Susan Boulton Interviews Taffy Holbrook from Hand of Glory

perf6.000x9.000.indd“And all that awake now be as the dead, for the dead man’s sake . . .”

In Passchendaele near the end of the Great War, Captain Giles Hardy is trapped on barbed wire, wounded in mind and body, convinced he should be dead. But Giles’s true battle begins after he’s rescued and sent home. In the small town of Stafford, he struggles with terrifying visions of the atrocities he’s witnessed—and a recruit he served with.

The visions lead Giles to a man who exploits the grief of the bereaved with the help of a Hand of Glory, a mythical tool of thieves. A new friend, Agnes Reed, and the ghost of an old one, Corporal George Adams, aid Hardy in his investigation. Now he must catch the thief, destroy the hand, and lay to rest the men who will otherwise never leave the fields of Flanders.

As with many stories, sometimes a secondary character develops into a lot more than just a walk on part, such is Taffy Holbrook. He is a retired cat burglar, turned pawn shop owner. Think Gary Grant in, “To catch a thief”, and David Niven in the, “Pink Panther,” though more old fashioned working class. Taffy was the best of the best, but also a thief with his own moral code, with a large dash of, Robin Hood in his approach. He was, and still is patriotic. He volunteered to fight in the, war to end all wars. He has no regrets for doing his bit. His anger is reserved for the, “Hun”, who in his eyes did not play fair. His lungs badly damaged in a gas attack, no longer able to peruse his career as the skilled thief, Taffy turns legitimate and starts a pawn brokers shop. He still has ties to the local criminal underworld, acting as a fence.

SB: Could you tell us, where and when you were born, and perhaps a little bit about your childhood?

TH: Well, I was born in early June, 1882. Aunt Alice never told me the exact date, so when I signed up for the army in September 1914, I plumed for the 7th.

SB: So you were brought up by a family member? What of your parents?

TH: Aunt Alice was my Mam’s elder sister. My Mam died when I was born. She was in service in the smoke. That is London. Don’t know who my Da was, not that it mattered. I thought, he never was bothered about me, so why should I be bothered with him. Aunt Alice never held it against me, being born out of wedlock that is.

SB: But that must have caused trouble for you as a child, society’s attitude being what it is.

TH: ‘Cause it did. But I held me own, with the other kids. Smart I was; light and fast on my feet.

SB: Where did you and Aunt Alice live? You haven’t said.

TH: Aberystwyth. She had a guest house, just off the north promenade. About a 100 yards down from the pier. Even now, if I get a whiff of sea air, it takes me back.

SB: That must have been interesting for a child, all the coming and going.

TH: I suppose it was. Aunt Alice didn’t run your normal kind of establishment. I mean, it wasn’t for your working class families on their annual jaunt to the seaside. It was for gentleman guests only. Men with a bit of money. Gents in the business that wanted to, “retire”, to the seaside for a few days, so to speak. It had twelve rooms, large ones, and they didn’t share a bathroom per floor. Each had their own. All tiled, with copper piping and huge white roll topped baths. Aunt Alice had two full time maids working for her.

SB: “In the business?”

TH: Let’s say the law was taking to close an interest in their business, if you get the idea.

SB: I see.

SB: And did you help at your Aunt’s establishment?

TH: Course I did. Was shining shoes as soon as I was big enough to hold the brush. I helped empty the ashes from the fires in the rooms, and ran errands for the guests.

SB: That’s a lot for a small boy to do.

TH: A lot of lads did more, and not on a full belly, and beaten into the bargain. Not to say that Aunt Alice wasn’t a bit of martinet at times. Truth be told her bark was worse than her bite. She only really laid down the law with me about me school attendance. She was as soft as custard about everything else. Even the maids knew that she never meant half of what she said.

SB: So you used to do a, Welsh flit, when it came to school.

TH: I tried, but Aunt Alice would clip me round the ear, and say, “the more you know about the world the more you will get out of it.” She was right. Getting an education stood me in good stead in my later professions

SB: Professions? You haven’t always been a pawn broker?

TH: I had another one before the war, dealing with similar items so to speak.

SB: Yes I was told that you did not always abide by the laws of the land before 1914.

TH: Now who told you that? Stumpy Parker I bet, Sorry, I mean Inspector Parker. But I was ever arrested, never charged, no proof of anything untoward has been placed at my doorstep. All conjecture.

SB: But you did and still do have connections with the criminal underworld. Inspector Parker mentioned something about the recent spate of burglaries.

TH: Did he now? Well, well. And if I had been connected to those, burglaries, I would have never taken anything from anybody that couldn’t afford to lose it. I would have never have damaged anything. And would have never, ever, hurt anyone. I would have been professional, smart and bloody good at it. In and out without so much as a curtain ruffled.

SB: So if you had been a burglar, perhaps that is the reason for the first name you use. I am sure you were not christened Taffy?

TH: You know the old rhyme then?

SB: Taffy was a Welshman,

TH: Taffy was a Thief;

SB: Taffy came to my house

TH: …and stole a leg of Beef. Not that I ever, if I had of been a thief, stole bits of cow.

SB: You also served during the Great War.

TH: You sound surprised at that?

SB: Well…

TH: Don’t regret doing my bit. Only bloody Fritz didn’t play fair. Damn gas. Did for my lungs. Damn machine guns. Evil things. A lot of good lads didn’t make it back.

SB: But you did. Moved to Stafford and opened a pawn shop.

TH: Man has to make a living and I knows the value of things. Besides, got family here.

SB: You also have of late have been helping the police with their enquiries, regarding he burglaries I mentioned earlier, as well as the rather gruesome set of murders, back in November, which even made the national press.

TH: Not in the way you mean. I helped them solve the case. Without me they would have been floundering right and proper. Took a damn big risk as well doing so. Nearly got topped by that black-hearted bugger.

SB: But everything is alright now. Justice has been served.

TH: Aye, you play with the devil, you get burned.

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