‘I remember my first girl all right.’
‘Who was she?’
‘Annie who?’
‘I dunno, Princess. We all just called ’er Annie the Bang at the orphanage. She was the caretaker’s daughter, and ’is name was Old Creep.’
‘How old were you?’
‘Fourteen. It was just before I ran away. She was sixteen. Dumb as a post, but willing. It wasn’t all that romantic. She was the only female around, and the big kids ’ad ’er under contract. You could buy ’alf an hour in the boiler room with Annie for a packet of snout or ’alf a dollar. They gave Annie twenty per cent, but in chocolate. Pretty fat, she was.’ He looked rueful. ‘I was all steamed up to get at Annie and find out what it was all about, but there was nobody to send me parcels and things, so I was always skint.’
‘Don’t tell me you by-passed her agents?’
‘Not exactly. There was this big kid, the boss man. Dicer, we used to call ’im. A right villain, ’e was, but a sucker for a gamble. So I took ’im on at conkers, and rigged the game. Won fifteen minutes with Annie.’
(The Impossible Virgin, chapter 3. The mention of conkers inspires the plan to steal Brunel’s safe.)