This short story was entered in the 2013 Writers Village Competition and although not winning the prize did receive good reviews from the judges.
A Friend of Mine
by Douglas Phillips
“There you are Parker. Get yourself up here and be quick about it.”
Charlie looked up in surprise. Blimey, I was miles away. “Be right up, Guv.”
The Guvnor’s face disappeared and the window shut with a clatter.
Charlie was sitting on the old wooden bench in the yard. He pulled his jacket tight around himself. Even in the cold morning air, this little space was a haven from the mad-house inside. He rummaged around in his pockets. You silly old devil – how long has it been since you gave ‘em up?
His went across the yard and grasped the iron bars set into the gate. He often thought about all the evil men that he had put away. Now I know how you feel.
With a sigh, he looked at his watch. The gold had worn off the edges of the bezel so you could see the plain metal underneath. Some reward. Half a lifetime of service and all they give me now is papers to shuffle around.
The upstairs window clattered again. “Any time before dinner, Mister Parker!”
Blimey, Guv. Keep your hair on.
Charlie rubbed his hands together. The cold of the iron bars was soon forgotten.
He went inside the stuffy building and headed up to see the Guvnor. It would be nice if he’s got a good job for me.
“These flamin’ stairs are going to be the death of me.” Charlie wheezed. He made it to the top and sucked in deeply. He mopped his brow and waited for his heart to stop thumping.
“Parker! Get in here now.” The gruff voice rattled through the pane of glass set in the door.
Detective Constable Charles Parker – Charlie to his friends – if he had any, he would always say – straightened his crumpled suit. He ran a hand through his thinning hair. Behave for a change. He looked at his shoes. They’ll do.
What’s he dragged me up here for anyway? Maybe there’s been another Great Train Robbery. Or a tooled up gang has nicked all the gold at the Bank of England. No chance. It’ll be save a cat up a tree, more like.
“Parker!” The shout sounded even angrier than before.
Blimey, it must be a good ‘un. He touched the lucky charm in his pocket and prayed for a good job. Charlie twisted the door handle and remembered to push hard. Flippin’ door. Why don’t he get it fixed?
He walked in and found his boss leaning back in his chair. The phone was held up to one ear.
“You rang, sir?” Charlie couldn’t hide the impish grin.
His Guvnor placed a hand over the mouthpiece and cast a predatory gaze across the desk. He growled and bared his teeth. Charlie stepped back a pace.
“Steady Tiger.” he said under his breath.
“What did you say?”
“Nothing Guv. What did you want to see me about? Got a nice job for me have you?”
Detective Sergeant Tim Owen pressed the phone to his chest. Tiger Tim to his friends – if he had any, Charlie would always say – grabbed a note from the pile on his desk. “Here.” He thrust the note at Charlie. “This should be right up your alley Parker. Get over there now and sort it out.” The phone moved back to his ear.
Charlie went one flight down before he stopped and cursed. “You must be joking. ‘Autumn Fields Nursing Home’. Contact the matron. Stolen drugs?” A bunch of geriatrics popping a few extra headache pills more like.
Charlie waved to the desk sergeant on his way out of the station.
“Hold on a minute. Where do you think you’re off to?”
“I’ve got a ‘drugs bust’, Jonesy.” Charlie went through the double doors and was on the street before anyone inside could react. I’ll have ‘em locked up by dinner time.
Charlie’s mind fluttered. Blimey, there’s nothing worse than being cooped up in that place. Free as a bird with the sun on yer face. A rare blue sky. Leather slapping the pavement. Listen to that traffic.
“Honk, honk to you too mate.” The whiff of exhaust fumes. And look at all these people everywhere. Someone stepped out of the shadows and asked him for a light. Nah, sorry mate. Don’t smoke. You should give ‘em up.
This is the life. Oh, to be back in uniform. Charlie remembered the truncheon he used to carry. He swung it round and round while he hummed the old tune. Da-dum-de-dum….. Da-dum-de-dum…
He walked on for some time, admiring the old Victorian buildings that had somehow survived two wars and countless developers. He went around the block and plodded on until he found ‘Autumn Fields’.
He slipped through the double doors and approached the desk.
“I’m looking for the matron.” Charlie’s fingers drummed his tune on the front desk. Da-dum-de-dum….. Da-dum-de-dum…
“She won’t be long. You wait right there.”
“I’m a police officer and I’m here about the reported theft of drugs.”
“Yes, yes. I told you to wait there.”
Not bad looking. A bit sharp though. Probably single. Still got her figure. No kids. His copper’s nose had uncovered many secrets in the past.
Come on, I haven’t got all day. This is a very important….. Charlie’s roving eye fell on the tall dark man standing in the passageway. He was talking to the matron.
What’s he doing here? Charlie wrung his hands together. His breath came in short gasps. He’s supposed to be inside. That murdering scum. He swore he would kill me if ever got the chance.
Charlie panicked. He turned and bolted through the doors. Back on the street. Confused. Got to get away before he sees me.
He turned one way then the other. Oh blimey. Which way? A shout from the doorway. “Parker! Charlie Parker you old….” Charlie ran into the busy road. Tyres screeched.
Car horns blared and he heard more shouts. He made it to the other side and stole a quick look back. He counted four of them. Big, solid looking toughs. They weaved their way towards him.
Charlie ran around the corner and pressed himself into a doorway. Can’t see me here. He sucked in deep breaths. His heart still pounding. I can’t keep doing this.
Memories came flooding back and he couldn’t stop the pictures flashing around in his head. Mug shots. Criminals. Petty thieves. Stand over men. Killers! How did they know I was here? I put most of ‘em away. They’re supposed to be locked up. It don’t make any sense.
Then there were more shouts. Three of them came around the corner and surrounded him. Trapped like an animal, he snarled and struck out. But when the fourth man strode into view Charlie slumped back into the doorway. “What’s happening, Guv? I don’t understand.”
Tiger Tim bared his teeth and growled. “Grab him lads. I’ll fix him good this time.”
They pinned Charlie to the ground. “Don’t be too rough with him lads. I want him to feel this go in.” Tiger Tim waved the needle in Charlie’s face. “You know what this is, don’t you Charlie?”
“Don’t call me Charlie. You’re no friend of mine. Blimey, your breath don’t half stink. Have you been eating raw meat again?”
The needle slipped into Charlie’s arm. He floated off the pavement and dreamed of going to heaven. Is that it? All those years of fighting crime and this is the reward I get?
An hour before dinner time Charlie woke gently from a deep sleep. As he opened his eyes the matron leaned over him. “There now, Charlie. Take it easy. You’re back with friends again.” Then Charlie watched her speak quietly to someone standing close by.
He could just make out the name badge pinned to the uniform. ‘Nurse Sandra Jones’
“Come on Mister Parker, let’s get you sorted.”
Nurse Jones followed Charlie as he shuffled slowly up the stairs. He stopped in front of the door and pushed hard but it wouldn’t budge.
“What have you done with your key, Charlie?”
“It’s in my pocket. Here you are.” Nurse Jones slipped it into the lock and twisted the handle. Charlie went into his room and sat on the bed. On the side table stood a framed picture of himself shaking hands with another man. Charlie picked up the photo. “Me and Tiger Tim go back a long way, Jonesy.” He swivelled his feet up onto the bed and lay back on his pillow. “Blimey, Jonesy. Those stairs are going to be the death of me.”
“Don’t worry, Charlie. I’ll bring your dinner up to your room tonight. You had us all worried about you, running off like that. You’re lucky you didn’t get run over.”
Nurse Sandra Jones closed and locked the door behind her. Then she went down stairs slowly, to give herself time to wipe away another tear.