Quite an evening, eh Dave? Between
us weve solved the Middle East problem, picked the England team for the
next Test, decided to sack most of the Elf nSafety
crowd and changed the Government. Not a bad evenings work, eh? Lets go
local for a change. Its annual Fete time again next month and I hear the
committee has asked Lady Kingsley-Leverton is to open it. I know shes a
newcomer but it looks like a decent choice, People seem to like what
theyve seen of her so far.
I never missed a show when I lived
here, Mike, but dont expect I can make it for the big day. The opening
thing was always done by Triverton, our MP back then. Wrong party but a good
man I always thought. Cant comment on the woman as I dont know her.
Ill give you a call the next time Im coming this way and you can
buy me a pint or three. Cheers for now, Mike.
* * *
This is Murphys shop then,
love? Where they take in letters for people to collect?
When she replied the girls
accent was a mix of Irish with an overlay of Birmingham.
Its me das shop.
His name is Sean Murphy and his name is up there if youd care to read it.
If you can read that is.
Yes, I can and you
dont spell chips like that. Go on, leave it. Nobodyll notice the
added comma. It looks fine. So your dad takes post then for people? Like Mrs.
The pretty young woman with the
paintbrush in her hand paused and looked down, clearly not comfortable even on
the second step of the wobbly folding ladder, Well, so you can read, but,
for the record cleverclogs I do know about apostrophes and things
but my Da doesnt and its his shop and he pays my wages, so
thats why I spell the way I do. As for Mrs Johnson, Im not supposed
to discuss customers with anyone else.
But yes. There is a Mrs. Johnson.
She collects money for her charity. Da thinks shes wonderful for what she
does. He thinks shes like Mother Teresa.
There is something I want to talk
to her about. We have a matter to discuss and I prefer to do it face to face. I
expect she picks up her letters and stuff regularly, does she? So when would
she be coming here next then?
Sorry, Im not allowed to
tell you anything about her. Its what we call a House Rule. Though I will
say that tomorrow is the first Thursday of the month and she always comes here
then in the middle of the morning, regular as clockwork. You could try
then. I didnt tell you that though, remember.
You dont like her, though,
do you? Dont worry. Nobodyll find out anything from me. If we see
each other tomorrow we havent met before....right? Im Pete.
And you are?.....Bernadette. Somehow I feel sure well meet again, and it
wont be by chance next time. Goodbye for now Bernadette and thank
you for what you didnt tell me. Bye then. He winked as he
Bernadette looked again at the freshly
painted lettering on the window, then folded her ladder and went into the shop.
From the doorway she watched the man until he was out of sight. As she
responded to her fathers call she had a half-smile on her
* * *
Thank you Mr. Murphy. God willing
I shall see you again in a months time. Goodbye. The woman walked
out of the shop, ignoring Bernadette who was holding open the door for
her. She looked around carefully when she was on the street, then with
the confidence of knowing exactly where she was going, turned left and round
the corner towards the city centre.
The shopkeeper turned to his daughter.
That Mrs. Johnson there is such a lovely lady. Every month she comes in
rain or shine, it makes no difference. And all for a good cause. Kind
people send her money and she comes here to collect it for her poor orphaned
children. And anyone can see how poor she is herself dressing like that. I
think most of what shes wearing came from a Charity Shop. Dye
remember that she came in and had to dry her feet her shoes leaked so badly.
And it must be so hard for her walking with her stick and that poorly leg of
hers. Truly a saint among women that one. And, you know, if anyone asks about
her she doesnt want me to say anything not as if I know anything
to tell them. She should be in the Honours List for what she does. I think
Ill have a word with Father ORourke about that when I see him at
Mass on Sunday.
* * *
Five minutes or so later, Mrs. Johnson,
turned off the busy road on to a narrow lane one-way lane made gloomier by the
tall buildings on each side. On the left there was a grey door marked Hotel
Staff only. After a casual look back the way she had come, the woman went
through the heavy door, letting it clang to behind her. The white van slowed
enough for the driver to see what he apparently wanted to see before he carried
on to the end of the alley and joined the busy traffic.
* * *
Later that morning the receptionist on
duty watched as the elegant, immaculately dressed woman headed towards her.
Good morning, Mrs. De Vere. I trust you enjoyed your stay? I have your
account ready here for you. And we have the same room reserved for you for next
month as usual. Ben here will find you a taxi now thats if
youre quite ready. Mr. Scribbens our Duty Manager
unfortunately has been called out, otherwise Im sure he would have been
here to see you off. He often says what a delight it is for us here in the
hotel to have someone such as yourself choosing to come back regularly. We feel
The porter popped his head through the
door. Your taxi is here for you, madam. He came inside,
picked up her two suitcases, went out again and waited outside on the pavement.
Bye my dear were Mrs. De Veres only words as she
You know Ben, Id have to
work here for months to earn enough to buy that Louis Viutton luggage she has.
And as for those shoes....
She may be loaded but she
doesnt even give me a thank you never mind a decent
tip. And we both know how much it costs just for a short stay in a posh place
like this. Miserable old cow. OK, I know Scribbens isnt here, Dont
worry, Ill be a lot more careful when he is.
* * *
It was their second date of the week.
Pete felt it was time to let Bernadette know of his intentions.
now, Bernie, I havent been quite honest about your Mrs. Johnson. Now
weve got to know each other a bit better, I think I can tell you what
its all about. When you know the story you might agree to help. Just read
this letter for starters.
He handed Bernadette a single sheet of
paper. It was a photocopy of a letter. Originally handwritten in a scrawl that
sloped away to the bottom right hand corner of the sheet, undated and with no
I know who you are and enough about you
to get you into big trouble with the Tax Man. He would be delighted to add your
name to his list of Tax Avoiders who have been caught and punished. At the very
least you will be expected to repay all the unpaid tax since you started your
little fiddle, with a substantial financial penalty charge added. Whether you
will go to prison as well is up to the magistrate, but they do take a hard line
on Tax-dodgers these days.
There is a simple way round this for
you. If you want me to keep our little secret, all you need to do is send me
some money. I think that £100 would be a fair amount. This is a sum that
I feels still will leave you with enough of your undeclared income free for you
to spend as you wish. You will realise that I am talking of a monthly payment,
and, in cash, of course. Just send the payments to Murphys Convenience
Store, Van Vollenhoven Street, Birmingham in a package marked Personal.
For Mrs. Johnson. Mr. Murphy at the store doesnt know anything
about my business or me, so its no good asking him questions.
I look forward to hearing from you
soon at the start of a mutually profitable business
Freda Johnson (Mrs).
Bernadette looked up enquiringly but
OK. Now you know why I wanted to
meet that woman. When the letter arrived that I was livid. I genuinely do try
to be honest where I can. Old fashioned point of view, maybe, but I happen to
believe in taxation and that everyone should pay their fair whack into the
kitty. I want to sort her out and stop her little game.
Having met her I can see how she
would send a letter like that to someone. But why you?
What I think she does, and
its only a theory, mind, is find as many tradesmen painters
like me, joiners, handymen, electricians and the like by picking up
business cards whenever and wherever she sees em, looks in local papers
for ads and watches out for handbills, that sort of thing. My card has my home
phone number on it so Im easy to trace. When she has a home number she
either looks in the phone book or online. After all, when she hoovers up all
these details and sends out all her letters she only needs a small percentage
to fall for it and cough up the money.
So its just blackmail
Yes, and with your help I think we
might teach her a lesson. I reckon if you twisted your fathers arm
hed give you a bit of time off? Probably on a couple of Thursdays? And
your scooter would come in useful in my little plan. What dye reckon to
this for an idea then?
* * *
The loud knocking was unexpected and
with a little snort her doze ended. Pausing in the hallway, she looked in the
ornate mirror, and satisfied with her appearance, opened the door.
Good morning Mrs. Johnson. We
havent met. You can call me Mr. Smith John Smith. I must say, I
didnt expect you to open your own front door. Is it the maids day
off then? We have some unfinished business to sort out. Lets talk inside,
The man brushed past her, and inside the
house went through an open door and found a comfortable armchair. She followed
him without a word.
Mrs. Johnson and dont
even think about denying who you are. Ive seen you dressed up and dressed
down. Ive seen you at work in Birmingham and Ive now seen you here
in your home. Tracking you down was a piece of cake. Just some help from a
couple of associates to follow you from Murphys shop, to that nice hotel,
the change of outfit, New Street station and here we are. Youre not as
clever as you think.
"Thats the end of the social chat.
To business. Some people on your little shopping list would be really pleased
to find out who you are and where you can be found. Valuable information that.
Worth a few bob to anyone who knows how to use it. In the letter you sent me
you used the phrase substantial financial penalty. Nice phrase
very apt I thought. But Ill simply call what I want
expenses. So lets go to your money box upstairs or wherever
it is and you give me a nice even thousand. Cash, of course. Then I shall go
away. I may even go out of your life for good. Or perhaps not. Only time will
tell. And by the way, I see you seem to have lost that very bad limp you had
when I saw you previously. Congratulations.
* * *
A few minutes later Mr. Smith left the
house. The first words Mrs. Johnson had spoken since her visitor
arrived were on the telephone to ask for Mr. Adams in person and No, Mr.
Layton would not do. If Mr. Adams wanted her future business he should call her
immediately in person.
* * *
Massive talking point in the
village since you were here last Dave, You remember we talked about our local
celebrity who was booked to open the fete this year? Well, Lady Rosemary seems
to have gone AWOL. One day you see her, next day shes gone. Adams the
agents already have a For Sale sign up at the Manor House and there are all
sorts of rumours. The fact is nobody knows where she is and what
its all about. Weird, isnt
Not to me Mike. I saw the woman
when I was leaving and recognised her. Ill go on record now in making a
prediction. That youll never see your titled lady again and even if you
went through all Google and every copy of Whos Who you wouldnt find
any trace of her alleged husband, Kingsley-Leverton. If Im wrong bet you
never need to buy me a beer again theyll be on me.
What you will find is the name
Maxie Wolfson. He was one of the next generation of London gang bosses after
the Krays. He was a really nasty piece of work witnesses refusing to
give evidence, that sort of thing. A few unproven murders to his name
apparently. Dont forget I was a young copper in the Met way back, and
thats how I know. .
And Lady Rosemary? She was Rosie
Klein till she married Wolfson. Loved dressing up apparently and did a bit on
the stage now and then. The sort of woman they used to call a
gangsters moll. Shell have gone for good now and youre
well rid of her. Its your shout, I think.
* * *
You were alright while I was out
then, Bern? Nothing you couldnt handle then?
"No, nothing at all, da. But you
wont see your nice Mrs. Johnson again in the shop. She phoned and said
shes very grateful for your help in what she does, but some family matter
or something means she wont be coming again. Shes arranging
for someone else a man apparently to call in future to pick up
any post for her. Starting this week, she said."