Sisters 23

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I slept that night much happier about our little game with my sister. I had passed the news on to Vicky, of course, and she had promised to let Kev know, and all were happy as happy can be, but for me the main feeling was relief. Matchmaking is a risky business, and it can so often end up with three people hating each other rather than what was hoped for.

I had known that Sarah was fond of Tony, of course, and I had actually known the man better than her, as I had seen so much of him when visiting Arris, but the moment that had driven my fears remained my sister’s demand that Arris “come outside”

Sar had changed over the years, changed deeply. Her confidence had grown immensely in every area but that of relationships. She was a strong, assured woman in every other way, and yet still one who thought of herself as tainted. So many years wasted. No more disasters, no more surprises.

I continued my little round of the various nicks delivering my multi-coloured roadshow for the next six months, and of course I had more than a few of the older guard, what Vicky had described as ‘traditional’. It was a parallel, in so many ways. Every time I saw Tony, I thought of Joe Evans, and every time I saw Vicky and Kev smiling at their daughter I thought of the ‘traditional’ man who had used her, lied to her and dropped her like something dirty. In both cases, too, their families were so deeply involved, and that gave me another insight to use at work.

There are so many factors that shape our opinions, and family is one of the strongest. Your ideas as a child, your vision of the world and what moves through it, are formed from what your parents say and how they act. Clearly, there is the rebellion of adolescence, but that is more about music and dress sense than whether or not the bumboys need a good kicking or that the nignogs should go home. I mean, most of the Irish families in Cardiff and the Valleys only came there as a response to the Great Coal Strike of the 19th century, and nobody ever told them to ‘go home’. Take some coloured lad whose family had been there for five hundred years, descendants of sailors, and it was all ‘go back to where you came from’. Neither historical knowledge nor logic have ever shone brightly from bigots.

I realised early on in my rounds that the subject ran deeply in my own soul, for everything that made me different, all that singled Sarah out, was that we weren’t ‘traditional’. I had been lucky, Sarah had finally found her own luck, and our parents had given so much love and luck to my wife that we were actually privileged. What must it be like to have to live your life hounded by others, or what might actually be worse, to have to survive by lying?

The boss called me into his office one early April day.

“Elaine, we have a new role for you”

I laughed. “My travel and subsistence bill got too high, Iwan?”

“Not at all, Elaine. We actually received a grant from the top for your little jaunts, so we have borne none of it. I have heard very good things about your work, so I’d like to pull you off it”

“Eh? I mean, I beg your pardon?”

He grinned, which as ever made me pay much more attention.

“The HDC have decided that the gay-bashing spate has gone on a bit too long, and they are setting up what our Yank cousins might call a task force to try and sort it. The victims have been quite consistent in how they have described the beatings, and it is looking more and more as if this is a planned and organised set of actions rather than just random collisions between gay men and drunken homophobes. So we’d like you to take a lead”

He leant forward. “I have indeed heard VERY good things about your seminar programme, Elaine. Word spreads. If you accept, you will be organising a number of rapid response teams and working closely with the CCTV control room”

“Bit beyond my rank if I have to pull it, Iwan”

Another grin. “That is why we are offering you temporary promotion to Inspector for the duration, Elaine. Wyn told me you were destined to fly higher, and I agree. This is your chance to get your foot on that ladder”

He must have caught something in my face. “No, Elaine, do not ever think that. I heard what your co-conspirator thinks, about deliberately pushing the rainbow boat out, and it is neither of those things. It is not because of your gender, it is not about your sexuality, it is not tokenism. You are simply the best person for the job, and Heddlu De Cymru know that, so for once accept a compliment without trying to find a ticking time bomb in it!”

A pause. “Do you want the job?”

I thought quickly. Did I want promotion, more money, a challenge and the chance to apply my baton to the body of some clones of the bastard who had put my sister in hospital before his family abused her even more? I gave Iwan my own grin, and he laughed out loud.

“Knew it! There’s the briefing. Come back to me in a week with some initial ideas, and I will get the ball rolling. Oh yes: your TP starts now, Inspector Powell. Thank you for this”

The sneaky bastard had already sorted out some new metalwork for my shoulders. I got a round of applause in the canteen later.

Kev was insufferable, telling me all sorts of off-colour jokes about what I could ’inspect’. Siân was just herself, with a smile and a warm embrace. Uncle Arwel was as direct as ever.

“So it’s nancy boys again, aye?”

“And that is a problem?”

“You know I don’t hold with them, girl, and you know damned well that I don’t hold with slapping someone for no good reason. I don’t care for what they do, aye? But nobody should get a slapping just for being a bit limp in the arm. Like our Samuel, isn’t it?”

I glared at him. “You want to drink that pint or bloody wear it?”

I got the eyebrow again. “I went and spoke to that little shit for him, didn’t I?”

“For god’s sake, there’s more to it than simply not hitting someone. You could try and be a bit more accepting of SARAH”

He just grunted and finished his beer. I loved my old uncle to bits, and he did have a heart of real generosity when he saw the need in others, but he would always be a pigheaded old bastard with some very traditional values, and by that I meant, of course, the same traditions I was fighting against. Never mind, in the end, I knew he would never deliberately hurt my sister. It was the unconscious harm he might do that worried me.

Working from the central nick in Cardiff was strange, for not only was it foreign territory filled predominantly with people speaking English but those English-speakers called me “Ma’am” and “Skip”. My office (I kept repeating those words to myself with astonishment) was a tiny cubicle squeezed in between the men’s toilets and the cleaners’ store, but I had access to meeting rooms as necessary. And one of those had been dedicated pro tem as a situation and planning room. I know, everyone has seen the same dramas and films, the same wall-maps and pictures of victims, and apart from not sticking up pictures of those assaulted the place ran very true to type. I plotted out the public toilets, and got a shock: there were actually very few of them. Now, I had heard of the custom of ‘taking a Macpiss’, where pubs and fast-food outlets are used for purposes of bladder relief, but it was still a surprise to see exactly why so many men decided to relieve themselves in back alleys.

That meant a simpler job for us, as we had far fewer bogs to stag than I had assumed. I spoke to the CCTV control room, and our maps sprouted symbols showing each relevant camera and its field of view. It struck me just then that it was evident exactly how little had been done to catch the bastards, how low a priority the beatings had been. Everything I was doing was so obvious, and nothing I was doing had even been started. I pulled in some PCSOs and got them to start the trawl for cameras on nearby local buildings, those operated by businesses rather than the local council. Soon, each public toilet was surrounded on the map by fan-shaped fields of view. Now we just needed something to attract my moths, or rather someone.

It had come down to that, in the end. We couldn’t guarantee that my unit would be on duty and nearby when any new incident happened, so we had to bring said incident to us. We needed bait, and the first name that I thought of left me giggling, for there was no way that Kev could pull off an adequately convincing vulnerability. That brought Uncle Arwel to mind, and then my cousin Hywel, his son, who was just as big, and of course I ended up imagining Dad trying to lisp. We wouldn’t need a task force, just an ambulance or some body bags.

I found myself laughing well and loudly for the first time in months, and one of the admin girls put her head round the door. “You OK, Ma’am?”

I grinned. “Just had some really funny thoughts, Julie. Tell me, you know a sergeant, Adam something or other, was on traffic, bikes, aye?”

“Sergeant Price? Gone now, innit. Moved over to Sussex on compassionate to get married. What you after him for?”

“Not a problem, aye? Just had an idea for a job he might have enjoyed. I’ll have another think. When did Sarge Price go?”

“Two weeks since. He’s a nice man, be missed, innit”

“I do believe you are right, Julie. Can I be cheeky and ask if there’s any tea on the go?”

She smiled. “Not like the men, are you, Ma’am, and no offence meant”

“None taken, aye”

“Just, well, with them it’s always ‘that’s two whites with sugar, one white coffee without’ and then back to whatever they’re doing…”

She started to laugh.

“And that’s funny?”

“No, Ma’am, it was just a silly thought. You know, ‘Men, who’d have’em?’, and then I remembered who I was talking to. Er, no offence, not really?”

I smiled at her. “None intended, none taken, aye?”

“I’ll get the tea. Sugar?”

“Na, dim diolch. I mean, no ta”

Once she was gone, I picked up the phone. Camp as a row of tents, those were Adam’s words.

“DVLA, Chris O’Connor speaking”

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