The story so far: Joseph Makumbo attends a prayer meeting at church, during which one elderly lady murders another. The vicar, Father Rawlings, who has left Joseph to the rather disconcerting ministrations of his wife, discovers that a robbery has also taken place.
Meanwhile, in another part of town…
Monday 4th November 1985: 09.15 – 10.00
Ronnie Chafford shot up from his armchair as the door of the flat thundered open. ‘There were a body, Dad!’ his son, Darren, screeched as he careered into the sitting room. ‘A freakin’ body!’
‘Jesus, Dazza!’ Ronnie clutched at his chest as his heart threatened to make a getaway through it. ‘I thought you was the Old Bill! Frightened the ’ecking life out of me!’
‘Nah, it weren’t no Jesus, Dad! It were an ol’ biddy!’
Darren began an agitated pacing around the room, weaving tight little circles as he went. It looked like a complicated manoeuvre he might make to avoid being followed. Ronnie glanced anxiously at the door, expecting to see blue-clad figures lumbering through. Darren had never quite got the hang of shaking off shadowers; it was one of the two O-levels he’d failed, along with advanced safe-cracking.
‘Calm down, Son! What you goin’ on about!’
But Darren was chuntering to himself in that weird accent he’d picked up from five years at the Brumagen School for Aspiring Ne’er-do-wells (Dudley Campus). Ronnie couldn’t tell what he was saying; but then, since the boy had returned from up-north-parts, Ronnie had needed a translator to decipher his breakfast requests.
One of Darren’s circles brought him close, so Ronnie grabbed his arm and held on tight. ‘Dazza,’ he yelled, so close to his son’s ear he heard an echo come back from inside it, ‘will you calm down and tell me what the ’eckin’ flip you’re goin’ on about!’
The boy went rigid; his jaw dropped and his eyes turned inward to stare at each other through his nose.
Ronnie relaxed, confident he’d got his son’s attention. ‘Right; now we’ve got a bit of order, tell me what you’re talkin’ about.’
It was a relief to say something that didn’t end in an exclamation mark. He let go of Darren’s arm and flopped back into his chair.
Darren, trembling, slumped onto the sofa opposite. ‘That were loud, Dad,’ he complained.
‘Never mind that. What’s this about a body?’
Darren’s eyes, which had returned to more-or-less normal, closed briefly, and he shuddered. ‘I were on me way to Mr Singh’s, like you said…’
‘Uh huh.’ Ronnie had sent Darren to the newsagent’s to pinch a copy of Criminal’s Weekly. He suddenly noticed with annoyance that the boy’s hands were empty. There was an article on how to grow lockpicks in a window box he wanted to read.
‘Well,’ Darren was going on, ‘I were passing that church place, you know…?’
‘St Marmite’s, that the one?’
‘Yeah. An’ I saw that the door were open. So I thought I’d ’ave a look inside, like.’
Ronnie raised his eyebrows. ‘We’ve cased that joint before, Son. You know it’s used on a Monday morning for their prayer meeting thing.’
It was his turn to shudder, as he remembered being collared when they’d got through the door one morning on a recce. Several old women had (and he still couldn’t work out how) dragged them to the front, then spent the next half-hour talking to the air about them. According to the women, he and Darren had walked through the door as a ‘blessing’ to the church; he still, after nearly a year, ground his teeth at the thought of exiting several pounds poorer than he’d gone in, when the intention had been to leave a great deal richer.
‘Yeah, but this were twenty to, Dad,’ Darren cut into his thoughts. ‘I knew they shoulda gone by then.’
‘An’ ’ad they?’
‘Yeah. But Dad, this ol’ biddy were there, lyin’ on the floor. An’ ’er eye, Dad…’
Darren shuddered to a halt again, and Ronnie sat back to think. He couldn’t be sure if the boy had actually seen what he said he had, or if he’d been sniffing his socks again. Either way, if there was a chance that St Marmite’s was standing open and unguarded…
‘Come on, Dazza,’ he said, heaving himself to his feet again. ‘We’ve got a church to visit. With a dirty great bag.’
Darren’s eyes snapped open, and he stood as well. ‘Oh, sorry Dad. Forgot to say.’
He went out into the hallway. Something went ‘chink’, and he lumbered back in, a sack slung over his shoulder. When he set it down, the ‘chink’ repeated.
‘Did it before I come out, Dad. Thought I might as well. I were wearin’ me gloves an’ that, an’ I ’ad the bag an’ me chisel on me, so it were easy to get into the safe.’
He reached into the bag and pulled out a plate of such – silveriness – Ronnie felt his jaw drop. Another reach in, and out came a goblet of the same lustre. Four candlesticks followed, and then a gold cross. The light from the window hit these objects and danced around the room, causing Ronnie to narrow his eyes against the dazzle.
‘All right, Dad?’
He became aware that he was still gawping. He snapped his mouth shut, and said, ‘All right, Son…?’
He couldn’t say any more, his brain was leaping too many somersaults to find the right words.
Darren was pointing proudly to the sack. ‘Like it, Dad?’
With extreme reluctance, Ronnie wrenched his gaze from the shinies. The sack was daubed with thick white streaks. ‘SWAG, Dazza?’ Ronnie enquired, reading the capitals they made.
‘Painted it on meself, Dad. The cops are so stupid round ’ere, I thought they’d be bound to think it were just a joke.’
‘Did it work?’
‘Yeah. One even ’eld it for me while I nipped round to Singh’s for your paper…’ He withdrew the awaited copy of Criminal’s Weekly from the sack. ‘Sorry, I ’ad to pay for it; thought it’d look suspicious if I just grabbed it and run. But there were some loose change in the church, in some sort of offerin’ box, so I used that. ‘’Ope that were all right?’
Ronnie’s mental assessment of Darren had undergone a complete one-eighty. ‘Son,’ he said, ‘it couldn’t be more alright if I’d done it meself.’
He took the sack, and began to reload the bullion. ‘I’ll hide this away, Dazza, then we can get rid when the heat’s off a bit.
‘And meanwhile -’ he hoisted the sack over his shoulder ‘- I’m gonna write to that flippin’ school of yours about that safe-crackin’ O-level.
‘Failure, indeed.’ He gave the sack a chink-inducing shake. ‘Reckon you should’ve got double-A plus, Son.’