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 sixteen, part four.
Joffrey was shocked when we showed him the footage of his father bringing the evidence into his room.
“Why would he do that, Mum?” he asked his mother.
“I don’t know, Joff. I was as shocked as you when I saw it.”
“So what can we do? We can’t turn him in, can we?”
“If I may,” I said, “I think it would be worth trying to work out what his ultimate plan was. We know already that he’s tried to say someone broke into the house—”
“Without doing any damage or even leaving any trace,” Zosia interrupted.
“Exactly. The question is, what was his end game? Was he planning to frame some poor sucker for it, or was it his idea that you take the rap so he could play the loving father and fight your corner?”
“Or maybe let it go so far just to scare me. Either way, it doesn’t make any sense. Why would he steal from his own evidence store and make it look like it was me?”
“Perhaps he wanted to make someone else take the responsibility for trying to frame you for it. But I agree, whatever the motivation, it doesn’t make any sense whatever. Has he said anything that might suggest he has any enemies he’d like to put away for a while?”
“Not to me,” Joffrey said.
“Nor me,” his mother agreed.
“Leave it with us to see what we can do,” Charlie suggested, “Do we have your permission to keep the webcam footage and recordings?”
“Of course,” Zosia said.
“Can I tidy my room now?” Joffrey asked. His mother nearly fainted at the suggestion but settled for nodding furiously.
“No reason why not,” I said, “we have the video and the photographs we took.”
Charlie called one of his trusted contacts at the police station as soon as we were back in his home, talked him through everything we knew and sent him a copy of the relevant part of the video footage. In reply to the question about Nobby’s current whereabouts, Charlie had to admit we had no information. However, his car and registration were well-known and were circulated to all officers and stations in the region, although his colleagues were hoping that he’d talk to them voluntarily.
“That went well,” I said to Charlie once he was off the phone.
“Did it?” he asked, “I’m not sure that catching a senior police officer with his fingers in the cookie jar, as it were – one who had been instrumental in passing a lot of good quality, high-paying work my way – could be possibly be classed as having gone well.”
“You know what I mean, mate,” I said, “It didn’t turn ugly, as it could have, and we solved that case on a single visit. I get what you’re saying, though. It’s like finding your best mate fooling with your wife – part of you wants to kill the guy, but the rest thinks: hey, this is my best mate, I can’t suddenly hate him.”
“Are you trying to tell me something, Rory?”
“No, honestly. That was a bad example. I just wasn’t thinking. Sorry.”
“It’s just that I believed you were okay with Penny and me. Just say if you’re not, and we’ll stop.”
“No, I don’t want you to stop. Well, I do, but I don’t, if you see what I mean. Penny is happier, calmer and more settled than she’s been for a long time and I’d hate for that to change. I’ve learned to live with the jealous feelings that crop up from time to time. No, you carry on, mate. We’re good.”
“Good. I don’t want to lose you as a friend and business partner.”
“So where do we go from here?”
“I don’t think we need to have any more involvement with the Stokes family, Rory. That can be handled by the IPCC.”
“I’m sure we’ll have to give evidence somewhere, though.”
“Maybe so. We probably ought to keep in touch in case the poor lad needs some support.”
“That’s best left to the professionals, Charlie.”
“True. I’ll talk to my contact and see whether there’s provision within the police to be there for the lad. He’s likely to have a lot of trouble dealing with all this.”
“As is Zosia. Maybe I should talk to her, offer her whatever we can to help her.”
“You were quite taken by her, weren’t you?”
“I was. She gives the impression of being a very strong woman, but I get the feeling there’s a fair chunk of vulnerability in there. She strikes me as the sort of person will put on a brave front to her son and to Nobby’s colleagues, but when she’s alone at night…”
“I know what you mean, Rory. For what it’s worth, I think you’re probably right, too. You’ll be a good man to be stood at the bottom, your arms open, to catch her when she falls.”
“Just what I had in mind, mate.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I saw the way you looked at her, Rory. You can’t deny you felt something for her.”
That annoyed me, but I held my tongue. Okay, but not for long. “Be careful,” I said, “apart from not being true, it’s the kind of talk that could endanger a comfortable status quo, if you get my drift.”
“Sorry, mate, I just thought—”
“No, Charlie. You just didn’t think. I allow you to continue whatever it is you have with my wife purely because I’m physically incapable of meeting her needs. You know that because I’ve told you more times than I care to remember.”
“Yes but nothing. Knowing that, you still entertain the thought that I could even contemplate entering with another woman a relationship that I’m not able to follow with my wife who, let’s not forget, is my soul-mate, my one true love – and it’s only because I love her as deeply as I do that I tolerate… yes, tolerate this dalliance that you and she have. And you should know that I have only to raise a finger and Penny would call a halt to it instantly.”
“Are you sure about that?” Charlie asked with something of a self-satisfied smirk.
“As sure as I am that night follows day,” I replied, “and you would do well to remember that.” I got up and left his house.
That I had feelings for Zosia was not in question, but they weren’t of the type that Charlie at hinted at. I saw in her a weakness – no, not a weakness but a vulnerability that couldn’t be addressed by a tightly-wound ball of testosterone like her husband or even by a self-styled macho man like Charlie. What she really needed was a combination of an unconditional listening, supporting girlfriend and a friend who could be a mentor and a rock as well as a confidant or confessor, guiding without judging and encircling without stifling. What made me think I was right for that role? Nothing really but I couldn’t think of anyone who would be likely to make a better fist of it. It needed either a woman with a higher-than-average level of testosterone or a man with a near-deficiency – and that’s where I come in.