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8: Colonel Malloy

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Author Topic: 8: Colonel Malloy  (Read 41 times)
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« on: April 17, 2023, 12:44:09 pm »

ACTING Sergeant Freddy Strang was feeling thoroughly browned off. Twice the previous day he’d rung the Villa Paloma and asked to speak with Miss Westmacott and, on each occasion, he’d been told, evidently by some member of the domestic staff, that she was out. Freddy, in the hypersensitive stages of a first-class love affair, was naturally ready to believe the worst. No doubt about it---the girl, despite her extreme friendliness in the picture gallery, was now holding out on him. She’d instructed the maid to tell him a deliberate falsehood; perhaps smiling in the background as the snub winged to him like a barbed arrow over the wires. For the life of him Freddy couldn’t imagine what he’d done to offend her. Of course it was vile luck having to scratch that meeting on the casino terrace on account of the job over at Monte. But, confound it all, he’d been terribly apologetic about it. Surely she must have realized that it was just about the last thing he wanted to do?

By the time he dropped off to sleep that Saturday night Freddy had successfully plunged himself into a state of acute melancholia.

He woke early to be greeted by the usual clean-washed, shimmering rectangle of sky beyond the open shutters of his window. Somewhere below his hotel room a woman was singing---a gay, lilting air that rose and fell like a jet of crystal water. A little farther off the laughter of children echoed in the silence of the early morning streets. Farther off still, beyond the red pantiled roofs of the Old Town, a thin sweet peal of bells was summoning the godly to matins.

In a flash Freddy was out of bed, his overnight depression already routed by the onrush of his reviving optimism. Good heavens! What if Miss Westmacott really had been out when he rang? What if he’d maligned her? Wasn’t it little short of rank stupidity to throw up the sponge, so to speak, before the bell had rung for the end of the first round. Action! That’s what the situation demanded. Immediate and decisive action.

With the aid of a street map Freddy had already pinpointed the whereabouts of the Avenue St. Michel. Why shouldn’t he walk up there before breakfast and take a look at the Villa Paloma? After all it would be interesting to see just where the girl lived. And besides---Freddy’s mercurial spirits rose at the thought---wasn’t it possible that Miss Westmacott might take the dog or something for an early morning constitutional? Quite by chance of course they might bump into each other. And thereafter . . . well, anything could happen!

Half-an-hour later Freddy was strolling nonchalantly past the gates of the Villa Paloma.

Already he’d plodded six times up the Avenue St. Michel and sauntered six times down it. Twice he’d stopped by the open latticed gates of the front drive to tie a shoelace that hadn’t come undone. But behind the pink-washed walls and green-shuttered windows of the villa all was discouragingly quiet.

He was just pivoting at the bottom of the hill to make his seventh ascent when a crimson Vedette swung sharply into the avenue, climbed the hundred yards or so to the villa and swished in through the wide open gates. As the car flashed by Freddy hadn’t failed to notice the fair-haired, well-built young man at the wheel. And any fair-haired, well-built young man who drove a crimson Vedette up to the Villa Paloma was, ipso facto, a potential enemy. He wondered if this was the artist bloke mentioned, albeit rather disparagingly, by Miss Westmacott---the fellow whose painting she thought she’d spotted in the gallery.

Quickening his pace Freddy once more drew level with the villa and glanced in through the gates. The Vedette was not drawn up in front of the house, which suggested that it had been driven direct to the garage that Freddy had already spotted to the rear of the place. A small latticed gate let into the garden wall a little higher up the road provided Freddy with the necessary peep-hole. Placing his eye to a crack in the lattice he was able to get a comprehensive view of the garage-yard.

The young man, in shorts and singlet, was standing beside the car with a fishing rod in one hand and a large basket-work creel in the other. Propping the rod, which had been dismantled and slipped into its case, against the side of the car, the young man proceeded to lift the lid of the creel. Although Freddy was no fisherman he was naturally curious to see what sort of catch the fellow had brought back from this early morning expedition.

It was then that Freddy suffered a decided jolt. From inside the creel the young man cautiously removed a large smooth boulder with a few black patches of tar on its rounded surface. What he intended to do with this peculiarly inedible catch Freddy never had the chance to find out, for at that moment a young and extremely winsome maid came out of the side door, portering a saucer of milk. She was followed by a small, smoke-grey kitten. At her appearance the young man hurriedly replaced the boulder in the creel and snapped down the lid. Then strolling over to the girl, who’d now set the saucer on the ground, he glanced quickly around and, with a familiar air, slipped an arm about her lissom waist and kissed her resoundingly.

Somewhat embarrassed by this sudden turn of events and realizing that nothing was to be gained by further eavesdropping, Freddy withdrew his eye from the lattice and turned to make off down the hill. And it was then that he suffered another unexpected jolt. Advancing slowly up the Avenue St. Michel, less than fifty yards away, was Miss Westmacott! She was in animated conversation with a young man whom Acting Sergeant Strang, with his well-trained powers of observation, had no difficulty in recognizing. It was the chap they’d met in Dunkirk and again, only a few days ago, at Le Poisson d’Or in Menton!


For one ghastly moment Freddy thought they must have spotted him peering through the gate, but the girl’s first words reassured him.

“Oh hullo! It’s you. Where on earth did you spring from?”

Checking a salute just in time, Freddy put up a hand to raise his hat and then, adding further confusion to his already acute embarrassment, realized that he wasn’t wearing one. He gulped out:

“Well, I didn’t expect to bump into you, Miss Westmacott. Do you live around here?”

Dilys pointed to the villa.

“There,” she said. “The one with the green shutters. Mr. Dillon and I have just been to early service.” Adding as she turned to Bill: “By the way, Mr. Smith, I don’t think you’ve met Mr. Dillon, have you?”

“Met!” cut in Bill promptly. “I’ll say we have. We’re always meeting. Can’t get away from each other, eh, Strang?”

Freddy shuddered inwardly. Smith. Strang. He prayed Miss Westmacott wouldn’t notice the discrepancy. But Dilys, already vaguely suspicious of the young man’s bona fides, said instantly:

“Strang? But this isn’t Mr. Strang. It’s Mr. Smith---Mr. John Smith.”

Bill laughed sarcastically.

“Well, it was Strang a few days ago---assistant travelling representative for Whitley-Pilbeam’s.”

“Whitley-Pilbeam’s?” echoed Dilys faintly.

“Big constructional engineers in Middlesbrough,” explained Bill promptly. “First rate firm, too. Wouldn’t mind being with them myself.”

“Middlesbrough!” Dilys turned and gazed at Freddy accusingly. “A travelling representative for an engineering firm? But . . . but I thought you told me----”

“I know,” broke in Freddy miserably. “I’m frightfully sorry. I’m afraid I sort of led you up the garden path when we met at the exhibition.”

“I see,” said Dilys coldly.

“Mind you,” floundered Freddy, “I didn’t mean to lie to you . . . at least, not deliberately. I . . . I just couldn’t help myself . . . if you see what I mean.”


“I rang you twice yesterday but they told me you were out.”

“Yes---Mr. Dillon drove me over to Nice to see the Primitives. He’s staying with us at the moment. He’s an old friend of my aunt’s.”

“Oh,” said Freddy glumly.

Dilys turned to Bill, who throughout these exchanges had been wavering in the background with a sardonic smirk on his features.

“Well, I think we ought to be getting along. My aunt’ll be furious if we’re late for breakfast. So good-bye, Mr. . . er . . . Smith.”

“Cheerio, Strang!” said Bill maliciously.

“Er . . . good-bye . . . cheerio,” mumbled Freddy. “Glad to have met you . . .” He glanced despairingly at Dilys. “Perhaps sometime, Miss Westmacott, we might sort of . . . of----?”

“We might,” concluded Dilys. “But I shouldn’t really rely on it.”


Back at the Hotel Louis he found Inspector Meredith sitting over his coffee and rolls in the dining-room. Meredith looked up sharply.

“Hullo, m’lad. What happened to you? I knocked on your door and got no reply.”

“Been for a bit of a constitutional, sir,” explained Freddy, adding with a ghoulish attempt at cheerfulness: “Lovely morning. Good to be alive, eh?”

“Well, I’m glad you’ve decided to show up, Sergeant. I’ve news for you.” Meredith glanced round, lowered his voice and went on: “Blampignon’s just been on the ’phone from Nice. It’s this cigarette stunt I was telling you about. They’ve had information from the Algiers police that a fast cruiser-launch left there yesterday without proper clearance papers. Evidently there was a bit of a mist and the launch made a dash for it. Got clean away before the port authorities tumbled to it.”

“And they think she’s heading here, sir?”

“Exactly. Blampignon thinks they’ll try and smuggle the stuff in tonight---somewhere between here and Nice. They’re patrolling off-shore with half-a-dozen police launches and posting men at all points along the coast where they think the fellows might try and land the consignment.”

For a moment, his interest stimulated by Meredith’s terse recital, Freddy forgot the depressing scene that had just been enacted in the Avenue St. Michel.

“You mean they run the launch right in, sir, and unload off her direct?”

Meredith nodded his appreciation of the query.

“I asked Blampignon precisely the same question, Strang, and according to him they don’t. The usual procedure is for two or three smaller boats to put out from various points along the coast and meet the launch a few miles out. The cargo’s then split up---see? Result---if the police are lucky enough to nab one boat, the others get away. These smaller boats make for widely separated and prearranged rendezvous along shore, usually at those spots where the Littoral road runs close to the sea. Reason, of course---high-powered cars to whisk the stuff away to their distribution centres.”

“Sounds well organized, sir.”

“It is, Sergeant. And Blampignon wondered if we’d like to be in on tonight’s little jamboree. We may draw a blank, of course. On the other hand it might be interesting. What’s your reaction, m’lad?”

“Bang on, sir!” exclaimed Freddy eagerly. “Should help us to get a line on just how these French cops work.”

“Just what I thought. I’ve already told Blampignon to fit us into the scheme. He’s meeting us here at the local police-station round about six. Oh and that’s not all. I’ve had a cable from the Yard about that Colonel chap at Beaulieu.”

“Malloy, sir?”

Meredith nodded.

“They’ve combed through his record at the War Office. A first-rate soldier and dead reliable---that’s their considered opinion. So I think we can safely say that Bourmin’s the only one at the Villa Valdeblore tied up with this currency-cum-counterfeit job. At any rate I’m going to take a gamble on it.”

“Gamble, sir---how do you mean?”

“We’re going to drive over to Beaulieu this morning and see Colonel Malloy. I’m going to lay my cards on the table and enlist his help. It’s a risk, I admit, but a calculated risk, and it might well bring a very handsome rabbit out of the hat, Sergeant. So get outside that brioche as quickly as you can, then nip round and get the car out of the garage.”


Providence was certainly at their elbow that Sunday morning. From the outset their little expedition to the Villa Valdeblore ran on oiled wheels. To begin with, when they arrived at the villa, the Rolls was drawn up before the portico, and Bourmin in a bottle-green uniform was ushering a small, wispy woman into its barn-like interior. Meredith felt sure that this was Mrs. Malloy and to judge by her sombre but dressy ensemble it looked as if the Colonel’s wife were off to church. Anxious that Bourmin should know nothing of this visit, Meredith waited until the Rolls had turned into the main road at the south end of the avenue, then, with Strang at his heels, strode up the short drive to the front entrance.

A few minutes later, their luck still holding, they were shaking hands with Colonel Malloy in his small, book-lined study at the end of the hall. To Meredith it was like stepping out of France into an infinitesimal but unmistakable scrap of the British Empire. It was as one would have expected---regimental groups; a rack of sporting guns; a couple of stuffed salmon; a mantelshelf crowded with silver cups and trophies; and everywhere about the room the indiscriminate lares et penates of the Colonel’s extensive sojourns in the Orient.

The Colonel, himself, merged into this background like a chameleon. Tall, gaunt, white-haired, with a short bristly moustache on his long upper lip; a profile like a hawk, and steel-blue eyes that looked out on the world with an air of tolerant good humour---Meredith recognized the type at once. Bigoted and conventional, perhaps, but the sort of fellow one could depend on in adversity and honest as the day was long. Having shown his credentials, Meredith explained the reason for his presence in the South of France and outlined the circumstances that had brought about his visit to the Villa Valdeblore. Colonel Malloy listened without comment until Meredith had concluded his explanation. Then he snapped out with a choleric expression:

“So that damned fellow Bourmin’s a Bad Hat, eh? Can’t say I’m surprised. I’ve never really trusted him. It was my wife’s idea that we should engage him. She liked his manner. But women are more easily taken in by that sort of thing than we are, eh? Now what exactly d’you want me to do, Inspector? Dismiss him? Hand him over to the local police?”

“Good heavens---no! That’s the last thing we want. You see, sir, we uphold that Bourmin’s only a small cog in a big wheel. We’re hoping that now we’ve taken you into our confidence you’ll be able to keep an eye on the chap. For example, if you notice anything suspicious in his actions----”

“I’m to get in touch with you, eh? Well, that makes sense. I’m in a sound strategic position to keep him under observation.”

“So we can count you in, sir?”

“Up to the hilt.”

“Good enough,” said Meredith, delighted with the Colonel’s readiness to help. “Now tell me, sir---does Bourmin live on the premises?”

“Yes---he’s got a couple of rooms over the garage. He has his meals with the rest of the staff in the kitchen.”

“I see. We noticed the car was just leaving as we turned up.”

“Quite. My wife attends the English church here. Bourmin always drives her to the service and waits outside the church to drive her back. If it hadn’t been for a touch of lumbago, I’d have been there myself.”

“What time do you expect them back, sir?”

“Oh, not for another hour and a half at least.”

“Do you think we could take a look at these rooms. Quite understand if you object.”

“My dear fellow, why not? Bourmin’s probably locked the door but I’ve a duplicate key. I’ll take you over at once. Unless, of course, you’d rather----”

“No. I’d like you to come along too, Colonel. But if we can investigate the place without being seen by the domestic staff so much the better. Whatever happens we don’t want to put Bourmin on his guard.”

A few minutes later the three men were climbing the exterior staircase that led up to the chauffeur’s snug little flatlet above the garage. Once in the small but comfortably furnished living-room, Meredith explained:

“We’re anxious to find out just where and how Bourmin picks up the counterfeit notes as they come off the press. Does he collect the stuff in bulk and store it away until he’s unloaded it on his... er... clients? Or does he deal with it in penny packets, so to speak? By the way, Colonel, you allow the fellow to use the car on his half-day off, eh?”

“Yes, confound it! How did you find that out? A concession of my wife’s. Can’t say I agree with all this spoon-feeding but a good chauffeur’s hard to come by these days. Its one of my wife’s little whims to keep the fellow ‘sweet’. You want me to put a stop to these jaunts---is that it, Inspector?”

“Far from it, sir. I wanted to make sure you wouldn’t stop them. The Sergeant here has been detailed to tail the chap on these Thursday trips. We’re hoping he’ll eventually lead us to the nerve-centre of the racket. Now what about a quick comb through of the fellow’s effects.”

“To see if he’s got any of these notes tucked away under the mattress, eh?”

“That’s roughly the idea, sir. If he hasn’t then he must be making regular contacts somewhere with another member of the gang. O.K., Sergeant, let’s get cracking. The usual routine search. You know the procedure.”

Together the two officials made a deft and comprehensive search of the chauffeur’s two rooms. Luckily Bourmin’s personal possessions were meagre to a degree and many of the built-in drawers and cupboards were empty. At the end of twenty minutes Meredith was pretty well satisfied that every possible hiding-place had been thoroughly frisked. He turned to the Colonel.

“Umph---much as I anticipated. No sign of any notes, no documentary evidence, nothing in fact to connect him in any way with the racket. Of course there’s always the chance that----”

“Here, hang on a second, sir!” broke in Strang excitedly. “I believe I’ve hit on something. Take a dekko at this.” The Sergeant held out a crumpled, half-torn envelope. “I found it jammed in the window-frame here. It was folded up into a kind of wedge. I suppose the window rattled or something.”

Meredith took the tattered envelope and peered inside it.

“But the darn thing’s empty, Sergeant!”

“I know, sir. But have a squint at what’s on the back of it. Looks like a map of some sort.”

Quickly Meredith reversed the envelope and examined the sketch.

“Ump---a street plan by the look of it. Unfortunately the corner’s been torn off and half the sketch seems to be missing.” Meredith smoothed out the crumpled scrap of paper and placed it on the table. “Let’s take a more detailed look at it. You too, Colonel, if you will. You know more about the local topography than we do. Maybe you’ll recognize the spot.”

For a few moments the three men pored in silence over the crude and mutilated drawing. It encompassed what appeared to be three roads enclosing a small triangle. Opposite the apex of the triangle was inscribed a cross, against which was written C.C. 6a. Pencilled lightly between the lines that represented the widest of the three roads---the one, in fact, that formed the base of the triangle---were the letters ARTE, then a space, followed by the letters QL.

“Well, sir, what do you make of it?” asked Meredith, who’d already whipped out his notebook and made a copy of the plan. “Puzzling, eh?”

The Colonel nodded.

“Pity we can’t lay our hands on the missing piece. This semi-circular tear cuts right across the middle of the lettering. And the letters at the base obviously indicate the names of the----” Malloy broke off and added excitedly: “Here, wait a minute! I believe I’ve hit on a clue.”

“Really, sir?”

“Yes---this QL. Notice the space after the Q? Well, I’ve a shrewd idea that this Q stands for Quai. You follow? Quai something-or-other. And if I’m right . . . well, you see the implication?”

“We’ll locate the spot somewhere near a harbour.”

“That’s how it strikes me. May be wrong, of course. But it’s worth following up. Mind you, there are a good many harbours along this stretch of coastline, but I’ve no doubt the local police----”

“Exactly. I’ll get in touch with them at once.”

“And this cross---what do you make of that, sir?” asked Strang.

Meredith winked.

“I’ve my own ideas about that, but at the moment, Sergeant, I’m just not talking.” The Inspector glanced at his watch. “We’ve still got a bit of time in hand, but I reckon there’s nothing more to be gained by hanging about here.” He turned to Strang. “Refold that envelope, m’lad, and jam it back in the window-frame just as you found it. Ready, Colonel? Can’t say how much I appreciate your co-operation. But mum’s the word, of course. Better if you don’t even mention our visit to Mrs. Malloy. You agree, sir?”

“Emphatically!” The colonel’s steel-blue eyes twinkled merrily. “Maybe you’re familiar with the old French saying, Inspector.”

“What saying, sir?”

“A woman’s chief weapon is her tongue and she never lets it rust! Apt, eh? Devilish apt!”

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