Charlie spark villain.., p.5
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       Charlie Spark - Villain Extraordinaire, p.5

           J M S Macfarlane

  From all sides his senses were besieged by an endless stream of traffic whizzing past him in every direction, racing frantically in two roundabouts of racetrack proportions and encircled by high-rise towers resembling gigantic milk crates. In the middle of the roundabouts sat a block-like edifice which looked more like an immense silver egg-carton than anything else.

  Sir Harry recalled the trams which had run across the cobbled high street, past the tenements and terraces which the council had flattened. Whenever he visited the Elephant and remembered how it once was, the entire scene made him fume.

  Feeling completely mutton-headed after the previous night, he decided to tempt fate by crossing the road instead of using the walkway to go under it. Some of the cars and lorries were forced to slow down to avoid colliding with him and before long there was untold confusion and rows which happened every day of the week.

  Halfway across the road, he swung his girth over a waist high steel fence, severely crumpling his jacket in the process. By that time, the traffic was streaming through again, trapping him in the middle of the road, with its hazy blue clouds of exhaust and deafening revving, zooming and cutting up.

  For several minutes, he was stranded with the traffic bollards and was eventually forced to make a lunatic dash twenty feet in front of a red bus doing sixty, his barrel frame bouncing madly like a medicine ball strapped to his lower chest, the driver on the number twelve bus to Catford Mews, maniacally sounding his horn and hooting at the near miss.

  At the footpath's edge, he ran into another steel fence separating the pavement from the roadway and after overcoming this second hurdle, leaned against a lamp post to catch his breath. The passage had sweated him profusely, turning his face a variety of hues of beetroot and scarlet, as he wheezed and puffed and groaned at his ordeal.

  Wading through an alligator swamp or a lake infested with sharks would have been as perilous. His preference was for the entire area to be closed and for all traffic to be diverted straight into the Thames.

  Having survived getting across the road in one piece and with his head spinning, he failed to recognize from a distance, several familiar faces at the bus queue and only when it was too late, did he attempt to steal away in the opposite direction.

  However, he was soon overtaken in his tracks by at least ten pensioners who were his regular customers and all of them had money to stake on races that day. They called him a variety of names at different times, depending on whether they were winning or losing – none of them had ever seen a poor bookie in his life – yet Sir Harry maintained there was no real profit in taking their bets. He only did it because he'd settled in their community almost forty years before and they'd accepted him as an outsider. Many of them were convinced he’d secreted a pot of gold – from all of their losses over the years – somewhere safe for his retirement in the south of France.

  After extricating himself from the society of turf-goers, he gradually hauled himself up the steps leading into the shopping centre wherein could be heard wailing toddlers, dogs barking and the never-ending drone of the traffic outside, all accompanied by some facile tune piped from the ceiling.

  Chapter 16

  What Happened at The Globe

  He sat down for a moment to catch his breath and after five minutes, stood up again, straightened his jacket, paused to reflect on the absurdity of life then ambled through the upper arcade.

  He took the escalator to the ground floor and on the way down, cast his eye over the vista of modern living – the butcher’s shop, betting shop, furniture store, supermarket, off-licences, flower stall, cafés and shops selling second-hand clothes, second-hand books and other bric-a-brac. The music inside each of them added to the noise outside and reverberated on the concrete floor and glass walls.

  A few families straggled together but mostly there were tired-looking women on their own shopping for groceries, pushing prams and screaming at infants who were bawling back at them.

  A stray dog sat patiently outside the butcher’s, his eyes riveted on the steaks and bones hanging in the window, vainly hoping that one might accidentally fall on the floor and be spirited away before it was missed.

  Drunks and loons staggered from one bewildered person to the next, cadging money or cigarettes or both. The busiest shops were the off-licence liquor stores where there were long queues of people of all ages, including under-ages.

  Sir Harry’s objective was a café at the far end of the concourse. Since deciding on his course of action the evening before, he wanted to be certain his accomplices would be deprived of the loot and with that in mind, he needed a runner who could sell the jewels as soon as they were lifted.

  Sitting in the café by the window, he saw a thin, middle-aged Kashmiri man who caught sight of him and gave a brief wave. Sir Harry squeezed his way in between the parked prams, ordered two cups of tea (which were served with the bags still floating), laboriously removed his jacket and greeted his friend of many campaigns, Ziftikhar Ali Zhakali, a former bandit and camel thief in his youth but now a well-known fence, widely respected in the south London underworld. Ten years earlier, Zhakali had been the richest fence in south-east England but had become too greedy and after being betrayed, had served seven years in Parkhurst. Nearly all of his wealth had been confiscated by the Crown.

  After comparing notes on the state of each other's fortunes, with Zhakali giving an occasional wail of, "You know Harry, I used to be a millionaire – and look at me, just look at me now," the conversation took an unexpected turn.

  "I am hearing that you are soon to go off into the countryside ?" said the fence whose conversation was punctuated by questions put in a rather matter of fact way. In this instance, he assumed that Harry had been planning a holiday.

  With a smile, Zhakhali suddenly added : "How much do you expect to get from this place, the Manor House ?"

  Sir Harry’s face turned red despite the suntan. "Er, uh...I don't quite know what you mean ?"

  "The Manor House – the Loathbery Manor House – you're going there – to do the place over."

  "Whaaat ? I mean….I've heard of the place you mention, the Manor whatsit or other – and I think I've seen it in the newspapers or somewhere but I'm not planning on going there."

  He felt his face glowered in a mixture of rage, surprise and awkwardness ; sweat broke out on his forehead as he tried to conceive how the fence could possibly have heard about his plan.

  Zhakhali showed wide-eyed amazement with a waggle of his head.

  "If you’re not going to the Manor House, Sir Harry, that is rather strange because a young fellow called Charlie Spark – do you know him ? He has a haircut like a thick yellow mop, ha, ha. He says that you are going there. He was telling everyone about it at The Globe pub last night. Do you know him ? Hee, hee, you should have seen him, he was so drunk."

  At the mere mention of Spark's name, the very blood jumped in the old bookie's veins and mentally grinding his teeth and screwing up his eyes, his muted curses followed thick and heavily, all of them of a flaying and lacerating nature.

  He gulped his mug of greasy tea in disgust and said "Yes, I know him alright. What is he supposed to have said ?"

  "Well, you know, he was rather drunk, poor chap but he did say there were diamonds the size of plums, hanging from the trees but there were many crows and ravens and that you knew how to pick them off – ah, a lot of it was rambling and I couldn't understand all of what he was saying but I thought I'd ask you when I saw you this morning....well ?"

  "Well, what ?"

  " know…is he right or not ?

  Halfway across the valley of death, the six hundred might have stopped to put the kettle on and consider what they were about to do. Like them, the decision fell to Sir Harry at that precise moment whether to forget about his plan altogether for which a mountain of tedious, back-breaking work had been undertaken. Or was he simply to crash ahead with it ?

  What angered him most was his own stupid

  He could have banged his head fifty times against the nearest wall or had himself chained up in a set of stocks for a week with an invitation for passers-by to pelt rotten vegetables at him. If he’d had a pen and paper, he would have written out a sign saying “Kick Me” then pinned it to his back and stood in front of the café to let everyone take aim. Any of these would have reminded him how he’d been fooled by that jackanapes, Charlie Spark.

  Yet, in spite all of this, he knew there was no turning back. Absolutely too much had been invested.

  He had little choice other than to spin a tale about going to the Manor House on a sight-seeing tour of the stately home and perhaps to pocket a few things while he was there which would need to be traded very quickly.

  The former Kashmiri bandit nodded silently then whispered "I know how such things can happen – after all, I used to be a millionaire. But now it's gone. Gone. All gone. I was ruined."

  After further scenes of pathos, eventually they settled matters between them and with a wooden smile, Sir Harry took his leave. Immediately, he rang Maurice and Sharma and asked them to meet him outside the Captain Thunderbolt in half an hour. Inside him, a foul fury was bubbling and belching. Violently would it explode like Krakatoa as if he’d stoked up on three generous pahls with extra chillies, fit to breathe fire and blast the caitiff for his unpardonable offence.

  Chapter 17

  The Captain Thunderbolt

  A pantechnicon of uncertainty had been dumped on Sir Harry, weighing him down.

  If the Flying Squad at Cartemorf Street got wind of his plan, they’d as likely let things run on, then catch him in the act and he’d wind up doing a ten year stretch. And even if they were put off the scent, he might still have to contend with the aristo’s at the Loathbery Manor House or the gangs at the Tyburn Tree and the Black Lion. If any of them heard about it or if all of them did together, they’d be pursuing him up hill and down dale, all through the fault of that dunderhead, Charlie Spark.

  As these thoughts turned over in his mind, this way and that, backwards and forwards, he stubbornly decided he'd stay the innings and bat on.

  Having settled this question in his own mind, there was nothing else for it but to make his way to the Captain Thunderbolt and have it out with Spark, the donkey.

  By this time, he’d left the shopping precinct and was passing through an underground walkway with graffiti scrawled across its walls. How anyone could design such an abomination was beyond him. There should again be a row of spikes above the arches of Tower Bridge, he thought, as there were on London Bridge in Elizabethan times, with places specially reserved for the heads of architects, town planners and designers who had inflicted this torture on everyone after the war.

  Directly overhead, the red buses raced the lorries around the circuit, shaking the ground beneath his feet as if the walls and ceiling would give way at any moment.

  His worries were magnified by the scene of gloom which laughed mockingly in his face, taunting him that his old cell was being prepared at Her Majesty's Holiday Farm – or so he imagined. Desperately, he tried to ignore it all and stumbled along while puffing on his cigar, thinking what a ghastly mess it had become and how much he would instead have enjoyed wandering down a country lane on his way to the cricket oval that afternoon.

  At last, he emerged from the underpass after being wrongly shepherded into several byways in the opposite direction. Having fought his way through the concrete thoroughfares and the ghosts of several Victorian streets, he finally ascended to the rubbish-strewn footpath near Rockinghorse Street and squinted in the daylight.

  The council estates near the Captain Thunderbolt were mostly decrepit, aged and almost uninhabitable because the local council had earmarked them for demolition but had no money to knock them down. Instead, it was viewed as an open invitation by hordes of squatters who delighted in the situation. Occasionally, there were medieval-style sieges by the bailiffs and coppers who tried to enforce eviction orders. Everywhere, the old red telephone boxes had disappeared and were replaced with vandal-proof telephones exposed to the elements but even that was not enough to stop the enterprising local youth from digging coins out of them like prising cockles and winkles from their shells.

  In these surroundings and feeling downcast, Sir Harry entered the pub without looking properly and stubbed his toe against the raised stone doorstep.

  The landlord who was quick to sum up outsiders (especially as he was expecting a visit from the taxman and a load of other creditors) quickly scrutinised him and served an under-measured whisky. Sir Harry decided to forego a row and staked his ground at a corner table to concentrate on his cricket almanac.

  Unimaginable as it may have been to some members of the magistracy, he had merited his own entry in the histories of the almanac itself.

  During his brief time at college and before his disgrace, he’d distinguished himself by cracking eight consecutive sixes over the stand at Cowley in 1939.

  Meanwhile inside the pub, the resident Geordies played darts and snooker with the motorcycle couriers and lorry drivers. There were bored civil servants and art students from Camberwell spinning yarns and medical students from King's College Hospital and Guy's whose well-turned accents could be heard in the din.

  His temper stewing, he nodded to an acquaintance who had also stayed in a one-window, one-room suite at Pentonville Plaza but later than him.

  Since that time, a great deal of silt had passed under the bascules of Tower Bridge on its way to the rubbish dumping site where the lighters emptied their bellies of Oxfordshire household waste, just beyond the Thames Estuary.

  As it happened, river eels were also partial to the same spot which was the best location to catch them. Their flavour, when jellied or served fresh, displayed a peculiar quality which no-one could explain, not even if he was a marine biologist or a Wapping costermonger or a Soho restaurateur. In the latter case, any enterprising cats around Wardour Street enjoyed the heads and tails but had to wrestle with them slightly.

  Chapter 18

  Charlie Spark Is Given A Last Chance

  In thirty sermoned Sundays, Sir Harry hadn't anticipated what then took place as the front door of the pub was almost shaken off its hinges after a wrench of the handle the wrong way. Then Mick Riley's head popped through the opened gap as he looked this way and that like a startled mole. After deciding it was safe to enter, he stepped into the bar, followed by Griffey and Rooney, then Pat Rourke who loudly kicked his toe against the doorstep, gave an animal howl and began hopping about on one leg until his twenty stone hit the carpet (and almost broke through the mouldy floorboards).

  Fortunately, the glazed eyes of the patrons were by that time triple focused and didn't even blink at the scene. Only the publican glared witheringly at them, suspecting that they were undercover revenue men.

  Having trumpeted their arrival, the newcomers' eyes scoured the bar in all directions until one of them picked out Sir Harry in a far corner of the pub and began yelling to him across the crowded smoke-filled room despite his signals to them to be quiet.

  In the end, Sir Harry pretended to drop his matches on the floor and got down to look for them while peeping over the top of the table.

  Just at that moment, Tony Valenti, Clifton Earls and Taffey arrived freshly charged from the White Hart pub and the entire gang moved en masse to join their host whose tether had been loosed out of its paddock with red rags waving.

  Not only had Spark the village idiot been advertising the event to all and sundry, he'd also caused their rendezvous to turn into something resembling a bank robbers convention which could easily have been attended by Sergeant Stropper of the Cartemorf constabulary.

  Blind panic seized him as he considered whether to head for the door but in the middle of telling them all to be quiet and sit down, Bob King and Charlie Spark materialised at the bar. This immediately sent Sir Harry straight across to them in a rage and grabbing Spark by the scruff of the ne
ck, dragged him outside where Maurice and Sharma were waiting.

  Ever the master of tactlessness, Spark blurted out : "Struth Sir Harry, your face looks hot enough to fry an egg."

  "And well it might. I told you to keep that mouth of yours shut, didn't I ? But you couldn't resist prattling on in the Globe last night, could you ? And what about all of them in the bar – don’t you think we should've hired a hall with cakes and drinks for the Flying Squad ?"

  Charlie Spark deployed his usual stratagem (rehearsed with judges, juries and police) and gave the daftest of smarmy grins – which implied that he was too stupid to do anything underhand. Then he began by flatly denying he'd been within ten miles of The Globe for the past six months. This didn’t wash with the others and after insistent cross-questioning, he half conceded that he might have called in for a quick one and could have been next to someone at the bar who was babbling on about the Manor House. When the others seized on this, he said he'd never talked about it himself of course but later admitted that he might've done at some point – perhaps – but he hadn't mentioned anything about diamonds. A short while later, he gave up altogether and agreed with anything they put to him. This went against everything he'd said earlier and the situation became so confused that he ended up reverting to his original story that he couldn't remember a thing about the entire evening, not even that he was there.

  "You're lying, you're lying, you're lying ..." roared Sir Harry, as if steam was about to whistle out of both of his ears with fireworks shooting off the top of his head like a catherine wheel."You were overheard bragging about it to everyone – and now you're trying to wriggle out of it – aren't you ?"

  Shadows of disapproval passed across the faces of Maurice and Sharma.

  At that point, Spark decided that if he was going to be pulverised, he might as well play to the gallery and so he stood his ground and retaliated with : "You toffee-nosed old stodger. What do you care when you were safely tucked up in your comfy gaff in Mayfair or wherever you come from ?" Then he poured out the heart-wrenching tale of his life of woe but it fell on deaf ears and Sir Harry remained unmoved.

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