To save England, Bulldog Drummond prepares for a final showdown with his greatest nemesis
It has been years since Bulldog Drummond, World War I hero and bruising champion of democracy, saw any sign of the archfiend known as Carl Peterson. The sinister master of disguise may have gone to ground, but Drummond knows he is out there somewhere, waiting for a final opportunity to spread deadly terror across the capitals of Western Europe. He is about to get his chance.
A few years after the armistice, British inventor Robin Gaunt puts the finishing touches on a superweapon with the capacity to slaughter an entire nation in an instant. Just before he can deliver his invention to the army, he vanishes, leaving behind no trace but a dead terrier. If Gaunt's weapon falls into Peterson's hands, the criminal mastermind will have the power to bend the world to his will. Tracking him down will be Bulldog's greatest adventure yet—and perhaps his last.
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The Final Count
A Bulldog Drummond Thriller
By H. C. McNeile
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2014 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
IN WHICH I HEAR A CRY IN THE NIGHT
IT WAS ON A WARM EVENING towards the end of April 1927 that the first act took place, though it is safe to say that there has never been any connection in the public mind up till this day between it and what came after. I was dining at Prince's with Robin Gaunt, a young and extremely brilliant scientist, and a very dear friend of mine. We had been at school together and at Cambridge; and though we had lost sight of one another during the war, the threads of friendship had been picked up again quite easily at the conclusion of that foolish performance. I had joined the Gunners, whilst he, somewhat naturally, had gravitated towards the Royal Engineers. For a year or two, doubtless bearing in mind his really extraordinary gifts, the powers that be ordained that he should make roads, a form of entertainment of which he knew less than nothing. And Robin smiled thoughtfully and made roads. At least he did so officially: in reality he did other things, whilst a sergeant with a penchant for rum superintended the steam roller. And then one day came a peremptory order from G.H.Q. that Lieutenant Robin Gaunt, R. E., should cease making roads, and should report himself at the seats of the mighty at once. And Robin, still smiling thoughtfully, reported himself. As I have said, he had been doing other things during that eighteen months, and the fruits of his labours, sent direct and not through the usual official channels, lay on the table in front of the man to whom he reported.
From then on Robin became a mysterious and shadowy figure. I met him once on the leave boat going home, but he was singularly uncommunicative. He was always a silent sort of fellow, though on the rare occasions when he chose to talk he could be brilliant. But during that crossing he was positively taciturn.
He looked ill and I told him so.
'Eighteen hours a day, old John, for eleven months on end. That's what I've been doing, and I'm tired.'
He lit a cigarette and stared over the water.
'Can you take it easy now?' I asked him.
He gave a weary little smile.
'If you mean by that, have I finished, then I can—more or less. But if you mean, can I take it easy from a mental point of view, God knows. I'll not have to work eighteen hours a day any more, but there are worse things than physical exhaustion.'
And suddenly he laid his hand on my arm.
'I know they're Huns,' he said tensely: 'I know it's just one's bounden duty to use every gift one has been given to beat 'em. But, damn it, John—they're men too. They go back to their women-kind, just as all these fellows on this boat are going back to theirs.'
He paused, and I thought he was going to say something more. But he didn't: he just gave a short laugh and led the way through the crowd to the bar.
'A drink, John, and forget what I've been saying.'
That was in July '18, and I didn't see him again till after the Armistice. We met in London, and at lunch I started pulling his leg over his eighteen hours' work a day. He listened with a faint smile, and for a long while refused to be drawn. And it was only when the waiter went off to get change for the bill that he made a remark which for many months stuck in my mind.
'There are a few things in my life that I'm thankful for, John,' he said quietly. 'And the one that I'm most thankful for is that the Boches broke when they did. For if they hadn't ...'
'Well—if they hadn't?'
'There wouldn't have been any Boches left to break.'
'And a damned good thing too,' I exclaimed.
He shrugged his shoulders.
'They're men too, as I said before. However, in Parliamentary parlance the situation does not arise. Wherefore, since it's Tuesday today and
Wednesday tomorrow, we might have another brandy.'
And with that the conversation closed. Periodically during the next few months that remark of his came back to my mind.
'There wouldn't have been any Boches left to break.'
An exaggeration, of course: a figure of speech, and yet Robin Gaunt was not given to the use of vain phrases. Years of scientific training had made him meticulously accurate in his use of words; and, certainly, if one-tenth of the wild rumours that circulated round the military Hush-Hush department was true, there might be some justification for his remark. But after a time I forgot all about it, and when Robin alluded to the matter at dinner on that evening in April I had to rack my brains to remember what he was talking about.
I'd suggested a play, but he had shaken his head.
'I've an appointment, old man, tonight which I can't break. Remember my eighteen hours' work a day that you were so rude about?'
It took me a second or two to get the allusion.
'Great Scott!' I laughed, 'that was the war to end war, my boy. To make the world safe for heroes to live in, with further slush ad nauseam. You don't mean to say that you are still dabbling in horrors?'
'Not exactly, John,' he said gravely. 'When the war was over I put the whole of that part of my life behind me. I hoped, as most of us did, that a new era had dawned: now I realise, as all of us realise, that we've merely gone back a few centuries. You know as well as I do that it is merely a question of time before the hatred of Germany for France boils up and cannot be restrained. Any thinking German will tell you so. Don't let's worry about whose fault it is: we're concerned more with effects than causes. But when it does happen, there will be a war which for unparalleled ferocity has never before been thought of. Don't let's worry as to whether we go in, or on whose side we go in: those are problems that don't concern us. Let us merely realise that primitive passions are boiling and seething in Europe, backed by inventions which are the last word in science. Force is the sole arbiter today: force and blazing hate, covered for diplomacy's sake with a pitifully thin veneer of honeyed phrases. I tell you, John, I've just come back from Germany and I was staggered, simply staggered. The French desire for revanche in 1870 compared to German feeling today is as a tallow dip to the light of the sun.'
He lit a cigar thoughtfully.
'However, all that is neither here nor there. Concentrate on that one idea, that force is the only thing that counts today: concentrate also on the idea that frightfulness in war is inevitable. I've come round to that way of thinking, you know. The more the thing drags on, the more suffering and sorrow to the larger number. Wherefore, pursuing the argument to a logical conclusion, it seems to me that it might be possible to arm a nation with a weapon so frightful, that by its very frightfulness war would be impossible because no other country would dare to fight.'
'Frightfulness only breeds frightfulness,' I remarked. 'You'll always get counter-measures.'
'Not always,' he said slowly. 'Not always.'
'But what's your idea, Robin? What nation would you put in possession of such a weapon—granting for the moment that the weapon is there?'
He looked at me surprised. It was a silly remark, but I was thinking of France and Germany.
'My dear old man—our own, of course. Who else? The policeman of the world. Perhaps America too: the English-speaking peoples. Put them in such a position, John, that they can say, should the necessity arise—"You shall not fight. You shall not again blacken the world with the hideous suffering of 1914. And since we can't prevent you fighting by words, we'll do it by force."'
His eyes were gleaming, and I stared at him curiously. That he was in dead earnest was obvious, but the whole thing seemed to me to be preposterous.
'You can't demonstrate the frightfulness of any weapon, my dear fellow,' I objected, 'unless you go to war yourself. So what the devil is the good of it anyway?'
'Then, if necessary, go to war. Go to war for one day—against both of them. And at the end of that day say to them—"Now will you stop? If you don't, the same thing will happen to you tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, until you do!"'
'But what will happen to them?' I cried.
'Universal, instantaneous death over as large or as small an area as is desired.'
I think it was at that moment that I first began to entertain doubts as to Robin's sanity. Not that people dining near would have noticed anything amiss with him: his voice was low-pitched and quiet. But the whole idea was so utterly far-fetched and fantastic that I couldn't help wondering if his brilliant brain hadn't crossed that tiny bridge which separates genius from insanity. I knew the hideous loathing he had always felt for war: was it possible that continual brooding on the idea had unhinged him?
'It was ready at Armistice time,' he continued, 'but not in its present form. Today it is perfected.'
'But, damn it all, Robin,' I said, a little irritably, 'what is this IT?'
He smiled and shook his head.
'Not even to you, old man, will I tell that. If I could I would keep it entirely to myself, but I realise that that is impossible. At the moment there is only one other being in this world who knows my secret—the great-hearted pacifist who has financed me. He is an Australian who lost both his sons in Gallipoli, and for the last two years he has given me ceaseless encouragement. Tonight I am meeting him again—I haven't seen him for three months—to tell him that I've succeeded. And tomorrow I've arranged to give a secret demonstration before the Army Council.'
He glanced at his watch and stood up.
'I must be off, John. Coming my way?'
Not wanting to go back so early I declined, and I watched his tall spare figure threading its way between the tables. Little did I dream of the circumstances in which I was next to meet him: a knowledge of the future has mercifully been withheld from mortal man. My thoughts as I sat on idly at the table finishing my cigar were confined to what he had been saying. Could it be possible that he had indeed made some stupendous discovery? And if he had, was it conceivable that it could be used in the way he intended and achieve the result he desired? Reason answered in the negative, and yet reason didn't seem quite conclusive.
'Universal, instantaneous death.'
Rot and rubbish: it was like the wild figment of a sensational novelist's brain. And yet—I wasn't satisfied.
'Hullo, Stockton! how goes it? Has she left you all alone?'
I glanced up to see Toby Sinclair grinning at me from the other side of the table.
'Sit down and have a spot, old man,' I said. 'And it wasn't a she, but a he.'
For a while we sat on talking, and it was only when the early supper people began to arrive that we left. We both had rooms in Clarges Street, and for some reason or other—I forget why—Sinclair came into mine for a few minutes before going on to his own. I mention it specially, because on that simple little point there hung tremendous issues. Had he not come in—and I think it was the first time he had ever done so: had he not been with me when the telephone rang on my desk, the whole course of events during the next few months would have been changed. But he did come in, so there is no good speculating on what might have happened if he hadn't.
He came in and he helped himself to a whisky-and-soda and he sat down to drink it. And it was just as I was following his example that the telephone went. I remember wondering as I took up the receiver who could be ringing me up at that hour, and then came the sudden paralysing shock.
'John! John! Help. My rooms. Oh! my God.'
So much I heard, and then silence. Only a stifled scream, and a strange choking noise came over the wire, but no further words. And the voice had been the voice of Robin Gaunt.
I shouted down the mouthpiece, and Sinclair stared at me in amazement. I feverishly rang exchange, only to be told that the connection was broken and that they could get no reply.
'What the devil is it, man?' cried Sinclair, getting a grip on my arm. 'You'll wake the whole bally house in a moment.'
A little incoherently I told him what I'd heard, and in an instant the whole look of his face changed. How often in the next few weeks did I see just that same change in the expression of all that amazing gang led by Drummond, when something that necessitated action and suggested danger occurred. But at the moment that was future history: the present concerned that agonised cry for help from the man with whom I had just dined.
'You know his house?' said Sinclair.
'Down in Kensington,' I answered.
'Got a weapon of any sort?'
I rummaged in my desk and produced a Colt revolver—a relic of my Army days.
'Good,' he cried. 'Stuff some ammunition in your pocket, and we'll get a move on.'
'But there's no necessity for you to come,' I expostulated.
'Go to hell,' he remarked tersely, and jammed his top hat on his head. 'This is the sort of thing I love. Old Hugh will turn pea-green with jealousy tomorrow when he hears.'
We were hurtling West in a taxi, and my thoughts were too occupied with what we were going to find at the other end to inquire whom old Hugh might be. There was but little traffic—the after-supper congestion had not begun—and in less than ten minutes we pulled up outside Robin's house.
'Wait here,' said Toby to the taxi-driver. 'And if you hear or see nothing of us within five minutes, drive like blazes and get a policeman.'
'Want any help now, sir?' said the driver excitedly.
'Good lad!' cried Sinclair. 'But I think not. Safer to have someone outside. We'll shout if we do.'
The house was in complete darkness, as were those on each side. The latter fact was not surprising, as a 'To be Sold' notice appeared in front of each of them.
'You know his rooms, don't you?' said Sinclair. 'Right! Then what I propose is this. We'll walk straight in as if we're coming to look him up. No good hesitating. And for the love of Allah don't use that gun unless it's necessary.'
The front door was not bolted, and for a moment or two we stood listening in the tiny hall. The silence was absolute, and a light from a lamp outside shining through a window showed us the stairs.
'His rooms are on the first floor,' I whispered.
'Then let's go and have a look at 'em,' answered Toby.
With the revolver in my hand I led the way. One or two stairs creaked loudly, and I heard Sinclair cursing under his breath at the noise. But no one appeared, and as we stood outside the door of Robin's sitting-room and laboratory combined, the only sound was our own breathing.
'Come on, old man,' said Toby. 'The longer we leave it the less we'll like it. I'll open the door, and you cover anyone inside with your gun.'
With a quick jerk he flung the door wide open, and we both stood there peering into the room. Darkness again and silence just like the rest of the house. But there was one thing different: a faint, rather bitter smell hung about in the air.
I groped for the switch and found it, and we stood blinking in the sudden light. Then we moved cautiously forward and began an examination.
In the centre of the room stood the desk, littered, as usual, with an untidy array of books and papers. The telephone stood on one corner of it, and I couldn't help thinking of that sudden anguished cry for help that had been shouted down it less than a quarter of an hour before. If only it could speak and tell us what had happened!
'Good Lord! Look at that,' muttered Toby. 'It's blood, man: the place is running in blood.'
It was true. Papers were splashed with it, and a little trickle oozed sluggishly off the desk on to the carpet.
The curtains were drawn, and suddenly Toby picked up a book and hurled it at them.
'One of Drummond's little tricks,' he remarked. 'If there's anyone behind you can spot it at once, and with luck you may hit him in the pit of the stomach.'
'But there was no one there: there was no one in the room at all. 'Where's that door lead to?' he asked.
'Gaunt's bedroom,' I answered, and we repeated the performance.
We looked under the bed, and in the cupboard: not a sign of anybody. The bed was turned down ready for the night, with his pyjamas laid in readiness, and in the basin stood a can of hot water covered with at towel. But of Robin or anyone else there was no trace.
'Damned funny,' said Toby, as we went back into the sitting-room.
Excerpted from The Final Count by H. C. McNeile. Copyright © 2014 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Other than ( in my opinion ) an overlong recap of a certain figures recounting the past this book is a solid read. So much so I bought the next in the series!