Inspector Girardin returned to the Hôtel Bellevue at ten minutes to twelve. Roused by Guy, Calvin North pushed into Bob's bathroom to wash his face. He held a brief conference with the inspector in private, then he departed with his large, blue leather suitcase, leaving behind the cassette recorder attached to the telephone.
The inspector did not seem sad to see the back of the American. He scraped out a pipe with a metal stem and a screw-on bowl and packed it with tobacco while he listened to the tape and received further clarification from Guy.
The treasury agent had edited the last conversation quite skilfully, eliminating references to the note and the question of its delivery, and reducing the conversation to little more than an agreement to trade Bob for Toby Ryun's winnings. It was a matter of need to know – and the inspector, in Calvin North's opinion, did not need to know about the house with dark green shutters and a tall chimney.
Breathing billows of not too unpleasant smoke towards the balcony door, Inspector Girardin reached into his inside pocket and produced a brown envelope. "Voila!" he said, showing Guy a single hundred and several fifty-dollar bills. "Aha!" he added immediately, slipping into a frown.
Guy was almost as quick on the uptake. "You've just got the forged notes there," he pointed out. "We're supposed to be trading all Toby's winning for Bob. It's a bit of a dead giveaway just giving them the duds back."
"Because you thought all of them had been stolen. And of course, we let M. Ryun keep the genuine notes."
"Maybe we can borrow a hundred and eighty dollars from the US Treasury Department? Or go and rob a bank."
The telephone began to ring as Inspector Girardin was forming a sneering groan as his comment on the idea of robbing a bank. Guy gave his room number, and learned from the hotel's receptionist that there was a call for him. Guy switched the cassette recorder on automatically.
"Hello, it's me," said a familiar voice.
"Nice to know you're okay," said Guy, expecting one of the kidnappers to come on the line right away.
"I'm stranded," added Bob Kane.
"What?" said Guy blankly.
"Some sods bunged a filthy sack over my head and took me for a ride. We hung about somewhere in the hills for a while, then they shoved me in a car. As opposed to the van that brought me to wherever it was, if you follow me?"
"With difficulty. Go on."
"Then we drove a bit more. I don't think we went too far this time, not that it's easy to tell with a blindfold on. We were going for well over an hour in the van. But this can't have been more than half an hour in the car. Anyway, they pulled up, dragged me out of the car and gave me a ciggy. I was just starting to think about firing squads, me with the blindfold on all ready, when the bloke told me not to take it off till I'd smoked the ciggy. Then the car drove off."
"What, you mean they just dumped you?" gasped Guy.
"Right," chuckled Bob. "They said there's no point lugging me around if we're willing to trade. But if there's any sort of double-cross, they'll be a bit rougher next time. And there were a couple of hints about not just us – they could pick on anyone from our families," he added in a more serious tone.
"That's a new twist to the game. And a reason to be even more careful."
"So! The next thing I knew, the car was shooting off. By the time I got rid of the blindfold, it was right out of sight. Well, I wasn't going to stand there smoking the ciggy like they said. I felt a proper twit. They'd dumped me in the middle of nowhere, just hills. So I started hoofing it. Then I managed to thumb a lift on a prehistoric lorry. I'm in some little dump called Pont-de-Causse. According to a signpost, it's twenty kilometres from Millau, wherever the hell that is. Sounds like something to do with Tintin's dog."
"Are we going to pick him up?" Guy asked the inspector.
"Who are you talking to?" said Bob.
"I suppose so," said Inspector Girardin, wondering if Bob had made a separate deal with the kidnappers – one which would deprive the French branch of Interpol of a chance to pounce on a gang of forgers.
"There's a cop here," said Guy. "He's been talking to Toby. In fact, he got here just in time to miss your kidnapping by a minute or so. Hang on." Guy retrieved his pocket travel guide to France from his suitcase and measured approximate distances with a thumb. "It's a hell of a way from here. Could take an hour and a half to get there."
"In that case," said Bob, being practical, "I'd better do something about lunch."
By twenty to one, Guy Duggleby and Inspector Girardin had completed more than half of their journey to rescue Bob Kane. Once past Lodève, the rising land had flattened out into a table dotted with thickets of waist-high juniper and lavender bushes sprinkled with occasional ruins. A hill rose in front of the pale salmon car. Guy was driving. The inspector was slumped in the front passenger seat, smoking his pipe reflectively and taking in the scenery with the indifferent eyes of a city dweller.
The road ahead made a slight curve to the right, cutting round the flank of a hill instead of rising over its crest. Guy's eyes pulled back from the road to flick through a pilot's check of his instruments and displays. The speedometer was hovering around the 100-mark, giving an Englishman an exaggerated impression of speed. Inspector Girardin had glanced at it once or twice, but the road was thinly used. Guy was driving in an alert and competent manner, and worrying about speed limits seemed to be beneath an inspector of Interpol.
Guy had registered the car behind him on his previous instrument sweep. He had been aware of something red in the rear view mirror for some time. Now, it was close enough to identify as a Renault in the medium price range, which had a more conventional car shape than the cheap and cheerful 2CV – a shape which took away the illusion of a vehicle which was perpetually running down-hill.
The driver had put his foot down. Swirls of dust billowed in the slipstream wake of the red car, which was heavily splashed with obscuring mud. The sun was doing its best against the storm of the previous night, but some deep puddles remained on a not terribly well maintained road. Fresh, green grass fell away to the right of the road. Guy started round the side of the hill.
With a maniacal roar of high tuning, the other car caught up and started an overtaking manoeuvre. Then it swung across the road. Guy's teeth smashed together as the other vehicle slammed into the side of his car. The wheel leapt in his hands. Inspector Girardin let out a startled squeal as his pipe flew from his mouth and hit the dashboard in a shower of sparks.
As soon as the car was under control again, Guy accelerated instinctively to outrun the attacker – but the other car had power to spare. Inspector Girardin was fumbling for a gun, hampered by his seat belt, as the other car drew level again. Guy found himself in a familiar position suddenly. He had seen cars playing dodgems often enough on television – and he knew that the answer to his problem lay in ignoring instinct and taking an offensive posture.
He divided his attention between the road ahead and the steering wheel of the other car. When it started to turn towards him, he trod on his brakes.
The pale salmon car bucked its nose towards the road. Seat belts creaked under the strain of deceleration and bit into yielding flesh. Bobbed of the resistance of a collision, a red flash shot across the road, cutting in on Guy.
"I really don't know why they never do this on TV," he remarked, treading heavily on the accelerator.
There was a crash and a violent jolt as bumper rammed bumper. The red car carried straight on when the driver was trying to steer to the left to follow the road. Guy trod on his brakes again. Tyres squealed on the dusty surface. Suddenly, the red shape had gone, taking a section of fence with it. Guy managed to stop with his front wheels just off the paved surface.
When he got out of the car, there was an overpowering stink of abused rubber in the dry air. Inspector Girardin was waving a pistol in one hand and using the other to slap at his suit to make sure that all of the sparks from his pipe had been extinguished. Showing its muddy underside to the Provençal sky, the red car lay sprawled on a clump of juniper bushes at the bottom of the slope with all four doors hanging open.
"Le Car by Renault," murmured Guy, waiting for the inverted vehicle to burst into flames. "Le Shunt by Duggleby."
"Come on!" urged the inspector.
"Perhaps they don't always burst into flames after a stunt like that on French telly," observed Guy.
Following the round inspector, who was built more for a desk than athletics, Guy scrambled twenty feet down the forty-five degree bank and approached the wreck. There was no sign of the driver.
"Well, what now?" asked Guy. "Look for him?"
"He could be hiding somewhere with a gun, waiting for us to do just that," decided Inspector Girardin in a rush of caution. "I see no blood in the car," he added, leaning forward and poking his fat bottom into the air. The interior of the vehicle yielded nothing of any immediate interest. "Let us press on. Whoever he is, he has a long walk. How would you describe him?"
Guy had to admit that he had received no more than a fleeting glimpse of black hair and sunglasses. The inspector released a scornful grunt, even though he had not even seen the other driver, and scraped mud from the rear plate with a twig so that he could make a note of the red car's registration number. Then he scrambled after Guy to the top of the bank and the road.
They stopped at the next town to report the incident at the police station and to initiate the recovery of the crashed car. Forty minutes later, without further incident, they reached their destination and began to look out for the released abductee.
Bob Kane was sitting in the garden of a café, shaded by a plane tree, looking sleepy but none the worse for his ordeal. He waved a greeting to Guy, then he stared with frank curiosity at the round man with his friend. Inspector Girardin looked very over-dressed in his dark blue suit. Guy introduced him and explained his presence, then he asked Bob to tell them about his adventure.
Bob described his brief kidnapping again, filling in details and surprising himself with the depth of information that an expert interrogator was able to draw from him. They were interrupted twice by a waiter, who provided the new arrivals with coffee and savoury pastries, which looked like poor relations of Cornish pasties.
"And that's about it," said Bob, reaching the point at which he had been abandoned outside Pont-de-Causse. "They got me out of the car, told me there'd be a message waiting for me and Guy in a pub in Islington called The Sceptre at lunchtime tomorrow, and then I got the warning about no double-crosses and definitely no police."
"We didn't have much choice about that," Guy pointed out.
"Your best protection is to get these men arrested as soon as possible," commented Inspector Girardin.
"Hmm," said Bob sceptically. "Anyway, what now?"
"Let us be clear," said Inspector Girardin through a mouthful of pasty. "You said there were four of them, but you only heard two of them speak. One French and one English. The van drove away almost as soon as you reached your first stop. And the Englishman drove you away in a car. Not a small car because you had plenty of room for your legs."
"No, hang on." Bob closed his eyes, then pointed to his right to identify the source of a voice. "If he was sat there, giving directions, he couldn't have been driving. And he gave his directions in English, so the other bloke might have been a Brit too."
"Or bilingual," said Guy.
"That's not important," said the inspector. "You said they put something in the trunk of your car?"
"I've been thinking about that," nodded Bob. "It might have been their luggage. If they think Toby's gone home, and they want to contact us again in London, they might have been on their way home themselves."
"Toulouse is the nearest airport," remarked Guy.
"I suppose the other two may have shot back to their place on the coast in the van," added Bob.
"What place on the coast?" demanded Inspector Girardin.
"I told Al Capone all about it," said Guy before he could be placed under arrest for withholding vital information.
"Where on the coast?" demanded the inspector.
Guy told him there to find the house with dark green shutters and a tall chimney. Muttering under his breath, Inspector Girardin disappeared into the café to use the telephone. Guy took the opportunity to tell Bob about the in-fighting between the US Treasury Department and Interpol.
"Guess who put his foot in it?" grinned Bob. Then he slipped into a frown and pointed to the left-hand side of their hired car. "I didn't think our old chariot was as bashed about as that."
"Some clown tried to run us off the road on the way here," Guy explained.
"What, them? The blokes with the funny money? That doesn't make any sense."
"I've been asking myself that. Why. And I have to admit, I can't see any point to it either."
"Unless they didn't like you driving around with the phuzz."
"How are they going to know he's phuzz? He's from Interpol in Paris, not local. They won't have seen him before."
"He looks a lot like a cop."
"To someone who knows he is one."
"Still, we are dealing with a bunch of crooks. It could just be another of their lunatic stunts. Like that bloke Kemp climbing into your place in London. And the one at our hotel the other night..."
"The police don't know about them, by the way."
"Probably just as well. Not to mention our friends dumping bodies on the Jenners."
"Lunatic is certainly the right word for the last one, the one in the Renault. The others have had a clear motive for dropping in on us but I can't think what the last bloke's could be."
"Unless there's another bunch of bad guys we don't know about. What happened to him, by the way? Did your copper pal nick him?"
Guy explained how he had outmanoeuvred the opposition with fancy driving. "But when we got down the hill to the car," he added, "there he was – gone!"
"Bloody weird," commented Bob.
Inspector Girardin spent half an hour monopolizing the café's telephone, issuing orders or just waiting for it to ring. Guy and Bob sat out in the fresh air, watching the world go by. They completed the long drive back to Palavas towards the end of the afternoon. Inspector Girardin sat in the back of the car and smoked his pipe in silence through the journey. He was very annoyed about something.
As soon as Guy had found a place in the car park beside the Hôtel Bellevue, the inspector fired himself out of the pale salmon vehicle and practically ran to the neighbouring Hôtel Moderne. A round, blue-clad figure disappearing at high speed was the last that Bob or Guy saw of him. A message with a telephone number was waiting for them when they reached the reception desk of their own hotel. Guy dialled the number. Calvin North, the US treasury agent, answered the rings. Guy gained the distinct impression that he had interrupted a shouting match.
In a rather abrupt fashion, North told him not to wander off and said that he would be over shortly. Bob and Guy retired to the terrace on the seaward side of the hotel for yet another cup of coffee. There was something about a trip abroad which permitted long dormant periods with coffee. At home, they would have been spurred by guilt into some sort of activity, even if it was only reading a book.
Calvin North was looking ruffled but not unduly perturbed when he tracked down Bob and Guy. His dark eyes were wide open and unblackened by French fists, and he looked as if he had caught up with most of his lost sleep.
"I'm surprised to see you in one piece," remarked Guy. "Inspector What's-his-name wasn't too pleased about you keeping quiet about the place down the road."
The treasury agent shrugged. "Only because Gut-Bucket's goons tore it to pieces and didn't find one goddam thing. Not even a home-made counter for the phone."
"You may think he couldn't find his dingus with a dipstick," said Guy, "but you feel a whole lot more comfortable telling a car rental agency how you came to bash their wheels about when you've got an inspector from Interpol standing by to back you up."
"I saw the scratches on the way over," said North dismissively. "Doesn't look too bad."
"I think the rental mob are glad we're going home tomorrow," said Bob. "To place ourselves at the disposal of some gentlemen from Scotland Yard."
"Yeah, I know," said North. "I'm going too. To tie down the English end of this deal."
"What about the French end?" said Guy. "There's still two or three of the mob that kidnapped Bob floating around."
"We'll leave inspector Gut-Bucket to scoop them up," chuckled North. "When are you two starting back tomorrow?"
"After breakfast, half-eight or nineish," said Guy. "We don't have to be at the pub in London till lunch-time, and we'll pick up an hour then we cross the Channel due to the time difference."
"Right," nodded Calvin North, telling himself that he would have to put his watch back then he reached England, not forward.
"Amazing to think it'll all be over tomorrow," said Bob, counting days to himself by folding fingers in towards his palm. "We've been charging round like mad things for all of five days. But it feels like five bloody weeks."
"You can't say it hasn't been different," said Guy. "Did you get the forged dollars from the inspector?" He added to North.
"Hell, has he got them?" groaned the T-Man. "You'll be contacted again after you get to England. Stay out of trouble till then."
The US Treasury agent dragged himself away for another confrontation with Inspector Girardin. The Frenchman was convinced that North's lack of co-operation had allowed the kidnappers to sneak back to their seaside base and move their forged hoard to an alternative hideout. North maintained that the inspector had no proof that forged dollars had ever been stored in the house with dark green shutters and a tall chimney. Each clung to his point of view and the outcome was a solid impasse.
After an uneventful flight home, during which Bob Kane added another hour at the controls to his unofficial flight log, Guy Duggleby made a smooth landing at the former RAF Crowfield. They were transferring three cases of wine to the boot of Joan Duggleby's car when a familiar figure ducked under the tail of the aircraft.
"Look out, it's the Mafia," warned Bob.
"There's no such thing as the Mafia," stated Calvin North. "It's a vicious slander on honest Italian-Americans."
"And that's a story dreamed up by J. Edgar Hoover," countered Guy. "So he could make the FBI's crime figures look more respectable by refusing to admit gangs of Italian-American crooks had got themselves organized."
"That's nonsense anyway," contributed Bob. "You're either a Wop or a Yank. You can't be both."
"Do you think you should be seen talking to us?" added Guy. "What if the bad guys have got us under surveillance?"
"Who's living in a dream world now?" scoffed North. "I brought you this." He slipped a sturdy, nine-by-four manilla envelope from the inside pocket of his safari jacket.
Guy glanced at the contents, then he tucked the mixture of forged dollars and real notes into his inside pocket. "Did you make this up to seven hundred and thirty?" he asked.
"Yeah, yeah," said North impatiently.
"You remembered the amount is seven hundred and thirty dollars? No more, no less?"
"Listen, fella, you're dealing with the professionals here," sighed North. "Not the goddam Frenchies."
"I thought we were supposed to be meeting someone from Scotland Yard?" Guy added.
"You're gonna be watched, but no one's going to approach you directly. Just pick up the message in London and do whatever they tell you. Let us worry about keeping up with you."
"I suppose you've got the car bugged?" said Bob.
"Talk to each other about any instructions you get and where you're going," continued North. "Whether you're in the car on not," he added to Bob.
"Does that mean you've managed to bug us?" frowned Guy, running his hands over his dark blue jacket, searching for bulges.
"No, it means he'll have lip-readers watching us through binoculars and blokes with high-powered directional mikes aimed at us," decided Bob. "CIA-style."
"You gotta give this guy an I for imagination," scoffed North.
"How else are you going to do it?" challenged Bob.
"When you've got rid of the envelope, go home," finished North, ignoring Bob's question. "Okay?"
Guy shrugged. "I suppose so."
"Good!" said North. "Just do what you're told .and don't forget – Uncle Sam remembers his friends."
"You're worried in case we screw this up, just for a laugh, aren't you," grinned Bob.
"It's all right, we can handle it," said Guy patiently when the American began to simmer gently, narked by Bob's casual attitude.
"Okay," said North doubtfully, forced to take his word for it. He looked Bob up and down again, then turned away, making a point of not asking that Bob was supposed to be in his coverall, boots and crash helmet.
Bob dumped his shopping bag on the back seat of Joan Duggleby's car. "Good job the Customs vultures aren't hanging around," he remarked, patting the lid of the boot.
"Mmm?" said Guy, his attention focussed on Calvin North's driver – who had black hair and who was wearing a pair of dark sunglasses on a dull English morning.
"What's up?" Bob invited.
"Al Capone's driver," said Guy thoughtfully. "He bears a remarkable resemblance to the bloke who tried to run Inspector Gut-Bucket and myself off the road then we were on our way to pick you up."
"You reckon? Him and a million others in those shades."
"Yes, it's probably a coincidence. Come on, let's get rid of the plane and get into town."
Bob was still struggling to come to terms with the fact that an aircraft could be hired almost as readily as a car when Guy joined the A22 and headed north. They reached Bob's flat on Telfour Grove at eleven-thirty, starting to think about lunch because their bodies were an hour ahead of British Summer Time. Bob changed out of his flying gear and secreted a mixed case of red, white and rosé wine.
Guy drove down Portobello Road to Notting Hill Gate, turned down Kensington Church Street, then followed the High Street to Victoria Road. He was glad to complete the two mile journey through heavy traffic. Bob helped him to transfer his suitcase and the rest of the wine to his third-floor flat. After telephoning Joan Duggleby at the family engineering works at Failsham to let her know that Bob and her brother were still alive and kicking, they headed for Islington.
The pub called The Sceptre was an integral part of a row of terraced houses, which started Guy wondering how the neighbours managed on a noisy night. He had left the car in a car park two streets away and he was playing spot-the-lurker with Bob. Neither had been able to pick out a tail during their first two hours back in England, but they kept looking.
Bob managed to claim a space at the bar and the attention of a cheerful man of about forty, who was wearing a dark blue sports shirt and wide, pearly-white braces.
"Got a message for Duggleby?" asked Bob, instead of placing the expected order for drinks.
"It's for you, is it?" said the landlord.
"We wouldn't know about it if it wasn't," Bob told him with a smile, shooting devastating logic at him.
The landlord produced an envelope from under one of the tills. "This ain't a bleedin' post office, you know."
Bob ripped the envelope open, scanned the brief message then passed it over his shoulder to Guy. "Why should you bother if it brings business in?" he asked, keeping his smile at a relentless level. "Two pints of bitter, four pies – that's two of each – and two packets of bacon crisps, please."
"A phone box," said Guy, buttoning the message into a pocket of his light anorak. "Stand by for a call, then on to another one, I'll bet. They're going to give us the runaround. And why wait till ten tonight? Or maybe it's because it's dark then."
"I don't think they trust us," said Bob, making room at the bar for Guy so that he could pay. "Wasn't there an episode of The Sweeney like that? I seem to remember poor old Jack Regan dashing from phone box to phone box and getting more and more shagged out. Until the commercials came on and gave him a rest."
"It's a pretty common plot device. Probably because it's also very effective in the real world. But I'm buggered if I'm doing it on foot tonight. And I'm not breaking any speed limits either. If they try to tell me I've got a minute and a half to get to a box a couple of miles away, I'm going to tell them to get stuffed."
"You'd better watch out. Talk back to them and you might be next in line for a sack over your head. Or a trip in a cardboard box to the Jenners' country retreat."
"That's something I'm trying not to think about. We'll just have to hope Al Capone's mob are on their toes."
"I wonder where Sitax Road, EC1 is?" remarked Bob, recalling the instruction to talk about the message.
"Never heard of it," Guy admitted.
Two of the men in the pub had been drinking quietly and sparingly since twelve o'clock. They remained for a further quarter of an hour after Guy and Bob had left, then they drained their glasses and went their separate ways. The taller was a detective sergeant of Interpol. His blond companion, who had kept his voice down to a mutter in the pub to conceal his accent, drove two and a half miles to meet Calvin North on the Embankment at Blackfriars Bridge. The blond US Treasury agent, whose name was Elliot, found North and another agent called Stanway watching the traffic on the river.
Stanway was doubly in disgrace. Calvin North had wished to have an overweight inspector of Interpol removed from his hair because Girardin seemed destined to screw things up by doing too much too fast. Stanway had taken the wish too literally – and copied the four barons who had rid Henry II of a turbulent priest.
The noble knights had managed to write off Archbishop Thomas Becket quite efficiently. Stanway's attempt to run Inspector Girardin and his English driver off a French road had ended in conspicuous failure and it had cost Uncle Sam one automobile. Thus Stanway was in disgrace not only for impetuosity and lack of judgement, but also for incompetence. Now, North was holding Stanway on a tight rein and using him as a chauffeur – keeping him where he could keep an eye on the screw-up.
"Okay, what did you get?" North asked when the new arrival stopped on his right and gave his attention to a boatload of tourists.
"Every word." Elliot patted the breast pocket of his jacket. It contained a pair of spectacles with plain glass lenses. In their bulky side-limbs were concealed miniature directional microphones, which had been developed in a CIA laboratory in Virginia. "Twenty-two hundred tonight, a phone box on Sitax Road in EC1."
Stanway tugged a street-by-street guide of the British capital out of his left side pocket and thumbed through the index. "There's only one, luckily," he announced. "On page 132. Yeah. Here it is. Near Saint Bartholomew's Hosp."
"Do we plant a surveillance device?" asked Elliot. "Should be a quick in and out with a look at a directory for cover."
"We don't go near it," said North, "That's up to the Limeys. But I shouldn't think they'll need to. You got the vehicles ready to roll?"
"Two cars, a black taxi, a Transit van, a three-wheeler van and a motorbike," Elliot recited. "If the Scotland Yard guys have got the same, we've got ourselves our own traffic jam."
Bob Kane and Guy Duggleby spent the Tuesday afternoon at a cinema, watching a double feature of science fiction films, which were so full of special effects and dazzling photography that the director had not worried unduly about a plot. In both films, the good guys were placed in check by a set of unreasonable bad guys, suffered manfully to the point of defeat, and then, more or less with one bound, ended up victorious and free in time for the closing credits.
Guy could not help reflecting that real life is much less satisfying. He and Bob had been reduced from stars to extras in their personal adventure in the time it had taken Inspector Girardin to pluck a note from Guy's hand. They were doing all the work unpaid and with no prospect of finding out who won in the end.
A long and frustrating three-way telephone conversation with Guy's younger sister took place in the early evening. Joan was eager to hear the news from France. Guy and Bob felt obliged to stonewall in view of the serious nature of their assignment.
After a restless spell in front of the television, the pair left Guy's flat at twenty to ten. They reached the telephone box on Sitax Road about ten minutes early.
Feeling both excited and a little ridiculous, Guy and Bob sat in Joan Duggleby's car and watched the call box. A man entered it at five to ten. The watchers held their breath – but he flipped through one of the directories then continued on his way thirty seconds later. Bob compared the dashboard clock with Guy's watch for the umpteenth time, then he opened his door. Ninety seconds later, the phone began to ring.
Bob was just opening the door of the call box when he felt a presence. He glanced over his shoulder and met the spectacled eyes of a shortish man in a dark and crumpled anorak,
"The phone's ringing," said the man, attempting to push past Bob, who had stopped.
"I know, I can hear it." Bob stood his ground.
"Someone has to answer it." There was a sense of urgency and mission in the man's voice.
"Yeah?" said Bob, deciding that the stranger had not brought him a message and he was nothing to do with the scheme to return the forged dollars to their manufacturer. "Guess, what, I'm someone. Mind out."
Bob gave the man a push to move him clear of the door and slipped into the box. Frustrated eyes watched him lift the receiver and read the telephone number from the panel on the back wall.
"That Duggleby?" said a half-familiar voice.
"No, it's the one you bagged," said Bob.
The voice had a local accent. It gave Bob the position and number of another phone box.
"Is this going to be like some rotten spy film?" Bob asked, trying to sound amused and a little contemptuous. "A run-around to make sure the carrier pigeons aren't being followed?"
"Shut up and get moving," said Scott Hamill impatiently.
"All right, be like that," Bob told the dead and purring telephone.
A hurt stare followed him back to the car. Guy moved away from the kerb, leaving the man standing beside the box as if waiting for the telephone to ring again.
"The post office at Clerkenwell Green," Bob told his driver. "It's near there."
"Want to bet how many stops there's going to be?" asked Guy.
"Four," said Bob positively.
"Have you got inside information?"
"Two's not enough, three's too obvious and everyone will get fed up if it's more than four."
"It's a point of view. Who was your friend? The bloke you were talking to?"
"Either a cop or some kind of phone-nut, who hangs around public call boxes, waiting for someone to ring. Probably a nut if they've got the car bugged."
"You're sure about that, are you?"
"You've probably got a couple of thousand quid's worth of transmitters and microphones stuck all over your sister's car in obscure places. Could be very embarrassing for Joanie if they don't find them all first time. But if Uncle Sam doesn't cough up all the expenses he owes you, you can make a few bob flogging them. Spotted any tails yet?"
"Lots and none."
"I know what you mean," chuckled Bob.
To make life easier for the unseen shadows, Guy stuck to main roads. He drove up Aldersgate Street and Goswell Road, then he turned left onto Clerkenwell Road. Bob spent ten minutes waiting for the telephone to ring.
During Bob's vigil, Jobbo Wright drove round the roughly triangular block and explored a few side streets to look for parked and occupied vehicles which might be shadowing the carrier pigeons. He found no obvious signs of shadows, but he saw no harm in being cautious.
In fact, a round dozen vehicles were weaving through the area, some driven by Interpol agents and some with US Treasury Department crews. But as they were always in motion, they escaped Wright's notice.
Having received a call from Jobbo Wright to tell him that the coast looked clear, Scott Hamill rang Bob's call box and moved him on to the next stopping point.
Guy continued along Clerkenwell Road, then turned right onto Grey's Inn Road. His instructions were to take the third turning on the left and then the fourth left. Bob crossed the pavement to make sure that they had reached the right phone box by checking the number.
Their street was fairly quiet. No more than one or two cars chose to use it in any given minute. The only pedestrians were small groups who had chosen to leave a nearby pub before closing time. Half past ten approached. Bob returned to the phone box and entered it – just in case someone intruded into the arrangements at the last minute. He kept the door open with a foot because there was a ripe smell which told him that someone had peed in it.
A couple of minutes went by before he noticed the trailing coil of wire. The receiver was in its natural place, on the body of the telephone, but one of society's surplus elements had rendered it useless. Bob picked it up and discovered that the bars of the receiver rest had been super-glued in the up position. Modem technology added to traditional mindless vandalism had torpedoed the plan.
Bob opened the phone box door wider and waved the useless fitting at Guy to tell him that they had reached an unscheduled dead end.
Scott Hamill jabbed the receiver rest down with an impatient finger and dialled the number again. Instead of the double burps of a ringing tone, he was rewarded with a continuous and derisory booooo noise to tell him that the number was unobtainable. Something had gone wrong since the afternoon, when he had sent Jobbo Wright on a circuit of the telephone boxes to make sure that a call could be received at each of them.
Hamill poured himself a drink from a half-empty litre bottle of duty-free Glenfiddich and tried to work out a course of action. His thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of his telephone.
"Something's up," Wright growled urgently. "They're just standing by their car, doing nothing."
"Some bastard must have wrecked the phone box," Hamill explained as relief flooding through anger that someone had sabotaged his plans. At least Guy Duggleby had had the sense to stay put and await orders from another source.
"So what do we do?" prompted Wright.
"You're sure they're on their own?" stalled Hamill.
"There's no one watching them," said Wright confidently as a motorcycle cruised past Guy's car. He was speaking from a central passage in a pub. He could just see Guy Duggleby's car through an open door and a front window.
"Hang on a minute. Let me think," said Hamill.
Jobbo Wright blew smoke into the warm, heavy air, finished the half pint of mild that he had taken the opportunity to order, and waited for the brains of the outfit to come up with the next move.
Standing with Guy Duggleby beside the wrecked phone box, Bob Kane lit another cigarette and eyed with envy the steady trickle of people passing on both sides of the road. Most of them had just emerged from a pub and Bob felt capable of murdering a pint. He could hear shouts of ‘Time, please!' in the distance.
"How long do you reckon we should hang on here?" he remarked,
just for something to say.
"They must know by now something's gone wrong," said Guy, attempting a sensible estimate. "We've been here twenty minutes now. Let's give them another ten. If we've not heard from them by then, I reckon the only thing to do is sod off home and wait for them to set up something else."
"That's going to please Al Capone and his Uncle Sam," chuckled Bob. "Do you reckon any of this lot are working for him? How about those two birds over there?"
Guy followed the direction of Bob's stare to the strollers across the road, then he shrugged. "Who knows?" A taxi drifted across his line of vision. "Here's a thought, You know you've been wondering if Uncle Sam's boys have bugged the car and everything else in sight? What if the other lot have too?"
"You mean, what if they're sat somewhere listening to you giving the game away? Then we're really wasting our time. Are we getting back in the car? I could do with a sit down."
Guy shrugged again. "Might as well."
They returned to the car. Bob wound his window down so that he could flick ash onto the pavement. A taxi chugged part the car. Suddenly, a loose ball of paper shot past Bob's nose and landed on Guy's lap.
"Bloody cheek!" said Bob indignantly. He turned his head in time to see a tallish, powerful figure duck round a corner. "What does the sod think this is? A bloody dustbin?"
Guy smoothed out the beermat-sized scrap of paper and angled it to catch the beam of a street light. He started to laugh softly. "They'll never make a James Bond out of you, chum. Look! It's a message."
"Well, burn my brain!" said Bob in amazement.
"Attention all listeners," said Guy, preparing to read the solid capitals. "‘WAIT 5 MINS THEN PARK BERNARD ST IN FRONT OF TUBE STATION. HOLD GOODS UP AT WINDOW.'"
"We could have done that bloody ages ago," sighed Bob.
"Tell you what," laughed Guy, "this knocks your theory on the head. If the bad guys have got us bugged like Uncle Sam's mob, they wouldn't be going through with this."
"Unless they've worked out a foolproof getaway plan and they're not bothered what the Yanks know."
"You mean like the Italian Job? With Minis charging about over the rooftops?"
"I reckon a bloke on a fast motorbike who's prepared to take a few risks could leave anyone else standing."
"I reckon you might have something there," nodded Guy. "Anyway, for the benefit of our listeners, we're moving on in five minutes from now."
Five minutes later, Guy started the engine and turned the car around. He drove up to the T-junction and turned left, then right then left again. When he stopped again, one hundred yards short of the Russell Square Tube station, Bob cupped his left elbow in his right hand to brace the arm and tapped the envelope containing Toby Ryun's winnings against the window frame. Almost immediately, the envelope was whisked out of his grasp. The collector had rounded the corner that the car had just turned before Bob realized that the envelope had gone.
"Well, so much for that!" said Guy. "I hope it was the right bloke, not just some opportunist thief."
"If it was a thief, he'll get a nasty shock," chuckled Bob. "I wonder if they'll get away with it?"
"The trouble is, if we see a story in the papers about a gang of forgers coming unstuck, how are we to know it's the right gang?"
"Ask you Uncle Sam. Are you a member of any disgusting clubs near here? I could do terrible damage to a pint."
"Yes, there's a place we could crawl off to," nodded Guy. "I'll leave it up to you to decide if it's sufficiently disgusting."
"Attention all listeners," Bob announced. "Going off the air for a pint. Over and out."
Keen eyes watched Jobbo Wright pluck an envelope from Bob Kane's left hand. Another member of the Interpol team relayed the number of the collector's car to the fleet of pursuit vehicles. Wright passed the envelope to Scott Hamill and started the engine. As he moved off, an agent of the US Treasury Department squeezed the trigger of an air rifle. The pellet smashed the nearside rear light of the car, which made it very much easier to follow at a distance at night.
A loose web formed around the one-eyed Cortina, checking it junction by junction as it threaded an easterly course. Hamill sorted the forged from the genuine totes with the aid of a short list. Checking through the collection of artificially aged notes in the shop in Tottenham to find the numbers of the missing ones had taken a long, long time.
"We've made a profit. A hundred and eighty bucks," Hamill remarked, tucking the genuine dollars into his wallet. He returned the forged ones to the envelope.
"One hundred and eighty!" crowed Wright like the scorer at a televised darts match.
He followed a Reliant van through a left turn onto Kingsland Road. Almost immediately, a cruising police car drew up alongside and the uniformed constable in the passenger seat wagged an index finger towards the side of the road.
"What do I do?" asked Wright anxiously.
"Pull in. See what they want," Hamill decided.
"Might be a double cross."
"There's only two of them. If they'd set the phuzz on us, we'd be bloody surrounded." Hamill locked his door and took the envelope and his lighter from their pockets. "But make sure I have time to burn these if there's any trouble," he added.
Wright followed the police car round a corner and off the main road. An inspector of Interpol made a frantic telephone call to the local information room to divert the uniformed men. One of the policemen showed Jobbo Wright his smashed tail light. Wright was reduced to indignant incoherence at first, but he managed to make plain what he would like to do to the vandal.
Suddenly, the driver of the police car called an urgent summons to his colleague. Hamill and Wright watched the vehicle speed away with lights flashing and siren yelling.
"What was all that about?" demanded Hamill, still holding his lighter within igniting range of the envelope of forged dollars.
"Some bastard's smashed one of my back lights," complained Wright.
"Is that all?" chuckled Hamill, surrendering to a wave of relief.
"All? What d'you mean, bloody all?"
"Calm down. It won't cost much to fix it. And you've got to see the funny side. Those two were inches from a lead to a million dollars. Just think what that would have done for their promotion prospects."
"Yeah, I suppose we've still got the luck with us," Wright admitted.
The procession continued – a one-eyed Cortina and a dozen assorted shadows. A quick-thinking Interpol officer had managed to shoot off half a dozen, black and white photographs of Jobbo Wright discussing his rear light with the uniformed police constable. Wright made a right turn, then a left turn immediately after the church. He drove on for two hundred yards, then he stopped in front of Scott Hamill's home.
The watchers noted that Hamill produced the front door key. The photographer added him to the collection in a variety of poses between the car and the house. The watchers had already had the vehicle's registration number processed. The Police National Computer had told them that the owner lived further west, in Hackney.
Wright went into the kitchen to fetch two cans of beer from the cupboard. "What's the game?" he demanded on his return. "I thought we were going to put those back?"
Hamill was kneeling in front of the fireplace. He fanned the forged dollars and touched his lighter to one of them. "These have brought us nothing but bad luck," he explained, turning the sheaf of notes to spread the flames. "We're well rid of them. And I don't think we should go anywhere near the main stock for at least a fortnight."
"Why not, if the phuzz aren't after us?"
"Just to be on the safe side."
"Safe from what?" persisted Wright. "You don't think those two have followed us or anything?"
"Just let's leave things be for a while. Okay?" said Hamill.
Wright shrugged, realizing that Hamill was serious. "Well, okay."
"And I think it might be a good idea to do a deal for the bucks instead of trying to cash them ourselves."
"It's gonna cost us a lot."
"Yeah, but if they're off our hands and no one can ever prove we had them. Too many people know about them already."
"Like Inky's card-sharp pals?"
"And anyone else they told. I'll have a word with Paul about it."
"What if he says your bottle's gone?" suggested Wright, unwilling to lose face in front of a Frog.
"Good sense has got nothing to do with having bottle," said Hamill firmly.
Agents from Interpol and the US treasury were already settling down to the routines of round-the-clock surveillance on Scott Hamill when Jobbo Wright left for his home, leading his quota of shadows. Patient waiting was the essence of that type of police work. Hamill and Wright's home telephones would be monitored, their mail intercepted, all contacts with others would be logged and their movements would be recorded until they led their shadows to their guilty secret.
A similar operation was being conducted in the south of France – but only by agents of the US Treasury Department. Calvin North's team had watched Paul Boulay and Albert load their hoard of forged dollars into their van before inspector Girardin had learned about the house with dark green shutters.
The French conspirators had transferred the load to a house in Millau – the one at which kidnapped Bob Kane had broken his journey. The French would be allowed back into the operation eventually – to supply arresting officers – but not until Calvin North had located the printing plates and anything else that the English end of the conspiracy had stashed away for future reference.
A man with an American accent telephoned Guy Duggleby the following morning to ask him to be in his flat and available at lunchtime. When Guy called Bob Kane to pass on the message, a slightly breathless woman answered the telephone by saying, "Digame?" to prove that she had just returned from a Spanish holiday.
The badge and teeshirt couple were back. Bob had sold them several sets of silk-screens for their printing business and he was feeling slightly wealthy – certainly rich enough to be able to afford the two bus rides to Guy's flat.
Calvin North and a companion arrived at twelve-thirty. Mr. Viedon had a terribly ‘Home Counties' accent and he was clearly a senior copper, even though his exact status was never clarified. He was in his middle forties and he had a round, bland face. There was a touch of oriental inscrutability about him to contrast with North's suggestion of Mafia membership.
Mr. Viedon thanked Bob and Guy for their co-operation the previous night, and he made it clear that the rest of the affair was a matter for the police only. Silence was the order of the day, backed up by an unspoken threat that loose talk could lead to Bob and Guy being run in three times a day for very trivial offences. Bob was inclined to scoff, but Viedon left him in no doubt that he would be in serious trouble if he jeopardized a successful outcome to the operation.
The police officer left for another appointment on a note of gratitude and warning. Bob retired to the kitchen to fetch three cans of beer. Calvin North had more to tell them.
"That bugger would be right at home in the Gestapo," remarked Bob, pulling a ring. "Is he the boss of the Sweeney, or something? I bet he scares his own blokes more than a mob of armed hi-jackers."
"No, he's Fraud Squad," said North, proving that he knew police-related rhyming slang and feeling slightly superior because he also knew that the Flying Squad no longer existed. It had been dispersed to outer areas of London, apart from the small Central Robbery Squad at New Scotland Yard. "He's an accountant basically."
"I could do with him to frighten my tax man," said Guy.
"That sounds like a cue to get my end of the caper sorted out," said North.
"Got all the bugs out of Joan's car yet?" asked Bob.
"There are no bugs in that car," North stated positively. "One of our people in France has given your pal Toby back the five hundred and fifty bucks we took to check up on and told him there's no heat on them."
"And Toby, being Toby, won't have made a note of the numbers, so he won't know if he's got the same ones back," said Bob.
"Our guy told him they were doing a double check on the big bills, which is why it took so long." North produced a thick wad of £20 notes. "Uncle Sam is prepared to pay you reasonable expenses for your help and inconvenience."
"Kin 'ell!" gasped Bob. "Are they real?"
Calvin North ignored the question. Guy made a list covering the hire of aircraft and cars, hotel bills and anything else that came to mind. Seeing an opportunity to screw THEM for once, even if the target was the United States Government, not the British Government, Bob added a few items to the reckoning to cover loss of earnings and emotional trauma caused by his brief kidnapping. North paid up without protest then Guy's calculator had worked out a total.
"Okay, you guys," said North, tucking the much slimmed wad away. "That's it, as far as you're concerned. A French cop talked to you on Monday about your meet with this Toby. You spent the rest of the day doing tourist things, then you flew home yesterday morning. You didn't get kidnapped." He pointed a bony finger at Bob. "And the two of you weren't out delivering a ransom last night."
"Yon mean, once the police became involved, that was the end of it as far as we were concerned?" said Guy. "For further information, consult them, not us?"
"That's about the size of it," approved North.
"You'll never get Joanie to believe that!" scoffed Guy.
Calvin North frowned at him.
"Joan's his sister," Bob remarked. "Well known for getting her own way and finding things out."
"Don't worry, we'll keep our traps shut about your on-going operation situation." Guy promised. "How much funny money do you think they made?"
North shrugged. "Who knows? Could be millions."
"And when do you expect to move in on them?"
North shrugged again. "Weeks, months. We'll have to play this hand very close to the chest."
"Oh, well," said Guy. "We'll just have to keep an eye on the headlines."
After lunch, Guy sent a cable to the Jenners in Monte Carlo to tell them that it was safe to come home again. The reply arrived the following afternoon. It read: ‘No thanks. We like it here. Hope your explanation better than Toby's. His was pathetic. Love, Nicki and Jeff.'
The Jenners returned to England on Saturday morning and drove to their house in Horton Grand to see what sort of a mess the burglars and the police had made of it. Their neighbour, Mrs. Marney, had swept the dusty footprints out of the hall. One week after the event, she was still full of Tom Duggleby finding a body in the house next door. The Jenners listened to every detail of the story, then they made their excuses and continued on to Failsham.
Tom Duggleby's plan for a family gathering had been put into cold storage for the moment. In fact, he was reluctant to speak to his brother, which made Guy's task of fending off questions a little easier. His sisters, Mary and Joan, had called him a liar every way that they could think of, but they had failed to obtain a more satisfactory ending to the affair of Toby Ryun's winnings. Joan had invited Bob Kane down for the weekend, hoping to seduce information out of him. Bob was hoping that he would be able to remain loyal to his generous Uncle Sam but making no promises.
Two weeks later, Scott Hamill and Jobbo Wright led an unseen procession to the shop in Tottenham. The premises received a thorough search after their departure. The rummage squad turned up one million dollars, at a first guess, in the chimney breast on the first floor. But the plates which had printed the forgeries were nowhere to be found.
British police officers and American Treasury Department agents had searched the homes of both Hamill and Wright during convenient absences – without success. The watchers returned to their vigil somewhat encouraged.
The following week, Hamill was observed talking to a man whom the officers from Scotland Yard quickly identified as a potential buyer of forged currency. On the Friday of that week, Hamill and Wright exchanged a British Airways flight bag for a bulky envelope – flat A4 size – at a service station on the M1, near Leicester. As soon as the deal had been completed, Hamill and Wright and their customers found themselves under arrest.
That same evening, French police officers, accompanied by agents of the United States Treasury, raided a house in Millau in the south of France and arrested Paul Boulay and Albert Montois. Guy Duggleby clipped a headline which read: ‘MILLION DOLLAR PLOT' and the accompanying story from his newspaper the following morning. But he filed it away for future reference. Calvin North had contacted him on the night of the arrests to tell him to remain silent.
When questioned, Jobbo Wright and Albert Montois remained obstinately unforthcoming. Scott Hamill dropped hints about being just a middle man in the conspiracy. A message travelled across the Channel by legal messenger. Paul Boulay began to drop similar hints. He was a distributor, not the master forger. Their story was supported by the fact that the gang could not be connected to any printing equipment. An attempt to link Hamill and Wright to the death of Inky Fergusson, a known and highly skilled forger, came to nothing due to lack of evidence.
The cases took five months to come to trial. Guy Duggleby preserved another newspaper cutting, which reported the first day of the trial of Scott Hamill (48), George Wright (37) and their customers for the forged dollars. The headline called them ‘MILLION DOLLAR MEN' and the somewhat hysterical text suggested that they could have seriously damaged the United States' economy with their forgeries.
At the beginning of the following week, Allen-Duggleby, Ltd. received a substantial order for the firm's precision fuel metering valves from the United States Air Force. Calvin North's promise was being fulfilled.
The trial in England was expected to last six or seven weeks in view of the mass of evidence to be considered. Reasoning that the shorter his sentence,, the sooner he would be able to try again, Scott Hamill deprived the legal profession of several hundreds of thousands of pounds of the taxpayer's money and made a deal after the first week. His defence counsel had been making pessimistic noises about the outcome of the trial for months anyway.
With Paul Boulay's agreement, Hamill gave the police enough information to enable them to find the plates. The charges of aiding and abetting forgery became victims of the bargaining process and were quietly dropped. Hamill and Wright were gaoled for two years apiece for simple possession of forged banknotes.
Paul Boulay and Albert Montois received similar sentences in France two weeks later, and Guy Duggleby completed his set of newspaper cuttings. Suitably framed, he presented them to Toby Ryun on his birthday. Toby hung them in the drawing room of his London residence, beside a double fan of United States currency.
Calvin North took the plates to the United States on a US Air Force jet, and he was afforded the honour of placing them in a display case in the Treasury Department's black museum. Then he returned to his new base in Paris and the endless suspicions of Inspector Girardin, who remained convinced that the American had pulled a fast one on him at some stage during the Boulay case.
Toby Ryun's attempts to dine out on his adventure usually ended in failure. His friends had accepted the covering lie, and they were half convinced that Guy's newspaper cuttings, although perfectly genuine, had been collected to back up an amusing piece of fiction. Only Nicki and Jeff Jenner were prepared to believe the truth when it could be shared with them.
Guy Duggleby had dropped a number of hints their way because he felt that they deserved a glimpse of the events which had driven them out of their home and their native land. And, of course, Guy's younger sister had wormed the truth out of Bob Kane six months earlier – thus proving that money and veiled threats cannot always buy silence between friends.
Friendship is like money, Samuel Butler wrote, easier made than kept. Guy Duggleby's circle of friends remained intact. But the two million dollars which Scott Hamill and his associated had made were consigned to a furnace shortly after the conclusion of the trial in France.