Rollie’s the apartment manager, a youngish middle-aged guy with dark hair and Hawaiian-
type shirts. He seems like a swinger and his bleachy blondy wife with the too- dark tan
skin seems like a swinger too, but who’d want to? I think they invite us over once or
twice and I think we don’t go. I mean anybody over twenty seems like they ought to hang
with the old geezers and believe it or not it’s true because they’re just too damned old.
I’m just out of school with the understanding and responsibility of being a senior so
everyone else is either my age, younger, or completely gone and unconsidered.
Except for Morry. He’s forty-five or fifty but he’s an alcoholic and never grew up so he’s
kind of like one of us but with wrinkles, like a salty old sea dog kind of black sheep uncle
that the grown-ups wouldn’t let in the house but the kids would, just for kicks. Jo is a
friend of his, sort of a heavy-set female version of him except that she’s got money and
doesn’t much give a damn about anything so she’s kind of fun too. I met Susie Idel by
the pool and there’s so much going on I think it somehow all centered around her.
Jo was throwing a party for some reason or other, who cares, it was free food and that’s
all that matters. I mention it to her while we helped carry in all the groceries that I haven’t
eaten for three days and she says “yeah I heard that one before.” I guess it never dawned
on either of us that it makes no difference if it’s true or not. After all the outdoor grilled
hamburgers and etceteras, me and Morry’re up in his apartment drinking warm Coors
beer looking out over the pool. In the meantime there’s another flare-up between Jo and
her quiet unspeaking surfer son. Seems his darling sweet young brunette of a girlfriend is
pregnant and the angry part is that Jo paid for the abortion last year and this is getting
All I see is that that sixteen year old girl is so darling and pretty you oughta not sweat the
cash. Shoot, if she was mine… But she aint, and Rollie’s daughter by a previous marriage
is there in her swimming suit and a tall pretty blonde girl. But too tall, too grown up or
mature for eighteen or twenty or whatever she is. Distant some way or too meaty. Mostly
it’s just the young kids splashing around in the water and maybe my roomies Buddy and
Phil in there somewhere too. But one of the kids is a right scampy looking young-un and
that sort of thing always catches my notice one way or another. And that’s Susie. Just a
slick little blonde kid with squinty little eyes and pouty lips and such a skinny little thing.
Seems real stuck on herself and I admire that.
So with nothing else to do and Jo done yelling at everybody, her son, the wind and sky
and everything else, I mosey over and strike up a conversation. Nice kid, says she’s
fifteen which is too young and doesn’t even look that old, but I’m only seventeen and
girls are never the right age mentally or physically. Of course she wants to know who
Buddy is. That’s the dead giveaway, but I too have heard that one before so it’s blunted.
Then I’m up there with Morry again, reviewing the day’s events and everybody mad at
everybody and we’re swoshing down a gallon of red Sangria wine. He’s an alcoholic
and doesn’t give a shit but I don’t want to be bested by everyone every goddamn day
of my lousy life so fuck it I’m gonna at least outdo him.
He’s filling our little six ounce dixie cups and mine’s empty before he can fill his so he’s
gotta refill mine and it’s empty again before he sets the big round green bottle down so
he has to refill it again and we do that for what seems like quite a pleasant little bit of
time. Though I’m altogether aware of so much pain that just on’t quit hurting or leave me
be and wishing the damn wine had more kick to it and quicker and like I say Morry
doesn’t give a shit. I do notice at that moment the Sangria seems right flavorful, though a
bit too much like sticky cherry Kool Aid. Much later with no feeling at all I find myself
without conscious effort going somehow down those cement steps and across the
courtyard and up the steps to my room and then out completely.
Not for long because at 5am Rick the fat ass foreman is there and screaming about
going to work which for some reason I do. Of course it’s a hundred and six in the
shade that day and no shade but unfortunately it doesn’t kill me or make me stronger
just another day older and more lifeless. When I get home I notice that nice king-size
soft pink blanket of mine I bought at the mall behind our apartment building, is now all
pukey and needs to get itself washed and life goes on. So time passes, nothing happens
as usual, there’s nothing to do and seems like it’s going to be that way forever. Days go
by and a couple of weeks later I call up Susie and she says to come on up and party.
Of course I got no idea where she lives. Some town I never been to and don’t even
know where it is, north of Pasadena somewhere, I’m south of LA and never been
farther than Hollywood and that’s just to go work at the construction site.
But she gives me directions and I write ‘em all down like somehow I could follow them
and make it up there by some kind of miracle which is no big deal for a kid. I’m stoked
‘cause I really want to see her and talk to somebody kind of nice and soft and sweet for
a change. A big change from dealing with assholes like Rick at work all day who just
think you’re a piece of shit and like to be treated that way. I’m ready to go but can’t get
the car ‘cause Phil won’t give me the keys unless I drag him along and of course Buddy
wants to go too and fuck that shit. I just want to meet this kid and not be a fucking tour
guide for these tagalong clowns but got no choice so there y’are, fucked from the get go
and nothing ever works out for me for some reason. My fault I guess.
God knows how but we find the right freeways, exits, the right streets, and a few calls
later even find her house and only a couple a three hours getting there. Weird, very weird
but kind of neat. Pasadena I only know from that’s where the Rose Bowl is and some
old surfer song about the little old lady who’s the terror of Colorado Boulevard and we
were up and down that huge cement artery what’s like straight uphill like straight up the
mountain ‘til you get to Altadena and that kind of overlooks the whole world. Nice green
suburbs all dark and neat little cool houses all quiet and peaceful and inviting. Susie’s
there at her dark little house and happy as a lark to see us, not me I guess, but just to see
someone and we all go out to buy some beer and her little kid brother and sister go with.
The one kid is Jack and he’s kind of cool, like California kids are, twelve going on
nineteen, but the little girl Trisha is about eight or so and oughta be somewhere else.
It takes forever to find some place to get the beer but we do and get back to the house
which is totally weird. It’s their old house and is for sale I guess, but it’s only a couple
of houses down from their new house so we’re gonna party there. Jack’s got some jelly
bean acid, yeah right. I can’t imagine how he thought that up but California kids think
you’ll believe anything and I’m all totally bummed so I take one or two or three or
whatever and go sulk. Susie and Buddy are splashing around in the pool, I don’t know
where Phil is, don’t care, the whole thing is just totally fucked. I’m sitting there sulking
and thinking about the end of the world as a sign of what life is really like and later go on
over to the pool. Buddy gets out and drips on past toward the house in the cold air and
then Susie comes out all skinny and tiny and naked like a giggly little wet fish.
I just hand her a towel.
At sunrise I get out of the car where I been sulking with my eyes closed and no sleep at
all, maybe there was acid in the jelly beans I don’t know, feel like it, all twisted and
churned up but no high at all. Shitty acid or shitty life, whatever. So it’s light out and
sunny cool California misty morning and my billfold’s missing and not to be found. Go
around to the pool and into the freezing cold water without feeling. Later have breakfast
at Susie’s new house up the street cooked up by her mom who doesn’t seem to wonder
who we are nearly as much as I do. We all wander back to the other house and Susie
and Buddy are on the bed naked and we’re standing there talking to them like is this
normal. I feel bad for Trisha ‘cause you can tell that Susie is like her everything she
looks up to and wants to be and best buddy and all and now she gots a new friend
who’s having sex with her as we stand there talking.
Keep looking for that lost billfold and hate to see that imitation alligator birthday present
gone forever but glad I put all my cash in my pant’s pocket just the same. Give Buddy a
ride to work down in Hollywood with Susie telling me how to get there and me not
wanting to be in the same general planet as them but feel better moving than standing still.
Phil called in sick and stayed at the house. I’m not even worried about it, fuck it. On the
way back we’re alone together in the car and she’s not even there – lying down on the
front seat all worn and haggard looking. I don’t know, maybe jelly bean acid and shitty
warm beer and sex take a toll on a young kid like that, I don’t know.
Maybe she’s in love and missing her new boyfriend who’s gonna be gone all day working.
Or maybe she senses that she’s wanting some really cool good looking guy to want her
the same way and not just think she’s a hot-blooded little fuck thing. I say something to
her but she doesn’t answer and put my hand on her hip to see if she’s awake but she
brushes it away. And I’d tell her that I know Buddy and he’s too much in love with
himself to share that with anyone else but jeez she’d just be defensive and think I was
trying to make the leftovers which even don’t look very attractive anymore but she
probably doesn’t know that either so what can I say.
Almost funny in a sickening putrid sort of way and shouldn’t be and even not wanting
her like that I still don’t want her to get so hurt like she probably will. Poor kid. I mean I
know if it’d been me it’d probably be the same thing because who wouldn’t want and
take this sweet sexy young so all eager just like a California poster girl. I’m no better
than anyone else at using people and rotten ghastly things but not her and I suppose
Buddy can’t recognize any special people besides himself, maybe nobody can. But I
can, can always see that and it’s just really rare. To me it’s about all there is. I know
that’s her nature and his nature and doing what they want and that’s not for anyone to
say but them, except I would’ve cared for her as much as the sex. When we’re back at
the house me and Phil take off back to Anaheim . Susie gives me a picture of herself,
eight by ten of all things, I suppose it’s all she could find at the moment.
Back home I put my other pair of clothes in some kind of suitcase and bug out to LAX
which is better than I’ve felt in months. Can’t figure what Morry was yelling about though,
never seen him angry before even when he gets fired and then goes and gets another job
later in the week like some kind of funny life-type event. But back at the place he was
just all bent and mean, calling me a coward for running out, leaving California and not
staying around and making something of myself. Jeez, words just have no meaning
except what’s it to him? LAX gots a cool moving walkway that you just get on and
glide to wherever you going like getting the fuck outta here. Never been on a jet before
and it’s so different than a little prop plane, like a goddamned Greyhound in the sky
drifting effortlessly through the rich blue air through the happy clouds about higher than
I’ve been ever.
Takes you home in just a few hours, in the meantime they let you smoke and serve you
drinks. I got bourbon straight ‘cause I don’t know you’re supposed to mix it with
something but that works out for a really fine buzz after a couple of doubles at thirty
some thousand feet sitting between a nice young woman and a friendly businessman all
relaxing together like we’s old chums. Sitting there mellow as morning thinking about
Susie and wanting her to know that I care about her even if she doesn’t and not even
sad but just sort of wishing life was better for all of us.
Of course not even good feelings last very long. Back in Omaha heading north on the
highway to Podunkville is about the most depressing come down you can do. It must be
just me that hates to come back home but God it’s just so awful and bleak and bare of
anything and any feeling even. Like going back to the damp dark tomb after wandering
the earth as a free spirit in the shimmering sun. And so godawful dark here now, I don’t
remember it like that, all nothing but gloom and emptiness unlit along the roadways
leading nowhere. Knocks the breath all out of me to know that I’m all alone out here
with family that never would know who I was and not able to understand that feeling I
can’t explain to them.
The sunshine just aint here and I’m all alone. All the kids are in school and don’t know
that school’s out like I do.Feel like an outcast and sorry for them but I guess I’m the
only one ‘cause everyone else is just having a good old time and I’m thinking how great
it is that I’ve at last reached the lowest point in my life and anything’s gotta be better
from now on. Still dreamin of sunny California and all the girls I never met and the deep
blue ocean that was never warm.
Doing a stretch inside would be every copper’s nightmare, but at times like this I was seriously tempted. I saw myself putting a Browning 9mm handgun to the bastard’s head and pulling the trigger. Maybe the job was getting to me. Or maybe I just didn’t like watching proud, gloating child sex offenders walk free.
Up in the dock he’d put on his best performance, almost playing the victim himself, when the abuse meted out to his victims had been horrific. And here I was, outside court, watching the bastard climb into a taxi, smiling at me.
Phil, who had assisted me on the case, held my arm. “We tried our best, Rob. There’s nothing we can do.”
“I’m not finished on this one,” I told him. “I’m serious.”
We watched the taxi pull away into the traffic.
“Come on,” Phil said. “We need a drink.”
We sat in a pub near Islington nick. What with the divorce, the overtime and everything else, my head was in a mess. Only a few drinks in I was pissed, the exhaustion of months weighing down on me. At one point I nipped over the road for some charlie to sober myself up. But Phil, younger and wiser, could see right through me.
“Get off the nonce squad, Rob. It’s not doing you any good.”
I shook my head and headed to the Gents for another toot.
The next day the governor called me in to his office. He pulled me off the team. I was one of his hardest working men, but stress, he said, it happens to us all. Slow down.
He advised me to take a couple of weeks off. Have a break, he said.
“You fucking grass,” I said, passing Phil in the corridor.
He stood there, swearing he hadn’t said a thing.
Bullshit. So much for friends.
At home, I sat down with a bottle of Scotch. Two weeks. I could see myself climbing the walls already. I was a workaholic; kept myself busy, always had done. I’d been in the job almost twenty years, and before that had served four years in the army. I wasn’t used to this.
But even so, maybe the boss was right. Maybe I did need a break. Perhaps I’d fly off somewhere, forget the lot of it. Or maybe stick around, call a truce with Sandra. Try to get on speaking terms at least. See about seeing the kids a bit more. But who was I kidding? Sandra probably wouldn’t even pick up the phone. She hated me.
The past eighteen months with the CSOS (Child Sexual Offences Squad) had been some of the most taxing of my life. I’d been from one squad to another, Murder, Drugs, Robbery, thought I could handle anything, but I was wrong. Viewing child pornography and dealing with the kind of people that made it, required a strength of mind I obviously didn’t possess.
I was a father for God’s sake. It affected me. At times I felt like driving round and kicking Sandra’s door down, grabbing my kids and fuck the law. The world was festering with every kind of evil imaginable, and my kids were growing up without me and I wasn’t there to protect them. I felt helpless. The amount of sickness out there was unreal. Nobody knew. It didn’t bear thinking about.
Joining the CSOS had been a bad move. I’d become too narrow-minded, too determined; I made mistakes. The worst was after a 13-year-old girl claimed she’d been raped by a teacher in his car. We pulled him in and I came down hard on him, honestly believed he was guilty. He was bailed and suspended from his job pending the court case. A few weeks later we heard that he’d tried to kill himself. Good riddance, I thought. Then the girl turns up saying she’d made the whole thing up. He’d never even touched her. She’d simply wanted revenge after getting a bollocking in class. She was crying and sorry. I was stunned. I’d just helped ruin a man’s life.
The job pushed me to my limits. Sandra hadn’t been able to stand it, and the rows would be phenomenal. I’d always sworn to myself I’d never actually hit her, but one day I had her by the hair, fist raised, when I noticed my kids cowering in the corner, terrified of me. “Go on then, you bastard, punch me.” I let go. Couldn’t believe what I was doing. The marriage crawled on for another two years, but from that day on we both knew it was over.
The girls had been four and six at the time, and I wondered if they still remembered it. Of course they did. I thought of my own dad. How the slaps he’d give my mum always shocked me so much. I remember once telling him to stop, and his shocked face as he turned to see me there; hesitating, just like I had. “It’s got nothing to do with you,” he said, pulling back. “Get upstairs now.” As I grew older such incidents petered out. He probably knew better.
At seventeen I joined the army. I remember the tears in my mum’s eyes. Her own father had gone to war and never come back. But this was 1984, different times. Unless of course another Falklands broke out. I lived in Borehamwood, just outside London. There were no jobs, nothing doing. The army was my escape.
Basic training was harder that I’d ever imagined. My mates said I wouldn’t last two weeks, but that only spurred me on. By the end of it, more than half the recruits had either dropped out or been back-squadded. I made it. Passing out parade was the proudest day of my life. We were eventually posted to Germany. It was all exercises and drinking and I loved it. As time went on, the inevitable tour of Northern Ireland was something I both dreaded and looked forward to. But in 1986 when they announced we were being deployed to South Armagh, it was bad news all round.
For a British soldier, the South Armagh region of Ulster was the most dangerous posting in the world. The local IRA were famously cunning, had the support of the people and effectively ran the place. They had forced the army off the roads with landmines – the worst killing eighteen Paras – and all military movement was by helicopter, the area virtually no-go.
The night before our dispatch the mood was unusually quiet. Since the announcement we’d been keeping our spirits up, the bravado high, but now we said little. Lying in my bunk I found it hard to sleep. What had I let myself in for? I was shitting it. We all were.
We flew into Belfast, then got choppered down into Armagh. We were stationed at Bessbrook Mill. The SAS and some Paras were there too, but neither would spare us crap-hats a glance. We were busy from the word go. Often, the chopper would drop us down in teams to set up temporary checkpoints on remote roads, hoping to catch some Provos by chance. With the threat of snipers in the surrounding hills and fields, checkpoints were extremely dangerous.
One night we were manning a point near Killeavy. The landscape was lonely and mountainous, passing cars few. I was lighting a smoke when a volley of shots took us by surprise. We dashed for cover, and for one terrifying moment I remember freezing with fear – but I fought through it. In unison we let rip with our weapons, round after round being emptied into the dark. The feeling was momentous. Nobody was injured and the gunman got away, yet somehow I felt I had passed an important test.
Snipers and mines were a constant threat, and security bases were regularly targeted by mortar fire. Only a year before, a mortar had killed nine RUC officers at their base at Newry. Nowhere felt safe. We were fighting an invisible army, being watched and studied and we knew it. In a bid to turn this around, the first of the watchtowers was being built at Glasdrumman. Security was tight, but still the IRA detonated a van bomb nearby.
News came through that two soldiers were killed in the blast, and we were rushed over to help. The remains of the van lay smouldering by the road, debris scattered far and wide. The shredded rags of their uniforms were hanging from the hedges, but there was no sign of the bodies. We were sent out across the fields with torches. Within a bush I discovered part of an arm. Then further along in the mud of a ditch I saw a single hand, its wedding ring intact. At the far side of the field a soldier was down on his knees crying. In front of him lay the severed head of one of his mates. I remember vomiting into a ditch, tears streaming down my face. Then wiping up and never crying again. Not for years anyway. I grew up that day, any remnants of youth left in me destroyed forever.
On the news there’d be violence across Ulster nightly. Riots, bombings, shootings. Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein. Ian Paisley ranting like a madman. The UDR soldiers could harp on about the subject for hours, talking down to us like we hadn’t a clue. But admittedly your average English soldier understood little of the politics or history involved. Some thought the Province should just be handed back and to hell with it. Others pointed out it would only intensify the war, the mad King Billyites willing to prove that. Others, and probably most, saw the whole situation as a mess and just wanted to count the days and get the fuck out of there. The level of hatred and constant threat of death was enough to drive you round the bend.
The NAAFI bar was our only escape. We’d get absolutely shit faced. We’d wind each other up or swap ‘war stories’ – some I wouldn’t want to repeat. One night I got pally with a sweat who’d seen hand-to-hand combat in the Falklands, and was on his second Irish tour. His first had been in Belfast. He told me he’d got so sick of being threatened and spat at that one night he walked into a Nationalist area in his civvies and shot a Republican in the head. Just walked up behind him, slotted the cunt and walked away. It was taken as a Loyalist sectarian attack and a couple of nights later a Protestant got nutted just off the Shankill. He felt a little guilty about that, but that’s war. He pulled out his wallet and showed me some snaps of his time in the Malvinas. Fields were strewn with enemy corpses, shot, bayoneted or both. In one he was smiling for the camera, propping up a dead Argie, offering the mouth a cigarette.
At the time I’d laughed along, found it hilarious. Back in the real world, of course, you look back at such things with shame. But having said that, in the real world you’re not playing a 24/7 game of cat and mouse with an enemy that wants you dead. You’re in a different mindset. I never did find out if that Belfast story was true, but I do know that a couple of years later in Tyrone that particular squaddie took the brunt of a 200lb charge and what was left of him wasn’t worth talking about.
One night, after discovering suspicious components in a car, we dragged out both occupants with force. The men insisted they were electricians, but devices were being discovered all the time, and we couldn’t take any chances. We took the car apart but found nothing. Then we decided to wind them up by searching it all over again. The rain was pouring now and both men were getting drenched. One of them lost his patience and squared up to me, called me a Brit bastard and to get the fuck out of his country. I hit him in the head with the butt of my rifle. I completely lost it and started kicking him on the ground, only stopped when the corporal ran over and told me to calm the fuck down or I’d be on a charge.
The frustration was unbelievable. We had rules; they didn’t. Half the time we felt like sitting ducks, just waiting for the sniper’s bullet or device that would blow us apart. Some had wives and kids, everyone had girlfriends and family, what the fuck were we doing there? One night on a four-man country patrol, we spotted shadows through the gorse. We got down, rifles ready. It could be a gunman in wait or someone ready to trigger the command wire of a bomb. Something shuffled and the squaddie next to me suddenly panicked. He charged forward firing his weapon. It turned out to be a stray goat, but he wouldn’t stop firing, pelting the dead animal with lead. Finally, he slumped to his knees, crying uncontrollably. He had a total breakdown. He got shipped out that very night and we never saw him again.
As my tour neared its end, I had the almost certain feeling I’d never make it home. A squaddie from our battery had been injured by a device near Crossmaglen and, despite the best efforts of our superiors, we soon found out that he’d lost both legs. Morale was low, tension at breaking point.
On my final night-time field patrol we heard a gunshot. We hit the ground and another shot rang out. We zig-zagged forward, finally chasing two figures through the gorse. They split off in two directions and I found myself chasing one of them alone. I cornered him by a dry stone wall. “Drop the fucking weapon or I’ll shoot!” But he was already hands up, the gun by his feet. I came closer. He looked only about fifteen and was absolutely shitting himself. “I’m sorry,” he kept saying, “I didn’t know you were there …” I charged at him and punched him to the ground. “You fucking fired at us, you cunt.” My rifle was trained at his head. I could shoot him. Fucking kill the bastard. He fired a gun, he ran, the army would be right behind me. I could do it.
As my mates appeared around me, the thought seemed suddenly insane. They told me everything was under control. They had the other suspect, a girl. Within minutes the Lynx came down and lifted us off to the barracks. All the way they were begging us not to tell their parents, and seeing close-up just how young and naive they were, I realised something just wasn’t right. Sure enough, it transpired they hadn’t been firing at us at all. They were secret sweethearts, Catholic and Protestant. The boy had been showing off with his dad’s old air gun, firing at some tin cans lined along a wall. The shots hadn’t been anywhere near us.
I’d actually been ready to kill that boy that night. Fill him full of holes and walk away. Maybe it had just been frantic thinking in the heat of the moment, or maybe it hadn’t. The thought disturbed me.
The tour ended and the celebrations were huge, but for a while afterwards that incident cast a shadow over the whole thing. That night I’d tapped into a part of myself that I never wanted to see again. Maybe some other men could have gone all the way, lied up in court and carried on quite nicely, but not me. Terrorists were one thing, but If I’d killed an innocent 15-year-old kid just larking about with his girlfriend I’d never have been able to live with it. We flew back to Germany. When the end of my term approached, I didn’t re-enlist. I left the army in early 1988 with a certificate of exemplary conduct.
Returning to civvy street was quite a shock. After the intensity of the army it was like I was suddenly living in slow motion. I was back in my old bedroom, back to the same old streets, and it felt as though I’d woken from a mad exciting nightmare only to be greeted by absolute boredom. I’d witnessed so much, done so much growing up, yet the world I’d left behind hadn’t changed at all. A war was going on just across the water, yet it seemed so many people hardly even knew or cared less. It took me a while to get my head around it all.
Most of my mates were still aiming low, going nowhere, and sure enough I soon found myself settling into the same slow rhythm, without any real idea of what I’d do next. After six months on the dole or getting whatever labouring work I could find, I wondered which was worse: being one of Thatcher’s millions, or humping a hod on a site each day. I applied for the Met.
After training at Hendon, I started my two years as a probationer at Harrow Road. Our ground covered Notting Hill to Paddington, and from the off I loved it. We were worked off our feet. Probationers tended to get disillusioned fast, taking all the easy options. Not me. I genuinely wanted to graft. Luckily, I was teamed with some hard-working coppers who taught me a lot. I made as much arrests as possible and it didn’t go unnoticed.
Worrying at one point was a knife-wielding mugger who was terrorising lone women around the wealthy enclave of Maida Vale. His violence was increasing with each attack, and when the daughter of a foreign diplomat ended up needing twenty stitches, word came down from high to catch the bastard by whatever means necessary. We were issued with photofits, and an operation was carried out involving decoys, but still we had no luck. One evening, passing along Kilburn Park Road, I asked the driver to slow down. There he was. He took one look at me and ran. He tried losing me around the tower blocks, but by now I knew the place backwards.
In the van he struggled and spat all the way, calling me a white-this and racist-that, but I think I held myself back pretty well. Until we got him to the nick anyway. Then it was a free for all. The fact he’d violently resisted arrest was a ticket to do whatever we wanted. In the cells I gave his kidneys such a battering he must have been pissing blood for a month. Coon, wog, nigger. If the bastard had been white we’d have thought of other names for him. That’s just the way it was. By the end of it all he could hardly stand up. Get up, you cunt. I remember another copper, an ex-Royal Green Jacket, ordering him into stress positions, shouting down at the bastard and cracking him in the head every time he moved. The drunks and thieves in the adjoining cells must have been fucking terrified.
That was a result and I was well pleased. So were the brass. After my two years I passed out with flying colours. I was a full constable now.
Harrow Road certainly had its share of excitement, but if you were hoping for promotion it helped to have experience at one of London’s real shitholes. Places like Tottenham, Hackney, Brixton. Grounds your average copper wouldn’t want to go near. I was already thinking ahead, wanted at some point to make detective, so when I heard Stoke Newington were looking for PCs I signed up.
Stoke Newington was one of the roughest grounds you could imagine. High murder rate, drugs, guns; the muggers and rapists practically tripping over each other. Being Hackney it was covered in troubled housing estates that, like Broadwater Farm a few years earlier, were ever threatening to explode.
On my first day a policeman staggered into reception covered in blood. He’d been beaten senseless with his own truncheon and had both arms cut to the bone with a machete. It happened in broad daylight, yet nobody had helped. I soon learned that at old Stokey such things were not rare occurrences. The relationship between the community and the police was abysmal. In a way, it almost reminded me of Northern Ireland. They hated us and we hated them. Attacks happened on both sides and it was a case of constantly scoring points. When a copper was battered with an iron bar by one of the drug-addicts in Abney Park Cemetery, we simply rounded up every one of them and beat the lot rigid.
We often had people phoning the station with threats, but most of these we laughed off. It got a bit worrying however when we started getting messages promising a WPC was going to be snatched and gang-raped, and when they were finished they’d send us the video. We traced the calls to public boxes around the Holly Street estate, a high rise shithole in Dalston. Then given the go ahead, we drove round there, grabbed all the usual faces, hauled them in and kicked the living shit out of them. A shotgun was taken from the safe. We shoved it in the top face’s mouth, gave him the news. It was gloves off now, no fucking around. We told him to get the word out or people were going to get slaughtered, literally. Family members, girlfriends, the lot. Message received. The calls stopped.
Stoke Newington was the drug hotspot of North London. The frontline was Sandringham Road, a scruffy hive of squats, pubs and cafes, and seriously no-go to any copper in uniform. If an arrest ever happened on Sandringham it was a case of a quick kidnap then burning rubber before the van met a hail of bricks or a gunshot.
What soon surprised me about Stokey was the amount of drug dealers in uniform within the station itself. Around fifty street dealers nightly plied their trade with impunity around the Esso garage just down from the nick. Little effort was made to deter them, and I soon realised why – half their wares were being supplied by the coppers themselves. Any dodgy stuff I’d seen at Harrow Road had been child’s play. The level of corruption at Stokey was unreal.
Crack in the UK was relatively new, and the biggest crack dealer on the block was a Jamaican woman who sold rocks from her kitchen window on Sandringham. One of the Detective Inspectors was not only shagging her, but had actually set her up in business in the first place. It was a good little earner. She handed him up to two grand a week.
Drugs were not only being recycled but imported by the coppers themselves. A group of detectives had a racket shipping in lorry loads of cannabis from Spain. They’d actually drive it in themselves, the profits running into millions. It certainly kept the local dealers busy. The nick was running all the local gaming machines in the pubs and clubs, and extortion was standard practice. Crims were also being raided for their drugs and cash, all of it pocketed. Put it this way, if there was a local scam, the coppers were in on it.
I’d be lying if I said I was lily-white and hadn’t profited from at least some of the dirty cash floating round at the time, but I never got involved in anything serious. It was too risky. Half the coppers at Stokey thought it would last forever. To me, it seemed only logical that the shit would hit the fan eventually – and luckily, by the time it did, I’d got myself transferred to another nick.
Anti-corruption flooded the place, and forty-four officers were put under investigation. The desk sergeant, rather than face charges, took a shotgun, locked himself in a cell and blew his brains out. In hindsight, he probably should have taken his chances. The anti-corruption squad at the time were useless. A lot of reputations got blemished, but few jobs were lost, and out of forty-four officers only two ever got sent down.
Luckily, throughout my two years at Cokey Stokey I’d worked my arse off and had the commendations to prove it. A little heroic highlight occurred when I subdued a gunman who hours earlier had taken a shot at a WPC. I recognised him from a description and gave chase down the backstreets off Dalston Lane, cornering him in an empty yard. If he’d been able to shoot straight I’d be dead now. I must have been fucking mad. It got me a bravery award.
After a stint at Kentish Town, I was promoted onto the Crime Squad. This was a big step, and I was out of uniform. I was helping to investigate armed robberies, murders, you name it, and enjoying every minute of it.
One day I heard that police at Stoke Newington had apprehended a massive IRA lorry bomb driving directly past their nick. Had the three-and-a-half ton bomb made it to the City there would have been devastation, possibly carnage. Unarmed police nicking an IRA active service unit was no mean feat. One copper was shot but survived. The boys from Stokey were heroes.
On a sadder note, the Met was changing. By the mid-90s, excessive bad press had ushered in more paperwork, petty rules, and rights for just about everybody apart from the copper trying to do his job. Kickings in vans and cells had become a thing of the past. A lot of the old school were being rooted out and forced to resign. If you wanted to remain in the job, it was a case of adapting and going with the flow. As far as political correctness was concerned, you simply learned to keep your mouth shut. George Orwell had it sussed. Luckily some of the more severe changes didn’t affect the specialist squads too much – you could still get out there and nick criminals, and if necessary dish out the odd thump or two – but your average uniform practically had his hands tied behind his back, and still does.
By early 1996, I was promoted to full detective. I also met Sandra. I’d pulled off several successful operations and meeting the woman I wanted to be my wife seemed the icing on the cake. We married fast, bought a house in Waltham Cross and went on to have two beautiful girls. The marriage was never perfect, and years later when Sandra told me that I’d never married her at all, I’d only ever been married to the job, I suppose she’d been right.
In 1998, I took part in an operation targeting brothels in North London. With the sex industry so closely related to drugs and other activities we sometimes garnered good results. Catching the bosses higher up the chain was another story. What was noticeable now in the sex game was a proliferation of East European girls. Most were being promised a better life, then forced on the game and paid a pittance. They were treated like slaves.
With Blair’s New Labour in power, immigration was out of control. While packing the housing estates with some of the poorest and most criminal elements from all four corners of the globe, the government were extolling the joys of vibrant multiculturalism, and anyone with any criticism was an evil racist. That government deserved hanging. Having said that, being in the business of nicking scumbags, to say a British scumbag was better than any other kind would be pushing it. Nowadays there was little honour among any kind of crim. Few were likeable.
By 2000, with my marriage weathering its first storms, I was working for the Drugs Squad. It was a heady time. I can honestly say that until then I’d never taken cocaine. London at the time was experiencing a blizzard of the stuff – so was my nose. I’d started drinking a lot of spirits too, slipping vodka into my coffee throughout the day. The overtime was non-stop and I was burning both ends. Had it overtly affected my work I would have knocked it on the head, but it didn’t. The results just kept coming in.
One night, rather than heading straight home, I stopped off at an estate in Bow where we were planning to mount an operation. The place was a warren of concrete walkways, many of the flats crack houses, others bases for guns, and I wanted to get a feel of the place. It was just getting dark and you could clearly see the scouts dotted at the corners watching for outsiders just like me. I was scruffily dressed, playing the druggy, but within minutes from the sudden whistles and signals I realised I hadn’t passed the test. Shit. I was trapped in a walkway, two blocking my way up ahead, four more some way behind. I’d have to play it by ear.
Reaching the two up front, one pushed me in the chest and asked who the fuck I was and what I wanted. I mentioned a well known dealer and said I had a meet with him, but they didn’t believe me. “He’s a fucking pig,” one said.
I acted fast. I hit one in the face, tried kicking the other in the bollocks. Too late. I felt a blow to the back of my head and I hit the floor. All six laid into me with bats and feet. As the attack went on I prayed they didn’t have knives. Then after a pause I felt several shocks to my side and back and knew I’d been stabbed.
They ran, their echoes dying off the concrete, and I felt myself slipping dangerously close to unconsciousness. It felt so easy to just lie back and give in, but I knew that if I did I’d never wake up. I staggered to the street, blood pouring out of me, and the next thing I remember is waking up in hospital.
I blame that night purely on coke. Nobody had told me to go down there that night, it hadn’t been essential, yet I did it. Coke had been affecting my judgement, inflating my confidence; maybe I’d thought I was invincible. I’d strutted in, copper written all over me, not even wearing a vest. I’d been taking too many risks, and by the law of averages got what was due. I sustained four stab wounds. One was deep and had missed vital organs by a fraction. The doctor told me I was lucky to be alive. I also had a dislocated shoulder, broken ribs, and bruising and scrapes all over me. I looked terrible and felt even worse.
Sandra sat by my hospital bed begging me to resign. Banging on about next time dying and the kids becoming fatherless. No way. If anything it made me want to get back out there and fight the bastards even more. I’d survived the fucking IRA, I was hardly going to let a bunch of low-level street dealers get the better of me. The sooner I was back on the street the better. One thing though, I’d have to clean up my act. The daily diet of powder and Stolichnaya would have to go.
I was released from hospital on Tuesday, 11 September 2001. What a day. I heard news of the first plane on the radio as Sandra drove me home. Then I spent the rest of the day glued to the screen. The whole thing was surreal.
During my months off, things with Sandra picked up. I got some equipment and exercised at home, and spending time with the kids felt great. At Christmas we all holidayed in the Canary Islands, and Sandra and I even talked about trying for another baby.
It never happened. Back at work I soon found myself shuffled onto the Camden Murder Squad. I was back in at the deep end, and in hindsight it probably wasn’t a good idea. I was involved in an investigation into a man later dubbed ‘the Camden Ripper’. He’d befriend and bring home prostitutes from King’s Cross who all too often ended up sawn apart by power tools on his kitchen table. The man was a mental outpatient and the best argument against care-in-the-community I’ve ever come across.
In Camden, this was a particularly grisly time for murders all round. Only streets away, in a separate case, a man was found chopped up in bin bags by the side of the road, only discovered when a tramp went looking for scraps. The victim was gay and had picked up a stranger from a nearby pub. On top of that, women’s bodies were being found in the canal and linked to similar cases dating back to the 1970s. It was an intense time, and as a result, a new, more violent me began to present itself.
Only two of my attackers were ever caught and prosecuted. That bothered me. During a row with Sandra I smashed up our newly-fitted kitchen. I ripped the cupboards off the wall and tore away the worktop, badly cutting my hands. Afterwards, viewing the devastation, blood smeared across the debris, I was shocked. Sandra took the kids to her mums’ that time for six weeks. But it wasn’t the end. One night in a pub I got into a fight over a spilt drink. I beat the bloke to the floor and was about to finish him with a chair when my mates jumped me. I probably would have killed him. I was losing the plot.
I got help. Privately. I was suffering post-traumatic stress not only from the attack, but events stretching all the way back to my tour of Ireland. In particular, they’d wanted to talk about the explosion at Gladsrumman, where I’d helped recover the human remains. I also talked about the time I’d almost killed the boy. Several times at these sessions I found myself crying. It was strange for me. Afterwards I’d wonder if my mental condition was improving, or if I was totally falling apart.
Progress happened, though, because eventually I felt more myself again. My marriage, however, by this time was finished. I’d moved out of our house and was living in a flat on my own, and have been ever since.
The tube/bus bombing of 7 July 2005 (52 dead) was the big surprise we unfortunately knew at some point was bound to happen. A fortnight later, four more suicide bombers took to the tube for a repeat performance. They failed, but got away, sparking a manhunt of proportions never before seen. The next day police shot dead a suspected terrorist at Stockwell tube, in what turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. The bombers were all rounded up after nine days. It was a hectic time.
With the terror alert permanently high, a lot more cops were walking around with firearms. But so, unfortunately, were London’s criminals. Gun crime, especially amongst youngsters, had shot right up. Gang violence was becoming a real problem.
In 2006, I fronted a new street crime squad in Haringey. After years in investigations I was back to frontline policing, zipping up and down Tottenham High Road nightly, pulling in offenders by the scruff of the neck.
It reminded me of what had drawn me towards coppering in the first place – action – and I found the whole thing quite rejuvenating. One night I got to Tazer a bloke who was cornered and swinging a needle. Another time we were chasing someone who had just stabbed a pensioner. It looked like he was getting away until a car zipped out from nowhere and ran the bastard over. I enjoyed it. Certainly for the first few months anyway. Sadly, it soon became a case of always pulling in the same toe-rags, watching them get bail, and sometimes even picking them up the very next night. By now, the politicians had the bastards laughing in our faces.
London was a very different place to the city I’d started to police in the late eighties. Most of the high rises were now low level estates, a lot of the pubs had shut down, and the criminal underworld was speaking English as a second language. After years of a so-called socialist government the gap between rich and poor had never been wider, and it showed. Whole areas had completely gone to the dogs.
One night we came under a hail of petrol bombs thrown from the roof of a four-storey block. When we got our hands on the cunts they were all around sixteen, well schooled in anti-conviction techniques, and quickly crying physical and racial abuse. We’d hardly touched them, yet suddenly we had every bleeding heart lawyer queuing around the block to lose us our jobs. The investigation dragged on for an age. It caused a lot of resentment. We were eventually cleared of wrongdoing, but as for the bastards who’d tried to burn us alive, all were acquitted. All we could do was shake our heads.
One night we stopped a BMW near Seven Sisters. Down came the window. “Is there a problem, officer?” – all three occupants sporting an array of submachine guns. We were forced to step back, watching them go. That was hard for me. It spoke volumes. If people weren’t frightened of us, then what power did we have? Zero. The force had been turned to shit.
By 2008, I was seeing my kids once a week and Sandra, in another relationship and intending to remarry, was demanding a divorce. There was no point living in a dreamworld, I knew it would happen eventually. I still took it bad though. One night, after chasing a burglar out of my flat, I decided to buy a gun. As it was, I was a fully-trained firearms officer with a Glock in the vault at Scotland Yard for whenever the official call came, but for personal possession, of course, a firearm was completely illegal. I contacted an old army mate who worked in the trade. I chose a Browning 9mm automatic handgun. The SAS favoured them in Northern Ireland. I love Brownings, always have. I take it apart and clean it every day. Then I tuck it back beneath the floorboards.
Funny really, if a burglar came calling it would probably take me five minutes to retrieve the thing. By then of course the bastard would have a baseball bat across the skull and be on his way to hospital. Sometimes I wonder why I bought the gun at all. Power maybe. A little thrill. I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder if deep down there’s some hidden intention to do what at least three of my old army mates have done. No way.
Baby P happened a stone’s throw from the Spurs ground, around where I’d be working nightly. My mate worked in the same area, except for the police’s Child Protection Unit. While I’d be bundling shitbags and addicts into the cage, he’d be picking up the helpless mess they’d often leave behind – their children. On raids I’d see how some of these kids were treated, and it affected me. Baby Peter was all over the press, but a lot of similar cases were ignored completely. Around now, my job satisfaction had reached near zero. I felt I was banging my head against a wall, and unless I soon started to feel I was making some kind of difference, I was going to pack in the job completely.
When a new squad was formed dealing in underage abuse, I volunteered. I threw myself in headfirst. The hours were crippling, my divorce ongoing, and I’d sometimes still hit the coke and booze, yet ironically I felt like a worthwhile copper again. We cracked a sex ring operating out of Edmonton. Nailed an abuser who had a council job involving young children. Tracked down a man who had broadcast himself on the web abusing his two-year-old son. People were being brought before the courts and taken out of circulation. I was achieving the aim.
Then came Sidney Roper. He was cocksure and arrogant, slippery as a snake. Roper had enticed two twelve-year-old girls into his home, blindfolded and cuffed them, and put them through hell. An ex-lab tech, he’d taken every forensic measure in the book. But still we pieced together a case on him.
Along came the trial. Roper had previous sex convictions, but none of them could be mentioned in court. His lawyers slandered the witnesses and portrayed the victims as devious liars. The whole thing fell apart. Roper was a free man.
I’d promised those girls so much. I’d failed.
Bringing us back to the present – to where our story started. Given a talking-to at work. Then alone in my flat, drinking whisky and beer all night.
In the morning I woke fully clothed on the sofa, my head throbbing, the room a tip. I rushed to the toilet to vomit. Then I brushed my teeth and splashed my face with cold water. I looked in the mirror. I looked like a wreck.
I made coffee. I switched on my phone.
Immediately it rang. It was Phil.
“Rob … just tell me it wasn’t you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Seriously, Rob, tell me.”
“What the fuck are you on about?”
What Phil then said blew my hangover away in an instant. Roper had been shot three times on his doorstep. He was dead.
Both girls’ fathers had rock solid alibis. Neighbours weren’t talking. Witnesses nonexistent.
“Rob, are you still there?”
He wanted an answer.
“Of course it wasn’t me, I haven’t left my flat since yesterday … fucking hell, Phil, what do you think I am?”
When I clicked off, I sat back on the sofa in shock.
Then I noticed the Browning, sitting there amongst the mess on the table.
We are very happy to announce the publication of the truly eclectic and ground-breaking ‘Beat Anthology’. A collection of short fiction gleaned from the last three years of Beat Archives, it features the work of Joseph Ridgwell, Lee Rourke, Susan Tomaselli, Ben Myers, Melissa Mann, Steve Finbow, Jenni Fagan, Andrew Gallix, Chris Killen, Sean McGahey, Darran Anderson & U.V. Ray.
The first 52 copies (playing card edition) feature a tipped in playing card and a spoken word CD. These are sure to be in demand so please get your order in soonish.
These and the standard edition are available to buy from the shop.
My long awaited new Chapbook, Road Trip and Other Poems. Available now from Erbacce Press!
Price is £5.00 ($8.20) and postage is FREE! Please be aware Erbacce are a small indie publishers and if you are overseas if you could bung just a couple of dollars extra to help postage it would be hugely helpful. But it’s NOT compulsory.
More info visit: UV Ray