It was all part of the job.
Nobody could take this role on without knowing of the revulsion some people feel towards those of us who wear the uniform.
I’d often thought I could don the white robes and hood of a clan member and walk the streets of Clapham holding a flaming torch aloft and receive less abuse by doing so!
My family had practically disowned me, preferring to lie about what I did when asked by their friends.
But it was my job, and it paid the bills. It kept me fit and kept me outside in all weathers. I’d never been one for office work, so being outdoors suited me just fine.
If I’d had the courage of my convictions earlier on in life then, maybe, I could have been wearing a slightly different uniform today. It had always been assumed I’d follow my father into the Metropolitan Police. Anything other than that choice of career was always going to be a disappointment to my family.
But, I didn’t have the balls back then – probably not now either, but I’ve sure as hell seen some sights and my share of action on the London streets but not until today was I really proud of who I had become.
The Audi had been in my sights for a while – there was just something about that car.
Every day it was parked in the same street, just off the corner from Clapham’s main high street, and always just inside the first section of road not marked out with yellow lines. I just couldn’t touch it – whoever drove it always managed to just get his front or rear bumpers inside the safe zone. If I’d hung a plumb-line from the bumper to the beginnings of the line I think I’d find it was absolutely spot on, every day.
I’d only caught a glance of the driver on one occasion, and that had been fleeting as he’d run from the car to the door of what was presumably his flat at the rear of the Hot Spot nightclub.
I didn’t like him.
It hadn’t taken me more than that quick look to know that much.
I would get a ticket on that car – find a reason to book him – one day, sooner or later.
Each time I’d walk past the car, I’d take in a bit more detail.
The tyres were lined with mud and gravel on a number of occasions, although the car itself was kept very clean and presentable. Despite living in the area, the windscreen did not display any residents’ parking permits – something I’d thought unusual. That, and the often grit-filled tyre treads always made me think the car didn’t really belong around here.
This morning it was raining heavily – prime time for us wardens to strike as nobody really expects to get a ticket in such bad weather. Call it dedication or madness, but I’d never been one to skive off from the job – so I was out pacing the streets again, seeing the same sights, the same people taking the same chances just to grab a paper or dive into Woolworths for a last minute Christmas gift.
I’d walked the length of the high street in both directions and had decided that I would do a quick loop of the side streets before stopping for a tea break and a chance to dry off.
The Audi was there, as usual. It’s front bumper hovering suggestively over the edge of the yellow line. But today it was over the line. Today a transit van parked behind the car had meant its driver couldn’t quite squeeze into the safety zone and was, by all rights, parked partly on the yellow line.
A smile formed across my face as I stepped out and across the road, my ticketing machine grasped in my hand. I had him. I had him.
I stood at the front of the car and began to input the vehicle details before printing out the ticket I’d been waiting so long to print.
In my rush to get the ticket out and onto the car I dropped it and it floated to the ground just under the front bumper.
Dropping down to my haunches, I reached under the car to retrieve the ticket and it was then, in the relative quiet from the drumming rain, that I heard the noise.
There was a muffled banging coming from inside the car.
Somebody was in there, trapped in the boot.
I got up quickly and ran to the rear of the car and tapped a knuckle on the boot lid. Frantic, faster banging came in reply and I was sure I could make out muffled calling from inside the car.
It was one of the missing girls. It had to be. I’d found one of them.
The story had been all over the local and national papers for weeks. Every Friday evening for the last six weeks a teenage girl had been snatched on her way home from a different school in the area and never seen or heard from again. This had to be one of them.
“It’s gonna be okay!” I shouted down at the rear of the car, hoping the captive could hear me over the drumming rain. “I’m calling for help now”.
I took my radio from its belt clip and called in to the office.
“Dave? Dave, it’s Roy, 2537. Can you get the Police for me, I need them here urgently at the corner of Clapham High Street and Barnes Way.”
The line crackled and the reply came back.
“Hey Roy. Sure, no problem – what’s up? A little over eager with the machine again? Upset someone?”
“Nothing like that!” I shouted back. “Get them here quick. I think I’ve just found one of the missing girls!”
“Sorry, Detective Clarke, I had no idea you were on duty today – you’ll make your daddy proud one day. Okay, I’ll call them now. Hold tight Serpico!”
I pushed the radio back into my jacket pocket and bit down hard on my lower lip, drawing blood.
Ever since I let slip once at an office Christmas get-together that my father had been in the Met and that was where I could see myself going, I put up with the piss-taking from the others in the department.
Most of the time I’d let it slide, but this time I had a horrible feeling it could be like I was the warden who cried wolf – what if Dave hadn’t taken me seriously, or put off making the call to the Police for a while?
I was sure the banging noise was getting louder now and sounded more panicked.
If it was one of the girls, who was to say if she was hurt, bleeding or running out of air in her trap?
Looking around I spied a concrete fencing post amongst the builders’ yard area clutter on the other side of the road.
I rushed over and grabbed it and ran back to the rear of the car.
“Hold tight!” I yelled as I slammed the post into the rear windscreen and watched it craze where it had struck.
I swung again and again, until enough of the glass was out of the way and then, dropping the post, reached into the rear of the car and pulled at the parcel shelf until it snapped and pulled out through the broken windscreen.
I looked down onto the face of the girl on this morning’s front pages, Kate Hamilton, her mouth bound tightly with a gag, her eyes wide open in surprise and happiness at being discovered.
It was as I reached in to her, that I saw something else in her eyes, fear.
She was scared of something or someone again.
I turned quickly, pulling the remainder of the parcel shelf clear of the car as I did so. As my eyes made contact with her abductor, who was rushing towards me, I brought the parcel shelf section across in front of me in defence.
The edge of the plastic panel caught him under the chin and took him off his feet, his body crashing down hard on the stone steps to the flats.
I dropped the panel and looked in shock at the dark pool of blood spreading from beneath his head and his wide lifeless eyes.
I lifted Kate from the car and led her to shelter under the canopy of the nightclub.
We stood there together as the Police cars began to arrive.
I saw Kate into the Ambulance which arrived shortly afterwards and turned back to see a group of armed officers rushing into the flats in the search for the other missing girls.
The rain was easing now.
I looked up to the sky as the clouds were shifting and wondered.
“Have I earned my own stripes now, daddy?”
Keith B Walters