Rory Rogerson is 67; an overweight, unfit, retired ‘protection officer’ (that’s PC for hired muscle). He is also a prolific and, by his own reckoning, successful author of crime fiction.
Penny (60) is his headmistress wife and Charlie Watkiss is the bloke next door.
Together, they make a formidable team!
Rory (ret’d). Chapter four, part one.
“Is that you, Rory?” Penny shouted as she heard me enter through the front door.
“Yup,” I replied.
“We’re up here,” Penny said, “in the spare room.”
I hauled myself up the stairs, swearing at each laboured step to lose some serious weight, repeating once again a promise I had been making to myself regularly for at least a decade. I stopped at the top and paused to get my breath back. Penny must have heard me.
“You’re seriously out of condition, Rory, and I’m sure it’s getting worse. We should sign up with the local gym, you know. It will help.”
“It would – eventually.”
“Do you know,” Chloe offered brightly, “if you’d signed up a year ago, you’d have been running up the stairs today and thinking how glad you are that you signed up last year.”
“Yeah,” I said with a chuckle – or was it a wheeze, “this time next year, Rodney, we’ll be millionaires.”
“She’s right, you know,” Penny said, “Why don’t we just do it?”
“Okay, I’ll think about it. Anyway, how are you two getting on? It looks like you’ve nearly finished up here.”
“We have – except for your office – we’ve left that for you. I’m not going to get the blame for anything you can’t find afterwards.”
“Okay. I’ll do that. Do you fancy coming down for a coffee? I’ve got some information to share.”
“About the break-in?”
“Ooh. Can I join in?” Chloe asked, “I love this sort of thing.”
“Provided Penny is okay with it, I’m always happy to have you around,” I said, maybe a touch too eagerly.
“Don’t think I hadn’t noticed that,” Penny said somewhat coldly, “but yes, join us.”
“Don’t expect it to be like an episode of CSI though, will you, Chloe? What Edison said about genius holds good for detective work, too.”
“Thomas Edison said that genius and creativity are one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration. Have you read any of my books?”
“Good answer, Chloe,” I said with a grin, “far better than plain no!”
I made us all coffee and we took our seats around the kitchen table. Omitting nothing, I told the two women what had taken place in Charlie’s house and what we had discovered and concluded. I noticed Chloe redden when I mentioned the names of the two boys.
“Do you know those boys, Chloe?” I asked.
“You don’t know, do you?” she asked, “My maiden same is Sutton.”
“So are you—”
“Their auntie, yes. I can’t believe those boys would be involved in anything like this.” I showed her the video taken by the doorbell as it was being liberated from the door. She blanched. “That’s little Alan,” she said, “Not so little – he’s twenty-one now. What’s he doing caught up in this mess? Billy was always easily led, and his mother and I often worried that if he fell in with the wrong people he could get himself into trouble, but Alan? I can’t believe it.”
“So their mother…”
“Is my sister-in-law, Merry – Meredith. Her husband, my brother Henry, died in Afghanistan seven years ago – an IED.”
“No. Henry was a sound man with one of the TV crews. He was just returning to his team after a short period of illness and was being taken back in a totally inadequate Land Rover that ran over one of the insurgents’ makeshift land-mines. Everyone in the vehicle was killed outright.”
“That must have hit the boys hard,” Penny said.
“It did. Merry was in an awful state for the best part of a year. Billy was sixteen and Alan fourteen. Not a good age to lose your father, but worse because Billy had to take on the role of man of the house. He wasn’t ready for that, and he didn’t get any help from anyone. I spent a lot of my time around there – this was a couple of years before you moved in so you wouldn’t know about it – and I tried to help him as much as I could, but he didn’t want to listen to me, or to Trevor. Ended up Alan did most of the heavy lifting while Billy was headed very much towards the less savoury side of youth culture.”
“Do you think it possible that some of the people Billy was mixed up with back then could be behind this affair?” I asked.
“I suppose it’s possible, but don’t ask me who any of them were – Billy was never very forthcoming with details of his friends.”
Penny looked pensive, and I had the feeling that something of substance was about to issue from her mouth – [no, that doesn’t mean I thought she was about to throw up, it means I thought she was going to say something deep, meaningful and worthwhile.]
“From what you’ve said, Chloe – and I’m so glad we asked you to stay, by the way [I nodded and smiled – Penny scowled at me] – it looks like we’re not so much dealing with someone who’s gone bad, as with a couple of kids who need help and support.”
“I hope so,” Chloe said, “I’d hate to think of them as bad kids. They are family, after all.”
I was still puzzled. “What I don’t understand is how they could break into a house right next door to their auntie and not expect to be recognised.”
“That’s easy,” Chloe said, “firstly, they came after dark, at a time when no decent folk should be up and about. And secondly, they’ve never been to my house. I’m not even sure they’d know where it is.”
“But they must know your address, surely.”
“Christmas cards – that sort of thing?”
“They’re not the Christmas card sending type, Penny.”
“Okay,” I said in an attempt to stay somewhere in the vicinity of the matter at hand, “where do we go from here?”
“I’ll go and talk to Merry,” Chloe offered, “if I can lead her into it gently, she’ll approach it calmly and we’ll be able to work out a plan.”
“You say she’ll approach it calmly, but how do you know she won’t just deny it to defend her sons?”
“She’s family, Rory. I know her as well as I know anyone. I spent so much time with her in the months after Henry died that I’ve come to think of her as a sister, not just a sister-in-law. I love her as much as if we’d been brought up together, as much as I did my brother. Trouble is, now I know about this, I can’t not talk to her about it. Let me have a copy of the doorbell video. I can show her that, tell her that the police aren’t involved yet and that they needn’t be if we can clear this up between ourselves. Her natural wish to defend her boys will make sure that she’ll do whatever it takes to keep this away from the police.”
“Very well,” I said, “do what you can with your sister, but keep us in the loop, okay?”
“I’ll go and see her tomorrow morning and let you know straight afterwards. In the meantime, Mrs Rogerson, you and I have some tidying to do down here and you, Mr Rogerson, have an office to tidy up.”
“Attagirl,” Penny said, “chop-chop, Rory.” I hauled myself upstairs again and started to reorganise my office back into some semblance of order, to the accompaniment of much banging and clattering from down below. I started refitting drawers and carefully putting things back together. Happily, neither of the monitors was damaged and reassembling the computer and its peripherals was fairly straightforward. I located the fibre internet box, connected it up and watched whilst the testing lights flickered and finally the operational message displayed. After replacing its side panel, I switched the computer on and watched it go through its startup process and finally give me the screens I was expecting. My first job was to fire off an email to Priya, asking her to come and do the upgrades as soon as she could, and telling her I wanted to talk about external CCTV too.
I had the smart speaker on my desk play some relaxing piano music and I was ready to do some serious tidying.