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The Legal and the Illicit - Excerpt

  

 

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The Legal and the Illicit

 

 

Here's a taster of my new yet to be released book.

By the way, if you fancy the idea of reviewing this book do let me know.

See below for more details on that. 

 

One 

 

The island of Carsos, an archetypal Greek island, one of the Cyclades, set in the deep blue sea where the Aegean and Mediterranean marry, and because it was small and lay further from the mainland than most, it appeared in few guidebooks. Tourists discovered Carsos by accident, or were recommended to travel there by impressed visitors hooked on its magic.

 

   Attractive coloured timber boats bobbed up and down in the small square harbour at Edris, the main town on the island, the only town worthy of the name, much as they had done since Agamemnon’s time. Set around the harbour were restaurants and bars that stayed open till midnight but rarely beyond. There wasn’t a nightclub on Carsos, the youth rabble were not encouraged, and for the most part, they stayed away.

 

   But Carsos did attract women of a certain age; it always had, for the island carried an imbalance in the population, the men outnumbering the women by three to two. And when so many of the local women appeared as ancient black clad matriarchs, was it any wonder the men’s eyes strayed elsewhere?

 

   Western women travelled to the island throughout the year seeking excitement, fair skinned white women who burnt red under the fierce sun. They were known locally as lobsters, bloated and seared red, ready to be harvested, and eaten.

 

Nicoliades Emperikos owned a bar on the quayside in Edris; he had done for years, and insisted on serving Greek food. If they wanted Kentucky fried chicken they could clear off to Kentucky. He served Greek drink too, but there his weakness for Scotch whisky forced him to relax his rules. He soon realised the older the whisky, the better the drink, and his collection of malts was the envy of the entire Mediterranean. Knowledgeable travellers, men and women alike, trekked to Carsos solely to visit Nicoliades, the keeper of the whiskies, and lover of the lobsters.

 

   He was thirty-nine and had put on a little weight, thickening around the chest and shoulders, but with fat, not muscle. Yet he was still handsome, boasting thick, dark, almost black hair, and dark brown eyes that sparkled in tune with the dancing lights that bounced across the gently swaying water in the harbour.

 

   The lobsters adored Nicoliades, they couldn’t leave him alone, and he took his pick of the crop right through the year, for there was no defined lobster fishing season on Carsos. They came for him all year round, just as they had since he was fifteen, and just as they would for as long as they wanted him, and for as long as he could produce the wood in the trousers.

 

   Lisa Greylag discovered Carsos by accident. She’d intended to take the ferry to Iraklion on Crete, but in the hustle and bustle on the quayside of Piraeus, as the steamers made ready to sail, she’d been herded onto the wrong boat by an aging lothario of a seaman, who’d taken a shine to the long bronzed legs that peeked from beneath her neat white shorts.

 

   She only discovered her error when he came to her during the voyage and began speaking in weak English, as Greece’s largest port disappeared into the distance astern, below the fluttering and magical blue and white flag.

 

   She was heading for the little known island of Carsos, but what the heck, she thought, for she was determined to enjoy one final adventure prior to her marriage to Midge Ridge, and anyway, she quite liked the idea of not knowing in which bed she would sleep, or even with whom. It was truly exciting, and youthfulness lasts but the once. She was twenty-two and in her prime.

 

   Lisa Greylag was not a lobster; she could hardly have been more different, and this was her last stab at freedom and she would go where fate commanded. It was the final week of the three she had planned for her great adventure, and she intended to live it to the full.

 

   She didn’t consider herself a tourist either, not like the others who rushed from island to island, from bar to bar, desperate for tales to tell at home, desperate to get laid, desperate for memories to warm and comfort them through the winter and into their old age. She kept herself to herself, away from the English, too many of whom were loudmouthed and dreadful.

 

   Occasionally she would pass herself off as an American, from Lanchester, Michigan, she would say, especially when a party of English people arrived who had drunk too much and had become boorish, which seemingly they inevitably did. She practiced her accent; she would deliberately sit at a table close to Americans in restaurants and bars and listen to their every word. She’d sit with her back to them and repeat their conversations verbatim, whispering to herself.

 

   ‘Oh, really! Oh my gad, he did that?’

 

   ‘Honestly Dolores, I couldn’t believe ma ahs!’

 

   ‘So where we goin’ tomorrow, honey?’

 

   ‘I’m happy here with lover boy, behind the bar,’ and they’d both smile randily at the barman, and laugh coarsely.

 

   Lisa would mimic the laugh too, and that would make her laugh. Every night before she went to sleep she’d practice that accent in front of the mirror, and then laugh aloud again, like a diplomat on a crash course learning a foreign language. ‘Oh my gad, he did that?’ Repeat again. ‘Oh my gad, he did that?’ Better. ‘I couldn’t believe ma ahs! I couldn’t believe ma ahs! You better believe it, honey. Hah!’

 

   She’d become good at it too; expert even, and she knew it. She could pass herself off as an American anywhere, anytime, even within a bunch of American tourists, and on more than one occasion she had attached herself to conducted tour parties, with never a hint she might be discovered.

 

   ‘Ya come from Lanchester, Michigan ya say? Can’t say as I know it.’

 

   ‘Small town America,’ Petra would reply in her best American twang. It was no surprise to her that her newfound colleagues didn’t know of Lanchester, Michigan, for it didn’t exist, outside of Lisa’s fertile mind.

 

   Nicoliades spotted her the moment she entered his bar. It was half past eight. She was tall and slim and looked around as if she was with someone, but there was no one there. She was on her own, Nic instinctively knew it, and somehow she looked a little lonely too. Nic had become an expert in loneliness, he could lecture on the topic, he’d seen so much of it, and he’d long since learnt that the lonelier they were, the more vulnerable they would be, and the easier to seduce.

 

   This girl reeked of loneliness, yet so beautiful. She wasn’t red at all, unlike the others, but a tanned bronze, her short pageboy haircut strangely sexy, not severe at all, her light brown hair bleached blond by the fierce sun. This girl wasn’t a recent arrival either, she’d been in Greece a while, and yet it was strange that such a beautiful young woman remained alone.

 

   She ambled to the bar and half smiled at Nicoliades. He was drying and shining a glass, his body language oozing disinterest. He guessed she might be German, or a Swede, and she hadn’t yet decided who she would be that night. She’d flirted with the idea of becoming Irish for the day. She’d seen the way they’d disdainfully roll their eyes in disgust when a bunch of rowdy English women threatened to destroy the romantic ambience that everyone else was intent on soaking themselves in. They shrieked so, whenever they laughed, the English, shrieked, hideously.

 

   She practiced that eye roll, she practiced the hand gestures, Lisa Greylag was an inveterate practicer, so it was something of a surprise when she smiled at the guy and said softly, ‘Hello,’ in her natural English voice, as she peered past him at the variety of drinks that filled the mirror-backed shelves.

 

   She was English, he mused, he was surprised at that, she seemed far too beautiful to be English. Her skin was perfect, more like an Italian’s, and her haircut expensive, as he watched her admiring his whiskies through those clear eyes.

 

   ‘Hello,’ he replied, ‘drink?’

 

   She nodded sweetly. ‘Yeah. White wine.’

 

   Her teeth were small, yet perfect, and the whiteness stood out against her bronzed face. Her lips were inviting, not too full and not too thin, with just the hint of pink lipstick, and he already knew he’d like to kiss those lips, but he was getting ahead of himself. He poured her a large glass of dry white wine from the cooler and the glass instantly frosted on being caressed by the icy liquid.

 

   Lisa slipped her purse from the maroon leather bag she’d bought up in Patrai, and unzipped it to pay for the drink. Nic recognised the quality Greek leatherwork, the girl had taste.

 

   ‘Are you eating?’

 

   She nodded, and he waved the money away saying, ‘You don’t pay for the first glass, not if you’re eating.’

 

   She smiled again and looked around the bar. It was half full of diners experimenting with their Greek food, as they gazed into their partner’s eyes. There were half knowing smiles aplenty, as if to say, ‘If you think last night was exciting, you wait for what I’ve in store for you tonight!’

 

   Glances. Stolen whispers. A heavy breath on the side of the face, or neck. A shared smile. Two knees might touch. A finger might tickle an opposing palm, before flitting away as quickly as it had arrived. A light kiss on the ear as one stood and ambled towards the bathroom. The sunshine, the beach, the wine, a heady cocktail, and if you couldn’t get laid on Carsos maybe you should consider taking holy orders.

 

   Outside the bar under a freshly painted pergola on the quayside were more tables set within a few feet of the rhythmically swaying water. They were bathed in a mixture of moonlight and blue light from the limited neon sign that proclaimed Nicoliades’ Bar. The dark sky was filled with stars and an occasional pathetic cloud raced across the face of the moon, but they vanished as soon as they appeared, leaving the yellow round moon low in the sky directly above the entrance to the harbour, as if signalling late sailors home.

 

   ‘Shall I show you to your table?’

 

   She nodded, collected her bag, and sipped and carried her half finished drink.

 

   He led her to a small square table that was set inside the bar along the side of the restaurant where it was close enough to attend upon himself. He’d set her there, not so much to keep an eye on her, but to ward off any local chancers who might wander in. This girl was his, at least while she sat in his bar, she was his. He shouted something in Greek that she didn’t understand, and a young boy appeared as if by magic. He was about fourteen and already cute, a boy she wrongly guessed was Nicoliades’ son.

 

   He smiled down at the smart lady; for she was much better looking than the usual crew they saw in uncle Nicoliades’ Bar, not so old, not so red and puffy, and she readily returned his smile, and that was all he could wish for. He carefully set the table, just the single place, and disappeared as quickly as he’d arrived. At no time had he asked her if she was alone, and she wondered if it was that obvious.

 

   She glanced at the laminated menu. It was in Greek, English, and German, though it might as well have been in Urdu, such was her knowledge of Greek food. Nicoliades returned, standing above her, pencil poised.

 

   ‘What do you recommend?’

 

   ‘The lamb, the lamb’s lovely and fresh.’ He pointed to the best lamb dish. ‘Try that one. Don’t have the beef.’

 

   ‘The beef’s not lovely and fresh?’ she teased.

 

   It was his turn to roll his eyes.

 

   She nodded. ‘OK. The lamb it is.’

 

   They both watched as the young man returned with a tray bearing the meals for two American women sitting two tables away.

 

   ‘Two beef stifados!’ he announced triumphantly, as he laid the plates bearing the steaming spicy dishes before them.

 

   ‘Thanks, young fella,’ said the older more wrinkled one, in a voice so deep it could have emanated from Petra’s grandfather.

 

   Lisa glanced across at the meals, and then at Nicoliades, questioningly. He shrugged his shoulders. ‘One lamb, coming up,’ and he disappeared, as did, in due course the beef dinners, without complaint, without so much as a hiccup, but who knew what revenge lay in store for beef diners later?

 

   ‘Thanks, young fella,’ drawled Lisa in her mind, parroting to herself again. ‘Thanks, young fella.’ It was a phrase that had not previously been within her expanding vocabulary. It certainly was now.

 

   The lamb, as promised, was excellent. Rich and fresh as if butchered that morning, which it probably was, the sauce, peppery and spicy, bearing flavours she barely recognised. It made her belch behind her hand, and she smiled self-consciously across the restaurant to no one in particular, for her fellow diners were far too busy engrossed in their partners to notice the tall single English girl who was now on her fourth glass of potent wine.

 

   The Greek youth cleared her table and flashed his teeth. He glanced down at her naked long legs protruding from the white shorts. She caught him eyeing her up lasciviously, and at his age too, she couldn’t miss it, and yet she still happily returned his smile. The cheeky young thing, she thought, he’d be a handful, and all too soon, that much was certain. Nicoliades returned and placed the bill on the table. ‘Would you like to come to the bar? Perhaps a nightcap?’

 

   He beckoned towards the counter where six red-topped stools stood in a line like soldiers. The end two had just become free, vacated by two young Germans who’d hurried away arm-in-arm, as if unable to restrain themselves any longer. Petra smiled. She hadn’t intended staying late, yet the night was warm, and she knew that sleep would be difficult to find, and what harm was there in one more drink?

 

   ‘OK, just the one.’

 

   She hauled herself up onto the end stool and placed her bag on the bar. He gestured at the whiskies. ‘Are you tempted? By the Scotch?’

 

   ‘Oh no, another wine.’

 

   He carefully poured her a fresh glass, before replenishing the drinks of two dark haired drinkers at the end of the bar who were speaking in a language she didn’t recognise. Then he was back. Smiling, making small talk, and glass rubbing, the perfect host.

 

   ‘You’re alone?’

 

   ‘Yes.’

 

   ‘Don’t you get lonely?’

 

   ‘No.’

 

   That at least he could understand. This girl would never be alone for long.

 

   ‘Have you somewhere to stay?’

 

   ‘Yes, I’ve booked a room at the Pelios Hotel.’

 

   He laughed contemptuously and shouted something in Greek to his friend Aris, who was serving drinks further along the bar. Aris grinned patronisingly at the girl, and returned the laughter with interest.

 

   ‘What are you laughing at?’

 

   ‘The Pelios Hotel! Hardly the Ritz, is it?’

 

   She saw the joke. It wasn’t, but it was clean and boasted the luxury of a decent toilet and holy of holies, a fresh roll of toilet paper. That was all she needed really, a toilet, a basin, a bed, and a mirror, and it was cheap too, for she had no desire to hammer the credit card again, not with the wedding looming. Midge would be miffed enough as it was, with her travelling alone to Greece, without her running up a huge bill by staying in expensive hotels.

 

   Lisa yawned and wafted her hand in front of her pink mouth. ‘I’ll have to go before I fall asleep.’

 

   She finished the drink and paid the twenty-euro bill.

 

   Nic took the money and slapped it into the till with a flourish. He looked her in the eye and smiled again. ‘Will we have the pleasure of your company again tomorrow?’

 

   ‘I don’t know, you might.’

 

   She stepped down and started towards the door, before half turning, she said, ‘Goodnight, and thanks for the free drink.’

 

   ‘Goodnight, English girl.’ He watched her all the way to the door, her back, her shorts, and what lay beneath, and then she was gone, and oddly his full bar now seemed quite deserted.

 

   Aris laughed aloud and shouted, ‘That’s the last you’ll see of her. She’s far too good for you.’

 

   ‘No, I don’t think so.’

 

   ‘Fifty euro says she doesn’t come back tomorrow.’

 

   ‘You’re on, fifty euro, and don’t forget!’

 

   Nicoliades sniffed and perked up. The night was still young and a group of six ravenous American lobsters had slithered into the bar. The Greek men knowingly exchanged glances. There was money to be made, and much dancing to be done before the sun came up, much vanity to be preened, and many opportunities to exercise the heart. To the outside world Nicoliades’ Bar would close at midnight, but in truth the doors would be locked, the shutters turned, with the invited ones remaining inside, for as long as Nicoliades saw fit.

 

   Carsos was an idyllic island; everyone said so, especially the women who travelled there, year after year. 

 

Two

 

 

The Ridge family lived in a mock Tudor mansion that bordered Caldy golf course in what was generally considered to be the best residential area on the Wirral peninsula. The house had been christened Misnomer, and though no one quite knew why it bore that name, the Ridge’s never once considered changing it.

 

   Their neighbours were a mixed bunch of the established and the bizarre. A judge, a solicitor, an American accountant working out of Liverpool, three Everton FC footballers, a sixties beat generation has-been, an independent television game show host, an alcoholic poet, and two eighties techno band never-were’s.

 

   Sprinkled amongst them was a weird selection of people who seemingly had no obvious source of income, yet they always rode the high life. Properties overseas, celebrity friends, Masonic membership, all were the order of the day, and no expense spared. The only thing obvious about them was that something clearly didn’t add up. Little wonder the tax authorities kept a careful eye on the supposedly non-working Caldy residents.

 

   Sooner or later, everyone who was anyone in Caldy graduated to one of the three sports clubs that dominated the social life of the area. The golf club, the rugby club on the other side of the high road, or the sailing club down the hill at West Kirby, and preferably all three. Those that couldn’t, or wouldn’t join the clubs, sulked and moaned loudly and publicly of their fate in the Moby Dick or the Cottage Loaf up on Thurstaston Hill. The few that weren’t drinkers, or were blackballed, stayed at home, and counted their money, and learnt how to hate their fellow man.

 

   The Ridge family had always had it easy, or so it seemed, portraying an image of old money, yet nothing was further from the truth for it was only Vimy Ridge’s father who had dragged them from the gutter that was the slums of inner city Liverpool. He began trading during the depression and built up his business from nothing. Vimy Ridge’s father’s name was Norman, but he hated to be called that. He worked on the Liverpool docks, buying and selling substandard commodities. He began in 1930 as a fourteen-year-old lad after his father had died prematurely of TB. Norman was sent out early in life to earn his living and support the family, for if he didn’t earn, he didn’t eat, and neither would they.

 

    Norman bought anything he could lay his hands on from the lascars that crewed the filthy tubs that slipped into the docks every day. He’d buy anything that might turn a shilling. Pilfered stock, sweepings left over in the depths of the hold, scrap metal he often suspected had been ripped from the very fabric of the rust buckets that came and went through the mucky river, and after a while he began calling himself Rocky Ridge, and unknowingly set in motion a tradition of the family naming their children, how they liked to call, Interestingly.

 

   He thought it made him sound harder, Rocky, formidable even, he thought it made him sound tough, and it soon became known that Rocky Ridge would buy it all. He’d buy materials the other dock traders wouldn’t touch at any price, and Rocky Ridge paid well too; he paid in cash and on the nail. Rusty metal, insect ridden grain, wet cotton, black bananas, saturated timber, sea water damaged groundnuts, tainted molasses, damaged goods of every conceivable kind, it was all the same to Rocky. He knew that in those difficult days of the early thirties they all retained some value, and he’d buy it accordingly.

 

   Within a year he had become well known to the lascars, and their faces would light up whenever they saw the young man skipping up the gangplank, their white teeth like beacons against their dark skin. Word spread quicker than a command from the skipper himself, Rocky Ridge was on the ship! Some of the seamen would make more money liberating pounds shillings and pence from Rocky’s pocket than their meagre wages, so it was no surprise that he became so popular. He paid the best prices and everyone knew it, and he was a man of honour, and somehow he managed to smuggle the bloot, local slang for dodgy goods, off the ship and through the dock gates, often under the nose of the fat red-faced copper, Sergeant O’Grady, who made it his personal business to nab smugglers and bloot runners at every turn.

 

   Rocky stored his precious commodities in a filthy ancient warehouse he’d rented in Oil Street that stretched down between Great Howard Street and the Dock Road. His first task had been to move the rats out, and he accomplished that with the aid of Gladstone and Disraeli, two tough full-grown tomcats he’d bought from Mrs Devlin for a shilling. Mrs Devlin was an alcoholic, and though she would miss the cats, the barley wine the coin bought, was ample temporary compensation. Gladstone was black with a white blaze, Disraeli ginger. They looked out for one another and would only occasionally squabble if a pretty female strayed onto their territory. Both cats quickly took to Rocky, who fed them titbits, and the rats all but disappeared, and in future Rocky’s precious stock would remain unmolested.

 

   He liked to store the bloot for as short a time as possible, in case anyone came snooping. He’d want it away and would take a modest profit to move it on quickly. Buy cheap, sell quick, get rid, and count the profit, that was Rocky’s mantra, and it served him well. It kept him out of the courts and the sales numbers turning.

 

   He trudged the docks from dawn till dusk, wearing out his shoe leather quicker than any man. From Garston to Gladstone, striking deals, making acquaintances, pressing hands, buying the counter offs a pint, becoming well known. Occasionally he’d tread on the toes of more established traders, older hard-bitten men who didn’t take kindly to a young whippersnapper of a competitor operating on their territory. It showed disrespect. Once or twice in his younger days he was on the wrong end of a beating, and many times he’d be threatened in the dock road pubs, but somehow Rocky survived. He always bounced back and gradually grew stronger. If he could survive and prosper there, he could survive anywhere, and he knew it.

 

   He supported his mother and four siblings single-handedly for four years, faithfully promising that he passed every surplus penny to her. In reality she received a shilling for every three he deposited into his savings account in the red brick post office on Stanley Road, Bootle. There he slowly built up the financial muscle to enable him to buy big. Bigger consignments meant fatter profits for him, and for all the Ridge family, for they still depended on him for their survival, and all the while he worked his guts out Rocky Ridge harboured dreams. Of beautiful women, of building a future for himself, of creating a dynasty, of gaining power and influence. He could see it all stretched out before him, and it excited him so much that occasionally it would keep him awake at nights as he slipped eagerly into his imaginary world. It kept him warm in the winter and raised him from his bed in the morn.

 

   He understood well enough how the world worked, he always had. There was nothing you couldn’t do, or couldn’t obtain, providing you had the money. No one rich ever starved, and he knew of hundreds of people who were not getting enough to eat. It wouldn’t happen to him. His sole intention was to amass cash as fast as he could, and he was in a hurry. If he lived for a hundred years there wouldn’t be enough time to build all the castles he saw in his head. Like all successful entrepreneurs his mind gushed with bright ideas.

 

   When he was twenty he took his younger brother Jack into the business. It was a particularly tough time and the additional manpower meant greater strength and more respect. He was no longer a one-man band, and people were beginning to take notice of the rough arse who was making waves.

 

   When he was twenty-two something happened to Rocky that changed his life forever. He met Mary Downing. She was eighteen and served behind the bar of The Cutlass on the Dock Road, where her father was the landlord. Legend had it he’d won the pub with a hand of stud poker, but no one could remember the unfortunate owner who’d staked all on his losing three queens. Four threes, four wicked threes!

 

   Mary wore her jet-black hair tied up in a bun and that revealed her long slender porcelain like neck. Rocky wasn’t the first man to notice that, for he would have many rivals in that direction, and he knew it too. All the more reason to press on.

 

   The day he first set eyes upon her he instinctively knew she was the girl for him. The first time he saw her neck he harboured a crazy desire to kiss it, and lick it, and far worse besides. Rocky hadn’t felt that way about any girl before, and told no one of his desires, not even young Jack, with whom he shared so much, lest they’d think him crazy, or step in before him. When it came to pretty girls he trusted no one, not even Jackie Ridge. She wouldn’t be single for long, not a stunner like Mary Downing, and he wouldn’t tolerate interlopers. The second time he saw her he told her that one day she would become his wife, and she’d better start getting used to the idea.

 

   You should be so lucky, she thought, but the look in his eyes had laid down the law, I’m telling you!

 

   ‘Get away with you,’ she admonished him. ‘Don’t be so daft.’

 

   The Downings were third generation Irish, and despite the fact that Mary had lived all her life within fifteen miles of the river Mersey, she possessed a soft Irish accent that she’d picked up listening to her plentiful aunts and uncles in the extended family. Deep down she knew it wasn’t daft at all, for she liked Rocky as much as he liked her. It was meant to be that way, she knew it, and the only thing that mattered was that they played their cards right, and in the correct order. She believed in love at first sight, always had done, and try as she might to remove this man from her mind, she could not, and eventually she gave up trying. She liked him there, always inside her head; in her mind, it warmed her heart and soothed her spirit, she adored being in love, even if she could never tell a living soul.

 

   His attraction had something to do with the way he carried himself, his broad shoulders and huge powerful hands. His thick cropped hair, and the individual animal-like hairs that seemed to stand straight up from the back of his hands, as if standing to attention, demanding to know everything there was to learn about the world. She loved his expensive thick shiny shoes too, and the heavy brown suit that he usually wore; there wasn’t anything she disliked about the man. It helped too that he didn’t seem to be scared of anyone or anything, and everyone in the bar was wary of him. You could tell that, just by being around him, that no one would ever mess with Rocky Ridge, for he’d grown strong. He had a presence, an aura.

 

   Nor was he ever pushy or coarse. He never told filthy jokes that some of the other saloon bar slime-balls would deliberately spit out within her earshot, as if trying to embarrass her. She thought him a gentleman, and in his own muddy pool, he was, and God knows in the world inhabited by Mary Downing, they were mighty hard to find. She felt safe when Rocky Ridge was in the bar, and that was a fact.

 

   She’d serve him his Guinness before anyone else, and no one would ever grumble about that, leastways not anyone who knew Rocky, and that applied to just about everyone who drank in The Cutlass. Rocky Ridge seemed to know everyone, and everyone knew him. You took your turn, unless you were prepared to risk a ruck, and not many would take that on.

 

   Six months later they were married in the Catholic Church in Pownall Square at the back of the busy Exchange Railway Station in central Liverpool, just around the corner from the aptly named Wedding House pub. There was nowhere else they could possibly have held the reception but in the bar of the Wedding House, where the owners did them proud, with their corned beef and fish paste sandwiches, sausage rolls, and sliced homemade fruit cake. The day would live long in the memory, as would the six black and white photographs that Rocky had arranged to have taken on the church steps.

 

   Afterwards, they took the ferry from the Pierhead and sailed down the river on a calm evening to New Brighton, where they would spend their honeymoon in the Red Gables guesthouse, not a stone’s throw from the Tower ballroom. On the boat, Rocky picked some confetti still lodged in her dark hair that peeked below the rim of her hat. Mary loved that, the careful attention of her new husband who ensured that she was just so. But she had never been with a man before, and naturally enough was mighty nervous at the prospect. Her family had teased her unmercifully of how rough it would be, how he’d beat her when she misbehaved, and force her to do things she’d barely imagined, let alone experienced. She was a married woman now, and she must please her husband, whatever it took. Sexual intercourse was not supposed to be enjoyed by women, so said Bertrand Russell’s new book Marriage & Morals, a copy of which she had discovered quite by accident in the Central Library. It was a chore to be endured, it said, and essential that it were painful, to keep the woman pure. The book was an horrific read. It made her shiver, it made her frown, and uneasy too, if she wasn’t worried enough already.

 

   So it was with great trepidation that she had stepped onto the Royal Iris, the ferry that had slipped up and down the river for longer than anyone could remember. She held his arm tightly and thought of begging him to be gentle, but that sounded too ludicrous to say, so she bit her lip, and forced a smile, as they strolled around in circles on the top deck, as the gulls wheeled noisily above their heads. He knew something was amiss, preying on her mind, but he put it down to first night nerves, and he was probably right at that.

 

   She needn’t worry. I’m an experienced man, he fancifully thought, and experienced he was, if you counted the dozens of prossies he’d had for a florin on a Friday night, a quick one-two down the alleyway, up against the wall. In and out before the copper came. No one else paid as little as a florin, that was a special rate that Rocky alone enjoyed. All the dock dollies knew Rocky, and for the most part liked him too, and their paths were forever crossing; for some of them tramped the Dock Road almost as much as he did. Most of the tarts would have let him have it for nothing if only he’d thought to ask, for he made such a change to the usual drunk, aggressive and creepy punters and seamen who floated through the pubs and clubs of dockland Liverpool. He was clean, strong, and gentle, and though he was known as a fighting man, he had never been known to lay a finger on a dock girl in anger. Little wonder that so many of them were secretly in love with him, another fact that had escaped his attention entirely.

 

   The landlady of the Red Gables was an ancient dear by the name of Herridge. That was her surname, but it was the name by which she was known to all. ‘Just call me Herridge,’ she’d say. Florence, her first name, was far too familiar, she imagined, and few people had ever been blessed with knowing her Christian name.

 

   Herridge could spot a honeymoon couple from fifty paces, even with her failing eyesight and bending back. But it didn’t stop her asking to inspect their marriage licence, for there would be no hanky panky in the Red Gables without one. She gazed down at the immaculate piece of paper, each green frame neatly completed in dark longhand script, so lovingly written that very morning, so fresh, the ink appeared still wet.

 

   ‘That’ll do,’ she said, as she folded and handed the paper back to the pretty young girl who seemed barely old enough to be married, and to such a strapping chap at that. She was in for a right time of it, that was for sure, and it was probably as well that Herridge didn’t pass on her colourful thoughts to Mary.

 

   They slowly followed her up the four flights of stairs, each clasping their tiny brown suitcase they’d bought together in Blacker’s store especially for the occasion, to the room at the very top of the house where the window looked out over the boating lake towards Fort Perch Rock and the lighthouse beyond. Inside, a fine mahogany bedspread almost filled the room. Herridge turned back the bed to reveal the clean white freshly pressed sheets that looked so exciting to Rocky. A clean bed and a pretty young wife, what more could any man desire?

 

   ‘The bed’s been aired, and it’s clean, you’ve no worries there.’

 

   ‘Thank you Mrs Herridge,’ said Mary, nervously.

 

   ‘It’s three and six a night, breakfast included.’

 

   Rocky pulled the coins from deep within his tweed trousers and slipped them into the old lady’s shrivelled hand. She smiled gratefully. At least they hadn’t haggled. She couldn’t abide hagglers. 

 

   ‘Breakfast’s at eight. Porridge, kippers, bacon, toast and tea. If you’re not down by half past, you don’t get none.’

 

   Rocky nodded, and promised faithfully they would be down. He shut the door carefully behind her, and listened for the sound of her feet as she shuffled away down the stairs. He turned and walked back across the room towards Mary. She’d removed her coat and stood there before him in her long tight woollen dress, her black helmet like hat still affixed upon her head. He pulled her towards him and kissed her gently. Mary trembled.

 

   ‘What’s the matter girl? Are you cold?’

 

   ‘No,’ she stammered, ‘I’m frightened.’

 

   ‘Frightened? Frightened of what?’

 

   ‘You know,’ and she glanced nervously down at the bed, and back at him.

 

   ‘Oh I see,’ he beamed. ‘There’s nowt to be frightened of, I’ll be gentle with thee.’

 

   And he was, each time.

 

   She shed a tear, but it was truly lovely, and she knew she’d made the right choice in marrying Rocky Ridge, and she would stay with him forever. She would bear him many sons, she desperately wanted him to be proud of her, but most of all, she wanted to be the best wife a man ever possessed. That night they were as happy as any couple could ever be.

 

 

In the morning they were down in plenty of time for breakfast. Not many honeymooners were, but they were hungry, ravenous. Herridge studied the girl carefully as she served the porridge. Sure, she looked a little tired, but something had put a dash of colour into her cheeks, and she knew darn well what that was. She smiled knowingly at the girl and Mary flushed, smiled, and looked away through the window at the passers-by hurrying for the morning ferry, as they skipped across the road before the cream and blue trams.

 

   ‘How long are you planning on staying?’

 

   Rocky scratched his chin. ‘I thought we’d stay for the full week,’ and he glanced across at Mary, as if for confirmation.

 

   She nodded and half smiled. ‘That would be lovely,’ she murmured. ‘A whole week would be fine indeed.’

 

   ‘A week it is then,’ and he opened his wallet, and paid with two ten bob notes and a handful of coppers.

 

   ‘You don’t need to be bothered with those,’ said Herridge, pushing the coins back across the table. ‘You treat your pretty wife to something nice.’

 

   Mary blushed again, and wished she hadn’t, while Rocky could never remember anyone refusing his money before, for anything. He thanked Herridge warmly. She was a woman of class, he thought, and he’d remember her always.

   ‘I will, I will,’ he glowed. Then he looked across at Mary again, and thanked the Lord for treating him so well. Rocky Ridge was indeed a most fortunate man, and things were looking up. Rocky Ridge was well and truly on his way, and he couldn’t wait.

 

 

Three

 

© Copyright David Carter 2013 & TrackerDog Media 2013

Thank you for reading this taster for The Legal and the Illicit and of course I hope you liked it.

The book is now finished and is currently going through final checks, changes, and proofreading.

I will be looking for some additional early reviewers too, so if you fancy an early pre-release copy, with the thought of writing a book review, please let me know. You can contact me about that right here 

It should be released on the summer of 2014, and yes it does feature Inspector Walter Darriteau and the team in the final third of the book.

 

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