“So this is the finish, the long looked-for hour”
I mutter the line to myself as I walk into my office from the muster. I need to get this poem into my head. It’s strange, I’ve been learning it for weeks and lines from it keep coming back to me all the time but today I’m terrified my mind will go blank when it comes to saying it.
I sit down and place my mug of tea on the desk before firing up the computer. Something makes me look up towards the door. Campbell’s there, half a pace behind the doorway.
‘You asked me to come and see you, Sir?’
‘I did. Come on in. Grab a seat.’
I get up and close the office door before settling back into my chair.
‘So, first day out on patrol, eh? How’s that feel?’
A huge grin appears on his face. ‘Bit nervous. Looking forward to it.’
‘I bet. Well, tell me all about Kevin Campbell.’
And he does. He can’t half talk. Maybe it’s nerves. Eventually he exhausts himself. Just for badness I let him hang there for a bit in silence.
Then, for the last time I give my ‘Welcome to the Police’ speech. It’s changed a bit over the years. Now the dangers for a cop are mostly self-made: debt (Kevin has a nicer car than me), making stupid comments on the Facebooks and Twitters - sexting. One piece of advice hadn’t changed from when I was a probationer though.
‘Look after your neighbour’s back and they’ll look after yours, and if you get into bother, your radio’s an even better friend, but only if you remember: location, location, location. You don’t need to say anything else, we’ll work out the rest, but you’d be surprised how many in their moment of need manage to tell the control room everything except where they bloody well are. Without that we can’t really help you much except listen to your screams.’
The mention of the word ‘screams’ wipes the grin of his face.
‘Don’t panic - “I’m glad I’ve lived through men’s passionate storms. the wounds and bruises that fall on our forms.”’ Campbell looks at me blankly.
‘It’s a line from a poem by Matthew Anderson - the Policeman’s Poet. He wrote it a hundred years ago when he was retiring from the police. I’m trying to get it in my head for later.’
‘Aye, so it’s your last day then?’
‘It is. As your door opens, my door closes.’
‘Any plans?’ I can tell from the smirk on his face the shift have already told him.
‘Well, after 30 years of dealing with S.H.I.T. in one way, shape or form I’m going to start up a drain cleaning business.’
Campbell’s eyes widen.
‘Ach, I’ll need to keep myself busy with something and I want to be my own boss. Definitely no sitting behind a desk. As it happens, every house I’ve owned has had problem drains so I’ve become a dab hand with a set of drain rods over the years, and I have my dad to thank for a rotten sense of smell. It sounds strange until you’ve done it but believe me, there’s nothing more satisfying than that moment when you’ve been rodding a drain and suddenly you hear a gasp and a gurgle before that pool of jobbies disappears. So I’ve got three months off then I’m doing a course in Coventry and buying a van with a jet. After that, flat rate, if I don’t clear it, you don’t pay. It’ll make a nice change to turn up at folk’s houses and they’re pleased to see me.’
Campbell’s neighbour, Stevenson, opens the door and looks in.
‘Gaffer, I’ve got a disorder call to go to with Kevin.’
‘Better go then. What is it?’
‘Stabbing at a house party in Gartloch Road, spilling out onto the street.’
‘Really? I’ve no’ heard it.’ I pick up my radio from the desk but it’s switched off.
‘Aye, on you go, I’ll follow you up. Well, good luck.’ I offer my hand out to Campbell and he shakes it before heading out. I start putting my body armour on.
Patterson strides past the office door towards the back yard before doubling back and looking in.
‘Naw. No’ today. You sit down. We’ll go to this.’
Maybe she’s right. ‘Aye, on you go.’
‘“In spirit I'll be in the thick of the fray”’ I shout behind her. She looks at me from the end of the corridor with a questioning look on her face before disappearing down the stairs.
I sit down, my body armour and utility belt still on. I can hear the others running out to the back yard. Another line comes to me.
‘Though I’ll now be absent when tumults hold sway’.
I suppose this is my future now. Letting others rush off to bring order from chaos. For a moment I feel a bit lost, slightly out of place. Stuff it, I grab the car keys from the hook on the whiteboard and start jogging towards the yard. I’ll be absent tomorrow. Today, I’m very present. I throw the back door open and run out.
Harrison starts on the bagpipes and the shift start laughing and clapping, surrounding the door in a semicircle. Some idiot lets off one of those confetti cannons. Something for Campbell to sweep up before he goes home today.
Patterson’s laughing away with the others.
‘I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist. Come on, the troops want to say a few words.’
We traipse upstairs into the canteen. The shift has its say. All the usual disrespectful, cheeky, impertinent nonsense that can only come from ‘Comrade to comrade, more true and more kind’.
I finally get a chance to have my say. I stand up and clear my throat.
‘So this is the finish, the long looked-for hour…’