“A policeman’s lot is not a happy one, happy one”, my first guest blogger, James Patrick is something of an Ellery Queen sleuth. Here is his story …
It’s four o’clock on a mid-winter morning. At least that’s what the dashboard clock tells me, which probably means it’s half past one. My body clock is screaming that I need sleep; it seems lately, it’s always screaming.
I forget exactly which winter this was; each stand-out experience is already blurring into the next, my memories becoming a patchwork of sirens, screams, blood and laughter. I seem to remember having plaster stuck under my fingernails, so I deduce that it must have been around three years ago. Call me Sherlock.
There is no doubt that the time, date and what happened, will be written in a neatly completed pocket notebook, in a disorganised filing drawer, somewhere in the East Midlands; I’m a stickler for my notes you see, I know exactly how much pain it can save, if you are able to account for your actions and whereabouts, thoroughly, at any given time.
It’s Johnny who’s with me, both of us out patrolling in the cold and pitch blackness; hunting for burglars, robbers and, quite possibly, witches.
The grim Victorian terraces are silent around us, splendid in their grime and run down surroundings. In contrast, the clean, modern Astra we’re in generates enough loud rattling to announce our presence as far as the next post code. There is little splendour in the noise of an overworked diesel engine. What we lack in stealth we make up for in enthusiasm.
It is literally freezing; the chill getting in, even with our ‘standard issue’ fleeces zipped up around our necks. I’m driving (at night it keeps me perky) and I can feel my right ear burning from the cold. The dashboard, what’s left of it after the police buttons have been jammed in, boldly tells us that it’s minus two degrees outside. Probably closer to minus four, if the clock is anything to go by. Yet we still have both the windows down, heaters off, keenly listening for smashing glass, banging of fence panels, anything above the spluttering, gasping motor. As we rattle forwards at two miles per hour, headlights off, we’re the only car on the road. We could well be the only people left on the planet; it is that silent.
You become attuned after doing this for a while. Utter silence is not good, it’s the calm before the storm. I’m so used to this that I’m even searching through open curtains for security lights flicking on in back yards, any lumpy shadows near cars, any lit cigarette ends dropped in strange places. It’s also easy, at this time of the morning, to see people, where in reality there is a postbox; un-tricking your brain takes a lot of effort and practice, practice, practice. Haribo helps.
I find myself having a midnight daydream; the sudden appearance of burglars – complete with swag bags – running, jumping into a car and making off; Dream Johnny hitting the lights and sirens and me dropping, seamlessly, into police driver mode; pushing the car safely forwards, ‘making progress’ after them. Always thinking of my driving instructor whooping “system, system, system” as we accelerate – It’s how we’re taught and believe me it works. I can almost hear the screech of tyres – some of us like to call it ‘Hollywood Tyres’ – as we head for the highway. Or, in reality, the ring-road. I can’t truly explain in words the sense of hysterical excitement and absolute fear that a blue light run, punctuated with repeated bursts of Hollywood Tyres can generate; nor can I sufficiently get into words how drained you can feel after doing twenty or thirty of them in one shift.
They are dangerous, blue light runs. You are pushing a car, pushing yourself and pushing other drivers on the road. You have to predict what the other road users will do, or not do, as well as planning what you will do – or can do if that option gets shut down. You have to be eyes-open for hazards as far as you can see; and still expect the last second pedestrian coming out of nowhere. Every time you switch on the lights and pull out in traffic you could end up killing someone; that is the true weight of the privilege and it is all too easily forgotten.
Suddenly the night and my not unpleasant waking dream, is broken by an almighty CRASH!
A chair sails out of a first-floor window and bounces to a splintered and mangled stop in the middle of the street, not three metres from our front bumper. Glass continues tink-tinking onto the pavement for several heartbeats longer. Johnny may have a slight variation on this story due to his own, personal blurring of the past but, right now, for me, it was a chair.
“Game on Johnny!” I squeak, trying (and failing) to hide the shrill and disappointingly, girlish excitement in my voice; my adrenaline lets rip and I can feel my heart stop beating and start pounding in my chest. I stop the car and leap out, hand dropping to my waist, near my baton; my leg muscles begin to shimmer-shake as the chemicals circulate and coil them like springs. There is no delay between these actions, it’s practised, natural, efficient even.
In a snap I’m walking quietly to the curb, where the broken glass lies, careful to avoid crunching it underfoot as I don’t want to fanfare our presence; not until I have a better feel for what is going on.
“Burglary?” Asks Johnny in a half whisper. I’m not convinced. My spider sense isn’t tingling and the bat signal hasn’t been lit all night. We look at each other and both say the word “Domestic”, at the same time and with the same amount of certainty.
Slowly we approach the front door, around the broken glass, thus far not having even heard the slightest shout from inside; not a good sign generally speaking. When the screaming stops after violence it normally signifies that real damage has been done.
On this occasion both Johnny and I fail to expect the unexpected. The Spanish Inquisition chalk up a point and go back to ironing their cassocks.
We’re both shocked to a standstill – a literal freeze frame – as a woman appears at the window, she has an ear to ear, maniacal smile on her face. It’s one of those smiles, a Cheshire cat smile, hot breath dragoning out between her comically gapped teeth. I check the sky for a full moon but can’t see from this angle. The houses are three storey instead of two. It must be a full moon, it’s one of those smiles. “Morning officers” she calls down to the two of us, in a broad West Midlands accent. She even adds a frantic and cheery wave which goes on thirty seconds too long to be comfortable.
Remaining as stock-still as the latest exhibits at Madame Tussaud’s, we stare back at her until she stops waving then, with equally cheerful vigour, pushes the rest of the broken glass out of the frame, with a slipper.
I stare at John, he stares back at me and shrugs in confusion. It’s a gesture that says, you tell me. At this particular point I have no witty retort or sound advice. “You seem to have a broken window madam and your chair is in the road” is all I can manage while still retaining the, Joe Friday tone, of a serious officer of the law.
She looks cheerfully down at the chair then finishes poking glass from the frame before replying. She’s been quite diligent in her work, the frame is almost picked clean.
“Don’t worry about the chair, I have five others just the same” she practically coos down. I wait for more but no other words are forthcoming.
“Is everything okay?” I venture. For a second she looks confused; you and me both love, I think, sure that Johnny is thinking exactly the same as me. Exactly the same.
“No, it’s fine. It’s just. Well” she pauses.
Progress, maybe. “Go on madam, we’re here to help”. I’m making what I hope is an encouraging gesture with both hands; all the while I’m on tenterhooks. Both I and a like minded soul often wondered if these were some sort of small hooks; tiny little hooks.
“Okay.” She begins “Have you ever had one of those moments where you wake up and think you’re on fire?”
I stare up at her and my lips start to quiver as a laugh tries to escape. I keep it in but it seems the cheery smile, currently beaming down at us in lieu of lunar light, is infectious. My nose is twitching, I can feel it, as my brain frantically tries to cancel the electric signals being sent to it by my giggle reflex. It’s definitely a full moon.
I look at Johnny, that doesn’t help.
Never bloody helps.
“Can’t says as I ‘ave my duck” Johnny tells her, deadpan, accent as broad as can be. His mouth moves to continue but he’s human at the end of the day and following such a bizarre statement I can’t see how anyone could keep a straight face. With that our control is gone, both lost to the world in gales of laughter.
The woman at the window joins in.
Author: James Patrick