The ladies of Clerkenwell Central Hall are none too pleased at having their Temperance meetings disrupted by the rowdy Communists next door, but for Miss Olive Stapleton in particular, the uneasy coexistence proves fatal when she is found stabbed through the heart with a paper-knife. Enter Freddy Pilkington-Soames, who’s been recruited by British Intelligence to investigate a suspected Communist plot to stir up a general strike. Freddy thinks there’s more to Miss Stapleton’s death than meets the eye, but as he delves more deeply into the mystery it only becomes more puzzling. What is the connection between the murder and the coded newspaper advertisements? Is a Welsh firebrand politician really as harmless as he seems? And what does the beautiful wife of an Austrian revolutionary philosopher want from him? It all points to one thing: danger ahead. But time is running out, and Freddy must act fast to stop the conspirators, or risk becoming the unwitting pawn in a deadly game that threatens to bring the country to its knees.
‘Hallo, old chap,’ said St. John, who had spotted them across the room and now came to join them. ‘Mildred, what are you doing here? Shouldn’t have thought this was your sort of crowd, what?’
‘Of course it’s my sort of crowd,’ said Mildred. ‘I do go out occasionally, you know.’
‘But does your mother know you’re here?’
‘I don’t tell her everything I do,’ she replied loftily. ‘Give me a cigarette, Freddy.’
Freddy, who was just in the act of lighting his own, looked up in surprise, but she gave him a meaningful stare and he took the hint and offered her his cigarette-case.
‘I didn’t know you smoked,’ said St. John.
‘Didn’t you?’ said Mildred with affected carelessness.
Freddy lit the gasper for her and watched, fascinated, as she drew on it with great determination. He had to admit she pulled it off rather well and hardly coughed at all, although her eyes watered slightly.
‘How does one get a drink here?’ she said, once she was able to speak.
‘I say, Mildred,’ said St. John, as though looking at her in a new light. ‘I had no idea you drank, too.’
‘I don’t drink,’ she said with dignity. ‘But this is a party, and I don’t see how one little one can hurt. Freddy, go and get me a—a—cocktail.’
‘I don’t know about cocktails,’ said Freddy, ‘but there might be some wine. Let’s go and see.’
He took hold of Mildred’s arm and conducted her out of the room.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ he hissed, once they were out of hearing. ‘Your mother will string me up by the eyelashes if she finds out you’ve been smoking and drinking.’
‘I’m just trying to fit in,’ she said. ‘And I’m not really going to drink. I’ll just hold a glass so I look as though I am.’
In the next room they found the drinks laid out on the dining-table. A cheerful young man was helpfully making cocktails for anyone who asked.
‘Gin fizz?’ he said to Mildred.
‘Yes please,’ she said.
‘You’d better put lots of ice in it,’ said Freddy.
They took their drinks. Mildred sipped hers gingerly and made a face.
‘It’s horrid,’ she whispered. ‘Do people really like this stuff?’
‘Oh, yes,’ said Freddy.