Chester Drum knows it’s over for Qasr Tabuk when he sees the city’s prostitutes taking flight. He came to this war-torn Arab country in search of an American surgeon, Turner Capeheart, who disappeared when the rebels took up arms. His search turned up nothing, and now that the working girls are leaving, he decides to do the same. Death is coming to Qasr Tabuk, and though Drum may evade it for now, it will haunt him as long as he remains in this blighted desert land. On the road out of town, he offers a lift to a girl whose car has broken down. She is Samia Falcon, daughter of the rebel leader, and she knows where Dr. Capeheart is hiding. An army stands between them and the rebels, but Chester Drum doesn’t mind being outnumbered.
About the Author
Stephen Marlowe (1928–2008) was the author of more than fifty novels, including nearly two dozen featuring globe-trotting private eye Chester Drum. Born Milton Lesser, Marlowe was raised in Brooklyn and attended the College of William and Mary. After several years writing science fiction under his given name, he legally adopted his pen name, and began focusing on Chester Drum, the Washington-based detective who first appeared in The Second Longest Night (1955). Although a private detective akin to Raymond Chandler’s characters, Drum was distinguished by his jet-setting lifestyle, which carried him to various exotic locales from Mecca to South America. These espionage-tinged stories won Marlowe acclaim, and he produced more than one a year before ending the series in 1968. After spending the 1970s writing suspense novels like The Summit (1970) and The Cawthorn Journals (1975), Marlowe turned to scholarly historical fiction. He lived much of his life abroad, in Switzerland, Spain, and France, and died in Virginia in 2008.
Read an Excerpt
Manhunt Is My Mission
A Chester Drum Mystery
By Stephen Marlowe
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1961 Fawcett Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
She stood in the dust of the unpaved road glaring at the open hood of the little car as if her anger could stop the geyser of steam that spouted from its radiator.
Behind her a bullock cart creaked to a halt. The hot sun and the hard climb up the mountain road that twisted in frantic switch-back turns to escape the sweltering desert below had lathered the ox with sweat. It stood there, bovinely patient, while its driver climbed down from the cart and approached the woman at her stalled, overheated car.
He wore a dirty white burnoose. He wasn't patient. He gestured and jabbered excitedly. He had a point; the stalled car had blocked the narrow road, and the road was as crowded as a road would ever get in Motamar, choked with cars and ancient trucks and carts and an occasional camel and Arabs plodding on foot—all fleeing north to escape civil war.
The motorcycle I had bought in Qasr Tabuk far to the south throbbed in neutral as I waited behind the cart. I was dusty, sweaty and tired. I tasted grit in my mouth; I'd been eating it on the long slow drive north through the desert and then up into the Shughur Hills. Planting both feet on the road on either side of the big bike, I waited. The Arab in the burnoose was shouting now. Behind me a big, windowless bus had stalled. Women in sleazy dresses filled it. They were whores from the waterfront barrio in Qasr Tabuk, and if anyone had had any doubts about the extent of the civil war, the busload of whores should have dispelled them. The Arabs have a proverb: when the women of the night flee, it is time for everyone to go. Whores can smell trouble like rats can on a sinking ship.
The girl who belonged to the overheated car spotted a half-dozen goat-skin waterbags tied to the front bumper of the bus. She walked past me toward them. When our eyes met I decided she was no Arab, though she was almost dark enough to be one. It wasn't just her clothing, though she wore a chic white linen suit, smudged and wrinkled now from the long drive, that would have set back an Arab—even a Motamar Arab in this richest of Arab countries—a year's wages. It was the way she carried herself, with the kind of poise and self-confidence you don't find among Arab women anywhere.
"If you're going to ask them for water," I said in English, "it won't do you any good. It's cold enough to crack your radiator block."
"I've got to try something," she answered in perfect English, and reached the bus.
An old hag with yellow teeth got out of the bus. They spoke in Arabic, the hag shaking her head. Then five or six whores got out too, and the hag gave them an order, pointing at the stalled car. A cacophony of horns blared behind us on the dusty road. A camel bleated derisively.
When the whores reached her car, the girl in the white linen suit tried to stop them. One of them shoved her aside. Another climbed behind the wheel and locked it hard left. Then the rest of them bent their backs behind the car and shoved. It rolled easily off the road, steam still hissing from the radiator, the open hood flapping. The front wheels dipped into and bounced over a deep drainage ditch. The car sagged forward. Its front axle had split.
After that, the long column of refugees began to move again. Except for the camels and bullock carts and burnooses, it might have been France in 1940 or Korea in 1950; household goods piled precariously on carts, cheap composition trunks lashed to the roofs of dusty cars, the heat and the choking dust on the road, anything on wheels that could roll and anything on four legs that could plod and haul an army of the homeless from the ravages of war.
It wasn't France and it wasn't Korea. It was Motamar, which is short for Motamar-e-Alam-e-Islami, which means something or other about World Arab Brotherhood, and the civil war to the south had put the lie to the young country's optimistic name.
I wheeled the motorcycle out of the way. The whores in the bus waved as they drove by. The girl in the white linen suit was straddling the drainage ditch and staring at her useless car.
"It's my own stupid fault," she told me. "I forgot to bring along extra water."
"What are you going to do now?"
"I've got to get north."
She didn't answer right away. I realized then she was beautiful. Under the coating of dust and grime she had dark hair with auburn highlights worn in tight curls against her head; her skin was tanned and smooth; her small nose, slightly aquiline; her cheekbones, high and wide-spaced on a face almost as gaunt as a fashion model's; her lower lip full and just a little pouty. And her big eyes startled you—the irises were as black as the pupils and gave her a look of intense eagerness.
Finally she said, "Yes, of course. Shughur City. You're an American, aren't you? Are you a reporter? Covering the revolution? I could give you quite a story."
"No," I said. "I'm not a reporter."
"Oh. Then what are you doing here?" Before I could answer, she added: "I just came from there. America. It's been my home for four years. I went to college at Sarah Lawrence near New York City." That helped explain the clothes and her poise.
"I know," she said with quick eagerness, widening those dark eyes of hers. "You can take me with you. What's your name? I'm Samia Falcon."
"Not related to Falcon Pasha by any chance?" Falcon Pasha was John Baylis Falcon, an expatriate British general who had built and led the Motamar Legion while Motamar was still a British protectorate, and who had stayed on with his native army after Motamar became an independent state under King Khalil. In Qasr Tabuk, the capital, they said Falcon Pasha led the rebels, who had fled north to escape Khalil's victorious forces.
"As a matter of fact, I'm his daughter. I'm on my way to meet my father."
"In Shughur City?"
"I already told you. Yes."
"You picked a fine time to come home."
We both smiled. "Don't I know it."
"Climb aboard," I said, but before she got behind me on the second saddle of the motorcycle she opened the door of her little car and said: "I guess I'll have to leave my luggage."
She climbed on the saddle-seat behind me with a large white leather pocketbook dangling from her shoulder on a strap. Her hands grasped my wrist as I caught the motorcycle's kickstand with the toe of one shoe and raised it. "I really am grateful, Mr.—"
"The name is Chet Drum," I said, and kicked down on the starter pedal. The two-cyclinder engine, unmuffled, roared to life. I cut it almost at once.
"What's the matter?"
"Take a look."
Behind us the refugees were leaving the road like chaff before a wind—cars, trucks and carts swerving and bumping over the drainage ditches to clear the right of way. A half-mile down the twisting mountain road, a cloud of yellow dust boiled up between the steep canyon walls. A droning sound that grew louder reached us at the side of the road.
"A military convoy?" Samia Falcon guessed.
"Looks like it."
I felt her hands clutch at my waist. "I'm scared," she said. "If they find me—" She started to get off the motorcycle.
"Sit still. You'll be choking in their dust, but they won't see you."
"I'm Falcon Pasha's daughter," she reminded me.
"They won't see you."
The military column roared up. Its first vehicle was an open half-track with a heavy machine gun mounted on the hood and a green flag with a silver scimitar on it flying as a standard.
"El Thamad," Samia said bitterly. "The Scourge of Allah. Looking for my father," she added unnecessarily.
El Thamad's Scourge of Allah was the Motamar secret police. They had broken the back of the Motamar Legion's revolution. Their leader, El Thamad, was notorious all over the Middle East. He had got his start in the Mufti of Jerusalem's goon-squads and had risen to their leadership before finding greener pastures in Motamar. From the Mahgreb in North Africa to the Fertile Crescent of the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys, his name stood for terror and the knock on the door before dawn and sudden death. If he was after Falcon Pasha, and apparently he was, I felt sorry for Samia.
After El Thamad's green-and-silver standard, the rest of the column roared by, half-obscured by its own dust. I choked and coughed on it and felt the pressure of Samia's hands again. I counted a dozen half-tracks and twice as many tanks. Their great treads chewed up the surface of the unpaved road and spit it out as gouts of earth and clouds of dust. Their motors echoed deafeningly between the canyon walls.
"Tanks," Samia said after they had rumbled by. "They wouldn't dare to use infantry. They tried it in Qasr Tabuk, and their patrols kept disappearing. Every chance they got, their infantry deserted to the Motamar Legion."
The revolution was none of my business. I had been hired in Washington to find and bring back an American surgeon named Turner Capehart who had been caught up in the fighting and disappeared. The State Department's inquiries had drawn a blank, but the word in Qasr Tabuk was that he had gone north with the rebel forces to Shughur City.
I stepped on the starter pedal again. With Samia Falcon behind me clutching my waist, I drove north in the wake of El Thamad's Scourge of Allah.
The bodies lay where they had fallen by the roadside; the man with his back propped against an outcropping of rock and his sightless eyes staring in wide eternal wonder at the refugee-clogged road, the woman prone across his outstretched legs. The man looked like an Arab, though both of them wore Western-style clothing.
I braked the motorcycle. A little boy was sitting near them in the dust, stroking the woman's hair and crying.
It was now late afternoon; the sun cast long shadows of the crags atop the canyon walls down the road. Samia and I had been on the motorcycle for two hours, weaving in and out of the sluggish clots of refugees. As I got off the saddle, they drove and creaked and plodded by, ignoring the dead man and woman and the living boy. Life didn't mean much on the long road from Qasr Tabuk to Shughur City. Death meant even less.
"What are you going to do?" Samia asked me.
"We can't just leave him here."
Samia coaxed the boy away from the woman's body. He was about five years old. His small hands were sticky with blood. He buried his head in the skirt of Samia's suit and cried. Then he looked up at her face, and suddenly he began to talk.
"Oh God," Samia said in English. "He ... he wants to know if I can make them better. He says the soldiers did it. He wants to know if I can get them their car back. He says they were stuck in the ditch, blocking the road. His father argued with the soldiers, and the soldiers shot them. It was a new car. He's very proud of it; his father just bought it last week in Qasr Tabuk. The soldiers took it."
The boy gazed up at her hopefully. He was beginning to smile through his tears. Her voice was gentle. He trusted her.
"His name is Mahmoud," Samia said.
"Ask him if he has any relatives in Shughur City."
Samia asked, and the boy answered, and she said: "No one. He had an uncle in Qasr Tabuk, but he died in the fighting."
"There some kind of a refugee organization we can take him to in Shughur City?"
Samia looked down at the boy and up at me. Her hands held his shoulders, and he started to cry again. Her knuckles were white. She looked away from me when she said: "The Red Cross, I guess. You can take him there. I'm not going to Shughur City."
"You're what?" But then I remembered how she hadn't answered me at first when I'd asked her destination.
Her right hand plunged into the white leather pocketbook dangling from her shoulder. When it came out she was pointing a small pearl-grip automatic at me.
"I'm going to need your motorcycle, Mr. Drum," she said.
We stared at each other. "I'm driving into Shughur City with the boy," I told her.
"You can't. I need it."
"Something about your father?" I guessed.
"I'm going to join him."
"He's not in Shughur City?"
"I'm going to join him," she repeated.
"Not on my motorcycle." I got on it. "Mahmoud," I said. But the boy remained where he was, next to Samia.
"You'd better get off," she said.
I kicked down on the starter. I wasn't going anywhere, not without the boy. But she didn't know that.
"I'm warning you!" She had to shout over the roar of the motorcycle.
"Don't make me laugh. What are you going to do, shoot me?"
"Give me an address, I'll pay you for the motorcycle. I need it now. We're only five miles from Shughur City. You can walk it. I've got ... further to go."
I shook my head.
"Damn you," she said, "this is a gun." She waved it. She was beginning to look a little desperate. "You're supposed to listen to me. It's supposed to scare you."
"Remind me to go into shock after I reach Shughur City."
"Damn you," she said again. "What's so important about it? The boy?"
"I'm looking for an American doctor named Turner Capehart. I heard he was in Shughur City. That's where I'm going."
"Dr. Capehart?" she said. She laughed nervously. "That's very funny."
"Yeah? What is?"
"He's with the rebels, all right. But not in Shughur City."
She could have been a magnificent liar, improvising on the spot, but I didn't think so. Her surprise had seemed genuine enough. "Then where is he?" I asked.
"Where I'm going. I can take you to him." She put the gun away. Mahmoud was clinging to her skirt.
That left me free to tromp on the accelerator and take off. But—guessing I wouldn't leave the boy—she still could have been a liar. I raced the motorcycle in neutral to get a reaction. She ran over to me.
"For God's sake, listen to me. Did you ever hear of Colonel Galib Azam?"
"Sure, he's Falcon Pasha's right-hand man. The foreign press corps in Qasr Tabuk say he's a light colonel with delusions of grandeur."
"Do they? It's not true. He happens to be my fiancé. We're going to be married. Galib was wounded in the fighting at Qasr Tabuk. Turner Capehart is his doctor. I swear it's the truth."
I didn't say anything right away.
"Now do you believe me?" Samia asked, and said irrelevantly: "The reporters don't understand him. Galib is a wonderful man."
Whether Galib Azam was a wonderful man or a young field-grade officer with delusions of grandeur was immaterial to me. I wanted to find Dr. Capehart.
"Be my guest," I said.
We sat in tandem on the motorcycle with Mahmoud wedged between us. Five minutes after I had again started playing a careful game of dodge-'em with the refugees on the Shughur road, Samia tapped my shoulder, then pointed toward a narrow clay track that climbed steeply up a fissure in the canyon wall to our right. It looked like, and probably was, a dry stream bed, a wadi.
We turned and bounced up it. The motorcycle lurched wildly. I had to use all my strength to keep hold of its handlebars.CHAPTER 2
The first soldier dropped off a ledge of rock fifty yards ahead of us. He wore the khaki of Falcon Pasha's Motamar Legion and was carrying a Sten gun. He planted himself, legs widespread, Sten gun ready, in the middle of the track. He was young and looked worried. We had no room to go around him. If we didn't stop, and even if he fired, the motorcycle might run him down.
I braked it to a stop a dozen yards from him. I could feel Mahmoud's weight against the small of my back and the soft firmness of Samia's breasts against my shoulder blades.
The soldier barked a command in Arabic. I heard running footsteps behind us. A second khaki-clad figure came jogging up with a rifle at port-arms. "He wants us to get off the bike," Samia said.
Dusk had cloaked the narrow canyon road. It was very hot and almost windless. Far off I heard the ululation of a man's voice chanting. I realized it was a muezzin calling the Islamic faithful to prayer.
"Where are we?" I asked Samia.
The soldier with the Sten gun shouted again. Mahmoud began to cry. "Near Al Saydr," Samia told me. "A village about fifteen miles from Shughur City. My father has his command post there."
"I thought the rebels were in Shughur City."
"Most of them are. I told you Galib was wounded. He's safer here."
Excerpted from Manhunt Is My Mission by Stephen Marlowe. Copyright © 1961 Fawcett Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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