There are pubs for all sorts of people. There are pubs for cops, sportsmen or criminals. There are pubs for politicians and barristers. There are pubs for the Irish and the Scots. I suppose I should drink with other policemen, but I don’t often feel like it. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I want to commiserate and bemoan the state of the world, to listen to the self-satisfied assertions that we’re the thin blue line against the chaos.
Most of the time I drink somewhere else.
There’s a pub in Camden where the freaks and the geeks, the trannies and the fetishists, the queens and would-be artists like to get together before and after they go clubbing and it’s here. Amongst the freaks that I get to actually feel vaguely normal. They’re a surprisingly accepting bunch and they know to leave me alone. The music’s atrocious, but I feel that way about all music, so that’s not a big problem for me.
The best thing about it is, with a clientèle of students and starving artists, the drinks are cheap – at least by London’s standards. That means I can afford the decent whisky long enough to get me too drunk to care about the cheap crap. Once you’re numb, even supermarket vodka tastes fine. You’ve just got to get there first.
I was working on getting there.
I’d managed to camp out a seat at the bar before the black-clad night people emerged from their clubs like bats and by the time they swirled in around me bickering and having loud, melodramatic, teenage drama I was already half-cut.
“ROUGH DAY EH?” The barman, Bob, shouted over the caterwauling music.
“YES,” no point saying much more, finesse wouldn’t be heard over the deafening hubbub.
He took the bottle down from the optics and filled my glass, waving away the twenty I tried to give him. Bob earned himself a place as patron saint of drunk cops in my personal pantheon.
I drank until Bob closed up. He let me stay an hour after and I worked my magic, making most of the rest of the bottle disappear. Even Bob’s largesse runs out after a while though and then you’re out on the street in the evening air with the rest of the drunks, the tramps the cleaners and the freaks. My people.
What was waiting for me at home? Fuck all really. A broken kitchen window and neighbours I should be arresting for one thing or another. I didn’t feel like going back there so I just wandered all through the night. I remember some of it. Finding a late-opening bar that kept me drunk until five in the morning. A garage where I picked up some B&H and a small bottle of awful Canadian whiskey that tasted like molten earwax. I remember a kebab and I remember being sick but apart from that a lot of it is a hazy blur until I was coming to, halfway through a four-pack of Red Bull with the sun coming up over the houses.
I had the Godzilla of hangovers. I was exhausted. I stank. My face was as rough as wholegrain granary toast and I was busting for a piss something chronic. I was also angry. Really, really, really fucking angry. I took a hosing slash in the bushes next to a drive-through KFC and bought a cheap coffee and that made me feel a lot better.
The Corsa was back home, where it belonged. I was in no fit state to drive anyway. I had to take the tube back to the station and some early commuter must have taken pity on me because when I woke up at my stop, some well-meaning fuck had put a two pound coin in my cup, that I nearly swallowed. That just put my anger over the top. I kept it and I used it.
No matter how bad I stank my warrant card got me into the station and I swayed my way to my desk, falling back into my seat with a thump and took care to make several, very deliberate, coffee-ring stains on the table before I passed out.
I woke up after, maybe an hour, with Cord wafting a cup of bitterly gag-inducing coffee under my nose. “Ugh, fuck, green lipstick Cord, really?”
“You alright Sir?” She pressed the hot polystyrene cup into my hand and I gave it a shot, but it was foul.
“They’re out of the good stuff again I suppose?” I grimaced and set it aside. My face must have looked like one of those old Tom and Jerry cartoons when they eat some Alum, whatever the fuck that is.
“Yeah, sorry…” She actually, genuinely looked contrite.
“Is DCI Baker in yet?” I grumbled, standing up. The shift must have wafted some of my funky street smell her way because Cord visibly paled and held her hand in front of her nose.
“He should be, it’s eleven.”
“Christ…” I gulped back the coffee, holding my nose, and slapped my face a couple of times to wake up. “Right, I’m going to see him. Hold the fort Cord and, uh, thanks, I guess. For the coffee.”
The nap had robbed me of some of that ‘wrath of god’ anger I’d been feeling but the headache I still had and the long walk to Baker’s office brought a lot of it back. I didn’t knock I just waltzed right in, leaving the door ajar behind me. Startling Baker as he sat behind his desk, tapping away at the computer like a life-long secretary, the smug shit.
“Stane? What the hell do you think you’re doing just walking in here? I could have been in a sensitive meeting!” He sniffed the air. “You’re drunk. You stink. Just who the hell do you think you are? You’re on duty. You have a duty to uphold certain standards, to reflect the force in a good light!”
I shut the door while he ranted away, all bluster and public-school diction.
Then I gave him a slap. That shut him up, at least for a moment.
“Baker. The Penfold case. It’s bollocks. You know it’s bollocks. That’s why you put me on the case. That’s why Jones’ is watching over me. That’s why you’ve given me an MIT made up of fucking kids…”
He raised his voice, started forming a word, I think it was going to be ‘How dare you?’ but I cut him off with another slap. “I’m not done talking you fucking cockweasel. You listen to me for once.”
“You think I’m fucking stupid? I checked the records. Jones works the child porn cases and him and his little gang of mates have a hardon for busting the nonces. Must be frustrating when things don’t go their way eh? I bet it gets so frustrating they stamp their little feet and if someone’s head happens to be under it at the time… well, can’t be helped, right”
“I don’t think…” I slapped him again. He didn’t seem to be able to believe someone would do that to him. He wasn’t even trying to defend himself. It was like it was a bad dream or something for him.
“Jones’ tried to keep me from seeing the CCTV footage, but everyone keeps digital backups these days. So all I had to do was go back, flash my warrant card and get them to tell me all over again. Blamed it on computer error. People will believe anything if you say that.”
He raised his hand and I grinned. It was nice to be dishing out the shit for once. “Yeah, you can speak.”
“Why the fuck do you care Stane? What’s it to you if one unprosecutable child molester gets stamped to death?”
I blinked at him, stared into his affronted face and shook my head. “If I told you all human life is precious and everyone deserves our protection you probably wouldn’t believe me and I don’t know that I would either. No, I’m happy to sit on this one for you and have it go unsolved. Like you said, nobody gives a shit about a dead nonce.”
“Then,” he spread his hands over his desk, wary that I was going to slap him again. “Why do you care?”
“I care because you’re treating me like a cunt. You didn’t think I’d work out what was going on. You did everything you could to make sure I wouldn’t. You thought I was incompetent, washed up. I’m fucking not, am I Baker? Am I?”
“No,” he admitted. “You’re not.”
“So, I’m going to keep all this information in a nice safe place, just in case, and you’re going to bring me back in permanent. You’re going to get me an assistant, and I don’t give a pint of bear’s jism if they’re scared or superstitious. I need someone to do my donkey work.”
“Blackmail Stane? Really?” His brow furrowed deep and he seemed to regain some of his dignity, getting back up onto his feet. “Sure you wouldn’t like a promotion too? Perhaps a cake?”
I flipped a B&H into my mouth, I was going to need a smoke after this. “No Baker, I’m not greedy. That’s all I want.”
“Alright then. I don’t like it, but I can live with it,” the cheeky cunt had the temerity to offer me his hand to shake, to seal the deal. I reached for it, but stopped, just short.
“Oh, there’s one last thing guv.” I slapped him again, hard, knocking him off his feet onto the blue carpet tiles. “Never underestimate me again.”
I slammed the door behind me as I left. This, was going to be the best cigarette ever.
Now where was my damn lighter?