ROSIE BAUR, D.I. Chapter 24

27 May

24. ALICE BONEHAM

Detective Sergeant Peter Jenson fixed Alice Boneham with two eyes that seemed tl penetrate to the very depths of her soul. A new perspective on the truth was being unveiled, and he wanted to find out more.

“You mean, he was a wife-beater?” he asked.

Alice looked down, examined the hands that were on the table in front of her, then looked up again. “You might say wife-beater, but I don’t like to call it that,” she admitted, “but only when the drink was on him. You see, he’d go to the pub and be tempted by its one-armed bandit thingy, you know, fruit machine that gobbles up more money than a weak man can afford, and he’d come home with one pint short of a belly-full inside him because he was skint, and think it was my fault. Other times he was a real gent with the kindest of hearts. It was the drink that did it to him, the drink that ruined him, that and a weakness for gamblin’!”

Detective Constable Elena Davies nodded sympathetically. “So you had a rough time,” she said quietly, “some men can be the worst of fiends when there’s alcohol around. I’ve met a few. So that’s why you left him, because of the violence?”

“No man’s going to rough me up and get nothing in return,” retorted Alice, meaningfully. “He was a good man when we met, though, and I sometimes wish he’d stayed the same. But a man’s a man, and the truth about him and his deeper secrets will out in the fullness of time, as they say…”

“There are men and there are men,” said Elena, deliberately obtuse. “My boyfriend wouldn’t harm a soul, not now and I hope not ever, though who can see into the future with 20/20 vision? Not me, that’s certain.”

“My Joey wouldn’t have hurt a soul when I met him,” muttered Alice, “but life changed him. I don’t know what triggered it. Was it work, labouring on the farm with Eggy expecting too much of him? Was it the kids that never came along, his and mine, and the doctor said as his tadpoles weren’t swimming well enough…”

“Tadpoles?” asked Elena, wondering what on earth the woman was rambling about.

“You know, them sperms a man’s so proud of. Joey had them, of course, plenty of them according to the clinic, but they’re not so hot at swimming and were going nowhere.”

“Oh. I see,” Elena tried not to smile, and just about succeeded. “I suppose that can get a man down?” she suggested. “After all, men are proud of their … sperms.”

“Summat got him down all right. Not that he let on much about it. He was very private when it came to his tadpoles, especially when he found out they were getting lost on their way to … you know where. Didn’t like talking about it. Anyway, what with worrying himself about them and not talking about it and working hard for Eggy he sort of changed.”

“It’s not easy for a man when his manhood’s put in doubt,” suggested Elena.

Alice nodded. “Then he started drinking,” she sighed, “and that put the brakes on his good heart. And there’s that charity shop, the one where I work. Run by Mrs Buttery, it is, and she can be a tartar, take my word for it, though there’s one thing that stops her being too much of a tartar with us…”

“There is?” asked Elena, and Peter Jenson raised his eyebrows curiously.

“We’re volunteers and if she tries to ride rough-shod over us then we’ll unvolunteer ourselves,” smiled Alice, “then where would she be? Running a shop she don’t particularly like all by herself? It might eat into her singing time!”

“You mentioned it as one of your husband’s problems?” suggested the Sergeant.

“The silly man got it into his head … Mr Buttery sometimes gave me a lift when he was taking his wife to the shop, and Joey got into his head that he was chatting me up. He was pleasant enough, was Mr Buttery, but he never mentioned my knickers, not once, not even in passing!”

“But Joey thought he was after you?”

“That he did! Again, it was when he was in drink, he rowed with me about it, said as Buttery was only after me on account of him being the one with good tadpoles…”

“Maybe he should have worn looser jeans,” murmured Peter. That shop she runs. It supports the Hospice?” asked Peter, though he knew the answer.

“It does, and that Hospice does some good work for folks as need it,” replied Alice stoutly.

“I know. My father was there when he died,” said the Sergeant thoughtfully. “They made what might have been a real hundred carat nightmare into little more than a quiet dream,” he added.

“Anyway, I’ve told you about Joey. When he’s sober there’s no harm in him, but as soon as liquor touches his lips he’s the devil himself,” sighed Alice, “and the shame of it was I like a glass of something warming of a winter night myself, but I couldn’t have the stuff in the house or he’d get at it.”

“Do you think he’d kill a man?” asked Peter, seeing that the talk of domestic violence and antisocial drinking habits was unlikely to get them anywhere.

“What? My Joey?” spluttered Alice, “he wouldn’t hurt a mouse when he was sober, but if he had drink on him he’d slaughter a herd of elephants at the drop of a hat!”

“And a man?” coaxed Peter. “Would he kill a man who got in his way?”

“I’ve seen him gently take a spider and place it safely where it might thrive when any other man would have squashed it,” replied Alice thoughtfully, “but if he came on a dog that had been made to suffer and was dying, and he saw that the only way he could help it would be to put it out of its misery, then he’d do that, though he wouldn’t like it…”

“And if he saw a man with a hole in his head and bleeding from his eyes…?” suggested Peter.

“I dunno. I really dunno,” she replied slowly, thoughtfully.

“Would he put the poor bloke out of his misery?” insisted Peter Jenson, “you probably know Joey better than any of us. What would he do if he came upon a dying man on his way back home from the pub?”

“Normally? He’d phone 999, of course he would. But if he had drink on him there’s no telling. If he had drink on him he’d do whatever seemed best to him, and he wouldn’t give much thought as to consequences. Consequences wouldn’t even enter into his head. He’d just go ahead and …. I dunno.”

“Do the best?” suggested Elena.

Alice nodded. “Do he best,” she whispered, then louder, “what has that silly man done now? What trouble has he got himself into?”

“It’s no worry of yours and we don’t know anything for sure,” Peter told her, “come along, you’ve been a tremendous help. We need to know a great deal of background information before we can prove anything. That’s all for now, we’ll take you back to the shop where we found you.”

“I can’t think…” mumbled Alice. “If it were Joey, poor man, poor, poor man.”

They were making for the door to the interview room and Alice was wiping a tear from one eye when Rosie pushed her way in and beckoned Peter to her.

“We need Mrs Buttery,” she said quietly.

“I’m going back to the charity shop with Mrs Boneham,” nodded Peter, “Mrs Buttery was there earlier. I’ll bring her back with me and that’ll kill two birds with one stone.”

“Make sure you get her,” said Rosie, “and if the bird’s flown her nest go after her wherever she’s gone to. She holds the answers to all of our questions.”

TO BE CONTINUED…

© Peter Rogerson 17.03.17

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