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A classic Agatha Christie short story, available individually for the first time as an ebook.The adventures of the Beresfords are coming to an end. But not without a close shave involving Russian spies, code words and a dose of anaesthetic. Can Tommy and Tuppence survive and be able to begin their new life?
The Man Who Was No. 16
A Short Story
by Agatha Christie
Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF
First published 2008
Copyright © 2008 Agatha Christie Ltd.
Cover design © HarperCollinsPublishers 2013
Agatha Christie asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work
A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental
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Ebook Edition © SEPTEMBER 2013 ISBN: 9780007526826
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‘The Man Who Was No.16’ was first published as ‘The Man Who Was Number Sixteen’ in The Sketch, 10 December 1924. To end the continuous run of Tommy and Tuppence stories, Agatha Christie parodied her own Hercule Poirot.
Tommy and Tuppence were closeted with the Chief in his private room. His commendation had been warm and sincere.
‘You have succeeded admirably. Thanks to you we have laid our hands on no less than five very interesting personages, and from them we have received much valuable information. Meanwhile I learn from a creditable source that headquarters in Moscow have taken alarm at the failure of their agents to report. I think that in spite of all our precautions they have begun to suspect that all is not well at what I may call the distributing centre – the office of Mr Theodore Blunt – the International Detective Bureau.’
‘Well,’ said Tommy, ‘I suppose they were bound to tumble to it some time or other, sir.’
‘As you say, it was only to be expected. But I am a little worried – about Mrs Tommy.’
‘I can look after her all right, sir,’ said Tommy, at exactly the same minute as Tuppence said, ‘I can take care of myself.’
‘H’m,’ said Mr Carter. ‘Excessive self-confidence was always a characteristic of you two. Whether your immunity is entirely due to your own superhuman cleverness, or whether a small percentage of luck creeps in, I’m not prepared to say. But luck changes, you know. However, I won’t argue the point. From my extensive knowledge of Mrs Tommy, I suppose it’s quite useless to ask her to keep out of the limelight for the next week or two?’
Tuppence shook her head very energetically.
‘Then all I can do is to give you all the information that I can. We have reason to believe that a special agent has been despatched from Moscow to this country. We don’t know what name he is travelling under, we don’t know when he will arrive. But we do know something about him. He is a man who gave us great trouble in the war, an ubiquitous kind of fellow who turned up all over the place where we least wanted him. He is a Russian by birth, and an accomplished linguist – so much so that he can pass as half a dozen other nationalities, including our own. He is also a past-master in the art of disguise. And he has brains. It was he who devised the No. 16 code.
‘When and how he will turn up, I do not know. But I am fairly certain that he will turn up. We do know this – he was not personally acquainted with the real Mr Theodore Blunt. I think that he will turn up at your office, on the pretext of a case which he will wish you to take up, and will try you with the pass words. The first, as you know, is the mention of the number sixteen – which is replied to by a sentence containing the same number. The second, which we have only just learnt, is an inquiry as to whether you have ever crossed the Channel. The answer to that is: “I was in Berlin on the 13th of last month.” As far as we know that is all. I would suggest that you reply correctly, and so endeavour to gain his confidence. Sustain the fiction if you possibly can. But even if he appears to be completely deceived, remain on your guard. Our friend is particularly astute, and can play a double game as well, or better, than you can. But in either case I hope to get him through you. From this day forward I am adopting special precautions. A dictaphone was installed last night in your office, so that one of my men in the room below will be able to hear everything that passes in your office. In this way I shall be immediately informed if anything arises, and can take the necessary steps to safeguard you and your wife whilst securing the man I am after.’
After a few more instructions, and a general discussion of tactics, the two young people departed and made their way as rapidly as possible to the offices of Blunt’s Brilliant Detectives.
‘It’s late,’ said Tommy, looking at his watch. ‘Just on twelve o’clock. We’ve been a long time with the Chief. I hope we haven’t missed a particularly spicy case.’
‘On the whole,’ said Tuppence, ‘we’ve not done badly. I was tabulating results the other day. We’ve solved four baffling murder mysteries, rounded up a gang of counterfeiters, ditto gang of smugglers –’
‘Actually two gangs,’ interpolated Tommy. ‘So we have! I’m glad of that. “Gangs” sounds so professional.’
Tuppence continued, ticking off the items on her fingers.
‘One jewel robbery, two escapes from violent death, one case of missing lady reducing her figure, one young girl befriended, an alibi successfully exploded, and alas! one case where we made utter fools of ourselves. On the whole, jolly good! We’re very clever, I think.’
‘You would think so,’ said Tommy. ‘You always do. Now I have a secret feeling that once or twice we’ve been rather lucky.’
‘Nonsense,’ said Tuppence. ‘All done by the little grey cells.’
‘Well, I was damned lucky once,’ said Tommy. ‘The day that Albert did his lasso act! But you speak, Tuppence, as though it was all over?’
‘So it is,’ said Tuppence. She lowered her voice impressively. ‘This is our last case. When they have laid the super spy by the heels, the great detectives intend to retire and take to bee keeping or vegetable marrow growing. It’s always done.’
‘Tired of it, eh?’
‘Ye-es, I think I am. Besides, we’re so successful now – the luck might change.’
‘Who’s talking about luck now?’ asked Tommy triumphantly.
At that moment they turned in at the doorway of the block of buildings in which the International Detective Bureau had its offices, and Tuppence did not reply.