Elephants and Gypsies
Sometimes we have to face the consequences of youth (a short version of a long story)
Part 1: 1961
Back then there were no discos to speak of. Correction; there were no discos, the word didn’t even exist. Dances took place in the fading Art-Deco splendour of aging regional ballrooms. Most – like their cousins the cinemas – fated be pulled down to make way for supermarkets or housing estates.
Steve Duval and his three venomous disciples avoided them. Even in those days security was pretty tight. They predated at local “dos.” Functions held in bland plywood walled community halls or back rooms of pubs usually featuring some local wannabe rock ‘n’ roll group struggling with feedback followed by a bloke playing 45’s through an overworked PA system.
Generally these gatherings were populated by giggling gaggles of mid-teen girls experimenting with make-up and shy young bucks practising pull techniques. Most places didn’t even serve alcoholic drinks. That didn’t bother Steve and his crew. They were there for another reason.
Steve drove a pre-war Vauxhall 25. A big old car with black coachwork dulled by time. With most of them succumbing to rust and the ten-year-test they were pretty rare, but there were still some around. The V-shaped antenna screwed to the roof over the centre of the windscreen made Steve’s unmissable.
If you rolled up to a dance and recognised his downsized Chevrolet parked outside you knew there’d be trouble. No one in particular, just somebody at the dance. Steve Duval wasn’t fussy.
If you didn’t want to be that someone you kept your head down and avoided asking girls to dance. If you had a girl with you the smart thing to do was persuade her the dance would be crap and take her to the pictures.
The stalking technique Steve and his pack employed was stone-age simple. They hung around checking out blokes who were homing in on a girl. Their target a macho type who was easily provoked. Steve and his familiars took turns to cut in on the couple or grab the girl between numbers. Inevitably the victim would crack and take a swing at one of them. Before he knew it he’d be surrounded. Steve Duval would wade in and despatch him with black-belt Judo efficiency. The operation took about three minutes. Sated, they’d make a quick exit leaving their prey on the floor in a pool of his own blood nursing something broken.
Steve Duval was a small town thug living in North Kent. An insecure middle class kid who took Judo classes at his local youth club when he was thirteen, and was good at it. By the time he was nineteen puberty and his parents separation turned him into an angry vicious young man with no regard for the philosophy of judo.
Before long the local bush telegraph stripped Steve of easy prey, he was also aware he was close to getting on the radar of the nearest cop shop. He decided to move his operation to functions in nearby suburban towns where he was unknown. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t always know the lay of the land in these places.
One winter night at a hop in “distant” Abbey Wood they picked on a skinny kid who, “had a lip on him.” Infuriated, Steve really let go and threw the lad over his shoulder where he landed back first on a row of empty heavy oak chairs. The commotion raised the attention of the kid’s four brothers.
Steve and his crew had to run. They scrambled in the Vauxhall which lucky for them started first time and got away leaving behind four murderous gypsies and their unconscious young brother who would never walk again.
Although oblivious to the kid’s serious injury, Steve knew the consequences of crossing Gypsy families. The group disbanded and took their chances. The Vauxhall was scrapped the next day. Steve chose the safest option he could think of and signed up for a ten year stint in the Navy. It changed his life and he never returned to North Kent.
Part 2: 2001
Branch Sales Manager, Derek Jefferies closed his PC terminal ready for an early start to his weekend. A melange of smells, new rubber, upholstery and polished acrylic paint drifted through the open door of his office. Evening sunlight slanted though the plate glass windows of the showroom and bounced off the shine of six imprisoned Mercedes sending ghostly patterns over the publicity posters screwed to the walls.
‘It’s been a pretty good week,’ he said to himself, ‘and if the SLK goes as quick as I think it will, I’ll have the commission in time for our holiday. That should pay for a few extra bottles of Cava.’
His Nokia 6310 sang its tune and highlighted Russ in black on blue.
‘Hello, Mate sorry to call you so late. Can you stop by head office on your way home. S’important.’
Most calls coming from Group Sales Director Russ Heron, nephew of founder Nelson Heron were important. He knew exactly when Derek was winding things up and always chose that time to request a meet so it didn’t interrupt sales negotiations.
‘Sure, Russ. What’s up?’
‘Nelson wants to see you.’
The hairs on the back of Derek’s neck lifted.
‘Just paperwork, Mate. Nothing to worry about.’
‘I hope not, Russ. OK, see you in about twenty minutes.’
The head office of Nelson Auto Group, a mid-Victorian red brick edifice on the edge of Bexley, housed a discrete showroom for low mileage luxury cars. The company owned garages and dealerships in several towns in North Kent and South-East London. The Mercedes outlet in Blackfen was their first high-end franchise in a plan to go up-market.
Carol Fairhall-Smythe, the plummy voiced Sales Manager was still at her desk in the elegantly decorated bijou showroom.
‘Evening Carol. Still here?’
‘Clients, Dahling.’ She rolled her aristocratic grey eyes. ‘They didn’t seem to want to go. What can you say to someone who has just bought a Continental?’
A door leading to the upstairs offices opened. Russ Heron stood at the threshold.
‘I saw you come in. You made good time.’
That was the cue for Derek to follow his boss.
As he left Carol he noticed a look of loathing soil her expert make-up. Derek knew her dislike wasn’t because the man was ugly. Thirty-five-year old Ross was tall and slim with thick black hair and dark blue eyes. It wasn’t his occasional sharp tongue and inscrutability — which made Derek think of Heathcliff — it was something Derek accepted, but Carol could not. The company was family and would forever stay that way. Employees like Derek and Carol were outsiders. There was no ladder to climb.
Inside his office Russ motioned for Derek to take a seat and opened the small fridge next to his desk.
‘I could use a Coke.’
Russ removed a bottle of Pepsi and a bottle of Stella and opened them with a little thing on his key ring. He handed Derek his drink.
‘Nelson’s on a call, won’t be long.’
‘What’s the meeting about?’
‘He saw the paperwork for the SLK viewing.’
‘What’s the problem?’
Russ swigged on his beer and started thumbing through the copy of Motorsport on his desk. No more info was forthcoming. The two men took quiet sips until one short ring from Russ’s phone broke the silence. Derek followed Russ to Nelson’s office.
For the owner and founder of a multi-million-pound company Nelson Heron’s office was surprisingly compact and basic. His desk, a battered antique, was small no wider than a four person dining table. One wall was lined with old-fashioned metal filing cabinets. Pushed into one corner like a naughty child, was a small PC balanced on a stand just big enough to hold it. An old high backed Windsor chair faced it. The wall on either side of the small window behind Nelson was dappled with black and white photos of garages and second-hand car lots bearing the name, Nelson’s Car Sales. The wall to Nelson’s right held a single enlarged fuzzy picture of a woman in traditional dress sitting on the steps of a Romany caravan smoking a clay pipe. It was labelled, “Great Grandma Heron.”
Without taking his eyes off the paper in front of him Nelson pointed to the two chairs opposite.
‘Take a seat lads.’
Nelson’s deep raspy voice matched his enormous frame. Even at the age of sixty-eight he didn’t carry much fat. While seated Nelson’s heavy torso gave people the impression he did, but when he stood it was clear his arrow-straight six-six body was all muscle. He wasn’t a man to fuck with. The once jet-black hair capping his large oval face was thinning and pure white in contrast to his olive skin. Seven days a week he wore a black suit over a brilliant white shirt and a blue “Nelson Auto Group” tie. He looked up from the paper and aimed his dark-chocolate eyes at Derek’s.
‘I see here you’ve had nibble for the SLK.’
This was only his second meeting with Nelson and Derek found the guy intimidating even though he knew he didn’t mean to be. It was the way Nelson held his gaze and spoke in his to-the-point no-frills North Kent accent.
‘That’s right, Mr. Heron—’
‘Er yes, Nelson, but I don’t think it’ll be the only inquiry. A top spec Kompressor available with—‘
‘Yeah, I know that, Derek. It’s the man who you spoke to I want to talk about.’
Nelson tapped the paper he’d been reading.
‘You say his name is Stephen Duval?’
‘That was the name he gave. Yes.’
‘How’d he find out about the car?’ Russ asked.
Nelson shot Russ a shut-the-fuck-up look.
‘Derek, tell me what happed . . . what was said when he phoned.’
Derek drew a deep breath.
‘Reception got the call and passed him on to me. He said something like, “I understand you might have a new Mercedes SLK for sale.” That took me by surprise, so—‘
‘Yeah I get that, Derek.’ Nelson spread his hand out in a gesture of impatience. ‘Got it from another dealer.’
‘Yes, Sorry. He’d tried to order one locally. They said there was a four-to-five month waiting list. He told me he’s going to retire and hand over his business to his son. The car’s supposed to be a present to himself for his sixtieth birthday.
Apparently he’s a mate of one of the Directors in the company that owns the dealership. Rotary Club stuff. He wasn’t happy about the long wait and his friend mentioned he’d heard about our post-delivery cancellation. I couldn’t really deny it so I told him we’d delay advertising the car if he could make the viewing on Monday.’
‘So . . . he’s coming up for sixty.’
Nelson glanced at Russ and gave the slightest of nods.
‘The address this bloke gave. It’s in Wiltshire. Why did you make this note underneath . . . local man?
‘Well, I made a comment about it being a long way to come and asked if he wanted me to fax directions. He said he didn’t need it ‘cos he grew up round here. Near Hythe Avenue apparently. He said he left the area forty years ago. He knows the road we’re in.’
Nelson leaned back in his chair, pursed his lips and looked at the photo of Great-Grandma Heron. After about ten seconds he spoke.
‘Don’t get this wrong, Derek you’ll get all the commission due on this car . . . and a little bonus, but I want Russ to handle it on Monday.’ Holding up a hand in reassurance he added. ‘If this sale don’t go through, you’ll handle any other enquiries. This is a new situation. I think Russ needs the experience. . . . Alright Russ?’ He raised his eyebrows in his nephew’s direction.
Derek remained silent. He wasn’t happy, but he knew Nelson was as good as his word when it came to money, he also knew he’s just been handed bag of bullshit.
‘Tell you what, Derek. Take Monday off. Russ’ll fill you in on how it went. Alright?’
That was Derek’s cue to leave. Getting to his feet, he muttered a thanks and shook both men’s hands. Russ followed Derek to the door and watched him descend the stairs before closing it.
‘What d’you reckon Uncle? You think it’s that fucking gorger, Steve Duval?’
‘Don’t use that language here. Course I do, but you need to do some checking. Get your brother to help, he knows how to use this internet thing. We have to be sure.’
‘And if it’s definitely him?’
Nelson closed the file containing Derek’s sales report. He looked at Great-Grandma Heron’s picture.
‘You know what has to be done.’