Authors: James Hadley Chase
car, grinding in second gear, came down the road and stopped a few houses away. A man’s voice shouted cheerfully, ‘Thanks a lot, old boy. You know your way, don’t you? Follow this road, and take the second to the right. The station’s at the bottom of the hill.’
‘Do keep your voice down, darling,’ a woman screamed. ‘You’ll wake everyone in the street. Of course, Bertie knows the way; don’t you, Bertie?’
Another man’s voice shouted above the hum of the car engine. ‘I’ll be all right. Well, see you soon. Be good.’
‘Thanks again, old boy. We’ve had a grand time; simply grand. My turn next time, don’t forget And make it soon.’
A car door slammed.
‘Goodbye, Bertie,’ the woman screamed.
‘Bye-bye, Doris. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t tell your ma about.’
The car engine roared, gears clashed and the car drove away.
Out of the silence that followed Rita Allen said, ‘So you’re another of them.’ She was sitting bolt upright, her fingers digging into the soft folds of her wrap. ‘I might have known it. What a fool I am!’ She scrambled off the divan and stood over him. ‘Why can’t you leave me alone?’ She was panting, her eyes dark with a kind of angry terror. ‘I don’t want to be mixed up in this.’
‘You’re mixed up in it already,’ Corridon said curtly. ‘Harris was murdered.’
Her hand flew to her mouth and she bit on her knuckles, stifling a scream.
‘I won’t listen! I don’t know anything about it. Mallory is nothing to me!
‘You can’t get out of it as easily as that,’ he returned, and caught hold of her wrist as she backed away. ‘Harris was murdered.’
She struggled to free herself from his grip. Her blonde hair fell about her face, when she found she couldn’t break free she began to cry.
‘Let me go! I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ she moaned. ‘He wasn’t murdered. He killed himself. It said so in the papers. It wasn’t my fault. I had nothing to do with it.’
‘Mallory murdered him,’ Corridon said and shook her. ‘He came here and Mallory was waiting for him, and you say you had nothing to do with it.’
Again she tried to pull away.
‘You’re mad!’ she cried. ‘Mallory wasn’t here. He has not been here for weeks. The fool killed himself.’
‘That’s what you say. But I know Mallory killed him. I have proof, and I want to find him. If you don’t know anything about this business you’d better tell me where he is.’
‘That’s what the other fool wanted to know, and look what happened to him.’ She beat her clenched fists together. ‘How do you know Mallory killed him?’
‘Where is he?’ Corridon demanded.
‘I wouldn’t tell you even if I knew, and I don’t. I don’t want to be mixed up in this.’ She looked wildly round the room. ‘I won’t be mixed up in it.’
‘You can’t help yourself. You’ll either tell me or the police. Suit yourself.’
At the mention of the police, she blanched, and dropped on her knees beside him, she wailed, ‘But I don’t know. I don’t know anything about him.’ Her hands caught one of his and her scarlet nails dug into his flesh. ‘I might have known this would happen to me! I was mad to have had anything to do with him. I was in love with him at first. I thought he’d marry me. I waited and waited. I gave myself to him. There was nothing I wouldn’t give for a kind word from him, but he doesn’t know the meaning of the word.’ Words flowed from her now like the bursting of a dam. ‘He bought this house and furnished this room without consulting me. Then he said this was where I was to live. I was too spineless to tell him to go to hell. I loved him. I’d do anything for him. He’s used me like a tart for six years, and it’ll go on and on until he’s sick of me. He doesn’t give me a penny. If it wasn’t for my friends…’
Corridon made an impatient movement.
‘I don’t want to hear all this. Tell me where I can find him; that’s all I want to know.’
She jerked away from him.
‘That’s what the other fool kept saying, and now you tell me he was murdered. Do you think I want your death on my hands too?’ She pointed wildly at the window. ‘They found him out there - in the pond. The police came and an ambulance. I watched them bring him out on a stretcher, covered with a blanket, and I knew who it was. I thought he had killed himself. I nearly went mad with worry.’ She raised her voice as she cried, ‘Leave Mallory alone. He’s fatal. Do you hear? He’s fatal.’
‘Don’t get worked up,’ Corridon said sharply. ‘If you know where he is tell me.’
‘There’s a gang of you after him, isn’t there?’ she demanded clutching hold of his wrist. ‘There’s a girl and a little man in a black beret. They came out here to look at the pond. I watched from the window. You’re one of them, aren’t you? What has Mallory done?’
‘Never mind,’ Corridon returned. ‘Just tell me where I can find him.’
But he couldn’t pin her down. She kept shooting off at a tangent, as shifty as quicksilver.
‘I didn’t think when you came into the store you were one of them,’ she went on. ‘You were so nice to me, and I was having such a lovely evening until you spoilt it. You don’t know what a rotten life I have to lead. I must have money. I might just as well be on the streets. It’s his fault. I was a decent girl before I met him.’ She fondled his hand, and her touch sickened him. ‘It’s not often I meet anyone as nice as you. Old men are the worst...’
He pulled free, stood up, and with a grimace of disgust he couldn’t conceal, went over to the cabinet and mixed a drink, he swallowed it at a gulp, put down the glass and began to pace up and down.
She sat back on her heels, strangely recovered from her apparent agitation, and watched him narrowly. It suddenly occurred to him that she was angling for money and he was impatient with himself for not having thought of that before.
‘Tell me where I can find Mallory and I’ll give you ten pounds,’ he said, taking out his wallet.
‘But I don’t know,’ she returned, her eyes riveted on the two five-pound notes he dangled before her. ‘I know so little about him. He just rings up. I don’t know where he lives.’
Corridon shrugged, losing patience. He was sick of her; of this room with its atmosphere of lust, sick of the avid way she was eyeing the money in his hand.
‘All right, if you don’t know, you don’t.’ He made to put the money back into his wallet but an almost imploring gesture from her made him pause. ‘Well? Have you changed your mind?’
‘I won’t pretend I don’t want the money. I do. I haven’t a bean until the end of the week...’
‘Well, earn it,’ he said. ‘Has Mallory ever written to you?’
She hesitated, then said, ‘Yes, when we first met; not since.’
‘No address on the letter.’
‘What about the postmark?’
‘I don’t remember.’
‘Of course you do. It’d be the first thing you’d have looked for. What was the postmark?’
‘Dunbar,’ she said sullenly.
‘Was he on holiday?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘You’ll have to do better than this if you want the money.’
‘How do I know you’ll give it to me?’ There was a crafty expression in her eyes, and he thought she had all the hallmarks of the oldest profession. The only difference was she had no beat to patrol.
He threw a five-pound note at her.
‘Here’s one to get on with. You’ll get the other when you’ve told me what I want to know.’
She clutched the note, her eyes brightening.
‘If I didn’t need it so badly...’
‘You don’t have to make excuses,’ he interrupted, sickened. ‘Did he ever tell you he lived in Dunbar?’
She hesitated, then said reluctantly. ‘I think he has a place near there. He once spoke of buying an island and building a house on it.’
‘How long ago was this?’
‘When I first met him. About five years ago. It might have been a lie, but I don’t think so. He never mentioned it again.’
‘Well, that might be something,’ Corridon thought. ‘An island off Dunbar. That shouldn’t be too difficult to find. You have no idea exactly where the place is?’
He brooded for a moment, asked, ‘How often does he come here?’
‘When he feels like it.’ Her face hardened. ‘Sometimes twice a week; sometimes I don’t see him for two months.’
‘And you say the last time you saw him was weeks ago? How many weeks?’
‘Six - perhaps seven, I can’t remember.’
Corridon ran his fingers through his hair. He felt he wasn’t getting anywhere, and was irritated.
‘Did he ever mention any of his friends by name?’
‘Oh, no, he never talks about himself.’
He looked doubtfully at her. He wasn’t getting much value for his ten pounds. He wasn’t even sure she was telling the truth. A house on an island of Dunbar. An unlikely story. No other information of value. Had he wasted an evening and ten pounds to be told Mallory had once had a house on an island?
‘Is there anything else you can tell me? Has he any relations?’
‘He has a sister.’
This was better. A house on an island. An aunt at Wendover, and now a sister ‘How do you know that?’
She hesitated for a fraction of a second then said glibly, ‘She phoned once, asking for him.’
Corridon felt she was lying.
‘You mean she phoned here? That’s unusual, isn’t it? Brothers don’t usually tell their sisters about their paramours.’
‘Is that what I am?’ she asked with a sneer.
‘Never mind what are,’ Corridon said curtly, ‘were talking about Mallory’s sister. When did she ring you?’
‘Oh, it was a long time ago. Soon after I met Mallory.’
Corridon thought for a moment, then asked, ‘Did she leave a telephone number?’
‘Why yes. I’d forgotten about that.’
‘What was it?’
She was quick to realise that this was something to bargain. ‘Couldn’t you spare a little more than ten pounds?’ she asked coaxingly. ‘You’ve no idea how broke I am...?’
‘What’s the telephone number?’ Corridon repeated.
Her face set in sullen lines.
‘I don’t remember.’
‘All right,’ Corridon said, shrugging. ‘You have five pounds I’ll keep the other five. He got to his feet. ‘I’ve had enough of this. I’ll be running along.’
‘You’re as hard as the rest of them,’ she exclaimed angrily. ‘Make it eight pounds and I’ll tell you.’
‘Five. Take it or leave it.’
She stared at him, trying to make up her mind whether he was bluffing or not, and as he put the five-pound note into his wallet, she said quickly, ‘All right. Wait here. I have it in an address book somewhere. I’ll get it.’
She had been gone from the room less than a minute, time enough for her to reach the stairs when he heard her wild, frantic scream. It ran through the silent house, a blood curdling sound that brought him to his feet and to the door before he could open it, the house shook to a tremendous crash in the hall. For a moment he stood motionless, his hand gripping the doorknob, his heart racing, then he jerked open the door.
She lay in a huddled heap at the foot of the stairs, her head bent back on her shoulder at a hideous and unnatural angle; one long naked leg jointed up the dark staircase like an accusing finger.
s Corridon paused outside his flat door, fumbling for his latchkey, a figure loomed out of the rain and darkness, moving silently on rubber-soled shoes and came towards him. Corridon spun round, his hand whipping inside his coat; the gun was half drawn when a voice said hurriedly, ‘It’s all right. It’s me — Ranleigh.’
‘What the hell are you playing at; sneaking up like that?’
Corridon demanded furiously, startled to find how jumpy he was.
‘I’ve been waiting hours for you,’ Ranleigh said. There was a strained note of anxiety in his voice. ‘I must talk to you.’
‘Well, all right,’ Corridon said curtly. ‘You’d better come in.’
He opened the front door and led the way up the steep stairs to the sitting room. As he pulled off his wet trench coat, he demanded, ‘What is it?’
In the hard light Ranleigh’s face looked white and drawn. Water dripped from his mackintosh on to the carpet.
‘They’ve killed Crew,’ he said huskily.
Corridon looked blankly at him. So much had happened since Crew’s death that it seemed to him unimportantly remote.
‘What of it? Have you only just found that out?’
‘You know then?’ Ranleigh passed his hand across his face. ‘It’s not in the papers yet, is it?’
‘Take that coat off. You’re making a hell of a mess,’ Corridon said impatiently. As Ranleigh unbuttoned his mackintosh, Corridon went on, ‘It’s not in the papers. She came here last night to tell me. The idea is if I don’t find Mallory she’s going to send the gun and the IOU to the police. The gun has my fingerprints on it and the IOU supplies the motive. Doesn’t she take you into her confidence?’
Ranleigh seemed dazed. He pulled off his mackintosh and dropped it on the floor.
‘It’s murder,’ he said in a stifled voice.
Corridon stared at him.
‘Of course it’s murder. What’s the matter with you? You planned to kill Mallory. That’s murder too. What’s the difference?’
Ranleigh slumped into an armchair as if his legs would no longer support him.
‘To have killed him like that. It’s unbelievable. She’s mad. They both are. What an utter fool I was to have had anything to do with them.’
‘Have you turned suddenly squeamish?’ Corridon asked, puzzled. ‘You were keen enough to murder Mallory when last we met.’
‘I never thought they’d catch up with him,’ Ranleigh said in a low, hesitant voice. ‘I’ve never taken their plan seriously. I swear I haven’t!’ His voice shot up. ‘I’m going to the police. I won’t have anything to do with murder.’
‘It’s a bit late to get cold feet now,’ Corridon said. ‘It’s no use going to the police. What we have to do is find Mallory, and find him quickly.’
‘But don’t you see,’ Ranleigh said, beating the arm of the chair with his fist, ‘if I go to the police and tell them what’s happened, it’ll let you out. I won’t let them shift Crew’s murder on to you.’
‘The police have been trying to get their hooks into me for years,’ Corridon returned, moving restlessly about the small room. ‘They wouldn’t believe you. Besides by this time tomorrow I shall probably be wanted for another murder.’
Ranleigh started up in his chair.
‘Another murder?’ he repeated. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I went home with Rita Allen tonight. She fell downstairs and broke her neck.’
‘But that’s not murder—’
‘Isn’t it?’ Corridon said. ‘She was pushed. The point is I was there. Sooner or later the taxi driver who drove us to her house will give the police a description of me. I was seen leaving Crew’s flat by the tobacconist in the shop below. Sooner or later he, too, will give a description of me. Then some bright lad will put two and two together and he won’t make it add up to five.’
‘But who pushed her?’ Ranleigh asked, leaning forward. ‘How do you know she was pushed?’
‘Can’t you guess? I think it was Mallory.’
‘I don’t believe it.’
‘I don’t see why you shouldn’t. I think he was in the house when we got there. She was giving secrets away, and half the time she was yelling her head off. She went upstairs to get something for me and he gave her a shove. If it wasn’t Mallory, who else could it be?’
Ranleigh turned pale. ‘It’s unbelievable,’ he said and lay back limply in the chair.
‘What makes you say that? You were full of Mallory when we first met. He was this and that and the other. He was a killer. Why should it be suddenly unbelievable?’ Corridon demanded. ‘You’re not conforming to type. How did you get mixed up in this cockeyed idea of killing Mallory? Just where do you fit in?’
‘I don’t,’ Ranleigh said miserably. ‘As a matter of fact I don’t fit in anywhere.’ He hesitated, then plunged on, ‘I’ve been a bit of a failure all my life. I suppose I’ve never really grown up. Ever since I was a kid I was always reading adventure stories. I have a penny-dreadful mind. When Jeanne said she was going after Mallory the idea appealed to me. I never thought she would catch up with him, otherwise I wouldn’t have touched it.’ A faint flush spread over his ravished face. ‘To tell you the truth I dreaded coming back to England and trying to find a job. I was pretty useless, but now with only one arm . . .’
He wasn’t asking for sympathy, but just stating a fact. He went on: ‘It seemed to me to be just the thing to stay on in France with them. Harris and Lubish had a bit of money. So long as we all stuck together they were willing to share. We lived pretty rough, but it was good fun, and there were no responsibilities to worry us. I had my gratuity and could pay my whack for a bit, and when that ran out Harris was always willing to lend me a quid. It was right out of an adventure book for me until Harris died. That shook me, although I didn’t believe Mallory had anything to do with it. I still don’t somehow. Harris was an odd type. He had a horror of water. He was found in a pond. If he had accidentally fallen in he would have panicked. He couldn’t swim. I still don’t believe Mallory killed him.
‘Then Lubish went, and I didn’t know what to think. It could have been an accident. Jeanne swore it was Mallory, but how does she know? Lubish could have fallen out of the train.’
He rubbed his knee with the palm of his hand and stared down at the threadbare carpet. ‘Then Jeanne said it was my turn to go after Mallory. But I didn’t want to go after him. I liked him. He was really a terrific type.’ Ranleigh’s face lit up. ‘There’s nothing the beggar couldn’t do, and I swear he didn’t betray Pierre because he was afraid of what the Gestapo would do to him. There isn’t an ounce of cowardice in the chap.’ He fingered his moustache, a worried frown on his face. ‘It was then I suggested outside help. I had a job to persuade Jeanne, but I did it in the end. Now I’m sorry. I am really sorry to have dragged you into this.’
‘So am I,’ Corridon said grimly.
‘But, you see, I still couldn’t believe she really intended you to kill Mallory. But I realize now they mean business.’ He moved uneasily, crossing and uncrossing his long legs. ‘Jan shot Crew after I had left the flat to follow you. When I returned he met me at the street corner and said Jeanne had decided to move and it wasn’t safe to go back to Crew’s flat. I guessed something had happened, but I hadn’t the courage to ask outright. Jeanne had found rooms in an awful little hotel near Chancery Lane. We went there. It was only later in the day that she told me Crew was dead. She wouldn’t go into details, but I could see by the look on Jan’s face that he had shot the poor devil. Well, that settled it for me. I felt I couldn’t stick them any longer. I thought I’d better see you.’
Corridon stifled a yawn. He was tired and his head felt as if it were stuffed full of cottonwool.
‘Well, now you’ve seen me, what’s your next move?’
‘I don’t know. I was going to the police, but if you don’t want me to do that - well, I don’t know.’
‘We can’t go to the police,’ Corridon said impatiently. ‘What we have to do is to find Mallory. Did you know he has a sister?’
‘Has he?’ Ranleigh looked surprised. ‘I know he has an aunt, but I haven’t heard about a sister. Are you sure?’
‘Rita Allen told me. Mallory’s sister telephoned her years ago and left her telephone number. I was lucky to find the number in an old address book in Rita’s bedroom. I’ve checked the number in the directory. Her name is Ann Mallory and she lives at 2a, The Studios, Cheyne Walk. I intended to see her today after I’ve had a sleep.’ Corridon touched the adhesive plaster on his cheek. ‘And there’s something else I haven’t told you. I’ve run into Mallory,’ and he told Ranleigh how he had gone to Crew’s flat and what had happened there.
‘He thought you were me?’ Ranleigh said, visibly startled. ‘I’ve never done anything to him.’
‘If he had meant to kill he would have fired a second time instead of running away,’ Corridon pointed out.
But Ranleigh was plainly upset. ‘We’ve always got on well together. To have fired like that—’
‘I tell you he deliberately missed. He wasn’t shooting to kill.’
‘I don’t like it,’ Ranleigh persisted. ‘You’re sure it was Mallory?’
‘Whoever it was had an extraordinary voice; a harsh kind of whisper. He used your name. Who else could it be?’
‘Yes,’ Ranleigh said. ‘It could have been no one else.’
‘Well, forget it. I’m going to bed. I’ve had enough of all this for one night. Do you want to bunk here or are you going back to them?’
‘I’m not going back,’ Ranleigh said emphatically. ‘I’ll stay here for tonight if you don’t mind. Perhaps tomorrow—’
‘Yes. We’ll have another talk tomorrow. You can sleep on the sofa. I’ll get you a blanket.’
When Corridon had made Ranleigh comfortable, he went into his bedroom and shut the door. But he didn’t go to sleep immediately. He thought about Ranleigh, and decided he would persuade him to go back in the morning. It would be sound tactics to have a friend in the enemy’s camp, and he felt he could trust Ranleigh. It might be possible for him to get the gun and the IOU. If he did, half of Corridon’s troubles would be solved. He would talk to him about that in the morning.
And when he did eventually fall asleep his dreams disturbed him. This time it was Rita Allen who sat at the foot of his bed and tried to tell him something, but every time she was about to speak a hand came out of the darkness and closed over her mouth: Brian Mallory’s hand.