It is hoped we are turning a corner with the vaccines, but it’s not so long ago we had little or no understanding what might happen. This is a fictional account of a shift for two police officers in the early days of Covid19…..
Late Turn in Lockdown
First up: A fight in a supermarket. Control were desperate for takers. Pete winked at his partner and radioed in. ‘It’s your lucky day. We just pulled up right outside.’ A security guy in a clingy nylon sweater was frantically gesturing to them from the doorway. ‘By the cornflakes. It’s kicking off big time,’ he said, breathlessly. Pete raised an eyebrow at Tommo. Don’t say it.
‘Could be a cereal killer.’
But the kerfuffle was by the detergents, not the bran flakes. Two men pushing and shoving each other. One had a footballer’s haircut and designer jeans, with all those tears and zips at odd angles. The other bloke was out of puff, his tie knot dangling down at his gut. He saw Tommo and stood back, tripping over a shelf. He clutched a four-pack of economy toilet rolls tight to his chest. ‘Put them back,’ Pete said.
‘I had them first.’
Pete snatched the toilet rolls, giving them to an old woman who grinned and shoved them in her trolley.
‘Both of you need to take a good look at yourselves,’ Tommo said. ‘What’s happening to this country?’
‘Search me,’ Pete said.
The second call of the shift was a bloke ratting on his neighbours for sharing a hot tub with half the street. Word was it was the local councillor, but it turned out to be a hoax. They were driving to their next job – a bloke who’d been robbed – when Tommo asked: ‘Did Emma say anything?’
Emma had severe asthma. Pete had tried not to think about it. What if he brought the virus home? When he didn’t answer, Tommo said: ‘Shell wants me to go sick.’
Control interrupted them, asking if anyone could drive by Rossiter Street. A bloke was selling bottles of hand sanitiser, twenty quid a pop, from a table on the pavement. The call was cancelled when the salesman did a runner. ‘Clean getaway,’ Tommo said.
They pulled up at the end of the arcade, a deserted and windswept expanse of crumbling concrete. They were thinking it was their second hoax call of the shift when a man trailing a bandage from his head, staggered down the steps from the old Woolworth’s. ‘This our fella?’ The man rested on a wall. He was barefoot, his soles and heels black with filth. He wore shiny tracksuit bottoms and a tweed jacket, which hung open over a pale, bony chest. He took a can of lager from somewhere, tilted back his head and swigged at it. ‘It’s not getting to him, is it?’
‘The stress of lockdown.’
A woman in a grubby pink dressing gown appeared at the top of the steps, shaking her fist. ‘The missus,’ Pete said.
The fella with the can took another swig, turned, and scowled at her, before trudging off.
‘Let’s scoot. Fancy something to eat?’ Tommo said.
Pete was watching her. ‘What’s she got in her hand?’
‘How should I know?’
Pete saw a glint and ran from the car. He shouted for her to stop and she turned and clocked his uniform, her face full of hate. She had a kitchen knife in her left hand, all but the last few inches of blade concealed in her sleeve. ‘Drop it’ Pete said. She took a step toward him and hissed like a goose, but the knife slipped from her hand and clattered on the flagstones. Pete told her she was under arrest for carrying a blade. He cuffed her and led her back toward the car. The bloke in the tweed jacket was raging, so Tommo told him to wind his neck in.
‘What’s your name?’ Pete asked. He saw it coming but was too slow to react. She drew it up from her throat with a rattle and gobbed. He felt it smack against his cheek and drip from his nose. It stung his eyes. ‘I got the corona,’ she said, giving him a gap-toothed grin.
Pete didn’t have a spit guard, so he turned her and held her, temple pressed against the car. Fury made him grip hard. Spitting was filthy. Spitting was deadly now, too. That’s what people were saying. He could’ve yanked a fistful of her hair and slammed that leering face into the bonnet, but he’d never been that kind of cop.
‘I said I got the virus,’ she hissed. There was an Asda carrier bag on the back seat and yes, he was tempted to pull that over her head. He wondered if she really was infected. If he’d have to isolate from Emma, sleep in the spare bed. He yanked open the car door and shoved her inside. He was straightening up when he saw an old woman waving from across the road. ‘Come inside and wash yourself, luv.’
She’d been tending to a hanging basket. He thought he knew her. She led him into a downstairs toilet and told him to wash. There was a bar of yellow coal tar soap. It nipped at a cut on his knuckles. She handed him a towel, seeing the worry in his face. ‘It’s a virus luv. Nothing a dash of bleach won’t sort out.’
He dabbed at his sopping fringe. She was the woman he’d given the toilet rolls to. She offered him tea, but he said he should wait with his prisoner. She smiled at that word. ‘Nasty piece of work,’ she said. ‘Don’t know how you cope.’ She brought two steaming mugs of tea out, for him and Tommo, and a plate of biscuits, and set them down on the wall. Pete sipped his tea, wondering what he’d say to Emma, what to do for the best. The woman in the filthy dressing gown was mouthing swear words at them through the rear window.
‘It won’t last more than a few weeks,’ Tommo said.
‘How do you know?’
Tommo shrugged, dunking a biscuit in his tea. He held up his steaming mug and winked at their tea-maker. ‘We do this for people like her. Anyway, this’ll blow over. We’ll be wondering what the fuss is about in a few months.’