or is it d'Eath?
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Charlie Death
by Harry Downey



A name change went with the job. A double name change to be exact. To be fair, at the interview that HR chap, Mr. Robson, didn’t look happy about something as he went through all the basics on the Application Form, but it was only on his first morning when Charlie realised what they’d done. With the comment, “House Rules, Charles. The badge is to be worn at all times when you’re on the premises,” he was given his shiny new lapel badge. It was simple enough. All they needed to do was put an apostrophe into the name, move a capital letter and Charlie Death became Charles d’Eath.

At home in No 14 he was Charlie;  his mates, when they were being polite, called him Chas - but here he became Charles. ‘Here’ was at Russell & Dorward. When Charlie told his father, Dad wasn’t pleased about it, making some comments about “Toffs up west. Who do they think they are?” but Mum made it into a joke. “If your Dad had been a Welsh undertaker and christened David, he’d have been Dai the Death”. Dad wasn’t pleased by much these days, and being married to him for thirty-odd years, she found a sense of humour helped her to get by.

He’d had the House Rules drilled into him from Day One. Appearance: – smart suit, trousers pressed regularly, ‘proper’ shoes, clean shaven - definitely no beard, fresh shirt every day and a tie - ‘subdued’ was the word they used. He was to open and hold doors and greet customers. Every potential client was, at least, ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’. If they were people of rank and he had learned it, he was to use the full title. He was ‘to hover’ - ‘discreetly’ - listen and learn. Otherwise he was to have a cloth and pretend to find a speck or two of dust somewhere on a car, then make it disappear. Failing that, he was to find something to polish. Above all, he was to remember he was in the showroom of Russell and Dorward, proud holders of the Royal Warrant as the capital’s foremost dealer in quality motor cars. And to remember, and be grateful, for the opportunity to be employed in such a prestigious establishment.   

There were two other basic - but essential - rules he must remember. First, following an incident some years before, when a drunk wandered in and almost caused serious damage, during business hours the showroom must never be left open and unwatched. That was a Company rule. Any failure to enforce it was likely to result in dismissal. The other important rule was made clear to Charlie on Day One.  Mr. Greatorix, the Showroom Manager, was to be called on his mobile phone if a sale looked remotely possible, and he, Mr. Greatorix, happened not to be on the premises. This clear instruction was not as clear as it seemed. Apparently, one of Charlie’s predecessors had done exactly as instructed and called his superior. Mr. G was away ‘attending to some personal matter’ when he was contacted. He came back to find the promising client had gone elsewhere ─ taking the potential commission with him. These ‘personal matters’ were  generally believed to involve Miss Dawson, a young blonde typist  in the first-floor accounts office, whose regular absences - she worked part-time - somehow seemed to coincide with his. The young man was dismissed for some minor infraction soon afterwards, and the lesson was passed on to his successors. Mr. Greatorix’s ‘personal time’ was sacrosanct, and came before whatever the official R & D handbook might say. The way it was put to Charlie made it clear. “Remember, young Charles, I’m the man who decides whether you continue to work for R & D -  or not.” The last couple of words were said with clear relish.

On TV, Charlie had once heard the term ‘Intern’ applied to people learning a job from the ground floor up, so that’s what he felt he really was. To anyone else at Russell & Dorward he was Charles, the dogsbody, the gofer, who was the junior in the team of three who made up the Main Showroom Sales Section. Its manager was Greatorix, an unpleasant man, smarmy and obsequious to potential customers, but rude and officious always to his two subordinates, Nigel Cunliffe and Charlie.  Always ‘Mister’ Greatorix to them, behind his back his nickname was ‘Uriah’. Cunliffe, a quietly spoken, bookish man had seen David Copperfield on television. To Charlie, Greatorix always reminded him of the way his Dad had spoken of an NCO he had known in his army days  - “The sort of chap who would sew his three stripes on his pyjamas just to impress his wife.”



Now Charles, on this Wednesday morning in his second probationary month, for the first time was alone in the showroom and he didn’t know what to do. It shouldn’t have been like that, but Nigel Cunliffe had been unwell earlier in the day and had been sent home.  Greatorix was away on one of his frequent ‘personal time’ absences.

It was the second arrival who was the problem. The first man had arrived about twenty minutes ago. Charlie immediately went to him and asked if he might help. The man had handed him a card identifying himself as Martin Anstruther, “Don’t worry, young man. No need to be nervous. I’m not here buy one of your lovely motors today. I’m the UK agent for several of the Saudi Royal Family. One of them will be over here in a week or two and I’m just here to narrow down the field for when he buys another couple of cars. Probably the ashtrays are full on the others in his fleet. What I say and suggest won’t make a blind bit of difference, but I get a nice living out of it, so I’m here to go through the motions.” He gave Charlie a knowing wink as he said this. “I can see you’re new here, but I’m very happy just to wander around on my own. OK?” With that he strolled off to the far side of the showroom.

Anstruther’s card and explanation satisfied Charlie, and he relaxed. Minutes later the heavy glass main doors opened and a second man came in. This other man’s appearance bothered him. A wino? Or a tramp coming in to the warmth for a few minutes? He knew that happened occasionally and he’d been warned about it. No, not a tramp. His clothes were good quality but looked as if they’d been bought some time ago and been worn every day since. The trainers? They were definitely wrong. Short, hatless and balding. Cigarette hanging from the side of his mouth. If he’d had to put an age to him, Charlie would have said mid fifties. Probably respectable enough, it was simply that he didn’t fit in. He just didn’t look right among all these cars. If he drove at all he’d have one of the cheaper, small Japanese models. Not the sort of cars Russell & Dorward displayed. The old saying “If you have to ask the price then you can’t afford it” came into his head.

Charlie had made up his mind. He was, politely, but firmly, going to usher the man from the showroom. He thought of it as his own personal ‘baptism of fire’, like going over the top for the first time in that TV programme he’d watched about the trenches and battles in WWI.

Mr. Anstruther saved Charlie’s bacon. He came across, putting a notebook away in his pocket as he did so. “I’m off now. I may see you in a week or two when his nibs, or one of his wives, wants me while they’re in London. I’ll leave you free to concentrate on his Lordship for now. He’ll get you a lot of brownie points with your boss if you play your cards right.” He saw the puzzled look on the young man’s face. “He’s not what he looks like, you know.”

“Obviously you don’t recognise him? There’s no reason why you should. That chap is Lord Stalbridge. He’s one of the richest men in the country, but he’s - well, let’s just say he’s ‘eccentric’. Actually, I’ve been told he can’t drive anyway, and they reckon he uses buses a lot. Probably when he‘s old enough to qualify he’ll use a bus pass. But don’t be fooled. He’s as sharp as they come. He’s seriously loaded. Do yourself a good turn and humour him. When he’s ready – he’ll spend if he sees what he wants.” With that he went leaving Charlie alone with this strange, potentially important client. Here goes, Chas. You’ve been left in charge, so show ‘em what you can do.

“Good morning Sir. Lord Stalbridge I believe? How may I help you today, My Lord?” Charlie remembered that was the correct form of words he was expected to use. Not the ‘Can I help you?’ that would have come more readily to his lips. 

“Morning, You’re in charge today then? “

“For the time being, Sir. Yes, I am.”

“Well, you are correct – I am Stalbridge. But I prefer to be addressed as Mr. Ericson when I’m here. I take it all of the cars are left unlocked? I may want to sit in several and try them out.”

“Indeed, sir. They’re all open for inspection. Would you want to test drive one of them, sir?”

“No. I mean just a sit in them. I don’t drive.”

He tapped the pocket of his raincoat. Not finding what he wanted, he scrabbled around inside the Tesco plastic bag he was carrying. “Ah, good. I knew they were somewhere.” He leaned forward to see the name tag better, “Smoking isn’t banned in here, is it, Charles?”  The notices around the showroom with their prominent  NO SMOKING in red were unmissable. Charlie decided to stick his neck out. “Strictly speaking, sir, you shouldn’t, but as there’s just you and me here, I won’t tell if you won’t. But it’ll cost me my job if somebody catches me, so please be careful, sir.”

“Of course, lad. We’ll be careful, eh? Both of us. d’Eath? Any relation to Simon of that ilk? Hampshire chap. I knew him back in my service days.” “No, my lord, he won’t be any relation to me.”

Stalbridge/Ericson raised his hand, motioning to Charlie to stay where he was. Charlie sat at his desk and watched and listened as doors were opened and closed, and, two or three times he knew that this strange man sat in a vehicle. Intriguingly, when he tried a seat it was not the rear seat he chose, but the seat next to the driver. The young man just sat, watched and tried to understand the world of the very rich.

“Would you give me the nice glossy brochure that I’m sure you have waiting for me in a desk drawer somewhere. I like the look of that cream car prominently placed near your main window. Yes, that one. It looks alright to me and when I sat in it I found it was comfortable, All the details and the amount it will cost me.”

“Sir, the one you’ve chosen is the car which is probably the  finest vehicle in our showroom. I don’t believe you could find a better anywhere in London. As I’m sure you know very well, even with such a superb vehicle, some buyers do like to have modifications made - for their own personal convenience or taste. If there is anything along those lines, my lord? The earlier we know of your wishes, the better all round. I’ll just look out the full details for you, and on behalf of Russell & Dorward may I offer my sincere thanks and compliment you on your choice.” Charlie found the words came easily. Relaxed, he felt at ease with himself. Lord of all he surveyed. A good feeling.

“Kind of you Charles, but the deal isn’t done yet. As you will have gathered, I don’t know much about motor cars. To be honest, they don’t even interest me. I would be happy with the car I’ve looked at, and can’t see any need for fancy extras. But, until my people have OK’d it, I haven’t bought it. I’m going now, and shortly Bennett will come. He is my driver. After he’s checked on the vehicle and given me his opinion about its suitability from his point of view, then I will either buy it or look elsewhere.”

“Thank you for your time, Mr. d’Eath. I think you have the skills to go far in your chosen career.  If my man Bennett is happy, he will say so when he calls. He will speak for me and give you a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. If it is ‘yes’, please arrange to have everything arranged so that the car will be ready to be driven away by, say, Monday next. The payment will have been sorted out by then. Good afternoon to you.” He left the showroom leaving behind a shell-shocked teenager. A teenager with a desperate need for a cup of sweet, black tea.



For Charlie it was back to normal. Alone in the showroom,  refreshed and feeling ready to take on whatever the world wanted to throw at him, he waited for this man Bennett, the man who apparently  had the casting vote, the power to veto his employer’s choice of car. Not just an ordinary employer - a Lord of the Realm, and a very, very rich one at that. Charlie could hardly believe the world in which he found himself. Not something he could sensibly discuss with his father, a man who had wanted Charlie to “Get yourself a trade, lad. A proper trade. You’ll never be out of work with a real skill from your hands and your head.”

With just less than an hour before the official end of his working day, a  face he recognised  appeared. “Oh, good. Glad you’re still here. My diary’s gone missing and the last time I saw it was in here earlier. Have you seen it anywhere?“ “ No, sir, but I’ll soon have a look for it.” Anstruther was already away in a corner, waving his hand in triumph.

“That’s a relief. I’m lost without it. I have to have a mobile phone in my line of work. People call me and they want me when it suits them. It’s ‘Yes Sir - No Sir. Three bags full, Sir’ when they want me, but the old-fashioned pen and ink is always there. You can’t delete by mistake. You can lose it though if you’re like me. Now, young Charles. I assume that a high-class establishment such as this would have liquid refreshment readily available for a potential customer with connections to a Royal Household? Black coffee with two sugars would do nicely.”

“Good man. I feel better for that. How did you go on with his nibs? He was here when I left. I did warn you that he’s a bit eccentric. How many did he buy today, then?“

“I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t think that is the sort of thing I ought to be discussing with anyone outside the company.” Charlie knew he sounded pompous and felt uncomfortable. “All I will say is that a sale is possible. His Lordship did seem to be pleased with what he saw.”

“Good on you, Charles. And let’s hope a nice bit of the sales money ends up in the pocket of the young whiz-kid salesman who did the deal. Seriously though, was he - as, let’s say, ‘strange’ - as I said he would be?”

“Actually, he was. But I found I rather liked him.”

“I know what you mean. But you must tread very carefully with him. He’s very old school. By that I mean his standards. Very high. Honourable, straight bat, all above board. Rather old-fashioned in a funny sort of way. There’s a tale that I heard that he walked out on a multi-million pound deal when the other party doubted his integrity. Just straight out of the door. If you do have business with him, or your boss or whoever has, you must take his word for anything he says. Complete trust. He gives it and expects it in return. For instance, apparently he likes cash. We all do, but in his case he tends to have money - serious money - in the pocket of that old coat he wears. He likes to deal in cash. Very often they reckon he’ll buy something for a few grand and pay on the spot in cash. He’ll hand over tenners or twenties to do the deal. And that’s been a problem more than once, I hear. He bought something for 5K, dug into his pockets, pulled out the money and handed it over.  The other bloke made a massive booboo. He started to count it in front of Milord. He took the cash from his hand, gave him back whatever it was and never spoke to the man again. You think it strange, just as I do, but there you are. People know him and his ways now. If he hands you a cheque, say ‘Thank you’ and don’t even think of looking at it while he’s there. Not the world I live in, nor yours either, lad. It’s been a pleasure chatting to you, Charles. I might well be back in a couple of weeks when the prince and his party will be here in London. Perhaps I’ll see you again then. Cheers.”

As Anstruther left, Charlie glanced around, Nature calls. House Rule or not, I don’t think they’d give me my cards for going to the toilet. No-one here anyway. Only ten minutes to closing. Quick as he was, by the time he got back to his desk the man was re waiting for him.

“Mr. Death, is it? Bennett.”

Charlie didn’t correct him.

“That’s right. We were warned you were coming. It’s this car over here.”

The man was big. Really big. And that wasn’t just the chauffeur’s cap that did it. He towered over Charlie, who at just over six feet wasn’t used to the sensation. The uniform, made to measure in Charlie’s opinion, made Bennett look even bigger. Not the sort of bloke you’d want to meet in a dark alleyway. Bodyguard as well as driver. Wonder if he gets paid a double wage? Keep your mind on the job, Charlie - there’s big money resting on this next couple of minutes.

Bennett walked round the car, opened the driver’s door and sat inside, opened the bonnet, then the front passenger door,  finally the boot. All without saying a word. Charlie’s instincts told him not to break the silence.

“His Lordship’s  made a good choice. It’ll do. I’ll be here Monday. Thank you, Mr. Death.” He left the showroom just as the clock was striking the hour.

Too late now today to do anything. Anyway, it’s not a sale yet. Remember what Lord Stalbridge said. Sort it all out in the morning. Greatorix will be back then. Just in time to get his name down on the sales ticket. Typical of the man. Greedy sod.



Thursday morning. Nigel Cunliffe, clearly still far from well, was in the showroom first. Greatorix, who normally arrived next, hadn’t shown up when Charlie came through the door.

A few minutes later one of the young clerks came down from the first-floor office. Reading from a piece of paper she passed on the message. “Mr. Greatorix regrets he will not be with you today, due to a personal matter. He hopes to be able to come back tomorrow. He apologises, and reminds his colleagues of his complete confidence in their abilities to manage. Well trained as they have been, despite the difficult situation he finds himself in, he will be happy to help by telephone if needed.”

“Thank you, Karen. Thanks for letting us know. How’s it going on in the hub of the empire upstairs? Miss Dawson in today, is she?” Nigel kept his face straight as he asked the question.

“Funnily enough, she’s not. Must be poorly again, poor soul.” She sniggered.

“That note I’ve just read out to you. It’s what Mr. Greatorix said – word for word. He insisted I wrote it down.”   She looked across at Charlie, smiled, then walked away.

Charlie told Nigel of the day he’d had. He agreed that everything Charlie had done had been done correctly, and that he himself would have acted the same way. He said he was rather looking forward to meeting Lord Stalbridge - or his alter ago. Ericson. Charlie hadn’t heard the term before and had it explained to him. He was increasingly concerned about his colleague who was alternately sweating profusely and shivering. He advised Cunliffe to go home and call a doctor. Nigel agreed he should, and was just putting his coat on as the phone rang.

“He asked for you by name, Charles. It’s your mysterious Mr. Ericson.”  Cunliffe hovered till the short conversation was over.

“It’s a sale. He’s just confirmed it.” Charlie was grinning like a man who’d just won a fortune on the lottery.  “It’s all done and dusted for collection Monday. Great, isn’t it.”

“Well done, Charles. You’ll have your eyes on my job now, I suppose.  You said he didn’t want any modifications, so just ring George Fairbairn and tell him. He and his team will do the rest and make sure the car will be ready. We both know one man who won’t be pleased, don’t we? Serve him right. He’s like a part-timer these days - like his lady friend upstairs. I can’t work out why the top brass let him get away with it. Surely they must be aware of what he’s up to? Everyone else seems to know.  I’m off now. Actually, I do feel rotten. I think it’s some sort of flu. Just let them know upstairs that I’ve gone home and I’ll be back as soon as I’m fit again.” He went, leaving Charlie with things to do.



Nigel telephoned on Friday to see how things were going. He wasn’t in the least surprised to hear that Charlie was still working alone. He’d known Greatorix long enough to know that he’d stretch his absence to include the weekend.                 Charlie, actually, was coping well. Callers had been few and none looked  like a serious potential customer. The young man was still basking in the memories of his recent actions and imagining himself, a few years on, as Mr. Big in his chosen world of luxury cars, royalty and high society. The thought of Greatorix coming in and claiming the sale of the Roller that he  - Charlie Death -  had worked so hard for: Well, it hurt. He knew the way the system worked, and the established pecking order that put underlings, as he was, right down the list, but that acceptance did little to ease the sense of grievance he felt.

The niggling annoyance Charlie felt was eased when he had a visitor - a VIP. In Russell & Dorward there was no-one more VIP than Mr. Gascoyne. As far as Charlie knew, there were no members of the original founding fathers left, and in the absences of a Russell or a  Dorward, Mr. Gascoyne was the big cheese. He’d been introduced on his first day and given  a ‘Welcome aboard’ greeting and ritual handshake.  Since then he’d seen him around the building - Gascoyne tried, as far as he could, to visit all parts of his empire regularly, and was generally well thought of by his underlings.

The way he spoke to Charlie showed that he was either well-briefed, or, more probably in Charlie’s view, a man on top of his job. He knew of the sale earlier in the week, congratulated Charlie on his efforts, was aware of  Nigel’s absence, and learned with interest of the supporting call from the older man earlier in the day. Charlie’s estimation of  his ‘big boss’ peaked on Gascoyne’s use of a single word. “I see Mr. Greatorix  is not with us again. Have you any news about when he’ll be back?” Was it just imagination or wishful thinking?  Did he ever so slightly stress the word ‘again’? Whether he did or not, after he left Charlie felt happier for his brief visit.

Two phone calls. One just before his customary sandwich lunch from Martin Anstruther. “Charles, just a quickie. One of the Family will be over next week. I’ll do my best to point him towards your showroom. Let’s see if we do each other a bit of good, eh? You scratch my back, etc. You know how it works. Hope your bit of business goes well next week. It ought to. Just remember what I said. Don’t offend or doubt him in any way. If he senses lack of trust he’ll walk out on any deal. See you next week. Cheers.”

The second call was around 2.30. A woman’s voice. Very posh without sounding affected was Charlie’s assessment. “This is Debra Hyde, PA to Lord Stalbridge. Regarding the car he’s buying from you. Everything at your end is ready as already arranged, I trust? There’s been a slight change here. His Lordship is flying to Washington early tomorrow for a few days, so instead of Monday the vehicle is to be ready this afternoon, actually in about thirty minutes or so. We’re sorry to rush things, but it’s a government matter and the P.M. is personally involved. You won’t let us down now, will you? There’s a good chap. ‘Bye.”

Charlie hadn’t expected this. What would Nigel do? Got it. George Fairbairn. I’ll give him a call. “Mr. Fairbairn? Charles d’Eath. I’ve just taken a phone call. The Rolls you have over there for Monday.  Stalbridge, that’s right. Is it actually ready, completely ready? The customer wants to collect now. Yes, right now. Is it on? I understand. You’ve been shorthanded with this ‘flu thing that’s going round. But you managed it. Well done, Good. They told me what a tight ship you run and you wouldn’t let us down.  Nigel from our little team has gone home with it too. I’m assuming the buyer’s chauffeur will come here, so if I fetch him through he could drive away? That alright? Great. Many thanks.”

He was finding that the more often he used his posh new name, the easier it became. His week hadn’t ended yet, but Charlie felt as if he’d grown up a lot over the last few days. ‘Matured’. Yes, that’s a I word, Charlie. Remember, you move in the ranks of the nobs these days. Funny thing is, I could grow to like it.



Charlie heard the gentle woosh as the heavy double doors opened. He looked up to see Lord Stalbridge heading his way. He looked just as untidy as before, and what looked like the same Tesco bag in his right hand. Bennett, his driver, was with him.

“Good afternoon, My Lord. I hope all is well?”

“Young Mr. d’Eath. Afternoon to you. No time for a chinwag, I’m afraid. Plane to catch an all that. Just show Bennett where he’s to go while you and I are doing the painful part. I never like handing over hard-earned money, no matter what it’s for. The only time I don’t mind too much is when there’s a profit at the end of it. A proper deal. Not like buying an expensive lump of metal.”

“Bennett, go with our young friend. I’ll stay here as surety. That’s a joke. Bennett here doesn’t have much of a sense of humour.”

Charlie took Bennett through, passing  him over to Fairbairn. Back in the showroom he looked at the main clock which showed 4.17. Stalbridge was sitting there, perfectly relaxed and smoking. “I checked. There’s nobody around to snitch and tell, so I lit up. Right, young man. Business. Let’s be clear on the details.” 

The two compared notes and agreed on the date, the payee’s correct title and the full amount to be paid. “Right, Mr. d’Eath, please  listen carefully. I want there to be no risk of misunderstanding.”.

“The cheque I am about to make out and give you is in the name of John Ericson, the name I used when we first met a couple of days ago. I am he, and that was my name before Her Majesty saw fit to change it. Why I am paying you with a cheque made out that way is not relevant.”  Stalbridge / Ericson took a chequebook from his carrier bag, entered the details, checking with Charlie as he did so, tore the cheque from the book and passed it  to Charlie.

“There you are young man. Just check it before I go. Within hours I shall be thousands of miles away.” Charlie remembered what Martin Anstruther had told him and barely glanced at the cheque. “Thank you, Mr. Ericson. That will do nicely. Thank you for your custom. I’d like to think that we might have the opportunity to be at your service  again sometime in the future.”

The two shook hands and, as the gleaming new car pulled up outside, a final wave and Stalbridge was through the door. The car pulled into the traffic and quickly turned left. Charlie Death, for the first time, felt completely comfortable being Charles d’Eath.

4.52. No-one will come in so late. Standing orders were clear and specific. Cash in excess of the normal float and cheques of any value were to be handed in to the Accounts Department before the end of the working day, and must not be left anywhere else on the premises. Charlie went upstairs, handed in the cheque, put on his coat and went to his bus stop. A young man, happy, content and with a feeling of a job done well. A drink or two with his mates that he felt he’d earned to look forward to. Enjoy the weekend and be prepared for Greatorix’s inevitable inquisition on Monday morning.

Somehow it seemed inevitable that Mr. Sod would step in to confirm the potency of his infamous Law. Just round the corner from the showroom a breakdown truck partially blocked the street. Charlie’s bus was delayed and he was late getting home.



His mother was waiting for him. She was in a state. Charlie had never seen her so agitated.  “Don’t take your coat off, you’ve got to go straight out again.  A man rang for you. He said his name was Gascoyne, or something like that. A name like that footballer. Your Dad would know but he’s on the afternoon shift. Sounds posh and very important. He’s your big boss, isn’t he? Well, whoever or whatever he is, he wants you back at work immediately. It’s very urgent. And if you can’t get a bus soon, then you’re to get a cab. No, he didn’t say what it was about. I didn’t ask him, but you’ve got to get back straightaway.”

It didn’t need a brain like Einstein to work out what Charlie was wanted for. Even so, he couldn’t see what the problem was. He’d verified the amount, actually seen with his own eyes the customer sign it, and personally had handed the cheque to the right people. It could only be the name on the cheque, and the fact it was Ericson. Perhaps it should have been from Lord Stalbridge himself on a different account. Yes. That  must be it. Easily solved surely, even if  the guy was probably partway over the Atlantic by now. All the time in the taxi he racked his brains but couldn’t see he’d failed in his duties. But he did  remember to ask the driver for a receipt. First things first. If Russell & Dorward wanted him in on his own personal time, then they should pay him for it. That’ll make Dad proud of me when I tell him the story.

There were four men in Gascoyne’s office when he arrived. Gascoyne himself, Nigel Cunliffe - still looking far from being fully recovered - George Fairbairn and the Head of accounts, a Mr. Elliot. Gascoyne, naturally enough, ran the show. They all looked at Charlie as he entered the room. Four very serious faces. Charlie sensed he was in real trouble. And he felt he was alone. He couldn’t see where any help could come from. Nigel would be a supporting presence, but he was outranked and could merely corroborate what Charlie had told him. Charlie himself was the one person who had been involved in the deal, and if something had gone badly wrong and they wanted someone to carry the can, Charlie would be it. He’d be the fall guy. But he still didn’t know exactly what had happened.

“Charles. Do you know why we’re here?”

“I assume it’s about the car Lord Stalbridge bought today, sir.”

“Partly right, Charles. You’re correct, and incorrect. The car went from our showroom, but it wasn’t paid for. The cheque from this ‘Mr. Ericson’, is a worthless bit of paper. There was a real Ericson - he died two years ago.  Somehow these people had acquired an old chequebook of his.”

At that point an angry looking Elliot tried to say something, but Gascoyne stopped him with a quick raising of his hand. Charlie told them everything, holding nothing back. The group talked the matter dry, with the others showing some understanding of his position. The police had been informed as soon as the scam was discovered and at this stage there was nothing else that ought to be done. There  the matter was left. The meeting concluded with Charlie to be interviewed by the police, his official statement taken, descriptions double checked and so on. As the others were leaving, Gascoyne took him aside. The two were to meet privately on Monday morning when  Charlie’s  future with Russell & Dorward would be clarified. As he left, Charlie wondered what sort of future he had to look forward to. Unemployed at seventeen  with no special skills. Probably finish up in a Call Centre. Dad was right - he should have learned a trade. He  went home on the bus. Somehow he didn’t think Mr. G would OK a cabdriver’s receipt this time.

A police car came to the house not long after Charlie got home. “Would Mr. D’Eath kindly come with them to the police station?” They were very polite - but very firm. Mrs. Death was upset. Charlie had tried to explain what had happened, but seeing ‘her boy, being dragged off - like a criminal. Her boy who had never been in any sort of trouble before. With my husband not here, either. The shame of it’.

Charlie managed to calm her down after a few minutes and went  off to be interviewed. It was challenging, and the two detectives made him repeat certain parts of it a couple of times. They were very interested by the other characters in the scam - there was no doubt in their minds that was what it was. In particular, the very helpful ‘Martin Anstruther’ who seemed linked with other matters.. Charlie was to stand by, to be asked to come in and look at some photos. The police had this ‘Rogues Gallery’ and there might be a face or two he could pick out. Charlie simply told in his own words what had happened, and after the formal statement was signed and a card with a contact name and number on it given him - “Just in case you think of something else that might help us“, then a car took him home. Mrs. D didn’t know whether to laugh or cry with relief as in his brief absence she’d imagined a trial at the Old Bailey, followed by confinement in the Bloody Tower, but calmed down and cooked an extra-large portion of egg and chips. The meal, Charlie’s favourite, and  a couple of delayed drinks with pals in their local cheered him up, but the situation was never out of his mind.



It was curious, but Charlie actually was looking forward to Monday morning. Even though he knew he was in serious trouble, at least he would be involved in whatever happened and probably hear any updates quite quickly.  He knew he was kidding himself, but the posh bird PA might even telephone, say sorry there’d be a mix-up, and send the correct cheque by special messenger. And pigs might fly.

It was almost like a normal day as Charlie arrived, walking into the showroom  immediately behind Greatorix, who did his usual trick of letting the door swing to behind him, then feigning surprise along with a “Sorry, I didn’t see you there.” There was the customary ‘Morning’ for Nigel with Charlie getting the usual grunt. It was clear that two of the trio knew something the third member didn’t.  The phone rang. Greatorix took the call, looked concerned at whatever the caller had said, walked over to the showroom mirror, straightened his tie, patted his hair, then “Mr. Gascoyne wants to see me. Hold the fort, Nigel” and went into the main building.

“It doesn’t look as if  he’s heard anything yet, Charles. It’ll be interesting to see his reactions when he comes back. Squalls ahead - for both of us. The fact that I wasn’t here won’t make any difference to Uriah. You know, just at the moment I feel like moving on. It’ll be just him and me after you’ve gone. There must be a better way of earning a living. For you, I’m afraid, it’s probably the sack.  I think it’s what you expect, if you’re honest, isn’t it, Charles?”

“True enough, Nigel. I think Gascoyne is a decent enough guy, but he hasn’t any choice really. I’ll be unemployed before the day’s out.” Charlie, keeping  a straight face, put his thinking. “There is another option he might consider you know. Suppose he says I could keep my job, but in return we agree that they stop £10 every month out of my pay till it’s paid back. You’re better at maths than I am, Nige. How many years would that take?”.....

They looked up to see Greatorix, white as a sheet and shaking.  He went to his locker, removed a few things and put them into a plastic bag. He lifted down his raincoat from his personal peg, slowly put it on, tapped his pockets, looked around with a confused, vague look on his face.  Only then did he speak.

“I’ve be been fired. All because of what happened last week when I wasn’t even here. Not even on the premises. How unfair can it get? This is a matter for a Tribunal. Unfair Dismissal, that’s what. I’ll have him for it.” He glared at Charlie. “To think how I’ve helped you, guided you this last couple of months since you came. Then you stab me in the back. As for you Nigel, I expected better from a tried and trusted colleague. A man I thought of as a friend. Upstairs he kept going on about absences, my attendance record. Is it my fault that I have matters to sort out? Family matters. Personal concerns?” He headed to the main doors. “Don’t think you’ve seen the last of me. I shall be back.” Greatorix did his best to make a dignified departure, watched by two men who felt no sympathy whatsoever for their ex-colleague.

“Who does he think he’s kidding? I’m surprised he’s not been kicked out before now.”

Charlie, relieved to see the back of a man he’d never liked, agreed. “A complete waste of space. Personally, I wouldn’t have bought a used push-bike from him.”

The expected summons didn’t arrive. Gascoyne didn’t send for Charlie. After Greatorix’s dismissal, the high point of a quiet Monday morning was the return of  Karen. “You’d better watch out, young Charles. We both know she’s got her eye on you. That chitty she brought down was just an excuse to come and see you. Pretty girl. Now, if I were a bit younger you wouldn’t stand a chance.”



Clearly, events of the last few days had exposed a weakness in the system. The two agreed that leaving one or other of them - or more probably a  successor in Charlie’s case - alone in charge of the large showroom and its mind-boggling contents couldn’t, and shouldn’t, happen again, Nigel was to arrange to have cover, just for security, if for nothing else, from the top  office as and when needed. Easily sorted and agreed with immediate effect, both men relaxed.

Even so, Charlie needed to try to push  the ever-present concern to the back of his mind. He couldn’t settle where he was. Just too many reminders of his failings. His own fault or not – he’d fallen for a con-trick. And, he shouldn’t have.

Charlie popped out in his lunchtime for a spot of shopping. A wiser young man by far than just a few days earlier, he felt he had to have a change of scenery - or, at the very least, an Americano from that expensive Café-Olé place. That was being foolish, and he knew it. He’d have to be careful with his money now. McDonalds,  here I come.

He turned left on a street he knew so well. His bus stop was down at the bottom, there was even one approaching as he watched.  For a moment he was tempted. He could catch it if he ran. Tell ‘em what to do with their job. No way, Charlie, that’s the coward’s way out. He wouldn’t be able to look his father in the face if he did that. Charlie Death, be a man.

Minutes later, in a booth by the window, he had a thought. In fact, it was a ‘What if’ thought. A brand-new, shining, straight from the showroom Rolls Royce, had vanished. Disappeared from the streets. Friday evening rush hour. In central London when so much traffic was snarled up. The three-card trick. The police were looking for a prestige item doubtless with a degree or two more priority than the theft of his Dad’s car would have been given. A dirty old Honda, held together by string and sticky tape. But a Rolls? Surely they wouldn’t miss a Roller?

These days you couldn’t do anything it seemed without being watched - or at least seen. Cameras everywhere. CCTV on every corner. So why hadn’t the car been picked up, or at least spotted. Elementary, my dear Watson. Because it wasn’t there.

He could see it now. Get the car off the road ASAP and hide it. And the closer it was to the showroom after the theft - the easier to avoid being found. Charlie, old boy. You ought to have a change of career, Become a criminal. Become “Mr. Big.”  Charlie ordered another coffee to mark the moment.



Nigel had a message for him. “You’re to be at Mr. Gascoyne’s office at 4.00 pm. Best of luck when you go. At least you’ll know something definite today. Good news or bad, that’s something. Actually, you don’t look as if you need any more good news.”

“What’s happened? You look like a man who’s won the lottery.  Has somebody offered you the lead in a Hollywood blockbuster or something while you were out? What’s happened?  Come on, now. You’re grinning like a Cheshire Cat. Tell your Uncle Nigel all about it then.” Nigel had a weakness for frequent literary allusions which were often way over Charlie’s head. This one wasn’t. He couldn’t restrain himself any longer.

“Nigel Cunliffe. Bow down your head. You are in the presence of genius. When, this afternoon at 4.00 pm precisely, as I present myself to our respected and beloved boss, Mr. Philip Gascoyne, then I, Charles d’Eath, Bachelor of this Parish, will help him find his missing motor vehicle. In return for this invaluable service he will offer me an enormous amount of cash money, a seat on the board and his undying gratitude. Following that, Mr. Cunliffe, I shall, naturally, be your superior, but rest assured, good sir, that I shall continue to treat you with respect in all matters appertaining to this showroom. You may, in future, regard Sunday as a day of rest, and your presence will not be expected here at Russell & Dorward.”

“So, Excellency, what wonderful solution has your massive brain unearthed? Why are you right, and all the intellect of Scotland Yard has so far been baffled? Should I be standing to attention as I listen to the Oracle?”

Charlie explained. Nigel listened intently and agreed the theory was plausible. “Put it to the police? No, I don’t think so. If you count all the lock-ups, private garages and whatever, inside, let’s say, a one-mile radius of here - no way. The manpower involved, the cost. You’re not looking for a missing child. Basically, it’s a chunk of steel, with rubber and plastic bits. No matter how much it’s worth, the insurance will cover it. Yes, you could mention it to the law, but it is only a theory, after all. Still, Charles, I appreciate the gesture. Sundays off will be nice.”

Charlie felt deflated - and looked it. He glanced at his watch and shrugged his shoulders.  Not long before it’s time to face the music. After a few minutes when neither man said a word, Charlie suddenly dashed across to what had been Greatorix’s desk, found whatever he wanted and started scrabbling in a frenzied fashion through the Yellow Pages. Nigel couldn’t hear all Charlie’s muttering, he could hear what sounded like ‘free, free, free,’

“Got it!” His pen was scratching away at a listing. “Fremantle. That’s it. That’s the one. Just the single letter e, not two. A to Z please, Nige.”

Charlie fumbled in the back pocket of his trousers, pulled out a wallet,  found what he wanted and sat down. “This time, Nigel, I think I have a serious case to put to the police. Just let me do it my own way. If it goes wrong, it’s my baby only, and I’ll be able to face the man upstairs knowing I’ve done my very best. Absolutely all I could have done to save my job. Pass me the phone, please.”

“I’d like to speak to Sergeant Ian Baker, please. CID. This is Charles d’Eath calling from Russell & Dorward. OK, I’ll hold.”

It didn’t take long to tell his tale. Charlie’s bus on the day of the scam, had been delayed due to a traffic jam in the area. No, he wasn’t happy about it, particularly as it was Friday.  He personally was affected by the delay, and, as far as he could see the cause was due to a car being loaded on to a breakdown truck. It had seemed to him then that the problem was caused by the time taken sheeting up and covering the car with a large tarpaulin. There were three men on the job and, Charlie reckoned, they were being paid by the hour and not for the job judging by the time it took.

No, he hadn’t seen the car so couldn’t help with its colour, but it was a big car, certainly bigger than your normal family saloon. Yes, he had noticed the name on the truck. Fremantle & Sons. He’d checked, only this afternoon ,and they had a garage and storage in Carthage Street, very close by. Yes, that’s about right. Just after five. He got to his bus stop about ten past and the truck was already there then. With the normal Friday evening traffic he must have left his garage a fair while before that.

When Charlie put the phone down he had a satisfied look on his face. “They’re going to follow it up. Quickly he said. It’s up to them, now.” He looked at his watch. “Time for a cuppa, Nige. Then I’m off to the scaffold. A favour from you, please. This call to the police and my theory. Can we keep it to ourselves till Baker, or one of his oppos, contacts us? If someone ever does, that is. I’m in enough trouble as it is without being made to look foolish with potty theories. I’m off now to see Mr. Gascoyne. Wish me luck.”

“Good luck, Charlie. For what it’s worth, I think it’s a damned good theory.”



It had turned five and the big doors to the showroom were shut when Charlie came back downstairs. Nigel was still there, coat on, ready to leave, waiting for his friend. He didn’t speak, just a quizzical raising of the eyebrows.

“Did you get a message from the police station for me while I was away?”

“No. Not a word.”

“Baker’s superior, a DCI named Matthews, rang Gascoyne. They found the Rolls.” Charlie flopped into his swivel chair, spun it round a couple of times, flung his arms into the air, letting out a loud “YES!” as he did so.

“And you know where they found it? In the tow truck’s garage under a sheet. Less than a mile from where they stole it.  And we both know who put ‘em on to it, don’t we, eh? In fairness to the bobbies, they did make it clear it was my suggestion that did it.”

“I am now Gazza’s  blue-eyed boy. Before the phone call from Matthews, he had already told me  that ‘after due consideration’ my future with R & D was safe. He plans to see you when he can, now he’s seen me, to confirm your move up the ladder. There’s a chap we don’t know coming in as your deputy. All being well, this guy will be here for just 12 months or so, then he goes, I  move up and we get a new trainee.“

“Also, this DCI reckons the garage guy will lead them on to the rest of the gang. It’s only a matter of time, he said. Apparently the chauffeur, Bennett, is known to them already.”

“That’s me for now, Nige. I’m away home now. Big night tonight. I’m taking Karen out. Isn’t she a lucky girl?”




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