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After seven years on the run, Edward Fabian was going home.

PART TWO

London

May – June 1945

CALENDAR

–– 1945 ––

The Star, 13th May:

MORE GANG WARFARE IN SOHO

Another three men needed treatment in the hospital on Saturday night after a brawl between rival gangs. The men, who suffered broken limbs and concussion, are not understood to have cooperated with the police who are now powerless to pursue the matter. A spokesman suggested to this reporter that the tussle marks the latest in a series of contretemps between the two rival gangs who are currently vying for control of the London underworld. One of these gangs is reputed to be headed by Mr. Jack Spot, of East Ham, London, a man with a hard-earned reputation for violence. This reporter wonders what it will take for the Commissioner of the Metropolis to take this terrifying threat seriously? A murder? That, surely, is inevitable unless swift and decisive action is taken.

The Star, 14th May:

BLACK MARKET GROWS

‘ILLICIT SALES OUT OF CONTROL’

News from Ireland that wholesale smuggling is going on across the Eire–Ulster border is just another evidence of slackening morals. In austerity London, the pinch of eggless, milkless, fruitless days has long since twisted morals out of shape. While public morale rode high, toward the end of last year many a Londoner had relaxed his usually rigid code of personal honour sufficiently to treat Government post-war restrictions in much the same way that the mass of U.S. citizens treated prohibition. It looked as though game-loving Britons were inclined to think that outwitting the Government was a sporting proposition.

Scotland Yard optimistically reported a 1 per cent decrease in general crime since 1944. But official figures were unreliable. Police had access only to cases where a complaint has been registered, a culprit booked. The chief evidence of character-loosening was conversation. Topic No. 1 (the war) had been pushed into the background by Topic No. 2 (how to beat the rationing restrictions). From peers to paupers the major chit-chat of Londoners was how to get fugitive eggs, lipstick, fruits, silk stockings, perfume, clothes. At a dinner party recently a peer’s daughter triumphantly announced that she had persuaded her dressmaker to sell her a new suit without the required coupons. A politician’s wife proudly reported buying a fur coat (18 coupons) with no coupons whatever (she contended the garment was second-hand because it had been worn by a mannequin).

Black markets flourished in Soho streets. Barrow merchants sold silk stockings (probably stolen) with only a pretence of accepting ration coupons. Crates of oranges, strictly restricted to children, passed through a market speculator to his favourite customers. Housewives evaded milk rationing with two companies, thereby getting twice their legal share. Working in gangs—a man or children assisting a woman with a shopping bag—shoplifters raided lingerie, stocking, and sweater counters. Scotland Yard reported a 25 per cent increase in shop-lifting. ‘Kerb crawlers’ (fences) ferried stolen goods out to the suburbs, sold them couponless to house-wives. A woman reported to the police that she was offered an ebony coat for £16 (half the store price) by a woman black marketeer who had about 20 fur coats in the back of her limousine…

METROPOLITAN POLICE

Criminal Investigation Department

New Scotland Yard

STRICTLY PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL

To Commissioner:

I.O: D.I. Charles Murphy

Submitted at request of: D.A.C. Clarke

Re: Gang Activity in Soho, W.1.

Sir,

You asked me to report upon the state of gang activity in London, specifically as it pertains to the feeding of the black market. I can confirm that the most powerful faction remains the Costello Family, who count among their many activities robbery, extortion, and the operation of illegal drinking and gambling clubs throughout Soho. The Costellos have been dominant for a generation but there are signs that challengers are beginning to eye their crown. Chief among those is the Jack Spot Mob, led by the eponymous Spot, a powerful brawler from the Upton Park area of East London. He has banded together with several dozen gypsies and my intelligence is that he is extending his influence towards the West. There have already been minor skirmishes between the two gangs and I predict worse is to come if the problem is not tackled.

I understand that this is not what you wanted to hear. My recommendation, as laid out in my separate memorandum to you, remains: the creation of a dedicated “Ghost” Squad to infiltrate the gangs and seek the evidence that will lead to their destruction. Without wishing to appear immodest, I would be happy to put myself forward to lead this Squad.

Sincerely,

D.I. C. Murphy

24th May

2

ENGLAND LOOKED TIRED AND ILL as the train shuffled north-east, picking its way through the blasted suburbs of Basingstoke and then into South London. Particles of brick dust hung in the air, disturbed by the passage of the train. Slag heaps were choked with weeds and thick grass. Whole terraces had been flattened. Long lines of industrial chimneys stood smokeless, stiffly naked against the sky, in huddles over empty workshops. The cellars of demolished houses had been turned into static reservoirs, waters glittering darkly in the fading twilight. A pack of feral dogs, their owners dead or disappeared, clambered onto a pile of rubble and howled at the train as it passed. Familiar roads and streets had been rendered unrecognisable.

The carriage was full of soldiers, loaded down with kitbags, mementoes, trophies. Edward’s own bag was jammed into the overhead rack, the curved blade of his kukri tucked into a loop of fabric. The atmosphere was pensive. They could all see it: things had changed. England had changed. There had been female railway porters at Portsmouth, for goodness sake. Edward had heard, like everyone, that women had been working in factories. He assumed things would have quickly settled back down again and returned to normal. But the Axis had been defeated and there they were, women, still doing men’s work. And they had gone butch. At all ages and on every social level, they had taken to uniforms. They wore jackets, trousers and sensible shoes. It was a rum lot. Vexed comments were exchanged between boys to whom this was not a welcome development. It was certainly going to take some getting used to.

The door to the compartment opened and a soldier hauled his kitbag inside. “Well, I’ll be,” he said, a delighted smile upon his face. “It’s the brawler from Calcutta.”

Edward beamed back at him. “Costello, isn’t it?”

“The very same. What are the chances, eh?”

“Did you just come ashore?”

“Yesterday. What about you?”

“A week,” Edward said. “There were a few things to tie up and now that’s that. Done.”

“You’re out?”

“Seven years later. You?”

“The same. And not a moment too soon.”

Joseph Costello sat down opposite and dropped his kitbag to the floor. He untied the toggle, tugged the mouth of the bag open and reached inside for a bottle of gin. “A little something to celebrate?”

“Where did you get that from?”

“Ways and means. Want to wet your whistle?”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

They both took their army-issue tin cups and Joseph poured out two large measures. “So what are you looking forward to most?”

     

 

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