Roaring Thirties Part 2

Yes, the second episode of the novella set in Leeds. If you’re fresh to it, just scroll down for the opening…

CHAPTER FOUR

 

‘The guns aren’t locked up and out of sight?’

‘Well, no.’ The manager shook his head. ‘We’ve never had a problem before.’ He shuffled his feet. ‘There’s one other thing,’ he continued. Williams waited. ‘We also had a pistol in, just repaired. An American Colt automatic from the war.’

‘Can I use your telephone?’ Johnny asked. When Randall came on the line, he explained what had happened. ‘Now they’re dangerous criminals,’ he said.

‘You’d better find them before they have a chance to use those guns. Do you want anyone with you?’

‘Not yet,’ Johnny answered after a little thought. ‘I’ll let you know, sir.’

Before he left, he looked around the shop. The place smelt of gun oil and wood polish, shotguns upright in their racks along the walls behind the counter. Never mind four, they could have made off with a dozen.

‘Just a few last questions.’ He smiled.

‘Of course.’ He could see the relief on the manager’s face.

‘How many guns do you have here?’

‘I don’t know.’ He sounded surprised. ‘Twenty, perhaps.’

Williams waited a moment, pursing his lips.

‘Then why the hell didn’t you shoot the robbers as they were leaving?’ he asked.

 

Violet was already in the upstairs café of the Kardomah when he arrived in a rush. He’d stopped at the station on the way and been caught up writing a report.

‘Am I late?’ he asked.

‘Just fashionable. I ordered for you.’

He glanced at her as the waitress put the plate of liver and onions in front of him. Violet gave him her sweetest smile.

‘I was going to ask if you wanted to visit a couple celebrating their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary,’ he said later, drinking his tea and smoking a cigarette.

‘You really know how to show a girl a good time, don’t you?’

‘I try.’

‘Well, I’d love to, but I really need to wash my hair.’

‘You might like this.’

‘Oh?’

‘Do you remember Walter Bosley?’

‘Should I?’

‘You met him at a party once. In his forties, big bruiser of a man.’

‘So far he sounds like half your friends.’

‘He makes sure people stay in line.’

‘With his silver tongue?’

He gave her an enigmatic grin.

‘Something like that. He and his wife are celebrating their silver wedding today.’

‘That sounds lovely, but I’m not sure why you want me there.’

‘I thought it would be good for us to spend more time together.’

 

They stood at the entrance of the Royal in Hunslet. The place was packed, someone against the far wall banging out melodies on the out-of-tune piano. Williams looked around, seeing at least seven men he’d arrested over the years. Bosley, six feet two and eighteen stone, sat in the far corner, looking uncomfortable and cramped in a suit. Next to him, his wife was beaming, a new hat on her head, wearing a floral frock.

‘So why are we here?’ Violet asked quietly.

‘To talk to a few people. There are some who won’t speak to me.’

‘Did you offend them?’

‘They seem to resent going to jail.’

‘What do you want me to ask them? About that gun robbery?’

‘Whether they’ve heard anything about the people doing these bank jobs.’

She opened her mouth, closed it again and stared at him.

‘They’re connected, aren’t they? It was the same people at the gunsmith.’

He nodded.

‘Looks like it,’ Johnny admitted. ‘Come on, we’ll congratulate the happy couple, then we can circulate.’ He shuffled through the crowd to stand in front of Bosley and his wife.

‘Big day, Walter.’ He tipped his hat. ‘Mrs. Bosley, you look a picture.’

The woman blushed.

‘Thank you, love. You brought your wife, too. How are you, dear?’

‘Glad to be here.’ Violet smiled. ‘It’s a big turnout.’

‘A fuss about nowt,’ Walter muttered. ‘She’s making me pay for it all, an’ all.’

‘I’ll leave a drink behind the bar for you both,’ Johnny told him. He winked at Bosley. ‘Just make sure you behave yourselves.’

 

Outside, Violet fanned herself.

‘How did they cram so many people in there? I was starting to feel like a sardine.’

‘But a beautiful one.’

‘A sweaty sardine,’ she corrected him. ‘And flattery will get you absolutely nowhere.’

He glanced back at the pub, the noise of the people spilling out to the dusty street through the open windows.

‘Still, they’re enjoying themselves. With all that lot together, there’ll be a lull in crime this afternoon.’

‘Did you find anything?’ Violet asked.

‘Not unless you count the fact that Simon Bradley’s now wearing a truss for his hernia. You could almost see them shutting up as I approached. How about you? Any luck?’

‘Turns out Albert Riley couldn’t resist me. And he has that delicious Irish brogue.’

‘As well as two convictions for GBH.’

‘Lovely suit, though. I thought he was going to ask me out until I made sure he saw my wedding ring. Anyway, he think they’re from somewhere outside Leeds. Says no one local would dare muscle in on things that way.’ She took a breath. ‘But two of the others reckon they’re just amateurs. Either way, they’re already making a book on how soon you’ll catch them.’

‘Really?’ He turned to her with interest.

‘A fortnight, they think.’

‘A fortnight? That’s just insulting.’

‘You wanted to know.’ She shrugged as she leaned against the Austin and lit a cigarette, waiting for him to unlock the car. ‘And since I’m doing your work, you can pay me by taking me out to eat tonight.’

‘Where?’ he asked suspiciously.

‘Polwony’s.’

‘You drive a hard bargain, Mrs. Williams.’

‘If you’re going to hire the best, you’d better be prepared to pay, Mr. Williams.’

 

‘What do you make of this robbery at the gunsmith?’ Violet had finished the Beef Wellington and chosen a lemon tart from the sweet trolley. A wineglass stood half-empty on the table in front of her. She’d painted her nails bright vermilion to match her dress and curled her hair. ‘It’s a bit odd, isn’t it?’

‘Very,’ Johnny agreed slowly. He’d been gnawing at the problem most of the day. ‘They’re onto a good little earner with the banks. Now they’ve stolen enough guns to start a small war. They’re complicating things.’

‘Worried?’

‘A little.’ The steak had been perfect, still bloody in the middle, the potatoes crisp and tasty. But this business was too much on his mind to enjoy the food; he’d barely tasted the meal. Johnny stirred his coffee and shook a cigarette from the packet of Gold Flake. ‘I don’t understand what it gets them. They haven’t even fired the gun they have.’

‘Maybe they’re planning something big.’

He frowned, pushing the burning tip of the cigarette around in the ashtray. ‘They don’t seem to have done much planning so far.’

‘What now?’

Johnny raised his eyebrows. ‘I don’t know. But I suspect they have big ideas.’

‘Just be careful.’

‘Don’t you worry.’ He smiled, showing the chipped tooth. ‘I survived the war.’

‘You said that was because of your boyish charm.’

‘That only worked on our own side. The Germans weren’t too taken with it.’

‘I mean it, Johnny. Be careful.’

‘I will.’

‘What could be big enough for them?’

‘I’ve been trying to work that out. With just three men and a driver, there’s not much they can do.’

‘Another bank?’ Violet asked.

He shook his head.

‘They’re already doing well with those. They don’t need the extra weapons.’

‘What are you going to do?’

‘I’ll carry on and see what happens.’ He finished the coffee and looked at her. ‘A fortnight? Is that really what they think?’

‘Look on the bright side. At least they’re sure you’ll catch the robbers.’

 

‘What you mean is that you have no idea what they’ll do next,’ Superintendent Randall said in exasperation.

‘More or less,’ Williams agreed.

‘There are coppers running all over Leeds looking for them. If this lot come out with shooters, someone’s going to get hurt.’

‘I know that,’ he said. Seeing the hard look on Randall’s face, he added, ‘Sir.’

‘You told me you like the tough jobs.’

‘I do.’

‘Then show me how well you can do with this one.’

He sat at his desk, eyes closed, thinking. Whether the gang was from Leeds or outside, they were young and unknown. And impetuous. They’d didn’t seem to make plans – going after the bank in the city centre showed that.

With professional career criminals he could predict their moves. They had a pattern, they thought in definite ways, and had pride in their work. This lot…he’d do as well sticking a pin in the map of Leeds.

Finally he picked up his hat and strolled out to the Austin and drove around town. He tried to think like the gang, to pick out places that might appeal to them. It was all guesswork, but he felt he was doing something. Starting to understand them.

Perhaps he’d been wrong on the planning, he thought. The banks in Morley and Horsforth had been an easy way to test themselves. The Midland Bank on Boar Lane had been harder, but they’d still been successful. What had looked so scattered might have been intended, after all.

Now they were ready to raise the stakes even higher. They were going for the big one, he decided as he waited for the car in front to turn. That could be the only reason for the guns. They’d proved they could hold up a place and now they were going to be ambitious.

When they went in they’d be nervous. That meant quick fingers on the trigger. Someone was definitely going to get hurt.

They wanted money. The central branches of the bank would have that, especially on Friday, wages day. But there were too many possible targets. Williams parked on Park Row and began to walk, looking at the streets, assessing how easy it would be to make a getaway. After an hour he decided that it was impossible to narrow it down to just one or two.

What would he do in their shoes?

He sat in a café at the railway station, trying to work it out. The tea was stewed and tasted bitter, the meat in the sandwich on the edge of turning. Through the window he could see a constant flow of people streaming to and from the platforms. A fine layer of dirt covered everything. Whistles blew and smoke rose to the grimy glass ceilings over the tracks.

He didn’t understand the robbers well enough yet. They were young, they were eager. And now they had the guns they’d want to flash them around. Ready for the next job. They wouldn’t wait too long; it was going to happen soon.

The afternoon didn’t bring any revelations. By five, as people poured out of the shops and offices, he gave up and went home.

The day was still full of May warmth, and the garden of their house in Chapeltown always caught the early evening sun. Johnny took off his jacket and tie and sat back in a deckchair with a bottle of beer. Time to take stock of what he knew.

Soon after he became a detective he’d understood that the best way to solve crimes was to stay one step ahead of the criminals. A little thought could save plenty of shoe leather.

He was still thinking, eyes closed, enjoying the weather and the lazy hum of a bee, when a shadow passed over him. Violet sighed and slumped into the other chair.

‘Penny for them?’ she said wearily.

‘Worth much more than that,’ he answered. ‘Definitely gold material.’

‘Better you than me, then. Does that mean you’ve found them?’

‘Not quite. Not yet.’

‘Still no idea?’

‘A few,’ he answered after a moment. ‘What was your day like?’

‘Full of action. The Middleton flower show’s going to be lovely,’ she said. ‘And if the weather holds, all the produce should be excellent this year.’

‘You were swept away, I take it.’

‘Rapt. Bill was still going on about the robbery at the gunsmith. No one’s admitting it’s the same lot who’ve been doing the banks.’

‘He hasn’t worked it out for himself yet?’

She sighed again. ‘I’m not even certain he knows how to tie his own shoelaces. But your lot are keeping schtum about it.’

‘I suppose we need our little secrets. Probably don’t want to scare people. If it came out, everyone would be expecting the Valentine’s Day massacre here.’

‘Are we going to have it?’

‘I hope not,’ Johnny said cautiously.

‘Will you stop them in time?’

‘I don’t know.’ He opened his eyes and glanced down at the lawn. ‘It might be worth looking for a four-leaf clover, just in case.’

 

‘Do you have any bright ideas?’ Randall asked. They were sitting in his office, the air stuffy and overheated, the window open wide to try and capture a breeze.

‘Friday,’ Williams told him.

‘Wages money?’

‘Exactly.’ All the firms would send vehicles to the banks to pick up the cash to pay their workers. Anyone robbing a bank just after it opened could get away with a fortune. ‘We need uniforms at each of the big branches. That’s where I think they’ll go. If I were them, that’s what I’d do.’ He paused and gave a small grimace. ‘I think I might have underestimated them.’

The superintendent looked thoughtful.

‘Why?’ he asked.

Williams listed the reasons on his fingers.

‘I thought they were selecting banks at random. They weren’t. They were putting in some practice, even down to getting away in town. Now they’re ready to make a big splash. And they have the guns to scare people.’

‘That makes sense,’ Randall admitted with a nod. ‘A splash?’

‘They’re young,’ Williams explained. ‘People like bank robbers. It’s like they’re striking a blow against the rich. That’s always popular, especially when there are so many unemployed around. Look at America; they’ve made heroes out of them.’

‘But we don’t even know who this lot are.’

‘Yet,’ Johnny pointed out. ‘If they pull this off, we will. They’ll be all over the newspapers. They’ll make sure everyone knows who they are, and they’ll be taunting us to catch them. As long as no one’s hurt, the public will be on their side. They’ll be making songs about them in the music halls.’

‘Then we’d better arrest them first,’ Randall told him. ‘I hope you have a good plan.’

‘Apart from what I suggested? I was hoping you wouldn’t ask that…’

 

‘There was a message for you, sir,’ the desk sergeant told him, a puzzled look on his face. ‘A bloke on the telephone.’

‘What did he say?’ Williams asked.

‘To tell you he knows what’s wrong with your car. I didn’t know you were having a problem with it. You should have said – my lad’s a mechanic.’

‘It’s nothing important. Did he say anything else?’

‘No, sir. I asked for his name, but he said you’d know.’

‘Yes. Thank you.’

The traffic heading out to Meanwood was stop and start. He drummed his fingertips on the steering wheel with impatience, waiting for the trams, buses and lorries to go faster than a crawl. It seemed that Colin Jordan’s pride had been pricked. He didn’t want to lose his title as the best getaway driver in Leeds.

The doors of the garage were open, an old Singer Ten jacked up. Inside, a voice was singing loudly and off-key, torturing Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.

‘’I’m surprised the neighbours haven’t complained, Colin. A voice like that is cruel and unusual punishment.’

Jordan dragged himself out from under the car and stood, a wide grin on his face.

‘You don’t think I’m the new Bing, then?’

‘More like the dying Bing. You’ve found something?’

‘A name. I asked around a little.’

Williams waited. Jordan was relishing his moment of anticipation. ‘And?’

‘Have you ever heard of Asa Bradley?’

‘No.’

‘What do you know about midget cars?’

‘You’d better not have got me out here for a joke, Colin. I’m not in the mood.’

‘No, honest, Mr. Williams. It’s real.’

‘What is it?’ he asked. ‘Midgets in cars? It’s not bloody funny.’

Jordan quickly shook his head. ‘It’s nothing like that. It started out as an American thing,’ he explained. ‘Normal people. It’s the cars that are little. Specially made small racing cars on a track. They’re very quick. Asa Bradley raced them. He won a few races when there was no real competition and he reckons he’s the bees’ knees. Someone mentioned he was driving for a gang now.’

Suddenly Johnny was attentive. ‘What gang? Did they say?’

‘No idea. The whole thing’s only a rumour. But I’ve seen him race.’ He sniffed. ‘He’s not that good.’

‘Is he local?’

‘Must be. He used to race out at Harewood. I don’t know anything else about him. Never paid much attention.’

Williams nodded. A name meant a place to start.

‘Thanks,’ he said. Before he turned away, he asked, ‘They really call them midget cars?’

‘That’s right. I tried one out. They’re small but I tell you what, Mr. Williams, they’re bloody nippy. 300 horsepower under the bonnet. Those things zip round the track. Put Bradley in a real car, though, and he wouldn’t stand a chance,’ Jordan said with pride.

 

The Yorkshire Post building stood on Albion Street, just on the corner with Bond Street. He pushed open the door under the clock and took the stairs three at a time to the second floor. Violet shared an office with two other female reporters, behind a polished wooden door with a frosted glass panel. Bright geraniums grew in a box outside the window.

She was staring at a blank piece of paper in her typewriter, the shorthand notebook with its curious squiggles propped beside the machine.

‘Please say you’ve come to save me from this.’

‘Hello to you, too.’ He bent and kissed her, smelling the powder on her skin. ‘And I have. I need a favour.’

‘Oh?’ She looked at him with interest. ‘It had better be something good.’

‘Midget car racing.’

She stared at him, trying to keep a straight face. But a giggle bubbled over into a laugh, until she had to cover her mouth.

‘Oh God, you can’t imagine the pictures in my mind now,’ she said finally.

‘I bet I can.’

‘What on earth is it?’

‘Normal people in small cars, apparently.’ He saw disappointment flicker across her face. ‘They do it at a track in Harewood. I need to see if you have any clippings.’ She stared at him, waiting for more, but he simply smiled. ‘I’ll buy you luncheon.’

‘Must be something important, then. I’ll have a look.’

She was back in five minutes, carrying a thin buff folder. He glanced through, copying information into his notebook.

‘Are you going to tell me what it’s about?’ she asked. ‘You’d better not be looking for a new hobby.’

‘All very hush-hush.’ He smiled. ‘But it might just be a lead.’

‘You can tell me all about it while we eat.’ Before he could protest, her eyes twinkled mischievously. ‘You might as well. You know full well I’ll just worm it out of you, anyway.’

 

By the time Johnny had eaten half the sandwich Violet knew it all.

‘He lives on Primley Park Drive?’ she asked.

‘That’s what it said in the newspaper report.’

‘It’s quite posh around there.’ She knew; Violet had grown up less than a quarter of a mile away, in a family with a maid and a chauffeur. Her father was the area manager for Dunlop, a rigid man who hadn’t approved of his daughter becoming a reporter, and even less when she married a policeman. ‘I thought the gang were supposed to be working men.’

‘They dress that way,’ he said. ‘People noticed that. Like people who didn’t belong in a bank.’

‘A disguise?’

‘I’m beginning to wonder about that,’ Johnny said.

‘When are we going out there?’

‘We?’ He lit a cigarette, blew out a plume of smoke, and cocked his head.

‘We,’ she insisted, her voice firm. ‘Someone has to make sure you don’t commit a faux pas among the middle classes.’

They found the address easily enough. Violet knocked on a door and asked a question. The maid pointed down the street, then Johnny joined her at number seven. A mousy women in her late forties answered when he rang the bell, staring at them with curiosity.

‘Mrs. Bradley?’ Williams asked.

‘That’s right.’ She had a voice like velvet and short, dark hair set in waves. Only the lines around her eyes and mouth gave away her age.

He produced his warrant card. ‘I’m Detective Sergeant Williams. Asa Bradley is your son?’

‘He is. What’s this about, Sergeant?’ She didn’t seem worried; most people would.

‘Is he at home?’

She folded her arms. ‘Might I ask why?’

‘I’m hoping he might be able to help us with some enquiries, that’s all, Mrs. Bradley.’ He smiled, showing the chipped tooth. Her expression didn’t change.

‘It’s nothing terribly big,’ Violet said. ‘Just a quick word, that’s all.’

‘Well, he’s not here.’

‘Is he at work?’ Johnny asked.

‘He’s gone away with some friends. He doesn’t have a job. He’d only be interested if it involves engines. He’s been potty about them since he was a boy.’

‘Did he say where he was going?’

‘Just that they’d be away for a week or two.’ A sad look filled her eyes. ‘He doesn’t really tell us his plans.’

‘He likes to drive, I believe,’ Williams continued. ‘Midget cars?’

‘That’s right. But it was a passing fad. He hasn’t done that in months. He spends all his time with his friends now.’

‘Do you know who they are?’ Violet asked her.

‘Not really.’ Mrs. Bradley looked uncomfortable, shifting lightly from foot to foot. ‘He’s never brought them here. There’s a Charlie and a Tim, but that’s all I know. But he’s changed since he met them.’

‘Changed how?’ Violet asked sympathetically.

‘He’s become coarser,’ the woman answered after a moment. She gave a sad shake of her head. ‘He was so well-behaved at school. I keep imagining it’ll pass. What’s he done, Sergeant?’

‘I don’t know that he’s done anything,’ Williams told her. ‘That’s why I’d like to talk to him. How old is he, Mrs. Bradley?’

‘Twenty. His birthday was last month.’ She hesitated, then set her mouth. ‘My husband died three years ago. I hoped Asa might become the man of the house, but he didn’t want that. He began that motor racing and didn’t want to do anything else.’

He didn’t ask if the family had money; a house out here was already an answer.

‘Do you have a photograph of him?’

‘Of course,’ she replied.

The Yale lock clicked softly behind her. He looked at Violet, saying nothing. Mrs. Bradley returned, holding out a small snapshot. Asa Bradley had dark hair swept back from his forehead, a cigarette dangling from his lips.

‘I took it last summer,’ she explained.

‘Might I borrow it?’ She hesitated, and he added, ‘I’ll make sure you get it back.’

‘Yes,’ she agreed. ‘What do you think he’s done, Sergeant? He’s my son, I need to know.’

‘Honestly,’ he told her, ‘I don’t know that he’s done anything. That’s what I want to find out.’

She bit her lip, then nodded, accepting what he said.

‘All right.’

‘If he comes home, can you let me know?’

‘Yes.’ He could see the reluctance in her expression.

‘It’s for the best, honestly.’

 

‘Well,’ Violet asked as he took the Harrogate Road back into town. ‘What do you think?’

‘It’s a start. Now I just need to find him. It might all be a coincidence.’

‘I know that look on your face.’

‘What look?’

‘You don’t believe in coincidences.’

‘Well…no.’ Johnny glanced across at her. ‘I don’t suppose you fancy a run out to Harewood this evening?’

‘Why?’ she asked suspiciously.

‘There’s a midget car race.’ He gestured over his shoulder at a copy of the Evening Post on the backseat of the Swallow. ‘Don’t you read your own paper?’

‘I avoid the boring bits.’ Violet sighed. ‘I suppose it’ll be all men talking about camshafts and pistons and things, won’t it?’

‘Probably.’

‘I’ll let you deal with that one, then.’ A moment later she said, ‘Do you think Asa Bradley might be there? His mother said he’d lost interest in the sport.’

He shrugged. ‘You never know. I should be able to get the names of his friends, anyway.’

‘Just watch yourself if he shows up,’ Violet warned. ‘If Bradley’s with this gang, they’re armed now.’

He grinned. ‘I’m sure I can persuade him to come down to the station.’

Violet shook her head. ‘You know, you need do something about this shocking lack of self-confidence you have, Johnny. It’s quite alarming.’

CHAPTER FIVE

 

The air was filled with the smoke and noise of engines. Johnny arrived a little after six, parking in a field with the other vehicles, the early evening sun still pleasant. He’d dressed in a houndstooth sports jacket and tweed trousers, his shirt collar open and tieless to enjoy the weather.

Now he watched men in shirtsleeves grimly tinker with the engines of the small cars as they listened to the crescendo of motors. There were perhaps fifty people around, from those who weren’t even old enough to shave to men with thick cavalry moustaches, resting on shooting sticks. But no Asa Bradley.

He showed the photograph to yet another figure, who pointed him across the paddock towards a group of men standing around a small blue racing car. The bonnet was open and someone had his head and shoulders inside.

Williams picked his way across the mud of the enclosure. The din was starting to recede. He found a sleek young man wearing thick brogues, standing impatiently by the car.

‘He used to drive for me,’ the man said irritably when Johnny showed him the photograph. ‘Let him go when he stopped winning.’

‘How long ago?’

‘Two months, I suppose.’ He turned to the mechanic. ‘Haven’t you bloody finished yet?’ He shook his head in frustration. ‘If you want to know about Bradley, go and talk to him.’ He pointed at a youth holding a set of spanners. ‘Who are you, anyway?’

‘Police.’ Johnny waved as he walked away.

The lad with the tools watched nervously as he approached. Probably no more than eighteen, he guessed, the faint bum fluff of a moustache on his upper lip to make him look older.

As he opened his mouth to speak, the youth threw the spanners at him and started to run. He raised his arm, feeling metal bang against bone, and started to sprint. He sensed people turning to watch. Someone cheered.

The treeline was a quarter of a mile distant, the hill climbing slowly towards it. The youth kept glancing back, already wheezing, as Williams steadily gained ground.

Just before the lip of the hill, he was close enough to tackle the boy. The lad fell like a sack of cement, the wind knocked out of him.

Johnny sat and lit a cigarette, gazing down at the track and sighing.

‘I suppose you’ve done something bad,’ he said.

 

It was nothing more than shoplifting. Arthur Harris has taken some sweets and a shirt from Woolworth’s. Williams passed him a cigarette.

‘That’s not exactly a major crime,’ he said.

Harris’ face reddened.

‘I thought you’d come to arrest me.’

Johnny rubbed his arm.

‘If I’d known you were so dangerous, I’d have asked for the Flying Squad.’

‘So what is it?’

Johnny brought out the photograph.

‘Him.’

‘Asa?’ Harris asked in surprise. ‘What’s he done?’

‘You’re friends?’

‘We used to be. He stopped coming here after Mac dropped him. I haven’t seen him since.’

‘What about other friends of his?’

‘There was a crowd,’ Harris said after a little thought. ‘They left when he did.’

‘Any names?’

‘Charlie Cogden and Tim Carey,’ he answered after a moment’s thought. ‘They were quite close.’

‘Did you know them?’

Harris shook his head. ‘Not really. They’re rich boys.’

‘Kept to themselves?’

‘More or less.’

‘What about you? A mechanic?’

‘I want to be,’ Harris said hopelessly. ‘No jobs out there.’

‘Where do you live, Arthur?’

‘Beeston. I get a lift up here.’ Harris sighed. ‘I don’t suppose Mac will keep me on now.’

‘Bit of a bastard, is he?’

‘A lot.’ The lad grinned.

‘Do you know Meanwood Road?’

‘I can find it. Why?’

‘There’s a garage out there, a chap called Colin Jordan. Tell him Detective Sergeant Williams sent you. No guarantees, but it’s worth a shot.’

‘Really?’ His voice was wary. ‘Why would you do that?’

‘Just trying to rehabilitate persistent offenders.’ Johnny stood, trying to brush grass stains off the knees of his trousers.

Charlie Cogden and Tim Carey, he thought. Now all he had to do was track them down.

 

But they were nowhere to be found. A quick search gave him addresses, big, detached houses in Thorner and Adel, but when he knocked on the doors, all their parents could tell him was that they’d gone away for a fortnight. The only titbit was that Carey’s cousin, Ken Boyd, had also gone with them.

And that made four. Hail, hail, the gang’s all here, he sang under his breath. They’d even come up with a disguise, dressing like working men. The type that people hardly ever noticed.

Williams sat in Lyon’s café on Briggate with a cup of tea, going over what he knew. It looked as if he’d definitely underestimated them.

Why they’d decided to become bank robbers didn’t matter. Maybe it was just for the thrill, maybe they wanted to become notorious. What bothered him was where they’d strike next. They’d told their families they’d be gone for two weeks. That ended on Sunday. Time was running out; Friday was just a day away.

‘I thought I’d find you here.’ Violet placed bags of shopping on the floor and eyed the chocolate éclair he hadn’t started yet. ‘Are you going to eat that?’

Before he could answer, she’d pulled the plate across and taken a bite.

‘Tasty?’ he asked.

‘Delicious,’ she told him, wiping crumbs from her mouth. ‘You don’t know what you’re missing.’

‘Worth ordering another?’

‘Oh no, one will be ample for me. Hips and thighs and all that. I could murder some tea, though. I’m parched.’

‘You look as if you’ve bought half of Leeds.’

‘Just bits and bobs. I’m covering the Lord Mayor’s dinner later, so I had to get a new dress. And shoes. I’m getting my hair done in-’ she checked her wristwatch ‘-half an hour. I’ve been thinking of doing something different with it.’

‘Like what?’

‘I’m not sure yet. You look rather gloomy, you know.’

‘Well, someone stole my pastry. And I spent half the morning with Randall trying to put together a plan for tomorrow.’

‘Any luck?’

Johnny shrugged. ‘It’s all guesswork. We’ll hope they’re going for a bank and be as ready as we can.’

‘Where will you be?’

‘Standing by a telephone box in the city centre. As soon as there’s any trouble, they’ll ring me.’

‘They’re going to have guns.’

His mouth tightened. ‘So will we,’ he said quietly.

Violet’s mouth opened in shock. ‘What?’

‘The chief constable’s authorised it. Three of us will be armed.’

‘Johnny…’

He grinned.

‘Don’t worry. It’s an Enfield sniper rifle, I’ll be well out of the way. And the orders are to shoot only if there’s no other choice.’

‘It doesn’t bloody matter,’ she fumed.

‘It won’t come to that.’ He stared at her. ‘Are you going to finish that éclair?’

‘For God’s sake, Johnny, be serious for once.’ She pushed it across to him and stood. ‘Do you know how frustrating you can be at times?’

He watched her stride angrily away. A man at the next table leaned over.

‘She doesn’t look too happy.’

‘No,’ Johnny agreed. ‘I think it must have been something I said.’

 

He spent the afternoon back in Randall’s office, a map of Leeds laid out on the desk. Forbes and Gorman, detectives from C Division were there, listening closely. Williams had worked with them before, burly, reliable men, both of them war veterans.

They’d be stationed in different parts of the city centre, waiting in telephone boxes, cars parked close by.

‘Remember,’ Randall finished, ‘You shoot only if it’s absolutely vital and no civilians are in danger.’ He’d taken off his jacket and half-moons of sweat dampened the armpits of his shirt. ‘Understood?’ Each of them nodded. ‘Weapons issued first thing in the morning. I want you all here at half-past seven.’

 

At four o’clock Johnny was heading up Harrogate Road. He had the car window down, the afternoon sun warm. Driving gave him time to think, to let ideas percolate to the surface and take shape. He’d been going over the plan for tomorrow. They were as ready as they could be, but a niggling feeling was growing in his stomach.

He’d forgotten something. But he couldn’t imagine quite what.

He steered and shifted through the gears, going over everything once again. The plan was jerry-built and slapped-together, but that was the best they could do with what they knew.

Still, the feeling wouldn’t vanish.

By the time he reached Chapel Allerton he’d given up worrying. It didn’t do any good. Things would happen and they’d need to think on their feet.

Out of the corner of his eye, Johnny saw a familiar figure disappear into the post office. With a sigh, he parked the Austin, lit a cigarette and strolled across the road.

He hadn’t even realised that Danny McGregor was out of jail. It couldn’t have been long. A fortnight and he was usually back inside. Danny’s old bicycle was leaning against the front of a butcher’s shop. The only robber in Leeds who made his getaway on a bike; he was famous throughout the force for it. Johnny squatted, slipped the chain off the sprocket, walked a few steps to the corner and waited.

It only took thirty seconds. McGregor dashed out of the building and grabbed the handlebars, bank notes still clutched in his fist.

Williams shook his head as he stepped into the middle of the pavement.

‘Danny,’ he said slowly, ‘you’re never going to learn, are you?’

It took more than an hour to process the arrest. He escorted the man a block to the local station at the corner of Town Street and waited while McGregor was fingerprinted and measured. Johnny wrote out his statement and stuck around as a constable typed it with two fingers that had trouble mastering the alphabet. It would have been quicker to do it all himself.

He loved police work, it was the greatest fun he could imagine. But not the paperwork that went with it; that was pure tedium. Finally everything was complete, and McGregor escorted down to the cells, his bike on its side in the yard.

Johnny was home by six, parking on the road. Violet would be out, covering her do. He’d have a quiet evening, eat something cold. With luck there’d be someone entertaining on the wireless.

But she was in the lounge, hunched forward in the chair, a glass in her hand.

‘Did they cancel?’ he asked.

‘I pleaded a headache,’ Violet told him, looking up into his face. ‘I thought you’d be home earlier.’

‘Just solving crime.’ He smiled.

‘Have you found them?’

‘Not yet. Tomorrow.’

‘Johnny…’ she began. He sat on the chair arm and stroked her neck.

‘Your hair looks good.’

‘Thank you.’ She glared. ‘Don’t change the subject.’

‘We’ll catch them.’

‘And no one hurt?’

‘Hopefully,’ he answered after a small hesitation.

Violet shook her head. ‘That’s not exactly comforting.’

His fingertips traced her collarbone and he felt her body begin to stir.

‘It’ll be fine,’ he promised.

‘You’re trying to distract me.’ There was a small purr in her voice. She put her hand on top of his.

‘How bad is that headache?’

‘It could be starting to fade a little.’

He continued to stroke her skin, moving in slow circles.

‘And now?’ he asked.

She was breathing slowly, eyes closed, a smile on her lips. ‘You can be a bit of a bastard at times, can’t you, Johnny Williams?’

‘All part of my charm,’ he said softly into her ear and feeling her shiver.

‘Don’t think you’re getting off lightly.’

He leaned forward and kissed her lightly.

 

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