The news was astonishing, and it was clear that somebody was playing office politics in a big way, because every aspect was covered by camera crews. It was forced entry, using Big Keys to break down doors, in Crawley, Newcastle upon Tyne and Belfast.
Blake said a dew choice words before shaking his head in disbelief.
“Got to go, love, but I am going to see what I can get out of Sammy on this. It’s bloody unreal!”
I was in a similar state to my husband, but even more tongue-tied. Belfast? Tyneside? I spent the morning doing almost nothing meaningful apart from waiting for any change in the rolling news coverage, stroking the cat and making far too many visits to the toilet.
Lunch was a simple salad with hard-boiled eggs and ham, accidentally accompanied by a bacon sandwich using some of the stuff we had gathered on the way back from Elaine’s place. It wasn’t a craving, as shown in all too many comedy shows, but the simple desire for a greasy snack combined with a far more complex need to have some reminder of work and the team. I smiled as I buttered the bread, imagining chips and camp outrage. Back to the news again. No bloody change at all. Not that day, nor the next, nor the next.
Four days after the forced entries, they finally let the news out, and I sat with my man as the picture was given to us in all its vile and lurid colour. All too much of it was reminiscent of the Evans as well as of Charlie Cooper and his victims; I nearly lost the stew I had just shared with Blake and Fritz. Half an hour after the BBC spelled it out, Sammy was at our door.
He took in my expression and sighed.
“You’ve seen the news, then”
It wasn’t a question in any shape or form.
“Can I come in, Di? Is it convenient?”
“Hell! Sorry, boss. BLAKE! It’s Sammy. Tea?”
I took him into the front room, chasing Fritz off the settee as Blake did the honours with the kettle. Once we all had our hands full, Sammy began.
“You have seen the news, so no sweeteners from me. Here’s the score. Dennis Armstrong was a whistle-blower in his old force, which was why he had to move down to Sussex. Canteen culture, yes?”
Blake was snarling. “Like DC’s Pritchard and fucking Evans, aye?”
Sammy nodded, mouth twisted. “Yup. Similar shit to our Councillor Evans, building contracts and so on, but on steroids. The Cuthberts, the family involved, well, looks like they owned half the Council up there and a shitload of the local Force. Lots of fingers in a LOT of pies, and then he met Sergeant Price. Annie. He did some work with her, just custody stuff, on the Fagin ring she dug up”
That puzzled me.
“Sammy, sorry, but she was never CID, nothing like that. Traffic, through and through, and then Barry said she went indoors, custody sergeant, innit? How did she dig anything up?”
“By being a good copper, Di, a decent person. Kid with issues, regular little scumbag thief, and she took it a bit further. Abuse, beatings, Faginism. You’ve heard some of the rest. Underage girls being punted out to friends of the organisers”
Blake’s voice was softly dangerous.
“How old, Sammy?”
“As young as nine, mate”
He rinsed his mouth with the tea, even though it was clearly too hot.
“Short version? The Cuthberts met up with Annie’s shits in prison, and they obviously had a chat about it, and it looks like Armstrong’s name came up. The Cuthberts were dealing in stolen machinery a lot, and that is where the Irish bit seems to have come in. Favours were called in. The Fagins gave the Cuthberts the location of Annie, which showed them where Armstrong was. It was Armstrong they really wanted; your friend was just a bonus”
Once again, I was in bloody tears. All that optimism at Angelo’s was washed away in a tidal wave of filth. Kids, once again, and here I was about to bring another into the world. I wanted to rush to Annie, make it better, and I couldn’t, could I? What good was I, fat, pregnant, useless.
Blake held me until I could talk properly once more, and Sammy came over to kneel before me and take my free hand.
“No, Di. Not so. You can only see light when it is against darkness”
He laughed, bitterly. “I do talk some shit, sometimes. I know what I mean. Good things, good people. They show up against the bad ones”
I had to ask.
2Yeah, but why does there have to be so much of the bad?”
“Shit happens, girl. It always will. That is where we come in, where we make a difference. You, that Deb, PC Welby, aye? Yes, we know all about him and your witness, and Bevan has moved mountains there keeping the professional standards goons of his case. You’ve all made a difference. We can’t have a perfect world, so we just have to do our best to knock some of the crap back”
His phone bleeped, and after a quick apology he pulled it out of his breast pocket and tapped at the screen.
“Thank fuck for that! Di, Blake: Dennis Armstrong is off the ventilator, awake and talking. I am going to get off now, but remember one thing, and I know full well that it’s been on your mind, girl. You are wondering what sort of world you are bringing a kid into, aren’t you?”
“Um, yeah. I was”
“Well, be aware that Sergeant Armstrong’s missus is well and truly sprogged up as well, and my contacts tell me that all she was saying to her man was ‘You’ve got to be a dad’. That is what sort of world you are bringing your child into, girl: a world with people like Annie Price in it, the Armstrongs, Chris O’Connor, Deb, yeah? And the two of you. That sort of world. Blake, mate?”
“If you need any time off to look after this one, just say”
I felt his arms pull me closer, and he just kissed the top of my head before turning back to Sammy.
“I’ll let you know, Sammy”
Our boss just nodded.
“Yeah. Do that. Right, off home to her indoors. See you tomorrow if no problems, mate”
Blake saw him to the door, and then came back to me. No words, no questions; just comfort.
Elaine was a star over the next two months, keeping us up to date with the situation, and that was a welcome distraction from the antenatal sessions and the regular health checks. I had a grab bag packed now, and as my mobility decreased, I had a corresponding increase in the number of visitors.
One Thursday, I was sitting in my normal place, feet up on a stool to ease a little bit of swelling, Fritz sprawled in his secondary position, lying along the back of the settee with his forepaws and hanging over my left shoulder, his back legs over my right, and his belly warming the back of my neck as he rumbled into my left ear. The doorbell rang, and I really couldn’t be arsed to move.
“Who is it?”
I shouted back, “Come round the back! Door’s open!”
I stayed in my comfortable spot until I heard the sound of the door, then called out to her to stick the kettle on.
There was a very loud sniff from the doorway.
“Guests shouldn’t have to make their own tea!”
“Hiya, Charlie! Bit tied up just now”
She giggled, and a few minutes later they all piled in. Deb, Charlie, Tiff--- and Paula.
“Hiya, you lot. As I said, I am pinned beneath this ferocious and merciless apex predator, oh dear. What’s the gossip?”
They all looked at Paula, who grinned.
“Been following the book, Di?”
“Bloody hell, yeah! It’s great, if you see what I mean. Horrible to read, but, well, you know what I mean”
“Thanks, Di. Means a lot, that. Anyway, some news: caught the eye of someone at ITV. They are having me on their breakfast show”
“Oh! Is that the one with that colossal bell-end on? Moron?”
She laughed, and it was a free and easy sound.
“That comes across as a prepared phrase”
“It is. Got it from Elaine, friend of mine. She got it from Annie, who says it’s a sort of obligatory thing. Every time they mention his name, they have to say ‘colossal etc’. Makes sense to me”
Charlie looked at Tiff, then leant towards me.
“Yeah, Di. Supposed to be funny, isn’t it? But you aren’t smiling. Wossup?”
“Ah, love. Just tired. Sleepless with the kicking, and there’s people I am worried about, and, and, and. Suppose I’m just a bit stir crazy at the moment, not getting out much. Getting flushes and things, always feel like I’m pissing myself, even when I’m not. Just wish it was all over and done”
Paula looked across at Tiff, then back at me.
“That cat OK to pick up?”
“Fritz? Yes. He’ll go as limp as a sack of limp things, but he’s not nasty”
“Then while Tiff picks him up, you tell us where your grab bag is”
“I think your waters have broken, love. Blake at work?”
“Shit! Yeah, he is. Bag’s by the front door, Tiff”
“You drive us all, Deb? Room for a fat one who’s about to get thinner?”
In the end, I went into the hospital in a Tranny Van, which seemed apt in some way. Everything was happening so fast I felt my head spin, but I was soon in a wheelchair, then stripped and onto a trolley bed thing, a nurse asking me to time the contractions I…
Ow. Breathe, woman.
Charlie had rung Blake from the house phone, and half an hour after our arrival at the hospital he was with me, the other women fussing around him, and he kissed me, and it was getting better, my man beside me, Mam on her way, and then it got worse, in a big way, as the contractions accelerated, and life got messy and painful.
Panting, sucking on gas and air, breath control, sod that. Pain and pressure, near delirium as people in masks came and went, Blake holding my hand as a nurse shouted bloody stupid instructions and referred to my passenger in bloody impersonal terms. ‘Baby’ this, ‘baby’ that, oh you little sod, how fucking big are you? Trust me to fall for a bloody giant bloke, if it had been Adam’s, he’s only little, but he’s not Adam, he’s Annie, and…
Whatever it was, it was making its own noises now, and my mind suddenly found focus, became serious.
“You have a lovely baby boy, Mrs Sutton. Congratulations!”
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