Monday, 19 March 2012

Seven Months

We approach only as far as the police tape allows.

"You'll have to wait here with us, just until we know what's going on."

On the screen in front of us, the special instructions fill us in on the latest details as they emerge. Caller states his girlfriend has a gun and is threatening to kill herself. The call is from a mobile phone, the mobile mast locating it two hundred miles from the address we've been given. Instead of playing Chinese whispers, I ask for the mobile number and hand it to one of the police officers. In a swift flip of his radio, he unbuckles it from his bullet-proof vest and with the radio on loud speaker dials the number.

There's no answer the first time and the call rings straight through to the answer phone.

"Hello, you've reached Michael's phone. Please leave a message after the tone, and if I remember, I'll call you back some time."

The officer doesn't leave a message, but tries to call again only a minute later. This time, a sleepy voice answers.


"Hello Michael. This is PC Ryan from the Met Police. You called to tell us about your girlfriend?"

"Yeah. Natalie! She's at home, she phoned to say she had a gun and she was going to kill herself."

"Has she ever owned a gun?"

"Never. She probably doesn't even know how to use it."

In the distance, we can see other officers dressing as if for battle. Full body armour, helmets, gloves and semi-automatic weapons at the ready give an impression more of a unit preparing for war than a group of people attempting to save a life.

"Has she ever threatened suicide before?"

"Loads of times. She's taken tablets, slashed her wrists, all sorts, but never anything like this!"

"What's her name again?"


Seconds later, a negotiator calls through a megaphone.

"Natalie - this is the police. Open the door." For some time, nothing happens. No lights are switched on, no curtains move, no doors open. He calls for a second time, but this time, as soon as he calls her name, light suddenly appears through a tiny gap in the curtain of a first floor window.

The face that eventually appears looks confused, perhaps even scared at the sight of a small invading army standing outside the front door. Slowly, reluctantly, she opens a window.

"What's wrong?"

"Put the gun down!" Screams the police team's sergeant.

"Gun? What gun?"

"Put your hands where we can see them!"

Natalie places both her hands very deliberately on the window sill. "I really don't have a gun. What's this all about?"

"Did you tell someone you wanted to hurt yourself tonight?"

Immediately, a note of understanding registers on her face. "You've had a call from Michael, haven't you?"

He puts down the megaphone and the rest of the conversation takes place at a more civilized volume, particularly as it's the middle of the night. Faces appear at various windows and curtains twitch up and down the street.

"We have. He's told us you have a gun and were threatening to kill yourself."

"Wait there. I'm coming to open the door."

Thirty seconds later, Natalie appeared at the front door, adorned in a pair of pink pyjamas for which she apologises.

"It's a hoax. It's the best one he's pulled yet. He can't get over the fact that we split up, seven months ago already."

She goes on to tell the officers about all the other problems he's caused, sending the fire brigade, calling out doctors and mental health teams, even getting the Samaritans to give her a call. Just as a formality, one of the armed response team searched the house and, as expected, found no gun.

"I told you everything was alright. I'm not suicidal, I'm not depressed, I'm just trying to get on with my life." She stared suddenly at the stars, then looked all around her and laughed. "I'll tell you one thing for free; it's been a long seven months." 

The armed response team packed away their kit, other police removed the tape that had cordoned off the street, and we could finally remove the heavy ballistic vests that we'd been asked to wear. As we sit back in the ambulance and watch all the other teams leave, life in the suburban road returns to what should be a normal night, especially in Natalie's life.

Quiet and undisturbed. 


Jess said...

I hope her ex is prosecuted for wasting everyone's time!

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be nice if the local firearms team near Michael's house could 'pop round' and wake him up with a wee tickle from a Taser for wasting their colleagues' and Natalie's time?

If they were feeling especially generous they could take a couple of commemorative snaps of the visit and leave one with him to remind him not to be such a prat and send one to Natalie, just to let her know the police care as much as she does that Michael is shown the error of his ways. Fair recompense for being bellowed at by an armed response unit at silly o'clock and having to appear in public in you PJ's I reckon.

Lucy - huge fan of proximal justice