Authors: Erin Kelly
Tags: #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Fiction
The old man is in his ninth decade now. Straight since the seventies, he is wealthy beyond the conception of many. The king is in his counting house, counting out his money. Having built his domain on the sham reverence of other men’s fear, he has devoted the rest of his life to buying the town’s respect. But of course, Brighton never was respectable behind the frontages of its hotels. And neither was Joss Grand.
Redemption Row was, like the streets that surrounded it, a mean terrace of flint-walled cottages that huddled back to back with their neighbours as though for warmth. Overcrowding was endemic, with two or three families occupying each house. Rods like flagpoles jutted from the fronts of its houses but no flags were ever flown here – in the absence of backyards there was nowhere else to hang the washing. Residents had little choice but to air their dirty linen – it could never quite be clean – in public.
Little girls wheeled their baby siblings in hand-me-down prams that became boneshakers on the ancient cobbles, and boys played football in streets too narrow to let anything more than a thin ribbon of sunlight shine onto the ground. Rickets was rife and most children had at least one sibling who did not make it to their fifth birthday. Few pictures of the neighbourhood survive. Those that do are of course black and white, but the impression given is that if they were somehow to be tinted with the colours of the day, the monochrome would be little relieved.
It was into this slum city that Jocelyn ‘Joss’ Grand and Jacky Nye were born a week apart in the summer of 1932, in neighbouring rooms on the top floor of a two-up, two-down in the centre of the terrace. Joss Grand’s father was a herring smoker who, through ill health feigned or real, managed to avoid conscription when war broke out in 1939. Jacky Nye’s unskilled itinerant father was shrewder still, having dodged the ultimate draft by abandoning Ethel Parsons long before her pregnancy began to show, bequeathing only his name to their son. He returned for a brief visit in September 1940, upon which occasion he spent five minutes with his son before taking Ethel to the Odeon on the London Road. The Luftwaffe dropped a bomb on the cinema halfway through the first picture; the couple were killed instantly.
Howard and Isabel Grand took Jacky in and raised him as their own; which is to say they let him run wild with Joss. If the streets of old Brighton were narrow, the alleyways that connected this warren of slum housing were narrower still. A twitten is the old Sussex word for the myriad passages, often the width of a man’s shoulders, that were common before the town planners tore down the old cottages in the name of progress. As boys, Joss Grand and Jacky Nye would have been able to cross from one side of Brighton Old Town to the other using this network of twittens – and rumour has it that they frequently did, carrying or stashing their scraps of silver or whatever else they had stolen, slipping their skinny frames through these warrens that no policeman could navigate as nimbly as a child. Jacky Nye was written off as educationally subnormal by his teachers, and while a life of crime was always on the cards for him, without the influence of the ambitious and tack-sharp Joss Grand, low-level thuggery would probably have been the crown of his achievements.
The boys’ only discipline came from boxing. They learned to fight in Brighton’s boys’ clubs, and although both were successful in their categories, they never met each other in the ring. Welterweight Grand’s advantage lay in a gristly strength and lightning reflexes. Heavyweight Nye’s solid mass had yet to begin its long run to fat. Contemporary reports suggest that his success as a boxer depended more on an ability to withstand blow after blow; the man was a monolith, almost impossible to knock out. He could win a fight and barely have dealt any of his own.
Redemption Row escaped the sweeping slum clearance project that decimated Brighton in the thirties, but was razed to make way for development twenty years later. Grand and Nye were not there to see the bulldozers; they were both sent down in 1957, although their very different crimes reflected different personalities and appetites. When they were freed in 1960, it was not a problem that their childhood home was gone. The slum would not have been large enough to contain the men they had become.
Their rise to power was swift and took the sleepy seaside town by surprise. They were the closest Brighton ever came to a firm like the Krays, although of course on a much smaller scale. Like those infamous east London twins, Grand and Nye operated interdependently, their pioneering combination of acumen and brutality setting them apart from other crooks. More than the sum of their parts, they were in their day the most feared men on the south coast.
The Krays and their south London rivals the Richardsons became legends in their own lifetimes, and continue to fascinate today. Ask most true crime enthusiasts about Joss Grand and Jacky Nye, however, and you will be met with a blank look. This is more than just a question of scale. Grand’s subsequent rise to prominence as a philanthropist has all but whitewashed over the local lore that the gift for creative violence was his, while Nye’s role was to execute his vicious methodology. Jacky Nye’s constant gigantic presence must have lent the smaller man a crucial physical gravitas that underwrote his threats. If he was a heavy passenger, he did not seem to slow Grand down.
It was said that one reason for their united front was that they had wronged so many people that each acted as the other’s bodyguard as well as his business partner. While it is true that many in Brighton and along the south coast had reason to want them out of the way, no serious attempt on the men’s lives was ever made. So the question that has tantalised for nearly five decades now is: when Jacky Nye was murdered, on the now long-lost West Pier in October 1968, where was his lifelong friend and partner? Why wasn’t he around to protect him?
There have always been those who whispered that Nye met his end not because Grand was absent, but because he was there.
Attached: GRAND_Ch_Mario Zammit
Attached: GRAND_Ch_Sandy’s Story
Date: Wednesday 6 November 2013 18 : 11
This is fucking fantastic. I have to say, I was worried about you dragging such an obscure case out of the annals but actually I think this freshness could be its USP. It’s so rare these days to find something that hasn’t already been done to death. I can think of at least three editors we can approach with this.
You’re right, though, that we shouldn’t try to run before we can walk with this project. I’ll wait until you’ve got your taped confession, or some other supporting evidence – something to prove to me, and to potential publishers, that you really own this story. I think it’s for the best, after what happened last time.
In the meantime, keep on keeping on. Here’s to knocking Earnshaw off the top of the bestseller charts!
PS I keep forgetting to ask you on the phone, did that package get to you all right?
One Year Earlier
‘Full house,’ said Viggo.
Tonight’s pieces were figurative paintings rather than the gallery’s usual abstracts and installations and the crowd were correspondingly different. Most of the guests were from the bigger Leeds banks and law firms, grey-suited men from the financial quarter and their wives with glassy brows and orange legs. The only two people under twenty-five Luke recognised as a new signing to Leeds United and his C-list actress girlfriend. The only one cheaply dressed was the artist, a bare-faced woman in jeans and Converse. Apart from Luke and Viggo, of course. Not that their uniforms – black shirt, black trousers, black tie – didn’t look good. They were the most expensive clothes Luke owned, and certainly the newest.
Before the auction, it was their job to circulate with trays of champagne and try to get as much of it as possible down the guests’ throats but the minute the bidding began they were to remain behind the bar. The gallerist liked it to be so quiet that you could hear a bubble pop.
The artist affected nonchalance throughout the process, fiddling with her phone even when one of her paintings, a study in silvers and reds called
Reclining Male Nude
, broke the twenty-thousand barrier. The buyer, a tall man with thick, light grey hair, was not so cool, leaving the crowd and leaning on a wall near the bar as though he could hardly believe what he had just done. The hair framed an unlined face studded with bright blue eyes, revealing him to be a good couple of decades younger than he had looked from behind. Older than them, but surely still in his late thirties, early forties at most.
‘Silver Fox,’ said Viggo with a grin. ‘I wonder what colour his pu— congratulations, sir!’ He switched tack as the Silver Fox approached the bar, leaving Luke biting his lip. ‘A really beautiful piece.’ Luke saw Viggo’s eyes flick down to the black Amex card between the man’s fingers.
‘I think this calls for champagne,’ said Viggo. ‘By the glass or the bottle?’
‘I don’t know,’ said the Silver Fox, placing the credit card on the bar. He spread his hands before them. ‘Look at this, I’m actually shaking. I’ve never done anything like this before. I mean, I’ve spent money on cars and property and the usual, but art . . . I’m buzzing.’ He looked at Luke. ‘If I buy a bottle, will you help me to drink it?’
‘We’d love to,’ said Viggo, before Luke could stop him. Viggo had already had a written warning about inappropriate fraternisation with clients.
‘Thanks,’ said Luke firmly, ‘But we don’t clock off until at least half eleven, and then we’re going on somewhere.’
‘The more the merrier,’ said Viggo. ‘Let me pour you a glass now and you could meet us at half past?’
‘I, ah, yes. Thanks. Um, I’m Jeremy.’
His accent was posh Yorkshire: RP pulled up short by the odd flat ‘a’. Viggo seized the hand before it was fully extended.
‘Viggo, and this is Luke. Congratulations again,
.’ He was exaggerating his own accent even though his English was more fluent than that of many of their peers; he did this deliberately so men would ask him where he was from. He thought they would find him more attractive if they knew he was Swedish. Annoyingly, he was right. Luke was proud that his accent – when he could get a word in edgeways – remained unimpeached Leeds, despite spending the latter years of his teens living in Australia. The family had emigrated to Sydney when he was fourteen: he had returned home at the first opportunity, for university, and now only went to Australia as a visitor.
Viggo at least waited until Jeremy was out of earshot before saying, ‘Kerching!’
‘We said we’d meet Charlene for a drink in Charmers after work,’ Luke reminded him.
‘We can bring him with us. I’m sure he can afford to treat her, too.’
Luke reflected that at least if Jeremy bought a couple of rounds, they might have enough for a cab fare home.
He met them at the entrance at half past eleven and they began the short walk along the riverside to Charmers. Under cover of the half-light, Luke feasted on the sight of Jeremy in profile, the classic straight nose, the perfect right-angle of his jawline, the smooth close shave.
‘You look different out of your uniforms,’ Jem said.‘I’m not used to hipsters.’
No one who really knew what a hipster was would label Luke that way. His glasses were his dad’s old NHS frames, not a designer reproduction, his hair was huge, wild and curly because it was either that or shave it, and if he looked good at all tonight it was because Viggo had refused to be seen out with him until he had lent him a skinny jacket to replace his fleece. As Viggo often told him, it was incredible that he could know so much about the classic tailoring so beloved of the sixties gangsters without any sartorial elegance having rubbed off on him. Luke could see his point but whenever he made an effort he looked even to himself as though he was wearing fancy dress. He had long ago resolved to leave style to those like Viggo – or indeed Jeremy – who had a gift for it. It was one thing to appreciate an aesthetic, another to have the commitment and resources to adopt it as your own.
Viggo knew the guy who looked after the VIP lounge and he picked up the velvet rope to let them through. Jeremy ordered a bottle of Veuve Clicquot from the waitress. If he noticed that he was the only person in the bar wearing a suit, he wasn’t self-conscious about it.
‘So, how long have you two been together?’ said Jeremy. It was a long time since anyone had made that assumption.
‘We’re not,’ said Luke. ‘We were, for a bit, but that was years ago. We’re just flatmates now. Although we were colleagues before that. Do you remember
? It was a sort of gay lifestyle magazine for the North.’
Jeremy looked panicked.
‘No reason why you should. It was for . . .’ he had been going to say young people but amended it to, ‘Student types, really. It’s folded now.’ These last words were mumbled into his glass. He was still uncomfortable talking about how the magazine he had loved could not compete with online content. It had broken his heart when it had closed, only to relaunch months later as a website, a shadow of its former self, put together by kids who would write for nothing.
‘He won awards for his journalism. He’ll have a Pulitzer one of these days,’ said Viggo, draining his champagne in one and refilling his flute. Luke knew that it was coming from a place of pride, but he hated it when Viggo did this; the achievements of his early career now only served to highlight the mess he had subsequently made of it. ‘Stonewall Awards two years running. He went undercover at one of those Christian boot camps that reckons it can cure homosexuality.’