Chapter 1

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“Come on, Joey. Hand it over.”

Joseph stared steadily at the speaker. Don’t be afraid of him, he told himself. He’s just a kid like you. Even if he does dress like an organ grinder’s monkey. “I told you before, I don’t have it. And it’s Joseph, not Joey.”

Mickey Cooper cracked a feral grin. “What do you think, lads? Does he look like a Joseph to you?” He stuck his thumbs in the pockets of his worn gold brocade waistcoat. His two companions regarded Joseph with open hostility. 

“Nah, he looks like a Joey to me,” said the one on his left, a weasel-faced boy with wisps of fuzz on his upper lip. The corner of his mouth lifted as he spoke. “A little runt.”

Joseph snorted. “I’m a lot taller than you, Ned.”

Ned flushed, his eyes narrowing in anger. “Oh yeah? Well maybe you are. But you ain’t taller than our Tom, now are you?”

Joseph glanced at the hulking presence to Mickey’s right. If Tom was taller, it was only by an inch or so. But he was massive, with a barrel chest and bull neck, whereas Joseph was beanpole-slim. Tom’s dull eyes betrayed little emotion.

“All right, stop rabbiting on, you two! I don’t want to hear no more of your pony.” Mickey’s grin had disappeared, and he stared at Joseph with hard eyes. “I want that guinea, Samson, and I want it now!”

Joseph grinned derisively. “There haven’t been guineas since before the Great War, Mickey. It’s 1948. You should try to stay up to date.”

“Oh I’m up to date all right, mate. But I thought I’d better ask you for something you could understand, what with you being a toff and all.”

“I think I would understand you if you asked me for twenty shillings.”

“It’s twenty-one bob to the guinea. I want twenty-one, you hear?”

“I don’t care if you say it’s twenty-one or a hundred and twenty-one. You’re not getting a penny out of me.”

Mickey gave another of his mocking smiles, holding out his hands. “Look, Samson, I don’t make the rules. Since before my time, the new recruits have been givin’ a little something to the head clerk. Now it’s your turn.”

“Who made you the head clerk then? And since when has a little something been twenty shillings?”

Mickey’s face turned murderous. “You don’t know who you’re messing with, Samson!”

“Actually I do,” said Joseph with a sigh. “You want everyone to think you’re some kind of gangster. But you’re not hard. You’re just a kid like the rest of us.”

As suddenly as it had come, the hard look disappeared, and Mickey was grinning again. “Am I really? I don’t think I’m the same as you. I didn’t go to no Harrow School, f’rinstance.” Ned laughed at this, a jeering laugh, and even Tom cracked a slight smile. Seemingly encouraged by this, Mickey turned to look at the rest of the office boys who were crowded in the post room of the bank. A ripple of nervous laughter started to work its way around the observing circle.

Joseph felt his cheeks starting to burn. “Well, I’m not there now, am I?” He hated the defensive tone in his voice. “Had to leave, when my dad died.” He knew, as the words left his mouth, that he had made a mistake. There had been a slight quaver in his voice as he mentioned his father, and he steeled himself for the response. 

It wasn’t long in coming. “Oh dear,” said Mickey, an awful parody of a concerned look on his spotty face. “I think we’ve upset young Joey here, lads.” He looked at his companions. “Really, I’m ashamed of you two. Making fun of a boy who’s lost his father.” He turned his gaze back towards Joseph. “Go on then, Joey. Have a little cry.”

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