DISCLAIMER: This is in no way intended to infringe copyright held by Pearson, Thames or anyone else. All the police officers are, unfortunately, all theirs. Dixon and Clifton are mine.

Credit where credit is due department: Grateful thanks to the Forum members (especially the UKers) who answered quite a few "What do you call..." posts.

He's got that red light in his eyes again. I know it is useless to protest, but I do anyway.

"Sarge, shouldn't we wait for the ARV? They'll be here in another fifteen."

He's not even listening - too busy setting himself up with a clipboard and checking his coat pocket for his asp. If this were a cartoon there would be little energy crackles coming from him. It's three hours we've been waiting here. First we were waiting for our targets to appear on the plot. When they did arrive - one, two, three plus the goods - we called for backup and started waiting again. Apparently there is an oil spill right through Sun Hill and everything is gridlocked. I'll tell you, spending three hours in a car with Boulton while he gets more and more wound up is enough to give you a stress condition. It's been months since I gave up smoking but I'm ready to take it up again. Hell, I'm ready for him to take it up.

I try again as we get out of the car.

"Sarge..."

I just let it trail off. There's nothing to say. I knew how it would be when I came back from a reccie past the house and told him that they looked ready for the off. There's no way he's going to let Clifton and Dixon leave that house and lose the opportunity to catch them with the smack. There's no way he's going to go back to the nick and admit another obbo has blown out on him. Little things - like non-existent backup or there being three guys in the house, two with form with shooters - aren't going to stop him. Like Duncan once said, DS Boulton thinks reality is for wimps.

I'm watching him as he locks the car, wishing I was anywhere but here, and he feels my gaze and looks up with that hard exultant smile of his.

"Come on, Rodney - don't want that lot to have all the fun, do we?"

For a moment I really do think about taking a swing at him. I'd do my legs for sure and I try to convince myself that the little Scouse bastard isn't worth it, but I almost think he might be. I could do him so easily - I'm twice his size. I don't think Boulton even realises that, and I know it's never once occurred to him about the slag he pushes around. He's positively bouncing along the pavement now; exhilarated, I reckon, at the idea that we're about to bluff our way into a house full of violent thugs. Me? It's not that I'm a coward, and I can certainly handle myself, but I'd still be wearing blue if I wanted to be cannon fodder. Just look at us now - no backup, no vests, and no armed officers. Totally bloody insane.

Boulton is busy explaining that all we're going to do is slow them down, not try to arrest them. All I have to do - if you can manage it, Rod - is look intelligent and agree with whatever he says. I think sourly that it will be difficult to do both but all I say is,

"Shouldn't we call it in, Sarge?"

"No time," he says, with a wave of his hand.

We both know what that means. There's no way he would get permission to do something this risky - not to mention bloody stupid - the DI not being a nutter like him. Something else we both know is that it is Brighton to a brick that he will try to arrest them if we can't manage to delay them long enough.

We're almost at the gate when Boulton opens his clipboard and takes out some flyers on household security.

"All ready for Operation Bumblebee, then?" he asks.

It takes a moment to sink in.

"Sarge!"

He doesn't hesitate or even look back at me. Using my size advantage for once I grab his shoulder and spin him around. I'm almost speechless. This time he's really gone too far.

"You're not seriously suggesting we walk in there and announce ourselves as police officers?"

He's not smiling now and I let go of his shoulder in a hurry.

"Yes, I am, constable," he hisses, voice cold and sharp. "They can tell the Gas Board or whoever to piss off but they can't afford to make the police suspicious."

He swings on his heels and heads for the house. All I can think, as I follow him towards the topiary-flanked door, is sod this for a game of toy soldiers. You would reckon after being taken hostage by that maniac Blakey even Boulton would have given up on taking this sort of mad bloody chance.

It's Dixon who opens the door and Boulton sails through his blurb on Bumblebee and crime prevention. I'm sure old Al would be thrilled to know that Boulton has actually listened some time. Boulton is right, of course, damn him. Dixon clearly wishes us to hell but is forced to play the role of a concerned householder. Even when Boulton invites himself in to "survey vulnerable entry points" Dixon doesn't know what to do. When Boulton does get himself kicked out of The Job he's clearly got one hell of a future in door-to-door sales.

The other two are in the living room - Clifton and the lump of hired muscle. For a few minutes there is a duet of Boulton and Dixon explaining our presence. We all breathe a sigh of relief when Clifton accepts it - even Dixon. They're both killers but Clifton is the one who enjoys his work.

If every fibre of Boulton's being is straining, like mine, to hear the sound of the ARV - or even uniform - arriving you'd never know. Even Suzi couldn't put more passion into Bumblebee. He chivvies everyone out to the kitchen to inspect the windows and I dutifully examine locks as though I know what I'm doing. Behind me I can hear him doing the business all right. Times like this Boulton always reminds me of that bloke from Bread - all slime and charm. I can't - quite - picture him in head-to-toe leather, though.

We've been here for nearly ten minutes and they are definitely getting toey. So am I. Not the redheaded one, though. He's sitting on the sofa, perfectly at ease, boring for England in his creamiest Scouse. He's well up their noses now as well as mine and I'm waiting for Clifton to decide that a small red-haired wall decoration would be nice. When he does I'll hold Boulton while Clifton gets the nails. I do not want to still be in this house when SO19 get here. If we don't get ourselves shot, probably by the storm troopers, then I'll bet my pension on Deakin killing us.

Unfortunately Boulton doesn't 'do' give up. Meadows described it once as 'bulldog determination'. After they'd left Kerry said she thought pit bull was more like it - too stupid to let go.

I fidget and look at my watch. Usually I won't risk getting Boulton mad at me but this is different - the alternatives are worse.

"Sarge, shouldn't we be going? That crime prevention seminar starts in ten."

The look I get in response should fry my kidneys but there is nothing he can do - here. They seize on this suggestion gratefully and start sweeping us towards the door with oily assurances of thanks. We've reached the hall when - oh Christ! - A black guy appears at the top of the stairs, shouting the odds. There isn't supposed to be a fourth and my heart has stopped beating before I even take in what he's shouting.

"Armed police! There's frigging armed police out there!"
I'm closest to the door but Dixon is still holding the key. For a split second we're all frozen then Clifton swears. Boulton closes his clipboard and says, very calmly,

"Afraid we have to rush away to that seminar, lads, so if you wouldn't mind?"

He gestures towards the door.

Dixon is so stunned that for a moment I think he is going to open the door then Clifton swears again and backhands Boulton against the wall. He's big, Clifton is - my sort of height but built like Lennox. Boulton stays on his feet only because the wall catches him. There's a trickle of blood where a ring or something has caught him and his eyes look unfocussed.

Everything is happening so fast now. There's a noise up on the landing and when I turn to look the black guy's got a gun pointed at Boulton. This is nothing like any simulation I've done. He screams at Clifton to get out of the way then Dixon starts screaming at him - telling him not to be a nutter; they've got to get out. Boulton lifts his head at the noise but he's too groggy to realise what is actually going on. It all only takes an instant and there's no time to think, no time to make a decision - barely time to react. Then Boulton is falling and I hear the shot, thunderously loud in the confined space. For a moment I think it's all right then the pain hits. It starts in my shoulder but it's like tongues of flame shooting through the rest of my body. I'm trying to stay awake but everything just fades out.

The pain in my shoulder is gut wrenching when I wake up. Boulton is kneeling over me, pressing something into my shoulder. Oh God, it hurts. I moan and try to move away but he curses me and asks if I want to bleed to death. I want to tell him what a stupid bloody question that is but when I try to speak nothing much seems to come out. I must be sweating even though I feel cold, because Boulton is wiping my face with his other hand. He's being really gentle and it scares me. I felt better when he swore at me.

"Stay with me, Rod. Ambulance will be here soon."

There's blood on Boulton's face and I try to think if there was another shot then I remember him being punched. I want to ask what happened after I got shot but it seems like too much of an effort. I'm so cold and everything around me is wavering as if I'm seeing it through water. He's talking to me again - ordering me to stay awake - but the pain keeps coming in waves that nearly drown me. Boulton sounds almost desperate though so I try to focus a little, work out what is going on, remember what happened. My jacket and shirt are gone and I realise it is my balled-up shirt Boulton is pressing into my shoulder. I'm lying on the floor of the hall and there's sunshine coming through the open door. Storm troopers rush by every now and then, visors up, shouting incomprehensibly. One stops to speak to Boulton but it just seems like white noise. Outside there's more shouting and car doors slamming. Somewhere in the distance I can hear the thin sound of sirens. There's sort of a whimpering noise too and I guess it has to be me. Boulton's still looking worried. He tries to brush the hair off my face but his hand is shaking and it takes a couple of attempts.

"Don't know what you are complaining about, Rodney. You're going to be lying all safe and comfortable in a hospital bed while I've got Deakin and Meadows carving a ball off each."

He smooths my hair again. "Next time you leave me to take my own bullets, all right?"

I lick my lips -I'm so thirsty - and try hard to push the words out.

"Must have slipped."

He grins a little but looks desolate still. Always does when he realises he's stuffed it; and we both know that this balls-up will probably see him on disciplinary charges. God knows what I'll say when Meadows, or CIB, want to know what went on here today but that's all in the future. For now he's all but apologised and there's something I need to say.

"Sarge, they would have gone, we wouldn't have got them."

He wipes my face with the back of his hand and shakes his head.

"There are some you have to lose, Rod."

The paramedics come clattering into the hall with Dave Quinnan directing and in an instant Boulton is back on his feet, in every way, and snarling at them for being so long. They start working on my shoulder and the pain begins coming in long cold-edged waves that make me gasp even though I try to bite it back. Now seems like a good time to pass out, so I do.