Dr Conrad Etriech hurried up the steps, opened the door and stepped into the hall with relief. It was a miserable day. It was April, but the rain, driving in from the sea in ill-tempered gusts, was very far from springlike. It was a relief to be home. Not, he thought, as he put his wet umbrella in the stand, peeled off his gloves, unbuttoned his coat and took off his hat, that this was exactly home.
He was one of four tenants who lived in this tall, thin and quietly respectable house in the Wilhelminenstrasse, together with their tall, thin and quietly respectable landlady, Frau Kappelhoff. It suited his purposes. The house was in the centre of Kiel, close enough to the docks for the mournful sound of the ships' sirens to be heard but near enough to be in walking distance of the university where he worked.
And he was comfortable, as comfortable as Frau Kappelhoff could make him. Frau Kappelhoff thought the world of him. She was a widow with two sons in the merchant fleet. She was proud of her sons but the person she loved best in the world was her eleven-year-old daughter, Lottie. Dr Etriech hadn't been in the house a month when Lottie was taken gravely ill with pneumonia. It was a tough struggle, but the little girl pulled through. Dr Etriech's speciality wasn't respiratory diseases but he saved her.
Any doctor, he said, to the tearful Frau Kappelhoff, would have done the same, but from then on, Frau Kappelhoff treated him with awestruck devotion. Dr Etriech looked up with a smile as the kitchen door opened and Frau Kappelhoff peered out hesitantly. His smile became a puzzled frown.
One of the ways Frau Kappelhoff showed her gratitude was to look for his homecoming, help him off with his coat and fuss over his gloves and hat. However, just for once she didn't rush into exclamations as to how wet it was or offer to dry his things in the kitchen. Instead she greeted him with downright relief.
Herr Doktor, I heard someone go upstairs. In a house with four lodgers, this didn't strike Dr Etriech as odd. She shook her head vigorously. It could have been a sack, a heavy sack. Dr Etriech smiled reassuringly. A burglar wouldn't be carrying something in, would they? We're told to look out for English spies. This dreadful war He laughed. He hung up his coat and put his things on the hallstand.
If I see any spies, I'll send them back to England, yes? She looked at him curiously. Herr Doktor? Dr Etriech turned.
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The light in the hall was dim but it gleamed on the polished wood of the banister. Where it struck the rail as it bent round to the first floor, the wood was dull and stained. He took out his handkerchief and pretended to cough, wetting the corner of it with his tongue. He ran the damp handkerchief over the stain as he walked up the stairs.
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With Frau Kappelhoff watching him, he couldn't examine it closely, but the cloth came away a deep rusty red. She was right. There was someone upstairs.
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His stomach knotted as he rounded the corner. It sounded as if they were dragging something A man dragging himself upstairs? English spies. Yes, Frau Kappelhoff would think of that. Kiel was full of posters warning all good Germans to be on their guard. Frau Kappelhoff was frightened of spies, knowing they were alien, vicious creatures. That's why she'd asked Dr Conrad Etriech to go and hunt for them. She trusted Dr Etriech, who lived in her house, asked after her family and ate her stew and dumplings. It would never occur to her that, while the title was real enough, the name was borrowed.
The doctor couldn't be a spy. He was someone she knew. But his name wasn't Conrad Etriech, it was Anthony Brooke and, with that bloodstained handkerchief in his pocket, he was a worried man.
The door to his room was open. With a sick feeling he noticed that the brass handle was stained. He had to get Frau Kappelhoff out of the hall. He stamped his foot, gave as good an impression of a cat's meow as he could, and laughed. It's gone into my room. I'll chase it out. He heard the rustle of her dress and the sound of the door from the hall to the kitchen closing. Anthony took a deep breath and walked into his room.
He bolted the door behind him. His sitting room looked, at first sight, undisturbed, but the rug was crumpled and there were two rusty splashes on the oilcloth. From somewhere he heard a faint gurgling sound, the sound of a desperately fought-for breath. He went into the bedroom and his heart sank. Terence Cavanaugh lay sprawled on the floor, the bedspread tumbled round him.
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His strength had failed as he tried to reach the bed. Anthony knelt down beside him and turned his face to the light. Cavanaugh's eyes flickered open. With a huge effort, he focused his eyes on Anthony's face.
When he spoke his voice was a breaking whisper. I'm for it. Anthony cushioned his head on his knee, holding Cavanaugh's cold hand.