8. The count-down continues, and developments are happening on the Western side of the Pond, also.... - Book Four - Fog on the Clyde by A.J. Hall
On Broadway it was shortly after five in the morning and the neon lights were still blazing, though all except the most determined of the late revellers were flagging.
The taxi debouched three people onto the sidewalk outside the little club in a side-street. The doorman summed them up through the spyhole with a practised eye. There was something just a little too clean-cut and sober about the two men: something which on a subliminal level suggested unwelcome officialdom. His hand moved towards the alarm button which would warn the patrons in the cellar below of an impending raid. But then the girl with them turned, shrugging off the wrap which had been swathed high around her face and neck against the cold chill of the small hours, and favoured the blank expanse of the door with her most dazzling smile, as though she could see straight through to where he was sitting.
Relief flooding him, he released the catch on the door and the three new arrivals stumbled through into the smoky dark of the club entrance.
“Sam, it’s great to see you again.”
The Chronicle reporter gestured to her friends. “I couldn’t let my friends from out of town leave without experiencing a real old fashioned night on the town, now could I?”
One of the two men smiled; he had a soft British accent.
“And an experience it’s been. Between Jix, Dora and Mrs Grundy we aren’t accustomed to this sort of thing back home.”
Sam returned the smile; he was used to overseas visitors expressing similar sentiments. He stood back to let them pass down the stairs.
It had been a long night, and dawn was, as yet, far off here in New York, though Kitty O’Farrell rejoiced that bloody morning was already far advanced in the land on whose soil she had vowed never again to set foot - at least not before certain conditions might be fulfilled.
She took care lest the fierce exultation she was feeling show in her face: the little man with the pince-nez (whose expression could, at times, chill even her) had the capacity to understand, but would note it down as a weakness, nonetheless. And as for sharing her inner thoughts with the blowsy Mid-Westerner, with her air of fake sophistication, like Chanel perfume atomised onto unwashed flesh -
Conscious of the need to maintain the illusion of harmony between her and her co-conspirators, Miss Kitty O’Farrell laughed her sweetest and most silvery laugh at Mrs Fraser’s latest witticism.
Fischer looked at his watch.
As if on cue an obsequious waiter carried a telephone to their table.
“Transatlantic telegram, sir,” he said, and withdrew.
At the conclusion of the call Fischer put down the telephone, dabbed his lips with his napkin, and raised his champagne glass.
“And so,” he said, “it begins.”
His supper companions - if such a term could be used of a meal which had commenced a little before 3am - raised their glasses in response to the toast.
And it was at that precise moment that Kitty became aware of the little party of three who had just entered the club. The movement had attracted her attention at first: at so late an hour new arrivals were an unusual phenomenon. Then she had been struck by the way the light glinted off the startling silver-gilt hair of the woman of the party. As a blonde herself she took a professional interest in other blondes, and this one would certainly stand out in a crowd. There was something familiar about her, too: surely Kitty had seen her somewhere before? Or perhaps it had been in a photograph? Glad enough of a distraction from Mrs Fraser’s prattle and Fischer’s oblique, cynical interjections, Kitty watched with interest as the new arrival summoned a waiter with one elegant gesture of an evening-gloved hand, and whispered a few words in his ear.
Rather to Kitty’s surprise the waiter gestured in the direction of their booth. The woman nodded, and the three started to head in their direction.
“Friends of yours?” Kitty asked nervously. Given their current pursuits any break in normal patterns might herald disaster; but equally Fischer had played his cards close enough to his chest throughout the events of the last few years, and for all she knew these might be further allies, summoned as she and Mrs Fraser had been to receive Fischer’s instructions for how they must go forwards following this crisis of events.
“What? Who?” Fischer’s head turned, sharply, but the blonde and her two escorts were already upon them. Abruptly, and with a sick plummetting sensation, Kitty identified her: Polly Perkins of The Chronicle. And the star investigative journalist of that infamously liberal and muck-raking publication would hardly be present here, at this precise time, by coincidence.
Fischer’s glass dropped from his hand and shattered on the floor. Mrs Fraser let out a small, quickly stifled squeak of dismay; her face shapeless and old.
Miss Perkins’s eye passed over Kitty with a faint, insulting sense of logging her to deal with later; took in Mrs Fraser with naked distaste which overlay some more complex emotion, and finally came to rest on Dr Fischer.
“Well,” she purred, “we meet again. I think, a little earlier than you might have preferred; am I right?”
Fischer’s hand went to his pocket: the taller of the two men flanking Miss Perkins caught his wrist, twisting it up firmly and ungently.
“None of that. I’m reliably informed that the proprietors of this establishment really don’t care for disturbances on their premises. At least; not ones that they haven’t planned for.”
“They sure don’t,” Miss Perkins said. Her voice had a carefully infused blend of defiance and contempt but during her life Kitty had learned enough of stage-fright - and a hundred other varieties of fear, come to think of it - to recognise the underlying depth of terror in the other woman, and to respect the sheer will and courage that kept Miss Perkins standing tall and looking straight into Fischer’s eyes notwithstanding.
“Anyone pulling a gun in here without the owner’s say-so can expect to leave feet-first,” Miss Perkins added.
“In any event,” the other man said, “Dr Erasmus Fischer - my name is Chief-Inspector Parker, of Scotland Yard. I have a warrant for your arrest and extradition. I arrest you in the name of the law, and anything you say may be taken down and used in evidence. In the circumstances, it would certainly not be in your best interests to try to resist us by force.”
Fischer looked at him; looked as though he were considering what to say, and then dropped his head with an acknowledging little nod and a whimsical half-smile on his thin lips. When the British policeman reached out with the hand-cuffs he made no attempt to resist.
Mrs Fraser made an effort to sound haughty, but there was a wobble in her voice. “Arrest him? And on what charge?”
The man who had prevented Fischer going for his gun smiled.
“The same charge I’m arresting you on, ma’am. Lieutenant Peterson, RCMP. Mrs Edith Fraser - aka plenty of other names, so my colleagues South of the border tell me - I’m arresting you for being concerned in the unlawful abduction, drugging and imprisonment of Miss Perkins here. And likewise, ma’am, it’s my duty to warn you that anything you say may be taken down and could be used in evidence.”
Kitty O’Farrell found her voice at last. “Kidnapping! I never heard anything so absurd! I know nothing at all about any such thing!”
The Canadian nodded respectfully at her. “No-one’s saying you did, ma’am. Certainly I have no instructions to proceed against you.”
The Scotland Yard man smiled; Kitty thought there was something a little grim and chilling about the set of his lips, nonetheless.
“Nor I. My apologies for disturbing your evening, ma’am.”
And he made as if to withdraw, his prisoner in tow. Mrs Fraser, shocked into indiscretion by Kitty’s apparent immunity in the midst of the wreck of all their hopes, said with a vicious emphasis,
“Know nothing of kidnapping? Well, I guess there had to be some dirty business she wasn’t in up to her pretty little neck. But perhaps you should ask her -“
“My dear Edith!” Fischer’s voice had a pleasant deadliness that chilled the blood. Mrs Fraser broke off, abruptly, her mouth agape.
“We are all of us equally innocent, but we should be pleased that the absurdity of the police authorities has not extended to making Miss O’Farrell the object of their grotesque suspicions.”
He smiled; his eyes glittered coldly behind the pince-nez.
“I, for one, have no fear of extradition. I welcome the opportunity to plead my innocence on British soil, before a British court. I think, Chief-Inspector Parker, that in that event it will be for you to have the unpleasant surprise. Good evening, Miss O’Farrell. I have no doubt that next time we meet the wheel of fortune will have swung again.”
And as he and Mrs Fraser were taken - discreetly but nonetheless with little possibility of argument - towards the stairs which led out of the club, Fischer made the smallest of inclinations of his head in the direction of the telephone, still lying discarded and, until now, forgotten on the supper-table. Kitty took his meaning instantly, and the tense panic inside her eased a fraction. What they had set in motion would not even be known, as yet, to these earnest policemen, doing their job at the behest of an Empire whose longevity - Holy Mary and the saints willing - might already be measured in hours not decades. And they had chosen to underestimate her and leave her bewilderingly at liberty - frankly, it was almost insulting: if they were going to go to the trouble of trumping up a kidnapping charge against the others then basic commonsense suggested the advisability of including her. Kitty O’Farrell would make the most of the liberty that had been carelessly, condescendingly, left to her. She would start by alerting their friends in this country as to Fischer’s plight. Later, perhaps, something might be done for Edith Fraser, also. It was regrettable, but a loose-tongued woman of her stamp would be better with her friends than in the hands of the enemy. The sense of having heaped coals of fire would be pleasant, and it need not, after all, be a permanent inconvenience.
Kitty stretched out her hand for the telephone. Before she could lift the handset, however, she found her hand being covered by another’s. She looked up into the swarthy face of a man who’d been one of a group of three sitting at the next booth. She’d put them down as blue-collar types blowing more they could afford on a rare night on the town. He grinned down at her from a face whose jowls were heavily shadowed with blue-black stubble.
“Say, I recognise you, Miss O’Farrell. Weren’t you Sean Grogan’s girl?”
She floundered, bewildered, for a second. The shadowy powers who ruled the world in which she had moved for so long now had ruled Grogan unreliable and acted accordingly, and she had accepted their judgment so unquestioningly that by now she could hardly remember what she had felt for Grogan, or if indeed she had felt anything at all.
The man extended a hand.
“You’ve forgotten me, haven’t you? It’s Milo. Look, don’t trouble yourself about calling for a cab home, now that your friends have had to go. We’ll look after you. We can’t let an old pal’s girl be left to see herself home. This can be a rough old town.”
She started to make pretty, fluent excuses - this was the worst of timing - but before she was half-way through she realised the three would hardly take no for an answer; at least not without there being more of a scene than she chose to make at this precise moment. And after all they were friendly enough, and, though boisterous, hardly tight. It might be as well for her to allow them to see her home.
She was at the top of the stairs; one of the men was joshing Sam as she retrieved her wrap; Sam opened the door to the street, wishing them goodnight. A passing car’s headlight beam pierced the darkness. Dazzled, she glanced down and away - and saw the flash as the light reflected off a wicked three inches of blue-silver steel, which had suddenly sprouted in Milo’s hand.
Her instinctive scream was stifled by Milo’s hand over her mouth. The big car was waiting just round the corner, its engine running and a fourth man alert at the wheel. She was barely inside before they were off, moving fast out of the city, into which the first early commuters of the morning were already starting to flow.
She was wedged into the back seat of the car, between Milo and one of the other men. They had tied her hands behind her back, and strapped her feet at the ankles. They had not gagged her, but screaming was pointless, and undignified, too, and there was still the ever-present threat of that vicious short-bladed knife.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked sullenly, not expecting a response. The most likely answer was the East River, in any event, but she was not going to give them - whoever “they” were - the satisfaction of knowing she was afraid.
“England,” Milo said laconically. She twisted to face him; in the reflected light from the headlights of on-coming cars his face was impassive.
“You heard me.” There was just enough room for him to gesture. “Little matter of a treason charge to answer over there.”
She was spluttering with indignation; anger swamping even her fear.
“Treason! I was born in Ireland, and I’m a naturalised American citizen. I owe no allegiance to the British crown. No judge in this state or any other would grant an extradition warrant.”
There was the flash of white in Milo’s face as he grinned, broadly.
“Maybe they would and maybe they wouldn’t. Given what you’ve been dabbling in, it might be evens either way. Specially since a little bird tells me your paperwork isn’t all you might like it to be, Miss O’Farrell. But we reckoned we knew you well enough to skip the formalities in any event. There’s a ‘plane already fuelled and waiting on the runway for you, and a reception committee waiting for you at the other end. This way it avoids embarrassing Uncle Sam. And the President. You see; something tells me you’d always banked on being who you were and who you knew - maybe what you knew, too: who can tell? - to avoid being extradited. Whether you lawfully could be or not.”
“Anyway, I don’t doubt that once your friend from Chicago with the bad bleach job starts talking to the Mounties there’ll be more charges than treason for you to answer. Ones you can’t get out of on a wriggle about nationality.”
“And this is supposed to make you better than us how?” she spat.
Milo’s voice in the darkness was serious. “You get a trial. You get a defence attorney. Who knows? You’re a good actress. Maybe you’ll even manage to get yourself acquitted. More than you’ve ever thought good enough for anyone.”
His voice was pitiless, now, like the voice of doom.
“You’ve been playing your games for too long, Miss O’Farrell. Good men and bad men, all being sent to their deaths at your whim. And never a drop of the blood falling on your pretty little white hands. But you made a bad mistake when you decided to have the Sky Captain rubbed out.”
She could see, now, as the dawn came started to come up over the city in which direction they were heading. And she knew, too, at last, into whose hands she had fallen, and why. Milo leaned over her, and breathed very softly into her ear.
“You see: we’re his Legion. And the Legion looks after its own.”