The Iron Grip - Edgar Wallace - ebook

The Iron Grip ebook

Edgar Wallace



1929 short story collection by Edgar Wallace revolving around the demobbed soldier (WWI) Jack „Wireless” Bryce and his engagement by the law firm „Hemmer & Hemmer”. Operating on the fringes of lawlessness, Bryce uses his brains and brawn to protect a range of the firm’s more vulnerable and downright gullible clients. His new career as a detective creates a compelling tale of adventure. Most of his adventures involve rescuing various damsels in distress from the clutches of men who are far from gentle. The tales are told with real zip, with a dash of grit and humor. Eventually, however, he is overpowered – caught in the tender grip of love from which he has no desire to escape.

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Liczba stron: 179

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Captain Jack Bryce, inscribed in the family records as John Richard Plantagenet, but better known amongst his intimate friends as Wireless Bryce, had dropped his army title, for he had discovered that it prejudiced rather than helped his chance of securing employment. It was as plain Mr. Bryce that he was ushered into the private office of Hemmer & Hemmer, and Mr. James Hemmer, the senior partner of that eminent firm of lawyers, received him. James Hemmer was an elderly man with dark, shrewd eyes, who surveyed his visitor with a brief but searching scrutiny, and seemed to Jack to be classifying him for future reference.

“Sit down, Mr. Bryce,” said the lawyer, taking up the card again. “You called in reference to employment, I believe?”

“Yes, sir,” said Jack.

“You are not a lawyer, of course?”

Jack shook his head. “No, sir. I am going to be perfectly frank with you. I have tried throughout the city for the past two months to get employment, but without success. I’m not suggesting that people turn me down because I’m a demobilized officer, but I do say that work is much harder to get than I ever dreamt would be the case before I left the army.”

Mr. Hemmer nodded sympathetically.

“I should like to help you, Mr. Bryce,” he said. “I knew your father well many years ago; but, candidly, the only question is your fitness for the work I have to offer. Do you understand anything about book-keeping?”

“No, sir,” replied Jack, “I’m afraid I don’t.”

Mr. Hemmer looked over the fine figure of the young man with evident approval, but he shook his head.

“It is rather terrible that a splendid specimen of a man like you cannot find employment,” he said. “You stand nearly six feet, don’t you?”

“Just under,” smiled Jack, “and I’m fighting fit. But that doesn’t help me any. I am constantly being told that brains, not brawn, is requisite; and, although I’m not a fool, I somehow haven’t been able to fit myself into the jobs which have been offered me.”

Mr. Hemmer leant back in his chair, and shrugged his shoulders.

“I don’t know what I can do, Mr. Bryce,” he said. “I was hoping you might take the place of one of our accountants, who is leaving us, but I think that that, you will agree, is out of the question.” Jack nodded.

“On second thoughts, I am not so sure,” the lawyer went on, “that you won’t be a very great help to me, providing always, of course,” he added hastily, “that you do nothing illegal.”

“Or, if I do anything illegal, I do it on my own responsibility,” Jack amplified with a smile, which was reflected by Mr. Hemmer.

“Exactly,” he said. “We have a very large clientele, and we are constantly getting into difficulties from which private detectives and the ordinary resources of the law cannot extricate us. Now here is a case.” He took up an envelope and extracted a letter. “Do you know Mr. Dennis Wollaston by name?” Jack shook his head. “He is an extremely wealthy young man. His father was Wollaston, the big colliery proprietor, and he left his fortune equally between his daughter Grace and his son. They live in Park Lane, and our firm has acted for them for many years.”

Jack waited, wondering into what difficulty the Wollastons had got, that they needed the service of his strong arm.

“Miss Wollaston is a very charming girl,” continued Hemmer. “Unfortunately, her brother is not a very charming young man. And, in spite of the very respectable sum which was left him, his sister is greatly concerned as to the future of the fortune. His vice is gambling. He lost forty thousand pounds at a notorious gambling house near Cavendish Square, and when we had that place raided he found out another. At present he seems to be frequenting the worst of all, the identity of which is at present a secret, in spite of all our efforts.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“I want you to see Miss Wollaston. I met her last night at dinner, and I had a talk with her. Poor girl, she is desperate,” said Mr. Hemmer, shaking his head. “Not only her brother’s money but his health is going. Undoubtedly he has got into very bad hands. She wanted me to send you to Park Lane, but I want you to meet her elsewhere, because I have an idea that one of the servants at the house is in the gambler’s pay. Every time we have tried to get information, somebody has always managed to get in before us with a warning.”

“What have you arranged?” asked Jack, not without interest.

Mr. Hemmer took up a paper.

“You are to be in Brentford High Street, opposite the Police Court, at half-past three this afternoon. Exactly at that hour Miss Wollaston will drive up in her two-seater, and you will get into the car.”

“That sounds romantic,” said Jack with a bright smile, and went out in pleasant anticipation of adventure.

He had taken his stand, as he had been directed, in the narrow bottle-neck of Brentford when he saw the car approaching. It was driven by a girl of twenty-four, who was searching the side-walk as she made her slow progress, as though seeking someone. Her eyes fell on Jack, and he lifted his hat.

“Don’t trouble to stop the car,” he said as he stepped on to the running-board and over the low door.

“You are Captain Bryce, aren’t you?” asked the girl.

She was a wholesome, British type, tanned with the sun, and the pleasant grey eyes she bent on Jack sparkled with good humour.

“I had to choose this rather unusual method of seeing you,” she said, piloting her way through the maze of traffic. “Mr. Hemmer thinks that the servants are not to be trusted. I am going to drive to Hampton Court, across the bridge, and into the open country. Does that meet your views?”

“Excellently,” he laughed.

She did not speak until they were clear of Hampton and had struck a secondary roads then she pulled the car to the side of the roadway and stopped the engine.

“If people see us they will take an obvious view. I hope it won’t embarrass you?” she said with a laugh. Jack smiled but blushed.

“You look a capable sort of person,” she went on, eyeing him with frank approval, but I don’t quite know in what capacity Mr. Hemmer has sent you.” She hesitated. “You’re not a detective, are you?”

“No,” laughed Jack. “I’m not exactly a detective. I might be more properly described as a bravo.”

It was her turn to laugh.

“A hired assassin? Well, I don’t want anybody assassinated. Captain Bryce, but I am very much worried about my brother. I despair of checking his excesses, and, although my best friend, Mrs. Fleming–you probably know Mrs. Fleming?”

“I don’t go about much,” said Jack, “except by motor ‘bus.”

Again she laughed.

“She has advised me to let Dennis go his own pace. Now I’ll tell you my plan.”

She sat back in her seat, her hands clasped about her knees, as wholesome a picture of British girlhood as Jack Bryce had ever seen. “I have some friends in Australia, and they wrote me some months ago, telling me that a young man named Mortimer, the son of a rich squatter, was coming with a letter of introduction, and Dennis and I were going show him round To-day I got a cable from my friends saying that he could not sail for six months, and apologizing for not having advised me sooner.”

“I see,” said Jack, nodding, “You would like me to be Mr. Mortimer?”

“You’ve got it. We have promised to put him up for a day or two, and his room is quite ready. I had to see you, you know. I’m so scared about the people that lawyers employ, but you look the part.”

“Prepare the blue bedroom.” said Jack solemnly. “I will arrive in Park Lane at seven o’clock this evening.”

At seven o’clock that night Jack, appropriately dressed in a travelling ulster, with two large portmanteaux (he had bought one that afternoon in Victoria Street) was picked up by an apologetic chauffeur, who presented his mistress’s compliments and regrets for keeping him waiting. He did not see the girl when he got to the house, but when he was dressed for dinner he found her waiting in the drawing-room, and with her was a young man who sat hunched up on a settee, his hands in his pockets and a frown on his sallow face.

“Mr. Mortimer? I am glad to see you,” said the girl. “This is my brother Dennis.” The young man uncoiled himself from the sofa and offered a limp hand. He stood eyeing the newcomer with a certain amount of disfavour.

“How do?” he grunted ungraciously. “Is dinner ready?”–this to his sister.

Dinner was announced at that moment. Throughout the meal the young man scarcely spoke a word. Jack Bryce talked entertainingly of Australia (he had spent two hours reading an Australian novel to get the local colour), and the girl was entertained and secretly amused. Before the end of the dinner the young man got up, and with a look at his wrist-watch–

“I have an appointment. You’ll excuse me, Mr. Mortimer?” he said. “My sister will see you to your room. I hope you’re comfortable. What is the matter?”

His sister was pulling a wry face. “I’ve just remembered that I have to go to a dance,” she said. “That means that poor Mr. Mortimer will be left all alone in the house. I am awfully sorry.”

“Don’t worry about me,” declared Jack cheerfully. “I can amuse myself. I know t London rather well. I was here about four years ago. But apart from that, if you give me a pack of cards I can amuse myself by playing solitaire.”

There was a twisted little smile on Dennis Wollaston’s face.

“Pretty slow playing against yourself, isn’t it?” he asked.

“I get a lot of amusement out of it.” said Jack. “I have rather a passion for cards.”

“Do they play high in Australia?” asked Dennis, interested.

“Oh, pretty high,” said the other carelessly. “Of course, the clubs don’t allow you to lift the roof, but you can always get a little party, and in Melbourne–“ He smiled suggestively, as if at a pleasant reminiscence.

The young man hesitated.

“Good night,” he said. A little while later they heard the whine of his car as he drove away from the door.

The girl looked at Jack.

“Well?” she asked.

“I think he’ll be easy,” said that confident young man.

She was looking through the window into Park Lane. A car had drawn up at the door, and she turned to Jack.

“This is my friend. Fanny Fleming,” she said. “I will introduce you.”

“Not as Captain Bryce,” he said quickly. “To everybody I meet here I must be Mr. Mortimer.”

She hesitated.

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