his superiors that he has two aims. When and if the going gets tough he might be useful to us, but not yet."
"You want to help Drury?" I asked.
His eyes were hidden by their heavy lids. "I don't want a killing in my hotel," he said.CHAPTER 2
Guests of the Beaumont would be surprised if they knew how complete is the hotel's information on them. There is a good deal more than name, address, and credit references. There is a card for each guest, and there is a code used which is most revealing. The code letter A means the subject is an alcoholic; W on a man's card means he is a woman chaser, possibly a customer for the expensive call girls who, from time to time, frequent the Trapeze Bar; M on a woman's card means she is a manhunter; O arbitrarily stands for "over his head," meaning that particular customer can't afford the Beaumont's prices and shouldn't be allowed to get in too deep; MX on a married man's card means he's double-crossing his wife, and WX means the wife is playing around. The small letter "d" means diplomatic connections. If there is special information it is written in the form of a memo on the card, and if this information is not to be public knowledge in the front office, the card is marked with Chambrun's initials, meaning that the Great Man has special knowledge about the guest in his private file.
The two very efficient girls in my office, down the hall from Chambrun's, set to work checking the cards on our one thousand and fourteen guests. It was not as difficult a job as that number suggests. They should have eliminated all but a handful in a couple of hours. I set about the job of trying to find out what I could about Neil Drury.
The early phases of it were not too difficult. Actors' Equity, the performers' union, put me onto one David Tolliver, who had been Drury's agent. Tolliver turned out to be quite willing to help. He had been fond of Drury, and Drury had been a profitable client until tragedy had removed him from the acting field. Tolliver's office was only a few blocks down Madison Avenue from the Beaumont, and I caught him there shortly after lunch.
Tolliver was a happy fat man wearing a loud checked sports jacket that made him look like an overweight wrestler.
"I'd do anything in the world I could to help Neil," he told me. He was slightly flushed, which indicated there had been several martinis at lunch.
Excerpted from Birthday, Deathday by Hugh Pentecost. Copyright © 1972 Judson Philips. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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