No-one had seen nothing. It was all PC Mick Talbot had heard that afternoon on the Shelley estate, although rarely in so many words. Instead it came to him through grille-fronted doors slammed in his face, rueful shakes of the head, or simple refusals to answer his increasingly leaden knocks.
Three dead in as many weeks and still no-one was talking. Rat poison, the toxicologist had confirmed. If they found the dealers, or better still the stash, they could do something – but years of working this beat had taught him that the odds were stacked against them without inside help.
Mick sighed. The sky was thick and grey and the first drops of rain were beginning to darken the asphalt. He’d do a quick check of some of the more common hiding places then head home, where Julia would be waiting for him with a beer and a shepherd’s pie.
“Scuse me mister.”
Mick’s hand jerked backwards to the handle of his baton, then relaxed as he saw who was calling him. He’d seen the boy cycling round the estate throughout his enquiries, a skinny, sticky-looking lad who could have been anything between seven and thirteen. His hair was cut close to his scalp, and he wore an off-white vest and loose cargo pants that had clearly originally been bought for someone else.
“You a copper?” the boy asked, a hesitation in his voice. In his uniform and custodian helmet Mick could hardly deny it, but the question put him on edge. With a tinge of guilt at the assumption, he mentally ran through the content of his duty belt, just in case.
“What’s it like?”
The question surprised Mick, and he tried to answer truthfully. “I enjoy it. It’s hard work. But sometimes you get a result and it’s worth it – you scare off some attacker, or get someone’s things back after a robbery.”
The boy nodded slowly. He was looking at the ground, at the huge metal bins, anywhere but at Mick. There was something the boy wanted to say, and Mick chose his next words carefully. “Has anyone ever asked you to do them a favour? Take something somewhere for them?”
“A package? A parcel? Anything like that?”
The boy thought for a moment then shook his head. “No, sorry.”
“It’s alright,” said Mick, trying not to let his disappointment show. He checked his watch. There wouldn’t be anything to be found. He could just go home. “What’s your name, mate? I’m Mick.”
The boy didn’t reply. Old suspicions died hard, Mick thought, a childhood of being taught to see the police as the enemy who might take you, your father, or your brother away, never justified no matter what they’d done. He crouched and pulled out a small rectangular card. “Tell you what, if you ever fancy finding out more about being a policeman, give me a ring and I’ll show you around the station.”
The boy stepped off his bike and let it clatter to the ground. He approached Mick in small, uncertain steps – probably the first time he’d ever deliberately got near to a copper, Mick thought. He took the card from Mick’s outstretched hand, then swung his leg back and planted a kick in Mick’s groin.
Mick spluttered as the pain blazed through him.
The boy spat, saliva mixing with the raindrops, fatter now, and he reached into the large green metal bin, pulled out a bag packed with white powder, then in one movement picked up his bike, swung himself onto it and pedalled away, leaving Mick gasping on the ground as the sky opened above.