Read In Spite of Thunder Online

Authors: John Dickson Carr

In Spite of Thunder

PRAISE FOR THE WRITING OF JOHN DICKSON CARR

“Very few detective stories baffle me, but Mr. Carr’s always do.” —Agatha Christie

“No one is so consistently successful as Carr, who combines genuine understanding of and relish for the past with a comparable understanding and relish in matters of detectival trickery.” —
The New York Times Book Review

“An excellent novel of crime and puzzlement.” —
The New York Times
on
To Wake the Dead

“A superb story written by an expert.” —
The New Yorker
on
The Emperor’s Snuff-Box

“Mystery fiction at its finest—an enthralling story such as only Carr can conjure up.” —
Newsday
on
The Demoniacs

“One of the best … Read it for the story or puzzle or period color— but by all means read it.” —
The New York Times Book Review
on
Scandal at High Chimneys

In Spite of Thunder
A Dr. Gideon Fell Mystery
John Dickson Carr

Contents

ACT ONE

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

ACT TWO

VIII

IX

X

XI

XII

XIII

XIV

XV

ACT THREE

XVI

XVII

XVIII

XIX

About the Author

ACT ONE


That man can’t be trusted. I tell you, I’ve played too many criminals! I
KNOW
that man can’t be trusted.


SIR HENRY IRVING

I

U
NDERSTAND, BRIAN, I
have no proof against this woman. Even the Foreign Office have no proof. But I don’t want my daughter to associate with her.

Yes, he thought wryly, that was fair enough. Brian Innes had no need to re-read the letter in his pocket; he knew it almost by heart.

Audrey will fly BEA from London on the same day you return to Geneva from Paris. She will spend one night at the Hotel Metropole, Geneva, before going on to this woman’s villa. For old friendship’s sake, then, I rely on you to see Audrey and stop her from going there.

Old friendship’s sake, eh?

Load me with the dirty work. That could be called characteristic too.

It was past seven in the evening when Brian Innes left the airport at Geneva. The customs-examination did not detain him; they knew him there and waved him on. Then, after hailing a taxi, he hesitated. There could be no great hurry. He could at least drop his suitcase at his own flat before he went on to see Audrey.

“Monsieur?” prompted the taxi-driver.

“Number three, Quai Turrettini,” said Brian, and pitched his suitcase inside. “No, wait!” he added in his excellent French.

“Monsieur?”

“I’ll change that. Hotel Metropole, Grand Quai.”

The taxi-driver gave a massive shrug like a diplomat at the United Nations. The door slammed, the metal flag snapped down.

On clear days, when you drove away from this airport, you could see the peaks of the nearer Alps outlined ghostly white against a pale sky. They were invisible this evening. Thick overcast air, a hollow of thundery heat, pressed down on the mind and spirits in early August. It was more than twenty minutes, growing darker, before he watched suburbs thicken into a grey-white city round its lake.

Tram-cars clanged through the more modern section of Geneva, always bustling. But no breeze stirred from the lake; the
jet d’eau
, lonely out there against a vast sweep of water, seemed to fling up motionless spray. And over on the south bank, beyond all those bridges, the quais below the Old Town looked half-deserted and even a little sinister.

Brian Innes sat back in the cab, his black Homburg hat across his knees.

Damn this conscientiousness! But there it was. Possibly he had more interest in Audrey Page than he would ever have confessed.

He was forty-six years old, though not much grey showed in his wiry red hair. Long and lean, easy-going, with much imagination and a sardonic sense of humour, he himself looked like the popular notion of a diplomat.

The sense of humour didn’t help much. He was, in fact, a successful painter of what they called the conventional school, though Brian himself much disliked those terms. Northern Irish, he belonged to that international group who maintain residence abroad while still keeping up British nationality.

Restless and uneasy, most of them! Geneva was their point and their focus. Without Geneva, he supposed, this situation might not have arisen at all.

De Forrest Page, compelled to remain in London and with various tricks to nurse what was left of a once-great fortune, usually managed to keep his daughter in London too. De Forrest seldom lost his temper and never lost his head. And yet his worry rang through every line of that last letter.

The point is, Brian, that you know the real story about Eve Eden and her late boy-friend in Germany just before the war. I don’t know it. However unsavoury that story is—

Unsavoury? Well, yes.

—I rely on you to tell Audrey. She’s not a child any longer; she is nearly thirty; and it’s time she developed a sense of responsibility. You seem to be the only one who’s got any influence with her.

“Kindly forgive me,” thought the recipient of this, “if I utter a loud ha-ha.”

Then Brian woke up.

His taxi had been speeding along the Grand Quai, hushed and dusky before street-lamps were kindled, with the formal stretch of the English Garden on the left. On the right ran tall formal houses, after the French fashion in this French part of Switzerland. An even sedater-looking building of the eighteen-nineties, all massive stone outside and red plush inside, loomed up near the intersection of the rue d’Italie.

“Hotel Metropole,” the driver said rather grandly. “Is one required to wait?”

“No, one is not,” said Brian, climbing out. “Good God!” he added under his breath.

The unexpectedness of what happened, when he had scarcely put on his hat and paid the driver, took him aback. A small cool whirlwind, high heels rapping, marched out of the hotel and hurried towards him.

“What on earth do you mean by this?” cried a familiar voice, soft and breathless. “You’re too early! You’ll spoil everything! And worst of all—”

“Good evening, Audrey,” he observed with much politeness. “Were you expecting somebody else?”

“Well, really!” said Audrey Page, and stopped short.

She was rather elaborately dressed for dinner, in a low-cut white gown that set off the firm sleekness of her shoulders. Though her face remained in shadow, a dim light from the hotel-foyer touched her heavy, glossy dark-brown hair. As usual, breathing out emotion, she seemed all contradictory qualities: stolidness and yet fragility, poise and yet indecision.

Audrey moved a little sideways. Long blue eyes, black-lashed and a little slanted up at the outer corners, regarded him with an innocence which did not hide either anger or uneasiness. She carried a handbag and a short wrap, at which her fingers were beginning to pluck.

“Well, really!” she breathed. “I shouldn’t have expected this honour. Brian Innes, of all people! May I ask what
you’re
doing here?”

“You may. I live here.”

“Here?” Her eyes flashed towards the suitcase. “At this hotel?”

“Not at the hotel, no. Here in Geneva. You hadn’t forgotten that, I hope?”

“Whether I forgot it or not,” answered Audrey in a shaky voice, “I think this is a bit much and I’m getting fed up with it. I came here for a few days, just a few days, to visit a friend of mine who’s got a villa just this side of the French border on the road to Chambéry.”

“Yes; so I’ve heard.”

“Oh. I see. Then he did send you here.”

“Who?”

“De Forrest. My father. He sent you here to spy on me.”

Brian began to laugh.

“Hardly that, young lady. I seldom carry a suitcase when I go spying. And please don’t make all those gestures as though this were high tragedy.” His tone changed. “But I do want to talk to you about your friend Eve Eden, the former film-star with the improbable name.”

“Her real name,” cried Audrey, “is Eve Ferrier. Mrs. Eve Ferrier. All the same, she’s got a right to the other name too. She used it on the screen. Lots of people call her that.” Then Audrey stamped both feet. “Ugh, you red haired goblin! I could cut your wretched heart out!”

“That would be a pity.”

“I’m not so sure it would be. If ever once in the past you’d been willing to take me seriously, just once and for a change, so many things might have been different between us. But, oh, no! You think I’m stupid; you want to treat me as a child whatever I say or do; you make me so cross I want to kill you.”


Audrey. Listen to me.

Both their voices rang louder in the shadowed street. Thick heat pressed down. Distantly, through the quiet of the pre-dinner hour, motor-horns hooted above a clanging of trams.

“In the first place, Audrey, I don’t think you’re stupid.”

“No?”

“Definitely no. In the second place, since your father wants me to prevent you from going to this woman’s house—”

“He’s got rather a nerve, hasn’t he?”

“Maybe I think so too. Don’t imagine I enjoy being here; it’s none of my business. However, since I seem to have been saddled with the responsibility, I’ll tell you what he wants me to tell you and then you can please yourself. Suppose we sit down and have a drink for just five minutes?”

“Even if I wanted to sit down and have a drink, Mr. Brian Innes, you’re too late. There’s someone coming to take me out to dinner, and he’ll be here at any moment.”

“You won’t miss him. We can wait in the bar.”

“Oh, no, we can’t! This hotel hasn’t got a bar.”

“Damn it, woman, surely there’s a lounge of some kind?”

“Even if there is, what have we got to talk about? Eve, of all people! I’ve heard all those old rumours, thanks very much.”

“What particular rumours?”

Audrey made a gesture with her handbag.

“Just before the war, when Eve was a great star, she kept saying she favoured Hitler and the Nazis. All right; so did a lot of people. But that was seventeen years ago; they were wrong and they’ve admitted they were wrong, just as Eve has. Isn’t that what you want to tell me?”

“No. That’s only a part of it.”

“Is it her love-affairs?”

“No. Except indirectly.”

“Then what on earth are you accusing her of?”

“I’m not accusing her of anything. The woman may be entirely innocent. On the other hand”—and doubt, brooding indecision swept over him like his attraction towards Audrey Page—“on the other hand, if that business in ’39 didn’t happen to be an accident, she was guilty of a neat little murder.”


Murder?

“That’s what I said. She killed Hector Matthews for his money; she’s the only one who could have done it; and this blonde charmer is about as safe a bed-mate as a king cobra.”

“I don’t believe it. You’re joking!”

“It’s anything but a joke, I can assure you. Come with me.”

That was the moment when the street-lamps flashed on.

They glowed out white against the trees of the English Garden; they made a necklace westwards along the great length of the Grand Quai to a traffic-mutter round the Place du Rhône.

Audrey, gripping her handbag, had thrown back the heavy, glossy brown hair which curled almost to her shoulders. Her expression as she looked up at him, mouth partly open, carried behind its incredulity some emotion which he ought to have studied more closely.

“Brian, you’re not to be silly! I never heard. …”

“You wouldn’t have heard. Come along.”

The Hotel Metropole was a luxury establishment, though not the most luxurious and far from the most modern. To the left of the front door, past a tiny foyer and a lift like a rosewood coffin, Brian impelled his companion towards a lounge with a high ceiling and high windows overlooking the quai and the lake.

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