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Stars For The Toff
This e-book was created by papachanjo, with the purpose of providing a digitized format of the books written by John Creasey without the least intention of commercial gain of any sort. This e-book should hence be utilized for reading only and if you like it and can buy it, please do to support the publishers.
This book was scanned by a friend in America along with others.
I am trying to create at least an ample collection of all the John Creasey books which are in the excess of 500 novels. Having read and possess just a meager 10 of his books does not qualify me to be a fan but the 10 I read were enough for me to rake up some effort to scan and create these e-books.
If you happen to have any John Creasey book and would like to add to the free online collection which I’m hoping to bring together, you can do the following:
Scan the book in greyscale
Save as djvu — use the free DJVU SOLO software to compress the images
Send it to my e-mail: [email protected]
I’ll do the rest and will add a note of credit in the finished document.
This book is for Olga Stringfellow who introduced me—and so the Toff—to the stars.
from back cover
Madame Melinska was tall, dignified . . . and the object of someone’s very bitter hatred. The Honourable Richard Rollison—the Toff—would have been interested in the case of the dark-haired fortune-teller in any case, but when he discovered that his own aunt had invested a large sum of money in Madam Melinska, he felt called upon to take an active hand in the matter. His aunt could afford the loss, but the Toff considered it very unsporting when the underworld took advantage of his immediate family. Then he discovered that his aunt was not at all upset about the money loss . . . and the fortune-teller’s powers were more than just a con woman’s fancy! Before matters progressed much further, he found himself in murder and danger up to his very fashionable neck!
Table of Contents
A Man And His Man
“Jolly,” said the Honourable Richard Rollison.
“Yes, sir?” responded his manservant.
“Do you know a word which perfectly describes both you and me?”
Jolly, a man of many pauses and great deliberation, studied Rollison’s face earnestly. In that subconscious way which old friends acquire, he saw the other as a kind of reflection of himself. There were, of course, marked differences. Rollison’s eyes were clear and grey and fringed with upward sweeping lashes; Jolly’s were brown and sad, their brightness only lurking, their lashes sparse. Rollison’s face was that of a man younger by ten than his forty-odd years; a handsome one too; Jolly, who was sixty, could pass anywhere for seventy. Rollison’s face was hardly lined and his handsomeness was heightened by the bronze of Alpine winter sunshine; Jolly’s face was pale and wizened.
“You’re taking your time,” remarked Rollison.
“You are a difficult person to describe, sir. May I ask whether you mean a physical description?”
“No. A description—” Rollison hesitated, then beamed as if a bon mot had sprung to his mind— “a description which sets our age and our place in this unhappy world.”
After another pause, Jolly asked: “How many letters, sir?”
Rollison’s face dropped.
“You know very well that I can’t spell.”
“I know you enjoy pretending that you can’t, sir. A description which sets our age and our place in this world. Ah. Let me see.” Jolly screwed up his eyes as if praying to an oracle, while Rollison watched him affectionately; there had never been a time when he had not known Jolly.
Jolly opened his eyes very wide.
“Anachronistic, sir?” he hazarded.
“I should have expected it! You’re as ready to face the facts of life as I am. Anachronistic it is indeed. We belong to yesterday. Perhaps even the day before yesterday. No man has a man today.”
“Most unfortunate when true, sir,” remarked Jolly.
“And no man serves another with the same unfailing loyalty as you do,” observed Rollison. “Do you think there will ever be another like you?”
“There will certainly never be another gentleman like you, sir.”
“Hm,” said Rollison pensively. “We may both be right. The day of dudes and dukes and private eyes is past, this is an age of bugs and computers and brainwashing. Do you know what has prompted my near-nostalgic mood?”
“I think so, sir,” said Jolly.
They both smiled as they turned their gaze upon the wall behind the large pedestal desk where Rollison sat much of most days. On this wall were the trophies, as Jolly had come to call them, of the hunt; so it was known as the Trophy Wall. On it hung a strange assortment of objects, from a poison phial to a pencil-pistol, from a bloodstained dagger once used to stab to a lip-sticked silk stocking once used to strangle. There was a preserved scorpion and a feather from the neck of a dead chicken; a torn glove; and the faded score of an old song sheet. Each was the trophy of a hunt, by Rollison, of a criminal—of a man who had killed. Each hunt had been successful and each exhibit told the story—why. Even the top hat, closest to the ceiling, two bullet holes drilled through the shiny nap of the crown, told a story: that hat, worn during an escapade nearly twenty-five years ago, had first earned Richard Rollison his soubriquet—the Toff.
It had since become famous in many parts of the world.
On the Trophy Wall were forty-nine exhibits—representative of the forty-nine men and women who had been brought to justice by the Toff. Some had been hanged; some (the later ones) were serving their so-called life sentences. Several, reprieved during the doleful days of hanging, were now leading outwardly happy and respectable lives.
“The next,” said Rollison, “will be the fiftieth trophy.”
“I was wondering, sir,” said Jolly.
“Need there be?”
“A number fifty?”
“That is what I ask myself from time to time, sir.”
“Jolly,” said Rollison, “don’t you believe in fate?”
“Not altogether, sir.”
“Not if you mean you are fated to make yet another investigation, sir. I think is within your power to stop it.”
“I don’t, Jolly.”
“I cannot believe that all our actions are predestined,” Jolly protested, with notable dignity. “We are surely masters of our own fate to some degree.”
“You were born into service,” Rollison reminded him.
“And stayed because I liked it, sir.”
“Had you been born a bookmaker or a candlestick-maker, would you have spent your life with me?”
Jolly raised his hands a resigned inch or so.
“That is One of the imponderables.”
“Yes, I know. So is fate. Jolly,” went on Rollison, “do you believe in seers?”
“Those rare creatures supposedly gifted with second sight?”
“I don’t think so, sir. Intuition, perhaps.”
“No. Second sight.”
“If I have to give an opinion—no, sir, I don’t believe in them.” Jolly looked a little uneasy as he answered, frowning. “Is there some particular reason for these questions?”
“Yes.” Rollison moved across the large room, a combination of study and living-room, essentially a man’s with its massive leather chairs and its sporting prints, its lack of any sign of femininity. He picked up a newspaper, the Daily Globe, flipping over the pages until he came to a photograph of a dark, gypsylike woman with a shawl over her head and long, voluminous skirts. Her strange, almost hypnotic gaze stared up at him, absorbing all his attention, so that he scarcely noticed the young girl photographed beside her.
It was with a conscious effort that he at last wrenched his eyes from hers, and handed the newspaper to Jolly, who looked down at the photograph.
“And this is the reason, sir?”
Rollison nodded. “If you read the list of people this Madam Melinska is said to have swindled, you will see the august name of Lady Hurst. She—”
Jolly, appalled, cried out:
“Not Lady Hurst, sir?”
“But she can’t have been taken in by a charlatan!”
Rollison made no reply, and Jolly, after his first incredulous exclamation, studied the charges brought against the self-styled seer who called herself Madam Melinska. Convincing her clients of her ability to see into the future, she had, so the newspaper report read, persuaded them to give her certain sums of money for investment in a company known as Space Age Publishing, Limited. Of this money there was now no trace. The police had made the arrest; and Madam Melinska, it was said, would be in the West London Magistrates Court to face the charge this morning.
It was now ten minutes past nine.
“Are you going to the Court, sir?” inquired Jolly.
“Not unless I’m invited or instructed to,” said Rollison. “Have you read the small print?”
“Yes. That among the—ah—Melinska woman’s clients who have invested money has been Lady Hurst. Do you expect her to ask you to take an interest in the case?”
“Yes,” said Rollison. “I certainly—”
The telephone bell cut across his words. Rollison lifted his hand palm-outwards—an “after you” sign to Jolly, who took the receiver and answered in his quiet, modulated voice:
“This is Mr Rollison’s residence.” There was a momentary pause, then a look first of alarm, then of resignation, flitted across Jolly’s face. “Yes, my lady,” he said. “Mr Rollison is in.”
Rollison, surprised at the extent of his own satisfaction, took the telephone with one hand and with the other signalled to Jolly to stay where he was. Before speaking, he sat on the arm of a brown leather chair and stretched out his long legs.
“Good morning, Aunt,” he said, with mock deference.
“Richard.” This was Lady Hurst at her most autocratic. “I wish to see you.”
“Very well, Aunt,” said Rollison. “When?”
“In half an hour’s time.”
“I’m sorry—” began Rollison, but before he could go on, his protest was brushed aside in a torrent of command from his oldest surviving relative and the one member of his family for whom he had regard, affection and respect. This was a matter of great importance; he must drop everything else and give it priority. It was not often that his aunt requested a favour and on this occasion he must grant it.
“. . . so be here in half an hour’s time, Richard,” she ended, as if it would never occur to Rollison to insist on “no.”
“But Aunt Gloria—”
“Be here, Richard.”
“But Aunt Gloria!” cried Rollison, in convincing mock distress, “I can’t be both with you and at the West London Magistrates Court, can I?”
There was a curious sound at the other end of the telephone as if Lady Hurst had suddenly caught her breath. Jolly gave a wan smile and moved towards the domestic quarters, while Rollison winked at the Trophy Wall and pictured his aunt’s stern, deeply-lined face in his mind’s eye. He waited in the long silence, until Lady Hurst said in a very positive tone:
“So she was right.”
“Who was right and what was she right about?” demanded Rollison.
“Madam Melinska was right,” stated Lady Hurst flatly.
“Glory,” said Rollison in his most winsome voice, “you’re a darling, and the most generous and kindhearted darlings sometimes get taken for a ride. How much have you lost?”
“One thousand pounds,” answered Lady Hurst.
“You’ll survive,” Rollison said drily, “and why—”
“Be quiet, Richard!”
“And listen to me. I was not swindled. I am not a senile old woman who throws her money away on confidence tricksters. I have managed my financial affairs in my own way all my life and I have made a better job of it than you.”
“Yes, Aunt,” said Rollison again, now genuinely meek; certainly his speculations on the Stock Exchange, some years ago, had cost him dear.
“Madam Melinska,” began Lady Hurst, “is—” She paused, then went on with great vehemence— “is absolutely honest and trustworthy. She warned me that if I invested this thousand pounds I would probably be accused of criminal folly. I have been. She also told me that she would be accused of fraud. She has been. She told me that a tall, dark, handsome stranger—”
Rollison made a choking sound.
“—stranger, that is, to her,” his aunt careered on, “would become interested in the charges before I made any attempt to enlist his help. She said that he would be a relation of mine—”
“—and my only quarrel is with her use of the word “handsome,” continued Lady Hurst. “She meant, clearly, that you would take notice of these absurd charges very quickly. You have. She also said that, with your help, the money I had lost would be repaid to me, not once but three times over, but that this would not happen straight away and I must be prepared to wait.”
“Wait!” echoed Rollison hollowly. “My dear Aunt, you certainly must be prepared to wait. And wait a very long time. Surely you don’t believe you’ll ever see a penny of that money again?”
“I certainly do believe it,” said Lady Hurst sharply. “Everything else Madam Melinska said has come true. She told me you’d take an unsolicited interest in the case, and you have.”
“But, Aunt, she could easily have known I’ve a reputation for poking my nose into other people’s business. And once she knew you had a nephew with my kind of reputation—”
He paused, hearing his aunt breathe heavily into the receiver, and steeled himself against whatever blast she was preparing. With great deliberation and in her deepest voice, she responded:
“Richard, you are both a cynic and a sceptic. I shall now prove that you are quite wrong about her, and that she does have some strange gift of seeing facts of which she can have no personal knowledge. Go to your Trophy Wall, and count the number of trophies on it.”