A hard day or two stuck in a ditch, watching, waiting. Ice cold rain trickles from my wax jacket into a now sudden overall; filling my boots. You can’t walk off for a piss or knock a door to use the facilities. The heavy weapon makes my arm shake. Watching with tired concentration, occasionally broken by a parading cat. Putting the red spot on a passing fox, like a firefly; for something to do. Dropping the light in front of a cat on the grass, where the tremble of my hand assists with a tiny red dance. Minutes pass then the cat moves on, he doesn’t know what boredom is. I am back to watching down the barrel of a gun. A sandwich bag serves as my waste receptacle; it always has made me retch.
However many stakeouts and undercover jobs you take part in, each one holds it’s own horrors. The cramp and boredom, the urge for the pan, the cat that blows your cover, by playing with a light from the scope; as a kitten would do with a mouse. An occasional fit of coughing can expose you to danger, or simply a ditch filling with rain. In the summer the thirst and smell, the sun that makes your blacks feel like an electric blanket soaked in sweat.
This night was freezing, my partner pressed over my shoulder and lay across my back to try and transfer body – heat. Hail and snow filled the ditch, our teeth chattered and hands shook. Not a movement or a flicker had been seen for two days. We knew the subject was in there… but nothing. The van kitted up was two streets over, they tried to keep us awake with lewd jokes and taunts of snacks, crisp bags rustling.
At Five am we are eventually replaced. Relief came crawling on their bellies from the bushes behind us. Heat and pain shot through our muscles after being unused for days. Every sinew stretched or tightened beyond belief; it was excruciating. Balaclava’s down, safety on, we slither out of sight, only sorry for the stench and state of the hole we vacate.
A hot shower and clean uniforms, and food at headquarters soon refreshed and refuelled us. He had my back, my life, literally in his hands and his in mine; the way it was, it should be. The tiredness began to take over us, showing the pallor of our skin. We sat at our lockers without a word, I retrieved the hip flask from its secreted place; nodded and passed a slug of scotch between us. Wearily we left, both hoping the pager didn’t sound for at least twelve hours. But all the time knowing if it did we’d be there in a flash; no question.
On my arrival, the house was busy, kids nudging, shoving, muscling in on plates of toast and cereal. The noise of the chatter assaulted my ears as they all spoke or sang at once, clattering cutlery, clanging, arguing about shoes and bags. She lifted her head and scowled as if I’d been on a jolly. “Hi, did you get them?” Standing in her wrap, and silly bear feet slippers, the pair the kids gave her for mothers day. I can’t speak, so I shake my head. She snorts and under her breath…”Another waste of time” she mumbles and bangs down the knife; I take myself without a word up to bed. The bed we once slept in together and planned our lives; long before.
Four in the afternoon I wake, the house is silent, my first thought is the job. The team, did they pull it off? Had it been a waste of resources? Dressed and out, I spend the next four hours dissecting the case, celebrating the capture. Like a fraternity we came together, with a rugby club attitude, we worked and played to the exclusion of all others. We covered each others lives every day, we covered each other’s backs, like brothers or family, we pulled together a team, a solid unit.
Raucously wild we were, we cleared the bar, a nightmare some said; seen as elite and privileged. So together we built a wall and stood strong. For years, we held fast, until one by one we fell, burned out, broken or just exhausted. The heat of the chase, the adrenaline of the hunt, the pride of the capture; now gone. Disbanded, scattered, here we were trying to resume a life, one long forgotten, left behind. We had to find our normal, but where it was, not many of us knew.
We were expected to be civilians; but for most of us, security guards, prison officers, or driving instructors, were the only jobs out there. Lowly paid positions, with no use for our years of accumulated skills. On television and in exciting books, we’d be private investigators or mercenaries; we’d command a wage and be respected. Once again we’d use our close protection skills, our years of weapons training, advanced driving, and our covert undercover skills would still be of use- as we would be. In the real world, the jobs aren’t there; the excitement is gone and you are yet another jobless person, a has-been .
It is obvious now why we didn’t do so well, once we were surplus to requirement. Families had found their way without us around, kids were women and men with dreams, adventures of their own. Wives subdued, tired, unable to give up the ground they had earned through hard work, love, and consistency. Grown men, strong men, they crumbled, marriages broke, men unable to function were lost. Divorce, suicide, mental breakdown and depression, all the above; claimed fifty-five percent of the team. But once protectors, Police Men, rescuers of many; with lives full of adventures; egos as big as skyscrapers. We try to find new ways, new lives, it was hard but had to be done. Friendships tangled with jobs and families, adventures, adrenaline; and now only the emptiness. No one left to cover my back.
© 2016, Ellen Best. All rights reserved.
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