The Undercovercabby

Don't walk away

The 21 year old me was up early every morning, rushing to the tube to get to the west end as early as possible. The smell and the heaving mass of bodies on the tube as it rocked and bounced along the district line every morning filled my eyes and ears, every day the same people reading the same newspapers. It’s an odd place and you quickly learn the unsaid and unwritten rules. These, as I found out included don’t get too close, don’t catch anybody’s eye and definitely don’t try to strike up a random conversation. The deep suspicion towards anyone who appears friendly lies just below the average Londoners skin, they usually respond with absolute silence and if you persist they don’t mind turning through 180 degrees inviting you to study the back of their heads.

My first job of the day was to develop the negatives Steve had shot the night before. I would then make a contact sheet that looks like a square strip of  passport photos and put them in the studio. All too often Steve would shuffle in, glass of wine and one of the sheets in hand grumbling that they were out of focus. I would explain that they were shot that way he would disagree, I would show him and he would shuffle out again muttering to himself. A large proportion of his clientele were the ladies that appeared in the magazines that newsagents used to put on the top shelf, so that either short men or young boys couldn’t reach, unless of course they were to ask a taller person to pass one down for them, that though would cross the red line of embarrassment and would guarantee a family member or a girl you had your eye on wandering in just at the wrong moment. Far too risky even for a risk taker. Steve had been a photographer in the West End of London since the fifties and had seen it all, he could be quite entertaining once had warmed up a little, probably after the first bottle and certainly by the third. He would seem to forget he had a glass in his hand and wine would fly in all directions as he regaled us with another one of his numerous stories. He once told us that the Kray twins came into his studio demanding protection money, when Steve asked who he needed protection from one of them said “us”. I’d heard many stories about the twins and was eager to hear more, I pushed him a little more and he told me he got rid of them by showing them his piece. Now the mind began to boggle at this revelation and he must have sensed my doubt because he stumbled out of the room and came back a few minutes later holding a revolver ! All hell let loose I jumped up and so did Roy, Steve was waving this thing around and laughing. One of the ladies came in behind him and grabbed his arm and thankfully he put it back where it had come from.

I couldn’t imagine Steve being able to shoot anyone if he wanted to, his hands were so unsteady the window cleaner would have been more likely to have been shot than either of us but never the less, I began to realise there was more to Steve than the initial impression of a middle aged, kindly but sloshed sleazy photographer. He still had his gun and I began to watch things at the studio more closely.

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