Shift

Simon found him. I could hear the fear and trembling in his voice over the radio. The guy had crawled half way up the steps to the main entrance. Both his wrists were slit and the blood was still pumping out. It looked almost black in the beam of our torches. Behind him there was a trail. You can still sketch it three months later from where they cleaned it up with solvent.

I tried to talk to the guy but I think he was unconscious. Simon had called the ambulance before me, and they arrived quickly. They took him away and I don’t know how he got on. It never made the news. But it seemed to me he was a goner. He was filthy and skinny, maybe 25, and maybe dying on the cathedral steps was the best thing that could have happened.

I dealt with the police. I’d sent Simon back to the security lodge. He was really cut up. He’d been with me about a week, a placement from the university where he was doing an urban surveillance degree. I never saw him again after that night. There’s stuff in books and then there’s real life, and he failed to graduate.

The SOCOs came and set up their arc lamps and we left them to their pickings. I took the two police to the lodge and gave them a cup of tea. They took a statement from Simon who was still shaking.

As they were leaving the boss himself came in, woken and annoyed. Most nights it was a deputy custodian on duty but Bretherton had been called in twice in a month, last time when that woman burned herself to death in the side entrance. In case you’re wondering, yes you can still see the charred masonry and marks on the door. I could make a fortune charging for a tour of the signs of the dead round here.

Bretherton was on the phone trying to calm down an angry resident from the gated estate in front of the cathedral. They’d been woken by the lights and noise. Bretherton explained that there had been an incident but the police procedures were almost over. Yes, he agreed, it was the third time this year and measures were being taken to curtail such disturbances in the future.

He put the phone down and spoke to the air above my head. “God knows why they come in the first place. They’re wandering in during the daytime too, even interrupting services. It’s not as if anyone here is trained to deal with them. Wouldn’t you think they’d go to the hospital or a hostel or something.”

After he’d taken a quick look at the steps to assess damage and signed the incident form I told Simon to stay in the lodge and take it easy. I went out to do the perimeter walk. The SOCOs had gone and I could hear below me in the graveyard a twanger, one of those lost souls who wander around with a guitar and play the instrument in whatever company they find themselves. There’s a couple who are near permanent fixtures in the cemetry and they don’t seem to worry whether they are playing for the living or the dead. Not that there’s that much difference in parts of this city.

I stayed out until the shift ended at 8, didn’t fancy being with Simon. Bretherton called a meeting with the other bosses a week later. The main thing is that new steel gates have been fitted to block any access to the grounds after 10 o’clock, and extra CCTVs fitted so we spend more time in the warm looking at screens. And no more twangers. It’s crusty.

But the mad thing is some Christian group from the cathedral has taken to setting up soup shelters outside the railings every night. They’ve got volunteer social workers and that. Looking for trouble if you ask me. It’s attracting them from all over town. If I know anything they’ll find a way in and we’ll be back to square one.

When that happens I’ll be off. Plenty of jobs for a man with my experience in this city.

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