Social Murder

IF THERE’S ONE thing we know for sure, it’s that nobody does banter quite like the British police. On the other hand, we also know that this banter is often heinously misinterpreted when it gets out into the wider world, so I’ll spare you the full details. Suffice it to say, they went in hard on my supposed orientation and fondness for sexual perversity.

They called him Dom, naturally enough. Also naturally enough, they didn’t give him anything like the level of abuse they gave me. And it’s not as if they lacked ammunition, what with his tiny bald head and endlessly wide shoulders, his bulky chest and pot torso, his skinny legs and long, ladylike fingers. But no, all he got was a few big man stares, which he paid no attention to.

There were about twenty being given a trial run that day, up and down the country. I expected the others were all called Dom, too. I’d been deemed a suitable partner for this pilot scheme, if that’s what you want to call it. I couldn’t deny they were right to choose me, but still, it was tough that first day, very tough. I thought my colleagues might’ve eased up on the jokes, considering, but that’s the way it was.

We got in the car – jam sandwiches, we’d called them as kids. Something you don’t hear anymore but which makes you feel nostalgic to think about. Dom struggled to lower himself into the seat, that overflowing body of his not quite as flexible as it would be in time. Eventually he won the battle and sat there, breathing heavily in something of a heap, his small nut turning round and taking it all in before we’d even left the station.

I said hello, good afternoon, I’m such-and-such. He didn’t reply, but gave me a nod, his lips pressed together, suggesting pride he was here and that he was going to make a supreme effort to do well. That was encouraging, at least.

This was an averagely troubled part of the city, and we’d be going into the night on a Thursday, so not as terrible as it could’ve been, but hardly easing him in either. He kept looking at the sights, making me want to take my eye off the road and do the same, so I could see what he was seeing and maybe have an inkling what he thought about it all.

On the other side of the windscreen, everyone peers into a police car as it goes by. Some of them would’ve known this was a pilot area, so it was difficult to tell whether the hostile looks were them seeing Dom’s shape and adding it together or merely the everyday hostile looks we get and have to put up with. There were kids dawdling on their way back from school, for instance, and a few of them definitely knew, but we were beyond them before they could shout anything or make their hand signs.

I took us through the most notable streets first. I pointed out houses that were legendary for this or that reason, including a geriatric brothel and an LSD factory that had unfortunate effects on us when we raided it. I filled him in on a few of the villains we saw loitering on corners or outside boozers. Men and women, eh? Always up to no good.

Dom nodded, muttering in agreement and understanding at whatever I said. It was basic first day on the job stuff, taking in the words of the wise elder while not wanting to sound too overawed or naïve. He laughed at a few anecdotes I had of turning up to suicide attempts gone wrong, but it was like he knew he should laugh at them. Occasionally he leant over and craned his neck to see how tall a building was.

After an hour, we got our first call, to a domestic. That was okay, a straightforward enough way to start.

It wasn’t the worst street, but it wasn’t the best. A heavyset, raspy-voiced woman opened the door and led us in to her dingy kitchen. She plopped straight down on a chair at the table and picked up a cigarette she had on the go. She must’ve been about fifty, though she looked as knackered as ninety, and was too concerned about her own woes to register Dom. Dom took himself off to stand by the fridge and observe.

There was blood sparkling in her gingery hair, from where her fella had given her a light tap with the hammer. He’d trudged home from work to find his dinner either not ready or burnt, she wasn’t clear on which at this stage. She chainsmoked with a trembly hand and repeated herself a lot, sounding sick of it all rather than frightened or upset or even angry. She’d had a frigging lifetime of it. He’d gone out, of course, as soon as she told him she was ringing us, but he’d most likely be in the pub round the corner if we wanted to go and get him. He would be no trouble, she said. He was only a danger to women, not big lads like us.

This was the point where she looked up and saw Dom. A half-absorbed news story or bit of rumour came back to her and the shock was so great she almost forgot about lighting a new cigarette. Dom stared back at her. It was impossible for me to say what he was thinking, so Christ knows what she made of it.

She wrapped things up quickly, which I suppose gave some clue as to what she made of it. No she didn’t want to come to the station and no she didn’t want to press charges against the old bastard. She’d had worse than this off him. We could go, she said. There were more important jobs for us to do than staying here listening to her bellyaching.

Fair enough. I told her to ring us again if he came back and used a different tool on her, and we left. It was a shame, though. It would’ve been interesting, good for the scheme going forward, to see how Dom had behaved with the husband round the place. He was slow and awkward, as I’ve said, but we’d been instructed that he – that they – could be pretty fast when they needed to be.

It was early autumn, the nights beginning to turn dark earlier. I didn’t like it. Every year, the more I didn’t like it.

At seven o’clock, we came across some of the feisty youths of the locale. They weren’t the really brutal kids, I should say. They were already fifteen, sixteen, and I doubted many of them would flower into the real swine you get. It would be no worse than breaking into a shed and nicking a load of tools they didn’t know how to use, and then they’d get girlfriends and all their energies would be funnelled into that. I stopped the car anyway.

A couple of them were bright and didn’t completely block out the news on their phones, so they knew what Dom was as soon as he straightened up and gave them a judge’s look. They walked around him, judging him back from every angle. He stood aloof from it.

Their first question to me was, would he die if he got shot or stabbed? I looked to see if Dom reacted in any way to that, especially the stabbed part, but there was nothing I could see. I told them it would be unwise to try and find out, and they didn’t expect me to say much more than that.

They also asked how badly he stank out the car, so I snapped at them, but I suppose they had to find their feet this way. Soon they asked him the questions, such as whether or not he’d seen the films and so on. I detected contempt on his face now, but that didn’t necessarily mean he took on board what they were saying. My impression, on our brief acquaintance, was that his attention – his whole identity if it came to that – flickered off and on.

The lack of answers didn’t spoil their fun. The biggest of them was a silent, slow-moving chunk of sullenness, one who would possibly have to do without a girlfriend, and they badgered him into offering Dom an arm-wrestling match across the top of the car. I was about to head that off when I hesitated. This was up to Dom to decide. He wouldn’t thank me for making him look weak.

It could’ve been he’d forgotten what arm-wrestling was, his brain having scoured it away and never brought it back, but if so he soon got the idea when Chunk took up the position. He blinked and smiled and walked round the other side of the car.

I shook my head and sighed longsufferingly, but that was a performance for them more than anything I genuinely felt. I was nervous, in truth. The outcomes of this could be completely disastrous. At the same time, this was the strangest night of my life and it was a privilege to witness it.

They started. Chunk showed no sign of disgust at touching him and went all in straight away. Dom blinked again at the suddenness of the attack and had to plant his feet differently. His hand dipped slightly, causing excitement in the teens, but it rapidly came back to straight and steady. His face didn’t change colour and he let fly no grunty sounds. He was back to observing, the way he had been in the battered woman’s kitchen. Chunk’s face didn’t change either, at least for about a minute. Then crimson blossomed in his cheeks, his arm quivered, and his hand began to move back over, making me think of a protractor at school. One leg buckled, the knee clanging off the car door. He grinned and swore, shook his head, made another power effort. He was able to drag his hand a few degrees upward, and his mates cheered and stamped him on, but Dom stared at him steadily and decided to end it quickly. I tensed up at that point, but Dom let him go as soon as knuckles met roof. Chunk laughed and retreated, the offending hand shoved in his hoody pocket, taking the insults and jabs as best he could. Dom lost interest and looked up and down the street. Some people had opened their curtains a little to watch.

I asked the boys if there were any other takers, and they took it good-naturedly, saying no chance. I considered that to be a worthwhile introduction. Away we drove.

We found a tramp, an old bearded man type, near the graveyard. He seemed to snag Dom’s attention, had him turning round in his seat, so I reversed. After a few words, and a decision on the sting of the smell, I put him in the back. The old boy didn’t mind, showed no worry or fear, probably glad of the comfort and warmth.

We set off. He didn’t ask where we were going and I didn’t tell him, to give the whole episode a bit of an edge for him, but the idea was to drive to the local authority borderline and, once there, give him a gentle nudge over it. That way we’d turn him into someone else’s problem.

He saw Dom and recognised him as unusual, but he was no doubt seeing weirdness like that all the time. Dom kept turning round to peer at him, but the tramp was oblivious after a while.

It might seem strange, but having him in the back made me more talkative all of a sudden. I hoped it would be the same way for Dom. We’d been warned not to delve too deeply into their previous lives, but to hell with that – I had questions and I wanted them out of my head.

First up, I asked him what he dreamed about. I hold my hands up, I blushed a little when I asked that. It was a poncey question, one I never would’ve put to him if a few of us had been sitting round. But it was only the three of us and it was out before I knew it.

He thought about it and said, ‘I dream about places I’ve never been and people I don’t know. I’m hoping that’ll change now I’m active and experiencing things again.’

I was so struck by hearing his voice over a long stretch that I almost didn’t ask any of my follow-up questions. It was deep and rich, but prone to breaking up breathlessly. When I got myself back together, I asked if he remembered his time as a screw up north, and if so, did he have any funny prison stories? I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear any, but it was somewhere to go.

‘No … no, sorry,’ he said. ‘That period of life … going back to what we were just talking about, it’s like someone else was dreaming me in that period of life.’

I thought about that answer in silence for a while. I looked over my shoulder at the tramp. He nodded to himself, pressing his chinny grey beard into his chest.

I didn’t ask what happened in the riot, or about the hospitals up north, which I imagined were little more than buckets and metal sinks, the lights kept on by huffing, smoke-belching generators. That was for another time.

So what about girlfriends, I asked instead, what about the women – though again, I hadn’t been in a relationship in fifteen years and didn’t honestly want to get into that territory. It was a prerequisite of the Doms that they didn’t have wives or children, and that they were sent to work hundreds of miles from where they’d grown up, to be on the safe side. I got nothing back from him on that. Smutty talk was dismissed with a wave of the hand.

I didn’t think it right to be asking all these questions without him asking any in return, but he didn’t show much interest, didn’t even wonder why he’d been put with me out of everyone at the station. Even so, I felt like saying something on the subject.

I said I’d joined the police straight from school. With my background, all that rough council estate fun, I personally loved the argy bargy of it. I loved nothing more than screeching to those notorious car parks on a Friday night and somersaulting into the middle of it. I loved a chase on foot with a diving rugby tackle at the end. Toe to toe punching? I’ll take it.

In my forties, though, that changed. I still loved it, don’t get me wrong, only in a very different way.  One night I found myself sprinting across a field after a burglar. When I caught him, he was more ready for me than I’d expected and I was suddenly older than I’d realised. He gave me something of a good pummelling, I don’t mind admitting it. But the problem was, I enjoyed it. I didn’t sit around bemoaning getting older or that my time of life was passing. I relished the thumping he’d given me and started letting it happen more and more with other nefarious characters, the bigger the better. The only time I didn’t like it was when it kept me off work, kept me away from more fists and boots.

Of course, this wasn’t a healthy way to operate, and I wasn’t the only one to think so. Soon that world-famous British bobby banter rained down on my head. But there was concern in the upper echelons, or as much concern as they could ever muster. I was put on paperwork duties, not that it helped. My moods blackened terribly. I couldn’t sleep more than a few hours at a time. I went looking for bother off-duty. I honestly don’t know where it would’ve ended.

Luckily for yours truly, the Dom scheme came along. I’d like to think the idea was that they took up the slack and carried some of the burden, and that there was a carefully worked-out psychological element to me being paired with one. But this is the police, and I expect they couldn’t think of anything else to do with me. So here we were.

I finished speaking and looked at Dom. He’d been staring out of the window, but now he turned back and gave me one of those muttered agreement sounds he’d been using at the start. I turned to the tramp. He was asleep.

Five minutes later, we were at the border. Stopping the car was enough to wake him up, snap him alert. We let him out. Dom reached out a hand, to shake, not arm-wrestle, I was glad to see. The tramp took it, though with me he was content to give a half-hearted salute before he walked off. It wouldn’t be long before the arseholes over there picked him up and sent him back to us.

It would’ve been around this time that the news started to come in of how the other Doms were performing out in the country at large. None of it reached our car, and I wouldn’t like to say how different the night would’ve been if it had.

They were rush jobs, in fairness, a prototype still a little on the crude side. Wasn’t that how it went at the start of everything? It was a necessary phase. Already there was magical talk of the future, of being able to grant them instant knowledge of any area they were patrolling, a shithouse database constantly refreshed and scrolled. They would be able to uncover criminal pheromones in a suspect’s sweat as they questioned them. They would have tasers in their fingertips. Their skin would be stronger than armour and their minds would be a walkie talkie. One day they would be women. I genuinely hoped I would be around to see it. I hoped they wouldn’t cheat us out of the funding.

We stopped now and again for some air or a coffee, straightening the limbs if he needed it. He never complained. On one such stop, a cat ran away from him, blindingly fast, but that could’ve been the cat’s manner and nothing more. It didn’t bother Dom.

There was a drunk, totally paralytic, stumbling on the street long before the pubs threw out. I found that behaviour tiresome nowadays, even if he wasn’t bothering anyone. We purred alongside, but it took him a while to notice us. He then stopped walking, stood as noble and straight as he could and raised his shoulders in a big ‘what now?’ gesture. Then he saw Dom eyeing him and dropped his shoulders and bowed his head, and walked off trying not to appear so very drunk.

Some children, younger ones, were being loud and sweary by the old people’s bungalows. The old people didn’t deserve that. Dom waded into the middle of the bods and scattered them to the four winds without raising a hand. A rolling growl was all he needed.

Then the night lit up to a teenage boy fight at an electric substation, both of them close to tears over a girl nowhere to be seen. They barely noticed our car, too caught up in the passion, but Dom was soon in amongst them, twisting arms, kicking backsides, growling some more, and that got them moving.

I took us where the drug dealers sometimes lingered, and then where the sex girls worked their wonders, but only one was about and I didn’t have the heart to harass her.

At ten o’clock, we were called to a supermarket express. I won’t give out the name. Shoplifting had gone on, inexpertly. I thought it would be a kid, maybe one we’d chased from the bungalows, something nice and easy that Dom could take full control of. Give them the fright of their lives and let them dash home. A quiet life, a quiet night.

But when the manager, a round, small man with a sweat on, took us through to the back room, it turned out to be a young woman. She must’ve been in her early twenties at the most, skinny and curly-haired. The idea had come to her at some point in the evening to go out and steal some nappies. Nappies are not an easy item to walk off with unseen. She was crying now, sitting forward with her head down, blowing her nose. She didn’t look up at us. She knew who we were by our shoes.

Dom stood a little too close, looming over her you could say, and I decided not to let him run this one after all. I asked her name. She said Susan. I asked where the baby was, and she said at home with her boyfriend. I was pleased that people still said ‘boyfriend’, even though I automatically pictured the one she’d chosen for herself to be less chivalrous and romantic than the word suggested.

Dom started swaying from side to side. Only a little, hardly moving in fact, but I noticed it and so did the shop manager. Susan kept staring at the floor tiles, splotched with dirty wet shoeprints.

I asked if she had anything else on her person, anything smaller, a bar of chocolate say, slipped into a pocket. She said no. I wondered about asking Dom to pat her down, to give him something to do, and whether or not she’d faint at the first touch of him. It could wait. She sniffled thickly and let out a moaning sigh. The manager began to look like he wished he hadn’t bothered.

I asked if she’d been in trouble like this before, and she said no again. I believed her, while still despairing of her. I stopped asking questions, let the silence build. My plan was to keep the manager happy by saying we’d take her to the station, then let her go a couple of miles away with no action taken. We couldn’t let her keep the nappies, though.

I thought that would do, as a plan. Did we need miserable trouble on the first night? I didn’t think so.

Dom must’ve seen this in my face. His own face showed a brief spasm of pain, followed by a shining glee. I didn’t know what it meant, but I had a thought. He bent down, clutched her skull in both hands, and bit into the top of it.

Susan still hadn’t looked at him. She had time for one loud shriek, suddenly cut off but still ringing in the small room. The manager swore with a Glasgow accent I hadn’t noticed earlier and backed away, his thigh knocking his desk, toppling over a pen holder.

Dom bit down again, a bigger one this time, snapping off a hair-covered white and red fragment, snarling a little with the effort. I had to let him, in case you’re wondering what I was doing. I had to. It’s not the done thing to contradict one another in public.

Another bite, this one followed by a slurp. Susan’s arms fell loose by her side, and her legs straightened out lazily. Dom was into the muck of her now, his hands and teeth the only thing holding her upright.

The manager ran out, shouting something unintelligible. I could’ve said something then, I know, could’ve tugged at an arm, but I didn’t. It would’ve been pointless by then anyway.

I went outside to wait for him, and called it in. I couldn’t say if it took him a long time to empty out her pan, because I didn’t have a template for such experiences. It felt like a goodly amount of time, though.

When he came out, I raised my fists, but he looked through me. I punched him on the cheek, pretty solidly. He looked morose, I thought, but not angry or insane. He was mostly still in the back room, mentally. He walked over to the car and sat cross-legged on the bonnet, not moving or speaking.

He was still there when they came. They went inside for a look, and I heard shouts and banging on walls. I don’t know where the manager was – still running and shouting, presumably. They came and went with body bags and tape. They kept looking at Dom and grinning.

Top Brass turned up next, and took Dom to one side for a quick chat. I wasn’t deemed in need of one, which I decided to see as flattering, so I stood off to one side. A light drizzle had started, not my favourite type of weather. Dom stood immobile and unresponsive through the talk, but that was good considering what could’ve happened.

After the talk, he climbed back into the car. Top Brass came over to me. He winked and told me to keep an eye on him. I said yes sir. I never said anything else as far as Top Brass was concerned but yes sir.

I got in the car. Dom was beginning to see me again when he looked at me. He apologised, though with a leering sort of grin. I apologised to him, neutrally, and we completed our shift. It was peaceful all the way.

*****

Photography Credit: Dennis Haritou

Barrie Darke has had several plays performed, and has worked with the BBC, but prose was always the main thing. He lives and writes in the north east of England, and teaches Creative Writing in a basement. He has also worked in a prison, where he learnt more than the students.

He has been published in the US by: Menda City Review, Nossa Morte, Demon Minds, Infinite Windows, Underground Voices, Big Pulp, Pseudopod, Inwood Indiana, Bastards and Whores, Onomatopoeia, Orion Headless, Xenith, All Due Respect, Fiction365, Scissors and Spackle, Fear and Trembling, Drunk Monkeys, The April Reader, Big Stupid Review, Dark Moon, Writing Tomorrow, Otis Nebula, Futures Trading, The Opiate, Badlands, Cobalt, Wilderness House, Digital Fiction (pending), Merchants of Misery Anthology, Literary Nest, Eunioa Review, AMInk, Scribe, Oddville Press, Litro, Archive of the Odd, Concrete Desert, and Quarterly Journal; in the UK by: Byker Books, New Writing North, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, The Delinquent, Theurgy, Horrified Press, Writer’s Muse, and The Metric; and in Australia by Otoliths.