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|The Secret Adversary||Agatha Christie|
VII The House in Soho
|Page 2 of 4||
Tommy caught the word "Ireland" several times, also "propaganda," but of Jane Finn there was no mention. Suddenly, in a lull in the clatter of the room, he got one phrase entire. Whittington was speaking. "Ah, but you don't know Flossie. She's a marvel. An archbishop would swear she was his own mother. She gets the voice right every time, and that's really the principal thing."
Tommy did not hear Boris's reply, but in response to it Whittington said something that sounded like: "Of course--only in an emergency...."
Then he lost the thread again. But presently the phrases became distinct again whether because the other two had insensibly raised their voices, or because Tommy's ears were getting more attuned, he could not tell. But two words certainly had a most stimulating effect upon the listener. They were uttered by Boris and they were: "Mr. Brown."
Whittington seemed to remonstrate with him, but he merely laughed.
"Why not, my friend? It is a name most respectable--most common. Did he not choose it for that reason? Ah, I should like to meet him--Mr. Brown."
There was a steely ring in Whittington's voice as he replied:
"Who knows? You may have met him already."
"Bah!" retorted the other. "That is children's talk--a fable for the police. Do you know what I say to myself sometimes? That he is a fable invented by the Inner Ring, a bogy to frighten us with. It might be so."
"And it might not."
"I wonder ... or is it indeed true that he is with us and amongst us, unknown to all but a chosen few? If so, he keeps his secret well. And the idea is a good one, yes. We never know. We look at each other--ONE OF US IS MR. BROWN--which? He commands--but also he serves. Among us--in the midst of us. And no one knows which he is...."
With an effort the Russian shook off the vagary of his fancy. He looked at his watch.
"Yes," said Whittington. "We might as well go."
He called the waitress and asked for his bill. Tommy did likewise, and a few moments later was following the two men down the stairs.
Outside, Whittington hailed a taxi, and directed the driver to go to Waterloo.
Taxis were plentiful here, and before Whittington's had driven off another was drawing up to the curb in obedience to Tommy's peremptory hand.
"Follow that other taxi," directed the young man. "Don't lose it."
The elderly chauffeur showed no interest. He merely grunted and jerked down his flag. The drive was uneventful. Tommy's taxi came to rest at the departure platform just after Whittington's. Tommy was behind him at the booking-office. He took a first-class single ticket to Bournemouth, Tommy did the same. As he emerged, Boris remarked, glancing up at the clock: "You are early. You have nearly half an hour."
Boris's words had aroused a new train of thought in Tommy's mind. Clearly Whittington was making the journey alone, while the other remained in London. Therefore he was left with a choice as to which he would follow. Obviously, he could not follow both of them unless----Like Boris, he glanced up at the clock, and then to the announcement board of the trains. The Bournemouth train left at 3.30. It was now ten past. Whittington and Boris were walking up and down by the bookstall. He gave one doubtful look at them, then hurried into an adjacent telephone box. He dared not waste time in trying to get hold of Tuppence. In all probability she was still in the neighbourhood of South Audley Mansions. But there remained another ally. He rang up the Ritz and asked for Julius Hersheimmer. There was a click and a buzz. Oh, if only the young American was in his room! There was another click, and then "Hello" in unmistakable accents came over the wire.
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