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Feather's Miscellany: Freddy And The Bank Notes

John Waddington-Feather tells of punch-drunk boxer Freddy McNeigh, who finds himself in possession of more money than he can handle.

Freddy McNeigh had a face like a bag of rotten apples. It was puffy, flushed and his scrubby jaw sagged open all the time to breathe. His nose had been pulped years before when he was a professional boxer. He was in his forties when this tale I'm about to tell happened.

He'd been past his best when he came out of the war but refused to admit it. Consequently he'd become a wreck of the man he once was and was so punch drunk that he seemed tipsy when he was stone cold sober. Not that he was sober very often. The booze had taken him over and he'd taken to crime to feed his habit.

In the way that used to happen in those days, Sgt. Billy Dutton of the Keighworth police, took him under his wing helping in the town's boxing club, which Billy managed. Freddy helped Billy as much as Billy helped him, for Freddy was a good coach.

He'd been in the running for a Lonsdale Belt before the war as an up-and-coming featherweight. But he'd put on too much weight in the army and was out of condition when he was demobbed. He'd spent too long with the Eighth Army, fighting in the desert then slogging his way up Italy. Consequently he never made the grade as a welterweight when he came back home and ended up punch drunk.

When his boxing career folded, Freddy became a fire-watcher and labourer for the Forestry Commission. It was then he turned to thieving cars. From his fire station high above the forest, he could see for miles: all the fire breaks, all the beauty spots and all the car parks. He soon cottoned on that when hikers changed their boots and left their cars, there were easy pickings to be made. First, he just robbed the cars. Then he took the cars themselves.

When he spotted a car left alone, he'd race on his bike to the car park with a bunch of master keys, take the car and drive off straight up the motorway to flog the car to a bent dealer. He was given a knockdown price and driven by taxi straight back to his forest watch. The car was stripped, sprayed and given new number plates. The next day it was up for sale in a used car lot in London, or was whisked abroad to Holland.

It was years before Freddy was caught - and all because he couldn't handle stolen money. Cars, yes. Money, no. Especially when it ran into a quarter of a million. He just couldn't handle that amount.

It happened like this. He was on duty fire-watching one morning when he saw a large Jag draw into a tiny car park right in the middle of the forest. There was a couple in it who stayed in the car for some time and Freddy lost interest and began scouring the other car parks. But when he looked again the couple had gone. He looked closer. No, there was no one there. They must have set off walking.

"Easy picking," he said to himself. "An' the car must be worth five grand at least." He got on his bike and was off at the double.

There was still no sign of the couple when he arrived. No sound either. So he opened the car, jumped in and drove off smart without so much as a glance behind. He was on the motorway in no time and halfway up he stopped for a smoke and a closer look inside the car to see if there was anything worth taking. There was. Much more than he'd bargained for. More than he could handle.

For starters, there were two complete sets of clothes on the back seat: a man's and a woman's. Whoever had left the car had walked away starkers. The woman's clothes were cheap and reeked of perfume. The man's suit and underwear were expensive. There was a wallet in the jacket pocket which was stuffed with notes. Freddy slipped it into his pocket then saw the leather case beneath the clothes.

He opened it and couldn't believe his eyes. It was full of bundles of notes, all new, to the tune of a quarter of a million pounds! He licked his lips and ran his hand through his hair. It was all too much for him. No way could he launder that amount of money.

He panicked. "Bloody hell!" he thought. "What do I do with this lot? I can't leave 'em in the car!" He knew that if he tried to pass new notes he'd be picked up at once, so he chucked the clothes and the case down the embankment and continued to Manchester, where he flogged his car.

Unseen by him, the case burst open and banknotes began fluttering all along the embankment like confetti.

On the way back by taxi, they passed the spot where he'd dumped the case and clothes. Policemen were everywhere picking up the loose notes and scouring the undergrowth. "Wonder what they're up to?" pondered the taxi driver. "There's no accident."

Freddy said nothing and they drove on.

The evening papers were full of it. "Thousands of pounds loose on the M62!" ran the headlines, and went on to say where the money had been found along with two sets of clothing - but no bodies!

All was explained when a naked couple emerged from the woods covering their wherewithals with fern leaves, thumbing a lift from a very surprised motorist. He drove them to the police station where they were given some clothing and told the police what had happened.

Billy Dutton elaborated further that night at the boxing club during the tea break. He'd been on duty at the station when the naked couple rolled up. There was never a tale to be told like that at Keighworth Police Station again.

The clothes belonged to the manager at Fosters, the biggest engineering firm in town, and he'd collected the week's wages the morning Freddy had nicked his car. As was his wont, he'd also collected a dolly bird and had gone to have a bit of rumpy tumpy in the woods before he went back to work.

"A reg'lar back-to-nature boy!" laughed Billy. "Never seen a bloke look so daft in all my life, but his tart seemed to enjoy herself. She'd no shame, but then she'd nowt to lose, nowt at all if you see what I mean."

"Have they any idea who stole the car?" someone asked, and Freddy pricked up his ears.

"None at all," Bill replied, and stroked his chin. "But what I can't understand is why whoever stole the car for a few thousand quid, chucked away quarter of a million. It don't make sense."

It made sense to Freddy, but nevertheless he was picked up a few days later after he had passed some notes from the manager's wallet, for the manager had drawn the week's housekeeping in new notes at the same time as he drawn the firm's wages.

The case became a celebrity when the manager and his dolly bird gave evidence. They claimed they were nudists out for a quiet stroll. The judge saw the funny side of it and gave Freddy a lighter sentence than he might have given. Of course, Freddy lost his job with the Forestry, but he soon picked up another, grave-digging, where there was no temptation to thieve.


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