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Sample - The Borders

The Borders


Chapter One 


Constable John Gibson twisted on his seat, and pointed his open hands toward the alley on his left.

“Swing the front end around. Put the headlights on him”    

The man to his right, Constable Tim Johnson, groaned.

“Ah, man! He’s asleep. He’s a bum.”

Tim spoke with a tone that had a sub-text of ‘Why the hell are you bothered about a tramp?’ He raised his left arm and checked his watch.

“Look, we’re finished in ninety-minutes; let’s not spoil it, eh?” 

John turned, and looked at his partner.

The weather was atrocious, vicious. The rain, blown up the Tyne by a fierce easterly, hit the squad car with the force of lead shot. The blue and white was being pebble-dashed with raindrops the size of pea-gravel. John turned again, and peered through the passenger door window. The prone figure was just distinguishable between the rivulets of water streaming down the glass.

Initially, John had wondered if the figure was maybe an out of fashion mannequin, thrown out by a local store. The human form lay part underneath a commercial size rubbish-bin, with only the lower body parts projecting into the alley.  The bin stood on ten inch wheels, and John guessed that the person, if it was a person, had tried to scramble underneath for what little protection it offered.

John watched for a few seconds more, and then pushed the door open on his side of the car.

That isn’t a shop dummy, and tramp or not, no one could sleep through this,” he said.

            Tim growled at the back of his throat as John stepped out of the vehicle and slammed the door behind him. Tim reversed a car’s length, eased forward again, then did a ninety-degree left hander, placing the full beam of the headlights on his partner’s back. John’s shadow loomed large on the wall at the far end of the alley. The teeming rain sparkled in the spread of light projecting from the car.

Tim hunched over the steering wheel and looked beyond the sweeping windscreen wipers. He saw his partner crouch down on the wet cobbles, then flick an over- the-shoulder beckoning hand. Tim groaned, moaned, again, placed his flat cap on his head, and then pushed open the driver’s door. He dashed toward John, hand on cap, leaning into the wind, and leaping over the streams of water that ran between the glistening cobbles. He stopped behind his partner and looked down on the man. He braced his feet and leaned against the force of the wind on his back.

            “And?” Tim shouted.

            John looked up, eyes narrowed against the stinging rain. He too shouted above the noise of the downpour lashing and rattling against the bin.

“He’s still got a pulse.”

Rain streamed down the peak of his cap and onto his nose. He shook his head, dispersing most of the rain from his face, then wiped off what remained with his right hand.

“Come on, man. Ambulance! While he’s still got life in him.”

John turned back to the man, eased him onto his back, then stopped short of turning his head away as he winced.

“Jesus Christ!”

            Tim looked down, reached around his buddy, and gently wiped the man’s face.

“Fuck! What happened to his eyes?”


Seventy-five minutes later, the two constables sat patiently outside a cubicle, in the A&E department of the Newcastle upon Tyne R.V.I. hospital. They had played the whole incident by the book - no ambiguities, no grey areas - so, John figured, they would be relieved shortly, and allowed to end their shift.

John stood, and then paced back and forth. His wet trousers clung to his legs. He idly spun his damp cap around his left fist. He’d just about read the print off the various notices and information leaflets pinned on the walls. Boredom was imminent.

John wasn’t an impatient man, he could wait, he could pass time, but he couldn’t sit still. His wife’s comment on the day he’d switched to traffic was, ‘You’ll last a week. Sitting in a car will drive you up the wall.’ That was nearly ten years ago. Sure, one of John’s problems was his low boredom threshold, but, life in traffic was never boring.

Passing nurses gave John an unseen admiring glance. They saw a man who was maybe forty-five years old, brown hair, green eyes, over six-feet tall, a lean, muscular, broad shouldered frame, and a face with kind eyes.

When shifts allowed, John, and his wife Lynn, spent one of their two free days working with under-privileged kids. They’d given up on all the tests, drugs, rhythm patterns, specialists in the U.K and Europe, homeopathic suggestions, and even some of the whacko suggestions on the internet. After twenty years, and as many false alarms, they decided it just was not meant to be. Lynn could not conceive.

The curtains around the cubicle parted, and the stinging scent of antiseptic drifted out. John turned to face the duty doctor.

“Anything worth noting, Doctor?”

The doctor, just this side of skinny, early thirties, with already thinning hair and a face that said he was getting the shit end of the stick, sank his hands into the pockets of his open white coat. He smiled weakly, but only for a split second, and then shook his head.

“He’ll live. There’s nothing broken, but, as you saw, he’s very badly beaten around the face and head.”

He indicated behind him with a backward nod.

“I continually think that I’ve seen about as much a beating as a man can take, then something like that comes in.” He shook his head, pausing for a moment, and then said, “So, I guess he holds the record - for this week anyway.”

He sighed, and then took a deep breath.

“His eyes may be of some use to him – once the swelling goes down. We’ll know better when we can get to them without causing damage; maybe tomorrow.”

“Is he conscious? Can I talk to him?” said John.

The doctor edged past John, and walked off. He spoke without turning.

“He’s sleeping, but you can see him if you like. Tell the nurse I said it was okay.”

He paused, mulling on his words, then walked on again, mumbling. John was sure he heard the word ‘alcohol’.

John eased between the rustling plastic curtains of the cubicle. The nurse, maybe five-feet two, chubby, and short dark hair, turned to face him. She spoke softly.

“I heard. You need to be quick. He’s being transferred to a ward as soon as the porter can find a trolley.”

She turned back to adjusting the flow from a bag of liquid something hanging from a portable stand. The business end of the drip was in the back of the injured man’s left hand.

John squeezed between the nurse and the bed, and then studied the man’s face – all ointment and bandages. He looked to the nurse

 “Anything serious, or just cosmetics…” He checked the name tag on her uniform; “… Nurse Carter?”

Her eyebrows rose.

“Cosmetics? That’s a new one.” She thought for a moment. “You heard the doctor. His heart’s beating strongly. He’s breathing, and the tidying up, and stemming of further damage has been done. When he comes round…”

John interrupted, “No ‘if’ about it? He’ll definitely come round? He’s been out a long time.”

She looked at the patient again.

“His blood tests show that he’s three times over the legal limit as far as drink driving is concerned, so, is he unconscious because of his injuries, or has he just passed out? Maybe he …”

A head poked through the curtains, and said, “Trolley’s here, Jill.”

Nurse Jill Carter nodded to the porter, and then turned to John again.

“Anyway, his vitals will be checked constantly, and when he comes around we’ll examine him again. Now, if you’re finished ...?”

John held up his palms as she pulled the curtains fully open, exposing the side of the bed.

“Sure, sure. Just carry on.”

He bent over a chair where the man’s clothes lay folded, and began to examine them. He started with the jacket.

“No wallet, money bag, purse …?” he enquired, as he lifted the garment.

Nurse Carter shrugged. “What he had when you brought him in is all on that chair. His boots are under the bed”

She helped the porter as he paralleled the trolley, then, simply and quickly, they pulled the sheet that the man lay on, from the bed to the trolley; the man came with it.

“Right, I’ll be back for his clothes in a minute. Okay?”

She turned away from John, and then turned back.

“Oh, and Doctor Clarke thinks the patient is aged around thirty, thirty-five, if that’s any help to you.”

John’s brow furrowed as he examined the man’s trousers.

“Oh, aye, thanks. Look, I’ll probably not be here when you come back, but chances are the C.I.D. will be. Catch you later, eh? Oh, and they may want to see his clothes again. Would you store them somewhere safe please?”

He continued examining the man’s trousers, as Mister X was wheeled away to a ward. John startled as Tim came up behind him.

Tim grinned, “Nervous, are we?”

John ignored his partner’s friendly jibe.

“Look at this - real James Bond stuff. Not one label or logo on his clothes. We’ve got the man from nowhere.”

Tim looked over John’s shoulder.

“See. No wallet, no money, nothing,” said John.

“So he was robbed,” said Tim, “It happens.”

John faced his partner.

“What, they took the tags out of his jacket, his raincoat, and his shirt? And look, no label on the inside pocket of his jacket, where maybe the tailor’s name would be. Muggers are doing that now, are they?”

Tim frowned. “Look, maybe this one is a bit out of our league, mate. Let’s just leave things alone, eh?” He shook his head. “A job for the suits, John.”

John stood up from where he crouched over the chair. He grinned at his colleague.

“I love puzzles, me”