Charlie spark villain.., p.4
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       Charlie Spark - Villain Extraordinaire, p.4

           J M S Macfarlane
 

  He could barely stand up without falling over and on his way to the kitchen, he trod on some mouldy toast which crunched beneath his boot.

  In the kitchen, the sink full of dishes permanently soaking made it impossible for him to reach the tap but without thinking, he splashed some of the greasy water in his face to revive himself.

  On these occasions, his trusted remedy was a mixture of two raw eggs, Worcestershire sauce and a large measure of vodka all mixed together : if he survived for a minute without playing the whale, he'd be well on his way to recovery.

  After mixing it all together, he stood ready to make a quick dash while his stomach debated the matter. Waves of hot flushes swept over him and a sweat broke out on his forehead. In a daydream, he tried to recall the night before but his mind was a complete fuddle. There was the dim recollection of something about a robbery and the outline of some plan or other which had sounded fantastic at the time. Then searing through the haze, all at once, there burst upon him the shimmering, glittering words : “diamonds, gold, rubies, emeralds, sapphires”.

  The sensation hit him squarely, as if he’d been hammering a nail in the wall and had missed and whacked his thumb. Instead of yelping in pain, he was merely stunned and unable to believe his luck.

  “Sackfuls and sackfuls of sparklers for the asking – just dangling there, waiting to be picked, like bunches of grapes – that's what he said,” thought Spark to himself. “With a vault full of gold bars and stacks of notes to go with it.”

  With the dream of untold riches filling his empty skyrocket, no longer would he be discovered squirreling through people's pockets and bags and then be pursued by them. There would be an end to breaking into houses in the blackness of night, being attacked by ferocious dogs, all for a paltry return and once or twice being shot at ; there would be no more haggling with runners and their cut-throat terms or hawking his swag in pubs like a travelling salesman, sometimes unknowingly to undercover plod.

  Everyone knew that Charlie Spark was a hopeless criminal and that he was more of a dreamer or a bohemian than anything else with a flair for pretence and play-acting, at cards or pursuing women or any number of ways to make quick money.

  However, this time, he decided, things would be different – he would let Sir Harry’s plan run its course while playing the role of the trusted lieutenant. When the job was done, it would be very easy : at the reckoning, he'd simply walk off with all the loot for himself. Sir Harry and Bob King and the others would be taken unawares and there would be a great deal of whining which he wouldn't be around to witness.

  How all of this could be done or whether the plan itself would even occur, were complete imponderables, all to be unravelled in their own good time. Having decided this, he fortified himself with another mixture of breakfast fire-water which revitalised him by the second, then he telephoned Bob King and arranged to meet him at the Duke of Wellington pub in the Walworth Road.

  The Glaswegian had arranged to meet his Irish wrestling partners later at the Captain Thunderbolt where they were all to rendezvous with Sir Harry. Before that happened, Charlie Spark and Mr King would make their way to Jack Waterson's gambling den, negotiated through the Coal St market where Spark meant to steal for himself a new pair of shoes, for which his feet were aching with every step.

  Chapter 12

  At the Market

  An hour later, after a pint of watered-down ale and a row between the Scotsman and the landlord of the Wellington in which the latter was accused of serving slops, they edged their way through the crowded market and its discarded fruit cases, trampled flowers, hessian sacks and rubbish. Everyone from the nearby estates was there, buying their weekly provisions or merely out on an afternoon stroll, examining the wares and produce on display.

  Many of the market traders knew the villains by sight and instantly grimaced, as the crowd buffeted the Scotsman and his friend along in its wake.

  Charlie Spark had been caught delving in pockets at a tender age and let off with countless warnings. There were the years of furious chases by overweight stallholders and dozy policemen who hunted him down every laneway, back-street, turning and shop doorway in the areas he tried to pillage. Every time, they caught him red-handed and would march him off to the nearest police station, only to discover that he was back again the next day doing exactly the same thing for which he’d been given a warning or a fine.

  For around two years, he was an utter pest who made the traders grind their teeth with fury. In desperation, they finally paid him to move elsewhere and when that didn't work, they tried to buy off the police to settle him once and for all. It was at the same time, by coincidence that Spark's string of convictions and social welfare reports finally persuaded the beak at Camberwell Magistrates Court to give him his first stint in a young offenders institution at the age of sixteen.

  By the time he’d reached maturity and his third prison sentence, his apprenticeship inside to the fraudsters, bank robbers and thieves was complete – but that was all far away and long ago.

  Halfway down Coal Street, a hawker was prodding the audience to buy his trinketry, in a rasping West Ham voice as he knocked down the prices of cheap imitation jewellery to what seemed a ridiculous amount but was actually extortionate.

  A bored woman police constable and her consort strolled past with an air of condescension, chatting about each other's divorces. Charlie Spark spotted them and bent down to look in at a shop window.

  In the plate glass, he watched the outline reflection of the law float past behind him. Their uniforms always alerted him, as a fox recognizes the huntsman.

  Further down the lane, he quickly stuffed a pair of boots into his coat from a display outside a shoe shop, thinking that they looked about the right size. Inside the shopkeeper saw him walk off but by the time he’d rushed out, Spark had disappeared around the corner, only to discover that the shoes didn’t fit him.

  Past displays of cheap towels and wrapping paper, pirate videos, pottery mugs, second-hand clothes, West Indian pepper soup, chicken and rice and spiced patties, they wended their way through the crowd battering against them from the opposite direction.

  Chapter 13

  Jack Waterson

  At last, they turned into an enclosed courtyard. At the top of an iron staircase, they knocked at a door and waited. A loud commotion could be heard inside. After a short time, a hefty doorman with two black eyes and three chins met them in the entrance and showed them in.

  They passed down a musty corridor leading to a gambling room and bar. Inside, the cacophony was worse than in the middle of the market. The noise blasting out of the gaming arena came from a large transistor radio which blared out short priced odds on the races at Newmarket.

  In a corner to themselves, some old West Indian men were playing dominoes. Every few seconds, there was a loud crack on the table with the slam of a domino, followed by a demented shriek of laughter and an exchange of bluffs and counter-bluffs.

  On the other side of the room, six card players sat like statues, oblivious to people arriving, leaving and squabbling. The close atmosphere was as stifling as the Black Lion. At the bar, several women waited patiently while being watched over by the players at the gambling tables. The gamblers’ wallets were watched over by the croupiers.

  In his office overlooking the roulette wheel, Jack Waterson nervously stalked from one side of the room to the other, occasionally halting to peer through a two-way mirror in the wall. He was in the middle of a fierce argument with two merchants from Amsterdam and mopped the sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief. Accusations were traded with the Dutchmen who were jumping up from their seats like infuriated jack-in the-boxes.

  Waterson was wearing out the carpet by pacing to and fro and bellowing in time with each step. He was in his mid sixties and had slick grey hair and a querulous smile. The lenses in his spectacles were as thick as magnifying glasses and caused him to stand disconcertingly close to anyone talking to him so th
at he would examine them up and down from head to foot, in the same way that a tailor measures you for a suit. A gnawed cigar was invariably clamped between his false teeth and around him wafted the redolence of a tobacconist's shop. His first time in prison had been over forty years ago with varying sentences since then, courtesy of the Common Serjeant at the Old Bailey.

  As with everyone holidaying in Her Majesty’s penal institutions, prison had given him an education and in his case, had taught him the art of fixing and organising. Whenever he met anyone for the first time in the Wandsworth metalwork shop or in the Wormwood Scrubs library or over breakfast in the Parkhurst refectory, he got to know them by asking all sorts of questions, making careful mental notes of everything about their life – especially when most people delight in nothing better than talking about themselves – from where they were born, right up to the date of their parole review.

  With a memory like a sponge and all of the information he’d gathered over the years, he gained a reputation for his contacts throughout the criminal world in south east London. Using his exhaustive knowledge of each villain's background, his specialisation and whether he was in or out of prison, he became a contact point for finding someone with the right experience for a difficult job.

  Whenever the word was put out that the services of an experienced cat burglar or fence were needed, meetings were arranged through the underground network via the countless pubs, clubs, billiards halls and cafés from Coal Street to Southend.

  The problem was that Waterson, like most knaves and dissemblers who need quick money or to save their own neck, was an occasional police informer : Charlie Spark knew, along with the rest of the Old Kent Road set, that one or two detective constables from the Flying Squad at Cartemorf Street occasionally visited the Waterson gaming rooms, under the pretext of trying to close it down. Yet everyone knew that was not the real reason why the wallopers pretended to be looking the other way.

  At the time of their visit, the row in Jack Waterson's office had reached a crescendo. As Charlie Spark opened the door he was greeted with a barrage.

  "You're cheating me. All this time I thought we could do business and you turn out to be vipers in suits."

  Just as Waterson was about to launch a stream of abuse, he suddenly noticed his visitors at the door. He stopped himself and smiled strangely, in the same way that the inmates of mental institutions sometimes tell their psychiatrists of things they imagine.

  "Charlie Spark – young man," said the club owner, still wringing his hands but recollecting himself and throwing open his arms which were evaded by the visitors.

  The Dutchmen stopped their harangue in broken English, realised a quick retreat was in order after one look at Bob King's face then scurried out the door like frightened weasels and waited by the roulette wheel.

  After the door was closed again, Waterson shouted ecstatically almost in Spark's face, examining him through his glasses as if the young villain was a stick insect.

  "Charles, young man, hello, hello, I’ve got just what you asked for. You know I deliver the goods – I should set up a Job Centre out the back, shouldn't I ?" effused Waterson, poking Bob King in the ribs and momentarily observing the Scotsman’s new gold watch.

  "Who've ye got for us to see ? Do we knoo any of 'em ? They heer ? And it's nae wedge 'til we're two hundred percent satisfied."

  Jack Waterson seemed genuinely startled. "Bob King, young man, I'm deeply shocked. This is extremely out of order, my customers doubting the sincerity of my efforts to fill the bill. I'm mortally shocked."

  "You will be if we don't get who we want."

  "Right we are Charles, no need to be uppity," and advancing to a side door, Waterson puffed a cloud of cigar smoke and bade his customers follow him into a nearby room.

  Chapter 14

  Roosters

  As soon as they entered, three door-frame sized removalist types and a thin man of average height all leapt to their feet at the same time as if propelled by springs.

  Waterson with his mauled cigar floated off, taking his leave to allow them privacy. When the door was closed after him, he silently padded a few steps away to the adjoining room where he pressed his ear to the wall and listened intently but with a curious expression, as if he was about to overhear a conversation between talking dogs.

  Ignoring introductions, Charlie Spark immediately began playing the part of a company boss and spouted a ragbag of lies to explain why the meeting had been called.

  As he rattled off some drivel about stealing a vanload of prize roosters, at which his audience were wide-eyed in amazement, he scanned the group and was pleased with his story – one look at them told him that their combined intelligence was no greater than the mould on the lump of cheddar which had been sitting in his fridge for five months.

  Those in the group shuffled their shoes and looked at the floor or merely grinned inanely. The most perceptive of them had a lantern jaw and thick black eyebrows which were in the habit of meeting like estuary eels. After hearing Spark’s story, the eyebrows arched in disbelief.

  "Whadayamean, roosters ?” he demanded. “Are you saying we're gonna to knock over a truckload o' cock-a-doodle-doo's ? Listen, I ain't goin' on any rooster run, laddo."

  Spark was unfazed. "Yeah, yeah, just hold on for a moment," he cautioned them, "you see… these roosters are worth a mint – they’re special pedigree ones – and we have to get them out of an armoured car. Now, just leave it all to us and don't worry about it. So, tell us all about yourselves. Well, who's going to start first ?"

  "They're carryin' a boonch o' chickens in an armoured car ?"

  And there followed an even sillier explanation about how these were especially prized 'super-roosters' from Normandy under armed guard, for which all the chicken-farmers and restaurateurs in Europe were desperate and that the birds could be ransomed for a fortune, as long as there wasn't too much of a flap about it, ha ha said Spark attempting a weak joke to alleviate the confusion.

  In the next room, Jack Waterson thought it was so mad that it must be true.

  Spark repeated his demand for a brief history of themselves and the first to do so was the thick set man with the lantern jaw who said his name was ‘Taffey’ (obviously because he was a Welshman). His speciality was electrical wiring and alarms. There was a livid grey scar running across his right cheek and by the look of him, he'd slept the night on Victoria Station in his donkey jacket and down at heel boots. Although he’d been in the army in his earlier life, he now worked as a miner but had been on strike for the past six months.

  The second recruit was Tony Valenti who said he had escaped from Iran in a lorryload of dates but spoke with an Italian accent. Charlie noticed he had a gold tooth as he slyly kidded about what he was doing in London.

  "Me uncle, 'e shipa capitano, see," with expressive waving of arms and hands, " 'e visit me from my country," scratching himself as he spoke. "We asleep deesa morning, very early. Pom, pom on de door, poleesman 'e bash it down, 'e lookin' for theesa stuff, I dunno wot 'e want," said Valenti, wheezing with laughter. "Then 'e say is wrong addressa an' clear off."

  Then there was the ‘wheel man’ Reg Griffey, whose brief career washing cars at Brand's Hatch racing circuit had exploded him into notoriety some years earlier when he calmly downed a bottle of bosun's rum and stole a formula one Maggiore. It was the merest trifle to sail through the crash barriers and onto the M25 motorway where he belted along at a hundred and forty hoping to offer it for a tidy sum at the next auction although it had been imprudent of him to fall asleep at the wheel. His sentence was reduced after a gulled psychologist recommended a course of alcohol aversion tablets which were soon forgotten like most things in this world.

  Clifton Earls had been in several bank jobs and sported a maroon cowboys hat. The Brixton frontline was his home, leaving aside those times when he was handcuffed to an economy seat on a flight back to Kingston.

  At the end of the introductions, Bob King said th
ey were satisfied with what they’d heard. As for the others, they were all thinking exactly the same thing – how could a vanload of prize roosters be shifted which each of them planned to steal for himself.

  Terms were arranged, retainers paid, everyone exchanged telephone numbers and at Spark's request, arranged to meet again in an hour's time at The Captain Thunderbolt pub to seal the bargain. As they left the room, Jack Waterson sidled out from behind the door and asked, "What's on the cards, young man ? Something momentous, Charles, by all accounts ? I heard it was something out in the country..."

  "What .. Ha Ha Ha Ha .. That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard in my life .. Who ever told you that ?" said Spark, slapping his thigh in amusement.

  "The source of my information….said it was you, Charlie. He said you were telling them all about it in The Globe at about four this morning."

  It was as if Spark was in the witness box at the Old Bailey while experiencing the same numbness, incoherence and sweating but avoiding Bob King's stare of amazement at the floor. Immediately he recovered himself to say : "What ? Ahhahahahahhaha....You’re havin’ a laugh. We’ll send you your money – and remember to keep it shut – and I don’t mean the door."

  Chapter 15

  The Elephant & Castle

  It was probably a medieval mule-driver's cart which parted from its wheel in the middle of the road or a collision between two impatient sedan chairs that first established the Elephant and Castle as a mad, chaotic meeting and parting of the ways, south of the City of London.

  So mused the pensive Sir Harry Hoppitt in the rear of a black cab which dumped him like a sack of King Edwards outside the Metropolitan Tabernacle, across from the Underground station.

 
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