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Chapter Twenty-Two

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« on: May 12, 2023, 12:21:38 pm »

THE Commission travelled to Danzig by the ordinary train, not a special, and merely had compartments reserved for them since they did not wish to be more conspicuous than was unavoidable. Hambledon and Reck had one compartment to themselves, as soon as the train had settled into its swing the Chief of Police sent for his two plain-clothes men and addressed them in private.

“There are two men somewhere on this train among the ordinary passengers, their names are Schultz and Petzer. Here are their official descriptions and photographs, you had better, perhaps, study them here and now.” He lit a cigar and sat in silence, looking out of the window, till the men handed him back the papers. “Schultz and Petzer are going to Danzig. On arrival at the station, you will follow these men and see everything they do. When they have found quarters for the night, one of you will come back to me and report but the other will remain on the watch. They are not to be lost sight of, night or day, or the consequences may be very serious.”

“If they should part company while only one of us is on duty, which are we to follow?”

“Schultz. Now go and identify them, but don’t come back here, it would be disastrous if they saw you with me. You know where I shall be staying in Danzig.”

When the men had gone, Hambledon turned to Reck and said, “You’re very quiet, what’s the matter?”

“I have lived in Germany,” said Reck, without looking at him, “since 1901, that’s thirty-seven years. What shall I do in England?”

“It’s odd you should say that, I was thinking much the same myself. I’ve been here almost continually since ’14, and for fifteen years I believed I was a German.”

“I am one,” said Reck, “in everything but birth.”

“Yes. Latterly, you know, when things have been getting a little too exciting for comfort, I’ve thought how wonderful it will be to live in England again and sleep in peace with no fatal secret---that sounds well---in the background waiting to blow me sky-high.”

“No Gestapo,” said Reck, in a tone of forced cheerfulness.

“No concentration camps.”

“No S.S. troopers swaggering about, no bumptious Hitler youths.”

“No Goebbels. Sounds like heaven, doesn’t it?”

“Yes. But d’you realize I’ve almost forgotten the language?” said Reck.

“Oh, it’ll soon come back, I’ve got a strong German accent myself, but it’ll wear off. You know, if you don’t like the Government in England, you can stand up on a soap-box in Hyde Park and say so----”

“In a strong German accent?”

“And if anybody tries to knock you off it the police will arrest him.”

“Sounds just too marvellous,” said Reck sardonically, “that is, for anybody who wants to stand on a soap-box and abuse Chamberlain. But what else is there to do?”

“I tell you one thing there’ll be to do,” said Hambledon cheering up. “Go to the Foreign Office and collect twenty years’ arrears of pay.”

Reck brightened up a little. “Do you think they will pay it? We didn’t do much for them for fifteen years, you know.”

“We’ll tell them we spent the time making useful contacts,” said Hambledon, “and heaven knows we succeeded. It’ll be fun trying to make ’em pay up, anyway. By the way, following the example of most of my revered colleagues, I put away a tidy sum of my savings where I can get at it presently.”

“You won’t starve, anyway,” said Reck. “But what I still want to know is, what shall we do all day?”

“Oh, we shall find some trouble to get into, I expect. Moreover, if German Intelligence spots us, we shan’t have to find trouble, it’ll find us. I think I’ll live quietly in the country and grow pigs.”

They arrived in Danzig towards evening, and Hambledon was busy arranging for the protection of his Trade Commission from battle, murder, and sudden death. There were sundry conferences arranged, some in Danzig itself and one out at Zoppot, where Hambledon passed the time wandering about the Casino. The baccarat room fascinated him, with its Moorish arches outlined with electric lights, the unreal landscapes painted on the walls and the vast open fireplace. He learned with awe that baccarat was only played from 5 p.m. till 8 a.m., whereas roulette could be played all day long, why, he never discovered.

The police reported that Schultz and Petzer had taken rooms in a not too reputable apartment house behind the Heilige-Geist Kirche, near the Fischmarkt, and one morning when the Commission was escorted round the sights of Danzig, he was led away from the party at the Butter Tor and had the house pointed out to him.

The Commission was to stay in Danzig for a week, and Hambledon’s idea was to take rooms for himself and Reck in some sailors’ boarding-house down by the docks and slip away when the rest of the party went back to Berlin. He was never a believer in having plans very cut and dried beforehand, because too much prearrangement only gave scope for things to go wrong. “Some scheme,” he would say, “will doubtless present itself,” and it usually did. “When I have seen all my little lambs safely into their fold, I shall have time to deal with Schultz. Till then, my police can keep these two in order.”

“Little lambs,” grunted Reck, who was not impressed by the Trade Commission. “Old goats, most of ’em. What do you propose to do with Schultz?”

“He is guilty of murder,” said Hambledon quietly. “He killed a man named Ginsberg who worked for me and trusted me, so Schultz is going to die. I think I’ll ask him to go for a little drive with me in my fine car”—the Danzig Nazis had provided cars for the Trade Commission and Hambledon had one for his own use—“take him out somewhere in the forests round here and shoot him. I shall tell him why first, so it will be quite fair.”

Reck was on the point of saying, “Suppose he refuses to go?” when he glanced at Hambledon’s face and somehow the question seemed foolish, so he omitted it and substituted another. “What happens after that?”

“After that we leave, as inconspicuously as possible, in a ship bound for England if we can find one, if not, in a ship bound for anywhere except Germany. Have you ever been a stowaway, my wandering boy?”

“Never,” said Reck, “and I----”

“Never mind,” said Tommy cheerfully. “You will. We had better go and buy ourselves some clothes, any slop shop will do, and a couple of cheap suit-cases. We can then walk out of this hotel in these suits, change in any secluded spot which seems convenient, and proceed on our way to the docks.”

“It might not be a bad plan,” suggested Reck, “if we went to the docks beforehand and had a look round. We might be in a hurry when we do leave.”

“Sound idea,” said Hambledon. “We might go this afternoon, I shouldn’t think my flock would get into serious trouble between 2 and 4 p.m.”

They found the sort of shop they were looking for, and bought clothes of the sort that seafaring men wear when they spruce up to come ashore. They changed into their new suits in a place where a desire for privacy is respected, packed their other garments in the suit-cases, and emerged into the hot sunshine of a Baltic summer’s day. Hambledon, strange to relate, had his head bandaged, the Chief of the German Police had become fairly well known by sight in Danzig.

“I can’t imagine,” said Reck, turning his wrists uneasily in his coat sleeves, “why we think of the poor as thinly clad. These are the thickest garments I ever wore.”

“I know what is meant,” said Tommy, easing his coat collar where it chafed his neck, “by hard-wearing cloth. It means hard on the wearer. How do I look?”

“Too clean and tidy. How do I look?”

“Too respectable. Couldn’t you look a bit more---I think ‘raffish’ is the word I want? Leer at the girls.”

“Leer yourself,” said the horrified Reck. “At my age--- I tell you what. These clothes want sleeping in, I remember now. When I was selling papers, a woman gave me quite a decent suit once, at least, it had been cleaned and pressed, I think it had been fumigated too, but never mind. I felt quite smart for a day, but I had to sleep in the things that night---it was cold---and next morning---well, I was myself again, that’s all.”

“I’ll treat these to-night. Do you think it would do as well if I crumpled them up and slept on them?”

“No,” said Reck unkindly. “Where are we going?”

“To take a room in some dockside tavern. We don’t want to have to wander about seeking accommodation if we ourselves are being urgently sought, we want to be able to dive in and stay there. We will make sure the proprietor knows us again, too.”

“I think this’ll do,” said Tommy, a little later. “It looks to be more or less what we want, and I don’t think I wish to walk any farther this afternoon, anyway. I have exercised the pores of my skin quite enough, and as for this bandage, phew! The Seven Stars, even if someone crowns us with a bottle we ought to be able to remember that. Come in.”

“I am still a teetotaller,” said Reck firmly.

“Not here, my lad; at least, not so as anyone would notice it. Perhaps there’s an aspidistra you can make friends with. Here goes.”

There was no aspidistra, but there were some ferns in pots along the bar in places where they would not inconvenience customers. Reck took his stand by one of them, and it is to be hoped that Pteris cretica likes schnapps.

After that, they inspected a room which was vacant, approved it, and paid a deposit. More schnapps and a little light converse with the innkeeper completed their business, and they left the place, changed back into their ordinary clothes on the way home and returned to Hambledon’s hotel. One of the police whom he had detailed to follow Schultz and Petzer came in to report.

“The suspects spent the morning quietly in the vicinity of their lodgings,” he said, referring to a note-book. “They visited various taverns, I have a list of them here.”

“Omit the list,” said Hambledon.

“Very good, sir. At one-fifteen they came to the neighbourhood of this hotel and hung about, one in front and the other, Petzer, in view of the side entrance. Pursuant upon your instructions, I concentrated upon Schultz. At two-fifteen precisely, the suspect Petzer came rapidly round the corner from the side entrance, spoke to the suspect Schultz, and both walked away at a good pace.”

Hambledon allowed his glance to stray carelessly in the direction of Reck, who gave no sign of having heard anything interesting. Nevertheless, two-fifteen was the hour at which they themselves had left the side entrance to the hotel.

“The suspects walked fast at first and then more slowly through several streets towards the poorer quarter of the town. I have a list of the streets.”

“Omit the list.”

“Very good, sir. They hung about for some time in a small street off the Johannis Gasse, started again towards the river and again waited just inside the north door of the Johannis Kirche. Here they stayed about twenty minutes. There seemed to be a certain amount of discussion as to what they should do next, they were plainly arguing, and as they passed me I heard Petzer say, ‘I don’t think it is,’ and Schultz answered, ‘I do. I’m sure it is.’ They then proceeded in the direction of the wharves along the Mottlau and came to another stop in an archway opposite a tavern called the Seven Stars. The time was then three-forty-eight. They waited here until four-thirty-two and then returned to the Johannis Kirche where they stayed for only twelve minutes. They then walked smartly in the direction of this hotel. When it became evident where they were heading, I rang up Hermann as arranged and he took over from me outside here at the moment when the suspects went away. That is all I have to report.”

“Very good,” said Hambledon, rose to his feet and took a turn across the room and back. “I think it probable,” he went on, “that they have now gone home. Find out, and telephone to me.”

“Very good, sir,” said the man, saluted, and left the room. Hambledon looked at Reck and laughed.

“So much for our beautiful disguises,” he said. “Schultz and Petzer have been trailing us all the afternoon.”

“Apparently our disguises were good enough for your police,” said Reck.

“They weren’t looking for us, and anyway, they were busy. Ever tried trailing anybody through crowded streets without getting near enough for him to see you? It’s a hell of a job, you don’t notice much else. But you see what’s happened, don’t you? They know where we’re going, what we’re going to look like, and most serious of all, the fact that we are arranging to get away---they must have guessed that. They know a lot too much.”

“What are you going to do about it?”

“Have something to eat, for a start, I can’t do anything till that fellow telephones. I hope he’ll be quick, because some of the Commission want to go for a stroll round Danzig to-night and I shall be expected to go with them. I should, anyway, because heaven knows what mischief they’d get into if they were out on their own.”

“Bear-leading, eh?”

“No. Puppy-walking.”

Half an hour later the telephone rang, Hambledon lifted the receiver and said “Yes” at intervals. He ended by saying, “Very good. You and Hermann can both go off duty now. Yes, there is no need to continue the watch to-night. Report here for duty at 10 a.m. to-morrow.” He put the receiver down. “They have gone in, the police are going off, and I am going out. See you later.”

“Don’t you want me?” said Reck.

“No. Yes, you can sit in the car, it may save questions, and you might be useful keeping Schultz in order on the drive. I shall leave the car by the Heilige-Geist Kirche and you will stay with it. Bring your automatic.”

Hambledon walked along the street behind the Fischmarkt, turned into the entrance of an apartment house and walked up the stairs without hesitation. It was a shabby building with paint peeling off the walls, worn stone stairs with an iron handrail leading straight up from the door, and a fine mixed smell of cookery, oilskins and damp stone floors. There were two doors on each half landing, Hambledon went up three flights with his right hand in his coat pocket, opened the first door with his left hand and went swiftly in. In fact, it might be said that he burst in except that he did it so quietly, but the precaution was wasted, for the room was empty.

There were two rooms in the apartment, a sitting-room first and a bedroom opening out of it, Hambledon listened intently for any sound in the further room, but there was none, so he walked through and investigated it. It had two beds, a dressing-table and a washstand, with signs of masculine occupation in the way of shaving-tackle, spare boots and a coat or two. One of the coats, hung from a nail on the back of the door, had a pocket which looked heavy. It contained an automatic.

“Careless, careless,” said Tommy, and thoughtfully unloaded it. “Possibly one of our friends is unarmed.”

He returned to the sitting-room. There was a table in the middle, with playing-cards lying in confusion on it, a pipe, a tin half full of tobacco, a packet of cigarettes and some matches.

“Good,” said Hambledon, surveying this. “They won’t be long, they’ve only gone to fetch the beer.”

The window was wide open to the hot evening, and directly opposite to him, only about fifteen feet away, was another window, also open. Tommy glanced down, there was a well between, probably intended by an optimistic architect to supply ventilation to the building all round it, but it was completely airless and smelt of onions. He drew back again rather too late, for there was a movement in the room opposite, a girl came to the window and leaned out, her elbows on the sill, watching him. He turned away, but she only laughed and shouted a remark across to him. He scowled and withdrew modestly into the bedroom where she could not see him so long as he stayed near the door, though this room was, of course, equally commanded by the window opposite to it.

“Trudi!” called the girl to some unseen friend elsewhere in the block. “Just fancy. A new man opposite, an’ he’s shy!”

A voice below called up a reply which Tommy felt sure was better inaudible. “Confound the girl,” he said irritably, “if all these windows fill with Delilahs I am sunk. As it is, if she sees me with a gun in my hand she’ll tell the world.”

However, the window opposite the bedroom remained vacant, Hambledon pushed the door almost shut, and waited.

Presently the outer door of the apartment opened and two men entered, talking. Objects were set upon the table with bumps, chairs were drawn up, and there were sounds of settling down.

“Have a drink,” said one voice.

“Thanks, I don’t care if I do,” said the other.

“You look worried,” said the first voice, to the accompaniment of pouring noises. “Buck up.”

“I shall be glad when it’s over; didn’t reckon on being mixed up in this sort of game.”

“You don’t ’ave to do nothin’, on’y come with me an’ help in the getaway. You’ll be good at that.”

“Did you say it was to-night?”

“To-night, yes. Listen, it’s easy. Some of that high-an’-mighty Commission are goin’ out to-night on the binge, an’ Lehmann’s goin’ too to keep em in some sort of order. Well, you know what those sort of toffs are when they’re on holiday. ‘Show us somethin’ tough,’ they say, an’ off they goes an’ all piles into some dockside pub they’d turn their noses up at at home. ‘ ’Ow quaint,’ they say, ‘ ’ow interesting.’ I’ve ’eard ’em.”


“Well, I’m havin’ some of the boys keepin’ a look out for ’em. When they goes in somewhere where the likes of us can go, we all piles in and soon somebody starts a bit of bother over somethin’. In the ensooin’ uproar, guns are drawn an’ the Chief of Police is unfort’nately shot dead. After which we all leaves in ’aste, as is natural, an’ you an’ me comes back ’ere, picks up our bits and pieces, and takes the first train for Berlin. See? Simple.”

“Don’t see what you want me around for at all,” objected Petzer.

“Gawd knows a strip of dried cod ’ud be more generally useful,” said his candid friend, “but you will at least know the way back ’ere from wherever we are----”

The bedroom door opened noiselessly, and Hambledon appeared on the threshold, with his hand in his pocket out of regard for the lady in the room opposite, who was still leaning on the sill. In the same moment he saw Schultz’s automatic on the table within reach of his hand, no time for argument here.

“Talking of shooting,” said Tommy conversationally, “do you remember Ginsberg? That’s for Ginsberg,” he said, and shot Schultz through the head. The man slid to the floor, the gun he had snatched up spinning from his hand, and immediately pandemonium broke loose. The girl opposite uttered an ear-splitting shriek and followed it with cries of “Murder! Murder! Help!” Petzer gave a yell of rage, and rushed at Hambledon with his bare fists.

“Here, hold off, you fool,” said Hambledon, parrying the attack, “I don’t want to kill you! Stop it, you idiot----”

Sounds of shouting filled the house, hurrying feet clattered on the stairs, somebody tried to open the door and failed, because it was bolted inside, so they hammered and kicked it instead. Hambledon was getting an unpleasant surprise from Petzer, whom he had assumed from the previous conversation to be something of a pacifist, but apparently the man only had a conscientious objection to murder, especially when directed against himself. Petzer landed heavily on Hambledon’s left ear and made his head sing.

“This practice will now cease,” said Tommy, through clenched teeth, hit the man in the wind, which made his head come forward, and then hit him under the jaw. Petzer threw up his arms and dropped to the floor.

“Now,” said Tommy, surveying the scene of battle, “what does A do? After all, I am the Chief of Police, but I do hate making a public exhib---- That door’ll be down in a minute.”

Petzer, who was only half stunned, saw Schultz’s automatic on the floor under the table, picked it up and staggered blindly to his feet. While he stood swaying, and shaking his head to clear his brain, Hambledon retired hastily to the bedroom as the outer door fell in and two men with it, backed up by several others who jammed up the doorway and stared. They saw one man dead on the floor, obviously shot through the head, another man standing over him waving an automatic, and drew the obvious conclusion.

“He’s shot him!”

“Shot his pal!”


“Catch him! Tie him up!”

“Police! Murder!”

Petzer finally lost his temper and his head. He didn’t know much but he did know he hadn’t killed Schultz, and this was too much. He fired a couple of shots at random which happily hit the wall and not his fellow Danzigers, and made a rush for the door. Room was made for him, as it usually is for an angry man with an automatic, and he bolted down the stairs, colliding with people coming up, and finally dropped over the handrail of the last flight into the hall, dodged out into the street, and ran like a hare, with a couple of policemen and half a dozen agile citizens in hot pursuit.

The two men who fell in with the door very wisely stayed down and let the wild ass stamp o’er their heads. When Petzer left the room they picked themselves up, not in the least surprised to find a third man there who seemed to have come from nowhere in particular, and all charged down the stairs in pursuit of Petzer together.

Herr Schumbacher, the cobbler, had just made himself some coffee when the uproar broke out. He lifted the pot off the fire to prevent it from boiling over, and went to the door with it in his hand. Immediately the crowd, in passing, gathered him in as a twig is swept away in a current, and the boiling contents of the pot went over the heads and shoulders of Herr Pfaltz, stevedore, and Frau Braun, wife of Heinrich Braun, scavenger. From spectators in the uproar, they became participants, and matters were not mended thereby.

Nobody had time to notice Hambledon.

Once out in the street, Tommy ran as fast as he could round two corners, dropped into a walk, and rejoined Reck in the car near the Heilige-Geist Kirche, panting slightly.

“Not got your man?” asked Reck.

“Oh, yes, I got him. Ginsberg may sleep in peace,” said Hambledon, tenderly caressing his left ear. “It didn’t turn out quite as I expected, there was something of a brawl. There was to have been another meeting of the Joy-through-Shooting League to-night, with me for target, but I should think that’s off now. Schultz’s boy friends were going to pick a quarrel with the Commission----”

As for Petzer, he made his way to the goods yard, having an idea they might be looking for him at the passenger station. He dodged round trucks and stumbled over rails; somebody shouted at him so he dived into a truck of which the doors were open and crouched behind bulky packages. Probably the truck would go to Berlin; he had a muddled idea that most things went to Berlin from Danzig, but it didn’t matter. Anywhere out of the place, anywhere----

Five minutes later somebody came along, slammed the truck doors and bolted them, whistles blew, the truck began to move, bumped over points and gathered speed. Petzer was off on the long run to Constantinople.
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