Lost And Found
As Guy Duggleby had anticipated, he spent the whole morning discussing his latest batch of orders with his relatives, who formed the management team of Allen-Duggleby, and with the members of the workforce who would be involved. Most of the orders were fairly routine, well within the capabilities of all concerned, but Guy had a talent for spotting unusual applications of the processes and techniques that the firm could offer. As well as selling the services of the company to customers, he had also to assure his colleagues that he was not dumping an impossible or uneconomical job into their collective laps.
The meeting in the conference room opposite the main work- shop broke up towards half-past twelve. Guy bashed together a sheaf of papers and pushed them over to his secretary, making a symbolic gesture out of the movement. He had been on the road for a month. He intended to take at least a week away from work to recover.
He was just about to make a dash for his flat, having checked through the paperwork in his office, when a large hand dropped onto his shoulder in an arresting manner. Big brother Tom had trapped him. Guy stifled a groan unborn and forced his moderately handsome features into a carefully neutral expression. Biting back a grin, his secretary retreated into her own office.
Tom Duggleby was two years older than Guy but his looks and attitudes suggested a much wider gap. He was the equal of his brother's six feet in height, but broader and more solidly built than Guy. His sandy hair had retreated to mid-crown. Guy's much darker hair was also sneaking back but much more slowly.
Tom's preference for a conventional three-piece suit added to the image of a prosperous businessman in early middle-age. He felt as undressed without his jacket as Guy felt over-dressed wearing one indoors. Tom looked as if he might insist on creases in his pyjamas. His younger brother cultivated an air of casual but elegant comfort, which suggested that he owned a wardrobe of formal clothes but that the particular occasion did not warrant opening it.
"You have been busy, young Guy," said Tom in what would have seemed an annoyingly patronizing tone to an outsider or anyone other than his brother. Guy was used to the gruff, semi-embarrassment of his elder brother's compliments.
"Flogged myself to a pale shadow," agreed Guy. "Which is why I'm off to relax," he added pointedly, softening the blow with, "ulcers and heart attacks are for mugs."
"We were hoping to see a little more of you," suggested Tom. "The kids have been asking about their Uncle Guy." He had two teenage girls, thanks to an early marriage.
Guy shrugged. "They might even get lucky. But I have a little something to take care of first."
"We were hoping to have a family get-together at the weekend," Tom persisted. "I know mother would like you to be there."
Guy stifled another groan. The familiar weapons of persuasion were being trotted out one by one. First, his nieces. Then, their (Tom's and his) mother. And if the ladies of the family had no effect on the shameless renegade, then there would be the woman of mystery his sister Mary's latest attempt at match-making.
"Mary's bringing one of her friends from the archery club," Tom added, blissfully unaware that he was following an entirely predictable pattern. He nudged Guy with a matey elbow. "Quite a cracker. Almost makes me wish I were single for the weekend."
"I'm afraid I may have to forego the pleasure," returned Guy with token regret. "My something just won't wait."
"Why, what are you up to?" asked his brother in a jocular tone. "Chasing some woman? Is she more important than your family?"
"Oh, no!" said Guy firmly. "I'm not telling you. I don't need any of my big brother's help."
"To do what?" asked Tom, edging towards sounding hurt.
"I don't need a helping hand from someone who's landed me in more hot water than soft Mick. If I breathe one word of what I'm up to, you'll be off making a nuisance of yourself, checking up on me to satisfy your curiosity. And dropping me in it at the same time," Guy added rebelliously.
"You should give a little more thought to your family," preached Tom. "You should be thinking of settling down a bit instead of getting yourself into trouble."
"I really don't have time to discuss this," said Guy, bringing the inquisition to a halt. "I'll see you when I see you. And why do you always assume I'm going to end up in trouble?"
He hurried away, leaving his brother struggling for more ammunition. Tom was an organizer. His plans ensured that work flowed smoothly and efficiently through the engineering works, but he also attempted to apply his undoubted talents to the family's affairs. The others had learned that it was easier to go along with the irresistible force of Tom's arrangements, but Guy was a rebel by nature and by inclination when Tom attempted to organize him. Guy disliked making firm plans for his leisure. He saw an invitation to a family gathering at the weekend as a nail pinning down a part of a flexible future. Yet the more he said no, the more Tom used the family as a blunt instrument of persuasion.
Guy was on good terms with everyone, and he had no objections to a good party, but having his immediate family, plus a few satellites from the neighbourhood, looking on and willing him to accept Mary's latest match was a bit too much.
Guy made his way to the car park at a purposeful stroll, nodding and calling greetings to the men taking an open air lunch on the grass beside the main workshop. He had started his working life as Young Mister Guy' to the older employees, and very much the boss's son. His contemporaries had viewed him as a whizz kid with a soft and well-paid job. But as the recession had started to bite in the area and jobs had started to disappear at other firms, the workforce had learned to appreciate the true worth of someone who kept the order books full and jobs secure. His irregular appearances were taken as good omens for the future.
Guy's car was a C-registration Jaguar, which had been preserved in near-perfect condition by careful maintenance and replacement. He liked to have plenty of room to spread out on his business trips. The trusty Jaguar had covered more than eight hundred thousand miles, half of them with Guy at the wheel, and it seemed likely to achieve the round million, given the car's famed grace, space and pace.
The security guard at the gate touched the peak of his uniform cap and raised the barrier as the silver Jaguar purred up to his cabin. Guy lifted a hand in acknowledgement and swept along the left-hand filter lane. Five minutes later, he reached the gates of Wilmington House. He parked in the long, matching stone garage and hurried up to his second- floor flat.
Pack some things, he told himself, starting a mental list as he poured himself a glass of dry sherry. Do something about lunch. And phone Jeff and Nicki. Freezing the list in his memory, he took his glass over to the telephone. He had to pause to think before carrying out the unfamiliar task of keying the number of his own flat in Kensington.
"Mr Duggleby's residence," said Jeff Jenner in his best butler voice when the ringing stopped.
"So you got there all right?" said Guy.
"Ah, it's you. Yes," confirmed Jeff. "There was someone following us when we got to town. But we lost them."
"Screaming tyres, the wrong way down one-way streets and generally terrifying half London?"
"Amber gambling and sneaky snaking," laughed Jeff.
"How did Nicki take all this?"
"Quite well, actually. She was the one who spotted the tail in the first place."
"I've always said she's wasted on a thickhead like you," laughed Guy, not taking the story too seriously. "Well, I've sorted out everything at this end. And I'm on the run from my dear brother at the moment. He's planning some sort of family occasion at the weekend. And Mary's inviting one of her chums from the archery club for my benefit."
"That sounds like fun."
"Doesn't it just? Anyway, I'll be in town in about a couple of hours. And home for about half-six for that dinner your charming wife promised me."
"She's doing a bit of stock-taking at the moment. Exploring your freezer, and so on."
"If you're short of anything, send out for it. There's a list of people who deliver in my phone companion. We don't want anyone finding out where you are now. It's a hell of a job, getting blood out of carpets."
"You cheerful sod!" laughed Jeff.
"Just trying to keep your spirits up," chuckled Guy. A confident tap-tap tap at his door drew his eyes across the sitting room. "Someone's breaking in on me," he added. "See you tonight, JJ." He replaced the receiver, then called, "It's open if you shove it."
Joan, the baby of the family, limped into her brother's flat and headed for the sherry. She had inherited her mother's auburn hair and slight build, and her untroubled outlook on life. Carrying a well-filled glass, she crossed to the telephone alcove and lowered herself onto the semi-circular bench.
"Hello, Bundle," Guy said with a smile of welcome. "Dad said you'd sprained your ankle to get off work for a few days. How did you manage it?"
"I was going backwards and someone put a wall in the way," said Joan with a wry smile.
"Should you be walking around on it?"
"Probably not. But it's all wrapped up so I can't move it. And it doesn't really hurt."
"Not with half a bottle of my sherry inside you."
"It's all that keeps me going, your sherry," said Joan, giving him a brave smile which quickly developed into an impish grin. "Been ambushed yet?"
Guy replied with a dark chuckle. "Not half! Who've they fixed you up with?"
"I said I was bringing someone." Joan was approaching her thirtieth birthday without showing signs of getting married, much to the disgust of the family's matchmakers. "I thought I might ask Bob."
"Just to annoy Tom?" laughed Guy. "I'll see if I can get him back in time."
"Are you roping him in to one of your expeditions?" groaned his sister.
"I may need a bit of a hand," Guy admitted. "This one's a little out of the ordinary. An alleged mutual friend has landed two more friends in a hot spot. It may get a little involved."
"You'd better not tell me any more. If dear brother Tom finds out I know something, he'll get the thumbscrews out."
"It's amazing how you put up with some people just because they have the same mother and father as you. What are you doing about lunch, Bundle?"
"You mean if I'm cooking. It's as easy to do it for two?"
"If you can manage it before you become plastered on my sherry. And your foot will stand it."
"I might just manage a bacon and egg sandwich."
"And can I borrow your car, seeing you're in no fit condition to drive? It's a bit less conspicuous than my Jag."
"If you break it, you'll have to buy me another one."
"Why do people keep accusing me of writing cars off?" Guy asked himself. "Nicki Jenner was at it last night."
"Because you keep doing it," laughed Joan. "And always, funnily enough, only to ones you've borrowed."
Lucky Cotton, Rolf Weinbaum and Billy Kemp had been camping in a pub car park for two and a half hours. The landlord had been keeping a suspicious eye on them. He had not been able to work out whether they were waiting for someone or up to no good. But he had done very well out of them in terms of bottles of lager, Scotch whisky, half pints of bitter for the lad and pub grub. He was prepared to let them spend the whole afternoon in his car park as long as they behaved themselves and kept buying.
The Land Rover was parked less than two hundred yards from the Jenners' flat in Sedan Place in Bayswater. Every fifteen or twenty minutes, one of the trio had switched on the receiver to check for a signal from the bug attached to the Jenners car. After an initial twitch, the needle of the direction meter had always returned to the middle of the dial and remained obstinately there, and the audio signal had refused to cheep.
As the waiting fuelled Cotton and Weinbaum's frustration, their quarries were just over a mile away, on the other side of Kensington Gardens, watching Guy Duggleby's television after their lunch and feeling quite safe.
"You know what I think?" remarked Lucky Cotton, finishing his sixth bottle of lager. "I don't reckon they're coming back here."
"If you look at the map," said Billy Kemp, drawing Cotton's attention to his street by street guide of London, "they were heading in this general direction when we lost them."
"That could mean their pal lives around here too," interrupted Cotton. "What do you reckon, Rolf?"
"So what are we going to do about it?" grunted Weinbaum, accepting the theory.
"I reckon we should go out looking," said Kemp. "Take a turn along every main road in the area till we pick up the bug again. We just have to get close enough."
"Yeah, anything," grunted Weinbaum, who was beginning to slip from boredom into anger. He darted a venomous glare at the driver, envying him his cool detachment. Billy Kemp was getting paid whether or not they caught up with the Jenners and the man who had been impersonating Jeff Jenner.
"Okay, let's drink up," decided Lucky Cotton. "And get something done for a change."
Bob Kane was twenty-nine years old, just a few months younger than Joan Duggleby, and a confirmed exister. He lived in a self-created garret just off Ladbroke Grove, at the Kensal Green end. Guy Duggleby toiled up endless steep stairs, passing a series of poky offices and small workshops. The banister on the final stretch of landing was broken, suggesting that there had been a struggle and someone had taken the long plunge into the stairwell, in the manner of a Western-film brawl, embracing a collection of firewood until thick but well-worn linoleum had broken both his fall and every bone in his body.
Guy pushed a door. Zebra stripes in black and grubby white squealed away from him. There was a strong smell of white spirit in the air, all but masking a hint of cannabis. Bob Kane was sprawled on his back on a decaying studio couch, gazing up at a series of sketches taped to the ceiling, which sloped down to a convenient viewing height at that side of the room.
"Good as a doorbell," remarked Guy, referring to the squeak.
"Well, burn my brain!" said Bob, swinging into a sitting position. "What dragged you into my gutter? Bring any booze?"
"I take it you're in one of your self-mortifying periods?" laughed Guy. He moved a jam jar full of dark grey water to an overcrowded table and made himself comfortable on the arm of an ancient leather armchair.
"One is not exactly prosperous at the moment," Bob admitted. "In fact, one is bloody near broke. Got ten pee?"
"You can't gas yourself with the North Sea stuff." Guy fumbled in a pocket of his anorak and flicked a silver coin across the room. He sent half of a four-pack of light ale after it.
"Cheers!" Bob plucked objects out of the air. He tucked the coin away in his shirt pocket. "My gas meter sneers at anything less than fifty pee, anyway. No, I was thinking of phoning your sister and getting myself invited down to your place for a cheap weekend. I even trimmed the old beard from bird's nest to intellectual in her honour."
"I'll have the dosh back, then." Guy held out a hand. "Joan was thinking of phoning you."
"That sounds like she wants to annoy big brother Tom." Bob made no move to return the coin. "And what are you doing up here at the roof? Looking for porters for a spot of mountain climbing? Crew for a boat? Co-pilot for a hang gliding expedition?"
"I'm about to do the Jenners a favour. I might need a bit of help if you're not too busy." Guy looked around carefully. "Which you don't seem to be," he concluded.
"Things is bloody slack at the moment," complained Bob.
One of his main sources of income was creating designs and messages, which the couple below him silk-screened onto sweatshirts and teeshirts, or made into badges for sale to tourists and fans at rock concerts. His clients were also trying to start a fashion for wearing very large teeshirts, adorned with the name of a group, over outdoor clothing, like a surplice. Unfortunately, they were into the second week of an early Spanish holiday.
"Go on," Bob added, emptying his first can, "what's the story?"
"Pretty much a mystery right now. Two blokes and an armed body-guard called on Jeff and Nicki at their country retreat last night. We think they're gamblers. They were after someone called Jeff Jenner, but taller and with lighter hair. Who was at a hotel in the south of France."
"Sounds like that mad sod Toby Ryun. Calling himself Jeff Jenner to change his luck."
"That's what we figured. He's got something these people want. And there was a menacing phone call this morning. They're pretty keen to get it back, whatever it is."
"Sounds interesting. What do we do?"
"I've got the number of their wheels, a Land Rover. The first thing is to find out who they are and get to know a bit about them. Like how serious their threats are likely to be. I've got a bloke working on that. He usually digs out information on companies and the people who run them. But he likes a bit of variety. I don't suppose you've heard from Toby recently?"
"Nor has anyone else we can think of. We need to find him.
"An advert in the personal column of the Telegraph?" suggested Bob. "He always reads that, no matter where he is. I wonder what he's been up to?"
"Could be they tried to play him for a sucker. You know the high-stakes poker game in a hotel room or somewhere. Let the mug win a few bob to encourage him, then skin him. Toby tends to jump in with both feet and think afterwards, but he's not short of low cunning. It could be he spotted what they were up to and refused to pay out."
"And the old school tie is coming to his rescue?" grinned Bob.
Guy shrugged. "Helps to pass the time."
Toby Ryun and Jeff Jenner had been in the same House as Guy at their minor public school. Although gulfs of two and three years respectively separated them from Guy, they had come to know him as someone to be wary of like all of the prefects. One of Guy's duties had been to make up the four House teams on sports afternoons. Jeff had been as keen a sportsman as Toby had been a confirmed skiver.
Old boys' reunions had maintained a thread of contact when the boys had become men. Jeff's marriage to Nicola Forbes, one of Joan Duggleby's friends from her art school days, had brought him deeper into Guy's circles. A decent win on the football pools followed by a series of successful speculative investments had raised him to a level at which he could keep up with Toby Ryun's inherited wealth and Guy Duggleby's hard-earned success.
Bob Kane was another of Joan Duggleby's friends from art college. Joan used her training in Allen-Duggleby's advertising and customer service departments, designing promotional literature, catalogues and instruction manuals. Bob preferred the freedom of teeshirts and badges. His shameless sponging off the likes of Guy's younger sister lacked voracity. Although wary of him at their first meeting Bob had warned him that he could not afford to return the favour if Guy bought him a pint Guy had recognized a kindred spirit.
Both had chosen a way of life that suited them, but they had approached the problem of freedom from opposite directions. Relentless hard work paid for Guy's periods of liberty. Bob Kane's needs were so minimal that he could make Guy's average monthly salary last for a couple of years. He believed in making the most of periods of prosperity and he practised stoicism when times were hard.
Guy had finished one can of beer. Bob lobbed two empties at a broad wicker basket full of empty bottles and tins. "I don't like the sound of an armed bodyguard," he admitted.
Guy tossed the last can across the room. "Here's some Dutch courage. But I'd be prepared to bet the gun was just a frightener. The average person on this side of the Atlantic has never seen a real gun, let alone had one shoved in his face. And put yourself in Toby's place what would you do if someone shoved a gun in your ribs and suggested you could get dead in a hurry if you didn't cough up what was owing?"
"I'd do the sensible thing and cough up. And so would Toby."
"But he put a spanner in the works by calling himself Jeff Jenner."
"Right," nodded Bob. "So what do you want me to do?"
"You could stick a message in the paper. Something like: Toby R. Where are you? Imperative contact you. Bob K.' Then you could take a turn round to the Jenners' place to see if there's anyone hanging around there."
"I may need a bit of taxi money," said Bob apologetically.
"Taxi?" scoffed Guy. "The bloke who'd rather wear his shoes out than waste money on buses?"
"I could probably save a fortune walking five miles to Fleet Street," agreed Bob. "If we can afford the time."
Grinning, Guy took out his wallet and extracted a slim wad of £5 notes. "Don't drink them all at once."
"Are these something new, these blue pound notes?" asked Bob innocently. "I don't think I've seen one before."
"Come on," chuckled Guy, "I'll give you a lift to the Tube station."
"And what are you going to be doing in the meantime?" Bob pulled on a threadbare denim jacket over a thick, Army surplus jersey.
"I'm going to take some pictures of the three blokes to my investigator."
"Photos? They lined up and let you snap them?"
"No, these are genuine Nicola Jenners." Guy produced the rolled sketches from an inside pocket. "You might as well have a look at the opposition."
"When we were at art college, people were always asking us what good it all was," Bob remarked. "I should have told them we were learning to do portraits of gamblers and gunmen."
The afternoon was well advanced. Billy Kemp felt that he knew every main road in Bayswater, Notting Hill, all three parts of Kensington, Brompton and Chelsea. The bug monitor had not uttered a single cheep. Rolf Weinbaum was starting to make noises about the battery in the bug having given out. Kemp had told him twice that it was brand new and he personally had tested it. With dogged patience. Lucky Cotton was using a felt-tip pen to mark the streets in his London guide as they were eliminated from the search.
Kemp turned off Cromwell Road and followed Lexham Gardens past the hospital to Stanford Road. He was cutting into smaller and smaller segments, a large area black-bounded by Marloes Road and Gloucester Road.
cheep, cheEP, CHEEP, CHEEP, CHeep, cheep,' said the monitor. The needle of the meter leapt to the right-hand stop.
Kemp took his foot off the accelerator as a reflex. A loud blast on a horn behind him brought his attention back to the road. He had to travel all the way up to Kensington Road before he could make the first of two right turns which would allow the hunters to sweep past their quarry on the eastern side. Lucky Cotton decided that the signal was coming from a cul-de-sac called Truro Place. He left the vehicle to investigate on foot.
An earphone and a generous length of wire allowed him to tuck the receiver into his jacket pocket like a transistor radio and follow the strengthening cheeps without becoming conspicuous. Just before the entrance to a block of flats, on the southern side of Truro Place, there was a dark cavern. Headroom 7 Feet warned the sign over the entrance to the car park.
Cotton set off down the ramp as if he had every right to do so. He found the Jenners' car parked in an area reserved for visitors. The bonnet was quite cool. The car had been there since morning probably parked within a few minutes of Jeff Jenner giving Billy Kemp the slip.
Cotton bounced back to the Land Rover and thrust the bug monitor and its earphone into the dashboard locker. "Sedan Place. Let's go," he told the driver.
The vehicle was facing the wrong direction. Kemp had to head away from their destination until he could turn round.
"What we going there for?" growled Weinbaum.
"I reckon they're holed up in a place called Branwell Court," Cotton explained over the back of his seat. "It's four floors, three flats to a floor. And there's a bloke in the lobby to stop you knocking on doors. So we're going to find out who this bloke Jenner knows at Branwell Court. Then Billy's going to drop in on Jenner's mate tonight to ask him what he's done with the dough."
"Yeah!" grunted Weinbaum in admiring approval.
"How do you switch this off?" Cotton had retrieved the matchbox-size transmitter from the Jenners' car.
"Pull the ends apart as far as they'll go," explained Kemp. "Then let the spring pull it back together." Cotton followed the instructions and seemed quite surprised when the monitor ignored the deactivated bug.
After a detour around the eastern end of Kensington Gardens, Kemp added the Land Rover to a short line of cars. The long block of flats looked very much like the one on Truro Place. Different colours had been used for the window frames and the panels on the balcony railings, but the same marble texturing had been applied to the concrete shell.
The Jenners lived on the third floor of Gordon Court. Some bulky items of furniture were being delivered. Cotton and his companions helped to manoeuvre a settee into the ground floor lobby, then they sneaked onto the staircase while the porter's attention was diverted. Billy Kemp worked on the front door of flat 3a for five eternal minutes.
Letting out his breath in a long sigh of relief. Lucky Cotton headed straight for the telephone. On a pile of half a dozen directories, he found an address book with an op-art cover. He began to turn pages, scanning addresses written in a rounded, feminine hand and square capitals, looking for a mention of Branwell Court.
Rolf Weinbaum located the drinks cabinet and helped himself to a generous measure of 12-year-old malt whisky. Billy Kemp wandered idly round the spacious sitting room, looking but keeping his hands to himself. He scanned the titles in a tall bookcase and came to the dining table. He had found a collection of envelopes in the hall, pushed to the wall by the flat's door. He dropped onto a dining chair and flicked through the Jenners' mail.
Among the bills, he found blue sky and blue water divided by golden sand, and a village which the photographer had thought was picturesque. The dark green stamp on the other side of the postcard was French. Someone called Toby had sent the card. Kemp was just about to read the message.
"Aha! We've got him!" called Lucky Cotton. "There's a Guy Duggleby lives at flat 40, Branwell Court."
"And you reckon he's got the dough there?" growled Weinbaum.
"Billy can ask him when he pays a call on him tonight," said Cotton. "If he can still talk after Jeff Jenner's thumped him for pinching his name and dropping him in it."
Weinbaum took his whisky glass into the kitchen to wash and dry it. Billy Kemp squared the bundle of letters neatly, hiding the postcard again. He posted the bundle through the letter-box after relocking the front door of the flat. The Jenners would never know that they had had visitors.
Time To Travel
An ancient poster clung in tatters to the front of the shop on Robfield. Road. Peeling and weathered, enough remained stuck to the grey boards which covered and protected the display window to tell passers-by that the business had moved. The address of the new premises had long since vanished. Two years' grime obscured the shop's name board. Two years' rust had sealed the padlock on the solid front door. Anyone who knew that the shop was still in use went round to the back.
Metal screens or thick boards covered the windows at the rear of the row of shops to protect them from vandals, thieves and would-be squatters. The fifteen-yard strip of hard earth between the shops and a row of sagging lock-up garages gave stone throwers plenty of room to swing their arms. Behind the garages, railway lines met around a sewage works. Walthamstow lay three-quarters of a mile to the east, beyond the River Lea and the long complex of reservoirs above Hackney Marshes.
A car turned left at the end of Robfield Road and bounced round to the rear of the line of shops. It was six years old, rust-spotted pale blue, and it looked as if it had trouble breaking the speed limit. It was unlikely to attract anyone but the most desperate joy-rider, but the driver locked his door carefully before hurrying over to one of the abandoned shops.
Scott Hamill was a well-worn forty-seven-year-old, who believed in dressing for comfort rather than to impress other people. He was tall and he carried the bulk of a man who drank much and took very little exercise. He saw himself as a criminal mastermind, a planner rather than a do-er.
The padlock on the back door of the shop had been removed and refastened to the heavy staple. Hamill turned a key in the mortice lock and pushed. The door opened heavily but silently on well-greased hinges. He locked it again and turned hard left. A flight of dusty steps of bare and worn wood took him up to the first floor of the shop.
He found Jobbo Wright sitting at a trestle table, which was covered with a surprisingly white cloth. Wright was smoking a cigarette with quick, impatient pulls and frowning at the cardboard carton in front of him. Ten years younger than his partner, Wright was a hard man who wanted everyone to recognize his toughness. His hair was dark, worn long with an aggressive but greying quiff. As usual, his shirt was rolled up to the elbows to display the tattoos on his meaty forearms.
"Are you sure about this?" demanded Hamill as he reached the head of the decaying staircase, continuing the telephone conversation which had sent him hurrying three and a half miles to the north of his home in Dalston.
"I counted it three times," said Wright impatiently.
Hamill drew up a hard-backed chair. "Let's have a look."
Wright turned the carton onto its side and shook it carefully. Loose United States banknotes spilled out to form an irregular heap. Hamill scraped the mound to his left, then he began to count, making piles of twenty notes of the same denomination on his right.
He was sorting through a mixture of very good forgeries of fifty and one hundred dollar bills. Hamill, Wright and three others intended to exchange them for genuine currency during the summer tourist season. Their two French partners were sitting on a similar cache of forged notes across the Channel, waiting for the signal to go ahead. The fifth member of the conspiracy was Inky Fergusson. He had handled the practical side of the conspiracy operating the photographic, printing and cutting machinery, which Hamill had bought at auctions over a period of six months and giving technical advice on where Hamill could buy paper that would pass muster and inks.
The gang had manufactured two million dollars during the winter one million in hundreds and one million in fifty dollar bills. The plates were safely hidden away and over twelve thousand pounds' worth of equipment, bought with the proceeds of a series of small robberies, had been sold on at a modest profit.
Most of the illegal fortune was stored in two cases designed to hold about forty long-playing records, one on the outskirts of London, and one on the French Mediterranean coast. Each case contained 135 bundles, each made up of one-hundred notes, and it was reinforced with straps in case the flimsy locks failed under a weight of around thirty pounds. Each group of conspirators was planning to dispose of a minimum of $100,000 during the summer; half in hundreds and half in fifties.
Hamill and Paul Boulay, his French counterpart, were torn between two methods of disposing of the notes. Selling them at a discount to third parties would get rid of the whole lot, but let others into their secret and reduce their profits. Their other alternative was to release their quality product in trickles over several years. Preserving their secret, however, involved putting themselves at risk.
Hamill had come up with the idea of posing as tourists and allowing themselves to become the victims of greed. If shopkeepers would allow them to buy an item like a bottle of spirits with a large denomination note, they were prepared to be overcharged on the exchange rate. Potential targets would be people who would not know a forged US banknote because they were barely familiar with the real thing holiday traders who were prepared to take advantage of an ignorant foreigner and swindle him with a smile.
Boulay had suggested using casinos and clubs to change money. One member of the gang would buy chips with dollars and pass them on to a colleague, who would cash them for the currency of the country. They would start off with one-hundred dollar bills, and when the government of the country concerned issued a waming about forgeries, the conspirators would pack away their hundreds and switch to fifties.
As every note had its own, individual serial number, Hamill and Boulay were confident that they could keep up their activities for five or six years, and at least until all of the present stock of forged notes had been distributed and the partners were rich.
Jobbo Wright had assisted during the printing of the notes. Inky Fergusson had used him as a pair of hands. Wright had been fascinated by the facsimile fortune. The sight of him trying to wipe a dirty mark from a note which Fergusson had discarded as not up to standard had prompted Hamill to give him a job after his own heart. The dollars needed a certain amount of handling to take the edge off their crisp newness.
Hamill found vastly amusing the sight of his roughneck partner playing happily with the forged money when he was allowed to do so. If left to his own devices, the hard case would have reduced the notes to limp rags. But Hamill knew better than to allow his mirth to break through to the surface. Jobbo Wright was liable to thump first and think afterwards if someone laughed at him.
And so Hamill had thought about his distribution plans as Wright, his large hands encased in grimy cotton gloves, had counted notes into rough heaps, crumpled and smoothed some, folded others, trampled on one or two with his size eleven shoes, and generally added a calculated amount of artificial age to recent creations.
Muttering to himself, Scott Hamill counted the last few bills. He had regrouped the piles of twenty notes into stacks of one hundred. There should have been five stacks of hundreds and ten of fifties. The last stacks of each were fifty and fifty-one notes short respectively.
"You're right," growled Hamill. "Seven and a half grand light."
"Not much out of a hundred grand," remarked Wright, pleased
that his counting ability had been confirmed.
"Enough to screw up our plans if whoever's got it starts spending it and the cops are waiting when we dump ours. When did you last count this lot?"
"Dunno. Not for a couple of weeks. Maybe even a month."
"So who's got it?" Hamill stared thoughtfully at his partner.
"I ain't!" retorted Wright hotly, prepared to defend his honour with his fists.
"I never said you did," said Hamill quickly. "Could anyone have got in here?"
"He'd never find the stash," said Wright confidently. "And if someone did, why didn't he grab the bloody lot?"
There was a fireplace on the left-hand wall of the first-floor room. The money was stored in a compartment built into the chimney breast from the left-hand alcove. It was not the sort of hiding place that could be found by accident.
"There's only three of us over here know about the money," mused Hamill. "You, me and our old printing pal, Inky."
"Must be him," decided Wright. "Are we going to have a word in his ear?" He smacked one large fist ominously into the palm of his other hand.
"Just hang back on that," cautioned his partner. "We want him to do some talking before he gets bashed to bits."
Inky Fergusson was approaching his fortieth birthday, but he managed to look ten years older. He wore gold-rimmed glasses and he projected a studious air. His habitual expression was a blank half-sneer, which made him look like a villainous bank manager who had just enjoyed refusing some hopeful customer an overdraft. But as he knocked on the door of the small first-floor flat which Lucky Cotton had borrowed, he was looking both thoughtful and nervous.
Rolf Weinbaum opened the door clutching the inevitable glass. He cultivated a hard-drinking image as a tool of his trade as a professional gambler. Mugs invariably responded to his presumed alcoholic fog and plunged deeper into the trap. The scowl on his pale face did nothing to reassure Inky Fergusson.
The flat consisted of a sitting room, which included a kitchen alcove, and a bedroom. The tenants had a part-share in a very basic bathroom at the other end of the landing. Fergusson stumbled slightly as a frayed edge of dark green carpet tugged at his left toe. Lucky Cotton turned down the sound of a portable television but he kept part of his attention on the screen.
"Well?" asked Fergusson in a reedy voice. "I heard you was back. Did it go okay?"
"There was a bit of a problem," Cotton admitted.
"You didn't lose any of the money?" gasped Fergusson in sudden panic.
"Not exactly lose it. Not all of it," said Cotton, glancing at Weinbaum.
"Yeah," growled his pseudo-American partner. "We kinda know where it is. But we won't have it back till tomorrow."
"How much you lost?" Fergusson demanded in a thin squeak.
"It's not lost. About five hundred bucks," Weinbaum admitted.
"Where's the rest of it?" Fergusson demanded.
"Here." Cotton took a folded wad of notes from his inside pocket and tossed it to the visitor.
Inky Fergusson licked a bluish finger and began to count, wishing that he had never become involved with the scheme. Like most confidence tricks, the plan's foundation was the exploitation of human frailty. For the past two weeks, Cotton and Weinbaum and two helpers had been lurking in the casinos of southern France, looking for rich mugs of the sort who would be attracted by the glamour of a poker game in a hotel room.
In effect, they were offering their clients a chance to live out a scene from the movies. The forged dollars were bait and allowed to pass through briefly the greedy hands of an inexpert gambler as an encouragement. Using cash instead of chips created a more informal atmosphere and took away any suggestion that the game was one of a regular series, part of a new venture intended to lift the organizers out of a lean patch.
Everything had worked well at first, and then the group had encountered a mark who had called himself Jeff Jenner. Nothing but trouble had followed.
Inky Fergusson had been confident that Scott Hamill and Jobbo Wright would not notice the loss if he borrowed a few of the forged dollars until the gamblers had worked up enough of a stake to be able to carry on without them. The process of changing the forged dollars into genuine currency was not due to begin for two months, and a slice of the profits from each game the equivalent of seven or eight hundred pounds was an irresistible temptation. The fact that some of the dollars had gone astray was cause for genuine alarm. If Scott Hamill ever found out, he would be annoyed perhaps annoyed enough to allow Jobbo Wright to break a few legs.
"You're five hundred and fifty bucks light," said Inky Fergusson after recounting the wad of notes. "One hundreds and nine of the fifties."
"We know," growled Weinbaum.
"We'll get it back tonight," added Cotton.
"We're all in dead trouble if you don't," said Fergusson. "Scotty's got a lot invested in his scheme. If the blue-bottles get hold of any of the missing stuff, we're going to be in a hell of a lot of bother."
"Ah, stop panicking," sneered Weinbaum.
"Just put that lot back," said Cotton. "They're not going to notice ten notes missing out of hundreds. And they're not likely to start dividing it up into working units while Jobbo's messing about with it."
"I dunno," muttered Fergusson nervously. "Put this back short and Jobbo's sure to count it. Sod's Law, that is."
"We could make up what's short with real stuff, I suppose," said Cotton. Their scheme had yielded dollars and sterling as well as French francs.
"And what happens when the numbers and dates aren't any of theirs?" countered Weinbaum, looking for a reason not to part with any of his profits.
"If they count them, they're not going to look at numbers and dates of issue," rushed Fergusson. "I gave you seven and a half grand, and I reckon I should get seven and a half grand back. You can have your stuff back when you catch up with the rest of it."
"I don't know about that," rumbled Weinbaum.
"I think Inky's got a point," decided Cotton. "And it won't be for long. We might as well cover ourselves."
Inky Fergusson left the flat in an unsettled frame of mind. He had seven thousand five hundred and fifty mainly forged dollars tucked away in his inside pocket, and his agreed percentage of the proceeds from the poker games in his wallet. He knew that his complete peace of mind would not be restored until he had replaced the final instalment of forged notes. But his most immediate worry was making his way to Tottenham without being mugged.
The night was wet, slicked with recent rain, chilly and uninviting. For Billy Kemp, it was a perfect night for climbing without witnesses. A series of windows ran up the side of Branwell Court, which contained Guy Duggleby's Kensington flat. The windows marked half-landings of a stairway, and offered a pathway to the roof to an agile young man who preferred not to use one of the conventional entrances to the block of flats.
Kemp had acquired a hook-ladder a telescopic pole fitted with hinged treads and a double-pronged hook at the top. Non-slip pads on the hooks allowed him to place the ladder firmly on the next higher window sill and make the climb to the roof in easy stages. The narrow alley was just too wide to be climbed by bridging between the walls of Branwell Court and the next building.
From forty-five feet nearer the sky, the path of cracked flags in the alley looked no more than two feet wide. Kemp could look down from high places without being afflicted by vertigo. He crept to the front of the building and peeped over the three-foot parapet. Most of the flats were in darkness. From his position at the corner, he could see light escaping from behind curtains on the second floor. The occupants of the three top flats had not stayed up to greet one o'clock in the morning.
Jeff and Nicki Jenner were in bed in flat 4c, but not yet sleeping. Guy Duggleby had dropped in at his home for long enough to change his clothes and enjoy Nicki's dinner. His investigator had come up with one name Billy Kemp. A man in the security business had identified the ex-soldier, who freelanced as a bodyguard. As for his employers, the people likely to know the subjects of Nicki's other sketches did not come into circulation until well after dark. Guy had gone out again to ask a few questions of his own.
Kept from sleep by swirling thoughts, the Jenners were discussing, between long silences, where Toby Ryun might be lurking. It was during a thoughtful phase that Billy Kemp climbed down to the balcony of their refuge and slipped past a supposedly burglar-proof lock. The sound of a faint creak intruded into Jeff Jenner's thoughts. He was about to dismiss it as imagination when the bedroom light came on.
Nicki sat up with a small squeak of shock. Jeff found himself slipping out of the bed to tackle the intruder. Then he saw the gun with its long, sinister, sound suppressor.
Billy Kemp came to a dead stop just inside the bedroom, just beyond the curtains. He knew the people in the bed. There was no one else in the flat just the real Jeff Jenner and his wife. His revolver stung automatically to cover the husband, who was sliding out of the bed.
Nicki Jenner let out another squeak then she saw the gun moving to point at Jeff. She reached out blindly. Her hand found a small alarm clock. Left-handed, she flung it at the intruder. Caught off guard, Kemp just managed to close his right eye before the clock hit him. Pain and tears blinded him for a moment. His finger tightened on the trigger. A bullet smashed into the wall, inches from Nicki's head.
Swept along by survival instinct, Jeff grabbed the sheet. Uncoiling, he flung himself at the gunman, taking the sheet with him like a net. His momentum carried Kemp to the floor with a dull thud. The silenced pistol flew across the room. Jeff's knee drove relentlessly into Kemp's body, forcing the air from his lungs in a tortured gush. Jeff pressed the edge of the sheet against his throat to prevent him from drawing another breath and held it there until the wiry intruder's tongue protruded and his desperate writhings ceased.
"Is he dead?" gasped Nicki. She was kneeling on the end of the bed, staring at Kemp's congested face.
"I don't know," panted Jeff, exhausted by his brief but violent struggle.
The gunman was unconscious, but his chest had started to rise and fall again and he was beginning to look healthier.
"What are we going to do with him?" said Nicki.
"Tie him up. Then find Guy," Jeff decided.
"What about the police?"
"He doesn't look the type to talk to them," replied Jeff, drawing in deep gulps of air in an effort to steady his breathing. "Are you all right?"
"Scared to death." Nicki attempted a brave smile. "Let's tie him up before he comes round again."
Using some nylon parcel string found in the kitchen cabinet, the Jenners trussed the intruder like a roasting fowl, hoping that quantity would make up for lack of experience with human-size chickens. Jeff's third attempt brought Guy to the other end of the telephone line. Guy advised the Jenners to pack and to be ready to move out as soon as he and Bob Kane reached the flat.
The prisoner was awake but groggy, and he had been allowed to drink a glass of water to ease the congestion in his throat. Guy Duggleby closed the bedroom door on him and listened to a brief account of the Jenners' adventure. Then he handed the keys of his sister's car to Bob Kane.
"Take these two crime-fighters back to their place," he ordered. "To pack for somewhere a bit warmer than London is at the beginning of May."
"Yes, sir!" snapped Bob, saluting American-style with a final flick-flourish.
"You know Grant Hardy?" Guy added to Jeff. "Demon asset-stripper during the week and weekend Captain Bligh?"
"The bloke with the boat," nodded Jeff. "Yes, we've met at parties."
"Cruiser," corrected Guy. "Don't call it a boat while he's in earshot. Anyway, he's flying down to Juan-les-Pins in the morning. For a spot of blue water sailing in the Med. He tried to get me along as part of his crew. I think the best thing to do is hide you two away for a while. And where better than on a boat at sea?"
"But what if they're watching our place?" objected Nicki. "His friends." She tossed her head towards the bedroom door.
"I don't see why they should be," said Guy with a reassuring smile. "They want Toby, not you."
"Then why is he here?" persisted Nicki.
Guy shrugged, trying to be casually. "Perhaps they think Toby lives here. After all, you came straight here after their visit. And you said someone was following you this morning. Maybe you didn't shake them off after all."
"And they sent the kid to wake Toby up," added Bob. "To drag him out of sleep, nice and confused, shove a gun in his face and get him to cough up the money he owes before his brain stopped whirling. Only these two weren't asleep," he added with a grin in Nicki's direction.
"And Mr. Kemp was so surprised to see them," continued Guy as Nicki was wondering whether she was blushing visibly, "he let them brain him with my alarm clock and strangle him with one of my best sheets."
"Do we really need to go running off anywhere?" wondered Jeff. "If they're really looking for Toby?"
"Point one," listed Guy, "they keep tripping over you two. "Which might make them mad enough to bash you about a little. Point two, if you tell them they really want Toby, to save your wife from a battering, and then say you don't know where he is, they might thump you anyway to make sure you're not holding out on them."
"All right, points taken," said Jeff. "We'll take the sea cruise."
Shepherded by Bob Kane, the Jenners left for their own flat. Guy telephoned Grant Hardy to tell him that he would be carrying two more passengers-cum-crew members. Then he turned his attention to the hole in his bedroom wall.
He used a meat skewer to dig a blunted piece of lead out of the brickwork. The bullet had loosened an area of plaster six inches across. Guy moved the bed out of the way and used a razor blade to cut a diagonal cross in the wallpaper. He brushed the loose material away, then he fetched a packet of plastic filler from the kitchen.
The repair screamed for the eye's attention. An irregular white patch peeped from the heart of curled-out petals of shaded coral wallpaper. But there was nothing more to be done until the filler had hardened.
Guy returned to the living room and investigated the balcony doors, which the intruder had left slightly ajar. His burglar-proof lock had not proved much of a challenge to Billy Kemp. Guy made a mental note to get some lock-bolts fitted. The night was damp and chilly, and the wind seemed stronger than at pavement level out on his balcony. Looking for a rope, he was surprised to find what looked like an aluminium Christmas tree. He examined the ingenious construction briefly, then he hooked it back onto the parapet of the roof.
He could hear muffled scraping sounds when he returned to the living room. The prisoner was trying to wriggle out of his bonds. Guy turned his mind to the problem of what to do with the uninvited guest. He saw no point in handing Kemp over to the police, who would only start asking awkward questions. And Guy wanted the intruder to take a message to his employers. Decision made, Guy strolled into the bedroom and perched on the end of the bed. The prisoner ceased his struggles and looked up at him warily, as if expecting to be kicked, and bracing himself for the impact.
"Just how much were you sent to collect?" asked Guy, trying a direct approach.
Billy Kemp looked at him. There was no defeat in his hazel eyes, just patient acceptance of a temporary set-back. The security consultant had said that Kemp was a good, strong, reliable boy who knew how to keep his trap shut.
"We might give it to you if you promise not to pester us any more," encouraged Guy.
This is the wrong bloke, Kemp told himself. Again.
Guy Duggleby was in his middle thirties and six feet tall the same height but slightly older than the man who had made off with five hundred and fifty forged dollars. His hair was darkish blond, not dark brown, he lacked bushy sideburns and he looked much harder than the playboy who had burned Cotton and Weinbaum. His employers, Kemp decided, would make lousy detectives if they ever went into the business of looking for missing persons.
"Lost your tongue?" prompted Guy.
The telephone began to chirp. Guy picked up the bedroom extension and half turned away from the prisoner as if in an unconscious attempt to gain privacy. But he could still see Kemp out of the corner of his eye.
"It's me," said Bob Kane in a throaty whisper before Guy could give his number. "We're about to move on to Captain Bligh's place."
"Why are you whispering?" Guy asked with a frown.
"Because it's a secret mission," chuckled Bob. "I found a postcard with their mail while they were packing. Guess who it's from."
"I'd rather not," returned Guy, noting that the intruder's covert squirmings had all but released him from his bonds.
"You're not alone, yes. Well, it's from you know who. Tell you all about it when I get back. You've not done anything about the visitor?"
"That may not be necessary. You've not thought who it is these characters might be after?"
"Are you talking to me or him?" asked Bob.
"No, I haven't thought of anyone either," continued Guy, giving Kemp his message. "Obviously, it's someone who knows Jeff, but it could have been at a party. We might not know him and Jeff might not remember him." Backing a hunch that the prisoner would run when he had worked himself free, Guy turned away from Kemp a fraction more. He was holding the telephone in his left hand and his right hand was thrust into the side pocket of his jacket apparently casually, but gripping his small automatic pistol, just in case.
The bedroom door scraped across the carpet.
"Hang on a minute," Guy muttered into the receiver. Then he threw it onto the bed, yelled: "Hoi!" Then he set off in leisurely pursuit of Billy Kemp.
The balcony door was standing open when Guy reached the sitting room. As he had anticipated, Kemp had preferred to escape using his Christmas tree ladder and remove an interesting piece of evidence at the same time. He had also collected his gun from the chest of drawers. Guy had unloaded it before placing the weapon within grabbing range of a departing intruder.
Feeling moderately pleased with himself, Kemp started to climb towards the roof of Branwell Court. Recovering his gun was a bonus. The weapon was clean and untraceable, and therefore expendable, but a replacement would be costly and professional pride was involved. He had just cleared the balcony rail then the ladder slipped.
Kemp found himself falling. The ladder clattered into space. He landed on his back across the balcony rail and slid. He made a grab for the wet railings. His fingers gripped for a moment, then slipped. Below him, the telescopic ladder crashed through the windscreen of a parked car. Kemp twisted in mid-air, like a cat, and grabbed at the railings of the next balcony. His plunge ended with a jolt which seemed to stretch his arms by six inches. His body swung inwards. The deck of the balcony delivered a painful blow to his ribs. Battered but undaunted, Kemp lowered himself until he was gripping the bottom of the railings. Then he swung his body and released his grip. He landed on his feet on the first-floor balcony, and paused to catch his breath.
The sound of a splintering windscreen had drawn a small crowd, even at twenty-past one in the morning. As he climbed over the railings of the first-floor balcony and lowered himself to arm's length at the base of the curved bars, Kemp counted six people around the car. He dropped ten feet to the pavement, landing with a faint thud.
A man in pyjamas and a dressing gown had removed the telescopic ladder from the opaque windscreen. He was holding it upside down and demanding to know where it had come from. Kemp glided over to him, plucked the ladder from his loose grasp and ran for it. He had rounded the corner of Branwell Court and he was racing along the narrow alley before any of the crowd had looked at him closely enough to be able to give a worth-while description of the windscreen smasher.
Guy Duggleby withdrew from the edge of his balcony before anyone on the ground thought to look up. The young gunman's agility had impressed him and he was beginning to realize how much of a chance he had taken in allowing the intruder to free himself. A gun in the pocket was all very well, but Kemp might just have beaten him to the draw. Guy had been on the telephone, however. A sudden silence would have prompted the person at the other end to send reinforcements but Kemp might just have decided that he had time to attempt to extract the information that he required.
Thrusting aside might-have-beens, Guy returned to his bedroom, resolving to be more careful in future, and picked up the telephone receiver. "Still there?" he asked.
"What the hell's going on?" demanded Bob Kane. "I was just wondering about sending the police round to scrape you off the wall."
"Mr. Kemp was doing his Houdini act," explained Guy. "He's gone now I hope, to tell his employers we don't know who's been impersonating Jeff. Are you ready for off?"
"To Grant Hardy's place? Any minute now. I'll be back in about forty minutes. Are you going to wait up for me?"
"Doubt it. I hope you can grope your way to the spare room."
"Good job I was in bed till lunchtime, building up the strength for all this nocturnal driving."
"I'll have a bit of floor ready for you then you get back," Guy promised with a chuckle. "See you, mate."
Guy rang off feeling that they had made some real progress. His investigator had been able to put names to the other two faces sketched by Nicki Jenner the night before. He knew that Lucky Cotton and Rolf Weinbaum were indeed gamblers who were not above giving Lady Luck a helping hand. They were said to stop just short of outright fraud, but only just, and to deal strictly on a cash basis.
They made a fair living out of their suckers but they were not destined to become enormously wealthy. Small-time, but could be a nuisance', was the investigator's opinion of the opposition, whose luck had been all bad recently.
Guy drifted into the kitchen to make himself a sandwich. A lot had happened since dinner. The Jenners would be safely out of the way soon. Nicki and Jeff had too much at stake to risk further involvement with men who were prepared to back up their arguments with guns. They lacked Guy Duggleby's reckless streak, his willingness to take a risk for its own sake. The Jenners assumed that they would spend perhaps forty more years together. They had a future to protect. Guy had never been prepared to settle for a long, quiet life.
And there was news of Toby, he reminded himself as he plugged in the kettle for a final cup of tea. When Bob returned to Branwell Court, he would be bringing Toby Ryun's postcard to the Jenners and a clue to his whereabouts. Once they had caught up with Toby and found out what all the fuss was about, Guy and Bob would be able to stop improvising and make some proper plans.
Guy had a feeling that the message which he had sent via Billy Kemp would delay rather than discourage Kemp's employers.