“We need to get rid of them, mate, there’s no other way.”
“Yeah, I’m sick of the sight of them.”
“The sooner we do it, the sooner we can get on with our plans.”
“Let’s get the tools organised and we can get cracking tonight, after dark.”
Wouldn’t this sound strange to you, dear? I often hear bits and pieces of conversation on the way to work, but this did rather make me prick up my ears. I must admit I rushed to catch up with the two young men to see if I could find out more. They were still deep in conversation as they waited to cross the road. They looked very furtive.
By the time I managed to find them again, squeezing past all the other people on their way to work, they had moved on to football. I groaned out loud, but not so that they could hear, of course. I was just about to forget the entire episode when the conversation turned again.
“You know we’ll end up in jail if we get caught, mate?”
“Best not get caught, then!”
And then they were off, jaywalking the red lights, earning honks from car drivers and a very rude word from a cyclist, who had to swerve to avoid them. I always wait for the green man before I cross the road. Always.
I arrived at the office and settled down to my work, and every now and again those two young men and their very odd conversation popped in and out of my head as the day wore on. Working at the local council’s parking permit office is never dull. You see all of life pass through that office, I can tell you. That morning, we had a bit of a kerfuffle with a drunkard, and then the police were called, and I had to deal with that – such a waste of everybody’s time – and so I soon forgot about them. I didn’t even manage to get my lunch until well after three o’clock. Mr Ravenscroft – he’s the manager and really very strict – got a bit sniffy about it, there was such a queue you see, but I insisted. I just had to go out and find my favourite brand of weedkiller, that one you dab on the leaves instead of spraying all over your lovely borders. Dandelions are making a mockery of my garden, I can tell you.
So, there I was, standing in the queue at Randall & Sons, wishing I had brought my sandwich with me – I’d made such a lovely ham and cheese on granary bread – when who did I see marching into the shop without a care in the world? Yes, one of those young men from this morning, the taller one with ginger hair. Seeing him quite took my breath away. He disappeared into the aisles and came back a couple of minutes later carrying the largest saw I have ever seen and an armful of those heavy-duty sacks – you know, those ones you put rubble in. Or, whatever else it was that he and his accomplice were planning.
He stood behind me in the queue – Mr Randall was having trouble with his till, you see – and I could hardly breathe. I don’t mind telling you, I was rather excited. I love a good mystery, as you know. I wasn’t frightened, no, of course not. Then, his mobile phone rang and he dropped his sacks all over the floor – one of them caught the back of my ankle and snagged my tights. Well, you know me I like to help people out, so I picked them up.
“Yeah mate – thanks missus,” he nodded at me, took the bags back and then turned away, covering his mouth with his hand, trying to keep his conversation secret. Now, the funny thing is, nobody seems to understand that doing that just funnels the sound in one direction. If you continue speaking in the same tone, every word can be heard just as clearly by whoever is standing in the right place. So I heard everything, nice and clear.
“I’m at the hardware store right now – yeah, just dropped my stuff on the floor.”
“No, some old woman picked them up.”
“Nah, she’s not from our part of town. She won’t recognise me, not a chance, she didn’t even look at me.”
“Yeah, I got the saw and bags. You OK for the other stuff? Did they ask any questions?”
“Nah, no CCTV here either. This is gonna be a doddle!”
They were definitely up to no good, don’t you think? What should I do? Keep quiet? Go back to work, then go home, feed the cats and catch up on my soaps?
That’s exactly what I did. Of course I was scared, after hearing that. They were big, strapping young men, the sort that spend their time in the gym rather than taking a nice young lady out for a meal. Imagine if they found out who told the police? I read the papers, I know that all this witness protection isn’t as good as they say. Put me behind our bullet-proof glass at work and I can take on anyone, but outside – I’d much rather mind my own business.
I must admit I didn’t sleep very well last night. Guilt. That’s what kept me awake. And then when I did sleep, I had the most terrible nightmares about dismembered bodies being dragged out of the canal next to the old factory works. Horrible, horrible dreams.
You know I complain about work sometimes, don’t we all, but I am that grateful for it some days. It keeps me busy and I do like having the company, to be honest. It’s not the same at home since Stan passed. Anyway, by the middle of the afternoon, I had decided that I was indeed just ‘some old woman’ as that young man had described me, and that I had added two and two, and made five. Stan, bless him, used to say that I should have written books, I had that vivid an imagination.
Anyway, I don’t like moping and festering as you know, so I decided it was time I organised a little holiday with Brenda to Weston-super-Mare, for a change of scenery and some lovely sea air. That would take my mind off things. You’ll never guess what though – Theresa from accounts came rushing in like a mad thing, waving the local paper in the air.
“Girls! Have you seeeen this? It’s aaaawful!”
She does that – stretching out words for emphasis. It does irritate me. I was just about to have a quiet word, we were so busy and didn’t need her interrupting our work, when I saw the headline. Big, black capital letters –
And then I saw the photos.
Yes, you guessed it, I knew you would, it was those men. I knew they were shifty, I said that, didn’t I?
I felt quite sick. No, really very sick. And then I did something I have never, ever done before and once I get back to work I will make a promise to Mr Ravenscroft never to do again. I snatched the paper out of Theresa’s hand, grabbed my coat and handbag and dashed out of the office! And mind you, I left a poor young lady standing at my counter, half way through processing her parking permit. But you must agree, this was an emergency.
I had to go to the police and confess.
Yes! I’m an accessory, dear. I knew those nasty, horrible men were going to commit a crime and I didn’t lift a finger. Those poor women – they looked like they preyed on women – I let them die!
I’m at the police station right now. The young man at the desk was ever so polite and helpful. And he didn’t insist on doing what young people seem to do these days, calling everyone by their first name. It was Mrs St James this, and Mrs St James that. He even gave me a lovely cup of tea, and some digestive biscuits. I do like a nice digestive.
My dear, I told the detective absolutely everything I could remember – what they looked like, how they acted, where I was when I first saw them, what happened in Mr Randall’s shop. It’s best to come clean, isn’t it? Then he brought me to this room and I’m sitting here on my own, waiting. It’s been quite a while now, but I know they must all be very busy. I heard the young one, the one who gave me the tea and biscuits, talking outside in the corridor. Those awful, awful men were caught red-handed “going after number eight”!
I do wish he would come back and let me know what’s happening. I need to get a message to my neighbour, Joyce, and ask her if she’ll feed the cats. And I do think I’ll need to organise a solicitor. Oh, so much to do, so much to do! Who will look after the house when I’m in prison? They haven’t read me my rights yet. Or recorded the interview.
Really, it’s not like it is on the TV. I wish they’d left me that paper to read. I never even thought to look inside before – that headline was more than enough news for me. The nice young policeman took it away – perhaps it’s evidence! It must have my fingerprints on it. They’ll want to match them with the rubble sacks, you know, when I picked them up in the shop. Oh my goodness, what if the police think I helped them? What if those men don’t tell them any different? I could be in prison for murder! Me!
I do wish someone would come and tell me what was going on. I do need to use the toilet…
“Hey! Tony! When are you going to put that batty old woman out of her misery? Mrs, err, what’s her name again?”
“Mrs St James. And why should I do it? You encouraged her! I keep telling you that dishing out cups of tea and biscuits is going to make a rod for your own back. Do you know how much paperwork this is going to create? We can’t just pretend she never came in.”
“OK! OK! You got that newspaper? She won’t believe me otherwise. She never even read past the headline. Silly old goose.”
“Here! Go for your life, then. Bloody sensationalist journos – they drive me nuts!”
“It’s on the radio now. Listen!”
“And finally, in local news, two men were caught red-handed in the early hours of this morning, attempting to cut down the ancient trees of Moynihan Square Gardens. Listeners will remember that the square’s residents were mired in controversy earlier this year after mounting a shock campaign against the newly-imposed Tree Preservation Orders.
A council spokesman gave us a statement a few moments ago, and I quote: ‘These TPOs were intended to preserve our local history for future generations, enabling the trees to become the focal point for a heritage walk and raise the national profile of our historic town. The trees were planted in the 1500s and were favourites of Charles II, who often visited the gardens to restore his equilibrium after the Great Fire of London in 1666. We are all shocked by the unwarranted vandalism of this act and will pursue the culprits with all means necessary.’
We have been informed that the local residents wanted to chop down the trees, which they claimed prevented natural daylight from entering their homes. They planned to landscape the square and install a coffee shop, play area and skateboard park in their place. The criminals, named locally as Mark Hansford, 34 and James Anderton, 31 led an aggressive campaign against the imposition of the Tree Preservation Order for several months, before losing their case on appeal. Police tell us that they will be charged later today and appear in court in due course. A custodial sentence is likely, if they are found guilty. ”