Authors: James Hadley Chase
Tags: #James, #Hadley, #Chase
James Hadley Chase
Trusted Like The Fox
Two killers wanted her — one for protection and one for prey. One of them had slain a helpless man to hide the secret of his identity. And he was quite prepared to kill the girl if she tried to double-cross him. But he’d reckoned without that terrible accident — and he was totally unprepared for the insane murderer who made death a ritual with a silver-handled knife.
Table of Contents
He had everything ready: the soiled bandages, the knife, the dirty, tattered battledress, the damp mud to rub on his hands and feet. Most important of all, he had the identity papers of the dead David Ellis whose body was rotting out there in the sun.
But in spite of the perfection of the plan, Cushman was nervous. There were tiny sweat beads on his forehead, his heart thudded unevenly against his ribs and he had a disgusting taste of bile in his mouth.
He stood in the tiny, evil-smelling office and listened. If all went well, the identity of Edwin Cushman, the notorious renegade, would have ceased in a few minutes to exist, but before that happened Hirsch would have to be silenced. No easy task this, for Hirsch was as strong as a bull. There must be no bungling. A lightning stroke from behind was the only possible method of killing such a man.
Cushman glanced at the clock above the door. A second or so more and Hirsch would be here.
He waited, listening. His mouth was dry, his nerves jumpy. He felt that the threat of violent death could not be worse than these halting seconds.
The sound of boots crashing on the wooden boards of the passage outside made him stiffen. Then the office door jerked open and Hirsch came in. He was an enormous man, fat, powerful, built like a Japanese wrestler. His S.S. uniform clung to his great frame, hampering his muscles, and the seams of his jacket creaked with every movement he made.
“They’ll be here in twenty minutes,” he burst out, seeing Cushman. His close-cropped head shone with sweat. “Then —
!” He pushed past Cushman, went to the window and peered out at the ghastly wilderness of death that was Belsen.
Cushman fingered the knife which he held behind his back, edged towards the vast bulk before him. There was a sickening stench of stale sweat and filthy feet coming from Hirsch. As he jerked round, Cushman eyed him stolidly, kept his hand behind him.
“Well, Englishman, how do you like it now?” Hirsch sneered. “Too late to scuttle back to Berlin, eh? You thought you’d done well for yourself, didn’t you? I’ll see you don’t escape. I’ll tell them who you are. I hate traitors. They’ll string you up far higher than me.” His hard little eyes, red-flecked with terror, went to the window again, then back to Cushman. “You’ll be lucky if your countrymen out there don’t get you first. No one loves a traitor, Cushman. I wouldn’t be in your place . . .”
Cushman smiled thinly. He felt he could afford to smile. “Don’t call me a traitor,” he said. There was a harsh jarring note in his voice that set a seal of identity upon it. You had only to hear it once and you would never forget it. It was a voice known to millions of British men and women who had listened to it during the five years of total war. It was an unusual voice, not very deep, very distinct, sneering, harsh. “At heart I am a better German than you,” he went on. He had often rehearsed these words for such a moment as this. “It was my misfortune to be born British. I did what my conscience dictated, and if I had my time over again I would still do the same.”
Hirsch made an impatient movement. “Keep that stuff for your judges,” he said. “You have less than twenty minutes of freedom. Why don’t you go out there and show yourself? They’re waiting for you. They know the British are coming. Go out there. Let’s see the colour of your guts. Your whip won’t frighten them now.”
“Don’t be so melodramatic,” Cushman said, moving closer. He stared up at the vast bulk before him. It was like David looking at Goliath. “Go out there yourself if you feel so brave.”
Hirsch shivered, looked out of the window again.
It was Cushman’s opportunity.
Fear and hate drove the stab.
They drove with such overwhelming power that Hirsch’s gross body crashed like a felled tree. Cushman had picked a spot between the vast shoulder blades and the force of the stroke sent a jar up his arm. As Hirsch went down he upset a chair beside the desk. This clatter startled Cushman. He stepped back, jerking the broad blade of the knife from the slab of fat and muscle in which it had been buried. He stared at the dark blood that welled from the cut in Hirsch’s shirt.
The gross mountain of flesh heaved itself up. Cushman selected his spot, struck again. The knife sank into the lung cavity. Hirsch made a feeble movement, caught hold of Cush- man’s wrist, but there was no strength in the thick fingers.
Cushman, cold and deliberate, pulled away, then struck again. Hirsch’s lungs began to pump spurts of blood through his wounds. In his last writhing effort to get at Cushman, his legs beat frantically up and down: great tree trunks of legs that crashed noisily on the floor. Then suddenly the legs stopped thrashing. Hirsch glared up at Cushman, who spat in his face and, standing over him, sneering and triumphant, watched him die.
The sound of distant gunfire warned Cushman that there was no time to waste. He hurried to the door, turned the key. Then, without giving Hirsch another glance, he threw off his S.S. uniform and stood naked before the mirror on the wall. He did not look at himself in the mirror. He was only too bitterly aware of his frail physique, the lack of muscles, the narrow chest and the coarse blond hair that covered his limbs. This was no body for a man of his courage, vision and ambition. But although his body might be puny there was nothing the matter with his brain. He had every confidence in his mental alertness, his ingenuity, his clear-sightedness and shrewdness. It was ridiculous for a man of his abilities and mental equipment to have such a feeble body: as ridiculous as setting a priceless gem in a hoop of brass. But he had been over this argument so often before that he was sick of it. He had to make do with what nature had given him.
He spent a feverish five minutes smearing his feet, hands and body with mud; then he put on the tattered khaki battledress, not without a shudder. He had stripped it from a rotting corpse, and the horrible task of removing the fat white maggots from the seams of the garment still lived vividly in his memory.
As he moved to a cupboard on the far side of the room, his naked foot trod in the blood that dribbled out of Hirsch’s wounds. It was warm and sticky. He started back, a tiny sound of horror escaping through his dry lips before he could control himself. Shuddering, he wiped the sole of his foot on Hirsch’s sleeve, then opened the cupboard and took from it the soiled bandages and the identity papers. He glanced at the papers. They were as familiar to him as his own right hand. There was not one word written on those papers that he hadn’t engraved on his mind.
Cushman had foreseen the end of Germany long before the other British renegades had even thought of the possibilities of defeat. The siege of Stalingrad had been to him the writing on the wall. There was time, of course, but the end was certain. Quietly and methodically he had begun his preparations for his future safety. He kept his own counsel, continued to work at the German Ministry of Propaganda, broadcasting his stupid poison to the British people who listened because they thought what he had to say was funny. He allowed the other Englishmen in Berlin to think he was undisturbed by the news that kept coming in of continuous German defeats, but all the time he watched and waited for the opportunity to put his plan into action.
It was only after the successful landing in Normandy by British, Canadian and American troops had begun that Cushman decided that the time was ripe. It was then that he suggested to his superiors that he should be allowed to undertake more active duties now that the final test of strength had come. Able-bodied men were at a premium; his reputation as a loyal servant was above reproach, and he was Congratulated. In a few days he received a commission in the S.S. guards and was sent to the Concentration Camp at Belsen as Sub-Commandant. This was no chance appointment. Cushman had been pulling strings behind the scenes. Belsen was the first milestone of his road to safety.
The next move was to find a British soldier whose identity Cushman could assume. This took time and great patience, but eventually he selected David Ellis, a man with no relations, no ties and apparently no friends. More important still, Ellis was the only survivor of his battalion that had been carved to pieces at Dunkirk.
It was a simple matter for Cushman to extract all the information he required from Ellis. Cushman was a master of torture, and Ellis, crazed with pain, talked freely. It was a simple matter, too, to alter the records: to give Ellis the identity of one of the many of Belsen’s dead, and to hide Ellis’s papers until the time came for Cushman to use them for himself. And, finally, it was also a simple matter to cut Ellis’s throat as he lay raving in the dark.
The time had come. The British Army was only a mile or so from the gates of Belsen. Hirsch was dead. No one else in the camp knew Cushman was an Englishman. Cushman had already assumed half his disguise. He regarded himself in the mirror. The sallow-complexioned, blunt-featured face he saw reflected in the mirror irritated him. But for the eyes, it was the face of any Tom, Dick or Harry of the lower classes. But the eyes were good. They were the only true indication of his worth, he decided: steel-grey eyes, hard, alert, dangerous.
With a pang of regret, he cut off the small black moustache he had grown long ago when he had been a member of the British Union of Fascists.
The sound of gunfire was now ominously close. He took up the knife, wiped the blade, stared at himself in the mirror. He prided himself on his nerve and his cold ruthlessness; he did not hesitate. He opened the anatomical chart he had ready for the final step in his disguise. With his fountain pen he drew a line on his flesh from his right eye to his chin, following the diagram of the chart and carefully avoiding the facial artery. Then he picked up the knife once more and gritting his teeth, he dug the point of it into his flesh. He knew he must have a legitimate excuse for hiding his face under a mass of bandages. This was the only way, and he did not flinch.
The knife was unexpectedly sharp. Before he realised what he was doing, he had laid his cheek open to the bone. He could see the bone gleaming white, and his yellow molars, heavy with amalgam, through the scarlet lips of the wound. He dropped the knife and staggered forward. Blood gushed down his neck, the whole of his face became a mask of pain. He clung on to the desk; a black faintness crept over him like death.
Overhead a shell exploded and a small portion of the ceiling thudded on to the floor.
The noise brought Cushman back to his senses. Savagely he willed himself back to consciousness. He dragged himself upright, fumbled for the needle and thread. As if in a nightmare he stitched the lips of the wound together. It was only his willpower and the knowledge of his supreme danger that carried him through the operation. With trembling hands he swathed his face and head in the filthy bandages. He had practised bandaging himself until he could put the bandages on automatically without ever looking in a mirror.