R. W. Hughes
Copyright Â© 2015 R.W. Hughes
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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ISBN 978 1784629 137
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To the memory of a gentle-man.
Michael John Frost, 1939-2014.
A very special person
Karen Whittaker (nee Frost)
To Lynne Anker and Therese Moehner for their help and advice.
To my friend Peter Robinson and Sarah Franklin for their technical help and expertise.
Upon retiring I found the time to fulfil an ambition, which was to write three novels. These stories had been at the back of my mind for several years, but prior to my retirement I was always too busy running my business to spend the time or concentrate on these stories.
After several years of research I wrote my first historic action adventure novel,
Aurthora: Celtic Prince
. This is about a young Celtic warrior and his battles against the invading Anglo Saxon Germanic tribes, it was published by Troubador Publishing in 2011.
This is my second book, which I completed at the end of 2014. The 1955 black and white film The Lady Killers, starring Alec Guinness, which I saw as a young man many years ago intrigued me. And it was this film that set the seed in my mind and prompted me to eventually write this novel.
The story starts at the end of the twentieth century initially around the northern town of Stockport and the nearby city of Manchester. For the participants, the situation they find themselves in quickly escalates out of their control.
While my wife and I were on holiday visiting Castiglion Fiorentino, Tuscany, Italy, situated in their Piazza Garibaldi I knew I had found a suitable and appropriate ending to my story.
This novel is about a youngster from a poor broken family background. He is finding it hard, having to adjust quickly to the rigours of life in a big city, fending for himself, living on his wits, becoming streetwise from a very early age. The only friend he has in the world is an old tramp, who tries to impart to the young boy his words of wisdom through the proverbs he is constantly quoting.
That is, until the boy is sent to a remand home. Over a period of time, and in an attempt to defend himself against the bullies in the school, he forms a bond with two brothers and another lad who, like himself, have also had a very traumatic start in life. When they leave school they stay together, they drift into and embark upon petty criminal activities. These are usually organised by their accepted leader, Geoffrey Larkin.Things are fine; their downfall comes when they steal something of great value from a courier working for an international crime syndicate. Subsequently, they are forced to flee for their lives. Managing by luck and some good decisions, they keep ahead of a gang who have been sent to hunt them down, whose instructions and sole intention is. MURDER!
Geoffrey Larkin's head was ringing from the heavy clip across the ear he had received from the clenched fist of his next-door neighbour. The man had been lying in wait behind his front door, and as Geoff reached down to retrieve the battered ball he had been kicking against the gable end wall of the man's house, the owner had pounced. Geoff had been quick, but not quick enough.
The punch at the side of his head had knocked him off his feet but he was up and running in a flash, more by instinct than purpose. The man watched, a satisfied smirk on his face.
âThat'll teach you, you little bastard!' he said under his breath, the last word spat out with venom. âYou won't keep me awake with your football again,' he shouted after the young urchin as he watched him staggering from side to side along the pavement trying desperately to keep in a straight line.
Geoff had known he was pushing his luck. If he had succeeded it would have been the third time that week that he'd been chased off by the man. But he got a buzz out of the excitement of winding up his neighbour and the subsequent chase involved. But that was before he had been caught and suffered the painful consequences.
Geoffrey Larkin had been living on his wits from the age of ten; he had been in council social services care where various families in turn had volunteered to foster him. Eventually, one by one, they all gave up in despair, leaving him in the hands of the relevant authorities. He could not remember his father, only the dim and distant memory of a large man who always had a cigarette in his mouth and a great leather belt around his waist, which he used frequently and at the slightest provocation across his son's back, head or shoulders, or wherever the belt happened to land. He also remembered the constant arguments and bickering between this man and his mother, which were usually over money, or in the majority of cases, the lack of it.
He had learnt to fend for himself at an early age. If he was hungry, he stole. It started with the odd bottle of milk from a local shop, until he was caught by the owner and taken to his father. The lesson he learnt from that painful incident was that if you were going to steal, do it away from your own patch, and above all: don't get caught! Because if you did that caused pain of one sort or another.
In the late summer and autumn, allotments were his prime supply of extra food, but he was careful to take only what he needed, and never concentrated on any one area, even though some of the allotments were more difficult to enter than others, he reckoned this would make the owners unaware of his pilfering. He also took great delight and obtained a great deal of satisfaction in taking fruit and vegetables from the allotment of the man who had punched him in the head. But he avoided taking the vegetables from a section of his neighbour's allotment where he took great pleasure in spraying the plants with urine.
It was while he was in this man's allotment one night with a full moon but an overcast sky. Conditions like these of the half-light were ideal for his foraging. He was searching in the long grass for windfalls under an apple tree. These apples, although they were quite large, were not very nice to eat and too many gave him stomach ache, but â
beggars can't be choosers'.
This was one of the favourite sayings of his mate, the old tramp, with whom he had struck up a friendship several months previously. Sometimes this old man spent the night in the burnt out house at the bottom of Geoff's road. On these occasions Geoffrey, or Geoff as he preferred to be called, would take some of the vegetables he had taken from the allotments. The tramp would cook them in an old saucepan over an open fire in the kitchen fireplace, stirring them with a large, shiny spoon that he kept wrapped in a brown paper bag in his holdall. âCamping! What we're doing, is camping!' that's what the old man, who called himself Sir Reginald, called it.
Geoff was still searching in the long grass and had collected four of the large green apples. Suddenly he froze as the door of the small shed at the bottom of the allotment creaked open. He had no idea that there had been someone in the shed at that time of night.
Quietly, and keeping to the shadows, he slowly crawled on all fours to the edge of the small clump of fruit trees. He then gently eased himself over a section of retaining boards about two feet high, he was lying flat in what seemed like a smooth powder, pressing himself down so he was below the top board. If they looked in his direction he was now out of sight from the two figures that appeared from the small shack.
They passed about ten feet away, Geoff could hear them giggling to one another as they struggled in the poor light to keep to the narrow path that ran down the centre and length of the allotment. Peering over the edge of the boards in the shadows, Geoff could see the outline of a man who looked familiar. The other person he recognised instantly, she was a woman who lived in the same street as him. He had seen her husband returning early in the mornings from where he worked shifts on the railways.
The couple stopped at the entrance gate to the allotments. The man opened it slightly, looked out, and then beckoned the woman who quickly past him and continued through into the lane.
The man came back into the allotment and lit a cigarette. By the light of the burning match Geoff could see that he was the same one who had punched him in the head for playing football against his wall. The man waited several minutes to finish his cigarette, casually leaning on the gatepost, looking up at the clouds, while blowing smoke circles into the cool night air. He flicked the remains of the cigarette up the path, it landed in a shower of sparks, before he too followed the woman into the lane, closing and locking the gate behind him.
Geoff rose from his hiding place behind the boards; he stood quietly for a few moments, shivering. Not with the cold but with the tension of the incident and so close to being caught. He looked around the rest of the allotment, straining to see into the shadows. There was no sound or movement from anywhere, all was deathly quiet. He quickly moved forward and collected his small pile of apples, after all the tension he certainly wasn't leaving without his supper.
Moving along the central path he came to a loose section of fencing. Sliding it to one side, he slipped through and out into the lane that led to the road. It was only when he reached the road that, by the light of the overhead street lamps; he found the soft substance he had lain in was soot from his neighbour's chimney. The man had tipped it there after it had been left by the chimney sweep several days earlier. The front of Geoff's clothes were covered in very fine, black, clinging, damp powder and the more he tried to brush it from his clothes, hands and face the more it became ingrained.
When the forlorn figure appeared in the kitchen of the derelict cottage, and stood in the light of his small cooking fire burning in the remains of the fireplace and the single candle perched on an otherwise empty shelf, Sir Reginald burst into laughter, showing yellow and black teeth projecting between the many spaces in his mouth.
âMy dear boy,' he exclaimed, âwherever have you been, and whatever have you been up to? You look like you have been playing “catch me if you can” in someone's chimney; you're as black as the ace of spades.' Geoff did not reply he just showed him the apples. The old man continued with one of his proverbs in between his chuckles. âAaah
; God helps those that help themselves,
young man,' he uttered as he took the large apples from the pair of grubby, soot-stained hands and proceeded to peel them for his saucepan, giving the odd glance in Geoff's direction, chuckling to himself as he did so. He would share the contents of the steaming saucepan with Geoff.
While the old man was stewing the cooking apples in his old metal saucepan, he repeated another one of his proverbs,
âAll young men had a wolf in their stomachs.'
It was a statement that Geoff didn't really understand.
It was while he was standing over the steaming saucepan adding ample amounts of sugar, which he took from his large canvas bag that seemed to contain everything, that Geoff excitingly told him of his narrow escape. âMmm
; what will be, will be
,' exclaimed the tramp absent-mindedly, as he stirred the contents of the saucepan with his large, shiny spoon. He also noticed that he was always very generous with his helpings, spooning the contents into a scratched and dinted aluminium bowl and always giving Geoff the larger portion.
Geoff smiled to himself. He liked the old man and his quaint sayings, he always felt comfortable in his company. The tramp never demanded or expected anything from him.
He must be really very rich,
, he has three pairs of socks in his holdall.
He had noticed the socks when the old man had rummaged in his bag looking for his spoon.
Geoff only had one pair of cheap, nylon socks that were well-worn having holes in the heels and toes. âAlways keep your feet well shod,' commented the old man, talking to himself, as if Geoff was not there.
He does that a lot,
he's always talking to himself
that's what old people must do.
âAlways keep a pair of dry socks in your bag,' continued Sir Reginald. âI can't be doing with this new-fangled modern material. You can't beat good old-fashioned woollen socks and leather shoes. If you can't get leather soles, make sure there's a strip of leather between your feet and these rubber treads they put on the soles nowadays. Oh, and always keep your head dry.' There was several minutes' silence while Sir Reginald checked on the stewed apples. He suddenly muttered,
âHe who sups with the devil must have a long spoon.'
Then chuckled to himself; before peaking to Geoff, scratching the stubble on his chin as he did so.
âIf you keep your feet and head dry you stand a chance in the coldest of weathers, believe me; I know.' Geoff had to admit the old man was always wearing a good pair of shoes or boots and a woollen hat pulled over the tops of his ears. âCharity shops! That's where you've got to go, charity shops! It's the best quality that money can buy for a few pence, in fact; if you smile nicely at them they don't always charge you'
Having parted with this valuable information the old tramp proceeded to lift a large spoon full of the hot apple, placing it in the aluminium bowl. âCareful you don't burn your tongue,' he commented with a chuckle as he passed it over to Geoff. Geoff smiled to himself at the thought of Sir Reginald smiling at some shop assistant. They probably gave him what he wanted so that the grimy old man would leave their nice clean shop as quickly as possible!
If Geoff appeared without any food the old tramp shared whatever he had with the youngster.
âYou must share the fat with the lean,'
he would say. Although, he never offered Geoff any of the contents of the bottle of evil smelling liquid that he always seemed to have or any of his cigarettes. He must have had plenty of those, thought Geoff, for the old man always had one permanently between his lips and he only took it out when he had a fit of one of his many prolonged bouts of coughing. He could not help but recognise the smell of the fluid the old man drank. It was the same as his mother used until she fell into a stupefied sleep, but he never saw Sir Reginald get into that condition.
As Geoff left the derelict house later that night, his new woollen socks felt really great on his feet; it was a dry night so they would not get wet through the splits in the soles of his boots. He had a full stomach and even though the woollen hat that had been Sir Reginald's was a little large it certainly kept his head warm. It was a nice gesture on the part of the old man to give him some of his spare clothes.
As he neared his home, the smile on his face faded, his jaunty steps slowed as he wondered what he would find when he entered the house. Someday when he was a little older he would join Sir Reginald on his travels, he was sure it would be a better life than he was living at the moment.
The tramp looked into the purple blue flames of the dying fire as it devoured the boy's old nylon socks. The old man smiled to himself as he recalled the look on the young urchin's face as his eyes had widened as he had passed him the spare pair of socks and woollen hat from his canvas holdall.
He wondered what would become of the young lad. There did not seem a great future for the likes of him; he would probably end up spending most of his life either wandering the streets of the city like he was, behind bars or drifting from one charitable home to the next on the hope of finding a bed for the night.
What a waste,
he thought to himself as he pulled the collar of his old army overcoat a little tighter around his neck and tried to get more comfortable on the large, flattened cardboard box he was lying on, which helped a little to insulate him from the cold striking up from the stone flag floor.
As he started to doze he recalled when he was that lad's age, circumstances were certainly different for him. The horse-drawn carriage! The servants! Molly his old nanny and Miss. Broadhurst his live-in teacher. He remembered the fireplace in the Great Hall with the large, stone surround that was twice his height and the large coat of arms positioned over the tall mantle. The logs spitting, burning and crackling in the deep wide opening where, on rare occasions with his nanny, he would toast crumpets and watch the liberal coating of butter melt into the hot surface. All that he had left to remember of those happy days was the silver spoon, which had the same coat of arms on its handle as above the fireplace. Unfortunately, he could not go back to those happy carefree times. He was condemned to sharing the life he now lived, with the thousands of other homeless wanderers of the country's towns and cities, spending their nights in dark alleyways, derelict buildings or cold damp railway viaducts, with the authorities having no records of these lost forgotten souls. He finished the remains of cheap spirits in the bottle. His cough was getting worse with the damp weather and the pains in his chest were more frequent. He definitely would have to cut down his consumption of alcohol and the number of cigarettes he was smoking, but that was tomorrow's problem.