Prologue: All in a Day’s Work
Text Box: An entry from PC Walker’s Norse Myths and Legends Companion:
Týr wobbled out of Bilskirnir Palace and wondered what in Asgard Thor had been putting in his mead. He suspected that this was Thor’s latest ploy to win the game – and it seemed to be working. Thor was a fine god, thought Týr, but if he did have one fault – it was that he really hated to lose. In fact, he would do almost anything to ensure he didn’t – perhaps even cheat.
They had been playing the board game, Campaign of the Gods (Deluxe Edition), for the best part of a week now, and Týr was convinced that there was foul play going on. At first it seemed the dice may have been loaded due to Thor’s uncanny ability to throw sixes continuously. And Týr was sure Thor must have fixed the cards in some way: because there was no other way to explain why his friend always managed to have the best commanders and forces in the game every time they fought for a section on the map. Thor, being a powerful god, may indeed have a few tricks up his sleeve, but it didn’t go all the way in explaining why he was always able to field hordes of magnificent warriors and berserkers, yet Týr always ended up with puny bands of mismatched militia and the like.
On one occasion, they were battling for a sector in the north of Denmark. Thor threw a six (as usual) and was then able to take first pick from the ‘heroes’ cards. Inevitably, he picked Ragnar Lodbrook, the legendary scourge of Paris and an accompanying force of elite Viking raiders. Týr, on the other hand, selected a rag-tag group of donkey-riding skirmishers led by a deranged incompetent known as Erik the Insufferable. In short, Týr barely stood a chance and he lost the territory on the board after only a few rolls of the dice.
As Týr staggered away from Thor’s palace he patted the board game that was tucked securely under his arm with his one remaining hand. He was sure his fellow god wouldn’t notice it was missing for a few hours and he would return it to the chest in the Grand Hall before their next game the following afternoon. He just wanted to get it checked over first. He was certain he knew the best person in Asgard to tell him if the game had been tampered with and he would go to her place in the morning. He just had to sleep off the effects of Thor’s potent home-made mead first.
Stuart Gooding – police constable, faithful husband, and soon-to-be father, looked at the cot he had just assembled and wondered why it still looked wrong. He stood up and walked around the freshly decorated nursery, looking at his handiwork from different angles. He flicked through the assembly instructions and scratched his head. Something was definitely wrong, but he couldn’t fathom what it was. To make matters worse - out of the corner of his eye he could make out the face of a cartoon Sauropod on the wallpaper – and even the dinosaur seemed to be mocking his efforts with its goofy grin. Stuart turned to the creature.
“You can take that silly look off your face, right now,” he said, before tilting his head to look at the cot from a different angle. His wife entered the room. “Here’s some coffee, dear,” she said, handing him the steaming mug. “Who are you talking to?”
“Oh, no one in particular - just the wallpaper,” replied Stuart.
“Ah, I see,” said Anna Gooding, her bemused look advertising the fact that she was used to such behaviour. Anna looked at the cot and walked over to the other side of the nursery to take another look. She started to laugh.
“I don’t believe it!” she blurted.
“What’s that?” asked Stuart, his bruised feelings beginning to show.
“You’ve only gone and put the legs on upside down! Goodness! I wouldn’t have thought that was possible...even by your standards!” Stuart’s poor DIY skills were a thing of family legend. He was still recovering from the incidents with the collapsing fence and the wonky TV wall mount.
“Are you sure?” queried Stuart, clinging on to possible error in his wife’s judgment.
“Yes, I’m completely sure,” said Anna. “Now pass me the instructions and undo those nuts.” Stuart did as instructed. “Talk about daft. I’m surprised the bolts even threaded through - the way you put the legs on. Didn’t you find the nuts a bit tight?”
Stuart’s face began to turn a bit red. “Now you mention it, Hon. It did seem a bit of a funny angle.” he responded.
“And you just forced it?”
Anna leaned back and placing her hand on the small of her back gave out a short sharp grunt. “Ouch, that aches!” she exclaimed. Anna was precisely two hundred and sixty five days into pregnancy and the baby was due any moment. Everything seemed to be fairly normal, though during a routine visit to the midwife she noticed that the bump had seemed to stop growing as quickly as before. Anna was now in the process of going in to hospital for routine monitoring. Things were fine, but anxiety levels were certainly growing.
“Right, that’s enough. Go downstairs and sit down. I’ll have this sorted out in a jiffy and then we’ll go over to the maternity unit to see the midwife.”
Stuart spent 20 minutes turning the cot legs the right way round before having a bite to eat and putting his uniform on. He would take Anna to Digbury Hospital and then bring her back home before starting the evening beat with PC Walker. And while he really enjoyed his job, he really wished he didn’t have to do it today. He wanted to be at Anna’s side, ready to take her to hospital in an instant. But life on the front line of crime in Hopfield was beckoning and he wondered what the evening would bring. The usual petty pilfering, lost cats and domestic disturbances, he reckoned. He just wished his job wasn’t so boring sometimes. Perhaps after the baby was born he would apply for a transfer to the city.
Digbury Police Station was not the most beautiful of buildings. The architects of 1960s Britain were flushed with innovation and harboured notions of a brave, new, modern world. From this blossoming of idealism emerged the building that was the police station - a great square edifice of concrete and glass with a dose of pebble-dashed cladding to add to the generally drab effect. The designers of this particular affront to good taste had long since moved on, artistically and geographically. The police station, however, remained in its spot on the ring road near the centre of town.
PC Gooding parked his car, entered the police station, and walked to the locker room. After changing into his uniform, he packed his civvies carefully away, closed his locker and ambled up the stairs to his desk in one of the offices. As he made his way, he poked his head into the control room and said: “Afternoon, all!” in a deep and rather silly PC Plod voice to the sergeant and civilian contractors manning the radios and equipment. After receiving the customary exasperated shakes of the head in response, Stuart bounded up the remaining steps and glided into his office, picking up a memo in his pigeon hole and whacking PC Walker on the head with it for good measure as he walked passed his colleague.
“Hey, Stu – how’s it going?” asked PC Mark Walker, taking a sip from a Styrofoam cup and placing it on the only available space on his cluttered desk. Stuart took his seat on the table opposite and turned on the power for his desktop computer. “Not bad, Mark. I’m just a bit edgy at the mo. Anna could call any second. Then it’s all systems go.”
“Aye, Stu. It must be like those Spitfire pilots probably felt as they waited in their huts ready to scramble to meet the Luftwaffe back in 1941. They were like coiled springs, ready to jump into action and face adversity at a moment’s notice.”
“Hmm, you could say that, I suppose. I’m not sure I would’ve picked that particular metaphor, but I know what you mean. I think. I’m not sure Anna would appreciate the comparison,” replied Stuart, smiling as he launched his email program and began checking through the messages. He groaned audibly when he saw he had a meeting to go to delivered by the incredibly monotone Inspector Barratt before beginning his beat in Hopfield with PC Walker.
“Ah, you’ve seen the email from Mr. Barratt I take it?”
“Indeed I have. I just hope he doesn’t do a PowerPoint about county crime stats again. If I remember, a few of us slipped into a coma last time, and it took about a gallon of coffee to resuscitate poor Sergeant Richards,” replied Stuart.
“Or what about that talk he made about the correct procedures for dealing with disorderly conduct at the annual flower show?” asked Walker, struggling to stifle his amusement.
“Yeah – we all had to try and keep a straight face, and Blakemore nearly ruined it for all of us. Oh well, we’d best go and make our way over to the meeting room. I think I’m half on my way to cracking up already.”
As suspected, the meeting was not an exciting one, and the police officers endured a presentation about the new government strategy for crime reduction in the face of a recession and the continued need for ‘belt tightening’, as Inspector Barrett kept re-iterating. At just after 3.00pm, PCs Gooding and Walker were in their small ‘panda car’ on their way over to Hopfield.
At the halfway point of their journey they received a call on the car radio calling them to the town’s supermarket to deal with a shoplifting. The apparent perpetrator - a young man in his late teens - had made a break past the cash tills with a joint of beef and a bottle of sun lotion. He had been collared by a semi-professional rugby player who was just entering the store at the time, and had brought the escaping thief down with a crunching tackle. The policemen debated whether to charge the young man, but after speaking with the store manager, they decided to take the shoplifter’s details and let him off with a stern warning – this time. The boy had seemed bruised and contrite enough to deserve a reprieve.
The next call involved going over to an old people’s home to deal with a missing TV set. It was as they were driving over that PC Walker mentioned his meeting a young woman the weekend previously - one that might just be new girlfriend material. Stuart was extremely bemused at this revelation. His colleague was notoriously geeky and had a strange hobby. Well, it was a bit weird in Stuart’s opinion, anyhow. In fact, he had never met anyone else who enjoyed dressing up as a Viking and re-enacting battles at the weekend. To make matters worse, Mark has virtually turned his flat into a shrine to all things hairy and Nordic. All about the place there were DVDs, posters, computer games and books – and they were all to do with Odin, Norse mythology and big men with axes. It was in this context that Walker mentioned the woman.
“So, how did you meet her?” asked Stuart, “don’t tell me – it was in battle, and she bashed you on the head with a club?”
“Don’t be silly,” replied Mark, “we don’t carry clubs during battles, we’re far more sophisticated than that. No, it was in the festival tent after the battle that I met her. She’s the daughter of our local region’s jarl.”
“It’s a type of chieftain, I suppose.”
“Anyway, I got chatting to this...erm young lady...and we seemed to hit it off. She knows lots about Norse legends and the Viking order of battle. Well, after a few ales we got to sparring.”
“Sparring? What on earth are you talking about?” asked Stuart, his incredulity only just managing to match his mirth. “Are you saying you attacked her?”
“No, of course not – we merely tested each other with swordplay, and somehow ended up...um...”
“Um, what?” enquired Stuart, having to focus on the task of driving in the face of such curious news.
“I ended up kissing her,” said Mark, his tone rising in embarrassment.
“Ha ha - that’s great!” blurted Stuart, “I can’t wait to tell Anna about this.”
Then they parked up outside the old people’s home and went about the business of solving the mystery of the missing TV. The outcome of which provided the highlight of an otherwise fairly routine day of policing.