Authors: James Hadley Chase
must tell you about Mallory - Brian Mallory,’ Ranleigh said as he poured out two more drinks. Corridon noticed his hand was unsteady. ‘He was a fighter pilot. He joined up with us after he had escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp. He seemed the right type. There was nothing weak about him. He was a good-looking chap. I suppose he was between thirty and thirty-five; public school and seemed to have plenty of money. He seemed absolutely reliable. He had made a spectacular escape; killing two guards, and was hunted for weeks. Pierre often said he considered Mallory one of his best men, and Pierre knew what he was talking about. He had a lot of initiative and never seemed to worry about risks. He always volunteered for the most dangerous jobs, and more often than not Pierre used to have to hold him in. He gave us the impression of being courageous, tough and unbreakable.’
‘I’ve met fellas like that,’ Corridon said. ‘They seem all right until they are cornered, then they go haywire. It’s called lack of moral fibre.’
‘It wasn’t like that with Mallory,’ Ranleigh said emphatically. ‘He had been cornered a dozen times. He had fought his way out without turning a hair. He just wasn’t like that. God knows what got into him that night. I don’t. I wish I did. He told where Pierre was and who would be with him; Charlotte and Georges. Luckily, Lubish, Jan and Harris were away on a job, but he gave a detailed description of them all. It was a complete give away.’
‘How long ago was this?’
‘About eighteen months. Oh, I know we have taken our time to get here, but it hasn’t been easy. We’ve had to wait for things to settle down. We’ve had to save money. Jeanne’s been ill. At one time nothing went right. But we’re here now.’
‘They caught Gourville?’
‘Yes. Georges and Charlotte were killed in the fighting. Unfortunately they caught Pierre alive. He was in their hands two weeks before they killed him.’
‘What happened to you?’
‘We were lucky. There was an air raid and the prison in which we were was hit. In the confusion we got away.’
‘He got away too. We were a lot slower than he and he left us.’
‘And now you intend to kill him?’
‘Yes. Jeanne was ill for a long time. She had brain fever, and nearly went out of her mind. The only thing that kept her alive was the thought that one day she would meet Mallory again. We have all sworn to get him, and we are bound by honour to see the job through.’
‘But why drag me into it?’ Corridon asked, stretching out his long legs.
‘It was my idea,’ Ranleigh returned. ‘The other two don’t like it. You see, Jan was married to Charlotte. He has a personal reason for finding Mallory. So has Jeanne. I haven’t the same claim, but I’ve given my word.’
‘And the other two? Where are they?’
‘They’re dead,’ Ranleigh said quietly. ‘Mallory killed them last week.’
A flicker of interest showed in Corridon’s eyes. He hadn’t expected this.
‘Last week? You mean - here, in London?’
‘Yes.’ Ranleigh again began to pace the room. ‘We’ve underestimated Mallory. We knew he’d be a hard nut to crack, but we thought the five of us would be more than a match for him. He is a first class shot; strong, quick and as dangerous as a tiger. He has a clear-thinking, ruthless mind. He’s good at hunting men, but then, so are we, and we thought the five of us could pull him down. We are beginning to doubt. There are only three of us left. You see, we don’t know where he is. Harris had a clue to his whereabouts and went to investigate. He didn’t come back. He was found in a pond on Wimbledon Common. You know the kind of thing: unknown man commits suicide. There was no question of foul play, but we knew Mallory had got him.
‘Lubish also had a clue. He was found lying on a railway track, cut to pieces by a train. They brought that in as accidental death. After Lubish’s death I managed to persuade Jeanne to see reason. We must have outside help. Mallory knows us. He knows we are after him, and he is hitting back. Up to now he has had it all his own way. As soon as one of us gets on his track, he appears from, nowhere and strikes. Someone he doesn’t know must go after him. We heard about you. You could do it. If you can find him for us we’ll do the rest; but knowing him, if you do find him, you’ll have to act quickly. I don’t think there’ll be a chance to bring us on the scene. You’ll have to do the job. That’s why we’re offering a thousand pounds.’
‘It’s murder,’ Corridon said, the polite, interested expression much in evidence. ‘Have you thought of that?’
‘Did you call it murder when you shot Maria Hauptmann or the others who were traitors?’ Ranleigh asked quietly.
‘No, but it was murder for all that; only it was legalized murder. This is different. If I kill a man now, I shall be arrested, tried and perhaps hanged.’
‘It must be an accident or suicide,’ Ranleigh said. ‘He has killed two of us that way.’
Corridon drank a little whisky, appearing to think, but there was no need to think. He knew what he was going to do.
‘There are risks,’ he pointed out. ‘You must look at it from my point of view. You’re asking me to pull your chestnuts out of the fire. I have no personal grudge against this man. There were dozens like him. Killing a man in war-time is one thing; killing him now is something else.’
Ranleigh stubbed out his cigarette. A frown pulled his eyebrows into a wrinkled knot above the bridge of his nose.
‘There’s no point in beating about the bush,’ he said with sudden curtness. ‘Either you’ll take the job or you won’t. What’s it to be?’
‘I wouldn’t do it for a thousand.’
Ranleigh looked sharply at him.
‘Does that mean ...?’
‘Of course,’ Corridon broke in. ‘I’ll tackle anything if the price is right. A thousand isn’t enough. This is a business proposition. You’re asking me to gamble with my life. This fella might be too smart for me. I might go the way the others went. If I succeed I might make a mistake and hang. I’m risking my life, and I value it above a thousand pounds.’
‘Yes,’ Ranleigh said. ‘That’s fair enough.’ He said candidly, ‘The trouble is we haven’t much money. I’ll have to talk to the others. But fifteen hundred is the best we can do, and if we give you that it’ll put us in a hole.’
Corridon studied him. There was no guile in the ravished face, and Corridon was disappointed. He liked to bargain. He had had much experience in screwing money out of others. It was a game he enjoyed. But Ranleigh was too honest. Corridon could see he was speaking the truth. The bargain was stillborn; the battle of words over before it began.
After a moment’s hesitation Corridon said with a shrug, ‘All right, I’ll do it for that. I could use fifteen hundred. I thought I could get more out of you.’
‘I know you did, that’s why I put my cards on the table. I’m no good at haggling. But I’ll have to ask the others. They may not want to pay all this: it’s practically all the money we have.’
‘Talk to them,’ Corridon said. ‘Half down and the rest when the job is done.’ He concealed a smile. ‘See what they say.’
rew came into the room. He stood hesitating, looking at Corridon who lounged in the chair and grinned at him. Ranleigh had sent him out while he talked with Jeanne and Jan.
‘You’d better sit down and keep quiet,’ Corridon said. ‘I’ve been asked to keep an eye on you.’
‘What are they going to do with me?’ Crew blurted out.
Horror lurked in his eyes. ‘You know what they’re up to, don’t you? You’re in this too, aren’t you?’
Corridon lit a cigarette and surveyed Crew through a cloud of smoke.
‘I suppose. I am,’ he said indifferently. ‘And I’ve no idea what they are going to do with you. I don’t give a damn. You were a fool to try blackmail.’
‘Yes.’ Crew suppressed a shiver. ‘But how was I to know? She scares me.’ He looked fearfully at the door. ‘She’d do anything. I think she’s cracked.’
‘You never know with foreigners, but I wouldn’t say she’s cracked.’
‘They’ve been here four days now,’ Crew said, clenching and unclenching his fists. ‘I can’t move without one of them comes with me. There’s no privacy. I can’t stand much more of it. I can’t see how it’s going to end.’
‘You shouldn’t have picked his pocket.’
Crew flinched, and his face turned a dull red.
‘He told you that, did he?’
‘He said you were a pickpocket and you tried blackmail.’
Crew began to excuse himself.
‘I was short of money. They shouldn’t be in this country. Their papers aren’t in order. They could be arrested. ‘I - I only wanted fifty pounds.’
‘You should have left them alone,’ Corridon returned. He was getting bored with Crew’s misery. ‘It’s no good appealing to me. I can’t help you. After all, it’s your funeral.’
Crew began to pace up and down, his hands clenched tightly behind his back.
‘You don’t think . . .’ He broke off, unable to voice the thought that had been haunting him for the past two days. He looked helplessly at Corridon, and then resumed his pacing. ‘They’re getting on my nerves. If I could see how it was going to end. They wouldn’t...’ Again he stopped, biting his lip and staring at Corridon. ‘They don’t trust me. That’s the trouble. I wouldn’t do anything. I’ve given my word. I even offered to swear on the Bible.’
‘Have you got one?’ Corridon asked with his jeering smile.
Crew looked at him seriously.
‘No, but they could buy one couldn’t they? I said I’d pay for it . . .’ His voice trailed away. He repeated hopelessly, ‘They don’t trust me.’
orridon suppressed a yawn.
‘You might fix me another drink. Is it your whisky or theirs?’
‘It’s unbelievable,’ Crew said, ignoring Corridon’s request, ‘to get mixed up with such people. I didn’t know such people existed. They’re going to kill this chap Mallory.’ His face twitched suddenly. ‘That’s murder. They think nothing of it. Nothing . . . I’ve heard them talk. She’s the worst. She’s hard. Isn’t she?’ He stood before Corridon, his eyes feverish. ‘Isn’t she hard . . . like granite? She’s not like any other woman I’ve known.’ He turned away and wrung his hands. ‘I keep thinking they’re going to kill me,’ he burst out. ‘I know it’s silly of me, but I can’t help putting myself in their place. What else can they do? If they’re going to kill this chap Mallory, why shouldn’t they kill me?’ He swung round to face Corridon again. He was sweating. ‘I can’t sleep. It’s getting on my nerves.’
‘You’d better have a drink too,’ Corridon said, rising to his feet. ‘You’re hysterical.’
‘Do you think they’ll kill me?’ Crew asked. He wiped his sweating hands with a rag of a handkerchief. ‘That Pole - he keeps looking at me as if he were planning something.’
Corridon mixed a stiff whisky and soda and pushed the glass into Crew’s hand.
‘Don’t be a fool,’ he said roughly. ‘Pull yourself together. Nothing like that’s going to happen.’
The glass rattled against Crew’s teeth as he gulped down the whisky.
‘I wish I could be sure,’ he went on after a long pause. ‘It’s driving me mad.’ Tears sprang into his eyes. ‘They keep looking at me. There’s no privacy. And she - she’s the worst. She’s inhuman. You don’t know what she’s like.’
Ranleigh came into the room with Jeanne. Crew jumped back, his face going slack.
‘Would you keep Jan company?’ Ranleigh said quietly. ‘I’m sorry to keep pushing you from one room to the other, but you’ve brought it on yourself, haven’t you?’
‘I won’t!’ Crew exclaimed, backing away. ‘I’ve had enough of this! You’ve got to go. All of you. Please go...’ He began to wring his hands again as Jan came into the room.
‘Come on,’ Jan said.
Crew sagged limply and walked slowly across the room. Jan followed him into the room and closed the door.
‘He thinks you are going to kill him,’ Corridon said lightly. ‘He must have been reading too many gangster novels.’
‘We’ve decided to pay you what you ask,’ Jeanne said, ignoring the implied question.
Surprise and disappointment drove Crew from his mind. He had expected and hoped for a long and expert haggle.
‘Half down and half when the job’s done?’ he asked. ‘Seven hundred and fifty pounds?’
‘Yes,’ she said.
Corridon felt something had gone wrong. He was suddenly suspicious and uneasy. There must be a catch in it somewhere, unless he had underestimated them. Ranleigh might be bamboozled, but surely not the other two. He sat, nursing his glass, looking at Jeanne doubtfully.
She stood before the hearth, her hands in her trouser pockets, her face empty of expression. Ranleigh stood by the window momentarily withdrawn from them.
‘All right,’ Corridon said. ‘Tell me what I have to do and I’ll do it. I’ll need a photograph or a good description of him. Have you any ideas where I can find him?’
‘There’s no photograph, I’m afraid, but I have written down a description,’ Ranleigh said, turning. ‘Finding him won’t be easy. We have only two clues, but they must be good ones. Harris and Lubish used them, and they found Mallory. You’ll have to try them yourself, but you’ll have to be very careful.’
Corridon grinned. While Ranleigh was speaking he was aware that Jeanne was watching him closely. Her intense scrutiny warned him to be on his guard.
‘I’ll be careful. What are these clues?’
‘We thought it would be easy to find out something about him, but he’s covered his tracks. We tried to remember anything that would lead us to him from the past conversations we’ve had with him. He rarely talked about himself, but we’ve remembered two things: an address of his aunt he gave me in case he was killed and the name of his girlfriend. His aunt lives near Wendover, Bucks. I’ve written the address down for you. Lubish went to see her. He was found on a stretch of railway line between Wendover and Great Missenden. It looks as if Mallory might have been with his aunt when Lubish called. His girlfriend’s name is Rita Allen. She works at Mastins and Roberts, the multiple stores in Regent Street. She’s on the stocking counter. Harris went after her. He was found the next day in a pond on Wimbledon Common. Probably Rita Allen lives in that district. Those are the only two leads we have. You’ll have to go on from there.’
‘And hope one or both of them will tell me where I can find him?’ Corridon said. He finished his whisky and put the glass on the table. ‘All right. I’ll see what I can do. You’ll be here I suppose, I’ll keep in touch with you.’
‘We don’t know yet,’ Ranleigh said. We may be here or we may move. It depends . . .’ He glanced at Jeanne. ‘But we know where you are.’ He added with a smile, ‘You won’t lose us. We’re difficult people to shake off.’
The smile softened the warning, but it was there.
‘I shan’t run away.’ He got to his feet. ‘Well, I’ll make a start. This should be interesting.’ His enthusiasm struck a false note. ‘I used to be good at this sort of thing.’ He thrust his hand into his coat pocket and pulled out the Mauser pistol.
Both Jeanne and Ranleigh stiffened at the sight of the gun but immediately relaxed as Corridon laid it on the table. ‘I’ll leave you the gun. He’ll want it, won’t he? I have a gun of my own.’
Neither Jeanne nor Ranleigh said anything. ‘Have you the description?’
Ranleigh took an envelope from his pocket.
‘There’s everything here,’ he said.
‘Everything? The money?’ His finger pressed the envelope and he shook his head. ‘No, not the money. We said half down . . . didn’t we?’
Jeanne went to a cupboard, took from it a worn leather briefcase.
‘You’ll sign an IOU?’ she asked.
‘I beg your pardon?’ Corridon said, not quite sure if he had heard aright.
‘You’ll sign an IOU?’ she repeated woodenly.
‘Of course.’ He marvelled at her innocence. They had no right to be in England. Crew had said so. Their papers weren’t in order. How then did they hope to collect on an IOU?
Ranleigh gave him a sheet of notepaper and a pen.
‘And the money?’ Corridon asked blandly. ‘Shall we have it on the table? It’s not that I distrust you . . . it’s business, isn’t it?’ Jeanne put three bundles of one-pound notes on the table.
Her fingertips rested on the polished surface, close to the gun.
Corridon pulled up a chair and sat down.
‘If I were going to cheat you,’ he said to her, ‘I wouldn’t have returned the gun, would I?’
‘Count the money,’ she said curtly.
‘You want me to do this job, don’t you?’ he demanded, stung by the contempt in her eyes. ‘I didn’t ask to do it. If you want my help you must expect to pay for it.’
‘Count the money,’ she snapped, and her eyes glittered.
Shrugging, he flicked through the pound notes. His fingers were expert, rustling the notes quickly and without hesitation.
‘Right,’ he said, picked up the pen and scrawled on the sheet of paper. ‘There. Now I’ll start.’ He pushed the three bundles of notes into the brief case, tucked it under his arm and stood up. ‘Suppose we meet at the Amethyst Club tomorrow night? I’ll let you know how I have got on.’
‘Yes,’ Ranleigh said. There was a strained expression on his face. ‘We expect quick service. That money means a lot to us.’
‘It means quite a bit to me, oddly enough,’ Corridon returned, and couldn’t quite conceal the jeering smile.
‘We’re trusting you,’ Ranleigh reminded him.
‘That’s right,’ Corridon said, added, looking at Jeanne, ‘but you have my IOU.’
She said nothing, staring at him, her big dark eyes brooding and her mouth a hard line.
‘Well, so long.’ He turned to the door. ‘See you soon.’
Neither of them said anything and he looked over his shoulder at them. Ranleigh was holding the I O U. Jeanne still stood by the table, her fingertips near the gun. There was a tense atmosphere in the room, but Corridon didn’t let that worry him. He had the money. It had been absurdly easy; the easiest job he had ever done. Of course there was Jan, but Corridon believed in taking risks. When they realized he wasn’t going through with the job they would threaten him, but he was used to threats. He didn’t believe they’d dare do anything except threaten, and he knew how to look after himself. Jan and his gun didn’t scare him, and if they were troublesome he had only to tell Zani about them. Zani would be quick to act. He was always on the lookout for information to give to the police, especially information that didn’t involve his clients. These three would be a gift to Zani.
He repeated, ‘Well, so long,’ and went into the neat little hall, opened the front door, ran down the carpeted stairs.
Seven hundred and fifty pounds! He’d go along and see about Effie’s mouth. He’d go right now.
As he moved into the street he noticed an elderly man in shirtsleeves rearranging the display in the flyblown window of the tobacconist’s shop. His thick awkward fingers were building a tower of cigarette cartons on a dusty shelf. He looked up and caught Corridon’s eye. Corridon winked at him.