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Cause And Effect

Cause And Effect

Book excerpt

Chapter One

 

BATTLE OF ACACIA AVENUE

POLICE - where were they?

Bernie Thompson: Portsmouth Evening News, crime reporter.

 

Four youths were injured in a gang incident last night in the usually peaceful suburb of East Cosham. George Rattle, Chairman of the Local Community Policing Committee, said, “The fight was vicious and people were scared. Why did it take 15 minutes for the police to respond?”

A Police spokesman said, “The response time is under investigation.” An anonymous but reliable police source said, “We're sorry residents felt threatened, but what do they expect with Government cutbacks forced on an already stretched Police service? If it is any comfort to the residents, who returned a Tory MP, we are all in this together.”

The Chief Constable commented, “The Police do not comment on Government policy.” When pushed if his force was under strength, he said, “The force struggled with all it was charged to do even before the cutbacks.”

The Head of the Community Policing Committee for Portsmouth, Captain John V. Littleman RN, said, “The Police may be understaffed, but in-line with Government policy to involve more volunteers, good people are helping in admin posts, freeing up officers for frontline work.” He has called a special meeting of the committee, made up of senior police officers, Councillors, and volunteers like himself. “Government policy is working,” he said, “and being implemented with full vigour in |Portsmouth.”

* * *

 

‘Jane, my office,’ and turning on her heel, Detective Superintendent Amanda Bruce squeaked across the polished floor of the community policing room, jerked the door open, and disappeared along the short corridor and into her office at the front of the police station.

Jane continued his reverie, induced, he says, by his cycle ride into work on a glorious late spring morning. At 59, Detective Inspector Jack Austin felt his morning assertion (he meant exertion) due to his competitive nature, racing often unaware opponents, generated a creative frivolity, his juice moment, referring to his brain activity, not the sweat; others referred to that.

Spinning Jack’s chair, Detective Sergeant Josephine Wild, nicknamed Jo-Jums, cautioned,

‘Pumps looks serious.’ The Superintendent’s nicknames were Mandy Pumps or Mandy Lifeboats, courtesy of Jack Austin, who nicknamed everyone, saying, “That’s yer moniker, son, so lump it.” Everyone was son to him. You had to lump that as well. Jo-Jums, also known as Mumsey, which described her comely appearance as well as her instincts, asserted her matriarchal caring role of her frequently distracted, often errant, boss, shook her head and tutted, which usually did the trick.

The Superintendent reappeared, ‘Jane, when I say step into my office, I mean now, not when you felt like it,’ stayed, hazel eyes flaring green within her angry face; Jack liked that face.

Languidly, and in his most refined voice, ‘Miss Bonnet, I seek first to deteriorate your intonation, thus relieving me of the burden of assuming your iron on a morning when my mood is elevated and my eyes are brightened by exercise, and, what’s the magic word?’

As funny as his Pride and Prejudice misquotes were, Jack Austin being Mr Malacopperism, Jo-Jums noted the impeccably coiffed, sharply dressed, high-achieving, fifty-something, strong Superintendent, appeared edgy this morning and not so sartorially smooth. Jack remained unruffled. He relished his nickname, Jane, frequently regaling one and all with bastardised Jane Austen quotes such as, “Your family, they are well?” the expected response, “Yes, quite well.” However, this morning, Jack was insensible to the precarious signals.

The Riot Act was interrupted by the whistled theme from Z-cars, a vintage BBC police drama only Jack remembered, heralding Hissing Sid, the station desk sergeant. ‘Jane, I need you downstairs to sort out bleedin’ Dixon of Dock Green.’ Sid acquired his moniker because he hissed the C in CID, although he was a lanky, skeletal, middle-aged snake of a man, so covering all bases, Austin would say.

‘Siderney...’ Austin’s posh voice, '...the magic word?’

‘Christ's sake, Jane, Pleeeeeeeasssse,’ Sid hissed, a drawn-out whiney, sycophantic enunciation, reflected also in Sid’s body language that naturally simpered.

‘Righteeho, but I may have a previous engagement with Superintendent Pumps.’ Austin replied, fluttering his one eye, pleased with his response, didn’t look around, he knew others liked it too. He had a sense for these things to the extent he told people he was blessed.

Resigned, Sid slithered out as Mandy bashed Jack on his head with a rolled-up newspaper, and mimicking Sid, ‘Pleeeeeeeasssse, Jane, pretty please with brass knobs,’ and whacked him again.

Feigning a serious head injury, ‘Be right with you, sweet’art.’

Jack’s juvenile behaviour irritated, but Mandy liked him, irritated her more. A tall man, six-four and straight backed, his dad had been a Marine, a tad overweight, he erroneously thought, and definitely ugly, though he argued his face had character, Austin was a charismatic cockney barrow boy, and he called her beautiful, a real woman, which she liked. Mandy was tall herself, five-ten, and in reasonable shape for fifty-three, but beautiful? She considered her nose too big, but Jack would say it was one of the things he liked most. Mandy had known Jack nine years since coming to Portsmouth, she, a single parent of two children, Jack an evident strong bond of love with his wife and their two kids. He’d been devastated when Kate died three years ago; even now she knew he grieved.

She paced back to her office.

Chapter Two

Jack sauntered the corridor, knocked politely, opened the door, and Martin zeroed in on Mandy’s crotch. ‘Can we not meet without your dog?’ Mandy exclaimed, brushing Martin away with an affectionate scratch of his head.

Austin Martin, a proud and scruffy, ginger-haired Border Terrier, his nose not appreciated, trotted on, any idea Mandy’s crotch worth sniffing, a coincidental thought, and settled himself beside his master. Jack sat upon the spare, straight-backed, orange PVC chair that resided on the far wall. Jack felt the comfy seating in front of her big desk put him at a psychological disadvantage; low, reclining backs made him appear awkward and feel small.

Jack wasn't an office man, preferring the social amenities of a communal space, but Mandy's office had one coveted feature, a large south-west facing window, affording a view of a mature, leafy tree. He settled, in order to take pleasure in the solar benefits of this window and the hypnotic dappling leaf shadows on the moss green carpet, like a forest floor he supposed; Jack was a town man, but he’d seen Robin Hood. The combination of agitated, sparkling dust motes, a whirligig leaf pattern on the forest floor, had a soporific effect on Jack, or would have, were it not for Mandy asserting herself. He adjusted his seat so his scarred and empty right eye socket faced her, leaned back, enjoying the warmth of the sun on the varicose veins of his outstretched legs, raised his arms behind his head and closed his eye, just for a bit; it didn’t look like he would be called upon to say much.

In the spirit of the never-ending exchanges between the two of them, Mandy positioned herself in front of the window, forcing him to look at her into the sun with his good eye, and she criss-crossed the strong sunlight, beating her leg with the rolled-up newspaper. ‘Ah, attack out of the sun,’ a casually murmured thought as Jack slipped into a daydream, warmed by the radiant heat and the sight of this magnificent woman, in her prime, every inch and curve his Isle of Portsea, Sophia Loren.

Hissing Sid popped his head around the door, saw Superintendent Amanda Bruce musing, bashing her leg with a newspaper, hips swaying in the sunshine, and DI Austin slumped in the most incongruous part of the office, his extra-long bare legs stretched outright, and Martin looking as if he was seated at Wimbledon.

‘Bugger off, Sid,’ Mandy and Jack said, Martin barked out of synch, and Sid slithered off. Mandy launched into Jack, pacing, every now and then pointing the newspaper, eliciting defensive grumbling from Martin, whose perceived role in life was to defend his master when he was not paying attention – a full-time job. In reality, however, Martin was a recommendation by the police psychiatrist to calm Jack, a noted Berserker, a trait people believed the cause of his severe facial disfigurement, his right eye glassed berserking in a pub fight.

Jack lived with a gruesome, puckered layer of sunken skin in his redundant eye socket, a vertical, silvery, raised scar from his forehead to the top of his cheek. No eye patch, he wore the disfigurement with perverted pride, adding character to a face he considered handsome. If asked, he would say he was a Buddhist, but was C of E, Church of Egypt, and allowed this minor imperfection to his counter-dance. The normal response to this was Twat, and what’s a counter-dance? One tended to ignore his face-saving diatribe of Strictly Come Dancing on shop counters.

Ordinarily Jack was a calm individual, rarely flustered, always witty (he thought), happy, whistling and singing, jovial to the point of causing everyone else to go berserk. Extraordinarily, he survived all attempts at censure, allowing his natural instinct for humour to smooth over his pathological hatred of the "pompous, self-important, doctrinaire, up their own arses, bureaucrat wankers," quoting Mary Poppins, whom he also said was Truly Scrumptious. Jack was a team player as long as he was captain, but how did he survive the bureaucracy? A “higher power” he would say. “You’ll get your comeuppance one day,” people said, and maybe he would eventually have to take early retirement, another of his great jokes at 59, aware he was reckless, which he put down to the loss of his wife. People said he’d gotten worse since Kate Austin died. He cared not, thought if he was a ship, rudderless and at sea, he would get back to harbour. “You’re a natural survivor, Jane” and replying by rote, “Not sure I want to survive,” the melancholic Jack, ever present, an emotional man not frightened to show his feelings, some say rare in a copper, especially the crying.

‘Earth to Austin, are you listening, what're you thinking?’ Mandy asserted into Jack’s ether.

Groggily, he replied, ‘Amanda, sweet’art, I was thinking of your lustrous hair, how it sways with your body. In the sun it glows album. You’re fifty-odd, an age where a woman may worry about lines, and you do have a few...’ acknowledging his powers of observation, ‘...but they radiate your womanly beauty.’ Mandy stopped pacing. Martin flipped his grizzled muzzle. ‘You have magnificent hips and an arse like a scrumptious apple, a womanly figure silhouetted by the sunshine behind you, and I imagine your olive skin, in cream silk underwear, full Alan Wickers, stockings and suspenders, where the button gives the tell-tale hint beneath your skirt,’ he was quite breathy.

Smoothing her skirt and feeling dim-witted for walking in front of the window, she shuffled aside.

Responding to the familiar watch-out growl from Martin, Jack stirred to see a stunned Superintendent, mouth agape as if someone had unsuspectingly kicked her backside, ‘Did I just say...out loud?’

Martin barked Der.

Mandy countered, ‘You did, and I see an old man with floppy, unkempt hair and a gammy eye. A man who has never matured, a senior police officer no less, sprawled in an ill-fitting England rugby shirt that displays his beer belly off to revolting effect.’ She paced energetically. ‘A shirt incongruously worn with spindly, sticky out arms that makes him look like a drawing by a five-year-old, magnetically pinned on the fridge by a Mother who would pin anything their child did on the fridge and say, how lovely.’ She changed her tone, settling into her rebuke, ‘Then we come to the lower part of you, Jane. The piece-de-resistance making you truly God’s gift to women, the Morecambe and Wise khaki shorts, so voluminously baggy around the leg holes I inadvertently glimpsed your revolting bits and pieces. Why shorts when you have legs choked with varicose veins, and why Jesus sandals with your revolting big toe sticking out wrapped with toilet paper and sellotape? What happened to your toe?’

Martin was impressed; he’d not heard such a fantastically devastating attack on his master since his mistress had died, God bless her soul; Martin was Catholic.

Jack reacted, ‘I’m not God’s gift to women. I prefer to think I was sent by the devil to tempt womankind, and I dress to tone down my overwhelming magnet, and I like to air my various...’ Martin sniffed Jack’s toe, and reassured of the loyalty of his hound, Jack continued, ‘...a fat eejit in an eclectic buggy ran over my toe. I did a pretty good job bandaging this morning, mind you, with all the government cutbacks the NHS will soon be a DIY, Dad’s Army.’

Mandy detonated, ‘Ah ha, J’accuse mon petit turd,’ the newspaper making contact as Jack felt his chest for an imminent heart attack, ‘cutbacks, the very topic....’ the phone rang, she picked up. ‘Amanda Bruce...Fuck me, Sid, what part of he will be down when I’ve finished with him do you not understand?’ She listened. ‘I don’t care if I didn’t say that...’ Jack and Martin shared a conspiratorial glance, ‘...piss off, Sid,’ and she put the phone down probably harder than was absolutely necessary to break the connection.

Jack thought he ought to say something; he instinctively knew what to say to a woman. ‘Well, that’s fecked the mood. I may be wrong, but I think I detected a concoction?’

Martin knew his master’s conversations with the human opposite sex rarely had a satisfactory outcome, so he let out a strangled whine to indicate he was generally on his master’s side, but in this instance... Mandy rolled her eyes, exasperated, but smiled. Martin was no expert in human behaviour, preferring to sniff another dog’s bottom, but his master was right in one thing, “You just never know.”

‘Sort out Dixon, and, Jane, we need to have a serious conversation,’ and she emphasised her point by brandishing the newspaper. ‘Sid also said your dad phoned, what’s that about?’

He flinched, put that down to Florets, ‘Did he say dad or father?’

‘Dad, now get out, and I think you mean Tourette’s,’ she replied, the rolled newspaper no longer threatening. Raising himself and making for the door, Martin took advantage of the mood of bonhomie to pad over to Mandy’s crotch. ‘Bugger off and take this flea-bitten hound with you,’ Mandy’s dramatic effect mitigated as she crouched and gave Martin a flea-bitten hug.

Jack sensed a sexual paroxysm; was that the tell-tale sign of a suspender button? Martin was licking Mandy’s nose; she cooed. ‘He’s been licking my toe.’

Mandy leapt, heaving, and chortling, Jack and Martin departed, heading to a rendezvous with Hissing Sid and Ha Ha Dickey old chap, a meeting that would turn out to be more significant than he could imagine.

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