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The Police Operation

'I heard one of 'em say it were a bomb!' said Mrs Withers, hairnet firmly in place, dressing gown buttoned protectively across her full length winceyette nightie.

'No, it'll be old Frank, again,' growled Mr Hooper. 'He's been on a bender, I'll bet.'

'I bloody 'aven't!' snarled Frank from the back of the crowd.

'Oh sorry, Frank. Didn't see you there!'

'It could be that young man from downstairs. I see he's grown a beard recently,' said Mrs Thomas.

'What the hell's that got to do with anything?' cried Mr Hooper, who was himself rather hirsute.

'Well, you know. He is at college after all,' insisted Mrs Thomas, looking around a little uncertainly.

'That's young Tom. Nice lad 'e is. Often calls in for a little chat. You leave 'im alone,' said Mrs Withers.

They all looked back at the apartment block, swimming in a seasick display of flashing red and blue lights. Swarming all around it were emergency workers in fluorescent yellow. The residents were all forced to shuffle backwards as the cordon tape was stretched further out.

'It could be a gas leak,' said Emily Porter, shouting to make herself heard over the bedlam.

'Well, if that was the case young lady, they'd have the gas board out here by now,' said Mr Hooper kindly.

'I 'ope this don't take all night,' snapped Mrs Withers, sucking her gums worriedly. 'I had to leave m'parakeet in there. He don't like lots of noise.'

'He'd better hope it's not a bomb then!' snorted Frank, from the back.

Mrs Withers paled and began gurning furiously. 'D'you think they'd let me back in? Only I shouldn't like anything to 'appen to 'im.'

Three police officers approached at that point and began steering the bewildered residents down the street. Behind them a team of bullet-proof vested officers charged into the building. Mrs Withers stopped, craning her neck around the fluorescent jackets.

'Here! What about my parakeet? He'll be frightened stiff with all this lot goin' on!'

'Madam, please keep moving! You need to get back.'

She turned a stare on the young officer that would have reduced a lesser man to jelly. 'Would you speak to your granny that way?'

'Madam, this is for your safety. Please. Keep moving.'

'What about my parakeet?'

Emily slipped her arm through Mrs Withers' and gently guided her along the street. 'I'm sure he'll be fine. They won't let you back in until … whatever this is … is finished.'

Mrs Withers looked up at her with teary eyes. 'I don't like to think of 'im, all alone up there.'

'Daft woman!' said Mr Hooper, taking her other arm.

They stopped at the end of the street, neither residents nor officers knowing quite where they should go now. Mr Hooper, appointing himself spokesperson for the displaced group, stepped forwards and tapped one of the officers on the shoulder.

'Now, see here. What's going on?'

The police officer peered down at him coldly. 'Police operation, sir.'

Mr Hooper scowled. 'I can see that! Why have you turfed us out of our beds in the middle of the night?'

'I've been doing proper well learnin' him to talk, an' all,' grumbled Mrs Withers, still nursing her parakeet preoccupation.

'The building was evacuated for your safety, sir.'

'Is there a bomb?'

'I can't say, sir.'

'Mind you, I think he picks up more from the telly than he does from me.'

'For heaven's sake, woman! Shut up about your damned parakeet!' said Mr Hooper, throwing his hands in the air.

Mrs Withers backed away, staring at him in surprise. Emily put her arm around the old lady and gave her a squeeze. Back down the street the vested officers sprinted from the apartment block, and everyone ducked behind the emergency vehicles.

The residents and officers at the end of the street watched, open mouthed, as a young man with a beard emerged, holding a cage with a jabbering parakeet inside. He held out his free hand to show he was otherwise unarmed, lowered the cage and backed away.

The officers emerged cautiously from behind their vehicles, edging towards the cage nervously. Mrs Withers, spotting her beloved parakeet, broke free from the officers and charged, a desperate bundle of netting, curlers and winceyette, back up the street.

'Get away from 'im! You bloody bullies!' she screamed.

The residents watched, horror struck, as curlers worked free from the hairnet and bounced down to the ground. Mrs Withers, oblivious to the police rifles trained upon her, burst through the cordon and launched herself at the cage.

'Oh ta, Tom! You saved 'im! Marvin, are you alright m'old love?'

Marvin, the bemused parakeet, hopped about on his perch and looked up at his mistress. 'Gonna blow you all up!' he piped up, cheerfully. 'Gotta bomb!'

The police inspector slapped his forehead. 'It was the sodding canary!'

'Parakeet!' corrected Mrs Withers.

'What the hell did you teach him to say that for?'

Mrs Withers looked up, startled. 'I never learned 'im that! 's not my fault. 'e likes CSI, that's all. It's 'is favourite show!'


© 2012 Kay Lawrence.


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