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Jack Davenport reached for his oversized wine glass, glanced round the table at his minions with obvious contempt, sat back in his chair and swore.

“ It’s the limit, it really is, it’s the bloody limit”

The four other seated men at his table did not beg to differ. If Big Jake (as he was known by all affectionately, behind his back) said it was the limit then it was not a matter of opinion, but a fact – at least in his presence.

They waited in silence for further particulars. Big Jake shook his head with carefully considered disgust.

“ This really takes the cake – I thought I had seen it all!” he continued warming to his task.

It was a cold early December Friday evening, which traditionally in the higher echelons of Bermondsey society was considered men’s night out. For five years or so, Big Jake’s ample frame had occupied the corner seat, at the corner table at “Luco’s” in Old Brompton Road. He was without doubt their best customer. This he had become, after reading that when Pavarotti was in London, he rarely dined anywhere else. Jake therefore assumed that they must serve what he chose to call ‘proper portions’. He and his cronies ate heartily, drank nothing but Gavi di Gavi, Tignanello and Hine Antique, and he never bothered checking the bill; and, oh yes, he always paid in cash, albeit it on many occasions, with a mixture of foreign currency; with Luco the owner, never daring to question Big Jake’s suggestion as to the appropriate rate of exchange.   

Jake Davenport was by any standards, a big man. 54 years old, six foot two, over 16 stone plus VAT, with a 48-inch chest, and a gait which any of his crew and the entire Scotland Yard Flying Squad could pick out at 200 paces in a blizzard. When Big Jake talked, you listened; when big Jake talked at dinner, you did not eat at the same time, you listened; when big Jake ate, you could talk. On this particular Friday, Big Jake was obviously in the mood for talking.

“ Can you Adam and Eve it,” he continued while calling with a waive of his right paw for yet another bottle of Tignanello.

Continued  below:

Continued … I’ll be the laughing stock of Bermondsey”.

Jake looked around the table for comfort – yet none came. The four other occupants of the table were well used to Jake’s soliloquies, and experience had taught them that silence was by far the best policy.

Jake tapped his left paw on the table rhythmically, like some arrogant judge deciding what punishment should be meted out to some helpless defendant. The only difference was that Jake’s justice excluded a jury trial, and that before he passed sentence, there were no speeches in mitigation permitted.  

“ I brought the boy up from the gutter, I put him on the map, I even let him take out my niece, and this is how he repays me. Do you remember when he took a 3 stretch over that container of beef – who looked after his family eh?”

None of Jake’s dinner companions had any firm idea who he was raving about, but at least the first few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle had been planted in place. Any immediate further outbursts were temporarily interrupted by the arrival of five steaming plates of Minestrone (if Jake ordered Minestrone, you followed – What else?)

Jake tucked his serviette deep into the 18” collar of his initialled silk shirt and started slurping. The other four mere mortals waited for the soup to cool a little.

“The problem these days is that there is no morality left in the world” Jake continued. “I’m no angel, God know’s”, he admitted in touching understatement, “ but I know where to draw the line. O.k. I’ve done a fair bit of villainy in my time, but I have never mistreated my own, have I Ricky?” Ricky nodded approvingly like the puppet he was. Ricky always sat on Jake’s right. He was after all Jake’s right-hand man – a poor cousin to the Italian Consiglere.

“I won’t be able to show my face in any pub between Tower Bridge and Greenwich. I may even have to move out to the country”. He anguished.

“ What sort of respect will I get at Porto Banus in August? My kids will think I’m a has been. I’m no has been, am I Joey?”

Joey had just come to terms with the temperature of his soup and despite his limited education, wisely decided to treat this question as rhetorical.

“ This boy is going to have to be taught a painful lesson”, Jake concluded in a lower tone. “And I’m not talking about a slap on the wrists either”.

The four others at the table shuddered visibly at the thought of the form the retribution might take.

“ I mean, I’m a fair man, I’ll let him have his say first – but when all is said and done, I’m going to have to make an example of him, what do you think Eric?”

Eric did not think – or at least not very often – he wasn’t paid to think – he was paid to follow Jake’s orders to the letter, and to keep his mouth shut.

Luco was back at the able again; this time with his wife Lena, clearing up the soup bowls personally. Jake did not trust anyone else and Luco knew it. Without delay, five plates of Veal Parmigiana and new serviettes were provided all round.

“ I’ve been trying to see it from his point of view, you know boys, as I always do – I mean I’m no gangster, I’m a reasonable man – ask anyone – no one in my manor is more charitable than me. When everyone is nicely stone drunk on Christmas Eve, where am I eh? Everyone knows, I’m delivering turkeys to all the poor families in my neck of the woods. Do you remember when old grandma Willis was burgled by that slag Jeffries? Who had her T.V replaced before Coronation Street the next day and with a bunch of roses to boot? And who was it that frog marched that scumbag kid Jeffries to the nick to hand himself in and confess to it eh? Did I get thanks from the Old Bill for that? No I did not. Now I’m not one to blow my own trumpet, but facts are facts. There is not much wrong with my sense of justice, as I know you will all agree.” Four heads nodded in practised unison.

“It’s taken me years to build up some respect (others called it fear) and now my name wont be worth a brass farthing” – Jake looked round the table for consolation but Eric, Joey and the other two members of the squad remained silent, searching for any previously discarded scrap of veal on their plate, which would allow them an excuse for not looking Jake in the eye.

An enormous family sized bowel of Tiramisu soon replaced the veal just in time to delay Jake making further self-pitying statements. The respite was brief. “It will have to be dealt with first thing tomorrow boys – delay will be seen as a sign of weakness – and that is one thing I am not renowned for.” Jake managed his first laugh of the evening. The others were glad for an excuse to break the ice and follow suit.

Jake pulled the half empty bowl of Tiramisu towards himself and polished off the remnants in his usual democratic manner. Luco knew this as a sign to wheel in the liqueur trolley. Jake’s right hand reached out like the tentacle of an octopus and plonked the unopened bottle of Hine Antique in front of him. From nowhere Lena produced five cognac glasses, which Jake filled as if he was serving Perrier water. After a large swig and a gurgling sound resembling a mouthwash, Jake eased back into top gear.

“ Right boys, now where was I? Oh yes, well tomorrow, you’ll all have to be up with the milk. Jock, pick me up at 6.30 in the roller – no second thoughts, bring the jag – the roller’s too good for what I’ve got in mind for Wally. I don’t want to risk staining the new cream carpets I’ve just had fitted”. Jake’s four-dinner companions shuddered for a second time that evening. But now they had a name – Wally – Wally Price  - what had that idiot done to upset Jake?

Before any of them could muster the courage to ask, Jake moseyed into overdrive “ Yes Wally – Wally Price. I treated him like a son, didn’t I? I taught him everything he knows – thank the Lord I didn’t teach him everything I know, or he would be sitting here in my seat tonight and I would be in Carey Street. That registered moron came to see me a week ago crying like a baby that he didn’t have two half pennies to rub together. “ Wally”, I said to him soothingly, “ Wally, what have you done with that lorry load of cashmeres I gave you to sell for me?”

“ I sold them all Jake, just as you asked me to” he mimicked.

“Well boys as you can imagine, by this time I was beginning to get a trifle worried abut my investment  - as anyone would, but did I blow my cool? No I did not. I put a fatherly arm around him and patted him as gently as if he were my baby grandson in the bath with me”.

Jake was now having some difficulty in continuing. He emptied the rest of the cognac into his glass and swallowed the lot in one gulp.

“ Well” he continued finally “it doesn’t take the brains of Lloyd George to work out what my next question was”. Three of the men at the table nodded sympathetically, while Eric tried to catch up.

“Well what have you done with my 80% Wally?” I asked him, or to put it more bluntly, “ Wally, where’s my 16 Large? Do you know what he said?” (By now Jake was almost in tears himself)

“I invested it Jack”.

“ Now boys as you know, I am not averse to a little profitable investment myself here and there, but none of us would be nutty enough to trust a donkey like Wally to put vinegar on our chips, never mind letting him loose with 16k. “ Wally” I said to him, still holding myself back, “ What did you invest my 80% in?” the boy broke down like a school kid. I could hardly control myself from topping him then and there.

“ You’ll kill me if I tell you, Jack” was all he kept repeating to me.

“Well fellas at this stage I was in no mood for anymore beating about the bush, so I got hold of him by the neck and told him in no uncertain terms that his days were numbered. Then he came out with it, “ I invested it in a horse Jack, and may God forgive me – my four grand and all.”

I started screaming at him and I thought I was going to pop. Then I thought, well maybe by some miracle this dunderhead Wally had at least bought a horse that might be worth a few bob. The penny began to drop.

“Wally” I whispered, do you mean IN a horse or ON a horse?” (By now, even Eric was beginning to get the drift), “ he just looked at me with that sorry look of his, and I knew there was more chance of Eric winning Mastermind than my seeing the money”

Jake paused for breath. Having cleared his throat with the remnants of the Cognac in Ricky’s glass, he opened up again.

“ I kid you not, it took me a full five minutes to recover my composure. Finally, I kicked him all the way out of the house and down my front garden – if you don’t believe me, I’ll prove it to you on my home CCTV system. I told him if he hadn’t raised my £16,000 by noon today, he would be pushing up daisies.”

Big Jake glanced at his platinum Rolex before continuing, “Well it’s now 11.15 at night and it seems that Wally must have mislaid my mobile phone number”.

Jake began again tapping his hand on the table… a sure sign that he was now considering his options for Wally’s imminent demise. What Jake was least expecting was Wally’s arrival at the restaurant.  

“I’m sorry Sir, last orders are 11 pm.” Luco was talking by the entrance with some unfortunate, who had apparently arrived too late to benefit from the restaurants renowned Italian cuisine.

“ Is Mr Davenport still here?” asked a quaking voice.

Big Jake rose to his feet, murmuring a series of blasphemes in the general direction of the door.

“ Hello, Jack, I’m sorry I’m a little bit late”

Jake glared at the features of a skinny nervous man in his late 20’s with curly red hair and a baby face – Walter Price in his entirety.

Jake remained rooted where he stood. Wally seized the moment and shuffled across to Jake’s corner table.

“I’ve got something for you Jack” said Wally, emptying four large wads of £50 notes onto the table.

“There’s £20,000 there, Jack, - your cut plus my £4,000 for your ‘pain and suffering’ as you might call it, and to ensure my future good health”.

“ How did you lay your hands on this, Wally?” Jake found his voice at last.

“ I borrowed it, Jack,” replied Wally.

“ Borrowed it” roared Jake – “What raving head case is going to lend you 20 large?”

Wally hesitated…“ Well he doesn’t actually know he’s lent it yet – but he will when he gets home from his business trip tomorrow – if you understand my meaning”.

Jake understood only too well. “Spare me the small print, Wally, the headlines are bad enough”, retorted Jake.“ Luco, this gentleman wont be joining us for coffee, it’s way past his bedtime”, Jake said in a loud aside.

Following Wally’s forced departure, Jake sat in silence for some minutes staring at the four bundles of £50’s still lying on the table, as if part of some huge poker pot. Finally, he made his mind up. Picking up one of the bundles, he chucked a grand in the general direction of each of his team, “ here you are lads, here’s an early Christmas present for you. Let no man say that Jake Davenport doesn’t look after his own,” whilst deflecting away all thanks with a gesture of his right paw.

“Luco”, called out Jake. “The bill, if you please”. (For the first time all evening Jake sounded almost pleasant). Lena brought the coffee and Luco the bill. Jake did not even give it so much as a glance; He tucked the remaining thousand pounds from the first bundle deep into Luco’s breast pocket and called for his coat.

Jake waltzed into the kitchen as if he owned an easement, whilst calling out for mama, (who was personally responsible for cooking any dish that entered his cavernous mouth). Kissing her wetly on both cheeks, he slipped £300 into her apron pocket whilst mumbling something about treating herself to a well-deserved new winter coat for Christmas, before emerging again into the restaurant where Lena was holding his luxuriant camel coat ready for him.

 By now the dining room was virtually empty, save for a couple of late night lovers, too interested in each other to notice Jake stuffing the remaining three bundles into any of his pockets that he could find. He turned to leave but then suddenly remembered the arrangements he had made with the ‘lads’ for the following morning’s ‘early outing’. “Jock”, he whispered to his driver “ no need anymore to turn out at 6.30 tomorrow morning – pick me up at 11, and eh bring the Roller, not the Jag, - we’re going racing.” Then he added with a rare smile on his face, “There’s a horse running at fancy odds in the 3.30 called Wayward Wally. Now there’s a good omen if ever I’ve seen one - and I’m holding a surplus fifteen grand at the moment which says it simply can’t lose”.

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