Danny is eleven. He's a scrawny kid, with an unflattering home-made haircut and clothes that are too big.
Right now, he's sitting on a bench outside a parade of shops in the Porle, the nether region of Blandmore. I spot him under a flickering streetlight, the orange glow lighting up the shadows under his eyes.
It so happens that Danny is a Misper - a Missing Person. He ran out of his foster carer's home at 6pm and we've twice been passed a description of him over the radio, which is how I know to park up and approach him. I should mention that I have a knack for locating Mispers. This is not to suggest I have any kind of special skills, nor that I try any harder than anyone else to find them. I just do.
It is clear within two minutes that Danny has no intention of getting into my police car and going back to his carer's house. He is quite happy sitting on the bench, making shadow animals on the floor between his feet. I suppose, technically, I have the power to forcibly drag Danny to the car, in handcuffs if need be, and take him somewhere safe. Instead, I turn down my radio and sit down beside him.
After five minutes of silence, Danny tells me that he hates his foster carer. He hates his new curfew, the rules about supper-time, not being allowed to slam his door or swear. He hates not being able to ride his bike in the street, because it's been confiscated to stop him running away on it. He hates being at a different school to all his friends, and he hates being told he can't take the train to London to see them. He hates that he sees his mother less than once a month, and he hates that when he does, that fat woman from Social Services is always sitting in the corner making notes.
For ten years, Danny's only rule was to keep well away from a series of his mother's boyfriends, and to call 999 when she put a needle in her arm and started turning blue.
Danny agrees to come to the nick, where I tell him that he's only eleven, and when he's an adult he can choose where to live and how often to see his mother, and can ride his bike anywhere he wants. He and I both know that's a long, long time, and by then he will be in and out of the probation service for fighting, swearing and stealing.
I help Danny write a letter to Social Services and show him how to use our fax machine to send it - no mean feat. Then I drop him back to his temporary home and the carer greets him with a shrug and the words, "There's some cheese in the fridge." I follow up the fax with an email telling Social Services that the carer's home is clean and warm, Danny has his own room and appears to be looked after. After some thought, I add that he's depressed and lonely. I feel like a real hero for that bit.
The fat social worker did read Danny's letter, and I heard he got moved to a new foster carer, just around the corner from the last. He still goes missing from time to time, but I haven't yet found him back on that bench, and I haven't yet arrested him either.
I don't know if he remembers me.
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