One Another's Shadow
Disclaimer: I'm only using characters from the BBC's Ashes to Ashes for fun. I don't own them and didn't invent them.
Author's note: Some events and places described in this fic actually happened. You'll know 'em when you see 'em. Some familiarity with events in the UK / London in the 1980's and today is useful but not essential. Any unfamiliar language will be translated eventually. It's all part of the plot.
Alex winced at the raucous singing and laughter that floated up the stairs from Luigi's. She was supposed to have met them at 6pm and she was already two hours late.
"Ass'ole!! Asss-soldier, I will be!!" roared Ray, in full flight, as the rest of CID collapsed in laughter around him. The "ass'ole" song just killed them every time.
Alex smiled to herself. Crude and uncouth they may be, but they were also very funny at times. She surveyed the laughing men, scanning for Gene. He wasn't present.
"Boss!! Err… Ma'am!" cried Chris in welcome, getting to his feet and pulling a chair out for her.
"Poof," muttered Ray but smiling all the same. "What'll yer 'ave, Ma'am?"
"A glass of red, thanks Ray," she replied, smiling warmly in thanks at Chris as she sat down. Poor Chris. He wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed but he was willing to learn and he tried hard. Alex genuinely liked him.
Shaz leaned over to her, "We were wondering where you'd got to Ma'am."
"I wanted to finish that mountain of paperwork on my desk this evening Shaz," replied Alex. "I'm sick of it sitting there. Fresh start tomorrow!"
"Good Ma'am!" beamed Shaz back at her. Shaz had only returned to work about two weeks ago and even though she did her best, she couldn't make much headway through the filing.
Since Shaz had been absent, nobody had filed anything correctly or seen to it that copies of reports went where they were supposed to go. After Gene had accidentally knocked two huge leaning piles of paperwork onto the floor, and after he kicked at the fluttering pages in anger, he stormed off to the Chief Superintendent to request a filing clerk. He stormed back again in 15 minutes with a sour look on his face and slammed his office door with such force that a few more pages rose into the air. Nobody asked him about the filing clerk and everyone wished Shaz would come back. Soon.
Shaz did come back and the Guv, as a present, managed to wrangle a new electric typewriter and a fresh stack of carbon sheets for her. Alex had almost laughed at the notion that a typewriter could be a present but she saw that Gene was genuinely pleased he'd managed to get Shaz something that would make her life a bit easier. So she got a big red bow for the present instead and said nothing.
With the team intact once more, life began to settle down. The office was gradually getting restored to some order and they had just smashed a major gun running organisation, with links to the IRA, over the past few days. The elation felt by the group was being celebrated in true CID style. "The bigger the bust up, the bigger the piss up," was how she heard it described. She smiled again – judging by the state of her colleagues, this was the mother of all piss ups.
"Ye missed the ass'ole song," said Chris, handing her the wine.
"Only a bit. I heard most of it on the way down the road," she replied.
"Ye hear that Ray?" cried Chris. "Yer famous. Heard all across the town."
"I'm famous across this city for more than me voice," crowed Ray, to more laughter.
Still smiling, Alex rolled her eyes and took a sip of her wine, looking for a sign that Gene was even in Luigi's.
"This is one of the best lunches ever," slurred Chris, starting on the sambuca. "Can't believe the Guv missed it."
"Yeah – where is he?" asked Alex.
Everyone turned to look to her in surprise. Alex cringed. Had she been too eager with her question?
"Ma'am?" queried Ray. "The match? Remember??"
Puzzled, Alex shook her head, "What match?"
"Where 'ave you been this last fortnigh'? THE match. City versus Spurs!" explained Ray. "'E's been like a little kid at Christmas over it. Revenge for the Cup Final in May and all that. 'Aven't you been listening to 'im?"
"Well yes… but I thought it was on the television." Truth was she wasn't all that interested. Any time football was mentioned she just tuned it out. She didn't realise Gene was talking about going to the game.
"Telly?" snorted Ray. "Ye think the Guv'd be 'appy with Jimmy Hill and bleedin' Match Of The Day, do yer? No! 'E's got to see City live when they're in London."
"Oh!" said Alex, wanting to move the subject away from Gene's whereabouts. "Silly me – now where we? Ah yes. Sambuca. Chris, have you managed to light your finge-"
Shaz's knee pressed against hers urgently. "Go on Ray – it's your other party piece!"
Ray, being only too happy to oblige, took out his lighter to cheers from the other men and proceeded to liberally sprinkle sambuca over his entire hand this time.
"Sorry Ma'am," said Shaz quietly in her ear. "It's just that Chris almost set his hair on fire last week doing this and I-"
Alex laughed, "Say no more Shaz. Say no more."
She stayed for about an hour and a half and joined in as best she could but it wasn't the same. It was always good fun when she and Gene propped up the bar while the lads enjoyed themselves in the background.
She missed him.
Giving herself a mental shake she went to bar and ordered a round for everyone before she headed off. She was senior officer here and it was customary to buy the last round. Gene always did it and she felt she should do the same in his place.
"Ah Signorina Drake!" exclaimed Luigi warmly. "You are all alone this evening. No Mister Hunt."
"Hardly alone Luigi," she smiled, gesturing to the rabble behind her. "I'd like to pay for an orde-"
"Mister Hunt has already taken care of it Signorina. But thank you."
"Oh. Oh! Well… in that case… I'll leave it there. Umm, thanks Luigi. I'll try and get this lot to start moving."
"It's no problem. It's early yet and they go soon. They always do. Eventually!" smiled the little Italian, not wishing Alex to act as his bouncer.
She thanked him again and went to say her goodnights. Some were so far gone they hardly noticed but Shaz waved goodbye and tried to get Chris to do the same but he was having difficultly focusing on Alex. Or anything for that matter.
Laughing, Alex made her way up the stairs to her flat, the sounds from the trattoria fading out behind her as she closed her front door. She leaned against it with a sigh. It had been a good night but… not the same.
She got ready for bed and from the street, she faintly heard the last stragglers leave Luigi's. Tired, she flopped into bed and slept soundly until about 3am when the phone woke her. Stumbling sleepily through the flat she answered it with a groggy, "'Lo?"
"It's me. You alone?" came a gruff voice.
"Wakey, wakey Bolls! Are you alone?" barked Gene.
"It's 3am for Christsa-"
"YES! Yes, I'm alone. What's so urgent that-"
"I'll be there in a jiffy." And with that, he hung up.
Alex stared at the receiver in her hand, blinking the last remnants of sleep away. What exactly was going on here?
She pulled on her dressing gown and switched on the main lights when she heard footsteps outside her door, followed by a soft knock.
"Bolly? It's me. Open up," he whispered, not wanting to disturb any other tenants.
She did so and he stepped inside. Then he turned around and put the safety chain on before turning off the lights and walking swiftly to the front windows, he looked out into the street.
"Gene? What the hell i-"
"Shush," he whispered sharply and his general demeanour told her that he was serious. Then he snapped the blinds shut and drew the curtains.
"Ye can turn the lights on now," he said, flopping down onto the couch. "And if ye have a brew going, that'd be nice."
She clicked the lights on and they both squinted at the sudden brightness. Once his eyes adjusted he noticed that she hadn't moved from her position beside the door. She had her arms folded and also had "the look" that Gene knew only too well. He'd seen "the look" thousands of times on his ex-wife's face and he had seen it on Bolly's a few times too. He was in trouble.
"Look Bolly, jus' give us a brew and I'll 'splain everything then. I'm gaspin' for a cuppa," he said tiredly. It had been a long day and it wasn't over yet.
Resisting the urge to tell him to get it himself if he was so damn desperate, Alex went to the small kitchen area and put the kettle on. There was definitely something up and he did look pretty wretched. Paler than normal, harried and, dare she say it, anxious. The kettle whistled as the water boiled and she dropped a teabag into a mug, pouring the water in on top. Swirling the bag around with a spoon, she then mashed it against the side of the mug, squeezing out as much flavour as she could, making the tea as strong as possible. Then she added in the customary two heaped spoons of sugar, a dash of milk, stirred it all up, plonked some Garibaldis on a plate and brought it into him.
"Tar Bolly," he said, taking it from her. "Yer a lifesaver. Decent cuppa that." He took a few sips of tea, inhaled two Garibaldis and sighed. Then, rummaging in his jacket pocket, he took out a football programme.
"Open it in the middle," he instructed, giving it to her.
She did so and saw strange writing in black felt pen in a language she didn't know.
An tÚsail Eoghan Ó Fiaich. Ar scáth a chéile a mhairimid. Óglaigh na hÉireann.
"I don't understand," she began. "What is this?"
"Blimey Bolly!" he scoffed. "Not much of a detective at 3am, are we?"
"Gene, please! Don't play games - what is this?" she asked, seeing that whatever was written here had rattled him.
"Look at the last three words Alex," he replied, somewhat crossly. "Now tell me I'm not being paranoid here."
"I-I... ummm... the last words? Well, one of them... it sort of looks like Éireann... isn't that Eire? Irish? I mean... Irish for Ireland?"
Gene sat upright and looked at her as if she was from another planet. "Irish? What the... Óglaigh na hÉireann, Bolly!! It's the bloody IRA!! Have you never read a security report in your life?"
In 2008, it had been a few years since the IRA had been of major concern to the Metropolitan Police. She had just joined the force after the Good Friday Agreement had been signed in 1998, effectively ending the terror campaign. She was aware of them, of course, but these days they just weren't the threat they once were. Like in the late 1970's. And 1980's.
"Oh," she whispered, a sick feeling creeping through her.
"Marvellous. 'Oh'," he repeated sarcastically. "That's me fucked then."
She didn't argue back as she needed him to focus. "Gene, you need to call Special Branch immediately."
"Bollocks!" he exclaimed. "I'm not callin' no one until we find out what that message says. I'm not about to go runnin' to those bastards, if I've got nothing to worry about, am I? I'd never 'ear the soddin' end of it!!"
"Excuse me. Wait. We find out what the message says?"
"Glad yer on board, Bolly!" he grinned at her but it didn't reach his eyes.
"Oh no way! No way!" she exclaimed. "We are not doing this. You show up here in the middle of the night, scaring me and not looking all that confident yourself! Then you want to keep this quiet? Gene - you could have a bomb in your car or flat or-"
"'Ouse," he muttered.
"I don't live in a flat. I live in a house."
She rolled her eyes, "What does it matter!? Either way, you've got to be careful. How you even drove your car-"
"I didn't. I left it up near White Hart Lane. As far as I could make out, nobody had touched it but I didn't want to risk it so I walked back here. Didn't want to take the Tube neither."
"You walked?" she asked in disbelief. "From Tottenham to here? That must be what? Seven or eight miles?"
"'Bout that I reckon. I had to double back a few times to make sure nobody was followin' me," he sniffed. "I left the game shortly after half-time. Checked out the motor and then hotfooted it out of there. I rang you from the phone box across the road."
She ran her hands through her hair. "Okay Alex. Okay. Think. Focus."
Gene looked at her quizzically.
"Right - how did the writing get into your programme?"
"I don't know. It weren't there for the first half but at half-time, I 'ad to use the facilities," he waggled his eyebrows at her, "And when I got back I looked through me programme for the team list to see who was on the subs bench. That's when I saw it."
"Are you sure it's your programme?
"That's wot I thought too," he replied and then he flipped open the front cover. "But I always stick me ticket into the programme at the front like this."
He handed the programme back to her and there was his ticket, tucked into the stapled binding.
"So it's definitely mine 'cause that's me ticket."
"Did anyone around you see or-"
"Nah. I was in the stand and 'ad a seat on the edge of the row. There was an old bloke to my right and two other old duffers behind me. Nobody in front. I'd a great seat," he added forlornly. "I asked them if 'my mate' had dropped off a packet o' crisps for me but nobody had seen anything."
She nodded. So far, he had done everything properly. "Right. Well, we're not going to figure out what this means tonight. In the morning, you call Special-"
"We've been over this! I am not-"
She gently placed a hand on his arm. "Gene, hear me out, please."
He looked down at her hand and she thought he was a bout to shake it off him but he didn't. "You don't know these Branch bastards," he explained. "I crossed their DCI when I first arrived here and the git has never let it go. I can't go crawlin' to him now with nothin' to go on. He'll lord it over me forever."
"Do you piss people off by accident or just for the fun of it?" she asked in exasperation. Was there anyone that he didn't spar with?
"Do I 'ave to pick?" he asked dryly.
Sitting back in her chair, she sighed loudly, "Well, if you wanted to find out what the message said, then what is your plan? I'm not saying I'll agree to it, I just want to know."
"Go to Father Michael O'Flaherty, the Catholic priest in St Mary's, near Liverpool Street. I was thinkin' 'e might be able to translate it. I know 'im. Good bloke."
"Okay - how does this sound? First thing in the morning you and I will go to St Mary's and speak to the priest-"
"Steady on Bolls! I'm only just gettin' te know yer and we're already pickin' out a date?" he teased her.
"WE will speak to the priest," she continued as if he hadn't interrupted her. "And if he can translate it, that'll be useful. Then, translated or not, we go to the station straight away and call Special Branch immediately. That's the deal. Take it or leave it."
He thought about it for a moment, shrugged slightly and muttered, "Take it."
"Good. Now, answer me this. What's your gut feeling?"
"Hunger?" he smirked.
"Stop it!" she almost shouted. "God... Guv... you may have received a death threat from a known and active terrorist group who we seriously pissed off this week!! We broke up their gun smuggling racket, remember? And all you can do is make jokes?!"
Gene's eyes narrowed. He did not appreciate anyone shouting at him in that manner. Where did she get off, preaching to him? He was putting her in her place right now.
"Firstly, we broke up a gun running racketeering mob with links to the IRA. LINKS, Bolly! Not the bloomin' IRA itself. I'm sure they could really give a flying toss about some scrots operating out of London when they've got guns arriving by the shitload from Libya. Secondly, we don't know if it's a death threat or just someone pissing about and tryin' to put the frighteners on me. Thirdly, we don't know if it's for me. Fourthly, I'd much rather keep a sense of perspective than go wadin' into the deep end and have Branch crawlin' all over my arse. And lastly, my feet are bloody killing me, I haven't had anything to eat or drink since 4pm apart from this cuppa here, I've no fags left, I want to go home and my soddin' motor is in North bloody London with slimy Spurs fans eyein' it up. So excuse me for trying to look on the FLAMIN' BRIGHT SIDE!!"
"Oh boo hoo. Poor you," she replied sarcastically, utterly unconcerned with his sudden tantrum. "And here I am, trying to help you at 3:30am, when in fact you have this all worked out already. Fine Gene. Go home then. I'll just open my curtains and blinds, shall I? And I'd like to go back to bed. You can let yourself out."
He didn't move and neither did she. Eventually she wiggled her fingers at him as if waving goodbye, "Night, night!"
"Sod off," he grumped, scarfing another biscuit down. So much for trying to put her in her place.
"Thought as much," she said, folding her legs beneath her and persisted with her original question. "Gut feeling?"
"I'm up the proverbial creek, Bolls. This... this is some serious shit I'm in and I ain't got a paddle."
"So, we'll do things properly from now on. No sending Ray to frighten information out of people. No getting Chris to talk to every snout in London. No-"
"I get it," he interrupted brusquely. He wasn't a flaming child. "I already agreed to your deal, remember?"
"I remember. I just want to make sure that you do. No matter how frustrated or impatient you get, just let the investigation take its course. Your gut feeling, the one you've relied on for your entire career, is telling you something about this case. Listen to it and above all else, don't ruin things by being stupid."
For some reason, those last words really cut him. Stupid. He was only too well aware that in her eyes he was a lummox. A great, big blundering old copper, who was only good for kicking the shit out of scum. Before he knew it, the words were out of his mouth.
"You think I'm stupid?"
She sighed loudly. For an imaginary construct, he was awfully touchy when he wanted to be. "No. I do not think you're stupid. I just wish you'd use those brains of yours a bit more often and stop landing yourself in trouble."
"Oh lovely! Thanks for the advice, DCI Drake," he barked at her, emphasising her non-yet-achieved rank.
She sagged back against her chair, "I'm so tired Gene. I don't have the energy to keep fighting with you. Do whatever you want and don't get me blown up in the process. I just want to go home."
"That makes two of us Bolly."
Alex nodded, her eyes drifting shut for the briefest of moments. She could see Molly, at home, laughing with Evan. Molly.
"Any more tea?" he asked, interrupting her thoughts.
"You know where it is," she replied sleepily and much to her surprise, he got to his feet, groaning a little, and shuffled off to the kitchen.
"You want one?" he called, clanking around with the kettle and toaster.
"No thanks," she murmured, Molly's image before her. Don't blow out the candles Molls. I'll be back. I promise.
Something nudged her leg. Alex opened her eyes to see Gene standing in front of her, mug in one hand, plate of toast in the other.
"You should go back to bed. Is it okay if I kip on the couch?"
"'Course," she yawned, getting to her feet. He moved out of her way and she noticed he winced as he did so. "What's wrong?"
"Me feet. I'm certain I've got blisters the size of tennis balls from these flippin' shoes. Should've worn me boots."
"Well, you weren't to know you'd be trekking across London," she said moving his jacket from the couch and hanging it on the coat rack. It was odd, seeing Gene in his off-duty clothes of a jumper, shirt and slacks. He just didn't look like himself. "I'll get you a blanket and pillow."
He mumbled his thanks around a mouthful of toast as she disappeared into her bedroom for a moment or two. She reappeared with a large blanket and her spare pillow and left them on the couch for him.
"I hope you'll be somewhat comfortable. You know where everything is so... help yourself."
"Will do Bolls. Will do. Err... goodnight and err... ye know. Thanks, like."
"'Night Gene. See you in the morning," she replied, smiling gently at him. With that, she went back to bed, closing her bedroom door behind her.
"'Night Alex," he said softly to the closed door and then munched some toast before quietly adding, "Goodnight John Boy! Goodnight Sue-Ellen... no... that's poxin' Dallas..."
Gene took a sip from his mug and moved his chair closer to the window. Turning off the lights, he opened the curtains and blinds, watching the road outside and drinking his tea.
He was in a river of shit up to his ears. He just knew it.