Disclaimer: Kudos owns them; I, alas, do not. I merely play with them in new and unlikely situations, for which I hope to be forgiven.
A/N: For this one you might blame, in no particular order: the effect the idea of Gene in cricket whites has upon certain people, the shocking state of the Australian team, and even a powder blue tuxedo. I blame the Muse; it's quicker. Thanks are again due to the entertaining conversation of the ladies of a certain dark corner of TRA.
As ever, that tireless beta to the great, the good and the grainweevil, Ms Lucida Bright, stepped forward and broke speed records. I imagine it's quite possible her blue pencil caught fire... Thank you, ma'am.
Gentlemen and Players
1. First Innings
"Do you, Raymond Eric, take Alexandra..."
"Wha...? What the fuck?" Detective Sergeant Ray Carling made a desperate bid for consciousness and opened his eyes.
He was lying against a pile of bin bags in a stinking alley he recognised as being situated behind Abdul's House of Kebabs. No unexpected wedding ceremony met his anxious gaze.
"Thank fuck for that," he muttered, relieved and disturbed in equal measure.
Memory gradually crept back and he recalled how they'd got there. They. Shit. Ray looked round and saw DC Webber on the other side of the alley.
"You all right, mate?"
"Not exactly, Sarge."
Ray staggered to his feet and stumbled across to his colleague. One look was enough to confirm the worst possible news.
"Bloody hell, Ray. What happened?"
Ray came in to CID, holding the door open for his ashen-faced work mate. Harry Webber was gingerly cradling his bandaged left hand and sank into the nearest chair with relief. Chris was all concern and looked to Ray for an explanation.
"Saunders. He went for a motor right under our noses, the cheeky sod."
"What? But how...?"
"We went to stop him, Harry got there first and Saunders only went and closed the car door on his hand."
Chris winced in sympathy. Then realisation slowly dawned.
"Not his left...?"
"Yeah. Bastard nearly ran us down. Knocked me out," Ray added, feeling that maybe he was deserving of some sympathy too.
"You okay, mate?" Chris asked, taking the hint. "Can't be too careful with head injuries."
WIth one grimace Ray managed to convey stoic courage in the face of extreme agony, then turned to make careful enquiry after Webber.
"All right, mate? We'll get you some ice like the nurse said. Chris, go on. Ice. Now!" Chris was already out of the door. "Or frozen peas," Ray yelled at his retreating back.
Alex, seated at her desk and ostensibly immersed in a case file, looked on in undisguised surprise. DC Webber was no particular friend of Ray's, as far as she knew, and he was not one to show such concern for a colleague either. What on Earth...?
"Shit." Ray kicked the leg of his desk in annoyance. "Go and sit in the kitchen, Harry. Put your feet up or something."
Webber shuffled off, unsure how putting his feet up would help his hand, but not stupid enough to turn down the opportunity.
"Problem, Raymond?" Alex asked, sweetly; abandoning the charade of reading the file.
"You could say that, ma'am," he said, heavily. "The Guv isn't going to be happy."
"It's just bruising. He'll be fine by next week," she reasoned.
"Next week is too late," Ray replied in tones of deep gloom. He sighed and made his way to the Guv's office. "I'll have to tell him."
Two minutes later Gene burst out of his office, Ray trailing behind him.
"Where is he, Ray? Might be okay by Sunday. You know what an old woman Harry is..."
"He's in the kitch..."
"Harry? What the hell are you playing at?" Gene disappeared in to the kitchen and Alex lost the rest of the conversation.
A further three minutes passed before Gene came back in to the main CID office. He was looking thoughtful.
"Who did you say it was, Ray?"
"Gaz Saunders, Guv. Right in front of us. I got knocked out when he nearly ran..."
"Saunders? Thought he'd moved?" Gene was supremely unconcerned about any injury Ray may have sustained; the sergeant was made of sturdy stuff.
"Er..." Ray looked puzzled.
"What's he doing back on my patch...?" Gene murmured to himself, momentarily in a world of his own.
"Gene? What on Earth is this all about?" Alex had had enough of curiosity and was now demanding answers.
"What?" Gene was not pleased to be interrupted.
"What's all this about Sunday? Why Ray's sudden touching concern for Webber? What's going on, Gene?" Alex just managed to refrain from stamping her foot.
"Sunday, Bolls. The match."
Ray rolled his eyes in disdain; women just didn't understand about the important things.
"It's June, ma'am."
"Cricket, Bolls. The station's annual match with Kennington. Details have been pinned on the notice board for the past three weeks."
"Oh." Alex seldom looked at the notice board; page three pin-ups and the latest sports car held little interest for her.
"Call yourself a detective?" Gene was amused. Ray smirked.
"That doesn't explain about Webber...?"
"He was our best hope. On their pitch he'd be dynamite with his off-breaks," Ray enthused.
"What?" Alex was totally at sea. She had only the vaguest idea about cricket.
"Lovely slow left arm," Gene observed, apparently out of the blue.
"He... what?" Alex wondered if she'd heard that right.
"Webber. Slow left arm. Got a good googly too." Ray helpfully added further mind-boggling detail.
Alex wondered if she was having some sort of innuendo-laden boy band type moment. What the hell was a 'googly' and did she really want to know that Webber had a good one? By the time she was once more conscious of what Gene and Ray were saying, they'd moved on.
"... will be behind the stumps as usual. Viv's in good form to come in at number four but he's a bit too wristy for three."
"But whichever way you look at it, Guv, we're a man short." Ray looked miserably at his team sheet.
"I'm not bloody forfeiting this one, Ray. Not against Kennington. Not to that bastard Stillgoe. Find someone."
"Then there's only one thing for it..." Ray let the answer hang unspoken.
Gene pouted. He sucked his teeth. He strode towards his office and back again in irritation. He sighed.
"I'm too bloody old for this lark, Ray."
"Never, Guv. He's not, is he?" Ray appealed to Alex; clearly he was desperate.
"The Guv, playing on Sunday. He's not too old, is he?"
Alex found herself brought up short by the image of Gene in cricket whites, bat flashing in the sunshine. It was a strangely beguiling vision.
"Umm? What? No! No, he's not too old. Definitely not too old." Alex gave Gene her most winning smile.
"Hmm." Gene was still unconvinced.
"WG played his last Test in his fifties, Guv."
"I am NOT in my fifties, Carling."
"No, Guv, 'course not. Wasn't saying..."
"Sod it. All right. But I'll need to borrow some kit; my last bat got broken over some bastard's head in 1978."
Alex had absolutely no intention of spending her Sunday afternoon watching twenty-two middle-aged, over-weight, unfit blokes puffing after a small red ball. She was absolutely determined that she would not be learning the difference between a four and a six or how someone could seriously be referred to as Silly Point. There was absolutely no danger of her being roped in to help with the tea at half time.
"You're bloody coming." Gene was adamant.
"I am not."
"Twenty overs each; everyone bar the wicketkeeper has to bowl two. Anyone reaching twenty is automatically retired."
"What?" Alex tried to make herself comfortable on the bench beside Webber as they waited for the game to start.
The ground was part of a public park in the suburbs of South London and, much to Alex's surprise, it was actually quite pleasant. There was a modest pavilion, benches dotted around the boundary and large stands of plane trees to protect the surrounding houses from stray cricket balls. In the far distance children were shrieking in pain as they fell off the swings on to the council-installed tarmac, while a group of youths were loitering near the bowling green listening to a ghetto blaster belt out a continuous diet of reggae music. The steady thwack of leather upon willow could already be heard from the other pitch as the Rotarians took on a Nat West Bank Third Eleven in the regional decider of the Surrey Chamber of Commerce Cup. The sun beat down upon the white figures, a steady breeze from the direction of Crystal Palace playing havoc with an assistant bank manager's comb-over. Alex slipped her sunglasses over her nose and wondered if there was any chance of getting a tan.
"For the benefit of the uninitiated," explained Gene, overhearing them, "what he means, Bolls, is everyone throws the ball 12 times at the man holding the funny-shaped stick."
She pulled a face without bothering to look at him.
"Apart from the man with the funny gloves. In our case, that's Christopher and he's called the wick-et-kee-per. You getting this?"
Alex folded her arms and humphed under her breath, still staring towards the wicket.
"If the man with the funny stick gets twenty points or runs, he has to stop hitting the ball and let someone else have a go. When everyone's had their turn of throwing the ball, or everyone from the other team has had to stop hitting the ball, the innings is over. Then we swap and do it all again with the other team hitting the ball and the ones who were hitting it now throwing it. Got it?"
"Clear as mud, Gene. Thank you."
"Oh it could be worse, Bolls. This is a special shortened version. Test matches last for five days."
Alex rolled her eyes skywards and prayed to whatever gods there might be to spare her the long version. She idly watched as Ray marched out to the middle and shook hands with a man in a white coat and a Panama hat.
"Well, well. You gracing us with your presence on the square today then, Hunt?"
Alex turned to see a slight, dark-haired man in cricket whites smiling greasily at Gene. It was also the first time she'd actually looked at Gene. Her imagination really hadn't done justice to him in whites; he seemed to be wearing an ordinary shirt, sleeves rolled up and collar undone. Two buttons. No, three. She didn't dare look any further; a part of her was already inclined to want to drop to its knees and drool.
"Stillgoe," Gene acknowledged. The temperature had dropped ten or twenty degrees.
"Sorry to hear about your bloke, Hunt. Very unfortunate. Your officers do seem to be unlucky, don't they?" Stillgoe smirked.
Gene said nothing but Alex saw the muscles in his jaw tighten fractionally. Stillgoe's smirk widened.
"You hear about the lad, Hutton?"
Gene grunted noncommittally.
"Very promising young fellow. Could have been on the MCC ground staff if he hadn't come in to the force."
"Think I've heard about him, yes," Gene reluctantly agreed.
"Touch of gentlemen vs. players there, eh? Must be a novelty for certain people to be referred to as a gentleman," Stillgoe added, with a braying laugh.
The insinuation was clear. Gene glowered.
"Yes. We were pleasantly surprised when he came to us on temporary transfer. He's batting at three," Stillgoe continued, with relish.
"And here was I thinking you wouldn't have much call for a police diver in Kennington, Stillgoe," Gene observed, icily.
"Funny how things like that happen, isn't it, Gene?" Stillgoe's self-satisfied grin of triumph was such that Alex marvelled that Gene didn't flatten him then and there.
A shout of impatience came from Ray and the umpire waiting in the middle; the latter pointedly tapping at his watch.
"Is that the time? I'd best go and win the toss, eh?" Stillgoe said and strode off to the middle.
"Gene? Why? What...?"
"DCI Stillgoe, Bolls, is the lowest form of life. Gives police officers a bad name. Deliberately engineering a transfer for the sake of a match? Bastard."
"You don't know he deliber..."
"It was deliberate. A diver in Kennington? What's he going to do? Go paddling in the duck pond in the Archbishop's Park? He'd have a job; there isn't one. Stillgoe will go to any lengths - any lengths, Bolls - to win. Just once it'd be nice to deny him the satisfaction. Gentlemen and players, for Chrissakes..."
"What? Gentlemen? I don't...?"
"Gentlemen and players, Bolls. Amateurs and professionals," he growled. "We'll see who's a fucking gentleman."
Ray returned with further bad news.
"Stillgoe won the toss."
"And that's just one of many reasons for calling him a tosser, Ray," Gene said, grimly.
"Ray will open the bowling. He always does." Harry Webber was taking his duties as Alex's tutor and guide to the intricacies of the game very seriously indeed.
"How come Ray's the captain? Doesn't he captain the football team as well?"
"Ray is always the captain," said Harry, as if the explanation was self-evident.
It only took two minutes for Alex to see that the reason was, indeed, self-evident. Ray was captain because he knew how to do what Gene told him.
In theory Ray was in charge of who bowled and who stood where. In practice, every eye was fixed on Gene, ready to obey his every signal or whispered instruction. He stood commandingly, directing his troops to their places. A beckoning gesture, a hand to call a halt that would be the envy of a time-served traffic policeman, and he was finally satisfied.
"...then Viv's Fine Third Man. That's unusual."
Jolted from her day dream by the words, Alex pulled her sunglasses down her nose and quizzed Webber over them.
"Viv's a what?"
"Third man. Not unusual, but fine? Bit different. Think the Guv's worried that Ray's balls are bouncing unevenly."
"I beg your pardon?" Alex started to wonder if it might be worth tuning in again.
"The pitch. It's a bit two-faced; that last one was a regular daisy cutter."
"What about Gene, where's he?"
"Presumably only stopping there because there isn't a first knicker. At least I suppose there isn't..." Alex murmured to herself. "What about Ray?"
"He's bowling," Webber pointed.
Alex regarded Ray as he stood, back to them, polishing the ball on his trousers. At least she hoped that's what he was doing. She was slightly disturbed to realise she was taking note of his bum. Shaking her head at the depths her mind was willing to plumb, she tried to concentrate on Harry's commentary as Ray ran away towards the wicket and flung the ball towards the batsman.
"Medium pace, is Ray, but he can pound in all day you know. Very well-timed release. Oh, that one must have hit a crack I think; the ball's popped up to Backward Gully."
Stifling a snort of laughter, Alex wondered if cricket really was this open to dubious interpretation? Was it just her mind? Webber, not obviously a natural at deception, wasn't betraying a hint of a snigger.
"Hello, ma'am." Shaz appeared. "Is anyone sitting...?"
"Shaz!" Alex had never been so pleased to see the young WPC. "No, no. Take a seat. You can have the benefit of Harry's wisdom as well."
Shaz responded with an unconvincing "fab" and sat down.
"What's happening now, Harry?" Alex asked.
"End of the over, ma'am. Viv to bowl from the other end now."
"How can an over be anything but ended?" Alex demanded. "It's ridiculous."
Shaz giggled, stopping when she caught Harry's glowering expression. She waved at Chris instead. He flourished one over-sized glove and gave her a big grin before turning at his place behind the stumps and bending over, hands on his knees, waiting for the next delivery. Meanwhile Alex was starting to appreciate cricket on her own terms; Gene was now standing directly in her line of sight, back to her, legs spread wide. As Viv started to run in for the first ball, Gene and Chris both crouched down, ready to snaffle a catch.
Simultaneously both women let out a small sigh of appreciation. They glanced at each other and giggled in shared embarrassment at having been caught out.
"Cricket ain't such a bad game, ma'am," Shaz observed with a sly smile.
"It has its upside, Shaz. It has its upside."
After that Alex started to quite enjoy herself as she and Shaz spent their time rating each team member. Alex said nothing about Chris; Shaz didn't mention the Guv. The passage of play, the occasional flurries of activity, the strangled shouts of "Howzat" and jumping up and down appeals to the umpire were noticed solely in terms of whether a particular player looked hot while he was doing it. After ten overs, a consensus had been reached. Of the available nominations, Viv won easily. Ray was an unexpected runner-up.
"What's happening now, Harry?" Alex demanded.
Instead of taking his accustomed fielding position, Gene was deliberately pacing out a measured distance towards where they sat on the boundary.
"Guv's on to bowl. Used to be a right nippy seamer, the Guv," explained Harry.
"Fast delivery, ma'am. More of a swinger now."
"Really?" By now Alex almost immune to the double entendres that were apparently part and parcel of cricket terminology. "And what does that mean?"
"In simple terms, ma'am," Harry explained. "The Guv moves his balls from side to side as well as up and down."
Alex gave Shaz a withering look as the WPC hissed like a pressure cooker, trying not to laugh.
"Why's he starting so far away from the batting man, Harry?" Shaz managed to ask.
"The longer the run up, usually the faster the ball."
Alex raised an eyebrow behind the safety of her sunglasses and observed Gene. About thirty yards from the wicket he finally seemed satsified, stopped and dragged his right foot twice, three times across the turf to mark the spot. He adjusted the cricket ball in his hand, turned on his heel and glared long and hard at the facing batsman. PC Spendlove, the Kennington batsman, looked back with some apprehension, twirling his bat with unconvincing confidence. He visibly wilted under the Hunt stare. After an eternity, Gene started to walk towards him in long, deliberate strides; all endless legs, broad shoulders and powerful personality. Alex was surprised the stumps didn't just surrender and fall over of their own accord. PC Spendlove prepared himself for the onslaught.
"He'll start to run in a minute," Harry said confidently.
Twenty yards to go.
"Any minute now."
"He'll have to in a..." Harry started to say, confused.
Gene was suddenly galvanised into life. Two quicker paces, a hop, a skip, a jump, his arm whirled over in a blur and the ball flew from his hand.
The combination of arm speed and Gene's height apparently caused the ball to arrive at the batsman with all the unexpectedness of a mortar shell. Spendlove wafted his bat more in hope than expectation and missed completely. Gene did not miss; the batsman's middle stump went cartwheeling backwards with a clatter, greeted by a cheer from the fielding team.
"Out! Clean bowled!" Harry exulted.
First blood to Fenchurch East.
The other fielders closed round Gene to congratulate him; Chris getting sufficiently carried away to risk patting the Guv on the back. As Spendlove trudged back to the pavilion, five runs short of his twenty, Gene's carrying tones could be heard advising Chris that he, Gene, was not a bloody fairy.
"Oh," Harry said, suddenly grave as the new batsman walked to the crease. "It's that lad, Hutton. He's really good; an all-rounder."
"Oh, the transfer," Alex remembered. "What's an all-rounder?"
"Good at batting and bowling, ma'am. Got a good length."
"Oh?" Alex had assumed an all-rounder would probably swing both ways, but what did she know?
Gene stood and silently watched Hutton walk past to his place. Other fielders were less restrained and there were sounds of blowing bubbles and enquiries after Flipper's health.
"Watch out, lads," called Ray. "It's Jacques Cousteau."
Hutton disregarded them, looked round the field like he owned it and proceeded to dig a small trench with his studs.
"What's up, mate?" Ray called across. "Looking for water?"
The close fielders rolled about in undisguised mirth at their captain's wit. Gene scowled and started blowing a silent tune through his lips in impatience. Hutton was finally satisfied and took guard, the umpire called "play" and Gene ran in.
"Four," Harry declared, as Hutton effortlessly dispatched the ball to the boundary amid groans from the fielders. Gene was unmoved, He caught the ball from Poirot, fielding at what sounded to Alex like Deep Undercover, and ran in again. After three more balls, Hutton was 16 not out off Gene's bowling and Harry was exuding anxiety from every pore.
"Guv's not going to like this. Guv's going to be pissed off."
Alex wasn't so sure. She couldn't detect a flicker of anger or concern on Gene's face. God knows, he wasn't one to display his emotions, but even so... Gene waved all the fielders out towards the boundary; even Chris was ordered further away behind the stumps. Hutton looked round and smirked; it was a psychological victory for the batsman. Harry breathed a sigh of relief.
"That should dry up the runs," he said, happily. "No more boundaries now."
Gene nodded, satisfied, and ran in for his fifth delivery. The ball left his hand, bounced cleanly and Hutton gently caressed it with his bat. It dropped within a inch of Hutton's foot. Or it would have if Hutton wasn't already running half way down the pitch, screaming at his partner to run. The latter realised the plan and they'd all ready crossed for one run before Chris grasped what was happening. But he was, on Gene's specific instruction, yards away from the ball. The nearest man was Gene.
Alex watched as Gene continued his follow through, on towards the ball. Gasped as the tall man bent with astonishing grace and scooped it up, turning and throwing it towards the other wicket in an attempted run out.
"No!" Harry was on his feet. "Guv!"
With the full force of Gene's arm behind it, the ball was heading straight for the back of Hutton's head.
Too late. PC Hutton dropped to the ground as if poleaxed.