The Eye Of The Needle | Chapter 25 of 56

Author: Ken Follett | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 133564 Views | Add a Review

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PERCIVAL GODLIMAN HAD BROUGHT A SMALL CAMP bed from his home. He lay on it in his office, dressed in trousers and shirt, trying without success to sleep. He had not suffered insomnia for almost forty years, not since he took his final exams at the university. He would gladly swap the anxieties of those days for the worries that kept him awake now.

He had been a different man then, he knew; not just younger, but also considerably less…abstracted. He had been outgoing, aggressive, ambitious; he planned to go into politics. He was not studious then—he had reason to be anxious about the exams.

His two mismatched enthusiasms in those days had been debating and ballroom dancing. He had spoken with distinction at the Oxford Union and had been pictured in The Tatler waltzing with debutantes. He was no great womanizer; he wanted sex with a woman he loved, not because he believed in any high-minded principles to that effect, but because that was the way he felt about it.

And so he had been a virgin until he met Eleanor, who was not one of the debutantes but a brilliant graduate mathematician with grace and warmth and a father dying of lung disease after forty years as a coal mine worker. He had taken her to meet his people. His father was Lord Lieutenant of the county, and the house had seemed a mansion to Eleanor, but she had been natural and charming and not in the least awestruck; and when Percy’s mother had been disgracefully condescending to her at one point she had reacted with merciless wit, for which he loved her all the more.

He had taken his master’s degree, then after the Great War he taught in a public school and stood in three by-elections. They were both disappointed when they discovered they could not have children; but they loved each other totally and they were happy, and her death was the most appalling tragedy Godliman ever knew. It had ended his interest in the real world, and he had retreated into the Middle Ages.

It had drawn him and Bloggs together, this common bereavement. And the war had brought him back to life; revived in him those characteristics of dash and aggression and fervor that had made him a fine speaker and teacher and the hope of the Liberal Party. He wished very much for something in Bloggs’s life to rescue him from an existence of bitterness and introspection.

At the moment he was in Godliman’s thoughts, Bloggs phoned from Liverpool to say that Die Nadel had slipped through the net, and Parkin had been killed.

Godliman, sitting on the edge of the camp bed to speak on the phone, closed his eyes. “I should have put you on the train…”

“Thanks!” Bloggs said.

“Only because he doesn’t know your face.”

“I think he may,” Bloggs said. “We suspect he spotted the trap, and mine was the only face visible to him as he got off the train.”

“But where could he have seen you—oh, Leicester Square.”

“I don’t see how, but then…we seem to underestimate him.”

Godliman asked impatiently, “Have you got the ferry covered?”

“Yes.”

“He won’t use it, of course—too obvious. He’s more likely to steal a boat. On the other hand, he may still be heading for Inverness.”

“I’ve alerted the police up there.”

“Good. But look, I don’t think we can make any assumptions about his destination. Let’s keep an open mind.”

“Yes.”

Godliman stood, picked up the phone, and began to pace the carpet. “Also, don’t assume it was he who got off the train on the wrong side. Work on the premise that he got off before, at, or after Liverpool.” Godliman’s brain was in gear again, sorting permutations and possibilities. “Let me talk to the Chief Superintendent.”

“He’s here.”

There was a pause, then a new voice said, “Chief Superintendent Anthony speaking.”

Godliman said, “Do you agree with me that our man got off this train somewhere in your area?”

“That seems likely, yes.”

“All right. Now the first thing he needs is transport—so I want you to get details of every car, boat, bicycle, or donkey stolen within a hundred miles of Liverpool during the next twenty-four hours. Keep me informed, but give the information to Bloggs and work closely with him following up the leads.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Keep an eye on other crimes that might be committed by a fugitive—theft of food or clothing, unexplained assaults, identity card irregularities, and so on.”

“Right.”

“Now, Mr. Anthony, you realize this man is more than just a conventional murderer?”

“I assume so, sir, from the fact of your involvement. However, I don’t know the details.”

“It’s a matter of national security, important enough to keep the Prime Minister in hourly contact with this office.”

“Yes…uh, Mr. Bloggs would like a word, sir.”

Bloggs came back on. “Have you remembered how you know his face? You said you thought you did—”

“Oh, yes—and it’s of no value, as I predicted. I met him by chance at Canterbury Cathedral and we had a conversation about the architecture. All it tells us is that he’s clever—he made some perceptive remarks, as I recall.”

“We knew he was clever.”

“As I said, it does us no good.”

Chief Superintendent Anthony, a determined member of the middle class with a carefully softened Liverpool accent, did not know whether to be peeved at the way M15 ordered him about or thrilled at the chance to save England on his own manor.

Bloggs recognized the man’s conflict—he’d met with it before when working with local police forces—and he knew how to tip the balance in his own favor. He said, “I’m grateful for your helpfulness, Chief Superintendent. These things don’t go unnoticed in Whitehall, you know.”

“Only doing our duty…” Anthony was not sure whether he was supposed to call Bloggs “Sir.”

“Still, there’s a big difference between reluctant assistance and willing help.”

“Yes. Well, it’ll likely be a few hours before we pick up this man’s scent again. Do you want to catch forty winks?”

“Yes,” Bloggs said gratefully. “If you’ve got a chair in a corner somewhere…”

“Stay here,” Anthony said, indicating his office. “I’ll be down in the operations room. I’ll wake you as soon as we’ve got something. Make yourself comfortable.”

Anthony went out, and Bloggs moved to an easy chair and sat back with his eyes closed. Immediately, he saw Godliman’s face, as if projected onto the backs of his eyelids like a film, saying, “There has to be an end to bereavement…I don’t want you to make the same mistake…” Bloggs realized suddenly that he did not want the war to end; that would make him face issues, like the one Godliman had raised. The war made life simple—he knew why he hated the enemy and he knew what he was supposed to do about it. Afterward…but the thought of another woman seemed disloyal.

He yawned and slumped farther into his seat, his thinking becoming woolly as sleep crept up on him. If Christine had died before the war he would have felt very differently about remarrying. He had always been fond of her and respected her, of course; but after she took that ambulance job respect had turned to near-awestruck admiration, and fondness turned to love. Then they had something special, something they knew other lovers did not share. Now, more than a year later, it would be easy for Bloggs to find another woman he could respect and be fond of, but he knew that would no longer be enough for him. An ordinary marriage, an ordinary woman, would always remind him that once he, a rather ordinary man, had had the most extraordinary of women….

He stirred in his chair, trying to shake off his thoughts so that he could sleep. England was full of heroes, Godliman had said. Well, if Die Nadel got away…

First things first….

Someone shook him. He was in a very deep sleep, dreaming that he was in a room with Die Nadel but could not pick him out because Die Nadel had blinded him with a stiletto. When he awoke he still thought he was blind because he could not see who was shaking him, until he realized he simply had his eyes closed. He opened them to see the large uniformed figure of Superintendent Anthony above him.

Bloggs raised himself to a more upright position and rubbed his eyes. “Got something?” he asked.

“Lots of things,” Anthony said. “Question is, which of ’em counts? Here’s your breakfast.” He put a cup of tea and a biscuit on the desk and went to sit on the other side of it.

Bloggs left his easy chair and pulled a hard chair up to the desk. He sipped the tea. It was weak and very sweet. “Let’s get to it,” he said.

Anthony handed him a sheaf of five or six slips of paper.

Bloggs said, “Don’t tell me these are the only crimes in your area—”

“Of course not,” Anthony said. “We’re not interested in drunkenness, domestic disputes, blackout violations, traffic offenses, or crimes for which arrests have already been made.”

“Sorry,” Bloggs said. “I’m still waking up. Let me read these.”

There were three house burglaries. In two of them valuables had been taken—jewelry in one case, furs in another. Bloggs said, “He might steal valuables just to throw us off the scent. Mark these on the map, will you? They may show some pattern.” He handed the two slips back to Anthony. The third burglary had only just been reported, and no details were available. Anthony marked the location on the map.

A Food Office in Manchester had been robbed of hundreds of ration books. Bloggs said, “He doesn’t need ration books—he needs food.” He set that one aside. There was a bicycle theft just outside Preston and a rape in Birkenhead. “I don’t think he’s a rapist, but mark it anyway,” Bloggs told Anthony.

The bicycle theft and the third of the house burglaries were close together. Bloggs said, “the signal box that the bike was stolen from—is that on the main line?”

“Yes, I think so,” Anthony said.

“Suppose Faber was hiding on that train and somehow we missed him. Would the signal box be the first place the train stopped at after it left Liverpool?”

“It might be.”

Bloggs looked at the sheet of paper. “An overcoat was stolen and a wet jacket left in its place.”

Anthony shrugged. “Could mean anything.”

“No cars stolen?”

“Nor boats, nor donkeys,” Anthony replied. “We don’t get many car thefts these days. Cars are easy to come by—it’s petrol people steal.”

“I felt sure he’d steal a car in Liverpool,” Bloggs said. He thumped his knee in frustration. “A bicycle isn’t much use to him, surely.”

“I think we should follow it up, anyway,” Anthony pressed. “It’s our best lead.”

“All right. But meanwhile, double-check the burglaries to see whether food or clothing was pinched—the victims might not have noticed at first. Show Faber’s picture to the rape victim, too. And keep checking all crimes. Can you fix me transport to Preston?”

“I’ll get you a car,” Anthony said.

“How long will it take to get details of this third burglary?”

“They’re probably interviewing at this minute,” Anthony said. “By the time you reach the signal box I should have the complete picture.”

“Don’t let them drag their feet.” Bloggs reached for his coat. “I’ll check with you the minute I get there.”

 

“ANTHONY? This is Bloggs. I’m at the signal box.”

“Don’t waste any time there. The third burglary was your man.”

“Sure?”

“Unless there are two buggers running around threatening people with stiletto knives.”

“Who?”

“Two old ladies living alone in a little cottage.”

“Oh, God. Dead?”

“Not unless they died of excitement.”

“Eh?”

“Get over there. You’ll see what I mean.”

“I’m on my way.”

 

IT WAS the kind of cottage that is always inhabited by two elderly ladies living alone. It was small and square and old, and around the door grew a wild rose bush fertilized by thousands of pots of used tea leaves. Rows of vegetables sprouted tidily in a little front garden with a trimmed hedge. There were pink-and-white curtains at the leaded windows, and the gate creaked. The front door had been painted painstakingly by an amateur, and its knocker was made from a horseshoe.

Bloggs knock was answered by an octogenarian with a shotgun.

He said, “Good morning. I’m from the police.”

“No, you’re not,” she said. “They’ve been already. Now get going before I blow your head off.”

Bloggs regarded her. She was less than five feet tall, with thick white hair in a bun and a pale, wrinkled face. Her hands were matchstick-thin, but her grasp on the shotgun was firm. The pocket of her apron was full of clothes-pegs. Bloggs looked down at her feet, and saw that she was wearing a man’s working boots. He said: “The police you saw this morning were local. I’m from Scotland Yard.”

“How do I know that?” she said.

Bloggs turned and called to his police driver. The constable got out of the car and came to the gate. Bloggs said to the old lady, “Is the uniform enough to convince you?”

“All right,” she said, and stood aside for him to enter.

He stepped down into a low-ceiling room with a tiled floor. The room was crammed with heavy, old furniture, and every surface was decorated with ornaments of china and glass. A small coal fire burned in the grate. The place smelled of lavender and cats.

A second old lady got out of a chair. She was like the first, but about twice as wide. Two cats spilled from her lap as she rose. She said, “Hello, I’m Emma Patron, my sister is Jessie. Don’t take any notice of that shotgun—it’s not loaded, thank God. Jessie loves drama. Will you sit down? You look so young to be a policeman. I’m surprised Scotland Yard is interested in our little robbery. Have you come from London this morning? Make the boy a cup of tea, Jessie.”

Bloggs sat down. “If we’re right about the identity of the burglar, he’s a fugitive from justice,” he said.

“I told you!” Jessie said. “We might have been done in—slaughtered in cold blood!”

“Don’t be silly,” Emma said. She turned to Bloggs. “He was such a nice man.”

“Tell me what happened,” Bloggs said.

“Well, I’d gone out the back,” Emma began. “I was in the hen coop, hoping for some eggs. Jessie was in the kitchen—”

“He surprised me,” Jessie interrupted. “I didn’t have time to go for me gun.”

“You see too many cowboy films,” Emma admonished her.

“They’re better than your love films—all tears and kisses—”

Bloggs took the picture of Faber from his wallet. “Is this the man?”

Jessie scrutinized it. “That’s him.”

“Aren’t you clever?” Emma marveled.

“If we were so clever we’d have caught him by now,” Bloggs said. “What did he do?”

Jessie said, “He held a knife to my throat and said, ‘One false move and I’ll slit your gizzard.’ I believe he meant it.”

“Oh, Jessie, you told me he said, ‘I won’t harm you if you do as I say.’”

“Words to that effect, Emma!”

Bloggs said, “What did he want?”

“Food, a bath, dry clothes and a car. Well, we gave him the eggs, of course. We found some clothes that belonged to Jessie’s late husband, Norman—”

“Would you describe them?”

“Yes. A blue donkey jacket, blue overalls, a check shirt. And he took poor Norman’s car. I don’t know how we’ll be able to go to the pictures without it. That’s our only vice, you know—the pictures.”

“What sort of car?”

“A Morris. Norman bought it in 1924. It’s served us well, that little car.”

Jessie said, “He didn’t get his hot bath, though!”

“Well,” Emma said, “I had to explain to him that two ladies living alone can hardly have a man taking a bath in their kitchen…”

Jessie said: “You’d rather have your throat slit than see a man in his combinations, wouldn’t you, you silly fool.”

Bloggs said, “What did he say when you refused?”

“He laughed,” Emma said. “But I think he understood our position.”

Bloggs could not help but smile. “I think you’re very brave,” he said.

“I don’t know about that, I’m sure.”

“So he left here in a 1924 Morris, wearing overalls and a blue jacket. What time was that?”

“About half-past nine.”

Bloggs absently stroked a red tabby cat. It blinked and purred. “Was there much petrol in the car?”

“A couple of gallons—but he took our coupons.”

“How do you ladies qualify for a petrol ration?”

“Agricultural purposes,” Emma said defensively. She blushed.

Jessie snorted. “And we’re isolated, and we’re elderly. Of course we qualify.”

“We always go to the corn stores at the same time as the pictures,” Emma added. “We don’t waste petrol.”

Bloggs smiled and held up a hand. “All right, don’t worry—rationing isn’t exactly my department. How fast does the car go?”

Emma said, “We never exceed thirty miles per hour.”

Bloggs looked at his watch. “Even at that speed he could be seventy-five miles away by now.” He stood up. “I must phone the details to Liverpool. You don’t have a telephone, do you?”

“No.”

“What kind of Morris is it?”

“A Cowley. Norman used to call it a Bullnose.”

“Color?”

“Grey.”

“Registration number?”

“MLN 29.”

Bloggs wrote it all down.

Emma said, “Will we ever get our car back, do you think?”

“I expect so—but it may not be in very good condition. When someone is driving a stolen car he generally doesn’t take good care of it.” He walked to the door.

“I hope you catch him,” Emma called.

Jessie saw him out. She was still clutching the shotgun. At the door she caught Bloggs’s sleeve and said in a stage whisper, “Tell me—what is he? Escaped convict? Murderer? Rapist?”

Bloggs looked down at her. Her small green eyes were bright with excitement. He bent his head to speak quietly in her ear. “Don’t tell a soul,” he murmured, “but he’s a German spy.”

She giggled with delight. Obviously, she thought, he saw the same movies she did.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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