Authors: Michael Gilbert
Tags: #Petrella At Q
“Lovely,” said Milo. “He picked up the knack from his old man, did you know? He was the finest cat burglar in London, Len said. Didn’t give it up until he was over sixty.”
“I’m not sure—” said Petrella.
“We’re not going in that way,” said Milo. “He’ll get that door open somehow. It’s only bolted or barred.”
It took ten minutes to do it, but finally, reluctantly and with assistance from both sides, one of the double doors was forced open enough for them to slip through.
“We’ll leave it like that,” said Petrella. “We may have to duck out quick.” He was using his torch as he spoke.
“Back stairs over here,” said Lampier. “Lead all the way up.”
“What’s at the top?”
“Sort of storeroom. Raw hides I guess, by the smell. There must be another staircase at the other end.”
“We’ll go up to the top, across and down the second staircase. That should bring us out in the front hall. Before we go, I’ve got something to say. One piece of insubordination you can get away with, but not two. From now on, if I tell you to do something – whatever it is – you do it and you do it without arguing. Is that understood?”
“Quite understood, Skipper,” said Milo, who seemed to have appointed himself as spokesman for the three. “You say jump, and we jump.”
Lampier led the way. They climbed the back stairs, crossed a long attic room between mounds of strong-smelling skins, and went through an unlocked door onto a landing. Then they went down. They took their time and made very little noise.
The room from which the light was coming faced the foot of the stairs. They stopped to listen. There were at least three men talking. Two normal male rumbles and one curiously high-pitched voice. Petrella knew that it was the first two seconds that were going to make the difference. He said, “Blencowe and I will go in as close together as we can. You two follow and fan out. Anyone makes a wrong move, hit him at once.”
Then he started to turn the door handle, very slowly indeed.
The voices went on talking.
As soon as he felt the door give, he kicked it open and jumped through.
There were three men in the room. It was furnished as an office, with a big safe in one corner, and a roll-top desk. One man, the oldest of the three, was sitting on a swivel chair behind the desk. The second, an enormously fat man, was balanced on a stool at a table covered with the remains of a meal. The third, and youngest, was squatting on the edge of the table.
There was a moment of paralysis. Then the young man started to reach inside his coat. Before he could do any more, Blencowe had hit him. A swinging blow which knocked him off the table. As he went down he hit his head with a crack on the edge of the safe.
The other two men had not moved. Either the surprise of the attack or the sight of the gun in Petrella’s hand kept them nailed to their chairs.
The man behind the desk had a flat white face, two small black eyes like currants in a suet pudding and a stubble of grey hair, shaved closely over his skull in the German fashion. When he opened his mouth he showed a lot of gold. He said, “You had no right to do that, Inspector.”
Petrella recognised the voice which had spoken to him on the telephone. He said to Blencowe, “We’ll have the handcuffs on both of these men. Hands behind their backs. Then search them. The one on the floor, too.”
The search produced a gun from the shoulder holster of the man on the floor, which Blencowe took charge of, an eight-inch black handled skinning knife in a leather sheath from the fat man and nothing from the Pole.
He said, “This is irregular; you have made no charge.”
“There will be a number of charges,” said Petrella. “Owning a gun without a licence, for a start. And a general charge of extortion, conspiracy and kidnapping – against all of you.”
“You have no proof of a kidnapping.”
Petrella looked directly at the Pole for the first time since he had come into the room. He said, “That is the next thing I mean to attend to.”
There was an unlit table lamp on the desk. Petrella pulled it out of its socket and jerked out the long flex. He said to Lampier, “Hobble his ankles, leave him enough slack to walk, but not to run.”
He gave his own gun to Milo, and said, “The three of you can keep an eye on these two. That one may be shamming, I don’t know. If either of them makes a move you don’t like, shoot their feet off.” Then he got behind the Pole, jerked him on to his feet and said, “Walk”.
“I refuse—” said the Pole and gave a sharp gasp. Petrella had driven the point of the knife into his back.
“Word of advice, chum,” said Blencowe, “I should do what you’re told and do it quick.”
The Pole shuffled to the door, and took a quick look back. The young man was still on the floor. They had rolled him over when searching him and the swollen bruise on his forehead was visible with blood oozing slowly out of it. The fat man was perched on his stool with his hands behind his back. The sweat was standing out on his forehead. The Pole shuffled out into the passage. Petrella followed and shut the door carefully.
The fat man started muttering to himself.
“Something bothering you?” said Blencowe.
“What’s he going to do to him?” The piping voice made him sound like a frightened little girl.
“I should think he’s planning to cut little bits off him with that knife,” said Blencowe. “What do you think, Milo?”
“That’d be the main course,” said Milo. “He wouldn’t get round to it straight away. For starters, I guess he’ll pick off his fingernails.”
“What he might do,” said Lampier, “I read about an Indian who did this, he might cut out his knee-caps.”
The scream, when it came, was two rooms away, but it was so loud that it made the fat man jump. With his hands manacled behind his back he was unable to save himself and toppled off the stool. Blencowe and Lampier hoisted him carefully back again.
“The point is,” said Blencowe, “suppose he passes out before the Skipper can get the info he wants out of him, there’ll only be one thing for it. He’ll have to come back and start on our friend here.”
The fat man said, “It’s no good doing anything to me. I don’t know where the boy is.”
“And who said anything about a boy?” said Milo gently.
The fat man looked at him. His lips were moving but he seemed unable to speak. Milo said, “Augie made a mistake there. The Skipper’s half Spanish. It’s the Spanish half that’s operating just now.”
The second scream was muffled, as if it was made through folds of thick cloth.
Petrella ran up to the landing on the first floor. The door at the top was locked, but he had a key. His hand was shaking so badly that it took him a minute to get it into the lock. Then he opened the door and switched on the light.
In this room, dressed hides were stacked in bales which covered most of the floor space and were piled high against the walls, with a narrow passageway between them. Petrella went to the far end and started shifting the bales. Behind them was a low cupboard, bolted on the outside.
Donald was curled up inside the cupboard. He was asleep. When Petrella picked him up he said something that sounded like “Mummy”. Petrella carried him back down the stairs and into the hall and said, “Sergeant Blencowe.”
He had hardly raised his voice, but Blencowe came running. He grinned when he saw Donald. Petrella said, “Come and give me a hand.”
Augie was lying on the floor of a small bare room. His ankles were shackled to the radiator.
Petrella stooped over him, still holding Donald and jerked the flex free. Augie stared up at him. His lips were drawn back from his teeth and a trickle of saliva had run down from the corner of his mouth. His small black eyes were alive with hatred.
“Take this thing back to the office,” said Petrella. “He can walk if he wants to. There’s a telephone on the desk. We’ll need another car.”
Blencowe dragged the Pole to his feet and started frogmarching him down the passage. Donald had opened his eyes. His face puckered, for a moment, as if he was going to cry. Then he said, “Put me down. I want to walk.”
“All right,” said Petrella. “Stand on your own feet. I’ve got a little tidying up to do here. Then we’ll all have a ride home in the car.” He found a piece of sacking and was rubbing it over a patch of something damp on the floor.
Blencowe pushed the Pole into a chair beside the fat man and had his hand on the telephone when both windows splintered at the same moment, and the shotguns opened up.
Two sawn-off shotguns, at close range, throw a lot of shot. Lampier had hurled himself flat on the floor under the window and was out of range. Blencowe was protected by the desk. Milo, who was opening the door to let Petrella in, collected half a dozen pellets in his right arm. Most of the rest of the contents of both barrels went into the Pole and the fat man and tore them into bloodstained pieces.
Over the shocking roar of the explosions they heard a car starting up.
“There’s not much doubt about it,” said Superintendent Watterson. “It was the Micks. They must have got wind of the fact that Augie shopped their brother and gone down there to even the score. I doubt if we shall be able to prove it. No one saw the car, and the guns will be in the river by now.”
“Do we want to prove it?” said Commander Ratto. He had taken over at District from Baylis, who had departed, unregretted, a month before. Watterson was finding him a distinct improvement. “I take it we’re not shedding many tears over those two beauties. I’m sorry Sergeant Roughead picked up some of the strays. What were our men doing down there, by the way?”
“Information received,” said Watterson cautiously. There had been elements in the story as reported to him which he had found puzzling. “They wanted to see what was in that safe. One of them went for a gun. Blencowe knocked him down and he hit his head a smack on the safe. Lucky not to fracture his skull. He was out cold during the whole episode. As soon as he’s out of hospital, we’ll be charging him with illegal possession of a firearm.”
“Right,” said Ratto. “Put Blencowe in for a commendation and I’ll back it. What about the stuff you found in the safe?”
“Some of it’s identifiable stolen property. The rest of it seems to be bits of jewellery and rings and watches. Mostly old and some of it foreign. I think we shall find it’s stuff that Volk extorted from his fellow countrymen. He wasn’t a very nice character.”
“He didn’t die a very nice death,” said Ratto. “Have you had the autopsy report yet?”
“I’ve got it here,” said Watterson. “Faulds did it for us. He’s something of an expert on wounds. He says that he’s always surprised at the damage a shotgun will do. Some of it looked like extensive burning and cutting.”
Ratto was reading the report. When he had finished he said, “Yes. I imagine you get all sorts of freak effects when a thing like that is loosed off at close quarters.”
“I imagine you do,” said Watterson.
There was something else to be said.
“About Petrella,” said Ratto. “I understand he’s given notice of resignation. Do you know why?”
“It’s his wife. She lost the child she was expecting. It upset her badly. Patrick wants to take her right away.”
“Surely we could organise that for him without losing him altogether? I haven’t seen a lot of him since I came over, but he struck me as a very good man. Too good to lose.”
“He’s one of the best officers I’ve ever had working for me,” said Watterson. “If things had gone differently, I’d have tipped him to end up as Assistant Commissioner.”
This was handsome of Watterson. His own promotion to Chief Superintendent had come through that morning and he was young enough to hope to climb to the top of the ladder himself.
“Do you think we can talk him out of it?” said Ratto. “I think so,” said Watterson. He added, after a pause, “I hope so.”
All Series titles can be read in order, or randomly as standalone novels
|1. Close Quarters || ||1947|
|2. They Never Looked Inside ||alt: He Didn’t Mind Danger ||1948|
|3. The Doors Open || ||1949|
|4. Smallbone Deceased || ||1950|
|5. Death has Deep Roots|| ||1951|
|6. Fear To Tread ||(in part)||1953|
|7. The Young Petrella ||(included) (short stories)||1988|
|8. The Man Who Hated Banks and Other Mysteries||(included) (short stories)||1997|
|1. Blood and Judgement || ||1959|
|2. Amateur in Violence||(included) (short stories)||1973|
|3. Petrella at Q ||(short stories)||1977|
|4. The Young Petrella ||(short stories)||1988|
|5. Roller Coaster || ||1993|
|6. The Man Who Hated Banks and Other Mysteries||(included) (short stories)||1997|
|1. Ring of Terror || ||1995|
|2. Into Battle || ||1997|
|3. Over and Out || ||1998|
Calder & Behrens
|1. Game Without Rules ||(short stories)||1967|
|2. Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens ||(short stories)||1982|
|1. Death in Captivity ||alt: The Danger Within||1952|
|2. Sky High ||alt: The Country House Burglar||1955|
|3. Be Shot for Sixpence || ||1956|
|4. After the Fine Weather || ||1963|
|5. The Crack in the Teacup || ||1966|
|6. The Dust and the Heat ||alt: Overdrive||1967|
|7. The Etruscan Net ||alt: The Family Tomb||1969|
|8. Stay of Execution and Other Stories||(short stories)||1971|
|9. The Body of a Girl || ||1972|
|10. The Ninety-Second Tiger || ||1973|
|11. Flash Point || ||1974|
|12. The Night of the Twelfth || ||1976|
|13. The Empty House || ||1979|
|14. The Killing of Katie Steelstock ||alt: Death of a Favourite Girl||1980|
|15. The Final Throw ||alt: End Game||1982|
|16. The Black Seraphim || ||1984|
|17. The Long Journey Home || ||1985|
|18. Trouble || ||1987|
|19. Paint, Gold, and Blood || ||1989|
|20. Anything for a Quiet Life ||(short stories)||1990|
|21. The Queen against Karl Mullen || ||1992|