Authors: James Hadley Chase
‘I’ll be careful.’ He took out two five-pound notes. ‘Here, buy yourself a tie.’
Max’s slim fingers closed over the notes.
‘I wouldn’t take it if I didn’t need it,’ he said. ‘Well, thanks. Anything else I can do?’
Corridon shook his head.
‘So long, Max,’ he said.
Max again bowed to Ann.
‘If we ever meet again, lady,’ he said, ‘I hope it will be in happier circumstances.’
He went away a
s unobtrusively as he had come.
solitary electric light lamp hung from the ceiling of the church and cast a circle of hard brilliance over the centre pews.
Two candles burned steadily on either side of the altar and the silver crucifix glittered in their yellow, subdued flames. An old woman sat at the rear of the church, her head in her hands.
The sound of her wheezing breath invaded the silent church, warning the two, seated away from the light in a side pew, of her presence.
They waited impatiently for the old woman to go, but she seemed in no hurry. She had come in as Jan was painfully taking off his trench coat, and the loud squeaking of her boots had frozen him into an anxious immobility. She had sat down behind and to the right of them, not noticing them, and now she was praying with an exasperating thoroughness that infuriated Jan. He held his left bicep, squeezing the veins, trying to stop the steady bleeding from the wound in the fleshy part of his arm. His left sleeve and hand were wet with blood that dripped on to the pew seat and on to the white stone floor. He was afraid to remove his coat in case the old woman noticed them. Not far away the police were still combing the streets, hunting for them, and a cry from her would bring them instantly to the church.
Jeanne sat close to the wounded man, her eyes fixed on the glittering cross, paying no attention to him, and Jan felt her indifference with growing anger and despair.
Their escape had been miraculous. Jeanne had been useless; a doll to be pushed and pulled; unhelpful, unaware of their danger, frighteningly apathetic. He had no idea how they had managed to slip through the cordon. There had been moments of acute danger; moments when capture had seemed inevitable. A policeman had cornered them and had hit at Jan with his truncheon, the blast of his whistle cut short as Jan had ducked under the blow and had struck upwards with his knife.
Out of the darkness had come a shot, and Jan had felt the white-hot touch of the bullet as it passed through his arm. But he had kept hold of Jeanne, pushing her into the darkness, gritting his teeth against the pain, using every scrap of cover, weaving his way through the line of hunting men soundlessly and swiftly, pulling Jeanne with him.
As the cordon tightened and he had begun to despair, he had seen the church. The shadowy figure of armed men were converging on them: a game of blindman’s buff and only his acute hearing to outwit them. He had pulled Jeanne into the dark porch and waited, knife in hand for them to come after him.
But they didn’t. They ran past the church, their whistles piercing the wet night air, sure that their quarry had gone on ahead of them.
It was then he realized how badly he was bleeding. His head felt hot, and there was an irritating singing in his ears that now made hearing difficult. Still holding Jeanne’s arm, he entered the dim sanctuary of the church and sat down in a pew. For some minutes he relaxed against the hard, polished wood of the pew and his mind drifted away into a dark unconsciousness that knew nothing of murder or pain or the terrors of being captured and locked up behind bars like an animal.
But the readiness and ease in which his mind accepted the anaesthesia of exhaustion frightened him and he shook off the coma that was stealing over him. He realized he would have to rely on himself to avoid being caught. He did not think Jeanne was capable helping him. She sat staring straight before her, her dark eyes bemused, her mouth twitching, her fingers uneasily pressing her temples.
He looked over his shoulder: a slow furtive glance that betrayed his fears. The old woman was sitting" forward, her face buried in her hands, resting on the back of the pew in front of her. Her wheezy breathing was laboured. She was no longer praying; she was asleep.
Jan unbuttoned his coat and struggled out of it, flinching with pain. He looked with distaste and fear at the red-soaked shirtsleeve.
‘Do something for me,’ he said in Jeanne’s ear. ‘I’m bleeding. Help me, can’t you?’
She turned her head slowly and looked blankly at him, and seemed not to recognize him. He gripped her arm and shook it, digging his fingernails into her flesh. She tried to pull away, but he tightened his grip.
‘I’m bleeding,’ he whispered fiercely. ‘Help me.’
Then her mind appeared to clear for she shifted her eyes from his face to the blood-soaked sleeve.
‘Your knife,’ she said, wrenching free. ‘Take off your scarf.’
He sucked in a breath of relief as he handed her the knife and watched her cut off the sleeve, working with her old expertness. Both of them stared at the bruised, swollen flesh and the wound.
‘Put a pad on and tie it tightly,’ he said. ‘We must stop the bleeding.’
She made a pad from handkerchiefs and held them in place with his scarf.
‘That is good,’ he said, feeling the sweat of faintness on his face. ‘Help me on with my coat. The old woman may wake.’
And then there was nothing to do but wait. He put the pistol on the ledge in front of him beside the hymn books within easy reach of his hand. His legs felt weak, and it worried him as he realized how much strength he had lost. If they came now there would be no escape. He would kill as many of them as he could before being killed himself. They would not take him alive.
He looked at his watch. The time was a quarter past ten, and he wondered what had happened to Corridon and the Mallory girl. If Corridon had evaded the police, would he go to the island? Was it possible that Mallory was hiding there as Corridon had suggested? Jan reached out and touched the cold butt of the pistol as if to draw strength from it He knew he could not go on much longer. It was only a matter of time before the police caught up with him. If he was to find Mallory he must find him at once. The island seemed to him to be his only hope. If Mallory was not there then he must admit defeat.
It would be impossible to search the whole of the country for him now that the police were hunting for them. Hermit Island was his only hope. Somehow he had to get there, but how, he had no idea.
It was nearly midnight before he decided it would be safe to leave the church. The old woman had long since gone, going out without noticing them, her mind heavy with sleep. Jan had watched her, crouched down in the pew and had listened to her squeaking boots as she trudged down the aisle into the street.
For a long time now the church had been silent. There was no point in remaining longer, and he touched Jeanne lightly, waking her from uneasy sleep.
‘It is time to go,’ he said. His arm ached and was rigid in stiffness. ‘Are you all right?’ He was relieved to see an alertness come into her eyes as she sat up, looking, he thought, more like her old self.
‘Yes, I’m all right.’ She ran her fingers through her thick hair. ‘And you? How’s the arm?’
‘Yes, it will do. It is time to go.’
‘I haven’t been much use to you, have I?’ She said unexpectedly.
He shook his head, too tired and worried to deal gently with her.
‘But now you must make up for it. Much depends on you. I’m not well.’
‘What are we going to do?’
‘Isn’t that for you to say?’ he returned sharply. ‘Don’t you always make the plans?’
She stared helplessly at him as her mind floundered with the effort to concentrate, and with a pang of dismay he thought she would not be equal to the task of planning their escape. Her brainstorm had been far more damaging to her than the previous ones. In the past she had recovered quickly from these strange attacks, but now her mental make-up seemed completely disorganized, and it was only her willpower and discipline that forced her mind to work.
But even then she groped vainly for an idea on which to base a plan of escape. Watching her, Jan could see she didn’t know how to begin.
‘The island,’ he said impatiently. ‘That’s where we must go. How do we get there?’
‘The trains to Scotland go from King’s Cross. We can’t hope to go by road.’
‘Where’s King’s Cross?’ he asked, rocking to and fro to the steady throb in his arm.
‘Near Gray’s Inn Road. We shall have to walk.’
Jan’s face set. The idea of a long walk frightened him. His legs were trembling, and every now and then a sick feeling of faintness crept over him. He knew he was in no shape for a walk of any distance.
‘I don’t think I could walk far,’ he said cautiously, and it crossed his mind that if she realized how weak he was she might be tempted in her present mood to leave him. He decided if she showed the slightest sign of treachery he would kill her. He was now a little light-headed, and the pain in his arm lashed him into a frenzy of despair and rage that he only kept under control with difficulty. ‘I have lost a lot of blood.’
She turned and studied him, seeing his grey complexion, the sweat beads of pain, and the fury that was seething within him.
‘Jan…’ She gently touched his sound arm. ‘We’ll manage somehow. It’s all right. I won’t desert you. You’ve done so much for me. Should we risk a taxi?’
He touched his dry lips with the tip of his tongue. The last thing he expected from her was kindness. Since Pierre’s death kindness had gone out of her, and this sudden pity for him he could see so clearly in her face moved him.
‘I can’t walk far,’ he said. ‘It’ll have to be a taxi. I’ll leave my coat here. Lend me yours. I’ll hang it over my shoulders. If we go bareheaded they may not recognize us. Don’t forget, they are looking for berets.’
She slipped off her coat and draped it over his shoulders, hiding the blood-stained sleeve.
‘We must find out about trains,’ she said, and now she had again accepted responsibility her voice was brisk. Will you wait here while I telephone the station?’
He shook his head.
‘We must go together, Jeanne.’
She saw he was frightened she would desert him, and still uncertain of herself, still frightened of the racking pain in her head, she was glad he had need of her.
We’ll jump in a goods train,’ she said. ‘At least we can find our way about a railway siding, can’t we?’
He got slowly and unsteadily to his feet.
‘One of our few accomplishments,’ he said sadly. ‘We have a long journey ahead of us, Jeanne. It’s worrying me. Do you think we’ll get there?’
‘Yes.’ She turned and looked at the silver cross on the altar. ‘Give me a few minutes, Jan. We may never have the opportunity to be in a church again.’
He leaned his weight against the pew, fighting off the feeling of sick faintness that suddenly swept over him.
‘Hurry,’ he said nervously, and wiped the sweat from his face.
She knelt, facing the altar. Watching the back of her head, her square shoulders, her straight back, he wondered how she could pray. Once he had believed in God; but not now. His faith had died with Charlotte, and he could not think why Jeanne should wish to pray. What had she to pray for? he wondered, closing his eyes. He felt cold and had to keep his teeth clenched against the increasing pain in his arm. Did she think God would grant her anything? Was she trying to make her peace with Him? How could she expect to be forgiven when her only purpose in life was to kill Mallory? Both of them were beyond the comfort of religion. She was wasting time.
Impatiently he laid his hand on her shoulder and she looked up, turning her head, and he saw an odd expression in her glittering eyes.
‘We must go,’ he said sharply. ‘Every moment is precious. You are wasting time.’
She stood up.
‘Yes, you are right. There is nothing for either of us here.’
They went silently down the aisle and stood for a moment in the dark porch. Then like ghosts they moved into the empty, rain-swept street.
‘Walk on,’ he said curtly. ‘You’ve got to keep away from me. They’ve published a photograph of me, and I may be spotted at any moment.’
She was quick to realize the danger, but instead of leaving him, she caught hold of his wrist and pulled him into a nearby lavatory, closed and bolted the door.
‘We’ll be safe here for a moment,’ she said calmly. ‘How did they get hold of your photograph?’
He made an impatient movement.
‘What does it matter? They’ve had it years. The point is someone’s bound to recognize me; probably they’ve done so already.’
‘Let me see the photograph.’
He hesitated, not wanting her to know that Rita Allen was dead. He realized, however, that she was certain to find out sooner or later, and perhaps it would be better for her to find out from him than from anyone else. He pulled out the newspapers and handed them to her.
She examined the photograph carefully.
‘Yes, it’s you all right,’ she said. ‘The likeness is too good. We’ll reach Dunbar in thirty minutes. What are you going to do?’
‘Take a chance,’ Corridon said grimly, ‘but you have to keep clear of me. We mustn’t overestimate people’s intelligence. They may not spot me.’
He saw she was only giving him half her attention, and he watched her, as her eyes skimmed the type matter, waiting for the inevitable change of expression when she read of Rita’s death. It came. He saw her stiffen, her hands tighten on the paper.
‘Why, she’s dead!’ she exclaimed and looked up, staring at him, a questioning, searching look in her eyes. ‘They say she’s been murdered.’