It all took about five seconds.
‘What can we do for you, John?’ the sergeant asked. Behind him, from somewhere deep within the recesses of the station, the sounds of the Royal Wedding could be heard. Another two policemen were watching the exchange, both of them white. Where are the black policemen? Franklin wondered. Probably ‘out in the community’, trying to explain themselves.
This was why he had joined up, to get away from all this.
‘My name is Worrell Franklin,’ he said formally. ‘I believe my brother Everton Franklin is in custody here.’
The desk sergeant’s face went through another sequence, culminating in brisk correctness. He opened one of the ledgers in front of him and ran his finger down a list. ‘That is correct, sir,’ he said. ‘He was remanded by the magistrates this morning.’
‘I’d like to talk to someone about the circumstances of the arrest, and to see my brother if that’s possible.’
‘I don’t know…’
‘I only have a twenty-four-hour leave,’ Franklin lied, ‘so I would appreciate it if something could be arranged.’ He wondered if anyone had recognized the winged-dagger badge, or whether he would have to spell out his membership of the SAS.
The desk sergeant glanced round at his two comrades, who stared blankly back at him. ‘I’ll see what I can do,’ he said, adding ‘have a seat, sir’ as he disappeared through a door. The other two resumed their paperwork.
Franklin sat down on the long bench and picked up the copy of the Sun which someone had left behind. Opposite the tits on page three he read that the identity of the Toxteth hit-and-run policeman had still not been established. Surprise, surprise, he thought. And the constable who had been brained by the TV thrown from the high-rise walkway was still in critical condition. There were victims wherever you looked.
Too much fighting on the dance floor…The bloody song would not leave him alone.
The sergeant returned with a plain-clothes officer, who introduced himself as Detective-Sergeant Wilson. ‘Like in Dad’s Army,’ he explained, most likely out of habit. ‘Not often we see the SAS in Brixton,’ he said. ‘We could have used you a few times this year,’ he added with a smile.
Someone had recognized the beret badge, then. Franklin politely returned the smile. ‘Can you tell me the circumstances of my brother’s arrest?’ he asked.
‘I can.’ He opened the file he was carrying, and extracted a typed sheet. ‘I’m afraid he’s facing four charges – possession of an offensive weapon, assault, damaging a police vehicle and using threatening behaviour. This is the arresting officer’s report,’ he said, handing it across.
It was not exactly a literary masterpiece. Nor did it seem particularly precise where it needed to be. The gist of it was that two officers had been inside one of the small businesses in Spenser Road when someone had thought fit to roll a petrol bomb under their car. Several arrests had followed, including that of Everton Franklin. He had apparently put up rather more than token resistance, setting about a policeman with a cricket bat.
‘There’s nothing here to connect my brother with the torching of the vehicle,’ Franklin murmured. Indeed there was nothing to suggest why the police had tried to arrest him in the first place.
‘He was probably carrying the bat,’ Wilson said, when confronted with this apparent oversight. ‘More evidence must have been offered to the magistrates, or they wouldn’t have remanded him.’
It didn’t seem the time or place to push the issue. ‘Can I see my brother?’ he asked.
‘If you wish, sir.’ The detective waited for a reply, as if hoping for a change of mind.
‘Yes, I would like to,’ Franklin said patiently. He was depressingly aware that if he had not been wearing his uniform his chances of getting even this far would have been less than zero.
‘Then come this way, sir.’
He was led down two corridors and ushered into what looked like an interview room. There was just a single table, with one chair either side of it, and two more against a wall. The two windows to the outside world were high enough to reveal only sky, the one in the door was small enough to remind Franklin of depressing prison films.
‘It’ll be a few minutes, sir,’ Wilson said, and disappeared, closing the door behind him. Franklin could hear the TV coverage of the Royal Wedding through the ceiling.
The minutes stretched out. How long could it take to bring someone up from the cells? Franklin had a sudden sinking sensation in his stomach – what if Everton was one of the unlucky few who went into a police station and never came out again? It did not happen often, but it did happen. It would kill their mum. Except that she would kill him first. He had always been expected to look out for his younger brother, and he had, at least until he had left home for the Army. He could scarcely watch over him from Germany or Northern Ireland. Or even from Hereford. And Everton was nineteen now. He should be able to look after himself.
But try telling his mum that.
He was about to go looking for Wilson when the door opened to reveal Everton. ‘Fifteen minutes, sir,’ Wilson said from behind him, before closing the door on the two brothers.
‘What you doin’ here?’ Everton asked wearily, sitting down at the table.
‘It’s good to see you, too,’ Franklin said, holding up a palm in greeting.
Everton gave it a half-hearted slap with his own. His face, Franklin noticed, bore a couple of angry-looking bruises. ‘How d’ya get those?’ he asked.
‘How d’ya think? I assaulted a policeman’s boot with my head.’
Franklin said nothing.
‘Don’t you worry ’bout me, bro,’ Everton said, more to break the silence than for any other reason. ‘There’s some Rastas here who pulled their own dreadlocks out to scourge the poor policemen with. By the roots,’ he added.
‘I read your arrest sheet,’ Franklin said.
‘Yeah? I bet that was a fine piece of fiction. They probably write poetry in their spare time, like that dickhead detective on telly.’
‘What did happen?’
‘You have to ask?’
‘Yeah, I have to ask. If the police report is a fine piece of fiction then I need someone else to tell me some fine fact, right?’
Everton breathed out noisily. ‘OK. I got no call to take it out on you.’ He sighed. ‘What happened was what always happens. Someone gives the police reason to freak, and they freak. Arrest anyone they can who’s the right colour, fill up the cells, then retire to their easy chairs upstairs to square their stories…’
‘What happened? Did a police car get petrol-bombed?’
Everton smiled. ‘Yeah. It was a couple of dumb kids. They’s probably halfway to Jamaica by now. They just roll this Coke can full of petrol with a bit of rag in it under the car. There’s no one inside it – the cops are inside Dr Dread’s, looking for some reason to bust him again. And the bomb goes off, but only like a firework – the car don’t go up or nothing. I was right there, talking to Benjy, when it all happens, and we see these kids in the garden next door playing cricket so we run in and try and get ’em to move in case there’s an explosion, right, but they ignore us, so we have to steal their bat. They come running after us, and the next thing I know about five policemen are jumping on top of me and throwing me in the back of a van. And they bring me here. And they make up a nice story for the magistrates, who all look at me like I should be grateful for not having been shot already.’