For all the undoubted blessings and benefits that he had discovered in the 1960s, there were, thought Adam Adamant, one or two definite failings also to be found in that august decade. Perhaps the most obvious of these was in its ladies. Not, of course, in all of them. There were many fine examples in 1966, just as there had been in 1902. It was just that, at some point in the intervening years, they seemed to have developed a most regrettable taste for misadventure. Everywhere he was finding young ladies led astray by foul miscreants; fiends whose villainy could not be quieted by the gentler sex. It was tragic. It could be a national disaster in the making, and one that he must, at the earliest opportunity, bring to the attention of the Prime Minister. Perhaps there could be some kind of mass, moral intervention?
None of which would be of any use to him now. He tested his bonds, and sighed. Once again he found himself expertly tied; once again he found himself led into a fiendish trap by a beautiful woman, who surely did not know what dastardly crooks she was assisting. A poor waif, no doubt; perhaps an orphan; pressed into servitude by the cruel hand of misfortune. As soon as he had freed himself, and defeated this latest stab at the heart of English sovereignty, perhaps he could seek her out, and help her back to the path of righteousness and honour. She would surely be grateful. Her country even more so.
First, however, he would have to escape. He tested his bonds again, turning a connoisseur's interest upon the knots that bound his hands behind him, and thence to a discouragingly stout copper pipe fixed to the wall. The pipe stubbornly refused to loosen, despite his best efforts, and the knots were similarly uncooperative. He grumbled at the walls in frustration, anger bubbling beneath his perpetually unruffled exterior. This day was not going well. Who would have guessed, when he had eaten Simms's most perfectly prepared eggs at breakfast time, just a few hours ago, that before Big Ben had chimed out the twelfth note of noon, he would be embroiled in a dastardly scheme involving German spies, traitorous journalists, and a plot to weaken the British economy? Such was the life of an English adventurer, of course. He could scarcely expect – or wish for – peaceable inactivity. He could, however, wish for less betrayal by beautiful women. And for considerably less knots.
"Psst!" He blinked, wondering briefly if the devils had loosed a snake upon him; although if so, the snake had a tone remarkably similar to that of Georgina Jones. The sound came again, its direction more easily discerned this time, and he looked upward, to where a tiny, very dirty window let in the barest sliver of light.
"Miss Jones!" It was truly astonishing how often she managed to turn up, at the least likely moments, and in the least likely places. "How on Earth...?"
"I followed you," she said, entirely without shame. He sighed.
"I expressly forbade that, Miss Jones. Expressly. If you had any idea how dangerous these fiends are—"
"I do. You told me at least six times. That's beside the point." She gave the window a shake. "I can't open this. I think it's rusted shut. I doubt either of us could fit through it anyway."
"Quite so. You should leave, Miss Jones. Perhaps you could deliver a message for me, to the head of MI5. Simms has the number. I merely—"
"I'm hardly going to leave you in that position, am I." She gave the window a particularly hefty shove, and with an alarmingly loud crunch, several shards of glass broke free of the filthy pane, and fell down close to him. "See what you can do with them. I'm off to find a way to your door."
"But Miss Jones!" It was no use, however. She had already gone, vanishing away from the window with a speed and silence that would have done credit to Adam himself. He sighed. She really was a trial. Useful, undoubtedly, but nonetheless certain to turn his hair quite grey. Still, there was no sense dwelling on her character now. With an agile twist, that risked dislocating one shoulder, he caught hold of a shard of glass, and set to work on his bonds.
She turned a corner, hoping that her sense of direction would be as faithful as her fortune. Adam should be close by. One more turn to the right, perhaps? Certainly she was on the right floor, but nothing looked quite the same from this angle. Nonetheless, it all seemed to fit. She was just about to begin counting doors, when she heard a noise from behind the nearest of them – a footstep, and what sounded very much like a door handle beginning to turn...
Quick as a flash, with no time to consider the consequences, she made a grab for the next door in line, and darted through it. Her ears told her that she had only just been in time, seconds before her eyes showed her just what she had escaped into. A bedroom – a lady's bedroom most likely – sumptuous and grand, scented faintly with lilac and violets, and filled with soft furnishings in what appeared to be a thousand shades of purple. She blinked. Part of her marvelled at the luxury, and even envied it a little. Part of her cringed slightly, not at all sure that such ostentation was in good taste.
Quietly, one ear attuned to the corridor outside, one on the purple powder puff into which she had burst, she advanced into the room. Her feet sank into an impossibly thick pile, and her newly adventure-honed brain immediately warned her of the dangers of staying too long. Fast movement would be too difficult on a carpet akin to quicksand.
"You are not the maid," said a throaty, heavily-accented voice from nearby. Somehow, she managed not to jump. Jumping was the surest way of making herself look guilty.
"I help out in the kitchen sometimes," she said, in the cheeriest, most unconcerned voice that her suddenly dry throat could produce. "They sent me here to pick up a tray." As she spoke, she turned, desperately hoping that there would be a tray, and anxious to discover the source of the voice. How had she not seen anybody? She got her answer soon enough, when plum-coloured, crushed velvet curtains twitched back, to reveal what appeared to be a huge heap of tasselled cushions. In their midst, reclining like some empress of Ancient Rome, was a woman. She was somewhere in the early stages of middle life, Georgie guessed, with a little grey highlighting the blonde of her hair, and tiny wrinkles doing nothing to detract from the beauty of her face. She wore what appeared to be a man's suit, although specially retailored, and in one hand, almost lazily, she held a Luger. She smiled at Georgie, around a very long, very ornate, cigarette holder, from which a plume of smoke drifted, as lazy in its movements as was she.
"The tray is over here."
"Thank you." She bobbed in a clumsy little proto-curtsey, completely ignorant of expected protocol, and clambered through the preposterous carpet. The woman puffed lazy trails of smoke all the while, her indifference almost regal. Only as Georgie bent to collect the tray, at a loss as to what she should do with the wretched thing once she had it, did the puffing cease, and the woman speak again.
"Of course, you'll be needing directions to the kitchen, my dear."
"I—" Georgie straightened up, her brain switching to overdrive. She saw at once that any clever reply could only be too late. She was looking straight into the small, dark muzzle of the Luger, poised no more than a foot from her head. "Oh."
"This is my house, my dear." There was no coldness, no hostility or reproach in the woman's voice. She spoke as though they were old friends, settling down to tea. "Do you really think that I don't know the staff?"
"I suppose I was expecting somebody else to be behind all of this." A man, she thought, with an inward wince. Maybe she had been spending too much time with Adam. The woman laughed, quite delightfully.
"Well, no matter. It will all be over soon anyway. A gunshot or two here, a gunshot or two in Westminster – and then the game is done. Checkmate, I think. And then I can go back to East Berlin, and forget all about Englishmen with swords, and Englishwomen with tea trays." She puffed with renewed vigour at her cigarette, and a fresh cloud of almost pure white smoke made Georgie's eyes sting. It made the woman blink too; and Georgie, in desperation, acted entirely without thinking.
So fast that she was barely aware of doing it, she lashed out with the tray, smashing it into the Luger, and into the pale, ringed hand that was holding it. The gun soared away, skidding somewhere into a pile of cushions, and Georgie, still running purely on instinct, leapt foward, and swung the tray back in the other direction. Struggling to rise from amid her pile of uncooperative cushions, her enemy was almost helpless, and the tray caught her a splendid blow across the side of the head. The force of it set Georgie's wrists vibrating, but she clung onto the tray, and swung it again, following up her first blow with a second that left the woman sprawled unmoving atop the cushions. Hurriedly Georgie trussed her up with a purple patchwork of curtain ties and liberated cushion tassels, then, at a loss as to what to use for a gag, buried her beneath a heap of the cushions. Dropping the fallen cigarette into a flower vase, she let out a very shaky breath, but did not allow herself to rest. Not now. There were clearly evil plans underway, and she could not waste any time. Burrowing hurriedly for the Luger, she opened the door very cautiously, and met with silence. Luck, perhaps, was with her once again.
She had lost her bearings, she discovered, and was almost tempted to run down the corridor, knocking on doors and calling for Adam. In the event it proved unnecessary. One door was clearly different to the others – more stout, more resilient, and fitted with a hefty padlock. She wondered if she would be able to shoot it off, and was seriously contemplating the possibility when a soft footstep sounded behind her, and a hand closed around hers.
"You're under arrest!" she squeaked, jumping so violently at the shock that the hand was knocked loose, and she was free to whirl around, aiming the gun squarely at the by now somewhat rumpled shirtfront of Adam Adamant. He raised a perfectly groomed eyebrow, and used his swordstick to delicately nudge the gun aside.
"Indeed, Miss Jones? For what crime, might I inquire?"
"I—" She sighed, relief washing over her as her tension ebbed away. It was replaced soon enough by indignation. "For giving me the fright of my life, for starters. I might have shot you!"
"You, Miss Jones? Whatever for?" He took the gun, slipping it into a pocket. "And now I suggest that we beat a hasty retreat, before we are discovered."
"Yes. Yes, of course. We have to get to Westminster."
"Yes. There was a woman. A German woman. She said there was going to be a shooting there. A murder?"
"It would appear so." He frowned, then nodded his head, and offered Georgie an arm. "My congratulations, Miss Jones, and my thanks. Not only did you provide me with the means for my escape, but it seems that you have also discovered the secret of the gang's foul plan. We must away to Westminster, and sound the alarm."
"We?" She was so used to being packed off home that she could not help but blink at his words. He nodded.
"We may yet have work to do. Two heads are better than one, are they not?"
"They are, yes!" She linked her arm through his, and together they hurried for the door into the street. "Thank you, Adam. Maybe I'll make a feminist out of you yet."
"I have no idea what that is." He looked somewhat wary. "Should I be alarmed?"
"Probably." She held the door open for him, and eyeing it, and her, with obvious consternation, he edged out into the street. She could not help but laugh. "But don't worry. I'm always here to get your back."