Clarifications and explanations, which might prove to be of assistance to some readers.
Until recent times most Traditional British Public Houses usually had multiple bars. These ranged from the 'Public Bar' where the beverages were the cheapest, through 'Saloon', 'Lounge', and numerous other spurious names, up to 'Private Bar' where the tariff was the most expensive. One chose your company (and which ambiance one preferred) by which bar you drank it. Nowadays most (but not all) public houses in the UK have been converted into one large bar, where all the prices are the same. The modern emphasis now being on quantity, not quality!
British Colloquial: Yonks = a very long time; Doing-time = in prison; Tasty = Attractive/good looking (female); Tosser = Contemptible person; Earwig/ging = eavesdrop/ing; Shirty = ill-tempered or annoyed; Dole (dole money) = state unemployment benefit; The readies = cash; Bevvy/bevvies = an alcoholic drink; Boozer= Public-house/bar; A nine-bob-note = something that can't possibly be correct or legal (in America a three-dollar-bill); The Bill (or Old Bill) = Police; Suss = (in this instance) suspicious; Narked = annoyed/angry.
My appreciation and thanks go to Angelina, for her assistance with preparing this tale of woe for posting.
I shouldn't have been there, and if I had any sense I wouldn't have been there. Well, not in that particular pub anyway. But beggars can't be choosers as they say.
Actually, several things had conspired to get me drinking in 'The Apprentice' that evening. Firstly, I fancied a good pint; it had been yonks since I enjoyed a decent brew. Secondly, Chalky (Bob White, universally called Chalky for as long as I'd known the bugger anyway) had invited me to have a drink with him to celebrate his birthday. And thirdly, when I told him that I couldn't afford to drink, Chalky had insisted that the evening was "on him!" Hence my presence in 'The Apprentice', a pub not known for it's high-brow clientele. To be precise, a pub usually described as a 'den of thieves' that was, without fail, surrounded by a posse of the local police at closing time each evening.
I'd unexpectedly run into Chalky at the Job-Centre that day. The company I'd been employed by for donkeys' years had been taken-over by a much larger multinational concern some eight months previous and, like many of my colleagues, I'd been... 'rationalised!' Our town being not very large, and with the financial climate being as it was, I – and most of my ex colleagues – were ... yeah well, we were being harangued every week -- when signed-on for our dole money -- to pursue all those non-existent job vacancies that weren't advertised on the Job-Centre's notice boards.
Whatever, I'd just signed that day, so that they'd send me my meagre allowance, and I was in the process of leaving the building, when suddenly Chalky appeared out of thin air and accosted me. I hadn't laid eyes on the bugger since he'd been expelled from school, and to be honest, I was almost as surprised that he recognised me, as I was to see him in town. I really thought he'd ... er well ... the word was, that Chalky was either doing-time, or living in Spain somewhere. Keeping his head down where the British authorities were concerned, if you get my drift?
Anyway, Chalky started chatting to me, like we'd been bosom buddies at school – which we hadn't been, Chalky was just one of the other kids in my year-group -- then he informed me that it was his birthday and invited me to share a few bevvies with him that evening.
I apologised to Chalky, and informed him that I was somewhat embarrassingly overextended financially, so there was no way that I could contemplate an evening out down at the boozer. But Chalky – flashing a wad of the readies -- insisted that the whole evening was going to be on him. The bugger even said that he'd send a cab to pick me up, and arrange for one to take me home after, as well.
Okay it was dumb; I'll admit it! Chalky was of very questionable character at the best of times, but I hadn't been out for a good old booze-up since well before I lost my job. The idea that Chalky appeared happy to finance the whole night was a bit too much for my little mind to take.
So, promptly at eight o'clock that evening I'd climbed into the taxi outside the block of flats I then lived in.
On the drive to The Apprentice, Chalky was full of talk about the other kids from our schooldays and enquired if I knew what had happened to them in the intervening years. It did register that he never once asked about me personally, or my somewhat disastrous marriage. I'm afraid that I took it as read, that Chalky knew all about it -- and the sordid details -- and that he was being uncharacteristically diplomatic.
Chalky took me by surprise a little, when we entered The Apprentice's Lounge Bar -- for one horrible moment I had thought he might have be intending to drink in the Public Bar, a course of action that could possible be interpreted as attempted suicide by a non-regular – however Chalky led the way straight through the Lounge into the Private Bar; which was tucked away behind it. I have to admit, that I had been in The Apprentice before, but only in the Lounge Bar; never in the Private, or the Public bar
The Private was pretty quiet and our entrance brought some surprised glances from the few patrons. Chalky led the way to a table tucked away in a corner where we seated ourselves. I'll admit that I was somewhat taken aback when a tasty looking barmaid arrived at our table and asked our pleasure. No, damn-it, what we wanted to drink!
Very efficiently, the young woman took our order, and she promptly returned with our drinks. Then Chalky chatted on again about old school friends and acquaintances again; most of whom, I could hardly remember and I doubted Chalky could either. Somehow I got the feeling that Chalky didn't know what to talk to me about. But I suspected at the time, that he was purposefully trying to avoid the obvious again. It made for some very ... boring and inconsequential conversation.
I learnt very quickly that Chalky quite definitely did not wish to discuss what he'd been getting-up-to since he'd been unceremoniously kicked-out of our school. The exact reason Chalky had been expelled from our bastion of education had never become public knowledge, and it appeared that -- even after all the time that had past -- Chalky wanted to keep things that way.
To be honest, free booze or not, our somewhat stilted conversation – and lack of appealing scenery, excepting for that one barmaid -- was leading me to wish that I had not accepted Chalky's invitation. But then the evening took a sudden and somewhat unexpected turn. As far as I was concerned -- at first sight -- not for the better, either!
We'd been sitting in the Apprentice for about an hour. I think I was on my second – or maybe my third – pint, when 'The Man' slipped into the seat opposite Chalky and me.
The man in question was one Rodney Pilstock, usually known – when talked about by others, and always in hushed voices – as RP and Mr Pilstock to his face.
Rodney Pilstock was "the big man" in our neck of the woods. He referred to himself as an entrepreneur, but it was rumoured that he had his fingers in every lucrative business in town that might not be one hundred percent kosher. It was also rumoured that he was behind everything big, that definitely wasn't, as well. But obviously, he kept his own hands clean, i.e. the authorities – and everyone else – might suspect that Pilstock was as bent as a nine-bob-note, but actually proving any connection with illegal or underworld activities appeared to be impossible.
About the only visual proof that Pilstock was probably bent, was the little posse of bodyguards who accompanied him everywhere. It was rumoured that all of whom had, at one time or another, enjoyed extensive holidays 'At Her Majesty's Pleasure!'
No sooner had Pilstock taken his seat, than one of his entourage placed a drink in front of him and replaced my own almost empty glass with a full one. At the same instant Pilstock dismissed Chalky with the words: "Well done, now get lost, Chalky!"
In an instant Chalky was up and gone. Self-preservation caused me to attempt to follow suit, but a rather large presence had appeared beside my chair, kinda convincing me that it would be an action that Rodney Pilstock did not desire.
I looked from the mountain standing beside me, to Pilstock and then back at the mountain again, and wondered what I'd done to transgress. It was rumoured -- as everything is rumoured where Rodney Pilstock is concerned -- that upsetting the man in some minor way would usually be a precursor to an extended stay in hospital!
"No, please stay, Peter. I'd like a word with you, if I may?" Pilstock said, in a very quiet, calm, but maybe a little intimidating voice.
"Er, is there a problem, Mr Pilstock?" I stuttered out.
I was racking my brains to come up with anything that I might have done to upset the man. The only possible connection with him that I could come up with, was that maybe my ex-wife, Mona (and her new man) might be members of one of the town's less reputable nightclubs. And Rodney Pilstock was reputed – a rumour once again – to be the money behind all of those establishments.
"No, not really, Peter ... well, not for you anyway." Pilstock replied with that disconcerting smile of his, "Although I have heard that you're in a little bit of a financial bind at present. That ex-wife of yours has got you by the balls, as I understand it!"
"Pretty-well yes, sir, she has. I got stitched-up in the divorce; for alimony as well as child maintenance. I don't object to the child maintenance, but Mona is on an effing good screw at Bonham's; she was when we were married. She's probably doing better, now that Bonham himself can lay her whenever he fancies."
"So, you must be finding things a little tight, now that you're on the dole."
"More than tight, Mr. Pilstock, I think I'll be evicted from my flat before much longer. I'm months behind with the rent."
"Oh, I doubt that will happen, Peter. If we can come to some agreement here this evening," Pilstock said with a friendly – but still somewhat disconcerting – expression on his face.
I'd learnt over the years that you really don't need blokes like Pilstock giving you those friendly smiles. It's what's behind those grins that you have to worry about.
"Sorry?" I said, hoping that Pilstock would enlighten me to the reason he'd had Chalky con me into going to The Apprentice that evening.
Rodney Pilstock looked up, and glanced around his entourage of bodyguards, who were sitting and/or standing quite close. Instantly, all of them moved to the far side of the bar, out of earshot; persuading some of the other patrons in the place to do likewise as they went. Once Pilstock was convinced that we could not be easily overheard, he looked back at me.
"Peter, don't look so worried. From here on in, my name is Rodney to you, and I mean you no harm. Now, please tell me about your marriage to Mona Trimble, and what went wrong?"
Had anyone else made the same request, I'd have answered their question with the ubiquitous, "Why?" But, as you might have guessed, Rodney Pilstock -- when he makes a request -- is not someone you say "No!" to. Well, not if you want to sleep in your own bed that night, and wake up -- still breathing -- in the morning, anyway.
No, not answering was out of the question. Once again I had no proof, but I was well aware that several nefarious characters had not been seen around town much – if at all – after it had been rumoured that they had crossed swords with Rodney Pilstock, or one of his lieutenants.
"Nothing much to tell really, Mr ... Rodney. You probably know that Mona and I dated at college and ... well we got careless and she finished up, up-the-duff! We got hitched of course; I'm not the sort of guy who shirks his responsibilities."
"So I hear, and one of the reasons you're here this evening, Peter," Pilstock interjected. Then he added, "Carry-on," when he realised that his interruption had stopped me speaking.
"Yeah well, she had Tillie a few months after the wedding, and then a year later Tina came along. Stupid really; money was tight. Supporting a wife and one kid was bad enough ... two, well our standard of living took a real dive."
"But you bought a house around that time!"
"Oh yeah, I was doing all-right for myself at Cartwright's, really; but we were spreading the jam pretty thin. As soon as Tina started school, Mona got an office job with Bonham's, the solicitors, and things eased off a little. Mona did well there; she was promoted pretty quickly. Too well, and too bloody quickly, on reflection!"
"It took a good few years for the penny to drop. But eventually I realised that Mona was playing patter-cake with someone on the quiet; I had it figured most likely Dennis Bonham from the start. I have no idea how long it had been going on, and I really had no proof of when or where. But in the end, I challenged her, bluffing like crazy ... I had nothing I could prove really.
"Unfortunately for Mona, when challenged, she can't lie for shit, and we ended up going at it like hammer and tongs, most of the time for a few weeks. Then one day, I suppose she finally realised that I wasn't going to let it slide, and the bitch went to the police and told them that I'd hit her. To get me thrown out of the house, I suspect."
"The Old Bill didn't give her much shift there though; from what I hear," Pilstock commented.
"Yeah, according to an old schoolmate of mine who's stationed at the local Nick. Mona's story didn't hold much water to start with, and then she kept changing her statement every time they talked to her. Funny really, that's how I worked out that she'd been playing around with someone else in the first place; Mona just can't remember what untruths she has told.
"Didn't make much difference though, I got screwed good and proper in the divorce. Just to put the icing on the cake, Mona had Dennis Bonham represent her in court; the arsehole ate my brief for breakfast."
"Yes, Dennis Bonham is good and he can be a real tosser, when he wants to be."
"Well, the bugger stitched me up good and proper. Technically, I don't have to support Mona, because she's on a good screw at Bonham's anyway. But I have to keep a roof over my children's heads, which amounts to the same thing.
"I had two choices: disappear; do a runner and never see my girls' again, or, bite the bullet; cough-up the cash and keep a relationship of some kind going with them. I chose the latter."
"So I hear, and by all accounts, your little girls think that the sun shines out of your arse!"
"How do you know that?"
"Peter, when I want, I can know just about everything that goes on in this town. The when and where Dennis Bonham was screwing Mona for instance; not that it would do you much good now. I didn't know, that you didn't know, or even wanted to know, at the time."
"I'm not sure it would have done me any good anyway. Dennis Bonham is shit-hot at divorces."
"Yes, so the story goes. I might have to do something about that bugger, one of these days. So now, how do you spend your time, with the children I mean?"
The conversation was getting weirder and weirder. For the life of me I couldn't work out why Rodney Pilstock could have any interest in my relationship with my children. But, as I already told you, when Ronnie Pilstock asks, you answer!
"Ah, that's why I've got the flat. I can take them home some weekends, it's cheaper than taking them out places all the time and they can stay over when necessary, as many nights as I can wangle out of Mona, anyway. Mona doesn't object; most likely because she can spend the time they are away with Dennis Bonham."
"That's her usual routine. Just after you leave with the children she leaves the house for their love nest. You know, she might be a bitch, Peter, but I don't believe she's ever taken Dennis Bonham back to your old house for any fun and games. Mind you, he has been there on occasion, and your children have met him. More than likely he and Mona don't play there, so that Bonham's wife doesn't hear about what he gets up to on the quiet.
"The little flat they use is over his office. I have reason to believe that there's an old staircase that connects the two. It was probably just boarded up when the office was converted from a shop years ago. Word is that Dennis's father used to put that flat to good use in his younger days and he probably had the stairs opened up again; looks like the son has followed suit."
"I was never sure, but I figured as much. Maybe ... assuming that his wife doesn't know, I should drop Mrs Bonham a little note. But then, if she does know, that might upset Mona and then she could well start getting shirty about my time with the girls."
"You leave Bonham well alone, Peter; he plays in my league, not yours! Or rather, my people are better positioned to stitch the bugger up than you are," Pilstock said and then smiled at me again.
I'll tell you, I was confused. I had been, from the moment Pilstock had sat down opposite me. For the life of me, I could not understand any of his interest in me, or my problems. The fact that he was hinting about taking some revenge against Bonham on my behalf ... and the intimate knowledge he appeared to have about me, confused me even more.
Worried me, more than a little, to be precise. Basically, I'm an honest person; Pilstock I was sure, looked at life very differently.
"Excuse me for asking, Mr Pilstock..."
"Rodney or Ronnie if you wish, Peter!"
"All right, excuse me for asking ... Rodney." Honestly I still thought Ronnie, might be pushing my luck. "But just why are you interested in me and my troubles?"
A wicked smile came over Pilstock's face and he began to ... well, chuckle to himself. I found myself getting even more concerned and it probably showed in my face.
"Don't panic, Peter, I don't want to involve you in anything illegal, far from it. I just think that you might be able to solve a little problem that I've had for sometime. I've done what I can over the years, but there's little else that I can do without ... No, I'll explain that, if and when the right time comes. Now I promise you, that nothing illegal is involved in any way; all you've got to do is to carry-on being Peter Blake."
"I don't understand, Rodney; I am Peter Blake."
"Yes, but you just have to keep on being the same Peter Blake that you've always been. The great father who dotes on his children, and turns up for all their school do-what's-it's, and everything. Just what you've always done, actually."
"Ah, yeah well, you're not daft are you? There probably will be an 'and' Peter; but it won't be painful ... or illegal ... I can promise you that. You just carry-on as you are, get back to work and clear your debts ... and then, if need be, you'll hear from me. That is, unless..." Pilstock broke-off and smiled at me again.
"Mr. Pilstock, I've been looking for employment every damned day since I was rationalised out of a bloody good job at Cartwright's; there just ain't anything out there for me locally. There's work further away, but if a take one of those jobs, I'll never get to see my girls. Unless what, anyway?"
"I'm not sure, Peter, but sometimes these things ... well they just happen on their own, don't they. I might have to give you a nudge in the right direction later, we'll see. And, as far as work goes ... Did you enjoy your job at Cartwright's, by the way? From all accounts, you were the cats-whiskers, nothing but good appraisals in your file."
It would seem that Rodney Pilstock had had access to my personnel files at Cartwright's, but that really didn't surprise me.
"Yeah, I had a great job there, and I was shit-hot at it. But I never had the influence that some of the 'guess whose daddy is on the board?' or 'are big shareholders in the firm, ' guys had."
"Problem solved then. You just get on with your life and don't worry about anything ... and, just remember to stay the same Peter Blake everyone knows and remembers. I'll be in touch with you again, if I need to be."
Rodney Pilstock then stood and began to leave, just stopping long enough at the bar to tell Babs -- the barmaid, who it was obvious he was familiar with – that my bar tabs were to be added to his account in future. Those words brought Babs all-but running over to my table with an un-ordered refill.
"Any special friend of Ronnie's gets special service here!" she said, with a wink, before going off to tend other customers.
Yeah, I did wonder what 'special service" might possibly include. As well as wondering what being a special friend of Pilstock's might entail.
But I was still contemplating Babs rear-end when Chalky reappeared from wherever he'd been hiding. Come-on I'm only human! Looking rather sheepish, Chalky slid back into the seat he'd so hurriedly vacated when Pilstock had shown up.
I questioned him about exactly why Pilstock had summoned me, but he had less idea than I did. Pilstock had told him to bring me to The Apprentice that evening, and -- like a good little boy -- Chalky White had done as he was told. When I did ask Chalky why; he repeated the obvious,
"You don't ask Rodney Pilstock why he wants you to do anything, Pete; you just do it!"
Chalky was a little concerned that Pilstock had appeared to me, to be a very nice guy. You know pleasant and not threatening in any way, to me anyway. Well, he hadn't tried to give me any orders, nor had he come over all heavy. Actually, he'd appeared to be quite concerned about my situation. What's more, he had also hinted that he was going to help me in some way. That really worried Chalky, he said that there was always a price to pay for anything that Rodney Pilstock did for you.
Chalky and I didn't stay too late in the pub that night. To be honest, I felt uncomfortable in the Private Bar anyway. And the fact that I'd spent sometime in private conversation with Rodney Pilstock, kind-of led to me gaining a little notoriety with the other patrons; they kept throwing furtive glances in my direction.
As he'd promised, Chalky did take me back to my flat in a taxi that evening.
My life took a complete turn around the following morning. The first thing that happened -- probably around ten-past-nine -- was the Human Resources people at Cartwright's rang me and requested that I call into their office at my earliest convenience. They would not actually specify a reason they were making the request, but I suspected that they were going to offer me my job back.
Then, while I was still getting all spruced-up -- so that I could get my arse down there before they changed their minds -- there was a knock on the front door.
On opening it, I found the Managing Agent for the block -- who, not a week before, had been threatening me with eviction for rent arrears -- standing there. I was just about to give him the news that I thought I would shortly be gainfully employed again, and with a little luck, would soon be able to clear the arrears, when he blurted out that "There had been a terrible mistake!"
Then the bugger went on to explain to me that there had been an unfortunate error my rental contract. In fact, he informed me, I'd been overpaying my rent from the day I moved in; in consequence I was not only not in arrears, I was actually in credit as far as the rent was concerned, and that included utilities.
I was still standing there in some kind of shock from what the agent had told me, when the man-mountain -- who'd been with Pilstock the previous evening -- appeared. The guy who'd prevented me from vacating the table when Pilstock appeared that is. Well, I think it was him!
Anyway, the big guy shoved my car keys and the vehicle's registration document in my hand and told me that it was taxed, but that I'd have to sort out the insurance myself. Then he left again without further explanation.
I suppose I'd better explain; a few weeks before I'd run so short of the readies, that I'd been forced to sell my car to a real shyster of a second-hand car dealer. I'd needed ready cash urgently, so I'd been forced to take what the tosser had offered me for it.
After the man-mountain had left, I really did begin to get worried. It was clear to me that Pilstock was pulling strings left, right and bloody centre, and I feared what pay-back he might eventually demand. After-all. Chalky had ... Yeah well you get the picture, I'm sure.
Whatever, I called the company and put the insurance bill on my credit card. Then drove over to Cartwright's, where they didn't offer me my job back; they offered me what had been my boss's job. Apparently, he had suddenly decided to retire ... early. Very suddenly ... like that very morning, as I understood it; and he'd left the building before I arrived.
Literally, I started back to work that very day. Upsetting the Job Centre people something rotten, when I called and told them that I didn't have the time to go in and fill out all their bloody paperwork.
Odd crowd. They bug you to find a job, and then, when one falls in your lap, the buggers want you to take time off to go fill out all their damned forms. Well, that was what I think they wanted me to do. I'm afraid I just told them they had no-chance, I was too busy trying to find my feet in my new job.
Well that was it, or so I thought. I started working for Cartwright's again on a far better salary than I'd been on before I'd been kicked out. My money troubles appeared to be over.
Mona seemed quite surprised that I could suddenly afford to take the girls places that I had never been able to before. I know she asked them to pump me for information as to where my obvious newfound wealth was coming from. But they told her little, that I didn't want them to tell her.
Both of my girls, are my girls, if you understand me. They made it very clear to me that they preferred 'daddy' to 'mummy and her new friend'. Not that they said they met Mona's new friend very often; I believe they let Dennis Bonham know exactly what they thought of him. Oh yeah, had to be him, from the girls' descriptions of the guy.
I saw and heard no more of Chalky, or Rodney Pilstock, although I saw some of Pilstock's goons around town now and again. But probably no more than I'd seen the guys before, I should imagine. It was just that having seen them with Pilstock in The Apprentice; I then knew who they were.
Anyway, life went on; spring turned to summer and eventually the girls' school's sports-day came around. I was there -- as always -- cheering them on and taking part in the parent's events. And -- just as usual -- for some reason Mona hadn't been able to get the day off of work; not unexpected on my part, – or the girls', I should imagine -- nor did we miss her.
I'd just congratulated Tillie on her outstanding performance in the eighty-metre sprint; come on, Tillie was only ten years old. Whatever, she'd come in second -- by a hair's breadth -- and she was a little disappointed. I consoled her and she'd just gone off to rejoin her classmates when Dorothy Penthorp accosted me.
Dora had been in my year-group all through our schooling and we were old friends. She still was – as she always had been -- a bit of a busybody and she was famously gregarious. Look, Dora was one of those people who knew everyone and who everyone knew, even when they didn't know her. Dora, -- I feared -- was rounding up parents to take part in the adult events; not that I really minded, because that was what Dora did at the school sports days. If you didn't want to take part, you just steered clear when you heard Dora's voice.
She also organised the school dance evenings and coffee mornings. No, not children's dance evenings; Adult sort-of tea-dance fundraisers for the school. I'm sure that, if she thought she could have swung a licence, Dora would have arranged a bar for those evenings as well. Dora was a character and she got things done.
Anyway, she approached me with the words, "My, Peter, I didn't spot you hiding there."
"Hi, Dora, I wasn't hiding, I was waiting here to see whatever you've got planned for me." I grinned back at her.
"You know what, Peter, I've just been talking about you to an old friend of ours. Your ears should have been burning."
"Couldn't have been anything bad then, Dora; they're not even warm," I quipped back.
"I wonder where she's disappeared to now?"
"Theresa Gwent! You remember her, she was Theresa Thomas when we were at school."
The name instantly rang bells in my memory.
"Oh yeah, I remember Theresa, all right!" I replied with a smile, remembering the pretty little -- very quiet -- girl who I forever had been trying to get to talk to me, in our younger days. Theresa was a very shy girl and I never had been able to break the ice where she was concerned. I'd speak to her, and she'd instantly turn an interesting shade of pink, but she never did utter a word in reply. Very often she'd physically run away from me.