So its dark, I am cruising quietly and furtively around one of the many trading estates that have sufferred from burglars and petty damagers. I like to do this. Its late as well as dark. Then as I turn a corner I see an glow, I check and again I can confirm, yes its a glow, a glow of a fire. The damagers have returned and set another of the skips alight. We been talking to the beat team who are around during the day. They have visited the units and it seems to be generally accepted. Itis good sense to put the skips inside for the night.
I get closer and see amongst the leaping flames and dark coloured smoke illuminated by the said flames there seems to be a strange form of projection on one side. I continue towards perceived burning skip and as I draw near the transformation in the shape is quite remarkable and at the same time horrifying. The projection turns out to be a leg, other projections appear as parts of arms and up close, real close, there is definately the form of a body, right at the core of the whole thing.
I shout into the radio, there is a definate urgency in my voice, I try to get my poxy little extinguisher out of the ‘secure’ position it is determined tio remain in. We struggle and I fear I am losing the battle but eventually the grip on the sanctuary of the extinguisher bracket is released and I win this one. The extinguisher, not wanting to make it easy pops off and my vehicle is suddenly full of ‘white stuff’. Could this be panic or is everything beginning to get slightly awkward.
I’m out of the vehicle, small metal cannister in hand, move towards to fire. I have remembered to get the vehicle upwind of the smoke. Not by any strategic plan but by luck. That is the way I drove into the estate. If I’d have come the other way I would have surely smelt it well before.
I move in low and fire off the extinguisher at the base of the fire. Bollocks. It doesn’t go off. Could it be I have left the contents inside my vehicle ? Squeeze again, this time I am greeted by the sound and feel of this small piece of apparatus that is going to perform a miracle. As the contents squirt I continue to move slightly closer, keeping the spray directed low and in a slight fan type arc and eventually its out, the flames have gone. The smoke is choking and I realise my hands and arms are bloody hot. Hotter than my face anyway.
Then, despite my other emotions, I realise by the condition of what is before me that I was too late. How could this be. I go for the tried and tested measures of locating a pulse etc etc and feel only the heat and listen to a variety of popping, crackling, hissing and get my first whiff of that smell. The kind of smell that you cannot easily explain. No one ever told me about his.
Oh yes, I’ve smelt death before. From fresh, wet, crumpled and red to old, stale, stiff and musty. But never, ever, quite like this.
I make various checks with comms to ensure that the ambulance and brigade are on their way. I begin to think of all sorts of things connected with death and its companions but only in an effort to distract myself from the real issue.
I try to reassure myself that nothing I could do would have made any difference, what so ever, at all. My mind begins to ask me all sorts of questions. How could anyone in their right mind even consider this ? I look around for something that might shed some light on the matter and answer some of the questions I have.
Then I begin to see the picture. This was not an accident or a crime. The only crime was that this was allowed to happen in the first place.
This could be where ‘big fella in blue’s’ mad lady with the hammer could progress. Needless to say, that blog had inspired and resurrected the memory.
I am knelt on the ground, staring, hoping, my thoughts racing and I begin to look around. I can feel my pulse in my head, in my neck and in my chest, like someone is inside, drumming.
Close by, on the ground, neatly lain out are various personal effects, money all piled up in neat little piles, what remains of the petrol can melted in the heat. Lighters. Remains of those last smoked cigarettes.
Again my mind asks some other questions. How could such a tidy, prepared sort of mind stray from such order to such devastating & catastrophic finality.
The ambulance and brigade turn up, the district Sgt comes to survey the scene, I’ve got it protected as well as I can until someone else (hopefully) gets to take over that unpleasant chore.
Section Inspector comes to survey so comms can show someone is a responsible position has visited the scene. He thanks me for my help, they are short again and everyone is committed. We are unable to get anyone there to photograph the scene so strike a deal with brigade. They get one of their investigators to do the job for us, I keep my log of events going, just in case and eventually that is it. We can exchange photos later if necessary. The unfortunate remnants of the body are removed, I make my final checks and resume. I need a walk with my companion. To clear my head, my lungs and get my stuff together. I tell him about it, he understands, as he always does on such occasions and then I go off to begin to write about it. But that smell, its still there. At least the drummer has stopped.
I go back to the nick, wash, change my uniform and begin the written part of the task. But that smell, its still there. I see that the hairs have gone from my hands and arms.
Later on, whilst I am writing, I am joined briefly by those that came for a look or have heard and come to offer support. This ranges from genuine to those who cannot bring themselves to be openly sympathetic but resort to the humour that some of us, at times like this, use to cover how we really, and I mean really, feel. But that smell.
I ignore the remarks and continue to write and slowly, but surely, everyone else has pissed off and then I am alone, with my pen, my thoughts, my doubts and that bloody smell.
After several different phone calls with the sector Inspector I am informed that we know who this unfortunate person was and briefly some of the case history. I still have that smell, close and unwelcome. Then, from the corner of my eye I see someone who I hadn’t noticed before. Soemone who I had known reasonable well for some years but who seemed to have changed and become temporarily unrecogniseable, camoflaged cleverly with the background in a discreet yet obviously uncomfortable way.
This person approached and spoke, very quietly and softly and thanked me for all I had done.
I was confused. I hadn’t done anything, really, nothing that any other frontline officer would not have tried to do if the roles had been reversed.
I must have look confused, or awfully stupid, but couldn’t speak. They repeated their thanks again and added that this unfortunate soul was a relation. Then they walked slowly away.
I simply stood there, like some form of crazy fool trying to work it all out. It was not what I had expected. My ability to speak seemed to have gone into stand-by mode.
That smell, it lasted for weeks. In my hair, in my clothes, up my nose and in my memory.
Those few discreet words said in a moment of deep personal despair were all that needed to be said. I felt, at that moment in time, that it was I who should be saying thank you.