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Excerpt for The 45 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The 45

In The Blood Series


Pete McKenna
Ian Snowball


Smashwords Edition


Copyright 2019
PHOENIX PRESS LTD
A New Haven Publishing Ltd Imprint

www.newhavenpublishingltd.com

newhavenpublishing@gmail.com

All Rights Reserved

The rights of Pete McKenna and Ian Snowball, as the authors of this work, have been asserted in accordance with the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

No part of this book may be re-printed or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now unknown or hereafter invented, including photocopying, and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without the written permission of the Author and Publisher.

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to any company or real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


Cover design ©Pete Cunliffe

pcunliffe@blueyonder.co.uk






Copyright © 2019 Pete McKenna & Ian Snowball

All rights reserved







Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Brudger’s List*

Chapter 2: Flamenco Sketches*

Chapter 3: The Sad Demise of Vince Fuller*

Chapter 4: California Sunshine*

Chapter 5: The Docker’s Delight*

Chapter 6: Lenny the Paedo*

Chapter 7: When Ronnie Met Suzi*

Chapter 8: Psychopathic Tendencies*

Chapter 9: You’re Eddie Most’s Daughter*

Chapter 10: Auntie Knows Best *

Chapter 11: Beside the Seaside Beside the Sea*

Chapter 12: Business as Usual*

Chapter 13: Knock Knock Who’s There*

Chapter 14: Where the Fuck’s Stan*

Chapter 15: Death on the Dancefloor*

Chapter 16: Hugo Lamont*

Chapter 17: Hello Eddie*

Chapter 18: I’m on my Way*





Chapter 1

*Brudger’s List*




The clock struck one second past midnight in the Savoy grill, waving goodbye to England’s glorious World Cup winning memories in the summer of 66 to shake hands with the uncertainty of 67. Almost all of the party revellers exploded in a typical tidal wave of New Year celebrations, hugging, kissing, cuddling and shedding a few emotional tears as if their lives depended on it, in a rousing chorus of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. But there was no such euphoria from the four tough-looking, immaculately groomed men seated around a large dining table, aloof, isolated, devoid of all visible humanity, glaring out a warning to the approaching drunken conga swaying and shaking around the room: do not venture too close or else. The well-built, stately-looking middle-aged man with gnarled hands, a boxer’s nose and greying slicked-back hair, dressed in a dinner suit, stiff white wing-collared shirt and bowtie, slowly rose to his feet ready to address his three colleagues, waiting for the waiters to finish pouring out the champagne before scurrying back to their places.

Mister Brudger raised his glass to his friends, who stood to attention with military precision as he nodded to each of them before delivering his first New Year’s speech with a smile. ‘Gentlemen. Here’s to another year closer to dying, so let’s make it count for all concerned and keep up the good work. Happy New Year lads.’ ‘And the same goes for you Mister Brudger,’ the trio replied in unison, touching glasses momentarily before shaking hands and returning to their seats before the award ceremony began. Mister Brudger clicked his fingers in the air and nodded across to the Maitre D, who dashed over to the table with a silver tray perfectly balanced on his fingers containing three envelopes with each of the recipients’ names handwritten in black ink. He quickly handed them out, accepting with a servile nod a generous fifty quid tip from Mister Brudger, who requested more champagne and cigars for himself and the lads. In the murky twilight violent Mister Brudger inhabited, loyalty rewarded loyalty, and as far as he was concerned, he had the best criminal firm in London, easily on a par with Charlie’s mob and the twins, so he always made sure to reward them exceptionally well for services rendered - subject to one Golden Rule: strict silence between the ranks as to what each man received, to avoid any unnecessary jealousy and squabbling.

Each envelope contained an all-expenses invitation to spend the afternoon with Mister Brudger’s tailor, choosing a couple of suits, overcoats and any matching accessories they wanted, plus a big fat wad of cash to spend however they chose. Those who’d grafted the hardest naturally received the biggest payment, and for the last year, none of the three had grafted harder than Mister Brudger’s trusted number one enforcer and debt collector, Ronnie Hardman, who in turn took immense personal pride and satisfaction in making sure his boss’s empire was in his safe secure hands. He was even more determined in the New Year that things were going to stay like that, no matter who or what he faced. As the penguins appeared with more champagne and a box of Mister Brudger’s expensive Cuban torpedoes, Ronnie caught his boss’s eye studying him, smiling like a proud father and pointing to the foyer so they could have a quiet chat away from the hustle and bustle. ‘Yes Mister Brudger. What can I do for you?’ Ronnie asked, slipping on his Crombie as his boss wrapped one arm over his shoulder, gently ushering him outside with a grin. ‘Tonight’s more a case of what we can do for each other Ronnie, so let’s go for a little stroll while I explain to you what’s on my mind.’

Leaving the luxurious warmth of the Savoy, they were instantly greeted by the cold January sting on their cheeks. Sucking on their cigars, they walked down the Strand. ‘I’m going to be totally straight with you, Ronnie like I always am. No secrets between us ever. Our firm’s had its best year to date, and I mean it when I say that that’s largely down to me employing you, Happiness Stan and Blank Ernie to take care of business; but there is definite room for improvement. We need to tighten things up on the debt side of things and come down really fucking hard on all those fuckers who owe us money we lent them in good faith; and I do mean fucking hard. There’s a lot of new competition out there, firms starting up desperate to get the kind of reputation we’ve got and that’s why I’m depending on you, Stan and Ernie to keep us in top spot. The last thing I want is any of these fuckers thinking that we’re going a bit soft just because I’m knocking on a bit, and more importantly, I need us to start making examples to let every fucker know that if you try and fuck us over, then we’ll fuck you back harder than you ever fucking imagined possible.’

A squadron of ultra-cool parka-wearing Mods slowly cruised by on their customised Italian Vespa and Lambretta scooters, looking to dance the night away in The Scene, The Flamingo or Ham Yard, momentarily distracting Ronnie from his conversation with Mister Brudger, who suddenly pulled him to a stop by the collar, asking the question Ronnie knew deep down he’d been dreading for several months. ‘You and that fucking Gooner mate of yours, Vince Fuller. I heard that you and him go back a long way, don’t you?’

Ronnie nodded, sighing deeply, his warm breath caught in the cold night air like a vapour trail, instantly regretting the day he’d listened to Vince Fuller’s financial sob story and introduced him to his boss for a short term loan, knowing full well the dreadful consequences that would occur if he ever fell behind with his payments, something that Ronnie had personally guaranteed his boss would never happen. Six months later, Vince was already in arrears, with the interest stacking up at an alarming rate each day, and if that wasn’t bad enough, his policy of blanking Mister Brudger at every opportunity whenever he tried calling Vince for an explanation was something Ronnie’s boss was going to tolerate no longer.

Ronnie watched him puffing on his cigar before speaking. ‘Well Mister Brudger. In answer to your question about me and Vince going back a long way, I knew him well at school. We became good mates, me, him, Ernie and Stan, getting up to loads of naughty things when we left school. I even offered him the chance to do what we were doing to get by but Vince didn’t have the stomach for it. Always shitting himself at the thought of getting banged up; so that’s when we went our separate ways… so I know him but I don’t know him, if you know what I mean.’

‘You know me well enough to know that I’m a really nasty bastard when I need to be. Generally I like to think of myself as a fair but firm businessman who does unto others like he expects others to do unto him but your fucking mate is taking the piss Ronnie. Yes I know that people experience financial problems now and again, cash flow and all that bollocks, but this cunt hasn’t even had the decency to bell me to explain the shit he’s in, and what’s fucking worse, apart from him blanking me every time I bell him, I’ve heard on the grapevine from numerous people who’ve been laughing at me behind my back that Vince has been throwing cash around like it’s going out of fashion when he should’ve been paying me back; so I want him sorted good and proper.

‘In the ten years you’ve looked after my affairs, without letting me down one single time, each time I dump another load of shit on your doorstop, you clean every fucking bit up without leaving behind a single scrap of evidence, and because of this Ronnie, I’ve come to look on you as the son I never had - which is why I’m going to ask you the biggest favour I’ve ever asked from you. Don’t be afraid of saying no if you think you’d rather give this one a miss, I will understand Ronnie, and won’t think any the less of you, but I need this fucker to disappear and fast… so what’s it gonna be?’

Mister Brudger watched Ronnie standing there in deep silent thought for several moments before coming up with the right answer. True, he’d known Vince from the playground and a couple of years after leaving school and they’d shared some good memories. Trouble was, a bloke with the kind of tastes in life Ronnie had can’t afford to live on memories, and his boss had given him the kind of lifestyle mugs like Vince Fuller could only dream about. He wasn’t a bad bloke by any means, but he always played harder than he worked, just like thousands of other mugs out there who don’t have a fucking clue, torturing themselves trying to pursue impossible dreams, and because of this, Ronnie had made his mind up, finishing off his cigar and crushing it on the pavement before turning to Mister Brudger nodding. ‘You just say the word Mister Brudger, and Vince Fuller is fucking history.’

His boss smiled, shaking Ronnie’s hand firmly. ‘Thanks for that Ronnie; and it goes without saying I will make it worth your while,’ Mister Brudger told him, as they turned and walked back to the Savoy debating the second topic of the conversation. ‘Tell me Ronnie, this fucking club you’ve owned for the past two years. How’s it doing financially, if you don’t mind me being nosey?’

Ronnie stopped to take in the question. ‘Well to be honest the first six months were bumpy to say the least, but thanks to Sully and Art the DJ, the place is packed out midweek and weekends and doing better than I ever expected. Why do you ask?’

‘Call it coincidence, but since you started spending more time in the club, it seems to me that you’re putting the club first and my business second, like you’re forgetting what side your bread’s buttered on, since you were a snotty nosed kid knocking on my door begging me for a job. You do remember all that Ronnie?’ Mister Brudger asked. The question shocked Ronnie badly, sending tingles of suppressed anger up and down his spine, which he only just managed to conceal with a crocodile smile, standing there staring into his boss’s eyes with just a hint of hatred. Considering it was New Year’s Eve, The Strand was unusually quiet, giving Ronnie the option of dragging his boss down a side street and killing the ungrateful greedy old bastard there and then - but discretion got the better of him as he told his boss the score. ‘I do remember when I was that snotty nosed kid asking for work Dave, but cast your mind back in the ten years me, Stan and Ernie have worked for you, taking care of your business without one fucking hiccup. Me buying The 45 club is my business… but let me assure you, it never has nor will it ever get in the way of putting you first; so tell me where you think business isn’t going as well as usual and I’ll start to take care of it tomorrow.’

At that moment, feeling the anger oozing from his right hand man after being accused of being sloppy and second rate after ten faultless years in charge of his business affairs, Mister Brudger felt like eating his words, and he shook Ronnie’s hand firmly as he made an unexpected apology. ‘Okay Ronnie I’m sorry, because I didn’t mean to disrespect or offend you. I just needed to hear from you where your priorities lie, and now I know, so getting back to business… I want you to take care of the seven names on this list.’ Mister Brudger handed Ronnie a piece of A4 paper as he continued. ‘After Vince Fuller, these are the fourteen punters who are all well behind with their payments. I want you, Stan and Ernie to give these fuckers a reminder of what’s going to happen if they don’t pay up. I want you to bring me the little finger from each of them, with a stern warning that they’re going to end up in my fucking lock-up if they don’t start paying me back. There are five birds on the list as well so don’t be showing them any fucking mercy. Fourteen fingers Ronnie… so that said, are we going to stand here all fucking night freezing our bollocks off or shall we get back to the lads in the Savoy and crack open another couple of bottles of Remy Martin to warm us up?’ Mister Brudger rubbed his hands together and pulled his coat collar up around his neck. ‘Oh and I’ve heard on the grapevine Vince Fuller arrives back from Tenerife some time next week, so you make sure you deliver him to the lock-up next Friday night, bang on midnight, and bring Stan and Ernie with you.’



Chapter 2

*Flamenco Sketches*


Back in the Savoy Ronnie kept his thoughts to himself, still seething from his boss’s untoward accusation that he was somehow losing the plot. After another cigar and two more large cognacs, he’d had all he could take of gangster-ology, making the excuse that it had been one of those long days and he needed to get his head down. Ever since he was a kid, New Year’s Day had turned out to be a long tough twenty-four hours to get through, when what he really needed to do was to lock himself away from the madding crowd and the reality of the world he was involved in, a time for him to savour being alone with his thoughts and recharge his batteries to full power ready to face the rigours of the new year. He needed a rare chance to enjoy some time alone, to get up and go to bed when he wanted, to take a bath and a shave without rushing around last minute, and listen to music, instead of having to accept Stan and Ernie’s genuine invitation to pop round to theirs for a roast beef dinner with all the trimmings washed down with as much booze as he could swallow before dropping some pills and shooting over to Soho to the private strip club they used whenever they felt like letting off sexual steam.

Ronnie felt more than relieved to get home and slip on his dressing gown, belling Sully to wish him a happy New Year before flopping down on the bed with a bottle of Glenlivet, listening to the original recording of the classic Miles Davis album So What, featuring the moody horns of John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley. In particular track five, ‘Flamenco Sketches’, never failed to take him to a magical place far removed from the reality of the life he was living: the East End, Mister Brudger, violence, torture, intimidation and the Vallance Road mythology were accompanied by a strange all-so-vivid dream he was a part of each time he listened to the beguiling, slightly Arabesque tone of Coltrane’s tenor sax, taking him off to a sun-kissed deserted beach and a whitewashed villa on the edge of the ocean decorated in a simple rustic style… old, twisted, gnarled, handmade driftwood furniture with a collection of faded multi-coloured tapestries hanging on the walls and in the bedroom, facing the sea, an old dark wood four poster bed draped with a fine white muslin mosquito net. From the balcony Ronnie suddenly spots a beautiful sexy young suntanned silver blonde paddling at the water’s edge, her long hair tied into a ponytail, wearing a full length semi-transparent gypsy shift dress that floats seductively in the gentle ocean breeze. The girl senses she’s being watched and turns around, beckoning Ronnie to come and join her… but before he gets the chance to meet her, she vanishes into thin air. The same recurring dream with the same ending night after night, courtesy of Coltrane, leaving Ronnie confused and depressed, fighting the demons within and wondering if he was ever going to meet the mysterious blonde. What was the message contained in the dream? One look around his dismal surroundings and he knew he didn’t need a psychologist to explain to him exactly what the dream was telling him.

Once again, despite the disappointment of waking up alone wondering where his sexy silver blonde was, Ronnie celebrated the first day of the new year as he had done for the last five years or so. Bathed and shaved, dressed in a tracksuit, he dropped an album on the Bang Olufsen to provide some cool background music while he prepared a panful of burnt bubble and squeak covered in with a big dollop of brown sauce, with a cafetiere of strong coffee laced with several shots of Glenlivet. After that he belled up Sully, Rene, Stan and Ernie to wish them all the best before a quick change of music, flopping down on one of his latest purchases with a large hot toddy: an original US made Charles and Ray Eames chair and footstool in the softest black leather, strategically positioned in the middle of his bay window, through which he often spent countless solitary hours watching the world slip by aided and abetted by the likes of Chet Baker, Dizzy, Miles, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Art Pepper, Lester Young, The Bird, Stan Getz, Mingus and one of his particular favourites, Dexter Gordon, along with the music of countless more jazz greats who somehow helped him make sense of the life he was living, as well as inspiring him to look towards a better, happier, more fulfilled life… but when, where and how?

Enjoying one more hot toddy, Ronnie’s thoughts turned to the weighty envelope he had quickly ripped open, counting out the substantial chunk of cash amounting to twenty-five grand in one hundred pound notes. Admittedly less than he was expecting; but twenty-five grand on top of the wages his boss paid him and the profit from the club wasn’t too shabby a result for a twenty-six-year-old former working class drop-out bursting with dreams and ambitions far above his allotted station in life.

A roast beef dinner with all the trimmings, along with bread and butter pudding, lovingly prepared by Rene, went down a treat, washed down with a bottle of claret before Ronnie pulled on some clobber and drove the short distance to The 45, nestled in a cul-de-sac and rapidly becoming London’s best kept secret, frequented by the cool discerning in-crowd. Even though Ronnie had owned the club for over a year and turned up almost every Saturday night, he often found himself lost searching for the only sign to the club’s existence, which was a sleazy bright pink neon sign hanging above the narrow doorway proclaiming The 45, through which Sully only ever allowed the sharpest, coolest clientele entry.

Pushing the door open, Ronnie could feel Sully’s ghostly presence tickling the hairs on his neck as he fumbled for the light switch above Sully’s old piss stained mattress, which he often flopped out on whenever he was too fucked to walk home. Even in daylight the club’s basement was dangerously dark, enough to warrant Ronnie hanging on to the bannister as he walked downstairs and over to the back of the bar where he switched on the light. A swig of Glenlivet warmed him up as he perched down on the edge of the small raised stage and looked out on the dance floor, noticing every scruff, scrape, gouge, crack and splinter from the late forties through to the sixties, like a tomb dedicated to the memories of the unknown dancers. Unlike other London clubs boasting trendy smoke machines, lava lamps, glitter balls and psychedelic light shows, The 45 offered no such frilly gimmicks. It was a club strictly for dancers only and nothing more, which to Ronnie’s way of thinking was what going out at the weekend was all about: guys and girls in their best clobber, pills, thrills and music, enjoying the kind of freedom and dance floor camaraderie they never found at work. Proof enough for Ronnie to know, deep down, that he was involved in something a lot more special than his boss Mister Brudger could ever hope to do.


***


An hour later, Ronnie’s first reward, which he had treated himself to after only six weeks of working for his boss - his cherished Mark I Jag saloon purchased from Alf Daikin over in Walthamstow - had finally given up the ghost, filling the interior with a foul pungent cloud of petrol fumes each time he tried to switch the engine on, mixed with something electrical burning under the bonnet, forcing Ronnie to jump out before it blew up. Escaping from the gang wars in Glasgow and Manchester; knocking off a chain of nationwide post offices; delivering countless debtors unconscious in the boot to his boss’s lock-up; dropping off their remains to Irish paddies to bury in a sea of motorway concrete… the Jag had served him well, but now it was time to say goodbye. Locking the driver’s door and pulling the collar of his Crombie up around his neck for the twenty minute walk back to his gaff, Ronnie felt excited as his thoughts turned to getting behind the wheel of a new motor. The following morning he was up at the crack of dawn, bathed, shaved and dressed, enjoying the classic soulful sound of ‘Just A Little Misunderstanding’ by The Contours pounding out from the Bang Olufsen as he dropped a couple of bombers, washed down with an early large hot toddy, to get him in the mood for some serious car shopping, reminding himself just how great a solid classic no-frills soul sound can be.

With his wallet bulging and a compilation cassette of DJ Art’s soul sounds in his overcoat pocket, Ronnie’s first port of call was Mod headquarters, the Bar Italia, for a bacon and egg ciabatta and a couple of frothy, creamy coffees, chatting to a couple of lads who pulled up on their Vespa GS’s after a long, smelly, slimy nightshift gutting, chopping and filleting fish at Billingsgate market. An hour later, Ronnie strolled into the Park Lane showroom, and was approached by a salesman with short blond hair in his early thirties, dressed in a dark blue double breasted blazer, cream chinos, white shirt, red and black striped tie and polished black brogues with an accent picked from a plum tree, wrongly assuming that Ronnie was another lost confused tourist looking for Buckingham Palace, the Imperial War Museum or Regents Park Zoo. Ronnie was admiring the Ferraris, Maseratis, Isos, Lamborghinis, Facel Vegas, Alfa Romeos, Lancias and a brutal looking American Carrol Shelby four twenty seven Cobra, and when he produced a handful of fresh, fragrant, crispy cash the salesman’s attitude instantly changed from strained condescension to ultimate respect, thinking about how he was going to spend the commission earned from a deal with this young unlikely client with cash to spend.

‘Hello sir. My name is Tony Davis and I’m the assistant manager. How can I help you?’ he announced, shaking Ronnie’s hand firmly. Ronnie nodded back with a smile. ‘Ronnie Hardman. Pleased to meet you mate; and you’ve got some class motors here but I can’t see any British cars. What’s the reason for that if you don’t mind me asking?’

‘I’m afraid European exotica seems to be the flavour of our clientele the past few months but if your preference is specifically British, then we have a few cars in the back room that may be of interest to you. Please follow me,’ Davis told Ronnie, leading him through to the large back room and taking a few seconds to switch on the lights, revealing a cool selection of homegrown thoroughbred cars to make a diehard motoring enthusiast’s mouth water. Now this is more like it, Ronnie thought to himself, checking out two Austin Healey convertibles, three Aston Martins, two stately Alvis saloons, a Bristol coupe, four Bentleys and a Daimler V8 two fifty saloon, together with an assortment of Jags from XK one twenties, one forties and one fifties to more modern Mark II saloons. ‘See anything in particular that takes your fancy Mister Hardman?‘ Davis asked.

Ronnie was intrigued by a shape in the corner covered in a tarpaulin. ‘Yeah, I have as it goes. What’s that over there under the sheet?’

‘Ah, I was, err, hoping you wouldn’t notice that,’ Davis replied awkwardly. ‘It’s something one of our regular customers asked us to hold for him until he comes up with the cash.’

‘Well, I’m here now and I’ve got the cash, so are you going to show it me or what?’ Ronnie said, flashing the thick wad of readies at Davis, who instantly realised that the commission he’d earn on such a sale during a traditionally quiet time for business would come in very handy, and walked over to the shape beneath the sheet.

‘Are you ready Mister Hardman? One - two - three,’ he announced, somewhat theatrically yanking the cover off the car like a magician pulling off his favourite disappearing act, to reveal a true motoring icon that Enzo Ferrari once described as the most beautiful car in the world and which caused Frank Sinatra to cry out ‘I want that car and I want it now.’ From the second Jaguar unleashed the E-type on the world in Geneva in 1961, celebrities flocked to own one, including Steve McQueen, Charlton Heston, Brigitte Bardot, Tony Curtis, Britt Eckland, Diana Ross, Roy Orbison, George Best, Donald Campbell and the Shah of Persia to name but a few who fell head over heels in love with the irresistible combination of powerful macho engineering covered by sleek, sexy, curvy feminine bodywork; and now Ronnie Hardman was falling under the E-type’s powerful aphrodisiac spell as he walked over to check it out in more detail. Pale metallic blue bodywork complemented the mint champagne leather interior with chrome wire wheels and a full length Webasto sliding sunroof. Game, set and match to the Jag, as Ronnie threw the two thousand two hundred pounds asking price at Tony Davis, including an extra two hundred quid tip to make up for any awkwardness if the previous client turned up demanding to know where the E-type had gone.

Some two hours later, with the speedometer touching one hundred and forty miles per hour with plenty more power from the four point two litre engine to convince him to have a pop at the land speed record, Ronnie swapped the accelerator for the brake pedal, slowing down to a more sedate pace as he joined the line of traffic meandering through the outskirts of Brighton. The last time he’d been down the A3 was a couple of years earlier when he was a carefree Mod, laughing and joking with his mates on their Vespa and Lambretta scooters on their way to do battle with the army of bikers on that anarchic bank holiday weekend that became known as the battle of Brighton beach. By sheer coincidence, or perhaps not, the memories came flooding back in vivid technicolour as he idled down the promenade, pulling up opposite the Grand hotel in the same place he’d parked up his Eddie Grinstead Hurricane Vespa special, just one of a group of Mods waiting for the main force to arrive before the chaos began. A blur of cool hairstyles, parkas, Fred Perrys, button down shirts, Levi jeans, Sta-Prest, and desert boots, facing the rockers with their long hair, leather jackets, BSA’s, Triumphs, Norton’s, bike chains at the ready - now nothing more than a cherished indelible good-time memory.

Ronnie sat there for a few moments, seat reclined, dropping another bomber with a fresh stick of Wrigley’s and listening more intently than he’d ever done before to the last track of DJ Art’s soul compilation cassette, the cutting lyrics of Steve Karmen’s big booming ‘Breakaway’ convincing him to do just that before it was too late. A recurring nightmare vision was banging around his head: forty years from now, having turned in to the new Dave Brudger, celebrating another successful year in the Savoy with Happiness Stan and Blank Ernie, handing out the bonus envelopes to his trusted enforcers - the image filled him with dread. Little remained of the old Ronnie Hardman who was once loved and respected by all, that love now replaced with fear and edgy uncertainty whenever he was in the company of people he’d known for years, people who knew him before he took on jobs like dropping off poor old Vince Fuller to his boss’s lock-up to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Admittedly Ronnie was enjoying the high life he’d dreamed of for years, and it showed, making the leap from Carnaby Street commerciality to Jermyn Street exclusivity, but at what price, he asked himself, remembering the carefree days spent with Stan and Ernie thinking they would never end.

That night back in March 1964 in the Marquee, listening to the Yardbirds performing a live album, and The Who playing their first ever gig to an audience of less than fifty people on a night when Keith Moon played some amazing drums. Driving down to the Crawdaddy in Richmond on their scooters to watch The Stones, The Kinks and The Yardbirds and a band called The Action who were a proper Mod band from North London. 1964 was Ronnie’s favourite year on the scene, walking into clubs suited and booted with a different bird on his arm every time he went out. The blues were flowing and his pockets were packed with cash, affording him a wardrobe full of tailored whistles and shirts, the real icing on the cake being the frequent trips down to the seaside to Margate, Clacton, Southend and Brighton. The buzz of waking up Saturday morning; bathed, shaved and clobbered up to the nines jumping on the scooter shooting off to meet Stan and Ernie for a full English at Rene’s café before setting off for the coast. As good as Brighton was, Ronnie remembered his favourite weekend down in Margate, the eighteenth of May 1964, filthy Rockers walking down the seafront in their scruffy leather jackets and jeans chanting “up the Rockers – up the Rockers,” Ronnie and the lads some four hundred strong running at the fuckers, picking up everything and anything they could use as weapons as they chased them on to the beach. The chaos, the violence and the blood were brilliant, despite some of the lads getting carted off to hospital after being stabbed - that’s the chance you take when you place yourself in a dangerous situation.

‘Fuck this for a game of soldiers. Get your shit together for fuck’s sake,’ he told himself, feeling the bomber kicking in nicely and prompting him to go for a stroll down memory lane, taking in some chilly seaside air as he headed for Lyons and Hall record shop on the Western Road. He spent a pleasant hour or so chatting to the guy behind the counter as well as stocking up on some rare Chet Baker live LPs and a selection of jazz legends performing at the San Remo jazz festival. ‘Yeah cheers mate; and I’ll post you a list of what I’m after soon as I get back to London. Just give me a bell when you get them and I’ll be down to pick them up.’ After a couple of espressos in the Cordoba coffee bar, just sitting there staring out of the window at nothing in particular, Ronnie felt a thirst building up. He had a few beers in the Basketmakers before walking to the Half Brick, where he spent the afternoon in the company of a couple of sharp Mods and their birds who’d driven down from Margate for the weekend, who were there back in 64 dancing the night away in a packed Tiffany’s and Top Rank Suite full of beer and pills. ‘I don’t know what you’re doing tonight mate but we’re going over to Kemp Town to see Champion Jack Dupree playing in Jimmy’s, so you’re welcome to join us if you fancy it. We’re meeting here around eight o’clock.’

Ronnie really enjoyed spending time in the company of equal minded Mods who were still Mods, refusing to swap their style for long hair, paisley shirts, loons, flares and Afghan coats, and was appreciative of the invitation to watch Champion Jack, and any other time he would have jumped at the offer; but he had things on his mind he needed to work through alone, so he shook hands with earnest promises to meet up again in the not too distant future. ‘Nice meeting you Ronnie, and hopefully we’ll meet up again. Take care mate.’ ‘You too lads, ladies and I’m glad there are still Mods out there living their lives as it should be lived. Keep up the good work.’

After enjoying a cool reassuring afternoon, Ronnie decided there and then that the very last place he wanted to be was back at his East End gaff in reach of Mister Brudger with only his thoughts to keep him company. Having picked up a bottle of Glenlivet, some Maltesers and Polo mints, he was enjoying his stroll back to the promenade so much he thought ‘fuck it, why not?’ and walked in to the Metropole hotel to book a room with sea views for the night, with a full English breakfast to send him on his way and a table in the Starlit Room; which was surprisingly busy for the time of day as the Maitre D greeted him with a smile and escorted him over to a table set in the large curved bay window, handed him a menu and scurried off to pop open a bottle of Bollinger.

Bombers aside, Ronnie was feeling more than hungry, sitting there studying the menu for several minutes before placing his order with the waiter holding his pencil and notebook at the ready. ‘Yeah, I’ll have the fresh melon cocktail to kick off with, followed by grilled lamb cutlets with vegetables of the day, and to finish, ice cream and fruit with the cheeseboard.’ From the first moment he discovered the Starlit Room, Ronnie fell in love with it, the rooftop ambience, the beautiful art deco style curved bay window affording stunning sea views over the Channel, and the food, and he sat there enjoying every morsel of the fairly simple but perfectly cooked menu, washed down with a second bottle of Bollinger before he attacked the cheeseboard with a vengeance. After a finale of coffee and a couple of large Remy Martins, he called it a night. Flopping down naked on the bouncy king size bed, no Mister Brudger, Stan and Ronnie to disturb him, he splashed out on an extra-large Glenlivet, downed in one, followed by a second that went down equally as fast, in a futile attempt to numb the reality of what he had to do with Vince Fuller in the next couple of days.

He had thought about taking Vince to Epping Forest, a midnight mercy killing in the form of a bullet to the head being far better than what he was going to suffer in the lock-up; but facing his boss, who had an inbuilt knack of smelling bullshit from a mile away, would be a tough one, trying explain in detail how Vince had made a run for it leaving him no other choice but to shoot him. Getting him out of London as soon as possible was another option, maybe back to Spain or wherever, selling his boss the lie that he’d called round to his gaff numerous times as well as the gambling club he used and no sign of Vince, like he’d disappeared into the proverbial thin air. And then if that wasn’t enough to deal with, Ronnie faced the hassle of delivering fourteen freshly chopped little fingers from the victims on his boss’s list. This was the unseen price he paid almost every day in exchange for the high life. ‘Fuck it,’ he told himself, downing another glass of malt in one before switching off the light, wondering if the mysterious sexy silver blonde was going to show up with Miles Davis providing the perfect dreamscape before the start of another day.

Chapter 3

*The Sad Demise of Vince Fuller *



For most of that week, thinking about what Vince Fuller was going to receive for knocking his boss on his loan, Ronnie hardly slept a wink, despite the sleeping tablets and glasses of Glenlivet to knock him out. He remembered a night they shared years ago, pissed out of their heads and talking amphetamine shite as usual when suddenly Vince broke down in tears on the carpet, sobbing like a newborn baby demanding its dummy, recalling the time when he was a teenager and the stern moustachioed sergeant major recruiting officer had destroyed all his dreams of becoming a member of the Household Cavalry and trotting up and down the Mall celebrating her Majesty’s birthday proud as he could possibly be, resplendent in dark blue uniform, polished breastplate and helmet, sword in hand, as well as charming a few ladies with his dashing looks - that is exactly what he would have become if a pair of outrageous misshaped size twelve feet with deformed toes hadn’t put paid to his dreams of a military career. To compensate he threw himself headlong into his second dream of becoming a military historian and dealer. He started out small, renting a stall in Brick Lane and selling money-back-guaranteed World War Two German memorabilia: Iron Crosses, flags, ceremonial daggers, tunics, peak caps, helmets, belt buckles and just about anything authentic he could get his hands on.

For a time it appeared that Vince was on the verge of changing his life for the better. He was saving up as much money as he could to move on to bigger things, which for Vince was a corner shop on Upper Street in Islington below a one bedroomed flat just a stone’s throw away from his favourite boozer, the Hope And Anchor, which coincidentally was one of the reasons contributing to his demise. In a short space of time, Vince became a much respected dealer of rare, hard-to-find, expensive items covering periods as far back as Waterloo, and the more cash that came in, the more time he spent fuelling his tortured fantasies by impersonating a cavalry officer. Shirts, three piece suits, sports jackets, moleskin trousers, jodhpurs and riding boots were purchased from London’s finest number one military tailor Charles Thyrwhitt. He spent most weekends frequenting Knightsbridge clubs, driving from one to the other in his midnight blue Aston Martin DB4, cruising the Kings Road picking up young women who fancied going for a spin down to Brighton or maybe the occasional weekend in France. For over two years Vince Fuller lived the dream, until one day, completely unannounced, his Walter Mitty world came crashing down around his all leather polished Barker brogues thanks to Archie McBride, the down-to-earth National Westminster bank manager who point blank refused to listen to any of Vince’s twitching, sweating, amphetamine garbage promises that he was going to repay the fifteen grand overdraft he’d amassed as soon as he could.

‘I’m terribly sorry, but I seem to be experiencing a temporary uncharacteristic spot of cashflow problems, you understand, Mister McBride, so all I’m asking is for a little grace from your good self until I can resume normal service,’ he ever so politely explained, flashing his Rolex and adjusting his Eton tie, trying to make a lasting friendly impression on the bank manager, a tough, cynical, ginger-haired Glaswegian who’d chosen a banking career as a more than acceptable alternative to a life spent down the pits after witnessing his dad die in agony from a lifetime of back-breaking hard work, his lungs full of coal dust and discoloured blood after returning home from fighting Hitler. Archie McBride had listened to a thousand or more similar sob stories and he wasn’t having any of Vince Fuller’s bullshit that afternoon, despite his ultra-respectable tailor-made armour and DB4 parked outside on the bank’s car-park. Archie had been part of the real world all his life, in which ordinary people got up and went to work to earn their crust, forced to budget every boring month to pay the mortgage, food and bills with the occasional once a month treat of going to the cinema or zoo or a rowing boat on the Serpentine with some homemade sandwiches and refreshments. In short, Archie McBride hated Vince Fuller and his kind, so naturally he jumped at the chance of pulling the plug on his fantasy world, and allowed him one month exactly to repay his overdraft or deal with his account being closed and legal action to recover the debt.

Desperately clinging on to the remains of his shattered life, Vince walked out of the bank a broken man with only twenty quid in his pocket and half a tank of petrol to feed his thirsty Aston Martin. That was just enough to get him over to pay a visit to his old schoolmate Ronnie Hardman, to ask if he would introduce him to Mister Brudger, under the guise of a dependable businessman in need of a loan to shore up the walls of his crumbling empire until his next lot of cash came through. After a somewhat serious lengthy meeting discussing Vince’s situation, Mister Brudger agreed to loan Vince the twenty grand he needed, on Ronnie’s recommendation that he was an absolutely no-risk bloke. He didn’t know it at the time but that was the moment Vince made the biggest mistake of his life, shaking hands with Mister Brudger, who paid him on the spot in crisp, clean, fresh-smelling one hundred pound notes from the stash he kept hidden in his wall safe, leaving Ronnie standing there in the background knowing Vince was never going to be able to repay the loan.

A few nights later, in the sweaty bowels of The 45 club, ‘Biff Bang Pow’ by the Creation belted out full blast from the DJ booth as Ronnie, Happiness Stan and Blank Ernie ushered a terrified looking Vince Fuller out through the rear fire exit and down the narrow alley leading to the car-park, which always gave off the vibe of a dark eerie place at that time of night. Shaking and in tears, sensing that something bad was about to happen to him, Vince tried with all his heart to explain to Ronnie the reason why he hadn’t been able to repay the loan he’d personally vouched for. It was another cock and bull story Ronnie had heard a thousand times about him spending the last couple of weeks in Berlin scouring the antique shops in search of some new military items for his shop, but Ronnie wasn’t having any of his bullshit, and he walked him over to where the Jag was parked up. As Stan opened the boot and quickly made some space, Ernie smashed Vince unconscious with one blow of his vulcanite cosh before closing the boot and all three stood there in a sombre scene reminiscent of the classic spy thriller Funeral In Berlin, as if they were paying their last silent respects to their wayward friend before jumping in the Jag and slipping out of the car-park. Barely a word was spoken between them, trapped in the seriousness of the situation during the fifteen minute drive over to Mister Brudger’s lock-up, situated in one of those foreboding cul-de-sacs normal people never walked down within shouting distance of Upton Park.

It was a place where many men like Vince Fuller had spent the last hours of their lives in unimaginable agony. Ronnie turned up the volume on the Motorola, thinking of far better places he could be than the current situation he found himself in, losing himself in the jazzy magic of a live Miles Davis concert recorded in the south of France, the serious expressions of the normally chirpy Stan and Ernie saying it all, trapped in the reflection of the rear view mirror. Even though he’d given his word to Mister Brudger that he would take care of the problem, and yes, he was in no doubt that he’d made the right decision, there was a growing part of him that felt ever so sorry for Vince. Of course he was a blagger, a bullshitter, a con man who thought on his feet - and who wasn’t? - but he didn’t deserve the fate that awaited him, the sheer pain he was about to live through before Mister Brudger put him out of his misery and they could all go home for a decent kip before waking up to the joys of a new day down in Rene’s café, enjoying a full English swilled down with a couple of gallons of her warm stewed tea.

Ronnie indicated left, turning into the cul-de-sac and gliding to a stop outside the arched lock-up. He switched off the engine midway through a blistering rendition of ‘A Night In Tunisia’, which was exactly where he wanted to be at that moment in time instead of having to do what he was about to do. All three got out of the Jag as the doors to the lock-up opened, revealing Mister Brudger standing there puffing away on a cigar with a large glass of brandy in his hand, shirt sleeves rolled up, wearing a white rubber butcher’s apron and matching boots to stop the blood from staining his clothes. ‘Good to see you Ronnie, Stan, Ernie, and bang on time as usual. I fucking hate people who can’t be bothered to be punctual. In my book if you say a time then you should be there,’ he announced, shaking Ronnie’s hand firmly.

Ronnie felt the aroma of the quality Cuban cigar tickle the hairs in his nose. ‘Mister Brudger. Not that I’m not pleased to see you, but do you mind me asking why you’re here, as I thought from our conversation outside the Savoy that you wanted me to take care of business?’

Mister Brudger gave out a throaty laugh, his warm cigar breath highlighted in the freezing cold, unforgiving East End air. ‘And so I did Ronnie, so I did, and you’ve come this far, but to be fair on you I’m taking over from here on in; so go and lose yourself somewhere for a few hours and be back here bang on four o’clock, as I need you to take what remains of my former client here over to Barking to meet somebody who’ll be waiting for you parked up on the industrial estate, where you’ll give him this from me.’ Mister Brudger handed Ronnie a weighty Manila envelope full of the very stuff that makes the world go around. ‘Now piss off and enjoy yourself, and you two give me a hand getting this fucker inside the lock-up. I hope you’ve both got strong stomachs because you’re going to need them.’

Happiness Stan and Blank Ernie thought they knew all there was to know when it came down to torturing a bloke, that special skill needed to keep the victim balancing between life and death for as long as possible. But that night, Mister Brudger gave them both a starter for twenty as he poured out three large glasses of brandy with a smile, proposing a toast over Vince’s unconscious body. ‘Right then lads. Here’s to what I envisage to be a thoroughly entertaining night, so let’s pull out all the stops and make it one to remember. Cheers.’ All three touched glasses and swallowed their brandy down in one gulp before getting down to work, quickly cutting Vince’s clothes off him with an open throat razor. Tying his wrists together, they picked him up and slipped them over a large iron hook joined to a thick rusty chain dangling from one of the roof beams, attached to a small winch. On his boss’s command, Happiness Stan started up the winch, raising Vince’s naked body an inch or two from the stone floor and leaving him dangling by his wrists, naked and vulnerable to Mister Brudger’s colourful imagination as the show kicked off.

They brought Vince back into the real world with some strong ammonia smelling salts, gagging him with a thick cotton wad and tying each of his ankles to a long steel bar as their boss prepared a syringe full of clear liquid, tapping it several times to get rid of any air bubbles that could cause Vince to die from a painful premature embolism. He jammed the needle into Vince’s arse, explaining just what he was being injected with. ‘This is pethidrin, the strongest speed ever invented, used on a large scale by German forces during the Second World War, but you being a bit of a military history buff will know all about that. Basically this stuff will keep a bloke bright eyed and bushy tailed during the worst fucking pain known to man. Whether it does or doesn’t, I’m going to have some fun finding out before I’m through with you my son, so let’s get down to business.’ Stan and Ernie wasted no time making the final preparations, wheeling in an oxyacetylene blowtorch, an electric drill and a heavy sledgehammer before changing into some protective rubber clothing, feeling like a couple of Yorkshire sheep shaggers as Mister Brudger cracked open a second bottle of cognac and handed them a glass each to help get them in the mood. He raised his glass high in the air, staring at Vince. ‘For what you are about to receive may I be truly thankful.’

Seconds after all three emptied their glasses the show commenced, a terrified Vince dangling from the ceiling bucking and twisting, eyes bulging with fear, his muffled screams echoing around the cramped confines of the lock-up as Mister Brudger picked up the sledgehammer singing an adaptation of a popular nursery rhyme while Stan and Ernie stood there speechless, seriously wondering what they were involved in.

‘Eenie Meenie Minie Mo. Arms, legs, knees or toes. What do you think lads? Where’s the best place to start getting my money back? Oh fuck it let’s just go with the flow, and seeing as I’ve always fancied having a go at chiropody and to be brutally honest his toes do look like they need straightening out a bit… Let’s see what they look like after a bit of makeshift surgery. Do me the honours lads and hold him still will you?’ Stan and Ernie pressed down on the steel bar, keeping Vince’s feet firmly in place as their boss smashed the hammer into Vince’s toes, splitting them open like sun ripened tomatoes, blood spurting everywhere, sending Vince into wild thrashing fits of agony. First the left toes, then the right ones, until skin and bone were squashed completely flat, providing the prelude to a truly sickening three hour ordeal for Stan and Ernie, at the end of which their boss had reduced Vince Fuller to a lump of unrecognisable barbecued human flesh after breaking every bone in his body, drilling as many holes in him as he could and castrating him before poor old Vince finally gave up the ghost, dying in screaming agony and proving that pethidrin did exactly what it said on the can, leaving Stan and Ernie doing their utmost best to keep from spewing their guts up as a result of watching their boss at work.

Lying on his bed back at home, Ronnie felt more than relieved that he wasn’t in Stan and Ernie’s shoes, having witnessed several people getting tortured to death by his boss. Maybe he wasn’t feeling his old self but there was a niggling feeling inside starting to get the better of him, enjoying a few hours away from the madness and violence of his life. He had some time to think about things, where he was going wrong and how was he going to start to put things right before it was too late and he became the next Mister Brudger. After enjoying his favourite supper, two toasted bacon and cheese sarnies smothered in HP, washed down with a couple of glasses of Glenlivet, Ronnie retired to the bedroom to sample what remained of the gram of coke a friendly American negro serviceman had given him in the toilets of the Flamingo club a couple of nights earlier. It was something he rarely indulged in, as coke was a rich man’s drug for all those fuckers with no sense and money to burn, but a free one here and there was okay. He emptied the fluffy white powder on to his shaving mirror, grinding it down with the butt of his Beretta before chopping it into two long fat lines, snorting up one in each nostril in quick time, and turning up the volume on his stereo loud enough to annoy the neighbours. Not that any of them complained, as he switched on the bedside lamp and flopped down on his bed, head in his hands, nose and mouth numb as the powder kicked in, rocketing him off to a far better place and the same weird dream featuring the mysterious blonde he’d been having the last few weeks.

As arranged, Ronnie appeared at the lock-up bang on four o’clock, the vile stench of burnt human flesh knocking him for six the second he opened the doors to pick up what remained of Vince Fuller sealed up in a black rubber body bag. He glanced at Stan and Ernie, standing there whiter than a pair of ghosts, as Mister Brudger removed his apron and gloves, looking more than pleased with how the evening had gone. ‘Right Ronnie, remember what I told you. The industrial estate in Barking via the Blackwall tunnel is where you need to be, one hour from now, where a white Bedford van will be waiting for you. Give the bloke the body bag and the cash and get the fuck out of there sharpish and bell me when you get back to yours. You understand?’

Ronnie nodded, throwing the keys to Stan, who with Ernie’s help dropped Vince’s body in the boot of the Jag. ‘No problems Mister Brudger. It’s all sorted, okay?’

The conversation en route to Barking was even thinner on the ground as Ronnie tried to break the ice. ‘So how did it go in there then? You two enjoy yourselves or what?’ he asked, looking across at Stan, who was sitting there staring out of the window in stony silence. Ernie spoke. ‘Hope you don’t mind Ronnie mate, but can we talk about this tomorrow? It’s been one hell of a fucking night, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. He might be knocking on a bit but Mister Brudger is in a class of his own, a total fucking psychopath I wouldn’t ever want to get on the wrong side of. You know them magicians who always have two fit birds assisting them throughout the show? Well it felt like we were part of the magic show, only there was no audience applauding the act. It was just so fucking horrible what he put Vince through before he finally popped his clogs; and Ronnie, please remind me never to borrow any fucking money from Mister Brudger.’

Upon reaching the Blackwall tunnel exit, Ronnie turned left for Barking, driving a mile or so down the road before reaching the industrial estate, where he pulled up on some waste ground surrounded by derelict warehouses close to where a white Bedford van was parked. It flashed its headlights three times as Ronnie pulled up nose to nose, noticing the large sign on the van proclaiming DANNY WALKER - THE FINEST MEATS AND PATES - BOGNOR REGIS ON SEA. A small weasel-faced man with a neatly clipped moustache wearing a black donkey jacket, a brown boiler suit and faded army red beret approached the Jag, greeted by Ronnie, Stan and Ernie looking anxious to conclude the grisly business at hand. ‘You got the goods and cash for me lads?’ he asked.


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