Jackson Marriott knew he’d messed up from the moment he saw the police car erratically mount the curb outside No. 7, narrowly missing this morning’s pile of bin bags that sat lazily in the front drive. His hand trembled as he used his middle finger to nervously push the bridge of his coke bottle glasses further up his nose. He blinked and his bottom eyelid twitched. With his jowly face pressed up against the glass of his living room window, Jackson knew he was no better than all the other busybodies on the street who were currently doing the exact same thing.
Miss Hawa, who lived at No. 6 across the street, had a perfect front row seat to all the street’s action without even leaving her couch - though that didn't stop her from easing open her Venetian blinds to gawp at the drama unfolding in her usually quiet cul-de-sac.
Wealthy Devin and Christine Trembley lived next door at No.8 and their pre-teen children usually wreaked havoc on Jackson’s delicate foliage, alongside the two boys from No.7, with their favourite objects of torture, commonly known as tennis balls and hockey putts. The couple exited their brand new 5 seater, on the toes of their polished suede and Italian leather work shoes. They craned their necks but tried to mask their attempt to remain outside for a little longer whilst yelling obscenities at their children, who barrelled behind them, dragging along their school blazers, embellished with the logo of the local private secondary, St Helen’s.
And then there was surly Savannah Bolton- the red top newspaper reject who unashamedly watched her neighbours’ activities on the doorstep of No.1 - the only detached house located at the head of the street and flanked on either side by two sets of docile families in rentals.
The doors to the police car flew open and two men in uniforms climbed out, surveying the vicinity with a familiarity that caused Jackson’s stomach to clench beneath his jumper. The younger of the two, rubbed his hands together and blew breath between his clasped thumbs. As he dropped his arms and swung the passenger side door shut, his eyes travelled up the drive of No.9 - the most distinct semi-detached on the street, with its well-trimmed hedges, new granite pathway and large wisteria tree centrepiece, now almost barren he noticed from the unusually bitter autumn, propped up against the right hand side of the porch. That’s new, he thought, noticing the eye sore bird bath, wedged between the gap in the hedges, a shallow pool of greening water almost frozen over in the centre.
And then his eyes met that of Jackson Marriott, half covered by a netted curtain, as he cowered in the right hand side window of his property. The old man’s bright blue eyes opened wide in alarm and PC Mick Jenson couldn't help the little smirk that rose on the corner of his mouth.
8 hours earlier
Jenson’s day had started the same: crack of dawn breakfast with Jen, breakfast again with his little Emma after Jen had clambered into her hatchback, and then a chain store coffee shop stop with Tobias “Tee” Blake, on the way to the station.
The first few hours usually passed by pleasantly - a few ad hoc duties and paperwork necessities - but it was the mid-morning that made Jenson’s hackles rise.
Hypers, Tee called them. Nothing better to do with their time than to waste ours, he’d yawned one morning after the station’s third bogus call. Hypers, short for Hyperventilation, and definitely not the wittiest thing to come out of Tee’s mouth, were essentially civilians, mostly the elderly, who frequently contacted the station between elevenses and the lunch bell, crying blue murder at pretty much anything out of the ordinary.
Black vans parked suspiciously at the bottom of a street, kids congregating on a neighbour’s wall, pairs of people hovering over electricity boxes and water mains - the list went on. And Tee and Jenson were always the fall guys - the station's idiots who would spend their time chasing ghosts and writing reports about absolutely nothing.
And to make matters worse, the boss wasn't sympathetic, he didn't “want no more complaining, you hear”.
The problem wasn’t really the reports - it was the reporters. And there was none worse than Clancy Avenue’s finest - Mr Jackson Marriot.
I’m telling you Mr Jenson, I told myself not to call you again but I really must insist, the old man had stammered over the phone, just three weeks ago, ranting and raving about a man in a suit who had paid frequent unassisted visits during the day to the property at No.2.
I can see right here from where I am standing that the guy’s got himself a clipboard. He’s standing real official over there but his behaviour ain't right. This is the second time in three days Mr Jenson, and I really don’t think…
Sir, Jenson had cut in with an eye roll. He had craned his neck backwards and signalled to Tee, who had been laying into a pack of doughnuts one of the seniors had brought in for a charity bake. With doughy crumbs wedged between his teeth, Tee has given him the thumbs up and switched his fingers quickly into both middle fingers up, waving his hands about, causing Jenson to let out an involuntary snigger.
Mr Jenson, now see here, this is very important, Jackson Marriott had fired, his husky voice faint on the other line as Jenson laid the receiver on his chest.
Marriott, though old and probably senile, had served in the US Marine Corps as a private in the Vietnam War, and swore during one of his many lengthy phone conversations with Jenson, that his above average sight and hearing were what saved his life in the middle of the war zone.
Regardless, time after time, Mr Marriott was left stuttering, running a hand through his patchy wool white hair when presented with the very legitimate facts behind his false reports.
That particular mess was sorted within a few days after the rather confused representative at Morrow & Sons had shakily explained, maybe due to the shock arrival of two police officers at her firm door, that they were in talks with the current owner of No.2, who had been toying with the idea of selling up, clearly not impressed with his high turnover of tenants.
What Jenson would give to shame Mr Marriott for all the time he has wasted!
That particular morning though, Jenson had been on his way outside shortly after arriving, a lighter and a cigarette pressed between his fingers, when Guppy, the receptionist, had flagged him down, waving her red tipped fingers in his direction, her phone resting in the crook of her neck.
It’s him, she hissed, and clicked at him in the direction of his desk, signalling that she was about to transfer the call over. A disgruntled groan rose in Jenson’s throat and he gestured back, using his unlit cigarette as a pointer.
Let Tee get it, he mouthed, but Guppy shrugged and theatrically hit the Transfer button. Jenson dived back through the door and cantered through the office section back to his desk, landing in a sprawl on his chair, his dark hair whipping back out of his face.
Jenson, he’d huffed into the receiver, slapping his precious items back into his trouser pocket.
PC Jenson, a familiar voice wheezed with a note of relief, its Jackson here, Jackson Marriott.
Bugger, Jenson mouthed silently and leaned back in his chair, propping his feet up over the open desk drawers to his right. Well, if he was going to take this call, he might as well get comfortable, Marriott wasn't very good at getting to the point.
Mr Marriott, he said after a while when it was clear that Jackson was not going to get straight to it, how can I help?
The elderly man coughed twice and the second cough was muffled, like he had managed to contain his sickness in a tissue at the last moment.
You need to come quickly, he gushed, there’s not a lot of time.
Jenson glanced down at the watch strapped to his left hand. It was only 8:15am, hours before Marriott’s usual sh*t stirring slot. He clicked his tongue and wiped the back of the same hand across his dripping nose - it was cold, and if he didn't get his morning fill of nicotine in the next few minutes, there would be hell to pay. Out of the corner of his eyes, he spotted Tee emerge from the men’s toilets, hair slicked and combed to the left, his shirt sleeves rolled up as he wiped his wet hands along the back of his pressed trousers.
What seems to be the problem, Jenson began but was cut short by the sound of scurrying feet and the slam of a door.
It’s those kids next door at No.7, Marriott interrupted, you know, the two tall boys with the stay at home parents. Jenson hummed to indicate his yes.
He did know the family at No.7, but only because he and Tee had had to explain more than once to the parents, a middle aged Mr and Mrs Agave, why their police car was parked outside their house in the middle of the day. They had seemed pleasant enough - Mr Agave had explained, with great gusto and a steaming mug of something sweet smelling in his hand, that he and his wife were content creators for a major social media platform, and spent most of their day recording their lives and posting it on the internet. Jenson had remembered how quickly his brows had shot up towards his hairline - the houses on Clancy Avenue weren’t exact ‘starter house’ prices.
It’s new age, the man had joked when Jenson had said this, there are a lot more things you can be doing with your life nowadays than being stuck behind a desk.
What about them, Jenson asked, already feigning interest and scanning the office for Tee. He would get his attention and hopefully the two of them could catch up on last night's football scores and share a cigarette or two…
They are planning an attack on Crawley School, Jackson squawked almost breathlessly and followed with another hacking cough, I heard them, I heard them discussing this through the wall.
Jenson sat up and swung his legs onto the ground. Crawley School was another high school in the district, about a mile from Clancy Avenue, and a lot less desirable than St Helen’s. He spotted Tee and beckoned him over with a quick wrist flick. His heart had picked up a bit, because, guiltily, this was the most outlandish claim Mr Marriott had made - in fact it was the most serious Hypers claim since records began - and he and Tee had all the records.
What wall, Jenson encouraged and flipped a notepad towards him, his pen poised. Tee hovered over his shoulder, his brow furrowed.
The wall that we share in our semis, both our hallways run adjacent to one another. I heard ‘em, those two boys. They said ‘We do it today, right? We get the guys and raid Crawley today, before the morning bell.’
Are you sure Mr Marriot? Jenson asked, those houses aren't old so the walls aren’t thick, but they aren't exactly built out of paper either.
Jackson cleared his throat.
Oh alright, he said sheepishly, I may have been eavesdropping on ‘em. I've been seeing them and the Trembley kids across the road hanging around my flowerbeds again, treading on my property like they gots the right to step on my land...
Tee leaned forward, his belly rounding, and read his colleague’s almost unintelligible scribbles as Mr Marriott rambled about his plants into Jenson’s ear. Jenson tracked Tee’s eyes and knew when his friend had reached the last line because Tee tutted loudly and threw his hands up in the air.
Cut the old fool off, he muttered, circling his finger next to his ear in a crazy motion. Jenson sighed and rubbed the heel of his hand over his eyes.
Did you hear anything else Mr Marriott, he asked, drumming his pen against the table.
Jackson proceeded to explain the plan he had supposedly overheard in an increasingly animated tone; it sounded like a school rivalry gang fight. The Agave boys had left their home on foot, as opposed to in a taxi for the three mile journey to St Helen’s, in their newly pressed uniforms, wielding hockey sticks, intending to get to the school before the start of lessons.
Jenson finished scribbling his notes and glanced again at his watch. 8:25am. If Mr Marriott was right, then the boys would be descending on Crawley within the next 15 minutes. He clicked the mute button on his phone and glanced up at Tee.
Wanna come with me to the boss, he asked with a lopsided grin. Tee huffed. They both knew that it was way too early for Bossman to be in a humouring mood, but maybe they could finally explain why the charismatic Marriott needed to be barred from calling - or charged with wasting police time.
We will look into it Mr Marriott, Jenson finished and hastily followed up with pleasantries and a goodbye. As he stood from his chair and grabbed his coat, a clatter of footsteps caused him to glance at the door and Guppy appeared, her red fingertips pressed into the fists of her hands.
Blake, Jenson, she gushed, her eyes wide, there’s been an incident at Crawley School.
Can I get you anything officers? Jackson Marriott asked.
The three men were standing stone still in the open space of Jackson’s ageing living room; neither officer had bothered to remove their footwear, and debris from rotting leaves clung to the underside of their shoes.
No thank you Mr Marriott, Tee rumbled, clasping his hands in front of him all business like, this shouldn't take too long.
Jackson’s bottom lip trembled. After hanging up earlier that morning, he had paced his hallway, hands shaking, doubt creeping into his mind. All those other calls he had made to Officers Jenson and Blake had been treated with contempt. Now, he could see that he had been wrong and allowed his imagination to run wild, but - but what if he was wrong again? His neighbours would hate him, and he had barely spoken to them in all the time they had lived next door, except to yell about his flowers over the fence. Did that explain why they were at his house?
Have you come to arrest me, Jackson finally asked after a beat, for wasting police time?
He looked directly into Jenson’s face and half expected the young man to smirk at him again.
Jenson blinked at him, looked down at his feet warily and then finally looked back up.
No Mr Marriott, he said with a small sigh, actually, we have come to thank you.
Jackson frowned. His hearing never failed him but,
Thank me, he repeated.
Yes, Tee drawled, rocking back on his heels, it appears your call to our station was genuine.
We went to Crawley, Jenson continued, as we had received further calls of distress. The callers claimed that there was a large gathering of lads, about 25 or so, in the front carpark, engaged in fist fighting.
We broke it up, Blake said, and managed to get a hold of Louis and Shane Agave.
The kids next door? Jackson queried.
Both boys came quietly, he said with a smile, and both ‘fessed up to initiating the scrap.
Apparently, Jenson cut in with a slightly bitter tone, some of the Agaves’ friends had made frantic calls to the station. After alerting us, they hid in bushes nearby, waiting with their phones poised and ready to record. The Agaves purposely confronted a group of Crawley students who were loitering about and within moments, the boys were involved in a brawl.
Thankfully, Blake said cheerfully, our boys got there just in time.
Jackson stared, his mouth hanging as if on hinges.
You mean, he croaked, hand on his heart, that I was right?
Blake and Jenson shot each other a look. On the drive over to the house, both men had been silent, staring out of their respective windows, contemplating what they were going to say. They had been to Mr Marriott’s house many times before, and had left sneering at the elderly American, but this time, everything would be different.
You were, Blake concluded, it was all for a little bit of fame. They have taken a liking to their parents' career and fancied a bit of the action, so they hoped to record the stunt and go viral. He paused and then added, that means becoming famous on the internet.
Jackson collapsed into his worn armchair by the window and glanced outside. There was Mrs Trembley, still on her drive, but now chattering away in excitement to Savannah, both women’s’ hands cupped to their mouths in gossip and gaping at his house, a scandalised look on their faces. His gaze went slightly to the right and he could just about make out Miss Hawa’s eyes and nose in between her expensive blinds. For a second, Miss Hawa didn't see the man at No.9 looking back at her, but suddenly, their eyes locked and she vanished from sight in an instant, blinds fluttering back in place. Jackson smiled knowingly to himself and folded his hands neatly in his lap.
Thank you both, he said as the officers made for the door, same time next week I hope - would eleven o’ clock suit you both?
Blake and Jenson both blanched and hurried to shuffle out the front door, closing it with a gentle click.