Still Monday 27th October
My stomach sinks and a wave of sorrow washes over me. Apart from visitors, Poppy has been his only company since his wife passed.
I have to see him.
I jump to my feet and head out the door with Mei’s mum watching from the top of the stairs.
The short walk to his house takes ages. It’s only a few feet yet it feels more. The eyes from the flats feel heavy on me this afternoon and it’s like I’m walking into a cloud of pain. I have no any idea what I’m going to say to him.
After navigating the mess of sawdust that has blown along his path, I knock on the door but I don’t walk in. Instead I wait for him to answer.
It feels strange as I wait. The silence is so in your face you could touch it. It feels thick, like a plume of smoke.
He answers. His eyes are red and his face is pale.
‘Come in, Lee,’ he says solemnly and walks into the kitchen.
‘Shall I make the brews?’ I offer.
He shakes his head. The cups are ready prepared and the kettle has already boiled. He knew I’d be round.
‘She’s gone,’ he says as he shakily pours the water. ‘Poppy.’
I stay silent and wait for him to continue.
‘You know how she goes to the gate and barks and passers-by? Looks like someone stuck a knife into her last night. I didn’t notice until it was too late and I’m sitting watching football thinking she’s indoors.’
I can see he’s trying to hide his feelings. He likes to come across as a strong type, but people can only take so much. The last time I saw him like this was when he lost his wife. I’m not saying it’s the same thing, but it’s still a loss of one of the closest things in his life. I can’t say I would handle it any better.
We go into his living room. Right away it feels different. We take our seats and I notice a vacant spot beside me. It brings a tear to my eye.
‘I saw the police car last night,’ I tell him. ‘Who do they think they are parking in my spot?’ I say with a slight smile to try and lighten the mood.
Harold tries his best. ‘I know, police think they can do what they like.’
His TV has the BBC news channel on mute.
‘What did they say?’
‘Oh, they can’t say a lot about it. But that Jason was out with some of his friends last night.’
Say no more. Could Jason really do something like this? To an elderly man’s only companion?
‘They going to speak to him?’
He nods. ‘Today I think.’
‘I wouldn’t be surprised it was him. Did I tell you that brick I put under my back gate had moved? I think he moved it to try and get his hand underneath to undo the bottom bolt.’
Harold shakes his head. ‘If it is him doing this then the police need to do something. What about his parents?’
‘That fat cow won’t do anything about him. She has three other kids to look after as well.’
‘Yes, but they’re well behaved.’ He looks out of the window. ‘I just don’t know what the answer is.’
After thirty minutes of chatting, he seems to get a bit of an uplift. I don’t want to leave him alone and I feel bad when I stand up to leave. He tells me he’ll be all right, but to me that sounds like macho mumbo jumbo that doesn’t need to be said.
‘If you need me to do anything, phone me, all right?’
He says he will and I leave his house heading up his path and manoeuvring around the sawdust. I didn’t ask him where Poppy’s body is. I guess she’s been taken away for tests or something before he gets the option to bury her. I don’t know how this kind of thing works.
As I walk the short path to my house, a police car much like the one from last night – could even be the same one – goes along the road and stops at one hundred and twenty.
I’m now waiting for Mei at the old Blockbuster carpark. It’s ten to five. I’ve arrived early because I didn’t like to be in the house with her mother pottering around any longer. I don’t want her to get me to do things. It’s not her fucking house. Plus it gives me a head start on the rush hour.
She walks the short path onto the carpark and sees me right away. She’s smiling.
When she enters the car, she says, ‘I don’t have to work Boxing Day.’ Her face is beaming.
I’m happy for her but I find it hard to express. ‘That’s good. What happened?’
She thinks I’m not interested.
I start the engine. ‘I’m interested,’ I tell her.
‘You don’t look like it.’
‘I’ll tell you why after you tell me your thing.’
I pull out of the carpark turning left onto Corporation Street. That’s right, I turned left, like it tells you to on the road, not like that idiot the other day who decided to turn right and block the road. Idiot.
Mei says, ‘My boss spoke to me today. We had a meeting. There was a human resources lady there with us.’ She pauses, though I don’t know why.
‘He apologised to me and offered me a week’s paid holiday over the Christmas period.’ She laughs. She’s positively giddy with joy. I don’t think I can tell her about Poppy.
She hits my arm gently with the back of her hand. ‘Now you tell me your thing.’
‘It can wait.’
‘No, come on, Lee. You said you would.’
I take in a deep breath and let it out slowly. ‘That blood on Harold’s path belonged to Poppy.’
What does she mean really? It’s not like I’m making it up. ‘Yes, really.’ I can almost see the joy of earlier draining out of her.
I say, ‘That’s why the police were there last night. Someone stabbed her at the gate. Harold thinks it was Jason.’
This time she lets out the breath. ‘Is Harold all right?’
‘He’s putting on a brave face.’
When I turn into Bournemouth Avenue the police Corsa is outside my house again. This time they’re at my house.
I approach the house and see Harold in his garden at the fence looking over. Something is happening.
I don’t park in the carpark this time. I pull up onto the kerb opposite the police car, putting all four of my wheels on the footpath – the road isn’t wide enough for parking on both sides. I look over and see Mei’s mum at the front door with the police. She’s shouting.
‘What the hell?’ I say to myself.
I get out and walk over. Harold sees me and says, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. I was just about to call you.’
At my front door, the police constable, a man, is trying to use body language to get his point across. I don’t know what it is he’s saying either. Mei’s mother is there with her passport in her hand, waving it into his face. She sees us and barges past the officer.
I don’t know what she says but it’s loud and aggressive. Mei responds and it seems to calm her down.
Mei says to me, ‘She thinks they’re checking if she’s allowed in this country.’
The officer comes over. He’s tall and dressed in a high vis jacket with his hat on. ‘Is this your house?’ he asks.
We’re still in the street and I can feel the eyes on me. I glance at the Starkies’ house and see an upstairs curtain twitch.
I see the name on his uniform. Police Constable Paul Smith. ‘Yeah. What’s going on?’
Mei talks to her mum. She tells her about Poppy.
PC Smith explains to me that Mei’s mum has been accused of stabbing our neighbour’s dog.
Harold looks over. ‘That’s ridiculous.’
‘Who told you that?’ I ask him.
‘I can’t tell you that.’
‘It’s the little shit down the road isn’t it? Jason.’
‘Can we speak inside?’ he asks.
I nod and walk over. ‘I’ll talk to you later, Harold.’
‘Thanks, Lee,’ he says and goes inside his home.
We go inside and sit in the living room. Mei sits with her mother on the sofa against the wall and the officer and I sit on the other sofa that faces the front of the house. Both seats are at a kind of broken L shape.
I speak first. I say to PC Smith, ‘That Jason from down the road has been terrorising everyone for a while now. He was being racist towards my mother in law and was doing something to Harold next door not long ago. Swinging on his fence and swearing at him.’
He nods. ‘He mentioned that.’
‘He’s a pathetic little bastard and his parents don’t give a shit what he does.’
Constable Smith writes some notes down. He holds a hand up as if to say ‘hold on a minute’ and asks: ‘All that may be, but can you tell me where your mother in law,’ he turns to Mei, ‘and your mother was last night?’
I answer him. ‘We went out for a meal last night. That Chinese on Fylde Road. They have cameras. Go check. Then do something about Jason. For some reason he has a problem with the world, and especially Mei’s mum lately.’
‘Have you logged a complaint with us?’ he asks.
He stands up. ‘If anything else happens, please contact us.’ He hands me his card. ‘Call me directly unless it’s an emergency. If it is then call nine nine nine.’
I see him to the door. ‘Will you speak to him again?’
Without answering my question, he just says, ‘Goodnight, Mr Mercer.’