Charlie spark villain.., p.3
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       Charlie Spark - Villain Extraordinaire, p.3

           J M S Macfarlane

  Chapter 8

  Sir Harry Introduces Himself

  The traffic in the early hours down the Old Kent Road had mostly taken its leave. Only the squad cars from Cartemorf St police station disturbed the night, in what would otherwise have been a peaceful few hours break for everyone within a square mile.

  In the back room of the Tyburn Tree, a rickety table and four chairs were all that could be squeezed inside, forcing Sharma the bonecrusher to wait outside.

  Bob King ordered a bottle of Auldlochie and four glasses. Then the bookie, a veteran campaigner of horse, dog and chicken races poured out the drinks, adding a thimbleful of water to his own whisky and raised his glass to propose a toast.

  "My friends – and I hope I have the honour to know you as such for a long time to come – my friends, let us drink in honour of the square-shooters and good losers of this world who sadly seem more and more rare these days. To find both qualities, I know of only one thing in this world which can provide immediate inspiration. Why – only in cricket, of course – the most certain of all things in this world of, er...."

  At the mention of the hallowed word, he stopped short, gave a sigh and drained off his glass in one. This was the last thing Bob King expected to discuss at half past one in the morning and didn't even know how to approach the subject since he'd never played the game in his life. The Cricketers pub at the Oval was the sum total of his knowledge on the subject.

  Charlie Spark surmised that their host was in his second childhood ; if he was humoured long enough with overflowing conversation and drink, he might not even realise that the valise had grown legs and walked off into the night of its own accord.

  With a sly grin, he said : "Oh, heh, heh, I've bowled a few overs at Alderstones in my time." The mere mention of this place-name caused everyone around the table to look up with a smile.

  "Oh yes, of course, the open prison in Kent," said his host. "I didn’t know they had a pitch down there – mind you, I can't say I've actually seen the inside of that one myself – although, of course, there have been so many I tend to lose count. Haw haw...Anyway, let me tell you. 1937 I think it was – just before I was given the heave-ho out of Oxford – at Cowley Oval against St Mordred's College – or p'raps it was 1938 – anyway, whenever it was – do you know I actually took eight for two at lunch with off-breaks . And I can tell you that such a feat has not been repeated during the past twenty two test sides which have played internationally. What ? Haw haw haw..."

  Charlie Spark, Bob King and the anonymous Maurice all gawped in amazement at this fount of athleticism whose grasp of life proceeded in the style of bat upon ball, with whisky chaser on village green.

  "Oh, dear me – I haven't even introduced myself yet, have I ? Please forgive my manners. I'm Harry St John Perceval Delaunay Baron Hoppitt – Sir Harry to you lot. It's a baronetcy I like everyone to think was inherited from my father. Usually I have to explain, mostly to obtuse gamesters whenever I happen to be marking down the odds at Ascot, that it was my misfortune not to come into any property or money along with the title…..bit of a shame, eh ?"

  At this, he gave a melancholy sigh and poured a measure of whisky, pausing thoughtfully to light yet another cigar. Whether or not the story was true, was anyone’s guess, thought the others around the table.

  Introductions were then provided by Charlie Spark and Bob King who each in turn described themselves as 'entrepreneur' and 'problem solver' respectively.

  Everything about them signalled to Sir Harry that they were indeed two plump pigeons ready for roasting over a slow fire. They seemed ideally gullible and dim witted : one of them was obviously a consummate liar and trickster, too reckless for his own good ; the other one could bend steel bars with his teeth but needed a lollypop lady to get him safely to the other side of the road.

  The bookmaker relished how he would drain them for all they were worth and then fit them in a frame of their own making : they would be at a certain location at a pre-arranged time when an anonymous telephone message would land in front of the desk sergeant at West End Central police station, happily coinciding with the stamping of the bookie’s own passport at his arrival somewhere on the other side of the world and the final call on the first leg of his quadruple rescheduled double-back itinerary, ending at Bridgetown Barbados and life in the sun. Yet in spite of that, he’d overlooked the interesting fact that similar designs had also been turning in the slow-movement brain boxes of his guests.

  Chapter 9

  A Proposal

  With these thoughts in mind and the introductions concluded, for all his advancing years the turf tabulator had the grip of an adolescent boa constrictor when they shook hands.

  Maurice, his colleague, suddenly caught up with the conversation. "Blimey, 'Arry, I didn't know you was gentry."

  "Yes, well, old boy, you see I don't quite advertise the fact around here. If I did, people might get the wrong idea and think I've got shedloads of wodge sitting at home waiting to be lifted, which isn't the case at all – quite the contrary. Why do you think I'm running a book when the fights are on ? Barely keeps my supposed family silver on my dining table in Mayfair, etc. It's a tricky business all this title lark, you know... could easily land one in the soup with one's cronies."

  After the landlord brought in some steak and kidney pie, with a tired out gammon steak and reconstituted mashed potato with even greasier gravy on which Sir Harry almost choked, he gave a meandering discourse on the virtues of playing in a side of eleven, while pouring out whisky chasers for everyone over several rounds. At table, their elbows bumped against each other so that they were almost forced to eat with their arms held in against their sides until the food and discomfort caused them to give up the battle. Spark and King were exhausted but their host had discovered a new enthusiasm.

  "Anyhow, I say to hell with it all," proclaimed Sir Harry loudly as he slammed down his glass with a crash and woke Bob King with a start. "Good riddance to that fellow Wrightley – England never had a worse bowler. It's beyond me how anyone could have the gall to show his face on the pitch after dropping so many catches. I don't care if he batted one hundred and eight not out. Iss ghasslay, issa sacr'lege.."

  It came as no surprise when Spark began to see double. At his side, the corpulent Maurice was fast asleep and snoring like an idling diesel engine until he was abruptly woken and kicked out.

  Sir Harry then leaned across to Spark and whispered : "My friend, I see you are a man to be trusted." He winked slyly and added : "You know – I alwaysh trust a man who plays cricket – at the crease, you see, it's a moment of truth, facing up to a bowler – it's how we are, ain’t it ? Our continental friends can't make it out, they just can't get to grips with it. But then, how can one explain itsh complete brilliance?"

  All that Spark could muster was a vague nod and wished he was far away down the Old Kent Road with the bag of loot under his arm but all he could see were blurred images around him.

  At the same time, Sir Harry's face was lobster red and beads of sweat glistened on his sun-tanned forehead. He took special pleasure in ignoring his quack's advice and claimed that the water of life was a known panacea for every malady from colds to piles. The contradictions had been rehearsed in numerous doctors' surgeries but he was convinced the sawbones didn’t know one end of their stethoscope from the other. At sixty five, his barrel chest and paunch made him appear quite formidable which he inevitably was during prolonged binges and younger men were astounded to see him smoke at least fifteen Grande Pantalones cigars every day without turning green.

  "As yoush wash shayin', guv," mumbled Spark.

  Sir Harry gave a wary glance betraying some irritation, raised his eyebrows then leaned across to the Scotsman whose snoring was shaking the walls and roared in his ear : "I say, be quiet, will you ?" which caused Bob King to open his eyes and give vent to an expression not heard since the time in Glasgow when he was stopped by a tourist who wanted to know why no-one there was weari
ng a kilt.

  Sir Harry's eyes beamed fixedly on them.

  "Listen chaps, if I encountered some bother, could I rely on you ?"

  He looked with the utmost seriousness from one to the other, intent on weighing up their reply, an ironic smile playing at the corner of his mouth.

  " Of course yer can," affirmed Charles.

  "Then listen to what I have to say gentlemen, for there is the prospect of each of us becoming rich – so rich, that it would be difficult to imagine. If I told you the rewards were incalculable, enough to settle in Switzerland in a mansion by Lake Geneva or on your own tropical island in Polynesia or to go trout fishing in Scotland every day during the season or best of all, to buy a house in St John's Wood, high enough to look over the fence at Lord's Cricket Ground, what would you say ?"

  At the mere mention of enrichment, Charlie Spark suddenly shook himself, cur-like, back to near sobriety and began to listen closely. Bob King had fallen back in his chair but with closed eyes said, "Ah’m listenin’ .."

  "Well, chaps, I'll bowl straight and directly at the wicket. But first, I must have your solemn word of honour that nothing you are about to hear will go beyond these walls."

  The others merely grunted, signifying agreement.

  Leaning closer to Charlie Spark across the table, Sir Harry looked around him and whispered, "Listen to me carefully – not many people know that I'm well acquainted with a circle of wealthy families. Some of them are aristo’s. Some are self-made millionaires or entrepreneurs with landed wealth. Many of them have property abroad. All of them wield enormous influence and share one thing in common – they are unbelievably naive, all too human and liable to overlook mistakes until it's too late. Their lifestyle is governed by one thing only – the pursuit of money. Fortunately, they are not as careful in hanging onto it as they are with acquiring it. And because they are cocooned in gold, they don’t experience the grind of daily life which is forced upon the likes of us every day. They lead secluded lives, away from the humdrum routine which common folk such as ourselves have to endure to make a living. Occasionally, their exploits are exaggerated in the press. Yet... they are all so top heavy with money… like trees in an orchard weighed down with luscious fruit waiting to be picked on a summer's day. And as the blackbirds wield and scatter around the farmer's scarecrow and help themselves to the most succulent fruit at the very tops of the trees, so may we poor souls, gather in a myriad of….unimaginable riches which are scarcely to be missed. Do you perceive my meaning, old boy ?"

  "Course I do – you want to fleece them," said Charlie Spark who had imagined stacks of banknotes falling from the sky and landing on his head.

  Sir Harry continued in the same undertone. "We must decide quickly, my friends, whether to grasp this sweet fruit, dangling from the branches, waiting to be picked. Now then, what are your thoughts on the matter ?"

  Where money was to be made, Charles was always suspicious if anyone else was involved and instinctively decided to get it all for himself.

  "Listen mate, I'll be as happy as a duck in a downpour to make some easy money, especially if it's an enormous wad – and about time too..." said he with some regret. "But what do you want us to do ?"

  "Aaah.." said Sir Harry with a nod. "Let's not get tangled up in our own stumps, eh ? I assume then that you are taken with the idea ? And your friend ?"

  Spark persisted : "We’re interested – but tell us more..."

  Sir Harry paused to ponder the embers of his cigar.

  “I don't think much of this steak and kidney pud, do you ? It's a bit out of character for the landlord, usually he does a very good roast pheasant..."

  For a moment he waited, as if expecting someone to fling the door open and burst into the room but suddenly he turned on them.

  "Listen – do you know how long we could get, even if we were only half way through my plan ? I’ll tell you – around ten years each, perhaps even a bit more. Now – what do you have to say to that ?"

  Charlie Spark was groping mentally to try and become sober again.

  "What's the risk of being thrown in the kennel, though, Mr er… Sir …?"

  "Call me Harry...well, old boy – let us put it like this. At the outset, it could be as much as two to one against us ; of course, that could be reduced after ve-ry careful planning – it depends..." he said with a flourish, meaning he was too goggle-headed to go into it all in detail then and there but was confident his scheme would succeed.

  "You'll nay be usin’ shooters, will ye ?" enquired Bob King who had taken in the entire conversation with his eyes closed.

  "Certainly not. But I would mention that I don't propose to remove a two ton vault door with my cub scout penknife..."

  Bob King's eyes suddenly flipped open like roller blinds.

  "Well," ventured the Scotsman, "all ah know is, ah'd doo anything to get oot of that rat-trup ah'm livin' un. Ah've done ma fair share o’ taym inside for bank jawbs, bag jawbs and till jawbs. Ah always had to do it in the end 'cause I couldnae see any way oot. Just noo, ah've got that feelin'. Ah'm droonin' in debt, ma wayf is ill, ma bairns need shoes, ma hoos on the estate is full o' zombies and ah cannae see any escape from goin' doon into that pit o’ sladgers. So, ah've got to get away somehoo, ah've just got to get oot.. so ah’m in."

  Chapter 10

  The Plan

  "Come on then, Sir Harry, out with it, what's the plan ?" demanded Charlie Spark. "I haven't got threepence to spare either so I'll give anything a go if the haul is worth it."

  Sir Harry collected his shambled thoughts and again whispered to them.

  "Because of my influence with certain members of this clique, I can mix freely and unhindered with them. Next Friday evening is the start of festivities at an estate house in the Wiltshire countryside. The daughter of some big-wig is marrying a stock-broker twerp and as the season is in full swing, there are five days of celebrations organised. On Friday, there’ll be a casino to entertain the guests at their manor house and a grand ball, oh and other things, but....there will be diamonds…yes, my friends – diamonds – by the dishfull – some as large as quail eggs and there'll be gold, rubies, sapphires, emeralds – all for the taking....and according to my information, there is a safe jam-packed with bullion and notes. Could either of you open it ?"

  "Can fush swum ?” declared Bob King. “Ah've done more safe breaks than you've had hot crumpets, pal. And theer's three other geezers who can do the jawb with me in two minutes flat."

  Charlie Spark said he'd also done some interior renovation on banks.

  "Can fish swim ? Well, you'll need to swim fast where we're going," said Sir Harry, "and not make any mistakes."

  From the inside of his top pocket, he took out a fountain pen and traced a drawing on his paper serviette. "This is an outline plan of the estate. The manor house with annex is at the head of two hundred acres of land. That is where the wedding breakfast will be held. We would need a good wheel man, along with those friends of yours and perhaps a few others to do the leg work. And we'd need a runner to hoist the stuff – perhaps I can attend to that. Well – that’s all there is to it. I must have your final answer now. Will you be joining me in Monte Carlo next summer ?"

  "Or Wandsworth…" mused Bob King.

  Charlie Spark examined the drawing.

  "A little rough at the edges but I think it's worth investing a few hours of ‘my valuable professional time’ – as the briefs always say."

  "Aye and ah'll be in it to ma neck – and 'ah knoo the others will too," said Bob King, inching his finger around his collar.

  "Then we're agreed. My friends, your health – and to the success of our plan. Let's strike immediately without wasting any time – I take it you know someone who can find the right people for the task – can something be done to arrange that tomorrow morning, so we can field our team when we meet in the afternoon ?"

  "We'll have to ring that reptayle, Jack Waterson and risk it. Ah'll speak with the wee fe
rret in the mornin’," said Bob King, cracking his knuckles.

  After the final toast, Sir Harry decided he could drink no more and that it was time to leave as it was around half past two in the morning. Before setting off in their different directions, they arranged to meet the following afternoon at The Captain Thunderbolt pub which was just around the corner from the Inner London Sessions House where each of them had graced the limelight in the past. The ‘Captain’ as it was known to the locals, adjoined the spot where a notorious highwayman was hanged in the seventeenth century. These days, the farewells were not permanent if the jury had seen through the sob stories and brought in a guilty verdict.

  When Sir Harry had teetered through the back door of the Tyburn Tree, he gave his companions the thumbs up sign and tapping the side of his reddened nose, told Charlie Spark to wake up the landlord who was asleep in the bar and get him to lock up after they left.

  In the cold morning air near the Walworth Road, Charlie shook hands with the Glaswegian and watched for some minutes as his friend stumbled off to the gargantuan edifice of the Haytted Estate. The streets were deserted and the shop fronts and clubs all boarded up to ward off any smash and grabs or playful youth. The footpaths were largely empty but in a few hours would be full of people hurrying about their business.

  As he shuffled along, with the wind driving down on him, he could barely make out in the clouded skies, an occasional glint from the stars in the blackness of night above. After walking into several lamp-posts and taking an occasional detour, some brief and others not, eventually he found his way home to Nile Terrace and his front gate. He crawled up the front steps and spent twenty minutes trying to find his key, then felt his way to the front living room and collapsed onto the lounge but later rolled onto the floor where he curled up fast asleep like a tomcat.

  Chapter 11

  A Plan Within A Plan

  As the afternoon sunlight streamed across the living room floor, Charlie Spark awoke fully clothed at one o'clock the following day with a slamming headache and a spinning sensation as if he'd just stepped off the teacup and saucer ride at the fairground.

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