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Authors: Michael Gilbert

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“I heard about it. And I want to hear more about it.”

“Where the hell do the police come into my business?” He was still angry.

“Not your business. Mr. Hinn’s business.”

Sam Lempard thought about it. Petrella imagined he could read his thoughts. Was there anything in it for him? He’d paid out good money to little Mr. Hinn. There’d been a boxful of notes in the cache behind the mirror. A lot of it was probably his money. Was this a chance to get some of it back?

In the end he said, “I don’t see why I shouldn’t tell you. You heard how he stuck me up. Straight blackmail. Prompted by Geoff Tasker, I don’t doubt. In the end I paid him two thousand quid, in notes, and he signed the necessary document.”

“A surrender of his lease.”

“That’s right. Duxford drew it up. Hinn came round here the same evening and signed it.”

“What happened then?”

Mr. Lempard looked surprised. He said, “I don’t follow you. He got out, of course.”

“But what happened exactly? Did he clear all his stuff out and hand over the keys?”

“Now you come to mention it, that was a bit funny. Duxford and I went round the next morning. We found the door locked.”

“So?”

“We broke it down.”

“Wasn’t that a bit irregular?”

“I don’t see it. We’d paid the money. We could do what we liked with the place.”

“And the furniture?”

“There were a few sticks there. Not what I’d call furniture.” Mr. Lempard looked round complacently at his own massively furnished office. “A desk, two or three chairs, a bookcase with trade catalogues on it.”

“What did you do with it?”

“We sold it. No point in paying storage charges.”

 

The scholarly Sergeant Ambrose said, “We’ve placed all the stuff. It’s the proceeds of three shop-breakings. We had the proprietors round here with their records and they were able to identify every piece. Adamsons, in the High Street, Alpha Jewellery Sales in the Cut, and Hingstons. All the watches and pens came from Hingstons.”

“You mean we’ve got it all back?”

“No such luck. About a quarter of Hingstons and a third of the other two.”

Petrella thought about it. It was beginning to add up. He said, “The M.O. people tipped Mick the Pat for all those jobs, didn’t they?”

“I have the relevant report here,” said Sergeant Ambrose. He could always produce the relevant report. Petrella wondered what they were going to do when Sergeant Ambrose was promoted, as inevitably he would be, and removed to an office desk at New Scotland Yard. “It was a definite identification. Method of entry. Timing. Method of neutralising the alarms.”

Petrella grunted. The
modus operandi
files were useful at pointing the finger of suspicion. They were never conclusive enough to justify an arrest. He said, “Irish Mick’s a violent character. But I wouldn’t have thought he went in for murder.”

“Do you think Hinn’s dead, then?” said Sergeant Blencowe, who had been listening to the conversation.

“It must be a strong possibility. The first idea was that he’d scarpered. That doesn’t hold up. He was fencing Mick’s stuff for him. That’s clear. If he’d got cold feet and decided to scarper, he might have left the rest of the stuff behind, but he’d surely have taken the money.”

“Unless he had to get out so quick he couldn’t reach the money. If Mick thought he was being short-changed he’d have been after him with a pick helve.”

“For God’s sake!” said Petrella. “The money wasn’t buried six feet down in the middle of a blasted heath. He’d only got to open his patent looking-glass cupboard and put the stuff in his pockets. I think we’ll call on his last known address. You can come with me, Sergeant.”

Pardoe Street was composed of small semi-detached houses which had been undistinguished when they were built and were now sliding into slumdom. The door of Number 46 was opened to them by a thin woman wearing an overall and carrying four empty milk bottles impaled on the fingers of her left hand. Mrs. Tappin, Petrella guessed.

He introduced himself and said, “I believe Mr. Hinn had rooms here. I suppose he isn’t in just now?”

“Haven’t seen him for more’n a month,” said Mrs. Tappin. As she spoke she clanked the milk bottles on her fingers like castanets. Sergeant Blencowe watched her, fascinated.

“I suppose you’ve re-let the room.”

“Can’t do that. Paid up three months.” Clank, clank—

“Then no one’s been in it for a month.”

“Just his friends.”

“Which friends?”

“Two men. Big men.” Mrs. Tappin demonstrated their size with a rattle on her castanets.

“I think we’d better have a look round.”

“I expect that’s right,” said the woman. She deposited the milk bottles expertly on the top step. “After all, it’s more’n a month. He might be anywhere by now, mightn’t he?”

“He might indeed,” said Petrella.

Mrs. Tappin led the way up three narrow flights of stairs. The first flight had a carpet on it, the second linoleum, the third nothing at all. She extracted a key from the mysteries of her upper garments and unlocked the door on the left of the landing and opened it. They all looked in.

“His friends seem to have been untidy sort of people,” said Petrella mildly.

The place was in chaos. Drawers pulled out, furniture overturned, the carpet rolled back, books tipped out of shelves, pictures wrenched from their frames.

“Well, now,” said Mrs. Tappin, “why would they want to do that?” She didn’t seem unduly surprised. A life spent letting rooms in Pardoe Street must have made her a difficult person to surprise. She picked up one of the chairs and stood it carefully on its feet. “I expect they were looking for something.”

“I guess they were,” said Petrella. He took a photograph out of his wallet. “Would that have been one of the men?”

“Could have been,” said Mrs. Tappin. “I didn’t notice him all that clearly.”

“Had he got an Irish accent?”

“He might have had. I wouldn’t want to swear to it in court.”

“She recognised him all right,” said Sergeant Blencowe. They were back at Patton Street. “She didn’t want to say so, in case Mick came back and duffed her up. What a character! I must try it when I get home.”

“Try what?”

“Playing tunes with milk bottles. Amuse the kids.”

“You’re not going to have much time for playing with your kids in the near future,” said Petrella. “You’re going to do a check-up on Mr. Hinn. Former places of work, family, pubs and eating places he used. Have a word with the Social Security. And try the Russian Orthodox Church down in Little Baltic. It’s a long shot but Tasker said his family originally came from Lithuania or some place like that. You know the form.”

Sergeant Blencowe agreed, gloomily, that he knew the form. It was not that he objected to hard work. But he knew Little Baltic, a huddle of factories, slaughter-houses and skinning shops which stank even in cool weather and were full of men who jabbered in their own God-forgotten lingo.

The next thing that happened was the arrival at Patton Street of Irish Mick. Petrella had had dealings with him before and had once described him as honestly dishonest. He was a huge man (by Mrs. Tappin’s units of measurement ten milk bottles in height and eight round the waist). He maintained a large family by his efforts at shop-breaking, being, for all his bulk, remarkably clever with his fingers and adept at inserting himself through the smallest of gaps.

Sergeant Roughead brought him up. He said, “Mick wants to see you, Skipper. He thinks we’ve got some property which belongs to him.”

“It’s the money you found, if it’s the truth I’ve been told, at the premises of Mr. Hinn.”

“Quite true,” said Petrella. “We did find some money there. Quite a lot of money. You say it was yours?”

“He was minding it for me.”

“Was he minding the other things as well?”

“Now what other things would those be?” said Mick, looking at Petrella out of guileless eyes of Irish blue.

“One or two little trifles. Someone seems to have removed them from jewellers’ shops without going through the formality of paying for them.”

“The world is full of dishonest craytures,” said Mick. “I wouldn’t know anything about that sort of thing. It’s the money I was interested in.”

“Have you any sort of proof it belonged to you?”

“Something in writing, you mean. Mr. Hinn couldn’t write his own name. It’s a known fact.”

“If there’s nothing in writing—” said Petrella. Mick made a very slight movement with his head. Petrella understood it. He said, “That’ll be all for now, Sergeant.” Sergeant Roughead removed himself unwillingly. He was a student of human nature and Mick was one of his favourite characters.

When the door had closed and Sergeant Roughead’s footsteps had died away down the passage, Mick leaned forward, his large hands on Petrella’s desk, and said softly. “If you’d care to spend five hundred pounds of that money.”

“What would I buy with it?” said Petrella, equally softly.

“I’ll sell you the Pole.”

 

Detective Superintendent Watterson said, “He’s got a nerve. Five hundred pounds.”

“For the Pole.”

“For the Pole,” agreed Watterson.

The Pole, sometimes referred to as Augie the Pole, was a man that both Watterson and Petrella would have given a lot of money to put away.

Neither of them had ever set eyes on him. He was a denizen of Little Baltic. He was an unknown quantity. He was a name.

It was a name which a number of people had cause to loathe and to fear.

There had been protection rackets before. Shopkeepers and restaurant proprietors had sometimes paid sums of money under threat that their premises would be disrupted if they refused. More often they had jibbed and asked for police protection. This had led, sooner or later, to a noisy finale and the temporary closing-down of the racket. The Pole did not attack premises. He attacked families. Your wife was alone in the house whilst you went out to work. Did you fancy coming home at night and finding her unconscious on the floor with two black eyes and a broken rib? Or maybe you had children. Odd things could happen to children, particularly to young girls. One or two people had complained to the police. Nothing had happened to them, or their families, for several months. The Pole was a patient man. Then he had sent out two of his countrymen. They came, in the early dusk, wearing silk stocking masks and carrying axe-handles or cleavers and they broke up things and people. How many preferred to pay? Petrella had no means of knowing. The Pole never appeared himself. He sent his friends. Their best hope was that some day they would catch one of them red-handed and he might be induced to talk.

“If Mick could put a finger on him,” said Petrella, “and give us some solid evidence, it’d be worth paying for.”

“Paying for, certainly,” said Watterson. “But five hundred pounds!” Petrella knew that the pounds disbursed to informers were counted in tens and twenties. Twenty-five was the most he had ever paid out himself.

“It’s not as though it was coming out of police funds,” said Petrella.

Watterson said, “That’s all very well. Sooner or later someone’s going to lay claim to that money. We can’t just throw it around as if it belonged to us.”

The next claimant arrived that afternoon, in the form of a stout little lady, tightly cased in old-fashioned black. She had read the story of Fred Jury and Johnny Tredgett’s discovery. She was, she said, the lawful and only wedded wife of Leopold Hinn. She laid her credentials on the table. They seemed to establish her identity.

She had parted from Leopold some years before, but there had been no divorce. Therefore, he could not lawfully have married again. Therefore, if he was dead, and had left no will, all his goods belonged to her.

Petrella said, “There are two difficulties. The first is that we don’t know that he’s dead. The second is that we have no means of being certain that the money you are talking about belonged to him.”

“Of course it belonged to him,” said Mrs. Hinn. “It was found behind a looking-glass in his office. It said so in the newspaper.”

“Certainly. But he had been there for less than two years. It could have been left there by a previous tenant.”

Mrs. Hinn said, “You are talking nonsense. No one would leave such money behind them, unless they were dead. I shall speak to a lawyer. He will make you give up the money.”

A third claimant announced himself by telephone on the following morning. It was Samuel Lempard. He said, “I’ve been talking to my solicitor. In fact, he’s here with me now. He says that when Hinn gave up—what’s that?” Petrella could hear someone prompting him in the background. “Surrendered, yes. When he surrendered the lease, he specifically surrendered the contents of the office as well. He’s reminded me, that’s how we were able to sell the furniture.”

“And the document he signed actually says that?”

“In black and white.”

“Have you got it there?”

“Right on my desk.”

“I’d better come and look at it,” said Petrella.

He was on the point of leaving when Sergeant Blencowe appeared. He said, “We’ve had a get-well card.”

It was a dirty piece of paper, in a dirty envelope. The words on the paper had been printed in capital letters, in purple ink. It said, “Mick keeps his stuff in his mother’s house in Gosport Lane. It’s under the coal in the shed at the end of her garden.”

Holding it in his hand, Petrella walked across to one of his filing cabinets and took out a folder. It contained half a dozen letters, all on dirty scraps of paper, all printed in capital letters in purple ink. They were threatening letters, which the recipients had brought round to Patton Street.

“It’s the Pole all right,” said Sergeant Blencowe. “If he’s shopping Mick, he must have known Mick was ready to shop him. When thieves fall out, eh?”

“Check up on that coal-shed first. You’ll need a warrant. If you find the goods there, pull Mick in.” He thought about Mick. “You’d better take a driver and another man with you.”

“Mick won’t give no trouble. But if the stuff is on his mum’s premises, not on his, how are we going to charge him?”

Petrella said, “He won’t let his mother stand the racket. He’s fond of her.”

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