“Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot”
17th century nursery rhyme
Relieved to be back in London, Billy had important business to take care of. As he’d told Michaela, he’d been running down the possible whereabouts of Frank’s knife for a few days. There’d been not a whisper of it when a disturbing rumour had come to his ears on the night of the India shout. Someone he knew – and knew well – had been putting the word out that he had a knife for sale, one which sounded exactly like Frank’s missing one. Being extra careful, he’d managed to verify the fact from a couple more sources, one of whom had actually seen the knife and could confirm its markings. Now Billy was no fool, but he wished he’d got Jack here to talk it over. He knew he had a tendency to take this sort of thing personally, and Jack always knew just the right thing to say. Course, as Jack’d done a flit at the docks, that was out. Nor had he talked to Lady Michaela about it, as … well, no disrespect meant to her ladyship, but Jack was family, and this was a family matter.
Feeling every one of his years, Billy walked up the stairs to Charlie’s office. Setting his shoulders, he threw the door open and called out “Sit yerself down Charlie, I needs to ‘ave a talk wiv you m’lad”.
Charlie sat with his head in his hands. He’d been shocked by Billy’s news, there was no doubting that. Even now, his hands were still shaking and the colour had drained from his face.
“This is Frank’s knife? The one he were killed wiv? I swear Uncle Billy, I ‘ad no idea.” Knowing Charlie only ever called him Uncle when he was really emotional, and never when trying to pull a fast one, Billy’d patted his shoulder “p’haps you’d better tell me wot’s bin goin’ on then?” Half an hour later, Charlie’d spilled the beans.
He’d been picking up some extra money working for this country toff he’d met on a night out down the West End. Apparently the bloke’d been asking around for an intro to someone a bit handy, with useful contacts for acquiring black market goods. He paid good money too, really good money and Charlie’d hoped it might lead to more contacts amongst the gentry. Feeling he had Billy’s sympathy, Charlie started to snivel: “‘s not like Jack nor ‘er ladyship ever offered to give me a leg up, and …” He stopped pretty smartish when Billy gave him a clip round the ear.
“Don’t push yer luck m’lad. Yer knows wot we do is sensitive, yer should’ve aske’ me to check this toff out.”
“But Uncle Billy …”
“Don’ yer Uncle Billy me. Yer’ve bin an idiot Charlie and now yer holdin’ the knife wot killed our Frank. Yer still ‘aven’t told me ‘ow you got the knife, has yer?”
“Nuffing sinister there. This ‘ere toff, ‘e was in Germany wiv them art recovery types. Said ‘e comes across this knife in one of them stashes they found ‘n ‘is bods says it’s not German, nor nuffing interesting, so ‘e took it off their ‘ands. Now ‘e’s havin’ a tidy up and ‘e asks me to get rid of it. I says it’s not my usual stuff, but I’d ask around … and that’s jus’ wot I’ve bin doin’.”
Billy had to admit that tied up with everything he knew of Charlie and that he’d been told.
“You jus’ make sure you stay away from this ‘ere bloke till I gets to know wot’s wot, y’hear me Charlie.”
“But can’t I be your inside wotsit? I mean, ‘e can’t ‘ave Frank’s knife ‘n not be … yer know… I liked Frank. We ‘ad a few nights out together, you know, chasing the birds. ‘e was a good lad that Frank, girls liked ‘im an’ all.
Realising that Billy was giving the idea some consideration, Charlie sought to finish the deal. “Yer knows I can turn it on Billy, yer’s the only one who knows me well enuff to see thru me malarkey. Look, this Bunty geezer, ‘e’s told me to bring ‘is stuff to th’ West End. I don’t fink he likes mixing with the working class.” Billy’d glowered, but agreed Charlie could deliver the goods. “No clever stuff alright, just deliver and go. But if you notice anyfink’ useful, I’ll be waitin’ ‘n y’ kin tell me all ‘about it.”
Later that evening, his business with Bunty successfully completed, Charlie’d popped across the road to The Blue Posts, he owed the landlord a drink as a thanks for the intro to Bunty. After a couple of pints, he decided he’d better be going; Billy’d be waiting for him back at the office after all. As he walked up to Piccadilly, he spotted Bunty coming out of The Ritz with some posh bird on his arm. Handing her over to the doorman who called her a cab, he walked back round the corner, only to stop outside of his office. Spotting that Bunty was looking for something down the road, Charlie saw an opportunity to further ingratiate himself, and called out a greeting. He made small talk with Bunty until a chauffeur-driven roller’d pulled up. Shaking Bunty’s hand, he’d promised to be back in a couple of days, before opening and shutting the door for him. Watching as the car pulled away, he was more than a bit put out to spot Bunty wiping his hand on a handkerchief. “Bleedin’ toff, really thought ‘e was better ‘n the rest of us. Well, he’d show ‘im.”
Much to Charlie’s surprise, Billy fell into step alongside him as he walked along Piccadilly away from Bunty’s office. Tapping Charlie on the arm, he ducked into the Piccadilly Arcade. Charlie followed him through the Arcade onto Regent Street, where Billy went into a tobacconist. Entering the shop, Charlie recognised old man Levi who held a finger to his lips. Then, opening a door into the back of the shop, he’d indicated “in here Charlie my boy”. Immediately the door shut, Billy was on him.
“Wot ‘appened then?”
“Keep yer ‘air on Billy, I’ve got some good gen. I makes the delivery likes you said. ‘is man took it ‘n I were worried I’d not get to see Bunty ‘imself, but then ‘e sends me into Bunty’s office to get paid. I were waitin’ there a while before Bunty looked up ‘n noticed. Before I cud get me words out, ‘e got up ‘n grabbed this book off of the front of ‘is desk and stormed out. I ‘eard ‘im tearing a strip of ‘is man for lettin’ me in there while it were on the desk. ‘Course, when ‘e comes back in, I plays all ign’rant and ‘umble, yer know ‘thankee Mr Hargreaves, so grateful Mr Hargreaves’ ‘n all that malarkey. ‘E just nods like it’s ‘is due ‘n gives me a list of more stuff ‘e wants. I’m to deliver to t’same place. I checks the list ‘n says ‘couple a days alright Mr Hargreaves’, to which ‘e agrees ‘n off I goes.”
“Well done m’lad.”
“Doncher want to knows the name of that book?”
Billy looked genuinely surprised as Charlie handed him a bit of paper with a name on it. Glancing at it, he had to admit it meant nothing. Still when Jack or Tinkerbell turn up, it might to them, so it gottucked away safely into an inside coat pocket.
“Crikey, don’t want much do yer? Yeah, well … I looked at ‘is diary while ‘e were out, dint I? ‘ere, I’ll write down what I saw” and with that Charlie scribbled frantically on another piece of paper, before handing it over to Billy as well. The first few were dates and times against the word ‘Cargo’, each with a different London dock named against them, but the last one caused Billy to draw breath.
Against Wednesday, 5th November 1947, Bunty’d written ‘dinner to introduce Lady Michaela to Mannfred Wüst’.
“Alright Uncle Billy? Yer looks like yer’ve seen a ghost?”
“Huh? Yeah, fine Charlie, fine. Jes’ a name I didn’t ‘spect to see. Yer’ve done well lad, very well. Get yerself back ter work. I’ll be in touch soon. ‘n make sure you don’t go see this Bunty bloke again wivout talkin’ t’me, righ?”
And with that Billy disappeared, blending right into the West End shoppers as if he was born there. Charlie shook his head, he’d always wondered how Billy managed to do that even down the East End, but here … it was something else. Stopping to check the traffic for a suitable gap so he could cross Regent Street, Charlie caught sight of a swinging fist. Ducking automatically, he stepped off the pavement. Turning to see who it was, he recognised that bloke he’d seen hanging round outside the pie and mash shop in Silvertown. “Jus’ leave my wife alone, yer ‘ear me!” the man shouted and swung again. Forgetting where he was, Charlie stepped back … right into the path on an oncoming bus.
The last thing Charlie heard was the sound of a woman screaming …
© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey