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.Lit by burning wharves and fires on top of what had once been houses, this thing was like a tidal wave big enough, to me, to take over the whole world.Knowing it would do no good I braced myself nevertheless, eyes closed, against the side of the pyramid.I would, I knew, be smashed to pieces by this mountain of water.But after a bit when nothing happened, I opened my eyes and the only things I could see in the sky were the outlines of German bombers.I must’ve gone mad for a bit again back there.It was almost a relief and I laughed.‘What the fuck are you up to, mate?’He was about fifty and he had ARP written on his tin hat.‘I-I-I, er.’‘I don’t know how you bleeders get out!’ Then, pulling me by one arm, he said, ‘Come on, get you inside.’ He must have meant the crypt.Of course, I resisted.He wasn’t a bad bloke.Quite rightly, he thought I was barmy and who could blame him?‘I-I-I’m n-n-not mad!’ I stuttered.‘Yeah, right,’ he said, ‘and I’m the fucking Duke of York.Come on, Sonny Jim, it’s for your own good.’‘No!’ I ripped my arm out of his grasp and, pointing at my chest with one hand, I screamed, ‘Undertaker! H-Hancock!’It was all I could get out, over the noise of the bombers, the thud of the explosions, the crackle and spit of a thousand fires.The warden’s creased, toothless face frowned.‘You from.You from Plaistow.’‘Yes!’‘Ah.’‘Y-y-you.’He moved his head close to mine, his tin hat just touching the edge of my hair.‘You’re old Tom Hancock’s son, aren’t you?’ he said.‘I’ve heard about you.’There was a lot as could be inferred from what he’d said but principal among all of it was that I wasn’t quite the ticket.Only a few years older than me, the warden had probably been in the first lot too.There was indeed a small light of understanding in his eyes.As Albert Cox sometimes says, ‘When you’re in business round these parts there ain’t too many places to hide.’ There’s no such thing as an invisible undertaker.A mad one, maybe.But that is unusual enough for news of it to travel across all of London’s eastern villages.The warden took one more look at me, then headed off back towards the Commercial Road.Dealing with the dying is one thing – there might just be some sort of hope – but talking to those already dead is pointless.‘I lost them as we was leaving,’ Hannah said miserably.‘All these women flying up the stairs with all their kids and blankets and food and whatever, I couldn’t keep on them.’‘That’s all right, love,’ I said, as I put an arm round her shoulders.‘There’s something fishy about that Pearl, ain’t there?’ Hannah said.‘About that name, Reynolds, and.’‘Turns out she and, she says, Velma, were out the night her old man died,’ I said, with a yawn.‘She was cagy about where she was.’Hannah shook her head.‘So sorry I lost them, H.’But it was as much my fault as Hannah’s that we’d managed to lose Pearl and Velma.Once the raid was over, which was just before dawn, I’d fallen asleep.When Hannah, all panicked over Pearl and Velma, had found me and then woken me I’d been dreaming about George Pepper’s first communion.He’d done it, in my dream, at age twenty-one in full battle-dress and kit.I had to be home by ten because we were burying some collection of human pieces the coppers had chosen to call the late Reginald Burman.A bachelor who lived with his sister, Cissie, Reg had left the Anderson behind his house on Plashet Grove to go to the privy during a raid.Neither Reg nor the privy had been there in the morning.So now poor old Cissie was on her own in that house with a shell full of bits that had probably never been anywhere near her brother.But I had to go out and do the honourable thing for her sake and, rather than talk much more to Hannah about the previous night’s events, I hurried home.Before she even asked me where I’d been half the previous day and all night, Nan said, ‘Water’s off.’‘Christ!’‘Francis!’I looked at Nan and smiled sheepishly.‘Sorry, Nan,’ I said.‘It’s just that I’m filthy.’‘Yes, I can see,’ she said.Nan and the Duchess are always good with water.When we’ve got it, they put some aside in the kettle and in a barrel out in the yard.But this time the barrel had caught some blast so a small cup for shaving was all I managed to persuade Nan to pour out of the kettle for me.I went through the motions of changing my clothes, but those I took off were only a bit dirtier than those I put on.I thought of Dad and laughed as it occurred to me how disgusted he’d have been with my appearance.Tom Hancock was always immaculate, even when he was dying.It was his belief that to be smart and clean was one of the few real things a person could do to show respect for the dead.More important, he always felt, than the quality of the coffin or the size and elaborateness of the monument.Once I’d sorted myself out I went down to the shop.Doris, all plump and exotic-looking in a tightly fitted green dress, was sitting having a cup of tea with Fred Bryant.He was out of uniform, but just seeing him made me ask Doris if we could have a moment or two on our own.Fred, true to form, watched Doris go with a little smile of regret.How long was he going to hold a torch for the poor girl?‘Fred,’ I said, once Doris had gone and I’d taken one of his fags, ‘do you know anything about the murder of an old Jewish bloke up Spitalfields?’‘When?’‘Two, three weeks ago,’ I said.‘Paper-and-string merchant.’‘Oh.Oh, yes, yes, I do.Course.’‘What?’Fred is really too much of a gossip to be a copper.In my line of work you have to have discretion, so it never goes any further.But I do sometimes wonder who else Fred tells and what.Fred moved in as close as one bloke would consider doing to another.‘Well, they don’t know who done it,’ he said, ‘but I’ve heard tell that it’s the housekeeper they’re looking for.’Nothing so far that I didn’t know already.‘Oh?’‘Yes.What you want to know for, Mr H?’‘I was up those parts yesterday,’ I said.‘Heard a few stories, you know.’‘Right.’I didn’t say anything else then.Fred usually, once you’ve shown that you’re interested, carries on without any further help.On this occasion, he was true to form.‘There’s a sergeant up Shoreditch I know,’ he said.‘No names, no pack drill.But anyway, he says this housekeeper, apparently she’s the daughter of that woman hung for murder some years ago.’‘What woman?’‘Something foreign,’ Fred said.‘I dunno.But anyway, she was a “woman of the night”, if you know what I mean.Up West it was somewhere.’That all made sense.The horrible Vi Dooley had said Pearl had come from ‘up West’ and if Ruby’s and her mother really had been a murderess it would explain why Pearl hadn’t wanted to reveal her real name.Not that either ‘Reynolds’ or ‘House’ was foreign in any way that I could see.There was also the connection with prostitution [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]