20

Russ Grundy, stout and ruddy-featured, was squeezed into a corner in the back of a big white van with BENTINCK’S WINDSHIELD REPLACEMENTS painted in blue on the side. It was parked in the street behind the offices of the Transit Authority building in downtown Fort Worth, next to the bus station.

‘It’s busy along here, which is good cover, and the traffic doesn’t affect the equipment,’ Russ told C.W. Whitlock. ‘I’m within a mile of Chadwick’s house, which is perfect, and if I need to move closer for any reason nobody is going to notice or care.’

Whitlock had arrived by bus, which he believed was still the best way to travel when a low profile was important. He had entered the van by walking through the bus station from front to back and climbing in as if he owned the vehicle. He sat now on a tiny swivel stool at the opposite end of the van from Grundy. Both sides of the interior were packed with electronic equipment. Where Grundy sat was a small bench with tuning gear, speakers, tape machines and headphones.

‘I’m really grateful to you and Mr Philpott for this little diversion, C.W.’

‘Glad we can all help each other. How are you working this surveillance, exactly?’

‘Most of it’s way beyond you — no offence — but putting it simply, I’m aligned with a tight information band set up between this van and the target. The ventilators out on the roof are my focusing receivers. This baby,’ he patted an oblong black-and-red box beside him, ‘collects and co-ordinates. It picks up from two bugs in Chadwick’s house, and a third one in his office, another mile out beyond the house. So far, he hasn’t been near the office.’

‘How did you get the bugs in place?’

‘Respect my secrets, C.W., and that way I’ll respect yours.’

‘You remembered it’s telephone calls we’re interested in?’

‘Of course I did. So that we don’t have to record every sound that gets made in the place every minute of the day, the recording equipment is triggered by the first dialling tone each time a call is made, and it switches off again when the line-cancel tone sounds. This is really sensitive equipment, C.W.’

‘Can you tell what numbers are being called?’

Grundy put on a pitying face. ‘I could do that before any of this stuff was invented. Some guys can do it just by listening near the phone. The tones tell you the country and area codes, and the numbers. They get logged separately.’ He pointed to a cassette deck. ‘Chadwick’s dialled quite a few in the last, ah…’ he looked at his watch, ‘nine hours.’

‘Can you transcribe them for me?’

‘Sure. This thing makes a printout.’ Grundy flipped a switch on the front panel. A moment later a strip of cash-register paper began to appear from under the machine. ‘How long have you got, C.W.?’

‘I get a return trip on the same bus I came in on. A couple of hours yet.’

‘You’ll have time to listen to some of this.’ Grundy put a small DAT tape player in front of Whitlock and inserted a tape. ‘Plug in the headphones at the side.’

Whitlock listened. For a time it was fascinating, hearing Chadwick in his own home, believing he was alone, talking business on the telephone. But it was dull stuff, business talk of a kind that conveyed nothing beyond its own narrow content. After twenty minutes Whitlock decided he would switch off, make his apologies and leave with the tape player and the other three tapes. Then the tape suddenly began to hiss and squeak. He put the machine on pause and pulled off the headphones.

‘It’s gone strange,’ he told Grundy.

‘Let me listen.’

Grundy squeezed his way along the van, wedging himself in beside Whitlock. He put on the headphones, activated the tape and sat frowning. Then he paused the tape again.

‘Son of a gun,’ he said. ‘He’s masking the call.’

‘Masking it?’

‘The old-fashioned way. Running water. He probably took the phone into the bathroom and turned on the taps.’

‘You think he knows about the bugs?’

‘No. He’s just leery, like every sharp crook that ever was. They don’t trust their own shadows.’

‘So we don’t get to know why he thought this call important enough to screen?’

‘Who says?’

Grundy removed the tape from the player and took it to the other end of the van. He put it into an elaborate-looking cassette deck with six circular dials above the tape compartment. He rewound a few inches of tape, played it, and made adjustments to scales underneath the dials.

‘I’m screening out the frequency of running water, which should leave only the voice sounds.’

He rewound the tape again, adjusted three of the six scales, and switched on. The tape went through the machine silently.

‘Why can’t we hear anything?’ Whitlock said.

‘I’m in scouring mode. You’ll hear it in a minute. The rig knows now what to listen for, so it’ll stop the tape automatically at the end of the overlay sound.’

After a timed three minutes and forty seconds the tape stopped. Grundy rewound it to the point where the hissing noise had started.

‘Now listen to the difference.’

He switched on. Music poured from the speaker. It was an instrumental of ‘Fool on the Hill’.

Grundy slapped his forehead.

‘He used music, too?’ Whitlock said.

‘Yep. This Chadwick isn’t your average paranoiac, C.W. He’s up there with the wild-eyed conspiracy-theory crowd.’

‘Can you eliminate the music?’

‘Yes,’ Grundy said.

Whitlock looked at him. ‘But?’

‘But the speech could disappear with it. It depends how much variance there is between Chadwick’s voice and the notes and harmonic combinations that make up the music.’ Grundy looked at his watch. ‘This could be a long job, without any guarantee of success.’

‘How long?’

‘Well, with music I have to do things manually, grading out the music by fine stages until I get down to the vocal range. And I’ll have to work from copies, because the technique rules out error-free procedure. Two hours, maybe.’

Whitlock sighed. ‘OK. Go ahead. I’ll wait.’

‘Remember, no guarantees. I may come up with nothing.’

‘We’ll get nothing unless you try.’

That evening Whitlock called Philpott on the scrambler line. He explained about the masked recording.

‘It took two and a half hours to clear off the music.’

‘What did it leave?’

‘Chadwick calling an architect in Berlin. Viktor Kretzer.’

‘Really? Kretzer’s on Emily’s list.’

‘I know. We have a clear recording of Chadwick telling Kretzer not to communicate until further notice.’

‘Marvellous.’

‘But better still,’ Whitlock said, ‘we have a little nugget at the end of the call. Chadwick tells Kretzer that some armaments are due to complete the round trip and come back to Germany, where they were born. The consignment is one item short of the batch Mr Gibson originally purchased, he says, because the Arab was given the gun to use on the job in London. How’s that for serendipity?’

‘To quote the psalmist,’ Philpott said, ‘my cup runneth over. You realize that apart from this being Grade A evidence, it means I won’t have to do any blind bluffing with Chadwick and Pearce?’

‘Of course.’

‘I’ll pass on my thanks to Grundy in person. Meantime I’ve skulduggery to get on with. And, indeed, so have you.’ He laughed softly. ‘Don’t you just love it, C.W., when fate takes its foot off your neck and lets you score the occasional goal?’

Chadwick had reserved a table at the Casa de Oro at Fairmont in North-west Dallas. When Philpott arrived, Chadwick and Pearce were already seated. He saw them watch him as he came across the blue-and-amber-lit dining room. There was tension in the way they sat, square-shouldered, necks stiff.

‘Gentlemen…’ They stood and Philpott shook their hands. ‘I hope I’m not late.’

‘Not at all.’ Chadwick waved to the chair opposite. ‘Sit down, Mr Beamish.’

‘Derek.’

‘Derek. Sit down and we’ll get you a drink. I hope you like Tex-Mex cooking.’

‘I adore it,’ Philpott lied, smiling. He reached for the leather-covered menu. ‘I wonder, do they do blue corn enchiladas?’

‘Why, yes, I believe they do,’ Pearce said. ‘You’ve some experience of this kind of food?’

‘I travel in Latin America.’ Philpott threw them a meaningful look. ‘One soon develops a taste for the culinary styles of such regions.’

They talked about food and drink and other superficial matters until the waiter came and took their order. Then Chadwick waded in with business.

‘We’ve had time to think about what you told us,’ he said, ‘time to get it into some kind of perspective. Now we need to know the level of nuisance we’re likely to be dealing with. This Jonah Tait, is he what you would call the persistent kind?’

‘In what sense?’

‘I mean, in your knowledge of him, does he frighten easily?’

‘I suspect he doesn’t frighten at all.’

‘But has he been tested?’

‘A man like him is constantly up against opposition in New York. He doesn’t back off.’

‘So we can’t just lean on him and hope to get results.’

‘I wouldn’t say so.’ Philpott sipped his wine. ‘It’s the kind of situation where a man like Harold Gibson would have known what to do.’

The risk in saying that had been calculated. Chadwick and Pearce could easily be offended and even alienated. It was more likely, Philpott believed, that they would agree with what he implied, that Gibson had been the action man in their outfit.

‘He always knew the remedy that would fit the case,’ Chadwick said. ‘I have to hand him that.’

‘Part of my reason for coming to Texas, as you know, was to shadow Mr Tait,’ Philpott said. ‘I was not sure what I would do to obstruct him, but I did know I had to be on hand to try something, should he get out of hand.’

‘So what’s he doing right now?’ Pearce said. ‘We know he’s staying out at the Comfort Inn on West Kingsley, but his movements are pretty low-key.’

‘He’s putting the finishing touches to his book. He’s got your pictures, he’s got the names of local institutions and individuals, he has details of times and dates he needed to fill out the text.’

Chadwick sat back, absently massaging his stomach. ‘This book, could it harm the reputation of anybody besides Harold Gibson?’

‘It could hurt all of Mr Gibson’s associates, and not just their reputations,’ Philpott said. ‘If I may be blunt…’ He paused, waiting for their assent.

‘Go ahead,’ Chadwick said.

‘I happen to know of Mr Gibson’s connection with the Jugend von Siegfried — ’

Pearce slapped the table. ‘I told you.’ He looked at Chadwick. ‘People were bound to find out.’

‘Shut it, Emerett.’

‘Harold was the business,’ Pearce said, ‘but he wasn’t such a whizz when it came to keeping a lid on. Not a week before he got killed, I said the same thing I’m saying now.’

‘People don’t know,’ Philpott said. ‘I promise you that. I know because I am first of all a sympathizer, also because I have access to levels of, shall we say, power play, which are shut off from even the average diplomat.’

‘You were going to be blunt about something,’ Chadwick said.

Philpott leaned forward. ‘A record of payments made to the Siegfried people has fallen into Tait’s hands. He intends to use it. I am also reliably informed that he intends to name you both as accessories to the killing of Emily Selby, a White House employee who was shot recently in London by a — ’

‘By a hired gun that Gibson should never have gone anywhere near,’ Pearce said. ‘Hell, I knew this would all blow back in our faces. The un-expected choice was Gibson’s idea of covering his tracks. Looks like it didn’t work.’

The food arrived. For ten minutes business was suspended and inconsequential talk was permitted to intervene. They chewed, enthused and reminisced. Chadwick had a long-standing love of down-home Mexican food such as fajitas, ceviche and carne asada; Pearce said he liked to eat at Mia’s, where he could get the best chiles rellenos in town. Philpott confessed to a weakness for French cuisine, particularly foie gras, shaved black truffles, veal with artichokes, and just occasionally, pepper-edged rack of lamb.

None of them finished his main course.

Chadwick was last to lay down his knife and fork. Abruptly, Jonah Tait was back on the agenda. Chadwick wanted to know, for his peace of mind, how Derek Beamish came to know so much about Tait’s movements.

‘Every politician knows,’ Philpott said, ‘that if a man’s life encroaches on other people’s lives, then that man’s life has no real secrets. Finding out the important things, the key facts, takes skill, but it really all boils down to keeping a wide range of contacts, and keeping them sweet.’ He held up a hand and counted off the fingers. ‘I know Tait’s bankers, his printers, the firm of lawyers representing his interests, and the landlord of the property he occupies in Greenwich Village. Collectively they let me know, without knowing they do it, about everything he does and most things he plans.’

Chadwick’s head was tilted to one side, as if he was trying to see something on Philpott’s face not visible at any other angle. ‘You haven’t said so, Mr Beamish, but would I be right in assuming this Tait fellow could hurt you as much as anybody?’

‘Yes.’

‘And you’re convinced he plans to hurt us, too?’

‘I told you. He could have you facing serious criminal charges.’

‘Well, maybe. We have decent lawyers hereabout, and the best of them represent me and mine whenever they’re needed.’

‘I took that for granted,’ Philpott said. ‘I still think Tait can do you harm. Try to see it coldly. First he destroys your reputation, then he goes on the legal tack, citing your financial support for organizations engaged in criminal activity — outfits like the Jugend von Siegfried, for one. He produces whatever evidence he has about the Emily Selby killing. And of course that starts the police digging, and you know what happens when they do that, they will always come up with more dirt, more long-buried skeletons. Something would be bound to stick, however good your lawyers may be.’

Pearce said, ‘When we talked to you before, you kind of hinted you would be prepared to take whatever steps were necessary to put a brake on this man. Were you serious about that?’

‘Of course.’

Chadwick said, ‘See, we don’t have your freedom to move. We’re businessmen. We occupy a marked spot on the map, we come under all kinds of scrutiny, most of it friendly, but it’s scrutiny all the same and if we change our patterns or make wrong moves, well, people notice. You, on the other hand, you’ve kept yourself close, you move around the globe, nobody has tracers on you.’

‘Tait has.’

‘Tait, he’s different, and what I’m saying is, you’re in a better position to do something about him than we are. You can take action without being watched while you do it.’

‘I suppose so.’

‘What would it take to stop Jonah Tait?’ Pear ce said.

‘Well…’ Philpott pursed his lips. ‘Something extreme, I’m sure.’

‘Mother of God,’ Chadwick said. He was staring across the restaurant. ‘It’s him.’

Philpott nearly smiled at the timing. C.W. Whitlock was striding across the room, heading straight for their table. He wore a black leather jacket and a black crew-neck sweater. His expression was blank, but his eyes looked angry.

‘Hi there,’ he said, stopping at the table. He rested his fingertips on the stiff white cloth. ‘Pardon the interruption, I’ll only detain you gentlemen a moment.’

‘What do you want?’ Pearce snapped.

Whitlock smiled at him. ‘I’m leaving this fair city tomorrow and I thought I should stop by and thank you in person.’

‘For what?’

‘Copy. An embarrassment of copy. More, maybe, than I can use.’

‘I think I speak for the others as well as myself,’ Philpott drawled, ‘when I say I don’t know what the devil you’re talking about.’

‘Yes you do, Mr Beamish.’ Whitlock flashed his smile again. ‘You all do. I came here to put the finishing touches to a book about a profoundly bad man, and I have to tell you I got everything I came for. Rest assured, all three of you have a place in the text that should guarantee you some kind of immortality.’

‘Just you back off,’ Pearce snarled.

Whitlock shook his head. ‘I’ll tell you something. There was a point when I was two-thirds the way into the book and I thought, maybe I’m being way too hard on these guys. But now I see you here, and I catch the rancid atmosphere of bigotry and graft, I’m glad I checked every fact and put down every word.’

‘Just go away, will you?’ Philpott said.

Whitlock stepped back and nodded to all three. ‘Don’t move,’ he said. ‘Let me remember you like this.’ He laughed and walked away.

For a couple of minutes nobody spoke. Chadwick filled their glasses with wine, snatched up his own and drank it in three gulps. Philpott took a sip from his glass. Pearce had his hands over his face. When he brought them down he was staring at Philpott.

‘We need to talk,’ he said. ‘Urgently.’

* * *

Two hours later Whitlock had a telephone call at his hotel.

‘Me and the boys talked it over,’ Philpott told him. ‘We reached a decision.’

‘Yes?’

‘I’m going to kill you.’

‘Well, you’re the boss. I’ll put my affairs in order.’

‘I think they would sooner have had their own man do the job, but I couldn’t let them loose on you, could I? Besides, they’re pretty scared of anyone looking in their direction just at the moment, and in the end they even agreed to defray my considerable expenses for the job. I promised them something clean, with no reverberations.’

‘When should I clear out?’

‘I suggest you get back to New York overnight and do some co-ordinating on my behalf. As of some time early tomorrow, you cease to exist.’

‘Anything you need?’

‘Some penta-methylenediamine. Street-name cadaverine.’

Whitlock thought for a moment. ‘Grundy could get you some. Should I call him?’

‘No need, I’ll talk to him myself. I have another job for him.’

‘A word of warning about the cadaverine,’ Whitlock said. ‘Don’t even open it until you need it. And don’t open it in the hotel under any circumstances. Is there anything else?’

‘Nothing at all. I’ll just say goodbye and RIP, old chap. Bang goes another alias, eh?’

‘Plenty more where that came from,’ Whitlock said.

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