Frankie's Letterby Dolores Gordon-Smith
A thrilling World War One spy story from the author of the acclaimed Jack Haldean series.“There’s a spy in England. Frankie’s letter. Read Frankie’s letter . . .” The last words said by a dying man to Anthony Brooke in Kiel in Germany during the height of World War One. But who is Frankie? With his cover blown and the German army at his heels, English secret agent Anthony Brooke’s search to discover the truth leads him to an innocent-seeming country house. Here, deep within the English countryside, as Anthony uncovers a web of spies, treachery and terrorists, the war becomes close and very personal.
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By Dolores Gordon-Smith
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2012 Dolores Gordon-Smith
All rights reserved.
Kiel, Germany, April 1915
Terence Cavanaugh steadied himself against the rain-sheened wall. The pain in his chest, where the bullet had struck home, flared into agony as he tried to move. He had to get to Anthony Brooke. He just had to get to Anthony Brooke.
He scrunched his fist against the wound, steeling himself to walk. For virtually the first time in his life, he felt helpless. He had always been tough, a fifty-year-old fighter of a man. Now his eyes blurred and he felt his way along the wall, sensing the rough, uneven bricks under his fingers. A few steps more ...
Jagged fingers of pain clutched his heart in an intense, serrated grip and he whimpered out loud, forcing himself to stay upright by willpower alone. He had to get to Brooke. The rain slashed down, a vicious icy squall from the Baltic. The violence of the rain cleared his head and he saw the steps of the house. He grasped the railing and climbed. One, two, three – my God, that third step was a long way – and through the front door.
He leant against the door in the hall, gathering himself for a final effort. Brooke had lodgings here, on the first floor, and he had to climb the stairs. The hall, with its shiny oilcloth and its solid dark furniture, was deathly quiet but, from a room close by, he could hear voices. He looked at the staircase with its polished wooden banister and, calling up the last remnants of his strength, with his fist clenched against the white fire in his chest, staggered across the hall.
Dr Conrad Etriech hurried up the steps, opened the door and stepped into the hall with relief. It was a miserable day. It was April, but the rain, driving in from the sea in ill-tempered gusts, was very far from springlike. It was a relief to be home. Not, he thought, as he put his wet umbrella in the stand, peeled off his gloves, unbuttoned his coat and took off his hat, that this was exactly home.
He was one of four tenants who lived in this tall, thin and quietly respectable house in the Wilhelminenstrasse, together with their tall, thin and quietly respectable landlady, Frau Kappelhoff.
It suited his purposes. The house was in the centre of Kiel, close enough to the docks for the mournful sound of the ships' sirens to be heard but near enough to be in walking distance of the university where he worked. And he was comfortable, as comfortable as Frau Kappelhoff could make him.
Frau Kappelhoff thought the world of him. She was a widow with two sons in the merchant fleet. She was proud of her sons but the person she loved best in the world was her eleven-year-old daughter, Lottie. Dr Etriech hadn't been in the house a month when Lottie was taken gravely ill with pneumonia.
It was a tough struggle, but the little girl pulled through. Dr Etriech's speciality wasn't respiratory diseases but he saved her. Any doctor, he said, to the tearful Frau Kappelhoff, would have done the same, but from then on, Frau Kappelhoff treated him with awestruck devotion.
Dr Etriech looked up with a smile as the kitchen door opened and Frau Kappelhoff peered out hesitantly. His smile became a puzzled frown. One of the ways Frau Kappelhoff showed her gratitude was to look for his homecoming, help him off with his coat and fuss over his gloves and hat. However, just for once she didn't rush into exclamations as to how wet it was or offer to dry his things in the kitchen. Instead she greeted him with downright relief.
'Herr Doktor! I'm so glad you've come home.' She looked scared.
'What is it?' he asked, shaking off his wet coat. 'It's not Lottie, is it?'
'No.' Her face softened. 'Lottie's in the kitchen. Herr Doktor, I heard someone go upstairs.'
In a house with four lodgers, this didn't strike Dr Etriech as odd. 'It's probably one of your guests,' he said, remembering, with instinctive courtesy, that she didn't like the word lodgers.
She shook her head vigorously. 'No, it isn't. Herr Lehmann and Frau Hirsch are in and Herr Klein won't be back till eight o'clock.' She twisted her hands together. 'Herr Doktor, there's someone in the house, I know there is.' She twisted her hands together. 'Their footsteps were heavy and there was a noise as if they were dragging something. It could have been a sack, a heavy sack.' She glanced anxiously up the stairs. 'We could be being robbed.'
Dr Etriech smiled reassuringly. 'That's unlikely. A burglar wouldn't be carrying something in, would they?'
'Someone's up there,' she insisted with another glance at the staircase. 'It could be a spy. We're told to look out for English spies. This dreadful war ...'
He laughed. 'You needn't worry about spies, mein liebe Frau,' he said in what he thought of as a 'there, there' voice. 'There's nothing to spy on in your house.'
He hung up his coat and put his things on the hallstand. 'I'll go upstairs and have a good look round. If I see any spies, I'll send them back to England, yes?' She smiled at what Etriech privately thought of as rather heavy-handed humour, clearly relieved that the good doctor was taking care of her.
She looked at him curiously. 'Doktor? Herr Doktor?' Dr Etriech had paused, looking intently at the stairs. 'What is it?'
Dr Etriech turned. 'Nothing, mein liebe Frau,' he said carelessly, but there was something. The light in the hall was dim but it gleamed on the polished wood of the banister. Where it struck the rail as it bent round to the first floor, the wood was dull and stained.
He took out his handkerchief and pretended to cough, wetting the corner of it with his tongue. He ran the damp handkerchief over the stain as he walked up the stairs. With Frau Kappelhoff watching him, he couldn't examine it closely, but the cloth came away a deep rusty red. She was right. There was someone upstairs. His stomach knotted as he rounded the corner.
It sounded as if they were dragging something ... A man dragging himself upstairs? English spies. Yes, Frau Kappelhoff would think of that. Kiel was full of posters warning all good Germans to be on their guard. Frau Kappelhoff was frightened of spies, knowing they were alien, vicious creatures. That's why she'd asked Dr Conrad Etriech to go and hunt for them. She trusted Dr Etriech, who lived in her house, asked after her family and ate her stew and dumplings. It would never occur to her that, while the title was real enough, the name was borrowed.
The doctor couldn't be a spy. He was someone she knew. But his name wasn't Conrad Etriech, it was Anthony Brooke and, with that bloodstained handkerchief in his pocket, he was a worried man.
The door to his room was open. With a sick feeling he noticed that the brass handle was stained. He had to get Frau Kappelhoff out of the hall. He stamped his foot, gave as good an impression of a cat's meow as he could, and laughed. 'It's all right, mein liebe Frau,' he called down. 'It's a stray cat, that's all. It's gone into my room. I'll chase it out.'
There was a cluck of annoyance. 'Shall I help you, Herr Doktor?'
'No, it's nothing to trouble about.'
He heard the rustle of her dress and the sound of the door from the hall to the kitchen closing. Anthony took a deep breath and walked into his room.
He bolted the door behind him. His sitting room looked, at first sight, undisturbed, but the rug was crumpled and there were two rusty splashes on the oilcloth.
'Hallo?' he called softly in German. From somewhere he heard a faint gurgling sound, the sound of a desperately fought-for breath. He went into the bedroom and his heart sank.
Terence Cavanaugh lay sprawled on the floor, the bedspread tumbled round him. His strength had failed as he tried to reach the bed. Anthony knelt down beside him and turned his face to the light. Cavanaugh's eyes flickered open. With a huge effort, he focused his eyes on Anthony's face. When he spoke his voice was a breaking whisper.
'Brooke? I'm for it.' He started to cough, a harsh, racking sound. Anthony cushioned his head on his knee, holding Cavanaugh's cold hand. His fair hair was wet with either rain or sweat and a streak of blood creased his forehead. From the way he was breathing, Anthony guessed he had a chest injury.
'Let me see,' said Anthony quietly. The blood didn't show on Cavanaugh's dark coat or jacket, but they were sticky to the touch. He unbuttoned his coat and drew his breath in sharply.
Cavanaugh's shirt was soaked an ugly reddish-brown and the bullet hole was rimmed in black. He'd been shot through the lungs. With compressed lips, Anthony twisted up his handkerchief and pressed it against the wound. There was nothing else he could do. Cavanaugh's eyes had the vacant look of a man on the verge of death. It was a miracle he was still alive.
The cold hand moved feebly in Anthony's. 'I've led them to you. Sorry.'
'Don't worry. I'll —'
'Listen!' Cavanaugh gasped for breath once more. 'There's a spy in England. Gentleman. He must be a gentleman. Seems to know everything. Got to stop him, Brooke.' The words were slow and hard to catch. 'Knew about me. Frankie's letter. Read Frankie's letter.' His eyes flickered shut and he coughed, bringing up blood. 'I loved her ...'
The end was very near.
'Have you got the letter?' Anthony asked, trying to keep the urgency out of his voice.
Cavanaugh moved with feeble impatience. 'Not that sort of letter,' he answered, then mumbled something Anthony couldn't catch. It sounded like 'star' but there was more. Anger? Star's Anger? Cavanaugh gave a convulsive shudder. 'Big ship. Passengers. Americans. Stop them, Brooke. Going to kill the passengers ...' His voice trailed off.
There was a knocking at the front door downstairs. In the silence it sounded like a clap of thunder.
Anthony laid Cavanaugh's head gently on the crumpled bedspread. In the hall below he heard Frau Kappelhoff, shrill with indignation, arguing with the deep, official voices of men. He crossed to the window, drawing back as he looked down on four soldiers in field grey. There was no escape that way. Anthony glanced at the door, then dropped down beside Cavanaugh once more. He couldn't desert him. The poor devil didn't have long, but that time was going to be spent with a friend.
There was the hurried sound of feet on the stairs and a knock at the door. 'Doktor? Herr Doktor?' It was Frau Kappelhoff.
Various schemes ran though Anthony's mind. He could hide Cavanaugh under the bed and bluff it out. Cavanaugh coughed once more. Anthony reached out and in the fraction of a second it took his hand to get to Cavanaugh's, Anthony knew that he was dead. From outside the room, Frau Kappelhoff was still calling his name.
Anthony stood up, straightened his tie, adjusted his waistcoat and squared his shoulders. There was nothing for it, he'd have to face the woman.
A freakish memory of years ago came to mind. He had gone through the same ritual of facing up to things as a frightened schoolboy standing outside the headmaster's study. Even with soldiers around the house and Cavanaugh's body on the floor, the ridiculous comparison made him smile. He realized how relaxed he must have looked when he opened the door.
Frau Kappelhoff let out her breath in a rush of relief. 'Herr Doktor, there are men downstairs. Stupid men, soldiers, who should know better than troubling decent people. They say there's an English spy in your room. I said this is a respectable house and the good doctor, who is so clever, he is quietly upstairs, and then they said ...' She broke off, her bosom heaving with indignation.
'What did they say?' asked Anthony with as much supposedly casual interest as he could summon.
Her breast swelled and she spat the words out. 'They said you were a spy.'
'Ah.' Anthony took her arm and quietly drew her into the room, closing the door behind them. There was, he thought, nothing else for it.
'Frau Kappelhoff, mein liebe Frau, I'm awfully sorry but it's true.' She gazed at him in blank incomprehension. He was going to have to spell this out. 'I am a spy. An English spy.'
'No, I'm not.'
'Oh yes, you are.' She shook her head, bewildered. 'I know you are. Don't pretend, Doktor.'
In all the possible scenarios Anthony had ever conjured up for what were probably his last moments of freedom, arguing the toss with a German landlady as to his nationality hadn't occurred to him. 'Frau Kappelhoff, I am an Englishman,' he said sternly. That did get through.
She shrank back against the door in terror. She tried to scream but, thankfully, no sound came.
Anthony had to get her on his side and quickly. 'Frau Kappelhoff! Listen to me!' She tried to scream again and managed a little gulping hiccup. 'I am still the man you know.' The panic-stricken gaze didn't alter. 'Remember when Lottie was ill?' The terror faded with the mention of her daughter. 'She had pneumonia, yes?'
Frau Kappelhoff licked her lips nervously. 'Lottie. Little Lottie. You saved her, Herr Doktor.'
'That's right.' Anthony could hear the men below. He was desperate to get her to act but he forced himself to radiate calm. 'Remember how happy we were when we knew Lottie was going to get better?'
'Yes, yes. I remember. You saved her, my precious Lottie.' She covered her face with her hands. 'What shall I do? Tell me, what shall I do?'
'Listen to me,' said Anthony, his voice deliberately gentle. 'I have to leave, mein liebe Frau.' He could hear the tread of feet on the stairs. 'I need to escape, yes?'
'And I need you to help me, yes?' Perhaps the best way was to take her cooperation for granted. 'I'm grateful to you. Just as you were grateful for Lottie's sake.'
'For Lottie's sake. Yes.'
He put his finger to his lips. 'Stay there.'
He swiftly went into the bedroom and opened the window as quietly as he could. With any luck the soldiers would think he'd escaped that way. Then, taking a wad of money from the desk and breathing a silent farewell to Cavanaugh, he returned to Frau Kappelhoff. She was still rigid, her back pressed against the door. The steps on the stairs were, as far as he could judge, at the far end of the corridor. The soldiers knocked at Herr Lehmann's door. Anthony waited, ears straining, for the noises that would tell him they'd gone into Herr Lehmann's room. There!
'Frau Kappelhoff, my friend is in my bedroom. He's dead.'
Anthony immediately realized that was too harsh. She looked as if she might cry out and with every moment precious, forced himself to speak softly. He took five hundred marks and put them on the table. 'This is to give my friend a decent burial. Please, as the good Christian woman you are, do this for me.'
The word 'Christian' reassured her as he'd hoped, countering the idea that the English were all godless monsters. He gently moved her to one side and opened the door a crack. The corridor was clear. He could hear an argument in Herr Lehmann's room. Lehmann was elderly and deaf. It wouldn't take them long to work out he had nothing to hide. This was his only chance.
'You haven't seen me. Remember you haven't seen me and no harm will come to you or Lottie. I wasn't in my room.' She nodded, her eyes fixed on his face. 'Give me a few minutes, then scream as loudly as you can. They won't harm you if you haven't seen me.'
She swallowed. 'But ...'
'For Lottie's sake you mustn't come to harm. You haven't seen me.'
Leaving Frau Kappelhoff in his room, Anthony slipped out into the corridor and along to the attic. Of all the ways he'd worked out to escape from the house – and that was one of the first things he'd done – this was far and away his least favourite, but it couldn't be helped. He made the safety of the attic staircase and closed the door behind him as the noise of the soldiers' voices increased. They'd finished with Herr Lehmann.
Up the attic stairs, avoiding the creaking boards in the middle, over the dusty floorboards to the window, fumble with the catch ...
An ear-splitting scream rang out. Frau Kappelhoff had found Cavanaugh's body. There wasn't any suggestion she was acting. A tirade of sobs followed the scream. No, he thought, the poor woman certainly wasn't putting that on.
He took off his socks and shoes, stuffed his socks into his pocket and, hanging the shoes round his neck by their laces, scrambled through the tiny window onto the tiles. He could hear Frau Kappelhoff's sobs and the men's exclamations as they discovered Cavanaugh. He was past all harm, poor devil and, with luck, they should be occupied for the next few minutes.
The rain smacked down in a dreary drizzle. Putting his fears under stiff, if brittle, control, Anthony held onto the window frame, closed the window behind him, and set out to climb the roof.
The window stuck out onto the roof in the shape of a little house. He edged himself round by holding onto the gutter, his bare feet finding a tenuous grip on the wet tiles.
Excerpted from Frankie's Letter by Dolores Gordon-Smith. Copyright © 2012 Dolores Gordon-Smith. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Dolores Gordon-Smith lives in Greater Manchester and is married, with five teenage children and assorted dogs and cats.
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