“Thank you, Mrs Hopper” said the young policewoman when her biscuits were in front of her with a cup of tea.
“Please call me Maude, dear. How can I help you?”
“Maude. OK. Well, I was hoping you could throw some light on some anonymous phone calls.”
“Anonymous phone calls? That sounds exciting, though I hope you’re not mistaking me for Miss Marple. I may look like Margaret Rutherford but…” Maude frowned. “Do people still make phone calls these days? I thought it was all texting and instant twitting or whatever it’s called these days.”
“It’s a lot easier to make an anonymous call from a phone box than to send an untraceable tweet,” said the policewoman. “Someone’s been doing that to make some rather vague reports of goings-on in this street and we have you listed as the local neighbourhood watch co-ordinator so we’re hoping you can throw some light on them.”
“Neighbourhood watch? Oh dear me, that takes me back. It must be twenty years since our last meeting. No one interested these days. Perhaps it’s all the, what did you call it, the tweet?”
The policewoman nodded as if seeing where to place a piece of a jigsaw. She looked so young that Maude doubted she could have coped with one of the 12-piece sets she used to give her grandchildren when they held that last meeting.
“That would explain why we have no other names listed.” The policewoman opened her notebook. “Leaving Neighbourhood Watch to one side, I don’t suppose you’ve noticed anything out of the ordinary at Number Seventeen, have you?’
“Drink your tea, my dear,” said Maude. “Let me think.”
Number Seventeen. That would be the house where she’d heard the shrieking last week. She’d bumped into the woman who lived there a couple of days later, who explained her limp by saying she’d fallen down the stairs and cracked a rib. That was the third time this year she’d fallen down the stairs, and she still thought she was fooling silly old Maude.
“No, nothing unusual at all.” If there was one thing Maude couldn’t stand, it was being taken for a fool.
The policewoman scribbled a note. “And Number Fourteen? Anything untoward there?”
“Number Fourteen. That would be… Do have a digestive, dear, you look painfully thin.”
Not as thin as the young men she’d seen shuffling between Number Sixteen and various white vans at all hours of the day and night.
She’d been trimming the rosebushes in the front garden – which no one from the upstairs flat ever bothered to do – when one of the thin young men broke away and ran down the street toward her. It was the first time she’d got a proper look at one of them.
Maude wasn’t a racist but she’d lived on this street for long enough that she couldn’t be blamed for holding her secateurs in front of her in case she needed to defend herself. She’d never known there were Chinamen living on her street before.
This Chinaman didn’t run very fast. A man who looked more substantial caught up with him in front of Maude’s front gate and dragged him back into the house with a couple of clips round the ear.
The substantial man re-emerged from the house on his own and gave her such a charming smile that she lowered her secateurs and smiled back.
“Sorry you had to see that, madam,” he said. Maude couldn’t remember the last time someone called her madam. “We run a homeless shelter in there but some of the kids we take in… if we’re not firm with them, they’ll be back on the streets and back on you don’t want to know what.”
Maude remembered how polite the man had been as she watched the policewoman nibbling her chocolate digestive. The police weren’t what they used to be. She didn’t doubt this young woman’s good intentions, but her generation didn’t understand the value of a clip round the ear. She’d only get that polite man into trouble if she mentioned it.
“Nothing at all.”
The policewoman made another note gave Maude a smile that said she had no more questions and it was time to go.
“I do think you should have a look at Number Twelve,” said Maude.
“Number Twelve?” The policewoman consulted her notebook. “None of the calls mentioned Number Twelve. Is there something we should know about?”
“I’ll say there is. You should see that young couple carrying on. Kissing on the street, no less, and I’m not just talking about a peck on the cheek. And I won’t tell you what they do without bothering to draw the curtains. Three times a week in front of the whole street. You can’t avoid seeing it.”
The policewoman was not making notes. Perhaps Maude hadn’t got her point across.
“It shouldn’t be allowed. Perhaps you can give them an ASBO.”
The policewoman smiled. “Thank you for the tea.”
She didn’t even acknowledge the newly opened digestives.