There were shouts of objections from the men. One voice in the crowd hollered, “If you were in Viet Nam, there’d be no Viet Nam!”
Laughs erupted as the Major stood and put his coat back on.
The lunch bill was sitting on the table. In the commotion Nigel saw the congratulations and honor all of these men were giving the Major. The tab was not at all on the Major’s mind.
Nigel dug deep into his pocket and pulled out 5 pounds. He handed the bill and the coins to the barkeep who was sitting behind him on the window ledge. It seemed a small bounty to pay for what he had just witnessed. He, now, realized the Major was treating him like a son. A son he, maybe, never had. *33
They busted through the pub doors into the fresh air. It was nearly 1:30 according to Big Ben. They walked down the street with an air of accomplishment as if they had just won the war again. Nigel fumbled in his near empty pocket to feel how many coins he had left, there was a slip of paper he did not recognize. He pulled it out. “Oh yes, his conscription registration. He had joined the army and went to war in all of ninety minutes.” He laughed to himself, still unsure why he had registered for service.
They arrived at the bank door right at two o’clock. The ominous Gypsy King was waiting in his unusual costume with cane and satchel outside on the street. Nigel noticed people noticed the King. He stood out.
They all strolled into the bank together. The Major took a place at the far end of the registry table and the King at the other end, as far apart as they could get, to fill out their deposit slips.
After a moment, the King coughed to get the Major’s attention. He produced a wrapped stack of twenty pound notes and slid it down the counter. It was the largest bundle of cash Nigel had ever seen. The Major grabbed the stack, unzipped his bag and in the money went.
They completed their deposit slips at the same time and entered the line, the King in front of the Major and Nigel. Two separate tellers at opposite ends of the counter became available simultaneously.
To be polite, Nigel stood behind the Major, pretending not to be curious at all. Bundles of bills came out of the bag. First, the King’s bundle, then perhaps ten or eleven more. The teller seemed a bit surprised. It was a lot of money. Next, came the bag of coins. The teller hoisted those and turned around dumping them into a mechanized coin counter. The sound of the machine roared and filled the bank with the clanking and counting of pound coins.
The Major leaned over the counter and said something to the clerk which was inaudible due to the machine’s noise which seemed to cause a conversational pause. The clerk walked away and went to a back desk where he had a small interaction with a manager. The manager looked up, gathered a couple of forms from the desk and, motioned for the Major to come around. The machine clanging subsided.
The Major took a long walk around the end of the bureau where the manager let him in after opening a velvet rope. Nigel stood and waited for several minutes as they worked and conversed filling out papers. Then a low baritone voice whispered in Nigel’s ear.
“What’s going on?” The Gypsy King surprised him, his overwhelming body shadowing Nigel. “I have no idea”. Nigel replied.
The Major motioned for Nigel to come over. He could not tell if the motion was directed at him or the Gypsy King. He felt a shove in the back.
“He means you”, came the Roman’s whisper.
Nigel, oblidged . The manager got up to let him behind the ropes. The man motioned and Nigel took the indicated seat next to the Major.
The banker looked and smiled, “I’ll need to see your identification.”
Nigel looked at the Major for help. It took him a second to catch on and he produced the conscription paper. “This do?’ Nigel asked. “Perfect,” came the reply.
Suddenly two papers were spun around and slid under Nigel’s nose.
“I’ll need you to sign here…and here.” He indicated spots on two forms. “You’re a young nineteen,” he said.
“And, this card is for you.” He handed Nigel a small card and his conscription paper. “I need to see you sign that before you leave.”
Nigel complied and signed the card. The manager wrote something in a ledger under a long row that looked like it might bemused for accounting.
“And, sign here.” He spun the ledger to Nigel and pointed to a square halfway down the page. Nigel signed in the designated box next to the word ‘relative’.
Apparently, his adoption was now truly complete as the banker snapped the ledger shut and said, “Thank you gentlemen. Have a great day.”
They all stood and exchanged handshakes as the business was complete. So, they parted ways, the banker escorting them back outside the ropes and into the public area.
The Gypsy King approached them. “What was that all about?”
The Major answered. “We’ll see you at the station.”
They stepped outside and headed in opposite directions.
As they walked on Nigel asked, “What now?”
“Hotel”. The Major answered.
They walked down the street to a narrow doorway which lead to a big round street with a pinnacle in the center. “This is Piccadilly. We’re staying here. The Major gestured toward a narrow, yellow-stone, building which simply had the word ‘HOTEL’ atop in a neon red light.
The lift was extremely small. It was half the size of the stalls in the freak show. It chunked and rattled as it crawled up two stories.
The Major handed Nigel a key. “You have 210.”
They walked down the hall and stopped at door 210. Nigel inserted the heavy brass key, he opened the door into what looked like a closet.
“Where are you?” Nigel asked.
The Major replied, “Down here”. He continued down the hall, his satchel clearly had no weight in it any longer. “I’ll come get you in at six. I have an appointment.”
Nigel was not brave enough to ask any further. He retired into his chamber which in fact seemed an actual chamber due to its size. The entry was three feet wide and opened into a room with a double bed touching both walls. He’d have to crawl onto the bed to get in. But, first, he stared out the window into an alley watching the action of people at the end of the street.
After an hour of gazing, Nigel felt he was going stir crazy. He couldn’t take it. He dug through all of his pockets, then his bag and came up with seven pound coins. The remainder of his first month’s pay, less fees delivered to Dr. Baas. He flashed on his frustration with that whole program. “Twenty pounds a week to have a monkey throw carrots at him. What a joke?” He thought.
He brushed aside his frustration and considered walking back to the pub. That bitter had made his head spin. It was a great sensation which made him think of his mother and her love for gin. He forgave her, a little. It certainly made life seem lighter and slowed his thoughts.
As he stepped into the street, all he could see was chaos and noise. Piccadilly’s large circular drive saw cabs, busses and cars slipping around honking and screeching. There was a record store with large posters of the top bands… Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones and Simon & Garfunkel …"Whatever that was?” He wondered.
There was a barbershop with a red, white, and blue pole twirling. Beyond it, he caught the eye of a man staring intently at him with recognition and a huge smile. The man looked at Nigel and smiled displaying emblazoned-gold, dental work. His grin pierced the sunlight with great familiarity as if he’d mistaken Nigel for a good friend.
The man stood in a doorway, dark skinned and with dark brown eyes.
“Eh there mate,” he pronounced, as he walked up. “You like pretty girls?”
It was shocking. Nigel had never seen a person who he assumed was East Indian speak with a proper Manchester accent. The man grabbed his arm.
“I said, you like pretty girls?”
He reply was awkward. “Well …yes?”
Just like that, Nigel found himself at the bottom of a very long staircase leading to a basement. He had no idea how the man had grabbed him and moved him down the stairs so fast. His feet fluttered all the way just to keep his balance. When they hit the bottom, he looked back upwards to the street surface. There must have been fifty stairs.
At the bottom, a door was cracked open about six inches. The man shoved him through.
33) Pay for a meal or a gift without thought to someone richer than you, not because they need it but because nobody expects them to. Most wealthy people always are forced to pick up the tab by expectation. You will stand out as credible by doing this and it is the right thing to do when appropriate and is not positioned as a bribe or competitive. If they decline, accept that.