Contact by AFN Clarke


“Just going to take this guy we brought in over to TAC HQ and hand him over to Int. See what sort of a mess they are into up there.” Anything to get out before I throw a fit and hurl my rifle across the room.

TAC HQ, that veritable fountain of all knowledge. Housed in the main police station in Tennant Street, it is supposed to be the nerve centre of the Battalion. The C.O. and remainder of Battalion hierarchy live in their own little dream world surrounded by radios, maps, tiles and god knows what else tucked away in drawers and locked steel cupboards.

The Int. section is, as usual, empty. Until a beautifully turned out corporal comes in, turns his nose up at our dishevelled appearance, and very condescendingly asks us what we want. We hand over the scruffy urchin. Then check on one of my men doing guard duty and go outside to wait the ten minutes it usually takes TAC to release anyone we bring in. Here he is. Grab the urchin again and give him the gypsy’s warning.

“Once more mate and you’re for the high dive. Just show your face near a patrol again. Now, fuck off.”

An angry bee buzzes past my ear, and another one. That is no bee, that’s a low-velocity round. The Winchester Street cowboy.

“Contact, wait, out.”

Heart pounding. Legs refusing to run properly. Ham-listed cocking the rifle.

Dive into doorways… cover the next guy… sprint again.

When we arrive, there’s nothing. Empty street beckoning. Curious passers-by stare. Two empty cases lying on the ground. Check the immediate house. Crash straight through the doors and race upstairs. No sign. Check the alleys. Nothing. By the time the stand-by section has arrived everything has cooled off. One day, we’ll get that bastard. He’s been pestering us for weeks. Two rounds and he’s off and running. But where to? Still, so far he hasn’t hurt anyone so he can’t be that good a shot.

The next hour is taken up with a search through the immediate area. We finish in the dark in both senses of the word. So a routine delivery of a prisoner to TAC HQ ends up with an hour-and-a-half search. That leaves time to get back to Leopold Street, get the lads fed and ready for their official patrol in an hour’s time. Think I’ll shy off that one. Why not, I’m out on the Ardoyne back-up patrol at midnight, plus the admin that needs to be done to sort out the organisation for the week coming up.

Leopold Street, sweet Leopold Street.

We clear the weapons and go through the patrol report procedure again. This time happy in the knowledge that at least now there is something to put down on that forbidding blank piece of paper.

Catcalls and chorus of “Useless” and “Couldn’t catch a cold.” Boring. The cook is doing us proud, and like all artists is throwing a tantrum at the irregularity of the hours we keep and “How can I possibly turn out cooked meals twenty-four hours a day?” I don’t know how he does it but the food is always good and always hot.

Tea, that elixir of life. Saviour of the British Empire. Hot, in huge, black plastic cups. After the excitement of the last hour, the section flop into the chairs in the cookhouse and quietly eat their meal. Some drift off to finish letters, others to make phone calls home. Some to lie down, others to continue the weeks-long arguments as to which football team is the best in England. Me, I’m upstairs in the Mess staring at the T.V. without actually seeing it.

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Genre – Autobiography / Biography & Memoir

Rating – 18+

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