Sunday serialisation – Rory (ret’d) 5.1

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 five, part one.

The Masaala Ghar Indian restaurant is only about a hundred and fifty yards from the house, so we invariably walk there except, of course, when the weather is unusually foul, as it was on this particular evening.

I shouted up to Penny as she was getting ready for the evening, “Walk with umbrella, raincoats and even probably galoshes, or—”

“Hail a ride,” she replied. Ever the dutiful husband, I summoned a car, making sure it was a decent size. No way do I want to try and squeeze my frame into one of those tiny city-cars. “Fifteen minutes,” I shouted up.

“Will that get us there in time?” my wife asked.

“Should do,” I replied, “two or three minutes late at worst.”

“Okay,” she said, walking into the dining room where I’d been standing waiting for her.

“By golly, you look ravishing this evening, Mrs Rogerson,” I said, “had I not been… you know… I’d have been sorely tempted to throw you across the dining table and ravage you right now.”

“Oh, stop it, you soft old bugger,” she said, blushing prettily, “are you going like that?”

“What do you mean, like that?”

“You’ve got half of your lunch all over your shirt.”

“Where?” I asked, looking down.

“There,” she said, pointing a finger close to my solar plexus and bringing it up quickly to flick my nose.

I stepped back and laughed.

“No, seriously, there’s tomato ketchup on your shirt. Go and change it, there’s plenty in your shirt drawer.”

“No time,” I said, hearing the cab draw up the drive.

“Do it!” she commanded.

I did it. I climbed the stairs as quickly as I could, ripped my shirt off, took another from the drawer and put it on, tucking it into the waistband of my trousers as I was descending the staircase. I went through the open front door, closed and locked it and set the alarm before stepping into the car – a generously-proportioned SUV of a type I hadn’t seen before.

“Masaala Ghar?” the driver asked.

“Please,” I replied as we pulled silently out of the drive. “Is this car electric?” I asked.

“Sure is. I’ve got it for a couple of weeks to evaluate. If it works out, we’ll replace all our diesel cars with electric over the next year or so.”

“Merc?”

“Yeah. I’ve got the EQC and my mate Eric has the MG ZS. Other people around the country are trialling different models. We’re here, by the way.”

“Thanks, and good luck. Nice car, by the way.”

“Thank you,” he said as Penny and I exited the vehicle, “have a pleasant evening.”

I chuckled slightly at that. Whatever I was expecting of this evening, I certainly wouldn’t imagine the word ‘pleasant’ would be appropriate.

As we entered the restaurant, the head waiter, Ravinderpal, approached me. “Good evening Mr Rory, Mrs Rory,” he said.

“Good evening, Ravi. I hope you’re well. Pity about the weather.”

“Not a problem, Sir. It’s warm and dry in here.” I smiled. “Mr Charlie is waiting for you in the Langar room, shall I show you through?”

I know exactly where the Langar room is and I have no need of help finding it. However, I learned a long time ago that what Ravi, in common with many of his compatriots, was displaying was not subservience and certainly wasn’t paying lip-service to the attitudes fostered during the Raj, the days when the light-skinned man was master and the role of the dark-skinned man or woman was servant. No, what Ravi was displaying was a level of service, not servitude, that conferred as much dignity and self-respect on him as it gave to us, his customers. So I accepted his offer in good grace. “You’re very kind,” I said, “Thank you.”

“Thank you, Sir,” he replied, “It is my pleasure to be of service.”

Sunday serialisation – Rory (ret’d) 4.2

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 two.

Priya came around the following morning and fitted the internal upgrades I’d asked for. These comprised ‘smash’ sensors on every window and movement sensors in every room, upstairs and down. She also installed some sensors in the garage and outhouse. We talked through the placing of additional security lights and CCTV cameras and, after getting the okay from Charlie, I showed Priya what was set up next door. Priya wasn’t familiar with the monitoring system Charlie has and was cock-a-hoop when Charlie suggested that he could upgrade that part of my system at cost and let Priya observe so she’d be able to offer it to other customers.

Chloe came around whilst I was in conversation with Priya and Charlie, so I introduced her. Although only living two doors away, Charlie said he had never seen Trevor or Chloe, let alone met them, but that he would try to be a better neighbour over time. Priya went back to configuring the upgrades and I suggested Chloe, Charlie, Penny and I should chat over a coffee. Chloe looked at me with a quizzical expression but I told her how close Charlie was to this thing and how he could be a great help as we move forward with it.

Chloe explained that she had visited her sister, prepared her and showed her the doorbell footage. Naturally enough, Merry was distraught. Chloe explained to her that there was no police involvement yet and that, if she had good co-operation from her and her boys, this could be made to go away without the police ever being involved. Merry, Chloe told us, undertook to have the boys at home the following evening so we could thrash this out.

“I don’t think we should meet at their home, Chloe,” I said, “I think somewhere neutral, but controlled, would be better.”

“Where do you have in mind?” Penny asked.

“What about your house, Chloe?”

“I’d need to check with Trevor,” Chloe said, “but I don’t expect him to say yes.”

“If I can suggest,” Charlie said, “there’s a side room, usually set aside for small functions or parties, in the Indian restaurant down the road. I’m quite well known there. Shall I see if I can book that room for us?”

“Sounds like a plan,” I said.

“Shall we say eight till ten tomorrow?” I looked at the others. There seemed to be no dissent. I nodded. “Great,” he said, “and, just in case, I’ll have it wired.”

“Is that really necessary?” Chloe asked.

“We don’t know who we’re dealing with yet,” Charlie said, “My experience tells me it’s better to be safe at times like this.” Below my breath, I secretly thanked Charlie for choosing the Masaala Ghar Restaurant – since moving here, it has become not only my favourite restaurant in the area, but also my number one take-away and, as a result, the default that the food delivery app presents when I call it up.

Sunday serialisation – Rory (ret’d) 4.1

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?”

“Absolutely.”

“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.”

“What’s that?”

“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?”

“Not yet.”

“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.”

“Soldier?”

“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.”

“Why?”

“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.