The Kahm Syndicate - Aidan de Brune - ebook

The Kahm Syndicate ebook

Aidan de Brune



The Kahm Syndicate” is another breathtaking novel by the master of mystery Aidan de Brune, a colorful and prolific Australian writer whose opus is well worth saving from oblivion. Who will control the mean streets of Darlinghurst? This and another answers you can find here. The story is fast-paced with some surprising twists, well written and great to read. This genuine mystery story takes the reader from one exciting episode to another with all the adroitness and ingenuity of de Brune’s previous successful books. An entertaining tale of mystery and intrigue, this book constitutes a must-read for lovers of crime mystery.

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Liczba stron: 261

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A SMALL room, with a single narrow window, on the fourth floor of an old-fashioned building in Macquarie-street, Sydney, a few steps from Queen’s Square. Along the walls were glass-closed shelves extending to within a couple of feet of the ceiling, dirty and discoloured. The glass-enclosed shelving extended under the window, and a single shelf ran across the top of the door. The floor was laid with an old, greying carpet-square, on which stood a big, flat-topped desk, covered with papers neatly tied in bundles. There were only two chairs in the room, one on each side of the desk.

In one of the chairs, a well-padded arm-chair, a slightly-built, partially-bald, young-old man was seated, staring through heavily rimmed spectacles towards the window. His left hand, resting on the blotting-pad, held a sheet of notepaper.

Few who visited the building, on the fanlight of the door of which was inscribed “Crown Law Office,” knew of the small chamber on the top floor, or of the man who occupied it. Very few of those who worked in the building knew exactly what position Oliver Manx held in the organisation. It was rumoured that he held some obscure post under the Public Prosecutor, yet no papers bearing his autograph, or initials, filtered into the general business of the offices. It was definitely stated that he had never been known to hold any communication with any official in the building.

Punctually as the city clocks struck nine each morning, Oliver Manx descended from a tram in Queen’s Square and walked the few yards to the Crown Law Office. Invariably he was dressed in a faded blue lounge suit, and wore a cap–a cap that the chief messenger of the department looked upon with distinct disfavour as lowering the dignity of a Government Office to that of an ordinary business or factory. Once the cap had been of large check patterned cloth, but many rains and suns had faded the design to a nondescript greeny-grey. In his right hand Oliver Manx grasped a heavy bloodwood stick, and from his left fingers dangled a light attaché case. Just as punctually as he arrived, Manx descended the stairs at five o’clock and passed out into the street. During the seven hours’ interval no-one in the department heard or saw him.

There was a telephone in the small office, but the instrument was not connected with the switch-board in the department, nor with the general exchange that serves all the New South Wales public offices. The number was not listed in the telephone directory. More peculiarly, the instrument did not possess a bell–the only sound that came from it, when connection was desired, was a distinct click, at half-second intervals.

In all, Oliver Manx was a mystery–not to the general public, who were in entire ignorance of his being, but to the officials surrounding him during the work-day hours. He was more than a mystery–he was one forgotten. If a caller had visited the building, asking for him, he would have been met with a blank stare; then a distinct effort of memory; and finally the direction: “Straight up the stairs to the top floor–the door opposite the head of the stairs.” Fortunately for the official memory of messengers, Oliver Manx had no callers.

Yet Oliver Manx was not entirely forgotten. In various Government offices high potentates held in their memories the dial-number of that strange telephone instrument. Certain high police officials were so well aware of the number that they dialled it automatically when they wished to communicate with Oliver Manx. Gentlemen of record in the Darlinghurst, Woolloomooloo and Surry Hills district would have given largely to have learned that number–and its connection with Manx–a personality they both hated and feared.

With a sudden grunt Oliver Manx came out of his reverie, let the letter he held fall to the desk, and snatched up a newspaper from the floor. Swinging his chair round, so that the light from the window illuminated the page, he folded the sheet to show a single double-column heading:


Oliver Manx smiled strangely as he re-read the heading and the stagger sub-heads that followed. When he turned to the reading matter beneath the headings his lips had set in a hard, straight line. He read:

Just before nine o’clock last night Constable Knight, attached to the Darlinghurst Division, found the dead body of a man in Horton-street, Darlinghurst. The flying patrol was quickly on the spot, followed by the hospital ambulance, but the man was past help.

Inspector Darin, in charge of the flying patrol, stated that when he arrived on the scene the body was still warm, and that the doctor had stated that death had occurred within a quarter of an hour. He identified the man as “Babe” Shaver, a member of “Gunner” West’s gang, and a dangerous criminal, well known to the police. He added that Shaver had only been released from gaol during the previous week, after serving a three years’ term at Goulburn for robbery with violence.

Shaver had been killed by three bullets fired into his chest at close quarters. Dr. Hunder, who had been summoned by Constable Knight before the flying patrol arrived, states that all three wounds were mortal, and that the man could only have lived a few seconds after the first shot was fired.

This is the fifth killing in the Darlinghurst Division during the past eight days, and so far the police have failed to make an arrest. In every case the victim was of criminal repute and, peculiarly, had recently been released from gaol.

There is no doubt–

And so on. Oliver Manx smiled wryly as he laid the newspaper aside. The police department were in for a press-chastisement. Gang killings had become too common of late, and to the gentlemen who occupied editorial chairs even the death of a gangster had to be followed by swift police reprisals. Oliver Manx mused. In his private opinion it would be more to the point to draw a cordon about the infested area and allow the crooks to exterminate one another at leisure.

He turned to the desk and picked up the letter he had held a few moments before. It bore no printed heading and was typewritten, single-spaced, and with very narrow side-margins. A well-worn purple ribbon had formed the impressions–a ribbon so well-worn that it concealed many of the clues showing in ordinary typing. The page was headed: “To all it may concern.” The letter had been forwarded to him from Police Headquarters by a plain-clothed constable who required no directions to find the little office under the roof of the Crown Law Department.

The letter stated:

Gang killings have been far too numerous of late, yet gang-killings serve a useful purpose in that they remove from society those who are a menace to it. Darlinghurst has obtained an unenviable notoriety for these gang vendettas. The district has become a menace to the city of Sydney, and to Australia as a whole. It is possible to believe that the police in the district are incompetent, or are hand in glove with the underworld of the district. This must cease. Darlinghurst, Surry Hills and Woolloomooloo must be cleared of the undesirable elements that have flocked there from all over Australia.

We, the undersigned, charge the police officials of the Darlinghurst Division with malfeasance. Under their protection the gangsters of these districts work with impunity. Very definitely we charge the police officials of these districts with accepting bribes from known criminals, and others who infringe the laws in lesser degrees. Darlinghurst, in particular, is a hot-bed of starting-price gangsters, openly plying their trade, and sly-grog houses just as openly conducted. Prosecutions are rarely instituted, and then only when graft is not forthcoming in sufficient amounts.

For the information of those in authority we definitely charge: That cheap bookmakers openly operate in their homes, with their street-doors wide open for their clients to enter. Every street in these localities has one or more sly-grog shops. That so-called billiard saloons in these districts are little more than places where illicit liquor can be obtained after the official closing hours. That ‘clubs’ are established everywhere, in rooms as small as ten by eight, where the sole business is the selling of liquor. That drug-running is a recognised trade in these districts, and is openly sold across the counters of so-called respectable shops. That many of the large blocks of flats in the Darlinghurst district are little better than brothels, and that the owners, claiming to be reputable members of the community, have turned out tenants of good repute to make room for prostitutes, who are willing to pay a far larger rent. Hold-ups are of nightly occurrence in these districts; the cat-burglar flourishes. Intimidation and terrorism is fast growing–the average, law-abiding citizen is warned to close his eyes to flagrant infringements of the laws, under the penalty of violence.

Only one line is drawn by the police; that is, when gangland commits a crime that is so outrageous that it attracts interstate attention. Then an arrest is made. We instance the recent hold-ups of Government officials carrying large sums of money through the streets. In the first case no arrest was made, as neither of the victims was injured–only the taxpayers’ money was taken. In the second case one of the officials was permanently blinded. Then an arrest was made as quickly as possible–as a victim had to be found to appease public indignation.

We, the undersigned, declare that the present impossible conditions can no longer be permitted to exist. If properly constituted authority cannot deal with these evils, then private individuals must combine for their own protection. We hereby give notice that unless the present reign of terror in Darlinghurst and the adjacent districts is ended, and the criminals concerned scattered or imprisoned,

We, the undersigned, will take action against both police and gangsters within three days.


Oliver Manx again dropped the letter on the desk and turned to stare out of the window with expressionless eyes. From where he sat he could see the top storey and roofs of the grey-stone building that had once housed the Sydney Mint. Beyond that was only blue sky. In his mind’s eye he pierced the grey walls that blocked his view, looking to the distant heights of Darlinghurst–the tall buildings lining the steep ridge, and below, in the hollow before, the’ huddle of low, dilapidated hovels of Woolloomooloo.

The Kahm Syndicate! Who were the Kahm Syndicate? He wondered what standing had they in the community? Who were its members? Why were’ they seeking to usurp duly constituted authority?

Oliver Manx mentally admitted that the Syndicate had great reason in their charges. Darlinghurst had become a hot-bed of crime that the police appeared incapable of cleaning up. Day after day, night after night, since the Police Department had received the first warning from the Kahm Syndicate that the plague-spots must be removed from the boundaries of the city of Sydney, he had wandered through the named districts, noting, analysing. He had learned that the Syndicate had good reasons for its statements. He had seen police officers talking at street-corners with well-known gangsters, calling, and being called, in terms of familiarity and friendship. He had seen men and women admitted into the big hotels of the districts during the late night hours–he had seen men and women emerge from these hotels in the early hours of the morning, staggering under the influence of drink they could only have obtained by direct violation of the licensing laws. He had seen brawls start after midnight on the very doorsteps of these hotels, by men under the influence of liquor–and the police using a patience and restraint evidently inspired by well-greased palms.

He had spent hours loitering before the doors of important blocks of flats in Darlinghurst–to see victims led within by highly painted women. He had seen furtive men lounging against posts and walls, apparently of no occupation, accosted by apparently respectable citizens–and to witness the secret exchange of money for small white packages of sinister significance. He had seen these men shuffle off at the approach of a patrolman, with a grin and a sly nod of understanding.

He had bought sixpenny packets of cigarettes in shops–packets that contained a single row of cigarettes at the front, and a folder of white paper behind. A banknote on the counter and an understanding nod had been air that was required for the purchase. He had walked the streets during the daytime, noting the men, well-dressed and apparently flush of money, who appeared to have no business save to lounge at street-corners, to nod familiarly to constable and police officer, exchanging comments on weather and sport in tones that tokened entire understanding. He had wandered through the back streets, noting the houses where the street-doors stood wide open–and within, a man seated at a small table with a telephone at his elbow, a wireless loudspeaker blaring out the running of horses and the results of the afternoon racing.

Such was Darlinghurst–a city in itself where work seemed unnecessary and foolish–where everyone was well-clothed and fed–a city where crime and graft reigned, and the laws made in Macquarie-street and at Canberra were derided with foul oaths. He had made report–a voluntary report–of all that he had witnessed. There had been no need for the Police Department to forward on to him this last letter from the Kahm Syndicate; the officials had every detail set out therein in the reports on their files, signed with the queer monogram of strokes and circles they knew to be his sign-manual.

The Kahm Syndicate! Oliver Manx nodded his head vaguely. What would they do? Would they carry out the threat openly stated in the letter on his desk, and take measures to clean up this plague-spot on the national left? Then, what would happen if they took action they thought necessary? His shoulders went up in a characteristic jerk. There would be trouble–much trouble. Days and weeks might pass before authority again gained the upper hand–and during those days the Kahm Syndicate and gangland would fight a bitter battle–a battle of death and destruction.

The Kahm Syndicate! The name seemed strangely familiar. Oliver Manx turned to the desk again and ruffled the leaves of the telephone directory. He came to the letter “K” ‘and ran his finger down the columns. Yes! He had not been wrong. There was a Kahm Syndicate–and with offices in Alford House, Pitt-street. That was strange! Why had he turned so automatically to the telephone directory? He knew that he had remembered. Again his eyes sought the Mint roofs. He had remembered, yes–but what? The Kahm Syndicate! But no body of men who intended to place themselves outside the laws would dare to take offices in the centre of the business quarter of the city–in bold defiance of the authority they declared corrupt and venial!

Oliver Manx smiled; then stood up and stretched. He went across the room and drew back a section of the shelves. Behind showed a big cupboard.

He bent the door back until the click of a spring told him that it was held. On the inside of the door was a large, full-length mirror, so arranged that it reflected a strong light from the window. Over the mirror was a powerful, shaded electric bulb. He switched on the light and lowered the shelf before the mirror, fitting it into place across the glass. From the cupboard he brought out a filled suit-hanger.

A few moments and he had changed. The round-shouldered, young-old man who had entered the Crown Law Office two hours before had disappeared. In his place stood a middle-aged man, upright and dignified, with thick, greying hair and well-filled ruddy cheeks, well dressed and with the appearance of a good social standing.

A last glance at the mirror and Oliver Manx switched out the light, folded up the shelf, and swung the door shut. For a moment he remained lost in thought, flicking from one hand to the other a pair of new, light-coloured gloves. Presently he withdrew from a waistcoat pocket a heavy silver card case and opened it, running the cards out on his palm; staring down at the name engraved oh them.

Thaddeus Keene, retired stockbroker and member of the Circle Club; Melbourne, Victoria, was about to interview the Kahm Syndicate.


THADDEUS KEENE was well known in Melbourne; Oliver Manx had seen to that detail. Keene was a great traveller, and had no relations, few friends, and a host of acquaintances. He travelled widely. Acquaintances are rarely inquisitive. They ask questions when met, some of their questions bordering on the inquisitive; but with absence comes forgetfulness on their part.

Certainly it was strange that with Keene’s re-appearance in Melbourne social life, Oliver Manx made one of his frequent absences from Sydney.

Oliver Manx had found Thaddeus Keene useful. Yet he was only one of quite a number of unattached Australians who roamed their country, turning up at infrequent intervals in the cities and towns they call “home.” None of them claimed to have relations, friends, or intimates. They held only one likeness. Whenever one of them appeared in public in any city, the others, including Oliver Manx, were absent from their home towns, on private and unobtrusive business.

A final glance about the small office and Oliver Manx left the room, closing the door behind him. The spring lock held the door fast against intrusion, for in spite of the fact that the building was invaded by a host of cleaners each evening, there was only one key to that lock. Turning towards the head of the stairs Oliver Manx passed leisurely through the building. On the stairs and landing he passed many officials of the Crown Law Department, and visitors. None of them recognised him, although many were familiar with the appearance of the slight, round-shouldered man who occupied the room at the top of the house.

In the vestibule of the building, once the reception hall of one of Sydney’s first houses, Oliver passed the hall-porter, a resplendent individual with the air of an English duke. The official stared for a moment, then turned away. His manner showed that he took the man passing him to be some casual citizen who had dared to invade the sacred precincts of the department. Certainly, he puzzled, for he did not remember so obviously an important person entering the building.

On the street pavement, Oliver turned towards Queen’s Square. In King-street he nearly collided with a hurrying newsboy, shouting unintelligibly in the jargon of the street. For a moment the boy halted:

“Paper, sir?”–and Oliver caught sight of the yellow and black bill draping the small figure. The big, black type asked a question:


Oliver dropped coins into a grubby hand and took the loosely folded newspaper. He sighed; so these people who intended to take the law into their own hands could not keep their intentions secret? Moving close to one of the shop windows, to be out of the hurrying throng, he opened the newspaper. As he had guessed, the statement he had received from the police that morning was printed in full.

Who are the people comprising the Kahm Syndicate?

asked the Star in shrieking streamers.

What purpose have they? Are they defying the police, as well as the gangsters who infest our city?

These, and other pertinent questions were prominent in stagger-sub-heads. Even the almost stereotyped editorial on the sins and virtues of politicians had been “lifted” into an obscurity for the issue. In place of the usual political propaganda–carefully ignored by the average reader–a member of the editorial staff wrote learnedly on the “Kahm Syndicate;” at one time comparing it to a heavenly visitant undertaking the work of cleaning up a grossly immoral and vicious city, in other phrases declaring it to be another phase of criminal intrigue to which the country had become accustomed. All this in accordance with the policy of Sydney’s one evening newspaper to balance carefully on the top rail of the fence for the moment.

Oliver folded the newspaper and tucked it under his arm. For a moment he was thoughtful, a little frown-pucker showing between his eyes. If the newspapers were going to boost the Kahm Syndicate his task would be doubly difficult. He strolled on to Pitt-street.

Alford House is one of the most important buildings in the city of Sydney. Very new, and with elaborate appointments, very correct porters and discreet lift-attendants, it had recently been opened by a clever-advertising insurance company. In the vestibule Oliver paused a moment, scanning the long index of tenants. The Kahm Syndicate occupied a suite of five offices on the third floor. He strolled on to the lift and entered, giving the number of the floor he required in a cool, precise voice.

Almost opposite the lift-stop were large, double, full-glass doors, inscribed in gold with the words “The Kahm Syndicate.” The lettering carried no indication of the business being carried on in the offices. Beyond the doors stood a solid, expensive-looking counter, and beyond the counter, in dignified employment, more than a dozen clerks. As Oliver approached the doors they swung open before him, automatically. He passed on to the counter.

“Mr. Kahm in?” asked Oliver Manx.

“Mr–who?” The girl who had come to the opposite side of the counter raised plucked eyebrows. “There is no Mr. Kahm.”

“Sorry.” The tall, dignified, very straight form bent slightly. “I should have said, your manager.”

“Your name, please.”

Oliver Manx produced the heavy silver card-case and took out one of the slips of pasteboard. The girl accepted the card gravely and passed it to a diminutive page-boy, who suddenly materialised at her side. The boy went to a door, knocked, listened a moment, then entered the room. He returned to sight quickly and, lifting a flap in the counter, invited Oliver Manx to enter. Lowering the flap, the boy entered a room, motioning the investigator to follow him.

Purposely, Oliver slackened his pace as he set foot in the handsomely furnished office, staring keenly at the chubby-faced, bald-headed man seated behind the big desk. He was puzzled. From the moment he had entered Alford House he had been in a wilderness of surmises. In these offices he had seen no indications of the business carried on by the Syndicate–and now he was called upon to state his business with the firm.

And he had none. For a full half-minute he stood in the doorway, scanning the man behind the desk, the page-boy at his elbow waiting to close the door on him. The man behind the desk was waiting, a smile of expectancy on his full, over-red lips.

Secretly Oliver smiled. Here was a game he could play perhaps better than the man before him.

“Mr. Thaddeus Keene?” The man behind the desk spoke at length.

“Of Melbourne,” Oliver murmured. “I have the pleasure–”

“Archibald–Maurice Archibald.” The stout man beamed. “Will you not sit down?” He indicated, with a jerky motion of his right hand, still holding a heavy golden fountain-pen, the chair before the desk. Oliver bowed, and made rather a ceremony of seating himself. He was waiting for the lead that did not appear likely to come.

“I was expecting to see a–a Mr. Kahm,” he ventured.

“There is no Mr. Kahm.” Archibald spoke slowly. “That is the name of the syndicate.”

“Ah–the syndicate.” Oliver nodded understandingly. “I used to know a Mr.–er–Kahm in Melbourne. I thought–”

“Then this is a social call.” The stout man smiled brightly. “I am most pleased–and disappointed. Pleased that there is not a Mr. Kahm–in Sydney and–”

“Disappointed that you are not interviewing a business customer,” interjected Oliver. “Perhaps one day, when I have knowledge of your business–”

“So? I forgot!” Again the man turned a beaming face for a moment on Oliver, then bent to one of the desk drawers. “This is a social call.”

Almost magically a silver humidor appeared on the desk and opened. Archibald pressed some spring, and one of the compartments came up, holding inviting-looking cigars.

“A social call! Hardly that.” Oliver carefully selected a cigar. “I am interested in Melbourne newspapers.”

“Ah, a Sydney representative of one of the big dailies in our sister city?”

“If I may claim that.” The investigator drew forward the stand-lighter. “Have you seen this afternoon’s newspaper, Mr. Archibald?”

Instead of answering the question, Archibald pressed a bell-stud on the desk.

“Don’t trouble,” said Oliver, unfolding the newspaper he had carried into the office. He spread the sheet on the desk facing Archibald.

“Ah! The Kahm Syndicate!” The stout man read the big display headings carefully. “So that is the reason for your call, Mr Keene?”

“I am interested.”


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