Antifreeze Part 1
I always knew Brundell was dangerous. A loose cannon, unpredictable. It's not that I mind Specials as such. They come in all shapes and sizes, and God knows we need them, with regular Police levels being what they are. But Brundell had a hidden agenda. You could tell from the splinter-short hair, the thrust of the jaw, the glint in the eye, what kind of copper he'd make if his application to join the regular Force was successful. I'd seen his sort before. No interest in the reality of proper policing, the door-to-door enquiries, the mountains of paperwork, the road safety sessions in the school playgrounds. None of that was dramatic enough for him. What he wanted was trouble, someone to make his day. Just the sort you can do without.
We were parked in a lay-by on the A470 South of Merthyr. As usual, cars came towards us at a ferocious speed, then slowed desperately as the drivers spotted us, lying in wait like a leopard on a branch.
Brundell was sounding off about his favourite subject, the violence in modern society and his role in it. I sighed inwardly. For all his mouth and trousers, for all the hours he spent in the gym and on the dojo, I'd yet to see him in action. Every shift with him had been quiet. And I'd worked with him a lot, more than anyone else. Someone in personnel must have a grudge against me. I looked at my watch. Only half an hour gone, seven and a half to go. Like being stuck in lift with a Millwall supporter.
'...I don't scare easy,' he said eventually, concluding some rambling observation about how good he was in a tight spot. 'Oh, I do, I scare awful easy' I replied, daring him to believe me.
Just then the radio crackled into life and off we went.
Antifreeze Part 2
Trefynydd is a string of a town with a wilderness beyond both ends. An old mining town which, like all the other towns of the valleys, didn't have any mining left, or much of anything else. Most of the shops and pubs had closed, and were boarded up with plywood covered in flyposters and graffiti. Rubbish blew along the unswept streets, and people hung about with the air of not having anything else to do. It didn't look like the kind of place to come to if you wanted cheering up.
We turned into the High Street and moved slowly along, light flashing, siren off, looking for signs of trouble. At first nothing seemed to be wrong, but then after a few moments I began to pick up the signs that something wasn't right. Men and women stood about,. clustered unnaturally around bus-stops and in doorways, the human fall-out of an incident in progress. They were gossiping hotly and looking repeatedly up the road to some unseen site of disturbance, as if at the place where a whirlwind had just passed. Then we saw him.
I stopped the car and we both sat still for a moment, looking.
'Christ. Big, isn't he? said Brundell.
'He's not small', I replied happy for once to agree with him.
He had come lurching out of an alley and stood swaying unsteadily in the middle of the street like pantomime drunk. He was waving a bottle about and seemed to be addressing comments to the world at large, and as he did so the knots of people seemed to shrink away from him, leaving him in a pool of emptiness. I nudged the car closer and stopped again. He was what people used to call unkempt. Tousled red hair, a scrub of stubble, scruffy jeans and a shirt with some of the buttons missing.
And big. Very, very big.
Antifreeze Part 3
'Right, we can't sit here all day', I said, opening the door. 'Lets go and see what's what.'
'What are we going to do, cuff him?' asked Brundell.
'Dunno yet', I said, getting out the car. I didn't much fancy trying to put handcuffs on a grizzly bear. But maybe it wouldn't come to that.
We walked sedately towards him, and I tried to size things up as we went. For all our flashing lights and uniforms he didn't seem to have noticed us yet, and was continuing his oration to anyone who cared to listen. We stopped for a moment, a mutual, unspoken decision, an island of calm before the possible storm. I looked at Brundell and frowned.
Far from composing himself, he was getting stoked up for trouble. He was shifting his shoulders about like a man squaring up for a fight, and his mouth had assumed the sort of worm-shape that skinheads get when they ask someone what they are looking at.
'Look don't try any fancy stuff, all right?' Let me handle this, and just back me up if I need it', I said. He glanced at me but said an unknowable nothing. We moved on, past he cowering bands of spectators.
'He've just shot a brick through the Co-op window', called a woman from the pavement.
'OK love, we'll sort it out after', I replied as we drew up to him. Only then did he seem to notice us.
'Come and join the party boys', he said in a husky valleys accent, waving the bottle towards us. His eyes were unfocused and dilated, and I wondered if I could talk him down with no trouble. The next few seconds would be crucial. In my experience, if someone is going to cut up rough, they'll do it straight away or not at all.
'Now now lovely boy', I said in a soft tone. 'Why don't you just come along with us? You've had a bit of fun from the look of it. Perhaps it's time to settle down and sober up a bit'. I braced myself as he looked from me to Brundell and back again.
'Noh, the party's just starting boys, come and have a drink', he said, offering the bottle again.
Antifreeze Part 4
I looked at it, a dumpy black plastic thing.
'Not just now, lovely boy, 'I said, 'What's your name anyway? I can't keep calling you lovely boy, you'll be getting the wrong idea.'
Ah Malc, my name is, Malcolm Evans, but everyone do call me Malc,' he said, swaying a bit.
'OK Malc, now why don't you tell us what that is you've been drinking. It doesn't look like booze to me,' I said. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Brundell moving off to the side.
'This? Antifreeze. Good drop of stuff.' he said.
I edged towards him. 'Antifreeze?' What you drinking that for?' I asked.
'It's all I got left in the house. I finished all the booze, even the cooking sherry,' he said, tottering to the side. I put a hand out to steady him and carefully cupped his elbow in my hand.
'Now now, you can do yourself a lot of harm drinking that stuff, Malc. Why don't you come back with us and let the doctor check you over?' I said.
He tried to focus on me. I held my breath.
'Well, he said at length, dropping his gaze and looking still and thoughtful. I almost had him where I wanted him.
'Come on, now', I said quietly, drawing him towards me by the elbow.
Just then Brundell jumped him.
Antifreeze Part 5
It was all over in seconds. After a brief scuffle, Malc had me by the wrist at arm's length, and Brundell by the neck, head trapped under the crook of his elbow, like a medieval ghost. Malc turned in a slow circle, as if wondering what to do with us. I glanced at the groups of people watching us, and felt myself go red. For a moment I held the gaze of the middle-aged woman with a shopping bag. She stepped forward into the road.
'D'you want us to call the Police?' she asked me.
'Er, no it's alright for now love. I'll keep you posted,' I said.
'OK then,' she replied, stepping back.
I didn't quite know what I was going to do, but I still felt I could get round Malc without too much trouble, provided nothing else went wrong. For all the fact that he was technically resisting arrest by now, I reckoned that he was less interested in fighting us than he was in stopping us fighting him, and that if it hadn't been for Brundell's stupid behaviour we'd have all been driving down to Merthyr by now.
'Now look Malc, you know you can't go on like this, you'll be getting into serious trouble,' I said. As I talked I tried to peel his fingers of my wrists, but he had a grip like a Scotsman on a five pound note, and I couldn't shift even one of them.
'Get him back to the car', said Brundell from under Malc's armpit.
'Up to the car, is it? OK boys,' said Malc, turning us all around and heading back the way we had come. As he led us along like a couple of recalcitrant children, I carried on talking.
'OK Malc, why don't you tell us what's brought this on? I bet you're a tidy sort of a boy most of the time, something must have happened to start all this off. Why don't you tell us about it, before something really bad happens' I said. He laughed as we moved along.
'Aye you could say something have brought it on all right.'
Antifreeze Part 6
'Ever seen a brick wall being knocked down? I used to think life was a bit like a wall being built. You know, you finishes school, that’s a couple of rows, then you gets a job, that’s another couple of rows, then you gets married and has a family, and you goes on like that ‘til you got your wall in front of you, all finished and strong. But up here it’s like they’ve come around and knocked all the walls down. First they closed the pits and took all the jobs, now the missus have run off and taken the kids, and now today they want to repossess the house. It’s like all I got left now is a pile of dust and rubble, and somehow it don’t seem enough,’ he said. We had nearly reached the car.
‘We’re all of us skittles in the bowling alley of life Malc,’ was all I could think of to say.
‘Here we are boys,’ said Malc, ‘I’ll drive.’
My career began to melt away in front of my eyes. What would the headlines be like? I shook my head, and wondered what to do next.
Just then Malc’s grip on my wrist slackened, then dropped away altogether. Brundell’s head disappeared from under his arm as he stood red-faced and upright. Malc had gone very still and silent, and seemed to be physically shrinking as he stared at the white bonnet in front of him,
‘I’m going to be sick,’ he whispered. Before we could do anything, a jet of brown liquid squirted over the bonnet, spread out and ran off like an April shower.
‘Dirty bastard,’ said Brundell. I stood considering the situation. Malc looked as if he’d be putty in our hands now, but did I dare let him get into the car yet, in case he was sick again? Then a hissing sound from the bonnet drew my attention.
Antifreeze Part 7
It was steaming languorously from the vomit, as you'd expect, but something else was happening as well. The amount of steam was increasing, and seemed to be turning into smoke. Small bubbles of paint were beginning to appear all over the affected area. They swelled, linked up into irregular blobs and then popped and wrinkled away amid the waving fronds of smoke. Eventually the afflicted patch of paint contracted in on itself, splitting off from the surrounding area and slithering with a hiss down the slope of the bonnet until it fell in a crumpled heap onto the road. I looked at the naked grey metal of the exposed bonnet, framed by a crinkled brown fringe and as clear as the day it was pressed.
On the way back I radio'd ahead for the doctor to be ready, all the time keeping a close eye on Malc in the mirror.
Brundell stared silently at the grey patch in front of him. Before long Malc uttered the words I had been dreading. 'I'm going to be sick again.'
I pulled over into a gateway not far short of where the road rejoined the A470. Malc stumbled out and started throwing up in a ditch. I prepared to wait for a while, but suddenly Brundell swore and jumped out after him. I jumped out after the pair of them, but by the time I got to them Brundell was beating the daylights out of Malc. I pulled him off and shoved him towards the car.
'Get back over there,' I shouted, turning to Malc.
'Bloody soft you are,' said Brundell as he went.
Just get in and shut up.' I shouted as I helped Malc up.
Antifreeze Part 8
One eye was puffing up, his lip was split and his nose was bleeding. He trembled slightly as I led him back to the car.
I didn't trust myself to speak to Brundell on the way back. Towns like Trefynydd were full of Malc's waiting to happen, men brought up to face a life of hard work in dirty jobs that few people understood and fewer still would do. Face them with an eternity of nothingness and some of them were bound to go ballistic. But I wasn't going to try and explain that to Brundell. He'd have just called me a Social Worker.
Once we got back I handed Malc over to the doctor and went off to make my report and grab a coffee. My route took me past the duty Inspector's room, and as I approached it I could see the door was open. I tried to hurry past, but the Inspector, who I believe held me in no high regard, spotted me and called out.
'Azzopardi, come in here for a minute will you.' he said.
Reluctantly I stopped and went in, standing just inside the open door as if the distance from his desk would help soften the blows to come.
For all that I'd managed to avoid being kidnapped in my own car, there was still the bonnet and the beating to be explained. Would I have to do so now, before I had time to collect my thoughts? Would he raise the time they stole the wheels of my car in lower Graig, and beat me over the head with it like a truncheon of my own stupidity? My mouth was dry for coffee as I waited for him to speak.
He sat holding a piece of paper in each hand and looking from one to the other as if trying to decide which was best. Eventually he put them down and looked up at me.
'I've had a copy of Brundell's application to join the regular force sent down from headquarters, together with a request for a reference. I can't say I know him at all well, but I see from the duty sheets that you've worked with him more than anyone else. Perhaps you could give me some idea of what he's really like? he said.
'Certainly sir,' I said, turning and closing the door behind me.