Thursday, January 05, 2006

Where was I on the evening of the 21st?

Last night, as I walked down Shepherd’s Hill from Highgate tube station towards Crouch End, I was stopped by a plain clothed police officer investigating a murder.

He had in his hand a leaflet with a colour photograph of the victim. But it was dark and he seemed reluctant to let go of the leaflet. Obviously, he didn’t have enough copies to give out to everyone. The man in the photograph appeared to be an elderly Afro-Caribbean gentleman. He had a neat white beard, that much I could see. He was killed in his flat, which the policeman pointed out to me vaguely.

The murder took place on the 21st December. Was I in the vicinity that evening? It was a Wednesday. I must have walked down the hill exactly as I was doing last night. Had I seen anything suspicious? I didn’t think I had. Had I ever seen the man in the photograph round and about? I looked again at the white beard. I thought I would have remembered that face if I had ever seen it. So, no.

I felt a strange regret. He had an interesting face, now that I looked at it more closely. You had the sense that he had stories to tell, and the ability to tell them in an entertaining way. He looked like he would be good company. But he was dead now. And I had never known him. Never would.

The policeman didn’t seem to expect anything but negative answers from me. There was a definite sense of going through the motions. He seemed to find the exercise pointless, and was already casting about for the next pedestrian to stop, almost as soon as he began talking to me.

Of course, being a writer, I found the experience fascinating. I wanted to keep the interview going as long as possible and felt a keen sense of disappointment when he began to wrap it up. ‘Is that it?’ I felt like saying. ‘For Christ’s sake, this is supposed to be a murder investigation! Is this all you do? Flash a leaflet at passers-by, two weeks after the event?’ I wanted to help, too. Desperately. I even considered lying, just so I could be involved in the glamour and excitement of the investigation. ‘Yes. I see him around here a lot. That night, he was being bothered by a gang of teenagers. They all had hoodies on so I didn’t get a good look at their faces.’ Thankfully, I restrained myself.

It was given an added significance for me in that we were standing not far from Queen’s Wood, the place in my novel where a murder victim’s body is discovered. And Highgate tube station is where the story begins. So we were very much in the territory of my book. I felt, for a moment, that I had conjured this encounter out of my writing.

And, of course, I couldn’t help comparing the guy interviewing me to Barry, the fictional plain-clothed policeman who figures briefly in my book. In fact, weirdly, I almost believed it was him. Despite the gravity of the occasion, I couldn’t help smiling. I hope they didn’t take it as a sign of guilt.


Myfanwy Collins said...

Wow. What a scary thing to have happen and what an odd coincidence.

roger said...

Hi, myfanwy. It was odd. It felt very unreal. The novel came out of things I witnessed that had a big effect on me. And it seemed as though the process was continuing even now. I felt a definite sense of overlap.