The sign over the door said "The Lucky Dog". The golden light from the inside illuminated swirls of snow outside the windows as Lady Penelope's butler-cum-chauffeur pushed open the heavy door. Parker unwrapped his muffler as he entered the warmth of the brightly-lit pub. He peered around in the smoky room, looking for the friends who he always met with on Friday evenings. A smile crossed his face as he saw old Light-fingered Freddy challenging some newcomer to a game of draughts.
That bloke's in for some bad luck, Parker thought as he made his way across the room. Freddy's too good with them draughts by half.
" 'Ey! Nosey! h'Over 'ere!"
Parker made his way to the corner where his friend and fellow chauffeur, Stephens, had pulled together two tables. On the long bench to the right of Stephens was young Lovegrove, a banker who lived in the area and had been amazed by Parker's talents with a hairpin. The man who stood in front of his chair and called was Michaels, chauffeur to Deborah, the Duchess of Royston. Sitting on Stephens's left was a nervous young man in his 20s, looking around the pub with wide eyes and sipping at a scotch on the rocks. Parker swept him up and down with his gaze as he greeted his old friends.
New bloke's a mechanic of some kind. I can see the grease under his fingernails. Wonder who he works for?
“Anyone need topping up?” queried Parker .There was a chorus of ‘no’s and shaken heads. Parker headed for the bar to buy his drink. Bertha, the barmaid, reached over, and gave Parker a friendly little punch to the shoulder.
"Well, if it ain't ole Nosey! Gud t'see ye agin, 'andsome! Wot'll it be ternight?"
Parker smiled broadly. "Heh, heh. Gud t'see ye agin, too, Bertha, me sweet. Jes' th' h'usual fer me, thank ye kindly."
"One pint of the best comin' roight up," Bertha said with a wink. She turned and shouted to the barman. "Oy! Moe! A pint of Old Speckled fer ole Nosey!" The landlord gazed at her with intense concentration for a moment, then his face cleared and he nodded. Bertha brought the pint along for Parker, who raised it to his lips and drank about half of it in one go.
"Haaaah!" he sighed, wiping his lips with the back of his hand. "Best pint this side o' Lunnon, h'I h'always say." He pulled out some cash to pay for the pint, then grabbed Bertha's hand and kissed it gallantly. She slapped his in return.
"Oh, g'wan wi' ye naow," she said coyly, pleased by the attention. Parker grinned and watched her swaying hips as she came out from behind the bar to collect up the glasses and tankards left behind. He took his drink with him and sat in the chair next to Michaels. Freddy had just finished his round of draughts. His opponent had a dark look on his face, and money was changing hands, much to Freddy's advantage. He sauntered on down to the far corner and as he passed Bertha, the barmaid gave out a little "Eek!" and rounded on the draughts player.
"Ye keep them fingers t'yerself, Fred, or ye'll 'ave naught more t'be light-fingered with!" she said, glowering.
Freddy just grinned at her and carried on his way. He took a chair from an empty table, set it on the end of the joined tables, turned it around, and sat in it, ending up between Parker and the newcomer, and as far away from Lovegrove as he could get. They were not a good combination, Freddy and Lovegrove. Not with Lovegrove being an employee of the Bank of England, and Freddy being a man whose one goal in life was to knock said bank off. But Stephens was in reach should they come to blows and Parker knew how to handle Freddy.
"So, 'oo's th' new bloke?" Parker asked. " 'Oo's 'e a grease-monkey fer?"
"Well, I say, old chap! How did you know he was a grease-monkey?" Stephens asked in his almost-cultivated voice.
"Lucky guess," Parker said simply, shrugging. He took another long drink of his pint.
"Lucky indeed, for you are quite correct. Burns here is the new mechanic for Lord Worden. Burns, this is Aloysius 'Nosey" Parker, chauffeur and butler to Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward."
"Pleased to meet you," Burns said, offering his hand.
"Loikwoise." Parker shook it, took another drink, then addressed the newcomer. "So, Burns, 'ow d'ye loik workin' fer th' toffs?"
"It's okay," said the young man hesitantly. "I'm luckier than most, I suppose. At least I've got three squares and a roof over my head. Plus a bit of money of my own when the week's done." He looked around at the varied group. "How did you blokes meet up anyway?"
"Oh, Nosey an' me, we go way back. We wos in stir tergether," Freddy said, tossing a peanut up in the air and catching it in his open mouth. He crunched it for a minute, took a drag on his cigarette, and continued. "Ye'd nowt believe it t'look at 'im, but Nosey 'ere wos th' best safecracker an' second-storey man in all o' England. Until 'er ladyship gots 'old of 'im and turned 'im respectable."
"You would not believe what this man can do to a safe with just a hairpin!" Lovegrove gushed, sipping at his cocktail. "Even the most modern safes can't stand up to Nosey Parker!"
"If you were a safecracker, what are you doing as a chauffeur and butler now? It must be terribly boring," Burns commented, a hint of sarcasm in his voice. "Not to mention a whole lot less... lucrative."
"Oi dunno thet Oi'd call h'it boring." Parker said thoughtfully. "Oi'm lucky t' 'ave a good h'em-ploy-her in 'er ladyship." Boring? If I could only tell this cheeky monkey what I really do! How I work for International Rescue by helping out its top agent... well, that'd be a kick in his pants, now wouldn't it?
Parker's mind went back to the day that Lady Penelope had "recruited" him. He had been rifling the safe of an American mogul of some kind when he heard a delicate cough behind him. He turned, ready with his cosh, because at that time, he didn't believe in using guns. Much to his surprise there was this little blonde wisp of a skirt sitting in a chair, pointing a gun at him.
In a soft voice she said, "You can put the contents of that safe back, Mr. Parker. They are forgeries." She paused, gazing at him with a critical eye. "I've been watching you for quite some time."
"Really? 'Ave ye naow? Well, h'ain't Oi th' lucky bloke," he said with more bravado than he felt. This young woman might look delicate and helpless, but something told him she was harder than steel underneath the surface. The muzzle of the gun never wavered, not even a fraction of an inch.
"Yes, you are most fortunate. I find myself in need of a partner, someone who can get me in and out of places without anyone being the wiser. Someone who doesn't flinch at danger, who enjoys the thrill of hunt. And someone who can drive and maintain a Rolls Royce as well as serve tea and basically take on the tasks of a butler and chauffeur. I know you trained as a butler before you fell in with the crowd that turned you to a life of crime. I'm offering you a job, Mr. Parker. One that I doubt you'll ever find dull or boring."
He had crossed his arms over his chest, trying to look imposing. "An' wot h'if Oi say, 'no'?"
Her smile had become that of a pleased cat. "Then, Mr. Parker, I shall scream. And you will go back to prison."
He remembered his eyes widening at this blatant attempt at blackmail. He had studied the woman before him, and decided to take a chance.
"Wot's yer name, Miss?"
"I am Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward."
He had sighed and then put away his cosh and held out his hand. "Well, m'lady. H'It looks loik ye've got yerself a new butler and showfer."
Lady Penelope had returned the smile, but never lowered her gun as she took his hand and shook it. "Excellent, Mr. Parker. Now let us leave this place before we're unlucky enough to get caught."
Parker's reminiscing was cut short by an ungentle nudge to the ribs from Michaels.
" 'Ey, Nosey! Th' lad's askin' ye a question."
"Oh, sorry. Wot wos h'it yew wanted t'know?" He took another swallow of his ale.
"What do you drive?" Burns asked. "I'm very keen on learning the cars of the estates around ours. I like to compare various makes and models."
"Oh. Oi drive 'er ladyship's Rolls," Parker said proudly.
"Wait! Is that the custom pink one? With the bubble top?"
"Yus, h'it h'is."
Burns began to laugh and laugh. "You drive that pink monstrosity? Oh, I feel for you! I truly do!"
Parker glowered at the young man, his dislike for him growing by the second. "My h'employer loiks th' color pink. Wot's wrong wiv thet? Oi consider meself lucky t' drive sech a posh h'aw-toe-moe-boile." He drained his tankard and made a motion to Bertha for another one. She nodded and nudged Moe, who jumped then drew the pint. Parker got up to pay for it.
"Anythin' h'else, gents?" Parker asked, calling over to the group. "Oi'm buyin' h'a round."
Stephens indicated no. Michaels motioned that, yes, he wanted another beer. Lovegrove asked for another cocktail, Burns wanted another Scotch, and Freddy blew a smoke ring then said, "Give me wot yer 'avin', Nosey."
Bertha hooked a thumb at Burns, who was still chuckling and wiping his eyes. "Wot's 'e laughin' abaout?"
"Milady's Rolls," Parker said gravely.
Bertha's eyes widened in her plump cheeks. "Well, then! 'E must be pished, laughin' a' that lovely car." She raised her voice to speak to Burns. "No more fer ye, me lad." She whisked his drink off the tray and dumped it. Parker made his way back to the corner, balancing the tray just as if he were carrying milady's tea service.
"Hey!" Burns shouted, affronted. He looked at his companions. "Why'd she do that?"
"Because most people around here have the utmost respect for Parker's employer," Lovegrove explained coolly. "And that includes her Rolls Royce."
"Come along, Burns. It's time we were going," Stephens said. He nudged the younger man as he slid across the bench.
"Why? The night's still young!" Burns protested.
"Yes it is, but I am not. Let's go," Stephens said firmly. He hauled Burns away from the tables and then handed him his coat.
While donning his own wrap, Stephens spoke softly to Parker.
"Sorry about that, old chap. He won't bother us again. Keep my seat warm. I'll be back as soon as I'm sure this young ass is safely home."
"Roight," Parker replied just as quietly. He sat back down and said, "Well, Stephens, see ye roun' sometoime. Pleasure meetin' ye, Burns."
The other men made farewell noises at the young mechanic as he turned to give a half-hearted wave. Stephens took Burns firmly by the arm and they left the pub together.
"Well, naow thet's over, anybody fancy a game o' draughts?" Freddy asked cheerfully. "Won't be long 'fore me ball an' chain comes lookin' fer me."
Lovegrove and Michaels shook their heads, but Parker rose, a challenging gleam in his eye.
"Oi fink Oi'll take ye up h'on thet h'offer, Fred. Oi'm feelin' lucky ternight."