Night Watch

Hal­lowe’en was not Louise’s favourite time of the year . . .

The People's Friend - - This Week - by Ali­son Carter

YOU got the short straw, too, then?” Louise asked. Her route along For­far Av­enue passed the en­trance to an al­ley, and a fire fighter in full gear had just walked out of it.

“It’s Alan, isn’t it?” She’d prob­a­bly met him, Louise thought, at some lo­cal event that she’d at­tended as a Com­mu­nity Sup­port Of­fi­cer.

“Yes, and you’re Louise Wil­lis. Short straw?”

“Hal­lowe’en. I wanted the night off; I mean, who wants to be around when some idiot pours fake blood into the bins out­side the min­i­mart, or scares a tod­dler half to death?”

“Ah.” Alan shrugged. “I’m fine about work­ing Hal­lowe’en.”

“Each to their own. Is there a fire, then?”

“No. One of us goes on a walk­ing tour on Hal­lowe’en and then Bon­fire Night – a new ini­tia­tive as of last year.

“The idea is to spot haz­ards, or any fun that’s go­ing a bit too far, and nip it in the bud be­fore any­one has to call out our en­gine. Are you go­ing to­wards town?”

“’Fraid so,” Louise said. He hes­i­tated, and Louise saw his face turn pink.

“Mind if I tag along? It’s al­ways good to hear what the other ser­vices are up to.”

“Sure. I’m on a sim­i­lar walk my­self – let­ting any­one with ill in­tent know that I’m on their case.”

Louise looked up at him as they set off. He had brown eyes. She re­mem­bered his sur­name now – Mcdon­ald.

“But we don’t get much trou­ble, do we, round here?”

Louise shrugged. “You never know. Frankly, I lack a sense of hu­mour when it comes to Hal­lowe’en. I wanted to take my kids out guis­ing, though, but as I said, I couldn’t get the night off. My sis­ter’s tak­ing them.”

“A boy and a girl?” Alan said.

“You’ve got a good mem­ory.” “Some­times. Di­vorced?” “That’s right.”

She seemed to re­mem­ber that Alan was sin­gle, but she stopped short of ask­ing the ques­tion.

It might sound as though she was keen to know, which she wasn’t, be­cause there was no rea­son to want to know, none at all.

“Are you wor­ried about your chil­dren tonight?”

“Not wor­ried ex­actly. I just don’t think Hal­lowe’en is the hi­lar­i­ous fes­ti­val that ev­ery­one else seems to.

“But it’s all pretty reg­i­mented and safe these days.

“Some houses put a sign in their win­dows if they want guis­ers, you know.”

“I do know. Last year we dealt with two cur­tains on fire be­cause some sparks put can­dles in pump­kins in their win­dows as the sign.” “Peo­ple are use­less.” He laughed.

“They want to have fun.” “As I said, a sense of hu­mour fail­ure on my part. One of my kids will be sick from the sugar, and they’ll fight.”

“You don’t buy into Hal­lowe’en, do you?”

“l don’t see the point. No­body re­ally be­lieves that lost souls walk the earth tonight.”

They had reached the end of Mon­trose Av­enue.

“l ought to go and check the playground,” Louise said, “show them my uni­form. You never know who’s mak­ing trou­ble in there.”

“Af­ter that I’ll wan­der up and down those ter­races by the rail­way line. They have a thriv­ing bon­fire tra­di­tion there.

“Last year I got two baked pota­toes and a marsh­mal­low on a stick.”

“Yes, you’ll need to check that some fool hasn’t built a fire un­der a tree. So you did this last Oc­to­ber, vol­un­tar­ily?”

He nod­ded.

“l kind of like this time of year.”

“We don’t have that in com­mon, then.”

There was a si­lence be­tween them un­til they reached the playground.

“It’s al­ways the older kids in here,” Louise said. “We got the coun­cil to lower these hedges so we can see what they’re up to.”

“Right now what they’re up to seems to be push­ing pri­mary-school chil­dren on the swings.”

Louise peered over the hedge. A few boys of fifteen or six­teen were mak­ing lit­tle ones laugh.

There were a few scary masks and Drac­ula teeth among the youth, while the lit­tle kids sported a range of fancy dress, from ghost to Spi­der­man.

Mums stood nearby, chat­ting.

“So that’s OK,” Alan said. “l sup­pose so.” Louise sensed he was smil­ing at her. Or laugh­ing. “Look, I know you think I’m a mis­er­able so-and-so, but Hal­lowe’en’s been noth­ing but a pain for me.

“Last year my youngest, Ryan, had his face painted by my idiot brother to look as though it was wounded.” “Wounded?”

“Will painted a gash right down the mid­dle of Ryan’s lit­tle face so that it looked like the skin was be­ing torn off.

“It makes me feel ill just think­ing about it.”

Alan chuck­led.

“So your Ryan was a mon­ster. That’s not so bad. I bet he loved

ev­ery minute of it.”

Louise turned to­wards Alan. He was very tall, so she had to tilt up her head.

“Have you ever tried wash­ing face paint an inch thick off a tired nine-yearold?”

He pre­tended to think hard.

“Not in a very real sense.” She laughed but went on. “And what if it was partly gen­uine face paint, and partly some old stuff your idiot brother found in his art sup­plies box that doesn’t come off skin?”

Alan nod­ded slowly.

“That sounds like a chal­lenge.” He tucked his hel­met un­der his arm. “Shall we leave the delin­quent teens to their du­bi­ous pas­times?”

One of the older boys in the playground had started to sing “The Wheels On The Bus”.

“What? Oh, yes, OK.” They walked.

“So the paint stayed on poor Ryan’s face once Hal­lowe’en was over?” Alan asked.

“‘Poor Ryan’ noth­ing. He loved it. He thinks the world of his un­cle. But it gets bet­ter, Alan.

“Ryan had failed to hand me a note from his book bag say­ing that of­fi­cial school pho­tos were go­ing to be taken the next day!”

Alan was laugh­ing hard now.

“Price­less. Have you got a pic­ture on you?”

“It’s not funny,” Louise protested.

“Ev­ery sin­gle mem­ber of my ex­tended fam­ily wanted a copy of Ryan with hor­rific paint smeared all over his face, with his in­no­cent smile and wear­ing his new school shirt.

“It cost me a for­tune! So you see why I don’t have a Hal­lowe’en sense of hu­mour.

She fished a small pho­to­graph from her wal­let.

“Bril­liant!” Alan said. “He looks as though he’s been in a fight.”

“l know, it’s mor­ti­fy­ing.” They walked on, past a row of shops and a group of young­sters count­ing their booty and squab­bling about how many bon­bons could be swapped for a whole cho­co­late bar.

Then they stopped to chat to a clutch of dads who were guid­ing six El­sas and two An­nas around a cres­cent of houses, knock­ing po­litely on doors.

A ra­dio crack­led some­where in­side his fire­man’s jacket.

Louise heard a voice say some­thing about at­tend­ing at Cale­do­nia Mews.

“We’re only two min­utes from that es­tate,” she re­marked.

“Come with me?”

His tone was ca­sual, but Louise sensed that he’d like to con­tinue their joint tour.

The evening would def­i­nitely be more bear­able, she con­ceded, with a good-look­ing bloke to pa­trol with.

She made a note not to get dis­tracted: she must stay alert for van­dals, time-wasters and thieves.

“So, what’s afoot in Cale­do­nia Mews?”

“A bon­fire.” He smiled. “It seems the youth of to­day don’t know their Franken­stein’s mon­ster from their Guy Fawkes.”

“I’m glad you find it amus­ing,” Louise said. “I’d ban the whole thing.” “No, you wouldn’t.” “I would.”

“I’ll make you laugh over Hal­lowe’en yet,” Alan said. “What kind of key does a ghost use to un­lock a door?”

“I have no idea.” “A spoo-key.” “Bril­liant. Not.”

“‘All right. What do they teach at witch school?” “Broom­stick fly­ing?” “Yes, but that wouldn’t make it a joke, would it? They teach spell­ing!” Louise walked on. “You’re a tough nut to crack,” he said. ‘“Here’s Cale­do­nia Mews.”

Alan stopped and put his yel­low hel­met back on.

“An­tic­i­pat­ing trou­ble?” Louise asked.

“I’m an­tic­i­pat­ing a light sprin­kling of ash,” he said. “l washed my hair be­fore I came out. Also, the pub­lic does like to see a fire fighter in full re­galia.”

Louise ad­mit­ted to her­self that the pub­lic was not alone as she watched him walk up to a slat fence be­hind which rose a plume of smoke.

“Bon­fires aren’t per­mit­ted, right?”

“True. But we go easy be­tween now and the fifth. We try to let folk have a good time un­less there’s a safety breach.”

He stood on tip­toe and looked over the fence.

“It looks fine,” he said. “A few beers, the pos­si­bil­ity of a sausage. I do like a sausage.”

He bent and peered through an open knot in the fence.

“Posh ketchup, too. No rub­bish.

He re­ally was, she ob­served, de­ter­mined to en­joy the night.

“I’m go­ing to call in next door,” he said, “and ask if I can view what I can’t see here. I want to rule out the fire be­ing close to any flammable gar­den equip­ment, though I reckon it’s fine.

“Well, I can re­as­sure the el­derly lady next door – I just saw her peer­ing out from be­hind a net cur­tain.”

Louise walked up the path of the next-door house in front of Alan.

Not wish­ing to be out­done in look­ing well turned out for the pub­lic, she took off her hat and brushed the brim with her hand.

The door opened and a tiny, wrinkly lady in a house­coat stepped out. In her hand she held a mix­ing bowl full of brightly coloured sweets.

She looked down at Louise’s hat, and then up at Louise, and then at Alan, and she frowned.

“You two are a bit old for this, aren’t you?” she said.

She turned and placed the bowl firmly on a hall table be­hind her.

“Quite good cos­tumes – you put in some ef­fort there, I can see – but I’m keep­ing my treats for the chil­dren, if you don’t mind.”

She stepped back in­side and closed the door.

Alan burst out laugh­ing first, then Louise joined in a sec­ond later.

It took Louise a good two min­utes to calm down, and she had to wrap her arms around her­self to dampen the gig­gles.

“l thought you said Hal­lowe’en wasn’t funny,” Alan chal­lenged. Louise wiped her eyes. “All right,” she said. “You got me.”

“Not yet,” he said. “But we’ll see. What are you do­ing on Satur­day night?” ■

“I don’t have a Hal­lowe’en sense of hu­mour”

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