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About the Author
Date of Birth:May 20, 1904
Date of Death:June 30, 1966
Place of Birth:London
Place of Death:Colchester, Essex, England
Education:Endsleigh House School, Colchester; the Perse School, Cambridge; and the Regent Street Polytechnic, London
Read an Excerpt
BUSINESS AFTER HOURS
THE arrival of the 'bus was timed to perfection. Nobody of the slightest importance saw it at all. Traffic was slack, the theatres were only halfway through the evening performances, and no police were due on point duty until the after-the-show crush seventy minutes away.
Almost more significant still, if one were seeking a reliable eye-witness, Commissionaire George Wardle had just stepped down into the staff room of the 'Porch' for his mid-evening pint and sausage and so was not on duty outside the famous old restaurant which faces the Duke of Grafton's Theatre and the dark entrance to Goff's Place which runs down beside it.
The spring rain was fortuitous but it was an enormous help. It turned out to be one of those settled downpours which, in London, seem to involve more actual water than anywhere else, and there become a penetrating and absorbing irritant guaranteed to keep the mind of the passer-by upon himself and his discomforts.
The 'bus came trundling along from the eastern end of the Avenue, looking archaic but not nearly so noticeable as it might well have done if there had been no fashion for vintage petrol-driven vehicles in the West End. It was a small closed single-decker of the type still used in remote country districts. Shabby, but comfortable looking, its snugness was enhanced by absurd little woollen curtains trimmed with bobbles and draped at small discreet windows like those on elderly French airliners. It was lit from within by a single low-powered bulb and only the passengers on the front seat were visible from the street. These were in tune with the vehicle, two cosy figures, plump and elderly, in decent-out-of-town finery. The man wore a hard hat above his rounded beard, and his wife — for one could not imagine that he was out with any other woman — wore beads on her out-of-date bonnet and a rug wrapped round her stiff shoulders. They were not talking but dozing, as the old do, and looked warm and protected and out of the wet.
The driver swung the 'bus neatly into the Goff's Place entry and turned it into the tiny cobbled space behind the theatre. The Place was a minute cul-de-sac, an airshaft shared by the Duke of Grafton's and the three tall houses whose back doors and fire-escapes gave on to it. These were shops and faced the other way on to Deban Street, Soho, which runs nearly but not quite parallel with the Avenue.
The original Goff had long been lost in obscurity. His Place now contained nothing but a telephone booth, a street drain transformed on this occasion into a whirlpool, and a single rather fancy light bracket sticking out over the Grafton's stage door. For the past five hundred weekdays at this time in the evening the area had been crammed with just such country coaches, up from the villages with parties to see the latest domestic musical in the series for which the theatre was noted. But tonight the building was dark. The piece had finished its run and spring-cleaning was not due to begin for another twenty-four hours.
The driver parked the country 'bus with remarkable care. It took him some little time to get his clumsy vehicle exactly into the position he desired, and even when he had succeeded, the purpose of the manuvre was not apparent. True, the bus faced the exit ready to drive out again, but its rear door, by which all passengers must ascend or alight, was almost directly above the step of the back entrance of one of the Deban Street shops, while the near side of the 'bus was hard against the telephone booth, screening it entirely from the sight of the Avenue.
With this lighted kiosk obscured, the whole area had become appreciably darker and the driver was only just discernible in the streaming gloom as he sprang out of his seat, his black oilskins flickering below the white plastic top of his peaked cap. He was carrying a small leather attaché case and turned into the booth with it.
In the coach the old people did not move. If indeed they had arrived late for a performance which was not taking place anyway, the fact did not appear to worry them. They sat close together in the warm, dozing, while the rain poured over the tiny window beside them like a brook over a boulder. The yard itself might have been at the bottom of a fountain, so drenched and dark and remote it was from the unnatural brightness of the Avenue where the illuminated signs and the shop windows blazed at empty pavements and the tarmac glittered like coal.
In the telephone booth the driver settled himself with his back against the wall, wedged his case on a small shelf under the instrument, and felt in his pocket. He appeared to know how much money he had, a crumpled ten-shilling note and eight separate pennies, for he found them at once and put them on top of the case, but it did not prevent him from making a complete search. When he was satisfied at last he thrust the screwed-up note into the other side pocket of his coat and took up the coins. His peaked cap cast a shadow which was as dark as an eye mask over the upper part of his o face, but the plane of his thin cheek and strong jaw and neck muscles caught the light. The impression was of a youngish face, probably handsome, but at the moment frankly horrible. Either through a trick of the light or because of some unexplained condition its whole nerve pattern was apparent, dancing and quivering under the stretched skin. He was also smiling as he stretched out a gaunt hand for the instrument. The telephone was one of the ordinary dial and coin-in-the-slot variety, fitted with the A and B button money-back device, but the driver ignored the printed instructions. He inserted four of his coins, dialled a number, and then slid down in the booth so that he could peer up through the rainy dark at the back of the house directly in front of him. For thirty seconds he listened to the number ringing out and then, high up in the building, a pale oblong of yellow light sprang into existence. He pressed the A button immediately so that as soon as he heard his caller he was able to speak without any tell-tale click betraying that he was in a public box.
"Hullo, is that you, Lew? You're still there, are you? Can I come round?"
The voice, pleasant and schooled as an actor's, was unexpected, the undertone of excitement transmuted into confidence.
"Come round? Of course you can come round. You'd better. I'm waiting, aren't I?"
The new voice was harsh and possessed a curious muddy quality, but in its own way it was honest enough.
The man in the peaked cap laughed. "Cheer up," he said, "your reward is on the way. You can send John down to get the door open if he's still there. I'll be with you in five minutes."
"John's gone home. I'm here alone and I'm waiting for you here til midnight as I said I would. After that you've got to take the consequences. I told you and I meant it."
In the booth the man's bunched jaw muscles hardened but the pleasant disingenuous voice remained soothing.
"Relax. You've got a pleasant shock coming to you. Take this gently or you'll have a stroke. I've got the money, every farthing of it, and since you don't trust me its in cash as you requested, all in this little box in front of me, in fives and ones." He was silent for a moment. "Did you hear me?"
"I wondered. Aren't you pleased?"
"I'm pleased that we should both be saved a lot of trouble." There was a grudging pause and then, as curiosity got the better of him, "The old gentleman paid up to save you, did he?"
"He did. Not willingly nor without comment exactly. However, pay he did. You didn't believe he existed, did you?"
"What I believe don't matter. You get out here with the money. Where are you?"
"St. James's, in the old man's club. I'll be seeing you. Goodbye."
He hung up and slid down in the booth again to watch the lighted window. After a moment a shadow appeared across it and the blind descended. The man in the telephone booth sighed and then, straightening himself, snapped open the catch of the leather case before him. He did not raise the lid high immediately but first thrust in his hand and drew out a small squat gun which he passed through the side-slit in his oilskin into the safety of his jacket within. He then opened the case wide, revealing that it contained nothing but a dark felt hat of good quality and a pair of clean pigskin gloves. He exchanged these for his peaked cap and gauntlets and became at once a different looking person. The long black oiled coat ceased to be part of a uniform and became an ordinary protection which any man might wear against the rain, and, with the removal of the cap, his eyes and forehead came out of their mask of shadow. He looked thirty or a very few years older and his face still possessed some of the secrecy of youth. He was good looking in a conventional way, his features regular and his round eyes set wide apart. Only the heavy muscles at the corners of his jaw, and the unusual thickness of his neck, were not in the accepted fashionable picture. The most outstanding thing about him was an impression of urgency that was apparent in every line of his body, a strain and a determination like a climber's nearing a peak.
As he slid out of the red kiosk into the pit among the tall houses, the gun in his gloved hand inside his jacket pocket, he was if considered dispassionately a shocking and dreadful thing, as horrible as any other deadly creature moving subtly in the dark places of an unsuspecting world.
He passed round behind the 'bus, empty save for the old people who had not moved, and came down the narrow lane into the sign-lit brightness of the Avenue. It was still pouring, the pavements were almost empty, Wardle was still having his supper, and the Porchester's Victorian-Byzantine portico remained unattended. Nothing could have suited the man better. He had only to step round the deserted frontage of the closed theatre to gain the comparative darkness of Deban Street itself, where even now Lew was unlocking a deep-set door.
He came into the light swiftly, his head held down, and glanced briefly up the street. The next moment he halted abruptly but recovered himself and, pulling his slicker collar round his chin, he stepped under the canopy of the theatre. Directly between himself and the entrance to Deban Street there was a 'bus stop, and beneath it stood an elderly woman, waiting patiently in the downpour.
She stood quite still, looking square and solid in a green mackintosh cape which was dark now in patches where the rain had soaked her shoulders and a crescent above her hips. Her small velour hat glistened with drops and her stout shoes must have been waterlogged.
For the moment there was no one else on the pavement. If he passed her he must run the risk of her seeing him and recognising his back, just as he had hers. He decided against risking it, and turned the other way, back across the entrance to Goff's Place and on to Molyneux Street where he found, as he had hoped, the remains of a taxi rank. There was one cab left upon it and, keeping his face turned away from the lights of the Avenue, he spoke to the driver.
"There's an old girl standing at the 'bus stop just round the corner here, Guv," he said pleasantly. "She lives just off the Barrow Road. At the moment she's catching pneumonia because she thinks that its a crime to take a taxi just for herself. Here is ten bob. Will you go and take her home?"
The driver sat up among the leather swaddling clothes in which he was enveloped and laughed. He took the crumpled note and started his engine.
"Don't they make you tired?" he said, referring no doubt to womenkind in general. "Cruel to themselves half the time, cruel to themselves. Shall I tell her your name? She's sure to want to know."
The man in the oilskin coat hesitated with what appeared to be natural modesty.
"Oh I don't think so," he said at last. "It might embarrass her. Tell her one of her old pals. I shall keep my eye on you from this corner, driver."
"You needn't." The bundle spoke without animosity. "I'm honest. No reason why I shouldn't be. Goodnight, sir. Stinking, ain't it? I'll take 'er along."
The old cab shuddered and sprang forward and the man on foot stepped back into the shadow of a doorway. He counted two hundred slowly before walking out into the rain again. This time the Avenue was safe and the space under the 'bus stop deserted.
With the gun in his hand he bent his head against the rain, passed unnoticed down the lighted way, and turned into Deban Street.
JUST about eight months after the incident which the newspapers had christened 'The Goff Place Mystery' had made a nine days' wonder in the Press and the Police had endured a great deal of unconstructive criticism with their usual gloomy stoicism, Mr. Albert Campion closed the door of Chief Superintendent Yeo's room and walked up two flights of stairs to tap on one which belonged to the newest Superintendent, Charles Luke.
Mr. Campion was a tall thin man in his early fifties, with fair hair, a pale face and large spectacles, who had cultivated the gentle art of unobtrusiveness until even his worst enemies were apt to overlook him until it was too late. He was known to a great many people but few were absolutely certain about what it was he actually did with his life. In his youth he had often been described as 'the young man come about the trouble', and nowadays he was liable to mention deferentially that he feared he was becoming 'the old one come with it', but now, as then, he was careful never to permit his status to be too accurately defined.
It was certainly true that he had a private practice but also a fact that he and the present Assistant Commissioner, Crime, Mr. Stanislaus Oates, had been hunting companions in the days when Oates was an Inspector C.I.D. Since then Yeo, who was following Oates's footsteps, and many other eminent senior men in the service were content to consider him a friend, an expert witness and, at times, a very valuable guide into little known territory.
At the moment he was not very happy. Old friendship has a way of making demands on a man which would be considered unreasonable by the standards of frank enmity. On arriving at Yeo's office in response to an urgent message it had emerged after a considerable display of bush beating that what 'the Guv'nor' really required from his old chum was a promise that he would 'drop a hint' to Charlie Luke.
Mr. Campion, who was very fond of Yeo and even fonder of Charles Luke, whom they both felt to be the most interesting personality the C.I.D. had produced in a decade, found the assignment suspect in the extreme. In the first place Yeo was more than capable of dealing himself with any sort of problem however delicate, and in the second, Luke was Yeo's own protégé and white hope for the future, the son of his old colleague and an officer over whose career he had watched for twenty years. If Yeo needed help in hint dropping to Luke Mr. Campion felt the situation must be out of hand. Moreover, in his experience, getting a word in edgeways with Luke was a major operation on its own account at the best of times, let alone at the moment when quite a lot appeared to have been said already.
He knocked at the green door and was admitted by a clerk who withdrew as the Superintendent came across the room, hand outstretched.
Mr. Campion thought he had never seen the man in such tremendous form. Luke was a magnificent specimen who looked a little less than his six feet because of the weight of his muscles. He had a live, dark face under black hair which curled tightly to his scalp, nervous energy radiated from him and his narrow eyes under peaked brows were shrewd and amused.
"Hello! Just the man I was hoping to see!" he said with disconcerting enthusiasm. "Come in. I was wondering if I could possibly get hold of you to ask you to drop a hint to the Old Man for me. He thinks I'm round the bend."
Mr. Campion knew Yeo did, on the very best authority. However he saw no point in mentioning it and Luke gave him little opportunity. His handshake was a minor ordeal and he got his visitor settled in the arm-chair before the desk with the alarming purposefulness of one who perceives a heaven-sent audience.
"I'm on to something pretty hot," he announced without preamble. "I'm certain of it but at the moment its just a little bit on the vague side."
"That's a quality which has disadvantages," murmured Mr. Campion, who knew what they were rather better than most people. "Authority doesn't warm to the indefinite."
"It's the new rank, I know that." Luke spoke bluntly. "A Chief can have ideas and a mere D.D.I. is permitted to have a hunch. But a Super is paid to keep his feet on the carpet, his seat on his chair and his head should be a box marked 'Members Only'. I know that better than anybody and in the ordinary way I believe in it. But just now I really have stumbled on a trail. This is one of my 'sixth-sense-specials'. I've had them all my life. Look, Campion, since you're here, take a look at this, will you?"
Excerpted from "Hide My Eyes"
Copyright © 1958 Margery Allingham.
Excerpted by permission of Ipso Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Business After Hours,
2. Big Game,
3. Garden Green,
4. Number 7,
5. The Man Who Wanted to Know the Time,
6. Luncheon Party,
7. Afternoon with Music,
8. Police Theory,
9. The Visitors,
10. The Object of the Exercise,
11. Richard to Play,
12. At the Rose and Crown,
13. Someone at Home,
14. Hide my Eyes,
15. Police Machine,
16. Farewell, My Pretty One,
17. Hard Behind Him,
18. It Occurred to Mr. Campion,
19. Preparation for an Accident,
21. Tether's End,