Authors: John Creasey
Swift, wild thoughts flashed through Lorna's mind â of Tring, outside; surely he was still there, he must have seen the man come in. If she flung her palette it would spoil his aim. A brush would do, any missile. If she screamed, people in the neighbouring flats would hear her; people in the street would raise an alarm.
âIf you open your mouth, I'll shoot you in the stomach. You wouldn't like the feel of that.'
He meant it.
Would sounds travel far from the attic?
âGet a move on,' the man said.
She had to obey. Every step was mental agony. She could not see the man's eyes clearly, but they seemed dark and brilliant. If she could strike at his armâ
As she drew nearer, he stood aside, out of reach.
âTurn round and go down, backwards.'
She glanced down through the open hatch. Another man stood in the hall below. She hadn't a chance. If she weren't careful, she would fall. She fumbled for the top step, then went down slowly. The man below moved forward and caught her arm as she reached the bottom. He also wore gloves. Without a word, he pulled her towards the drawing-room door, and the other came down; both moved with uncanny silence. When they were all together in the big room, she waited for the next order.
Would it never come?
They just stood staring at her. They were trying to frighten her. Trying! They were hoping to break her nerve, and were already near success.
The squat man spoke abruptly.
âWe don't want trouble. We have come for the Adalgo. Understand?'
She didn't speak. That accursed diamondâ
We're going to get it. Don't make any mistake about that. Because you're going to tell us where it is.'
âI don't know!'
âThat's a lie!'
âIt's at Quinn's!'
âMake up your mind.'
âMyâmy husband doesn't tell me whereâ'
âForget it. Which room?' asked the squat man.
The other moved forward swiftly and seized her arm again. His fingers were cold, like steel bands. He twisted her arm; it didn't hurt much, but carried the threat of torture.
âWhich room?' he demanded again.
âI tell you I don't know whether it's here.'
âYou know, all right.' The man waved his left hand to the other. âFix her. Be quick about it.'
Her arm was bent back so that she couldn't move without pain. The man pulled a scarf from his pocket, and twisted it round about her face, covering her mouth. The other moved and held her arms as the scarf was tied behind her head, drawn tightly across her lips, pressing them against her teeth, blocking her nostrils, making it hard to breathe. Then they pinioned her arms with cord, and moved away. She swayed, drunkenly. The men watched her, their glittering eyes very bright. She lost her balance, tried to save herself, but fell. Either of them could have saved her, but neither moved.
They let her lie there, watching her struggle for breath. The scarf shifted from her nostrils. The second man came and knelt down, gripped her hair and dragged her towards the drawing-room. It was agony, but she could not shout, she daren't struggle, for fear of losing her breath again. Her scalp burned, seemed to tear.
In the room, the men picked her up, one taking her shoulders and the other her feet, and slung her on to the settee. They looked at her steadily, until the squat man stepped forward and unfastened the scarf. His movements were rough, he meant to hurt. The corners of her mouth were already red and sore, and her mouth was dry, her head seemed red hot.
The squat man sat her up against one end of the settee.
âLearn some sense. We don't want to hurt you, but we're going to get that bit of ice. Don't make any mistake.'
She closed her eyes; the man slapped her face, and said:
âLook at me. Which room?'
If John knew what was happening, he'd expect her to tell them; would want her to. Could she hold out?
âI'll give you two minutes,' said the squat man, and the menace in his voice was foul.
She was so frightened that her heart thumped sickeningly.
Tring had seen nothing of these men; rescue was a silly, vain hope.
The second man drew out a pocket knife with a long blade. He made it flash, but didn't speak.
She couldn't hold out
âWhere's the study?'
The other man came forward, and helped her up; the knife touched her hand. This time he was more gentle, and he unfastened the cord. The squat man stooped at the cocktail cabinet, poured out soda water and handed her the glass. She was able to stand without support
âWe won't hurt you, if you do what we want,' the man said. We'll cut you up if you lie.'
She led the way into the small study. The knife glinted. She hadn't the strength of mind to try to fool them again. She hated herself, but couldn't fight any more. When she neared the settee, she swayed.
âSteady, sister!' A powerful hand gripped her. She felt dizzy and there was a mist in front of her eyes.
She pressed the first switch, and opened the settle.
âSay, that's neat,' exclaimed the second man. âElectric control?'
âIâI needâa key.'
âWhere is it?'
âIn my handbag.'
âGo and get it,' the squat man said.
The other brought the bag in and emptied the contents on a table, lipstick and money fell to the floor. He picked up several keys and held them out to her on the palm of his hand.
If she flung the key awayâ
His eyes bored into her.
She chose the right key.
The second man pushed his hat back. She saw his light grey eyes, thin eyebrows, and curiously wrinkled forehead. He had a small, high-bridged nose, which showed when the scarf slipped from it.
She unlocked the first box. The men neither moved nor spoke, just stood watching her; and the gun and knife threatened. She pressed the second switch, lifted the top of the box, and started to work on the combination. As the tumblers clicked, the men pressed forward. She pulled the top of the safe up, then stood back, wearily.
âThat's swell,' said the squat man. âGet the bag, son.' The other went into the hall and came back with a battered hold-all. The squat man took out the jewel cases one by one, the other opened them. The first case was the one Marjorie Addel had wanted. He grunted, and nodded satisfaction. Then he dropped all the cases into the bag.
âThat's swell,' repeated the squat man. âNow you don't have to worry. We're going to tie you up so you can't raise an alarm, but you won't be hurt. Youâ
The front door bell rang. It was as if time had gone back, and Johnâwas it John? Had he lost his keys?
âThat's Mac,' the second man said, abruptly.
Lorna's flare of hope and fear faded.
âGo and see,' ordered the squat man.
As the other hurried out, the squat man turned and gripped Lorna's wrist. He pulled her unprotestingly towards the hall. A third man came in hurriedly.
âThe narks,' he said. âMake it fast.'
âWhere are they?' asked the squat man.
âHow the hell do I know? Hurry!'
âWe'd better,' said the man with the hold-all.
The squat man let Lorna go. One shout would warn the police, one scream, andâ
The squat man drove his clenched fist into her face. The blow caught her on the side of the jaw. It seemed to lift her head from her shoulders. She felt another blow, blackness engulfed her, and she fell. She did not lose consciousness completely, but nothing was clear. There was a raucous throbbing in her ears.
The three men crowded together by the front door, and the squat man said unhurriedly: âI'll take the front. You two go the back way. Meet in Putney â and hurry.'
âIt's about time,' grunted Mac.
He went through the flat, with the man who had the hold-all, to the fire escape which led from the kitchen.
Footsteps sounded in the street outside; the squat man paused, listening, and heard someone enter the house. There was no light up here. He hurried down the first flight of stairs as the sound of voices of the raiding police floated up. He reached the first floor landing, where there was a dim light, and hid in the shadows.
Tanker Tring and Bristow were the first among the police to reach the landing; two detective constables and two uniformed men came just behind them. They did not see the hiding man as they hurried upstairs â leaving one constable, who remained on the landing.
Bristow called out when he reached the top landing, and began to knock and ring at Mannering's door. The policeman on guard stood at the head of the stairs, looking downwards.
The squat man crept forward.
He drew within striking distance of the policeman without being noticed, shot out his left hand and tipped the man's helmet over his eyes. Then he brought the butt of his gun down on the nape of the policeman's neck. His victim fell, heavily. The squat man squeezed past him and ran down the stairs. As he reached the front hall, a door opened on his right, and a beam of bright light shone out. A woman stood in the doorway, shouting:
âWhat is it? What's the matter?'
A policeman stood in the street doorway. He turned quickly.
âIt's all right, ma'am, you needn't worry. Itâ'
Then both of them saw the man with the gun. The woman stepped back, screaming. The cry was ear-splitting, carrying its alarm to the top floor.
The policeman drew his truncheon, and watched the squat man warily.
âDon't use that gun,' he warned. âDon't be silly.'
The woman screamed again. Men moved, upstairs.
âDon't use that gun,' the policeman said, and drew a step nearer, holding his truncheon tightly. âIt won't do you any good.' He came forward steadily, his big figure blocking the doorway, the truncheon swinging in his hand. There were footsteps on the top staircase.
âTake it easy, now,' said the policeman. He looked relieved, as if he thought the greatest danger was past. âWe don't wantâ'
The squat man shot him twice.
The reports echoed about the front hall and the stairs, out into the street. The policeman dropped his truncheon and clutched at his stomach. The squat man dashed past him, into the street. A police car stood immediately in front of the house, and the gunman jumped towards it; no one else seemed near. The blast of a police whistle came shrilly, so the police were stationed at either end of the street. The man jumped into the empty police car and let in the clutch. A policeman, blowing his whistle, ran towards him, but the car moved off towards the Embankment. Another policeman stood there, watching the police car. He couldn't see who was at the wheel until it was too late to jump on the running-board; it passed him in a flash, and turned right at the end of the road, towards Fulham. A little way ahead a small car was cruising; in it were Mac and his companion.
The squat man drove close behind the small car, hearing the police whistles fading in the distance. The gun in his pocket was heavy against his hip. He drove on, the cars almost bumper to bumper. They reached New King's Road and tinned up Harwood Road, through Walham Green. Near Lilley Road, the squat man put on speed and pulled up in front of the others. He stopped and jumped out, and climbed into the other while it was still moving.
No one spoke a word.
They reached Putney Bridge without being hailed. A little way along the High Street, a high-powered limousine waited with a chauffeur at the wheel. The men in the little car stopped near it, scrambled out, left the little car at the side of the road and climbed into the limousine. It drove off towards Putney Hill, unmolested.
Tanker Tring's conscience and tenacity were having a night out. They had been responsible for his vigil in Green Street, and the police raid.
He was hammering on Mannering's door, and Bristow was ringing the bell, when the woman screamed downstairs. The other policemen with them turned. Bristow said: âGo down, Tanker,' and Tring led the way, two followed. They stumbled over the unconscious policeman on the landing. The woman was still screaming, and they heard a man's voice, pitched on a low tone.
Suddenly, two shots rang out.
âThe devil!' roared Tring.
He leapt down the stairs, but stumbled at the foot; that was typical Tring luck. He pitched forward. The men behind had to jump out of his way. One lost his balance; the other went to the policeman who was lying on the floor, clutching at his stomach.
The car moved off as a police whistle blew outside. The men in the hall lost precious time; the injured man was groaning, obviously badly hurt. The woman had stopped screaming, and was leaning against the door, her face chalk white.
Upstairs, Bristow spoke sharply to the remaining men.
âYou'd better get this door down. Make a job of it.'
âBe careful as you go in,' added Bristow, and turned and went downstairs.
He found Tring and one policeman bending over the injured man, the woman still leaning against the door, and another policeman standing helplessly outside. Bristow didn't speak, but went into the downstairs flat, and picked up the telephone. He called for an ambulance and a doctor, then put a call out for the stolen police car; unless it were left stranded within ten minutes or so, it would be stopped. He had never wanted to catch a man as much as he wanted to catch that gunman.
Tring, trying to help the wounded constable, straightened up when Bristow reached his side.
âNot much chance, sir, I'm afraid. It's Harris.'
âWhere'd they get him?'
âStomach,' said Tring, heavily. âI've done all I can.'
Bristow saw the padded handkerchiefs over the wound; rough first aid. There was nothing more he could do. He went upstairs. According to Tring, Mannering had left the flat some time ago, but Lorna Mannering should still be inside. Thieves who had shot their way out might have killed her.
The door leaned on a broken hinge. His men were already inside the flat.
Lorna Mannering was sitting in an easy chair.
Her hair was a tumbled mass, pins and combs falling out, some loose strands on her shoulders, torn out by the roots. Her lips were red and sore, her face chalk white. A policeman was holding a glass of water to her lips.
She caught sight of Bristow, and tried to smile; it was pathetic. Then she sipped the water.
âWhat damn fool game is John up to now?' Bristow's voice was harsh.
âIt's notâhis fault.'
âDon't you believe it. What's he doing?'
âIâI don't know.'
She wouldn't betray Mannering; if she were dying, she would say nothing to harm him.
Bristow swung round and went through the other rooms. He saw the open settle, and searched inside. He inspected the safe and discovered how it worked; Mannering had done a good job, opening would have taken hours if his wife hadn't helped.
So she had resisted thieves, and they had turned rough.
Downstairs, a policeman was dying.
Bristow set his men to work in the room, with cameras and fingerprint equipment, then went back to Lorna. She was alone, with the glass by her side. There was some colour in her cheeks, but her eyes were hazy and bloodshot; she looked ill.
Bristow pulled up a chair to sit down. Tanker Tring entered the flat, heavy-footed, glowering.
âHe's passed away, sir,' said Tring, in a harsh voice.
âThere ain't no doubt. If I ever get that swine, I'llâ' Tring broke off.
âWe'll get him,' said Bristow. âKeep an eye on the others, Tanker. We're in a hurry.'
There was one good way of getting Tring out of a room where he wasn't wanted; flatter him. Tring went promptly into the study. Bristow pulled up the chair and sat down. Lorna looked taut, defensive, defiant; he waited for her to speak. Her first words didn't surprise him.
Who is dead?'
âOne of our men.'
âYes. You see how well your husband looked after you.'
She made no comment, he could question her all night and she wouldn't betray Mannering. Asking her to would be as pointless as banging his head against a brick wall.
What were the men like?'
Her description was brief and vivid; the squat man's eyes and foreign accent, the tall man's small, high-bridge nose and curiously wrinkled forehead. Bristow made notes, then telephoned the Yard. Downstairs, a police surgeon had arrived from âC' Division, and a police ambulance stood outside. Several newspapermen were at the door when Bristow went down.
The body was already in the ambulance, and the police-surgeon was waiting to see Bristow.
âAnything much to tell me?' Bristow asked.
âNothing that won't keep. I want to get those bullets out pretty soon.'
âSend them to Ballistics Department and ask them for a rush job, will you?'
âAnything we could have done to save him?'
âNothing. Don't blame yourself.'
âI know who to blame,' Bristow growled.
âWho, Bill?' A lanky reporter, just within earshot, murmured the question.
âYou be careful,' Bristow said.
âGive.' Other reporters drew near, hopefully.
âMrs. Mannering was attacked but not seriously hurt. Motive, robbery. They've taken some jewels. We'd had warning and they shot their way out. For anything else, see the Back Room Inspector at the Yard. There can't be anything else tonight, and, no, you
see Mrs. Mannering.'
âWas Mannering here?'
âAny idea where we can find him?'
âYou might have a look in hell,' Bristow said. âYou know your way around there, don't you?'
âOkay, Bill,' the lanky man said. âYou're sore. Who wouldn't be, after tonight? We'll do what we can.'
They went off, noisily.
Bristow looked up and down the street, saw no sign of Mannering, and went back to the flat. Two policemen were on duty outside. Lorna came out of the bedroom; make-up couldn't hide all traces of the attack, but she'd done a good job. Her eyes were feverishly bright, she moved as if with difficulty; that was from nervous reaction.
âHave a drink?' she invited.
âThanks. When will John be back?'
âI don't know.'
âWhere's your maid?'
âShe'll be back late â she's gone to a dance.' Lorna was at the cocktail cabinet in the drawing-room.
âI'll help myself,' Bristow said. âSit down.' She was obviously glad to. âI don't know who's the bigger fool â you or John. Why did you resist tonight?'
âIt was worth trying. At least it gave you time to get here.' She watched him squirt soda into his whisky. âWhy did you come?'
âA dose of the truth will probably help you, Mrs. Mannering. Sooner or later someone has to knock sense into John's head. You're as good with a hammer as anyone. We came because Inspector Tring had a funny idea â that a man called the Baron was coming out of his retirement. Heâ'
âWonderful!' cried Lorna. Sitting, much of her tension had gone. âJohn will love that.'
âHe may have cause to regret it. Tring hung about here, saw your visitors â the girl first, the men afterwards. He was late in reporting the men, or we'd have been here earlier.'
Lorna murmured: âHe's so often late.'
âBut he always gets there. He doesn't like jewel merchants who make friends with ex-jail-birds.'
âPoor old Josh! It's hard for a man to go straight once you've had him through your hands, isn't it?'
âIt's hard to go straight when you've once been crooked. Being crooked becomes a habit. The habit always lands you in jail, and there's always a first time for picking oakum.'
âI thought we'd made progress, and convicts just stitched mailbags and broke stones,' Lorna said. âBill, you're just wasting your time. So is Tanker.' Her eyes were still too bright but she was in complete control of herself. âYou know as well as I do that you've more cause to thank John than hound him.'
âThat's right. Remember the times he's caught your man for you.'
Bristow said evenly: âGet this straight, Mrs. Mannering. Your husband asks for trouble every time he gets an urge to go chasing after crooks. You can't touch muck without getting soiled. He's helped us get our man sometimes, but he hasn't done it the right way.'