Below is the first chapter of the book I am currently working on, while trying to edit the last one, and query the first one with agents and publishers- Anyway I hope you enjoy this sneak preview –
Chapter One The World is Burning
January 7th 2020
A voice rang out over the concourse of Liverpool Central train station. Amplified by the megaphone, his tones were harsh and metallic. Scratchy denunciations delivered into the cold morning rush hour. “A woman ripped off her shirt and ran into the bush to save a burning Koala. It was 49.7 degrees… Thousands evacuated. It is here… we don’t have to wait…it’s not about our future…Australia… the world is burning.” His face strained as he exhorted the commuters to join him, to join them.
Charlie’s half of the city was ecstatic and looking forward to getting to school and work. What a great start to the new year, a Liverpool kids team had beaten Everton five-nil in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Bragging rights had been well and truly established, he thought.
Head down, ears full of ‘The Redmen TV’ podcast, Charlie walked quickly towards the station exit. A group of climate protesters waved hand-painted placards and banners. He ignored them. Liverpool FC was on fire, but not in the way they were moaning about. He wanted to enjoy the last few minutes before he started work. The damp air made the amplified voice sound shrill and panicked in the concourse of Liverpool’s Central Station.
A police snatch squad of four officers moved in swiftly. They sliced through the commuters. The process was clear; Identify the target, give the order, move in, detain, transport the target, move out. The speaker, a young man with a soft round face and loose hair was confronted and detained before he realised what was happening. A loud electronic screech replaced the megaphone voice, as the machine relayed feedback. The noise cut through Charlie’s podcast and he swiped to stop the programme, his eyes followed the officers. He was shocked at the speed and violence. The black uniforms surged through the commuters then focused on their prey. It was clear and clinical, he couldn’t help but be impressed.
In a practised routine, one officer bent low and his arm swept away his legs, sending his upper body falling backwards. The fall was broken by arms that held, then forced him down. Within seconds, the guy was on his back, legs held firmly, arms pinned to the ground. He pressed the button on the megaphone as his only means of resistance. The feedback whine cut through the station entrance.
“Shut that fucking thing off.”
Following orders, an officer wrestled with the megaphone, but a strap was around his wrist. Charlie’s sightline was clear, he made eye contact. In the seconds before he was flipped over onto his stomach he stared at Charlie. Charlie could see the fear, pain, and anger in his eyes.
As he lay defeated, he mouthed, “The world is burning.”
It stopped Charlie dead. What? What could he do? What was it about? Commuters jostled him as they rushed past. He pulled the pods from his ears. He watched as a bizzie placed a knee in his back and pushed his face into the floor. The other protesters were stunned and passive. No one was doing anything. By the time a phone was produced to record it, the speaker lay prone, immobilised, and in pain. Eric Garner, Eric Garner the name flashed through Charlie’s mind, the guy in New York who was strangled by cops for selling a few ciggies. Another bizzie arms spread protected his colleagues behind him. Charlie approached him and asked. “Is that necessary?” he knew it was probably useless to ask but no one was doing anything. He looked around, people were streaming past like the whole scene was invisible. Charlie was confused and angry now.
The guy’s distorted face pressed against the smooth floor of the concourse was flushed and red.
The officer’s reply was cold and sharp.“Move on.”
“I’m asking if he needs to do that?” Charlie pointed. It was obvious he didn’t they had him under control.
The policeman swatted Charlie’s pointing hand away. “None of your business, keep moving.” He pushed Charlie to the right.
Charlie met the bizzie’s eyes, they were cold and contemptuous. He recognised the aggression from crowd control at football matches, barked commands, and shouted orders. The bizzies were trained to dominate people and space. Bullies. He hated bullies.
“I said move on.” It was an order that came with another push. Charlie unbalanced, moved a little. He didn’t know what to do now, he couldn’t push it much further without getting involved himself.
The screech died and an officer managed to wrest the megaphone from his hand. To sharp commands the man was lifted face down, legs and arms immobilized as they carried him out of the station. The squad moved in step and sliced through the morning commuters. Charlie followed, watching. The detainee was hyperventilating, gasping for air. His face strained, eyes bulged, his body wracking with the effort to breathe. A police van waited at the kerb, and he was slung in the back like a piece of meat. Bastards.
The doors slammed and the van moved out into the traffic. Charlie walked on to work but the look in those eyes haunted him. There was pain and anger, these emotions were no strangers in Charlie’s life. He remembered the words, “The world is burning.”
Charlie left the station and walked down the pedestrianised Church Street, he followed the motions. He knew where he was going and why. His feet knew the way, he didn’t have to think. In every other doorway, rough sleepers were in foetal positions or stretched out like corpses. The air was fresh, a breeze blowing in off the river Mersey a few blocks away. The day would be nice as soon as the sun got its arse into gear and showed up for the day.
The workers’ entrance was through the main door, the shutter was half up, and after ducking under it, he was in the store. He went through the shop area and a side door that led to the warehouse. The images of the arrest followed him. Something about the process disturbed him.
“Hey.” He waved to the half dozen workers sitting around, waiting to start.
He took his coat off and slipped on his hi-viz vest.
Charlie high fived Gary. “Were you there?”
“Nah, watched it, but couldn’t afford to go,” said Gary.
“Me neither,” said Charlie.
“Saw summat weird a minute ago, in Central Station,” Charlie added.
“The bizzies arrested a kid.”
“Dunno some protest thing.”
“I saw them probably hippies,” said Gary
“Yeah, I guess.” Charlie swiped his card. Technology would record his arrival —his performance while in the building, and his departure. His card slipped inside the digital handheld scanning device he carried with him every second he was in the warehouse. He was a couple of minutes early, so he got a beef soup from the machine. The tea was awful, at least the beef drink had a distinctive taste.
“How long have you got left? Heard anything?” Gary asked.
“No, waiting for a text, how about you?” Charlie replied.
“Same, hope they give me some notice. I think we’ll be here till the end of the week.”
“Till the January sales finish?”
“Yeah, the agency will move us after that.”
The shop was halfway between mail order and a High Street shop. Catalogues filled the retail area, shoppers filled in a form with the catalogue number and paid the cashier. This number was then displayed on a large screen in the warehouse together with the employee number who was responsible for collecting it from the shelf and delivering it to the conveyor, which eventually brought it out into the shop.
“Gary and Charlie, you’re on overnight orders so you can start,” the supervisor said. Charlie didn’t mind this, these orders were placed the night before online, so they could work their way through the list for the first hour of the day.
The ten-hour shift was timed from the first order scanned. They were allowed a thirty-minute lunch break. The temperature-controlled windowless warehouse was a perfect place for Charlie to disappear into zombie space, the piped radio helped set a tone of monotony — get the code, find the parcel, scan it, put it onto the conveyor, start again. The day wore on and the images from the morning diminished and Charlie was able to once again enjoy the Liverpool victory. Until the four o’clock news.
The words of the newsreader began to break through. “Liverpool…protest…arrest… death…” Charlie stopped.
“There has been a death in police custody. Although no identity has been released the deceased is believed to have been a climate protester detained this morning in Central Liverpool. The deceased was transferred from Hope Street police station to Liverpool Royal Infirmary and pronounced dead on arrival. Police have made no official statement at this time, unofficial reports suggest the death was due to natural causes. We will bring you more information as it is available.”
As natural as a computer in a swimming pool.