Consular Duties: A Charlie Bellman Story
A night visit, with Spontoon Constables
Antonia T. Tiger
Bellman walked into the Police Headquarters, unconsciously echoing the body language of his policeman brothers. It wasn't a surprise when the Sergeant at the desk looked up, saw him, and seemed to wake up beyond wide awake. It looked to be the new chap he'd heard about.
"Charlie Bellman," he introduced himself. "British Embassy Consular Section. You have a chap called Tennant, drunk and disorderly?"
"Oh, him, it took four furs to drag him in. Nearly booked him for assaulting a police officer, but it's tourist season. He'll be up in front of the magistrate in the morning, a few sharp words, and a ten shell fine. You hardly need have bothered coming over."
"Well, I reckon it's better to meet you now than when you're waiting for stitches, after dragging some drunken lout in, or worse." Bellman took a cigarette case from inside his jacket. "Cigarette?"
"Thanks, but no. I'm trying to give 'em up. Again."
Bellman looked at the cigarettes, closed the case, and slipped it back in his pocket. "Maybe I should," he admitted. "Usually I smoke a pipe. They're very much against tobacco in Germany, now."
The sergeant nodded. "I know one of the guys who was on our Olympic committee. Planning for the swimming. He was glad to be home. He said he had nightmares all the time he was in Berlin. Kept dreaming of wire fences, and a sign over a gate, and the smell of something burning."
"A sign?" Bellman was puzzled, but there were odd things that stuck in his mind, from the war. What, in Berlin, could have that effect?
"Arbeit Macht Frei," said the Sergeant. "That's German, and means 'work makes you free'. He went to see a Priestess, of course."
Bellman didn't ask. Not his religion. A memory slipped into view. "I saw a report, when I was in Berlin, that the phrase was over the gate of some sort of new prison."
"It didn't sound like no prison," said the Sergeant.
"Political prisoners," said Bellman.
"What's that mean?"
"People the government doesn't like."
"That's crazy. Can't folks just go live somewhere else?"
"I don't think they get the chance." Bellman sighed. "I spent too long in Berlin."
"Ya can't spend too long in Spontoon. It's impossible!"
Somewhere in a building, somebody started singing. It was the sort of voice that could be pleasant if sober, but was marred by drunken swoops between notes, not always stopping at the right place.
"When this lousy war is over no more soldiering for me,
When I get my civvy clothes on, oh how happy I shall be.
No more church parades on Sunday, no more begging for a pass.
You can tell the sergeant-major to stick his passes up his arse."
Bellman glanced at the Sergeant. "I think I know why he got drunk?"
"It's the 1st July. And he sounds like an Ulsterman. If he was at the Schwaben redoubt..."
"That war in Europe?"
Bellman nodded. "That little war, yes. And I was there too. Maybe if I went down to see him now..."
The sergeant nodded. "It does happen. Can't say I blame 'em." He switched to Spontoonie, summoned a Constable, and gave instructions.
Five minutes later, he was filling in the entry for another arrest, a caution for reckless cycling, and had just got to the stage of "think yourself lucky you didn't hurt anyone!", when there was a bellow from the cellblock. It was the sort of roar that could blister paint, intimidate elephants in must, and would, no doubt, have earned the respect of a Roman Centurion. The sergeant settled back in his chair, and listened in admiration. It was the mating call of the drill sergeant, as some hapless, no-hope, soldier came back to barracks that little bit too drunk. There was a rhythm to it, an almost Shakespearean turn of phrase. Heads popped around doors. Two constables appeared with fire extinguishers. Sergeant Brush came down from the Detective Office. And then silence, for a long moment.
"I said do you understand me!"
Sergeant Brush dropped his blackjack.
It was a little more than five minutes later that Bellman, and the still wide-eyed constable, returned. Bellman walked over to the Desk Sergeant. "I don't think you'll have any more trouble from Mr. Tennant."
"Will you be coming round to the court?"
Bellman shook his head. "Might spoil the effect if he sees me when he's sober."
"He's not going to dare to get that drunk again." Brush detached himself from the wall amd walked over. "Not even my wife's mother could be that terrifying." He stuck out a paw, Euro style. "Detective Sergeant Brush."
"Ex-sergeant Charlie Bellman." It didn't seem the time to mention the battlefield commission.
"Pleased to meet ya. It's always a pleasure to meet somebody who understands practical policing. I've been hearing about ya, and you've made working late worthwhile."
Bellman shrugged. "I've been in the same sorts of place. If I turn up drunk later, try not to be too rough with me..."
Brush nodded. "Bit of advice, stay off the Nootnoops. And stay clear of the docks."
"Thanks." He set his hat back on his head. "A good night to you all."
As he walked out, he started whistling, another tune from past days.
The bells of hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling
For you and not for me;
For me the angels sing-a-ling-a-ling
Death has no threats for me.
Oh death where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling
Oh grave, thy victory?
The bells of hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling
For you and not for me.