THE bell jangles, and I’m disconcerted as the Guard shuts the door firmly behind him. He’s young and fit, with eyes like black lasers. I feel as if every dishonest thing I’ve ever done is emblazoned on my forehead.
“Hello, officer, what can I do for you?”
“I’ve heard rumours,” he says.
“Rumours?” I echo.
“That you’re the best.”
My breath expels slowly. “Well, I try to please, and people come back for more.”
He takes off his jacket carefully. I can see what his problem is, all right.
“And...” I indicate the rest of the uniform. “Shoes and all, then lie face-down.”
“I always thought I’d end up mugged, or something,” he says to the couch. ‘I didn’t expect some daft prat who was half asleep to pile into the back of my car.”
I expect it woke the daft prat up PDQ; after all, it’s not every day you drive into the back of a cop car.
“Did my neck in, pretty much, anyways.”
Without the uniform and surrounded by frills, his Gestapo-esque appearance evaporates. He’s quite cute, actually, even with those blossoming love handles.
I feel him relax under my expert hands and smile to myself.
Most people only dream of getting their hands around a cop’s neck.
“I never wanted to be a guard, not really. I was all set to go into the army, but I didn’t pass the medical.”
“Me, I’d call that luck.”
“That’s what my Ma said. But being a guard isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You set out meaning to help people, but end up as everyone’s whipping post.”
“There’s people say that’s fun.”
“Ha! I’m no masochist. Just, some days I think everyone hates me.”
“We all think that some days, love.”
“Yeah, but it’s the uniform, see. The minute people see me they think I’ve got something on them.”
“Most people are hiding something.”
“Well, you don’t look like a terrorist or a murderer or anything.”
“We never do,” I say.
There’s a brief silence, then he laughs. “I like you, Madge. You’re not scared of me, are you?”
“In your uniform you’re scary. When you’re stretched out butt-up on my couch, there’s a different, ah, dynamics to the situation.”
“Yeah, but you know what I mean, I mean, crime’s mostly about money, isn’t it? Embezzling, fiddling tax returns, cheating on benefits.”
“That’s been going on since taxes were invented. It’s human nature.”
“Yeah, but you know? I’d really like to catch one really bad guy in my lifetime. Retire thinking I’d actually done some good.’
“The trouble with really bad guys is they sometimes come with a price that doesn’t include retirement.”
“Yeah, and I’ve got a six month old kid. Makes you think different, doesn’t it? Have you got kids?”
Not any more. I press and a vertebra snicks under my thumbs.
“Ow! Sorry, shouldn’t have asked”
“Well, you know? Life has a way of making its own plans while you’re still trying to decide. When I was your age I didn’t envisage being here doing this.”
I tap his butt and step back. He rolls off the couch and grabs his pants from the chair. He rolls his shoulders. “You really are good. That feels a ton better.”
“Just as well, ’cause I think you just ruined my reputation.”
He winks. “I do my best.”
At that moment the bell jangles. Jim’s beady eyes give us a once over. “Everything OK, Madge?”
I look at the guard. He looks at me. We manage not to laugh.
Jim spreads news faster than the Shandon Bells.