There was little need to check the man’s vital signs, but I went through the motions nevertheless. Given my companion’s somewhat heightened sense of terror, I decided to break the news to him as gently as possible:
“He’s snuffed it.”
“My God! I’m next!” Hannay’s hands flew to his face, cupping those rosy cheeks in a girlish manner that put me in mind of my own dear wife and the ‘swooning maiden’ act she sometimes adopts when I show her my rhododendrons.
“We must fetch Sherlock Holmes,” he cried, tugging at my lapel. “Only he can save us.”
I brushed him aside. “Don’t be such a nancy-boy, Hannay. Pull yourself together.” I checked through the dead man’s pockets and found two items: a picture postcard of some obscure Scottish village and a small white card displaying a silhouette of a man and the slogan ‘Scudder’s Marital Aids’. Slipping both articles into my pocket I stood up. “His name’s Scudder and judging from his business card I don’t believe him to be involved in creative writing. Now, Hannay, this is very important – the word he uttered before he fell…”
Hannay rubbed his chin. “I thought he was asking for the Post Office.”
I shook my head. “No, that’s meaningless. I thought he said ‘Ostovich’, which is obviously Russian. This man is a secret agent.”
I walked over to the window and retrieved my cup of tea. “I think this has something to do with your writing, Hannay, but it’s also got something to do with spies.”
“But I don’t know anything about spying,” he wailed.
“Ah,” said I. “But in your recent novel ‘The Forty-Seven Arsewipes’ you went into great detail about the process of creating false passports.”
“Oh, you read my books?” His manner changed abruptly and he began pawing at my chest like a lovesick pig.
“Indeed,” I muttered, moving out range. “I didn’t like to say so before, but I’m rather fond of a good story and the depth of research that goes into your work might easily prompt a less intelligent casual reader to think you were involved in spying yourself.”
He shrugged. “Actually, I make it all up, but I suppose it’s possible…”
“Not only possible, but highly likely. You said yourself that someone was trying to steal your new novel.” I rubbed my chin the way I’ve seen Holmes do in such situations. “I believe that the men who have been following you are enemy agents. Scudder here was obviously involved – perhaps he was a double agent. A triple agent, even.” I peeked through the curtains and noted with a grim nod that the two men at the phone box where still there. “We have to leave.”
“And go where?”
At that precise moment in time I had no idea, but then a thought occurred to me. Pulling the postcard out of my pocket I studied the picture closely – it depicted a traditional Scottish village and the slogan ‘Frae Bonnie Scotland’. “We need time to consider our next move,” I said, waving the card. “We’ll catch the next train to Edinburgh and head for Newton Stewart – no-one will think of looking for us there.”
To be continued