Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.
The Calais to Paris express carried a dead man—and
that meant a danger-fraught task for America's master spy.
FOUR things happened on a bright spring day in the year 1935. Let us consider three of them, apparently unrelated. They will tie into the fourth later.
In one corner of a compartment of the most luxurious train in Europe, the Golden Arrow, bound from Calais to Paris and the Riviera, sat a young man with a New York newspaper across his lap. He sat with his head back against the imitation lace headrest, his eyes closed. He looked rather pale, and was alone in the compartment. This was odd, since tickets above each seat showed them all reserved; he must, therefore, have reserved the entire compartment. On the seat beside him was an open portfolio, or brief case, stamped with his name in gold: Howard Charteris. On the floor at his feet, as though escaped from his fingers, was a portion of a torn envelope. As it lay, part of the address could be read:
Mr. John Ba...
When the door of the compartment was sharply slid back, Charteris did not stir or open his eyes. A man stepped inside. A slim, young, dark, and well-dressed man, who spoke abruptly.
"Mr. Charteris! I've come for the message for Mr. Barnes. I must warn you—"
He broke off, leaned forward, touched Charteris on the shoulder; his black eyes dilated abruptly. Charteris did not move. A sharp gasp escaped the young man. He caught at the hand of Charteris. It slid from his grasp, rocked back into place.
The black eyes touched on the open portfolio, then fell to the floor. The dark features changed. One slim hand swooped, picked up the fragment of envelope.
The other hand clutched at the open brief case and held it to view. An American passport, a bundle of letters in a rubber band—nothing else.
With incredible agility the visitor slid the door open, stepped out, closed the door and was gone. The dead man in the corner made no protest.
That was one thing.
UNDER the trees that surround the Théâtre Marigny, just off the Champs Elysées, in a drizzle rain, a seedy old man in rusty black clothes walked up and down, moodily glancing at one of the most curious sights in all France, which may be seen on the afternoon of every Thursday and Sunday in the year, rain or shine.
The old man was stout, gray-bearded, and bore a remarkable resemblance to the last Sultan of Turkey, Mahmud VI, may Allah bless his happy exile! It is whispered that there are reasons for this resemblance. This man, in his day, had won or lost a hundred thousand dollars at a sitting without turning a hair, and had owned palaces which could vie with those of the Sultan himself; for, once upon a time, there were rich Armenians. Now he looked sadly in need of a haircut.
The rain did not spoil things for the children under the trees; on wooden benches their gleeful outbursts of shrill voices rang forth continuously. Two puppet shows were here, Thursday afternoon being the French holiday, and children thronged them. On past the puppet shows were hordes of umbrellas, where at the corner of the Avenue Gabriel were set up booths. The crowd was solid, thick, impenetrable. This was the Stamp Bourse, where collectors of postage stamps, dealers, sellers and buyers, thronged as they had thronged for sixty years and more.
Many of these pathetic merchants in little things were Armenians, for at this business the men who had no country were very apt. Hundreds of thousands of francs changed hands here each holiday.
The old man glanced at his watch, turned, then quickened his pace. Coming toward him from the Champs Elysées was a young fellow in the blue, red-tipped uniform of the Bureau des Postes—that is to say, the postal service, in which France comprises telephones and telegraphs as well as letters.
The two met and halted.
"Here they are, my uncle," said the young fellow in uniform. "Five telegrams all told. These are the originals. It cost me five thousand francs to bribe the clerk of the records."
The older man took the sheaf of bluish telegraph forms and stuffed them into his pocket. From a wallet he produced five beautiful lavender banknotes of a thousand francs each, which the young man hastily tucked out of sight, then a sixth.
"There, my nephew," he said in Armenian. "You have done well. Those telegrams will drink blood—the blood of an American who betrayed his country."
The two parted. A couple of Englishmen, swiftly striding, cloaked in Burberrys, sticks swinging, came past. The old man almost collided with them. They glared at him.
"Damned dirty dog of an Armenian!" said one, and went on.
The old man looked after them, fingered his gray pointed beard, and chuckled softly.
"Yes; a damned dirty Armenian dog," he repeated, mouthing the words unctuously. "So much the worse for you, Englishmen. It took an American to discover that dogs have teeth."
That was the second thing.
IN a handsome room of the handsome American Embassy, which enshrines the memory of the greatest American Ambassador in France since the days of Franklin, sat two men smoking cigars; aggressive, dominant men. One was very angry.
"Damn it, this man Barnes is stark, raving mad!" he declaimed. "He'll embroil us with half of Europe before he's through. He sticks at nothing. He laughs at my authority. I threatened to withdraw his passport, and he dared me to try. He has more infernal gall than a newspaper man! He seems to think I'm nothing!"
"Compared to him, you're not," said the second man, with a cool laugh. "Nor am I. You're only an ambassador, old man. He risks his neck."
"Oh, I know all that," impatiently. "But why doesn't he risk it decently, in the accustomed fashion?"
"Because he's too damned smart, Barnes is."
The angry man grunted.
"A month ago the whole French police were after him. I was requested by the Prefecture to wash my hands of him. Now he's here in Paris, openly."
"Doesn't that suggest something to you?" asked the cool, amused man. "Better wake up to it, old chap; Barnes is one hell of a guy, and no mistake! You're not responsible for him. He has no connection with Washington; officially, he's nothing."
A telephone on the table buzzed sharply. With a word of apology, the angry man lifted the instrument and replied. His face changed.
"I've done nothing as yet," he said. "We suspect a certain member of the staff, but of course cannot act without some proof.... What? What? Do you presume to give me orders as to my actions?" His face reddened. "Yes. He just arrived from Geneva... Oh, you do?" He turned to his visitor. "Barnes wants to speak with you."
The second man leaped up, seized the instrument, responded. Then, with a word of thanks, he set it down on its rack and whistled softly.
"Good Lord! He's sending me over the complete text of the secret Russian agreement with China, in case of war with Japan. How the devil did he get that? Made some swap with Moscow, I suppose. Man, oh, man! Look here—what got you so upset?"
The angry gentleman cursed.
"Says he'll uncover that leak in the embassy here, the one that's bothered us so long. Told me to do nothing about it."
"Then, do nothing, like a wise chap." The other resumed his cigar, puffed at it, and faced his host gravely. "Look here. Some time ago we all thought we were smart, when a dozen or so Americans with money, brains and knowledge started out to serve us as unofficial spies. They were patriotic. They were willing to meet these damned European diplomatic agents on their own ground, fight fire with fire. And what happened? They're washed up, wiped up, half of them dead. Fleming's in jail now in Berlin, and we can't do a thing about it. Of them all, Barnes still is in the game. Why? Because he cut loose. He's running a show of his own, with Marie Nicolas and a couple more helping him.
"Howard Charteris has resigned from the London Embassy and is coming over to pitch in with Barnes, I understand. A good man, Charteris—"
The telephone buzzed again. The angry man, still angry, responded. He made a curt assent, and hung up. Then he turned.
"That was the Sûreté speaking. They've just been informed that an American with a diplomatic passport has been found dead aboard the Golden Arrow, due in at seven from Calais. They want me to send over one of the staff to meet the train and comply with the formalities. It's murder and robbery, apparently, for he was stabbed—"
"Who?" demanded the visitor. "Who's the man, damn it?"
"Howard Charteris," said the Ambassador grimly. "Now prate about your confounded smart Barnes, will you?"
THE fourth thing was a slip of paper.
The Hôtel Vignon is far behind the Madeleine, in the short little street of like name—a tiny hotel unguessed by Americans or tourists. Barnes had his own reasons for stopping here, on the second floor. It was a discreet place.
Twice, John Barnes had seen the girl in apple-green. Once, last night, in the downstairs room that served as office and lobby, and once in the elevator. Now, as he approached the hotel entrance after a brisk afternoon's errand, raincoat flapping about his legs, he saw her again. She was just entering the hotel ahead of him.
His gray eyes quickened, his lean, hard features softened. She was a thing to gladden any heart. The swift, lithe walk, the delightful figure, the high, confident carriage; a face unutterably lovely, with fearless, tender eyes of warm lights, and soft ash-blond hair. An American girl, yes.
Barnes had no interest beyond swift appreciation of her beauty, her appeal. When he came into the hotel, she had just closed the little elevator door. He took his key from the rack and mounted the stairs with rapidity to the second floor. He saw her there, leaving the elevator and passing down the hall ahead of him. She halted at a door across from his but a little farther down the hall.
As Barnes inserted his own key in the lock, he heard her cry out—a quick, sharp little cry. He swung around.
She stood as though frozen, staring down at something. She shrank back, saw Barnes, and extended her hand. Her voice came with quick appeal.
"Please—look at this, look! Do you speak English? It—it can't be—"
Barnes hurried to her side and looked down. From beneath the closed door crept a slowly widening pool of dark red. His eyes bit at her.
"Who's in there? Your husband?"
"Husband? Of course not." Her voice was steady enough. "Nobody. I'm all alone. But that must be blood—"
Barnes tried the door. It opened to his thrust for an inch or so, then stopped, as though checked by something inside.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, holding up her key. "And I left it locked, too!"
Shoving harder at the door, Barnes got a glimpse of the interior.
Then he pulled the door shut and turned to her.
"Go downstairs again, right away. Go into the dining room and order a drink of some kind. Wait till I come down. You're an American? My name's Barnes. Let me take care of this matter for you."
She met his regard, and nodded. The quiet words of Barnes, his cool eyes, his harsh, thin features, inspired confidence. Without a word she turned and departed.
Good girl! She had sense. And what loveliness!
When she had gone down the stairs, Barnes put his weight on the door, forced it back, and stepped into the room.
ONE glance showed him what had happened. The man had entered and had stepped on a thin, slithery rug that went out under his feet. Falling heavily, without warning, his head struck against the foot of the iron bed.
A nasty gash over his temple. Quite dead. The blood trickling slowly away and under the door. Entirely obvious, except that the gash did not quite fit any projection of the iron bed that Barnes could see. However, this did not matter—at the moment.
A hotel rat; a slim, rascally fellow, well dressed. In his hand was still gripped the skeleton key which had won his entry. Barnes frowned. Why the devil had a thief entered this girl's room? He knelt, wrapped a handkerchief about his hand, and carefully went through the fellow's pockets. He turned up nothing except some brass and copper money, and a slungshot. Nothing else—except that crumpled bit of paper at one side, fallen from the man's left hand, no doubt.
Barnes picked it up, glanced at it, and whistled softly. He tucked it away, then glanced rapidly about the room, looked into the dresser drawers, looked into the unlocked suitcases. Coolly, without scruple, he investigated the private affairs of the girl. A little bundle of letters from New York, addressed to Miss Anne Warren, care the American Express, London. A passport in the same name, with her picture. He glanced through it. She had landed at Cherbourg two days ago; had come from London. An American girl, of course. He looked through her effects, which were pitifully meager. Little money, it seemed. Some music. A music student. A letter of introduction to a French pianist, from a music house in London.
He left everything as he had found it and closed the door, then went into his own room. This room had the only telephone in the hotel. When he had left his coat and hat, Barnes went downstairs and walked into the dining room, on the right of the entrance, where the girl sat at a table. A waiter came; Barnes ordered a Rossi, and then nodded at the anxious, questioning eyes opposite.
"Not so bad. Does any one know you went upstairs?"
"I think not. No one was in the office. They pay no attention." She smiled a little. "By the way, I forgot to introduce myself. I'm Anne Warren. I'm going to study music here. I have a letter to a great pianist—Santos Fleurien. I haven't much money, but he may take me. Does that explain me?"
"Admirably." The gray eyes of Barnes warmed on her lovely features. "As for me, I'm an occasional dealer in precious stones; I happen to have some now. There's a rug in your room, a flimsy blue rug—"
"On the linoleum floor." She eyed him in startled comprehension. "I've slipped on it twice when entering. You don't mean—"
Barnes nodded. She knew about that rug, then? At the moment, he shrugged off the question.
"This fellow slipped, went down heavily, and struck his temple against the foot of the bed. It killed him. He's a hotel rat, a sneak thief."
"But what shall I do?" Her eyes dilated. "I've heard terrible things about the police in France."
"They're all right. I see you have a package there. Call the manager and ask him to send it to your room—say you must go right out again. The garçon will take the package up, will discover the unlocked door and the body. It's simple."
Her brows lifted slightly. "But I handled the doorknob. So did you."
"I wiped off any fingerprints."
"But why should he have entered my room? I've nothing worth stealing."
HER eyes compelled him. Their intimacy, their appeal, warmed him; this girl was like an old and dear friend, all at once. The subtle flattery of her obvious liking, of her trust, her helplessness, reached into him. He got out the crumpled bit of paper he had found, and spread it out. She glanced at the three figures on it, and frowned.
"One seventeen. What does that mean?"
"Everything. The man dropped this. A Frenchman writes a one with a distinct serif. He writes a seven very much like a four; therefore, to distinguish it, the seven is always crossed on the vertical stroke. But this was written by an American, who wrote a straight vertical stroke for the one, and did not cross the seven. He wrote 'One Seventeen,' which is the number of my room. This hotel rat was a Frenchman, He took it to read one fourteen, which is the number of your room."
"Oh!" Comprehension flashed into her face. "He was looking for your room, then!"
"And the precious stones there." Barnes glanced at his watch. "May I suggest that you go to the office, get the manager, and beat it? Don't come back for an hour. Then you'll find a detective from the Sûreté, detective headquarters, waiting to question you. Tell a straight story, know nothing, and you're all set. We might walk up to the corner together—I have to meet a man."
She assented. Barnes paid for the drinks while she talked with the manager. He joined her at the entrance and they walked together up the street toward the boulevards, and parted at the corner. She gave him her hand and her eyes; her fingers had a caressing touch that made his heart leap. She was so obviously innocent of coquetry, so fine and lovely.
Then she was gone, toward the Madeleine and its gay flower-market. The rain had ceased, but early darkness threatened. Barnes, bareheaded, had only half a block to go. He turned in at a boulevard café and took a corner seat on the long leather lounge that circled the sides of the place. Close to him, at the next table in fact, was a seedy, stout man with a gray beard, who looked much like Mahmud VI of Turkey. It was the aperitif hour, when everyone in Paris sought a drink before going home to dinner. The old man was sitting dreamily over a coffee and brandy, staring at nothing with moody eyes. Barnes ordered a vermouth, and when the waiter was gone, spoke under his breath.
The old man fingered his beard dreamily. His voice came very softly. "We got them. They're on the seat beside me with the paper. When I'm gone, take up the paper and you'll have them. A man is watching you. He came in after you and is sitting at the table next the cashier."
The speaker put a coin on the table, pressed his hat on his head, and rose. He walked out of the café. Barnes yawned, and as the waiter returned with his drink, leaned over and picked up the folded Paris Soir left by the old man. As he opened it out, five folded telegraph forms slid into his lap and under cover of the newspaper were slid into his waistcoat pocket. The waiter set down his drink and departed.
HE had them! He had them! The end of weeks of long planning, of careful work; here was triumph at last! Over the newspaper his gray eyes touched on the man indicated. He received a shock. This man was a Japanese, a conspicuous person in Paris.
Two men, laughing and talking, swung into the place and took the recently vacated table next to Barnes. They were dark, swarthy fellows, conversing in a strange tongue. The waiter took their orders and departed. They never so much as glanced at Barnes, but he, behind the newspaper, spoke casually.
"Get word to Miss Nicolas that I must see her at nine this evening. I'll come to her apartment. Have it well watched and a taxicab waiting in the street at nine-thirty."
"Entendu, m'sieu'." The words came clearly amid their jargon. "Understood."
Barnes went on reading. After a moment he caught a few words in English.
"Eramian has wired that he must see you. The man from London was dead."
"I heard of it from the Prefecture," responded Barnes. "Tell Eramian to be in the taxicab. Did he learn anything?"
The two men called for a backgammon board and began their game.
"He did not say. He will arrive at seven with the train," said one of them after a moment.
"Very well. Have the Golden Arrow met, every passenger noted. Whoever did it must be on that train. Send word to me at the apartment of Miss Nicolas."
Presently Barnes finished his drink and sat reading the newspaper. The Japanese was still there, inscrutable, motionless. The minutes flitted past. Darkness had descended on the streets outside, with promise of more rain.
A man entered briskly and looked around until his eye fell upon Barnes. Then he came over, shook hands, and settled down on the red leather. The two men at the next table finished their game and departed. This newcomer was a Frenchman, alert, gimlet-eyed, polite, with a subtle air of authority.
"Mon ami, we are ready to deal with you," he said amiably.
"Thanks for the condescension, Flandreau." Barnes grinned. "What's happened to make you see reason?"
"The last straw. Germany, England and Moscow have received an accurate report of our secret arrangement with your President regarding the gold accord. Somebody has betrayed us. We must work together."
"So?" The brows of Barnes lifted slightly, giving him a sinister, mocking air. "Flandreau, do you by any chance know just whom you're working against?"
"Certainly," Flandreau replied with assurance. "Baron von Bohm, the German agent. He acts for both Russia and Germany. We are watching him. We do not deport him because by watching him we'll get a lead to all those connected with him. You see, I am frank."
"And yet you have need of me?" Barnes laughed heartily. "Come, Flandreau, be yourself. You're up against it. You don't know whom to suspect. The baron is a figurehead. He doesn't represent Germany or Russia. The truth is, you're up a stump. You know that any day, any time, but probably before the year's out, Germany goes monarchist, Hitler is shot or escapes by his secret plane—and France is up against something new. And you don't know who the devil is pulling the strings; but I do—a man sitting in this very room."
Flandreau gave the American one sharp, almost desperate look, then his eyes flitted about the place. He turned to Barnes.
"You're not joking?"
"I'm not. What's more, I know who's sold you—and us—out. I think I've got the proof of it in my pocket. Do you want to talk business—and no camouflage?"
"Yes," said Flandreau in a low voice. His gaze was intense, searching.
Barnes took out pencil and paper. From his waistcoat pocket he slipped forth one of the five telegrams, unfolded it, and copied off the message upon it. The message alone; not the address or signature.
A MAN, young, dark, accompanied by a girl, came in and took the adjacent table. They were laughing and talking together; they sat side by side, the young man's arm about the girl's shoulders. They kissed, in the charming fashion of Paris, and broke into laughter.
The girl spoke in French, gayly.
"Tiens! And to think he is sitting outside all the time!"
Barnes cocked one eyebrow and glanced whimsically at the Frenchman.
"Apparently the young lady has a husband, eh? Or a fiancé."
"To business," said Flandreau, with an irritated air. "What are your terms?"
Barnes handed him the paper with the message.
"The assistance of your best code authority, first. This must be deciphered; then others."
"Granted. Colonel d'Aleyne shall have it instantly. He is probably the most expert man in Europe on ciphers. Next?"
"My friend Fleming is in a Berlin jail. I want him sprung and brought here."
Flandreau whistled. "Can we work miracles?"
"You must, if you work with me."
"H'm! At least, we'll do our best."
"See that it's your best, my friend. Last of all, I want a report on every Japanese who is in Paris, domiciled or visiting. The Prefecture can supply this within a few hours, if the government demands it. Well, demand it! I want it before nine in the morning, at my room in the Hôtel Vignon. Here's my card; it has my telephone number. Ask Colonel d'Aleyne to communicate with me by phone, please, as soon as he learns anything about the cipher."
Flandreau stared hard at the American. Then he turned his head and looked around the room again. The Japanese who had been sitting near the cashier's desk had taken his departure a moment previously. Flandreau frowned and pocketed the card. "You Americans!" he said, with a gesture. "Very well. I accept. And in exchange you offer—"
"All the details at my command regarding Germany—and the threat against your colonial empire in Indo-China. Word of honor. Yes or no?"
"Yes. I think you must be the devil in person," said Flandreau. "Or, shall I say—the Sphinx?"
"I know nothing about the Sphinx."
Flandreau rose, shook hands cordially, and departed.
Barnes followed. Outside the entrance, where tables were ranged under the awning on the sidewalk, he paused to light a cigarette. His eye caught that of a bronzed, handsome man sitting by himself, who lifted a hand and hailed him.
"Hello there, Barnes! Haven't seen you in ages. How's everything?"
"Hello, Westlake. Pretty good, thanks. Still telling the ambassadors how to run their offices?"
Westlake laughed. "Oh, I'm a mere secretary, you know. I'm thinking of spending a few weeks with my sister in Geneva, if I can get leave. Why do you stick around in this beastly climate of Paris, anyhow?"
"I'll tell you," said Barnes. "It's because I've got to work in order to live."
With a nod and a laugh, he swung away. His fingers, tucked into his waistcoat pocket, touched the five telegrams that Westlake had written.
He went back to the Hôtel Vignon.
IN the lobby, two obvious agents of the Sûreté were politely and reassuringly talking with the distressed Anne Warren. Barnes went on up to his room. He entered, switched on the lights, and glanced around. Then he took the five telegrams from his pocket and gave each one a swift glance.
"Odd!" he murmured. "Each one sent to his sister in Geneva. Clearly in code. No proof of anything here—and we must have proof."
He selected the message of most recent date, the same copied off for Colonel d'Aleyne. It, like the others, had gone from an Auteuil office, though Westlake lived at the other end of town. It had no connection with him except that it was addressed to his sister. Thanks to this, the five messages had been discovered. It was dated a week previously. It read:
E E T E K C X K I U 4 7 T K O U
O B 6 P 6 J Q P F 4 I 5 A 5 6 0
It was signed Raoul Delisle.
As he studied it, Barnes frowned. Then he produced the slip of paper dropped by the dead hotel rat and looked at the penciled room number there. One seventeen. The seven was identical with that of the penciled message here, although the vertical stroke was crossed in the telegram. The same man had made each of those peculiar figures.
"H'm! Westlake didn't dare use a typewriter, lest it be traced," muttered Barnes. "Of course, microscopic examination might prove that this message was written by his pocket pencil; no direct proof there, either. Decode it, and we've got him."
He rang the bell and ordered dinner.
Scarcely had he finished his meal when the manager, in person, brought word that a Colonel d'Aleyne was below. Surprised, Barnes descended, met his visitor and took him up to the room. A brisk, military man with a sweeping white mustache, d'Aleyne wasted no time on small talk. He brought out the message copied for him.
"Allow me, M'sieu' Barnes, to explain to you about this cipher, which I recognized very quickly. I came personally; it was the only way."
He now produced four circles of cardboard of graduated sizes, and laid them on top of each other, smallest uppermost. About the edges of each circle were marked spaces, containing the English alphabet and numbers from two to nine. With a pin inserted through the center, d'Aleyne arranged the circles so that the letters and figures coincided. Then he revolved them so that, reading from the outermost, the word "PEER" was spelled in toward the center. All this in absorbed silence.
He produced a sheet of paper and spread it before Barnes. Upon it was typed:
3 5 X Z B G 1 4 G L D T Y
1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1
"Observe," he said. "The top line is the message in code. The letters and figures are numbered from one to three. Now these circles. The outer one is merely the static index on which the. message is read. A four-letter word, PEER, is used as the key. To read this message, the circles are arranged thus: they are numbered from one to three—beginning with the second, remember. The outermost is only the index. Good. Look for 3 on this index. Corresponding to it, in the first circle, we have G. Look for 5; in the second circle, the corresponding letter is I. Look for X; the corresponding space in the third or smallest circle is V. Look for Z; we find opposite this, in the first circle, the letter E. We have read the word GIVE. The complete message reads GIVE ME THE WORD. You understand, now, how these circles are used?"
"Perfectly," said Barnes.
"This cipher came to be used by Imperial German Headquarters during the war," said the precise little expert. "It is, even in this simple form, complicated. Imagine six circles instead of three, a six-letter word used as the key, and you have combinations and complications almost beyond the power of the human brain to grasp. The cipher has never been broken down, and can never be broken down unless one knows the key word. Those using it establish different key words for each day of the week, let us say. Who can guess them? The prime letter E may be represented by half a dozen letters or figures. There is no way to break it down."
"But my code message—?"
"Cannot be read unless you supply me with the key word."
"Are you positive?"
"I came to tell you this personally, M'sieu' Barnes, because I am so positive. What I have explained is the English or German cipher. If written in French or other languages with varying numbers of letters in the alphabet, we have further complications. I regret to say that you must provide the key if you want these messages read."
MARIE NICOLAS had just taken an apartment near the Étoile, a very handsome little flat in a new and handsome building that glittered with light, was admirably policed and guarded, and gave no encouragement to secret visitors.
Marie herself, vibrant, alive, glowing with a dusky beauty that set men's hearts hammering, shook her head vigorously at Barnes as he sat there. "I tell you, I have contacts in a dozen places; I know absolutely that they suspect you of being the Sphinx! They're waiting to pin it on you, before killing you. I've heard twice that a trap is laid for you already."
"Before tomorrow morning," said Barnes slowly, his eyes grim and hard, "they'll hear from the Sphinx in a way they'll not like. They! This time, we're working with the French Secret Police. And nobody suspects who's working with me."
"I'm shadowed day and night," said the girl, with a shrug. "True, they don't know that you've got half the Armenians in Europe working with you. That was genius."
Barnes admitted it. "Yes. These people are extraordinary in brains and ability. They've no country. They're like the Jews in many ways; genius, genius! For America, they've got warm and splendid feelings. They're bound together so closely, there's no danger of betrayal."
The girl's eyes rested on him with warm appraisal.
"Have you any intention of telling me what we're working on just now? Whom we're against? What we're doing?"
Barnes broke into a laugh.
"Of course! We're going to nail the fellow who's been selling us out. His name's Westlake."
"Oh!" Incredulity leaped into her face. "Impossible! He's a secretary of the Embassy here—a splendid fellow, a career man in the service—"
"The last man on earth to be a traitor; so was Benedict Arnold. I've no proof. I want you to get it. His sister lives in Geneva. Somewhere in her possession is a list of code words, possibly one for each day of the week. Either four or six letter words. That's all I know. That's all I need. I must have those words."
Marie Nicolas leaned forward.
"His sister? Yes; I know who she is. Married to a Swiss manufacturer. A wealthy man."
"Will you take the job?"
"Of course. Now, what's this business of Italy trying to grab Abyssinia? I thought you had secured a pledge from Mussolini that—"
Barnes made an impatient movement.
"My dear Marie, pledges amount to nothing. There's a new factor in the game, in the whole European situation. A new, sinister, amazing factor. As to Italy, let that wait. We must nab Westlake first of all. You must get off tonight on the midnight express if possible."
"Very well," she assented. "If you—"
A bell tinkled. Barnes nodded. "Some one for me, I think."
SHE rose and went to the door, admitting a young, dark, handsome man who spoke perfect English. Barnes rose as they entered the room. "Ah! Miss Nicolas, let me introduce Mr. Djissian; upon you two people hang most of my plans. All right, Djissian. Where's Eramian?"
"In a taxicab below," said the young Armenian. He extended a torn scrap of paper, on which were brought out certain finger-prints. "He found this at the feet of Mr. Charteris, in the compartment. Part of the envelope addressed to you. On it, there's one thumb-print we've been unable to identify."
"Good! That of the murderer, very possibly. By the way, Marie, you knew Charteris was killed today?"
The girl paled. "Not Howard Charteris? Oh, it couldn't—!"
"It is. He was coming from London to join us. All right, Djissian. What about the people aboard the train? Any Japanese?"
"None, Mr. Barnes. There was, however, a Russian by the name of Protopoff, who is a friend of Baron von Bohm, and who deals in antiques. He travels often between London and Paris. I happened to follow him myself. He went home, then he visited an agency for theater tickets, then he visited that oriental café in Rue de Silz and dined there. He then went to the theater, and I came here."
"Then we've lost the message Charteris was bringing," murmured Barnes. "All right. The thumb-print will tell. What is this Protopoff's address?"
"Forty-two, Bis, Rue Vaurigard."
"Very well. Tell Eramian to await me downstairs. Telephone me at nine-thirty in the morning and have every available man in readiness. That's all."
When the visitor had departed, Marie Nicolas regarded her caller thoughtfully.
"So we—or you—are working with the French, eh? And tomorrow you may be at odds with them. Then they'll know your secrets."
"Not they." Barnes smiled slightly. "I'm living openly at the Hôtel Vignon. Tonight I contacted half a dozen of my agents under the very eyes of Flandreau, their best sharpshooter; and he never got a thing."
"All right; I hope you can keep it up. So von Bohm is the man behind the scenes this time?"
"No. He's a figurehead; nominally a Nazi agent, in reality double-crossing Hitler and working for the monarchists. Europe's at peace, my dear—at peace, understand?" Barnes fastened his eyes upon her. "Under the loud talk, the war clouds have all fled. A new force has entered the diplomatic field—a force with which we are about to have a skirmish. Next month, next year, the skirmish will have developed into actual war; the two most powerful forces in the world will meet here on the field of European diplomacy. I've just discovered all this. It cost us the death of Charteris."
"What?" Her eyes dilated. "You don't mean Russia—"
"Bah!" and Barnes lit a cigarette. "Why are we making head against this army of spies, double-crossers, liars, murderers who call themselves secret agents? Because we're serving an ideal. We don't work for hire. We have no selfish interests masked as love of country. We're playing America's hand without her knowledge or consent. Good! And America is one of the two strongest forces in the world today."
"THE other?" she questioned, her breath coming sharply. There was something electric about Barnes, even in repose as now. A confidence, an assurance, a knowledge. Excitement drew at her features, widened her eyes, sharpened her breasts under her thin silken gown. "The other?"
"What! You, the cleverest woman agent in Europe, haven't guessed?"
She nodded. "Yes. I've guessed, to myself; but it seemed too incredible."
"Of course. Who forced two enemies, Poland and Germany, into their present strict alliance despite France? That was bad news for Russia, you know. Who would like to grab the French colonial empire in Indo-China and Yunnan? Who caused the present strained relations between Washington and Moscow, so that in February half our Embassy staff there was withdrawn? Who's backing Abyssinia now with arms, men, and money, against the Italian grab? Who has practically isolated Russia and is working to isolate France? Just one answer. Men who serve no selfish cause, but an ideal. A great ideal, one that threatens the world!"
"Then it's true!" she murmured. "Asia—for the Japanese!"
"Absolutely." Barnes leaned back. "So far, they've been learning. They thought the game consisted of lies and bluff; they denied everything and got caught. Now they're playing better. When they're ready for war with Russia, look out! These enormous air bases in China are camouflage; they're built with Japanese money. China isn't building them, except nominally. Well, never mind all that. We're in Europe. Do you know why Charteris was murdered?"
"He was bringing me a letter that meant nothing; but in his head, the terms of a new proposed agreement between Washington and Moscow and London. Litvinoff was coming to Geneva; I was going there to meet him. Stanley Baldwin proposed it all. Well, poor Charteris is dead, and so the thing is delayed. But when they start in to murder—let them look out! They'll hear from the Sphinx now."
"AND you're sending me away. Why? To be out of the mess?"
Barnes gave her no hint of the tumult that stirred his pulses when he met her eyes, when he drank in her loveliness, her vibrant eagerness and joy in life.
"No. I'm asking you to take over the most important thing of all; to nip the man who has been selling out the United States to other interests. You know that Russia has obtained those new airplane wing designs. You know that Persia—Persia, of all nations!—has given England an immense order for airplanes, but minus engines, because she has obtained the specifications of certain United States Army plane engines."
"What has Japan to do with all this?"
Barnes shrugged. "I'm talking about Westlake just now. If he could get the terms of that agreement between London, Washington, and Moscow—ah!" Suddenly he leaned forward, a blaze in his eyes. "Listen! He'll get those terms. He'll wire them to his sister, or wire her that they're on the way by messenger or by mail—tomorrow night. Do you understand? His sister will be decoding a message from him tomorrow night. Will that give you any assistance?"
Marie Nicolas nodded. "Of course. It'll help a lot."
"Then get your typewriter and take down some dictation, like a jewel."
The girl unlumbered a portable typewriter and for twenty minutes took dictation on it from Barnes. When he had finished, she regarded him curiously.
"Do you know, it's rather clever? You'll send it through the mail, eh? That means it'll pass through Westlake's hands—"
"No, my dear. That would bungle things. You'll cable it from Geneva in the morning, in the usual government code, and sign the name of our Minister to Switzerland. That means it'll pass through Westlake's hands for decoding."
"And you make me liable for forgery, eh?" Her eyes danced merrily. "Oh, my dear John Barnes—you have genius! Positive genius! I can't tell you how much I admire you. Honestly!"
"And I don't dare tell you how much I—admire you, Marie," he said softly. "I don't dare. Not now." He rose abruptly and caught up his coat and hat. "So long! Wire me, phone me, reach me somehow, the minute you get those words that I need. I'd better get on and let you pack. And better send me your Geneva address; I may need something more while you're there. Good-by and good luck."
For a moment he pressed her hand, then turned and was gone.
ACROSS the street from the apartment house stood a taxicab.
Barnes strode to it and got in; a man was sitting in the dark of the rear seat. The cab started at once. "My cousin is driving," said Eramian. He was a thin, dark, tubercular man, like so many of his race. It was he who had entered the compartment of Charteris aboard the Golden Arrow that day. His name, if not the man himself, was known among Armenians all over the world; a name of princely, almost royal, family.
"Rue Vaugiraud," said Barnes. "That is, if you wish to go with me. The errand is not a pleasant one, perhaps. If Protopoff does not return home alone, we may have trouble."
Eramian shrugged as though he had seen too much trouble in life to be more than mildly amused by the word.
"Very well," he said, and spoke to the driver. "While we're driving across town, shall I give you the reports from our people in Berlin and Rome?"
THE French run apartment houses with a certain system. A concierge occupies the ground floor, with a window overlooking the entry. All mail comes to the concierge. No one ascends to the upper floors without his scrutiny, at least in theory. He is a bonded employee. After ten at night the entrance is locked; the concierge opens to a pull of the bell and makes sure who comes or goes.
When Protopoff arrived home that night, a taxicab stood outside his apartment house. As he left his own cab and rang the bell, a brisk figure approached him.
It was Barnes, who spoke quietly. "M'sieu' Protopoff? I've been awaiting you. I have some orders for you."
"Eh?" exclaimed the Russian. He was a large, thick-set man of perhaps forty, and surveyed Barnes with suspicion. "I do not know you—"
"Fool! Do you want me to blurt my errand in the street?" snapped Barnes. "I need only mention the Golden Arrow."
"Oh! I understand," muttered Protopoff.
"I have a friend who is to be put under your orders," went on Barnes. He beckoned, and Eramian approached. At this instant the door-latch clicked.
"Come along upstairs, messieurs," said Protopoff, and led the way.
With entry accomplished in this manner, the concierge could later report only that Protopoff had come in with two other men, unknown.
Protopoff occupied the rear apartment on the first floor—the second, by American usage—whose balconied windows overhung the street. As he came into his apartment and switched on the lights, something hit him with paralyzing force at the base of the skull. He pitched forward and lay quiet.
"Into a bedroom with him," said Barnes, closing the door of the apartment. "Then we'll make certain."
Between them, they carried the unconscious man into one of the two bedrooms, laid him comfortably upon a bed, and Barnes frisked him without making any discoveries. Then Barnes produced an inked pad. In a moment, a bit of paper held the impressions of Protopoff's two thumbs. Barnes inspected them through an enlarging glass, handed the glass and paper to Eramian.
"Look. Here's the bit of envelope you found on the train, with the impression of the murderer's thumb brought up. Compare them."
Eramian looked carefully. "Identical," he said.
"Exactly. Search the outer rooms; put on your gloves first."
Left alone, Barnes produced a rubber stamp, touched it to the inked pad, and then pressed it on the extended right wrist of Protopoff. Upon this wrist appeared in red the outline of a Sphinx, and beneath it the letters, "U.S.A."
Barnes placed the left hand of the Russian across the breast, under the chin, then from his own pocket drew a small wooden box. This was apparently stuffed with cotton; but from the cotton he carefully lifted a round object the size of a robin's egg. He placed this in the left hand of Protopoff, closing the fingers around it, and stepped back. He regarded the senseless Russian with cold, stern eyes.
"In three minutes," he murmured, "the heat of the hand will melt the wax; then the gas escapes. You murdered Howard Charteris this morning; tonight you pay the penalty of that crime."
He turned off the lights and left the room.
At a desk in the reception salon Eramian was busy. Barnes joined him. Together they went through letters, papers, everything in sight. Barnes turned up a small address book, glanced through it, and pocketed it with a nod.
"The man was no more than a messenger, a hired murderer," he observed. "Turn out the lights and come along."
He opened one of the windows over the street, which was empty of life save for the taxicab awaiting him. Barnes whistled, then his voice gave a curt order. The taxi leaped into life and noise. It came beneath the little iron balcony and drove up over the curb to the sidewalk, directly beneath the balcony.
Barnes climbed over the rail, let himself down until he hung by his hands, and dropped the three or four feet to the top of the cab. Eramian, after closing the window, followed him.
A moment later the taxicab was rolling away.
The Sphinx had come, had struck, and had gone.
WHEN Barnes reached the Hôtel Vignon—afoot now—midnight was at hand. In the tiny office was sitting a man reading a newspaper. It was Flandreau.
"Ah, my dear Barnes!" he exclaimed, jumping up. "I've been waiting for you. We may, perhaps, go to your room?"
"By all means," assented Barnes, taking his key off the rack and nodding to the sleepy garçon behind the desk. "No mail for me, Pierre?"
"Two letters, m'sieu'."
Barnes pocketed the letters and took Flandreau up in the lift to his floor. He ushered the secret agent into his room and switched on the lights. Flandreau glanced around quickly, took the chair indicated.
"You asked for a list of all the Japanese in Paris, by nine tomorrow morning," he observed. "I have it for you now. The American, Fleming, held in a Berlin jail, has been released tonight on condition that he leaves Germany at once. He left Berlin half an hour ago by plane for Paris."
Barnes stopped short, staring at the other.
"By plane!" he echoed slowly. "There's no regular night flight. Did he charter a plane?"
Flandreau nodded. "A Dutch Fokker. Why?"
The American dropped into a chair, lit a cigarette, and shook his head.
"Flandreau, I'm pretty much a failure," he observed. "I've bungled things badly. Afraid this isn't my game. I jump at conclusions and act on them, instead of waiting for solid bases as you chaps do."
The other laughed. "My friend, you belittle yourself. By the way, what do you know about the man who was killed tonight just across the hall?"
"Eh?" Barnes glanced up in surprise. "Nothing. I haven't been here. Who was killed, and why?"
Flandreau regarded him curiously, smiling a little.
"A sneak thief, apparently. He happens to have been one of our own men who was in the employ of Baron von Bohm. His death was most unfortunate—for us. So you have not been here? Then forget it. I thought you might cast some light on the matter.
"By the way, can't you give us some line on the Sphinx? He seems to be an American."
"I only wish I could," murmured Barnes. Then, to hide the swift flash in his eyes, he got out his two letters and tore at them. So that man, sent here by Westlake apparently, had been a French spy—then it was no accidental death whatever, but sheer murder!
No wonder the wound in his head had not fitted the bed-end at all.
Barnes unfolded the papers in his hand. A letter, and a carbon copy; both of them startling enough. He moved over to his desk, with a word of apology.
For a moment he bent there, his back to Flandreau.
Then he rose and came forward, smiling.
"This gave me a bit of a jolt," he said, holding up the carbon copy and reading it swiftly. His gaze jerked to the Frenchman, and he extended the paper. "Here. Half the payment I promised you; apparently accurate details regarding the hidden German air bases recently established—"
Flandreau came out of his chair in a burst of incredulous excitement. His eyes dilated on the paper. At the top was the scarlet imprint of the Sphinx, U. S. A.
"Name of a little black dog!" he ejaculated. "This—if it's fact—"
"It is," said Barnes sadly. "Fleming got it all. This came via Sweden to me; they don't know he got the information out of Germany. They think he's got it in his head. That's why he won't reach Paris alive. Better get out to Le Bourget air field with your men and meet that plane from Berlin—and see how plausible the account of his death en route will be. Go ahead. Keep the letter."
Flandreau caught up his hat and was gone on the run. Barnes followed him to the stairs, then turned and came back toward his own door.
SO that fellow had been a French spy, keeping von Bohm covered; and he had been sent here via Westlake; and his death was not accidental. If he had been found dead in the room of Barnes, it might have been bad—perhaps. No, that wasn't it. What the devil was behind it? Marie Nicolas had warned him. Something was up.
A bar of brighter light across the dim-lit hall as a room door opened. A figure appeared. It was Anne Warren; a light silk gown was flung over her pyjamas. She came close to him, smiling, eager.
"Oh! I was reading; I heard your voice," she said frankly. "I had to thank you for—for everything. It was just like you said. Things went off all right."
"Naturally they did," said Barnes. "All's well, then?"
"Perfect." Under the thrust of his eyes, she flushed a little. She was lovely, adorably lovely, ash-blond hair framing her face like spun glitter of moonlight. He was conscious again of her warm friendliness, of her appeal. All unconscious that she was actually brushing against him, she looked into his face and smiled.
"Perfect," she repeated. "Thanks to your advice. I can never forget it. If it hadn't been for you—well, I don't know what would have happened, Mr. Barnes. You see, I don't even speak French very well! And guess what's happened? Tomorrow afternoon I'm to see Santos Fleurien!"
"Who's he?" asked Barnes. "Oh, I remember! The pianist. Is that right?"
"The greatest piano teacher in the world!" she exclaimed, her eyes dancing. "But I'll have to get an interpreter. He doesn't speak English, and my French is awful. And if he takes a dislike to me, he won't even think of taking me as a pupil, so I'll have to have somebody—oh! Why not you? Could you go with me and talk to him?"
"Of course," and Barnes laughed. "But suppose I scared him off? He might take a dislike to me."
"No danger," she returned. Then her face fell. "But you have business—and I'm to be at his studio at two-thirty sharp—I can't let you spoil the whole afternoon—"
Barnes patted her hand. "My dear, it's a pleasure," he said, and impulse drifted on him. They were so close; her eyes were shining with so rich and friendly a light; he had the feeling that—
For an instant his lips touched hers; he felt the answering kiss, the swift, soft clinging of her arms, the yielding—then she was gone, laughing, gaily dancing away down the corridor with a wave of her hand. Her door closed.
BARNES went into his own room again, momentarily intoxicated. He went to the telephone and picked it up, and called a number. After a moment came response.
"Hello, Djissian! Still up, eh? In front of the hotel in ten minutes."
"Understood," came the response.
Barnes spread out a newspaper on his desk. He made a neat little bundle of the rubber stamp and ink-pad, the five telegrams, the letters he had received; he went to his desk and added a few things from it. Then he slipped rubber bands about the whole, and went downstairs, and out to the street.
The slim, dark figure of the young Armenian appeared there. Barnes handed him the package.
"Take care of this as usual. Tomorrow noon at the Wagram Café. Send word that another telegram will probably be sent tomorrow, noon, afternoon or evening, from the same place to Geneva. I must have a copy of it."
"Understood," murmured Djissian, and was gone down the street.
Barnes went back to his own room, undressed, and got into bed. The day's work was done. As to Fleming—well, he had already made up his mind that Fleming would not reach Paris alive.
The morning papers bore the word. An American business man, en route from Berlin by air, had died from heart failure. Barnes read the short account sadly. Out of all the little band which had started off so bravely a few months back, as diplomatic free-lances, he was almost alone now. A new deal in diplomacy, they had called it, putting themselves, their money, their abilities, to work, unrecognized by their country and with no official status. Barnes remained, and Marie Nicolas; but she was supposed to be in the pay of Italy. So she was, nominally.
"The old guard of spies, assassins, double-crossers and seducers has struck back pretty hard," thought Barnes. "We pulled off some good coups; and in return—well, murder is murder. And for the moment the Sphinx has 'em all jittery. No word about Protopoff, eh? Probably his body won't be found till this morning. That will make 'em all stop and think."
NO sign of Anne Warren that morning. At noon, Barnes was ensconced in a corner of the Café Wagram for an hour, writing letters, enjoying a leisurely luncheon, and transacting business of various natures. The adjoining table was occupied by an animated couple, utterly absorbed in their own love affair. When Barnes had finished his letters, certain of which bore the stamp of the Sphinx, he returned the rubber stamp and two of the letters to the next table.
"To be delivered personally," he said under his breath. His eyes roved about the sidewalk tables outside; at one of these sat a slim, phlegmatic Japanese. "That's the man at the corner outside table—he gets the one that has no address. A Jap. I don't know who he is. I'm leaving the hotel about two o'clock with a lady. Better have Eramian trail me. And you attend to trailing that Jap."
"Understood," came the brief word. Presently the couple rose and departed.
Barnes finished his luncheon, studying the list of Japanese in Paris, with all the notes which the Prefecture had on each. Diplomats, students, business folk; not very many, but of a high class as a rule. Like the Armenians here in France, the Japanese were usually of wealth, good birth, or education. At length, with a shake of his head, Barnes folded the list and pocketed it. His other letters he laid aside in a pile, to be posted at the tabac on the corner.
"That's the same chap who was tailing me last night," he reflected, with a glance at the brown man outside. "Now it's his turn. From the address to which he goes. I can make a good guess. And by evening, I'll probably have his name. These Armenians are devilish shrewd—Oriental against Oriental, this time!"
And he smiled thinly, a briefly cruel glint in his eye. He was still smiling when a stout gentleman swung in and took the adjoining table. As he sat down, his voice came briefly, rapidly.
"Police put him aboard the plane. The pilot was a distant relative of Baron von Bohm, whose wife is Dutch. The pilot was at von Bohm's apartment this morning and has left Le Bourget with his Fokker."
Barnes nodded. From his pocket he took a sealed letter that was addressed to Baron von Bohm, and laid it with the others to be mailed.
SANTOS FLEURIEN, the teacher of piano, was a man of massive build and wild tangled hair and beard. He was an untidy man, in an untidy, upstairs apartment above an old shop on the Quai des Agustins, not far from Notre Dame, on the left bank. He was very gracious to Barnes and to Anne Warren and belied his evident reputation by charming politeness.
His apartment was small, consisting only of a large studio room and a bedroom. While Anne Warren played two or three pieces at the grand piano, and the master listened with appraising mien, Barnes used his eyes.
"Good!" exclaimed the maestro with beaming approval. He shook hands heartily with the flushed, excited girl, and with Barnes. "Good! Begin your lessons tomorrow, my dear; at the same hour. Or stay! Monday, two-thirty. Eh? Agreed."
They departed. In the street below, Barnes beckoned a taxicab and put the girl in, congratulating her warmly.
"But it was all your clever speech," she protested. "Get in, get in! You're not coming back with me?"
"Sorry, my dear." Smiling, Barnes held her hand for a moment, met her lovely innocent eyes. "I must take the Metro to Auteuil immediately—the quickest way. We might dine together this evening, to celebrate the auspicious beginning; eh? Shall we meet, say, at seven-thirty?"
"At the hotel? Good." Impulsively, she drew him forward, pressed her lips to his for one laughing, excited instant. "There! I owe you so much; I can give so little! Until tonight, then, dear friend."
The taxicab rolled away. Barnes, striding toward the corner, watched until it was lost a block away—then turned swiftly and retraced his steps.
Little old shops were crowded flush against the narrow sidewalk. He came to the stairway mounting to the studio of the pianist; below it was a music shop with unwashed windows, and beyond a Japanese curio store, the windows filled with gaudy trinkets.
Barnes mounted the stairs, swiftly, lightly. Above, he did not ring the bell of the piano teacher, whose engraved card was tacked above it in lieu of a sign. He tried the door and found that it opened to his hand. He looked in, cautiously. The studio was empty. He stepped in. The door to the bedroom was closed. Barnes went to it, cautiously opened it, glanced in. The bedroom was empty.
Barnes crossed to an open desk near the window that overlooked the Seine. He stood there for an instant, then swung around as the telephone jingled. He caught up the receiver and imitated the gruff, heavy voice of the piano teacher.
"Well? What do you want?"
"Ah, Heinrich!" came a man's voice. "Listen; it is Karl. Something terrible has happened. Tell the baron that I've just received a note of warning from the Sphinx. I must see him this evening. I'll come up to the studio about seven-thirty."
"Good," said Barnes, and the other rang off.
HE glanced around the room, went to a large framed portrait set in the wall, and listened. With his knife, he deliberately cut the canvas at the edge of the heavy gilt frame, and set his ear to the slit. A murmur reached him; the voice of the piano teacher, but too far away to catch any words.
Barnes left the studio and descended again to the street, a feeling of exultation rising within him. Standing on the sidewalk, he produced and lit a cigarette, then waited. Heinrich, eh? Odd name for a piano teacher who called himself Santos Fleurian! Who was Karl? Obviously, the only person to whom the Sphinx had sent a warning note this day—Baron von Bohm.
"Getting warmer!" thought Barnes, as a taxicab curved in to the curb.
He stepped into the taxicab and found Eramian on the back seat.
"Any word from Djissian?"
"Yes. The Japanese he followed, who followed you, was the clerk in the curio shop back yonder. He is now back at work there."
Barnes still had his list of the Japanese in Paris. In a moment, he came upon the name of the proprietor of that shop on the Quai des Agustins—one Harunobi, who was an art dealer, had been in Paris three years, was unmarried. The next name was that of his clerk, Sanjei Michito.
Leaning back, Barnes closed his eyes. He mentally juggled the bewildering array of facts, pieces in this game of chess which meant life or death. Baron von Bohm, who had caused the murder of poor Fleming; who had caused the murder of that fellow in Anne Warren's room. Why in that room? By mistake? Not a bit of it.
"Drive to the Prefecture," he told Eramian. "There, try and get hold of Flandreau, special agent of the Sûreté. At once!"
Eramian gave the orders. Barnes closed his eyes again, juggled anew.
Von Bohm was in cahoots with Westlake and just now was scared by the note from the Sphinx. Karl—that was von Bohm. Heinrich—who was Heinrich, if not Santos Fleurien, the great pianist? And who, then, was the baron whom Karl von Bohm must see at the studio this same evening?
Ah! Of course. As the cab halted, Barnes opened his eyes, sat up, and stared at the outer precincts of the ominous Prefecture. Eramian had disappeared up the stairs.
AFTER a moment the Armenian reappeared, hurriedly, and came to the taxicab.
"He is coming."
"Then disappear," said Barnes. "Reach Djissian immediately. He is keeping five telegrams; have him copy them, without names of the addressee, and bring the copies to the hotel—at once! Haste is imperative. I'll be waiting downstairs. Tell him that the moment the sixth telegram is sent, this afternoon or evening, to rush it to the hotel."
"Understood," said the dark man, and faded away into the passing throng. A minute later the brisk, precise figure of Flandreau appeared. Barnes was standing beside the cab, and Flandreau came up to him.
"Ah, mon ami! You wish to see me?"
"If you're free. Yes? Then come along." Barnes spoke to the cab driver. "To the Hôtel Vignon. Wait outside; perhaps for a long time."
In the cab, Flandreau surveyed the American narrowly.
"You look uneasy, my friend. I suppose you know nothing of the latest escapade of our mutual friend the Sphinx? In connection with the demise of a certain Protopoff?"
"How should I know anything about it?" Barnes shrugged. "Flandreau, I'm in a hole; I need your help. I'm gambling on certain information reaching me today."
"I am at your service," said Flandreau. "Presumably, you know what happened to Fleming? I have been unable to reach you—"
"I know, yes. But there is something you failed to tell me." Barnes got out his list of names and pointed to that of Harunobi. "This art dealer is a Japanese noble, a baron. What is his real name?"
"I do not know," said Flandreau. A flame rose in his eyes. "Ah! You cannot mean—"
"He is the man higher up," Barnes said simply. "Chew on that."
THE vehicle passed the Madeleine, turned into the little Rue Vignon, and halted before the hotel. Two men were standing beside the entrance—two men, smoking, gesticulating, discussing something or other with much vehemence. As Flandreau passed in ahead of him, one of these men spoke; Barnes paused, took the paper thrust at him.
"The telegram, m'sieu'. It was sent half an hour ago."
The paper burned in his hand as Barnes followed Flandreau inside. Westlake had taken the bait! Marie Nicolas had sent the wire from Geneva—and Westlake had fallen for it! Then his sister in Geneva must, even now, be hard at work decoding that message.
Barnes got his key and spoke to the proprietor at the desk.
"Mademoiselle Warren has returned?"
"But yes, m'sieu', half an hour ago."
With a jerk of his head to Flandreau, Barnes sought the stairs. The two men strode down the hall. Barnes was laughing. He turned suddenly, at his door, and spoke loudly, his voice ringing with triumph.
"Flandreau, I tell you I'll have everything! The papers will be in my hands at seven-thirty tonight! It's the most important thing that ever broke, I believe. The full reports, with names, addresses, everything."
"Mon Dieu! Are you mad?" murmured the Frenchman. Barnes winked at him.
"No, no. I've a dinner engagement at eight. With a lady—the most charming lady imaginable! I'll have everything with me. Suppose I drop in after dinner at the Prefecture—say, at nine or a little after?"
"Very well," said Flandreau, and passed into the room as Barnes held open the door. He swung around, as Barnes followed him and the door slammed.
"Hello! So you suspect spies about, do you?"
Barnes nodded. "Of course. Sit down for a moment, till I make a copy of this."
He went to his desk, opened it, copied the telegram; it was addressed to Westlake's sister in Geneva, like the others. When he had finished, he gave the copy to Flandreau.
"Hang on to that; I'll have others for you in a few moments. I want you to send them all to Colonel d'Aleyne, with word to expect the key words from me at any moment. Have you a messenger close by?"
"I can summon one, yes," said Flandreau, frowning.
"Do so, then," and Barnes pointed to the telephone. "You and I are going to make a social call, as soon as you send these to d'Aleyne."
FLANDREAU telephoned. Barnes led him downstairs again, and scarcely had they reached the little office than Djissian appeared. Without a word he handed Barnes an envelope, and departed. In the envelope were copies of the five telegrams.
"What the devil!" exclaimed Flandreau. "Is all Paris serving you?"
"Of course," and Barnes laughed a little. "Clumsy but efficient. I carry nothing that would make my death worth while. Now, the moment your man arrives, we can be on our way."
"Where?" demanded Flandreau.
"To see Baron von Bohm. I want him removed from activity."
"What? And spoil all my careful plans—"
"Your plans be damned. I told you he's only a figurehead. Don't you know Japan is mixing in European politics? Don't you know that she wants a monarchy restored in Germany, so that Russia may be—"
"For God's sake hold your tongue," burst out Flandreau, with a startled glance at the proprietor behind the desk.
Barnes chuckled, and flung a look at the dark, swarthy hotel man.
"My dear Flandreau, the gentleman yonder is an Armenian. One may always trust Armenians—"
"Always? Never! Never!" muttered Flandreau. "What do you want to do? Raid von Bohm's apartment?"
"Immediately. Before the Sphinx has a chance to kill him."
"Oh!" said Flandreau, and blinked rapidly. "Upon my word, you may be right! We can arrest von Bohm at any time, of course—"
"Then let's do it. Now."
VON BOHM was a suave, courteous gentleman who accepted his arrest with a shrug. In his pocket was found a note signed with the red emblem of the Sphinx:
You have twenty-four hours to leave France. Return and you follow Protopoff.
Flandreau, lifted his eyebrows over this. Barnes gave the prisoner a smile.
"So you won't keep your appointment with the baron this evening, eh? Or with Heinrich, either? I fear the baron will blame you for carelessness, friend Karl."
The German's jaw fell at this.
"Herr Gott!" he exclaimed in amazement. "If Baron Hayashi—" Then he realized the trap, and stopped. Too late. Barnes grinned.
"Baron Hayashi, eh? Much obliged. Now for the telephone."
The afternoon was half gone. None the less, when he got the embassy on the wire, he found Westlake there.
"Barnes speaking, Westlake. Look here, if you'll be free for a bit this evening, I'd like to get hold of you. Something's come up that might be of great interest to you. Would you be able to drop in at the Hôtel Vignon—say about nine? Thanks very much."
He hung up, glanced at his watch, and nodded genially to Flandreau.
"Sorry; I must run. Better keep him incommunicado until morning, Flandreau. You're returning to the Sûreté? There's just a chance that I may want to reach you in a hurry."
"I'll be there until seven," said Flandreau. Barnes met the frowning gaze of the unhappy Baron von Bohm, saluted him, and departed.
Upon reaching the hotel, Barnes was surprised to find Eramian waiting in the office. This was unusual; except at his order, his men were to avoid the hotel.
"You here? Anything wrong?"
When his door was shut, Barnes took the telegram Eramian handed him. It was quite incomprehensible, being in Armenian. He glanced up inquiringly.
"From my uncle in Berlin, Mr. Barnes. Announcements of your sudden death in Paris have been prepared and sent out to all Nazi newspapers for publication tomorrow."
"So? Just as they did before Dollfuss died so suddenly, eh? In that case they were correct in their prophecy," murmured Barnes.
Eramian was agitated. "I must warn you not to ignore this," he said anxiously. "God knows, your life is essential to the work. If they plan to kill you tonight—"
"It is because they expect to profit by it, to get important papers or other information from me," and Barnes smiled. "Old man, you're right. Tonight we make a cleanup—I hope. It's a gamble. Be outside in your cousin's taxicab with three other men at seven-thirty. I'll give you an address; all five of you go there. You should find two, or at most three, men who are waiting to kill me. Instead—kill them. As for the consequences, that's your gamble. It'll mean no more than a few days in jail, if that much. Are you willing or not?"
"Yes," said Eramian. "But you—"
"I'll be elsewhere. This time, the Sphinx strikes, and strikes hard; it's a matter of life or death, so let them look to it!" Barnes was hard, cold, stern. "They've chosen the weapons of murder, and I'll meet 'em halfway. I want Djissian and three or four other men on the Quai des Agustins at eight o'clock, with a taxicab waiting. At the same place I visited this afternoon. Let them be ready for anything. Have you an ink-pad and rubber stamp of the Sphinx? Give it to me." Eramian handed over a little packet which he had carried in readiness. Then he departed.
SCARCELY had he gone, when the garçon of the hotel came to the room with two telegrams. Barnes tore at one; it was from the American ambassador in London.
Much disquieted over confidential reports from English sources. Urge you to be very watchful.
Smiling a little, Barnes tore at the other. Then he started; a glow came into his eyes. This was a longer message, also in English:
Sunday love obey fear palm over hand rate please be careful heard rumors today am uneasy.
It was signed by the name Marie Nicolas used in communicating with him. Here under his hand were the key words—one for each day of the week beginning with Sunday. In a flame of exultation, Barnes caught up his telephone and called Flandreau at the Sûreté. Presently he had the French agent on the wire.
"Barnes speaking. Take down these seven words: the first is for Sunday. Please get them to Colonel d'Aleyne instantly," and he repeated the words. "Mon ami, did you ever hear of Benedict Arnold? I perceive you have. I invite you to be in my hotel room a little before nine tonight—about eight forty-five. I'll either be dead or be there by nine. And you may profit by the occasion. Eh?"
He laughed and hung up. His thoughts went to Marie Nicolas, exultantly.
"Ah! What a girl, what a girl! She came through magnificently. She can do miracles, that girl. Rumors in London, rumors in Geneva, press reports in Berlin tomorrow of my death—hm! I'm an important person all of a sudden. Charteris murdered, Fleming murdered, Barnes murdered; then they'd have a clear field again. So Westlake used a four-letter key word for each day of the week, eh? Just as d'Aleyne thought. But now we must make sure that Mr. Barnes has the information they want—"
He took down the telephone again, for some time gave directions, then hung up and left the room and the hotel. He went straight to the café on the corner of the Grand Boulevards, took a conspicuous table.
Presently a man appeared, a handsomely dressed, bearded man, who came to Barnes' table, shook hands, and sat down. He produced a large envelope, heavily sealed. Barnes counted out a thick sheaf of thousand-franc notes and in exchange took the envelope. He broke the seals, glanced at the contents, and shook hands again delightedly. The other departed. Barnes stowed the envelope in his inside pocket and buttoned his coat. Then he ordered a few sandwiches, despite his dinner engagement, and ate them. It was close to seven o'clock when he went back to the hotel, sought his room, and dressed for the evening. Not in evening dress, however. He donned black tie and tuxedo, and in the coat pocket slipped what looked like an automatic pistol—but was not.
The heavily sealed envelope he threw into his waste basket.
PROMPTLY at seven twenty-nine he stepped down the corridor and rapped at the door of Anne Warren. The girl herself opened to him, with delighted greeting.
"You are prompt!" she exclaimed, with her air of eager happiness. "Where are we going?"
"That is for you to say," responded Barnes.
"All right. Do you mind taking me on an errand, first?" she asked. "It would be almost on our way—that is, if you're going to take me to that charming restaurant in the Bois that I've heard so much about. Are you?"
Barnes met her dancing eyes gravely. "I am, my dear, if you permit me. Where do we go first, then?"
"I just got word," and she indicated a letter on her dresser, "that some friends of the family are here. I must see them, just for a moment—just to introduce you, pay my respects, and arrange to see them tomorrow. They're in an apartment off the Avenue Mozart, in Auteuil. The address is 27, Bis, Rue Jasmin."
"That," said Barnes, "settles it."
"What do you mean?" she asked. "You don't mind stopping there?"
Barnes laughed a little, but behind the laughter his eyes were cold. He caught her by the shoulders, looked into her face.
"You're beautiful, my dear, beautiful!" he murmured. "The loveliest thing I've ever seen, I do believe—"
She yielded to him, her face lifted, her arms lowered. Then, swift as light, Barnes caught her two wrists, brought them behind her back, caught them together in one hand. From his cuff he jerked a handkerchief; even as her face changed, as a sharp little cry broke from her, he had the handkerchief knotted about her wrists. From his coat pocket he took a larger handkerchief, this time of silk. He wound it about her mouth, forced her jaws open, forced in the handkerchief, tied it securely.
She struggled furiously the while. She was helpless against his strength, against the surprise of his attack. He forced her back violently into the depths of a chair, then uttered a sharp exclamation. Catching one shoulder of her filmy gown, he tore it away—to reveal, bedded against the silken covering of her breast, a tiny pistol. Barnes took the little weapon and pocketed it.
He paid no heed to the agonized, furious stare of her dilated eyes, to her incoherent sounds. From the corner he brought several towels, and tied her securely in the chair.
"You forget, my dear, that my life is far more important to me than your beauty, modesty or welfare," he observed, and glanced at the letter on the dresser. "No fake, eh? Your attention to detail is almost Teutonic, my dear young lady. Only one thing was wrong. When that fellow was killed in here, the wound in his head did not fit the projections at the foot of your bed. Next time, pay more attention to such things. Au revoir! I'll be back later."
He turned out the lights, locked the door, and departed—taking the key.
He left the hotel. A taxicab was to the right of the entrance; he heard the voice of Eramian, and went to it. He had brought the girl's letter.
"They were kind enough to write the address; here it is. Third B, at 27, Bis, Rue Jasmin. In Auteuil. Good luck! I'll be here after nine—you may come openly."
The taxi departed, with another in its wake. Barnes strode briskly onto the boulevards, hailing a cruising taxicab, and went to the Quai des Agustins.
There, he paid off the man a block from his destination, and approached this afoot. The Japanese curio shop was dark. Everything was dark. Barnes mounted the stairs and knocked softly at the door of Santos Fleurien, the music teacher. No answer. No light from beneath the door. He pressed hard, threw his weight on it; the ancient door gave.
All was dark. Barnes stepped in, remembering the big room perfectly; then a laugh came to his lips. Why, of course! The pianist had gone to Rue Jasmin—he recollected the massive, burly fellow. Just the man for such work. So much the worse for him!
Crossing to the painting which he had tapped that afternoon, he took out his knife and attacked it. No time to seek the hidden door itself—the canvas would do. A long slit, and he ventured a look. A room, its walls hung with shelves, porcelains in evidence; Oriental, Japanese. Barnes slit the canvas further. The lighted room beyond was empty. Stairs to the left—descending to the curio shop, no doubt.
He held aside the canvas and stepped through. Somewhere a telephone rang. A voice responded, in the clipped syllables of a Japanese speaking French. A stroke of luck, this. Barnes crossed to a doorway hung with a curtain, pressed this slightly aside, looked into a larger room where a man sat at a desk. A gorgeous Oriental room. The man, a Japanese, was absorbed in his telephone conversation. A slim man, handsome, energetic. On the desk before him was a typewriter, on which he had been at work.
Barnes compressed his lips; then took from his pocket the pistol that was not a pistol. He lifted it and aimed steadily. There was slight sound, a "plop" as of compressed air. Something struck the typewriter, burst, and was gone—it was like the breaking of a capsule.
THE Japanese swung around, startled by the sound. Barnes dropped the curtain for a moment. Then he stole a look. The Japanese was trying to rise, clutching at his throat. He had replaced the telephone on its rack. Back into the chair fell the man.
Barnes hurried forward. The gas was swift and sure, but not lethal. After an hour, two hours, Baron Hayashi would recover; on the morrow he would be himself again. That is, if he still lived on the morrow. Japanese of his quality were not inclined to outlive a crushing defeat.
In his hip pocket, Barnes carried a protective mask of impregnated gauze sewed in a handkerchief; he had it out already, was knotting it about his mouth and nostrils as he advanced. It fitted snugly. One glance at the closely written report Hayashi had been making on the typewriter, at the two sheets already typed, and Barnes caught these up. Then he frisked the unconscious man.
Letters, notebook, thin rice-paper cables—everything went in a pile. He turned to the desk, shot open the drawers, went through them rapidly, thoroughly. The pile grew. An automatic, he laid close to hand; Hayashi was not alone in the place, obviously. On the floor was an open brief-case; into it Barnes stuffed everything that he found.
"Looks like a cleanup and no mistake," he reflected jubilantly.
For a moment he stooped above Baron Hayashi. When he rose, the olive forehead of the Japanese bore the scarlet insigne of the Sphinx, U. S. A. He looked at it, nodded—then heard a startled gasp.
He whirled, and in the same motion reached for the automatic. A curtain had been brushed aside. Another Japanese stood there, eyes distended—the same man who had been following him that morning. A pistol whipped up.
Barnes fired, the fraction of a second before the other shot rang out.
Two minutes later, he was stumbling down the studio stairs into the dark street where assistance awaited him.
TEN minutes to nine.
Barnes flung open the door of his room at the hotel. Flandreau was there, awaiting him. He tossed his brief-case to the bed and looked down at his right hand. Blood was dripping from his fingers. Flandreau uttered a sharp exclamation and sprang forward.
"Thanks. Lend a hand, like a good chap," said Barnes coolly. "Hurts like hell."
He stripped off coat and shirt and revealed a double hurt. The bullet had ripped across his right arm, also across the ribs. An inch more to the left and the lung would have been punctured.
"No use asking questions, I suppose?" said Flandreau caustically, as he contrived a bandage from the bathroom medicine chest.
"Save your breath," and Barnes laughed.
"I've been trying to reach you for two hours. I've got those messages that Colonel d'Aleyne has decoded."
"Right. No time to lose. Help me into the shirt—thanks. Coat's ripped; won't be noticed. Damn that tie!" Barnes was working rapidly as he spoke. Shirt and collar, vest, coat, black tie. He whirled on the Frenchman. "Quick! The messages!"
Flandreau produced them. Barnes glanced at them. The one which he had first shown Colonel d'Aleyne was worked out in full:
E E T E K C X K I U 4 7 T K O U
T E X T O F G O L D A C C O R D
O B 6 P 6 J Q P F 4 I 5 A 5 6 0
S E N T B Y U S U A L M E A N S
Text of Gold Accord sent by usual means.
Barnes selected this from the others, put it in a separate pocket.
"We've got him," he said quietly. He motioned to the brief-case. "There's Hayashi's half-written code report to his government, letters, cables—everything he had. You and I will go through it a little later. You'll find interesting payment for your alliance with me. Satisfied?"
"Mon Dieu! Are you in earnest?" cried the amazed Frenchman. Barnes held up his arm.
"Does this look like a joke? That's not all. You may have to get some friends of mine out of jail in the morning—ah! That must be from them."
The telephone rang. He answered. It was Eramian.
"Three men there, m'sieu'. They remain. Two of us are hurt, not badly. Shall I come to the hotel? I think we got away unobserved."
"No. I don't need you, thanks. The usual place, tomorrow."
He glanced at Flandreau with a thin smile. "I fancy you'll not have to get 'em out of jail after all. You'll find a mess in Auteuil, however. I was to have been murdered there tonight. You'd best arrange to investigate everyone found there. However, we've other business on hand."
A STEP outside, a sharp tap on the door. Flandreau threw his hands and eyes to heaven, murmuring something about the accursed energy of these Americans. Barnes opened the door to admit Westlake, who was in correct evening attire, even to a high silk hat.
"Ah, come in, Westlake! Do you know Flandreau—no? Of the Sûreté. Sit down and make yourself comfortable. Very good of you to come."
Westlake bowed to Flandreau, and settled himself in a chair. He was cool, wary, with an urbane, polished air.
"By the way," he observed, "there's a charming girl from home at this hotel. I knew her family—she's over here to study music. I must look her up."
"Waste of time," said Barnes curtly.
Westlake's brows lifted. "Eh? I don't get you, old chap."
"What I mean is, you've got no time to waste," and Barnes handed him the separate decoded message. "Cast your eye over that."
Westlake did so. His features did not change. A slow, mortal pallor crept into them, but he did not flinch. His gaze lifted, puzzled, inquiring.
"Yes? I don't quite understand."
Barnes produced the other messages. "Look at these. The originals, in your writing, go to the Embassy in the morning. You may be aware that Baron von Bohm is under arrest; no? He coughed up everything. Anne Warren failed; she told everything. Baron Hayashi has told everything. Santos Fleurien and the two men with him can't tell; they're dead. Now, Mr. Benedict Arnold Junior, what about it?"
Westlake looked at the pistol in the hand of Barnes, Baron Hayashi's pistol. He put down the messages; his hand was steady. The pallor of his features had deepened to a livid hue.
"Apparently," he observed, and took a puff from his cigarette, "there's nothing for me to say."
"Your mistake." The voice of Barnes was crisp. "Mr. Flandreau, here, is just leaving; with you. He'll take you either to the Sûreté, if you prefer publicity and being turned over to the United States for trial; or else he'll accompany you to your apartment and leave you alone in your bedroom—for a few moments. Which?"
Westlake drew a deep breath.
"Very good of you," he said, "to give me the choice. I'd like to write a letter, yes, before I—retire. I appreciate the opportunity."
"Take this with you," and Barnes handed him the pistol, grimly. "And don't try any tricks; there'll be a dozen men watching you all the way home, and around your apartment house. Good-by. Flandreau, you don't mind? If you'll return here later, we'll split Baron Hayashi's stuff fifty-fifty."
Flandreau, who looked uncomfortable, bowed and departed with Westlake, silently.
A DEEP breath escaped Barnes. His shoulders sagged; in utter relaxation, the tension gone, he looked years older. He was suddenly weary, mentally weary. He moved over to the dresser, got out a bottle of whiskey, and poured a drink.
"Done!" he muttered, as he downed the liquor. "Done—all of it. A cleanup. Good God, how the Sphinx has struck—right and left, like a fiend! He'll be remembered for this night's work. They'll not try murder again in a hurry. Hayashi will commit suicide, or else get out. Westlake should go to Leavenworth; but he's better off dead, and a scandal avoided. We've got everything; we've wiped the slate clean. A great job!"
He sank into a chair, wiped sweat from his forehead. His hand, drifting to his pocket, touched something; a key. The key to Anne Warren's room. He sprang to his feet.
"Ah!" He hesitated at the door. "After all, she's a damned beautiful creature. Surely the Sphinx can pardon as well as strike—surely! Perhaps Westlake told the truth. Perhaps he did know her family in America; she must have lived there. Perhaps she and Westlake—ah!"
He started at the thought. Could that be it? Had she persuaded Westlake to his course of treachery? A handsome fellow, Westlake. A lovely girl, this. A smile, half of pity, touched his lips. He put out his hand to the door.
"Yes. Let the Sphinx be kind, be merciful—for once."
And he was gone toward the girl's room.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.