Here for you is the first chapter of my next book, Scooters Yard. It should be making an appearance in the next few weeks, but for all those interested here's a little taster of what's to come.
He eased himself back into the chair with his feet crossed and stretched out beneath the desk, ankles twitching in anticipation. He then laid his arms across his stomach and interlocked the fingers, sighing with contentment. He grinned to himself at a sound; it was the creak of a floorboard as a hesitant step received the full weight of its owner. There was a tentative knock on the door; the thought now went through his mind, did he answer promptly or should he let the knockee wait. To answer too soon might indicate that he was too keen to find out what had prompted the knockee to knock, and if he waited too long then that could indicate an indifference to the knockee’s presence. It was a puzzle, and over time he would have to figure it out. He erred on the side of caution and snapped himself upright in the chair, hurriedly scrabbling together some loose sheets of paper.
‘Come,’ he barked.
The door creaked open and a young nervous face appeared in the void. ‘Ready for you now, sir.’
‘Right you are, lad,’ he replied, laying the loose sheets back down onto the desk. ‘I will be down presently.’
‘Sir,’ acknowledged the lad crisply. The door then closed gently.
The grin widened, and then MacGillicudy pushed back the chair and stood up. His jacket was draped from a coat-hanger on the hook, so he stepped forward and brushed it down, taking care to not to catch the epaulettes with his fingers; his new epaulettes, bright sparkly ones with a single silver star over two crossed batons, surrounded by a silver circle of interlocking bells. The jacket was newly tailored and fitted like a glove. He eased himself into it and adjusted how it lay across his shoulders with a shrug. He then carefully lowered the coal-black stove-pipe hat onto his head and he considered himself ready. He then walked the three paces to the door and turned the handle; there was no-one in the corridor, so he took out a clean hankie and gave the new brass nameplate a quick polish. "Commander Jethro MacGillicudy." was what was inscribed. A new rank to go with the new job; Chief of Police in the City of Gornstock.
The grey hair was neatly trimmed but his side-whiskers were full and flecked with a slightly red tinge, as was the moustache. The ruddy face was an honest one, but there was a toughness to it which was a product of his origins, his family had come from the cold mountainous region in the north. He was a Scleepman, and tough as old boots.
MacGillicudy marched along the corridor and then went down the stairs; he was thinking that this was what his predecessor would have given his eye teeth for. Harold Bough was the Captain who had just retired. He had been answerable to the Justice Ministry and they had dictated to him just what was required; but he wasn't considered to be the Chief of Police. After the ramifications of a case some months earlier, which involved a minister and a banker, it was decided that the police should be let loose of its shackles with minimal interference from government to do its job. MacGillicudy was the recipient of the new powers, and he got the new rank to go with it. Commander.
The canteen of Scooters Yard was the only place big enough to hold all the police officers available. The feelers, who got their nickname from Lord Carstairs Fielding, their founder, waited patiently for their new boss to come and talk to them. They sat around the tables drinking tea and playing cards while the dart board received some heavy action. Uniforms were unbuttoned and there was an element of relaxation amidst the fug of cigarette smoke. The aroma of bacon sandwiches and the residue of last night’s kebab farts enfolded them all in a hug of familiarity and contentment as they talked and joked with one another. They didn't know it, but their world was about to be turned upside down.
MacGillicudy had taken a great deal of time over his thinking about how he would like the Police Force to progress, he agonised over his decision and thought about how he would have reacted should it have happened to him. Progress to him was about how to improve the lot of the average feeler, how to make the city more secure, how to make its inhabitants feel more comfortable with the role of the police, how to grab more felons and make the streets safer. This, he decided, was one way to start the ball rolling, and he wouldn’t shirk from the responsibility.
The young feeler waited at the bottom of the stairs until McGillicudy started his descent, and then he ran along the corridor to the canteen. He burst in waving his arms and yelling that the commander was coming. After a few moments a quiet began to ripple through the gathering and they all turned their heads towards the door, waiting, pondering, eager to hear what their new boss was going to say. Maybe they shouldn’t have bothered.
Commander MacGillicudy adjusted his hat yet again and puffed out his chest before decisively grabbing the handle and pushing open the door. The sea of faces were already waiting, some augmented by a rollie dangling nonchalantly from the corner of their mouths, a mug of tea fixed halfway between table and lips, a laugh cut off as though snipped by a pair of scissors. Up at the back an old feeler must have made a comment as the younger feelers only half-managed to stifle the adolescent giggles. MacGillicudy’s eyes narrowed as he looked towards the group; he'd heard the last couple of words, ". . . Commander MacWanker". A few feelers shuffled away from his gaze and the commander locked eyes with the perpetrator. Some things never change, he thought wryly. He grinned to himself and then walked towards the raised platform that had been erected from a couple of crates of beer and a bit of four-by-two. Revenge would come in a most appropriate way.
The chairs shuffled and a couple of coughs rent the smoke-infused room as they watched MacGillicudy step up onto the little platform and regard them all.
‘Gentlemen,’ he intoned. ‘Police Officers of Gornstock, fellow feelers.’ His eyes scanned the canteen, and then he felt a nudge on his arm and was handed a mug of tea with the words “The Twearth’s Greatest Boss" written on it in big black letters. He took a slurp and smacked his lips in satisfaction, hot and so strong you could stand a spoon up in it. This was probably Wiggins’ idea. ‘As you are no doubt aware,’ he continued. ‘I have now been appointed Commander of Police. The last couple of weeks have involved me in discussion with the ministry, and the result of those discussions I can now tell you. We are to have several new departments; the first to tell you about is the new Department for Investigating Crime. D.I.C, it is to be called and will be mainly concerned with major investigations to do with murders, serious theft and suchlike...’
‘Who’s to head it, sir?’ cried someone from the back. ‘Is he gonna be called the DIC-head?’
Laughter greeted the question and MacGillicudy inwardly cringed, his eyes closed momentarily as he let out the breath he was holding; after a long time deliberating nobody had thought of that one. It was not a good start. He should have known; whatever some people might say, some feelers were sharper than a knife on a strop and he dreaded to think what they were going to make of the rest of it.
‘Very droll I’m sure,’ he replied to the wag. ‘However, initially, I will be in charge of the department; so Magot, would you still like to call me a dic-head?’ He finished the question with a hard stony look that dared the questioner to respond. Magot knew when to keep his mouth shut, but MacGillicudy knew that the comments were really going to start flying as soon as he left the canteen. He finished staring then scanned the room quickly, indicating that further comment was not advised. He bared his teeth in a sort of a smile and then continued. ‘Furthermore I intend to develop a department with the sole responsibility for dealing with the streets and roads in the city, keeping them clear and sorting out problems with the traffic.' He thought quickly and couldn’t come up with a rude acronym for that one so he continued with a little bit more assurance. ‘Also there will be a department dealing with non-human citizens.’ Nope, that one was safe too, he decided. ‘Of course there are the little vices that everyone who’s anyone gets up to; drugs, blackmail, sex, etc. So we will have a specialist department for that too. There was an excited murmuring at this as their imaginations began to run riot; he decided there wouldn’t be any trouble filling that one with volunteers. ‘And finally, for the moment at least,’ and this was where it was all going to explode. In a way he was looking forward to seeing their reaction. ‘Gentlemen, you are not going to be just gentlemen any more. I have decided to open up our ranks to members of the fair sex. We are going to take on female recruits.’
The silence seemed to go on forever as this little grenade of knowledge ingratiated itself into their brains. He looked around the sea of faces and watched as the expressions contorted into grimaces of puzzlement and incomprehension, horror and bewilderment and horrified bewilderment — women, in the feelers!
MacGillicudy turned and quickly left the canteen, leaving them dumbstruck with incredulity. He smiled inwardly as he marched through the building, and then paused while he waited for the eruption. And then it came, rolling along the corridor like a tidal wave. Round one to him, he thought, as he climbed the stairs back to his office.
Sergeant Wiggins followed hot on his tail, and MacGillicudy was shuffling some papers as the expected knock came. There was a lot of angst on Wiggins’ face as he came in and MacGillicudy reckoned he’d only escaped with a promise to come straight upstairs and try to talk sense to the commander.
‘Senior Sergeant Wiggins,’ began MacGillicudy with a smile, as the door closed.
‘Acting Senior Sergeant,’ corrected Wiggins, as he crossed over to the desk.
‘Er . . . no, actually. As of today, you have been substantiated in post,’ returned the commander.
Wiggins stopped dead in his tracks with his foot half-raised; his face drained of colour. ‘Wha . . . what?’ he stammered.
MacGillicudy offered the chair. ‘I’m making it permanent, Horace. I’m sorry to disappoint you as I know I said that it would only be temporary, however, things change, and this is a thing that has changed.’
‘But . . . but I don’t want to be the Senior Sergeant, Jethro,’ he replied, a pleading look on his face.
‘And I didn’t want to be sitting at this desk, Horace, but I am. So while I am sitting here I intend to do the best job I can, and that means I need a Senior Sergeant I can trust — and like it or not, you’re that Senior Sergeant.’
The incredulous stare that Wiggins aimed at his commander was returned with a knowing grin. Wiggins tried to formulate an argument in his mind but had trouble in transferring the thought to his mouth as he regarded MacGillicudy.
‘Er . . . Sir, pleeeeeeeease,' he pleaded again as the thought in his mind began to fly away. ‘Look,’ he said, as he tried to grab hold of the bit of string dangling in his mind. ‘I’ve been a feeler for twenty-six years, I’ve been happy doing that, I don’t want the responsibility. Our old Captain Bough persuaded me to take on the Sergeants stripes, but I only did it as a favour for a while, and then the same with you when you asked me to act up as Senior Sergeant. It was only until you sorted everything out and then I could return to walking the streets again, doing what I know I can do well. Not this organising lark.’
‘You finished, Horace?’ replied MacGillicudy, unmoved.
‘No. I want my life back. I want to have a crafty smoke in some little cubbyhole, I want to step into an alley when I see something happening when it don’t really matter, I want to slurp me tea when I sit 'round a watchman’s brazier on a cold winters night. I want to do all those things an old feeler does.'
‘You’ve definitely finished now, Senior Sergeant Wiggins, because Senior Sergeant it is, and Senior Sergeant it will remain.’
Wiggins took a deep breath. ‘You’re a hard bastard, Jethro.’
MacGillicudy smiled his agreement and sat back in his chair.
Wiggins was just a year or two younger than MacGillicudy, but he’d certainly aged better. He still had a mop of dark wavy hair and was lean of body; he was clean shaven but his face didn’t have that lived in look — yet. He was a conscientious feeler, though wholly unambitious. The last few months had turned his life upside-down as unwanted promotion followed unwanted promotion.
‘Good, that’s all settled then.’ MacGillicudy leant forward and pushed a wad of notes bound with string over to him. ‘All this is for you, and you alone at the moment. It’s the plans that the Ministry and me have hammered out. There’s a little more there than I told that lot,’ and he indicated the door with a jab of his finger, ‘but I think it will be better to let them know the rest, as and when, little by little. But, as you need to know the direction the force is going to take, you can enjoy a little light reading.’
Wiggins sighed heavily and pulled the wad over towards him. He untied the string and then flicked over the first page with a degree of trepidation and began to scan down. He then stopped reading, and after a pause, looked up at his commander. ‘Women? You really don’t mean to go through with it, do you, Jethro?’
MacGillicudy grinned and then winked. ‘What do you think, Horace?’
‘You can’t, you really can’t. Didn’t you hear that lot down there? Half of them wouldn’t recognise a female if they had one thrown at them, the other half only think they’re good for one thing.’
‘Then they’ll have to get used to it, because like it or not, women we will have.’
Horace Wiggins spent the rest of the day in a sort of daze. He’d gone back down to the canteen to tell everyone that Commander MacGillicudy was determined to see the idea through, come what may, and that he was powerless to stop it. The result was that the uproar had continued unabated until the feelers left to go on their beats. Only then did a sort of peace descended on the Yard, and he was certain that the main topic of conversation, as the feelers plodded around, would be the imminent arrival of female feelers.
He’d wondered where the commander had got the idea from, because it certainly hadn’t come from him. He’d spent all of his life avoiding them. Oh, he wasn’t particularly against them, it was just that he didn’t know too much about them. Yes, he’d come across them during his working shift, and he'd managed to deal with them, in an arm’s length sort of way; but to have one close to him, possibly walking beside him on a beat, well, that was another matter entirely. They had breasts and things, or lack of things, so how could he spend all day looking at them? He would see their bits out of the corner of his eye as they bounced and wobbled as they walked, and then another thought occurred to him, what if he wanted to have a widdle? Whatever would he do? He would normally dip down an alley, but how could he do that with a female standing next to him? And how would they have a widdle? Oh, he knew what was what where it was concerned, but he was brought up to respect women, he’d only ever dreamt of doing it, but had never actually done it. It should only happen when you married one of them and he was married to the force. He always joined in the conversations with the lads about them, all the suggestive suggestions and all the unsubtle expectations of what a particular one of them would do; but the reality was, the real reality was, was that he was a little bit scared of them. And anyway, whatever could you find to talk about to one of them? Washing dishes? Ironing? Bringing up children? He shook his head forlornly at the thought. Battleball, cards, drinking, women, now that was what real men talked about. A horrible thought then entered his mind, the Truncheon, the feelers pub, would that mean that women feelers would be allowed to go in there? He shuddered, and then quickly tried to dismiss the thought, but however hard he tried it kept sneaking back. The Truncheon, the holiest of holies, the feelers oasis, the island in a sea of confusion, the one place to go to get away from it all — his sanctuary; it was going to be desecrated.
‘Done it,’ announced MacGillicudy as he walked through Cornwallis’ door. ‘Told them straight I did, and you should have seen the look on their faces. Women, I said, we are going to have women feelers.'
‘Well done, Jethro,’ replied Jocelyn Cornwallis, standing up and offering a congratulatory hand. ‘I did wonder if you would lose your nerve.’ Cornwallis was thirty years old with dark brown shoulder-length hair and sharp equine features. He was dressed in a smart black suit, and at six feet tall, was an annoyingly good looking man; even worse was the fact that he was the only son of an earl, and richer than a rich person could ever be, and a member of the Gornstock Assembly to boot.
MacGillicudy smiled at Cornwallis. They’d become good friends over the last few months, despite Cornwallis’ job as a private investigator. ‘Lose my nerve? Come on, Jack, when did I last lose my nerve?’
Cornwallis raised an eyebrow and grinned back. ‘Three weeks ago, when you had toothache; Rose even went with you, but as soon as you got to the tooth doctor’s door you turned and ran.’
MacGillicudy had the decency to look a little sheepish. ‘That was different; it weren’t work so it don’t count. And anyway, Frankie tagged along as well, and he went on for twenty minutes about how that particular tooth doctor spent nearly half an hour with his tweezers in some poor sod’s mouth, and how he broke three teeth before managing to find the right one. I’m giving you the shortened version as Frankie went into even greater detail, even using sound effects. You would have cut and run under that provocation.’
Cornwallis had to concede the point; Frankie was well known to have a sadistic edge when it came to someone else’s misfortune. ‘Come and sit down, I’ll get you a coffee; the children should be back soon, and if you’re good I’ll let you play with them.’
The children were Frankie and Rose, the other two investigators at Cornwallis Investigations. Frankie was born in the slums and was as hard as nails, but could really be quite gooey underneath; he was as tall as Cornwallis but built like a brick outhouse with puffy ears and a broken nose, topped off with light cropped hair. Rose though, was something else. To describe her as drop dead gorgeous would be an understatement of epic proportions; she had long honey-coloured silken hair and two enormous blue eyes, five foot nine tall and slim, but not where it mattered. Everything about her was perfect. Men went weak at the knees as soon as they caught sight of her; luckily for Cornwallis she was his girlfriend as well as his work partner.
MacGillicudy slurped his coffee while he sat at the vacant secretary’s desk; Maud was away for the day, doing something with one of her clubs, re-enacting the days of the Morris Council in times gone past for her local fair - which should, if they re-enact it properly, be a bloody and brutal affair. ‘Do you think Rose will have changed her mind?’ he asked, a slightly worried cadence creeping into his voice.
‘She hasn’t said anything to me,’ replied Cornwallis, putting his feet up on his desk and leaning back in his chair. ‘But you know Rose, if she said she’ll do something, then you can guarantee she’ll do it.’
MacGillicudy nodded. ‘Just checking. Where did they go by the way?’
‘Some scumbag from the Brews is trying to con an old widow woman out of her money down in the Kingsington area. Frankie and Rose are following him.’
‘I won’t rate his chances then.’
‘Slim to none, I reckon; especially when Gerald gets to hear.’
Gerald was the King of the Brews and ruled his slum with an iron fist. He had an incident some years previously where he fell in the Universal Collider and the result was that it was now virtually impossible for him to get hurt, the Universal Collider being a device that allows people to look at what’s happening in other Universes, exploiting a rent in the fabric of time and space. He makes sure that his thieves are honest, and diddling little old ladies out of their money is not, as he terms it, legitimate.
MacGillicudy finished his coffee and then leant forward, resting his elbows on the desk. ‘I’ve got the old watch-houses nearly ready. As you know, Stackhouse Lane is already up and running and Pendon is nearly there too, the rest won’t be far behind. How the Assembly agreed to repair them all I don’t know.’
‘The Assembly is still a bit nervous about crime at the moment, and I think they’ll agree to virtually everything you put in front of them. Mind you, I’ve always thought that having just the Yard as base for all police activity in the whole of the city a bit ludicrous, especially when there are all those old watch-houses sitting around doing nothing. The Yard will get to the point where it can’t cope any longer.’
‘We ain’t far off that now; but I must admit it will be good to clear the Yard of all those feelers, put them in the watch-houses and let them pound the beat from there. All the specialist departments I’m going to keep in the Yard, but the daily stuff will be the responsibility of the sergeants in charge at their watch-houses.’
‘Oh, no, not there, can’t have run-of-the-mill feelers in there for a good while yet; though I’m going to have to put a sergeant and a couple of feelers in while it all happens. Just hope I pick the good ones.’
‘When’s the advert in the paper?’
‘Tonight, which means tomorrow is going to be a busy day.’
Cornwallis nodded. ‘I actually think Rose is looking forward to it. She said to me last night that she was working on a couple of plans.’
‘Hope so, just a shame we can’t get her into uniform, but then again, I doubt any work would get done by any of the feelers she’d work with.’
Cornwallis drummed his fingers on his desk while the two of them lapsed into silence; he pulled out his pocket watch to check the time, then got up and went to look out of the window. It was a dull day and the grey clouds were filling up the sky; he looked down into Grantby Street and watched as the carts and coaches rolled by. He winced as he saw the shoveller dodge the traffic to scoop up the horses leftovers to sell later on down at the market. Then he saw them, laughing, as they walked along the pavement. He turned from the window and went to the coffee pot and poured four mugs; MacGillicudy smiled as he watched him do it. A few minutes later there came footsteps on the stairs and then the door flew open and in walked Rose and Frankie.
Cornwallis did as he always did when Rose walked into the room, he smiled in a boyish sort of way, the way boys smile when they know that they have the biggest conker in the playground, the way they smile when they know that they, and they alone, have the biggest bag of sweets, the way they smile when they’ve got the biggest ever cream cake and are just about to eat it. MacGillicudy couldn’t blame him, he was the one who spent most of his nights upstairs in his flat with her — not to mention some of his days.
‘Job done,’ announced Frankie, as he walked over to pick up his mug. ‘But bloody ‘ell, did he yell; and I only tapped him a little. Afternoon, Jethro.’
Rose followed and then bent over and gave Cornwallis a little kiss on the lips. ‘Gerald got to hear that we were there and sent a couple of his men around too,' she said, turning and sitting on his lap while wrapping her arms around his neck. She then flashed a smile of greetings towards MacGillicudy, who felt a pleasant little shiver run down his spine.
‘Yeah,' added Frankie, 'there were a bit of a queue when we left. I reckon Gerald’s boys went in after us and had another little word. Well, we know they did, ‘cause we heard them as we walked off.’
‘Well done the pair of you.’ Cornwallis grinned as he squeezed Rose tighter. ‘Now,’ he said, looking up into her face. ‘Jethro is a bit worried that you might not help him; the advert is in the paper tonight and he’s getting a little concerned.’
‘Oh, Jethro,’ she replied, looking over to him. She pulled a disappointed face but her eyes were glinting. ‘Don’t you trust me?’ she asked coyly.
‘Always, Rose; but you haven’t told me what you’re planning.’
She relaxed her face and smiled. ‘I’m not planning on anything at the moment. I’m just going to do what you want and pick the dozen that seem the most likely.’
‘I’m quite willing to help,’ said Frankie, sitting down and slurping his coffee noisily.
‘Yes, and we know what sort of help that would be.’
Frankie grinned. ‘I would just give you my expert opinion,’ he said innocently.
‘Yes, that’s what I would be worried about,’ replied MacGillicudy with a frown. He turned his attention back to Rose and stood up. ‘So, first thing tomorrow morning then, Rose; and let's hope we’ll get some good candidates.’
Rose smiled and nodded. ‘I’m looking forward to it.’
MacGillicudy said his goodbyes and left. Tomorrow would see a new chapter in the history of Gornstock’s Police; the introduction of female feelers into the force.