The band which started playing had the unmistakably
nostalgic sound of the ‘thirties and so did the singer who joined in a few minutes later, assuring me thatEvery Day’s A Lucky Day. There was complete repose on Meyer’s face as he listened.
I said, ‘Who in the hell is that?’ ‘Al Bowlly,’ he said simply. ‘The best there ever was,’ The start of a beautiful friendship in more ways than one.
I was reminded of that first meeting when I went down to Meyer’s Wapping warehouse on the morning following my arrival back in England from Greece, courtesy of Ferguson and RAF Transport Command, and for the most obvious of reasons. When I opened the little judas gate in the main entrance and stepped inside, Al Bowlly’s voice drifted like some ghostly echo out of the half-darkness to tell me thatEverything I Have Is Yours.
It was strangely appropriate, considering the setting, for in that one warehouse Meyer really did have just about every possible thing you could think of in the arms line. In fact, it had always been a source of mystery to me how he managed to cope with the fire department inspectors, for on occasion he had enough explosives in there to blow up a sizeable part of London.
‘Meyer, are you there?’ I called, puzzled by the lack of staff.
I moved through the gloom between two rows of shelving crammed with boxes of.303 ammunition and rifle grenades. There was a flight of steel steps leading up to a landing above, more shelves, rows and rows of old Enfields.
Al Bowlly faded and Meyer appeared at the rail. ‘Who is it?’
z6The Savage Day
He had that usual rather hunted look about him as if he expected the Gestapo to descend at any moment, which at one time in his youth had been a distinct possibility. He wore the same steel-rimmed spectacles he’d had on at our first meeting and the crumpled blue suit was well up to his usual standard of shabbiness.
‘Simon ?’ he said. ‘Is that you ?’
He started down the steps. I said, ‘Where is everyone ?’
‘I gave them the day off. Thought it best when Ferguson telephoned. Where is he, by the way ?’
‘He’ll be along.’
He took off his glasses, polished them, put them back on and inspected me thoroughly. “They didn’t lean on you too hard in that place ?’
‘Skarthos?’ I shook my head. ‘Just being there was enough. How’s business ?’
He spread his hands in an inimitable gesture and led the way towards his office at the other end of the warehouse. ‘How can I complain? The world gets more violent day by day.’
We went into the tiny cluttered office and he produced a bottle of the cheapest possible British sherry and poured the ritual couple of drinks. It tasted like sweet varnish, but I got it down manfully.
‘This man Ferguson,’ he said as he finished. ‘A devil. A cold-blooded, calculating devil.’
‘He certainly knows what he wants.’
‘He blackmailed me, Simon. Me, a citizen all these years. I pay my taxes, don’t I? I behave myself. When these Irish nutcases approach me to do a deal, I go to the authorities straight away.’
‘Highly commendable,’ I said and poured myself another glass of that dreadful sherry.
‘And what thanks do I get? This Ferguson walks io
here and gives me the business. Either I play the game the way he wants it or I lose my licence to trade. Is that fair ? Is that British justice ?’
‘Sounds like a pretty recognizable facsimile of it to me,’ I told him.
He was almost angry, but not quite. ‘Why is everything such a big joke to you, Simon? Is our present situation funny ? Is death funny ?’
‘The sensible man’s way of staying sane in a world gone mad/ I said.
He considered the point and managed one of those funny little smiles of his. ‘Maybe you’ve got something there. I’ll try it – I’ll definitely try it, but what about Ferguson ?’
‘He’ll be along. You’ll know the worst soon enough.’ I sat on the edge of his desk and helped myself to one of the Turkish cigarettes he kept in a sandalwood box for special customers. ‘What have you got that works with a silencer ? Really works.’