The India-Rubber Men - Edgar Wallace - ebook

The India-Rubber Men ebook

Edgar Wallace

0,0

Opis

The India-Rubber Men” is a gripping thriller of London’s River Police, whose swift launches patrol the Thames and guard the ships that lie in port. Inspector John Wade is given the toughest job of his life when he is assigned the task of running to earth a gang of gunmen in rubber gas-masks, rubber gloves and crepe rubber shoes, who rob banks and jewelers, and even commit murder under the very eyes of the police, and get away with it. Through it all runs the Thames, and there is even time for a little excursion out of London to its upper reaches in Oxfordshire. A classic Wallace, stitching together his favorite themes with enough humor and vigor to keep the reader intrigued till the very end.

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS
czytnikach certyfikowanych
przez Legimi
czytnikach Kindle™
(dla wybranych pakietów)
Windows
10
Windows
Phone

Liczba stron: 407

Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS



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 I

In the murk of a foggy morning a row-boat moved steadily downstream. Two pairs of oars moved as one, for the rowers were skilled watermen. They kept to the Surrey shore, following the slightly irregular course imposed by the vital necessity of keeping to the unrevealing background formed by moored barges.

Somewhere in the east the sun was rising, but the skies were dark and thick; lamps burnt on river and shore. Billingsgate Market was radiant with light, and over the wharves where cargo-boats were at anchor white arc lights stared like stars.

The river was waking; the “chuff-chuff” of donkey engines, the rattle and squeak of swaying derricks, the faint roar of chains running through came to the men in the skiff.

They were clear of a long barge line, and the nose of the boat was turned to the northern shore, when on the dark background grew a darker object. The stroke rower jerked round his head and saw the lines of the launch which lay across his course, and dropped his oars.

“Wade!” he grunted.

Out of the blackness came a cheerful hail.

“Hallo, sweetheart! Whither away?”

The police launch, skilfully manoeuvred, edged alongside the skiff. Somebody caught the gunwale with a boat-hook.

“It’s only me, Mr. Wade. We was takin’ the skiff down to Dorlin’s to lay it up,” said the bow oarsman. He had a high falsetto voice and punctuated his speech with involuntary sniffs.

“Not Mr. Offer?” The voice in the police boat was charged with extravagant surprise. “Not Sniffy Offer? Why, sweetheart, what are you doing at this hour? A raw morning, when the young and the ailing should be tucked up in their little beds. Let me have a look at you.”

A powerful light was switched on and flooded the interior of the skiff with devastating thoroughness. The two men sitting, oars in hand, blinked painfully.

“Little case of something here,” said the hateful voice of Inspector John Wade. “Looks like a case of whisky–and, bless my life, if there isn’t another one!”

“We found ‘em floating in the river,” pleaded the man called Sniffy. “Me an’ Harry fished ‘em out.”

“Been fishing? I’ll bet you have! Make fast your boat and step into the launch–and step lively, sweetheart!”

The two river thieves said nothing until they were on the launch and headed for the riverside police station.

“You don’t have to be clever to catch us, Wade, do you? Here’s London full of undiscovered murders an’ robberies, an’ all you can do is to pull a coupla river hooks! Look at that woman found in Cranston Gardens with her throat cut–look at the Inja-Rubber Men–”

“Shut up!” growled his companion.

“Proceed, Sniffy,” said Mr. Wade gently. “I am not at all sensitive. You were talking of the India-Rubber Men? You were reproaching me–you were trying to make me and the Metropolitan Police Force feel exceedingly small. Go right ahead, Sniffy. Whip me with scorpions.”

“Shut up, Sniffy!” warned the second prisoner again, and Sniffy was silent through all the gibes and taunts and provocative irony which assailed him.

“Now, where was this whisky going–tell me that? The destination of whisky, cases of whisky–stolen cases of whisky–interests me. Sniffy. I am in training for a bootlegger. Spill the truth, Sniffy, and I’ll keep it locked in my bosom.”

There was no other answer than a succession of indignant sniffs.

“Come, sweetheart, tell papa.” They could not see the grin on the dark, lean face of John Wade, but they could hear the chuckle in his voice, “Was it to gladden the hearts of poor sailormen at the ‘Mecca’? That would be almost an admirable act. Poor fellows who sail the seas are entitled to their comforts. Now, was it for dear old Golly–”

The worm turned.

“You ain’t entitled to ask these questions under the Ac’, Wade, you know that! I could have your coat off your back for questionin’ me. An’ castin’ asper–” He boggled at the word.

“Asparagus!” suggested Wade helpfully.

“Committin’ libel, that’s what you’re doin’.”

The launch pulled up beside a heaving float and was hauled tight. Somebody in the darkness asked a question.

“Only two young fishermen, Sergeant,” said Wade. “Put ‘em on ice!”

That day Wade made a call at the Mecca Club, and on its manager, Mrs. Annabel Oaks.

Mrs. Oaks had been compelled by an interfering constabulary to register her ‘club’ as a common lodging-house, a disadvantage of which was that it was subject to police supervision. At any hour of the day or night it was competent for an inspector of police to walk in and look round, which could be, and on many occasions was, extremely inconvenient.

She complained savagely to her guests.

“Nice thing, eh? A club for officers, and any flat-footed copper can walk in and look you over!”

It might be conceived that Mrs. Oaks was indiscreet in publishing a truth that might scare away a percentage of her boarders. But the ‘Mecca’ was conveniently placed for under-officers of the Mercantile Marine. Here men were near to the dock offices of various steamship lines, and the living, if plain, was cheap, while many of the clients who patronised her establishment found the ‘club’ convenient in another respect. Suppose one got a ship out of London, it was possible to owe the money due for keep until the debtor returned from his voyage.

‘Mum’ Oaks was very obliging, especially if the man were likeable. He was likeable if he did not give himself airs and sound his ‘h’s’ too punctiliously, or if he took his drop of drink like a man and didn’t raise hell and want to fight Golly or anybody else who happened to be around.

The Marine Officers’ Club and Recreation Rooms had not always been a club. Because of its initials it had come to be known as the ‘Moccer’, and from ‘Moccer’ to ‘Mecca’ was an easy transition. Not, as Mum said virtuously, that they’d ever take in a sea-going gentleman who was not white, and if, as by all accounts was the case, Mecca was a foreign country inhabited by niggers, well, any so-called Mecca people who came to the club for lodgings would get a pretty saucy answer–either from herself or Golly!

Golly seemed wholly incapable of giving anybody a saucy answer. He was a mild little man, rather spare of frame and short. A reddish moustache drooped over an unmasterful chin. He had once been a ship’s steward; in moments of inebriation his claims rose as high as a purser, and once, on a terrific occasion, he stated that he had been the captain of an Atlantic liner; but he was very ill after that.

He sang sentimental ballads in a high falsetto voice, and it was his weakness that he found a resemblance in himself to the popular idol of the screen; and, in moments when he was free from observation he did a little quiet and dignified acting, following the instructions of ‘Ten Steps to Stardom’, by a Well Known Screen Favourite of Hollywood–so well known that it was not necessary to put his name of this interesting work.

Mr. Oaks had aspirations to opera as well as to the screen. The tenants of Mecca often threw up their windows and commented upon Golly’s voice–for he sang best when he was chopping wood, and he seemed always to be chopping wood.

Mum was hardly as motherly as her name. She was spare, not to say thin. Her greying hair was bobbed, which did not add to her attractiveness, for the face which the lank hair framed was hard, almost repulsive. A section of her guests called her (behind her back) Old Mother Iron Face, but mostly she was Mum to a hundred junior officers of cargo ships which moved up and down the seas of the world.

The premises of ‘Mecca’ were half wooden and half brick. The brick portion had been the malt-house of a forgotten brewery, and was by far the more comfortable. Before the club was a strip of wharfage, covered with rank grass and embellished with two garden seats. Every year Golly sowed flower seeds in a foot-wide border under the house, and every year nothing happened. It was almost as ineffectual as his fishing.

The wharf edge was warped and rotten; the ancient baulks of timber that supported what Mum called ‘the front’ split and crumbled. There was some talk of building a stone wall for patrons to lean against, but nothing came of it.

The view was always fine, for here the Pool was broad and the river crowded with shipping. There was generally a cable boat tied at Penny’s on the Surrey side, and the German ships had their moorings near by. You could see scores of sea-going barges moored abreast, with their house pennants fluttering at the tops of tall masts, and at the wharves up and down the river there were generally one or two cargo boats.

Lila Smith used to stand, fascinated, at the big window of the dining-room and watch the slow-moving steamers come cautiously up river. She had seen the lights of the eel-boats and the G.T.C. Fish-carriers and the orange-ships from Spain, and got to know them by their peculiar lines. She knew the tugs, too, the tugs, Johnny O and Tommy O, and the John and Mary and Sarah Lane and the Fairway–those lords of the river–and she could tell them. Even at nights.

Club lodgers who had returned from long voyages remarked that Lila was no longer a child. She had never lacked dignity; now there was a charm which none had observed before, and which it was difficult to label. She had always been pretty in a round-faced, big-eyed way. But the prettiness had grown definite; nature had given the face of the child new values.

She often stood at the window, a shabby figure in a rusty black dress and down-at-heel shoes, gazing thoughtfully at the river pageant: the sound of a deep siren brought her there, the impatient toot-toot of a tugboat, the rattle and roar of anchor chains.

“That new feller in seven wants some tea, Lila–don’t stand mooning there like a stuck pig; get your wits about you, will you?”

Thus Mum, who came into the loom and caught the girl at her favourite occupation.

“Yes, Auntie.”

Lila Smith flew to the kitchen. That rasping, complaining voice terrified her–had always terrified her. She wished sometimes for another kind of life; had a vague idea that she knew just what that life was like. It had trees in it, and great spaces like Greenwich Park, and people who were most deferential. More often than not she was dreaming of this when she was watching the ships go up and down the river.

She was dreaming now, as she poured out the tea and sent the slatternly maid into No 7 with the thick cup and the thicker slabs of bread and butter.

The small square window which brought air into the stuffy kitchen was wide open. Outside the morning was cold, but the primrose sun laced the river with waggling streaks of pale gold Suddenly she looked up.

A man was looking at her from the wharf: a tall man, with a brown, attractive face. He was bareheaded, and his close-cropped brown hair had a curl in it. “Good morning, princess!”

She smiled in her frightened way–a smile that dawned and faded, leaving her face a little more serious. “Good morning, Mr Wade!”

She was a little breathless. He was the one being in the world who had this effect upon her. It was not because she was frightened, though she was well aware of his disgraceful profession–Mum always said that policemen were crooks who hadn’t the pluck to thieve–nor yet because of the furtive character of these rare meetings.

He had a tremendous significance for her, but the reason for his importance was confusingly obscure. For a long time she had regarded him as an old man, as old as Golly; and then one day she grew old herself and found him a contemporary.

He never asked her awkward questions, nor sought information on domestic affairs, and Mum’s fierce cross-examinations which followed every interview produced no cause for disquiet in the Oaks household.

“Why do they call you ‘busy’, Mr. Wade?”

She asked the question on the impulse of the moment and was frightened before the words were out.

“Because I am busy, princess,” he said gravely–she never quite knew when he was being serious and when he was laughing at her when he used that tone and inflection of voice. “I am so busy that I am an offence in the eyes of all loafers. Industry is my weakness.” He paused and looked at her oddly. “Now as to that experience?” he suggested.

She was instantly agitated.

“I wish you’d forget I ever said it,” she said, with a quick, fearful look at the door. “It was silly of me…I–I wasn’t telling the truth, Mr. Wade. I was just trying to make a sensation–”

“You couldn’t tell a lie,” he interrupted calmly. “You’re trying to tell one now but you can’t. When you said: ‘Don’t think I have a bad time– sometimes I have a wonderful experience’, you meant it.” He raised his hand with a lordly gesture. “We’ll not discuss it. How are you keeping in these days?”

She, too, had heard Mum’s heavy footfall and drew back a pace. She was gazing past him and was conscious of her deceitfulness when Mum came scowling into the room.

“Hallo, Mr. Wade–got nothing better to do than keep my gel gossiping?”

Her voice was high and venomously vibrant. Of all hateful faces, John Wade’s was the most loathsome in her eyes.

With a gesture she sent Lila from the room and slammed the door behind the girl.

“Don’t come here cross-questioning children. Be a man and knock at the front door.”

“You haven’t got a front door,” said Mr. Wade reproachfully. “And why so angry, child? I came in the friendliest spirit to interview Golly– “

“He’s on the wharf–an’ don’t call me ‘child’!” snapped the woman savagely.

Mr. Wade, whose weakness was the employment of endearing epithets, shrugged his shoulders. “I go,” he said simply.

Golly he had seen, and was well aware that Golly had seen him. The little man was chopping wood, and, as the detective approached, he put down his hatchet and rose with a painful expression, which deepened when he heard the detective’s drawling inquiry.

“Whisky? What do I know about whisky?…Yes, I know Sniffy. A common longshore loafer that I wouldn’t have in this here club. A low man with low companions.” He spoke very rapidly. “The Good Book says: ‘As a bird is known by his note, so is a man by the company he keeps–’”

“I don’t believe it,” said Mr. Wade. “Heard anything about the India- Rubber Men lately?”

Mr. Oaks spread out his arms in a gesture of patient weariness.

“I don’t know no more about the Inja-Rubber Men, than what the organs of public opinion, to wit, the newspapers, talk about. We got the police; we pay ‘em rates ‘n’ taxes, we feed ‘em–”

“And well fed they are,” agreed John Wade, his eyes twinkling. “I never see a fat policeman without thinking of you, Golly.”

But Golly was not to be turned aside.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.