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THE CASE OF THE
ASSISTANT-COMMISSIONER OF POLICE (C)
IS A WORRIED MAN
IN a little restaurant just off Greek Street, Soho, run by a certain white-haired Signora Padoglio, Assistant-Commissioner of Police (C), Sir William Haynes, sat at dinner with Detective-Inspector McCarthy.
It was what might have been called an “unusual” place, the signora’s, in no way vieing with many other much more ornate and largely advertised places of gastronomic entertainment in that truly Cosmopolitan quarter. The premises, which consisted of one extremely large room with kitchens below, had been for a considerable time run as a club, of sorts; that is if the appellation, “club” fitted a place in which knights of the sling-shot, race-course thugs, souteneurs, and the femina they preyed on, coloured gentry of occupations not to be specified, or even discovered, reigned supreme.
A razor-slashing affray had the result of the proprietor being hauled before the magistrate at Marlborough Street, from which place he was removed in a police-van, and the premises disbarred for use as a club for some five years.
For a considerable time it remained empty, save for the colonies of spiders which were reared and had their beings in the multitude of webs which, bit by bit, festooned walls, ceilings, and windows. Then, of a sudden, the whole of these latter were subjected to a generous coating of whitewash not to be penetrated by the eyes of the outer world, behind which things, to judge by the banging of carpenters and other similar sounds, were going on assiduously.
Then one evening at about eight o’clock the two doors around the corner from Greek Street were opened again, to reveal a large, spotlessly clean room, about which was set small dining tables covered with cloths as snowy as the walls themselves, and presided over by an elderly, white-haired lady whose name, to quote from the inscription over the door, was the Signora Maria Padoglio. Two young waiters, whose aprons were as white as the signora’s napery, stood by, to attend instantly to the wants of such patrons as had the wisdom to take a chance and sample the signora’s wares. Which, at the time of inspector McCarthy’s discovery of the place, could be summed up in that expressive little word, nil.
His finding of it was eminently characteristic of him. Although born and bred in Soho and still living in the midst of what he humorously called his “clients,” he had, for something like two months, been away handling with County Constabulary a murder in a Midland city. During which period the Circolo di Romagna had gone out of existence and the Signora Maria Padoglio’s had, Phśnix like, arisen from its unholy ashes.
Back in Town, a stabbing affray which left a woman dead in a back alley off the Tottenham Court Road, had McCarthy on the run for the Circolo. His mind was miles away when, slipping through its double-doors, he stood amazed at the sight which greeted his eyes. The snowy cloths, the glittering cutlery and the sparkling glassware, the two pleasant-faced waiters who had nothing of Maffia or Camorista printed upon their olive countenances, and last, but by no means least, the white-haired lady in the little pay-box who bowed graciously to him, filled him with complete astonishment.
The Inspector, at a complete loss for about the first time in his life, conferred delicately with the signora. Did such and such persons frequent her most model-looking establishment?
He was informed that the persons whom he had named and also described with almost photographic detail did not frequent her establishment. Most definitely not. Furthermore, the Signora Padoglio had no wish, or intention, that they should do so. To begin with, the Restaurant Padoglio had opened its doors but the night before, therefore the signor would understand that of patrons of any kind there was, at present, a scarcity. Which, doubtless, by the grace of God, would be rectified in the very near future. The excellence of her food, as that of the wines which she was able to procure in the immediate vicinity, would no doubt bring about a complete metamorphosis in that direction.
McCarthy, in his very best Italian inherited from his Neapolitan mother, politely wished the signora a speedy consummation of her hopes.
But, that lady went on, not for a moment did she wish the patronage of such as the signor had inquired about—she had heard things as to what had happened upon these premises before; things, she assured him, which would only happen again over her dead body. Her desire was that the more respectable of her compatriots in the quarter (she was from Salerno, in the Campagna, she informed him) the tradespeople and so forth, would come to know her place, and her cooking, and would desire to eat the evening meal there. Possibly, also, the midday one—who could tell.
The very simplest and best of Italian food, the signor would understand, nothing not to be obtained elsewhere, but of a quality and preparation which should speak for itself. The signora wished that the signor might mention her to such of his friends who favoured Italian cooking, eaten in a simple, homely but without doubt respectable place.
The signor would. Moreover, being a hungry man at the moment, he, in the true McCarthy spirit, picked up a menu, studied a minute and decided that a murder off the Tottenham Court Road could look after itself for the next half hour or so.
Having partaken, for three and sixpence, of a meal such as he knew he could not get anywhere in the West End for double the price, plus a bottle of as good an Italian wine as could have been found in the Italian Embassy, itself, he assured the signora that if no other voice in the land was lifted in her favour, that of Detective-Inspector McCarthy would be.
He also promised her that, should any undesirables of the old Circolo give her the slightest trouble, she had simply to ring Vine Street and they would be given the very fullest attention without any undue loss of time. Sapeti?
The signora did understand—although he could see that upon perusal of a card he presented her with she was at considerable loss to understand a signor who spoke such perfect Italian having a name so evidently Hibernian as McCarthy. Which entailed explanation as to his Celtic origin on the male side, whereat the signora laughed and promised the Signor Inspectro di McCarthy the best of everything for himself or such patrons as he recommended, whenever he, or they, should honour her establishment.
Leaving the place, McCarthy put the word around, knowing perfectly well that it would go over the “grapevine” to every haunt in Soho within the next hour, that the Signora Padoglio’s restaurant was taboo for such as could not remember the pretty manners their mothers had taught them at her knee. And, furthermore, that any looking for trouble in that direction would get it, full and plenty. On the other hand, such who were prepared to go and eat modestly, sedately, and like Christian people at the signora’s, would do themselves no harm in his eyes. They might as well be in a respectable place for once in their lives.
But the mere fact that Inspector McCarthy, himself, together with friends known to be attached in some way or other to the dreaded C.I.D. had the habit of eating fairly frequently at the signora’s was quite enough for the unruly of the tribe to give it a wide berth. Detective-Inspector McCarthy, although a most pleasant fellow, with an understanding of Soho and its denizens not usual among the fraternity of the C.I.D., was just hell on wheels when anybody got his goat. This was explainable to Soho by reason of his Irish father—Patrick Alysious McCarthy, Senior, who had, in his day, implanted wholesome fear of Erin in the Saffron Hill district.
And so it came to pass that upon this night it was at the Signora Padoglio’s that McCarthy sat watching the worried face of his friend, Bill Haynes, what time that gentleman disposed of as good a dinner as ever a man ate with the air of one who didn’t care a damn whether he had any dinner or not—in fact would rather not. From the Assistant-Commissioner of Police (C) was exuding an aura of gloom. He was upon the point of jabbing the point of a fork into the Signora’s tablecloth—the joy and pride of her life, these—when McCarthy quickly intercepted the act.
“You’ll pardon me mentioning it, Bill,” he observed, “but if you want to die a sudden death just stab a few holes in the Signora Padoglio’s cloths. She’s a thrifty woman, and I believe she’d think worse of that than if you crashed the wine-bottle up against the wall.”
Haynes laid his fork down with an obviously forced laugh.
“Sorry, Mac,” he said, “but I’m that worried I hardly know what I’m doing.”
“That fact must have been discernible to all and sundry from the moment you came into the place. In the elegant phrase of our American cousins: ‘What’s eating at you now?’ ”
“The same thing that has been for a deuce of a long time,” Sir William returned with a sigh. “These eternal rackets.”
“There have been rackets in London from beyond the day when Dick Whittington was Lord Mayor,” McCarthy returned equably. “Which particular rackets are you eluding to?”
“The Vice and Dope rackets,” Sir William answered. “They’re growing daily, and we don’t seem able to cope with them. There’ll be a devil of a row before long.”
“In fairness, Bill,” McCarthy said quietly, “allow me, as a humble member of the C.I.D., to point out to its working boss that the first has nothing to do with him. Until some scoundrel or other is bumped off and a nice, juicy murder job made of it, the C.I.D. is not supposed to know anything of what’s going on in that particularly dirty form of crime. It’s in the hands of the uniformed men, controlled by a very capable Vice Squad from Vine Street.”
“I know that,” Sir William returned, almost irritably, “but the Great British Public doesn’t, Mac, and the Press, if they know it, seem to forget it. Any more than we’ve anything to do with the dirty foreign rats, male and female, who are creeping in here on forged passports. That’s the job of the Emigration Department, and our men at the ports daren’t say a word unless they’re specifically called in. That doesn’t stop the public wondering why the Criminal Investigation Department lets them get in, just the same.”
“It’s hard, Bill,” McCarthy said sympathetically. “Divil a doubt of it.”
“So much for the Vice side,” Sir William went on. “And the Dope branch is getting still worse. The stuff’s pouring in and we can’t get the slightest line of who’s at the bottom of it. We’re picking up dope-runners in plenty, but never a squeak out of one of them as to who are the big people behind it.”
“What kind of dope in particular, Bill?” McCarthy asked.
“Every kind,” he was told. “The West land’s thick with it. All the powdered drugs, and now opium as well.”
“Getting the ‘treacle’ in, are they?” McCarthy said musingly. “You’d think the smart lads of the Customs branch would be able to get a line on that before the stuff’s run ashore.”
“They can’t get the faintest trace of it, incoming,” Haynes told him, “but we know that it’s being hawked, not only in London but all over the country, in every variety of prepared form. But as for where the main stock is, we’re as far off picking it up as ever.”
“Who’s got it in hand?” McCarthy asked.
“Grey—Inspector Grey; the star in man of the Narcotic Squad.”
“Heard of him, but never met him,” McCarthy commented. “I’ve been told he’s one of the smart lads.”
“One of the very best,” Haynes assured him. “Rather like yourself, inasmuch as that he’s a ‘lone wolf.’ Likes to work single-handed. However, up to now it’s got him beaten as well as the next.”
“It’s the divil himself how you can get up against the brick wall,” McCarthy said with a sigh of fellow-feeling, “and the worst of it is that it invariably happens on a job that it’s more than unusually necessary to make good on. Never mind, Bill, Grey’ll probably bring home the bacon before so long.”
“We’ll hope so,” Haynes responded, albeit a trifle pessimistic in tone. “If he doesn’t, all Hell will pop before we’re so much older.”
He switched the subject suddenly.
“Let’s see, what are you handling at the moment, Mac?”
“At the present moment,” McCarthy informed him, “nothing worse than this good dinner. By gracious permission of the ‘Sooper’ I’m going to take a week-end leave. I’m invited to dance at a shivoo of Lady Featheringham’s to-morrow night.”
He grinned whimsically at Sir William’s look of surprise. “I took such good care of her ladyship’s and her guests’ jewels at her last big affair in Berkeley Square that she’s invited me as a guest this time. So, from now and until Monday morning, Crime will have to take care of itself so far as I’m concerned. I’ll look in at the Yard in the morning for a few minutes, of course, just to see that no spectacular job has been pulled off to do me out of my week-end, but if all’s calm and peaceful on the Embankment, Bill, I’m finished with work till Monday next.”
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