Chapter 4

 

April 1945


He knew it was about to happen about two minutes before it would have. The signs were there. The big GI with the close cropped dark hair was twitchy. He was looking mean with one of those one directional stares mean men have when they are about to explode. He was sat at the crowded bar kind of twisted side on looking towards the dance floor pushing a whisky glass around with his right hand. Picking it up he brought it to his lips then looked at it and realised it was empty so slammed it back down. Then ignored it. The back of his other hand he kept rubbing back and forth across his chin stubble like he had an itch right there on the point. The bit that is hard to shave. All the time staring. Frank Anderson a bull of a man with fists like lumps of rock and a face that said he meant business. His stare was hard at the lanky fella dancing with the dark haired girl. His girl. The good looking girl with the red lipstick with the new nylons and straight line seams. Exposing suspenders and white frilly ones, her blue lace fringed swing-dance skirt flying about as she was thrown around. She spun a twist and saw Frank looking. Saw him staring at them dancing and momentarily stalled. Missing his eyes that were fixed on her lanky partner. Then he caught her looking and she kind of half smiled. A weak nothing sort of unsure smile. Saw the look on his face and wondered what she was doing. At that moment she knew should be with him. 

Sitting behind Frank Dave Somerton knew the signs. He had been there before and this time he was not about to chuck an opportunity out of the window. He threw a look at the ceiling, throwing his head back a bit with raised eyebrows and muttering under his breath. Getting off the high bar stool he walked round to face his friend. Standing tall, to his full six three and solid. Deliberately blocking Frank’s view. Making him look up at him. “She’s not worth it Frank. Think about it, will ya? No Dame’s worth it, especially this one.”

 “She’s a lousy, dumb, two-timing bitch is what she is. Look at her with that....lanky lowlife. Makes me wanna spit some.” Frank’s wide, chisel chinned face scrunched up with loathing looking up into Dave’s face meeting his eyes and seeing a concerned challenge. He knew his friend and knew Dave would not let him get involved. Not at this moment in time that was for sure.  

“She’s still not worth it, is she? She’s just that one fish in a pool of Limey girls that like nylons. You got nylons, she's all yours. You don’t got nylons she ain’t. It’s that simple, ain’t it Frank.” Dave staring Frank in the face looking straight into his eyes kind of pleading, a sort of reasoning pleading. Hoping for reason to win out.

“I know that Dave but it’s the principle, ain’t it? And I like her. I like her a lot. Too much maybe.” And Dave could see the truth of that on his friend's face.

“Screw the principle Frank. We got money to make, proper money. You know that, don’t you? And we sure ain’t going to make it with you stuck in the cooler, are we? And we’ll be up that creek waiting for all the crap to arrive. What’s more important, a dumb principle or loads of come easy dough?”

Frank was quiet for a few moments. Thinking. Then said, “OK. OK I've got it. Keep it on will ya…. Get me a drink will ya Dave then we go.”

It was ten thirty at the Saturday Hop. The seven piece was swinging flat out and the booze was flowing. The place was mobbed and heaving. The GIs on a two night pass Jitterbugging with the local girls all snapped up and willing. Teaching them the moves. Throwing them about. Swing-dance dresses swirling. Getting drunk. Tonight was tonight and tomorrow they all might be dead. That was how they thought and let off the leash it made them go wild.

“Two Bourbons Henry,” yelled Dave to get above the deafening crescendo, waving a note in the air, “Make it doubles. And keep the overs.” Henry brought in Bourbon specially for the GIs. These GIs liked the warm English beer alright but chased mostly with Bourbon. Something about the taste, that almost nutty, almost sweet warmth and not so fiery as cheap scotch. “Remember we gotta meet the guys with the money. Those London fellas,” continued Dave. “11.30 down at that place they call the Ham. At the end of the esplanade. Where all those boats are stacked by the river. The place we checked out yesterday.”

Frank, his heel hooked on the stool stretcher, clenched his fist and slammed it on his bent knee. “Yeah, Yeah I remember. It’s just that fella. Look at that smug face. He’d better not send that look my way.” 

“If we weren’t so involved Frank I’d have the greatest pleasure helping you stick his teeth right out his backside. And all his slimy hanger’s on. We’d take ‘em all for sure. Then enjoy the thirty days of cool down time. But we can’t, can we?” 

“I know, I know. Don’t go on no more. I ain't gonna do nothing. Tell you what though this place’s a dump. What’s it called? Sid…mouth. What a dumb name.” He cast a look at the brunette then the man and clenched his fist again, “We gotta get outta here or I’ll be re-arranging that schmuck’s features and boy do they need sorting. Look at him, the skinny rake, he’s got nothing going for him. Nothing.” He emptied his glass straight down.

“Except nylons,” smiled Dave, “Which just at this moment we're flat out of,” He slung back his glass and slapped Frank on the back, “Come on then Big Man.”

They walked through the middle of the dance floor dodging the flying jitterbuggers smiling here and there at people they knew Dave leading. There was a commotion. Looking back he saw the tall skinny guy flat on his back with the girl wiggling on top and Frank behind him shrugging, “What…. they just slipped is all.”

.

They were early. The stroll along the promenade was only about twenty minutes. Right in front of the town with all the old Regency buildings looking out to sea. They were leaning on the metal railings bending over slightly. Frank tightly gripped the top rail then letting out a long sigh loosening his hold, “It’s sure great, the sea. This place might be a dump but the sea don’t change, does it Dave? No matter where you are, it just don’t change. Slopping about. Sometimes rough, sometimes smooth it don’t matter what the feeling’s all the same.”

“Nope, it sure don’t. When the tide comes in and the wind changes, for good or bad, luck changes.” replied Dave. His friend’s shoulders had eased a bit and that made Dave smile with relief.

“What’s all that about then?” said Frank.

“Just an old saying my dad used when we lived by the sea and we’d stand on the beach him and me skimming the stones. We spent a lot of time on that beach. We’d go fishing off the beach with long casting rods catching the flatties. I loved that. All that fishing with all the time in the world just waiting for the fish. The talks we had. Long talks. Him telling me how the world worked. How it was all held together with sticking plasters. How when a big storm came and it rained hard some would come loose and then luck would take over. He’d say that how things turned out was just down to luck. He was always going on about how the world was made out of luck and how we didn’t have too much of it and that was why we had nothing. You know no matter how many times that tide came in and the wind changed and our luck changed the thing was it mostly seemed to change to bad. It’s taken a load of years Frank but now I finally feel the tide and wind are with me. My luck is on an upward turn.”

 The waves were crashing on the beach. Pulling back with that sucking noise as the shingle rolled. Crashing on the red brown pebble covered sand. The grey rocks casting shadows in the moonlight. A slight salty breeze in their faces. 

Frank said, “It sure looks that way. All we gotta do is hang on to what we’ve made….Look at all this crap on the beach, will yah? They really think that’ll keep those Krauts away? They wanna land, they'll land. A few steel poles and a bit of barbed wire won’t stop ‘em, will it?”

“They won’t come now. Three years ago they might’ve. Not now. Look at us all over here. Half of the US is here, ain’t it?”

“Still they might have a pop. What they say? Attack is the best policy and all that.”

“Nah. Not possible. It’s 1944 and all we’re doing is marking time waiting for a trip to France. Anytime soon as well is my guess. Where are we now? April? Summer’s only a spit away. It’ll be soon alright.”

Casting a long glance at Dave Frank was grinning wide as he said, “Yeah, you’re probably right. Summer in France. Think of the beauty of that. All those French dames wanting nylons.…”

“And chocolate, Don’t forget that. They’ll go wild for chocolate. And we got loads of chocolate.”

Frank laughed, “Nice thought eh, Those French girls with all that ooh la la.” 

“Yeah, they’ll sure be real excited to see you Big Man, handing them nylons and chocolate,” said Dave smiling at that thought. Frank would sure be in his element.

Frank suddenly got more serious, his tone changing, “So what you think of these Limey crooks then? You trust them Dave?”

“Think about it a moment. What are they, these Limeys then Frank?”

“Villains.” replied Frank, “They’re old fashioned villains. And right bastards.”

“And what are villains real good at then?”

“Robbing. They’re big time robbers. They’d rob their own and the dead to make a buck.”

“That’s right, Frank. You’ve hit it right on the head. They’re robbers so they’ll rob us for sure. It’s what they are, ain’t it? Robbers.” 

“So you don’t trust them then?”

“Nope. I don’t trust them any further than that sea out there and the tides right up. They’ll turn us over for sure… and soon. They’ll know it’s only a matter of time before we ship out. Then the chances are we won’t be back. Either way dead or alive. They’ll hit us before we go for sure.” And Dave grinned at Frank. Then said, “But if we expect it we can deal with it, can’t we?”

“Sure we can. They don’t know us do they Dave. We’ll have no problem dealing with ‘em if we have to. The schmucks….How much’ve we got stashed now anyway?”

“I don’t know the value. I just know we've got three pouches of diamonds. Real sparklers. They must’ve robbed a jeweller to get that many. Several jewellers at that.”

“So what you think then Dave? That’s my question.” said Frank. He was frowning.

“I think we do this one more load, that’s what I think. Then that’s it we’re out and we stay low. Maybe stay on base till we ship out.”

“And the stash?”

“Can’t take it with us. That stays here. After the war the last man standing collects. If we are both still standing we meet up and celebrate and haul ourselves round the world with one of those ooh la la’s on each arm. Wearing the sparklers. How about that Frank?”

“That’s a plan Dave and I like the ooh la la bit. I like it real good. How about that girl you're seeing though, that tall blond haired number with the long legs? Suzie.”

“I thought about that and maybe she’s my ooh la la. But don't know for sure. Life’s too unpredictable. I’ll just see how that pans out.”

“And what if we both don't make it? You thought about that.”

“Not really but we’ll think on that eh? Maybe we should leave them to that dark haired girl of yours, that Lucy with the nice new nylons.”

“Very funny. Ha ha. I’ll bury her with ‘em. The bitch.”

“You don’t mean that though, do you?”

“Nah I suppose I don’t….but she’s pushing it too far with that fella….At the moment it's going all the way up almost over the top.” 

Frank looked up and tapped Dave on the shoulder and pointed back up the road. An engine noise getting closer. A dark shadow moving through the air. The blackout. No lights.

“That’s them,” Dave said, and moved off towards the Ham. 


There were four big fellas packed into the small black 1939 Hillman Minx. “How’d they all get into that,” said Frank, “I’d say one thing for them London villains though they sure are well fed. They need a bigger motor.”

“How’d that fit on these English roads then? A bigger motor.”

“These ain’t roads, are they? They’re back tracks. We go hunting on them back home. Way up into the forest.”

“So d’you take a big one like a Cadillac hunting?”

“Won’t fit the track.”

“There you go then. You go hunting on Limey road sizes where Caddies don’t fit. Narrow roads, small cars. Big fat fellas, everything’s a squeeze. Simple.” 

“They drive down from London in that? All crammed in and sweaty. Like a tin of them crap pilchards.”

“Wouldn’t have thought so. They’d have come by train. Station’s just out of town a bit. Only a mile or so. That car’s the local fellas I’d think.”

Dave and Frank had already prepped the spot. They had been here yesterday during the day then again at night. In the daylight they had chosen a spot to stand but when they went back at night it was in the nightshade hidden from the moon and they wanted to see as much as possible. So they had chosen this particular place. They are now standing in front of a short upturned boat resting on thick timber stretchers that protected their backs that might once have been red. One of those clinker build day fishers needing a descaling scrub and repaint. The ground beneath where they were standing was hard then changed to be a bit gravelly towards the river wall but still quite firm. In front of them were pebbles that moved and shuffled making walking difficult. They were quite deep. If it all turned bad and it came to a chase the stones would ensure a slow start off the blocks for those standing on them and make the first few feet of running sluggish.

The car pulled up and the four fellas got out brushing down their clothes and stretching their backs. Walking over the stones they made loud crunching sounds as they spread out maybe ten feet in front of Dave and Frank standing some feet apart. Not all bunched up and in a sort of crescent. Their long grey coats reaching their knees. Looking tough and mean. All with short dark hair and leather gloves.

Dave and Frank were standing casually. Their arms hanging loose at their sides, swinging a bit, keeping moving but subtly. Dave saw the one on the far right was moving foot to foot shifting his weight. Shorter but still tall. Lithe and a runner. A long thin face with wispy thinning hair. The two, in the centre, were closer together. Heavier, definitely fatter so would be slower. Useless in a chase so they would be the grunts. The ones who did the heavy lifting and hard to put down for sure. The one on the far left, the tallest. Wide shoulders. He had a smile. One of those stuck on smiles. The sort of smile that said keep clear. That one was ruthless Dave thought. No doubt about it. His hands were in his pockets and he stood with the stance of a very confident man. His head on one side a bit. This was the one who would do the talking.

Dave turned his head close to Frank and whispered, “Remember the drill. If this goes bad we split. Each side of the boat. That one on the right, he’s quick so I go that way,” 

Frank looked at him frowning, “If he catches me I’ll kill him. No problem.”

“Then those two grunts catch up….I’m faster. I’ll outrun him. I go right…. Don’t argue. Hit the water then swim to the other side of the river.” They moved apart each towards the ends of the boat. Staying loose.

“Hello my old Chinas,” said the tall fella standing on the far left taking a step forward. The smile broadening. “Nice to meet you at last. My boys down here been treating you well?”

“Can’t complain,” said Dave, sweeping his eyes around the periphery.

“I would think not. You’ve a very smart pile of my jewels.”

“And you are?”

“Oh they call me Mack,” and from his coat pocket he pulled out a flick knife with a six inch blade. It sprung open and he pulled the blunt side along his throat. “See what I mean? And these are my boys. That’s all you need to know.” He took a step forward not in a menacing way just exerting a bit of pressure.

“You know it’s German. That song. It was written by a German.” said Dave, “don’t look too good being German. Eh?”

“Well I didn’t know that. You Yanks know all sorts don’t you. A right old fountain. But it don’t matter to me. My only loyalty is to the cash.” He said with his smile spreading wide, “Yours too I would guess. So….aren't we just the happy family?”

“So what’s this meeting for? You here just to get all pally? We’re doing ok with the local fellas. What d’you think? You plan on paying us a bonus?”

“Well….sort of. You’ll be shipping out soon. But you know that I suppose?”

“Sure,” said Dave, “that’s why we’re here, ain’t it? But we’ll be back.”

“Not at all positive you will fella. And that’s the problem. We gotta have a new plan. Sooo….we need one final big load. Two tankers. Those great big ones. Up close to London to fill our tanks there. In the countryside where they’re safe from all those bombs. Can’t have all that liquid gold going bang, can we?”

“Could be done. But what’s the deal? It’ll need to be good. It'll take some to set it up.”

“Wrong word fella, Not could. Will. You mean it will be done. I’m sure that’s just a slip of the old….you know what. And we’ll pay double.”

“When? When do you want all this by?”

“Gotta be soon. How about in the next two weeks. Yeah, that should do it. Then it’s goodbye and have a happy life. Although I expect you’ll be off to get shot.”

“OK. No problem. We….will do it but it’s fifty percent up front.”

“You having a laugh or what?” Mack said with one of those don’t give me that, kind of laughs, “My boys can get very cruel when needed.”

“Won’t get you the fuel though, will it?”

Mack thought for a few seconds then said, “You know there was a fella who thought all his vast wealth would be safe under the floorboards. Stupid eh? So he put it all in little bags that sparkled. See Billy there,” pointing to the guy on the far right, “he’s like those pigs that sniff out them truffles ‘cept he sniffs out diamonds. See the two Bobs in the middle they help out. They ask the questions. And by the way they always get the right answers if you know what I mean.”

“That’s all very interesting but it still don’t get you the juice. Fifty percent.”

Another slight pause, “Twenty five. Two tankers. Two weeks. No arguments.”

“Two weeks is tight,” said Dave

“That’s why we’re paying you double so you work twice as hard. Everything has a cost, don’t it? That’s the deal. You taking it?”

“Sure,” said Dave, “no problem. Two weeks and twenty five it is.” Knowing he had no real option.

“Give them the bag Billy,” and Billy threw Frank a small but weighty bag.

“We deal with you?” said Dave 

“The local lads. You know them and they’ll tell you where. All you gotta do is just let them know the when. And don’t forget the Bobs. You don’t want to be meeting them again. It won't be too healthy. I’m sure you know the score. Is that crystal?”

“Perfectly,” said Dave, feeling this was about as dead end a deal as dead end deals could get.

“We’ll be seeing you then,” said Mack, “within the next two weeks. No funny stuff. That down payment you have is guaranteed and I wouldn’t like to be you if the juice doesn’t appear.” Mack then walked half slipping through the stones up to Dave and offered his hand. “Seals the deal.” And slapped him on the shoulder then turned and walked towards the car bending down to pick something off the gravel not too far from where Dave was standing.

Dave and Frank stood together watching them drive up the road and disappear around the top corner, “That one, that Mack he’s a piece of work and vicious. We’ll have to be on our toes when we make delivery. Anyway, what's up now? I’m off to see Suzie. You?”

“I’m going to get some afters then head on back maybe.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow then,” said Dave, “and don’t do anything stupid.”



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