Chief Inspector Dance slid across the church pew and invaded my personal space.
Hip against hip, knee against knee.
“Be careful Chief Inspector, in some cultures, this constitutes a marriage proposal,” I said, and the detectives close by laughed.
The Chief Inspector shot them a glance — he was the only one who was allowed to be funny.
He’d bullied his way to the head of the Robbery Squad just before I joined the unit. He dumped the previous second in command and installed me as 2IC. Buggered if I know why, but maybe it had something to do with weakening the old alliances.
In keeping with modern police practice, several of our squad were female. They were often the butt of his jokes and sarcasm.
“Back off a bit. I don’t want to get pregnant before the wedding,” I said, and a snigger rippled through our group. It turns out I’m pretty good at sarcasm as well.
I could smell him — dust, hair oil and a cheap aftershave.
Amazingly, our DCI would tolerate such comments because he believed he was a jolly funny chap — he wasn’t, but that kind of banter was his forte, so he would take a bit of it when it came his way — only a bit mind you, and only from the male officers.
Other than that, no-one stands up to our boss. We all want to ‘get on’, get a promotion, get ahead and get out of this squad. But things were changing.
Murder Squad, Narcotics then Burglary; in that order.
The head of Narcotics retired in a cloud of whispers and Chief Inspector Dance expected to get the nod; except, it didn’t happen.
Chief Inspector Valerie Trend was promoted above him.
Dance had run his race.
I’d like to think that the ‘higher-ups’ had finally figured out that he was a prick, but I doubt it. The rumour mill will eventually tell us, but frankly, I didn’t care — about that and a lot of things.
We were seated a few rows from the front on the right-hand side of this huge old church. The ceremony was being held in Richmond this year because St Paul’s in the city had been double booked. Working-class Catholics had paid for this monument to power in the late 1880s. It must have cost a fortune, and I can hear the priest piling on the guilt because the building had not been paid off, and the church needed money.
Detective Constable Helen Morgan was the last of us to arrive.
She sat in the seat in front of us, dressed in the squad’s unofficial uniform; a grey two-piece single-breasted suit, white shirt/blouse and a tie.
She was trim, slightly above average height with bruises and a small cut on one side of her face. The left side of her face, as it happened.
I wanted to make a joke about her ability to arrest someone without getting thumped, when a feeling came over me, which it sometimes does. These bruises had been delivered by someone who should have been her protector.
I turned to our ‘leader’. “Are you going to do something about this?” I said.
“None of our business,” he said and turned away as though not seeing the damage was the same as it going away.
“If a member of the public had done that, you’d be first in line to take him downstairs and beat the living shit out of him,” I said, and I was aware of the volume of my voice.
“Man and wife stuff. Stay the fuck out of it.”
Fuck this for a game of soldiers, I said under my breath.
I stood up and walked across to the side door just as the organ started up to begin the proceedings.
I’m not sure if it was planned when the church was built, but there was a pub just across the road. Mind you, back in those days, there was a pub across the road from everywhere in Richmond.
I blinked under the intense light and hesitated before crossing the broad street. Two of our squad’s female officers had followed me out of the church, closely followed by Helen Morgan.
“You ladies need to think carefully. Your absence will be noted. This assembly is a big deal. It’s a load of bollocks, but it’s a big deal in terms of ‘showing the flag’. Photographers, reporters, the whole nine yards. All the people who make decisions about your future are here. Do you want them to remember you walking out before it all began?”
There was silence.
“You stood up to him back there. You spoke up for Helen, not that it will do any good,” said Sharon Long, who had been in the squad for a little more than a year. Bright, blond and someone who can take care of herself without having to pull her gun.
Betty Green kissed Helen on the cheek and gave her a hug. “You know I love ya kid, don’t you? she said, “but I’ve got two kids, and I need this crazy job.”
She gave us a smile, and we gave her a nod. She went back into the church.
The rest of us went across the road and ordered a beer, then we ordered another one. We sat in what was laughingly called the ‘beer garden’ and listened to the sound of hundreds of police officers giving thanks to God that a new financial year had begun and no one had discovered their transgressions.
“Things are going to change around here,” I said, surrounded by two strong women who could probably beat me in a fair fight.
But there’s the thing — I don’t fight fair. Actually, I do my best to avoid a fight, but as my father taught me, “if you cannot get out of it, dive in with everything you’ve got and don’t stop until your opponent cannot get up. Don’t guess — be sure he is done.”
I sat there thinking about the career I thought I had and about the cricket bat in my car’s boot.
Senior Constable Frank Morgan and I are going to have a little batting practice.
“In some countries, it’s considered bad form to urinate while wearing a hat,” I said.
“Okay. So what’s your point?”
I didn’t have one — a point, that is.
The etiquette of taking a leak while wearing, or not wearing a hat, was simply a distraction.
It’s a trick I learned from my mum. My dad had no need to bamboozle a bully — he had always been able to take care of himself. I didn’t inherit his physique, so other measures were required to escape the clutches of a tormenter.
The technique was simple and in two parts.
The second part came from my grandfather. He understood dogs.
“Never take a backward step when confronted by a dog. They read body language at the speed of light. Flinch or take a backward step, and they see you as weak. Never back away from a bully either.”
The first part of the process involves confusing the bully, who usually hunts with a pack. Confuse them for long enough, and they get bored, or their friends do, which is even better.
“Come on Steve this bloke’s nuts, and we’ve got stuff to do.”
The sound of your back-up Neanderthals drifting away is a powerful persuader.
It has to be said that my big mouth got me into a heap of trouble, but I could talk my way out of most of it.
In the dog world, eye contact is reserved for other members of the pack, otherwise, it is seen as a challenge.
In the human world, eye contact is seen as a sign of strength.
If you stare at someone, there is a good chance that they will think that you can handle yourself. A small smile helps to complete the picture. Not too big a smile, that could make things worse.
As I hoped, my tormentor’s friends got bored and encouraged him to thump me or go with them in search of easier prey.
He wandered off, leaving me with a not very well veiled threat.
It wasn’t our last encounter, but eventually, his tiny brain maxed itself out, and his parents took him out of school and ensconced him in a dead-end job where I’m sure he lived out his days.
I went on to be an even bigger big-mouth, and it continued to get me into and out of trouble.
And I’m not sure I would have had it any other way.