Authors: James Hadley Chase
ou may not believe it,’ Corridon said, coming slowly down from the ridge, ‘but I couldn’t be more pleased to see you.’
Rawlins continued to beam, but an alert look came into his eyes, and rather self-consciously, his hand strayed to his coat pocket.
‘Well, that’s something,’ he said cautiously. ‘I didn’t think you’d be pleased to see me. Surprised, perhaps, but not pleased.’
‘Well, I am,’ Corridon said. ‘And you needn’t fumble for a gun,’ he went on jeeringly as he sat on a rock close to Rawlins. ‘I’m not going to make trouble. I really am pleased to see you. You’ve confirmed a little theory I was working on. Tell me, have you been walking along the beach about a couple of miles back?’
‘That’s right,’ Rawlins said. He was having difficulty in keeping his smile bright, and his eyes were puzzled.
‘You know, for a moment, I thought it might be someone else,’ Corridon said. ‘Although I didn’t think anyone but a copper could make prints that size. How did you find your way here?’
‘The Pole, Jan, whoever he calls himself, put us wise,’ Rawlins told him. ‘This French girl’s here, isn’t she?’
‘She certainly is. So you’ve got Jan?’
‘Oh, yes. We got him or rather what’s left of him. My men picked him up on the railway line a few miles beyond Cockburnspath. He had quite a story to tell.’
‘Is he all right?’
‘No, I wouldn’t say he’s all right. In fact, I doubt if he’ll be alive when next I see him. He fell off a train. It’s a remarkable thing he could talk at all.’
Corridon took out his packet of cigarettes, lit one and tossed the packet over to Rawlins. He fancied he heard a slight sound behind him, but he didn’t look round.
‘He fell? He wasn’t thrown?’
‘This French girl: what’s her name?’
‘That’s right. He said she hit him over the head and threw him out.’
‘I hoped that was coming.’
‘What do you know about it?’ Rawlins asked sharply.
A stone rattled down the ridge, making Rawlins look up, but Corridon didn’t turn.
‘A lot,’ he said. ‘It all hooks up with a chap called Mallory. Did Jan mention him?’
‘Oh, rather,’ Rawlins said and looked a little bored. ‘He was full of him, and how you were roped in to find him and God knows what. Did they really pay you seven hundred and fifty quid?’
‘He was exaggerating,’ he said. ‘But they did pay me.’
Rawlins eyed him searchingly.
‘He claimed Mallory killed two of his friends, Lubish and Harris. He also said Mallory killed Rita Allen. The fellow’s up the pole; if you’ll pardon the pun. We checked up on Mallory right away. He died on active service about a year ago. There’s no doubt about that.’
‘Sure?’ Corridon said. ‘You’re absolutely certain?’
‘As sure as we can be. I’m satisfied.’
‘I suppose Jan gave you the background to all this?’ Corridon asked. ‘He told you about Gourville, and how it all started?’
‘Oh, yes. We’re checking on the tale now, but there’s nothing in it for us. I’m concerned chiefly with Rita Allen’s death, and I want to talk to the French girl.’ He continued to stare at Corridon searchingly. ‘You’re a pretty cool card, aren’t you?’ he went on. ‘What do you know about Rita Allen? You were with her when she died, weren’t you?’
‘Between you and me and nobody else I was, but I didn’t touch her. I heard her scream and found her. I didn’t know if she had fallen or had been pushed. With my record it put me in an awkward position. I skipped out fast.’
‘Medical evidence showed she was pushed, and that makes it murder, old chap,’ Rawlins said gravely.
‘It’ll be hard to prove,’ Corridon returned. ‘You’ll have trouble convincing a jury.’
‘We can always try,’ Rawlins said, brightening up. ‘With your background and reputation ...’ He beamed. ‘It wouldn’t surprise me if we didn’t get away with it.’
‘Don’t count your chickens,’ Corridon said blandly. ‘You’re in for a little surprise, but don’t do anything rash. She’s a dead shot, and she’s been holding a gun on us for the past three minutes. Didn’t you hear her?’ He glanced over his shoulder, and raising his voice, called, ‘Come on out, Jeanne, and I’ll introduce you to Detective-Sergeant Rawlins.’
Jeanne appeared from behind a rock on the ridge just above where they were sitting, the Mauser in her hand. There was a sneering little smile flickering at the corners of her mouth.
‘This time, for a change, you’ve turned up at the right moment,’ Corridon said. He glanced at the startled Rawlins.
‘This is Jeanne Persigny. I wouldn’t advise you to try any tricks with her. Just sit still and take it easy, and if you can, keep your mouth shut. Jeanne and I have things to talk about. Haven’t we, Jeanne?’
‘Have we?’ she said in her cold flat voice.
‘Now, look here—’ Rawlins began, but Corridon silenced him with a gesture.
‘I don’t know if you overheard what we were saying,’ he went on to Jeanne as Rawlins subsided with a grunt, ‘but if you didn’t you’ll be interested to learn our friend here has picked up Jan, and Jan appears to have talked his head off. According to him it was you and not Mallory who threw him off the train. Was it?’
Jeanne said nothing. She leaned against the rock, holding the pistol against her hip, the muzzle pointing at the two men. In spite of her sneering smile she seemed on point of collapse.
‘You may as well own up,’ he said sharply. ‘Was it you who threw Jan off the train?’
‘Yes,’ she said huskily. ‘What does it matter?’
‘But it does,’ he said. ‘It matters very much.’ He paused and then went on, ‘It’s too bad you didn’t know Mallory died over a year ago.’
‘He’s alive,’ she said, and her hand strayed to her forehead.
‘No, he isn’t,’ Corridon said, watching her closely. ‘If you had known he was dead all this wouldn’t have happened, would it? Up to last night you had me fooled. But you overplayed your hand. That trick of imitating Mallory’s voice worked the first time, but you shouldn’t have tried it on again. It was pretty obvious to me after I’d found all the doors and windows of the house fastened that no one could have broken in, and then I found the bullet and that told me it was your gun that’d fired the shot. There could have been only one person who let off the gun and whispered your name: that was you. I began to put two and two together. If it was you imitating Mallory’s voice last night, it could also have been you imitating his voice in Crew’s flat. Now, why did you do it? Wasn’t it because you were anxious to confuse the hunt for Mallory as much as you could?’
A muscle in Jeanne’s white face twitched. She didn’t say anything.
‘The other problem that puzzled me,’ Corridon went on, ‘was why Harris and Lubish and Rita Allen were killed. They all had one thing in common: the three of them knew something about Mallory: something that would lead them to him. If Mallory was dead, who killed them?’
Jeanne flinched away from his steady gaze. She was breathing heavily and there was a feverish look in her eyes.
‘Where I went wrong was believing Ranleigh’s tale about Mallory betraying Gourville,’ Corridon said in the same, quiet conversational tone. ‘Ranleigh believed it, but he got it secondhand from you, didn’t he? But it wasn’t Mallory who gave Gourville’s hiding place away. It was you!’
She gave a shuddering gasp and her hands went to her face.
‘It can be the only possible explanation,’ Corridon said. ‘I’m not blaming you. I know what devils the Gestapo were. They worked on you first, but couldn’t get anything from you. Then they turned on Ranleigh. After he had lost consciousness, they came back to you again, didn’t they? And this time they made you talk. Mallory heard you give Gourville away. He was sorry for you, and he took the blame. It was the kind of chivalrous thing he would do. He was the type. When Ranleigh recovered consciousness, Mallory told him it was he who had betrayed Gourville, and Ranleigh believed it. Isn’t that right?’
She made an effort to speak, but the words wouldn’t come.
Her face had gone grey and she seemed scarcely able to stand.
‘That’s the key to the whole business,’ he went on, watching her. ‘It was Jan who insisted on revenge. You were frightened he would learn the truth. You knew if he found Mallory, Mallory would talk. So you did everything you could to confuse the hunt. Then when Harris and Lubish got on Mallory’s track, as you thought, you killed them. You followed Rita and me to her house and when you overheard her telling me about Mallory’s island you got scared and killed her too.’ He shot out his hand and pointed at her. ‘It was you all the time, wasn’t it? You and not Mallory from the very beginning.’
She stiffened, her face working, an insane glitter in her eyes.
‘Yes!’ she cried shrilly. ‘Yes, I betrayed Pierre! You don’t know what they did to me I didn’t want Mallory to take the blame. He loved me, the fool. As if I could care for a fool like him. Yes, I did it! I killed them!’ She began to back away, threatening them with the Mauser. ‘Stay where you are!’ she screamed at Rawlins as he stood up. ‘I’m not going to be locked away. If you come after me I’ll kill you!’
She turned and began to run blindly along the ridge towards the cliff head.
Rawlins gave a shout and sprang forward, then stopped as two figures rose out of nearby shrubs and began to run after Jeanne.
‘Catch her, Hudson!’ he bawled excitedly. ‘Don’t let her get away!’
But the two detectives were no match for Jeanne’s speed.
‘She won’t get far,’ Corridon said quietly.
Jeanne had reached the cliff head before the two detectives were even off the ridge. She was moving swiftly, and she was still running as she went over the edge of the cliff. It seemed a long time before they heard the thud of her body as it smashed on the rocks below.
he two detectives, carrying their burden, wrapped in a mackintosh sheet, walked across the sand to the police boat.
Rawlins stood, braced against the wind, his hands in his coat pockets, his face thoughtful. From time-to-time he glanced at Corridon who sat on a rock, smoking, his broad back turned squarely on the two detectives at work on their gruesome task.
‘Well, I suppose this lets you out again,’ Rawlins said wistfully. ‘I’ve never known such a chap.’
Corridon scowled at him.
‘You have the wrong ideas about me, Rawlins,’ he said coldly. ‘You want to wake up. The trouble with me is I’m too willing to help people. Let it be a warning to you. Look at the mess it lands me in.’
‘I know,’ Rawlins said and snorted. ‘Seven hundred and fifty quid and you call that helping people. You’d better watch your step. Sooner or later you’ll come to grief.’
‘Whatever they paid me it was cheap at the price,’ Corridon said bitterly. ‘I’ve had my face spread over every paper in the country, I’ve been shot at, chased by a bunch of flatfeet, accused of murder and God knows what else. And now I suppose I’ll have to go back with you and waste a lot of time making a statement and helping you clear up a mess that’ll get still more publicity. I wouldn’t have touched this job with the end of a rake if I’d known how it was going to turn out.’
‘If it’s any consolation, we shan’t keep you long,’ Rawlins said, looking towards the boat. ‘It was as well Hudson and Saunders came up when they did and heard what she said. We’re about ready to go. Got anything to take with you?’
Corridon hesitated, then shook his head.
‘No. I’m ready when you are,’ and he stood up.
Rawlins smiled slyly.
‘What about your boat? You didn’t swim here, did you?’ he asked and chuckled knowingly.
‘Never mind the boat,’ Corridon said curtly. ‘Don’t let’s waste time. It’s on the other side of the island. I’ll send someone to tow it in.’
‘And what about the young woman - the one who stopped the train?’ Rawlins asked. ‘She’s here, isn’t she? There’s a five-pound fine and a charge of obstructing the police to be taken care of. We can’t leave her here, you know.’
‘Don’t talk through the back of your neck,’ Corridon said. ‘No one saw her pull the communication cord. I’ll swear she hadn’t anything to do with it. You wouldn’t have enough evidence to go to court. Leave her out of this.’
‘Can’t do that,’ Rawlins said. ‘I’ll have to see her.’
‘Look, she’s a nice girl,’ Corridon said earnestly. ‘This is her home. The boat’s hers. She can go back to the mainland when she wants to. Get above your job for once, Rawlins. Leave her out of it.’
Rawlins scratched his chin.
‘She’s Mallory’s sister, isn’t she?’
‘You know very well who she is,’ Corridon said shortly. ‘There’s going to be a lot of talk in the papers about this business. I don’t want her name connected with mine. You know what the papers would make of it. You have a daughter of your own, haven’t you?’
‘That one won’t work,’ he said. ‘I have a son.’ He brooded for a moment, then asked, ‘Wasn’t she the girl who did ten drops into France during the war?’
‘That’s right. You try it one day and see how you like it.’
‘Not me,’ Rawlins said with conviction. ‘Yes, I think for a change you’re right. It wouldn’t be fair to connect her with a scallywag like you. Well, all right. Let’s go.’
‘And to think some people say the police are heartless,’ Corridon said with his jeering smile.
As he began to move towards the boat, Rawlins asked, ‘Don’t you want to say goodbye to her? We’ll wait for you. Don’t mind us.’ At times Rawlins could be heavily jocular.
Corridon scowled at him.
‘Why should I want to say goodbye to her?’ he asked shortly. ‘She’s not my type.’ He went on towards the boat, and as Rawlins caught up with him, he added sourly, ‘Besides she has a boyfriend in the navy.’
‘Grand fellows - sailors,’ Rawlins said and hid a grin. ‘She’ll be better off with a sailor. All the same I’m disappointed in you. I thought you were pretty hot stuff with the ladies.’
‘Oh, shut up!’ Corridon growled, and as he got into the boat he looked along the stretch of cliffs, hoping for a last glimpse of Ann.