Early turn meant clearing the drunks who’d stumbled onto the depot startups. I watched the District line carriages rattle in, hands in my pockets, rubbing my thumbs against my palms. Grit had been scattered across the frosted platforms. Commuters were blowing into cupped hands, shuffling to get the blood flowing. Plumes of steam rose from pipes at the backs of terraces. Sunlight poked over the rooftops melting the frost. The train snaked across points. I nodded to the driver, raising a palm. He stared straight ahead. Drivers didn’t want us till they needed us: till someone was trying to get through the cab door on the midnight-ten.
I scanned the carriages, speed reading for trouble. The first carriage had been sprayed electric blue, peppered with the tag ‘Angel’ in a curling scroll. I knew Angel. You’ll notice the past tense. He had a nasty habit of riding his BMX down the stairs at stations. He’d skidded on a greasy burger carton and slid straight under a westbound Piccadilly.
The train trembled to a halt. The grimy windows of the third and fourth carriages had been etched with a blade or screwdriver. The doors twitched and shuddered open. I got on and stared straight ahead, the way the military taught you, scraping my boot soles on the sanded timber decks. The train stuttered away from the platform, like the straining rope in a tug-o-war. I wiped the window with a squeak and watched the crumbling brickwork and diesel-gravel blur beneath us.
There was a rush of air from the connecting door to the next carriage, then the thump of the door slamming. Someone coughed. Newspapers rustled. He wore a filthy lumberjack shirt in red tartan. A pair of grubby, callused hands gripped the edge of a seat cushion as he lurched forward. A man in a raincoat with half moon specs frowned over his folded newspaper. The vagrant stooped, shaking an imaginary fist. I swallowed and stepped into the aisle. I couldn’t see any weapons, but there could be anything hidden under those filthy, itching layers. He wore heavy workmen’s boots with socks rolled over the tops. The laces were sopping wet, split and trailing behind. His jeans were matted with dirt and held up with a shiny nylon belt the width of a handbag strap. He glanced up through a greasy, tangled fringe.
‘Joseph,’ I said.
His hair was thick with chalky dust or plaster as if he’d been doing renovations. Blood leaked from his left ear. His fingers were scored with nicks and cuts and tobacco-stained. I tugged a pair of surgical gloves from the pack I wore on my utility belt.
‘Didn’t know you’d started commuting, Joe,’ I said.
I’d keep him talking while I snapped the gloves on. Joe was a regular who drifted round the Tube. The councils gave the vagrants free travel as if keeping them on the move kept them from causing trouble. They were like leaf stalks, spinning and tumbling through the vortex of a sewer. Joe hawked spit onto the boards.
‘Come on, let’s get you off,’ I said.
He spat at me, waving a fist. The spit bubbled on the deck. There was a curling trace of blood in it. Joe’s left hand pawed at his belt, then shot into the folds of filthy fabric. He pulled out his dick, cupping it in his hand. It slapped against his palm. Papers went up. Backs were pressed into cushions. A woman in bug-eyed glasses screamed. Joe grinned and started to piss. A thick, yolk-coloured stream splashed against the boards, spattering Italian leather shoes and tailored trousers. He shook it around spraying feet and seats and briefcases in a looping arc.
‘You don’t learn, do you?’ I said.
I snapped a cuff on Joe’s wrist. The train slowed, squealing to a halt. When the doors opened I dragged him out onto the platform at Barons Court. Joe gripped the door with his free hand.
‘You need to move him out the way.’
A station assistant was waving at me. He wore the bright orange LU vest, and had a black vinyl clipboard clutched to his chest.
‘We’ve got to get that train out,’ he said.
I turned my back on him.
‘Do you know how much it costs for each minute of delay?’
He was bony at the elbow and wrist, with an angry red rash on his neck. He probably did karate courses by post in his living room.
‘Are you going to move, Joe?’ I said.
Joe’s eyes were like slits.
I brought the cuff down hard and he grunted, dropping to his knees.
‘I saw that officer.’
A thin, bookish man stared at me. He’d taken a pen from his jacket pocket and was scribbling my collar number onto the back of a business card.
‘Bullying, that’s what it is-‘
‘He’s drunk on the railway,’ I said. ‘That’s dangerous and it’s an offence.’
‘You should be out catching-‘
‘I know,’ I said, interrupting, ‘I should be out catching real criminals. I’ve heard that before – a few thousand times.’
The man squinted at me. There was a drop of rainwater on the inside of his glasses, but he was determined not to wipe it. His suit jacket trailed six or eight inches below his North Face raincoat. He was wearing white tennis shoes because his office brogues pinched on his daily commute.
‘I’ll be making a complaint,’ he said.
A Piccadilly line train rattled in sending wafts of grease and piss and stale sweat from Joe’s matted shirt. The man dipped his chin into his raincoat.
‘Lovely, isn’t it?’ I said.
He glared at me.
‘He’s still a human being, you know.’
I led Joe up the stairs. I wasn’t going to call for a van. I didn’t see any point.
‘Your attitude stinks,’ the man called after me.
‘Not attitude you can smell,’ I said, ‘more like white spirit, with a hint of piss and southern fried chicken.’
I headed for West Ken. I could already smell the eggs and bacon in the Met canteen. I turned the corner. Two cops were getting out of a Met car. The driver saw me and pointed.
‘Mate,’ he shouted.
He tucked his thumbs in his belt. He wore his polished flat cap with the peak slashed. This was a guy with a hard-on for the military.
I booked off for breakfast at Earls Court. An Australian with tousled hair and wooden beads hitched a rucksack onto his shoulders and wobbled, like a strongman dragging a truck. I hitched my belt up. A trickle of sweat ran down the base of my spine. I nodded to Tony on the ticket gate. His cap was set back on his head at a jaunty angle. He wore a shark’s tooth earring and a shirt open at the neck. The platforms were crowded. A packed Wimbledon train thundered in sending greasy paper bags and crisp packets swirling at track side. A waft of grilling bacon and fresh-buttered toast drifted into the corridor. My radio crackled. I felt for the ribbed volume switch and twisted it.
‘Control to PC Turner.’
I sighed and pressed to transmit.
‘I’ve just booked off for breakfast.’
There was a pause, where I knew Dave Burns would be asking if anyone else was free and Sergeant Franks would be saying: ‘No, send Early Turner. Stuff him.’
Early Turner had stuck as a name from my first weeks in the job. Early turn gave you time to watch and fish and spot the patterns. And I liked the breakfasts.
‘I’m sorry, PC Turner, you’re going to have to delay that breakfast.’
‘No, you’re not.’
‘Where are you?’
I told him. I was watching a man prowling up and down the platform, fixing strangers with a stare.
‘If you go to platform-’
‘I know. I can see him,’ I said.
Augustus Rolf had done time in the US Marines, they said. These days he worked as a pimp, patrolling the front of Earls Court in a forage cap and Army greatcoat.
‘I’ve got other units coming,’ Dave said.
‘Well you can tell them I’m here,’ I said.
Augustus ran back up the steps to the Earls Court Road end. His coat fanned out behind him. He waved a ticket under the nose of the guy on the barrier. The guy shook his head and closed the wicket gate they used for prams and wheelchairs. He waved a finger at Augustus. I’d sat and watched that gate and seen Augustus stroll through without a ticket a dozen times. But the guy on the gate was getting brave. He knew I was around to bounce for him.
‘Augustus,’ I said.
I was halfway up the stairs. The guy on the ticket gate had folded his arms. Augustus turned.
He tilted his head back to stare down his nose. His tight-cropped hair was greying at the temple. There was an egg-shaped lump and a fresh nick on his right brow.
‘There’s been a complaint, Augustus.’
He flashed the ticket in front of my face.
‘You’re not supposed to be on the station. You know that.’
He bared his teeth.
‘I have to travel. I’ve got business.’
He pushed a hand into his jean pocket. My hand snaked towards my baton. He saw and smiled. He turned to face the line of people queuing in the booking office.
‘Is this the treatment I get for paying for my ticket?’
‘Behave,’ I told him.
‘I ask myself why I keep getting trouble. Is it my skin?’
The Australian was second in line for the ticket window. He was watching, frowning at me.
‘Shut your mouth and get out. There’s a good man,’ I said.
I took Augustus’ left elbow. He flinched and raised a hand. I drew the baton. There was a gasp from the ticket line. He stepped back and raised his palms.
‘Police brutality,’ he hissed.
‘I only want you to leave the station,’ I said.
Augustus smiled. He’d got the crowd on his side.
‘Are you going to hit me officer?’
Augustus jerked a thumb at me. Over his shoulder the area car screeched to a halt at the front of the station.
‘Walk out with me now,’ I said to Augustus.
Ken Curtis took the steps two at a time. His baton was drawn, his helmet clipped under the chin.
‘Just leave quietly and-‘
Augustus turned and pushed out an arm. Ken ducked and jabbed the point of the baton hard into the old man’s guts. Augustus coughed and rocked forward.
Gary Fletcher took Augustus and snapped on the cuffs to the rear, double locking them with the spine of his key. Augustus spat onto the tiles.
‘You didn’t have to do that,’ I said, ‘I was dealing with him.’
Fletcher was chewing gum. He scratched the corner of his mouth.
‘I could see that. You had the situation well under control.’
He winked at Curtis and grinned. Curtis held his radio to his chin.
‘We’re bringing one in, Dave. So get the skipper to put the kettle on.’
‘Two sugars,’ Fletcher chimed in.
Curtis held the back door open and Augustus ducked in to the back seat of the area car. The door slammed. Augustus stared at me, expressionless, through the glass. As I turned Curtis tooted the car horn. He wound down the window.
‘What time is it?’
I checked my watch, fearing a joke. I said it was twenty to.
‘Dancer wants us all back for ten for a briefing.’
Kegs of beer were being dropped into a cellar across the road. A clang was followed by a thump as the kegs bounced onto a mat in the basement.
I cupped a hand to my ear.
‘A briefing?’ I said.
‘Don’t be late,’ he said and gunned the engine.
Acting Inspector Tim Dancer tapped the thick folder with a ballpoint pen.
‘This is the latest performance figures.’
He had his index finger pressed to temple, like a stand-up searching for material he’d written on a fag packet.
‘Does anyone want to take a guess how we’re doing?’
‘Not well enough,’ Curtis said.
His feet were outstretched on the seat of another chair beneath the canteen table. A battered Western novel called Death Gulch was part-hidden by MG11 statement papers. Curtis’ shirt buttons stretched at the belly. Black cable-like hairs and milk-white flesh poked through. Dancer nodded and tapped his teeth with the pen.
‘Not well enough,’ he echoed.
‘We’re down on arrests,’ Curtis said.
Dancer peeled back the top sheet of a flipchart. On the left he’d written arrests, summons, stop/search and charges.
‘I’ve written figures down for each shift. Now, I’m not after a blame culture here. That helps no one.’
Curtis and Fletcher turned to stare at me.
‘We need to see more proactive policing,’ Dancer said, ‘the public has a right to expect value for money.’
Dancer was said to be a committed Christian who preached at weekends, but there was no metallic fish on his Renault, no Good News Bible poking from his office bookcase.
‘How is Bravo shift shaping up?’ Curtis said.
‘Bravo shift are leading the way,’ Dancer confirmed.
Dancer had been the B-shift sergeant before acting up to inspector.
‘There are people who aren’t making enough arrests,’ he said, ‘now I’m not going to name names.’
Fletcher leaned forward and coughed ‘Turner.’
Dancer shook his head, but he was smiling. I uncrossed my arms and started doodling on a pad.
‘That’s very funny, Gary. I used to do that when I was about seven,’ I said.
‘You what?’ he said.
‘You heard me.’
‘Your shift is bottom,’ Curtis said.
‘Yeah, that’s what it is, isn’t it Ken? It’s all about point scoring. How many of your arrests are converted? How many end up in court?’
Dancer stretched his palms out on my desk. He leaned close so I could smell bitter coffee on his breath.
‘We’ll talk later.’
It was almost eleven. I went straight to Earls Court and ordered poached eggs, beans and toast. I paid and took a table in the raised area so I’d got sight of the door. I shook a sachet of brown sauce over my eggs, but it tasted like sour apples. A driver came in, stuffing a copy of the Sun into his bum pocket. He ordered a full fry-up and hitched his gut over his waistline in readiness. He’d moved through the waist sizes and would soon be using safety pins to bridge the gap. I stabbed the last square of toast and wiped my plate clean of yolk and bean juice. I straightened my belt and caught the next Circle line east. I radioed Control and asked what LU was up to.
‘There’s revenue staff at Shepherds Bush,’ Dave said.
‘That’ll do me,’ I said. If they wanted easy figures I’d get some.
Shepherds Bush Green was a desolate, faded strip of grass that seemed like it would be more at home attached to a crematorium. It was flat and featureless and dripping with rain and mildew. You could sit on a park bench and watch the swirling litter or breathe the heavy, choking fumes. Matt Brooks was leading the revenue operation at Shepherds Bush Central. He waved and called me over.
‘Are you looking for a job?’ he said.
‘We’ve had a few. We called Control just now but they didn’t have anyone to send.’
‘Any tea on?’
Matt pointed to the station supervisor’s office. I grabbed a mug – the only one that wasn’t chipped or rimed with coffee rings or sour milk. It was a faded, chewing gum white with a BTP crest on it. On the side was printed: ‘Don’t be a mug, join the BTP.’
I poured the dregs of the kettle, scooping London lime scale out with a fork. The tea tasted foul. I drained the mug, swilled out and stepped out to join the revenue.
‘About bloody time too. I don’t fancy getting my head kicked in.’
‘You can look after yourself,’ I said.
Patrick had grown up in Stoke, but left as soon as he could get the train fare together. He was used to taking abuse as a revenue officer, but hardened to it by the knocks he’d taken as a teenager.
‘If you can be queer in Stoke, you can be queer anywhere,’ he’d say.
‘Matt says you’ve been busy.’
Patrick raised an eyebrow.
‘There are a few people round here who buy tickets,’ he said.
The radio crackled. I fiddled with the clip on my belt.
‘Stop,’ Patrick shouted.
A youth in baggy jeans and a quilted jacket sprinted for the escalators. I clutched my radio tight and chased after him. The elevator was almost empty. His running shoes squeaked as he turned the corner, disappearing momentarily beyond the tiled wall. He banged into a woman carrying a wicker basket, sending a newspaper slapping to the floor and groceries tumbling and rolling into the stairwell. He glanced up into the mirror and saw I was closing. Eight yards, seven yards, five yards. He stopped and raised his hands as if I had a shotgun.
‘Wait,’ I said, catching my breath, ‘just bloody wait.’
I touched his shoulder and he flinched. He stared at the floor between his feet.
‘What did you run for?’
He was trembling, his arms hanging loosely at his sides. He began to shake the way whippet dogs did, wired with energy that needed an outlet.
‘Why did you run?’ I said.
There was no sign of Patrick or Matt.
‘Do you speak English?’
He was still trembling, staring at the tiles.
‘Mate, you’ve got to talk or we’ll be here all day.’
His fists clenched at his sides. I took a step back out of his arc. Fine beads of sweat had broken out on his neck and forehead. My first thought was drugs or mental health. A sour smell came from his skin.
‘Are you going to talk or not?’
He lifted his head and swallowed.
‘I need to ask you some questions,’ I said.
He tucked his hands into his jean pockets.
‘What’s your name?’
He slouched back against the wall. I left him and walked a few yards away to speak into the radio.
‘I’ve got an unusual one here,’ I said.
‘Do you need assistance?’
I looked at the youth. He was sliding, inch by inch down the tiles until he was seated against the wall.
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘Yeah, you’d better send someone, there’s something not right-‘
‘OK, I’ve got Dan en route.’
The kid walked past me, hands in pockets, chin cradled on chest.
‘Where do you think you’re going?’
He stepped onto the escalator without looking back.
‘I said where do you think you’re going?’
A Japanese tourist put his arm around his girlfriend. They were wearing over-sized American football shirts and skinny jeans. The kid stepped onto the escalator. I followed.
‘We’ll talk upstairs,’ I said.
Patrick was waiting at the top.
‘We thought you’d gone,’ he said.
‘Thanks for the concern.’
I put myself between the kid and the exit. I’d lost kids before at Shepherds Bush. I’d watched them sprint between buses and taxis, chancing life and limb for the cost of an 80p single.
‘Are you going to talk?’
He said nothing.
‘If you don’t talk mate I’ll have no choice but to arrest you.’
‘Yeah, I’ll have to arrest you. I don’t know who you are.’
He slumped back against the wall and sighed.
‘OK, last chance,’ I said, ‘what’s your name?’
I checked my watch. He didn’t speak so I touched his shoulder with my palm. He flinched, so I reached for my cuffs. His shoulder was hard, taut.
‘I’m arresting you for failing-‘
He wasn’t listening. He was staring at the floor, breathing hard. His chest was rising and falling. He was clenching his biceps, pumping them with blood.
I took his wrists and clicked the cuffs to the rear.
‘One under arrest,’ I said into my brooch mike, ‘where’s the transport?’
‘Five to ten, en route,’ Dave Myers said.
The radio crackled.
‘That’s your second this year. Don’t go crazy,’ Curtis said.
I took the kid into the station supervisor’s office and told him to sit him down by the desk. He didn’t, so I walked him backwards and parked him back on the chair. I filled a glass of water from the tap. The pipes clunked and the water surged up the sides of the tumbler soaking the front of my shirt. He started to rock back and forth, bumping the seat into a cheap bookcase.
‘Sit still, son and we’ll be sorted in a minute.’
My mouth was dry. Spitting feathers, my dad would have said. I took a slug of water, rinsed my mouth and spat into the sink. The kid shouldered a cabinet. Glass shattered and fell in shards to the carpets. A shelf gave way sending books and folders tumbling to the floor.
‘Christ, what the hell- I need an ambulance on the hurry up.’
There was a silent pause.
‘Can we confirm you’re OK?’ Myers said.
I told them it was the prisoner who needed medical help, not me. The kid was breathing fast and shallow. Blood was seeping from his forehead. I took a fresh pair of surgical gloves from my pack and snapped them on.
‘Come on, mate. I’ll help you to stand up.’
I turned his shoulders so he was facing me. There was a four or five inch gash along his hairline. Blood was seeping into his eye, but he didn’t blink.
‘We need to get this cleaned up,’ I said.
He butted me hard on the cheek. I yelled out and tumbled back. I saw shards of light dancing before my eyes. I tottered back, gripping the tabletop while I tried to steady my feet. His eyes were bloodshot. He snorted, spat onto the carpet and charged me. I sidestepped and he clipped my shoulder as he crashed into the plasterboard wall. I gripped his arm and turned him. He backed into me, showing his teeth. I stepped back to create space and kicked out, hard, into the back of his knee. He grunted and folded, falling forward onto the carpet face first. I crouched alongside him. He used his shoulders to push himself up.
‘No way,’ I said, ‘you stay put.’
I shoved him in the small of the back and he sank to the floor. His shirt was soaking with sweat and spit. I knelt upright, catching my breath. The kid was shaking violently. He got to his knees and I forced him down. I tasted copper and spat into my handkerchief. I probed the inside of my cheek with my tongue. Matt stood in the doorway.
‘Christ. Are you OK?’
‘Help me hold him till the others come.’
When they put him in the van Matt said: ‘Have you taken a look at yourself?’
I went into the toilets and stared at myself in the mirror. There was swelling under my left eye. I’d been cut on my eyebrow and my collar and shoulders were plastered with blood. I ran the water till it was ice cold and splashed it into my face. I thought about Curtis and Fletcher nicking fare evaders. I’d trumped them this time. This kid was wanted on a warrant, someone said. It had to be murder or robbery. He’d fought like the devil. I sipped coffee while Myers did the checks.
‘Have you heard?’ Curtis said.
I shook my head. Trust him to find out first.
‘He’s wanted, all right. He’s wanted for nicking a four quid bottle of wine from Thresher.’