Authors: John Creasey
An Apostle of Gloom
(Inspector West at Home)
First published in 1967
Copyright: John Creasey Literary Management Ltd.; House of Stratus 1967-2010
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
The right of John Creaseyto be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.
This edition published in 2010 by House of Stratus, an imprint of
Stratus Books Ltd., Lisandra House, Fore Street, Looe,
Cornwall, PL13 1AD, UK.
Typeset by House of Stratus.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library and the Library of Congress.
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This is a fictional work and all characters are drawn from the author's imagination.
Any resemblance or similarities to persons either living or dead are entirely coincidental.
John Creasey â Master Storyteller - was born in Surrey, England in 1908 into a poor family in which there were nine children, John Creasey grew up to be a true master story teller and international sensation. His more than 600 crime, mystery and thriller titles have now sold 80 million copies in 25 languages. These include many popular series such as
Gideon of Scotland Yard, The Toff, Dr Palfrey and The Baron
Creasy wrote under many pseudonyms, explaining that booksellers had complained he totally dominated the 'C' section in stores. They included:
Gordon Ashe, M E Cooke, Norman Deane, Robert Caine Frazer, Patrick Gill, Michael Halliday, Charles Hogarth, Brian Hope, Colin Hughes, Kyle Hunt, Abel Mann, Peter Manton, J J Marric, Richard Martin, Rodney Mattheson, Anthony Morton and Jeremy York.
Never one to sit still, Creasey had a strong social conscience, and stood for Parliament several times, along with founding the
One Party Alliance
which promoted the idea of government by a coalition of the best minds from across the political spectrum.
He also founded the
British Crime Writers' Association
, which to this day celebrates outstanding crime writing.
The Mystery Writers of America
bestowed upon him the
for best novel and then in 1969 the ultimate
Grand Master Award
. John Creasey's stories are as compelling today as ever.
Superintendent Abbott inserted his tall figure and expressionless face into the narrow opening of the door of the Chief Inspectors' office on B Floor at New Scotland Yard. Abbott seemed never to enter a door in natural fashion, but to slide in as if he were anxious to be unobserved.
When Roger West, who was in the office with Chief Inspector Eddie Day, looked up and saw the vacant face of the Superintendent, his heart dropped. For weeks he had schemed to take this particular day off, because it was his wife's birthday, but he had been pessimistic until, when he had arrived an hour before, he had found a note from Abbott on his desk, telling him that he need only give details of one or two reports and could then go off. Consequently Roger had irritated Eddie Day by humming gaily, although it was a dull, grey day, with early April making a passable imitation of late November; lights were burning over the desks farthest from the windows.
Seeing Abbott, Roger jumped to the conclusion that the earlier release was going to be countermanded. At the Yard they called Abbott the Apostle of Gloom, for he was invariably the bearer of evil tidings, which perhaps accounted for his cold, vacuous appearance.
Eddie Day was unkind enough to look up, push his chair back, and grin widely in anticipation of the coming edict. Eddie was not a handsome man and when he grinned he showed most of his prominent front teeth.
“Oh, West,” said Abbott, further deepening Roger's gloom, “will you be at home this afternoon?”
Roger looked puzzled. “I expect so, yes.”
“Can you make sure that you will be in?” demanded Abbott.
“Yes,” said Roger, automatically. “I had thought of doing a show with my wife, but that wouldn't be until this evening.” Abbott was not a man with whom it was wise to take liberties, since he was fully conscious of his seniority, but Roger added somewhat forlornly: “You're not doing to drag me back, are you?”
“I just wanted to be sure where I could find you,” Abbott told him, and promptly effaced himself, closing the door without a sound.
Eddie, who disliked the Superintendent, made a
with engaging charm.
“What a ruddy nerve!” he declared. “Trying to put you in a fix so's you don't know what you can do. Too bad, I call it. I'll tell you what, Handsome, take Janet out and let Abbott get someone else to chase round after him, that's what
do if I was you.” Eddie, who was a shrewd officer, and at his particular job â the detection of forgery â head and shoulders above anyone else at the Yard, still looked and talked like a detective-sergeant newly promoted from a beat. “Cold as a fish, that's what I always think the Apostle is â if you stuck a pin in him he wouldn't jump.” Eddie considered this and grinned, boyishly. “I wouldn't mind trying!” he added, then frowned at the expression on Roger's face. “Say, what's biting you, Handsome? You look as if you've eaten something that don't agree with you.”
“Erâoh, it's nothing,” said Roger, sounding aggrieved. “He might have given me one day without wanting me on tap.” He shrugged, locked his desk and took his hat and mackintosh from a hat-stand. “Head him off for me if you can, Eddie.”
“Trust me,” said Eddie. “I won't let you down. Give my love to Janet!”
His loud laughter echoed in Roger's ears as he went out, closing the door, and walked thoughtfully along the passage. He found it hard to explain why Abbott's questions had affected him so deeply and tried to get rid of the feeling of depression which the brief visit had engendered. He did not brighten up, however, until he had booked two stalls for
Arsenic and Old Lace,
to which he had wanted to take Janet for several months. Next, he visited an Oxford Street store and parted with many coupons, before leaving with a brown paper parcel under his arm for which he had thoughtfully supplied the paper.
A soft drizzle of rain, a mist which threatened to become a fog, and a sky of a uniform dull grey did not further depress him as he contemplated an afternoon in front of a log fire after a good lunch at a small hotel in Chelsea where he knew he would get a warm welcome. He had telephoned Janet and when he reached his small detached house in Bell Street, Chelsea, she was waiting in the lounge, dressed for out-of-doors in a gaily coloured mackintosh. She saw him reach the gate and when he entered she was tucking in a few stray curls of her dark hair beneath a wide-brimmed felt hat.
He saw her reflection in the mirror over the mantelpiece. It was a reflection worth looking at, for she was comely, her eyes were glowing, and her colour was not all out of a box. She turned swiftly and raised her arms, inviting appraisal.
“Will I do, darling?”
Slowly, Roger â who was worthy of his nickname, âHandsome' â looked her up and down. As slowly, he began to smile; the gleam in his eyes brought a faint flush to Janet's cheeks and an added sparkle to her eyes.
“You ass!” she exclaimed.
“Yes, you'll do,” declared Roger, still smiling, “although why we want to go out is past my understanding. I'd much rather”âhe broke off and tossed the package to herâ”catch!”
“Whatâ” she began, and then as she caught the package she came to him and kissed him. “I thought we said âno presents, only lunch and dinner and a show',” she said. “IâRoger, you haven't got to go back?”
He laughed at her sudden alarm. “No, not as far as I know â it's not a peace-offering!”
Yet as she opened the present he wished that she had not reminded him of the Yard. Abbott's expression â or lack of it â lingered in his mind and did not go immediately, even when Janet exclaimed with pleasure at the sight of a set of peach-coloured lingerie, lace-trimmed and absurdly flimsy. Three days before, when they had passed the Oxford Street store, a similar set had been in the window at a fantastic price apart from the ever-present problem of coupons. Janet had wished, a little wistfully, that coupons were not necessary â her things
getting the worse for wear.
“I just mustn't speak of inner yearnings when we're out,” she said, as she fingered the silk. “I didn't dream you'd remember, Roger â they're
what I would have wished for! Youâ”
She dropped the flimsies on a table and â a few minutes later, with his hair slightly rumpled and faint smears of lipstick on his lips and cheeks â he had completely forgotten Abbott.
Throughout the meal at the hotel some ten minutes' walk from the house, they talked of unimportant trifles. Not until the end of it, when they were in the lounge drinking coffee and Roger could see into the street, did a frown darken his face.
“What's the matter?” asked Janet.
“Oh, nothing,” said Roger, hastily.
“Darling,” declared Janet, “you can probably deceive all the criminals in the world but it's no use lying to me. What did you see?” She looked a trifle anxious, just as she had done when she had asked whether he might have to go back to the Yard.
“Now, would I lie to you?” demanded Roger, shocked. “It's nothing, sweet â I caught a glimpse of Tiny Martin outside and I'm wondering why he's about here, he's been on a job at Bethnal Green.”
“Who's Tiny Martin?” demanded Janet.
“Abbott's sergeant,” said Roger. “Let's forget him.”
But Martin was not so easily forgotten. He was a tall, thin, cadaverous-looking man who always worked with Abbott and had something of the Superintendent's strange coldness; he was no more popular than Abbott and his reputation for creating gloom was equally notorious. Abbott did the unpleasant things, such as cancelling holidays and conveying the news of reprimands and sometimes loss of seniority; Martin carried his messages.
In spite of the drizzle, Roger and Janet sauntered along the Chelsea Embankment for twenty minutes before going back to Bell Street. Twice Roger caught a glimpse of the sergeant, although he did not tell Janet, who had completely forgotten Martin and was busy speculating on Roger's chances of getting a month's holiday soon after the war was over, so that they could go abroad. Roger entered into the spirit of the dream and they were still discussing it when they reached the house. He thought that he caught a glimpse of Martin at the end of the road, but dismissed the idea and hurried indoors, lighting the fire while Janet went upstairs to change. Yet he was preoccupied, and when she came down wearing a dressing-gown and, she revealed a moment later, the luxury garments he had bought her, he was taken completely by surprise. He stood looking at her with unfeigned admiration.
All thought of Abbott and Martin was driven out of his mind and he had even forgotten that Abbott had virtually told him to stay indoors when, over tea â with Janet dressed now in a navy suit â he sat back in an easy chair and told himself that he was both a happy man and a lucky one. He looked a little drawn â Janet knew that he was tired and that overwork explained it â but although there was a tinge of grey at his temples he looked absurdly young to be a Chief Inspector at the Yard. Their closest friend, Mark Lessing, frequently declared that Roger amazed him, so rarely in his experience did good looks and a keen mind go together.
“What time must we leave?” Janet asked.
“We shouldn't start later than five,” said Roger, “the curtain rises at a quarter to six and I don't suppose we'll be able to get a cab.” He reached out for his cup and then sat upright, hearing footsteps on the front path. The lounge was at the front of the house.
The footsteps were heavy and deliberate.
“Darling, what is the matter with you?” demanded Janet. “It's, probably the laundryman, he usually comes about four o'clock and these days he won't go round the back.” She stood up and put the lid over a dish of toasted crumpets and hurried to the front door. Roger glanced towards the hall, not knowing himself why he felt so worked up, until he heard Abbott's familiar voice.
“Good afternoon,” said the Superintendent, “is Inspector West in, please?”
“Yes, he's at home,” said Janet, her flat voice reflecting the keenness of her disappointment.
“Thank you. Ask him to be good enough to spare me a few minutes, please,” said Abbott. “I am Superintendent Abbott of New Scotland Yard.”
“Yes, I know,” said Janet.
Had it been anyone else, she would have protested that it was not fair to call at such a time, but Roger imagined, as he smiled somewhat ruefully, that Abbott's manner had affected her as it did so many people. She asked the Superintendent into the hall and then came to tell Roger, who was standing up and sipping his tea. She drew near and whispered: “You heard who it was. Shall I ask him in here?”
“Yes, you'd better,” said Roger, reluctantly.
“I suppose I'll have to offer him some tea,” said Janet. She made a
and then went out into the hall again, but she sounded brighter as she invited Abbott to come into the lounge. Roger did not quite know why he had allowed her to return for Abbott, nor why this visit, allied to the earlier interview and the way Martin had haunted him, seemed so ominous. He did know that he was not altogether surprised when Abbott said distantly: “It is a private matter, Mrs. West, I would rather see him alone.”
Roger went into the small hall and looked at the Superintendent with a smile which could not be called inviting.
“Oh, hallo,” he said, “now what's the trouble? Wouldn't a phone call have done as well?” He was on surer ground in his home than at the Yard and saw no reason why he should conceal the fact that he felt the visit unnecessary. Before Abbott answered, Roger saw Detective-Sergeant Martin standing by the gate, his glum face looking gloomier because it was now raining hard and drops were falling from the turned-down brim of his trilby. Roger frowned and added more sharply: “What is it?”
Deliberately, Abbott wiped his feet on the door-mat and shook the rain from his hat into the porch before putting it on the hall-stand. Janet closed the door. Abbott did not take off his mackintosh as he said: “I'd like a word with you, West, alone.” He shot a meaning glance at Janet who, bewildered, turned quickly and went into the lounge. Frowning, Roger led the way to the dining- room. He stood aside for Abbott to pass and the Superintendent sidled into the room.
Roger was not only curious about the visit but puzzled by Abbott's insistence on it being a âprivate' matter; had he said âofficial' it would have been more understandable. He waited while Abbott regarded him with narrowed eyes; he was a spare man with a curiously fleshless face and lips which were almost colourless.
“Well, get on with it, for the love of Mike!” said Roger, letting exasperation get the better of his discretion.
“I think you know why I've called,” said Abbott.
“I don't,” Roger retorted, “but I hope it won't take long. Is it the Micklejohn case?”
“It is not,” Abbott said, enunciating each word carefully. “West, I don't want to make this more unpleasant than I have to. You know why I've come and this attitude won't help you.”
Roger stared. “Attitude?” he echoed. “If you mean a reasonable annoyance at being pestered when I'm off dutyâ”
“I mean nothing of the kind,” said Abbott, and sighed as if whatever he had to say was extremely distasteful. “If you are going to persist in being obtuse, West, there is nothing else I can do about it. I've come, of course, to search your house.”
Roger looked at him stupidly. “You've come toâ” he began, then found himself out on the point of echoing the other's words and stopped abruptly. He was no longer exasperated or worried but was simply puzzled. “I wish you'd tell me what all this is about,” he said, “it's got past the joking stage.”
Abbott pushed his hand into his coat and, after some fumbling, drew out a folded slip of paper. There was something familiar about it to Roger and the impression of familiarity increased when he saw Abbott unfold it; it was an official search warrant. Even when it was upside down he recognised the flourishes of the signature of Sir Guy Chatworth, the Assistant Commissioner at the Yard, but until he had read it he did not really believe that it authorised Abbott to search
house. When the truth did sink in, he drew in a deep breath, dropped the warrant on the dining-table and said sharply: “Abbott, I think you owe me some kind of explanation. I have no idea why this should have happened nor what it's about.”