Alfie Barnes was found a few minutes before 8 o’clock, by a Red Setter who galloped up to investigate the shape lying on the grass. The dog licked Alfie’s bruised and battered face, got no response, and sat down beside the body. His owner called the police.
Alfie didn’t have an enemy in the world, so why the hell would anyone would want to beat him to death? Most of the time he was in his own loop, apparently unaware of the world outside its orbit and listening to music the rest of us couldn’t hear. And that made him the kind of person you had to look out for, not stumble over before breakfast in a copse of trees on the Downs.
Alfie was extra-ordinary. 26 years old, fifteen years younger than his sister Linda. A late addition to the Barnes family, arriving when his mother Joanna was 39. A mistake, but loved to bits nonetheless, even though living his life was a complicated process. He lost vital moments of oxygen during his birth, which left him with sensory disorders and some speech problems. Five days before his death he had stopped using sentences and instead précised them into phrases. He had taken to repeating actions over and over again. But he listened intently when someone spoke to him and took time to process what was being said. He smiled readily at those he knew, eyes that glowed with recognition and lips that revealed sparkling white teeth which he cleaned and polished and flossed for twenty-five minutes each morning.
Nobody saw what happened. The dog and his owner knew who Alfie was – the trio met regularly while he was taking the walk he did every morning at 7.30, winter or summer, rain or shine. A uniformed constable wrote down all the man could tell him. Then in the company of a detective from Redland Police Station, he knocked on the Barnes’ front door at 10 minutes to 9.
Joanna and Patrick were devastated by the loss. Both in their mid-60s, they had embraced retirement and the long-anticipated joy of being at home and close to their beautiful, vulnerable son, around the clock. Their world was blown apart in a handful of brutal moments on a warm September morning.
Half an hour later, Linda was visited by two uniforms in a patrol car.
When the police left, she took the few steps from her office door to mine and paused on the threshold. The lady is 43 years old, beautiful, smart and funny. She was my wife’s closest friend and her empathy with Emily’s cancer was instinctive. Emily battled hour by hour to stay alive and spent eight months dying. Linda supported the Shepherd family day after day, right down to the wire. Today it was my turn to be friend and counsellor.
I looked up from behind my desk. She stared at me as if we had forever. I got to my feet.