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Authors: Jo Walton

Tags: #Alternative History, #Mystery & Detective, #General

Ha'penny (24 page)

BOOK: Ha'penny
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In later life, these territories marking us off from each other became our real lives. We were strange obsessive children, and we became strange obsessive adults. Tess went to Oxford and had her debutante year and got married appropriately, safely, to Sir James Thirkie, baronet. Pip demanded, and got, a finishing year abroad to learn German, did learn German, contrived to meet Hitler and managed to hook a leading Nazi as a husband. During the war, when German bombers were flattening London, and killing poor Tess in her shelter for government wives, we felt bad about Pip’s position, but all was forgiven later, as all was forgiven the Germans generally. I became an actress. Siddy came out, married, had a baby, divorced, caused scandal by leaving the baby with her husband, visited Moscow and became a real communist, married again, and rapidly divorced again. Dodo paints, and has the occasional exhibition, is married to a prominent scientist who has something to do with atomic research, and has two delightful children. Rosie, whose obsession was the most normal, came out, rode to hounds, met and married the Duke of Lancashire and produced sons. She steeplechases, breeds racehorses, and hunts in the Shires every autumn.

My sisters—I don’t necessarily like them, and I’d rather be stuck with pins than spend a week alone with any of them, but I love them. They are necessary to my world. I felt diminished when Tess died. I went to the funeral, even though it was up in Yorkshire and meant hours on a blacked-out train. When I got there, old Lady Thirkie was charming to me, Sir James seemed very withdrawn, Pappa grunted, and Mamma barely acknowledged my existence. It was a funny kind of funeral, as they didn’t really have a body. We were all there, the five surviving sisters as the newspapers put it. Poor Tess. I miss her still. I still couldn’t really believe Siddy could write Pip off that way.

It’s what the trick cyclists say, isn’t it, tell me about your childhood? I wonder if they’d see how ours made sense of us? I wonder if they’d think any of us emerged from it sane?

Back in the Chinese parlor of Coltham, on Sunday afternoon, Lieutenant Nash poured me more tea. “I know it makes it harder,” he said. “But you knew there would be other people in the box, aides and bodyguards and people like that.”

“I wasn’t thinking about them,” I said, though I could see they had already been on poor Lieutenant Nash’s conscience. He was just the kind of person to fret about them. “I suppose I should have been. I’m finding it difficult enough to think of killing Mr. Hitler and Mr. Normanby, let alone more comparatively innocent people, and now you want me to kill my own sister.”

“You won’t have to actually do it,” Loy said. “I’ll do it.” He was leaning back beside Siddy on a splendid golden Chinese sofa with black carved dragon arms. He looked relaxed and comfortable as he suggested doing murder.

“Line of sight—” Devlin began, but Loy cut him off.

“In a theater like that, radio bounces off everywhere, you don’t need as exact a line of sight as you think. If I sit up in the ha’pennies, towards the back, I’ll have as good a line of sight as anywhere, apart from the stage.” He popped a triangular sandwich into his mouth and began to chew.

Nash looked at them angrily. He was on the edge of his seat. “Can’t you see that isn’t the point?” he asked. “Miss Larkin isn’t distressed at the thought of whose finger will be on the trigger, but at the thought of killing her sister.” He turned back to me. “All I can say is that sometimes to achieve something good, it is necessary to do something bad.”

“The end justifies the means?” I asked. “Well, no. It doesn’t. I think the world can replace those dictators much more easily than I can replace a sister, and I think it will. This country has been slowly drifting towards fascism ever since the Farthing Peace—before that even, throughout the thirties. There isn’t anything we can do to stop it if it’s what most people want.”

“It isn’t what most people want,” Uncle Phil said. He leaned towards me across the table. “Look at the protests against the identity cards.”

“A handful of Jews and communists and Quakers and people like that?” I asked. “The majority of ordinary people don’t care or actively like the idea of our having a proper leader, a fuhrer to sort us out. If we kill Hitler, Germany will immediately replace him with another just like him, and that goes double for Normanby.”

“You said this before,” Devlin said.

I looked at him. “I’ll say it again. It doesn’t matter how many times I say it. It won’t make any difference. If I felt very strongly about doing it I might be prepared to kill Pip in the way of it, but I don’t. Oh, I’ll do it. I haven’t forgotten what you said to me in the car last week. But I hate it. I don’t think it’s justified by anything at all.”

Devlin smiled. Uncle Phil stared at the wall as if the painted turquoise phoenixes and dragons had wisdom for him. Siddy stubbed out a half-smoked cigarette, and turned for Loy to light her another. Nash looked pained. “It isn’t easy,” he said. “I didn’t make this decision easily myself. Pete already died for this, and Lauria too. But they were volunteers, and Miss Larkin isn’t. It seems to me there comes a point where we become as bad as our enemies. What about the Covent Garden option?”

Everyone’s eyes went to Loy. He enjoyed it, I could tell, he leaned back and blew out smoke slowly. “Well, it would be a suicide mission,” he said. “We don’t have anyone on the inside, and couldn’t get anyone in. A bomb wouldn’t be possible. A gun should be, but there’s no chance of surviving it. We do know, from our FO contact, where Hitler will be sitting. But even if we could take him, it would be only half the job. Normanby won’t be with him, he’ll be accompanied by Lord Eversley on that occasion.”

“I’ll do it,” Nash said. “I’m a decent shot and I’m prepared to risk it.”

“We need you afterwards, Bob,” Malcolm said. “We need your contacts in the Forces to ensure there isn’t a military uprising.” Uncle Phil put his hand on Nash’s arm. Nash looked as distressed as any stiff-upper-lipped English face can look.

“I’m more than a decent shot,” Loy said, his last words imitating Nash’s tones and accent unkindly. “And I’m prepared to risk it if necessary. It’s the emergency back-up plan. It’s half the job, and it’s suicide. The
bomb does the whole job, and we can walk away from it.”

Siddy looked at me. “Pip does more than condone evil,” she said. “She almost worships it. She knows what’s going on. I’d rather do this without hurting her, but she’s not the sister you remember.”

“No more than you are?” I asked, cruelly. “No, she is, and you are. You two locked me in the barn once. Do you remember? You said Pums was there and needed me, and when I went there was no cat, just the dark night and the empty barn, and you locked the doors and I heard both of you laughing as you ran away. It’s clear you haven’t changed a bit, either of you.”



onday morning, Carmichael was at the Yard early. Sergeant Stebbings was back at his usual post, looking as if he had never left. “How did the wedding go?” Carmichael asked.

“Well enough,” Stebbings said. “Nothing special for you this morning.”

“Nothing on Nash?”

“Not a sausage.”

Carmichael frowned. He was increasingly convinced that if he found Nash he’d have solved the case. “I came in to ask where the Greens are. They were being picked up on Friday afternoon. The Chief said I could take the weekend off, and I did, but I want to have a go at them this morning.”

Stebbings looked through his papers, slowly. “Nothing here,” he said. “I don’t know anything about it.”

“Maybe it’s on my desk,” Carmichael said, without much hope. “Is Royston in?”

“Due in at nine,” Stebbings said.

“Well, send him in to me when he gets here,” Carmichael said.

His office was as piled up with papers as it always was, but there was nothing new except the day’s issue of the
Carmichael lifted it from the top of a stack and read through the headlines: Hitler due to arrive in England on historic visit; Winston Churchill calls the American-style fixed terms unconstitutional; protesters clash with Ironsides and are arrested; battle for Kursk. He threw the paper towards the basket, missed, picked it up again and dropped it in carefully. He looked at his desk and sighed. Well, as he was in early with nothing much to do, he might as well go through the piles. The report on Mercedes Carl he put on one side. He would have to go out to Hampstead to see her again, if she was still there. If she was, it was almost proof of her innocence. He sighed. He got rid of old newspapers, old reports, old envelopes, filling his wastepaper basket.

He read a report he had read before, relating to the Farthing case, saying some of Lady Eversley’s stolen jewelry had been identified in Portsmouth and Hove. A gold hairbrush had been sold by a middle-aged woman, and a bracelet and some earrings by a young woman in a headscarf. Lucy Kahn, Carmichael thought, and wondered what she had been doing in Portsmouth. Seeing Nash and Marshall? Was it possible? No, it must be pure coincidence.

Royston put his head around the door, knocking as he did. “The Greens are in the Scrubs, sir,” he said.

“In the Scrubs? Is every police station in London full?” Carmichael asked in surprise.

“Pretty much, sir, yes, so far as I can make out. Jews, terrorists, protesters. They’re talking about building new prisons; Mr. Normanby is anyway.”

“Well, let’s go to the Scrubs and see them.” Carmichael stood. “Bring the car around to the front.”

Clouds were chasing each other past the sun. They crawled along, hardly faster than walking pace, behind a red double-decker bus. “Did you hear about Sergeant Stebbings’s daughter’s wedding?” Royston asked as he overtook the bus. “Wedding car broke down on the way to the ceremony, so Stebbings flagged down a passing police car, daughter and all, so she turned up at the church in her long white gown getting out of a patrol car, and everyone thought they’d done it on purpose.”

Carmichael laughed. “Who told you that?”

“Oh, Sergeant Stebbings himself,” Royston said. “He could see the joke, though it’s always hard to tell with his voice that never cracks.”

Carmichael bit back an inappropriate urge to complain that Stebbings had told Royston and said nothing to him.

They were in a sunny patch when they drew up at His Majesty’s Prison Wormwood Scrubs. Sunshine did not improve its pink and white castle-style entrance. “Not a pretty sight,” Royston said. “Have you been in the Scrubs before, sir?”

“Once,” Carmichael said. “In the Bradshaw business. I came here to talk to Ben Bradshaw after he’d been convicted but before the rest of them had.”

Royston nodded. “Was it bad inside?”

“About like any prison, sergeant,” Carmichael said, and led the way to the gate.

They showed their Scotland Yard identification at the candy-striped gate, and again inside, and were shown politely to a bare room painted chocolate brown to waist height and a banana yellow above. The only furniture consisted of two low benches. “There’s this room, which is the interview room, or the visitor’s room with a partition,” the warder said.

“This will do, thank you. Please bring the Greens now.”

“It’s only Green we have,” the warder said.

“Well where’s Mrs. Green then?” Royston asked.

“I don’t have any information about that,” the warder said, cringing at the sergeant’s tone. “But we’re not set up for women here, let alone married couples.”

“Bring us Mr. Green,” Carmichael said, wearily. The warder left. Carmichael paced from one end of the room to the other. There were no windows, and the bare bulb of the electric light swung several feet above their heads. “How did you know Mr. Green was here, Royston?” he asked after a while.

“They told me in Hampstead when I tried to get them into the cells at the station on Friday,” Royston said.

“So Jacobson, or someone at Hampstead, might know where Mrs. Green has been taken?”

“Very likely, sir.”

“Did you charge them?”

“Inspector Jacobson booked them all under the new terrorism laws, because otherwise they’d need to be charged in three days, and it was Friday. There’s no doubt if they were involved with the bomb that it was terrorism, and that the other people, the Levis, were sheltering them. And this way they can be held for a month before charging, if it’s necessary.”

“Thank goodness he had the sense, because it might have been very difficult charging them today if we’ve lost Mrs. Green.”

Royston laughed, and the door opened to admit the warder, accompanied by another uniformed warder and a little man in a crumpled brown suit. Mr. Green had been left his own clothes, as he was a prisoner on remand, not yet convicted.

“Thank you, please wait outside, I’ll call you when he needs to go back to his cell,” Carmichael said. The warders looked as if they would have liked to dispute this order, but nodded, forced Green down on one of the benches, and left.

“I am Inspector Carmichael of Scotland Yard, and this is Sergeant Royston,” Carmichael began. Royston took out his notebook and sat down on the other bench. Carmichael remained on his feet. “Well, Mr. Green, or do you prefer Grunwald?”

“Green, please sir,” Green said, looking up at Carmichael. He did have an accent, not very heavy, the kind of accent Carmichael thought of as a Jewish servant accent. “Where is Louise? Is she all right?”

Carmichael and Royston exchanged glances. “Your wife is in custody, but she’s all right. I can’t tell you where she is,” Carmichael said. “Now, please just confirm a few facts for me. You are Hem Green, formerly servant to Miss Gilmore?”


“You are a Jew?”


“You came to this country in 1940, under the name of Grunwald, married a Jewish woman of British birth in 1942, and changed your name to Green. You have been employed by Lauria Gilmore ever since.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Your brother is Dr. Grunwald, of Golders Green?”

“Yes . . .” Green licked his lips nervously. “He knows nothing about this.”

“We’ll find out what Dr. Grunwald knows,” Carmichael said.

BOOK: Ha'penny
4.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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