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       Charlie Spark - Villain Extraordinaire, p.1

           J M S Macfarlane
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Charlie Spark - Villain Extraordinaire


  CHARLIE SPARK

  An Excursion in Gentlemanly Out-foxing, Chicanery,

  Double-dealing, Smart Practice and One-upmanship

  J M S MACFARLANE

  First published in 2017

  This publication is copyright. The moral right of John Monmouth Stuart Macfarlane to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (UK)

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the copyright owner and the publisher, or as expressly permitted by law, or under terms agreed with the appropriate reprographics rights organization, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

  The characters depicted in this book are entirely fictional and do not exist. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Chapter 1

  Nile Terrace

  When the last century was in its dotage, on an overcast morning in July, a number twelve bus from Catford Mews roared past The Trafalgar pub, splashing a wave of ditch water over Charlie Spark as he stood on the corner of Nile Terrace and Waterloo St.

  As the bus driver caught sight of his victim, he let out a cackle. This was echoed by the passengers and some truants outside the betting shop who were all howling with laughter.

  Dripping from head to foot and glaring daggers, Spark threw his cap on the ground, jumped up and down on it and bellowed a load of drivel which sounded like “You wraggga, fragga, wrarrr, you fraying, wrarrr, I’ll get you.”

  Then he tore off like a maniac in a fifty yard dash down Waterloo St screaming threats such as “Stop that bus you wrarr..(puff puff)....stop...I’ll smash you, you framma wrarr,” etc at the bus driver who glanced in his rear vision mirror and noticed a madman chasing the bus, shouting something.

  A few grinning passengers taunted Spark to run faster when the bus was doing thirty miles an hour while others cheered him on from the lower platform as the bus gathered speed, sweeping past a queue. The truants kept pace at a distance behind Charlie Spark, urging him on with mock encouragement – “Look at him go – the Olympic champion.”

  Having reached the speed of an infuriated hare, he could almost touch the white pole of the bus platform.

  In a last attempt to grab onto the pole, just as the driver’s foot went flat to the floor, Spark launched a running dive, missed by inches and landed on a bed of horse manure at which a cheer rose from the bus with handkerchiefs waving out of the windows and an eruption of applause from the truants in the rear.

  It was an hour later, after a bath and change of clothes that he passed the same delinquents loitering outside the betting shop. One of them with earrings and tattoos asked him to place their bets but ignoring them he headed down the Old Kent Road serenaded by whistles and catcalls.

  Acid rain drizzled as he hobbled over the broken pavements. His dustman’s jacket soaked up the rain like a sponge and the water from the puddles seeped through the holes in his boots. Before long, his socks were full of water and he squelched with every step.

  Past the boarded-up shops, the bollards leaning drunkenly and the dead dog in the gutter, past the brass balls of the pawn shop and his watch inside the window, he followed the Old Kent Road and its decaying terraces, their chimneys leaning over as if whispering to each other.

  Chapter 2

  The Old Kent Road

  It was mid-day and the listless traffic shuffled endlessly along. Everything was staggered in the scene of grey and drizzle as the beer lorries lumbered down to the Elephant and Castle or New Cross Gate while the rain continued to fall.

  Quite a way along the Old Kent Road, Charlie saw what appeared to be a post office although its windows and entrance were covered in so much dirt that it might easily have been another boarded-up shop.

  This was his chance to rid himself of a dud cheque, lifted that morning. He had only to stroll inside and scratch out an alias, calm as you please. But he needed to be quick as he was ready to collapse from hunger. In his pockets there was only a penknife, a box of matches and an old Underground rail ticket.

  His bad luck had started six months earlier when he was arrested for handling stolen property – his job shouldering crates of fruit and vegetables at the Borough Market ended as soon as his reservation at Hotel Pentonville began.

  On his first night back in prison, the worst part was realizing how stupid he’d been to get caught. Time inside passed slowly and the only things to occupy him were outwitting the warders and loafing in the prison library.

  Since getting out of prison two days before, he still had the sense of being boxed-in. The noise and pace of the outside world were jarring and as usual, money was scarce.

  Outside the post office, a group of striking miners from a colliery in Lancashire were handing out leaflets.

  “Here, lad,” said an old man in a cloth cap with a roll-up hanging loosely from his mouth, “Take one of these and sign our petition – we want our jobs back and we’re fighting for our communities. Support the miners. Sign this.”

  Spark signed the paper with his usual fictitious name – ‘Charles Dangerfield’ and told them he’d put something in their collection on the way out as he didn’t have any money.

  To get inside the post office, he had to step over a mound of dustbin bags where a tramp was curled up fast asleep. It was impossible to tell whether the sleeper or his mattress was the source of the stench which lingered at the doorway.

  Inside, there was a queue of almost seventy people snaked in a line from one side of the room to the other and back again. Obviously it was pension day for everyone ranging from teenage mums to wizened grannies. In the air, lingered the haze of cigarette smoke.

  He was tempted to continue his journey but the forged giro cheque nestling in his wallet bade patience so he took his place in the queue, feeling his right foot in its soggy boot. Bluebottles buzzed about the room and chased one another along the windows.

  After an age of waiting, a small pile of one pound notes was counted out for him, one of which he gave to the miners. Then he resumed his journey to the nearest pub which was the Tyburn Tree across the Walworth Road a few streets away.

  Chapter 3

  The Black Lion

  While everyone else went to work or their places of business in offices or shops, Charles and his associates whiled away their time at a few select clubs and pubs where everyone knew everyone else, no-one trusted anyone else and the undercover squad were recognizable at fifty paces but ignored.

  The landlord of the Tyburn Tree kept a boxing ring in the back room behind the saloon bar where some of the great and infamous had sweated blood, often hitting the canvas with their noses which had become flattened over time and matched their puffed up eyes or ears.

  Around the walls of the bar were handbills and posters advertising bouts at Wembley Arena, Alexandra Palace and other exalted boxing haunts ; photographs of living legends and their contests hung alongside old satin trunks, boxing gloves, trophies and title belts. British, Commonwealth and European champions had all battled it out there at some time in their careers.

  In keeping with that reputation, the Tyburn attracted a clientele unlike any other pub in London.

  Upstairs was a gym and another boxing ring where young hopefuls from all over South London trained. Every Saturday night, the downstairs bar would be filled with a flammable crowd, waiting for the bout and ready to cheer someone to victo
ry. Even Spark had boxed there years before.

  After reaching the Tyburn, he saw that it was closed with no sign of life inside so he decided to push on to the next nearest pub which was the Black Lion.

  It was a blessing that the Lion never closed. Inside the public bar, there was always a mixed crowd. Many of the flushed and creviced faces had prison stamped all over them. Like him, they considered themselves above any wage-slave existence. Some would snap up whatever was going and if something took their fancy, they would pocket it before it was even missed.

  It was half past five and the Black Lion had been open since mid-morning. It always amused the publican to see his patrons arrive just as the doors were unlocked and most days he could set his watch by them.

  Inside, the crush around the bar was three deep. Strangers were instantly noticeable and the mob circulated as if in an exclusive club. As long as no damage was done and there was no violence, the landlord said that what his patrons got up to, was none of his business – he only served them drinks and ran the place.

  Those of the greatest notoriety avoided being seen at all and dealt privately elsewhere. At any time, there could be professional fraudsters and kiters in the crowd whose market was supplied by the car thieves and burglars. There were stolen goods and warehouse stock which found a new home.

  Many in the crowd were officially unable to work and permanently affected by bad backs or gout or any other ailment you could mention. Some of them pretended to be employed ; others like Charlie Spark feigned joblessness, often under a variety of different names. Most of them were dissolute, living from one day to the next.

  The crowd often included hold-up men or bank robbers who had learned the use of weapons and explosives in the army. There were firearms for sale which all of them knew about and feigned ignorance. It was the place where plans might be hatched out before some daring escapade hit the newspapers the next day.

  Those who had been inside or in trouble with the police, weighed the prospect of being caught before chancing their freedom. To them, it was a game of outwitting the police : sometimes the risks were too great or fortune dealt a bad hand. This was their view of the world.

  Chapter 4

  Spark At Work

  Charlie Spark had timed his constitutional for the evening trade. From the noise inside the bar, he wasn’t to be disappointed.

  With an air of expectancy, he waited before opening the door of the public bar, like a dog thrashed for stealing meat from the kitchen but returning for more. As he opened the door, his face was met with a wave of rank, hot air which was suffocating. Inside, the bar was packed and deafeningly noisy with a stage-show in full swing.

  It was his first time back at the Lion for several months and he was on the lookout for anything which could tide him over. One or two of the old faces knew him and some even waved to him across the crowd. One way or the other, he knew he'd find something of interest prior to the bell being clanged for last orders.

  After six months of baked beans, bread and bromide tea, he was desperate to pick up whatever he could lay his hands on and to start by finding someone with money. At first sight, no-one presented a possibility. Yet the scene inside the Lion could change very quickly and was not lacking in originality as the doorman cast an eye over the turf guide and forgot about collecting for the performers on stage.

  Across the room, the smoke hung overhead and standing room was limited. Charlie moved through the crowd to the bar and squeezed in a place near the end. As his pint was being drawn, he casually looked around him. Most of them were unknown to him and he was only greeted by the landlord who kept a pony-sized Alsatian which at that moment was stretched out asleep on the bar floor.

  As he sipped his stale beer, the stage performer was cavilling the audience who were whistling, booing and heckling her. At the other end of the bar, a discreet member of the vice squad stared at his watch and prayed for his shift to end.

  Eventually, the crowd began slow-clapping the dancer with some of them barking until the landlord’s Alsatian woke up and joined in the din. The uproar suddenly ended when the 'artiste' directed her copious rear at the crowd and was promptly hit a bulls eye with a pork pie. The culprit, a well-known confidence trickster was promptly grabbed by the collar and marched out by the doorman.

  Meanwhile, with his pint staring back at him, Charlie hung near the bar where a few of the local girls were waiting for their husbands or boyfriends.

  In his early youth, women had been attracted by his his blonde hair and blue eyes. When he looked at you, his smile feigned generosity and openness. Naturally, this was well-rehearsed and familiar to those who knew him. His true character was cleverly hidden from public view. Only very rarely could one observe a squint in his eyes which betrayed a certain furtiveness or when the shape of his lips and mouth hinted there was something dubious about him.

  Secretly, he imagined himself as an actor and like any professional at the Old Vic or the Theatre Royal in the Haymarket, he rehearsed a range of personas and dialogues for different occasions in front of the mirror when he was shaving or dressing each morning.

  For those who were unacquainted with him such as Recorder judges in the Crown Courts or jury members or advocates and lawyers, he could on occasion bring tears to their eyes while pleading from the witness box for understanding and forgiveness. For those who knew him, there were the tragic stories of his childhood ; the beatings he’d endured from a violent stepfather ; how his mother had deserted him and he’d been placed in an orphanage where he’d fallen in with the wrong crowd and been led astray. These and a thousand other stories were pure fiction and were acted out for the benefit of juries in performances worthy of Drury Lane. As often as not, they would attract the sympathy of the female jurors and would end with a verdict of ‘Not Guilty’.

  By the age of twenty six, he’d lived with a succession of different women. Some were burdened with squalling brats ; others were alone and wanted to stay that way ; many were younger but a few were older. At first, each of them had been fascinated by his criminal exploits and the lure of the underworld. All of them tried to steer him away from criminality, especially his first partner who had been his parole officer.

  However before long, they all discovered that he’d never change his ways, least of all for them. And whenever the Flying Squad smashed the front door down at six o’clock in the morning or when a brick crashed through the living room window from a ‘friend’ or when he landed back in prison or offended their fathers or brothers or uncles who all viewed him as a bad lot, they became frightened and then angry with him until eventually, it became too much even for the more patient and loving of his admirers and each union ended abruptly with the lady in tears.

  Chapter 5

  Bob King

  Charlie Spark had little to show for the times he’d been in and out of prison.

  The only thing he’d salvaged from it all was a battered old sports car stolen years before which he was gradually 'restoring' with parts plundered from other cars. Apart from that, all he had was debt : the council bailiffs had been hammering on his door, claiming he owed two years rent which had piled up during his enforced holiday. He kept no food in the cupboards and the fridge. His wardrobe was in need of replacement and made him look like a scarecrow. In Wandsworth Prison, he’d watched the gnats chasing each other around and around outside his window and had felt like one of them – going nowhere.

  As he stood at the bar considering all of this, an hour passed while the pub had slowly emptied and began re-filling for the evening session.

  The approach of night brought with it a different crowd who hung in the shadows around the billiards tables. They spoke only amongst their own circle, examining the floating trade and disinterestedly noting the undercover squad who were themselves pretending to be just as disinterested. In the foreground of the bar, the mob were yelling for the next performer as the mirror-ball threw spots of reflected light in waves across the ceiling and
walls.

  In the hazy lamplight at the end of the bar, Charles sat dejectedly, contemplating the dregs of his beer. Behind him, the door creaked to and fro with departures and arrivals. Then a familiar accent – gravelguts Glaswegian – made its entry.

  Its owner was a Scotsman, Bob King, a mountain of a man wearing an army flak-jacket covered in badges and insignia of different campaigns and brigades including those of certain daredevil commando regiments. (His real name was Bob MacNeish but he styled himself with an alias as he considered himself the ‘king’ of bank robbers.)

  Three ponderous weight-lifting types stood beside him, each of them bursting out of his suit. Charlie recognised them immediately as the three ‘R’s’ or ‘aaaarrrggghs’ (depending on your view) – Rourke, Rooney and Riley. They were all from Dublin and were all related to each other : like the Scotsman, they were proficient at breaking into vaults in the dead of night. Grouped together, the Glaswegian towered slightly above them, being at least six feet six in height and easily eighteen stone with jet black hair, a grisly beard and beetling eyes which darted excitedly as he spoke.

  This was the conversation which Charles overheard.

  "So, ah said to ma field commander, when we reach the hills above Port Stanley, ah sez, ah nivver used tae like their stinkin' corned beef anyhoo and after this shoo, I'm going tae kick a few yon gauchos when we get through their for’ard lines doon theer."

  On cue, Spark heard someone nearby (who was dead drunk) return with the usual quip : "And was he a penguin ?"

 

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