Enemy forces will stop at nothing to retrieve an incriminating package in this gripping international thriller from the author of the Miss Silver Mysteries
Double agent Cornelius Roos is about to become dispensable to the Germans—until he reveals the existence of a recording that will guarantee the death of a high-ranking Nazi official if it finds its way into the hands of Hermann Goering. So Roos strikes a bargain: If he walks out of Gestapo headquarters alive, he will ensure that the compromising recording never reaches Goering.
Meanwhile, in the Foreign Intelligence office in England, agent Antony Rossiter is interrogated about Roos, his older, adopted brother. A few days later, Rossiter parachutes into Holland to make contact with Roos. But when a brown paper parcel with Rossiter’s name on it is delivered to a British law firm, Rossiter’s fiancée, Delia Merridew, becomes an innocent pawn in a deadly game of international espionage and cold-blooded murder. Now it’s up to Scotland Yard Inspector Ernest Lamb and Detective Frank Abbott to ferret out the truth before a desperate enemy claims another victim.
Pursuit of a Parcel is the 3rd book in the Ernest Lamb Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Pursuit of a Parcel
An Ernest Lamb Mystery
By Patricia Wentworth
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1942 Patricia Wentworth
All rights reserved.
In October 1940 two interviews took place, one in Berlin and one in London. As a result, some lives were risked and some were lost. Inconsiderable against the mass wastage of war, but of interest to the persons concerned. There were also large issues.
The first interview took place in Berlin.
Cornelius Rossiter, sometimes called Cornelis Roos, walked into the inner office and swung up his hand in the universal salute. "Heil Hitler!"
The door closed at his back.
"Heil Hitler!" said the man behind the desk — a small man hunched in his chair, thin and sallow of cheek, with deep eye-sockets under brows as symmetrically arched as a woman's. The hands were like those of a woman too — a woman or an artist — long, and white, and finely kept. The eyes beneath the arched brows were of a dark intensity beyond belief. They were as powerful and impersonal as an arc-light, and a good deal more intelligent. They rested for a moment upon Cornelius, whilst the right hand moved amongst a pile of papers. Then a smooth voice said,
"Ah — Cornelis Roos —"
"At your orders, sir."
He watched the moving hand. It picked up one paper and rejected another. It was as if the fingertips could see. The eyes had not left his face. The voice said, honey-smooth, "I wonder —"
Cornelius said nothing. He stood a yard inside the door. A big man, heavily built, with a large pale face, light eyes, and colourless hair. There was no grey in it yet, though his forty years had provided him with plenty of excuses for going grey. His expression of simple stolidity had served him well in the past. It served him now. He took refuge behind it, and waited for the other man to break the silence left by that "I wonder —"
The silence was a long one. Some men crack under a silence like that. The eyes which looked at Cornelius had seen many men break.
Cornelius stood there, respectful and stolid. The trouble was that if he had really been as stolid as he looked, the man behind the desk would have had no use for him, and he would not have been here to report — or to be reported on.
The voice said at last, low and quietly, entering the silence rather than breaking it, "I wonder whether you are at my orders — or at those of someone else." On the last words there was hardly any sound at all.
Cornelius said, "I am at your orders."
At once a liveliness leapt into the voice, the features, the hands. There was flashing gesticulation, a jerk of anger. "Two masters, and I'm one of them — is that what you are going to say? Something for each of us, and pay from both? It's done, you know, and it's been done with me — but not for long." The hand with the paper was thrust forward as if it held a weapon. "Do you think I use people and don't check up on them? This information has been tested, and it is false. Do you think you can get away with it?"
Cornelius moved for the first time. He came forward in a lounging manner and stretched out his hand for the paper. After a glance he laid it down.
"To the best of my knowledge and belief it was accurate — at the time."
"What was your source of information?"
"Confidential of course. If I give it away I shall have killed the goose that lays the golden eggs."
The white womanish hand came out and took the paper again.
"You've played a game with me. Nobody gets away with that. You're done."
The paper was dropped, as if to illustrate the point. The hand went out towards an electric bell.
Cornelius went back and stood against the door.
"Stop!" he said.
The hand remained poised, the eyes watchful. The voice said, "Why?"
"Because you'd better," said Cornelius grimly. "No, I'm not armed. I'm not a fool, to come in here with arms on me. But I've got something to say, and it's going to be worth your while to listen. I know as well as you that I can't get out of here alive unless you say so. But it's going to be worth your while to say so — I only want you to listen. I'll put my hands up and keep them up if you like."
The hand that had played with the paper now held a little pistol like a toy — small, ornate, deadly. The smooth voice said, "It will not be necessary. What have you to say?"
Cornelius squared his shoulders against the door.
"Just this. I served you well, believe it or not. That makes no difference now — you've wiped it off. You don't trust anyone — do you? You never use the same man long. I've had a longer run than most, and not being a fool, I've taken my precautions. If anything happens to me, then something will happen to you. If I'm for the high jump, you'll be for it too."
The sallow face showed anger, not by movement, but by a sort of carved stillness. The eye-sockets appeared to be more deeply cut. The features sharpened and whitened. The eyes veiled their power.
"Very interesting. And how do you propose to bring this about?"
Cornelius looked at him across the room.
"That is just what I was going to tell you. There are people who would like to see you take that high jump — we both know that. There have been times when you haven't been so far from it either. There's just one thing that keeps you where you are — his belief that you're necessary." He waved a casual hand in the direction of a large framed photograph of the Führer hanging lonely on the cinnamon-coloured wall. "If he didn't hold you up, how long would it be before Goering got you down? And how long would he hold you up if he knew what you said about him — let me see — eight months ago? March the fifteenth is the date — it's just as well to be accurate. Of course know isn't quite the right word to use, because he'll be able to hear what you said, which will make it so much more convincing. There's a bit where you laugh in the middle of a sentence just before you come to his name — well, it's quite irresistible — I joined in myself the first time I heard it."
"You — heard — it?"
Cornelius went on looking stolid. Even if he was going to die, here in this room, he was enjoying himself. This man was a quintessence of power, and he, Cornelius, at this moment was in control of this power. He held it on a leash of fear. The sensation was worth while, even if he died for it. But he did not think that he was going to die. He went on explaining quite pleasantly.
"March the fifteenth — that is where we were. You were out of favour with him," — that casual wave of the hand again — "and things weren't looking too rosy. You had a rendezvous — I wouldn't dream of mentioning the lady's name — and you drank a little too much champagne and got going about your grievances. The lady did her best to stop you, but you would talk. She was frightened, even if she didn't know there was a dicta-phone on the premises. But you can't ever be sure these days, and I don't wonder she was scared stiff. Really — the things you said! I'm afraid once he's heard that record you won't ever be able to explain them away. Just between ourselves, I shouldn't think you'd get the chance. There's one bit in particular —" He paused for a moment as if ruminating, and then shook his head. "No — I shouldn't think he'd see you after that. And — again between ourselves — he's never really liked you. Nor has Goering." His voice dropped to a friendly, conversational note. "You're cleverer than he is, and that's a thing that never gets forgiven."
The man behind the table said, "Enough!" Just the one word, cold and acid. The smoothness was all gone from his voice. It struck with a cutting edge.
Cornelius nodded. "Yes, it's enough — for a man of your brains."
The eyes focussed themselves upon him, sharp and bright as a snake's.
"And you — have you no brains? How long does a man live who talks to me as you have talked — and how does he die?"
Cornelius stood easily against the door.
"Oh, yes — I was coming to that. If I die, Goering will get that record at once — well, let us say within three days. If you think I'm bluffing you've only to call my bluff — kill me and see what happens. I'm afraid you won't like it, and the game isn't really worth the candle. The same thing applies to my disappearing into a concentration camp or anything like that — Goering will get the record. You know best whether he'll be pleased to have it, and what he'll set about doing with it. I may say at once that any funny business like torture or third degree to try and find out where the cylinder is and what arrangements I've made for it to reach Goering will defeat itself, because any doctor you like to put on to me will tell you I'm liable to buckle up at any moment. That's really why I'm talking to you like this. I want to get away to America and lead a quiet life there. It doesn't seem possible this side of the Atlantic. I'm good for another forty years or so if I don't have any shocks, but I'm afraid anything like third degree would leave you with a corpse on your hands, and then Goering would get that cylinder."
There was a pause. The man leaned forward, propping his chin with one of those white womanish hands.
"What do you want?" he said.
"To go to America."
"And what guarantee should I have if I let you go?"
For the first time, Cornelius smiled.
"Guarantees are so diffcult to arrange, besides being a bit flyblown nowadays. I was thinking of a gentleman's agreement. As soon as I'm across the Atlantic I cable my instructions, and the cylinder will be delivered to you instead of to Goering."
The man's hand covered his lips for a moment. When he withdrew it they were smiling. He put a finger on the bell in front of him. The door behind Cornelius opened. He turned, and heard the voice restored to smoothness.
"Show Herr Roos out."
The other interview took place in the study of Colonel Garrett's flat. The name had been bequeathed by a previous tenant. The shabby furniture, consisting of one serviceable table and several worn but comfortable chairs, was Garrett's own. There were no pictures, no ornaments, no photographs, no odds and ends, and very few books. A pipe-rack hung over the mantelpiece, and a large tobacco-jar stood upon the shelf. A seedy Brussels carpet covered the floor. It had originally presented a pattern of maroon and green upon a mustard-coloured ground, but with years of wear and London grime the colours had mercifully retreated into a general foggy drab. The curtains, of a thick tapestry trimmed with an archaic ball-fringe, were of the same date and colour.
Colonel Garrett himself looked as little like the head of an important government department as it is possible for anyone to look, but if a guess had been offered as to which that department was, it is improbable that anyone would have hit upon the Foreign Office Intelligence. He was, in fact, the opposite number of the man in Berlin, and he also was engaged in interviewing a Rossiter.
Instead of sitting behind a table with a bell within finger-reach and a guard before his door, Colonel Garrett stood in front of the fire and filled an aged pipe. The charlady who did for him had completed her ministrations by eleven A. M., and, it being now about eleven o'clock at night, there was no one else in the flat. An air raid had been going on, and another would probably be along within the next half-hour or so, but for the moment there were neither bombs, gunfire, nor the throb of hovering planes.
Colonel Garrett tamped the tobacco with a splayed thumb. He was in tweeds, baggy, hideous, comfortable. Like his curtains and his carpet, they inclined towards mustard in colour — old mustard, dried in the pot — but there was a pink over-check. Altogether one of the more painful examples of a notoriously distressing wardrobe. Even in competition with this suit, a green tie with scarlet spots, and a purplish cotton bandanna worn hanging from a bulging pocket forced themselves upon the attention.
Garrett's sandy hair stood up like stubble all over his head. His eyes, of the sharp grey of steel, were turned suddenly upon Antony Rossiter.
"When did you see Cornelius last?"
Antony considered. He sat on the arm of the largest and shabbiest chair. He was not at all like Cornelius to look at, being of middle height, slim, and somewhere pleasantly between fair and dark in complexion. That is to say, his hair was brown, his eyes of the shade commonly called blue, and his skin as well tanned as a healthy young man's should be. His features were pleasing, mobile, and irregular, and he had very white teeth. He displayed a lounging grace as he balanced on the arm of the chair, and had an air of being very much at his ease. He was, in fact, a distant connection of Colonel Garrett's, and addressed him sometimes with a formal sir, and sometimes quite familiarly as Frank.
"Cornelius —" he said, "now when did I see Cornelius last?"
"I was asking you that!" snapped Garrett.
"Yes, you were — and I'm trying to think. ... Oh, a long time ago — before the Boche walked into Holland. I went over and met him there."
Garrett drew at his pipe. Ghosts of other pipes which he had smoked in this room hung in the air. He said with violent suddenness. "I think he's double-crossing us."
Antony swung his foot and looked at it meditatively.
"Cornelius?" His agreeable voice was unhurried.
Garrett barked at him. "That's what I said, didn't I?"
"Oh, yes — I was just wondering. What makes you think so?"
"I don't know. I don't like the feel of some of the stuff he's sent us. How far can you trust him yourself?"
Antony said, "I don't know."
It has been said that he had a mobile face. The most remarkable thing about it at this moment was the complete absence of expression. There was none in his voice either.
"How well do you know him?" Garrett's tone was easy.
Antony looked at the fire. It burned brightly — logs on a foundation of red-hot coal — a very comfortable fire. He said, "How well does one know anyone? He's thirteen years older than I am, and that gives him a ten-year start of me in the family. He was three when my father and mother adopted him."
Garrett drew at his pipe. "Lunatic business, adopting someone else's child. What possessed them to do it?"
"Oh, well — they wanted a child. Some people do, you know. They'd lost one, and after five years they'd rather given up hope. It was when my father was out in the Dutch East Indies. One of the clerks was drowned, and the wife died soon afterwards. There didn't seem to be any relations, and I gather that my mother rather grabbed at Cornelius. I didn't come along for another ten years."
"By which time they were repenting at leisure."
"Not a bit of it — they were very fond of him. I don't remember much about it all, but I do remember that. My father came back to Holland and settled down in the firm there when I was a baby, and when he died they offered Cornelius a job. I was about eight then. My mother died a year later and her people brought me up, so I didn't see Cornelius again until I left school. Then I spent a long vacation in Holland picking up my Dutch and having a general look around. There was some idea that I might go into the firm. They thought a lot of my father."
Garrett blew out a cloud of smoke.
"And what did they think of Cornelius?"
"I didn't ask them." There was a faint sparkle in Antony's eyes.
"Don't you know anything without asking? Don't play the fool! How did he stand with them?"
"Quite well, I think, but really I don't know."
There was a pause which prolonged itself until Garrett said suddenly, "Seen much of him since?"
"A certain amount. I didn't go into the firm, as you know, because I got red-hot about flying. Mr. Merridew made me take my degree, and then he had to let me do as I liked."
"Some relation of your mother's, isn't he?"
"Umpteenth cousin — family solicitor. She made him my guardian. He was by way of being trustee for Cornelius too — they left him a little money. Anything else you'd like out of the family archives?"
Garrett looked at him sharply.
"Not at the moment. Some old stuff, and some new. Run together, it amounts to this — you haven't lived at close quarters with Cornelius Roos since you were eight, but you did live at very close quarters with him till then. A boy of eight knows the people he lives with inside out and downside up. He knows a damn sight more about them than if he were three or four times as old. They talk in front of him, and they don't bother to put on frills. I should think you were sharp enough to cut yourself when you were eight."
Antony laughed. "Thank you, sir!"
Garrett reached behind him and kicked the fire with his heel. "You needn't. That's when I saw you first — insubordinate little ruffian, but sharp. So now I'm asking you — how did Cornelius strike you then, and how does it check up with how he strikes you now?"
Excerpted from Pursuit of a Parcel by Patricia Wentworth. Copyright © 1942 Patricia Wentworth. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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