NIGHT DUTY – A TRUE STORY
PC Rory Brown stood under the bright glare of the BP garage shop strip lighting, semi-interestedly browsing the rack of magazines. His operator, Phil, was chatting to the attendant behind the counter, as seemed to have become usual for a night shift. He could hear them now; talking about the power output of their police area car; Phil was blahing it up, but the truth of the matter was that it was simply a Skoda Octavia VRS estate with blue and yellow squares painted on the side.
Rory’s free cappuccino that BP graciously provided every night was long gone and he could think of no good reason to remain here, but Phil and his mate could be chuntering on for ages, Rory knew from painful past experience. Like something out of bloody Alan Partridge. He studied the magazines more intently. Ceebeebies magazine, hmm. Rory wondered how much a children’s TV presenter earned. A quick Google search revealed a number of wildly varying figures, the minimum of which appeared to be £70,000 per year and it also seemed to be a good way of gaining an OBE. At any rate, it had to be better than spending hours hanging around a petrol station on the outskirts of a small home counties town.
Rory was just about to make a protestation to Phil when his personal radio made its first static gurglings in over an hour, “I grade call, 72 Manor Gardens, woman reports her son is making threats to kill. Suspect still on premises. Anyone free to deal?” Rory wasted no time in responding, “November Tango One Two Two.” The controller replied equally as quickly, “Thanks, I’m sending it down to you now.” The car was on run lock, so the details would be on their monitor when they returned to the vehicle. Rory and Phil met at the door on their way out. “Did I really just hear you put us up for that pile of shit?” Phil was incredulous. “72 Manor Gardens, you do know who lives there?” Rory was only too aware that this was the home address of the slightly unkindly nicknamed “Mad” Mary Tucker, a middle aged woman with severe mental health issues who was very well known to every local copper. Mary was arrested at least once a month and Rory had himself remanded her to hospital under section 136 of the Mental Health Act about seven or eight weeks ago.
He also knew that everyone else on the shift would have had the same response as Phil and that if he hadn’t taken the job so keenly the radio would have just been tumble weed. “Yes, I know. But what if he actually does kill her?” Before Phil had the chance to say something along the lines of “good riddance”, Rory continued “you know there’d be a huge inquest and they’d want to know the whereabouts of every unit when that call came out and I don’t think being in the middle of telling a petrol station attendant about the fastest you’ve gone on the A41 would’ve been a good enough excuse not to have taken it.”
It was approaching midnight and the roads were dead. So Rory, being mindful of the sleeping local population, eschewed the sirens, but put the blue lights on. They reached 72 Manor Gardens in less than ten minutes. Phil radioed to the control room, “November Tango One Two Two TOA.”
72 Manor Gardens was a handsome 1930s semi-detached house, identical in design and build to every other house on its street. Manor Gardens itself was part of a larger estate, built when it was in order to home commuters, drawn to this part of the world by the extension of the Metropolitan tube line. Of course, it was a good fifteen miles into London before the trains actually went underground, passengers at this end of the line enjoying a vista of fields, village greens and woodland from their office-bound windows. Rory regarded the street as he got out of the car; tree-lined, leafy – shadowy. The orange glow of a nearby street lamp fought its way bravely out of the boughs of an overhanging lime tree and cast just enough light on number 72 to reveal that, although it was an identical build to its neighbours, it was rather the worse for wear in comparison. It had the integral garage on the left hand side, what looked like the original, solid wood front door in a brick arched porch and two windows on the first floor; a four paned example on the right and a smaller, two paned one, which Rory knew would be a box room, on the left.
However, on closer inspection, it became obvious that the downstairs bay window was made up of dirt-blackened, single glazed glass, framed by splintering wood, from which the dirty, white paint was peeling. None of the sparkling, new PVC of number 74 or its other snooty brethren. The front garden also failed to bear scrutiny in the company of number 74’s pristine rose beds; it was an overgrown tangle of weeds and brambles, just about contained by the presence of a low, brick wall. In the garden’s defence, though, it did lack the sea of beer cans and McDonalds wrappers which it might have accrued in a less salubrious area.
How Mary Tucker lived in such a place was a subject of much conjecture in policing circles. Rory had heard a rumour that her father had been a banker – nothing like today’s multi-millionaires, but perfectly respectable, nonetheless; the manager of a branch of a high street bank, somewhere in central London. Anyhow, Rory wondered what the other residents of Manor Gardens thought of Mary. The mind boggled.
No light was visible emanating from any of the windows of number 72 as Rory and Phil approached the front door and nothing about the facade of the house suggested that anybody – or anything – was awake, or at best alive, inside. Upon finding no doorbell, Phil knocked on the hard wood of the front door. They waited. No answer, no sign of life. Rory rapped on the half moon of glass which occupied the top panel of the door. Still nothing stirred. Phil moved to the bay window to try and shine his torch through, but was thwarted by the presence of heavy curtains and the veil of filth which clung to the glass. Rory took out his baton and banged hard on the door with the hardened rubber handle. Just as the two officers were considering putting the door in, Rory whispered “Shhsh, I think I can hear someone moving in the hallway.” They both held their breath and, suddenly, the sound of bolts being drawn, chains rattling and keys turning came from within.
After what seemed like an age, the front door finally opened inward on a dark, dingy hallway. Standing on the threshold in an old fashioned nightgown, which had once been white but was now greying and rather shapeless, was Mary Tucker, slightly rotund, hunched at the shoulders and with lank, salt and pepper hair hanging across her face. Wordlessly, Mary stepped backward into the hallway, implying consent for the police to enter. Phil went first and Rory followed, closing the door carefully behind him. As he turned back to the hallway from shutting the door, Rory briefly assessed the surroundings. The downstairs of the house was in semi-darkness, lit dimly by a weak glow coming somewhere from the back of house, most likely the kitchen. Leading off the right hand side of the hall were two doorways. Taking up the left hand side of the hall was a set of stairs, leading directly to the first floor landing. There was a faint, yet pervasive odour in the air, something like a mix of ammonia and spices. Rory looked at Mary Tucker. Mary’s eyes were set unwaveringly on Phil. Rory looked at Phil. Phil was staring back at Mary. “Ahem,” Rory cleared his throat deliberately. The spell was seemingly broken and Mary turned her attention toward Rory. “Hello, Mary,” Rory said, “are you OK? Are you hurt at all?”
“No, no, I’m fine” said Mary in an even voice. Rory was relieved that Mary seemed to be a lot calmer and more self-controlled than when he usually dealt with her. Just as well, really, because the current state of mental health care in Britain meant that her home would have been regarded by the authorities as a place of safety for her, so if she had have been distressed or wound up, Rory and Phil would have been facing a bun fight for the rest of their shift (at least) to get her taken elsewhere for care.
Rory continued, “Would you be able to explain to us exact….”
“Hold on, I’ve got to let the cat in.” With that, Mary wandered abruptly off down the hallway, toward the faint source of light. Rory watched her go. As he did, Phil nudged him and gestured toward a scrap of paper resting on top of a small book case at the bottom of the stairs. Rory squinted through the half light at it. Across the paper, in pencil, a spidery, sprawling hand had written “Lord, please deliver us from the creeping evil.” Rory turned to look at Phil, his face creased in a questioning frown. Phil returned his look with a knowing raise of the eyebrows. Rory knew that Phil thought this call was a load of bollocks and he knew that Phil blamed him for being here. He also knew that Phil was probably right and that, if there wasn’t the overhanging likelihood of this turning into a bureaucratic mental health nightmare, then that “prayer” would have been a source of much hilarity.
Both officers straightened their faces and turned their attention down the hallway as Mary returned.
“Right, Mary, what’s been going on tonight?” Phil’s matter-of-fact tone belied his feelings on the whole matter, but Mary did not seem to notice; if she did, she showed no sign of being put out. “Well, he’s saying that I’m driving him mad, depriving him of sleep and sending him to an early grave. He’s saying the only way he’ll get a good night’s sleep is if I was dead.”
“We’re talking about your son here, right?”
“Of course, who else would it be?”
Rory saw Phil’s face tighten and quickly interjected, “And what’s your son’s name, Mary?”
“OK. And has Christopher actually directly threatened to kill you?”
“I’ve just told you that, haven’t I?” Mary was becoming agitated. Rory knew that this could happen when she felt she was being questioned. He kept his voice calm and soft. “Can you remember what words he actually used, because, from what you’ve told us so far, we haven’t got any evidence that he’s threatening you.”
Before Mary had a chance to answer, Phil said “Where is Christopher now?” This was a very good question. “Is he still here?” “Yes, he’s in there,” Mary said, gesturing with a nod of her head at the doorway immediately to Phil’s right. Phil looked a little shocked, as the door was open and the room in complete darkness. He stepped away into the hallway slightly.
There had been no movement and no sound from that room throughout the entire exchange. Rory stepped across Phil and reached into the room with his left hand, feeling along the wall inside for a light switch. When he found it and pressed it, nothing happened. The room remained in darkness. Rory entered the room. He squinted to try and get his eyes to adjust. “Hello, is there anybody in here?” The room remained still and silent. Rory reached for his torch. “It’s the police, if you’re in here, make yourself known immediately.” As he spoke, there was a squeaking of furniture springs and a huge black shape, darker than the rest of the shadows, rose up in the corner of the room. Rory switched his torch on and shone it toward the shape. Christopher Wilkins was approximately six foot five and verging on obese. Rory estimated him to be, what, 25 stone? Age probably about 40. Christopher was dressed in grey jogging bottoms, covered in what looked like gravy stains and a heavy, dark coloured jumper. He must have been boiling, Rory thought – the sheen of sweat across Christopher’s bald head confirmed this.
“Hello, mate.” Christopher’s tone was weary, resigned, but gentle and friendly.
“Hello, Christopher,” Rory replied, “would you mind coming out into the hall where there’s some light, so we can see you and I can stop blinding you with my torch.”
Christopher Wilkins stooped through the doorway after Rory and squeezed himself between Phil and the wall. It was now very cosy in the passage. Mary struck up, “See what you’ve done? I’ve had to call the police.” Her voice was rising and becoming shrill, her tone accusatory. “All this because you threaten your own mother!” Christopher put a hand to his forehead and drew it down slowly over his face. “Mum, I haven’t threatened you, I just need to get some sleep. For God’s sake!” His exasperation was obvious.
Before the exchange could continue, Phil said “Rory, why don’t you take Mary upstairs and I’ll stay down here and have a chat with Christopher.”
“Good idea. Come on, Mary, let’s you and me go upstairs and you can tell me a bit more about what’s happened. Is there somewhere comfortable we can go?”
Mary did not look convinced, but she acquiesced, nonetheless, “We can go to my bedroom.”
As Rory moved to follow Mary up the stairs, he noticed Phil smirking.
The last few steps curved round to the right and a narrow landing led from left to right. Immediately on the left, at the back of the house, was the bathroom. At the right hand end of the landing was the box room and leading off the landing directly opposite were the two larger bedrooms. Mary entered the righthand door of these two, which was the master bedroom, facing out over the street. The streetlight outside cast a vague yellow glow over the room, but it was not until Mary turned on the bedside lamp that Rory was able to get a good idea of the space. Having expected Mary’s bedroom to be somewhat of a fleapit, Rory was relieved to find that it was the cleanest, neatest part of the house he had been in so far. There was a double bed in the centre of the room, with its headboard against the landing wall. On the lefthand side, against the other interior wall, was an ornate, wooden dressing table, with a large swing mirror as its centre piece – this was probably an antique, Rory guessed. The wall opposite the bed was taken up entirely by fitted wardrobes and a small bedside table sat on either side of the bed. The sweet, delicate fragrance of rosewater filled the air.
Mary sat down on the bed and looked up at Rory, expectantly. “Well, aren’t you going to sit down?”
“I’ll stay standing, Mary, if you don’t mind; I find it easier to write,” Rory lied. He really did not want to relinquish his advantage over Mary; she was too unpredictable.
Rory could hear the deep, even hum of muffled voices downstairs, as Phil spoke with Christopher.
“Right, Mary,” Rory said, taking out his pocket book and pen, “I need you to think really hard and try to remember exactly what Christopher said to you, because we need to work out if any offences have been committed.” As he said this, Rory felt the soft, gentle pressure of something brushing against his left calf. He looked down, expecting to see the cat that Mary had let in earlier. There was nothing there.
“You OK?” Mary was looking at him suspiciously, her eyes narrowed and scrutinising.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just thought I felt your cat brush past me.”
“Oh, no, you won’t see him. He won’t come out of the kitchen these days.”
“Oh, why’s that?” Rory did not really care, but if he could establish some kind of rapport with Mary, he might be able to get her to talk more and she would be more likely to remain on an even keel.
“He just won’t come further into the house since Christopher’s been like he is.”
“And how has Christopher been?”
“You know, tetchy, irritable. Shouting and that.”
“Well animals can be quite sensitive to people’s moods,” Rory said casually.
“Oh yes, they’re sensitive, animals. They KNOW things.” Mary’s tone was knowing and deliberate, as though she was talking to Rory about a great secret which they shared, as though no elaboration was necessary. Well, that suited Rory, he did not want to hear any elaboration; he was beginning to regret having taken this crappy call and was hoping to all hell that Mary’s story remained as it was, so he could note no offences, bosh the job and get on with his life.
At that moment, there was a great pounding on the stairs, shaking the whole house. Someone or something big was coming up. Thinking Christopher had flipped, Rory rushed out onto the landing, drawing his baton. Nothing. The landing was empty and still. Rory peered over the bannister; nobody on the stairs, the gentle murmur of Phil and Christopher’s voices drifting up from the direction of the kitchen.
Rory turned back toward the bedroom and jumped; Mary was directly behind him. Her face bore the same, narrow eyed, scrutinising look, “What are you doing?”
Rory paused, a little shaken. “I, erm….I thought somebody was coming up the stairs.”
Mary’s expression turned blank and passive, her eyes emotionless, but fixed on Rory’s. “Oh, you hear it, too.” She turned and went back into her bedroom.
“What? Hear what?” Rory followed, wanting an answer from Mary. Mary had gotten into bed and pulled the duvet over herself, laying on her side with her back to Rory and the door. “Forget it. I’m tired. You can go now.”
“You don’t want to pursue the allegation against Christopher?”
Rory lingered in the doorway for a moment. “Well, you know where we are if you need us.”
As he made his way downstairs, Rory knew that his sense of relief was not entirely down to getting rid of this griefy job. He could not explain what had just happened and it troubled him.
As he reached the bottom of the stairs, there was Phil, waiting in the hallway for him.
“Where’s the son?”
Phil pointed at the darkened room. “He’s back in there, the poor bastard. Trying to get some sleep. He seems like a nice reasonable bloke, stinks a bit, though. He’s fine, he’s just not getting any sleep; he says his mum spends all night charging up and down the stairs, making a right old racket.”
Rory looked hard at Phil. “It’s not his mum. Let’s go.”
Phil followed Rory, demanding no further explanation; he was just happy to be leaving this crap behind. So was Rory, but for different reasons. Phil pulled the front door closed behind him. “Fancy McDonalds?”