I felt the need to write something a bit upbeat and seasonal and so in a little break from my current story Rage Against Time, I decided to write this short Christmas story. Alright, so the first chapter may not be very upbeat but there will be a happy seasonal ending.
This story is not connected to Rage and so the characters are pretty much as we last saw them in series 2 – Alex was shot, Chris is still in the doghouse and Gene is not very happy.
There is bit of Dickens in here as well as other seasonal myths and stories. I hope you enjoy.
Also, my thanks to Al for her invaluable series 2 transcripts.
Chapter 1 - Twas the Night Before Christmas
Gene took another sip of whisky as he ruminated, feet propped up on his desk and an almost permanent pout upon his lips. Considering the date – Christmas Eve – he couldn't have been feeling less festive if he tried. He looked beyond the door and out into the main CID office where a sorry display of limp tinsel and distinctly un-festive garlands only served to highlight the distinct lack of Christmas cheer. It had been one bastard of a year – SuperMac dead, Chris' betrayal and Alex… He stared for a moment at the empty desk which stuck out like a sore thumb. No matter how quickly he looked away from that bleak reminder, he could see Alex's face contorted in pain as she fell to the ground, bleeding from the bullet wound that he had inflicted. He took another swig, uncaring that he had probably had too much to drink already. Well, it was Christmas wasn't it?
That empty desk was a painful everyday reminder of his loss. She wouldn't be back – gone forever. Oh, she was still alive alright – he hadn't quite managed to kill her. But in many ways it was ten times worse. She was still on sick leave and recuperating from her injuries but there was already talk of her transferring to another station – at her own request. It was the very least he deserved he supposed. There was a knock and the friendly face of desk sergeant Viv James peered around the door.
Viv took a deep breath and walked into Gene's office carrying a stack of files, carefully placing them on the desk. "For you."
"What the 'ell are these?"
"Some of DI Drake's old files. They need to be checked and sorted and then signed off by a senior officer."
Gene scowled at Viv's retreating back. "Fine. And what the bloody 'ells wrong with the heating. Soddin' freezing in 'ere."
"Boiler's on the blink. It's been reported but I don't know when it'll get fixed. I've got a couple of portable heaters I could bring around."
"Well you can bring me one – miserable bastards out there can freeze their bollocks off for all I care."
"Yes Guv." Viv quickly exited Gene's office and thanked his lucky stars he'd got off lightly. The Guv had never been an easy man to work for but since DI Drake had been shot he was nigh on impossible.
Gene instinctively pulled his overcoat closer around his body, even though external heat and cold seemed to have little influence on how he actually felt. Nothing could warm him and nothing could match the chill he already felt in his soul. The bitterest of winds left him untouched, the foulest of weather only seemed to match his mood. No one smiled at him in the street or stopped to pass the time of day. Even the down-and-outs steered well clear of him these days – one look at the expression on his face and they turned tail, picked up their meagre possessions and legged it to a safer pitch.
Gene didn't care. He saw people scurry away from him and he was glad. He was in no mood to make polite conversation these days so if everyone avoided him then so much the better. He felt no compelling need to engage with the rest of humanity. Bad things happened when he started to care – better for all if he kept himself to himself.
He scowled as watched the antics of the rest of CID; Ray smoking a cigar with his feet on his desk and reading a girlie magazine, Chris balancing a mince pie on his nose as everyone laughed at him, Shaz shaking her head at her husband's latest attempt to ingratiate himself with his colleagues - but smiling all the same. Useless twats the lot of them. Gene stood and picked up the stack of files that Viv had recently deposited and walked out into CID. An immediate hush fell and everyone suddenly found themselves work to do, or at least the pretence of it. Everyone except Chris that is, who continued to act the fool as the strains of "Lonely this Christmas" filled the air. Gene slammed down the files on Chris' desk with some force.
Chris gulped and turned to face Gene. "Guv?"
Chris shrugged. "Christmas isn't it Guv. I were just…"
"Yes. I can see what you 'were just' – you were just taking advantage of my kind nature by doing sod all as usual."
Gene pointed at the files. "I want those sorted before you leave today."
Chris was caught in the beam of Gene's flint grey eyes and he knew that he was doomed. "Nothing Guv," he mumbled.
"Good. Because by my reckoning, you should be the last person to complain about doing some honest hard work for a change. You wouldn't want to make me change my mind about giving you a second chance…would you?"
"No Guv." Chris shamefacedly lowered his eyes, but not before stealing a glance at his long suffering recent bride. Would he ever be forgiven for his lapse?
The tension was abruptly shattered by the distinct sound of a 'Ho, Ho, Ho,' and the entrance of a short, fat Italian restaurant owner dressed as Father Christmas, followed by a couple of waiters bearing mulled wine and mince pies.
"Buon Natale…Merry Christmas."
"What the f…"
"Sorry Guv," Viv said as he followed immediately behind Luigi, "he got past me."
"Merry Christmas," Luigi said again, his face bright with cheer and rosy-cheeked from the cold.
"Bollocks," Gene replied.
"Signor Hunt! You cannot mean that."
"Can't I? Bollocks to the lot of it. And what right 'ave you got to be merry anyway? You're bloody Italian for a start."
"And what give you the right to be miserable eh? You are a man in the prime of life, you are healthy…you have employment…you….
"Yeah well," Gene interrupted, "still a load of bollocks if yer ask me."
The rest of CID ignored the conversation and got stuck into the mince pies but more especially the mulled wine.
Luigi beamed genially. "Why you so angry Mr Hunt?"
"Angry? And why shouldn't I be angry when I'm surrounded by idiots? Christmas is just an excuse to spend money that you 'avn't got and all the while stuffing yer face and drownin' yer sorrows and 'oping tomorrow never comes. If I 'ad my way every tosser who goes about shouting 'Merry bloody Christmas' would be locked up and the key thrown away."
Luigi shook his head sadly.
"You do things your way Luigi and I'll do things mine."
"Yes but you don't do it, do you Mr Hunt. What you do tomorrow then?"
"None of your bloody business."
"I tell you," Luigi said, warming to his theme, "you sit alone in your flat all day by yourself. You drink all day and watch the tv – and you eat sausage and chips!" This last was uttered with such an air of pity and disdain, as though such a fate was beyond imagining.
Gene visibly winced. The picture Luigi painted was uncannily accurate. "And what good has Christmas ever done you then?"
"Good? I do not ask that it does me good. What I do now, I do for the joy of it. Is a sacred time of year – a joyous time. A time when men and women stop hurrying from place to place and they take time to speak to one another, they raise a glass and drink each others health. It does my heart good and so I say 'Il Dio benedice il Natale' – God bless Christmas."
Chris burst into applause. "'ere, 'ere."
Gene wheeled on him. "Shut it. You'd do well to remember you're 'ere on my say so DC Skelton. Another sound from you and you'll be out on yer ear." He turned to face Luigi, eyes narrowing with menace. "And as for you…"
Unconcerned and full of the Christmas spirit (or possibly a glass or two of Barolo), Luigi took Gene to one side. "Come tomorrow Mr Hunt – come and 'ave the real Christmas lunch with us."
"What? With you? Not bloody likely. You're probably 'aving some of that muck you call food – lasagne is it?"
"Not at all. I 'ave some English friends also and we have the traditional turkey and all the trimmings. Come and eat with us." He lowered his voice even more. "A certain beautiful signorina will be there too."
Gene felt an icy hand grip around his heart. As much as he wanted to see Alex he couldn't believe for one moment that she wanted to see him – and he didn't want to ruin her Christmas Day as well as his own.
"Bugger off Luigi."
"You Englishmen - you are so slow, so timid in the ways of love. Why you not come eh? Because she will be there? That is a nonsense."
"Really? Well excuse me for caring, but I don't really think the lady wants to be sitting down to eat with someone who nearly killed 'er!"
Luigi sighed expressively. "That was so many weeks ago now. She 'as forgiven you – she knows it was an accident. Please come?"
"Go away Luigi before I 'ave you arrested for loitering."
"Madre del Dio! You are such a fool. Still, I cannot force you – the invitation is there. Come or don't come – is up to you."
With final cries of 'Merry Christmas' and 'Buon Natale', Luigi and his waiters left CID, leaving behind a wreath of happy smiles – and one very unsmiling DCI.
"Right you lot – back to work."
"But Guv," Ray piped up, "it's Christmas beer o'clock - finishing time."
"In that case, bugger off the lot of you." There was a mass flurry as everyone packed their stuff away and reached for their coats. "Not you Christopher."
"I want them files sorted – then you can go."
"Yes Guv." Chris sat down heavily, the air of dejection almost palpable in his demeanour. He watched as Gene went back into his office.
Shaz shrugged on her overcoat and walked over to Chris' desk. "I'm sorry baby."
"When is he ever gonna forgive me? I though this would 'av been over by now."
"It probably would have been but for the thing with DI Drake. I reckon that's really thrown him."
"Yeah, but he doesn't 'ave to take it out on us. Especially not at Christmas."
"I know. Look, I'm sorry lover but I've got to get home - you know your mum and dad will be arriving soon. Quicker you get those files done, the sooner you can come home."
Chris watched despondently as Shaz and the rest of CID left the office.
In his office Gene watched the world go by outside his window. At this time of the year it was dark already and a crisp frost was beginning to settle over the pavements and parked cars. Mothers and their children were hurrying by, laden with bags and parcels, desperate to get home and into the snug warmth of the family home. Office workers with a spring in their step, released from the drudgery of 9 to 5, poured into pubs and restaurants, keen to raise that final Christmas toast with their comrades before setting off for home and the promise that Christmas Eve inspired.
But not Gene. He watched with a cynical eye – as though these were creatures from another planet or a rare species under a microscope. They had nothing to do with him and he most certainly had nothing to do with them. He lost himself in a fog of whisky, thoughts of the dead SuperMac and the so very nearly dead Alex, uppermost in his head. Charlie Mackintosh had been a good man once but then he'd been corrupted by the so called humanity around him. A good man gone bad – what a waste. And Alex? His heart was torn when he thought of her. He had doubted her, let other people come between them and look what had happened – she had almost died because of him. No, best to keep other people out of his life and try and stay out of theirs. They only got hurt in the end.
Chris stood at the threshold of his office and cleared his throat. "Guv?"
"I've finished them files –just need your signature now."
Gene stared disbelievingly at the clock, but sure enough the hours had flown by and it was now 7.00 pm.
Gene grunted as he observed the young DC. "Suppose you've got tomorrow off?"
Chris nodded nervously. "Just the one day Guv – I'm back in on Boxing Day."
"Oh joy. Looks like your lucky day Chris, cos I'm on duty Boxing Day an' all."
Chris gulped. "Right Guv."
"Go on then – get off with yer. Mind you're on time on Boxing Day."
"I will Guv." Chris grabbed his coat and ran out of the office as fast as his legs would carry him.
Alex dozed fitfully on the sofa as images of the recent past continued to haunt her.
"I don't believe this. Where's me bleeding money?!"
"You're on your own, Jenette. Whatever he offered you to get between us, it was a lie. It's over, love."
"No…please," Alex whimpered. Behind closed eyelids she could 'see' Gene aiming his gun at Jenette. Always there, always protecting.
"Let her go."
Alex braced herself for the shot that always came. "No!" Her eyes shot open just as the bullet penetrated her skin, and with heart racing and pulse pounding she forced herself to take deep breaths. "Just a dream Alex…same old dream." She rested her hand protectively over her stomach – the wound was healed now although still a little tender. Which was more than could be said of the wound to her heart. Nothing physical of course, just a deep ache that nothing seemed to touch. But before she could linger on that thought, she heard a firm rapping at the door.
It couldn't be – could it? With heart racing she walked towards the door. Although Gene had been keeping his distance since she had been discharged from hospital she still couldn't help wondering…hoping that he'd come.
"Buon Natale signorina!"
Alex tried not to let the disappointment show on her face. "Luigi. Merry Christmas to you too."
"Is Christmas Eve signorina and I bring the mince pies," he brandished a plate piled high with pies, "and mulled wine – a special recipe," he said with a wink, as he hurried forward into the flat and placed his offerings on the coffee table.
"Thank you so much Luigi – I really don't know what I would have done without you these past few weeks."
"Anyone with a heart would 'ave done the same. As I said to DCI Hunt…."
"You've seen him? Err, I mean you've been to the station?"
"Of course," he said with a twinkle, "although I don't know why. He has no Christmas in his soul."
"He thinks he is angry," Luigi said sagely, "but he is not angry – he is sad I think."
"Oh." Alex sat down heavily on the sofa. "Sad about what?"
Luigi raised his eyes to the ceiling. Truly love is blind. "He is sad about you mia donna. He still feels guilty over what 'appened to you."
"But I told him that I didn't blame him – it wasn't his fault. Not really."
"Did you really tell him?"
Alex lowered her eyes. "Well, I meant to although it might not have come out like that." Truth be told, by the time she had woken from her coma and been fit enough for visitors, the moment for forgiveness seemed to have passed. And then she had wanted him to suffer for a while so she had delayed the inevitable conversation. It all seemed slightly petty now. "Is he downstairs?"
"No. He does not come here very often since…since that day. I have even invited him to come to dinner tomorrow but..."
"He won't come?"
"I don't think so, although the door is always open to 'im. You would not mind if he decides to come?"
"Me? Not at all. I think it's very kind of you to invite us to share your Christmas." And perhaps if Gene did come, it would present them with an opportunity to put aside their differences and talk.
Luigi beamed. "As they say in my country 'one enemy is too many and a hundred friends are not enough'.
Alex paused thoughtfully before replying. "You know Luigi – I think you could be right."
It was late when Gene finally emerged from a smoky Soho bar onto a street which was crowded with punters – even at this late hour on Christmas Eve. He walked a little unsteadily, weaving his way through the drunken revellers, desperately trying to remember where he had parked the Quattro. He was drunk certainly, although not excessively by his own high standards and he couldn't understand why he couldn't seem to keep his footing. Looking down to the pavement and then up to the sky he quickly discovered the reason – snow! There was a thin covering already lying and by the look of the sky, still more to come.
"Great! Just what we need on Christmas Eve – bloody snow!" He increased his pace slightly, collar up and head down and totally ignoring everyone in his path – until something caught his attention from the corner of his eye. A man dressed in red struggling under the weight of a very large sack. A very suspicious looking large sack.
"You 'ave got to be kiddin' me." Gene increased his pace to close the gap between them. "Oi! Santa! Police."
The jolly man in red, immediately turned towards the sound of the voice, but in doing so, failed to notice the car that was speeding towards him. However Gene did and with much cursing and swearing, broke out into a run, grabbed Santa by the scruff of the neck and pulled him clear. Unfortunately the snow underfoot, combined with the weight of not insubstantial man he had yanked backwards, combined to send Gene crashing to ground, his head making direct contact with the pavement.
"Bastard!" Gene slowly sat up and gingerly touched the back of his head and winced at the sight of blood on his fingers.
"My dear young sir – are you quite well?"
Gene looked up to see Santa looking down at him, his face creased into an expression of genuine concern. "I've 'ad better days."
"Here, let me help you up." He held out a gloved hand.
"No thanks – I think you've done quite enough for one day." Gene scrambled upright, still tentatively exploring the back of his head. "Name?" he barked.
The man laughed heartily and gestured towards his fetching red suit. "Santa Claus of course. You can call me Nick."
Gene raised a cynical eyebrow. "Pull the other one – its got bells on."
"Bells?" He looked puzzled for a moment before his face creased into a smile. "Oh yes, I see. Bells. Very good. Very good indeed."
"Now listen 'ere, whoever the bleedin' hell you are…."
Gene sighed. "Alright…Santa. Tonight is your lucky night."
"On the contrary good sir – I believe it is your lucky night."
"'ow d'yer reckon that?" Having now decided the red-suited fat man was harmless enough, Gene was keen to send him on his way.
"You saved my life and where I come from one good turn deserves another. All you have to do is ask. Now - what can I do for you?"
"For me?" Gene shook his head. "Let me give you a bit of advice Nick. You'd better steer clear of me. Bad things 'appen to people when they get too close."
"I don't believe that for one minute."
"S'true. Harry Woolf, SuperMac, Sam and now Alex." Gene sat back down on the pavement, uncaring of the wet snow beneath him. "Sometimes I think it would 'ave been better if I'd never been born." He heaved a sigh and rested his head in his hands.
"You're wrong Gene," Santa said quietly as he put his hand on Gene's shoulder, "but if you insist."
A sudden gust of wind blew down the narrow side-street where Gene sat, sending swirls of snowflakes into the air, making him temporarily blind.
"What the…?" He struggled to his feet as the snow whirled, and then just as suddenly as the snow-storm had started – it stopped.
Leaving him totally alone.
.. . . . . .to be continued