355 500 произведений, 25 200 авторов.

Электронная библиотека книг » Barbara Cleverly » A Spider in the Cup » Текст книги (страница 19)
A Spider in the Cup
  • Текст добавлен: 4 октября 2016, 23:39

Текст книги "A Spider in the Cup"

Автор книги: Barbara Cleverly

сообщить о нарушении

Текущая страница: 19 (всего у книги 23 страниц)


“Sunday! Blissful Sunday! And Joe tells me you’ve decided to make an early start back to London on Monday morning, so you have a whole day to relax.” Lydia poured out a cup of coffee for Kingstone. “Have you made any plans for today? Going out ratting with Brutus?”

“I turned him down in favour of a quiet hour or two with Marcus. We thought we’d take a reach of the river and tickle up some trout.”

“Excellent preparation for the days of boredom to come. Listening to the rehearsed, line-toeing speeches one after the other, all saying the same thing, won’t be very entertaining.”

“Oh, it’s not a foregone conclusion, Lydia …”

“You’re not kidding!” Marcus harrumphed from behind a copy of Saturday’s Daily Mirror. “You’re going to get fireworks! There’ll be staged walkouts at the very least! The French are probably packing their bags as we speak. We should have taken a look at this yesterday! Cook hands me her copy to read the racing page when she’s finished with it but, never mind the back pages, look here! On the front! Oh, my God!”

Marcus waved the headlines in front of them and then read out:

Surprise Message from Washington This Morning:


The United States Government has issued a reminder to all governments of the war debt payments due on June 15th. President Roosevelt is having difficulties of his own in America and the British Government will not willingly aggravate them.

“It goes on to say that our ambassador in Washington has been instructed to make a proposal to the president: an offer of a token payment.”

Marcus hardly ever lost his easy good humour but Joe recognised the signs of rising anger. “The shame! The indignity! Three days to cough up. He gives us three days. The country’s bankrupt, for God’s sake! We’ve been paying this debt back for fifteen years, dutifully, with interest, amounting now to far more than the original sum. We’ve spent our last pennies bailing out Belgium, resupplying starving Germany on Churchill’s initiative. We’re down to our last tin of corned beef and what does this new chap decide to do at the outset of the most important meeting the world has ever held on economic problems? He holes Europe below the waterline! He demands payment with no chance of deferment for the privilege of having saved the civilised world from barbarity.”

“Marcus, my dear, our guest will think—”

Bit between his teeth he rumbled on, shaking the newspaper like a terrier. “To save Roosevelt’s face, we ‘propose a token payment.’ What’s that supposed to mean? How imprecise! And how typical! We don’t want to be seen to inconvenience our paymaster. As a Magistrate, I lecture debt defaulters from the bench after every big race and I send the ruthless leg-breakers who threaten them to jail. It’s the same thing on a bigger scale, that’s all. But the Germans—oh, they have no scruples! Did you know? They’ve just decided to welsh on their debts and print money—issue national bonds they say—to pay for the grand projects they have in mind. And we let them get away with it! American bankers encourage them. Cornelius, surely you see this!”

“May I?” Kingstone took the paper from him and read the article for himself. He replied to Marcus’s outburst with calm concern. “The timing, I agree, is unfortunate. But look here—the key to all this is in the line, The President is having difficulties of his own in America. Poverty and unemployment from east coast to west; disaffected soldiery kicking up, ready to march on the country’s capital; lines forming at soup kitchens and starving children on the front pages of every newspaper. As bad as anything here in England. And always the voices around him advising, demanding, deriding, giving him a hard time.

“I need to get back,” he finished firmly. “I mean—all the way back. To Washington.” He fixed Joe with a look of growing unease. “It’s started, Joe. And it’s started without me. I’ll have to climb back aboard and see if I can catch up. Put things right from the inside.”

Joe’s interest flared. “How will you do that? Are you implying that you’re in contact with these people?”

“The mechanics of communication are in place,” Kingston replied carefully.

“How likely are they to accept your change of heart?”

“Very likely. They expect to be successful. They’ll think I’ve come to my senses. Cracked under the strain and given in. And they’re practical people, never forget that. With things coming to a head, there’s not much time for them to recruit and train on a substitute. I fit the bill perfectly. They won’t want to lose me. I can do what I have to do under cover of the conference.”

“Ah. There goes Sunday,” Lydia said sadly. “I suppose you’re both going to go haring off back to the capital to twist a few arms?”

“Not at all, Lydia. If ever I needed a good breakfast and a few hours of calm before the storm breaks, it’s now. Though, for everyone’s peace of mind, I will just make one change to my schedule.” Cornelius managed a smile. “I’ll stand Marcus up and go ratting with Brutus.”


Early though the hour was, Armitage was already waiting in the lobby on Monday morning, every hair in place, smile on face and large gun in its usual position when Joe smuggled Kingstone back into the hotel.

“Glad to have you back, sir!” The welcome and relief seemed genuine. The sharp eyes looked quizzically at the laundered shirt and the freshly pressed elegance of the evening suit Kingstone had put on for the return journey. “You’re looking pretty chipper, Senator, after two nights out on the tiles. I hope your weekend wasn’t too demanding.”

“Just what I needed, William! A leisurely couple of days in the country. Friends dropped in for a visit … caught a few rats …” Kingstone said blandly. “You know the sort of thing. Now. Change of clothes. Notes. Ready for take off in one hour? You stay down here and confer with Joe, will you?”

Armitage gave Joe a frosty nod of acknowledgement. Joe was determinedly brief. “All well? Good show! No alteration to the senator’s arrangements. The Geological Museum Hall in Knightsbridge. Got your pass ready? I’m afraid you’re in for a boring day at the conference, Bill. Though I have heard it hinted that the French delegation may provide the assembly with some entertaining histrionics. You may have a chance to extend your vocabulary. We’ll see. I should take a good book in with you.” He opened his briefcase and took out a garish thriller he’d snatched on a whim from his sister’s shelves. “Here—try this. Murder Came Calling. It’s the latest in the Shadow of the Assassin series by Captain Dalrymple. Do you enjoy shockers?”

“No time for them. I’m halfway through A Farewell to Arms. Mugging up on American literature. Look—could you take a minute to see Julia? Miss Kirilovna has still not made an appearance and the maid’s wondering what she should do next.”

“Oh, yes, Julia. Were you able to distract her from her concerns this weekend, Bill?”

“I wasn’t able to offer what she wanted. Dancing’s out. She’s seen all the films. She let me take her out for fish and chips on Friday night but that’s it. No idea where she spent Saturday and Sunday. I was in my room with Ernest Hemingway. She didn’t join us. But she’s in her room now. We’ve exchanged ‘good mornings’ and that’s it. She had breakfast taken up at seven.”

“Then I’ll pop up and see her. Say hello.”

Joe made his way upstairs and tapped on her door. Receiving no reply, he banged more loudly. The door was locked as security required. In sudden anxiety, he darted down the corridor, making for Kingstone’s room. Had he left Cornelius in danger? That bloody Julia with her Cockney sparrow ways, always there in the background with her reassurances and over-familiar gestures of concern, was too easily overlooked.

The door was opened for him at once by a welcoming Julia. “Joe! Hello! Now, this is a good moment—just for once—to stick your nose in. Come in and advise. Silver grey or blue paisley tie for this shindig?” She waved two samples in front of him and, in a whisper, “I thought he could do with a little help this morning. First-day nerves? Looks like stage-fright to me. He’s a bit shaky and having trouble doing up his buttons. Such stubby fingers, bless him … What have you been up to? Never mind—you can tell me later.”

“Grey. Definitely the grey. Statesman-like and sober is what we’re after. He’s not going to tea with a duchess. I was looking for you, Julia. I have to see you. There’s something I have to tell you. I’ll be having breakfast downstairs. Come and find me when you’ve done up here, will you?”

“Fine. I’ll look forward to that.” She smiled again as though she meant it. Joe returned the smile.

The ease and normality of Claridge’s was beginning to settle around him like an eiderdown, soothing and slowing his reactions. He shrugged it off. Unease and abnormality were his lot in life. As was the breaking of bad news. Julia seemed not to have heard yet that Natalia was dead. Kingston appeared from his dressing room, slipping on his jacket. “Joe! It’s all right. Just screwing my courage to the sticking point but you can leave it to me,” he said, reading Joe’s expression. “Go have your breakfast. We’ll be fine.”

COTTINGHAM AND ORFORD, engaged in companionable chatter, were waiting for him at his office door at Scotland Yard.

Joe swept them inside. “The very blokes I wanted to see! Sit down, both of you. I want you to work together over this next bit. All our irons have been heating in the same fire, it would appear. First, Ralph—can you take the evening duty watching over Kingstone when he leaves the conference hall?”

They confirmed schedules for the coming week and then the three men turned their attention to the pile of documents on Joe’s desk, a pile that increased impressively with Orford’s contribution. The inspector was clearly bursting with information and Joe invited him to launch into his story. Murmurs of surprise and approval greeted his neat account.

Two victims were now named: Marie Destaines, with a grandmother in Stepney, and Absalom Hope, of no fixed abode.

The written information given by the murdered sailor had been used to track down the vehicle used for the deposition of the body of the dancer and Orford had followed the trail to the back kitchens of a clinic in Harley Street. An awkward moment. Orford paused to allow the Assistant Commissioner an opportunity to rap his knuckles for effecting an unauthorised entry but an encouraging chortle filled the guilty silence.

“I didn’t hear that. You mumbled, Inspector! Carry on.”

Orford passed a note of his conversation with the clerk at Companies’ House and watched as Joe’s delight turned to astonishment. He blinked, looked again and gave a low whistle. “So that’s where you are, you bugger! Hiding in plain sight! There for anyone to see if they know where to look. On paper this a well-funded and highly respectable establishment, Inspector. I’d buy shares in it. We’d better be very sure we’ve got this right. And remind ourselves that one of the links in the chain is a dead down-and-out’s sighting of a number plate in the dark. I don’t want to be the one who stands up in court and delivers that bit of evidence with a straight face and raised right hand, do you, Orford? Tell us what impressions you were able to form from the tradesmen’s level.”

“It gets no better, I’m afraid.” Orford summarised his impressions of the nursing home, touching on everything from the efficiency of the organisation to the healthy state of the drains. He referred with quiet pride to his uncovering of the menu.”

“All that holds up,” Joe agreed. He explained the circumstances of the girl’s death. “So—not a murder in this case but an illegal disposal of a body and denial of a respectable burial is what we have on the books. Not much is it? But at least we’ll have some news, even though heartbreaking, for the granny. It will at least be less distressing to account for a death in hospital in the course of a tricky operation. Orford—would you …?”

“I’d like to break the news, sir, if that’s all right. I’ll tell her the body will be sent to her for burial, shall I? And Absalom Hope?”

“I shall pursue the investigation into his killing. I have to tell you, Orford, that I think we may well have the blokes who did this already in custody down in Surrey on a charge of attempted murder. To which I shall hope now to add: murder achieved. They keep themselves busy.”

“One other thing, sir. Fingerprinting results came back in double quick time. The coin in the girl’s mouth. No more than we expected and it hardly matters now, I suppose, but the labs dealt with it so fast I thought maybe you’d want to …”

“I shall commend them. In fact, I shall be very interested to see what they’ve come up with.”

Joe read the short report in silence and studied the photographic evidence with the accompanying notes of the technician’s observations. Over the years he’d grown skilled at reading fingerprint evidence, valuing it—as did the general public—as solid and incontrovertible proof of guilt or—more rarely—innocence in affairs which in all other respects were murky and misleading.

The continuing silence as Joe struggled to make sense of what he was seeing was beginning to disconcert his two officers. Feet were being shuffled, watches discreetly consulted.

“Orford—you have the notes you took when we interviewed Sam and Joel with you? Have I got the names right? Colonel Swinton’s men? Good. They were the ones who gave the clearest—and the longest—account of the actual discovery of the coin as I remember. Could you find it and read it out to me again?”

“It was the strangest thing they’d ever seen in their lives,” the inspector murmured as he shuffled through his notes. “I heard them tell it three times at least but they never changed a detail. Solid witnesses. Here we are. Do you want me to miss out all that mythology stuff the professor filled their heads with—Hades and Charon and the gold of Thrace?”

“Thank you, Orford. Just the bones of it.”

The inspector read, apologising for his stumbling over handwriting mixed with shorthand.

“That’s exactly my memory. Look—get that typed up as soon as possible. Have them make an extra copy and get it to my desk.”

The Assistant Commissioner stared bleakly at his men for a moment and then gave vent to his feelings in language neither man had heard for fifteen years.

WHEN HE’D RECOVERED his equanimity, the instructions followed thick and fast. “Orford, go and get me another copy of these fingerprint sheets, will you? Take this card and have my secretary book an appointment for the professor to be there at the phone when I ring at eleven this morning. Then you’d better go and see Granny. Ralph, have you got your pass for the Geological Museum Hall? Splendid. Go in and watch Kingstone’s back, will you? He’s still under threat, even more so … Yes, I know Armitage will be there. Pass an eye over him for concealed weapons. They’re all supposed to have been frisked before entry but this is a cute one we’re dealing with. I’m pretty sure he committed a cold-blooded murder this weekend.”

Joe twiddled his pencil for a moment and then added, “So you’ll think it a bit odd when I say: watch his back too. I’m not certain which side the sergeant’s playing for—or even which pitch he’s on. He may be a target himself and unaware of it. Who murders the murderer? And who guards the guards? Well, today it’s Cottingham of the Met. That’s who.”

The men bustled off about their business and Joe lifted the telephone. On the third attempt, he raised Bacchus. “Drop whatever you’re doing and come here for a briefing, James. Bring everything you have on the Nine Men. Oh, and put on your best hat and a clean Burberry—I’m taking you on somewhere afterwards.”

“WELL? WHAT ARE you thinking, James? Struck you dumb, have I?”

“I’ll say! I’m trying to get used to the thought that I may well have served liqueurs and cigars to a consortium of the world’s power brokers. Bringers of War. Wreakers of Mayhem. When I think what I could have slipped into their beverages! The contents of the two capsules I always carry in my pocket could have saved the world from lord knows what. But two of these blokes are out of place. Minnows swimming in a shark tank. Kingstone and Armitage. Look, Joe, would it be an irrational thought … with all this economics stuff buzzing in our ears … we might have overlooked an even more alarming reason for their foregathering in London?”

“The conference is just a useful cover, you mean, for something more dire than fiddling with the exchange rates?”

“Could be. It is a good cover—a damn good one. We can be sure Kingstone is heavily involved … useful to them, but not indispensable, as they’ve shown they were quite prepared to dispense with him definitively. But he’s a recent acquirement—and Armitage is only there at his insistence. There must be a core of elder statesmen—say, five—and they co-opt others as and when they’re useful.”

“I had thought as much. But the motive, James? An economic one?”

“I’d have thought more—political, wouldn’t you?”

“That’s what Kingstone himself hinted to me. The annoying chap has given me lots of hints as to the seriousness of his predicament and I’ve wondered why he can’t just come out with it straight. He’s a man who is by nature, I’d say, a straight-talker.”

“Wants to warn you off—doesn’t like to see innocent strangers involved in his troubles?”

“Yes. I do believe so. But there’s more to it than that. Have you noticed, James, when you’re doing interrogations—the people who make a show of clamming up but then go on to drop hints, start sentences and leave them tantalisingly unfinished—they are the ones who are encouraging you to press them harder. They want you to guess their secret or their guilt.”

“So they can claim we beat it out of them! Not their fault, they never intended to give anything away? Know the type. I wouldn’t have thought Kingstone fitted that profile. He’s tough and he’s a gent. Don’t forget—I’ve listened in to his unbuttoned moments. I think I know the man by now.”

“No. He’s made of sterner stuff, I agree. I’ve seen him grinning in full knowledge he has two revolvers trained on him. The swing in popularity of the gold standard wouldn’t freeze him like a rabbit in the headlights.”

“Then we have to raise our eyes above the level of the economic shenanigans?”

“Or below. Where the hell are we supposed to be looking? What’s happening in the world that some powerful people take exception to? That’s so unpalatable that men from various nations will gather together under the umbrella of transatlantic friendship to put a stop to? Let’s think in those basic terms.”

“Discounting greed, world poverty, and starvation then …” Bacchus rolled his eyes and gulped. “Let’s see … It usually comes down to leadership, doesn’t it? Power. Now I’ll rule us out here in Britain. I know we can be damned annoying to anyone who doesn’t know the words to ‘Rule Britannia’ and have the recipe for strawberry jam by heart but … honestly, no. With our charming old sheep-farmer prime minister and our peace-loving monarch presiding over a war-weary nation, who would feel threatened? Apart from renegades like this old fart, Admiral Buchanan, we have no one who’s going about the world annoying other nations. Unless someone’s been unkind about the Japanese again.”

Searching his memory, Joe presented Bacchus with the remark of Kingstone’s that had truly puzzled him. In his sphinx-like manner, the senator had declared that what these men valued was his military reputation and record.

“A military leader, eh? He’s young enough and fiery enough to play Mars to his friend Roosevelt’s Jupiter, I’d say, wouldn’t you? Those two men in harness would be very impressive.”

Joe pointed out the drawbacks to this notion. Kingstone’s military career, though impressive, had been short-lived. He was never a professional soldier. Conscripted. In and out of the war within a year. Joe voiced the objection that the US had already got an army general with a reputation in the picture.

“That would be MacArthur you’re thinking of? But since last summer his reputation is pretty well a stinking one. Blotted his copy book in no uncertain terms.”

Joe had to admit mystification.

“It happened in July. I think you were up in Scotland, miles away from a newspaper. Rather shocking event! After months of strikes and disorder which nearly brought the country to its knees, the protest to end all protests broke out. The ‘Death March’ around Washington, staged by the Bonus Expeditionary Force. The B.E.N. Old soldiers. Veterans down on their luck. Ten thousand of them gathered to march and demand an instant payment of their ‘bonus.’ The promised veterans’ endowment policy which hadn’t been paid. Worth about a thousand dollars a man. They set up camp outside the capital and called their collection of shacks ‘Hooverville’ after President Herbert Hoover. Being soldiers, they dug latrines, kept the place clean and orderly. Denied use of their assembly to communists and fascists alike. There was no rise in the crime rate. They were unarmed. Some brought their families with them. Planted vegetables. A skirmish with the police left two officers dead and several injured and federal intervention was called for. Unfortunately it was the army’s chief of staff, General Douglas MacArthur, who answered the call.”

“Oh, dear! Heavy fist shaken?”

“Four troops of cavalry, four companies of infantry with machine guns and bayonets, city police in support—oh, and four tanks. Heavy enough for you? The general routed the veterans and chased them across the river. Ordered not to pursue them, he disobeyed the order and set fire to their camp. President Hoover became the first American president to make war on his own citizens. And in their own streets in sight of the White House. Many of them had voted for him. Of course he was not re-elected and in stepped Franklin D. Roosevelt that following autumn.”

A worrying picture was emerging. Joe knew that those soldiers had very likely not disappeared. And it was unlikely they had ever been paid. Men with a double grudge. A man with Kingstone’s record and soldierliness, his feeling for the common man, a Doughboy like them, would be seen as a leader they could admire, not revile. With the press behind him—and who owned the press?—such a man could be built up as one whose talents complemented those of Roosevelt. A worthy sword arm for a democratic president?

He said as much to Bacchus.

“Sounds good to me. Many might think that a winning combination.”

“But what struggle would they be winning? Who do they see as their potential enemy, James?”

Joe didn’t quite like the look of pity for such political innocence that flitted across Bacchus’s handsome features.

“We could start with the usual: communists and fascists. Each faction has its supporters in the States but the government fears these extremists even more when they’re in their native lands, amassing armed forces. I’d discount the Russians and the Italians for various reasons involving preparedness and resolve and look at Japan and Germany. Yes, Germany. I often disagree with Churchill but here I think he’s got it right. Unless, of course, we can respond to the placatory tone of this bloke in your lineup: Heimdallr Ackermann. Question is: whom would you prefer to take on, if it came to a fight against national extremism—a plebeian thug or a patrician schemer? Is this what’s happening, Joe? Class warfare? Takes us right back to the Battle of Crécy when the English were branded cheats and undeserving victors by the aristocratic French knights on account of their use of a company of lower-class yeoman archers. The lads of the village, standing on their own two feet and not a scrap of armour between them, scrupled not to shoot nine thousand arrows in a minute, straight at the French horses. Not very sporting!”

“Low-down trick!” Joe’s chuckle was short. “Just the kind of story I like. Are we out of our depth, James? Any hope that MI6 would be able to make sense of all this?”

“Doubt it. I can ask. Who knows? They may have been given some direction from above regarding the acceptability and trustworthiness of Herr this or Signor that.”

“We mongrels would find it a bit hard to know what to do with our allegiance if we didn’t have a wise government to tell us,” Joe murmured.

“That’s better! A bit of bite-them-in-the-bum cynicism.”

“We’ve rambled too far, James. Let’s stick to facts. And let’s ask ourselves why we’re gnawing at this bone.”

“Are you sure it’s our business? I don’t see a plot against our king or a member of our government looming.”

“I see a sailor with a broken neck and a girl with a bullet in her head. Victims, both, of some overriding ambition I haven’t yet got to grips with. They are my prime concerns. But they’re linked in a way I’m going to understand with the survival—physical and mental—of a man who’s been assigned to my care. A man I’ve grown to admire and like.” Joe allowed himself an evil grin. “And if I can make things uncomfortable, however briefly, for this lineup of arrogant tosspots—so much the better.”

“So we’re saying that this organisation is setting up an unwilling ex-Doughboy to bite the ankles of the opposition. But what exactly is the opposition?”

“We’re not near them yet, James. Tell you what—come with me and stir up the mud a bit more this morning. I may not be able to get near enough to our Morris Men to worry them but I can have a go at their lieutenants. The lower echelon that gets its hands dirty in their service. In so far as they have a centre for their clandestine activities in London, I think we’ve tracked it down. Thanks to the quick thinking and public spirit of a homeless sailor. Absalom Hope. I say his name again because no one else, I fear, will remember him since he sank below the horizon. I’ll tell you about him in the taxi. Now … Can you wait for a moment while I slip into some smart navy suiting with gold frogging? There’s a matron I’m planning to put the wind up!”

    Ваша оценка произведения:

Популярные книги за неделю