Gamblers Lucky Cotton and Rolf Weinbaum reached Nîmes International Airport at the beginning of a warm Saturday afternoon and set their watches forward one hour. They decided to postpone lunch until stomachs on British Summer Time started to drop hints. A bus took them into the city. They travelled the fifty miles to Montpelier by train, then hired a car for the last lap of their journey.
Cotton stopped at a café in Palavas. Leaving Weinbaum with the task of ordering coffee and cognac in American and French, he took the postcard acquired at the Jenners' house in Horton Grand over to the telephone. The Mediterranean was looking blue and inviting, despite its severe pollution problems. Cotton asked to speak to Mr. Duggleby, The hotel's receptionist told him that Mr. Duggleby had gone to Nice. Cotton turned down a chance to leave a message and rang off. Half of the afternoon had gone, but he was well satisfied with his progress.
"That was quick," grunted Weinbaum as Cotton slid onto the chair on the other side of the rickety table.
"Duggleby's staying at the same hotel." Cotton tossed the postcard onto the table. "And he's gone to Nice." He paused to allow his partner to comment.
"So?" grunted Weinbaum into an extending silence.
"He's gone to Nice," repeated Cotton. "That must be where this Toby's lurking. We should catch up with him tonight."
"And get the stuff back? So we can get back to business?" Weinbaum lost some of his air of boredom. He accepted that they had to recover the forged dollars, but the break in their fund-raising activities meant that there was no money coming in and none of the night life that went with it.
"And we get Inky's pals off our backs," added Cotton amazed that the message had got through to his partner at last. "So all we have to do now is wait for Duggleby to get back."
Two men were waiting for forgers Scott Hamill and Jobbo Wright then they arrived in France. The Frenchmen were average types with unremarkable features and shortish black hair, but they carried themselves with the confidence of police officers or men who were well aware of their own importance. Hamill and Wright exchanged sombre greetings with their French partners, then they followed them to a dark green van.
Albert Montois took the wheel. He was about Jobbo Wright's age and weight, two inches shorter and he smelled of paint. He set a south-westerly course, ignoring the motorway to avoid the irritation and delay involved in paying the toll. Paul Boulay lit a Lucky Strike, then put the packet away without bothering to find out if anyone else wanted a smoke.
Turning round in the front passenger seat, he directed a mistrustful frown at the Englishmen, who were sitting on a folded mattress in the back of the van. Boulay was around thirty and had already started to acquire grey hairs among his greasy black locks. When his brows contracted, he acquired a solid black line above his dark eyes.
"This can only mean trouble," he said in the American-English that so many Europeans acquire. "Your visit."
"Yes and no," returned Hamill cautiously. He had not discussed the reason for the trip to France on the telephone. "We've lost some of the money."
"Lost some money?" howled Albert. The van lurched violently as he started to turn round in his seat, then thought better of it,
"Hold on," checked Hamill. "It's not quite lost. And we didn't lose it."
"Explain," invited Boulay in a menacing tone.
"Inky used to know these two card sharps," said Hamill. "He lent them some of the dollars to flash around in front of their suckers. But one of the suckers waltzed off with about five hundred bucks. We're here to get them back."
"Inky used to know these guys?" said Boulay, picking up the stress but not sure how to treat it. "How long ago was this?"
"Beginning of the week," rumbled Jobbo Wright. "That was when they lost it."
"Inky's no longer with us," said Hamill with false delicacy to explain the past tense. "He had an accident, you know what I mean?" he added to imply the reverse. "Fell on his head."
"Ah!" said Boulay, slipping into a thoughtful expression when he had worked out that Hamill meant. He decided to opt for discretion and say no more about his English colleagues' poor security. "So what's the plan?"
"These card sharps are a pair of deadlegs," said Hamill. He went on to give a brief account of Cotton and Weinbaum's misadventures in England on the trail of the missing forged dollars. "So," he concluded, "we thought we'd better shoot over here and finish the job ourselves to get it done right."
"You know there the money is?" said the driver. Albert's English was just as North American as his partner's.
"Not exactly," Hamill admitted. "But we know where it's going to be. The card sharps and this Guy bloke have all shot off to this Palaver place."
"So when we get there, we get the bucks off the card sharps, bash them around a bit, and tell them to get lost," added Wright.
"And what if they haven't got the dollars?" asked Boulay.
"Jobbo thumps them anyway and we go after this Guy bloke," said Hamill.
"They had better have the dollars," murmured Boulay. "We went to a lot of trouble to get the paper right."
"And we went to a lot of bother to get the printing right," said Hamill, reminding the Frenchmen that the English branch of the conspiracy had just as great an investment at stake.
"If this deal collapses," murmured Boulay in the manner of an American TV gangster, "someone's gonna get very dead. Someone else."
He left the object of the threat vague deliberately. The Frenchmen saw themselves as hard men – at least as tough as Jobbo Wright. But they had never taken the risk of murder. That their colleagues had dared to take the ultimate sanction against a traitor in their camp had impressed Boulay and Albert. They were even more impressed by the fact that Hamill and Wright were still at liberty and travelling quite openly under their own names. The Frenchmen had not thought their English partners capable of attempting a murder, let alone getting away with a successful one. In a thoughtful silence, the group continued towards the coast.
Inspector Cornille returned to Grant Hardy's cruiser with a foreigner in tow. The man was wearing a crumpled, dark blue raincoat, which looked still London-damp on a sunny Mediterranean Saturday afternoon. His features were pinched, but not quite rat-like, and the length of his hair suggested that he was preparing for an undercover operation far from the eyes of senior officers. The two policemen paused at the dockside and looked down at the cruiser. Six pairs of eyes returned their stares.
"This is Inspector Forward of the South-West Regional Crime Squad," said the Frenchman inspector by way of an introduction and combined warning to be respectful. "You can find your way back to the office when you have finished?"
"Yes, I can manage, thanks," nodded Forward.
The newcomer descended three steps to the cruiser as Inspector Cornille turned back to the brick and timber buildings. Grant Hardy introduced himself, Bob Kane, and Céline. Having studied the pictures in their passports, the inspector was able to identify the Jenners and Guy Duggleby for himself.
Inspector Forward called the five interested parties into the main cabin one by one and took a statement from each of them. Apart from the usual slight discrepancies due to the failings of memory, he learned that the Jenners and their friends were able to account for their whereabouts in the time band during which the mystery man had died.
Lacking a criminal record, Inky Fergusson had proved impossible to identify from his fingerprints. A rather bad photograph had been shown on the television news. None of his friends and acquaintances had noticed a resemblance or taken the likeness seriously enough to suggest to the police that their corpse was called Inky Fergusson.
The Jenners and their friends looked at morgue photographs of the dead man. Inspector Forward's copper's instinct confirmed that their bafflement was genuine. None of them had ever seen the mystery man before. In each case, there had been apprehension before seeing the picture and visible relief when the image proved unfamiliar. And none of them had the slightest idea why the corpse should have been delivered, neatly packed in a music-centre carton, to the Jenners' home in the country.
At the same time, the inspector detected undercurrents of something other than the suspicious death of an insignificant character – someone in the printing trade, according to the pathologist who had performed the post mortem examination.
The Jenners had mentioned suspicious characters to their neighbour three days earlier – to their neighbour, the woman who had called the police round to arrest Thomas Geoffrey Duggleby, brother of Guy. Inspector Forward extracted descriptions from the Jenners of the characters whom they said that they had seen hanging around the village.
He was more inclined to accept Nicki Jenner's version when the descriptions varied because she seemed to have a better eye for detail. Still not knowing how much trouble Toby Ryun was in, Nicki had kept quiet about her sketches of the gamblers and their bodyguard.
Inspector Forward gained the impression that his witnesses were withholding a key piece of information, but he had covered the ground required for his investigation satisfactorily. Neither the Jenners nor their friends had murdered the mystery man. They were just another dead end. But he had three descriptions to show for his trip to France.
Jim Forward had missed another opportunity to go to a football match by working on yet another Saturday, and the season had just one more week to run. But he could enjoy a few hours in the South of France before his flight back to London. And there was a welcome chance to pick up a ration of duty-free goods on the way home. As he climbed up to the dock, his briefcase tucked under his left arm, the inspector was telling himself that every job has its compensations. His host, Inspector Cornille, looked a bit of a miserable sod, but no doubt the French police could provide something in the way of hospitality more exciting than a cup of tea and a few biscuits.
"Well, that didn't hurt too much, did it," remarked Guy Duggleby when he judged that Inspector Forward was out of earshot.
"He was almost nice about it, in a sinister sort of way," added Nicki Jenner.
"Probably because Grant issued him with a glass of wine," chuckled Bob Kane. "D'you reckon we're not suspects any more? Or was he trying to lure us into a sense of false security?"
"I wonder if Rosemary's notice we've gone?" said Hardy.
"Knowing your dear wife's shopping habits, you could sneak off for a couple of days," chuckled Guy. "I suppose they'll keep us hanging around for a while yet. But some underling's sure to tell us to shove off before long,"
Guy's prediction came true a quarter of an hour later. A stocky man in shirt sleeves and shiny, dark blue trousers distributed passports to Guy and the Jenners, and told Hardy that he was free to carry on with his cruise. Guy made a note of the cruiser's itinerary as the Jenners cast off with the casual skill of recent practice.
Clear of the Old Port, but before the turn half-left towards the sea, Guy, Bob and Céline left the cruiser and headed for a café and a telephone. They found both on the Quai Maréchal Joffre, between a junk shop and what looked like a betting shop.
The phone just rang and rang when Guy got through to his flat in London. Taking this as good news, he dialled his sister's private number at the family home. If Joan had returned to Failsham, then she had found a message from Toby Ryun at Bob Kane's attic flat.
Guy glanced to his left as double chirps began again. A bored waiter, who looked Italian but had a distinct Yorkshire accent, was delivering three cups of coffee and three generous glasses of marc eau-de-vie. The café was dingy and almost sinister after the dusty afternoon brilliance outside. Its surfaces had acquired a dull sheen from constant contact with human bodies. It was a place for real people, not tourists.
"Five one three two four?" said a slightly hoarse female voice.
"Hello, it's me," said Guy unhelpfully. "Got a cold?"
"A bit of one. Is this your one permitted phone call?" Joan Duggleby added with a laugh.
"I think one brother in clink is quite enough for any girl," returned Guy. "Is there anything in the paper about this stiff? The copper they sent out here was about as forthcoming as the bloke himself."
"There was a bit on the radio about him. Apparently, he died after a fall. And the police think he was moved at least twice after death. Tom was grilled by someone from the Drug Squad. Sounds like the coppers think someone has set up a distribution network. And they're borrowing places like the Jenners' house for meetings and deliveries."
"Sounds like someone's got a good imagination. Has our dear brother recovered from the shock of being nicked yet?"
"When he stopped shaking, he started breathing fire," giggled Joan. "It's all your fault, you know."
"Even so, I can't feel sorry for him," chuckled Guy. "He's always poking his nose in and trying to organize my bloody life. What's the betting this won't even slow him down?"
"About a thousand to one on. I take it Jeff and Nicki are in the clear now?"
"The coppers seem to have lost interest in them. Well, are you going to tell me there Toby is?"
"Is that a lucky guess, or have you heard from him too?"
"Deduction. I hope you left my flat in one piece?"
"It was a marvellous party," chuckled Joan. "The builders should have finished by the time you get back. Anyway, Toby's in the Venice of Provence, according to the guide book. At Martiques, which is a busy fishing town about thirty miles from Marseilles. He was quite cheesed then he found they haven't turned the Chateau d'If into a hotel. That's where they kept The Man In The Iron Mask, you know."
"Yes, I do. And the Count of Monte Cristo."
"That's not in the Telex. It looks like he sent it to Tony Vosper and he shoved it under Bob's door."
"That's one way of transferring information quickly and reliably. Okay, let's have the details," invited Guy. He took down the name of Toby Ryun's hotel, its address and a telephone number. Then he said goodbye to his sister and crossed the gloomy café to join Bob and Céline.
"If I had a torch," said Bob, "I'd be able to see if he's smiling or not."
"You mean he has something to smile about?" asked Céline, who had been astounded by the details of their adventure as supplied by Bob.
"We've found Toby." Guy tested his coffee and found that it was still drinkable. "Or rather, he's admitted where he is. I'll give him a ring in a couple of minutes."
"Why not right away?" objected Bob.
"That bloke's a bit bigger than me." Guy turned a thumb towards the telephone.
The man making a call looked about seven feet tall and built in proportion. He was not the sort to interrupt lightly.
Guy finished his coffee, then he approached the telephone again. Toby Ryun was not in his hotel, which came as no surprise, and he was not expected back until very late. Further, he was moving west to Arles in the morning. Guy left a message ordering Toby to stay put and await callers when he reached his next stopping point.
Suddenly at a loose end, Guy and Bob decided to allow Céline to show them a bit of Nice before they flew back to Montpelier.
Albert turned left, out of a minor road, exchanging insults with an inattentive road user who had drifted too close to his van. Scott Hamill gazed through the windscreen, examining idly the shops and pedestrians on his left. Between the groups of low buildings, he could catch tantalizing glimpses of calm blue water. Suddenly, he hammered on the seat in front and called: "Pull in, mate. It's them!"
"Who is it?" demanded Paul as Albert put his brakes on.
"Inky's pals," explained Hamill. "Sitting in that café, at the back, Calm as you like. Or their doubles."
"These are the two who lost the dollars?" said Boulay.
"Right," nodded Hamill. "They'll be waiting for this Toby or his mate Guy to show up."
"Are we going to take them?" said Albert.
"Let's have another look at them to make sure," stalled Hamill. "How far is it to your place?"
"We're nearly there," said Boulay.
"Okay." Hamill reached a decision. "They may know what Jobbo and me look like but they won't know you two. So if you and Al invited them over to the van. We can take them to your place for a chat."
"And when do we clobber them?" said Albert to underline the fact that he was a tough guy.
"Wait till we get out of town," said Hamill. "Let's take another look at them."
Albert made a U-turn on the quiet road. Two cars had just overtaken them. No other vehicles were in sight. He drove past the café again and parked almost immediately.
"That's them at the back," said Hamill positively. "The one with the moustache and the guy with the long face."
"I saw them," nodded Boulay.
He took a neat automatic pistol from under his seat and peeled away three strips of adhesive tape, which had held it securely hidden. Boulay jacked a cartridge into the chamber, then the Frenchmen climbed out of the van and hopped over a low brick wall.
Lucky Cotton and Rolf Weinbaum looked up, sensing company.
"There is a van at the side of the road, gentlemen," said Boulay with official assurance. "My colleagues would like to talk to you."
"Yeah?" returned Weinbaum, refusing to be impressed. "Who the hell are you, Charlie?"
"I am the man with a gun in his pocket," returned Boulay, deciding not to waste time pretending to be a police officer. He lifted the muzzle of the weapon into view for a moment.
"You wouldn't dare use that here in the open," said Cotton with more confidence than he felt. "Too many witnesses."
"The more witnesses, the more different stories," said Boulay with a broad smile to show equal confidence. "And nothing they say will take the bullets out of your bodies."
"I ain't going for no ride with a bullet at the end of it," said Weinbaum stubbornly. "I ain't gonna make killing us any easier for you. You can take your chances here."
"My colleagues are more interested in talking than killing – at the moment," said Boulay.
"So what's wrong with right here?" said Cotton.
"All right," decided Boulay as a waiter arrived to hover over the newcomers. He ordered a bottle of wine and four glasses, waved a summons to the van and sat down. Things were not going according to plan. On television, the threat of a gun was always enough to persuade the hardest case to go for his ride.
"What the hell's going on?" demanded Jobbo Wright, craning past his partner to look at the cosy group in the café's yard.
"Looks like they're going to talk here," Scott Hamill interpreted, moving to the van's rear door. "Can't trust a bloody Frog to get anything done proper."
Cotton and Weinbaum put on expressions of suppressed fury when the number at their table increased to six. If numbers and weapons had been in their favour, they would have shown Hamill and Wright what they thought of people who dumped dead bodies on them. But under the circumstances, they could only sit and fume.
"Got them bucks back yet?" asked Hamill.
"We're working on it," Cotton told him with a scowl.
"Suppose you tell us there you're up to?"
With a shrug, Cotton launched into an account of their attempts to recover the missing dollars. Most of the ground had been covered before by Inky Fergusson and Billy Kemp, but the forgers heard him out in case he revealed something new. The news came at the end of the account. The forgers learned where to find Guy Duggleby, that Cotton and Weinbaum believed him to be in Nice, talking to his friend Toby, and that the gamblers had hired a thief who specialized in hotels to visit Guy Duggleby's room during the night to frighten the whereabouts of his friend Toby out of him.
"A proper cock-up all along the line," sneered Wright.
"Who did you hire for tonight?" said Hamill, cutting across his partner's insults.
"A bloke called Mordeau," said Cotton grudgingly.
"I know him," said Boulay after an uncomplimentary remark in his native French.
"Will he cough what he knows to us?" asked Hamill.
"He would cough to the devil if he pays him," Boulay told him.
"Okay," decided Hamill. "You two get lost. If we see you again, you're in dead lumber."
"What d'you mean, get lost?" demanded Weinbaum. "You've got five hundred and fifty bucks of our bread. What we gave to Inky with the funny stuff."
"Get if back off Inky," said Hamill with a thin smile.
"Aren't we going to thump them?" asked Jobbo Wright.
The disappointment in his voice was reflected on Albert's non-descript French face.
"You thump us like you thumped Inky and you're in a lot of trouble," bluffed Cotton. "We've got insurance."
"We're not going to waste any more time on them," said Hamill, apparently ignoring the threat, but taking note of it just the same. "They've had their chance and they've blown it. That five hundred is rent on our dough," he told Cotton. "And if anyone talks out of turn, you go down with us. Get lost." He made an abrupt shooing gesture with his right hand.
Outnumbered and outmanoeuvred, Cotton and Weinbaum scraped rubber-shod chairs away from the round table. It was a great relief to lose the responsibility of recovering the missing forged dollars – almost worth the loss of five hundred and fifty genuine ones. And they could get back to work instead of wasting their working capital on trips back and forward to England.
Things could have been worse, they realized. And, as Weinbaum remarked to Cotton as they headed back to Montpelier to surrender their hired car, they had stuck the forgers with the bill at the café for their coffee and brandy.
"What about this Mordeau?" Hamill asked Boulay, dismissing the departing gamblers from his mind.
"What about those two?" interrupted Albert.
"We can take care of them when we've got those bucks back," said Cotton, knowing that the gamblers would be out of reach.
"We should have thumped them," Wright told Albert, smacking a large fist into a grubby palm. Albert rumbled agreement.
"Later," said Boulay, realizing that the gamblers knew enough to demand caution on the part of the forgers. "Mordeau is dangerous," he added thoughtfully. "He acts tough, but he is a coward. And he carries a gun. If someone thinks he is tougher, Mordeau will shoot. I would not use him."
"I don't think this Guy bloke's going to try anything if he gets woken up in the middle of the night and this guy shoves a gun in his face," decided Hamill. "You know where to contact him to tell him we're running things now? Mordeau?"
"He goes to a bar called The Madrigal," said Boulay.
"I suppose we'd better go through with this."
"You think we are wasting our time?"
"Well, I've been trying to put myself in this Toby's place. He gets into a bent card game, but he comes out ahead. Then the card-sharps come looking for him. And this Guy bloke goes looking for Toby to tell him to watch out. But why should either of them think there's anything wrong with the money? This Toby might have blown it by now. Paying a hotel bill. Or in a casino. He might even be in gaol for passing it."
Boulay took a swallow of wine and exchanged glances with Albert. "It's possible," he admitted.
"Suppose you were on holiday and you came into seven hundred bucks? What would you do with it apart from spend it?"
"Paul would put it in his pocket and pretend he has no money," chuckled Albert.
"So what is your plan?" invited Boulay, glaring at Albert.
Hamill shrugged. "We let Mordeau go ahead, I suppose. Just in case."
"And what if this Toby has spent his winnings?"
"We're not planning to get rid of the dollars till about the middle of July. That's ten weeks for it to blow over after some bank spots the duds. If anyone does. And we're not stuck with a whole bunch of paper with the same numbers. Inky may not have been too clever at picking his mates, but he did a job and a half of the printing. It won't be a complete disaster if he has spent it. He's only got five hundred bucks."
"But it's worth the effort to find out if he still has the dollars," nodded Boulay. "In case we decide to sell them instead of change them ourselves."
"I suppose we'll have to thump this Duggleby to make him talk," said Jobbo Wright, laying claim to the job of thumping a fellow Englishman,
"Let's just hang fire," warned Scott Hamill. "We want this Duggleby to think those two mugs are still after him. We don't want to show him any new faces just yet."
"We will know him, but he will not know us," added Paul Boulay with a grave nod.
One Too Many
Guy Duggleby and Bob Kane reached their hotel rooms a little after midnight. They had spent the evening with Céline and a friend with the very unfrench name of Betty. An attempt to contact Toby Ryun at his hotel to confirm that he had received Guy's message had proved unsuccessful. Mr. Ryun seemed to be making a night of it too, which was nothing unusual. Guy heaved his suitcase onto the bed, peeled back the zips and threw back the lid. He stopped and frowned, his right hand in the act of reaching for a pair of pyjamas.
"Someone's been messing about with my gear," he remarked.
Mordeau had already carried out the first part of his assignment – a search of the room to find out if the address of someone called Toby had been left lying around.
Bob peered into his shopping bag, then he decided that the contents were in such a state of chaos that their disorder could tell him nothing.
"All my socks are the wrong way round," added Guy. "And this shirt's upside down."
"No kidding!" Bob came through the communicating door to peer at the disturbed articles.
"None at all," Guy assured him. "I've got my packing system down to such a fine art, I can do it in my sleep. I know exactly where everything should be. There doesn't seem to be anything missing, but some bugger's definitely been through my case."
"Think it might be that unknown friend who phoned you this afternoon? And wouldn't leave a message?"
"It's obviously not a thief. He'd have had my electric razor on principle. No, as you say, it could have been our friend looking for a lead to Toby. I suppose that was Mr. Cotton or Mr. Weinbaum."
"They seem quite desperate to find him, too."
"Which makes me wonder why they think it's worth all their trouble. I mean. Suppose they got him into a crooked poker game and Toby smelled a rat? And ducked out owing them a few hundred quid. It must have cost them that and more so far. Two round trips to London, hiring Billy Kemp and his gun, not to mention food, drink, hotels. If it had been me, I'd have written off the loss and looked for another sucker."
"Good point," nodded Bob. "Unless Toby owes them a few thousand quid. Assuming he didn't catch them cheating, pull a gun and dash off with all the money in sight."
"Even so, what's to stop him complaining to the police if they jump him and grab his winnings back?" continued Guy, ignoring the second suggestion. "They'd be out of business in France, and very possibly in gaol sooner or later. They'd be far better off keeping quiet about the whole thing."
"So what are they after?"
"That's the sixty-four thousand dollar question," sighed Guy. "I don't know. Suppose there's something written on one of the notes Toby won? An incriminating address, or a phone number, or something?"
"Don't ask me," grinned Bob. "You're talking to a bloke who never has a pound note long enough to write on it. Think he might come back, whoever was poking through your gear?"
"These characters seem to make a habit of nocturnal visits. The Jenners' place, my flat. Maybe we ought to be ready for a visit from a French Billy Kemp, or even the lad himself. Back in five minutes." Guy winked at Bob, selected a sock and strolled out of the room.
When he returned, slightly more than the promised five minutes later, the sock was full of damp sand.
"You expect that do-it-yourself cosh to work?" scoffed Bob.
"Want to try it?" Guy whacked the chest of drawers.
"No thanks," said Bob quickly. The thud of the impact had sounded very solid and incapacitating. "I had a look round just now. As far as I can tell, there's no bombs in the beds. But I wouldn't swear there isn't some nitroglycerine in your toothpaste. Which I'll have to borrow again because I forgot to buy some."
"They're not going to do anything too desperate," laughed Guy. "After all, we can't put them in touch with Toby if they blow us to bits."
"Ah, but it doesn't take both of us to do that. And don't forget, there's one dead body in circulation already. Did he fall or was he pushed? These guys might be a bit clumsy, and I'm planning to draw my old age pension, earned or not."
"Relax!" scoffed Guy. "We know they might visit us and we're ready to do something about it if they do. Don't you think the two of us can do at least as well as Jeff and Nicki did when Mr. Kemp dropped in on them at my flat?"
"Yeah," grinned Bob. "Not fair, that. Lucky they weren't on the job then he showed up."
"Right! Two hours on, two hours off guard duty," decided Guy. "I'll go first, unless you fancy it?"
"I'd rather get my head down for a while," Bob replied with a yawn.
Guy Duggleby, sprawled comfortably in an armchair just inside Bob Kane's room, tensed suddenly then he heard a faint, metallic scratching. He had been expecting the visitor to come through the door from the corridor, but the noise had originated on the other side of the room. The balcony doors opened, showing for a moment a dark shape against a background of star-lit sea and sky. Mordeau paused for a moment to look at the S-shaped hump in the bed. An automatic pistol filled his left hand. Three inches of sound suppressor showed that he meant business.
Satisfied that the occupant of the room was asleep, the intruder advanced to search his clothing before waking him up. Guy had the connecting door open a crack. He let the intruder move past him, then he swung the door smoothly open.
The sand-filled sock caught Mordeau just behind his right ear. He pitched straight forward and landed half on and half off the bed. Guy looked down at him for a moment, surprised that his improvised cosh had worked so well. Then he picked up the gun and roused Bob.
Bob closed the balcony doors on a slightly chilly night and rejoined the curtains. Guy had switched on the lamp on the writing desk. He used a suitcase strap to immobilize the prisoner's legs and a nylon pyjama cord to secure his wrists. Leaving the prisoner horizontal, Guy and Bob made themselves comfortable and waited for him to come round.
"I think he moved," warned Bob when he had smoked half of a cigarette.
Guy flowed out of his chair and stood over the prisoner, watching him as he strained at his bonds to satisfy himself that there was no hope of escape. Relieved that further use of his cosh would not be necessary, Guy hauled the prisoner into a sitting position against the chest of drawers and returned to his chair. He was no expert at knocking someone out with a sockful of sand and had been a little worried about using too much force. Apart from a pained expression, the prisoner looked fairly healthy.
Mordeau had been carrying a flick knife in his otherwise empty pockets. Guy had confiscated it. He touched the chromed button on the side of the handle. A five-inch blade flashed out and locked with an ominous click. Mordeau's dark eyes followed every movement as Guy reached forward and unfastened the prisoner's dark blue shirt.
Pale, hairless skin, stretched taught over bony ribs, made a vivid contrast. The proximity of the knife increased the rate of rise and fall of Mordeau's chest and caused the breath to leave a big nose with a faint whistle. Guy rested the point of the knife between a couple of ribs and pressed gently – indenting, but not breaking the skin.
"Are you going to talk to us?" he asked casually.
The prisoner responded with a curse in French. The gist was quite plain, even if the full meaning escaped Bob Kane. Guy, an experienced salesman and an expert in human reactions, could tell that the verbal defiance meant nothing. What counted was the fear in the prisoner's eyes. He was a hard nut with a soft centre. Guy moved the knife forward a fraction of an inch. The waxen flesh gave, releasing a bubble of blood. Mordeau gasped – more in surprise than pain.
"I reckon I'm about six centimetres from your heart," said Guy calmly, switching to French. "I want some information from you. Like who sent you and where do I find them?"
The prisoner stared at the knife with wide eyes, but he remained silent.
"My friend is going to count up to ten," said Guy. "If I've not heard from you by then, the knife goes in one centimetre. Then we do some more counting. If you're not prepared to be sensible, you'll be dead two minutes from now. Start counting up to ten," he added to Bob. "Slowly."
"Un," said Bob, obliging in French. "Deux. Trois..."
"His name is Paul," rushed from the prisoner.
"Paul Cotton?" frowned Guy.
"Paul Boulay. Lucky Cotton has gone. I have to tell Paul where to find this man Toby."
"Hang on, start from the beginning," said Guy. "This Paul has taken over from Cotton and Weinbaum?"
"Yes." The prisoner started to nod, then thought better of moving any part of his body.
"What were you supposed to do when you got here?"
"Make you tell me where to find Toby, phone Paul, then keep you here until he says let you go."
"And why does this Paul bloke want Toby?"
"He didn't say." Mordeau was reluctant to give a negative answer in case it was interpreted as non-co-operation and an excuse to dig the knife into him again.
"Where do we find this Paul?"
"The house on the cliffs. A kilometre to the west of here. With dark green shutters and the tall chimney."
"Is this Paul in with Cotton and Weinbaum? A partner of some sort?"
"I don't think so. Lucky Cotton and the American paid me to do the job. Then Paul told me they've gone and I'm working for him."
"What is he? Some sort of gangster?" asked Guy, seeking to broaden his picture of the opposition.
"He has money, but no one knows where it comes from." Mordeau parted reluctantly with another negative. "But when he says you will do something for him, you do it, eh?"
"What's this about gangsters?" frowned Bob, picking out a familiar word with a distorted pronunciation.
"Our gambling friends are out of the picture," explained Guy. "There's a bloke called Paul after Toby now."
"Ah!" said Bob, putting together fragments of translation. "Carry on."
"That's about it," said Guy. "I can't think of much more to ask him. He's just a gopher."
"So what do we do with laughing boy?"
"Dump him back on the balcony and tell him to get lost. Unless you'd like to be half a hero? For catching a cat burglar?"
"The bloody phuzz'd keep us up half the night, asking daft questions we'd rather not answer. I'll get his feet."
Mordeau opened his mouth to say something as Bob took hold of his feet and spun him round on the seat of his black trousers to face the balcony doors. Then a spasm of cramp speared his right thigh. Mordeau's unsupported trunk arched backwards. His head caught Guy's nose. Guy was still holding the flick knife. The blade had buried itself in the intruder's back before either of them had realized the danger. Mordeau's eyes bulged. A faint squawk of protest burst from his lips. Then he sagged limply onto Guy, staring accusingly at Bob.
"What the bloody hell!" gasped Bob.
Guy pushed the dead weight aside and groped for a handkerchief. His eyes were streaming and his nose felt as if it had been attacked by a maniac with a sledgehammer. Mordeau rolled onto his face.
"What the hell happened?" said Bob in bewilderment, staring at the knife in the intruder's back, more surprised than concerned.
"I don't know what he thought he was doing." Guy tested his nose cautiously. It was sore but the bridge seemed solid enough when he tried to rock it with finger and thumb, and it wasn't pouring out blood which, he had heard, is a sure sign of a fracture. "The bastard just dived right back at me."
"And spiked himself."
"And what?" Guy saw the knife and realized why he was no longer holding it. "Bloody hell!"
"Maybe he thought we were going to heave him out the window," Bob suggested, reaching for the knife.
"Bloody idiot. No, don't take it out. It'll stop any bleeding. The blade will plug up the hole. And it'll save the French coppers wondering how he was done in."
"What do we do with him now?"
"We could leave him here in case Tom's on my trail."
"Brilliant idea!" scoffed Bob.
Guy reached over to wipe the handle of the knife thoroughly with a slightly damp handkerchief to make sure that there were no revealing fingerprints on it. "It might shock my dear brother into leaving me alone for good, finding another stiff. I don't know. I suppose we could shove him up on the roof."
"How do we get him up there?" objected Bob.
"Use the lift."
"What if someone sees us?"
"Who's going to be wandering around at this time of night? It's getting on for two o'clock."
"Oh, rubbish!" laughed Guy. "You untie his feet."
"You know," mused Bob, "I always used to think the bloke who said: ‘One dead body is one too many' was stating the blindingly obvious. But I think I know exactly what he meant now."
The lifts were ten yards down the corridor from Guy's room. Bob pressed the call button, then he held the doors open while they manoeuvred the dead man into the lift. Its efficient pace became an agonizing crawl for Bob. Guy seemed totally unconcerned by the fact that he was supporting one-half of a corpse.
Undisturbed, they reached the top floor of the hotel. Unchallenged, they carried the limp body up a flight of stairs to the roof. The door was doubly bolted but not locked. On the seaward side of the building, they found a knotted rope tied to a section of pipe. They lowered the dead man to the flat surface, sprawling him artistically on his face. Guy hauled up the rope and dropped it beside Mordeau's body. Then, using his handkerchief, he fitted the silence pistol into the dead man's gloved hand, knocked down the safety catch and squeezed off two shots in the general direction of the sea.
"Well, that should give the local phuzz something to think about," commented Bob.
"Sure will," agreed Guy. "He's obviously up to no good with his rope and the gun. With a silencer, too."
"Let's hope he's got plenty of enemies."
"He looks the type to have more than enough."
"When d'you reckon someone will find him?"
Guy looked around, his eyes more or less accustomed to the diffuse glow seeping up from the street. "None of the other buildings are tall enough and close enough for anyone to see him. And I shouldn't think people come up here too often. Might be a day or two. Might be a week or two. Anyway, let's get our heads down. We've got a busy day tomorrow."
"I wonder where this bloke Paul fits in," Bob remarked at the door to the roof as he slid bolts on the night and the body, remembering to use his handkerchief.
"Maybe it's his address or phone number on something Toby's got."
"And we're just going to give it back to him?"
"We might. Why, what else should we do?"
Bob shrugged. "I don't know. It just seems a bit of an anticlimax. So we might be shooting back home tomorrow?"
"It's possible," nodded Guy. "Depends what Toby tells us."
The house with dark green shutters and the tall chimney enjoyed a double view over water. Beyond the windows on the southern side, across an irregular tarmac path, ten yards of coarse grass ended in the infrequent remains of a wooden fence along the cliff edge. Forty feet of glassy rock dropped almost vertically to a shelf of debris and the silver sand. To the north of the house lay one of the long, narrow lakes which run parallel to the sea shore. Linked by canals, the inland waterway is an alternative to the sea as a highway and not subject to the full violence of Mediterranean storms.
Built at around the turn of the century, the house was broad and squat. It seemed to crouch, gripping the rock with its foundations to withstand gales from the sea and storms off the slender lake. Its roof carved down through the rooms on the first floor to meet the walls at roughly chest height and reduced the upper windows to overhung squares overcrowded with bars of dark green wood.
Paul Boulay had bought the place because of its isolation and because its position on a slight rise commanded a good view of all approach routes. He was a criminals' chandler. He supplied specialized equipment for assaults on the property of others, or he sold the details of robberies planned by experts.
Scott Hamill had learned about him in the wake of a failed currency forging attempt in West Germany. The conspirators had made a good job of the printing but they had let themselves down with the paper. Boulay had assured Hamill that it took a very experienced examiner to tell paper supplied by himself from the real thing, and their conspiracy to forge dollars had been born soon afterwards.
On a warm and sunny spring Sunday, the atmosphere in the house was decidedly gloomy. Hamill and Boulay were wondering that had happened to Mordeau, the cowardly, gun-toting burglar. Their concern had depressed the spirits of Jobbo Wright and Albert. As the brains of the counterfeiting conspiracy talked over their doubts and fears, their satellites had taken themselves to the opposite end of the old and massive kitchen.
Over a meal of fresh, warm bread, butter and crumbly, white cheese, washed down with coffee spiked with brandy, Wright was teaching Albert to make a proper job of swearing in English and taking lessons in French cursing. They found mutual education an amusing and useful way to pass the time.
"Why hasn't that bastard called?" said Scott Hamill, more to his coffee cup than to his companion at the long, oak table.
"Eight-thirty," said Paul Boulay after a confirmatory glance at his watch. "He should have called five or six hours ago."
"You don't think he got lucky? Found a few thousand francs in cash on this Duggleby bloke and decided to spend it? Or Duggleby paid him off?"
"I don't know. I don't think he could pay him off. Mordeau knows he has to account to me."
"What if something went wrong? He might have been nicked. You know, arrested," Hamill added in response to a mild frown.
"No, we would have heard something." Boulay was very positive. "But he has enemies. He throws his weight."
"Around," added Hamill. "Throws his weight around."
The Frenchman shrugged. "Plenty of people would like to slide a knife between his ribs or crush his skull. He does not try to be popular."
"We'd better slide over to the hotel ourselves," Hamill decided. "Looks like we'll have to tackle this Guy bloke ourselves."
"We will go to his room?"
"No, it'd be better to wait outside in the van. We can follow him to somewhere quiet, stop him and let those two batter him till he talks." Hamill glanced down the table to Wright and Albert, who were cackling loudly over a particularly juicy and filthy expression.
"Sounds a good enough plan," nodded Boulay.