It’s Friday, the week’s over, and you want something light and fun for the weekend, right. How about the beginning of a book I’ve just finished writing? Well, why not…set in Leeds in the 1930s, think of it as Golden Age meets Elmore Leonard. Or something.
He parked the Austin Seven Swallow outside the Eagle on North Street. There’d been hardly any traffic on the drive up from London, just a few lorries, the cars bucketing along as fast as they could, the drivers’ faces fierce with concentration.
He buttoned his suit jacket and put on the hat, checking the brim in the wing mirror to see it was just so. A late May evening, some warmth still left in the air, and that feeling of dusk, with daylight starting to seep away and casting long shadows. 1934. The world might be poor, but there was still some beauty in it.
Only a few customers sat in the pub. An old husband and wife, holding hands and chattering away easily, halves of stout on the table in front of them, a dotting of ancient fellows, leftovers from Victorian times, gathered to play dominoes, a young couple out to do their courting, and a group of four middle-aged men, eyes like flints, standing in earnest discussion.
The landlord was cleaning the polished wood shelves, his back turned.
He saw her at the end of the bar, a glass of gin and tonic in front of her, a cigarette between her fingers. She was wearing a nubby tweed skirt and an ochre sweater, the sleeves rolled up on her red cardigan. There was a wedding ring on her finger, but she was on her own.
She’d glanced up when he walked in, then turned away again.
‘Can I buy you another?’ he asked as he stood beside her. She looked at him, eyes carefully appraising. Her hair was neatly set in waves, her lipstick bold red. In her early thirties and definitely pretty.
‘My mother always said I shouldn’t take drinks from strange men.’
‘We’re safe them. I’m not strange.’
She tightened her mouth as she arched her brows.
‘Who told you that? Your wife?’
He grinned. One of his front teeth was slightly chipped. Someone had told him once that it made him look irresistible. Dashing. Wolfish. A little like Ronald Colman.
‘Someone much more reliable.’ He cocked his head. ‘I have to ask, are those eyes of yours eyes blue or grey?’
She was staring at him now, and smiling.
‘Take a guess. If you’re right, you can take me home.’
She waited a moment, then started to gather her handbag off the bar.
‘Eyes and name,’ she told him, then asked, ‘Where should we go? Your house or mine?’
‘Oh, yours, I think,’ he answered without hesitation. ‘My wife’s a terrible housekeeper.’
Her elbow dug sharply into his ribs.
‘You’d best be careful, Johnny Williams, or you’ll be sleeping on the settee tonight. What kept you? I thought you’d be home this afternoon.’
He reported to the police station in his best double-breasted suit, navy blue with a pale pinstripe, his black brogues shining, the hat brim tipped just enough to put his eyes in shadow.
After a fortnight working with the Met in London it felt good to be home again. The capital had its charms, but Johnny Williams knew Leeds. He understood how the city worked with even having to consider it.
He wasn’t even sure why they’d wanted him down there. All he’d done was read the case file, go and talk to four people, then sit back and wait, time enough to tie up a couple of loose ends. Eight days later, they’d started making arrests and he was on his way back up the Great North Road.
Williams slapped the desk. There were files waiting for him. One thing about being a copper, he’d never be short of a job. Count your blessings, he thought, as he took a folder from the pile.
But he hadn’t even finished the first page before Superintendent Randall called his name. Detective Sergeant Williams straightened his tie, buttoned his jacket and walked through to the office.
‘Everything fine down South?’ Randall asked as he sat.
‘Went well, sir.’ He shrugged. They’d made the arrests easily.
‘Head not turned by the glamour?’
‘Well, the King invited me over, but I told him I needed to be back here by teatime…’ Williams grinned.
Randall picked up a piece of paper and pushed it across the desk. ‘Something to get your teeth into.’
He read it through quickly. While he was been gone there’d been two bank jobs, one in Horsforth, the other in Morley. Three men, one of them armed with a sawed-off shotgun. Quick, efficient, no violence, just threats and menace. In both cases, the getaway vehicles had been stolen and recovered about a mile away. There were descriptions, for whatever they were worth; none of the witnesses could agree on much. Violet had told him all about it last night. Lying on the bed after his welcome home, smoking cigarettes with the windows open, she’d brought him up to date on the happenings in Leeds. Working as a reporter on the Yorkshire Evening Post, she heard them all.
‘No clues?’ he asked, his arm around her bare shoulders. The slip and brassiere were long gone, tossed somewhere on the floor, and sweat was drying on her skin.
‘If they have, they’re not saying. The rumour is that they’ve nabbed over a thousand pounds.’
That was impressive. Carry on with that and they’d have a good little earner. He moved his hand a little. He needed to feel more welcome.
‘Nasty,’ Williams said.
‘They’ve taken over twelve hundred so far. But keep that to yourself.’ Randall pulled a packet of Black Cats from his pocket and lit one.
‘What’s CID turned up?’
‘Not enough. None of the narks seem to know anything.’
‘I was hoping for a few days’ leave,’ Johnny said.
‘You wouldn’t know what to do with yourself.’
But he would. He’d seen the sun shining through the curtains that morning, smelt spring warmth in the air and thought about Sandsend. He and Violet, a few days away, a decent hotel, Whitby just a stroll away along the beach at low tide. Some walking, some fishing, plenty of fresh air.
‘Well…’ he began, but Randall shook his head.
‘I want you on this. If they get away with it, other people are going to get the same idea. Times are bad, Johnny, you know that. We don’t need folk thinking they can be Dillinger or Bonnie and Clyde. Not round here.’
Williams picked up the report as he stood. Before he could even take a pace the door flew open and the desk sergeant, old red-faced Murphy, announced,
‘There’s been another one, sir. The Midland Bank on City Square.’
Randall raised an eyebrow.
‘Looks like you know where to start, Johnny.’