The Next Narrative – the Police Chief who signed his own death note – (continued)
I didn’t quite know what to expect, the science blokes had kept it all under wraps, big secret, but in my head I’d sort of imagined some kind of big robot thing, some kind of Robo Cop, but when they took me into the briefing room, he/it wasn’t what I expected at all.
He was shorter than me, human shaped, head, arms, legs, but not human, not even trying to look human, more like a doll really, an approximation of a human.
The scientists explained, at length, what the focus groups had told them, nothing scary, nothing that might be mistaken for a person, people wanted him to look a little like them, but no confusion, no replicant.
He stood in the middle of the room, lots of men and women in white coats clustering around him, tapping on screens and reading through printouts, all of them focussed, an under-current of excitement and crowding in at the door, every single person in the station who coud find a reason to walk past the briefing room and quite a few who shouldn’t have been there at all.
They all had that look on their faces, the one you see on those people who stand outside murder houses, rubber neck as they drive slowly past pile ups on the motorway, a sort of grim fascination, a knowing that they shouldn’t be staring, but doing it anyway.
And then the big brass arrived, a flurry of briefcases and PR smiles and I get beckoned over, it’s a photo opportunity, me and Robo Cop and the men in white coats and more senior police officers than I’ve ever seen in my life and I smile and smile and then I look at him, I mean really look at him, for the first time and he’s just blank, he’s got sort of facial features but they’re blurred, almost human, but not, not enough.
They talk through what they want us to do that morning, just a trial run, a walk around the beat, make sure his GPS is working, check out how well the main frame is interfacing with his data base and I nod, like I’m really sure what most of this means, a man who had to get the community bobby to reset my phone when I couldnt change the ring tone.
I’m told that he has a working vocabulary, they have carefully identified the most used phrases in a beat officers vocabulary, I can’t help wondering if they include
“fancy a cuppa” and “who do you fancy for the match?”, but I keep my mouth shut and eventually we head off into the streets.
His pace exactly matches mine and just for a second I wonder if I walk like a robot or he walks like a beat bobby, his head moves from side to side, there’s a faint whirring noise, at first I notice it every time he moves, but after a while it stops registering, bit like when you stop noticing the sniff or the cough that used to drive you mad in a new bloke at the station.
We walk up the road, it’s a good day, the kind of day when I might do a quick detour to the park, check out on the kids skiving off school, give them a push in the right direction, say hello to the elderly asian man who always feeds the pigeons and just have a few moments in the sunshine and so, after thinking for a few seconds, I tell Robo Cop what we’re doing and there’s a pause
“This is not on the schedule”
And I sigh and explain that it’s community policing and this must be one of his key phrases because he turns and waits for me and we walk towards the park gates.
The usual knot of boys who are too cool for school are sprawling on the bench nearest the water fountain, I see them and they see me and my presence gives some of them the nudge, the excuse they need to mutter something, stand, but not too fast and shamble off in the direction of the school at the bottom of the hill. The others, well, they aren’t looking at me, but I know that they know exactly where I am and yeah, I could go over, read them the riot act, take down all their names, like I don’t already know them already, but they don’t want to go to school and by all accounts the school doesn’t want them to turn up, so, we have an agreement, of sorts.
They don’t get too visible and I pretend I can’t see them, but of course Robo Cop doesn’t know any of this and when he sees them, well, he stiffens, reminds me of my dads’ lurcher, the one he had when we were kids, the one he used to take rabbitting, she would do this, whole body pointing towards her prey.
He starts moving towards them and I have to jump in front of him ,explain that this is not real crime and there’s another pause, you can almost hear him absorbing and evaluating this information and then he stops and just stands still and we both stand for a moment and then I start walking toward the row of benches next to the cricket pavilion, because, there are things I do at the park and Robo Cop or no Robo Cop, I’m keeping to my stick in the mud routine.
Mr Ali is sitting in his normal place, staring straight ahead, hands placed just so on his knees and I nod and sit next to him. We don’t talk, he hasn’t got much english and I haven’t got any Gujarati, but it’s a companionable sort of silence, usually. Today, the presence of Robo Cop is a new thing, which both Mr Ali and I do our best to ignore and then after 10 or so minutes I stand up and very casually, I leave 3 pound coins next to him and I walk away.
I can feel the question before Robo Cop speaks, so I try to get an answer out before he asks the wrong thing
“It’s his daughter in law” I start and already I can hear that this does not sound very police ish, but I plough on “She kicks him out at 8 am, doesn’t let him back in until 6pm, doesn’t give him any lunch, so, it’s just a thing we do, me and the other lads….” I tail off, wonder if I should have said that he’s an informant, make it sound like proper policing.
Another pause, I’m getting used to these and then he speaks, slowly, carefully
“What is the benefit to the local policing profile by this action?”
And then it’s me that pauses, because I’m trying to put it into words, words that will mean something to someone who has a GPS and access to the mainframe and finally I manage to mumble something about beat policing being about more than just crime, it’s about community liaison and building links with ethnic minority communities, but really I want to tell him the truth, the reason we give the old bloke some lunch money is because we feel sorry for him and we all know what it feels like to be under the feet of a woman, but I don’t think that’s on the mainframe, so I don’t.
We continue the patrol, he spots 3 untaxed cars, I would have let the Datsun slip because I know who owns it and I know they’ve just been made redundant, again and I know they will sort it out as soon as they can, but, he’s started the paperwork, generate dan e-mail while he stands there, so I just shrug.
We walk past a group of the local bad lads and I’m about to give him chapter and verse, but he gets there before me, tells two of them they have unpaid fines and stands there, patient, unmoving while he phones through to the courts and books sessions for them to go in and make payments. It’s not as if he’s loud or assertive or even menacing, he’s very polite and very, very calm, but you just know that he isn’t going to move any time soon.
When we get back to the station, the scientists can’t wait to drag him away, analyse his data, evaluate his performance, get feedback and all the lads are waiting for me, bursting with questions and I don’t really know what to say, in fairness, he’s no worse and no better than any new officer, he hasn’t done anything stupid or dangerous, he doesn’t moan or pick his nose, but, but, he’s not one of us, never will be.
And I want to tell the lads that he’s a disaster, that we have nothing to worry about, but a tiny voice in my head, says that maybe we do have something to worry about, but I let them point and joke and I join in and then we all go to the pub and when I get home Patsy gives me the look and I fall into bed and try not to think about it and I wonder what tomorrow will bring.
(to be continued)