A Deadly Agreement
I’ve read the newspapers, I know what’s being said about me. They say I’m evil, through and through. But they’re wrong, I’m not evil. And you know how I know that? Because I’ve looked evil in the eye, and I came to recognise it for what it was, even though there weren’t any tell-tale horns or cloven feet. When I met evil, in a dingy cafe in London, it was wearing a red French beret and had the face of an angel.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. You want the whole story, don’t you? Well, it started the day I left prison, the eleventh of January, 1938.
The large key clunked in the lock, a sound I’d become used to over the past eight months, and the guard pulled the heavy wooden door open. He gestured me through, saying, ‘Behave yourself, Danny.’
He’d said the same thing to me three years earlier when he’d let me out of HMP Pentonville on another cold and miserable day in January. I’d given him one of my grins, topped it off with a wink, and stepped over the gate to have my first taste of freedom in months. Back then, I wasn’t prepared to listen to anything a screw said to me, but this time was different.
‘I’ll do my best,’ I said, and meant it.
This had been my third time inside, and I was determined it was going to be my last. You see, I was a thief, and I’d finally realised I couldn’t be a very good one, as I almost always got caught.
The first time I ended up in prison was when I was nineteen and stole an armload of clothes from a department store. I hadn’t even bothered to see what they were, just grabbed them and ran. It was my first offence, the first the police knew about anyway, and I was given three months. The second time was for double that, when me and a mate broke into a jewellers in Hatton Garden. We’d got away with the goods clean enough, but hadn’t thought things through and had no idea how to get rid of the stuff. We tried to flog them to some fellas we knew, but they were wise to where we’d got it and told us to bugger off. I was thinking we should hold on to the stuff until the police had given up looking for it, but my idiot of a mate tried to sell some pieces to jewellers back in Hatton Garden and they called the police. Turned out he wasn’t such a good mate because he blabbed, told them everything, and that was it, me back inside for six months.
After that, I’d decided I was better off working alone. I did a few burglaries and got away without any bother, but then I picked a house in Mayfair, thinking I was sure to get a good haul. And I would have done too as there was plenty of silverware along with a cashbox full of money in a desk, but I made too much noise in one of the bedrooms, going through a wardrobe. Some hangers fell off the rail and clattered on the floor, and that brought the owner running. He grabbed hold of me and we had a tussle, falling out into the hall, but he was a lot older than me and fat with it. I socked him on the jaw and he went down like a sack of spuds. I thought he was out of it when he grabbed my legs and pulled me down on top of him. His fingers clamped around my throat, and the only way I could get him to let go of me was to hit him with my crowbar. That stopped him, all right. His wife, who had stayed in bed all this time with the sheets pulled up to her chin, started screaming bloody murder and I legged it down the stairs. Just my luck, a copper was passing and heard the noise. He pinched me as I climbed out of the back window. I was charged with assault as well as burglary, and got ten months, even though the bloke had come at me first and all I was doing was defending myself.
To be honest, I didn’t mind prison all that much. It was easy in there, easier than being on the outside, in a way. I got regular meals and didn’t have to bother about getting a job. I had no trouble from the other prisoners, not even the queers, though I was warned that as soon as they got a look at my pretty face, they’d be on me like flies on shit. Let ’em try, I thought; they’d soon regret it. Maybe they sensed I wouldn’t be an easy target because although they eyed me up, not one of them laid a finger on me. As for me, I kept to myself; I bothered no one, and no one bothered me. I toed the line inside, was a good little prisoner, and shaved two months off my sentence. Even so, it was a long time to be caged up, and I felt that if I didn’t make a change, this would be my life, always in and out of prison, just like Les Hewitt.
Les Hewitt was my cellmate that last time. He was only fifty-six but looked more like seventy. What was left of his hair was grey, most of his teeth had fallen out and he had a gammy leg that made him limp. After lights out, he would keep me awake with stories of the houses he’d burgled, coppers he’d given the runaround, that sort of thing. To listen to Les, you’d think he was a master criminal, but he’d been banged up so many times he’d lost count. Like me, he didn’t have any bother inside, but that was only because everyone treated him as the prison dogsbody. He did everything he was told and was a joke because of it. Les didn’t even have anything to look forward to when he got out. He had no money to speak of because what the police hadn’t found, he’d spent on horses and booze. His wife had run off years back with another man and his daughter had told him she never wanted to see him again. She must have meant it because she never wrote, never visited, and neither did anyone else. Les had nothing and no one, and if I knew anything, I knew I didn’t want to end up like him.
So, when I stepped over that prison gate on that chilly morning in January, my battered suitcase holding everything I owned, I promised myself it was for the last time. My thieving days were over. I wasn’t going to steal anymore. I was going to stay out of trouble. I was going to play it straight.
At least, that was the plan.