It was hot. There were six of them squeezed into the rear of the van, packed in like pilchards so that the door had to be forced shut. Alec had dressed like the others in expectation of a chilly morning. Cheap nylon raincoats buttoned over black woollen tunics. Now, with the sun climbing a fine summer sky, the temperature had begun to rise. There was no room to take anything off and the rear doors didn’t open from the inside. There were occasional cries through the closed partition door for the driver to let some air in. These were largely ignored. Alec watched as Jim hammered on the door.
“Yer a fucking arse Alan. We’re cookin’ back here.”
It was no good. The door was made to stop prisoners breaking through to the cab and though Jim was well built, there was no room to lever himself against it. Alan’s voice came dull but distinct from the other side.
“No’ until ye apologise ya prick.”
Jim looked around the van with a big smile and nodded his head in the direction of the partition.
Alec looked around at the others. No one smiled back. They sat with hot faces, tunics unbuttoned, clip-on ties across their laps. He could feel Carol beside him, shuffling in a vain attempt to get comfortable on the hard bench seat. She threw a hot glance at Jim.
“Apologise for Christ sake…it’s getting hot in here”
Jim shook his head.
“No chance doll…just a bit of fun. Taigy bastard just wants to throw a huff.”
Alan’s muffled voice jumped in.
“Ah heard that.”
Jim looked to the ceiling of the van and counted to ten.
“Fine then. I apologise”
“What’s that? Can’t quite hear ye”
Jim cleared his throat. Alec willed him on, a trickle of sweat running down between his shoulder blades.
“Ah said, I apologise.”
“And what are ye apologising for exactly?”
“Oh for fucks sake…”
“Uh uh. Door stays shut ‘til you do it properly.”
Alec felt himself relax a little. The rest of the passengers smiled. The end was imminent. Just a matter of extracting the final drops from his foe and Alan would open the door. Then, the blessed relief of fresh air from the open windows of the front cab. Jim gathered himself.
“Okaaayyyy…I apologise for calling you a Taigy bastard. That better?”
There was a short pause. The door slid open.
Jim grinned. Alec breathed in the sweet air streaming in from the front cab. Everyone visibly relaxed.
“What ah meant to say wiz, yer a SMELLY taigy bastard…”
The door slammed across on its runners, but this time it did not close. Alec looked down to see Jim’s right boot wedged between the door and the frame. He grinned his best Terry Thomas grin.
Alan cranned round from the drivers seat to see what had prevented him sealing them in. He smiled when he saw the obstruction.
“Sticking the boot in. Typical ‘Son of Satan’. Hope ye’ve had a better wash today than those mongs oot there.”
Jim and Ronnie were nearest the door. Both squeezed forward to get a view of the street. Alec, taller than the rest, could just make out the world beyond the two large heads of the older cops. The orange parade was beginning to assemble. An assortment of young men in scarlet uniforms and military style caps mingled on the footpath, whilst teenage boys unfurled a large banner with King Billy embroidered on it.
Ronnie sat back.
“No sign of the bowler hats and hinger ons. We’ve got plenty of time yet.”
Alec rested the back of his head against the cool inside of the van. There was the sound of tuts and sighs as the others reconciled themselves to a long wait. The orange walk was a local one and reasonably well behaved, but the crowd that followed them were notoriously violent. A silence descended whilst each officer contemplated the possibilities ahead. It was broken by Carol.
“Did you shower before ye came to work Ronnie?”
Ronnie was middle aged and overweight, with a large handlebar moustache and gold rimmed spectacles. He peered over them at Carol, with his best schoolteacher expression.
“I bathed like Cleopatra young lady. In a pool of asses milk.”
Carol wrinkled her nose.
“It’s gone off then.”
There was raucous laughter. Ronnie laughed too, but there was a twinkle in his eye that was not altogether benevolent.
“That’s a lovely pony tail you’ve got there…”
Alec watched Carol’s eyes narrow. She knew Ronnie well enough to guess that there was something else coming. It was usually something sexual. She was pressed up against Ronnie and now tried her best to arch away from him.
“Ah like lassies with pony tails. When yer riding them, it gives ye something to hang onto.”
Ronnie began to imitate riding a horse, one hand on the reins, the other smacking the rump. Carol rolled her eyes.
“Fuck sake Ronnie. Gie it a bye. Last time you rode anything you had to feed it a carrot.”
Carol shook her head in resignation and looked over at Julie who sat silent, her face red with embarrassment.
Julie smiled but said nothing, her eyes on stalks trying to find a piece of the van interior to focus on. Carol smiled in a motherly way.
“Don’t worry. You get used to it. They’re mostly harmless. Except Gerry here. He’s a prick.”
Carol wafted a hand at the young cop opposite. He slouched on the bench next to Jim, black hair gelled back in a slick wave. He smirked and shrugged.
“Wrong star signs doll. Virgos and Sagittarians. Bad mix.”
Carol gave him a hard stare.
“Maybe I should tell yer wife that…”
Gerry sat bolt upright, smirk falling away from his face.
“Maybe you shouldnae…”
“Woah, woah, woah you two. Stick a sock in it.”
Ronnie had leaned his vast bulk forward. In the cramped dimensions of the van he dominated the space between the two officers now staring with venom at each other. He gave Gerry a hard look.
“That cock of yours is gonnae get you into bother young man.”
Gerry sat back. He turned his head toward the opened partition and fixed his attention on the outside world. Carol stared unflinchingly at Gerry.
Ronnie looked at both of them in turn.
“You two need to sort this oot. The back of a police van isnae the place.”
Carol and Gerry maintained their silent standoff. In the awkward silence the others found space on the van walls to focus their attention. Alec stared at the roof. In that way he hoped to avoid making eye contact with Julie, or be drawn to her slim figure sitting opposite and whose legs occasionally brushed against his in the cramped space. He couldn’t be sure whether it was the heat, the delicate smell of her perfume, the soft yielding of her calf against his, the sexual tension between Carol and Gerry, or a combination of all four, but he now felt aroused.
He began to count from a million backwards to take his mind of the subject and subdue the stirring between his legs. Somewhere outside, a bass drum began to beat. There was the shambolic clatter of cymbals and random flute playing as the band began to warm up. Alec became acutely worried that the van doors would be flung open any minute and he’d be forced to climb out, his budding erection there for all to see. Jim craned round the doorway to get a view of the outside world.
“That’s them nearly ready. Any sign of that useless wee dick yet?”
Alec could hear the sound of Alan tutting in the front cab.
“Now,now. That’s no way to speak about our glorious leader.”
“Glorious by fuck. Couldnae run a piss up in a brewery.”
The new sergeant wasn’t popular. He was young and new to the rank. The older cops resented taking orders from him. It hadn’t helped that he was uncomfortable in his own skin. For Alec he was a symbol of hope. If someone like him could get promoted….
To general mutterings and curses Alan and Jim had recommenced hostilities.
“Maybe you should tell the boy sergeant how it’s done Jim.”
“Aye. And maybe I will. Such a delicate wee flower though. Maybe he’ll burst oot greetin’.”
“We’ll…here’s yer chance. There’s his car now.”
Jim leaned further round the door to make sure Alan wasn’t taking the piss.
“Right enough guys. Here’s the wee fucker now.”
Alec gathered in his thoughts. It was time to assemble in the street. The imminent call to action had broken the spell. Everyone checked their uniform. Ties were clipped back onto shirt collars. An ecstacy of fumbling as each sought to button up their tunics. Alec could hear Alan climb out of the cab and slam shut the drivers door. Then there was the sound of Alan speaking to someone. The sergeant. Their combined voices at the side of the van as the walked to the rear doors. Then the screech of the handle and the creaking of hinges. Light flooded in.
Alec heard Ronnie talk quietly behind him.
“Ok. Remember. They are the knuckle draggers. We are the polis. Discipline and decorum. And no marching to the beat Jim.”
Somewhere behind him Alec heard Jim mutter a curse and then he was out onto the sunlit street, shielding his eyes with his cap. He watched as the others clambered out behind him, slipping on their hats in one fluid motion as they emerged onto the top step, each squinting against the unfamiliar brightness. They stood straight and tall as the Sergeant briefed them on their duties. Alec smiled at the transformation. Chins up, faces impassive, bearing erect. Each gave a respectful response to the sergeants directions. They walked to their respective points around the parade, each one self contained and disciplined. Though he looked hard for it in each face, Alec could find no trace of the earlier conversations in any of their features.
The bass drum boomed. The flutes trilled and the gaudy coloured band marched off. A motley crew of followers clad in rangers football tops clasped plastic carrier bags filled with buckfast and lager. Some broke into song, fists pumping the air to the beat of the big bass drum. Alec walked alongside. He made sure his steps were not synchronised to the beat. Up ahead, Ronnie kept the next junction clear for the band to march through. The silver buttons on his tunic shone, as with an imperious arm he held the traffic at bay. He nodded at the head steward as he passed. A police officer, clad in uniform respectability, maintaining at all times an air of discipline and decorum.
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