Just The Driver: Part Thirteen

This is the thirteenth part of a fiction serial, in 743 words. **It may contain swearing!**

Since the beginning of March that year, I had been seeing a new girlfriend. Not that I saw much of her, as working six days a week on twelve hour night shifts wasn’t exactly conducive to socialising. But I liked her, and she seemed to like me. We had met by chance at a friend’s house. She was working with his wife, and had driven over to join them for dinner. I had popped in during my shift, and we seemed to get on immediately.

She was nothing like any of my previous girlfriends, and lived in a reasonably affluent part of South-West London with her parents. University educated, well-spoken and well-travelled, she had remarked that she was hoping to take time to obtain a teaching qualification, before moving on to become a lecturer at a college of further education. Her life couldn’t have been more different to mine, a cash-job unlicenced cabbie originally from an area she had never heard of, let alone visited.

But she was open to new experiences, and when I asked her for a date, she agreed. However, it was on the condition that she met me there, and could drive herself home.

I chose the Green Man in the Old Kent Road, a pub on the corner of the street where I had gone to school, and known for some very good Jazz nights on certain days of the week. We would both eat before, and meet for drinks reasonably late, after eight-thirty. I met her where she had told me she would park her car, and we went in together. She wanted to buy the first drink, which was very unusual to me. I came from a background where women never paid for anything, and most never learned to drive either.

You would be right to think that the conversation did not flow easily. The Jazz was very good, but rather loud. I had left school without going to university, and the jobs I had been doing before deciding to become a cab driver were nothing to boast about. She also had no idea about the criminal underclass in South-East London. Her rather genteel upbringing had excluded her from anything remotely nasty, or illegal. She was a modern woman from a crime-free suburb, and although we were close in age by just two weeks, we might just have well been from different countries.

During the evening, I asked her about her world travels. Her dad worked for Thomas Cook, the famous travel agency. I had been on a few school trips to France, and only on the ferry boat and trains. I had never been up in an aeroplane. She talked of world cruises, exotic destinations, all free of charge because of her father’s job. The only part of the world she had never visted was the Soviet Union, and The Falkland Islands. But she wasn’t boasting, as she was well-aware of her good fortune.

Later that evening, before we left, she mentioned that she had never been to Tunisia, and asked me if I would like to go with her. I readily agreed. I had briefly met her parents and sister, and they had been kind to me. But I knew that a cockney cab driver was far from their ideal of a partner for their daughter. Maybe a holiday together could be the thing? Before she left, I invited her to my house the next weekend, offering a spare room. She accepted, saying she was happy to share my room if my parents agreed.

My first ‘modern woman’.

I kissed her goodbye at her car, and drove home relishing my good fortune. This young woman would give me the wake-up call I needed to change my life. She had such a refreshing outlook, and expected nothing from me except to try new things. When I got back, my mum was still up, my dad away with his job. I asked my mum if my new girlfriend could stay one weekend. She saw the excitement in my face. “Of course. You’re not a boy anymore, but be careful. Don’t get her pregnant”.

Lying in bed that night, I was thinking about Tunisia. French colonial heritage, deserts, wonderful coastal resorts, and a history including Roman occupation, and Hannibal. I knew what had to happen soon. I had to get a real job, and stop cabbing.

I could no longer be just the driver.

Just The Driver: Part Twelve

This is the twelfth part of fiction serial, in 827 words. **May contain swearing!**

I knew that it was time to keep away from the area, and made my mind up to do just that. I started to turn down jobs that ended up near there, claiming I needed petrol, or the fanbelt was loose. More and more, I tried to get the longer runs, mostly to airports, or to hospitals in the home counties. And I took on some of the school runs for disabled kids, which meant I had to start much earlier, before four in the afternoon.

All was going well, and for a month or so, life returned to normal. Then one day, I was aked on the radio to call into the cab office. Sue had a message for me.

It was an Inspector John Bromley, from Tower Bridge Police Station, and a contact number. I used the office phone, and spoke to a sergeant who seemed to know why the Inspector wasnted to see me. “Could you pop down to see him later, say six-thirty? He just has a few questions for you”. Of course, I was shitting myself. It didn’t much working out to suspect that I was going to be questioned about the stolen televisions. But it couldn’t be avoided, so I showed up at the cop shop around six-fifteen. The uniformed coppper on the desk made a phone call, and five minutes later a plainclothes cop showed up in reception and asked me to follow him.

In a small interview room, I looked across at the man. He was older than my dad, that was for sure. One of those old-school types who still wore a trilby hat and a faded suit. He almost certainly wore an overcoat too, except in the summer. He was okay though, businesslike, and straight to the point. There was no caution read out, and no hint that I was in trouble. He took a statement form from a drawer, and used a pencil to write on it. Back then, there were no recordings or cameras for an ‘informal talk’.

“We have some suspects for a recent break-in and theft of goods. They tell me they were all together in a certain pub on the night, and stayed late. Naturally, that alibi is not much good, as they are bound to say that. However, they tell me you were there too, and can confirm that they did not leave the pub”. As he was talking, he was writing on the form. “You are not known to us except for one motoring conviction, so if you alibi them, that’s good enough for me. But I would be interested to know how you happen to be friends with such characters”.

My story had been concocted on the drive there, and sounded as flimsy as tracing paper to me. I was adamant that I was just a cab driver. I had received a job to pick someone up there, and then they had bought me a drink and not bothered to use the taxi. They were all drunk, and had befriended me, eventually paying me some money for wasting my time. I said he could check with the cab office that I had a booking. Bromley could hardly contain his laughter, but settled for a wide grin as he wrote down what I was saying. Then he slid the statement across to me.

“Read through this, and if you agree it is a true record of what you told me, sign it at the bottom”. As I quickly read more or less what I had made up, other than he had included the names of Mickey, Pat, and Brian, he lit one of those small cigars that come in flat tins. In the small room, the smell of it was overwhelming. I signed the paper, and he picked it up and put it in a file on the desk. Then he leaned forward and smiled. “Might be worth your while to drive over to The Foresters and see Mickey Shaughnessy, I bet he’s expecting you”.

Ouside in the car, I felt more relaxed. Bromley was undoubtedly a bent copper, and on the villains’ payroll.

Given that he had told me Mickey was expecting me, I had to go and see him. I received a warm welcome in the pub, and a drink of course. Mickey told anyone who would listen that I was a stand-up bloke, and my alibi together with Bromley not trying too hard to acquire evidence, had surely got the case against them dropped. Fortunately, Mickey had a date with one of his women, so I was able to get away before nine. He gave me seventy-five quid before I left

As I was driving back to Greenwich, I concluded that I really had to extricate myself from those blokes. And soon. If I ended up in front of a police detective again, I knew I would never get away with saying “I’m just the driver”.

Just The Driver: Part Eleven

This is the eleventh part of a fiction serial, in 876 words. **May contain swearing!**

Driving away from Cleaver Square, I was so annoyed with myself for stupidly venturing into Tony’s pub. Little Legs was far worse than the Shaughnessys, at least you knew what to expect from them. He was a Jekyll and Hyde character, amiable one minute, unstable and dangerous the next. I called up on the cab radio and made myself available for work.

Anything to take my mind off encountering Brian.

Before I started work on the Saturday, I drove down to the office to pay my radio rent. Sue was taking calls in the back room, and she waved at me to stop as I was leaving. When she came off the phone, she stubbed out her cigarette and reached for a piece of paper. “You have a booking, tomorrow night. They asked for you specifically, Paul”. I thanked her and took the job slip, then waited until I was in my car to read it, already guessing what would be on it.

Sure enough, I was to pick up ‘Mickey’ in The Ancient Foresters, at ten tomorrow. I worked the rest of that Saturday shift in a daze, wondering what was going to happen the next night. I took a late run to Heathrow at half-six, a couple jetting off to some exotic destination, holding hands in the back and excited. I envied them.

There was no point going into work before picking up Shaughnessy, so I slept late and had some dinner before leaving around nine on Sunday night.

Mickey told the barmaid to give me a drink when I turned up. His brother Pat was talking to two men at the other end of the bar, and as he left he turned to Mickey. “Off to get the van, see you there”. The three of them walked out, and Mickey swallowed his drink. “Okay, let’s make a move, we have to pick up you-know-who at Cleaver Square”.

Little Legs was waiting ouside his house when we got there. He got in the front next to me, dropping a canvas toolbag onto the floor as he sat down. He looked distant, perhaps tense. I said nothing, and let Mickey do the talking. “Pat’s gone to get the van from the lockup, by the time we get there he shouldn’t be far behind us”. Then he spoke to me, just a few words. “Pages Walk. I will tell you where”.

No need to ask where that was. I had lived just up the road from there from the age of eight, until my parents moved us to the suburbs when I was fifteen.

The street was mainly industrial. Warehouses, workshops, that sort of thing. Mickey told me to stop outside a premises that had a heavy shutter door, locked on both sides with big padlocks. We then had to sit there waiting until Pat and the two men drove up behind the car in a large van marked up in the livery of a bread company. Brian got out with his tools, and didn’t even bother to check the street before applying heavy bolt-cutters to each padlock in turn. When he had freed the locks, one of Pat’s men brought over a long crowbar, and it took both of them to lever up the shutter, which was obviously bolted on the inside.

Pat reversed the bread van into the opening, and Brian took a pistol out of the toolbag. Mickey shook his head at him. “No need for that, there’s no watchman. Besides, I have that covered”. He patted his suit jacket. Raising his voice as he spoke to me, Mickey snapped me out of my nervousness. “Driver! You go to the end of the road. If you see any coppers coming, drive past here again and sound the hooter, okay? Come back in half an hour if not.” As I drove off, he pulled down the shutter.

I wasn’t sure which end of the road Mickey had intended me to wait at, so chose the junction with Willow Walk. I hadn’t banked on being used as a lookout, and having that job suddenly made me extremely nervous. Fortunately, very few cars passed me, and none of them were police cars. Checking my watch, I was back outside the place as Pat drove the van out, and Brian pulled down the shutter. Taking off a pair of leather gloves, he threw them into the toolbag, and handed that to one of Pat’s men. Then he turned to me. “You want a new telly son?” I shook my head, and thanked him. I didn’t want to run around with a stolen television in the back of my car, or explain to my mum how I had acquired it.

When they got back into the car, Brian smiled, and handed me a hundred in ten pound notes. “Take us back to The Foresters, and if anyone ever asks, you were with us all in the bar until closing time, okay?” After dropping them outside the pub, I breathed a sigh of relief and took the rest of the night off.

If any cops had turned up in Pages Walk that night, I would never have got away with saying I was just the driver.

Just The Driver: Part Ten

This is the tenth part of a fiction serial, in 847 words. **May contain swearing!**

With any hope of something happening between me and Patsy shattered, and Nicky moving into the dangerous world of dealing blow, I made the decision to keep clear of the whole area for a while. I went back to my normal night shifts, earning regular money without having to look over my shoulder. Christmas was a big earner for cabbies. Double time after midnight on Christmas Eve until midnight on Boxing Day. And with the drink-drive laws being clamped down on, at least in the suburbs, we had more bookings than ever.

Nothing was heard from Nicky, and no messages received in the cab office from the Shaughnessys or their associates. Three-quarters of me was relieved, but the other quarter had the niggling feeling that I was missing the relative danger. Not that I was in any personal danger unless I grassed anyone up, but there was an undeniable cachet about hanging around with blokes that everyone was scared of. And it came with another bonus.

You were untouchable, one of them. Everyone left you alone.

New Year’s Eve came and went, another double time shift. Then as the winter gave way to the spring of 1975, fate drew me back to Bermondsey once again. I picked up a young woman in Greenwich, and she asked me to take her to Abbey Street, near the junction with Tower Bridge Road. I knew it well of course, and after dropping her off outside her flats, I decided to pop in and see Tony, the nominal owner of the pub where Nicky used to play the records.

I say nominal, as his name was above the door. But there was every chance he was fronting for someone with a criminal record, who would not have been able to get an alcohol licence. The pub was called Simon The Tanner, a nod to the leather-manufacturing heritage of the area. And it was literally across the road in Long lane, opposite the Caledonian Market. Despite being almost closing time, I felt sure Tony wouldn’t mind me having one drink. The small bar wasn’t that crowded, but I recognised one man standing at the bar immediately.

If Tony hadn’t spotted me and started to pour me a beer, I would have walked out there and then.

Little Legs was very appropriately named. Barely five-one in shoes, you might be mistaken for assuming he was a very sharp-dressed schoolboy. But only from behind, as when he turned around, you could see he was about forty. His name was Brian, and he liked to be called that. Woe betide anyone who called him Little Legs to his face, unless they were also a much-feared gangster. He was known to always carry a pistol, and would not hesitate to use the butt like a hammer on your face if he thought you were mocking him.

Fortunately for me, he didn’t know my name, and was in loud conversation with another man at the bar who was dressed like a workman. As I made small talk with Tony, I couldn’t help but overhear Brian. “So you reckon Sunday night would be best? You sure the stuff is being delivered Saturday? Don’t fuck me about now. If I turn up with a team on Sunday and that place is empty, it’s you I’ll come looking for. You know the Shaughnessys? I’ll send them after you if you are stitching me up”. The other man was nodding furiously, his face white. “Straight up, Brian, so help me. It will be there on Sunday, and will be shipped out first thing Monday. Sunday night’s your best bet, too busy around here on Saturdays.

Reaching into his inside pocket, Brian produced some cash, folded the notes in half, and gave them to the white-faced man who left the pub immediately. Then he turned to Tony, “Same again, Tone”. Seeing me glance in his direction, he didn’t hesitate. “Who the fuck are you? You been earoling me?” Even though he knew I could not have avoided hearing his conversation, I certainly couldn’t admit to that. Before I could say anything that might get my cheekbones broken, Tony stepped in. “He’s okay, Brian. Paul, he’s a cabbie, been here plenty of times. He’s straight-up”.

Brian gave me a grin that could have curdled milk. “Cabbie, eh? Well it so happens I have need of your serices. When I have finished my drink, you can take me to Cleaver Square.” I knew where that was of course, in Kennington, halfway between the Elephant and Castle district, and Camberwell. Brian didn’t live in the area where he liked to work, and where he enjoyed using the pubs. For a few seconds, I contemplated telling him I already had a booking. But I knew better.

On the way, Brian spent the time naming names, and asking me if I knew the people. When he got to the Shaughnessys, I nodded. No point lying. As he paid me the correct fare and walked away, I gave him a parting shot.

“But I’m just the driver”.

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Just The Driver: Part Nine

This is the ninth part of a fiction serial, in 860 words. **May contain swearing!**

When I got to Dulwich, Nicky was sitting on some steps outside the big house, talking to a young bloke with long blonde hair who was wearing a seersucker suit and brown leather sandals. He waved as he saw my car stop on the street, and shook the young bloke’s hand before walking over. He looked like he had not slept at all, and also like he was still wired on whatever he had been taking.

By the time I had driven to the end of the road, he was fast asleep, sprawled across the back seat. I had to wake him up outisde his flats, and he gave me three five-pound notes as he struggled out of the car. “Sorry, it’s all I’ve got left. See you soon, I won’t be going out for a couple of days”. That left me wondering what he had done wiith the money he had got from the two black guys. My suspicion was that he had done a deal with the posh geezer, and was awaiting delivery of something stronger than hash.

To make up for my lost time, I called in on the taxi radio, and worked until seven the next morning. As I went to bed, I decided to give Nicky a miss for a while.

For the next few days, I avoided Nicky’s place in Thamesmead, and just worked as normal for the cab office. But then I remembered I had to take Patsy and Shell to the West End on Saturday, so didn’t work very late on the Friday night. The only contact number they had for me was through the taxi firm, and I hadn’t had any messages. Nicky knew my parents’ home number, but he was unlikely to ever ring me there. So I went to his flat on the Saturday morning, wondering if the trip was still on.

Patsy was there with Shell, and her mum was there to watch the kids while we were out. Nothing was said about me not being around, and Patsy made me a cup of tea and some toast before we set off. “Nicky’s asleep, Paul. He’s been out of it for a few days now. Said he’s waiting on a good job that’s coming up soon”.

When we got to the back of John Lewis, I hung around Cavendish Square, driving around the one-way system while Patsy and Shell were in the shop. There was nowhere I could park without attracting attention, and the nearby NCP car park was no good. We would need to drive away quickly once they came out. They showed up after about twenty minutes, and as I stopped outside the back entrance to the shop, they opened the car boot and dropped some bags into it. Then they both took Burberry trenchcoats off the back seat, and put them on over what they were wearing.

Selfridges and Marks and Spencer were opposite each other, either side of Orchard Street. I turned left into North Audley Street across the road, and dropped them off on the corner. If I kept my eyes open for traffic wardens and occasional interested coppers, I was okay to stay parked there for a while. I managed forty-five minutes before two motorcycle cops stopped next to the car. One of them pointed down the street, and waved that I should move.

It wouldn’t have been the best idea to tell them I was a taxi from South London, just waiting for a fare. I had a boot full of hooky gear, after all. So I smiled, and drove off. The one-way systems there meant that I had to go down as far as Grosvenor Square, back up Duke Street onto Oxford Street, then back to where I had started in North Audley Street. By the time I got there, Patsy and Shell were walking up and down looking for me. They were both wearing designer sunglasses, despite it being a dull day. Walking out wearing them had obviously been the easiest way to lift them.

Although both women were carrying at least five bags of stuff, they didn’t waste time opening the boot, and got into the back with them. Shell wasn’t amused. “Fuck me, Paul. I thought you had bottled it and pissed off”. I explained about being moved on by the cops, as I headed south in the traffic to get across Westminster Bridge.

Patsy didn’t want to go back to her flat. They had to drop the stuff off at a friend’s place, so she gave me the address in Rotherhithe. Whe we got there, I helped them carry the bags into a terraced house in Brunel Road, and Patsy gave me thirty quid and a pair of very expensive Loake shoes two sizes too big for me. “Is that enough, Paul? We are going to be here for a while, so you can do whatever you need to be getting on with”.

Part of me was hoping I would be asked to stay there with her. But I could see that as far as she was concerned, I was just the driver.

Just The Driver: Part Eight

This is the eighth part of a fiction serial, in 810 words.
**May contain swearing!**

Going to the pub to see if Nicky was around had not been my brightest idea. Once I had accepted Mickey’s drink, his older brother Pat became interested. “So what’s the story then? You free for a job now?” I started to explain that I was only out looking for Nicky, not actually working, but out of the corner of my eye I saw Billy Tarrant shaking his head. So I changed tack, and told Pat I was happy to take him wherever he needed to go.

With both the Shaughnessy brothers in the car, the smell of after shave and hair oil was overwhelming. Pat sat next to me in the front as I drove off. “Amersham Arms, New Cross”. I knew the pub well, a big boozer on a corner, only a few minutes away. It was a bugger to park there, as it was on a one-way system opposite a mainline station. But I managed to get two wheels up on the kerb just past it, outside a car dealer’s forecourt. Pat spoke for the second time. “Leave the engine running, and dont move the car. Okay?” I nodded.

I kept my eye on the rear-view mirror, and it wasn’t long before they were walking back to the car, Mickey with his arm around a third man, who looked white as a sheet, and wasn’t walking too well. When they got in the car, Pat was smiling. “Deptford Creek, son. I will tell you where to stop”. The man in the back with Mickey was actually trembling, but he didn’t say a word as I went back around the one-way and headed north.

Deptford Creek wasn’t the name of a road, it was part of the River Thames, formed by a tributary flowing into it. I actually knew why that area of London was called Deptford, as I had lived there for some years as a child. It was derived from ‘Deep Ford’, and was one of the first places that the Romans used to cross the river during their invasion of Britain. But I doubted the Shaughnessys wanted to hear a history lesson.

My best guess was that they had both been expelled from school before the age of twelve, and begun the apprenticeships in their criminal careers. Access to the side of the Creek was via the aptly named road called Creekside, so I headed for that.

Back then, the area was industrial. Paper merchants yards, scrap dealers, metal workshops, all pretty unsightly. Pat pointed at the entrance to a scrap dealer’s place. “Blow the hooter”. I pressed the car horn a couple of times, and the heavy metal gate slid open. Someone inside was waiting for them. The brothers pulled the trembling man out of the car, and Pat turned to me. “Stay here, back in a minute”.

It was no surprise to me when they came back thirty minutes later without the third man. I had an idea he would be lying at the bottom of the Creek, with an old car engine chained around his legs. But whatever had gone on inside, the brothers had not got their hands dirty. They were both still immaculate in their suits, and Pat smiled as he spoke. “Okay, back to The Tavern”. I went to the top of the road and turned left, and on the short drive back to Billy’s pub, neither of them spoke to me at all.

Ouside the pub, Pat got out and walked straight in. Mickey gave me four ten pound notes. “That should cover it. Well done, son”. I was lucky he paid me anything. He was notoriously tight with money. Even if he had given me nothing, I would have just had to swallow that, and even say thanks. But forty was much more than the actual cab fare, so I was relieved. I wanted to get away from that manor, and decided to drive back to Thamesmead and tell Patsy I couldn’t find Nicky.

When I got there, she was matter of fact. “He rang home just after you left. I wrote the address down where he is, and said you would pick him up when you came back”. I looked at the address, and cursed myself for not ringing Patsy from a phone box. Nicky was all the way over in Dulwich, some posh address off College Road. I couldn’t imagine how he had ended up there, but smiled and told his wife I would go and get him. That was about twelve miles south, a good three quarters of an hour in normal traffic.

On the way, I contemplated what had gone on earlier with Mickey and Pat. If they got lifted for that, I might get dragged into their mess.

And there was no way I could say I was just the driver.

Just The Driver: Part Seven

This is the seventh part of a fiction serial, in 795 words. **May contain swearing!**

Nicky ran back to the car flushed with his deal. He had even left the sports bag with the black geezers, and was holding a wad of cash. My feeling was that he had just had a lucky escape from being stabbed, or worse, and his gear stolen. But he wasn’t listening to me of course, he never did.

Not once.

“Take me up to Camberwell Grove, Paul. I’m in the mood to see Big Irene”.

I had never met Big Irene, but had heard enough about her to know that she was a forty-something woman on the game, famous for the gigantic tits that gave her the name ‘Big’. To be honest, I couldn’t understand why Nicky would want to pay a prossie probably thirty quid for sex, when his lovely wife Patsy was waiting at home. But it wasn’t up to me to reason why. When I dropped him outside Irene’s flat, he gave me double fare for what I had earned running him around. I told him there was no need, but he was flush with money, and feeling magnanimous.

With Nicky obviously staying for the night, I called up the cab firm on the radio, and worked until almost six in the morning.

The next night when I got to his place, Patsy let me in. “Nicky’s not here, Paul. He’s on the missing list since he went out with you last night. Sit down, I’ll make you a bacon sandwich, I already had dinner with the kids”.

Not knowing what to say, I said nothing, and ate my bacon sandwich. I was enjoying sitting alone with the woman I would have happily died for, and I was reluctant to get into the question of Nicky’s infidelities. As it turned out, she wasn’t that concerned. “He does this a lot, couple of times a month. I know he always comes home eventually, that’s the way of life with Nicky”.

They were both five years older than me, and had been together since school, aged fourteen. I might have sat there wondering why she tolerated him and his lifestyle, but I could never have penetrated almost fifteen years of them being together. When Patsy offered me another cup of tea, I said yes of course, and heard myself offering to go out after and find him. I told her I could retrace my steps to where I had last dropped him off, but didn’t mention where that had been.

Obviously, I went to Camberwell Grove first, and knocked on Big Irene’s door. She presumed I was there for business, held out her hand and said, “Thirty before I let you in. I see the money before you see my tits”. When I told her I was looking for Nicky, she blew smoke in my face from her cigarette, and shrugged. “He couldn’t manage it, darling. He left twenty minutes after he turned up. I ain’t got a clue where he went after that”.

My next port of call should have been the two black guys in Deptford, but no way was I going to get into it with them. So I bit the bullet and went to see Shaughnessy in the Ancient Foresters. The barmaid told me he was in the Southwark Park Tavern, Billy Tarrant’s pub. That was only two minutes away, so I drove there.

Mickey was at the bar with his older brother. He was already drunk, and making a lot of noise. He ignored me when I walked in, so I sloped up to the side of the bar and asked Billy if he had seen Nicky. “Greek Nicky? Nah, he hasn’t been in. If I see him I will say you are looking for him”. Billy had been a face in his time, and was now trying to just be a pub owner. But the old boys wouldn’t let him go, and he now had to suffer free drinks for the Shaughnessys, for as long as they stayed in his pub.

As I was trying to creep out, Mickey spotted me. “Hey, driver! Come and have a drink”. I knew I couldn’t leave until he was happy, so insisted on buying him and his brother a Scotch. Billy charged me for them, I knew he would, no complaints. Mickey’s brother ignored me as if I didn’t exist, but Mickey was on me, worryingly friendly. With a strong arm around me, he spoke close to my face, whisky breath overwhelming me.

“What are you up to here, then?”

I told him I was looking for Nicky, as he had gone on the missing list since last night. But he just laughed.

“Billy, give the boy a Scotch. Do you know this one? He’s just the driver”.

Just The Driver: Part Six

This is the sixth part of a fiction serial, in 868 words. **May contain swearing!**

Those few hours with Teddy had earned me much more than I could have made working taxi jobs all night, so I took the chance to have time off. It felt strange to be finished so early, and I drove down to the stall on the corner of Dunton Road and the Old Kent Road and bought myself a pie and chips. With the pubs almost at chucking-out time, the stall was busy.

In the queue, I bumped into Christine, a girl I knew from schooldays. She seemed happy to see me, but the bloke with her was giving me the evil eye. Then she introduced him as her husband, and reminded me he had been at our school too. I hadn’t recognised him, as he had already lost most of his hair.

Not wanting any aggravation from his jealousy, I drove off and parked in Lynton Road, to eat my grub in peace.

The next night, Nicky was fit and well, and seemed over-excited when I arrived. Patsy was cooking us ham, eggs, and chips for dinner, and she was very chatty too. Nicky had already heard about my evening out with Teddy Kennedy, and seemed impressed. “You’re moving up in the world, mate. Seems like the chaps have taken a liking to you”. I reminded him that I wasn’t really interested in working for small-time gangsters, but I had to admit the pay was good. He carried on with the same theme. “You ought to get yourself a better motor, one of them big Rover three-point-fives, maybe even a Merc diesel. You ought to have some classy wheels when you are hanging around with them blokes”.

He wasn’t listening, so I gave up and ate my dinner.

That night, Nicky was exploring some new territory. He wanted to go across the river, so we went through the Blackwall Tunnel, heading for Stepney Green. This was not only north of the river, but east end territory. I knew the roads well enough, but I didn’t know the people, and I was worried that Nicky didn’t know them either. His sports bag was packed with gear that smelled strong enough for me to know it was grass, and he had told me to go to a pub called The Ship. He was meeting someone in there called Lawrence. To me, that sounded like a made-up name. I had never heard of any criminal called Lawrence in my twenty-two years in London. Not even one called the shortened version, Larry, which would at least have ended in Y.

When I parked up right outside, he went into the pub, all smiles. I was shaking my head as I sat in the car, sure he was being stitched up.

There must have been a juke box inside, as I could hear music. It was old school rock and roll stuff, not my thing. On the cab radio, I could tell the firm was busy already. The despatcher was calling for anyone available, holding jobs all over. But getting paid for sitting in my parked car was a better deal financially, so I turned down the volume and ignored it.

Almost an hour later, Nicky came back, and he didn’t look happy. “That bloody Lawrence hasn’t shown. And nobody in there knows him. The barmaid laughed at me when I asked if she knew him”. He would never be told, but coming across the river to meet someone he didn’t know, and didn’t even know what he looked like, was never going to be a good idea. As well as that, sitting in a strange boozer holding hundreds of quid’s worth of illegal substances was bordering on foolhardiness, as far as I was concerned.

Nicky was edgy now. “It’s a wild goose chase, that’s what it is, Paul. I’m out of pocket on your fare, and no customers. Let’s go back over Tower Bridge, I know where I can shift most of this”.

After a couple of stops that didn’t pan out, we ended up in Watergate Street, Deptford. Nicky spotted two black blokes standing next to a mark three Ford Zodiac, and told me to pull up across the street from them. He jumped out, leaving the bag in the car. One of the men he spoke to was a sharp dresser, wearing a three-piece suit and an overcoat draped around his shoulders. His mate was three times the size, and glared at me as Nicky spoke to the smart one. He was obviously the muscle, the bodyguard.

I wasn’t comfortable. Everyone knew to leave the black blokes alone back then. We stuck with who we knew, and let them do their own thing. After some close face to face talking, Nicky finally shook hands with the suited and booted bloke, and the big man walked over to the car. He opened the back door and picked up the holdall. Still glaring at me as if I had done something to upset him, he leaned forward over the passenger seat. I could smell his sour breath as he spoke to me.

“No trouble now. Y’hear me, man”. I nodded.

“No trouble from me mate, I’m just the driver”.