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Holding the Line

The young police officer forced his shoulders back and strode out behind the sergeant. The noise was deafening, and if one more person blew one of those ridiculous trumpets in his ear, he might just do something very unprofessional.

'Back straight, eyes forward, and don't try to engage with the scrotes at all! You'll be fine, Williams. Just follow my lead!' the sergeant had said when they set out.

Of course, he had neglected to mention the trumpets, or the tambourines, or the flirty young women. Honestly! The things they'd done to try to distract … oh dear God! Now one of them was, no, yes she was! She was pulling her t-shirt up! And she had nothing … eyes front, Williams.

What sort of way was that to behave? It was appalling. If he thought his younger sister was doing things like that he'd, well he'd, well he didn't know what he'd do, but he'd certainly be extremely disappointed with her. He made a mental note to have a word with her about the dangers of protest marches that very evening.

The young woman bounced around beside him, whistling at him and waving her arms. It was unfair. How was a young man supposed to feel with that sort of thing going on in front of him? Of course, by rights she ought to be arrested for indecent conduct, but the sergeant had made it quite clear that arrests were to be avoided unless lives were in danger for fear of 'inflaming the situation'. In Williams' opinion it was the young woman doing the inflaming.

He strode on, jaw clenched, staring stoically forwards, and inadvertently clipped the back of the sergeant's heel causing both men to stumble. Williams blushed furiously as the sergeant looked at him over his shoulder. The girl had pulled her top back down by then and was now giggling with her friends.

The march continued. The brightly coloured flags were waved, the banners proudly sported their message that the rally believed in 'Education for All!' and the inevitable protest songs were sung.

They passed a trader selling flags and banners. One of the marchers sighed, shaking his head, and walked over to patiently explain to him that he was at the wrong rally. The trader looked up at the marchers' banners quizzically, then looked down rather sadly at his own product: 'No More Free Education!'

'There's another rally?' he asked, rather timorously.

The marcher nodded quite firmly. 'Yes sir. There's another rally. They were starting out from the football stadium.'

The trader gasped, turned an interesting shade of pink, then hastily wheeled his cart down an alleyway, to the accompaniment of heckles, cheers and the blowing of the wretched trumpets. Williams watched him go out of the corner of his eye, feeling rather sorry for him.

Then came the water pistols, pulled from beneath hoodies and bags and fired at will. So, this was democracy in action, was it? A bunch of students, armed with super soakers, drenching hard working coppers who'd been forced to cancel leave for the 'privilege' of policing the march.

He'd had such dreams. He had pictured himself chasing criminals, stumbling across crime scenes, finding vital evidence and solving puzzles. He had even dared to hope he might one day join, he swallowed hard at the thought, CID. Some chance. So far, policing had not met his expectations.

'Hold the line, lad,' growled the sergeant encouragingly.

But then, amidst all the water, banners, chanting and confusion, a new beat made itself known. A thump, thump, thumpity thump thump, followed by a very organised sounding battle cry. The march shuddered to a halt and the protesters glanced about nervously, murmuring amongst themselves. Then one of them suddenly shouted.

'It's the others! It's the other rally!'

'It's the enemy!'

'Let's get 'em!'

'Everyone, chant together!'

'Education together, education for ever, education for everyone.'

Williams watched them out of the corner of his eye. It was a rubbish chant. If the debate was to be won on chants, the other rally had it by a country mile. Still, this one had volume. The trumpets were blown and tambourines … tamboured, and every voice was lifted in an attempt to drown out the more choreographed opposition.

Williams reached forwards and tapped the sergeant on the shoulder. 'I thought the two rallies were to be kept apart, sir?'

'They were! This is a royal cock-up and no mistake,' growled the sergeant, leaning backwards.

The march slowly edged forwards, with everyone craning their necks to see the other rally. There they were! At the crossroads! They had a uniform! The students looked down at their t-shirts and jeans. They'd only just about had enough money to buy paint for the banners.

'That's typical, that is! They all got free education, they've got all the plum jobs, and now they want us to pay for it all!' bellowed one of the young male students. He ripped his t-shirt off and whirled it over his head. 'Are we going to stand for it?'

'No!' cried the other students in unison.

'Oh cripes!' muttered the sergeant.

Williams stared at the surging crowd. There was going to be the mother of all clashes in just a few seconds. 'Sarge? What do we do?'

The sergeant sucked on his moustache and watched the yelling students, pushing and shoving in their haste to reach the other rally. 'Forwards!' he yelled at last.

The line of police officers charged at his command, racing the marchers to the crossroads. Williams lurched along, ducking as various missiles were lobbed in the general direction of the police line.

The marchers, unencumbered by high-viz vests, batons and boots, were faster. They poured into the confusion of the crossroads, spreading out into the oncoming rally. The other marchers shuddered to a halt under the onslaught. Banners protesting each side of the argument tangled together in the melee, bringing their bearers forcibly face to face.

Williams pushed through trying to separate the different sides, following the lead of the older officers. He saw one pull out his baton and automatically reached for his own, then thought better of it. The sergeant caught his eye and nodded approvingly.

'No need to go brainin' folk 'til it's absolutely necessary, eh Williams?'

'Sir, look out!'

Williams leapt forwards, placing himself between the sergeant and a wildly thrown chair. It clipped him on the head, knocking his helmet askew. The sergeant caught him and pulled him back to his feet, staring at him in concern.

'Williams? Are you alright?'

'Fine sir!' said Williams, as his legs folded at the knees. He sank, with remarkable grace, to the ground.

'Oh no! Is he alright?' gasped the young lady of the t-shirt. She dropped to the ground beside the stricken Williams and gently caressed his face. 'Oh gosh! That was so brave!'

Williams awoke to the sound of helicopters, batons beating against riot shields, the sergeant bellowing at the marchers, and to the sight of the young woman once again removing her t-shirt. Which she duly placed beneath his head with the utmost care.

'Um,' he said, cautiously.

'Try not to move. Are you nauseous? Any double vision at all?'

Williams swallowed, and sought desperately for somewhere safe to put his eyes. 'Er, no, thank you, I'm absolutely fine,' he said, to the legs of a nearby fellow police officer. 'Why don't you er, um, put your top back on? Really, I'm fine!

In a futile attempt to demonstrate his fineness he tried to sit up. When he came to the second time, he noted with considerable relief that someone had thoughtfully draped a flag around the young woman's shoulders. It did at least cover, well, most of her assets.

A paramedic edged through the crowd and dropped down beside them, taking in the sight of the topless woman as he opened his bag. He looked down at Williams and winked. 'I see you're being taken care of!' he said, with a rather unpleasant leer.

Williams felt the colour rising in his cheeks. 'Um, yes. The young lady was good enough to, um, lend me her t-shirt. Perhaps we could give it back to her now?' he said, staring at the paramedic wretchedly.

The paramedic leaned forwards and swapped the t-shirt for a blanket. 'Here you are, Amelia.'

Amelia took the t-shirt absent-mindedly, still staring down anxiously at her patient. 'He took a heavy blow to the head. He may be suffering concussion, but I haven't been able to assess,' she grinned wryly. 'He's certainly seemed … distracted.'

'Yeah, well a topless med student'll do that to a bloke,' chuckled the paramedic.

'I think we should take him in, just in case. He may need a CT.'

The paramedic nodded, and packed up his bag. 'You're the doc!'

As the ambulance eased its way through the crowded and riotous streets, Williams pondered. Outside, his colleagues were busy doing the kind of work he had trained for, in the kind of scenario he had envisaged. He had spent the day facing nothing more dangerous than water pistols plus, as it turned out, a chair, and yet, just as things were becoming interesting, here he was, in an ambulance with a young and very attractive medical student who was now, mercifully, back in her t-shirt. Policing was turning out to be a very strange business.

He looked up at the student and smiled nervously. She smiled back and adjusted the oxygen mask on his face. She really was very attractive. With very pretty eyes. And a t-shirt. As the sounds of the clashing rallies faded, Williams reflected that the day could have had a worse ending. As the med student leaned across to adjust the flow of oxygen it occurred to him that it could in fact have been much, much worse indeed.


© 2012 Kay Lawrence.


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