A Coffin for Charley

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Authors: Gwendoline Butler
traffic when everyone knew that nothing could be done short of banning all traffic or knocking the capital down and starting again. You cannot control the uncontrollable and road traffic these days seemed to be a force of nature: always growing faster than you allowed for. His own district had its own particular problem of just one big artery in and out. Dockland Road joined this artery at an angle and then made its own way, as it had since Saxon times, out towards the Estuary.
    He remembered the road well with all its junctions and blockage points. He never minded going slowly because it made for thinking time, something he was seriously short of.
    As he drove, he was considering the death of Marianna and wondering what part, if any, the Karnival Club played in it. He had to pass where it was and might look in. Stella had been there too; he had a personal interest now.
    Dockland Road was long and winding, nothing straight about it. Karnival was in Leathergate, at the western end of his bailiwick. A little bit further west and Karnival would have been sitting in the lap of the Tower of London and been the responsibility of the City of London Police. As it was, it was for him.
    A narrow passage, Ladd’s Alley, turned off to the west; this cul-de-sac was where the club had been for the last twenty years. No name, no one needed a name. It was marked, however, in its own way. A big lavender-coloured urn stood in a recess above the door. At night a single light shone on it. This was how you knew it. ‘Going down the Lav,’ was how the frequenters put it. An old joke that no longer caused a giggle.
    The club was housed in what had been a garage and the cul-de-sac had been its cobbled forecourt. There was nothing smart about the Karnival but at night it looked cosy and friendly.
    Closed and shuttered as it was now, it looked depressing. He sat in his car surveying it from the road. Then he got out and walked down Ladd’s Alley. Presumably in the distant past it had been Ladd’s Garage.
    On the other side of the alley was another door, painted red with a legend curving round the top of the door: STAND UP AND SHOUT FOR JESUS. He wondered if there was much shouting and what Karnival thought about it and what happened when both clubs were in full shout. But Karnival had the reputation of being a quiet and well-behaved club.
    There was a car parked on the cobbles. In the gloom he could see a man sitting in it. Men sitting in parked cars in blind alleys arouse the instant interest if not downright suspicion of the police, and from long training John Coffin reacted.
    He went over, rapped on the window and stared inside at the man.
    Tom Ashworth rolled down the window. He recognized the Chief Commander at once, it was his job to know that sort of thing, and jumped out of the car. ‘Just taking a look.’
    Coffin said nothing.
    â€˜As you are yourself,’ Ashworth added. ‘It’s closed. No one there. I’ve tried the bell.’
    He wasn’t nervous, Coffin thought, but self-conscious.
    â€˜One of your clubs?’ he asked.
    â€˜Only in the way of business. If I’ve got to watch someone.’
    There are people in this world you have to know but don’t want to go on knowing, and I think you’re one of them, Coffin decided.
    â€˜Are you watching anyone at the moment?’
    Ashworth was silent, his eyes thoughtful. He looked across the road at the SHOUT FOR JESUS.
    â€˜Wonder if they ever do?’ he said. ‘And if the Karnival crowd join in?’ He decided he would talk. ‘I’ve been looking over Job Titus. I didn’t come here to watch him the first time, another job altogether, but when I saw him here I was interested. Not that he did anything. He behaved himself, sat there drinking and talking, just like a constituency meeting, didn’t get up to dance or anything. Not with anyone or by himself, a few do that.’
    â€˜No law against

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