My first novel – published in 2005 and still going strong on Amazon.com
Raithe’s eyes focused on the face. He could feel a hand gently shaking his shoulder.
“Charring Cross, sir?”
“Thanks.” He yawned deeply and stretched. His body ached from the awkward position he’d slept in. The guard left him and walked on, whistling.
Raithe yawned again. Bad memories haunted him every time he fell asleep: every time he was reminded by the guards, and every time he was beaten by Frank Parson and his thugs. When the cell door banged shut at night he heard the shot, again and again, echoing through his head.
He wiped the window with the back of a sleeve and looked out with tired eyes. Most of the passengers had left the train and were walking down the platform. He focused on the reflection of black wavy hair graying at the sides. The face, once tanned and chiseled, was now lean with a sickly gray pallor to it. It was growing old prematurely. A fresh scar, a thin red line, ran across his chin at an angle. Hidden under his right eyebrow was a thin white line, another much older scar, and on his right jaw was a small scab. He stood up, shivered, and pulled the long woolen navy coat around him. The light gray suit underneath fitted like a glove.
Using the sparsely equipped gymnasium at the prison was a daily routine. Over six feet tall, his body had stayed lean. The workouts made him strong in the arms and chest. He had to be. The beatings became a regular test of his endurance. Asking for solitary, rule 43, became a necessity in the end and although he was not completely free from attack in the segregation unit, things did get better.
For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, he felt like a human being again. He adjusted his tie and reminded himself to thank Harry. It was Harry who’d bought him all his clothes and had them delivered in time for the appeal hearing. Smart in crisp white shirt and gray suit, he took Harry’s advice and looked their Lordships straight in the eye, never allowing his head to drop. His counsel clinically and systematically proved beyond doubt that the police evidence was at the very least, tainted.
Their Lordships didn’t need time to deliberate but agreed without retiring. In his summing up, Lord Fenwick was scathing in his criticism of the police investigation. No real forensic evidence was produced to show that Raithe Ravell had been the actual murderer of three-year-old Amanda Stevenson. It was also clear that the police had tampered with witness statements and ‘mislaid’ vital evidence since found, that proved the fatal shot came from the direction of the getaway car. There was a statement from a bank employee who’d been adamant that shots were fired inside the bank. No bullet holes were found, giving credence to Ravel’s statement that he only fired blanks in order to frighten people.
He concluded that whilst Ravell was guilty of a terrible crime, that of murder, planned or otherwise during the committing of a robbery, it was not his hand that had actually killed the child. His sentence should not have been life with a recommended minimum of fifteen years; it should have been life with a recommended minimum of eight years.
“The court recognizes that the defendant admitted his part in the robbery when arrested. It also takes into account his prison record that shows him to have co-operated in reform programs during the nine years that he has served. The Home Office is therefore satisfied that he does not represent a danger to the public.”
Raithe showed no emotion as the court released him, except a brief smile when it was announced that there would be an inquiry into the conduct of the police.
No one had believed him. Now they would. Soon he would settle the account. Harry warned him not to do anything stupid. There’d be plenty of time to sort the bastard out. Harry was always right.
Raithe stepped out of the carriage, his coat flapping in the stiff breeze. He looked up at the platform clock. It showed five past three. He fingered the postcard in his pocket and knew that Maggie, his mother in law, would have heard the verdict and passed it on to Terri. Maggie never liked him and spent no time at all in letting him know it. He was a no good petty crook. That’s what she’d called him at their first meeting.
Terri was a stunner. She never went anywhere without making up. Bright red lipstick, long red nails and a hint of Chanel, she was the long-haired blonde with deep blue eyes who featured in the ‘Mickey Spillane’ stories. The boys in the local club all agreed to that. Her tall hourglass figure turned heads. Everyone wanted her but she only had eyes for Raithe.
They were introduced by one of his friends. Within a couple of months, they were seeing each other several times a week. Maggie wouldn’t let him in the house but he didn’t care. Terri would marry him come what may. A year later, just after Maggie moved to Southampton, Terri married him in Stepney Registry Office.
It wasn’t until Natalie was born that he stepped inside Maggie’s house for the first time. By then Terri’s father was dead and Maggie lived alone. She doted on the child and despite her misgivings about his criminal activities, invited Raithe and the family down from London for long weekends.
Raithe never concealed anything about his business from Terri. He didn’t have to. She never asked him about it or interfered. A month before the robbery, however, she did.
In the back room of their basement apartment in Stepney, he and the boys met one night a week to play cards and discuss impending business. At one particularly long meeting, Terri had unexpectedly brought some tea and sandwiches into the room. He saw her face as Peter tried to hide the revolver. She looked accusingly at him but said nothing until they were alone. For days she tried to make him get rid of the gun but he wouldn’t listen. He tried to explain that the gun was going to fire blanks. They argued and in the end, he arranged with Maggie for Terri and the baby to go to Southampton. By then Natalie was five. He told them both he would see them after the weekend, back in Southampton. It was not to be. The next time he saw Terri he was on remand in Wormwood Scrubs.
Outside the main ticket hall, he hailed a cab and climbed in, glad to be out of the wind. “St. Katherine’s Dock, please.”
The cab sped off and Raithe closed his eyes. For the last week, since his release, he’d found it difficult to sleep in the hostel room the Social Services had found for him. For three days he sat looking out of the window, unable to venture out and walk down the street. It felt strange watching people shopping and walking nearby or seeing a dog pee up against a lamppost. It was as though he were in a prison without walls.
Harry hadn’t been able to meet him right away and they’d made arrangements to meet at St. Katherine’s a week later. He couldn’t go home. There was no home to go to. Terri was in Spain according to the postcard she’d sent.
A year after being transferred to HM Prison Strangeways, he told her not to keep making the train journey each week. It was best for her and Natalie if she stayed at home and they wrote. She could visit again when he was moved back south. In truth, it became more and more difficult to keep his injuries from her. His face always had some bruise on it and she remarked on one visit about a bandage that covered two fingers on one hand. Two cons had jumped him on the landing and held him down. The guards watched on as Parsons, the ‘A’ Wing capo, stamped on the outstretched hand. They’d even cheered.
Watching Terri leave broke his heart. That was the last time they saw each other. She said she would wait but in the years that followed her letters eventually stopped arriving. He missed seeing Natalie growing up but not hearing from her was worse. One letter after another was sent to Maggie’s address, in case Terri had moved. Nothing came back. In the end, he gave up. That was the most miserable time of his life.
He did get a letter once a month from Harry.
The two men had first met in Harry’s shop in Hatton Garden shortly after Raithe stole some highly valuable jewelry from a country house. The old Jew with a genial smile immediately impressed him. Around five feet six tall and dressed in a smart pinstripe suit, he was big physically with a balding shiny head and black bushy eyebrows. A large cigar was balanced precariously between his lips as he’d studied the jewelry through thick-rimmed glasses. Harry was Raithe’s idea of what a rich Jewish businessman looked like and it excited him to be associated with the man.
When he received the first letter from Harry he expected the old man to commiserate with him. Instead, he was surprised and a little annoyed to find that he was torn off a strip for being so stupid. Harry left him alone for two months before he wrote again. After that he wrote regularly. His letters meant so much for they were the only contact with the outside world. Although he never told Harry about his treatment, it was Harry who suggested that he take Rule 43. Harry knew. No one had to tell him.
“Main entrance, guv’?”
The cab crawled along East Smithfield and stopped in the middle of the road, opposite the dock entrance. After the traffic had cleared, the cab U-turned and pulled into the curb. Raithe gave the driver his last five-pound note, slammed the door behind him and walked across the cobblestones into the dock.
Lines of cruisers and yachts of all sizes swayed gently up and down at their moorings. The Seagull, a Thames Barge, lay moored at one end of the marina. Behind her the floating museum collection of marine craft lay lifeless and devoid of visitors.
On one of the larger cruisers, a well-built man sat in the aft deck-well reading a newspaper. Dressed in bright orange sou’wester and green cords, he looked oblivious to the chill air. The craft was bathed in bright sunlight from the autumn sun while most of the quayside next to it lay in deep shadow from the tall buildings and shops that skirted the marina. From outside the chandlers, Raithe watched the man.
Harry Cohen was everything expected of an upper-class Jewish gentleman. Respected businessman, pillar of society, successful and very rich, his reputation across Europe as a first-class dealer in fine art and rare stones was unsurpassable. His colleagues, including top executives and assessors from major insurance companies, trusted him both as a friend and business associate. He knew where most of the rarer pieces of jewelry and stones were and who owned them. More importantly, he knew who was fishing in the market and for what.
Now and then Harry would acquire certain items for the more discerning of his clientele, especially those with huge financial assets to invest. Americans, Japanese and royalty were reputed to be among those who enjoyed his special confidential services.
He did business with others too; people who supplied on demand or came into possession of items that he could place with ease. These were people who never attended any of his cocktail parties. None-the-less, he had total respect in both camps, something he had enjoyed for many years.
Raithe knew he was an exception to the rule. Educated in Grammar school, Harry told him he was impressed with his general knowledge of literature and fine art, in particular paintings and gemstones. Harry taught him a lot once he had earned the old man’s trust and it hadn’t taken long to do that.
On his second visit to the shop, he was asked to wait while Harry did business with a dealer upstairs. After several minutes a small foreign-looking man came downstairs into the showroom. In one hand he carried a briefcase and in the other a small leather bag. Stopping at the counter to place the small bag in the briefcase, the contents had spilled out. Raithe watched the man put the small stones back into the bag. After snapping the briefcase shut, the man had turned to leave.
Harry’s assistant was standing by the door, ready to see the dealer out and into a cab. As the dealer left, something dropped from the counter top to the floor. Raithe bent down and picked up a small diamond. The door closed behind the dealer and Raithe dashed out into the street after him. He handed the surprised dealer the diamond.
Back in the shop, Harry stood eyeing him, as though weighing him up. He said nothing about the incident until the next time they met when he informed Raithe that he would teach him a little about the business.
A little turned out to be a lot and a genuine friendship developed over the next three years. Harry became a father figure who could be relied on for sound advice, not only on business matters but on matters of the heart and family as well.
Peter and James never knew that Harry existed, not even Terri. It was a secret that Harry insisted he keep. It wasn’t just because of security, important as it was for only the select few to know of his hidden talents. He didn’t like what he’d heard about the men. Raithe and the two men were friends from the same school and Harry didn’t trust them. Peter was too devious and James liked talking about himself too much. He liked talking to other people too, especially women. Harry saw that as a bad flaw.
All this was before the robbery. Even though his friend still supported him, Raithe wondered if things would ever be the same again. He’d violated the trust they shared in each other and completely disregarded Harry’s advice. A child was dead and Harry would never forgive him for that.
He crossed from the shadow of the tall buildings into the sunlight and felt the breeze on his back. There were no other people around but he felt strangely conspicuous; the same feeling he’d experienced the first day in prison. No one was around as he crossed the landing ahead of the guards, their feet making the only audible sound on the grating, yet he felt a thousand eyes burning into his back.