Billy's moves a short story in hypertext Menu 
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  Paul Stephens 2004 www.paulspages.co.uk
Begin

Billy looked in the mirror, and watched himself scratching his head. What a state! He'd only meant to have a couple in the club last night, but then he'd met Chancie and Dave, and one game of snooker had turned into two and then three, and then there'd been a Chinese (at least he thought it was a Chinese - might have been a Malayan), and then they'd gone back to Chancie's and got stuck into the scotch until Chancie's missus had come down and slung them out. God, he felt rough.

It was touch and go as to whether he could stomach coffee, but he managed it, and felt better straight away. Old caffeine veins, that was him; now the life was beginning to come back. The hot water was working, and the blade in his razor was just a couple of days old, so his shave was really smooth. Another cup of coffee, nice and strong. Things were going his way; time to face the world.

Good Move   Bad Move  Surprise Me


Cath

A few reviving bevvies at the club was what Billy really fancied just then, but he decided he'd better go round and square things with Cath instead. This was seeing as how he had, strictly speaking, stood her up in favour of those extra games of snooker (or was it the Malayan?) with Chancie and Dave last night. On the way, he picked up a bunch of flowers from Lennie's stall. They were yesterday's, but they still had plenty of life in them. Lennie kept them specially for his regulars at times like these.

As Billy neared Cath's place, he thought about her. An angel, that's what Cath was. Always there for him, never complained.

"You've got a bleedin' cheek showing your face round here!" said Cath sourly as she opened the door, "And don't think I don't know where you were last night, either. Getting legless with those mates of yours when you were supposed to be meeting me. Half an hour I stood there, feeling like a right brass with everyone staring at me. And if you think you can get round me with a bunch of Lennie's dried-up dahlias, you've got another think coming. So go on, push off back to your snooker club with Chancie and bleedin' Dave. I've had enough of it."

She was obviously a bit upset.

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Chancie

Billy thought he'd best check up on poor Chancie, who'd been on the receiving end of the mother of all tongue-lashings from the lovely Maureen when he'd last seen him at 1.45am. That kind of thing could damage a man's inner equilibrium (he'd read about it in a magazine), and he was concerned for Chancie's welfare. He also felt partly responsible for his suffering, as he'd gone halves with him on the bottle of Scotch.

Approaching Chancie's place, Billy felt a flutter of apprehension. Chancie'd probably come to the door, but on the other hand it might be Mouthy Maureen. She still blamed him for Chancie's bit of bother, and after last night she'd be even less pleased to see him than usual. He would have rung first, but his phone was dead; he'd forgotten to charge it. Nothing for it but to knock.

The door opened. It was Chancie. Phew. "All right, Bill", he said, sticking his head through the narrow gap, "give us a moment, I'll just tell the missus I'm off."

"Off where?" came the voice Billy had last heard in the early hours. "You ain't going nowhere, Chancie, least of all with that waster Billy. Tell him to shove off, or I'll come out there and tell him myself!"

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Amends

"Come on sweetheart, don't be like that", said Billy, putting on his best pleading expression, "OK, I admit it - I was wrong. But this is Billy, ain't it, you know what I'm like. I was going to be there, honest, but then I got playing with the lads and before I knew it it was too late. I'm really sorry, honest I am."

"Yeah, well, you could have phoned." Cath glared at him, standing her ground in the doorway. She wasn't giving in easily.

"My mobile's dead, look!" Billy pulled the phone from his pocket and held the blank screen up for Cath to see. "I'll make it up to you. How about lunch at that swanky Italian in the High Street?". He still had a fifty in his wallet, that should cover it.

He could see her wavering. Time for the kill. "And the pictures afterwards". The fifty'd probably cover that too; if not he could borrow it from her.

"Yeah, well, don't go thinking I'm a pushover. This is your last chance."

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Lies

Billy had to think quickly. Luckily he was good at that.

"I was going to be there, honest sweetheart", he said, putting on his sincerest expression, "but Chancie got arrested, didn't he? The Old Bill marched into the club, bold as brass, and nicked him for some burglary last Sunday night. I had to go down the nick and alibi him. They kept us there for hours."

"You could have phoned." She believed him. One more hurdle and he'd be past the winning post.

"That's it though, ain't it? They don't let you use your mobile in the nick, and since I hadn't been arrested, I wasn't entitled to a free call. I would have called you otherwise, honest!"

Cath looked concerned. At this rate he'd have her making him strong sweet tea to help him get over his nasty experience.

"Funny that", she said, "I never knew they were so fussy about phones in them places."

"What, nicks? Oh yeah, very fussy. Interferes with their radios."

"No", replied Cath, her voice hardening, "Taiwanese restaurants, like the one you and Chancie and Dave were seen coming out of just before midnight. D'you think I was born yesterday? I spoke to Maureen half an hour ago, and Chancie was tucked up in bed, not banged up in the nick."

"He got bail, didn't he?" It was hopeless. He was done for.

"Yeah, and I'm a High Court bleedin' judge. That's it, Billy, I've had enough. Sling your hook, and don't come back. We're finished!"

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Club

Billy could feel a headache coming on, and another earful from a vengeful woman would only make it worse. Thinking quickly (a Billy speciality) he decided that a tactical retreat was the best option. He'd go to the club and wait until things had settled down a bit.

Dave was already there, looking even worse than Billy felt. He hadn't shaved, the dark rings under his eyes seemed to extend halfway down his cheeks, and the eyes themselves had the glazed expression of someone who had not yet fully regained consciousness. Billy had never seen a human being in such an appalling condition, which was saying something considering the company he kept.

"Wotcher Bill." said Dave, keeping his head resolutely still to stop his brain from detaching itself from the inside of his skull, "Good night, wasn't it?"

"Strewth, you look rough," replied Billy, noting the pieces of greenery lodged in Dave's hair, "you sleep in the park or something?"

"Shirley kicked me out", said Dave, allowing himself a small wince as his brain made a bid for detached status, "said not to come back until I'd sobered up."

Married men eh, what could you do with them?

"She's a lovely girl, your Shirley," said Dave, "you want to make sure you treat her right."

"I know," said Dave, "and I'm definitely turning over a new leaf. Fancy a pint?"

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Wait

A pearl though she was, Cath could be a bit unreasonable at times, and when that happened the best thing to to do was to give her time to cool off. The club was the best place to do that, so Billy headed over there. He'd get back in touch with her later, perhaps even make that lunch after all.

Dave was there, looking every bit as rough as the last time Billy had seen him.

"Wotcher Bill." said Dave, giving Billy the full benefit of his semi-toothless grin, "I've been expecting you."

"Strewth, Dave, you don't improve with age, do you?" replied Billy, "you been home yet?"

"Nah," said Dave, wincing slightly, "Shirley's still got the hump about last night. Best to keep out of her way when she's like that."

Married men eh, what could you do with them?

"Like I keep telling you, she's a lovely girl, your Shirley," said Dave, remembering just how lovely Shirley was, "you want to make sure you treat her right."

"I know," said Dave, "and I really am turning over a new leaf. Fancy a pint?"

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Pint

"Yeah, go on then."

He shouldn't really - normally, as an all-action fired-up entrepreneur, Billy never touched alcohol before lunchtime. But today was a special case (as, in fact, had been Monday, Saturday and the Thursday before that). He had a tongue like a well-used jockstrap, and he'd had a row with his missus. What better justification could a man have for a swift medicinal beverage?

Dave came back from the bar, carrying two pints. A quarter of each one had already gone, slopped over the side by Dave's shaky hands.

"Blimey, you got the DTs or something? You've thrown half of it on the carpet!"

"Yeah, well, bit unsteady, ain't I? Gonna have to stay off this stuff for a while. Sort things out with Shirl."

Billy looked at his mate in amazement. Sometimes Dave came out with the daftest things.

"If you're staying off the sauce and sorting it with Shirl, what are you doing here?"

"A man's entitled to a last drink, ain't he?"

There was no arguing with that, thought Billy. But come to think of it, what was he doing here himself? Perhaps he should be back at Cath's, sorting things out with her. But then again, he had something else that needed sorting out too. One thing was certain, sitting here drinking with Dave wasn't going to sort anything.

Billy picked up his half-empty glass and downed its contents in one go.

"Sorry mate, just remembered something I gotta do. Maybe catch you back here later, eh?"

Dave looked up at him, as if only slowly comprehending what he'd said.

"Ain't you staying for another? That was my last gelt."

Billy felt in his pocket. Nothing. He had a fifty in his wallet, but that was needed elsewhere.

"Tell you what, I'll put a couple in for you behind the bar. You stay and enjoy yourself, and I'll see you back here later." Much later.

He'd fix it with Andy the barman on his way out.

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Business

As an all-action fired-up entrepreneur, Billy made it a rule never to get bogged down with drink or women before lunch time. So, much as he'd have liked to stay and enjoy the company, he thought it better to go and see Wilf about that bit of business they had lined up. Chancie had warned him not to get involved with Wilf, who had a reputation for being a right animal when things turned awkward. Billy knew how to handle himself though. Wilf was out of Chancie's league, that was all.

It was a bit of a trek to Wilf's scrapyard, although Billy put the time to good use, fiddling with his phone until magically it came to life again. The battery must have been loose, not flat. He had an instinct when it came to this new technology stuff.

When Billy reached the yard Wilf was nowhere to be seen, although his two Rottweilers were. Luckily they were chained up, and the sound of their barking brought Wilf out from behind an old van.

"Bill." said Wilf. He was a man of few words.

"Wilf." said Billy. When in Rome, as the poet said.

"Come about that business?"

"Yeah. When's it going down?"

"Now's good. Meet me by Lennie's stall. Half an hour."

Now? Billy was a man of action, but he hadn't expected the action to start quite as soon as this.

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Enterprise

Billy was a shrewd judge of situations like these, and knew that Cath needed what the carrot-munchers down at the Community Resource Centre called "anger time." He also knew that it was important to get back in there with a dose of the old Billy charm as soon as the anger time was over, otherwise she might start "focussing on new horizons" and blow him out altogether.

Thinking quickly, he devised a plan that would put him in the right place when anger time ended (which he calculated as roughly 1pm), while leaving him free to pursue his calling as an all-action fired-up entrepreneur in the meantime.

"OK, sweetheart, I can see you're angry and I don't blame you. I'm going to get out of your face right now, give you some space." She loved all that New Age stuff. "Then I'll see you at the posh Italian in the High Street at one o'clock on the dot, for the best slap-up lunch you've ever had. That's a promise. Don't be late." And before she could reply, he was gone.

Cath would be there, he'd bet his last fifty on it. And in the meantime he could go and see Wilf about that bit of business they had lined up. Chancie had warned him not to get involved with Wilf, who had a reputation for being a right animal when things turned awkward. Billy knew how to handle himself though. Wilf was out of Chancie's league, that was all.

It was a bit of a trek to Wilf's scrapyard, although Billy put the time to good use, fiddling with his phone until magically it came to life again. The battery must have been loose, not flat. He had an instinct when it came to this new technology stuff.

When Billy reached the yard Wilf was nowhere to be seen, although his two Rottweilers were. Luckily they were chained up, and the sound of their barking brought Wilf out from behind an old van.

"Bill." said Wilf. He was a man of few words.

"Wilf." said Billy. When in Rome, as the poet said.

"Come about that business?"

"Yeah. When's it going down?"

"Now's good. Meet me by Lennie's stall. Half an hour."

Now? Billy was a man of action, but he hadn't expected the action to start quite as soon as this.

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Decision

On the pavement outside, Billy started having second thoughts. He knew he didn't have long to make up his mind, but luckily quick thinking was a speciality of his.

Cath, his lovely lady, was expecting him to take her out for lunch, as compensation for letting her down on various recent occasions. She would not be pleased if he blew her out yet again. Wilf, on the other hand, was a brutal animal who reputedly took pleasure in breaking the legs of people who let him down. He would not be pleased if Billy wasn't at Lennie's stall.

So, he could take Cath out to lunch and face the wrath of Wilf, or he could do the job with Wilf and face the wrath of Cath.

It was no contest, really.

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Together

Billy looked his watch. OK, so what he'd really rather do for the next hour or so was get a couple of games in at the club. But Cath was his girl, and sometimes (not too often, mind) he knew when to treat her right. This was one of those times.

"Look, it's getting on for lunchtime, so there's no point in me going off anywhere, is there? Why don't I stay here with you, then we can get a cab round the restaurant for one-ish?"

Cath's face lit up. It didn't take much to make her happy, bless her.

"Yeah, all right. You'd better come in then. You'll have to excuse the mess. Britney got all her toys out last night and I ain't had a chance to put them away."

"No problem, darling. Shall I go in the kitchen?"

Mind you, an hour and a half was a bit of a stretch, especially to an all-action fired-up entrepreneur like Billy. He'd have to think of something to pass the time.

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Apart

It was only 11.30. An hour and a half until he'd have to meet Cath at the restaurant. To an all-action fired-up entrepreneur like Billy, that was time that could not be wasted.

"OK then sweetheart, that's a date. I'll see you outside the restaurant at one o'clock sharp. Don't be late."

Cath's face fell.

"Aren't you going to take me there?"

It was strange the things women got upset about.

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Lust

Billy watched Cath as she bent over to pick up Britney's toys in the hall. She was a good looking woman, his Cath, no doubt about it. Good figure, good legs, looked after herself, not like some of the slags on the estate. Get her in the right mood, and she was a real firecracker in bed too. And of course she was in a good mood now, wasn't she?

Billy felt a stirring in his trousers. He knew a good way to pass the hour and a half. He got up from his chair and stealthily made his way into the hall. Pressing himself against her backside, he grabbed hold of her hips, leant forward and whispered gently.

"Tell you what, darling. How about you and me go upstairs for a little rumble, eh? We've just got time to work up an appetite before that slap up lunch I'm going to buy you."

Before he knew it, Cath had pulled free of his grasp and turned to face him, eyes blazing.

"You cheeky sod! Think you can stand me up then come round here and get your afters the next morning? What d'you think I am, a bleedin' Tom?" And before he knew any more, Billy felt a sudden hot sting as she slapped him across the face.

Women - moody cows or what?

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Tenderness

Billy watched Cath as she bent over to pick up Britney's toys in the hall. She was a good looking woman, his Cath, no doubt about it. Good figure, good legs, looked after herself, not like some of the slags on the estate. Get her in the right mood, and she was a real firecracker in bed too. And of course she was in a good mood now, wasn't she?

But now wasn't the time. His mission was to get back into Cath's good books, and he wouldn't do that by suggesting a pre-lunchtime quickie. Instead he called out to her, "I'll pick them things up for you, sweetheart. You come in here and have a sit down."

Cath's face lit up again. She was such a sweet soul.

"Yeah? Thanks Billy. Just put 'em in the big box under the stairs. I'll put the kettle on, shall I?"

"Smashing. Strong coffee please - you know me, old caffeine veins."

"Yeah, I do." She gave him a coy smile as she brushed past him. Plenty of action later, if that look was anything to go by.

"Oh, tell you what though, can I plug my phone into your charger? The world must be going spare, not being able to get through to me."

Cath laughed at the Billyism. He was such a big-headed git. Lovable though.

"Yeah, course. It's by the toaster."

Billy plugged the phone in, switched it on and went back into the hall. He'd just picked up the first toy when he heard his ringtone, Tom Jones' "Sex Bomb", coming from the kitchen.

He picked up the phone. Wilf calling. He hoped Cath hadn't seen that. He'd have taken the phone outside, but it would have died without the charger. Turning to face Cath, so he could see what she was doing, he pressed the Answer button.

"Billy? That bit of business, it's going off. Meet me by Lennie's, half an hour."

Billy's throat went dry. He'd forgotten about the bit of business he and Wilf had lined up. Now Wilf was expecting him, and crossing Wilf wasn't a good idea.

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Going off

Half an hour later Billy was standing by Lennie's flower stall, trying to look nonchalant despite the "you're on a job, ain'tcha?" looks that Lennie kept giving him. Wilf was late. Another two minutes, and Billy was off. No, make that one minute. The idea of doing a job with Wilf seemed less attractive by the second.

Just as Billy was about to go, a big blue car pulled up. A Jag - nice one, Wilf, don't go using anything too obvious, will you?  The passenger window slid down. "Get in", said a voice. Too late to back out now.

As the car sped off, Wilf gestured to a cloth bag on the back seat.

"The shooters are in there. Sawn-offs. Take your pick."

Billy stared at Wilf, open-mouthed. Shooters? No-one had said anything about shooters.

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Action

Billy thought quickly, a speciality of his. A bit of business was one thing, shooters were something else altogether. The law was coming down hard on 'em - even with his little bit of form he'd be looking at eight to ten if they were caught.

But on the other hand, this was his chance to move up a division, join the ranks of the serious faces who got respect at the club whenever they walked in. And anyway, Wilf would break his legs if he let him down now, so he didn't have a lot of choice.

Billy lifted the edge of the bag, and looked at the two sawn-off shotguns laid neatly inside it.

"They loaded?"

"What do you think?"

The job was a bookies, a small independent without all the fancy security gear the big firms had. No need for a wheelman, Wilf had said; they'd leave the car round the corner, unlocked, be in and out in two minutes, less people to share the cash with. Some might have called that tactical genius, others proof that there was no wheelman left crazy enough to go on a job with Wilf. Either way, it was too late to worry about it now.

At the last moment Billy thought about the lunch he was supposed to be taking Cath out for at the swanky Italian in the High Street. It was only round the corner; he might still make it. If he was late he'd have plenty of cash to spend on her. It'd work out.

The two men pulled their balaclavas down over their heads, snapped their shotguns closed, took deep breaths and burst in through the door of the bookies. Suddenly it was all noise and action; Wilf shouting at the top of his voice for everyone to get down on the floor, Billy doing the same, women screaming, a couple of fat businessmen looking as if they were going to wet themselves (or worse), the old lags just doing as they were told and keeping their heads down. Billy saw the cashier hit the panic button, and Wilf push his shotgun in her face, shouting at her to empty the till into the cloth bag. Then he saw the owner come out of his office, and Wilf turn the gun on him, and the man still coming, and Wilf, the crazy, mad bastard, letting him have it straight in the face, the nastiest, bloodiest thing he'd ever seen, and never wanted to see again, not as long as he lived.

And then there was more noise, other men shouting. Men in black uniforms, with helmets and visors and flak jackets and evil-looking rifles pointed at him, shouting at him to drop the weapon and get down on the floor. And Wilf turning to face them, one barrel left in his shooter, ready to let them have it too, and the loud crack! and the neat round hole in Wilf's forehead that started oozing blood as he went down, shotgun dropping onto the floor beside him.

And then his arms being pulled tight behind him as the cuffs went on, and his face being pushed into the floor and a pair of shoes, brown, not black like the uniforms, and a voice he recognised coming from above him.

"Well, well, hello Billy. Bit out of our league, aren't we? Or were you the only one left stupid enough to go on a job with mad Wilf? Either way, son, you're in big trouble. Looking at ten, I'd say, fifteen if the judge is having a bad day. Take him away."

It looked like lunch with Cath was going to have to wait, possibly for quite a long time.

AN END

 

Resolve

Never had Billy's speciality, quick thinking, been more important to him than now. He looked at Cath, then at the phone. Then he pressed the "End call" button, moved his thumb over to the on/off switch and held it there until the display went blank.

"Who was that?" said Cath, turning from the sink, kettle in hand. She was beautiful, his Cath. All she wanted was for him to treat her right and be reliable. He'd been a fool to mess her around like he had.

"No-one, love, just a wrong number. I'll get them toys picked up. Make that coffee strong, won't you?"

There'd be a price to pay for letting Wilf down. But like they said in the makeup ads, his Cath was worth it.

Good Move   Bad Move   Surprise Me

 

Lunch

Billy and Cath crossed the pavement to the restaurant. She linked her arm in his, and nestled close to him as they walked.

"I love this place, Billy. 'Ere, d'you think we'll be able to go to Italy one day, sit in the sun eating pasta and drinking wine?"

"Course we will, sweetheart, real soon too. I'll take you wherever you want to go." He felt quite romantic.

Carlo knew him; they played snooker together at the club sometimes. He gave them the best table in the house "for my good friend Billy and his beautiful Signorina." Cath did look beautiful; she scrubbed up really well, no doubt about it, and this was only lunchtime.

Billy squared it with Carlo to owe him anything his fifty wouldn't cover, banking on being able to win it back on the snooker table anyway. Carlo wouldn't mind, it was like a tuition fee. He told Cath to order whatever she wanted, and when she insisted on just a lasagne, he ordered a 25 bottle of wine to wash it down. She was his girl, she was going to have a taste of the high life whether she wanted it or not.

They reached their coffees. The meal had been lovely. Billy had insisted on Cognacs to finish off with, the proper stuff that was goodness knows how many years old. The bill would be pushing eighty, but that didn't matter. His beautiful Cath, he was doing right by her.

"Everything all right, sweetheart?" He stroked her hand across the table.

"Perfect. Just perfect."

"So am I forgiven then?" Pushing his luck a bit, but the meal had gone well.

"Yeah, you're forgiven. In fact you can let me down again if it means we can come back here. It's been really lovely. Thank you."

"We can come back here any time you like, but I ain't going to let you down again, Cath. I've been a bit of a pillock in the past, like last night in fact. But it's going to be different, I promise."

Cath smiled, the knowing smile of a woman who'd seen plenty of Billys in her time.

"Yeah well, we'll see, shall we? Right now though you're in my good books. Britney won't be back from her Nan's until five, so if you'd like to come back to my place, we could..."

In his inside jacket pocket, Billy's phone rang. Grimacing, he told Cath he'd switch it off, but she smiled and said it was OK, go ahead and take it.

Billy looked at the display. Chancie calling.

"Chancie? What's up? I'm a bit busy at the moment mate, but..."

"Dave's been nicked. On some job with Wilf, daft git, the bookies off the high street. Andy reckons Wilf came in the club looking for muscle and grabbed him. Anyway, they had shooters, and Wilf let one off, killed the owner they reckon, only the next thing they know there's armed response crawling all over the place. Wilf fronts up to 'em and they shoot 'im, stone cold dead, just like that. Now they're throwing the book at Dave. That Wilf was a mad bastard, I told Dave to steer clear, like I told you. You were lucky Wilf didn't grab you, mate - Dave'll go down for ten this time, minimum. Fancy a pint? I could do with one, I can tell you."

Billy looked across the table at Cath. She smiled again.

He knew a good move when he saw one.

"No mate, sorry, I've got something important on this afternoon. Till at least five, probably all evening. I'll give you a bell, yeah? Cheers."

He took Cath's hand again, and looked into her eyes.

"Now what was that about your place?"

AN END


Escape

Billy thought quickly, a speciality of his. A bit of business was one thing, shooters were something else altogether. The law was coming down hard on 'em - even with his bit of form he'd be looking at eight to ten if they were caught. Chancie was right - Wilf was a mad bastard, and likely to take him down with him.

As the Jag slowed for a red traffic light, Billy saw his chance. As it stopped, he grabbed the door handle in one hand, released his seat belt with the other and, with, a hurried "Sorry Wilf, got another engagement", was out of the car, over the pedestrian railing and hot-footing it through the shopping arcade. For the moment he was safe; there was no way Wilf was going to abandon a stolen Jag with two shooters on the back seat to come after him. Come after him he would though, no doubt about it, but he'd worry about that later.

Perhaps he should take Cath for lunch in the swanky Italian after all. Cath was a good girl; he didn't want to lose her. He really should go, especially as he might be relying on her to bring him grapes in hospital after Wilf caught up with him. On the other hand, perhaps it would be better to go back to the club, have a couple of bevvies to calm his nerves, and have Chancie and Dave there to back him up when Wilf came calling.

Good Move   Bad Move   Surprise Me

News

By the time Billy reached the club Wilf had already been there, which was roughly what he'd intended when he'd hung around the arcade for half an hour. Dave was gone, but Chancie was at the bar.

"Wilf was here, in a right evil temper. I'd keep out his way, if I were you."

"Yeah, I will. What was he after?"

"Dunno."

So Chancie didn't know about the job. Good.

"But he went over and said something to Dave, then him and Dave went off. In a bit of a hurry, by the look of it."

Billy froze, hand still reaching for his wallet and the fifty inside it.

"Dave? But Dave must have been.."

"...still half cut from last night, yeah. He'd have had to have been to go trolling off with that mad bastard Wilf."

"Yeah," said Billy, "mad bastard, that Wilf." Now he was worried.

Chancie looked at him inquisitively. That was the trouble with Chancie, he could read you like a book.

"You wouldn't know anything about what Wilf was up to, would you?"

Billy had quickly recovered his composure. He was good at that.

"Search me, mate. He's a law unto himself, that Wilf, ain't he? "

"Yeah, he is." Chancie didn't look entirely convinced.

They were on their seconds - games and pints - when Mickey Clarke burst into the room.

"'Ere, have you heard?"

Neither Billy nor Chancie was impressed by Mickey's urgency. He was a prat.

"Heard what, Mickey? Go on, son, spit it out." Billy loved playing the senior face.

"The bookies off the High Street. Two blokes done it with shooters, only Old Bill was round the corner with shooters of their own. Turned into a right bloodbath, two of 'em brought out dead. Only the thing is," Mickey paused for effect, lengthening his moment of glory, "I 'eard someone saying that one of the dead blokes was Mad Wilf, and his mate was Dave."

Billy and Chancie were paying attention now. Both stared in horror at Mickey.

"Dave's dead?" said Chancie, dropping his cue onto the table.

"No, nicked. The other dead bloke was the bookie, old Tom Harris. Wilf must have let him have it. Miserable git, he was, never let me have any..."

Neither Billy nor Chancie were listening to Mickey any more. Game forgotten, they slumped into chairs at the side of the room and sat staring into space. Eventually, Chancie spoke.

"There's something you ain't telling me, ain't there Billy?"

"Dunno what you're on about."

"I could see it in your face, earlier on. This was your job, wasn't it - yours and Wilf's?"

"Nah, dunno nothing about it."

"I ain't thick, Bill. Wilf comes in like he's looking for someone, grabs Dave and hauls him off. Ten minutes later you turn up looking all shifty, and when I tell you about Dave, you look even shiftier. What happened, you bottle it?"

"Dave didn't have to go, did he?"

"You set it up. You should 'ave seen it through, not let Wilf drag Dave in on it. He was too pissed to know what he was doing. Now his kiddies ain't going to have their dad around to see 'em grow up, are they?"

"No, I suppose they ain't," said Billy, shamefaced.

Chancie looked at him, something alarmingly close to contempt on his face. "Sometimes, Billy," he said, "you can be a real tosser." And with that he got up, drained his glass, and walked out of the club.

An hour or so later Billy was at the bar, alone, when he heard the door behind him creak open. He turned round; perhaps it was Chancie come back to put things right. But instead it was Carlo, the waiter from the swanky Italian restaurant he'd been supposed to - shit! He'd forgotten all about Cath and taking her there for lunch. Now there'd be more trouble.

"Hello, Billy", said Carlo, less cheerfully than usual. Perhaps he'd heard about Wilf and Dave too.

"All right, Carlo?", Billy replied, "fancy a pint?"

"No, no thank you. I'm not here for a drink. Your young lady, Cathy, was at the restaurant this lunch time. She said she was expecting you. She was very upset that you did not arrive. I had to calm her with brandy."

"Yeah, well, crossed wires there mate," said Billy, thinking quickly, "cos I was supposed to be meeting her tomorrow. She must have got her dates mixed up. Women, eh, can't remember anything. Thanks for giving her the brandy though - and I'll pay you for it, of course." Billy reached for his wallet. He must have at least forty left, that should cover it even if she'd got legless on the posh stuff. "And I'll pop round and see her this afternoon, make sure she's OK. 'Ere, have you heard about Wilf and Dave?"

Carlo looked at him with an expression worryingly like the one Chancie had had when he left.

"Yes, I heard. A bad business."

"Yeah well, Wilf was a mad bastard. Don't know why Dave got mixed up with him. How much do I owe you for the brandy?"

"Nothing. It was a good turn. For Cathy. But she asked me to give you a message."

"Yeah? What is it?"

"She says that this was your last chance, she has had enough. She doesn't want to see you again. Also, please not to call her. Sorry, Billy."

Billy watched Carlo leave. Dave was nicked. Chancie had walked out on him. Cath had dumped him. Sometimes, however hard you tried, nothing seemed to go right.

AN END