It’s Halloween. Billy the Pill, Zimmerman, Crazy Alice and Charlie The Mute are having a few in the June Bride. A body has been found in Banglatown. Billy the pill tells Crazy Alice and her boyfriend Zimmerman all about it:

“So Charlie’s having a curry in Brick Lane and he’s just about to order another couple of poppadoms and a beer when all of a sudden the Abduls are running about like headless chickens and there’s coppers all over the gaff, creeping all about and eyeballing all the punters…”

He pauses for a swallow of his pint and a drag on his cigarette and Charlie The Mute nods to Carol to confirm what has already been said.

Charlie isn’t too good with words, having had his tongue removed some years before by some rather nasty face who had been extremely upset at Charlie for speaking out of turn regarding the sexual politics of the said face’s girlfriend.

“Anyway,” Billy continues, “It seems one of the Abduls has been out the back dumping some dodgy leftovers or something and he’s having a crafty inhalation, when he sees this pair of legs sticking out from behind a f**king wheelie-bin. Well, he comes back into the gaff shaking like a leaf and whiter than a sheet. Ain’t that right Charlie?”

Charlie nods. A dribble of beer runs down his chin. Alice and Zimmerman follow its progress to the lapel of his jacket. Billy takes advantage of the natural pause for dramatic effect. Then he lowers his head level with Carol’s and draws his finger in a slow arc from ear to ear.

“Throat cut!”

Then in an awed, theatrical whisper:

“Almost took her f**king head clean off.”

Carol shivers and grips Zimmerman’s arm. He mutters:

“All right girl, all right,” and strokes her hair. Then he orders her another half of bitter and a double Jack Daniels for himself.

“They know who did it?” he asks.

“F**king hell mate,” retorts Billy, “give them a bleeding chance, it only went down not less than two hours ago. Ain’t that the truth, Charlie.”

Charlie nods and holds up two fingers at Zimmerman, who responds with an uncomfortable shrug, handing Carol her half pint and pocketing her change.

“Bet it was a f**king Abdul, anything you like. Any takers?”

It’s the Dwarf. He’s just come in, edging his way between them to get to the bar.

“Can’t stand that shit they eat!”

“No you’re wrong, boss,” Zimmerman objects, “They don’t eat that shit. They just make it for the punters. And they’re mostly all English… like us, like.”

“Here we go,” chortles Billy, laying his forefinger lightly on the side of his nose and eyeing The Mute conspiratorially.

“Here’s the man! Now we’ll get the inside story. What do you know, boss, no, put your money away. I’ll get that. Come on, you’ve heard something, haven’t you?”

“All in the fullness, young man, all in good time.”

Billy passes him a pint and the Dwarf takes a long pull on it before reaching up and ceremoniously placing his half empty glass onto the counter. Meanwhile Crazy Carol, Zimmerman and Charlie look on.

“As it happens, I had reason – one of my little helpers got a bit careless – to be entrammeled for a short period of time this evening in the rather unpleasant environs of Lime Street nick, wherein I stumbled upon…” He reclaims his glass and swiftly eradicates the remainder of its contents, “…a little whisper!”

Billy the pill bites the crook of his thumb. Charlie is trying to lick the beer off his chin with his absent tongue. Carol and Zimmerman stand open mouthed and transfixed. The Dwarf’s eyes meet Carol’s.

“It seems the unfortunate young lady is an acquaintance of yours, a part time brass, lives in a flat down Shandy Street with some nonce?”

Carol’s eyes pop with shock and disbelief and her features freeze.

“F**king hell, boss. It can’t be. Not her, not little Alice.”

Zimmerman mutters:

“Poor cow. Don’t get upset babe.”

He makes to apply a sympathetic embrace but Carol shrugs and shakes her head, pushing his arm roughly away as she fishes a packet of cigarettes out of her bag. She lights one and blows the smoke in his face.

“Poor cow my arse,” she growls, “c**t owes me fifty f**king quid!”

After about a microsecond of stunned silence Billy the pill starts to laugh, closely followed by the Dwarf, Charlie and Zimmerman, in that order, and then Carol too starts giggling. Billy chortles:

“F**king hell Carol, ain’t you got no respect for the dead?” At which point she loses control completely, collapsing into whoops of hysterical laughter and spraying everyone with beer and spit.

“Yeah?” she splutters, “well I’ll tell you something else Billy boy, the bitch was three months gone!”

Gales of hilarity shake the big bevelled mirror behind the bar, glasses rattle on the shelves and the guffaw echoes like scandal all through the pub and out of the big swing doors and into the street. Somebody says later you could hear them laughing all the way down the Mile End Road.

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