Prosperity Street

I’m not quite sure where this came from – even less where it’s going. Maybe nowhere. We’ll see.

But it’s Leeds, it’s 1968. Times are finally beginning to change.

prosperity street

 

Leeds, 1968

He had a description – five feet five, slender, fair hair neatly set, blue eyes, conservatively dressed – and a sample of her handwriting, the start of a letter back to her parents in Ireland. No photographs; she’d taken them all from her lodgings when she left. Her mother was putting a couple from the last holiday in the post.

That was it. Five days had gone by since Sheila Grady vanished. She was over twenty-one, the police barely wanted to know. The Irish grapevine had finally come up with Gerry Hanlon’s name, an enquiry agent who might be able to help. And Hanlon had palmed the initial slog on to him.

‘Ask around,’ he said. ‘You were a copper. You know what to do.’

Oh yes, he did.

Graham Blake parked the Mini on Albion Place. All around him, Leeds was busy, full of Friday afternoon fever, the anticipation of the weekend on the faces. He pushed open the door to the building and climbed three flights of stairs to the Top Temp offices.

Caitlin Parsons had been just sixteen years old when first he’d seen her in 1959. Just over from County Mayo and living with the Rileys. She’d found work in three days, already out skivvying every hour God sent.

But she watched. She learned quickly. Within two years she’d shed all her country manners and acquired a soft sheen to her personality. Her accent had become a gentle, welcoming lilt. She’d grown out her hair and bought clothes were more sophistication. Growing up

Now she was twenty-five and stylish in her mini skirt and tights, still almost as thin as the day she’d stepped off the train, her hair in a fashionable Sassoon bob. No more cleaning for others. She’d been clever enough to spot a gap in the market and she’d started a business. A temporary agency for employers who needed extra staff for a week or a month. Secretarial, most of them. Filing, clerical.

It was flourishing. An office on Albion Place, the new Triumph Herald Vitesse parked outside. She was a success.

FASHION LONDON STREET SCENE

‘Mr. Blake.’ She stood up to shake his hand. ‘I haven’t seen you in a long time.’

‘Two years,’ he told her.

‘That’s right.’ She smiled as she sat behind the desk. ‘A party, wasn’t it?’

‘Engagement.’

‘Susan Williams.’

‘Susan Anderson now,’ he corrected her and they grinned.

‘Times flies,’ she said. ‘Is this business or pleasure?’

‘Business,’ he said. ‘I’m wondering if you’ve ever come across a girl called Sheila Grady.’

‘No.’ She frowned. ‘Not that I know. Should I have?’

‘It’s a long shot. She’s twenty-one. Went missing at the start of the week. She’s Irish, so…’ He let the word hang and shrugged.

‘And of course every Irish person abroad knows each other.’ But there was no anger behind her words.

‘I thought it was worth trying.’

‘I’m sorry to disappoint you.’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ Blake said. He looked around the room. Trendily decorated, colourful, plenty of light. Beyond the door, he could hear the sound of telephones and typing, the two women who worked for her. ‘You’re doing well.’

‘I’ve been lucky. How about you. Since you left the police, I mean.’

Allowed to resign for the good of the force. That was how the superintendent had put it. Fitted up to take the blame by a detective sergeant, not that anyone would listen when he told them. He’d been lucky enough to find this job after all that.

Back when he first met Caitlin Parsons he’d just passed out from cadet to constable, on his fist beat in Harehills. Now she was a success and he was…whatever it was he’d become. Strange what a difference nine years could make.

merrion way

Advertisements

2019…It’s Arrived.

Well, here we are, squarely in a new year. That means it’s time to look ahead, especially as I’m putting the final touches to what I hope will become the eighth Tom Harper novel – if the publisher wants to put it out, of course.

New beginnings.

Before any of that, however, the seventh Tom Harper book will be published at the end of March. Called The Leaden Heart, it’s set in 1899 in a Leeds that’s changing and pushing its way towards the 20th century. Here’s a very short extract:

Harper had just finished putting together the duty roster for August when the telephone rang, the line crackling harshly enough to hurt his bad ear.

‘Tom? It’s Billy. Billy Reed.’

Reed had been a good friend once, the sergeant to Harper’s inspector, until they fell out. Then he’d transferred to the fire brigade and been promoted. Two years ago he’d taken a job in Whitby, in charge of police there.

Annabelle and Elizabeth, Reed’s wife, were still close, exchanging regular letters. She ran a tea shop now, close to Whitby Market. Harper and his family had visited the Christmas before last. It had been a pleasant few days, but not the way it had once been. That would never return.

‘How are you?’

‘I’m fine,’ Reed answered quickly. ‘I hate to ask, but I could use a favour.’

‘What’s happened?’

‘My brother died, so I have to come back to Leeds for the funeral. I think you met him once.’

Long ago. Charlie? He thought he vaguely remembered the name. Thin and pale, with mousy hair and a waxed moustache.

‘I’m sorry, Billy.’

‘We were never that close, but…’

Of course. It was family. Harper understood.

‘Do you need somewhere to stay? Is Elizabeth coming with you?’

‘If you don’t mind. He lived in Harehills and the Victoria’s close. It’ll only be for a few days, if that’s all right. Elizabeth is run off her feet at the tea room. Whitby’s full of holidaymakers and the tea room is packed every day. Besides, she never really knew him.’

They had an empty attic room at the pub. It wasn’t much, but the bed was comfortable.

‘Of course. You know you’ll be welcome, as long as you need,’ Harper said. ‘When are you arriving?’

‘This afternoon. The telegram only came an hour ago.’

‘We’ll expect you.’

He lowered the receiver, picked it up again and asked the operator for the Victoria. They’d had a telephone installed at the beginning of the year. Between his rank and Annabelle’s post as Guardian, he hadn’t been able to fight the idea any longer.

She picked up on the third ring, listening as he explained.

‘I’ll air it out for him.’

the leaden heart revised

 

You can pre-order the book already. The cheapest price seems to be here, with free postage in the UK, although the company seems to have mixed reviews. Here is slightly more expensive, but also has free shipping and is highly-rated.

I also seem to be quite busy with events this year, and maybe more to add to that list. I’m not entirely certain how that’s happened, but they’ll all be fun, especially the two with my good friend Candace Robb and editors from the publisher that issues both our books. It all begins next Friday, January 18, with a talk at Kirkstall Abbey – a place with a very deep history of its own – on the Battle of Holbeck Moor, the incident which kicks off The Dead on Leave. My notes are already prepared…

There will be one more book to come this year, out at the end of September. It’s the sequel to The Hanging Psalm, and it’ll be called The Hocus Girl. Here’s a taste…

 

The man uncurled his fist to show the pocket watch. Candlelight reflected and shimmered on the gold.

‘Open it up,’ Simon Westow said.

Inside the cover, an inscription: From Martha to Walter, my loving husband.

‘See?’ the man said. ‘The real thing, that is. Proper gold. Keeps good time and-’

The knife at his throat silenced him.

‘And it was stolen three days ago,’ Simon said. He held the blade steady, stretching the man’s skin without breaking it. ‘Where’s the rest?’ With a gentle touch, he lifted the watch out of the man’s palm and slipped it into his pocket. ‘Well?’

‘Don’t know.’ The man gasped the words. His head was pushed back against the wall, neck exposed. ‘I bought it from Robby Barstow.’

‘When?’ A little more pressure, enough to bring a single drop of warm blood.

‘Last night.’

The man’s eyes were wide, pleading, the whites showing. It was the truth. He was too terrified to lie.

‘Then you’d best tell Robby I’m coming for him.’

‘What-’ His eyes were wide, pleading.

‘-about the watch?’

‘Yes.’ He breathed out the word, trying not to move at all.

‘Consider it a bad investment.’

Outside, he blinked in the light. A coach rumbled past on the Head Row, the driver trying to make good time on his way to Skipton.

Simon would hunt for Barstow later. The watch was the important item; Walter Haigh was desperate to have it returned, a gift from his late wife. He’d promised a fine reward.

That was what a thief-taker did. Find what had been stolen and return it for a fee.

 

2019…maybe it’s going to be a good year for us all.

Roaring 30s – The Final Part

I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and Happy Holidays to you all!

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

 

‘Last chance, Sergeant.’ Cogden weighed the weapon in his hand.

Johnny knew he didn’t have a choice. He still didn’t believe the man would kill, not yet. But he daren’t take the risk. With a sigh, he nodded and began to walk forwards.

‘I suppose we’d better go, then.’

‘I’ll be right behind you. I’d advise you not to try anything. Got it all, Timmy?’

Carey nodded. Johnny led the way out of the council chamber, through the back door. Cogden kept the gun barrel against his back, telling him which way to turn, until they came out near the rear entrance to the Civic Hall.

‘One of my men is out there,’ Johnny said.

‘Then you’d better tell him to keep his distance.’

The sunlight seemed very bright, reflecting off the white stone, as he walked out. From the corner of his eye he could see Gorman moving forward and waved him away. A Riley Adelphi was parked at the kerb and Cogden pushed him towards it, yanking the back door open.

‘In.’

He settled on the seat, the leather creaking under him, Cogden next, aiming the gun at his belly. Carey threw the sack on the passenger seat and started the engine, pulling away with a squeal of tyres.

Johnny pulled out his cigarettes and lit one, staring out of the window as the car travelled out towards Headingley, painfully aware of the gun trained on him.

‘At least it’s a pleasant day for a drive.’ He turned to look at Cogden. ‘I hope we’re going somewhere scenic.’

‘How does it feel to be humiliated, Sergeant?’

Johnny thought for a moment.

‘Not as terrible as I’d expected.’ He grinned. ‘But don’t worry, the situation will change.’

‘Oh?’ Cogden cocked his head. ‘From where I’m sitting, you don’t seem to be holding much of a hand.’

‘Do you know who you robbed back there?’

‘Councillors, employees, spectators.’ He shrugged.

‘One of whom was the biggest criminal boss in Leeds. Have you ever heard of Balthazer Jones?’ Cogden shook his head. ‘You will,’ Johnny told him. ‘No doubt about that. And you won’t be a pretty sight when he’s done with you.’ He raised his voice. ‘Neither of you will.’

‘He’ll still have to catch us first. You haven’t managed it.’

‘I’d be far more worried about him, if I were you.’ He shifted on the seat and faced Cogden. ‘The best thing you two can do is give yourselves up. You’ll be safe then.’ He paused. ‘Safer, anyway.’

‘A nice fiction, Sergeant.’

‘Fact,’ Johnny told him.

‘Full marks for creativity. Do you mind if I call you Johnny?’ He waved the gun around the car, speeding out into the country beyond Weetwood. ‘Given the situation, I think we can skip the formalities.’

‘Feel free. I wasn’t lying about Barry Jones, by the way. He’s a dangerous man.’

‘He’d have to find us first.’

‘He will,’ Johnny promised. ‘If it’s the last thing he does.’

They passed the turning to Yeadon and continued out towards Otley. He’d been there the year before, a picnic up on the Chevin with Violet on a balmy summer’s evening. Carey geared down for a corner and started on the long hill down towards the town. Halfway down, Cogden tapped Carey on the shoulder.

‘Pull over here,’ he ordered. As the car juddered to a halt, he turned to Johnny. ‘End of the line for you.’ He levelled the pistol. ‘Time you had a bit of a walk. Can’t take you with us, I’m afraid, but thank you for the company.’

Warily, Johnny opened the door and stood on the gravel at the side of the road.

‘I’d say goodbye, but we’ll be seeing each other again.’

‘I do hope so.’ Cogden smiled. ‘I really do.’ He turned to Carey. ‘Let’s go.’

 

It took him almost half an hour of tramping along to reach the small police station in Otley. A constable glanced up in surprise when he opened the door.

‘Hello,’ Johnny said, looking around and smelling the beeswax of the polished wood. ‘I’m Sergeant Williams from Leeds CID. Would you mind if I used your telephone? And could someone make a cup of tea?’

Randall picked up on the first ring.

‘Where are you?’

‘Otley.’

‘Cogden and his friend?’

‘Gone. There wasn’t much I could do to stop them.’

‘I heard what happened at the Civic Hall,’ the superintendent told him. ‘Are you hurt?’

‘Not a scratch. He was quite the gentlemen. The worst is sore feet.’

‘You know Barry Jones was there? He’s seething.’

‘I’m sure he is.’

‘We’d better catch them before he does.’

‘I warned them. They decided to take their chances.’

‘Any idea where they’ve gone?’

‘Too many possibilities. Ilkley, Skipton, up into the Dales…’

‘Right. Get back to town. We’ll talk in the morning.’

Johnny put the receiver back on the cradle and looked at the constable. ‘I don’t suppose there’s any chance of a lift back to Leeds, too, is there?’

 

They were sitting in the bar of the Queen’s Hotel.  He’d telephoned Violet from Otley, hearing a slight gasp before she cleared her throat and asked,

‘So why did he kick you out?’ Her voice was raspy on the line. ‘Did you bore him?’

‘Hardly. I was the soul of wit and information.’

‘There’s a first time for everything, I suppose.’

At the table he could see the relief in her eyes. She’d hugged him close when he walked in.

‘What do you think your friend Barry will do?’ Violet asked as she took a sip of her martini.

‘He won’t be happy, that’s for certain. Barry will want his pound of flesh.’ Johnny grimaced. ‘Probably literally, for a stunt like that. If I don’t find them first, there won’t be anything left to find.’

‘And there’s the rub,’ she said. ‘You won’t need your plan with Mad Mike and his chums.’

‘Very true,’ he agreed. ‘From where they dropped me off, they could have gone into the Dales. Or headed back to Leeds.’

‘Do you think Cogden would have hurt someone?’

‘Oh, I don’t believe so. But I couldn’t take the chance. And I knew he wouldn’t kill me.’

‘He might if he’d spent more time with you.’ She paused. ‘Where do you think he is? What does your gut tell you?’

He drained the last of the whisky and soda.

‘My gut says it’s time to eat. The rest can wait until morning.’

 

‘I couldn’t have done anything,’ Gorman said. ‘Not when he had that gun on you.’

‘I was safe enough. Cogden fancied a drive in the country, that’s all.’

Johnny had seen the Yorkshire Post. News of the raid covered the front page, a mix of outrage and admiration. There were interviews with councillors and clerks. They wanted Cogden caught as soon as possible, demanding that the police do their job. He was growing tired of reading the phrase.

‘Jones is going to be hunting him,’ Randall pointed out. ‘As well as Fish and that lot.’

‘And we don’t even know where to start,’ Gorman added. He was the type to wear his hat in the office.

‘Neither does Barry,’ Johnny said. ‘That’s one thing.’

‘Where do we start?’ asked Forbes.

‘Leeds,’ Johnny told him. ‘This is where they operate. They won’t be too far away.’

‘So you don’t believe they’re up in the Dales?’ Randall asked.

Johnny shook his head.

‘Not once I had chance to think about it. They have somewhere close. The car would have been loaded otherwise. The loot’s stashed somewhere, and that’s where they are.’

Silence filled the room.

‘We’d better get to it, then,’ Johnny said brightly. He took the trilby off his desk and tapped it on his head. ‘You know the routine, gentlemen. Places to go, people to see, questions to ask.’

‘A minute before you go,’ Randall said, and disappeared into his office. Johnny followed. ‘Close the door,’ Randall told him.

‘What is it?’

‘It’s all very well sounding chipper, but we don’t have a clue right now, do we?’

‘Keep digging and we will.’

‘How dangerous do you think Cogden really is?’

He’d thought about it in bed, lying awake as Violet snored softy in her sleep. This time the man had been fine, threatening but not deadly. But in future…

‘I don’t think he’ll want to go to jail,’ Johnny answered, as if that said everything. ‘I’m not sure about Carey; he seemed more scared than anything, just doing what he’s told.’

‘You think they’ll shoot before we take them?’

He took a long time to answer.

‘Cogden probably will.’

 

The Webley felt awkward in his suit pocket. It ruined the line and dragged down on the material. He’d never handled one in his life – during the war it had been an officer’s weapon in the war – and he wouldn’t be able to draw the damn thing quickly. Carrying it around, the weight so ominous, he seemed foolish.

But Randall had insisted. When they found Cogden and Carey, if they couldn’t persuade them to surrender, it could come to guns, and he wanted his officers to be prepared. As he drove the Austin out to Alwoodley, though, it simply didn’t feel right. Carefully, he removed it from his jacket and tucked it under the seat. Immediately, the world seemed brighter.

Anna Bramley was in the house, listening to recordings on the phonograph as she stared out of the window at the back garden. She had a pile of discs next to the machine, the new Al Bowlly record, “The Very Thought Of You,’ playing as the maid ushered him into the living room.

He wait until it finished, the needle clicking in the groove, before he coughed. She turned sharply, eyes widening as she saw him.

‘I’m sorry to disturb you,’ Johnny said.

‘I was miles away. His voice always does that to me.’ She settled in a chair.

‘I saw your boyfriend yesterday.’

There was a flicker behind her eyes, then a sad smile.

‘My former boyfriend,’ she told him. ‘Mummy and Daddy insisted I drop him.’

‘Has he rung?’

‘Twice. They put the ‘phone down on him.’

‘But that doesn’t stop you being in touch.’

Anna gave him an enigmatic look.

‘Why would you think that?’

‘Because I was young once. You heard about what happened yesterday?’

‘Daddy took great pleasure in reading out the newspaper story over breakfast.’

‘There’s one thing that’s not in there. One of the men he robbed yesterday really is one of the most dangerous men in Leeds. He’ll be looking for revenge, and it’ll be a damn sight worse than if I arrest him.’

‘You said that about those other men, too.’

‘I know, but this one trumps them all.’

‘Did you tell Charlie that?’

‘I did, but don’t think he wanted to believe me. I’d like you to tell him.’

‘If we had a way of being in touch, of course.’ There was a brief, faint smile.

‘Of course.’ He didn’t say anything for a long time. ‘I’m serious about this, Miss Bramley. The man will hunt him down and he’ll make sure Charlie pays for it.’

‘If he’s that dangerous, why don’t you arrest him?’ she asked.

‘He’s clever. There’s a difference between knowing something and being able to prove it. And he’ll keep it that way with Charlie. There probably won’t even be a body to find.’

Maybe it was an exaggeration, but probably not by much. For all his grandfatherly exterior, Jones was ruthless when he was crossed. He wouldn’t let this stand. And even in retirement, he could marshal an army of men eager to find favour with him.

Anna Bramley was quiet, staring down at the ground. Finally, she raised her head.

‘What happens if you find him, Sergeant?’

‘He’ll go to jail for a long time. He’s committed crimes, he’s used a gun, he’s taken hostages.’

She nodded.

‘But he’ll be alive?’

‘As long as he gives himself up.’

‘If we’re in touch, I’ll tell him,’ she said. ‘If.’

‘I appreciate that, Miss Bramley.’

 

At the garage on Meanwood Road, he took Arthur Harris aside and told him the same thing. The lad seemed to have settled in well, grease all over his hands and face, and an approving nod from Colin. He seemed more confident and relaxed than the boy he’d chased at the midget car races.

Johnny doubted that Harris still had any contact with Cogden, but he was happy to try every avenue to reach him. Arthur just shook his head.

‘I don’t know,’ was all he’d say. ‘I can tell people, but I don’t think anyone knows him.’

‘Tell everyone,’ Johnny advised. ‘The more people know about it, the better.’

Finally, he made the trip he’d kept putting off. Cogden’s parents. He knew they disapproved of everything their son had done; they’d given Violet a statement about it for the newspaper. But even so, they might be able to offer some help.

They were a disconsolate, quiet couple. Cases of butterflies with their colourful wings lined the walls of their living room, along with dark wooden bookshelves filled with thick volumes. They sat, hunched over, on a small settee, the radio standing in the corner.

‘We’re ashamed of him,’ William Cogden admitted. He was a slight, anonymous man, with none of his son’s charm and confidence. He took off his spectacles and polished them on his shirtsleeve, then placed one veiny hand over his wife’s. She wore an old cardigan and skirt, her feet in slippers, a handkerchief balled between thin fingers. ‘He was such a lovely boy when he was young. We don’t know what happened to him.’

There was a private income; Cogden had never needed to work. The house was quite modest, filled with dead insects and books on nature. The wholesome smell of bread baking in the kitchen. They’d given him weak tea and tried to avoid the topic of Charlie.

‘We don’t understand what he’s become,’ Mrs. Cogden said. ‘It’s been such a strain on us. Last year we had to tell him not to come home again. He apologised, and after a month we let him back in. But he hadn’t changed. Not really.’

‘Used the place like a hotel,’ Mr. Cogden continued. ‘But we just didn’t have the heart to kick him out again.’ He gave Johnny a plaintive look. ‘He’s our only child, you see.’

‘Do you have any idea at all where he might be? He’s in danger.’ He didn’t want to say more than that and add to their worries.

‘No,’ Mr. Cogden told him simply. ‘We don’t.’

‘There’s…’ Mrs. Cogden began, then stopped.

‘Who?’ Johnny asked.

‘Ralph. Bea’s brother.’ He patted his wife’s hand. ‘He and Charlie always had a soft spot for each other.’

‘Do you have his address?’

 

Ralph Warner lived in a comfortable bachelor’s house. He could have been close to sixty – any age between fifty to eighty, really – looked after by a housekeeper who came in twice a day to prepare his meals and clean.

He carried the contented air of a man happy in his life, books lining the walls in every room, a partner’s desk filling the parlour. He sat on one side, smoking his pipe, Johnny on the other with a cigarette.

‘Charlie,’ Warner said thoughtfully. ‘He always had a streak of wildness in him. Have you met my sister?’

‘Yes.’

‘Lovely woman, but no presence about her. Same with that husband of hers. It’s like talking to a pair of damp blankets, unless you get started them started on entomology, and I’ve learned not to do that. I’m not surprised Charlie turned out the way he did.’

‘When did you last see him?’

Warner sat and thought, then took a diary from the pocket of his waistcoat and riffled through it.

‘Must have been a month ago,’ he answered eventually. ‘I was about to leave for a do at the Leeds Club and he showed up out of the blue.’

‘What did he want?’

‘The key to a little place I have. Get away there sometimes. I let him use it. It’s quiet, and I think he has a few friends over. Bit of a party.’

‘Did he return the key?’

‘Oh yes,’ Warner replied with a broad smile. ‘Always does. Brought it back on the Monday morning, although he looked the worse for wear.’ He gave a small chuckle of envy. ‘Not seen any sight of him since, of course. He’s going to jail, isn’t he?’

‘He is,’ Johnny agreed. ‘Worse if someone else finds him first.’

‘What?’

He explained the situation. Warner rubbed his chin, then reached into one of the desk drawers, sorted through some items and brought out a key.

‘He might have gone there, I suppose. You’d better see. I’d rather you found him than this other chap.’

‘Where is it?’

‘Acaster Malbis. Not far from York. My father left it to me in his will. It’s nothing much, but…’ He shrugged. ‘Quiet little place, outside the village.’

With the directions in his pocket, Johnny sat in the Swallow. Should he go back for Forbes and Gorman, or simply head out there? Charlie Cogden probably wasn’t even in the place – after all, he’d found out about it without much trouble.

Back to the station, he’d decided. Better to have too many men around, just in case Cogden was there. They daren’t let him slip through the net again. He was about to start the car when Warner rushed out of the front door, waving his arms.

‘I forgot something, Sergeant. Charlie and a chum of his at school used to bicycle out to some bolthole. Out by Wike, I think. I don’t know if that’s any help.’

‘It might be, sir. Thank you. Do you remember his friend’s name?’

The man shook his head.

‘Not the foggiest. They’re all spots and snot at that age. The only reason I even had time for Charlie is because he was my sister’s boy.’

‘I’ll look into it.’ Anything would be worth following.

 

‘That’s what we have,’ he told the others, pointing to two places on the map of Yorkshire. Two hours had passed; a pair of quick visits from a constable and they had the address in Wike.

Forbes and Gorman both looked serious. Randall sat back in his chair, shirtsleeves rolled up, his hair dishevelled from running his hand through it so often.

‘Which would you put your money on?’ he asked.

Johnny had spent the last few minutes turning that over in his mind. Acaster Malbis would come under the York police, and no one wanted them taking the credit for any arrest. The robberies had all taken place in Leeds, and the Leeds police would finish it.

No, that wasn’t quite true: he wanted to finish it himself. He needed to be the one to march Charlie Cogden out in handcuffs. It wasn’t going to be simple. Even if they found them, Cogden wouldn’t give up easily. He could see it all ending in shots and dead bodies.

When was the last time that had happened in Leeds? There had been criminals with guns, but never bullets exchanged.

‘If we have the information, Jones won’t be too far behind,’ Randall warned. ‘You’d better get moving. If they’re not at Wike, ring me, then get over to the other place. I’ll clear it with York. They can back you up.’

‘I’d like to take a sniper rifle,’ Johnny said. He heard Gorman’s snort, but it was his weapon. Pistols had no accuracy. If he really had to shoot, he wanted to be exact.

Randall nodded.

‘That’s fine. But you all know the rules. This isn’t a showdown.’

But that’s exactly what it will be, Johnny thought.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

 

He’d signed the chit for the weapon, hefting it in his hand, when the desk sergeant dashed in. Forbes and Gorman had already left; Johnny would have to drive fast to catch them.

‘There are reports of shooting out in Wike!’ His eyes looked frantic, all the calm gone from his voice.

Randall shook his head in exasperation.

‘Jones’ people must be better than we thought. I’ll send more men out there.’

‘The fewer, the better,’ Johnny told him. ‘Less chance of us hitting each other.’

The telephone on his desk began to ring and he scooped up the receiver.

‘I’m just heading out there,’ he said.

‘Make sure you look after yourself.’ Violet’s voice was tender.

‘I will.’

‘I haven’t taken out enough life insurance on you yet.’

‘Just let me know when you have.’ He saw Randall glaring at him. ‘I’ve got to go. I shouldn’t be late getting home.’

 

The Swallow had a good engine. His mechanic kept it well tuned, and Johnny roared through the gears along the ring road, through Shadwell and out to Wike, quick enough to see Forbes’ black Ford pulling in just ahead of him.

There was a constable on the scene, and another in the distance, arm raised to stop traffic.

‘Jones beat us to it,’ Johnny said. The others took out their guns and checked the cylinders. He had the rifle. For a moment he considered bringing the Webley, too. But if he couldn’t do the job with one weapon, more wouldn’t help.

‘What do we have?’ he asked the constable.

‘House down the lane, sir. It’s off by itself. As best as I can make out, there are three men outside somewhere. Not sure how many in the place.’

‘Two,’ Johnny told him.

‘I’ve heard five shots myself. There must have been more earlier on, because someone rang up about them.’

‘Right. You just keep everyone away.’ He turned to the pair of detectives. ‘I suppose we’d better sort this out. I’ll take the back, you two flush them out from the front.’

It was the type of work they could do well. In the crunch, they were good men, reliable. He just had to hope they weren’t too eager.

Johnny crept into the woods that bordered the track. It was shady there, and cooler. He watched every step, trying to avoid twigs and branches, bending over to stay low. For a moment he was back on the Western Front, everything so vivid he could almost smell the mud. Then he was back among the trees, the long grass around his legs, eyes searching ahead and his mind focused again.

He stood behind an oak, eyes moving slowly around the landscape. With all the bushes and undergrowth, it would be easy for someone to remain hidden. At least one of Jones’ men would be back here.

Johnny stopped, picked up a small rock and hefted it into the air so that it landed in the open ground between the woods and a small, old cottage. The building was neglected, several slates missing from the roof, the garden left to grow wild.

He waited, then he heard a rustle twenty feet ahead of him. Someone moving, yet trying to be quiet. Scarcely daring to breathe, Johnny went very carefully, circling around behind the noise until he could see the man.

He wore a cheap suit and a pair of brogues, the hat tilted back on his head, a pistol hanging from his hand. He was peering towards the house, trying to see a target.

Johnny took one silent pace. Then another. He brought up the sniper rifle, extending it until it jabbed the man’s back.

‘You might as well put down the gun,’ he said quietly and bushed the barrel a little deeper into the man’s spine. ‘Now, please.’

The weapon dropped into the grass and the man straightened.

‘Very good,’ Johnny told him. ‘Arms behind you, please.’

It took a minute to march a man to a suitable sapling and cuff his wrists around the trunk.

‘I’ll be back for you later. Make sure you don’t go away.’

He picked up the pistol, a Colt. Suddenly there was a bust of gunfire from the other side of the house, too many shots to count within a few seconds, then a heavy silence. The harsh smell of cordite drifted through the air.

Johnny walked across the open space, rifle in one hand, pistol in the other. He made no attempt to hide; it was safer to be obvious. In the garden he waited, listening. There was a soft sound from inside the house, a low moaning.

The back door was old, warped wood, probably half of it rotten. Softly, he tried the knob, but it wouldn’t turn. Johnny took a breath, stood back and kicked. The door rocked back. For a second, Johnny didn’t move, then strode into the building. It was hot and stuffy, the smells heavy and rotten.

He went from the scullery at the back into what might have been a parlour. Carey was lying on the floor, blood on the wooden boards around him, one hand over a wound in his stomach. Johnny kicked the shotgun away and knelt by him.

‘I’ll get an ambulance here for you. Where’s Charlie?’

‘Gone.’ The man managed a quick smile that turned into a rictus of pain. ‘He knew you’d find us. He didn’t believe you about the others.’

‘Don’t worry about them. Where’s he gone?’

Carey drew a breath.

‘He said to tell you Leeds icon.’

The man needed a hospital if he was going to survive. And that meant getting him out of here quickly. Johnny stood and shouted,

‘It’s Sergeant Williams. Best to drop your guns. We have more men out there.’

He waited for a shot, but none came. Instead, Gorman yelled,

‘We’ve got them.’

He unlocked the door and strode out.

‘We need an ambulance here. Carey’s hurt. I’ve got one of Jones’ men at the back, don’t forget him.’

Gorman came out of the undergrowth.

‘Two of them here. They won’t be giving any trouble.’

‘Cogden’s gone. I’m going after him.’

In the car, he tossed the weapons on the passenger seat, turned the Austin around and speeded back to town. An icon, he thought. Why did the man have to be so bloody cryptic?

He parked at the station, carrying the weapons into the building and returning the sniper rifle and Webley. He kept the Colt he’d taken from Jones’ man.

Randall listened intently as Johnny recounted what had happened.

‘Forbes rang. They found most of the loot at that house. Carey’s on his way to hospital.’

‘He’ll probably survive. It’s Cogden I want. He’s leading me around by the nose.’

‘Town Hall,’ the superintendent said thoughtfully and looked up. When Johnny cocked his head, he explained, ‘Leeds icon. It has to be.’

‘Yes.’ He sighed. ‘Well, I’d better get over there and dig him out, I suppose.’

As he turned to leave, the telephone rang on the superintendent’s desk. Randall picked up the receiver, listened, then said, ‘I’ll tell him,’ and put it back on the cradle. Johnny cocked an eyebrow. ‘Chummy called the Evening Post. A reporter’s gone over there.’

‘Don’t tell me…’

‘Afraid so. I’ll order the area blocked off.’

 

Damn the woman, Johnny thought as he hurried up East Parade. Cogden knew exactly what he was doing. He wanted her there, not any reporter. He crossed the Headrow and Victoria Square, then up the steps between the lions and into the Town Hall.

There was a hushed feel to the building, a commissionaire behind his lectern, ready to direct people. Johnny showed his warrant card and climbed the steps. He knew exactly where Cogden would be. Up at the top, outside on the platform by the clock. On display. He’d want people to see whatever he was going to do.

The Colt weighed heavily in his pocket.

It was a steep climb up several flights of dirty stairs. Light leaked around the edges of the door leading out to the ledge. He grasped the handle, turned it, and emerged into the sunlight.

Cogden was in the corner, leaning back casually against the sooty stone balustrade. He had a pistol in his right hand, trained on Violet. She was standing stock still, her back to Johnny.

‘Very happy you could make the party, Sergeant. Fashionably late, I see.’

‘Only because I didn’t have to wait for my wife this time.’ He glanced out at the rooftops of Leeds and the people below. Some had gathered and were pointing upwards. ‘Nice location, but it’s not much of a do yet.’

‘I thought I’d keep it intimate. Just the three of us. If you take a look behind you, there’s a bottle of champagne. Be a good fellow and open it, will you? I’m a little occupied at the moment.’ His wrist moved and the gun flickered.

‘No glasses?’ Violet asked.

‘We’re roughing it.’

‘Not even chilled,’ Johnny said as he picked it up. He removed the wire and let the cork pop. Up so high, it sounded like a gunshot. He heard a woman scream down on the pavement. ‘Bottoms up,’ he said as he took a swig,’ then handed the bottle to Violet. ‘What’s the occasion?’

‘Never need an excuse to enjoy champagne, do you?’ Cogden said brightly.

‘Of course not.’ Violet stared at him. ‘But the gun is a little off-putting.’

‘I’m sorry, but it’s a professional necessity. And your husband has one.’

‘Don’t worry about him. He won’t draw it unless he has to.’

‘Oh?’ Cogden looked at Johnny.

‘Comes with the territory.’ He paused. ‘So how many of us will go back down?’

‘We’ll all go down. Not sure which way.’

‘I’d rather use the stairs,’ Violet said. ‘Slower, but not as messy.’

‘And you, Sergeant?’

‘Oh, I agree with my wife for once.’

‘I could always take her down with me.’

‘You could,’ Johnny agreed, ‘but I’ve rather grown used to her.’

Smiling, Cogden turned his head to take in the view. As he did, Violet raised the bottle and brought it down on his head. He staggered and dropped the gun.

Before he could recover, Johnny had drawn his pistol.

‘I should have warned you,’ he said. ‘You can never turn your back on her.’

Violet arched an eyebrow.

‘I’ll remember you said that.’

Johnny took out the handcuffs.

‘No grand exit, I’m afraid. But perhaps it’s better this way.’

 

They were sitting in the cocktail bar at the Metropole Hotel. Violet was sipping her Brandy Alexander and Johnny had a Scotch and soda sitting on the table. A trio of violin, piano and cello was playing at the other end of the room.

‘I feel a little sorry for him,’ she said finally.

‘Don’t,’ Johnny said. ‘He’s a criminal, remember that. He did all this very deliberately.’

‘But he had some style, you have to admit that.’

‘He did,’ Johnny acknowledged.

‘And you did it, you know,’ Violet told him.

‘Did what?’

‘Caught him in a fortnight. Today was the last day.’

He smiled.

‘How much did you make?’

‘Not much.’

‘I see.’

‘I was thinking…’ she began.

Johnny looked at her.

‘What?’

‘Something you said earlier – “You could, but I’ve grown used to her”’

‘”Rather grown used to her,” if you’re going to quote me. Why?’

‘What do they call it when you kill your husband?’ she asked sweetly.

‘Murder.’

‘Not justifiable wotsits?’

Definitely murder,’ he assured her.

‘Oh well,’ Violet said. ‘It doesn’t matter then.’ She drained her glass. ‘Are we going to have another?’

Thank You and Good Wishes

It’s that time, the year drawing to a close. Celebrations and reflections.

And time for me to thank you, all of you, for reading what I write. You make it worthwhile, the bloggers, reviewers, the people who finish one of my books and hopefully enjoy it. Without that, well, there would be nowhere near as much point in doing it.

It’s been quite a year, with high points and turns into the unexpected. My involvement with The Vote Before The Vote exhibition might have been small, but one of the most important things I’ve done. It celebrated the Victorian women from Leeds who laid the foundation for 1918 and 1928, giving the vote to all women. And as a bonus, having Annabelle Harper as part of it wrote her into the fabric of Leeds history.

A play with live jazz. New Briggate Blues, my chance to celebrate Studio 20. Two sold-out performances, and a success because of the director, Ray Brown, the cast and musicians. Remarkable.

I published three books and i’m immensely proud of them all. But The Tin God will always stand head and shoulders above them in my mind. It’s Annabelle’s book, and it feels like the one I was made to write. Something that does her real justice, and I’m so pleased to have been the conduit for that. Even finished the year with a review of it in an academic journal, the first (and probably the last) time that’s happened.

Tin God Journal review

So thank you, every one of you, and I hope 2019 sees all of us with peace and health.

 

Roaring Thirties Part 5

CHAPTER TWELVE

 

They turned. There were three of them, one with a pistol, another with the sawed-off shotgun, the pair of them wearing new suits, creases still fresh on the trousers. And then there was the night clerk, sweating and fearful, a sack at his feet.

‘Who are you?’ The man with the pistol barked the question, waving the gun slightly.

‘Better be careful with that thing, it might go off. I’m Detective Sergeant Williams. You must be Charlie Cogden.’

The man smiled at the recognition. He was handsome enough, dark hair Brylcreemed back and a wolfish grin, but his face still had the blandness of youth. He reached and put his arm around the clerk’s neck, the barrel of the pistol by the man’s skull.

‘Just in case you’re thinking of arresting us.’

‘It was in my mind when I walked in,’ Johnny admitted. ‘You’re going to find it hard to get away with your driver arrested. And if you take a look-’ he pointed ‘-there are coppers outside that door and more in the back.’

Cogden shook his head, tightening his arm a little around the clerk’s neck. The other man, Tim Carey, was moving nervously from foot to foot, holding the shotgun as if the weapon was hot.

‘I think you’ll help us walk out,’ Cogden said. ‘You don’t want me to shoot him.’

‘No,’ Johnny agreed. ‘I don’t think you want to, either.’ He paused for a second. ‘Have you talked to your girlfriend today?’

‘Why?’

‘She’d have told you about the other men looking for you. It was in the newspaper, too.’

The comment seemed to surprise him.

‘What?’

‘There are some very bad men who want to take all that money you’ve stolen. Take my word for it, you’re better off with me than them.’

‘I don’t believe you.’ Cogden pushed out his chin.

Johnny shrugged.

‘Don’t say I didn’t warn you.’ He reached into his pocket and the pistol followed his action. He pulled out a packet of cigarettes and lit one. ‘Now, what are we going to do about this? You want to leave, I want to arrest you.’

‘We have the guns.’ He didn’t seem worried or flustered. ‘That means I make the rules.’

‘And what do you want?’

‘You’re going to walk out with us, make sure the car’s running, and let us drive away.’

‘Or?’

Cogden gave a dark smile. ‘Take a guess. I’ll release him when I’m sure no one’s following us.’

Johnny knew he had no choice. The man had a hostage and he couldn’t risk the clerk’s life.

‘Fine,’ he agreed easily, taking a long drag then stubbing the cigarette out in an ashtray on the counter. ‘Let’s go.’ Carey bent to pick up the sack. ‘Leave that,’ Johnny told him, glancing at Cogden. ‘Don’t push it too far.’

He stared at the man and finally got a nod of agreement.

‘You go out first,’ Cogden ordered. ‘Make sure your men are out of the way. And tell them not to try anything, Sergeant. Timmy, keep him covered.’

Johnny led the way along the corridor and through the kitchen, all too conscious of the gun trained on his back. Timmy, he thought? It just didn’t seem a very adult name for a man with a weapon. At the back door he hesitated, then pushed it open.

‘Stand back, gentlemen,’ he said as he came out into the darkness. The three policemen moved away. Johnny stood aside as Carey slipped into the driver’s seat, Cogden and the clerk in the back.

‘Have one of the men turn the handle,’ Cogden told him. Johnny nodded at a policemen who moved forwards cautiously and began to crank the starter. It caught in a moment and he darted away. ‘Don’t follow me and this fellow will be free before you know it.’

The car moved off, then turned the corner and vanished down the road. Johnny lit another cigarette. Cogden was a cool customer, he had to admit that. He hadn’t panicked for a moment. For an amateur, he seemed disturbingly professional.

‘Sir?’ one of the policeman asked. ‘What do we do now?’

‘Back to what you were doing,’ Johnny told him.

At least he’d arrested another of the gang. And they’d left the loot. Bit by bit, he was chipping away at them. He knew that if he found Carey alone, young Timmy would fold in a minute and without a fight. Cogden was going to be the real challenge. Johnny had looked into the man’s eyes. He wasn’t a killer, but he’d use that gun if he had no other choice.

 

He was late into the station the next morning. Cogden had been true to his word – the night clerk had been released in City Square, and Johnny had questioned him until three.

Violet was sleeping when he slipped into bed. His eyes felt gritty and his rest was broken. When he surfaced, he was alone, with sunlight pouring through the curtains and the alarm clock reading twenty to nine.

He washed, shaved and dressed in a rush, hurrying through traffic into town, and walking into the CID office.

Randall was waiting, perching on Johnny’s desk, the report in his hand.

‘You’re late.’

Johnny nodded at the paper in the superintendent’s hand.

‘I worked most of the night.’

‘And you got another one of them.’

‘Two down. I didn’t have any choice on the others.’

‘I can see that. You’ve met Cogden now. What do you make of him?’

‘He was calm, in control.’

‘Would he shoot?’

‘If he had to, I think he would.’

‘What about the other one?’ He glanced down at the report. ‘Carey.’

‘He’s a follower.’

‘Have you questioned Boyd yet?’

‘I thought I’d let him stew in the cells overnight,’ Johnny said and sighed. ‘I don’t know how much he can tell us, anyway. Wherever they were, they’ll have moved on by now.’

‘We need the rest of them,’ Randall said.

‘I know.’ It galled him that he hadn’t been able to bring in the whole gang. But when there were guns and a hostage, he was powerless. ‘We’ll get them.’

‘At least last night will look good in the newspapers. Too late for the first edition, though.’

‘I just have to work out what Cogden will do next.’

‘Lie low, if he has any sense,’ Randall said.

Johnny shook his head.

‘That’s not his style. Last night would have made headlines if it had worked.’

‘But it didn’t.’

‘No. So he’ll need even bigger or better next time, to show he can do it.’

‘Any ideas?’

‘Not yet.’ He lit a Gold Flake. ‘I’ll go and talk to Boyd. See if he knows anything.’

 

But he didn’t. One night behind bars had left him terrified and talkative. The problem was that all he knew was useless. They’d been hiding out in a house in Hyde Park, on the edge of Woodhouse Moor. Cogden had somewhere else in mind, but he hadn’t mentioned the place. He scouted the jobs himself and gave the others their orders; all they had to do was obey.

The man sounded like one of nature’s officers, and Boyd was a private, happy to be led. The problem was that Johnny had never taken to officers. In his experience, a clever one could be very dangerous.

After an hour he had the man taken away. Boyd was petrified of prison, he’d said that. But he was going to have a few years to learn to like it.

There was a scrawled message waiting on his desk: Please ring your wife.

Johnny picked up the receiver and dialled.

‘You rang?’

‘I see it was the Metropole.’

‘Yes,’ he answered.

‘If I remember correctly, you said it would be too difficult for the gang,’ she said slowly.

‘Did I?’

‘Definitely.’

‘Well, they didn’t get away with anything,’ he said.

‘But I was right.’

‘You might have had a point.’ He was smiling.

‘A very big point.’

‘Perhaps,’ he agreed finally. ‘If you know so much, where will they hit next?’

‘I just report the news,’ Violet said. ‘Aren’t you supposed to be the clever one?’

‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’

‘Excuses, Johnny,’ she chided.

 

He needed to look at the house the gang had used in Hyde Park. There was no need to take anyone with him; the birds would have flown and he worked better on his own.

It was a terraced house on Queen’s Road, close to a small parade of shops. The front door was unlocked, so Johnny simply walked in, looking around from room to room. They’d left everything neat, beds made, no clothes left in the wardrobes. No rush in leaving. Someone had washed the pots in the kitchen. There was an envelope with ‘Sgt. Williams’ written on the front propped against the tea caddy. He ripped it open and pulled out the note.

Dear Sergeant,

It was a pleasure to finally meet you last night, even if the circumstances were a little strained. You have style, I’ll grant you that. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite enough, was it? It’s a pity you have Ken and Asa, but you’ll have discovered that they don’t have too much to tell you.

I’m certain we’ll encounter each other soon. I’m counting on it, actually. But don’t be in any hurry to call on me again.

Sincerely,

Charlie

It made him chuckle. The lad had plenty of cheek. He’d definitely be seeing him. And when that happened, he’d be snapping the cuffs on Cogden’s wrists.

 

Violet laughed when he showed her.

‘How does it feel?’

‘What?’ he asked.

‘To find a criminal with some flair.’

‘Oh, that,’ he said. ‘I like a challenge.’

‘It looks as if you have one. If that note isn’t throwing down the gauntlet, nothing is.’

They were sitting on a bench in the tiny park on Merrion Street, eating fish and chips from newspaper and enjoying the sun.

‘Makes it more interesting.’

‘He seems very full of himself.’

‘There’s no doubt about that,’ Johnny said with a sigh. ‘Why are you smiling?’

‘No particular reason. I think you’re enjoying this.’

‘I misjudged him at the start. I thought he’d make a simple mistake and I’d have him.’

‘And now?’

‘I’m not even sure where to look next.’

‘Better put your thinking cap on, then.’ She stole one of his chips. ‘What did the superintendent say when you showed him the letter?’

‘I came straight here.’

‘But you’ll show it to him later?’

‘Maybe. It’s not evidence or a clue,’ he said.

‘And you don’t want it all round the station. What are you going to do now?’

He crumpled the empty newspaper and put it in the bin.

‘I don’t know.’

‘Do you want my advice?’ Violet asked.

‘Go on, then.’

‘Don’t think about what he’d do. Think about what you’d do if you were him.’

‘We’re that much alike?’

‘I’d say so.’

Johnny sat and thought as he smoked a cigarette.

‘You’re sure?’ he asked eventually.

‘Positive,’ Violet told him. ‘If you were a criminal, leaving a letter like that is exactly what you’d do. It’s rather charming and cheeky, really.’

He frowned. She was right, he knew that, even if he didn’t want to admit it. This had turned into a duel, something personal. And the note meant it was exactly the same for Cogden. The man wouldn’t stray far from Leeds. He’d want to challenge Johnny, to best him as a matter of pride.

But Cogden wouldn’t win. He’d make certain of that. All the man had was himself and Carey. Timmy. Johnny could call on all the resources of Leeds City Police, although he knew he wouldn’t. He preferred to have the victory to himself, at most share it with a couple of others. And Johnny had experience on his side, years of it.

‘Penny for them,’ Violet said.

He grinned. ‘Nowhere near enough.’

‘A penny’s all you’re worth. I need to go. Some of us have to work for a living. We should do something tonight.’

Her eyes glinted in the sun. She blew him another kiss and walked away, men turning to watch her go.

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

 

‘This wasn’t quite what I had in mind,’ she told him as they sat in the White Eagle on North Street. She’d drunk half her gin and tonic; the whisky glass in front of Johnny was still almost full.

‘The night is still young.’

Violet glanced around the room. Two rumpled men with their dominoes, the landlord slowly polishing glasses before putting them on the shelf, a few young couples whispering to each other.

‘I feel as if I’m getting more ancient by the minute. Are we here to meet anyone interesting?’

‘Definitely.’ Johnny glanced at the clock on the wall. ‘Mind you, he’s already a quarter of an hour late.’

‘Who is it?’

‘His name’s Balthazar Jones.’

Violet stared at him.

‘You just made that up, didn’t you?’

‘It’s true, actually,’ he said, and she raised her eyebrows in disbelief. ‘It’s on his birth certificate. Ask him and he’ll show you. But everyone calls him Barry.’

‘You can’t blame them, I suppose. It’s a bit of a mouthful.’

‘Wonderful baritone voice, too.’ He glanced at her and grinned. ‘I just thought you’d like to know.’

‘Is he likely to break into song? Does he take requests? I’ve a feeling it might be as close to a foxtrot as I get tonight.’

The door swung open and an old man entered. The weather was warm, but he was still wrapped in a heavy overcoat with an astrakhan collar, a homburg hat sitting low on his head. He peered through a pair of thick spectacles, raising a hand when he spotted Johnny, then clumping over in heavy shoes.

‘Sergeant Williams,’ he said with a smile. ‘My, it’s been a while, boy.’ His voice belied his age, musical and lyrical and with a dark, velvety Welsh warmth. ‘And who’s the lovely lady?’

‘I’m Violet. Mrs. Williams.’

‘He never told me how lucky he was.’

‘I don’t think he knows yet,’ she said. ‘Can we get you a drink, Mr. Jones?’

‘Thank you.’ He took off the hat and bobbed his head. ‘Just a half of mild. I’m not really a drinking man.’

When the beer arrived, they moved to a table.

‘You’ve heard about the robberies in town,’ Johnny began.

‘I think the whole world’s heard about them by now,’ Jones said with a gentle smile. ‘Getting under your skin a bit, is it?’

‘A bit.’

‘People were putting good money on you having them all in custody inside a fortnight.’

‘Aren’t they now?’ Violet asked.

‘Not so many,’ Jones told her. ‘Of course, I’m not a betting man myself.’

‘I put a little money on him. Do you think I should change it?’

‘I don’t know about that, miss.’ A grin flickered around his mouth.

‘I’ve arrested half the gang,’ Johnny pointed out.

‘Ah, but not the top one, have you, boy?’

‘Not yet. But I will.’

‘So what do you think I can do to help you? They steal cash, so there’s nothing to fence. And they’ve got themselves some guns, I read.’ He took a small sip from the glass and smacked his lips. ‘That’s not too bad. The devil’s brew, maybe, but he does it well.’

‘You know everyone in town.’

He had contacts with everyone bad in Leeds. He’d been part of the criminal fabric of the city for twenty years before Queen Victoria died. Johnny had heard so many stories about him that at least one or two had to be true.

They’d met when he was still a beat copper and come across a pair of young men trying to rob Jones one night. He’d run them off and helped the man back to his car, surprised to see it was a chauffeur-driven Bentley. Three days later he’d seen a report about two men answering the descriptions of the robbers severely beaten.

Since then, he’d met Jones here and there. But this was the first time he’d asked for a favour.

‘One or two, maybe. I’m an old man now. It’s a new generation these days, boy.’

‘Is your name really Balthazar?’ Violet asked.

‘Indeed it is, miss,’ he said proudly. ‘Balthazar Ezekiel Jones, as my parents had me christened.’

‘It’s impressive,’ she said doubtfully.

‘She not backwards at coming forwards, your missus, is she?’

‘No she’s not,’ Johnny agreed with a grin. ‘She’s really a wicked, wicked woman. It’s one of the reasons I married her.’

‘You still haven’t said what you need from me, Sergeant Williams. I’m never one to forget a good turn.’

‘I want to find Cogden and his friend.’

‘I heard you found them last night,’ Jones said with a small chuckle. ‘You really walked into the Metropole on your own?’

Johnny shrugged. ‘It was better than waiting for them to come out.’

Jones brought out a pipe and filled it with shag tobacco, tamping it all down with a brown fingertip before lighting striking a match.

‘Why do you think I’d know where they are?’ he asked.

‘I think you can find out,’ Johnny said earnestly. ‘If you spread the word, people will look.’

‘They might have someone looking after them.’

‘I don’t think so. They’re never been criminals before. They don’t know people.’

‘They have something, if they’re staying out of sight,’ Jones told him.

‘Luck,’ Johnny said firmly. ‘And it’s about time it ended.’

‘I’ll tell people and see what comes back. But I’m an old man now, Sergeant. People don’t listen to me the way they once did.’

Old he might be, but he still had plenty of influence in Leeds; Johnny knew that. When he gave an order, people rushed to obey.

‘I appreciate it, Barry.’

Jones cocked his head.

‘Least I can do. You knew they had guns last night?’

‘If they hadn’t, I’d have arrested them.’

The man shook his head. ‘I’m not sure if you’re brave or mad.’

‘He’s mad,’ Violet said. ‘Absolutely barking mad.’

‘You might be right,’ Jones agreed with a smile. ‘He was never one for thinking before he acted.’

‘I weighed the chances,’ Johnny protested.

Jones drained the rest of the beer.

‘If I have anything for you, I’ll be in touch, Sergeant.’ Before he put the homburg back on his head, he tipped it at Violet. ‘A pleasure to meet you, miss.’

‘He seems like a very sweet old man,’ she said after he’d left the pub.

‘Don’t be fooled. Barry Jones is as hard as they come. Some of the stories would curl your hair.’

 

Johnny was tired. In the end he and Violet had stayed out late, drinking too many cocktails and dancing far too much. He felt sluggish, a faint headache deep in his skull. But that was the price for fun, and he’d enjoyed himself. As he parked, he grinned at the memory of Violet trying to prove she could move as well as Ginger Rogers. She’d be hurting more than he was this morning.

‘Any progress?’ Randall asked as they sat in his office.

‘Nothing yet. I think we have a couple of days before they try anything else.’

‘Why?’

‘They’ve had to move on from Hyde Park.’ He thought of Cogden’s letter, sitting in his pocket, but he didn’t produce it. ‘So they need to settle in at a new place. And there are only two of them now. That’s going to change their plans.’

‘Have you seen the Post this morning?’

‘Haven’t had time.’ He’d swallowed two aspirin with his tea. The superintendent tossed the newspaper to him.

The piece was on the front page, giving the highlights of the gang’s exploits, before asking why the police hadn’t caught them yet and complaining that the force needed to be better at its job, before every business in the city was robbed.

‘They didn’t mention the two we arrested,’ Johnny complained when he finished.

‘Of course not. More pressure on us.’

‘I thought the papers liked the gang.’

Randall shrugged.

‘The tide’s turned. But it means they’re going to be breathing down our necks now. I want you to start working with Forbes and Gorman.’

‘But-’

The superintendent raised a hand.

‘I know you like working alone, but we need results on this. The chief constable’s ringing me twice a day for updates and I’m sick of lying to him.’

‘We’ll get them.’

‘I know. But we need them now. Before they do something else. We look stupid enough as it is. Work with Forbes and Gorman – they’re good coppers.’

‘I know.’ They were, too. They could think well enough, a mix of brawn and brain. But they didn’t try to look four or five moves ahead. Cogden might have been forced to adjust his plans, but by now he’d have worked out all the possibilities and eventualities. He’d know the opportunities that existed for two men working together. Johnny smiled. ‘We’ll make a good team.’

‘That’s better.’ Randall relaxed. ‘Just bring this pair in, Johnny. And do it soon.’

 

Forbes and Gorman were waiting, both of them large, wearing Burton’s suits that were shiny at the elbows and the seat.

‘Let’s hope they don’t have any more tunnels like they did in Pannal,’ Forbes said. He’d been the one keeping watch and fishing at the lake, hating every minute he wasn’t part of the action. Gorman was usually the quiet one, menacing when he needed to be.

‘First we need to find out where they are,’ Johnny reminded him. ‘Do you two want guns?’

‘We drew them this morning,’ Gorman said and showed the Webley revolver that was weighing down his jacket pocket. ‘Just in case.’

‘Don’t be in a hurry to use it. This isn’t the wild west.’ He thought for a moment. ‘The big question is how Cogden’s finding places to stay. Is it all through friends or family? Why don’t you go and look at those places in Hyde Park and Pannal and see how he got them? Talk to whoever let him use them. Maybe that’ll help us discover where he is.’

‘What about you?’ Forbes asked.

‘People to see, places to go,’ Johnny said brightly. He picked up his hat. ‘Back here this afternoon, gentlemen.’

 

He’d taken Cogden’s file with him, reports from all the interviews done with his family and friends. It was time to go through it once more, to see what he could discover.

The café at the Kardomah on Briggate was still quiet. The windows were open and the air still cool inside as he drank a cup of coffee and pored through the folder. He’d met Charlie now and he had a better image of the man.

Cogden had never held a proper job. He’d never needed to. He’d been educated at Leeds Grammar and taken his school certificate. Travelled a little, spent time abroad and in London, but mostly he’d been around Leeds, enjoying the nightclubs and the easy life.

There was nothing to indicate he’d turn to crime. At school he’d pushed the rules a little, but nothing serious. He’d been the type of boy others followed, the type of easily forceful personality that made a natural leader. He didn’t lack confidence; Johnny could testify to that.

So what had made him begin the robberies? There didn’t seem to be anything that people had noticed, no signs. It was almost as if he’d started on a whim. But he must have understood that sooner or later he’d be caught; he was bright enough.

A game? Maybe it was. Something born from boredom. But it was one hell of a thing. He lit a cigarette and continued reading. The uniforms had done their work well, page after page of interviews. Yet no matter how much he read, Charlie Cogden remained a fairly shadowy figure.

There was little to tell him how the man thought. He obviously liked to push himself – the midget car racing, sailing on the coast. A year ago he’d even learned to fly. Beyond that, he was a blank.

Flying, he thought. There was an aerodrome out at Yeadon. At one time, planes had gone from Soldiers Field, up by Roundhay Park. He’d watched them after he came back from the war, heading off to London and Amsterdam.

It might be worth a drive out there to see what they knew about Cogden. And it was out in the country, a perfect place to hide between jobs. It made as much sense as anything else here. Any less information and he’d be jabbing pins in maps and praying.

There was no simple way out there. Just the Otley Road, far beyond the growing suburbs, by the farms with their sheep and lambs, and miles and miles of drystone walls. Turn left and carry on to the middle of nowhere. That was how he felt by the time he could make out the main building of the aerodrome.

The runway was empty, no specks in the cloudless sky. No aircraft coming in to land or taxiing for take-off. Three large metal hangars were scattered around the field. A motor car and two bicycles stood close to what was little more than a shack, about the size of a cricket pavilion at a village pitch.

At least someone was here.

Three men, in fact. Two of them older, and the third a boy of sixteen who seemed to hang on every word they said as if it was gospel.

‘Do you know someone called Charlie Cogden?’ Johnny asked, and the older man with a bushy ginger moustache smiled.

‘Chalky here taught him to fly, didn’t you Chalky?’ he said. The other man, so pale he could have been consumptive, gave a shy smile He was close to forty, thick hair heavily Brylcreemed, clean shaven and with dark pouches under a pair of pale blue eyes. ‘Chalky teaches and does most of the maintenance. We’re a small operation.’ The man stuck out his hand. ‘I’m Gerald Winthrop.’

‘I’m Detective Sergeant Williams, Leeds Police, C.I.D.’

Chalky and Winthrop had served together, first with the Flying Corps and then the RAF back in the war, apostles for flying.

‘Care for a brew?’ Winthorp asked. ‘Bit dusty out there.’ He looked at the lad. ‘Go and put the kettle on, George, there’s a good chap,’ he ordered and smiled when the boy rushed to obey. ‘Now, what can we do for you? Don’t often have the boys in blue out here.’

‘Have you read about Cogden?’

‘In the papers?’ Winthrop asked. ‘Damn shame, really. Lots of potential as a pilot, hadn’t he, Chalky?’

‘One of the best we’ve taught,’ he agreed and extended his hand. ‘I’m Cecil White. How do you do?’

‘He was a good pupil?’

White nodded.

‘Took to it like a duck to water. I got in touch with a pal of mine in the RAF and said they should recruit him. But Charlie wasn’t interested.’

‘Too regimented for him,’ Winthrop agreed. ‘Never big on discipline, was Charlie. He’d show up a quarter or half an hour late for his lessons as if they didn’t matter. Other people are here early, just bounding to get off the ground.’

‘When was he here last?’ Johnny asked, and the two men glanced at each other.

‘November?’ Winthrop ventured, but Chalky shook his head.

‘It was back in March. You were gone. He dropped by one afternoon wanting to take the Camel out for a spin, but I was stripping down the engine.’

‘Nothing since?’

‘Neither hide nor hair, old chap,’ Winthrop told him.

‘Does he have any friends out here at all?’

‘Not that I can think of…’ Winthrop began, then stared at White. ‘What was the name of that fellow who was coming around a lot last summer? Always looked like he wanted to learn, but would never climb in the cockpit?’

White bit his lip and stared at the ground, squinting at a plank on the floor.

‘Thornton?’

‘No, that’s not it.’

‘Thornwood! That’s the chap.’

‘Yes,’ Winthrop agreed. ‘He and Charlie used to talk a lot, and he lives somewhere round here. Blowed if I know where, though. We only see people who come to the aerodrome.’

‘What else can you tell me about Charlie Cogden?’

‘He was eager,’ White replied after a little reflection. ‘The type who wants to run before he can walk.’

‘How?’

‘As soon as he’d mastered the basics, he wanted to try loops and rolls. We had to stop him – those ʼplanes are too expensive for anyone to be an idiot just because he fancies himself a daredevil.’

‘He wouldn’t be the one trying to put Humpty together again,’ Winthrop added darkly.

‘Is that why he stopped coming?’

‘Not really, old boy. I think he was just bored. He’d learned how to fly, now it was time for something else. No perseverance about the chap, if you know what I mean.’

That fitted with what Johnny already knew. Cogden was always seeking the next experience, something new to excite him.

‘If he returns, or if you hear anything, please let us know,’ he said, then added, ‘Do you ever teach women to fly?’

Winthrop looked at White and laughed.

‘One or two. I married the first one, he married the second. We haven’t had any more since.’

‘Maybe that’s for the best, really,’ Johnny said.

At the post office, no one seemed to know a Mr. Thornwood. Outside, he fished coins from his pocket and rang the superintendent from a telephone box. Someone should be able to chase Thornwood down.

‘Where are you?’ Randall asked.

‘Yeadon. I need some-’

‘Have you found them?’

‘Well, no,’ he admitted.

‘You’d better come back to the station,’ the superintendent told him.

‘Why?’ Johnny asked. ‘What’s happened?’

‘Just get yourself back here and you’ll see,’ Randall said wearily.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

 

Forbes and Gorman were waiting, taking the two extra chairs in the superintendent’s office. Johnny dashed into the CID room, tossing his hat on his desk.

‘What is it?

Randall tossed him the first edition of the Evening Post.

‘Front page,’ was all he said.

It was a big, bold banner headline – CRIMINAL CHALLENGES POLICE – and underneath, in slightly smaller letters: Catch Me If You Can.

He skimmed through quickly. The newspaper had received a letter from Cogden, detailing everything he’d done and how he’d managed to evade the force. Johnny saw his own name there twice, then went back and read over everything more closely, paying special attention to the final paragraph.

I plan on enjoying this jaunt, and I intend to have plenty of fun taunting the police, especially Detective Sergeant Williams. He might have caught two of my men, but to him I say – catch me if you can, sir! I’ll even offer a clue: Soon, very soon, I shall do something at one of the treasures of Leeds. All you have to do is guess which one and stop me.

Johnny put the newspaper back on the desk.

‘Bold,’ he said.

‘At the last count, we’d had twenty telephone calls from people demanding that the police stop him. That’s what the chief constable told me,’ Randall informed him. ‘What are we going to do about it?’

‘Catch him.’

‘We haven’t managed that so far. As he gleefully pointed out.’

‘We need to be ruthless,’ Forbes said. ‘Make an example of him.’ Gorman nodded his agreement.

‘First we have to find him,’ Randall reminded them. He turned to Johnny. ‘You were out at Yeadon?’

‘Cogden learned to fly there. He might still be in the area.’

‘Give these two the details. They can look.’

 

One table in the restaurant at Craven Dairies was filled with young married women, chattering and laughing loudly. Packages from Matthias Robinson and Marshall and Snelgrove were scattered around their feet. Violet eyed them coolly.

‘I was hoping you’d take me out for a cocktail,’ she said, lifting the cup of tea. ‘It’s the least I deserve after what I’m doing for you.’

‘Did you get it?’

She pulled an envelope from her handbag.

‘Here. Bill had it locked away in his desk. He doesn’t know I have the key.’

Johnny read. They’d printed it all, word for work. He took the note that Cogden had left him at the house in Hyde Park and laid them side by side. It was the same writing, no doubt about that.

‘He has a very neat hand, doesn’t he?’ Violet said. ‘And he can spell.’

He handed the letter back and she slipped it away.

‘What do you think he’s going to do?’ she asked.

He smiled.

‘I daresay I’ll work that out.’

‘Are you going to tell your favourite journalist when you do?’

He glanced around the room.

‘If she comes by, I might.’

Violet punched him on the arm, hard enough to hurt.

‘I suppose you think I married you for your looks,’ she told him.

‘You always told me it was my personality.’

‘I lied. Seriously, do you have any ideas?’

‘Not at the moment,’ he admitted with a sigh.

‘Remember, they’re armed.’

‘I’m not likely to forget, don’t worry.’

‘As long as I don’t end up playing nurse to you.’

‘I think your bedside manner might leave something to be desired.’

‘My manners are impeccable,’ Violet protested. ‘That’s what Daddy always told me.’

‘He also thought I wasn’t good enough for you.’

‘No,’ she corrected him, ‘that was Mummy. Daddy just didn’t like you. Which simply shows he’s an excellent judge of character.’ She paused. ‘This is personal, isn’t it? You and Cogden.’

‘Oh yes,’ Johnny agreed with a nod. ‘Very.’

‘Just watch out for yourself.’

‘I will.’

‘Home later?’ she asked.

‘I promise.’

 

‘One of the treasures of Leeds…’ Johnny said.

‘Any ideas?’ Randall asked.

‘Cogden’s playing with us. He wants us to think he means a building.’

‘Maybe he does.’

Johnny shook his head. ‘I don’t think so. That would be too easy.’

‘Make a list. Go and look at them.’

He sat for an hour, scribbling on a notepad then crossing out almost everything he’d written. It wasn’t a building, it couldn’t be. Cogden was a robber. A painting from the art gallery? Something valuable from the museum? He dismissed them. The man wanted money, he wanted something that would end up on the front page of the newspaper.

People, he decided finally. It must have something to do with people. But who was a Leeds treasure? Try as he might, he couldn’t come up with a name.

Finally, settling the hat on his head, he left the office and began to walk. He’d grown up in Leeds. He knew every street in the city centre, could name half of the shops and what had stood there before.

Cogden had challenged him, and Johnny had never backed away from a challenge. But this was one he couldn’t afford to lose. He’d always been the one to make the running on cases; this time he was chasing, and not even knowing where he was going.

The sun beat down, the only relief a thin breeze by the river. Johnny leaned on the parapet and smoked a cigarette, gazing around. He hadn’t managed to come up with anything. There was nothing that seemed to fit.

Cogden and Carey were the only ones left in the gang. What could two men do? They’d need someone to drive, to be waiting in a car with the engine running. He didn’t see how it was possible. But at the same time, he was certain that Cogden had something in mind and he’d try to pull it off.

Trams and buses passed him, lorries, vans and cars carrying people home at the end of a working day. He ground out another cigarette butt on the pavement, walked to the car and drove home.

 

 

He’d left her to sleep, last night’s frock and stockings scattered across the bedroom floor. Johnny was awake early. He’d managed a few hours, but the thoughts kept waking him, until he dressed and padded downstairs to make tea.

Now he stood by the open window, drinking and smoking, watching a squirrel move gracefully from branch to branch in a tree.

Maybe she was right. It made as much sense as anything he’d managed to come up with. But he still didn’t have a clue. At half-past seven he heard her moving around upstairs, and a quarter of an hour later she came into the dining room.

‘Do you have a hangover, too?’ Violet asked.

‘I wasn’t the one knocking back the Brandy Alexanders last night.’

‘Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time,’ she said ruefully. ‘Do you know we’re out of headache powders?’

‘Are we? Well, they say suffering is good for the soul.’ Johnny rubbed his hands together. ‘How about a fried egg with bacon for breakfast?’

‘Have I told you lately that I hate you?’

 

In the office, Johnny spent more than an hour going through the morning’s edition of the Yorkshire Post, hoping that a name might spring out, someone who Cogden might rob. Nothing. He dug out copies for earlier in the week, but there was still no one who seemed probable.

He felt stymied. He was missing something. It was probably staring him in the face and he simply couldn’t see the bloody thing. Only a few days had passed since he’d dismissed Cogden and his gang as amateurs. Johnny snorted. The man had proved he was much more than that. Now he had to catch him, and all Leeds was watching.

He walked along Briggate in his shirtsleeves, the suit jacket over his shoulder, the trilby shading his eyes. Could there be some new members in the gang. He’d no doubt there were plenty of people eager to join. Whether Cogden would want any of them along was a different matter.

Luncheon was a sandwich from the café upstairs in the market, sitting by the window, miles away as he looked down on the throng of shoppers. It was only the clatter of a cup and saucer on the table that brought him back.

‘I saw you up here, Sergeant,’ Balthazar Jones. He was wearing his overcoat in spite of the heat. ‘You look worried.’ Johnny shrugged. ‘I saw the newspaper. He’s trying to make a fool of you.’

‘I know.’

Jones smiled.

‘He’s doing a good job of it, too. A wily man, your friend.’

‘Do you know where he is?’

The man shook his head.

‘No one I’ve talked to has seen him. I told them I’d consider it a personal favour if they found Mr. Cogden. But that’s the problem. Like you said, he’s not really a criminal. Even those friends of yours, Mad Mike and his pals, haven’t managed a sniff. Cogden’s not a professional.’ He rolled the word with his Welsh accent. ‘His only contacts are among his friends.’

‘Which doesn’t help me.’

‘No. And do you know what this treasure of Leeds it is he’ll be going after?’ His eyes twinkled with amusement.

‘I’m working on that. Do you have any ideas? What would you go after?’

‘Me?’ Jones raised his eyebrows. ‘I don’t know, boy. I’m just a retired old soul these days. You’re supposed to be the smart one.’

‘I’ll get him,’ Johnny said. ‘Don’t worry about that.’

‘Oh, I’m not worried. No skin off my nose either way. Although I’ve put some money on you solving this in a fortnight, so I’d appreciate you getting a move on.’

‘How much?’

‘Just a bob. And another on you taking longer. So I win either way.’

‘Thank you for the confidence.’

‘I’d better keep all this to myself. Everyone will be changing their bets.’

‘If you hear anything…’

‘I’ll be on the blower to you. Right, I need to get to the council meeting.’ He stood with an old man’s slowness.

‘I didn’t know you liked politics,’ Johnny said.

‘Can’t stand it. Could shoot them all and I wouldn’t care. But I have some land out in Seacroft and they’re looking at building that new estate out there.’

‘And you just happened the buy the land by chance?’

‘Don’t be so stupid, boy. Little bird told me. I just want to hear it all go through and count how much they’ll be paying me.’ He tipped his hat. ‘Good luck to you, Sergeant.’

 

He was back in the CID office when the thought struck him. A full council meeting. A treasure of Leeds. It was possible. Forbes and Gorman had just returned; no luck on finding a hideout for Cogden anywhere near Yeadon.

‘With me,’ he ordered them. The pair looked up wearily. ‘Now!’

He screeched the Austin to a halt next to the Civic Hall, waving away a uniformed constable who tried to move him on.

‘Police business,’ Johnny said. ‘You go round to the back entrance,’ he told Gorman and turned to Forbes. ‘I want you at the side.’

The building was so new that its stone was still brilliant white. He strode in, following the signs to the council chamber. Outside, he paused for a moment, his hand on the doorknob. Then he pushed it open.

Everyone was lined up against the wall: councilmen, clerks, spectators. He picked out Jones, small, dark and glowering. Cogden was holding the pistol loosely while Carey moved from person to person, collecting wallets and valuables in a hessian sack, the sawed-off shotgun in one hand.

No one had heard him enter. He strolled down the heavily carpeted steps until he was five paces away from Cogden.

‘I think it’s time to call it a day, Charlie.’

Carey and Cogden both turned suddenly.

‘Sergeant.’ Cogden smiled. ‘I’d have been disappointed if you hadn’t managed to come. Especially after my invitation. I’m sorry if it was a little obscure. But I suppose you could call them treasures, since people voted for them. I hope you voted, Sergeant.’

‘Always.’

Cogden nodded his approval. ‘I like a man who takes his civic responsibilities seriously. Why don’t you join the other guests over by the wall? Unfortunately, we don’t have a band, so there’s no dancing today.’

Johnny shook his head.

‘I think I’m fine just where I am, thank you.’ He put a hand in his trouser pocket. ‘There are men waiting at all the ways out. Why don’t you just put down the guns? You’ve had a good run.’

He saw Carey glance at the other man, but Cogden was simply smiling.

‘Carry on,’ Charlie said. ‘Make sure you get everything.’ He raised an eyebrow at Johnny. ‘I’m so very pleased you worked out my little puzzle in the end. You’ll be able to come for a ride. It’ll give us the chance to know each other better.’

‘And if I refuse?’

‘Oh, I suppose I’ll just shoot one of the people over there.’ He grinned. ‘It’s always best to make an offer no one can refuse, I find.’

‘A pity I don’t believe you.’ Everyone was watching him. Half the faces were terrified, the rest stoic and angry. Barry Jones looked furious. ‘You’ve gone to all the trouble of looking like a hero. Hurt anyone and you’ll set all of Leeds against you.’

‘That’s the troubles with appearances,’ Cogden said. ‘They can be so deceptive. You arrest me and I’ll go to jail for years. Isn’t that correct?’

‘Murder someone and they’ll hang you.’

‘Or go out in a blaze and it doesn’t really matter.’

‘A bit final, though.’

Cogden laughed.

‘But at least people will remember me, Sergeant.’ He turned swiftly, raised the weapon and fired into the wall, bringing down a shower of plaster. People dived for the floor. In a moment he was back, staring at Johnny. ‘What’s it going to be, Sergeant?’

I Mythologise Leeds

On my website it says ‘I write Leeds.’

It’s true.

But the more I consider it, it might be better to put: I mythologise Leeds.

leeds late c19

It’s a very dark mythology, built on shadows and soot, where there’s no relief for the poor and little compassion for the rich. It’s a place of constant grind, of simply trying to survive.

No gods and precious few heroes in this place.

It’s grounded in reality. The streets are where they’ve stood for years, even centuries. But in my Leeds they’re peopled with ghosts that haunt memory. The people who died, lost and nameless.

Go back a century and more and there are accounts of how the poor struggle. The length of the days they work simply to put food on the table. The children and the old who go into the workhouse because they’re not strong enough to fight outside.

I can take that, I can place them on those streets that still exist, in the courts and yards that are mostly demolished or turned into modern bars and clubs, where a different noise fills the night. But I can never know it. I wasn’t there. I didn’t live with the stench of the chemical works, the dyeing factories, the stink of the tanneries. All I can do is read and imagine.

And from that comes the mythology. Not Wayland’s Smithy or Hrothgar’s Heorot, but a place of dirt, of industry. Leeds itself is a character in my books, its changing face, its shifting populations. But always, at the heart of it, as they’ve always been, the poor.

There’s no promised land for them, no milk, no honey, just the drudgery of working or starving until they die. But I try to bring them alive, to give them the kind of dignity that might have been so elusive in life. I make it bleak and brutal, but I suspect the reality was far grimmer than anything I put on the page

My great-grandparents are buried in common graves. No headstone, only a name and a plot in the cemetery ledger. I didn’t know that when I began writing about Leeds. But it’s come to me since that they, and all those like them, are among the reasons I write about the place. To create some memorial for them.

I love Leeds, for better or worse. But it’s so much more than the names on statues and plaques. Some of those people did great things; that’s beyond doubt. Yet, for those who made their fortunes, could they have done it without all the people working for them who vanished between the cracks of history? No.

Those small people might not be gods and goddesses. They don’t have to be. But I can create an epic landscape, a city that almost existed, and give it to them as theirs. They deserve it.

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.

large old paper or parchment background texture

 

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.’