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Also by Joerg Lisegang

TwelveTimes Mathew

Otto's Last Run


Police Talk
Joerg Liesegang

Chief McCollins started. "It was one of those nights, you know...'

The evening was quiet enough. It was 11 already gone. Arthur McCollins was putting the tea cups down on the table and Stuart was making himself comfortable. This was fun. He had thought it would be a lot harder. He was 24, straight out of the academy. Stuart Miller was his name, born in Sussex, just recently moved up to Birmingham to join his wife, who was studying here. They had been together since school, and Stuart’s mother had always told him, "Stuart, hold onto that girl, I don’t know how you got her, but you’ll never get one like her again."

Con Redbridge was still writing up some open files on the computer over in the office room. You could hear him go on from time to time about what he thought of the new system. "If somebody would finally blow shit through Bill Gate’s head, I wouldn’t even move out of this chair to stop him, why I’d even pay him something for it!" Arthur, about 58 years old, was smiling, having a seat in the easy chair that seemed to be his very own and gazed generously over to young Stuart.

"So how do you like your first night shift so far, Stuart?"

"Very nice, sir! Of course I’m sort of missing the action, I mean, we’ve just been sitting around here, I mean at least I’ve been sitting, while you’ve been doing your paper work."

"Still doing it, young lad, still doing it." That one came from the other room, Con was joining in the talk.
"Yes, sir. Of course, sir."
"Don’t you worry. You’ll get you’re action. You’ll be glad for every second you can look at these ugly walls from the inside." Arthur McCollins was reclining in his chair, he had been the chief for so long that everything in these rooms seemed to be his.
The rooms were ugly. Hidden in one of those brick houses on Bordersley heading out east. The little blue sign with "Police" on it. The specially enforced door. Video cams to check the entrance area. The poster with the malignant faces of wanted terrorists in the reception. The commons room they were sitting in now was fair enough. Hadn’t been redecorated since Thatcher first came to power, though. Con was coming from the office. "That’s done with." He sat down beside Stuart, the sofa cushions moved down and Stuart had to keep himself from sliding down over to him. Took a sip from his tea.
"I made you one with sugar and milk, Redbridge, just like my little daughter likes it." Stuart could tell that Arthur didn’t like sugar, and he was glad that he had decided to take his tea just like his chief did.

"Thanks, Chief. Just goes to show that someone in the family has taste. You also gulping that stuff bitter like pure ground coffee? I suppose you’re still at the stage where you have to do everything like the chief does, that’s all right."
Stuart didn’t answer.

"Leave the kid alone, Con. Just because I didn’t put enough sugar in your tea is no reason to turn sour on us."
"The sugar’s all right, chief. Sorry, kid."

The minutes went ticking by. The radio was crackling over in the corner, but headquarters would only call them in an emergency. Chief had told them that he didn’t want to work that much, and Arthur was one of the oldest in the whole force. They made themselves comfortable. Talked about this and that. You could hear a weather coming up outside. It was story telling time.

Chief McCollins started. "It was one of those nights, you know. Half of my colleagues were over at the stadium working at the Tina Turner show, that was when she still toured with Ike, and I was on motorway patrol. Fine. So then, at about 10 o’clock, we get this call you don’t ever want to get. A car ran right into somebody walking on the M6 direction to Stafford. The driver was all shaken and could hardly be understood on the emergency phone. An ambulance was alarmed but would take a while to get there. So the dispatcher asked us whether we weren’t close by. Dispatchers in those days always knew exactly where you were. I don’t know how they did it. They’d actually ask you to stop in this and this shop to buy something for them, and ten seconds later, you were driving past this shop that you had never heard of in your life.
"Anyway. We were close by and drove to the scene. The traffic was jammed, the hard shoulder was free, we slowed down and came up to the car that was obviously involved. You didn’t really see that much, the windshield was broken. Up ahead there was a truck standing at the left. Without lights. The man was probably from the truck, my mate said. And then we saw the driver. He was all shaking. But seemed to be doing reasonably enough. He just pointed to the back of his car. He died instantly, the driver said. I wasn’t satisfied, always did want to do a thorough job back then. So I went to the rear door and opened it up. There was this bloody mass hanging about on the bench. I saw a shoulder and shook it. "Hello? Can you hear me? hello?" That’s when a head rolled out of the door and fell on my feet. I swear. There it was, cleanly cut at the neck with some chords hanging out from it. Rolled on my feet and came to an end looking up at me with freaky eyes."

"Oh my god, I think I would have died." Stuart said. As if he wanted to add a missing exclamation mark he added, "So what did you do, Chief?" Con Redbridge was just sitting there enjoying his tea with sugar. He loved that one of Arthur’s stories.
"Well, I can’t really remember what I did. I guess I carefully slid my shoes out from under the hair and called over to my mate that the man was dead for sure. And then I walked on over to the driver to take up his story. Turned out he was a pathologist from the university here, and that he was just driving home where a friend was waiting, when all the sudden he saw this shadow running in front of his lights, and then there was this crash and something he thought to be a body flew through his windshield and straight on to the back of his car.
"That’s exactly when the ambulance came. They were, of course, a little sore with us, because -me with that head on my toes and my colleague staring at me- we had forgotten to call back to the dispatcher to say the ambulance needn’t hurry. They were kind enough to help us with the body though. They took over all the scratchy work. While we kept back and worked on the traffic to flow again. Which was rather nice. And then this paramedic sneaks on over to me, keeping an eye on the driver, and says that we’ve got a problem. What could that be, I wanted to know? Couldn’t really shock me after the one with the head. Well, the paramedic said, we found three ripped off arms in the back!"

Con Redbridge was waiting for that one and was looking at the lad Stuart, relishing the thrill produced in his face. "You mean there was another arm in the car, Chief? That’s unbelievable, sir! You mean the driver, the pathologist, was a killer who was on the way to get rid of his corpse, and then some truck driver runs into his car? That’s fantastic!" Con Redbridge was having fun. What an unwitting little nipper this was. Chief Arthur in turn was getting parental.

"Now, now. You’re going fast. I told you the clue, young man. Always look out for clues and don’t go on assuming anything. The man was a pathologist. After some talking we got the facts out of him. There was this Russian colleague visiting him, a very famous man, supposedly. And to impress him, this guy had taken the arm of a woman with something special to her vessels from his institute and they were going to cut on the little piece of flesh just for the fun of it. And he was going to return everything in the morning and everything would have been all right. In fact, nobody would ever have noticed, if that truck driver, it really was the truck driver we later found out, hadn’t run over the motorway just to end up cutting himself all to pieces with the glass edges of the windshield."

"So you took the man in and called the institute?" Stuart was wanting to get something right.

"No. So we gave the arm back to the pathologist, he made sure it was the right one, then we said goodbye and I cleaned my shoes before I got back into the car." Con was giggling and the sofa cushions were going up and down.

"What a queer story," Stuart said. He was on safe grounds with that one.

"You’ll see some mighty queer things when working in the Birmingham force, boy," Chief smiled. The radio crackled but didn’t want anything from them. Con got up for the next round of tea.

"You sure you don’t want any sugar, Stuie? I think you can say so, if you prefer."

"Don’t go converting people to cissies, Con." Chief McCollins was becoming amiable.

"All right, Chief, I’ve got a story for men after I come back with the new tea for everyone."

Con Redbridge settled himself. The new cups were steaming on the table. McCollins was lounging in his easy chair and Stuart had turned a little on the sofa to get the full view of the narrator. He was about 45, a bull of a man, no hair and was the former wrestling champion of the Blacklands, held the title for eleven years in a row, until his wife made him give up the sport. He couldn’t wait to start himself.

"It was about twelve years ago, I was on the weekend shift, when at about four o’clock in the afternoon we received this call from the central station."

"Are you sure this story is something for the kid’s ears, Con? He’s only been married for a year."

"Well, Chief, then it’s time he learned something about women, isn’t it?"

Arthur McCollins opened his broad smile. "Well, all right, I suppose you’ve got a point there."

"As I was about to say: it was a beautiful, sunny Saturday, we had just started licking on our second ice cream cones of the day, when the central station tells us to drive over to so and so street, a girl just called for help, she seemed quite distressed, and the operator of the emergency line thought it better if a police car would join the ambulance all ready under way. Fine, we thought. Another little teenager threatening to kill herself, that’s what these type of calls usually meant. Her Friday-night disco acquaintance probably didn’t call today, I thought and we finished our ice cones driving calmly to the place.
"Eventually, we got to the house, the ambulance in front made the search easy enough. Our dispatcher got a bit uneasy, ‘cause we should have been there five minutes earlier, they really do know their way about town. We blamed it on the traffic, whereon he shouted, that there wasn’t one single car on all of bloody Birmingham’s streets, ‘cause they’re all out in the country having fun, which was exactly what he wanted to do at the moment. We did actually go into the house then, where a bled-out paramedic with an incredibly hoarse voice came to our greeting. Everything was fine, he went on tittering, no problem, we should just come on up and look for ourselves. Just a slight medical inadequacy, he added.
"We climbed up the stairs, obviously the parents weren’t at home and hadn’t been for quite some time. The rooms were littered with the usual pizza packings and colourful bags from different curries. Upstairs, in her bedroom, we found a seventeen years old girl sitting on her bed, her legs bare, with some pink feathery gown thrown over her shoulders. She would have been quite pretty if her eyes hadn’t been all swollen and her whole posture hadn’t had that hysterical note to it that kills all romance. Another paramedic was standing helplessly about a meter off, retreating himself as far as he could against the doors of the wardrobe, his hands hidden behind his back. He turned himself to us, his face trying hard to conceal the pure mockery written all over it.
"It took us a while to find out what was so clear for everybody else. Do you know these old Coca-Cola glass bottles with something like 330 mls in them? I think they still sometimes have them in a few places."

It took Stuart a while to understand that an actual question had been put to him. "Yeah, uh, sure. You mean like the ones on the Warhol pictures?" That was a good one. Stuart showing off a little, not that he actually knew anything about art.

"I guess. I mean these glass bottles with the long slim neck and Coca-Cola imprinted on the side. Well, she had apparently used this bottle, with nothing better to do on a sunny Saturday afternoon… Well, you have to put this rather rude, she had inserted the bottle, empty and lid off, into her vagina, trying to make herself happy or something. Anyway, having done this and leaving it there for a while, the bottle had gotten stuck, and I can plead as a witness myself, because I tried to help, it was stuck real hard. The paramedic told me quietly something about mucosal air absorption and the building up of a vacuum later, but understanding the problem didn’t really help. We were all picking our brains, but nobody had any real experience data to go back on."

"Couldn’t you have broken the bottle to let air back in?" Stuart was feeling smart.

"Nice thought, Stuie, except that the broken glass would have been sucked right in, and you wouldn’t want that, would you?" Stuart was turning a little red on his ears. Con went on.
"No, we did something completely different. It was my idea, actually. We tried to talked some sense back into the woman. And then I explained to her the thing with the vacuum, and that all she had to do was to give a good pee in the bottle and everything would be fine. So she got herself some squash, took a long gulp, weed, and the bottle plopped off like the glue suddenly didn’t work anymore."

"Really!" Stuart had never heard anything like it. This police business was really teaching him stories!

"No, not really." Con Redbridge was laughing his socks off. Even Chief McCollins couldn’t hold himself back. Stuart did look a little outlandish on that one.
"Sorry, Stuie. But maybe you missed that we were talking about two different holes here. One being the wee hole, the other…, well I’m not going to teach you everything."

They were having a smacking time, and Stuart Miller thought it best to join in after a while. No point in being a bore. He would have his laugh. He knew a story or two. Things settled down a bit. Stuart let them catch their breath. He wanted them to listen. The radio crackled. Nobody wanted anything from them. The minutes were ticking away.

Stuart caught his breath.
"I haven’t been on too many calls, of course. But I remember one time, when I was a trainee and was just joining rounds, that we were sent to this house. A neighbour was worried because the family next door was known to have a lot of social problems, and they had this one child that was hyperactive and always crying his lungs out, except that lately the neighbours hadn’t heard the child anymore, so they were just wondering if everything was all right, and that’s why we were supposed to have a look."

Arthur and Con were listening all right.

"So we rang the bell and this woman answered the door, she had this huge bosom and a dirty Levi’s jumper over it, she smelled of cold cigarettes and alcohol, and her eyes were swollen and she was limping. We just introduced ourselves very kindly, I was holding myself back, because everything was so new to me, and we said that there were some concerns, and whether they would mind if we would come in and have a look, just to ‘quiet down the minds of caring people’. And she didn’t mind, so we found the house to be everything that the woman was, there were two children scrumming on the floor, and two men were sitting on the sofa with the television running, we knew that there should be three children, so we asked about the third child, and the mother got all awkward and one of the men said that the child was with his grandmother. My colleague asked the man whether he was the father, but he wasn’t, neither was, so we didn’t really know, and my colleague asked if he could look around some more, and they didn’t dare object, so we sort of spread out around the house, and they went upstairs and me, I was thinking where would I hide an overheated, hyperactive child? I had somehow gotten into the garage by then, and there was all kind of garbage and this huge icebox there, and I opened it, and I found the child lying there, crunched into a sort of block, blue, with a white crust on him like powder."

Arthur and Con didn’t say a word.

"I mean it was funny. Ha ha. There I was, a trainee on my first round, thinking where on earth would I hide an overheated, hyperactive child, and then I go and have an idea, open an icebox, just to find the child beaten up and dead. It was just beginners luck I guess."

Nothing but silence followed. Chief Arthur got out of his chair and walked out to the office. He took his cup with him. And Con? Con was sitting next to the boy and looked at him. That little wretch, Con Redbridge thought. He’ll have a hell of a time at this station. Con couldn’t believe it. The boy was actually trying to show off.

© Joerg Liesegang, 2001

Who is Joerg Liesegang? Read on:

A dedicated short story writer. He likes coming to a point when there is one, but doesn't mind whistling and a few distractions on the way. His first motto is "everything is interesting", followed by the second motto "and does it interest me". He definitely values living a very normal life, as long as this normality doesn't implore entrenchment or hinder infatuation. He likes to go home with the recognition that home is everywhere.

To come to facts, the man is a German, so be glad that you're just reading his words. Beautiful B'ham is Jörg's home right now, he has spent four years of his life in California, gazing at the desert sun, and from this and the enjoyment of a couple of decent English books he derives whatever words he uses. What else can be said? He has actually made the effort to learn the profession of a doctor, and will go on doing so, having changed his place of study from Germany to Estonia to China, so let's wait to see how he gets on with Lady Britannia.

Books that he definitely does want more people to read are those by William Saroyan, Halldor Laxness, and Heinrich Böll. Not to forget Calvin and Hobbes from Bill Watterson. Places he recommends for personal pleasure are the orthodox cathedral of Smolensk in Russia, especially when the choir is singing. The mountains close to Guilin in China when the sun is rising, and the top of Mount St.Victoire in France at night, when the moon is full and there is somebody sitting besides you.
And the future? Jörg has two plays in the works, both of which have been ruled nice but unplayable by friends. Good friends. A hump of short stories are collecting themselves, standing in line, a trifle of impatience murmuring in their feet. You just wait and listen… There. Anything else waits to be expected.

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