The Street Value Of Talcum Powder
The reason they didn’t pull anybody at the Crackenthorpe Street bust was because Big Benny got an attack of the munchies about six a.m. after a five-hour game of three-card brag and two lines of sampled merchandise. Not that he ever needed that to give him an appetite.
Result was that when the door went in, there was the stuff all packed in cellophane bags and laid out in the hallway, but Big Benny, Ash the Cash and the rest were nowhere to be seen. So, only half a result as far as the Unclean Ones were concerned.
To say they were less than impressed would be putting it mildly. After all, a lot of thought had gone into the raid. Lot of resources, too. Plenty of uniforms and flashing lights in evidence, Drug Squad, CID, sniffer dogs (the little spaniel ones straight off Pet Rescue), probably an Armed Response unit or two down the side streets and no doubt a smattering of Customs & Excise in there to make up the numbers. Cast of fucking thousands, it was. Must have cost a fortune. Certainly must have cost more than the coke they scooped now that it’s down to £40 a gram on the street (if you’re lucky) and cheaper than E to the after-dark brigade.
But they seemed happy enough in their work as they smashed the front door in with a hand-held battering ram, the sort they call ‘the Master Key’. On the business end, one of them had stuck a sticker that said ‘You’ve just met the Met’ and nobody’d seen one of them since the miners’ strike. Maybe they were old stock. All the old stock gets shunted out to the Wild West. Not the West End, mind you, but the real West: Southall, Heston and Dodge City itself – Heathrow. Where London ends and the frontier begins in a great, green sweep towards the sunset and eventually, some say, the sea. But most don’t go further west than Terminal 3.
It only took a couple of swings of the Master Key to get the door in on the Crackenthorpe Street house. In fact, the ram was probably surplus to requirements as the door would have collapsed if you’d just looked at it funny. Anyway, the hinges bust and the whole thing crashes flat-arsed on to the hallway floor, and one of the leading pigs – though he looked more like a turtle, his neck sticking out between his body armour and his helmet and visor – pokes his head in and there’s dead quiet for a minute or two until he says:
Just like that, like he was the fucking rent man or something, and he stands there expecting an answer.
Of course this lasts about half a microsecond, then its cut to the old Marx Brothers’ movie where they’re all trying to get through the doorway at once, all pushing and shoving and treading on the tails of the sniffer dogs. And climbing over the frontline troops is none other than the Chief Defective himself, the one who thought up the whole raid thing in the first place: yours truly, Detective Chief Inspector McEvoy.
—Come on, come on, shouts McEvoy. Upstairs the lot of you. The little shaggers are probably sleeping it off.
The hobnail boots go up the stairs at, like, about a hundred and twenty beats per minute, leaving McEvoy to survey the loot. And even McEvoy can’t miss it ’cos there’s all that cholly in the hallway, bagged up ready to be retailed, wholesaled, cut, sniffed, snorted, rocked or nuggeted, fresh off the boat from Holland that morning. Well, if truth were known, it had arrived the night before on a lorry off a ferry into Harwich, tucked snugly inside a hollowed-out roll of newsprint heading for the printing works of one of the posher newspapers down in Docklands. It’s amazing, all the stories those papers carry about how 99% of all the bank notes in London have traces of cocaine on them, when they should be testing the very paper they’re printed on.
Just how much cholly there was has never been truly revealed. The Unclean Ones kept quiet about it – not surprising in view of what happened later – and Big Benny was hardly likely to put in an insurance claim, was he? Afterwards he would say he was out four hundred grand, but that’s probably the street talking. No one does cash-on-delivery for a transaction like that anymore; you go for electronic banking, so it was likely Benny hadn’t actually handed over a penny of someone else’s hard-earned. But anyhow, there’s a lot of gear there and it’s been well worth our Boys In Blue getting up early and doing the business before the traffic builds up in Southall. Thoughtful, that.
So Sheriff McEvoy is standing there, counting the bags and trying to manage without taking his shoes and socks off, and talking to his deputy, a new Defective Sergeant he’s breaking in, called Jim Driver, who’s joined the Met from some country parish like Manchester or Birmingham and they have to give him the job because they can’t find any London coppers who aren’t related to villains.
—Can’t argue with the quality of your information on this one, says Driver, sucking up to his boss. Just like you predicted, sir. Wouldn’t like to have a go at next week’s lottery numbers, would you, sir?
And McEvoy says:
—I’m a detective, Jim, not a clairvoyant.
Just like that, without a laugh, dead straight.
Then one of the uniformed Plods sticks his head over the top of the stairs and shouts down:
—Upstairs secure, sir!
And McEvoy asks if any of them have given him any hassle, to which the Plod has to reply:
—Upstairs is secure, sir, but there’s nobody on it. In it. Up here.
—Nobody? says McEvoy. There’s nobody watching over all this gear?
Like he can’t believe it; and why should he? Never been heard of before, all that gear just left there in the hallway like somebody’s delivered an Ikea bookcase and you don’t know where to start.
—There should be at least four, shouts the Sheriff. Big Benny, Ash the Cash, and perm any two of the neighbourhood smackheads.
He names names, to show off the quality of his information received, just in case some of his fellow officers are beginning to think things have gone pear-shaped. His faithful non-Indian companion, Sergeant Driver, gets on the radio to help him out.
—Rear team, rear team, report any activity now.
But the message comes back that there’s no sign of life at the back of Crackenthorpe Street. Nobody’s come out of the house, nobody’s giving it a large proportion of leg down the road.
—They must be here, says McEvoy to anybody who’ll listen. It doesn’t make sense. They take delivery of all this prime gear, sit on it all night, then leave it so that any kid out on the rob on his way to school can have it away? Where the fuck are they?
—Maybe they’ve just popped out for….
Driver tries to think of something to keep his boss happy, but McEvoy jumps down this throat.
—For what? A spot of breakfast? What kind of dipshits do you think we’re dealing with?
The dipshits were having breakfast.
Benny always did have an appetite on him. He wasn’t called Big for the size of anything else of his. And the munchies would take him at certain times of day so that nothing else mattered. One of those times was always when he was on the toot and it didn’t matter what the substance, just the merest whiff would get his juices going. For a man his size he had a spectacularly low tolerance of all forms of drugs except tobacco and alcohol, which aren’t proper drugs anyway. He could put away ten big bottles of Cobra with his lunch like he had hollow legs but two pulls on a generous joint and he’d be flying, and ten minutes later he’d have the roaring munchies.
They’d taken delivery of the coke just before midnight – out of the back of a Transit van painted in the colours of a well-known newsagent wholesaler – and stashed it in the house on Crackenthorpe Street. The house was unoccupied, like most on the street, but nobody had bothered to get the electric turned off, so Benny’s crew settled down to a card game to while away the hours until it was daytime and they could start filtering the stuff out to their customers under cover of all the comings and goings of a normal business day. If that sounds doolally, just think about it. A bunch of boys like Big Benny’s crew scooting about the parish in the middle of the night are bound to raise a few eyebrows. They walk the street with a toothpick and they get pulled for going equipped for burglary. But in daytime, most of the world is out on the streets of Heston and Southall, strolling along the banks of the Grand Union; going to prayers; doing business; doing business while they’re at prayers; moving merchandise; arranging marriages; doing this, that and the other.
So, there was Big Benny with three of his most trusted crew. There was Ash the Cash, of course. Ash was never very far from Benny’s side and some said that if he wasn’t the brains of the business he was certainly the wallet; the accountant who kept an eye on all the income and expenditure, but mostly income. Ash was the one all the mothers went for because he looked good in a suit and could have passed for a doctor if he’d worn glasses. In fact, he’d got a degree from the London School of Economics – picking up an English wife there along the way – and then inherited a flock of newsagents in the Sutton-Croydon-Purley triangle. He’d put managers in and he terrorised them each once a month; otherwise, he spent all his time in Southall hanging out with Benny. His wife and kids thought he was a travelling rep for wholesale confectionery and rarely left the family home down in posh Warlingham in leafy Surrey. Suited Ash just fine.
Rafik was with them too. Rafik never said much when Benny and Ash were around. As a kid he’d been brought up in a Christian enclave on the coast of Mysore and it must have taught him to know his place. All the kids in the area thought he was really laid back and ultra cool and they related to him, which was good for business as Ash reminded them of a successful uncle and Benny was just too fucking big to be anything other than scary.
And there was Julian, a white kid from over Chiswick way, who never said anything but would just sit there flexing his muscles, which he kept in good shape down at one of the three gyms he was a member of. Some said he would have done what he did for Benny for no pay if it hadn’t been for the membership fees down the gym and his occasional drug habit. But then one of the perks of hanging around Big Benny was that there were plenty of free samples.
So the four of them were sitting in the house on Crackenthorpre Street with an incriminating amount of prime cholly in the hallway. After not too long they realise that they’ve forgotten some of the basic essentials of life. Like, there’s no TV in the place, or VCR, though Rafik does offer to nip out and nick a set for them and they know he can as he’s done it once before. The telly was still warm when they turned it on and there was still a pirate copy of Sarafarosh in the video, which only needed rewinding.
A few other essentials were also missing, like furniture, so the guys parked themselves on the floorboards, pooled their supply of Kingfisher beer and settled down to a game of three-card brag to while away the midnight hours. It wasn’t supposed to be a marathon session, they were just following the basic rule of the game, which was that Benny always won. Trouble was, Benny seemed determined to lose so proceedings took a while and even Benny was bored long before he got far enough ahead to rub their noses in it.
It was only a matter of time before one of them suggested sampling the merchandise and if it wasn’t Big Benny’s idea, they would have made sure he thought it was. And anyway, Benny liked to play the generous host and wouldn’t have taken much persuading to chop out a couple of lines each on the back of a playing card, ensuring sweetness and light all round for an hour or so.
Then Benny starts to come down and the munchies set in. There’s nothing to eat in the house and Ash hasn’t even got his usual emergency supply of Mars bars in his car, which he keeps just in case Benny needs a sugar rush.
Benny starts pacing up and down, stomping round the house like a seasoned-up hyena, slowly coming to the boil, suggesting they use their mobiles to ring for a pizza delivery until somebody points out that it’s near six a.m. and the only pizza deliverers around would be those being held hostage for extra pepperoni.
It was Rafik, not so much laid-back as laid out by this time, who casually mentioned that there was an Indian two streets away where he’d had a good curry, cooked fresh, before now.
That was the magic word as far as Benny was concerned – fresh. Benny had an appetite on him and a deep love of curries, but they had to be fresh, cooked while he waited. If a curry turned up and he suspected a reheat job or something vacuum sealed and then microwaved, somebody was in trouble in the kitchen. Somebody was quite likely to have their gonads removed with a rusty Swiss.
—Fresh? They do fresh curries, like cooked to order?
—Yeah, sure. It’s called the Star of Bengal, says Rafik, taking a stab at the name.
—But not at this time of the morning, says Ash, who is keeping it together better than the rest of them.
—You know the place? asks Benny. We do any business with them?
—Course we do, says Ash. It’s a Bangladeshi family, live above the shop. We keep an eye on things for them. They’re on the books.
—They owe us?
—Not that I can recall. Keep themselves to themselves, work hard, send money home. We’ve pushed a few things their way wholesale and they’ve paid up. No complaints.
—Well I’ve got a complaint, says Benny. I think they’re missing out on a lucrative breakfast trade and I think we should go round there right now and point out the entrepreneurial folly of their ways.
—You mean go and knock them up?
—Why not? They should be grateful for the custom.
There’s no point in arguing with Benny in this mood; Ash knows that, but he does try.
—What about the stuff?
—Who’s gonna come calling this time of day? says Benny. It’s been years since anyone’s seen a milkman round here.
Now there were some fucking famous last words.
Off they trooped, on foot, as their cars were well out of sight two streets away so as not to draw attention to the house where the drop had been made. Face it, a car with all its wheels in that neighbourhood would have been a talking point and, in any case, only Ash could actually focus enough to see to drive properly so it was best overall that they hoofed it.
All that walking sharpened up Benny’s appetite even more, as he constantly reminded them and Rafik began to get really jumpy, hoping he’d remembered the restaurant right and praying that the owners were home. He had and they were, and they were mightily upset when Julian started hammering on the back door with both fists. Probably thought he was a skinhead, though nobody’s seen one of them in Southall for ages. Probably wished it was a skinhead once they made out Ash the Cash standing there in his suit, six o’clock in the morning.
Ash got them to open up, no trouble, and told them that all they had to do was get the kitchen going for a bit of breakfast and then they could get themselves back to bed. The two brothers who ran the place, plus one of their sons – all of them still in stripy pyjamas like something from a chain gang – shuffled off to turn the gas on or whatever, and Julian went along with them just to make sure they didn’t spit in the food.
Big Benny, Ash and Rafik wandered through into the restaurant, picked themselves a table and settled down to read a menu each.
They were still reading when the first police van scorched round the corner and disappeared into Crackenthorpe Street.
Where, after the storm-troopers had gone in, there was Detective Chief Inspector McEvoy and his stooge Sergeant Driver, up to their knees in packets of white stuff, wondering what the bloody hell to do next. And not having too many bright ideas as, according to their game plan, they should by now be busy cuffing Big Benny and his boys and leading them off for a lengthy stretch of R and R at the most convenient establishment in the Windsor Hotel Group.
Instead, they’ve got more cholly than saw in the Millennium in the whole of South London and not a suspect in sight.
What’s worse, the forensic boys in their white spacesuits can’t find a decent fingerprint anywhere on the stuff itself and conclude that the absent owners of this quality merchandise must have been wearing gloves. Which, of course, they had been when they’d handled it. Dim they might be, but they weren’t fucking stupid.
And to add to the mix, who should put in an appearance right there and then (now that it was clear that the premises were safe) but the Officer In Overall Command, or OIC, or Oik as he was known even among the Great Unclean themselves. This particular Oik being par for the course; one of those coppers who wore a uniform like it had been welded on and smiled like he was looking down a gunsight.
—Nobody home? says the Oik, like he can’t believe it, which he can’t. No suspects at all?
—Plenty of suspects, sir, says Driver, real helpful like. Just nobody caught on the premises.
—Do you know how much this operation has cost so far, Detective Chief Inspector?
Now McEvoy is not going to argue with his superior when it comes to budgetary policy, is he? He’s more concerned with saving his own arse and getting maximum Brownie points out of the situation.
—You are absolutely sure about your sources on this one, McEvoy?
—Pretty solid, sir, says McEvoy. He was right about the cocaine. This is a useful pull for us, gets a big chunk of merchandise off the streets.
—But no arrests, Chief Inspector, presses the Oik. It’s all very well being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, but we’ve got to be tough on criminals now and then. Make a few examples, send them down, confiscate their cars, freeze their bank accounts. That’s the sort of example we need to make. Without a few collars this lot is just lost property.
—Aw come on, sir, whines McEvoy. Even with the street price down to under forty quid a gram, you’re looking at a decent haul here in cash money terms. And you know that’s what the newspapers like: big round numbers.
—And the newspapers know we always inflate the street value of a haul like this. It’s only a matter of time before some smart-arse journalist works out that for the amount we’ve spent on this operation, we could have gone on the street and bought this lot! We need some bodies, Inspector. We need names and nice fat files for the Crown Prosecution Service. We need to hear that satisfying clang of a cell door closing on a villain and that tell-tale clink of of a key being thrown away.
—That’s really quite poetic, sir, says Driver.
But the Oik gives him a killer look to show that there’s just so much arse-licking even he can take. And then he’s back on McEvoy’s case:
—Has somebody tipped off Benny, is that it? Is your source playing us off against each other, doing the double?
—That’s always possible, says McEvoy, like he doesn’t really believe it. But he was pretty solid about the delivery details. Can’t think why he’d rat us at the last minute.
—And just who is this source of yours?
Which was the one question McEvoy really didn’t want asking.
—A local lad with a bit of form, but strictly ballroom, nothing big.
—Does he have a name?
The Oik thinks he’s on to something here, the way McEvoy’s giving him the run-around. Well, you don’t get to be an Oik for nothing.
—Blind Hugh, sir, says McEvoy swallowing hard.
—I hope that’s a code-name, says the Oik without a smile but he notices that good old Sergeant Driver is having a quick snigger. This Blind Pugh person…
—Hugh, sir. Blind Hugh.
—Whatever. We can get this person into court to finger the gang?
—Not likely, sir, says McEvoy.
By this time, Driver’s almost having a hernia trying not to laugh out loud.
—And why not?
—He’s a touch budhu, sir, bit of an ulluoo.
—What’s that? Some sort of religious thing?
—No sir, it means he’s a bit simple.
The Oik thinks about this for a minute, then goes for broke.
—He’s not actually blind is he?
—No sir, says McEvoy, his pride hurt. It’s just a nickname.
—And how did he get this nickname? Asks the Oik, not willing to let it lie.
And dear old Sergeant Driver just can’t resist, can he?
—It’s what they called Hugh Grant, sir. You know, the actor that had a stonking girlfriend but got caught with a real dog of a tart. It’s ’cos he never sees anything worth seeing ’til it’s too late.
Meanwhile, back at the restaurant the owners are in the kitchen in their pyjamas – with young Julian standing over them examining the chopping knives, casual like – cooking up a storm for Big Benny.
Ash the Cash, true to his name, has found the roll of twenty-pound notes taped to the back of the till drawer in the cash register. When he trousered it, Rafik said maybe that was a bit mean as the Bangladeshis were, after all, supplying breakfast. Ash gives him a shark-eye stare and says that maybe now they’ll learn to use the Barclays bank on the corner. But then he’s a shareholder, so he would say that.
Big Benny gets their attention by banging on the table with something flat, brown and the size of a plate.
—What the stonk is this? he asks nobody in particular.
—Looks like nan bread, says Ash. And when Benny hits the table with it again: Yesterday’s nan bread.
—I asked for toast, wails Benny. Was that unreasonable of me?
—So maybe they toasted it and overdid it.
Benny holds up the nan, big as his face.
—You find me a toaster to fit this.
—Aw stop moaning, says Ash, one of the few people who can say stuff like that to Benny. Curry and toast for breakfast is a bit spooky anyway.
—It’s not spooky, it’s multi-cultural. You just don’t like curry, that’s your problem.
—Not for breakfast do I not.
—Be telling me you’re ashamed of your culinary traditions.
—What traditions? I’m from fucking Surrey, I am.
Then two of the Banglas appear with trays and start loading the table with dishes and Benny sits back in his chair and opens his mouth and his nostrils so he can inhale all the spices and suchlike. There was kofte ka salan meatballs; a dry keema curry; a Goan meat curry (heavy on the aniseed); a hot Madras curry; a plate of pork chops with a mirchwala chilli sauce; some butter chicken; and dry sukhi tarkari mixed vegetables.
—Where are the eggs? asks Benny. It can’t be breakfast if there ain’t eggs.
And right on cue, one of the Bangladeshis turns up with a plate of undey ka salan, hard-boiled eggs reeking of cinnamon and ginger.
—Ahhh, goes Benny: Spanking!
And he starts to tuck in.
Then he notices Ash sitting next to him but not admiring the food, looking out of the window instead, watching three police cars going by, lights flashing but no sirens.
—What’s the matter, Ash? We got a problem here?
—Might have, says Ash.
—So what do we do with all this food?
Mr Senior Policeman, the Oik himself, is coming to terms with there being no bodies to string up by the thumbs and he’s thinking of tomorrow’s headlines, how it’s down to him that £ millions (fill in roughly accurate number) of Class A substances have been taken off the street.
—It is quite a stash, isn’t it? he says, almost like he’s growing fond of it.
—Too much to claim for personal consumption, you reckon, sir? says Driver, with a twinkle in his eye.
—Personal consumption of Brazil, maybe, says McEvoy.
—Can we be serious, Chief Inspector? Just where do you propose to store all this stuff? Forensics will want a sample but nothing like this quantity. This constitutes a major security hazard.
—I… er… assumed we’d stash it in the evidence room at the local nick, sir, says McEvoy sheepishly. Until we get Home Office clearance for destruction, that is.
—You mean the station house on Dogberry Road? asks the Oik, like his ears are deceiving him.
—Yes, sir. It’s very handy, says McEvoy, nodding like a puppy.
—It’s also the most decrepit, run-down, falling down, overdue-for-demolition police station in west London. In all London. It should have been condemned years ago. If you tried to serve food there, the Health and Safety people would close you down before you could fry an egg. The security there’s a joke, nonexistent. The place is a sieve. We lose more stuff out of the back of that place than they do at Heathrow.
McEvoy thinks: he’s been counting the toilet rolls and the paper clips again, but doesn’t say this aloud. Instead he goes for chirpy optimism, big time.
—What if we keep it at Dogberry Road just for the one night, sir? I mean, who’s to know – unless we tell them?
And that was when he had the Big Idea.
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About Mike Ripley
Also by Mike Ripley (published by The Do-Not Press):
That Angel Look
Edited by Mike Ripley (with Maxim Jakubowski):
Fresh Blood 2
Fresh Blood 3
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