The Terrible People - Edgar Wallace - ebook

The Terrible People ebook

Edgar Wallace

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Clay Shelton is an outstanding forger and has been capable of cheating on an entire country. One day is finally arrested, convicted of the assassination for killing a policeman and sentenced to death. His execution is performed and the case is closed. Or this is what everyone thinks, until the judge who sentenced Shelton, his prosecutor and executioner are brutally murdered by „The Terrible People”, an mysterious secret organization. The next name on their list is the one of Arnold „Betcher” Long, the private eye who had caught the infamous forger. However, Long is all but an easy target... This early work by Edgar Wallace was originally published in 1926. „The Terrible People” is a classic mystery novel by this pioneer of the detective genre.

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Liczba stron: 370

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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 XXXIV

CHAPTER XXXV

CHAPTER XXXVI

CHAPTER XXXVII

CHAPTER XXXVIII

CHAPTER XXXIX

CHAPTER XL

CHAPTER XLI

CHAPTER XLII

CHAPTER XLIII

CHAPTER XLIV

CHAPTER XLV

CHAPTER XLVI

CHAPTER XLVII

CHAPTER I

HARRY THE LANCER came into Burton Street Station to show his “brief,” for he was out of Dartmoor only that Monday, having served twenty-one months short of seven years.

He slouched in, a scowl on his yellow, scarred face, and produced his document to the station sergeant.

“Henry Beneford, S’ar’nt–convic’ on license. Gotta report here–”

And then he saw Inspector Long (or, as they called him, “Betcher,”) and his eyes blazed. It was unfortunate in many ways, but most unfortunate for the Lancer, as it proved, that Betcher was present. He had called round to identify a much-desired shoplifter.

“Morning, Inspector. Still alive, I see?”

“And kicking,” said Sub-Inspector Arnold Long cheerfully.

The ugly lip of Harry the Lancer curled.

“Wonder your perishin’ conscience don’t keep you awake at night–you got me seven by lyin’ an’ artfulness!”

“And I hope to get you another seven,” said Betcher cheerfully. “If I had my way, Lancer, I’d put you in a lethal chamber–where they put the other mad dogs. And the world would be a better place.”

The long upper lip of the man began to twitch spasmodically. People who knew him best flew to cover at this ominous warning, but though Arnold Long knew him well enough, he was not alarmed.

Truly, the Lancer had been a lancer in His Majesty’s Army for eighteen months, at the end of which time he went down for three years for kicking a corporal to unconsciousness. He was a bully, a thief, and a dangerous man. But then, Betcher was also a dangerous man.

“Listen to me, mister. I’m not going to threaten you. I’m not givin’ you a chance to send me back to the Awful Place, but what I’m a-goin’ to say to you is this: you watch out!”

Betcher smiled.

“You talk too much, Lancer,” he said pleasantly. “One of these days you’ll be going into Parliament.”

The convict was trembling with fury; the twitching upper lip quivered again. He tried to speak but could not, and, turning to the sergeant at the desk, laid down his papers with a hand that shook.

“Clever–you’re all clever. People like me are easy to catch–why’n’ you get Shelton, hey? All the busies in England can’t get him. Not even amachers!”

Betcher did not reply to this, being wholly uninterested in Clay Shelton at the moment. He did, however, recognize that the slighting reference to “amachers” was immediately directed to himself, but that reproach had never worried him, for he was a good professional, as Lancer had reason to know.

Returning to Scotland Yard, he discovered that Mr. Shelton was indeed a vital interest in life.

There was, in truth, no such man in the world as “Clay Shelton.” Yet for fifteen years he had been engaged in the forging and uttering of letters of credit, bills of exchange, and other negotiable security. And fifteen years is a long time. “Clay Shelton” was merely a label that indicated his activities– it was the name written in the register of the White Hart Hotel at Dorking on September 3, 1899, by a thin, near-sighted man who took seven thousand pounds out of the Sussex Bank by one of the simplest of tricks and the most elementary of forgeries. It was the first name by which he was known, and it served to mark him on record cards at police headquarters.

Lieutenant-Colonel Hillerby, of the Army Pay Corps, who drew twenty-five thousand seven hundred pounds from the Bank of Africa by means of a forged warrant, was undoubtedly the same gentleman, with a moustache and monocle. The bank detective who, being well acquainted with military matters, suspected this new colonel and followed him to Wynberg was found knifed in a pine wood near Kenilworth, for “Clay” supported his ingenuity with violence.

Fleet-Paymaster Corban-Smith, who took almost the same amount from the Portsmouth and Southern Bank, had no moustache and wore a naval officer’s uniform, the left breast of which was gay with medal ribbons.

The bank messenger who walked into the Bank of England and withdrew sixty- five thousand pounds on behalf of the Midland & Western had a gray moustache and Scottish accent. Frederick G. Tennycold, of Chicago, who presented a letter of credit to another branch of the same bank and carried off six thousand, wore horn-rimmed spectacles and the badge of the Knights of Columbus–there were scores of other names that the police entered on his dossier, but officially he was “Clay Shelton.”

Inspector Vansittar, a depressed and gloomy man, had an interview with his chief.

“I’m extremely sorry, Vansittar, but you’ve only had the experience which other officers have had,” said the chief, shaking his white head, “and the best I can do for you is to take you off the case and give it to somebody else. Fortunately for you, as I say, every other man who has touched the Shelton forgeries has fallen down.”

Mr. Shelton had, three months before, obtained eighteen thousand three hundred and twenty pounds from the Foreign Department of the City of London Bank by means of a forged cable transfer. All the experts agreed that it was the neatest “job” that had ever been done, but whilst police headquarters could offer a detached admiration for a clever piece of work, it was vitally necessary that it should not be repeated.

“We can’t catch him because we don’t know him,” said the inspector, “but mostly because he works alone. Even the cable job was single-handed. The cable advice was forged and delivered in London, and so was the confirmation. A man clever enough to work on his own can only be caught by the act of the Lord! If there was a woman attached to him, if he had a wife or a side partner of any kind, he wouldn’t have run fifteen years.”

There was an awkward, even a painful, silence here. The chief, liking the officer and desiring to let him down lightly, could think of no way but a harsh one for ending this talk; the inspector had no further excuses.

But there was a suggestion to make, and this he offered.

“I don’t believe anybody will catch him unless he makes a bad slip, but there is a man who might–”

He waited for encouragement. Colonel Macfarlane knew just whom he meant, and did not speak, wishing that the responsibility for the suggestion should at least be halved.

“Betcher?” suggested Vansittar, and the Colonel’s nose wrinkled.

“Umph! Betcher!” He shook his head disparagingly.

Betcher Long, his vulgar nickname notwithstanding, was a university man, and he was the son of a millionaire in spite of the fact that he was a policeman. Why the son of Sir Godley Long became a policeman at all is too long a story to tell. On a certain gloomy day, he was sent down from Cambridge by an enraged vice-chancellor, his crime being that he had fought and beaten a lowly official of the university, to wit Tom Helpford, the bulldog guardian of a proctor.

Therefore was he sent with ignominy to his parent. And his parent, being rather testy over the matter, advised Arnold Murry Long to go forth into the world and earn his own living. And Betcher obeyed. He turned up at his father’s house in Berkeley Square one month later wearing the uniform of a constable of the Metropolitan Police, and not all the pleadings and stormings of Sir Godley could induce him to change it.

That is most of the story: they called him “Betcher” because that was a favoured challenge of his.

His father did not wash his hands of his only son. He took a certain pride in his eccentricity; was wont to talk at his very exclusive club of “my son, the copper.” He had once waylaid Arnold at the corner of Hill Street one foggy night and offered him beer. How Arnold had emptied the can joyously and then threatened to arrest his father for loitering became a legend of clubland.

Because of his wealthy associations, authority would have kept Arnold walking a beat, being fearful of a charge of favouritism and the questions which would be inevitably raised in Parliament if he received promotion out of his turn. Yet in two years he was a sergeant, and not an ill-natured question could be asked, for he had taken Lew Fredding, wanted for lifting a quarter of a million dollars from the New York Security Bank, and had followed up this exploit by tackling with his bare hands those notorious gunmen, Sullivan and Veilt, after the killing of Parlyvoo Smith, the informer. Nothing could hold back his stripes after that. Scotland Yard transferred him to the Criminal Investigation Department, where he would be overshadowed by greater men. Driving home one night in the fog, he overtook a man with a limp who, because of the propitious weather, had ventured from his hiding place for a little exercise. Betcher stopped his car, jumped out, and, miraculously avoiding two bullets, arrested with some difficulty Ernie Budlow, bank robber and blackmailer, “wanted” on six distinct charges.

“Luck!” said the Yard, but they had to give him an acting inspectorship because the Home Secretary made the recommendation over his own sprawling signature.

He was not the ideal of Scotland Yard. They did not hold him up as a model for young detectives to follow. He had, he admitted, been so often on the carpet that he had worn a hole in it. Suspension from duty had come his way; a severe reprimand, afterward expunged from his “sheet,” had blotted his record; and once he had earned the censure of a judge for his unconstitutional methods.

In height he was sixty-nine inches, and gave the impression that he was rather thin. He could run like a hare but more intelligently; as a boxer, he held the amateur championship for two years; he could climb like a cat, and had something of the cat’s sensitiveness. He called himself English to annoy Macfarlane, the chief, who never allowed the word “English” to pass where “British” would serve.

His face was thin and long and had an everlasting smile, for life and the world were a great joke. When the Boylans caught him off Limehouse Reach and gave him five minutes to prepare himself for a rapid translation to another world, his white teeth showed in glee.

“You don’t kill me for a thousand–betcher!”

And they didn’t. He swam two miles with hands and feet tied, and when he was rescued by the Thames police, the first words that came from his chattering teeth (the time was mid-January and the river was full of ice) were: “I’ll get Joe Boylan in twenty-four hours–betcher a thousand!” And Joe he caught.

Colonel Macfarlane might well wrinkle his nose at the thought of putting Betcher Long on the Shelton case. In England the third degree is unknown– Betcher had invented a fourth. Did he not hold the head of Lew Brayley until he confessed where he had hidden the small son of Mr. John Brisbane, the millionaire shipowner, kidnapped and held for ransom? Was it not Betcher who earned the censure of a High Court judge for breaking open the safe of Lester Glommen and securing there from the proof, and the only proof obtainable, of his connection with the Texan oil swindle which was so profitable to Lester that he might have retired a very rich man in a few months?

“Betcher?” The chief pulled at his lower lip thoughtfully. “I daren’t do it! Betcher would do something outrageous, and the kick would come back to this office… Still…”

He mused on the matter all day, and at five o’clock in the evening Mr. Arnold Long was summoned to his superior’s bureau.

Betcher listened with his set grin.

“No, sir, I don’t want to see the papers–I know Shelton’s record by heart. Give me three months and I’ll put him where he’ll keep regular hours.”

“Don’t be too sure, Mr. Long!” warned the Colonel.

“Betch–I mean I’m pretty sure,” said Arnold respectfully.

So, with many admonitions, warnings, and sundry words of good advice, Betcher Long went forth and reported to the Chairman of the Bankers’ Association.

CHAPTER II

ONE fine spring morning, Mr. Shelton strolled down Lombard Street, a thoroughfare entirely devoted to banking establishments; and as he walked, gently swinging his tightly rolled umbrella, he allowed his fancy to roam back through the ages, when this little street had been packed tight with the houses of Germanic money-lenders, and the Lombard rooms, or lumber rooms as the word had been corrupted, were crowded with the pledged furniture of their clients.

He paused before a building that was dour and mean-looking in spite of its polished granite face, and stared up, as a tourist might stare, at its monotonous rows of windows.

“What is this place?”

A City policeman stood in the roadway near the edge of the sidewalk, and the City policeman is a guide-book as well as an incomparable director of traffic.

“City & Southern Bank, sir,” he said.

“Dear me!” said Mr. Shelton mildly, and gazed at the building with, as it seemed to the policeman, a new respect.

A car drove up; the chauffeur jumped out and opened the door, and there alighted first a very pretty girl, and then an elderly, sallow-faced woman, and lastly a good-looking young man with a black moustache and a monocle, and carrying his glossy silk hat in his hand, for the height of the car roof had made its wearing a precarious business.

They passed into the bank and the policeman strolled up to the chauffeur.

“How long will they be before they come out?” he asked.

“Five minutes,” said the chauffeur, stretching himself comfortably.

“If they’re any longer, pull out and park.” The policeman gave the driver some instructions and strolled back to the sightseer.

“You a stranger to London, sir?” he asked.

Mr. Shelton nodded.

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