Background to Danger

Free Background to Danger by Eric Ambler

Book: Background to Danger by Eric Ambler Read Free Book Online
Authors: Eric Ambler
    “Have they told you that I am taking charge of this business here?”
    The other nodded again and wrote on the paper:
“Ortega will come here when he has interviewed Borovansky.”
    Zaleshoff nodded approval and surveyed the dumb man sympathetically.
    “Go to bed when you are tired,” he advised. “Tamara and I will wait.”
    Rashenko shook his head wearily, rose to his feet, and going to a cupboard, produced two glasses which he filled with wine from a stone jar and handed to them.
    “You are not drinking with us?” said Tamara.
    Rashenko shook his head gravely.
    “He is not allowed by the doctors to drink wine,” explained Zaleshoff; “he is too ill.”
    The dumb man nodded and, smiling reassuringly at the girl, made a gesture of distaste towards the wine.
    “Rashenko,” remarked Zaleshoff, “is a very obstinate fellow. In Moscow they wished to send him to a sanatorium in the Crimea to recover his health; but he prefers to serve his country here.”
    The dumb man smiled again—very pathetically, Tamara thought.
    “Did you ever hear of a man called Saridza?” said Zaleshoff.
    Rashenko shook his head.
    “He was with Almazoff’s army.”
    The dumb man raised his head quickly and looked from brother to sister. Then he opened his mouth and seemed to be struggling to speak. At last a guttural noise came from his throat. Then he snatched at the fallen newspaper and started scribbling furiously.
    Zaleshoff stood up and looked over his shoulder; then, firmly but gently, he pushed him back into the chair. Tears were streaming down the sick man’s face and he fought feebly to shake off Zaleshoff’s hands. Suddenly he was still and the lids drooped over his burning eyes.
    Zaleshoff turned to the girl.
    “It was Almazoff’s men who tortured him,” he said. “It was over eighteen years ago, but they did their work well,” he added quietly.
    Rashenko’s eyes opened and he smiled apologetically at them. Tamara looked away. The heat of the room was making her head ache.
    A telephone bell shrilled suddenly.
    Rashenko rose painfully to his feet and, going to the cupboard in the wall, lifted the instrument from a hook inside and put it to his ear. Then he pressed a small Morse key and signalled three sharp buzzes into the transmitter. For a moment he listened; then he signalled again, replaced the telephone and turned to Zaleshoff.
    Rashenko nodded, reached for his pencil, wrote a message and passed it to Zaleshoff.
    The latter turned to Tamara.
    “Vienna says that Ortega telephoned twenty minutes ago from Passau. He and Borovansky arrive at two-thirty.”
    For the girl the next hundred and fifty minutes were anunbearably slow procession of as many hours. There were two clocks in the room, and for a time their different rates of ticking fascinated her with the seemingly endless rhythmic variations they evolved. Soon, however, she found that the changes of rhythm were part of a pattern that repeated itself every three-quarters of a minute. She glanced at the two men. Her brother was frowning fiercely into the fire and twiddling a key between his fingers. Rashenko’s eyes were closed and he looked asleep. Murmuring that she was going to smoke a cigarette, she put on her coat and went out to the landing.
    After the heat of the sick man’s room, the cold air was immediately refreshing. Through the sloping skylight, just above her head, she could see the sky. It was a bright, clear night, and the stars, dimmed by the rising moon, seemed infinitely derisive. Gusts of wind buffeted the house with increasing force. She found the sound curiously soothing and stayed there until the sharp rattle of a bell far below told her that the man they were waiting for had at last arrived.
    The moment the Spaniard came into the room it was obvious that something was wrong. He was out of breath from running, and the grey, puffy cheeks were flecked grotesquely with two patches of colour. His dull pebble-like eyes,

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