Two more sections today to finish off Chapter 31. Thank you for your continued interest…
As always, to read the first 30 chapters, click here.
And to read the first three sections of this chapter, see posts #31a, #31b & #31c below this one.
Wednesday 13th November 1985: 08-30 – 10.00
A hammering on the front door alerted Ronnie Chafford to the fact that somebody probably wanted his attention.
From the sound of it, the somebody concerned very likely had a pointy hat, size seventeen feet and a tendency to look down their nose at an honest, hard-working burglar doing his best to supply himself and his son with the bare necessities of life.
He set down his mug of tea onto the genuine Louis XIX walnut cabinet (handed down from the king of that name’s court through the family of Ronnie’s supplier, a bloke manning a stall at Portobello Road Market one Saturday morning) and slowly rose from his armchair. No good pretending to be out. The size seventeen feet would have heard that he was in from the rozzer in the street pretending to be a telephone engineer.
He opened the door. ‘Sergeant Bulstrode! ’Ow nice to see you!’
His heart sank just a fraction. Of all the dog-with-a-bone so-and-sos that could’ve come callin’…
‘And ’ow can I ’elp you this fine mornin’?’ he went on, assuming a bright and breezy tone which, with luck, would drive a miserable bastard like Bulstrode spare inside a couple of minutes.
‘Just a few enquiries, Mr Chafford. May I come in?’
No bleedin’ way! Ronnie put on an apologetic expression, one of many he had in his repertoire for occasions such as this. ‘It’d be a pleasure, Sergeant, it really would. ’Owever — unfortunately, the council’s got the decorators in, see, so the place is in a right old state.’
‘I see. How inconvenient.’
A look passed across Bulstrode’s face that clearly said, ‘I know you’re lying through your back teeth, and if I had my way I’d take said back teeth and perform major surgery on them with a truncheon.’ However, the words that came out of his mouth were, ‘Well, Mr Chafford, that being the case, remember the robbery at St Marmaduke’s church on Monday the 4th?’
Ronnie assumed a puzzled frown, number 7 in his repertoire. ‘Lemme see, now… The 4th… The 4th…
‘Oh yeah!’ He raised a finger as if everything had just fallen into place. ‘That’s right. Read about that in the ’erald. Shockin’ business. Robbin’ a church! Why — that’s even worse than robbin’ ord’nary people, that is! Which is bad enough, o’ course, an’ not somethin’ any respectable person would do.’
Bulstrode snorted. ‘Quite right, Mr Chafford. And if I meet any respectable people, remind me to introduce you to them.’
‘What about it, then, Sergeant?’ he said, maintaining the bright-and-breezy with a fraction less breezy. ‘Only I’m a bit busy, see?’
‘Uh huh. I won’t keep you long, then, Mr Chafford. I’ve no doubt your busyness is highly important. Just wanted to know where you were at around 8.45 that morning. And young Darren, of course. In, is he, by the way?’
‘’Oo, Dazza? Nah, Sergeant. Dazza’s at work at the minute, like any other honest citizen.’ The rozzer outside would have told Bulstrode about Dazza leaving at nine-ish, so the question was obviously just to keep up the pretence that they weren’t having a close eye kept on them.
The sergeant raised an eyebrow. ‘Work, is it? And what sort of work is young Darren concerning himself with, I wonder?’
‘Dazza? Oh, ’e makes a good, honest livin’ doin’ deliveries for some o’ the local shops, Sergeant. All think very highly of ’im, the shopkeepers do.’
Bulstrode would no doubt be astonished to discover this was perfectly true. What Ronnie didn’t add, though, was that in the course of his deliveries (carried out on an untaxed moped with two bald tyres; which was disguised as a push-bike since Darren didn’t have so much as a provisional licence), his son managed to cream off enough produce to make handy contributions to the household budget once sold on at exorbitant rates. Parker’s the Tobacconist was a particularly good source of revenue, it being amazing how many customers who were told ‘Sorry — Mr Parker didn’t have quite as many Players as you ordered this week’ never bothered to check with the proprietor as to the truth of that statement, nor query why their bill still showed twenty packs delivered when they’d only had fifteen.
‘Really?’ the sergeant said. ‘Maybe I’ll have to ask some of them their opinions on that score.’
‘Oh — do so, Sergeant. Do so. They’ll all tell yer.’
‘I will. Anyway — back to the 4th. Like to tell me where you both were?’
‘What time did yer say? Eight —?’
‘Lemme see, now. Eight forty-five. Eight forty-five…’
‘In the morning.’
‘Ah, yeah. The mornin’.’
He gave Bulstrode his prepared story about helping Owen next door with his allotment.
‘Mmm,’ Bulstrode said, making the utterance sound to Ronnie like Yeah, I should bleedin’ cocoa was hovering underneath it; which it probably was. ‘The famous cabbages.’
‘That’s right, Sergeant.’
‘Right,’ said Bulstrode. ‘And when DC Chowdhary heard this from your Darren, in just about the same words, funny enough, not saying there’s anything suspicious in that at all, she checked with your neighbour, as I recall, and he confirmed your story.’
‘Did ‘e? That’s okay, then, innit?’
Ronnie frowned. ‘Except, Sergeant?’
Bulstrode gave a smile, and it was the kind of smile that had suggestions of a starving wolf stumbling across a fluffy bunny hippity-hopping about minding its own business one sunny spring morning.
‘Except, Mr Chafford, we’ve spoken to a couple of other allotment owners on the patch owned by Mr Sheadley, and they swear blind that he was nowhere near there at the time in question; and, more to the point, neither was anybody answering the descriptions of either you or your son.’
Bugger! What were the chances of one o’ them old tossers being around at that time — let alone two! Most of ’em were the sort that couldn’t move before one in the afternoon, and that only after at least three Guinnesses.
Ronnie thought furiously, then shrugged. ‘Dunno ’oo they was, Sergeant, but — well — they’re a lot of old boys that work that allotment. Don’t fink you can trust ’em so far as beat ’em up to get a quick confession, you know?’
The wolf smile remained in place, as if the witticism-cum-sarky-comment had bounced off the sergeant and disappeared into the air.
And the next moment, Ronnie’s ears made a sort of hiccupping noise inside his bonce. Despite that, he clearly heard Bulstrode remark, ‘They did say about Gerry Batrick to me.’
Christ on a Harley Davidson! ’Ow the ’ell could them old sods know about his fence?
‘So, Mr Chafford,’ Bulstrode was going on, ‘like to rethink what you were doing at that time?’
‘Erm —’ For the first time in his life, Ronnie found that he was stuck for an answer.
‘Something wrong, Mr Chafford?’
‘No — No, Sergeant,’ he managed to get out. ‘I — I just remembered I left me iron on, that’s all. Must get back to it. Might burn the ’ole place down.’
‘Erm — yeah. Really.’
‘Can you think of any reason, Mr Chafford,’ Bulstrode said, ‘why I shouldn’t — after you’ve made your iron safe, of course — haul you down the station while we recheck the statements made by our witnesses?’
If Ronnie had thought furiously before, now he began to think hopping-sodding-blood-boilingly-madly. ‘Erm — erm — I tell yer what, Sergeant,’ he said, and to his own ears it was a gabble like he’d never heard issuing from his mouth before, ‘I know a few people. Yeah — that’s it. Lemme ’ave a word, an’ I’ll see if I can get a lead on that robbery for you. Okay?’
‘Oh yes? And these “few people” would be…?’
‘Erm — just people, you know?’
‘And any reason you can think of why I shouldn’t still haul you down the station so’s you can contact these “people” there?’
Hopping-sodding-etcetera rose several strands of the blood-boiling bit to nuclear fallout level. ‘Well — erm. They don’t — erm — do the phone, if that’s what you’re — erm — suggestin’. Only talk — erm — face-to-face. Very — erm — partic’lar about that, they are. Erm.’
Had Bulstrode been counting the ‘erms’ in there, he wondered? He was aware of sweat dripping down his back, something he’d not experienced since the time he’d done 100 meters in 1 minute, 20 seconds. He’d got more than two hundred quid out of that, and the traffic warden hadn’t had a clue he was there.
‘So, Mr Chafford, what you’re saying is you want me to let you alone until…’
The rest of the sentence was left hanging in the air, but Ronnie seemed to hear it conclude as, ‘…we’ve had a word with Mr Batrick.’
‘Yeah, yeah. You do that. Anyway, Sergeant — gotta get back to me ironin’, you know? Dazza’s shirts won’t do ’emselves, will they?’
‘Okay, Mr Chafford.’ To Ronnie’s humongous relief, Bulstrode turned to leave. ‘Look forward to hearing from you.’
He slammed the door and slumped back against it, his legs having suddenly turned to the middle bit of a trifle. Christ, this was a rum do.
Slowly, he made his way back into the sitting room and fell into his armchair. He needed three mugs of strong tea, then he’d better go out and put his tail-shaking skills into practise; he had to have a word with Gerry Batrick tout de suet, warn the old sod that the rozzers were onto him.
Ernie Bulstrode left Jack the Ripper Court, his mind ticking over like a well-regulated time bomb.
When he’d said, ‘They didn’t seem that geriatric to me’ about the old boys at the allotment — just after he’d told the whopping lie about any old boys being witnesses in the first place — the look on Ronnie Chafford’s face had been priceless; and the rest of the conversation had shown definite signs of a bloke in a sudden turmoil.
The next day or so might prove interesting.
He gave a very slight nod to Johnson, messing about with wires over the other side of the road. Personally, he thought the disguise the DC had adopted was one that a two-year-old could see through; but Charlie Meredith seemed to think the bloke was competent, so who was he to argue?
And where was Hardy, anyway? He was supposed to be on stakeout there as well.
As if Johnson had heard the question, he tilted his head upwards just a fraction.
Ernie looked up. Bloody hell, that was genius! So Johnson was acting as a decoy! Ronnie’d be so intent on shaking the obvious copper off, he’d never dream that Hardy was still on his tail in that disguise.
Detective Constable Hardy was perched on a telephone wire twenty feet up in the air, dressed as a pigeon.
Whistling, Ernie began to stride off down the street.
There was a plop, and he stopped dead and stared down at his shoulder.
‘I’ll bloody have you for that when this job’s over, you bastard!’ he growled under his breath.