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First Response - by Ben Maunder Edit

James was aware of two constant truths in his life. The first; Francesca made the best coffee this side of the Thames. The second: there was nothing people wouldn't say to save their own skin. They would beg, barter and steal if they think it will keep them on the right side of the bars, in the good graces of those higher on the ladder.

As he stood in the observation room he reminded himself of these facts. They always proved far more reliable than the testimony of whomever was about to be unceremoniously deposited into the next room. James sipped at the warm brown swill an intern had left for him, mentally running through the check-list of excuses he was expecting to hear within the next five minutes.

A sharp rap on the door pulls his attention, before he can call out it is pushed open as a bearded man carefully manoeuvres past the weighty wooden frame, two steaming cups in hand.

“Evening Haynes.”

“Burdock. You know you're late right?” Detective Burdock shrugged, kicking the door shut behind him and offering Haynes one of the cups.

“Well partner, I was on my way down...”

“And some pretty young thing stopped you, just had to have your number?” Haynes sniffed the cups contents, it was a little light for his taste.

“Exactly.” Burdock chuckled, taking a sip and cringing at the heat. “So, what'd I miss?” James slid the dossier across the deck in his partners direction, who regarded it for a second before flinging himself into a nearby seat.

“Nothing then?” James inclined his head to the side, looking through the one way glass into the interrogation cell next door. “What did they do?” Burdock continued, blowing vigorously into his cup.

“Breaking and entering.” The cup joined the mug on the table as James tried to recall the file notes. “From what we can tell she's a low level Gregory, let herself into a bar on the lower east docks.”

“Why the hell do we have her down here then? B&E's Johnson's racket isn't it?” Burdock lent forward in his seat, “The Guv' just trying to keep us busy or something?” Haynes shook his head, revolving on his heel to lean on the desk.

“Not quite, word is she had a run in with our, eccentric friend.” Eccentric was the polite way of saying freak. Regardless of the phrasing, Burdock knew full well which friend James was talking about, it was enough for him to drain the cup in a few aggravated gulps.

“You mean the clown in the hazard suit?”

“Aye.”

“Well, ain't that a peach.” Burdock sighed, slapping his knees and standing. “Don't suppose they can give us a name?” Raising and lowering his eyebrows with a severe lack of reassurance James inclined his shoulders.

“That, would be far too useful. Sadly, Christmas is quite a time away.” A light flicked on in the other room, causing the two detectives to glance inside. “Suppose we can at least ask though.” The heavy steel door beyond opened, two uniformed officers escorting a young, slightly bedraggled woman strode in. Through a tirade of curses and underpaid labour the two aged men settle her into place, seating her upon a steel chair and attaching her hands into restraints.

Burdock and Haynes watched through the mirror, building initial reactions and taking stock. Even after the officers exited the room her barrage of slurs and unashamed hate refused to halt. Burdock spoke first.

“She seems nice.” He pulled a small silver coin from his pocket, casually spinning it on the desk.

“I'm sure her parents are proud, at the least.” Haynes glanced down at the coin. “Heads.” the spinning silver slowly came to a ringing halt, the flag of the Empire proudly glistening in the reflective light. Burdock swore.

“Bollocks.” He shot a harmless glare at James. “You, are a lucky bastard.” Taking the previously offered cup he turned to leave, scraping up the file in his free hand and clumsily opening the door with a free elbow.

“I only gamble when I know I'll win, or with idiot's.” James smiled as the door closed, a silent laugh was returned. Turning back to the window James clicked the recorder on, a soft green glow popping into life. Although not the, softest interrogator, Burdock reliably got results. Plus, it was always fun to watch.

The door opened and the barrage started again.

“Who the fuck are you then! Some flatfoot prick with nothing better to do 'ey?” Burdock waded through the insults and casually sat across from her, glancing over the file and sipping at his coffee. James chuckled from behind the mirror as Burdock continued with the cold shoulder, waiting for the girl to wear herself out or annoy him to the point where it loses all comedic value.

It was an interesting game, working out which would happen first. Burdock had finished his coffee before she calmed down, so now she lent back in her chair, fuming, whilst he quietly closed the final page on her file.

When she did start talking it took all of five minutes for James to tell she was a dead end. Once Burdock broke through her confrontational attitude she went on about how she only broke in to save her life, that she was running from a burning man. The same nonsense they'd heard a million times over now, it was almost enough to drive the two detectives to desperation.

As Burdock and the Girl spoke, James slumped into a chair in Observation, slamming his fist onto the table in impotent anger.

“I just need a hint.” Staring out through the mirror he muttered to an unseen power, or to himself. “Just some sign of who this guy is, what the hell he wants.” There was no unearthly voice to answer his pleas, instead he continued to sit in the dark, listening to the interview going nowhere in the next room.

“Fine then.” Head in his hands, James slowly massaged his temples, fighting the urge to close his eyes and drift into a dreamless sleep. A loud buzzing filled the air, the sound of vibration on wood, peering through parted fingers James looked up to see the bright glow of his phone erupting into the darkened room.

“What now?” With no small effort James roused himself from his seat, passing a quick glance into the room to see Burdock clearly restraining himself as the girl held a look of indignant superiority. A single name encompassed the screen on the small handheld, 'Elliott', James glared at the name for a moment as the phone vibrated across the surface of the desk.

Elliott was an old friend, one who had made a lot of bad choices, one of which had him end up on the streets. He didn't have a phone of his own, didn't like the idea apparently, which is why Haynes gave him one. That was over a year ago and this was the first time he'd ever called.

He picked up the phone.

“Elli...”

“Is this Officer Haynes?” The voice was panicked, hurried and short of breath, more importantly, not one Haynes knew.

“Yes, who is this?” James glanced into the adjacent room once more, ensuring he wasn't being heard.

“It's Mike, Elliott's... come on... Elliott's manager.” James opened his mouth but was cut off, the name rang a bell. “Look, Haynes, we need you as soon as possible. He's fucked up, pissed off the wrong people, the Gregory's are after us!” That sounded about right to Haynes, he grabbed a scrap of paper with his free hand, scribbling a note of absence for Burdock.

“Slow down, slow down, what's happened?” Details, that's what he wanted, the key was always in the details. There was more heavy breathing, the sound of rain and cars.

“Does it matter?” Yes, was the reply he wanted to give. “There are people looking for him, for me... they have guns Haynes, they have guns!” James gritted his teeth, pushing air past his lips in frustration. What in the hell was happening?

“Where are you?” Moving to the door James grabbed his coat, “I'll get there as soon as I can, but you better have some bloody answers when I get there.”

“An alley off of Cannon Hill, please hurry.” The line cut out, Haynes pocketed the phone and moved with all speed out of the basement, taking each step two at a time. A million and one scenario's tore through his mind as he bolted through the ground floor of the North London Police Department, pushing past uniform's and walk-in's to a barrage of greetings and complaints.

'How did he get involved with the Gregory's?' That was question one, Elliott was bone headed, stubborn as a bull, but not stupid. No-one gets on the Gregory's bad side in Southgate, it did horrible things to ones' life expectancy. Reaching the Car-pool he grabbed his keys, double checked the boot of his vehicle for Ol' reliable and started the car.

Cannon Hill was 15 minutes away with good traffic, 30 to 40 with bad. James slapped the siren on and peeled out of the building. Fortunately the roads were quiet, the sirens ensured that those on the road gave a wide berth to the black Sedan tearing through the streets. Behind the wheel a mix of worry and anger was plastered about Haynes' features.

“The Gregory's... fucking hell Elliott.”

It took 10 minutes for James to screech to a halt on Selborne Road, hurrying from the car he checked his phone and retrieved Ol' reliable. Still loaded, against regulations but it saved time.

Then a gunshot broke through the air.

James ducked on instinct, but the shot had roared from his south. He didn't wait for another and set down the street, bellowing into his ear piece as he did, rain beating a tattoo into his bare head.

“This is Detective Haynes, I have a 444 at Cannon Hill, Southgate! Requesting backup immediately, suspected Gregory activity!” Not waiting for a response he hurried onwards, internally he cursed, knowing he should have called it in earlier.

Another gunshot rang into the night and Haynes broke into a sprint, heaving at the air and a freezing chill tore into his lungs. He rounded into an alley at breakneck speed and stopped in his tracks.

He saw Elliott first.

His childhood friend was stood in the middle of the alley, a bloodied shard of glass glinting in the moonlight held firmly in his grip. His eyes were dead, a vicious snarl bore upon his lips and the form of a much larger man lay motionless behind him, a pool of blood washing away in the rain.

Two men were before him, one small and meek, head buried beneath his hands, the Second was large, stood with smoking gun in hand. Barrel pointed straight at Elliott.

Elliott fell. A blossoming flower of red across his chest. The shard shattered upon the ground.

Ol' Reliable barked, filling the moments silence with the rage of a semi-automatic shotgun.

“Elliott!” James heard the name, but didn't recall saying it as he levelled the gun at Elliott's aggressor, it was time to leave diplomacy to the 12-gauge. The thug reacted as James hoped, he rounded firing, James squeezed the trigger before the pistol had time to come anywhere near him.

The thug pulped as his side erupted from the shot, tumbling to the ground howling in agony. Haynes darted forward, keeping the barrel dialled on him and kicking the pistol into a drain. He kicked the second man, hard enough to cause him to look up through tear choked eyes.

“You Mike?” he spat, scanning the alley for other threats as he spoke.

“H.. Haynes?” Jame's nodded, inclining his head at the reeling Gregory.

“Put pressure on his wound.” He stabbed a finger towards the man and moved before he could get an answer, turning and jogging through the grimy water of the alley to Elliott's side. Discarding his weapon James dropped to a knee, muttering plea's to an unseen force for his friends life.

Elliott lay in a river of blood and filth, the fabric of his clothes dyed a sickly red from the wound at his chest. James put a finger to his throat, a wave of relief washing over him as he found a faint pulse.

“Thank God.” Taking an deep breath James inspected the gunshot, blood was oozing from an open wound on the lower right of the chest, Haynes quietly cursed, not wanting to move Elliott to check for an exit wound. He activated his ear piece once more, tearing off part of his shirt to compress the wound.

“I have a man down!” The words came with difficulty, as if forced through a mesh of steel in his throat. “I need an Ambulance ASAP, he's bleeding out and may have a ruptured lung!”

It took five long minutes for back-up to arrive on the scene. First came Burdock with fire support who secured the area and swept for any remaining Gregory's. Followed swiftly by the paramedic's who sequestered both Elliott and the two suited men into an Ambulance as soon as they had spoken with Haynes.

Micheal was taken in for questioning by another detective, he ensured that he thanked James before he left, but the worried expression's on the paramedic's faces' had instilled a new fear in Haynes.

By the time the rain stopped, the whole area had been taken over by the Police, transformed into a crime scene. Early morning Joggers and Dog-walkers gawked into the alley from beyond a thick line of tape, quickly ushered away by the Officers-on-duty. Haynes stayed behind, taking refuge in a doorway and lighting a hastily requisitioned cigarette as his statement was catalogued.

Then he walked from the scene, desperately trying not to dwell on the state of his friend. He returned Ol' Reliable back to her place in the boot, got in the car and drove home.

Back to Lauren and, he hoped, a hot pot of coffee.