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,
didnt 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 theyd done. With the comment, House Rules, Charles. The badge
is to be worn at all times when youre 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
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 wasnt 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,
hed have been Dai the Death. Dad wasnt 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.
Hed 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 capitals foremost dealer in quality motor cars. And
to remember, and be grateful, for the opportunity to be employed in such a
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 Charlies
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. Greatorixs 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, Im 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 thats 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
didnt know what to do. It shouldnt 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
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, Dont worry, young man. No need to be
nervous. Im not here buy one of your lovely motors today. Im the UK
agent for several of the Saudi Royal Family. One of them will be over here in a
week or two and Im 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 wont make a blind bit of difference, but I
get a nice living out of it, so Im here to go through the motions.
He gave Charlie a knowing wink as he said this. I can see youre new
here, but Im very happy just to wander around on my own. OK? With
that he strolled off to the far side of the showroom.
Anstruthers card and explanation
satisfied Charlie, and he relaxed. Minutes later the heavy glass main doors
opened and a second man came in. This other mans appearance bothered him.
A wino? Or a tramp coming in to the warmth for a few minutes? He knew that
happened occasionally and hed been warned about it. No, not a tramp. His
clothes were good quality but looked as if theyd 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
hed had to put an age to him, Charlie would have said mid fifties.
Probably respectable enough, it was simply that he didnt fit in. He just
didnt look right among all these cars. If he drove at all hed 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
cant 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 hed watched about the trenches and
battles in WWI.
Mr. Anstruther saved Charlies bacon. He
came across, putting a notebook away in his pocket as he did so. Im
off now. I may see you in a week or two when his nibs, or one of his wives,
wants me while theyre in London. Ill leave you free to concentrate
on his Lordship for now. Hell get you a lot of brownie points with your
boss if you play your cards right. He saw the puzzled look on the young
mans face. Hes not what he looks like, you know.
Obviously you dont recognise him?
Theres no reason why you should. That chap is Lord Stalbridge. Hes
one of the richest men in the country, but hes - well, lets just
say hes eccentric. Actually, Ive been told he
cant drive anyway, and they reckon he uses buses a lot. Probably when
hes old enough to qualify hell use a bus pass. But dont be
fooled. Hes as sharp as they come. Hes seriously loaded. Do
yourself a good turn and humour him. When hes ready hell
spend if he sees what he wants. With that he went leaving Charlie alone
with this strange, potentially important client. Here goes, Chas. Youve
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, Youre in charge today
For the time being, Sir. Yes, I
Well, you are correct I am
Stalbridge. But I prefer to be addressed as Mr. Ericson when Im here. I
take it all of the cars are left unlocked? I may want to sit in several and try
Indeed, sir. Theyre all open for
inspection. Would you want to test drive one of them, sir?
No. I mean just a sit in them. I
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 isnt 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 shouldnt, but as theres just you
and me here, I wont tell if you wont. But itll cost me my job
if somebody catches me, so please be careful, sir.
Of course, lad. Well be careful,
eh? Both of us. dEath? Any relation to Simon of that ilk? Hampshire chap.
I knew him back in my service days. No, my lord, he wont 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 Im 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 youve chosen is the
car which is probably the finest vehicle in our showroom. I dont
believe you could find a better anywhere in London. As Im 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. Ill 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
isnt done yet. As you will have gathered, I dont know much about
motor cars. To be honest, they dont even interest me. I would be happy
with the car Ive looked at, and cant see any need for fancy extras.
But, until my people have OKd it, I havent bought it. Im
going now, and shortly Bennett will come. He is my driver. After hes
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.
dEath. 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,
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 employers
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. Youll
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 youre still here. My diarys gone missing and
the last time I saw it was in here earlier. Have you seen it anywhere?
No, sir, but Ill soon have a look for it. Anstruther was
already away in a corner, waving his hand in triumph.
Thats a relief. Im 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. Its Yes Sir - No Sir. Three
bags full, Sir when they want me, but the old-fashioned pen and ink is
always there. You cant delete by mistake. You can lose it though if
youre 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
hes a bit eccentric. How many did he buy today, then?
Im sorry, sir, but I dont
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 lets
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, lets say,
strange - as I said he would be?
Actually, he was. But I found I rather
I know what you mean. But you must tread
very carefully with him. Hes 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. Theres 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 hell buy something for a few grand and pay on the spot in cash.
Hell hand over tenners or twenties to do the deal. And thats 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 dont
even think of looking at it while hes there. Not the world I live in, nor
yours either, lad. Its 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 Ill see you again then. Cheers.
As Anstruther left, Charlie glanced around,
Nature calls. House Rule or not, I dont think theyd 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
Mr. Death, is it? Bennett.
Charlie didnt correct him.
Thats right. We were warned you
were coming. Its this car over here.
The man was big. Really big. And that
wasnt just the chauffeurs cap that did it. He towered over Charlie,
who at just over six feet wasnt used to the sensation. The uniform, made
to measure in Charlies opinion, made Bennett look even bigger. Not the
sort of bloke youd 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 - theres big money resting on this next couple of minutes.
Bennett walked round the car, opened the
drivers door and sat inside, opened the bonnet, then the front passenger
door, finally the boot. All without saying a word. Charlies
instincts told him not to break the silence.
His Lordships made a good
choice. Itll do. Ill 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,
its 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, hadnt 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. Hows 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, shes not. Must be
poorly again, poor soul. She sniggered.
That note Ive just read out to
you. Its what Mr. Greatorix said word for word. He insisted I
wrote it down. She looked across at Charlie, smiled, then
Charlie told Nigel of the day hed 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 hadnt 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.
Its your mysterious Mr. Ericson. Cunliffe hovered till the
short conversation was over.
Its a sale. Hes just
confirmed it. Charlie was grinning like a man whod just won a
fortune on the lottery. Its all done and dusted for
collection Monday. Great, isnt it.
Well done, Charles. Youll have
your eyes on my job now, I suppose. You said he didnt 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
wont be pleased, dont we? Serve him right. Hes like a
part-timer these days - like his lady friend upstairs. I cant work out
why the top brass let him get away with it. Surely they must be aware of what
hes up to? Everyone else seems to know. Im off now. Actually,
I do feel rotten. I think its some sort of flu. Just let them know
upstairs that Ive gone home and Ill be back as soon as Im fit
again. He went, leaving Charlie with things to do.
Nigel telephoned on Friday to see how things
were going. He wasnt in the least surprised to hear that Charlie was
still working alone. Hed known Greatorix long enough to know that
hed 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. Hed been introduced on his
first day and given a Welcome aboard greeting and ritual
handshake. Since then hed 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 Charlies 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 Nigels absence, and learned with interest of
the supporting call from the older man earlier in the day. Charlies
estimation of his big boss peaked on Gascoynes use of a
single word. I see Mr. Greatorix is not with us again. Have you any
news about when hell 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
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. Ill do my best to point him towards
your showroom. Lets 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. Dont offend or
doubt him in any way. If he senses lack of trust hell walk out on any
deal. See you next week. Cheers.
The second call was around 2.30. A
womans voice. Very posh without sounding affected was Charlies
assessment. This is Debra Hyde, PA to Lord Stalbridge. Regarding the car
hes buying from you. Everything at your end is ready as already arranged,
I trust? Theres 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. Were
sorry to rush things, but its a government matter and the P.M. is
personally involved. You wont let us down now, will you? Theres a
good chap. Bye.
Charlie hadnt expected this. What would
Nigel do? Got it. George Fairbairn. Ill give him a call. Mr.
Fairbairn? Charles dEath. Ive just taken a phone call. The Rolls
you have over there for Monday. Stalbridge, thats right. Is it
actually ready, completely ready? The customer wants to collect now. Yes, right
now. Is it on? I understand. Youve been shorthanded with this flu
thing thats going round. But you managed it. Well done, Good. They told
me what a tight ship you run and you wouldnt let us down. Nigel
from our little team has gone home with it too. Im assuming the
buyers 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 hadnt ended yet, but
Charlie felt as if hed grown up a lot over the last few days.
Matured. Yes, thats 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
Young Mr. dEath. Afternoon to you.
No time for a chinwag, Im afraid. Plane to catch an all that. Just show
Bennett where hes to go while you and I are doing the painful part. I
never like handing over hard-earned money, no matter what its for. The
only time I dont mind too much is when theres a profit at the end
of it. A proper deal. Not like buying an expensive lump of metal.
Bennett, go with our young friend.
Ill stay here as surety. Thats a joke. Bennett here doesnt
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. Theres nobody around to snitch and tell, so I lit up.
Right, young man. Business. Lets be clear on the details.
The two compared notes and agreed on the date,
the payees correct title and the full amount to be paid. Right, Mr.
dEath, please listen carefully. I want there to be no risk of
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. Id 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 dEath.
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 hed earned to look forward to. Enjoy the
weekend and be prepared for Greatorixs inevitable inquisition on Monday
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.
Charlies 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. Dont take your
coat off, youve 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 hes on the afternoon shift. Sounds
posh and very important. Hes your big boss, isnt he? Well, whoever
or whatever he is, he wants you back at work immediately. Its very
urgent. And if you cant get a bus soon, then youre to get a cab.
No, he didnt say what it was about. I didnt ask him, but
youve got to get back straightaway.
It didnt need a brain like Einstein to
work out what Charlie was wanted for. Even so, he couldnt see what the
problem was. Hed 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 couldnt see hed 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.
Thatll make Dad proud of me when I tell him the story.
There were four men in Gascoynes 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 couldnt 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. Hed be the
fall guy. But he still didnt know exactly what had happened.
Charles. Do you know why were
I assume its about the car Lord
Stalbridge bought today, sir.
Partly right, Charles. Youre
correct, and incorrect. The car went from our showroom, but it wasnt 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 Charlies 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 didnt think Mr. G would OK a
cabdrivers receipt this time.
A police car came to the house not long after
Charlie got home. Would Mr. DEath 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
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 didnt know whether to laugh or cry with
relief as in his brief absence shed 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, Charlies 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 thered 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 didnt 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
didnt. 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 doesnt look as if
hes heard anything yet, Charles. Itll be interesting to see
his reactions when he comes back. Squalls ahead - for both of us. The fact that
I wasnt here wont make any difference to Uriah. You know, just at
the moment I feel like moving on. Itll be just him and me after
youve gone. There must be a better way of earning a living. For you,
Im afraid, its probably the sack. I think its what you
expect, if youre honest, isnt it, Charles?
True enough, Nigel. I think Gascoyne is
a decent enough guy, but he hasnt any choice really. Ill be
unemployed before the days 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 its paid back. Youre
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.
Ive be been fired. All because of
what happened last week when I wasnt even here. Not even on the premises.
How unfair can it get? This is a matter for a Tribunal. Unfair Dismissal,
thats what. Ill have him for it. He glared at Charlie.
To think how Ive 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. Dont think youve 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
Who does he think hes kidding?
Im surprised hes not been kicked out before now.
Charlie, relieved to see the back of a man
hed never liked, agreed. A complete waste of space. Personally, I
wouldnt have bought a used push-bike from him.
The expected summons didnt arrive.
Gascoyne didnt send for Charlie. After Greatorixs dismissal, the
high point of a quiet Monday morning was the return of Karen.
Youd better watch out, young Charles. We both know shes 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 wouldnt stand a
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 Charlies case - alone in
charge of the large showroom and its mind-boggling contents couldnt, and
shouldnt, 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 couldnt settle where
he was. Just too many reminders of his failings. His own fault or not
hed fallen for a con-trick. And, he shouldnt 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.
Hed have to be careful with his money now. McDonalds, here I
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, thats the
cowards way out. He wouldnt 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
Dads car would have been given. A dirty old Honda, held together by
string and sticky tape. But a Rolls? Surely they wouldnt miss a
These days you couldnt do anything it
seemed without being watched - or at least seen. Cameras everywhere. CCTV on
every corner. So why hadnt the car been picked up, or at least spotted.
Elementary, my dear Watson. Because it wasnt 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. Youre
to be at Mr. Gascoynes office at 4.00 pm. Best of luck when you go. At
least youll know something definite today. Good news or bad, thats
something. Actually, you dont look as if you need any more good
Whats happened? You look like a
man whos won the lottery. Has somebody offered you the lead in a
Hollywood blockbuster or something while you were out? Whats
happened? Come on, now. Youre 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 Charlies head. This one
wasnt. He couldnt 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 dEath, 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 &
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 dont
think so. If you count all the lock-ups, private garages and whatever, inside,
lets say, a one-mile radius of here - no way. The manpower involved, the
cost. Youre not looking for a missing child. Basically, its a chunk
of steel, with rubber and plastic bits. No matter how much its 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
Charlie felt deflated - and looked it. He
glanced at his watch and shrugged his shoulders. Not long before
its time to face the music. After a few minutes when neither man said a
word, Charlie suddenly dashed across to what had been Greatorixs desk,
found whatever he wanted and started scrabbling in a frenzied fashion through
the Yellow Pages. Nigel couldnt hear all Charlies muttering, he
could hear what sounded like free, free, free,
Got it! His pen was scratching
away at a listing. Fremantle. Thats it. Thats 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, its my baby only, and
Ill be able to face the man upstairs knowing Ive done my very best.
Absolutely all I could have done to save my job. Pass me the phone,
Id like to speak to Sergeant Ian
Baker, please. CID. This is Charles dEath calling from Russell &
Dorward. OK, Ill hold.
It didnt take long to tell his tale.
Charlies bus on the day of the scam, had been delayed due to a traffic
jam in the area. No, he wasnt 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 hadnt seen the car so
couldnt 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. Hed checked, only this afternoon ,and they had a garage and
storage in Carthage Street, very close by. Yes, thats 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. Theyre going to follow it up. Quickly
he said. Its up to them, now. He looked at his watch. Time
for a cuppa, Nige. Then Im 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.
Im in enough trouble as it is without being made to look foolish with
potty theories. Im off now to see Mr. Gascoyne. Wish me luck.
Good luck, Charlie. For what its
worth, I think its 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 didnt 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.
Bakers 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 trucks garage under a sheet. Less than a mile from where they stole
it. And we both know who put em on to it, dont we, eh? In
fairness to the bobbies, they did make it clear it was my suggestion that did
I am now Gazzas 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 hes seen me, to confirm your move up the
ladder. Theres a chap we dont 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. Its only a matter of time, he
said. Apparently the chauffeur, Bennett, is known to them already.
Thats me for now, Nige. Im
away home now. Big night tonight. Im taking Karen out. Isnt she a