Chester Drum will never love another woman the way he loves Marianne. After years of on-and-off romance, he tells her that his work as a private detective is too dangerous for him to ever marry, so she ends the affair and moves to West Berlin, to report on the Cold War from its front lines. There she falls in love with Quentin Hammond, ace foreign correspondent, and Drum is happy for her until her new man disappears behind the Iron Curtain. She telegraphs for help, and Drum is on the next plane. Hammond was close to winning the scoop of the century, by cooperating with an exiled East German dissident to tunnel beneath the Berlin Wall and free thousands of people from the other side. Before they could complete their audacious scheme, though, the Stasi kidnapped them. Only Drum has the skills to go behind the wall and return with the man who’s stolen the woman he loves.
About the Author
Stephen Marlowe (1928–2008) was the author of more than fifty novels, including nearly two dozen featuring globe-trotting private eye Chester Drum. Born Milton Lesser, Marlowe was raised in Brooklyn and attended the College of William and Mary. After several years writing science fiction under his given name, he legally adopted his pen name, and began focusing on Chester Drum, the Washington-based detective who first appeared in The Second Longest Night (1955). Although a private detective akin to Raymond Chandler’s characters, Drum was distinguished by his jet-setting lifestyle, which carried him to various exotic locales from Mecca to South America. These espionage-tinged stories won Marlowe acclaim, and he produced more than one a year before ending the series in 1968. After spending the 1970s writing suspense novels like The Summit (1970) and The Cawthorn Journals (1975), Marlowe turned to scholarly historical fiction. He lived much of his life abroad, in Switzerland, Spain, and France, and died in Virginia in 2008.
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Drumbeat â?" Berlin
A Chester Drum Mystery
By Stephen Marlowe
A MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1964 Fawcett Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
We made our landing approach low over the rooftops of Berlin, banking steeply so that the big boulevards of the West Sector seemed for an instant to stand on end, like streets in a bad painting that lacked perspective.
"You are now one hundred and ten miles behind the Iron Curtain," the Pan Am stewardess said in a dramatic voice over the plane's P.A. system. "To your left, you can see the Brandenburg Gate and the Wall, to your right and now almost directly ahead, the Kaiser Wilhelm Church and Kurfürstendamm, the main street of West Berlin."
I craned my neck for a view of the Wall. On either side of the toy triumphal arch of the Brandenburg Gate, from an altitude of five hundred feet and casting a heavy shadow in the late afternoon sunlight, it looked like a thick gray line grease-penciled across the map of the divided city.
"We are now preparing to land at Tempelhof Airport," intoned the stewardess.
The flaps were down, and the pressure built in my ears, and suddenly the city did not resemble a toy city any longer, and then there was the familiar double thump as the landing gear struck pavement. It was late March, before the tourist rush to the beleaguered city, and there were plenty of empty seats in the DC-6 that made its milk-run through the Corridor from Hamburg to Berlin. The solid German burgher in the seat next to mine crammed papers into his briefcase and buckled the straps. A couple of early tourists said something about the excitement of landing in Berlin.
The stewardess handed me my trench coat. "First trip to Berlin?" she asked, flashing one of those toothpaste ad smiles.
"No. But last time was before the Wall."
"You'll find the city's changed. Well, have a pleasant stay."
I went up the aisle toward the door. The flight stairs were already in place. I started down them and felt the cold bite of the March wind, though the DC-6 had taxied under the glass and metal canopy of the arrival building. Berliners, understandably having a one-track mind, will tell you that their gusty March winds blow two thousand miles from the east, from the steppes of central Asia and the heartland of Russia.
A hand touched my shoulder while I was waiting to claim my B-4 bag at the baggage counter.
"I reckon you're Drum." The voice was slow and soft, with a lot of southern drawl in it. I turned to see a man about my own height, which is six-one. He was wearing a loden coat with the collar turned up and no hat. He had thin sandy hair and a hairline that had receded far enough to make him partially bald. His eyes were brown and bovinely soft behind shell-rimmed glasses. "The name's Purcell," he said. "My friends call me Sandy on account of obvious reasons."
"Sure. You're with View. A photographer, right? Marianne mentioned you a couple of times." We shook hands.
"You were the only guy she'd mention to anyone who'd listen," Purcell said a little bitterly, "until Mr. Quentin K. Hammond popped into her life."
I let that one ride. I knew Marianne and View's ace foreign correspondent were engaged. "Where is she?" I asked.
"At the Kempinski. She asked me to fetch you. She won't budge. Keeps hoping she'll get word about Hammond."
I pointed to the blue canvas bag and gave the girl my claim check. Purcell said: "Let's get going, I got a car outside."
But first I handed him Marianne's cable. I knew its terse and unsatisfactory message by heart. It said: CHESTER DRUM FARRELL BUILDING F STREET WASHINGTON DC USA = IN DESPERATE TROUBLE COME AS SOON AS YOU CAN = MARIANNE.
"Marianne and you had a thing going for quite a while, didn't you?" Purcell asked.
I felt my face grow hot, but I let that one ride too. "The circuits were busy, Purcell. I hopped a Lufthansa jet from the States to Hamburg before I could put a call through. What's the trouble?"
"Oh, it ain't Marianne. You can stop worrying on that score."
"Hammond?" I guessed.
"Yeah, Hammond. He's been taken behind the Wall. Kidnapped by the Reds."
We reached his car, a gray Taunus. "Authorities been notified?"
"Not the police and not the military. We can't afford to ring them in on it just yet, not unless we want to let the cat out of the View Magazine bag. First CIA's got to build us a cover story. There's an agent named Chris Temple you'll meet."
I put my bag in the back seat of the Taunus, and we started driving. It was almost dusk. "A big private detective feller like you," Purcell said with belligerent sarcasm, "you ought to be able to find the great Mr. Hammond. Or so Marianne says."
For the third time I let a remark of his ride. I began to get the notion that Sandy Purcell himself had a crush on Marianne. I pictured her face. Who the hell could blame him?
We drove for a while in silence, toward the Kurfürstendamm. The traffic was heavy. Hunched over the wheel, Purcell finally said: "You-all want to know the truth? I hope nobody finds the son of a bitch. I hope he rots behind that goddam Wall. I hate his guts, buddy. I hate his guts."
Sandy Purcell sounded like a guy who needed a drink, if he could raise it to his mouth without spilling it.
He got one while we were waiting for Marianne at the bar of the Hotel Kempinski. It was a double Martini on the rocks, very dry, and he drank it down like Coca-Cola. I nursed a bourbon-and-water, thinking of Marianne. The last time I'd seen her was back in Washington just after the turn of the year, when she'd told me of her engagement to Quent Hammond. "If you keep on being my friend, and I want you to, Chet," she'd said, "you're going to meet him. Please try to take him. Please? He's—well, he's a sort of high IQ Chet Drum." Marianne had smiled nervously. I guess I'd smiled too.
Marianne Baker is a staff writer for View Magazine. She has twin sons, age four, named Wally and Chet, the first named after her dead husband and the second after yours truly. I am their godfather. One night four years ago, a few days before the twins were born, Wally Baker borrowed my car. I was up to my ears in a murder investigation. Someone had wired a homemade bomb to the starter. When Wally turned the ignition key, he was blown all over a quiet residential street in Georgetown.
Marianne kept her job at View, got a housekeeper to take care of the twins, and turned to me in her grief. Two years after Wally died, we had an affair that lasted a few months. It ended when I told Marianne I couldn't marry her. I live too close to the crumbling edge of violence. Actuaries don't make mistakes, and it's no accident that private dicks pay special risk insurance premiums. I didn't want what had happened to Marianne once to happen to her again.
Now, at the Kempinski bar, I heard her voice: "Chet, you're here. Thank God you're here."
I looked up and saw her in the back-bar mirror. Marianne's beauty is not the explosive kind that socks you between the eyes. It is understated, if anything, but it grows on you. Maybe the second or third time you see her you do a little double-take and say, Hey now, this is a gorgeous dish. She is a small girl, addicted to wearing tailored suits—like the one she was wearing now—which enhance rather than subdue her femininity. She is a brunette, but in strong light there are coppery glints in her hair. Ordinarily there is a perkiness about her that is contagious. Somebody once put it this way: Marianne Baker has the look of a little girl about to smile with delight at the wonders of the wide, wide world.
That look was not apparent now. Her face was drawn, and there were dark shadows under her eyes. She started to smile at me when I turned around and slid off the bar stool, but then her lips trembled and the smile went away.
"Hello, Marianne," I said awkwardly, and it got out of hand for a minute. I kissed her. It was meant to be a casual, big-brotherly peck on the cheek, but somehow her mouth was there and I could feel her supple body against me and taste the remembered taste of her.
"Come on, you fellers," Purcell said. "No hitting in the clinches."
We broke it up. "Let's get a table," I said, and signaled for the maître d'. I stood back and let Purcell grasp her arm and steer her toward our table. All of a sudden I wanted too much to touch her.
"Quent was over here in Berlin a few months ago," Marianne said after we had ordered drinks, "to do a piece on an escapee from the East named Heinrich Graeber. You've heard of him, haven't you?"
"Matter of fact, I read Hammond's article in View. Graeber publishes a clandestine magazine that pokes fun at the Red regime, doesn't he?"
"It ain't clandestine in the West," Purcell drawled. "Old man Graeber keeps his backers secret, but shoot, everybody knows if you scratch the moneymen behind the magazine you'll find a swarm of West German industrialists and maybe even a small CIA appropriation."
"Anyway," Marianne went on, "the magazine is called Scorpion. Graeber still puts it out once a week and mysteriously manages to get some fifty thousand copies into East Berlin every issue—despite the Wall. He's never told anybody how."
"The Reds have been trying to liquidate him for years," Purcell said.
"You mean here in the West?"
"Right here. There were three attempts on his life, and once an attempted kidnapping. But old man Graeber's bodyguards are as good as they come." Purcell clucked his tongue. "Well, maybe I better make that past tense."
"They finally got him?"
"They finally kidnapped him."
"And Quent," Marianne said, almost wailing the words. "They took Quent too." She lit a cigarette. The composure with which she had begun her story had deserted her. "I need another drink."
We ordered another round. Purcell was still on double Martinis and still downing them like Coca-Cola. "I'm sorry," Marianne said, and blew her nose.
"Go ahead and have a good cry, honey," Purcell said gruffly. "It kind of helps."
Marianne's eyes were gleaming with tears, but she managed to smile at me. "I guess I'm just not cut out to fall for a pipe-and-slippers kind of guy. First Wally, then you. Now Quent." Purcell cleared his throat, finished his latest Martini in a long gulp and looked away.
"Well, when Quent returned to the States he corresponded with Heinrich Graeber. Together they manufactured a plan for a mass escape through the Wall."
"Manufactured? Meaning what?"
"It was Quent's idea, and he thought Graeber could help him. Quent said View would finance a mass escape through the Wall provided we were guaranteed exclusive coverage."
"Anything to beat Life and Look's circulation figures," Purcell drawled. "So what the hell difference does it make if the lives of a few hundred people are up for grabs?"
"Oh, cut it out, Sandy," Marianne said. "It wasn't that way at all, and you know it."
"How could a weekly magazine get exclusive coverage of a big news story?" I asked.
"TeleView," Marianne explained. "View Magazine on TV as well as your corner newsstand. Haven't you ever caught it?"
"I'll bet he's a feller that don't watch the boob tube," Purcell said. He was right, but he had an annoying way of putting almost everything he said. I was beginning to dislike Sandy Purcell.
"Anyhow," Marianne said, "after Quent got the permission of View's top brass in New York, and after they got the approval of CIA, Heinrich Graeber began to organize things here in Berlin. Refugees still manage to get over the Wall a few at a time, but by a mass escape Quent had in mind—"
"Yeah," Purcell said dryly, "a few at a time. And how many get their asses shot off for each one that makes it? Not that that's gonna bother Mr. Quentin K. Hammond, long as he gets his little old exclusive news beat. Ah, I'm sorry, Marianne."
"No you aren't. It's no secret what you think of Quent. Even after what happened."
Purcell looked thirstily at the waiter. Marianne resumed: "What Quent was after was a break of at least two or three hundred people, and of course that could only be accomplished by means of a tunnel dug under the Wall. They're working on it right now. From this side, so there's not much chance of the Vopos catching them during the excavation."
"Who's doing the digging?" I asked.
"A West German student organization," Marianne said.
"A goddam degenerate saber-wielding dueling society," Purcell said.
"Purcell," I suggested, "why don't you kind of shut up and let her finish? Or go polish your camera lenses or something."
"Yeah, the big detective feller," he said. "You think you're the only one can find out what happened to Hammond?" He pushed his chair back from the table and lurched away through the cocktail-hour crowd.
"Nice friends you have," I said.
"Don't be too hard on Sandy. I've known him a long time. He's not himself, hasn't been ever since—well—"
"Ever since you and Hammond became engaged?"
Marianne stared at her glass. "Sandy's been—in love with me I guess for a year and a half." Her smile was shy; her eyes remained downcast. "All of a sudden men are lining up for the right to court the widow Baker."
"The lovely widow Baker," I said lightly.
Our eyes met. Marianne looked away after a while and said very quickly: "Men get the impression I'm a competent and poised career-type girl, and maybe I am, but I still need someone to lean on, and most of the men I know, you lean on them a little bit and they just fall right over. You're the strongest man I know, Chet, you and Quent, and I guess I'm going to have to do some leaning on you now, but I don't want you to think ... I mean I do want you to understand that the past is over and done with." She looked at me again. "Or am I just confusing both of us?"
I covered her hand with mine on the table. "No ma'am. No confusion. I'm here to find Hammond."
"Three nights ago," Marianne said, "he was with Graeber. At Grabber's apartment on Alboinstrasse. Graeber lives there with his daughter. They talked till about midnight, then went out to get some air."
"What about Graeber's bodyguards?"
"One of them, a man named Kurtz, accompanied them. He was struck from behind. Sapped. His skull was fractured. He's in Auguste Viktoria Hospital, in a coma. Graeber and Quent never came back from their walk."
"What makes you so sure the Reds took them?"
"They've been trying to get Graeber for years. What else can I think? Besides, Lorelei Graeber is sure of it. She's Heinrich Graeber's daughter."
"You talked to her?"
"Chris Temple of the CIA did. He told me that much. He didn't tell me everything. But he did say he was pretty sure Quent was still alive and had been taken behind the Wall. That's all I know. It doesn't give you much to go on, does it? I wish there were more."
"I've started with less," I said, not meaning it.
We went into the Kempinski's glass-enclosed sidewalk restaurant and watched the crowds making their slow way along the brightly-lit Kurfürstendamm. I ordered dinner, but Marianne just picked at her bratwurst and sour red cabbage. The conversation was desultory. I didn't push it.
Over coffee, Marianne said: "Find him. Find him for me, Chet. I love him so damn much. If anything happens to him, I'll die."
I said the only thing I could: "I'll find him for you."CHAPTER 2
The graebers, father and daughter, lived in a postwar apartment building out in the direction of Tempelhof. It was not far from the Insulaner, the highest point in Berlin, an artificial mound made of the rubble and debris of wartime bombings and now landscaped with flowers, shrubs and trees. In a way it was typical of the Germans: out of the horror they had brought upon themselves they were determined, in their incorrigible and sometimes deadly romanticism, to fashion something beautiful.
As the Opel cab that had taken me to Alboinstrasse pulled to the curb, the door was jerked open before I could reach for the handle. A fat man leaned in. He was panting, and his eyes went wide with either surprise or fear. Two bright red scratches ran down his left cheek. He dabbed at them with a handkerchief and mumbled something in German, backing away and opening the door for me.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I don't speak much German."
"Ah, of course, an American. It is I who should apologize. I did not know the taxi was occupied."
"That's okay, I'm getting out here."
I moved past him. He bowed slightly and got into the cab quickly while I paid the driver. He slammed the door, and the Opel sped off. Its new passenger, I thought idly, was as nervous as a kitten in a dog kennel. Not that it was any of my business.
Excerpted from Drumbeat â?" Berlin by Stephen Marlowe. Copyright © 1964 Fawcett Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of A MysteriousPress.com.
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