Pol ensured that the initial investigation into the assault on Charlie and Jemima was flawless. All the opportunities to capture evidence had been taken to the best of his ability. The attack seemed to have been over very quickly. The college had been checked for witnesses, none would come forward, the college had not maintained the Closed Circuit TV due to cost so it no longer was functional. Both Charlie’s and Jemima’s clothes had been recovered for forensic examination and to check for transfer of fibres or of DNA. Pol knew that was a waste of time. He knew the DI would never authorise for the cost of that examination without a witness that would stand up in court. But he was satisfied that he had carried out his duties to the best of his ability, little consolation that would be to the Jackmans. And so, when it was time for Pol to finish work that evening he sat at his desk and wearily pulled on his bike boots. Looking from his window early evening sun set the nights had started to draw in. The swallows lined up on the telegraph wires ready to make their miraculous journey back to Africa for the winter months. Another summer was coming to an end and the colder days of the winter marched inexorably closer. Pol envied the swallows. He wanted to fly away, be somewhere else, somewhere far from here. Maybe he could book some leave and he and Fleur could jet to the sun. Since joining the police he had never felt like this. He wanted out. He wanted to shut the door on the politics and the policies. The police were tied up and paralysed by fear of being called racist or sexist or homophobic. Emasculated by lack of resources and ‘budgetary restraint’. He could see what was going on in the town all around him and feel the growth of the misery and pain that bred in the shadows of poverty and crime. He felt he was impotent to deal with it. His hands had been tied. With the recent visit from Mr Black he didn’t know who he could trust. No one was who they seemed. The respected pillars of the community abused kids, the senior police officers knew but had not go the stomach to take them on. Mr Black had confirmed not only that Pol’s fears were true but the degree of complacency within the job had horrified him. He walked out of his office locking the door behind him.
Pol rode straight up to the hospital to check on Charlie and his wife Jemima. Pol walked into the A and E department and was met by one of the staff nurses. In a small town like Scunthorpe the nurses and the police felt a close allegiance to each other. The considered the worked together to deal with the lost and the feckless of society.
“Hello Pol, I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on”
“Hi Sue, how are you doing?” Sue had been an Accident and Emergency nurse at the hospital since before Pol had joined the police.
“I am ok, have you come to see the Jackmans?”
“Yeah, how are they getting on?” He asked the older staff nurse.
“She is awake, you can see her.”
“He lost a lot of blood Pol. He is lucky to be here. The stab cut his popliteal artery. Up in intensive”
“One of the major arteries in his leg, it is a good job his missus knows about a good old fashioned tourniquet or he would have bled out and died on the street”. Sue picked up a wad of patient notes and walked from the nurses’ station. Pol took a quick glance at the cubicle list and then went down to see how Jemima Jackman was doing.
He pulled the curtain to one side and stepped into the cubicle. He had not met Jemima before.
“Excuse me,” he greeted her as he stepped into the curtained cubicle.
She was laying securely strapped to a back board and neck brace. Her short blonde hair was thick and matted with gore and blood, it was plastered flat to her scalp. She had a deep and ragged tear in her skin over her nose and a large piece of medical gauze was taped over her right eye.
“I am Pol, I am a friend of Charlie’s, how are you doing?”
“I am ok, no pain really” she replied, Pol quickly gained respect for her.
“What have the doctors said?” asked Pol.
“I have a shard of glass in my eye, I have a smashed nose and cheek, I will have to be transferred to Sheffield for my operation, I think my modelling days are over”. She laughed at her own joke. Pol liked her.
“Is there anything I can do for you guys? Do you need anything bringing in?” Pol offered.
“Yeah, do you know where we live? I could do with a few bits bringing and I don’t know if our daughter knows about it.”
“I don’t think she does, what do you need?”
Jemima gave Pol a list of what she wanted from the house. He took the address and left Jemima to collect her clean underwear, pyjamas and tooth brush. He rode home and collected the car. Then returned to the hospital with Chloe Jackman, Charlie and Jem’s nineteen year old daughter.
“Will you give a statement about this?” Pol asked Jemima.
She fixed him with a cold and hard stare. “I maybe blind in one eye now, of course I will give a statement. I would prefer it if you just shot him in the street like the sick dog he is”.
“If only” Pol left the two women together and made his way to the top floor of the building to the intensive care unit. The lights were always subdued up here as doctors and nurses quietly and diligently went about the business of keeping the handful of the sickest patients alive.
“What do you want?” A male nurse dressed in green coloured surgical clothes challenged him.
“Two minutes with Charlie Jackman is that ok?”
“Yeah, but no more, he is very tired, lost a lot of blood.” The nurse turned sharply and walked into the next room. Pol was quite happy to have been challenged in this way, the nurse had more important things to do than exchange platitudes with visitors.
Pol walked in to see Charlie.
“Hey, Jacko, you are a lucky boy”
Charlie was on the bed, on a drip, with an oxygen mask on. His eyes moved slowly and with great effort until they rested upon Pol.
“Don’t - call – me – fucking – Jacko. I – don’t – fucking – like – it” these words were a struggle for him. Like his wife down stairs Pol felt his respect grow for Charlie.
“Is she ok?” he whispered.
“She will be fine, she has to have some surgery” Pol spoke quietly and calmly.
“Me too, tomorrow. My face is fucked up”
“Don’t worry mate, it always was, no one can tell”. Pol couldn’t help himself, sometimes that humour that kept him going in the dark days of the jungle would raise its head.
Jackman smiled. “You are a cunt” he whispered.
Pol crouched down and put his hand on Charlie’s shoulder in a very unusual, for Pol, show of support.
“Mate, you get better. When this is over we will have a few beers”
“Yeah, I reckon so mate” Jackman was tiring he rolled his head away and breathed heavily through the mask.
Pol left and went home. Later as he lay in bed holding his softly snoring wife in his arms he felt a sense of desolation and hopelessness growing within him. Nothing he did mattered, he could not stem the tide and the malignancy that was all around him. His belief in doing the right thing and in good shining through was shaken.
Stu came back into the house from training. He had really pushed his fitness up in the last few weeks and this evening he had ran five fast miles. The dog had been training with him and even he was heaving for breath.
“Fuck, that was good” He said as he drank in the air. Sweat beaded on his forehead, each bead grew, joined its neighbour and ran down his face in small rivulets, dripping off his nose and on to the lino flooring. Winston licked up the droplets of sweat. Stu’s grey t-shirt was wet in large charcoal areas from sweat.
“What’s up?” Di was sat at the table, head in her hands. She turned to face him and he saw her eyes red rimmed from crying long and hard. He saw pain and loss in her expressive eyes.
“Rhianna is missing” Between sobs.
“Oh no, what’s happened?” he sat down beside her. He put his hands on hers on the table and held them protectively tight.
“Our Shelley phoned. There was a big fight at college today and one of the staff got stabbed. Then Rhianna left in a car.”
“Whose car was it?” He asked.
“You know that creep Tariq? It’s his old BMW. They say Kharon was driving it.”
“Has Shelley told the cops yet, Di?”
“I don’t know, you know what she is like, I doubt it. I will tell her to” Di reached for her phone and text her sister, Michelle. As she text Michelle Stu text Nadia and also Pol.
Stu: they have got Rhianna
Pol: who have?
Stu: Acheron gang.
Pol: have you called the cops?
Stu: no her mum has.
Pol: Keep me posted.
Stu: She was seen getting in a car at college after a teacher got filled in.
Pol: Who with?
Stu: Kharon from the gang.
Pol: she is in danger.
Further Sms conversation.
Stu: Nadia, my niece is missing
Nadia: Have they got her?
Stu: I think so. Keep your ears open.
Nadia: I will
Di stood up and turned to Stu. “Will she be ok?”
Stu pulled Di close to his chest and held her tight. She buried her face against him and took comfort from his broad chest and the strong arms around her shoulders. She sobbed into his chest. He stroked her hair and let her cry.
“Will she be ok?” Di repeated her question, she was looking for some reassurance. Stu knew he had none that he could give.
“I don’t know if she will be ok. I will get changed and go out and look for her”.
“No, stay with me. I need you here with me. The police are looking for her now.” Di held him tight. “Just stay with me, hold me”.
Stu knew that she would be out there, that she had been taken by the Acheron Crew. He knew what would happen to her.
“Di, we have to do something. The police will be too slow, I have to get out there and look for her”.
“I am worried that you will get hurt or get in trouble if you get all wrapped up in this and I can’t get by without you.” She remained locked in his arms.
“I know you worry, but you don’t have to be worried about this lot. They won’t harm me or you again”.
“My leg is knackered, my niece, poor little Rhianna, is missing and these scumbags have her. I don’t want them to take you from me or get you locked up.”
“I will be careful, but we need to find Rhianna or at least find out where she is so I can tell Pol and his people.” Stu spoke quietly but urgently.
Di knew he was talking sense. She knew that if it was left to the police Rhianna would just become another statistic and disappear from society.
“Ok, but I want you to promise to come back to me when you have finished. I will not be able to sleep if I know that you are out there somewhere looking for her with them out there too”.
“I promise I will come back, I won’t get hurt, I won’t hurt any of them and I will come back safe and sound and in one piece tonight. I just want to go out there and see what I can find out”
Di peeled herself from his arms and stood back from him. “I love you Stuart Hicks” she said to him.
“I love you too, Dianna Hicks. How about you make me a coffee whilst I get a shower and get changed then I will go out there and look for Rhianna”.
“That is no problem for my man”.
Both of them sought refuge from their fears in their respective rituals. Di made the coffee, just the way that Stu liked it and he got himself in the shower.
Stu showered quickly he massaged his thighs and calf muscles with shower gel under the hot stream. He could feel the build-up of lactic acid in the muscles after his training he wanted to be free from aches or stiffness before he went back out. He had told Di that he would not get involved in any confrontation this evening but he needed to be ready in case the confrontation came to him.
He dressed in a pair of old olive green fatigue trousers and a grey fleece top. Before stepping out into the night he held his wife tight to him again and promised her he would be careful. He put on his woolly hat and stepped out of the back door leaving the warmth of the kitchen and stepping out into the cold darkness of the town at night.
The night air was cold and damp, the fine but constant drizzle wet the streets and alleyways and immediately started to wet his fleece. The sulphurous fumes of the steelworks gave the air an unpleasant taste. He headed up the alleyway behind his house on Acheron Street and towards Frodingham Road. He knew that the gang would be hanging around the lights of the street. The lamp post in the centre of the alleyway no longer worked. Someone had crashed a stolen car into it a week or two previously and since then the alley way had no lighting. Animals scurried, unseen but heard, across the alleyway in the darkness as he silently prowled along. Rats moved over the bags of waste and the discarded fast food scraps. Stu moved into the long alleyway that ran the length of Frodingham road when he got to it. He did not want to step into the brightly lit main road. He wanted to stay in the shadows, the shadows where the Acheron Street gang did their business. He joined the others that did not want to be observed in the shadows of that long alleyway. He wanted to have a close look at the gang and see if he could find his young niece.
Staying in the shadows and out of sight he found he could quite easily watch the basketball court that the Acheron Street Gang seemed to frequent, like their territory, like a gate post the dog pisses on. The boys were there. The two lads from Lithuania, they were only boys; the new young lad in the area, taller, thin and angry. He knew these were the boys that had hurt Di so badly. He hated them. But they were just children, they were too young to sort out in the way he would like to. A couple of other lads and a few young girls moved in the glow of the street light. He had not seen the girls before but there seemed to be a constant stream of girls willing to be with these boys. They had no idea what they were exposing themselves too. He watched the girls as they flirted with the boys, they sung pop songs and danced in the way that children do. They moved into the full glow of the light and then away into the shadows, like moths, drawn to the artificial light, whatever the cost maybe.
Kharon, from his street was not there. There was no sign of him at all. He was normally in the centre of them; holding court. Stu watched for a few more minutes from the shadows, Kharon did not appear. Stu slipped, like smoke, into the depth of the shadows and was gone. The youngsters had never been aware that he was there, unseen, unheard.
Shortly after 10pm and he was on West street. The same cars ran their circuit round the street and slowed beside the desperate prostitutes working their patches. The drizzle continued to hang in the air around the street lights illuminating the drama being played out in the sodium halos. He was on the street here, there was no alleyway to seek cover in. He approached one of the girls. She turned to him with the gappy grin of a methadone user, “Do you want business, lover?” she asked him she was almost pleading with him. Her sad eyes riven with the need for heroin.
“No thanks, not tonight” he replied and strode past her skeletal frame.
At the end of the street he saw the familiar figure of Nadia. Stu had never seen her out on the street corner like this before. She looked tired, as if she had lost some weight. Declining. The evenings spent with Tariq exacted a heavy price on her.
“Hello Nadia”, He said.
“Hello Sticks,” since hearing Pol call him Sticks he had also adopted this nickname for him. She smiled, he thought she was a good looking woman, she was clearly intelligent but they had her trapped somehow. They had her where they wanted her. He hated them for it. She didn’t fit in this grey world of squalor.
“Nadia, do you know if they have taken another girl?” Stu asked her directly.
“Yes, they took her today, I don’t know where too. Normally it is Sheffield.”
“Who will know?”
“Tariq is the main man now. He will have sent his puppy dog Kharon with her”.
Stu thanked Nadia and walked on.
His mind raced now. He knew she was in danger. Pol had told her what happened to Sarah, he had seen Sarah working since then. Seen the weight fall from her already slight frame as the addiction bit into her frail teenage body. She would no doubt follow the same path that the other kid, Jasmin, had. He could not be sure where she had been taken, but he knew Tariq would tell him, given a little persuasion.
For the first time in his adult life he was stuck, he didn’t know what to do and how to resolve the situation. With what he had been told the last time he spoke to Mr Black he could not trust the police. If he took the law into his own hands he would be risking a long jail term. He resolved to ring Mr Black and tell him what he had discovered. Hopefully Mr Black would put something in place and get this sorted out. He turned back towards home and on the short walk home he called the mobile number Mr Black had given him.
He stepped in the back door and Di was in exactly the same position that he had left her in.
“I was worried about you, Stu”. Di’s voice was small and lost.
“I know you were, but I am back now”. He placed his hand on her shoulder.
“Did you find her?” Di looked up at Stu hopefully.
“No, I didn’t but I know they have taken her for sure. I am going to ask Pol to pop round for a chat about it”. Stu replied.
It was early when Pol arrived at Stu’s house. He had not slept well and was up very early. Pol was working hard on trying to piece together something solid to find Rhianna. He was heading to the office an hour earlier than rostered.
“I don’t have any specifics for you Pol” Stu said.
“No I haven’t got much either, just that she has been taken by Kharon to maybe Sheffield” Pol had confirmed what Nadia had told Stu.
“How do you know that?” Asked Stu.
“We have a grass at the mosque that they go to.” Pol sipped his coffee.
“I fucking hate them, Pol.”
“I know you do, Stu”
“They are bastards, they just prey on sorrow.” Stu was angry, Pol could see it in his eyes. The gang had taken his niece and he wanted her back but this was more, this was an outrage at them and their operation in general. “I am going to do them. I am going to get Rhianna back and I am going to step it up and I am going to do them. One at a time.”
Pol had seen Hicks kill on a number of occasions, he had seen him do it with a cold blooded calculated efficiency that Pol had found frightening. Stu delivered death easily and with no feeling. But he had never seen any real grain of emotion in his old friend when it those moments.
“Stu, you need to be careful, you have an emotional attachment here and it will compromise the way that you work if you don’t keep it in check”. Pol watched the animated Hicks as he spoke.
“Yeah, you are right, I need to think about this just like we always thought about things in the past. Calm and professional”.
“For sure, the last thing I want to happen is you end getting locked up.” Pol again spoke with quiet assurance.
“Yeah,” Hicks nodded.
“Make a plan, Stu, and execute it. Find out where Rhianna is and go and get her”.
“If you find out where she is will you let me know first, Pol?” Pol, placed his mug back on the coffee table. He studied Hicks for a moment. They both knew the gravity of what had just been asked. If Pol agreed to this he would have stepped a long way over the line and there would be no going back. They made solid eye contact and reinforced the bond that had been forged in the jungle so long ago.
“Stu, I will tell you everything I know. I will meet you for a swim tomorrow at twelve noon”
Pol got up and said his goodbyes to Di and Stu. He left their house and drove to work.
Mr Black received the call from Sergeant Winchester shortly after arriving in his office. He was a little unsure of why Winchester had called him. Initially he gave information about the missing girl but he went on say that he thought that things would soon be resolved. Black sensed that Winchester was deeply troubled by the events unfolding before him. But, he felt that very soon Mr White’s plan would reach fruition.