I know I said I was having a break from fiction, but I decided to post this one from drafts anyway.
This is a fictional short story. As it is set in the criminal community of London some time ago, it contains many expressions and slang terms that may not be familiar. I will list their meanings at the end. **It also contains bad language and swear words, which some readers may find offensive**. The locations and street names are all genuine. It is just over 1700 words.
Tubby hated the old Commer van. It was a pig to start, and a bastard to drive. The sliding door wouldn’t stay shut, and it was cold today too. Every time he had to stop, he had to slip it into neutral and rev the engine like mad, or it would stall. He couldn’t risk breaking down somewhere today, not with what was in the back, anyway. As he approached the junction with Ilderton Road, the car in front suddenly indicated right, to turn into the estate. Tubby hadn’t seen it coming, and had to brake violently. Sure enough, the engine stalled, and the red lights appeared on the round dial to confirm it. “Fuck it’, he screamed. “I don’t need this, not now.” He coasted the lifeless vehicle into the kerb, his eyes darting around in case any old bill or traffic wardens were nearby. After three tries of the key, the battery started to die, and he slammed his hand repeatedly against the steering wheel in frustration.
The thing was, Tubby wasn’t remotely fat. By most estimates, he could even have been considered to be too thin. But when you are born with a name like Daniel Tubbs, what else could you expect? He didn’t really know anyone who was called by their actual name. In his circles, people either had nicknames, or a moniker relating to something distinctive about them. If you had some Tom to shift, you went to see Jewish Jonathan, and if you needed a motor for a job, then Jackie Jam-Jar was your man. But Jackie wasn’t in Tubby’s good books at the moment, as he had supplied the Commer van, and now it had broken down again.
Tubby looked around for a phone box. He would have to chance leaving the van, to make a call to Mad Eddie and let him know what was going on. Letting him down was never really an option, but with a dead motor, what else was he supposed to do? Eddie let it ring a long time before picking up. “It’s me, Tubby. The bleeding van’s packed up in Ilderton Road. That pile of shit that Jackie Jam-Jar got us, I said it was no good.” Eddie’s voice at the other end was calm, never a good sign. “Tubby, nice to hear from you. We were getting worried. Stay where you are, I will send Tall Phil over to get you and the stuff.” He hung up, giving no information about when Tall Phil would get there, or how far he was coming from.
Tall Phil wasn’t actually tall. But he was much taller than Short Phil, who was very short. Trouble was, he didn’t like to be called short. In fact, any reference to his diminutive stature was liable to get him very upset. And you wouldn’t want to be around when he got upset. And Mad Eddie was as sane as the next man, but you didn’t get to be the feared boss of a gang with a name like ‘Nice Eddie’, did you?
Tubby checked his watch, the old Ingersoll that was all his dad had left him. He hadn’t had time for breakfast, as he had been told to get across to Eddie’s place in Lewisham nice and early with the gear. He hadn’t even wanted to hold the stuff, but because he lived with his Gran in Credon Road, he was considered ‘safe’. Three sawn-offs and two revolvers, probably stood Eddie in for at least a monkey. But they were needed for the security van job this afternoon, so Eddie wanted to check them nice and early. Three days he had sweated over that bag of tools in his wardrobe, jumping every time he heard a siren. Tubby decided that he would run back to the corner of Rollins Street, and get some rolls and a tea from Babs’ stall. He checked the lock on the back doors, and it held. After four slams, he was able to lock the dodgy sliding door on the driver’s side too.
He told Babs to stick the bacon rolls in a bag, and slurped down the tea as fast as he could. No time to start on the food, he would have to eat that in the van, or in Phil’s car, if he had turned up. At the junction, he noticed a car going the other way. It was nothing special, just driving a bit fast for that time of the morning, with all the traffic about. The big Zodiac was driven by someone who looked too young, and that made Tubby notice it more than usual. There were two blokes in the back, and one had a hat on, a black hat with a red band around it. Jackie Jam-Jar had one like that, but it wouldn’t be him, surely? His manor was a long way from here, the other side of Bellingham, and the Zodiac was heading in completely the wrong direction. He put it from his mind, and headed back to the Commer, while his rolls were still warm.
Tall Phil didn’t arrive for another hour. Tubby was almost shitting himself by then. Three cop cars had passed by, and a traffic cop on a motorbike had given him a look ten minutes earlier. Jackie had said that the Commer was Kosher, and would stand up to a check. Looks like he was right about that. Phil had brought another van, an almost new Transit. He parked behind Tubby, and when the younger man approached, he growled, ” Get the gear and get in, quick. This motor’s hot enough to burn my arse.” Tubby went back to unlock the van, but to his surprise, the handle wasn’t locked, and it turned easily. The tarpaulin was still in the back where he had left it, covering the bag. He had a bad feeling as he dragged it out. Staring at the metal floor, his head was spinning. The tool bag was gone. Although he knew it was pointless, he searched inside the tarpaulin anyway. Just in case a miracle had happened.
Tall Phil didn’t take the news well. He made Tubby stay in the Transit as he went back to search the old van himself. When he got back in, the expression on his face was not a good one. “Did you tell anyone about the shooters?” His tone was measured, far too controlled. “Course not Phil” Tubby was almost screaming, his voice high and rising, “I’m not a fucking idiot. Someone must have spun the van when I was getting me breakfast.” He knew as soon as those words were out of his mouth, he should never have said them. “We can’t hang about here, let’s make a move.” Phil sounded surprisingly calm, and Tubby felt better, offering, “Just some bastard chancer, probably thought they were real tools or scrap.” Even as he said that, he realised how stupid it sounded.
When they got to Eddie’s workshop, Tall Phil made Tubby sit in the office as he went to speak to the rest of the gang. He could see them at the other end, grouped around each other, heads shaking in disbelief. After a while, they all walked slowly up to the office. Once they had squeezed inside, the small room felt cramped, and Tubby was getting hot. Very hot. He smiled at Eddie, and his voice sounded strange, as he said the one word, “Sorry.” Eddie didn’t look happy. “You lose my tools, ruin a job I planned for months, a job that can only be done today, ’cause my inside man’s working, and you tell Tall Phil that it’s all down to a bacon roll. You must be taking the piss boy, and I would think long and hard about that, if I was you.” To emphasise the point as he was speaking, Eddie grabbed Tubby’s throat with one hand, choking him almost into unconsciousness. “Think hard, sonny. Who did you tell about the stuff?”
When the hand was released, Tubby thought for a moment. When he collected the van from Jackie Jam-Jar, had he mentioned the guns, or the job on Monday? He was sure he hadn’t, but he had been complaining about the old Commer at the time, and slagging off Jackie for his choice of van for the job. Maybe he had said something, but he certainly wasn’t going to admit that now. He swallowed hard. “Nobody, Eddie, honest mate. I never said nothing to no-one.” Tall Phil and Short Phil both looked at Eddie. Bald Norman had come in with a holdall, and Red-Faced Brian stood across the door, rubbing the large birthmark on his neck. Eddie nodded at Norman, and the bald man produced some bolt-cutters from the bag, handing them to Short Phil.
Tubby had a strange feeling in his groin as he watched this. He gazed at the grim faces surrounding him, and a thought entered his head. It looked like Eddie was going to get Mad after all.
Explanation of terms used.
Commer van. This was a medium panel van, in widespread use until 1979. It was sold by Chrysler UK.
Motor. Commonly used to describe any vehicle, not just an engine.
Tom. This is an abbreviation of Tomfoolery, which rhymes with jewellery, used by criminals and Police.
Jam-Jar. This rhymes with car, and is well-known (Cockney) rhyming slang used in London.
Old Bill. This is a common expression used to refer to the Police.
Traffic Wardens. These might be called Parking Attendants or Meter maids outside of the UK.
Tools. Commonly used to describe firearms by criminals. As in ‘Tooled up.’
Sawn-Offs. These are shotguns where the barrels have been shortened, for easy concealment.
Zodiac. This was a large luxury saloon car made by Ford, and was in production until 1972.
A monkey. A slang term for £500. ($764US)
Transit. A popular panel van made by Ford. Still sold in the UK.
Slagging off. Disrespecting or complaining about someone or something.
Spun/Spin. To search hurriedly, as in a burglary.