Today, on our literary journey through the pages of my novels, we’re back in Liverpool outside the Royal Liver Building, one of the most recognisable buildings in the city and the setting for a meeting between local Triad leader, Albie Chan and nightclub owner, Alan Green, two of my favourite supporting characters from You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Back in the 1990s, I considered myself fortunate to receive the instruction to carry out an insurance inspection of the building, so I’ve had the privilege of poking around all the nooks and crannies of this historic building from the basement boiler room to the feet of the famous birds that perch on top of the two clock towers!
Completed in 1911, coincidentally the same date as the house we visited last time we were in the city, the building was constructed as the head office of Royal Liver Assurance. It was one of the first buildings in the world to be built of reinforced concrete, and its design has much in common with early American skyscrapers. Thirteen floors high, looking out over the river Mersey, it is an impressive part of the Liverpool skyline, especially when viewed from the opposite bank. Two huge clock towers rise from the building, where two mythical Liver Birds perch (liver rhyming with fiver), each bearing a branch of seaweed in its beak. Various legends attach to these 18ft high birds and one of these is mentioned by Alan Green in the excerpt below.
After hours, the car park on the river side is deserted and rather desolate; the ideal location for Messrs Chan and Green to meet to discuss a bit of business. Let’s join them now…
Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone
The late afternoon sunlight sparkled on the surface of the murky River Mersey. The fresh-smelling breeze, blowing from the estuary, almost masked the odour of the nearby tannery. Big Al and Joe were leaning on the polished burgundy paintwork of Big Al’s Jaguar XJ6. Big Al looked up at the clock on the Liver Building. It was almost half past six and Chan was late.
“What’s that chinky bastard up to, keeping me waiting like this? Our Pauline said she’s doing something special for our tea tonight. She’ll give me down the banks if I’m late home.” Big Al started to pace about.
Joe shrugged. “Dunno boss.” He looked around. “Eh up, this must be him,” said Joe pointing at the large black Mercedes rounding the corner of the Liver Building.
Big Al watched as the car cruised up to them. The driver got out. Big Al noticed he was limping. The driver opened the rear door and Albie Chan got out. He was immaculately dressed entirely in black, the only decoration being two tiny dragon heads facing each other on the mandarin collar of his shirt. Big Al was wearing a rather lived-in sports jacket and shapeless cords. Despite his wife’s protests, Alan Castle was a man who dressed for comfort rather than style.
Chan spoke first: “Mr Castle.”
“Albie, mate!” Chan flinched, unnoticed by Big Al, who continued, holding out his hand. “Call me Al, you know, like in the song?” Chan gazed at him blankly, ignoring the proffered hand. “Never mind.” Big Al clapped his hands together. “You know the story about Bella and Bertie? You know, the Liver Birds up on the towers there?” He pointed at the Liver Building behind them. Chan raised an eyebrow. “Well Bella’s the girl, looking out to sea for a sailor; and the other one, Bertie, he’s the fella, and he’s looking to see if the pubs are open yet, which they have been for the last thirty minutes.”
“Mr Castle, are you referring to the fact that I am a little late? I regret to say that I have had some unforeseen business to attend to. That business concerned the two individuals you spoke to me about last night, one of whom I had expected you to bring to me.”
Big Al frowned. Before he could say anything, Chan went on: “You telephoned me last night to say that my men had caused some disruption in your establishment. I explained the reason for the disturbance and you said you would handle it. After we spoke, I assumed that you would intervene and get hold of the man I was seeking straight away. You did not. Since you did not intervene, my men continued their pursuit. Later, there was an altercation involving the gentleman and his lady friend, which included Ju-long here,” Chan indicated his driver. “Unfortunately,” he went on, glaring at the hapless employee, “Ju-long and the two men with him were outmanoeuvred. Then this morning, when you still failed to deliver, I put out some feelers. Information led to Ju-long attempting to apprehend the target at The Adelphi Hotel, but I am disappointed to say that once again he failed.” Chan paused and gave Ju-long a sideways glace. “Ju-long knows precisely how disappointed I am.” Big Al looked at Ju-long, but his face remained impassive behind his dark glasses.
“So what happened?” asked Big Al.
“What has happened is irrelevant. What is important is that the man known as Pierre Bezukhov got away. I have unconcluded business with him, which I am anxious to complete. I thought I had explained this to you already. Clearly you did not understand the urgency of the matter. I need to apprehend him and I am reluctant to leave it in the hands of incompetents.”
There was a pause. Big Al said: “Well now, no worries, I’ll just get on the blower and ask whatshisname? New DJ…Joe?”
“Mark,” supplied Joe helpfully.
“Yeah, get on the blower to Mark. We’ll get hold of him, find the girl, and she in turn will lead us to your guy. Simple. You don’t need to have people running around town beating each other up. Although I’m surprised a big guy like him,” Big Al pointed at Ju-long, “couldn’t take on a couple of dancers.”
Joe detected a twitch on Ju-long’s otherwise inscrutable face.
“Bezukhov has displeased me and I want him found. I am inclined to leave it to you on this occasion since I have a temporary personnel problem.”
Big Al rubbed his hands together. “So this guy owes you money? What’s the deal? And more importantly, what’s my cut?”
“Let us see if you can come up with the goods first,” Chan said. “After all, it was your offer and at this stage you have failed to deliver.”
“Eh, I’m not just doing this outta the goodness of me heart.”
“Well you would not want anything untoward to happen to ‘The Pink Parrot’, would you? Even the stupidest of my men can torch a place.”
Big Al held his hands up: “Alright, alright, leave it with me.”
“Very good, Mr Castle, I will give you until the end of this week. Now run along, I wouldn’t want your supper to get cold.”
And finally, a little music to play us out. ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’ written by the late Gerry Marsden. This version, sung by Liverpool band, Frankie Goes to Hollywood was in the charts at about the time the novel is set. The accompanying video is more recent, but gives you a feel for the location.
As an aside, I once had to take the ferry across to Birkenhead in my slippers because I’d locked myself out of our student house popping down to the corner shop for some milk. My three housemates had all gone home for the holidays and that was were the landlord stayed. Happy days!
Image credits: smarttravelapp.com, explore-liverpool.com