Authors: James Hadley Chase
orridon had never stayed in one place long enough to make a home for himself. Since his return to London he lived in a three-room flat over a garage behind St. George’s Hospital. He rented it furnished and thought he was lucky to have it in spite of the exorbitant rent. A woman came in every day to keep it clean and Corridon had his meals out He scarcely ever used the small, scantily furnished sitting room. It was damp and dark, and during the day the constant noise of car engines, the hiss of hoses on coachwork, the yapping of dogs and the whine of an electric saw working nearby came in through the badly fitting windows to distract him. The bedroom, also damp and dark, overlooked a high wall that shut out the light.
Discomfort and the lack of a homely atmosphere meant nothing to Corridon. He never noticed his surroundings. The flat was a place to sleep in, and as such it served its purpose and it had several advantages. It was near the West End. It had bars to every window and a solid oak front door. The rooms over the garages were used by commercial firms who moved out at six o’clock each day and did not appear until nine the following morning. There was no one to spy on him, and at night the flat was as lonely and as impregnable as a fort.
Corridon had returned to the flat earlier than usual. He had had supper in a pub in Shepherd Market and had walked along Piccadilly to Hyde Park Corner, arriving at his flat a few seconds before nine o’clock. As he let himself in he heard Big Ben strike the hour, and paused to count the strokes. The chime of Big Ben always gave him a feeling of nostalgia, reminding him of the time when he was in France when he used to listen each evening in some secret hiding place to the nine o’clock news, knowing that Big Ben was still there and would be there tomorrow to strike out the hour.
When the last stroke died away, he closed and bolted the front door, turned on the light and climbed the steep flight of stairs that brought him directly into the sitting room. There was a smell of damp and Ronuk in the room, and a cold cleanliness that constantly reminded him of a waiting room in an institute for the poor.
He emptied his pockets before removing his coat and found the envelope that Ranleigh had given him. He had pushed it into his pocket and had forgotten about it. He flicked it against his fingernails, then carried it into the bedroom, turned on the light and sat on the bed. He was tired. He had had little sleep the previous night and he yawned, thinking of what he had done during the day, satisfied the way things had turned out.
He flopped back on the pillow, swung up his legs and lit a cigarette. Seven hundred and fifty pounds! He had paid the bundles of pound notes into his bank, grinning when the cashier had given him a quick, surprised glance. Then he had gone along to a pleasant house in Kensington and talked to the plastic surgeon who had done so much for him when he was in hospital recovering from the Gestapo’s attentions. He had told him about Effie.
‘I don’t care what it costs, Doc, but fix it for her.’
And the doctor had made an appointment to see Effie.
Shying away from the thought of Effie’s gratitude, Corridon had telephoned her and told her what he had arranged, then hung up quickly before she could begin to thank him.
He had a man to see in Whitechapel and another man to see in Balham High Street. Two small parcels he had brought back with him from America, carefully sewn inside the flaps of his trench coat pockets, exchanged hands. He took a bus back to the West End, had dinner and returned to his flat. The day had been satisfactory and lying on his bed, he had a feeling of well-being as he stared up at the ceiling.
The room was silent; no outside sounds came to him. There was something reassuring about the thick iron bars at the window. He felt shut in, away from all interruption, with no sense of loneliness, and as he lay there, relaxing, he thought of Jeanne Persigny, seeing her as she stood before Crew’s hearth, her hands in her trouser pockets, her face expressionless, and he wondered what she was doing at this moment. Tomorrow night he would meet her at the Amethyst Club, and he would tell her he wasn’t going through with the job. He could imagine her reaction. Scorn and anger would blaze up in her eyes.
Ranleigh would stare at him, embarrassed, like a man who has caught a friend in a shabby act. Jan would feel for his Mauser. Corridon’s mouth twitched into a grin. He would tell them to screw. There was nothing they could do about it.
Remembering the envelope that Ranleigh had given him, he picked it up and opened it and drew out several sheets of paper. He began to read the neat typewritten words without interest. Mallory meant nothing to him, and he read what Ranleigh had written because he was relaxing and had nothing else to read.
Born: 4th February, 1916.
Description: Height: 6ft. 1in. Weight 182 lbs. Hair: dark brown. Eyes: hazel. Complexion: fair. Heavily sunburned.
Peculiarities: Voice affected by a wound received while escaping from P.O.W. camp. Speaks in a whisper, unable to shout or raise his voice, but practice has enabled him to make himself heard by enunciating his words with remarkable clearness.
Mannerisms: When angry has a trick of grinding his right fist into the palm of his left hand. When pleased slaps his hands and rubs them briskly together. Invariably holds cigarette between index finger and thumb. Has the habit of lighting matches by flicking their heads with his thumbnail. Prides himself on a poker face: seldom laughs or smiles.
Corridon gave an impatient grunt, skipped the page and began to read at random.
Relations: As far as is known only relation is Miss Hilda Mallory, The Dell, Wendover, an aunt, who brought Mallory up after the death of his mother when he was four years old. Quarrelled with his father and they seldom met. In spite of this, his father made him his heir and left him a considerable sum of money at his death.
Corridon yawned. He wasn’t interested, and although there was a considerable amount more in this vein he couldn’t be bothered to go on with it. Rolling the sheets of paper into a hard, tight ball, he flipped it into the empty fireplace.
In a moment or so he would get up and undress and go to bed, he told himself, and sighed contentedly, closing his eyes.
Minutes ticked by and he still lay there, breathing lightly, the hard lines in his face softening, his mind floating in the half-world of sleep and wakefulness.
e dreamed that Maria Hauptmann was sitting on the end of the bed, her slim white hands folded in her lap and her face smashed and bleeding as he had seen it when she lay at his feet after he had shot her. She seemed to be trying to say something to him, but she hadn’t a mouth; only two staring eyes above a black cavity in her face from which he could see a few teeth protruding. But he was sure she was trying to say something. It wasn’t the first time he had had this dream, and he always had the impression she was about to say something important, but she never did. She just sat on his bed and filled him with horror and wouldn’t go away.
A knock on the front door wakened him. He raised his head from the pillow, aware that his jaws ached and that he had been grinding his teeth in his sleep, and listened. A minute ticked by and the knock was repeated. He swung his legs off the bed and sat up. Moving softly, he went into the sitting room, and without turning on the light, pulled aside the curtain and looked into the mews. She was standing there in the moonlight, still wearing the black sweater and slacks, bareheaded, her hands in her trouser pockets, a cigarette in her lips.
He stood for a moment watching her, then turned on the light and went down the steep stairs. He had no idea why she had come at this hour to see him, but he had no misgivings as he slid back the bolt and opened the door.
‘Come in,’ he said. ‘Are you alone?’
‘Yes,’ she returned and walked past him into the tiny hall.
‘Straight upstairs,’ he told her, closing the door, but not before he looked into the darkness, wondering if Jan or Ranleigh were out there somewhere, hiding in the shadows. He saw no one.
She climbed the steep stairs, and he followed her, his eyes on her straight back, seeing the movement of her hips as she stepped from one stair to the next. She went into the sitting room, to the hearth, turned and faced him. He stood just inside the doorway.
‘What brings you here?’ he asked, rubbing his face with his hand. ‘I was just going to bed. I didn’t get much sleep last night.’
She looked away from him and said nothing and began examining the room, taking in every detail, missing nothing.
Watching her he was aware for the first time of the shabbiness of the room, of the threadbare carpet, the armchair with the protruding spring, the scarred, stained table, Landseer’s ‘Stag At Bay’ over the mantelpiece.
‘Have a drink?’ he went on abruptly and picked up a bottle of gin from the sideboard. ‘There’s some vermouth somewhere.’ He wandered into the kitchen, irritated to find he needed an excuse to get away from her silent, disturbing presence. By the time he had found the vermouth and returned, the feeling had passed, but a slight uneasiness remained.
She was still standing by the hearth, silent, motionless and watchful. He mixed the drinks, whistling under his breath and put a glass on the table near her.
‘Sit down and make yourself at home; not that this dump is much of a home, but it’s the best I could get.’ He flopped into the armchair that creaked under his weight. ‘Well, bung-ho.’
He drank some of the gin and vermouth and grimaced. ‘This gin isn’t much.’
She made no move and ignored the drink he had put on the table. She said suddenly. ‘You have a habit of making promises and not keeping them, haven’t you?’
He wasn’t expecting such a direct attack, and for a moment he was disconcerted, then he laughed.
‘There’s not much you haven’t found out about me, is there?’ he said and stretched out his long legs. ‘You’re right. I don’t always keep my promises.’
‘You undertake a job, accept payment, then you don’t go ahead,’ she went on. ‘It’s a pretty easy way of making money, isn’t it?’
‘It’s easy enough. Too easy sometimes,’ he said lightly. But he was surprised that she was so quiet and calm. He had expected her to fly up at him and would have been easier in mind had she done so.
‘And there’s no redress for those who have given you the money, is there?’
‘None at all,’ Corridon said cheerfully. ‘The jobs I get offered never stand investigation. But of course, if you’ve kept the IOU you could sue,’ and he laughed.
She stubbed out her cigarette, picked up the gin and vermouth and looked at him steadily from over the top of the glass. He got ready to duck, believing she was going to throw the contents of her glass in his face, but she didn’t. Instead, she drank half the gin and vermouth, went over to the settee and sat down.
‘I expect Crew told you our papers aren’t in order,’ she said. ‘That we have no authority to be here?’
‘He mentioned it. I thought at the time you were being a little optimistic to ask for an IOU.’
‘You don’t intend to look for Mallory, do you?’
This wasn’t going quite the way he had planned, but she was merely anticipating what he was going to tell her tomorrow night so it didn’t really matter. She may as well know now as later.
‘Of course not,’ he said mildly. ‘If you want the man’s life you’ll have to kill him yourselves. You can hardly expect me to kill a man I’ve never seen just because you are incompetent, can you?’
‘And yet you accepted our money.’
‘I always accept money,’ he returned, took a packet of cigarettes from his pocket and offered it. ‘Have a cigarette?’
She took one. He noticed her slim hand was steady.
‘People shouldn’t come to me with these cockeyed jobs,’ he went on. ‘They should leave me alone.’
She leaned back and crossed her legs and looked perfectly at ease and relaxed. Her apparent calm was beginning to puzzle Corridon.
‘You’re taking this very well,’ he said, hoping to set her off. ‘It can’t be a joke to lose all that money.’
For the first time since they had met, she smiled.
‘You think I’m a fool, don’t you?’
‘Not exactly,’ he returned and laughed. ‘A little simple perhaps.’
‘Because I asked for an IOU?’
‘Well, you can’t collect on it, can you?’
‘No, I can’t collect on it. I knew that. I asked you to sign it for another reason.’
He became alert then, wondering if he had misjudged these three. He had felt all along that they had given in too easily. But what could they do? The money was safely in his bank; they couldn’t touch it.
‘And what was the reason?’
She finished her drink, then held out the glass.
‘I’d like another please.’
He took the glass, surprised, and as he was mixing the drink, she said, ‘I’ve come to persuade you to find Mallory.’
He looked over his shoulder at her and raised his eyebrows.
‘I wonder what makes you think you can do that?’
‘Won’t you?’ She leaned forward. ‘He was a traitor. He deserves to die. You had no liking for traitors two years ago, had you?’
‘I didn’t give a damn one way or the other,’ he said, handing her the glass. ‘I did what I was told. My personal feelings for the man or the woman concerned never entered into it.’
‘You wouldn’t hesitate if you had known Pierre,’ she said, and one hand clenched and the knuckles whitened.
‘But I didn’t know Pierre.’ He flopped down into the chair again. ‘After all there were hundreds of Pierres. Just because you two were lovers ...’
She jumped up, spilling her drink, her eyes like black explosions.
‘Are you or are you not going to find Mallory?’ she demanded standing over him.
‘Certainly not,’ he said casually, now feeling sure of himself. This was what he expected and what he could cope with. ‘Pull your own chestnuts out of the fire.’
‘Do you mean that?’ she cried. He could see she was struggling to control a fury that threatened to engulf her. Her chest laboured; her face was chalk white and as expressionless as a plaster mask.
‘Of course, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You have my IOU, but you can’t collect on it. You have Jan and his popgun, but I’m more than a match for him, and you know it. You three don’t scare me. I have your money and I’m sticking to it. There’s nothing any of you can do about it.’
She suddenly turned away and stood with her back half turned to him so he couldn’t see her face. She remained like that for a few seconds and then she went to the settee. As she sat down Corridon saw she was quiet and calm again, and he wondered what was coming.
‘I knew you would be like this,’ she said, ‘but Ranleigh said he trusted you.’
‘Ranleigh’s a trusting type,’ Corridon said, watching her narrowly. He felt she was more dangerous like this than when she was angry. ‘He judges people the way he judges himself. It’s a great mistake.’
‘Yes; it’s a great mistake.’ She looked away from him and studied the engraving over the mantelpiece. ‘But you are going through with this, you know. We would have preferred to have had your willing cooperation, but if we can’t then we must force you to do what we want.’
He laughed, genuinely amused.
‘Brave words, aren’t they?’
‘Do you think so?’ She swung round to face him. ‘We’re not threatening you. We’re telling you to find Mallory, and you’re going to find him.’
‘What makes you so sure?’
She paused just long enough for her next words to have their full dramatic effect, then she said, without taking her eyes from his, ‘Crew’s dead.’