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Authors: Catrin Collier

Winners and Losers

Winners and Losers

CATRIN COLLIER

First published in Great Britain in 2004 by Orion

First published in paperback in Great Britain in 2005 by Orion

This edition published by Accent Press 2013

ISBN 9781909840683

Copyright © Catrin Collier 2004

The right of Catrin Collier to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner.

All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

DEDICATION

For my own ‘winners', Ken and Marguerite Griffiths, with love and more gratitude than I can ever express

Catrin Collier was born and brought up in Pontypridd. She lives in Swansea with her husband, three cats and whichever of her children choose to visit.
Winners and Losers
is the second novel in the highly acclaimed
Brothers & Lovers 
series.

Works by Catrin Collier

The
Brothers & Lovers
series:
Beggars and Choosers
Finders and Keepers
Sinners and Shadows
Winners and Losers
Tiger Bay Blues
Tiger Ragtime

Other series:
Hearts of Gold
Swansea Girls
(including
Black-eyed Devils
– QuickReads)

Novels:
One Last Summer
Magda's Daughter
The Long Road To Baghdad

As Katherine John:
Without Trace
Midnight Murders
Murder of a Dead Man
By Any Other Name
The Amber Knight
Black Daffodil
A Well Deserved Murder
Destruction of Evidence
The Corpse's Tale
(QuickReads)

Acknowledgements

I apologize for the length of this acknowledgement but I would like to thank everyone who helped me research this book and so generously gave of their time and expertise.

All the dedicated staff of Rhondda Cynon Taff's exceptional library service, especially Mrs Lindsay Morris for her ongoing help and support. Catherine Morgan, the archivist at Pontypridd, and Nick Kelland, the archivist at Treorchy library.

The staff of Pontypridd Museum, Brian Davies, David Gwyer and Ann Cleary, for allowing me to dip into their extensive collection of old photographs and for doing such a wonderful job of preserving the history of Pontypridd.

Professor Dai Smith of the University of Glamorgan for sharing his knowledge of the Tonypandy Riots with me and his account of the riots in Wales in the chapter ‘A Place in South Wales', in the book
Wales, A Question for History.

Deirdre Beddoe for her meticulously documented accounts of women's lives in Wales at the turn of the last century.

The fascinating period photographs Gareth Williams has posted on his Internet site, ‘A Tribute to the Rhondda', which also gives an in-depth account of the Tonypandy Riots.

The people of Tonypandy and the Rhondda, the friendliest, most hospitable people on earth, who are always prepared to talk to and listen to a stranger.

My husband John and our children, Ralph, Ross, Sophie and Nick, and my parents Glyn and Gerda for their love, support and the time they gave me to write this book.

Margaret Bloomfield for her friendship and help in so many ways.

My agent Ken Griffiths for his professionalism, friendship and inspiring imagination. And his wife Marguerite for her hospitality and warm friendship.

And all the booksellers and readers who make writing such a privileged occupation.

While I wish to acknowledge all the assistance I received, I wish also to state that any errors in
Winners & Losers
are entirely mine.

Catrin Collier, October 2003

Chapter One

Joey Evans turned the key that was left permanently in the lock of his family's front door, stepped inside, and started whistling ‘A Little of What You Fancy Does You Good'
.

‘Quiet! You'll wake Harry.' His eldest brother Lloyd walked in behind him and hung his trilby on the rack in the passage.

‘Someone has to warn the lovebirds. You don't want to see anything that will make you blush, now do you?' Joey hung his cap and overcoat next to Lloyd's.

‘Unlike you, Victor behaves himself around the ladies.' Lloyd opened the kitchen door. Their middle brother Victor was sitting at the table playing chess with his girlfriend of two years, nineteen-year-old Megan Williams. She was wrapped up in her cloak, Victor in his overcoat and both of them were wearing mufflers and woollen gloves. ‘Disappointed, Joey?' Lloyd raised his eyebrows.

‘With what?' Victor glanced up at his brothers.

‘Joey was hoping that you and Megan would be doing something that would embarrass us.' Lloyd winked at Megan as he sat next to her.

Megan smiled at Lloyd but scowled at Joey. At the age of thirteen she had been sent to housekeep for her uncle, who lived next door to the Evanses, after her aunt had died in childbirth. Back then she had become besotted with Victor's younger brother, who was the same age as her. Joey had been, and still was in the opinion of most of the local girls, the handsomest boy in Tonypandy, if not the whole of Wales. It had taken her three years to realize that he was as infatuated with his good looks as his admirers and capable of remaining faithful to a girl only for as long as it took him to catch the eye of another. It was then that she had discovered that Joey's older colliery blacksmith brother, whose height and breadth she had always found intimidating, had a gentle side.

It had been difficult to determine who was the more surprised, her or Victor, when they found themselves in love after a year of outings based on ‘friendship'. But it was a love fraught with difficulties, which they tried to put from their minds whenever they were together.

‘It's cold enough in here to freeze the cockles of a man's heart without you giving me one of your frigid looks, Megan.' Joey dived out and retrieved his overcoat.

‘We raked out the fire after Dad and Sali left for the meeting,' Victor explained.

‘You would have been warmer playing chess on the picket line. At least we have a brazier going down there.' Joey pulled on his gloves and joined them at the table.

‘But we wouldn't have been able to see to Harry if he woke up.' Megan moved her rook and took Victor's bishop.

‘Poor kid's probably frozen to his bed.' Joey studied the board.

‘Sali wrapped a couple of hot bricks in flannel and put them at his feet when she tucked him in. She also left a couple of egg sandwiches for you two in the pantry.'

Victor moved his queen.

‘You suicidal?' Joey demanded.

‘Victor's conceding the game because he knows my uncle and his brothers probably walked up from the picket line with you and they'll be wanting something to eat.' Megan wrinkled her nose. ‘Not that I've much to give them.'

‘Can't a man make a bad chess move?' Victor protested.

‘Not when he doesn't usually.' Megan took Victor's queen and put his king into checkmate. ‘But then you don't always let me win. It was a draw until this one.' She left the table and blew Victor a kiss from the door. ‘Night, all.'

Lloyd heard Megan talking to Sali and his father in the passage as he set up the board again. ‘Thanks for babysitting Harry, Victor.'

‘Megan and I didn't have anything else to do.' Victor left the table and went to the pantry. He was surprisingly light-footed for a man of his size. Six feet six in his stockinged feet, broad-shouldered, finely muscled and well built, he towered above most men in the valleys.

‘You would have had plenty if it was summer and warm enough to sit on the mountain,' Joey suggested archly.

‘That's my girlfriend, not one of your tarts you're talking about.' Victor spoke softly as he always did when he was angry.

‘I didn't mean anything. You've been courting Megan for two years -'

‘And while her father withholds his consent, that's all I can do.' Victor set the sandwiches in front of his brothers and lifted a couple of plates from the dresser.

‘Good meeting?' Lloyd asked his father when he came in.

‘That depends on what you mean by “good”. Just about every Bible-thumping church and chapel minister in the Rhondda has managed to wangle themselves a place on the Distress Committee. There's so many on it, I doubt they'll agree long enough to make a single decision. Still, the amount of time they'll waste arguing amongst themselves shouldn't leave them with much spare time to bother any poor soul intent on committing a few harmless sins.' Billy Evans fished his empty pipe out of his pocket before he sat down. ‘We would have been home half an hour ago if the Methodists and Baptists hadn't tabled a formal complaint about Father Kelly's soup kitchen.'

‘They object to him feeding people in the Catholic Hall?' Lloyd asked in surprise.

‘No, but they think he gets more donations than they do.'

‘Of food or money?' Lloyd enquired.

‘Both,' Billy Evans said drily.

‘Now I wonder why people are happier to give to Father Kelly than the chapels.' Lloyd grabbed Sali's hand and pulled her on to his lap as she walked through the door.

‘Because he feeds everyone who walks through the door without asking what denomination they are and because his volunteers work hard to bring in as many donations as they can?' Sali suggested.

‘None of them works as hard as you, sweetheart. You look tired. You've been overdoing it in your kitchen lately.'

‘I have not, and it's not my kitchen, it's Father Kelly's.' Sali had been the Evans' housekeeper for over a year and Lloyd's lover for eight months. It was a relationship that had been welcomed by his father and brothers, who already treated her as if she were one of the family, which she very soon would be as they had booked Pontypridd register office for their wedding. Lloyd insisted their marriage go ahead the Saturday before Christmas, despite his workload as one of the strike organizers. It was the earliest date possible due to circumstances they had kept secret from all but a very few people in Tonypandy.

‘Without the food and money you persuade people to donate, Sali, all Father Kelly would have to serve is bread and water without the bread.' Mr Evans set his empty tobacco pouch on the table out of habit. He hadn't bought any tobacco since the onset of the strike. ‘Is Harry asleep?'

‘And before you say you don't know, we heard you creep up the stairs after Megan left,' Lloyd teased Sali.

Sali didn't rise to his bait. ‘Harry's sleeping like an angel. He didn't give you and Megan any trouble, did he, Victor?'

‘Unfortunately he didn't wake once. If he had, it would have given me an excuse to relight the fire.' Victor filled a glass with water.

Unable to resist a second gibe, Joey said, ‘You and Megan could have kept one another warm.'

Knowing how sensitive Victor was about Megan, Billy Evans broke in sharply, ‘Joey! Enough! Has Megan heard from her father lately, Victor?'

‘Not that she's told me. But then she's hardly mentioned him since he refused to allow us to get engaged at Christmas.' Victor sat at the table and moved a white pawn on the board Lloyd had set up.

‘Megan won't be under age for ever, Victor.' Sali moved to her own chair and watched Lloyd move out a black pawn to meet Victor's.

‘I've some papers to go through for the committee, so I'll call it a night. Aren't you on early picket tomorrow, Joey?' Billy asked.

‘Yes.' Joey made a face.

‘Then go to bed and get some sleep,' Billy ordered. ‘If I leave you down here, you'll only plague the life out of Victor.'

‘What's a brother for, if not to annoy?' Joey answered smartly.

‘Joey!' Billy said sternly.

‘I'm going.'

‘You two coming down to Porth magistrates court with me tomorrow?' Billy asked. Everyone in the town, collier and tradesman, was eagerly awaiting the outcome of an inquest on a miner who had died from injuries he'd received during the worse night of the recent riots.

‘I'll walk down there with you,' Lloyd answered.

‘Victor?'

‘I have one or two things to do first,' Victor murmured evasively, concentrating on the game.

‘If those one or two things involve working in the illegal drift mines the boys have opened up on the mountain, forget it,' Billy warned. ‘A man your size is easily recognized, even by some of the idiots in the police. Try it and you'll end up in court facing a fine we won't be able to pay. Did you hear me?' Billy questioned when Victor didn't answer.

‘I hear you, Dad.' Victor moved his knight and took Lloyd's pawn.

‘Try to remember what I said, will you?' Billy shook his head as he closed the kitchen door behind him.

At half past eleven the following morning Megan tossed the stone she'd used to whiten the flagstone floor into a bucket of freezing water. The kitchen might be ice cold and gloomy, but it was clean. Not as clean as it would have been if she'd had hot water but it was too early to waste precious coals and paraffin by lighting the stove and lamp. She sat back on her heels and checked she hadn't missed any bits. Satisfied she'd done the job as well as she could, given what she had to work with, she climbed to her feet. Heaving the bucket into the sink, she tipped the dirty water down the drain.

The front door opened and footsteps echoed down the passage.

‘Megan, you going to the shops?' Megan's neighbour, Betty Morgan saw the freshly scrubbed floor and stopped in her tracks. The slightest speck of dirt carried on to a wet floor made it twice as hard to clean the next time.

‘Yes, Mrs Morgan, as soon as I've washed my hands and face,' Megan answered.

Betty Morgan was a grandmother six times over and, although she'd frequently asked Megan to call her by her Christian name, Megan had never plucked up courage to do so, despite the informality that was the rule rather than the exception between neighbours in the Rhondda.

‘Then I'll wait for you.' Betty didn't need to explain her reluctance to walk into town alone. Most housewives had enjoyed visiting the shops in Tonypandy, regarding their outings as a welcome break from the drudgery of housework, but that had been before over a thousand police officers had been imported from all over Britain to control the striking miners who had brought the collieries in the valley to a standstill. The picket lines the colliers had set up around the pits had become battlegrounds. And now that the strike had entered its third month and two regiments of soldiers had been drafted in to support the police, fights between colliers, their supporters and the police frequently spilled over into the town.

Megan rinsed the bucket, placed it below the sink and washed her hands, arms and face under the running tap with a sliver of green household soap. She dried herself on the kitchen towel, rolled down her sleeves, untied her calico apron, draped it over a chair and tiptoed over the wet floor into the passage. Betty was leaning against the open front door, chatting to Jane Edwards who lived next door but one to her and on the opposite side of the street to the Evans.

Megan lifted her black serge cloak and hat from the row of pegs and paused to stare at her reflection in the mirror. She was pale, her eyes unnaturally large. Weeks on a near starvation diet were beginning to take their toll on her just as they were on everyone else in her uncle's family. She pulled the brim of her hat low, fastened the button at the neck of her cloak, picked up her basket, and joined Betty.

‘Cold enough for you today, Megan?' Jane asked.

‘Freezing, Jane.' Megan had no compunction about calling Jane by her Christian name. A head-turningly attractive brunette, at seventeen Jane was two years younger than her. Gossips had labelled Jane as ‘one for the boys' before she'd reached her fourteenth birthday, and she'd set every tongue in Tonypandy wagging when she had married Emlyn Edwards, a fifty-year-old collier, the day after her sixteenth birthday. The old wives in the town had watched her waistline ever since, and they continued to watch and wait. Because the baby everyone had assumed Jane was carrying had never materialized.

‘I was just asking Jane if she'd seen Emlyn lately,' Betty commented.

‘You of all people should know strike pay doesn't allow for luxuries like train tickets down to Cardiff, Betty,' Jane scoffed. ‘I write to Emlyn once a week and he writes back. But he's not expecting to be let out early.'

‘It's scandalous to jail men for withdrawing their labour in an effort to get a living wage.' Betty conveniently forgot that Emlyn had been given a year's hard labour for assaulting a police officer who'd been trying to escort blacklegs into the Cambrian Colliery.

‘You two going to the shops?' Jane dropped the rag she was half-heartedly using to wash her windows into her bucket.

‘Only to Rodney's,' Megan said, referring to the largest provision store in Tonypandy. ‘Can we get you anything?'

‘Plenty, but seeing as I haven't a brass farthing to my name and won't have until the strike money is doled out on Friday, I can only take what they're giving away.'

‘I can guarantee fresh air and insults from the police but not much else. See you, Jane.' Betty led the way and Megan followed, leaving Jane to her window-washing, although she was smearing not shifting the dirt with her torn piece of old petticoat and cold water.

It took ten minutes for Megan and Betty to walk the short distance to the end of the street. No family had enough coal to keep the fires lit during the day, so the housewives were out in force, scrubbing doorsteps and the pavements in front of their houses because it was warmer, and more companionable outside, than inside stone walls.

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