The Spook in the Paper Suit (Holt #2) wip
Somewhere along the Thames.
They sat hunched, two men dressed in smart slate-grey herringbone overcoats, their lapels lined with sewn-in razor blades. Their Hombolt hats slumped forlornly on the bar like drowned rodents.
‘I feel old,’ said the man with no hair.
‘We are old,’ said the man who had grey hair.
‘This pub looks as old as I feel,’ said the man with the grey hair.
‘They built it before the First World War.’
‘I’m not that old.’
‘You won’t have to do this again.’
‘You won’t have to.’
They had arrived before dawn. Their car was parked off the main road.
‘The beer pumps don’t work,’ said the man with no hair. ‘There’s no point in looking at them.’
‘The pub is for sale. The cellar hasn’t been cleaned for weeks. I’ve got bottles of Guinness.’
‘I saw the sign outside. It’s still raining.’
‘I can see the rain.’
‘It’s rained for a week.’
‘I like looking at the rain,’ said the man with no hair. ‘Richardson, jobs in the rain worry me,’
‘You won’t have to do this again, Cromwell,’ said Richardson.
‘I could do with being twenty years younger, Richardson,’ said Cromwell.
‘If you find out how, let me know. The Guiness tastes all right. It’s not cold. I hate cold Guiness.’
‘I have something really warm. We’re spoilt for choice. I’ll pour us two Jamesons.’
Cromwell marched around the deserted bar and blew the dust off the bottle. Some of the dust lingered on his tightly trimmed moustache.
Richardson said nothing and waited.
‘Drink your whisky first,’ said Cromwell.
Richardson and Cromwell both glanced at the clock.
‘I feel better,’ said Richardson.
Cromwell thumbed the padded envelope; its top corner darkened and damp. Inside it was a photograph.
‘The Guinness tastes better after a wee jemmy,’ said Richardson.
Cromwell said nothing. He took the photograph out again. Although committed to memory, he wanted to be sure.
‘Tis good the Guinness is warm,’ said Richardson.
‘I wouldn’t mind another Jameson,’ said Richardson.
‘You can have another Jameson and another Guinness,’ said Cromwell.
‘I wouldn’t mind. I wouldn’t mind at all.’
‘I don’t want to drink too much Guinness before a job.’
‘I don’t want to rush the Guinness.’
‘We have a job to do,’ said Cromwell
‘So we have, brother,’ said Richardson. ‘And you have a pub to sell.’
‘That, I have. I’ll buy another premises, from the job. I have my eye on Belfast.’
‘You won’t get many looking when it’s raining.’
‘No one has been looking. I’ve had a phone call from the brewery.’
‘I can imagine,’ said Richardson.
‘They’re bastards, Richardson. They come on the phone, setting deadlines.’
‘I can imagine, Cromwell.’
‘They’re taking the stock away tomorrow.’
‘All of it, Richardson.’
‘If we drink another Guiness, I’ll be wanting to pee.’
‘We don’t want that.’
‘I don’t like them having what’s left of the stock, Richardson.’
‘You can’t wave a gun at someone when you’ve got your legs crossed,’ said Cromwell.
‘It’s good for the shoulder,’ said Cromwell. ‘I have pain something awful in my shoulder.’
‘The Guinness is good for the pain?’ said Richardson.
‘Not so much the Guinness.’
‘The Guinness does make you want to pee, Cromwell.’
‘The Jameson whiskey is good for the pain.’
‘I can see that, Cromwell.’
‘We can have another finger or two, Richardson.’
‘I don’t see why not, Cromwell.’
‘It’s still raining, Richardson.’
‘You like looking at the rain.’
‘I don’t dislike it, Richardson.’
The old Bakelite phone trilled from its wood mounting behind the bar. Richardson and Cromwell held their breath. It repeated its jarring chimes four more times in slow succession.
‘It’s time, Cromwell.’
‘Already, Cromwell. The target left Cambridge ten minutes ago.’
‘I’m not looking forward to this.’
‘You need the money, Cromwell.’
‘I’m glad of the favour, Richardson. We won’t be doing this again.’
‘We’re too old, Cromwell.’
‘Richardson, one more whiskey. Here’s to us.’
‘Here’s to the target.’
‘To his good health’.
Sebastian Holt floored the accelerator of his burgundy Jensen 541S. He was running late. He hated to be late. Glancing at his Girard-Perregaux watch, he calculated that he’d arrive at Henley-on-Thames five minutes late. He had pre-booked his parking space and the stewards at the regatta were notorious sticklers for time-keeping. The watch had replaced the one given to him by his late mother, a watch stolen by a man named Lanzmann.
Holt eyed the leaden pulses of rain that foreshadowed the tree lines of Buckinghamshire for miles around. In the mirror, his tortoise-shell sun glasses were perched on his slightly off-set nose more out of hope than actual requirement. On the passenger seat was a leather travel bag with weekend clothes, pressed navy blazer and three folded Jermyn Street shirts wrapped in tissue-paper. Cravats and silk ties were rolled neatly with new underwear and socks in side compartments. Fastened to the side of the bag was a tightly wound umbrella. His white flannels were new and crisply pressed, his Turkish tan leather jacket battered and burned from the Mediterranean sun. An attaché case beneath the bag contained his invitation to the Henley Rowing Regatta, the address of his private river-side chalet. And a telegram from Caxton Petrie, a man he hadn’t heard from in months with a luncheon invitation. Within reach, just below the glove compartment a wooden Lathi baton with its shaft inset with iron rings stood sentinel, a gift from the Police Chief of New Delhi. Normally, Holt would have a secure metal case in the boot of his car housing his Browning 9mm pistol, but this was safely under lock and key at Cambridge University.
The traffic filtered along the lazy Thames directed by the local constabulary stamping off the damp in heavy overcoats. Holt’s Jensen blended with the marques of power – Rolls Royce, Bentley and Jaguar. An upper stratum of wealth untouched by punitive fuel rationing. Chauffeurs stared solemnly out of wind-screens in polished and charcoal coloured livery. Their passengers in red blazers and boaters stared idly out. The ladies in their finery checked their appearances on gilded compact mirrors with delicate calf-skin gloves. Holt nudged the Jensen in behind an immense Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, a modified six-wheeled monster full of laughing and braying passengers. A champagne cork bounced off Holt’s windshield.
“Bloody hell,” murmured Holt.
He lit a Gauloise Disque Bleu cigarette, his first of the day.
In the wing mirror, he noticed a muddied dented black Ford Zephyr start to force its way in behind him. He tapped his brakes a few times as a warning. The Zephyr ignored it.
Probably local CID, he thought.
The Silver Cloud braked violently ahead. The cheers and huzzahs of overturned passengers forced Holt to slam on.
The Zephyr was now in behind him.
He could see Henley’s town centre and its stone bridge and sliding along the river, rowing crews were already out on the water. Strong arms propelling light boats in a constant rhythm, cutting through the water. The rain began to squall again, drumming off the Jensen’s roof.
Holt resigned himself to looking for parking elsewhere.
The Zephyr was uncomfortably close.
Holt made a show of pressing his black hair back down in the mirror. In the reflection, the Zephyr had two passengers, both men. Both old but somehow viciously capable. Holt unfastened his seat belt and slid the Lathi across his lap. From now until his destination, he’d be travelling no faster than five-miles-per hour.
Both men had their hats pulled low. He could sense their stare.
Holt tapped the brake again. Mechanically, the Zephyr kept the constant few millimetres between them.
Once over the stone bridge the marshals directed and shouted the vehicles into corralled lines along unkempt sodden grass. The Jensen slewed occasionally as Holt was directed along a line of luxury cars and reversed in between the Silver Ghost and an open-topped Bentley.
The Zephyr pulled up in front of him. The marshal walked away.
The two men got out. One was clean-shaven, the other had a moustache.
Holt slipped the Lathi under the folds of his leather jacket and got out.
The two men stood quietly. Both were wearing leather gloves. Both were wearing brogues that were already leaking in the moisture. Holt had heavy boots on.
The three men waited until the revellers from the Silver Ghost tottered and staggered toward the Regatta’s canvas pavilions. Holt contemplated inveigling his way to their company but didn’t want any of them injured. Glancing over his shoulder, Holt could see that the chauffer had opened a broadsheet newspaper.
One of the men facing Holt produced a gun from his Harris Tweed overcoat. A long lethal silencer caught the weak sunlight. Holt was already across the space and lashed the Lathi across the gunman’s face. The man’s jaw shattered with a satisfying crunch. The second man moved a fraction too late and Holt swung the iron-ringed wooden baton sideways. It caught the man across the throat.
He still managed to squeeze a shot off. The bullet whistled past Holt’s ear.
Switching hands, Holt brought the Lathi down on the man’s arm knocking the gun out of his hand. The gunman clutched his throat and stared down at his shattered wrist, the hand now hanging at an obtuse angle. Holt dodged a swing from the first gunman and could smell cigarettes, blood and strong alcohol off him. Holt dropped the Lathi and wrenched the man’s gun arm towards the second gunman. He forced two shots from Richardson’s gun and Cromwell fell with two bullets square to the chest.
Richardson was strong despite his age. Holt felt his feet slipping as Richardson tried to free his arm. Two blows to the back of Holt’s head left him seeing stars. Holt’s sunglasses spun across the grass. He groped for the Lathi. His fingers fastened around the leather grip. With assured strength from years of the Polo field, Holt swung the baton up and into Richardson’s groin. It felled Richardson instantly.
Cromwell was making strange gasping sounds, his legs twitching on the grass. He kicked both legs once then expired.
Holt wasn’t expecting a knife.
He felt a slicing sensation through the tough leather across his lower back and turned to find Richardson already on his feet. Crouching low like an old bloodied pugilist, he had a thirteen-inch bayonet in one hand, the gun in the other. He brought the gun up again. Holt leapt sideways and backwards, hurling the Lathi. It connected with Richardson’s chest and upper shoulder, winding him. Richardson staggered and slipped on the wet grass, firing off a shot. It struck the side-panel of the Zephyr with hearty thud.
Holt reached in and around Cromwell and found his gun.
As Richardson tried to steady his next shot, slipping on the wet grass, Holt fired two shots point-blank. The gun whispered death.
Richardson clutched his left-hand side and crumpled onto the grass.
Holt took a breath. The base of his spine felt wet. Reaching gingerly behind, he felt the wound. The blood was light coloured, and he thought would be easily patched. He ran his finger along the leather jacket, it had been opened with the precision of a scalpel. It had served him well over the years, he decided to see if it could be repaired in the town.
Holt looked around. The immense Silver Ghost showed no signs of movement. No other cars were pulling up. Somewhere across the fields, a brass band had struck up. It’s bright percussive sound drifted beneath the leaden skies. Holt dragged Cromwell and Richardson to the front of the Zephyr. Richardson’s lapels lay apart, weighted open by the glinting razors. Holt had been thankful he had grabbed them by their legs. He picked up their hats, sodden and old and dropped them on their laps. He rifled their pockets. He found the keys to the car and walked around to the boot.
Holt was pumping adrenaline. Opening the boot, he gauged with a bit of effort, he could get them both in.
It took longer than he thought.
With effort and with surprising luck, he managed to get both bodies stowed before the next cars began appearing. Tossing the guns into the boot with the men, Holt decided to keep the bayonet. He jumped into the driver’s seat and opened the glove compartment. Two brown ammunition boxes – British Army Ordinance were neatly folded. A moist-cornered envelope and a silver hip flask were the only other contents. Holt unscrewed the flask top and gulped down a hearty swig of good whiskey. He opened the envelope.
The photograph was of him; a full black and white profile of him in Polo gear from a previous week’s tournament. He folded it up and placed it into a pocket.
A horn blast behind him jarred him.
In the Zephyr’s mirror a car full of revellers were shouting at him to move on. Holt gave a wave and started the engine.
He eased the Zephyr to a distant corner of the field and parked the car.
Using the remaining alcohol, he used it to wipe down the steering wheel and glove box using his handkerchief.
Getting out, he walked around to the boot and double-checked it was locked. He went to the car’s fuel cap and prised it open with the bayonet. Taking the handkerchief, he lit it with his lighter and once the flame took hold of the alcohol, dropped it into the fuel tank.
He trudged back to the Jensen and found the Lathi on the grass. The car behind had driven over it, but it had retained its shape.
As he shook the mud and grass off it, Holt decided to keep it with him for lunch.
His sunglasses were crushed beyond recognition.
The chauffer in the Silver Ghost now had a Sports paper open. His head was buried into the print. A cigarette was hung from his fingers out of the window. Holt grabbed the attaché case and leather travel bag from the Jensen and slotted the bayonet in behind the umbrella. The sun finally broke through and Holt strode between the lines of hundreds of vehicles.
He would be late for lunch too.