Today I’m taking part in the Urbane Extravaganza blog tour where each day a different blog features one of Urbane’s books! I’m featuring Corrupted by Simon Michael and am sharing an extract from the book with you all.
Tuesday, 30 June 1964
Mrs Murphy hadn’t wanted to let the attic room to Mr Maurice Drake. She smelt trouble the instant her eyes landed on him as he stood on her step, him in his flash suit and twinkling eyes. But he was obviously clean in his habits and he sure was a charmer. After ten minutes of sweet-talk- ing he’d shown her two months’ rent in advance together with the deposit – and her resistance had crumbled. Despite the dearth of rented accommodation in London, the attic room had been empty for nearly three months. The windows rattled every time a train passed, it was two flights of stairs down to the shared bathroom, and most people were put off by the stale stink just outside the bedsit’s door; the cooking smells from the various stoves in the large house just seemed to gather there despite her constant mopping and polish- ing. So she needed the money and couldn’t afford to leave the room empty much longer. And thereafter he’d been no trouble. His hours were odd, but he said he worked in the casino business, so that was to be expected. He was always polite to the other occupants when he met them on the stairs, and once he had even brought her shopping in for her when the telephone had caught her unawares, and she’d had to take the call because it was Kathleen calling from Dublin just after her hysterectomy.
But the two men now standing on her step frighten her. They too are well-dressed pretty young men but they have none of the easy charm of Mr Drake. There’s ice in their eyes; the same ice she’s seen all too often in the eyes of her brothers and their Sinn Féin colleagues. So although they ask prettily enough for permission to look upstairs for their friend, she knows she has no choice.
‘You’d better come in then,’ she says in her thick Irish accent. ‘I’ve not seen him for a couple of days. It’s been quiet up there, so I assumed he was at work.’
She opens the door wider for them and they step into her immaculate, just washed and waxed hallway. She closes the door and makes to lead them up the stairs but the smaller one lays a hand on her shoulder.
‘That’s all right missus,’ he says. He speaks with an accent; French, thinks Mrs Murphy, or maybe Italian. ‘We know where it is.’
‘But I’ve got to let you in,’ she says.
The boy shakes his head and holds out his hand for the key. Mrs Murphy stares at him for a moment and then takes out of her apron pocket a large keyring crowded with eight or ten keys. It takes a while to work Mr Drake’s free of the others but she finally places the shiny bronze piece of metal in the boy’s open palm.
‘I’ll bring it right back,’ he assures her.
She watches the two suited men climbing the stairs quietly, pausing as they pass the bedsits on the lower land- ings to listen for any trouble that might suddenly emerge from behind closed doors. She waits a while in the hall but then retreats to her front parlour to make herself busy, leaving the door propped open with her walking stick so she can hear their return.
The men come down ten minutes later. Mrs Murphy had not heard them approach but all of a sudden they are in her parlour, one of them closing the door and leaning with his back on it. She looks from one to the other, now actually frightened.
‘What’s your name, love?’ asks the taller of the men, the one standing by her best sideboard and eyeing her china.
‘Well, see, Mrs Murphy, we have a bit of a problem. Have you been up there in the last coupla days?’
‘No. I had no call to.’
‘Okay. I need you to sit down now.’
‘I don’t want to sit down. I want you to leave or I’ll call the police.’ She pronounces the last word po-liss, which makes the man smile.
‘There ain’t no reason to be afraid, Mrs Murphy, but I think you should sit down as I’ve got a bit of a shock for you.’
He gives her a hard stare and again Mrs Murphy realises that she’s not being offered a choice. She pulls out one of the chairs from her dining room set and sits down slowly.
‘See, now, we’ve also had a bit of a shock. It looks like our friend has had an accident or he’s been taken ill. What we want to do is call for some help, and have him taken away. There’s no reason for you to worry.’
‘What, an ambulance?’
The man hesitates. ‘Yes, something like that. So my col- league here is going to make a call from the phone in the hall, and I need you to stay in here till we’ve all gone. It won’t take long.’
‘It’s my house,’ says Mrs Murphy firmly, standing again. She makes to walk towards the door but the man plants himself in front of her and takes her by the upper arms. When he speaks, his voice is a low growl, reverberating with menace.
‘No you don’t. You’re going to stay in here. Make your- self a cuppa, listen to the wireless – it don’t matter what – but you’re not going nowhere till I say so.’
He walks her gently backwards until her legs strike the chair and she is forced to sit down again heavily. He turns and nods to his companion, who slips out of the door. The big man stays in front of Mrs Murphy with his arms folded and they both listen as the dial of the telephone is rotated and clicks slowly back into place seven times. Money is inserted and a low conversation ensues.
‘Why dontcha make us both a nice cuppa while we wait, eh?’
Just under twenty minutes later a large American car with lots of chrome and sharp fins can be seen through the net curtains of Mrs Murphy’s parlour as it pulls up outside. Two solid-looking men in their thirties, both with wavy dark hair and expensive suits, get out. Even through the net cur- tains Mrs Murphy recognises the Kray twins immediately. The man who’s been standing guard over her, drinking his tea at the dining table in silence, stands and goes to the door. He turns.
‘Don’t leave this room. Do you understand?’
Mrs Murphy nods. Now that she has no doubt as to the nature of the men with whom she is dealing, she has no intention of leaving the room. Her guard leaves and shuts the door behind him.
She hears the front door being opened, a muttered con- versation and several heavy sets of footsteps running up the stairs towards the top of the house. There is silence for a couple of minutes. Then, through the net curtains, she sees a police car pull up outside, stopping immediately behind the American car. No bells or sirens. Two police officers get out. As they approach the front door, Mrs Murphy hears a sash window at the front of the house on the floor above being thrown open.
‘Officer! Up here!’
The voice is of one of her newest tenants on the first floor, a quiet Jamaican called Mr Francis who lives there with his wife and three-year-old girl.
‘Was it you who dialled 999, sir?’ shouts up one of the officers.
‘Yes. I just found a body on de top floor.’
No. 178 Vallance Road is a narrow terraced Victorian cottage in Bethnal Green. Its occupants have long since ceased even noticing the constant rumble of the Liverpool Street-bound trains whose tracks run almost directly behind the terrace’s backyard. Voices can be heard from behind the kitchen door at the end of the narrow hallway.
Ronnie and Reggie Kray sit at the kitchen table eating pie and mash. The chef, their mother, Violet Kray, watches them with approval, smoking. She ate earlier.
Reggie scrapes the last remaining gravy and mash off his plate with his knife, licks the knife, and puts his cutlery down, satisfied.
‘Thanks, Mum.’ He turns to his brother, who has already finished. ‘Look, I’m as upset over Mo as you are, but—’
‘No you ain’t! You can’t be. You don’t understand!’
‘All right,’ replies Reg, placating softly. ‘I know I can’t feel the way you do, but he was my mate too.’
‘He was fucking garrotted. Did you see his head? It was half off his neck! We’re going to sort those fucking wops once and for all! And this time it won’t just be their club I’m gonna burn.’
‘I’ll tidy up,’ says Violet, clearing the plates from the table and disappearing into the scullery. As far as she’s con- cerned, her boys are misunderstood good-hearted lads who can sometimes be a bit too boisterous, and against whom the police wage a constant unjust vendetta. She wilfully closes her eyes to anything that suggests otherwise.
‘Look,’ continues Reg, keeping his voice low, ‘so far as Old Bill’s concerned, we’re in the clear. The story stacks up: he was an employee and we was only at his digs to see where he’d got to. And the landlady backed it all up, saying we’d just arrived. Ronnie, there are more important things to worry about.’
‘The Mancusos and the boy.’
‘I ain’t worried about those fucking wops. They had it
‘No argument there. But we can’t afford a war just when
Old Bill’s sniffing around. Maybe we should let them do the job for us this time, while we get on with the most important thing: the boy.’
‘The one you gave to Driberg. Everyone at your party—’ and Reg doesn’t hide the distaste in his voice – ‘says Mo left with him, and he was staying at the bedsit. Pound to a penny the landlady or one of the other tenants saw him over the previous week, so now the filth know about him. They’ll know he was the last person to see Mo alive – maybe he even saw the murder! So, where is he?’
‘If one of the Mancuso gang did for Mo, and the boy was a witness, maybe they took him.’
‘Why would they take him? They’d just do for him as well. And why leave Mo’s body on the bed but take the boy’s away? Nah, it makes no sense. The way I figure it, either the Mancusos took him or he did a runner. But whichever, the murder squad’ll be looking for ’im, either as a witness or as a missing person. And there’s our problem. Whether he saw the murder or not, he definitely is a witness to what went on at the party.’
Ron stares at his brother, putting the pieces together. ‘And you think he’ll talk?’
‘Course he will. He’s soft as butter.’
Ronnie nods slowly. ‘Yeh.’
‘So,’ concludes Reg, ‘if he’s alive, we gotta find that fucking kid before they do.’
‘Have you told Bob Boothby what’s going on?’
‘Had to. And I’ve put the word out with everyone we know. Clarkie’s already on it.’