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Authors: Anne Baker

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Marcus gasped with shock but Greg ignored that and went on, ‘I want you to take off that suit and put on this pullover and dungarees so you look like another workman. Make sure you know the quickest way out of the estate.’

Cold and frightened, Marcus tried to blend into the background as he waited for an hour. By that time he was shaking like a leaf but luck was on his side when the lorry drove on to the site. The driver jumped out with a clipboard of papers and went off, presumably to look for the foreman, leaving everything open for him. It was easier than he’d expected but it was the first job he’d done that was blatant theft and it terrified him.

When he’d delivered the loaded lorry to a garage six miles away, he was given the keys of a large Ford car that had just been re-sprayed, re-registered and given a new set of number plates, and asked to drive that back to a garage in Liverpool. It had been nearly two in the morning when he found the garage and, as he’d expected, it was closed. He’d been told to park in the street outside, push the documents and keys through the letter box and take himself off quietly.

The problem then was that his only means of getting home was shank’s pony. Public transport stopped running early these days, and the fuel allowance that taxi drivers could claim was easily used up. He knew he was near the docks and closer to the factory than to his home. It made sense to go straight there.

He had keys to the office but needed to avoid the night-watchman. Using his torch he crept straight up to his room in the turret without showing much light. He hadn’t eaten since lunchtime and was hungry, and he’d have loved a cup of tea but didn’t know how to go about making it here. He found his gabardine mac hanging on his coat stand and, using it as a blanket, slumped on his chair and put his feet up on another. He managed to sleep fitfully until he heard the factory below him come to life.

Wearing the gabardine to cover his dungarees, he crept out of the office and caught a bus into town where he could get a taxi to take him home. He kept it waiting while he washed his face and changed into another suit and was back in the office showing himself to Nigel and several of the senior staff to get kudos for coming to work early. He’d never enjoyed tea more than the first cup that morning. He asked for biscuits but must have sounded disappointed when he heard they had none, because the woman in the kitchen made him a slice of toast with a scraping of jam on it.

It gave him satisfaction then to ring Greg and let him know he’d had no problems carrying out the tasks he’d been set. Greg promised him more work and said he’d be in touch.

Marcus was missing Elvira and wanted to persuade her to return as soon as possible. He rang her family home several times but it was the housekeeper who picked up the phone, and she said each time, ‘Mrs Maynard is not at home this morning.’

When Marcus asked when she’d be back, she said she didn’t know. He also wanted to retrieve his car. He needed it, so he could leave it in a convenient place to drive home when he did another job for Greg. He went home at lunchtime and fell asleep on his bed but that evening when he tried again to ring Elvira it was her brother, Cecil, who answered. He was always friendly, but the result was the same. Marcus was toying with the idea of ringing again and telling Cecil that he’d come over to collect his car, but he was too tired to think of doing that tonight.

Marcus now regretted leaving the ring nine months ago. If he’d kept his nerve and stayed, he’d have accumulated enough money to buy a house by now and Elvira would still be with him. Without her, he was feeling lost and near to the end of his tether.

One afternoon a week later, Millie was working quietly in the lab when she became aware of unusual noises not very far away. ‘What’s that?’ she asked Denis. ‘What’s happening?’

‘Sounds like a . . .’

Millie had already reached the lab door; as soon as she had it open she realised there was a skirmish going on in a nearby office. She shot down the corridor towards it with Denis at her heels, and stopped appalled at the open door of Billy Sankey’s cubbyhole of an office.

Marcus was spreadeagled on the floor bleeding profusely, and Andrew Worthington who had got there before her was pulling Billy away from him.

‘Have they been fighting?’ she asked. Of course they had, a chair had been overturned and there were documents spread across the floor.

Half the people in the office had gathered in the corridor and were watching open-mouthed as Andrew helped Marcus to his feet. Billy was dancing with rage and shouted, ‘He started this. He came to my office and waved his fists at me.’

Millie turned to Tom Bedford who appeared beside her. ‘Please take Billy somewhere quiet and calm him down,’ she said.

But Billy wasn’t ready to leave yet. ‘That man’s a bloody maniac.’

Struggling for breath, Marcus glowered round at them all and dabbed gingerly at his nose which was bleeding. His shirt and tie had gleaming bright red stains.

‘What was all that about?’ Millie wanted to know.

‘You said Billy was efficient,’ Marcus sneered. ‘Ten days ago I asked him to get me some stationery and he still hasn’t produced it. If I’m to work I have to have it.’

Billy was furious. ‘You ordered three leatherbound notebooks,’ he stormed at him. ‘Everybody knows all that fancy stuff is going for export. I’d told him if he really wanted them I’d try. I’ve got somebody working on it, but tapping into the export trade can’t be done overnight.’

‘He was very rude.’ Marcus was flushed with rage.

‘He called me a lazy bastard,’ Billy screamed. ‘I’m not having that. I showed him our stock of ordinary notebooks but they aren’t good enough for the likes of him. Leather covers are essential.’

‘He’s like a wild animal with his fists.’

Tom finally got Billy moving away. He called over his shoulder, ‘He’s all fighting words but he won’t square up. You’re a bloody coward, Mr Maynard.’

Millie raised her voice above the hubbub. ‘It’s all over now. Please all of you go back to your desks and get on with your work.’

She and Nigel half dragged Marcus into the boardroom and sat him down. He slumped back, struggling for breath.

‘Don’t ever do that again,’ Millie ground out between clenched teeth. ‘You’re not in the army now. You’ve got to learn to handle people properly if you want to go on working here.’

‘Billy Sankey went for me,’ he puffed. ‘He’s a rough customer, an uncontrollable thug.’

‘If you leave Billy alone, he’ll do a good job,’ Millie told him. ‘They all do. You’re upsetting people and disrupting the work here. There has never been a brawl in the office before, certainly not in the last eighteen years, and we’re not going to have another.’ She paused for breath. ‘Is that understood?’

Marcus grunted which could have meant anything.

‘I’ll leave you to handle this,’ she said to Nigel and went back to the peace of the lab.

It took her a long time to calm down enough to be able to get on with her work. She’d barely accomplished anything when she heard the lab door open and footsteps coming towards her. It was Nigel.

‘I’m sorry, Millie,’ he said. ‘You’ll have to forgive Marcus.’

She didn’t feel ready to do that yet. ‘He behaved outrageously.’

‘Make allowances for him, I mean. He’s in a bit of a state.’

‘I can see that.’

‘I mean he has problems at home. Living with Father isn’t easy, he says it’s made Elvira ill. She’s gone to visit her father just to get away. They’re both desperate to have a place of their own. Marcus isn’t himself at the moment.’

‘Oh dear. But why does he have to fuss about having expensive notebooks? There’s a paper shortage and we’re allocated only so much and it isn’t good quality, but if it was good enough for Pete to make notes on, it should be OK for Marcus. Leather covers indeed! We can’t afford to buy fancy goods like that for the office. I take it the office has quietened down?’

‘Yes, they’re all back at their desks.’

‘I do wonder whether Marcus wants to go on working here. He’s tried it once before, I believe, and given up.’

‘Yes, but it wouldn’t help if he had to start job-hunting now. Give him another chance, Millie, please. I think he’ll settle down eventually.’

She shrugged. ‘Let’s hope he does.’

At lunchtime, Millie met Marcus at the front door. His glance was malevolent and he looked uncomfortable as he said, ‘I apologise, Millie, for my part in causing that fracas. I have already apologised to Billy Sankey.’

‘In that case,’ she said, ‘I accept it and hope we don’t have to mention this affair again.’

‘Thank you,’ he said stiffly.

Sylvie began to feel she was getting together enough new clothes to feel smart when she went out with Denis. The popularity of the New Look was spreading like wildfire across the country, and Sylvie and the girls in the office embraced it wholesale. It was so different from the old styles that it made last year’s wardrobe almost unwearable. Women’s magazines were full of ideas to lengthen skirts by six inches. Sylvie unpicked and remade several of her dresses.

But Princess Elizabeth was keeping to the old knee-length skirts and had even worn them on her honeymoon. The girls in the office thought she looked unfashionable and totally out of date, but Helen said she did it because the government had let it be known it considered the New Look to be a wicked waste of cloth in these difficult times and had berated women for following ephemeral fashions.

Sylvie had given up eating her lunchtime sandwiches with Connie and Louise, now she spent the time with Denis. Sometimes they went to the Pier Head and sometimes walked to a little park, with sooty shrubs and more bare earth than grass. If it was wet she joined him at his desk in the lab though she knew her mother was sometimes at her desk at the other end of the room hidden by high racks holding flasks, bottles and drums.

She felt she was really getting to know Denis and the more she saw of him, the better she liked him. He took her out every Saturday and every Sunday, and usually on one night in the week. Mum got iffy about her having late nights in the week so she couldn’t see more of him. She’d told Sylvie she must not get too tired to do her work properly.

One Sunday, she’d been out with Denis all afternoon and as he’d walked her home that night he’d said, ‘I think I’m falling in love with you.’

Sylvie felt heat rush up her cheeks and was glad it was too dark for him to see. She reached up to kiss him. ‘I’m so glad you love me, so happy.’

He was hesitant. ‘Do you think you could love me?’

‘Oh I do. I really do.’

His arm tightened round her waist. ‘That’s wonderful. Will you wait for me? I’ll have to do my National Service soon, but after that . . .’

‘Of course, for you I could wait for ever.’

She felt she was walking on air for a week or two after that. Denis loved her and she was head over heels in love with him. Her mother remarked on how much happier she seemed but she couldn’t tell her the reason, it was a secret between her and Denis. She hugged it to her and he admitted he didn’t want to talk about it to anybody else. Not yet.

Chapter Twenty-Two

Marcus had been doing several jobs each week for Greg Livingstone, and Nigel had asked him why he was never at his desk in the office, and that had scared him. He’d not arrived home last night from Barrow until after midnight and he felt tired out. He’d spent only an hour at his desk this morning when Greg Livingstone rang him.

He hadn’t expected to hear from him again so soon and didn’t feel ready to do another job for him, but he didn’t want to put Greg off and instead of refusing he said, ‘I’m shattered. I haven’t recovered from the last job yet. I hope it’s not another long drive.’

‘It’s a bit further than Barrow,’ he replied. ‘But do this job and if you prefer shorter trips I’ll keep you in mind for them in future.’

Marcus had already decided his best plan was to work just long enough to get enough money to buy a house, and then distance himself from Greg and everybody in that ring.

‘I want you to drive a van from Liverpool to Manchester tomorrow to be re-sprayed.’

‘All right.’

‘At the garage you deliver it to, they have a lorry on which they’ve done their work.’

‘It’ll be empty?’

‘Yes, it’ll look clean and there’ll be a full set of documents for it. It’s going for export, so it needs to be driven to the docks at Harwich. Then take the train back to Manchester and the same garage will give you a car to bring back to Liverpool.’

Marcus hesitated. ‘It’ll take hours to get to Harwich and back,’ he said. He was nervous about absenting himself from the office for long periods when he was supposed to be working, but he agreed to do the job. At least he wouldn’t have to steal these vehicles though he knew they’d all be stolen property.

He tried to ring Elvira, he wanted to tell her how much money he’d saved towards their house, but he got the housemaid again and had to put it off until evening when her family would be home. As soon as Pa went out that evening, he tried to phone Elvira again. It was Cecil who picked up the receiver. There had to be a few pleasantries but when Marcus asked to speak to Elvira, he said, ‘She’s moved out, didn’t you know? She told us she was hoping to move into a place of her own.’

Marcus felt the strength drain from his legs. ‘Where has she gone? Did she leave an address?’

‘Only to Liverpool,’ he said. ‘She left her phone number and it’s right here.’

Marcus took the little notebook from his breast pocket in which he recorded contact numbers, and Greg’s instructions for the jobs he wanted done. He wrote down the number as Cecil dictated it and it seemed familiar. Why hadn’t she told him she was looking for a place of her own in Liverpool? Why would she need it when she’d said she’d come back to live with him?

Once he’d put the phone down he flicked back the pages and compared the new phone number with the one on which he’d rung Greg Livingstone. They were one and the same.

It bowled him over and made him gulp with distress, but he’d long been suspicious of Elvira’s relationship with Greg. She’d threatened to work for him if he refused to do it, but he’d felt for a long time that there was more to it than that. Did this mean she was living with him? It sounded very much like it, but he had no idea where Greg lived, only that he had a Liverpool phone number. Marcus felt sick.

He reached for the phone book and flicked through it to find Greg’s number because it also gave subscribers’ addresses, but the number wasn’t listed, it was ex-directory. He flung the book on the floor. Anyway, for all he knew, Greg could be using that as an office and be living somewhere else.

He felt in a flat spin. He had only the vaguest idea of what was expected of him in the family business. There was no point in pushing papers about his desk. He would go to the Sailor’s Return and have a drink. Perhaps a whisky would clear his head.

An hour later he felt just as fuzzy. He went home and went to bed. If Elvira did not mean to return to him, he didn’t know what he’d do. He needed her. He had to have somebody in his life. Pa was an irritation and Nigel had always been a pain.

He would do the job tomorrow in order to keep open the arrangements he’d made with Elvira, but he had to speak to her. He had to know what she meant to do, and whether she was prepared to return to live with him as his wife. If she wasn’t, there was no point in him doing anything. He might as well give up.

Marcus lost his way twice when he was taking the lorry to the docks at Harwich, so the journey took even longer than he’d expected. But a dock worker showed him where he could get a meal and he managed to sleep on the train going back to Manchester. His head still felt woolly and he’d had a little weep, because he was afraid he might lose Elvira, but he was still coping, just.

When he’d picked up the car he was to take to Liverpool, he decided to drive straight home and sleep in his own bed. He’d get up early in the morning and deliver the car to the garage before going to work. He had no wish to spend another night on his office chair.

It was dark and getting late, and he got lost again when he was coming into Liverpool. It was a stupid thing to do because he’d spent most of his life here and prided himself on knowing his way around. He was tired again now, and the suburban streets were confusing, he needed to look at his street map.

He was passing a row of shops and over the post office he caught the name of the district; he was in Gateacre and knew he was not far from home. He slowed down, slid past a parked black Jaguar that reminded him of his own and pulled into the kerb in front of it. He shone his torch on the street map and found his route home; he’d have no problem now. He reached for the bag of caramels he’d bought earlier and looked again at the car behind him. He had a strange feeling about it.

One of the good things about the post-war world was that there were very few cars on the road and new ones were quite rare. He got out to stretch his legs and take a closer look at the car. One glance at the number plate told him it was indeed his own. His head began to reel and he had to lean against the car to stay upright. Elvira must be very near.

This was a good-class area, mostly houses built just before the war, but within yards was a rather grand block of flats. Had she found herself a place here? But Elvira didn’t like flats, she wouldn’t have chosen to live in one, would she? Greg Livingstone had separated from his wife some years ago, so he might live in a flat. Elvira must have moved in with him! That was what Marcus feared and wasn’t this proof of exactly that?

His stomach was heaving and he knew he was going to be sick. He bent over the gutter to retch and retch, but little came up, his stomach was empty. He wiped his face on his handkerchief and looked at his watch. It was eleven o’clock and the streets were empty. He was angry now, really angry. Why wouldn’t Elvira talk to him, tell him truthfully what she intended to do?

He tried all the car doors but they were locked. Frustration rose in him, the car was his and he wanted it. He’d believed Elvira only intended to keep it for a few days, and she’d more than had her share of driving it now. He had a spare set of keys but they were at home. He’d fetch them. He was trying to do two jobs at once and he’d never needed the car more.

Marcus walked up to the main entrance of the block of flats and wrote down the name Blackwood Court that he saw written in gold script on a plaque near the front door. Then he slowly drove the car he was delivering to the end of the road and wrote down the name, Bridlington Rise, that he saw there. Just to be sure, he marked the place on his street map. He meant to come back and get his car.

He went home as he’d planned, and before getting into bed he found his set of spare car keys and put them into his jacket pocket so as to be ready. He was desperately afraid Elvira had left him for good and hardly slept a wink that night, but he was up early and delivered the car to the garage just as it was opening, and asked the proprietor if he could give him a lift to Gateacre.

One of the garage hands got into the car he’d just delivered and drove him there. Marcus fingered the keys in his pocket feeling full of anticipation, he’d soon be sitting in his own car again and this job would be easier.

The place looked a little different in the cold light of morning and he couldn’t at first see his car, but here he was in Bridlington Rise and there was Blackwood Court. He got out and gave the lad a tip for his trouble. Now where exactly was his car?

It took him a few moments to realise it had gone. He felt a huge void in his stomach as he walked past the block of flats, then to the end of the road and back. People were getting up to go to work. His car was definitely not here.

It was very bad news in one sense but did it mean Elvira had just been visiting? Maybe she’d spent the evening here; it had felt like the middle of the night to him but it had been before midnight. Marcus walked on until he came to a bus stop and shortly afterwards he caught a bus to the Pier Head and from there walked to the office. He rang Greg Livingstone to tell him he’d completed his tasks without incident and asked if he’d seen Elvira. ‘No,’ he said, ‘not for some time.’

Marcus didn’t believe him. ‘She took my car and I can’t manage without one. If you see her, tell her I really need to speak to her.’

There was a slight pause before Greg said, ‘I can get you a car. There’s a Morris Twelve coming up.’

Marcus sighed, knowing that would be a re-sprayed military vehicle bought cheaply at auction or one that had been stolen. Pa would have a fit if he thought he was parking a stolen car outside his front door. ‘I suppose that’ll have to do if I can’t get another Jag.’

‘OK,’ Greg said easily. ‘Let me know,’ and went on to offer him several short trips around Lancashire and Cheshire.

The Jaguar that Elvira had taken had been bought new, and he’d had to pay well over the advertised price to get it, as most cars being made had to be exported. At the end of the war, all British car manufacturers had rushed back into production with their old pre-war models but Marcus knew Jaguar had been working on a brand new design that was said to be an absolute corker. He’d put his name down on the list to buy one as soon as it became available.

Now, he picked up his phone again and asked when it might be available and was surprised and delighted to hear it could be as soon as the end of the month. He confirmed he was ready to take delivery, having read in the press that due to scarcity, new models of the Jaguar XK120 were being resold on the open market at a big mark-up in price, though he meant to keep his.

‘What colour do you want? There’s a choice between oyster white or ice blue with a metallic finish.’

Marcus had never seen a metallic finish but it sounded exotic and very desirable. ‘Ice blue,’ he decided.

That lifted his mood. He needed a car and had the money to pay for it. Why worry that he’d have to work for Greg a little longer before he could buy a house? He deserved a treat after the trials of the last weeks.

Millie felt little had changed between her and her in-laws. Nigel was avoiding her, he’d settled into the grand boardroom office and she hoped he was taking over some of the duties of management. Marcus scowled at her if he met her about the corridors, though she saw very little of him. He’d caused no more fights but he’d become the centre of attention again because he’d come to work in a fantastic new car.

It was the sort of car that most people could only dream about, and nothing like it had been seen on the roads before. Its shape was pleasing and very different, and its engine was said to outclass everything else. It was capturing the export market in both Europe and America.

As soon as Marcus left it in the car park a crowd gathered round it to take a closer look. It caught the eye of sailors and workmen as they were walking along the road and they stood for a moment to admire it through the fence. A few even came inside. Tom Bedford and Albert Lancaster drooled with envy.

Millie wondered how he could suddenly afford it when Nigel had said he was unable to afford a house of his own. Was he earning money from somewhere else? He was so frequently absent from his desk in the office here that it seemed more than likely. Her curiosity was growing.

She thought Sylvie was much brighter than she used to be. She came in one Sunday evening and said, ‘Denis has been asking me for ages if I’ll go home with him. His mother thinks he should take me to be introduced. I’ve been invited to have a meal there on Wednesday evening and I said I would.’

That seemed to Millie an indication that the relationship was progressing favourably and that Denis was attaching importance to it. ‘He was a bit worried about whether he should ask you too, but I told him no. You wouldn’t think it wrong for me to go on my own.’

‘No, but you mustn’t be too late coming home because you’ll both have to get up for work the next day.’

‘I won’t. Denis said to tell you that he’ll see me safely home.’

Wednesday turned out to be a dark miserable morning, too cold to hang about at the bus stop, and as Millie had a few petrol coupons in hand she decided to drive to work. Today, Marcus was pulling into the car park just ahead of her, so for once he’d arrived on time.

She met Albert Lancaster on the front steps and he said, ‘Come and see the talcum powder we made yesterday. It’s as good as pre-war, a lovely soft slippery feel to it. You’ll like it.’

She knew Billy Sankey had set up a new supplier of white magnesium silicate for them, as well as regular deliveries of powdered soapstone. She followed him into the factory to see it.

‘A big improvement, we have to be pleased with that,’ she said.

They were currently selling talc in stiff cardboard sprinkler cartons but Albert was hopeful that soon they’d be able to package it in tins as they had before the war.

‘Billy Sankey assures me that he’s found a firm who’ll be able to make and supply the tins, so we need to decide on the shape and colour we want so he can negotiate a price.’ Albert took her upstairs to his office and opened some of their old design books on his desk. ‘What d’you reckon?’

Millie thought that perhaps they should go back to their old design, it sold well, but she took Albert and his pattern book along the corridor to Dan Quentin’s office to hear what he thought would best help it to sell in the present market.

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