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The Red Zeppelin (Hilary Manningham-Butler Book 2)

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The Red Zeppelin (Hilary Manningham-Butler Book 2)

  The Red Zeppelin


  Jack Treby

  Copyright © Jack Treby 2015

  Published by Carter & Allan

  The Author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.

  Cover design by James at GoOnWrite.com


  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty


  The Devil's Brew

  The Pineapple Republic

  The Scandal At Bletchley

  The Gunpowder Treason

  Chapter One

  Monarchy is the bedrock of a civilised society. Even a congenital idiot on the throne provides stability, allowing the politicians to happily knife each other in the back without any fear that they may be undermining the fabric of society. That being said, I must confess a certain admiration for the sombre young republican with the Charlie Chaplin moustache who was waiting patiently, cap in hand, outside the polling station on the opposite side of the street. There he was, standing determinedly in line, all set to cast his vote and give the Dago establishment a well deserved kick in the teeth.

  The Spanish nation had recently ridded itself of a particularly loathsome dictator and it was no surprise that the lower orders had now developed an appetite for change. Peering down at the assembled mass of unwashed voters from the comfort of my hotel room on the Pagés del Corro, however, it seemed unlikely to me that they would want to take that extra step and vote in a republican government. Throwing out a dictator was one thing, getting rid of the monarchy quite another.

  The man with the cap pulled out a rolled up copy of El Socialista from his jacket pocket and began to read it, in full view of the police. I could not help but admire his nerve. Just the sight of a group of Spaniards queuing politely was a novelty. The buildings on the opposite side of the street were plastered with election posters and the two policemen were eyeing the crowd suspiciously; but even they could not misread the cheerful enthusiasm of the voters. The republican was engrossed in his paper but the rest of the crowd were chatting happily among themselves in that infuriatingly over-exuberant Mediterranean way. It was their first opportunity to vote in almost eight years and they were intending to make the most of it.

  A few women were passing the time of day among the men, their light but rapid-fire voices floating easily up to the window on the third floor. They were not allowed to vote in this election, much to my annoyance, though they were permitted to stand for public office. It was a small step forward, I supposed. As a woman myself, I have always understood the value of a universal franchise. I may have spent the better part of my life masquerading as a man, but I am not a hypocrite. Whenever possible, I have tried to champion the rights of my sex. Women may be as susceptible to popular sentiment as the male of the species, but a truly democratic election cannot take place without them.

  I stepped back from the window and pulled the wallet from my trouser pocket. The telegram was folded neatly in one corner and I pulled it out to take another look. The printed message was virtual gibberish, apart from a handful of numbers and the word ‘STOP’ in plain text at the end. I had annotated the other characters with a pencil back in Gibraltar using the agreed book code. It had taken me almost half an hour. I have never been much good with ciphers. The encryption key was a paragraph from chapter thirteen of Bleak House. Someone back in London had a peculiarly warped sense of humour. The message, when I had finally deciphered it, was barely more than an address:


  A more direct summons it would be hard to imagine.

  And so here I was, ensconced with my man Maurice in a drab hotel room in the centre of Seville, waiting to discover just what it was all about.

  The valet was brushing down my jacket and preparing to hang it up on the outside of a bare cupboard. A hastily packed suitcase was resting on the bed behind me. I was in my shirt sleeves now. It had been a long journey from Gibraltar and a change of clothes was in order before I thought about doing anything else. Maurice was a tall, thickset Frenchman in his mid fifties with a grim, weather-beaten face and a permanently pained expression. He had been my valet for almost a year now and in all that time his expression had never changed. His clothing was immaculately turned out but his manner bordered on the surly.

  ‘Did you find a place to park the car?’ I asked him.

  ‘Yes, Monsieur,’ he responded, without elaborating. He was a man of few words and, no matter how many times I told him, he refused to address me as ‘Sir.’ He moved around the bed and began unfastening the front of my shirt. He did not bat an eyelid at the bandages wound around my chest as they came into view. He had seen far more than that of me without passing comment.

  Having a Frenchman as a valet was not ideal, but I’d had little choice in the matter. He had been recommended to me by another Frog of my acquaintance whose judgement, for various reasons, I had good cause to trust. This man, I had been assured, was the absolute soul of discretion and as, at this point in my life, discretion was more important than nationality, I had reluctantly taken him on. It was either that or buying a frock and hiring a ladies maid. Maurice was a taciturn fellow, meticulous but inscrutable. I never had the faintest idea what was going on in his head. In the four or five years he worked for me, I rarely heard anything more from him than ‘Yes, Monsieur’ or ‘No, Monsieur’. His previous employer had been something of an eccentric, I gathered, so he had not been at all perturbed by my peculiar lifestyle. He also knew how to keep his mouth shut, which was the most important thing. I never did understand why he insisted on addressing me as ‘Monsieur’. It was probably a matter of Gallic pride (the average Frog is stubborn to the point of immobility) but it was a source of irritation nonetheless. I was used to asserting my authority with servants. Thankfully, in his case, I had found the perfect weapon with which to retaliate.

  ‘So tell me, Morris,’ I asked, as my trousers dropped to the floor and I stepped out onto the threadbare carpet. ‘Have you given any more thought to the Americas?’

  His face wrinkled up as I wriggled my toes. ‘No, Monsieur.’

  I gave him a sour look. ‘Time’s ticking, Morris,’ I said, mispronouncing his name a second time. I had been offered a new position at the beginning of May, on the other side of the Atlantic. I needed to know if the Frenchman was willing to accompany me there. ‘I’ll have to book the tickets by the end of the –’

  A loud rap at the door interrupted my words. I tensed instinctively but Maurice did not blink. He bent down to pick up my trousers and laid them out neatly on the bed; then he gestured across to the bathroom. I nodded. It might provoke all kinds of awkward questions if a porter caught sight of me in a state of u
ndress. I made my way quickly across to the bathroom and locked the door behind me. I had had my fair share of close shaves over the years but I had never got used to the experience. I do have a fairly masculine aspect – broad shoulders, square jaw, deep voice – but even with the bandages to flatten down my chest I could not pass myself off as a man in nothing but my undergarments. It was lucky for me that the room had facilities en suite. I perched for a moment on the edge of the wash basin and closed my eyes.

  It had not been my decision to live my life this way; at least, not at first. It was all my father’s fault. He hated women. When my mother had died giving birth to me, Sir Frederick Manningham-Butler had been mortified. He had wanted a son to take on the family name and a son he was determined to have, whatever the biology asserted to the contrary. My father was long dead now and I had abandoned my inheritance when I had fled England at the tail end of 1929. But now, a couple of weeks shy of my forty second birthday, with no reason whatever to continue the charade, I found I was too settled in my ways to contemplate a change.

  I listened as Maurice moved towards the door. He exchanged a few words with some idiot out in the corridor and then closed it up. A moment later he tapped lightly on the bathroom. I opened the door and peered out at him. The pained expression on his face told me nothing, but I didn’t really need to ask. ‘A message, Monsieur,’ he said.

  I grabbed the piece of paper from his hand and moved back into the bedroom. I glanced at the far door, to make sure it was properly secured, and then looked down at the message. This time, there was no code. “Gran Café, Plaza de Andalucía, 13:00.” It was signed “CL”. I recognised the initials. I had thought it would probably be him.

  ‘I’d better finish dressing,’ I told Maurice. ‘It looks like I have an appointment to keep.’

  Charles Lazenby was seated comfortably at a small metal table in front of the Gran Café. He was a handsome fellow in his mid thirties, with a smooth, rounded face and a tasteful pencil moustache hovering just above his lip. He had been attacking a folded up newspaper with the stubby remnants of an HB pencil. He looked up as I arrived. I was red-faced, bedraggled and at least five minutes late. Lazenby set aside his newspaper and rose smoothly to his feet. ‘Afternoon, Bland,’ he said, with an outstretched hand. ‘Good to see you again.’

  Reginald Bland. I was still getting used to the name, even after all these months. It was not a title I would have chosen for myself; another demonstration of the adolescent sense of humour of my superiors back in London. My real name was Hilary Manningham-Butler, a far more imposing and respectable moniker. Sir Hilary, no less. I had inherited the baronetcy from my father when he had passed away and that had placed me just a whisker short of full-blooded aristocracy. Strictly speaking, of course, such a title cannot be passed to a daughter; but my father’s bloody-mindedness, which I had been forced to collude in, had served to ensure the title had not fallen into disuse. And “Sir Hilary” had an authoritative ring to it that had always appealed to me. Now, though, much to my dismay, I had become plain old Reginald Bland. I scowled every time I saw the name emblazoned on the front of my passport.

  It had taken me some time to walk to the café from the hotel. The receptionist had marked out the route on a map and assured me it would only take fifteen minutes. But his idea of fifteen minutes was markedly different from my own. If I had known it would take closer to half an hour I would have hopped on one of the box shaped trams that rattled across the Puente de Triana; or got Maurice to break out the car. As it was, I had to make my way on foot across the bridge and along the river front, in the blazing midday sun, picking my way through the sweating multitudes in the direction of the Plaza de Andalucía. Even on a Sunday afternoon, with all the shops shut up, the streets were chock full of people. The happy faces of the working poor were everywhere, fresh from church or the polling booths, and their presence, cluttering up the pavements, only added to my sense of irritation. It was with some relief that I had arrived at the plaza, though the bells of the cathedral had long since chimed one o’clock.

  ‘Thank you for coming,’ Lazenby said, as I took his hand. He had a solid grip and a clipped, efficient manner; friendly but formal. We had met a couple of times before in Gibraltar but I didn’t really know him. He resumed his seat and gestured to another chair on the opposite side of a small cast iron table. A large mushroom shaped sunshade afforded us both some protection from the glare of the afternoon.

  I collapsed into the seat and gesticulated at a waiter to bring me something cold. The young Spaniard regarded me with some amusement. I couldn’t really blame him. The people who know about such things claim a white linen suit keeps you cool in a hot climate but I had discovered otherwise. Sweat was pouring down my face.

  ‘I’m sorry to call you here at such short notice,’ Lazenby apologised, taking note of my poor shape. ‘I only got the train down here myself last night.’

  The waiter returned with an ice cold glass and a bottle of Cruzcampo. I waited impatiently as he poured out the beer and then downed half the glass in one. I am not much of a beer drinker as a rule – I have always preferred spirits – but even I am prepared to make concessions to the Mediterranean climate. The waiter raised an eyebrow but departed without comment.

  Lazenby seemed to be coping much better with the heat than I was. He was dressed in a rigid blue blazer and had a wide brimmed hat on his head. He had been based in Madrid for some years now and his skin had darkened to the point where a turban would not have looked out of place. But his accent, like his clothes, came straight from the playing fields of Eton.

  ‘So what’s this all about?’ I asked.

  He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a couple of small photographs, which he handed across to me.

  I peered at the first of the fuzzy black and white images. It was a portrait of a man in early middle age. He was balding, with dark, narrow eyes and a heavy beard. I had never seen him before. I looked up and shrugged. I was none the wiser.

  ‘Gerhard Schulz. An Austrian journalist. On his way to Seville this afternoon.’

  The name meant nothing to me. ‘That’s nice for him,’ I said. I peered at the second photograph. This fellow was in his mid fifties, a plump face and rounded spectacles peering out from beneath a large felt hat. I looked up again. The waiter had returned with some tapas and was peering speculatively at the photographs. I pressed the pictures to my chest and glared up at him. The man placed the snacks down on the table between us and made a hasty retreat.

  ‘Walter Kendall,’ Lazenby informed me, as I resumed my examination of the second image. ‘Another journalist. An American this one.’

  ‘On his way into Seville?’

  ‘Already here, so I understand. Flew in this morning. He’s booked a room at the Hotel Alfonso XIII.’ Lazenby gestured across the plaza to a rather grand looking building on the far side of the fountain. Two pedestrian doorways flanked a short driveway which led up to the entrance and, sure the enough, the words “Hotel Alfonso XIII” were carved out respectfully at the front. Alfonso, of course, was the current King of Spain. Lazenby glanced at his wristwatch. ‘Kendall hasn’t checked in yet. He must be running a bit late. But once he’s booked in at the Alfonso, he’ll head off to meet up with the other chap.’

  ‘The Austrian?’

  ‘That’s right. Unfortunately we have no idea where the two of them are planning to meet. That’s where you come in.’

  ‘You want me to follow the American and see where he goes?’ The thought of traipsing through the streets of Seville a second time that afternoon was not a pleasant one. It had to be ninety five degrees in the shade and I knew from experience that it would get steadily hotter as the afternoon progressed. Perhaps this time I could find a taxi.

  ‘Actually, no. I’m going to keep an eye on Kendall. Your job is to meet the first chap. Gerhard Schulz.’ Lazenby frowned for a moment. ‘I would have preferred to keep tabs on that one myself. Bit of a tricky customer.’
  ‘What’s so important about him?’

  ‘It’s not him. It’s what he’s carrying with him.’

  Now we were getting to the meat of it. ‘And what is that?’

  Lazenby grimaced. It was clear he didn’t want to tell me too much. That’s the trouble with spies. They are never prepared to pass on any useful information. ‘We believe he is carrying some documents of an extremely sensitive nature.’

  ‘What kind of documents?’

  ‘I’m afraid I can’t go into details. The fewer people who know about this the better. I have only been given the broadest outline myself.’

  ‘But information the government doesn’t want made public?’

  Lazenby nodded seriously. ‘That’s about the size of it. It’s vital we recover these papers before Schulz has a chance to pass them on.’

  ‘And you say he’s some kind of journalist?

  ‘That’s right. We believe he’s intending to sell the documents to this American, Walter Kendall.’

  My eyes widened in surprise. ‘What, you mean for publication? In a newspaper?’

  ‘Yes.’ Lazenby gave out a short sigh. ‘We have to prevent that at all costs.’

  I was intrigued. ‘But why would an Austrian journalist want to sell state secrets to the American press?’

  ‘For money. What else? That seems to be the chap’s main motivation. And he’ll get a lot more from the Americans than from anyone back home.’

  ‘But if these documents are as important as you say, surely he wouldn’t be selling them to the newspapers. He’d be on the first train to Moscow. The Russians would pay a fortune for military secrets or anything of that sort.’

  Lazenby pursed his lips. ‘It’s not that kind of information.’

  ‘Well, what then?’

  ‘I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to say.’

  I growled quietly. I hated working in the dark like this, but I was getting used to it by now. It was the nature of the job, sadly. Officers on the ground were rarely given anything more than the most basic information. ‘But he’s offering to sell this American fellow a cache of documents purloined from the British government?’ It was as well to get that point clear at least.

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