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|The Secret Adversary||Agatha Christie|
|Page 6 of 10||
The door opened. A faint light streamed in from outside. Conrad went straight towards the gas to light it. Tommy deeply regretted that it was he who had entered first. It would have been pleasant to get even with Conrad. Number 14 followed. As he stepped across the threshold, Tommy brought the picture down with terrific force on his head. Number 14 went down amidst a stupendous crash of broken glass. In a minute Tommy had slipped out and pulled to the door. The key was in the lock. He turned it and withdrew it just as Conrad hurled himself against the door from the inside with a volley of curses.
For a moment Tommy hesitated. There was the sound of some one stirring on the floor below. Then the German's voice came up the stairs.
"Gott im Himmel! Conrad, what is it?"
Tommy felt a small hand thrust into his. Beside him stood Annette. She pointed up a rickety ladder that apparently led to some attics.
"Quick--up here!" She dragged him after her up the ladder. In another moment they were standing in a dusty garret littered with lumber. Tommy looked round.
"This won't do. It's a regular trap. There's no way out."
"Hush! Wait." The girl put her finger to her lips. She crept to the top of the ladder and listened.
The banging and beating on the door was terrific. The German and another were trying to force the door in. Annette explained in a whisper:
"They will think you are still inside. They cannot hear what Conrad says. The door is too thick."
"I thought you could hear what went on in the room?"
"There is a peep-hole into the next room. It was clever of you to guess. But they will not think of that--they are only anxious to get in."
"Yes--but look here----"
"Leave it to me." She bent down. To his amazement, Tommy saw that she was fastening the end of a long piece of string to the handle of a big cracked jug. She arranged it carefully, then turned to Tommy.
"Have you the key of the door?"
"Give it to me."
He handed it to her.
"I am going down. Do you think you can go halfway, and then swing yourself down BEHIND the ladder, so that they will not see you?"
"There's a big cupboard in the shadow of the landing. Stand behind it. Take the end of this string in your hand. When I've let the others out--PULL!"
Before he had time to ask her anything more, she had flitted lightly down the ladder and was in the midst of the group with a loud cry:
"Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! Qu'est-ce qu'il y a?"
The German turned on her with an oath.
"Get out of this. Go to your room!"
Very cautiously Tommy swung himself down the back of the ladder. So long as they did not turn round ... all was well. He crouched behind the cupboard. They were still between him and the stairs.
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