It had been a long time since Murphy had worked with a partner, and working back in a police station seemed a little strange. He was usually a loner when it came to this type of work, but he recognised that things had changed.
Even when based at the station, in his early years with The Service, he didn’t spend much time there. He thought if he was getting paid to catch bad guys, he should be outside the station where the bad guys are. Well, where most of the bad guys are, anyway. He looked at his new partner, temporarily promoted to Sergeant during this investigation, and wondered fleetingly if he was a good guy or a bad guy. He shrugged, and guessed it didn’t matter either way, as long as he did the job at hand.
Murphy lit a cigarette, and the cop looked up to chide him about it. The cop decided it wasn’t that important and lit one himself. It was the early hours of the morning, and they both needed a short break. Murphy thought back to how he had met Laurence, and how he had won Laurence’s respect.
Murphy had been in some very dangerous situations in his work with various emergency services, but few had shook him up as much as having a 13 year old student put a knife to his throat during school hours. It was then he realised “We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto.”
He had been on the Aboriginal community of Woora Warra, working as Deputy Principal, for about a week, and had not been prepared for what he had seen. Violence borne of poverty was common. The poverty came from about 95% unemployment in the town, with few employment opportunities.
The kids grew up with violence a part of their being. As such, they became the same themselves. And one day, he just happened to walk in on it.
Young Laurence was a nice enough lad, usually polite, but also withdrawn and depressed. He knew this was a sign of other problems, and everyone in the school knew what these kids had to put up with.
Like most of the kids, he hung around in a gang. It was pretty simple who you hung around with, because it depended where you lived. There were four recognised “corners” to the town, and each corner had it’s own “gang”. Most of the kids didn’t venture much out of their quarter, and most definitely not after dark. Unless they were looking to cause trouble.
Laurence was also very small, possibly as a result of malnutrition, another common problem on the communities. He was probably about 145 cm, slight build, though a reasonable athlete. Because of his size, he was an obvious target for other students. Not so much because they disliked him, it was just they were used to being bullied by bigger people, so they reasoned that was the way things are.
On this particular day, Laurence fought back. It is common for people on the communities to carry weapons. Not so much guns, that’s uncommon. Clubs, iron bars, solid wood, even golf clubs are usual, but knives are reasonably common, too. Hand held weapons that can be concealed but also rationalised as “legal”. It’s hard to rationalise a concealed gun as “harmless” if you need to explain it to a “bullyboy” (policeman).
So Laurence whipped the knife out when a group of older students started shoving him. He was with his own friends, and couldn’t stand to lose face. That would be “shame”.
He waved the knife to warn the older boys away. They stood their ground, and Murphy guessed they had weapons of their own. Murphy had been in this situation before, when he worked in the jails, and tried to calm things down the way he had been trained.
“Hey Laurence, what you up to?” Murphy asked, trying to get his attention away from the others and towards himself. Murphy expected him to turn, and lower the knife.
Laurence spun with the grace of a ballerina, and thrust the knife upward towards Murphy’s throat. With precision that would have made a Samurai proud, he stopped short of actually piercing skin. Murphy could feel the tip of the knife pressing against his neck. He could feel his carotid artery pumping blood back against the sharp point of the blade. Blood he was sure would soon be pumping out of his open throat, and onto the wooden boards of the school’s floor I was standing on.
“This not white man business, eh,” Laurence said. Murphy’s instinct was to use the unarmed combat training he had learnt and disarm him, but he realised the kid had the upper hand. He had caught Murphy by surprise, and he swore inwardly at himself for that. He had underestimated teenager, because of his age. Now the kid was a potential killer, and Murphy a potential statistic.
Murphy reckoned that if he tried to take the kid while he was this tense, and with the knife where it was, then Murphy was going to be hurt. Badly hurt. He needed to talk the kid down, rather than be physical. Murphy stood his ground, and looked the frightened teenager in the eye. Most Aboriginal people won’t look their elders in the eye, and will look away. Murphy expected this to be the case in this situation.
Laurence continued to stare into Murphy’s eyes. That was twice in ten seconds Murphy had misjudged the situation. He wasn’t doing too well, he thought to himself.
Murphy could see fear and hate at the same time in the lad’s eyes, yet something told him the fear and hate wasn’t directed at Murphy.
“I gonna cut your fuckin’ throat,” Laurence said before Murphy could say anything. Murphy recognised it was to look big in front of the others, and that he probably didn’t mean it. Then again, Murphy thought, his judgement hadn’t been so good up until now.
Murphy could feel himself losing the situation, and wasn’t sure what to do. Then one of Laurence’s friends saved the day.
“Eh, Laurence, you want me to get a milk crate so you reach high enough to cut him throat?”
That was enough. Laurence knew things were wrong. He pulled the knife away from Murphy’s throat, and Murphy realised the worst part of the danger was over.
By this stage, most of the other staff from the school were arriving, and many of the students. One of the Murri teacher’s aides, respected by the students as a local football hero, walked up to Laurence, and took the knife from him. Laurence didn’t dare argue with the older Murri.
The situation diffused. The police sergeant turned up. Then Laurence’s father. Last Murphy saw of them that day, the father was physically dragging Laurence home, and yelling abuse at him for threatening a school teacher. Murphy waved the local sergeant away when asked if he wanted to lay charges.
The next day, the father came to see Murphy. Murphy was unsure of how that would go, but the man was genuinely distraught. He was crying and apologising, and kissing Murphy’s hand. He found out later this is a sign of genuine remorse, and seeking forgiveness, in the local Aboriginal culture. The two men talked, and ended up on equal terms, which is the way Murphy preferred things.
Laurence came to the school later, and apologised as well. Murphy could see the signs of physical abuse on him, and guessed what had happened. He, too, was genuinely distraught, and told me he didn’t mean to hurt me, he just wanted to scare me. He asked me if I was OK after it had happened.
Before I could answer, John, the teacher’s aide who had taken the knife off him, said “The teacher, he OK. He go home and change his underwear, then he come back to school.”
After that, Murphy had very little trouble with the students at the school, and they often came to him to talk, or just to sit nearby, to be somewhere they knew was safe. But it wasn’t the last time he had to deal with knives and students.
In hindsight, he supposed that was the test from the students. The test as to whether they could get over the new teacher or not. Murphy was certain it wasn’t planned the way it happened, it just happened. The other staff told him it isn’t uncommon, and they all had the same sort of stories of their own experiences. From the student’s point of view, and the staff, for that matter, they felt that Murphy had been put in a bad situation, and it hadn’t scared him at all.
They were wrong. Murphy had been terrified.
As it panned out though, Laurence become crucial in the investigation that was now going on. In fact, Laurence was the first one that Murphy had become aware of that was being exploited by the headmaster, but not the last. In fact, almost every student at the school was being exploited by the headmaster. Once Murphy knew why they had wanted him out here, he was only too happy to oblige.
Murphy came back to the present, and realised the cop was trying to get his attention.
“Want to call it a night?” The cop asked.
“Let’s call it the start of the night,” Murphy said. “Feel like a beer?”
The cop nodded his agreement, and they headed off to the bar across the road.