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Authors: Jonathan Gash

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Firefly Gadroon

BOOK: Firefly Gadroon
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FIREFLY GADROON

 

The Lovejoy series

The Judas Pair

Gold from Gemini

The Grail Tree

Spend Game

The Vatican Rip

Firefly Gadroon

The Sleepers of Erin

The Gondola Scam

Pearlhanger

The Tartan Ringers

Moonspender

Jade Woman

The Very Last Gambado

The Great California Game

The Lies of Fair Ladies

Paid and Loving Eyes

The Sin Within Her Smile

The Grace in Older Women

The Possessions of a Lady

The Rich and the Profane

A Rag, a Bone and a Hank of Hair

Every Last Cent

Ten Word Game

Faces in the Pool

 

Constable & Robinson Ltd.

55–56 Russell Square

London WC1B 4HP

www.constablerobinson.com

First published in the UK by Collins (The Crime Club), 1982

This edition published by C&R Crime,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd., 2013

Copyright © Jonathan Gash, 1982

The right of Jonathan Gash to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.

A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in
Publication Data is available from the British Library

ISBN: 978-1-47210-291-1 (paperback)

ISBN: 978-1-47210-292-8 (ebook)

Typeset by TW Typesetting, Plymouth, Devon

Printed and bound in the UK

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Cover illustration: Peter Mac; Cover design:
www.simonlevyassociates.co.uk

 

 

 

 

A story for Susan and Germoline,
Erica and Betty,
with thanks to Paul for the rock bit.

 

 

This book is most humbly dedicated to the ancient
Chinese ‘Unpredictable Ghost’ god, Wu Ch’ang Kuei,
in the hope that He will favour this story with
His prolonged readership.

One glance from that god that brings a
fortune in treasure.
Lovejoy

Chapter 1

This story begins where I did something illegal, had two rows with women, one pub fight, and got a police warning, all before mid-afternoon. After that it got worse, but that’s the antiques game for you. Trouble.

I was up on the auctioneer’s rostrum. But all I could think was, if that luscious woman crosses her beautiful legs once more I’ll climb down through the crowd and give her a good hiding. She was driving me out of my skull.

As soon as I clapped eyes on her I knew she’d be trouble. We’d turned up for the auction that morning to find Harry the deputy auctioneer was ill. That caused a flap. Gimbert’s auction rooms had three hundred assorted antiques – some even genuine – to auction off before the pubs opened. Old Cuthbertson caught me as I arrived and quaveringly asked me to stand in for his sick assistant. It’s not exactly legal to do this but, we antique dealers often ask ourselves, what is?

‘Why me, Cuthie?’ I asked sourly. It was one of those mornings. I felt unshaven, though I’d tried.

‘You’re honest, Lovejoy,’ he’d said earnestly, the cunning old devil. It’s a hell of an accusation. That’s my name, incidentally. Lovejoy. Crummy, but noticeable.

The trouble is I’m too soft. Anyhow Cuthbertson’s too senile to lift a gavel these days, and he offered me a few quid, knowing I’d be broke as usual. So, amid the jeers and catcalls of my fellow dealers, I took the rostrum and got the proceedings under way.

Gimbert’s is a typical auction, such as you’ll find in any sleepy old English market town. That means corrupt, savage and even murderous. Beneath the kindly exterior of contentment and plaster-and-pantile Tudor homeliness there beats the scarlet emotion of pure greed. Oh, I’m not saying our churches hereabouts aren’t pretty and the coastline invigorating and all that jazz. But I’ve always found that when antiques come in at the door morality goes out of the window. You can’t blame people for it. It’s just the way we’re made.

It was a blustery September market day with plenty of people in town, refugees from the stunning boredom of our unending countryside. Gimbert’s was crowded. Naturally the lads were all at it, shouting false bids and indulging in a general hilarity as soon as I’d got going. I soon stopped that by taking a bid or two ‘off the wall’ (dealers’ slang: imagining an extra bid or two to force the prices higher and faster). I got a few million glares of hate from my comrades but at least it brought orderliness, if not exactly harmony. Old Cuthbertson was at the back silently perforating his many ulcers.

‘Here, Lovejoy,’ Devlin called out angrily. ‘You on their side?’

‘Shut your teeth, Devvo,’ I gave back politely, and cruised on through the lots. The girl crossed her legs again. Devlin’s one of those florid, vehement blokes, all front teeth and stubble. You know instantly from his dazzling waistcoat and military fawns that he’s a white slaver, but even his eleven motor-cars can’t prove he’s not thick
as a brick. He’s supposed to be Midland porcelains and early silver, which is a laugh. Like most antique dealers, he couldn’t tell a mediaeval chalice from a chip pan. I once sold him a Woolworth’s plate as a vintage Spode (you just choose carefully and sandblast the marks off). Pathetic. Devlin’s been desperate to get even with me for two years. Thick, but unforgiving.

By Lot Twenty-Nine we’d settled down to a grumbling concern with the business of the day. Between bids I had time to suss out who had turned up and let my eyes rove casually over the crowded warehouse while the next lot was displayed by the miffs (dealers’ slang, to mean the boozy layabouts who indicate to bidders which heap of rubbish comes next). There was the usual leavening of genuine customers among the hard core of dealers, but most were housewives. The lovely bird with the legs didn’t seem a dealer, yet . . . She crossed her legs. Everybody noticed.

‘Next lot,’ I intoned. ‘Regency corner shelves, veneered in walnut.’

‘Showing here, sir!’ The miff’s traditional cry turned a few heads.

‘Who’ll bid, who’ll bid?’

They were quite a good forgery. Most of us there knew that Sammy Treadwell made about one set a month in his shed down on the waterfront. A grocer from East Hill started the bidding, thank God, or we’d be there yet. He got them for a few quid, cheap even for a fake. A minute later there was the usual bit of drama. An American chap in a fine grey overcoat was bidding for a manuscript letter which some rogue had catalogued as being from Nelson’s father, the Reverend Edmund, the year before Trafalgar. Even from my perch I could see it had all the hallmarks of a forgery. From politeness I took a bid or two but the
Yank seemed such a pleasantly anxious bloke I decided on a whim to protect him and knocked it down to a loud antique dealer in from the Smoke. I didn’t know it then, but I’d just given myself a lifeline. The Yank looked peeved because I stared absently past his waving arm, but I’d done him a favour. By Lot Fifty the bird was worrying me sick.

I kept wondering what the hell she was up to. She was neither bored housewife nor dealer, which leaves very little else for a good-looking bird in a sleazy auction to be. She’d obviously sat down merely to flash her legs more effectively, which is only natural. She’d dressed to kill, with that kind of aloof defiance women show when it’s a specially risky occasion. Throw of the dice and all that. And her gaze kept flicking back to the same place in her catalogue, something on the seventh page. Items in the high hundreds at Gimbert’s are usually portabilia, small decorative household objects or personal pieces, snuff-boxes, scissors, needle-cases, scent bottles and visiting-card cases, suchlike. There’s always a display case full.

I started looking about at Lot One Sixty to give Tinker Dill my signal. He’s my barker and ‘runs’ for me. A barker’s a dishevelled alcoholic of no fixed abode whose job is to sniff out antiques wherever they may lurk. Tinker has a real snout for antiques. I pay him for every ‘tickle’, as we dealers say, though most other barkers only get paid when a purchase is completed. As Tinker can’t afford to get sloshed twice a day without money, you realize how strong the stimulus actually is.

I needn’t have worried. At Lot One Sixty-Two in he shambled, filthy and bleary-eyed as ever. He has this sixth sense, helped no doubt by a few pints in the Ship tavern next door. I suppressed a grin as dealers near the door edged away from him. Tinker pongs a bit. Outside
it was coming on to rain, which made his woollen balaclava and his old greatcoat steam gently. Still, if you’re the best barker in the business you’ve talents Valentino never dreamed of. He gave a gappy grin, seeing me on the rostrum. I signalled in the way we’d arranged for him to bid on Lot One Eighty. To my relief I saw him nod slightly. He was still fairly sober. It would go all right.

We plodded on up the lot numbers. Helen was in, being amused at the way I was struggling to keep my eyes off the flashy bird’s legs. Helen’s too exquisite and stylish to worry about competition. She gave me one of her famous looks, a brilliant smile carefully hidden in a blank stare. Helen’s good on porcelain and ethnological art. We’d be together yet but for a blazing row over a William IV davenport desk about which she was decidedly wrong. I was in the right, but women are always unreasonable, not like us. Anyway, we split after a terrible fight over it.

Big Frank from Suffolk was lusting away between bids, and the Brighton lads were in doing their share. Our local dealers formed a crowd of sour faces in the corner. We were all mad about the Birmingham crowd turning up. They were here because of a small collection of Georgian commemorative medals, mostly mint. I knocked the collection down to them for a good price. Nothing else I could do but take the bids chucked at me, was there? The whole place was in a silent rage, except for the Brummie circus. A group of early Victorian garnet and gold pendants went cheap after that, though I sweated blood to get the bids going. A glittering piece of late Victorian church silver went to Devlin for five of our devalued paper pounds. I thought, what a bloody trade. If I knew Devvo he’d advertise it as an Edwardian ashtray. It hurts, especially when nerks like him are the ones with the groats, and deserving souls like me stay penniless.

So, in a cheery mood of good fellowship, while pedestrians hurried past outside in the rain and visitors sloshed up to the Castle Park to feed the ducks, in happy innocence I gave Tinker his signal to bid for the next item. My heart was thumping with pleasurable anticipation. It’d be mine soon, for maybe a quid.

‘Item One Eighty,’ I called. ‘Small portable Japanese box. Maybe bamboo. Offers?’

‘Showing here, sir!’ Bedwell, the head miff, called from one of the cabinets.

I beamed around the place as the mob shuffled and coughed and muttered. There was very little interest. It’d go cheap.

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