Still driving to my mum's house for the family barbecue, I'm slightly incredulous at the security guy who had tried to arrest-and-not-quite-arrest me not a few hours ago in the day. But then my phone, which I have it in a holder on my dash where it's serving as my in-car audio, rings aloud. Irritatingly, it's showing 'withheld number'.
That usually means work is calling: the Met has withheld numbers across its whole network.
I really, really don't want to answer the phone, but I figure I sort of have to. It is a fantastically hot day, and hot days do weird things to people. If it turns out there's a riot breaking out, and they're calling in all Level 2 officers, then I suppose my visit to my mum would be out the window; but everything for the job. Technically, they don't usually call you up to force you back on duty (although for big and crazy things happening, they will). No, they'll usually ask you very nicely indeed, and as it's literally no notice at all, it means a sizeable big overtime paycheck. Lovely. Given that I've just dipped deep into my savings to buy myself a new car (well, I say new... It's a few years old, but it's a lovely little motor), I could do with a bit of extra cash to put in the bank.
I press the button on my steering wheel that's meant to answer the phone for me. It does... Nothing. I'm pressing it again. Nothing. Damn it. I can't talk without a hands-free. Imagine the irony, "Sorry officer, I thought the police was calling me, so I had to answer"... But I do need to answer the phone before it stops ringing; If it is the Met central ops office, they won't leave a message, and I might conceivably miss out on a overtime opportunity.
Ah! A bus stop! I pull over, and snatch the iPhone out of its cradle.
"Delito speaking," I say, keeping my fingers crossed that I'm not too late.
"Hi Matt!" It's my mother.
"Uh, hi mum! When did you get a hidden number?" I asked.
"No, no, don't be silly! We don't have a hidden number. Your dad played a trick on you -- he dialled a special number before yours." she said. I can hear my dad saying something in the background. "141! He says it's 141. Anyway, it hides the number."
"I had no idea you could do that," I said, confused that my parents know anything about technology that I didn't. (I had to look it up later -- it turns out it's a standard feature on BT lines. Who knew...), "But more importantly, why?"
"Well," my mum said, hesitating. "We knew you'd pick up, then!"
I burst out laughing. My parents know me too well. They know I'll eventually call back if I see a missed call from them. But it's true; if I had seen it was my mother calling, I probably wouldn't have pulled over to the side of the road specifically to pick up the phone just then. In fact, I would probably just have driven the few remaining miles and spoken to them in person instead. I felt a flash of embarrassment to realise that I was happy to pull over on the prospect of making some extra money and potentially not seeing my parents, but not to answer their call.
"Oh dear. Anyway; I was driving, but I've stopped now. What do you need? I'm just up the road."
"Ah! Have you passed the B&Q yet?"
"Your dad just cleaned the barbecue, and put a steel brush straight through the bottom of it. I guess it has seen its last pork and stilton sausage. Could you pick up a new BBQ?" She pronounced it 'Bee Bee Cue', in the way only my mother can, when she thinks she's being all hip, cool, and 'down wiv da kids'. I got a picture of her in my head, where's she's rocking her head to the left, 'bee', then to the right, 'bee', and then to the left again, 'cue'. Groan-worthy doesn't quite cover it, so I was glad to only have her voice to grind against my nerves for the occation.
"Sure. Any particular type of barbecue you want? A Gas one? Large? Small?"
"No, no -- charcoal is fine. Get a cheap one, like a twenty pound one or something."
I hear my dad shout something in the background.
"Oh. He says; can you bring a 4mm wood drill bit?"
I shake my head. Only my dad desperately needs a particular-sized drill bit just before a family barbecue.
"Sure. Barbecue grill and a drill bit. Anything else?"
"Yeah, could you bring an outdoor thermometer, too? The one we had mounted on the shed didn't survive the winter."
We natter for another couple of minutes before I am finally able to hang up. My mother really is perpetually unable to end a conversation without going on about loose and fast - never mind that I'll be there all evening.
I start my engine again, and the blissfully cool AC air comes through the vents. I had only stopped for a couple of minutes, but already the car was hot - it was one of those freak mini-heatwaves.
The B&Q is only about a mile up the road. I park up my car, and go inside. I make sure to grab a basket - not because I need it, but because I'm not really in the mood to argue with another over-zealous security guard today. I find a barbecue, grab the free bag of coal that comes with it, pick a retro-looking outdoor thermometer, and a pack of drill-bits, ranging from 2 to 16mm. Yes, including a 4mm bit.
After I pay, and am leaving the store, I half expect the alarm to go off as I go through the alarm barriers. The check-out lady spent a long time futzing with the safety label on the drill bits, but no, she must have gotten it right; I've escaped the clutches of the do-it-yourself empire with my dignity intact. Hoorah.
Outside, I walk across the car park, looking at the thermometer; certainly a hot day; it would be interesting to know how warm it was. I stand by my car for a while, until the thermometer stabilises on a temperature. I shrug, and drop my freshly purchased goods in the boot of my car. As I step around to the side of the car, I see a mother and her two kids standing near a car. One of the children is screeching loudly, clearly extremely unhappy about something.
"Locked yourself out?" I ask out of curiosity, and saunter over.
"The doggy!" the little girl says, tears rolling down her cheeks.
"There's a dog in the car," explains the mother, holding on to her daughter with one hand, and her shopping trolly with another.
I look inside; sure enough, there's a rather unhappy-looking, medium-sized dog flopped in the back seat of the car. I place my hand on the side window; it's warm. I tap the window, but I get no reaction from the dog.
"It's animal cruelty, I tell you," she says. "We saw the dog through the window, it was sitting up when we went into the shop, breathing heavily. But now that we've finished shopping, it seems to be laying down. We were in there for..." she says, but is interrupted by her offspring.
"She looks just like Britney!" the girl wails, obviously distraught.
"Britney is our dog," the mother explains.
"How long were you in there?" I say, and glance at her shopping trolly. It's full of tools, materials, and other bits and pieces. It's obvious it'd have taken them quite a while to complete their shopping round.
"About an hour" she says.
"Right", I say, and stop to think, briefly. I look at the dog, then back at the woman's trolly.
"May I please borrow that socket wrench you've purchased?"
"Er... Yes?" she replies.
"Great. Let's see if we can't get this dog some air."
I take the heavy socket wrench handle from her basket, and take a closer look at the dog-prison that is the dark Volkswagen Passat. Normally, I'd have taken out a small pane of glass behind the passenger-side rear door; they are cheap to replace, and they don't compromise the security of the car too much. However, that would have rained glass all over the potentially scared dog, and I didn't really fancy facing a panicked dog that might turn out to be not only pissed off, but also crazy. I walk around to the passenger side, and place the socket wrench carefully against the bottom corner of the front passenger window. Aiming my shot carefully, I swing back, and hit the window glass.
The wrench just bounces back without leaving a scratch on the glass. No big surprise there; car windows are surprisingly tough. I give it another go, angling the wrench slightly, making sure that one of the sharp edges of the socket hit the window first. This time, it smashes, reducing the whole window to tiny, sugar-cube sized morsels of glass. I reach into the car, open the passenger door, then reach in through the door, and open the rear passenger door, too. The dog opens its eyes, but seems completely disinterested in moving.
"I think I spotted a dog bowl by the entrance to the shop," I said, pointing towards the DIY warehouse. "Could you go get it for me, please?"
The mother made haste toward the shop entrance, and returned with a nearly empty bowl. Her son - aged about 15 or so - had gone to their own car, and came back with a full bottle of water. He unscrewed the top, and filled up the bowl to the brim, as his mother was setting the bowl down on the ground.
I lifted the dog out of the car, and placed it in the shade of the car - the heat inside the vehicle as properly unbearable - and placed the dog with one paw in the water bowl. He dragged himself to his feet immediately, and started drinking the water.
"What the flying fuck do you think you are doing?!" I hear a voice behind me. I didn't have to turn around to know who it would be. I don't have time for any shenanigans. Still holding the socket wrench in one hand, I reach into my pocket for my warrant card wallet, and turn around, facing him. I hold the warrant card up into the air.
"Police!" I say, perhaps a little bit louder than necessary.
"What the... I don't care you're fucking filth. I want to know why you smashed my fucking car."
"Okay; Two things," I said, calmly, still holding up my warrant card as if it were a shield. "Please stop swearing, there are children here, and there's no need for raised voices and bad language. Also, your dog was dying in there."
"What do you care?" he spat, inspecting the window of his car. "I'm going to need your insurance details, mate. Which of these cars is yours?" he asked, looking around the parking lot.
"I'll happily give you my insurance details, if you want them. But my car insurance won't cover this," I said, pointing at my lovely little Honda Civic Type R - the old, breadvan shape one - across the parking lot. "Mine is the blue car over there. I can assure you it wasn't involved in your dog's rescue operation."
"Who's gonna pay for this then?"
"Sorry, what is your name?" I asked.
"Smith. Jeremy Smith", he barked. "Yours?"
"I'm Matt Delito", I said. "Do you like your dog, Jeremy?"
"What the hell kind of question is that?"
"I understand that you are upset about your car window being smashed, but that's easily replaced. Hell," I said, suddenly remembering something. I turned around, and saw a car-glass sign with an arrow at the end of the B&Q driveway. "You can probably get it done right now, over there. Your dog, however, might have died if we hadn't gotten her out of the car when we did. She was in a bad state."
"That's bollocks, I was only in the shop for about a couple of minutes," he said, holding up a length of wood and a small bag. "I only bought this stuff! You could have just gotten the shop to put an announcement out or something, and I'd have been here in a flash."
"That would have been possible," I said, and gestured towards the dog, who was happily drinking water. The little girl who had been so upset that her own dog's twin was trapped in the car was over the moon, petting and hugging the drinking dog, cooing it, obviously completely oblivious about whatever we were talking about.
"However," I added, "your dog had already collapsed in the car, and this lady and her kids say that he'd been in there for about an hour."
"They're fucking lying!" he shouted.
"Look, I don't really care how long you were in there. Earlier today, I stopped in my car for ten minutes with the windows closed; I was glad to have the A/C back on after that. Even a minute is too long to leave your dog unattended in heat like this, especially in a dark car, with the windows closed."
"Do you have a dog?" he screamed at me.
"Sir, calm down. There's no need to shout."
"Do you have a fucking dog?" he said loudly.
"I do not."
"Are you a fucking vet, then?"
"Well then what the hell do you know?"
"Look, I'm not having this discussion with you. The dog was left in a car, it collapsed from the heat. I carried it out of the car myself. It looks like it's going to be fine. You don't have to thank me," I said, and received an angry huffy sound in reply from Jeremy. There was no immediate risk of him thanking me. "But the very least you could do is to stop shouting obscenities in front of these kids."
"Do you need me for anything?" the mother butted in.
"Actually, could I just take your details?" I said, figuring that it might be useful to track down a witness, in case Jeremy decided to try and file a claim of some sort.
"Sure," she said, and produced a business card from her hand bag. I glanced at it. Sandra McEwan, Legal assistant. She saw me read it, and when I glanced back up, she winked. "Let me know if my firm or I can help you with anything, mr Delito."
"I think it'll be fine. I'll take it from here! Have a lovely week-end," I said, and waved goodbye to the girl, as they all made their way to their own car.
"So, what am I supposed to do now?" the man said.
"I don't know," I said. "You could to to the car-glass place and get your window fixed, I suppose?"
"Are you paying?" he snarled.
"I am not, no."
"What then?" he said.
"If you have separate insurance for your windows, your insurance might cover it. You'd have to call them to find out."
"But you broke my window!"
"Yes, I did. And I'm sorry. I don't like breaking windows; but I like animals suffering even less."
Suddenly, his face lit up; he had seen a way through this situation that would benefit him.
"You did criminal damage! You fucked my car up! That's criminal damage!"
"I know a thing or two about criminal damage," I said. "And trust me, this is not it. You're welcome to call the police to have me arrested, but I think you'll find that saving the life of your dog is what the law refers to as 'lawful excuse'."
"I will call the police, actually." he said. I kicked myself for giving him that idea. Stupid, Delito. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
"Okay, well I'm in a bit of a rush, so when you call them, would you mind if I also spoke to whoever you speak to? That might speed things up a little bit."
Jeremy fished a mobile phone out of his pocket, and started dialling 999.
"Mate, could you dial 101 instead?"
"I'm not your fucking mate", he hissed, and pressed the button to dial the call. I sighed, and hoped that the operator would tell him off for using 999 for what clearly wasn't an emergency.
After being asked what his 'emergency' was he explained that I had smashed his car window for absolutely no reason, and that he needed some police there right away. He gave a description of me ("Yeah, he's white. Quite tall. About 6 foot, I'd say. Jeans. Leather trainers. Black T-shirt that says 'sudo make me a sandwich' in white text. He's pretty ugly.") I held out my hand, hoping that he'd remember that I wanted like to have a quick word with them. Instead of handing the telephone over, he triumphantly it up above his head, as he clicked the red button, disconnecting the line. The way he made that gesture made me think that it looked as if he was using a Hi-Fi remote aimed at the heavens, as if he was remote controlling God.
"They'll be here in 10 minutes", he said.
I had no doubt; the way he had explained the situation over the phone... He told I had smashed his car window, and opened his car door, and that he was worried I would get away before the police got there. He made no mention of a dog at all.
There was actually a pretty decent chance that the call would be graded as an I-grade - the most urgent of calls, which is usually only used for crimes in progress and danger to life and limb type situations. If that were the case, they would, indeed, be there within a few minutes.
I called my mother, and briefly explained that I was going to be late, and that I had to wait for the police to arrive. After assuring her that there was nothing bad happening, she despatched my father to come to me - not to help me, hilariously enough ("Matt can look after himself." she declared) but to get the barbecue I had bought, so they could get it started, ready for us to eat.
The police arrived as I hung up, and Jeremy ran to meet the police car.
As they came back into ear-shot, I heard him mid-explanation. Jeremy led two officers from the police car to his car. I was standing next to his car with his dog, petting it. It was doing much better, but had drunk the whole bowl of water already.
As soon as one of the officers saw the dog, they stopped.
"Excuse me," one of them hailed me. "Do you have a leash for that dog?"
"I don't, I'm afraid," I said.
It's a good question, and one I would certainly have asked in that situation. If there is any chance at all that you have to arrest somebody, it's good practice to make sure that the dog is tied up somewhere. Loyal as they are, dogs generally get rather vicious if they sense their owner is being attacked - and no amount of careful explanation can explain to our furry, face-full-of-teeth canine friends what an 'arrest' is.
"I've got one," Jeremy said.
"It's his dog anyway," I said. "I was just looking after it, seeing as how he ran away from it to meet you guys."
"So, what's going on here?" the officer asked, nodding at me, indicating that he expected a response from me, rather than from Jeremy. I expect he already told them about the window, so I filled them in on the motivation instead.
"I went inside the shop. When I came out, I saw a small group of people by this car, and a dog collapsed in the back seat. I asked one of the bystanders if they knew how long the dog had been in there. They said they weren't sure, but that the dog had been in there when they entered the shop, and was still there when they came out about an hour later."
"He's fucking lying!" Jeremy screamed, spittle flying everywhere. "What a fucking motherless little, lying little, fucking little... weasel... bastard..."
"Is that your dog, mr Smith?" said the officer, interrupting Jeremy's incoherent tirade
"Did you leave it in the car?"
"How long were you gone for?"
"Not an hour! He's lying!"
"How long were you gone for?"
"They're fucking lying!"
"Mr Smith! Would you mind not swearing at me, please? How long were you gone for?"
"About ten minutes! If that!"
"How hot do you think it is?"
"I don't know, do I?"
"I know!" I said, helpfully. "I just bought a thermometer. It's 27 degrees."
"Please be quiet", the officer said to me. "I am talking to this gentleman. Now, how hot do you think it is?"
"I guess what he said."
"What colour is your car?"
"I see what you're trying to..."
"Sir, it's a simple question. What colour is your car?"
"Dark blue, but..."
"So, just to summarise; You left your dog in your dark blue car, parked in the middle of the sun, on one of the hottest days we've had so far this year?"
"Okay, let me talk to this other man briefly." the officer said, whilst Jeremy was sputtering vague insults at nobody in particular. "Did you break this man's car window?"
"I did, yes."
"To save the dog."
"Did you believe the dog to be in danger?", he asked, and I briefly smiled; I knew exactly what he was fishing for.
"I have a genuinely held belief that if I hadn't gotten the dog out of the car when I did, it would have suffered needlessly. I fear it might have died if I hadn't freed it one way or another."
"Thank you. Please give your details to my colleague, here," he said, nodding to the other officer, who was ready with a PDA to run my personal details through the Police National Computer, whilst he turned back to Jeremy.
I walked over to the other officer.
"Do you have any ID on you at all?" he said. I showed him my warrant card, and he chuckled. He took down my warrant number and name. "On your way, then."
"Thanks," I said. "You on lates all week-end?"
"Nah, last shift today. Got the rest of the week-end off."
"Me too; have a good one!" I said.
He smiled. "You too, Delito", he said, leaving me to walk to my car. Just as I climbed inside, my dad arrived. I pulled up next to him and said it was all over, and that we could get on our way.
As I pulled out of the B&Q parking lot, I could hear Jeremy shout "You paki c*nt" at the not-really-all-that-pakistani-looking officer who had taken my details. Oh dear; not a very clever move.
If he had simply agreed that yes, it was really stupid to leave his dog in the car on a hot day, and yes, he was going to have to swallow the sixty quid or so to get a new window put in his car, but at least he'd still have his dog in good health, it would all have been over. Instead, he decided to get the police involved. They immediately clocked on to what had happened, and then for some reason lost his rag to the point that he decided to shout racial slurs at one of the officers... So that would be at least an aggravated public order offence, along with, quite possibly, an animal cruelty charge for good measure. And he would still have to pay to get his window fixed.
On hearing the swearwords, I briefly stopped my car and rolled down my window, keeping a shouty Jeremy and the two officers in view, in case they needed an extra pair of hands for the arrest. It took a grand total of five seconds before Jeremy was in handcuffs, being led toward the police car.
I gave the trio one last wave before I pulled away, glad to be on my way to the family barbecue, at last. It doesn't happen very often that the police is called on me - let alone twice in one day - so at the very least, I had a great story to tell over dinner. Jeremy, on the other hand, had a microwave meal and the inside of a cell to look forward to
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.