A Request And Roaring Thirties Part 4

It being the holiday season, and, as well all know, books make great gifts, please let me plug the three of mine that were published this year. You might well know people who like one of them (or all!). Thank you.

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And now to part four…

CHAPTER NINE

 

Johnny parked on Harrogate Road and looked around. The bank building was new, curving around the corner from Stainbeck Lane towards the Harrogate Road. Whoever robbed it had been daring; a police station stood on the other side of the street, no more than forty yards away.

The place was filled with constables, a uniformed inspector gazing around. Johnny headed towards a girl standing behind the counter, a cup of tea between her hands.

‘Are you all right?’ he asked.

She looked up at him with large eyes. Her dark hair was gathered in a prim bun, her blouse closed at the neck by a cameo brooch.

‘Just…shocked, I suppose.’ The woman cocked her head. ‘Who are you?’

‘Detective Sergeant Williams, CID. Call me Johnny, if you like.’ He smiled at her. ‘You’re Miss..?’

‘Martin,’ she replied.

‘Were you back here when it happened?’

‘Yes.’

‘Why don’t you go through it for me?’ Johnny asked softly. ‘If it’s not too terrible, of course.’

‘Not at all.’ She stood a little straighter. ‘There were three of them. They rushed through the door. One of them had a shotgun.’

‘Three?’ he asked carefully.

‘Oh yes.’ She was absolutely certain. ‘They shouted for us to hand over the money. It’s just lucky we didn’t have any customers inside.’

‘What did they look like?’

‘Two of them were rather young,’ Miss Martin said after a few moments’ thought. ‘The other one looked older. It’s a funny thing.’

‘What is?’

She looked at him curiously.

‘The way he moved. It was like a dancer, you know, Fred Astaire or someone. And I remember thinking he had very dainty little feet. They were so small.’ She gave an embarrassed little laugh.

‘What about their voices? How did they sound?’

‘Oh,’ Miss Martin said. ‘Leeds through and through.’

‘How much did they take? Do you know?’

‘Oh no. You’d have to ask Mr. Peters about that. He’s the manager.’ She pointed at a closed door. ‘That’s his office.’

Peters had just totted up the figures and was sitting worriedly at his desk. The robbers had got away with just over seven hundred pounds. Not a big haul, but still large enough.

‘Do you mind if I use your telephone?’ Johnny asked. The manager seemed hesitant until he said, ‘I’ll pay for the call.’

Randall picked up on the first ring.

‘Well?’

‘Can you have Forbes and Gorman meet me at the Royal Park Hotel in Hyde Park?’

‘Isn’t it a bit early to be drowning your sorrows? Was it them?’

‘I’ll tell you when I come back. I’ll be over there in about twenty minutes.’

‘All right,’ the superintendent agreed with a sigh. ‘Have it your way.’

 

Johnny waited in the Austin Super Swallow, window rolled down, smoking a cigarette and watching the traffic. He’d parked on the road across from the pub. Finally a black Morris Eight pulled in behind him and two men emerged. Standing on the corner, Johnny pointed and told them the plan.

‘Just give me two minutes, then go and do what I said.’

‘Are you sure this’ll work?’ Forbes asked.

‘Positive.’ He grinned. ‘Just make sure you bang on the door loudly and say you’re police. That’ll do the trick.’

Johnny hurried into position, standing in the ginnel by the back gate of a house on Royal Park Mount. He had one hand in his trouser pocket, and the brim of his trilby tilted down low.

He heard the creak of hinges, then footsteps running across the yard, and the gate was pulled wide.

‘Hello, Norman,’ Johnny said. ‘Not leaving, are you?’ Defeat filled the man’s face. ‘Are the others still inside? Let’s go in so you can introduce me.’

 

‘When the woman in the bank mentioned the way he moved and the tiny feet, I knew it had to be him,’ Johnny explained to Randall. ‘There’s only one person like that in Leeds. And she said three of them came into the bank. So there must have been someone else waiting in the car. Cogden’s gang is down to three since we arrested Bradley.’

‘Unless he’s recruited someone else.’

‘Well, yes. What’s worrying me is these people are starting to copy what he’s done.’

‘Maybe they won’t once they read about this,’ the superintendent said.

‘Let’s hope so.’

‘But it still doesn’t bring us any closer to Cogden and the others.’

‘Perhaps it does,’ Johnny said slowly. ‘Look at it this way: they’re not going to want others running round and taking their credit, are they?’

Randall shrugged. ‘Do you think they’ll care? He might be sitting back and laughing when he reads about this.’

He shook his head. ‘No. Not when he took the trouble to ring the Evening Post so they’d know his name. Whatever they’ve been planning, they’ll push it up. And they’ll want it to be bigger than the Burton’s job. To show that they can and to makes us look foolish.’

‘More foolish,’ Randall corrected him. ‘Any idea what they’ll do next?’

‘I’m working on that one.’ Johnny waited, then said, ‘Can you arrange for me to see Ray Ackroyd?’

‘I suppose so. Why?’

‘I’d like to talk to him.’

‘I’ll ring the governor. This afternoon?’

Johnny smiled. ‘Perfect.’

Ray Ackroyd had been one of the top criminals in Leeds. It had taken two years to bring him down. Even then, he’d ended up in Armley Jail, no more than five miles from where he lived. His family visited every month. He probably still ran his empire from his cell. But he knew the city well, he understood how it worked, and what would cause a stir.

Ackroyd had always been careful. A rich man, without doubt. But he never flaunted it. A decent Edwardian semi in Headingley, but hardly ostentatious. An ordinary Morris 8, although Johnny knew that Colin Jordan had put a new, powerful engine in it. There was money, but they’d never recovered much of it. No hidden bank accounts, nothing under the mattress. Ray Ackroyd would live very comfortably when he was eventually released.

 

Johnny Williams parked the Austin on the road and walked to the gate, showing his warrant card to the warder.

The building had been built to look like a castle. But inside it was less grand, all depressing shades of grey and green, everything in need of fresh coat of paint. Noise echoed around, even in the room where he sat and waited.

Ackroyd was laughing and joking with the guards when they escorted him in, as much at home as if he was in his sitting room. He settled onto the chair and lit a Woodbine.

‘Surprised to see you, Mr. Williams.’

‘Looks like they’re treating you well, Ray.’

The man shrugged.

‘You know. Make friends everywhere. It’s not a bad place, once you get used to it.’

‘Just as well.’ The sentence was seven years, one served so far. Already sixty, he’d be an old man when he was finally released. ‘But there might be a way to see you go home a little sooner.’

‘Oh aye?’ Ackroyd cocked his head and knitted his bushy eyebrows. ‘How’s that, then?’

Johnny smiled. He had the man’s attention.

‘I’m looking for a little help.’

Ackroyd smirked.

‘A little lost, are you?’

Johnny was the policeman who’d put him away. Ackroyd had believed his own myth, that he was untouchable. But there was always something, a little wedge to use. Johnny had found it and worked patiently.

‘Some thoughts might be worth a few words to the governor.’

‘This gang doing the banks?’

‘That’s the one.’ He laid everything out, piece upon piece, from the first bank job to the gunsmith and the Burton’s raid, how they’d evaded capture.

‘They’ve got you on the run,’ Ackroyd said with satisfaction when he’d finished.

‘What do you make of them?’

‘This lad in charge has a brain, doesn’t he?’

‘And ambition,’ Johnny pointed out.

‘Nothing wrong with that. So what do you want from me?’

‘If you were them, where would you hit next?’

Ackroyd chuckled.

‘Stumped, are you?’

‘I’m tired of chasing them.’

‘I’ve heard they’ve been making a book on you catching them.’

‘People will bet on anything.’

‘It’s not looking good, Mr. Williams.’ He shook his head sadly. ‘They reckoned two weeks, now folk are thinking they’ll get away.’

‘What do you reckon, Ray?’

‘I reckon you’re a little worried if you’ve come here to talk to me.’

‘Where did you put your money?’

‘That you’d have them inside a fortnight.’ He shrugged. ‘Course, I might have to change that now.’

‘Keep it where it is,’ Johnny assured him.

‘You’re sure of that?’

‘I got you, didn’t I?’

‘You were lucky.’ Let him believe that, Johnny thought. ‘This Cogden, is he cocky?’

‘It looks that way.’

‘Takes one to know one, eh?’

Johnny smiled. ‘Are you saying I’m cocky?’

‘Cockiest bastard I ever met.’ He lit another cigarette. ‘So why should I help you?’

‘Because you might get some time off your sentence.’

‘Is that a promise?’ Ackroyd asked.

‘Like I said, a word with the governor.’

Nothing more than a maybe, then,’ he said dismissively. ‘That and sixpence will get you a cup of tea.’

‘And you don’t want people saying Cogden’s slicker than you ever were.’

The man bristled.

‘Who’s been saying that?’

‘No one. Not yet. But you never know when someone might start a rumour.’

Ackroyd roared with laughter, so hard that he began to cough, face turning puce until he caught his breath.

‘You’ve got plenty of front, I’ll give you that,’ he said finally.

Johnny smiled.

‘And charm. Don’t forget that.’

‘How could I?’ But he was smiling. He’d help.

‘If you wanted to make a splash after those jobs, something that people would really remember, what would you do?’

‘Got to be big,’ Ackroyd said thoughtfully. ‘Something they haven’t done before. They have guns, you said.’

‘Shotguns and a pistol.’

‘Would they use them?’

‘If they had to, I think they would. Cogden, anyway.’

‘Right.’ Ackroyd stroked his chin. ‘I’d make sure it was very public, that everyone would know.’

‘Go on.’

‘And high-class. Got to be high-class,’ he said firmly.

‘What do you mean?’ Johnny asked.

‘Well, if you really want people to notice, go for the rich. The toffs.’

‘That’s not a bad idea,’ Johnny told him with admiration. ‘Where?’

‘Drive me round the city centre and I could pick out a few places,’ Ackroyd suggested.

‘And skip out as soon as I stopped? I don’t think so, Ray.’

The man shrugged, taking the loss as nothing.

‘Have a wander around yourself, then,’ he suggested. ‘Just think of those things. When was the Burton’s job?’

‘Friday.’ It was Monday now

‘Get your skates on, then,’ Ackroyd advised. ‘They’ll want to strike while the iron’s hot, while people still remember them. You know what they say, today’s news, tomorrow’s fish and chip paper.’

Johnny stood, fitting the trilby on his head, and extended a hand. Ackroyd shook it.

‘I’ll tell the governor you helped.’

‘Still think I shouldn’t change my bet?’

‘How much do you have on it?’

‘Five quid.’

‘Keep it where it is. There’s a week left yet.’

 

Johnny left the Austin in Park Square. The neat old houses were offices for lawyers, doctors and dentists now, a little place of calm in the middle of the city. He wandered along Park Row and East Parade, where the big insurance companies and banks occupied grand buildings that promised security and stability.

They’d be safe enough, he decided. They were too big, and there wasn’t enough money in them, certainly nothing to be gathered quickly. Cogden and his gang would want to be daring, but not stupid.

By late afternoon he had a few possibilities. But nothing that stood out as a certainty. He was waiting outside the Yorkshire Post building by five o’clock as everyone emerged, leaning against the stonework and feeling the sun on his face.

Violet was one of the last to leave, wearing a cornflower blue skirt and short-sleeved white blouse, the handbag caught over her arm. She saw him and raised an eyebrow.

‘Keep standing there and someone will arrest you for loitering with intent.’

‘What if I don’t have any intent?’ he asked.

‘Oh, Johnny.’ She stared at him. ‘Then I’d be very, very disappointed.’

CHAPTER TEN

 

The bar at the Metropole Hotel was black marble, wood and brass in sweeping Art Deco designs. After the heat of the day, it seemed cool and airy.

Violet sipped her Brandy Alexander and glanced around.

‘They’ve done a good job here,’ she said approvingly. ‘It’s very stylish.’

‘You should write a piece about it,’ Johnny suggested, watching her make a face.

‘Puff piece. I want real news.’

‘Like Charlie Cogden and his friends?’

‘Well, I do have an inside source.’

‘That’s cheating.’

‘A girl has to use her advantages.’ She smiled and batted her eyelashes. ‘So, where do you think they’ll hit next?’

‘That’s the problem. There are a few possibilities. We can’t cover them all. And I don’t even know if I’m right.’ He thought a moment. ‘I was wrong about Burton’s.’

‘It happens to everyone.’

‘They’re going to strike soon. I want to be prepared. I need to think like Cogden.’

‘Think like Johnny Williams,’ Violet told him.

‘I’m not sure he’s thinking that well.’ He took a drink of Scotch.

‘Get him on the ball.’ Her eyes were assessing the people in the bar. ‘A rich crowd here.’

‘There are still a few people with money.’

‘Yes,’ she agreed slowly. ‘Is this hotel on your list?’

He shook his head.

‘Too tricky. It’s difficult to rob hotels quickly.’

‘Oh well, it was just a thought.’

‘It’s a good one, though.’ He lit a Gold Flake. ‘I’m going to have to go out tonight.’

‘Where are we going?’ Violet asked brightly.

‘It’s a place where they don’t like women as guests.’

‘I hate it already. Meeting someone interesting?’

‘Interesting?’ he wondered. ‘I suppose so. A chap called Mad Mike.’

‘God, I hope he’s not a doctor.’

‘Someone I knew during the war. We’ve stayed in touch.’

‘Why’s he called Mad? Or don’t I want to know?’

‘He used to get a little carried away sometimes. Scared the hell out of people.’

‘Is this an old pals’ reunion?’

‘Not really,’ Johnny admitted slowly. ‘He’s smart.’

‘And violent?’

‘Daunting,’ he said after a little thought. ‘That’s a better word. He’s been drifting a bit, sort of on his uppers since ’29.’

‘You’re doing more than buying him a drink or two, aren’t you?’

‘I’ve been thinking about it.’

‘This Cogden business?’

‘People do talk to Mike.’

‘Has the superintendent approved all this?’

Johnny raised an eyebrow. ‘I believe I must have forgotten to mention it.’

 

The pub stank of smoke and stale beer. All the men carried sullen, hard stares, speaking in low monotones, keeping words to a minimum. The wooden boards of the floor were unpolished, a thin layer of sawdust in patches.

Mike Broadhead was sitting along at a table. He was a big man, fully six and a half feet tall, with wide shoulders and a square head, his scalp hidden under a flat cap. Even in the May warmth, he wore a thin, stained scarf under his blue suit jacket, and his boots were polished to a high shine.

Johnny bought a Scotch and a pint of mild.

‘You’re looking well, Mike.’ He settled on a stool across from the man. ‘Elusive, though. No one knew where you were.’

Mad Mike smiled. It was an easy, relaxed grin.

‘Some of the time I like to keep a low profile. Easier that way.’

They’d been in the same regiment Johnny had survived without a scratch. Mike Broadhead came home with more wounds than he wanted to count. At least one of them had been a Blighty, serious enough to send him back to England, but he’d always returned to fight on until Armistice Day. When the blood lust rose in him, he’d charge the German trenches, yelling and screaming. A berserker, someone had said, and it was true. But normally he was a peaceful enough man, with a sharp mind; only his size scared people, most of the time.

‘Are you working?’

‘No work around, Johnny,’ he replied with a brief sigh. ‘And I doubt they want me in the police.’

‘I might have something to put your way.’

‘Oh yes?’

‘Have you been reading the newspapers?’

‘What? You mean this gang?’ Mike took a long drink from the pint and set it gently back on the table.

‘That’s the one. I’m having a spot of bother finding them.’

‘Your mob not getting any answers?’ He chuckled.

‘I’d like to put a bit of pressure on. Make it seem like someone else is after them.’

‘Why would anyone else be looking?’

It was a fair question. During the day, Johnny had looked at the angles, trying to work out a reason. Now he smiled.

‘Because they’re still amateurs. These are the first jobs they’ve pulled. And because they have plenty of cash. Best part of ten thousand.’

Mike let out a soft whistle.

‘You can imagine someone might want to relieve them of that.’

‘Yes.’ He nodded. ‘But they have guns.’

‘Didn’t scare you in the war. You have a reputation.’

‘That was a long time ago, Johnny,’ Mike said slowly. ‘Different place, different reasons.’ He’d done time for assault and grievous bodily harm since then, on the few occasions he’d been unable to control his temper.

‘People are still scared of you.’ He paused for a moment. ‘Who do you know who’s tough?’

‘Tough?’

‘People who scare you.’

‘I don’t know,’ Mike answered. ‘I’ve never really thought about it. Maybe Ben Marshall. And Fish. Fish bloody terrifies me.’

Marshall had put more than a few people in the hospital. It didn’t matter who you were; crossing him when he was in a mood was a dangerous business. But there was a strange, mutual respect between him and Mad Mike; as if they saw twisted kindred spirits in each other.

Fish was a different matter. Waves of danger seemed to flow from him. He was even bigger than Mike, and far uglier. People kept their distance, never knowing when the switch in his head would click and he’d turn violent.

But when he was calm, he could spend hour sitting on the riverbank with a fishing rod, absorbed in what he was doing and throwing back anything he caught, gently disengaging the fish from the hook.

‘What do you imagine people would think of the three of you together?’

Mike chuckled. ‘I think we’d scare the hell out of them.’

‘That’s what I’m after.’

Mad Mike stayed quiet long enough to finish his drink.

‘I don’t know, Johnny. You’re not making any sense. What do you want us to do?’

‘For right now, just come with me.’

He knew where Fish and Marshall drank, at the General Elliot, across from the market. He chatted with Mike as they strolled over, reminiscing about the war. It was a time Johnny would rather forget, but Mike always seemed happiest remembering those days.

He let Mike lead the way into the pub, then stood in the doorway, glancing around the faces. At one time or another he’d arrested plenty of the customers. Mostly for trivial things, but a few had been serious – GBH, robbery. He’d even marched someone out of here on a murder charge here once. The only woman in the place was Mrs. Maggins, the owner, watching everything with a hawk’s eye from behind the bar.

Fish and Marshall occupied adjoining tables, neither of them talking. The place was busy, but there was a space around them; people respected them enough to keep their distance. Johnny marched up to them, hand extended.

‘Hello, Fish. Ben.’ He smiled. ‘Haven’t seen either of you in a while. Been keeping out of trouble? You know Mike, of course’ He sat on one of the stools, patted the other for Mad Mike, and looked at the glasses. ‘Ready for another?’ Without waiting for an answer, he raised a hand, turning to catch the barman’s eye.

‘Give me one reason why I shouldn’t brain you,’ Fish said, clenching his fists.

Johnny pursed his lips.

‘Well, it would be unfriendly, since I’ve only just sat down and I’ve bought you a drink. And because I’m here with an idea that could put a little fun in your lives and maybe even a little money in your pockets. I’m doing you a favour.’

After the drinks arrived, he raised his in a toast. ‘To the future.’

Marshall stared at him dumbly, arms folded. Fish kept his fists clenched, leaning forwards in his seat.

‘You arrested me,’ he said.

‘I know,’ Johnny agreed earnestly. ‘I did, and I’m sorry, if that helps. But you’d destroyed a shop and knocked out the owner.’ Johnny grinned. ‘What else should I have done, Fish? I couldn’t let you walk away. It wasn’t that poor fellow’s fault that his delivery of Woodbines was late. Anyway, I heard you had everyone petrified over at Armley Jail.’

‘So what do you want?’ Marshall asked.

He laid it out for them, slowly and simply.

‘I still don’t get it.’ Mad Mike rubbed his chin. ‘What’s the point?’

‘I want to shake up Cogden and his gang. If he thinks the three toughest men in Leeds are after them-’ he paused, looking at their faces, hoping they were flattered ‘-they’ll make mistakes. Then I’ll catch them.’

‘But what’s in it for us?’

‘Reputation,’ Johnny answered simply. ‘Think about it. The three of you haven’t worked together before, have you?’ He knew the answer, but still waited until they shook their heads. ‘Can you imagine what people will think? You’ll have the city at your feet. All the possibilities to come.’

‘What if we catch them?’ Fish asked. ‘You said they had money.’

‘They do.’

‘What about that?’

‘I’ll need that,’ he told them lightly.

‘Then how do we get paid?’ Mad Mike asked.

‘Consider it an investment,’ Johnny advised them. ‘Do this and everyone will want to hire you. You’ll be like the Three Musketeers.’

‘Who?’ Fish asked.

‘You’ll be able to name your own price.’

He stopped. It wasn’t Fish or Marshall that he needed to convince, but Mad Mike. He was the one with some brains as well as brawn. If he was in, then the others would likely follow.

The silence hung around them. Johnny sat back and lit a cigarette, smiling at Fish.

‘I don’t have a clue what Johnny’s up to,’ Mike admitted eventually. ‘But he’s always been strange. Can’t follow what he’s saying half the time.’ The others nodded their agreement. ‘I do know he’s straight as a die, though. Well, as straight as a copper can be, anyway. I was in the trenches next to him,’ he added, as if that was all the recommendation he needed to give. ‘I’m in.’

Marshall came next, Fish bringing up the rear. But he had them. That was what he’d wanted.

‘What do we do next?’ Mike asked.

‘Nothing,’ Johnny told him and they looked at him. ‘That’s the beauty of it. You don’t have to do a single thing. I’ll pass the word that you’re looking and what you’ll do if you find them.’

‘Nothing at all?’ Marshall asked, confused.

‘Not a single thing,’ Johnny said.’ I’ll take care of it. You just wait for other offers of work to come in.’ He paused. ‘Of course, if they lead to you doing something illegal, I’ll have to arrest you. But it won’t be anything personal, you understand that. Just work. Thank you, gentlemen.’ He smiled and began to rise from the stool, but Fish crooked a finger, beckoning him closer.

‘You and me still need to have a word about that arrest sometime, Mr. Williams.’

‘Well, no, Fish, we don’t,’ Johnny said patiently. ‘We’ve had this conversation before, remember? If you break the law, I arrest you. That’s just how it works, and no hard feelings on either side. It’s business, remember, nothing more.’

 

‘Did you have a productive evening without me?’ Violet asked as he undressed. She’d been reading when he came into the bedroom, the pillows plumped up behind her, wearing a low-cut silk nightgown.

‘I think so. Someone wanted to beat me up, but I think I talked him out of it.’

‘You have a plan,’ she said. ‘I can see it on your face.’

‘I do,’ he admitted. ‘It wouldn’t hurt if you could work a line into a story saying it’s rumoured that a criminal gang is also chasing Cogden and his chums.’

‘Are they?’

‘In a manner of speaking,’ he told her.

‘You’re a sneaky one, aren’t you?’ Violent said with admiration.

Johnny grinned, then wondered, ‘Are you loitering in that bed with intent?’

‘I am. I’m positively full of intent, officer.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

Johnny was surprised; Cogden’s gang didn’t strike the next day. He’d spent the morning at the police station, waiting with Forbes and Gorman, ready to respond to any telephone call. But none came.

By afternoon he was restless, wandering around the city centre, and ‘phoning every five minutes to check nothing had happened. But everything remained quiet. The streets were dusty, smelling of warmth and early summer, people moving around slowly, girls showing off their summer frocks in the heat.

They’d be back. He was certain of that. Cogden had announced himself to the newspapers; he wasn’t about to retire now. He wanted notoriety. He wanted fame.

Whatever the gang did next had to be bigger and better. It would be something audacious. That would make it more difficult. It would need time, it would need daring. And that would make them vulnerable.

He bought a first edition of the Evening Post from a news seller. Cogden was still front page news, but below the fold today. Johnny read through the story and began to smile.

…this reporter can exclusively reveal that Mr. Cogden and his associates have been targeted by a vicious criminal gang that is determined to relieve them of the loot they’ve acquired in their robberies, which is estimated to be closed to £10,000. When thieves fall out, the streets become dangerous. We trust that the police will do their job and keep order. But how long can Cogden and his merry band continue?

‘I thought you’d like that,’ Violet said when he rang her from a telephone box. ‘Nice touch, isn’t it?’

‘Is Robin Hood the official line?’

‘I thought I’d stick it in and see if anyone notices.’

‘Why are you writing the story? Where’s Bill?’

‘Poor man has a dicky tummy. It must be bad, since this is the best crime story in Leeds for years. What are you doing?’

‘About to go and spread words of doom.’

‘You have all the fun jobs.’

 

There were two cars parked outside the garage on Meanwood Road, one raised on a jack, its left front wheel missing. Johnny followed the voices coming from inside. Colin Jordan and the young man from the midget car races were pulling the tyre off the rim.

‘I see you found a job,’ Johnny said as the lad turned.

‘Yes.’ He blushed. ‘Thank you.’

Arthur. That was his name. Arthur Harris.

‘You heard we arrested your friend,’ he said, and Harris nodded. ‘I thought you should know what’s going on. You, too, Colin.’

The mechanic wiped his hands on a rag.

‘Go on,’ he said.

‘Do you know, Mad Mike, Fish and Marshall?’

‘Who are they?’ Harris asked.

‘The hardest men in Leeds,’ Jordan told him. ‘You don’t want to be messing with them.’

‘They’re looking for Charlie Cogden and his friends.’

‘There won’t be much left unless you find them first,’ Jordan snorted.

‘I know. It won’t be pretty.’

‘What would they do?’ Harris asked. He looked pale.

‘They’d be lucky to come out in one piece,’ Johnny said seriously and Jordan nodded his agreement.

‘Can’t you arrest them?’

‘They haven’t done anything wrong yet.’ He shrugged. ‘I don’t mind other people doing my work for me. Anyway, I just thought I’d let you know, Colin.’

‘I’ve always steered clear of Fish, anyway. Better for my health.’

 

The maid showed him through to the garden at the house in Alwoodley. Anna Bramley was sitting on a chair in the shade of a tree. A glass of lemonade stood on the grass beside her, covered in condensation, reminding him of how thirsty he felt.

‘I’m sorry, Sergeant Williams,’ were the first words out of her mouth.

She’d warned Cogden that she’d told the police about Pannal. He hadn’t forgotten that.

‘Water under the bridge,’ he said airily, taking the other chair. ‘Your boyfriend’s famous now.’

‘I know.’ Her big eyes widened, but there was only sadness behind them.

‘Have you talked to him again?’

Anna shook her head. ‘He rang last night but Daddy wouldn’t let me speak to him.’

‘He is an armed robber,’ Johnny said mildly. ‘You have to understand your father’s point of view.’

‘I know.’

‘When he rings again-’ he saw her look turn hopeful ‘-I’d like you to talk to him. If you explain it to your father, I’m sure he’ll agree.’

‘Why? What’s happened?’

He told her about Fish, Mad Mike and Marshall, without going into the details of their past. A few words and her imagination would be more than enough.

‘When he rings, I want you to tell him about them. They’re very dangerous men.’

‘What do you think Charlie should do?’ she asked.

‘I want him to give himself up, obviously.’ He gave her a fleeting smile. ‘But I know he’s not about to do that. You should warn him to keep looking over his shoulder. I know what they’re like.’

It was enough. He’d scared her and she’d pass that on. Cogden would ring again. He wasn’t one to give up so easily – he’d want to know he’d impressed her. Johnny stood, pulling the hat down to shade his eyes.

‘We’ll find your friend,’ he told her. ‘But you’d better hope that we’re the ones who do it first. Good day, Miss Bramley.’

 

He was smiling as he drove back into Leeds. Now the word would spread in ripples. Soon enough, Cogden would hear.

He hadn’t even time to settle at his desk in the CID office before Randall was standing there, red-faced with anger and throwing down a copy of the Evening Post.

‘What do you know about this?’

Johnny read the article as if he’d never seen it before.

‘Well,’ he said with a whistle, ‘that’s something.’

‘Have you been cooking something up?’

‘I don’t know where they got that from.’ He thought for a moment. ‘Not a bad idea, though, if it’s true.’

‘It’s true, all right. I had Forbes ask around. Mad Mike, Fish and Marshall are after them.’

‘I’d be worried if they were after me.’

‘Just make sure you get Cogden and his friends first.’ He picked up the newspaper. ‘And don’t let me find out you had something to do with this.’

 

He spent the night at the station. Something was going to happen. He could feel it, and he wanted to be close when it did. There was tea, a kettle, a gas ring, and a bottle of milk on the windowsill.

By one in the morning he was half-dozing, leaning back in his chair with his arms folded. The hours had passed slowly. At eleven he’d almost given in and gone home. But he couldn’t leave now.

Whatever they did would be different this time. That much was certain. And if it was going to be bigger, they’d need time. The night would give them that. So he waited, lulled by the quiet routine of a police station at night. The drunks were all sleeping it off in the cells downstairs, the constables out on patrol.

The telephone jerked him sharply awake, the chair rocking forward as his hand lunged for the receiver.

‘Williams,’ he said, then listened. ‘I’ll be right there. As many men as you can, front and back entrances.’

By the time he reached the door of the CID room, tapping the hat down on his head, he was already running.

He should have listened, Johnny thought as he pushed the car through the gears. There was hardly any traffic. In a little over three minutes he was parked outside the Metropole Hotel. Violet had thought the place would be a good target and he’d dismissed it. He’d never hear the end of it.

A constable was crouched outside the door of the hotel.

‘Are you the one who called it in?’ Johnny asked.

‘Yes, sir.’

‘How many of them in there?’

‘Two, the best I can make out.’ He was talking in a hoarse whisper, but his voice carried in the still darkness. ‘I was passing on my beat and just happened to take a glance through the glass there. They’ve got guns and it looks like they’re making the night clerk open all the safe deposits the guests use.’

‘Right. There should be more coppers coming to cover here and the back. You haven’t seen a car parked with the engine running, have you?’

‘No, sir.’ The man sounded serious. Under the helmet, his eyes look frightened.

‘It must be round at the service entrance. You wait here for the others to arrive. Make sure none of them leave. Give it two minutes, then let them see you.’

‘What if they start to shoot, sir?’

‘Then stay out of the way of the bullets.’

Quickly and quietly, Johnny moved along the passage at the side of the hotel. It was black, littered with rubbish of all kinds, enough to make him tread very cautiously. At the corner he stopped, breathing through his nose and wishing he hadn’t turned in the Enfield. He could hear the soft purr of an engine in the alley. Peeking around the stone, he could see the vehicle, a Humber Tourer with the soft roof raised and the driver’s window rolled down.

Hardly daring to breathe, Johnny moved forward in a crouch. One pace. Stop and wait. Another. Wait, then another. He was close enough to see the glow from the man’s cigarette and smell the smoke. The man in the car wasn’t paying attention, staring straight ahead through the windscreen.

Johnny stretched, fingertips resting on the door handle. The muscles in his legs were cramping with the tension of staying low. Then, with a single, smooth motion, he pulled the car door open and reached inside, grabbing the man by his tie and jerking him out of the vehicle.

The man’s feet left the pedals and with a short judder, the engine died. As he tried to open his mouth to shout, Johnny jabbed him hard in the solar plexus, keeping his fingers stiff, just the way they’d taught him in unarmed combat, surprised to see it actually worked. The man couldn’t breathe, his diaphragm paralysed for a few seconds. In three swift movements, John had the man on the ground, wrists cuffed behind his back, searching him and finding no weapon. He dragged him away and propped him against the bins.

Ken Boyd, he guessed. A very young man in a suit that had probably looked sharp before he was pulled through the dust and dirt. No doubt he felt tough when he was with the others, but on his own, he had no fight. Right now he was relishing every gulp of air he could take.

Johnny dusted himself off and adjusted his hat. There’d be more coppers here in a minute. He could turn Boyd over to them, then go in to tackle the others. If they’d seen the bobby out on the street, they’d already be rushing.

He turned as he heard a pounding of feet. Three uniforms, red-paced and gasping as they stood in front of him.

‘One of you take him away,’ Johnny ordered. ‘And you two watch this car.’

‘Where are you going, sir?’ a copper with an anxious frown asked. ‘I heard they have guns in there.’

‘That’s right. But I don’t suppose they’d shoot a policeman.’ They were staring at him. Johnny smiled back. ‘You’d better get to work. There are a couple of chaps inside that I want to meet.’

The door opened into the kitchen, the smell of last night’s meal still hovering in the air. His footsteps echoed off the tiles and metal. Another door led to a short corridor. As he walked over the thick carpet he could hear voices, calm and unhurried. They obviously hadn’t spotted the bobbies outside yet.

He tightened the knot on his tie and turned the corner.

‘Hello, boys,’ Johnny said. ‘I’ve been looking everywhere for you.’

 

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One thought on “A Request And Roaring Thirties Part 4

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