AND WHO LIVES IN A HOUSE LIKE THIS?
Having failed to find the keys in the lock-up, and it seemingly proving impossible for anybody, despite all the advantages of google, Facebook, the census, the telephone directory and the police computer, to quickly track down Melanie, who was apparently off with the whole family gallivanting somewhere, Roche and Sharon were standing outside the most desirable residence of Gerard and the late Bernadette O’Dwyer. No amount of knocking was eliciting any advantage, and since Sharon was well aware that Roche was itching to boot in the door, she quickly said she would see if a neighbour had any news or even a spare key. Though John found the suggestion that Bernadette would entrust anybody with a key to what, hopefully, was a treasure chest of incriminating information and titbits, he was prepared to accept that somebody might know something about Gerard’s whereabouts, or whether he had been seen in recent times. He had not dismissed the idea that Gerard had lost his rag and killed his wife in a fit of rage or jealousy - she might have found herself a fancy man ... (perhaps not! John shuddered at the very thought, but it was a sad and mucked-up world and some people, he supposed, might have been attracted to Bernie’s money and her power, if not her personality!). Or Gerard could just have wanted to trade her in for a newer model himself, but not divvy up all their worldly goods in the divorce court? As a ‘good’ Mass-going Sunday catholic, he might easily think murder more acceptable to his faith than divorce. Who could tell. With the kind of hypocrisy practised by the O’Dwyers, anything was possible.
The next door neighbour - the houses were ginormous, so this was hardly an ‘over the garden fence’ kind of ‘next door’ neighbour - was in reality quite some distance away. Thank God, however, she seemed to be the old fashioned sort. She was an honest to goodness nosy parker. None of this live and let live, or each to their own for her. She made it her business to know most of what - at least externally - went on within her proximity, not quite with the aid of binoculars, but certainly positioned as a sentinel. She was permanently entertained: With her breakfast coffee, her mid-morning elevenses, her lunch-time Weight Watchers’ snack, and her evening glass of pinot grigio with her dinner on a tray. Her meals were taken by the window, or the fire, depending upon the time of year. She had a good sized television which stood prominently in her living room, and another smaller one in her kitchen, which were both almost permanently on, at least during the day. She was quite open about the fact that she was as enthralled by the ‘comings and goings’ of her neighbours, as she was by the offerings which appeared permanently on her television screens. She found ‘all of that fighting and canoodling’ on the box better served up and more exciting when viewed through lace curtains.
Gerard had been home all of the previous day - at least during the day - going out about quarter to nine in the evening. He had put a kind of hold-all in the boot of the other car - not his usual range rover - into her car - Bernie’s - the Mercedes. He had then got in to drive away, but, apparently, thought better of it, and got out, retrieved the grip, and loaded up the Range Rover instead. He pushed the other car’s keys through the letterbox and drove away. He was on his own - no sign of Bernie, nor the other woman who was sometimes with him. She had not been around for quite a while now, but there was a time … Well, suffice it to say, as far as the ‘watcher’ was concerned, she was of the opinion that it was not only Bernadette O’Dwyer who was sharing his bed! Very pally they were - bosom companions, indeed! But on the other hand, she seemed quite close to Bernie as well. They were often going off on shopping expeditions together - sometimes the two women - sometimes, him and one of them, sometimes all of them together - and returning with boxes and boxes, all loaded into either the Range Rover, or the other woman’s car - which was a long estate-type contraption. Not new, but …. You know, serviceable.
All this Sharon had got from a twenty-minute conversation with Miss Esme Speller (an appropriate name for an English teacher, and former head of department at the local secondary school). Miss Speller was long-since retired, and had moved to her current house when they were built some fourteen years ago originally with a colleague - another teacher, Katherine Morton - who had, unfortunately, soon after fallen foul of the dreaded Alzheimer’s. She was now confined in a nursing home. Miss Speller had ‘bought out’ Miss Morton’s share of the house, to provide monies for the poor woman’s nursing care - and because the local authority was threatening to insist on her going to some dreadful place unless she cashed in on the house. Miss Speller was incensed that poor Kitty could be treated so shabbily after giving so many years to those people! She had always taught in the public sector, you know. Never dreamt of taking the rich man’s shilling and going into one of the fee paying schools - not even the voluntary aided, faith schools. And she could …she was a very capable teacher. Very gifted. And devout and respectable too! Sharon had to make her get away, by promising to return and ‘take a proper statement’ from Miss Speller, when they were clearer in their minds what was going on, and were in a better position to know what it was they really needed to ask her about. She backed out of the front door still being subjected to a continued stream of information from the householder, who, had Sharon known it, was in a very good position to let her into a piece of knowledge that would have saved them a lot of time and heartache. But Miss Speller did not know of its importance, and Sharon did not know of its existence, so it served no useful purpose at all then!
Obviously, by the time she returned, Roche was nowhere to be seen, but the burglar alarm was announcing to all the world his intrusion into this well-guarded house.
A window had been broken at the front of the house - which according to Roche was broken when they arrived, and which led him to believe that there was mischief afoot! As far as Sharon was concerned, she was like the three wise monkeys: she saw no evil, she heard no evil, she spoke no evil!
John was failing to disable the alarm, and within minutes the telephone in the house rang, and within another few minutes after that a car screeched to a halt in the drive, emblazoned with the insignia of a security firm, one of whose functions - in exchange for quite a large chunk of cash - was to respond to security breaches in the homes of their clients.
Since Sharon’s car was not distinguishable as a police car in any way - indeed it looked too shabby to belong to any person with half an ounce of pride - the next thing he and Sharon knew was that they were being set upon by two very large, very excited ‘goons’: They were intimidating for people who were legitimately there (all right perhaps not totally legitimately there, but not burglars anyway!) let alone for the enterprising criminal just trying to earn a crust. Roche and Sharon had to admit that customers certainly got what they paid for!
Roche, however, was not endowed with a keen sense of humour - he had things he laughed at, things he found entertaining and amusing - but getting set upon by would-be upholders of the law whilst pursuing his ‘legitimate’ duties was not one of those things. The very embarrassment of the situation gave spirit to his response and strength to his actions. He immediately turned the arm-lock into a judo move and landed his assailant onto his back on the floor. The other man then, needing to react, let go of Sharon in order to assist his colleague. This enabled Sharon to retrieve her warrant card from her pocket, and shout that they were police, there to investigate a murder! The standing man looked at her incredulously, but taking the card from her, he studied it long and hard, as though it somehow was written in a code that needed a good deal of deciphering. Eventually he gave it back, nodded at his mate, still lying on the floor, but trying to take in the scene, albeit it from quite a different perspective to the one that he would have preferred. To be flat on his arse - thrown by a man much shorter and much lighter - was embarrassing and humiliating, and he was not going to forget the incident any too quickly. He could only hope that Curtis did not go blabbing it all around the workplace! He could already hear the sniggers, the jokes, the put-downs! Fucking coppers. He’d never liked them anyway! It was a crying disgrace that they could take in that tiny, blonde, 30 something bimbo standing there flashing the sodding warrant card at them, and not him. He was twice her size, and strong, and brave, and …. All right, he should have paid better attention at school - should have attended more, agreed! But he was not stupid! He had to admit that the spell in Brixton had not been helpful - but it was only for TWOC - and he would put money on it that there were not many young lads living in South London that had not lifted a car and joy-ridden at some time in their lives! How pathetic to hold that against him. All right, the shoplifting charges were not good, but could they not see the sense in that old saying ‘set a thief to catch a thief’. He had said that at his interview - but they hadn’t even laughed. Just gave him a kind of pathetic no-hoper look, and said ‘they’d let him know’. Well, we all know what that means! So he had given them a two-finger sign as he left, and told them that it was crap money anyway, and they were all useless and any criminal worth a light could take them all down! And here he was on his arse, at the feet of this fucking copper. Far from taking them down, how down was he! How bloody embarrassing!
Curtis and Brian were sent on their way, with the scantiest of explanations as to what was going on. They were able to sort out the alarm, but despite a lot of pressing for information from the more talkative of the two - the one who had been holding Sharon - they had learned precious little. The ‘standing’ man - which was the description best understood by Sharon and John - and indeed by Curtis, and the rest of their colleagues when the two security guards returned to base - was the most talkative and seemed to believe that ‘they were on the same side’ giving the impression that he thought they were talking ‘amongst equals’! Nothing could be further from the truth, as far as John Roche was concerned. He had seen too many of those so-called security blokes, who were little more than muscle sold to the highest bidder. He understood that, like bouncers, they should be properly ‘vetted’, but knew from years of experience - professional and personal - that they were mostly taken on for their size and their ability to ‘handle themselves’. Sometimes they could not even do that! Anyway, he was not wasting any more time. This was an opportunity he had dreamed of for many years, and he was not going to let it pass him by.
Walking through the house, it was everything that Roche’s squalid ex-Council flat on the third floor of a dreary looking tenement block was not. It was spacious and airy, it was opulently furnished and expensively carpeted - but most of all, it was clean as a show home and smelt fresh as a …. As a swimming pool! The overwhelming odour was eau de chlorine, which masked absolutely everything else, every other scent - fragrant or nasty - and anything in between. Sharon immediately remarked on this, and walked gingerly around the place, afraid to add any contaminants, but unhappily confident that she would find nothing to outwardly give witness to an awful event that must have taken place here - it was obvious that somebody must have thoroughly cleaned the place - but to hide what? What had taken place in this perfect example of ‘how the other half live’! Pushing through a heavy and luxurious swathe of velvet curtaining, which hid an impressive expanse of frosted sliding glass doors, Roche assumed he would find himself going out into a garden of some sort. However, he found himself on the side of an elaborate swimming pool, certainly not as large as those he had only seen in documentaries about the lifestyle of film-stars in Hollywood or Las Vegas, but certainly impressive enough for a suburban house in a Midlands city in England! There was a Jacuzzi alongside the rectangular pool and what looked like either a sauna or a solarium at the opposite end. The pool was probably not long enough to practice for the Olympics, but as far as Sharon and Roche were concerned it was jaw-dropping enough! However, it raised the question as to whether the chlorine in the pool was the source of the aroma in the house? It must surely have been quite toxic to live permanently with that level of contaminant, both as a swimmer, and even merely as a resident in the house. It was true, though, as Sharon pointed out when Roche raised this question, that people can get used to living with anything, over time, and maybe they no longer were aware of it? She had never been invited to Roche’s hovel, so could not begin to understand how right this was! He had long since learned to live with - indeed he was completely oblivious to - the stench of alcohol, and sheer dirt and nastiness which had developed and thrived over time in chez Roche! They walked around the rest of the house. Not a soul was there - to Sharon, it was also a soulless place too. Not a home certainly - not as she understood the word - and it was difficult to equate it with anybody’s normal everyday life - even Bernie O’Dwyer. Sharon had met her once or twice around the city, and at the odd function, and did not know her well (certainly not as well, apparently, as her boss, who had seemed very badly affected when they had found the body) but even so, the woman had seemed ‘normal’! She had talked about children, indeed grandchildren, but how could the woman who lived here, in this beautiful, sterile environment, entertain people - a ‘family’, let alone children, small children! It did not make any sense whatsoever. The two concepts, to Sharon, were incompatible.
They walked through a gym, and an office, and through a seemingly endless maze of rooms, until finally, at the very back of the house, looking onto a well-tended, but welcoming garden, they discovered a room which was comfortable and ‘lived in’. It was clean and well cared for, but decidedly ‘shabby’ and to Sharon, ‘nice’. It was a relief to understand that the couple had lived in a kind of annexe, with a ‘normal’ sized kitchen - well stocked, and clean, but untidy, and a living room, which showed the same attributes. Going upstairs in this part of the house, via a ‘back staircase’ they found two bedrooms and a bathroom, again clean but ‘every day’ - certainly not showroom, but not chez Roche either! If Sharon was relieved by this demonstration of
‘normality’, Roche was all the more critical of Bernie and Gerard, since he hated the fact that they had to ‘show off’, they had to demonstrate just how well off they were, when they were, in reality, bog Irish just like him and the rest of them! An exaggeration, even he realised, but it was merely a symptom of his negative feelings towards the world he came from, and the world, to a large extent, he still lived in. He had been no more able to walk away from it than he had been able to embrace it.
There was nothing to give rise to suspicion or concern, and definitely nothing that would warrant them calling in a forensic team. Indeed, there was nothing to explain why they - well why Roche - felt it necessary to break into the premises in the first place. He was not one to worry overmuch about that, and they left, calling the security company again to make sure that they were going to replace the broken window, which had been broken obviously by a vandal, since nothing inside was disturbed - they had checked it over, and all seemed to be in order!
Sharon was relieved that after such a long day, Roche said “OK, let’s call it a night - off you go home - see you in the morning.” They went their separate ways.