Last night I had that dream again. The one where I’m really thirsty, and a lovely glass of cold water is just beyond my reach. Or I’m ravenously hungry and there’s chicken and chips on a plate, but it’s yards away and I can’t walk.
I suppose that’s what my life has become: a yearning for what I can never have, a dreadful admission of failure.
I’ve always been indecisive, and it’s been my downfall ever since I can remember. If there’s a decision to take, I always look on the black side, hesitate, then end up taking the easy course, the safe option rather than take any risks. Whether it’s laziness or lack of courage, I don’t know, but I just can’t help it.
As I sat in my car outside the flat of the girl I’d fallen in love with, I pondered on the fact that I’d never summon up the nerve to risk trying to have a relationship with such a sexy woman, even though I could dream about it. I’d just sit here on occasional evenings, hoping to catch a glimpse of Rachel, who worked with me at the bank, but who hardly noticed me. It wasn’t so much Rachel I was in love with, as what she represented. Liveliness, sexiness, impulsiveness. Freedom. Rachel was everything my mother had warned me against, and everything that I loved. A girl who had long legs, wore short skirts and lots of make-up, especially that delectable cherry-red lipstick. The kind of girl I wanted. Part of the life I wanted to have.
When I was at school I wanted to join the army, be a man of action. But my parents encouraged me to take a ‘safe’ job in the bank in our local High Street, and now, at twenty-eight, my career was set, especially as after a lot of family pressure, I had agreed to marry a ‘suitable’ girl, who my mother approved of. Sarah was one of those girls who other women think is attractive because she’s got ‘nice hair and such a good complexion she doesn’t need to wear make up, not like those tarty girls.’
Sarah always reminds me of one of those bright shiny metal buckets you see in hardware shops, that clang when you put them on the ground. Nice enough, very handy, but solid, reliable, heavy and boring. Our wedding was fixed for next year and Sarah and her battle-axe of a mother talked of nothing but wedding preparations, while I thought of nothing but escape plans. When I mentioned that for the price of an expensive wedding we could buy a decent car, she didn’t speak to me for two days.
“Trouble with you, Desmond,” Sarah was always telling me, “is you’re a dreamer. You’re not a tough guy or an adventurer, you’re just an ordinary bloke, like most people. So why not just make the best of your life? You’re very lucky. You’ve got a good job with a pension, a nice family, you’ve got me, what’s wrong with that? Why are you always so discontented? Aren’t I enough for you?”
No, she wasn’t. But how could I tell her that? I felt as if I was in a prison, and the walls were getting closer and closer surrounding me.
I wanted to break out of my life. I wanted to be free.
Yet I was too scared to break the chains that held me.
Chains. That reminded me. I looked at the back seat of my car, where my hammer and other tools were ready to do some DIY work I’d promised to do at Sarah’s flat. She had been wittering on about hanging some pictures on the wall for ages.
So it was a shock when I was broken out of my reverie as I saw the two men rush out of the house across the road, with a woman held in between them. As they passed I could just make out the gun one of them held against her back. They got into a van, and started it up.
I thought quickly. This area was known as a haunt of prostitutes, and I had heard rumours of a gang who brought East European women to London in order to force them into the sex trade.
As I pulled into the traffic behind the van, I dialled 999 on my hands-free.
Luckily the police operator caught on quickly. I think my mention of the firearm got their attention, and as I gave the van’s location, number plate and direction of travel, they assured me they were on to it.
“I’ll keep on their tail until you arrive,” I told the operator.
“Thank you, caller, that would be very helpful. But don’t attempt anything yourself. Armed response vehicles are on their way.”
“Would it be a good idea to not use the blues and twos?” I asked, proud of my adoption of police slang I’d gleaned from TV shows, hoping I’d got it right. “So as no to alert them?”
“That’s up to the officers’ discretion. But generally we try to not alert suspects unless we have to. Can you describe your car please? ”
Quite soon I saw the police cars in my rear-view mirror. They were keeping behind me, cleverly hoping not to alert the men in the van.
My heartbeat was sky high. My mind was racing.
For the first time in years I really felt as if I was alive.
The van stopped in a road not far away outside a large building that advertised itself as a hotel. I stopped nearby, a little distance away from the police cars.
The scene unfolded quickly, and, as the men hustled the girl out of the van, I heard the police warning. “Armed police! Kneel down on the ground. Do it now!”
The men did so, but not before several men had come out of the house and there was a lot of noise. At that point three more police cars arrived, and officers poured out onto the street , some of them going down the steps into the hotel’s foyer.
I was parked up, a bit behind the police cars. Which was why no one seemed to notice the exit at the side, where I caught a glimpse of a line of four girls and two men who were running out of the building, the men clearly forcing the girls on, covering them with what looked like a shotgun.
The police were fully occupied many yards away. The van was about to pull away. There was no time to summon help.
I made the decision, grabbing the hammer from my car’s back seat and dashing out into the road. As the van pulled away, I leapt up onto the bonnet, yelling for them to stop.
It moved off fast, with me clinging onto the roof rack with one hand, legs sprawled out. It was moving faster.
Acting on instinct, I smashed the hammer against the windscreen, even as I heard the roar of gunfire, and felt the surge of hot air burning above my ears.
With the windscreen gone I didn’t hesitate to bring the hammer down hard into the face of the driver. The van slowed. The other man aimed the shotgun at my face, but I grabbed the red-hot barrel and forced it upwards, my hand thrown as the gun fired once again, into the sky.
Then the vehicle slowed. Suddenly it was all over. Police surrounded us, and, as I slid down onto the road, I felt reassuring hands supporting me as my ears rang in agony because of the noise of the shotgun’s blast.
“Looks like this was their centre of operations,” said the policewoman who was holding my arms, helping me to stand upright, asking if I needed an ambulance, and telling me her name was Alison. Her words came to me as if through a fog of pain in my ears. “About a dozen women they’d been holding there as prisoners. We can help them now, sort them out, get them their passports.”
“Will they be deported?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “They’ll probably seek asylum. But whatever happens it’s better than the fate they were in for with the scum who were holding them.”
“I’d love to do your job,” I told her.
“Really? Then what’s stopping you, mate?” she asked. “The Met is recruiting right now and you’re under thirty, right? They like to take on people who’ve done other jobs, got a bit of experience of life.”
“Yes. Mind, it’s not everyone who’s suited to the life. Can be deadly boring, there’s awful shifts, and the bosses treat you like rubbish.”
“But you like it?”
“I like it most of the time. And I wouldn’t want to do anything else.” She paused, looking at me. “And I’d like to say, what you did just now. . . Not many people would have done that. Not many men can take quick decisions like that. You were very brave.”
Just at that moment, my mobile rang. I took it out of my pocket and answered.
“Desmond?” Sarah snapped. “Where are you? Why are you so late home? You promised to put up those pictures tonight!”
“I just helped capture some gangsters who were kidnapping East European girls to force them into prostitution. I’m with the police now. I jumped up onto their van and they fired a shotgun at me and singed my hair. It’ll be in all the newspapers, maybe even on the telly news.”
“What are you talking about, Desmond? More of your stupid daydreams? Police? Gangsters? Have you been drinking? Do you realise you’ve missed Coronation Street?”
I cut the call while she was still talking, because Alison was moving away.
“Please, don’t go,” I said to Alison, touching her sleeve to call her back. She wasn’t wearing lots of make-up, and she had trousers and not a short skirt. But she was every bit as sexy as Rachel but in a totally different way. “Look, you’re probably married or in a relationship,” I began warily, prepared for the inevitable brush-off. “But if you’re not, would you like to come for a meal with me sometime?”
“Yeah, love to!” She smiled, looking at her watch. “I’ll be off duty in an hour, but since they’ll want to talk to you back at the station, we could meet up there. There’s a lovely boozer I know of, where they do good meals.”
“And maybe you could tell me how to apply to join the Met?”
“It’s a big decision.”
“I’m a decisive person.”
And suddenly, I realised it was true.