Short Phil

This is a short story, the third part of a series that started with ‘Jackie Jam-Jar’, and continued with ‘Tubby’s Toe.’ It is advisable to read those first. It contains swearing and bad language, and descriptions that may offend some readers. Some slang expressions and terms will be explained at the end. The locations are all authentic. It is around 1400 words.

Short Phil’s knee was aching as he stayed bent, holding the bolt cutters around Tubby’s toe. He wished that Eddie would just give the word, then he could snip the skinny bastard’s toe off, and get on with finding out where the gear was.

Being only a whisker over five feet tall was not the best start in life, at least not in a tough part of south London. Phil hadn’t always been called Short Phil, it had usually been much worse. Short-arse, half-pint, midget, pocket-size, tiny, and runt, had been just some of the kinder nicknames he had endured over the years. He had been forced to stand up for himself early on. Nobody else was going to. His father had been a Polish soldier. His mum never spoke about him much, just said that he had been killed at Arnhem, and they never had a chance to get married. She didn’t tell Phil that he was almost four years old when his father parachuted to his death in battle. Some of the other kids said he looked Polish, whatever that meant. He had fair hair, and a stocky frame, so that was good enough for them. They would dance around him at school, shouting “Polack, Polack, your dad’s never coming back.”

He left school as soon as he could, and got a job helping out at a warehouse, just off Tower Bridge Road. The boss liked him, as despite his size, he proved to be strong, and always turned up on time. Pretty soon, Phil started to notice that some of the deliveries were regularly put to one side, and he was told to leave them alone. One morning, some hard-looking men came to talk to the boss, and as Phil was sweeping up near the door, he heard the sound of a scuffle. He went to the back, to find the three men beating up his boss, who was already on the floor. Although only a teenager, Phil knew what he had to do, and he waded in with the broom, hoping to help the outnumbered man. But they just laughed at him, and one of them hit him so hard, he didn’t remember much for a while. He came round to find himself in the office. His boss was black and blue, and looked shaken, but he put his arm around the young man, and thanked him. “You did well son, take this.” He gave Phil a large £5 note, the first he had ever owned.

The next day, his jaw still aching, Phil arrived for work as normal. His boss wasn’t there, but a smart-looking man called him into the office. “I hear you give a good account of yourself yesterday, Titch.” He was smiling as he continued. “Things are changing around here, but if you play your cards right, you can stay on, and earn some good dough. What do you say?” “Sounds OK, but the name’s Phil, not Titch”, he replied. The smart man grinned. “I’ve already got a Phil, so you will have to be Short Phil, if you agree. I’m Eddie, pleased to meet you.” He extended a long hand, the nails manicured, and a gold signet ring on one finger. Phil grasped the hand, what else could he do? “OK, boss, count me in.”

Turned out his old boss had not been playing straight with Eddie. He had got his beating, and an early retirement. Eddie’s team worked part of south London, and out towards Lewisham and Catford too. Fruit machines in pubs, amusement arcades, bent fags and booze, whatever was going, Eddie was into it. The rest of the gang were an assortment of ex-army blokes, and brainless villains that had never known any different. Short Phil was one of the youngest, and he had to step up and prove himself very quickly. The years went by, and all the small crews were being forced out of their areas. Big gangs like the Richardsons were taking over south of the river, and you couldn’t even think about moving north or east. The Maltese and Greeks had most of the West End sewn up, and as Eddie put it, “It’s getting hard for an ordinary criminal to make a living these days.” The good times were certainly becoming a memory. Phil had got his flat, his motor, and some nice suits. Every now and again, he even got to appreciate the company of one of the girls that hung around. But the cash wasn’t coming so regular, so Eddie decided it was time to branch out. He could no longer run the fruit machines, the Toms, or the gambling, without falling foul of the big boys. One day, he called everyone in, and made his announcement. They would become blaggers.

There were lots of security firms operating, collecting and delivering cash from banks and post offices. The guards carried coshes, and wore crash helmets, but that was nothing to the likes of Eddie and the boys. They were tooled up. Phil started to carry a gun at all times, an ex-army Browning automatic. And he wasn’t afraid to use it. On the jobs, they used sawn-offs, and Eddie even had a sub-machine gun, an old Sten. Wave them around a bit, and those mugs soon handed over the cash. Phil always gave them a few whacks with the gun too, just to make a point. When one bloke tried to get back into the van with the cash, he shot him in both legs. They were soon the number one team in the area, at least where armed robbery was concerned. The cash started to flood in. Phil was back in the money, and making a name for himself in the local pubs. Woe betide anyone who laughed at his height. They would get a glass in the face, a clubbing from the pistol butt, and then he would bash out all of their teeth. He was soon respected, and left alone. People he had never met tried to buy him drinks, and slutty girls sought out his company. Phil liked that, he liked being one of the chaps, a face to be reckoned with.

The coppers pulled him in sometimes. The hard ones slapped him around a bit, the easy ones took a bung to look the other way. But they never got nothing on him, not Phil. The shooter was always dumped before they lifted him, and he could always supply a solid alibi. He was playing cards with a large school, sorting out some bird at her flat, or watching telly round his mum’s. Nothing ever stuck, as there wasn’t a witness or bystander willing to risk the revenge of Mad Eddie’s gang. Besides, half the coppers could be easily straightened up, and they would probably fit someone else up for it, if Eddie wanted them to. Life was pretty good, at least by Phil’s reckoning. That was until Eddie started getting involved with the likes of Jackie Jam-Jar, and bringing in slags and know-nothings like Tubby. It wasn’t up to him to say though, but inside he knew that it would all go tits-up one day, working with the likes of them.

In the crowded office, all eyes were on Tubby, and the cutters around his toe. Eddie was just about to give him one last chance to tell who he had spoken to, when the phone rang. The loud bell made Short Phil jump, and his hands closed involuntarily. The huge bolt-cutters could do the lock on the back of a security van. They had no trouble slicing straight through the bone of Tubby’s big toe. His scream sounded above the unanswered telephone, and Short Phil watched, as the detached toe rolled across the wooden floor. Tubby was talking, the words punctuated by pain and short breaths. “It was Jackie. I might have told Jackie. When I got the van. Jackie for fuck’s sake. Jackie Jam-Jar.”

Eddie patted the younger man on the head, six hard pats, one for each word. “You only had to say so.”

Explanation of terms used.

The Richardsons. This was a criminal gang that controlled a large part of south London.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Richardson_Gang
Bent. Common slang for stolen, or corrupt.
Fags. Cigarettes.
Toms. Prostitutes.
Motor. A car.
Blaggers. Blagging was (and still is) a term used for armed robbery. (Other uses apply)
Tooled up. Carrying guns.
Sawn-off. A shotgun with the barrels shortened for ease of concealment.
Sten. A Sten gun, a sub-machine gun used by the Allies in WW2.
A bung. A bribe, usually cash, or expensive gifts.
Shooter. A firearm, a gun.
Card school. A regular group of hardened card-playing gamblers.
Sorting out some bird. Having sex with a girl.
Straightened up. Bribed.
Fit someone up. To frame someone for a crime they did not commit.
Slags. Petty criminals, thieves, robbers.
Tits-up. All go wrong. Turn upside down.

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22 thoughts on “Short Phil

  1. Reading these with a morbid kind of fascination, having been born not so very far away (Forest Hill) in the sixties. I was too young to know anything of this kind of life. We moved away when I was seven. But certain things… ‘But they never got nothing on him…’ trigger memories of a language long since forgotten. ‘Never got nuffin…’ 🙂

    I was very surprised to discover a few years ago that my ears are more attuned to that accent than I ever imagined – even down to the ability to distinguish it from that north of the river. I heard someone speaking and, rather than thinking, ‘That’s London,’ or ‘That’s East End’ it was like ‘That’s home!’ And it was!

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    1. The next instalment is called East Dulwich Eddie, Ros, so even closer to your old home. I was going to use the written pronunciation (nuffin, etc) but decided it might be incomprehensible to the non-British readers. (About 50% of visitors)

      I can generally tell the south of the river accent from that of the East End, or other areas, though these days, it is mainly older people who still have it. Youngsters in most areas of London have developed that strange ‘newspeak’ of text abbreviations, rap music terms, and rising intonations.

      I am very happy that you are reading them, and getting a flashback to home.

      Best wishes as always, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That would be nice of course, but I feel it has been done to death as a subject. (The Long Firm, and many others) For me, this is a combination of nostalgia from my late teens, and an exercise in writing. If it has pleased you, then that is a bonus indeed.
      As ever, Pete. x

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