Authors: Edward Taylor
‘The shadow of treason creeps across this land,
Like some foul mist, corrupting many a man,
And bringing murder, lust, and treacherye….’
The Wanton Nobleman
, circa 1580
Shadow of Treason
is a work of fiction â¦ I think. All the
in the story are certainly fictitious.
ITH GREAT CARE
Jefferson laid the sticky paper against the window pane, smoothed it flat, then hit it with the small jemmy he’d carried in his pocket.
Removing the paper with the broken glass attached was an intricate job. Jefferson took his time. He knew the floor inside was carpeted but glass falling outside on the concrete would be heard half a mile away. The night was still and there was no sound, except an occasional hoot from the neighbourhood owl and the spasmodic moan of foghorns on the estuary. Over the water a night mist was beginning to thicken.
When he’d made a big enough hole in the pane, Jefferson reached inside with his gloved hand. He knew where the catches were, and he opened the lower one easily. For the upper one he had to stretch, and a shard of glass fell quietly inwards.
He pulled the window open, hoisted himself onto the ledge, gently moved the blackout curtains apart, and climbed inside. In the darkness he stumbled against a chair, but he caught it before it toppled over and the noise was minimal.
Carefully, Jefferson eased the curtains together again. In the autumn of 1944, few German aircraft flew over Britain: at least, few that carried human beings, who might see lights on the ground below. Nevertheless, blackout curtains or blackened windows were still required by law. And ARP wardens continued to regard any chink of light as high treason. The curtains drawn, Jefferson switched on his powerful torch and crossed the room to the big desk. There he hesitated a moment before deciding to turn on the reading lamp.
The right side of the desk housed a stack of drawers. These were locked, of course, but yielded swiftly to his jemmy. In the bottom drawer was a metal cash box. Jefferson forced it open, scooped up a bunch of pound notes and a handful of coins, and put them in his trouser pocket. This had to look like a routine burglary.
The drawer above held a stopwatch and a number of papers, which Jefferson skimmed through swiftly but carefully. It was routine stuff: reports, accounts, a training manual and some local maps, plus other odds and ends. And then, underneath all that, he found something else: a blue notebook, its pages full of careful handwriting. A brief scrutiny under the lamp told him it was important, and he slid it into the deep pocket of his duffle coat.
He was moving on to search the next drawer up, when his luck ran out, and events moved too quickly for him.
If he’d had five seconds’ warning, he’d have been across the room and out through the window. But it took only an instant for the key to turn, the door to open, and the overhead light to go on.
Three men came in, two young and well built,
, one with wild fair hair and a scar on his face that might have come from a razor-slash, the other dark, with a moustache. The third man was smaller and older, but hard. It was he who spoke.
‘Nixon! What the hell are you doing in here?’
For a moment, Jefferson thought of saying he was retrieving something he’d forgotten. But standing there holding a torch and a jemmy, with all the desk drawers open, excuses seemed futile.
‘I’m sorry, sir,’ he said. ‘I’m short of money. I knew there was cash in the desk. I’m sorry. I’ll put it back.’
The short man stared at him with contemptuous disbelief.
‘You bloody liar!’ he said. ‘Come away from there!’
Jefferson moved away, in the direction of the window. The short man went to the desk and began checking the drawers.
Then he looked angrily at Jefferson. ‘You’ve taken a notebook!’ he said.
‘Notebook? Why should I take a notebook?’
The short man spoke to his henchmen. ‘He’s got it. And he knows what it is. Take him!’
The blond man’s hand was coming out of his pocket, carrying something hard. But Jefferson already had his torch in his fist. He slammed it into the man’s face and pushed him against the dark man, who was advancing. Then he took three swift paces, wrenched the curtains aside, and dived out through the open window.
The blond man, dazed, lumbered out after him, cutting his hand on jagged glass as he went. The dark man was about to follow but the boss stopped him.
‘No! There’s only one way he can get out of the playground! You go through the front door and cut him off!’ Then he picked up the phone and dialled a single digit. ‘Emergency! There’s an intruder escaping through the playground! Make sure he doesn’t get out on the sea side! But no shooting!’
Jefferson turned the corner swiftly and silently, mentally cursing the full moon that lit up the scene. He’d dealt with the blond man who’d followed him through the window, felling him as he landed, before he’d got his balance. But he knew there were at least three others after him. He’d got out of the
before the dark man could intercept, but the man had seen him and was not far behind.
Jefferson had turned left towards the sea, but then he’d noticed the two figures waiting. He’d known at once that they weren’t out for an evening stroll, and he’d turned about just in time. But the men had seen him and joined the pursuit.
He’d given them the slip briefly by vaulting a garden wall and then quickly jumping out the other side before they could see him do so. He’d gained a few yards while they looked in the garden. But now they were after him again, and not far behind. There was no shouting; they were very professional.
But Jefferson could hear quiet, urgent voices and crisp
Now came the shock. He was already well into the quiet little road when he saw the sign ‘Leigh Gardens. Cul-de-sac’. He thought of turning back. But the road he’d left had no trees and no cover. With that moon, they’d see him like a bomber caught in a searchlight. He’d have to press on, and hope to take his chance through a front garden and down a side passage.
He began to feel the odds were against him: it would not be a good idea to be caught carrying the notebook. He saw a pillar box ahead, and remembered an envelope in his pocket: today’s post, picked up in haste earlier. It was an advertising circular, but the packet-sized envelope bore his name and address. He slipped the notebook in, beside the circular. His mouth was dry, but he found just enough saliva to moisten the flap and stick it down. Then he darted to the pillar box and posted the package, before hurrying back into the shadows.
His pursuers were turning into Leigh Gardens: they’d guessed the way he had to go, and they knew it was a
. He could see three of them. One began moving slowly down his side of the road, looking carefully about him. A second did the same on the other side. The third stayed at the entrance to the road, cutting off his escape.
Jefferson was creeping past a large detached house, set back from the road; and at the side of the building he could see a wooden door, which should lead to a passage and a back garden. It seemed the best option, so he stepped quietly over the low front wall and swiftly and silently crossed the lawn.
As he reached the side door and raised the latch, Jefferson was praying to a God he’d never believed in. Not surprisingly, his prayers were unanswered. The gate was locked. Jefferson thought briefly of using his jemmy, but then he realized that the noise could betray him. Besides, the door was bathed in
. The only course now was to hide, and he squeezed himself into the loose hedge that ran alongside the garden wall.
It was poor cover. The foliage stopped six inches from the
ground, leaving his feet exposed, and he was glad he was wearing dark shoes and trousers. Luckily, the hedge was shaded by trees. He had a chance.
The man searching his side of the road was halting in front of each house to peer into the front garden. In the blackout, of course, he couldn’t use a torch without attracting attention, but he stayed long enough to scan each area thoroughly in the moonlight. Within moments he reached the garden where Jefferson was hiding, and his eyes raked the scene.
Jefferson held his breath and stayed very still. The suspense and the silence were almost tangible. But at last it seemed that the hunter had failed to see his prey and was about to walk on.
Then the silence was broken by a violent flutter of wings, and a small agonized squeaking. A mouse had tried to cross the lawn, close to where Jefferson was crouching, and the neighbourhood owl had pounced. The sound caused the man to stop and stare at the source of the noise, and this time he saw the feet.
His reaction was cool and efficient. There was no
, just a low whistle, which brought the man’s two companions to his side, and told Jefferson that the chase was over. Now there was nowhere to run, and Jefferson could only curse his luck. The office should have been empty tonight.
He straightened up and prepared to confront the men who were crossing the grass. He managed to land a punch on one of them but then a fierce blow with an iron bar cracked his skull. After that, he didn’t feel any of the other blows that
Back in his tree, the neighbourhood owl swallowed the last of his mouse and began looking round for new victims.
EVERAL PEOPLE FROM
the Cavendish boarding house attended the inquest: Adam Webber, Jane Hart, Maurice Cooper and, of course, Emily Hart, the owner. She was a key witness, and wore her best hat.
She told the coroner that Mark Jefferson had been staying at the Cavendish for ten weeks, that he seemed a decent young man, though he didn’t keep regular hours, and that he’d described himself as a freelance journalist. He’d paid his rent regularly and didn’t appear to be short of money. She confirmed that she’d reported him missing when he’d been absent from the Cavendish for twenty-four hours. She’d done so at the
of her daughter, who was friendly with Jefferson and had been expecting to meet him.
It was as a result of Mrs Hart’s report that the police had been able to identify the body found on the main Fleet Road. A police doctor told the coroner that the corpse had multiple injuries, consistent with having been hit by a heavy vehicle. He added that there were tyre marks on the body, and that there was whisky in the dead man’s throat and gullet. A police inspector said that the vehicle involved had not yet been traced. Enquiries were continuing.
No next of kin had been found, and local people knew little about Jefferson. He’d joined the Home Guard on his arrival in the district, and the local commander, Captain Brigden, was called to give evidence. He confirmed that Jefferson had spent two evenings a week training with his unit, but said he’d not been there on the
night of the accident. Brigden described him as a loner, and said he often had whisky on his breath, though he’d never actually been drunk on duty. He’d learned little of Jefferson’s background, except that he said he’d been a merchant seaman, and that this had exempted him from call-up for military service.
It was no surprise when the coroner brought in a verdict of manslaughter by a person or persons unknown. He added that everyone should be aware of the dangers of excessive alcohol, especially before going out in the blackout.
All those leaving the inquest wore suitably sad faces. But perhaps the only one truly grieving was Jane Hart. She’d grown genuinely fond of Jefferson during his stay at the Cavendish. She missed him and she was in sombre mood as she emerged into the street. Adam Webber hurried to catch up with her.
‘A sad business,’ he said, walking along beside her.
‘Very sad,’ said Jane. ‘And very odd, too. They didn’t make much effort to get to the bottom of it, did they?’
‘Well, if he was hit by a truck, I suppose there’s not much more to be said.’
‘I think there was. Anyway, he was a decent bloke, and they wrote him off in an hour. As if no one cared.’
‘You were quite close, weren’t you?’
‘Yes, we were. I liked him.’
‘D’you fancy a cup of coffee? It’ll be a bit bleak back at the Cavendish.’
Adam had been staying there for six weeks, and normally found it quite congenial. But, after a brief hubbub of excitement following the accident, the place had been gloomy.
Jane brightened. ‘Yes. Thanks. Good idea.’
From Adam’s point of view, Jane Hart was the best thing about the Cavendish. Understandably serious since Jefferson’s death, she was usually a lively, bubbly, young woman. They’d exchanged friendly words, on the stairs or in the breakfast room. And, like all the other male guests, Adam found the landlady’s daughter extremely attractive. But she’d had eyes only for Jefferson.
Jane was something of a local celebrity because she was a dancer at the famous Windmill – the little theatre in London’s West End, which had stayed open throughout the Blitz, bringing feminine glamour to tired businessmen and war-weary troops. The place was unique, providing non-stop performances from 1 till 10.30 every day. This was achieved by two different
doing the same show on alternate days. Jane’s job was the first thing Adam had heard about her: news imparted by a fellow guest with a grin and a wink. Now Adam smiled at her across a cafe table, with a red-and-white chequered tablecloth, on which stood two cups of coffee and a plate of biscuits.
‘You weren’t working today?’ he asked.
‘I should have been. But I swapped with a girl from the other company so I could come to the inquest.’
‘Oh, you can do that?’
‘Not usually. It needs to be something special. I told Mr Van Damm I had to be here to give evidence.’
‘Why did you say the inquest was odd?’
‘All sorts of reasons. No one wanted to query anything. That Home Guard chap, for a start.’
‘Home Guard chap?’
‘The local commanding officer, Captain Whatshisname. He was talking nonsense, but no one challenged him.’
‘What was there to challenge?’
‘He said Mark was a heavy drinker. Often had whisky on his breath. In fact, Mark didn’t drink much. And, when he did, it was beer not whisky. A half of bitter at the pub.’
‘Maybe he didn’t want you to know he had a taste for the hard stuff.’
‘I don’t believe that. And what was he doing on foot out on the Fleet Road, in the middle of the night?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t know anything about him really. What was his job? Why was he here?’
‘Like Mum said, he told us he was a writer. On my days off we went to the pub or the pictures. Or just for a walk by the river.’
‘He always had plenty of free time then?’
‘Not always. He never missed Home Guard duty.’
‘Funny that. You wouldn’t think they’d have much to do these days.’
‘I mean, they were formed in 1940, weren’t they? When it looked like the Nazis were going to invade us.’
‘I suppose so. I don’t remember the date.’
‘Start of the war. The German army was just across the Channel. The Home Guard had to be ready, in case they decided to come over here. But Hitler’s not going to invade now, is he? He’s on the run.’
‘That doesn’t discourage the Home Guard. They still turn out, to do their drill and bang away on the firing range. Mark took it quite seriously.’
‘What else did he do?’
‘Well, he was writing a series of articles about the Thames in wartime. Sometimes he had to go and talk to people about that.’
‘Strange no one mentioned that at the inquest.’
‘Yes. That’s what I mean. They hadn’t tried to find out anything about his life. And how was it no one found any next of kin? I mean, everyone has a mum and dad, don’t they?’
‘Well, they do to start with. But they don’t always keep in touch. Did Mark ever mention his family? Did he tell you anything about his life?’
‘Not much. He said he came from up north, but he didn’t have an accent, did he? He’d lost touch with his parents, like you said can happen. It seems he didn’t get on with his dad. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Someone should have found them.’
‘Captain Brigden said Mark had been discharged from the merchant navy. Did he ever mention that?’
‘Yes. Sometimes we’d hear people making snide remarks about him not being in the Forces. In the pub and so on. Then he’d start talking about being chucked off the boats on medical grounds. Something to do with his heart.’
‘His heart? Really?’
Jane smiled. ‘I expect you get that problem, don’t you, being in civvies? Busybodies asking why you’re not in uniform?’
‘Yes, of course. And you’re wondering the same thing.’
‘Well … Since you mention it….’
‘All right, I’ll tell you. More coffee?’
‘Are you having another one?’
‘Yes, I think I will. It’s not brilliant, but it’s better than the stuff at—’ Adam suddenly remembered who he was talking to. Jane laughed, for the first time in weeks. ‘At the Cavendish, right? It’s OK, Mum wouldn’t disagree. Caterers are rationed like everyone else, you know. A boarding house gets less coffee than a cafe does. Mum has to make a little go a long way.’
‘She’s a nice lady.’
‘Of course she is, she’s my mum. You don’t want to get the wrong side of her, though. She can be tough when she wants to be. Anyway, yes, I will have another coffee, please.’
Adam looked round for the waitress. And, as he did so, he was aware of a sudden movement at the next table. A
man in a dark suit was sitting there, with a tightly-rolled umbrella hooked over a spare chair. As Adam turned, he’d hastily raised his newspaper, and was now studying it intently. It didn’t seem important at the time. The coffee ordered, Adam looked back at Jane. ‘I’ve been asking all the questions. I guess it’s time I did some answering.’
Jane recalled the phrase she’d heard so often in police dramas on the radio and in films. ‘You don’t have to say anything that could be used in evidence against you.’
‘I’m afraid I’ve nothing to hide. I’m rather boring really. The reason I’m not in the army is I’m in a reserved occupation. They think I’m more useful doing my normal job than marching round a barrack square.’
‘Gosh. So what’s your job then?’
‘I’m a marine scientist. Working at the Marine Research Centre at Southend.’
‘Marine research! Does that help the war effort?’
‘They hope so. We study the effect of salt on different metals … ways of converting sea water for drinking … all sorts of things.’
‘You’re a boffin!’
‘A very junior one. I only finished college this year.’
‘So where’s your home?’
‘I haven’t got one at present. I was brought up in Bristol, but my parents sold the house and moved to Canada at the start of the war.’
‘Canada? They’ll be all right over there.’
‘That was the idea. My stepmother has trouble with her nerves, and Dad wanted to get her away from the bombing. He has a brother in Toronto.’
‘Well, well. You’re another loner, like Mark.’
‘I suppose you could say that. In a boarding house you
get quite a lot of loners.’
‘Yes, we’ve had a few. Some nice, some not so nice. We’ve got a pretty poisonous one at the moment.’
‘You must be thinking of Maurice Cooper.’
‘How did you guess?’
‘He’s not very pleasant, is he? Always finds something to complain about. And he should change his socks more often.’
‘He gives me the creeps. He keeps leering at me, and trying to get his hands on my body. Just because I’m a dancer, he thinks I’m fair game.’
‘I believe he fancies himself as a bit of a Casanova.’
‘God help us! He’s revolting! And he’s old enough to be my dad. Thank heavens he isn’t!’
‘He’s too old for the call-up, of course. Commercial traveller, isn’t he?’
‘Yes, he goes round all the shops in Essex.’
‘What’s he flogging?’
‘Household goods, he says. But I bet he does black market stuff as well.’
‘Black market’ meant illicit goods, illegally acquired, often by
theft and violence, and sold at inflated prices. German attacks on British shipping had created shortages. Essentials like food, clothing and petrol were safeguarded by rationing. Luxuries like spirits, tobacco, and nylon stockings became rare. This was where black marketeers made their money.
‘Well,’ said Adam, ‘I must say he looks slimy enough.’
Jane was contemptuous. ‘Slimy’s the word,’ she agreed. ‘He’s always hinting that he can get me nylons if I’m nice to him. Eugh! Fat chance!’
‘Look, if he gives you any trouble, let me know. I’ll deal with him.’
‘Thanks. But I can usually cope with creeps like that. I’ve had practice.’
The coffee arrived, and Jane changed the subject.
‘Adam … is it all right if I call you Adam?’
‘Adam, there is something I’d like your help with.’
‘Then you’ll have it.’
‘Mark’s stuff is still in his room. The police wouldn’t allow anything to be touched until after the inquest. But now Mum needs to let the room. So someone has to clear it out.’
‘And, because you were his friend, she thinks it’s a job for you.’
‘Right. And I don’t fancy doing it on my own.’
‘That’s understandable. I’ll be glad to help.’
‘Oh, thanks! That’s a great relief. Mark didn’t have many belongings. There’s a few spare clothes and things that can go to the Salvation Army. But we’ll have to go through the pockets. And there are a few personal bits and pieces we’ll have to think about.’
‘Don’t worry. We’ll sort it out.’
‘It won’t be so depressing with two of us. Oh, and there are some bits of post that arrived since Mark’s death. We’ll have to go through those.’
‘Yes, I saw some stuff for him in the hall.’
‘I put it in his room for safety. The thing is, Mum wants the
place cleared by the end of the week. But I can’t do tomorrow, I’m at the theatre.’
‘And I can’t do Thursday or Friday – we’ve got a major experiment on. Look, I’m off to work now, but I’ll be back at the Cavendish by nine. We can make a start this evening, if you like. If we reach some decisions, I can take things to the Sally Army in Southend tomorrow.’
‘Right. That’s really good of you, Adam. I’ll be waiting in the lounge at nine o’clock. Gosh, you’ve really cheered me up.’
Adam called for the bill. This time there was no movement from the man with the newspaper. He was totally absorbed in his reading.
Emily Hart hadn’t intended to be a businesswoman. As a child, she’d hoped for a theatrical career. There’d been singing and dancing lessons, and bits in school plays and concerts. She’d even appeared briefly on the professional stage, as one of the fairies in
Where the Rainbow Ends
, a Christmas attraction at a theatre near her London home. But family money was tight and, when no further offers came along, she’d had to settle for an office job.
Then came marriage, the birth of her daughter, and the move to a semi-detached house in Essex, thought to be a healthier environment for Jane to grow up in. After a few years her husband Fred tired of commuting to London to work every day, and they took out another mortgage, bought the adjoining house, built an extension, and converted the whole into the Cavendish. Fred and Emily were hard workers, and the
prospered. By the time Fred died, in 1938, the mortgages were paid off, and Emily had some staff to help her.