Another chapter completed. To read the first 45, please click here…
Thursday 14th November 1985: 11.10 – 11.30
‘At last,’ Meredith said, putting down the phone.
Across the desk, Jack Hampshire, his face as sour as an eight-week-old lemon, was staring down at his lap. ‘Johnson and Hardy?’ he asked in what was little more than a grunt.
‘That’s right. They’ve finally dug up the St Marmaduke’s items from that fence’s van, and he’s now singing like the proverbial. We’ve got the Chaffords all right. Go and bring them in, Jack.’
‘Yes, sir.’ Hampshire got to his feet. ‘Just a couple of things, though, sir.’
Two ‘sirs’ in as many sentences, and not one of them dripping with sneerism? There definitely was so much change in the DI, he almost rattled.
‘If it’s okay with you, I’d like to take DC Chowdhary with me to make the arrest.’
‘Well, I…’ Meredith began. All of a sudden, he wasn’t sure that sending Jack Hampshire on this job was such a good idea.
‘Look, sir,’ Hampshire interrupted. A little of the spark of old returned to his face and his voice. ‘I don’t have any agenda, honest. I know I’ve been an arsehole where she’s concerned. I’d like her there because she’s probably a bloody good detective if she’s allowed to be. And I’d like to try and make some amends to her.’
Oh. Meredith stared hard at the DI. Was this genuine, or…?
‘And I’d like to take Constable Dawson along for uniformed presence as well, if that’s okay?’
Dawson? Why Dawson? What the hell was going on?
‘I can’t explain,’ Hampshire went on, as if reading his thoughts. ‘But I’d really like the two of them with me. That’s genuine.’
Meredith exhaled a long, slow breath. This might be bloody risky — but…
‘Okay, Jack. If you’re sure…’
‘Perfectly sure, sir.’
‘Okay, then. Get to it.’
‘Thank you, sir.’ Hampshire turned to leave, then turned back again. ‘There is just one more thing…’
Meredith waited. The DI seemed reluctant to get to the point, so he prompted, ‘Yes?’
Hampshire reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out an envelope. Handing it to the DCI, he said, ‘I was going to leave this till later, but I think you’d better have it now.’
‘Yes, sir. It’s my resignation.’
Meredith stared at him, aware his chin was suddenly in danger of bouncing off his lap. ‘Your resignation?’
‘Yes, sir. I’m leaving the force.’
‘But — why?’
Hampshire’s face set into a look so grim, it was like a block of granite had just walked in and taken his place. ‘I discovered yesterday that I was made a bloody fool of a few years back. I’m going to find the bastard who did it to me, and make him wish he’d never met me.
‘I’ll want to get going as soon as I can, so I’ll probably leave Chowdhary to clear up the paperwork from the Chafford arrest, if that’s okay? Thanks for everything you’ve done.’
And with that, and leaving Meredith gaping after him, the DI departed.
‘Get a move on, Dazza!’
Ronnie Chafford was racing around the flat selecting things to throw into the five suitcases that currently adorned his bed. So far, along with the necessary clothing (three off-white shirts; a pair of faded blue jeans; a suede two-inch-wide tie in cerise; a Charlie Brown-style pullover his Aunt Beryl had knitted him several years before, guessing at both size and shape, and getting both hopelessly wrong; and a week’s-worth of underpants, vests and socks), he’d managed to cram in twelve Gauguins and a Pissartisto (not a well-known painter, but the work showed a naked pair of tarts having very detailed nookie, so it was bound to be worth something to the right buyer. Ronnie planned to market it as being from the artist’s world-famous Extremely Blue Period); three Ming vases and his Ming-handled toilet brush (picked up at the same time as the Louis XIX walnut cabinet, which he’d also tried to fit into a case, but with no success); his collection of 18th-century cubic zirconia jewellery (ditto the toilet brush purchase); and his favourite armchair.
Well — strictly speaking, the armchair wasn’t in one of the cases. But it was going with them, all the same.
The fact was that, unknown to anybody but Ronnie — including, and especially, Darren — the chair was stuffed with at least half the proceeds of every robbery he’d committed since 8th January 1963. (The Great Mane Robbery, as it had come to be known. He and a couple of mates had nicked a lion from the local zoo, and sold it to a ‘private collector’ for a fortune. Ronnie didn’t know — and didn’t want to know — what the collector had done with the thing, but the next time he’d seen the bloke his wife was wearing a smart new overcoat and hat combo in brown.) The stash was by way of being his health insurance policy should he feel a sudden attack of a trip to the Caribbean coming on. Which was just about now, he was thinking; the filth could be closing in on Gerry Batrick right this minute, and it mightn’t be too long before they were hammering on his own door with a warrant and some bracelets. (Not as valuable as the 18th-century cubic zirconia type, but just as uncomfortable to wear; not that Ronnie had ever put one of the CZ ones on, of course. Not more than a couple of times.)
The journey home from his fence’s place the previous evening had been hell. He’d started — oh, what? About six-ish? Should have been home by seven-fifteen at the latest; and that was allowing for tourists in Bewleigh, who were inevitably looking for the similar-sounding motor museum in a completely different county, and were therefore good for being sold the entrance tickets he’d had printed up containing directions to some couple’s semi-detached on a housing estate nearby.
Five miles down the road — in about the most godforsaken spot south of Watford Gap, and at a six-way crossroads to boot — the Morris had conked out. Just flat stopped. And, despite fiddling and farting around with the distributor, plugs, fuel-line, starter motor, battery connections and anything else that came to hand (including the windscreen washer bottle, just in case it had taken umbrage at not being fed more than tapwater for the past twenty years) — and eventually, threatening to cut the bloody thing’s exhaust pipe off if it didn’t cooperate — he hadn’t been able to get a peep out of it from then on.
That was only the start. Checking his road atlas, he’d discovered that by some incredible happenstance, he was exactly five miles from anywhere, in any direction. Bloody unbelievable.
Fortunately, many years of shinning up drainpipes and squeezing himself through fanlight windows had given Ronnie an athleticism rare in someone his age. (He’d once tried selling these exercises for a vast amount as a training routine to Camtown Athletic — known to the fans as ‘Camtown Arthritic’ due to their style of play. They hadn’t bought as a club, but the right back had contacted him shortly after to do a private deal. The bloke was now playing for Wandsworth Nick second eleven.) He’d picked a point of the compass, and started trudging towards it. The night was overcast, and black as Al Jolson’s makeup; luckily, he kept a couple of torches, and a plentiful supply of spare batteries and bulbs, in the car. Even so, he’d twice stumbled into potholes the size of bomb craters; his left foot felt like it was hanging off after the second one, he’d ricked it so badly as he’d stumbled. Then, to cap it all, after around three miles or so, he’d come across a river that his atlas didn’t even acknowledge the existence of! Right in the middle of the bloody road! With no bridge! So broad and fast-flowing, he didn’t have a hope in hell of fording it, even if he’d known how deep it was! It was enough to bring on an attack of the exclamation marks!
He’d had no choice but to turn round and slope all the way back to the car, then try a different fork off the crossroad. This time, he did actually make it somewhere; God alone knew what town it was, but by the look of the first house he came to, studded with turrets, towers and crenellations, it was probably twinned with Count Dracula.
He’d decided to ignore that house. The middle-aged people in the next one hadn’t much liked being knocked up, it being now upwards of two in the morning, but they’d willingly turned out to give him a lift back to his car. (‘Willingly’ being a relative term; it was amazing the way that brandishing a blackjack could change a ‘Go away, please’ into an ‘Of course — I’ll get the Bentley out of the garage’.)
Incredibly, the bloke driving him back (he’d introduced himself as ‘Mr Richards’. Ronnie had introduced himself back as ‘the one with the cosh, and don’t you forget it’) had got lost. On a road with no turnoffs. It had taken another two hours to find the Morris, then another half-hour to attach a tow-rope and persuade Mr Richards he was not going to take Ronnie back to the repair shop in his own town (which wouldn’t open till eight, but ‘there’s a very pleasant park containing some benches, if you want to wait’) but on an even more pleasant little drive to Camtown, or else.
They’d landed at just after seven-fifteen (the tow-rope had broken three times; by the time they’d got back to Camtown, Ronnie was practically driving his Morris from the back seat of the Bentley), an ironic twelve hours after he should’ve got home. He was so buggered, he’d fallen into bed as soon as he’d walked from where Mr Richards had dropped him (a good distance from the flat; no way did he want Mr Richards to know where he lived, but Ronnie had been quick to remind the bloke that he knew exactly where he, and especially his missus, lived). It’d been gone ten before he’d woken again, and since then he’d been flying round the flat stuffing suitcases.
‘Ready, Dad.’ Darren was standing at the door of the sitting room, the smallest of rucksacks over one shoulder.
Ronnie stared at him. ‘Dazza. You do know we’re goin’ for good — right?’
‘Yeah, I know. I gorall I need.’
‘Yeah. I got me ZX Spectrum. That’ll do me. Though o’ course — I’ll need the telly as well, to plug it into.’
Ronnie paused in the act of stuffing a hoard of priceless Roman pfennigs into the largest suitcase (he really had got some bargains from that market stall). ‘O-kaaay. No clothin’, Son?’
Darren gave a shrug; a gesture so Gallic that Ronnie wondered for a minute if the boy had been nicking French toast from the posh cafe in town, and it was full of them side-effects the chemists warned you about. ‘Thought I’d wear ’em all, Dad. Saves carryin’ ’em. Less weight.’
Ronnie forbore to mention the obvious flaw in this statement. Instead, he dived over to the armchair. ‘Give us ’and with this, then, Son.’
He saw a puzzled frown light on Darren’s face. ‘But Dad — What do yo wanna take the chair for?’
Ronnie had often wondered how to answer that when the time came; but the circumstances of the previous night now came to his rescue. ‘Well, Son. The car’s broke down and we’ll ’ave to go by train. If the train’s full — well, we’ve got somewhere to sit, ain’t we?’
‘Oh, yeah,’ Darren said, breaking into the sort of grin you often found sitting next to you on the bus. ‘I never thought o’ that.’