Inky Takes A Trip
After his unsettling meeting with the gamblers, Inky Fergusson had headed straight for the shop on Robfield Road. He approached the rear of the building cautiously. His torch showed him that the hasp on the door was trapped in position over the staple on the frame by a large padlock – which meant that no one could be inside.
He let himself into the shop, relocked the back door and hurried up to the first floor, following a spot of light from his torch. He inserted a ball point pen into a hole in the plaster on the left of the chimney breast. A locking bar moved back, allowing him to open the concealed compartment. He dropped his borrowed and genuine notes into the carton without removing it. Then he slid the door back into position and removed his pen from the hole.
As he passed through Stoke Newington, heading back into town, Fergusson shed some of his load of guilt and apprehension and began to consider how to spend his windfall. He kept telling himself that it was unlikely that Scott and Jobbo would look closely at the funny money before he swapped the last few notes. And his percentage of Lucky and Rolf's scheme had put a healthy bulge in his inside pocket.
He reached his home after a twenty-minute drive. Chuckling softly to himself, Fergusson slipped and skidded down the smooth, wet stone steps to his basement flat. His key found the lock. Something crashed to the floor when he pushed the door open. Baffled, he slipped into the flat and closed the front door – and found himself tangled up with a piece of string. The neck of a broken milk bottle was still attached to a noose on the end of the length of string.
Suddenly, the room seemed full of people. Scott Hamill and Jobbo Wright had appeared from the bedroom, summoned by their crude intruder alarm. Wright pushed Fergusson into the armchair and stood over him, arms folded and showing a menacing display of muscles and tattoos.
"There's two ways of going about this," remarked Hamill. "You can tell us right out. Or you can tell us after Jobbo's rearranged your face."
"Tell you what?" squeaked Fergusson, lifting a hand as if to protect his glasses.
"What you did with the seven and a half grand that's missing," said Hamill in a level but menacing tone.
"What seven and a half grand?" protested Fergusson.
"We counted the money," growled Wright. "Both of us. It's fifty hundreds and fifty-one fifties light."
"You can't have counted right," said Fergusson nervously. "I ain't got it."
"Turn your pockets out," said Hamill.
Wright smacked a fist into his left palm. Fergusson tumbled the contents of his pockets onto the arms of the chair. Hamill picked up the wallet and thumbed through a respectable wad of British banknotes.
"All right, there did you get this?" he demanded.
"Down the dogs," muttered Fergusson.
"You been flogging those bucks?" accused Hamill.
"Me? 'Course not!" protested Fergusson.
Jobbo Wright leaned forward and slapped him across the face, left and right, in quick succession. The blows were not particularly hard by his standards, but they stung red marks onto Fergusson's cheeks.
"Well?" prodded Hamill.
The story tumbled out. The gamblers' scheme had sounded like a quick and sure way of making a few hundred pounds. No one could have predicted that they would lose a few of the forged dollars that they had been using for flash cash. And Cotton and Weinbaum had assured him that they would recover the missing notes almost immediately.
Hamill perched on the end of the table and noted down names and the address of the flat which Lucky Cotton had borrowed. When Fergusson ran out of things to tell him, Hamill scratched at an itchy nose and stared at the printer, who seemed to have shrunk to look like an old and scared shrew.
"What are we going to do with you, Inky?" Hamill remarked, almost to himself.
Fergusson decided on impulse to make a break for it. He shot out of his chair – to meet Jobbo Wright's fist. His lungs emptied with an explosive gush. Fergusson dropped straight down to the tired carpet.
"Where was he going?" Wright asked himself.
"Jump first and think after," said Hamill. "Inky's been doing a lot of that recently."
"What are we going to do about the missing bucks?"
"First, we make sure he really did put most of it back. Then we remind his pals getting the rest back is a rush job. If the phuzz get hold of any of it, our operation's off for this year. The Frogs aren't gonna like that."
"Yeah," agreed Wright. "Hard pair, them Frogs. They'll want to break this daft sod's back."
"We'll look after him," said Hamill. "I reckon a broken arm should be enough to remind him to keep his sticky fingers off the bucks."
He was still puffing and blowing, but Inky Fergusson had just about recovered his breath. If he was to be knocked about, he decided, he might as well try to run for it again. Uncoiling from his foetal position of agony, he rolled to his feet and launched himself towards the door. The dangling bottle neck hit him in the face. Then he was outside with Jobbo Wright pounding in pursuit.
Fergusson tried to tackle the steps two at a time, swinging his arms wildly for balance. The last greasy step betrayed him. The sole of his foot made contact and slid backwards immediately. Jobbo Wright stopped dead in his tracks as an involuntary back-kick drove a wet shoe into his face. Without thinking, he grabbed the leg and twisted. Inky Fergusson fell seven feet onto unyielding stone flags – and landed on his head.
"That was clever," said Scott Hamill from the doorway. "I think you've done for him." He squatted beside the body and tried, without success, to find a pulse.
"It was his own bloody fault," growled Wright, unrepentant. A little squirt like Inky Fergusson could not be allowed to get away with kicking him in the face. Wright raised his head like a cautious periscope out of the sunken courtyard. Slitted brown eyes scanned the street for signs of movement. "No one about. We can scarper if you want, Hang on." He ducked down as a car charged along the deserted street with typical nocturnal indifference to the speed limit.
"If we leave him here and let it look like an accident," mused Hamill, "we'll have to tidy his place up a bit. So it doesn't look like it's just been searched."
"I don't fancy hanging around here," said Wright.
"Or we could make him someone else's problem."
"Like whose?" invited Wright, scanning the street again.
"Suppose we dump him on his two mates? Lucky Cotton and the Yank? As a sort of hint we mean business when we say we want the bucks back right away?"
"Yeah!" grinned Wright.
"And we can use his car. It's parked right outside."
"Yeah!" Wright's grin slipped. "You remember the address of their flat? I'm buggered if I do."
"Bloody hell, Jobbo," sighed Hamill. "You must have been standing in the sieve queue then they handed out memories." Even though he had taken written notes during their interrogation of Inky Fergusson, the address remained fresh in his mind.
Wright just shrugged. Scott Hamill could not smash half a dozen roof tiles with his fist using one downward hammer blow. And he looked as if he had been standing in the lard queue then muscles had been handed out. When it came to trouble, Wright knew that muscles were of more use than a memory.
Hamill pushed to his feet and moved to the stone steps. Treading carefully, he climbed until he could scan the street. It was chilly, damp and deserted. And the drizzle had stopped.
"His keys." Hamill snapped his fingers as much to attract Wright's attention as to reinforce the command.
Jobbo Wright thrust a large paw into Inky Fergusson's right-hand jacket pocket and tugged out a large bunch of keys. He flipped it to his colleague. Hamill attempted to pluck the keys out of the air one-handed, but he managed only to deflect them. Metal rang on atone.
"Butterfingers," chuckled Wright in an undertone. He hauled the body to its feet. Wedging it against the wall, he turned and hauled Fergusson onto his back like a sack of coal. Above him, a car door clicked open.
"Right, hurry up," called Scott Hamill.
Wright powered up the damp steps. After a little tugging and struggling, they managed to arrange Fergusson in a fairly natural pose on the back seat. To a casual glance, he was wedged in the corner, fast asleep – or given the hour, perhaps dead drunk. Hamill slipped onto the front passenger seat and prepared to issue directions. He knew that he was an indifferent driver, and the clutch of Fergusson's car always gave him trouble. It was better to let Wright drive than to imagine his inward sneers at the senior partner's poor efforts.
They drove at modest speed, covering four miles in just under eight minutes. Boldness, Hamill had decided, would carry them through. Wright parked neatly on another empty street, outside a massive terraced house. The flatlet which Lucky Cotton had borrowed was the first-floor front.
Hamill stepped out of the car and climbed three steps to the common front door. It was old, warped and a poor fit to its cracking frame. Pushing back the tongue of the lock proved a simple task. Wright followed with the body. He had draped Fergusson's right arm around his own neck and he was carrying the dead printer easily on his left hip. They mounted a flight of stairs confidently but making no more noise than necessary. Hamill listened carefully at the door of flat three. They had seen no lights from the road, and the gap at the bottom of the door was dark.
The door of the flat was as poor a fit as the front door. It had a strong mortice lock, but only a fraction of an inch of the tongue engaged the fitting on the door frame. Just in case the flat contained a light sleeper, Wright propped the dead printer against the door. If someone wrenched it open, he would find himself with a corpse in his arms – which, according to Scott Hamill's plan, would give the intruders time to beat a retreat.
Wright inserted a steel bar between door and frame and levered gently. With a faint splintering crack, the door sagged open. He managed to grab Fergusson before he thudded to the dark and threadbare carpet. It was the work of moments to drag him all the way into the flat and then ease the door shut again. Hamill led the way back down the stairs, forcing himself not to hurry. Wright stamped down the three steps to the pavement, leaving his partner to guide the front door shut without slamming it.
They abandoned Inky Fergusson's car at a point which left both of them with a ten-minute walk home. After wiping the door handles and the steering wheel as a routine fingerprint-removing operation, even though they were both wearing gloves, they parted company.
They had demoted Inky Fergusson from partner to casual acquaintance. Scott Hamill and Jobbo Wright would express surprise if anyone told them that Inky was dead. They had not seen him recently. And one person fewer knew their secret.
When he reached Lucky Cotton's retreat at nine o'clock in the morning, Billy Kemp was not surprised by the untidy sight of Rolf Weinbaum, blanket-wrapped and sprawled on the settee. He nearly tripped over the unexpected visitor on the floor as he was putting away his keys. His suspicions were aroused when the man whom he had just kicked failed to react. A closer inspection revealed that the guest was not breathing, and that he was cold and stiffening.
Irritated mutterings answered when he hammered on the bedroom door. Lucky Cotton emerged, wrapping himself in a towelling beach robe in lieu of a dressing gown. His thin face was slightly puffy, as if his blood had not had time to drain to his legs after level sleep.
"What's all the bloody noise about?" growled Cotton.
"Who's your friend?" Kemp nodded to the body on the carpet. "And what's this about? I found it on the floor next to him."
"It's Inky," said Cotton groggily, accepting a folded slip of paper. "Is he pissed, or what?"
"More dead than pissed. So you know him?"
"He printed the funny money we're looking for," said Cotton blankly. "How did he get in here? And what happened to him?"
"From the looks of him, he fell on his head," said Kemp after a brief but expert examination of the body. "And anyone could get in here. The Sleeping Beauty's no watchdog." He directed a glance towards Weinbaum's back. Neither Kemp not Cotton was keeping his voice down, but the phoney Yank continued to buzz on, deep in sleep, undisturbed by their conversation. "I'd say this guy's a strong hint. Read the note," Kemp added.
"Five-fifty bucks light. Inky's going to have company if we don't get it back," Cotton read aloud.
"Sounds like he talked before he fell on his head. What do we do with him?"
"We gotta dump him, and quick."
"A bit chancy, dragging stiffs around in the daytime. He must have snuffed it a good few hours ago if he's stiff as a board now."
"He wasn't here when we turned in about half-two."
"Doesn't mean he wasn't dead then. There's some big boxes at the back of the supermarket. The ones the dustmen won't take away if they don't get a bonus. We could shove him in one of them when he softens up. Then dump him."
"Right, you go and lift one. We'd better shove him in the bedroom for now, though."
When the front door closed behind Kemp, Cotton looked at his partner. Rolf Weinbaum was lying on his left side, facing the back of the settee, still fast asleep. It would take a determined effort to wake him much before noon. Not feeling sufficiently energetic, Cotton decided to let him sleep.
Routine carried him through his morning ablutions and into his clothes. It was disturbing to have a dead body parked under the bed. Cotton found himself stopping for every slight noise, expecting it to be followed by the sound of large policemen knocking on his door.
He had neither killed Inky Fergusson nor brought him to the flat. The gamblers were in no danger of being shoved in gaol for murder once the police had thrashed about for a couple of days and assembled some solid information, but they would assume that Cotton and his associates knew the killers and they would ask a great many awkward and time-devouring questions.
The unseen but ever-present corpse radiated a very definite message. Scott Hamill and Jobbo Wright had so much at stake that a human life meant nothing to them. It was not in the forgers' interests to bring the police into the affair, but Cotton could not help checking each car that travelled along the street, looking for men in uniform and people with too much interest in where he was living.
Billy Kemp returned with a sturdy carton, which had once contained a Japanese combined music centre and LP storage rack. "Nothing big enough at the supermarket," he explained as he manoeuvred the box through the doorway. "I had to go down to the back of the cash and carry."
"We'll never get him in there!" protested Cotton.
"'Course! We don't need a coffin shape, you know," grinned Kemp. "We will be able to fold him up in a while."
Cotton remained sceptical. Confidently, the younger man opened the box – and found it full of cardboard packing, plastic bags and polystyrene worms. Two of the polythene bags would swallow the body. Cotton was worried about it starting to smell before they got rid of it. He had seen a film on television, in which two men had been trying to dump a body. A small pack of nosy, sniffing dogs had attracted a suspicious copper to an old steamer trunk.
Much to Cotton's surprise, Kemp was able to fold himself into the carton as a demonstration, and he was an inch taller than Fergusson. The fit was snug, and strategically placed bags of polystyrene worms would wedge Inky firmly in place. Rolf Weinbaum continued to sleep heavily through the experiment.
Cotton shunted the carton into the bedroom and deposited in a corner to place it as out of the way as possible in the small flat. Inky Fergusson was quickly cocooned in plastic bags. Then Cotton and Kemp went down to a café on the main road for coffee, leaving Weinbaum in charge of the flat. Kemp had a report to deliver on his mission in the early hours of the morning. Cotton knew, without being told, that it had not been a resounding success.
Guy Duggleby and Bob Kane had remained in their respective beds until well beyond the start of the business day. The kitchen clock was edging towards ten o'clock as they prepared a late breakfast. A letter with a French stamp had raised their hopes for a few minutes, but it had turned out to be a hotel report from Toby Ryun dated two days before his postcard to the Jenners. He seemed to think that the hotel in question gave good value, but he made no mention of adventures with hotel-room gamblers.
"Here it is." Guy stabbed at his New Oxford Atlas with a finger. "He sent his postcard from a piece about seven miles from Montpelier." He flicked through a tourist guide to France until he came to the section on Provence. "It's a rather minor resort on the shores of the sunny Med. He doesn't say much. ‘Got a good story to tell. Well worth a dinner, Nicki! Love, Toby.' Not giving anything away."
"Mmm," mumbled Bob, his mouth full of fried egg and tinned tomato. He also had bacon, two sausages and a pile of baked beans on his plate. When the food was free, Bob tended to make a pig of himself to stoke up for leaner times ahead. But, to his credit, he had done most of the cooking and he had promised to tackle the washing up.
"The weather's not too bad there," added Guy, who had just a fried egg and two rashers on his plate. "According to the paper, it's sunny and the temperature's in the high sixties. The best way out there is to fly. We can land at Nîmes, or maybe a bit closer. And I can put in some of the hours I have to fly every year to keep my pilot's licence."
"You still got your pilot's licence?" asked Bob, amazed. "I thought they'd cancelled it for reckless driving years ago."
"Passport. Did you ever get one?" Guy ignored the crack.
"Yeah. If it's not expired." Bob reached for the large teapot and filled his cup for the third time.
"If we land somewhere small, they won't bother asking for it anyway. So it doesn't matter if it has expired."
"There's your modern, dynamic executive for you," grinned Bob. "So little to do, he has to invent problems just so he can knock them down again."
"Suppose we get going in a couple of hours? Will that be enough time for you to pack?"
"I'm more worried about preparing my stomach for the right lunch. Terribly confusing if it's expecting English and you feed it a load of French nosh."
"Don't forget to tell it to expect wine instead of beer. Unless you really want to chance French beer."
"Good point. One thing occurs to me. How am I going to take messages from Toby if he's sending them to Telfour Grove and I'm in France?"
"All worked out," said Guy with a confident smile. "We lock up everything breakable, then we lend this place to my little sister for a party. In return for a firm promise to check your place for messages from Toby at regular intervals."
"I'm sorry you told me that," sighed Bob. "If Joanie's having a party here, it's one she doesn't want your wet blanket of a big brother to find out about. Which means it's going to be great. I've got a good mind to stop here."
"There's not going to be a party if you're here to take the messages in person, is there?"
"Sod your logic. I thought she had a broken leg? Joan?"
"Sprained ankle. Which has recovered, almost."
"Oh! Can I borrow Joanie's car to get my things?"
"You've still got the keys," Guy pointed out. "If you get back here in about half an hour, I should have fixed up a set of wings and the rest."
"Do I get to finish my breakfast first?" complained Bob.
"It might be an idea to pack that as well to keep you going on the journey," laughed Guy. "Otherwise, we could be here until tea-time, waiting for you to finish that lot."
Bob replied with a grunt and attacked another sausage, refusing to be intimidated.
The drive to a private airfield just outside Caterham took less than an hour. After crawling through parts of London in the last hour of a Friday morning, it was a relief to reach quieter roads and build up a decent speed. Bob had acquired a white crash helmet, on which he had found time to print his surname in large, black, stick-on letters, fighter-pilot style. The rest of his flying gear consisted of a pair of dark brown knee-boots and a close-fitting coverall in olive green.
Guy had chosen to fly in a dark blue safari jacket, black cords and very ordinary, waterproof, black suede shoes. In Bob's opinion, he was letting the side down. Bob thought that a flier should look the part and he had pretended to be outraged when Guy had enjoyed a good laugh at his friend's outfit.
Helmet tucked under his arm and with a large, well-stuffed shopping bag slung over his left shoulder, Bob followed Guy from the parking area to the airfield's club room, hiding behind a pair of mirror sunglasses. While Guy busied himself with such details as his flight plan, the state of the weather along his planned route and paying for the hire of their aircraft, Bob browsed through the museum.
RAF Crowfield had been decommissioned at the end of World War Two. Two squadrons of Hurricanes had been based there through the Battle of Britain and for four more busy years before moving across the Channel to France at the Christmas after D-Day. Many of the pilots had bequeathed their trophies to the new civilian management as a memorial to their dead and to remind visitors of the airfield's history.
Bob found it a strange experience to look at twisted and scorched fragments of metal with numbers and swastikas on peeling paint, knowing that they had once been parts of real aircraft and that men had died to bring them to earth. Holes which were neat punctures on one side and ragged peaks on the other had been driven by bullets, fired by one man trying to kill others. In the museum, the real world collided forcibly with images from cinema and television screens.
Then Guy introduced his friend to a piece of living history, to a retired airline pilot called George. The balding former pilot was in his sixties. He had been in his early twenties during his Hurricane days. By the time he had reached Bob's age, an infinitely older twenty-nine, George Fell had survived a world war and he had exchanged his Hurricanes and Blenheim and Lancaster bombers for civilian passenger aircraft. Bob found that a very sobering thought.
It was not until he and Guy were in the sir and heading for the Channel, as George Fell had done many times in his younger days, that Bob caught up with a significant observation. His outfit had drawn a fair number of grins and outright sniggers from others at the airfield. Only George Fell had not found comical, the excitement of a novice about to take to the air in a small aircraft.
Bob had been expecting an executive passenger jet and a flight time of around an hour. Two and a half hours of aerial sight-seeing after take off, Guy entered the circuit over a small airfield just to the north of Montpelier. Bob could boast an hour at the controls of a twin-engined, propeller-driven aircraft by then, and he was convinced that there was nothing much to flying – as long as the navigator knew his job. Even so, Guy did not think that he was ready to try a landing.
"I can't see the runway," remarked Bob as Guy skimmed down towards a grassy field.
"People have been using fields since the Wright brothers," Guy told him. "No expensive concrete and no problems with wind direction."
"I don't think he's joking," Bob told himself.
"I'm not going to prang this bloody thing just to have a laugh at your expense," scoffed Guy.
"That's what you say now." Bob slid into his crash helmet and fastened the chin-strap. "Watch out for cows."
The landing was smooth and uneventful. After one gentle bounce, the aircraft settled onto the grass, slowed and drifted across the field to join three others parked in the north-eastern corner of the field, beside the buildings.
Bob attracted a few Gallic grins, but nobody seemed to care whether or not the apparition in olive green and dark brown boots had a passport. Smoking a French Blue, Bob watched Guy surrender the keys of their aircraft and arrange a lift into town. Their driver was a petite, dark-haired girl. She was well tanned and she showed a lot of even, white teeth when she smiled. She looked a lot like a refugee from an American TV series set in sunny California.
Bob decided that Céline was about twenty-five and the sort of person worth getting to know. Unfortunately, she assumed that his French was as fluent as Guy's and attributed his reticence to shyness. When her attempts to talk him out of his shell failed, she turned her attention to Guy. Bob sat in the back of the battered Citroen, wrestling with odd scraps of the conversation but missing most of the sense, and hoping that their driver had an English-speaking friend.
Céline dropped Bob and Guy on the Rue de Verdun in Montpelier. Not terribly hopeful, they called in at the hotel where Toby Ryun had been using the alias Jeff Jenner at the beginning of the week. Bob was surprised to find the clock in the foyer an hour fast. Guy, a seasoned traveller, was surprised to learn that his friend did not know that the independent French could not possibly keep British Summer Time.
As they had feared, ‘M. Jenner' had left the hotel without booking out and without leaving a forwarding address. The manager admitted to Guy that he had been thinking about informing the police until a messenger had delivered an envelope containing a brief note in poor but very imaginative French and two travellers cheques signed and countersigned by a Mr. Ryun.
Two men had called on the morning after his departure, asking for M. Jenner and saying that they were friends of his. But they had declined to settle his bill, proving that they were not terribly close friends. Almost apologetically, the manager mentioned that ‘M. Jenner' still owed the hotel sixty-two francs.
Taking the hint, Guy produced his wallet. He normally kept a supply of travellers cheques and a few hundred pounds in francs and Deutschmarks handy for business trips abroad. One advantage of being a major shareholder of the family firm was that he could borrow the company's funds in an emergency.
Once his books were straight, the manager became more inclined to talk about ‘M. Jenner's' fickle friends. Both were about forty. One was shortish and solidly built, an American with a ridiculous moustache. The other was a much taller, an Englishman with a long, thin, sinister face. He was describing Rolf Weinbaum and Lucky Cotton. Guy shook his head to tell the manager that he did not know ‘M. Jenner's' holiday acquaintances. He decided not to ask how they had acquired a guest's home address. It was obvious that someone had been bribed or distracted to allow the gamblers to look at Toby's registration card.
Leaving the hotel, Guy and Bob made their way to the northern outskirts of the town, to a garage recommended by Céline. Guy hired a corrugated runabout in a sadly anaemic shade of salmon pink. The car had seen better days but it would allow the visitors to pass themselves off as natives – until Bob opened his mouth. Guy located the Rue de la Loge and then the N586. Toby Ryun's last position, as reported to the Jenners by postcard, lay on the coast eleven and a half kilometres to the south-east of Montpelier,
Toby had arrived at the hotel in Palavas at 12:30 am, booked in under his own name and left the next morning. Just to confuse the issue, he had given the Jenners' country address again. Guy was relieved to hear that Toby had settled his bill in full. Toby had left no clues as to his next destination, The search party had reached a dead end until Toby responded to the message in the Daily Telegraph's personal column.
Bob had acquired a menu while Guy had been talking to the receptionist. As he tried to work out what the dishes contained, using the Practical Tourist Dictionary at the back of Guy's pocket guide to France, his stomach kept rumbling to remind him that breakfast lay over six hours in the past. The next stop was a table on the hotel's rear terrace.
"What do you reckon to this?" Bob asked ten minutes later. "Good, isn't it?"
Guy nodded. His mouth was full of Camargue beef, which had been cooked for a night and a morning with tomatoes, black olives and local wine – according to his guidebook.
"What's that an opinion on, the food or the wine?" grinned Bob. He glanced to his left, out of the shelter of the large, striped umbrella which protected them from the powerful late-afternoon sun. Beyond a wall of light coloured stone, the deep blue of the sea swept away for miles and mile to the scattering of pale clouds on the horizon. They were about thirty feet above beach level in a good vantage point for enjoying the view.
"Both of them aren't half bad," said Guy after swallowing. "We could do worse than stay here till we hear from Toby via Joan."
"As long as he hasn't shot home."
"No, I've got a feeling he's still hereabouts. And probably feeling quite clever at burning off a couple of crooks."
"Sounds all right to me, staying here. You didn't happen to get the phone number of that bird with the car? What's her name, Céline?"
"The one that fancies you? For no apparent reason?" grinned Guy. "Yes, I've got her number. So I can tell her where to report with a friend for me."
"Fancies me?" said Bob suspiciously. "After all the chatting up you were doing in the car?"
"I was telling her your life story," laughed Guy. "She seemed to find it rather interesting. Especially when I told her your father, the duke, has disowned you. I think she feels sorry for you."
"If you're going to tell a lie, make it a bloody big one," approved Bob. "Can she speak any English, by any chance? Or am I stuck with a phrase book in one hand?"
"Nearly as good as what I can," replied Guy. "But she thinks you can speak French. You seemed to be smiling in all the right places in the car."
"Maybe I should have gone on the stage with such a massive acting talent," said Bob, helping himself to more wine.
Following On To France
After living with a dead body for a day, Lucky Cotton and Rolf Weinbaum had grown almost accustomed to the late Inky Fergusson's threatening presence. In the event, the half-expected tribe of policemen had not arrived to search the building in response to an anonymous telephone call. It was not in the interests of the owners of the missing forged dollars to bring the law into their private dispute. Yet the nagging fear remained that anger, frustration or impatience would stir Fergusson's former partners into doing something impulsive or stupid. Cotton had convinced himself that Fergusson's death had been an accident during his interrogation, not deliberate, but it was clear proof that Scott Hamill and Jobbo Wright could run out of self-control.
As he headed for Cotton's borrowed flat, Billy Kemp kept thinking that it was an odd way to spend a Friday night. Darkness was falling as he left White City Tube station. He could hear successive snatches of the BBC TV news as he plodded towards the flat, which lay between the White City Stadium and QPR football ground.
Kemp was thinking of pulling out of his job. Working for Cotton and Weinbaum seemed destined to go wrong no matter what he did. Thanks to bad intelligence, his climbing expedition had ended in disaster – and it could have proved fatal. And he had been sent to break in on the wrong man for the second time in a row. Now, the people whom his employers had crossed were fooling around with dead bodies.
Neither the Jenners nor Guy Duggleby, their only leads to the mysterious imposter, could be contacted. Their telephones just rang and rang, and Duggleby's overheard conversation had suggested that they might not know the imposter anyway. Through no fault of his own, just because the luck was against him, Billy Kemp could see himself being dragged down by a couple of losers. It was time to bale out.
He let himself into the house, using the keys which Cotton had provided to save himself the trouble of a journey up and down the stairs to answer the bell. Kemp's employer had decided to dump the body at the Jenners' country retreat, at their house in Horton Grand. Cotton was assuming that the house would be empty for some time. Putting time and distance between Inky Fergusson's death and the discovery of his body would help to confuse the issue. And the resulting kerfuffle would get back at the Jenners for knowing a trouble-maker, no matter how slightly.
Rolf Weinbaum chewed on a short, green cigar and watched Cotton and Kemp pack the body into the music-centre carton. His card-dealing hands were too delicate for crude manual work. Nobody took any notice of the trio as they struggled downstairs with the carton and loaded it into the back of the Land Rover. Weinbaum held doors open as his contribution to the task.
Kemp took the wheel and headed for the south-eastern corner of Kent. Several long breaks and some unhurried driving doubled their previous journey time. The Land Rover rolled over the mediaeval stone bridge on the outskirts of Horton Grand at one o'clock in the morning. Every house was in darkness. Rolf Weinbaum was driving. He turned right at the centre of the village and ticked to a halt after twenty yards. Cotton and Kemp worked the carton out of the back of the vehicle. They waited until the Land Rover had moved out of sight. Then they shuffled up the garden path to the Jenners' front door.
Something crunched under Billy Kemp's foot as he followed Lucky Cotton into the house. When they had dumped the carton in the hall, opposite the door to the living room, he risked a spot of light from a pen torch to scan the floor. He had trodden on a postcard.
"What you doing?" muttered Cotton impatiently.
"Trod on this," whispered Kemp, picking up the postcard to smooth it. A dark green stamp caught his eye. "Hang on. This might just be something."
"What's that?" murmured Cotton.
"This postcard. There was one like it in their place in town. From a bloke called Toby. He sent it from France."
"Show me," invited Cotton.
‘Don't know whether you're in town or at your country retreat,' read the message. ‘So I'm sending a card to both. Having a pretty rum time. One meets some fairly weird people in French hotels. The story's worth a dinner when I get home. Regards to Jeff and love to Nicki, Toby.'
"Okay, let's go," Cotton tucked the card into a pocket.
Billy Kemp ghosted noiselessly into the night. The front door was a little stiff. Cotton eased it shut, It stopped moving before the lock clicked. Unwilling to risk the noise of slamming it, he just left the door looking shut from a distance and hurried down the garden path.
"Remember that phone box we used on Thursday?" he told Weinbaum when the expedition caught up with the Land Rover at the stone bridge. "Head for it."
"Who we calling?" growled Weinbaum.
Cotton told him about the postcard. "I'd say it's this Toby bloke we're looking for. So I'm going to ask this Guy Duggleby if he's seen him yet."
"It'd better bloody be him," said Weinbaum. "I'm getting teed off chasing one bum after another."
"Feel like jacking it in?" suggested Cotton.
"This guy's got some lumps coming," growled Weinbaum. "And you saw what they did to Inky. That Jobbo Wright can hit."
"Phone box coming up," announced Kemp.
Cotton approached the box, fumbling for change. Someone had broken the light bulb but he had borrowed Kemp's pen torch. The general background of the sky and the Land Rover's headlights made it superfluous. Guy Duggleby's telephone rang and rang, as it had been doing all day. Just then Cotton was on the point of hanging up, a female voice answered with the number.
"Guy there?" asked Cotton.
"Guy?" repeated Joan Duggleby over party sounds. "No, he's in France at the moment,"
"Where in France?" prompted Cotton then no more information seemed to be forthcoming.
"Where?" repeated Joan, as if the party was giving Cotton's voice on the telephone plenty of competition. "He didn't say. The South, I think." Guy had been vague deliberately to make life difficult for brother Tom if he decided to send out search parties. "Who's calling?" added Joan.
"Jack Carter," improvised Cotton. "When's he back?"
"He didn't say. Jack who? Do I know you? I'm Guy's sister."
"No, we haven't met. Tell Guy I'll ring again in a couple of days. Cheers, love." Without waiting for an acknowledgement, Cotton hung up and returned to the Land Rover.
"If he's gone to France," said Rolf Weinbaum when Cotton had reported on his conversation, "that Toby creep must be there as well,"
"And maybe not too far from where he posted the cards," added Cotton. "Let's go, Billy. I think we'd better jog back to Frogland. And it puts a bit of distance between us and Jobbo bloody Wright."
Kemp moved up to the crossroads and turned towards London. Then a thought struck him. "Bit dodgy, me getting to France," he remarked. "Passport's run out. I wasn't planning to renew it till the summer."
"That's okay," said Weinbaum. "We can pick up all the talent we need on the spot. Saves us your fare."
Kemp shrugged. "Okay." He was out of a job but he would be free of a pair of losers in an hour and a half.
After a late start to their Saturday morning, forgers Scott Hamill and Jobbo Wright set out for Shepherd's Bush. There had been no reports on the radio of a body being found in a flat less than half a mile from Wormwood Scrubs Prison. They concluded that the gamblers had managed to dispose of their late partner unobtrusively. Having underlined the urgency of recovering the missing forged dollars, Hamill and Wright wanted a progress report.
The other first-floor tenant opened his door to discover who was doing all the hammering. He told Hamill and Scott that their friends had gone. Cotton and Weinbaum had been on their way out with baggage as the neighbour had arrived home after an extended Friday night out.
Just for the sake of completeness, Hamill and Wright spent an hour driving round and asking questions. They ended up at a block of council flats. Both lifts were out of order. They had to climb five flights of stairs to reach the flat of Sally Darwin, Billy Kemp's older sister. Wright rested a thick finger on the bell-push. Much to the visitors' surprise, the lad himself opened the door.
Billy Kemp recognized trouble right away. The Law was his first thought. He dismissed it immediately. Even though both men were a couple of inches taller than Kemp, the right size for coppers, the tubby one with sandy hair looked about fifty and a little too old to be climbing lots of stairs. His partner was thirty-odd and a hard man who wanted the world to know it. Coppers hardly ever roll up their shirt sleeves to the elbow to show off the tattoos on their massive forearms.
Placing his foot behind the door to prevent an invasion, Kemp braced himself against the frame and waited for the callers to say something. Despite his outwardly relaxed pose, he was ready to defend himself should the need arise.
"We went a word with you, chum," said Hamill confidently.
"Yeah?" said Kemp, unimpressed.
"The car's downstairs," Wright added with a hard stare.
"So?" said Kemp, implying that he had no intention of descending five flights of stairs to be thumped.
"Hello," said a small voice from the region of Kemp's left hip.
"Go and watch telly, love." Kemp turned his niece round and gave her a shove in the right direction.
"Baby sitting, eh?" said Hamill.
Kemp just looked at him, waiting.
"We're looking for your mates. The card sharps," said Hamill.
Kemp shrugged. "They're not here."
"Maybe you'd like to tell us where they are?" suggested Wright, flexing his muscles.
"What's it worth to you?" asked Kemp.
"What's it worth to you?" retorted Wright menacingly. "An arm? Or maybe a broken leg?"
"Do me over and you'll get hurt too," said Kemp confidently. "Both of you. And you won't find anything out."
"Yeah?" sneered Wright.
"All right," interrupted Hamill. "It's worth a tenner."
"I was thinking twenty," said Kemp.
"You take twenty quid off us, then tip them off by phone," sneered Wright. "Some deal."
"I'd have a job," chuckled Kemp. "They might be on a plane right now."
"Going there?" demanded Hamill.
"Twenty quid," retorted Kemp. "Ta!" He accepted four £5 notes. "They've shot off to the South of France. Looking for a bloke called Toby. He's the one with their dough."
"Our dough," growled Wright.
"Where in France?" asked Hamill.
"I'd better write it down for you," said Kemp. "Then you can work out how to say it. Sounds a bit like palaver."
Hamill passed him a newspaper and a ball point from the breast pocket of his jacket. Kemp wrote the name of the town and the hotel shown on Toby Ryun's postcard in the margin of the newspaper. A hand tugged at his belt as he returned pen and paper to Hamill.
"Uncle Billy," complained a small voice. "I don't want to watch telly no more."
"Go and switch it off, then," suggested Kemp.
"Anything else you want to tell us?" suggested Hamill. "Value for money, like?"
"The bloke they're looking for, Toby, he's about your height, five ten or eleven, early thirties, with short, dark hair," volunteered Kemp. "And there's another bloke called Guy Duggleby in the picture. He's a mate of this Toby. He's gone to France too. Probably to warn him."
"What's he look like?" prompted Hamill.
"Six foot, longish, fairish hair, in good shape, looks about thirty."
"And there does he fit in?"
Kemp shrugged. "It was a proper botch-up. This bloke with the dough, Toby? He was calling himself Jeff Jenner then he got into the shaving game in France. And when we checked out the real Jeff Jenner, this bloke Guy shoved his nose in."
"Can I do some painting, Uncle Billy?" asked his niece, back for another look at the callers.
"Okay, but put your apron on," said Kemp.
"Can I have some water?" persisted his niece.
"Kids, eh?" remarked Hamill. "Right, let's get going."
"Ta'ra, Uncle Billy," mocked Wright.
"Up yours, pal," returned Kemp, a challenge in his eyes.
"Come on!" said Hamill impatiently then Wright seemed inclined to stay to do battle with the younger man.
"See you around, pal," threatened Wright, allowing himself to be dragged along the deck to the stairs.
"Anywhere, anytime," returned Kemp. "Okay, I'm coming, pest," he added to his niece as she tried to drag him to the kitchen for painting water.
Guy Duggleby was the first to wake after the Friday night out with Céline and her friend. He had spent an hour the previous evening ringing round hotels in the area, searching for Toby Ryun – without success. Bob Kane managed to keep his eyes open through a modest Continental breakfast of coffee and warm rolls with deliciously fruity jam. He closed them again as soon as they reached the beach.
The official holiday season had not yet started but a fair number of the citizens of Montpelier had turned out to enjoy a warm Saturday. Lunchtime came around at the end of an inactive morning. Two paths climbed up to the hotel from the beach – a steep staircase cut into the rock of a sheer cliff, and a winding, quarter mile trail. Torn between hunger and a natural antipathy towards exercise, Bob was not sure whether to feel relieved or dismayed when Guy chose the short way up to the hotel.
The waiter brought a telephone for Guy and a chilled bottle of Cassis for Bob. While his friend poured and sampled the wine, Guy placed a call to his sister in England. At first, Joan sounded as if she were shouting from the far end of a long tunnel. Then the line cleared magically.
"Where are you exactly?" asked Joan, reducing her voice to a normal level.
"Classified information," returned Guy. "Big brother Tom must be polishing his thumbscrews by now. Heard from Toby yet?"
"Big brother Tom's at the police station at Ashford," said Joan, sounding worried. "What's going on, Guy?"
"I don't follow you," Guy admitted. "What's he doing in a cop shop?"
"He found a body at Jeff's place. At Horton Grand."
"No one seems to know."
"I don't know anything about it either, Bundle," Guy assured his sister. "Start at the beginning."
"Where are Jeff and Nicki?" persisted Joan. "The police are looking for them."
"I can imagine. They're on a boat. Come on, what's all this about?"
Realizing that she would get no sense out of her brother before she had supplied an explanation, Joan Duggleby collected her thoughts. "Tom phoned me at your place this morning. He was worried about you not showing up at his family occasion. He must have driven over to the Jenners' place to see if you were hiding with them. From what I could gather, the front door was open. So he went in."
"For a nosy. That's just like him. Sorry, Bundle, go on."
"He found a big box in the hall. And when he had a look inside, he found the body."
"What sort? Male or female? No one we know, I hope?"
"All I know is it's an unidentified man. They made Tom look at the body, but he didn't recognize him. Anyway, Tom started to drag the box out of the house. I don't think he knew that he was going to do with it. But the Jenners' neighbour had seen a suspicious stranger going into the house. And when he started making off with big boxes, she phoned the police. By some miracle, there was a panda car about half a mile away. And that's how Tom was arrested."
"They don't think he did it?" scoffed Guy.
"Did what?" remarked Bob Kane.
Guy flapped a hand at him to request silence.
"No," said Joan, "of course not. By the time he'd got one of our solicitors to the police station, they'd found out the man had been dead for at least a day, maybe two."
"So he was done in yesterday? Or maybe even on Thursday?"
"Who? Who?" insisted Bob.
"Tell you in a minute," said Guy. "Joan? You can tell the police the Jenners were in London from Thursday morning till Friday morning. So they can't know anything about a body at their place in Kent."
"But there are they now?"
"On Grant Hardy's boat. Probably at Nice. I'd better get in touch to break the news. Tell the police they'll phone them sometime today. At Ashford."
"They're not going to like that."
"It's the best we can do for the moment."
"Just that are you up to, Guy?'" demanded his sister.
"I'll be able to tell you that then we catch up with Toby." said Guy. "Is your ankle still okay?"
"Is that a hint you want me to go round to Bob's place to see if there's a message?"
"Something like that."
"I hope you know that you're doing." Joan sounded worried.
"Listen," Guy assured her, "no one we know has anything to do with the box or its contents."
"I only hope the police will believe that."
"You don't think I put it there?"
"Well I didn't. I'll phone you again later to see if you've heard from Toby."
"All right. Look after yourself, Guy."
"What body?" demanded Bob as Guy replaced the receiver.
"Tom found a body at the Jenners' place when he was snooping around, looking for me," laughed Guy. "I know it's not funny, but you can't help laughing."
"It might stop him poking his nose in next time," chuckled Bob. "Who was the late lamented?"
"No one seems to know. The police are looking for the Jenners to assist them with their inquiries."
"Good job they've got a rock solid alibi. So that now?"
"Now, we're going looking for Captain Hardy and his boat. Which means bombing over to Nice."
"How far's that?" Bob glanced up as the waiter's shadow fell across him.
"How far is what, M'sieu?" asked the waiter in decent English, assuming that the question had been directed at him.
"Oh!" said Bob. "Er, Nice. How long would it take to drive there?"
"About three hours, M'sieu," supplied the waiter.
"Looks like we're flying again," said Guy. "We can eat on the move."
Guy returned to the telephone to confirm that Grant Hardy's cruiser was at Nice, then he contacted the airfield near Montpelier. Bob and the waiter went into conference mode to organize a packed lunch. The weekend was turning out to be much more active and entertaining than Bob had dreamed.
He ordered refreshments with the abandon of someone on expenses and not used to that blessed state. Through years of diligent practice, Bob had purged himself of sensitivity. Guy Duggleby had plenty of money, Bob Kane had none. Guy had invited him along on the trip and he knew very well that Bob was broke. Thus Bob could let his friend pick up all of the bills with a clear conscience. His total lack of embarrassment meant that he did not feel obliged to make a token contribution to their expenses, even though he was in no position to do so.
Two hours later, Guy landed at the aeroclub at Nice. Bob's new-found French friend, Céline, had come along for the ride. The two of them were so busy continuing Bob's French lessons that they hardly noticed that their journey had ended. Two teenagers agreed to give the visitors a lift to the city for a small consideration. The car dropped them off at the Hôtel Luxembourg, on the seafront Promenade des Anglais.
The trio crossed two wide carriageways and a central reservation packed with flowers and palm trees on the way to the beach. Céline had telephoned a friend in Nice before take-off to arrange their next lift. Her friend, Doc, was waiting for them at the water's edge with an inflatable dinghy. He was tall, despite sounding like one of the Seven Dwarfs, a Canadian medical student in a pair of denim jeans which ended in ragged fringes just above his knees. A battered straw sombrero and greyish training shoes completed his outfit. He could switch effortlessly from French to heavily-accented English – which was clearly not his first language.
The group exchanged greetings as the newcomers boarded the dinghy under the curious stares of beach idlers. Then Doc heaved his passengers afloat. Squatting in the stern at the outboard motor, he seemed to be all arms and spindly legs. Bob passed him one of his French cigarettes and clicked his lighter into life. The Canadian smiled appreciation, then he returned his gaze to straight ahead. Half a dozen small craft were zooming around close inshore in the Baie des Anges, four of them towing skiers. The rule of the road seemed to be: Solid craft have nothing to fear from inflatables and therefore need not avoid them.
"Which boat is it?" Céline asked. She was clinging to Bob's arm in a way that was more possessive than for support.
"That one." Bob stretched out his free arm. "The midnight blue hull with the gold stripe." He darted a glance at Doc. The Canadian had said hello to Céline with a much-more-than brotherly kiss, but he seemed not to be showing any signs of jealousy. With a mental shrug, Bob settled back to enjoy the close presence of an attractive woman.
Two yachts and the cruiser were bobbing at anchor in a defensive triangle – either for company or for protection against the marauding speedboats. Most of the members of the three crews had picked a piece of deck and were enjoying the sun. A lack of wind had allowed thermometers to creep up to seventy or so degrees.
"Ahoy there, Admiral," called Guy as the dinghy bumped against Grant Hardy's vessel. "Permission to come aboard?"
A round face with a beard which clung to the jawline like a long, black caterpillar peered down at the visitors from the flying bridge. "Sling your hook, matey," Hardy advised through a broad grin. "What brings you to this part of the world?"
"Words with your toiling masses," replied Guy, waving a greeting to the Jenners, who were dressed for either swimming or sunbathing.
Leaving Bob to entertain Doc and Céline with the aid of a bottle of Chablis, Guy took the Jenners and their host into the main cabin for a conference. Hardy's wife and another couple were ashore, shopping. Frowns and a vulnerable widening of their eyes followed Guy's announcement that the police wanted to talk to the Jenners about the body that Guy's brother had been found at their country home.
"This can't be some of your fun and games, young Guy?" said the bearded Hardy. His guests had been stunned into silence.
"Nothing at all to do with me," Guy assured him. "The stiff was obviously dumped some time after Jeff and Nicki left on Thursday morning. And the chances are it would still be there, undiscovered, if brother Tom hadn't been snooping around, looking for me."
"So that's our next move?" asked Jeff. "Catch the next plane back home?"
"The police at Ashford will be expecting a phone call from you," said Guy. "I suggest we ring them right away, then play it by ear."
"Bang goes the weekend," sighed Hardy.
"Oh, I don't know," countered Guy. "They can hardly hold it against you if some inconsiderate sod dumps a stiff in your house when you're out."
"But will that stop them trying?" Jeff asked cheerlessly.
"Hey up!" Bob called from the bow. "Phuzz approaching at five o'clock."
Guy led the group out of the cabin – to see a police launch driving at speed towards the cluster of larger vessels.
"Looks like we won't have to pay for the call to Ashford," remarked Jeff.
"Do you think it could have been those men who called on Wednesday night, looking for Toby?" said Nicki.
"You think they might have caught up with Toby?" added Hardy. "And put him in the box?"
"No, Tom knows Toby and he would have identified him," said Guy. "Let's not jump to any conclusions just yet. Personally, I think Toby's still running around over here, blissfully unaware of all the chaos he's leaving in his wake."
The police launch cut its engines and drifted alongside to nudge the starboard fenders of Hardy's cruiser. Two tough-looking gendarmes with battered MAT-49 sub-machine-guns hovered on deck, their weapons slung over their shoulders but ready to hand. Clinging firmly to a succession of hand holds, a sad-faced man of about forty worked his way to the rail of the launch and hopped clumsily across to the cruiser. He introduced himself as Inspector Cornille.
"Your passports, please," he added, sliding his eyes over Nicki Jenner's swim-suited figure with a certain seen-it-all-before-lots-of-times air. The inspector was wearing a light-weight suit, but he looked fairly hot and bothered.
"What can we do for you?" asked Grant Hardy after identifying himself as the owner of the cruiser.
"An officer of your British police is flying here to interview M. Jenner and his wife and M. Duggleby," the inspector told him as he gathered passports.
"We were just about to come ashore and phone them," said Jeff, realizing that the statement sounded rather lame now that the vessel had been boarded by the French police.
"Hmm," grunted Inspector Cornille, accepting the story without necessarily believing it. He returned Bob's passport, frowning at his flying overall, and tucked Guy's into his inside pocket.
"Flying out?" said Guy. "When do you expect him?"
The inspector glanced at his watch. "In about half an hour."
"Are you arresting us?" asked Nicki warily.
"I have been asked by your British police to make sure you remain here to be interviewed," said the inspector, evading the question. "Are all these people your passengers, Mr Hardy?"
"Only the Jenners," said Hardy, tugging at his narrow strip of beard. "Mr. Duggleby and his friends came out in the inflatable to tell us about, you know, the body."
"Body?" repeated Doc. "As in corpse?"
"Some rotten sod dumped a stiff at Jeff's place after he left to come out here," explained Bob.
"And the cops want to give him the rubber hose treatment?" said Doc with a hostile glare at the inspector.
"About that," nodded Bob, keeping his expression serious.
Inspector Cornille ignored the frowns and settled down at the stern of the cruiser. He accepted a glass of chilled white wine and sipped nervously as the anchors were raised and the vessel headed for the harbour at the eastern end of the long waterfront, following the police launch. The inspector seemed more afraid of the cruiser sinking than of being grabbed and held hostage by the desperate characters aboard.
The procession rounded the vaguely Chinese lighthouse at the end of the mole, gave plenty of sea-room to a ferry bound for Corsica, and threaded a path through a scattering of pleasure craft, The cruiser tied up between two police launches at an oil-stained concrete jetty – which, as Grant Hardy remarked, saved him a fortune in mooring fees.
One of the armed gendarmes parked himself on a rope-polished bollard, rested his sub-machine-gun across his knees, and seemed to sink into a trance. Inspector Cornille gave Hardy and his passengers the freedom of about thirty square metres of irregular concrete.
After some argument, the Canadian called Doc was allowed to drive away in his inflatable dinghy. He had a business appointment with a pair of scuba divers. Then the inspector disappeared into one of the buildings beside the jetty. His prisoners, in fact if not in name, settled down to wait for the representative of the British police force to arrive.