When are strangers not strangers? When they're Frank and Alex!

I know I've been watching way too many Water Rats reruns (cos they're on everyday just when it's time for a lunch break), but I have no idea where this came from. It just grabbed me and wouldn't let me study for my accounting exam until it was written.

All characters belong to Hal McElroy and Southern Star; I'm just borrowing them for my personal amusement.

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Tired of drinking alone, the man walked into a once familiar bar and didn't recognise a single face. Probably a good thing, he decided and ordered a beer.

As he sat down at the bar he couldn't help but notice the woman seated on the stool next to him.

Killer legs, he thought, trailing his gaze upward to her face. She glanced over at him and he immediately felt like an old pervert.

"Sorry," he muttered an apology.

The woman shrugged and shook her head slightly. She seemed beyond caring.

He wasn't sure if it was because he'd had enough of his own company to last a lifetime, or because she seemed so dejected, but rather than retreating, the man put his dignity on the line and offered to buy the woman a beer.

"I'm not much of a beer drinker," she told him, "but you can buy me a vodka, thanks."

The man ordered her vodka and himself a scotch.

"You always drink alone?" he asked casually, figuring she'd just broken up with her boyfriend or something.

"I've got memories to keep me company," she replied.

"Someone special?" he questioned.

"Yeah," she answered slowly, "he was."

The man took another sip of his drink and commented; "fool to let a pretty girl like you get away."

"He's dead." she said matter of factly and drowned her glass with one large gulp.

"Oh, hey, I'm sorry. I shouldn'ta said anything."

"S'Ok." Despite having pushed away her friends and colleagues earlier in the evening, the woman didn't really want to be alone anymore. And strangers were sometimes the best people to talk to. No expectations.

"So you wanna talk about it?" the man figured she would have told him to piss off long before now if she didn't.

"Yeah maybe." The woman replied, but rather than elaborating she asked her new companion; "what brings you here alone?"

The man didn't exactly open up either. He simply said; "had some good times in this place," as he surveyed the bar fondly.

"Yeah, same here." The decor might be hideous, but the bar was fully of memories.

The woman noticed that the man too had finished his drink and signaled the bartender for refills. "This one's on me."

"To the memories then," he inclined his glass towards her.

The woman acknowledged the gesture and reciprocated. "Any particular memory?" she asked.

"Just one constant theme."

"Yeah? What happened to her?"

He looked at her quizzically, "how'd ya know."

"Call it woman's intuition."

"Figures." He exhaled deeply. "She died. 'Bout two years ago. But I lost her before then."

"I'm sorry," the woman offered.

"Yeah so am I.... But tell me about this guy. Must have been quite a young stud."

"Actually he was probably about your age," she tilted her head to look at him.

He stared straight back into her eyes. She liked that. She trusted it.

"What, old enough to be your father?"

The woman did some quick mental arithmetic, "yeah, technically, I guess so. If he was a very young father. But I never saw it that way. I mean, he wasn't what you'd call conventionally good looking. But there was something attractive about him."

"She was gorgeous," the man said. Listening to her talk made him more eager to share his own memories. He looked his neighbour up and down, contrasting her feminine curves and golden hair with the dark hair of the tall, slender figure in his memory. "Complete opposite to you though."

"Thanks alot!"

"Ya know what I mean."

The woman cracked a smile.

"Hey, you got dimples," he poked the side of her face, a sure sign it was time to start slowing the drinks down, "she had dimples too," he said sadly.

"And you got blue eyes just like him. God I miss him," she shook her head.

"How long's it been?"

"Three months. Does it get better?"

"Not for me."

"You really loved her huh?"

"I really did. You?"

"I dunno. I don't think I've ever been in love with someone I wasn't in a relationship with. He wasn't my boyfriend, ya know. We just worked together."

"Sometimes that makes you closer than a lover," the man asserted wisely. And, despite his previous thought about slowing down the drinks, ordered them another round.

"You and she weren't lovers?" the woman asked, accepting the drink.

He shook his head, "Partners. Best mates. Everything but lovers. Sometimes I reckoned we could read each other's minds."

"Then I envy you that closeness. I never knew what was going on in his head," she admitted. "I hated him when we first met. And he didn't trust me. He was always so secretive, going off on his own. Bloody cowboy."

"Sounds like something she woulda said about me."

"I don't know why I can't shake this feeling that I've lost something more than just a friend," the woman continued, "I mean, we never even slept together."

"Doesn't mean a thing."

"So was it the job?" she asked, "is that why the two of you never got together."

They were both intelligent detectives. All this talk about partners, not lovers. It wasn't too hard to realise that they were probably both cops who'd lost their partners on the job. And this being the favoured watering hole of the water police... But neither of them wanted to go there. It was easier to remain strangers in a bar. Even though there were about as far from strangers as two people who didn't know so much as each other's names could be.

"I s'pose it was the job," he answered, "and then I left. Asked her to come with me even though I knew she wouldn't."

"Maybe she was scared," the woman suggested.

"Yeah. I always hoped she did feel something for me. And maybe when I came back...." he trailed off, staring into space, "but she went and died on me. So now we'll never know," he concluded, looking over at his companion, "ya know I'd give anything to have her back, but I still don't regret leaving. I regret not kissing her before I did though. You believe in regrets?"

The woman pondered the question. "I wouldn't know what to change. I did kiss him once, I don't really know why. I was probably a bit pissed and it was at a wedding, if that's any excuse."

"So what happened?"

"Nothing. I tried to talk to him about it later on, but he acted like such a prick I just told him to forget it. So that's my regret. That I never knew what might have been."

"I bloody hate that," he agreed, "not knowing. I reckon it coulda been fantastic between us. Tried to talk to her about it once, about taking our relationship further."


He stared at the glass cradled in his hand, "she said we 'missed our moment' that she didn't wanna screw up what we had."

"Maybe right. Part of me knows it probably wouldn't have worked for him and me. We would've driven each other nuts within six months."

"Us too, but they would've been the best six months of my life," he declared.

"Yeah, I reckon there would have been some pretty good times," she nodded slightly in agreement.

The pair finished their drinks in silence, lost in their own thoughts, interrupted only when the bartender informed them it was closing time.

"Woah," the woman grasped the man's arm to stable herself as she stood up, "shoulda warned me it was time to stop."

"Could say the same to you," he shook his head and watched the room spin as they slowly made their was outside.

"Oh I reckon you've had bigger nights than this. You're gonna be fine," she told him.

"Yeah, what about you?" he asked.

"I.... am gonna have a killer headache tomorrow."

"Salt water," the man advised.

She wrinkled her nose.

"So d'ya want me to put you in a taxi or something?" he asked.

"Nah, I'm a big girl, I can take care of myself. Might get some fresh air first."

"You wanna walk me home then?" he asked, not intending to give the invitation any deeper meaning.

She accepted just as innocently by offering him her arm.

"Ya know, she was always a better drinker than even me," the man said as they walked. "God, she was an amazing woman. She was so strong, I always figured she was invincible."

The woman rubbed his arm sympathetically. "From everything you've said, I'll bet she knew how you felt. And you don't give that kinda love and get nothing in return. I'll bet she loved ya too. In one way or the other."

He took her words in thoughtfully and was grateful. "Ya know, she woulda liked you," he told the woman. It was the biggest compliment he could pay her.

She smiled. "Well he would have hated you."

"Bit of a bastard then?" he asked.

"Oh yeah, he had his moments alright."

"Her too. She had no patience for a lota things. Especially idiots."

"Idiots and Volvo drivers."

"Yeah, don't get her started on bad drivers."

"Sounds like they woulda made quite a pair," she said softly.

"Yeah. WOULD have," the man corrected his previous use of present tense.

"Well, this is me." They stopped at his front door.

"Thanks for the chat," she said.

"Yeah, it was good talking to you..." he trailed off questioningly.

"No names," she shook her head and placed a finger to his lips.

"Okay," his lips barely moved as he uttered the word but she felt his warm breath on her hand.

She replaced her finger with her lips and gave him a soft, chaste kiss that briefly comforted them both.

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The next morning Alex St Clare woke up to her mobile phone ringing. Clutching her head, she rolled over and dug it out of her bag on the floor beside the bed. "Ugh, yeah, St Clare here."

"Hey Alex, it's Helen. Had a bit of a big night did you?"

"Oh shit!" Alex sat up with a start when she realized she wasn't in her own bed. "What time is it?" she asked Helen anxiously.

"Twenty past nine."

"Shit!" Alex swore again.

"Listen you've got a job on," Helen told her, "I'll get Mick to pick you up on the way."

Alex looked frantically around the strange room and then down at her crumpled suit skirt and blouse from yesterday. No way.

"Nah, Helen I'll be in there soon," she tried to cover.

"Really Alex, it's quicker this way," Helen insisted.

"No," Alex swallowed her pride and lowered her voice, "I'm, ah, not at my place."

"*Very* big night," Helen commented.

"I was talking to this guy at the bar last night.." Alex began to explain.

"Happens to the best of us, Alex. Just give us the address and Mick'll pick you up."

"Okay," Alex gave in, figuring she could trust Mick and Helen to keep their mouths shut, "yeah, I'll have to find the address. Hold on a minute." Alex crept downstairs, noting the man from the night before asleep on the couch. Huh. A gentleman? Not having time to think about it now she moved on and poked her head outside the front door. Aw crap, sunlight. "Yeah, Helen I'm at The Rocks.."

It was only after Helen had copied down the address, hung up the phone and was handing the piece of paper over to Mick that she realised the address looked awfully familiar.

She and Mick shared a look.

"Nah," Mick shook his head.

"Couldn't be," Helen agreed.

"He must have let the place out."

"Still, it's a pretty bloody big coincidence."

Jeff Hawker poked his head downstairs just then, "located St Clare yet?" he asked.

"Yep, we're on it," Helen replied.

"Good, and by the way, I just heard that Frank Holloway's back in town."

Mick made a dash for the door.

"Not without me Michael!" Helen ran around the counter after him.

"What's going on?" Jeff demanded.

"Back soon," Helen called as she raced out of the station.

So much for no names.

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