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DEATH IN SMALL CORNERS #6


27. Invitation

 

The envelope was waiting for him in his mailbox when Royle went out for his morning paper. It was thin and expensive, and wore a first-class stamp. Inside was a rectangle of card, on which was printed a map. Beside the thick cross was a picture of a telephone-box, a time, and the words 'Friday Night.' The message came across loud and clear.
   After buying his paper, Royle carried on to the phone-box near Fenton's largest pub and brought his friendly ghost up to date. He found a familiar figure on his doorstep, tossing a bunch of keys from hand to hand, when he returned to the flat along Lion Street.
   "Took you bleedin' long enough," remarked Royle, opening the front door. "Coming in?"
   "Just one or two things to sort out," Detective Sergeant Erskine said with a nod, picking up a plastic bag of clothing.
   "On Monday, it was: 'You can have your car back tomorrow, sir.' This is bloody Thursday," continued Royle as he followed the visitor up the stairs.
   "They turned over a warehouse full of desirable motors," Erskine explained. "We got shoved to the back of the queue."
   "Doesn't a murder suspect take precedence over a few stolen cars?" complained Royle.
   "It's all a matter of return on the effort expended," said Erskine cryptically.
   "Find any bloodstains?" asked Royle. He tipped the contents of the plastic bag onto a chair and sorted through the heap of clothing. "Everything seems to be here. "
   "I haven't actually studied the lab reports," said Erskine, refusing to give anything away. "I don't seem to have a record of your blood group."
   "It's O plus. And Lenny's A plus."
   "How do you know that?"
   "I think it was something we saw on telly. A racing driver with a bracelet on his wrist giving his name and blood group. In case there was enough of him left to give a transfusion to after a shunt. Lenny mentioned he's Group A, like him."
   "Right," said Erskine, making a note. "The Vehicle Licensing Bureau at Swansea denies all knowledge of the change of ownership of your car. But the garage and the previous owner confirm your story."
   "Story as in fairy-tale?" suggested Royle.
   "You're a bit paranoid this morning," countered Erskine.
   "Just because you're paranoid, that doesn't mean nobody's out to get you," observed Royle.
   "I should write to Swansea and sort your car out. Not that they'll admit they screwed things up. And is there anything you'd care to add to your statement? Surprise witnesses? Things you did last Thursday morning?"
   "Not really."
   "You haven't been going over and over the events of that morning in your mind?"
   "Not really."
   "Any ordinary, innocent citizen would be sweating blood, trying to think of something to clear himself," probed Erskine.
   "I happen to know I'm not a serious suspect," Royle returned confidently. "That was Special Branch playing 'good cop, bad cop' with me on Monday?"
   "What do you know about Special Branch?" demanded Erskine.
   "Oh, nothing," Royle said innocently. He helped himself to an apple to quiet a rumbling stomach.
   "There's such a thing as scratching backs," Erskine said obliquely. "Which could revise certain opinions. And eliminate certain suspicions."
   "They wouldn't talk to you, the cloak-and-dagger mob?" realized Royle, breaking into a grin. "Well, you're probably wondering why I left Leeds in a hurry eighteen months ago. I got a whisper about what Lenny Suskin did for a living. Like making trips to African banana republics. And I don't mean as a tourist."
   "You mean he was a mercenary'"
   "I couldn't say absolutely for sure, but that's the impression I got," nodded Royle. "And not one of the PBI. He was never away for long. It must have been quick, specialist jobs. Like they train Paras for."
   "I thought you'd known him for ages?" Erskine said with a frown. "But you only found out then what he did for a living? After he was invalided out of the Army."
   "I thought he did bodyguard jobs. A minder for the rich and not very popular. Not a one-man army. He must have trodden on a lot of toes in that line. Maybe hard enough to make it worth someone's while coming looking for him. I know I didn't want to be handy if he decided to take the divorce out on me."
   "That's a very interesting story." Erskine retained his frown. "Why didn't you trot it out a bit quicker?"
   "The bloke that shot Lenny's probably been propping up the bar in Reiner's in Düsseldorf since last Thursday night," Royle said with a shrug. "Unless he's got his jungle boots on again. And you didn't want to hear that on Monday. You wanted to find half-washed-away bloodstains all over my clothes and my car. You wanted a fistful of forensic reports proving your prize suspect dunnit. Even though he didn't."
   "Simple solutions are always preferable."
   "Yeah." Royle put on a mocking smile.
   "Just the same," added Erskine. "We might want to talk to you again. You're still a pretty good each-way bet."

The drizzle, which had been the rule for the best part of a month, continued through the following afternoon and into the early part of Friday evening. Royle drove two miles to the south, through Boxbey, and along the Race Hill road as far as the canal. A pub called The Angler and several ancient cottages clustered around the locks. The dark green telephone-box had been added later for the convenience of canal users.
   At two minutes to go, Royle hurried from his car to the call-box. The ringing began just a few seconds after the time specified on the map. Even though he was expecting it, the sudden noise made him jump.
   "If R is back in circulation, who am I?" asked an unremarkable voice.
   "What?" Royle said blankly. Then he remembered the text of the message which he had placed in the local paper. "Ah, you're M. As in James Bond."
   "You know Ryder and Weston, the shipyard on the east coast?"
   "The place they were picketing until about a couple of months ago? Trying to get it reopened?"
   "You have an hour and half to get here."
   "It's sixty-odd miles."
   "Sixty-two from where you are now. There's a case containing fifty thousand pounds hidden here. The map and the key are in my pocket. All you have to do is take them from me."
   "Just like that?"
   "If you go straight down the entrance road from the main gate, you'll come to a fabrication shed with a large, white figure four painted on the door. You'll receive further instructions when you get here."
   "What if I decide not to play?" suggested Royle.
   "You won't get a photograph through the post next time."
   "So I might as well get blown away trying for fifty grand?"
   "I think you'll find it an entertaining evening," said the mystery voice. "You have till nine thirty-five to get here. You'd better not be late: I don't give second chances."
   Royle glanced at his watch automatically as the telephone started to purr into his ear. He used up a little of his time calling Bob Parker's number. To his surprise, a female voice answered.
   "Is, er," Royle struggled with the name, "is Bob there?"
   "Bobbie? 'E's gorn aht, dear. Dahn the orf-licence."
   "Would you tell him Johnny phoned? And give him a message?"
   "Awl right, ducks. 'Ang on; there's no bleedin' pen 'ere."
   Royle lit a cigarette during an eternity of waiting.
   "Right, ducks," the cheerful voice continued. "If I write it dahn, I'm gonna get it straight, arn' I?"
   "Good thinking," approved Royle. "The message is: 'Ryder and Weston, half-nine tonight, shed four.'"
   "Is that Ryder with a y? Where they was on strike for two years?"
   "That's the place," confirmed Royle.
   "We're s'post to be goin' aht ternight," objected the woman.
   "There could be a fur coat for you in it," hinted Royle.
   "Yeah? A riw one or bunny rabbit?"
   "One you'll have to keep in the fridge."
   "I'll believe that when I see it," chuckled Parker's friend. "What's your name again, dear?"
   "Johnny," said Royle.
   "Are you bleedin' 'aving me on, Johnny?" The woman was genuinely asking for information.
   "I never joke about fur coats," Royle assured her. "Bobbie will tell you that."
   He returned to his car and looked at his watch again. Just over three of his ninety minutes had flown. He started the engine and headed for the coast. The interior of his car was almost antiseptically clean. Royle flicked a little ash onto the floor to give it a lived-in look. He was tempted to make a detour back to Parker's flat to collect his arsenal, but he had a long way to go on wet roads and could ill afford a twelve-mile round trip to Hetton.
   It would be best, he decided, to make for the shipyard and wait for Parker to catch up with him. The unwelcome and enduring police interest had thrown his plans off slightly, and he had not been expecting such a sudden invitation to the fifty-grand party. But he had nothing else to do, and the sky to the south-east was losing its murky, whitish-grey colour and turning to encouraging star-shot black. He was heading for better weather at the coast.

Royle made a stop for petrol and a snack with eleven miles to go and twenty-five of his ninety minutes left. He filled his tank wondering whether it was worth wasting money on petrol if there was a chance that he might not be around to use it; but the same consideration applied to his money. He ate a hamburger with mustard and onions and drank a plastic cup of coffee at the wheel. A steady wind from the Channel had blown away the clouds. Royle was driving towards Orion with a big, fat, full moon coming up on his left.

 

28. Shed 4

 

Fifty yards of access road led down to the closed and bolted gates of the shipyard. Royle parked tidily at the end and locked his car. The night was very cold, and moisture filmed the cracked paint on the massive wooden gates. He tucked a note in a plastic bag under a windscreen wiper to remind Parker to head for Shed 4; if he arrived in time.
   Royle's foot found a length of one-inch iron pipe in the grass. He rested it against the perimeter wall and used it as a step up towards the top. He rolled into the shipyard and wiped his gloves on the legs of his jeans. His anorak was a damp mess down the front, but fifty thousand pounds would pay a lot of cleaning bills.
   Brick buildings lined the road through the shipyard, looking black and silvery in the slanting full moonlight. The damp sloping roof of a single-storey hut looked as though it had been dusted with fresh snow. Royle raised the hood of his anorak. His ears and temples felt warmer at once. He had six minutes in hand. Finding the shipyard had wasted five precious minutes.
   Shed number four lay on the left of the road, facing a building which contained more windows than its neighbours. Royle assumed that it was an office block. Killing time, giving Parker a chance to catch up, he took a turn around the outside of Shed 4. The building was made of rotting brick and had rusting drainpipes. It was forty yards long and twenty wide. The side walls rose twenty-five feet to the asbestos roof. A belt of windows ran from front to back at about first-floor level, compared to the office building.
   At the back, he found two massive doors and two sets of decaying tracks, which led down to the lagoon; an oval pond shut off from the tides by a pair of lock gates. Royle concluded that the shed had been used for fabricating and launching small craft; motor torpedo boats during the War, and then cruising vessels of a similar size for rich civilians; chaps who could afford to throw fifty-grand parties.
   Keeping to the deep shadows and trying to make as little noise as possible, Royle completed his circumnavigation of the arena. He had devoted a great deal of thought to the occasion to come and he had decided that he was up against someone like the late Olly Markham; only his someone had a lot more money, far superior connections, and was infinitely more subtle.
   His someone; he had not the faintest idea of his identity; had set him against a mugger, a bomb mechanic, and a top-flight assassin. Royle had proved himself capable of killing more or less by accident and enhanced his reputation by deception. Both sides could make their own rules.
   But he had lost his advantage this time. His opponent knew that he was coming this time. Royle and Mr. X would crawl about in the darkness of Shed 4 for a while, and only one would emerge alive. If Royle survived, he would be fifty thousand pounds richer. If he did not, he would not need the money anyway. He knew the score. He had seen the film and read the book.
   Thinking of himself as fifty thousand pounds richer told him that he had already written off help from Lenny Suskin/Robert Parker. The woman on the phone had mentioned plans to go out. And then some character called Johnny had phoned to sabotage her Friday night.
   The longer Parker had taken to get back from the off-licence, the more time she would have had to put the inconvenient message out of her mind. If she wrote it down and remembered the note an hour later, Parker would just go out with her as planned. His car could not cover sixty-eight miles in half an hour.
   Parker would just phone Royle's flat in the morning. And if he got no reply, he would delete his pal Johnny's address and phone number from his mental address book. He would have lost his share of the fifty grand; but he would have inherited a carrier-bag containing two guns and six thousand pounds in ready cash.
   And the only person who knew that Lenny Suskin was still alive and calling himself Robert Parker would be dead.
   Royle grinned to himself as he crossed the road to the wicket door in the front of Shed 4. Getting himself killed would serve the interests of two others, but fifty thousand pounds would come in very useful; and save him two years' risk as a cocaine mule. He was going to do his best to be a rotten spoilsport and collect the jackpot.
   A black box and a shopping bag stood beside the wicket door. Royle investigated the black box. He lifted the lid confidently, not expecting a booby-trap. His someone had invested too much time and trouble to waste him so easily. There was a field telephone inside the box. Royle lifted the receiver and turned the handle on the side of the box.
   "Good-evening," said a deepish male voice; the man who had called him earlier. "Enjoy your stroll round the shed?"
   "Yeah," returned Royle. "What happens now?"
   "If you haven't already looked in the shopping bag, do so."
   Royle pulled back the zip and found a box-like submachine gun, a thick, tapering tube, and a webbing belt with canvas pouches for three spare magazines. "I hunt you and you hunt me," he remarked, having wedged the receiver against his ear with his shoulder. He screwed the wide end of the sound suppressor onto the short length of protruding barrel to double the length of the submachine gun.
   "That's it exactly," approved the telephone voice. "Have you ever handled an SMG before?"
   "Nearest I've been to one is my telly." Royle found the magazine release and pressed it. "I've seen them use these things on The Professionals. And there was a John Wayne film where he was a cop. He used one of these M-tens." There had also been a centre page spread on the Ingram M-10 in his morning paper several years earlier.
   Royle pushed down on the top cartridge. The magazine was full; of something. His suspicious mind suggested a few live rounds on top of blanks. He pushed the magazine back into the handle of the weapon.
   "You have five minutes to familiarize yourself with your Ingram," said his opponent. "There's fifty thousand pounds in five-pound notes waiting for you in here. You'll find a diagram showing where to find it in one of my pockets. If you get that close."
   "Just who the hell are you?" invited Royle. He unclipped the last of the pouches on the belt and confirmed that it contained a full spare magazine. Then he buckled the belt round his waist.
   "I'm your employer, Mr Royle," chuckled Colin Mulgraham. "I'm your Dutch uncle."
   "That answers a few questions," commented Royle. Especially the one about knowing his movements through his despatcher.
   "Is there anything you want to know about the workings of your SMG? Reloading, or anything?" asked Mulgraham.
   "I've sorted that out," replied Royle. "There's not that much to it."
   "I shall expect you to have come through the door by nine-forty. I'll start shooting thirty seconds after you're in here. Best of luck, Mr. Royle," Mulgraham added.
   "Same to you, Uncle," said Royle, completing another note to Parker, just on the off chance. He slid it under the handle on the lid of the field telephone.
   "And a final word of warning: I hope you won't disappoint me by trying to run for it at the last minute."
   "See you inside, Uncle," promised Royle.
   He dropped the receiver into the black box and replaced the lid. Then he slid his left thumb along the body of the submachine gun to push the selector switch from FULL to SEMI. He extended the wire stock and lowered the shoulder brace. He pulled back the milled actuator knob to load the top cartridge into the breech. His new driving gloves were about to soak up some gun oil and acquire a tattooing of powder, which would tell a forensic scientist that Mrs. Royle's lad had been playing out fantasies with live ammunition, but fifty thousand pounds would buy enough gloves to last a lifetime.
   Royle looked around for a target. Lenny Suskin had once commented that it was better for the beginner to treat a submachine gun as a thirty-two-shot small rifle, in the case of the Ingram M-10, instead of a pistol which could squirt large amounts of lead in an approximate direction.
   Given the rate of fire of the Ingram on full automatic, four magazines added up to eight seconds of ammunition. As his reserve armoury was sixty-eight miles away, Royle could not plan to shoot off his ration of nine-millimetre, then plug his opponent with the .32 automatic when he closed in to kill the man whose gun he thought was empty. He needed to take a cautious approach to the coming battle.
   The full moon was shining towards Royle, along the main road through the shipyard, casting a shadow of the projecting brickwork and the lintel onto the door of the building opposite. He brought the stock of his weapon up to his shoulder and wrapped his left hand around the sound suppressor. He sighted on the junction of vertical and horizontal shadows on the door and eased back the trigger.
   The gun said ploo! and spat a cartridge case to the right. The bullet hit the door with a loud smack, more or less where he had aimed it. Royle lowered his aim, following the boundary of the vertical shadow, and fired two more shots, determining the trigger pressure.
   Despite Mr. X's final threat, Royle felt that he had arrived at the moment of decision. A choice remained between dashing back to his car and disappearing, and picking up the gauntlet. Either way, he was out of a job. He knew a damaging little about his Dutch uncle; the man behind the cocaine-importing mule train, who had been the instigator of, and an accessory to, three killings; one of them the misdirected slaughter of a runaway called Betty Hollister, aged seventeen and a half.
   Fifty thousand pounds made a nice golden handshake. All that remained was to dispel lingering doubts about the purity of his opponent's motives. Holding the gun between his knees, Royle reached behind his head to unzip the hood of his anorak. He buttoned the detached hood into the left side pocket. Cold night air nipped at his exposed face and ears.
   If Mr. X wanted the thrill of killing someone, all he had to do was find himself a lonely stretch of road with good visibility in both directions, and sit down with a hunting rifle to wait for the first solitary motorist.
   After so much preparation, Royle told himself, Mr. X would not be waiting to spray the doorway the moment a moving target appeared. He wanted a game. He wanted to dodge about on a piece of prepared ground, toying with an armed and dangerous opponent. Mr. X, the biggest-game hunter, was assuming that the odds were heavily in his favour. But he did not know just how tough it was to kill Johnny Royle, even without Lenny Suskin/Parker to back him up. Parker was not coming; which proved that you cannot trust a woman.
   Acting before reason could delay him further, Royle turned the handle on the wicker door and leapt into Shed 4, darting to the right as a strong spring pushed the door back towards its frame. His first impressions were of brilliant, silvery light and a reek of oil. A stack of timber reached up to more than head height in front of him. Royle turned onto a central aisle for a few yards, then ducked to the right, taking shelter behind a large, rusting boiler.
   Moonlight was pouring through the first-floor-level windows behind him. Colin Mulgraham had arranged for natural flood-lighting. Crates and mounds of anonymous equipment diffused and reflected the silvery beams on both sides of the central aisle. The area was devoid of colour; just black, white, and lustrous shades of grey.
   On the wall opposite him, about a third of the way along the shed, a staircase rose to half a dozen offices. Royle was attempting to form as complete a mental picture as possible of the layout of the contents of the shed when a voice called to him from the far end.
   "Glad you decided to join the party," said the increasingly familiar voice of a man with an 'educated' accent.
   "I couldn't resist your invitation." Royle moved from the shelter of the boiler to the protection of a lathe.
   "The truce ends in ten seconds.' added Mulgraham. "Just in case you have last-minute second thoughts, the door you just came through is now locked."
   That's your ten seconds, Royle thought, resisting the temptation to make a snappy reply.
   The voice seemed to be coming from the region of the left-hand set of doors. Royle moved down towards the far end of the shed, keeping to the wall, where he cast no shadow.
   Just before he reached a collection of fifty-gallon oil drums, he realized that his approach was extremely logical and predictable. He stepped to the left, moving towards the central aisle.
   Tang! Tang! Tang! One of the drums hopped backwards.
   Royle sprinted ten yards to the far side of the central aisle and took shelter behind a crate. He fired one shot at a shadow, which moved across the bottom of the aisle, and was rewarded with another three-round burst, which skipped clean splinters from the layer of greasy grime on the concrete floor.
   Circling, sprinting, shooting, hiding, Royle began to despair of ever getting a clean shot at the elusive sprite. On the plus side, however, Mr. X's luck was no better. Bullets had socked into wood, rung from metal, and chipped at concrete. Time had become something which could not be spared to keep track of its passage. Despite many near misses, the combatants had remained undamaged.
   The full moonlight was surprisingly bright, but there was so much small junk scattered about the floor that it was almost impossible to move around quietly. Royle had been relieved to discover that his opponent was no surer of foot than himself. At the rate they were going, the loser would be the one who ran out of ammunition first.
   Royle had lost count of the number of single shots that he had fired. The total had to be twenty-five plus, and Mr. X was well into his second magazine, assuming that every burst of his was at least three rounds. Royle moved the selector switch back to FULL, having decided to spray off the last few rounds in a hopeful quarter-second burst. Then he took a spare magazine out of one of the pouches and tucked it into his belt.
   A shadow moved in the triangular mounds of large-bore pipes. Royle pulled his trigger. The spang of lead on steel merged with the fluting roar of his weapon and the clink of cartridge cases pattering against an empty oil drum. A half scream and sob outlived the metal clamour.
   Royle dropped his empty magazine on the move and replaced it with the full one from his belt. He heard a sound, a hesitant dragging, and took aim. Nothing happened when he pulled the trigger.
   Through a violent jolt of alarm, he realized that he had forgotten to cock the weapon, and that it was still on full automatic.
   Lead chased him into the shelter of a packing-case when he kicked something on the floor; a wild storm from the man who had been shooting in carefully controlled, three-round bursts. Royle circled to the left, sacrificing silence for speed. He turned a corner and ran straight into two oil drums, one on top of the other. He dropped flat as they clanged to the floor, attracting a lashing burst from his opponent.
   As he struggled to recover his breath quietly, Royle heard metal slide on metal, and then a sharp click.
   In a rush of triumph, he realized that the last two bursts and the magazine change had come from the same general area. Mr. X had let out a yell among the wedges of large pipes. Perhaps he had been hit somewhere disabling. The sucker had proved much more of a handful than Mr. X had expected.
   Royle found a short, fat bolt at his feet. He counted to ten, then lobbed it down towards the left-hand set of doors. It thudded onto a crate, drawing a short burst from the area of the pipes. Royle felt sure that he had spotted a firefly muzzle flash. He slipped across the central aisle and took cover behind a massive crate, which was six feet square and two feet thick. He unclipped one of the pouches and slid the top round off a spare magazine.
   Attempting to create the impression that he was circling along the end wall, past the doors, he flicked the cartridge into space. Mr. X fired at the noise. Royle rose from his instinctive crouch to continue his approach. Tension had squeezed him during the first few minutes of the duel. Now, excitement exerted the same pressure.
   Something slammed him against the rough wood.
   Royle blinked tears of pain from his eyes. His right shoulder was stuck inexplicably to the crate. The gun had clattered from his useless hand. He had no feeling in his right arm. His face burned as if it had been sandpapered by the violent contact with the coarse planking of the crate. He felt weak and confused.
   "Not a bad effort," remarked a voice behind him.
   Royle managed to twist his head round. His opponent was standing in the central aisle, looking intact, holding something polished that threw back the moonlight.
   "But you fell into the trap," continued Colin Mulgraham. "A rather elementary piece of deception. You galloped to the sound of the guns and forgot to secure your rear."
   In a rush of perception, Royle realized that his opponent was holding a crossbow. A loaded crossbow. Something skated across the floor and bumped into the crate at Royle's feet. It was an attaché case, packed with bundles of notes.
   "I just thought you'd like to see the money," added Mulgraham. "Just to prove it was yours for the taking ..."
   A shot and a slap spun him out of Royle's restricted field of vision. Two more shots crashed through the silence of the shed. Two more bullets whacked into something absorbent. Royle heard slithering noises through his haze of pain. His shoulder had started to scream.
   "A professional pulls the trigger when the target is standing still in his sights," remarked an approaching voice, which had a Yorkshire accent. "He doesn't hang about yapping or admiring the bloody view. How are you doing, Johnny?"
   Royle managed a croak.
   "He really nailed you, me old love," Parker continued with a laugh. "This is going to hurt like hell."
   "It does already," croaked Royle.
   Working rapidly because speed would cause the least pain, Parker levered off the end of the crate. Royle screamed when Parker thumped the head of the crossbow bolt with an iron bar to free it from the planking. He left the bolt in position to seal the wound in his friend's shoulder.
   Parker tucked Royle's hand into the belt for his spare magazines and immobilized the arm with a length of rope. The quantity of money in the case looked about right, but he did not stop to count it. Royle was going into clinical shock, but he was starting to recover from his surprise.
   Supported by Parker, Royle managed to stagger down to the main gate. Parker propped him against the wall, then took something from his anorak pocket. Royle was past assistance and caring. A set of bolts snicked out of their sockets. Royle heard a murmur of voices. A car started and drove away. Then Parker was back.
   "I sent your car back to my place," he explained. "With the bird you're going to buy the mink coat for."
   Royle leaned forward when Parker had fastened his seat belt. Parker stuffed the attaché case behind him to keep the flights of the crossbow bolt away from the back of the seat. The assassin knew of a private clinic near Faversham, where damaged bodies could be repaired discreetly and payment in cash stifled curiosity. If he did not croak within the next three-quarters of an hour, Royle stood a reasonable chance of enjoying his redundancy money; less medical expenses and a fur coat.

 

29. Booted

 

Parker used a code phrase over the telephone at the gate of the health farm. He drove round to the back of the converted country house, like a tradesman making a delivery. He unfastened the magazine belt so that it was left behind when Royle was eased out of the car. The doctor and a male nurse had received a sufficient surprise on finding a crossbow bolt stuck through the patient's shoulder. A man who had been fighting a duel with submachine guns commanded a higher fee than the victim of an unfortunate accident; perhaps while poaching.
   When Royle had been transferred to a wheelchair, Parker stuffed five hundred pounds into the side pocket of the doctor's white coat. The surgical ward lay beneath the west wing of the house, in the seclusion of the former air raid shelters. Parker started his engine and completed a tour of the buildings as Royle was being wheeled down the ramp. He had a lot to do, but a long autumn night to do it in.
   Parker hurried back to Canterbury and left his car in the car-park of Canterbury West station. Then he 'borrowed' temporary transport from a side-street near a pub. The time was just a quarter to eleven. Given reasonable luck, he would have reached his destination by the time the owner emerged from the pub to find his wheels gone.

Despite all the shooting and screaming, the shipyard was silent when Robert Parker trotted up to the gate. Nobody had invited the police to come and poke their noses in. Parker found a red, executive-bracket Rover parked behind the offices that faced the main gate, and drove it to assembly shed four. The moon had circled appreciably towards the sea and it was shining at an angle through the windows, leaving a much larger wedge in shadow.
   A pool of blood had collected under the body. The hollow-nosed hunting bullets had left massive exit wounds. Mr. X was going to make a hell of a mess of the Rover's boot, but that was his problem. Parker tapped his pockets and found a set of keys, a wallet, and a dark blue plastic box. Mr. X had left the driver's door unlocked and the keys in the car, prepared for a fast getaway.
   The dead man was called Colin Mulgraham and he had lived at Race Hill; four miles from Royle geographically, but about a million socially. Parker unloaded the weapon that Royle had dropped, then directed his torch into the stacks of pipes. He found another M-10 clamped to a wooden trestle. There was a gadget attached to the trigger.
   Just to prove a point, Parker extended the aerial on the blue plastic box, slid a switch to the 'on' position, and touched the button on the top of the box. The submachine gun plopped out a short burst. Radio-control had other uses than operating the servos on model aircraft, cars, and boats. The signal from the box activated a small motor, which drew back an arm to pull the trigger of the weapon. Parker released the clamps, removed the magazine, and cleared the chamber.
   He put the weapons and the spare magazines on the floor at the back of the Rover. Then he took hold of the front of Mulgraham's camouflaged jacket and dragged him to the door, leaving a long smear on the concrete floor. The crossbow scraped along beside Mulgraham, locked immovably in a death-grip. After a bit of pushing, Parker managed to stuff the body into the boot of the car.
   Some copper was going to find himself tackling a second-rate replay of the death of Lenny Suskin. This time, there would be more than enough blood at the death scene to confirm that someone had been junked; and a body sixty miles away to complete the puzzle if the two police forces made the connection.
   Parker bolted the gates and climbed back to Mulgraham's Rover, wondering what had happened to the night-watchman. The shipyard was still full of very nickable loot. Perhaps he had been bribed to get lost for the night, or perhaps he was tied up somewhere. Either way, his absence had simplified matters considerably.
   Parker drove out of the town carefully, but at a reasonable speed. He did not want to be stopped by coppers out to fill their quota of Friday night drunks. He put on more speed along deserted country roads and reached Race Hill at ten to one.
   The sky was full of stars, and ice had started to coat wet roads. A street sign fixed his position. Parker took the next turning on the right and motored slowly along an avenue of detached houses. One of the double gates offered a number. Two houses further along, he spotted a lower number. He had come too far and he was on the wrong side of the road.
   The gates on the drive were standing open. Parker cruised up the strip of tarmac and stopped at the garage. One of the keys found in the dead man's trouser pocket let him into the porch. Another opened the front door into the silent gloom of the house. Parker made a rapid tour of the bedrooms to make sure that no one was sleeping on the first floor.
   He drew heavy curtains in a study; which could be identified by the desk and filing cabinet. Parker found a Polaroid camera and a set of long lenses in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet. The next drawer up contained stationery; writing-paper and a stock of envelopes, some secured with paper bands and others loose under the writing-paper.
   Most of the loose envelopes contained photographs; some black and white, some colour, and all unposed. Parker recognized himself, Royle, and a character called 'Nails' Mulligan, who had made a name for himself by sharpening three six-inch nails to needle points and using them as darts. Georges Leraine was a member of his own profession. Parker knew the name but not the face. Another professional, Bobby Fletcher, had vanished off the face of the earth more than a year earlier. Parker assumed that Fletcher and the rest of the bunch had all been roped into a duel with the late Colin Mulgraham; who had cheated.
   Parker took Royle's envelope over to the fireplace, along with half a dozen others, picked out at random, just to confuse the issue. He burned them along with several dozen sheets of writing-paper, and ground the ashes to powder. One of the keys looked as though it belonged to a safe. Parker investigated the framed prints of rather elastic horses. One of them was hinged to the wall, like a door.
   The safe contained a few thousand pounds in notes, which Parker pocketed. A black cash-box stood on a heap of fairly uninteresting papers. In the cash-box, he found a pair of flat snakes of clear plastic. They were a yard long and filled with Kruger Rands, each coin separated from its neighbours by a neat weld. Parker unzipped his anorak and threaded the snakes through the belt loops of his trousers. Then he relocked the safe and pushed the picture-door back into its retaining clips.
   When he dialled his home number, Jane answered promptly, full of questions. Parker cut her short and told her to jump into Johnny's car and pick him up outside the Conservative Club in Race Hill. She arrived just after a quarter past one. There was enough activity in and around the club to make her arrival and departure unremarkable.
   Parker dumped on the back seat, a shopping bag containing two submachine guns and parried questions about why they were heading for Canterbury. He admitted that they were going to pick up his car, but he evaded the issue of what it was doing there and how he had got to Race Hill.
   Jane mentioned that her idea of a Friday night out did not include charging backwards and forwards across south-eastern England in his pal Johnny's car. Parker told her to grit her teeth and think about the fur coat. Jane remained sceptical, but the complaints stopped.
   Towards the end of the return journey, Parker let Jane go on ahead. He turned off the main road. He stopped a couple of houses past Mulgraham's and sorted out the keys. He locked the remaining pearl-handled revolver, the twin of the one used to 'murder' Lenny Suskin, in Mulgraham's safe. The empty space in the wooden box, he knew, would underline the fact that it was one of a pair. The empty cash-box provided a suitable home for some of the ammunition. He left Mulgraham's keys in the top-right drawer of his desk.
   Feeling drained, Parker returned to his car. He had been on the go for the best part of six hours. He had driven two hundred and fifty miles, killed a man to save the life of a friend who had broken up his marriage, and made twenty-five thousand pounds plus the contents of Mulgraham's safe. And his night was not over.
   Parker still had to drive a further fifty miles to take the Ingrams to a customer; a gun-nut who collected automatic weapons. A slab of Kendal Mint Cake from the supply in the dashboard helped to perk him up a little.

A tent-like note was waiting on the sideboard when Parker reached his flat in Hetton. Jane had gone to bed, which came as no great surprise. Parker consumed a celebratory drink while transferring the proceeds of the night to a cupboard with a lock, then he joined his guest.

Detective Sergeant Brian Orwell made no attempt to hide a massive yawn. He was tired, and he did not care who knew it. A man who had managed just two hours' sleep before being called out was entitled to yawn his head off at breakfast time. Detective Inspector Rostov shot his best KGB look of disapproval across his desk. Orwell ignored it and cracked another huge yawn. DS Joe Erskine was looking smug as they tied up the loose ends of a busy night so that their superiors could concoct a statement for the Press.
   A telephone call timed at 03:09 hours had started the chain reaction. The anonymous caller had announced that Lenny Suskin's murderer could be found if someone looked in the boot of the car parked outside sixteen Maple Leaf Drive, Race Hill.
   Getting the body out of the car had involved a hell of a struggle, and DS Erskine remained convinced that Brian Orwell had broken some of the stiffs fingers to get the crossbow out of his grasp. The photographs in the loose envelopes in the filing cabinet had provided Erskine's moment of triumph.
   Much to DI Rostov's disgust, most of the names of Colin Mulgraham's presumed victims figured in Erskine's patterns of death. It seemed very likely that, at intervals of twelve to eighteen months, Mulgraham had played himself in with a mugger, and worked his way up a ladder of violence to a first-class professional killer.
   His motive, unless it had been pure blood-lust or a twisted sense of public duty, still remained obscure.
   What did seem fairly clear was that Mulgraham had killed an assassin called Lenny Suskin, and that one of Suskin's friends had avenged him. And, as a bonus, a number of files had been closed at the cost of opening just one more. The accounts of crimes committed and crimes solved remained uneven, but they had been brought a little closer to balance. Even Detective Inspector Rostov was prepared to admit that life is essentially an unequal process.

 

30. Survival

 

Royle had a visitor on Sunday evening. His temperature was still just in the hundreds, his right shoulder ached, the world tended to float a bit at the edges, but he knew that he was alive and on the way to recovery in a very private hospital.
   Bob Parker hitched a chair closer to the bed and peered critically at his friend. "You're looking a bit bleached," he decided.
   "Yeah?" scoffed Royle. "How's things?"
   "All tidied up," returned Parker, putting a professional interpretation on the question.
   "When did you show up on Friday night? Seventh Cavalry?"
   "About five minutes behind you, I suppose. I had to unpack my gear out of sight of Jane. And then I had to climb up to the roof of your shed four. Fortunately, there was a nice hole in it, and I managed to get down into one of the offices. But I'll tell you something, Johnny. I couldn't tell you two apart at first. You both looked like bloody amateurs."
   "So how did you in the end?" demanded Royle.
   "The crossbow," grinned Parker. "If you'd been fighting with a crossbow, you'd more likely have shot yourself in the foot than him in the back. And I couldn't see him being bloody daft enough to let you shoot him in the back anyway. So I junked the clever one."
   "The clever one?" scoffed Royle. "Who's still alive?"
   "Good point," conceded Parker. "The papers are full of the death of the mysterious mass murderer of Race Hill. No one seems to know anything much about your Mr. Mulgraham. He was a City whizz-kid. Into all sorts of high-tech ventures. But no one knows where his investment capital came from. Certainly nowhere respectable."
   "Coke," said Royle. "He used to import it. I used to work for him. He told me."
   "So that's how come he picked on you. Look, they've even got a picture of Lenny Suskin among his victims." Parker displayed a folded newspaper for Royle's inspection. "The doc says they'll be chucking you out in a few days. Any plans?"
   "I might stroll over and spend a bit of time with my bird in Amsterdam," decided Royle.
   "You always were a bit kinky for Dutch birds. I might come with you for a bit."
   "You takin' yours, ducks?" asked Royle, attempting Jane's cheerful accent.
   "No, I think I'll just leave her that fur coat you bought her to remember me by," Parker said with a smile. "I don't want her to get too serious, and I don't want her to realize I look a lot like the picture of a dead bloke."
   "How much did I spend on this fur coat?" invited Royle.
   "Oh, a few hundred," grinned Parker. "I'll give you the bill when you're feeling stronger."
   "What about this Jane?" frowned Royle.
   "She knows Mulgraham was a killer, and she knows he was after my pal Johnny; but all she knows about him is his name. She thinks Mulgraham got what was coming to him, and she's quite happy with her fur coat."
   "I suppose this means the police will stop trying to pin your murder on me," realized Royle.
   "Lucky you," grinned Parker. "I hope it's not raining in Amsterdam."
   "Tell you what," warned Royle. "You'd better not sod off and marry my bird in three months' time, like you did with bloody Julie."
   "I've given up marriage," laughed Parker. "I wonder if I can screw a half share of my life insurance out of Julie. I suppose they'll pay her now."
   "She might drop dead of shock," chuckled Royle. "Then you'll cop for the lot."
   "That's an interesting legal point," mused Parker. "Can a dead man inherit from his ex-wife?"

At about lunch-time on a wet Monday, Stephen Birch, the despatcher of the Mulgraham cocaine-smuggling operation, received a telephone call. Birch was shocked to learn that he had been working for a mass murderer. He had not known the identity of his employer, but he had assumed that he was youngish and he possessed the nerve to play against the Law for high stakes. Twenty-nine-year-old Mulgraham fitted his mental image, but he had not made the link to the man who had given the Sunday papers such a thrill.
   After allowing a few moments for the news to sink in, the caller announced that he was taking over. Business would continue as before as far as Birch was concerned. Only the despatcher's pick-up points for documents and payments would be changed if Birch wanted to carry on. The despatcher was only too pleased to keep his job in the depths of a recession.
   Mulgraham's receiver took more convincing. He was suspicious of the man on the telephone, and a little worried about what his employer would do to a defector; if he was still alive. The existing receiver was of value because he knew the mules by sight. But if he proved foolishly loyal to a dead man, he could be dropped. No one was indispensable.
   Smuggling networks folded, their personnel retired or arrested. But the business would continue for as long as the private use of cocaine remained both illegal and desirable.


 

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