The wind howled as it administered a series of stinging slaps to his face. It had been a long, hot summer, the days warm and balmy, but tonight the weather had broken, and it was unusually stormy. 
     ‘What’s wrong with you, uni boy? A wee bit of wind and you’re burrowing into your tunic like a ragged-arsed mole digging for his life. Tell me, what the fuck did you join the Glasgow polis for anyway?’
     Thoroughgood couldn’t have answered this question even if he wanted to, but before he had time to think up a suitable reply his inquisitor spoke again, raising his voice above the icy gusts that seemed to slice through their woollen ‘monkey suits’.
     ‘You fuckin’ students are all the same – think you can turn up with your bloody degrees and run the show before the ink has dried on your warrant cards but…’
     Thoroughgood ground to a halt, aware that his tormentor was no longer next to him. As he turned around, the senior cop jabbed a finger into his shoulder, a breath of stale alcohol washing over the rookie. He found himself mesmerised by Davidson’s mouthful of rotten teeth, which resembled a blown fuse box. 
     ‘It don’t work that way out here, you wanker. It is what I say that goes and it is me that calls the shots. When I say jump, you ask how high, because doing what I say is the only way you’re gonnae stay alive on these streets. Do you understand me, uni boy?’
     Thoroughgood attempted to provide an answer but found words hard to come by for a second time and settled instead for a nod of his head.
     Davidson glared at Thoroughgood, but the probationer, a mounting anger at his treatment at the hands of his tutor cop rising inside him, met the older man’s spiteful stare with a seething resolve that he would not be cowed. Davidson’s hat sat at an angle that slightly covered a headful of straw hair; his eyes were cruel and grey, set into a pale and ghoulish face. As Thoroughgood stared back at him, their close proximity brought home the sense of latent violence that seemed to perpetually accompany Davidson.
     ‘Now, listen good, boy,’ hissed the senior cop. ‘I don’t like middle-class, sponging, student scum and I couldn’t give a fuck whether you make it out the other side of your probation dead or alive, but what I do care about is keeping my own hide in one piece. So while you are with me you play by my rules. Your education, uni boy, starts right now.’
Thoroughgood attempted to subdue his shame that a male in his late thirties, whose physique was far from imposing and inclined to strain the silver buttons of his tunic, was indeed doing a very good job of intimidating him. While physically Davidson was no man-mountain, it was the experience and knowhow that he had gained on two tours of Northern Ireland during the height of the Troubles and his reputation for dealing out brutal and systematic beatings that kept Thoroughgood’s mounting anger in check.
     Davidson took another step closer. ‘Rule number one for any beat cop is know where you are. Stay sharp, stay alive. You may have all the brains in the world, uni boy, but now we’re gonnae find out if you have the wits to go with them, cos wits is what keeps you safe ’n’ sound on the street.’
     The senior cop’s lecture was ended by the chimes of an ice cream van and within seconds a golden-roofed, blue-sided vehicle emblazoned with the words ‘Mojito’s Ices: Satisfaction Guaranteed’ came into view at the top of Braidendmuir Street. 
     ‘Move it,’ spat Davidson out of the side of his mouth, immediately setting off up the hill towards the van. About fifty yards from the vehicle he turned into the doorway of a derelict tenement close and gestured to Thoroughgood to do likewise. 
     Davidson’s eyes remained homed in on the van before he eventually spoke. ‘You never know what’s drawn out of the woodwork by the icy. Did you know that junkies have a sweet tooth? Ice cream, chocolate and all that shite helps them fight their cravings.’
     ‘Nope,’ said Thoroughgood, taking his hat off and running the fingers of his right hand through his mop of black hair.
     ‘Junkies equals warrants. So you stay awake and we might just get ourselves a body here.’
     Within seconds the deserted street was teeming with kids and their mothers, high-pitched chatter and shrill cackling filling the air, but Davidson’s hopes that any of the criminal fraternity would oblige him with an appearance were left unfulfilled.
     As the last of the van’s customers walked away, licking their purchases, the senior cop stepped forwards. ‘Stay here,’ he barked.
     The rookie watched in fascination as the former soldier approached the driver of the vehicle, a young, dark-haired male who Thoroughgood put in his early twenties. There ensued an increasingly heated conversation, which ended with Davidson grabbing the driver by the scruff of his denim jacket and half dragging him out the vehicle sales window.
     A combination of the blowing gale and distance meant, infuriatingly, that no matter how hard Thoroughgood strained his ears he could not hear a word of the exchange. 
     Having clearly made his point, Davidson propelled the obviously shaken ice cream man back through the window and, as he did so, a brown paper envelope found its way onto the service counter before being quickly scooped up by Davidson and shoved into his left-hand breast pocket.
     Ten yards from the tenement close Davidson shouted, ‘Time to move out, uni boy,’ and without waiting for a reply marched off as the ice cream van sped down the road in the opposite direction.


© McNidder and Grace Ltd. 2016 

Extract from The Shift by R.J. Mitchell 2016