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Authors: Jessie Keane

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BOOK: Nameless
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And then there were two. Charlie confronted them as they left work – a joke, there was no work going on, no lorries coming through, nothing. The firm was dead, the bosses just weren’t bright enough to see it yet.

‘Hiya, boys,’ he said warmly.

They eyed him warily and drew closer together. They knew about Charlie Darke, everyone did. They looked around nervously, but it seemed he was alone.

They mumbled a hello.

‘Enjoying the job still?’ asked Charlie with a smile.

‘We don’t want no trouble,’ said one, a bald burly man with bad teeth.

‘You don’t
want
trouble?’ Now Charlie’s expression was puzzled.

‘No. We don’t,’ said the man’s mate, who was shorter, but still squat, still strong; the job required muscle, and these boys had it. But now, standing here in front of Charlie Darke with his bright smiling stare, they felt unsure.

‘Then why you behaving like this?’ asked Charlie.

‘We’re just doing the job we’re paid for,’ said the bald one, who was right in the manager’s pocket, right up the manager’s
arse,
Charlie had heard. He was so tight in with the bosses it was a wonder he wasn’t to be found hanging out the back of one of them.

Charlie shook his head. ‘Now don’t be silly,’ he said gently. ‘Pay’ll improve once the Union’s in, and we’ll see you right on other matters.’

‘We’re happy with the way things are.’

Charlie stepped forward. The two men stepped back.

‘Now listen,’ said Charlie. ‘You two cunts listen good. You’re standing in the way of progress here. Progress happens and those that don’t accept it can come to grief.’

‘You threatening us?’ asked the smaller of the two.

‘Yeah. He is,’ said Joe, appearing from the darkness and coming to stand at his brother’s shoulder.

The men were starting to get nervous. It was dark, and cold, and they were alone here with these two and they
knew
what they were capable of. They’d heard all about the rackets they were into, and how they used force to get what they wanted – and look what happened to Micky Tranter. A bomb had got him?
Yeah,
they thought.
My arse.

‘You’re starting to get right up my nose,’ said Charlie. ‘Clinging on to the old ways ain’t sensible. Getting in my
way
ain’t sensible. I’m beginning to think you pair don’t have a fucking brain between you. And you know what? I might just decide to
test
that theory by booting both your heads around on these cobbles until they leak out your ears. You think I won’t?’

They both shook their heads.

‘Now you’re not wanted around here any more. You’re leaving your job, getting another somewhere else. That clear?’

They both nodded.

‘See?’ A smile broke out on Charlie’s face again; it was like the sun appearing through storm clouds. ‘Was that so hard, us doing a bit of business together? Thanks for your cooperation, boys. You shouldn’t have messed us about, you know.’

Charlie was slipping on his brass knuckledusters.

‘Now wait . . .’ said the smaller one, backing away until he hit the wall.

‘People get to hear about me being made to look a cunt because two little wankers won’t stand aside when they’re told? Sorry, boys. I don’t think so.’

Charlie piled in, and Joe followed.

A week later, Charlie was taking tea round at Betsy’s place. He was feeling very pleased with himself. The last two anti-Union boys had obligingly disappeared the day after their little meeting with Charlie and Joe, and after that the management caved in at last. The Union was in, and Charlie was rewarded with tickets to Smithfield; he got five of his boys in there straight away, and soon that would pay dividends.

And now . . . now he had to charm Betsy’s mum and dad, Mr and Mrs Porter, which was a piece of piss. He had been very relieved when she’d told him there was no sprog in the offing after their little tumble in the alley, and even if she let him within a mile of her again he told himself that he was going to have to take more care. If he hadn’t been so worked up after offing Tranter, he wouldn’t have taken such a chance with her.

He was stringing her along at the moment, not quite sure which way to jump. She wanted marriage, of course she did – didn’t they all? – but did he? When he thought of married life, he thought of a curtailment of his freedom, answering to a nag who wanted to know where you were day and night.

He also thought of kids, and of course he wanted that; he wanted boys, like him, little bruisers to play with and get started in the business. Sure, he was fond of Betsy. She was impetuous and pretty. But there were so many women in the world.

When Vi joined the little family gathering his doubts increased. Vi was a hot number, smoother than her sister, regal in her bearing and mannerisms, more
impressive.
Her parents didn’t seem to know quite what to make of her. Charlie didn’t either, but he reached the firm conclusion that she probably fucked like a stoat.

His thoughts turned to Mrs Tranter, so calm, so composed in the face of adversity, in the face of a husband who abused her, in the face of anything Hitler or even Charlie Darke threw at her. Then Mrs Porter cut him another slice of fruitcake and said, ‘More tea?’

He nodded. For now, he was going to keep his options open. Betsy’s dad was in a reserved occupation in the docks, and jobs in there were always passed from father to son or even
sons-in-law
– or pals, for a price – and someone in the docks was always a useful contact to have.

17

 

They were masters of the universe. That’s what Ruby thought, when she first peeped out from behind the curtain and saw them.

‘God alive,’ she said out loud.

‘What?’ asked Vi, busy powdering her nose.

‘They’re a bit . . .
loud
,’ said Ruby, closing the curtain quickly.

What she had seen was a group of young men, about twenty of them, all rigged out in black frock coats, red bow ties, matching silk waistcoats and white shirts with stiff starched collars. They were laughing in that haw-haw way the upper classes had, chucking hunks of bread roll at each other and downing enough wine to sink a battleship.

Actually what she felt was frightened. ‘D’you think . . .’ She hated to say it; she knew Violet thought she was a bit limp. ‘D’you think it’s safe?’

Vi stopped powdering and gave her a startled look.

‘Don’t be daft, Rubes, these are
gentlemen.
It’s like I told you. They all belong to this old boys university drinking club and they have these parties, these
exclusive
parties. They’re paying us a mint for this.’ Vi joined her and tweaked back the curtain. ‘See that one there?’ She pointed to a skinny, effete-looking individual. ‘That’s Perry Maltzer, heir to a dukedom. There’s Frederick Holmes, he’s the son of the Shadow Chancellor. Nigel Farraday, his dad’s the British Ambassador to America. All officer material, but the cunning bastards know how to dodge the draft if they want to, you can bet your life on that. Their families wouldn’t have them put at risk, and they can pull all sorts of strings. They own the earth, this bloody lot; do precisely whatever the fuck they like. And that one, what the hell’s his name . . . ? Never mind. Can’t remember, but his dad owns a bank.’

‘Who’s he then?’ asked Ruby. ‘The blond one.’

‘Oh, him. That’s Cornelius, son of the late Sir Hilary Bray, KBE. He was president of the Students Union once. Cornelius was an MP too, before the war, but there was some sort of trouble over undeclared interests, so he went to the backbenches. Then he joined the War Office, I think. You needn’t worry about
that
one sinking without trace; he’s got plenty to say for himself. None of his posh mates would let him down. He’ll go on to great things, you mark my words.’

Ruby stared at the blond one. He had the brightest blue eyes she had ever seen, this big unruly thatch of very light – almost white – blond hair, a grin that seemed to illuminate the room. He was well built, tall but muscular too, powerful; and yes, Vi was right, he was a noisy bastard. He was cavorting around the room with his pals, bellowing and lobbing bread rolls, having a thoroughly good time.

Vi had turned her attention from the roomful of young men to the girl at her side. She smiled and pulled Ruby’s chin round so that their eyes met.

‘Don’t go getting a crush on any of this lot,’ she said.

Ruby was glad when Vi turned away and started hunting for her lippy. She took one more peek at the blond one. Vi was right. It would be stupid to want someone like that. He was
way
out of her league. But oh God, he looked good.

The men settled down to eat eventually. Staff served them starters, mains, pudding, cheese, and a wine for every course then port to follow. Ruby kept checking on the room, feeling increasingly nervous as the evening wore on. And then the blond one stood up and tapped his glass with a knife, calling for silence.

‘And now – my friends . . .’ he grinned at his audience and there was a roar of approval. ‘Pray welcome for the ladies from the world-famous Windmill Theatre.’

It was all going well, Vi and Ruby were posing up on the stage in their little Red Indian tableau, a picture of beauty; the men stomped and cheered to see them standing there in buckskin skirts, their long black wigs tumbling down over their torsos and modestly concealing their breasts.

Then one of the revellers, drunker than most of them, reached up and grabbed Ruby’s ankle in a crushing grip. It hurt, and Ruby let out an undignified yelp.

The blond one was there in an instant, catching his friend’s arm.

‘Steady,’ he said.

‘Just larking about, old boy,’ said the drunk.

‘Then don’t,’ said Cornelius, and suddenly he wasn’t the big laughing buffoon any more, his eyes were very serious as they held the drunk’s. ‘Let go of the lady, Bertie. Right now.’

‘Just a joke,’ slurred the drunk.

‘Let go.’

The drunk stared hard at the blond one’s face for a long moment; then slowly he released Ruby’s ankle.

‘Thanks,’ said Ruby when the drunk staggered off and flopped back into his seat. Her ankle throbbed. There’d be a bruise. She was given full voltage from the bright blue eyes, the dazzling smile as Cornelius Bray looked up at her.

‘Are you all right?’ he asked.

Ruby raised a smile. ‘Yeah. Thanks.’

She felt a little breathless. Not just from the fright the drunken toff had given her, but from the waves of charm Cornelius seemed to give off, like heat from a fire. For a moment their eyes locked and held.

‘I do apologize. Just high spirits,’ he said, and walked off.

Ruby resumed her pose. But her eyes followed him.

18

 

Charlie and Joe had high hopes of the Post Office. They had their boys out robbing meat trucks up and down the highways, but now they’d found bigger fish to fry. One night Charlie walked into a pub near the Angel with Joe at his side to have a chat with a Post Office driver. After
that,
he got a few of the boys drafted in as drivers and sorters.

‘Money comes up from the West to be returned to London by registered post,’ the man was telling Charlie and Joe over a pint.

Joe was watching him suspiciously. He was an iffy-looking geezer, all skinny drinker’s sunken cheeks and furtive eyes; he’d done some time once, they knew that – that’s why they were talking to him. He’d been inside, he knew the score. It held no fear for him.

‘Some of it goes for pulping at the Bank of England, but most of it goes to the big banks in the City. Comes into Paddington in the small hours, then it gets driven over by Post Office van to the East Central branch at St Martin’s le Grand.’

‘What, a single van?’ asked Joe, sipping his pint.

‘Yeah, with just the driver, a postman and a guard. Not armed.’

‘They got an alarm or something on board?’ asked Charlie, intrigued.

‘There’s a button for the siren.’

‘How’d you stop it?’

‘You can’t. Once it’s on, it’s on.’

‘Fuck off.’

‘Serious.’

‘That’s bad news,’ said Joe.

‘Maybe,’ said Charlie. ‘You got what I asked for? That other thing?’

‘Yeah,’ said the man, and handed it over.

After their meeting, Joe went on home but Charlie went round to the Tranter house and knocked on the door.

Silence. Then a light went on and she said: ‘Who is it?’

‘Charlie,’ he called back.

‘Who?’

Oh, she was
really
pushing her luck. He found himself grinning, genuinely amused.

‘Charlie Darke,’ he said.

She opened the door. He stepped inside, closing it behind him.

‘I was just going to bed,’ she said, an edge of complaint in her voice.

‘I said this ain’t over,’ said Charlie, taking off his hat. ‘And it ain’t.’ He pulled out the gun, the neat little .22 the man had given him in the pub, and rested the muzzle against her forehead.

She froze. ‘What the . . .’

‘Shocked yet? Scared yet?’

She said nothing, just stared at him.

‘Now, what’s your name? And if you say Mrs Tranter again, watch out.’

‘Why do you even want to know it?’ she asked, and he saw her swallow hard.

So she
was
human after all.

‘Humour me.’

‘It’s Rachel.’

It suited her. It was dignified and solid, it had endurance, that name; just like her.

‘Well, Rachel, let your hair down.’

‘What the . . .’

‘Don’t even start. Just do it.’

She reached back and loosened the bun, shook her mid-brown hair out. It was long, falling almost to her hips. It made her look gentler, sweeter. She stared at him. She was almost pretty, with her hair down.

Charlie kept the pistol levelled on her forehead.

‘Now – upstairs, I think. Don’t you?’

‘No. I don’t.’

Charlie laughed. Jesus, she was annoying! ‘Mrs Tranter, I’m holding a loaded gun to your head.’

It wasn’t loaded, but she wasn’t to know that. Most women would have been gibbering and pleading by now, but not her. She was staring him out, the audacious cow.

BOOK: Nameless
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