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?’

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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.’

 

Roaring Thirties, Part 3

CHAPTER SIX

 

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

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

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

Now all he had to do was wait.

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

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

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

‘Where?’ he asked.

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

 

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

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

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

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

‘Anyone hurt?’ he asked.

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

‘How much did they get?’

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

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

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

‘How much did they get?’ Williams asked.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

‘Well?’ he asked. ‘Anyone hurt?’

‘No. They just shot to scare.’

‘How much did they take?’

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

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

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

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

‘It’s still galling.’

‘We need to catch them sharpish.’

‘We will.’ He lit a cigarette.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

‘I thought you could use that.’

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

‘Better,’ he declared and smiled.

‘What are you going to do now?’

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

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

‘Did you see the bullet holes?’

‘I made sure the photographer took pictures.’

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

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

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

She cocked her head. ‘Is this work?’

‘And pleasure.’ He grinned.

‘What are we doing?’

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

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

‘Arrest them, of course.’

Violet shook her head.

‘You know you’re mad, don’t you?’

‘I prefer to think of it as enthusiastic.’

She arched an eyebrow doubtfully.

‘Enthusiastic?’

‘Definitely.’

 

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

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

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

‘You’re very quiet.’

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

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

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

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

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

‘He could be armed.’

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

Johnny drained the whisky and stood.

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

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

‘Asa?’ Johnny said. ‘Asa Bradley?’

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

‘Yes,’ Bradley said doubtfully.

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

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

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

‘I…’ He looked confused.

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

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

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

Johnny locked the handcuffs on the man’s wrists.

‘That was very neat,’ he said.

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

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

‘You should have remembered me,’ he said.

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

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

 

 

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

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

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

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

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

‘We split it four ways.’

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

‘It wasn’t like that.’

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

‘How did you find out?’

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

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

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

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

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

Bradley shrugged, but his eyes were worried.

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

‘Twenty.’

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

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

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

‘Yes.’

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

‘You know…’he began tentatively.

‘What?’

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

‘What?’ Bradley repeated.

‘No,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t.’

‘What is it?’

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

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

‘Whose idea was that?’

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

‘The raid on the gunsmith, too?’

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

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

‘No. I don’t like them.’

‘But Charlie and the others did.’

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

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

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

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

‘If I tell you where to find them?’

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny edged to the door, scarcely daring to breathe.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

‘Where do you think they went?’

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

‘Are those the files on them?’

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

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

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

 

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

‘You look happy. A good morning?’

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

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

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

‘Did they get your good side?’

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

‘Where the gang was hiding.’

‘And?’

‘They’d gone by the time we arrived.’

‘So what now?’

He grinned. ‘I have a plan or two.’

‘Is taking me to the pictures among them?’

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

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

‘What’s playing?’

The Scarlet Pimpernel. Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon.’

‘Plenty of swashbuckling?’

‘Oodles of it,’ she assured him.

‘We could go this evening.’

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

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

‘Are we?’ Violet asked.

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

 

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

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

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

‘What makes you say that?’ Johnny wondered.

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

‘What?’

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

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

Anna’s hand came up to her mouth.

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

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

‘Kenny.’ She nodded, still looking astonished.

‘Yes.’

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

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

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

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

‘On the way to York?’ Johnny asked.

‘Yes.’

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

‘Even somewhere unlikely,’ Violet added.

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

‘Where is it?’ he asked softly.

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

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

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

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

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

‘I see.’ She stood for a moment.

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

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

‘How long have you been going out?’

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

‘Do they stop you seeing him?’

She stood, one thin hand on the latch.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

‘Anything?’ she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

‘What?’ She read furiously.

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

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

‘You’ve just reminded me…’

‘What?’ she barked.

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

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

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The superintendent rubbed his chin, then nodded.

‘It’s worth a shot,’ he agreed.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One second.

He had a grip, he was moving.

Two seconds.

Off the floor, pulling himself higher.

Three seconds.

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

Four seconds.

The gun was in his hands and he stared down.

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

‘He’s gone,’ Johnny said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

‘I know.’

‘You don’t think..?’

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

‘It doesn’t help us catch them.’

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

Randall nodded his agreement.

‘What about you?’

‘I’m going to think.’

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

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

‘Just a shilling.’

‘I was hoping for more faith that that.’

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

 

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

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

‘She told him, didn’t she?’

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

‘She said we’d called on her.’

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

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

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

‘Did he tell her much?’

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

Johnny sat up. ‘Why?’

‘A Robin Hood or something.’

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

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

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

She stared at him coolly.

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

 

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

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

 

 

The Holy City: An Annabelle Harper Story

Leeds, Summer 1898

 

No rest for the wicked, Annabelle Harper thought as she picked up the post. A card on top with a view of Masham. Jotted on the back: Staying here tonight. There’s a brewery, it smells like when I worked at Brunswick’s! Beautiful weather, we’ll come home brown as berries. Love, Tom. And underneath, in a careful hand: And Mary.

KNA-Early-Postcard-Silver-Street-Masham-North-Riding

She smiled and placed it on the mantlepiece with the other two. One a day, exactly as he’d promised. High summer, 1898, and her husband had taken their daughter on holiday to the Dales. He had a week’s leave, school had finished. But no chance for a Poor Law Guardian to take a little time away.

Three people had needed assistance yesterday, two the day before, five on Monday. That was always the worst day. Wages spent, everything worth even a couple of pennies hauled off to the pawnshop. Some she’d been able to help. Others she’d had to turn away, hurting at the hopelessness on their faces. Things were always bad in Sheepscar. Worse in other parts of Leeds, she knew that. But a year of this work had shown her that not everything was possible. She’d learned to steel her heart; sometimes she had no choice.

But she was the won who’d wanted to run for the position. She’d won the vote, and now she had to do the job. A pile of papers sat on the table needing her attention. Reports from the workhouse, minutes from the last Guardians meeting. And barely a minute to read them. She glanced at the clock, then strode over to the mirror, pinning her hat in place before she wrapped a light shawl around her shoulders.

Downstairs, the bar at the Victoria was quiet. A couple of older men ekeing out the boredom of their days by playing game after game of dominoes and cribbage while they sipped at halves of mild. A quick word with Dan the barman, a pull of the door and she came out into the clatter and din of Roundhay Road. Already warm, the sky hazy, the streets heavy with soot and dust and all the stink of industry.

Annabelle had barely started walking when a man called her name. She turned, seeing Reverend Fletcher hurrying to catch up to her. He looked like a figure of fun, a large man with a red, florid face above the dog collar and a belly that wobbled as he tried to move quickly. But he was a good soul, doing what he could to help the poor in his parish. She couldn’t help but have a soft spot for him.

‘Mrs. Harper. I’m glad I caught you.’ Just ten yards and he was already out of breath, she thought. He lifted his straw hat and panted.

‘Pleased to see you, too, Reverend. If there’s something you need, you’d better walk with me, I’m already late.’ She nodded towards the distance. ‘I’m due at the workhouse in a quarter of an hour.’

‘Of course.’

She kept a brisk pace, nodding at shopkeepers and folk she saw on the way to the junction with Enfield Street. He had to move quickly to keep pace.

‘There’s someone I’d like you to see, if you’d be so good,’ Fletcher said.

‘One of your flock? Is the family having money problems? Out of work?’

He hesitated before answering, just long enough to make her turn her head and stare.

‘No, it’s nothing like that. He’s only been in Leeds for a few weeks now, still has a pound to his name.’

She stopped, hands on her hips.

‘I don’t understand, then. What do you need with a Guardian?’

‘He’s staying at the Vicarage. With his wife and children.’ A shy smile crossed Fletcher’s face. ‘If you could call around later. Just for a minute or two. I’d be very grateful.’

Annabelle narrowed her eyes. ‘You’re being very cagey. What’s it all about?’

Fletched tightened his mouth, then shook his head. ‘I’d rather you made up your own mind. Shall we say this afternoon?’ He raised his hat again, turned and strode away.

Always someone, she thought as the made her way through the back streets and up the hill to the workhouse.

annabellefrom book_3

By the time she walked back out into the air, she was fuming. The same thing as ever: the sheer ignorance of the male Guardians. No clue what women needed when they had their monthlies. Half of them probably didn’t even know such a thing existed; if they ever found out, they’d be terrified.

She breathed deeply, standing until she could feel the pounding in her chest slow down, then crossed the street to Beckett Street Cemetery. The only piece of green around here. A moment or two by Tom Maguire’s headstone, thinking of the man, wondering what he’d make of her now. Then to a bench that nestled in a spot of sunlight.

maguire stone

A few minutes and she was composed again, all the anger tamped down for another few days. Until the next time she visited.

Annabelle stood, dusted off her gown and started to walk home. A quick stop at a bakery for a tongue sandwich and a fancy to go with her tea later. It was only as she strolled down Rosebud Walk, brown paper bags in hand, that she remembered she’d agreed to go and see Reverend Fletcher’s visitor. Pushed into it, more like.

Well, that was the afternoon going through the pub accounts up the spout.

annabellefrom book_3

St. Cuthbert’s sat in the sun. The hall had been rebuilt after last year’s bomb. She only had to look at it to remember the noise that filled her head that evening, all the smoke, the stink of gunpowder, and the broken body of Mr. Harkness, the caretaker.

cuthberts

Annabelle straightened her shoulders, trying to put the past to the back of her mind, and brought her hand down on the knocker of the vicarage.

‘Hello, Mrs. Harper, luv,’ the housekeeper said with a warm smile. ‘He said you might be dropping in. Always a pleasure to see you.’

‘He asked me to come and meet your guest.’

‘Yes.’ The woman’s face clouded. ‘Well…’

‘A strange one?’ Annabelle asked.

‘You could say that.’ She frowned as stood aside, wiping her hands on her apron. ‘Come on through, luv. He’s in the back parlour.’

‘What about his wife and children?’

‘Child,’ the woman corrected her. ‘They’re out,’ she said darkly.

annabellefrom book_3

Annabelle blinked in the bright sunlight and started to walk down the street. She stopped, half-turned, then carried on towards home.

Well, she’d certainly never met anyone like that. Even when she was sitting upstairs at the Victoria with a cup of tea, she still didn’t have a clue what to make of him. Who on earth would walk all the way from London because God had told him to bring the light to the people of Leeds? If he’d come alone it would be bad enough, but to drag a wife and two-year-old boy with him…

annabellefrom book_3

His name was Harry Walton. He was small, shifty, not much to him, probably no taller than five feet three, skin and bone from weeks on the tramp. But there was an intensity to his eyes that worried her. In his voice, too. He spoke with the kind of certainty she’d heard before in con men with something to sell. But he didn’t seem to want anything.

‘Leeds is the holy city. The Lord told me that.’ He stared straight at her as her spoke, unblinking behind his spectacles.

‘The holy city?’ Annabelle asked. ‘What’s that supposed to mean? I’ve lived here all my life. Take it from me, there’s nothing holy about it.’

‘The people here will be saved if they rid themselves of evil. God told me. That’s why He sent me here, to reform them.’

Round and round for more than half an hour, until she felt overwhelmed, her head spinning.

‘What about your family?’ she asked finally.

‘They go where I go.’ He spoke the words with absolute finality, as if they’d been ordained. Maybe he believed they had.

Time to see about that, Annabelle thought as she finished the cup of tea and carried it through to the kitchen. See what the woman felt about it all. The pastry sat, barely touched on the plate. Too dry, no flake to the crust. If Mary had been here, she’d have wolfed it down. That girl had an appetite like a gannet.

annabellefrom book_3

This time the reverend answered the door himself. He looked surprised to see her, recovering his manners after a second.

‘Come in, Mrs. Harper. Come in. Forgive me, the housekeeper told me you were here this afternoon.’

‘I was,’ she answered with a soft smile. ‘I’ve come back to see the man’s wife.’

‘Ah,’ Fletcher said. ‘And what did you make of the gentleman?’

‘Honestly?’ she said. ‘Happen he believes everything he says. But holy city and cleansing the place, reforming it? I think he’s got something up his sleeve that we haven’t seen yet. Either that or he’s a bit touched.’

‘Men of God have often been viewed that way.’

‘Is that what you think he is?’ she asked.

Reverent Fletcher spread his hand, palms upwards.

‘I wish there was a way to know. But he’s right that we need to be rid of sin here, isn’t he?’

‘What? Like drinking?’ She had a twinkle in her eye. He knew exactly what she did for money.

He laughed. ‘Wine is there in the Bible, Mrs. Harper. Jesus even changed water into it at a wedding feast.’

‘He’d be welcome at the Victoria to do that any night he wants, although they’d prefer it was beer,’ she said, and suddenly realised she might have gone too far. ‘No offense, Reverend.’

‘None taken. I’ll have the lady attend you here, if that’s fine.’

‘Perfect.’

One minute stretched to two, then five, before the door opened and the woman entered.

Not a woman, Annabelle thought. A girl. She had to be thirty years younger than the man. Probably not a day over seventeen, looking shy and cowed.

‘Come on in and sit yourself down.’

Stick legs under a thin cotton dress. Boots with worn soles and woollen stockings she’d darned too many times. Hands as rough as sandpaper.

‘I’m Mrs. Harper. The Reverend asked me if I’d have a word with you and your husband.’ Not quite the truth, but close enough. ‘What’s your name?’

‘Julia.’

‘That’s a pretty name. I like that. My mother lumbered me with Annabelle. I’ve always thought it sounds like it should be the name for a flower.’

The girl was too timid to respond.

‘How long have you been married?’

‘Two years,’ Julia answered. ‘Just after Samuel was born. He’s my son.’ She had the same rounded London vowels as her husband, so strange and out of place. But there was nothing educated about either of them.

‘The reverend said you had a child. A bonny little lad, I bet.’

‘He is.’ Her face came alive. ‘He takes so much time. And he’s always so hungry.’

Annabelle smiled. ‘It doesn’t get any better. My daughter’s six and she has hollow legs.’ She paused for a second. ‘Do you mind if I ask your age, Julia?’

A small hesitation. ‘I’m nineteen.’

That was a lie, Annabelle thought, but she’d let it pass.

‘How do you like being on the tramp?’

‘I don’t.’ Her mouth turned down at the corners. ‘My feet hurt all the time. This is the best place we’ve been since we left London. But I know we’re going to have to find somewhere else soon.’

‘I came and talked to your husband this afternoon, but you and your lad were out. Taking a look around?’

The girl shook her head. ‘Harry sends us out to beg. He says a woman and child bring in more than a man.’

Well, she though, he might have his eyes set on a holy city, but he kept a thought for bringing in the brass.

‘Do you make much?’

‘No,’ she answered. ‘Most of the time a rozzer will come and move us on. I was arrested once, when we were in Birmingham.’ Her face fell at the memory. ‘Seven days of hard labour and they almost took Samuel away from me.’

‘You must love your husband to do all this.’

‘He says it’s a wife’s duty to obey. A woman has to follow a man’s desires.’ She sounded as if she was repeating words she’d heard far too often.

‘How did you end up marrying him? There’s…’

‘I know. He’s a lot older.’ The deadness came back to her. She looked around, as if someone else might have come in and be hiding in the corner, listening. ‘Harry used to play cards with my pa. They worked together.’ Annabelle felt the first prickle up her spine, the sense that she knew exactly what was coming. ‘My pa had a losing night, so he told Harry he could have a poke of me and they’d all be square.’

‘How old were you?’

‘Fourteen.’

‘What about your mam? Where was she?’

‘She left when I was ten,’ Julia said. Her shoulders slumped. ‘Everything was good when she was still there.’

‘You and Harry…’ Annabelle said.

‘He got me…’ She blushed and lowered her gaze. ‘My pa told him he had to marry me to make it right. And pay a him a…something, I don’t remember what.’

‘A dowry?’

‘Yes. I think that was it.’

Annabelle sat quietly, thinking, then asked: ‘Tell me something, luv. Are you happy with Harry?’

‘Happy?’ Julia said, as if she’d never heard the word before, never considered the idea.

‘Do you love him?’

She shook her head, moving it quickly from side to side like a little girl.

‘Not like I loved my mother.’ She leaned forward and her voice softened to a whisper. ‘He hurts me when we…you know… and he hits me if I do something he doesn’t like.’

So much for any kind of holy man. Had his feet near the devil, like so many of them.

‘What do you want? For you and little Samuel?’

‘Want?’ She frowned, confused. ‘I don’t know. No one’s ever asked me that before.’ A moment passed, then she started to answer, voice like a child wishing for the Christmas presents that would never arrive: ‘A place we didn’t have to leave. Enough to eat. Not to ache from walking all the time. Things to make Sammy smile.’

Hardly reaching for the moon. Things any mother wanted. Yet Annabelle knew half the women she saw every week didn’t have them. They turned up to see her, clutching their sorrows close, hiding the bruises they claimed came from walking into doors and filled with the same of asking for something.

Annabelle knew how she must appear to the girl. A grand lady in an elaborate frock and big hat. A Poor Law Guardian with all sorts of power. But Julia was a stranger here, lost in an unfamiliar place. A stranger in her own life, really. She’d never had a chance to grow up the way a child should.

‘Have you ever worked before? What can do you?’

‘I was in a match factory for two years. But it was making me ill so I had to stop. I kept being sick. My pa belted me for that. He didn’t see the use of me if I couldn’t bring in money.’

‘Anything else?’

She blushed hard and stared down at her feet again.

‘Harry had me on the game for a little while. I had to stop when I started to…’ She curved a hand around her belly.

‘I want to ask you something.’

‘You’ve already been asking me things, missus.’

‘I know, but this is…well,’ Annabelle smiled and softened her voice. ‘It won’t go past these four walls, word of honour. If you had your druthers, would you stay with him?’

The girl looked up, pain showing in her eyes.

‘What else could I do? There isn’t anywhere me and Sammy could go.’

‘If someone could find a place. Somewhere safe. Would you stay with him then?’

Julia didn’t hesitate. ‘No. But I can’t go back to my pa. I won’t do that.’

Of course not; he’d beat her and sell her all over again.

‘I know. Look, I can’t make you any promises, but let me see what I can do.’ She took out her purse and counted out three pennies. ‘You buy your little lad something with that. And don’t let your husband know you have it.’

‘I won’t, missus. I swear.’ She clutched the coins in her fist as if they were the most precious gift she’d ever been given. ‘Thank you.’

‘I’ll come and see you tomorrow.’

annabellefrom book_3

Reverend Fletcher closed the front door behind them, staring across at the church.

‘All this talk about the holy city,’ Annabelle began. ‘It’s a con. He’s no more got religion that I have.’

‘But…he sounds so sincere.’

‘That’s his game. Do you want to know the truth. He won that lass from her father in a card game, he’s had her out on the streets.’ She saw him wince. ‘He’s happy to have her and their lad out begging to support him. Does that sound like a man of God to you?’

‘No,’ Fletcher admitted. ‘I suppose I’m gullible. He must have seen it. But what do you want me to do? Throw them all out on the streets?’

‘Give me a day,’ she said. ‘I’ll see what I can come up with for her and the boy. But I’ll tell you this – I won’t lift a finger to help him. If I were you, once they’re gone, I’d toss him out on his ear. Let him find a proper job.’ Her face turned grim. ‘If he doesn’t, I’ll have one of Tom’s men run him in for vagrancy.’

annabellefrom book_3

An evening of bustling around, feeling like she was shuttling from pillar to post and back again. The books would have to wait for another day.

She didn’t sleep well, thrashing around and throwing the covers off in the summer heat. The bed felt too big without Tom here, and the morning was empty of all the bustle of her husband and Mary. Cooking breakfast just for herself seemed like a chore. It left her lonely. She rushed through it, washed the pots and was out of the door by seven. Another postcard from Middleham waiting on the mat. Home on Sunday written on the back. Not long now, she though as she put it in her reticule.

postcard middleham

The problem was finding a place for the girl and her son to live, and someone to look after the boy. There were jobs out there, maybe nothing much, but enough to keep body and soul together.

By dinnertime she’d talked herself hoarse, wheedled, pulled in favours from people she’d helped in the past. Finally she secured the offer of a room for Julia Walton and her son. Just for a month, but the woman in the house was willing to look after Samuel. That would give her the breathing space to find a job and come up with somewhere else to live.

Annabelle paid the month’s lodging. It seemed only fair. She was the one encouraging the girl to leave her husband; this might be enough to help her take that step. All too often she’d seen the way women with no money were too scared to go. God knew she couldn’t help them all, but even one…it was a start. Didn’t matter that she wasn’t from round here. Perhaps it was more important because she was a stranger in Leeds, with no family or friends to turn to. Being alone brought desperation.

One final stop. The tram down to Millgarth police station, a few words and a laugh with Sergeant Tollman on the desk, then through to see Inspector Ash. It seemed strange to see someone else behind her husband’s desk, as if he might never return, instead of due back in a couple of days. He rose, looking confused, as she entered the office.

millgarth

‘Has something happened to the Superintendent?’

She ginned. ‘Don’t worry. You’re not likely to be stuck there past this week. I’ve come to ask a favour. Can you check the past of someone I met? He’s come from London…’

Home. She treated herself to a cup of tea and settled in the chair, unbuttoning her boots and wiggling her feet. Absolute. Just having the chance to sit, a few minutes to herself, seemed like luxury after all the rushing about.

Then the knock on the door, and a young bobby who’d hardly started to shave was standing there.

‘Inspector Ash asked me to bring you this and wait for a reply.’

‘Come in,’ Annabelle told him. ‘There’s still some left in the pot.’ He waited, shifting nervously from foot to foot, not daring to pour himself a cup of tea. ‘Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.’

She unfolded the note. Ash’s copperplate was a joy to read, so much better than her own scrawl.

Harry Walton has a record as long as your arm. Currently wanted in London for passing altered cheques. They asked if we could arrest him. Do you know where he is?

No wonder he’d wanted to vanish. She sat at the table, a piece of paper in front of her, and dipped her nib in the inkwell.

St. Cuthbert’s. Best if it’s first thing tomorrow morning.  He’d find out just how holy this city could be.

‘Give that to him with my thanks, will you?’

‘Yes, missus,’ the lad said, blushing as he corrected himself. ‘Mrs. Harper.’

annabellefrom book_3

The same room, the woman in the same thin, faded dress. The only difference was the boy sitting on the floor, spinning the reverend’s globe again and again, mesmerised by it.

‘That’s it,’ Annabelle said as she finished. ‘It’s yours if you want it.’

‘I don’t know what to say,’ Julia told her.

‘You don’t have to say a word. Just put your things in a bag and come with me.’

‘Why, though?’ She stared at Annabelle with suspicion. ‘Why me? Us.’

‘Because you need it. I know, there are plenty who do. All I did was talk to a few folk. It wasn’t much.’ She stood and held out her hand. ‘Ready?’

‘What about Harry?’

‘Believe me, you won’t need to worry about him.’

As the vicarage door closed behind them, the light was starting to drift from afternoon into evening.

‘I’m scared,’ Julia said. Samuel marched beside her, clutching tight to her fingers. ‘I’ve never had to look after myself before.’

‘Seems to me you’ve been doing that for most of your life,’ Annabelle told her. She looked down at the boy and stuck out her tongue until he giggled. ‘This time will be better.’

 

I hope you liked it. This story takes place the summer after the vents in The Tin God, and a year before The Leaden Heart (out next March).

Remember, books make great gifts, and I’ve had three out this year – The Tin God, The Dead on Leave, and The Hanging Psalm.

 

 

 

Roaring Thirties Part 2

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

CHAPTER FOUR

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Just a few last questions.’ He smiled.

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

‘How many guns do you have here?’

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

Williams waited a moment, pursing his lips.

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

 

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

‘Am I late?’ he asked.

‘Just fashionable. I ordered for you.’

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

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

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

‘I try.’

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

‘You might like this.’

‘Oh?’

‘Do you remember Walter Bosley?’

‘Should I?’

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

‘So far he sounds like half your friends.’

‘He makes sure people stay in line.’

‘With his silver tongue?’

He gave her an enigmatic grin.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

‘Did you offend them?’

‘They seem to resent going to jail.’

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

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

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

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

He nodded.

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

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

The woman blushed.

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

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

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

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

 

Outside, Violet fanned herself.

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

‘But a beautiful one.’

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

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

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

‘Did you find anything?’ Violet asked.

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

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

‘As well as two convictions for GBH.’

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

‘Really?’ He turned to her with interest.

‘A fortnight, they think.’

‘A fortnight? That’s just insulting.’

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

‘Where?’ he asked suspiciously.

‘Polwony’s.’

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

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

 

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

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

‘Worried?’

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

‘Maybe they’re planning something big.’

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

‘What now?’

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

‘Just be careful.’

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

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

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

‘I mean it, Johnny. Be careful.’

‘I will.’

‘What could be big enough for them?’

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

‘Another bank?’ Violet asked.

He shook his head.

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

‘What are you going to do?’

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

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

 

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

‘More or less,’ Williams agreed.

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

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

‘You told me you like the tough jobs.’

‘I do.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would he do in their shoes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Penny for them?’ she said wearily.

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

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

‘Not quite. Not yet.’

‘Still no idea?’

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

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

‘You were swept away, I take it.’

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

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

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

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

‘Are we going to have it?’

‘I hope not,’ Johnny said cautiously.

‘Will you stop them in time?’

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

 

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

‘Friday,’ Williams told him.

‘Wages money?’

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

The superintendent looked thoughtful.

‘Why?’ he asked.

Williams listed the reasons on his fingers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

‘What did he say?’ Williams asked.

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

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

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

‘Yes. Thank you.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘A name. I asked around a little.’

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

‘Have you ever heard of Asa Bradley?’

‘No.’

‘What do you know about midget cars?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Is he local?’

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

Williams nodded. A name meant a place to start.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

‘Midget car racing.’

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

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

‘I bet I can.’

‘What on earth is it?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

‘A disguise?’

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

‘When are we going out there?’

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

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

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

‘Mrs. Bradley?’ Williams asked.

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

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

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

‘Is he at home?’

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

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

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

‘Well, he’s not here.’

‘Is he at work?’ Johnny asked.

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

‘Did he say where he was going?’

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

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

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

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

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

‘Changed how?’ Violet asked sympathetically.

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

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

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

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

‘Do you have a photograph of him?’

‘Of course,’ she replied.

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

‘I took it last summer,’ she explained.

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

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

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

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

‘All right.’

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

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

‘It’s for the best, honestly.’

 

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

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

‘I know that look on your face.’

‘What look?’

‘You don’t believe in coincidences.’

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

‘Why?’ she asked suspiciously.

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

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

‘Probably.’

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER FIVE

 

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

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

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

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

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

‘How long ago?’

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

‘Police.’ Johnny waved as he walked away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Harris’ face reddened.

‘I thought you’d come to arrest me.’

Johnny rubbed his arm.

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

‘So what is it?’

Johnny brought out the photograph.

‘Him.’

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

‘You’re friends?’

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

‘What about other friends of his?’

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

‘Any names?’

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

‘Did you know them?’

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

‘Kept to themselves?’

‘More or less.’

‘What about you? A mechanic?’

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

‘Where do you live, Arthur?’

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

‘Bit of a bastard, is he?’

‘A lot.’ The lad grinned.

‘Do you know Meanwood Road?’

‘I can find it. Why?’

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Tasty?’ he asked.

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

‘Worth ordering another?’

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

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

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

‘Like what?’

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

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

‘Any luck?’

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

‘Where will you be?’

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

‘They’re going to have guns.’

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

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

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

‘Johnny…’

He grinned.

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

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

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

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

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

‘She doesn’t look too happy.’

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Still, the feeling wouldn’t vanish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Did they cancel?’ he asked.

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

‘Just solving crime.’ He smiled.

‘Have you found them?’

‘Not yet. Tomorrow.’

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

‘Your hair looks good.’

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

‘We’ll catch them.’

‘And no one hurt?’

‘Hopefully,’ he answered after a small hesitation.

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

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

‘It’ll be fine,’ he promised.

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

‘How bad is that headache?’

‘It could be starting to fade a little.’

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

‘And now?’ he asked.

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

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

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

He leaned forward and kissed her lightly.

 

Roaring Thirties, Part 1

A few years ago, I wrote a novella, something a little different for me. Light-hearted crime. In Leeds, of course, but not something anyone was likely to publish. It’s been sitting around my various hard drives ever since,  mostly forgotten.

However, I thought that, to fill the weeks between now and Christmas, I’d serialise it for you. But you have to promise to remember that both The Hanging Psalm and The Tin God made great gifts for people.

And so, ladies and gentleman, I give you the first episode. Johnny Williams, take a bow…

CHAPTER ONE

He parked the Austin Seven Swallow outside the Eagle on North Street. There’d been hardly any traffic on the drive up from London, just a few lorries, the cars bucketing along as fast as they could, the drivers’ faces fierce with concentration.

He buttoned his suit jacket and put on the hat, checking the brim in the wing mirror to see it was just so. A late May evening, some warmth still left in the air, and that feeling of dusk, with daylight starting to seep away and casting long shadows. 1934. The world might be poor, but there was still some beauty in it.

Only a few customers sat in the pub. An old husband and wife, holding hands and chattering away easily, halves of stout on the table in front of them, a dotting of ancient fellows, leftovers from Victorian times, gathered to play dominoes, a young couple out to do their courting, and a group of four middle-aged men, eyes like flints, standing in earnest discussion.

The landlord was cleaning the polished wood shelves, his back turned.

He saw her at the end of the bar, a glass of gin and tonic in front of her, a cigarette between her fingers. She was wearing a nubby tweed skirt and an ochre sweater, the sleeves rolled up on her red cardigan. There was a wedding ring on her finger, but she was on her own.

She’d glanced up when he walked in, then turned away again.

‘Can I buy you another?’ he asked as he stood beside her. She looked at him, eyes carefully appraising. Her hair was neatly set in waves, her lipstick bold red. In her early thirties and definitely pretty.

‘My mother always said I shouldn’t take drinks from strange men.’

‘We’re safe then. I’m not strange.’

She tightened her mouth as she arched her brows.

‘Who told you that? Your wife?’

He grinned. One of his front teeth was slightly chipped. Someone had told him once that it made him look irresistible. Dashing. Wolfish. A little like Ronald Colman.

‘Someone much more reliable.’ He cocked his head. ‘I have to ask, are those eyes of yours eyes blue or grey?’

She was staring at him now, and smiling.

‘Take a guess. If you’re right, you can take me home.’

‘Violet?’

She waited a moment, then started to gather her handbag off the bar.

‘Eyes and name,’ she told him, then asked, ‘Where should we go? Your house or mine?’

‘Oh, yours, I think,’ he answered without hesitation. ‘My wife’s a terrible housekeeper.’

Her elbow dug sharply into his ribs.

‘You’d best be careful, Johnny Williams, or you’ll be sleeping on the settee tonight. What kept you? I thought you’d be home this afternoon.’

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

He reported to the police station in his best double-breasted suit, navy blue with a pale pinstripe, his black brogues shining, the hat brim tipped just enough to put his eyes in shadow.

After a fortnight working with the Met in London it felt good to be home again. The capital had its charms, but Johnny Williams knew Leeds. He understood how the city worked without even having to consider it.

He wasn’t even sure why they’d wanted him down there. All he’d done was read the case file, go and talk to four people, then sit back and wait, time enough to tie up a couple of loose ends. Eight days later, they’d started making arrests and he was on his way back up the Great North Road.

Williams slapped the desk. There were files waiting for him. One thing about being a copper, he’d never be short of a job. Count your blessings, he thought, as he took a folder from the pile.

But he hadn’t even finished the first page before Superintendent Randall called his name. Detective Sergeant Williams straightened his tie, buttoned his jacket and walked through to the office.

‘Everything fine down South?’ Randall asked as he sat.

‘Went well, sir.’ He shrugged. They’d made the arrests easily.

‘Head not turned by the glamour?’

‘Well, the King invited me over, but I told him I needed to be back here by teatime…’ Williams grinned.

Randall picked up a piece of paper and pushed it across the desk. ‘Something to get your teeth into.’

He read it through quickly. While he was been gone there’d been two bank jobs, one in Horsforth, the other in Morley. Three men, one of them armed with a sawn-off shotgun. Quick, efficient, no violence, just threats and menace. In both cases, the getaway vehicles had been stolen and recovered about a mile away. There were descriptions, for whatever they were worth; none of the witnesses could agree on much. Violet had told him all about it last night. Lying on the bed after his welcome home, smoking cigarettes with the windows open, she’d brought him up to date on the happenings in Leeds. Working as a reporter on the Yorkshire Evening Post, she heard them all.

‘No clues?’ he asked, his arm around her bare shoulders. The slip and brassiere were long gone, tossed somewhere on the floor, and sweat was drying on her skin.

‘If they have, they’re not saying. The rumour is that they’ve nabbed over a thousand pounds.’

That was impressive. Carry on with that and they’d have a good little earner. He moved his hand a little. He needed to feel more welcome.

 

*******

‘Nasty,’ Williams said.

‘They’ve taken over twelve hundred so far. But keep that to yourself.’ Randall pulled a packet of Black Cats from his pocket and lit one.

‘What’s CID turned up?’

‘Not enough. None of the narks seem to know anything.’

‘I was hoping for a few days’ leave,’ Johnny said.

‘You wouldn’t know what to do with yourself.’

But he would. He’d seen the sun shining through the curtains that morning, smelt spring warmth in the air and thought about Sandsend. He and Violet, a some time away, a decent hotel, Whitby just a stroll along the beach at low tide. Some walking, some fishing, plenty of fresh air.

‘Well…’ he began, but Randall shook his head.

‘I want you on this. If they get away with it, other people are going to get the same idea. Times are bad, Johnny, you know that. We don’t need folk thinking they can be Dillinger or Bonnie and Clyde. Not round here.’

Williams picked up the report as he stood. Before he could even take a pace the door flew open and the desk sergeant, old red-faced Murphy, announced,

‘There’s been another one, sir. The Midland Bank on City Square.’

Randall raised an eyebrow.

‘Looks like you know where to start, Johnny.’

 

He found a parking place on Boar Lane and walked to the building on the corner, solid stone staring out towards the statue of the Black Prince in the middle of the square. Wisps of smoke and the stink of the trains drifted out from the railway station across the street.

Williams nodded at the uniformed constables guarding the door of the bank and sauntered inside. Another bobby was questioning a distraught woman, while a pair of detectives looked around the building.

It was much like any other bank – high ceilings, a grandiose interior of marble and tile, varnished wood and glistening brass. And like the rest, easy enough to rob with plenty of determination and a little planning. The only problem would be getting away in the city traffic.

One of the CID men spotted him and walked slowly across with a rolling gait. He was tall, close to six-and-a-half feet, well into middle age, spectacles crowding a pinched face, most of his hair gone, just leaving a tonsure that was turning grey.

‘Might have known you’d find your way down here.’

‘Good morning, sir.’

Inspector Gibson had started his career with Leeds City Police well before the war. He’d served in the trenches and returned to the job, trudging up from rank to rank. ‘Going to have it solved by dinnertime?’

Johnny Williams gave a small sigh and turned his hat around in his hand.

‘I don’t know sir,’ he answered, voice serious. ‘Depends what time you want to eat.’

Gibson’s face reddened. He snorted and stalked away.

 

The girl sitting at the desk and cradling a cup of tea in her lap was smiling at him. It was a pert, inviting smile, full lips with bright red lipstick, under dark eyebrows and Carol Lombard blonde hair.

‘Will you?’ she asked.

‘Will I what?’

‘Catch them by dinnertime.’

‘Probably not.’ He grinned and shrugged. ‘Still, stranger things have happened. Do you work here?’

‘I do. I’m Mr. Osborne’s secretary.’ When he looked at her quizzically, she explained, ‘He’s the manager.’

‘Did you see the robbery, Miss…?’

‘Simpson,’ she answered. ‘Jane Simpson.’ He heard the light emphasis she put on her Christian name. ‘And yes. I was in the office. Over there.’ She pointed towards the corner and he saw two small offices of wood and glass. ‘It was like watching one of those films.’

She didn’t seem too upset or shocked, he thought. More like entertained.

‘Why don’t you tell me what happened?’ he suggested. ‘Weren’t you scared?’

‘Oh, no. They couldn’t really see me.’ She lowered her head a little, embarrassed. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.’

‘Detective Sergeant Williams.’ He took out a packet of Gold Flake cigarettes and offered her one. ‘How many of them were there?’

‘Three.’ She closed her eyes to focus. ‘They were wearing jackets and trousers, and all of them had caps. They didn’t look like the kind of customers we usually have here.’

He smiled. They looked like ordinary working men, she meant, the kind who didn’t have bank accounts.

‘Did one of them have a gun?’

‘Yes. It was like a shotgun, but not as long.’ She cocked her head towards him. ‘Is that right?’

‘He’d sawed down the barrels,’ William explained. ‘Where was Mr. Osborne while all this was going on?’

He could see she didn’t want to answer, but after a few more words she admitted he’d been in the toilet when it happened.

The men had burst in just after the bank opened at half-past nine. There were only two customers in the place, and three staff behind the counter. The robbery was over in less than thirty seconds.

She gave him descriptions, but they could have fitted half the young men in Leeds. None of them more than twenty-five, dark hair, two tall, the one with the gun short and fatter.

‘How much did they take?’ he asked.

‘Oh.’ She paused, calculating. ‘It can’t have been more than three hundred pounds. Probably not even that. The cashiers only had their morning floats. None of the businesses had brought in their deposits yet. There’s more money here just before we close at three. Or on a Friday – we handle the wages for a number of factories.’

Today was Monday. Interesting, he thought. Whoever was behind the robbery wasn’t thinking ahead.

‘Had you seen any of them in here before?’

She shook her head. ‘I don’t see everyone who comes in. But dressed like that, they’d have stood out, if you know what I mean.’

He understood exactly. ‘How did they sound?’

‘Sound?’ she asked.

‘They must have shouted when they came in. Did they seem local?’

‘Oh.’ She pursed her lips for a moment. ‘I suppose so. I never really thought about it, so they must have.’

He thanked her and stood up to walk away.

‘Tell me something, Sergeant,’ Miss Simpson said, and he heard the rustle of silk stockings as she crossed her legs. ‘That other policeman didn’t seem to like you.’

‘I’m not sure he really likes anyone.’

‘But especially you?’ She was grinning now.

He gave her his best smile, showing the chipped tooth. ‘He thinks I’m cocky.’

‘And are you?’

‘You’d probably get the best answer from my wife.’ He hoped that was a small flutter of disappointment on her face. ‘Thank you, Miss Simpson. Jane.’

 

Outside, he looked at the streets. Boar Lane was as clogged with traffic as ever. People were coming and going in droves from the station.

‘Which way did the robbers’ car go?’ he asked one of the constables. ‘Someone must have seen.’

The copper pointed down the road.

‘Along there, sir. Past the Scarborough Taps and around the corner.’

‘Do we have a number plate?’

‘Yes, sir. Evidently it was a Crosley Aero. We have people out looking.’

‘Good. Thank you.’

He strolled along the street, following the route of the car. A short drive, turn over the bridge and they’d be lost in Hunslet or Holbeck. It wasn’t going to help much.

Three of them had held up the bank. But there were four in the gang; they must have had a driver waiting in the car, ready for a quick getaway. Local accents and very little planning. Well, he had somewhere to start now.

 

The garage on Meanwood Road looked like an old wooden shed, only a small, hand-painted sign over the door and a line of vehicles parked on the dirt outside to show what it might be.

Williams parked the Austin and waited until a heavily-built man wandered out, wiping grease off his hands with an old rag. He was in his early twenties, fair hair cut short. He walked with the kind of confidence that came from winning too many fights, his mouth curled in a sneer.

‘Johnny bloody Williams. They told me you’d gone to London.’

‘You know me, Colin,’ he replied airily. ‘I’m like the bad penny, I always come rolling home.’

Colin Jordan was the best light-heavyweight boxer in the West Riding. He’d never lost a bout, and won most of them by knockouts. The purses from the fights were useful, but he made his living with the garage. He was also the best driver in Leeds. He’d already been behind the wheel for half the gangs in town. Everyone knew it, but there’d never been any proof; people were too afraid to grass him up. And he loved being just beyond the reach of the police.

Williams got out of the car. He was an inch taller than Jordan, but the boxer was a good two stone heavier, all of it muscle.

‘So what brings you round?’ Jordan stuck the dirty rag in his pocket and lit a cigarette.

‘It could be a social call.’

The boxer snorted.

‘And the moon’s made of green cheese.’

‘I’m just wondering why this gang robbing banks isn’t using the best driver in town.’ He stared at Jordan. ‘Any ideas?’

‘Maybe they are,’ the man answered with a smirk.

Johnny shook his head sadly. ‘Not this morning, unless you’ve discovered a way to get yourself that mucky in a quarter of an hour. Looks like you have competition.’

‘Is that what you think?’

‘Three robberies, plenty of cash and no one hurt. They’re making a splash. It’ll be the front page in the Evening Post. A few more and they’ll be folk heroes, Colin.’

‘And you coppers will look like idiots.’

‘Maybe. I just thought I’d come looking for you first. After all, you had the reputation.’ Williams nodded at the garage. ‘Never mind, the business will keep you ticking over.’ He opened the car door. ‘I’d best be on my way.’

 

He’d been back in the office for ten minutes, sitting and thinking, when the telephone rang.

‘Detective Sergeant Williams.’

A woman’s voice said, ‘Hello, handsome.’

He smiled. ‘Who is this?’

‘It’s your wife. How many women ring up and call you handsome?’

‘I’m not sure. I’ve got a list somewhere…’

‘How’s the investigation into the bank robbery?’

‘That’s impressive,’ he told her. ‘How did you know?’

‘Bill came back into the office and announced “that bloody Williams bloke is on it” while he looked straight at me.’

‘What did you say to him?’

‘That you’re a chap, not a bloke. Have you found anything yet?’

‘Possibly.’ He knew she was eager for any scrap she could hold over her colleagues. As a woman, the paper would only give her fluff to cover, golden weddings and church fetes. Stupid, when she could write rings around the men and had a better nose for a story. ‘Tell Bill he ought to include the fact that the gang has the best driver in Leeds.’

‘Do they?’ Violet asked in surprise. ‘I thought that was Colin Jordan.’

‘So does Colin. I dropped by for a word with him.’

‘And it’s not?’

‘No,’ Johnny told her. ‘But he’s not going to be happy at someone else getting his glory.’

‘Not bad,’ she said approvingly. ‘I’ll pass it on. What else?’

‘Nothing, really. Do you fancy a drink after work?’

‘Are you paying?’

‘Unless you’re feeling generous.’

‘You’re paying,’ Violet told him. ‘The Metropole at six. I want a cocktail. A Brandy Alexander.’

‘Your wish is my command.’

‘Just make sure you remember that,’ she said archly.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

The trip to Morley took him past Elland Road football ground. He’d never had much interest in the game, though; the closest he’d ever come was arresting one of the reserves for burglary two years before. The only reason the papers had made a fuss was because the young man had been tipped for great things in the team. Now he was in prison on a three-year stretch and the United were doing badly.

Morley had once been a big mill town. Since the depression began five years before, it wasn’t much of anything. The mills had closed, and there was nothing to replace them. Men gathered along Queen Street, unsure what to do with each day, waiting for a future that seem further away than ever.

He parked the Austin beside the Town Hall and walked along the block to the bank.

 

The manager eyed him nervously. They were alone in the office. A secretary had served tea and biscuits, then left as silently as she’d arrived.

‘It must have scared the staff,’ William suggested.

‘Of course.’ Mr. Micklethwaite bobbed his head in agreement. Thin-faced, the suit seemed to hang off his body. His hair was Brylcreemed, with a sharp, neat parting off to the side, carefully combed to hide the bald spot.

‘Were you out there?’

‘Oh, yes.’ His eyes widened. ‘I’d been sorting out a problem in Miss Monkton’s cash drawer when they came in.’

‘What time was it?’

‘About quarter to ten, we hadn’t been open long. I already told the police.’

Williams smiled. ‘Please, indulge me. When they talked, did you hear any names?’

‘No, I’m quite sure of that,’ Micklethwaite replied after a little thought.

‘They were dressed like working men?’

‘Yes.’ Another quick nod. ‘That’s what made me look in the first place. You know how it is, most of them don’t use banks.’

‘What about their accents?’ Johnny asked.

‘Accents?’

‘Did they sound local?

‘I…’ the manager began. ‘I don’t know. I never thought about it. They didn’t say much. Just “Give us the money” as they brought out the bag, and “We don’t want to hurt anyone.”’ He frowned. ‘It was hard to believe that when they were pointing the gun at us.’ He hesitated a moment. ‘I suppose if their voices didn’t sound odd, then they must have been local, mustn’t they? But I hadn’t seen any of them before, I’m sure of it. I didn’t know their faces.’

‘Two tall men in caps, and the one with the shotgun small and rounder?’

‘Yes, yes, that’s it.’

 

It was the same story in Horsforth. A small, local branch at the top of the hill. None of the people there had noticed anything remarkable about the men. There had been two customers inside, forced to stand against the wall. Old Mrs. Crane had been taken to the hospital afterwards, suffering from shock, but she was home again now, her daughter staying with her. Before he drove back into Leeds, Williams walked over to see her.

It was a well-appointed old house, set well back from Town Street, the garden carefully tended, borders in colourful bloom. Mrs. Crane hardly looked in shock as she sat in the easy chair, a compact woman with a walking stick at her side. If anything, it was her daughter, summoned down from Harrogate and ordered around by her mother, who seemed dazed.

Mrs. Crane eyed him carefully.

‘I suppose you’re one of those young men who thinks he’s good looking,’ she said.

He gave her a smile. ‘I don’t know. I never think about it.’

She snorted. ‘Were you in the war?’

He’d seen the photograph on the mantelpiece. A youth in an ill-fitting uniform.

‘I was.’ Williams wasn’t going to say more. He’d joined up at sixteen, at the start of the last year of the war, going into the Leeds Pals. He’d trained as a sniper and been good at his job. Seen men die and killed more than a few himself. With the Armistice, he’d been happy enough to put down the rifle, take off the khaki and wash away the mud of the trenches.

She stared at him again before nodding her approval.

‘What do you remember about the bank robbery?’ Johnny asked.

‘They looked scared,’ she said.

‘Who was in charge?’

‘The one doing the shouting.’ She sounded certain. ‘He was pointing, showing the others where to go.’

‘What about the one with the gun?’ Williams asked.

‘He didn’t even have a clue how to hold it properly.’ She made a sound that could have been a snort. ‘My husband used to shoot when he was alive. Taught me how to use a shotgun. The man in the bank held it like he was terrified it would go off.’

‘Too young to have fought, then?’

‘The lot of them barely looked out of nappies. If I see any of them again I’ll take my stick to them.’

‘Is there anything else you remember about them?’

‘The third one – not the leader or the one with the gun – had a scar across the back of his left hand. He was dark, like the one in charge. They might have been brothers. They had the same look around the mouth.’

‘Very observant.’

‘I’m old, I’m not blind, young man. And don’t go thinking you can soft-soap me.’

He grinned at her. ‘Never.’

‘Are you going to catch them?’

‘Yes. I have to say, you don’t look like you had a shock.’

‘Just a faint.’ She waved it away. ‘My daughter insisted I go to the hospital. Silly girl.”

 

He arrived at the Metropole a little before six, finding a table in the bar and ordering the drinks. When Violet finally arrived, weighed down by her heavy handbag, the Brandy Alexander was waiting for her, drops of condensation on the outside of the glass.

She was wearing a pale blue, knee-length silk dress that flattered her. He watched men’s eyes track her across the floor.

‘God, that was a day and a half. I’m sick of golden weddings. Do you think we’ll be married for fifty years?’

‘Depends if you kill me first.’

‘True.’ She gave a serious nod. ‘There’s always that.’ She look a long drink and sighed with pleasure.

‘I don’t know how you can drink that.’

‘Because I’m suave and sophisticated, why else?’ Violet paused. ‘Have you discovered anything yet?’

‘Maybe.’

‘Something we can publish? Bill’s going to use what you said. He was terribly grateful and grovelling. I loved it.’

‘Not yet. I’ll see how it all pans out. Do you want to eat somewhere?’

 

They ended up settling on fish and chips from Cantor’s. He parked at home and strolled over, chatting with Sid as the man worked the fryer. Violet had the plates warming in the oven, the salt and vinegar sitting on the table.

‘When I was down in London they took me out for jellied eels,’ Johnny told her.

She made a face. ‘That sounds disgusting.’

‘It explains a lot about Londoners, though. If I knew that was coming for supper, I’d be miserable, too.’

‘So what are you going to do about the bank job?’

‘Oh, that’ll sort itself out, give it a few days. Do you want me to make tea?’

 

‘I should go and talk to a few people,’ Williams said after they’d heard the news on the wireless.

Violet cocked her head. ‘Anywhere interesting?’

‘Just round and about. A pub or two.’

‘I’ll come along. There are some nasty types out there. You need someone to look after you.’

‘If you like.’

‘It’s better than sitting at home and listening to Ambrose and his band on the radio.’ She thought for a moment. ‘We could always go on to a club later. We haven’t been dancing in ages. I’ll go and change.’

 

The Market Tavern was crowded with people in the warm evening, the loud mutter of talk filling the air. Williams took a sip of the Scotch and grimaced.

‘I hope your gin’s better than this,’ he told Violet. ‘It tastes like they distilled it in the cellar.’

She took a cautious taste.

‘I think it’s more tonic than anything. Maybe they don’t like coppers or their wives.’

‘It’s a thieves’ den here. Only the best for you.’ He winked, then glanced around the room. ‘Do you see the man over in the corner? Fair hair and moustache? That’s George Marsden. We put him away five years ago for robbing a bank.’

Marsden was well-dressed in an expensive suit and colourful tie, two-tone brogues on his feet. There was space around him, a sign of respect. Only the girl at the table sat close, dressed in bright red silk, looking bored, her bright red lips pouting.

‘Good God, who is she?’ Violet asked.

‘Girlfriend, a tart. I don’t know.’

‘A tart?’ Her eyes widened. ‘Can we go over and talk to them?’

‘I was hoping you’d say that. Just watch your bag, they’re a light-fingered bunch in here.’

Marsden looked up as they approached, half a glance at first, then stopping as he recognised the face. He put the pint glass down on the table and lit a cigarette.

‘Detective Sergeant Williams.’

‘I heard you were out, George. Back to your old tricks already?’

Marsden chuckled. ‘These bank jobs?’ He tapped the evening paper in front of him. ‘Is this right? Early morning in the city centre on a day when there are no wages? They should be arrested for bloody stupidity.’ He looked at Violet and muttered, ‘Sorry, missus.’

‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to have an attack of the vapours,’ she told him with a smile as she sat next to the girl.

‘Any idea who they are?’ Williams asked.

‘Bunch of amateurs,’ Marsden replied with a sneer. ‘Anyone can see that. Did they take a look at the place first, size it up?’

‘No one noticed them.’

‘See?’ Marsden said emphatically. ‘That’s my point. Not a clue what they’re doing. They’re going to panic and someone will get hurt.’

‘Not like you.’ Marsden had knocked out a man who didn’t want to hand over his money.

‘That was different. It was business. And I didn’t hurt him.’

‘He was in hospital overnight.’

‘And I was gone for five years. You’re the one who put me away.’

‘Just business, George.’ He lifted his glass in a small toast. ‘If you hear anything about this lot, let me know, will you?’

‘Course,’ Marsden agreed readily. ‘They’ll give us all a bad name.’

‘And keep your nose clean for a while. Next time it’ll be six years or more.’

‘You know what prison taught me? To be very careful.’ He gave a slow smile and tapped the side of his nose.

 

Away from the smoke and stink of stale beer, the night smelt sweet. Violet linked her arm through his as they strolled through County Arcade.

‘Did you learn anything?’

‘They’re either beginners or not from around here. One thing about George, he doesn’t like competition. If he knew, he’d tell me. What about you? Good chat?’

‘Not bad,’ she said thoughtfully.

‘Is she a tart?’

‘She works in a shop in Armley. Her name’s Honour.’

‘Really?’ He grinned. ‘Honour?’

‘That’s what she told me. She couldn’t afford those clothes on her wages, though. That dress was real silk and her shoes weren’t cheap.’

‘We never recovered the proceeds of George’s last robbery. With that suit of his, too, I think we can see where it’s going.’

‘She called herself his moll.’

He shook his head.

‘Too many American gangster films. I don’t know what the world’s coming to.’

 

They went on to two other places, both of them quiet, no one to pass on any information, and ended up at the Pink Ribbon Club on Lower Briggate. It was a sluggish night, hardly any customers and no energy to the small band that ran through their numbers, eager for the next break. At eleven Johnny looked at her.

‘Home?’ he asked.

‘God, yes,’ she said with relief. ‘Even Ambrose would have been better than this lot.’

 

He was up before her, shaved and dressed, dapper in a suit with a faint Prince of Wales check, long before she untangled herself from the sheets. By the time she’d struggled into a slip and started applying her makeup he’d left for the day, reporting to the station.

Superintendent Randall perched on the edge of his desk.

‘Well?’ he asked.

‘They’re probably amateurs. Or from somewhere in the West Riding.’

‘Then what was all that guff in the paper about having the best driver in Leeds?’

Williams smiled. ‘Just shaking the tree and seeing what falls down.’

‘You’d better not take too long about it. Everyone’s getting nervous as it is.’

‘They were trying to get themselves noticed yesterday.’

‘Seems like they succeeded.’

‘But they didn’t think it through. There wasn’t going to be much cash there so early on a Monday. Did we find the car?’

‘Abandoned by a factory on the road to Middleton. No one saw them. According to Inspector Gibson, they’re very dangerous criminals.’

Johnny considered that for a few moments.

‘I think they’re probably petrified.’

 

Johnny Williams enjoyed police work. Most of it was simple enough, not even any real detection. But the tougher cases were his meat and drink. He’d joined the force when he was twenty-three, then come up quickly through the ranks, a year on the beat, then a couple more as a detective constable before they’d made him a sergeant. He was in no rush to go higher; rank brought too much responsibility for his liking.

Randall gave him plenty of freedom. Johnny had his own way of working and it brought results. He was good at putting criminals behind bars.

 

Williams spent part of the morning wondering where the robbers would strike next. He stared at the big map of Leeds on the wall. There was no pattern in what they’d done. But they were becoming more ambitious. There’d be a next time, he was certain of that.

Finally, he gave up. He didn’t know enough to predict. Most likely there’d be a few days before anything else. Time to learn a little more.

In the Austin he started the engine and let it idle, smoking a cigarette and watching people pass on the street. Finally, he put the car into gear, heading out beyond Harehills.

The Gipton estate was brand new, not even half-built yet. Some roads seemed to lead nowhere, others had builders’ vans parked, the men busy laying bricks and putting the roofs on houses. In time it would be huge, but for now most of it was mud with tufts of grass. There were no signs on the streets and he had to ask workmen for directions, waiting as they examined a map.

The brick was rosy red, fresh sod covering the small front garden. Williams stood and gazed at the place. Much better than Gabriel Pitt’s old house, an old ruin by the city centre that was now a pile of rubble.

He knocked on the door and waited, hearing a woman waddle along the hall and then Millie Pitt was standing there, a scarf covering her hair and a pinafore around her short, dumpy body. She sighed.

‘You’ve not come to arrest him, have you, Mr. Williams? I’ve not even got him started on the decorating yet and I’d like the bedroom distempered first.’

‘Why? Has he been up to something?’

‘Oh,’ she said in surprise. ‘I thought he must have been for you to come calling.’

‘I just want a word with him, actually.’

‘Right.’ For a moment she seemed nonplussed, then smiled. ‘Come in. I’ll put the kettle on. He’s upstairs with the paintbrush. Just watch yourself in that good suit.’

No one could call Gabe Pitt handsome. His looks had been his downfall as a robber. With his bulbous nose and bulging eyes, witnesses had always been able to describe him. A day after any job and he’d be in jail.

Now, though, he was in the bedroom, standing on the stepladder, the bottom half of his face covered with a handkerchief as he worked, paint splattered in his thinning hair.

‘You look like one of those cowboys in the westerns,’ Williams told him. ‘All you need is a Stetson.’

‘Whatever it is, I didn’t do it,’ Pitt said. ‘Been too busy moving.’

He climbed down, setting the tools aside, and lowered the kerchief. Barely five and a half feet tall, and almost as round as his wife, he wasn’t quick on his feet. The only time Williams had been forced to chase him, the man had been panting hard after a hundred yards.

‘They’ve given you a nice place.’

‘Not bad,’ Pitt agreed with a nod. ‘I’ll tell you though, Mr. Williams, before they’d let us move in, we had to put all our stuff through the bug van. I said to the man, he’d have to be the one to tell my missus all our stuff had bugs. I’d pick him up off the floor afterwards.’ He looked around the room with satisfaction. One wall was painted, and part of the ceiling.

‘Have you heard about these bank robberies in town?’

‘From the newspapers. Why?’ He started to laugh. ‘You don’t think it was me, do you?’

‘We’d already have you in the cells if it was, Gabe. I just wondered if you’d any ideas who was behind it.’

Pitt shook his head. ‘I’m out of touch up here. There’s not even a decent boozer close by. Can you credit that? They’re building all these houses and not one good pub.’

‘It’s a crime,’ Johnny agreed. ‘So you don’t know who’s responsible?’

‘Amateurs, like as not. Sawn-off shotgun, is that right?’

‘Yes.’

‘Probably some lads with no jobs looking for easy money. They don’t see it as a craft.’

‘They’re taking honest crime away from the likes of you,’ Williams said.

‘They are,’ Pitt agreed seriously. He pulled the kerchief up over his face again. ‘What do you think? One of these and a hat next time?’

‘You do that, Gabe. Then come back here and wait for me. I’ll be over in an hour.’

 

Driving back into the city centre, he was pleased. A few conversations and some wounded pride. Everyone seemed to agree the robbers weren’t professionals. That would make them harder to find. But the real artists wouldn’t be happy at anyone coming on their turf. A day or two and the leads would start.

The police station was bustling as he walked in, uniforms muttering and frowning, the CID room empty except for Superintendent Randall pacing between the desks.

‘You go wandering off without a word…’ he began.

‘Just putting fleas in a few ears. Why, what’s all the fuss?’

‘Broughton’s.’

The name was familiar, but Williams has to think for a moment before he could place it.

‘The gunsmith on Woodhouse Lane?’

Randall nodded. ‘They’ve been robbed. Get over there and find out what’s happening. The last thing we want is a bunch of weapons floating around.’

 

‘What did they take?’ Johnny asked the manager again. The man, still living in the fashion of the 19th century with a wing collar and a frock coat, had evaded the answer the first time, taking a handkerchief from his breast pocket and dabbing sweat from his forehead.

‘Four shotguns and ammunition,’ he admitted reluctantly.

‘Tell me what happened.’

‘They just burst in through the door.’

‘Don’t you keep it locked?’ Williams asked in surprise.

‘Of course,’ the man replied, affronted. ‘But a customer had just gone out, and they were inside before it closed.’

‘How many?’

‘Three of them.’

He could feel a sudden chill climbing up his spine.

‘Tell me,’ Johnny asked with interest, ‘how were they dressed?’