I was short listed and came runner up with Ideastap for a story called Night Turns a little while back. I’m publishing it in full on my blog for the first time….
The car stank of onion sweat and yesterday’s takeout. Den wasn’t helping things. He had the heater on full blasting out dust and fogging up the windows. The last shift hadn’t bothered to clear their burger boxes and crumpled chip cartons from the foot-wells. Blake wasn’t shifting them on principle and crushed them with his heels. Den folded his pudgy arms, rested his chin on his chest. He was two years from retirement. His reminders of how many hours and minutes he had left to serve – a ticking clock of smugness – were as regular as his tea-breaks. They hadn’t spoken since midnight, but Den’s retirement clock was beginning to tick in Blake’s head too. He was becoming like that tramp he’d read about who never wore a watch but could estimate the time precisely whenever he was stopped. Blake fiddled with the radio, turned it on and off again. It was silent. Den shook his head. It was a bitterly cold night and any Billy Burglar with a brain cell was tucked up beneath his duvet with the central heating on turbo.
Den was pink-skinned and almost completely bald, a look that brought to mind a baby emerging from a bath. Den licked a fingertip, preening his fuse-wire moustache. He had a pair of scissors he kept alongside his cuffs and baton in his utility belt and he’d get them out and trim it. Once, Dent clipped a bristle of moustache into Blake’s chicken soup. Blake had fantasised about beating Den to death for the rest of the shift. Blake drew Den in the condensation, smirking at the bristly moustache and sagging gut. Den wriggled, reclining his chair and beginning the succession of lip-smacking and throat clearing noises he always went through before sleep.
Blake stared out at the moonlight shining on the mere. Hawthorn and privet sparkled in the hoar frost. Blake resigned himself to watching the ice creep across the mere for the next three hours. It was a popular dogging spot and a fair few headlights had pitched up, seen their marked Peugeot and reversed swiftly. When he was chosen from more than seven hundred applicants and promptly went and got drunk Blake dreamed of being a thief-taker. He hadn’t pictured himself sitting with Den Drake at popular dogging spots.
Blake’s stomach churned. Night turn always upset his guts. He couldn’t hack cornflakes at teatime – the milk sloshed in his belly for hours – and could never manage pie and mash for breakfast. Den was a bin. He ate things seagulls and foxes wouldn’t touch. Den farted noisily, did a little shuffle of his hips to liberate the gas. His shirt tugged free as he shuffled in the seat exposing a white tyre of flesh, striated where his utility belt had fought a losing battle with kebabs and Big Macs. He wafted his gas at Blake with a cupped palm. Blake cracked the window an inch, rewarded by an icy blast of wind.
‘Share and share alike,’ Den said, ‘be rude not to.’
Blake’s eyes began to water. The tabloids were predicting record lows and the thermometer hadn’t finished tumbling yet. ‘It smells like something’s died in here.’
Den lit a fag. ‘Don’t know what they put in those pasties.’
‘No, I don’t mind if you do,’ Blake said, wafting away the smoke.
‘Do you ever stop moaning?’ Den said. ‘Why do you do this job anyway?’
‘I guess it’s the stimulating chat.’
Den stared at him through narrowed eyes and blew smoke at his face.
‘Lima three-zero, Control,’ Blake said, angling the mike away from Den’s interruptions. There was a pause, a little static, before Carl on Control replied. ‘Yeah, believe it or not we’re still here, Rob. We’ve got nothing for you, I’m afraid.’
Den sat chuckling. He didn’t need to say I told you so, but Blake thought he would do sooner or later. Blake closed his eyes, prayed for calls, guilty he was wishing tragedies on people he’d never met. People getting walloped with frying pans, muggings in underpasses, shoplifting at an all-night store – any of these would offer a reprieve.
The green diodes on the dash clock flashed three am. Blake tilted the headrest, rucked up his coat around his thighs and closed his eyes surrendering to sleep. He dreamt they were pursuing a stolen car, taking the islands on the ring road on two wheels, flashing him to stop. Control said the driver was wanted for murder.
‘This’ll be one hell of a collar,’ Den told him. Blake got alongside at seventy, bossed the driver to pull over. He boxed the stolen car in with skill, killed his engine, got out and straightened his hat and belt. The driver sat with his hands on the wheel, didn’t move. Blake tapped the window. When the man wouldn’t budge he took out his baton and banged the window, threatened to put it through if he didn’t get out. The banging on the toughened glass became a thud. It got louder until Blake thought he might put the window through.
‘Rise and shine, sleepyhead.’
Blake shot up in his seat. Chief Inspector Spencer was tapping the window with his truncheon. Blake wound down the window.
‘What the hell do you think this is?’ Spencer said.
‘Sorry, guv, I….’
Den was shaking his head. ‘I should’ve kept an eye out, sir.’
Spencer folded his arms. ‘Not your fault, Den. We’re running a police force not a bloody travel tavern. Sleep in your own time, Blake.’
Blake wondered why Spencer was passing a dogging spot at three in the morning. Spencer nodded at Den. ‘You could learn a lot from Den here.’
‘He’s coming up to retirement, aren’t you, Den?’
‘I suppose I must be, guv. I’ve lost track of the years.’
Spencer slapped him on the back. ‘He’s still as keen as mustard. Watch and learn, Blake. That’s if you can keep your eyes open.’