Authors: James Hadley Chase
anleigh was making coffee when Corridon wandered into the kitchen a few minutes after ten o’clock the following morning.
‘It’s in the paper,’ Ranleigh said, his face tight with suppressed excitement and uneasiness. ‘About Crew.’
Corridon ran his fingers through his hair and grunted.
‘Well, go on. What does it say?’
‘The police want to interview - you’d better read it for yourself. The paper’s in the sitting room.’
‘Anything about Rita?’
‘No. The tobacconist chap has given a pretty detailed description of you.’
Corridon grinned sourly.
‘I told you he would.’
He went into the sitting room. The finding of Crew’s body made front page news. There was a picture of the tobacconist in the doorway of his shop. He said in an interview with the reporter that he had seen a tall, powerfully built man with a ruddy complexion, dressed in a trench coat and grey slouch hat leaving Crew’s flat about the time Crew had met his death. The police went on the account, were anxious to interview this man in the hope that he could throw some light on what appeared to be a murder of revenge. Nothing appeared to be missing from the flat.
Ranleigh came in carrying a tray of toast and coffee.
‘The fun’ll start when they find Rita,’ Corridon said as he poured a cup of coffee. ‘I’ve got to get myself some sort of alibi.’
‘And you’d better get rid of the trench coat and hat,’ Ranleigh advised. He seemed more his old self; less nervous and more ready to be a helpful. ‘If they find them here—’
‘You’re right. Suppose you do that for me? I’ll shove them in a suitcase. Will you take it to the Amethyst Club, off Frith Street, and give it to Effie Rogers? Tell her it’s from me, and I want her to keep it until I call for it. Will you do that?’
‘Of course,’ Ranleigh said willingly. ‘How about an alibi?’
‘I’ll fix that,’ Corridon returned. ‘Now look here, I’ve been thinking about you. You say you’re sorry to have dragged me into this business. Well, all right, but are you willing to give a hand to get me out of the mess I’m in?’
‘Of course,’ Ranleigh said at once. ‘That’s why I came here last night. I’ve told you. I’ll go to the police or I’ll do whatever you think best.’
‘I want you to go back to those two.’ And as Ranleigh was about to protest, Corridon hurried on. ‘They’re too tricky to be left on their own. I want to know what they’re up to and if you’re with them you can keep me posted. Besides, you might get a chance to find the gun and the IOU.’
‘It’s asking a lot,’ Ranleigh said uneasily. ‘You’re asking me to spy on them.’
‘It’s up to you. If you won’t do it, then you won’t. But it’s the only way you can help me. You can see that, can’t you?’
Ranleigh hesitated, then said, ‘Well, all right. I’ll do what I can, but I don’t like it. If they found out—’
‘Why should they? Don’t tell them anything. Pretend I gave you the slip and you’ve lost me. I’m going after Mallory now. I’ll see his sister this morning. You’d better jot down her telephone number in case you want me. I shall be there about noon. Where can I find you?’
‘We’re at the Endfield Hotel, Brewer Street. It lies off Chancery Lane,’ Ranleigh returned as he wrote down Ann Mallory’s address and telephone number on the back of an envelope.
‘Right. I’ll pack the suitcase and then you can get off. Not a word to them about Mallory’s sister. From now on we tell them nothing.’
When Ranleigh had gone with the suitcase, Corridon put through a call to Zani.
‘I didn’t leave the Club until noon the day before yesterday,’ he said when the guttural voice came over the line. ‘Tip Max. It’s worth fifty quid to you.’
Zani didn’t say anything for a moment or so. Corridon could hear his heavy breathing coming over the open line.
‘They had a good description of you,’ he said at last. ‘That alibi won’t stand up for long.’
‘It’s got to,’ Corridon said grimly. ‘You can make it stick. You and Max.’
Again there was a pause, then Zani said, ‘Well, all right. I’ll tell the tale, but don’t blame me if—’
‘Make it stick,’ Corridon said curtly and hung up.
He stared at the telephone for a moment or so, a worried frown knitting his brown. At one time Zani could be relied on, but Corridon had a feeling he wasn’t going to be much help now. But Zani was the best bet. There was no one else to supply an alibi at short notice. He was about to go into his bedroom when the telephone rang. He turned back, lifted the receiver and said, ‘Who is it?’
‘It’s me - Effie, Mr. Corridon,’ a voice said breathlessly.
He knew immediately that something was wrong. Effie had never telephoned him before, and he could tell by the sound of her voice that she was upset.
‘Why, Effie,’ he said. ‘What’s the trouble?’
‘I’ve been trying to ring you,’ she said urgently. ‘The police have been here. Mr. Corridon. I heard them talking to Zani He’s given them your address.’
Corridon’s face set
‘How long ago?’
‘More than ten minutes. It’s that Detective-Sergeant Rawlins. He said something about murder.’
‘Right, Effie. There’s nothing to worry about. Thanks for phoning. Look after the suitcase I’m sending you. Don’t let anyone get hold of it. So long, Effie. I have to hurry,’ and he hung up as she began to speak again.
For a moment he stood thinking. Then as he turned once more to the bedroom there came a sharp rap on the front door.
It wasn’t Mrs. Jacobs who cleaned the flat. She invariably rang the bell. He guessed who it was, and silently moved to the window and looked through the net curtain into the mews below. He caught a glimpse of two burly men who were looking up at the window; one of them was Rawlins.
Corridon had been in too many tight corners to be more than momentarily startled. It was no new experience to be hunted by the police and he was ready for them. He went swiftly into his bedroom, opened a cupboard and took out a light overcoat and hat. At the bottom of the cupboard was a rucksack that he kept packed with the bare essentials he needed for just such an emergency as this. He snatched it up, took from a drawer a wad of pound notes, stuffed them into his coat pocket. He was back in the sitting room, ready to go when another sharp rap sounded on the door. He grinned sourly, slung the rucksack over his shoulder, opened the door and stepped out into the passage. Immediately above his head was a skylight. He pushed back the bolt that secured it, slid back the frame, jumped up and caught the edge with his hooked fingers and drew himself up. The roof sloped gently towards the mews. A chimney stack hid him from view. He wondered if they had posted a man at the back of the building. Knowing how thorough Rawlins was from past experience, he guessed there would be someone waiting for him. Keeping to the centre of the roof and bending low, he knew he would be out of sight of anyone at ground level on either side of the building, and he crawled along the roof towards the exit of the mews.
The last garage but one in the row was empty, and when he reached it, he levered back the skylight and lowered himself into a dim, dusty passage. He went down the stairs, opened the front door a few inches and peered along the mews. Rawlins and his companion were now standing with their backs to the opposite garage, staring up at Corridon’s flat. Several chauffeurs had suspended cleaning operations and were watching them with lively interest. Corridon waited. All eyes were on his flat, but he knew the moment he stepped into the mews he would attract attention. He watched Rawlins and the other detective have a brief conversation, then he stepped quickly back as Rawlins came marching down the mews towards him, leaving the other detective to lounge outside Corridon’s front door.
Corridon pushed the door shut until he heard Rawlins’s heavy tread pass, then he opened the door again.
Rawlins had gone, but the other detective looked set for staying the whole day. Still Corridon waited. After a few minutes the detective turned his back and began to wander to the far end of the mews. Hesitating no longer Corridon stepped out of the doorway and walked briskly towards the exit. At every step he expected to hear a shout behind him, but resisted the temptation to look over his shoulder. Nothing happened, and he reached Grosvenor Square without interference. He quickened his pace as soon as he was out of sight of the mews, and headed for Hyde Park Corner.
high, green-painted gate set in a six foot wall carried a brass plate that read: The Studios, Cheyne Walk.
Corridon paused outside the gate, looked to right and left, then lifted the latch and pushed the gate open. He found himself in a paved courtyard around which were a number of small bungalows, each equipped with a vast skylight to catch the north light. No. 2a, a neat little house with whitewashed walls, stood hidden behind the end house in the left-hand row. It stood alone as if it were a builder’s afterthought; as if he had planned to build fifteen studios and had found room only for fourteen. The odd one, No. 2a, had been dumped out of sight as if in disgrace.
Corridon went up to the Oxford blue painted front door and rang the bell. He stood waiting, his hands in his pockets, his rucksack over his shoulder. His mind was blank. He had no idea what he would say to Mallory’s sister. He was relying on his wits to produce the right words to suit the type of woman she might be. And standing there in the warm sunlight, his shadow sharply etched against the white wall, he experienced a feeling of expectancy and excitement.
The door opened and a girl stood before him. Immediately he saw her he felt a sudden pang of disappointment, for unconsciously he had been expecting someone glamorous; another Rita Allen perhaps without her professional hardness. But you couldn’t call this girl glamorous. She was of average height and thin. He noticed at once how thin her wrists were and how small were her hands. Her grey-blue eyes looked directly at him, and she smiled. Her hair, he noticed, was dark brown and cut short; a tousled mop that fitted her small-shaped head like a fur cap. Her body was too slender in the neat, print frock, giving her a brittle, rather helpless appearance.
She said, ‘Good morning,’ in a clear, quiet voice. Her face had lit up when she smiled and made him feel she liked him and wanted to be friendly, and hoped he would be friendly too.
The quick wit Corridon was relying on deserted him. This quiet, rather plain-looking girl with her big, serious eyes, and apparent brittle helplessness threw him out of his stride, and he said what he didn’t mean to say because there was something about her that made telling a lie difficult.
‘I’m trying to find your brother - Brian Mallory,’ he said a little lamely. ‘You are his sister, aren’t you?’
Her smile faltered and the light went out of her face.
‘Brian?’ she said. ‘Didn’t you know?’ As if Corridon were an old friend of Brian’s and she had immediately accepted him as such. ‘Why, Brian’s dead. He died nearly two years ago.’
he Endfield Hotel, Brewer Street, off Chancery Lane, was anything but a high-class hotel. There was no sign over the entrance, sandwiched between a law stationer’s and a photographer’s shop, and although the name of the hotel was in-scribed on the glass panels of the front door, the design of the inscription was so complicated and the lettering so oblique that it was practically unreadable.
Beyond the double swing doors of the hotel entrance was a steep flight of brass-bound stairs; and at the head of the stairs, for no apparent reason, hung a dusty bead curtain that rattled irritatingly as it swayed in the continuous draught that swept up the stairs from the front door. On the other side of this curtain was a small, dark, square-shaped lounge that contained six shabby basket chairs, three bamboo tables and two sad-looking palms in grimy brass pots. Nearby was the manager’s office and reception desk that, so far as you were concerned, consisted of a locked door marked “STRICTLY PRIVATE,” and in smaller type, “No Admittance,” and set in a matchwood panel by the door a glass-protected opening no larger than the opening through which you buy a ticket at a railway station.
Through this opening, after you had waited and rapped impatiently, you booked a room and received your key, seeing only the flat, dusty bosom of a black dress and two flabby white hands of the manager’s wife. And that glimpse was all you ever had of her.
A few yards past the manager’s office was a door marked Lounge, Residents Only, an even darker and sadder room than the public lounge.
The residents’ lounge had two small windows that overlooked the back of the buildings lining the north side of Chancery Lane. Very little light penetrated this forest of grimy masonry, and consequently the lounge was dim and airless.
Two aspidistras stood on either side of the big, empty fireplace. Worn leather armchairs in pairs lurked in the darkest corners of the room. Under one of the windows was a bamboo table, and seated at the table was Jan Szymonowicz, the man in the black beret.
For almost an hour Jan had been sitting at the table, his feet and knees together, his elbows on the dusty glass top of the table, his round, fat chin resting on his clenched fists. He spent much of his spare time in brooding about the past. His life now was dedicated to the past. He had no future. He was like a man with an incurable disease, who knows that at any time his life may end abruptly and without warning. He viewed such an end with complete indifference if he viewed it at all. His thoughts were continually occupied with two people: Charlotte, his wife, and Mallory.
He retained a clear and brilliant picture of Charlotte in his mind. He had only to shut his eyes and she would appear before him more clearly defined than she had ever appeared to him in the flesh. He was seeing her now as he sat alone in the dim, dusty lounge; a short, thickset woman, inclined to fat, with immense muscular legs, solid, broad hips and raven black hair that fell to her shoulders. She was about thirty-five when she had died. He had married her when she was sixteen.
Since her death he had tried to recall the events of each day of those nineteen years, treasuring every remembered incident, squeezing his memory for other treasures that he knew he had forgotten. He liked to recapture the simple happiness and pleasures they had shared, remembering the unremitting work on the farm he had bought - a Pole in a foreign country. He liked to dwell on the solid companionship she had offered, on her unflinching acceptance of his poverty, her courage and kindness. He remembered the fierce light that had burned in her eyes when the news came that for the second time in twenty-five years Germany was invading France. He had been waiting for his call-up papers when the Maginot Line had been turned. His farm, near Sedan, was almost immediately over-run. He would have been sent to a concentration camp had not Charlotte hidden him, and kept him hidden until the tide of German soldiers had passed on. It was Charlotte’s idea that they should both join the Underground Movement. At first Jan had been reluctant. It was a man’s job, he kept arguing, but in the end Charlotte had her way.
Pierre Gourville and Jeanne had welcomed them, and the four of them had concentrated on the enemy’s lines of communications, wreaking damage wherever they could. Later Georges, Lubish and Ranleigh had joined them; then Harris, and finally Mallory. Jan distrusted the three Englishmen.
Hadn’t the English promised to help Poland? Hadn’t they inveigled France into this war? Hadn’t they decamped at Dunkirk to the safety of their island, leaving Poland and France in the hands of the Hun? He distrusted and disliked Mallory more than the other two because Mallory treated the work they did as a kind of game, and seemed unaware of the constant danger that sickened Jan, not for himself, but for Charlotte.
When Jeanne told him that Mallory had betrayed Gourville he was not surprised. He had nearly walked into the Gestapo trap himself, arriving a few hours after Gourville had been taken away. He had found the bodies of Charlotte and Georges still in the passage where they had been shot down, defending themselves.
At first he could not believe that Charlotte was dead. He lived in a dazed stupor, expecting at any moment to hear her voice and loud ringing laugh, and to see her moving purposefully about preparing a meal or washing his clothes with that placid expression on her face that was a constant reminder to him of her happiness. When Ranleigh told him about Mallory his mind was still dazed. He heard the words, but they had no meaning. It was only after several days had passed that he realized it was Mallory who was responsible for Charlotte’s death. Immediately he realized this, his grief and overwhelming sense of loss were replaced by an implacable desire for revenge. His first reaction was to go off by himself and hunt for Mallory, but Jeanne had persuaded him to wait. She too was determined to settle her account with Mallory, and pointed out that they would have to prepare themselves, that Mallory would not be easy and there was success in numbers. Not only that but Jan would have to learn English. The hunt would be in England, and if he wanted to be independent he must be sufficiently word perfect not to arouse suspicion.
For over a year he studied English. Lubish, Harris and Ranleigh had volunteered to remain with them, and Ranleigh willingly assisted Jan in his English lessons, being constantly astonished at the speed with which Jan picked up the language.
And all the time, while preparing, while they saved money, working at whatever jobs they could find, Jan nursed his ruthless hatred of Mallory, irritated that he was not to be alone in this coming manhunt, but uncertain of himself, not sure that he could manage on his own in a foreign country, and bitterly resentful that Ranleigh and Harris should presume to join forces with him, in what was, after all, a private affair.
He was resentful too of Jeanne’s hatred of Mallory, refusing to believe that her love for Gourville was on the same level as his own love for Charlotte. From the beginning he had disapproved of Jeanne’s association with Gourville. They should have married if they had meant so much to teach other. Marriage was the only possible outcome of a sincere relationship between man and woman. They could have married. Had they done so he would have grudgingly recognized Jeanne’s right to revenge. But they hadn’t. He felt there could be no sincerity in such a relationship.
If only he could be sure of himself, he thought as he sat by the window, he would slip away from Jeanne and Ranleigh and continue the hunt for Mallory alone. But without them, he wouldn’t be able to find his way about London without getting into some minor trouble that would inevitably betray him to the police. If the police discovered he had no passport he would be sent back to France or worse to Poland. He wouldn’t be able to get emergency ration cards as Jeanne had done, buying them from a secret source that she had discovered.
Then again she had the money. Without the money he would be helpless. It infuriated him to think that Corridon might find Mallory. He had protested violently when Ranleigh had suggested outside help, but they had out-voted him - two against one.
He thought about Crew. The shooting of Crew had been the only really satisfying thing he had done since coming to this country. For once he had taken the initiative into his own hands. While Ranleigh and Jeanne were hesitating, not knowing what to do with Crew, he had acted. As soon as Ranleigh had left the flat he had shot Crew through the head. Jeanne had been in the other room. The report of the Mauser had been muffled in a cushion, but she had come into the room in time to see Crew fold up limply on the lamb’s-wool rug, and Jan quietly smothering the burning silk of the cushion that had been ignited by the flash of the gun.
And for the first time since he had known her he had admired Jeanne. Instead of having hysterics she had immediately seen how they could obtain a hold on Corridon. Jan was the first to admit that to shift the blame of Crew’s death on to Corridon would never have occurred to him. He doubted very much if Corridon’s fingerprints still remained on the gun, but that didn’t matter as Jeanne pointed out so long as Corridon believed they did. The important thing was to have a hold on him so that he could be controlled. For Jan now hoped to persuade Jeanne to give up the idea of using Corridon and to let him try his luck. They should be able to get the money back from Corridon, and if he became a nuisance, which was unlikely, he could be dealt with, although, he wouldn’t be so easy to get rid of as Crew had been.
Then there was Ranleigh. He was becoming a problem.
Crew’s death had upset him. Jan had never trusted Ranleigh.
He was weak. Jan was willing to admit that he behaved well enough in France. In fact, the way he stuck out against the Gestapo was good, but war brought out the best in men, and a year of peace, of doing nothing, had undermined Ranleigh.
They would have to do something about him before long.
The door of the lounge opened at this moment and an old man came in. He stood hesitating in the doorway, peering round the dim room, a querulous expression on his thin, lined face.
‘They’ve hidden “The Times” again,’ he said in a voice that shook with a worn-out anger. ‘I’ve looked everywhere for it. I’m not going to tolerate this nonsense much longer.’
Jan gave him a contemptuous glance and turned back to the window.
The old man hesitated. Anger had tired him. He was lonely, and had a sudden desire for company. He would have liked to have sat down and talked to this foreign-looking chap, but the effort to begin a conversation was too much for him.
He said feebly, ‘But perhaps I’m disturbing you. I didn’t know anyone was here.’ Then, as Jan said nothing, the old man went on with returning peevishness, ‘I can’t understand how you chaps are allowed in this country. The place is full of foreigners. It’s beyond me. The Government must be mad. We can’t feed our own people.’
‘Go away, you old fool,’ Jan said without looking round.
‘What? What was that?’ the old man asked, surprised. ‘I’m sorry, but my hearing is very bad. What was that you said?’
Jan hunched his shoulders impatiently. He said nothing. The old man hesitated, sensing Jan’s contempt, uncertain of himself.
‘You haven’t seen “The Times” have you?’ he asked without hope. ‘I’ll complain to the manager. You wouldn’t understand; it’s part of our national life.’
He shuffled down the passage to the manager’s office, leaving the door of the lounge half open.
Jan got up and closed the door, then he returned to the window and sat down again at the bamboo table. He began to plan Ranleigh’s death.