Spy thriller fiction written in the Golden Age of Murder
'The men who work for you, General', he observed, 'should rid themselves of any fear of death'.
Rome, 1934. Martin Fawley leaves the American secret service and is recruited by General Berati, the most feared man in fascist Italy, as a spy. After a brief encounter with a glamorous yet murderous Italian princess, Fawley's mission takes him undercover to Monaco. Suave and worldly, Fawley is quite at home in the casinos and golf courses of Monte Carlobut he is soon entangled in a game with higher stakes. As the nations of Europe vie for power, Fawley discovers the secret weapon that will determine the outcome of the looming war.
This classic thrillerundoubtedly an influence on Ian Fleming's James Bond novelsis now republished for the first time since the 1930s. With its yachts and cocktail parties, its steely hero and brutal assassins, and its cinematic range across the cities of Europe, this is a gripping and sophisticated tale of a spy who saves the world.
About the Author
E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM (1866-1946) was one of the most popular and successful writers of spy fiction in the early twentieth century, and was known in his time as the Prince of Storytellers. He was the author of more than 100 novels, of which The Great Impersonation has always been the most acclaimed.
Read an Excerpt
The Spy Paramount
By E. Phillips Oppenheim
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2014 The Oppenheimâ?"John Downes Memorial Trust
All rights reserved.
Martin Fawley glanced irritably at the man stretched flat in the chair he coveted — the man whose cheeks were partly concealed by lather, and whose mass of dark hair was wildly disarranged. One of his hands — delicate white hands they were although the fingers were long and forceful — reposed in a silver bowl of hot water. The other one was being treated by the manicurist seated on a stool by his side, the young woman whose services Fawley also coveted. He had entered the establishment a little abruptly and he stood with his watch in his hand. Even Fawley's friends did not claim for him that he was a good-tempered person.
"Monsieur is ten minutes en retard," the coiffeur announced with a reproachful gesture.
"Nearly a quarter of an hour," the manicurist echoed with a sigh.
The new-comer replaced his watch. The two statements were incontrovertible. Nevertheless, the ill humour which he felt was eloquently reflected in his face. The man in the chair looked at him expressionless, indifferent. The inconvenience of a stranger meant nothing to him.
"If Monsieur will seat himself," Henri, the coiffeur, suggested, "this will not be a long affair."
Fawley glanced once more at his watch. He really had nothing whatever to do at the moment, but he possessed all the impatience of the man of energy at being asked to wait at any time. While he seemed to be considering the situation the man in the chair spoke. His French was good enough, but it was not the French of a native.
"It would be a pity," he said, "that Monsieur should be misled. I require ensuite a face massage, and I am not satisfied with the hands which Mademoiselle thinks she has finished. Furthermore, there is the trimming of my eyebrows — a delicate task which needs great care."
Martin Fawley stared at the speaker rudely.
"So you mean to spend the morning here," he observed.
The man in the chair glanced at Fawley nonchalantly and remained silent. Fawley turned his back upon him, upon Henri, and Mathilde, the white painted furniture, the glittering mirrors, and walked out into the street. ... He did not see again this man to whom he had taken so unreasonable a dislike until he was ushered, a few days later, with much ceremony into his very magnificent official apartment in the Plaza Margaretta at Rome.CHAPTER 2
General Berati looked at his visitor, as he motioned to a chair, with very much the same stony indifference with which he had regarded him in the barber's shop at Nice. Their eyes met and they exchanged one long, calculating glance. Fawley felt the spell of the man from that moment. Often afterwards he wondered why he had not felt it even when he had seen him with his face half covered with lather and his fingers plunged into the silver bowl.
"You have come direct from Paris?" Berati asked.
"Those were my instructions. I was at your Embassy on Thursday afternoon. I caught the Rome express at seven o'clock."
"You have an earnest sponsor in Paris?"
"Carlo Antonelli. I have worked with him."
"So I understand. Why are you not working for your own country?"
"There are half a dozen more of us Americans to whom you might address that question," Fawley explained. "The department to which I belong has been completely disbanded. M.I.B.C. exists no longer."
"You mean," Berati asked, with a keen glance from under his bushy black eyebrows, "that your country has no longer a Secret Service?"
"It amounts to that," Fawley admitted. "Our present-day politicians believe that all information acquired through Secret Service work is untrustworthy and dangerous. They have adopted new methods."
"So you are willing to work for another country?"
"Provided," Fawley stipulated, "I am assured that the work does not conflict directly with American or British interests."
"The Americans," Berati observed quietly, "are the only people who have no idea what their real interests are."
"In what respect?"
The Italian shrugged his shoulders very slightly.
"America," he said, "needs the information which Secret Service agents could afford them as much or more than any nation in the world. However, you need have no fear nor need you think that you are the only foreigner who is working for us. You will probably become acquainted before your work is over with a German, a Monegasque and a Dane. I am not a believer in using one's own country-people exclusively."
"You strip our profession of its honourable side," Fawley remarked dryly. "That does not refer to myself. I am admittedly a free lance. I must have work of an adventurous type, and since my country cannot offer it to me I must seek for it in any decent way."
"Patriotism," Berati sneered, "has been the excuse for many a career of deceit."
"It has also been its justification," Fawley ventured.
Berati's expression did not change an iota, yet somehow his visitor was made to feel that he was not accustomed to argument.
"The present work is worth while for its own sake," he announced. "It is so dangerous that you might easily lose your life within a fortnight. That is why I shall give you out your work chapter by chapter. To-day I propose only to hand you your credentials — which by the by will mean sudden death to you if ever they are found by the wrong people upon your person — and explain the commencement of your task."
Berati touched a concealed bell embedded in the top of his desk. Almost immediately, through a door which Fawley had not previously noticed, a young man entered, noiseless and swift in his movements and of intriguing personality. His head was shaven like the head of a monk, his complexion was almost ivory white, unrelieved by the slightest tinge of colour. His fingers were bony. His frame was thin. The few words he addressed to his chief were spoken in so low a tone that, although Fawley's hearing was good and Italian the same to him as most other languages, he heard nothing. To his surprise Berati introduced the new-comer.
"This is my secretary, Prince Patoni," he said. "Major Fawley."
The young man bowed and held out his hand. Fawley found it, as he had expected, as cold as ice.
"Major Fawley's work was well known to us years ago," he remarked a little grimly. "As a confrère he will be welcome."
Almost immediately, in obedience to a gesture from Berati, he departed, leaving behind him a sense of unreality as though he were some phantom flitting across the stage of life rather than a real human being. But then indeed on that first day Berati himself seemed unreal to his visitor. The former tore open one of the packages and tossed its contents over the table.
"Open that," he directed.
Fawley obeyed. Inside was a plain platinum and gold cigarette case with six cigarettes on either side neatly kept in place by a platinum clasp.
"Well?" Berati demanded.
"Is that a challenge?" Fawley asked.
"You may accept it as such."
Fawley held the case with its diagonal corners between two fingers and ran the forefinger of his other hand backwards and forwards over the hinges. Almost instantaneously a third division of the case disclosed itself. Berati's expression remained unchanged, but his eyebrows were slowly and slightly elevated.
"There are three of you alive then," he remarked coolly. "I thought that there were only two."
"You happen to be right," his visitor told him. "Joseffi died very suddenly."
"The day after he opened the case."
Berati, who indulged very seldom in gestures, touched his underlip with his long firm forefinger.
"Yet — you came."
Fawley smiled — perhaps a little sardonically.
"The men who work for you, General," he observed, "should rid themselves of any fear of death."
Berati nodded very slowly and very thoughtfully. He seemed to be appraising the man who stood on the other side of his desk.
"It appears to me," he admitted, "that we may get on."
"It is possible," Fawley agreed. "Curiosity prompts me to ask you one question, however. When you sent for me had you any idea that we had met in that barber's shop at Nice?"
"I knew it perfectly well."
"I confess that that puzzles me a little," Fawley admitted. "I was at my worst that day. I did not show the self-control of a schoolboy. I had not even the excuse of being in a hurry. I was annoyed because you had taken my place, and I showed it."
"It was the very fact," he pronounced, "that you were able to forget your profession on an ordinary occasion which commended you to me. Our own men — most of them at any rate — err on the side of being too stealthy. They are too obvious in their subterfuges ever to reach the summits. You have the art — or shall I call it the genius? — of being able to display your natural feelings when you are, so to speak, in mufti. You impressed me, as you would any man, with the idea that you were a somewhat choleric, somewhat crude Englishman or American, thinking as usual that the better half of any deal should fall to you. I made up my mind that if you were free you were my man."
"You had the advantage of me," Fawley reflected.
"I never forget a face," the other confided. "You were in Rome five years ago — some important mission — but I could recall it if I chose. ... To proceed. You know where to look for your identification papers if it should become necessary to show them. Your supplementary passports are in the same place — both diplomatic and social."
"Passports," Fawley remarked, as he disposed of the cigarette case in the inner pocket of his waistcoat, "generally indicate a journey."
Berati's long fingers played for a moment with the stiff collar of his uniform. He looked meaningly across his table.
"Adventure is to be found in so many of these southern cities," he observed. "Monte Carlo is very pleasant at this time of the year and The France is an excellent hotel. A countryman of ours, I remind myself, is in charge there. There is also a German named Krust — but that will do later. Our relations with him are at present undetermined. Your first centre of activities will be within twenty kilometres of the Casino. A rivederci, signor."
He held out his hand. Fawley took it, but lingered for a moment.
"My instructions —" he began.
"They will arrive," the Italian interrupted. "Have no anxiety. There will be plenty of work for you. You will begin where Joseffi left off. I wish you better fortune."
Fawley obeyed the little wave of the hand and took his leave. In doing so, however, he made a not incomprehensible error. The room was irregular in shape, with panelled walls, and every one of the oval recesses possessed a door which matched its neighbour. His fingers closed upon the handle of the one through which he believed that he had entered. Almost at once Berati's voice snapped out from behind him like a pistol shot.
"Not that one! The next to your right."
Fawley did not, however, at once withdraw his hand from the beautiful piece of brass ornamentation upon which it rested.
"Where does this one lead to?" he asked with apparent irrelevance.
Berati's voice was suddenly harsh.
"My own apartments — the Palazzo Berati. Be so good as to pass out by the adjoining door."
Fawley remained motionless. Berati's voice was coldly angry.
"There is perhaps some explanation —" he began ominously.
"Explanation enough," Fawley interrupted. "Someone is holding the handle of this door on the other side. They are even now matching the strength of their fingers against mine."
"You mean that someone is attempting to enter?"
"Obviously," Fawley replied. "Shall I let them in?"
"In ten seconds," Berati directed. "Count ten to yourself and then open the door."
Fawley obeyed his new chief literally and it was probably that instinct of self-preservation which had always been helpfully present with him in times of crisis which saved his life. He sprang on one side, sheltering himself behind the partially opened door. A bullet whistled past his ear so that for hours afterwards he felt a singing there as though a hot wind was stabbing at him. There was a crash from behind in the room. Berati's chair was empty! Down the passage was dimly visible the figure of a woman, whose feet seemed scarcely to touch the polished oak floor. Fawley was barely in time, for she had almost reached the far end before he started in pursuit. He called out to her, hoping that she would turn her head and allow him a glimpse of her face, but she was too clever for any gaucherie of that sort. He passed through a little unseen cloud of faint, indefinite perfume such as might float from a woman's handkerchief shaken in the dark, stooped in his running to pick up and thrust a glittering trifle into his pocket, and almost reached her before she disappeared through some thickly hanging brocaded curtains. It was only a matter of seconds before Fawley flung them on one side in pursuit and emerged into a large square ante-room with shabby magnificent hangings, but with several wonderful pictures upon the walls, and two closed doors on either side. He paused to listen, but all that he could hear was the soft sobbing of stringed instruments in the distance and a murmur of many voices apparently from the reception rooms of the Palazzo. He looked doubtfully at the doors. They had the air of not having been opened for generations. The only signs of human life came from the corridor straight ahead which obviously led into the reception rooms. Fawley hesitated only for a moment, then he made his way cautiously along it until he arrived at a slight bend and a further barrier of black curtains — curtains of some heavy material which looked like velvet — emblazoned in faded gold with the arms of a famous family. ... He paused once more and listened. At that moment the music ceased. From the storm of applause he gathered that there must be at least several hundred people quite close to him on the other side of the curtain. He hesitated, frowning. Notwithstanding his eagerness to track down the would-be assassin, it seemed hopeless to make his way amongst a throng of strangers, however ingenious the explanations he might offer, in search of a woman whose face he had scarcely seen and whom he could recognise only by the colour of her gown. Reluctantly he retraced his steps and stood once more in the ante-room which, like many apartments in the great Roman palaces which he had visited, seemed somehow to have lost its sense of habitation and to carry with it a suggestion of disuse. There were the two doors. He looked at them doubtfully. Suddenly one was softly opened and a woman stood looking out at him with a half-curious, half-frightened expression in her brown eyes. She was wearing a dress the colour of which reminded him of the lemon groves around Sorrento.CHAPTER 3
An angry and a frightened woman. Fawley had seen many of them before in his life but never quite one of this type. Her eyes, which should have been beautiful, were blazing. Her lips — gashes of scarlet fury — seemed as if they were on the point of withering him up with a storm of words. Yet when she spoke she spoke with reserve, without subtlety, a plain blunt question.
"Why are you following me about?"
"Scarcely that," he protested. "I am keeping you under observation for a time."
"Like all you Anglo-Saxons you are a liar and an impudent one," she spat out. ... "Wait!"
Her tone had suddenly changed to one of alarm. Instinctively he followed her lead and listened. More and more distinctly he could hear detached voices at the end of the corridor which led into the reception rooms. The curtains must have been drawn on one side, for the hum of conversation became much louder. She caught at his wrist.
"Follow me," she ordered.
They passed into a darkened entresol. She flung open an inner door and Fawley found himself in a bedroom — a woman's bedroom — high-ceilinged, austere after the Italian fashion, but with exquisite linen and lace upon the old four-postered bed, and with a shrine in one corner, its old gilt work beautifully fashioned — a representation of the Madonna — a strangely moving work of art. She locked the door with a ponderous key.
Excerpted from The Spy Paramount by E. Phillips Oppenheim. Copyright © 2014 The Oppenheimâ?"John Downes Memorial Trust. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
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