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.