It was dark when Hannay and myself arrived at his apartment. My companion’s initial enthusiasm (spurred by the knowledge of the gun in my pocket), had by this time dissipated somewhat. He began to display signs of anxiety – sweating profusely from every pore, an inability to get his key in the lock, visibly starting at the click of the light switch etc. I made myself useful by making a pot of tea while he hurried to the window and drew the curtains.
“Here we are, old bean,” I said, handing him a mug of Darjeeling. “This’ll perk you up.”
Holding the edge of the curtain open, Hannay took the cup but his gaze was fixed on the street outside. “They’re back again, see?” He turned to me, a look of utter fright in his eyes. “What the devil can they want?”
I shrugged and peered over his shoulder. In the street below, two rather dubious looking men were standing by a telephone box, looking up at the flat. I determined to put a brave face on it: “Looks perfectly innocent to me – just a couple of chaps having a quiet smoke.”
Hannay shook his head. “No, they’re after my plot.”
I blinked. “Your what?”
“My plot,” said he. “They want to steal The 39 Steps.”
I considered this for a long moment, debating the consequences of such a proposition. “Sorry, what?”
He uttered a sound that underlined his apparent pissed-offness. “Watson! Don’t you get it? It’s all about my book – The 39 Steps. They want to steal the plot.”
I began to experience a growing sensation of annoyance. “What, you mean this isn’t about some international spy ring? ”
“Spy ring? God no, it’s much, much worse.”
My blood ran cold. “You mean – they’re writers?”
“Of course they’re bloody writers, damn it. Ever since I came up with a cracking good idea for my new novel, everyone’s been after it.”
I sighed. “You’re an idiot. Sorry Hannay, but I’m going home.” I began to put on my underpants, my socks and my string vest. However, a knock at the door startled us both. “Who the fuck’s that?”
“It’s them!” Screamed Hannay, “they’re going to kill me.”
I pulled on my trousers. “Don’t be ridiculous. It’s probably just someone who’s lost their way and seeking directions.” I hastened to the door and pulled it open.
Standing before us was a moustachioed man wearing a frock coat. He leaned forward slightly and muttered, “Ostovich.”
“What?” said I. But our visitor spake no more. He pitched forward and fell in a heap on the floor. And that’s when I noticed the knife in his back…
To be continued.