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October 1968

He was playing a happy camper when the blackmailer reappeared. It was early morning in a field in Buckinghamshire, the air cold and crisp, the mud painted green in a mockery of summer. The distant croak of ravens sounded as forlorn as he felt.

A collective sigh of relief as the take ended: no one fluffed, no one corpsed, Sid’s lascivious cackle perfectly on cue. Now a mass lighting of cigarettes, overcoats hustled on, hot tea and bacon sarnies eagerly awaited. Braying laughter from Kenny at his own filthy anecdote.

There was the usual small crowd, die-hards from the nearest village clutching autograph books, stamping feet and blowing steam like horses waiting for the off. As Eddie peeled away from the other actors they raised a small cheer. He acknowledged them with a wave, but his shoulders were set towards the man in the shabby brown raincoat: Leslie Jones, dogsbody and extortionist.

“What are you doing here?”

“Saw your Roller coming in. Latest model, isn’t it?”

A couple of teenagers were suddenly next to them, nudging each other. Eddie wanted to tell them to fuck off, but he took their books, scribbled his name and turned away. He advanced on Leslie, who retreated a couple of steps.

“You got what you wanted.”

“Set my sights too low, I reckon.”

The first time Eddie had paid up - only a hundred quid - and told himself he’d got off lightly. He should have known better.

“What d’you think the papers would make of it, eh?” Leslie said. “The booze and drugs and those young girls. And the ceremony? That was your idea, wasn’t it?”

Eddie must have flinched, for Leslie was grinning with feral delight. “With you doing so well right now, I thought we’d make it a thousand.”

“You’re joking.”

“I leave that to you, Eddie.”

“And this is it? No more.”

“You’ll have my word, won’t you?” But the eyes were taunting: believe that and you’ll believe anything.

Eddie stayed quiet over breakfast, keeping out of the fray. Sid and Kenny were winding each other up as usual. After this he had a couple of days free, thank God, and Mary was coming up. He’d suggested leaving the baby with her mother but she wouldn’t hear of it.

After brooding for a couple of hours he made a phone call from the office. “Bookie,” he told the production assistant who kindly made herself scarce. He really had thought about calling his bookie, perhaps try to win his way out of trouble, but he knew it never worked.

If he paid up, the bastard would be back for more. His face had said as much.

No. That wasn’t the answer.

One thing about a showbusiness career, you made friends with all sorts of interesting people. That’s what had got him into this mess; now it would have to get him out.

* * *

There were two of them, big men with unpleasant faces. Not the kind you’d want to meet in a dark alley, but it wasn’t an invitation Leslie could refuse.

After a warm-up with bare fists, they asked if he’d told anyone else or kept any proof. He said no. They went to work with a cosh and a knuckle-duster, concentrating on the ribs, the kidneys, the shoulders. Then they asked him again. Still no, so they smashed his left knee to a pulp. He was gone for a time, and when he came back he swore it was all in his head, safest place to keep anything.

The one in charge nodded. We believe you.

For a moment Leslie felt blessed relief. They could see him thanking the Lord it was over.

But it wasn’t over. They stuffed him into the boot of their Ford Zephyr, drove to a quiet bridge in Norbury and dropped him into the path of the 22:09 to Victoria.

Ted rang later that night: problem solved. At first Eddie was shocked, but then he asked himself, what else had he been expecting? These people didn’t mess around.

He could relax at last. His career was safe, his family were safe, and that’s what he really cared about. His understanding wife, his little baby son.

Nicky would never have to know.

Nobody would know what he’d done.