Dan Ralph

Out of the Blue

Note: This essay contains mentions of suicide and violence that readers may find distressing.


Day 1.   “Take the new boy,” said Frenchie. Suicide, sixth-floor window. Old man in his seventies, face down on the pavement. “Give greenie here the gloves, he can search.” Laughs all round. Doctor Ludwig pokes his two fingers into the back of the old man’s head, “Fractured skull, broken back. He is dead.”

14.        “It’s the pigs, run!” Down the alley. Time to impress my tutor, I follow swiftly. A maze of switchbacks. They’ve stopped, I’m alone. Something I’ll get used to. Baton drawn, saved by the cavalry as my colleagues arrive to assist. 

276.      I wait to catch the paedophile at the pond. He meets his young victims for favours in the car. My fishing rod in the pond. There’s the paedo. There’s the boy, nine or ten years old. Count down 10 – 9 … (I can’t see the boy’s head) … 8 – 7 … (Movement inside the car) … 6 – 5 … (Windows begin to steam up) … 4 – 3 … (Car is rocking) … I can’t wait, “Go, Go, Go.” Over the radio.

Evidence located; victim recovered. Success?

680.      Lone patrol, Town Farm Estate. Zing, the sound of cracking ice. No not ice, glass. I’m being shot at. Catapult ball bearings fizzing into the car. Windows crazed as they shatter. A glancing blow off the back of my head. Heavy right foot, suddenly I’m the getaway driver. Life 1.

872.      “All units look for a green Ford Sierra, heading east from Hailsham. Male occupant has robbed an elderly lady and caused serious injuries in the struggle. He has possession of her handbag.” Simultaneously the Sierra cruises past.

U-turn and it’s all on. High speeds, round trucks, over pavements, sideswiping cars, robber’s door opens at 130 kilometres an hour. Wrong side of the dual carriageway, across speed humps, my window jumps off the track and slides down the inside of the door. Until he finally corners himself. Then on foot, out of the car and over the fence, across the train track, down the embankment. Onto the road. Boom. Onto the bonnet of a moving car. Wow, this guy does not want to speak to me. He’s up and running again, slower though.

Boom. A motorist with a presence of mind has spotted the male running from police. Standing on his brakes, he’s caused the runaway robber to face-plant into the side of his van. The robber slides Looney Tunes style down the van, into a puddle of broken excuse for humanity.

Award for catching the robber. “How did you feel during the pursuit?” asks Chief Superintendent Colman. Beaming at me with teeth clenched, holding the framed certificate. “Terrified,” I reply. A long pause, broken by a single press flash bulb.

1004.    Hunt for a missing woman, desperately depressed, suicidal.

1207.    On my beat in Sidley with my new staff member, round the corner we stroll, whistling in the sunshine. Off goes my helmet, “Smash the pig.” Ambushed by a group of the disaffected, who had taken a dislike to having their fighting dogs removed from them some weeks prior. Urgent assistance call. A literal fight for our lives. I should I say, I fought for our lives as my newly appointed constable decided this was not the job for him and stood, mouth agape. Bats, knives and broken bottles flailing. My 10 seconds of pepper spray saved me that day, with my stab vest and a childhood surviving in the feral surroundings of an inner-city London council estate. Life 2.

1582.    Wet, windy, and muddy cliff face. A suicidal teenager hanging by a noose around her neck, made from the pink dressing gown she was wearing. Attached to a branch sticking out from the slope, she was slowly asphyxiating herself. I was lifting while sinking, sliding and pulling, preventing the noose from doing its job. The teenager struggled against me. Her boyfriend had cheated on her. Bloody men!

Saved the girl, ruined my boots, received an award. “How did you feel rescuing the young lady?” Superintendent Taylor asked. “Cold,” I replied.

1652.    Through the lanes I sped to pick up the two missing children. My section partner Zoe sat beside me, hanging onto the little handle above the passenger door, white knuckles showing. In an instant, black ice had us. One hundred and eighty degrees, across the road, back end struck a kerb, front lifted and tipped us over, spiralling down the slope, end over end, then rolling over and over. Cockpit shrinking. Glass pressing into my face, dark night, mud and glass, then night then metal and glass. Finally, the carousel stopped.

Upside down, Zoe hanging in her seat belt. Dazed, confused, “Get me out, get me out!” she screamed. Eerily calm, I spoke. “I’ll release your seat belt. Remember you’ll fall onto the roof.”

Click of the seat belt, momentary pause as gravity took control. Flump onto the roof and she was gone out of the gap in her window. Mud oozed in my shrunken window hole as the swamp began to claim the wreckage.

The smell of petrol began to permeate the inside. Panic began to rise. Stuck behind the wheel of the patrol car. Inverted, I wriggled free of the seat belt and pulled myself along the roof of the upturned car to escape through Zoe’s window. Life 3.

2190.    Sniffing the letterbox in the door. Nothing too bad there, I thought. Not seen for several weeks, the report said. Then I noticed the window. Frosted glass, rectangular—bathroom access next to the front door. Bad mistake; I assumed it was locked shut, so pulled with my whole body. The window opened with the ease of a freshly oiled hinge.

The rotting pile on the floor told me all I needed to know; the smell arrived with the movement of air and passed through my very soul.

When there’s not enough connective tissue to lift the corpse onto a gurney, the coroner uses a different method. I described the situation to the coroner’s officer, to which he replied, “I’ll bring the scoop.”

2741.    Vulnerable missing person. Possibly on the clifftop at the country park, FairlIght. I knew this area well. Located the vehicle. Quickest route to the cliff face. Silhouetted on the ledge, a lone female. I nodded a silent direction to my colleague Tom; we had started policing the same day and could read each other like brothers. He approached from the right, me from the left.

My radio crackles to life, “No.” I chastise myself. The lady turns, momentarily drawn from the demons in her head. She shapes to leap. Running to the cliff edge I manage to reach out and grasp the woman by her armpits, as she launches forward toward the sheer cliff drop. Stopping my own momentum, I manage to fall backwards onto the ground with the lady on top of me.

Our legs dangling over the edge, there’s no way to safety. She begins to wriggle free, her loose-fitting top slides up her body. I grapple with her. Tom takes hold of her legs and as she kicks out, he sways backwards over the cliff edge. I am almost halfway over the edge as Tom manages to use his weight and force us away from the cliff edge to safety.

A moment we still share with a nod and a grin.

I receive a Christmas card every year from the lady’s family. Life 4. 

3176.    Surveillance operation to take down a paedophile ring, covert video, identifying victims, and interviews of our most vulnerable. Eight months of evidence gathering, watching, listening, and finally acting; the investigation is a success for a slice of my sanity. The ringleader hangs himself.

I breathe a sigh of relief for the safety of all the future victims.

3589.    “Down there,” says the dog owner, “he brought me this.” Waving a femur at me. A small stream valley, damp, and choked with weeds. Puffa jacket wrapping a rib cage, neatly set next to two black shoes with off-white sticks poking out of the top. I found the missing woman.

Undisturbed for 2,585 days, yet seemingly placed there the day before.

4218.    Up the tree, “handicam” auto focus struggling with the movement of the narrow branch I am perched upon. Twenty metres away Tina offers our man the revolver. I’d not seen a revolver in real life before. Focus on the gun, then the money, then the hands as it’s passed across. Gotcha!

Tina looks up at me in the tree. Attempts to focus her short-sighted eyes. I am silhouetted by the sun, a mere shadow. I feel as though she can hear my heart pounding. She looks back at the deal. Unseen, I shakily climb down the tree.  

4401 but feels like 1 (all over again).      Swap a white shirt for a blue shirt, the transfer to paradise arrives. Three dollars to the pound and the ability to purchase a house in five days rather than 95. New Zealand.

5412.    Missing boy, on a farm. Twenty months old. Drop my peanut slab on the supermarket counter, gone with an understanding glance from the checkout operator.

Floor it, through the gate, down the farm. Head straight to the body of water closest to the house: standard operating procedure. My headlights illuminate the whole pond. Immediately see the child face down in the pond. Recover the little person, straight into resus. Forty minutes of gurgling, roll over, resus, gurgling, roll over, resus. The chopper lands. Ambulance team take over. Half an hour later the advanced paramedic approaches shaking his head; he holds his forefinger and thumb a centimetre apart. “Sorry.” Apologising to me, the boy, the world?

5412.    “Family harm” in town, can I attend? No, send someone else. I’m spent, drawn too thin. I feel translucent. Empty, I go home.

6632.    Identified, the man runs to a bedroom and barricades himself in. Room clearing as we go, up to the door. Simultaneously, three of us—Dave, Jeff, and I—shoulder the door. It’s cheap and disintegrates. Dust clears. Time slows; in less than a second, colour drains from the picture. He’s there, rifle pointing at us. Dave is in the room, carried by his momentum. Jeff sees the gun, turns and runs from the scene. I stand on the threshold of life and death. Two pops, my ears don’t register the bangs. Who fired? The gunman screams, a round lands at my feet.






Time stops, sound stops, the sand in my life timer waits for my decision. Fight or flight, jump or run, I look down at my feet on the threshold of the doorway knowing this is my life’s defining point, my Sliding Doors moment. A moment I will go over and over, again and again in fine, minute detail.






I go in, grapple for the rifle, we fall to the ground. Refusing to let go, the rifle is waved carelessly beneath my chin.

His index finger, freshly removed by Dave’s round, is missing from the second joint. Waggling, spraying blood across the trigger as it attempts to gain a few pounds of pressure. The sound the gunman makes as we struggle is animalistic and guttural. A sound I cannot shake from my head.

Finally, the weapon and its six, elephant-stopping rounds are secured.

I look at his head, a piece of finger stuck between his eyes. Life 5.

6639.    Compulsory counselling, the police’s way of ensuring you are ‘fit for duty’ following a ‘critical incident’. Professor Gournay is quoted at me as we discuss hypervigilance. “Mindfulness is a method that allows you to concentrate and focus on the present and to notice the relevant and sometimes beautiful features of each day—rather than trying to find danger wherever you are.” 

6649.    He runs, discarding methamphetamine bags, scales, phones, then reaches inside his jacket. Same action as the previous week when the officer saw the pistol. I bring my baton across his knees. Down he goes, across him I fall. Over the wall, onto my shoulder. The sharp pain of dislocation. A child’s metal scooter is launched at me. My Taser fires, one barb in his shoulder, the other whistles past his ear. Reload, a second scooter tumbles through the air and over my shoulder. Second shot, middle, centre mass and on his fly zip, missing skin contact. A momentary pause, again he comes forward until he’s on top of me, contact stun as my Taser finally does its job. Down we go. He grapples for my baton and strips it from my grasp.

Retreat. Out of Taser cartridges, stripped of my baton. He walks ahead of me, dragging cables and cartridges. I’m reminded of a bull in the ring as he lays down and gives up. Life 6.

7089.    The drunk from earlier in the day. Blood and sticky, straw-coloured liquid oozing from the head wound. The party continues around her. A knife I am told, a large one, I think. Gasping, she begins to mew. Clear the garden, secure the scene, secure the weapon, locate the offender. A mantra, keeping the fear and panic at bay: Keep breathing. Keep breathing, both of us.

In the ambulance, the gang invades. “Get out!” I yell—of my life, I think.

8236.    15th March 2019, deployed to Christchurch. Guard the hospital, the mortuary. So many relatives, so much sadness amongst so much goodwill.

8240.    Redeployed to the cemetery. Boy racers disrupt the victims’ burials. Burnouts amongst those of us that are burnt out; the irony is not lost. Deploy the helicopter, it patrols over mourners. More disruption to lives disrupted in an already unfathomable way.

The consideration if the car heads into the cemetery. How to respond, check the rifle, check the Glock, check myself? 

9125 days.    The “thin blue line” takes on a new meaning. The line between battling social harm and the feeling of being stretched too far. Brittle, thin blue ice, melting beneath the midday heat of a fractured society, spread across the pond of humanity, waiting for one of us to sink without trace. I found the shore.

I take my uniform off for the last time. I survived.





Gournay, Kevin. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Recovery After Accident and Disaster. Sheldon Press, 2015.

Howitt, Peter, director. Sliding Doors. Screenplay by Peter Howitt, Intermedia Mirage Enterprises, 1998. Amazon.com, 16 June 2010.

Wall, Tony. “Stress Takes Heavy Toll on Police.” New Zealand Herald, 30 June 2000, www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/stress-takes-heavy-toll-on-police/35GTN6VTTGWUW2WXQA5IYZRJRU/.

“Critical Incidents.” New Zealand Police Association, 2022, www.policeassn.org.nz/support/critical-incidents#.

Taser X26 User Manual, “Projectile Stun Device (Taser / X26).” Omega Research Foundation, 2022, https://omegaresearchfoundation.org/en/visual_glossary/projectile-stun-device-taser-x26.

“Thin blue line”. Wikipedia, 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thin_blue_line.

Dan Ralph

Dan Ralph has been trying to complete his Bachelor of Arts: Creative Writing for several years while juggling raising children and full time work.