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The Graveyard Shift
By Jack Higgins
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1965 Harry Patterson
All rights reserved.
Fog drifted up from the Thames, pushed by an early morning wind, yellow and menacing, wrapping the city in its yellow shroud, and when the duty officer at Wandsworth opened the judas gate and motioned the half dozen waiting men through, they stepped into an alien world.
Ben Garvald was last in line, a big, dangerous-looking man, massive shoulders swelling under the cheap raincoat. He hesitated, pulling up his collar, and the duty officer gave him a quick push.
"Don't want to leave us, eh?"
Garvald turned and looked at him calmly.
"What do you think, you pig?"
The officer took an involuntary step back and flushed. "I think you always did have too much bloody lip, Garvald. Now get moving."
Garvald stepped outside and the gate clicked into place with a finality that was strangely comforting. He started to walk down towards the main road, passing a line of parked cars and the man behind the wheel of the old blue van on the end turned to his companion and nodded.
Garvald paused on the corner, watching the early morning traffic move in a slow line through the fog, judged his moment and crossed quickly to the small café on the other side.
Two of the others were there before him, standing at the counter while a washed-out blonde with sleep in her eyes stood at the urn and made fresh tea in a metal pot.
Garvald sat on a stool and waited, looking out through the window. After a while, the blue van cut across the line of traffic through the fog and pulled in at the kerb. Two men got out and entered the café. One of them was small and badly in need of a shave. The other was at least six feet tall with a hard, raw-boned face and big hands.
He leaned against the counter and when the girl turned to Garvald from serving the others, cut in quickly in a soft Irish voice:
"Two teas, me dear."
He challenged Garvald to say something, a slight, mocking smile on his mouth, arrogantly sure of himself. The big man refused to be drawn and looked into the fog again as rain spattered against the window.
The Irishman paid for his teas and joined his companion, at a corner table and the small man glanced furtively across at Garvald.
"What do you think, Terry?"
"Maybe he was hot stuff about a thousand years ago, but they've squeezed him dry in there." The Irishman grinned. "This is going to be the softest touch we've had in a long, long time."
The girl behind the counter yawned as she filled a cup for Garvald and watched him out of the corner of her eye. She was used to men like him. Almost every morning someone crossed the road from the place opposite and they all had the same look. But there was something different about this one. Something she couldn't quite put her finger on.
She pushed the cup of tea across and brushed the long hair back from her face. "Anything else?"
"What have you got?"
His eyes were as grey as woodsmoke on an autumn day and there was strength there, a restless, animal force that was almost physical and she was aware of her body reacting to it.
"At this time in the morning? You're all the same, you men."
"What do you expect? It's been a long time."
He pushed a coin across the counter. "Give me a packet of fags. Not tipped. I want to taste them."
He lit a cigarette and offered the girl one, the two men in the corner watching him in the mirror. Garvald ignored them and gave her a light.
"Been up there long, then?" she said, blowing out smoke expertly.
"Long enough." He looked out of the window. "I expect I'll find a few changes."
"Everything's changed these days," she agreed.
Garvald grinned and when he reached out, running his fingers through her hair, she was suddenly breathless. "Some things stay the same."
And then she was afraid and her mouth turned dry and she seemed utterly helpless, caught in some inexorable current. He leaned across the counter quickly and kissed her full on the mouth.
"See you some time."
He slid off the stool and with incredible speed for such a big man, was out through the door and moving away.
The two men in the corner went after him fast, but when they reached the pavement, he had already disappeared into the fog. The Irishman ran forward, and a moment later caught sight of Garvald walking briskly along. He turned a corner into a narrow side street and the Irishman grinned and nudged the small man with his elbow.
"He's really asking for it, this one."
They turned the corner and walked along the uneven pavement between decaying Victorian houses fringed with iron railings. The Irishman paused, pulling the other man to a halt, and listened, but the only sound was the roar of the early morning traffic from the main road, strangely muted by the fog.
A frown creased his face and he took an anxious step forward. Behind him, Garvald moved up the steps from the area in which he had been waiting, swung the small man round and raised a knee into his groin.
He sagged to the pavement with a gasp of agony and the Irishman turned round. Garvald stood on the other side of the writhing body, hands in the pockets of his raincoat, a slight smile on his face.
"Looking for somebody?"
The Irishman moved in fast, great hands reaching out to destroy, but they only fastened on thin air and his feet were kicked expertly from beneath him.
He thudded against the wet flagstones and scrambled to his feet cursing. In the same moment, Garvald seized his right wrist with both hands, twisting it round and up, locking the man's shoulder as in a vice.
The Irishman gave a cry of agony as the muscle started to tear. Still keeping that terrible hold in position, Garvald ran him head-first into the railings.
The small man was being sick into the gutter and now he got to his feet and leaned against the railings, an expression of horror on his face. Garvald stepped over the Irishman and moved a little closer and the small man felt such fear as he had never known before move inside him.
"For Christ's sake, no! Leave me alone!" he gabbled.
"That's better," Garvald said. "That's a lot better. Who sicked you on to me?"
"A bloke called Rosco — Sam Rosco. He and Terry did some bird together at the Ville a couple of years back. He wrote to Terry last week from this dump up North where he lives. Said you were bad news. That nobody wanted you back."
"And you were supposed to convince me?" Garvald said pleasantly. "How much was it worth to pass the message along?"
The small man moistened his lips. "A century — between us," he added hastily.
Garvald dropped to one knee beside the Irishman and turned him over, whistling a strangely sad little tune in a minor key as he searched him. He located a wallet and took out a wad of five-pound notes.
"That's right. Terry hadn't divvied-up yet."
Garvald counted the money quickly, then slipped it into his inside breast pocket. "Now that's what I call a very satisfying morning's work."
The small man crouched beside the Irishman. He touched his face gingerly and recoiled in alarm. "Holy Mother, you've smashed his jaw."
"You'd better find him a doctor then, hadn't you?" Garvald said and turned away.
He vanished into the fog and the sound of his whistling hung on the air for a moment, then faded eerily. The small man stayed there, crouched beside the Irishman, the rain soaking through the shoulders of his cheap coat.
It was the tune — that damned tune.
He couldn't seem to get the sound of it out of his head and for some reason he could never satisfactorily explain afterwards, he started to cry, helplessly like a small child.CHAPTER 2
And then there was the night with a cold east wind that swept in all the way from the North Sea like a knife in the back, probing the alleys of the northern city, whistling along the narrow canyons that divided the towering blocks of flats that were the new housing developments. And when the rain came, it was the cold, stinging rain of winter that rattled the windows like lead shot.
Jean Fleming sat on a hard wooden chair in the main CID office at Police Headquarters and waited. It was a little after nine and the place seemed strangely deserted, shadows crowding in from the corners, falling across the long, narrow desks, filling her with a vague, irrational unease.
Through the frosted glass door of the room on her left, she was aware of movement and the low murmur of voices. After a while, the door opened and a heavily built, greying man in his early forties beckoned to her.
"Superintendent Grant will see you now, Miss Fleming."
She got to her feet and went in quickly. The room was half in shadow, the only light a green shaded lamp on the desk. It was simply furnished with several filing cabinets and a map of the city on the wall, divisional boundaries marked in red.
Grant was past feeling tired in any conscious sense, but a persistent ache behind one eye and a slight involuntary shiver, which he found quite impossible to control, seemed to indicate that he was under attack from the Asian flu that had already placed something like a fifth of the entire force on the sick list.
He opened a drawer, took three aspirin tablets from a bottle and washed them down with a glass of water. As he reached for a cigarette, he glanced across at the girl on the other side of the desk.
Twenty-seven or -eight and Irish-looking, dark hair razor-cut to the skull in a way he didn't really approve, but it certainly gave her something. The heavy sheepskin coat had cost anything up to forty pounds and the knee-length boots were real leather.
She sat down in the chair Brady brought forward and crossed her legs, giving Grant the first lift he'd had that night. She arranged her skirt carefully and smiled.
"You don't remember me, Mr. Grant?"
He frowned. Fleming — Jean Fleming. He shook his head and his ugly face split into a smile of quite devastating charm that was one of his most useful assets. "I must be getting old."
"I'm Bella Garvald's sister."
As if she had said some magic word, it all dropped neatly into place. Ben Garvald and the Steel Amalgamated hoist. Eight no, nine years ago. His first big case as a Chief Inspector. His mind jumped back to the house in Khyber Street, to Bella Garvald and her young sister.
"You've changed," he said. "As I remember, you were still at the Grammar School waiting to go to college. What was it you wanted to be — a schoolteacher?"
"I am," she said.
"Here in the city?"
She nodded. "Oakdene Preparatory."
"Miss Van Heflin's old school? That was on my first beat when I was a young copper. Is she still active? She must be at least seventy."
"She retired two years ago," Jean Fleming said. "It's mine now."
She was unable to keep a slight edge of pride from her voice and her northern accent became more pronounced.
"A long way from Khyber Street," Grant said. "And how's Bella?"
"She divorced Ben not long after he went to prison. Married again last year."
"I remember now. Harry Faulkner. She did all right for herself there."
"That's right," Jean Fleming said calmly. "And I don't want anything to spoil it for her."
"Ben," she said. "He was released yesterday."
"With all his remission it would have been last year, but he lost time for breaking from a working party at Dartmoor some years ago."
Grant blew smoke up to the ceiling. "You think he'll make trouble?"
"He was difficult about the divorce. That's why he tried to break out when he did. Told Bella he'd never let her go to anyone else."
"Did she ever visit him again?"
Jean Fleming shook her head. "There wasn't any point. I went to see him last year when she and Harry got together. I told Ben that she was remarrying, that there was no point in ever trying to contact her again."
"What was his reaction?"
"He was furious. Wanted to know who it was, but I refused to tell him. He swore he'd run her down when he got out."
"Does Faulkner know about all this?"
She nodded. "Yes, but he doesn't seem particularly bothered. He thinks Ben will never dare show his face here again."
"He's probably right."
She shook her head. "Bella got a letter a few days ago. More a note, really. It just said, See you soon — Ben."
"Has she shown it to her husband?"
Jean Fleming shook her head. "I know this sounds silly, but it's his birthday and they're throwing a party tonight. An all-night affair. Dancing, cabaret, the lot. I'm looking in myself when I leave here. Bella's put a lot into it. She wouldn't like Ben to spoil things."
"I see," Grant said. "So what do you want us to do? He's served his time. As long as he keeps his nose clean he's a free agent."
"You could have a word with him," she said. "Tell him to stay away. Surely that isn't asking too much?"
Grant swung round in his chair, got to his feet and crossed to the window. He looked down at the lights of the city in the rain below.
"Look at it," he said, turning to Jean Fleming. "Seventy square miles of streets, half a million people and eight hundred and twenty-one coppers and that includes the ones who sit behind a desk. By any reasonable standard we need another two hundred and fifty right now."
"Why can't you get them?"
"You'd be surprised how few men want to spend the rest of their lives working a three-shift system that only gives them one weekend in seven at home with their families. And then the money isn't exactly marvellous, not when you consider what you have to do to earn it. If you don't believe me, try standing outside the Exchange around eleven o'clock on a Saturday night when the pubs are turning out. A good copper earns his week's money in an hour down there."
"Which is a roundabout way of telling me that you can't help."
"I've got fifty-two detectives under me. At the present time eighteen have got flu and the rest are working an eighty-hour week. You may have noticed how quiet things are around here. That's because Detective Constable Brady and I are the only people in the office at the moment. At the best of times we only run a token squad during the ten till six shift. Tonight, you could say things are thinner than usual."
"But there must be someone available."
He laughed harshly and returned to his desk. "There usually is."
She got to her feet. "It'll be all right, then? You'll see to it?"
"We'll check around," Grant said. "It shouldn't be too difficult to find him if he's in town. I can't promise much, but we'll do what we can."
She fumbled in her bag and took out a card. "I'll be at Bella's place in St. Martin's Wood for an hour or two. After that, I'll be at home. I'm living in Miss Van Heflin's old flat at the school. The number's there."
She turned to the door. As Brady moved to open it for her, Grant said, "One thing I don't understand. Why you? Why not Bella?"
Jean Fleming turned slowly. "You don't remember her very well, do you? She was never much of a one for positive action about anything. If it was left to her she'd just pretend Ben Garvald didn't exist and hope for the best. But this time, that's not good enough, because if anything, I stand to lose even more than she does. A scandal could ruin me, Mr. Grant, destroy everything I've worked for. We've come a long way from Khyber Street, you said that yourself. Too far to be dragged back now."
When she turned and went through the main office, she found that she was trembling. She didn't bother with the lift, but hurried down the three flights of marble stairs to the ground floor and out through the revolving door into the portico at the front of the Town Hall.
She leaned against one of the great stone pillars that towered into the night above her and a gust of wind kicked rain into her face in an oddly menacing manner, ice-cold, like the fear that rose inside her.
"Damn you, Ben Garvald! Damn you to hell!" she said fiercely and plunged down the steps.
"Quite a girl," Brady said.
Grant nodded. "And then some. She couldn't be anything else to survive a place like Khyber Street."
"Do you think there's anything in it, sir?"
"Could be. They didn't come much tougher than Ben Garvald in his day. I don't think nine years of Parkhurst and the Moor will have improved him any."
"I never knew him personally," Brady said. "I was pounding a beat in 'C' Division in those days. Had he many friends?"
"Not really. He was always something of a lone wolf. Most people were afraid of him if anything."
"A real tearaway?"
Excerpted from The Graveyard Shift by Jack Higgins. Copyright © 1965 Harry Patterson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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