The Detective Wore Silk Drawers

BOOK: The Detective Wore Silk Drawers
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The Detective

Wore Silk Drawers

By the same author

WOBBLE TO DEATH

ABRACADAVER

MAD HATTER’S HOLIDAY

INVITATION TO A DYNAMITE PARTY

A CASE OF SPIRITS

SWING, SWING TOGETHER

WAXWORK

THE FALSE INSPECTOR DEW

KEYSTONE

ROUGH CIDER

BERTIE AND THE TINMAN

ON THE EDGE

BERTIE AND THE SEVEN BODIES

BERTIE AND THE CRIME OF PASSION

THE LAST DETECTIVE

DIAMOND SOLITAIRE

THE SUMMONS

BLOODHOUNDS

UPON A DARK NIGHT

THE VAULT

THE REAPER

DIAMOND DUST

THE HOUSE SITTER

THE CIRCLE

THE SECRET HANGMAN

THE HEADHUNTERS

Short stories

BUTCHERS AND OTHER STORIES OF CRIME

THE CRIME OF MISS OYSTER BROWN AND OTHER STORIES

DO NOT EXCEED THE STATED DOSE

THE SEDGEMOOR STRANGLER AND OTHER STORIES OF CRIME

PETER LOVESEY

THE DETECTIVE

WORE SILK
DRAWERS

Copyright © 1971 by Peter Lovesey.

All rights reserved.

This edition published by

Soho Press, Inc.

853 Broadway

New York, NY 10003

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Lovesey, Peter.

The detective wore silk drawers: a red badge novel of suspense / Peter Lovesey.

p. cm.

ISBN 978-1-56947-524-9 (pbk. : alk. paper)

1. Cribb, Sergeant (Fictitious character)--Fiction. 2. Police--England- London--Fiction. 3. London (England)--Fiction.

I. Title.

PR6062.O86D48 2008

823'.914--dc22

2008018836

10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

CHAPTER

1

SERGEANT CRIBB SAT WITH HIS PINT OF BASS EAST INDIA moodily watching the froth disperse. A glass at the Ratcatcher, supped in solitude after work, was his usual antidote for a hard day. Murder or arson, rape or robbery, he would seldom allow duty to break the routine. At the bar he was recognized as a regular. The ale was drawn for him between entry, bowing under a low beam and arrival at the counter. He would then produce twopence, nod to Ada and look about for an empty table. For twenty minutes or more he was anonymous. The station knew where he was, all right—poor bobbies they’d have been if they hadn’t—but heaven help the orderly who disturbed him now.


Punch
cartoon coppers.” That was typical of Jowett. A calculated insult, delivered with a curl of the lip, and no doubt who was meant. Sitting there under his halo of pipe smoke, pontificating about the new style of detective. Cribb had known this would happen as soon as rumours began to emanate from the Yard about the new Director’s ideas. If one thing was predictable in these uncertain times, it was that Inspector Jowett would embrace the current orthodoxy.

Cribb, meanwhile, had stood to attention in the carpeted office, appearing to listen. What was Jowett? A sandwich man without boards, with a new message each time you met him. He was one of the few at the Yard who emerged unscathed from the Turf Fraud Scandal of 1877, when the Detective Department’s three Chief Inspectors stood in the dock at the Old Bailey accused of conspiracy, and two were convicted. Heads had rolled in plenty after that. Not Jowett’s, though. Who knew what he stood for?

Cribb lifted the glass and drank deeply. The whole episode was unexpected. It had started as a perfectly straightforward Monday: cab to the station, letters to sort, the Duke Street assault and battery to write up, a pleasantly dull morning. Then the call from the Yard. What could Jowett want with him? There the Inspector sat among unread books and leather-bound furniture drawing at that infernal briar between the well-prepared insults. “Bow Street methods.” Nothing, of course, in personal terms. “Jumped-up beat pounders.” Superficially the approach was affable: “Not long since we were sergeants together, eh?”The talk was all of backward-looking colleagues who would not survive long in the new C.I.D.

Cribb, like the rest, well remembered the notice:

CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION DEPARTMENT

From Monday next, April 8th, the whole of the detective establishment will form one body under the Director of Criminal Investigation. With the exception of the undermentioned officers, promoted or appointed to responsible posts, the present staff will be placed on probation for three months . . .

It was galling to read the names that followed, comprehending that yours did not appear. And the next three months had been harder still, as rumours circulated of new purges. But that was all two years ago, and Cribb now had two or three successful murder investigations to his credit. When the call came from Jowett, even the thought of promotion had crossed his mind.

“D’you understand French at all, Sergeant?”

“No, sir.”

“Pity, that. Great pity. The Director is quite a linguist. Made a study of the Paris Sûreté. Brilliant.”

“So we’ve been told, sir.”

Jowett didn’t like that.

“Mr. Vincent may be young, Sergeant, but he’s fly enough to have impressed the Home Secretary. Don’t underestimate him.”

While the Inspector expanded on the need to be responsive to new leadership, Cribb speculated on the purpose of this interview. Promotion was already out of the question. Dismissal? He doubted that. Not after a special commendation for the Islington cases. His record since Vincent took over was unspotted.

“To come to the point, Sergeant, we need to re-examine our methods. How efficient are they? Don’t try to answer— I’m putting points. When a crime is perpetrated, how quickly do we act? How much are we hampered by the elaborateness of our organization? You see the line of reasoning?Fresh methods, new approaches. The man we need in Criminal Investigation is the man with flair—never mind the long records of selfless service, Cribb. Devotion doesn’t count for much in your French detective department.”

So this was the newest Jowett affectation. Cribb had often thought Scotland Yard cumbersome, but what the French could teach them he did not know.

“Take a case that nobody can crack,” went on the Inspector. “You know the drill—months of inquiries, plenty of suspicions, but nothing affirmative. Your English detective admits he’s beaten and puts the whole lot away in a drawer marked ‘unsolved.’ Now what does the Sûreté do in a similar predicament? Probably you wouldn’t know the term—”

Cribb had borne enough. “Agent provocateur?” he suggested in a passable accent.

In his corner of the bar he smiled faintly at the recollection. It had so jolted Jowett that for a second he had forgotten his theme and taken to compulsively refilling his pipe. Then the monologue had restarted in earnest, the jabbing phrases increasing in frequency as he reasserted himself. In an effort to suppress his impatience, Cribb had concentrated on trying to read the book titles behind Jowett.

“Wouldn’t work here, of course. The law doesn’t allow it. Conspiracy to commit a crime. No need to remind you of that, eh? But a spry detective finds ways of getting to the truth, Sergeant. Your French investigator uses this”—and Jowett tapped his forehead. “Over the Channel they’re not so narrow in their thinking as some of our bobbies. A hansom always has the beating of a train because it doesn’t run on rails, you see.” Pleased with this analogy, he unexpectedly invited Cribb to sit down. “Less formality, Sergeant. That is the key to greater efficiency in this department.

Inspiration, intuition and flair! How many undetected outbreaks of crime have you recorded in your division?”

“This year, sir?”

“Naturally.”

“Major crimes, sir?”

“Of course.”

“Must be forty or more.”

Jowett leaned forward. “Forty-seven, in fact, since New Year’s Day. I checked the figure. Far too many. How do you propose to reduce the number?”

Cribb tried to sound convincing. “Patient inquiries, sir. We investigate every possibility. When there’s a development, we’re poised ready to act.”

Jowett’s eyebrows lifted at the centre in a drawbridge motion.

“Awaiting developments, eh? Sitting in the station poised over a pot of tea? Don’t look alarmed, Sergeant. I’m not criticizing you in particular. You and I know what it is like to work at a case for days and be left with nothing of substance. And don’t think me unappreciative of what the Waterloo area is like. We gave you one of the seedy patches, Cribb, and that we recognize.” His smile suggested nothing so generous. “But forty-seven! Now that wants looking into, wouldn’t you say?”

What could he say?

“I’m looking at you, Sergeant—and others, superior to me, are looking—for a swift reduction in that number. Take my advice and re-examine your methods of investigation. We’re in the eighties now.” He eyed the new telephone set on his desk. “Science is taking over. And naturally I want to help in any way that I am able. Do you have the staff that you need?”

“Yes, sir. Capable men. But there is one detective constable attached to S Division I used to work with—”

“Who’s that?”

“Constable Thackeray, sir. Not a young man. He knew my ways better than most.”

“You shall have him.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“That’s all, then, Sergeant. We shall watch for developments in your division.”

“Very good, sir.”

Poor Thackeray. A posting to Cribb’s division would not please him much. For eight months since his last case with Cribb he had worked conscientiously in S Division (Hamp-stead was not noted for its crime rate), scoring enough small successes to justify promotion to sergeant before his retirement.

Cribb upended his tankard. Then he withdrew a handkerchief to wipe the corners of his mouth. The bar parlour was less crowded than usual. Ada at the counter was flirting with one of her regulars, a stocky pawnbroker whose professional indiscretions were unforgivable if his endless patter could be believed. At the end of the room a group of navvies clustered around a bagatelle board, and to their left a pair of shabby professional men—solicitors’ clerks, perhaps—hungrily bolted thickly sliced bread. Bread and cheese always sold well here, day and evening. A plateful of heart-shaped cakes, topped with cherries, under a glass dome on the counter, never seemed to sell, except when customers took them to their children waiting outside.

“Jumped-up beat pounders.” Cribb grunted audibly at the memory and thrust the handkerchief deep into his trouser pocket. There were sixteen divisions in the Metropolitan area, excluding A Division, which was Central Office. Fourteen of them were headed by inspectors. Two sergeants with divisional responsibility, and he had to be one.

An engraving of a bull terrier hung over the piano to Cribb’s left, an ugly, bowlegged brute, mainly yellow, but once white, with a smear of black across the haunches. On Saturdays and bank holidays singers would group around the piano, facing old Patch as they chorused by the hour. Few ever read the small print beneath: “Mr. Howard Shore’s champion dog, Leamington, which caught and killed 302 rats in one hour at the Hare and Billet, Wimble-don, 7th May 1863.” The Sergeant scanned Leamington, and pondered his secret. Inspiration, intuition or flair? Science, anyway, had never bothered him. Cribb stood up to leave.

“Mr. Cribb, sir. Can you spare a moment? This gentleman wants a word with you.”

The Sergeant did not like his name bandied in public. He had not realized before that Ada knew it. Barmaids are intuitive detectives.

It was not the pawnbroker who had asked for Cribb but an old man, lean and nearly toothless, wrapped in an ill-fitting overcoat. It smelt of fish.

Cribb asked what he wanted.

“It’s worth a drink, mister.”

“It had better be. Two more pints, Ada.”

He carried the drinks back to his table, with the old man shuffling behind. Both took a long drink before anything was spoken.

“What’s your business, then?” Cribb asked sceptically.

Bloodshot eyes studied him as the old man took his drink.

“You’re a blue, ain’t you, mister? You don’t wear the jacket, but you’re one of ’em, ain’t you?”

The Sergeant confirmed that he was.

“Well then, bobby. What’s a corpse worth to you?”

“Depends,” answered Cribb. “What’s the game? If it’s bodies you’re trading in, then you won’t want the police.”

“One body, that’s all. I found it.”

“Where?”

“Five bob.”

“Man or woman?”

“Man, if I ain’t mistaken. Not ten minutes from ’ere.”

Cribb, who had met casual informants before, drew out his watch. “Sorry. Must be going now. We’ll find your corpse if it’s that near.”

“Four bob, then,” suggested the old man.

Cribb walked to the bar and returned his tankard. The informant left his drink to intercept the Sergeant as he made for the door.

“Three bob?” he pleaded.

Cribb looked down witheringly. “Three bob for what? It don’t need a sharp nose to tell me you deal in cockles and whelks, and the only stalls I know hereabouts are in Stamford Street, near Blackfriars Bridge. And I’ve worked long enough in these parts to have fished a few drowned corpses out of the mud along there. They jump off Waterloo Bridge at the rate of three or four a month. It’s got a powerful attraction for desperate men that can’t swim a stroke. No, old friend. One body washed downstream to Blackfriars doesn’t excite me overmuch. Now will you let me pass?”

The swift deductions silenced the old man, but he followed Cribb into the street, trying to re-engage his attention as he looked about for a cab.

“What if it was a murdered corpse, bobby?”

Cribb ignored him.

“You can’t by-pass a murder.”

A cab was approaching.

“ ’E were murdered, bobby.”

Cribb relented. “How do you know?”

The informant cackled.

“ ’Cause ’eadless corpses don’t jump off bridges.”

“Headless?”

“From the neck upwards, bobby.”

“This had better be true.” Cribb drew a half crown from his pocket. “Get in the cab, then.”

“Barge ’Ouse Street,” the old man shouted to the cabman. “You know it? Off Upper Ground.”

“ ’Ere, just a moment, guv. Can’t take the likes of ’im. Got my other passengers to think of!” The cabby lifted his whip to move off.

Cribb snapped his fingers. “Police. No co-operation: no license. Follow me?”

The cabby grumbled copiously to himself as they climbed inside, Cribb taking a deep breath of fresh air before joining his fellow passenger. It would not be too long. Best, in the circumstances, to put his mind on more important matters.

He thought of Jowett.

“Forty-eight,” he said to himself glumly.

BOOK: The Detective Wore Silk Drawers
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