A few weeks ago I posted a couple of extracts from a 1930s piece featuring Sgt. johnny Williams of Leeds Police CID and his wife, Violet. That piece turned into a novella…and here’s the start of the second one, for your entertainment…
‘We have a visitor from America, apparently.’
‘Oh?’ Violet sat back as the waiter brought their cocktails, taking a small sip of the martini and nodding her approval. ‘That new bartender seems to have the knack,’ she said. ‘So who is this mysterious American?’
They were sitting in the cocktail bar of the Metropole Hotel, a ceiling fan turning just lazily enough to keep the air cool. The warm spring of 1934 had turned into an endless summer of heat hazes and frayed tempers in the city.
‘Someone called Oscar Arbramson,’ Johnny Williams told her. ‘That’s what Superintendent Randall told me.’
‘And why would the Leeds Police be interested? Is he, what do they call it in the pictures, on the lam from something?’
‘He’s a gangster. From Chicago.’ He nodded towards two men at a table on the other side of the bar. ‘That’s him, with his back to us. And the friend he brought along, Barney something-or-other.’
‘So you didn’t invite me here just to be a loving husband?’
‘Well, of course I did. I’m just mixing business and pleasure.’
Violet stared over at the pair. There was little to see of Abramson besides a pair of broad shoulders in a well-tailored suit. The other man looked just as large, with meaty hands and a face that seemed locked in a permanent snarl.
‘They don’t look quite the thing, do they? What are they doing here?’
‘I’ll find out tomorrow. I’m going to call on him bright and early.’
‘Just watch out if he opens a violin case.’
‘Are Americans notoriously bad on the instrument?’
‘It’s where gangsters keep their Tommy guns. You’d know that if you saw more films.’
‘What about cello cases?’ he asked.
‘Howitzers,’ she replied. ‘Absolutely deadly. Now that you’ve had a glance at them, where are you taking me for dinner?’
But it was luncheon before he caught up with the Americans. He’d been called out early to deal with an embezzlement. By ten, simply glancing through the accounts, he knew who was responsible. An hour later the man had confessed.
Johnny shook his head. Randall had assigned Forbes and Gorman to follow the gangster and his friend. They’d rung in from a telephone box; the pair were dining at Jacomelli’s.
He walked over to Boar Lane, rapping his knuckles on the roof of the battered Morris where the policemen were keeping watch, straightened his tie and strolled into the restaurant.
Abramson and Barney filled the table. Two large men, a sense of menace around them. They’d emptied their plates, forks on the crockery, knives still sitting on the crisp table cloth. Johnny pulled out the chair across from them, sat down and took off his hat.
‘How do you do?’
Abramson stared at him. Barney began to rise, a look of anger on his face, but the other man waved him down.
‘Let me guess, you’re a cop.’
‘Sergeant Williams, Leeds Police.’ He smiled.
Abramson leaned back and produced a cigar case from his pocket. He made a production of selecting a large Havana, cutting the tip and lighting it before he peer through the cloud of smoke.
‘Any relation to a reporter?’ he asked. ‘Can’t be your sister, she’s too cute.’
‘My wife,’ he replied. ‘You’ve met her, then?’
‘She stopped by while we were having breakfast. Wants to write a story about Americans visiting Leeds. What’s your angle?’
‘Angle?’ He thought about the word. ‘I don’t suppose I have one. Just a friendly little chat and a word of advice.’
‘Yeah?’ Abramson seemed amused. Barney was still tense, ready to pounce as soon as his boss gave the order. ‘What kind of advice would you have for me’
‘Just the usual. Obey the law, look right and then left before crossing the road, don’t kill anyone. Nothing that unusual.’
The man threw his head back and laughed.
‘You’re good. You out to go into vaudeville. With that accent you’d slay ‘em.’ He leaned forward. A very faint, thin scar ran from the tip of his eyebrow, disappearing into his temple. ‘You heard of Chicago, hotshot?’
‘Big place somewhere in the middle of America? A fire that had something to do with a cow, Al Capone, St. Valentine’s Day Massacre?’
‘That’s the one. Let me tell you something. Over there we don’t like smartass cops. They don’t last too long.’
‘That’s the difference, you see. We have a longer lifespan over here.’ He glanced at Barney. ‘You should really tell your friend to relax a little. His face is so red he looks like he’s going to have a heart attack.’
‘Poor chap. Take him up into the Dales for a weekend. Very calming up there. Take a cottage for a few days.’
‘I’ll keep it in mind, Sergeant.’ The waiter brought two cups of coffee. ‘We were just making our plans for today.’
‘The art gallery’s very good,’ Johnny suggested. ‘Wonderful place to spend an hour or two.’ He stood. ‘I’ll leave you gentlemen to it. If you need anything, I’m around.’ He began to turn away, then stopped. ‘By the way, do you play the violin?’
Abramson stared at him, confusion on his face.
‘No. I’m a businessman. Why the hell would I?’
‘Never mind. How about the cello.’
The man shook his head and Johnny walked away.
At the station he telephoned the Evening Post.
‘I hear you saw our visitors.’
‘I popped over while they were having breakfast. I thought you might be there.’
‘I had a little distraction. Did they say what they were doing here?’
‘Looking for business opportunities, he claimed, although he didn’t answer when I asked why here. He’s rather gruff, isn’t he?’
‘I noticed that,’ Johnny told her.
‘And that chap with him just glowered the whole time.’
‘He did that to me, too. Seemed to be getting quite worked up.’
‘Abramson called me a dame,’ Violet said. He could imagine her frown. ‘I always thought they were those old dears who got awards for good works.’
‘Maybe he thinks you’re a young dame. He is American, after all.’