The Highbinders

The Highbinders

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St. Ives goes to London on a job for the least trustworthy con artist he knows.

Philip St. Ives has only been in the pub a few minutes before he realizes his whiskey is drugged. Instantly sick, he’s vomiting on the sidewalk when the muggers appear. He fights as best he can in his drugged state, and only when he feels the handcuffs does he realize his assailants aren’t muggers - they’re cops.

He wakes in a dingy cell to the knowledge that English Eddie Apex has pulled a fast one on him. English Eddie is not English, but talks with a British accent that once made him New York’s most refined con artist. In retirement and living in London, he had hired St. Ives - a professional mediator between crooks and their marks - to come to England to help him recover a stolen painting. The drugged whiskey won’t be the last surprise St. Ives gets in Blighty, and the police won’t be the only ones who try to cause him pain.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781531809928
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication date: 08/23/2016
Series: A Philip St. Ives Mystery Series
Edition description: Unabridged
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 6.70(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Highbinders

A Philip St. Ives Mystery

By Ross Thomas

Copyright © 1974 William Morrow & Company, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-5966-5


The carnation made me feel silly. It was supposed to be red, but the flower shop in the Hilton had only pink ones so I paid fifteen pence for one and let the girl in the shop pin it to my lapel.

"My, don't we look nice," she said. "Like to use our mirror?"

"I seem to remember how I look," I said, smiled my good-bye, and crossed the lobby, heading for the hotel entrance and a taxi. Nobody noticed my carnation and I think I felt a trifle disappointed.

It was 5:35 P.M. and the London traffic rush was on, but for only twenty pence the Hilton doorman whistled me up a taxi, held the door for me, inquired of my destination, and after I told him, repeated it to the driver, "The Black Thistle on New Cavendish Street. Know it, mate?"

"I should hope to," the driver said, gave the meter flag a twist, and nosed his cab out into the Park Lane traffic.

It wasn't much of a ride, not more than three-quarters of a mile, if that, but the traffic was thick and stubborn and we didn't pull up in front of the Black Thistle until nearly six o'clock.

I've never much cared for pubs. I suppose it's because I detest cocktail parties and an English pub, right after five-thirty opening time, reminds me of nothing so much as an American cocktail party that's about to run out of gin.

The Black Thistle was a Watney pub and it seemed fairly new, or at least its furbishings did, with lots of glittering vinyl and some embarrassingly bad murals on two walls. I made my way through the crowd at the bar, asked for and got a large whisky, poured a little water into it from a pitcher, pocketed the change from a pound, turned, and had the glass knocked from my hand by a gray tweed elbow that was covered with a black suede patch.

The elbow belonged to a man who was holding a pint of beer. His back had been to me and when he turned I saw that he was in his late twenties, a little over six feet tall, and already growing a paunch. He had a smooth plump pink face that was turning red. I think he was blushing.

"Terribly sorry," he said. "Did I get any on you?"

"It's all right," I said.

He bent down to pick up my glass and I got a good view of the top of his head. It was as bald and as pink as his face, except for a thick white scar on his crown that was about two inches long. What hair he had left was light blond and confined to the sides of his head and the nape of his neck. He wore it long and brushed back so that it hung down over the collar of his figured blue shirt.

When he rose he smiled apologetically and said, "What were you drinking, whisky?"

"That's right."

"A large one, I'd think. I'll get you another."

"Don't bother."

He smiled again. His teeth were a bit gray, but it was still a nice enough smile. "If somebody slopped my drink, they could bloody well buy me another. Be back in a second."

It was more like sixty seconds before he could shoulder his way back through the chattering crowd bearing my drink. It even had an ice cube in it. I noticed then that his eyes were a familiar shade of gray and I couldn't remember where I had seen that particular shade recently until he smiled again and I saw his teeth. "American, aren't you?" he said, handing me the drink.

"That's right."

"Thought you might like the ice. Most of you chaps do."


"Are you all set now?"

"I'm fine."

He smiled his gray smile again. "Well, enjoy yourself."

I nodded and he turned away and moved into the crowd. I moved out of it, edging toward the door where nobody was standing and where anybody who wanted to could admire the carnation in my buttonhole. After I took a swallow of my drink I looked at my watch. It was five past six. I was still ten minutes early.

A large English whisky is about equivalent to a single shot in a fairly honest New York bar so I had quickly finished my drink and was trying to decide whether it was really worth the effort to go for a refill when the cramps hit. They hit just above my belt and it was as if somebody had slammed my stomach with an iron pipe. From the inside.

I doubled over and dropped the empty glass. It rolled a couple of feet. The pain hit again, even worse than before, and this time it was as though iron prongs were digging into my stomach, rusty iron prongs, and I thought wasn't I lucky that Harley Street was only three blocks away. An appendicitis would be only routine to the men of Harley Street—just as it had been to old Dr. Marland who had cut my appendix out the summer that I was fifteen years old.

The pain gave way to nausea, a wave of it, and I knew I was going to throw up. Because I'm basically a tidy sort I decided that it would be better to throw up outside in the gutter rather than all over the Black Thistle's pretty purple carpet.

I turned and lurched toward the door. The pain went away almost as quickly as it had come. In its place was the nausea plus a curious sense of well-being that somehow combined the peace of marijuana with the recklessness of three martinis. But it was better than both. The closest I had ever been to it before was for a fleeting moment once when I had counted backwards from ten while a dentist injected sodium pentothal into my left arm just before hacking out an impacted wisdom tooth. You won't feel a thing, he had said, and I hadn't, except a supreme sense of confident elation.

I felt the same way as I stumbled outside and made a mess in the New Cavendish street gutter, but not really minding at all because I could cope with that and, if given just a few moments' rest, could probably even come up with a passkey to the universe.

But I was never to have the chance. My arms were grabbed from behind. In front of me two men and a girl came out of the Black Thistle. They looked at me. The girl made a face and giggled and the two men grinned and then laughed. I decided not to be mugged, not in broad daylight on New Cavendish Street, London W. 1. Not with a small crowd looking on and grinning and giggling about it.

I jerked my right arm free and drove my elbow back hard. It sank into something soft and I heard a most satisfactory whoosh. A voice said, "Here, now!" so I stamped down hard with my left heel on something that felt very much like an instep. "Get him, Bill!" another voice said. I was all set to spin and kick Bill in the balls when hard hands clamped on my left wrist and thrust it up and back until my own hand was between my shoulder blades. Another slight jerk and my left shoulder would go. I decided that it wasn't worth it and that I should stop struggling and start complaining. "Goddamned bastards," I said.

"Here, now," the first voice said again. "That's no way to talk."

I turned my head and got a look at the one I had hit in the stomach. He had a hard young face with a mean thin mouth and pale blue eyes as friendly as snakes. He also had a set of long blond sideburns. I couldn't see the rest of his hair because he had it covered up with the blue pot helmet that London police constables normally wear.


The light bulb was the first thing I saw when I awoke. It was a weak, frosted one, not much more than a sickly twenty-five watts, and it was screwed into a socket in a ceiling that must have been twenty feet high. I assumed that the light never went off, not until it burned out.

I lay there and had the headache. Actually, it was a bit more than a headache. It was a malignant tumor that was going to burst through my skull right above the eyes where the sinuses were. It was, I decided, a rotten way to die.

But instead of dying, I got up. At least I swung my feet down to the floor and raised myself into a slumped sort of sitting position. I had been lying on a slab of yellow tile that was fitted into one corner of the room about two feet above the floor. It was a bed. To soften it up were two gray blankets that felt as though they had been woven out of wooden fiber. Fairly soft wood perhaps. One of the blankets had been folded up and I had used it as a pillow. I didn't remember folding the blanket. I didn't remember anything after meeting the muggers who had turned out to be two London cops.

They must have brought me to where I was, which, I saw, was a jail cell and a rather spacious one at that. I estimated it to be at least seven feet wide and twelve feet long and apparently designed for single occupancy. Furnishings and appointments other than the tile bunk included a seatless toilet, a one-tap sink, a big gray iron door with a peephole, no windows, and a former occupant's scratched notation that "Lord God it is awful here."

I got up, used the toilet, drank some water from the tap, and reached for a cigarette. I didn't have any. I went through my pockets and there was nothing in them. I looked at my left wrist. My watch was still on it and the time was half past five. In the morning, I assumed. They had let me keep my watch, my clothes, my headache, and my pink carnation. The carnation looked old and tired and bedraggled and I felt that we had a lot in common except that it still smelled nice.

I had never been in jail before. Not to stay. Not in a jail where they slam a big iron door shut on you. I had once spent part of a night in a New York precinct station, but there they had kept me in a room with some desks and some chairs and a window and they had let me keep my cigarettes and my matches and even a little of my dignity.

For what seemed to be a long time I stood there in the middle of the cell and looked around. I decided that I could never do a five-year stretch. Or a five-month one. Or even five days. Five hours were about my limit and I had already done that and more, so I went over and started kicking hell out of the big iron door.

After a while they came to see what was the matter. After a week maybe, or ten days, somebody came and opened the peephole and said, "Stop that kicking now. We got people here who're trying to sleep."

"I just thought I'd let you know I'm ready to leave," I said.

"Ready to leave, are we?"

"That's right."

"Sobered up a bit, have we?"

I wasn't going to argue. "Stone sober."

I felt him taking a good look at me through the peephole. Finally, the voice said, "Well, let's see what Sergeant Matthews has got to say." The peephole slammed shut.

It took Sergeant Matthews a fortnight to make up his mind about me. Or maybe it was only ten days. That was jail time. By real time, the time on my watch, it was fifteen minutes before the key clacked and turned in the lock. The big iron door swung open and a young policeman stood there, dangling a large key from a large ring and nodding his head as if I were about what he had expected; certainly no better.

"This way," he said, and I followed him down a hall that was lined with big iron doors like the one I had been behind. We entered a room that held some desks and a wooden bench and some chairs. Behind one of the desks was a policeman with three stripes on his sleeve. Sergeant Matthews, I presumed.

"Here he is, Sergeant, Mr. Philip St. Ives," the young policeman said and the sergeant looked at me with thirty- or thirty-one-year-old green eyes that were neither friendly nor unfriendly and if not incurious, certainly indifferent.

"Sit down, Mr. St. Ives," Sergeant Matthews said.

I sat down and he reached into a drawer and drew out a manila envelope and started removing its contents. The contents were what had been in my pockets. He ticked the items off on a form, shoving them across the desk to me one by one. When he got to the cigarettes I said, "Mind if I smoke?"

"Not at all, sir," he said without looking up.

I lit one of the Pall Malls and blew some smoke up into the air. The cigarette tasted all right, better than I had expected, but it did my headache no good.

"Your people must have been English, a name like that," he said.

"Or French," I said.


"The French spell it with a Y."

"Pretty little place. St. Ives, I mean. Ever been there?"


"Pretty little place."

That seemed to exhaust the topic and Sergeant Matthews shoved the last item across the desk to me and said, "Would you count your money, sir? Should be thirty-one pounds and nine pence there plus some American coins."

I counted it and put the money into my wallet. "It's all there."

He nodded. "Sign here, please."

While I signed the form he said, "I must say, I expected you to be a size bigger."

I handed him back his pen. "Why?"

"From the way my men were talking when I came on duty, they claimed to have collared themselves an American karate expert. Constable Wilson especially—limping around he was with a bad foot to prove it."

"I don't know any karate," I said. "I just thought I was being mugged."

"At six o'clock in the evening and the sun not down?" Sergeant Matthews made his brown eyebrows form two skeptical arcs.

"I'd forgotten where I was when they grabbed me."

"Your home's New York, isn't it, sir?"

"That's right."

"I don't suppose they wait until dark there. Muggers, I mean."

"Daylight or dark, it's all pretty much the same to them."

"Must be an interesting place."

"Terribly," I said. "What're you charging me with, drunk and disorderly?"

"Just drunk, sir."

I tapped my wallet with a finger. "Have I got enough in here to cover it?"

"That'll be up to the magistrate, sir."

"Can't I just post bond and forget about it? Forfeit it, I mean."

Sergeant Matthews shook his head. He seemed a little sorry about the entire thing. "Afraid not, sir," he said, handing me an official-looking form. "This is your summons to appear at the Marlborough Street Magistrates' Court at nine this morning."

I sighed, took the summons, folded it, and put it away in a pocket. "What if I don't show?"

All traces of sympathy vanished. "Then a warrant will be issued for your arrest."

"I'll be there," I said. "Can I go now?"

"Certainly, sir." Sergeant Matthews looked at the clock on the wall. "You should be able to get back to your hotel, take a nap, tidy up, get a good breakfast in you, and be in court with plenty of time."

I stood up. "Well, thanks for everything, Sergeant."

"Not at all, sir."

"Where's the best place to catch a taxi?"

"Out to the street, then right to the next corner. Should be one along directly."

I nodded a good-bye of sorts, went through the entrance of the stationhouse, and out into what seemed to be a kind of alley or mews. I walked to the street without looking back, turned right, and headed for the corner. About halfway there, I spotted a dustbin, unpinned my carnation, and dropped it in. It had served its purpose. Somebody had recognized me all right.


Only two days prior to spending that night in a London jail cell, Julia Child and I had been pounding hell out of a couple of boned chicken breasts when Myron Greene, my lawyer, the new millionaire, knocked on the door of my "deluxe" efficiency on the ninth floor of the Adelphi on East Forty-sixth. There was an ivory-colored doorbell that Myron Greene could have pressed, but he knew better because it didn't work, and hadn't worked in three years. The Adelphi Apartment-Hotel was that kind of a place.

I put my stainless-steel mallet down on the ancient butcher block that I had recently acquired from a seventy-two-year-old Brooklyn butcher who had said to hell with it and gone out of business the day that prime porterhouse hit $4.25 a pound. I nodded as Julia Child dipped the pounded chicken breasts, first into the nutmeg-seasoned flour, and then into the lightly beaten egg yolk. "I got it, Julia," I said, switched off the television set, and went to the door.

Myron Greene stood there for a moment, eyeing me with the same faint disapproval that he probably eyed all grown men who answer their doors at four in the afternoon dressed only in terry-cloth bathrobe and denim apron.

"Jesus Christ," he said.

"Not bad; how are you?"

He came in and looked around the way that he always did, as though expecting to find a badly mismanaged seraglio. While he looked, I took the opportunity to examine what a bright New York attorney, who had just become a millionaire at thirty-eight, might wear on a nice warm May day.

If he had been born about a century and a half earlier, Myron Greene probably would have been a disciple of Beau Brummell, a slightly plump disciple perhaps, but nevertheless a devoted one. As it was, he contented himself with dressing about six months behind the latest cry which, on that particular May afternoon, happened to be a half-hearted revival of the zoot suits of the wartime forties.


Excerpted from The Highbinders by Ross Thomas. Copyright © 1974 William Morrow & Company, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of
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