Butcher Boy ( Part 19, Goodbye)
Roy called Gaz, the Cousins, and Colin. He told them they should all stay away from the shop for a while; he was convinced now that he was being watched.
“Don’t contact me for a while, I’ll contact you when everything’s died down a bit!
Roy now started using the public call box across the street whenever he wanted to talk business.Sometimes the phone would ring in the shop; Roy would stop everything he was doing and run to the phone to be the first one to answer it. He would then speak in a whisper so that no one could overhear him. There were lots of these phone calls in the first few weeks after Roy was released. I never knew who he was talking to; I assumed it was his Solicitor.
The business was slow, as I said before; Fords strike lasted for over a month and almost into November. Inflation was running at 15%, everyone was worried about job security. This meant that Christmas may not be as good as it had been in previous years. Christmas was exactly that, quiet! Normally at the close of business on Christmas Eve we’re all tired but buzzing, it had always been a mad day business wise. The shop would normally sell out of everything. This year was different we had at least 50 turkeys over. Roy and I shut up shop and drove to Ridley Road market in Bethnal Green and started selling them out of the back of the Transit, we managed to get rid of most of them but ended up selling them for less than Roy had paid.
Roy had changed. No longer was he the larger than life character that everyone loved, the cheeky chappy, the lovable rogue. Now he was quieter, more cautious, more subdued. He seemed to have aged overnight. I just thought that being in prison and being away from Sue and the twins for those few weeks had taken its toll. Physically and mentally!
January came and still there was no date set for Roy’s trial. He would disappear for hours on end; he never told me where he was going, which was totally out of character for Roy. Gaz started coming back into the shop in March, so did the cousins, I thought the four of them were back to their old ways. But now it was different, now Roy didn’t include me. Nothing came into the shop anymore; everything went straight to Mr Patel or on to another contact. It was as if Roy was trying to keep his distance from what was going on and in the process trying to protect me. This went on for months. I also noticed that Roys close family stopped coming in. I hadn’t seen Ronny ( Roys older brother) for months or any members of the family.
We closed the shop for half day as we always did on Thursday just before Easter in April 1977.
“Come for a pint Joe, I want to have a word”
We went to a local pub and Roy gave me some sad and suprising news.
“I’m gonna call it a day soon mate. Me and Sue are looking at some properties down near Bournemouth, I’ve got a few bob tucked away, and we want to make a fresh start somewhere different, do you want to rent the shop from me?”
“What? What do you mean, call it a day, how you gonna live in fucking Bournemouth, it’s full of old people waiting to die!”
“I want to get away from what I’m doing, you know with Gaz and the Cousins, I’ll never be able to do that if I stay here, it’s not fair on Sue and the kids”
“ Soon? How soon?”
“In a couple of months, maybe sooner, but when we decide to go, it’ll be quick. Like one day I’ll be there and the next day gone, so you need to be ready if you decide to take this on board”
“Yeh but taking over the shop, fuck, that’s a big job”
“Bollocks, you’ve been running the fucking place for about the past two years!”
We both laughed, shook hands and agreed a figure of £75 per week for the rent. Roy said that he would show me anything that he thought I didn’t know between now and when he left.
One thing that Roy made me promise was that I wouldn’t tell anyone. Especially Gaz and the Cousins. I promised, I never even told my Mum and Dad.
The next couple of months were manic, the phone in the shop was constantly ringing, Roy was being very secretive about everything. They were planning something, I knew it. Perhaps Roy was going to do one last big job then call it a day and he was keeping me out of it in case it all went pear shaped.
Yeh that’s what it was, what else could it be.
Then in June without any warning it happened. Just four days after the Silver Jubilee celebrations, Roy closed the shop on Saturday as usual and we went across to the pub.
“Sue and I are leaving tomorrow mate, we’ve found a new place in Ferndale near Bournemouth, from Monday it’s all yours”
“Jesus Roy, that quick, no leaving do, no saying goodbye to everyone, what shall I tell the punters?”
“Look, don’t worry, I’ll still keep in touch, phone you a couple of times a week make sure everythings ok. Pay the rent money direct to my Solicitor in St Albans, he’s gonna look after all the paperwork, just keep doing what you’ve been doing for a long time, you’ll earn some good money. I know things are a bit quiet at the moment but it’ll pick up. Even now you’ll clear a few hundred quid a week”
“How long for Roy, I mean how long before you decide to sell it?”
“I don’t know, 6 months or so, see what you think, if you decide you want to buy it and you can raise a bit of money, its yours, we’ll sort something out mate!”
“What about Gaz and all the others, what shall I tell them?”
“Listen, just say that me and Sue have found a new house and we had to get down there quick or we’d lose it, tell them I’ll be in touch in the next couple of weeks, once we’ve sorted ourselves out”
We had a couple of beers, shook hands and then went back to the shop. Roy gave me the number of his solicitor in St Albans and said that he would be in touch the following week. But he never gave me any details of how to contact him or Sue. Roy said that he and Sue were moving to a brand new house in a new street that didn’t even have a name yet. There was also no phone there yet. But assured me he would give me a call as soon as possible.
I walked out of the shop, wondering if I would ever see Roy again. Something inside me knew something was wrong but I couldn’t work out what!
As I walked away the radio was playing “Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Harold Melvin. I remember smiling and thinking how fucking appropriate!
I didn’t realise then but it would be a very long time before I saw Roy again, in fact almost a lifetime.