This is a little five-chapter story, mostly written before I watched S2, so it's as though Operation Rose, Summers etc had never been. It's more bittermint than candyfloss, but stick with it and you'll be rewarded. Thanks to critics theHuntGoeson and Katie Duggan's Niece for early feedback, and to Wombledon – La Generalissima Beta Superba
March 1982, Fenchurch East
'Ma'am, could I have a word?'
'Sure, Shaz. What's up?'
Alex had been having a quiet moment in the kitchen after a hellish morning, but she always had time for WDC Granger.
'It's a bit awkward, Ma'am…'
'Won't go any further, you know that.'
'No… it's about you and Sergeant Maddox, Ma'am.'
Alex frowned. She'd been going out with Don Maddox for less than two weeks. A uniform sergeant at Fenchurch East, he was a bit too close to home, and she knew it was a mistake. He was fit as hell and well endowed and she'd fancied a bit of honest physicality. Physical he certainly was, and energetic, but honest? She'd caught him in a stupid lie two days before. So what now?
'Chris was in the Pig last night.'
The Spotted Pig was a pub off Cable Street that uniform had colonised.
'And he overheard some gossip, Ma'am.'
'About me and Maddox.'
'Spit it out, Shaz, for god's sake.'
'Can't repeat it, Ma'am. But he was telling a bunch of blokes about your, um, skills.' She blushed scarlet and couldn't look her DI in the face.
'I'm sorry, Ma'am, but I thought you should know.'
Alex put a hand on the girl's shoulder. 'Thank you, Shaz. I really appreciate it. You're a loyal friend.'
'Hope so, Ma'am. But there's…'
'The Guv was there, Ma'am.'
Alex closed her eyes and sighed, not wanting to think of the repercussions. But Gene had said nothing to her this morning. Embarrassed for her, or laughing at her? Sod him. It was none of his business.
Except that she discovered he'd made it his business after she rang Maddox five minutes later.
'Don? We need to meet.'
'Can't wait till tonight, sweetie?
'No. CID interview room now.'
'My, my. Keen. Like it.'
Ray Carling was badgering a suspect in one interview room, so Alex went into the other and left the door open. Maddox took his time but sauntered in. Grabbed for her.
She stepped back, palms out to indicate she didn't want to be touched. 'I gather you were shouting your mouth off last night in the Pig.'
'Just telling some of the lads how lucky I am to, er, have you.'
'Not any more. We're finished.'
'Didn't think you were a bad sport, sweetie. But then I didn't realise I was stepping on your DCI's toes, either. You should have said.'
'What are you talking about?'
'He warned me off. Threatened me, if you please.' Maddox snorted derisively.
'You think that's funny?'
'I'd have him for breakfast, sweetheart.'
'Stick to All-Bran, Don. You're dumped.'
Alex went back to CID, trying to keep her temper in check. Gene's office door was open, so she didn't bother knocking; barged in and closed the door.
'Yes, Bolly, as it happens, I have a couple of free minutes.'
'You don't know what I was going to ask.'
'I do know what you should have asked, however. And that was the answer.' He flicked her a brief smile.
'What did you say to Don Maddox last night?'
'Not much. Reminded him of his manners, that's all.'
'He said you threatened him.'
Gene pulled a dismissive face. 'He's oversensitive.'
'He also said he didn't realise he was stepping on your toes. What gave him that impression, Guv?'
'Nothing that I said or did, I can assure you. The man was being disrespectful, rude, disloyal and coarse both to you as his… lady friend, and to you as a senior officer. I didn't like his tone or his attitude towards a member of my team, so I had a quiet word.'
He spoke softly and sounded so reasonable that Alex had nowhere to go. She hovered for a moment. Gene looked up at her. 'Something else, Bolly?'
'How much did you hear?'
'What was he saying, exactly?'
'Either he was telling the truth, in which case you'll learn nothing new, or he was lying, and it's irrelevant.'
'Guv, I need to know.'
'No, Alex, you don't. All you need to know is that the man is an arsewipe and not worth your time or attention, let alone your care.'
'Yes, thanks, Anna Raeburn. He's been told.'
'Comes of getting involved with a colleague, Bolly. Best to keep these things away from your own doorstep.'
She was beginning to lose her temper, and had to bite her tongue. 'I know. It's a mistake I won't make again.' She turned on her heel and stomped out of the room, with Gene's voice just audible as she left.
'You're welcome, Bolls.'
It had been going on for a while, this frenetic social life. For months after she arrived, Alex made no effort to make a life for herself. Waiting to go home to Molly, she didn't bother to make friends, or take advantage of her peculiar situation. But when she had to watch her parents die, watch her world go up in smoke and her memories turned upside down, something changed. Everything on which her life had been based was lost. Her father, psychotic; her mother, flawed; Evan, weak.
And Gene Hunt. She didn't know what he was. The only solid thing in this seismic existence. Over the months she'd had to revise everything she'd known about him, and then, suddenly, he was her rescuer. Her white knight. Lonely and adrift, she'd begun to depend on him, fall a little in love with him. But even though he'd seemed keen in the first few months, he'd been immune to all her flirtatious behaviour and the occasional drunken pass. And eventually she'd given up. It hurt to acknowledge it, but he didn't want her any more. So she started looking around for someone who did. There was a whole city full of men, and she knew she was attractive enough. It wouldn't be hard to find someone to keep her company, make her feel good, let her forget.
The first one was a smooth-talking pathologist, Mahmoud Hassan, whose wife had left him and gone back to Cairo. After three pleasant but unfulfilling nights, he'd suggested a little spice; but when he took Alex down to his basement and showed her into his dungeon, begging her to take him to subspace, she said goodbye.
She was asked to a charity dinner by the City Force superintendent, David Goss, who was bright, fit, and smitten. He had no wife, no deviant sexual preferences, no hang-ups, and absolutely no sense of humour. Alex stuck it for a month, but got a hysterical desire to giggle uncontrollably and quote large chunks of Ethel the Frog at him, doing bad John Cleese impressions and trying to teach him to respond with 'Morning, Wonderful' when she said 'Morning, Super.' He never understood why.
Gordon Carr was not promising at first glance. A forensic accountant in his early fifties, he took her once or twice a week to the Festival Hall to see the LSO, to the Wigmore Hall to hear Thomas Allen, to St John's Smith Square, to the Opera House to see Domingo and Cotrubas. Then he'd take her home to his elegant house in Kennington and prove that all suits were not grey in the dark; a skilled and considerate lover, he'd leave her breathless and blissed out. But civilised, generous and great lover though he was, emotional he wasn't. He didn't want love, he wanted good company and satisfaction, and after a while it left Alex feeling empty.
She'd learned early on that keeping her private life private was essential in the festering gossip swamp of Fenchurch East, and she was careful to keep work and personal life strictly segregated. As she spent so little time at Luigi's, it wasn't hard for the team to work out that she was doing other things with her evenings, but she and her lovers were discreet and CID was left wondering.
So going out with Don Maddox had been seriously stupid, for any number of reasons. But he'd been very single-minded; told her he'd been watching her, knew she'd been watching him. He'd ignored her protests that she'd been doing nothing of the kind, and didn't bother waiting for her to give him the green light. He was a good kisser, with a sprinter's body and a gourmet lunchbox, but he was a one-trick pony with no imagination and no kindness. She'd been about to dump him, but hadn't done it soon enough, to her chagrin, and now she'd have to pay for Maddox's indiscretion.
Something had happened; that much was obvious to everyone in CID. Gene couldn't slide that past the room full of detectives, but what it was he kept to himself. But he didn't bother hiding his mood, taking it out on the team, on objects that didn't do as required, on the world at large. Every evening for a week he spent at Luigi's, sitting on his tod, drinking to get drunk. On Thursday night Luigi had gone to bed leaving Gene clutching a bottle of scotch and refusing to move from his corner table; the restaurateur locked up muttering Etruscan opinions of Gene's sanity. Friday morning was not a happy experience for CID.
'Boss?' Chris looked twitchy.
'Yes, Chris.' Alex hadn't been to Luigi's all week, either with Gordon or out for girly evenings with her barrister chum Astrid Summerson, so she'd only heard the mutterings about Gene's behaviour.
Chris struggled on, shifting from foot to foot in embarrassment. 'The Guv's making himself ill. Every night this week he's got legless just sitting on his own and drinking till he passes out and someone takes him home. Ray's tried to talk to him but he nearly got a slap last night. The Guv might talk to you, Boss.'
'I'll try, Chris. But…' She shrugged. She and Gene weren't on the best of terms any more. She barely saw him, in fact. He'd given her a long leash, letting her run her own cases with minimal interference. Alex didn't know if it was because he trusted her or despised her. Most likely he wasn't bothered either way as long as she did her job, she thought. He had other things to think about these days. Budget cuts, a new division Commander he didn't like, not to mention the constant threat of Operation Countryman.
Alex knew he'd been seeing a woman called Erica Brodie for the last three months. She'd been a witness to an attempted bank robbery; dark haired, pretty, curvy and small, she was a sweet thing, all smiles. Mid thirties, probably. She'd phoned Gene a week after the incident and said she'd remembered something; he'd gone to see her and hadn't come back to the office that day.
A week or so after that and he'd suddenly seemed very relaxed. Was even heard whistling to himself when in the kitchen making tea.
The office was a place transformed. Without their usual bickering and each of them with a life outside the office, days in CID were quite dull, albeit productive.
Gene's whistling stopped after a month or so, and he spent more evenings at Luigi's, having a few pints before heading off to Erica; but it seemed a fairly settled arrangement, and she'd turn up now and then for a drink before they went off to the cinema or out for a Chinese. She was a gentle, sweet soul and obviously besotted with Gene. What he needed, thought Alex; someone to love and protect. Someone to look after him. He'd seemed contented, until this Monday morning. But Alex couldn't imagine a row with Miss Lovin' Spoonful bad enough to fuel Gene's atrocious mood for more than a few hours.
She got no chance then to talk to Gene as he took himself off and didn't reappear till after lunch, shaved and in clean clothes, at least. Just as she was about to beard him in his den, Alex was called out; a missing person had surfaced on the low-tide beach under Tower Bridge.
When she got back, everyone was across the road, so she went upstairs to shower and change; by the time she got back down to the bar, Gene was three pints plus chasers to the good, according to Luigi.
'Be careful, Signorina. He is not a 'appy man.'
She took over her glass of wine and sat down opposite her DCI. 'You okay, Guv?'
'I was till you helped yourself to that chair.'
'Been ages since we've had a chat in here.'
'Not long enough. Not in the mood for your nonsense, Drake, so take yourself off.'
'What's wrong? You've been miserable as sin all week.'
'What's wrong is you nosey sods sticking your beaks in my business. I'm perfectly all right, so go away and leave me alone.'
He stood up, picked up fags, lighter and glass, and walked to another table without a glance in her direction. After a moment, she followed. But before she could sit down, Gene put his feet on the chair and glared up at her.
'Go away, Drake. Don't want to see you, or hear you. Same goes for all the other retards I have the misfortune to command. Now fuck off like a good inspector.' He lit a cigarette and blew the smoke in her direction, throwing the whisky chaser down his throat before shouting at Luigi for a refill.
Alex tried twice more during the evening, but with even less success, retreating to the other side of the room where Viv and Ray were sitting. Since she'd put some distance between herself and the team out of working hours, Ray had thawed somewhat, and their relationship was at least easier, if not exactly chummy.
'You've known him longest, Ray. What's going on?'
'I don't know. But he were like this when his missus walked out and started the divorce. About two weeks it were. We thought he were going to kill someone or drink hisself to death, or both.'
'Was it the same when Sam Tyler died?'
'No. Then he were drinking all day as well.'
By half past eleven, Gene had given in to exhaustion and alcohol and was slumped against the uholstery, snoring. Alex, who'd stayed off the booze, tapped Ray on the arm. 'We'd better get him home. I'm okay to drive, but I'll need help to get him inside at the other end.'
'No problem, Boss.'
Between them they got Gene up to the street and into the Quattro, lying across the back seat, mumbling. Alex drove them over London Bridge to Stoney Street and they manoeuvred Gene into the house and upstairs, letting him fall on to the bed.
'Thanks, Ray. You okay to get home from here?'
'It's not far – just down Borough Road. I'll jump a cab. What about you, Boss?'
'Yeah, I'll be fine. Lots of cabs at London Bridge.'
The loyal sidekick let himself out of the house, and Alex was left with a comatose Gene Hunt. Sighing, she started the process of undressing him which got tricky when he half woke up and semed to think he was being seduced by some tart, trying to get his arms round her. 'Saucy… come 'ere, darlin'…' There were other less coherent sentences, and a snorting cackle when she undid his belt and his trousers, but after that it went quiet until she'd got him down to his undercrackers and under the duvet.
She sat on the bed and looked at him, wondering what was going on. She thought she'd try something.
'Gene?' She spoke clearly and quietly, wondering whether she could prompt a sort of hypnosis effect. 'Gene, tell me what's making you so miserable.'
He opened his eyes and looked straight at her. 'Bolls...' His hand emerged from under the covers and groped blindly for hers.
She took his hand and held it on her knee. Smiled at him encouragingly. 'Tell me what's wrong, Gene.'
'Mmmm?' He closed his eyes and frowned. Muttered a few words of which Alex could only make out one. 'Trapped.'
It was the last thing he uttered, squeezing her hand before closing his eyes and starting to snore. She sat for a moment holding his hand, looking at the soft flesh inside his forearm, blue veins showing through the fair skin. What had happened? Trapped. Is that what he'd said? To do with Erica? Or work? No point trying to guess. All she knew for sure was that, for once, it was nothing to do with her.
Alex turned Gene's bedroom light out and crept upstairs to see if there was a spare bed. The top floor was a building site, one room half plastered, the other stripped to the bare brick. The ground floor was bachelor-minimal; stripped floorboards and one fat rust-coloured armchair in front of the telly, an empty bottle of Bells whisky on the floor beside it. The kitchen was new, by the look of it, and tidy. It was the chair or the floor, so Alex snuck back up to Gene's bedroom, stole a pillow, found a blanket in a cupboard, snuck downstairs and settled into the giant armchair; it wasn't going to be a restful night, but she wanted another crack at Gene in the morning. He needed a friend, and if she was on hand, he might talk.
How wrong could one be.
She was up and showered before he stirred; there was no coffee, so she was pouring boiling water on to a tea bag when there was an eruption behind her.
'Jesus effing Christmas… What the fuck are you doing in my kitchen?'
She turned. He looked dog rough, standing there in boxers and shirt, creased and unbuttoned. Quite endearing, really, she thought fleetingly.
'Morning, Gene. Tea?'
'Why the bloody hell are you in my house?'
'We were worried you'd overdone it last night.'
'I get a bit pissed and you interfering mumsy bastards think I need a babysitter? Fuck off, Drake. Ray's poured me in and out of enough cabs before now. Why did you feel it necessary to treat my house like a hotel?'
'Thought we could talk.'
'Fucking women. You can't leave well alone, can you?'
'You've been in a foul mood all week, getting legless every night. The team thought you might talk to me. They asked me, Gene, because they were worried about you.'
'You think I chose to have an uncomfortable night in your uncomfortable chair because… what, I've picked you as a case study?'
He snorted. 'I've long given up trying to navigate your maze of a mind.'
'Seemed like you need a friend. Problem shared is a problem halved.'
'If I wanted to tell my troubles to a friend, it wouldn't be you, Drake.'
She felt herself flush scarlet, and had to take a deep breath to absorb the hurt. 'I'm a professional, Gene. Trained to listen. I can help you.'
'You're a professional pain in the arse. I don't want your help. Bugger off and leave me in peace.'
'You're taking it out on the team, and you're heading for a stint in hospital, the rate you're drinking. Look… If you won't talk to me, then act. Make a decision and change whatever it is that needs to be changed. The way things are – the way you're behaving – is doing nobody any good, least of all you. Sort it out, Guv.'
'Is that it? Are you finished?'
'If you want to talk, any time, I'll listen.'
'I'll remind you of that next time you're insubordinate and bloody irritating. Now sod off. Don't slam the door as you leave.' He stood aside and waved her out of the kitchen.
She picked up her bag and made for the front door. 'Bye, then.' She got no answer.
On Monday morning Gene was back to his old self; no whistling, and good-humoured snarling. He drank no more than usual at Luigi's, and whatever had troubled him the previous week seemed to have been resolved as though a clock had been wound back. Friday night and Saturday morning were never mentioned, and there was no further sign of Erica.
A couple of weeks later, Alex started noticing things happening in her flat. Objects being moved, like a perfume bottle that was on her dressing table turning up in the fridge; the toaster turned 180 degrees on the kitchen workshop. At first she wondered if she was getting absent-minded or stressed, but it kept happening. A mirror turned to the wall; a pair of boots in the hall, pointing to the door as though she'd stepped out of them and left the flat. She changed the lock, but it made no difference. She started coming back to the flat at random times in the day to see if she could catch the culprit. Nothing was ever stolen, nothing was ever left behind.
'Luigi? You haven't been into my flat recently, have you?'
'No, signorina. I would never, not before asking to you first.'
'Have you seen anyone upstairs?'
He shook his head. 'No.'
The incidents stopped for a few days, then she started hearing noises from the flat upstairs. Footsteps. Furniture being dragged across the floor. A noise here, a noise there, for a few seconds each time, then silence for the rest of the night. She went up to check, but the door to the flat was firmly locked. When she told Luigi, after the third disturbed night, he got the key and went upstairs with her. Unless poltergeists had size 11 Nikes, it was a living pest. But one who left nothing but footprints.
Alex was going out with Ulf Neumann, who was just that, a new man, a homeopath, a feminist and a member of Greenpeace. He was a refreshing antidote to the prevailing attitudes at Fenchurch East, but he wouldn't come to Alex's flat as he was violently allergic to the cigarette smoke which filtered up through three floors, and had bad memories of meeting Ray Carling during an animal rights demo on Tower Hill. He lived in a small squat off Brick Lane and couldn't accommodate Alex, so Ulf was no refuge from the increasingly sinister night visitations, and Alex was getting very little sleep.
One night she came back to the flat late, and went into the kitchen for a glass of water. She turned on the light and met the shameless gaze of a brown rat the size of a small pony, noshing on a loaf of Hovis she'd left on the worktop. She didn't actually scream, but slammed the kitchen door shut on the beast and shuddered noisily. Unable to cope with the new lodger, she shot back out of the flat and went across to the station, preferring no sleep to the prospect of sharing a pillow with the beady-eyed whiskery interloper.
She was woken by Chris and Shaz bursting into the office with the energy of the well rested.
'You all right, Ma'am?'
'I'm fine, Shaz. Or I will be after a bucket of coffee.'
'I'll put the kettle on, Boss.'
Gene was unimpressed, making it clear he didn't have any sympathy for a DI whose social life was taking its toll. Alex couldn't be bothered to put him right, mostly because it would mean explaining everything. So she struggled through the day till Gene sent her home, disgusted with her litany of errors and sluggish thinking.
That evening, his second pint almost dispatched, Gene felt Luigi looming at his shoulder, and sat back. 'Yes, my little amigo. What can I do for you?'
'Is the signorina Alex all okay now? All the mystery is solved?'
'What mystery? Why wasn't she okay?'
'The footsteps upstairs, the mystery movings, the frightening. She tells you, no?'
'When was this?'
Luigi related the last ten days' goings on on the second and third floors. 'And this morning she ring me to say there was big rat in her kitchen last night. She ask me if I see rats in my building and I say of course no, we extinguish them again last week…'
Gene was half way to the door, shouting for Ray and Chris to follow him, and taking the basement steps two at a time. Three flights of stairs took it out of them, however, and they were gasping, middle-aged hearts pounding, by the time they reached the second floor; the door to Alex's flat was open. They heard scuffling feet and raised voices above them, and having sent Chris in to check Alex's flat, Gene and Ray took the fourth flight of stairs at record speed, bursting throught the door of the top flat.
Ch2 is ready and will be up in a few days, with the finale a few days after that. Your feedback and reviews are all hugely appreciated - it really helps to know what appeals to readers. Love hearing from readers who haven't reviewed before...