Diane and the Copper
I have often heard people say that what goes around comes around; many will sagely refer to the 'circles of time'. If you are to believe those two maxims, then the other old advisory 'you should never go back' is contradictory. You have no choice about going back because the circles of time and what goes around comes around will take you there whether you want to or not. I had not sought to re-visit the past, but it came back to me anyway.
My name is Anderson, Andy Anderson and no that wasn't a whim of my parents. My actual given name is one that tends to make people splutter in their coffee, and ask "what? " So as soon as I had a choice in the matter I would only answer to Andy, preferring to disassociate myself from my parent's flight of fancy. It also helped in 'The Job'. It would be difficult to maintain order and respect if my co-workers and subordinates laughed every time my name was mentioned. The job was being a policeman. Amongst coppers our employment was referred to simply as 'The Job'. I had joined when I was twenty-one after trying a variety of employments since I left school at eighteen. The pretty picture of prospects painted by potential employers vanished quite quickly, the interviewer being economical with the truth purely to get another 'coolie' onto the treadmill. The Police on the other hand paid you quite well from the start and if you could take the discipline it was a good job with real prospects; that is, if you stayed alive and uninjured! I adapted to the work, the discipline and managed to stay alive.
I was now thirty-five. I had pounded the beat, got beaten up more than a couple of times by nefarious characters who didn't want to come quietly and administered punishments to a few who I knew were guilty but evidence to convict them was insufficient for the CPS to prosecute. I had done a stint in the Traffic section and plain clothes work attached to the C.I.D. I had been married and divorced. Now having taken and passed the examination, I had made Inspector. Along the way I had seen how some people would treat other people; I was no longer surprised at the depths of depravity to which human beings could descend. Yet I liked the job, purely because you could make a difference. When some utter lowlife who preyed on innocent people was banged up for a few years you got a great deal of satisfaction.
The divorce was inevitable really. There was an adage in the Force, 'Coppers should only marry in the family'. That is the relatives of other coppers who understood the life. The pressure of work and the compulsory overtime meant that I could be working sixteen hour days seven days a week. Overtime was necessary as our officers were too often sitting at a desk for hours in the Police Station filling in the innumerable forms demanded by the Home Office. Our politicians seemed of the opinion that paperwork was productive; for that gave them the dodgy statistics they could spout in the House of Commons making them look impressive; even though it kept good Coppers off the streets where they could actually prevent crime! When I did get home I was so knackered that sleep was the only priority. Wives need to be told often that they are loved and needed more than the physical proof of that. Shirley, my wife was loved, but my lifestyle was not conducive to normal married life. Eventually she sat me down one day using those dreaded words.
"Andy. We need to talk." Actually she talked and I listened. The essence of the talk was that there was little point in our remaining married. She wanted out. There were no arguments, no screaming fights. She didn't believe that I had been unfaithful, given my workload I would have little opportunity to cheat. If she had cheated I would never know for certain. Perhaps she had as she found a new man very quickly and moved in with him. Whatever we parted without acrimony and I wished her luck with the rest of her life even though she took most of our assets with her. Shortly after that I applied to take the test for Inspector.
When you made Inspector you get transferred. The powers that be believed that you would find it difficult to maintain discipline with men who had been your peer group. When I joined the Force my first posting was away from my home town, very much for the same reasons. Now by chance I was transferred back to where I grew up. I would have preferred somewhere else, but you have to go where there is a vacancy or wait, in your present grade until another posting becomes available.
I had only been away for fourteen years yet the place had changed. The old High Street which had been full of shops owned and operated by locals now had its share of multiples and the inevitable Mall. It was now a restricted zone, buses, taxis and emergency vehicles only. The supermarkets had driven the small grocers, the butchers and the greengrocers out of business and the premises they had vacated were now taken by financial institutions, estate agents and charity shops. The Pubs where I had taken the occasional refreshment as a youth had metamorphosed into trendy wine bars. The problems at closing time were still the same though. Young men totally wasted on 'designer' cocktails vomiting in the gutter, or emboldened with drink becoming aggressive. Then there were the young women, well watered with alcohol, dressed whatever the weather according to the fashion that less is better; allowing views of their person that only their Doctor or lover should see. At closing time, particularly on Friday and Saturday evenings we would have a strong presence in the town centre with our van close by. The Van had a lock-up cage in the back and I am sorry to say it had much use on those evenings ferrying inebriated young men and women back to the Nick or to the hospital to regret their intemperance the next morning.
Although this was where I grew up, I had little social interaction. My parents, who were both in their forties when I was born had retired and moved to Cyprus where they had bought a Villa. Mum had taught Art and Design, she was mainly responsible for my unusual name and Dad was in the Music department at Birmingham University. I don't think they had ever considered being parents and had little idea of what parenting was about. It must have been quite a shock to them when mum got pregnant. Needless to say I was an only child. The crowd I had hung around with when in my late teens and early twenties had moved away and the girls presumably married now would have a different name anyway. As a policeman I could have used the police database to find some of them, but my enquiries would be logged and I would have to answer questions as to what I was about. Accessing the database for personal reasons was a disciplinary offence.
An Inspectors job is much more desk bound than the Sergeants and Constables. But I tried to get out as much as possible. It helped to have the guy with glitter on his cap peak around if anything was happening. The police force is a family within itself. It doesn't matter where you are posted, you will find someone you have worked with before, or with whom you have mutual acquaintances. John Atherton, the Superintendent in my new job had been the Desk Sergeant at my first station. He welcomed me happily. We exchanged the news of old friends, new friends, and what was happening in our lives. He was sorry to hear of my divorce but not surprised. It was a common occurrence amongst Coppers. In his office we were Andy and John. In front of the troops I called him Sir, and he called me Inspector. After work in the pub we reverted to Andy and John. He liked a drink after the relief signed on and I joined him. I had never been a great drinker. When I first went out with my mates to pubs, I learnt that alcohol and I were not the best of friends. I wasn't alcohol intolerant, but damned close to it. It didn't stop me from enjoying myself, but having a clear head when those around you hadn't was interesting to say the least. Going to the pub with the lads was informative, as they would let slip juicy gossip that they would never talk about officially. Because I was new, single and not a drinker many of the civic duties slipped into my in tray. It was on one of those duties that I met Diane again.
Diane had belonged to the same group of friends as I in my late teens. She was definitely a girl to look at twice and then once again. She was slim, about five four, and although she didn't look busty at first the third glance you gave her told you that underneath her blouse she had delights to gladden the heart of any red-blooded man. Her hair was long and waved naturally down to just below her shoulders. Actually it was the hair that you noticed first as it was that lovely shade of dark rust they call auburn. After the hair it was her smile. People smile and you can tell that they are forcing it onto their lips. Diane's smile was so natural and came so easily to her mouth, that you never forgot it. We had been friends, and I had always wanted to ask her out, but at that time you never trod on one of your mate's toes and it always seemed that she was seeing another guy when I was between girlfriends, and I then had a girlfriend when she was without a boyfriend, although that was rare. Diane was a Ten! Notwithstanding this we had always got on well together. She seemed to have achieved a permanent relationship with a bloke called Terry. I didn't know him well, but I thought he was a bit untrustworthy and not good enough for her, but I would, wouldn't I? It was at that time that I joined the Police and moved away. I heard later that Diane and Terry had got married. Why didn't I try harder to date Diane? It was the usual excuse. Diane was the top dolly; in my reticence I convinced myself that I didn't really stand a chance. My upbringing as a single child had not endowed me with a lot of confidence socially; my parents had no friends to socialise and that permeated down to me. I was unsure and hid my lack of confidence behind an air of reservation. The police work changed that. In 'The Job' you couldn't hide.
I had gone to talk to a small group that wanted to set up a neighbourhood watch scheme. It was an area of good quality three and four bedroom homes, which of late had become targets for the opportunist burglars. The really upmarket houses had learned the lessons and had armed themselves with all sorts of alarms and CCTV cameras. That was enough defence to deter the less professional of our light fingered friends, so now they targeted the slightly lower class properties. My job was to advise them how to maximise the security of their homes, recognise suspicious behaviour and liaise with their neighbours to maintain the observation until such time as a police presence was available. The meeting was taking place in one of the group's homes. When you get up to address a gathering of more than twenty people you tend not to see faces in detail so I was dumbstruck when I saw this smile aimed at me from the back of the room. There was only one smile like that and even though I hadn't recognised her at first, I knew it was Diane.
After the meeting Diane came up to me as I was drinking the inevitable cup of dire coffee. I knew immediately why I hadn't recognised her. That beautiful long Auburn hair that would have alerted me had been cut short. She still looked good, but for a man who enjoyed the long tresses of a woman's crowning glory it was saddening. Her smile, though, was just as warm as it had been fourteen years ago.
"Hello Pug, you are the last person I thought I would see here." Diane was one of the few who knew my real name, but knowing my dislike never used it. She had always shortened it to Pug and that caught on with the rest of our friends. My name was actually Pugin; my mother admired the work of the designer Augustus Pugin who died in eighteen fifty-two. So a hundred and some odd years later she saddled me with the name.
"Diane." I held out my hand to shake hers hoping that she wouldn't feel the sudden pulsing of my blood. "It's really good to see you again. You made me lose my thread when I recognised you at the back there."
She grinned. "Thanks Pug. It's nice to know that I still have an effect on some." Coppers listen to what people say and how they say it. I could read quite a lot into those words. Interesting!
"So you must live around here." That had to be true else she would not have been at the meeting.
"Yes, the house is just down the road, about two hundred yards." She said the house, not her home. Why was that?
"How's Terry." I asked. The smile weakened a little.
"Oh, you know. He's selling cars now. But what about you, Pug? I didn't know that you were working here in Sutton." The abrupt change in direction was significant.
"I was posted here just four months ago. That was when I was promoted to Inspector."
"Where were you before?"
"Coventry." At that point we were interrupted by the old guy who wanted to get this Neighbourhood Watch scheme up and running. You know the sort. Having retired, he sought any opportunity to find a role that would make him feel important. During the Second World War he would have been an ARP (air raid precautions) warden, just so he could boss people and pry into his neighbours lives. Now that sort of person sets up Neighbourhood Watch schemes for exactly the same reasons.
"Ah! There you are Inspector Anderson. Do you think I could have a quiet word with you?" He looked at Diane telling her wordlessly that her presence would not be needed. "I am sure Mrs. Bowden can spare you." I did my duty and listened to the boring fart as he tried to have me appoint him with powers that were well beyond the bounds of the watch schemes. Diplomatically I pointed out that he wouldn't have the power of arrest or search. Nor would his suspicions alone be evidence of wrongdoing.
"You must leave that to the police, Mr. Fearnly. That's what we are here for." He was unconvinced and upset that he couldn't throw his weight around; he undoubtedly would anyway and so antagonise his neighbours that the scheme would founder within a few months.
I had to leave then and caught Diane as she was walking down the drive. She looked over her shoulder and smiled.
"You'll have trouble with him." She said quietly. I nodded, and as we got to the road and away from wagging ears I remarked.
"Yes. Almost every scheme has someone like Mr. Fearnly." I walked towards my car. It was a Rover 75.
Diane chuckled. "No strawberry stripe and blue lights?"
I shook my head. "You're behind the times, Diane. They go for the checkerboard patterns now. I refused to let them paint my car as I didn't really want to be recognised as a Copper in my time off. Anyway it's my private car, not a police vehicle." I hesitated a moment. "Can I give you a lift?"
"Thanks Pug, but my house is only just down the road. It's lovely to see you again." It was her turn to hesitate. "Could we get together over coffee or lunch some time? I would love the opportunity to catch up after all these years."
"Of course, I would like that. Shall I phone you?"
"Er ... better not. Can I phone you?"
"No problem." I took out my pocket book and wrote my telephone number down, ripped off the sheet and gave it to her."
"Is that the Police station?"
"No. That's my home number."
She nodded thoughtfully. "I'll call you." She put her hand on my arm raising her head as if to give me a peck on the cheek. I leaned back sufficiently to prevent that.
"I'm sorry, Diane. I'm in uniform."
She was blushing as she said. "I should have thought, sorry. I'll call you." As she walked away she turned with a mischievous grin. "You had better not be in uniform when next we meet."