by Pete Pitman
Old Speckled Hen
Monica was roused from her cosy slumber by the jingly sounds of the theme tune to ‘The Sweeney”. Her husband, Inspector Tom Marsh, was up and alert, answering his mobile.
“Hullo, Marsh here... Hi, sergeant...”
Please, just be a robbery, thought Monica.
“... the jewellers in the High Street, Bright’s. Yes, I know it...”
A jewellers, good. That should be nothing more than a robbery.
“... Dead. The owner, Maxwell Bright. Oh dear!”
Monica’s heart sank. She hated it when there was a murder. It took so much out of her husband.
“Right, sergeant. I’ll be there in a jiffy.”
Now, we’ll have weeks, maybe months of late nights. Tom would be bringing his work home, living every moment of the case. He aged ten years during a murder case. She did her best to support him, but it was a hard time for both of them. She was so relieved when he didn’t take that job in London, but even a provincial town like Derby had its share of murders.
“I’m off then, love,” said Tom, pulling on his coat and snatching at his car keys.
“Dinner, in the microwave then, I suppose.” She didn’t attempt to hide her disappointment.
“Yeah, sorry love.”
She’d hoped that when he’d reached fifty they’d have shifted him to a desk job. But he wouldn’t hear of it. “I’m the best they’ve got. They’d miss my experience.”
He wasn’t being big-headed, he had a first-class record. She was always half hoping he’d cock-up and accept he was getting past it.
It was going to be a long day for Monica. She ran her own accountancy business from home, but it was quiet at the moment. Plus, she found it hard to concentrate when Tom was on a murder case and her clients deserved her full attention. So she poured a glass of red wine, carried it upstairs, dug out the photo albums and wallowed in nostalgia.
She was from a large family – four sisters and three brothers – which meant lots of weddings and christenings and birthday parties. Most of the pictures showed the two of them raising their glasses to the camera, Tom holding a pint of beer and Monica a red wine. Every now and then there was one of Monica by herself, her smile less convincing. The last family do they attended was a New Year fancy dress party, which had been great fun. It was amazing how uninhibited you became when wearing a mask.
At 17:35 Monica was adding salt to the boiling potatoes when she heard the scrunch of Tom’s car on the drive.
“Blimey, I wasn’t expecting you home this early,” she said, trying to disguise the pleasure she felt.
“I know. It was an open and shut case,” he said, trying to disguise the disappointment he felt.
“Dinner will be another half-hour. So, you can tell me all about it.”
Tom poured himself a glass of beer and settled on a stool by the kitchen island.
Once Monica had turned the pork chops over, he began, “As you know it was Maxwell Bright, the jeweller, who was killed.”
“Yes, poor soul. Was it a robbery?”
“Yes, it was. He was working late because he’d received a lot of new stock. Somebody hit him over the head and cleaned out all his expensive stuff. Well, it didn’t take us long to narrow it down to four potential suspects. We got them in and interviewed them. But, we couldn’t get anything out of them.”
“Who were they?” asked Monica, putting a tablespoon of gravy salts into the gravy bowl.
“There was John Small, his current assistant. A little dapper man, with Bradley Wiggins sideburns. Pete Strong, his previous assistant, who’d left under a cloud. A big bloke with bad breath. Bill Brawn, a builder, built like a brick outhouse. He’d done some work for Mr Bright the previous week. And Terry Tall, a local thief, who had form for this type of job. He was a big man too.”
“As you’ve been mentioning the men’s physiques, I presume that is somehow relevant to the case.”
“Aye, you should be doing my job,” Tom said, as he rubbed his hands together in anticipation of his favourite dinner. “As I said, we were struggling; it could have been any one of them. Until just after lunch when this tramp wanders in and says he witnessed the murder.”
“Why did he wait that long?” asked Monica.
“Well, he doesn’t like us, the police. But, his conscience got the better of him.”
“Good, I hope you fed him.”
“Oh, we did. He nearly drank us dry of tea too.”
“So, what did he see?”
“Well, he kips in the jeweller’s shop front. Last night, he was just bedding down for the evening, when he noticed there was a commotion in the shop. He looked in to see a big bloke in a coat and hat lumbering towards Mr Bright...”
“Hence, your emphasis on the suspects’ size.”
“Exactly. He said Mr Bright smacked his attacker on the arm with a stick or something similar, but the big bloke parried the blow and coshed Mr Bright, who banged his head on a display case as he went down. That was what killed him, poor sod.”
“Was the tramp able to give you a good description?”
“Unfortunately, no. The glass was dirty and there was a metal grille on the door.”
“So, how did you decide which of the three big blokes it was?”
“The tramp said Mr Bright struck his assailant on the upper arm with a thin stick or metal bar. There was a poker next to his body so we assumed it was that he used. So, we examined the arms of the suspects. And lo and behold, Pete Strong, his former assistant had a large bruise on his arm. And we knew he held a grudge against his former employer. Plus, he’d know which was the best merchandise to take. ”
Her husband gave her a self-satisfied grin, but Monica wasn’t convinced, something had occurred to her. “Did he confess, this Pete?”
“Well no, but he will. We’ve left him in the cells overnight to stew. I’m confident he’ll come clean, in the morning.”
“Did he have an explanation for the bruise?”
Well yes, he did, but ...” he hesitated, looked at his wife as she poked a fork into the potatoes. “Why? Aren’t you convinced?”
“Remember the New Year fancy dress party?”
“Yeah, I went as Sherlock Holmes.”
“Hmm, not very imaginative. I went as Frankenstein’s monster and nobody realized it was me.”
“That’s right, you kept them guessing all night.”
“So, nobody knew it was me because I’m only small and the monster’s over six foot.”
“That’s right, you had one of those padded super-hero costumes under one of my suits.”
“Yes, and I had those shoes with the special raised platforms and I wore a big hat.”
“Oh, I see what you’re saying. John Small, the current shop assistant, knew the other suspects would be big buggers, so he disguised himself as a big brute.”
“Yes, and the padded biceps on the costume would have protected his arm so that it didn’t bruise,” said Monica, sliding an overflowing dinner plate in front of her husband.
“Oh, bloody Mary! And the tramp said the killer sort of lurched at Maxwell Bright. And that’s what you did when you walked, because of the platforms you lurched, not lumbered, like I said earlier. In fact, some people thought that you’d come as Lurch.”
“So, what do you think now, then?” said Monica, pouring gravy on to her own less full plate.
Tom didn’t answer, he reached for his phone, “Sergeant... yes, I’m about to have mine too. But, I need you to meet me at John Small’s house, in ten minutes.” He then rammed a pork chop between his teeth, grabbed his coat and car keys, from where he’d dropped them a half-hour before, and headed out the door.
Monica said, “Trust me and my big mouth.”