The Flying Squad - Edgar Wallace - ebook

The Flying Squad ebook

Edgar Wallace

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Opis

The creek between the canal and the river flows under Lady’s Stairs, a crazy wooden house inhabited by Li Yoseph – known to the police as a smuggler. The neighborhood suspects he is rich, and knows he is mad. Inspector Bradley is out to break a drug-smuggling gang which operates from an old house overhanging the Thames; the gang is headed by a criminal called Mark McGill. The disappearance of young Ron Perryman – whom McGill has murdered and dumped in the river – gives the Inspector his ideal opportunity to begin asking questions... Edgar Wallace established his reputation as a writer of detective thrillers, a genre in which he wrote more than 170 books, with the publication of „The Four Just Men”.

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Liczba stron: 391

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Contents

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 24

CHAPTER 25

CHAPTER 26

CHAPTER 27

CHAPTER 1

Lady’s Stairs was a crazy wooden house overlooking and overhanging the creek between canal and river. You saw it from the lock that marked the place where canal ended and the broad, muddy estuary began, a sagging barn of a place, supported on huge wooden piles, with a dingy facade which had once been painted white, and then not painted again. It was streaked and blurred by nature to strange neutral shades that would have rendered it invisible but for the fact that it was wedged between a high warehouse on the one side and the barrel-roof of an ironworks on the other. Beneath the main rooms the creek ran, rising to within a few feet of Li Yoseph’s sitting-room in flood-time.

Lady’s Stairs, whence it took its name, has vanished. Once this dark and oily waste had been a pleasant backwater to the Thames, and there was still evidence of its one-time pastoral character. Stock Gardens was a slum that ran parallel with the canal; Lavender Lane and Lordhouse Road were no less unsavoury; and where the tenements raised their ugly heads, and the squeals of playing children sounded night and day, was still called The Meadows.

Li Yoseph used to sit in his little room and watch the colliers tie up at Brands Wharf at high tide, and see the barges towed slowly towards the lock. He found cause for satisfaction that, by craning his neck through the window, he could also see the big Dutch steamers that went down Thames River to the sea.

The police had nothing against Li Yoseph. They knew him to be a fence and a smuggler, but they had no positive evidence, and did not expect to find more on this fatal visit of theirs than they had upon previous visits.

All the neighbourhood thought Li was rich, and knew for certain that he was mad.

He had a habit of holding lengthy conversations with invisible friends. As he shuffled through the streets, a strange-looking creature with his big yellow face as hairless as a child’s, yet wrinkled and creased into a thousand criss-crossing lines, he would be talking and gesticulating and smiling dreadfully to his unseen companions. Mostly he spoke in a foreign language which was believed to be German, but was in fact Russian. He confessed to an acquaintance with fairies–good fairies and bad; he saw and conversed with dead men, who told him the strangest tales of unknown worlds. And he was a seer, for he foresaw the future surprisingly.

He was walking about the sloping floor of his room overlooking the creek, mumbling and muttering to himself. It was a strangely lofty room, and in the light of three candles, which served to accentuate the darkness of the apartment, was a place of terrifying shadows. The walls, which had once been lime-washed, were streaked yellow and green, and in wet weather the roof leaked, and little streams of moisture appeared on the walls. This was his living-room–he slept in a big cupboard, which had only this advantage, that it was in the one part of the house that was over dry land.

But the bigger apartment was office, store and recreation-room. Here he interviewed Dutch, German and French sailors who came rowing softly up the creek at high tide, and, steering their little boats through a maze of green piles that held up the overhanging out-thrust of the house, moored at last at the foot of the crazy ladder, down which the old man would climb and chaffer for certain articles they brought to him.

It was quite dark beneath the house, even in the daytime the forest of props and piles letting in the faintest twilight. Only at certain times could these water-borne negotiators come, for when the tide dropped there was nothing below but mud, the depth of two men–thick, watery mud, that moved all the while in great unease as though beneath its blanket some silurian monster was turning in his sleep.

Old Li always had a boat tied up here, fitted with a little motor which he had learned to work. In this he made infrequent excursions on to the river itself. He was contemplating some such trip that night; twice he had rolled up the discoloured square of carpet, pulled open the trap-door which the carpet covered, and, grunting and muttering, had gone down the rungs of the ladder, depositing something in the boat, which lay on its side in the mud. At last his work was finished, and he could devote his time to the shadowy host which peopled the room.

He talked to them, always in Russian, joked with them, rubbed his hands and chuckled at the amazing wit of their repartee. They had been whispering a thing all day–to a normal man a dreadful thing that would have made him cringe in fear. But for once Li did not believe the ghosts.

A bell clanged, and he shuffled out of the room, down the steep stairs, to a little side door.

“Who is it?” he asked.

He heard the low reply, and turned the key.

“You have come early or late–I don’t know which.” Li had a deep, husky voice, with only a trace of a foreign accent.

Closing and locking the door behind him, he followed his visitor up the stairs.

“Here there is no time,” he chuckled hoarsely. “Days or nights, I do not know them. There is high tide, when I must make business very quickly, and low tide, when I may sit and talk to my beautiful little friends.” He kissed his hand to a dark corner, and Mark McGill snarled round on him.

“Cut that out–you and your damned ghosts! His sister’s coming here to-night.”

“His?”

The yellow-faced man peered at him. “Ronnie Perryman’s–she’s come over from Paris.” Li Yoseph gaped at the visitor, but asked no questions of the big man.

There was something about Mark McGill that inhibited a request for confidence. He was a commanding man, broad of shoulder. His coarse features had a certain handsomeness; yet the terror he inspired in his many subordinates had its origin less in its patent strength or the brutality of his big hands than in a pair of the palest blue eyes that aver stared from the face of man.

He rolled his half-smoked cigar from one corner of his mouth to the other, walked into the recess where Li had his bed, and eyed the darkening waters thoughtfully,

“High tide in an hour.” He was speaking half to himself.

Li Yoseph, watching him as a cat would a mouse, saw him lift a violin from the bed.

“Been playing your fiddle all day, I’ll bet–have the police been here again?” The Jew shook his head.

“No more questions about Ronnie? Well, she’ll ask you some. I tried to keep her away. You know what you’re going to tell her, don’t you?”

A pause; slowly he nodded.

“He was kilt–by the p’lice. They caught him in a boat wit’ something he find in the ship. So they say ‘where you get this?’ an’ they beat him so he fell in the river and died”

“Good for you.” Mark bent his head and listened. “That’s Tiser and the girl–bring ‘em up.”

Li went noiselessly down the stairs. He came back, leading the way; Tiser followed–a twittering, nervous man with a big-toothed smile. His brow was perennially moist, his shining black hat and neat black tie added to his repulsiveness. Ann Perryman disliked him from the moment she saw him at the station–a clammy man, whose everlasting smile was an offence.

She came slowly into the room, paused for a second, and in that period of time took in, without perceptible emotion, the squalor of the place in which she found herself. Her eyes rested for the space of a few seconds upon Mark, and he grew strangely uncomfortable under her scrutiny.

She was a straight, neat figure of a girl. In some lights her hair was a deep gold, in others you saw a reddish tinge that almost changed her appearance. She had a high, wide forehead from which the hair was brushed back, and that gave her a certain old-fashionedness. She was straight- backed, held herself rather stiffly, and conveyed by this very poise her aloofness. She was not easily approached; men found her rather coldly austere, and said she was deficient in humour because she could not appreciate theirs. Her grey eyes, set wide apart, could be very hard. Ronnie had known how soft they could be, but Ronnie was dead and no other man had seen love shining there.

Ann Perryman had the stuff of martyrs in her; intellectually and spiritually she was made for grand experiences. Her will was inflexible, her courage sublime.

So this was Ann Perryman! He had never seen her before, and was struck dumb by her unexpected loveliness.

She put out a cold hand and he took it, held it for a second and then released his grip. He hardly knew where to begin.

“Tiser has told you, of course?”

She nodded gravely.

“I saw the account a fortnight ago. I am teaching in a school in Paris, and one has the English papers. But I didn’t know that”–she hesitated–”Ronnie went under an assumed name.”

She said this in a quiet, even, conversational tone.

“I might have told you before,” said Mark, “but I thought I would wait till everything was over before I broke the news.”

There was so much sympathy in his voice that Mr. Tiser, whose restless eyes had been roving the apartment, brought them back to his confederate with a stare of genuine amazement. Mark was really wonderful!

“It was rather a difficult situation,” Mark went on in the low, strained voice of one who is telling an unpleasant story. “You see, if Ronnie was breaking the law, so was I. One naturally hesitates to incriminate oneself.”

She inclined her head at this.

“Of course, I know Ronnie wasn’t–” She hesitated. “He has been rather unfortunate all his life, poor darling! Where was he found?”

Mark pointed towards the creek.

“I’m going to be frank with you. Miss Perryman. Your poor brother and I were smugglers. I suppose it’s very reprehensible, and I’m not excusing myself: I’m being perfectly candid with you. The police were keen to trap us, and I think they regarded Ronnie as rather a weak vessel, and I happen to know that they had made several overtures to him–they hoped to induce him to betray the organisation. That sounds highly melodramatic, but it is the truth.”

She looked from him to Tiser. The old Jew had crept behind the curtains of his recess.

“Mr. Tiser has told me that the police murdered Ronnie–it is incredible!”

Mark shrugged his shoulders.

“There’s nothing incredible about the London police,” he said dryly. “I don’t say they intended killing him, but they certainly beat him up. They must have caught him coming back in a boat from one of the ships that bring the contraband to us, and either he got a blow that knocked him overboard or else he was deliberately thrown into the water when they found how badly they had injured him.”

She nodded again.

“Inspector Bradley?” she asked.

“That’s the man. He always hated Ronnie. Bradley is one of these clever Scotland Yard men who have acquired a little education and an inferiority complex.”

From behind the drawn curtains of the recess came a thin wail of sound. Mark started round with a snarl, but the girl’s hand dropped on his arm. By a gesture she silenced him.

From the recess came the sweet, melancholy cadence of Tosti’s “Adieu.”

“Who is it?” she asked in a low voice.

Mark shrugged his shoulders impatiently.

“It’s the Jew–Li Yoseph. I want you to see him.”

“Li Yoseph? The man who saw Ronnie killed?”

Mr. Tiser found his voice.

“From a distance, my dear young lady,” he twittered. “Nothing definite was seen; I think I explained that. Our dear friend merely saw the police officers struggling with our dear departed comrade–”

Mark’s cold eyes fixed him.

“That will do, Tiser,” he said. “Ask Li Yoseph to come out.”

The music ceased. She became suddenly aware of a curious presence. Li Yoseph came forward, his shoulders stooped, looking at her from under his brows, his long hands rubbing over one another. He was a terrifying figure; her first sensation was one of revulsion.

“This is Miss Perryman, Ronnie’s sister.”

The Jew’s face twisted in a little grimace.

“I haf just been speaking to him,” he said. His voice was singularly low and melodious, except for the gutturals which occurred at rare intervals.

The girl stared at him.

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