The usual bedlam down in the custody suite; a constant flow of human traffic; stony-faced solicitors, civilian processors and a queue of officers waiting to book in their handcuffed charges. A squabble of raised voices and the booming slam of distant doors. As soon as one body is processed another jostles forward to take its place; as one telephone is picked up and silenced another immediately begins to ring.
Gorman and Ndekwe push their way through the throng of bodies in the admissions office, and head down to the cells. It is cooler here, but despite the hum of the air conditioning there is the clinging stink of vomit and stale bodies. A dull banging from somewhere further down, a voice raised in cracked fury:
- I WANT MY SLISSITOR! I WANT MY FACKING SLISSITOR! CAM TO THE DOOR, YOU FACKING CANTS!
The two officers walk past doors of heavy blue steel. Ndekwe adjustes his pace to accommodate that of the older man.
- Shepherdson’s the old guy, Gorman tells him. - They’re both trying to put their hands up, but McKenzie’s the collar, I reckon. Looks like he’s one of Stewart’s boys.
- Yeah? Where does Shepherdson fit in then?
- He was with McKenzie when he got lifted. In Hull, of all places. We brought the pair of them back yesterday.
- Shepherdson’s from up that way, originally. Looks like he’s been trying to help get the lad away.
- Why would he do that?
- Frightened, probably. My guess is McKenzie put the arm on him. Seems like the old boy owed him a few quid.
Ndekwe considers this for a beat.
- Are they known to us? he asks.
- McKenzie’s got a bit of form as a juvie: possession, riotous assembly, suspicion of handling stolen goods. Not a serious player; not in the CrownHeights crew anyway. Never heard of the old man before. Nothing on him at all.
Ndekwe nods, sets his face to a serious frown and bites his bottom lip to keep the grimace from forming. He feels slightly uneasy when Gorman throws words like “crew” and “player” around. He can’t be totally sure, but Ndekwe gets the distinct impression that Gorman makes a point of using these phrases when he is in the presence or earshot of black officers. On his first day at the nick Ndekwe had overheard Gorman in the staff canteen loudly informing a CO19 Sergeant that it was “time to end this beef” and that they should “get the straps out”.
Gorman stops at a door: J.H. SHEPHERDSON
Ndekwe tilts open the suicide hatch and peers inside. A prone figure on the bed wrapped in a dark blue blanket; a shock of greasy sandy-grey curls at one end and two grubby grey socks at the other. A laceless pair of battered shoes set carefully to face the far wall, side by side. The blanket rises and falls; a laboured wheeze that builds to a serious of ragged exhalations,suddenly erupting into retching coughs.
- Ahjesusfugginchrist …
The figure rolls over to face the wall, pulling the blanket more tightly around him.
Ndekwe shuts the hatch and looks at Gorman.
- He don’t sound too clever.
- Doctor gave him the all-clear before we questioned him. He won’t be running the marathon this year, but yeah, he’s well enough. Needs to pack the fags in though.
Gorman gestures for them to move on. They pass another three blue doors until they reach: C.N. McKENZIE
They stand either side of the name. Ndekwe looks at Gorman. - Your money’s on this one, yeah?
- His story holds together. The other guy’s a fantasy merchant.
Ndekwe tilts the hatch. The boy is sat bolt upright on the edge of the bed, upper body rocking gently back and forth, hands drumming against the tops of his thighs. Ndekwe guesses late teens, early twenties. His eyes flicker towards the door at the noise of the sliding metal, then fix themselves back steady on the wall as the body beneath them shudders.
Ndekwe tries to equate the snoring bag of rags in the room three doors away with this agitated young kid.
- What was it over? he asks.
- Money, basically. Gorman scratches the back of his head and feels wet skin. He is beginning to perspire. It is warm down here under the station, the air trapped and heavy. He plasters a few stray strands of pale ginger hair down across his forehead. – And McKenzie’s alleged that Stewart and the rest of the crew raped his sister.
Ndekwe looks sharply: - And did they?
Gorman pulls a sour-faced sneer, shakes his head in the negative.
- Halliwell and Frampton visited the family last night. The sister flatly denies it. Our guess is he’s trying to go for mitigating circumstances.
- Who’s the brief?
- Said he didn’t want one. We put the duty in with him, but he hardly said two words to her.
- And we’ve not charged him yet?
- Not yet, no. Still interviewing. We’ve got till Wednesday though.
Gorman is talking, but Ndekwe is only half listening. A muffled bell is chiming somewhere. Something about the kid’s face in profile seems vaguely familiar. He looks again through the hatch, tries to reframe the boy into some firmer context; a witness box, an interview room, a street corner, the back of a police car. But no solid connection is made. Ndekwe wills the young man in the cell to turn his head so he can get a better look at him. He feels a sudden urge to bang on the door, to startle McKenzie into movement, force him to look fully in his direction. But McKenzie just sits there, seemingly still but quietly vibrating, his hands beating an endless tattoo on his knees, rocking back and forth, back and forth, staring sightlessly ahead.
Gorman is asking Ndekwe a direct question. Something about Halliwell.
- Sorry, sir?
- I said are you OK with Halliwell?
- Oh yeah, says Ndekwe. – Yeah, absolutely.
- Good, says Gorman. - Take him, and who ever else you need. Frampton’s a safe pair of hands.
It takes Ndekwe half a second to realize the full import of these words: Gorman is putting him in charge of the case. His first job as a DS. He snaps the hatch shut on McKenzie, on the inklings of recognition, focuses his mind back into the present.
- Yes, he says, yes, no problem.
- Good man, says Gorman. – Right, let’s get you up to speed. He fishes around in his pocket, pulls out a handkerchief, wipes the back of his thick pink neck. It’s too cosy for Gorman down here. He can feel damp patches forming on his shirt.
Detective Inspector Graham Gorman turns on his heel and strides away up the corridor. Ndekwe follows, quickening his pace until he falls back into step with his senior officer.
We've got 5 copies of Swear Down to give away. To win one, simply answer the question in the comments below and we'll pick the winners at random. Competition closes on Fri 26 April 2013.
What was the title of Russ's first novel?
A) Scream if you want to go faster
B) The Sisters Brothers
C) Winni The Pooh