STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG
By Kate Atkinson
1975: April 9
Leeds: "Motorway City of the Seventies." A proud slogan. No irony intended. Gaslight still flickering on some streets. Life in a northern town.
The Bay City Rollers at number one. IRA bombs all over the country. Margaret Thatcher is the new leader of the Conservative Party. At the beginning of the month, in Albuquerque, Bill Gates founds what will become Microsoft. At the end of the month Saigon falls to the North Vietnamese army. The Black and White Minstrel Show is still on television, John Poulson is still in jail. Bye Bye Baby, Baby Goodbye. In the middle of it all, Tracy Waterhouse was only concerned with the hole in one of the toes of her tights.
It was growing bigger with every step she took. They were new on this morning as well.
They had been told that it was on the fifteenth floor of the flats in Lovell Park and - of course - the lifts were broken. The two PCs huffed and puffed their way up the stairs. By the time they neared the top they were resting at every turn of the stair. WPC Tracy Waterhouse, a big, graceless girl only just off probation, and PC Ken Arkwright, a stout white Yorkshireman with a heart of lard. Climbing Everest.
They would both see the beginning of the Ripper's killing spree but Arkwright would be retired long before the end of it. Donald Neilson, the Black Panther from Bradford, hadn't been captured yet and Harold Shipman had probably already started killing patients unlucky enough to be under his care in Pontefract General Infirmary. West Yorkshire in 1975, awash with serial killers.
Tracy Waterhouse was still wet behind the ears, although she wouldn't admit to it. Ken Arkwright had seen more than most but remained avuncular and sanguine, a good copper for a green girl to be beneath the wing of. There were bad apples in the barrel - the dark cloud of David Oluwale's death still cast a long shadow on police in the West Riding, but Arkwright wasn't under it. He could be violent when necessary, sometimes when not, but he didn't discriminate on the grounds of color when it came to reward and punishment. And women were often slappers and scrubbers but he'd helped out a few street girls with cigarettes and cash, and he loved his wife and daughters.
Despite pleas from her teachers to stay on and "make something of herself," Tracy had left school at fifteen to do a shorthand and typing course and went straight into Montague Burton's offices as a junior, eager to get on with her adult life. "You're a bright girl," the man in personnel said, offering her a cigarette. "You could go far. You never know, PA to the MD one day." She didn't know what "MD" meant. Wasn't too sure about "PA" either. The man's eyes were all over her.
Sixteen, never been kissed by a boy, never drunk wine, not even Blue Nun. Never eaten an avocado or seen an aubergine, never been on an airplane. It was different in those days. She bought a tweed maxi coat from Etam and a new umbrella. Ready for anything. Or as ready as she would ever be. Two years later she was in the police. Nothing could have prepared her for that. Bye Bye, Baby.
Tracy was worried that she might never leave home. She spent her nights in front of the television with her mother while her father drank - modestly - in the local Conservative Club. Together, Tracy and her mother, Dorothy, watched The Dick Emery Show or Steptoe and Son or Mike Yarwood doing an impression of Steptoe and his son. Or Edward Heath, his shoulders heaving up and down. Must have been a sad day for Mike Yarwood when Margaret Thatcher took over the leadership. Sad day for everyone. Tracy had never understood the attraction of impressionists.
Her stomach rumbled like a train. She'd been on the cottage cheese and grapefruit diet for a week. Wondered if you could starve to death while you were still overweight.
This is an excerpt from Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson. Copyright © 2011 by Kate Atkinson. Reprinted by permission of Reagan Arthur Books, Little Brown, New York, NY. All rights reserved.
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