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Ring of Terror

BOOK: Ring of Terror
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Copyright & Information

Ring Of Terror

 

First published in 1995

© Estate of Michael Gilbert; House of Stratus 1995-2012

 

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

 

This edition published in 2012 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
 
 
0755105397
 
9780755105397
 
Print
 
 
0755132033
 
9780755132034
 
Kindle
 
 
0755132408
 
9780755132409
 
Epub
 

 

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

 

 

Born in Lincolnshire, England, Michael Francis Gilbert graduated in law from the University of London in 1937, shortly after which he first spent some time teaching at a prep-school which was followed by six years serving with the Royal Horse Artillery. During World War II he was captured following service in North Africa and Italy, and his prisoner-of-war experiences later leading to the writing of the acclaimed novel
‘Death in Captivity’
in 1952.

After the war, Gilbert worked as a solicitor in London, but his writing continued throughout his legal career and in addition to novels he wrote stage plays and scripts for radio and television. He is, however, best remembered for his novels, which have been described as witty and meticulously-plotted espionage and police procedural thrillers, but which exemplify realism.

HRF Keating stated that
‘Smallbone Deceased’
was amongst the 100 best crime and mystery books ever published.
"The plot,"
wrote Keating, "
is in every way as good as those of Agatha Christie at her best: as neatly dovetailed, as inherently complex yet retaining a decent credibility, and as full of cunningly-suggested red herrings."
It featured Chief Inspector Hazlerigg, who went on to appear in later novels and short stories, and another series was built around Patrick Petrella, a London based police constable (later promoted) who was fluent in four languages and had a love for both poetry and fine wine. Other memorable characters around which Gilbert built stories included Calder and Behrens. They are elderly but quite amiable agents, who are nonetheless ruthless and prepared to take on tasks too much at the dirty end of the business for their younger colleagues. They are brought out of retirement periodically upon receiving a bank statement containing a code.

Much of Michael Gilbert’s writing was done on the train as he travelled from home to his office in London:
"I always take a latish train to work," he explained in 1980, "and, of course, I go first class. I have no trouble in writing because I prepare a thorough synopsis beforehand.".
After retirement from the law, however, he nevertheless continued and also reviewed for
‘The Daily Telegraph’
, as well as editing
‘The Oxford Book of Legal Anecdotes’
.

Gilbert was appointed CBE in 1980. Generally regarded as ‘one of the elder statesmen of the British crime writing fraternity, he was a founder-member of the British Crime Writers’ Association and in 1988 he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, before receiving the Lifetime ‘Anthony’ Achievement award at the 1990 Boucheron in London.

Michael Gilbert died in 2006, aged ninety three, and was survived by his wife and their two sons and five daughters.

 

Dedication

To Donald Rumbelow,

the only man I know who talks and writes sense about the Siege of Sidney Street.

 

1

Luke Pagan was standing in the shadow of a lime tree on the border of Sir George Spencer-Wells’ coverts. In this year, which was the sixth in the reign of His Majesty, King Edward VII, Luke was fifteen years and four months old. It was late November and the tree was nearly leafless, but even when the full moon slid out from behind the clouds, the boy was not easy to spot. It was partly the place he had chosen to stand in; but, even more, the fact that he was as motionless as the tree itself.

His father, Hezekiah Pagan, who was Sir George’s head keeper, had taught him that standing still depended on control. Control of breathing and control of thinking. Think hard and you would have less cause to fidget. It occurred to him that this was one of the few pieces of instruction that his father had given him. For the rest, in his efforts at self-improvement, he had had to rely on hints picked up from newspapers and magazines.

In the
Daily Mirror,
he had found an account of the exercises of Eugene Sandow, the physical culture expert. Also an advertisement for Vitaloids (‘Are you weak and nervous? Try one box. Your strength will be increased and your whole system braced and invigorated’). Unfortunately neither the exercises, which were time consuming, nor the tonic, which was expensive, had seemed noticeably to increase his muscular power. He had then decided that agility might be more important than brute force. This idea came from an article in the
Strand,
which described the feats of Harry Houdini, his almost miraculous escapes from bonds and chains, and exposed some of the secrets of the master of escapology. He had also picked up, from one of his father’s friends who came from Cumbria, some of the tricks and devices of North Country wrestling. To practise these, he had provoked fights with boys larger than himself and had won most of them. This did not make him popular: in the schoolboy code, it was creditable to knock an opponent down; to trip him up was foreign and despicable.

‘Don’t you worry,’ his father had said. ‘Put’m on’s back. How you got’m there don’t signify.’

Supplementing these efforts at physical improvement he was being coached by the vicar, the Reverend Millbanke, in English, Latin, Greek and theology. This was paid for by Sir George with the object of fitting Luke for a career in the Church. Both men regarded him as a promising candidate.


Mens sana in corpore sano
,’ said Sir George quoting almost the only Latin he knew.

‘Indeed,’ said the vicar, ‘the Church militant will acquire a champion armed at every point.’

Luke had been standing there for nearly two hours when someone passed within a few yards of him, evidently unaware of his presence. The young stranger was carrying a type of snare of which his father particularly disapproved.

It was a noose of steel wire anchored at the far end to the ground. When he had finished arranging the snare across the rabbits’ runway, the intruder moved off up the path. As he went, Luke moved behind him, a shadow among shadows.

Four times more a snare was set. Four times more, as the intruder moved away, Luke pulled the snare up, until he was carrying five of them dangling from his left hand.

The sixth halt was in front of an open-fronted shed built of logs and planks, which Hezekiah had put up and which he used as a store and a shelter. If caught out in one of the sudden storms that blew in from the North Sea across the Suffolk flats, he would sit in it smoking his pipe until the weather improved.

The intruder, having set his last snare, had wandered into the shed to examine the old coats and other oddments that hung on the walls. Finding nothing of interest, he turned and came out. Luke was standing with the six snares in his hand.

The intruder looked, first at the boy and then at what he was carrying. Then he said, in a voice that proclaimed his status, ‘What the hell are you doing with my traps?’

‘Picking them up,’ said Luke. His own voice was unexpectedly cultivated. A fact that seemed to surprise and annoy the other boy.

‘Then you can bloody well go back and set them again. And see that you do it carefully.’

‘They’re not traps,’ said Luke. ‘They’re snares. Cruel and illegal snares. We’ll have none such in this wood.’

‘And who the flaming hell gave you any right to say what I could do and what I couldn’t?’

‘My father told me about these snares. He told me to remove any I saw and to arrest anyone I found setting them.’

‘And are you proposing to arrest me?’

‘It depends on you. Give me your name and address and some evidence of your identity and I’ll be happy to leave the rest to the police.’

‘Sure you can have my name. And my address. I’m Oliver Spencer-Wells. I live at the Court and my father owns these woods.’

Luke could see now that it was a boy of about his own age and of much the same height, but more heavily built. He said, ‘All right. I know you.’

‘I’m glad about that.’

‘You can go. You’ll get a summons in due course.’

‘For trespassing in my father’s wood?’

‘For setting illegal snares.’

‘That’s easily remedied. Because right now
you’re
going to reset them for me. When I’ve taught you a lesson.’ He threw himself at Luke, his fists whirling.

Luke met the attack in the way he had been taught. Dropping the traps he stretched both his arms out, rigidly, in front of him, fingers extended. As his opponent tried to close with him Luke’s arms went underneath his and he ducked his head to avoid the flailing fists. So, for a moment, the two boys stood locked, body to body. Then Luke slipped a foot under one of his opponent’s heels, lifting him and twisting him as he did so. The next moment he had him pinned down and was kneeling on his arms with one hand on his throat. Their faces were so close together that when Oliver spat at him the muck landed fairly on Luke’s face.

Using his free hand Luke pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his face. Then he said, ‘If that’s all you’ve got to say, suppose you get up and go home.’

He shifted his weight off Oliver’s arms and got to his feet. Oliver lay for a moment, as though debating whether to move or not. Then he got up. His face was scarlet and his mouth was ugly.

He said, the words coming out in vicious spurts, ‘I know you. You’re Hezekiah’s cub.’

BOOK: Ring of Terror
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