[W]e were confronted by the murder victim’s mother, tears staining her face and a pinafore covering her simple blue dress. ‘I’ve got nothing to say,’ she announced mournfully.
Tommy went into full vicar-mode. ‘Of course you haven’t, my dear,’ he said. ‘What could you possibly say? What could ANY of us possibly say?’ He put his hand on her shoulder. ‘You have lost the daughter you loved. And here we are bothering you and trampling all over your nice clean doorstep. I can tell, you see; I bet you scrubbed this doorstep this morning.’
Bemused, the mother looked down and nodded.
‘I thought so,’ beamed Tommy. ‘Just like my old mum. Always kept a clean doorstep.’ Then he took a mighty drag on his cigarette, which by this time had a produced a tip of faltering ash. ‘And with a lovely doorstep like this, the last thing you would want is me dropping my cigarette all over it. Is that an ashtray I can see on the table in the hall?’
Fag hand outstretched like a cavalryman’s sabre, he glided past her into the hallway and I followed, mumbling apologies. Minutes later we were cosily installed in the kitchen while mum made a cup of tea, Tommy banged off a couple of snaps of her before making his choice from the family photo album and I coaxed some words out of her about the heartbreak of losing a daughter (sorry, but we old hacks still talk in tabloid headlines).
As we drove back to London I said to Tommy: ‘I didn’t know you smoked.’ He gave me one of his beatific smiles. ‘Only when the occasion demands,’ he said.
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