James Kenton crouched under the edge of the hedgerow. His overcoat wound tight around him. A camel glowing in his cupped hands. No one would see, trench trick, smuggler’s trick. The familiar tastes helping him fight the nerves. The blackness only relented when the moon flirted from behind travelling clouds. A perfect night. The only sound the rolling of the Ocean on the shore, river on bank, quarter mile behind him in either direction. Families with the wireless, sailors in pubs, holiday makers at the Tower, none of them a problem, and all far away.
The Moon made one of her coy peeks. His eyes night-adjusted, focussed. Unfamiliar figures walking up the dirt track. Heavy overcoats tight, hats pulled down, obscuring scarves. It was not whom he was expecting, and ahead of time to boot.
Ne’bien pas. The Moon abandoned him, giving him to the darkness. He killed the cigarette carefully trying not to show any flicker. Had they seen him? No password had been whispered. Stay calm. Kenton’s right hand travelled to the heavy kit bag aside him and looped the carrying cord in his hand.
A click. That was a click. And another, Safety catches? Crouched legs ready to spring. Here the footsteps clear now. Twenty yards at most. ‘I’m out of here buddy’ ringing in his head.
One fluid motion. One clear move. On his feet, turned, running the kit bag swung in the same act of grace over his shoulder and pounding, pounding down the road. Towards the Ocean. Pounding feet and roaring heart killing quiet curses and commands from pursuers. Down the road, kit bag as light as his heart as heavy as this conscience beating his back with each hastened stride.
End of the road. Start of the beach. Running, running still, slower now loafer feet sinking into the dune sand. The Moon plays peak-a-boo with grass topped dunes. Echoes of Ostend memories. A cross-shoulder glance, in the moonlight speeding pursuers their arms out, revolvers glistening.
Feet feeling dragged by the sand. Past more dunes. Unintelligible cries from behind. Must get lost in the dunes and head north to happy holiday makers and courting couples and safety. Past one dune and another, leap over craggy driftwood and bank right. Legs collapse, heart gives a standing ovation, the lungs come out in sympathy. Short whiskey soured breaths.
Listening, sheltered by a five foot mound of sand, knees on moist ground, shoulder resting against half rooted grass. A pause in the pounding pursuit. A conversation commenced. Beating blood in ears drowning out the words, the language even but French experience saying tactics is the topic. The wind brushed him and left making mocking moans. Whispers nearer now, time to go and rapidly, new efforts driving forward despite lungs protests. No pursuit, no pursuit!
The hounds exchange a glance and then look to the fox. Forearms are crossed in front of faces and barrels are rested upon them. Breathing is slowed and hammers cocked. Gentle pressures are consistently applied and in short order hammers fall. The efforts of generations of munitioners explode in the time honoured and predictable manner. Expanding gasses vomit shaped lumps of lead down steel tubes. Rifled grooves twist the freed bullets in the required fashion. They fly straight and true through he sea air. Raping through cloth and flesh and bone and organ. A crumpled figure falls aside a heavy, heavy kit bag.
“So far on journey our compartment has been shared with thirty-five travellers besides Inspector Morris and myself between various stops from London to required destination (so far, we have just left Chester station.)
Of aforementioned travellers twenty-nine have been male and six have been female. Two have been children, sixteen young persons, twenty of middle years and two of pronounced old age.
Estimation of occupations would suggest of female travellers there have been:
A weathered copy of one of Crompton’s ‘Just William’ books
A torn copy of the Dandy”
“Sir is this really necessary?”
Morris glanced over from his contemplation of the flatness of what was depending on whom you spoke to, the end of the Midlands or the start of the North. He raised a quizzical eyebrow, removed his pipe from his mouth to reveal high yellow teeth and remained silent.
“This jotting of details on our travelling companions sir, and their reading habits Sir, I mean,” Sergeant Taylor scanned around the empty carriage “and quite frankly I don’t see what the purpose is Sir.”
Inspector Morris was bewitched by some fluff on his blue serge trousers brushed it aside and looked straight into Taylor’s bloodshot eyes and returned his pipe to his mouth.
“I mean I know observation is a Detectives watchword and everything Sir, but I mean these are only observations of mine and you weren’t taking notes so it’s not like we can submit it to a impartial test now is it?” Taylor’s thumb flicked at the edge of a nostril, a nervous habit.
Morris sucked on his pipe and stared at the ground. He then released his stored smoke adding to the already thick atmosphere of the compartment. Grey eyebrows where raised slightly and then lowered.
White clouds tripped across blue sky.
“I mean I suppose it’s just good practice but of limited practical value isn’t it, Sir”
The Inspector smiled slightly and scratched behind his left ear (which had impressive tufts sprouting from it,) with the stem of his pipe.
“Well, I suppose it has made the journey go a little quicker Sir, no harm done hey.”
The older man stood up opened the compartment window and knocked out his pipe in a rhythm which a skilled bandmaster would have recognised as the kettledrums on a Guard’s performance of ‘A British Grenadier.’ This however meant nothing to Taylor.
“I tell you Sir, drives me sick all these County and small town forces calling on the Yard, Sir, Anyfink up call on the Yard. I blame Mrs Christie Sir. I mean it’s not like there not used to crime is it sir, poachers, thieving Dockers, what have you, they must have crime otherwise why have police forces? But know anyfink serious ‘Its call on the Yard’ and that’s only because of a shortage of Belgian private detectives isn’t it.”
Taylor smiled at his own joke. Morris blew hard into the bowl of his pipe and blinked as errant remnants of his smoke flew about his face.
”So anyway we have to come up here, no jellied Ells, funny accents, strange smells, Irish as thick as Kilburn and a pile of Chinks not out of place in Limehouse. I am mean as my old mother used to say, “You not going to learn to run if you can’t walk are ya,” if you see my meaning Sir. Sir?”
“Taylor?” Morris’s voice was think and reedy rather like an unexpectedly woken professor of divinity. Not for nothing was he known as ‘The Whisperer’ on the Force.
Taylor went to mediating on the darts night at the Rose and Crown in sullen silence.
Morris returned to the fantasy that he was a Viking warrior chief laying waste to Mercia. A pleasant break from being a put out to grass Metropolitan Inspector packed off to assist a small northern force at the insistence of the local Council despite the protests of the local police. The Saxon princess he imagined seducing by the light of fired hamlet was a damn sight more tempting company than ‘Stinky’ Taylor.
Morris and Taylor continued in these vain if private imaginative leaps of erotic and sporting prowess until the chain came to wheezing stop at a local station. The urgency of the case had lead to them being raised from their moribund marriage beds at two in the morning but had not lead to an express ticket, and this was one of many interruptions to their journey north.
Nasal calls went out from stationmaster and guards as the engine impatiently hissed. The compartment was invaded by an odd pair to set sight upon in provincial northern England. The door swung open a mahogany walking stick poked into the compartment like a suspicious proboscis sniffing the air. A gnarled mahogany hand followed it. A tweed suit then launched into the compartment covering a tawny lean man with developing jowls. An enormous turbaned gentleman with magnificent whiskers wearing a matching suit followed, took in the compartment through sharp, bright eyes. Taylor grunted a ‘Good Morning.’ He had no truck with Orientals since that spot of trouble he picked up off a dusky maiden in the fleshpots of Cairo.
The Sikh sat in silence. The gentleman with the grey whiskers rested his walking stick cross his lap like a swagger stick and nodded at both Policemen.
“Good Morning, Sirs.” He voice was thick as a mangrove swamp and as deep.
“Please excuse my companion, Lal Singh, he is mute.”
“I just thought he was a ignorant darkie,” said Taylor reaching for his cigarette case in his breast pocket.
Taylor did not see the walking stick move. Morris did not see the walking stick move. But move it did. How else did it’s tip suddenly appear hovering over Taylor’s Adam’s apple which nervously bobbed.
“Mute but not deaf, Sergeant Taylor, Mute but not deaf.” Beneath busy brows the stranger kept a bead on the Sergeant.
Morris slowly began to slip his hand to the knuckle-duster he’d kept in his trouser pocket since his wartime with Special Branch.
“Forgive my precipitous action, but rather a gesture with a stick than Mr Singh as you shall refer to him from now on, tearing your wooden head from your stooped shoulders. Inspector Morris, no foolishness with the metal knuckles, if we are to working together I’d rather our association did not begin with a brawl.”
Taylor and Morris exchanged glances. The stick returned to its previous position in a leisurely manner.
“Working together?” stuttered Taylor. He hand found purchase on the cigarette case and slowly brought into the carriage’s light.
“I am Archibald Godfrey Wakely, Mr Singh and I have been asked to assist you with the Kenton murder investigation – by the Foreign Office and with the Home Secretary’s approval. There are complications.”
Singh furnished letters for the two police officers from inside his tweed jacket. Morris and Taylor both took in the curved knife and .455 Webley self-loading that nestled in opposing armpits.
The printed words confirmed everything the old India hand had said. They crouched under red letters ‘Most Secret’and perched above the command ‘Burn upon reading.’
“Right Sir Archibald, no offence Mr Singh” said Taylor puffing a cigarette and tearing his letter into small strips for better burning.
“Anything to share with us?”