Just The Driver: Part Twenty

This is the final part of a fiction serial, in 824 words.

Spending time with my new girlfriend was very relaxing, so I started to work longer shifts during weekdays, and stopped driving as a cab on Friday and Saturday nights so I could see her at weekends. It wasn’t too hard to make sure I didn’t take any work that got me back closer to South London, and my mood soon improved.

But I became less aware of what was happening at home. One evening, my mum stayed up late to tell me that my dad was moving out over the weekend. She suggested it might be an idea for me to make myself scarce, to avoid any arguments that I might either start, or become involved in. According to him, he was going to share a house with a male colleague in the Croydon area, saying he felt stifled in the marriage, and needed time to ‘think’.

We both knew that was unlikely to be true, as my dad never did any housework, and nothing remotely domestic. He had also never been without female company since returning from WW2 in 1946. That he had been having an affair and was moving in with his female lover was beyond doubt. But despite mum tackling him on the subject, she received flat denials every time.

At  the start of October, the family home was up for sale, and dad was talking about a divorce. That made for a miserable Autumn, and a gloomy Christmas. Mum had decided she would use her share of the money to buy a shop with accommodation above, and she asked me to stay with her and help her achieve that. My girlfriend was very sympathetic, stating that if we managed to do that, she would move in with me above the shop.

One thing attracted me to the prospect of us becoming shopkeepers, and that was that I could finally say goodbye to being a cabbie, and would have a source of income along with a place to live. We began the new year of seventy-six driving around various areas looking at shops for sale, everything from tobacconist’s to small grocery stores. Our only concern was the accommodation. It had to have enough space for us to live relatively separately. That search took us into Surrey, down into the Kent coast area, and even back into Central London.

Eventually, we found a small shop with extensive accommodation above. Formerly a pub in Victorian Times, it now operated as an off-licence, selling alcoholic drinks to be consumed off the premises, alongside sweets, snacks, and cigarettes. We were unable to buy it outright, as the building was owned by one of the big four breweries, but we took a tenancy agreement with them, on the condition that we only sold their beers and wines. That cost mum almost all of her share of the house sale.

By the time we moved in, my dad’s deception had been unmasked. He had been unable to keep away from friends and relatives, and they soon informed us that he was with another woman, and had said his intention was to move away to Northampton, of all places. Surprisingly, she was not young and attractive, as we had suspected. She was a divorced woman the same age as my father, with a son the same age as me, still living at home. He had swapped one family for an identical one, for reasons that we never discovered.

We never saw him again.

My girlfriend made good on her promise, and moved in to share my top-floor rooms, with mum living on the floor beneath. She went to work each day, and mum and I ran the shop during its long opening times until eleven at night. It was in Clapham, South West London, an area unfamiliar to us, but well-known to my girlfriend.

And despite being only seven miles west of Bermondsey, it might as well have been in a different part of England. I would have no reason to ever go back to the areas where I had spent so many anxious months the previous year. Nobody from the old days knew where I was, and they didn’t know our new phone number. If I had emigrated to Australia, I could not have been any further from their influence.

A few weeks after taking over the shop, I traded in the Hillman Hunter for a Volvo saloon car. New home, new area, new job, and now a new car.

I would never be just the driver again, for as long as I lived.

But it did occur to me that this might make an interesting story, perhaps even the plot for a television series. So that is why I am sending you this outline.

The End.

(This is the end of the serial, but there will be an epilogue tomorrow. Look out for that, with an explanation of what actually happened, and more detail about the characters.)

Just The Driver: Part Nineteen

This is the nineteenth part of a fiction serial, in 720 words. **May contain swearing!**

Heading south over Blackfriars Bridge, I stopped at the first phone box I saw, and rang Patsy. I told her I had some information about Nicky, and would go to her flat later and tell her in person. On the way, I stopped in Blue Anchor Lane, and bought pie and chips to eat in the car. Sitting there eating, I made the decision not to tell her about Vincent Lombardo. I would leave the trail at The Ship on Stepney Green, and not mention the next place I visited.

The money from Lombardo had covered my expenses nicely, so after visiting Patsy in Thamesmead, I could take the night off. The stress of running around had taken its toll, and I was feeling worn out.

By the time I knocked on Patsy’s door, the kids were in bed, and her mum had gone home. She looked tired and stressed, but made me a cup of tea and we sat in the kitchen. I explained in detail about Nicky doing deals in Dulwich with Toby. How Little Legs had got the truth out of him by breaking his fingers, and that had led me to the pub in Stepney. Then I gave her the wallet, and told her to keep the forty quid in it. I suggested there was no point in her following the lead from Toby, as I had been to The Ship and they were denying all knowledge of Nicky ever being in there.

She took the news reasonably well, confirming my suspicion that she already knew the worst. Nicky was likely to be in a crushed car in a scrap yard, or in the concrete foundations of one of the many new office blocks springing up all over the city. He had made up his mind to move from being a small time thief and drug dealer, to branching out into the world of major dealing, a world already owned by organised crime.

He was completely out of his league.

Patsy thanked me for my efforts, and told me she still hoped he might turn up. “I reckon they are holding him somewhere. Maybe against a debt, or because he’s upset someone, Paul. Nicky’s like a bad penny, he always turns up”. I hadn’t mentioned how much money he had been carrying around in the shoulder bag. In those days, you could get someone killed for five hundred, and he was carrying close to two grand. As Patsy had suggested he would have only had a hundred on him, I guessed she didn’t have a clue that he had been keeping that secret from her.

Her positive attitude was understandable. After all, Nicky did indeed have a habit of going missing, and turning up later with little or no excuse. But I had seen the look on Vincent’s face as he gave me the money, and that look told me we were never going to see Nicky again.

The next half-hour was awkward. I ran out of things to say, and Patsy sat chain-smoking until my tea went cold. I said I had to go, and she walked me to the door before kissing me on the cheek. “You take care, Paul, and thanks again”.

That was the last time I ever saw her.

In my bedroom that night, I found it hard to get to sleep. The events of the past few months were playing on my mind. I had reluctantly become involved with some of the nastiest small-time gangsters in South London, and also been in contact with some more fearsome organised crime faces. This wasn’t what I wanted to be doing with my life. I knew full well I could end up like Nicky if I wasn’t careful

You didn’t have to do much to upset those people.

Leaving the wallet with Patsy had been a deliberate act on my part of course. If she ever decided to seek out some of her criminal contacts to find out what had happened to her husband, Toby would be their first port of call. As for me, even if they asked around in The Ship, or managed to track down Vincent Lombardo in Clerkenwell, I wouldn’t feature, as far as anyone was concerned.

They would be told I was just the driver.

Just The Driver: Part Eighteen

This is the eighteenth part of a fiction serial, in 895 words. **May contain swearing!**

Leaving Brian to steal the Merc, I drove off and parked along College Road. Inside the wallet was forty quid, a photo of a girl with long black hair, and a driving licence. Toby Hendricks-Cooper. A posh double-barrelled name for a posh boy. I doubted Toby would ever report the car as stolen. He would be far too scared of what Little Legs might do to him if he did. He was going to have to put that down to experience, and realise that’s what happens when you start dealing drugs in circles you have no experience of.

What he had told Brian was going to drag me back to The Ship at Stepney Green, I was well-aware of that. It seemed like Nicky was being given the runaround by men who knew their business much better than he did, and he had made a schoolboy error by travelling around those areas of London carrying a bag with two grand in it. I started to fear the worst for him, to be honest. But there was no point going home until I had followed the last clue.

The traffic was bad, and when I got across the river to Stepney Green, the pub was open for business. I knew if I sat outside I would lose my nerve, so I garbbed the photo of Nicky from my pocket and walked in before I had time to think about what I was doing. There was a man behind the bar. When I told him I wasn’t ordering a drink, he eyed me suspiciously. I showed him the photo of Nicky, and he shook his head. “Nah, he ain’t never been in here, pal”. There were only two other customers, both standing at the end of the bar.

At the risk of upsetting the barman, I walked over and showed them the photo.

One turned his back on me, but the other took the photo off me and stared at it. He was smartly dressed, and a long scar across his forehead suggested he might be a local villain. “Why you looking for this geezer, then?” I repeated my lie about Nicky owing me money for unpaid cab fares. He handed back the photo. “Don’t know him. What is he, Spanish, Italian, Greek maybe?” I confirmed Greek, then threw in that he was supposed to be meeting someone called Lawrence.

That got his interest. “You talking about Larry? Larry Lombardo?” I shrugged. The big man smiled. “Well Larry is doing a life stretch in Parkhurst for murder, son. So he couldn’t have been here to meet your mate, unless the screws were feeling kind, and let him take the ferry from the Isle of Wight”. The barman laughed, and I put the photo away. But scarface hadn’t finished.

“What you wanna do is get yourself over to Clerkenwell, that’s where the Lombardos hang out. Try the Fox and Anchor, near Farringdon Station. You might see Vincent in there, if you’re lucky. Don’t tell him I sent you though”. The barman laughed again. I decided it was time to leave.

Farringdon Station was only twenty minutes or so from The Ship, but at the wrong end of the rush hour, it took me forty minutes to find the pub. There were quite a few City types having after work drinks, so it was busy. A woman with blonde hair was behind the bar, and she smiled as I walked up. When I asked if she knew Vincent Lombardo, the smile vanished. “You a copper or summink?” I assured her I was not a policeman, and she inclined her head to her left and said, “In the corner, on his own at the table. Grey hair”.

The man looked about sixty, wearing an immaculate navy suit, a striped tie, and large gold cufflinks visible on the crisp white cuffs of his shirt. His full head of grey hair was slicked back with some sort of lotion. I was very polite, and asked if he was Vincent Lombardo. He pointed at the empty chair, taking a sip from a glass of red wine he was holding. I sat down.

“Maybe I am Vincent. If I am, what do you want from me?”

He listened patiently as I blurted out the story of Nicky owing me money, and me trying to track him down to get paid. I showed him the photo, and grassed up the big man from Stepney Green, saying he had told me to come to that pub and ask for Vincent. What happened next surprised me completely.

“I don’t know this Nicky you understand, but let’s say I cover his debt. You seem like a nice young man, so how much does he owe you?” I was flummoxed and came up with the first number in my head, one hundred and twenty. That seemed like enough to warrant me running around London trying to recover it. Vincent reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and produced a roll of notes. He counted out twelve tenners onto the table, and slid them across to me.

“That’s you paid, the debt is done, I don’t want no trouble from you, young man, you get me”. I answered as I picked up the money and stood up to leave.

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

Just The Driver: Part Seventeen

This is the seventeenth part of a fiction serial, in 916 words. **May contain swearing!**

After the brief chat with Billy, I just knew that I had to drive around the corner to The Foresters, and face up to asking Mickey Shaughnessy if he had seen Nicky. No point coming all this way and losing my nerve now.

It was getting late, and Mickey was in a heated conversation with three men I didn’t know. They were standing in a corner, and I immediately saw it was not the time to approach him. So I bought a half-pint and hung around on the other side of the bar. A sudden slap on my back caused me to spin round. It was Little Legs, and he had just emerged from the Gent’s toilet. I had to offer him a drink, which he readily accepted, and then he asked me what I was doing in there.

With no intention of bullshitting, I told him Nicky had gone missing big time, and I needed to ask Mickey if he had seen him. Brian leaned in close.

“Not now, son. Definitely not now. I doubt it’s anything to do with Nicky, but Pat hasn’t been seen for three days, and Mickey’s on the warpath. If I was you, I would leave it well alone”. I agreed with Brian that the disappearance of Pat Shaughnessy was probably nothing to do with whatever had happened with Nicky, but inside I couldn’t help feeling it was connected in some way. I was definitely not going to get involved in any search for the missing Shaughnessy brother.

Brian was in a good mood, and bought me another half. “Is that the best idea you’ve got, to ask Mickey? Nobody else know anyfing?” I told him about the posh bloke in Dulwich, and how Tony said he had been with Nicky in his pub. He thought about that for a while. “Dulwich Village, you say? Hmm… Tell you what, pick me up at my place tomorrow afternoon around four, and I will have a word with the bloke in Dulwich for you. But for now, you’d best fuck off before Mickey spots you”.

That was good advice, and I took it.

Before leaving for Cleaver Square the next afternoon, I rang Patsy and told her I was following one clue. She made me promise to ring her back that evening if it came to anything.

Little Legs was ready when I arrived. He came out of his house wearing overalls and carrying a large pair of pliers, which he put on the floor in front of the passenger seat. Chuckling, he turned to me as I drove off. “When we get there, leave it to me. You stay in the car. If this long-haired ponce is at home, I will get the truth out of him. My pliers never let me down”. I was very surpised that he had offered to help out, and I just knew he would want something for his trouble. It wasn’t as if he even knew me or Nicky that well.

As I parked my car across the entrance to the short driveway leading to the house, I spotted a beige Mercedes 200D inside. That confirmed what Tony had said about it being a Mercedes. It had last year’s plates, so was quite new. Brian picked up the pliers and got out of the car. He had a look inside the 200D as he walked to the door and pressed the bell. As the door opened, Brian barged in, and it slammed behind him.

I sat in the car staring at the house. I couldn’t look away, in case something happened. Not that I was remotely classed as ‘backup’, but if anything went bent inside I would have been expected to step up. I felt for the telescopic wheelbrace under my seat, and reassured myself it was easily to hand.

He was in there for about twenty minutes before the door opened, and he came out smiling. When he got back into the car I turned the engine on, but he said to switch off again.

“Leave it for a minute, he won’t be coming out. Well, he was tougher than I thought, even though he was still wearing bloody pyjamas. I broke all the fingers on his left hand and he still said he didn’t know about Nicky. But when I started on his right hand, he lost his bottle. He took Nicky to Tony’s and then to Billy’s to meet someone for a deal about pills. Outside Billys’ place, Nicky left the bag in the car, and this geezer pinched three hundred out of it. He reckons there was at least two grand in there. Then Nicky comes out and says he has to go to a pub in Stepney to see a bloke called Lawrence, so he takes him there. Nicky goes in with the bag, and doesn’t come out. This geezer loses his nerve after an hour, and comes home. That’s it”.

Brian lobbed a wallet onto my thigh, and dangled some car keys from his finger. “I told him I’m taking the Merc, to pay for my time and trouble. You wanna sell it and split the money, or are you happy with the wallet?” I said I was happy with the wallet, and thanked him for what he had found out. As he got out, he looked back in through the open door. “You sure now?” I nodded.

“Yeah, I’m sure, Brian. I’m just the driver”.

Just The Driver: Part Sixteen

This is the sixteenth part of a fiction serial, in 834 words. **May contain swearing!**

My next port of call had to be Big Irene’s place in Camberwell. I was surprised when she recognised me, and didn’t bother to ask me for thirty quid. “What d’ya want? I’ve got someone arriving in fifteen minutes”. I told her I was looking for Nicky, because he owed me money. What she said next was my first clue.

“The Greek bloke? I haven’t seen him for about a week. Wednesday? Not sure though. Early-ish, before it got dark. He was flush when he came round, paid me extra for a special. Rushed it a bit though, said someone was waiting for him downstairs”. I wasn’t about to ask Irene what she did for a special, but was excited that she had actually seen him since he had disappeared. I asked her if he had been carrying a leather shoulder bag, and if she remembered what he had been wearing. She raised her eyebrows, and extended the palm of her left hand.

“Time’s money in my line of work, sunshine.”

I gave her a ten pound note, and she tucked it inside the waistband of her skirt. “Yes, he had a bag like that. Lots of money inside it too, I saw that when he paid me. As for what he was wearing, please be fucking serious. Do you know how many blokes come through this door in the course of a week? I couldn’t remember what he was wearing if my life depended on it”. I asked if she could tell me anything about the car, and she blew out her cheeks and started to close the door.

“The car? What you think I walked out of my flat stark naked to see what car he was in? You a nutter or summink?’ Now, please do me a favour and fuck off”. Big Irene could afford to be so rude and offhand. She paid for protection.

Upset her, and someone would find you.

Back in my car, I was down ten pounds, but had a definite sighting. Wednesday last week, before it had got dark, so before eight-ish. Trouble was, I didn’t have the first clue what to do with that information. In television dramas or films, Irene would have noticed something about the car, a hot clue that would have had me tracking down Nicky’s next move.

But in real life, she had just been lying on her crumpled bedding, smoking a post-coital cigarette before the next mug arrived.

Despite feeling a bit sick at the thought of it, I knew a pub crawl was going to have to happen. I would start at the Simon The Tanner. If Nicky went for a drink anywhere, that was usually his first choice. I was relieved to find the bar devoid of professional villains, and Tony in a talkative mood.

“Yeah, I did see Nicky last week, not sure which day though. He was with a young bloke. Fair hair, a bit too long. Hippy-type. You know the sort, posh boy who thinks it’s all the rage to go slumming. Bit of a prick, to be honest. I warned Nicky about flashing the cash. He had a shoulder bag stuffed with cash and was buying drinks for the usual crowd, as well as some locals he didn’t even know”. Tony couldn’t remember what he had been wearing, and I decided to abandon that line of questioning. But I did ask him if he knew what car they had been in. Tony liked cars.

“Well, I didn’t see it like, ’cause I was behind the bar. But the hippy bloke put the keys on the bar, and they had the Mercedes symbol on them. So it had to be a Merc, Paul. He said he was going to Billy Tarrant’s pub to see someone, and had to wait until ten for them to be there”.

Thanking Tony for his help, I went and sat in my car. So that hippy bastard in Dulwich had been with Nicky after all, and he had lied through his teeth to me earlier. But I hadn’t seen a car at his house, though that didn’t mean he didn’t have one. After Irene and Tony, I was beginning to feel I was geting somewhere. And my next clue was The Southwark Park Tavern. I knew I had to go and ask Billy if he had seen Nicky that night, but as it was Mickey Shaughnessy’s second favourite pub, I wasn’t best pleased.

Ten minutes later, I was talking to Billy. I breathed a sigh of relief that there was no sign of Shaughnessy, or Little Legs. Tarrant was cagey, but still helpful.

“Yeah, Nicky was in here. He was alone though, and he didn’t have a shoulder bag. For Christ’s sake, who carries one of those in Bermondsey? Why do you want to know?”

Billy accepted my shrug, and believed me. “He owes me a lot of cab fare, Billy. You know me, I’m just the driver”.

Just The Driver: Part Fifteen

This is the fifteenth part of a fiction serial, in 820 words. **May contain swearing!**

Patsy answered on the third ring. Her voice was agitated, but she was very friendly.

“Thanks so much for ringing me back, Paul. I found the number in a book Nicky keeps in the bedside cabinet. The thing is, he has gone missing. Not like before, this is something different. He might have stayed out a couple of nights and not let me know, but now it is over a week, ten days in fact. I rang the cab firm, but they said you didn’t work there. Are you still doing taxi work?”

I hesitated for a moment, and then lied. I told her I had packed up being a cabbie and was in the process of looking for a straight job because I had to be around for my mum. That might not have been the best idea.

“Oh that’s great. If you are not working at the moment then, I really need your help. I have been in touch with everyone I know where he might have gone, and those who might have seen him around or on the street. But you know a lot of others he would never have told me about, so I’m gonna need your help. Can you come and see me tomorrow? I don’t know who else to turn to, I really don’t”.

Anyone not familiar with those sort of people and the area they lived in might be wondering by now why Nicky’s wife hadn’t called the police, and reported him missing. They might have been asking Patsy if she had telephoned all the hospitals to see if he had been admitted unconscious, or worse. But I knew better than to even bother to mention that. People like Patsy never involved the police in anything, and she would not have brought Nicky’s disappearance to public notice by asking around at hospitals.

People who lived their way of life sorted out their own mess, and dealt with their own problems.

That was the moment I should have told Patsy I couldn’t help. Told her I was needed at home, told her I no longer had a car, made up any wild excuse. But I couldn’t do that. Not because I still thought anything could happen between me and Patsy, I had moved on from that.

And not because I thought I owed her or Nicky anything, I had done what they had asked me to do, and been paid for it. I said I would help because I was a decent bloke who had been brought up to do the right thing. Even though I sometimes did things that were not strictly legal.

So I told her I would be there tomorrow evening about six.

The next night, I was expecting Patsy to come with me, but she had no intention of doing that. Besides, she had nobody else there to look after the kids. She was edgy, wearing no make-up, and speaking quickly. All she could give me for background was that ten days earlier Nicky had told her he was going out to do a deal, and was being picked up by a friend. As was his habit, he didn’t mention any names, or what area he was going to.

She gave me a small photo of him that was about five years old, taken at a party somewhere. Luckily, he hadn’t changed much. Patsy said he had taken a leather shoulder bag, and probably would have had at least a hundred quid on him. But she couldn’t remember what he had been wearing, as she had been bathing the kids when he left the flat.

As I drove off, I had no real idea what I was doing. After all, I wasn’t a private detective, or a copper. I had no authority to ask any questions, and no backup if anything turned nasty. My first destination was the house in Dulwich. My gut feeling told me he was doing deals with the posh guy, and there was an outside chance that someone in the house might have known who he was meeting, or who had picked him up that night.

On the way, I thought up a story to explain my interest. I would say that I had been running him around in my cab all that time, and he hadn’t paid me. Looking for someone who owed you money was a common enough thing back then.

It surprised me when the same bloke answered the door. I didn’t need to show him the photo, so just asked if he had seen Nicky, or knew where he might be hiding out. He smiled and shook his head. “Greek Nicky? The last time I saw him was the night you picked him up from here. What’s going on? You work with Nicky?”

Deciding not to say anything about money owed, I smiled back.

“Me? No. I’m just the driver”.

Just The Driver: Part Fourteen

This is the fourteenth part of a fiction serial, in 886 words. **May contain swearing!**

So I worked hard, kept away from south-east London, and saved my money. The holiday to Tunisia was booked, my passport was still valid, and off we went to Sousse. It was the first time I had been on holiday ‘alone’ with a girlfriend, the first time I had flown in an aeroplane, and the first time I had been outside of Europe. I loved all the new experiences, and got on great with my new girlfriend too. Although we didn’t actually say it, it felt like we were going to be together for a long time.

Returning home to reality, I began to think about a career change. I wanted to try something that would be long-term, and still bring in as much money as I could make as a cab driver. But things at home had changed. My dad was out a lot, and not just because of his job. My mum was unsettled, and confided in me that she feared he was having an affair. I needed to stick around to support her, and postponed moving jobs as that might have involved moving out of home too.

Since the holiday, my relationship was more relaxed. It felt like we had known each other for years, and my girlfriend understood the pressures at home, as well as my need to stay focused on earning money with my cab. We saw each other when we could, and she continued to stop over occasionally.

The taxi work was busier than ever, but I made another decision. I would move taxi firms, and work from the one closest to home. That would keep me out of the area I wanted to avoid, and hopefully away from the people who knew how to contact me. So I handed in my radio in Greenwich, and went to work for a much smaller outfit in Albany Park. The rent was cheaper, and the local work was busy most days. I went back to taking old ladies to Bingo in the afternoons, picking up overloaded housewives from supermarkets with their bags of shopping, and dropping off groups of excited young girls at the favourite pubs in the area.

At weekends, the more affluent area offered lots of airport runs to Gatwick, pickups from various golf clubs and restaurants, and late night jobs from house parties. It was stress free, and a world away from the same work just 10 miles west. Everyone gave you a tip, and there were few aggressive drunks, argumentative customers, or people trying to jump out at traffic lights to avoid payment.

And no criminals.

Another benefit was the lack of traffic, compared to being closer to the centre of London. I could easily do three local jobs an hour, sometimes four, and that meant I had a good idea what I would earn each shift, as well as using a lot less petrol operating in a much smaller catchment area. Being flexible with my working hours, I soon developed a good relationship with the owner, who ran the place pretty much as a one-man operation. Most of the other permanent drivers had been there a long time, and at busy periods like Saturday nights, we had part-timers supplementing their income from normal day jobs.

For the first time since bumping into Nicky in Bermondsey the previous year, I finally felt I could relax. Nobody at the old place had known where I was going, so if anyone phoned and asked for me by name, or my call number one-eight, they would be told I had left, and that would be that.

Early summer saw me taking time off to go out with my girlfriend. I met some of her friends over in south-west London, and ignored the fact that they looked down on me, raised their eyebrows at my accent, or patronised me during conversation because I had not been to university. I was becoming a regular visitor to her parents’ house, though I never asked to stay over, and wasn’t invited to do so.

We did a lot of things I hadn’t done before. We went to Kew Gardens, took a boat out on the Thames at Sunbury, and had a picnic on Wimbledon Common. I started to take Friday nights off, and that became our night for going to the cinema, with a restaurant meal before or after. We were easy in each other’s company, and she ignored the snobbery of her friends, who were undoubtedly telling her I wasn’t good enough for her.

Then one week night in late July, I got home from work and my mum was still up late, watching TV. She told me there was a message for me. “Someone phoned earlier. I told her you were working until late, but she said you could ring when you got home, whatever the time was. Her name is Patsy, I wrote it down”. Mum handed me the piece of paper, and I got a cold feeling in my stomach. If Patsy had gone so far as to find my home number and call me, something bad had happened. I picked up the house phone in the hallway, and started to dial the number.

If my guess was correct, I was being drawn back in. Once again, just the driver.

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 copper 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”.