CH TWO 36
There has been some trouble on the wing and the inmates have been locked in their cells all evening. This doesn’t bother Frank because he has managed to filch a copy of the Daily Mirror from the officer’s canteen and can just about see to do the crossword. Arsenal are doing very well in the League and also look set to play in the FA Cup semi-final, which will please Scotty. He wonders how his friend is getting on. His babies must have arrived by now, adding to the chaos in that tiny Council house of his. Scotty doesn’t appreciate how lucky he is to be a father, but then most people don’t cherish enough what they have, rather they grumble about what they don’t have. Right now Frank would settle for a pint of bitter and a packet of chocolate hobnobs but he will have to make do with a somewhat squashed slice of Battenberg and half a packet of cheese and onion crisps. His cell mate looks at him hopefully as he eases the stash from under his pillow but he has no chance; let him get his own scran.
There are at least three sweepstakes being organised for the Grand National and Frank has drawn Fred Pontin’s horse, ‘Specify’ which he finds rather amusing remembering the holiday he spent in the run-down camp last summer. At 28/1 the nag is not quite the rank outsider but the National is always unpredictable so he has as good a chance as anyone of winning the prize, which is supposed to be forty Dunhill cigarettes courtesy of Lord Thorndike. With the stake being five proper cigarettes this is not a spectacular return for his outlay and as always his Lordship will be the real winner but it would be nice to enjoy a decent smoke once in a while instead of a thin roll-up or an un-tipped Woodbine.
It is too late for any association time but the lags are allowed out for their nightly ablutions before lights out and there is a rush for the washroom. Cracker Peel passes word that the lock down was due to an escape attempt but nobody believes him. It’s more likely there was a search underway for some contraband. Many ‘illegal’ items are routinely overlooked but anything of a potentially dangerous nature has to be found and disposed of before anyone can inflict a serious injury. There have been rumours that someone is out to get a particularly loathed inmate and although the screws would love to see him get what he deserves none of them is prepared to let it happen on their watch.
The prison is never quiet but by one in the morning most of the inmates are asleep, some snoring, others calling out in their dreams, yet others shouting for them to shut up. Frank has not slept a wink. He watches the patch of light reflecting off the wall next to the door as the moon peers in, slowly drifts away and passes on to chase another day. In common with most of the men in here he is counting off the days until his release and trying to decide what he will do when the day comes. He has to make a decision soon so that he can be issued with a travel warrant. Will he return to his old haunts or will he go to his family? Perhaps he should head for somewhere completely new and start afresh. He dozes off around five in the morning and does not wake until the lights come on again to signal the start of another round of more tedious repetition.
Thorndike is becoming increasingly impatient with Frank Ridley. Despite having arranged for the man to win most of the contests he has devised he still has no time for him. By now he should be eating out of his hand like his other acolytes yet he remains aloof. He does, however, provide him with some tasty titbits from the officers’ canteen at a reasonable price and he needs Ridley more than Ridley needs him. His outside business interests are causing him concern and with Ridley’s release due in a few weeks he seems like the ideal candidate to help him out; it’s just a matter of getting him onside.
The morning passes in the usual manner and Frank saunters back to the wing with a nice bit of cold beef in his left shoe and a Penguin biscuit in his jacket pocket. ‘His Lordship wants a word with you,’ says Scrapper Noakes as he arrives at his cell, ‘in private.’ Before Frank has time to hide his stash he is escorted to Thorndike’s cell where the man himself is waiting. Scrapper pulls the door to and stands sentry outside. ‘Do take a seat,’ offers his lordship, indicating the wooden chair by the table. Frank sits and undoes his shoe, removing the cling film wrapped cold meat. Thorndike’s eyes light up for the briefest moment and he hands over an open pack of Dunhill cigarettes. Frank checks the contents and nods in agreement at the exchange rate, five cigarettes, which he tucks into his jacket pocket alongside the biscuit.
‘I have a proposition for you,’ his lordship begins, not looking at Frank but inspecting his polished fingernails, ‘nothing dodgy, just a little bit of business that needs attention. You won’t be with us for much longer and I believe you are someone I can trust. I’ll make it worth your while and there will be no risk involved so are you interested?’
Frank feigns interest in his own fingernails, which are bitten halfway down to the quick. ‘I’m always willing to listen to a fair proposition,’ he says, ‘but I don’t take kindly to being taken for a mug so what is it you want from me?’
One of the warders approaches, wanting to know why the door is almost shut. Scrapper Noakes assures him there is nothing untoward going on and after accepting a small gift the screw walks on.
‘I’ll give you a name, address and phone number which I will require you to learn by heart. I want you to contact this person and pass on a message from me. I will expect you to learn this message also word for word. We don’t want anyone else getting wind of it, do you see?’ Frank agrees that if that’s all he wants he doesn’t have any objections but asks what is in it for him.
‘I have many contacts in high places,’ Thorndike begins, ‘people who can be very useful to you in any kind of circumstance, if you get my drift. If you help me out with this little task I will not forget the service and any time you need assistance you will be able to call upon this person to put things right for you. Do we have an agreement?’ He holds out his rather pale, limp hand for Frank to shake, which he does, thus sealing the deal. Frank stands up and Thorndike tells him the name, address and phone number of the party he wishes to contact. ‘Memorise it and see me tomorrow,’ he adds, ‘I need to make sure you have it perfectly.’
Scrapper Noakes stands aside as Frank leaves the cell on his way back to his own. There is an unconcealed look of jealousy on his face. Noakes still has four years to serve before any hope of release and it has taken him two years to achieve the coveted position he holds in Thorndike’s ranks. He will be glad to see the back of this swaggering petty criminal.