Another favourite from the library of Murray Roberts .
Nick Carter was one of the earliest of the pre Bond international crime fighters, with a career spanning 30 years. The large number of titles this represents were almost certainly farmed out to a stable of writers, who used NC as a ‘House Name’ I never found the series fertile ground for spankings, but this one is a little gem.
In “A Bullet For Fidel”, Nick impersonates a reclusive aristocrat called Lord Straven. Unfortunately, he bumps (literally) into Alison O’Reilly, who knows the real Lord S., and decides to do some investigating herself.
Nick and Alison get together at the end of the story, always a plus point for a sentimental soul like myself.
He slid his room key into its keyhole and pushed open the main door of his suite. The short hairs at the nape of his neck suddenly stood out like cactus spines. There was a light on in the big living room at the end of the entrance hall, and he knew he hadn’t turned it on. That was all right; there was nothing to stop the hotel staff from coming and going as they pleased. But whoever had come in hadn’t left, and he didn’t need his fabled sixth sense to tell him that. The radio was on, too and someone was humming.
The door closed very quietly behind him. He glided like a lanky shadow down the hall towards the light, ready to draw his Luger at split-second notice but not really thinking he would have to.
He saw her before she saw him. She was dressed in a shimmering. low-cut gown and she was curled up in a chair he had already decided was the most comfortable in the room. The radio was making pleasantly rhythmic sounds and she was adding to them in a voice that was blue velvet with a ragtime beat. She had also, he noticed at once, delved into his liquor cabinet and provided herself with refreshment, for there was a bottle and an ice bucket on a tray beside her and she was taking periodic sips from the tall glass she was using as a baton.
“Now I know you drink,” he said and walked into the room.
She started a little, but not much.
“So!” she said, “Lord Straven has returned. Have a nice evening?”
“Very pleasant thank you” He surveyed her critically. Still gorgeous. And not lushing it up with that bottle. Just having a little ladylike refreshment. “And to what do I owe the pleasure of your company?”
“To your wealth, to your good looks and charm, and to your title,” she said sweetly. “Lord Straven.” She looked him in the eye and made her lip curl. “Lord Straven” Ha, ha, ha, ha!
Nick felt a little chill crawl down his spine. He put ice cubes in a glass and poured himself a drink.
“Why do you laugh, Miss O’Reilly?” In that somewhat uncouth way?” I’m delighted, of course, that you are more cheerful than I have seen you before. It’s nice to know that you feel at home here, and content.” He sat himself down in the second most comfortable chair and had a little bracer before continuing. Lord Straven ha, ha, ha. An unsettling girl, this one. It was just as well she had decided to show her hand so early in the game. If that was what she was doing. “And I, too, am amused at your presence here. But I’m not sure I get the whole point of the joke. Kindly explain.”
“It’s very simple,” she said. “Things are going to be different from now on.” She had a rather large evening purse, he noticed. It was open, and her left hand hovered near it.
“Are they indeed? I must say I’m relieved to hear it. So far they look to me very much the same as usual. You’ve been popping up unexpectedly all over the place, and now you’ve done it again. This time in my private suite. Would you mind telling me how you got in? I suppose you accidentally stumbled against the lock and the door flew open.”
She glowered at him. “Still trying to be funny, hah? No, friend Straven, it was a whole lot easier than that. I asked a nice little hall porter to let me in. I said I was your popsie and he was so warm and sympathetic.”
Nick blinked. “You said you were my what?“
“Popsie. You heard me. Or perhaps you didn’t know that English lords have popsies?”
“It had come to my attention, but one doesn’t talk about them in quite those terms. And why should you claim to be my – uh – popsie?”
“Because I wanted to have a little private talk with you,” she said reasonably. “And so that I could have a look around before you got back.” She said it in the calm tones of a housewife who had wanted to make sure that the maid had dusted.
Nick eyed her steadily. She certainly was direct, for someone who was admittedly spying on him. And she was, without a doubt, a most attractive dish. A pity, because if she had been sent to spoil his game he was going to have to spoil hers first. But she had a most extraordinary approach.
“I suppose I should be outraged,” he said easily. “But I don’t carry the family jewels with me and, as you’ve no doubt discovered, I keep my money in travelers cheques. So you didn’t get what you came for did you?”
“I got it before I came,” she said, just as calmly. “Of course, I would have enjoyed finding some proof, but I don’t think it’s really necessary. And I think we’ll manage to understand each other without it.”
“Do you? I don’t understand you at all.” It was his most honest statement of the day. “Look,” He got to his feet. “There are two things I can do. One call the management, who’ll call the police. Two, put you over my knee and give you the spanking you deserve. You’re going to stop this nonsense and tell me at once what you think you’re doing here.” He took a couple of long purposeful strides that brought him close to her chair.
Something twinkled in her hand. “Stay where you are!” Her small hand held an even smaller gun, and it was pointing steadily at him. “You wouldn’t dare call the police, and you’re not going to lay a hand on me.”
He stopped in his tracks. Now here was an interesting development. He could probably wrest the thing from her without the slightest difficulty, but it might just go off accidentally and make a nasty little mess. On the whole it would be better if he were to bide his time.
“So you came armed,” he murmured. “But you can’t use it, you know. The sympathetic hall porter knows you’re here, remember.”
“I remember,” she said gently. “But that won’t matter once I’m gone will it? And you don’t know who else I might have let in, do you?”
That was quite true; he didn’t. His eyes darted to the bedroom door. It was slightly ajar. And there were plenty of other doors outside his line of vision.
She laughed. “Got you there, didn’t I? Don’t worry Straven. we’re alone together, Straven. I told you I wanted a private talk, didn’t I, Straven?”
He sighed. There she was again, tossing the name of Straven at him like a spitball. Her insistence had a significance that meant he was going to have to break her pretty little neck.
“All right then. Talk.”
There seemed no point in arguing – yet. He sat.
“That’s a nice Straven,” she said with satisfaction. “And don’t get the idea that you can pull a gun on me, because I shoot fast and I shoot well. But only when necessary.”
“Young lady, if that’s the kind of thing you talk about I can understand your desire for privacy.
But it doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere.” He started to take a sip of his drink and them thought better of it. He might find some other use for it.
“All right, let’s get somewhere. She drank from her own glass and then leaned back comfortably with the little gun still pointed steadily at his midriff. “I travel a lot, you know,” she began conversationally. “Europe, the Union States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, here and there. I get around, and I meet people.”
Nick stiffened. he thought it most unlikely that he would have forgotten her if they had met before, but it was just possible. And it was increasingly evident that she had recognized him.
“Once, on the Riviera,” she went on “I met a nice old man whose name was can you guess what?”
His heart seemed to sink an inch or two. “Charles de Gaulle?” he hazarded.
“Still making with the lousy jokes, ha?” Funny how her accent seemed to change. First it was English with the popsie talk; now it was American with the lousy jokes, hah.
“No, sweetheart.” She smiled like a contented cat. “His name was Straven. Lord Simon Straven.”
“Well, I don’t know. It’s been in the family for years. One gets used to it,” Nick said modestly.
“I suppose one does,” she agreed. “It didn’t take you long, did it?
“What do you mean?” As if he didn’t know.
“Ducky, there’s no need to be obtuse.” she said.
“Lord Simon is a sweet, white-haired old man.”
“I’m glad you think so,” said Nick. “And you were lucky to meet him. The old man hasn’t been out of London more than two or three times in the last ten years. The Riviera now. That would be – about four years ago, wouldn’t it?”
She beamed at him. “How clever of you. Quite true, he’s almost a recluse, so they told me. Still, he hadn’t forgotten much. One glass of bubbly and – well, that’s my business. But we got along like a house on fire. he told me so much about himself. Now perhaps you’ll do the same. Starting with why you’re pretending to be Lord Simon Straven.”
“I’m not pretending,” said Nick.
“Of course you are.” Her smile turned into a scowl. “I know him, I tell you, and I mean I know him.
When that fellow down by the pool came with a message for Lord Straven and then you leaped up and nearly knocked me down, I knew there was something fishy going on. you’re not Straven, any more than I am. He’s a randy old goat, but he’s nice and he’s rich and he’s about a hundred years old and your’re not him.”
“Shame on you,” Nick grinned faintly. She cast a new light on the venerable Lord Straven. “That’s no way to talk about my father.”
“Your father?” For a moment she looked slightly disconcerted. But her recovery was quick. “Oh, no, you don’t. He’s got one dried-up stick of a daughter, and if you’re it all I can say is that your disguise must be magnificent. No, buddy. Lord Simon has no sons.”
And that was true. Hardly anybody outside of London could have known this. And Carter had to bump into one of the very few people who did.
“Well. well. well, he said thoughtfully. “That’s a most interesting story. Supposing it were true – and believe me, I can prove you wrong – just what do you think you can gain by it?”
She met his gaze steadily. “It is true, and you know it. I don’t care what clever proof you can come up with, I’ll still know you’re lying and so will you. You’re doing this for a reason, and I want to know that reason. I’m not going to leave this room until you tell me what it is.”
“You’re raving, girl,” he said, and reached idly for his glass. “I don’t believe you’ve ever been to the Riviera.”
“I certainly ha-“
Nick jerked the glass forward with he suddenness of a striking snake and flung himself sideways out to of his chair. Cold rum and even colder ice cubes slapped against her face and splashed down the front of her low-cut gown. She made a sound like a police siren and leaped to her feet, waving the little gun wildly and wiping her pretty, creamy-tanned neck with an agitated hand. He caught her gun arm and twisted it upward in one swift, relentless thrust. The little gun dropped to the floor and he kicked it away.
“Now,” he said menacingly, “we’ll do the talking my way.”
Her scream turned into a little yelp of alarm as he pinned her hands in one of his and dragged her back to the chair. He seated himself comfortably and pulled her down on top of him, her firm breasts nuzzling into his knee and her shapely derriere clamped beneath the palm of his right hand. His legs scissored around hers.
“Leggo of me, you bastard!”
“Watch your language, he reproved her. I warned you what was going to happen, and you went right ahead and made it worse. I’m going to ask you a few questions. Miss O’Reilly, baby, and you’re going to answer me – or else.” His hand rose quickly and descended on the small behind. There was a satisfying sound, and his hand stung.
“First. When did you start following me, and why?”
“Following you?” she squealed. “I haven’t been doing anything of the sort! I told you, it was only after the man called you Straven that I even noticed you.”
“Oh, come on, now.” A series of slapping sounds, and a yelp. “You bumped into me three times and you didn’t notice me? You’ll have to do better than that. What were you trying to do, scrape acquaintance or lift my wallet?”
The blonde head turned and the sky-blue eyes blinked at him resentfully. “Neither!” Those were accidents. You can hit me all you like you sonofabitch, but they were accidents. I told you I was sorry, didn’t I? Goddamn! No indeed, I didn’t want you or your miserable wallet. It was just my bad luck I kept on running into you.”
Nick stared into the blue eyes reflectively. There was something oddly convincing about her indignation. She gave a convulsive little wiggle and he slapped her down almost casually. So maybe she hadn’t been following him.
“All right, let’s try the next question. You think I’m not Straven. Why don’t you go to the police, is it because you think you can blackmail me?”
“I won’t answer your questions in this position! Put me down and I’ll talk to you, damn you!”
Nick thought it over. This was quite enjoyable, in a way, but it wasn’t getting him any where.
“If that’s a promise – okay. but first, here’s a little something for lying your way into my rooms and waving a gun at me.” His hand came down hard, several times. Her outraged squeals were music to his ears. She was the least likely and most inefficient spy he had ever met; a Mata Hari with a sore behind.
“Ten…eleven…twelve,” he finished, and stood up abruptly. She thudded to the floor and scrambled angrily to her feet.
She rubbed her bottom soothingly.