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Pirates of Fleet Street Chapters 7 and 8

CHAPTER 7 

Road Trip 

Strike Week 3 Monday March 17 

CHERYL was so busy sorting mail, counting change and marking up her ledger that she didn’t really notice the arrival of Vincent X until he failed to thump the camera bag and flash pack on her desk. 

When she eventually dragged her eyes upward it was not a pretty sight before her. 

There was no chirpy cockney chappie, full of the optimism of youth. There was no budding entrepreneur. 

“Mornin’, Cher,” he mumbled. “Sorry I’m late.” 

“Blimey, Vincent, what ’appened to you? Look like you’ve bin up all night.” 

“Don’t ask, don’t ask,” he groaned. 

“Out ’avin’ a few with your ‘transport team’, were you? The ‘free stooges’; notice they ’aven’t shown up yet either. Lucky someone’s ’ere on time, that’s all. Look at this lot.” 

She pointed at a stack of assorted letters and packets. 

“All walk-ins just this mornin’, an’ it’s only, what, ’alf-past nine?” 

“Yeah, that’s great Cher, great. You’re a diamond.” 

He slumped into his chair under the window. 

Cheryl went on. 

“The vicar was in again – you know him; that one who sends a letter to Nigeria or somewhere every week?” 

“Oh, good, yeah ...”
“Funny really, though. I suppose you are sending my letters, he says, 

(she put on her ‘posh’ voice) because I haven’t received a reply so far.” 36 

Vincent was distracted, but made an attempt at polite interest. 

“What did you say, Cher?” 

“Well, I ‘fort ’e was ’aving a laugh, didn’t I? So I says, ‘No, course we ain’t; they all go in there at the end of the day.” 

She pointed at the tiny open fireplace. 

“Then I see ’e’s all serious like – quite shocked!” 

“Bloody customers ... that’s all I need today. So I ’ope you explained?” 

“Course I did: I asked ’im, ‘You do know there’s a strike on Vicar? ’e looked a bit puzzled though, even then. We can send ’em; but no-one can get letters back, not until this GPO strike finishes, I told ’im.” 

“P’raps ’e finks we’re proper postmen!” laughed Vincent. 

It was a decidedly sardonic laugh though. 

“I s’pose we couldn’t, could we ... you know ...?” 

“What, deliver letters? Do leave off, Cher. ’aven’t I got enough on me plate wiv this bleedin’ newspaper lark?” 

“I thought you was ’appy about that, ‘the big-time’; we was all gonna be rich?” 

“Yeah, well that’s what should ’appen, but bloody staff, you can’t rely on no-one ...” 

“‘Oi, d’you mind ...” she snapped. 

“No, no, not you love, you’re a diamond; it’s my ‘transport team’ ennit?” 

“How did I guess? Alright, what’s ’appened Vince?” 

“Only get a call Saturday mornin’, don’t I, from Smiffy. ’im and Elfie an’ Len bin nicked, drivin’ a bleedin’ Post Office van down the road to Dover!” 

“You are kiddin’!” 

“Wish I was, Cher. When Elfie said ’e ’ad a mate who’d lend him a van, I thought ’andsome, that’ll do’. Didn’t know ’e meant the geezer at the depot who services all the Post Office transport, did I?” 

“He didn’t think to mention that little bit of vital information? No? There’s a surprise,” said Cheryl, punctuating the remark with one of her most contemptuous sniffs. 

“So there they are, poodlin’ quietly down the Dover Road when some plod spots ’em,” said Vince. “Even the Old Bill know there’s a strike on. They ain’t completely stupid, some of ’em.” 

“So are they in prison, or what?” 

“No, but they’ll bloody wish they were when I see ’em, bunch of pillocks ...” 

“How did they get away wiv it then?” 

“Well, Smiffy called up one of ’is half a dozen brain cells and tells the copper they’re just road-testin’, maintenance like, from the depot. Thought it’d be nice to ’ave a bit of drive in the country, officer, ’e says. 

“Lucky the copper didn’t look in the back, that’s all. Might ’ave wondered why there was two ’n’ ’alf thousand Amurikan newspapers in them boxes.” 

“An’ that big rucksack full of letters ... though I s’pose ’e might ’ave fort they were just left over when the strike started?” 

“Anyway, Cher, we’re stuffed. Elfie’s bottled it now. Doesn’t wanna know. I’ve spent all the weekend tryin’ to get another driver, and a van. None of the transport companies are interested, scared of the unions if they carry blackleg post. Even rentin’ a car or van ain’t easy, if you tell ’em you want to go abroad wiv it. Not that I can drive anyway.” 

“Where’s all the stuff then, Vincent? I ’ope they ’aven’t left it in the Post Office’s van?” 

“No, even they ain’t that stupid. They dumped it all back at Colin’s. ’is mum won’t be ’appy, I tell you. Five tea-chests in the corridor of a council flat ...” 

“An’ my rucksack,” said Cheryl. 

“Right, Cher; I’ve gotta get it out of there an’ quick-like. Some of them papers are already well out of date, an’ they ain’t gettin’ any younger.” 

CHAPTER 8 

Van to the rescue 

Strike Week 3 Monday March 17 

“WE must know someone, surely? Someone with wheels, who ’as a bit of common sense?” pondered the great postal 

entrepreneur. 

“Who’s ’onest; got time on ’is ’ands ...” said Cheryl 

“Out of work you mean ...” said Vince. 

“Yeah,” agreed Cheryl. “An’ who’s ’onest ...” 

“Don’t mind bein’ called a scab ...” 

“An’ don’t want an arm an’ a leg for ’is trouble.” 

They stared at the ceiling. 

“It’s ’opeless,” said Vincent. “I’m goin’ to the pub.” 

“Oh yeah, go on. P’raps Les is doin’ nuffink; ’e might fancy a day off, drivin’ to France. ’e only ’as a pub to run,” sniffed Cheryl. 

She pushed the letters tray aside, rummaged in her handbag for a hankie and came up with a slightly dog-eared business card. 

It was inscribed THE Van MAN.
“Hold on a minute, Vince, hold on,” she called. “Come back a minute; I’ve got an idea.” 

Cheryl’s post run to the Continent with her pink backpack stuffed full of letters was no picnic, never mind Vince’s suggestion that it had been one big jolly. 

Even on the train down to Dover it was obvious that plenty of companies had given their office juniors the firms’ essential overseas mail and a ticket to ride. Paid overtime, a trip to France, duty-free booze – the kids couldn’t believe their luck! Some of them were pissed before they reached the port. Cheryl thanked her lucky stars she was booked on the half-hour hovercraft trip and wouldn’t be sharing the much longer car-ferry voyage with them. 

She found the corner of a cabin furthest from the bar and kept her head down. What would it be like on the way back with this lot, after they’d got through even more duty-free? 

In Calais, outside the nearest post office to the port, Cheryl and her shipmates swelled the raucous crowd that was trying to form a ragged queue. Cheryl hovered to one side, trying to keep her distance from the drunks and looking for any other way up to the front doors. 

“Then all of a sudden, this bloke turns up,” she said to Vincent, handing him the card. 

“Can I help you, love? I’m going in myself, he says. Well, I fort, what’s ’is game? But ’e looked quite respectable an’ ’e was obviously Inglsh, and not drunk, which was rare that day, I can tell you. 

“You look like you can’t make your mind up, he says. 

“Oh, well, yeah see I want to get in there and post all these letters, I says, but all this mob, looks like they’re just ’ere to have a party. Don’t much fancy gettin’ through that lot. 

“Right, says this man, well let’s see, eh?” 

At that point the stranger politely took Cheryl’s arm, hefted her backpack onto his shoulder and pushed a path through what was, in fact, a fairly amiable crowd. 

At the doors a harassed older lady in post-office uniform was doing her best to channel the Inglsh onslaught into a semblance of order. In half-reasonable schoolboy French, Cheryl’s escort informed the lady that he was a Diplomate Britannique avec une missive très importante pour le YEC. 

“Blimey, lucky you can speak French,” Cheryl marvelled, as the post-office door was held open and they were pointed towards the manager’s office. 

“If in doubt, just use the Inglsh words and lay the accent on a bit thick,” he grinned. “And smile; people like that.” 

“Well, next thing I know a secretary gives me a chair to sit on and wait, while she takes this bloke in to see the post office manager,” Cheryl told Vincent. 

“I do have to get this thing registered though, so hang on here and then we’ll see about your letters, the bloke says.” 

“Well, who was ’e then,” asked Vincent, “an’ what about this card? What’s that got to do with it?” 

“That’s the point, Vincent, that’s the card ’e gave me later.”
“So this geezer’s name is,” he squinted at the crumpled card, 

“Evagoras Giannakopoulos?”
“Yeah,” said Cheryl. “Bleedin’ mouthful, ennit? So he calls himself  just Van; the Van Man, see, on the other side?” 

“So you think ’e might ’ave a van an’ be interested in takin’ our stuff over to France, then Cher?” 

“Well, ’e was so nice an’ ’elpful. It was chaos at the counter in that post office. I could see all these drunk kids tryin’ to buy stamps, usin’ Inglsh money, most of ’em. Then when they’d got ’em, the stamps, they’re sittin’ on the floor stickin’ ’em on. The staff were tryin’ to get the kids out of the way so more could get in. That poor bleedin’ post office didn’t know wot ’ad ’it it! 

“Then the door opens and this Van is there, all smiles, shakin’ ’ands wiv some other bloke who I suppose must ’ave bin the manager. Give us your letters, Van says to me, and ’e passes them to a young post office bloke who disappears behind the counter. 

“So what was all that about bein’ a diplomat then, I asked ’im. An’ what’s ’appenin to my letters now? 

“Don’t worry, ’e says, this Van. I’ve arranged to have them franked; I think that’s it. Means you don’t ’ave to buy stamps. Next thing, the clerk comes back and gives me a receipt and I paid him a few quid, not much, I think it was cheaper than stamps an’ all. 

“So are you really a diplomat, I asks ’im, this Van, an’ ’e says, no, an’ gives me that card. Seems he brought a couple of bottles of port wiv ’im on the ’ovvercraft, to slip to the manager like. Plus, ’e bought some spirits as well. 

“See, it says something on the back of the card, company name or suvvink; Port to Port.” 

“No wonder ’e got the treatment,” said Vincent. “Sounds like me, pretty shrewd, eh?” 

Port to Port’s transport manager was simply enjoying a day out of the office when he met Cheryl in Calais. Evagoras Giannakopoulos – Van – was carrying documents to France to mail to one of the company’s many agents in Portchergl. This was very unusual because, in general, the company’s practice was to commit as little as possible to paper, lest it show up as evidence in some unthinkable future litigation. 

In fact, prior to setting up Port to Port, company founder Jacob Lossit had made a small fortune by ‘losing’ such evidence on behalf of major companies, governments and similarly evil entities. Lossit and his partner, Erasmus Blankenberg the third, originally recruited Van to deliver sensitive secret documents to Lossit’s secure establishment at HtnmWytht, in County Cant. 

The secrets business became secondary once the partners secured the exclusive rights to import port into the D-UK. By keeping quiet about the nefarious methods that Lossit and his government mates used to shoehorn Inglnd into the YEC – and then take over the port industry – the Van Man was elevated to partner. 

*See NO WAY TO HtnmWytht for the full story. 

So, although it was unfortunate that some things had to be confirmed in writing, this was one of those times. The registered packet Van posted in Calais to a local Port to Port agent was to be deposited in a bank strong box. It contained bonds bearing the name of a minor, but influential local union controller in Portchergl. It was sleazy and distasteful, but, as Blankenberg gleefully reminded him, ‘that’s business, my boy’. 

Meeting Cheryl and doing his good deed for the day made Van a little less uneasy about his mission. And it really was a pleasure to spend some time out of company headquarters in the Berm-onSea Tea and Coffee Exchange. On the return trip to Dover Van helped Cheryl fight the throng at the bar and buy some duty-free drinks – Scotch for dad and Tia Maria for mum. Then, so she could avoid the train, he offered her a lift back to Lundn. When she saw the car waiting at Dover it was the icing on the cake. The streetwise cockney girl was starry-eyed. 

“A Rolls-Royce, Vincent!” 

“You what, a Roller? You’re kiddin’ me.” 

“No, ’onest. It was a real old one though. ’e called it the Phantom. Drove me all the way ’ome, right to the door.” 

“Fancied ’im then did ya?” 

“Noo, ’e was old, must be at least 30. 

“Still, ’e was a gentleman,” she said wistfully. “Not many of them about.” 

“Well, whatever ’e is, why would a geezer who’s got a Rolls-Royce, an’ a good regular job by the sound of it, want to get involved with our mail? Answer me that,” scoffed Vincent. 

“Well as a matter of fact I think ’e might. Be interested I mean. When I asked why ’e was doing it, goin’ to France wiv just one letter, ’im being a director an’ all – ’e said ’e was a bit bored. Made a nice change, ’e said, an’ ‘the old Phantom likes goin out for a run’ he says. 

“So when I told ’im what we’re doin’, makin’ a business out of the strike, ’e was quite impressed.” 

“Well, p’raps ’e would take our stuff, if he just fancies a trip or two,” mused Vincent. “Is it big, this Phantom?” 

“Bleedin’ enormous,” said Cheryl. “Like a shootin’ brake. Big enough to lie down in the back.” 

“Oh yeah, very handy that I expect.” 

“Oh leave off, Vincent. I told you, he’s a gent. Funny, though that car did seem to ’ave a mind of its own. Like it was an automatic or suvvink. ’e didn’t seem to ’ave to drive it much at all.” 

“Of course, leaves ’is ’ands free eh? Very nice that is. What’s ’e look like, then, this knight in shining armour?” 

“More like a pirate than a knight, actually Vincent; great big bushy beard. I think he said he’d been in the navy, once; or twice, I’m sure ’e said. Anyway, good that, eh, us bein’ postal pirates!” 

“No. We ain’t pirates, Cher.” 

He was emphatic. 

“We got a licence. Privateers, we are; I looked it up. Alright I’m desperate enough to try anything. You’re sure you don’t fancy ’im though?” 

“Course not; anyway, what’s it to you?” 

“Me? nuffink, nuffink. Jus’ wondered is all. Gotta look after my staff en’ I?” 

“Oh, like your air ’ostess gel-friend I s’pose ...” 

“I’ve told you, she’s not my gel-friend ...” 

“Yeah, yeah I know.” Sniffs. “Friend of the family.” 

“Don’t start. Well you gonna phone this bloke then? I s’pose he gave you his private number?” 

“Well, there’s a number there.” Cheryl pointed at the card. “You should get some cards printed you know Vince. Businesslike that is.” 

“Yeah yeah. Go on then, give ’im a bell.” 

NEXT INSTALMENT

Pirates of Fleet Street, Chapters 9, 10 and 11

© 2005-2021 Alastair McIntyre