The Human Chase - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Human Chase ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim



The six stories in Part I of this book trace the early career of Peter Benskin. He is a public school graduate with a small private income who joins the police force in London. After an early success he transfers to Scotland Yard where he becomes a detective. He is successful in solving several difficult cases but is hampered at times by his ethical feelings towards criminals who have been coerced or forced to commit crimes. He allows the „innocent” to escape, while he pursues the „truly” guilty. Part II of the book, which also consists of six stories, chronicles Benskin’s pursuit of and ultimate victory over a self-conceited master-criminal known only by the sobriquet „Matthew”.

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THE mise en scène was a fitting one for the coming drama, the neighbourhood grimly suburban, one of those thickly-populated districts stretching eastward, but which never, even with the aid of tram and omnibus, seem to escape from the gloom and pall of the City. The street, however, in which the last desperate struggle was to take place between the police and Crawley Martin’s infamous band of criminals, was situated well away from the main artery of traffic, and had undoubtedly seen better days. The houses were of the ten-roomed variety, straight-fronted, dark with smoke and weather-stains, but approached by steps and a short stretch of dreary garden. It was at the corner of this thoroughfare, out of sight of anyone who might have been watching from the windows, that Inspector Henslow marshalled his men. He listened to the striking of a distant clock and compared the hour with his watch.

“A quarter past eleven,” he announced softly. “Martin should have been there an hour by now–time enough for him to have settled down. You are sure you saw him enter the house, Brooks?”

“It’s a dead cert, sir,” a shadowy form, in plain clothes, from the outside of the circle, replied. “We got on to him in the Three Crowns in the Mile End Road, and marked him to the door. Saunders was with him and Rastall–the man we want for the Highgate burglary. Eddie Joseph we know to be in the house too. He’s got a bad arm and hasn’t been out for days.”

“And how many more, I wonder?” the Inspector mused.

“I can’t exactly say, sir,” the detective admitted. “It’s a pretty sensitive neighbourhood here–too many enquiries, however carefully they’re made, and the bird’s flown.”

The Inspector nodded.

“That’s right,” he agreed, “it’s a bunch we want very badly, but it’s got to be a surprise job or it doesn’t come off at all. We’ll see. How many arc we? Seven. That ought to be enough. You three,” he went on, pointing to the motionless trio in the background, “with Sergeant Pryce, get round to the yard gate. When you hear me ring at the front door, stand to attention by the lower windows and the rear entrance. Directly you are sure I am inside the place, come in, but leave one man on guard. You understand?”

There was a muttered chorus of assent. The men drifted away and disappeared up a passage. The Inspector patted his hip pocket, tightened his belt, and motioned to the other two.

“We’ll go round to the front.” he announced. “Now the question is, which of you shall I take in with me?”

He looked thoughtfully at the two guardians of the peace, keeping step with him through the misty twilight which had already begun to savour of fog. Police Constable Druce on his left was a well set-up man with a hard, resolute face and broad shoulders, Police Constable Benskin on his right-hand, however, was of a weedier type, with much narrower shoulders, more sensitive, and less forceful face, and a couple of inches shorter than his comrade Nevertheless, he was the first to volunteer.

“I’m not afraid of a scrap, sir,” he declared.

“Handle your gun, all right, eh? Not scared of it, like some of these beginners?”

“I won the prize at last week’s shooting competition,” Benskin confided–“good score too–ninety-five out of a possible ninety-nine.

“H’m! It isn’t target practice that’s wanted,” the Inspector pointed out. “It’s nerve and quickness.”

“There isn’t a man in the Force can draw quicker than I can, sir.”

Druce, however, had a trump card up his sleeve, and he promptly played it.

“I took Billy Drew, single-handed, sir,” he reminded his superior, with his eye upon another stripe.

“So you did,” the Inspector admitted. “A fine piece of work, that! I’ll take you, Druce. Give you a chance next time, Benskin. You’ve got to watch the gate. Something might come your way.”

Benskin did his best to conceal his disappointment. “I’ll look after it, sir,” he promised.

The Inspector stepped out into the open, pushed back a rusty iron gate, and trampled up a weed-grown path. A moment later he was ringing the bell, Druce by his side–two stalwart, menacing figures. There was a delay of not unreasonable length, and then the door was opened a few inches by some unseen person. The visitors passed into the dark passage and the door was shut behind them.

Whatever tragic events were transpiring in that closed house, they were conducted, so far as the world outside was concerned, in silence. Police Constable Benskin, after his first sigh of disappointment, and a wistful glance at the disappearing backs of his superior and favoured colleague, concentrated upon his task. He watched the door fixedly, he kept an eye, too, upon the exit from the empty house beyond. At the same time, he maintained an air of casual loitering intended to dispel any suspicion on the part of passers-by that he was engaged upon a very important and particular errand. Ten minutes passed–twenty–half an hour. Every moment now he expected to see the door thrown open, the captured men hauled out, and to hear the Inspector’s shrill whistle blowing for the patrol wagon. When at last the door opened, however–which it did with a quick, nervous jerk–the Inspector appeared alone. He descended the steps and walked swiftly to the gate.

“Come with me as far as the corner,” he enjoined quickly. “We’ve got ‘em all right, but there’s been some ugly work, I’m off to Newly Street Police Station.”

Police Constable Benskin kept pace with his superior for half a dozen strides, and then there was more “ugly work.” The Inspector suddenly felt his arm gripped and the boring of something unpleasant into the middle of his back.

“Stay exactly as you are,” Benskin ordered tensely, “or I pull the trigger. The slightest movement, mind, and you’ll have six bullets through your body.”

The Inspector seemed unwilling to run the risk. He stood quite mill.

“Now put ‘em up!”

There was just a shiver of hesitation, the slightest added pressure of the muzzle of that gun against his back, and the hands came together. There was a click. Benskin reached for his whistle and blew loudly for the patrol wagon. His captive turned slowly and looked at him. In the venom of his expression, all likeness to the Inspector had now disappeared.

“An ordinary cop!” he muttered, in a tone of intense disgust. “Serves me right if I’m lagged for life.”

“What’s happened to the Inspector?” Benskin demanded.

“He got his,” was the curt reply, “as I hope you will before long.”

The patrol wagon rattled up. Benskin escorted his charge inside and seated himself in a position of security. They made a brief call at the nearest police station and sent reinforcements to the silent house in case they were required. Benskin, resisting his passionate desire to return with them, did what he conceived lo be his duty and conducted his prisoner to headquarters. The sergeant in charge looked up in amazement at the entrance of the two men.

“What’s the meaning of this, Benskin?” he enquired. “Why, good God, it’s Inspector Henslow!”

Police Constable Benskin smiled the smile of justifiable pride,

“Not on your life, sir,” he rejoined. “That’s the bluff he tried to work on me. This is Crawley Martin, the chief of the bunch we were after to-night.”

The sergeant’s eyes glittered. He motioned two of the policemen who were seated upon a bench to guard the door.

“If you’ve got this right, Benskin.” he observed, “it will be the biggest day’s work you ever did. Come along,” he added, dipping his pen in the ink. “Let’s have the charge and get him down lo the cells.”

BENSKIN beard the whole story at Inspector Henslow’s bedside, the following afternoon.

“It was Brooks let us down a bit,” he confided. “They were as thick there as rats in a sewer. They rushed the back entrance and half a dozen of them got away. Whilst some of our chaps were after them, I went for Martin, chased him into a room, only to find five of them waiting there. One of them got me right over the head from behind, and when I woke up it was here, last night.”

“Well, we got Martin anyway, you know,” Benskin observed, with a little pardonable exultation.

“You got him,” the Inspector said weakly. “A real fine show, that. He passed two of our men on the stairs and they never dreamed of stopping him. What made you suspicious?”

“Several little things. He took longer strides than you, for one. He hadn’t stopped to change his boots, for another, and he started walking on the right of me, whereas you always walk on the left.”

“A damned fine piece of work, Benskin,” the Inspector approved, as the nurse came forward with a warning shake of the finger. “Get you promotion, sure!”

Benskin was hurried away and returned to Scotland Yard with a deep sense of satisfaction in his heart. Arrived there, he found on the call board a summons which brooked of no delay. Within ten minutes he was standing respectfully before the desk of Major Houlden, the Deputy Chief Commissioner. The latter leaned back in his chair and looked curiously at the young man before him.

“A very creditable performance, Benskin,” he declared. “How did you tumble to it?”

“Well, what started my suspicions, sir,” Benskin explained, “was the Inspector coming out alone, which seemed to me queer. Then we didn’t keep pace very well. He walked on the wrong side of me and, though his voice was a very good imitation, it was thicker and throatier than Henslow’s.”

“A useful habit that, taking note of trifles,” Major Houlden observed. “Now, we want to do something for you, Benskin. How old are you?”

“Twenty-seven, sir.”

“I have your record here,” the Sub-Commissioner continued, glancing at a paper by his side. “Seems you were the son of a clergyman and went to a Public School. What made you start as a policeman?”

“Couldn’t find another job, sir, and I liked it better than indoor work. I hoped it might lead to something else.”

“Well, you’re one of those lucky men who’ve had their chance offered and taken if,” Major Houlden said kindly. “You’ll get your stripe at once. Benskin, there’ll be a money gratuity of course, and you’ll be on the ‘Watched’ list. How does that suit?”

“Most flattering, sir,” was the prompt reply, “but if I might be permitted, without seeming ungrateful, I had a request of my own to make.”

“Make it by all means,” Major Houlden assented. “I should like to exchange into the Detective Force, sir,” Benskin confided.

The Sub-Commissioner nodded and looked momentarily thoughtful.

“Well,” he admitted, “that isn’t an unreasonable idea. It may not mean quite as rapid promotion, you know, Benskin. I can’t put you over the heads of a lot of good men all at once.”

“I quite understand that, sir,” was the cheerful reply, “but if you’ll allow me to be frank with you, I should like to say that I only joined the Constabulary in the hope of being able to exchange some day into the Detective Force. I’ve had a fancy for it ever since I was a lad.”

The Sub-Commissioner studied his vis-à-vis keenly. Benskin’s frame was not exactly an athletic one, but be was wiry and not ungraceful. His keen blue eyes and a certain boyishness of expression made him look younger than he was, but his mouth was the mouth of a man.

“You must have a nerve,” he reflected, “to have tackled that murderous villain Martin in the fashion you did.”

Benskin smiled.

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