When I saw the drowning policewoman, I screeched my car to a halt, leapt out, shrugged off my jacket and shoes.
And ran hell-for-leather along the beach into the sea.
I’m a strong swimmer, but I knew I couldn’t get to her in time, as I saw her head go under the waves once more. But then, as I swam faster than in any of the swimming competitions I’ve ever won, rescue came, as I saw another man appear beside her, and lift her face clear of the water.
By now I was within reach, and could see that apart from stopping her sinking, the guy was struggling – he had no idea how to move her to shore. So I came to her other side, and, using my life-saving training, between us we managed to drag her into the shallows.
Then, as my feet hit sand and pebbles, the other man yelled, “Well done, mate, over to you!” and ducked underwater, leaving me to struggle with her alone.
It was fine, because by then at least four police officers were running up the beach to meet us, and she was soon taken into their charge. Friendly clasps to the shoulder followed, all the enquiries about me were fielded away, as I watched them perform CPR and bring their police colleague back to consciousness. Their radios crackled with news of the paramedics’ imminent arrival.
Only then did I take stock of the situation.
As I had been driving past, I had seen all the police cars with blue lights flashing assembled in the car park, and a number of officers climbing along the old disused pier, which had been fenced off from the public since its end section had been washed away last year.
I heard scraps of their conversation: “We nearly got him – he’d smashed his way onto the old pier and was running along, but then he seemed to vanish somewhere. Jackie fell through a rotten floor plank.” He nodded his head towards me. “Luckily this bloke rescued her.”
So it was a manhunt. And the object of their search was still out there somewhere. . .
Then came the more relaxed views of a senior officer who had just arrived, talking loftily: “Never mind, we’ve as good as got him now. He’s got nowhere to run. Roadblocks all around the area. We’ve searched the pier thoroughly, so he must be in the water. He’s got to come ashore eventually, so all we have to do is spread out along the beach and then watch and wait.”
The next handshake was more than warm. “We can’t thank you enough, sir, for what you did,” said a cheery officer with apple-red cheeks and a shock of red hair. “We couldn’t really see what was happening from up there, except that she was thrashing around on her own. A couple of us were about to dive in, but what a relief when we saw you were dragging her back. None of us are strong swimmers, see, and we knew that the current’s dangerous. Fred recognised you as that champion swimmer from the telly. Without you, I dread to think what might have happened. . .”
“Well it wasn’t just me—”
“It was, my friend, no need for false modesty – it took real courage to brave them currents.”
What made me accept all the credit for Jackie’s rescue? Some inner voice in my head made me smile and nod and take all the credit. And to say nothing about the man who had really saved her life.
“Least we can do is to find a car to take you home,” the red-haired policeman said. “You need to get into some warm dry clothes sharpish. . .”
“No, really, I’m fine, you’ve all got more than enough to do,” I protested, backing away. “My car’s just over here, and I only live around the corner.”
So saying I jogged back to find my car just as I’d left it, driver’s door wide open, jacket slung across the seat, shoes on the ground.
My car key fob had been soaked, but to my relief, the engine started, and I eased off the handbrake and put it into gear.
“Okay, turn the engine off, I give in,” said a tired voice behind me, as I registered the sound of a man panting with exhaustion. “While the coppers were all occupied looking after the girl, I managed to dodge back up the beach further along. When I saw your car door wide open I just made a beeline for it, and hid under this coat on your back seat. Had an idea of hijacking the driver but seeing as how it’s you I just can’t be arsed. Enough is enough.”
I looked around, and recognised the face that had been beside me in the water ten minutes ago.
“I’m finished,” he muttered sadly. “And you’re that swimmer off the telly, aren’t you? You’d lose your job, or sponsorship or whatever it is, if you got into trouble with the law. So I’d best give myself up now.”
“Get back under the coat!” I hissed at him, noticing one of the policemen grinning as he walked towards me.
“Look, mate, there’s no need,” he went on, even so, diving under the coat again. “They’re going to send me down for a long while this time. I just gotta accept it.”
“I don’t understand,” I asked him, relieved to see the approaching policeman change direction. “You could have got away easily just now, you had a diversion. While they were all busy squabbling about who should dive in and try to rescue her you could have slipped away.”
“I know, stupid bugger that I am, that’s what I should have done, it was a God-given opportunity!” he went on angrily. “But when I saw her there, in the water, even though I knew I was going to get caught, something came over me and I just knew I had to help her. See, in that moment she stopped being a lousy copper, she became just another poor bastard who was fighting for her life, just like I was fighting for my freedom.”
I nodded, moving off, smiling back at the three officers who were stationed at the car park entrance, beaming at me as if I was their best friend. They made a big deal of stopping the traffic and waving me through.
The first road block was tricky, but when I explained who I was, and how I’d just left the beach, the officer nodded as he talked on the phone, and waved me through.
“Motorway is our best bet,” I said to my concealed backseat passenger. “We can be in London in a couple of hours.”
“London?” he answered in excitement. “That would be magic! I’ve got mates there who can help me.”
“And you’ll be a needle in a haystack.”
“A tiny needle in a huge haystack,” he agreed cheerfully as we settled into the journey. “But listen mate, I don’t understand. You don’t know me. You don’t even know what I’ve done. Yet you’re risking landing yourself in a shedload of trouble to give me a break.”
“Yeah, I know I’m a fool for doing it,” I agreed, accelerating out of the sliplane into the motorway traffic.
“See, mate, I tell you, I’m no angel. I’m a robber mainly, got away with a lot of things for quite a while, though I never hurt no one. Them coppers are after me ’cos I’ve done some really bad stuff.”
“So have we all,” I told him. “But just now, you did some really good stuff, didn’t you?”
“Yeah.” He gave a short laugh. “I suppose I did. Who’d have thought it?”
(image courtesy of Tim Hill, from Pixabay)