Billy Bang-Bang

This is a fictional short story, the fifth part of a series. It is advisable to read the first four parts in order, beginning with ‘Jackie Jam-Jar.’ It contains some swearing, and descriptions that may offend some readers. All the locations are genuine, and slang terms and phrases are explained at the end. It is just under 1700 words.

After collecting the guns, the blokes made their way outside. Eddie watched them as they walked up, seven assorted men, expressions grim, climbing into the two cars. With him included, that made eight, more than enough, he reckoned. They were missing one, Red-Faced Brian, who had not got back from the hospital yet. But they would go with what they had. Eddie would have been happy to go with just Bang-Bang, he was a one-man army in himself.

Billy Bang-Bang was the oldest member of Eddie’s gang. He was over fifty, though some way off sixty. He was also the toughest, and undoubtedly the most fearless. He didn’t have the caution of Tall Phil, or the unstable nature of Short Phil. He was just solid, staunch.

William Tice was also an outsider, and for one very important reason. He was from the East End, Limehouse, north of the river. In another life, he would never have met Eddie and the two Phils, Bald Norman, or Red-Face. He would have stuck to his manor, never ventured south of the Rotherhithe Tunnel, made that short journey into a land that was as foreign as another country. But the love of his life, his sweet Edna, was a Peckham girl, so he had no choice. He had made his life in these unfamiliar boroughs, that smaller part of the city. It had been so long now, he thought of it as home.

Young Billy Tice had started life in a Limehouse slum, the youngest of four. His mum and dad both had stalls on the market along Whitechapel Road, opposite the London Hospital. They sold anything they could lay hands on, but mostly second-hand clothes. Billy and his three sisters were expected to work too, from a very young age. Sorting through the rags and piles of clothes, washing them in big copper tubs, pressing them ready for sale on the market. He could just about read and write when he was taken out of school, and he was soon learning the ropes on the stalls too. In 1936, he was sixteen years old, and fed up with slaving away, and sleeping in a smelly bed with two of his sisters. He went to the recruiting office, and signed up for the army. Boy Soldier Tice.

He liked it well enough. He was almost six feet tall, and still growing. Years of hard graft had made him strong, and life on the market had made him tough. He made a place for himself in the infantry, and even got to go abroad, to India. He thought it was a dirty, smelly place, worse than Limehouse. The people were even poorer than his neighbours back home, and they used to piss and shit in the streets too. But he got used to it, and he got used to the heat as well. When the war with Germany started, he was nineteen years old, and no longer young Billy. Now he was lance-corporal Tice, and someone to be reckoned with. For the first year or so, not much happened. Then one day, they were issued with some new gear and uniform, and the clerk said they were going to the desert on a troopship. He had never heard of Libya, and the only thing he knew about Egypt was the Pyramids.

But he soon found out. To start with, they fought the Italians. Some of those eyeties weren’t much cop, but every now and again you met some who put up a fight. Then the Germans arrived, and it all got very serious. Billy lost mates, saw his first close range fighting, and began to realise that he actually enjoyed it. The truth was, he was good at fighting, and good at killing too. He shot people at long range, or shot them right in front of him. He stuck them with bayonets, hit them with shovels, bashed their heads in with a rifle-butt, or rocks, whatever was handy. He killed men who were surrendering, and also shot enemy wounded. He was a killing machine, devoid of conscience. He couldn’t understand the blokes who were scared, or who didn’t want to shoot, in case they hurt someone. It was a war, and they had to win it. Billy knew how to win it, and carried on in his own way.

The regiment had a hard war. You couldn’t make it up. After the desert, there was Sicily, then Italy. Months of slogging through the mud, Germans putting up a fierce fight. Billy made corporal by the time he was twenty-three, and the others always looked at him a bit funny. The officers loved him though. Any shitty job, dangerous patrol, or taking a strong-point, Tice was their man of choice. He got the job done, never moaned, and set out as if he couldn’t ever be killed.
He got leave just in time to meet Edna. She was looking at him across the floor of a dance hall in the West End. He had been staying with one of his mates in Tottenham, as he had no more to do with his family, and hadn’t seen or contacted them in years. Edna was his sort of girl. Small, pretty, and not too mouthy. Nothing like all the whores and slags who he had paid for over the years. It was love at first sight for him, and for Edna too. She had lost her fiance at Dunkirk, and didn’t expect to meet anyone else for a long time. But the tall sun-tanned soldier just made her heart flutter.

But first he had to go to France. Not long after D-day, they landed in time to get involved in the real bad fighting, near Caen. One damp morning, they lost two blokes to machine-gun fire from behind some hedgerows. When Billy flushed them out, they were just kids, wearing uniforms too big for them. The platoon had six prisoners, and the lieutenant told Billy that they were from the SS, the Hitler Youth Division. Without hesitation, Billy marched them behind the hedge and shot them all with his Thompson. They looked even younger when they were dead. After success in Normandy, they had to fight their way across what seemed like the whole of Germany, until it was over. Little villages, towns with houses like those in fairy stories, fighting for every one of them. Even after the surrender, Billy had to stay on, just ’cause he was a regular, they told him. The Army of Occupation wouldn’t be so bad. After all, they were still fighting the Japs in the Far East, so it was better than that. There were lots of fiddles too. The Black Market was the thing then, and he made a good few quid, here and there. He didn’t get back to Edna until 1946 though, and they married that same month.

Billy was finished with the army. It was no life for Edna, after all, and he really did love her. He loved her enough to move to south London, no matter how strange it seemed. The cold-water rooms in Nunhead were alright with him, as long as Edna was happy. Her dad got him a job as a lorry-driver, and she carried on working in Jones and Higgins. The driving job was just a front though. The bloke who owned the company was shifting all sorts of moody gear, and Billy was quick to catch on to the opportunities offered by this petty crime. He drifted in and out of different jobs, started to run with some of the gangs, and got the name as a tough guy, someone good when there was trouble. When it turned out that Edna couldn’t have kids, he didn’t mind. They got a better flat near Goose Green, and enjoyed life, going out drinking and dancing with their friends, and holidays in Southend, or Margate. By the time he met Eddie, he reckoned he knew a good boss when he saw one, and threw in with him as soon as he was asked.

At the time, he was still just Billy, or Bill. Some called him Limehouse Bill, to mark him out from the other Williams and Billys. He got his real nickname on his first job for Eddie. He went to a pub with Short Phil, acting as back-up for the little bloke. The landlord wasn’t playing ball, and threatening to bring in fruit machines from other gangs. Despite Short Phil acting his most fierce, the bloke wasn’t shifting. “You two better fuck off out, if you know what’s good for you,” he snarled. Billy produced two revolvers, one in each hand. He fired a shot from each one into the ceiling of the pub, and everyone shifted out of there in the wink of an eye. The bloke changed his mind.
Later on, Short Phil was telling the story to the rest of the gang. “You should have seen it. Billy gets out two shooters, and bang-bang. The geezer bottles it. He looked like he was going to shit his pants.” That was it. ‘Billy Bang-Bang’ was going to stick. It got shortened of course, as they often did. They dropped the Billy, and just used Bang-Bang. Sometimes, it was reduced to ‘Bangs’, but everyone knew who was being talked about. It got so that even Edna started to call him Bangs after a while, and some blokes didn’t even know his real name.

In the back of the Hillman, Billy was loading a spare magazine for the Thompson. They weren’t too far from Jackie’s place now, and you could never be too sure what to expect.

Explanation of terms used.

Manor. The district where you lived, or operated.
Rotherhithe Tunnel. A road and pedestrian tunnel under The Thames, connecting Limehouse with Rotherhithe.
Eyeties. Slang term for Italians.
Weren’t much cop. Were not very good at what they did.
Thompson. A sub-machine gun, made in the USA. Also known as a ‘Tommy-Gun.’
Jones and Higgins. A prestigious department store in the Peckham area of London. It closed in 1980.
Fruit machines. Coin-slot gambling machines, also ‘One-armed bandits.’
Moody gear. Stolen or contraband goods.
Shooters. Firearms, usually handguns.
Geezer. Slang term for a man.

Bottles it. Loses his nerve, gives up
Hillman. A brand of popular car made in the UK from 1907. Sold by Chrysler UK after 1976.

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9 thoughts on “Billy Bang-Bang

  1. “Billy Bang-Bang was the oldest member of Eddie’s gang. He was over fifty, though some way off sixty.” / “In 1936, he was sixteen years old,” So William Tice was born in 1920. Being in his early 50’s means this story takes place in the early 1970’s. I particularly liked this installment. The names are fascinating, and the story engrossing. I’m anxious for the big payoff!

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    1. You got the time right, David, early 70s indeed. The clues were in the vehicles, gaming machines, and some other tiny details that might not have been much help to someone from the USA. (Or from other parts of the UK, in fact.)
      Best wishes, Pete.

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