Though he has been here many times before, under far more sinister circumstances, the room has changed drastically. The usual red curtains served as walls, where they rose to an infinite ceiling, and the floor had its usual checkerboard, black and white simplicity, but these have always been the main points of this universe hovering within our own. White and black lurks beneath the poured blood of those who pass through this place. The difference, Cooper noted, was that there was no chair for his comfort, and the room was a stubborn hallway of a thicker width than the last time he had journeyed here. It felt crowded, as though it were full of people rushing through various life and death crisis, a strange sensation since the hallway was, in fact, empty.
He could hear, at odd intervals, a rhythmic, static beeping that pulsed through the red space with the cold assurance of a heart monitor. He began to walk down the hallway, noticing that as he did so, a series of IVs stood sentry against the curtains, each one perfectly spaced out by two feet. The more he walked, the more prolific these sentries became, until the hallway was suddenly a vast, forever convergence that resulted in a myriad of these saline and thin steel pipe guards.
Encouraged by the calm and the fact of his solitude, Cooper begins to seek answers in this sparse setting. His steps echo as he makes his way down this infinite hallway, his hands inspecting the bloated rubber faces of the IV soldiers. They are all identical, save for one, which has a Victorian stopwatch dangling from the crook of its steel arm, its silver casing ornately decorated with the etching of a rather surprised looking rabbit. He picked the watch up, its metal cold enough to numb his warm palm.
"Tell me what time it is."
He doesn't need to look up, because he knows the owner of that strange, backwards voice. It is her, and she is standing in front of him, her knuckles brushing his cheek in cool, yet sympathetic, understanding. He lifts his head to meet her gaze, and is instantly hit by the amount of empathy and sadness in her eyes, her head shaking at the knowledge of certain terrible trials to come. Her hair is a golden halo that cascades over the shoulders of her black dress in perfect symmetry, a small smile warming her features in a way that only a person of deep, resonating love could possibly express. He longs to do as she asks, and give her the answer she seeks, but the watch only has the long hand, and all of the numbers on its surface have disappeared.
The sound of a heart monitor grows louder, this time accompanied by the suck and hiss of a ventilator. Cooper does his best to find the source of the noise, and he is surprised to find it is from the IV sentry that he had taken the watch from. He inspects it, searching for some other difference from the others, but finds none. When he turns back to her, she hands him a teacup, full of a steaming, pale brown liquid that can only be a good cup of orange pekoe. The cup has a childish picture drawn on it of a little girl, and a series of x's and o's. He frowns and looks up at his messenger, and sees she is holding a white teapot that has a large advertisement printed on its fat body.
He tries to take a sip of tea, but the delicate teacup has now transformed into a mug, and it is empty. Another advertisement litters its surface in ugly hues of orange and brown. He reads the cryptic inscription, knowing its significance will show itself in due time.
"Bob," he whispers.
She drifts away from him at this, her body eerily out of sync, like a stop motion animation, her bones clicking as her joints twist in unnatural angles. The IVs jingle like wind-chimes as her crooked wrists brush against their metal frames. Her fingers bend backward, cracking, her thumbs snapping upwards, against her knuckles. She wants to tell him something of importance, but her jaw is twisted open, crushed to half its size.
"I will finally end this, Laura," he promises her, surprised he can actually speak. "The fire will be put out, and Bob will be no more. I promise you, this violence will end."
The last thing Jimmy the Mook saw before crumbling to the ground was DCI Gene Hunt's fist contacting with his face. A spray of blood spewed forth from Jimmy's obviously broken nose, where it found its target against the already stained and bleak brickwork behind him.
"That's what nonces get for resisting arrest!"
Gene wheezed against Jimmy's only semi-conscious face, and Sam stood aloof behind him, only slightly out of breath. They had chased Jimmy a good four blocks, and though it was Gene who had finally caught up with him, it was clear the capture had been due more to adrenaline than the state of Gene's health. Granted, to be fair, Jimmy himself wasn't exactly the poster child for healthy living, as evidenced by the piles of discarded drugs he'd tossed off his person as he'd sprinted down the back streets. Jimmy sputtered back to consciousness and the first words out of his mouth were "Piss off, copper!" which pretty much sealed Jimmy's personality as that of utter idiot.
Gene nodded at the trail of discarded drugs behind him. "Illiterate, are you?" he shouted at him. "Can't bloody well read?" Gene picked Jimmy up by the scruff of the neck and began slamming him against the public service poster that had been pasted on the worn brickwork. "Keep. Britain. Tidy. You. Needlework. Pisshat. Nonce."
"I suppose this is all in the interest of public health," Sam said, already weary of the familiar scene. "Your method of drug prevention."
"When it comes to counseling, I'm a bloody miracle worker." Gene gave the still struggling Jimmy a good kick in the stomach which effectively reduced all resistance to cursing whining. "Come along now, Jimmy, I'll help you write a letter to your parole officer. Dear Sir, I got meself arrested for littering, drug possession, resisting arrest and being retarded."
Jimmy held his hand over his nose, blood seeping from between his knuckles. "You can't arrest someone for being a retard," Jimmy said to Gene.
Gene smacked him hard on the back of the head. "That's right, Jimmy, I forgot. You're the right genius at getting caught!"
Sam pinched his brows with his fingertips, not at all awake enough at this early hour to deal with Gene's more than brutal methodology. He'd stayed at the station until a ridiculously late hour the night before researching Jimmy's past contacts, and this morning's pursuit had been a mission to gain even more information from the source himself. Despite Gene's pounding, Jimmy was a man ripe for a deal, especially since his own parole officer was just dying to see him thrown into jail and forgotten about for a good fifteen years or more. Victory in shutting down Jimmy's suppliers was as good as cinched.
A whistling, uniformed police officer walked by in the distance from where they were standing, and Gene whistled back harshly at him. The officer stopped, and Sam observed the policeman was a young recruit, no more than eighteen or nineteen, though his freshly scrubbed face and freckled nose gave him more the appearance of a twelve year old in costume rather than an adult.
"DCI Hunt and DI Tyler," Sam said, flashing his badge to him. "We're with 'A' Division."
Gene shoved a handcuffed Jimmy into the back seat of his Cortina. "Bleed on my seats and you're a dead man," he warned him. He slammed the door shut and peered over the roof of the car to the policeman standing in the middle of the street, his baton being twirled in lazy, circular movements. "Oi, moron!" Gene shouted to him, and the policeman paused and looked up. "See that, Jimmy?" Gene shouted as he slammed his palm on the roof of his car, making Jimmy flinch like a frightened bird within a rattled cage. "Your genius is infectious."
"Sir?" the policeman said as he casually walked up to them. "Is there something I need to do?"
"What the bloody hell is your name, soldier?" Gene asked.
"Constable Gary, Sir," the young man replied. He gave Gene a crooked, unsure grin. "It's my first day on the job, Sir."
"Lucky you," Sam said, feeling infinitely sorry for him.
"Is your mother aware that you're out this early?" Gene said.
"Erm...I believe so, Sir."
"We need to round up this evidence," Sam said to him, feeling sorry for the young man. He pointed to the various packets and baggies that had fallen like dandruff from Jimmy's pockets. "Use a glove...Just wait a moment and I'll get an evidence bag from the car..." He glanced over his shoulder back at Gene who was still draped over his Cortina with Jimmy in the back seat like a prized buck shot down on a hunting trip.
"Come on Alice, get a move on!"
"You do have a supply of evidence bags?" Sam asked him.
"Of course. They're in the glove compartment right beside my Picasso painting and velvet bag of uncut diamonds."
"For God's sake, Gene. I don't suppose it even ran through that thick skull of yours that we ought to pick up all the little reasons he'll be begging for a deal in the first place?" He shouted to the policeman who was about to pick up the drugs with his bare hands. "Use a damn glove!"
He stormed over to the Cortina and opened the passenger side door, his hand roughly unlocking the glove compartment which, oddly enough, held a pair of Gene's leather gloves. He shoved his hands into them, ignoring Gene's cursing protests that 'those mitts cost me a good four quid!'.
Sam crouched down and began picking up the various packets and baggies of drugs and paraphernalia, a soggy but useable paper bag that had drifted from the trash serving as the container for evidence. The trail of drugs led him to the entrance of an alleyway, the bright pink outlines of hallucinogens sparkling in the dewy morning sunlight. This particular brand was a known supplier's specialty and Sam felt a glimmer of pride at the fact that, for once, this investigation was going to go smoother than butter on toast.
"I've already got three varieties," Sam shouted to Gene. He inspected the content of the most recent find, where dried bits of an organic brown substance shook within the package like pieces of tree bark. "Make that four with this side of 'shrooms."
The young officer who had identified himself as 'Constable Gary' stood a few feet away from Sam, clearly at a loss as to what to do. Rather than leave the poor man at the mercy of the world's most caustic DCI, Sam waved him over. He handed him the soggy brown bag which Constable Gary took with a delicate grip. "Get this over to the station, specifically to forensics," Sam said to him. "Don't handle any of it with your bare hands, your prints on the stuff could seriously damage our investigation."
"Oh. Got it," the young man nervously replied. He held the paper bag firmly, and nodded to the trash can Sam was still crouched near, his bobby hat nearly toppling over his wide, brown eyes. "I think you got another piece of evidence there, Sir."
Sam gave Constable Gary a wry smile and stood up from where he had been crouching, his hands wiping away imaginary specks of dirt from his jeans. He craned his neck to see where Gary had gestured to, and caught sight of something grayish and pink beneath the scattered refuse of the spilled trash in front of it. The overturned, rusted metal trash can obscured his view, a foul stench erupting from beneath it when he tipped it upright.
"What's that you got there, Sammy Boy?" Gene shouted to him. "Pay-dirt?"
The foul stench wound its way upwards, polluting the already gritty touch of an early Manchester morning. Constable Gary stood still and traumatized beside him, his brown eyes huge with horror, and his skin a sickly pallor that hinted he was feeling faint.
"It's a girl," Sam said, his voice carrying on the gravel particles that lurked in the morning mist. "She's dead. Wrapped in plastic."
"Hold on," Gene said, incredulous. Jimmy was comfortable enough in the back seat, but even he was questioning this statement, his bloodied face peering with curiousity through the back window. In a few quick strides, Gene was at Sam's side, looking down at the peaceful death mask of a young woman. Her body had been wrapped in a clear plastic tarp, but her face was now exposed, the clear plastic surrounding her in a grey-hued halo. Her dark hair cascaded across the tattered folds of the plastic in angelic wisps.
"How old is she, do you reckon? Sixteen? Seventeen?" Ashes from Gene's cigarette drifted down to mingle with the alleyway's debris. He shook his head at the various examples of waste, human and otherwise, that had taken over his city. "She's a bit battered up. I'd say she's a prozzie, one with a nasty pimp."
Sam dared to lift her corpse and inspect the underside of her shoulders. "She hasn't been dead that long. Blood pooling is minimal." He gently laid her back down, so as not to disturb the scene, but there was something amiss in her general appearance that burned into Sam's consciousness, daring him to dismiss it.
"It's strange, isn't it," he said. "Her expression. She doesn't look like she's in distress at all, if anything she looks peaceful. Relieved. It's like she just fell into a deep, blissful sleep."
Gene flicked his cigarette against the brick wall of the alleyway, sparks showering downwards as it died. "Yeah, well, maybe all her nightmares were wakeful ones."
The finality of this statement was for too much for the rookie officer Gary. He made a valiant effort to contain his disquiet, but his body rejected the plea and left a nasty remnant of toast and tea splattered on Sam's jeans from the knees down.
"Congratulations," Sam shouted, furious. "You've just contaminated the scene!"
"It's all right, son, don't give it a thought," Gene said, cheerfully slapping the pale young officer on the back. and giving him a warm grin. "You didn't contaminate my shoes."