A Different Kind Of Story…Or Maybe Not

Yes, it’s crime. But most of you are familiar with my work know it from Leeds – in various eras – or medieval Chesterfield.

This is far from that. About 5,500 miles distant, in fact. It’s 1939, and it’s Seattle. I lived in the city for 20 years, and it’s history fascinates me. The first white people only arrived in 1851, and not even 90 years later it was a metropolis. How could that happen?

Add to that the fact that I love noir novels and well, this opening just came to me. Given that it’s different, I have no idea if any of you will enjoy it. But I’d appreciate you letting me know…

 

Prologue

 

Dave Stone chewed on the meatloaf special, washed it down with a sip of coffee, then looked at the other man again.

‘Let me get this straight,’ he said. ‘You want me to give you city money for information I could maybe get for free by leaning on someone else. That it?’

Chapman had a weasel’s face, sharp and pointed, unattractive when he smiled and showed his set of stained, uneven teeth.

‘Well yeah, but you get it faster and with cleaner from me.’

They were sitting in the Dog House restaurant, on the short block of Denny between Aurora and Dexter. From his seat, Stone could look down the hill toward the bay and see the shipping heading in to Seattle or going down Puget Sound to dock in Tacoma. The sky was blue, the late May sun was bright and warm through the window. He felt happy with the world.

‘I could take you downtown and sweat it out of you for nothing.’

Chapman glanced at him nervously. He was sweating under a cheap seersucker suit and a gaudy tie, a straw boater casually pushed to the back of his head. He tried to look as if he didn’t care; instead he seemed desperate.

‘C’mon Dave, I’m trying to make a buck. It’s solid news.’

‘I’m already spending a nickel on a cup of coffee for you.’ He took out a pack of Luckies and lit one, sitting back as Harriet the waitress came over and took the empty plate.

‘You want dessert, honey? There’s apple pie. Made fresh this morning. It’s good a la mode.’

‘I’m fine, thanks.’ Once she’d gone he turned back to Chapman. ‘Okay, if it’s good I’ll give you five.’ Before the other man could object, he held up a finger to stop him, ‘And I pay you after. You’ve given me too many bum tips in the past, Tony. I’m don’t trust you these days.’

Everyone had something to sell. Information, the name of a bum who’d was looking to lie low, the winner in the last race at Longacres. That was the Depression. It had left everybody hustling. It was history now, that’s what the politicians said. But the remains of the Hooverville down on the tideflats or the people crowding the nickel lodging houses on Skid Road told a different story. There was still plenty of poverty in Seattle. Too many suspicious eyes and hungry bellies.

Chapman tugged a sack of Bull Durham tobacco from his suit coat, and took his time rolling a smoke.

‘Okay,’ he agreed finally and slid a folded piece of paper across the table. Stone raised an eyebrow as he took it. ‘You’re gonna owe me big for this, Dave.’ He slid out of the booth and left. Stone left two quarters and walked out to his Buick Special. The parking lot was almost empty. On the passenger seat the block headline in the P-I proclaimed Europe On Verge Of War. Let them fight, he thought. He had more important things on his mind, things much closer to home.

Very carefully, he unfolded Chapman’s note. Spider writing, bad spelling, but the meaning was clear. There was going to be an attempt on the life of Wilton Davis, the head of railroad workers’ union. Olympic Hotel, Friday night.

As he drove along Seventh Avenue, Stone rolled down the window and tossed out the cigarette butt. If he stopped that happening, maybe the Seattle Police Department would have a new lieutenant.

1-city-hall-park-w-smith-tower-a-curtis-1930s-web11

 

 

One

 

‘Goddammit, Stone, what were you doing?’ Captain McReady tossed the newspaper down on the desk. The room was almost empty. He was the only one there, sipping a cup of coffee he’d picked up at the Greek diner on the corner.

Saturday morning and the story was all over the front pages of the Seattle Times. ‘The chief called me this morning to congratulate me and I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.’ He rested a hip against the corner of the desk, anger still flaring in his eyes, his mouth twisted, breath sour. ‘I realize you’re a big star of the press now, but maybe you’d been willing to tell me what happened.’

It had been easy enough. He’d checked Chapman’s story; it was copacetic. Davis was a bagman for the mob out of Chicago that was trying to get a foothold on the coast. But he’d been keeping back some of the money and they’d found out.

Stone had talked to the union man. Friday nights he met his girlfriend for a few hours at the Olympic when his wife thought he was out at the American Legion. A few quiet facts of life and everything was easily arranged. Davis and his friend had gone to a motor court at the top of University Way. Stone was in the room at the Olympic, gun drawn, ready as the killer picked the lock and entered silently. There wasn’t even a fight.

While he sat, passing time until the assassin showed up, he’d called the crime desk at the Seattle Times.

‘Pat, it’s Dave Stone.’

‘Dave, hey buddy, long time.’ He could almost hear the man sweating for a story. ‘You got something for me?’

You might want to be outside the Olympic a bit later. Bring a photographer with you.’

‘Wait a-’

But he’d already hung up.

 

‘I had a tip, Cap’n,’ Stone said. ‘Just enough time to get down there before it all happened.’ He could see that McReady didn’t believe a word, but it didn’t matter. There was no one to contradict the story. He’d given Chapman ten bucks and a warning to keep his mouth shut.

‘Is that right?’ the captain asked. ‘And you want to tell me how come the Times just happened to be there with a snapper?’

Stone shrugged.

‘Maybe a bellhop tipped him off.’ He shrugged. ‘I don’t know.’

Pat Drake had laid it on thick in his article. Hero detective, the story read, taking on a murderer single-handedly. And there was his favorite sentence:

Detective Stone, 34, showed that, in spite of stories about corruption on the force, some Seattle policemen put the public first and show extreme bravery.

The photograph had caught his good side, too, as he led out the handcuffed prisoner. A pretty good evening’s work. And he was still home in West Seattle by eleven.

‘The chief promoted you to the empty lieutenant slot,’ MacReady said grudgingly. ‘Congratulations.’

 

 

Two

 

He had to wait while the drawbridge went up and a boat passed along the Duwamish and into Elliott Bay. Then he was hitting the gas and the Buick leaped along the road, up by Longfellow Creek and toward home.

The house was a 1920s Sears catalog bungalow on a lot that still needed grass and plants. He’d picked it up at auction four years before. After the previous owner hadn’t been able to afford the taxes. Stone bumped the car over the dirt and parked by the steps to the back door.

It was a small place, but that was all he needed; he was the only one living there. It wasn’t too heavily settled out here yet; the nearest neighbor was a hundred yards away. But that was changing. It seemed like every month a new house was going up and a fresh family moving in. Right now, though, West Seattle felt like a different place, open and free.

Saturday night, still sunny and warm, but work wasn’t quite over yet. In the bedroom he tuned the radio to KVI as he changed into an old pair of pants and a faded shirt, with a jacket on top to hide his gun.

 

Alki Beach was busy. Families had arrived in their cars, kids too young to drive had ridden the trolley bus. The stretch of beach was packed, the water full of people. Out in the bay the ferries from the mosquito fleet plowed over to the islands and the peninsula.

This was the Seattle he loved. His father had brought him out here when Luna Park still existed. Stone was just five years old. Given him a fortune, fifty cents, to go on all the rides while he sat at the longest bar in Seattle and drank beer.

About the only time the old man was happy was when he had a full glass on the table and two or three drinks inside him. He’d been a old-time Seattle cop, knocking the heads of the drunks and the grifters south of Yesler until the Alaska gold rush. Just married, he’d left his wife and headed north, returning empty-handed a year later and begging to have his job on the force back. He’d settled down after that, no more running away. Instead, he’d drowned his sorrows and disappointments in the bars.

Stone had learned his lesson early. He enjoyed a drink, but in moderation. The picture of his father stayed at the back of his mind.

He strolled along as far as the lighthouse, watching the pretty women sitting in on the sand and enjoying the evening sun. One or two gazed back, but no one he was interested in knowing. Finally he leaned against a wall, seeing the waves sparkle out in the Sound.

‘Nobody followed you, Loot. I hung back enough to tell.’ Stone didn’t turn toward the man, just nodded and said,

‘Good job. Thanks.’

For the last week Jenkins had been tailing him. Just a year out of uniform and already the best shadow man in the department.

Stone hadn’t wanted it. He didn’t believe the threats that arrived after he arrested the killer at the Olympic Hotel. But Captain McReady was taking no chances. It would look bad if his new lieutenant ended up dead.

Stone didn’t complain, even though he liked the freedom to operate the way he wanted. A couple of times he’d manage to escape, but he couldn’t let it happen too often.

This time he didn’t even try. He strode along the sidewalk and past the screen door into Lou’s Tavern. A few steps and he was hidden in the cool shadows, away from the crowds and the noise. Jenkins would stay outside, eyes alert for trouble.

Stone bought a Rainier and carried it to the last booth at the back of the bar. John Winchester was waiting there, smoking, a half-empty glass in front of him.

‘You’re late, Mr. Stone.’ His voice was tight and he kept looking around.

‘Yeah?’ He checked his watch. ‘Five minutes. Loosen up, Johnny. What you got for me?’

They met once a month, always a Saturday evening, always at Lou’s. It was out of the way, there was a back door, and Lou kept a Colt Police under the bar in case of trouble.

‘Nothing,’ Winchester said. ‘I got nothing this time.’

He was a snappy dresser, wearing a gabardine suit from Frederick’s and a silk tie, trilby resting on the table. When the mood took him, he could be a persuasive talker, when he was getting the people in the jazz clubs of Jackson Street to spend their money on his reefer and cocaine. Stone had a tobacco tin of marijuana in his desk at work, Winchester’s prints all over the metal. That was the reason the man was here now. Good information once a month or jail. Straight choice.

‘Johnny,’ Stone said wearily, ‘I never liked liars. And you don’t do it well.’

Winchester glance darted around again, then he lowered his head as if he was speaking to the table and his voice became little more than a whisper.

‘There’s something big brewing, okay? Last night I saw Duke Swenson talking to Big Ricky Gibson in the Cotton Club, and you know those two don’t even speak.’

‘Could you get close?’ Stone asked.

Winchester shook his head.

‘Bodyguards all around.’

It was bad news. Swenson and Gibson were two of the biggest operators in Seattle. Swenson looked after everything north of the Ship Canal, while Gibson controlled the territory from Chinatown south. The only person missing from the meeting was Chuck Bowden. Downtown and Capitol Hill were his. And the fact that he hadn’t been invited was the worrying part.

‘I need you to find out what you can,’ Stone told him.

Winchester stubbed out his cigarette, lit another and took a drink of his beer.

‘Not a chance, Dave. The word’s out Talk and you’re dead. I shouldn’t even be here with you. You see why I’m scared?’

Swenson and Gibson were ruthless. And they were men of their word.

‘Okay. Keep your ears open. And if you hear anything, let me know. Anything at all.’

 

At home, he sat in his chair, blinds down, thinking about Winchester’s words. In the background Leo Lassen’s play-by-play on the Rainiers game came out of the radio. Suddenly it was into extra innings, the commentator yelling ‘hang on to those rocking chairs’ and he was hooked until they edged it in the twelfth, five to four, and he turned off the set. Maybe tomorrow he’d go over to Sick’s Stadium, catch the first part of the double-header. Sit with a beer and a hot dog and forget about the world.

Stone smiled as someone tapped on the door. Three short knocks, a pause, then two, another pause, three more, and one. The smile widened into a grin.

‘Hello, angel,’ he said. She came in and wrapped herself around him like she needed the affection. Five feet three, blonde hair, and a smile that could melt ice at a hundred paces. There first time she’d been here in a week.

‘Hello, Johnny. I’ve missed you.’

Stone took a couple beers from the icebox. She leaned back in her chair and sighed. Helga Lindstrom waitressed at the Rainier Club, where the city’s elite gathered to do their business and drinking away from prying eyes. She was a Ballard girl born and bred, Scandihoovian all the way back to the old country, and looked it. But he knew that someone very tough lurked under the delicacy. He’d watched her take down the thief who tried to steal her purse one lunchtime. Two blows and he was out cold on Fourth Avenue. After that, Stone knew he had to ask her on a date.

He lit a pair of Luckies and handed her one.

‘I saw something interesting tonight,’ she told him as she blew out smoke. ‘Chuck Bowden was having dinner with Joe Robinson. Then they went off to the billiard room together after.’ Helga raised an eyebrow.

‘Is that right?’ He tried to sound casual but his mind was racing. Robinson was the city attorney. His job was to put criminals in jail, not eat with them. ‘I don’t suppose you heard any of the conversation?’

‘They had a corner table and a couple of guys with them. Big lummoxes, both carrying. And they shut up while they were being served.’

Winchester was right. Something big was brewing.

 

 

Friday Leeds Fun

It’s Friday, the week’s over, and you want something light and fun for the weekend, right. How about the beginning of a book I’ve just finished writing? Well, why not…set in Leeds in the 1930s, think of it as Golden Age meets Elmore Leonard. Or something.

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 them. 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 with 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 sawed-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 few days away, a decent hotel, Whitby just a stroll away 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.’

Something Even Newer

A few weeks ago I posted a couple of extracts from a 1930s piece featuring Sgt. johnny Williams of Leeds Police CID and his wife, Violet. That piece turned into a novella…and here’s the start of the second one, for your entertainment…

‘We have a visitor from America, apparently.’
‘Oh?’ Violet sat back as the waiter brought their cocktails, taking a small sip of the martini and nodding her approval. ‘That new bartender seems to have the knack,’ she said. ‘So who is this mysterious American?’
They were sitting in the cocktail bar of the Metropole Hotel, a ceiling fan turning just lazily enough to keep the air cool. The warm spring of 1934 had turned into an endless summer of heat hazes and frayed tempers in the city.
‘Someone called Oscar Arbramson,’ Johnny Williams told her. ‘That’s what Superintendent Randall told me.’
‘And why would the Leeds Police be interested? Is he, what do they call it in the pictures, on the lam from something?’
‘He’s a gangster. From Chicago.’ He nodded towards two men at a table on the other side of the bar. ‘That’s him, with his back to us. And the friend he brought along, Barney something-or-other.’
‘So you didn’t invite me here just to be a loving husband?’
‘Well, of course I did. I’m just mixing business and pleasure.’
Violet stared over at the pair. There was little to see of Abramson besides a pair of broad shoulders in a well-tailored suit. The other man looked just as large, with meaty hands and a face that seemed locked in a permanent snarl.
‘They don’t look quite the thing, do they? What are they doing here?’
‘I’ll find out tomorrow. I’m going to call on him bright and early.’
‘Just watch out if he opens a violin case.’
‘Are Americans notoriously bad on the instrument?’
‘It’s where gangsters keep their Tommy guns. You’d know that if you saw more films.’
‘What about cello cases?’ he asked.
‘Howitzers,’ she replied. ‘Absolutely deadly. Now that you’ve had a glance at them, where are you taking me for dinner?’

But it was luncheon before he caught up with the Americans. He’d been called out early to deal with an embezzlement. By ten, simply glancing through the accounts, he knew who was responsible. An hour later the man had confessed.
Johnny shook his head. Randall had assigned Forbes and Gorman to follow the gangster and his friend. They’d rung in from a telephone box; the pair were dining at Jacomelli’s.
He walked over to Boar Lane, rapping his knuckles on the roof of the battered Morris where the policemen were keeping watch, straightened his tie and strolled into the restaurant.
Abramson and Barney filled the table. Two large men, a sense of menace around them. They’d emptied their plates, forks on the crockery, knives still sitting on the crisp table cloth. Johnny pulled out the chair across from them, sat down and took off his hat.
‘How do you do?’
Abramson stared at him. Barney began to rise, a look of anger on his face, but the other man waved him down.
‘Let me guess, you’re a cop.’
‘Sergeant Williams, Leeds Police.’ He smiled.
Abramson leaned back and produced a cigar case from his pocket. He made a production of selecting a large Havana, cutting the tip and lighting it before he peer through the cloud of smoke.
‘Any relation to a reporter?’ he asked. ‘Can’t be your sister, she’s too cute.’
‘My wife,’ he replied. ‘You’ve met her, then?’
‘She stopped by while we were having breakfast. Wants to write a story about Americans visiting Leeds. What’s your angle?’
‘Angle?’ He thought about the word. ‘I don’t suppose I have one. Just a friendly little chat and a word of advice.’
‘Yeah?’ Abramson seemed amused. Barney was still tense, ready to pounce as soon as his boss gave the order. ‘What kind of advice would you have for me’
‘Just the usual. Obey the law, look right and then left before crossing the road, don’t kill anyone. Nothing that unusual.’
The man threw his head back and laughed.
‘You’re good. You out to go into vaudeville. With that accent you’d slay ‘em.’ He leaned forward. A very faint, thin scar ran from the tip of his eyebrow, disappearing into his temple. ‘You heard of Chicago, hotshot?’
‘Big place somewhere in the middle of America? A fire that had something to do with a cow, Al Capone, St. Valentine’s Day Massacre?’
‘That’s the one. Let me tell you something. Over there we don’t like smartass cops. They don’t last too long.’
‘That’s the difference, you see. We have a longer lifespan over here.’ He glanced at Barney. ‘You should really tell your friend to relax a little. His face is so red he looks like he’s going to have a heart attack.’
‘He’s excitable.’
‘Poor chap. Take him up into the Dales for a weekend. Very calming up there. Take a cottage for a few days.’
‘I’ll keep it in mind, Sergeant.’ The waiter brought two cups of coffee. ‘We were just making our plans for today.’
‘The art gallery’s very good,’ Johnny suggested. ‘Wonderful place to spend an hour or two.’ He stood. ‘I’ll leave you gentlemen to it. If you need anything, I’m around.’ He began to turn away, then stopped. ‘By the way, do you play the violin?’
Abramson stared at him, confusion on his face.
‘No. I’m a businessman. Why the hell would I?’
‘Never mind. How about the cello.’
The man shook his head and Johnny walked away.

At the station he telephoned the Evening Post.
‘I hear you saw our visitors.’
‘I popped over while they were having breakfast. I thought you might be there.’
‘I had a little distraction. Did they say what they were doing here?’
‘Looking for business opportunities, he claimed, although he didn’t answer when I asked why here. He’s rather gruff, isn’t he?’
‘I noticed that,’ Johnny told her.
‘And that chap with him just glowered the whole time.’
‘He did that to me, too. Seemed to be getting quite worked up.’
‘Abramson called me a dame,’ Violet said. He could imagine her frown. ‘I always thought they were those old dears who got awards for good works.’
‘Maybe he thinks you’re a young dame. He is American, after all.’

A Bit More

I’ve no idea if you enjoyed the start of something new I posted last week (consider that a hint to offer a reaction or two, please). But in the hope that you did, here’s a bit more:

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 Williams knew Leeds. He understood how the city worked with 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 A1.

            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 Johnny 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’d been gone there’d been two bank jobs, one in Horsforth, the other in Morley. Three men, one of them armed with a sawed-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 about the robberies 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 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 few days away, decent hotel, Whitby just a stroll away along the beach at high 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 will get the same idea. Times are bad, Johnny, you know that. We don’t need folk getting the idea 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, John.’

 

He found a parking place on Boar Lane and walked to the building on the corner, solid stone staring out across City 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 Midland Bank and sauntered inside. Another bobby was questioning a distraught woman, while a pair of CID men looked around the building.

            It was much like any bank – high ceilings, a grandiose interior of marble and tile, varnished wood and glistening brass. And like any bank, 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 detectives 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. ‘But 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 at the corner and he was two boxes of wood and glass. ‘It was like watching one of those films.’

            She didn’t seem too upset or shocked, he thought. More..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 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 sawn down the barrels,’ William explained. ‘Where was Mr. Osbone while all this was going on?’

            He couldn’t 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 it 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 what she meant. ‘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.’