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Authors: Dennis Wheatley

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BOOK: The Devil Rides Out
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‘Bridge Tournament my foot!' exclaimed Rex angrily. ‘He'd never let that interfere between us three. It sounds mighty fishy to me. When did you see him last?'

‘About three months ago.'

‘What! But that's incredible. Now look here!' Rex thrust the onyx ashtray from in front of him, and leaned across the table. ‘You haven't quarrelled, have you?'

De Richleau shook his head. ‘If you were my age, Rex, and had no children, then met two younger men who gave you their affection, and had all the attributes you could wish for in your sons, how would it be possible for you to quarrel with either of them?'

‘That's so, but three months is a whale of a while for friends who are accustomed to meet two or three times a week. I just don't get this thing at all, and you're being a sight too reticent about it. Come on now, what do you know?'

The grey eyes of piercing brilliance which gave such character to De Richleau's face, lit up. ‘That,' he said suddenly, ‘is just the trouble. I don't
know
anything.'

‘But you fear that, to use his own phrase, Simon's “in a muddle—a really nasty muddle” eh? And you're a little hurt that he hasn't brought his worry to you.'

‘To whom else should he turn if not to one of us—and you were in the States.'

‘Richard maybe, he's an even older friend of Simon's than we are.'

‘No. I spent last weekend at Cardinals Folly and neither Richard nor Marie Lou could tell me anything. They haven't seen him since he went down to stay last Christmas and arrived with a dozen crates of toys for Fleur.'

‘How like him!' Rex's gargantuan laugh rang suddenly through the room. ‘I might have known the trunkful I brought over would be small fry if you and Simon have been busy on that child.'

‘Well I can only conclude that poor Simon is “in a muddle” as you say, or he would never treat us all like this.'

‘But what sort of a muddle?' Rex brought his leg-of-mutton fist crashing down on the table angrily. ‘I can't think of a thing where he wouldn't turn to us.'

‘Money,' suggested the Duke, ‘is the one thing that with his sensitive nature he might not care to discuss with even his closest friends.'

‘I doubt it being that. My old man has a wonderful opinion of Simon's financial ability and he handles a big portion of our interests on this side. I'm pretty sure we'd be wise to it if he'd burned his fingers on the market. It sounds as if he'd gone bats about some woman to me.'

De Richleau's face was lit by his faintly cynical smile for a moment. ‘No,' he said slowly. ‘A man in love turns naturally to his friends for congratulation or sympathy as his fortune with a woman proves good or ill. It can't be that.'

For a little the two friends sat staring at each other in silence across the low jade bowl with its trailing sprays of orchids: Rex, giant shouldered, virile and powerful, his ugly, attractive, humorous young face clouded with anxiety; the Duke, a slim, delicate-looking man, with slender, fragile hands and greying hair, but with no trace of weakness in his fine, distinguished face. His aquiline nose, broad forehead and grey ‘devil's' eyebrows might well have replaced those of the cavalier in the Van Dyck that gazed down from the opposite wall. Instead of the conventional black, he wore a claret-coloured vicuna smoking suit, with silk lapels and braided fastenings; this touch of colour increased his likeness to the portrait. He broke the silence suddenly.

‘Have you by any chance ever heard of a Mr Mocata, Rex?'

‘Nope. Who is he anyway?'

‘A new friend of Simon's who has been staying with him these last few months.'

‘What, at his Club?'

‘No–no, Simon no longer lives at his Club. I thought you knew. He bought a house last February, a big, rambling old place tucked away at the end of a cul-de-sac off one of those quiet residential streets in St John's Wood.'

‘Why, that's right out past Regent's Park, isn't it? What's he want with a place out there when there are any number of nice little houses to let in Mayfair?'

‘Another mystery, my friend.' The Duke's thin lips creased into a smile. ‘He
said
he wanted a garden, that's all I can tell you.'

‘Simon! A garden!' Rex chuckled. ‘That's a good story I'll say. Simon doesn't know a geranium from a fuchsia. His botany is limited to an outsized florist's bill for bunching his women friends from shops, and why should a bachelor like Simon start running a big house at all?'

‘Perhaps Mr Mocata could tell you,' murmured De Richleau mildly, ‘or the servant that he has imported.'

‘Have you ever seen this bird, Mocata I mean?'

‘Yes, I called one evening about six weeks ago. Simon was out so Mocata received me.'

‘And what did you make of him?'

‘I disliked him intensely. He's a pot-bellied, bald-headed man of about sixty, with large, protuberant, fishy eyes, limp hands, and a most unattractive lisp. He reminded me of a large white slug.'

‘What about this servant that you mention?'

‘I only saw him for a moment when he crossed the hall, but he reminded me in a most unpleasant way of the Bogey Man with whom I used to be threatened in my infancy.'

‘Why, is he a black?'

‘Yes. A Malagasy I should think.'

Rex frowned. ‘Now what in heck is that?'

‘A native of Madagascar. They are a curious people, half-Negro and half-Polynesian. This great brute stands about six foot eight, and the one glimpse
I had of his eyes made me want to shoot him on sight.'

‘Do you know any more about these people?' asked Rex grimly.

‘Not a thing.'

‘Well, I'm not given to worry, but I've heard quite enough to get me scared for Simon. He's in some jam or he'd never be housing people like that.'

The Duke gently laid the long, blue-grey ash of his cigar in the onyx ashtray. ‘There is not a doubt,' he said slowly, ‘that Simon is involved in some very business, but I have been stifling my anxiety until your arrival. You see I wanted to hear your views before taking the very exceptional step of, yes
butting in
, is the expression, on the private affairs of even so intimate a friend. The question is now—what are we to do?'

‘Do!' Rex thrust back his chair and drew himself up to his full magnificent height. ‘We're going up to that house to have a little heart-to-heart talk with Simon-right now!'

‘I'm glad you feel like that', said De Richleau quietly, ‘because I ordered the car for half past ten. Shall we go?'

2
The Curious Guests of Mr Simon Aron

As De Richleau's Hispano drew up at the dead end of the dark cul-de-sac in St John's Wood, Rex slipped out of the car and looked about him. They were shut in by the high walls of neighbouring gardens. Above a blank expanse of brick in which a single, narrow door was visible, the upper stories of Simon's house showed vague and mysterious among whispering trees.

‘Ugh!' he exclaimed with a little shudder as a few drops splashed upon his face from the dark branches overhead. ‘What a dismal hole, we might be in a graveyard.'

The Duke pressed the bell, and turning up the sable collar of his coat against a slight drizzle which made the April night seem chill and friendless, he stepped back to get a better view of the premises. ‘Hello! Simon's got an observatory here,' he remarked. ‘I didn't notice that on my previous visit.'

‘So he has.' Rex followed De Richleau's glance to a dome that crowned the house, but at that moment an electric globe suddenly flared into life about their heads, and the door in the wall swung open disclosing a sallow-faced manservant in dark livery.

‘Mr Simon Aron?' inquired De Richleau, but the man was already motioning them to enter, so they followed him up a short covered path and the door in the wall clanged behind them.

The vestibule of the house was dimly lit, but Rex, who never wore a coat or hat in the evening, noticed that two sets of outdoor apparel lay, neatly folded, on a long console table as the silent footman relieved De Richleau of his wraps. Evidently, Simon had other visitors.

‘Maybe Mr Aron's in conference and won't want to be disturbed,' he said to the sallow-faced servant with a sudden feeling of guilt at their intrusion.
Perhaps, after all, their fears for Simon were quite groundless and his neglect only due to a prolonged period of intense activity on the markets, but the man only bowed and led them across the hall.

‘The fellow's a mute,' whispered the Duke. ‘Deaf and dumb I'm certain.' As he spoke the servant flung open a couple of large double doors and stood waiting for them to enter.

A long, narrow room, opening into a wide salon, stretched before them. Both were decorated in the lavish magnificence of the Louis Seize period, but for the moment the dazzling brilliance of the lighting prevented them taking in the details of the parquet floors, the crystal mirrors, the gilded furniture and beautifully wrought tapestries.

Rex was the first to recover and with a quick intake of breath he clutched De Richleau's arm. ‘By Jove she's here!' he muttered almost inaudibly, his eyes riveted on a tall, graceful girl who stood some yards away at the entrance of the salon talking to Simon.

Three times in the last eighteen months he had chanced upon that strange, wise, beautiful face, with the deep eyes beneath heavy lids that seemed so full of secrets, and gave the lovely face a curiously ageless look.

He had seen her first in a restaurant in Budapest; months later again, in a traffic jam when his car was wedged beside hers in New York; and then, strangely enough, riding along a road with three men, in the countryside around Buenos Aires. How extraordinary that he should find her here, and what luck.

De Richleau's glance was riveted upon their friend. With an abrupt movement, Simon turned towards them. For a second he seemed completely at a loss, his full, sensual mouth hung open to twice its normal extent and his receding jaw almost disappeared behind his white tie. His dark eyes were filled with amazement and something suspiciously like fear, but he recovered almost instantly and his old smile flashed out as he came forward to greet them.

‘My dear Simon,' the Duke's voice was a silken purr, ‘how can we apolgise for breaking in on you like this?'

‘Sure, we hadn't a notion you were throwing a party,' boomed Rex, his glance following the girl who had moved off to join another woman and three men who were talking together in the inner room.

‘But I'm delighted,' murmured Simon genially. ‘Delighted to see you both. Only got a few friends. Meeting of a little society I belong to, that's all.'

‘Then we couldn't dream of interrupting you, could we Rex?' De Richleau demurred with well-assumed innocence.

‘Why, certainly not, we wouldn't even have come in if that servant of yours hadn't taken us for some other folks you're expecting.' But despite their apparent unwillingness to intrude, neither of the two made any gesture of withdrawal and, mentally, De Richleau gave Simon full marks for the way in which he accepted their obviously unwelcome presence.

‘I'm most terribly sorry about dinner tonight,' he was proclaiming earnestly. ‘Meant to rest for my bridge, I simply have to these days, to be any good. Even forgot till six o'clock that I had these people coming.'

‘How fortunate for you, Simon, that your larder is so well stocked.' The Duke could not resist the gentle dig as his glance fell on a long buffet spread with a collation which would have rivalled the cold table in any great hotel.

‘I ‘phoned Ferraro,' parried Simon glibly. ‘The Berkeley never lets me down. Would have asked you to drop in, but… er, with this meeting on I felt you'd be bored.'

‘Bored! Not a bit, but we are keeping you from your other guests.' With an airy gesture De Richleau waved his hand in the direction of the inner room.

‘Sure,' agreed Rex heartily, as he laid a large hand on Simon's arm and gently propelled him towards the salon. ‘Don't you worry about us, we'll just take a glass of wine off you and fade away.' His eyes were fixed again on the pale oval face of the girl.

Simon's glance flickered swiftly towards the Duke who ignored, with a guileless smile, his obvious reluctance for them to meet his other friends, and noted with amusement that he avoided any proper introduction.

‘Er–er–two very old friends of mine,' he said, with his little nervous cough as he interchanged a swift look with a fleshy, moon-faced man whom De Richleau knew to be Mocata.

‘Well, well, how nice,' the bald man lisped with unsmiling eyes. ‘It is a pleasure always to welcome any friends of Simon's.'

De Richleau gave him a frigid bow and thought of reminding him coldly that Simon's welcome was sufficient in his own house, but for the moment it was policy to hide his antagonism so he replied politely that Mocata was most kind, then, with the ease which characterised all his movements, he turned his attention to an elderly lady who was seated near by.

She was a woman of advanced age but fine presence, richly dressed and almost weighed down with heavy jewellery. Between her fingers she held the stub of a fat cigar at which she was puffing vigorously.

‘Madame.' The Duke drew a case containing the long Hoyos from his pocket and bent towards her. ‘Your cigar is almost finished, permit me to offer you one of mine.'

She regarded him for a moment with her bright eyes, then stretched out a fat, beringed hand. ‘Sank you, Monsieur, I see you are a connoisseur.' With her beaked, parrot nose she sniffed at the cigar appreciatively. ‘But I ‘ave not seen you at our other meetings, what ees your name?'

‘De Richleau, Madame, and yours?'

‘De Richleau! a maestro indeed.' She nodded heavily. ‘Je suis Madame D'Urfé, you will ‘ave heard of me.'

BOOK: The Devil Rides Out
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