Gangster’s Glory - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

Gangster’s Glory ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim



Detective Inspector John Dickins seated himself in silence. It was not the first of such conferences to which he had been summoned, but this time everyone knew that the situation was critical. He remained silent, waiting for his Chief to continue.

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SUBCOMMISSIONER Colonel Maurice Larwood was depressed, and with adequate reason. He made no attempt at spurious cheerfulness as he waved the official, for whom he had sent, to a chair.

“Sit down, Dickins,” he invited gloomily. “Time we had a few plain words together, I think.”

Detective Inspector John Dickins seated himself in silence. It was not the first of such conferences to which he had been summoned, but this time everyone knew that the situation was critical. He remained silent, waiting for his Chief to continue.

“Three years ago this month, Dickins,” the latter went on, “I had to send for your predecessor, Benskin. We were pretty well in the same trouble then. He made a great coup and we saved our bacon. To-day, things are worse. We’ve got to accomplish what I’ll admit seems almost impossible, or walk out.”

“Bad as that, is it, sir?”

The Subcommissioner was a man of reserved habits, who seldom swore. His departure from his usual custom on this occasion was significant.

“It’s damn well as bad as it can be,” he declared. “There’ve been half a dozen questions asked in Parliament, the Home Secretary’s had the Chief on the carpet–which hasn’t improved his temper, as you can guess–and the press are gibing at us every day.”

“That doesn’t do any good.”

“It does a great deal of harm,” the Subcommissioner agreed vehemently. “Makes the public uneasy, and it gives the men we can’t lay our hands upon confidence. It wasn’t your fault, of course, Dickins, that you were on leave when Martin’s Bank was sacked, and Peggy Scott’s jewels were stolen, and her maid strangled. I daresay it wouldn’t have made any difference if you’d been on the spot, but there the ugly fact remains. One show’s a month old, and the other three weeks; we haven’t made an arrest, and I can’t honestly tell the Chief that we have a line on any one…. I don’t want to discuss those two affairs particularly. Unfortunately, there are several others behind them which have never been cleared up. I want to speak of the situation generally. What are we up against, Dickins?”

“Got any theory yourself, sir?”

Larwood pushed the heavily-shaded electric lamp which stood on his table a little farther away and leaned back in his chair. Perhaps he was anxious to conceal, even from his trusted subordinate, the deeper lines which seemed to have stolen into his sensitive face during the last month, and the harassed droop of his mouth. For years Maurice Larwood had been considered the smartest and best-looking of the higher officials at the Yard. During the last few months, however, the anxiety had been too much for him, and he had perceptibly aged.

“Here’s a confession, Dickins. Every theory I’ve ever had has been upset. The only conclusion I can come to is that a different type of man is making a profession of crime.”

“That’s quite all right, so far as it goes, sir,” Dickins assented, “but there’s something more than that behind it all. I believe that the most agile brains in the criminal world have tumbled to the folly of the opposition gang system–one side giving the other away all the time. I believe they’ve sorted themselves out and come together. What we’re up against now is a criminal combine–the whole brains of the underworld pitted against ours.”

“Not a bad idea,” the Subcommissioner reflected. “Scotland Yard’s a combine, after all. Why attempt to fight us in sections? The idea’s all right.”

“I tell you where it seems to me that it works in their favour, too,” Dickins continued. “There’s no squealing. I needn’t remind you, Chief, that the majority of the criminals whom we bring to justice are there, if not through a downright squeal, by just a hint or a word from some unexpected place. We got a line on the Harwood affair, if you remember, entirely through an anonymous letter.”

The Subcommissioner nodded pensively.

“That’s quite true, Dickins,” lie acquiesced, “and when one comes to think of it, we’ve been short of that sort of information lately.”

“You can sec why, sir,” Dickins persisted. “The very fact of those whispers having ceased means discipline, and discipline is the result of combination.”

“It all sounds very probable as a theory,” the Subcommissioner sighed, “but it doesn’t help us very much, does it?”

“It helps us to understand the situation,” Dickins pointed out. “I’ll tell you a conclusion I’ve come to. There aren’t more than a dozen criminals in England, and one at present on the Atlantic, who count. I believe these particular men have been at the back of every one of these outrages which we can’t fathom, because they are working together as one society, and I believe that they have a trained band of gangsters under them. They are top dogs for the moment, sir, I’ll admit, but I’ll get them if you’ll have patience and let me work my own way. I’ll tell you how, too. I’ll get them through their one unconquerable weakness–Conceit.”

“Conceit?” Larwood echoed.

“With a capital ‘C,’ sir. It’s the same in the higher grade criminal as the lower, and as time goes on it develops–pride in his own exploits, an invincible desire to brag about what he has done, to match his accomplishments against those of his fellow criminals. It’s a form of individuality which will always prevent any great combination against us succeeding permanently. It’s hung more men than any other in the whole gamut of human weaknesses. In the end, I believe it will break up completely this dangerous crowd who, I’ll admit, have got the upper hand of us for the moment.”

“You know something?” the Subcommissioner almost spat out.

“What is the good of knowledge, of conviction if you like, without being able to obtain proof?” Dickins rejoined, with almost the first sign of feeling he had shown. “Yes, I know something. I believe I could tell you the headquarters of the very men we are up against, but I couldn’t bring any of them in. There isn’t one of them against whom we have a single thing.”

“Dickins, you’re talking like a man,” Larwood declared. “Get on with it.”

“What I want to do,” the detective explained, “is to think out some way of getting them all together. It’s no good taking one. The rest would all melt away, find another pal, and start again. Not only that, but I’ll have to get them after my own fashion. We can’t go on working as we have been. Our methods are too old-fashioned. The other side know every move we make. They’ve bluffed us long enough. We must try a bluff on them, and not an ordinary one either.”

The Subcommissioner was a changed man. The anxious lines which had saddened his face were smoothed out. His eyes were brilliant. He seemed to be looking into the promised land.

“You shall have a free hand, Dickins,” he agreed. “You shall go your own way. But tell me about this one man on the Atlantic. Do you mean Nick Conklin?”

“I know that he is due here to-morrow on the Majestic,” Dickins replied. “We can’t stop his landing. There’s not a thing against him that I know of.”

The Subcommissioner smiled. It might have been forgiven him if there was the slightest shade of condescension in his tone. It was so often that his subordinate held the trumps.

“I have later information,” he confided. “Conklin has changed his mind. Wisely too. He disembarked at Cherbourg. By this time he is on his way to Paris.”

Detective Dickins looked thoughtfully out of the fog-dimmed window.

“A pity!” he murmured. His Chief stared at him.

“Why on earth is it a pity?” he demanded.

“Aren’t our hands full enough as it is? Surely we don’t want another accomplished criminal working in our midst!”

Dickins sighed gently. He edged his chair a little closer to the table.

“Chief,” he asked, “when you were a lad, did you ever try to catch sparrows and stray birds under a sieve trap?”

“Of course I did,” the other admitted. “What properly brought up boy didn’t?”

Dickins leaned still further forward and his gesture was almost dramatic.

“You are well hidden behind the hedge,” he went on, “and you are holding the string attached to the piece of wood which supports the trap. The bait underneath is good soft bread-crumbs and a few pieces of raw meat which the cook has given you. The sparrows hop up nearer and nearer. At last they arc underneath. Your fingers are itching to pull the string, but still you pause. You shiver with excitement. With slow, ponderous hops, a fat starling approaches the rim of the sieve. You let the sparrows play. You let them even hop away with the bait. You want the starling. Nick of New York in my starling!”

A police commissioner in indoor uniform, entered the room, carrying a scrawled telephone message which he handed to Dickins.

“Excuse me, sir,” he begged the Subcommissioner, saluting. “This has just come over the line, urgent, for the inspector.”

The latter glanced it through and sprang to his feet.

“Report later if I may, sir,” he exclaimed. “There’s a job on I’ve been watching for up Roehampton Lane.”

Larwood nodded assent and his subordinate made a hasty exit.

*     *


The rain was falling gently when Dickins, in the plainly painted black car of familiar design, shot out of the Park and, with his badge freely displayed, dashed along towards Hammersmith. The traffic was held up for him on the bridge and he slackened speed only when he reached the far end of Roehampton Lane. Eagerly, and with the same purpose in view, Dickins and his policeman chauffeur both leaned forward, gazing at the bleak-looking residence standing a little way back from the road. There were few lights in the windows and, considering the early hour in the evening, the two men seemed surrounded by an impressive silence. Little wisps of fog drifted by. The rain dripped from the leaves of the trees and shrubs. Just as the car was brought to a standstill, a muffled report came from behind one of the screened windows of the house.

“They’re at it, sir!” the chauffeur exclaimed eagerly. “Shall I drive right up? The gates are wide open.”

Dickins sprang lightly from the car and beckoned his companion to follow him.

“We’d have gone up if the gates had been closed,” he muttered. “Seems to me as though they’d left them open for their get-away. We’re too late for the scrap, in any case. Listen!”

There was another report and then silence. Dickins looked around searchingly.

“They have a car hidden somewhere here,” he whispered. “Get your gun out, Burdctt, and crawl after me.”

Dickins’ surmise was correct. They had gone scarcely half a dozen yards when they came upon a small coupé drawn up by the side of the avenue in the shadow of a great elm tree, its bonnet facing towards the gate. There were no lights shining and even the outline of the vehicle was undistinguishable until they had almost blundered into it. Dickins opened the door carefully. The interior was empty. He flashed an electric torch upon the name plate and smiled to himself.

“I’m looking after the occupant of this car,” he told his companion. “You get up to the house in case you’re wanted. If you meet anyone coming down, keep out of sight if you can.”

The man started off, running on the narrow grass edge underneath the trees and shrubs. Dickins stood with his eyes fixed upon the house. Suddenly the front door was opened, letting out a blaze of light, and, for a single second, the slight figure which leaped into the darkness was intensely visible, like a shadow picture thrown onto a screen. Then there was darkness again, the more complete because of the faster-falling rain. Dickins crouched back behind the car, into the obscurity of the dripping trees, and waited. His head was a little thrust forward, his nostrils dilated with the effort of listening. Presently came the sound which he was expecting–the sound of flying footsteps drawing nearer and nearer. The waiting man made no movement, only his limbs became a little more tense. The figure came panting to the side of the car, tore open the door, and flung into the space at the back of the driver’s seat the attaché case she had been carrying. She flashed on the lights and pressed the starting button. Dickins’ entrance from the other side had been so noiseless that she was unaware of his presence until she heard him subside into the place by her side. A half-stifled scream escaped her.

“Who are you?” she demanded breathlessly. “How dare you get into my car?”

He caught a glimpse of her face, white and terrified, under her closely fitting black beret, the large eyes flaming, the lips parted and quivering. The engine was started, but her right hand had left the gear handle. He leaned over and caught her wrist. Quick though he was, he was only just in time. The tiny but ugly-looking weapon upon which her fingers had already closed was lying on the rug between them. He kicked it towards himself and, picking it up, slipped it into his pocket.

“Rather a desperate young woman, aren’t you?” he remarked,

“I carry a pistol to defend myself against such people as you,” she said coldly. “What are you doing here, forcing your way into my car?”

He caught her sideways glance, her face dimly lit by the small electric bulb on the dashboard–a glance of almost venomous hatred. Up at the house, lights were now showing from every window.

“There has been a burglary, perhaps worse,” he said, moving his head backwards. “I came down to enquire into it.”

“You’re a policeman then?” she scoffed.

“Precisely, and seeing you arrive from the house in considerable haste, and carrying that bag which yon have just thrown behind your seat, it becomes my duty to ask you a few questions.”

“A safer job than going on up to the house,” she retorted, with the same look of scorn shining in her eyes. “There might have been men to be dealt with there.”

“Exactly,” he agreed. “I always choose the safer places when I can. Supposing we start?”

“Am I under arrest?” she demanded.

“Unofficially,” he assented.

“Where do I drive to?”

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