Authors: John Creasey
The Toff and The Deadly Priest
First published in 1944
Copyright: John Creasey Literary Management Ltd.; House of Stratus 1944-2012
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
The right of John Creaseyto be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.
This edition published in 2012 by House of Stratus, an imprint of
Stratus Books Ltd., Lisandra House, Fore Street, Looe,
Cornwall, PL13 1AD, UK.
Typeset by House of Stratus.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library and the Library of Congress.
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|0755118553||Â ||Â ||9780755118557||Â ||Â ||Print|
|0755134931||Â ||Â ||9780755134939||Â ||Â ||Mobi|
|075513494X||Â ||Â ||9780755134946||Â ||Â ||Epub|
This is a fictional work and all characters are drawn from the author's imagination.
Any resemblance or similarities to persons either living or dead are entirely coincidental.
John Creasey â Master Storyteller - was born in Surrey, England in 1908 into a poor family in which there were nine children, John Creasey grew up to be a true master story teller and international sensation. His more than 600 crime, mystery and thriller titles have now sold 80 million copies in 25 languages. These include many popular series such as
Gideon of Scotland Yard, The Toff, Dr Palfrey and The Baron
Creasy wrote under many pseudonyms, explaining that booksellers had complained he totally dominated the 'C' section in stores. They included:
Gordon Ashe, M E Cooke, Norman Deane, Robert Caine Frazer, Patrick Gill, Michael Halliday, Charles Hogarth, Brian Hope, Colin Hughes, Kyle Hunt, Abel Mann, Peter Manton, J J Marric, Richard Martin, Rodney Mattheson, Anthony Morton and Jeremy York.
Never one to sit still, Creasey had a strong social conscience, and stood for Parliament several times, along with founding the
One Party Alliance
which promoted the idea of government by a coalition of the best minds from across the political spectrum.
He also founded the
British Crime Writers' Association
, which to this day celebrates outstanding crime writing.
The Mystery Writers of America
bestowed upon him the
for best novel and then in 1969 the ultimate
Grand Master Award
. John Creasey's stories are as compelling today as ever.
Jolly brought the caller's card into the bathroom, where Rollison was brushing his teeth. Nothing in Jolly's expression gave a clue to his thoughts, although he would have been justified in thinking that 11.15 pm was an unreasonable time for a stranger to pay an unexpected visit, even on a summer night.
Rollison glanced down, and read:
The Rev. Ronald Kemp.
St. Guy's Church, Whitechapel.
and then looked up into Jolly's eyes.
“Why?” he asked.
“Mr. Kemp would not explain the reason for his call, sir,” said Jolly. “He insisted that he is prepared to wait all night to see you, if needs be.”
The manservant looked as if he were fighting a losing battle with dyspepsia. His appearance often gave rise to the baseless accusation that the Toff â by which soubriquet the Hon. Richard Rollison was widely known â had dubbed his man Jolly, inspired by some whimsical fancy to give him a cheerful name to offset his gloomy expression.
“Is that all?” asked Rollison.
“If you are asking me to give you my impressions of Mr. Kemp,” said Jolly, cautiously, “I would say that he is in a state of great agitation. He is a large young man, sir.”
“We don't know him, do we?” asked Rollison.
“I haven't met him before,” said Jolly, “but when I was in the district a few weeks ago, I understood that a new curate had arrived at St Guy's. You may recall that the vicar, the Reverend Cartwright, is seriously ill, and that the curacy has been vacant for some time.”
“Yes,” said Rollison. “Kemp has certainly taken on a handful.”
“He looks as though he is beginning to realise it,” said Jolly.
Rollison smiled drily, but he was interested, and sent Jolly to tell the Rev. Kemp that he would see him soon.
He wore a silk dressing gown of duck-egg blue and maroon-coloured pyjamas and slippers; gifts from aunts. The sash about his waist emphasised his tall leanness, and the pale blue threw his dark hair and tanned face into relief. He started brushing his teeth again, needing a few minutes to refresh his memory about the parish of St. Guy. It was not a parish in which the Church was likely to thrive, although there were several mission houses and the Salvation Army Hostel had a large, if changing, list of clients. It was poor, even in these days when the workers were receiving more money than they had for a long time past, and âdock worker' was no longer synonymous with occasional work and long periods of enforced idleness. Its inhabitants, hardy, hard-swearing Cockneys with a sprinkling of Indians, Pakistanis, Chinamen, Jamaicans, Irish and various others, had taken the air raid blows sturdily, and aroused the admiration of the rest of the country.
The Vicar of St. Guy's was more than an estimable man; he was godly. His physical courage and endurance had been an inspiration to his neighbours, who could by no stretch of the imagination be called his flock. Yet St. Guy's, being one of the few churches remaining in the district, had a fair membership. Until Cartwright had worked himself to exhaustion, it had been a considerable power for good.
Rollison, being so fond of the East End and its people, greatly regretted Cartwright's illness. Now, it seemed, a youthful cleric had descended upon the parish and was in trouble; few people came to the Toff unless they wanted help.
He went into the small drawing room of the Gresham Terrace flat.
The Rev. Ronald Kemp jumped to his feet, and Rollison saw that Jolly had not exaggerated when he had called him massive. Kemp towered above the Toff, who was over six feet. He was a fair-haired, rugged-looking man, clad in a well-cut suit of pin-striped flannel and wearing a limp-looking clerical collar. Rollison judged him to be no more than twenty-three or four.
“Thanks for seeing me,” said Kemp in a powerful voice. “You're my last hope, Mr. Rollison.
you help me?”
“I might,” said Rollison, cautiously.
“For the love of Mike, don't put me off with pretty phrases,” boomed the curate. “If you're not prepared to help, say so.”
His fine, grey eyes, were stormy. He seemed to be fighting to keep a firm hold on himself, and his large hands were clenched. He looked at the Toff as if he were sure that his appeal would be turned down.
“It would be a help if I knew what you want me to do,” Rollison said mildly. “I can't commit myself in advance.”
“I didn't think it would be any use,” said Kemp, bitterly. “I never did believe in your reputation.”
“Don't talk like an ass!” said Rollison, sharply enough to startle Kemp into silence. He offered him a cigarette, and Kemp took one without shifting his gaze. They lit up, and Rollison turned to a corner-cupboard.
“Will you have a drink?”
“No, thanks,” said Kemp, and boomed out again: “It's really serious, Rollison.” Angrily he watched the Toff pouring out whisky and adding soda water.
“Sure you won't have one?” he asked.
“Well â yes, I will,” said Kemp. He stood with ill-concealed impatience while Rollison rang for Jolly and asked for ice. Rollison sipped the drink appreciatively, while Kemp swallowed half of his in a gulp, then spoke in a more composed voice.
“I'm sorry I let forth like that, but I'm worried stiff, and I
told you were the only man likely to help me.”
“Exactly what is the trouble?” asked the Toff.
“One of my church members has been charged with murder,” said Kemp, abruptly. “He was arrested a couple of hours ago. I couldn't make any impression on the police, they practically told me to mind my own business.”
“Either you met a poor policeman,” said Rollison, with a twinkle in his eye, “or else one who didn't like being told what a fool he was!”
Kemp coloured. “Perhaps I was a bit hot headed.”
“Who is the accused?” asked Rollison, tactfully.
“A man named Craik,” answered Kemp. “He's a damned good fellow, and I don't mind admitting that without him I would have been absolutely lost.” He smoothed down his short hair, and went on abruptly: “Craik was mixed up in a fight early this evening. One of the men was killed. He'd been stabbed. The police say that the knife was Craik's.”
“Was it?” inquired Rollison.
“I don't know, but if it was, it was stolen.”
“It might have been,” conceded Rollison. “Do you know what the fight was about?”
“As far as I can gather, there was a lot of foul talk going on, and some of the fellows baited Craik â apparently they didn't approve of me. I know he shouldn't have taken it so badly, but â well, I don't believe that he used a knife.”
“So Craik started the fighting,” remarked Rollison.
“I don't know about that. He answered them pretty stoutly, as far as I can gather, and before anyone knew where he was, the scuffle started. There are dozens of such brawls every night, and no one would have thought much about it, but for the â er â accident.”
Rollison regarded the young parson thoughtfully.
“I'll do what I can,” he said, cautiously, “but I must warn you, it's no use calling murder an accident, and no use whitewashing a man because you happen to like him. I don't say you're wrong, but you've got a tough crowd in your parish, and you'll find a streak of violence in unexpected people. Don't get this thing out of perspective. The English law has a curious habit of doing the right thing in the long run, too.”
Kemp spoke reluctantly.
“I suppose you're right, but â well, what with one thing and another, I feel pretty sore.” Rollison allowed that understatement to pass without comment. “You're serious?” added the curate, more eagerly. “You will try to help?”
“Yes,” promised Rollison.
“Good man! Iâ” Kemp looked embarrassed. “I'm afraid I was extremely rude just now.”
“Don't worry about that,” said Rollison. “Just what do you mean by âwhat with one thing and another'?”
Kemp shrugged his big shoulders.
“Don't get the idea that I'm complaining,” he said, “I knew that I was going into a pretty hot district. A friend in my previous church suggested it, and it rather attracted me. My father is an old friend of Mr. Cartwright, too. Since he's been ill, things have rather run to seed. I've been trying to get them going again, butâ” He drew a deep breath.
you see the sense in it?” he demanded helplessly.
“In what precisely?” asked Rollison, patiently.
“Breaking up meetings, pilfering from our reserve of old clothes â it seems as if there's someone in the district who wants to wreck everything we try to do.”
“I see,” said Rollison, and added unexpectedly: “The Devil works hard, doesn't he?”
Kemp looked startled. “I didn't expectâ” He broke off. When he coloured his fair skin was suffused and he looked like a boy.
“You didn't expect that kind of talk from me,” Rollison completed for him. “I don't see why not. Crime is evil, evil springs from somewhere, why not add the âD'? Where are you living?”
“I've converted a room at one of the mission halls,” answered Kemp. “Housing's still a problem near the docks, and I thought I'd be wise to try to manage on my own. Will you come with me?” he added, eagerly. “There are one or two people who saw the fight, and you might learn something from them.”
“I won't come with you,” said Rollison, “but I'll join you in about an hour's time. Which hall is it?”
“In Jupe Street. Oughtn't you to have a guide?”
Rollison chuckled. “I can find my way about! You get back, Kemp, and stop thinking that Craik is halfway to the gallows!”
He ushered the young parson out, and when the door closed turned to see Jolly approaching from his bedroom, where, doubtless, he had been listening.
“I've laid out your clothes, sir,” said Jolly. “A flannel suit will be all right, won't it?”
“Yes, thanks. What do you make of him?”
“I think he is in a somewhat chastened mood now, sir, and it should be beneficial,” said Jolly. “It is rather an intriguing story, isn't it?”
“Yes. Do you know Craik?”
“I seem to have heard the name,” said Jolly. “I think he owns a small general store near St. Guy's.”
“We'll know soon,” said Rollison. “Try to get Grice on the âphone, will you? If he's not at the Yard, try his home. Oh â find out first who arrested Craik.”
“Very good, sir,” said Jolly.
Superintendent Grice of Scotland Yard was neither at the Yard nor at his home â he was away for a few days, on a well-earned holiday. Det. Sergeant Bray of the Yard had detained Craik, and Inspector Chumley â an easy-going, genial individual from the AZ Division â had charged him.
“A curious mixture,” Rollison reflected, “Bray from the Yard doing work in the Division and handing it over to Chumley. Chumley's usually all right, although he's a bit of a smiler. I'll look in and see him after I've been to Jupe Street.”
“Will you want me, sir?” inquired Jolly.
“Come, if you feel like it,” said Rollison, “but I don't expect much tonight.”
They set out together, and were lucky in finding a taxi in Piccadilly, with a driver who put himself at their disposal for the night.
“I âope that's long enough, sir,” he said out of the darkness. “If it isn't, I'll pay you overtime,” promised Rollison, and was rewarded by gusty laughter and the comforting knowledge that he had put the man in a good humour.
Jolly opened the windows to admit a cool, welcome breeze. “I wonder how the bellicose curate is getting on?” said Rollison,
“Did you or did you not take to him, Jolly?”
“I did rather, sir, yes.”
“If you hadn't, you wouldn't have admitted him,” said Rollison. “But I doubt whether you could have kept him out. That young man is militant minded and he seems to be getting a raw deal.”
“I expect he has invited it,” murmured Jolly, primly. “I can't imagine the people near the docks taking kindly to being driven by a parson.”
“No. And he would try to drive,” mused Rollison. The journey took a little more than half-an-hour. On the last lap, Jolly had to direct the driver to Jupe Street, a narrow thoroughfare leading off Whitechapel Road. The Mission Hall was at the far end. They passed row upon row of mean houses and some bare patches, and did not see any light until the taxi stopped. Then a streak of light from an open door shone right across an alleyway.
“Tell âem to put that light aht,” growled the driver. Rollison and Jolly hurried down the alley to the door, and as they drew nearer, they caught sight of Kemp standing just inside the room.
Jolly stood outside the door as Rollison went in.
Kemp must have heard him, but did not turn round.
He was standing quite still, his chin thrust forward and his face set. He was looking at the wreckage of chairs and forms and benches, curtains and pictures. The hall was not a large one, and at the far end was a stage, with doors on either side; they were open and inside both rooms Rollison saw further upheaval. Whoever had been here had worked with frenzied malice. Most of the chairs were broken, the side walls had been daubed with white and brown paint, and on the wall behind the stage, written in badly formed letters in red paint, were the words:
Clear out, Kemp. We don't want yore kind ere.