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The Limit: Chapter 4

...He and Dempsey Wogan had arrived there very early one morning, mist over the water, birds just waking, the air fresh enough to make you drunk. It had been bloody beautiful, the first and only time nature had really moved him. Then he had got on with the job and kneecapped a Jock...

Maudie has been a tough character for sure, but now he is capable of shedding tears.

To read earlier chapters of Peter Lacey's hard-hitting crime novel please click on The Limit in the menu on this page.

It was one of the last he had given out. Seventeen years ago? It must be eighteen.

He had enjoyed being with her during that strange week in the northern seaside resort. He absentmindedly felt in his cardigan pocket for Bombay bits and was glad he didn't have any when he realised what he was doing.

The card and the week had been a late flourish as his career of crime went into decline. A career that had started so well, too. Ten years of being a somebody with Jack Spot.

After the war, Jack and Billy Hill had run the West End between them—two blokes with bottle. When they had a major disagreement they settled it themselves. August, 1954. The papers called it The Battle of Frith Street when Jack and Billy went at each other with knives in the streets of Soho. One against one, instead of a gang war. How would the Dysons have made out in such company?

A year later, the Krays went to work for Spotty. The twins from Vallance Road had a fearsome reputation. Maudie knew them, of course. They shared the same heritage of Vicky Park, Tubby Isaac's pie and eel stall, Bloom's, and graduation from Shepton Mallet military nick. And it wasn't long before Jack and Billy stepped aside for the new generation.

Maudie didn't join the Krays' Firm until 1961, by which time they had Esmeralda's, their first uptown bar. Very respectable. Very tiara and tonic. Maudie stayed down Bethnal Green Road and ran a spieler. He also performed other services. Ronnie had an understanding with the Glasgow gangs, and Maudie made four trips north. Loch Lomond had been the most memorable.

He and Dempsey Wogan had arrived there very early one morning, mist over the water, birds just waking, the air fresh enough to make you drunk. It had been bloody beautiful, the first and only time nature had really moved him. Then he had got on with the job and kneecapped a Jock. Reggie had called it a reciprocal favour. Maudie didn't remember the Jock but he had always remembered Loch Lomond.

Then the twins had got too big and Ronnie began to believe he was Al Capone. He walked into the bar of The Blind Beggar and shot George Cornell in the head. That was the moment Maudie realised Ronnie had gone potty, the moment Maudie got out. It wasn't healthy to be around any nore. Friends as well as enemies disappeared. The end came when the twins stabbed to death harmless Jack the Hat to prove how tough they were. They were arrested. Maudie, and a large section of the East End, were relieved when they put away.

Maudie had lost his enthusiasm by watching Ronnie's totally mindless violence. He had gone looking for that one-off that could set him up for life. Instead, he had almost got life.

Now he was serving out his time in the Tout's shop, and that might not be for ever. Business was not exactly brisk and he felt it would not be long before the premises were sold out to another all-hours Paki shop or curry house. Maudie's next stop could be down the road at the dossers' crypt at Spital-fields Christ Church.

"What were you doing in Blackpool? When we met at the nightclub?" Toni asked.

He grinned.

"I was taking a holiday. Because of the interest of the Metropolitan Police. A wages snatch."

"Did they catch you?"

"Not for that. But they got me for the next. I took a holiday in Spain that time—no disrespect to Blackpool—but got fed up after three weeks. I had an overwhelming urge for light and bitter." He grinned again. "They lifted me on my first night back. Full of light and bitter. I was away three years."


"Banged up. Prison."

"What did you do when you came out?"

"More of the same. I was a mug. A warehouse job first. That went all right. Then another wages van. Securicor had improved. It went wrong. Bloody wrong. I was caught two days later and got a ten stretch. I did seven."

"God. Seven years? It seems for ever."

"Nothing's for ever. Especially when you get older."

"Since then?"

"Since then I've done nothing. I didn't want to go back inside, you see. I was fifty-six when I came out last time. Another heavy pull and I'd have been in for what was left of my life. I now wonder why I tried so hard to stay out. When
you get past fifty, life's an express train." He tilted his head back and looked at the ceiling. "Where did it all go?"

"I'm sorry."

"No need to be sorry. I had good times. More than most. But I crammed them all in at the beginning and left none for my old age. It's me that's sorry. For giving you that card. I was forty-five and pretending I was still in my prime. I was being Jack the lad. Showing off. I shouldn't have."

"I'm glad you gave it to me." She said it with a determined effort to be cheerful. "That card has been through Europe and across America. I've impressed countless numbers of people with it and frightened a few that got on my nerves."

He chuckled, then became thoughtful again.

"Look, Toni. You took me by surprise, turning up out of the blue. Give me time to think. Maybe I can come up with someone, something. Are you staying in town?"

"I haven't checked in anywhere, but yes. I'll be staying overnight. I have to go back tomorrow. I have a dinner date with Steven Dyson. It was the price of a truce. I said we should talk and the intimidation stopped."

"Can I see you tonight?" he said. "If I don't come up with anything, at least I can buy you a drink." He would have to dip into the till but the Tout wouldn't mind when he explained. He shrugged. "You caught me at a bad time. I'll be more presentable tonight."

"Sure. We'll have a drink and I'll buy you dinner. A business dinner," she added, to stifle protests. "Part of the consultancy fee." She opened her handbag and palmed banknotes, then held out her hand. "Take it, Maudie. You're a professional with expert advice to offer. In my business, advice is paid for."

She pushed the money into his hand and walked back into the shop before he could return it. He followed. At the front door she looked back.

"I'll pick you up at eight. Here?" He nodded. "Think of a good Indian restaurant to take me to. As I recall, you grumbled all the way through stuffed peppers and spaghetti eighteen years ago."

When the door opened and the sun once more burst in, he could see her silhouette through the dress again. It was just for a moment, before his eyes misted.

He realised, with surprise and despair, that he was crying.


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