Dead Men’s Wages by Lilian Pizzichini – Extract

Dead Men's Wages

1 Stonebridge Stew

Charlie’s origins are as muddy as the earth he worked as a builder. He wanted it that way. The plain truth lacked the vigour of the folk songs he’d heard as a child. He was born Alfred Taylor, and he was the last in a line of labouring peasants. The names of the men who went before him – the Georges, Jameses and Henrys – do not matter: they can be condensed into a single type. Pick and shovel in hand, they were a fixture of the agricultural landscape. Their lives were short and brutishly confined to the physical necessities.

Slap, bang, in the middle of the First World War, he was born the eighteenth child of an aggrieved and careworn mother. His father, George James Taylor, was a labourer, the son of James, also a labourer, from the parish of Willesden, Middlesex. Like Charlie, Willesden was not created from scratch, but grew out of what came before. Unlike Charlie, its contours and boundaries remain clear to this day.

Around the time of the Domesday Book, the ancient parish of ‘Wilsdon’ comprised some 4,300 acres of pleasantly undulating land on the London clay belt. It lay five and a half miles north-west of London Bridge, and to the west of the old Roman road to Edgware. To the south it was bounded by ‘Padynton’ and to the west by Twyford Abbey. By the eighteenth century, Willesden had made a name for itself as a popular country resort for holiday-making Londoners. The traveller entered the parish at the Kilburn Toll Gate, and paid his penny for the upkeep of roads. On crossing the River Brent, he exited some three miles farther on at Harp Bridge. A guide to the ‘Beauties of England and Wales’ published in 1816 gives this description: ‘We are now in a neighbourhood more rural and tranquil than might be expected in the vicinity of London, the place would appear calculated for the retirement of the Citizen if contrast and repose be the objects which he seeks in a country residence.’ Apart from the long march of the Edgware Road, the earliest factor to influence Willesden was the Inclosures Act of 1815. This set in stone the boundaries of the meadows once marked by hedgerows and bridle-paths. The meadows are now housing estates fixed in their place by concrete thoroughfares and Victorian railway lines. George James Taylor had a hand in this.

Perhaps he was unlucky. Perhaps if George had been born in Willesden when its acres comprised lush pastureland and shady lanes, he would have passed on a gentler disposition to baby Alfred. But, since he was born in 1871, he was thirty years too late to amble through the low-lying fields of neighbouring Harlesden. And far too late to stalk the wild boar that crunched on acorns in the forests of Middlesex.

George was a new type of man, a modern town-dweller. The social observer C. F. G. Masterman describes the phenomenon in his 1901 study The Heart of the Empire. The ‘characteristic physical type’ that he outlines is ‘stunted, narrow-chested, easily wearied; yet voluble, excitable, with little ballast, stamina, or endurance – seeking stimulus in drink, in betting, in any unaccustomed conflicts at home or abroad’.

He worked in a gang demarcating the fields of Willesden into navigation canals. These were London’s ‘navvies’ – wild men marooned on swampy islands throughout the city. The sheer physicality of their labours kept them apart from the rest of society. Carts filled with beer and prostitutes arrived every pay day. They did not even have to leave the site to carouse. They were rowdy and lawless, and didn’t give a damn who knew it. Their story comes laden with Victorian sentiment.

The exiled sons of Irish peasants, driven abroad by famine, they were the unconscious of England’s body politic. The lyrics of an Edwardian parlour song describe the new Irish immigrants as caught between a tear and a smile. The Police Reports in the Willesden Chronicle found them caught dead drunk in the gutter.

Want drove them to undertake the back-breaking work of excavating London’s stubborn earth. The lines they dug radiated outwards from the new station of Willesden Junction to the far east and west of the country, and north and south of the Thames. Willesden was losing its status as a rural country residence for city merchants. The first immigrants came from Paddington, then the provinces of western England. In 1885 there were 38,000 inhabitants. A thoroughfare here and an estate development there led to a sea of houses spreading in all directions. The merchants moved further out and speculative investors, builders and mortgage brokers took their place. By 1895 the Metropolitan Line Railway had arrived from Baker Street and the population had increased to 79,000. The streets were heaving with city clerks rushing to catch their connections, their throats clogged with steam and smut.

George James was not one of them. He was a powerful man with hands like shovels, said his sons. On 15 January 1898, after fifteen years of paving, blasting, cutting, tunnelling, drinking, fucking and fighting, George James married. He was a feckless twenty-seven. His bride was Miss Katie O’Sullivan, twenty-four, and fresh off the boat from Cork. On disembarking she dropped the ‘O’ from her surname. But George liked the irony of marrying a real Irish girl – the thoroughly anglicized Londoner had gone back to his bucolic roots. Katie was having none of it. She had watched her mother break her back tilling and ploughing the estates of an English Marchioness. She wanted a better life amongst the rootless ranks of Willesden.

Charlie’s mother was a walking master-class in evasiveness. Each of her children and grandchildren has a different version to give of the tiny brown woman with her hair screwed tight in a bun. In her day, her inscrutability was called ‘black Irish’. The shame was unspeakable if the Moorish influence of Spaniards showed in brown skin and hair. Charlie resented her for the lack of light she brought into her house, and loaded her image with all the racial slurs he could muster. His Katie was mired in bog-dirt and booze. He never called her mother, preferring ‘rank-Irish’.

Ireland was the thorn in the British side. The imputation of Irishness was in itself an insult. Like the rest of his generation, Charlie scoffed at the jokes about Paddy who was sent by his foreman to buy elbow grease, or Mick who was told to buy a glass hammer and nails for the glass bricks of the glass house his mates told him they would be building. This did not stop Charlie longing to belong to the mythical race of rebels and wordsmiths. Katie didn’t let him. She renounced her past and came up with an ingenious excuse for her looks. She may have been a Paddy but she looked like a squaw. The myth took flight and landed in the wild west of America, which was preferable to African blackness. Since she was born on 26 June 1876 she could safely say that she was born ‘during Custer’s Last Stand’.

George and Katie’s wedding was in Harlesden Baptist Church because both sides had put popery behind them. The first live birth was in 1899, and the boy was named George, for his father. Katie would have called all her boys George because it was the Sullivan tradition to give every son his father’s Christian name. That way, at least one of them would survive childhood to carry it on.

However, it was the Taylor tradition to name their sons after the kings of England. They need not have bothered. George and Katie’s brood had no time for tradition. They changed names at the drop of a hat, and with every brush with the Law. Each baptism was a fresh act of vandalism. Within the strictures of George and Katie’s family, the Taylor boys constructed their own version of society. Their new names gave them history and an identity. It was a way of reinforcing their otherness.

On the building sites where they laboured, the reasoning behind a new name was not so psychologically fraught. With the preponderance of Taylors and Smiths it was hard to differentiate between all these voluble and excitable men. A typical timekeeper on a building site had hundreds of kings of England to contend with; much easier to allocate a name more suited to their particular characteristics.

This is why my grandfather had so many names. It is really rather endearing how hard he tried, and how hard he laughed at himself and everyone else in their pantomime costumes. First there was Alfred the Reform-school Boy and Navvy. Then a brief foray as Henry the Master Builder, before finding his true role in life as Charlie the Spiv and Man about Town. His final resurgence as Charles the Hotelier and Fraudster is the one I knew. Each name carried its weight of associations. Each had a different outfit, and was a creature of his times. He learnt this quick-change act from his mother and elder brothers.

George, the eldest, was known as ‘Tots’. He abandoned his humble lot as a stable lad to take up his true calling as a ‘totter’. This was the name given to those who made their living by scavenging for scraps of cast iron. At night, George continued his totting in pubs where he cadged food, fags and drink.

Henry was second to Tots, and was called ‘Piccolo Pete’ because he had a wife and two girlfriends. Like Henry VIII, he had a way with women. Unlike the king he lost his head in a grotesque and bloody accident on the North Circular Road.

Edward, who was just a regular Borstal-boy, housepainter and thief, warranted Ted. The misshapen anomaly in the shape of Frederick was summarily dismissed as ‘Fatty’. He was not a king of England, since there was a question mark over his paternity. Fatty had been conceived while George James was choking on mustard gas down a trench in France. But he was the honest cuckoo in the nest. His preaching earnestness so rankled with his family they called him ‘Holy Joe’. It did not go down too well when he came back from Dunkirk in 1941 with nothing to show but a broken-down watch. ‘It didn’t even have hands on it,’ Charlie sniffed.

Two girls, ‘Mad’ Nell, who could pack a punch as devastating as her brothers’, and sensible, motherly Doris, preceded William. He was known simply as ‘Brother’ Will. I thought this was because he had been reduced to his fraternal connection to my grandfather. It would be entirely in keeping with the hold that Charlie had over his family. But it seems Brother Will had a life apart from his younger brother. In the Thirties, on account of the Depression, he had taken the radical step of joining the Communist Party. He was known as Brother Will henceforth.

Charles was my grandfather’s immediate senior but was known from early childhood as ‘Wag’, an antique term for ‘ruffian’ or ‘truant’. Like his brothers before him, and the one after him, he was sent to reform school in Hertfordshire. He was eight years old when he ran away in the middle of the night, dressed only in his nightshirt. He walked across two counties to get home to Katie, and she sent him straight back the next morning. Wag never held on to his real name. My grandfather saw to that.

By the time he was born Katie could only guess that he was her eighteenth baby. She had lost count of the number of births, live and dead. She had also lost interest in childrearing. Luckily, Charlie was born cunning. It was this that helped him survive his infancy.

George and Katie’s young family was known collectively as the ‘funny Taylors’ – funny as in peculiar – long before Charlie was born. They lived in a house built on what had once been a field lying fallow by Hill Farm. The old stone bridge that crossed a feeder of the Grand Union Canal had been demolished to make way for yet more urban labourers. They were needed to make more tracks and tunnels for the Metropolitan Railway and the increasing volume of commuters cast down into its underground system. As each child was born to George and Katie so was the great wen of London stifling the blood and bone of the rural outlands, complained the great and the good. As for the Taylors, they were contained in a flimsy brick dwelling with five rooms and a yard.

This was 130 Carlyle Avenue, Stonebridge. My grandfather, Alfred Taylor, was born on 9 May 1916 in a dingy upstairs bedroom. The conditions of penury and grime exist well into the twenty-first century in the concrete blocks of Stonebridge Park Estate. One night on the news sixty-yearold Charlie saw a report from the towering high-rise that had replaced the old two-up two-down. It was one of the most notorious housing developments in England, said the reporter, and a hotbed of drug-dealers and joy-riders. Charlie laughed in affectionate remembrance.

For little Alfred, though, Number 130 was a cauldron of despair and frustration. His parents kept a disorderly house.

The children’s comings and goings went unremarked. They were too many to be accounted for. The rowdy lawlessness of the building site was brought into the domestic sphere. One thing is certain about Katie: motherhood did not suit her temper. She was fierce, and her bids to instil discipline were erratic. Even her husband was frightened of her.

For a supposedly devout Catholic, who at the end of her life was surrounded by pictures of the Virgin, she left no mark of devotion in her children. And when she withheld maternal affection from my grandfather she did so not at her own peril, but at my grandmother’s, my mother’s, and every other man, woman or child with whom he came into contact.

As soon as it was decently possible, Charlie was left in the care of eight-year-old Doris. Katie had hoped that he would go the way of babies who had come in the six years between him and Wag. But he didn’t, and little Doris wheeled her baby brother along the narrow street. Their neighbours were the immigrant papists for whom no room could be found in Willesden. Some of them had the great luck to be working in one of the finest factories in Europe, Messrs H.J. Heinz & Company. The production lines started rolling around the same time Charlie was born. Alongside the factory, on the banks of the canal, was the Old Oak Wharf. Every day boats docked to unload cargoes of coal from Warwickshire collieries. The coal was then transported by cart to the furnaces of Park Royal’s power station where George James was employed as a stoker.

This new and frenetic township was called Stonebridge. It had everything a working-class family could want: its own railway station, a tram depot, a Board of Education infants’ school, a Baptist church, a Catholic church, and two public houses. There was even a workhouse-cum-infirmary at nearby Twyford Park where the poor of the parish were sent to die.

To see Stonebridge in 1746, when it was three farmhouses clustered around a bridge, is to see London in a pastoral mist. Even a hundred years later, it was still a pretty spot. A low-lying meadow fringed with open fields and crossed by a meandering feeder of the canal. It was not long before the idyll’s links to Harlesden by Harrow Road and to Neasden by Dog Lane came to town planners’ attentions. The London and Birmingham Railway in 1868 separated Stonebridge from the rest of Willesden. A police station and eight houses followed in hot pursuit. By the late 1860s there was a shopkeeper and beer retailer and in 1875 Stonebridge Park Station followed. The proximity of Edgware Road was irresistible to Willesden’s property developers, and the following year some eighty ‘smart new villas for city men’, all detached, were erected.

By 1911, the year of Wag’s birth, these houses were divided into smaller units to accommodate the increasing population. Stonebridge was rapidly being transformed into a factory town. Four years later the streets which once housed middle-class pretensions were housing working-class drudges.

Down the road from Carlyle Avenue was the Orange Tree public house – home from home for the Taylor family. Second-generation Irish immigrants, even if they had an English father, did not bother with the more salubrious Stonebridge Hotel up the road, or its licence to serve spirits. That was reserved for commercial travellers. Charlie soon came to know the popular ‘wine and beer’ establishment that doubled as a ‘small and spit’.

By placing a raised platform in the saloon bar the Orange Tree was transformed into a miniature music-hall with spittoons on the sawdust-covered floor. The baccy-chewing drinkers were treated to the exotic spectacle of sand-dancers. Their burlesque of the Sheik of Araby and his harem shuffling across the desert went down a storm. Izzy Boon, the Jewish Comedian, and Kevin O’Connor, the Wandering Irish Singer, took their turns in regaling and wooing the crowd now deep in their cups. The Orange Tree was all things to all Irishmen. It was handy for Katie and George when they needed a drink to accompany the card games they hosted in their grimy kitchen. Young Alfred would be sent to the Jug Room to fetch a pewter jug of ale from Stonebridge Peg, the landlady. My grandfather’s birthplace was the nexus of ‘Poets’ Corner’. Every district has such a corner. This one was so called because the developer, Mr Chas. Penny, a prominent man in local Wesleyan circles, had named these streets after his favourite literary giants. There were Shakespeare, Milton and Shelley, each with an avenue of his own. But neither they nor Thomas Carlyle, not even his Age of Machinery, meant much to the little boy. On the first of many attempts to run away from home, he was apprehended by a policeman who asked him where he lived. ‘Carlyle,’ said the four-year-old.

‘What, you’ve come all the way from up north?’ asked the incredulous rozzer.

‘Nah, Carlyle, Wembley, yer silly bastard.’

Gus Elen, Cockney king of the music-halls, sang a song about just such a street as Carlyle Avenue. ‘By climbing up the chimbley,’ he maintained, ‘You can see across to Wembley / If it wasn’t for the ’ouses in between.’ Stonebridge, Willesden and Wembley, and everything they contained within them, were more than enough for Charlie to be getting along with. Stonebridge was packed to the gills with two-ups, two-downs and great, sprawling families like the Taylors. Unlike the Taylors, though, most of these families found gainful employment in local light industry.

The showcase was ‘The British Home of Heinz Famous 57 Varieties’. The spanking new factory was at the hub of an exciting innovation in technology. Its russet-red exterior with triumphantly flowering window-boxes signalled the industry that was taking place within. Heinz’s factory was a paragon of ‘spotless cleanliness, a polished hygienic world of white uniformed workers; a world of machinery’. All these machines needed humans to tend to them. So Mr Chas. Penny was making a fortune from the jerry-built housing on his favourite philosopher’s street.

From his doorstep, Charlie watched men hustling a living and women rushing to the laundries of Willesden where they scrubbed, rinsed and mangled clothes dry. His father had just come back from the muddy death-traps of France. He was still useful enough to be enlisted, though, as a Private in the Civil Defence Regiment. He was not at home that much.

Charlie’s older brothers served as his early role models. Their father had long given up on them. They seemed to have learnt all his bad habits without picking up on his industriousness. Drinking and gambling filled their days, street battles crowned their achievements in the evening. Tots achieved early fame as the ‘King of Stonebridge’s Gas Meters’. His astonishing ability to prise open his neighbours’ meters and extract handfuls of coins earned him his title. By the age of seven, Charlie had seen enough of the world to be seen, in his turn, as ‘Monkey’, because he was always up to tricks.

The Fitzpatricks, who lived at Number 180, were notorious wine-drinkers and willing punters for the Taylors’ Friday-night card games. Charlie recalled fights breaking out in the kitchen. But the Fitzpatricks’ accusations of cheating did not stop them returning for their weekly bouts. The Taylors’ grief was great when they woke one morning to find that their favourite source of income had done a moonlight flit. When the bailiffs came to clear out the Fitzpatricks’ abandoned house, they found empty wine bottles behind the sink, in the cupboards, and in the yard. They had to bring them out in tin baths.

Charlie saw them come and go, as well as hundreds of anonymous others. When they weren’t chasing the work they were fleeing the landlord. He watched the women – their men having gone to the Front – stagger home from the pub each night. Drink was Lloyd George’s biggest enemy after the Germans, but to these women it was their only friend.

Outside the bus depot, Charlie and the other children would chase the tradesmen’s vans as they careered along the highway. So action-packed were his days that when Stonebridge Primary School opened its doors Charlie did not deign to attend. Charlie preferred to trace the course of the stream that had evaded the navvies’ paving. Perhaps it was just as well. Each winter found its pupils blighted with scabies, cholera or diphtheria. There was at least one death each term.

Opposite the school are the low-beamed roof and gabled windows of the Orange Tree. Charlie spent hours watching the types who stopped off for a jar. Tattooed sailors who boasted of far-off places, and gypsies with eyes as dark as his – some even wore earrings. Where the stream ended the Harrow Road led the small boy’s eye towards the nether regions of Park Royal’s industrial estates and the fabled Grand Union Canal.

He wanted to get away, and the long stretches of newly paved road offered a route out of the confusing and dangerous environs of home. ‘Mad’ Nell, Charlie’s other sister, added to the clamour of voices bouncing off the walls of Number 130. She had muscles like pineapples, he said.

‘Feel them!’ she would command. When her youngest brother reached up to squeeze she swiped him round the head with a left hook. This was the Taylors’ rough-housing humour. Nell had her place on the bench under the window, from whence she screeched out obscene ditties. Even the coarsest of her neighbours were shocked. Her raucous singing pierced a swathe through the whirls of tobacco but failed to deter her suitor. ‘Long’ Harry Sears was a boxer, and the only man capable of keeping up with the sixteen-year-old girl and her talent for trouble. He swept her off westwards to Neasden.

The fights would start at around midnight when uniformed and plain-clothes policemen cheerfully joined in the smashing of heads and breaking of limbs. The ‘Law’ is no better than us, thought Tots. Just like the navvies, the busies were a step down from the gentry of Willesden. They addressed the professional classes as sir or madam, they doffed helmets and were humble in their presence. By day, coppers were jeered in the streets, and if one dared to walk the streets of Stonebridge alone he’d be mobbed. But at night, his brothers-in-arms would bestir themselves and avenge their wounded comrade’s honour by hunting down the ringleader. George’s head was pitted with scars from being beaten with truncheons. When, to Katie’s great delight, the apple of her eye pushed Sergeant Elmo down the stairs, he broke the policeman’s back.

Of the kind of street Charlie lived on, Basil Jellicoe, Vicar of St Mary’s Somers Town, said: ‘Overcrowding and poverty are here being used by the Devil in order to steal from the children of God the health and happiness which are their right.’ Or as Charlie later exclaimed, when he became cigar-smoking, Tuinal-popping Charles: ‘We didn’t have a pot to piss in.’

Omnibuses, trams and horse-drawn carts contributed their sounds and smells, mishaps, grease and dung to the stew of the streets and the stink of the Stonebridge sewer. Even as far away as Willesden, the local gentry were complaining about the smell. They were appalled, on their forays into this wilderness, to find unattended children playing cards on street corners and splashing about in horses’ water troughs. Katie Taylor, minding her own business, wheeled her latest baby and two screaming toddlers in a pram while Doris and Will hung off the sides. A labourer stopped his digging to ask the little woman:

‘Blimey, is all them yours, love?’

‘Oh no,’ she protested, covered with shame at the proof of her reckless fertility. ‘I’m looking after ’em for a friend.’

She did not like to tell him she had more at home.

And what a handful they were. Tots, seventeen when Charlie was born, was a hulking six-footer and beyond anyone’s control. He had got the best of his mother’s milk, and the others had guzzled what was left. The last and definitely the least, Charlie was puny, and learned quickly that he could not compete with his brothers. Even in the so-called safety of his mother’s womb, he had been in danger from the ferocity of Tots’s volcanic fits. Three months before his birth, there had been a terrible scene at home.

That February morning, Katie had been hanging clothes out to dry in what she liked to call her garden. George James was patrolling areas vulnerable to air attack – docks, railway bridges, power stations. He didn’t care, as long as it wasn’t home.

From the yard, Katie heard her eldest come in from a night on the tiles, tramp up the stairs and head out again. She went upstairs to fetch her purse which she kept under her pillow. She knew she had left seventeen shillings in it, but she found only sixteen. When George came home that night she taxed him with stealing a shilling.

‘I only wish I’d taken the lot,’ he roared, then proceeded to wave a plank of wood that he always kept hanging from his belt around her head. When he brought out a knife from his pocket, she took flight. Pregnant Katie ran into the street, made a hue and cry, and the local constabulary, in the shape of Sergeant Elmo, answered her call. He took George away and a remand was ordered. In court a month later, where Katie gave evidence against her favourite, a Detective Farquhar gave the boy a bad character. ‘He is thoroughly lazy and never does any work,’ he told the magistrate. George was sentenced, not for the first time, to twenty-one days’ hard labour.

Despite his brothers’ form, it was baby Alfred who was considered the bad apple. Never mind that Wag thought that a fork was something with which you stabbed people if they tried to steal food from your plate. Katie just didn’t take to her youngest. Perhaps it was because he was so underhand and cunning – she just could not read him like the others. Besides, she was worn out by all those pregnancies.

No wonder the neighbours called them the ‘funny Taylors’; they weren’t just odd, they could be frighteningly nasty. They could turn on you, snarling like a dog, at any time. For Charlie’s part, all he remembered were the beatings and the smell of booze emanating from his mother. If she never took to him, well, he didn’t take to her either.

The domestic scene plays out like this. Katie, feeling the full weight of her forty-eight years, is lying in bed recovering from last night’s lock-in. Downstairs, twelve-year-old Doris is doing what she does every morning: sweeping out the grate, making the tea and keeping guard over Wag and Charlie. Unbeknownst to Katie, the Monkey has scattered tin tacks on the ground beside her bed.

On waking she lands her two feet in a pile of them. Verbal abuse swiftly degenerates into all-out attack, and she chases Charlie into the street. He keeps running.

The consequences were severe. The following morning he arrived back at Carlyle Avenue and was hungry and thirsty. He drank the pint of milk that sat on the doorstep. Katie beat him till he was unconscious for depriving her of the dash of milk for her morning cup of tea.

Charlie was determined to survive against the odds. The bigger boys, Tots and Harry, never needed an excuse to beat him. His mother had no time for his complaints. When the going got tough, he slept in sheds. There was enough excitement on the streets of Stonebridge for a young entrepreneur to keep his momentum going. He was in on all the action.

He was schooled by sharks, and knew he had to load the odds in his favour. On its vertical advance across north-west London, Harrow Road passed by the end of Carlyle Avenue. Charlie’s favourite game was placing bets on the number of the first bus to appear around the corner. He planted his brother Will on the junction. They had agreed on a signal which involved folding a newspaper a certain way to indicate which bus was approaching. Apart from cheating, Charlie had learnt one other vital component to the cardsharp’s art. He made sure not to ‘guess’ correctly every time. His friends were convinced he was on the level, and he could keep on fleecing them without fear of reprisal.

But Charlie was not so different from the other little boys growing up in the shadow of the brand-new Wembley Stadium. He could be excited by spectacle, too. In April 1923 he witnessed the first Cup Final to be played at Wembley. He was seven years old and managed to wangle his way in without a ticket. So did another 70,000 spectators. The stadium could not accommodate them, so some ended up on the pitch. For a while it appeared that the match would not go ahead. Charlie could not recall who was playing and did not care who had won (Bolton Wanderers beat West Ham 2–0), but he did remember PC George Scorey. Astride his magnificent white horse, he pushed the masses back to the sides of the pitch. At last, a memory he could share with thousands of others.

Four months later, George James Taylor died. He was fifty-five. He had been out of sorts for some weeks, with a high temperature and stiffness in the back of his neck. After a few days of being even more irascible than usual, the symptoms worsened, and George’s head was bursting with pain. He dealt with this intense provocation in his usual fashion. Charlie hid in the doorway of his parents’ bedroom and watched his father bashing his brains against the wall. All the while he was wailing like an angry cat. He screamed profanities and rained curses on his family. He would not allow anyone near him, and could not bear to be touched. Not that anyone wanted to – even on his deathbed they were wary of him. But, from the safety of the foot of the bed, Charlie could not stop watching as the symptoms of meningitis devastated his father’s body. He watched as George James shivered convulsively under the bedclothes. When he finally reached the oblivion of a coma he was taken to die at Twyford Park.


Excerpted from Dead Men’s Wages by Lilian Pizzichini. Copyright © 2014 by Lilian Pizzichini.

First published 2014 by Picador, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited, 20 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RR, Basingstoke and Oxford. Associated companies throughout the world http://www.panmacmillan.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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