Friday, late afternoon, in the middle of winter—I’m standing looking through the counter grill at a room littered with slips of paper, cigarette packets, and sweet wrappers. Pinned to the wall are newspaper pages covered with lists of ‘orses and dogs, the times they ran and the weights and odds at which they were expected to carry. The air is still smudged with smoke and probably smells fowl, but I’m so used to it I don’t notice. I’m leaning on the counter checking the day’s takings. This is my second year as settler-manager of the Roman Road betting shop, or Turf Accountants, to give it it’s proper name. I guess I’m getting a little bored with the end-of–week routine, ‘cause I’ve had to count the stacks three times.
Jacky the payout girl has done her bit and is just cleaning down the results board, spreading bleedin’ chalk dust everywhere. The last race at Chepstow came and went an hour ago, and as far as I’m concerned any straggler who wants to get paid-out is going to have to wait till tomorrow. I’ve gathered me side money. Ten pounds I snagged when Hunter’s Dawn went from 6/1 to 7/1, thirty seconds after some silly sod had taken an early price, but failed to watch while I put his bet through the timer. Another four pounds came from the screwed up winning ticket that got tossed before the stewards’ enquiry had turned over the result of the 12.30 at Brighton. I even had a winning drunk stuff a quid in my hand because he’d picked Black Bear based on the colour of my jumper. All in all, not a bad day really.
Once I’ve got the cash counted, I can bundle it and get it to the head office over at Aldgate East . I’ve never been too keen walking through the backstreets of the East End with me pocket stuffed, but what can you do? I can’t send Jacky and management are way too tight to send anyone over to pick it up.
I’m finally slipping a blue rubber band over the wad of fivers when the bell rings and in ‘e comes. To be ‘onest I didn’t even look up— ‘e must have been wearing brothel creepers cause he crossed the floor without making a sound.
I was considering telling him we were closed when I ‘eard the metallic tap on the counter. I ‘ate it when the punters do that, bang their money to get my attention.
It was then that I noticed that the thing making the annoying noise was not coin of the realm but the tip of a double-barreled shogun.
“Ello Sunshine, I’m here to screw wiv your day. That is, unless you feel inclined to make a contribution to The Poor Widows fund.” His voice was ‘ard, ‘ard as concrete and ‘is smile was worth absolutely nuffin’.
I ‘eard a thunk to my left and turned to see Jacky slumped in an ‘eap on the floor. Funny what goes through your mind, I remember thinking, ‘she’ll be pissed off getter her trousers and new top all dirtied up.’
I looked back at our visitor. Even if the bloke ‘adn’t been 6’2” and built like a brick shit-house, there was absolutely no way I was going to be ‘eroic over someone else’s money. It seemed like a god idea not to speak, just incase ‘e didn’t like the tone of my voice. I just slid the wad of fivers over to him as smoovly as I could.
“Sensible boy,” ‘e said. “Now the rest.”
I reached into the till and pulled out all the remaining notes. I nudged them forward so that they sat next to the fives.
Without taking his eyes off me, and holding the shotgun with one hand, reached out with the other and pocketed the money. “Gambling,” he said as if addressing the empty room behind him, “is a mugs game.” And with that he walked quietly to the door. Looking over ‘is shoulder he cocked ‘is ‘ead and gave me a look as if to say, “Don’t be a pratt and make me come back.”
There are, I suppose, many things I could have done, should ‘ave done, once I’d counted to ten. I should have picked Jacky up, dusted her down, and made sure she was OK. I should have phoned the law, and I should ‘ave let the office know that they weren’t going to be getting their takings. And because I’m a good employee and model citizen, I did all of those things—but not before I’d completed one small task. I reached for the top shelf where we keep the teapot. No, I wasn’t going to make myself a nice cup of soothing tea! Instead, I removed the lid and ‘eld it just below the countertop, then I scooped from the till all of the 50p pieces and dropped them into the teapot’s belly They made a satisfying clanking as about 2o quids worth of coins joined the rest of my side-money. Then I replaced the lid and carefully secured the pot back on its shelf.
Now, you might be wondering ‘ow I could do such a thing at a time like that. ‘owever, it seems to me, that I’d been the one who’d put up with all the aggravation, and was about to be further inconvenienced by ‘aving to stay and do overtime, that I had no chance of being compensated for. My bosses ‘ave never shown any consideration for my ‘ealth and well being, so I consider myself fully justified in making sure that I receive some small remuneration for the danger I’d ‘ad to face. Let us say then, shall we, that I ‘ave claimed a little something towards my own Poor Widows fund?