Roaring Thirties, Part 3

CHAPTER SIX

 

At nine o’clock Johnny Williams was standing by the telephone box close to the bottom on East Parade. He’d hung an out of order sign on the receiver, and was standing close enough to grab it at the first ring. From the shadows he could see across City Square to the railway station. The rush hour crowd had passed, only a few people left on the dusty street.

The Austin Swallow was parked at the kerb, the Enfield rifle locked and secure in the boot. Over fifteen years had passed since he’d hefted one, but after signing the chit and picking up the weapon, time seemed to slip away.

Forbes and Gorman would be waiting, too, one on the Headrow, the other on Briggate. The banks would open in half an hour, and the wages would be collected by ten-thirty.

Now all he had to do was wait.

He was still missing something important. But for the life of him, he didn’t know what.

By ten o’clock he was checking his wristwatch every two minutes. The pile of cigarette butts around his feet kept growing.

At half-past ten, just as he was about to give up and remove the sign, the telephone rang.

‘Where?’ he asked.

‘Burton’s factory,’ Randall told him. ‘Wages office.’

 

He cursed the traffic by the market, cutting in between vehicles and sliding through gaps, pressing hard on the accelerator of the Austin, hand jammed on the horn.

He’d only thought about the bloody banks. He’d looked at one half of the equation. The money went to the factories. Thousands of pounds would be delivered to somewhere like Burton’s every Friday morning. The gang had done banks, and he’d been too blind to think beyond that.

Forbes was already there, his car jammed halfway on the pavement. The gang had long since gone. No point in chasing them, Johnny through. From York Road they could have gone anywhere. The needle in the proverbial haystack.

Inside, one woman was crying, her face buried in a handkerchief. Two older men looked stoic and defeated. The air stank of cordite and he could pick out three bullet holes in the wall.

‘Anyone hurt?’ he asked.

Forbes shook his head. ‘Just shocked and scared, by the look of it.’

‘How much did they get?’

‘The head clerk’s over there.’ He pointed at a gaunt older man with a bald head and a thin, grim mouth. Behind a pair of thick spectacles, his eyes stared into the distance.

‘Sir,’ Johnny said, and the man turned his eyes on him, suddenly aware of where he was. ‘I’m Detective Sergeant Williams, CID. Can you tell me what happened?’

They’d been crude and basic, but effective. Three of them had burst in, immediately firing shots into the walls and ceiling, enough to petrify the staff. A few barked orders and they were gone in thirty seconds.

‘How much did they get?’ Williams asked.

Shaking his head, the man opened a thick ledger, hands shaking slightly as a stubby fingertip ran down a line of numbers.

‘Seven thousand, three hundred and fourteen pounds,’ he said hoarsely. His face was still pale ‘And another hundred that we had in petty cash.’

That was it. They’d made the big score. Johnny let out a low whistle.

‘What about the workers here?’ the man asked plaintively. ‘They’ll need to be paid. It’s my responsibility, you see.’

‘Telephone the bank, sir. They’ll be able to arrange something.’ He walked over to Forbes. ‘Have some constables come and take statements. I’m going back to the station.’

 

Randall was pacing the floor of the CID office, stopping when Williams entered.

‘Well?’ he asked. ‘Anyone hurt?’

‘No. They just shot to scare.’

‘How much did they take?’

Johnny told him, then said, ‘They’ve just become the most notorious gang in England.’

‘I’ve had the chief constable on the blower,’ the superintendent told him. ‘No prizes for guessing what he said. And the bloody newspapers have already heard.’

‘It’s my fault. I never thought past banks.’

Randall shook his head. ‘None of us did. We couldn’t have guarded every factory in Leeds, anyway.’

‘It’s still galling.’

‘We need to catch them sharpish.’

‘We will.’ He lit a cigarette.

‘Then what are you waiting for?’ Randall asked. As Johnny turned away, he said, ‘Did you turn in the rifle?’

He had, watching it locked away in a cupboard at the station, still surprised at how natural it had felt when he held it.

 

By evening the robbery would be all over the front page. The robbers would be celebrating. Soon enough, though, they’d need to make fresh plans. They’d all told their parents they’d be home on Sunday, but he doubted that would happen now.

They were infamous. Young, rich, and dangerous. He thought. They’d be eager to spend some of that money, to show off. And now they were in the spotlight, they wouldn’t want to be anonymous much longer.

An hour later, he’d been to Alwoodley, Adel and Thorner, talking to the mothers to see if their sons had been in touch. So far there hadn’t been a single word.

‘When you hear from Asa, I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t mention I was looking for him.’ He offered his best smile and returned the photograph; everyone on the force already had a copy. ‘After all, it was probably nothing.’

‘All right,’ she agreed. The other women did the same and he hoped they’d keep their word. It was the only advantage he possessed. He had their names and they didn’t know that. Yet.

 

Violet had a Scotch and soda and a copy of the Evening Post waiting on the table. The cocktail bar was busy with people, a buzz of conversation surrounding them.

‘I thought you could use that.’

He glanced at the headline – Thieves Grab Thousands In Factory Raid – tossed the newspaper aside and took a sip of the drink.

‘Better,’ he declared and smiled.

‘What are you going to do now?’

‘I was wondering if the power of prayer might help. What have they had you doing?’

‘I went out to interview one of the women at Burton’s. A little extra for the main story tomorrow. The poor woman looked like she was about to burst into tears.’

‘Did you see the bullet holes?’

‘I made sure the photographer took pictures.’

‘Do you fancy a night on the tiles?’ Johnny asked.

‘I won’t say no,’ she answered brightly. ‘What brings this on?’

‘I thought we’d have a bite to eat and go round the clubs.’

She cocked her head. ‘Is this work?’

‘And pleasure.’ He grinned.

‘What are we doing?’

‘Well…’ he began and she listened carefully, chin resting on the back of her hand.

‘What are you going to do if we find them?’

‘Arrest them, of course.’

Violet shook her head.

‘You know you’re mad, don’t you?’

‘I prefer to think of it as enthusiastic.’

She arched an eyebrow doubtfully.

‘Enthusiastic?’

‘Definitely.’

 

A drink in one club that looked little better than a pub with coloured lights and bad music. Then an hour spent dancing at the Kit Kat, foxtrots and Charlestons to the sound of a hot jazz band, Violet’s face flushed with pleasure.

The third place was a cellar on Wellington Street, half the bulbs on the sign burned out. A trio played listless music, and the waitresses all had hard, bored faces. He ordered a Scotch for himself, a gin and tonic for Violet, and glanced around the room.

The lights were dim and the place crowded. It took a while before his eyes settled on a face in the far corner.

‘You’re very quiet.’

‘Just looking,’ he replied with a smile. ‘Over in the far corner, sitting at a table with the redhead. That’s Asa Bradley.’

‘It could be,’ she agreed after a little while. ‘A lot like him, anyway.’

‘But if he’s here, where are the others?’ There were no other men at the table.

‘What are you going to do?’ Violet asked.

Johnny picked up the glass. ‘Have my drink, then arrest him.’

‘He could be armed.’

‘I don’t think so.’ He was studying the man. He seemed tipsy, his gestures exaggerated, the smile too broad. The redhead with him was hardly paying attention, watching a couple move in a slow drag around the dancefloor.

Johnny drained the whisky and stood.

‘I’ll be back in a minute,’ he said. ‘I don’t think we’ll have time for another.’

Up close, he was certain that the man was Bradley. But he was freshly barbered, hair slick and gleaming in the light. His suit looked new, but not expensive: a fifty-shilling job. The shirt collar still crisp and very white, the tie gaudy.

‘Asa?’ Johnny said. ‘Asa Bradley?’

The man turned. His eyes weren’t quite focused and his face looked slightly confused.

‘Yes,’ Bradley said doubtfully.

‘I thought it was you,’ Johnny said. ‘I told my wife it was, but she said it couldn’t be. Are you still racing those little cars?’

‘No,’ he began and squinted. ‘I’m sorry, I…’

‘Of course you do. It’s Johnny. Johnny Williams.’

‘I…’ He looked confused.

‘Come on. You must. The Midland Bank on Monday, Burton’s today.’

Bradley was on his feet, pushing Williams aside, lurching as he weaved between tables, crashing against things and toppling glasses. Johnny followed, amused. And then Bradley was face down on the floor.

‘I’m terribly sorry,’ Violet said with concern, as she rubbed her ankle. ‘You seem to have tripped over my leg. Are you all right?’

Johnny locked the handcuffs on the man’s wrists.

‘That was very neat,’ he said.

She frowned. ‘He laddered my stocking. It was a new pair, too.’

He hauled Bradley to his feet, a hand on his collar.

‘You should have remembered me,’ he said.

‘Don’t you have to say “You’re nicked” or something now?’ Violet asked.

‘No, it’s optional. Can you ring the police and have them send a Black Maria down for him?’ He pushed Bradley onto an empty chair. ‘Just stay there.’ There was no resistance in the man. The hubbub had settled, the band had stopped playing and everyone in the club was staring. ‘Sorry about that,’ Johnny announced, and nodded at the pianist on the stage. The music began again.

 

 

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

A bulky constable stood guard by the door after escorting Asa Bradley to the interview room. Johnny was sitting on the other side of the desk, neat and shaved in the morning sun through the windows.

After a night in the cells, Bradley looked worn. The new suit was rumpled and creased, a line of grime around his shirt collar. He’d washed and run a hand through his hair, but he still looked the worse for wear, his face bleary and bloated. There was fear in his eyes.

Johnny emptied the contents of a large envelope onto the wood. A wallet, keys, handkerchief, some coins, and a thick roll of bank notes.

‘You’ve done well for yourself, Asa,’ he said. ‘Two hundred and thirty-five pounds and some change.’ The man shrugged and gave a quick smile. ‘But you took more a lot of money in the robberies. It’s nice enough clobber you bought, but it wasn’t that expensive.’ Johnny waited, but there was no reply. ‘Or did they give you less because you were only the driver?’

‘We split it four ways.’

‘Really? They were the ones taking the risk. All you had to do was sit behind the wheel.’

‘It wasn’t like that.’

‘Of course not.’ He smiled. ‘All for one?’

‘How did you find out?’

‘About you?’ He saw Bradley nod. ‘I’m CID. It’s my job. We have all your names – Cogden, Boyd, Carey.’ He took out a packet of Gold Flake and offered Bradley one of the cigarettes. ‘Asa’s an unusual name.’

The man rolled his eyes. ‘It’s for my grandfather,’ he said glumly. ‘My middle name’s Ewart, after Gladstone.’

‘Asa Ewart Bradley.’ Johnny rolled the name around. ‘Still, it’ll sound good when you’re at His Majesty’s pleasure in jail. The other prisoners will like that.’ He paused. ‘What made you do it?’

It took him a while to reply. ‘Fun, really. Just to see if we could.’ He drew down a lungful of smoke and grinned as he blew it out. ‘We haven’t done too badly.’

‘Except for the fact that you’re looking at five years behind bars.’

Bradley shrugged, but his eyes were worried.

‘The days are very long in there. No fun at all. How old are you, Asa?’

‘Twenty.’

‘So you’ll be twenty-five when you get out.’

‘That’s not too bad.’ He could hear the bravado in the voice.

‘Of course, no one will hire you. And I daresay your family will disown you. Your father was the area manager for Dunlop, wasn’t he?’

‘Yes.’

Johnny let the silence build around them and ground out his cigarette butt in the ashtray.

‘You know…’he began tentatively.

‘What?’

‘It’s just an idea.’ Johnny waved his cigarette in the air. ‘No, you wouldn’t like it.’

‘What?’ Bradley repeated.

‘No,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t.’

‘What is it?’

‘I was going to make you an offer. If you tell me where to find the others, I could see you get a shorter sentence. As long as we get the weapons and the money, too, of course.’ He looked at Bradley’s clothes, already looking cheap and dirty after a single night in custody. ‘Most of it, anyway. But you probably wouldn’t go for it. Loyalty and all that.’

‘They did pay me less since I was only driving,’ he admitted.

‘Whose idea was that?’

‘Charlie’s. He thought up the whole thing.’

‘The raid on the gunsmith, too?’

‘Yes. He thought it would be better if we all had guns.’

‘I see.’ Johnny looked down at the floor and pursed his lips. ‘Did you carry one?’

‘No. I don’t like them.’

‘But Charlie and the others did.’

‘Yes. He likes playing with that pistol. You know, quick draws and things.’

‘That’s something. Judges don’t like weapons.’

‘Will it help with my sentence?’ Bradley asked.

‘Probably. At least you won’t get more.’ He shrugged. Enough time had passed for the idea to take root. ‘Of course, you could get less.’

‘If I tell you where to find them?’

‘Yes.’ He let his gaze linger on the sunshine beyond the window. ‘Just think of all those summers you’ll miss.’ He paused for just a heartbeat. ‘All those girls you’ll never kiss.’

Johnny gave him take to absorb the thought. ‘Where are the others, Asa?’

 

The barn was a good ten miles outside Leeds. It was at the rear of a property owned by a friend of Cogden’s, away down a track, hidden by trees. Bradley had given it up easily enough. He’d even drawn a map, then looked up hopefully.

‘Thank you,’ Johnny told him. ‘We’ll have a word at your trial.’

And now Williams was crouched behind in the woods, staring at the building. There were twenty uniforms around, along with Forbes and Gorman, all of them waiting for his signal.

He’d been watching for a quarter of an hour, hoping for some sign of activity. The Enfield sniper rifle hung over his shoulder on its strap, ready to use. The three of them had signed out for weapons again, but the constables were unarmed.

So far he’d seen nothing. No sound except the birds overhead.

Finally he stood. Sooner or later they’d need to go in. Waiting had told him nothing. It was time. He felt the others rise around him, took a deep breath, then began to walk through the long grass.

Johnny kept his eyes on the barn. At the edge of the trees he paused for a few seconds before marching on. He was braced for a shot, ready to throw himself on the ground.

But with each yard, there was still nothing. Johnny didn’t look at any of the other men. His eyes were fixed firmly ahead, rifle held at port, sweat on his palms.

He broke into a trot, moving at a crouch, zig-zagging across the open ground before the barn, waiting for the first bullet.

It was cooler in the shadow of the building. He pressed himself against the wall, letting his eyes adjust to the shade after the bright sunshine.

Johnny edged to the door, scarcely daring to breathe.

It was unlocked, slightly ajar. He could see tyre tracks on the grass, leading in and out. Very slowly, he extended the barrel of the rifle inside the door and pushed it to widen the opening.

Johnny ducked and entered. But there was nothing inside except silence and gloom.

It was easy to see where they’d been, depressions in the hay, the remains of a fire, a ten pound note blown into a corner. They must have left when Bradley didn’t return.

The men searched carefully, but there was little, and no indication of where they’d gone.

After half an hour, Johnny left them to their work and drove back into Leeds. The rifle was locked in the boot. This time he’d be happy to put it away. He could feel the quiet fury burning inside. The gang had stayed one step ahead.

 

‘How long had they been gone?’ Randall asked.

‘Hard to tell. But they hadn’t rushed. They’d taken everything except this.’ He produced the ten-pound note from his trouser pocket. ‘It’ll match the serial numbers from one of the robberies.’

‘Where do you think they went?’

Williams shrugged and nodded at three folders on the corner of the superintendent’s desk.

‘Are those the files on them?’

‘I’ve had men interviewing everyone we can find. That’s what we’ve come up with so far.’

Johnny spent the next two hours at his desk, reading through every word and making notes, smoking quietly. All around, the daily business of CID continued, but he didn’t notice or raise his head. He was absorbed in his work, constantly referring back to what he’d seen earlier.

By the time he put the folders aside, he knew much more about Cogden, Boyd and Carey. They’d all gone to Leeds Grammar School, friends for years. He took out the photographs and laid them side by side on the blotter. Young faces, smooth and without the experience of life. Cogden’s was full of arrogance, a sharpness in his eyes, the beginning of a smirk in his smile. The others didn’t have his confidence. They were more hesitant as they stared into the camera, not so sure about things; they’d be happy to have someone else lead them. Nature’s followers.

 

He was parked outside the Yorkshire Post building when Violet emerged at the end of her Saturday morning at work. She was wearing a cream dress with a wide belt of soft leather that accentuated her shape.

‘You look happy. A good morning?’

‘Very.’ She smiled wickedly. ‘Bill was so galled. He had to interview me. Did you know I was responsible for the capture of a dangerous criminal?’

‘Were you?’ He raised his eyebrows. ‘I thought that was me.’

‘It’s going to be in the late edition.’ She primped her hair. ‘Photograph, too.’

‘Did they get your good side?’

‘They’d better. I spent ten minutes posing. Did you get anything from Bradley?’

‘Where the gang was hiding.’

‘And?’

‘They’d gone by the time we arrived.’

‘So what now?’

He grinned. ‘I have a plan or two.’

‘Is taking me to the pictures among them?’

Johnny pursed his lips thoughtfully. ‘No, that’s not in there.’

‘It should be,’ she told him. ‘I think it’s a splendid plan.’

‘What’s playing?’

The Scarlet Pimpernel. Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon.’

‘Plenty of swashbuckling?’

‘Oodles of it,’ she assured him.

‘We could go this evening.’

‘It’s on at the Paramount,’ Violet told him. ‘There’s a matinee.’

He shook his head. ‘We’re busy this afternoon.’

‘Are we?’ Violet asked.

‘I went through the files. Cogden has a girlfriend.’

 

Anna Mowbray was a shy, tidy girl, just back from shopping in town, bags littering the hall of the detached house.

She was fashionably dressed in a pale pink silk dress that reached to her knees, her hair up against the heat, eyes large and dark. Her mother was out, and she led them through to the garden, to chairs in the shade of a copper beech tree.

‘Is this about Charlie?’ she asked after they were comfortable. A maid appeared from the house with three glasses of lemonade on a tray.

‘What makes you say that?’ Johnny wondered.

‘Well, I know I haven’t done anything wrong. And he…’

‘What?’

‘I don’t know. He’s always had that wild side, I suppose. It is about him, isn’t it?’

‘Have you read about the bank robberies, and the one at Burton’s yesterday?’

Anna’s hand came up to her mouth.

‘That’s Charlie?’ It was a very girlish gesture. But that’s what she was, he thought, no more than eighteen.

‘It is. Along with a chap called Tim Carey and his cousin.’

‘Kenny.’ She nodded, still looking astonished.

‘Yes.’

‘I haven’t seen Charlie lately, you know. He said they were all going on holiday…he’s supposed to be back tomorrow.’

‘I don’t think they’ll be returning, Miss Mowbray,’ Johnny told her and she nodded slowly.

Violet leaned forwards. ‘I know it must be a shock,’ she said quietly, ‘but do you know where they might have gone?’

‘There’s a barn somewhere,’ she said after some thought. ‘Charlie never took me, but they’d go out there sometimes. A chum of his lives out that way, I think.’

‘On the way to York?’ Johnny asked.

‘Yes.’

‘They were there, but they’ve gone now.’ She looked at him with curiosity. ‘We arrested the driver from the gang. He told us about it. Is there anywhere else you can think of?’

‘Even somewhere unlikely,’ Violet added.

‘Well,’ Anna replied eventually, ‘there might be one other place.’ Johnny waited, letting her take her time. ‘There’s a little cottage. It’s all rather tumbledown. Charlie took me out there a couple of times.’ She blushed, the colour rushing up her face.

‘Where is it?’ he asked softly.

‘Just off the road to Harrogate. In Pannal.’

He knew it, little more than a crossroads on the far side of Harewood, and listened as she described the building, asking a few questions. Violet sat, paying attention but saying nothing.

Finally he was done, standing with his hat in his hand.

‘What will happen to him?’ Anna asked. ‘When you catch him, I mean.’

‘He’ll go to prison. They have guns. If they kill someone, it’ll be worse.’

‘I see.’ She stood for a moment.

‘Do you have any idea what’s made him do this?’ Violet asked.

‘Not really,’ Anna answered, and for a moment she sounded like a little girl instead of a young woman. ‘He’s always had something. Like I said, a wild streak.’

‘How long have you been going out?’

‘Just over six months.’ She made a face. ‘Mummy and Daddy don’t like him.’

‘Do they stop you seeing him?’

She stood, one thin hand on the latch.

‘No. They thought I’d grow tired of him.’ Anna gave a sigh. ‘I suppose I have, really. He’s fun, but that’s not really enough, is it?’

‘No,’ Violet agreed, looking pointedly at Johnny. Her eyes twinkled. ‘A girl needs someone with some depth.’

 

‘Do you fancy a spin out to Pannal?’ he asked as they drove away.

‘I knew you’d say that. You’re not going to try and tackle them on your own, are you?’

‘Good God, no. Just a recce. Pass by the place. Maybe see if there are signs of life.’ She continued to look at him. ‘Honestly.’

The building was brick, standing a few yards back from the crossroads. It seemed derelict, a hole in the slates of the roof, the windows filled with cobwebs. Johnny turned onto a country lane and parked close to the top of the hill, by a large fishing pond that looked down on the back of the place.

‘Anything?’ she asked.

He shook his head. ‘Impossible to tell. No car, but they could have hidden it inside. The doors are big enough.’

It would wait until tomorrow. The gang had moved once; if they thought they were safe, they’d be in no hurry to do it again.

On the way home Johnny stopped at the newsagent for a copy of the Evening Post, started glancing at the front page as he walked back to the car, then halted to take it all in, scrabbling through to finish the story.

This reporter can exclusively reveal the names of the daring gang that has robbed banks, a gunsmith and, most recently, the wages department at Burton’s factory on York Road. The leader, Charles Cogden (20) of Leeds, telephoned the Yorkshire Evening Post to reveal their identities and challenge the police to stop them. Along with the young man are Timothy Carey and Kenneth Boyd, both also 20 and from Leeds. A fourth member, Asa Bradley, was apprehended last night, thanks to the intrepid assistance of Mrs. Violet Williams, who works for this newspaper.

            ‘It looks as if your friend Bill got a telephone call from our criminal friends after you left.’

‘What?’ She read furiously.

‘The cat’s well and truly among the pigeons now,’ Johnny said. ‘How long do I have left on that fortnight?’

‘A week and a bit,’ she answered absently. He could feel the fury coming off her in waves. ‘The bastard. He wouldn’t even say I was a reporter. Didn’t even use a quote and they cut the picture.’ She tossed the newspaper onto the back seat and folded her arms. ‘He’s bloody lucky I’m not the one with the gun.’

‘You’ve just reminded me…’

‘What?’ she barked.

‘There’s one in the boot. I forgot to turn it back in earlier.’

‘Men,’ Violet fumed. ‘You’re all useless.’

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

‘Who fancies a spot of fishing?’ Johnny asked Forbes and Gorman, seeing them glance at each other.

He explained the idea. One man to keep watch up at the pond as Johnny brought the others up around the building. It was so close to the main road that he’d need to be careful.

‘What if we see them coming out?’ Forbes asked.

‘Blow your police whistle. The sound will carry. I need someone up there I can trust.’

‘Are you sure they’re in this place?’ Randall asked. He was leaning against a wall, arms folded across his chest.

‘Well, no,’ Johnny admitted. ‘But it’s the only information we have.’

The superintendent rubbed his chin, then nodded.

‘It’s worth a shot,’ he agreed.

 

At least it was Sunday and hardly any traffic around. They closed the road either side of Pannal, out of sight of the building. Johnny led the uniforms through the woods, the Enfield slung over his shoulder. He glanced up the hill. Forbes look incongruous, sitting by the pond in his shirtsleeves and trilby, holding a bamboo fishing rod.

He dashed across some bare, open ground to a corner of the place, dust rising behind him. A heavy-footed constable with a Webley revolver in his large fist ran to the other end. Johnny nodded and they moved to a single door in the middle of the wall.

He was breathing hard, the rifle in his hands. This was becoming a habit. His hand rested on the doorknob, palm slippery with sweat. It turned in his fingers and he pushed it open, dashing through then kneeling, the weapon to his shoulder, ready to shoot.

The building was empty, and larger than it appeared from the outside. Hay bales were loosely stacked in a far corner. A perfect place to hide. Johnny moved, flattening himself against the brick and signalling the constable to give him some cover.

Stealthily, pace by slow pace, Johnny moved forwards. He kept his eyes on the bales, alert for any movement, any sound. Better safe than sorry. He had his finger on the trigger of the rife, ready to react.

He’d moved ten feet when it happened. The tip of a shotgun barrel poking through a gap between the bales.

Without even thinking, he yelled, ‘Down,’ and began to fire into the straw. The constable loosed off three shots and then there was silence. The air was heavy with cordite, the smell scraping against his throat, smoke rising to the ceiling.

‘There are plenty of police here,’ Johnny shouted. The gunfire had left his ears ringing, and the words sounded muted. ‘You might as well come out.”

No movement, no sound. He glanced over at the constable, who gave a thumbs up; he was fine.

Johnny was in no hurry. The man could be injured. He could be biding his time. During the war he’d spent plenty of time waiting and watching for the smallest movement. The constable was lying on the floor, the revolver braced on a piece of wood. He was another who’d been a Tommy. Patient and controlled. Ready for anything.

Five minutes passed, then ten. Johnny could feel the tension in his shoulders from holding the Enfield. After half an hour, his feet began to ache; brogues weren’t as comfortable as boots for this.

Very carefully, he began to inch forward again, trying to stay silent. But that was impossible on a concrete floor scattered with twigs and gravel. The room was hot and airless. His shirt was stuck against his back and drops of perspiration ran down his forehead, stinging in his eyes and making him blink.

The hay bales offered good protection. They’d absorb the impact of the bullets and slow them. For a moment, Johnny wondered why there was only one of the gang here – where were the others?

But those questions could wait. The man a few yards away with the gun was the immediate problem.

Don’t look at your watch. Don’t think about time. That’s what they’d taught him in sniper training. Be aware of things at the edge of your vision. It all flooded back. The words had been drummed into them, day after day.

Johnny raised his left arm, grabbing the brim of his hat, and sent it sailing across the brick room at head height. While it was suspended in the air, he ran forwards in a crouch until he was close enough to the hay to smell its dryness.

There had been no shots. He looked back at the constable, still lying on the floor. The man gave a tiny shake of his head.

No way through the bales; they were too heavy. And the way they were positioned, like a child’s fort, he couldn’t go around. The only option was over the top. Johnny spent a minute working out handholds. While he climbed he wouldn’t be able to hold the rifle. But that was how it would have to be.

And no point in wondering or worrying what might happen. He straightened up, took a breath, and began.

One second.

He had a grip, he was moving.

Two seconds.

Off the floor, pulling himself higher.

Three seconds.

The straw scratched his palms. He pushed, bringing his knees up.

Four seconds.

The gun was in his hands and he stared down.

There was no one there. Just an open trap door in the floor.

‘He’s gone,’ Johnny said.

‘Sir?’ The policeman rose to his feet, dusting down his trousers.

‘A trapdoor and a tunnel. Get me a torch.’

He climbed back down, waiting as the coppers came in and moved the bales aside. There was no rush now. The man had long since vanished. And it explained why there’d only been one of them waiting. They’d been prepared. Again.

The others had waited with the car at the other end of the tunnel. By now they’d be miles away.

Someone put a torch in his hand. He directed the beam into the hole and followed. It was cramped, the earth damp and cool, but firm. Johnny tried to measure the tunnel, pace by pace, but he couldn’t. He didn’t even know the direction. Finally, there was light ahead. He came out at the far side of some trees, close to a track.

Grazing around, he was able to make everything out. He was the best part of a quarter mile from the building, on the far side of the Harrogate Road and out of sight. The perfect bloody getaway.

 

‘They’re making us look like idiots,’ Randall said. ‘That’s twice they’ve got away now.’

‘This was something else,’ Johnny said, rolling a cigarette through his fingers. ‘This time they knew we were coming.’

He’d considered it on the drive back into Leeds. The gang had been prepared; they hadn’t left in a rush. There’d even been one man to shoot at them then vanish down the tunnel. Yesterday’s newspaper was still on the back seat of the Austin, Cogden challenging the police to find them. He was making a game of it all. And he was winning. For now.

‘How could they?’ the superintendent asked. ‘We only discussed it this morning. Just you, me, Forbes and Gorman.’

‘I know.’

‘You don’t think..?’

Johnny shook his head. ‘I think he ‘phoned his girlfriend last night and she told him she’d mentioned the place. Violet’s gone over to talk to her and find out. I thought she’d open up more to another woman.’

‘It doesn’t help us catch them.’

‘We need to interview Asa Bradley again,’ Johnny said. ‘Why not let Gorman have a go at him? He’s big, he intimidates people.’

Randall nodded his agreement.

‘What about you?’

‘I’m going to think.’

‘You’d better hurry up. I’ve heard about the book they’ve been making on you catching them.’ He smiled. ‘Just over a week left, isn’t there?’

‘Plenty of time yet,’ Johnny told him. ‘How much do you have on it?’

‘Just a shilling.’

‘I was hoping for more faith that that.’

‘And I’m hoping for some bloody results.’

 

He mowed the lawn, then sat in a deckchair with a bottle of beer. There was the soft drone of an aeroplane in the sky. Johnny shaded his eyes as he glanced up and saw the familiar shape of a Sopwith Camel.

The back door snicked closed and Violet lowered herself into the other chair.

‘She told him, didn’t she?’

‘Charlie telephoned her yesterday evening,’ she said. ‘He wanted to be sure she’d read the paper.’

‘She said we’d called on her.’

Violet nodded. ‘She wasn’t going to, but he’s evidently very charming.’

‘I hadn’t pictured him quite that way.’

‘You wouldn’t. Charm isn’t your long suit.’

‘Did he tell her much?’

‘No. She thinks he’s a hero, you know.’

Johnny sat up. ‘Why?’

‘A Robin Hood or something.’

‘Has he given any money to the poor? I hadn’t heard.’

‘Except for that part,’ Violet agreed. ‘But robbery does make him seem romantic. She’s still young and impressionable.’

‘Remember, if he hadn’t contacted Bill, your picture would have been on the front of the paper.’

She stared at him coolly.

‘Believe me, I’m not likely to forget.’ She waited the length of a heartbeat. ‘Or forgive.’

 

He’d been in the CID room for an hour, listening to Gorman go through all the details of his interview with Asa Bradley. There’d been no new information – the lad hadn’t even known about the place out in Pannal. The hands of the clock crawled along. Just after ten o’clock, the windows wide open, the day already hot and sticky.

‘Yorkshire Penny Bank in Chapel Allerton,’ Randall shouted from his office. ‘It sounds like they’ve been at it again.’

 

 

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