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What To Do?: (Writing as Anthony Morton)

What To Do?: (Writing as Anthony Morton)

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What To Do?: (Writing as Anthony Morton)

302 pages
4 hours
Nov 1, 2014


John Mannering (aka ‘The Baron’) is an ex-cracksman, who is not only now ‘straight’, but can also act when needed in solving crimes. His wife has painted and exhibited and the Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy what may critics believe to be the finest work that year. She learns from her contacts that Quinns, a curio shop in London’s Mayfair is for sale, and urges Mannering to buy it. His attempt to do so, however, is shrouded in mystery, and the police start to wonder if once again he has turned his hand to being a master jewel thief.

Nov 1, 2014

About the author

Born in Surrey, England, into a poor family as seventh of nine children, John Creasey attended a primary school in Fulham, London, followed by The Sloane School. He did not follow his father as a coach maker, but pursued various low-level careers as a clerk, in factories, and sales. His ambition was to write full time and by 1935 he achieved this, some three years after the appearance of his first crime novel ‘Seven Times Seven’. From the outset, he was an astonishingly prolific and fast writer, and it was not unusual for him to have a score, or more, novels published in any one year. Because of this, he ended up using twenty eight pseudonyms, both male and female, once explaining that booksellers otherwise complained about him totally dominating the ‘C’ section in bookstores. They included: Gordon Ashe, M E Cooke, Norman Deane, Robert Caine Frazer, Patrick Gill, Michael Halliday, Charles Hogarth, Brian Hope, Colin Hughes, Kyle Hunt, Abel Mann, Peter Manton, JJ Marric, Richard Martin, Rodney Mattheson, Anthony Morton and Jeremy York. As well as crime, he wrote westerns, fantasy, historical fiction and standalone novels in many other genres. It is for crime, though, that he is best known, particularly the various detective ‘series’, including Gideon of Scotland Yard, The Baron, The Toff, and Inspector Roger West, although his other characters and series should not be dismissed as secondary, as the likes of Department ‘Z’ and Dr. Palfrey have considerable followings amongst readers, as do many of the ‘one off’ titles, such as the historical novel ‘Masters of Bow Street’ about the founding of the modern police force. With over five hundred books to his credit and worldwide sales approaching one hundred million, and translations into over twenty-five languages, Creasey grew to be an international sensation. He travelled widely, promoting his books in places as far apart as Russia and Australia, and virtually commuted between the UK and USA, visiting in all some forty seven states. As if this were not enough, he also stood for Parliament several times as a Liberal in the 1940’s and 50’s, and an Independent throughout the 1960’s. In 1966, he founded the ‘All Party Alliance’, which promoted the idea of government by a coalition of the best minds from across the political spectrum, and was also involved with the National Savings movement; United Europe; various road safety campaigns, and famine relief. In 1953 Creasey founded the British Crime Writers’ Association, which to this day celebrates outstanding crime writing. He won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his novel ‘Gideon’s Fire’ and in 1969 was given the ultimate Grand Master Award. There have been many TV and big screen adaptations of his work, including major series centred upon Gideon, The Baron, Roger West and others. His stories are as compelling today as ever, with one of the major factors in his success being the ability to portray characters as living – his undoubted talent being to understand and observe accurately human behaviour. John Creasey died at Salisbury, Wiltshire in 1973. 'He leads a field in which Agatha Christie is also a runner.' - Sunday Times.

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What To Do? - John Creasey


Chapter One

Mannering Seeks A Career

"Oh, how wonderful! exclaimed a little woman in drab grey, peering at the landscape which the critics had pronounced the picture of the year at the Royal Academy. How glorious! Such depth! Such vision! Such mastery!"

Superb! breathed her companion. She was tall, thin, youngish, and her face was twisted into an expression intended to convey seraphic delight.

Such genius! Such marvellous colours! Those reds! Those blues!

Simply gorgeous, dear, the thin companion sighed. "They say it has been sold for three hundred pounds. But we must move on, so many people are anxious to see it. And then there is that other wonderful picture, the portrait—do you remember how all the critics raved about it? Lorna Mannering’s. She is Lord Fauntley’s daughter, you know. Such a clever woman, such a handsome husband. It’s in the next room, dear."

Standing just behind the people lined up to see the picture of the year was a tall, dark, good looking man and a woman almost as dark and quite as good looking. The man was watching the old lady and her youthful companion, and his lips were set in a wry smile. The woman was frowning at him. Her eyebrows were heavy, and just then she looked sombre, as if something in the man’s expression was troubling her.

He grew conscious of her scrutiny, and his face cleared. There was gaiety in his eyes as he touched his companion’s arm.

Your triumph, my sweet! Everyone’s second best, first choice of the discerning. If you’d chosen a different subject you would have come right on top. Moral—never paint your husband!

Nonsense, declared Lorna Mannering.

A fact, said John Mannering. Let’s hear what that precious pair have to say about it. He took her arm and hurried into the next room, pushing his way through the jostling crowds.

Two or three people looked at them and whispered, others turned to stare, but the Mannerings were inured to such attention and hardly noticed it.

"Yes, yes, it is very fine, the little old lady in drab grey was saying, very fine. A masterful man, don’t you think?"

Wonderful! cooed the youngish companion. So handsome!

"You must look for character, Irene, said the old lady, reprovingly. Character is what you want in a man’s face, not good looks. I think perhaps—yes, perhaps, his chin is a little weak."

A trifle, perhaps, said Irene.

And painted by a woman, said the old lady. "I never think it quite right for women to paint."

"But, dear, he is her husband."

Is he a little cross-eyed? asked the old lady, and someone near her sniggered, but the earnest Irene peered more closely, pursed her lips and, after a long pause, murmured:

"I think perhaps he is, a trifle, dear."

Yes. We must get along, said the old lady.

Irene took her arm, and they turned, in front of them, pretending that he had heard nothing, was the original of the portrait. A group of people who had heard the remarks also turned and saw him. There was a moment of embarrassment, and Irene coloured in confusion. She missed a step, gripped the old lady’s arm more tightly and hustled her away.

One or two people smiled awkwardly.

"Why, he isn’t at all cross-eyed! declared a girl of fifteen or sixteen, the only one there who eyed Mannering frankly. What a shame to say he is! She looked at Lorna, and gasped: Why, that’s Lorna Mannering. Oh, Mother! She clutched her mother’s arm. Mother, do you see? Oh, where’s the catalogue, please, where is it? She snatched it from her mother’s hand and rushed at Lorna. Mrs. Mannering, oh, please give me your autograph. She turned the pages of the catalogue furiously. Here, she exclaimed, opposite the entry. Will you?"

Lorna smiled. Of course, gladly.

"Oh, Mother!"

Others, daring now, pressed forward for Lorna’s autograph. The crowd grew larger. Mannering waited until there was a lull in the eager requests, then shepherded Lorna out of the room.

He was laughing, but Lorna still looked sombre and troubled. Two or three people in the hall tried to attract their attention, but Mannering pretended not to notice them. A taxi drew up to deposit more visitors. It took the Mannerings away.

Both were silent until they reached Chelsea. There, at the top of an old, five-storeyed house, they had a flat, and above it was an attic studio where Lorna had worked for many years.

There was no lift. There was constraint between them as they walked slowly up the stairs into the flat and, after a few minutes, went up to the studio. Lorna was still moody, Mannering hummed with a pretence of cheerfulness.

Mannering put on a kettle, and took cups and saucers, biscuits and cake, from a corner cupboard. Lorna stood by the small window which overlooked the river. Behind her was the great skylight; three parts of the north side of the room was of glass. Outside the sun shone fitfully, and heavy white clouds were banked majestically. There was no traffic on the river, but almost opposite them a barge was being loaded; a crane was swinging from side to side.

The kettle began to boil. Mannering made some tea, and took his wife a cup.

A cure for depression, he said, lightly.

Lorna did not speak.

Of course, some people might wonder why England’s leading woman artist should be depressed on the second day of the Summer Exhibition, continued Mannering, when by common consent she has painted a modern masterpiece, and there are five of her pictures on the walls. Just because one dear old soul disapproved of handsome men and talented women—

You know very well I’m not worried about that, said Lorna, and sipped her tea.

Then why the heavy frown? asked Mannering. When she did not immediately answer, he went on: All was well until we went to have a look at Astor’s picture and first heard the opinion of the little old lady. Then depression entered your soul, my sweet. Why was it?

Lorna looked at him steadily.

You know as well as I do, she declared.

I don’t, Mannering assured her.

I think you do; but if you must have chapter and verse, here it is, said Lorna. She finished her tea, drew up a pouffe and sat down. Mannering sat on a high stool by the side of her empty easel. For three months I have thought of nothing else but the Academy, continued Lorna. "I’ve been full of it, morning and night, sleeping and waking, and I’ve loved every moment of the time. You—you’ve been wonderful."

You listened too much to the little old lady’s superlatives, murmured Mannering.

Don’t interrupt, John. I’m serious. Lorna looked grave as she picked up a biscuit, nibbled at it, and went on: "You have fetched and carried. You sat for that portrait day after day without a protest. You’ve kept everyone away from me, you’ve gone to any length to make sure that I was never interrupted. I haven’t arranged a thing here, except in the studio. You’ve run the flat. Twice you’ve been left without any help at all, even now Paula’s away, but you’ve managed because I had to be near the studio. You’ve nursed me through it, darling, and not once have I paused to ask myself what you’re really feeling. Not once! I’ve taken it all for granted, I’ve assumed you were satisfied to behave like an adoring slave. You haven’t once let me see what you were feeling until this afternoon. That expression on your face hurt me. Darling, I’m so terribly sorry. So terribly sorry."

She stood up, suddenly, and in a moment she was in his arms and she was crying. He stood there, smiling faintly, looking out of the window and smoothing her hair. She grew calmer at last, drew away from him, sniffed, and held out a hand for a handkerchief.

Thanks, she said, huskily. Well, isn’t every word true?

We always knew that this was to be your year, Mannering said, and I wanted it as much as you.

You’ve been eating your heart out because you’ve had nothing useful to do.

Mannering laughed. That’s pitching it high.

It’s the truth, declared Lorna, and, selfish little beast that I am, I haven’t given it a thought.

Have another cup of tea, urged Mannering. "The truth, if you must have it, is that you are suffering a sharp reaction after the strain of working and waiting. Now and again I have been a little wistful, but I wouldn’t put it higher than that. And since we’re seeking the truth, let’s have all of it. Supposing you hadn’t been busy, what would I have done? Little or nothing. Unhappy is the man with too much money. Have a piece of cake."

You would have found something to do, retorted Lorna.

I doubt it. They were silent for a moment, before Mannering went on: Apart from that vaguely wistful feeling which came over me from time to time, I didn’t notice anything the matter until the day after the private view. He laughed, a little uncertainly. Then there were the critics, Press cuttings, the eager rush for the papers. He turned away and went to a small cupboard, unlocked the drawer and took out several Press-cuttings books. He selected the bottom one, brought it to Lorna and opened it on a small table. She sat still, staring at it tensely. I’ve had an unholy desire to read this record of a black past, he told her, and fluttered the pages. Odd thing, the human mind. If I didn’t know better, I would say that I felt jealous of you, my darling! Eager for the limelight, which is really the last thing I want. He looked down at the pages, filled with Press cuttings, many of them with headlines in heavy black type. The history of the Baron, in Press and pictures! I suppose I’m bound to get restless from time to time.

Of course you are, said Lorna, still huskily.

What I need is a career, murmured Mannering.

Lorna did not speak.

An outlet for superfluous energy, Mannering went on. "No, I am not contemplating a return to cracking cribs and stealing jools, my sweet, you needn’t look so scared! He turned back to the book. Interesting record of a misspent life, he said. The opening pages would bring a suspicious glare to any policeman’s eyes. The Baron Robs English Museum. Remember that one? Baron’s Escape Over Rooftops. And here’s another: Modern Robin Hood Baffles Police. What incredible luck I had in those days! I ought to be in jail now."

Don’t, John!

Well, it’s true, said Mannering, cheerfully. Yet sometimes I find it hard to realise that I did go round breaking open safes for the thrill of it, that I knew nearly every fence in London, that I was—let’s put it simply—a thief.

Must you go on like this? pleaded Lorna.

I think it might do me good, said Mannering, still cheerfully. When I complain about living a life of comfort and ease, the thought of Dartmoor is good for me.

There was never any danger of you being sent to prison!

Oh, my sweet! You spent half your life afraid that I would be in the dock the next day.

You did far more good than you did harm, declared Lorna.

Oh, I had good motives and all that most of the time, admitted Mannering, which is not a good plea in a court of law. Robbing the rich to help the poor sounded all right, but if anyone robbed me today for the same worthy purpose, I wouldn’t be pleased about it. He closed the book with a snap. Goodbye, past, he said. I think I’ll take this down to the boiler-house and burn it.

You’ll do nothing of the kind! said Lorna, spiritedly. Darling, I didn’t think I would start you off like this.

Neither of us has mentioned the bold, bad Baron for six months, said Mannering. Not since Larmouth and old Montagu Dell and that fantastic business. Now if I were a policeman, I would have plenty to do.

I would not have married a policeman, said Lorna.

Preferring a cracksman, as being more select, smiled Mannering. I didn’t think cheering you up would lead to this brooding over the past, either, which proves you never can tell!

It proves you want something to do, Lorna told him.

Such as? asked Mannering, invitingly.

"That’s the trouble, I don’t know. Besides, you do a lot, one way and the other, she went on, contrarily. You’re never idle, and you’re certainly not lazy—"

So I need an object in life! There was a lilt in Mannering’s voice, and Lorna laughed in spite of herself. I could open an office. John Mannering, Private Inquiry Agent. Imagine the horror on your father’s face if I did.

"Never mind him."

But I do mind him. I should hate to hurt his feelings. The police would never grant me a licence, anyhow. I suppose I’d better open a shop.

That would be nice, said Lorna, sarcastically. Tobacco and confectionery?

What about a book-shop? asked Mannering, jestingly. I would keep my hands clean that way. Or antiques. Or pictures. He hesitated. "Is there room for another picture gallery? It would give you a place to hold your own exhibitions, and—"

London is full of them, said Lorna.

I suppose it is, admitted Mannering. All right, then, antiques. Finding a dusty and dirty Old Master in a load of junk would provide excitement. Jacobean pieces full of secret drawers would be interesting, and I could buy one of the beds King Charles slept on! Or do I mean Queen Anne? He went to an easy chair, sat down, and stretched out his legs. Has the joke gone far enough? he demanded.

Is it such a joke? asked Lorna.

Great Scott, you’re not serious!

I am serious, Lorna assured him. It’s all very well for a wife to have a career, but the husband wants one too. Darling, you know Quinn’s, don’t you?

Now, look here—

Wait a moment, said Lorna, eagerly. "Quinn’s would be just right. Some antiques, some pictures, but mostly secondhand jewellery and objets d’art. You’ve often spent hours looking round the shop—you can’t say you haven’t. It fascinates you."

It’s interesting, conceded Mannering, but—

It’s for sale!

"What?" cried Mannering.

It is. Old Quinn died, you remember that, and his nephew doesn’t know a diamond from paste or a real from a culture pearl. Who was it told me it was for sale? She was standing upright, now, and really excited. Was it Poppy? I think it was. Darling, if it is, will you?

If it’s for sale, will I buy it? I don’t know. It—

It would be just right for you, cried Lorna, still excitedly. "Old Quinn used to travel the country and the Continent, buying odds and ends; he loved precious stones and old trinkets in the way that you love them. John, will you?"

"It might work," murmured Mannering.

At least you could try it, persisted Lorna. "You could always sell it again. Did Poppy tell me? I’ll telephone her, she added, and hurried to the stairs, a rickety, narrow flight. Come on," she called, and disappeared.

Mannering followed her thoughtfully.

By the time he was in the living-room of the flat, she was talking to ‘Poppy’, who was charming but vague, and said at last that she thought she had heard a rumour that Quinn’s was for sale, but it might only have been a rumour, and of course even if it were true it might be sold by now. Lorna rang off, in exasperation, and turned on Mannering.

Must you stand there grinning?

Such excitement isn’t good for me, said Mannering.

"Darling, don’t be a fool. It’s exactly what you want. Shall we ask Quinn’s by telephone?"

Aren’t you rather rushing it? asked Mannering.

If we’re going to do anything, it ought to be done quickly, said Lorna. Although I suppose you’re right, we ought at least to sleep on it.

And we might make one or two inquiries, too, suggested Mannering. Who is this young Quinn? What is his reputation? How is the business doing under new management?

"Of course, if you want to make difficulties, I can’t help it," said Lorna, a little huffily.

Not difficulties but sensible inquiries, Mannering assured her. I’ll start today, if it will please you! Provided the reports are reasonably good, we’ll go along and see the place in a day or two. Satisfied?

She made a grimace at him, but he knew that she was pleased.

The more Mannering thought about it, the more the idea of owning Quinn’s attracted him. He visited the shop several times during the next few days, and each time he was waited upon by young Quinn’s assistant, an elderly man who did not give him much attention. He was allowed to browse among the stock much as he pleased. Once or twice he thought that a man in the office was watching him, but he did not get a clear sight of the fellow. He wondered why young Quinn – for presumably the new owner was in the office – kept in the background. After the third visit there was a surprising development. The assistant became talkative, as men do with a grievance. He was leaving on the next day, because he did not like the new owner, who was, he said, more fitted to a bargain-store department than to Quinn’s. Modern methods! snorted the assistant, and went on in the same strain at some length.

Mannering went away very thoughtfully indeed.

Meanwhile, he made inquiries through friends in Fleet Street, for the death of Old Quinn had been noteworthy, and several papers had given ample space to the event. Not one of the men to whom he spoke had much time for young Quinn, although none of them could say why they disliked him. Mannering went further, and inquired among several junior detectives at Scotland Yard. None of them would admit knowing anything about young Quinn, but Mannering’s impression was that they knew a great deal.

He smiled to himself at the thought of Lorna’s reaction if he told her this; but it was better for the present that he should keep it to himself.

On the fourth morning he received a letter in a good quality envelope. It was typewritten on expensive paper, and the heading was a large ‘Q’, with much artistic scroll-work; in one corner were the words: "Quinn’s, Hart Row, W.1."

Is there much in the post, darling? asked Lorna, glancing across the table.

Not much, said Mannering, reading intently. He finished and looked up with a one-sided smile. Someone wants to sell me a shop.


Quinn’s, said Mannering.


You’re very monosyllabic this morning, murmured Mannering, and passed the letter over to her. Have you heard anything more about it from Poppy?


Poppy, repeated Mannering, patiently. Don’t you remember, she made a special point of telling you that Quinn’s was for sale.

Just a minute, said Lorna, reading quickly. "It seems all right, darling, she went on. But why have they picked on you?" She was puzzled, and Mannering was glad that she had come to the conclusion that there was something surprising in being approached by young Quinn, whose signature was at the bottom of the letter.

They might have written to a number of possible clients, picking on those who they know are interested in curios, Mannering dissembled. It’s a clever business letter—what the assistant now departed would call ‘modern methods’. But it has the smack of the circular about it. Are you still interested?

You know I am.

You really want a husband who is a shopkeeper?

Must we go into that again? asked Lorna, laughing. She tapped the letter thoughtfully, and asked: What are you thinking of doing?

This is really your show, Mannering said, evasively.

No, don’t hedge, pleaded Lorna. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea—but, what have you found in your inquiries, apart from hearing that Quinn’s a go-ahead young business man?

Nothing, said Mannering. Nothing against him at all; and, as far as I can find out, certainly nothing against Quinn’s as a shop. How would you like to look over the place?


This morning.

I can’t, said Lorna, regretfully. I’ve got three appointments, darling. Can it wait until this evening?

Just as you like, murmured Mannering, meekly.

I suppose I could put off the appointments, said Lorna, speculatively.

I shan’t let you, said Mannering. I think we might have a word with young Quinn and make an appointment. Or shall we just blow along?

There’s something on your mind about Quinn’s, isn’t there? asked Lorna, and she was not wholly satisfied when he assured her that there was not.

She went out soon after ten o’clock, promising to be back for a four o’clock tea, after they had decided to go without making an appointment.

The only thing Mannering had learned in the course of his inquiries was that young Quinn was by trade a furrier. He had a small wholesale warehouse and a retail shop in the Mile End Road. There was nothing to associate furs with a shop like Quinn’s, and Mannering was satisfied that the new owner had a good reason for wanting to sell.

Lorna came in early, full of excitement. She seemed to have forgotten her vague misgivings of the morning, and Mannering did not remind her about them as they went on their way.

Chapter Two


Hart Row was a narrow turning off New Bond Street, not far from Brook Street. The turning itself was easy to miss, and Quinn’s stood back a little, and had only one small window. The practice of the late Quinn had been one lovely piece, an objet d’art of great value, in that single window; and the practice had been kept up by his nephew. There was a golden casket with jewelled corners in the window now, but it was so much in the shadows that it looked dull and uninteresting to all but the connoisseur.

The shop itself was narrow and old. The facia board was of oiled oak, and the name

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