The Gunner - Edgar Wallace - ebook

The Gunner ebook

Edgar Wallace

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Opis

The name, „Edgar Wallace”, threads through early twentieth century crime fiction like a stream that turns out to be a lot deeper and wider than you thought. For many, Haynes, known as „Gunner”, is not an outlaw but a gentleman of unorthodox methods. For Scotland Yard, he is one of the most skilled thieves in the world. The Gunner and Luke Maddison belong to completely different worlds; Luke is a respectable banker with a charming girlfriend. But Luke has done a favor for the „Gunner” that he’ll never forget, so that when the banker gets in trouble, The Gunner intervenes to get him out of his nightmare. In Gunman’s bluff you’ll find wharf rats and millionaires, gangland and Mayfair, the love of a banker and the love of a crook and a ruthless battle between upper world and underworld.

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Liczba stron: 333

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER XXXIII

CHAPTER I

“But you are going to marry him, Margaret?” There was an agitation in the voice of Rex Leferre that almost startled his sister: it certainly diverted for the moment the resentment that was growing towards her unpunctual fiancé.

“What makes you say that?” she asked. “Does it mean that I am breaking off my engagement because Luke is a bad host and has kept us waiting ten minutes?” They were in the Palm Court of the Ritz-Carlton, and the remainder of the guests were mercifully occupied with their cocktails and gossip and were apparently unaware of Luke’s bad manners.

She stood apart with the young man who was her only relation, and no stranger seeing them would imagine them to be brother and sister. Rex was red-haired, weak-chinned, a fretful young man with a nervous trick of adjusting his dress tie every few minutes.

Margaret Leferre had the carriage and poise of the great lady. She was fair skinned, faultless of feature, grey-eyed–a model of cold dignity. She had never succumbed to the fashion in short hair: her own was braided about her head so that she seemed to be wearing a coronet of dull gold.

“I don’t know…” Rex was nibbling at his nails–he could not be cured of this ugly habit. “Only Luke is a good fellow–in a way. Rather a tight-wad–”

“What is a tight-wad?” she asked, her steady eyes on his.

“Well–I mean–he’s not terribly generous with his own money. He gives tips and things, but somehow I’ve never been able to get into the market in time to benefit…my own fault, of course.”

He tried to avoid her gaze, but she was the stronger character. “Have you been borrowing money–again?” she asked, and he wiggled uncomfortably.

“No–what rot! Only Danty and I had a scheme…” She looked round at that moment. Somehow she knew that the dark-eyed Danton Morell was watching them. Danton was rather a dear, and she had come to rely upon him. He seemed to sense her trouble now, and, detaching himself from the group of which he was a silent member, made his way towards her.

“Oh, shut up, Margaret–don’t talk to Morell about it–if you’re going to make a scene…” With a shrug he turned and left her as Danty came up.

Danty, that splendid man of the world, was amused at her fears. He was on the border-line of forty, a handsome, entertaining bachelor, and she had come to know him through Rex.

“No, I don’t think he has been borrowing–Rex is an improvident devil who will be broke for the next ten years. Then he will settle down and be terribly successful. Your young man is rather late.”

She knew instinctively that he did not like Luke Maddison: she had always known this. Luke (she told herself) was rather a prig in his way. He was “county”–was related to or friendly with almost every great family in England. Only once had he spoken disparagingly of Danton.

“Where did he spring from? I’ve never heard of him before,” he asked.

She might have told him that Danton had spent the greater part of his life in the Argentine, but she had stiffened at the disparagement of her brother’s friend–and hers. And then Luke had made it worse.

“He’s a rum bird. I shouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t one of those light-fingered fellows who are known to the police–if one only made enquiries.”

“You had better make enquiries,” she said icily.

This was before she had taken the plunge and had sent an ecstatic Luke Maddison back to his house walking on air.

As she listened to Danton she was looking absently at the solitaire diamond ring which was the outward and visible sign of her engagement.

“…Rex is volatile and a bit unstable–sometimes there is nothing too bad he can say about Maddison. Sometimes nothing too good…hullo, here’s our blessed host!”

Luke Maddison came through the vestibule with long strides. He paused to strip his overcoat and take off his silk hat, which he almost threw at an attendant, and took one step towards the door. As he did so, his foot slipped sideways on the marble floor, and he would have fallen unpleasantly but for the hand that suddenly gripped his arm.

The man who held him must have been unusually strong, for he literally, and in the most effortless fashion, lifted Luke Maddison bodily and placed him on his feet.

Luke turned with a half-smile of dismay and found himself looking into a hard, lined face, the colour of teak–into two unsmiling eyes, expressionless.

“Thank you–awfully!” The stranger nodded. “It might have been a very nasty fall. I’m greatly obliged to you!”

“Not at all,” said the unknown.

He was in evening kit, a perfectly fitted man: you saw the ghost of an efficient valet behind him. Maddison saw lines in the face which were not entirely nature’s handiwork. He could not know that the two scars which disfigured the right cheek of his helper were souvenirs of an encounter with the late Lew Selinski of New York City. Lew used a knife when he was annoyed, and he had been very annoyed with the well-dressed man when he had left his mark upon his enemy’s face.

“I am glad I was here. Fortunately, I always wait in the lobby when I am expecting people to dinner. Good night.” He half turned away as though he objected to the attention he had called to himself, and Luke went in to his party full of apologies.

Two lives touched at the Ritz-Carlton that January night–touched and went looping away one from the other, to touch again in a moment of crisis. Rough roads they were: a bitter, heart-aching road for one, a methodical hell for the less favoured, to be tramped with that cynical smile with which “Gunner” Haynes met every misfortune.

Luke Maddison saw life like that–a bewildering mass of crossing and parallel paths. If he fell into error it was in believing that his own was the straight-as-a-ruler highway to which and from which all others inclined or diverged.

Eight generations of gentlemen bankers, all gently bred and belonging to the class which produces statesmen and commanders by divine right of appointment, were responsible for his wealth and his six feet of goodly looking humanity. He was fair, blue-eyed, straight of back, in his happier moments irresponsible. He was extravagant, a free spender of money and an idealist, which means that he was spendthrift of the material which keeps men in the City solid and comfortable.

Something of a gambler, he took chances at which his more conservative friends might shudder. Yet, as somebody said, “with half a million of gilt-edged securities on deposit, who could not gamble to a ten per cent margin?”

“Gunner” Haynes, whose strong arm had saved him from a fractured wrist or worse, had no collateral worth speaking about. His principal assets were an immaculate dress suit, a cultured voice, perfect manners, which more than overcame the handicap represented by his lean, dark, sinister face. He lived God knew where, but was to be seen at such of the best hotels as did not know him for an expert jewel thief.

They called him “Gunner” because of certain happenings in New York City. It was said, but never proved, that he was the man who bumped off Lew Selinski, that notorious gang leader, and shot his way through Lew’s gunmen to the safety represented by a cattle boat which sailed from the Hudson River an hour after the police reserves answered a riot call.

Nobody had ever seen him with a pistol in England; but the detectives who arrested him a year after his return to his native land fully expected gun play and came armed.

When he came up for trial, nobody came near him: not his pretty wife or his best friend, Larry Vinman. Larry was a prince of confidence men, young, good-looking, plausible. There might be excellent reason why Larry should not wish to draw attention to himself by appearing in court; no reason why Lila should not write or do something.

She had a thousand pounds in hard cash; a good lawyer could have been briefed; but when the Gunner sent for her, she had left the lodging they had occupied. He never saw her again. A few months before his release from prison he heard that she had died in a workhouse infirmary.

The Gunner’s smile when he heard this was a grim one. He always smiled when he was hurt–and as he smiled now, his heart was one great throbbing wound.

So he came from prison, and in due course to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, where Mr Luke Maddison was celebrating his engagement. Of Luke he knew nothing–what had brought him there was a jewel box which a rich American lady kept in the hotel safe all day and in her bedroom between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. Gunner Haynes had taken a room on the same floor…

“I really am at your feet and prostrate,” said Luke, not for the first time in the course of the dinner. “The truth is, my car hit a taxicab sideways–it was the cabby’s fault–and up came an officious Robert and must take down all particulars very laboriously in his little book! Why don’t they teach policemen to write shorthand?”

“My dear, it doesn’t matter–really.” Margaret’s voice was a little weary. Everything and everybody was going wrong tonight. Even Danty was distressed about something and was not his usual self.

Luke was late; he had made an acrobatic entrance, performing wild gyrations in the arms of a strange gentleman. What had upset Danty? She had seen his face turn a sickly white when Luke came in. Rex was grumpy and silent, scarcely speaking to Lady Revellson on his left. And Luke had insisted on sitting next to her, after she arranged the table, with the result that everybody at the table was in his or her wrong place.

“If that fellow hadn’t been on the spot I should certainly have broken something–I couldn’t possibly have saved myself…it has been trying to snow and I must have got some caked on the sole of my shoe–I walked the last hundred yards or so. The car was caught in a traffic jam in Piccadilly Circus…”

“What was he like–in appearance?” Danton’s voice sounded a little hoarse, as though he were speaking from a dry throat.

“Who–the man who held me up?” And, when the other nodded, Luke went on: “A dark-looking fellow–I thought he might be a German…two scars across his right cheek–the sort of wound that duelling students love to acquire. I remember when I was at school in Bonn…”

Danton was not listening now. Two scars across the right cheek! Then he had not been mistaken. The question was, had the Gunner recognized him? It was seven years since they had met–Danton had been clean-shaven and rather tow-headed in those days. Millie Haynes used to call him ‘the gold-hair boy’ in the days of her fascination. He had grown a moustache and darkened his hair down since then–he no longer filled the police description of Larry Vinman. He made the change long after he had thrown over Millie and left her to drift to a workhouse infirmary. It had been rendered necessary by the success of a trick which had left an Australian squatter poorer by eight thousand pounds, and the subsequent activities of Scotland Yard’s confidence squad.

Gunner Haynes! He breathed a little faster. Down his back ran a cold shiver of apprehension. Suppose he had recognized his old friend…suppose he packed a gun…suppose he was waiting out there in the lobby…

Danty wiped his moist forehead, caught the eye of his hostess, and, with an appealing glance for permission, left his seat.

“Just remembered I had to telephone…” he mumbled as he passed her.

He went down the broad steps into the palm court. The Gunner was not there.

He crossed the court into the lobby–empty. There were two lobbies, one in Haymarket, the other in Pall Mall. They were connected by a passage, and down this he went silently.

As he came to the second vestibule he saw his man and drew back. Gunner was stepping into the elevator and his back was half turned to the watcher. It was he…there was no question of it. Gunner Haynes! The lift door closed on him. Danton looked round. He recognized the quiet-looking gentleman who was lounging by the revolving door.

“You’re the hotel detective, aren’t you?” he asked. (When Danty Morell was plain Larry Vinman he knew most hotel detectives by sight and could guess the others.)

“Yes, sir–anything wrong?”

“That gentleman who went up in the lift–who is he?” The detective told him. It was one of the assumed names that the Gunner invariably used, and the heart of Mr Morell leapt.

“Like hell he is! No. 986 is his room, eh? He’s Gunner Haynes and he’s after jewellery. Get Scotland Yard–they’ll check him up in a second. But my name doesn’t come into this, do you understand?” He left the man busy at the telephone exchange and went back to the party, exulting.

It was too good a secret to be kept. Moreover, he loved an audience; he had the table’s breathless attention for five minutes.

“He’s got a room here, No. 986. I know the fellow rather well–I was very friendly with the District Attorney in New York and he showed me his portrait. One of the most dangerous men in New York–a gunman…I hope there is no trouble…I recognized him as soon as I saw him, but I had to go out and make sure.”

“What have you done?” Luke’s face was troubled. He was on the soft side, as Danty knew.

“Naturally I put the hotel detective on his track–I left him ‘phoning the Yard.”

Luke Maddison fetched a long sigh. “Poor devil!” he said.

Margaret shook her head at Danty helplessly. “You’ve spoilt Luke’s evening,” she said, and her fiancé winced at the mild sarcasm.

“Not a bit, only–will you excuse me?” He was gone before the astonished girl could protest.

“How like Luke–and how everything fits into the scheme of this wretched evening!” she said.

“Where has he gone?” Danty was momentarily alarmed.

She shrugged milky shoulders. “What does one do? Bail him out? Give him money for his breakfast–something horribly philanthropic,” she said.

Luke went straight to the second vestibule and into the elevator.

“Where is No. 986?” he asked, as the lift went up.

The attendant stopped the lift on the fourth floor and pointed to the door. For a second only did Luke Maddison hesitate, the door handle in his grasp, and then he turned and walked into the room.

The occupant of the room was standing by the window, his back to the visitor.

“Well, sir?” He did not look round, and Luke realized that he was being viewed through the medium of a mirror which was sited on a bureau in an angle of the wall.

Luke closed the door behind him.

“If you’re Gunner Haynes, I advise you to clear out.” he said in a low voice. “If you’re not, I owe you an apology.”

Haynes swung round at the mention of his name. “Oh…” he said. A pause, and then: “I am greatly obliged to you.”

“Have you any money?” Another pause.

“Yes–I have all the money I want. Thank you.” The Gunner was smiling, his underlip pouted. Something had amused him in his secretive way. “Thank you–I think I understand. I wasn’t quite sure if it was Larry. After big pickings, eh?”

All this was Greek to Maddison. He saw the Gunner pick up an overcoat from the foot-rail of the bed, and then the door was thrown open and a big man strode in, followed by two others. There was authority in his voice.

“Hullo, Gunner!” The Gunner nodded.

“Lo, Sparrow–you carry your age very well!”

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