There was no way Carl could afford the TV in the shop window in front of him. That did not stop him looking and dreaming.
"Maybe if we get promoted." Said the voice next to him wistfully.
Carl snorted, "Maybe the Catholics and Protestants will stop trying to kill each other."
No sooner had he spoken, than Carl felt a sharp and blinding pain along his shoulder. "FUCKING HELL!" Carl grasped his shoulder with his good arm, as the thrown half brick bounced of his foot.
His partner, Dan, went to give chase but the youths were rapidly diminishing shapes. He decided it was a lost cause and went back to Carl, to give aid if needed. Carl meanwhile, had fallen to his knees, busily swearing at the pavement.
"FUCK, FUCK, FUCK. CHRIST! FUCK, FUCK"
Dan bent down to him. "Just as well you were standing there, or they might have smashed that window."
"Piss off you cunt. That fucking hurt."
"Got to give them credit. It was a bloody good shot. I could never throw that well when I was their age."
"That was because you never had the practise these little shits have had."
Dan helped Carl to his feet "True, there is that side."
Carl experimentally moved his arm, wincing as he did so. "Don't believe it. The little bastard managed to miss my vest."
"Count yourself lucky that he missed your head. Just think off all the claret that would have flown."
"You know, sometimes you're a right barrel of laughs"
Dan shrugged his shoulders "If he had, it would have been me standing in front of the super. Explaining why we were staring into the window of a TV shop. You on the other hand, would be in a nice comfortable bed surrounded by pleasant young women."
"You and I obviously don't go to the same hospital"
"Do you want me to call the station for a landing rover?"
Carl paused his cursing for thought. "Nah, I'll be all right. No need to suffer the indignity of finishing our beat early in a squad car. Plus," Carl checked his watch "It'll be crazy Eddie driving."
Dan sucked in his breath through clenched teeth, "Good point. Let's walk back."
As they walked back to the station, Carl stretched his bruised arm muscles and reflected on his seemingly mad decision to join the R.U.C. Definitely not one of his better ideas.
It was with great relief that Carl stepped into the shower. The rest of the day had been spent filling out paperwork. Another chore he detested. Standing under the hot spray in his cramped flat, he looked at his burgeoning bruise. It was starting to look impressive. There was something fascinating about how the black, purple, yellow and tinges of red intermixed.
He was going to have to consider another line of work. That was the third time this week he had been stoned by kids. It would not be too bad but it was only Tuesday. It was not even the marching season. That was something else to look forward too.
Carl turned the tap off and stepped out of the shower. Wrapping a towel round his waist, he headed for the fridge. Removing a Becks, he popped the cap on the edge of the kitchen table. Rooting around the junk and unpaid bills on the table, he retrieved the TV remote. The news was on. As ever, the presenter ran through a list of those poor souls, the victims of punishment beatings. That was followed by a list of bombs diffused and arms caches found. Carl threw the empty bottle in the general direction of the bin. The news presenter briefly mentioned world affairs. Carl looked at the news pictures of the Middle East crisis.
"Gazza Strip? That's bloody Butlins compared the streets outside." He retrieved another bottle from the well-stocked fridge.
The next day passed relatively quietly. Only three armed robberies, one rape, two punishment beatings, one suicide and the usual assortment of day-to-day crime and social drama. Carl stopped off at Tesco on the way home from the station. Filling his trolley with beer, he threw some food in, more as an afterthought. There was a Man. U. match on TV tonight and he had every intention of being drunk by the end of it.
The match had just started when his phone rang. He tried to ignore it in the hope that the caller would piss off. The caller was determined. Finally, to irate to ignore it, he took the call.
Carl recognised the voice immediately. It was his boss. He sighed. "Yes"
"There is trouble brewing. I want all officers back in work and ready for riot detail in figures ten. Got that?"
Carl looked mournfully at the beer and the TV, "Yeah, I'll be there"
"Good. Get going."
Carl put the phone down, looked at it for a moment, and then hurled his half-drunk bottle across the room. "FUCK SAKE!"
He grabbed his jacket and car keys. The glass from the broken bottle crunched underfoot. Ignoring the beer running down the wall and glass underfoot, he headed out the door.
There was a heavy police presence on the streets as he headed towards the police station. It looked like they had drafted spare Land Rover Snatches from other stations. They sat in small groups in quiet streets, three and a half litre V8s purring away. The commanders had obviously been told to stay out of sight of the trouble, in an effort to avoid any escalation. Not that four ton of armoured police Rover could blend in discretely.
The station resembled a kicked ant's nest as he pulled into the secure compound. Quickly parking his car, he ran to the main building.
On the way to the briefing room, he stopped by his locker to retrieve his riot gear. He could change during the briefing. In the locker room, several other officers were collecting kit. The briefing room was full of officers in various states of undress. No one paused when the boss walked in.
Carl paid very little attention to the briefing and the issued orders. Experience had taught him that they would change at least four times before he got to the base line. He only looked up when he heard his name called.
"Yip" He called back.
The boss looked at him. "I want you running as a baton gunner on this one. Dan?" Dan looked over "I want you as Carls shield arm, okay" Dan nodded his assent. The boss carried on giving his orders. By the time orders were issued most people in the room were fully dressed in riot gear.
Dan caught up with Carl in the armoury queue.
"So we get the observer job. Just as well, at the rate you've been attracting missiles lately."
Carl signed for his sidearm and the baton gun. As he waited for Dan to collect and sign for his weapon, he cracked the breech and gave the baton gun a quick once over. He snapped the barrel shut as Dan approached.
"You look like you fully intend on using that tonight. Got some pent up aggression you need to get rid of?"
Carl caressed the barrel "I was about to watch the match before this kicked off. I hope it's not a bloody false alarm. I hope one of those little shits is out there, I want to rearrange his face." They were not allowed to target above chest height, but they had gotten around that legal obligation by firing at the ground just in front of the target. Rubber bullets had a tendency to bounce, so if it hit solid ground in front of the target, there was a very good chance of the ricochet catching the unfortunate victim, either in the face or under the chin. If hit in the face, the unfortunate soul would promptly collapse and would not rise for some time to come. The gunner on the other hand, could simply claim he missed and the ricochet hit was accidental.
On the way to the magazine, they collected their radios. Standing in the cue the checked each other's gear for security and carried out a communications check. Then it was out into the yard and into the Snatches.
The trip to the planed base line was uneventful as was the disembarking from the vehicles. The trouble was a stand off between a group of royalist and loyalist supporters. The disagreeing factions ignored the police, who were quite content to stay out of the way in the forlorn hope that the two rival sides would get bored and disperse.
Carl took up position in a doorway, Dan covering his exposed side with the riot shield. The only objects being thrown were taunts and insults. That could easily and rapidly change.
After ten minutes, Carl was starting to get bored. So, obviously were the potential rioters. Who were starting to disperse in small numbers. Carl was pissed off. All that effort had come to nought and he had missed the match. Dan at his side groaned. Carl looked round to see what he had spotted.
Behind them, pulling into the street they were using, were several military snatches and a Saxon. Carl brightened, a smile spreading across his face. Some fool in management had just carried out the equivalent of throwing water on a chip pan fire.
The crowd, which had been dispersing, noticed the new arrivals. With almost military precision, both opposing sides turned as one to the police line. The police line, which had been ignored until now, was now under the scrutiny of a united front.
Dan lent close to Carls ear "Uhh, Ohh"
Realising that the situation was steamrolling out of control, their boss got on the loudhailer. His order to disperse was treated with contempt from the crowd that had, few minutes ago, been at each other's throat.
The military moved up front to take position in front of the police.
Carl looked to Dan "Oh well" He cracked the gun and inserted a baton round in the barrel "Here we go!"
As soon as the military moved in front of the police, all hell broke loose. The first physical object thrown award, went to some householders' garden gnome. It was no sooner airborne than the rest of the garden followed suit. Within a short space of time the air was full of rocks, garden furniture, bits of fences, a shed (remains of) and anything a person could physically throw. This by the look of things was quite a lot.
The police line, under orders, dropped back and left the squaddies to the barrage.
"You know," Carl turned to speak to Dan, while he watched with interest, as two rioters charged the military line with what looked like a concrete birdbath held between them. "You can always trust the military to fuck things up"
Dan, watching the same two rioters, nodded in agreement. "It's almost as good as the football. They're doing well" The two-birdbath holders had not only smashed a plastic riot shield, but also carried on into the unfortunate holder of the shield. "I bet he'll have bruises worse than yours tomorrow."
Carl winced in sympathy. "How long do you reckon till the first petrol bomb?"
"Too late, here it comes"
Sure enough, a passage opened up in the crowd, and a balaclava-wearing rioter launched his cargo towards the military line. The bottle bounced against a shield and laid spinning on the ground, unbroken.
"Wahey, spot the amateur!"
A second bottle sailed through the air, and shattered on the ground at the base of the shield line. A wall of flame and smoke consumed the area. The affected shield bearers stepped back, tapped the bottom of their shields on the ground to extinguish the flames, and then stepped forward. Only to be petrol bombed again.
Casualties were starting to build up on both sides. The white helmets of paramedics visible on both sides of the shield wall. Dan followed Carls gaze. "Brave bastards, aren't they."
The weight of numbers and casualties was visibly starting to make the military line crumble. The mob spotted this and surged forward with renewed vigour. The military commander tried to regain momentum by waving the snatches and the saxon forward. The snatches sped forward through holes in the shield wall but the saxon failed to move. The crowd having run from the snatches advance noticed that there was no support and surged back to the snatches. A more switched on sub commander, spotting the danger the snatches were in, ordered his men forward to give support. The military line fragmented, with rioters climbing over the snatches, trying to force their way in.
From Carl's position, it looked a chaotic mess. Then the command came over the radio. They were taking over.
The police line re-formed behind the military and advanced. Sheltering behind Dan's shield, Carl followed the advance. The police line pushed well in front of the military, to give them the space to regroup and deal with their casualties.
Over the net, Carl was given a target. He slipped the barrel between two shields and took aim. He was just squeezing the trigger when he noticed the crowd starting to split. Smiling in malicious glee, he shifted his aim and waited. A rioter ran forward wielding a petrol bomb; Carl aimed off and squeezed the trigger. The baton gun gently kicked and with a soft pop fired the plastic round. Carl watched the lump of white plastic sail gracefully threw the air.
At the last moment, the bomber spotted the round and raised his arm in defence. The incoming round missed the upraised arm but shattered the bottle and continued into the bomber. The liquid contents splashed over the bomber and a rioter standing next to him. In pain, the bomber dropped the remaining bottleneck containing the flaming cloth. As the neck dropped passed his torso, the rag ignited the bombers petrol soaked attire. Instantly the bomber was consumed in a pillar of fire, which leapt to the soaked rioter standing next to him.
Dan lent over to Carl again "Bloody good shot young man"
Carl looked round, a smile across his face "Well thank thee, kind sir."
Taking good use of the sudden confusion in the mobs ranks, the police line ran up to and over the hapless bomber. As they passed, some officers took the chance to put the boot into the two downed rioters. Now that they had momentum, the police line pushed into the crowd, beating as they went. They kept up the pressure, splitting the mob into two, then into smaller groups. The small groups were easy pickings for the pickup squads in surrounding streets. Once the unravelling of the mob had started, it quickly spread until there was very little resistance. The police and military units started to pick up the pieces and head home.
Back at the station morale was high. There had been very few casualties amongst the police line and they had been relatively minor. Carl handed in his ammunition and weapons. Knowing that the next day would be spent filling out paperwork, and a report on why he had discharged the baton gun. Putting his gear in his locker, he headed home, smelling faintly of C.S. gas, petrol, diesel, sweat and other unpleasant odours. Entering his flat, he stripped and headed for the shower. Once showered, he set his alarm and went straight to bed.
The next day, was as expected, spent filling out various forms in duplicate and triplicate. Tired and a little bit pissed off he headed back home. After the previous night, the streets were unsettled. Another riot looked likely. Not in the mood, he left his mobile in the flat and headed off to the pub.
Inside, he gratefully ordered a pint and went to a corner to watch the big screen and get drunk. It was half-time and he was just starting his third when a figure sat opposite him.
"Hi, you have the look of a man on a mission."
Carl looked at his pint, then at her. "Sorry?"
"You have 'Bad day at work' written all over you."
It was dark in his corner. The reason he had sat there in the first place. Hard to make out her features as it was, he was acutely aware that the woman opposite was no ogre.
"Sat looking at too much paperwork, for too long." Carl supplied.
"Ahh, the paperwork demon." Carl nodded.
'Typical,' Carl thought 'Go out to pull, nothing. Aim to avoid women and get drunk and hey presto!' Aloud "So do you wish to join me in misery?"
"No. You just looked in need of cheering up."
"Oh God! I'm being attacked by an undercover nun."
She laughed, "I'm not that straight laced."
"Arghh, worse. A Jehovah's Witness."
"Now you're just being silly"
"No, but I was once a Catholic schoolgirl"
"Whoa! I have heard stories about them"
She leant forward over the table "Want to see if they are true?"
Carl leant forward as well "Isn't it the male that's supposed to be forward"
"Why?" she enquired "Its 2003, year of the condom and pill. Are woman not allowed to have one night stands, or is that a men only prerogative?"
"I am all for equality"
"In that case. Your place or mine."
Carl thought about the state of his flat "Yours"
The woman leant back, slid her half-finished drink to the middle of the table and stood. Carl followed suit.