Chapter one of David Roger's regeneration murder-mystery story set in east London

The district supervisor's voice broke into a falsetto. “When I say a slide into savagery I mean what I say, inspector. The council had withdrawn all social services, the police had stopped responding to emergency calls and the ministry was all for moving the population into a refugee camp and dynamiting the entire estate. They were going to go ahead as soon as they’d worked out a media strategy.”

The district supervisor struggled to articulate through a mouthful of steak and stilton pie. “I had £550 left in my budget and we were only three months into the financial year. The situation was utterly hopeless.”

“And that was when you called in van Demon?”

“I knew his reputation, of course, but I was desperate, inspector. I had nowhere else to turn. The whole estate was surrounded by a metre of refuse; the three high rises had regressed into some kind of primitive state … one heard noises in the dark that chilled the blood … children howling like wolves. I decided to spend all the money remaining on a single throw of the dice."

“Van Demon don’t come cheap. How much of his time did the five c’s buy you?”

“Exactly five seconds. I was given to understand that this was a considerable discount to his usual rate.”

“Five seconds isn’t long.”

“It was long enough. He arrived in the back of a white Silver Wraith Rolls-Royce with opaque windows. He drove past at high speed en route to the Bank of England. I never saw his face. Two minutes later my mobile phone buzzed: it was a text message. It said simply ‘Allotments. vD’.”


“Allotments, that was all it said. At first I was disappointed but later I saw the light. You see, the only fixed asset the estate possessed was a large area of grass around the towers. Nothing had been done with it because there was no money to do anything; the aim had always been to ensure that it could be maintained at the smallest possible cost. As soon as I saw those words, the entire solution became apparent to me. The overall effect was similar to a religious revelation. ”

“So what did you do?”

“We divided the grass into strips and allotted them.”

“How did you do that?”

“By lot. It was a lottery.”

“How many applied?”

“A lot. The value of the land on offer was immense; the estate is no more than two hundred metres from Tower Bridge, inspector. There were some, ahem, technical difficulties in arranging the transfer of ownership, but this scarcely bothered the tenants, innocent as they were of the complications of property law. We charged them £1 for a ticket and this provided us with our seed money.”

“Seed money?”

“Money to buy seeds. This was also the occasion for the formation of the allotment management council, and it’s various vegetable branches. To begin with this consisted of Susan and Diana Balbonti, two women who had been unbalanced by several decades of exposure to BBC gardening programmes with never a chance to plant a begonia on their own behalf. They formed the nucleus around which the various social groups in the estate coalesced. It took a lot of work on the tenants part, a lot of determination But they had that in spades.”

“In spades?”

“Two of them to begin with, from Homebase. Standard Spear & Jackson jobs. We used them to break ground and plant our first crop. The Nuffink boys from the east tower took the lead here. It helped that they had their own hoes.”

“From Homebase?”

“They were from Hounslow actually. Nice girls once you got to know them.”

“They don’t sound like they’d stay in many evenings watching Allan Titmarsh.”

“Well the first crop decided on by the committee was iceburg lettuce, chosen for its speed of growth, and cannabis sativa, chosen for its street value. A controversial choice, I know, particularly for a man in your profession, inspector, but there was a well organised distribution network already in place, and we had exactly £24 in working capital.”

“Mr Duffy, can I remind you that this is a murder investigation. I really don’t see the relevance of vegetables to my inquiries.”

Duffy waved me over to a fat leather armchair, added another log to his expansive fire and poured himself a balloon of cognac. “Sit ye down inspector, and I will not hide from you the full glory, and the full horror, of what happened next …”