“I’m sorry sir, there’s nothing I can do. Might I suggest you try
“Where? There isn’t anywhere else. If you’re telling me you can’t
help me then it’s a lost cause!”
The bespectacled man behind the polished wooden desk looked
helplessly at his visitor and raised his hands. “I’m not saying I
wouldn’t like to help you, I just can’t. I’m so very sorry sir.
Walking down the curved staircase Peter looked up at the ornate
skylight above. It was raining and he pulled up his collar as he pushed
his way through the brass framed revolving door which led out onto the
“50 years? 50 years! Why?” he kept repeating to himself as he rode
the no.23 bus past the cinema where a large queue of people were waiting
for the next showing of ‘Iron Man’.
“Ha! I’ve got real heroes to catch.”
Twenty minutes later the bus arrived in Burnham. “Burnham Terminus,
last stop Ladies and Gents.”
He gave the conductor a smile as he stepped off the back of the bus
and wondered if he could help.
“I don’t suppose you know anything about Billy the Cat do you?”
The conductor laughed out loud and pointed across the road. “Ask in
the pub, there’s always someone trying to find them here. Kids stories
mate, all blown up out of gossip and old wives tales!”
He rang the bell. “Kids stories mate!” he called as the bus reversed
into the depot.
Peter walked over to the Red Lion and after a couple of pints and a
ploughmans lunch he took out a small notebook and started scribbling
furiously. He hadn’t realised just how much this had fired him up. They
couldn’t have just disappeared into thin air.
The barmaid looked over, interested in what her latest customer was
doing. He wasn’t a local and she’d noticed him looking around the bar at
“Work is it?” Her eager expression and tone made him look up?
She probed a little further, not being put off by his lazy reply.
“Work! Is it work you’re doing there?”
Looking upwards he saw her smiling at him over the empty pint glass
and crockery between them. Leaning over to get a better look she took
the empty plate. “Fancy another pint on me? You look as though you could
do with it.”
Her red lipstick smile made him stop writing and he nodded and smiled
back. “Ta, bitter please Miss…?”
“Barbara. Barbara Grange. And you are?” She was used to prompting
“Oh, erm, Peter. Peter Sutton, nice to meet you. Yes it’s work, I’m a
reporter for a London newspaper and I’m looking for….”
“Don’t tell me” Barbara’s expression said it all. “Billy the Cat?”
She laughed as she pulled the pint of bitter from the handpump. “You’ll
be number a hundred and something then!”
“More like 1001!” An elderly man with a walking stick dropped his
large frame onto a stool. “Guinness please Babs. Yes you’ll be more like
the one thousandth and one person to come in here in the last twenty
years and ask where they can find Billy and Katie.”
“Well I wouldn’t know Bill, not being as old as you. £2.50 please.”
Peter put his hand into his pocket to offer to pay for the drink.
Maybe the old fella could help him and buttering him up with a free
drink might start the ball rolling.
“No son, you don’t have to buy me a drink to ask me questions, come
over into the lounge and we’ll have a good chinwag.”
And then it started, just a few minutes after Bill had begun to spin
a yarn about how Billy and Katie had foiled a mail van robbery right
outside that very pub there came a steady stream of villagers, mostly
pensioners proffering stories and tales, arguing with each other over
the facts of the Burnham and Southtown bullion heist, the kidnap of the
local MP’s daughter and of course the story of the attempted theft of
the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London.
Peter had to try hard to keep up but what with the constant barrage
of facts, stories and theories combined with the amount of beer and
whisky that was placed before him he eventually had to say his farewells
and get some fresh air.
As he staggered towards the door there was Barbara again. “I’ve got
tomorrow off if you fancy taking me to the pictures. There’s a film on
“Superheroes, yes I know.”
Peter looked at her. Even in his quite inebriated state he could tell
she was keen on him and he found himself mumbling something about 2
o’clock. She took a pen from her hair tied back behind her ears and
wrote ‘2PM BABS CINEMA’ on his hand before kissing him lightly on the
cheek and she was gone in a flash of apron and perfume.
Peter gathered himself together, set off into the street and
staggered away to find a room for the night.
Barbara said goodnight to everyone as they left at closing time,
polishing the glasses and arranging them all neatly for the next day.
“G’night Bill, say hi to Auntie for me. See you at the weekend.”
As she locked the door she smiled to herself. She’d be seeing this
Peter fellow tomorrow. He seemed very nice and had got on well with
everyone and had listened to their stories all night. Of course, she’d
heard them all before, so many times, ever since she was a little
Over breakfast Peter waded through the piles of paper that once was
two or three reporters notepads, trying hard to decipher the handwriting
that had steadily got worse to the point of childish scribble, when his
eyes fell upon a single word that didn’t make sense at all.
Looking down at his hand he saw the message from Babs which brought a
smile to his face.
“Would you like any more sausages?”
His landlady was smiling as she spoke. She appeared to be dressed
quite glamorously for 9am, a bit too much for his liking, especially
with his hangover pounding away inside his head like a drummer.
Her tight silk blouse shimmered and the buttons on it groaned and
heaved as she poured the tea into his cup. “Anything else you fancy,
anything at all Mr Sutton.”
Her high heeled shoes clicked across the tiled floor and Peter’s gaze
was drawn to the seams on her stockings. “Blimey, is it me or is she
trying it on?”
Mrs Bassett returned with a plate of sizzling pork sausages, too many
for one person.
“Mind if I join you, as there’s only us here today?”
Peter smiled an embarrassed smile. “No, not at all” he replied
stabbing at the sausages as Mrs Bassett ran a stockinged foot up his leg
under the table.
“Call me Francis” she cooed.
It was a struggle to get away without being rude or discourteous but
a hastily concocted story about an important appointment did the trick.
He wasn’t averse to female attention but his head was still pounding
from the night before. He thought back to the other day and his
fruitless journey to the National Archives at Kew. His visit was
prompted by a chance meeting with a retired police inspector who many
years ago was a constable on the beat near the Tower of London when a
gang of robbers tried and failed to steal the Crown Jewels. Along with
many others he’d heard the alarm and gunshots coming from the Tower and
ran to assist the Beefeaters or Yeoman Warders as they were officially
known. When all the excitement had died down there was the small matter
of taking statements from everyone who’d been at the Tower; staff,
visitors, there were hundreds and PC47 Gordon Penny as he was then,
spent hours writing down everyone’s accounts of what had happened and
most importantly of all, the capture of the robbers and the saving of
the Crown Jewels by none other than Billy the Cat and Katie. The amazing
duo had quite literally appeared from nowhere and disappeared just as
mysteriously, but so many people had witnessed what had happened it was
inevitable that the newspapers and television people would be
interested. So much so that Billy and Katie became the biggest story in
Television news was full of stories, newspaper front pages were
splashed with headlines and after several weeks it was revealed that the
Queen herself had wanted to award special gallantry medals to Billy and
Katie but nobody, no one at all knew who they were.
After several months a special announcement came from Buckingham
Palace that Billy and Katie had come forward to accept their medals and
also a substantial reward but their identities were to remain a secret ,
known only to the Queen’s equerry and to Her Majesty herself. And so it
was that Gordon, now retired ex-inspector Penny of Scotland Yard had
read an article by Peter in his newspaper column and had contacted him
about his efforts to discover the true identities of those heroes and
had offered to help.
So when Peter drew a blank, a literal dead-end at Kew the home of the
National Archives, he’d thought of throwing in the towel and forgetting
about it. The whole thing was shrouded in secrecy and the files which
may have provided a lead to any real names had been officially sealed
for fifty years. Just how much longer could he go on with this, except
Gordon had told him that the first sightings of Billy the Cat was in a
small town outside of London called Burnham.
And so that’s where he’d ended up and he was now on a bus going to
meet a nice girl named Barbara Grange. As he paid for the tickets
Barbara took his hand. It seemed as though she’d developed quite a crush
on Peter, he appeared to her as quiet, well mannered and intelligent,
well you had to be quite clever to be a reporter she supposed.
All through the film she kept holding his hand and at one time she
jumped, as did a lot of others at a particular bit but Peter didn’t
flinch once, in fact he didn’t seem to be watching the film at all.
In the Neapolitan Café after the film Peter stirred his coffee
constantly, absentmindedly putting six sugars in his cup. “Didn’t you
like the film?” Barbara could see he wasn’t really thinking about their
being out together at all and was obviously preoccupied with something
“I said, didn’t you like the film?”
Peter stopped stirring his coffee and started tapping the spoon on
the table. “I just don’t understand it!” he moaned in a tired and weary
tone. “Well, this arms dealer fella gets captured but he’s actually the
good guy and then…” Peter’s face changed quickly from boredom to a look
of exasperation and he sighed. “I don’t mean the film, I mean why
doesn’t anybody know what happened to Billy the Cat?”
Barbara turned on Peter angrily. “You mean all this time you’ve been
with me you’ve been thinking about stupid Billy the Cat. Nobody knows
what happened to him or bloody Katie for that matter.”
Her face was red and her eyes filled with tears. “They can go to hell
as far as I’m concerned and so can you Peter Sutton!” and she left the
café in three seconds flat.
“Bugger it!” thought Peter as he sipped his now cold cup of coffee
and instantly spat it back into the cup. “Too much sugar!”
Barbara didn’t feel much like going home and so she walked over to
see her grandfather and great-aunt who lived on the edge of Burnham.
They were always pleased to see Barbara and never turned down the
opportunity to spend time with the oldest grandchild of the family.
Barbara was just twenty and had ‘a good head on her shoulders’ as they
used to say, meaning she was the sensible and kind type.
As they sat at the kitchen table great aunt Kathleen made some tea
and cut a few slices of homemade fruit cake. “So are you sweet on this
young man then?”
Grandad William raised an eyebrow towards his favourite grandchild.
“He’s nice and polite, oh and he’s handsome and has a good job but he
doesn’t seem as though he’s interested in me, he just keeps thinking
“Come now, you barely know him.” Aunt Kathleen tried to comfort her
as she laid down the cake slices in the middle of a doily covered plate.
“What does he do that makes him too busy to look at a pretty girl like
As Barbara explained about why Peter had come to Burnham, why he was
so preoccupied that he wasn’t being attentive to her and just what was
always on his mind, a plan was forming simultaneously in both grandad
William and great aunt Kathleen’s minds. Later that evening after
Barbara had gone home there were strange conversations over a certain
kitchen table in Burnham. “Did you make a note of the address where he’s
“Well then I think it’s about time, don’t you?”
“Yes I think so too.”
When Peter came down to breakfast the following morning there was an
envelope on the table between the sugar bowl and the marmalade dish.
Mrs Bassett wiggled her way between the delicately laid tables, now with
a few more guests seated at them. It arrived with this mornings post,
no stamp so someone must have brought it personally. The way Mrs Bassett
said ‘personally’ made it sound as though it was oozing from between her
lips smothered in honey. Pulling the envelope from its resting place he
examined it carefully. Mrs Bassett was right, no stamp just Peter’s name
and the address of the bed and breakfast where he was staying. The
letter inside was brief and typed…
PETER. IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT BILLY AND KATIE FOLLOW THE
TRAIL OF THE BOND ST ROBBERS, IN PARTICULAR THE EVENTS IN WHITEHALL.
“A lead, a real honest to goodness lead!” Peter was so excited he even
gave Mrs Bassett a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll be staying for another week
if that’s ok Mrs Bassett, I mean ‘Francis’”
Mrs Bassett blushed and so did Peter later on when he realised what
he’d done. Anyway there was no time to lose, he needed to contact
ex-inspector Penny and see if he could remember anything about the
Whitehall connection to the Bond St robbery. As it happened Gordon Penny
wasn’t hard to find and later that day they discussed the unfortunate
events of Whitehall over a pint.
Barbara’s face lit up when she saw Peter coming through the door of
the Red Lion but it quickly dropped when she saw him in the company of
the ex-policeman. No chance of a romantic chat if Peter was working,
she’d worked that one out already.
“Yes, terrible business it was, poor kid, couldn’t have been more than
about fifteen years old. To lose a parent at such a young age is bad
enough but to lose both in a bloody car accident caused by crooks on the
run, well there’s no telling what that does to a kid’s mind is there? We
caught them in the end, they were the lot who tried to steal the Crown
Jewels a few months later. Bad business, bad business the lot of it!
Still, they’ll probably all be dead by now seeing as it was so long ago.
“Yes, yes” Peter pushed on “But what happened to the kid, you know,
the one whose parents were killed?”
“Dunno, I suppose he went to live with relatives or some such .
Gordon picked up the two glasses and walked over to the bar where
Barbara questioned him.
“Is he still looking for Billy the Cat?” She started pulling the
second pint and almost dropped it when Gordon told her what they’d been
“That’s taken a back seat Miss, he’s now looking for a kid whose
parents were killed in a police chase in London over fifty years ago.
That’s way back when I’d just started with the police. Bad business, the
lot of it!” Barbara looked over at Peter. “£4.80 please” Her mind was
elsewhere as she took the money. What would Peter want with her grandad?
She knew all about how his parents had died so it had to be him. She’d
go and see him after work and let him know just what was going on
between Peter and this policeman. To Barbara’s amazement both grandad
William and great aunt Kathleen didn’t seem surprised at all.
“Oh it’s about time anyway” they both agreed but Barbara was still
mystified. “You can only keep a secret for so long and it’s time we told
your young man all about it. Perhaps you’d like to be the one to tell
him, after all you are rather sweet on him aren’t you?”
As the moonlight cast strange shadows from the trees onto the
footpath leading home Barbara’s footsteps echoed around. It seemed the
only sound in the world at that moment. In the morning she’d go over to
Mrs Bassett’s guest house and see Peter. Just how she was going to
explain it she really didn’t know but she’d try. The invitation to tea
from her elderly relatives to Peter for tomorrow evening would be a
start but she wasn’t at all prepared to explain why.
“Just tell him that we’d like to talk to him about ‘Whitehall’ and I
know he’ll come. Everyone will know eventually but we’d like to give
this young man his story first-hand you know, personally so he can get
it all written down. You’re not to tell anyone else, no one Barbara,
As Barbara sat across from Peter the look of disbelief and shock on his
face suddenly changed to a huge smile.
“And you say their names are William and Kathleen?”
She nodded. “You spoke to him in the pub the day you got here,
Peter’s brain was racing as was his pulse. “You mean the old fella
Bill? Him with the walking stick and the Guinness? You’re joking?”
As Barbara had the day off she and Peter spent most of it together,
walking, talking, holding hands and eventually kissing under a willow
tree in Burnham Park, right between the old pavilion and the pond where
children were splashing and playing.
At five o’clock they said their goodbyes and promised to meet the
following lunchtime at the Neapolitan Café where they’d both realised
that they had feelings for each other, even though that particular
evening didn’t go as well as either of them would have wished.
Peter checked his pockets; pen, notepad, another pen, another notepad.
His gaze was fixed straight ahead. The small thatched cottage on the
outskirts of Burnham was a welcoming sight. Roses in the garden, a small
white picket fence and gate and a warm glow from the windows where a
real log fire illuminated the insides. From within he could hear the
sounds of excited children.
He knocked once, twice. Soft footsteps approached and the door
“You must be Peter, come in, come inside.”
“Thank you Mrs….?”
The slim brown haired lady closed the door and led him by the arm
into the sitting room where four young children sat on the floor
listening to a bedtime story.
“You can call me Katie, and this is…………..”