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Nest-Egg for the Baron: (Writing as Anthony Morton)

Nest-Egg for the Baron: (Writing as Anthony Morton)

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Nest-Egg for the Baron: (Writing as Anthony Morton)

Length:
239 pages
2 hours
Released:
Nov 1, 2014
ISBN:
9780755137787
Format:
Book

Description

John Mannering (aka ‘The Baron’) of Quinns Antiques in Mayfair, is in danger. Several murders have taken place and a mysterious gunman pursues him. Behind it all lies a blond woman, who appears to be (at least temporarily) dumb and a nest egg of gold holding five bejewelled eggs. Can he escape danger and at the same time solve the mystery?

Released:
Nov 1, 2014
ISBN:
9780755137787
Format:
Book

About the author

Born in Surrey, England, into a poor family as seventh of nine children, John Creasey attended a primary school in Fulham, London, followed by The Sloane School. He did not follow his father as a coach maker, but pursued various low-level careers as a clerk, in factories, and sales. His ambition was to write full time and by 1935 he achieved this, some three years after the appearance of his first crime novel ‘Seven Times Seven’. From the outset, he was an astonishingly prolific and fast writer, and it was not unusual for him to have a score, or more, novels published in any one year. Because of this, he ended up using twenty eight pseudonyms, both male and female, once explaining that booksellers otherwise complained about him totally dominating the ‘C’ section in bookstores. They included: Gordon Ashe, M E Cooke, Norman Deane, Robert Caine Frazer, Patrick Gill, Michael Halliday, Charles Hogarth, Brian Hope, Colin Hughes, Kyle Hunt, Abel Mann, Peter Manton, JJ Marric, Richard Martin, Rodney Mattheson, Anthony Morton and Jeremy York. As well as crime, he wrote westerns, fantasy, historical fiction and standalone novels in many other genres. It is for crime, though, that he is best known, particularly the various detective ‘series’, including Gideon of Scotland Yard, The Baron, The Toff, and Inspector Roger West, although his other characters and series should not be dismissed as secondary, as the likes of Department ‘Z’ and Dr. Palfrey have considerable followings amongst readers, as do many of the ‘one off’ titles, such as the historical novel ‘Masters of Bow Street’ about the founding of the modern police force. With over five hundred books to his credit and worldwide sales approaching one hundred million, and translations into over twenty-five languages, Creasey grew to be an international sensation. He travelled widely, promoting his books in places as far apart as Russia and Australia, and virtually commuted between the UK and USA, visiting in all some forty seven states. As if this were not enough, he also stood for Parliament several times as a Liberal in the 1940’s and 50’s, and an Independent throughout the 1960’s. In 1966, he founded the ‘All Party Alliance’, which promoted the idea of government by a coalition of the best minds from across the political spectrum, and was also involved with the National Savings movement; United Europe; various road safety campaigns, and famine relief. In 1953 Creasey founded the British Crime Writers’ Association, which to this day celebrates outstanding crime writing. He won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his novel ‘Gideon’s Fire’ and in 1969 was given the ultimate Grand Master Award. There have been many TV and big screen adaptations of his work, including major series centred upon Gideon, The Baron, Roger West and others. His stories are as compelling today as ever, with one of the major factors in his success being the ability to portray characters as living – his undoubted talent being to understand and observe accurately human behaviour. John Creasey died at Salisbury, Wiltshire in 1973. 'He leads a field in which Agatha Christie is also a runner.' - Sunday Times.

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Nest-Egg for the Baron - John Creasey

ever.

Chapter One

Beauty and the Beast

The girl was so young and pretty, and the man so old and plain. Plain, in fact, was the word which only the kind of heart would have applied. He was ugly. He had a big, veiny, bulbous nose, and thick, coarse lips; little eyes which seemed buried in their sockets; and he was painfully thin. Nature, warmly generous with gifts to the girl’s face and figure, had savaged the old man wickedly, for he had a humped back and short legs; pity stirred easily for him, once revulsion was past.

The girl walked with him, slowly. His back was bent, hers beautifully straight; he limped, she had the grace of the very young. Her forearm, rounded and golden brown, was without a blemish; his hand, grasping it, was like a claw made out of rotting leather. He clasped her tightly, as if without her help he would not be able to move along.

Most who saw them, stared.

Even Mannering did.

He was coming from the other direction. Their backs were towards Bond Street, with its swift ebb and flow of traffic, scurrying people, and fashions. It was still a shopping place for the very rich, although no longer exclusively for them.

Mannering faced the old man and the young woman. Half-way between him and the strange couple was his shop, Quinns, with its narrow window and oiled dark-oak fascia board with the legend Quinns in old English lettering, and gold paint. The shop was famous and, for different reasons, so was Mannering. Yet strangers would have been intrigued as he drew nearer the couple, for he was in sharp contrast to the old man. Tall, tanned, handsome – and all these enough to be striking.

The few people in Hart Row, a narrow street where several exclusive shops attracted the knowing as well as the wealthy, saw the couple become a trio just outside Quinns. In the window a jewelled crown was displayed upon black velvet. The jewels caught the light and showed a hundred colours; gold glittered, and in the centre of the crown was a single diamond which might have been first cousin to the Koh-i-noor. It was worth a fortune, although the dynasty for which it had been wrought and set by craftsmen of an Oriental kingdom had long since perished.

Until that moment no single person had passed Quinns without looking at the crown. Most had lingered. A surprising number had remarked that it couldn’t be real – no one would take a risk with a genuine jewelled crown in a shop window. All these comments had been heard inside by Mannering’s assistants, for an elaborate loudspeaker system had been installed to enable a man at the back of the shop to hear what was said outside; that was one of Mannering’s many precautions against burglary.

Everyone near by, then, had paused to look at the crown; three women, two of them Americans, were at the window now. The old man and the girl passed the window. The old man glanced at the crown, then looked away, and said: This is the place, Miranda.

The girl did not speak.

I hope, I only hope, that we can trust them.

The girl said nothing.

She glanced at Mannering, but had no more interest in him than the man had in the crown of such splendour. Her eyes were blue, so clear and bright that Mannering was reminded of the sea in Naples Bay on a summer day when Vesuvius brooded and Capri crowned the Mediterranean loveliness. Her hair was fair, a pale-gold colour, brushed straight back from her forehead and hanging below her shoulders. It was like a golden cloak, and glistened just as beautifully as the crown.

She wore a simply cut linen dress of apple-green, with a wide yellow belt and yellow shoes, and she carried a small pigskin dresscase.

The man I want to see, said the old man, is Mannering himself, John Mannering. We must insist, Miranda.

Miranda did not speak.

The old man’s voice was quite remarkable, especially because it was so unexpected. A harsh, croaking sound would have seemed natural; in fact, he had a soft, smooth, cultured tone, and spoke as if he were aware that his voice was his great asset, and must be used with caution and with skill.

Mannering drew back.

Sylvester, a grey-haired man with the manners of a courtier, was on the other side of the door. He opened it. The girl freed her arm, took the old man’s elbow, and thrust him gently inside. Sylvester bowed. The old man shot a swift, suspicious look at him from those dark, buried eyes. He was breathing heavily, and a beading of sweat fringed his lined forehead.

Good afternoon, sir, welcomed Sylvester. Will you please sit down? It’s very warm—a tiring day.

He pushed a chair forward.

The girl glanced at him gratefully, and helped the old and ugly man to sit down.

Thank you, thank you, said the man. The girl did not speak. I wish to see Mr. Mannering. Is he in, please?

Mannering was still outside the door.

He isn’t at the moment, but I expect him back soon, Sylvester said.

Then we will wait.

You’re very welcome, sir. Sylvester bowed, and moved a little to one side. If you care to look round, you will be equally welcome.

I haven’t come to buy, said the little old man testily; I’ve come to sell.

We would have great difficulty in selling if we didn’t sometimes buy, said Sylvester, with the same practised courtesy. He glanced at the girl’s pigskin case, as if wondering what was inside. I will tell you the moment Mr. Mannering arrives.

The old man nodded.

The girl still didn’t speak.

Although both looked round, neither of the callers paid particular attention to the shop or its contents. Theirs was the quick, casual gaze of someone who was not really interested, who knew that nothing here was likely to hold their attention. Some beautiful antiques, the oldest dating back to the thirteenth century, some cabinets with a golden sheen almost as beautiful as the girl’s hair, a suit of mail armour once worn by a jousting knight – and on the walls, paintings by masters, all old and of divers sizes, would have fascinated connoisseurs and anyone with even a little knowledge of the past; and of beauty.

The lovely girl and the ugly old man looked from one to another with impatient, fleeting interest. They treated a Rubens and a Constable with equal indifference. Glass showcases held rare jewels and jewelled objets d’art, one filled with pieces matching the crown and coming from the same forgotten Court. But none of this interested the couple.

Mannering observed all this, from the street.

Sylvester disappeared.

A young man sat at the back of the shop, listening to the comments of the people outside. Then Mannering came in, nodded briskly at the couple, and went to his office, to the right at the end of the long, narrow shop.

Sylvester was waiting.

They asked to see you personally, sir.

Did they say why? Mannering rounded a bow-fronted Queen Anne desk, and sat down as he spoke.

Sylvester stood near the door, venerable with age, courtly of voice as well as manner; a little too English to be true.

The old man says they’ve come to sell, he said. I didn’t ask for details; I had a feeling that the man would probably resent it. He appears to be nervous, and when outside said that he hoped that we could be trusted!

Mannering grinned.

What did the girl say?

She hasn’t uttered a word, Sylvester told Mannering.

If you’d like me to find out why—

I’ll see them at once, I think, decided Mannering, and gave a crooked smile. She’s really something out of the top drawer.

Very lovely indeed, sir. Sylvester hesitated. It’s strange that she hasn’t yet uttered a syllable.

Shy, too!

Have you noticed, asked Sylvester reflectively, that she has a strange kind of calmness?

Strange?

It impresses me that way.

Bring them along, said Mannering, and I’ll tell you later if I agree.

He pushed his chair back a little and glanced up at an oil-painting on the wall opposite. His own face looked down at him – above the dress, almost the regalia, of a Regency buck. There he was, with many colourful frills and furbelows and a sword in its scabbard, a gleam in his eye, and an amused twist at his lips. His wife had painted it.

As you ought to be and often wish you were, she had said when he’d first seen it.

The door opened.

Mr. Smith, sir, said Sylvester, with faint emphasis, and Miss Miranda Smith.

Mannering rose to greet them.

The girl’s pale hand was on the old man’s crooked elbow, as if she were urging him forward and giving him the courage to move. Once they were inside, the door closed on Sylvester. By Mannering’s foot was a switch; when it was down, Sylvester could hear every word and every sound in the office; another of the many precautions which Mannering’s nimble wits and insurance-company stipulations conspired to create.

But this was obviously just a harmless couple.

Mannering pressed the switch down; Sylvester heard a rustle of movement, a few words of greeting, and then: Miranda, said the old man, let me have that case.

He took it from her, and put it on the desk. His breathing was a little harsh. The deep-set eyes held a strange, excited glint. None of this appeared to affect the girl at all. She sat erect and unmoving, on an upright chair; long ago, she had been taught to carry herself well, and now the poise came naturally. She had a nice figure, too, not heavy, perhaps not fully developed; the figure of a girl of nineteen or twenty who would soon come to womanhood.

She did not speak.

Glancing at her, Mannering saw what Sylvester meant. Hers was a strange calmness; almost unnatural. Yet everything else about her was so natural and lovely that the word strange seemed wrongly applied.

Mr. Mannering, said the old man, I’ve come to you because I’m told you are an honest man.

I hope you haven’t been misinformed, said Mannering, promptly and with proper gravity.

So do I. Soon find out, said the old man. His voice was a little forced now, but was still remarkable for its clear tone. My name’s Smith.

So I understand.

Pendexter Smith.

Really, said Mannering, as if the first name conveyed a lot to him and he now fully understood the identity of his visitor. He didn’t. Sylvester had thrown doubt on the Smith with the faint emphasis; it was easy to forget that there were a great number of people really named Smith but few who had been christened Pendexter. How can I help you, Mr. Smith?

I have something to sell, Pendexter Smith announced.

He set the small case on his knees, then took a ring of keys from his side pocket. It was a big bunch, clinking and winking. He selected a key swiftly. His fingers had that look of rotting leather, there were ridged, blue veins and livery-brown spots on his hands; yet the fingers were nimble as he thrust the key into the lock of the case and turned it.

The lock clicked.

He didn’t open the case, but took the key out, thrust the bunch back into his pocket, and then peered at Mannering. His ugliness became more apparent; even to Mannering, who was now getting used to him, he was almost repellent. The deep-set eyes glittered like something reflecting the light a long way off. His thick, flat lips were turned back. He was almost hideous as he leaned forward, narrow, pointed chin stabbing, narrow shoulders hunched; he reminded Mannering of a vulture.

In this case I’ve got something worth a hundred thousand pounds, he said, gustily. I wish to sell it quickly, for as much as I can get. Will you find a buyer?

The girl looked at Mannering, her blue eyes darker in the room, unsmiling, calm, serene.

Chapter Two

The Golden Eggs

I’ll try to find a buyer, Mannering said quietly, but if it’s worth that money, it may take a little while.

For the first time, he wondered if the old man were quite right in the head. The girl’s manner was beginning to disturb him, too; Sylvester was right, her pose wasn’t natural; it was too child-like. Yet he recalled the way in which she had taken the old man’s elbow and guided him into the shop; and, later, into the office. She had known what she was doing then.

May I see what it is? asked Mannering, mildly.

The old man placed his two hands on the top of the little brown case. The swollen joints made the hands and fingers look more bony and much thinner even than they were. He pressed against the case possessively, giving the impression that for a moment he was afraid.

I’ll show you, he promised. I’ll show you, but you don’t believe what I say, do you?

About what?

That what I have here is worth a hundred thousand pounds.

Until I’ve seen it—

All the same, said the old man, with a kind of bitter fierceness. All dealers are the same, they deny the value, beat you down, cheat, and swindle, they’d cheat their own kith and kin!

As nearly as they could, his buried eyes glared, as if he expected an angry response, Mannering on his dignity.

Mannering smiled amiably, and said, Dreadful lot, aren’t we?

In my experience— began Pendexter Smith, but broke off abruptly. All right, all right, I’ll show you what I have. But mind you – he raised one hand, to point a waggling finger – I don’t trust you.

I don’t blame you!

Throughout all this, the lovely girl sat erect and still, her hands clasped lightly in her lap. They were nice hands, and the long, thin fingers were tipped with filbert-shaped nails which had neither coloured nor natural varnish to make them glisten. She wore just a touch of lipstick and a little powder; no rouge at all. The serenity of her blue eyes had not changed. She looked now at the old man, now at Mannering, half questioning – as if she were interested in what was passing between them, but had no desire to speak.

Was she – dumb?

If I leave them in your charge I’ll want every possible kind of assurance that they’ll be looked after, Pendexter Smith went on. Don’t think I’ll let you get away with anything.

I hope you won’t. Mannering was amiably emphatic.

The old man looked as if he didn’t quite understand this attitude; he remained suspicious and wary, and it was a long time before he lifted the lid of the case. Then he did so slowly. His manner created a sharper interest in Mannering; it was as if he were going to reveal something which was breathlessly beautiful and really worth a fortune. The odds were all against that; much more likely he was a bit touched, and had a trifle which he had invested with a fabulous value. Yet his manner made Mannering lean forward with quickening interest, and even made his heart beat faster.

The girl leaned forward, too, her eyes glistening with sudden excitement.

The old man threw back the lid.

There! he cried.

Inside the case was a nest, a bird’s nest – made of spun gold. Inside the nest were five jewelled eggs, and if one could judge from the look of them, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires were set in eggs of solid gold. Each the size of small hen’s eggs, they lay in the golden nest as if a fabulous bird which could lay jewelled eggs had left them there, and flown away.

You see? Pendexter Smith’s voice became almost shrill. His eyes glittered, his hands hovered about the eggs as if he suspected that Mannering would snatch them, and he meant to protect them with his life. Five jewelled eggs in a golden nest, worth a hundred thousand pounds at least. The only one like it in the world, Mr. Mannering! Why, the gold itself must be worth ten thousand pounds.

He watched Mannering, as if expecting a denial.

Yes, said Mannering slowly, I can well believe it.

"You agree?"

It’s so obviously true.

In the pause that followed, the old man looked at the girl, who was staring at him, not Mannering. Mannering judged her expression to be one of expectancy, but couldn’t really be sure. She didn’t look so very different from what she

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