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”.

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 services. 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”.

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.