Billy Lawrence caught sight of his image reflected in the mirror behind the bar and smiled. He looked very dapper today, even if he did say so himself. He prided himself on always being smartly dressed; a desperate man could not afford to be otherwise. Rummaging in his overcoat pocket, he gathered together the few coppers huddled there and handed them to the barmaid with a wink. Not quite the right amount but she had a fancy for him and would let him get away with it. Most likely overcharge the next customer; it wouldn’t be the first time.
He held his breath as he passed through a heavy nicotine cloud and made his way towards his usual table beside the main door. A glass partition above the upholstered seating bay shielded him from the gaze of anyone entering the bar from the street and the position afforded him a full view of the main lounge area. He couldn’t be taken unawares here and he could easily slip into the street outside should the need arise. It was second nature these days to be prepared for any eventuality.
The dark brown liquid in his glass tasted bitter; the first mouthful always did. He reached into his pocket and ceremoniously placed a cigarette packet and box of matches on the table. There was only one fag left. He would have to make it last, seeing as he had just said goodbye to his last penny.
From underneath the brim of his hat he searched the shadows of the room, acknowledging those the strict protocol of such a place demanded he should, whilst remaining completely oblivious to the odd one or two that it was in his interest to pretend did not exist. Out of the corner of his eye he watched the accommodating barmaid as she patrolled the room collecting empty bottles and glasses. He leaned back into the cushioned seat and leisurely ran his eyes over her body as she approached his table grinning encouragement.
“You’re a bad lad, Billy Lawrence!”
“Aye. Just the way you like ‘em an all, Cora.” He held back from slapping her backside this time, he would save it for the next time the opportunity arose. He had a bit of business that needed taking care of first.
The rumble of the high street invaded the space between them as the main door opened and a number of dark-suited men entered. Cora blew Billy a kiss before sauntering back to the bar all lipstick and bravado. Billy reassuringly touched the weapon he carried with him and then took another sip of the beer which tasted much better this time. His luck might just be changing.
Frankie 'Switch' Blade was not a character to mess with. Billy knew his place. He waited quietly until one of Switch’s men approached him and invited him to join them. For someone with any sense at all, these were dangerous men to be getting involved with. Billy never claimed to have much sense anyway -- he had always been more brawn than brain.
Macca, a heavyset bruiser with a nose as flat as a pancake and ears to match, indicated with a grunt and a nod where Billy was to sit, a little to the side of those who were already seated. Billy took his place and waited patiently while Switch continued in whispered conversation with the small group gathered around him. Macca was Switch’s piece of muscle. The other two, Gorgeous George and Dan the Man, were known thieves and criminals of the lowest order. Billy had morals when it came to thieving; he’d rob anything from anywhere yet sticking up an individual was out of the question. Gorgeous George and Dan the Man had no morals whatsoever.
Billy couldn’t get a good look at Switch for the screen of smoke that surrounded him -- all five men, including Billy, were smoking roll ups. This, and the various hand and knuckle tattoos the men bore, indicated to any interested parties that it was a meeting of former jail birds. Billy adopted a casual air and tried to sneak a look at the other men’s lips without it looking too obvious what he was doing. Anyone with experience of working in a Lancashire cotton mill had the skill to lip read. Billy had worked as a card room doffer from the age of twelve until fate led him into a less salubrious way of life. He was only able to work out a couple of words before all activity stopped dead and Switch’s steel grey eyes cut towards him.
“Now then, Billy. Word’s reached me that you’ve got a quite a bit of experience with explosives. Do I hear right?”
Billy gulped down the mouthful of beer he had just taken and used it to quell the cough germinating in his throat. He hadn’t been expecting that. This was a bit deeper than he had been led to believe.
“Aye...a bit. From the war.”
“Heard you were a handy lad with it. Heard you could be just what I need to help me with a little job. Heard you were looking for work.”
Billy’s stomach tightened and he fought to keep his face a blank mask. Switch scared him all right. Not what he could do to him, but what he wouldn’t hesitate to do to Anne or the kids if things didn’t go his way.
Eight spidery eyes watched Billy intently. Everyone knew it was a done deal. Billy rose to his feet and took a last gasp from the cigarette he was smoking. Leaning forward, he pinched out the glowing red tip and dropped them both into the tin ashtray on the table in front of Switch. He looked down at the bald man sitting before him and stared confidently into his cold calculating eyes.
“I’m yer man. What’s the job?”
Labels: 1940s, Billy, Refuge of Delayed Souls, Web Fiction