A hard day or two stuck in a ditch, watching, waiting. Ice cold rain trickles from my wax jacket into a now sodden overall; filling my boots. You can’t walk off to urinate or knock a door to use the facilities. The heavy weapon makes my arm shake. Watching with tired concentration, occasionally broken by a Tomcat; leaving his scent. I put the red spot on a passing fox for something to do, drop a light in front of him on the grass, where the tremble of my hand assists with a tiny red dance. Minutes pass as the fox moves on, he doesn’t know what boredom is. I am back to watching down the barrel of a gun, eyes heavy with sleep, a stomach rumbles at memories of feasts you’ve yet to eat. A sandwich bag serves as my waste receptacle; it always has made me retch.
However many stakeouts, undercover jobs you take part in, each one holds its own horrors. The cramp, boredom and the urge for the pan. The cat that blows your cover, by playing with a light from the scope, as a kitten does with a mouse. An occasional fit of coughing can expose you to danger, or simply a ditch filling with rain that turns to ice in the small hours. In the summer a thirst can make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth; the smell of yourself is unbearable. When the sun makes your overalls feel like an electric blanket soaked in sweat.
This night was freezing, my partner pressed over my shoulder and lay across my back to transfer body – heat. Hail and snow filled the ditch, our teeth chattered and hands shook. Not a movement or a flicker had been seen for two days. We knew the subject was in there … but nothing. The van kitted up was two streets over, they tried to keep us awake with lewd jokes and taunts of snacks with crisp bags rustling in our ears.
At 5am, we are eventually replaced. Relief came crawling on their bellies from the bushes behind. Every sinew stretched or tightened beyond belief. Heat and pain shot through our muscles after being unused for days; it was excruciating. Balaclava’s down, safety on, we slither out of sight, sorry for the stench and state of the hole we vacate.
A hot shower and clean uniforms, and food at headquarters soon refreshed and refuelled us. He had my back, my life, literally in his hands and his in mine; the way it was, it should be. The tiredness began to take over, allowed to show in our faces and the pallor of our skin. We sat at our lockers without a word, I retrieved the hip flask from its secreted place; nodded and passed a slug of scotch between us. Wearily we left, both hoping the pager didn’t sound for at least twelve hours. But all the time knowing if it did we’d be there in a flash; no question.
On my arrival, the house was busy, kids nudging, shoving, muscling in on plates of toast and cereal. The noise of the chatter assaulted my ears as they all spoke or sang at once, clattering cutlery, clanging, arguing about shoes and bags. She lifted her head and scowled as if I’d been on a jolly. “Hi, did you get them?” Standing in her wrap, and silly bear feet slippers, the pair the kids gave her for mother’s day. I can’t speak, I shake my head. She snorts and under her breath …”Another waste of time” she mumbles and bangs down the knife; I take myself without a word up to bed. The bed we once slept in together and planned our lives; long before.
Four in the afternoon I wake, the house is silent, my first thought is the job. The team, did they pull it off? Had it been a waste of resources? Dressed and out, I spend the next four hours disecting the case, celebrating the capture. Like a fraternity we came together, with a rugby club attitude, we worked and played to the exclusion of all others. We covered each other’s lives every day, we covered each other’s backs, like brothers or family, we pulled together a team, a solid unit.
Raucously wild we were, we cleared the bar, a nightmare some said; seen as elite and privileged. So together we built a wall and stood strong. For years we held fast, until one by one we fell, burned out, broken or just exhausted. The heat of the chase, the adrenaline of the hunt, the pride of the capture; now gone. Disbanded, scattered, here we were trying to resume a life, one long forgotten left behind.
Obvious now why we didn’t do so well, once we were surplus to requirement. Families had found their way without us around, kids were women and men with dreams, adventures of their own. Wives subdued, tired, unable to give up the ground they had earned through hard work, love, and consistency. Grown men, strong men, they crumbled, marriages broke, men unable to function were lost. Divorce, suicide, mental breakdown and depression, all the above; claimed fifty five percent of the team. But once protectors, police men, rescuers of many; with lives full of adventures; egos as big as skyscrapers. We try to find new ways, new lives, it was hard but had to be done. Friendships tangled with jobs and families, adventures, adrenaline; and now the emptiness.
No one left to cover my back.
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