‘No, madam, I’m a detective. We don’t always use marked police cars. Sometimes we need to blend in.’
Violet studied the beefy detective seated on one of their dining room chairs. A cup of her instant coffee cooled on the table beside him. He’d refused the offer of something stronger. Violet had offered in the hope he would say “Not while I’m on duty” and had not been disappointed. His refusal left the distinct impression it was not what he would have preferred.
In all other respects the officer conformed to her preconceptions: he was overweight, his collar was tight and his tie was loose, his black shoes were well polished and at least size twelve. These signs, plus the way he scribbled in his small notebook, convinced her that he was a genuine officer and not one of those ‘bogus constables’ she had read about in the local paper.
‘I’ve never seen a badge before,’ Violet said, handing it back to the detective. ‘I wouldn’t know if it’s real or not.’
‘I can ask for uniformed officers to attend if you prefer, madam.’
‘I’m sure it will be all right,’ Albert said.
The detective sat forwards, his paunch rested on his knees. He licked his pencil again. ‘Has Derek done this before?’
‘Oh no, never. He’s a good boy really.’
‘How old is he, Mrs Smith?’
‘Detective Sergeant, ma’am.’ The officer looked up from his notebook. ‘He still lives with you?’
‘Yes.’ Violet felt her voice grow tight, she gave a short high-pitched cough. ‘You see, Derek is a teeny bit special. He can’t look after himself very well. The doctors say he’s got–’
Albert broke in loudly. ‘Derek’s brain is wired up a little differently from you and I, Detective Sergeant. The doctors have lots of clever-sounding theories but they don’t know why he’s like he is or what to do. He’s an intelligent lad and given the right encouragement he’s perfectly capable of taking care of himself.’
‘I understand, sir. Has he been in trouble before?’
‘Never. He’s not delinquent, he just sees the world differently.’
The policeman wrote again in his notepad.
The conversation turned to what Derek had been wearing – his blue fleece, he always wore his blue fleece, that he liked buses and trains but he didn’t like travelling on them, and the money he’d taken from Violet’s purse.
‘Do you have a photograph?’
Violet stood up smartly. ‘Yes, I have one ready for you.’
The officer put it in his pocket without looking and pushed himself to his feet. ‘Derek will go on the missing persons register. Because of his – differences I’ll flag him as a vulnerable person. Try not to worry too much. People disappear all the time, often they do it on purpose and most of them come home. Forty eight thousand people were reporting missing last year. Forty seven thousand nine hundred and seventy two of them turned up safe and sound within a week. Here’s my card. If he returns, or you think of anything, call me.’
‘Thank you,’ Albert said.
‘Thank you very much indeed.’ Violet felt very reassured.
Albert showed the officer out. Violet put the kettle on. Albert was by the window when she brought the tray through. They sat down together.
‘I didn’t know he took money from your bag,’ Albert said.
‘He’s been doing it for ages. It’s not stealing.’
‘Well, I didn’t know.’
Violet took Albert’s hand. ‘He never takes much.’
Albert sat in his chair, the one best lined up for watching the television. ‘Forty eight thousand is a big number. Do you think he made it up?’
Violet blew gently on her tea. ‘I expect some people disappear more than once. It’s a habit.’
‘Did he mean country-wide or just this county?’
‘I don’t know, dear.’
Albert gave a non-committal grunt. ‘I didn’t think much of that policeman at first. Bit of a slob, but he seemed to know his business.’
Violet picked up the card. ‘D.S. Troy Jarglebaum’, she read. ‘I wonder where his parents came from.’
To be continued…