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Pirates of Fleet Street: Final Instalment

CHAPTER 38 

The Blankenberg Papers 

Strike Week 6 Thursday April 11 (am) 

VAN’S calls late on Wednesday night left his partners in no doubt as to the seriousness of the business that must be urgently discussed. He refused to speak of it by telephone except to point out that it concerned ‘a recent transaction’. Only a face-to-face meeting would suffice. 

He also demanded they meet at the Tea and Coffee Exchange offices first thing in the morning, before Blanko’s wage-slaves, or even Gladys, appeared for the day. 

Blanko’s office felt even less hospitable than usual when the partners convened at 7am. Van had boiled some water to melt the indescribably awful coffee powder he found in Gladys’ scullery and offered mugs of it, black, to his extremely grumpy partners. 

“What’s this all about, young man,” asked Jacob testily. 

He was unused to being up and about town at such an hour. Not so ‘Young’ Mr Blankenberg, as Gladys still addressed her employer and one-time swain. While he was no longer ‘about town’ at any time of day or night, Blanko was accustomed to waking early. 

At his time of life he didn’t sleep much on any night. His confidants were few, all fellow-members of Gouts, and they might have been surprised to learn the old man’s positive attitude to aging. If you were aging it was a good thing, he believed, because it meant you weren’t dead yet. Blanko had never shared this insight with the other Goutsmen because he doubted they would appreciate its philosophical subtlety. 

He was no less testy than Jacob though, and waving away the dreadful coffee that had once been his company’s stock in trade, set off to the pantry in search of the port. 

“Morning, Jacob,” replied Van cheerily. “Ah, not for me, thanks Blanko,” and he waved away the port bottle. “Later perhaps, if we’re still talking to each other?” 

“I think you had both better sit down.” 

“Which transaction were you referring to, on the phone, Van,” asked Blanko, settling into his swivel chair and reaching for a slightly murky tumbler. 

“Oh, I bet you could guess, if you racked your brains. What about you, Jacob, eh? Don’t you think a figure like four million pounds would leap to mind?” asked Van. 

“Especially if it was four million pounds of government money? Ring a bell? Government money, quietly channelled through god knows where before ending up with a little import business based ... oh, what a surprise ... in the Lundn Tea and Coffee Exchange ... and oh, that’s a coincidence ... in this very room!” 

“What are you talking about, Van,” snorted Blanko. “Nonsense.” 

He poured himself some port. 

“Er, I think I’ll have some of that too, Blanko,” said Jacob. “Hair of the dog, and all that, eh?” 

His hand trembled a little as he accepted the drink. 

“That money came from one of Jacob’s old clients, fellow in the Cayman Islands, or Bermuda or somewhere, wasn’t it Jacob?” queried Blanko. 

Jacob said nothing. 

“Oh, well you haven’t read the papers then Blanko?” asked Van. “Otherwise you would know that ...” 

“Papers,” Jacob burst out. “Papers, you mean it’s in the papers, what, when ...?” 

“Calm down mate, I don’t mean the newspapers. Not yet anyway,” Van said, soothingly. “Though I’m sure it would make a great story; might do one day. I reckon it would bring down the government, don’t you? 

“No, I’m talking about the papers the pair of you bunged into Blanko’s safe down in Fleet Street yesterday.” 

Vincent X would always think of their adventure as The Blankenberg Papers caper. Of course he wouldn’t use such amateurish patter around Minkie, who had slipped away discreetly into the night several hundred pounds richer than when he’d arrived. 

From start to finish Minkie wouldn’t allow his clients into the Blankenberg office. Once they had made photocopies of The Blankenberg Papers, it was Minkie who went back downstairs, placed the copies in the safe, helped himself to Blanko’s cash hoard and locked everything up again. As he wore surgical gloves throughout the ‘caper’ fingerprints were no problem. Even though Van was confident this burglary would never be reported, and it was extremely unlikely they had left any traces of their visit, Minkie scuffed up Blanko’s filthy carpet as he left, just in case the old Bill came looking for footprints in the dust. 

Blanko’s accumulated rental cash had mounted up nicely. A nice little earner, Minkie had said. 

“Ol’ Mister Blankenberg’s gonna go spare when he opens that safe an’ finds ’is rent money’s all gone,” giggled Cheryl. “I’d love to see ’is face.” 

She thought for a moment, and changed her mind:
“Then again, p’raps not. The shock could kill ’im.”
“Don’t worry about that, Cheryl,” Van assured her. “He’ll have a 

lot more than a few quid to worry about. And it won’t be a shock, because first thing tomorrow I’ll tell him all about it.” 

“I don’t get it, mate,” said Vincent. “We go to all this malarkey and then you’re gonna tell them we done it? You’re kiddin’, ain’t yer? Tell me you’re kiddin’!” 

“Don’t you worry either, Vince. Blanko and Jacob won’t know who did what, believe me. But when they see we’ve got this lot,” he pointed at a bundle of documents, and a large birthday card, “all they’ll be thinking about is how to stay out of the nick. 

“Cheryl, could you make another load of photocopies for me please? And Vince, tomorrow morning, you take these originals to the bank and stick them in a safe-deposit box.” 

“Government money handed to a trade union to keep it out on strike? You couldn’t make it up! Any halfway decent reporter would dig and dig and find out who did it, who was behind it, and why? It’s obvious there must be even more to a story like that.” 

Van slapped a large brown envelope onto Blanko’s roll-top desk. 

“And of course, all the answers are in that lot.” 

Jacob rounded the desk and snatched up the packet, tearing it open in his haste. 

“Don’t panic, mate, take your time. They’re just copies,” laughed Van. “Oh yes, and there’s another set in your safe, Blanko. The originals are somewhere safe; lot more secure than they were in that antique of yours in Fleet Street.’ 

Jacob’s head was in his hands. 

“I have to hand it to you, Jacob. That lark with the birthday card, conning the Prime Minister with it, no less.” 

“Yes, well he’s not too bright,” mumbled Jacob. 

“I presume your old partner in crime came up with the idea?” 

“Straith? Yes. It just happened he had a birthday coming up anyway. So Sir Shane had all the cabinet sign a big card.” 

Niglet deliberately left the PM until last and cornered him just before he was rushing off to his country place for an absorbing weekend’s marrowing. A carbon paper stuck underneath the card copied the PM’s scrawl onto a letter – a letter which would give a certain security printing business the rights to print all the billions of new pound notes for the Yoorupian Economic Community. It was outrageous, but no more so than the Cabinet’s turning a blind eye to Straith’s scheme to extend the post office strike as a cover-up for introduction of decimalisation. 

That was covered in the incriminating letter too. It intimated that awarding the printing privilege was a reward to the company’s principals for ‘outstanding service to the Crown in judicious use of Treasury funds to settle an industrial situation which if left unchecked might have destroyed the nation.’ 

Most of the other paperwork concerned an innocuous-sounding company, LNT Security Holdings, incorporated in Grand Cayman, BWI. 

The PM’s signature was an obvious copy and would never stand scrutiny in court. But Trewth and Niglet knew it would never come to that; partly because it would transpire that, although he was blissfully unaware of the fact, the Prime Minister was a shareholder in LNT Security Holdings. 

“All right, Van, what do you want?” asked Jacob resignedly. 

“Want? I don’t want a thing,” replied Van. “What do you think I should ask for? Shares in your latest dodgy company? That’s all I need, to get even deeper into the muck with you and Straith Trewth. 

“What you can give me though, is an explanation. I daresay poor old Blanko is still in the dark too?” 

He looked towards the senior partner. He was never easy to read. Locating his eyes among the deep-etched lines of age was a challenge at the best of times. Now it was hard to tell if he was dozing, or cogitating. 

“I didn’t want to bother you with the details, old chap,” Jacob said to the old man. He sounded nervous, thought Van. 

“Now’s a good time for some details perhaps, Jacob?” put in Van. “You’ve dragged us both into what has all the makings of a national scandal. Another national scandal, that is.” 

He didn’t have to say more. The only reason the three were sitting there was because of the phony postal ballot that had propelled Inglnd into the YEC and brought their very profitable import-export business into existence. 

“Alright, alright, I’ll tell you as much as I’m allowed ...” Jacob began. 

“Uh-uh, Jacob. We’ve heard that line before,” interrupted Van. 

Blanko grunted assent. He is awake then, Van concluded. 

“You’ll give us the full grisly story, right now. And if for one minute I think you’re lying, or holding back a single, dirty fact I’m straight on the blower to the Press.” 

Boiled down, Jacob’s story was relatively simple. It started way back when Straith Trewth, and Gouts, and the ruling Hang ’em and Flog ’em party conspired to dis-unite Britain, and unite Inglnd with Yoorup. They did so for entirely mercenary reasons with the long-term dream of controlling the whole continent, one way or another. 

It was inevitable, claimed Straith, that the YEC would end up with a common currency, and if Inglnd’s grand plan was to succeed that common currency had to be solid, reliable sterling. 

Inglnd would rule Yoorup with the pound! 

First though, the pound would have to go decimal. 

Slipping that change past the great unwashed public (including, unfortunately, the Skoots, Irish and the mob formerly known as Wailsh) wouldn’t be easy. That’s why Straith engineered the great national postal strike, and then stoked up fears of a catastrophic general strike that would permanently cripple the nation. While everyone either looked the other way or was checking for reds under the bed, the decimal pound was introduced without a whimper. 

“So you see chaps, it was all done for the very best of reasons, good of the nation and all that. Very patriotic fellow, Straith,” Jacob concluded. “I know the methods seem a little, er, underhand perhaps, but in the long run, it’s our country that benefits most. 

“You see? You do see, don’t you?” he asked hopefully. 

Blanko gave another grunt. 

“OK Jacob, you had your chance. Pass me that bloody old phone, please Blanko,” he pointed at the ancient candlestick implement, one of the first installed back in the days of Blanko’s grandad. 

“Er, what are you doing, Van,” asked Jacob urgently. “Who are you phoning ...?” 

“I told you Jacob, full disclosure or nothing. It’s only fair to give all the papers an even go, so, Press Association first, I think ...” 

“No, no Van, wait please! What else can I say ...?” 

Van slipped the earpiece back on its hook. 

“Stop insulting our intelligence Jacob. One last go, full story, right? Tell us about LTN.” 

“Oh yes, of course, of course, I overlooked that didn’t I,” he blustered. 

“Well you see, Straith promised the Chancellor that there would be a little, er, bonus for certain people ...” he paused as Van reached for the candlestick again. “I mean for Straith and Sir Shane, of course, and er, me. As recompense for all our hard work, you understand, keeping the strike going, and so on.” 

“And that ‘little recompense’ is?” 

“We print all the pound notes for Yoorup,” Jacob finally blurted out. “And the fivers; and tenners; all the banknotes in fact.” 

There was silence. Blanko broke it. 

“We are going into the printing business now, Jacob?” asked Blanko. He sounded incredulous. 

“Don’t kid yourself, partner,” said Van. “I think our part in this was all over once we passed that dodgy four million through our bank account. Am I right, Jacob, partner?” 

“Ah well, you see chaps, it’s not really my show; Straith, you know, and Sir Shane, it’s all them really. They only brought me in, because, well, they ...” 

“Needed a shady, unscrupulous, duplicitous git who would do anything, including conning his own business partners, for a suck at the government tit,” said Van. 

He sounds somewhat bitter, thought Jacob. 

“Well you could put it like that. I can see how some people might look at it like that,” agreed Jacob. 

“So are you going into the printing business, Jacob?” asked Blanko innocently. 

“Ah no, old chap; definitely not. No need for that, all that investment in buildings, printing equipment, ink and so on. Very messy stuff, ink. 

“You see, this letter signed by the Prime Minister, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer I might add, gives LTN Security Holdings the right to do the printing. It will be an enormous task. Billions of banknotes I should imagine. 

“We, I mean LTN, will have to allocate the work out to specialist companies, oversee the whole thing of course ...” 

“And take your large slice off the top for doing sweet F.A., right?” added Van. 

“Absolutely, my boy,” Jacob beamed. Mental images of wheelbarrows full of banknotes trundled through his mind, driving away the images of doom and disaster that had temporarily overwhelmed him. 

“Once again, you see, nobody loses. You do see that, don’t you? 

“One day Yoorup will have a common currency. Britain is bound to join in of course, to ensure that the currency they all use will be the pound. And when it happens, LTN will be in charge of all the printing!” 


CHAPTER 39 

What’s in it for Us? 

Strike Week 6 Thursday April 11 (noon) 

“DON’T like to say ‘I told y’so; but I told y’so!” announced Vincent X to his team assembled in what they all considered 

their ‘downstairs office’, the Cheshire Cheese front bar. 

In their upstairs office Van had filled Vincent and Cheryl in on the nefarious reasoning behind the whole post office strike con-job. 

“I fink ’e’s right, for once, Van,” agreed Cheryl, sipping daintily at a pint jug of shandy. The pub had run low on finer glasses because the front bar was a lot busier than it had been for some weeks. 

“Oy, wojja mean, ‘for once’?” 

Vincent was affronted. 

“OK, big head, I was agreeing with you; for once,” she shot back. “Van, I can’t see that your mates’ confession makes any difference to us, now. 

“Except, of course, we ain’t likely to get our collars felt for that little job on the first floor. Can’t see ole Mr Blankenberg kicking up a fuss about that, knowing what we know.” 

“Yes, well Cheryl, still best to keep that adventure to ourselves, eh?” said Van, looking around the bar. “We are in the middle of Fleet Street. Lot of flapping ears round here.” 

The trio sipped in silent contemplation for a while. 

“How did ’e take it though, you know, about the rent money going missing?” whispered Vincent. 

“Didn’t get around to that part, as a matter of fact,” Vince said Van. “We’d been talking about millions and ...” he dropped his voice to match Vincent’s “and the biggest government con-job since the South Sea Bubble, so it didn’t seem worth mentioning.” 

“South Sea ... wot?” asked Cheryl. 

“Ah, bit before our time,” said Van. “That was a real scam, hundreds of years ago. Millions were lost and the government covered it up. Of course, only the little people lost. The top villains always get away with it.” 

A bit more silent contemplation ensued. Each was thinking of life after the postal strike that had dominated their lives for the past few weeks. The reverie was only broken when Vincent spotted that Les was free and hollered for more drinks. 

“Nice bloke though, wasn’t ’e, that Minkie?” said Cheryl. “A real gentleman, eh?” 

“Very tidy worker,” agreed Van.
“Professional, that’s what he is,” said Vincent X. “Much like meself.” “Talkin’ of professionals, any chance of some decent, professional 

service round ’ere, Les?”
Les pushed two pints of Marstons across the counter and raised an 

eyebrow to Cheryl.
“No fanks, Les, I’ve ’ardly touched this lot. Not used to pints. You’re 

busy in ’ere again though, eh? You must be pleased?”
“Dead right, luv. We’ve had a bit of a result. Tell you in a minute,” and he bustled off to serve another party that had squeezed into the front bar. 

Les and Bill’s luck had changed that very morning with the unexpected arrival of a coach-load of hungry, thirsty tourists. Their driver had pulled up outside Aunties and found the place locked and barred. The courier thumped on the side door to no avail and then using her initiative announced to the grumpy visitors that due to unforeseen circumstances there would be a slight change to the day’s programme. Instead of the world’s worst pub, beer, food and publican the party would be delivered to one of London’s finest ‘olde worlde’ public houses, where the food, drinks and hospitality were, in complete contrast to those of Aunties, some of the finest in the land. 

The courier scurried back up Dorset Rise, through Salisbury Square and across Fleet Street to alert the Cheese that three dozen slightly disgruntled customers were about to head that way. Unfortunately the driver was unfamiliar with the backstreets of EC4. She turned right along Tudor Street and right again up Bouverie Street. This has become a perfectly acceptable route in modern times because the national newspapers have all moved away. But in the 1970s articulated lorries carrying enormous rolls of newsprint habitually blocked the narrow one-way streets that climbed up to Fleet Street. Craning their loads up into the machine rooms could take up to an hour and while cars might squeeze past, coaches could not. The distraught female courier finally had to lead her charges up Bouverie, across the main road and into Wine Office Court like a crocodile of over-age schoolkids. 

“Time that lot arrived they were well fed-up,” laughed Les. “Lucky for us some of them were Dutchies, actually liked real beer, so then it got a bit jolly. They persuaded the rest to have a taste. It’s a bit like that, you know, when everything’s gone wrong, and you make the best of it?” 

“Making a virtue out of necessity?” asked Dickie Dix, helpfully. “Yeah, whatever you say, Dick,” agreed Les.
The bar had quietened a little. Most of the tourists had dispersed 

around the pub’s restaurants. A few were taking the ‘Doctor Johnson sawdust’ tour with Andy the potman. 

“Did you find out what happened to Auntie’s, Les,” asked Vincent. 

“Well, matter of fact, I think I can guess,” replied Les. “I reckon we have you to thank for it, Cher!” 

“Me? What have I done,” she asked. 

“Remember that bottle of beer you brought back from your trip down to Cant? And you told me not to open it? Well, I did.” 

Occasionally pubs are visited by weights and measures inspectors. It’s rare, because there are so many pubs, and so few inspectors. In true cockney style, Les and Bill had made a mate of the inspector, one Harry Harris, whose central Lundn beat extended out to cover the Fleet Street area. 

“Harry ’arris called in, just for a drink really, though he can mark it up as a business call, see, ’im being an inspector for the weights and measures? Well, he spotted that bottle, which I’d stuck up on the shelf over there.” 

He pointed to the collection of mugs, jugs, lost property and other paraphernalia that inevitably winds up behind pub bars and sits there gathering dust until someone gets fed up with cleaning ’round it and has a good sort out. 

“Well, one thing leads to another and I tell Harry about Van saying that it come from that pub that’s supposed to have the worst guv’nor in Britain.” 

“I can guarantee that,” put in Van. “The bloke’s bad enough, but his beer is undrinkable.” 

“Yeah Van, I told Harry that. He said he was gonna find out if any of his colleagues had ever done a check-up down there. 

“So I say, never mind about that son, this geezer – Hangnail ennit? – he’s moved onto your patch, over at Aunties! 

“as ’e, indeed, says Harry. Let’s ’ave a butchers at that bottle. So I took the top off, and bleedin’ hell, what a stink!” 

“So what happened, Les, did you ’ave a taste,” asked Vincent. 

“You’re joking! We stuck the top back on quick and Harry takes it away with him. He reckoned it had to be unfit for human consumption and he was going to see a mate in the ministry of health or something. 

“Next thing I heard, Aunties is shut. So I reckon ole Harry’s done us a right favour – and it’s all down to you Cheryl!” 

“That calls for a celebration, eh?” suggested Van. “Have you got any champagne on ice, Les?” 

“Ooh yes, I like that,” said Cheryl. “The bubbles go right ...” 

“Up your nose?” asked Dickie Dix. “Yes, I’ve heard that can happen. Not for me, thankyou, Les,” he added, raising a hand. “Mustn’t mix the grape and the grain, very dangerous you know.” 

“What, Dick, but you ain’t ... oh, yeah, give ’im a scotch, Les.” 

The crew raised their glasses. 

“Cheers, all,” said Les. “Let’s hope that’s the last we ’ear of bloody Septic pubs.” 

“Don’t be so sure, mate,” said Dickie. “That woman is bloody unstoppable. And I heard that her proprietors are financing her. The verminous Weasels; you know, those bastards had the audacity to sack me once, few years back?” 

“What was that for then, Dickie,” asked Cheryl, and then sneezed delicately as the champagne did its thing. 

“Nothing at all really ... coming in late ... well, three days late as I recall. Everybody used to do it. Used to be a lot of drinking going on in those days. Not like now.” 

“Well if that’s right, about them Weasels puttin’ up the money, that puts the kibosh on it,” said Vincent. 

“What d’you mean, Vince, not another one of your brilliant ideas,” giggled Cheryl. 

“Er ... yes ... sort of,” he said hesitantly. “It was something I wanted to ask you, Cher.” 

“Wot?” 

“Well, it sort of involves you, see. An’ me, o’course.” 

The group went quiet. Cheryl just stared. 

“Aoh,” was all she could manage. 

The blokes shuffled their feet. Finally, unable to bear the silence any longer, Dickie Dix growled: “Go on, ask her you pillock.” 

“Wot, you mean ... but we ’aven’t even gone out, or anything ... honest,” blurted Cheryl, scanning the group, who were all desperately looking anywhere but at Vincent X and Cheryl. 

All of a sudden the contents of their glasses, or the sawdust on the floor, or the old black rafters were sources of intense fascination. 

“Alright, alright,” blurted Vincent. “What I’ve bin meaning to ask you, Cher, is ’ow d’you fancy running a pub?” 

“I still don’t see why Cheryl slung that glass of champagne at ’im,” said Les after summoning Andy to sweep up the broken glass and soggy sawdust. “That was the good stuff an’ all.” 

“Well that’s women for you,” said Dickie. “Perhaps she didn’t like it after all. She did say the bubbles got up her nose.” 

“I don’t think it was the bubbles that got up her nose,” said Van. “Well, what did I say, then?” asked Vincent. 

“Have a think about it mate. If you haven’t worked it out by tomorrow I’ll give you a clue. Anyway, from what you were saying before you so delicately stuck your foot in your mouth, I assume that buying out Lil and Frank is no longer an option?” 

“That’s right, not if the Septic firm’s after the place. If she hadn’t stormed out like that, I was gonna suggest that we put the profits from the post business into buying the Cobblers from Lil.” 

“How much do you reckon you’ll have, Vince,” asked Les. 

“Only about five grand, give or take,” he said. 

“Is that all? No chance mate, gettin’ a free ’ouse for that!” 

“I know, I know. Just thought, go to the bank, get a loan and pay it off in a couple of years ...” 

Another silence ensued, and then Van asked:
“How much do you think Lil would take for the place, Vince?” 


CHAPTER 40 

Blackmail 

Monday April 22 

On Friday April 19, after seven weeks of contrived chaos the D-UK’s great postal strike had wound up. Van made his final run to Calais, promising Louis Lamouche that he would be back to celebrate Bastille Day at the post office. 

IT WAS odds-against Vincent X taking over his favourite local from the moment Elphaba Hardboyl and her business partner, Septimus ‘Septic’ Hangnail moved on the Lundn pub trade. 

Aunties was always a short-term proposition, good for publicity and not much else. Even the ‘worst beer’ gimmick’ was expendable. The long-term plan was to make proper, drinkable beer and stock a few bottles of the ‘worst beer in the world’ just for the mug tourists to take away as souvenirs. 

Complications mounted as soon as the odious duo acquired and reopened Aunties. The logistics of brewing Septic’s filthy concoctions down at the Cantish Men, in County Cant, and transporting barrels up to Lundn proved daunting. It wasn’t that the beer didn’t travel well. If anything, a good shake-up along the rutted track that leads from HtnmWytht up to the Lundn/Cantering Highway improved it. The beer was still vile but it had a bit of fizz. 

The Health Ministry raid on their little Fleet Street venture was only a minor setback for Elphaba, but the shockwave was momentous for the Cantish Men. 

The men from the ministry courageously condemned and seized the entire home-made beer stock of HtnmWytht’s sole pub. 

The village was dazed and dry – but for only a couple of days. Forty- eight hours after the calamity it was business as usual, because, as usual, the Wimmin came to the rescue. Gorgy, her sisters, and several of the other females who really kept the village ticking swiftly took on the brewing role in the Cantish Men cellar. The Wimmin knew that without some beer, no matter how bad, and a place in which to drink it the men of HtnmWytht would stumble about the place like headless chickens. 

The Wimmin’s first brew was nothing special. ‘Ordinary’ would be a fair description and though it was drunk far too young, the beer was a massive improvement on the usual Cantish Men offering. ‘Wimmin’s Ale’ was enthusiastically welcomed by the villagers who all agreed that, while awful, it was still better than Septic’s best. There was even a rumour that the Wimmin had put some hops in their mixture. 

In Lundn, Elphaba was more demanding. She had plans for a chain of Septic pubs and to start she needed one with a cellar big enough for brewing. Backed by the dastardly Weasel Brothers she could afford a freehold pub and one conveniently located to serve central Lundn – such as the Cobblers Last, just across the river in south Lundn – would be ideal. 

So it was odds-on that Vincent’s local would become home to the worst beer in Inglnd. 

Vincent X had laid his cards on the table with Lil, but although she had as much time for Elphaba Hardboyl as a dose of the clap, money talks. The ‘stuck-up cow’ wouldn’t last a week in Walworth according to Lil, the way she ‘looks down ’er nose at people’. But that was her problem. 

“Not that she’ll spend much time down ’ere, I s’pose. She’ll ’ave some manager or other in. Good luck to ’im, poor bugger, working for that woman.” 

But Lil and Frank couldn’t knock back a cash offer and, as Les had guessed, Vincent’s five thousand was nowhere near the mark. 

“I even offered to give ’em a share, you know, regular cash dividend,” he told Van. “No chance. Not that they don’t trust me, o’course. Just that the pub game is unpredictable, Lil says. And she should know, the fiddles she’s been workin’ over the years. So they’re goin’ to take the bleedin’ offer; I reckon we’d need twenty grand to change ’er mind.” 

“I don’t suppose, the local bank ...?” asked Van. 209 

“I did ask, as a matter of fact,” replied Vincent. “He’s not a bad bloke, that manager, and our account ’as bin pretty ’ealthy for a few weeks now. He didn’t exactly laugh and kick me out, but he said without some collateral, or guarantors, forget it!” 

An hour later, Van had convened a man-to-man meeting with Jacob Lossit in the back of the Phantom. Parked behind the loading dock of the Tea and Coffee Exchange, it was the most secure location in Lundn, Van assured Jacob. 

It was also where Van had perpetrated his previous piece of blackmail. This time the windows of the Phantom provided an excellent view across the Tems to the Tower of Lundn. Contemplating the infamous prison where so many supposed ‘enemies of the Crown’ breathed their last might concentrate Jacob’s mind, thought Van. 

“At our last meeting, Jacob, you asked what I wanted, do you remember? And I said ‘nothing’ or words to that effect. Well, having thought about that very kind offer, I think there is something you might be able to help me with.” 

Jacob Lossit groaned quietly. 

“Don’t worry, it’s nothing much; not to well-set up characters like you and your mates in the government.” 

The favour he needed wasn’t even for Van himself, but for ‘a close friend’, he explained. It would cost Jacob and his friends a trifling amount, just a small, short-term loan in effect. 

The proposition was subtle. 

Shareholders of LTN had simply to open a small cheque account at the same bank branch used by Vincent X for his LPS business. LTN would then make a small transfer, a mere ten thousand pounds, as a loan to LPS to facilitate acquisition of a freehold pub in Walworth, south Lundn. 

Also, Jacob and his nefarious partners would give personal guarantees to the bank manager that they would underwrite a small bank loan to LPS. That would be another fifteen thousand, enough to complete the purchase and finance the business. 

“Are you serious, my boy?” asked Jacob when he heard the details. “Do you really think I could ask these people, very important people, to finance a seedy, back-street pub in, where?” 

“No need to be rude,” put in Van, “You’ve never seen it. How do you know it’s seedy?” 

“No, well, I meant ... anyway ... look here, Van, that’s a lot of money, you know,” blustered Jacob. 

“No it’s not, Jacob. Small change compared to, ooh let’s see, four million, eh? This is just a little bit off the top, like the ‘commission’ we took.” 

“Er, well, alright. But ... well, why not just have LTN deposit the whole twenty-five grand, then?” 

“You’re missing the point, partner. I need to be sure you’re signed up and committed to this project, all of you, in person. Can’t have you and your mates packing the tents and slipping away into the night. No. I think a bank loan guaranteed by eminent businessman Jacob Lossit ...” 

Jacob smiled smugly, despite the feeling that he was being stretched over a barrel. 

“... and also by the Chancellor of the Exchequer will carry a lot of weight with our local bank manager, don’t you?” 

“It’s a lot to ask, you know Van, I don’t know if Shane ...” “Oh, I think he will,” said Van.
He paused and looked pointedly across the river to the Tower. 

“Especially if you explain the alternatives; exposure of the whole postal scam, misuse of government funds, implicating the Prime Minister ...” 

“Alright, alright, I’ll fix it. Nothing else, I hope?”
“As a matter of fact, I do have just one other little request.” 

Elfie Biggins heard it without putting his ear to the crack in the door. Even the old, deaf Small Dining Room Porter felt the vibrations. But after Straith’s initial, expletive-laden explosion, persuading both the Chancellor and the Postmaster-General to show up for opening night wasn’t so difficult for Jacob Lossit. The LTN partners were in a Gouts small dining room again but this time the gathering was nowhere near as convivial as their last. Jacob waited patiently for the torrent of Skootish abuse to dry up and then pointed out that Van’s demand was 

trifling, compared to prison for the lot of them, financial ruin and the fall of the government. 

“Look at it as a media opportunity, Straith,” said Jacob soothingly. “That was marvellous publicity for you personally, settling the strike, saving the nation and all that. This is a logical follow-up, showing that the little people did their bit too. You see? 

“There you’ll be, down the pub, friend of the people, the common touch; you see how this would enhance your image? Next election, how would that work out? Who might be the popular choice if for some unthinkable reason the party was seeking a new Prime Minister?” 

”Well, I suppose it can’t do any harm. You could be right; might even turn out to be useful publicity,” agreed the Postmaster-General grudgingly. 

Jacob Lossit knew how to catch a fish; the PMG was hooked, slightly dazzled even. Possible Prime Minister, eh? 

“Alright. Don’t want anything else, do you? Don’t need to borrow the crown jewels for the night, do I, to add a bit of extra class?” 

“Of course not, Straith!” laughed Jacob. “But that reminds me. My friend did make one small request, just a suggestion really, but all things considered I’m sure you could arrange it?” 


CHAPTER 41 

There’ll be Some Changes Made 

Friday May 3 

THE Cobbler’s Last was a small boozer that had been home-from- home to countless locals for more than a century. It was double the width, and one floor taller, than the modest terrace houses that flanked 

and faced it across Peacock Street. At each end of the pub front were stout doors, tough enough to withstand drunken lurching and kicking. Each door contained an etched glass pane, one inscribed Saloon, the other Public, but both led customers into a single horseshoe bar that made up most of the interior. 

Lil had disposed of the flimsy partition that originally divided the horseshoe into two parts. 

“Ridiculous,” was her summation. “Everyone was in the same room; you could shout to each other from one side of the pub to the other. All it did was knock a penny off a pint for them over the public side.” 

At the back on the old Public side was another room, for a small darts bar, and the Gents. The Ladies was housed in the Saloon wing, with the pub kitchen and cellar stairs tucked away at the back. 

“There was a door in the partition, so men in the Saloon didn’t have to go out into the street and back into Public to ’ave a pee. It was joke really; ’ad to go,” Lil explained to Haris Michaels, the editor of the Morning After. 

Pub’s change hands regularly. While a ‘change’ is a grand event for locals it doesn’t normally rate as a news event even for the trade press. The pub’s regulars flock in for a squiz at the new guv’nor and more importantly, his missus. 

The way she runs the pub can make or break it. 213 

Free bar snacks are usually provided at a change, and sometimes there might be a few drinks going begging, especially if a dopey brewery rep is in attendance. For this change at the Cobbler’s Last there was plenty of free beer, as breweries vied with each other to win the hearts and palates of Vincent X and the customers of his free house. 

However, when the Morning After’s editor was tipped off that government ministers would turn up for a pub change, in Walworth of all places, she was understandably dubious. 

Newly promoted, Haris Michaels was still finding her feet, both as an editor and a woman. Her short career in journalism began when she was Michael Harris – a young, male trainee reporter on No Fear. 

Her work had been unfulfilling. After losing heart at No Fear, where she played a minor role in Elphaba Hardboyl’s ‘bolshy publican’ beat-up, Haris had departed Inglnd to ‘find herself’. That’s when her personal life journey became far more interesting. 

Haris was almost certainly the first Fleet Street journo to change sex. 

She returned from North Africa minus a few bits and bobs but with a new persona. The attractive young woman easily won another, less ambitious traineeship on the Morning After, the licensed trade’s bible. 

Most of the paper’s staff ‘liked a drink’. Brimming with confidence and devoutly tee-total since her immersion in Elphaba’s collection of dreadful boozers, Haris swiftly rose through the ranks of the topers to top out as the paper’s most dependable employee. 

She first deputised while the previous editor took one of his regular drying-out rest-cures. When his inevitable demise finally struck – he drowned while representing the paper in a marathon yard-of-ale drinking contest – Haris became one of the very few female editors of a national daily. OK, it wasn’t a real national, but even though it was only a trade paper the MA was a daily, and did circulate all over the country. As the first female editor Haris was automatically resented by her colleagues, and she expected nothing else. 

When an anonymous caller came through on her direct line with the extremely unlikely information that senior government figures could be found that night making an off-the-books appearance at a south Lundn pub change, Haris naturally assumed it was a wind-up. 

It was just the kind of ‘test the new girl’ joke her grisly, beer-swilling, reek-of-fags colleagues would try, to test her gullibility. 

But what if the tip was kosher? Nothing to lose but a couple of hours on a Friday night, she decided. Without a word to anyone on the MA – why give them the satisfaction of seeing her fall for their hoax? – she packed her Pentax, notebook, and the Lundn A-Z street guide and caught the 188 bus over to the south Lundn area simply known as the Elephant and Castle. Taking her courage in both hands she walked nervously into the back streets of Walworth and towards the scoop of a lifetime. 

Big Smiffy was smitten. On the day of the Cobblers’ change he wheedled a day-shift at PA and at the end of the afternoon collected his favourite blue suit, freshly cleaned and pressed, and hurried back to the office for a sluice and shave. He didn’t want to walk up Ludgate Hill to Miss Rabbia’s City office and arrive all sticky; he was nervous enough already. So the snapper hailed a black cab and ostentatiously asked the cabbie to wait while he collected his date. 

Smiffy did feel odd, though, without the camera bag that habitually swung from his left shoulder, but ... so what? This was definitely a date, a social night out with Vince’s best client. He might even find out her first name. 

The strike was all over and he wanted this to be a fresh start, nothing to do with business. He hoped Vince hadn’t told Miss Rabbia anything about the terrible cock-up with the post office van back at the start? 

No, why would he? O’course he wouldn’t. 

“Oh, good evening Meester Beeg Smeefy,” Miss Rabbia greeted him. 

She looks terrific, thought Smiffy. Bit like a male impersonator, in that City suit an’ all, but terrific. He grinned amiably. 

“Actually, why don’t you call me Colin, that’s me first name, see? Like, yours would be ...?” 

No dice. Miss Rabbia just looked – quizzical. P’raps her first name was Miss? 

“OK Meester Colin; so we go to see Meester Vincent’s new pub, yes?” 

Even in the early evening rush the drive across the Tems is quick, and in the 1970s it was cheap. In Peacock Street their taxi pulled in behind an enormous vintage Rolls-Royce that was parked outside the pub, protected back and front with red cones. Extra security was provided by a pair of snotty-nosed urchins, who sat on the Phantom’s running boards, each armed with a cricket stump. Lil had been busy. 

“That comes to one-twenty, guv, with the wait,” said the cabbie, up-ending the meter. “Blimey, sure you can afford it?” he added, squizzing at the handful of silver, including a ten pence tip, which Smiffy tipped into his palm. 

“So, here for the pub change, I s’pose, eh?” he added. “My local this is; I’ll probably see you later. Have a spend-up on me tips.” 

By the time the Cheshire Cheese crew arrived an hour later the ‘change’ was in full, beery flood. 

Les, Bill and Jim Baxter had rented a mini-bus and though the Fleet Street news boys were nowhere to be seen, the murky sister- trades of public relations and advertising were well represented. The infamous Lucky Lonsdale and his cronies, Iain McPyper from the Con Geale ad agency, and Spats Patten, who claimed to be some kind of airline executive, were on the bus. Most remarkably, Lucky’s boss, financial PR consultant Alec Henderson stumbled behind them into the Cobblers. 

It was a memorable first for Alec who couldn’t recall ever before raising a glass south of the Tems. But Henderson’s memory was less than perfect. During his periodical drying-out spells he was famed for sending out an assistant to drink on his behalf up and down Fleet Street, just to keep the company flag flying. Currently that assistant was Lonsdale. McPyper had promptly dubbed him Lucky, because he had scored the best job in the Street. 

Baxter and company had come straight from ‘work’ – which simply meant leaving one pub to drive to another. Some of them had even invited their wives! 

Les had brought Perce, the Cheese’s African Grey parrot, as it was his turn to look after the irascible old bird for the weekend. 

En route to the south their bus had diverted along the Embankment to collect Old Alfie, a Chelsea Pensioner and Cheese regular, from the Royal Hospital. Jim had talked Alfie’s sergeant into allowing the old boy to wear his ceremonial red dress-coat for a special appearance at the Cobblers, where he would entertain on mouth organ. 

Pushing open the Public door, Baxter and the boys took turns stepping delicately over Rosie the hoister, who was sitting on the carpet ‘doing her number’. Accompanied by Porky on the piano, Rosie, wearing her Persian lamb hat and the matching full-length coat fitted with the hoister’s enormous, trademark inside pockets, was belting out I’d Like to Get You on a Slow Boat to China, rocking back and forth to demonstrate just how she would row her loved one all the way to the orient. Recognising fellow artistes, Alfie immediately hauled out his mouth organ and added to the racket. 

The pub was already packed and the piano at the back of the Public could barely be heard in the Saloon. Porky, the semi-official regular piano player who worked for the love of it, and the odd drink, was doing his best but on the far side his flourishes up and down the keys might have been a mime act. 

Haris Michaels decided she’d been well set-up. Government ministers in this shindig? Not likely. Heading for the nearest door and squeezing through the throng in the high heels she was still learning to live in, she stumbled and bumped up against a broad, bright blue back. Its owner tipped light and bitter down his front and politely apologised, in true British fashion, while shuffling aside to let her squeeze past. 

“Oh you Breetish, always so polite,” giggled blue-backs’ diminutive companion, who Haris assumed was waiting to join Porky in some kind of drag performance at the piano. 

“No, my fault,” Haris also apologised, and then looking up at the big man’s front view, blurted: “Big Smiffy? It’s me, Haris; I mean, Michael, remember? From No Fear? I’m on the MA now.” 

“What; who?” replied the baffled snapper. 

“I used to be Michael, now I’m ... er, different,” Haris hollered above the din. 

It’s extremely unlikely Big Smiffy had an inkling of who this good- looking girl really was. But the famous British politeness covers a multitude of situations. 

“Oh yeah, course, nice to see you again, Michael did you say? You’re looking ... er ... well. Oh, this is Miss Rabbia, and er, oh, Vince; he’s the new guv’nor here.” 

“Pleased to meet you, Mr Vincent,” said Haris. “I’m with the Morning After; editor actually.” 

Smiffy caught Vince’s eye, shrugged and raised his eyebrows. Don’t ask me, he was trying to say. 

“Oh, ’allo luv,” said Vince. “Glad you could make it. You got Dickie’s call then. Listen, can’t hear me’self think in here. Let’s go out the front and I can fill you in on the story.” 

If the Fleet Street postal pirates hadn’t taken the advice of a veteran hack; and if a love-smitten snapper hadn’t left his cameras at home, Haris would have had no scoop and no brilliant career. She owed it all to Dickie Dix and Big Smiffy. 

“The shrewd move is to tip off just one paper,” Dickie Dix advised Vincent and Van, when they told him the Prime Minister would make the official re-opening of the Cobblers. 

Most public relations posers, handed such a gift would have wet themselves and called up every newspaper and media outlet in town. They would have ruined the night. Dozens of reporters, photographers and film crews would squeeze into the pub and totally piss-off all the locals and regulars. 

“After the circus moves on, and you’ve had your two minutes in the headlines, how many tourists do you reckon are going to come down to Walworth, to see the pub where the Prime Minister went one night?” asked Dickie, before providing his own answer. 

“Sweet f.a. Meantime all your locals will stay pissed-off because they couldn’t get into their own local boozer for a free drink on change night.” 

His next piece of advice was sheer brilliance. If Dickie had handed the story to just one national all the others would most likely have been alienated. But the Morning After was nobody’s competition. 

“After it breaks in a poxy little trade paper you’ll have the whole street following up. They’ll be hacked-off that they missed the story but you’ll get a lot more publicity than if they were all down there on the night knocking back the free booze. 

“Editors are going to ask ‘what’s this place all about? ‘What’s this bloke’s secret?’ ‘How come he’s mates with the Prime Minister?’ 

“Then there’s the postal pirate story. That’s bound to come out. You could become a media celebrity, Vince, if you are very bleedin’ unlucky!” 

Dickie’s experience was vast. But there’s an element of chance in every story and he could hardly have predicted the turn of events that broadcast Haris’s amateurish photographic efforts around the western world. 

On the Peacock Street pavement Vincent X laid out his plans for the Cobblers. 

“I’m sure your readers in the trade will be interested in this idea,” he said. 

“Were gonna brew our own beer. You know about these terrible pubs selling the worst beer in the world? Well, we’re going to go for the best beer, in Walworth anyway, for a start.” 

“Have you studied brewing then, Mr Vincent?” asked Haris. 

They had carried a couple of glasses outside, bitter for Vince, tonic water for tee-total Haris. 

“Let’s sit down,” said Vince, pointing at the Phantom’s running board. Move round the other side, son,” he said to the juvenile sentry. 

“My partner’s motor, this is. Nice ennit?” He gulped some of his pint. 

“Brewing, no I haven’t done that; a snapper I am. Dickie, he’s going to make the beer. Lifetime of experience in pubs, that’s Dickie.” 

“Oh, so Dickie is your partner then?” 

“No, not as such.” 

“Any other plans?” asked Haris despairingly, sure now that she’d been dragged out on a fool’s errand. 

“Yeah, ’e’s putting in a roof garden,” chirped up Cheryl, who had spotted the pair going out the pub door and, suspicious as ever of any attractive female daring to stray into Cheryl territory, trailed them. 

“Get ’im to take you out the back yard next; you can see e’s made a start, got a nice buddleia up there already.” 

Cheryl had arrived early to help with the catering and Lil had given her a tour of the pub as well as introducing her to the delights of gin and tonic. 

“Mind you,” Cheryl giggled “gettin’ up there’s a bit of problem, you ’ave to climb through the carsy window on the first floor. Have to do something about that, eh Vince!” 

“Take no notice, she’s kidding,” laughed Vince. “She’s not used to drinking. But that’s not a bad idea, roof garden out the back, on the kitchen roof. Could have a nice spiral staircase up to it ...” 

“Blimey, wish I’d never said a word!” said Cheryl. 

“Is this your partner then, Mr Vincent?” asked Haris, appraising the pretty blonde. 

“Wot me, no! I’m the Gel Friday. That’s ’is gel friend inside, round the Saloon, wearin’ the air ’ostess ’at ...” 

“I’ve told you, Cher, Sharon’s just ...” 

“Yeah. Friend of the family!” she said with one her haughtiest sniffs and pushed back into the pub. 

“Well, thankyou very much, Mr Vincent, I think I have enough for a piece in next Monday’s paper. But I have to say that it’s very disappointing that you thought it necessary to have your ... brewer ... invite the MA along to a run-of-the mill pub change-over with a nonsensical, contrived story about government ministers ...” 

She stopped as Van bustled out of the pub and shouted: 

“Jacob just gave me a bell, Vince. They’re on the way, all of ’em! Just going ’round the Elephant and Castle, should be here any minute.” 


CHAPTER 42 

Knees-Up at the Cobblers 

Friday May 3 

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls ... oh no, of course not, no children allowed in public houses, eh what? Ha-ha ... Now, where was I, oh yes ... I’m sure many of you are wondering why the Prime Minister of the Dis-United Kingdom of Great Britain is here, tonight, to cut this ribbon ... 

“Oh, there isn’t a ribbon? Ah, I see ... to pull the first pint of ale in this fine establishment. Quite. I confess I was myself wondering along much the same lines ... about what I was doing here ... and then of course my very good friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, yes there he is, over there behind the bar, with our other very good friend, the Postmaster General ... 

“Jolly good chaps, helping out with the drinks and bits of cheese on sticks and so on. Where was I ... oh yes, he reminded me of something. 

“What was it now ... oh yes ... that the new proprietor of this public house is ... er, what’s his ... ah, yes I have it, young Mr Vincent X. Is that right, X? 

“And who is this young Mr X, I hear you ask? Well I, your Prime Minister, that’s who I am, I am here tonight to tell you. Yes, quite. 

“Not very long ago this country, our country, faced a dire crisis. Our whole way of life was at risk! We were threatened by unscrupulous manipulators whose aim was to undermine the nation, and they began by closing down our ancient and noble postal service. 

“Yes, you remember, I can tell by those bewildered looks. 

“Those plotters might well have succeeded in their dastardly plan to stop the entire country, dead. Yes, my friends, dead ... what’s that, oh yes, get on with it ... you good people, fine loyal Britons have been kept waiting too long for the free beer ... ha-ha! 

“Oh yes, Mr Vincent X and his colleagues did their bit during those dark times. It was these fine, brave young men ... what? Oh yes, and young women ... who ensured that the country’s mail got through to the rest of the world! Yes, I recall now, that’s why I am here tonight to throw my personal support behind this young man, and the many like him, who are such fine, upstanding examples of the shining youth of this great nation. 

“With that I shall join my colleagues behind this fine old bar ... is there room, Chancellor ... good, good ... and there I shall do my very best, as always, to give the great British public fair measures, eh, what, ha-ha!” 

That’s how Haris Michaels scooped the Street – and laid the foundation of an outstanding career in photo-journalism. Her sensational pictures were rushed over to the Press Association by Big Smiffy and appeared in every national the next day. They showed the Prime Minister of the Dis-United Kingdom of once-Great Britain singing and dancing Knees Up Mother Brown with outgoing landlady Lil and Vincent’s mum, Vi. 


CHAPTER 43 

Poor Percy 

Monday June 3 

“QUIET without old Perce, ennit,” remarked Cheryl to nobody in particular. 

“Who ...? Oh yeah, the parrot,” agreed Van, looking up at the empty shelf above the fireplace, which still bore streaky reminders of its past occupant. 

“Time they cleaned that up.” 

“Les says it adds character to the place,” said Cheryl. “I just reckon he’s embarrassed about letting the poor thing cark it.” 

The African Grey had never recovered from the opening night at the Cobblers. Perce had quietly croaked his last in the boot of Les’s car at some time over the following weekend. 

“Hhmm, it was quite a night, eh? Lot of fall-out really, just from the re-opening of a back street pub.” 

“You’re right there, Van. Didn’t do the Prime Minister any harm, did it, more’s the pity?” put in Les. 

In keeping with the great majority of the general public, Les held all politicians in equally low regard. But even he acknowledged the boost given to the PM’s image when Haris Michaels’ pictures hit the streets showing the old grandee in a knees-up with ordinary, working-class constituents. 

Political pundits of all persuasions predicted improved returns next time he took his Hang ’em and Flog ’em party to the polls. 

The one-time postal pirates were awaiting the arrival of their partner and enjoying an early evening drink in the ‘downstairs office’. Cheryl had locked up the LPS rooms at the top of the Blankenberg Building and Van had cruised along the river road from the Berm-on-Sea Exchange aboard the Phantom. 

His previous experience of company board meetings was limited and not especially pleasant. At Port to Port they had been decidedly austere, which is only to be expected when you go along armed with evidence that could send the rest of the board of directors directly to jail. 

Shareholders’ meetings in the front bar of the Cheshire Cheese were far less conventional and much more friendly. For one thing, they were convened every week. For another thing, the main purpose of the meetings was for Vincent X to dole out a weekly cash dividend to his partners. The secondary purpose was to spend a portion of the dividend with their mates, Les and Bill. 

When Vincent had told Cheryl that she and Van would be getting a share – size unspecified – for investing their earnings from the postal strike in the Cobblers she was understandably sceptical. 

“Yeah, yeah Vince; ’ere we go again,” was her reaction. “Alright, ’ow much?” 

“How does this sound – enough to make your LPS wages look like chicken feed?” he suggested. 

“Well, that wouldn’t take much doing!” 

Van wanted none of it though. 

“Nice of y’ Van,” said Vincent. “But after all you’ve done, especially getting that bank loan and all, we all really owe you. Fair shares for all of us, right, after we’ve paid mum and dad’s wages, and the costs, bank interest, you know.” 

By appointing the Vincents – Vi and Vince senior – as his pub managers Vincent X had made their dream come true. Every south Lundner envies the local publican, never mind the seven days a week grind, morning to night. Beats having a real job, that’s the general opinion. 

“How are they enjoying it, Vincent, running a pub?” Cheryl had asked. 

“So far, so good, Cher. Still a bit of a honeymoon period, I s’pose; an’ they’ve got Dickie helping out. I reckon I’ve done ’em a right favour.” 

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; you’re all ’eart, Vince,” Les joined in. “I don’t suppose moving them out so you’d get their nice big council flat all to y’self had any bearing on it? No, course not!” 

“Alright, alright; if everybody’s happy with the situation,” laughed Van. “Give us the loot Vince; anything for an easy life!” 

The arrival of Vincent X was announced with the usual ribald applause from serving-window crowd. 

“Is it a pirate? Is it a snapper? 

“ No, it’s another bloomin’ publican,” boomed Jim Baxter. 

“Do leave off, Jim,” grinned Vincent. “Give ’em a drink, Les.” 

“No, no, young Mr X, don’t do that. Mustn’t extend the school.” 

“Blimey, talk about pub etiquette, eh? Alright, pint for me, whatever you’re all ’aving. Ta.” 

“Cheers all; here’s to absent friends, eh?” and he raised a glass towards Perce’s empty perching shelf. 

“I suppose we should include your other partner, eh Van, and his dodgy politician mates?” 

“Don’t give them a thought, Vince. Not worth it.” 

“What do you mean, Van,” asked Cheryl, who had just opened her dividend envelope and was looking chuffed. “I think I’ll pay for this round, Les!” 

Van lowered his voice. 

“Listen, we don’t need worry too much about paying off that extra loan from Lossit and the others. 

“Once the bank’s sorted out, you can put the Lossit loot on the back burner, permanently.” 

“Well ... are you sure?” 

“Definite. Ten grand? Small beer it is to them, and they won’t ever want any fuss about why they’re backing you in the first place. Don’t forget that paperwork we have stashed away ...” 

“Why do you think they really set up that whole strike and everything? Bringing in decimals! Why? These characters never do anything unless there’s something in it for them. 

“They’re sitting on a fortune already, controlling the printing of all our lovely new banknotes. 

“You see, Lossit says they’re certain this country will jump at the chance to join in a common currency, and they reckon it will be a doddle to persuade the Yoorupians that currency should be called the pound – the good old, solid, reliable pound. That’s why they’ll make a killing, printing banknotes for every country in Yoorup. 

“Jacob is devious and you can’t trust him further than you can throw him but you can see his point. As he said, what else could they call a new currency – the Yooro?!” 

enD 


ACKnoWleDGeMentS 

Although it is a work of fiction Pirates of Fleet Street draws extensively on actual events. 

My sincere thanks to all the friends and colleagues who played vital roles throughout the momentous, at times hilarious, international venture that inspired this fictional version of the 1971 British postal strike. 

More thanks – there can never be enough – to my wife Christine who flew the mail, took me under her wing and kept me on course before, during and ever since the great strike. 

Cover artwork was created by artist and photographer Donald Maxwell, whose creativity we have admired, and friendship we have cherished, since those exciting times of 1960s London. 

I am Vic Waters – journalist, photographer, editor, writer – and briefly, postal pirate and publican. 


© 2005-2021 Alastair McIntyre