Monday, 2 May 2022

All That Glitters...

 

 

This one is for Margaret. I’ll miss our weekly chats and (of course) the chocolate.

May you rest in peace.

Chapter one

In January of 1974, I was a gangly, pimply-faced teenager, looking to make my mark on the world. Painfully shy and bursting with hormones, I had a two-tone voice, which bounced between a shrill squeak and a honking baritone, and greasy shoulder-length hair that refused to be controlled. On the upside, I had youthful energy, an athletic physique, a flat stomach, and a 29” waist. Combined with the cheeky smile and twinkling blue eyes I’d inherited from my father, this mismatch of parts had made me popular with several girls, but not so much with their parents. Keen to satisfy my mother’s wish that I would, one day, become a successful jeweller — or a successful anything — six months earlier, I had enrolled in a gemmology correspondence course and taken a job at a local jewellery shop.

Neville Webley’s (jeweller, goldsmith, watchmaker, and pawnbroker — established 1910) was situated in the bottom third of a narrow and sloping pedestrianised street, a few hundred yards from Norwich city centre. Squeezed between a hairdresser and an artisan cheese shop, it was the sort of location that was neither close enough to the big shops to be considered trendy nor so far away to be thought grubby. The shop had a narrow frontage with one tall display window and a single glass door. Despite this outward appearance, the shop was deceptively deep, the size of three garages placed end-to-end. Hidden behind heavy maroon drapes, the back third contained a utilitarian office-cum-workshop, a toilet and a huge walk-in safe that could easily have doubled as a bomb shelter in the event of nuclear war. The office walls had once been painted lime green, but they were now faded to nicotine yellow and liberally decorated with a mixture of scribbled phone numbers, smudged fingerprints, splashes of coffee and the greasy sheen deposited during 20-years of human interaction.

In stark contrast, the sales area had that mix of dark oak, deep-piled red carpet, and dim lighting, which whispered opulence on sale at a reasonable price. The glass cabinets that lined the walls contained ornaments, clocks, and some larger items of jewellery. On the right, there was a long, glass-topped, back-lit counter which displayed a glittering array of rings, watches, brooches, and necklaces.

My first tentative foray into the exciting world of employment happened at a time when the UK was in economic mayhem. Amid a global oil crisis, Britain’s coal miners were in an acrimonious pay dispute with the government and had voted to strike. As coal was the principal source of energy and stockpiles were almost depleted, the Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Ted Heath, had imposed a three-day working week. In practice, this meant the commercial consumption of electricity (for all but essential services) was limited to three consecutive days each week. Like many businesses, Webley’s continued to trade using torches and candles for light and coats, gloves, and hats to forestall the winter cold. And like many small businesses, Webley’s struggled to survive. During the first six months of my employment, the shop had bought much more than it had sold. Even to my inexperienced and insensitive teenage eyes, it was heart-breaking to watch a seemingly endless parade of financially desperate people pawning their jewellery so they could buy food and pay a few bills.

I was too young and naive to appreciate how lucky I was to still have a job or be suitably grateful to an employer who provided me with a secure income, valuable experience, and ample study time. I never met Neville Webley — for all I know he may never have existed. Perhaps the shop name was randomly selected with a pin and a telephone directory. My employer was called Mr Sykes, and only Mr Sykes. If he had a Christian name, I never heard anyone use it. He was a tall and thin man, with a concave chest and shoulders hunched from years of sitting at a workbench or quietly cooking his books. His grey hawkish face and nicotine-stained teeth and fingers were testament to the two packets of Player’s Navy Cut cigarettes he smoked each day — as were the walls of his office.

When I wasn’t studying gemmology, my job was to polish the acres of glass in the shop, vacuum the carpet thrice daily and deal with those numerous customers who lacked any substantial financial potential. This final task was equitably shared with either Mary or Elisabeth, the two matronly ladies who worked at the shop part-time. For the most part, we coped splendidly and were trusted to sell clocks, ornaments, and small items of inexpensive costume jewellery. However, clients of status or worth were the strict preserve of Mr Sykes.

I was an aspiring actor back then, so it wasn’t surprising that I recognised a parallel between retail and the stage. Much like a theatre, the shopfront must always be welcoming, well-presented and ready for the show. But backstage, the lighting is harsh, the floors are dusty, and the workbenches are scratched and worn threadbare. Like actors waiting in the Green Room, we relaxed, laughed, and told tall tales. But when the little bell over the front door tinkled to announce the arrival of a customer, we sprang to our feet and stepped into our respective roles.

Dressed in a wide-collared floral shirt, a mismatched tie, flared trousers so tight you could count the change in my pocket, and six-inch platform shoes, I could easily have been cast as the clown in our little tableau. In my defence, it was the 1970s and I thought I was very fashionable.

Whenever he was called to perform, the transformation of Mr Sykes was something to behold. For much of the day, he would sit jacketless at his workbench, with silver elasticated arm garters pulling his shirtsleeves taut, his blue golf club tie casually slung over one shoulder and a cold cup of tea at his side. Whether manipulating his accounts or repairing a watch, Mr Sykes would hum quietly, squinting one-eyed with his head tipped to the side to avoid the acrid smoke drifting up from the Player’s Navy Cut clamped between his lips. But when a wealthy customer entered the shop, he would drop the cigarette into the ashtray, don his jacket and, pausing only to straighten his back, push through the drapes and stride confidently onto his stage.

“Good afternoon,” he would say, his twangy Norfolk accent transformed into the best BBC English. “My name is Sykes. I am the proprietor.”

Chapter two

 One quiet afternoon, towards the end of January, my glass polishing routine was interrupted by the arrival of a very distinguished-looking couple. The man was in his mid-50s. He was wearing a brown Harris Tweed sports jacket, beige slacks, and a dark green waistcoat with a gold watch chain slung between the pockets. Even to my inexperienced eye, his clothes looked fantastically expensive. The blonde vision of loveliness at his side was probably the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Hormones bubbled, blood rushed in my ears, and I broke into a flop-sweat. With the confidence of wealth and breeding, the man caught my eye and nodded for me to speak.

“Hello,” I croaked. “My name is Nicholas. How may I be of assistance?”

The man smiled kindly. When he spoke, his voice was cultured and warm.

“I am Jeffrey, and this is Justine.” They shared a loving glance. “We would like to look at some engagement rings.”

I nodded dumbly. Usually, I would have summoned Mr Sykes, but he had gone to the bank an hour earlier and had yet to return. With a rising surge of panic, I glanced towards the back of the shop where Mary was standing, but she only shrugged as if to say, “You’re on your own, kid.”

I had no choice but to pretend to be a proper jeweller. Doing my best not to sweat on the counter or gawk too obviously at the lovely Justine, I showed them several trays of diamond engagement rings. As Justine slipped one of the more expensive rings onto her delicate finger, I regurgitated the little I could recall about the size, cut and colour of the diamonds. Inevitably, she only had eyes for Jeffery. Running out of interesting things to say, I was (literally) saved by the bell as the shop door opened. Mr Sykes had returned.

With hardly a pause in his stride, Mr Sykes’s eyes assessed my customers, their clothes, the engagement rings on the counter and my sweating brow.

“Thank you, Nicholas,” he said. “You may go now.”

Stepping confidently behind the counter, he gave me a terse nod of dismissal, then turned a beaming smile towards Jeffrey and Justine.

“Good afternoon.” He bowed slightly. “My name is Sykes. I am the proprietor.”

I gratefully traded places and slid through the drapes into the back of the shop, where Mary and I took turns peeking between the curtains and trying to guess how the sale was progressing. After almost an hour, the happy couple left without making a purchase. Watching my small share of a possible sales commission walk out the door, my heart sank. But when Mr Sykes finally came out to join us, he was unusually upbeat.

“Do you know who that was?” he asked, his eyes wide in excitement.

“Jeffery and Justine?” Unsure of what else I should say, I added a noncommittal shrug.

“My dear boy,” Mr Sykes gushed. “That was Sir Jeffery Cartwright and Lady Justine Winthrop!”

“Oh. Very nice,” I said, uncertain of the significance.

“Just imagine,” Mr Sykes whispered. “A real Knight and his Lady, here, in my shop.”

“They didn’t buy anything, though,” I mumbled.

“Nicholas, Nicholas…” He tutted and rolled his eyes dramatically at my apparent lack of understanding. “People like Sir Jeffery Cartwright — people of class — do not make impulsive purchases. They take their time, consider the options, and proceed with caution. You,” he pointed gently in my direction, “could learn a lot from a man such as Sir Jeffery.”

“Do you think he’ll come back?” I asked.

Mr Sykes nodded and tapped his nose with a knowing finger. “Mark my words Nicholas. He will return.”

I was less confident. Only very few of the people who visited the shop went on to make a purchase. Indeed, some weeks earlier, during a scheduled power cut, Mr Sykes had explained the peculiarities of retailing jewellery.

“Take, for example, a shoe shop,” he said. “They would typically carry a range of footwear, in regulation colours and sizes. Even if the brands are not familiar, they have a better-than-even chance of selling black, size-nine shoes to someone looking for black size-nine shoes.”

“Or nine and a half,” I said, pointing to my own shoes.

Mr Sykes ignored my jibe and pressed on.

“But small jewellery shops such as Webley’s acquire most of their stock second-hand, either from customers selling their valuables or through house clearances when a relative has died. Consequently, whereas our offering is varied, it may lack depth. For example, we may have dozens of attractive necklaces, but none at a price your customer can afford. At such times, it is your task to guide them towards alternatives.” Mr Sykes switched seamlessly to his best BBC English voice. “Perhaps madam would prefer a brooch or some earrings.” He tapped the workbench with a finger. “That is the talent of a salesman!”

Mr Sykes’s prediction came true on Saturday. Sir Jeffery and Lady Justine walked into the shop just as I completed my morning round of cleaning. They were immaculately presented, looking fresh, clean, and expensive. By comparison, I felt distinctly shabby and out of their league.

Sir Jeffery greeted me with that wonderfully casual inclusiveness exhibited by Royalty and the upper classes when talking to the proletariat.

“Hello, Nicholas. How are you this fine morning?”

Awestruck that he had remembered my name, I stammered my response.

“V-very well, S-sir Jeffery. How may I be of assistance?”

“Please call me Jeffery.” He bestowed the honour with a casual hand gesture, then nodded towards the vacuum cleaner at my side. “I can see you are busy, Nicholas. Is Mr Sykes available?”

“Yes, Si– err, J-Jeffery. I’ll fetch him now.”

I felt my face flush as I dragged the vacuum cleaner toward the office. Lady Justine smiled kindly, but it did nothing to ease my discomfort.

I furtively watched through the drapes for half an hour while Mr Sykes worked his magic. Whilst acknowledging the lofty status of his customers, he avoided the urge to grovel and displayed the professional demeanour of a skilled and knowledgeable jeweller. In my inexperience, it is likely I would have miserably failed this test. Despite no money changing hands, Mr Sykes remained confident a substantial sale was but days away.

“They are torn between three of my best engagement rings,” he explained later, his eyes twinkling with delight. “Also, Lady Justine has taken a particular liking to that Victorian sapphire and diamond brooch.”

“So, they’re coming back soon?” I asked.

“Next week.” He nodded. “Sir Jeffery resides in London, but he’s returning to Norwich for a board meeting on Thursday. He has assured me they will make a purchase that morning.”

“I heard them mention Williams,” I said.

As soon as the words passed my lips, I was filled with dread. Williams and son was a somewhat larger jewellery shop on the other side of town. Aside from being a successful businessman and a leading light in the local Chamber of Commerce, Mr Williams was also a far better golfer than Mr Sykes could ever hope to be. However, my fear of having misspoken was unfounded.

“Don’t worry about Williams!” Mr Sykes smiled and raised his eyebrows. “They visited his shop but found the service lacking and his display to be largely made up of trinkets and costume jewellery.”

Chapter three

Heading home that evening, I had a lot on my mind beyond my growling stomach and empty pockets.

The coal miners were still on strike, and the British economy appeared to be in a state of terminal decline. Mining coal was obviously a difficult, dirty, and dangerous job. My uncle was a coal miner. He had no money to speak of, lived in an uninviting Glasgow tenement and coughed all the time. I didn’t understand why the miners — and trainee jewellers — shouldn’t be paid better.

Meeting Sir Jeffery and Lady Justine had given me a rare glimpse of the upper classes. Even in my na├»ve youth, I was aware of a class divide in Britain, but this was the first time I had seen it up close. I knew some people were born into money. They had titles and were destined to attend the best schools, marry well and eventually go into politics, or take a seat on the board of the family business. Sir Jeffery hadn’t been aloof or condescending to me. Quite the opposite, he had been polite and treated me as an equal. But living in Britain in the early 1970s, I knew no amount of business success or money would buy my way into the heady ranks of the upper classes. Oh, how things have changed!

But money and business success were still a long way away for me. They still are. Despite Mr Sykes’s generosity and my best efforts to budget more sensibly, the end of my money frequently preceded payday by 24-hours or more. I lived in a one-bedroom flat, a short walk from Norwich city centre. The building had once been a Victorian slaughterhouse but had recently been converted into 24 rent-controlled apartments of varying sizes. My little home had a separate bedroom, bathroom, sitting room and kitchen. It was close to a supermarket, a fantastic bakery, and one of the largest second-hand book shops I have ever seen. If I ignored the noisy family below, inadequate heating, and the mice scurrying in the walls, my flat was a pleasant living space for a young man and his cat. And there was more… As well as being a beautiful and historic city, like an advent calendar for students, Norwich had 12 nightclubs, 52 churches, and 365 pubs. Whereas, I knew I’d never visit all of the churches, there was no reason I shouldn’t try to sample every pub and nightclub in a year — which brings me back to my lack of money, rumbling stomach and almost empty larder.

Trudging home with my hands thrust deeply into my pockets and my collar turned up against the cold, sleety rain, I was contemplating a dinner constructed from cornflakes, half a bottle of milk, a tin of baby potatoes, and one doubtful egg when I spotted something glinting in the gutter. As I moved closer, my eyes grew wide. Scattered on the ground near a bus stop were several coins. Glancing around at the hurrying pedestrians, I realised I was the only person to have noticed the money. Not wanting to miss my chance, I leaned casually against the bus stop sign for a few moments before stooping down to collect my prize. It wasn’t a fortune, less than a pound, but in 1974 that was enough to buy some food and a can of beer. Tonight, I was going to feast like the upper classes!

Stopping at my local supermarket, I picked up a can of my favourite brew and complimented that choice by selecting something new. Although pizzas had first been sold in England in the early 1950s, following an influx of Italian immigrants, by 1974, they were still a novelty in British shops and something I had yet to try.

“Just pop it in the oven, and you’ll have a delicious meal in 20-minutes,” the lady behind the deli counter said. “It’s idiot-proof cooking.”

“Thanks!” I smiled at the well-meaning joke. “It will need to be.”

Back home, I was greeted by my cat. Felix was a slim tomcat, almost totally black, except for a small streak of white on his nose, like a careless dab of paint. Although generally aloof and happy to patrol his territory alone, Felix had a terrific sense of fun and liked nothing more than to play rough-and-tumble games with me. After spooning a little cat food into Felix’s bowl, I carefully read the cooking instructions for the pizza.

“Preheat oven…remove packaging…place on rack…cook until the cheese bubbles.” I hungrily licked my lips. “Can’t wait!”

As I removed the plastic film covering, my little cat made dainty figure-eights around my legs and purred like a sewing machine. With the oven timer set and the pizza cooking, I put on a stout leather gauntlet and went into my sitting room with Felix trotting at my heels. It was playtime.

Sitting on my couch, I held my gloved hand at knee height and made slow grasping motions, as If I was squeezing a ball. Felix immediately dropped into a crouch, flicking his tail back and forth. With pupils as wide as dinner plates, his eyes watched my hand closely. For a moment, he seemed to relax, then, with the speed of an attacking snake, he sprang. Grasping my hand with his forepaws, he dug his teeth into the glove and kicked hard with his hind claws. If I hadn’t worn an elbow-length leather gauntlet, my arm would have been torn to shreds. After ten seconds of growling and clawing, Felix jumped down and invited me to play some more. This time I flipped him onto his back, which he enjoyed even more. After ten minutes and several rounds of this wrestling, I signalled an end to our game by removing the glove. Felix knew the rules, but still looked disappointed. I sniffed the air in hungry anticipation, but something was amiss.

The mouth-watering aroma of cooking cheese mixed with garlic and pizza dough was gradually being undermined by something more astringent. I couldn’t place the smell, but it vaguely reminded me of a car fire. Peering through the glass oven door confirmed all was well with my pizza. Although the cheese wasn’t bubbling yet, I noticed a little dripping down onto the lower rack.

“Remind me to clean the oven again,” I said to Felix. He watched me with a steady gaze but made no comment. “Something’s burning somewhere,” I added.

Ten minutes later, when the oven clock pinged, I discovered the source of the smell. The creamy substance dripping from below the pizza wasn’t delicious bubbling cheese. It was melting polystyrene foam! Despite my careful efforts to follow the idiot-proof instructions, this idiot hadn’t spotted that the pizza was resting on a large polystyrene disk. Exposed to the full heat of my electric cooker, the foam had slowly melted, releasing clouds of toxic fumes. I groaned in horror.

Faced with the prospect of throwing away this windfall meal and using up the last of my cornflakes, I elected to eat whatever parts of the pizza I could salvage. Even washed down with beer, it was indisputably the worst meal it has ever been my misfortune to consume. Nevertheless, I was poor and hungry, so I persevered. To this day, whenever I smell burned plastic, I get a craving for pizza.

Chapter four

Thursday dawned bright and clear; spring was in the air. Mr Sykes had opened the shop a little early. In anticipation of such a large sale, he was buoyant and smiling. He even helped with the cleaning and bought some cakes from the local bakery. But, as the morning dragged on with no sign of Sir Jeffery or Lady Justine, Mr Sykes’s mood darkened. By lunchtime, he was positively morose. At three o’clock, Mr Sykes took a telephone call. As he spoke, I saw his mood noticeably improving.

“This is he…Oh, dear. That’s a shame. I see…I see…” He nodded as if the caller were watching. “Of course…Yes, cash will be splendid. The boy? Of course, I shall send him along immediately. No, it’s no trouble at all. Goodbye.”

Mr Sykes replaced the receiver and headed into the shop, pausing momentarily to smile at me over his shoulder.

“Get your coat, Nicholas. Quickly now, you have an errand to run.”

By the time I’d donned my coat, Mr Sykes had returned. He placed four velvet boxes and a receipt pad into his leather briefcase.

“Now listen very carefully,” he said, speaking quickly and pointing at the contents. “The lady on the telephone was Sir Jeffrey’s secretary. He is still in his board meeting. It’s running late and unlikely to finish before we close. Furthermore, he has to travel back to London tonight before flying to Paris in the morning. However, he is keen to complete his purchase and wants to look at the items once more before coming to a decision. These are the three rings and the brooch Sir Jeffery wants to see. You’re to take them to Debenhams. Go to the boardroom. It’s on the fourth floor, near the customer accounts department. He asked for you specifically and will come out to see you. Do you understand?”

“Yes. Go to Debenhams, the fourth floor. Ask for Sir Jeffery and show him the rings.”

“Good, good.” Mr Sykes snapped the case shut and patted it with his hand before passing it over. “I’ve left the price tickets on the rings. Sir Jeffery has already agreed to purchase the brooch and will certainly pick one of the rings. He is paying with cash, so, put the money into the briefcase and bring it directly back here. Oh, and don’t forget to give him a receipt. Okay?”

I nodded.

“Run along now.” He patted me on the shoulder and sent me on my way.

It was almost a mile to Debenhams but downhill all the way. At a gentle jog, the journey took no more than ten minutes. I arrived sweating but excited, clutching the briefcase safely under my arm. Debenhams was a large and very fashionable department store. Although its clothes were far beyond my paltry budget, I once dated a pretty girl who worked in the ladieswear section and was somewhat familiar with the layout of the building. After navigating the toxic mixture of scents wafting around the perfume department, I made my way to the back of the shop and rode a creaking elevator to the fourth floor. The accounts department was through an open archway to my right. I paused and glanced around, trying to get my bearings. Luckily, I spotted a smartly-dressed lady passing nearby and managed to catch her eye.

“May I be of assistance?” she asked. I noticed she was wearing the same navy-blue jacket and skirt as the Debenhams staff uniform, but without the name badge required for shopfloor staff. I guessed she worked in accounts or personnel.

“I’m here to see Sir Jeffery Cartwright,” I said. “My name is Nicholas. He asked me to bring this.” I patted the briefcase.

“Sir Jeffery Cartwright? I don’t think he’s here.” She frowned and shook her head. “Where were you supposed to meet him?”

“He phoned our shop about 15-minutes ago,” I explained. “Apparently, he’s in the boardroom.”

“Ah! I understand.” She nodded and pointed to a side corridor. “Come this way, please.”

She walked a few yards and stopped outside a magnificent oak door.

I pointed to the sign. “Boardroom!”

“Shhh!” The lady brought a finger to her lips and whispered, “Please wait here.”

She quietly opened the door and stepped inside. Before the half-open door swung shut, I saw one end of the boardroom table and a side-on view of Sir Jeffery sitting in a dark green leather chair. He was waving some papers and remonstrating angrily with someone just out of my line of sight. Someone was in trouble, and I was pleased it wasn’t me. With nothing to do while I waited, I counted the panels in the door and shined my dusty shoes on the back of my trouser legs. After a couple of minutes, the door opened, and the lady joined me in the corridor. She smiled but added a grimace of apology and a slight eye-roll.

“Sir Jeffery is very sorry, but the meeting is running rather late. He had hoped to see you in person, but that isn’t possible. Do you have the items for him to see?”

“Oh, yes,” I replied, lifting the briefcase for her to see.

“Splendid!” She took the briefcase from my hand and opened the boardroom door. “Wait here. I’m sure it won’t take a minute.”

As the door closed, I caught a glimpse of Sir Jeffery still sitting in his dark green leather chair. He glanced at me and smiled kindly. With nothing to do but wait, I hummed quietly and took in my surroundings. It took me five minutes to count the ceiling tiles and five more to count the squares in the carpet. After fifteen minutes, I began to suspect Sir Jeffery had forgotten I was waiting, but what was I to do? I stared blankly at the oak-panelled door for another five minutes whilst agonising over my limited choices. Much as Mr Sykes wanted the sale, I could only stand here for so long before reminding Sir Jeffery that I was waiting, but knocking on the boardroom door seemed too presumptuous by far. Perhaps I could ask for help? A dozen yards to my left, I could see a member of staff sitting at the enquiries desk. Keeping one eye on the boardroom door, I edged over. She looked up and smiled. Her name badge told me her name was Tracy.

“May I help you?”

“I’m waiting to speak with Sir Jeffery Cartwright, but he seems to have forgotten I’m here.”

“Sir Jeffery…” She frowned.

“He’s in the boardroom.” I pointed helpfully at the door.

Her expression became sceptical.

“There’s nobody in the boardroom, certainly nobody by that name.” She shook her head. “The boardroom is being decorated.”

With a sense of impending doom, I disagreed. “You must be mistaken. I just saw him. He still has the briefcase I brought. It contains some very valuable jewellery.”

Without a word, Tracy jumped to her feet and strode down the corridor. When she opened the boardroom door, I could see the table and the dark-green chair, but there was no sign of Sir Jeffery, the board members, or the lady who had taken the briefcase. Tracy stepped to one side and gestured for me to enter. Stacked against the end wall were paint pots, dustsheets, and a ladder. There was also a second doorway marked fire exit. In a blinding flash, reality dawned. A cold chill hit me and the blood drained from my face. We had been tricked — I had been tricked. Sir Jeffery Cartwright (if that was even his name) had gone and so had a small fortune in jewellery. Oh, the horror of it!

Chapter five

The police were called, but by then it was too late. The fire exit opened to a back stairway, which led down to the rear car park where the decorators had parked their van. It was their first day on the job, and they never returned.

I was interviewed at the police station. The questioning went on long into the night. I was just a witness and an unwitting victim, yet I couldn’t shake the feeling of guilt. Although I had been tricked and manipulated by a team of expert grifters, I felt I should have seen through the scam. The shame and betrayal still burns in my gut as hotly today as back then. As for the police, they made several vague suggestions that I had somehow been involved. I could only plead my innocence, which was eventually accepted, but nonetheless, I imagined them making a note in my permanent file for future reference.

As I was leaving, I spotted Mr Sykes in the waiting area. He looked angry and ashen-faced but greeted me with a kindly smile and a comforting handshake.

“I’m so sorr–” I began, but tears overtook me.

Mr Sykes held up a calming hand.

“Not to worry, the shop is well insured. Anyway, it’s not your fault, Nicholas. We’ve all been conned by that dreadful man and his girl.” Gravely, he shook his head. “Imagine pretending to be upper class. How dare they!”

Mr Sykes put his arm around my shoulder.

“We will speak of this no more,” he said. “Come on, Nicholas. I will drive you home.”

And that was the end of the matter. Well, almost…

 

As it turned out, the majestic brilliance of this, albeit heinous crime — its meticulous planning and exquisite execution, was all for nought. A month later, the same team of crooks were caught attempting a Neanderthal smash-and-grab after throwing a paving slab through Webley’s window. For this, and several other crimes, they went to jail for five years. Although Mr Sykes’s briefcase and jewellery were never recovered, justice was finally served and I learned a valuable lesson — all that glitters is not gold!