Monday morning, cold, wet and grey outside. Jon got up, made some tea and put his eggs on.
Sitting down, he switched the telly on and found that Neighbourhood Blues had just started. Waves of angry nausea raced through him as he watched and listened to how the police went about their business. The presenter used the word, ‘crime’, in every other sentence but there didn’t seem to be much on offer.
There were the four scrawny, teenaged lads outside Tesco, who had been spotted by CCTV with what appeared to be a joint. They were cuffed and searched. Back-up was needed, the two burly officers decided. One lad was thrown against a wall and when he called the officer an idiot, he was taken to the station. No cannabis was found on any of the boys.
In another incident, a rugby ball had apparently been thrown at a police car on an estate. Children of all ages were out playing but the ball incident needed back-up. The two officers were heavily outnumbered as they asked the perpetrator (ball-thrower) to come forward from the jolly crowd. CCTV, having captured the guilty party on camera, called through to the officers and when the vanload of riot police arrived, they identified the lad and took him in for questioning.
The next jaunt was the most disheartening for Jon to watch. As he ate his breakfast, he could feel his depression move forward anxiously. A crack unit of officers needed to break into a house containing local scallywags with a history of heavy drug-use.
Breaking down the door and screaming ‘police’ at the top of their voices, ten officers in riot gear ran through the house, only to find three young lads having a quiet beer in a bedroom. As they entered, one of the lads said jokingly, ‘you lot are mad’. This offered a brief respite to Jon’s mental condition as he laughed along with the lads. One bedroom was locked so they broke that to pieces, then the dog came in to sniff around. They found some talcum powder and took it away for analysis, but there was a vast array of knives and cleavers. The person who admitted they were his was given eighteen weeks inside and the tenants were evicted shortly afterwards. The addicts were now homeless again.
Jon couldn’t watch any more. He needed to go to town anyway, so he switched the telly off, washed up in the kitchen and made his way downstairs to the car. One thing that irks Jon to distraction is not having sufficient funds to pay bills that are due to leave his bank account, and on this day three bills were going out. He’d calculated that he was 37 pence short, so he needed to get to the bank with the small change that remained from the jobseeker’s allowance he’d received the Friday before. He had his food so he’d be able to survive the next ten days but if his account went over its limit, he’d be screwed next month.
Finding a two-hour space close to town, Jon started walking. Little did he realise, but his car had already come up on the police’s database. Sheryl was busy watching his every move.
On the Saturday just gone, Sheryl had almost caused an accident, dangerously veering into the lane Jon was in. Jon had managed to brake in time and the two cars carried on their journeys, but Jon decided to make his feelings known to the driver of the little Peugeot. At the next set of lights, he came alongside Sheryl’s car and asked for a gesture of apology. She ignored him completely, which riled him all the more. He should have let it go. There were plenty of ignorant people in the world, but he couldn’t help himself. Overtaking, he slowed in front of her and a lane-changing game ensued.
By the time Sheryl turned off, she had memorized Jon’s number plate. On the Sunday, she called the station and asked if she could do some overtime, which was granted, and so she spent the entire day analysing Jon’s records, trying to find something to use against him. There wasn’t much to go on – a £50 fine for possession of 0.025 mgs of cannabis thirty years ago, an insignificant family matter in which he appeared to have been the victim, two cautions for cannabis possession from his London days. But then she hacked into his GP records, which brought to light recently diagnosed depression, anxiety and mild alcoholism. His status came up as unemployed and in receipt of JSA, and she became quite angry when she recalled that his car was a year younger than her Peugeot. She huffed to herself, wondering how he could afford to drive in the first place.
Sheryl still couldn’t work out how she could use any of the information against him and so it was just good old luck that she’d spotted his plates entering town that day. Calling officers on the beat in the town centre, she made them aware of a gentleman she’d seen acting suspiciously.
Jon walked past the police station and into town. Two police officers were walking towards him, and, having been notified by Sheryl just a minute ago, they moved to the side of the pavement that he was using and tried to get in his face to see if he might cause a disturbance.
As they closed in on him, Jon just stopped and let them walk past. One officer brushed against him but Jon just smirked.
At the bank, he was happy to find that only two of the direct debits had gone out. The pressure was off as he placed a pound in his account. It was a job to do because the new machines wouldn’t take coins, so he’d had to go to the business section and wait in line there.
Meanwhile, back at the station, Sheryl was watching his every move on CCTV. She’d seen him go into the bank and wondered what he was up to. She phoned the bank to ask if he’d acted suspiciously in any way. When they told her he’d been very patient and only wanted to deposit a small amount of money into his account, she thanked the bank’s assistant and slammed down the phone. She’d hoped he was paying in a large amount of cash, which would have allowed her to get in touch with the social security people and ask them to make enquiries about his transactions, hoping they would find some inconsistencies.
Feeling much better about his financial instability, Jon decided to take a walk around town in the light drizzle. Sheryl switched from camera to camera as he strolled gently through Danglespit Lane and onto the high street. He’d noticed that four shops had gone out of business since his last visit, all small independent shops that he’d liked to frequent back in the days when he had money to spend.
Stopping to roll a roll-up, Sheryl rubbed her hands with glee, imagining that he was bound to drop the butt somewhere once he’d finished. She looked on her screens for the nearest available officer and found that Podgy Peggy was closest.
‘Peggy,’ she said. ‘That man I called through acting suspiciously. I think he’s about to drop his roll-up on the high street outside Shystocks.’
‘I see him. Leave it to me,’ answered Peggy.
With Peggy following Jon and acting on a specific task, Sheryl held her breath as she watched the potential crime scene unfold. An intern entered the CCTV room and asked Sheryl if she’d like a cup of tea or coffee but all she said was piss off.
Having decided to go to his favourite three charity shops, Jon walked up the hill slowly. Unaware that Peggy was shadowing only a few paces behind, he turned onto Jeremy’s Passage to sit down at a bench under the archway and out of the rain to finish off his roll-up. At this particular spot, there was no CCTV coverage and so Sheryl wriggled at the edge of her swivel chair as she watched Peggy saunter up the passage and out of sight.
Jon took a moment to think about his children. They’d loved it here, skipping and hopping on the large, old paving slabs. He could almost hear their voices rebound off the walls and ceiling of the archway. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to see them in his mind.
Peggy had taken up suitable strategic surveillance positioning behind a pillar. From the doorway of Jesters, the town’s late night bar, she could see Jon smoking his roll-up quite clearly. Getting up to go, Peggy tensed her muscles to make haste as he walked back onto the high street. Here, he found a bin, pinched the end of the roll-up to extinguish it and threw it inside.
Peggy called in to Sheryl. ‘Did you see that? He put it in the bin.’
‘Just follow him,’ came the reply.
So off she went in pursuit. With the threat of an errant roll-up being littered on the street out of the way, she overtook Jon at a brisk pace to see if she might provoke a reaction from him. Nothing, not even a sideways glance as she passed. He seemed perfectly innocuous, but orders were orders, she thought.
Now a good fifty yards ahead, Peggy doubled back, strolling slowly towards Jon as he ambled further up the hill. Passing him by again, Jon noticed an old man come out of a bank. When this otherwise respectable man saw Peggy, he said ‘filth’. Jon smiled as he turned to see the man saunter past Peggy, who was clearly bemused.
Peggy spoke into her microphone. ‘Sheryl, I think he just called me a name.’
‘What did he say?’
‘Can you be sure it was him?’ yelped Sheryl.
‘Not entirely. What do you want me to do?’
‘Hang on, I’ll have a look on CCTV.’ Sheryl rewound the camera’s footage a few seconds and panned in on Jon’s face to see if he’d said anything, but his face was motionless and his mouth was closed.
‘It wasn’t him, Pegs,’ said Sheryl. ‘I’ll keep monitoring him from here, so stay in the area in case anything happens.’
Jon traipsed into Cancer Research and was pleased to find a massive selection of old Ladybird books in the children’s section. He couldn’t believe his luck, so he went through them and selected about twenty. He asked if he could sit down and flick through the books in order to find the best three. As they were one pound each, that was his limit.
The assistant showed him to a seat by the window, where he sifted through the books slowly. He’d collected a good hundred Ladybirds as presents for his children, if only he could see them. He didn’t even know where they lived any more, but kept himself sane with the hope that their mother might forgive him in the goodness of time.
Peggy, having spotted him enter the cancer shop and positioned on the other side of the road, decided to take a closer look at what Jon was doing by crossing over and looking in through the window. With Jon’s back turned, she could see what he was doing very clearly.
‘He’s looking at old kids’ books with lots of pictures of little girls and boys in,’ she said to Sheryl.
‘Jesus Christ, he’s a paedo!’ said Sheryl. ‘Excellent!’
‘What do you mean?’ replied Peggy. ‘He might be buying them for his kids.’
Sheryl thought for a moment. ‘How do you know he’s got kids? Doesn’t look the sort to me.’
But Peggy had sensed an ulterior motive for Sheryl’s insatiable appetite to arrest Jon. ‘I’m going to leave this one, Sheryl,’ she said, and walked off down the road, feeling a little sorry for Jon as she cursed herself for being drawn in to another one of Sheryl’s little hunches.
Having made his choice of which books to buy (‘Books are Exciting’, ‘Let Me Write’ and ‘Learning with Mother’), Jon paid the three pounds and left the shop. With his money well and truly spent, he decided that he’d seen enough of town and made his way back to the car.
Sheryl couldn’t resist following him on CCTV all the way. It was still too early in the day for the addicts to be up and on the steal at the usual places.
About halfway back to the car, Jon rolled another roll-up and lit it.
‘Right,’ said Sheryl, gritting her teeth. ‘Let’s see if you throw this one away, shall we?’
A few minutes later, when Jon finished the roll-up walking past the police station, he looked around for a bin to put it in but there were none, so he pinched the end to extinguish it and rolled it around in his fingers. Sheryl’s zooming in and panning around skills were being put to the test as she tracked and recorded his hand’s every movement.
Then, as he crossed the road, he tripped on a pothole and the roll-up flew out of his hand. Sheryl whooped as she followed the trajection of the tiny rolled up roll-up as it came to rest at the edge of a gutter.
Jon flicked it into the gutter with a shoe and walked on. Driving back home, he was blissfully unaware that Sheryl was in the process of ordering two police officers up into the CCTV room to look at her evidence.
Once home, Jon flicked on the kettle and made a cup of coffee.
There was a knock on the door, where he found two burly police officers.
‘Mr Houghton?’ one said.
‘Yes,’ replied Jon.
‘Can we come in for a moment, please?’
Once inside, Jon led them to his living room, where the two officers cast their eyes looking for anything vaguely incriminating to use against him.
‘It’s come to our attention that you threw a cigarette butt onto the pavement and then kicked it down a gutter. Is that true?’
‘Well, yes. It slipped out of my hand when I tripped on a pothole so I kicked it into the gutter. What’s the harm in that?’
‘You do know it’s an offence to throw cigarette butts in the street, don’t you?’
‘Yes I do, and I always find a bin for mine, only that time it seemed pointless picking it up when it was so close to the gutter.’
‘Actually, that’s an offence,’ said the other officer.
They went back and forth but it was no good. Jon was issued with an eighty pound fine, which he later contested and won using an ancient law that specified that it was legal to throw things in gutters so long as they could fit through the gaps.
Sheryl followed the case and was even present at court.
Three days later, off-duty and on her way to the supermarket, she finally managed to orchestrate the accident she hoped would give her the compensation windfall she craved, only she picked an altogether different animal to crash into, the elderly mother of a freemason, who ran her ragged in court. Using CCTV evidence and with access to her insurance claim’s misgivings, the judge determined that Sheryl had been guilty of causing an accident for financial gain.
Needless to say, she lost her job.