Monday 22nd September, 2025. 8.15am.
It was a dark, sombre morning. Rain lashed the ground in sheets, bouncing off the pavements and roads, forcing lines of rush hour traffic to a near crawl. Pedestrians crowded grumpily into bus shelters, clinging desperately onto wildly waving umbrellas buffeted by rough winds and cursed what was turning out to be a dire Monday morning.
The dark, oppressive clouds that hung over the market town of Dudley outlined the grey buildings which had huddled together as if sheltering from the rain themselves. Thunder rumbled ominously in the distance, rain overflowed from blocked storm drains, running down the bumpy, grey tarmac roads and filled the numerous pot holes.
There was one man who didn’t much care about the weather. In fact, there was a great deal he didn’t care about nowadays. He turned the collar of his coat up against the rain, and bowed his head. He was soaked through to the skin, his dark hair plastered against his pale, furrowed brow. Icy blue eyes that seemed deep in thought lifted slightly and appraised the scene before him.
He was stood in a cemetery, surrounded by headstones of those who had passed on. The ground was sodden beneath his feet, spongy with the effects of torrential rain. The smell of damp earth penetrated the peculiar cold that was ever present in places like this.
Alan Pritchard noticed none of this. He was entirely focused on the two black headstones bearing the names of those he’d held dearest and closest to him.
Katie Pritchard, Born September 14th 1990 – Died October 26th 2024. A loving wife and mother. There were flowers on the grave, he’d placed them here himself two days ago. The rain had beaded the cellophane wrapping they were contained in, the pale, white lilies bright against the strongly contrasting black headstone. Katie had always liked lilies. They were amongst some of her favourite flowers when she’d been alive.
The second headstone, complete with a small, blue bear, sodden with rain sat at the foot of it, simply read; Karl Anthony Pritchard, Born September 26th 2017. Died, October 26th 2024. May the angels keep you safe.
Alan Pritchard bent slowly, and retrieved the small blue teddy bear. Tears rolled down his cheeks and mixed with the rain. His wife, his son – killed almost one year ago, his life, shattered forever. Everything that had meant something to him had been callously ripped from him on that fateful day.
Three years ago, it had been all so different. He’d been newly promoted to DI on the police force where he worked; his wife had just started a new job. Karl was coming on in leaps and bounds at school, amassing many friends in a short space of time and impressing his teachers. Life couldn’t have been better, Alan had thought to himself. He was doing the job he loved and he had a wonderful family that were the centre of his universe.
Then had come along an important case, one Alan had been only too happy to be a part of. It involved a lengthy undercover operation involving a man by the name of Shane Westfield, a man who had a reputation for violence, pimping and drug dealing. He was incredibly paranoid, discussing nothing outside of closed circles and insisted on having all the places he frequented swept for any types of surveillance equipment. Therefore, bugging a place was difficult, if not impossible. Previous attempts to install such methods of surveillance had been met with disaster.
Shane wasn’t stupid. He never made a call from a residential line and used throw away pay as you go mobiles which were always registered under bogus identities. Therefore, the only way to gather such information was first hand. It would require someone to go undercover.
Alan was determined to break Shane’s crime spree. As well as being involved with drugs, prostitution, protection rackets and extortion, it was also rumoured he’d been involved in two unsolved murders. Alan had volunteered to go undercover and had kissed his wife and son goodbye. He’d spent nine months in Westfield’s inner circle, often having to go to extreme lengths to prove his loyalty. His superiors didn’t know the half of it.
Not now... he thought to himself. Forget that scumbag here.
He checked his watch briefly, barely registering the time. Since the death of his family, the only way he’d been allowed to keep his job, was to attend regular psych evaluations. These reports were passed back to his superior, who took any recommendations very seriously. Alan had only been back at work three months and only on a part-time basis. At the moment, he was confined to light duties, a tedious mix of filing and paperwork which had slowly been driving him mad.
Alan was aiming to come back full-time, for he’d spent enough time sitting at home, thinking. He thought that work would be a welcome distraction.
He looked down at the little blue teddy bear in his hand. It had been Karl’s when he was a baby, and though he’d fervently denied still taking it to bed with him, Alan had found it in his bed on several occasions. He’d put it here last week, but now, seeing it soaked with rain, looking uncared for, he decided to put it in his pocket and dry it out at home.
He shifted position and winced, feeling an ugly flare of pain in his right leg. He rubbed at it, trying to soothe the pain in it. It was another unnecessary reminder of what had happened on that fateful day. His mouth felt suddenly parched and dry, his body ached with pain.
He checked his watch again. It was almost nine o clock. If he wasn’t careful, he’d be late for his appointment.
“I miss you both so much...” He whispered, and turning away from the gravestones, made his way slowly toward his car, weariness and heartache dogging his every step.
Later, sitting in the light, sparsely decorated office of the police appointed therapist who conducted his evaluations, he felt strangely detached from everything. While the therapist’s assistant busied herself with setting up the various pieces of equipment which would track every response, he considered what he would do if this latest psych evaluation went against him. His last evaluation, four weeks ago, had been borderline. With only four days to go to what would have been his son’s eighth birthday, he was finding it hard to control his emotions. That wouldn’t read well on the evaluations. It was just as well he’d employed a little tactic which would curb those emotions.
He’d found it dulled his emotions, and he’d been able to get his hands on the pills quite easily – despite the drug having been banned three years ago. Alan was well aware of the risk of taking the illegal pills, but was more than willing to tolerate it. Compared to everything that had happened recently, it was of little concern to him. Such was his determination to get back to work that if he had to bend the rules to do so, then he would.
The Valium, combined with two of the strong painkillers he took for his niggling leg injury, made him feel almost serene.
The therapist’s helper, a young blonde haired woman by the name of Susan, smiled at Alan as she fitted a small monitor over his finger to measure his heart rate. She noticed he was sweating, shaking slightly.
“Relax.” She intoned soothingly. She followed up her comment with a reassuring smile before adding,
“Would you like anything to drink?”
“No thank you.” Alan offered her a nervous smile, adjusted his tie. He’d shed his black overcoat. Underneath, he wore black trousers and a pale blue cotton shirt with a gold and blue tie. He was dressed for work, which was where he was heading straight after his assessment.
He just wished they’d hurry up.
He sat back in his seat, took a deep breath, let it out slowly, willing himself to relax. He was starting to feel the effects of the Valium. The room was sparse, dazzlingly bright, the glare from a multitude of florescent lights overhead bathing the room in an almost intolerable white glare.
He looked up as a man in his late forties with greying hair, a hawk-like nose, and grey eyes framed by black rimmed glasses entered the room.
“Good morning, Alan.” The therapist was dressed immaculately as ever, grey suit trousers, crisp white shirt, cornflower blue tie and a grey waistcoat to match.
“Good morning, Dr Blake.” Alan replied genially.
Dr Blake nodded as he swung himself into the swivel chair at his desk at the far corner of the room. Before him, was a bank of monitors, which tracked Alan’s response to questions. Every response was monitored, from elevated heart rate, to anxiety, emotional patterns and potential triggers. He glanced at Alan’s heart rate, which was being monitored by the device clipped over his index finger. Slow, regular. Almost a little too slow, considering his last psych evaluation. He would have expected to see some kind of nervous reaction, but the Detective seemed unusually relaxed.
“Comfortable, Alan?” Dr Blake asked conversationally, as he activated another monitor screen, this one which would slide into view from a panel five feet from Alan’s chair. It would flash up a number of images, which would then be used to gauge Alan’s reactions. He flipped a switch to commence recording of the session.
“Very.” Alan smiled, feeling extremely relaxed now. That was what he loved about Valium. Everything seemed to become a distant buzz when you were taking it. The things that grated and made you want to scream in annoyance became inconsequential.
“Good.” Dr Blake’s eyes flicked across some readings. A tiny camera on a close up of Alan’s eyes revealed the pupils were dilated, despite the bright surroundings. It was a subtle warning of drugs.
“Have you taken anything this morning, Alan?” Blake wanted to know.
“Prescription painkillers.” Alan replied calmly.
“The leg injury is still bothering you then?” Blake asked, keeping his tone neutral, non accusatory.
“Considerably.” Alan replied.
Blake nodded, made a couple of notes. It would affect some of the readings, but he thought he could compensate for that without too many issues.
“Let’s get started then, shall we?”
Little over an hour later, Alan was sitting in the reception area of the pleasant, airy clinic with its soft cushioned chairs, idyllic paintings of waterfalls, beaches and sunsets and listening to the faint sounds of music piped into the room.
Valium took the edge off his emotions, but left him craving cigarettes and alcohol more than ever. In trying to save his wife and son, he’d sustained several injuries, including a bullet in the thigh which had stopped up against bone, shattering his femur and causing him months of painful rehabilitation.
On days like this, it bothered him considerably. It had a lot to do with the damp weather; his mother had once told him. She’d fell off a climbing frame as a child and broken her arm. It had healed well, but she always knew when there was rain coming, as it started to throb dully. He’d been relatively lucky, suffering no broken bones all through his childhood, and only a couple of minor injuries when he’d been an officer on the beat – broken fingers when restraining an offender, few cuts and bruises, twisted ankle, but nothing major.
That had all changed that fateful day, when after celebrating closing the case which had sent Shane Westfield to jail, he’d returned home to find a man in his house, a masked man who calmly asked him to choose. Whose life did he value more? That of his wife, or his son?
“Alan?” Susan’s voice broke into his thoughts. “Dr. Blake will see you now.”
“Alan,” Mr Blake smiled genially and gestured towards the comfortable black reclining seat he’d occupied earlier. “Take a seat.”
Alan shifted himself awkwardly into the chair, his leg grumbling warningly at the movement.
“Well?” he asked, his voice snagging into a snarl as pain flared in the limb, causing him to grit his teeth.
Dr Blake smiled patiently, and pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose with one finger.
“I’ve gone over this latest assessment with some interest, Alan.”
“And?” Alan asked, wishing the doctor would get to the point.
Dr Blake smiled reassuringly as he registered the impatience filtering into Alan’s expression.
“There’s no need for any undue concern, Alan. You appear to be making progress…”
“But?” Alan was struggling to contain his temper. He needed to go back full time, back on front line duties. Being held in the back offices sifting paperwork was soul destroying. It wasn’t what he’d joined the police force for. He wanted to be out there, doing what he did best - catching criminals.
“I don’t think it would be appropriate for you to return to full-time work. I’m concerned that your sole motivation for wanting to return to work is vengeance.”
Alan smiled thinly, swallowed the lump of cold anger in his throat. He warned himself not to retaliate. If he did, it would prove Dr Blake right in his assessment, and he’d be languishing in the record rooms forever.
“I want to get back out there, and do my job.” Alan assured the therapist with as much patience as he could force into his voice. “I’ve been largely inactive now for almost a year – save for being a filing clerk. I have to put the past behind me, and move on.”
“You don’t believe that.” Dr Blake replied, sitting back in his seat, with his fingers steeped in contemplation. “Today’s assessment clearly proved that.”
“And you don’t think I should still be angry?” Alan retorted.
“Of course not.” Blake replied soothingly. “It is perfectly understandable, given what you’ve been through, but your superiors need to know that you’re returning to work a balanced, healthy individual – both physically and mentally.”
“And what about the rest of the assessment?” Alan asked.
“It went as well as I could expect, at this stage.” Dr Blake replied.
“What do you mean, at this stage?” Alan’s tone edged towards anger now; there was nothing he could do to keep the bitterness and disappointment out of his voice.
“There is a long way to go yet.” Blake replied soothingly. “Your leg injury alone, by your own admission still bothers you. It would be seen as a dereliction of my duties to sign you back to work full time knowing you’re not physically fit.”
“I don’t care what it takes; just get me back into my job full time.” Alan’s patience was wearing dangerously thin. “They need me. Manning levels are possibly at the lowest they’ve ever been, and they’re struggling to cope. It does no one any good for me to be sat on the sidelines.”
“With all due respect Alan, that is not your concern.” He sighed, leaned back in his chair. “I’m also concerned that you’re self medicating.”
“Self medicating?” Alan feigned surprise, but he thought he knew exactly where Dr. Blake was going on this.
“Don’t take me for a fool, Alan.” Dr Blake’s expression was grim now. “Your last set of blood results came back with a high level of alcohol. Combined with your present medication, it’s a dangerous cocktail, and you’re risking dependency of both. I couldn’t, as a professional, put you into a volatile situation which may lead you to indulge in either.”
“You think I’m self medicating?” Alan laughed, waved his hand dismissively.
“I know you’re self medicating.” Dr Blake replied, with a cold, hard honesty which made Alan shrink back in his chair. “You think I haven’t seen it all before? I have, more times than I care to.” He offered Alan a long, lingering stare. “Did you have a drink this morning, Alan? To calm your nerves?”
“No.” Alan replied, with conviction.
The Valium did that. He thought.
“When was your last drink, Alan?” Blake asked, leaning forward, fixing Alan with that same, unwavering stare.
“I thought the assessment was over.” Alan replied coldly. He saw Blake raise an eyebrow and realised he had come across as being evasive.
“Yesterday afternoon.” He added after a moment of silence. “I was invited by a work colleague to join them for a drink. I only had a couple of pints.”
Liar. He thought. You practically drank yourself into oblivion.
Blake sighed, sat back in his chair and steeped his fingers in thought. It was clear to him that Alan wasn’t being entirely honest with him on at least one front. He thought that Alan was probably drinking more than he had admitted to and Blake had a terrible suspicion that the painkillers Alan had been prescribed for his leg weren’t the only drugs he was taking.
However, he could prove nothing. As far as Alan’s superiors were concerned, whatever issues Blake might have with Alan returning to work, they were inconsequential unless they could be backed up with either a positive drug test for banned substances, or some kind of admission. He couldn’t force Alan to take the tests, nor did he have enough evidence to order them. He was worried about Alan’s mental state, but he couldn’t have Alan forcibly admitted into hospital against his will. By and large, Alan’s psych evaluation had been clean.
Whilst he suspected Alan was on the borderline of depression, Alan had clearly stated he wished to return to work and that languishing on light duties, holed up in record rooms, burdened with paperwork, files and other mundane tasks was having an adverse affect. It was entirely possible, that on returning to work, Alan would rally, bounce back. However, it was also equally possible that Alan would crack under the strain with dire consequences.
Alan noticed the doctor was deep in thought, probably weighing things up in his mind.
“Just give me a chance, that’s all I ask.” Alan’s tone was almost pleading.
Blake nodded uncertainly.
“We’ll see. I have to speak to your superior. When I’ve delivered my report, it will be down to them.”
Alan nodded despondently. He thought there was nothing further he could do to earn himself a reprieve in Blake’s mind. Instead, he retrieved his jacket from the back of the chair and without further comment, exited the doctor’s office. The door clicked to behind him.
Blake sighed deeply, shaking his head in exasperation. He chewed his lower lip thoughtfully for a moment, before he reached across his desk, lifted a slim line black cordless phone out of its cradle. He rubbed a hand across his forehead, and started to dial a number.
Back in the quiet, spacious confines of his car, Alan sighed, and let his head drop back against the head rest. He allowed his eyes to slip closed for a moment, then opened them. He rubbed a hand across his mouth, reached across to the glove compartment. It popped open, and inside, glinting in the weak sunlight, was a hip flask.
Alan drew it out, uncorked the top, and swiftly drank from it. His eyes watered as he felt the bitter sting of whiskey on his throat. He sucked from it greedily, taking three huge swallows, before he corked it back up again.
He tossed it back into the glove compartment, and slammed it shut. He ran his fingers through damp, dark hair, and reached into his right pocket, past the damp blue teddy bear and found a slightly crumpled back of Wrigley’s extra gum. He popped two of the hard little gums into his mouth, and started the engine of the car. It rumbled comfortingly into life, the seatbelt light winked insistently.
Alan fastened his belt, and slipping the car into first gear, lowered the handbrake and pulled off the car park of the therapists offices, making his way back out onto the main road towards the police station. It was a relatively short journey, but in this traffic, he’d be stuck for at least half an hour. The car glided to a halt behind a battered red Corsa. Fresh rain peppered the window screen. Alan sighed, turned on the radio, flicking through the stations until he found something that suited his mood, a slow track from the eighties. Alan gazed through the window screen, taking in the monotonous, grey scene before him. He listened to the sound of the rain drumming the roof of the car and sighed.
It always seemed to rain in Dudley.