This is another very long story. (Just over 10,000 words) It is a crime saga, set in London during the 1970s. It contains depictions of violence, and some swear-words that certain readers may find offensive. All the locations used are genuine, and for those of you unfamiliar with London slang and dialect, I am beginning with a long list, explaining the terms used.
This was originally published on my blog in six chapters, all now put into one long story. If you can spare the time to read it and comment, I will be very grateful.
East Dulwich Eddie.
Carnage In Downham.
The following terms are used throughout, and it may be an idea to familiarise yourself with them, before attempting to read the story.
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. (Also a name for prostitutes)
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.
Boozer. A pub. A Public House. A bar where drinks (and sometimes food) are sold.
Giving it the big one. Acting hard and tough. Talking loudly and boastfully.
Do him large. Beat him up very badly, or kill him.
Titfer. From Tit-For-Tat. (= Hat) Rhyming slang.
Kosher. Legal and correct.
A pull. A stop by the Police.
Cut and Shut. Two damaged cars of the same make. The front of one welded to the rear of another.
Mums The Word. Say nothing about this.
Shtum. Staying silent. (Yiddish)
Shooters. Firearms, guns.
A Ton. £100 ($155US)
Fit up. To frame him for something he hadn’t done.
In the Nick. In prison.
Stringbacks. Driving gloves with leather palms, and woven backs.
Vauxhall Victor. A family saloon car made by General Motors, until 1976.
Wandsworth. A high security prison in south-west London.
Hampsteads. From Hampstead Heath. (= Teeth) Rhyming slang.
The Richardsons. This was a criminal gang that controlled a large part of south London.
Bent. Common slang for stolen, or corrupt.
Blaggers. Blagging was (and still is) a term used for armed robbery. (Other uses apply)
Sten. A Sten gun, a sub-machine gun used by the Allies in WW2.
A bung. A bribe; usually cash, or expensive gifts.
Card school. A regular group of hardened card-playing gamblers.
Sorting out some bird. Having sex with a girl.
Slags. Petty criminals, thieves, robbers.
Tits-up. All go wrong. Turn upside down.
Manor. The area where someone lived or operated. Any district of London.
Fiddles. (In this context) Cons, illegal trading, obtaining by deception.
Bit of skirt. A young woman.
Spiv. Illegal trader, black marketeer, petty criminal.
One-armed bandit. Old style fruit-machine, with a handle on the side.
Mob-handed. In a large group.
Duffed up. Beaten up badly.
Bird. A girl, someone’s girlfriend.
Bent. Stolen. Corrupt.
Dosh. Money, cash.
The Nick. Prison.
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.
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.
Blag. An armed robbery.
Swift. To steal.
Balls-up. To ruin, to spoil.
Took the piss. Mocked, ridiculed.
In for fifteen. A fifteen-year sentence in prison.
Luger. A German pistol, widely used by the military.
Twelve bore. A double-barrelled shotgun.
Webley. A British military revolver.
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.
Jackie was in a bad mood. This was unusual for him, as he was normally a genial man, with a ready smile, and a relaxed attitude to life. It was one of Eddie’s boys that was spoiling his day, that skinny bastard, Danny Tubbs. Ever since he started out as one of Eddie’s crew, the runt acted like the hard man, a real face. He hung around the local boozer mouthing off, giving it the big one all the time. Jackie would love to do him. Do him large, he would. But he couldn’t, ’cause that would bring Eddie’s mob down on him, and that meant having to deal with Short Phil. And everyone knew there was no dealing with Short Phil.
He took off his hat, and smoothed down what was left of his hair. He adjusted the red band around the black trilby, and plonked the titfer back on his head. He smiled at the thin man, his hands pressing down and out, in a soothing gesture. ” Calm down now Tubby, don’t let’s get previous now.” He wanted the younger man to stop shouting, to cease this disrespect in his own place, in front of the lads. He had to ride the threats, but still stand up for himself. He mustn’t be seen to back down, but the whole thing was a delicate balancing act, and one he could well do without. He was in the car business, not the bloody House of Commons.
“It’s a straight motor, Tubby. Runs OK, all the right paperwork, and Kosher. It will stand a pull, believe me. It will do you for a few days, then I will get rid of it for you, after the job.” Tubby had been acting flash ever since he turned up, and Jackie was beginning to get really pissed off. But he made the little speech for the boy’s benefit, just to calm him down. Tubby wouldn’t let it go though. “These Commers are crap, Jackie, everyone knows that, and this one’s a real piece of shit. For fuck’s sake, just look at it.” Pale Ashton tried to help out. “This will do you fine, Tubby man. I checked it meself, it’s OK.” He rubbed a filthy rag around his hands as he spoke, as if it was ever going to get them clean, after years of ingrained grease and oil.
Pale Ashton wasn’t exactly pale. After all, he was from Trinidad, and as black as they come. But he suffered from Vitiligo, a skin condition that had left him with light pink patches around his nose and mouth. Nobody in Catford knew what that was, so they just called Ashton ‘Pale Ashton’, to differentiate him from any other West Indian called Ashton who didn’t have Vitiligo. Of course, they had never met anyone else called Ashton, but that wasn’t the point.
“Well that’s alright then, if you say so,” Tubby sneered. “After all you are about as much use as a mechanic as a chocolate fireguard.” Pleased with his witticism, he looked around, grinning. The others stared back, unimpressed. Tubby could see he was getting nowhere. It was the only van on the lot, and he was going to have to take it, whether he liked it or not. He wasn’t going without a fight though. “I need to make sure those doors lock good, Jackie, I don’t want the stuff falling out on the way.” Jackie went to the back doors, turned the small key in the lock, and worked the handle, showing Tubby it was secure. “Sweet as a nut, Tubby me old mate. I wouldn’t give you a wrong ‘un.” He lowered his voice, adding, “What you gonna have in there Tubby, nothing too slippery, I hope?” Tubby looked at the man. As far as he was concerned, Jackie Jam-Jar was small time. A dodgy car dealer who supplied motors to local villains, when he wasn’t stitching up old ladies or kids with cut and shut shit-piles from his car front. He had a big yard in Downham, that was for sure, but he wasn’t hard. He wasn’t one of the chaps.
Tubby puffed his chest out. “There’s a big job on on Monday. Mum’s the word, but this is the back-up van, and I’m holding the shooters.” Old Jackie looked suitably impressed. He passed his fingers over his lips, imitating a zip. “Shtum,” he confirmed. He watched Tubby drive off in the van, and smiled as he heard it revving at the junction. He turned to Pale Ashton and raised his eyebrows. The mechanic grinned, showing his sparkling white teeth. “Won’t get too far in that boss, you can count on that.”
Back in the glorified shed he called The Office, Jackie picked up the phone. It was answered after only one ring, so he wasn’t busy. “Angel, it’s me, Jackie. I need you early on Monday. Bring that Zodiac I lent you last week. There’s a ton in it for you, no grief, just driving.” Jackie wasn’t really concerned about the money. If he only shifted the tools for what it cost to pay the boys, he didn’t mind. If they were too hot, he would grind them up and lose them. But he was going to fit up that little bastard Tubby, if it was the last thing he did.
Angel was far from Angelic. His boyish looks and slight frame belied the fact that he was approaching twenty, and had done a lot in his short life. he might have had the face of an Angel, but that was where the comparison ended. Despite his age, he had trouble getting served drinks in pubs, and even had to argue the toss to get into an ‘X’ film at the pictures. But it stood in him good with the ladies, so he didn’t mind too much. Angel had been around the manor since absconding from the kids’ home at the age of fifteen. Jackie had sorted him out a bent driving licence, and had him running around doing odd jobs ever since. He didn’t mind, as Jackie had been good to him, and never tried it on, like some of the other old blokes he had met. He was even shacked up with Carol, Jackie’s brother-in-law’s daughter, looking after her while Three Times was in the nick, doing fifteen for shooting a copper.
Three Times Terry had got his name from his habit of always shooting everyone three times. For Terry, two in the body, or even the head, still wasn’t enough, he always went for the third shot. “To make fucking sure”, he had told Angel. But when the copper had bumped into him leaving the Orpington branch of Barclays bank with a big bag of cash in his hand, and Stringbacks Dave sitting in the Vauxhall Victor with the engine running, three shots had not made sure. Just as well really, or he would be in Wandsworth for the rest of his natural.
On the Monday, Angel picked up Jackie early. Tony The Tooth came along too, in case of any aggravation. They plotted up not far from Tubby’s gran’s place, and waited for the Commer van to appear. “Follow a couple of cars behind, ” Jackie told Angel. “That van will never make it to Lewisham, Ashton’s sure about that.” When the car in front of Tubby turned sharply, it was a gift. The Commer stalled, and there was no chance that it would start again, not in this life. Angel pulled into the housing estate, parking up where they could watch Tubby. They saw him run across to the phone box, and guessed that he was calling Eddie. He was soon back, sitting in the van again. “If he stays with it now, I’ll just clump him one, and lock him in the back, shall I? ” Suggested Tony.
Tony The Tooth had a lot more than one tooth left. He had lots of teeth in fact, probably more than his fair share. And they stuck out, really stuck out. He could hardly close his mouth, for the huge set of railings that looked like they were about to fall out of it. Tony didn’t really like his name. He once considered asking everyone to call him Tony Hampsteads instead. But he didn’t want anyone to think that he came from a poncy place like Hampstead, so he left it alone.
Jackie was considering the suggestion, when they saw Tubby get out. He slammed the door a few times, then checked the back doors. He walked off quickly, back up Ilderton Road in the direction of South Bermondsey Station. “Off you go, Tony.” Jackie smiled, handing The Tooth the spare keys he had got from Ashton. Tony was in and out in a flash, dropping the heavy bag in the boot of the Zodiac, before climbing into the back next to Jackie. By the time Angel had turned the car around, and started to head for the exit from the estate, Tubby was on his way back, clutching a paper bag. “Go north, Angel, we’ll take the long way.” Jackie hunched down in the seat as they passed Tubby at the junction. He had forgotten he had his hat on though, in all the excitement.
Short Phil closed the bolt cutters around the big toe on Tubby’s right foot, allowing the younger man to feel the pressure. Mad Eddie looked straight into his eyes. “Now, who did you fucking tell?”
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.”
Tubby was crying with the pain, and Eddie shot Short Phil a look. The look said it all, but Short Phil just shrugged in reply. “Someone better get him down the hospital”, Eddie said to nobody in particular. When the rest of the gang started to look at each other, Eddie chose for them. Turning to the red-faced man at the door, he barked, “Brian, you take him. Drop him at the entrance.” Tall Phil cleared his throat. “What about the toe Eddie?” Eddie walked over to the toe and inspected it. “Chuck it to the dog” he replied. Lighting a cigarette, Eddie wandered out into the warehouse, the yells of pain from Tubby growing faint as he was helped to hop out to the car. He rubbed his face with his hand; there was a headache in there, just waiting to happen, he was sure of that.
Eddie came from East Dulwich. Sandwiched between the rougher manor of Peckham, and the posh district of Dulwich Village, with its upper-class schools and expensive big houses, East Dulwich had never really had its own identity. The long roads leading from the greenery of Peckham Rye, up to the shops in Lordship Lane, could hardly be described as undesirable. In fact, Eddie’s parents actually owned their own house, almost unknown in his crowd. There was a good chance that he would never have encountered the sort of people that he now spent his life with, but he had done the decent thing, and gone into the army, to do his two years of National Service. Many of his peers sought exemptions, fiddled medical records, or just vanished, but he went. He had been brighter than most at school, passed his 11 Plus exam, and got a job as a trainee book-keeper at his mum’s firm in The City. When his call-up papers arrived, he didn’t mind going, hoping to see somewhere exotic, like Singapore, Malaya, or Kenya. He went for his training in Surrey, and was soon marked out by the sergeant, who transferred him to the company office, for clerical duties. From there, it was all ever going to go one way.
Sergeant Douglas was a career soldier. He had been in the war, and decided to stay on, running the stores, and being in charge of the supplies. All the paperwork necessary might have seemed a chore to some, but to the Sarge, it was a licence to print money. He saw the chance to make this Londoner his protege, and to make use of his quick brain, and skill with figures. So, Eddie was roped in to the big fiddles early on. He never got any further than Surrey, and the most exotic place he saw in two years was Guildford. The Sarge kept him close, and made sure he didn’t get posted to some faraway spot. Eddie was happy enough to play the game. Plenty of cash, nights out in the town, the odd bit of skirt to brighten the week. The Sarge shifted the stuff, Eddie cooked the books. They were a good team. When they had to deal with some of the spivs and crooks that pushed their luck, the Sarge expected him to bash a few heads, and break a few bones. He grew up fast, and realised what had to be done. No questions asked. When his time was up, the Sarge tried to talk him into staying on, but Eddie could now see his future, and it wasn’t in uniform.
Mum was upset when Eddie didn’t return to his job in The City. But he told her that he was now into import and export instead, and that impressed her. Dad seemed to know the truth, but it was never mentioned. Eddie soon moved out, into a rented flat just up the road, in Honour Oak. He got in with some blokes from Brockley Cross who were doing all sorts of dodgy deals. Eddie had his savings from his army fiddles, and could front up the money for the jukeboxes and one-armed bandits that were all the rage. It was easy enough. Turn up with a van load at a pub, cafe, or club, and tell the owner that he had to have a fruit machine or jukebox, or both. Wheel it in, plug it in, and tell him you would be back to empty the cash box later that week. If he kicked off, or made a fuss, he got a few slaps, or a bash with a cosh. If he went so far as to get help from some heavies, or throw the machine out after they had left, then they went back mob-handed, smashed the place up, and duffed-up everyone involved.
If they were hard, you just had to be harder.
There were lots of Eddies around in those days. Big Eddie from Streatham, Eddie Redhead from Coldharbour Lane, and the famous Razor Eddie, from Deptford. So he became East Dulwich Eddie, at least as far as everyone else was concerned. He never settled with that though. It was a bit of a mouthful, and East Dulwich didn’t sound that tough. He decided to create his own nickname, something more inspiring, a better branding for the sort of business he was engaged in. Not long after his twenty-first birthday, he started to refer to himself as Mad Eddie. This wasn’t that easy, as his previous street name had a tendency to stick. He had to get the rest of his associates to start calling him ‘Mad’, and when he was threatening a pub landlord, or club owner, he would say things like, “Tell them Mad Eddie was here.” After a year or so, his new name was widely adopted, and his reputation secured. He now moved on to the next stage of his plan. Taking over the gang.
He wondered why he had ever been worried. It was simplicity itself. Most of the blokes might have been older, and they were all certainly tougher, and more experienced. But they weren’t bright. There was a tendency to fight amongst themselves, and a childish spitefulness that had to be seen to be believed. They had jealousies; worrying about who had more money, or a better jam-jar, or whose bird was better looking. Eddie put it to them that he could organise things. They would have a proper manor, a defined field of operations. regular collections, cash in their pockets, and he would expand into the lucrative market of bent fags and booze. They wouldn’t even have to hijack the shipments. Just straighten up the drivers with some dosh, give them a few smacks for the sake of appearances, and drive off with the stuff. “Leave it all to me boys,” Eddie told them. And they did. Very soon, they acknowledged him as the leader, hardly noticing when the change happened. That was when the good times started.
Eddie took up with Janet that same year. She was three years older than him, and he had seen her hanging around the pubs with her mates. He asked around, showing interest. Nobody seemed to have a handle on her though. Some said her bloke was doing a big stretch, others that she had been married, and her husband was dead somehow. They couldn’t name anyone who had ever been out with her, and the only thing that everyone knew for sure was that she worked in Peek Frean’s biscuit factory, in Bermondsey. One night in the Tigers’s Head, he wandered over, and asked if she wanted a drink. He liked her short skirt, and bobbed hair, and didn’t mind that she wore glasses. Janet was excited to be chatted up by a known villain, a local face. Eddie soon found out that the truth about her was very normal. She lived with her mum and dad in Dockhead, and never had a boyfriend in the nick, or a husband who had been killed. He took her home that night, driving up to her flats in his new Rover P5, with its purring straight six engine. She kissed him in the car, and when she got indoors, told her mum that she had been brought home in a limousine. After that, they were a couple.
Eddie couldn’t help feeling that he was missing out though. The lads had no conversation, as most of them had never done nothing but crime. Janet was nice enough, and she adored him, but after the sex, he didn’t want to talk about the latest records, or her new clothes. He also regretted moving her into his new flat in Forest Hill. It had great views across from the top floor, and he had the latest G-Plan furniture, but she filled it with knick-knacks, girly bits and bobs. She had no taste, that was the problem. But she never forgot her roots, and kept the place nice, as well as always having food on the table whenever he got home. She even learned to drive, and he bought her a mini. Not an everyday one though, a posh one, a Wolseley Hornet. She didn’t have to work at the biscuit factory anymore either, not with the money he was bringing in.
And life was starting to get a lot more difficult too. His success had attracted the attention of the big gangs, and they had started to make noises about ‘including’ Eddie’s gang in their operations. It looked like a takeover was on the cards, and that would be bad news for him. They wanted in on all of it. The girls in Streatham and Balham, the gambling in Brockley and Ladywell, and the machines all over. If he wanted to stay in one piece, he was going to have to walk away from all that, and start working for a living. He would reinvent himself, and his gang, and they would become armed robbers.
Eddie walked over to the metal chest at the back. He fished around in it for a while, finally standing up holding his Sten, and two hand grenades. Behind him, the two Phils gave each other a knowing look. Eddie let out a deep sigh. “Get tooled up, boys,” he told them. “We’re paying Jackie a visit.” 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. Eddie placed the Sten on the floor between his feet. The thing was, it wasn’t about the guns, and not about the money they were worth either. It wasn’t even about the fact that weeks of work on the blag had all gone out of the window, and the inside man might not be on that run again for months. It was about taking the piss, and not showing respect. He had known Jackie for years, and yet the bastard thought he could swift his shooters, and balls up his job. He must think I’m getting soft, thought Eddie.
Jackie was sitting in the shabby office at the back of his car lot in Downham. He was thinking about how much he hated gangsters, and asking himself for the umpteenth time why he ever allowed himself to get involved with them in the first place. They pretended to be your mate, they acted like you were part of their set-up, but they just took the piss out of you, showed you no respect. Well this time, he had bit back, got one over on them. It wasn’t about the guns, far from it. He was just fed up with being fed up, and tired of being used.
Jackie Jam-Jar wasn’t even a Jackie, or a Jack. He wasn’t even Jack Rose, the name on his sign fronting Downham Way. He was Jacob Rosenberg, and he lived a respectable life, at least as far as his family, friends, and neighbours were concerned. He had been born in Vienna, where his parents ran one of the most respected tailoring shops in a good area. But then Hitler had come to power in Germany, and everyone knew that Austria would be next. He was sent to live with his aunt in London, in the affluent district of Golders Green, where she had a shop selling ladies undergarments. He didn’t hear from mum and dad after that. When he was old enough to understand, Aunt Ada told him that they had probably died in the camps.
He did well at school, and went to Technical College, where he became interested in engines, and the cars that they went in. He got a job at Ford’s in Dagenham, working in the technical development office. Aunt Ada found him clean rooms with a Jewish family in Wanstead. It was there that he met Hester, a cousin of the family, from south London. They decided the pair would be a good match, and a marriage was arranged. Aunt Ada was pleased, and gave Jacob the money to set up his own car company. He found some cheap land with a workshop in Downham, and began with a grand idea, to build his own brand of sports car. But Hester wanted a house, and it had to be somewhere nice, like Bromley. Then she got pregnant, and the money was going fast. After little Anthony was born, Hester wanted only the best, so Jacob had to become Jack, and start selling cars, instead of inventing new ones. He was soon approached by dodgy types, asking for cars that had no history, or bringing him ones that did. This was easy money though, and it was regular too.
Now Anthony was at university, hoping to become a barrister. Hester had declined to have more children. She always said that she had a bad time with her first, and didn’t want to go through that again. Aunt Ada was long dead, and Jacob had become Jackie Jam-Jar, everyone’s friend, living a lie. Hester wanted little more out of life than new furniture, and to talk about the family car company to her posh friends. If only she knew. If only they all knew. There was her brother Terence of course. He was never mentioned. He had been adopted in a moment of madness, before they knew they were expecting Hester. When he turned out to be a monster, they disowned him. But Jackie kept in touch, and kept an eye on his daughter, Carol. The least he could do, with Terry in for fifteen. He lit a cigar, and sat back in the collapsing chair. The shit would hit the fan, he was sure of that. And he had stopped caring. He was sure of that too.
When the cars drove into the yard, Jackie knew. He opened the drawer of his desk and took out the Luger pistol he kept there, laying it across his lap. Angel was in the doorway. “They’re here Jackie,” he stated the obvious. His tone was flat, disinterested. He walked off into the workshop, no doubt to give Tony The Tooth and Pale Ashton the heads-up. In his mind’s eye, Jackie had imagined the scene. Eddie would arrive heavy, shout a lot, threaten him and the boys. Short Phil might wave his bolt-cutters about, and Bangs might even show off his Thompson. But the stuff was long gone, not to be found in his place, anywhere. And he would deny it all, blame Tubby, and tell Eddie to do his worst, but it wasn’t him. They need me, he told himself. Where else would they get the motors and vans they needed all the time? Eddie would have to take this one on the chin, whatever he thought he knew.
But that day, things didn’t work out quite as smoothly as he had anticipated. For once, Mad Eddie was really mad, and he was already planning where to get his motors in future.
Angel had grabbed the twelve-bore from the boot of the Zodiac in the workshop. Tony The Tooth put his Colt .45 automatic in his inside coat pocket, and even Pale Ashton tooled up, getting the old Webley from the red tool box in the corner. Just in case. But the best laid plans…You know the rest.
Eddie started firing the Sten before he had even cleared the top step into Jackie’s office. Poor old Jam-Jar didn’t have time to pick up the Luger. He looked at the holes in his belly, the blood already soaking his shirt. It didn’t hurt yet. The shock would have to wear off first. Bangs got out of the other car, firing short bursts with the Thompson at the thin walls of the workshop. Tony gave a yell, and fell over backwards. Angel glanced at him, and saw he wasn’t moving. He poked the barrels of the shotgun through the small doorway, and fired them both, more in panic than with care. Bangs was surprised to find himself on his back. He couldn’t stand up, and suddenly felt very cold. Angel had managed what all those Italians and Germans had never been able to. But in his panic, he had fired both shells, and forgotten to reload. As Bald Norman approached the door, pointing a pistol at his face, Angel pointlessly pulled the triggers on two empty chambers, just before the .38 soft nose bullet entered his head.
Pale Ashton had never been so scared, but he was no coward. He ran out of the back door, and around the side, until he was behind the office. As Eddie walked back down the steps, Ashton shot him in the back, twice. The smart man fell onto his face, and didn’t move. Ashton thought about shooting him again, but then something hit him hard in the side, and he fell as well. He looked up, and saw one of the cars reversing at speed, back out of the entrance into the road. The other car was now empty; doors open, engine running. He thought he could perhaps get into it, and make his escape, so started to crawl towards it. But Bald Norman had other ideas. His first shot had been a fluke from that range, so he was closing the gap for a second try. Pale Ashton realised he was never going to make it. He turned awkwardly, and fired the remaining four rounds at the man approaching him. Norman fired back as he walked forward, but suddenly found himself kneeling on the floor, wondering why he wasn’t upright. The black bloke was dead for sure, but Norman didn’t feel that good either. He guessed it must be something to do with the hole in his shoulder, then his face hit the tarmac.
They got the story in time for the evening papers. It was meaty stuff, sure to sell out the edition.
‘CARNAGE IN DOWNHAM. SEVEN DEAD IN SHOOT-OUT’ The banner headline was repeated on the flyers by the news-stands.
Edna always got a paper on her way home. Although no names were mentioned, a photo of the scene was published, the bodies covered over with sheets or something. She recognised the car, the one with its doors open. It was Eddie’s car, no mistake. She felt sick, as if she was going to pass out. She held onto a wall in Rye Lane, and a lady came up to her. “You alright dear?” She asked.
Janet didn’t find out until the six-o-clock news on the telly that night. She hadn’t been worried, as Eddie was rarely home before seven anyway. She started to cry, and she wasn’t sure if she would ever stop. In Bromley, Hester was watching something different, when the doorbell rang. There were two men in raincoats, and a policewoman in uniform. She showed them in, and when they told her, the scream she let out made them all jump. Carol got a phone call. He mumbled something about Angel, and told her to watch the news.
She didn’t cry at first. She had always expected this.