Characters in Crime
Unhanged Arthur: A Cold Black Tide by William Hall
This week, we are publishing excerpts from the manuscripts up for this year’s Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Novel.
In this excerpt of A Cold Black Tide, William Hall takes us into the middle of a daring jewelry heist in 1940's London.
(photo credit: iStock photo)
“Sixty seconds.” Ferris turned around and glared at the edgy men packed like sausages into the tiny Austin 7. “The coppers will get the alarm and be heading this way in four minutes, tops. Now, Georgie here will ditch his car cross-wise in the road. That should slow them down a bit, but we can’t get cocky. If the Flying Squad’s got a car nearby, we’re goners.”
A few of them scratched at the itchy make-shift masks. The thought of the Flying Squad, with their big, fast Railton sedans wasn’t helping the squirming feeling in the pit of their stomachs. Yes, they knew the whole thing had been planned down to the inch. But things happened.
“So once we’ve started, sixty seconds. If you can’t grab it in that time, you drop it. Hear me? Anyone gets itchy fingers, I’ll take them off myself.”
The one’s who knew Ferris understood he never joked. If he said he’d take off your fingers, that’s what he’d do. Probably at the arm-pit.
Ferris studied his watch. “Right then. It’s just gone Ten. The window displays will be full, and most of the staff are boiling their first cuppa.”
They all slid out into the drizzly street, taking one last deep breath, relieved to be out of Ferris’s ferocious glare.
“Okay, Padre.” He gestured towards an old man with scarred cheeks and a broken nose, “You know what to do. Not too fast. Not too slow. You want to jamb this thing in,” Ferris pointed at the Austin, “but not so’s you can’t climb back out.”
The Padre nodded, and silently they split up amongst the three parked cars. An Austin, an old Humber and a lovely Jaguar saloon. All stolen within the hour. The new boy, Lambert, climbed into the big Jag, stroking the wooden steering wheel like an old lover.
Square Georgie pulled Ferris off to the side. He could get away with taking liberties, he’d been with the gang far longer than Ferris. “You’re sure about this new driver?”
Ferris frowned, then nodded stiffly. “I’m told, if it weren’t for the war, he could’ve raced at Le Mans. Does things with a car that would make your hair stand on end.”
All the same, some of Georgie’s last minute nerves rubbed off on Ferris. He turned to the driver. “Lambert- ”
“Lamb-air,” the driver corrected with a dreamy expression on his round, boyish face. “It’s French.”
“I don’t care if it’s bleedin’ Chinee! You know what you’re going to do? Wait, you understand. Wait ‘til everyone’s aboard.”
Lambert nodded with an opaque smile. “All aboard. Then go like the express train. I can do that.”
Ferris shared a look with Georgie, choking back a snarl. It was too late now. Ferris thumped the top of the Austin and they were off.
It all happened fast. Sixty seconds in jerky slow-motion, like a newsreel running off its sprockets.
The Padre did a perfect job. At twenty miles per hour, the little Austin bumped up onto the pavement, forcing an old geezer in a bowler hat to jump for his life. The car bonnet hit the front door with a crack and rattle of glass, turning the wood to splinters. Engine still running, radiator hissing, it sat jammed into the entry like a cork in a bottle. The few shoppers on the street froze at the echoing crash, stunned. Air-raid? read the panicked faces, instinctively looking up. Where were the sirens?
The Jag rolled up gently, and even before it stopped, Ferris and Georgie were out and running hard. Ferris had a crow-bar, Georgie a rusty fire-axe. Two swipes, and the jeweller’s window was just a glittering jigsaw of glass crunching underfoot. Georgie held one valise open, while Ferris swept pearls, necklaces, diamond brooches in as if he was harvesting grapes. Like clockwork, the bag went into the Jag’s opened boot, and they started filling another.
“Thirty seconds, boys.” Ferris stood up and surveyed the street, making sure no civilians intended to get a medal today.
That’s when he noticed the men, silently watching. Waiting.
An architect with his own firm, William Hall is a Toronto native, and lives there with his family and an assortment of four-legged companions. Cold Black Tide is his first novel, based on extensive research in Brighton, and the help and advice of numerous retired officers from the Brighton force.