Authors: Carl Leckey
My answer pleases him. He hands me a couple of business cards.
“So you definitely want to go to St Margaret’s then let’s go I’ll take you there as well.”
I ask him another question. “Hang on a moment. There is just one more thing before we leave. You made a statement at the beginning of our interview you said. “I am aware of the situation between Lady Emily and Lady Angelique. What did you mean by that?”
Jonah blushes. “I don’t believe I should have mentioned that. I was referring to their sexual preferences. That is their business and should concern no one else, but I have been engaged to represent Lady Emily in a slander case. It will be in the public domain shortly otherwise I wouldn’t have mentioned it.”
I declare. “Bloody hell this is all I need. Ok Jonah let’s get going I could do with a pint.”
Toot sits in the rear of his car I occupy the passenger seat. As we drive along the now familiar road, to make conversation I casually remark. “You and Bob Cranshaw appear to be good friends? I am glad he knows you.” He replies. “We go back a long way Bob and I. The three Wilkes in the name of our law firm are my Grand Father, Father and me. We are all still practising law. Granddad is in his eighties and as lively as a teenager. Bob Cranshaw’s Father was a lawyer with Wilkes and co. That’s how I came to know him as a kid. I served in Palestine during the war. That’s when I first heard about your friend Gunter Cogan He was a good man but gave the British plenty of headaches I can tell you. To be honest they needed it. There was a great deal of deception and double dealing over there during and after the war. I never met Gunter myself I only heard of his reputation and what I heard I liked.”
All this information about Gunter is intriguing I must have a long talk with him when we next meet face to face. Jonah drops us off at the pub. I am welcomed by the manager he congratulates me on my release and books me in for at least one night. We order meals and ale and Toot and I take a seat at a table by the log burning open fire. “Well Toot my old mate bit of a mess this eh? Sorry for all the trouble I caused.” He laughs with a twinkle in his eye he replies. “We were in much stickier situations during the war eh? At least we made the cock up ourselves. We can’t blame the Officers for this one can we?” I have to agree. “You and your family will be coming over to France next Easter for your holidays won’t you?”
“If I still have a job” He replies gloomily. “Look Scouse, Lady Angelique gave me a letter addressed to you. I was supposed to post it but I knew you were coming over so I held it back. I didn’t tell you in front of the coppers in case it dropped you further into the whatsit. I have been worried to death I don’t mind telling you.”
Toot hands me an envelope. The letter it contains is very strange. I tell Toot.
“She was evidently upset when she wrote this. Bloody Hell! She has only hired a private detective he has traced me back to my home address in Birkenhead.” He interrupts my reading of the letter and hands me a business card. “Here Scouse I nearly forgot this, she left his card in the car when she caught the train. I thought it might be useful.”
After glancing at the card and identifying it as the Detective agency. I thank him place it in my pocket and continue reading the letter and explaining the situation to Toot. She is going there to visit the orphanage and to try and find her old maid and companion. She has no idea this was my step Mother. All the indications are she is frantically trying to find the truth about me. She can’t understand where I acquired the articles she left when she was brought back to St Margaret’s by Emily and her Father.
Toot reveals more information. “I don’t know whether I should tell you this but you know what it’s like when you are driving people? They think you are invisible as well as deaf. You overhear things you are not supposed to?”
I reassure him. “Before we go any further I can guarantee you this. You won’t ever be without a job while I have a transport company. If it means moving you and your family over to France you will never be out of work. Go on Toot lets have it, what’s worrying you? Things couldn’t get much worse today.”
He replies. “I think the Lady’s are in deep shit financially. Lady Emily has made some bad investments. One of her so called friends advised her to put all their money into arms manufacture. Now the wars over the shares are not worth a carrot.
She has mortgaged the place up to the hilt and the repayments are not being met. It won’t be long before the bank takes possession. When I said they had a row this is another one of the reasons. Lady Emily did all the speculating without consulting your Mother. She evidently had no right to do so. Under the terms of the trust their Father set up, everything was supposed to be decided jointly. I didn’t say anything in front of the coppers I don’t know whether it constitutes a crime you see?”
Shocked I enquire. “What bank is holding the mortgage Toot do you know?” He immediately informs me. “Oh yes I am forever taking Lady Emily there, it’s a branch of the Empire and National bank in Dover.” The ale arrives. The barman explains as he lays the table. “Your meal won’t be long sir.”A thought strikes me. “Hey Toot won’t your Misses wonder where you are?”
He answers. “No I warned her I could be late she knows I have gone to see you. She wants to meet you before you disappear again. I didn’t tell her you were in the nick though.”
“Sorry Toot I won’t be able to meet her on this trip. I don’t think I better go near the estate while Emily is after my blood. I’m taking a chance staying here. What I don’t understand is how she was able to do this speculating if the cash was held in a joint trust fund? Surely it would require two signatures? Never mind it’s too complicated for me to work out. I know a man who will sort it out if I am able to contact him. Is there a telephone in the village?”
He thinks for a moment before replying. “Not that I know of the only one is in the manor house on the estate. Oh yes there might be another. Remember the lawyer Jonah said the copper had contacted him at home I know his office is in Dover.
He must be on the telephone and he lives in St Margaret’s. I bet the Landlord knows where he lives, he knows every bugger around here.”
When I go to the bar and ask him the Landlord informs me.
“Jonah Wilkes? Yes he lives with his Wife and two kids just up the road in that thatched cottage. Yes he has got the only telephone in the village except for the post office that is.
Need a good lawyer do you?”
“Thanks oh! Here’s our meal.” The arrival of the food gives me the opportunity to escape without answering his questions. A good meal a few pints and Toot heads home after we regretfully part.
I am up at the crack of dawn and have a walk around the village. I find Jonahs house in time to see him leaving in his car presumably heading for his office in Dover. Damn I could have used his phone and had a lift to the station. Never mind there is always the other phone the Landlord told me about. After breakfast at the pub I pack my bag, pay the tab and head for the post office.
The telephone is not available for public use. I am reluctant to send a telegram from the village post office disclosing private details. Instead I write a long letter to Gunter outlining the problem and asking for his help. I plan to purchase the estate anonymously from the bank if feasible. I end the letter advising Gunter I will contact him a s a p when I arrive in Birkenhead in a day or so.
Adding a PS I inform him I have met a police officer Bob Cranshaw who knows him from Palestine during the war.
As I promised I also inform him about Jonah Wilkes lawyer who has greatly assisted me I enclose one of his business cards in the envelope.
The trip to Birkenhead is uneventful except for the fact it is much easier than my last journey when I came to the UK for my demob. Changing trains in London is the usual nightmare crossing to Euston from Victoria. The train I take is an express with only a few stops. As we near the end of the journey I notice we pass through Acton Bridge station at speed, I decide when I have sorted things out with my Mother if I find her I will visit Sandy here.
Liverpool Lime street station.
I must say I have a real buzz to be back in my home territory. I could take the underground to Hamilton square station but decide to walk to the Pier Head. As I stroll down the busy streets I greedily take in the sounds and sights of the city. The Scouse accents of the street hawkers take me back to the day I enlisted in the army. At the ferry terminal on the floating stage I catch the boat to Woodside. On the trip across the busy river Mersey I plan my search for my Mother.
First on the agenda I must have a place to stay. Second I need to be mobile I shall arrange my own transport. I don’t want to rely on the trams or trains. I recall a nice hotel by Hamilton Square station where the Mersey Pilots frequent. This was from my street sweeping days. I grin to myself at the thought of mixing with such illustrious company as the River Pilots. In the past they hardly glanced in my direction as I cleared a path through the horseshit to the hotel giving a clean passage from the docks. The hotel is located alongside the pub known locally as the Parrot House. I decide this will do me fine as a base in the search for my Mother. I stroll up from the Woodside Ferry. As I pass the taxi rank by the big tunnel pumping building I hear a voice calling my name. Driving a taxi is one of my childhood friends Norman Hanson. “Hi! Adam! How you doing, long time no see? Where have you been hiding?”
I go over to his cab. “Hiya, Norm glad to see you again. You were working in Lairds shipyard when I last saw you? Have you got time for a chat?” He replies. “No Sorry mate I have to pick up a regular fare, it’s a long story about the shipyard job. I haven’t got time right now to tell you what happened. Where are you living these days? I was sorry to hear about your Mum and Dad passing away. Your Mum, she was a lovely woman.”
I inform him. “She was Norm. I regret I didn’t appreciate her when I was a kid. I gave her a lot of grief.
By the way I’m not living in Birkenhead anymore Norm. As a matter of fact I’m just going to book in the hotel by the Parrot House.”
He looks towards a shed with many windows located on the side of the road. “Look Adam. I’ll have to go now. The nosy controller is watching me from the office. I have only had this job for a short while. It’s the first steady one I have had since I was demobbed and I don’t want to lose it. I’ll come and see you later on in the bar of the Parrot House after I finish work. It’ll be about six o’clock. We’ll have a drink together and talk about old times. Great to see you mate. I often wondered what ever happened to you.” With a wave of his hand and a cloud of smoke from the taxi’s exhaust, Norman drives off. The hotel is small and homely sited in the right place for my purpose.
An elderly bleary eyed male receptionist appears through a doorway located at the rear of the desk after two or three attempts to summon him on the call bell. Without a word he turns the register around for me to sign. He hands me a room key a brochure indicating the services available and returns to his hideout from whence he came. Presumably to continue with his disturbed nap. After a leisurely bath I have an excellent meal in a crowded dining room.
I then make my way to the public bar of the pub nicknamed the Parrot House located on the corner. Drinking a pint of Walkers bitter I spend my time watching the antics of the customers. The two parrots are still in their place of honour at either end of the bar. I remember them from the days when as a kid my mates and I used to peep in the open doors in summer to look at the famous birds and listen to them cursing.
Their language is still choice as they tell customers to close the f…. doors. The place is a hive of activity with wheeling and dealing taking place.
Men from the nearby slaughter house are selling or trading hunks of meat. Bookies runners are paying out winnings to lucky punters
Sailors of all nationalities are chatting up the local floozies or haggling about the price for a moment of passion in a nearby jigger.
I must admit I have missed the Merseyside humour and accents.
About six thirty Norman appears I buy him a pint and we take a seat at a table in the corner. He listens in awe as I describe my life since my demob. I don’t believe it is appropriate to reveal my good fortune.
I simply inform Norman I have a well paid job as a driver in France.
His life has been totally the opposite than mine. When he was demobbed war production at the local shipyards had ceased on the announcement of the armistice. He was in a reserved occupation and had disobeyed by joining up. He had lost his job as a plater’s mate he found it was no longer available. He found it hard to find other employment and spent the summer on local farms as a casual labourer. When the spud picking finished he was out of work. The taxi drivers job came up he grabbed it even though it is poorly paid and dependant on tips to make a living wage.
“Where did you learn to drive Norm?” I enquire.
He explains. “I was in the Royal Engineers in Egypt posted to the Canal Zone. A mate of mine taught me to drive on the QT. My chance came along when they were short of drivers. I told the MT Sergeant I could drive. I got the job as a Senior Officers staff car driver. Nice cushy number except for the bullshit. You know Adam sometimes I wish I was back in the Army, except for missing the Wife and kids of course. Thinking back I never had a care in the world. I was pretty well fed not much money though but we got it regular. I was well clothed and shod and we usually had somewhere decent to kip at night. Mind you I was lucky based out there away from the action. All we had to deal with was just a bunch of thieving Arabs trying to steal our gear. Johnnie Turk made threats some times, but I never saw any real action except on the convoy out there.
One of the troop ships was sunk by a submarine. Good God! The sea was full of fellows screaming and shouting for help. Our ship couldn’t stop to help because we were a target ourselves. I suppose, us being full of troops and all. Some of the lads called the Captain a bloody murderer when he sailed away and left them, but what could he do? I’ll never forget that sight Adam for the rest of my life.” Norman visibly shudders as he recalls the wartime episode. He adds as if apologising for surviving. “I never had it rough like other poor buggers suffered in Europe and Gallipoli. Believe me I realise how lucky I was to get a cushy posting. Anyway enough of me, what are you doing back on home ground?” I inform him. “You know I spent the first years of my life in that shitty orphanage? Well I have recently found my real Mother. I haven’t met her yet she is up here in Birkenhead somewhere and I am determined to find her. Here Norm you may be able to help me, do you know where this address is?” I pull the detective agency card out of my pocket and show it to him.