"Eight-six receiving Mike Delta", my radio murmurs into life quietly. I turn the volume up. Today, I'm running the Misper car, the oh-so-joyous task of looking for missing persons who rarely are missing (and occasionally aren't even persons*) had taken me into a care home, where the lady who was reporting somebody missing had been utterly aghast by the fact that the CAD operator kept rudely interrupting our conversation. It took me the best part of a cup of tea to explain that the operator wasn't speaking to me specifically, but instead to all officers.
* I once had to go to the vanishing act of a '16 year old' boy who turned out to be a dog. To be fair, the person who had reported the mutt missing had some issues, and went through great pains to explain that no, Bobby didn't have an Oyster card, had left the house wearing a blue sweater and without wearing any shoes. Only later, when I asked to see Bobby's room, did the person finally admit that the empty basket in the corner was Bobby's room. There was a very long and rather awkward silence before they finally admitted that yes, it was a dog, and it might have been a slight embellishment of the truth to claim that Bobby had a mobile phone that he refused to answer. It was a long shift.
"Was that eight-six, Mike Delta?"
"Ah. Sorry, my radio was turned down. Receiving!"
"You free to deal?"
"Er, yes, but I'm the Misper car today?"
"That's ok. Sounds like a job for you, then - Think quick!" the operator said, as my Mobile Data Terminal (the in-car computer) beeped that it had received a new CAD (Computer-aided despatching).
"Ta!" I called merrily into my radio, and started poking the screen in my dashboard to find out what my next job was.
After the first skim reading, I flicked back to the first page of the details page on the job I was assigned to, and started reading it one more time, more carefully, this time. My heart was slowly sinking; I hate these kinds of jobs even more than I hate chasing after maybe-missing teenagers who should know better.
I grunted to myself, put the Astra into gear, and crawled with the late-afternoon traffic through the borough, testing myself on all the details of the task at hand. Name? Daniel Michael Smith. Date of birth? 12 February 1993. Parents? Linda and Robert Smith. Address? 39 Church Drive. Flat B. I went over the details again and again; it wouldn't do to make any mistakes in this job.
2012 minus 1993? That's.. 19. I really can't get used to the fact that people born in the 1990's are sentient beings these days. Hell, people who are born this side of the turn of the millennium are nearly old enough to start getting themselves arrested. The day I arrest someone born in 2000, I'm officially old, I've decided. Perhaps I'm turning into my parents, who merrily start sentences with stuff like '15 years ago...'. It made them seem old and me so young - but these days... 15 years ago is 1997. I remember 1997, dammit, and it isn't even that bloody long ago. As soon as 1997 pops into my mind, my mind goes to Susan, the first girl I ever kissed...
I automatically pull to a halt at a red light, and I'm realising that my mind is playing games on me, trying to distract me from the task at hand. I force myself to concentrate. Daniel Michael Smith. 12 February 1993. Linda and Robert Smith. 39 Church Drive, flat... Shit.
I prod at the MDT, encouraging it to show me the details once again. Flat B. Right.
Daniel Michael Smith... Does he go by Dan? Mike? Mickey? Danny? I have no idea... And my mind is again trying to desperately escape the unpleasantness. And yet, I've just turned into Church Drive. There's number 39. There is flat B.
I pull up outside the house - it's a stately victorian house, in a street that is oozing money. Our borough doesn't have too many well-off areas, but this is definitely it. I'm parallel-parking my slightly-battered Astra between a freshy-waxed Audi and a could-do-with-a-wash but probably-far-more-expensive-than-the-Audi Mercedes Brabus. A CL64 or similar, I think - I don't actually remember the model number. I find my feet take me behind the Mercedes to take a look, but of course; the car is posh enough that it doesn't have any badges on it. I stand there for a second, scratching my head. Why did I think it was a Brabus? I spot the stance of the car; between the suspension and the low-profile tyres, there's a pretty good chance that this is a Brabus.
"Pull yourself together, Delito," I mumble to myself. "You've done this a hundred times before", I lie to myself. I haven't. I've done it a dozen times before, at the most. And never alone. But that's just how it turned out today.
As I'm taking the step down to Flat B, I'm finding myself wishing that whoever lives here isn't home, so I can enter "NRRR" as the outcome of this inquiry - No Reply to Repeated Ringing. Unfortunately, as soon as I ring the door bell, a voice drifts down from the upstairs window.
"Comiiing!" it calls, cheerfully.
I hear a set of footsteps storm down a flight of wooden chairs, before fiddling with a set of keys. A lock clicks, a door creaks, and I'm facing an attractive woman in her early twenties, dressed in a summery dress that makes her eye sparkle.
"Uhm..." she says. "I was expecting somebody... else, sorry."
"That's OK," I reply.
"How can I help you, officer?"
"Is your name Linda Smith?"
"Linda is my mother. I am Cecilia."
"Is Linda home?"
"How about Robert?"
"His name is Bobby," she bursts out laughing, struck with the hilarity of someone calling her father 'Robert'.
Bobby. Uncomfortable echoes of the aforementioned hunt for the missing dogs are playing on my mind.
"Right, er. Well, I have some bad news," I stumble. "May I come in?"
"Sure," she says, and opens the door further, waving me into the small front room that appears to be used largely as a flower-growing room. It smells like a funeral parlour.
"Do you know Daniel Michael Smith, born 12 February 1993?"
"Oh shit. Has something happened to Mikey?"
"I am afraid so. He goes to university, doesn't he?"
"Yeah, up at St Andrews, in Scotland"
"Well, it appears that he was in a traffic collision this morning."
Cecilia goes pale, and flops back into the sofa she was perching on. I'm standing awkwardly in the flower room.
"Is he..." she says.
"Yes, I'm afraid he passed away about two hours ago. He didn't carry any identification, so we weren't able to find out who he was until just now."
"What happened?" she asks, clearly in shock.
"I... I don't have the full details, I'm afraid." I stutter. I'm terrible at delivering bad news. I'm not sure if I'm terrible at it because I hate it, or if I hate it because I'm terrible at it. I wish Kim was with me; she seems to deal with things like this in her stride without skipping a beat. "But from what we have been told, he was on a bicycle, and ended up in a collision with a van."
"I am afraid so. I'm so sorry. Could you... Is there any way you could call your parents? Right now, please, whilst I am still here."
There is no real reason why I have to stick around; My part of the job is done. I have written down all the pertinent details on a memo pad, and I've left the piece of paper on the side-table next to the sofa Cecilia is sitting on: The place the accident happened, who identified her brother, and where his body is being kept until they can arrange for it to be collected. and yet, I can't leave. Not until I know Cecilia isn't going to crash to the floor in shock.
"Yes... yes, of course, I'll text them."
"Cecilia?" I say.
"Hmmh?" she replies, as she is tapping away at her phone.
"You aren't going to text your parents that your brother has died, are you?"
"No. Please don't do that."
"I don't have any credit on my phone." she says, and finally starts crying, as if the lack of credit was what finally brought the point home; that her brother wasn't going to come home.
"Do you have their numbers?" I ask.
She nods in reply.
"We can use my radio to call them." I offer a solution. "You can call them with my radio. Or I can call them for you."
"I..." she says, looking up at me with tear-filled eyes. Her tears makes her look younger than early twenties; I'm guessing...
"How old are you?" I suddenly ask her, as the penny drops.
"Nineteen" she replies.
"Mikey... Is your twin brother?" I realise out loud, in an embarrassing display of lack of deductive powers.
She replies with a barely perceptible nod.
"Was," she corrects me with a grating, broken voice buried under six and a half tonnes of bereavement. "Was."
I help her dial the numbers - first their father, then their mother - and I end up taking over both phone calls, because she only makes it twenty second into each conversation, unable to get past "he's dead" before handing me my radio back. In both cases, I share the limited information I have with them, and advise them to re-group with their daughter at home as soon as they can.
Linda shows up ten minutes later; I recognise her. She works as the head of year at a local school. She recognises me as well; the school is one of the ones that frequently requires our intervention on something or other. She nods and mumbles a greeting, before engaging in a mutual embrace with her daughter.
I excuse myself - at least Cecilia has someone looking after her now, and my job is done.
As if in a dazed dream, I'm stumbling back to my car. I start the car, and head back to the police station on auto-pilot, ignoring my radio. When I make it back to the station, I stay in my car, and I type out a short summery of the situation on my MDT. "Family notified. Cecilia Smith DOB12021993 (Sister) informed in person, Linda and Robert notified via telephone."
People react in very unpredictable ways when police rock up at their door to tell them a loved one has passed away. Some are shocked to silence, others are roused to protest. Some drop into auto-pilot-mode, insisting on being a good host and offering me cups of tea, whilst others try to throw me out of the house as soon as they can, clutching at the hope that if they get rid of the messenger as quickly as possible, the message will also turn out to be gone.
Come to think of it, I have no idea how I would react if someone were to show up at my door about my brother or my parents.
But I'm pretty sure I know how the officers would feel
Matt Delito is a pseudonym for a policeman working for the Metropolitan Police. All Notes from the Frontline are not entirely “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” due to the sensitive nature of the business, but are all based on actual events. These days, he’s on Facebook and Twitter as well.
Matt has a book based on his Notes from the Front Line column out now - you can get it from Amazon, in paperback or on Kindle.
If you missed his previous columns on Giz UK, check them out over here.