You’ve been discovering Tom Harper and Leeds in 1890 – at least I hope you’re reading Gods of Gold. I’m incredibly proud of it, and I adore Annabelle (if you don’t know who she is, read the book).
But in January I moved ahead to 1954 and Dan Markham, a young enquiry agent in Leeds. Here’s a taster.
The Adelphi probably hadn’t changed since the turn of the century. An old gas lamp still hung over the front door. Inside, the pub was dark wood, dull brass and bevelled etched glass, all neglected and in need of a thorough cleaning. At the bar he ordered an orange squash.
A table and two chairs sat in the middle of the snug. This room was different; freshly scrubbed, the hearth black-leaded, tiles gleaming and windows shining.
‘Have a seat, Mr Markham,’ the man by the window said. The voice on the telephone. He checked his wristwatch. ‘You’re right on time.’ He smiled. ‘Punctuality is a good sign.’
‘An organised man.’ He was probably in his late forties but well-kept, broadly built, neat dark hair shot through with grey. His nose had been broken in the past and there were small scars across his knuckles. But he didn’t have the look of a bruiser. His eyes shone with intelligence. The dark suit was costly, a subdued pinstripe, cut smartly enough to hide the start of a belly. The tie was real silk. He sat and gestured at the chair opposite. ‘We have things to talk about.’
‘One thing, at least.’
‘In my experience one thing always leads to another. It’s the way of the world.’ And he had the air of someone who’d spent a fair bit of time in the heart of the world.
‘I like to know who I’m talking to.’
‘I’m David Carter.’ He brought out a pack of Dunhills and a slim gold lighter. ‘Does that name mean anything to you?’ he asked as he blew smoke towards the ceiling.
‘Good.’ He sipped from a glass of whisky, savouring the taste before swallowing it. ‘Never wise to be too public. If people see a name cropping up a few times they tend to become inquisitive.’
‘So what do you want with me?’
The man cocked his head. ‘Your co-operation.’
‘You should have just asked, Mr Carter.’ The words were calm enough, but he was shaking inside. Whoever this man was, he knew exactly what he was doing. ‘You obviously know where my office is.’
Carter reached into the side pocket of his suit and threw a packet of Lucky Strikes onto the table.
‘I’m told you liked those during your National Service in Hamburg. That American colleague of yours used buy them for you from the PX. Have them. My compliments.’
All he could do was sit and stare. Oscar, the American Pfc he’d worked with in Germany, had been able to buy the cigarettes on base for next to nothing. That and the jazz records. Carter possessed a long reach. All the way to the War Office. And far beyond. It was a powerful little gesture. Impressive. And chilling.
‘What do you want in Leeds?’
‘Oh, I’ve been buying some businesses here in the last few months. You won’t have heard.’ He gave a quick, tight smile. ‘And those who work for me are good at staying out of sight. Except for one of the chaps following you today. But you didn’t notice the other, did you?’ He stared at the burning tip of his cigarette for a moment. ‘Tell me, Mr Markham, what do you know about crime in Leeds? This is your home, after all.’
‘I don’t really deal with criminals,’ he answered slowly. ‘If you think I do, you’ve got the wrong man.’
‘Indulge me. What do you know?’
He shrugged. ‘There are tarts. Shebeens. I imagine there’s illegal gambling and some protection rackets. I don’t really know.’
‘Penny ante stuff,’ Carter said dismissively. ‘And if someone’s caught they end up in prison.’ He paused. ‘In some cases, on the gallows.’
Markham unwrapped the cellophane from the Lucky Strikes, broke open the packet and lit one. The taste brought quick memories of Germany.
‘What do you want?’ he said.
‘I’m more interested in guineas than change. Let’s say a man signs over half a profitable business to someone. A little while later he sells the rest of it to his new partner at a knockdown price. All above board and completely legitimate. Do that with a number of places and there’s good money to be made.’