John Patten wasn’t long out of Police Training College at Hendon. He’d been assigned a beat that took him through an affluent part of Paddington, West London. It was an area that he knew reasonably well as he’d grown up just a few postcodes away in St. Johns Wood.
A call came through on his Police radio. It was a simple enough request. Someone had reported a man hanging around in St. Pauls Park and could he investigate. It was just before eight o’clock in the evening and the sun would soon be going down. He hoped this wouldn’t take long as his shift was due to finish at nine.
When he entered the park it was deserted apart from a man sitting on a bench about fifty feet away. As he walked closer he could see the man was staring at a large oak tree and was holding a small note pad and pencil in his hands.
In these situations he’d been taught to start off as polite as possible. No point in being aggressive and inflaming the situation.
“Hello sir. Can I ask you what brings you to the park this evening?”
The stranger looked up. He was in his thirties, greasy black hair, unshaven and with a distinctive scar above his right eye. He was dressed in blue jeans and a dark brown sweat shirt.
For all the answers PC Patten could have anticipated. “The birds” wasn’t one of them.
“You’re bird watching?”
The stranger shook his head.
“No sir. I’m drawing them. I like to draw the birds.”
He handed the policeman his notepad.
John was taken aback at the quality of the artwork. Pencil drawn works of Robins, Sparrows, Blackbirds and Starlings in great detail. He smiled and handed the pad back.
“Very good. I’m impressed. You do this for a living? You an artist?”
For the first time the man smiled.
“No sir. Not me. I just like to draw them. Passes the time.”
John felt guilty but had to ask more questions. Paperwork would need to be completed once he was back at the station.
“Can you give me your name and address please sir. Just for our records.”
The man shrugged his shoulders.
“Sure. David Marshall. 62 Queen Street.”
Once again the answer wasn’t what he was expecting. He knew Queen Street very well. It was on his beat. 62 was an impressive building. Four floors of prime real estate in the heart of the City. The street entrance was grand. Six marble steps led up to two large oak panelled front doors. The words came out of his mouth as he was thinking them.
“YOU live at 62 Queen Street?”
“Do you have any ID on you? Driving Licence or Credit Card?”
“No sir. But I’m leaving now. You’re welcome to come back with me and I can prove it then?”
John thought about it for a few seconds then decided it was a good idea. It was on his way back to the station and it meant he could draw a line under the enquiry.
“Okay. Good idea.”
They began their walk. All the time John was trying to make his mind up about David Marshall. He was obviously well off. 62 Queen Street was worth millions. Even if he didn’t own the building and was just renting, the cost would be enormous. He was polite, articulate and from the quality of the drawings, well educated. Maybe the guy was some kind of eccentric millionaire. A kind of Howard Hughes figure. He casually asked some questions.
“Lived in Queen Street long?”
“No sir. Just a short while. I’m from Nottingham originally.”
“Nottingham? What made you move to London?”
“Long story sir. Bit boring really. I left the Army and realised there was nothing left for me in Nottingham so came down to London.”
“3rd Rifle Battalion. Did two years in Afghanistan. You probably noticed the scar?”
“No. I didn’t notice it. How’d that happen?”
“We came under fire just a few miles outside of camp. A bullet grazed my right eye. I was one of the lucky ones. Lost some good friends that day.”
John wasn’t sure how to respond, so they walked the last few hundred yards in silence.
Once outside their destination they stopped and David Marshall spoke.
“I’ll just get my stuff.”
John expected to see the stranger walk up the stairs and enter the grand building. Instead he disappeared into a small alley way beside it. He returned a few seconds later with three flattened cardboard boxes, two blankets and a sleeping bag. John watched as he laid out the cardboard on the top step of 62 Queen Street and then tightly wrapped the blankets around him.