The Sacred Band Ch. 04bypotsherd©
This is the fourth 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.
My thanks are due to several volunteer editors, in particular Lusty Madame whose valuable advice I ended up (protesting all the way, in accepting in its entirety. Thank you Madame. I also acknowledge the help of Michchick98.
Of course, the end product, w.a.f. is my own.
Philip Cheshire left home happily enough at sixteen and a half with good passes in his School Certificate, He quickly decided that College or University were not for him, but after a tedious year working in the local ironmonger's shop, he started to think he could do worse than to escape the post-war austerity by anticipating his National Service and volunteering for the RAF. He was accepted, and, after basic training, evaluated, but, sadly, found unfit for flying duties because of a recurring inner-ear infection. Since maths and physics were his strong points, he was sent for training as a radio operator. So, in 1947, Philip was sent to Hong Kong, with duties as a radio operator.
In Hong Kong, other ranks found themselves pretty low in the social pecking order, with about as much chance of finding a girlfriend as a diamond tiara in the street. There were Chinese, and a few Indian girls and an ageing White Russian or two who provided sex and a bit of company at a moderate price, so, aside from playing brag or cribbage and drinking watery lager beer, that was their social life. For Philip this existence was simply not stimulating enough.
To his great shock and disgust, he was turned down for anything marked confidential and above because his security vetting found out that he was the son of a Labour Party borough councillor and two trade union officials. Just how this gave him a hot line to Moscow is not clear, but the insult never ceased to rankle.
Almost three long, weary years in the RAF in Hong Kong provided huge tracts of unwanted inactivity. Philip filled the dreary hours by reading more and more about the stock markets of Britain, the USA and Europe. He subscribed to the airmail editions of the Economist and the Investors' Chronicle and picked up the Wall Street Journal locally, bought every book on the topic he saw advertised, and gradually developed the habit of keeping every news clipping, plus notes of news broadcasts and even overheard conversations. He filed each major sector and its leading companies separately, and started to build up a business and economic database that eventually came to rival the morgues of the better national newspapers.
It became less a hobby than an obsession. He would watch the news and try to guess what the news from China, the USA or the Middle East would do to share values, and try to distinguish between surface movements and the deeper currents that meant long-term growth or decay. By the time he returned to Britain, Philip had some skill as a predictor of trends, and, with massive condescension, a number of RAF officers, some of them complete strangers, came and asked for opinions, recommendations and advice. In November 1949 he was demobbed from the RAF with the exalted rank of Corporal, some savings and a pittance of a resettlement grant. With no difficulty at all he walked into a job in a Leicester stockbrokers firm and used it as a finishing school. Three years later he was ready to go it alone, with the financial and moral support of two sleeping partners, one his former RAF Commanding Officer from Hong King.
late Summer 1951.
Denise Warburton picked up the phone and dialled the number of Cartwright, Simmons and Bray, solicitors at law. When the telephonist answered, she asked to be put through to young Mr. Bray. There was the usual short delay, and she sat listening to the irritating buzzes and squeaks on the line as she waited to be put through.
"Don, hope I'm not disturbing you in the middle of something important, but I wondered if you were free for a bite of lunch?"
"I've got a two o'clock, but I can easily manage an hour at half twelve. Where would you like to meet?"
"How about Lewis's? I want to talk about Philip."
"No! Really? Of all things..."
"Sarkie beastie. See you in Lewis's cafe at half twelve."
As soon as he set his eyes on her, Donald could see at a glance that Denise was happier than she had been at any time since Walter died. She was positively glowing.
"Well, chuck, I don't need to ask how you are. You look radiant."
"I feel radiant. Donald he is adorable. Thank you so much for setting it up for me. But I really went to talk business.
Philip says that you offered to become a silent partner when he goes out on his own. Well I want to do the same. Together we can make sure that he has enough start-up capital to get him off to a good start. And I don't see why he needs to wait any longer."
"Well, I was thinking of putting up £5,000 in the first instance, and I'd still have something in hand if push comes to shove. When the time comes, I've got something else up my sleeve. I can think of at least half a dozen people like yourself, who have substantial portfolios that are earning something derisory at present. If I could point them towards Philip, he could turn them around in no time."
"It's not just individuals Don. Walter was people's churchwarden of St. Peter's, Oadby. They are in terrible financial trouble with massive repairs needed, and their investments are earning a pittance. I know the present churchwardens very well, and I could at least suggest that they reinvested say a third in something that gives a real chance of income growth.
Anyway, be that as it may. Supposing I put up £5,000 to match yours and we each had a fifteen-twenty percent share in the business - whatever is fair. How would we handle the legal side?"
"I'll look into it, but offhand I think a limited partnership might be the right approach. You and I would just be liable for our own investment and any other monies we are committed to provide in the deeds of partnership. Philip would have no legal protection, but he has no significant assets to protect. In any case, if I know our Philip, he would despise himself if he tried to avoid his legitimate debts. He is a very straight, very moral person."
"Sounds good. So how shall we tell him we're launching a takeover bid?"
"Invite us both to dinner one night. We'll put it to him."
At dinner, a few evenings later, Donald put the proposition to Philip. He was thunderstruck, and protested weakly that it was far too much money for far too small a share in the business, and much too soon. After letting him get it off his chest, Denise over-rode his feeble protests.
Now listen Philip. Don and I have given this a great deal of thought. You have to forget about working out of your mum's house. Its totally the wrong end of town, and you would never make people take you seriously. You need an office in the town centre.
And not just any old office. You need a really classy office. I know that fixed premises cost an arm and a leg - that's why we're putting up enough money to do the job properly. You need to be where the high-class solicitors and surveyors and accountants are.
I'll lend you some really nice pieces of antique furniture. What's more
I'll act as receptionist/secretary for a year or so. Ok, so I've never worked a day in my life, but I'll look and sound the part. In the long run it's your knowledge that counts, but right now it's all about appearances."
Denise had broken the ice. Now Donald took on Philip's objections one by one and used his negotiating skills to talk him round. By this time Philip was finding echoes of all their points in nagging worries he had suppressed over the past months. The great leap was from starting small and cautiously and starting out with style and panache. When his future partners had finished with him, it was no contest.
"Denise; Don. You are right on all counts. I couldn't be luckier. With you two as partners the chances of success are so much greater. Thank you both, with all my heart."
Don filled their glasses with a crisp, flinty chablis.
"So, raise your glasses, to Philip Cheshire Associates. And God bless all who sail in it."
"Philip Cheshire Associates," echoed Denise.
Over the next month Denise hunted all over town for a suitable office, taking Philip and Don to look at the best prospects. Philip would gladly have accepted any of them, but he found that listening to his partners' well informed criticisms was an education in itself. This one was in the wrong part of town. That one had no secure parking. This one was too poky, that one looked impossible to heat. This one was just too run-down ever to look the part...
Finally a pair of rooms on the first floor of an early Victorian house in
New Walk met all the exacting criteria. Reserved parking for three cars; two spacious rooms, an outer office for a secretary with space for filing cabinets and work surfaces, and an inner room with a large rectangular bay window for Philip. It was right at the top of their price-range, but the floor below was occupied by the Footwear Trades Association, and the floor above by a Patent Agent of Donald's acquaintance and a representative for a large German Hosiery machine manufacturer. Philip's business would fit right in, and there was a space of a brass plate at the side of the front door.
"There now," said Denise happily. "Wasn't that worth all the wait and all the legwork?" The other two were happy to agree, and six weeks later Philip was signing his brand new partnership agreement and a five-year lease.
Whilst the decorators were in his new office, Donald took Philip to his tailor. To his astonishment his tailor occupied a small shop in the Humberstone Road. Donald assured him that Mr Frankel was trained in Saville Row, and customers from Canada to Cairo had their measurements in his care. Philip, urged on by Donald, ordered three suits, and was told that they would be ready in a month. Denise took over, and took him to London to buy shirts and ties. Then the pair went one step too far and Philip found himself putting his foot down.
"You've got to remember", said Donald, "that this a shoemaking town. People will take one look at your feet and pass judgment."
"Yes," Philip replied. They will take one look at the stitching on the welts and say 'Avalon Boot and Shoe Workers Co-partnership; Italian buffalo hide - those shoes will last a lifetime and never give a moment's discomfort.' You can dress me up like the fairy on a Christmas tree and you won't get a peep out of me - but nobody touches my feet."
Denise would not allow anyone to visit the new office until it was all complete. Then came the grand unveiling.
The first thing that caught the eye was the neat, polished brass plate with Philip Cheshire Associates - Independent Financial Analysts in elegant, flowing italic script.
Inside, the nameplate was echoed on the frosted glass of the general office. A secretary's desk with a typewriter and a small switchboard sat diagonally facing the door. Against the two blank walls stood two long workbenches with shelves of stationery, wrapping materials and a stack of telephone directories and current Kelly's Directories of London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Derby and Leicester. Three comfortable visitors' chairs stood in the other corner, grouped around a low glass table, on which stood a tall flower arrangement. It all spoke of calm efficiency and attention to detail, with a decidedly modern feel.
The inner office was a complete contrast. A sumptuous, century-old Bokhara rug glowed rich ruby red in the centre of the floor, surrounded by stained and varnished floor-boards. In the bay stood an early Victorian Waring and Gillow partners' desk in rich, dark Honduras mahogany; the tooled green morocco top showed scarcely a scratch or stain from its hundred years of life, and, behind the desk
stood a wing chair upholstered in wine-red cowhide. In front, for the use of visitors, were two identical chairs.
Opposite the large bay window stood a huge fruit-wood break-front bureau bookcase, over a century older than the desk. On the bookshelves, behind astragal-glass, Donald could see a set of the India-paper edition of the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, and a very up-to-date five volume Times Atlas of the World. The final touch of opulence was an eight-day long-case clock by Joseph Knibb, in a slim black ebony veneered case; its discreet ticking scarcely audible; its brass pendulum bob moving silently and regularly behind the oval lenticle glass; keeping perfect time as it had done for over two hundred and fifty years.
The final details bore the hall-mark of Denise's work. On the desk stood two tall flower arrangements in Dublin glass claret jugs. In between, she had placed an ice-bucket with a bottle of excellent vintage champagne. On a silver tray, stood three champagne flutes and a little display of smoked salmon open sandwiches. Donald moved across to open the wine and pour it, and, as they toasted the partnership for the second time, Philip thanked them both with tears in his eyes.
Donald recognised the furniture and the rug immediately as being pieces that Walter had inherited from his family home in Smisby. It was perhaps fortunate for Philip, he thought with an inward smile, that he did not know that Denise could have bought a suburban semi-detached house for the cost of the furniture adorning this room. Donald had no intention of telling him. Had he known, he would have been scared to use the room at all.
Philip decided to launch his business with a subscription-only newsletter, and, with his former employer's grudging permission, mailed the first two issues free of charge to their entire client list. A surprising number of recipients bought an annual subscription, clients trickled in and he was in business. A year or so down the road, by this time mainly occupied in stock picking for individual clients, he restricted the circulation of the newsletter to his own clients.
He had developed a strong speciality in the staple industries of the East Midlands, although his time in the Far East had left him with no great confidence in their long-term future. In his first two years he had an astonishing run of good luck with a high proportion of the tips in the newsletter coming good, and now he could pick and choose his clients. It was not long before Donald was only one of the solicitors in and around Leicester who referred clients to him for investment advice.
Denise, who had sat around for entire days at the beginning waiting for the phone to ring or the door to open, now found herself busy most of the day. She had laboriously taught herself to touch-type, and after six nail varnish-chipping months, she had become a fast, accurate copy-typist. She could not take dictation, but Philip had only to outline what he wanted a letter to say and she would quickly produce a draft, that seldom needed correction or improvement. Surprisingly, she was finding office work stimulating and enjoyable, and her suggestions on ways to develop the business or improve efficiency were always well-considered and often creative. Philip could not have asked for a better helper in the early years of the business.
Denise was not a person to grudge effort on behalf of someone she loved. Neither was she someone who would will the end without willing the means. She cheerfully put her life on hold for almost three years whilst she worked to get Philip's business off the ground. Her dinner parties for clients became legendary, as were her Sunday afternoon garden parties, to which were invited the entire client list, plus the solicitors and bankers who referred clients on.
Local Members of Parliament and even a Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire were not too proud to accept her dinner party invitations, and Philip liked to joke that the Garden Parties were one of the few places where employers and trade union officials could meet on neutral ground and share a convivial drink.
By the time Denise passed her workaday responsibilities over to Laura, Philip Cheshire Associates enjoyed a high reputation; the business was paying Philip a modest income and the partners were receiving a useful sum in profit-shares each year. The outlook seemed set fair for the future.
cont. to Philip and Laura i.