Authors: John Creasey
âHe's caught them when you failed.'
âWe catch up with them all, eventually. This hare-brained habit of pretending to be the great lone wolf detective puts him both sides of the law. You know what I mean when I say that if he gets caught on the wrong side, there'll be a lot of excavating done. Plenty of things he did in the past will be raked up. You'll learn all about being a grass widow.'
âHe hasn't a black past, that's just your imagination.'
Bristow said: âWell, I've warned you. Now, what happened before the attack tonight?'
She told him about Pudding-face and the call from Marjorie Addel, and the substitution of the paste gem for the real one. Bristow grinned at that trick.
âSo you see, he's not such a fool,' Lorna murmured.
âHe's too clever by half. Iâ'
A voice was raised in the hall, making Lorna break off and Bristow look round. The voice was raised again; it was Mannering, who said sharply: âWhat's all this?'
âNasty spot of trouble, sir, I'm afraid,' a policeman said.
âMy wife?' The words were like bullets.
âShe's okay, sir.'
Footsteps sounded, soon the door swung open, and Mannering came in. He ignored Bristow, and went straight to Lorna as she stood up. He took her hands and studied her face intently. He could see some of the marks, as well as the feverish brightness of her eyes and the puffy pinkness at the roots of her hair at temples and forehead.
He dropped her hands, and made her sit down.
âI shouldn't have gone out,' he said.
âSo you expected trouble,' Bristow flashed.
Mannering took out cigarettes.
âSo you're here. Late, I gather â after the damage was done.'
âWe arrived before you did. What trouble did you expect?'
âNone. I should have done. I didn't think it would come tonight.' Mannering gave an odd little laugh. âI've been chasing over the countryside and getting lost, while hereâforget it. What happened?'
Bristow told him.
âSo we're right in it,' said Mannering, heavily. âI almost wish I'd told you a bit before, but there was nothing for the police in this, until now. Tonight's visit from the lovely was a border line case. Just. I followed her as far as Guildford, but she knew Guildford better than I did, and shook me off.'
âThink she knew she was being followed?'
âNot at first. Her boyfriend did.'
âBoyfriend?' Lorna said, in surprise.
âShe picked a man up not far along the Embankment. He'd been waiting for her â she only did the risky work. I think they tumbled to the fact that I was behind them when we reached the Kingston Bypass. After that they kept trying to shake me off, but I held on as far as Guildford.'
âThey could have driven through the town.'
âNot likely. They went to earth. As all they've got for their pains is a paste gem, they won't be very pleased.'
âDid you get a good look at the man?'
âNo.' Mannering helped himself to whisky and soda. âIt wasn't Bray.'
âLorna's pudding-faced visitor. He's a jewel dealer in a small way, with a good reputation, as far as I know.'
âWith rooms in Henrietta Street?' Bristow said.
âThat's the man.'
âHis reputation's all right,' Bristow said, âbut he's had some heavy losses lately. Did you know that?'
âI know he's not doing too well, and that he's been worried. I don't know how he got hold of a stone which looks like the Adalgo. Sit down, Bill. I'll tell you the whole sad story from the beginning.'
Mannering told the story in greater detail than he had told Lorna, while Bristow listened, poker-faced. Lorna closed her eyes; she looked as if she were asleep, but didn't miss a word.
âWouldn't you be interested in a paste diamond which looks remarkably like the real Adalgo, Bill?' Mannering finished. âHave a heart â say yes.'
âI didn't think you could get the rose tint in paste,' said Bristow.
âThat's a new one on me, too.'
âWhy did you put the real stone on show?' demanded Bristow.
Mannering chuckled. âI was waiting for you to get round to that. It's simple â publicity. I told the trade that I had the Adalgo, wanting as many people as possible to know because I'd heard there were some rivals about. When the paste ones began to turn up, I put on the pressure â displaying it was a pretty touch.'
âIt's a touch a fool like you would make,' said Bristow.
âStill sore? At least you can't accuse me of keeping material facts from the police,' Mannering pointed out, amiably. âThere's no report of anything having been stolen so far, it was a problem for the trade rather than the police. As Tring was here, presumably you'd heard a whisper.'
âWe hear plenty. We knew you were interested in the Adalgo business, and that you were having business callers here. I had Quinn's closely watched after you'd put the diamond in the window. Ever heard of smash-and-grab raiders?'
âNo one's smashed or grabbed.'
âNot at the shop,' said Bristow, heavily. He pondered, still poker faced, that concealed uncertainty, perhaps anxiety. âWhat about Larraby?'
Mannering chuckled. âThe police are getting better and better!'
âThe police have always been good. Why do you want to see Larraby in the morning?'
âLorna wants him as a model.'
âShe thinks it a face worthy of paint, canvas and her modest talents,' Mannering said.
âI don't believe it.'
âCome upstairs, I'II show you some sketches,' Lorna invited.
Bristow ignored her.
âDid you know who he was when he called at Quinn's?'
âNot until he'd told Carmichael,' said Mannering.
âHe did that, did he?'
âHe almost boasted of it. So wherever you look there's a blank wall. One is a most decorative wall â like Marjorie Addel. Know anything about her gown shop?'
âI didn't even know it existed,' Bristow said. âI suppose you did the only thing you could with her. Butâ' he hesitated.
âIf it weren't for this show, her visit wouldn't be a matter for police inquiry,' Mannering said. âLet's look at facts. The men who came here tonight wanted the genuine Adalgo, thought they'd found it, and took the rest of the stuff as pin-money. They didn't believe the real one was on show at Quinn's. The diamond was the direct cause of the murder of your man. Marjorie Addel's interest in the same diamond puts her in the limelight. Going to question her?'
âWhat do you think?'
âThat a really good policeman wouldn't tackle Mistress Marjorie just yet.'
Bristow stood up. âI know my business. Is there anything else you can tell me?'
âNothing at all, Bill.'
âIs Larraby coming tomorrow?'
âWill you feel up to it in the morning?' Mannering asked Lorna.
âI hope so.'
âGood! If Larraby's up to no good, we'll have him under our eye. All reports of strange events will duly be laid before the police, William.'
âThey'd better be. Mannering, I've been telling your wife that Tanker Tring's been promoted. He hasn't long to go in the C.I.D. and his promotion has put dynamite into him. Give him one big catch and he'll retire happy. You know what I mean.'
Mannering looked dazed.
Wonderful!' He hesitated, then said: âI'll be seeing you.' He hurried out of the room, before either of them could say another word.
Bristow said slowly: âI give up!'
âYou should have done years ago, but why decide now?' Lorna said.
âHe hasn't taken a look at the safe. He may have lost a fortune. And he rushes out to see Tanker as if Tanker were all the world.'
âHe's so much confidence in himself, â said Lorna, sweetly. âHe knows he'll get the jewels back.'
âInspector!' called Mannering. âInspector Tring!'
Tring, in the hall, started up and glowered towards the staircase. Mannering's footsteps rang out but he wasn't in sight. The shout had interrupted Tring's dark ruminations and came at a time when he had reluctantly discarded a theory that the robbery at the flat had been fixed by Mannering. The enticing theory might have stood up had Mrs. Mannering not been hurt.
âWell?' he called.
Mannering hurried down the bottom flight of stairs, reached Tring and took his hand.
âMy dear chap! Wonderful! Congratulations!'
In spite of himself, Tring felt a glow of pride.
âThanks,' he said. âTa.'
âIt's the best bit of news I've had for years, Tanker, Everything comes to those who wait.'
âMaybe,' said Tring, and flashed: âEverything comes to those who deserve it, Mr. Mannering, they all get their desserts.'
âSo they should. Inspector, I'll never be able to thank you enough.'
Tring gasped. â
âOf course. If you hadn't kept your nose to the grindstone, my wife might have suffered much more. I say, Bristow tells me you're nearly due for retirement.'
âSupposing I am?'
âRetirement won't suit you, Inspector. You're far too active. And half the bad men in London will heave a sigh of relief if you go out of the game.'
âThe retiring age,' said Tring, âis the retiring age.'
âFor the Yard, maybe.' Mannering drew him nearer. âThink about this suggestion, Inspector. I need a good man, to keep an eye on the shop and look after me when I'm carrying jewels all over the country. There's a job waiting for you, for the asking. Of course, you may get better offers, but I hope not.'
Tring hadn't a word to say; just stared.
âOr if you prefer to wash up for your wife and grow cabbages, good luck to you,' said Mannering. âYou'd probably take to that better if you could pull off one big coup before you leave the force. You know, Inspector, this job may be your big chance. There's nothing like ending a distinguished career in a blaze of glory, is there? You've got your teeth into this one, don't let anyone take them out.'
Tring said: âI've got my teeth in it,
in the right place.'
âFine! If there's anything I can do to help, just say the word.'
Mannering pumped Tring's arm, and went back upstairs.
Tring waited until the flat door had closed, then pushed his bowler hat back and ran a hand over his forehead. Slowly, he shook his head.
âYou're a caution,' he confessed,
âa proper caution. But you can't pull the wool over
eyes. Corruption, that's what it is â bribery. You'd better watch your step.'
âDid you speak, sir?' asked a policeman.
âNo, I didn't!'
Bristow came down, and was morose on the way to the Yard.
âThere's one good thing out of this,' said Tanker. “We can watch Quinn's and watch this flat. Mannering won't be able to make a move without being seen.'
âAren't I right?' persisted Tring.
âWe've watched him before.'
have the luck.'
Bristow said: âTanker, you've always made a big mistake about Mannering. You've put everything that he's done down to luck. It isn't luck. He's got something which you and I haven't got and can't get. If you think we can stop Mannering from going on with this job, you're wrong. He's every right to investigate. He had the right before tonight, and it's ten times stronger now. Don't forget it.'
âHe'll slip up,' said Tring stubbornly. âWe'll get him.'
âI'm worried about getting that killer,' Bristow said, abruptly.
They finished the journey in silence.
A light shone beneath the door of Bristow's office when they reached it
âGo and make your report, will you?' Bristow said.
âYes, sir.' Tring plodded off.
Bristow went in. A lean-faced whippet of a man sat at his desk, smoking a pipe. His bright grey eyes sparkled, but good humouredly. He was Colonel Anderson-Kerr, Assistant Commissioner of the Criminal Investigation Department; a martinet.
âHallo, sir. Don't get up,' Bristow greeted.
âYour chair,' said the other. âWhat's all this about losing one of our men?'
âTrue I'm afraid, sir.'
âMannering have anything to do with it?'
Anderson-Kerr knew what there was to know about Mannering, and accepted Bristow's view that the Baron as a cracksman no longer existed.
âThis is one job where Mannering can't be blamed for probing on his own,' Bristow said. He lit a cigarette and talked, at length. Finally, he said: âI don't think he knows any more than he's told me, and I don't think wild horses would stop him from investigating.'
âDo you want to stop him?'
Bristow gave a mirthless mile.
âI don't I'd like to know more about the Adalgo business and I can't think of a more likely man to find out than Mannering. He knows the trade inside out. He's the most infuriating beggar â didn't even look at the emptied safe, but casually promised to let me have a list of the stolen goods in the morning. I let him have his way.'
âWhy didn't he want to give it to you tonight?'
âHe made the excuse that the full list was at Quinn's. I think he wanted to get rid of me so that his wife could take it easy. I wouldn't put it past her to tell him something she kept from me. They're hard to crack. Mannering's so often right, too.'
âAbout what, this time?'
âThe Addel woman. If she's involved and we go after her at once, we'll warn her accomplices. We couldn't do more than take a statement at the moment. She might lie to us, and we could easily foul the trail.'
âWhat you mean,' said Anderson-Kerr, dryly, âis that you think Mannering can get more out of her than you, and you think he ought to be allowed to try.'
âI suppose that's it,' Bristow admitted.
The A.C. stood up.
âYou're probably right. But we've got to get that killer. If Mannering suffers in the process, it's his lookout. Is the flat being watched?'
âI've two men on duty there.'
âI'd give Mannering his head but make sure you know where he's going,' Anderson-Kerr said. âGet home now, Bristow, you look all in.'
Mannering heard Judy moving about the apartment, lay still and studied Lorna, who was sleeping on her side. It would be a pity to wake her. He glanced at the bedside clock and started to get out of bed, to stop Judy bringing in the morning tea.
She looked rested; when she opened her eyes, they were quite clear. He stood watching her, as recollection flooded her mind, and saw the way her body tensed.
âSlept well, my sweet?'
âEh? Oh, yes.'
âCome in,' Mannering said. He took the tea tray at the door. âThanks, Judy.' He went to Lorna's bed, put the tray on it and began to pour out. Head ache?'
âNot too much. What's the time?'
âFive past eight.'
âLarraby's due at nine.' She sat up and took her tea.
âPut him off, and take it easy.'
âNo, I'll be better up and doing.'
âGoing to take a bath?'
âYes, run the water for me, will you?'
He shaved in the bedroom. Lorna was still in the bathroom when he'd finished, keeping very quiet. He fidgeted for a few minutes, then went in to her. She was standing with the towel round her shoulders, examining her forehead; her hair was tied in an untidy bun at the top, to keep it from being wet. A few damp ends fell to her shoulders and clung to her neck.
Mannering closed the door.
âNone for an abandoned woman like you. I had visions of you unconscious in the bath. Take it easy today, my sweet.'
âI keep seeing visions â of having to identify you on a mortuary slab. I think I should faint right out. IâJohn! It's cold!'
He dropped the towel to the floor and put his arms round her.
âI'll put that right. Listen, my sweet. I love you. I hate myself for having let you in for that show last night. It was unforgivable. Look at me.'
She had to look in the mirror, for he stood behind her; their cheeks were close together.
âForget it, John.'
âNot in a lifetime. Just say the word, and I'll drop the Adalgo case.'
She said: âI half believe you would.' She laughed, slipped away from him and picked up her robe. âAnd you'd be ten times as moody as I've been lately if you did. Darling, I hate these jobs but there's something fascinating about them, and nothing will ever keep you out of them. If it weren't this it would be another. Hurry and dress, I want to be ready for Larraby.'
He kissed her.
At breakfast, she was gay and seemed fully recovered. Judy, nervous and excited after being told of the attack, had prepared a monumental breakfast; Lorna ate well.
âYou'll do,' Mannering said. âNow, business! Bristow is arguing with himself whether to let me have a lot of rope, for a hanging â and probably thinks I'll get more out of Marjorie Addel than he.'
âWell, you're better looking.'
âThat probably doesn't weigh with him.'
âIt would with her. She will deny everything,' Lorna said.
âDon't forget the piece of paper she signed in her excitement. Marjorie and the boyfriend are mixed up in this, and I think she'll lead the way to others. There'll be some fun and games when they discover that they haven't the Adalgo and practically all the other stuff in the safe was paste.'
âWas it?' Lorna's eyes sparkled. âI thoughtâ'
âI'd moved most of the good stuff, there were some odds and ends in the safe, that's all. Hardly enough to worry the insurance company. Bristow let me put him off until this morning, that's why I think he wants to encourage me to go on. It's almost a pity not to disappoint him.'
The front door bell rang.
âThat'll be Josh,' Lorna said.
âMr. Larraby has made a conquest,' Mannering said, dryly.
It was Larraby. He had shaved and his face shone, but otherwise he was exactly the same. He was carrying a copy of the
and was grave as he entered the dining-room. He raised the paper a little, to draw attention to it, looked at Lorna keenly, and then turned to Mannering.
âI felt that I ought to keep the appointment, Mr. Mannering, although I shall understand if Mrs. Mannering would rather not do any work this morning. I have read about the affair here last night. IâI am
âThanks,' said Mannering. âBut it wasn't your fault.'
âIt certainly wasn't, Mr. Mannering. I shall never again take anything that is not mine. I've never shown any inclination towards violence, I assure you â I hate the thought of it. But that doesn't stop me from being deeply sorry. And something else has occurred to me since I read this account.' He held the paper up again, and Mannering, studying him, felt the effect both of his manner and of his appearance; Lorna had been right about his looks. âI know I'm a branded criminal, Mr. Mannering. I am still on my ticket and have to report daily to the police station, and tell them of any change of address or means of livelihood.'
âWell?' said Mannering.
âAnd as the police are here â I saw two downstairs â and you are involved, by coming here I might put you to some inconvenience. The police would possiblyâ'
âThey know you're to sit for Mrs. Mannering, and they can think what they like. What's on your mind, Larraby? Want to back out?'
âOh, no, sir!'
âHave some coffee,' said Lorna, quickly.
It was soon evident that Larraby was hungry.
Just before nine-thirty, Lorna took him upstairs. When Mannering went up, half an hour later, Lorna was absorbed, and Larraby sat like an image; he did not even move his eyes to look at Mannering.
Bristow didn't telephone.
Mannering made a list of the stolen goods, gave them to one of the policemen outside, fetched his
Talbot, and drove slowly towards the West End. He wasn't followed.
He drove to Lander Street, which was not far from Quinn's. .A single gown was in the window of the small shop, black with a touch of white at the waist and the neck; a simple effective creation. Would the girl be here? Or would she hide, fearing a visit from him or the police?
A slim, pale woman approached when he entered. Her black hair was plaited and wound about her head, she looked immaculate.
âGood morning, sir.'
âGood morning. Is Miss Addel in?'
âShe is not here just now, sir, but I am expecting her at any moment. Is there anything I can do for you, until she arrives?'
âHas she been in yet?'
âShe telephoned to say that she would not be in until after eleven o'clock, but that she would not be much later.' The dark-haired woman was aloof but unsuspicious. âWould you care to wait in the office?'
âMay I stay out here?'
âJust as you like.'
Mannering sat on an imitation Louis Quinze chair. Like the owner â if Marjorie Addel were really the owner â the shop had a touch of quality. The pale blue carpet had a thick pile, the silver-framed oval mirrors, set in walls of duck-egg blue bordered with silver gilt, gave the small shop an air of spaciousness. Two or three model gowns were draped on stands on small rostrums, but no other gowns were in sight. A room led off to the right At the back of the shop were two closed doors, one of which presumably led into the office. The dark-haired woman went in there, moving as if the carpet were air and she too superior to walk on
terra firma. No one came in during the next ten minutes.