Chapter Five - A Necessary Murder
As Bim re-entered the hotel through the doors that had been opened for him by the white-clad Sikh commissionaire, the man pulled his sleeve to stop him. He whispered, 'You want nice clean young girl, Sahib? I can call a car to take you for a good time whenever you want.'
Bim pulled himself away without replying and made his way up in the lift to Bob's room. There was no reason why their clandestine listener should not hear at least part of what he had to say, so he told the constable of the event that had taken place with the Sikh fellow.
'I know you're a family man like me and aren't likely to be tempted by that sort of thing, but if you were, let me remind you that the risk of disease in those places is very considerable. In addition, we know nothing about the Sikh's background, so there's every chance that the setup may involve an attempt at blackmail, so be warned.' Putting a finger to his lips, he said, 'I'll just unwrap these things', before laying the package he was carrying on the table and removing the rustling brown paper from the pistols and accoutrements once more. 'Try these on for size, Bob,' he continued with a wink, as he handed him a belt, ammo and pistol. He then loaded his own belt with rounds and pistol, put it on and pulled his shirt out of his trousers to flop over and conceal his arms, since it was too hot to wear a jacket during the day.
Bob was still furious at his boss lecturing him on a subject he was confident he knew much more about himself. However, overcoming his rancour, he followed suit.
The inspector looked at his watch: it was still only seven o'clock. Much seemed to have happened already, though it was only three hours ago that they had passed through customs. A notice on the bedroom door stated that dinner was served between seven and ten o'clock.
'Come on, we'll while away an hour in the bar while we work up an appetite,' Bim said. When they were in the lift, however, he quickly told the constable that a third of their air force had just been shot down and suggested that he order him half a pint of bitter, if they had it, otherwise to get lager, while he went out to phone their emergency number. He would tell him why when he came back. Before they left the lift, Bob reported how their 'shadow' had identified himself by coming out of the room and nipping back in again when he saw him (Bob). So now they knew in which room he was, should they ever need to take action against him. He continued, 'But if you're going to ring, do you think they will still be manning the phone back home, now it's gone seven o'clock?'
'Don't forget they're four hours behind us, old chap, so they'll probably only just be settling down again after eating their lunch,' he was reminded.
There was a red, British-style call box within a hundred yards of the hotel; Bim opened the door and picked up the phone. He had his finger in the dial when something stopped him; was it possible? He unscrewed the earpiece and, low and behold, there was another bug — a larger one with a longer range, this time. He quickly reassembled the hand set and slammed it down. The blighters had anticipated that he might not trust the hotel phone; he had best carry on and phone from the Consulate, which was only a couple of hundred yards further up the hill.
If the Consul was surprised to see him again so soon he did not show it when the Indian member of the staff who opened the door had led Bim through to him, still working in his office. He explained the purpose of his visit and his host offered to leave the room while he phoned, but was told this was unnecessary. Bim dialled the memorised number. When the female voice answered after a few seconds, the detective told her, 'Abimilech Trotter here, Miss, phoning from the island of Ambouna — have you got that?'
'Abimilech Trotter,' came the reply, and he replaced the receiver.
'Is that all?' asked the Consul. Told it was, he continued. 'I've made an appointment for the pair of you to meet the Sultan and the Prime Minister at ten o'clock tomorrow morning, so I'll pick you up at the hotel at a quarter to, as we don't have far to go.' He then rang the bell for Bim to be shown out, to make his way back to the hotel bar.
By the time he had drunk his half-pint there (very flat, it was, and only lager to boot), it was time for them to eat. There were just ten other tables occupied, one of them by a single Arab and the rest all by twos and threes, so the two policemen appeared to be the only European diners.
'Don't look now, but the fellow on his own at the corner table is probably our monitor. He came in and sat down there a couple of minutes after me,' Bob reported. When the inspector had a chance to glance at him he saw that, like everyone else in the room, he was dressed in European clothes. His swarthy skin would have made one suspect him to have Indian blood, were it not for his Semitic features. They had so far seen very few of the local inhabitants dressed in the traditional flowing Arab garments and headgear, as they had anticipated they probably would.
The menu consisted of two-thirds fish dishes and the rest of the items were variations on lamb and poultry.
'I think I'll go for the crab salad for a start,' said Bim.
'Not if you want my opinion,' was Bob's reply. 'Raw stuff like lettuce and cold shellfish are recipes for dysentery, cholera and the like in these eastern places, so I'm going to stick to hot cooked food while we're here. Which means I'll do without a starter, and plump for the chicken curry. Since it's Indians that seem to do all the work on this island, I expect the curry will be good.'
'I'll do the same, then,' Bim told him as he managed to catch the waiter's eye. 'Two chicken curries, and a bottle of Bordeaux.'
'A very good choice if I may say so, sirs. But we don't have French wines here, gentlemen — I can recommend a very good Californian substitute, though.'
This alternative was agreed upon and they were not disappointed. The two enjoyed their excellent balti curry, served up in the traditional way in small iron bowl-shaped dishes, but they chose rice instead of the more traditional nan bread. Confident their voices were not now being overheard, Bim explained events so far to his colleague.
'Since we know they're on to us, if they decide we're a thorn in their sides they'd find nothing easier than to make an attempt on our lives, so we have not only to keep our wits about us all the time but to be prepared for any contingencies. It could even come to the stage where we have to attack. Therefore, if anything should happen to me, Bob, you must get through to HQ as quickly as possible,' he told him, looking serious for the first time. Go to The Consulate — we'll take a walk past there before we bed down so's you'll know where it is — get through on the radio with scrambler and ask for instructions.'
They finished their Indian sweet dish and went outside for their walk. Their neighbour from the single table was not far behind them, this time.
As they approached the telephone kiosk, Bim spotted their shadowy follower reflected in the glass door, as the fellow passed under a street lamp.
'Don't look round now, old chap, but we're being followed. This may give us the opportunity we need to put a spanner in their works. And to do that we'll need to bother our only friend, the Consul, once more, whether he likes it or not.'
Five minutes later they were shown into the Consul's living room, where he was listening to Brahms on his record player. He got up from his leather chair and turned the music off. Bim introduced his colleague. Evidently not too pleased at having his evening interrupted, Sir James Willoughby told them, 'I didn't expect to see you again so soon. This makes three times in as many hours.'
Bim apologised for bothering him again. 'Yes, sir, I'm sorry about that and we had no intention of calling now, as we were only intending to walk past for me to show Constable Bateman where you are, in case anything should happen to me — I thought that to be necessary now that they know who we are. But I've just discovered we were being followed — I assume by our neighbour in the hotel, whom I told you about on my last visit. As this looks like a golden opportunity to mess up his radio monitoring equipment, I thought you wouldn't mind co-operating.'
The Consul brightened up. 'Of course, what is it you need from me?'
Bim asked if there happened to be a back way out of the house and a means of exiting onto it without his being spotted by their shadow.
'Well, there is a way, if you don't mind doing a bit of scrambling,' he replied. 'It so happens that this room we're in, which was originally the breakfast room, has its window opening east onto the rear garden. Our garage is down there at the bottom and it's accessed by a track leading past the backs of all these villas. If you leave by our back gate, turn left down the car track and then you'll come out a hundred yards nearer to your hotel. You should not be visible in this light if you keep to one side of the road — that's assuming, of course, that your follower is under cover somewhere near our entrance.'
With a word of thanks, Bim told the constable, 'You'd better stay put here until I get back, and I suggest you familiarise yourself with our radio instructions while I'm away, in case you need to use it in a hurry. 'I did look them over myself before our friend here put them away in his safe — they seem fairly simple and idiot-proof.' Then, after asking for the light to be turned off until he got clear, he lifted up the sash and disappeared through the opening.
Ten minutes later Bim entered the hotel, took the lift up to his room and collected the small case of tools he had brought with him from England. Quickly moving to the end of the corridor, he knocked on the door of the only other occupied room. As he had hoped, there was no reply; unlocking his box, he extracted a set of lockpicks and tackled his first task. Seconds later, he entered the room.
It stood on the bedroom dresser and looked just like an ordinary radio, with an indoor 'V' aerial standing on top. However, the detective recognised it for what it was and removed the back with a small screwdriver. The printed circuit board was now revealed inside. With his pocket knife, he made a hairline cut in one of the narrow strips of copper film, situated in an obscure corner of the board, right up against a capacitor where it was almost invisible. For a belt-and-braces effort, he also pulled a fine wire out of a condenser, took the tube of glue from his toolbox and squeezed a drip onto the end of the said wire, before tucking that between it and the board, where it would earth the circuit. An expert would now be needed to detect and rectify the troubles and he guessed there wouldn't be many of those about here. (He carried the glue mainly for messing up locks, when the occasion demanded.)
Within a couple of minutes, having wiped clean everything he had needed to touch (although he doubted whether anyone here was likely to check around for prints), he was closing the door behind him. Only another fifteen minutes had elapsed before he was tapping on the Consulate's breakfast-room window; the light was extinguished again, the sash lifted up and our detective stepped inside.
'Well, we should be able to talk freely in our room for at least a few days, now,' Bim told them with a grin when the light came on again and he was able to relax once more in one of the comfortable chairs.
'It's nearly ten o'clock now, gentlemen, and as I'm not as young as I was that's my bedtime,' the Consul told them. 'I shall have to ask you to leave me now, before you settle down and get too comfortable.'
'Sorry, sir, most inconsiderate of us,' the inspector said as they quickly got to their feet. 'We'll meet again in the morning, then — and we can find our own way out now.'
Bim had been in bed for perhaps an hour, sleepless, as the crowded events of the past twenty-four hours flooded through his too-active brain. Had anyone told him forty-eight hours earlier that he would now be sleeping in an hotel on a desert island with a pistol handy on his bedside table, he would have thought they were nuts.
He was suddenly wide awake as he thought he heard a feeble noise coming from the living room. Had he forgotten to lock his door? He leapt out of bed, rapidly snatched on his dressing gown and pulled the pistol from its holster, which he'd laid beside him when he undressed. Creeping out of the bedroom, he stood there statue-like and listened. There it was again, but it was coming from the outer door and sounded as though someone was gently drumming his fingers on it. Lifting his revolver, he unlocked the door and opened it a crack. He could see a broad shortish figure standing outside in the lighted passage, wearing a light raincoat.
'What do you want?' he whispered.
'What are you drinking, my friend? Oh! I'm sorry, I mistook you for someone else,' came the inappropriate reply. Bim played the game.
'Always ready to make a new friend, so let me get you something.' He opened the door and held out his hand. 'Forgive me if I seem to be half asleep, but I am — like a cup of coffee? We lost four hours coming over and I've got a touch of jet lag,' he continued. Without waiting for an answer, he filled the little coffee-pot provided by the hotel, switched it on and put out the crockery.
In the meantime his visitor had taken off his coat, revealing the uniform of a naval chief petty officer — it was that of a submariner, to boot. 'My name doesn't really matter, as long as I've proved my authenticity,' he said, as he sat down beside the table. 'And I can't risk staying long, as my men are a little way offshore in a rubber dinghy, awaiting my return. 'So what's the trouble, Mr. Trotter?'
Bim passed over a cup of coffee and, after sipping his own, he began to explain the position as he understood it. He concluded, 'So, with only two old Meteor kites left now, no tanks, a small unmechanised, undedicated and probably undisciplined army of Indian soldiers, on the one hand; and opposing them, a fanatical partly-mechanised army (evidently constantly being reinforced) of men wanting to lay down their lives in order to enjoy the company of a hundred hours in their next existence, if help doesn't arrive within hours I think it's going to be too late.'
'Enough said, that's all I needed to know,' said his visitor. 'We've been given a free hand ourselves, though we're in constant touch with Whitehall as well. We'll have the entrance to the little cove they've been using mined well before dawn. Your situation here regarding aircraft and armour will be reported to Whitehall within the hour. 'Good luck, then — it looks as though you're going to need it,' he concluded before gulping down the rest of his coffee, shaking Bim's hand again and making for the door. The time was half-past eleven as the sailor pulled the door closed behind him. Bim was about to make his way back to bed. As he noted the time, suddenly a thought struck him: did their enemy down the passage have an assistant who might have warned him of their visitor? He turned back and opened the door a crack. First he saw the light raincoat disappearing down the stairs that were situated next to the lift, then he spotted a figure leave the room at the far end of the passage, silently to make his way to the lift and press the call button.
Bim had little time to think or react: all he knew was that the sailor was now in danger and must not be prevented from returning to his vessel. Silently, in his bare feet, he crept up behind his adversary, who was standing there awaiting the coming of the lift. Holding his pistol by the barrel he lifted it high; at that moment the fellow turned his head. Bim's eney saw him only for a split second, however, as something seemed gently to press into his skull and turn out all his lights. When he collapsed onto the floor, Bim ran across the passage to rap on the constable's locked door.
'Quick, come and give me a hand,' he whispered as the door opened a crack and Bob's dark eyes appeared. The door opened wide, as did those eyes, as Bim continued, 'I'll explain what happened later. For now we've got to carry this fellow back to his room and throw him out of his window, to make it look like an accident when they find the mess.'
'Is he dead, then?' Bob wanted to know as they lifted the unwieldy, floppy body up and started to carry it along the passage.
'Not yet, but don't talk now. He could have a mate on the premises for all we know, so speed's the word.'
The end room's door was ajar when they reached it, and the light on.
'Don't touch anything you don't have to. We don't know how efficient the local police are, so they mustn't find our dabs all over the place. And if we wipe things clean, they'll wonder why this bloke's prints aren't here. So anything you need to handle, do it holding your handkerchief.'
Bim turned the light off with his elbow and they dumped the still-inert body on the floor, while Bob lifted the sash window, careful to leave no prints.
'We've got to try to make sure he lands head-first, so's his skull crushes,' he advised. 'Then they won't be able to see the damage my pistol butt did when I hit him.'
As they lowered their erstwhile shadow outside the window by its feet, the constable sounded apprehensive as he said, 'I hope you know what you're doing. We're the only others on this floor, so we're sure to be suspected.'
'Let go!' replied Bim. 'Now, let's get out of here quick.' He looked round and saw that Bob, handkerchief in hand, was closing the window.
'No, you fool!' he almost yelled. 'Don't you see, he'd have a job to close the window behind him if he fell out of it!'
Bob guiltily lifted the sash again and they both made for the exit. Bim lowered the latch and slammed the door closed behind them. 'I can't tell you the whole story now, because we've got to appear to be asleep in our beds if they rush up here after finding the body. But I've just had a visit, it was by a submariner from a vessel that's been standing by off the coast, so we haven't been quite as unsupported as we thought. He was leaving me to call up help when I spotted our friend now down there on the pavement, following him, so I had no choice but to lay him out. And since that told him his cover was broken and with a lot of our people's lives at stake, our only alternative was to shut him up for good and try to make it look like an accident. Now all we can do is to lie low and wait for them to send a replacement.'
They parted and locked themselves in their rooms once more. As he climbed into bed, Bim suddenly realised that while he had been talking to the sailor he hadn't given a thought to the bugging of his room. Dozy as he had been, he was pretty sure that even had he not messed up their radio receiver, he would not have remembered to take his visitor into the passage and out of the hearing of their listening enemy.
Surprisingly, perhaps, he crept into bed in his air-conditioned room, this time to sleep soundly until he was awakened by a distant explosion, soon after dawn lightened the room. No-one had come up to investigate the death of their victim during the night, for the simple reason that his body had fallen behind a row of dustbins and had not even been discovered yet. In fact, no-one would connect them with it: life and death, it seemed, were taken for granted in Ambouna. Neither was a replacement shadow ever sent to keep an eye on them; the enemy must have realised by this time that the two were fully alerted and given up their operation.