Leroy Randall, the tenant of Flat 5 and final occupier of the first floor of the block, was 39 years old, single and living alone since his step father kicked him out eighteen years ago. He had come to Britain from Jamaica with his parents when he was just a baby, and his father had worked as a labourer for the council. It was low paid work which the average British male considered to be beneath his dignity. Like many West Indians, Jerome Randall had kept his head down and got on with the job. In the early 1960s you had to put up with the racial abuse and taunts from the white residents where they lived in Bristol, but when the chance came to move to another area, he took his family to Berkshire where a job on the buses had come up. The early years in the West Country had taught young Leroy to watch out for signs of danger from the gangs of white youths. He had become adept at looking after himself – joining a neighbourhood gym and learning to box had given him a certain amount of respect on the streets, and it wasn’t long before the locals decided to leave him alone.
His father died in 1976 when the boy was sixteen and for a while he and his mother muddled along, albeit with steadily dwindling resources. Martha met Leroy’s step father Gary in the summer of 1978, and from the outset it was made clear that he was no longer welcome in his own home. Gary kicked him out within the year, and it was only due to the benevolent attitude of his employer that he got the flat on Wolseley Street. He worked long hours and his relatively high earnings were due in no small part to the shift premium for unsocial effect on his lifestyle.
By the time Marks was at Leroy’s door, Detective Constable Wallace had joined him whilst Peter Spencer was tracking down Gasparini. Despite repeated knocking there was no sound from within the apartment, and just when the two of them were at the point of leaving, a bleary-eyed Randall peered through the gap held by a security chain.
“Yeah? What you want man?”
“Detective Inspector Marks and DC Wallace, Mr Randall. Could we come in please? We have some questions that we’d like to ask you.”
“Got any ID?”
They both held up their warrant cards, and after a prolonged scrutiny by the obviously sleepy tenant, they were admitted to the flat whilst Randall disappeared to get dressed. He was back shortly afterwards still not much better after a morning wash, and bemoaned the fact that he had only returned home from his shift four hours previously.
“This is police harassment. I ain’t done nothin’ man.”
Marks smiled at the stereotypical statement and made himself comfortable in an armchair by the fireplace.
“How could I possibly be harassing you Mr Randall, we’ve never met before. Is there something that you’re hiding? Something you’d like to tell us?”
Leroy sat down and DC Wallace followed suit. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and poured himself a glass of milk from the bottle which had stood on the table since the previous day. Marks grimaced at the thought of how it must have tasted, but then again he hadn’t been at work all night. He continued.
“Your neighbour, Miles Thomas, was found dead on the roof of the block earlier today and we are in the process of trying to ascertain his movements over the past week or so. Is there anything that you can tell us that might help in the enquiries?”
Randall jumped visibly at the detective’s last statement and went into a tirade of denials.
“It wasn’t me. I ain’t got nothing to do with it. Didn’t even know the guy. I probably wasn’t even here either.”
“Calm down Leroy” said Marks “We’re just making enquiries. No-one’s accusing you of anything………” and he paused “………..yet.”
Like Spencer in the Mastersons’ flat, DC Wallace was scrutinising the room whilst taking notes of the conversation between Marks and Randall, but homed in on Leroy’s hands where she noticed bruising on the knuckles of both. She nodded to Marks and he followed her gaze. Leaning closer to the man, the DI took a closer look.
“Been fighting, Mr Randall?”
Leroy pushed both hands into his pockets and leaned back in his chair, his eyes flitting furiously between both of the officers.
“Boxing officer, I go boxing at the gym, been doing it for years. Ask anyone.”
“We will” said Marks “But for now, have you seen anyone out of the ordinary going in or out of Flat 7, or hanging around outside?”
“No, and I make it my business not to. Keeps my head down I do. Ask no questions and nobody bothers you. Learn to do that quickly when you stand out in a crowd. Know what I mean?”
Leroy was obviously nervous about something and Marks decided to feed him a lie in an attempt to draw him out. Taking out his notebook and making a play of searching amongst the pages for some item of information, he stopped and tapped one of the pages. Looking up at Leroy, he smiled.
“According to Mr Thornton, you and Miles Thomas have had several altercations in the recent past. Isn’t that strange behaviour towards someone that you don’t even know?”
Leroy’s face twisted in anger and he stood up, walked towards the kitchen and then suddenly turned. Jabbing the air with a finger towards Marks, his tone was no longer that of the frightened, sleepy shift worker awoken from a nights rest.
“That guy shoulda learned to keep his mouth shut for his own sake. Yeah, so me and Miles got history, so what?”
“So does that ‘history’ extend to a beating or worse, a murder?”
“Listen Mr Detective Inspector Marks, that Miles Thomas was one dirty operator. This was a nice block to live in before he turned up with his drug dealing and lies. Talk to Carol Thorpe about her boy Martin and what Thomas did to him. Sure I thumped him, and yeah that’s what the bruises are about, but he had it coming. Him and his BNP mates don’t belong here. He’d been after me for a while, but I gave him a real pasting last week, and he hasn’t come near since.”
Marks listened intently to this tirade and made no attempt to either calm Leroy down or ask anything further. Eventually his rage blew itself out and Marks looked towards Wallace to make sure that she got everything written down. She nodded. Leroy was breathing heavily, had now resumed his seat and was looking from one to the other as if waiting for some response. He got it, but it was not what he expected.
“Right then Mr Randall, that will be all for now, but we may need to talk to you again, so please stick around. In the meantime, thank you for talking to us – we’ll let ourselves out.”
Marks smiled as he turned at the door and closed it behind them, leaving Leroy still in his chair, and looking utterly bemused.
© Copyright 2016 Phil Neale 1952. All rights reserved.