Brigid Culthorpe

A rook­ie police offi­cer, patrolling one of the worst neigh­bour­hoods in town, is about to under­go a bap­tism by fire. All hel­l’s about to break loose, and Brigid’s on her own…

Care — con­tains some strong language.

Brigid Culthor­pe yawned, rubbed her eyes and squint­ed at the spray-paint-cov­ered sign at the end of the street, try­ing to make out the name of the road they were in.

‘It’s like a bloody maze round here,’ she grum­bled to her part­ner, PC Mar­co Glover. ‘Don’t know how you can tell one road from another.’

Glover grunt­ed and nod­ded as he slowed the patrol car down and coaxed it gen­tly over a speed bump. ‘You get used to it. Believe me, Brig, you’ll spend plen­ty of time down here.’

‘Get much trou­ble here then?’

‘Vir­tu­al­ly all the trou­ble we get starts here,’ the more expe­ri­enced, grey-haired police­man sighed. ‘Every town has an estate like this. It’s a dump­ing ground. It’s where the scum and the unfor­tu­nate end up, and they don’t think twice about prey­ing on those folks who can’t look after them­selves. And even if the trou­ble doesn’t start here, wher­ev­er it kicks off it’s usu­al­ly peo­ple from round here who start it.’

‘Great,’ Brigid said as the car clat­tered over anoth­er bump. Glover turned left.

‘Right, here we are, Aca­cia Road. Sounds quite nice, but believe me, it ‘ain’t.’

He stopped the car. Brigid got out and looked up and down the length of the street. Ten or twen­ty years ago this might have been a fair­ly decent area, she thought, but not any more. It was des­o­late. Weeds sprout­ed between the cracks in the pave­ments unchecked where over­grown front lawns had spilled out over col­lapsed walls and fences. The bat­tered wrecks of old, half-stripped down cars sat use­less out­side equal­ly dilap­i­dat­ed hous­es. Uncol­lect­ed black sacks of rub­bish had been dumped in piles wait­ing for a coun­cil col­lec­tion that would prob­a­bly nev­er come. Aca­cia Road was a grey, dead and depress­ing scene.

Brigid’s throat was dry. She wasn’t long out of train­ing. Her stom­ach churned with an uneasy mix of nerves, adren­a­lin and anticipation.

‘Which num­ber was it?’ Glover asked.


‘Come on then. Let’s get it done.’

Glover began walk­ing down the road and Brigid fol­lowed. They start­ed at num­ber four (which, as it sat between house num­bers twen­ty-two and twen­ty-six, was most like­ly actu­al­ly twen­ty-four) then increased their speed. Thir­ty-eight, forty, forty-two, forty-four, and then they were there. Num­ber forty-six. The num­ber had been daubed on the wall in off-white emul­sion paint next to a board­ed-up win­dow. Even from the end of the path they could already hear the argu­ment tak­ing place inside. She saw the remains of a large piece of fur­ni­ture and a lib­er­al sprin­kling of bro­ken glass in the mid­dle of the over­grown lawn. The front bed­room win­dow had been smashed and a pair of thin, mus­tard-yel­low cur­tains blew in and out in the ear­ly morn­ing breeze like dirty flags. It didn’t take a genius to work out what had happened.

‘What gets me,’ Glover moaned as he forced the gar­den gate open (the bot­tom hinge was bro­ken and it scraped nois­i­ly along the ground) then walked up the path, ‘is the fact that these peo­ple are even awake at this time. You know, most of them are usu­al­ly off their faces on booze or drugs and they don’t open their eyes before mid-after­noon. Bloody hell, these peo­ple shouldn’t even be con­scious yet, nev­er mind up and hav­ing a domestic.’

‘Prob­a­bly still awake from last night,’ Brigid suggested.

‘I’m sure you’re right,’ Glover agreed. ‘Dirty bas­tards. More bloody trou­ble than they’re worth. Don’t know why we waste so much time here. Should just build a bloody brick wall around the estate and seal the lot of them in, let them fight it out amongst themselves …’

Brigid smiled to her­self. Glover was a far more expe­ri­enced offi­cer than she was, but even after just a cou­ple of days work­ing with him she could read him like a book. The clos­er he got to an inci­dent, she’d noticed, the more he seemed to chat­ter and swear. She, on the oth­er hand, became more con­trolled and focussed as they approached poten­tial­ly dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions like this. It was the idea of con­flict that she didn’t like. Once she was in the mid­dle of the trou­ble, actu­al­ly doing some­thing about it, she could han­dle her­self as well as the next man. In fact, she could usu­al­ly han­dle her­self bet­ter than the next man.

‘What’s this bastard’s name again?’ asked Glover, nod­ding towards the grim build­ing they now stood outside.

‘Shaun Jenk­ins,’ Brigid replied. ‘The call came in from his part­ner, Faye Smith. Said he was threat­en­ing her and the kids.’

‘And how many kids was it?’

‘Three,’ she replied as she reached up and banged on the door. ‘Open up please, Shaun. It’s the police.’

No answer. Brigid ham­mered her fist on the door again. She could hear some­thing hap­pen­ing inside now. A child cry­ing, then sev­er­al sets of heavy foot­steps, rac­ing each oth­er to the door. Then a col­li­sion and a muf­fled scream. Jenk­ins, it seemed, was hav­ing a last ditch attempt to sort out his so called domes­tic prob­lem with­out police involvement.

Glover leant for­ward and shout­ed through the let­ter­box. ‘Open up, Shaun. I’ll kick the door down if I have to.’

‘Fuck off,’ an angry voice spat back at him from the oth­er side of the door. Glover glanced at Brigid, then stepped back and kicked the lock. They could hear more strug­gling inside the house now. Some­thing slammed against the door — Faye Smith, pre­sum­ably — then it opened inwards. Brigid barged her way inside and grabbed Jenk­ins who had his part­ner in a neck lock, try­ing to drag her up onto her feet so he could kick her down again. She grabbed the junkie by the scruff of his scrawny neck and hauled him into the near­est room, then threw him onto a grub­by-look­ing sofa. A large, sol­id woman, she had a weight advan­tage over most peo­ple: this scarred, drug-addled excuse for a man didn’t have a hope. Even if he’d been lucid enough to fight back, he still wouldn’t have had a chance.

Brigid glanced over her shoul­der at Faye Smith who lay on the thread­bare hall car­pet in a sob­bing heap. ‘I’ve got this one,’ she shout­ed to Glover, ‘you get the rest of them sort­ed out.’

Faye Smith limped towards the room at the far end of the hall­way. The police­man could just make out the shape of a child hid­ing in the shad­ows of the kitchen door. He saw two more — both boys, both half-dressed — stand­ing at the top of the stair­case, peer­ing down through a hole in the bro­ken wood­en bannister.

‘It’s all right, lads,’ he said, ‘your mom’s okay. You stay up there and get your­selves dressed and we’ll be up to see you in a cou­ple of minutes.’

Glover glanced over to his right and saw that Brigid was in com­plete con­trol in the liv­ing room. He had to admit, she was turn­ing out to be bloody good in sit­u­a­tions like this. He was hap­py for her to take the lead, despite her rel­a­tive inex­pe­ri­ence. She tow­ered over Jenk­ins, and the wiry lit­tle man squirmed on the sofa.

‘Are you going to tell me what’s been going on here, Shaun,’ she asked him, ‘or should I—’

A sud­den spit of crack­ling sta­t­ic from her radio inter­rupt­ed her. Dis­tract­ed she grabbed at it, keep­ing one hand tight around Jenk­ins’ neck. She couldn’t make out what was being said through the white noise and inter­fer­ence. It sound­ed like who­ev­er it was was strug­gling to speak …

A sud­den move­ment from Jenk­ins imme­di­ate­ly refo­cused the police offi­cer. ‘Look, Shaun,’ she said, ‘we can do this here or we can …’

The vacant, drugged-up expres­sion on Jenk­ins’ face began to change. He became more alert and Brigid tensed and reached for her baton, sens­ing he was about to kick-off. Jenk­ins tried to push him­self up, but then stopped and fell back down. The expres­sion on his face changed again. His fea­tures began to twist and con­tort with pain.

‘What’s the mat­ter, Shaun?’ she asked, still cau­tious. Jenk­ins grabbed at his throat and she relaxed her grip slight­ly. His breath­ing changed. His drug-fuelled pant­i­ng became shal­low, irreg­u­lar and forced. She could hear his lungs rasp and rat­tle. Was he for real? Christ, what should she do? She hadn’t cov­ered this in train­ing. Did she risk try­ing to help him or should she call Glover and … and the colour in his face was begin­ning to drain. Bloody hell, there was no way he was fak­ing this. Was this a seizure or some kind of fit brought on by what­ev­er he’d tak­en, or was it some­thing she’d done? Had she used too much force? Jenk­ins’ eyes, already wild and dilat­ed, began to bulge as he fought for breath. He threw him­self back in agony and began to claw at his inflamed throat.

‘Glover!’ Brigid shout­ed. ‘I need help! Get your­self in here!’

She had to take a chance. She grabbed Jenk­ins’ flail­ing legs and tried to lay him out flat on the sofa. He arched his back in pain, his wil­lowy frame begin­ning to con­vulse furi­ous­ly. Press­ing down on his bare chest with one hand she tried to hold his thrash­ing head still with the oth­er and clear his air­way. Sud­den­ly motion­less for the briefest of moments, the odi­ous addict then let out a tear­ing, ago­nis­ing scream of pain which splat­tered the police offi­cer with blood and spit­tle. Repulsed, she stag­gered back and wiped her face clean.

‘Shit. Glover, I’ve got a real prob­lem. Where are you?’

Still no response from her part­ner. Jenk­ins began to con­vulse again. It was her duty to try and save his life, much as she knew it was bare­ly worth sav­ing. She leant over him, but by the time she’d decid­ed what she need­ed to do, he’d already lost con­scious­ness. Now he wasn’t mov­ing at all.

‘Glover!’ she yelled again. Now that Jenk­ins was qui­et she could hear more nois­es echo­ing around this dark, dank and squalid house. Her heart thump­ing, she stood up and walked towards the door. From the kitchen came a sud­den crash­ing noise as a stack plates and dish­es fell to the ground and smashed. Brigid ran into the room and found Glover, Faye Smith and one of her three chil­dren motion­less on the cold, sticky linoleum, sur­round­ed by the bro­ken crock­ery which had fall­en from a now upturned table. The three of them were dead. By the time she returned to Jenk­ins, he was dead too. Upstairs, she found two more corpses. One of the boys was in the bath­room, wedged between the base of the sink and the toi­let pan as if he’d died hid­ing, the oth­er was lying on the car­pet next to his bed. Both of the dis­tress­ing­ly thin chil­dren were white-faced but with traces of dark crim­son, almost black blood drib­bling from their open mouths.

Brigid reached for her radio again and called for assis­tance. The famil­iar sound of hiss­ing sta­t­ic cut through the silence, reas­sur­ing her momentarily.

But no one answered.