The Panama Hat Series - Volume 1: Tezzie and the Villainous Victorians

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Chapter 5

“Let’s follow him into that tavern and find out what he is up to. There’s something not right about any of this, and I get the idea that Billy’s boss is right in the middle of it all,” said Tezzie.

“Follow him in?! Why on earth would I do that?” exclaimed Billy. “I want to get as far away as possible from him – not get myself caught!”

“Trust me, Billy” said Tezzie urgently, “I can just feel that there is something fishy going on here, and I reckon if we follow him we might get a clue. Look, if we don’t sort this mystery out, then you’re going to be on the run for the rest of your life, and then how will you survive? I don’t want to make things worse for you Billy, but unless you’ve got any better ideas I suggest we get over to that tavern quickly.” He looked Billy square in the eyes and said, “Are you coming, Billy? It’s time to decide whether you want us to be your friends and help you – but you have to trust us!”

Tezzie held out his hand to Billy. Billy hesitated. He looked from the boys over to the tavern, and then back to the boys, he then shrugged his shoulders and shook Tezzies’s hand.

“Ok, let’s do it – what have I got to lose? You seem alright anyway, even if you are crazy!”

Tezzie and Nico smiled at one another, they all shook hands, and then they started to carefully cross the lane over to the tavern. The bustling lane was so busy that it was fairly easy for the boys to get across without being seen by anyone in the tavern, although the windows were so small, dirty and so stained that it didn’t look as if you could see through them anyway. They crept to the doorway and opened the door ever so slightly so that they could have a good look inside. The door opened onto a very dark and grubby room where there were lots of little tables with mostly men sitting at them, playing cards and drinking beer from tankards. There were maids swishing their dresses around as they passed from table to table serving the drinks and food and taking new orders. The talk was raucous with occasional spikes of unpleasant sneering laughter. Tezzie silently pointed to the far right hand corner of the room where Billy’s boss was sitting and talking urgently with another man.

This man looked as mean-tempered as Billy’s boss, plus he had some scars across his right cheek. The boys didn’t like to think where the man could have got those scars. The tavern was stiflingly hot, but Billy’s boss still had his big overcoat on with his arms folded protectively over his chest while he was whispering to the tavern man, often looking furtively over his shoulder.

“Right,” said Tezzie, “we need to hear what they are saying. I vote that one of us sneaks in and sits under that empty table next to them and tries to hear what they are saying. Now, who is up to it?”

Nico and Billy looked expectantly at Tezzie, but kept quiet.

“I guess that will be me then,” said Tezzie, rolling his eyes.

Tezzie waited for the next time a customer walked out of the tavern and while the door was swinging shut he darted quickly into the smoky room. It was a very good job it was dark and smoky in there, thought Tezzie, otherwise he would have had no chance of getting close to the men without being spotted. He crept along the ground towards the two whispering men, narrowly avoiding getting caught up in one of the maid’s voluminous skirts. Why, oh why, do they need such huge skirts?! thought Tezzie. As he got closer to the men he used the skirts of the maids to hide himself as he crawled towards the table next to the men. Ah, so the skirts do have their uses, he thought wryly. He could only see the feet of the men as he crouched under the table, but he could now hear them very clearly; they weren’t whispering too quietly, they seemed to feel that the noise and bustle of the tavern and the fact that there was no one at the table next to them was enough to disguise what they were saying.

“…yeah and I’ve got one pearl necklace with solid gold links – should be worth a bob or two, plus the old lady’s diamond ring and quite a few brooches with diamonds, rubies and sapphires which can easily be sold on the black market…”

“Well it sounds like yer got some good pieces there, Bert but I can’t promise nuffink – fings are getting more difficult everyday, wot wiv the police doin’ their raids. People are gettin’ scared – in these ‘ere hard times I won’t be able to give you what yer askin’ for, Bert – I’ll give you £10 and that’s my final offer,” said the tavern man draining the last of the ale from his tankard.

“10 quid!” cried Billy’s boss banging the table and then lowering his voice again. “This loot is worth £100 and not a farthing less and you knows it!”

“Ah Bert – these is hard times mate and what about the boy? Wot if he squeals? You can see how ’ard it makes this for me? I’ve got a reputation, Bert – you knows that – I can’t have any loose ends…”

“Harry Blackhat you 'av my word I tell you," Mr Dallevill thumps his fist over his heart dramatically, "When 'av I ever sold you darn the river, eh?...Don’t you worry about ’im,” said Mr Dallevill, waving a hand for a barmaid, “’Ere, let me get you another drink, Harry. Naw, don’t you worry about ’im.” he repeated, after the maid had refilled the tavern man’s tankard, “I’ve got the old man up at the house finkin’ Billy nicked the goods –“ he paused while the barmaid poured them both another drink, “ they won’t believe anyfink he has to say,” he continued as the maid swept away “– he’s only a little scrap of a thing and anyway, if the police don’t catch up with ’im – then I’ll sort ’im out when the time comes…” He laughed conspiratorially and Harry Blackhat seemed to relax and then laughed with him as they clinked their tankards together.

After this, Harry smacked his lips with satisfaction as he drained his tankard, “Right then, you need to meet me at my place. These days I’m lodging at Old Sarah’s place – you know it? It’s just on the corner of Crook Ave – number 12. “ Billy’s boss nodded, “Be there with the goods in exactly one hour, we need to make this quick. If it’s all as you described I’ll pay you ’andsome…”

At this point Tezzie felt that he needed to get out of there and tell the others what he had learned. If those men were going to meet in one hour, the jewels would then be gone, along with all the proof that Billy was innocent: they didn’t have a moment to lose. They needed a plan and they needed one right now. He started to back away towards the door along the tavern floor keeping as crouched down as possible; he had almost reached the door when he suddenly found himself being lurched upwards by his ear!

“Oi scallywag! What choo doin’ in ’ere? You tryin’ your ‘and at stealin’, are ya? Another one of them street urchins? I should ’ave your guts for garters!”

(Illustration: landlady grabbing Tezzie by ear)

It was one of the maids, possibly the landlady: she seemed a bit older than the others. She had leathery skin and a bulbous red nose. Her hair was a matted curly mess piled on top of her head. She wore far too much make-up, and looked as though she may have once been quite pretty a long time ago, before she had spent so much time in this dark, smoky and squalid place.

“No no - I wasn’t trying to steal anything, please let me go!” Tezzie said in a hushed voice, not wanting to draw the attention of the men in the corner.

“Whatchoo whisperin’ for then - hmm? Don’t give me lies, boy - I knows exactly what you was tryin’ to do, exactly the same as the rest of the street rats around ’ere. ‘Ow are honest folk supposed to earn a livin’ with you leeches stealin’ from us all the time, eh?

Tezzie was struggling to free himself but to no avail, he saw out of the corner of his eye that Billy’s boss and his ‘friend’ we’re starting to take notice of what was going on. He knew he only had a matter of seconds before he would be recognised and that would mean big trouble!

Tezzie’s ear was burning with the pain of struggling against the rough grasp of the landlady’s sandpaper hand; the situation had started to cause some amusement to the punters in the tavern, some sniggering and others shouting profanities at Tezzie and egging the landlady on. The landlady seemed to have started to enjoy herself, being a bit of an exhibitionist, so she was in no hurry to just throw him out on the streets as she had originally intended.

Tezzie saw out of the corner of his eye that Billy’s boss had now got up and was starting to make his way over to see what all the fuss was about. What should he do? He was scared beyond belief, but he knew that he had to do something right now to get out of this situation, before Billy’s boss got a good look at him and recognised him from the posh man’s garden! If he got caught now it would blow their chances of ever getting back home! It was now or never. Think Tezzie - think!

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