When he opened the door, he had on a scruffy dressing gown, slippers and a tweed cap. A short-handled axe hung loosely in his right hand.
I took a step back. You can’t tell with Daft Robbie. Sergeant Westland smiled.
‘Mister Roberts? Good morning, sir. First, could you please put down the axe?’
Old Robbie looked down and seemed surprised to see the axe.
‘Oh, yes. I’m so sorry. Silly of me.’ A little nervous laugh. ‘Opening the door to a policeman while I’m holding a weapon. You must have thought, I don’t know, maybe that I might be dangerous.’
‘It’s still in your hand, sir.’ The sergeant wasn’t hurrying, hadn’t raised his voice. But I knew he was on his toes. I’d seen him in action. You wouldn’t think someone his age could move so quick. He’d put more villains on the floor than I’d had canteen dinners.
Hand on the baton. Strike for the elbow if that axe lifts.
Robbie’s fingers opened and the axe dropped, clanged on the worn brick floor of the porch. It toppled against a pair of battered old boots and knocked a piece of dried mud off the sole.
‘May we come in, sir? We can be more comfortable inside.’
‘Of course. I’m forgetting my manners. Please come in .’
The axe lay where he had left it. I had a quick look as he led us in; no sign of blood. Three sleeping cats occupied one of the mismatched armchairs in the cramped room and a collie on the old leather sofa looked up. Its tail gave a token wag. The dog must have been out recently; its coat was still wet. I notice these things. Part of the training, see. The room smelled like a team of handlers had been sleeping in the dog-van all week.
‘Shift up, Bess,’ the old man said and the collie eased itself to the far end.
‘Please sit down, gentlemen. What can I do for you?’
Sergeant Westland gave him our names.
‘Oh, but I remember you, don’t I, young Jacko? Used to chase you off my blackcurrant bushes, didn’t I?’
‘It’s PC Jackson now, sir.’ I said. I could feel my neck getting hot. The sergeant’s lip twitched slightly. If it had been anyone else, the story of Jacko’s blush would have been all round the station tonight.
‘Are you just out of bed, sir?’
‘I beg your pardon, Sergeant? Oh, the dressing-gown. I’d forgotten.’ That little laugh again. ‘I don’t have anyone to get dressed for any more, you see. I don’t get many visitors, either.’ He took off the tattered cap. Thin wisps of white hair fell round his ears.
‘You said “a weapon”, sir. But it’s a wood-axe, isn’t it?’ Sergeant was a crafty sod, slipping in the quick question trying to catch the old man out.
‘Yes, but, you know, you might think that I was going to use it as, you know, as a weapon.’ He hesitated. We said nothing, just watched him. I’d learned that much.
The sergeant changed tack again. ‘You were saying you don’t see many people here, Mr Roberts. Did you see anyone last night. Any strangers? Anyone at all?’
‘No, Sergeant. You’re the first I’ve seen this week. I haven’t even been to the shop yet.’
‘Are you sure, Mr Roberts? I should tell you we’ve spoken to Mrs Emslie at the village shop.’
Daft Robbie had his usual stupid smile on. ‘Have you? That’s nice. She’s very helpful, isn’t she?’
‘Let me tell you, sir,’ said the sergeant, ‘what she told us. She said you were there on Tuesday.’
‘Yes, that’s right, sergeant. Last Tuesday. Tuesday’s my day for the shop.’ He looked round at the cluttered mantelpiece. ‘Where’s my list, I wonder?’
‘What day is it today, sir?’
‘It’s Tuesday, isn’t it? My shopping day.’
Sergeant Westland was very patient. ‘No, sir, it’s Thursday. You were in the shop two
days ago, Mrs Emslie said.’
‘Was I? Goodness me! Well, that must be right, then. She would know.’
‘Was anyone else in the shop then, sir?’
‘I’m trying to remember, sergeant.’ You could see he was struggling. ‘Oh, yes, some
woman, talking to, I think, yes, it was Doctor Jamieson.’ His face lit up like he’d just won the
‘Did you speak to the woman, sir? Did you see her again?’
‘No, no,’ Robbie said, ‘I just speak to Mrs Emslie. Just . . people I’m used to.’
The sergeant spoke very slowly and deliberately. ‘Mr Roberts, have you been out of this
house since that day?’ We watched his face.
‘Er, no – not even into the garden.’ He seemed puzzled.
The sergeant stood up. ‘Thank you, Mr Roberts. That’s all we need to know. We have to
ask everyone, you know.’
As we left, I whispered to the sergeant, ‘Do you want me to take the axe?’
‘What for?’ He carried on walking.
‘You know – forensics. Any trace of her blood?’
‘Don’t be daft, son. He couldn’t have done that.’
‘But why not, sarge? He may look harmless, but he chased me with a pitchfork once. I
nearly shit myself, I was so scared.’
The sergeant stopped and turned to me. ‘How old were you then? Eight? Ten? Kids
scare very easily, especially when they know they’ve done wrong. Nicking his blackcurrants,
were you, young Jacko?’
‘Yeh, alright, Sarge. Don’t go on. But just because he says he wasn’t out . . ?’
‘Listen, that woman was attacked about four hours ago. It was raining heavily then,
still drizzling now. Those boots in the porch were bone dry.’
‘He could have another pair.’
Sgt Westland sighed. ‘You know and I know that poor old daft Robbie never has more
than one pair of boots. He wears ‘em till they drop off. They’re probably the same ones he
used to chase you in when you were a nipper.
‘Come on, let’s get back. I need a cuppa.’ (997 words)