Yesterday’s Wine by Paul D. Brazill

Pauline Williams really hadn’t wanted to talk to her brother. Not for a while, anyway. She’d been giving him the cold shoulder recently. She’d had more than enough of Billy’s shenanigans over the years, so she started to ignore his text messages and calls. She’d even unfriended him on Facebook. But when she found out he’d been in an accident, her resolve soon wilted. Family was family, after all.

The bus arrived just after she got to the bus stop. It was almost empty, as usual, since most of the people that lived in the area didn’t take buses. They were doctors, lawyers, teachers, social workers, and they drove expensive cars or took taxis. The bus was really only there to take their kids to the swanky private school at the other side of the town.

Pauline flashed her monthly travel pass to the sleepy bus driver, who paid it scant attention. She walked to the back of the bus and sat down heavily. Her joints ached. She was feeling her forty years of working as a cleaner more and more each day.

She was on the verge of drifting off to sleep when she heard a familiar voice.

‘The glory days are far behind us now, eh Pauline?’ said George Morrison, as he sat down next to her. .

Pauline opened her eyes. Smiled.

George’s glory days were certainly behind him. He used to cut a fine figure, even when they’d been at school together. He used to be a mod in those days, always sharply dressed. He was the lead singer in a couple of bands, too. One of them, The BlueBeats, had a Friday night residency at The Band In The Wall in Manchester and had supported The Small Faces on one of their tours. The lasses were all over George. They used to say he had more tarts than Mr Kipling. He looked as rough as toast now, though. Hair like straw, face like a blackcurrant crumble, wearing a shabby grey shell-suit. The booze and the divorces had certainly taken their toll on George.

‘Oh, I don’t mind growing old, so much,’ said Pauline. ‘Anyway, there’s not a lot I can do about it, is there?’

‘Yeah, and it certainly beats the alternative,’ said George.

He chuckled, and started a coughing fit.

‘True enough,’ said Pauline.

She looked out of the window. Another church had been turned into a pub.

‘Are you off home, then?’ said George.

‘Naw, I’m off to the hospital to see our Billy,’ said Pauline.

George frowned.

‘What’s he been up to?’

‘Broke his arm falling out of a window, apparently.’

‘Has he been out on the burgle again?’

‘Yeah, I think so. Daft bugger.’

‘At his age, eh?’ said George, grinning.

Pauline tutted.

‘Mind you, we’re none of us spring chickens, eh?’ said George. ‘Are you still doing Doctor Moody’s house?’

‘Oh, yes. Every Monday or Friday. Come rain or shine. Not that there’s much to do since he went bed bound. He’s got a home help that does most of it. I’ve said I’ll pack it in but I think he needs the company more than anything. That home help that comes is a nice lass but she speaks funny English.’

‘Where’s she from?’

‘Czechoslovakia or somewhere. How’s your Andy?’

‘Not good. Not bad.’

Pauline patted his wrist. She gazed out of the bus window and was silent until they pulled up outside the old people’s home. George got up.

‘See you around,’ said George.

‘Ta-ra,’ said Pauline.

*

Billy was sat up in bed nattering away with a young Indian nurse when Pauline walked into his room. He had a bandage on his head and an arm in a sling. He was in a private room, of course. No second bests for Billy. She wouldn’t ask where he’d got the money to pay for it. She’d given up on those sort of questions a long time ago.

‘Oh, Enter The Dragon!’ said Billy, when he saw Pauline.

The nurse was confused.

‘I don’t understand,’ she said.

‘Sorry Jyoti,’ said Billy. ‘Just a little family humour. I reckon Bruce Lee was a bit before your time.’

Jyoti smiled.

‘I’ll leave you to it,’ she said, and left.

Pauline sat in an armchair that was by the window. The room was stiflingly hot. Hailstones pelted the window pane. There was a plasma screen television pinned to the wall. It was showing a Tom and Jerry cartoon. The sound was turned down.

‘This is a swanky place, Billy,’ she said.

‘Nothing but the best for Billy The Cat. You know that,’ he said.

‘Oh, that I do know. So, what the hell happened to you?’

‘You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.’

‘Probably not but tell me anyway.  Are the coppers involved?’ said Pauline.

She took off her shoes and massaged her feet.

‘Well, yes and no. Sort of indirectly they are.’

Pauline groaned.

‘Are they going to charge you with breaking and entering?’ she said.

‘No. There’s no chance of that,’ said Billy.

He smirked. Looked full of himself.

Pauline leaned over to the bedside table and took a bottle of Lucozade and a plastic cup. She poured herself a drink.

‘Go on then,’ she said. ‘Spill the beans.’

Billy sat himself upright with a struggle. He took a Polo mint from a half open packet and popped it in his mouth. Crunched.

‘Do remember Vic Napper?’ he said.

‘That bent copper that used to sniff around you when you were in the Quality Street gang?’ said Pauline.

‘The self-same,’ said Billy. ‘Although I think you’ll find there was never any evidence of my association with that particular criminal fraternity.’

‘Oh, I do apologise for my allegation. I wouldn’t want to sully your good name. So, go on. What’s he got to do with it? I thought he’d pissed off to Spain or something?’

‘Well, he had. But it turns out he had enemies.’

‘A copper so bent you could use him as a pipe cleaner? That is a surprise,’ said Pauline. She chuckled.

‘Yeah, well it turns out one of those enemies caught up with him.’

‘Croaked him?’

‘Yeah. Looks that way, though the official report says that it was an accident, though.’

Pauline grimaced.

‘How did he go?’

‘Drowned in a swimming pool.’

‘So what’s that got to do with you?’

‘Well, Napper had a diary. A little black book. With names, dates and places.’

‘And some of these names …’

‘Felt vulnerable. And wanted me to get the book for them from his old flat.’

‘And did you get it?’

‘No. It wasn’t even there. I looked everywhere.

Pauline switched on the radio. It was The BlueBeats, the local band who’d almost made it big.

Billy smiled.

‘Those were the days, eh?’ he said.

‘They were good. If it hadn’t been for George Morrison’s dad …’

Billy held up a hand.

‘Bygones,’ he said.

‘Yeah, the past is the past,’ said Pauline. ‘Nothing we can do about it now. So, what you going to do about Nappers little black book?’ she said.

‘Nowt I can do,’ said Billy. ‘He probably had it stashed away somewhere but who knows where.’

‘Wasn’t he supposed to be shagging a lass from round here?’ said Pauline.

‘Yeah, they said he was knocking off some married bint.’

‘Well, maybe he left it with her.’

‘Maybe but no one ever found out who she was. He was a right dark horse that Vic Napper.’

‘Well, that probably helped keep him alive as long it did,’ said Pauline.

‘True enough.’

It was getting dark outside and the streetlights were coming on.

‘So, when are you getting out of here?’ said Pauline.

‘They say I could go home in a couple of days, to be honest. But I think I’ll milk by client’s financial hospitality a little longer,’ said Billy.

Pauline stood and groaned with pain.

‘I could do with a little break myself,’ she said.  ‘But …’

‘No peace for the wicked,’ said Billy, winking.

*

Pauline was glad to be back home. She took off her shoes, put on her slippers and made a cup of tea. She put a few custard creams on a saucer and sat down in front of the telly.

She was a bit sad about what had happened to Napper but it wasn’t a great shock. He’d always been an arsehole albeit a bloody good looking arsehole. Much better looking than her husband Lenny had been, that was for sure.  

She was adrift on a sea of bittersweet memories when she heard an ice cream van’s chimes. ‘That’s Amore.’ She sighed. She should have known it wouldn’t have been long before Alberto came sniffing around.

There was a loud bang on the front door.

‘Come on in, it’s open,’ she shouted.

The Monolith, Alberto’s minder, walked into the living room first. He was wearing a long leather coat and wrap around shades, as usual.  Behind him, was Alberto Amerigo, a tiny little man with dyed black hair and a pencil moustache. He wore a shiny white linen jacket with a pink carnation in the lapel. He looked like a spiv but he used to be a barber, then an ice cream man and now he was a loan shark. He had the cold, dead eyes of a shark, too.

‘Evening, Pauline. Long time, no see,’ said Alberto.

‘Evening, Al. What can I do you for?’ said Pauline.

Alberto sat on the arm of the sofa.

‘I hear you’ve been to see your Billy in the hospital,’ he said.

Pauline took her feet out of her slippers and wriggled her toes.

‘I have. Family duty and all that,’ she said.

‘Yes. Family is important. How’s the old rogue keeping?’

‘Not too bad, to be honest. They say he should be out in a few days.’

‘That’s good to know. Did he happen to say anything about the whereabouts of a certain little black book?’ said Alberto.

He leant forward and glared at Pauline. The Monolith cracked his knuckles.

‘Not to me he didn’t,’ said Pauline.

Alberto nodded slowly.

‘Well, if he does, you will let me know, alright?’ he said.

‘Of course, Al. You can rely on me.’

‘Magnifico bonny lass,’ he said with a wink.

He nodded to The Monolith and they both left the room.

Pauline heard the front door slam. She sighed and put her slippers back on.

It was probably time to dig Vic Napper’s little black book from its hidey-hole in the cupboard under the stairs. She stood up but then her knees started to ache and she sat straight back down. She picked up the remote control and switched on the television.

After all this time, it could probably wait until after Downtown Abbey.

*

BIO: Paul D. Brazill’s books include The Last LaughGuns Of Brixton, Cold London Blues, and Kill Me Quick! He was born in England and lives in Poland. His writing has been translated into Italian, Finnish, German and Slovene. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime

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