It was a Sunday afternoon in February. Gene Hunt lay in the bath, cigarette in one hand, sports pages in the other, a glass of whisky resting on the edge of the tub. He showered during the week, of course, but this long hot soak on a Sunday was a weekly treat, a rare sensual pleasure in his life and a chance to forget anything that was weighing on his mind.
Except that today, it wasn't working. Although he was staring at the paper, he couldn't concentrate; his mind kept going over the contents of his meeting with the Superintendent the previous Friday. Gene had been given two unwelcome orders, and although he had argued about both of them, the Super had insisted, and it had been irking him ever since. With a resigned sigh he dropped the paper onto the bathroom floor, reached for the glass and took a sip of whisky. Rolling it around his mouth, he let his mind return to the subject of their conversation.
The first order had been bad enough. "Studies have shown, Gene," the Super had said, "that police officers who don't use their full leave allocation are not as effective and focused at work as those who do. All work and no play, eh? Everyone needs a holiday! Now, there are several members of your department" – he glanced down at the file in front of him – "who have not used up their leave for this year, and you are one of the worst offenders, Gene! You've hardly taken any leave at all. I want you to try to get them all to take some time off before the end of the leave year, and I want you to set an example. That way they'll know they can follow! Book yourself a holiday, Gene. At least a week, maybe more. You've only got until the end of March."
Bollocks. What do I want a holiday for? He'd quite enjoyed holidays with his missus, in the old days, before their marriage had gone sour, but the thought of spending time away on his own was just appalling. He'd be bored to death and – though it was a word he never used, not even to himself – lonely. And not going away, just spending a week mooching round his house, would be even worse. He couldn't contemplate that. Typical Super. Some stupid new report comes out and we've all got to jump through bloody hoops.
But it was the other piece of news, the one about Stephen Lane, that really made him angry. Just thinking about it now made his gut clench: it was so wrong, so bloody unfair…
Stop it, he told himself firmly. You can't do anything about it. Just leave it now, think of something else. Think about something nice…He reached out with his big toe and turned the tap to top up the bath with more hot water. Sinking lower into it, he forced his mind into more pleasant channels. A year ago, they would probably have involved some blonde Swedish film star and a bottle of baby oil, but for months now, whenever an erotic fantasy was needed, the image of Alex Drake had arisen in his thoughts. Which on one level was not a problem, because between what he'd glimpsed and what he could imagine, her body was enough to supply his fantasies for years to come… but on the other, thinking of her was not just a simple pleasure. Because his feelings about her were complicated, and far more than just physical, and when he thought about her, he always found himself ending up confused and frustrated.
Bolly… After the car bomb, back in October, she'd been quiet and troubled for several weeks and he'd been worried about her, but since Christmas she seemed to have put that behind her and returned to her normal self – as if you could ever call her normal, that is. He'd even managed to take her out to dinner a couple more times, although all he'd ever got for his trouble was "Thank you for a lovely evening" and a peck on the cheek. If she'd been any other woman he'd have given up months ago, but there was something about Bolly, though he was damned if he could say what it was. She infuriated him, attracted him, amused him, baffled him and made him horny as hell. Sometimes all at the same bloody time. At their best – well, at their best, they were good colleagues and almost friends. They worked well together, flirted, made each other laugh, looked out for one another. At their worst – he sighed. The thing was, it wasn't the screaming arguments, that wasn't the worst. He could cope with that. No, the worst times were when she withdrew again into her shell, became cold, uncommunicative, distant. It was times like that which made him realise just how much he'd miss her if she ever did follow up on those vague comments she sometimes made about 'leaving'. And that was something he really didn't want to think about.
He drained the last of the whisky and reached for the sponge, but just as he was about to apply the soap and start scrubbing himself, the thoughts clicked into place in his head. Yes, that was it: that was how he could kill three birds with one stone! He could obey the Super's stupid order about taking a holiday, do something about that bastard Stephen Lane, and maybe even make some progress with Bolly at the same time. Brilliant. Pure Gene Genius, he thought to himself, and a broad smile spread across his face as he scrubbed his back.
When Alex's alarm clock woke her on Monday morning, it was still dark. She reached out a hand to silence it and then huddled back into the cocoon of the duvet, unwilling to leave it and expose her flesh to the chill morning air. The heating in Luigi's flat really left a lot to be desired. Eventually, gritting her teeth, she slid out of bed, grabbed her dressing-gown and put it on as quickly as possible. Teeth chattering, she hurried through into the living room and lit the gas fire, then disappeared into the bathroom. Re-emerging, she seized an armful of clothes and went to stand in front of the fire as she dressed, holding out each item to warm it before she put it on. Then back into the bedroom to do her hair and makeup, one thought going round and round in her head: If this is all happening in my subconscious, why does it have to be so damn cold?
An hour later she was sitting at her desk, curling her fingers around a mug of tea in an attempt to warm them, when the door banged and Gene walked in, a couple of files under his arm. "Morning, boys and girls," he called as he strode across the room, apparently in an ebullient mood. "DI Bollyknickers, my office!" he added as he passed her.
Don't bother to say 'please', will you? Alex pulled a face at his retreating back, but got up and followed him into his office, closing the door behind her. "Yes?" she enquired. He turned to face her, standing with his back to the window, looking her up and down as usual.
"How's yer Spanish, Bolly?"
She blinked. "My what?"
"Spanish, Bols! You know, buenos noches, muchos grassy-arse, arrivederci! Spanish!"
"Arrivederci is Italian, Gene."
"Same bloody difference! Answer the question!"
"OK, OK! I got an A in my Spanish GCSE."
"O-level to you, Gene." She sighed. Honestly, never mind Spanish, sometimes just talking to DCI Hunt was like speaking a foreign language.
"Oh. Good. Well, go out and buy yerself some bikinis, you're taking a holiday."
Alex sat down in the chair facing him. "I'm sorry, I seem to have missed out on a large part of the conversation there."
Leaning back against the windowsill, Gene felt in his pocket for a cigarette, lit it, inhaled. "Superintendent says we've all got to use up our leave before the end of March. To make us more 'effective and focused'."
"Well, he's right, you know, all the studies show" –
"Don't you start on me! Firstly, he has ordered me to show an example and take some leave. Secondly, he has told me to stop chasing Stephen Lane." He slid a file across the desk to her. "An evil bastard who specialises in organising the trafficking of any commodity worth his while. He started with drugs, but then moved on to people. Girls. Young girls from North and West Africa, tempt 'em with promises of work or education abroad, smuggle 'em into Europe, they end up as prostitutes. Arab businessmen will pay a high premium for underage virgins… after that, they've lost their value. Wind up on these streets as common whores. Completely washed up at fifteen. No future, no family… when they should be still bloody children." The disgust in Gene's face and voice was absolute. "We've been onto him, collecting evidence, for the past two years. About nine months ago, he must have realised we were getting close to him, because he buggered off to his villa on the Costa del Sol and hasn't been back since. But he's still running the business, of course, doing the trade, from there. Still ruining lives. We started extradition proceedings, but on Friday, the Super told me they've been dropped. Apparently the 'powers that be' don't consider us to have a strong enough case. Not enough evidence." There was contempt in his voice. He left the window, leaned across the desk towards her. "Which is where we come in."
"What on earth do you mean, Gene?"
"I've looked at your file, Bolly, you've got loads of leave to use up too. Therefore, you and I are going on a little trip to Fuengirola. We obey the Super's directive about leave, find enough evidence to nail Lane, and get a stonking tan in the process. Fandabydozy, eh?" He flashed her a self-satisfied smirk.
"But you said he'd told you to stop chasing Lane, not go and look for more evidence."
"Bollocks to that. I decide when to stop chasing someone, not him. And there's no way I'm giving up on a shit like Lane."
She decided to change tack. "That's all very well, but I don't see why it involves me."
"It involves you, Bolly, because you need to take some leave, you speak better Spanish than me, and as your superior officer, I am orderin' you to come with me!" Hmm. Was she going to buy that?
No. She leapt to her feet, incensed. "Gene, you cannot possibly give me orders on how to use my leave!"
Time for persuasion, then. He moved backwards and leaned against the window again, legs stretched in front of him. His eyes glinted. "I'm offerin' you a holiday, Bolly" he said more quietly.
As she opened her mouth to reply, Alex's gaze moved past him to the grey sky outside, from which sleet had now started to fall. She shivered. Suddenly, the prospect of some sunshine seemed very inviting.
"Oh, all right," she said.
That evening, Alex was sitting in her flat with a magazine when she became aware of Molly, sitting just on the edge of her field of vision, still and silent as always. She smiled gently; these fleeting glimpses of her daughter made her ache inside, but she still loved the chance to talk to her, although who knew whether Molly would ever hear?
She swallowed. "I'm going on holiday, Molls" she began quietly, still keeping the little girl in the corner of her eye. "Wish you could come… I know you'd love it. Sunshine… swimming pool… maybe the beach…" Molly made no response, just sat quietly watching her as she always did. Although these appearances were usually in the flat, Alex recalled that she had seen Molly in other places too. "Maybe you will come with me," she murmured. "Maybe I'll see you there." She longed for a response, any indication that her daughter could hear her, but as ever, it did not come.
A sudden thought struck her and Molly vanished in an instant, driven away by panic: Oh my God, I don't even have a passport. What the hell was she going to do? Or do I…? Although it seemed that she had been dropped into 1981 with no more than the clothes she stood up in – and even they weren't hers – she had later been astonished to find that, like Sam, she did at least have a police file, and a bank account. Her subconscious had provided her with the essentials that she needed. Maybe it would give her a passport as well. Now, where would I keep it?
She got up and opened a drawer. Yes, there it was, towards the back – a proper, old-fashioned, leather-bound British passport. Wonderingly she took it out and opened it. Her photo stared back at her – recognisably her, a few years younger than she was now, that rabbit-in-the-headlights expression that was mandatory for all passport photos everywhere - but with clothes and a hairstyle that she had never had. She leafed through the pages, feeling a weird sensation in the pit of her stomach as she saw stamps on the pages, evidence of holidays that she had never taken: Italy, Portugal, Tunisia. Shaking her head, she pushed her confusion to the back of her mind. It didn't matter. What mattered was that she had a passport. She could go to Spain… with Gene Hunt.
Just how and why did I agree to that? A few months ago, she would have been sure that they could not spend a solid week in one another's company without killing each other. She'd found him everything she expected from Sam Tyler's notes: arrogant, thoughtless, prejudiced. Gradually though, she had come to respect him as a policeman – most of the time – and more than that, to appreciate the other aspects of his character. He was clever, frequently funny, charming, sometimes even kind, but most of all, he was always, reassuringly, there. She had come to rely on him more than she cared to admit.
They'd forged a good working relationship, and that was that, she told herself. She put his persistent come-ons down to his character – that was just how he was, he couldn't have a woman around without making suggestive comments. The fact that he kept inviting her out for dinner had made that slightly harder to believe: it did suggest that he wanted to take their relationship further, but she had no intention of allowing that to happen. Apart from the whole issue of getting back to 2008, which now seemed increasingly vague and distant, there was professionalism to consider. Having an affair with a colleague would be hugely complicated and potentially disastrous. And in any case, she told herself firmly, all that was simply immaterial because he was quite definitely not her type, and she didn't fancy him at all.
She was almost certain about that.