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Authors: John Creasey

Held At Bay

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Copyright & Information

Held at Bay

 

First published in 1938

© John Creasey Literary Management Ltd.; House of Stratus 1938-2014

 

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 Creasey to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.

This edition published in 2015 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.

 

EAN
 
ISBN
 
Edition
0755135709
 
9780755135707
 
Print
0755139046
 
9780755139040
 
Kindle
0755137388
 
9780755137381
 
Epub
0755154959
 
9780755154951
 
Epdf

 

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.

 

www.houseofstratus.com

About the Author

 

John Creasey – 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
.

Creasey 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
Edgar Award
for best novel and then in 1969 the ultimate
Grand Master Award
. John Creasey's stories are as compelling today as ever.

Chapter One

Three Gentlemen Talk Business

Through the silence that had fallen on the three men in the room the striking of a match came very clearly. The short man leaning forward on a settee turned his head irritably towards the smoker, opened his mouth as though to protest, and then apparently realised its uselessness. Jules Granette had always been irritatingly cool, and it was typical of him that during the tense silence he should have been quietly stuffing his pipe. He had almost too many English habits.

Granette was tall, fastidious in his dress, always a little aloof from his two companions. Olling, the short man whose head seemed joined to his shoulders without the help of a neck, liked to call him a pseudo-gentleman, but no one was really sure.

Of the trio, Granette was by far the coolest, Olling the most irritable and yet invaluable in certain respects to the success of the syndicate, and Kelworthy – who had just finished speaking, and whose words had shocked Olling and startled even Granette – was an uncertain quantity always. But for Kelworthy the syndicate would never have been inaugurated. He was the acknowledged leader, and most of the operative ideas came from him. Yet there were times when he bordered so closely on panic that Granette took control of the situation, coolly, capably and usually with good results.

They were oddly assorted, the men in the drawing-room of Jacob Kelworthy's Hampstead house. Granette liked to taunt Olling by saying sardonically that they were the dullest trio of jewel thieves in existence. Olling had been a specialist in crime for twenty years, but he hated to be called a crook. Kelworthy did not appear to care what anyone said or did, providing the scheme was handled successfully.

They had been working together successfully for over two years, and their newest scheme seemed perfect. It had a comfortable margin of safety.

Until ten minutes before, when Olling and Granette had entered the room together, neither of them had dreamed that there was the slightest flaw in the arrangements. Now Kelworthy had blasted their complacency.

“So the Baron
is
going to interfere,” said Granette slowly.

Kelworthy drew a sharp breath. He was older than either of the others, a tall, scraggy man with silvery white hair, pince-nez on a thin, beak of a nose, and usually with a white stubble over his cheeks and chin. His skin was ultrasensitive, and he shaved only once a week. Yet he would scoff at the idea of growing a beard. That was typical of Kelworthy: in the heights one moment, in the depths the next, he was never reliable except in the novelty of his ideas and the thoroughness of his preparations.

Kelworthy did the thinking for the party. Granette did most of the actual work, which often included burglary and housebreaking, while Olling was the fence. As a buyer and seller of stolen jewels, he had no equal in London.

“Yes, yes,” Kelworthy said in his high-pitched, querulous voice. “That's the truth, and we must face it.”

Olling stood up abruptly, and paced the room. He littered cigar-ash over the thick-piled Indian carpet, banged his shin against a small Sheraton cabinet, swore and rubbed the bruise.

“Yes, I can see.” His voice was hoarse and harsh, and he sounded almost illiterate. “But this is the best and the safest job we've ever planned. We're not going to cut and run, are we?”

Kelworthy blinked at him, mutely. That was one of the old man's irritating tricks. Granette took his pipe from his lips and smiled. His cultured, pleasant voice was restful, tinged though it was with sarcasm. It was not so much what Granette said as the way he managed to make it sound offensive that always annoyed Whittaker Olling.

“When Kelworthy has found a way of outwitting the Baron, and I have snatched the jewels from under his nose, you will sell it,
hein?
It will be so easy. But does it not occur to you that we might have some difficulty in beating the Baron to the jewels? He is no fool,
le Baron.
I have always understood him to be dangerous in the extreme. As you say, a cracksman extraordinary. So?”

“There's no call for your damned sarcasm!” snapped Olling. “I know it looks awkward, but we can find a way of avoiding it. Damn it, those five stones are worth two hundred thousand pounds, and we've got the Isabella already. We know where the others are, but the Baron
can't
know.”

“I would not like to take that for granted,” said Granette. “He has an easy way of obtaining information. We secured it from Anita de Castilla, but there is the admirable Don Lopez himself, as well as that so clever son.”

“You seem very sure Mannering is the Baron,” Kelworthy piped. “Suppose you're wrong?”

“I am not,” Granette assured him. “Gus Teevens told me, and explained his very sound reasons for reaching this conclusion. The reputable John Mannering is the Baron, and the Baron is after the five Jewels of Castilla. And so are we. The Baron,” went on Granette suavely, eyeing first Kelworthy and then his pipe, “has a well-deserved reputation. If he is coming after the other four stones, then we must move very fast to win. Even if we get them, the Baron might find out who has beaten him, and come after us. We cannot afford to have him on our heels, can we? Or will you deal with him, Olling?”

Kelworthy spoke before Olling could explode.

“Are we in any worse position than the Baron, Granette?”

“How do you mean?” Granette looked interested.

“It's easy enough to see, if you'll only use your wits,” said Kelworthy. “The Baron – or Mannering – must be in constant fear of the police.”

“And so are we,” said Granette.

“Maybe. But supposing we get rid of the Baron first? Put him into police hands. They would be very pleased.”

“But how could we do it?” drawled Granette. Olling's little blue eyes were gleaming, his nostrils blunt and almost vertical; he always reminded Granette of a snuffling dog. With his neckless body and his flat, florid face, he was an ugly specimen of humanity.

“By trapping him,” Kelworthy said. “We have the Isabella Diamond. The Baron will want it. If we let him know we have it, he will come after it. We can leave the diamond in the safe at the office, allow him to get in, and keep him there. Then we can send for the police.” Kelworthy paused, as if waiting for their congratulations. “Remember, if the police find him with the Isabella, it will not be dangerous to us. That diamond's
ours.
If we wait until we have the others, gems we have no right to, we would be in trouble ourselves.”

Olling's breathing was more stertorous than ever, and Granette was smiling a little, with his grey eyes narrowed.

“I knew it!” Olling burst out, stepping across the room with a cigar raised in a pudgy hand. “We can do it, we can shop the Baron and then the road is clear.”

Granette smiled.

“It is risking the Isabella,” he said. “The Baron
might
defeat us and escape with the stone, but I think it is worth a try. Where is the Isabella now, Kelworthy?”

“In my pocket, where do you think?” demanded Jacob Kelworthy. “We can use a paste stone, yes, a paste stone, to trap the Baron. Well, how about that?” He cackled excitedly, his yellow teeth showing. Kelworthy was feeling on top of the world. Olling was chuckling. Granette himself was smoking his pipe, as composed as ever.

“Yes, I think it worth a trial, although I would not like to be sure we can catch the Baron. Others have tried, have they not, clever men at that kind of thing, and Scotland Yard is not filled entirely with fools. The Baron – one man alone – has kept them guessing for two years.”

“We'll get him!” Olling declared. “It's as easy as kiss-me. We're too smart for that gentleman.”

Olling broke off, and stared across the room.

Granette had been looking at him, but now he followed Olling's gaze, while Kelworthy half-turned in his seat towards the door. All three were absolutely still. Olling's mouth gaped open, Granette's self-possession deserted him, while Kelworthy's pince-nez had fallen to his knees, and his thin hands were trembling.

The door was wide open, although none of them had seen it start moving. A man stood on the threshold, a tall man dressed in a dark, immaculate lounge suit. They could see only his eyes, gleaming hazel eyes that seemed to be laughing at them. His nose, mouth and chin were covered with a blue handkerchief that served as a mask, while in his right hand, pointing steadily towards the trio, was an automatic pistol.

Olling gasped.

“The—
the Baron
?” He jumped back to the wall, for the man who was called the Baron advanced slowly, closing the door behind him. His voice was touched with mockery.

“What fame, Olling. Granette, be wise and don't move your right hand, even for matches. Kelworthy, if you know what's good for you, take the Isabella Diamond out of your pocket and put it on the table. As I am after the five Jewels of Castilla, I thought I'd start with you.”

Olling's heavy breathing seemed to intensify the silence, which was broken suddenly, explosively, when Kelworthy's pince-nez dropped from his knees to the floor.

Kelworthy started to bend down to retrieve them, but he stopped as the Baron's voice spoke again.

“You don't seem to know what's good for you, Kelworthy. After that little testimonial, I'd have thought you knew that I wasn't to be played with. Granette, I've warned you about your hands, now you'd better put them up. Up, I said!”

There was a sudden fury in the words, a hardness that seemed like steel. Granette's hands went upwards, thumbs near his ears. Olling was gasping and licking his lips alternately, the most frightened member of the trio, while Kelworthy, almost blind without his glasses, was blinking furiously. The Baron could see the myriad wrinkles on the lids of his watery blue eyes.

“Excellent,” murmured the Baron. “It's as pretty as a tableau. Kelworthy, the Isabella Diamond is in your pocket, or you're a liar. Take it out and place it on the table. I'll give you five seconds.”

No one spoke while Kelworthy stood up, every limb shaking. He took the diamond – wrapped in cotton-wool – from his waistcoat pocket. He looked taller even than the Baron, a scraggy weed of a man whose grey tweeds hung loosely about his bony body. He put the diamond on a table that was within his reach, and the stone tapped against the table as his fingers shook. Then he stood with his back to the wall, facing the Baron and the gun.

“Very nicely done,” applauded the Baron. He moved forward, his left hand extended towards the table, his right steady about the gun. He took the Isabella but left the cotton-wool, and slipped the gem into his waistcoat pocket. All the time he was looking at Kelworthy, and all the time Granette's dark face was set angrily. In the Frenchman's grey eyes there was a glint that suggested he was dying to make a fight. The Isabella stone was worth fifty thousand pounds.

The Baron's automatic was said never to be loaded with anything stronger than ether-gas. Granette moved forward very slowly, inches at a time. Olling was behind him, but there was no hope of help from the short fat man. Olling was almost frightened to death. Granette's shoes made no sound on the carpet, and he kept his hands above his head while the Baron went on easily: “It's the first time I've met you, Kelworthy, and I can't say it's a pleasure. I'd expected something better for a master crook. That is what they call you, isn't it?”

For the first time Kelworthy found his tongue. His high-pitched voice cracked, but the words were clear enough, for out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Granette moving forward.

“You fool, Mannering, you bloody fool! Do you think you can get away with the Isabella? I'll have the police on you in thirty seconds after you've left, I'll—”

“Garrulous men are often bluffing,” murmured the Baron, and there was a gleam in his hazel eyes. “For once you seem to have a stone that is honestly yours, and it must be heartbreaking for you to lose it. Hoist with his own petard, they say. And I was going to say—”

Granette was no more than two yards away from the Baron now, and he leapt forward from his toes, hurtling through the air towards the Baron. It looked as though he would crash into the cracksman before the Baron could move. But with a speed which made Kelworthy gasp, the Baron dodged to one side. Granette was moving too fast to pull up, and the Baron helped him on with a left to the side of the head. At the same moment the Baron's right leg shot out. Granette tripped and went sprawling with a thud that shook the pictures on the walls.

While Granette was still falling, the Baron drew back and sat on the edge of the table. Behind his mask his lips were curving, and his eyes were gleaming with a devil-may-care gleam.

He waited as Granette got slowly to his feet. Granette's eyes were glittering malevolently, and the Baron knew he had made an enemy who would never forget.

“Get up, Granette, and sit on the sofa with Olling. Be good, like him, and I might not shoot you. Kelworthy and I have a little business to discuss, and I know you'll like to hear it.
Sit down I said
!”

There was a biting fury in his words, a glitter in his eyes that made Granette hurry to the settee and drop down.

“That's fine,” said the Baron. “Now let's talk about the Castilla jewels.”

BOOK: Held At Bay
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