The news has been depressing again lately – no, I’m not going to go over it all – and then something happened that gave me a lift. It was an email out of the blue from an old school friend. We haven’t met or been in contact for a long time (25 to 30 years I think). Like me he is retired now and doing what he enjoys doing which happens to be photography, and he has moved back closer to our childhood home. Hopefully we can now keep in touch and meet up.
That contact gave me a burst of nostalgia. I have said that my mother suffered from nostalgia – the pain of missing the past. I inherited a bit of it, dwelling on old memories and hanging on to artefacts that jog remembrance of people, places and events. It is a constant trial to live in the present, to make the most of the time and companions and freedoms that we have now and not spend time recalling what was and what might have been. Nostalgia can be dangerous as it can give a golden glow to what happened a considerable time ago, making you forget the reasons why you made certain decisions and leading you to the edge of regret. So, anyone who suffers from it must look to the future, take advantage of the present and grasp new opportunities. I’m trying.
With Cold Fire now well and truly launched (there are other events happening like a signing at The Castle Bookshop, Ludlow on 2nd December and something at NovaCon in November) I am turning my attention back to Jasmine. I am getting on with Molly’s Boudoir again (hooray) and wondering about bringing out one or two of the prequels as an e-book (it would be great if I was overwhelmed with a resounding “yes, please”). Here, I am starting another prequel, called Reflex. It takes place when James was a fairly new cop. I don’t think it will be a long story but we’ll see where it takes Jasmine. I hope you enjoy the first part.
Reflex – part 1
James buckled himself in as PC Sarah Ward started the engine and drove them out of the Police Station carpark. It was his first shift as a member of the response team and he was filled with a variety of emotions. There was excitement at meeting new experiences as a police officer and apprehension about what those experiences might be.
‘We’ll take a run through the town centre, first,’ PC Ward said. ‘We might see a character or two from the observation list.’
James nodded. He’d examined the list of names of people, mainly male drug dealers, who they were on the lookout for. He tried to recall features from the photos that had been supplied, mostly from previous arrests. They made slow progress.
‘Is it always this busy?’ James asked.
‘‘Fraid so, especially during rush hours like now,’ Sarah replied, ‘You don’t know the town?’
‘No. Never been here until I got my posting.’
‘Where do you live?’
‘Reading. That’s where we’ve been since before I joined the force.’
‘Me and my wife, Angela. We met at uni.’
They reached a junction in the inner ring road and Sarah turned off it. The queue of traffic moved a little quicker.
‘Let’s show you the river. There are some well used spots down there. It’ll be good to have a nose around while we’ve still got some light.’ They turned onto a road that ran parallel to the river. James gazed out at the trees on the opposite bank that were beginning to show their autumn colours in the sunset. Sarah slowed as they travelled along the wharf.
The squawk from the radio made James jerk alert.
“All cars. Incident at 18 Milton Drive, Abingdon. A male reported to be injured.”
The car surged forward. James looked at Sarah.
‘Tell them we’re on our way,’ She ordered.
James pressed the call button and did as he was told.
‘Do you know where it is?’ He asked.
‘Yes,’ Sarah replied as she flicked on the sirens and lights. ‘Not far. On the poets’ estate.’
‘All the roads are named after British poets.’ She overtook slow moving traffic that had pulled to the left.
James had looked at a map of the town but was still confused about its layout. ‘Where?’
‘On the west side. A 70s estate.’
‘Oh.’ They drove at speed along a main road, jinked around a roundabout and entered the narrower streets of the housing estate. James marvelled at the familiarity that Sarah showed with the layout of the town. How long would it be before he was as experienced?
They entered a straight road with bungalows on one side and semi-detached houses on the other. There was a dead end ahead. The car slowed.
‘I think we’re just about. . . here.’ Sarah said as she pulled up. ‘First, too.’ She pushed her door open and jumped out. James did the same and followed his partner up a short driveway. There were lights on inside number 18 but the front door was closed. Sarah knocked firmly.
‘Police. Hello. Is anybody in?’
James heard movement; someone running to the door. The door was flung open. A woman stood there.
‘Oh, please. It’s Eric. He’s hurt.’
Sarah stepped inside and urged the woman to lead them. James followed down a hallway and into a kitchen. The bright light and orderliness only highlighted the bloody handprints on the worktop and doorway and the body of a man sprawled on the floor. Blood spread from his chest onto the tiles.
PC Ward knelt to examine the man. The woman, whom James presumed to be his wife, stood sobbing by his side. He was unsure whether to comfort her. He looked around and noticed a knife with a bloodstained blade lying a few feet from the injured man. It was a typical kitchen knife. Who had wielded it? The woman had blood on her hands and on her clothes. Had she attacked the man, her partner, Eric? Should he move her away from the victim?
Another siren drew closer.
‘Go and see who that is, Jim,’ Sarah said twisting her neck to look for him.
‘How is he?’ James asked. Sarah grimaced. James took that as a “not good” and pushed past the woman to reach the front door. He got to the entrance to see a yellow and green 4-by-4 pull up. The paramedic got out and hurried with his bag to the house.
‘Is this it?’ he said.
James stood to one side holding the door wide. ‘Yes, in the kitchen. Man been knifed, it looks like.’
The paramedic bustled towards his subject. James remained, still not sure what to do next. The kitchen was obviously getting crowded. PC Ward appeared urging the woman towards the living room at the front of the house.
‘This is a crime scene, James,’ Sarah said, ‘It’s our job to secure it. There’ll be more of our lot but also members of the public. We have to keep them out. Go and get the tape and start setting up a barrier.’
James remembered his training for this sort of activity. It was his first time as first on the scene at a major crime. He hurried out to the police car, opening the boot to pull out tape and bollards. Yet another siren signalled the arrival of another response team. The road was getting quite cluttered.
By the time he had erected a tape fence around the front of the house, another two police cars and an ambulance had arrived. There was also a growing crowd of estate dwellers, adults and children. James was occupied in keeping them back beyond the vehicles, helped by his new colleagues.
‘James? How are you doing?’ James turned to see Sarah striding along the pavement.
‘OK. How’s the man?’
The PC shook her head. ‘Gone I think. He wasn’t breathing when we arrived. The knife must have gone straight through his heart. There was enough blood.’ She looked at her hands. In the yellow streetlight James could see they were bloody. ‘I need to get cleaned up,’ Sarah added and went to their car. James followed her.
‘Did the woman do it?’ he asked.
Sarah dug in the boot and emerged wiping her hands on a cloth. ‘Mrs Chapman? No, she says it was their son.’
‘Son? Where is he?’
‘Gone. He ran off as soon as he had done it.’
‘What! Stuck a knife in his father and ran away. How old is he?’ James imagined a man in his late teens or twenties attacking the older man.
‘Fourteen, named Matthew.’
The picture in James’ head changed radically. Why? How? ‘Did the mother, Mrs Chapman, say what happened?’ he asked.
‘Not a lot. She’s talking to DS Sharma. He’s attached to the serious crime squad. We need to find the boy.’
‘Yes. He can’t have got far and we’re the local patrol. We’re supposed to know where he might have gone.’
James snorted. ‘I haven’t got a clue. Aren’t we supposed to be keeping the perimeter secure?’
‘The others can do that. Get in the car. I’ve got a few ideas.’
James jumped in beside Sarah. She manoeuvred the car out of the traffic jam that filled the narrow road.
‘It’s vital we find him soon,’ Sarah said as she spun the steering wheel and they mounted the kerb to get around an unmarked Ford Focus parked in the middle of the road. ‘Goodness knows what state he is in. He could be in danger himself or a danger to others.’
James nodded and thought about what his partner said. How would he have felt if in his early teens he had stuck a knife in someone, his own father even. He couldn’t imagine the situation with himself as the central actor, but it had happened here. There must have been some reason for it; some explanation for the death of the boy’s father.
…………….to be continued.