(1) Justifiable

Paul blinked away the sudden, unbidden memory, and tried to find something else to focus on instead. Like how poorly his dress uniform fit. He wore it so rarely that it never made sense to get it adjusted, even though it was tight under his arms and across his stomach, having been originally fitted for a much younger man. It was the same one Paul had been issued when he’d first joined the force, and he’d never felt especially at ease in operational uniform, never mind the full-on tunic and helmet. He always felt like a male stripper whenever he’d had to wear it.

There. Griping about wearing the clown suit. So much better than thinking about what was about to happen. Because then he’d have to think about why it had happened.

More distractions. Paul hadn’t really known what he’d expected when it had been announced – Buckingham Palace, shaking hands with the Queen, a tap of the sword on each shoulder? Nothing so grand, the main hall of the rugby club in Colwyn Bay, the same place that they did the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal ceremonies. And the Chief Constable to present it, a man Paul had never previously said more than twenty words to at a time, when they happened to share a lift at Force Headquarters. The man’s speeches had a habit of running on just a little bit too long.

‘Rearrange your face, Inspector, you look like a slapped arse.’

Paul jumped; he hadn’t heard Jenny come into the side room where he was waiting. ‘How should I look?’ he asked, smoothing down the front of his tunic and picking at the chevrons on his sleeves. Three white chevrons, because he wasn’t yet a real Inspector, only an Acting Inspector, and didn’t get pips on his epaulettes.

‘Proud?’ Jenny suggested.

Paul pursed his lips. Proud. But how could he be proud?

‘Proud of what, exactly?’

‘Saving a life? Doing the job?’ Jenny said, her voice going gentle. ‘Acting courageously?’

‘Bloody stupidly.’

‘That can be a very fine line sometimes,’ Jenny said wisely. Paul looked at her. She was about fifteen years older than him, shorter, her mouth set and her manner often brusque and snappy to anyone who didn’t know her well. Detective Chief Inspector Jenny Brown, who’d taken him under her wing when he’d joined CID, mentored him through his period as a Trainee Detective Constable, then through the Sergeant’s Exam. Who’d pushed for his secondment to the Nottinghamshire Police Force when North Wales hadn’t had any open slots for a Detective Inspector, but her ex-Army friend in the Nottinghamshire Major Crime Unit had a space and nobody to fill it.

And it had all spiralled out from there.

Paul had read the citation. The offenders appeared to spot Acting Inspector Quinn, and stopping their vehicle, fired several shots in his direction to discourage further attempts to follow them. Concerned for the safety of his team, Acting Inspector Quinn ordered PC Lewin and DC Brookes to cease following the suspects. However, unwilling to allow them to escape with a hostage, he engaged the emergency warning lights and siren on his vehicle, and followed them into the next street.

It didn’t talk of glass shattering, of Paul trying to get his whole body down below the steering wheel so that the engine block was between himself and the bullets, the swearing and the cursing and the taste of fear in his mouth. It made a passable attempt to explain what the fuck he’d been thinking.

Because they’d had a hostage, because he’d had no idea where the Armed Response Units were or if there was a helicopter available, because he thought he was Nicholas bloody Angel, just going to walk in and arrest the whole village.

He looked at the time. Fifteen minutes to go.

‘I don’t want to be here,’ he said honestly. Jenny rolled her eyes at him.

‘Don’t start with the bullshit about how you don’t deserve this because you were scared, you’re too smart for it.’

‘It’s not that,’ Paul said. He tugged at the collar of the white undershirt – his collar size was at least an inch wider than it had been in 1997.

‘Ok. So help me out here. You’ll be the third serving officer in Wales to have a George Medal. The only black officer I know of. I’m immensely proud of you,’ Jenny said. ‘So, what’s the problem?’

‘It was a fuck-up. I failed.’

Jenny gave him her levellest stare as she processed that. He could almost see the thought bouncing around in her head.

It was a fuck-up. I failed.

He hadn’t been in Nottingham two days when a sub post office in Carlton, on the edge of the city, got turned over. Witnesses reported balaclavas, one Yorkshire and one Scottish accent, CCTV showed two guns – one looked like a reactivated starter pistol, the other was a Beretta M92 that had probably been smuggled out of a US military base and written off as wastage. Thing was, three more sub post offices and a high street bank had also been turned over in Nottingham earlier that year, by two men in balaclavas. One Yorkshireman, one Scotsman.

So Paul’s new boss, Jenny’s old army friend, Detective Chief Inspector Dale, had given Paul the case.

Dale was going to be here tonight. Paul had opted to receive the GM from his parent force, from his own Chief Constable, but Nottinghamshire had sent delegates – their Deputy Chief Constable, the Detective Chief Superintendent commanding MCU, and DCI Dale. Doing their best to claim his triumph for themselves.

Paul had looked at the statements and reports for the previous robberies, watched the CCTV, and concluded that the robbers looked far too confident in the first hit, at the other sub post office – they were straight in with the guns drawn, two warning shots fired into the ceiling over the counter to demonstrate that the guns were real, one of them covered the postmaster whilst the second kept the rest of the customers looking at the floor. It was slick, it was fast, and there was no hesitation from either of them.

On a hunch he’d asked a bright young PC seconded to MCU from C Division, Nottingham City, to look at two-offender armed robberies in the East Midlands in the months prior to the first Nottingham robbery, looking for any mention of a Scotsman and a Yorkshireman, both armed, both wearing balaclavas. And PC Lewin had found something – December 2006, Leicester, a kebab shop hit on a Friday night at closing time, all the night’s takings in the till. Two men, one Scottish, one Yorkshire. CCTV showed one run in, shout at the manager, the other strolled over much more calmly and fired a shot past the manager’s head into the wall. The manager said he was the Scotsman, he’d fired ‘Just so youse know we’re not fucking about here, pal.’

Blaggers’ trial run? It looked good, so Paul called the Leicestershire officer in charge, got the files. A couple of witnesses had reported seeing a maroon Focus in the area in the minutes before the robbery.

Connection – a maroon Focus had been reported loitering in the area around the bank that had been turned over in Nottingham. The witness hadn’t got the license plate, and the first investigation hadn’t been able to find it on CCTV, so it hadn’t been followed up.

Now Paul found that suspicious – the car had dodged every camera for five streets, at least. It seemed unlikely to have been by chance, so he got his team to pull footage from every camera for the five streets around the latest robbery, going back three weeks. It was a trawl, drudgery and boredom, and it took almost a week to gather and go through it all, but at the end of it, the same maroon Focus had shown up on four separate days.

Looking for all the world like it was casing the streets. Noting where the cameras were.

The registration came back as having been scrapped by a yard in Cambridge in August 2006, so Paul had driven down. The dealer hadn’t remembered a thing until Paul had told him that he had concerns that other cars recorded as scrapped there had in fact been driven away, and that he would be sending an entire team from MCU down to go through his books until every single piece of every single car was accounted for, with panda cars parked out front day and night to secure the scene.

The Focus had been bought, cash-in-hand and no questions asked by a Scottish bloke, who’d given his name as Fergus McTaggart. Paul ran the name through the Police National Computer and past the Serious Organised Crime Agency – it sounded like an alias and it was. The man’s real name was Alexander Kirk, forty three, known as Eck, a Glaswegian hard lad who’d come south twenty years back, more time in the joint that out of it. Eck Kirk had no last known address, but one of his known associates was Sam Garrett, from Bradford. The DWP had an address for Garrett, he’d moved to Lincoln since getting out of Wakefield prison in 2005 for stealing metal from railway lines. Turned out he had two baby mummies back in Bradford he was trying to avoid making payments to.

Kirk’s last stint in Wakefield had been for wounding with intent, and it had ended in 2006, two months before he bought the Focus.

So, Paul had Kirk linked to the robberies, and Garrett linked to Kirk, but the links grew more tenuous the further out they got. Nothing said that Garrett was Kirk’s accomplice. Nothing said that Kirk was with Garrett. Surveillance was the order of the day. So Paul had called Lincolnshire CID, let them know that Nottinghamshire would be carrying out an op in their city.

Lincolnshire had asked if he wanted firearms.

On a surveillance deployment, that wasn’t easy to arrange. They’d have to be plainclothes, and small forces like Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire didn’t really have surveillance specialists, let alone armed surveillance specialists. And when firearms were needed on stakeouts, the brass had a clear preference – use Firearms Unit officers in plainclothes, not whichever detectives had current Firearms training, if anyone actually did. But, Paul was an Authorised Firearms Officer because he’d done ops against drug runners linked to Irish paramilitaries in the past, and the rule there was that somebody had to be armed during surveillance. He’d carried a gun on a stakeout half a dozen times if that, but his training was current.

So Paul had gotten authorisation from Chief Inspector Dale to sign out a sidearm, and had said no to Lincolnshire Firearms; keep an Armed Response Vehicle nearby, but we’ll only be watching to see if Kirk’s there. We’ll be keeping a low profile, we’ve got an armed AFO with us, Firearms Unit would be overkill.

‘Ok, you can make the case that you should have had a greater armed presence on the stakeout,’ Jenny pulled him back to the present. ‘I might have used two AFOs if two were available. But we both know that only five or six forces can do an armed plainclothes deployment on short notice without tapping Counter-Terrorism resources, so your reasons for only having one firearm made sense. You weren’t looking to make arrests, one firearm was enough of a contingency. They’d never shit their own bed before, you couldn’t have predicted that they’d hit a restaurant in the city that evening. Lincolnshire Professional Standards and the IPCC agreed.’ And it went without saying that Counter-Terrorism resources were sacrosanct – important Bogeymen to chase, no time to spare helping CID catch run-of-the-mill armed robbers.

‘It’s not that,’ Paul said. ‘I mean, if I could do it again… fuck yes, I’d’ve had more firearms. But that wasn’t… it’s not where I fucked up.’

Jenny flicked her eyes over to the clock in the corner. Ten minutes before they were due out on the stage. ‘So where, then?’

‘Jen… I killed a man.’

‘In defence of yourself and another.’

‘Thou shalt not –’

‘Oh, don’t start with the Bible-bashing,’ Jenny shook her head at him. ‘You’re as religious as a doormat. And anyway, that’s a common mistranslation. It’s actually, “Thou shalt not murder.” And that’s a big difference.’

‘I’m a cop!’ Paul protested. ‘We don’t kill people!’

‘Tell that to Mrs De Menezes.’

‘We’re not supposed to kill people,’ Paul said.

But he had. He’d become one of the very, very few police officers to ever fire a weapon outside a firing range, and in so doing had taken a life.

‘He had a hostage. He was shooting at you. You had no idea where the ARV was, or when it would arrive,’ Jenny said. ‘And you couldn’t have predicted how things would go down once you were there,’ she added gently.

‘But I could have changed how I reacted,’ Paul said.

‘How could you have?’

‘The job’s to protect life, Jen. We don’t take it.’

‘No, that’s not true at all. We don’t take it unless we have to,’ Jenny said, suddenly stern. ‘Sometimes, even with the best will in the world, it isn’t avoidable, and I don’t see how you could have avoided it.’

Paul thought about Eck Kirk again. The man had probably never really had much chance. His dad had been a career criminal as well – inside for bottling another man during a barfight when Kirk was born. He’d first been convicted of burglary at thirteen. No Standard Levels, as the Scots called them, never had a job that anyone knew of. His first stint inside had been at seventeen, where he’d picked up a heroin habit he’d never shaken. A sad, depressing life, ending in one desperate moment on a street in a city Kirk had probably never heard of a year before.

‘I could have tried.’

‘It sounds to me like you did,’ Jenny said softly. ‘But talk me through it if you want.’

Paul took a deep breath and thought back to that evening late last August, pulling his unmarked car into a position down the street from Sam Garrett’s council house.

‘We found the Focus outside Garrett’s house, so we settled in to watch, see if Kirk was there. We were watching for a couple of hours when he and Kirk came out and started driving into the city centre.’

‘Did you think about making a stop?’

Yes, but I decided against it then. They were probably on a bender, I thought. The car wasn’t insured, so I could have stopped them, but if they came back drunk they were less of a threat. I told Lincolnshire to wait.’

The drunken bender theory had lasted until Paul suddenly realised that they were in a CCTV blind spot. Then the Focus rocked to a halt, Garrett and Kirk stormed out in balaclavas waving guns about, and went into an Italian restaurant, just emptying from the teatime rush with the tills heaving.

‘Did you think about intervening then?’ Jenny asked.

‘Yes, but I was the only one armed. Going two against one is an easy way to get killed,’ Paul said. ‘It made more sense to follow them and guide in the Armed Response Vehicle. We got a call put in, it was on its way, and then they came out. There were sirens, I guess Kirk had heard them. I don’t think he made us at that point, but he was dragging one of the waitresses with him.’

‘So he took a hostage.’


‘Well,’ said Jenny. ‘That would have changed everything.’

It had. Paul radioed that he was tailing, that everyone else should stand down. Dialled 999 and got put through to Lincolnshire’s control room. Followed Kirk and Garrett, but they were going at speed, booking out of the city centre. Paul had to follow them at the same speed and he stuck out like a sore thumb. Lewin and Brookes had ignored Paul’s stand-down order, and they were probably made too.

The Focus span into a side street and rocked to a halt. And Kirk and Garrett were out and shooting, bullets going through the windscreen, snatching away the offside wing mirror whilst Paul got low and small inside the Golf.

Someone shouted, in a Glasgow accent, ‘Keep fucking following us and we won’t fucking miss next time!’

The citation, bone-dry, couldn’t capture how raw fucking terrifying it was to have bullets slamming through your car. It couldn’t capture the moment where Paul had thought fuck it, the rules didn’t say anything about having a go when you were two against one and they both had guns. How scummy and shitty he felt when he remembered that.

The offenders again stopped their vehicle and exited it to fire on Acting Inspector Quinn. Acting Inspector Quinn thereupon caused his vehicle to collide with theirs in order to disable it, before taking advantage of the offenders’ disorientation to incapacitate and arrest Sam Garrett. Alexander Kirk now began firing on Acting Inspector Quinn, and attempting to drag Crystal Parris out of their car. Acting Inspector Quinn identified himself as an armed police officer and ordered Kirk to drop his weapon; Kirk instead again fired at Acting Inspector Quinn. Acting Inspector Quinn returned fire, and shots striking Kirk caused critical wounds. Acting Inspector Quinn, assisted by Detective Constable Brookes, attempted to carry out first aid on Kirk, which efforts regrettably were not successful.

‘You know the bit in Hot Fuzz with the farmer and his mum?’

‘As I’m not obsessed with that film like you are, no,’ Jenny teased. Paul wondered what she’d say if she knew he had one of the posters up in his flat.

‘I radioed for Lewin and Brookes to stand down again,’ he said. ‘And I followed them into the next street. They stopped again, and I just drove into the back of their car, because I’m thinking I’m bloody Nicholas Angel, only better.’ Only Sergeant Angel never killed anyone.

Or,’ Jenny said, ‘You were thinking that you might lose them and their hostage if they stopped and fired at you again, so you had to intervene more directly. And that you had to do something to offset their numerical advantage. You said it yourself, two against one is an easy way to get yourself killed. And it worked.’

It had worked, all right. They’d just got out of the Focus when Paul rear-ended it, legs braced hard against the floor mats for the impact. It had jarred every bone in his body, crunched his teeth together, and would have broken his nose if the airbag hadn’t deployed.

But it did the trick. Garrett and Kirk both gaped stupidly at the space where the back of their car had been. Paul was quick, grabbed his baton and two pairs of handcuffs out of his glove compartment, kicked the door open into Garrett. Garrett staggered backwards. Paul didn’t even think of using his gun on Garrett, even when Garrett started to raise his own, the Beretta. He racked his baton open and slammed it down on Garrett’s head with all his strength.

Rule one was never, ever go for the head, but in this case nobody had minded too much. Paul had hit Garrett hard enough to fracture his skull and give him a concussion, he later learnt – all he knew at the time was that Garrett had gone down like a sack of spuds.

Then he screams and a whipcrack, something shattered a brick across the street, and he realised that Kirk was shooting at him.

‘What did you do?’

‘I got down, looked for him. He was holding the waitress with one hand, trying to aim his gun at me with the other. He had this grotty little reactivated starter pistol, I’m surprised it even fired. Probably had crooked sights.’

‘Still,’ Jenny said. ‘Even if he didn’t hit you, he could have hit a bystander.’

‘I had a Nottinghamshire Police-issue sidearm, Walther P-99, firing nine by nineteen millimetre Parabellum rounds in full metal jacket,’ Paul went on like he hadn’t heard her. ‘German gun, precision engineered. And I had firearms training. I could tell from how he was holding his gun that he’d only ever seen movies, he had no idea how to use it properly. He never had much of a chance.’

‘You gave him several, though,’ Jenny said. ‘You gave him every chance to do the right thing.’

‘He fired again when I hit the deck. The bullet glanced off the road,’ Paul said. ‘So I ran to the boot of my car, got it open, got my stab vest on, and I drew my weapon.’

He’d never done that before. Never pulled it out of its holster, except in a firing range. It had suddenly become big and black and heavy, and he’d tasted fear again, but a different kind of fear.

Fear that he’d actually have to use it.

‘Kirk kept shooting,’ Jenny reminded him.

‘I called “Armed police!” and he fired at me,’ Paul said. He remembered the screaming bystanders now, people shouting, ‘Get down!’ and ‘Somebody call the police!’ ‘I stepped out from behind my car, sighted on my target, and identified myself again.’ There, sighted on my target. Just like the manual said.

Closing his eyes, he heard his voice. ‘Alexander Kirk, I am an armed police officer. Drop your weapon or I will open fire.’

‘He was supposed to drop his gun, Jen. That’s what crooks always do, they drop their guns. They aren’t stupid enough to shoot at gun cops.’

‘But Kirk was,’ Jenny said.

‘I fired my first shots because I thought he was raising the gun, but he didn’t fire again, so I guess we’ll never know,’ Paul said. Actually, someone had filmed the whole thing on a camera phone, and Kirk had been raising the gun when Paul had fired. Paul remembered it happening in slow motion, but the film was about five seconds long. The waitress had been twisting in Kirk’s other hand as he’d brought his gun up and Paul had overcompensated to avoid hitting her. One bullet had missed entirely and probably ended up lodged in the wall of a house down the street – forensics never did find it.

The other hit Kirk in the shoulder.

‘You didn’t give him chance, and you weren’t supposed to,’ Jenny said. ‘Your job is to protect life, not stand there and die to make sure somebody is actually going to shoot you.’

‘He wouldn’t drop the gun. He let go of the girl, the waitress, but he wouldn’t drop the gun. I shouted for him to drop it, and he just tried to raise it again,’ Paul said. Again, the camera phone footage had confirmed what Paul had seen. So had four independent eye witnesses. He hadn’t imagined it.

So, legally, he was justified when he shot Alexander Kirk again, twice the chest, double-tap, two trigger pulls in quick succession. Just like the manual said.

Only the manual didn’t tell you how you’d feel afterwards. Not cool. Not righteous. Not like it was time to abseil down a skyscraper and smash through a window. Just sick.

‘I didn’t want to shoot him. I wanted him to put the gun down,’ Paul said. ‘He just looked at me, and I don’t know if it was desperation or hate, but he… but he…’

‘I’ve seen the footage, Paul. He tried to raise the gun again, and you took appropriate action,’ Jenny said.

Kirk had hit the ground with a crack where his skull landed on the pavement. Paul had never heard such silence.

Training kicked in a split second later. He heard the screams and sirens again, saw Kirk lying with blood puddling on his chest and spreading out beneath his body and ran forward, shouting, ‘Suspect down! Applying first aid!’ into his radio. He holstered his pistol, pulled out a pair of latex gloves, snapped them on, and tried to find a pulse at Kirk’s wrist.

For a moment he thought he felt one, fast and weak. Then it was gone.

Brookes and Lewin’s car pulled around a few seconds later. Brookes ran over with the first aid kit, Lewin started shouting for the bystanders to get back. Paul head her 999 call over the phone.

‘This is Nottinghamshire Police PC 2197 Sophie Lewin, reporting a police shooting in your jurisdiction… No, no, this is not a joke, call Nottinghamshire Police MCU and give them my Force ID number, PC 2197, our officers have just engaged armed suspects in Lincoln, one suspect is in custody, one is critically wounded, an ambulance is urgently needed…’

He tried, he and Brookes. Paul pressed on the wounds in Kirk’s chest whilst Brookes packed them with bandages, then they took turns jumping up and down on him with two hands flat over his heart until the paramedics arrived. Later, Paul learnt that one shot had almost completely severed Kirk’s aorta. Shock had rendered him unconscious before he hit the ground; his heart hadn’t managed to beat for more than ten seconds. All the CPR in the world wasn’t bringing him back.

Because Paul had shot him.

Kirk had a family; two girls under ten, from a woman he’d been seeing on and off when he was out since they were in their early twenties. Kirk had friends. They’d been leaving flowers and pictures in the street where Paul had shot him ever since it had happened. Paul had seen a video of his daughters, walking ahead of his hearse with their heads down, holding hands.

He thought back to the inquest, when the jury had announced a verdict of lawful killing. Kirk’s father had started shouting from the public gallery. ‘You murdered my son! You fucking black bastard, you fucking banana-peeling ape, you murdered my boy! You killed my son!’ And when the coroner had tried to silence him, he’d started screaming at him too, until the bailiffs had hauled him out. It took three of them. And in between calling the coroner a fucking poof in a wig, and telling Paul to fuck off back to Africa and fuck a chimpanzee, Kirk’s father, tears streaming down his face as the bailiffs held him off the ground, had managed to gasp, ‘He was my boy. He was my boy.’

Two little girls without a father. A father without a son.

Because of the life Paul had taken.

‘Ok,’ Jenny said gently, pulling him back to the present. ‘You’ve got three minutes before we’re out on the stage. If you can tell me what you should have done differently, I’ll go tell the Chief that you’ve decided to refuse the medal.’

‘Not killed him,’ Paul said instantly.

‘What, shot him in the hand? Shot his gun away? Are you even that good a shot?’ Jenny asked. Paul had to shake his head. His scores were above-average, but not world-beating either. ‘What’s the policy for AFOs firing at a suspect? Shoot to wound?’

‘Shoot to stop the threat,’ Paul said.

‘Which you do by aiming for the centre mass, same as the Army taught me,’ Jenny said. ‘Because shooting someone in the leg or the arm won’t stop them. And it’s a harder shot to make. The priority is your safety, and the safety of civilians, not the person with the gun or the knife. The centre mass is where everything vital is, so a hit there will stop someone. There’s also a good chance that they’ll die. Too bad. Kirk shouldn’t have shot at you.’

‘Jesus, Jenny…’

‘Wasn’t there. You were,’ Jenny said. ‘Look, Paul, I’ve been where you are, all right? 15th June 1985, I’m with a couple of other Redcaps on an intel-gathering patrol in Londonderry. It’s a low risk neighbourhood, so there’s just a Section out with us, eight blokes from the Black Watch, no one was expecting trouble, but five Provos rocked up anyway and started hosing us down with AK-47s. Two of the Black Watch lads were down before we even knew what had hit us. So, I get down behind this rusty old Cortina whilst everyone else starts shooting back, because I’m the token girl and I’m barely even allowed to carry a rifle. Then I realised that we were taking fire from our left flank as well. One of the other Redcaps got a bullet through his jaw, blew most of it off. There were three of them, all balaclavaed up, no one else had realised yet, so I fired back. I got two of them. The other one ran off before I could get him too.

‘There’s all the politics that went with it, and we’re supposed to make nice with the Provos now because they’ve melted all their guns down or some shite like that,’ Jenny ground out. ‘Half the country thought we were the bad guys, half of it still does, although I don’t remember us blowing any pubs up. My point is, everything might be a shade of grey in the real world, but that only lasts up until somebody tries to kill you. Then, it’s black and white. Them or you. So, do I wish I hadn’t shot those IRA kids? Yes. I wish that they’d stayed at home that day, lived to get jobs, find girlfriends, have kids, never even looked at a balaclava. I don’t regret it for a moment. They tried to kill me and my mates, they shouldn’t have done that, that was wrong. Kirk died because he went into a restaurant with a gun, then tried to kill you. That was wrong.’

Paul looked at the clock, then at Jenny. Just over sixty seconds before he was due on stage, to let the Chief Constable hang a medal round his neck for killing a man.

‘I shouldn’t have engaged him.’

‘What, you should have let him escape with Crystal?’ Jenny said. ‘Wasn’t that why you crashed your car into theirs in the first place?’ Paul wondered who Crystal was.

‘I didn’t need to shoot. He wasn’t hitting anything. Maybe they were just warning shots. Maybe…’

‘Mate, when someone misses three times it’s because they’re a shit shot,’ Jenny said. ‘But that doesn’t mean you need to wait to see if they get lucky. Besides which. Once is a warning shot. Three times is trying to kill someone.’

‘His kids… those two little girls haven’t got –’

‘They haven’t got a father because he tried to kill an armed police officer, who put him down first,’ Jenny said firmly. Her eyes flicked to the clock. Paul knew that they were late now. He didn’t care.

He wasn’t going out there. They weren’t giving him a medal for killing a man.

No way he was wearing a medal on his chest for killing a man.

‘And you know what else?’ Jenny said. ‘It’s good that you’re thinking about his kids and that they don’t have a dad now, because he sure as fuck didn’t. Not when he went into that restaurant with a gun to take what wasn’t his, not when he chose to fire on police officers, not when he chose to point a gun at you. He didn’t think of his kids at all.’

Paul could hear murmuring from behind the door. Sounded like everyone was filing in and taking their places. His brother and sister-in-law had decided to come, he remembered, the only family he had left since his sister and parents had died.

‘He had a shit, miserable life. And then I killed him,’

‘And you regret the loss of life,’ Jenny said gently again, patting his arm. ‘Because you’re a good man, and a good cop.’

‘Not good enough,’ Paul said, thinking Hot Fuzz. Not the bit where Angel rams his car into the farmer’s, the gunfight, four protracted shootouts in which Angel doesn’t kill a single villain. Even after the full enormity of what the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance has done is revealed to him, Nicholas Angel doesn’t kill any of them, doesn’t kill anyone in the whole movie besides the crackhead with the Kalashnikov in the opening montage, because he’s too good a cop to do that.

Good cops don’t kill people.

‘You’ve talked a lot about Kirk. You haven’t said a word about Crystal,’ Jenny said, bringing him back.

‘What – sorry – who?’

‘Crystal. The waitress from the restaurant. Crystal Parris. Twenty two years old, two year old son, working full time to support him because his dad ran out on her and buggered off to Swindon a year back,’ Jenny said. Paul hadn’t known any of that. He hadn’t even really known the hostage’s name. ‘They’d taken off their balaclavas in the car, Paul. What do you think that they were going to do to her?’

A head appeared around the door between the side room and the main hall. Jenny held up one finger to let them know they were coming.

‘I… haven’t really thought about her,’ Paul admitted.

‘No, because you’ve been so busy thinking about Kirk, feeling guilty about the man you killed that you haven’t thought once about the woman you saved. And that’s why you should take the medal, Paul. It’s not because of the life you took, it’s because of the life you saved.’ Jenny folded her arms and stared at him. ‘You faced a situation that most cops, even most armed cops, will never face in their careers. The only person who died was the man with the gun trying to kill you and Crystal. You preserved an innocent life and showed as much courage as anyone could ask for doing it. I’m proud of you, you deserve the recognition, now go out there and get your bloody medal.’

The inquest hadn’t taken long, in the end. Multiple independent witnesses had testified that Paul had given Kirk three clear warnings, and that Kirk had been trying to raise the gun when Paul shot him dead. Paul had been expecting at least a year on desk duty, but in the end it had been just over four months. The verdict had been lawful killing, and then, in the New Year’s Honours List, the surprise; Acting Detective Inspector Paul Quinn, the George Medal. Turned out North Wales’ Chief Constable had recommended him for it back in September, and they’d been waiting on the inquest verdict to confirm it.

Paul had spent the intervening three weeks dreading this moment. Purely dreading it.

‘Whichever way you look at it, mate, you did right,’ Jenny said softly. ‘And now you’re late for your own party. So get your arse out there.’

‘It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to,’ Paul sparred back. He looked at his uniform cap. Shaking his head, he jammed it on his head, opened the door and marched through it, entering stage left. No way Jenny would let him leave.

There was a polite smattering of applause. Paul shook hands with the Chief Constable, stood at attention next to him. Jenny went and sat in the front row next to DCI Dale, nodded encouragement.

The Chief began to speak. Paul didn’t really listen. He stared at the back of the room and tried to tell himself that Jenny was right, that whichever way he looked at it, he’d done the right thing.

All the alternatives were silly. He couldn’t have shot Kirk’s gun away, that only happened in movies. Shooting an arm or a leg would have done nothing to stop Kirk firing back – if he hadn’t missed. And he couldn’t have waited to see if Kirk hit something. Maybe one of his wild shots would have hit a child.

The Chief’s speech was just reaching the stage where he was droning a bit. Paul caught Jenny’s eye in the front row for a moment, knew that she was right about the waitress – Crystal, her name was Crystal. She’d seen Kirk and Garrett’s faces, their only logical course of action was to kill her. It was her or Kirk, and what right did Paul have to make that choice?

He squashed that thought as soon as it appeared in his head.

Kirk had chosen first, that Crystal’s life wasn’t worth a few more years of his life in prison. He’d chosen to kill, and to keep trying to kill, and he’d died first. He’d known the consequences of raising the gun, and he’d done it anyway.

‘…and so I take great pleasure in presenting Acting Detective Inspector Paul Quinn with the George Medal,’ the Chief drew his speech to a close. Paul did as passable an imitation of a left-face as he could, and tucked his cap under his arm. The Chief was about an inch shorter than him and had to raise up to drape the ribbon around his neck, not looking pleased to do so. Paul was wondering if he should have stooped slightly when the Chief yanked his hand into a steel-fingered grip and gave his arm a couple of firm, manly shakes. ‘Terrific job, Paul, very well done.’

‘Thank you, sir,’ Paul nodded back. Now one of the very, very few police officers ever to receive a medal for bravery in the line of duty.

He turned back to the crowd, applauding more enthusiastically now, and looked at the faces. Smiling faces from the front row to the back – Jenny, Dale, a few of the people from North Wales’ Major Investigation Team, a few Superintendents and Chief Inspectors he’d never met…

He found PC Lewin near the back. Another memory came into his mind.

A few minutes after the shooting. Paramedics still working on Kirk, with a defibrillator set up on his chest. A paddy wagon had rolled up for Garrett, another paramedic assessing him for concussion (he’d ended up handcuffed to a hospital bed). And the hostage – Crystal – sitting on the curb crying, with a blanket and Lewin’s arm over her shoulders.

‘He was going to kill me,’ she was saying. ‘He was going to kill me.’ And Lewin, not much older than Crystal, rubbing her back and saying,

‘It’s ok now, he can’t hurt you. It’s finished Crystal. It’s finished.’

Paul looked at the medal sitting on his chest and knew that he’d always question whether or not he could have done something – anything – differently. Whether or not he could have lived up to Nick Angel and brought Kirk in alive. But also that Crystal was alive because he’d acted, and both of them might be dead if he hadn’t, and the first outcome was the right one. Kirk had made his choice, and paid the price for it, and Paul was not responsible for the choice that the other man had made.

He looked at the medal again, and thought about what Jenny had said, decided she was right. Not for the life taken, for the ones he’d saved.

If you’ve enjoyed Justifiable, please have a read of Paul’s next outing, Consent, https://attemptedmurder.uk/shortstories/consent/. Or, if you’d like to look at his other stories, please look at the Short Story page https://attemptedmurder.uk/shortstories/. If you like this, or any other story, please help the site grow by sharing and recommending far and wide!

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