The Sacred Band Ch. 01bypotsherd©
This is the first chapter of a long story about a vicious and remorseless criminal and a group of people with unusual lifestyles who attempt to combat him. It is written in two ways. Sections which tell the personal lives of the participants are told in the form of memoirs. These are headed with personal names e.g. Philip and Denise, Ivy and Ginny. They contain graphic sex of various kinds.
Sections that tell the Rotkoff story are written in the third person. These do not contain any explicit sex.
The story is set in Leicester and Birmingham, England, between 1951 and 1956.
Please bear with my ponderous UK English style (or avoid the stories altogether). My thanks are due to several volunteer editors, in particular Lusty Madame whose valuable advice I ended up (fighting all the way) accepting almost in its entirety. Thank you Madame. Of course, responsibility for the final version (w.a.f.). remains my own.
When we got to the end of the Rotkoff affair, we decided, at some point in a boozy musical evening of letting our hair down, to write down our stories without concealment or expurgation. We all went different ways about it. I (Laura) jumped in with both feet and words poured out of me. Joan, at the other extreme, could not bring herself to put pen to paper, and she could only tell told her story to an amanuensis, and it was put in our hands after she was eight thousand miles away in Capetown. Philip wrote this sweet fragment and handed it shyly to me. For fun I passed it on to Denise, who was also being strangely reticent. She wrote the running commentary you will find below in italics, but when it came to writing her own story, she begged me to do it for her (see the Andy and Denise chapter.)
Let me tell you about the moment that changed my life.
Early one evening, after I finished work, I decided not to go straight home, and I dropped into the pub to sink a pint or two and pick up on the gossip. The Durham Ox in Bowling Green Street was a sort of pied-à-terre for the legal profession in Leicester, and many of my colleagues and not a few clients used it as a meeting place. I was standing at the bar with a pint of Everards in my hand when the street door opened behind me and someone came to stand at the bar beside me.
"Philip. Good to see you again."
From force of habit I leapt to attention.
"Squadron Leader," I greeted him in astonishment.
"Not Squadron Leader any more, just plain Donald to my friends. Well Philip my lad, (quite a leap from Leading Aircraftsman Cheshire), how are you these days?"
We caught up on what had happened to us over the past few months, and how we found Leicester after Hong Kong. By coincidence we found that we had both gone to see Iolanthe during the D'Oyley Carte Summer season at the De Montfort Hall, and discovered that we were fellow Gilbert and Sullivan enthusiasts. Another pint of Everards bitter disappeared down each of our throats; then he asked.
"Well my friend, what are your plans now? I had heard you got into Prettyman and Basset all right. Will you stay with them and climb the greasy pole?"
"Yes, and thanks for the reference Donald. It seems to have done the trick. Unlike some people," I teased, "I can't just walk into a partnership in one of the best firms in Leicester. As a matter of fact I'm 'maturing my felonious little plans' right now,. A year or two down the road I am going it on my own, and setting up as an independent financial analyst."
"I've heard of stockbrokers, and jobbers, and even met a financial advisor or two, but I've never heard the term financial analyst."
"I don't think they really exist right now, at least on a freelance basis. One or two of the biggest London stockbrokers have in-house financial analysts, but I want to advise private clients, and maybe some institutions, on the whole range of investments – stocks and shares, property, municipals, Government bonds – the lot. I know pretty well how I want it to go. No ties to any stockbrokers; no kickbacks from them either, I shall just take a consultation fee and a small slice of the action, say around 5%. If my clients can't get enough growth to pay me my fees, I'm not worth paying anyway."
"What about a falling market? You'll making nothing at all."
"I've provided for that. If the value of the portfolios I manage falls less than the market average - I get a small cut of the difference."
"Listen Philip; I really think you are doing the right thing. I reckon you're onto a winner. In fact, I'm sure I can put some business your way. I do some probate and trust management, and your work and mine could fit like a glove. Clients often ask me for the name of a really reliable financial advisor, and, quite honestly, I haven't known whom to suggest. The ones I know all seem to have ties to the large banks and insurance companies, and, as far as I can see they recommend whatever will give them the most commission. Stockbrokers are just as bad, churning their clients' holdings to increase their commission.
Let me know when you're ready to start, and I'll drop the word into a few ears. And if you need a sleeping partner, I've got a bit of capital set aside and you could do worse than offer me the chance."
I was overwhelmed. In my wildest dreams I never thought I'd earned this level of respect. With true working-class cynicism I'd assumed that the whole cosy middle-class world would be closed up tight against me.
"Donald, I don't know what to say. You've quite taken my breath away. There's nobody I would rather have as a partner, but at the moment there's nothing to buy into except my filing system. Let's talk about it again when I am ready to break away and go it on my own."
I should maybe explain that when I was in the RAF in Hong Kong, Squadron Leader Bray was my C.O. for some time, and his interest in my burgeoning share-picking skills gave me a lot of encouragement. Each month I picked out a theoretical set of purchases, and at the end of the month, worked out how they had done. Donald regularly asked to look at my results, and sometimes asked why I had picked that particular company at that time. Shortly before I was demobbed, he came to the end of his short- service commission and returned to Leicester. Six months or so later I followed him back to Leicester, and, with his help, dropped into a job in the leading local stockbroker's.
Later that autumn, Donald invited me to his chambers for a drink, and introduced me to the other partners, and a number of clients. Among them was a handsome, beautifully dressed woman about ten years my senior.
"Denise, may I introduce an old friend of mine, Philip Cheshire? Philip is about to set up as a financial analyst. Philip, this is Denise Warburton. Denise is a sort of cousin of mine. She used to baby-sit me when I was a sprog."
Donald moved away and Denise and I made friendly conversation for a few minutes. I was very taken by her relaxed charm. Then, all too soon, Donald came up behind me.
Denise, do you mind if I drag Philip away – there's someone I want him to meet."
He took my arm and led me over to introduce me to a barrister who did a lot of work for his firm, and my mind was elsewhere. Half an hour later I looked around for Denise, hoping to resume our conversations, but she was nowhere in sight.
Denise: My cousin Don had told me a lot about Philip Cheshire. He said he was the most brilliant person he had ever met – Air Vice-Marshals notwithstanding. I asked in my naïve way how, in that case, he fetched up as a corporal.
Don, who went to Repton and Cambridge and straight into a commission, replied that the RAF was becoming petrified by its social snobbery – far worse in his opinion than in the Army or the Navy. Since Philip was not qualified by influence or education to apply to become an officer he was sidelined in a menial job.
I was eager to meet Philip and went to Don's sherry party especially to meet him. I found a diffident, rather shy young man of startling good looks, and I sensed that he had an iron determination beneath that shy exterior. Quite simply, for the first time since Walter was killed, I had met a man who excited me. How was I to get to know him?
A few weeks later I got a brief note from Donald. It was on his firm's headed notepaper, so I could see that he was still making good on his promises. It read:
Further to our recent conversations, you might like to contact Mrs Denise Warburton, Foxton Lodge, Oadby. Phone Leicester 21608. She is a recent widow and her share portfolio needs a radical overhaul. She is expecting to hear from you, so don't leave it too long.
All the best,
This opportunity had come a good year sooner than I have expected.
Was I ready? Donald evidently thought so – despite my youth (I was in my early twenties). I phoned her from my desk at P&B and heard Denise's vivacious, well-modulated, contralto voice with just the faint, reassuring burr of a Leicestershire accent.
"Hello, Denise Warburton here."
"Hello Mrs Warburton, My name is Philip Cheshire. You remember we met at Donald's office a couple of weeks ago?" He suggested I should give you a call."
"Ah yes, I remember you very well. Well Donald told me all about you, and recommended you very highly. If you are free one evening, how about I cook you dinner and we can talk business in comfort. Would Friday evening around seven suit you?"
Any evening would have suited me. Apart from for going dancing once or twice a week, my evenings were mostly spent catching up on my reading, updating files and making notes of anything likely to be of use. Mum could make her own cocoa for once. This was one of the make-or-break points of my life – my first professional consultation as the financial analyst I so wanted to become.
On Friday, bottle of wine and bunch of flowers in hand, I walked around the corner to the lock-up garage where I kept Matilda, the joy of my life. Matilda was a 1938 Riley Lynx, built in the last year of independent life before Riley became little more than a badge for Morris cars. She had breathtakingly lovely lines, and good performance for a four-cylinder car, and I could not look at her without pride. I am not naturally an acquisitive person. Generally I try to live by my father's austere dictum, 'If you can't afford to lose it miduck, you can't afford to own it,' but philosophy is sometimes not enough.
The drive across town took around ten minutes, and soon I was driving up the long gravel path to her large, rather imposing, double-fronted early Victorian house with what looked like wisteria climbing all over the front. Denise herself came to the door as I stopped at the front door and she won my heart instantly:
"What a lovely car. I always fancied one but Walter was an Armstrong-Siddley man, and so we wallowed around feeling that we should have been in a funeral procession."
She looked inside, murmured her appreciation of the walnut and leather interior, and asked just the right question.
"Did you have to do much work on it? It looks nearly immaculate."
Denise may not have been much of a hand at stocks and shares – but she knew men inside out. I was beginning to wonder already how to go about applying for the job as her slave.
"No, hardly any. She belonged to my Uncle and Aunt. They'd had her on chocks in a garage from the beginning of the war, and turned her over and gave her a polish once a month. Then my uncle died and my aunt offered it to me. I almost snapped her hand off."
We walked into the house, and I was struck immediately by its warmth on a chilly October evening. From the time I was eight years old until I got posted to Hong Kong I had been freezing cold much of the time with only brief intervals of warmth.
Coal for home use got scarce around the time of Munich and only got scarcer and scarcer through the War and the post-war period. The situation reached its depths around 1947/8 when our economic situation reached near desperation point and almost all coal was earmarked for export or industrial production.
As a child I had lived winter after winter with painful, red, itchy chilblains on my toes and sometimes on my fingers too, despite the thick woollen gloves my mother knitted for me.
As I luxuriated in the warmth of the first central-heated house I had ever been into, I was able to take a good look at my hostess as she took the flowers from my hand. Mrs Warburton, "Oh, please call me Denise. Mrs. Warburton makes me feel so old!) was in her mid-thirties, maybe ten or twelve years older than I was; and her poise and grace made me feel even younger.
She was handsome rather than girlishly pretty, with beautifully coiffed dark hair, a la Betty Grable, perfectly framing a smooth oval face with a generous mouth, a charming tip-tilted nose and deep brown eyes under eyebrows plucked to a thin line. Her figure was comfortable rather than fleshy, and her peacock, jacquard silk dress was beautifully cut, suggesting anything rather than carefully eked-out clothing coupons. Walter had clearly never kept her short of money, and she had very good taste to complement it.
"I'll just open your wine and let it breathe," she said; making me bless the impulse to ask Donald what wine to buy and where to get it.
"How about a largish gin to relax you, and maybe you could look through the portfolio whilst I put the finishing touches to the food?"
Fifteen minutes later we were at table and eating thin slices of fresh, delicious lambs liver and rashers of salty streaky bacon, with mashed potatoes, broad beans, sweet sliced carrots and rich wine gravy. As I filled our glasses from the opened bottle of Burgundy, I complimented her sincerely on the meal.
"Denise, that was delicious. It was the best meal I've had in ages."
Denise looked a little sceptical.
"You wouldn't have guessed, would you, that I am a fully trained cordon bleu cook? Just wait until I can get the materials again, and then see what I can do."
"Denise, you can't improve on perfection. If you didn't use half a week's butter ration on those potatoes, then I'm a Dutchman."
"Now", she said, turning the subject, "What about those dreary shares of mine?"
"I'm sorry if this is a bit blunt, but I don't like the look of your portfolio one little bit. Too much of it is in the heavy industrial sectors that have done well during the war and into the later 1940's, when there was no real competition from Europe. I seriously doubt if they will do well in the 1950's."
At grave risk of being pompous, I went on;
"This is a new era. You can see it in the catalogues of exhibitions like Britain can make it, and this summer's Festival of Britain. It's all melamine and stainless steel, televisions and transistors, nylon and terylene and jet aeroplanes and refrigerators, and they should all have their place in your holdings.
Another sector I like is self-service food stores along American lines. With food rationing ending, aggressive firms like Tesco Holdings and the Victor Value group are well worth a flyer, at least for the next five to ten years. Then there's property management..."
Denise: Not exactly pompous, perhaps, but far, far too solemn for me at that moment. My decision to appoint him my financial advisor was already made as far as I was concerned. The issue for me was; will he take me to bed?
"It all sounds fine to me", she interrupted me. "Poor Walter was a bit of a blue chip man at heart. He wouldn't have spotted a trend if it reared up and bit him – unless it was the bloodlines of hunters and foxhounds.
Did I tell you? That was what killed him. You remember that freezing cold Boxing Day of 1947? He went out with the Quorn. Damned horse refused, threw him through a hedge and he got staked. Poor old Walter. He died an hour or so later on the way to hospital"
This adroit change of topic told me plainly enough that the business part of the meeting was over. Next on the agenda was a generous slice of Colston Bassett stilton (where in earth did she get it?), biscuits and a Warre's vintage port that was bottled in 1927, a couple of years before I was born. I thought ruefully that my bottle of wine was probably best consigned to the kitchen to make tomorrow's gravy.
Denise was warmth and charm personified, but at first I did not think there was anything but kindness behind it. It never occurred to me that I was in with a chance. My feelings changed when, seated together on the settee, her thigh pressed closely against mine, and her hand dropped casually on my knee.
Let's face it. I'd had some sexual experience, both in Hong Kong and Leicester. In Hong Kong the Bar girls were a bit above my touch and the street girls had small rooms the size of large cupboards. Their plan was to take your money, give you five to ten minutes to make your report, and then get back out on the street in search of the next paying customer. Sometimes they did not even have a room, and then it was a case of a knee-trembler in an alleyway, or, in some cases, the girl would give me a gobbler, contemptuously spitting the result of her labours into the gutter. Functional it may have been and sorely needed, but a far cry from romance.
Back in Leicester, since I am a good, well-taught ballroom dancer, I found that three out of every four visits to the Locarno Ballroom or the Palais would get me - you guessed it – a kneetrembler in a back alley or, at a pinch, a shop doorway. Sex for these girls was free and for mutual relief, but it had very much the same limitations, and the option of being gammed was not, as far as I could learn, on the menu.
Since the war there had been a severe housing shortage. Most of the young married couples of my acquaintance lived with their parents, and it was the fortunate teenager who did not share a bed, let alone a room, with sister or brother.
It is not that the ubiquitous kneetrembler was a favourite sexual position - it was sheer necessity. Prostitutes might take their clients into Victoria Park - unlighted and denuded of railings since the scrap metal drives of the early war years, but the girls I escorted home from the dancehalls could not afford to risk their one and only dance dress and pair of dance shoes. So, shoulders firmly against the wall and pelvis thrust out, my inamorata of the moment would pull aside her knickers, help me effect an entry, and, more often than not, wail,
"You will be careful won't you?" which was an appeal to pull out in the seconds before I came, and spunk all over her roll-on.
With this as my sexual history, you can't wonder that I was genuinely frightened when this lovely, sophisticated woman, ten or more years my senior and rich in experience, seemed to be signalling her interest and availability.
Denise: If that was the sort of sexual experience he had had, then some girls had been missing out badly. He was a really good kisser, and surely his talent for cunt licking had to have been acquired somewhere.
A cold chill at the pit of my stomach told me that if I messed this up there would be dismal consequences. Nevertheless, I turned towards her, pat my arm across her shoulders and drew her into a cuddle. She came willingly and lifted her face to my kiss. Our open mouths fell slack, and I felt the delightful sensation of her tongue questing in my mouth. I reciprocated, drinking in her flavours. We sat, half-lying on the settee; breathing in each other's scent and tasting each other's mouths.