All published by Robert Hale.
No Place for a Tickle
He sobbed again. ‘But you can’t just kill me. You can’t…’
‘Get up,’ she said crisply. ‘Start walking down the path.’
He stared at her, then stumbled round the ruined wall and back towards the path in the darkness. It ran on, as she had said, for another hundred yards over which he staggered blindly towards the lip of Sherrycombe, through rough, tangled bracken.
‘Now turn and face me and start to feel your way down over the edge, very slowly.’
He stared at her again. Her face tightened. He felt for a handhold of heather as he lowered one foot cautiously over the edge, still gazing fearfully at the pistol pointing six feed from his head. He felt his way down for ten feet; and then another ten. ‘Far enough!’ she barked, peering down over a frond of bracken at the top of the precipice. ‘Wait there!’
He clung to the steep wall of heather and gorse as she lowered herself carefully over the edge and climbed down on a parallel course, a few feet to the left. He thought for one wild moment that he might scramble for the top and run for his life across the darkness of the downs. But the face was sheer and she had brought him too far already. She would have picked him off long before he had reached the top. ‘Come on down slowly,’ she called, fifteen feet below him now, ‘and remember I have you covered every step of the way.’
She led him down through a thick belt of woodland, past a fast running stream which finally burst out of the trees to bubble and foam round a huddle of boulders before leaping down into a bed of jagged rocks where it seethed and sprayed before again cascading away to the sea, far below.
She stood beside the pool and called out over the road of the water. ‘Down again!’ He clung to the side, looking down in dread. The gun spat and a bullet whined above him, thudding into the rock wall overhead. He climbed down to the water and reached the ledge where she stood. ‘If you jump, you might miss the rocks below and you might not drown in the sea, but I’d so much prefer them to find a body broken from fall on the lower ledge, or drowned on the shore at high tide, than with a bullet through its head, although I hardly think the finger would be pointed at me. Your chances, either way, are remote, but I shan’t shoot unless I must.’
He stared for the last time at the slender figure, legs astride in her long tweed skirt, binoculars still swinging in their leather case round her scraggy neck. She raised the gun, squinted alog her outstretched arm and steadied her wrist inexpertly with the other hand. ‘The count is five,’ she said, ‘Five, four, three, two…’
He fell, silent at first through the still night air; then bounced with a crash which sent a great wave of sea-birds screaming in terror as they rose from their sleeping perches on the lower ledge; and then he fell again, spinning slowly as he tumbled on down with a final cry of despair into the black depths of the sea below. The water closed over him.
The Patsy Prize
The light must have been fading much more quickly than he had expected. I’d watched every shade of the afternoon sky for those past long weeks with never a lamp to light, a switch to press. I could see fine. I closed my gingers round the slate and shifted slightly. He raised the gun. ‘Sit still,’ he said curtly. No wisecracking now. He was getting nervous. So was I.
An owl hooted suddenly behind him, from the mouth of an old working immediately below. He started and half turned and I hurled the slate at his head in the same second. It caught him a glancing blow on the left temple and as I shot forward my head sent his jaw rattling even as he was gathering himself. Falling, he reached for the gun, but I stamped on his hand in my heavy boot. He screamed and gagged on his upper denture protruding from his mouth as I swung a great kick at his head. There was a thud and he was gone, away over the edge of the ravine, bumping and screaming as he went.
The last scream echoed away around the quarry. Loose scree continued to roll down after him for a full half minute. His upper denture smile mirthlessly from the path. His cigar butt smouldered in front of the boulder where he had sat. I picked up the gun and set off along the track, down into the heart of the ravine.
His broken body law slewed at a crazy angle on top of a shattered railway wagon. No blood. A quicker death than Mick’s. He didn’t deserve it. I dragged the body fifty yards across the quarry to the nearest old working and kicked it over the edge. It fell for some seconds and there was a final thud, far below in the blackness of the hole. I climbed back up the path. Then I settled down behind the boulder and I waited as the last streaks of light faded into darkness on the western ridge.
He raced past the Cotton Terraces and through the foot tunnel towards the main section of the zoo. Lights were going on now, voices shouting, animals shrilling and snarling. But help would be too long coming in the dark. He ran on hopelessly down the Broad Walk towards the nearest lights, an administrative building a hundred yards away beyond the elephant and rhino pavilion. But Chambers was gaining every second.
He crossed the clearing and headed for the far side of the zoo. Monkeys and parrots screamed indignantly at their rude awakening. The big cats were roused now and complaining, fierce and deep. He skilled round the corner of the pond and then on past the birds of prey, silent in their cages, to the South Exit. All locked and barred, of course. There was no way out for him there. He swung to the right and ran on. Now, beyond an intimidating array of railings and wire fences, he could see the inviting black spaces of Regents Park, waiting to swallow him up if only he could get out.
The first wire fencing sang against the bars it covered as he scrambled up. His left hand found a fingerhold - a small metal plate halfway up the wire. ‘Wolf Wood’, it said.
He clung precariously to the top, struggling for breath. His hands were torn and bleeding again. He looked back. The voices were no nearer, but he could hear Chambers’ footsteps coming on.
He leapt for the second fence, swung over and jumped down into the empty enclosure, crossing swiftly to the next fence. He seized the mesh and hauled himself up once more, looking back as he straddled the top and lurched precariously over the swaying wire. Chambers was at the first fence.
As he twisted round there was a dull thud and another screaming ricochet as a bullet zipped through the fence. The moon slid cruelly out from behind a bank of cloud. Mr Plackett had no cover. He looked frantically about him as he dropped to the ground, outside the zoo at last.
Chambers was high on the second fence now, lowering his fun with slow deliberation and taking clear aim. Mr Plackett pulled out the pearl-handled toy and pulled the trigger again and again, with a thin despairing whimper.
Blood on Blue Denim
The wheels skidded across the stubble and a hare, sitting, ears back, not twenty yards in front of him, bounded away in alarm as the other car roared past along the lane before the brakes screeched and rubber screamed on tarmac. He left the car and raced silently up the inside of the hedge towards the Marina as it reversed into the brambles to turn.
The mud was thick after the night’s rain, heavy and unyielding. Both rear wheels stuck firmly in the topmost ridge of the ditch after the hedge. The nearside front door opened and a man emerged, cursing. Steele shrank back behind the hedge but continued to peer through as the man came round the car and bent, not five feet away, to push as the engine wheezed and strained to no avail.
‘Once more!’ shouted the driver urgently.
‘It’s not bloody good, Chas,’ called the other one, a broad-shouldered man in a donkey jacket and flat leather cap. ‘It’s stuck solid. We’ll need something under the wheels. Here, we should find him first. Fix the car when he’s safe in the back.’
‘One more try,’ shouted the driver again.
The big man swore and bent to his task once more. The car wouldn’t budge. He stepped back into the hedge and mopped his brow. ‘Look, come on, Chas! He’s in that field somewhere.’
‘Right,’ said Steele grimly. ‘And his gun’s in the back of your neck.’ He thrust it harder through the brambles. ‘You tell your mate to get out now or I’ll blow your head off.’
‘You all right, Donkey?’ shouted the driver, getting out. He was small, dark, neat. Early thirties, greased black hair, bright checked trousers and expensive suede jacket with belt hanging loose and careless. ‘Come on then, you take…’
He stopped and stared as the big man turned his neck awkwardly under the insistent pressure of the shot gun barrel pressed against his red bull neck. Steele shouted. ‘I’ve told him - I’ll blow his head off if you make a wrong move. And I’ll leave one barrel for you. Throw your gun down.’
‘You what?’ said the man, laughing as he stood easily at the side of the car. ‘Don’t worry, Donkey. He ain’t going anywhere.’
‘I swear it,’ said Steele hoarsely. ‘You know nothing of me and God knows what you want of me, but after what you’ve put me through these past sixteen hours I’d kill him if I had to. Believe it.’
‘For Christ’s sake, Chas!’ the big man pleaded. ‘Throw it down.’
‘Come on, Donkey, you can take him,’ the younger man called back. ‘One backswipe and he’ll be on his bum in a wet ditch wondering what’s hit him.’
‘Your gun, Chas!’
‘I can’t throw mine down, now can I, Donkey?’ said the other. ‘Make your move. My money’s on you Donk old son. You’ll take him.’ He retreated and crouched behind the bonnet of the Marina.
The thug suddenly spun round to the hedge and seized the barrel of Steele’s gun, swinging it up as they fought together to control it. His heavy body came crashing through the hedge. Long spikes of bramble branches pierced their faces as they swayed together. One tore at Steele’s left hand. His forefinger, coiled round one trigger, flinched away from the relentless thorns. There was a deafening explosion and a fierce heat and the gun blew a hole the size of a dinner plate in the chest of the big man. Still incongruously wearing his little flat cap on the top of his heavy head, he looked down in astonishment at the blood gushing from his front, stared back again at Steele and then crashed into the bottom of the brambles.
The Tennyson Code
They kissed again. The little car shook and creaked. Pitt rolled his eyes. Good grief, nothing had changed while he was inside. The whole nation was at it, except him. And where on earth were they In the middle of nowhere, as far as he could judge, raising his head a cautious two inches to peer out. Not a building in sight, just open moorland. Fairly belting down with rain now, too. And it was getting dark. He couldn’t get at his watch. His hand were supporting his agonisingly cramped body underneath.
‘About Wednesday night, though, darling love,’ said the woman suddenly breaking apart from the kiss with a squelch like a kitchen sink plunger releasing the plug hole. ‘I don’t know, dearest. It’s a big step. And, oh, I should feel, so, soiled, so sordid.’
‘Never say such a thing, dear heart,’ said the man, nibbling her lift ear before Pitt’s fascinated gaze. ‘We love each other, don’t we?’
‘But we’re both married,’ she wailed. ‘The odd snatched hour together, like this. It’s wonderful and romantic and I’d die without it but if, if Humphrey should ever find out, he’d kill me.’
‘There, there, my precious, of course he wouldn’t,’ he said, nibbling away reassuringly.
‘He would, I know he would. I didn’t tell you before, but he has a terrible temper,’ she said fiercely. ‘He’d probably kill you, too.’
The man stopped nibbling. ‘He wouldn’t really get violent, would he?’ he said thoughtfully.
Pitt smirked to himself. He knew what was coming next.
‘How about a drink, sweetest?’ said the man hoarsely. ‘We could drive a little way on to the Blacksmith’s Arms.’
It must be half five, six even, then. Had he slept that long? That scotch really had affected him after so long.
‘Oh, all right,’ she said without enthusiasm. ‘But is it - safe?’
‘Perfectly,’ said the man reassuringly. ‘It’ll be quiet at this hour. You’ll love it. It’s our sort of place, darling. They used to call it Betty’s Haunt, you now, Bett’ yahyn.’
All this and a local history lesson, too, thought Pitt, shifting his position cautiously as the man blathered on. What a paralysingly boring bloke. Strewth, what must Humphrey be like? He hunched down suddenly as the woman looked back and reversed over the verge into the road again. Wouldn’t have done to be spotted then. He could make off when they were safely in the pub. Hellfire, what a first day out. This time yesterday he was snug in his cell after exercise, waiting to go down for tea, he thought wistfully.
The car shot forward, tyres hissing on the wet road. ‘Oh, there are so many little places on the island that I'd love to share with you, beloved.’ said the man.
‘You do understand about Wednesday and - you know…’ said the woman.
‘There, my precious, of course I do,’ said her companion. ‘I feel the same deep down. I must restrain my passion. Oh, I love you my darling, but we must not rush things. A love like ours is to be nurtured slowly and surely.’
Stone me! thought Pitt. Is that line of chat still going strong? He struggled to pull his hands out from beneath his inert body. He had pins and needles all over. And, much, much worse, he realised in a mounting wave of terror, he was going to sneeze.
Five hundred yards down the hill Baxter and Armstrong were making their stealthy way down the alley towards a pool of light in the yard beyond as their driver backed into Chancery Lane and parked the car. The light from the small office window cast a pale shimmering gleam in the puddles among the cracked paving stones. The front door was open. Baxter pushed it gingerly with a gloved finger and they both moved quietly forward. They paused in the hall and then stepped quickly into the office.
They both took involuntary steps backwards in the two seconds that followed, stunned by the scene before them. At a desk in the window bay at the back was the sprawled figure of a man, slumped sideways and still tied to his upright chair. Blood dripped steadily from his open throat to the threadbare carpet. The naked figure of a girl lay sprawled in an old leather armchair beside the desk, her legs wide apart.
The mutilation was more than Baxter for all his experience could contemplate beyond those fleeting seconds.
The two men looked at each other in horror. ‘Check the room at the back,’ said Baxter in a low rasp. Armstrong moved forward and Baxter sun round in the same moment as running footsteps echoes through the yard outside and the driver burst in.
‘On the radio, guv,’ he panted. ‘American tourist found strangled on the bus just up the road.’ His voice died away as he took in the horrible scene.
Armstrong returned from the back room. ‘Blood in the sink. No sign of the blade,’ he said.
Baxter nodded. ‘Double that watch on Giles Buildings,’ he said. ‘You take the bus. Back to your car, Jackson. You know what we’ll want here.’
The driver, pale, gulped and nodded, escaping thankfully into the night air. They heard his footsteps running back up the alley.
‘Go on Frank,’ said Baxter.
Armstrong hesitated. ‘He might still be around,’ he said. ‘He’s gone right over the top now.’
‘Just get over to that bus before the City men run all over it,’ he said curtly.
He gazed down at the girl’s body.
‘I was taking her out tomorrow night,’ said Armstrong dully. He turned and walked out through the front door.
Baxter looked round the room. There were few signs of a struggle. He must have been on them like a savage animal. But what else was he God, he had been talking to him that morning, had him in the office twenty-four hours earlier. These two need not have died.
There was a stir in the alley. A uniform sergeant in a City helmet appeared in the doorway. ‘Sir,’ he said. ‘Christ, what a mess.’
‘Yes,’ he said.
‘That’s three in one night. Six in a week,’ said the sergeant almost chattily.
‘Five days,’ he said. ‘It’s six in five days.’
‘Bloody hell,’ said the sergeant. ‘Jack the Ripper wasn’t in it.’
Baxter pulled himself together. He had to finish the job. He knew it would be his last.