Annoyingly, it wasn’t as warm in the mornings yet as it had been twelve months earlier. The warmer the mornings, the more calories burnt on my pre-work walk. I got back to the house and checked my watch – five fifty-two am, and I’d managed to reach the castle ruins this time. The streetlights created an easy-going glow mixed with the rising sun. Town was quiet apart from the odd person trudging, head down to the bus stop. In my uni days this time of day would’ve filled me with a cocktail of regret, embarrassment and giddiness. These days though I wish it would stay like this twelve hours a day. I pushed the key into the front door lock, turned and opened. I stopped in my tracks before entering, holding the wall for balance after a momentary bout of dizziness. ‘It’ll pass. Just breathe.’ I told myself.
I walked into the kitchen, grabbed the bag of muffins and biscuits, for everyone down at the station, from the cupboard under the fridge and placed it at the front door so I wouldn’t forget. Next I switched on the kettle, then flicked it off just as quickly. ‘I’ll grab a coffee at the station, water will do for now.’ I winced from the glare of the fridge light as I begrudgingly opened the door and looked inside; two and half cans of Coke Zero, a Tupperware filled to the brim of uneaten chocolate bars, a pack of blueberries and nine strawberries in a bowl. I removed the fruit, grabbed another bowl and a knife off the drainer, sliced three strawberries in half placing them in the second bowl and dropped a handful of blueberries on top. I looked down in the bowl and exhaled. God I was tired. I closed my eyes for ten seconds, maybe more, maybe less. Once reopened I counted the blueberries – twelve. I picked two out. Then one more and placed the remaining fruit back in the fridge before walking to the living room and turning on the television. I slowly nibbled away at the strawberries, chewing loudly and washing them down with the water. I stared deeply into the television screen until my vision blurred. Something eventually pulled me away and I began working on the blueberries.
The shower ran, steam filling up the room. I stared at the reflection in the mirror, studying it meticulously. I pinched my cheeks, pulling the skin to the sides and released. I repeated this motion a few more times, before running my right index finger down the bottom of my jaw to half-way down my neck, pulling my jaw out to tighten any loose skin. Before entering the shower, I completed thirty star jumps and felt good for doing so. Behind the steam oozing out the window, traffic began building below. I could see a couple of neighbours eating breakfast at their kitchen tables. Eggs, bacon, toast. I felt happy for them that they could enjoy their meals in peace, but also proud of myself for not needing to live my life in such a way.
In the bedroom I dropped the towel wrapped around my body, keeping the one holding my hair in place. I patted my stomach stood in front of the mirror that covered the length of my spacious wardrobe. Once in my underwear, I applied cocoa butter to any excessively dry patches on my arms and legs, a little blusher to my cheeks for some colour and finally two eye drops to each eye, dabbing them lightly with a tissue to catch any residue. I stared at the hairdryer trying to find the motivation to use it but gave up quickly so half dried it with the damp towel and tied it back. Finally, I changed into a pair of grey tracksuit bottoms and threw on a navy blue hoodie.
The thought of going back to work after a few days off had the opposite effect to what I’d hoped three days earlier, although I was curious to find out if anything had come to light about the two murdered teenagers on the motorbikes. Such a strange circumstance. Buoyed by the fact I’d pushed myself on my walk earlier and had stayed dedicated with breakfast I walked confidently out the front door, bag of treats in hand, and drove to work.
I tried my best to bury the nauseating feeling the bleak brown, grey and jaded white exterior of the station stirred in the pit of my stomach but having to contend with the fluorescent lighting walking through the main entrance on top of that proved laborious. I kept my head down ignoring some altercation in reception and into the mess room, dumping the bag on the table closest to me. ‘Morning Jess, how were your days off?’ Asked Sergeant Rankin, who despite his ever-greying hair and deepening crow’s feet, still looked physically fit. ‘Good, thanks Serg. Hit the fells. It was good to get up there.’ ‘Is that all?’ I refrained from telling him about standing in a supermarket studying the calories on cereal boxes for over an hour. ‘Had no time for anything else.’ I replied. ‘You’re a health freak. You must eat like a horse to stop you from wasting away.’ I smiled, without replying. ‘Oh, don’t be so sensitive, that was a compliment.’ ‘Ok Serg.’ ‘You’ve missed all the action.’ He continued. ‘How so?’ I replied. ‘We’ve got a suspect for the murdered teenagers. The ones on the motorbikes.’ ‘Really?’ I was just thinking about them on the way in. Who’s the suspect.’ ‘Jack Underhill.’ ‘The name doesn’t ring any bells. Is he known?’ ‘Nope. Clean record too, well, up until now.’ ‘How are we tying him to the murders?’ I asked. ‘Anyone want a coffee?’ Called out Rob, a fellow officer, walking into the mess, heading straight to the kettle. ‘I will, thanks Rob.’ Answered Serg. Rob looked over at me waving a mug. ‘Yeah go on, thanks Rob. No sugar though, in fact leave it black.’ ‘Black? You usually have white.’ ‘I know.’ I replied, growing quickly embarrassed, ‘I like to put my own milk in, I have a specific colour I like my coffee to be. Silly I know.’ No worries.’ Laughed Rob, ‘My wife’s the same. Ooh nice, who brought biscuits?’ ‘I did. So, how did this Underhill become a suspect?’ I asked, turning my attention back to Sergeant Rankin. ‘He tried burning down a couple of campervans up at Derwent Water last night. Then drove down to Newby Bridge, got into an altercation of sorts in the petrol station and ended up confessing. He also claims he pushed the dead hiker off the summit of Helvellyn a little while back too.’ ‘What? Who the hell is this guy? What’s his motive for all this?’ I asked, glancing over at Rob putting teaspoons of granulated coffee into each mug. ‘Not sure. We sent a few officers round to his home, which is some caravan near Finsthwaite, but there was no sign. He’s not been seen since so we questioned his parents and friends first thing, who claimed they were totally oblivious. Apparently, it was clear by their reaction they were telling the truth, especially his Mother. We have a couple of officers driving to his place of work now to see if any of his colleagues know anything. I’ll get you to drive arou…’ ‘Rob, leave my cup, I’ll pour my own.’ I called out. My attention now transfixed back at Rob. ‘Rob. Rob.’ Rob began pouring milk into my mug. ‘FOR CHRIST SAKE ROB, I’LL POUR MY OWN.’ I yelled. Rob stopped and turned stunned. I could feel Serg looking down at me. I swallowed a lump as heavy as a lead weight and wiggled my nose to fend off the stinging building behind my eyes. ‘Sorry.’ I said, controlling myself. ‘I er, I asked you to please leave my brew alone.’ Rob nodded with a sheepish smile and walked out with his coffee. ‘Anything you need to speak to me about Officer Somerset?’ Asked Serg. ‘No, sorry Serg. Rough night and then I slept in yadda yadda yadda, you know how it is.’ ‘You sure?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Alright.’ He replied, unconvinced.
After apologising to Rob, I went to my locker and changed into my uniform. ‘When the hell are we supposed to be getting bigger lockers?’ I asked out loud to no one in particular. ‘Bigger lockers? We haven’t even got enough forks in the kitchen to go around.’ Replied Leanne who was polishing her boots in the far corner. ‘I can’t fit my uniform, jacket, along with my kit belt and stab vest in here, let alone my boots.’ ‘Take some home with you. I always take my trousers, boots and stab vest home.’ ‘We got told in that email we weren’t supposed to take half blues home in case we get spotted by slags with a grudge etcetera after that incident in Sandylands last year.’ ‘I know, but what else can we do? I ain’t leaving my uniform outside my locker, this place is worse than Moss Side for theft.’ I ran a finger over a photograph taped to the inside of the locker door, of my parents, sister and old family dog, taken a few summers ago. Then slammed it shut, not for any dramatic effect but because it hangs slightly to one side and needs good force behind it to shut properly.
Once our briefing was over, me and Dan were sent out to a 101 call at Ambleside Waterhead about an alleged assault that had taken place at a rowing boat hire. Upon arrival we could tell it was a storm in a teacup apart from a couple screaming and crying. As we approached, a short, elderly gentleman wearing thick glasses walked over with a limp and a grin on his face. ‘Hello, I’m Officer Somerset, we’ve been called about an assault.’ I began. ‘Assault?’ The man chuckled, ‘Fucking handbags more like. If that’s counted as an assault these days, we might as well nip the whole thing in the bud now.’ ‘And who are you sir? Were you involved?’ ‘Involved? In that shite? I’d be too embarrassed to get involved. I own these rowing boats. This is my business.’ ‘Did you see what happened?’ ‘Aye. That couple over there, the funny looking couple’ (he pointed to a small, rotund woman with dyed jet-black hair, crying hysterically, and a gaunt looking man with the one or two hairs he had remaining slicked back across his scalp, sobbing but trying to smile at the same time – both of whom looked as if they were in their fifties) ‘well they queue jumped in front of that family over there, (the family consisted of a stocky man in his late-twenties with short brown hair and muscular tattooed arms, a woman of similar age, slim figure with long brown hair and permanently pouted lips and a small girl of around ten wearing a pink tracksuit and pink baseball cap), the husband called them out on it. Then a small row broke out, which escalated. Then the funny looking fella squared up to the big lad, calling him an arsehole and this that and the other and started pointing in his face. The big fella tried to turn away, but the funny looking fella wouldn’t let it be so eventually the big lad nudged him ever so slightly out the way with his head and all hell broke loose.’ ‘Broke loose how?’ I asked. ‘Well the funny looking fucker starts acting hysterical, screaming, shouting, crying, then tries to laugh it off, only to start screaming again. I don’t think he’s quite right you know. Anyway, his carrying on sets his wife off, and she starts running around screaming and crying calling for the police and an ambulance. I think it was her who called you, but I can’t be sure.’ ‘So that gentleman over there headbutted that gentleman over there?’ I asked. ‘No headbutt, no. A small nudge. It was so insignificant it’s a joke that you’re here. If you’d seen it on a football pitch, you’d be calling the funny looking fella all to hell for play acting.’ ‘And you’re not just saying this to protect your business?’ I asked. ‘Protect it? Look around you love. I could have brawls everyday down here and I’d still make a killing hiring these boats out with this scenery.’ ‘Good point.’ I said, looking out across the shore. ‘Ok, thank you, Mr?’ Hemsworth, Chris Hemsworth.’ ‘Any relation?’ I asked smiling. ‘To who?’ ‘No one.’ I walked over to the hysterical couple, who seemed to have calmed down since our arrival. I walked past Dan questioning the family, overhearing the husband saying, ‘And then that retarded Steve Buscemi looking bell-end starts ramming his finger in my face. What would you have done?’ As I walked up to the couple the gaunt man tried to speak but instead whimpered. ‘Good morning, I’m Officer Somerset, I believe you’ve been involved in an altercation.’ ‘Altercation? My husband has been attacked. Viciously headbutted.’ Cried out the rotund woman in an Eastern European accent. I looked at the man’s forehead and face. Not a mark. ‘Are you ok sir? You don’t seem to be banged up which is a good sign.’ ‘He needs an ambulance. What if he has concussion? I’ve read horror stories. He could wake up dead.’ ‘I believe there’s one on its way. Do you feel dizzy sir?’ The man fought to catch his breath and replied, ‘I’m ok, just a little shaken.’ A tedious ten minutes of what was clearly an exaggerated account of their version of events followed. Dan questioned other witnesses who all made similar statements to Thor. All claiming there was no assault. Finally, I walked back over to the hysterical couple, who were now being given a once over by paramedics as a precaution, and told them that their statement didn’t match anyone else’s. At first, they reacted angrily and demanded arrests. I told them that wasn’t going to happen and explained if this was going to go any further, I would be looking into their statements that went against everyone else’s. That warning seemed to rattle them and eventually they walked away not wanting to take things forward.
Back in the car filling in our reports, a call came in over the radio. A man matching the description of Jack Underhill, driving a red pickup truck had smashed his way through traffic in Ambleside and was heading in our direction. Dan set off driving up towards the rugby club where we hoped we could intercept him. ‘Bravo Bravo Two, this is Foxtrot Lima eight seven. We are heading north from Ambleside Waterhead along the A5095 toward the rugby club.’ I radioed to the control room. ‘Roger that Foxtrot Lima eight seven, please be aware that the suspect is considered dangerous and is potentially armed. The armed response unit has been informed and is on its way.’ By the time we got to the rugby club there was no sign of the pickup, but from the carnage left in its wake we had a good assumption of the direction it’d gone. ‘Bravo Bravo Two, we are now heading west toward Skelwith Bridge on the A593 in pursuit of the suspect.’ He was obviously used to diving on the country roads, weaving in and out of traffic, knowing the adventitious stretches of road to overtake. Once at Skelwith Bridge we still hadn’t caught up to him. We had a split second to make a decision; keep on the same road toward Coniston or right toward Great Langdale. ‘This is Foxtrot Lima eight seven, we are continuing on the same road towards Coniston. We advise one of the patrols following takes the road to Great Langdale to broaden the search. Over.’ I radioed. ‘Roger that.’ Came a reply. A mile further up, we came across a building site on the side of the road that had debris knocked across the road. A couple of builders upon seeing us driving towards them pointed in the direction the suspect had taken. ‘This is Foxtrot Lima eight seven, we are now travelling on the lane to Little Langdale. Over.’ ‘Christ I’ve not driven up here in years.’ Said Dan, ‘Where the hell do you think he’s going?’ ‘Not sure, maybe up Wrynose and over toward the coast. Maybe he thinks he can lose us if he gets over the pass.’ We hurried through Little Langdale until we got to a small junction. Dan screeched to a halt. ‘Which way now?’ ‘It wouldn’t make sense for him to go toward Great Langdale, he’d only have to turn back sooner or later. I reckon we head up Wrynose, what do you think?’ ‘I’m happy to go with that.’ We set off once more, radioing our direction, weaving past Fell Foot farm and straight up Wrynose Pass. ‘Christ, I hope we don’t meet anyone coming up.’ Called out Dan. I noticed a pile of empty beer cans and bottles dumped on the side of the road. ‘Arseholes.’ I muttered, shaking my head. Dan didn’t reply, he was too busy trying to maintain speed while keeping a close eye on the sharp drop to our left.
Once at the top of the pass we noticed the red pickup abandoned in a makeshift layby. I jumped out searched the truck. Empty. ‘What the hell’s this guy doing?’ Shouted Dan, ‘Why’s he stopped?’ In the distance I could see a hiker with a backpack walking up into the fells. ‘Is that him?’ Asked Dan. I looked around noticing a couple of other cars parked nearby. ‘Maybe.’ I replied, looking around at the other fells. I can’t see anyone else and he can’t have got too far ahead. Fuck it, that must be him. Let’s go.’ Dan radioed to the other officers in pursuit who were still making their way to the top of the pass. The weather was worsening so we grabbed our jackets and began the chase. The thought of my walk earlier along with the light breakfast and the star jumps gave me an adrenaline rush and a certitude that I was going to gain on him. I used the hollowness in my stomach as added incentive to propel forward.
I began to gain on the suspect, but by doing so left Dan lagging behind. I knew where I was, I’d climbed these mountains a thousand times before, but wasn’t so sure Dan or the fellow officers, who now also out of their cars and on foot, had. Once I had reached the far end of Red Tarn the path split. I began taking the path to the left but was told to wait from another officer on the radio. ‘If I keep going, I can gain on him.’ I replied. ‘Officer Somerset, you’ll wait there until we are a unit.’ I begrudgingly waited for the others, becoming annoyed we were losing ground. On top of that I was growing cold from the excessive wind and rain as well as my cooling sweat. Finally, the others caught up. Some of them panting a little too hard. ‘Which way now?’ Called out Dan. ‘I reckon we head up that way?’ ‘Why?’ ‘If he went straight on then he’d have to drop down into the valley, but by going left and up towards Crinkle Crags he’d have the whole mountaintops to try and escape into. He’ll be thinking it’s easier to escape us if he climbs higher. Let’s go, he’s already leaving us behind.’ ‘Shouldn’t a few of us head straight on just in case? There are hikers over there too who could easily be him.’ ‘If you like, but I’m telling you, he’ll be going higher. I know I would.’ I marched on uninterested in what the others decided. I knew I was right and knew I could catch him. I heard a shout from behind and again on the radio but ignored it, I wasn’t to be held back a second time.
I marched toward the hiker ahead. With each step I gained I knew it was the suspect. He looked tired, wounded almost, and he didn’t look back once to take in the views. Near the summit of Crinkle Crags, the cloud descended into a thick fog. The visibility was poor. I looked down and could no longer see any of my colleagues. I scrambled and pulled myself up until I reached the rocky summit. I looked into the thick cloud and thought I could make out the shape of a man but couldn’t be sure. The wind and heavy rain gave me a throbbing headache and I feebly tried cupping my hands and blowing hot air into them. Despite chasing a potentially dangerous murder suspect, I bizarrely couldn’t help but think of the summer months ahead and all the great times I would have with family and friends on the fells. These thoughts seemed to keep me going. I began the descent off the other side of the summit towards Shelter Crags. It was imperative I caught up to him by then or he would have any number of directions to take, and in this weather, he could escape me with ease.
A hundred metres further along, I saw him. Crouched down, appearing to hold his ankle. ‘Police. Stay where you are.’ I shouted, only for the wind to carry my words east. ‘Police.’ I shouted once more. The suspect looked round. He looked at me for what seemed like an eternity, surprised that I’d caught him up. He attempted to run but kept stumbling, the weight of his rucksack was pulling him from side to side in the wind. Clearly realising this was hindering his escape he threw it off and began moving more freely but was still limited by his injured ankle. I was able to gain on him more and more. I removed my baton and mace from my kit belt, dropping the mace after stumbling over a rock. I picked myself up, winded, looking down at my right hand that was now cut from attempting to protect my fall. I got to my feet and continued. I had no idea how this was going to end, all I knew was that I had more energy, more mental strength than him. Then it happened, just like that. He slipped and fell into the cloud. It was so thick it looked as if it would catch him, like landing on a soft, feathery duvet. I scrambled over to look for him. I saw the body twenty feet down. It wasn’t the highest fall, but the descent was jagged and brutal. I scrambled down, nervous I was going to fall myself. When I reached him, he was conscious – just. He had an awful wound to his head with blood pouring from it, and by the positioning of his body you could tell he’d broken a couple of bones. ‘Jack. Jack, this is Officer Somerset. I’m going to help get you down. Try not to move.’ I called on the radio, but it was dead. I looked down noticing it had been damaged from my fall. ‘Shit.’ I tried to tend to his wound, but my fingers were so cold I could barely feel them. Pathetically I tried to shake them into life, but they were as useless as my radio. ‘Ok Jack, I’m going to get help. There are other officers right behind us, I’m going to tell them where we are. Ok?’ He looked up at me and tried to whisper something but struggled for breath. I bent down, trying to get my ear close enough to his mouth. ‘What was that Jack?’ The wind dropped and I could hear his breathing as deeply as when you place your ear into a seashell. ‘I gotta get up. I gotta protect. Take me to Faye’s.’ He coughed and spluttered, ‘I’ll be alright if you get me to Faye’s. I just gotta rest a…’ A strange exhale left his mouth preventing him from finishing his sentence. I looked down at him and watched his head relax and roll into his left shoulder. I checked for a pulse on his neck, then his wrist. Neither gave me any sign. I don’t know why but I squeezed his hand. I wasn’t sure if that was to comfort him or me.
Once I’d gone back to find the others, we lifted the body back up. And carried him to safer ground. The torrid weather began to pass over and we were able to call the Mountain Rescue for assistance.
Back in our vehicle we threw our jackets into the boot, blasted up the heat and sat a while until our fingers became swollen and unbearably itchy from the contrasting heat. ‘Well that’ll be some report we’ve got to write back at the station. It’ll more like Bravo Two Zero.’ Said Dan. ‘Yeah. We won’t forget this one in a hurry.’ I replied. ‘What do you think caused this guy to murder those two young lads?’ ‘I have no idea.’ ‘Do you reckon he pushed that hiker too, or do you think he just claimed it cos he was a psycho?’ ‘Again, I have no idea. He whispered something about protecting though.’ ‘Protecting what?’ ‘I shook my head slowly and looked out the window noticing a bag of dog muck thrown into a stream. ‘I tell you what though, we could do with someone protecting this National Park of ours, it’s a mess.’ ‘That’s true.’ Agreed Dan, ‘Anyway, let’s get back to the station and into some dry, clean clothes and get the kettle on. We’ve also got those muffins to eat when we get back.’ ‘I had one before I left the house this morning, they were a bit too sweet for me.’ I answered. And with that we set off making our way back.