We'll be publishing Pills & Soap, the 2nd book in DDC Morgan's Reg Calloway series on Friday 27th August - here we present an extended extract to whet your appetite.
When the phone rang, Calloway sat bolt upright in the old iron bed. The sheet clung to his back. It was soaked with sweat. He’d been dreaming again, the dream from the war.
He looked at the clock. It was one in the morning. The shrill bell of the phone pierced his skull. He wanted to ignore it, go back to sleep, hope this time he wouldn’t dream.
He crossed the cold linoleum floor in his bare feet and picked up the receiver. Old Arthur, the night watchman, was panting down the line.
‘You’d better get down here,’ he said.
Calloway dressed and pulled a comb through his hair. He tugged a mackintosh over his big frame as he descended the stairs that led to his attic room, slamming the door behind him. There were no neighbours to wake. The rest of the three-storey factory building was empty this time of night.
The air in the street was damp. The starter motor of his car rasped through the silence before the engine spluttered into life. The drive took less than ten minutes. The road was dark and empty.
As the studio loomed into view, Calloway saw the cause of old Arthur’s panic. Young women hobbled over the cobblestones in their heels. They looked distressed. They wore low-cut evening gowns showing plenty of cleavage. Their bare shoulders glowed white against the soot-black brickwork of the old brewery buildings that were home to Centurion Pictures. Rich-looking men bumbled around them, confused and indignant. The women were eighteen, nineteen, twenty-one at the most. The men were forty-plus. They were mostly overweight and bald, squeezed into expensive dinner suits, some with lighted cigars still in their pudgy hands.
Calloway pulled up, killed the motor and eased himself out of the small car. Fire engines appeared ahead of him, their bells drowning the distressed cries of the party guests as they stumbled through the studio gates. He spied Arthur in the crowd.
‘It was the guvnor’s car,’ the old boy said.
The guvnor was Sidney G Spelthorne, head of Centurion.
‘Blown sky high.’
He was gasping for breath, the tarry phlegm of the chain smoker bubbling audibly in his chest.
‘An explosion?’ said Calloway.
The old man nodded, struggling to speak over the chatter of his dentures.
‘Must have been. Blew the glass of my hut right in. If I hadn’t had my head down, the shards would’ve cut me to ribbons.’
Sleeping on the job, thought Calloway. He let it pass.
‘Was Spelthorne in the car?’
Arthur shook his head.
‘He was still at the dinner. Soon as the blast went off, his men shuffled him off the studio floor and up to his office. He’s inside there now. There’s blokes minding the door.’
Arthur was trembling with shock. Calloway pulled a hip flask from his pocket and pressed it into the night watchman’s bony hand.
‘Sit in my car and have a nip of that. I’ll call you if I need you.’
The old boy complied. Calloway pushed through the fleeing bodies and into the studio courtyard. Spelthorne’s Bentley burned brightly. The fuel tank had ignited in the blast and flames now lapped around the twisted metal of its mutilated bodywork. There were expensive cars either side, damaged but not yet on fire. In moments they would be.
The firemen had dismounted their tenders and were now urging the crowd back. Their oilskin over-trousers gleamed black in the light of the flames, and the silver buttons on their heavy wool tunics glistened like tiny stars. Two of them rolled a hose through the gates towards the burning motor and signalled to their colleagues to start the pump.
Revellers were still emerging from the big double doors of Studio A, amongst them musicians from a dance band clutching instruments to their chests. Calloway pushed his way towards the doors. The best he could do was to help get everyone off the premises. He stopped dead as a fleeing body slammed into his. It was a woman, dressed to the nines like the others, her makeup smeared and her platinum hairdo unravelling. As their shoulders collided, a small lamé clutch purse fell from her hand onto the cobblestone yard. She glanced down at the purse, hesitated, then fled. It seemed odd to Calloway. He slipped the purse into his pocket, looked around, but she was gone.
The scene inside Studio A matched the chaos outside. The room had been dressed for a gala, draped in rich red velvet with gilt trimmings. Inside this opulent shroud was a mess of upturned chairs and tables, shattered wineglasses and wine-stained tablecloths. The dance band stage had been abandoned like a sinking ship, strewn with bent and tangled music stands and big black instrument cases left open like empty lifeboats. It was the wake of a three-hundred-strong stampede fleeing the boom of the explosion, memories of the Blitz still all too clear in their minds.
Calloway ushered a dozen stragglers out through the doors. The women were blind drunk, stumbling knock-kneed as their male companions led them away with an outward gallantry that to Calloway seemed little more than an excuse to paw at their curves. From behind one of the upturned tables he heard a groan. A man lay on the ground clutching a champagne bottle which dripped its contents between the fleshy lips of his open mouth.
‘On your feet, pal,’ Calloway shouted down to the man on the ground, who responded with an inebriated giggle.
‘I think I’ll just stay here a little while longer chum, if it’s all the same to you.’
He then began to sing a dance band hit, holding the dribbling neck of the bottle like a microphone. Calloway planted his heavy leather shoe into the reveller’s fleshy backside with such force the man jumped to his feet and staggered towards the doors. Calloway had no time for drunks. He didn’t much like being called chum either.
He left the studio and doubled timed across the courtyard towards the main gate. The firemen had cleared the area and were training hoses onto the flaming car. The car was a mess, its bodywork splayed, its windows shattered and its paintwork bubbling. Only the personalised number plate seemed to have survived intact: CP1.
Passing through the gates Calloway saw an ambulance crew handing out blankets to the evacuees, who now perched on the kerb or leaned against the big boundary wall smoking and swigging from wine bottles they had grabbed as they fled.
From the end of the street he heard the metallic clang of police car bells. The cars screeched to a halt ahead of the guests that filled the road. Two big Wolseleys and a Black Maria. They disgorged uniformed flatfoots who set about looking important without really knowing what to do. The fire crew and the ambulance had the scene under control, the firemen training hoses on the last of the flames that burned stubbornly around the melted tyres of the blown-up car. Calloway spied Sandy Phelps, Chief Inspector at Hackney Central, who was giving orders with an air of authority that obviated the need for a plan. He recognised Calloway and strode in his direction adjusting his peaked cap as if he meant business.
‘Well this is a right bloody mess,’ Phelps said. He nodded towards the dinner guests. ‘Who are these swells, and where’d all the skirt come from? I’m guessing it’s not their wives.’
The young women had formed their own group, talking nervously and sharing cigarettes. They seemed relieved to be away from the men.
‘The annual Producers Club dinner,’ said Calloway. ‘The boss throws a party once a year for the money men. The girls are bussed in from the charm school.’
Phelps frowned, not understanding. ‘Charm school?’
‘The Centurion Company of Stars, if you want its official title. A hot house for starlets.’
‘So how come I don’t recognise any of them?’
‘You might call their duties largely ceremonial. Once in a blue moon they get a couple of lines in a B picture.’
Phelps gave a grunt in acknowledgement.
‘Were you here when the car went up?’
Calloway shook his head. ‘I was stood down for the night. The boss brought in private security for the event.’
‘To make sure the guests keep their hands off the merchandise?’
Calloway scoffed. ‘I rather think that’s the whole point of the evening.’
‘Show the money a good time, eh?’
‘It seems to work. This place is churning out quota quickies like there’s no tomorrow.’
With the fire extinguished and the site made safe, the firemen had dropped the air of urgency. They clumped around in their gum boots, loose limbed and relaxed, reeling up the hose and stowing away their equipment in lockers on the side of the fire tenders. Phelps’s men set up a cordon around the burned-out cars. Some worked the crowd outside, taking names and addresses while sneaking looks down the dresses of the women.
‘Where’s your boss now?’ said Phelps.
Calloway nodded towards a three-storey wing that adjoined Studio A. It was Centurion’s administration building. Only now he noticed half its windows had shattered.
‘Holed up in his office. Third floor.’
‘We’ll need to talk to him, but it can wait. Any idea what caused the blast?’
‘Faulty engine? A discarded fag perhaps?’
Calloway doubted either. A blast enough to shatter two dozen windows suggested more than an engine fire.
‘I’ll get a forensic team over tomorrow. Can you secure this place overnight?’
‘I don’t think that’s beyond me. I’ve got keys to the gate. They came with the job, funnily enough.’
‘Alright, alright. No need for that. We’ll get the folk outside packed off home. You lock the place up. I’ll put a couple of lads on duty outside and we’ll be back in the morning.’
‘It is the morning,’ said Calloway.
‘Then we’ll be back when you’ve had a shave. You look like a sack of shit.’
The chief constable turned on his heels and went back to ordering his men around. Calloway rubbed the stubble on his chin. Phelps had a point. He needed to clean up, but that would have to wait. He crossed the yard to the administration block and climbed the three flights of stairs. The anteroom where Spelthorne kept his secretaries was empty. The door to his office was shut. Two goons stood sentinel. They wore dinner suits that looked more expensive than they did. One smoked a Wills while the other perched on a desk, leafing through last month’s Picturegoer.
‘Who are you?’ the smaller of the two demanded. He tossed the magazine onto the desk. His pal pinched the fag between his thumb and forefinger and drew hard on it with tensed lips.
‘Calloway, studio security.’
The big goon smirked and blew smoke in Calloway’s direction. ‘A fat lot of use you were then.’
‘I could say the same about you. Tonight was your lookout.’
The big goon bristled. ‘Wind your neck in.’
Calloway let this ride. ‘I need to see Spelthorne.’
The smaller goon grinned. ‘He’s not at home to callers.’
He’s at home to someone, thought Calloway, judging by the sounds from behind the door. Spelthorne was calming his nerves with some female help.
‘Enjoy listening, do you?’ Calloway said.
He left them to it. One of the goons muttered ‘prat’ under his breath.
The courtyard was empty now. The fire tenders’ engines rumbled in anticipation of departing, as the crew mounted and took their positions in the cabs. The fug of the burned-out Bentley hung in the damp air. Water from the fire hoses had spread over the cobbles and collected in pools which reflected the neon light from the illuminated studio sign. A quiet had descended.
Calloway pulled out his old gun-metal cigarette case and lit a Navy Cut. In the calm of the moment, the woman who had dropped the purse flickered into his consciousness. The face was wrong somehow. The woman was dressed the same as the others, she wore the same shoes and had the same hair, but the face didn’t fit. It wasn’t a charm school face. Those girls all had a look. Spelthorne handpicked them and he definitely had a type. High cheek bones and watery blue eyes with lips just full enough to pout. Redheads and blondes, and only delicate brunettes. Nothing too bold, nothing that smouldered. Spelthorne liked a hint of vulnerability, with just the promise of something more. Girls who looked like they would yield, then ignite. If they didn’t have the look when they joined the Company of Stars, they had it when they came out. The woman who ran into Calloway was different. No one owned that face.
The two constables Phelps had stationed outside helped Calloway pull the big iron gates closed. They slid the bolts into the ground and Calloway locked up. Spelthorne and his boys could use the tradesman entrance if they planned to leave anytime soon. He told the coppers that the boss was still inside. They seemed uninterested and grumbled something about a waste of bloody time.
Arthur was asleep in the car, the hip flask still in his hand. Calloway drove him the half mile to the prefab he shared with his wife. She was awake when they pulled up, her hair tied up in a frayed and faded snood, a drab housecoat cinched around her old bird-like frame.
‘I’ve been so worried,’ she said.
Arthur put a mottled hand on her shoulder and explained that everything was alright. He was calm now. The shock had passed. He offered Calloway tea, which Calloway declined.
‘Funny old night, eh?’ the old man said.
Calloway had an inkling the coming days would be funnier still, but he didn’t feel much like laughing.
There were two of them in Calloway’s office. Both plain clothes. One was smoking a pipe. He’d been there long enough to fill the ten-by-ten-foot room with sickly sweet smoke. His colleague flicked through yesterday’s Daily Sketch, which Calloway had left on the plain utility desk the previous day. Vice gang boss gets eight years, the headline read. A mugshot glared from the page, a criminal face straight out of Centurion’s casting office. Both men rose as Calloway entered. The one with the newspaper glanced at his watch.
‘Half day, is it?’
It might have been a joke, but he wasn’t smiling. ‘It was a late night.’
The electric clock on the wall said it was nearly ten. Calloway had overslept. The clock ticked like a termite to remind him.
‘You show-business types need your beauty sleep, eh?’
Calloway ignored this. He crossed the small office and opened the metal window. A dirty mist blew in on the breeze and mingled with the pipe smoke. It was a small improvement. Calloway gestured to the men to sit and did the same. He leaned forward in the swivel chair and laid his big fists on the ink-stained desktop.
‘And you are?’ he said.
He knew they were police, but they weren’t the usual sort. In his line of work he was used to visits from regular coppers. They turned up when things got nicked and looked bored. These were keen types. Straight backed and serious. They had an almost military demeanour.
The pipe smoker flashed a warrant card. ‘Special Branch. I’m DI Belcher, this is DS Bryant.’
Calloway opened his battered cigarette case. He’d carried it all through the war and it showed. Every dent and scratch told a story. Some were stories he wanted to forget. He lit a Navy Cut and blew more smoke into the small room.
‘You here about last night?’
‘Tell us what happened.’
If they were Special Branch, they’d be here because of the explosion. In the no man’s land between regular policing and MI5, Special Branch stomped around in their oversized boots. Explosions were very much their business. Belcher refilled his pipe and sucked audibly to light it. Calloway hated pipes. His old commanding officer smoked one. That relationship didn’t end well. He decided not to like DI Belcher, at least for the moment.
‘The boss threw a party. Someone flicked a dog-end under his Bentley. It went up like a Roman candle.’
Belcher and Bryant exchanged glances. Belcher leaned forward.
‘We doubt that very much.’
Calloway doubted it too. In the studio courtyard he’d seen men in white coats picking over the debris of the burned-out car. They weren’t looking for dog-ends.
‘We’re you at the studio when the explosion happened?’
Calloway shook his head. ‘There were private security guards on duty. It was a special event. You’ll need to speak to the boss about that. What are you boys going to be doing here?’
This was his turf. He wanted them to know it.
‘We’ll check what’s left of the car for fingerprints and tool marks, see if we can get comparisons. We can forget footprints. We’re told there were more than three hundred guests on the premises.’
‘We’ll need to interview witnesses,’ said Belcher, ‘so we’re going to be hanging around here for some time yet. If we get anything useful from the interviews in terms of a suspect, we’ll get an artist in to do sketches.’
Belcher changed tack. ‘What’s in production here at the moment?’
‘You a film fan, DI Belcher?’
The detective inspector gave a small, grudging smile.
‘I like a good western, seeing as you ask.’
‘That figures. Good guys versus bad guys and a right old punch-up at the end, eh? We don’t make those here. No room for the horses.’
Calloway paid little attention to what Centurion produced, save for the information necessary for his job. But he answered the question.
‘At Studio A it’s a family melodrama. Studio B is some thriller or other.’
‘Tell us about the thriller,’ said Bryant. He had crossed to the window and was watching the forensic men beetling around the blackened carcass of the Bentley.
‘Moonlighting for Picturegoer?’
Belcher sighed and dug into the bowl of the pipe with a matchstick. ‘Just answer the question, Calloway.’
Belcher’s pipe was really irritating Calloway now. Not just the stomach-turning fug. It was the ritual of smoking, like some signifier of confident manhood. It said authority and surety far too loudly.
‘It’s called The Rebel Gun, I believe, although the title might change. They often do. About two assassins on the run.’
Bryant turned away from the window and looked Calloway in the eye. He had a flattened nose and a scar running through his upper lip. Done a bit of boxing in his youth, Calloway surmised. He looked the sort.
‘IRA assassins,’ Bryant said. It wasn’t a question.
‘Sounds like you know more than me. I think there’s a republican thread running through the plot, yes. I don’t pay much attention to the productions themselves. No call for it in my line.’
‘Who are the writers?’ asked Bryant. He was leaning against the filing cabinet. Calloway gestured for him to shift. He opened a drawer and rifled the files, then pulled out a hundred-page document in a manila cover.
‘Cedric Dryden and Michael Balfour, according to the shooting script. They write social dramas mostly.’
Belcher stopped sucking the pipe. ‘Social dramas? Communist sympathies would you say?’
Calloway shrugged. ‘I wouldn’t know. The likes of me don’t move in their circles. But we don’t start many revolutions here. That would be bad for Mr Spelthorne’s business. I’m pretty sure he’s not a communist.’
Calloway stifled a yawn. He’d not slept well. He’d been turning the events of the previous night over in his mind. It had kept him awake. He kept seeing the face of the woman who had dropped the purse. The woman whose face didn’t fit the charm school mould.
‘Keeping you up, are we?’ said Bryant. Belcher asked, ‘Do you have a list of the cast and crew?’
Calloway nodded. He always asked for a list so that he knew which stars would be on set. The bigger the star, the bigger the crowd around the gates. Autograph hunters, kids mostly, but less-salubrious types too. The obsessives. The creeps. The ones you had to keep an eye on. He took another file from the cabinet and passed it to Bryant, who ran a finger down the list, raising his eyebrow when he saw a name he recognised. There were two male leads. Both were name actors. A veteran and a pretty boy. The female lead was an unknown. Not from the charm school. She’d come from the theatre. She was Dryden’s suggestion. He didn’t like the charm school girls, apparently.
‘We’ll take this, if that’s okay.’
Bryant had already unclipped the list from the folder and was slipping it into his inside pocket.
Then he asked the question he’d clearly been waiting to ask. ‘Which part was Terrence McCaffrey due to play?’
Calloway knew the name. A jobbing character actor and a handful. He’d been asked to escort McCaffrey off the premises when he’d turned up to Spelthorne’s office, stinking drunk and spoiling for a fight. He’d taken a swing at Calloway then regretted it. Calloway’s fist had added a little more character to his face. That was a couple of months back. He’d not been seen since.
Calloway shrugged in response to Bryant’s question. ‘I’m head of security, not the casting director. How should I know?’
Bryant bristled. He stepped forward, squaring up.
Belcher cut in. ‘Cut the act, Calloway. We’re immune. And we’ve handled bigger than you.’
‘Much bigger,’ Bryant added. Calloway was deciding not to like Bryant too. He leaned back in his chair and peered down at the burned-out car. The forensics men were packing away their kit. A uniformed copper at the gate was waving through a glaziers’ van. There were two dozen windows to mend.
‘Am I a suspect? You think I flicked that fag butt under the boss’s car?’
Belcher laid the pipe on the scorched Bakelite ashtray. ‘No, but you’re being a pain in the neck. We know the difference between an accidental fire and a suspicious explosion. So do you. Don’t pretend otherwise. You’re also savvy enough to know that when something explodes at a studio that’s making a film about republican gunmen, that’s too much of a coincidence for us to ignore. We’ve looked you up Calloway. Ex-Intelligence Corps. Field security background. Stop playing the dumb night watchman.’
Calloway conceded the point. ‘What’s your interest in McCaffrey?’
Belcher and Bryant ignored the question.
‘When did you last see him?’ said Belcher.
‘A few weeks back. He’d been to see the boss.’
‘A role, I assume. From his demeanour I judge he didn’t get it.’
‘A role in...’ Belcher glanced at the cover of the folder on Calloway’s desk, ‘The Rebel Gun?’
Calloway worked the timings backwards in his head. The picture would already have been cast by the time McCaffrey visited Spelthorne. Shooting had already started. It was unlikely McCaffrey’s beef with Spelthorne would have been over a casting decision.
‘Do you know where we could find him?’
Calloway shook his head. He knew McCaffrey wasn’t under contract to Centurion. ‘I can check with casting. They should have a file on him. Why the interest?’
‘You know better than to ask,’ said Bryant. His scar showed white against his tensed lip.
‘Oh I think we can cut Calloway a bit of slack,’ said Belcher. ‘He used to be a copper, of a sort.’
Calloway shrugged. ‘I was Military Police until 1940, when field security was transferred to the Intelligence Corps.’
‘You see Bryant, a former Redcap. A brown-job copper.’
Bryant gave a grudging nod. Belcher pulled a file from his case. He passed it across the desk to Calloway. It had McCaffrey’s name on it. Calloway flicked through it.
Belcher continued. ‘This McCaffrey is on our watch list. A known republican sympathiser with some high-powered friends. See that photo?’ He gestured with his pipe to a shot of McCaffrey seated at a dinner table next to a well-dressed man, guests at what appeared to be a gala dinner. ‘It was taken last year in Chicago. The other man is Martin O’Driscoll, a well-known fundraiser for Irish republican causes in the United States.’
Calloway closed the file and passed it back. ‘So you suspect McCaffrey of blowing up the boss’s car.’
‘I’m not saying that. But you can see how it looks. Your studio is making a film about the IRA, a republican sympathiser has a beef with the boss whose car is blown sky high a week or so later. Smells a bit, doesn’t it?’
Not as much as that bloody pipe, thought Calloway. ‘Last time I saw McCaffrey, he couldn’t plant one foot in front of the other, let alone plant a bomb. I was stationed in Belfast in the thirties. I’ve known a few of the boyos in my time. That clown McCaffrey doesn’t fit the mould.’
‘Then I’m glad you’re just a glorified night watchman and not the investigating officer on this case.’
‘Why don’t you speak to McCaffrey? If he’s on your watch list you must have his address.’
‘We have his address. He’s just never there.’
‘Party animal,’ Bryant chimed in with a sneer.
‘We were hoping you might tell us his regular haunts.’
‘I wouldn’t know. I don’t move in the same circles. He’s a film star. I’m just a glorified night watchman.’
Belcher passed Calloway a card. ‘Find out, then call me.’
Calloway nodded without enthusiasm. He held the door open for the two detectives.
‘Centurion Pictures will do everything it can to assist in your enquiries, Detective Inspector,’ he said, like he’d mislaid his sincerity.
As the two detectives turned to leave, Bryant leaned forward and spoke quietly into Calloway’s ear.
‘You should go back to bed, son,’ he said. ‘You look tired.’
The casting office was down a long corridor at the rear of the administration building. The door was open. A man and woman sat at adjoining desks arguing. The man was in his late twenties with a weak face and too much forehead for someone his age. He wore a tweed sports coat with leather buttons and a yellow cravat, the kind horsey folk wear. The woman was pushing forty and not to be messed with. Buttoned tightly into a pre-war two-piece, with wiry greying hair that was devouring the pencil she kept in it. She gave off an aura of elegant hostility. She held a short tortoise shell cigarette holder between her teeth as she spoke to the young man opposite her.
‘Jack Warner?’ she said. ‘Far too long in the tooth, darling.’
‘But the part calls for an everyman,’ said the young man. ‘They don’t come more every than Warner. He’s the nation’s father figure.’
‘The part calls for a romantic. Warner can’t do romance, unless you think a peck on the cheek and a bunch of daffs on Mothering Sunday counts.’ She impersonated Warner, ‘“There you go, Ma, picked ’em from me garden”,’ then switched to a matronly cockney, ‘“Bless you, Jack, you aaare thoughtful.” No, no, no.’
The young man thought for a moment, tapping his teeth with the barrel of a fountain pen.
‘Jack Hawkins then. He can turn on the suave when he wants to.’
‘Too gruff. Too military,’ the woman said. ‘At his best when barking orders on a ship.’
The young man made a plaintive face. ‘Stanley Holloway?’
‘Oh Fuck off, Tony!’
Tired of being ignored, Calloway cleared his throat and rapped on the open door.
The woman looked up, irritated by the interruption.
‘And you are?’ she said.
‘Reg Calloway. The everyman that looks after security.’
The woman removed the lunettes from the bridge of her nose and looked Calloway up and down. Her hostility ebbed away.
‘You know what? You might just do, darling. Can you act?’
‘Only tough, when the role calls for it. Usually when I’m throwing someone out of somewhere they shouldn’t be.’
The woman replaced the lunettes and leaned back in her chair. ‘The screen tough-guy type. That might work. Can you do romantic?’
‘Tried it once. Didn’t work out.’
She smiled. ‘Poor, poor you. Now come and sit over here,’ she said, her tone softening even more. She patted an old stacking chair next to her side of the desk. ‘Tell Marjorie how she can help.’
Calloway sat then immediately wished he’d stayed standing. He felt foolish. Like an oversized lapdog. The woman called Marjorie leaned into him and whispered, ‘Is it about this explosion business? It’s the talk of the studio this morning. Tongues haven’t wagged this much since Stewart Grainger threatened to punch Sidney G’s lights out for goosing Jean Simmons.’
Calloway’s responded with his habitual stone face. ‘Last night’s incident is in the hands of the police. The studio will be helping them with their enquiries in any way it can.’
‘Pah!’ she said. ‘That sounds like a press statement from the publicity office. Did Ivor tell you to say that?’
Ivor Cole was head of the publicity department. A slick-haired, fast-talking type who carried a lot of clout at Centurion. Calloway shook his head.
‘I managed it all on my own.’
‘You clever boy.’ She removed the lunettes on the bridge of her nose and looked him up and down again as he sat awkwardly in the chair. ‘They’re shooting a thriller in Studio B. I’m sure they could find use for another heavy. You should have a go, darling. The camera would love that lantern jaw of yours.’
She took his chin in her hand and turned his head from side to side as if examining an object d’art she was considering purchasing from Portobello Road. The man called Tony tossed his pen onto the desk and let out an irritated sigh.
‘I’m sure the gentleman came here for something other than your personal amusement, Marge. Put him down.’ He turned to Calloway. ‘What is it you want, squire?’
Calloway was grateful for Tony’s intervention. Marjorie had a way about her that was uncomfortably engaging.
‘Do you have a file on an actor called Terrence McCaffrey?’ he said.
Marjorie looked quizzical. ‘Tearaway Terry? What would a fine upstanding man like you want with that reprobate? Has he been a naughty boy? Oh do tell.’
‘Just a routine enquiry,’ said Calloway.
Marjorie rolled her eyes. ‘You’re sounding like a press statement again.’
She took a long draw on the cigarette holder and placed it in the ashtray, then stood and crossed the room towards a battered grey filing cabinet that stood in the corner. Calloway followed her with his eyes. Somehow he couldn’t help it. Opening a draw, she rifled through the tightly packed hanging files.
‘Mason, McGoohan, McCaffrey, here he is.’
She passed Calloway the file and as he reached to take it, their hands brushed. Calloway pulled back his hand too quickly and Marjorie noticed. She raised an eyebrow. Her painted lips twisted into a predatory smile. He returned to the stacking chair and leafed through the file, which held only a few typed sheets, with a portrait of McCaffrey paper-clipped to the inside cover. He was younger in the photo by a good ten years. When Calloway had ejected him from Spelthorne’s office, he’d looked older and wearier, his face puffy from drink and his jet black hair peppered with dry, wiry streaks of grey.
‘Is this his current address?’ Calloway said. It was the fifth address listed in the file, the previous four struck through with a red pen.
Marjorie glanced over his shoulder. ‘Yes, if he’s not been kicked out already.’
‘And where does he raise hell when he’s not at home?’
The young man Tony piped up. ‘Where doesn’t he? The Mandrake, The Gargoyle, The French, The Torino, The Swiss. But mostly you’ll find him in the Feldman Club. He loves bebop.’
‘Where’s the Feldman Club?’ asked Calloway.
‘One hundred Oxford Street, in a hell hole of a basement with a soundtrack to match.’
Marjorie peered at the young man over her glasses. ‘Tony doesn’t believe in jazz,’ she said, like it was an accusation.
‘Neither do I,’ said Calloway.
The room darkened as two studio hands passed the widow carrying an oversized panel of painted scenery. Calloway looked out towards the rolling green hills and brooding purple sky as it passed. The Irish film, he guessed, suspecting the scenery had been used many times over to evoke anywhere from Hungary to the Hebrides.
‘It’s like sitting in a railway carriage,’ said Tony to no one in particular as the scenery rolled past.
Marjorie leaned into Calloway and whispered again, ‘I hear old Terry stabbed Sidney G with a letter opener and got a punch in the kisser for his trouble.’
‘No one stabbed anyone,’ said Calloway.
‘But he still got punched. Was that you, you big brute?’
‘It generally is,’ he said.
She looked distracted for a moment, as if turning something over in her mind. Something about him.
‘Don’t worry, darling, he probably didn’t feel it. I heard he was roaring drunk at the time.’
‘Does he usually throw his weight around when he doesn’t get a part?’
Marjorie corrected him. ‘Oh, he got the part alright. Third from top billing in The Rebel Gun. He just didn’t keep it. They’d been shooting for a fortnight when he got the news he’d been dropped.’
‘Why was that?’
Marjorie shrugged. ‘Search me, luvvie.’ She winked and held out her arms. ‘That’s an invitation by the way.’
Tony scoffed. ‘Stop it Marge. You’re incorrigible.’
She patted Calloway’s leg. ‘I’m only teasing, darling.’
Calloway rose to leave. In the yard outside the window he saw three young women in costume hurrying towards Studio A. Extras, he imagined, and late by the looks of them. As he watched, the face of the woman flickered into his consciousness, the woman that had dropped the purse the previous night, the one who seemed more afraid of him than of the explosion and the burning car.
‘Do you keep files on the Company of Stars?’ Calloway asked.
‘The charm school girls?’ Marjorie looked disappointed again. ‘Oh really, Reg. Is that what you came here for? A telephone number? Has someone caught your eye? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. We get a steady stream of chaps through here looking for the same thing. But frankly, Reg, I thought you’d be above such a thing.’ She wagged a finger. ‘A man of your age too.’
He was not yet forty but six years of war had aged him, like most men of his generation. He looked fifty and worn out, with thinning hair and a pale complexion, a less corpulent version of the producers at last night’s dinner, although age didn’t seem to have stopped them taking more than a professional interest in the charm school cohort.
‘One of them dropped her purse last night and I need to return it. I don’t know her name. I only have a face to go on. If I could see their file portraits, I could identify her.’
‘Lost property?’ Marjorie sounded suspicious. ‘Alright, I believe you, but we can’t help you here. The charm school has its own office, at the back of an old gymnasium in Islington. It’s where they teach the girls deportment and RP. But beware of Rene on the front desk.’ She pronounced it re-nee. ‘A veritable Cerberus at the gates.’
As Calloway headed for the door, Marjorie looked at her watch and said, ‘It’s nearly noon, darling. Would you care to join me for lunch? The canteen toad-in-the-hole is more than passable. My shout. I’ll even bring Tony along as a chaperone.’
‘For me?’ Calloway said.
Tony cracked a smile and nodded. ‘Believe me, Mr Calloway, she can’t be trusted.’
‘Afraid I’ll have to decline,’ said Calloway. ‘Explosions on my watch tend to upset my social calendar.’
Marjorie had risen from her chair and was checking her make-up in a compact mirror. Satisfied, she snapped the compact shut and said, ‘You’re forgiven. But I’ll make sure there’s a next time.’
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