Robin Grey is Scotland Yard’s inside man. He handles matters which require a delicacy and secrecy outside the jurisdiction of regular government offices. While lurking about Waterloo station on a mission for the Foreign Office, Grey’s interest is piqued by a suspicious character. And those suspicions are confirmed when Grey sees the man shove a passenger onto the train tracks. Rushing to save the victim, Grey now finds himself ensnared in the same sinister plot.
Heiress Jennifer Fern is cursed: Tragic accidents have claimed two past fiancés, and she would have lost a third had it not been for Robin Grey’s heroic actions. Undeniably drawn to this tormented young woman, Grey feels honor-bound to help her. Tempting fate, he goes undercover to solve this deadly mystery. But can Grey protect her, and his own heart, before history repeats itself?
The queen of classic, Margery Allingham delivers an “excellent, ace high story” writing as Maxwell March (Kirkus Reviews).
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About the Author
Date of Birth:May 20, 1904
Date of Death:June 30, 1966
Place of Birth:London
Place of Death:Colchester, Essex, England
Education:Endsleigh House School, Colchester; the Perse School, Cambridge; and the Regent Street Polytechnic, London
Read an Excerpt
Accident or Murder?
THERE are few places more romantic, more exciting, more subtly sinister than the arrival platform of a great London station just after midnight, when the ordinary work of the day is done and the terminus sleeps fitfully under half-lights, waiting, one eye open, for the night boat train from the Continent.
The young man in the raincoat standing in the shadow of a closed bookstall thought so at any rate, and his mild brown eyes twinkled as he glanced down the concrete way where sleepy porters and a handful of anxious relatives or faithful friends awaited passengers from the train.
Robin Grey waited in the capacity neither of relative nor friend. His was a peculiar mission, but then he was a peculiar person. There were a good many people in London who would have given a great deal to learn the exact standing of that sturdy thickset figure with the fair hair, cherubic face, and mild, friendly expression. The most his friends knew of him was that he was a bachelor, the owner of a smart flat in the Adelphi, that he possessed a reasonable income and had been known on occasions to become involved in adventures which would have whitened the hair of any ordinary private detective.
But there were others, prominent people, people in the know, who recognized Robin Grey for what he was, one of the most valuable men in the complicated machinery of civil administration which controls the underworld of Europe.
A brilliant Home Secretary had realized that there arise sometimes matters requiring delicacy, secrecy, and integrity, which do not come under the jurisdiction of Scotland Yard, the C. I. D., or the Home Office, but which fall somewhere between the three, and it was for precisely these affairs that the curious unofficial post held by Mr. Grey was created. His friend, Inspector Whybrow of the Yard, called him "the man of dangerous secrets," and the inspector was not a person notorious for overstatement.
Robin was not bound by any officialdom. His net was thrown far and wide, and sometimes it was from private clients that his most valuable secrets came, secrets which smashed dope rings and broke gangs of international thieves.
He was still young, barely thirty-two, and on the whole he looked younger, for there was something boyish in his smile, something misleadingly innocent and bland in his expression of polite inquiry.
This habit of meeting the boat train at Waterloo was growing on him, he reflected. In his experience so many strange stories began from just this point. For nearly a month now he had been waiting every night to meet someone in whom the Foreign Office were peculiarly interested. So far this doubtful visitor had not come.
He had been waiting on the station for perhaps fifteen minutes when he first noticed the man in the interpreter's cap. The stooping, somewhat seedy figure passed him at a leisurely stride and went on into the misty yellow gloom at the other end of the platform.
Robin studied the back of this individual with interest. One of Mr. Grey's most useful gifts, and one which his friend the inspector privately considered was an advanced form of second sight, was the instinctive ability to detect a disguise, however simple or elaborate, at sight. Most of the people on the platform wore oldish clothes, but they presented nothing out of the ordinary to the young man who looked on at humanity through such a microscope of special knowledge.
But the man in the uniform of an interpreter was different. Robin knew at a glance that the frayed blue serge trousers were not bagged by the knees which they now covered; the disconsolate ruck on the shoulders was not quite in the right place; the cap, greasy on the band, was some inches away from the collar which should have caused the shininess.
He was interested at once. It was details like these which always roused his attention, and he sauntered down the platform after the man.
He passed him and came back so that he could see the face beneath the peak.
To the ordinary observer the man was typical; clean-shaven, slightly pale, a little bored-looking, a bulky sheaf of papers in his unmanicured hand and a weary shuffle in his walk. But as soon as Robin caught sight of him the customary urbanity which was almost second nature with the young man was almost visibly disrupted. One of Robin's other gifts, which was almost part of the first, had been called into use. The young man's memory for faces was proverbial among those men who made such a memory part of their business. He saw people as a camera sees them, searchingly, relentlessly. Twins who confused their own relations were completely different in his eyes; a facial trick or mannerism was never lost upon him.
Nevertheless he walked down to the full length of the station and back again to catch one more glimpse of the strange interpreter before he was satisfied. Then he returned to his position in the shadow of the bookstall and blinked.
It was incredible, but it was true. He was certain of it.
At that first glance he had been inclined to believe his powers were deserting him or that he was suffering from unsuspected nervous hallucinations. The second time had convinced him that what he saw was a reality.
The man masquerading as an interpreter was Ferdinand Shawle, the chairman of the United Metropolitan Bank & Trust Company, one of the wealthiest and most important men in the city of London.
There was no doubt at all about the fact in his mind after that second glance, but the explanation eluded him. At first he was inclined to suspect a wager of some sort, but after some reflection he decided that Sir Ferdinand Shawle was the last person on earth to undertake any such undignified escapade. He was a man notoriously without humour, a man whose type is mercifully becoming extinct in the realms of high finance. His career had been one long story of a forceful personality unhampered by scruples or by any weakness which kind-heartedness or charity might have dictated, smashing its way through to the top with complete disregard of all obstacles. His courage was a byword, but although there were business men who professed to admire him and many who were frankly afraid of him, there was none who could profess to like him for himself or for any disinterested action.
In view of all this, his appearance in this ingenious disguise was bewildering in the extreme. Robin was puzzled, and as usual on these occasions, his interest, at once his chief asset and his chief charm, was roused to fever pitch. He edged towards the man as the train came thundering into the station.
Instantly the great station came to life, the sleepy porters forgot their weariness, the strip of platform which had been as stark and desolate as a suburban pavement on early-closing day became miraculously crowded. Time-hardened travellers set about disembarking themselves and their luggage with methodical ease. Sleepy, irritable tourists, home after an unusual holiday, became hysterical, lost themselves, their children, and their baggage a dozen times in five minutes.
Robin kept his eyes fixed upon the man in the interpreter's cap. His own quarry was temporarily forgotten. The man hovered uncertainly. Once or twice he forgot the role he was playing, and when an excited elderly lady seized him by the arm in mistake for a porter he brushed her aside abruptly.
Robin, watching him, saw him stiffen suddenly, however, and advance down the platform. The young man followed, and presently he saw his objective.
A young man had descended from one of the first-class carriages and now stood talking to someone within. He was an attractive type, very fair, tall, and good-looking, with that profusion of graces which nature sometimes bestows upon the older aristocracy.
"Wait here, all of you, and I'll find the luggage and a porter."
The voice was pleasant and controlled. The man in the interpreter's cap quickened his step, and, as the boy came out into the crowd, moved back a little, making an oasis to which the youngster naturally gravitated.
The next thing that happened took place with such incredible swiftness and seemed so utterly illogical and unlikely in the circumstances that Robin, who had seen many strange sights, could scarcely credit his own eyes.
The man in the peaked cap went up to the boy and thrust the bundle of papers he carried into his face. Robin, who was behind, caught the youngster's startled expression changing to one of annoyance, and then without warning to one of blank surprise as he put up his hand to his face and staggered back a little.
Even while Robin looked, the colour drained from his cheeks and he reeled. The interpreter caught him by the arm with a husky, "Now then, sir, look out! What's up?" which somehow had not quite the right intonation, and led him out of the way of a porter with a barrow, who had been held up by the momentary delay.
The young man staggered. He stretched out his hands blindly. One or two people turned to glance at him, but the crowd swept them on, and the man in the peaked cap thrust an arm round the boy's waist and hustled him across the platform.
Robin followed. He could hear the badly simulated whine continuing: "You're all right, sir, you're all right. Come along now. Easy there."
And then in a flash it happened.
The platform was very narrow at this point. It was also overcrowded, and on the opposite side to the boat train was an unoccupied suburban electric line.
As the two men reached the edge of the concrete way, the man in the cap stumbled, and as he was then supporting the full weight of the younger man they both slipped to the ground. The man in the interpreter's cap dropped to his knees on the concrete, but his protégé was pitched forward onto the suburban line, where he lay floundering.
Robin felt a thrill of horror run down his spine. The boy's hand was a few inches from the live pick-up rail. Should he touch it, death must be instantaneous. With the swiftness which always seemed extraordinary for a man of his bulk, Robin dropped onto the line and drew the younger man back to safety.
It was a ticklish job. The youngster was heavy, the perilous line very near, but Robin was sufficiently used to situations where prompt and sure action was essential to keep his head. Moreover, something had aroused him. When he had first bent over the boy he had noticed something which had at once confirmed his suspicions and added to his mystification: the sweet, sickly, unmistakable smell of chloroform.
Meanwhile, the incident had aroused attention. There was a deep crowd on the platform. Excited railway officials had appeared as if by magic.
"For heaven's sake be careful, sir!" The red face of a terrified porter was thrust into Robin's own as he forced his unconscious burden onto the platform. Willing hands drew the boy onto the concrete way, and with care Robin followed him.
The confusion was tremendous, and the excited jabber which surrounds any accident had broken out, shrill and incessant.
Robin was explaining as best he could to an excited group that neither he nor the stranger was drunk or suicidal, when the crowd parted and a girl flung herself on her knees beside the prostrate boy, who now showed signs of recovering consciousness.
"Oh, Tony, Tony, what's happened?"
Her voice had a ring of real terror in it, and Robin turned to look at her.
At that moment she raised her eyes and met his own, and for the first time in his life Robin Grey felt an inexplicable thrill at the sight of a woman's face. It was not that she was merely lovely. He had seen great grey eyes and regular features in an oval face before, but here was something different. The face that looked into his own had the calm, tranquil loveliness of a great masterpiece. He could not tell what colour her hair was, whether her lips were painted, whether she was short or tall, but he knew that he had seen true beauty suddenly manifest before him in the chill dinginess of Waterloo Station.
For a moment he forgot everything else and stood looking at her, but the boy on the ground had begun to stir, and in an instant she had bent over him again. Robin pulled himself together as his mind clicked back to the business in hand.
Far down the platform he caught a glimpse of a peaked cap hastening away towards the exit, and, brushing aside the bewildered officials who were trying to question him, keep back the crowd, and revive the boy at the same time, he plunged off through the press after the retreating figure.
As he ran, his mind worked furiously. The papers had concealed a chloroform spray, then. The stumble had been clumsily simulated. It would not have deceived a child. But why in the name of everything extraordinary should the whole incredible incident have taken place at all?
He was held up by a porter just inside the barrier and had the chagrin of seeing the peaked cap disappear down the subway. He vaulted a pile of trunks, to the astonishment of their charge, and rushed after his quarry.
In the long underground way to the road he saw the peaked cap again. It was moving swiftly now.
Once again fate hindered him. The suitcase of a man in front of him suddenly burst open, and he stepped aside involuntarily to avoid the shower of linen and toilet accessories which were poured at his feet. When he looked up again, the peaked cap had disappeared.
He came out of the station into the dank, ill-lit Waterloo Road just in time to see the back of a sleek, noiseless limousine gliding swiftly out into the stream of traffic over the bridge.
Robin Grey walked back to his flat through the cold bright night. It was useless to return to the station platform now. If the Foreign Office's visitor had arrived, he had come in unseen, and as for the victim of the extraordinary attack he had just witnessed, Robin had no desire to receive profuse thanks. The explanation of the story, he felt, was not there; the boy had been too surprised, too completely unprepared for the attack.
He walked slowly, pondering the problem thrust so unceremoniously under his nose. In cold blood the facts were incredible, but experience had taught him that the incredible does sometimes occur.
Once he paused and swore at himself softly, for through the mesh of clearly balanced thought which he should have applied to this problem, as he did to every other, he was haunted by the face of a girl, a girl lovely beyond all imagining, with stark terror in her wide grey eyes.CHAPTER 2
AT FOUR o'clock on the following afternoon Robin sat at his desk in his small study in the Adelphi flat and looked at a paragraph in the folded newspaper in front of him. He had noticed it first early that morning, and all through the day his eyes had returned to it. As he read it through again, a frown spread over his forehead, and a puzzled expression crept again into his mild brown eyes.
"TRAGIC HEIRESS AGAIN." The headline topped a news paragraph. "An unpleasant incident marred the return of Miss Jennifer Fern to London last night after her holiday on the Riviera with a party of young people, when one of their number, Mr. Tony Bellew, became giddy upon the arrival platform at Waterloo and accidentally fell onto an electrified suburban line. Had it not been for the timely assistance of a fellow traveller, as yet unidentified, Mr. Bellew must have floundered onto the live rail and become electrocuted.
"Miss Fern has been called 'the tragic heiress.' Her engagement to Mr. Richard Grey in 1929 was ended by the latter's death later on in the same year, when his fishing boat was accidentally capsized by a steam yacht three days before his wedding should have taken place. In 1931 it was announced that a marriage would take place between Miss Fern and Mr. Philip Crawford, but by a tragic coincidence this romance was also ended by death. Mr. Crawford lost his life motoring in the Alpes Maritimes in the autumn of the same year, when his body was discovered by the side of his car in a ravine not far from the famous Col de Breuil.
"When our correspondent called on Miss Fern at her hotel this morning she denied that there was ever any likelihood of an engagement between herself and Mr. Bellew."
It was an extraordinary story. The more he thought of it the more extraordinary it became.
He was still pondering over it when the miracle happened. Mrs. Phipps, his housekeeper, came trotting into the room in a palpable flutter, her prim coiffure disarranged and two bright spots of colour in her faded cheeks.
"A lady to see you, Mr. Robin."
Had Mrs. Phipps announced that a boa constrictor awaited him she could not have sounded more concerned, and somehow or other he knew whom to expect, so that he was standing by his desk conscious of an odd breathlessness which no other visitor had ever aroused in him when she came in.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Man of Dangerous Secrets"
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