Police Constable John Clarkson was experiencing a feeling not unlike that of deja vu. The young, tall and dark-haired officer's stomach felt just as churned-up as it had been when he was a schoolboy and standing outside his headmaster's study waiting to be punished for an offence that he had committed, but now he was outside the office of his inspector, dreading the wrath that he felt sure would shortly descend upon him. He had to make a determined effort to prevent himself from trembling. Then he heard a familiar voice bellow through the door, “Come in!” Clarkson opened the door, walked into the room, and stood nervously on the threshold.
“You wanted to see me, sir?”
“Yes, Clarkson, don't just stand there, come in!” The tone was not overly aggressive. Perhaps, Clarkson thought, I might have been worrying too much.
The grey-haired and well-built inspector was leaning back in his chair. He didn't invite Clarkson to sit down, for which the young constable was extremely grateful considering the soreness that he would have felt if he had. “I've been hearing from your sergeant about your misadventure earlier this afternoon.”
“I see, sir.”Clarkson swallowed and steeled himself for the worst.
The next five minutes were spent in the inspector detailing to Clarkson what he had been told of the constable's experiences and in the constable confirming that the account that the inspector had been given was an accurate one, and that no items of his uniform or equipment had been stolen from him by the students who had assaulted him.
“You've well and truly been made a fool of, haven't you, Clarkson.” The words were a statement of fact, not a question.
“Yes, sir. I'm sorry. It won't happen again.” The young policeman's moustached upper lip had developed a nervous twitch that he could not stop.
“What exactly won't happen again?” The inspector leaned forward. His eyes narrowed as he asked the next question without waiting for Clarkson to respond to his first one. “Abusing elderly ladies or being deprived, albeit temporarily of items of your uniform clothing by students?”
“Both, sir.” The policeman replied in a nervous voice.
“You are quite sure that nothing was stolen from you during the assault?” the inspector asked.
“Absolutely sure, sir.”
“Good. That's what I wanted to hear. We wouldn't want a police radio in these students hands.” The inspector smiled disarmingly. “You didn't make any arrests. Why was that?”
Swallowing, the constable said, “At the time it seemed the best thing to do was to get back here and go out again with some back-up because they scattered in all directions. The sergeant told me though not to go out again until I'd spoken to you.”
“Very sensible of him. We're going to have to let them get away with assaulting you I'm afraid. It would cause too much embarrassment to the force if there was a trial. It could also lead to copy-cat assaults on other officers.”
“I see, sir.” Clarkson felt considerable relief. Having to detail to a court how he had been debagged and then spanked whilst trouserless by a gang of students after he had stopped a car full of elderly ladies that had driven the wrong way up a one-way street in the town centre would have been even more humiliating for him than the incident itself had been he considered.
“Now, before you go constable, there's something that I want you to do.”
The interview had gone much better than Clarkson had anticipated. In fact, he was beginning to wonder why he had been so afraid of seeing his inspector. “What do you want me to do, sir?” he asked, all traces of nervousness now gone.
Leaning casually back in his chair, the inspector said, “I want you to drop your trousers, constable.”
Two bright red spots appeared on Clarkson's cheeks, then his entire face suffused a deep red. “You want me to do what?”
“Tell me, how old are you?” The inspector asked.
“Really? So your deafness isn't age-related then?”
“I'm sorry, sir. I did hear what you said.” The constable's eyes were wide with disbelief. “I was just so ...well...shocked.”
“I didn't make a request, Clarkson. I gave you an order!” the inspector roared. “Get your trousers down man, now!”
“Yes, sir.” the constable fumbled with his utility belt, removed it, then unbuckled his trouser belt, and finally after unzipping his trousers dropped them down to his ankles. “Can I ask why you've made me do this, sir,” he asked timidly, his upper lip trembling once more.
“So that I can make a comparison,” the inspector said quietly as he picked up a photograph off his desk. “I want to ascertain if the man shown here, who is wearing what from the rear appears to be a police uniform shirt and has a ridiculously patterned pair of boxer shorts showing beneath his shirt-tails is you or not. Multi-coloured spots indeed!” He held up a photograph, printed on ordinary paper, curling at the edges, and instantly recognisable to the constable as being a rear-view image of himself, taken in the town's latest designated one-way street earlier that afternoon. “Now turn around!”
“I...err...I didn't realise that someone had taken a photograph of me,” Clarkson said, turning his head to look over his shoulder at the inspector. His fears had now not only returned but multiplied.
“It definitely is you then?”
“Yes, sir, it is.”
“This photograph was e-mailed by a news agency to HQ who immediately forwarded it to the Chief Super, who then forwarded it to me,” the inspector said. “I have absolutely no idea how many more there might be.”
“No, sir, nor have I. Like I said, I didn't realise that any had been taken.”
“Well, the Chief Superintendent no less is now busy trying to persuade the gentlemen of the press, the national press I would mention, not to publish the photo or an account of what happened to you earlier this afternoon.”
“Very good.” Clarkson did not know what else he could have said, but he immediately realised from the expression on his inspector's face that he had said the wrong thing.
“Very good! This is a disaster, you idiot!” the inspector bellowed.
“But, sir. I was assaulted!” the constable protested.
“From what I've been told you probably caused the incident yourself,” the inspector said in a slightly calmer voice than he had previously spoken in. He looked intently at the constable and said, “You're still serving your probationary period. You do realise that this incident could well go against you when a decision is made about your future?”
The fact had not entered the young policeman's mind, but nevertheless he replied, “Yes, sir I do.”
“If you are retained, the events of this afternoon will follow you around from station to station wherever you may go, and possibly for however long you remain on the force. You're going to become a laughing stock, and you'd better get used to it because it's going to take you a very long time to live down what has happened.”
“I expect that it will,” Clarkson glumly replied. “Is there anything else, sir or can I go now?”
“Go on, get out of my sight,” the inspector said in a disgusted tone.
The policeman quickly pulled up his trousers, and without fastening them picked up his utility belt and walked towards the door.
“Wait!” the inspector bellowed.
Clarkson turned and said, “Yes, sir?”
“I want a written report from you of everything that happened before you go out on patrol again. Understand?”
“Yes, sir. Certainly. I'll get started on it right away.”
The constable was sitting at a table in the canteen writing a report of the humiliating experience that he had suffered when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up and saw a slightly older fellow constable named Chris Butler standing over him. At exactly six feet tall the fair-haired constable was a few inches shorter than his colleague. A huge grin split his face. “Whose been a naughty boy then?” he asked. “Being nasty and sarcastic to elderly ladies I hear, then punished for it by a bunch of students.”
“Why don't you go and play in the traffic for once instead of directing it?” Clarkson said sourly.
“Sounds as if you're not very happy,” Butler said. “Obviously you didn't like getting a naughty boy's punishment!” he added, bursting into laughter.
Clarkson's pale face turned a deep shade of red. Glancing around and seeing that female officers were sitting behind him he said, “If they weren't there I'd tell you exactly where to go!”
“And here's me, come to give you a message,” Butler said as he was about to walk away. “If you don't want it though...”
“A message? Who from?” Clarkson asked. Surely the inspector couldn't expect his report to be ready yet?
“There was a phone call for you, while you were with the inspector. Something about lost property.”
“Lost property?” Clarkson repeated, frowning. “Nobody's mentioned anything about lost property to me recently.”
“He told me that he would phone back. Apparently it's something that you've lost this afternoon. He was a bit mysterious about it. Said that you'd understand, laughed, then rang off.”
“I haven't lost anything this afternoon,” Clarkson said in a quiet voice, almost to himself.
“Can't agree there,” Butler said as he was walking away. “You lost your dignity all right!”
Constable Clarkson had completed his report, handed it in to the inspector, and was about to leave the police station to go out on foot patrol in the town centre when the person who had left a phone message for him earlier called again. “Clarkson! Phone,” the desk sergeant called out as the constable was walking out of the door.
“Police Constable Clarkson here, who am I speaking to?” the constable said into the phone's mouthpiece.
“You could say a friend with your best interests at heart,” a young male voice replied, then laughed.
“Stop wasting my time and tell me what you want,” Clarkson snapped.
“I've got something of yours,”the caller said. “I thought that you might have missed it by now.”
“Something belonging to me?” Clarkson queried. “I haven't lost anything. You've obviously got the wrong person.”
“If you say so. You see though, I've got a small black wallet in front of me with a metal badge on one side and a photo on the other. It's a warrant card for a police constable called John Clarkson. Perhaps I should just hand it in to the police station.”
“No. You mustn't!” Clarkson had spoken so vehemently that the desk sergeant looked across at him.
“Thought you wouldn't want me to do that.” The caller laughed. “You'd be in big trouble wouldn't you, for having lost it?”
The constable did some quick thinking whilst searching his trouser pockets. He hadn't been wearing a jacket that warm afternoon and his warrant card should therefore be in the trouser pocket where he had put it at the commencement of his shift. It wasn't though! If his official police identification was handed in at the police station he would be in serious trouble. Not only for having had it stolen, but for not having realised that it had been. It had obviously been taken from his trouser pocket by one of the students who had been present when his trousers had been forcibly removed earlier in the afternoon. He really should, he thought, have checked his pockets immediately after his trousers were returned, noticed that his warrant card had been stolen and if he had been unable to recover it mentioned the fact immediately on returning to the police station, and made a note of the theft in his report that the inspector had asked for. A cold sweat broke out on his forehead when he recalled that the inspector had made a point of asking him if anything had been stolen from him and he had said decisively that it had not.
“Still there, constable?”
“Yes. How can I get it back?” he said quietly. He listened carefully as instructions were given directing him to go to one of a derelict row of houses in the town that were awaiting demolition then said, “But that's a squat.”
“Not any more,” he was told. “The squatters have moved out. What time can you come tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow? But I need it right now!” Clarkson hissed down the line.
There was a sound of laughter, followed by, “You'll just have to be patient. Oh and meet our terms to get it back.”
“How much do you want?” Clarkson asked.
“Oh we don't want money,” the man said. “Now, what time can you come? It'll have to be when you're on duty because we want to see you in your uniform.”He laughed, then added, “You looked so cute this afternoon stripped to your uniform shirt and boxers!”
A scowl came over Clarkson's face as he said, “I'm on duty at two o'clock, so it'll be not long after that, but I really need it before then...hello...hello...?” he realised that there was going to be no response. The caller had hung up on him.
“Problems?” the desk sergeant asked as Clarkson replaced the telephone receiver on it's cradle.
“Nothing I can't handle,” the constable replied, although the frown creasing his forehead indicated that he was concerned. As a uniformed police officer it was unlikely that he would be called upon to show his warrant card, but you just never know he thought to himself if circumstances might arise between now and tomorrow when I might have to. His warrant card was clearly in the hands of the students who had assaulted him earlier that afternoon. What was he going to have to do to get it back?
When Clarkson was going off duty later that evening and went to the male officers' locker room to change out of his uniform he was horrified to see a photo of him identical to the one that the inspector had shown him earlier that afternoon stuck to the door of his locker. He groaned with dismay as he snatched it away and ripped it up into small pieces. The following afternoon when he returned to his locker the photo had been replaced, and he was informed shortly afterwards by a smiling Constable Chris Butler that one had also been affixed to the canteen's notice board.Next chapter