by Don Stoll
I wonder about becoming a copper.
Seemed clever when I signed on. Tossing bad chaps in the nick’s got to be a good
thing, right? But the line between good and bad’s not always drawn where it should
of becoming a copper could have bought
an electric guitar and banged away with somebody like the Ramones. Bang on a
guitar, bang my head. Bang you any way you like. Bang you some ways you’re
afraid to ask for, luv.
of all that by finding the
Ramones on the jukebox: “Swallow My Pride.”
of how often being a copper
forces me to swallow my pride. Yeah, I don’t bang black heads together like a
proper copper. But just being a copper makes me part of the problem.
was out with Sylvain, wanting a good
time. I asked him for 10p.
up and I said, “Dance
spill my pint, Ellen,” he said.
your pint,” I said. “Get
to sod something else back at your flat anyway.”
dancing. Dreadful. I
your lot were natural
dancers,” I said.
customers kept quiet. Didn’t
like seeing us together.
busy and we
lost our dance floor. Half-seven up on an elevated stage, a young chap began
strumming a guitar and warbling: Elton John, Neil Young, Don McLean. Puppy-dog
play the jukebox over him?” I said.
hurt you to be soft,” Sylvain
be soft when you get hard. But he’s
surgery ever involve hair?” I said.
“Guitar chap’s mop would suit you.”
Labrador Retriever you had growing up would laugh like Sylvain, if dogs
could laugh. His laugh makes me cry.
the last straw.
this world was never meant for one as
beautiful as you?” I said. “Let’s hoof it.”
Halfway back to Sylvain’s flat we were moving free and easy—we’d
had too much—so I never noticed the GRAND OPENING sign sticking out over the
pavement from the front of a florist’s shop. Hung from an iron bar bolted to
the shop wall, sticking out two feet over the pavement at head level for a
tallish lass like myself. Wouldn’t have needed someone pissed-up and besotted
with love to collide with the bugger.
myself off the pavement I was thinking
to have a chat with the florist bloke next
morning when I saw a copper strongarming Sylvain.
London’s Finest, indeed. Copper like that’s a greater danger to
public safety than some fairy florist who’s got careless with his GRAND OPENING sign.
up to the young Constable.
this dark chap knock you down, mu’um.”
“Dark chap’s Doctor Sylvain
de León,” I said. “Famous cosmetic surgeon.”
badge is out: Detective Inspector Ellen Flay. Twat unhands Sylvain. Sylvain backs away. Hadn’t resisted the strongarm. Prudent choice for a chap of his
knocked me down, Constable. Doctor de
León is my lover and his black gorilla paws will soon be all over
me in his flat.”
“Ellen. . .” Sylvain
need your name, Constable,” I said. “Want to charge police
“But not worth the time that
could be spent getting to his flat pronto to get those gorilla paws on me.”
too far’s my M.O.
would be better than what the
doctor’s tribe will do if they hear about this,” I said. “Jungles of Côte
d'Ivoire. Notorious for witchcraft.”
tell if he believed my
witchcraft rubbish. Wanker finally spoke.
bleeding, mu’um,” he said in a
mouse’s voice all meek and mild.
where the sign had struck. Hand
came away red.
had been behind me. He steps
God, Ellen!” he says.
and licked the blood off my
“I’ll drink your blood too,” I told the Constable.
head I let him know to piss
get back to the flat and take care
of you,” Sylvain said.
soothingly. Best bedside manner.
Love his manner inside the bed too.
are numbered for his sort, Ellen.”
don’t see racists going extinct
Morning, I was up
His great dark carcass in bed like a seal washed up on the beach.
His flat in Twickenham a good haul from the Brixton station. Sausage rolls
scarfed during the drive left a spot of grease on my
station, more grease: Dickie Woodford
hanging about my desk all winks and snickers.
left you a gift, Ellen.”
up like a mummy it was.
Shape left no room for guesswork, though.
“Something for the hard
times,” the twat titters.
so overcome by his own wit that he
can’t speak more.
not measure up to the one hanging
off your African doctor, Ellen.”
I thought. If Dickie knows
about Sylvain then so does everyone else. We’d tried to lie low, but London’s
smaller than you think.
“You a spit girl or a
swallow girl?” Dickie rattles on. “Or your African
time for Chief Inspector Redmond to
pass by demanding all hands on deck. I can put Dickie out of mind.
moment came early.
“Darkies on the warpath,” Redmond began.
hell, I thought. But what hill you
want to die on? I shut my eyes.
showing at the local Odeon?” a voice
to Zulu,” another said. “Also
ends bad for the chaps with spears.”
voice Dickie’s. One oily fish in an
don’t have Michael Caine,” Redmond
said. “Only D.I. Flay. Whom I’m boring.”
open, he continued.
certain Viv Lloyd and his mate, Lester
Richardson, are rousing the rabble.”
that put out that Marxist
broadsheet?” I said. “Within their rights, sir.”
help them stay within their rights,
Flay,” Redmond said smiling, if smile’s the right word. “Latest edition
suggests they may soon exceed them.”
a sheet of newsprint off the lectern. Fished glasses from his breast pocket.
racism of the Metropolitan Police Service has been protected and even
strengthened by David McNee’s leadership,” he read. “Even before Mr. McNee
affirmed the right of his officers to murder citizens whom one might have
thought the police should serve and protect—but then, Alvin Greenfield was a
‘seedy degenerate scarcely worth the dust on the bottoms of my men’s shoes,’ in
Mr. McNee’s telling—the MPS had won notoriety for its shift toward jackbooted
paramilitary techniques in the suppression of
his glasses. Gave
him beady bat’s eyes. With that executioner’s smile, took away all the pleasure
of looking at what might have been rather a dishy bloke.
McNee discerns an increasing shrillness of tone, Flay, so it’s irrelevant that they’re within their rights and that no crime’s
yet been committed.”
“Just as not committing a crime may have
been irrelevant in the case of Alvin
M.O. again. Wanted
to bite my tongue. But teeth couldn’t catch up when it was already out there
resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer,” Redmond
hypothetically, sir. I meant, irrelevant if you believe the outrageous accusations
against our officers.”
suicide wouldn’t bring Alvin Greenfield back.
been committed,” Redmond continued, “and our courtesy to Mr. Lloyd and
Mr. Richardson will be to make sure they maintain their spotless records. A courtesy
you’re to extend, Flay. The spirit of
courtesy being best embodied by a member of the fair sex.”
the room he said, “By our Desdemona.”
Dickie knew, Redmond knew, everyone knew.
not a chuckle heard. Redmond thought those
mouth-breathers would know Shakespeare?
and Lester Richardson had emigrated
from Barbados. Their restaurant on Lampard Road supported the Manifesto’s
publication and distribution. The restaurant didn’t have a sign, so locals
called it “Viv and Lester’s.” I’d eaten there. Lads cared about politics more
a table without waiting to be
seated. From a magazine rack by the door I’d
picked up a copy of the Manifesto that accused
the Commissioner of resorting to “jackbooted
paramilitary techniques.” I told a very dark, very pretty girl that I wanted a lime
squash and to talk to whoever wrote the rubbish about Commissioner McNee.
I pointed to the front-page headline next to McNee’s picture: WE KILL SEEDY
DEGNERATES. The girl asked who I was and I said.
She made a face like I’d shown her what the cat had killed.
handsome chap and a short round
one, ages unclear because the sun doesn’t beat up their skin. Even in the Caribbean,
where it shines all the time.
with me?” I said. “Have a chat?”
stand,” scowled the handsome one.
Touch of Harry Belafonte. Under
different circumstances, I thought. . .
come with friendly advice,” I said.
the short round chap said in a mocking
brought my lime squash.
“Don’t forget to add the copper’s
fifty-percent surcharge,” Richardson told her.
“Entrenched racism among the Metropolitan Police, you wrote?”
said. “Course there is. Not defending it, but your Manifesto won’t make
it go away. And you keep on, it’ll destroy
would it be in your interest to
Richardson said, mocking me again.
Was I supposed to say I’d spent the night
shagging my rich African doctor in his posh flat in Twickenham so they’d
understand that I was a friend of the blacks?
Puckered up. Thirty years—or twenty—that’s my face
“Think about your own interest, not mine,”
But how was repeating my point in a louder
voice going to help?
hurt me to
be soft, Sylvain had said. I made my voice gentle.
“Not like I can’t see the point of violence against the government,” I said. “When there’s
a chance of winning. If there’s no chance, it’s about your pride. And got to
swallow your pride when the only chance is losing.”
“Not like she can’t see the point of violence
against the government,” Lloyd said. “A revolutionary among the Metropolitan
Police. That’s a giggle.”
I said would make it worse. Best
to piss off, I thought. Did so after telling the pretty
girl she might want to go easier on the lime.
trust are you, Flay?” Redmond
wanted to know.
to worry. You have a natural bond.”
Sylvain. All blacks the same to Redmond,
so I’m Desdemona to Lloyd and Richardson too.
they seem like slow-boil lads, Flay:
brainy sorts. So you’ve got time.”
I thought. Also thought how
stupid I’d been to mention pride, make sure that was foremost in their minds. “Swallow
your pride,” I had said. You daft, girl?
got me down. I said to Sylvain let’s go out for a drink.
last night was all right,” he said.
young chap’s there. Was written on a
chalk board by the door.”
something. Williams. I’m all right
with that. And you said he was pretty.”
Jane Birkin,” I said. “But can’t
bear him singing his Vincent song again.”
was never meant for one as beautiful as
you.’ That eats at you. But it only says the world is cruel. I’d think you as
much as anyone would agree.”
“Doesn’t only say that. World’s cruel,
yeah. But don’t glorify weakness, call it beautiful.”
Sylvain sighed. He pushed away from the
“Should lay off the potatoes if I want room
for a couple of pints,” he said.
Horse had left the barn if he was going to
lay off the potatoes.
“Glorify weakness, you flash a green light
to cruelty,” I said.
He crossed his arms.
“You can’t just hear a sweet tune and a
pretty voice, Ellen? Pretty voice, pretty lad?”
I crossed my arms back.
“I’m fine going to see pretty Stevie Williams sing,” I said.
Striving for what’s called comic
as I get to shag him.”
his Labrador Retriever laugh. Then he went serious.
you’d rather listen to your Ramones
than pretty Stevie Williams. Let’s stay
on his unsexy-bloke-acting-sexy
voice. I love that voice. Not as much as his laugh.
My Pride,’ indeed,” he said. “We’ll
soon have you swallowing something else.”
of Dickie Woodford.
long before Redmond had his hands
full with protests of the exoneration of the officers who’d killed Alvin
polloi are on high boil,” he said.
“So you can lay off your slow-boil lads for a bit, Flay.”
me for the excitable ones: put
me to work with the other D.I.’s, bringing in
blokes who’d smashed shop windows or cars. Difference was, no busting
heads of the black chaps I brought in. Bloody hero to the blacks, I was. Their best mate.
later, with the excitable lads gone
off the boil, Lloyd and Richardson seized the Brixton police
sub-station on Ashcombe Mews.
Redmond had always
kept the sub-station lightly staffed. And since the start of the protests,
staff not needed for basic operations had been sent to the hot spots. Lloyd and
Richardson took notice. First thing one morning, without firing a shot or
striking a blow, they surprised the two officers on duty. Locked them in a
holding cell and rang the office of Commissioner McNee. McNee
rang the Brixton station and like a good boy Redmond
cut short his morning
came back, he announced that he
and I would lead the recapture of the sub-station. I was to
choose ten officers to accompany us.
“There’s blokes specially trained
for this, sir.”
raise the profile,” he said. “Told the
wanted to prove a point. McNee’s made no bones
about the power of the Metropolitan Police to
crush any protest that crosses the line. Point of taking the
sub-station’s to prove
our power’s overrated.”
He saw I wasn’t following.
“But we downplay this, Flay, let them think they’ve
proved something, we can get them to lay down their arms, end this without
violence. Back-pages item, soon forgotten.”
Redmond pursed his lips.
on our establishing trust. So I want you to have the first
done such a brilliant job of establishing trust already, I
violence? Seems that’s what they
want, harming no one in the takeover.”
the goal,” he said. “But we still need ten good men if this plan goes south.”
It seemed dodgy, but
I’d been given a job. I looked for blokes that I couldn’t recall having
expressed racism overtly. Not born yesterday, so I know that still waters run
deep. But would you have had me bring along chaps who go about in white sheets?
The Ashcombe Mews sub-station occupied the remains of
the old stables, carriage houses, and living
quarters that had given their name to the little street. Officers, citizens
making complaints, and other visitors could park in the converted stables
and carriage houses. The former living
quarters, one floor up, were for business.
studied the scene.
“Dangerous for you to stand naked in front
of them,” Redmond said. “So
can go to that even now, I
won’t be naked in the full sense,” he continued. “They point a gun at
you, they’re finished.”
minutes to the hour. Which is when I’ve
told them to look for your pretty face making advances toward them.”
the street right on the hour. Stopped short of the sidewalk in front of
“Lloyd,” I shouted, “Richardson,” and then: “Viv! Lester!”
to hear a word back, yet no clue
what my own next word would be.
me,” I said under my breath.
of movement on the right of the
broad window above me.
a shot from behind, far to my
left. There was no more movement on the right, but the shattered window gave a
clear view of Viv on the left, firing a rifle over my head. I heard more shots and
watched him fall.
“Lloyd! Richardson!” I repeated. “Viv! Lester!”
silence and stillness.
going to shoot you, Flay.”
I spun around.
Who saw a gun pointed at me?
Who started shooting?”
an arm toward my face. But I thought
twice and froze it halfway.
started shooting?” I said.
my arm. They’d know about my
tears if I brushed them away.
about setting me up, wasn’t it? Could have killed them without involving me,
but so much sweeter with me.”
Sweet to see Desdemona weep, I thought.
kept my tears to myself as they streamed
down. I was far away from the lot of them.
all cowards,” I said.
from my right.
Woodford. But meant nothing. Same
obscenity came from a voice to my left. Then many voices.
of “I’m Spartacus” were loud. The
laughter was louder.
your pride,” I’d told Viv and
Lester. No chance. Weren’t buying.
about Ellen? Too late to learn
the electric guitar. This was the life I’d chosen for better or worse. Finishing
up at the scene, then back to the station—had to swallow my pride.
Don Stoll has written about
Ellen Flay, the protagonist of "Swallow," in 15 other stories
published here in Yellow Mama and elsewhere, including Pulp
Modern, Down and Out, Punk Noir, and the new noir
anthology from Uncle B. Publications, Now, There Was a Story!