A long three-in-one chapter to end with. My grateful thanks to Wombledon for moral support and sense and pokey stick as and when required.
She sat at the kitchen table, head bent, staring at the white Formica, and fat tears began to spill and roll slowly down her face. Her whole body ached and her head was pounding. He'd gone, and she was alone. Part of her wanted to give in, do what he'd told her, give up. But the rest of her refused. She was not going to let the bastard do this; not going to watch him dismantle everything good she'd discovered in this upside-down, spin-off life.
Thirty-five minutes earlier she'd wandered out of the bathroom, head under a towel as she rubbed her hair dry. Blinkered by hair and towel, she banged into the door frame on the way into her bedroom and swore softly as she hit her already bruised arm.
A movement caught her eye and fear lanced through her. Someone there. In the room. A dark figure by the window. He lunged at her, muttering her name as he grabbed her.
'Alex… have to…'
He snatched her close and she felt his mouth on hers for an instant before adrenalin-fuelled instinct shut out everything but the need to escape. She jerked a knee upwards with vicious force, then shoved at his chest with all her strength, screeching like a banshee.
As he crashed backwards against the bed and on to the floor, groaning and hunched over in pain, Alex realised, too late, who it was. The flash of intense relief exploded into incandescent fury and she was shaking with the effort not to kick the bastard while he was down.
'What the fuck do you think you're doing?'
He groaned again. 'It was only a bloody kiss, Bolls. Didn't deserve that,' he gasped, cursing as he pulled himself up on to the bed and sat gingerly on the edge, still hunched over.
Alex turned back to the door and flicked on the overhead light; Gene's face was ashen as he looked up at her accusingly. She had a fleeting stab of remorse, seeing him in pain, before the anger swamped it. 'You scared me half to death, you stupid bastard –'
'I called through the bathroom door, for Christ's sake. And you could see it was me. Who the hell else would it be?' As the worst of the pain receded, Gene was starting to lose his temper, which just made her angrier.
'I was in the shower, you pillock. Of course I couldn't hear. And what do you mean, "who else could it be"? You'd left. The door was locked. I had a towel over my head and couldn't see. All I saw was an intruder. Which, funnily enough, scared me witless. What the fuck did you expect?' She was yelling at him, the fury out of control.
Gene stood up, carefully, and took a step towards her. In bare feet she was four inches shorter than him, and he loomed over her. She stepped back, her heart thumping faster. 'Don't threaten me, Gene. I did not invite you in here…'
'Threaten you, Bolly? When have I threatened you?' His eyes were sparking, his temper barely under control.
She glared at him. 'How the fuck did you get in here, by the way?'
'With a key.'
'What key?' She was indignant. 'Did Luigi give you a key?'
'Yes. Before you arrived to blight my life. Did you imagine I'd stolen yours and had it copied?'
'Give it to me.' She held her hand out commandingly. 'How bloody dare you have a key to my flat.' A thought occurred to her. 'Do you come in here when I'm not around? Is that why you send me off on wild goose chases, so you can sneak in here and sniff through my knicker drawer?'
His jaw jutted as he bit down on a rash response. Took a breath. 'Don't flatter yourself.' He dragged a bunch of keys out of his pocket and wrestled a Yale key off the ring before slapping it into Alex's outstretched hand. 'There you go. Safe at last.'
She tossed the key on to her dressing table and turned to see Gene halfway to the front door. She chased after him. 'Where the hell do you think you're going? Don't you dare walk away from me.'
'I'm obviously not welcome here so I'll go where I'm appreciated.' He tossed the words at her over his shoulder as he yanked the front door open and headed for the stairs.
'Running away again. You bloody coward!' She yelled after him.
Gene turned on his heel and stalked back to her. 'Don't you bloody dare call me a coward.'
She threw him a killing look before turning her back on him and walking through to her kitchen.
He stalked after her. 'I am not a coward! Don't you –'
She whipped round and snapped at him. 'You run away because you're too much of a wimp to face up to yourself.'
'What?' He was beside himself. 'I came back tonight to –'
'Yeah. Broke in and jumped on –'
'I did not break in. I had a key…'
'Can't be normal, can you? Can't bring yourself to knock on the door and wait to be invited in –'
'I did knock. When you didn't answer I thought –'
'Thought what, hmmm? Thought I'd swooned dead away for lack of a knight errant? Get over yourself, Gene.'
'Grow up.' He came close enough to shove an accusing index finger towards her face. 'Before I left earlier, you were going to kiss me. You can't deny that.' He walked away from her into the sitting room, going to the window.
She followed, incensed, her face flaming. 'I wasn't exactly thinking straight. You were stamping round the flat giving me orders and prodding me about, having hauled me around and shouted at me and treated me like a child and threatened to suspend me for precisely nothing…' She paused to draw breath. 'And then you just waltzed off, as per bloody usual –'
He rounded on her. 'You told me to go! Didn't even offer me a drink. Not even a cup of sodding tea after the night I'd had –'
'And you always do what I suggest. I've noticed that about you.'
Gene snarled at her, teeth bared, fists clenched as he struggled to contain his temper. 'Ditto. You are the most insubordinate, arrogant, disobedient –'
She scoffed at him. 'Oh, please. Change the record.'
'I would if you ever changed your behaviour. I thought you'd learned your lesson after Shit-for-brains Maddox, but oh, no, you're still catting around, waving your tail at any passing tom –'
'How dare you!' She had her hands on her hips, eyes flashing like a Marseilles fishwife. 'For one thing my personal life is none of your bloody business –'
'Until you need rescuing from a psycho boyfriend…'
'I didn't ask –'
'No, you pig-headed, stubborn, stupid bloody woman. Rather get yourself raped or knifed or poisoned than admit you need my help.'
'Don't start this again, Hunt…'
'Don't bring that up again, for Christ's sake…'
'You wouldn't trust me –'
He slapped his forehead. 'Oh, here we go. Can't let it drop, can you? You drive me round the fucking bend.'
'We've got something in common, then.' She was tossing her head in frustrated fury. 'You're enough to justify Prozac. One minute you're all matey and smiling and the next you're doing your iceberg impression.'
'Iceberg?' He shouted with bitter laughter. 'Christ almighty, if anyone could stand in for an iceberg, it's you, woman. You should let Captain Birdseye know you're available in case his electricity's cut off. You could freeze an ocean full of cod with one look. Or failing that, knee them in the bollocks.'
'You scared me,' she hissed at him. 'I didn't know it was you, did I?'
'Who else was it going to be? Is there a queue of poor bastards waiting for a chance to kiss you?'
Alex let out a half-suppressed scream, snatched a cushion off the sofa and flung it at the black chair, needing to do violence to something. 'That's the point, you fuckwit! Suddenly you want to kiss me? Since when?'
'Since I went mad.' He growled back at her. 'For months, the whole pigging world's been upside down. You know how I feel. But you –'
'Oh, god! I have no idea how you feel, Gene!'
'You're the bloody psychologist. You're the one with all the fucking insight. Not to mention your feminine fucking intuition.'
'I'm not a bloody mind-reader. The only emotion you ever show is anger. Oh, and the occasional flash of derision. If you've got any other emotions you do a damned good job of hiding them.'
He took a deep breath, and dropped his voice. 'Since you never hesitate to trample on my feelings like a mad cow if I ever let a hint of them show, I'd say that was a sensible precaution, wouldn't you?'
There was a sudden chill in the air. Alex felt the anger die as dread sliced through her. While they were shouting there was a chance of getting through his armour. But she hadn't had the courage to risk it, and now the chance was lost.
'Nothing to say?' Gene was in full control of himself again. He looked like a piece of granite, impervious to anything she could do or say. 'No. Well, thank god for that.' He walked round her into the kitchen and picked a glass off the draining board. Turning on the cold tap he filled the glass and tipped the water down his throat.
Alex watched him from the doorway. He put the glass back down and turned to her. 'D'you know what, I think I've just got my sanity back. At least I know where I can find it.'
'Where?' Alex shivered suddenly.
'Sheffield, Bolly. Full of Yorkshiremen, but it could be worse. Could be full of southerners.'
'Sheffield? What are you talking about?'
'My next challenge, Bolls.' He gave her a flash of his cold-eyed grin. 'I've had enough of London. Beautiful, but heartless. You can lose your soul here.'
She was aghast. 'You've got a new job? You're leaving?'
'You're quick off the mark tonight, Bolly. I'm headed for pastures new. So if I were you I'd take a good look at your options. The new DCI might not be such a soft touch as me. But maybe you should go for promotion yourself. You never know, you could take over at Fenchurch East.' He tipped his head back, considering her through narrowed eyes. 'But you'd want a glamour job. Something glittery at the Yard, maybe, or policing bankers with the City force. I hear David Goss is looking for a new DCI.'
His expression was flat as sheet steel and just as impenetrable. Alex suddenly got the shakes and sat down abruptly at the kitchen table. Gene opened a cupboard and fetched out the whisky, poured a good measure into a glass and put it in front of Alex.
She ignored it. 'Why haven't you mentioned this before?'
'You know how it is, Bolly. No point in counting chickens till they're plucked.'
'Does Ray know?'
'No. I found out on Thursday. Spoke to Marsden on Friday. I wouldn't tell a sergeant before I'd informed my DI, would I?'
'Don't know, Gene. Don't know anything any more.'
'Cheer up, Bolls. It may be the end of the road for our little team, but the world is your scallop. This is your chance to fly.' He poured a slug of scotch and knocked it back, then bent to look into her face. 'Are we done? Okay with you if I head home, madam?'
She flicked him a look of sullen dislike. 'Head wherever you like. None of my business, is it?'
'No. Don't get up. I'll see myself out.'
And he was gone, the front door shutting quietly behind him, leaving her staring at white formica and an empty future.
At nine o'clock on a Sunday morning the streets were silent, but the station was lively as it was every morning.
Black Olive was the first person Alex saw on her way into CID. 'Morning, Boss.' He saw her bruised face and winced. 'That's got to hurt.'
She'd applied make-up with a trowel that morning to cover up the damage, but clearly not enough. She gave him a lop-sided smile. 'You should see the other guy.'
He grinned at her, looking young and full of life, mischief in his eyes. 'Just going to have a nice chat with the Wasps.'
Alex chuckled. 'That ought to make their day. Enjoy yourself, Oliver.'
'Don't worry, Boss. I intend to.' The Brixton-born DC loped off down the corridor, full of beans at the prospect of baiting the racists he'd collared at the Red Cow, and getting overtime to boot.
Alex pushed through the double doors to find the office empty but for Gene, who was rooting through a pile of papers on his desk, cursing under his breath. Her heart thumped painfully at the sight of him; she took a couple of deep breaths, then sauntered to his door as if the only thing between them was the North-South divide.
'Morning, Guv. No-one else in?'
He looked up at her and frowned. 'Drake. What are you doing here? I told you to take the day off.'
'No, you said don't hurry in.'
'Well now I'm telling you to take your Sunday off. Don't need you here.'
'You've got twelve men in custody –'
'Uniform are interviewing most of them. You're not required.' He came for a closer look at her. 'Your face looks like a Dulux colour chart. Go home and put an ice pack on it.' He scooped up a pile of papers and stalked out.
Rejected and redundant, Alex needed a friend. At noon she was slumped on Astrid's sofa with her second glass of Semillon; her hostess was decanting dry roasted peanuts. Astrid Summerson was a barrister in a family law practice with chambers in King's Bench Walk. Born in North Yorkshire, the Viking genes ran strong in her; tall and vigorous, with a wide smile, she was a force of nature. She didn't bother with half-truths, let alone lies, and if asked for a personal opinion, would give it unvarnished.
'Tell him, Alex. And make it absolutely clear. Otherwise he'll disappear up the M1 leaving you breathing exhaust fumes.'
'But tell him what?' The wine on top of a sleepless night wasn't helping Alex think.
'That you love him.' The barrister was used to dim witnesses.
Alex refused the nuts held out to her, and groaned. 'I don't know…'
'Do you want him?'
'Yes.' Alex's head filled with the smell of smoke and whisky, the sound of a soft growl, the touch of strong hands gentle on her skin. She felt her body respond, and longed for him. 'Oh, yes.'
'So start there and see what happens. He doesn't strike me as a predictable character, so there's no point in guessing. Take action, girl. What have you got to lose? You're going to lose him anyway if you do nothing.'
Alex closed her eyes and sighed. There were complications Astrid knew nothing about. Molly. Layton's bullet. 2008. She could feel her brains scrambling. Lurching to her feet with a groan, she tottered into the kitchen. 'Stuff it. Tomorrow's another day. Till then, let's get pissed and talk nonsense. Gimme those peanuts.'
With an early train to Birmingham in the morning for a day in court, Astrid reined back on the booze, so Alex had the lion's share of two bottles of Piat d'Or; she conked out on the sofa early in the evening and woke muzzy headed and disorientated just before midnight. Astrid had gone to bed, and Alex dragged herself upstairs after glugging back as much water as she could stomach. Lying in bed, she stared into the darkness, sleep kept at bay by a whirligig of sounds and images, intense arguments and heart-stopping moments of tenderness; wild swings between kindness and rage, warm concern and chilly disinterest. Grey-green eyes blazing with fury and glowing with desire. Fleeting glimpses of the man beneath the armour, passionate and vulnerable. A man worth loving; a man whose love would be worth fighting for. Was he really planning to leave? Could she stop him? Or could Gene's departure be the key to her getting home?
Tormented by questions she couldn't answer and longings she couldn't satisfy, she slept, eventually, to dream about Arthur Scargill throwing cutlery off a burning ship.
Monday morning. Sun pouring through the window of Astrid's spare room roused Alex early with only the faintest of hangovers; Astrid had already headed off to Euston but had left breakfast ready for her. Brightened by two mugs of ground coffee, Alex took the bus through Southwark and over Tower Bridge; the river was sparkling in the spring morning light, the trees around the Tower were clad in fresh green and the City looked spruce and ready for something new. She felt much the same, her mind made up. Today she'd get the truth and act on it. Take charge of her life again.
It wasn't quite eight when she got into CID. Only Oliver Haan was in, sitting at Shaz's desk typing up his report, the IBM Golfball chattering under his competent fingers.
'I didn't know you could type like that.' Alex was pleasantly surprised.
'My mum's a secretary. Taught me how after my A levels.'
'Good for her.'
'Don't let on, Boss. They all be at me to do theirs.'
Shaz was trained in typing and shorthand, and Chris was a fast four-finger typist, but the rest of CID were hunt-and-peck Luddites. Alex promised to keep schtum and went to make them both a cuppa.
The rest of the team drifted in over the next hour, although Gene didn't show up till after ten. Carling, Haan and Skelton went to the Magistrates' Court to give evidence against the Wasps and see them convicted of charges ranging from affray to ABH; four of them got off with a fine, two got a five-month suspended sentence and the rest were committed for Crown Court trial. By the time they got back from Bow it was nearly one.
As soon as Ray came in, Gene shouted for him. Thirty seconds later Ray left CID again, and Gene emerged from his office to stand in the doorway, arms folded. It didn't take long for Ray to reappear, his arms laden with a gargantuan bouquet.
The red-faced sergeant shamble up to Alex's desk and thrust the flowers at her as the entire team watched in silence.
'These are for you, er, Ma'am. Sorry, you know, for the other night…'
'Good lord…' Alex struggled with the awkward weight, assailed by perfume and colour. 'That's… kind of you, Ray. Thanks.'
Shaz darted forward and hissed at her. 'There's an envelope, look.'
Putting the flowers on her desk, Alex fished out the envelope and opened it. 'Wow. A day at the Sanctuary.' She looked at him, astonished, and saw the puzzlement on Ray's face. Glanced at Shaz, who was grinning. 'That's generous, Sergeant Carling. Apology accepted.' She held her hand out to Ray, who shook it rather too firmly and dived past her into the kitchen. The office buzz resumed and Alex sat down at a desk completely covered in exotic flora.
When she was in the kitchen later, making herself a mug of Assam, Shaz lobbed up.
'Do you like the flowers, Ma'am?'
'They're stunning, Shaz. Almost literally. They weigh a ton. I'm amazed at Ray.'
Shaz's grin widened. 'Yeah, well, you would be. I'll let you into a secret. Ray paid for 'em but I got them – from the posh florists outside Liverpool Street.'
'Ah. Thank god. For a moment I thought I was on drugs.' She chuckled. 'And the Sanctuary voucher? I can't believe Ray's even heard of the place.'
'Yeah. I nipped over there yesterday afternoon. Had a look round. It's amazing.' Her eyes were out on stalks at the memory. 'The swimming pool – you could float all day looking up to the sky. And the parrots flying around, all jungly. Women wandering around in towels and bikinis all glowing and beautiful. Have you been there?'
Alex sighed. 'Yes, once. Paradise, isn't it? You're a genius to think of it.' She frowned. 'But it must have cost Ray a fortune.'
'Yeah, well. Serve him right, the idiot. The Guv collared him at the Red Cow after you went back to the car. Made Ray hand over his wallet. The Guv took a wodge of notes out of it. Ray wasn't happy, but whatever the Guv said shut him up. Then the Guv gave me the cash and told me to get flowers and whatever else I thought would cheer you up.' The girl produced an envelope from behind her back. 'This is a little extra, from me and Chris. Hope it helps mend the bruises.'
It was another Sanctuary voucher for an aromatherapy massage. 'Shaz – that's fantastic.' Alex hugged her. 'Thank you so much…' She was really touched by the girl's generosity and thoughtfulness. But it wasn't the end of it.
As the day wound to its end, Gene – who'd barely spoken to Alex all day – sidled up to her desk and planted a bottle on the paper-strewn surface. 'Something from the rest of the team. Best medicine for bruises.' He scrutinised the side of her face. 'Technicolor. Feel any better?'
Alex flicked him half a smile. 'Fine, Guv, thanks.'
She gave him a rueful look, this time with a genuine smile. 'I'm sure you know how it feels. Bruises fade. No lasting damage.'
He looked at her from behind the inscrutable mask for a moment, then grunted. 'Hmm. Well, I'm going home. Goodnight, Bolly.'
'Night, Guv. Thanks for the whisky.'
He raised a hand in brief acknowledgement as he made his way to the door.
Alex looked at the bottle properly: Lagavulin twenty-four year old. Expensive. Then she saw the label hung round the neck. She opened the tiny folded card and saw Gene's black scrawl, miniaturised to fit the space.
'Sorry you got hurt. Hope this'll remove the sting.'
Was this about her getting clouted by Ray, or something else? She stared at the label, wondering, then got to her feet. Time to find out. She took the enormous bouquet and the Lagavulin and went home. Sticking the flowers in a bucket of water till she had time to arrange them, she had a shower, changed, and went to find a cab.
The taxi dropped her at the traffic lights and she walked down Stoney Street, hoping that Gene had, as he said, gone home. Yes. There was the Quattro. Her heart started to beat a little faster. She looked through the car window as she walked past and saw one of the tapes she did for him, the plastic case flipped open, the cassette missing. He hadn't binned them, then.
She reached his door. For a split second she panicked and almost turned to flee. But she stuck out a finger and rang the bell, her heart thumping.
He was a long time answering, and she rang again, which prompted an angry roar from inside the house. 'For fuck's sake! Sit on it and swivel!' With a growl, Gene wrenched open the door and glared out. 'What?' He was taken aback to see her. 'Bolly.' Voice and face were unreadable.
'Nice to see you, too. Can I come in?' Without waiting for an answer, Alex pushed past him into the middle of the living room.
For a moment Gene stood by the open door, as though contemplating whether he could still throw her out. 'If you were half a detective, you'd recognise that I am in the middle of something.'
He did look dishevelled, hair all over the place and sawdust everywhere, with a faint smell of pine resin. Jeans faded and torn from decades of wear, a venerable green shirt with frayed collar, sleeves rolled up, a couple of buttons missing, only half tucked into his waistband; loafers dating from the 1960s, by the state of them, and no socks.
She looked him up and down, and smiled sweetly. 'Cocktail party?'
His face changed from indignant to disgruntled, but he declined to rise to the bait. He gave her the once-over. 'You're looking very… off-duty.'
Now bored witless with most Eighties fashion, Alex had found a vintage clothes shop by the canal bridge at Camden Lock and had snapped up some fabulous stock that might have come out of Audrey Hepburn's bigger sister's wardrobe. The printed cotton sleeveless shift she'd put on was timeless, an early Sixties classic, although the silk bomber jacket over the top was fresh from one of the Lock studios.
'On your way to meet Mr Music?' He managed to drench the words with acid.
'She shook her head. 'No. No special plans.' She shrugged off the jacket and put it on the back of a kitchen chair sitting by the door as though it were waiting for its chance to escape the half-furnished house.
'What are you after, then?'
'Quick chat, that's all. Twenty-seven minutes.' Alex tapped her watch. 'Then I'll be through that door and gone.'
Gene's face creased in irritation. 'Why not just say half an hour?'
'I was allowing for three minutes of injury time.'
He took a deep breath. 'If you've come for another row…'
'No. I want to clear the air, that's all. See if we can avoid arguing for the rest of your stint as my guv'nor.' She kept her voice calm, her body language placid.
He grunted, still suspicious of her motives. That's what it looked like, anyway. Who knew what was going on behind the mask.
Alex took the bottle of Lagavulin out of her bag and handed it to him. 'Rather special whisky, Gene, thank you. Generous of you. Shall we have a toast?'
'To what?' He took the bottle from her.
'I'll think of something while you're pouring.'
He disappeared into the kitchen, and in the silence, Alex could hear music from upstairs. She listened hard. Sibelius. The great theme of the fifth symphony. Her other tape.
'Here, then, Bolls.' He was back, handing her a glass. 'What's the toast?'
She raised her glass to him. 'To your next challenge.'
Gene clinked his glass against hers, and drank.
'You going to tell me about it?' Alex glanced at him.
'If you can keep your mouth shut until the end of the week.'
'I've been approached to head up a football intelligence group.'
She had to clench her teeth to avoid mentioning oxymorons, and she knew he'd noticed her reaction.
'Hooliganism is rife, Bolly, and if we don't get a grip there's going to be a catastrophe. Lives lost.'
Yes, she thought. Heysel. Christ... 'Isn't Hillsborough in Sheffield?'
He looked nonplussed. 'Yes. Why?'
'Doesn't matter. Go on.'
'Transport Police are just fire-fighting. Local forces can only react to what blows up on match days. We know it's organised. Every bloody football club has got its own firms. Know what the latest mob at Man City's called? The Guvnors. Cheeky fucking bastards. But we've got no co-ordinated response, no means of prevention, no means of catching the scum before they cause more havoc.'
'This isn't just for South Yorkshire, then?'
'That's a hell of a job.'
'Softly softly catchee arsewipe.' He flashed his eyebrows at her over the rim of his glass as he took a drink. 'To do it properly we'd need a hundred times the budget they're giving us, but it's a start.'
'All fixed, then?'
'In principle. Still got a few details to sort out.'
'When are you leaving?'
'Want to be off and running before the new season starts, so I'm due in Sheffield at the end of June. I've got a lot of leave owing, so if we can box off the admin, I could be gone end of next week.'
Alex felt as though she'd been punched in the solar plexus, and she sat down rather abruptly on the arm of the big rust-coloured armchair. Pushing her feelings aside – she couldn't face them anyway – what did this mean for her existence in 1982? Life without Gene… Maybe this was a warning. Maybe she had to get him to stay to keep herself alive. Face it, if she couldn't get back to Molly, and couldn't stay with Gene, she might as well be dead.
'You okay, Bolls? You look like you've gone through the wash on a fast spin.'
'Yeah… fine. I'm fine.'
'In which language does "fine" mean 'shit", Bolly?'
She looked at him blankly.
He went to the kitchen, fetched the whisky bottle and poured her another dram before helping himself. He nodded at the glass in her hand. 'Drink the medicine, Alex.'
She obeyed, but took too big a mouthful and the spirit made her choke for an instant before she recovered. 'Is this new job why you were in a black mood a few weeks ago?'
'What? Oh... No.' Gene walked to the window and stared at the darkened Borough Market across the road. He said nothing, but Alex kept quiet and let him take his time while he lit up and smoked half a fag. He kept his back to her as he eventually began to talk. 'You met Erica Brodie.'
'Yes. Nice woman. Sweet face.'
He sighed. 'Yeah. I, er… it wasn't working out….'
'You seemed happy. She adored you.'
'It was nice, the attention. She couldn't do enough for me. Flattering, that. But after a while it was like living on cream buns. Do you know what I'm on about?'
'Oh, yes. The junk food diet. You're starving while you eat yourself sick.' Alex was quite shocked at the bitterness in her voice, remembering her string of lovers.
'I told her I couldn't see her any more. She went apeshit. Crying and begging. Said she wanted us to get married. Told me she was pregnant.'
'Ah. That was the week…' Alex slotted all the pieces together and got the picture.
'…that was. Yeah. Caught between a rock and a cleft stick. I didn't believe her, but I couldn't be sure, and if she was carrying my child I couldn't abandon her, could I? Sodding nightmare.'
When he said nothing more, she prompted gently. 'What happened?'
'Followed your orders, Bolls. Went to see her the next day and asked her straight out if she was pregnant. She admitted she'd been lying.' A long sigh escaped him.
'Thanks for telling me,' Alex said softly.
Gene turned away from the window and looked over at her. 'No feminist lecture?'
She shrugged. 'It was a shitty thing to do.'
He tensed, anger bubbling. 'What option did I have, Alex? It would have been a disaster –'
'No – what she did to you, Gene. Emotional blackmail. The tender trap. It's a shitty trick. Never works, anyway. How long can a relationship last on that basis?'
He shrugged. 'She's not bad, just desperate.' Stubbing his cigarette out in the ashtray on the windowsill, he gave her another long quizzical look. 'Why are you being nice? You waiting for the right moment to skewer me through the vitals?'
'No... I just want to clear the air. Don't want bad feeling between us. I said some hurtful things on Saturday night. I'm sorry, Gene. I'd like us to part friends.'
'Does clearing the air mean a shouting match?' He was on the defensive, hands stuffed in his pockets, leaning back against the wall, looking down his nose at her.
The butterflies were stampeding, her heart fluttering. Alex stood up and took a couple of steps forward, stopping two feet away from him. 'Alternative dispute resolution. I'm looking for a win-win outcome here, Guv. I think we should set parameters. No interference, no third party influence. Head to head mediation.'
He looked blank. 'Is that bollocks supposed to mean anything, Drake?'
'These are the terms of reference, Gene.' She closed the gap between them, reached up and kissed him, one hand caressing his face, the other behind his head, drawing him closer. His lips were soft, warm, tasting inevitably of whisky and smoke, the hint of beard around his mouth grazing against her skin.
She pulled away so she could see his face, and his arms tightened round her before letting her go. For a second she'd seen the fire leap in his eyes before his defences kicked in. His body was taut with adrenalin, eyes glittering in a granite face.
'You taking the piss, Bolly? Pack it in before we both regret it.'
She smiled at him and nudged closer. Put a hand on his chest and felt his heart racing, thudding under her palm. Her other hand slid over his shoulder to the nape of his neck, her fingers pushing into his hair.
Gene's hands were at her waist, ready to push her away. 'This is your idea of a parting gift? Or do you just want to add me to your collection of ex-lovers before I escape?'
She trailed kisses along his jaw, murmuring between kisses. 'No. And no. Try again.'
His right hand slid upwards, over her ribs and round to her back. 'It's an apology for the year of grief and bloody torment you've put me through.'
She kissed his chin. 'Nope.
His fingers were sending shivers up and down her spine. 'You've got a bet on with that Swedish au pair friend of yours.'
She grinned as she nudged her forehead against his, rubbed noses. 'None of the above,' she murmured. 'Keep guessing.' She nuzzled her mouth against his, flicked her tongue over his lips. But got no response. 'You're allowed to kiss back, Gene.'
'Oh, no. Not till I know what your game is. Where's the catch?'
She pushed her hips forward, rubbing against him in an unmistakable invitation. 'No catch. Just a zip at the back. It slides down easily…'
He let out a tortured groan. 'Any more of that and I'll have to bang you up for enticement. Or incitement. Or –'
She nipped at his earlobe. 'Bang away, officer. I confess.' She took his hand and brought it to her lips, kissing his still bruised knuckles one by one; gazing into his eyes she took his middle finger into her mouth and sucked. Then yanked it out again, her face screwed up in disgust.
'Urgh – uch… yuk…' She wiped her tongue on the back of her hand, trying to get rid of the taste of sawdust and wood glue, then ran cursing to the kitchen to rinse her mouth clean. Cold tap running, she rinsed and spat into the sink, then filled the glass again and drank thirstily; as she tipped the last drops down her throat, Gene materialised beside her, reaching to the tap to wash his hands and forearms free of dust.
'See what happens when you disturb a man doing it himself?' He glanced sideways at her, eyes glittering.
'All right, Barry Bucknell.' She gave him a glare. 'Actually, you're more like Tommy Walsh.'
'Who's he when he's at home?'
'A big scruffy Barry Bucknell.' She rolled her eyes at him and smiled.
He turned and leant back against the sink, looking pointedly at his watch. 'It's ten past seven.'
'You promised to leave at eight minutes to.'
She had somehow moved a few inches closer to him. 'Are you missing The Archers, or something?'
He didn't budge. 'Can't I trust you to keep your promises?'
She hissed. 'Oooh. Below the belt.'
He leant sideways, his head close to hers. 'Got my own back after Saturday, then.' His voice was dry as gin.
She felt herself blush, to her irritation. 'Is, er, everything back in shape?'
'Pretty much. Just as well I had the Crombie on. Wool like chain mail.'
Alex, genuinely defensive now, crossed her arms and pulled away from him a little. 'Told you. I didn't realise it was you. You scared the shit out of me.'
Gene's head dropped in exhaustion. 'Here we go. Get it over with, then.'
He was obviously convinced she wanted a fight; Alex made herself relax, determined to not to argue. She found his hand and laced her fingers through his, squeezing gently. 'Gene, I just need you to understand…'
He pulled her hand away from hers. 'I do.'
She found his hand again and held it in both of hers. 'Please listen. I'm not –'
This time he walked away from her, but only to pour them both another whisky. She followed him out of the kitchen, and took her glass from his outstretched hand.
Gene perched on the back of the armchair and looked up at her, grim-faced. 'Alex, I may lose it sometimes, but I'm not stupid. Do you imagine I haven't thought about it? I came back because I didn't want you to be alone. I knocked on the door and got no answer, and got worried you might have… I don't know, fainted or something. I let myself in when I remembered I still had Luigi's spare key. I heard the shower going, so I knocked on the bathroom door and called out to you.' Seeing her about to speak, he raised a hand to silence her. 'I realise now you didn't hear. I was going to wait in the living room, but I heard a ruckus in the street and your bedroom window was the nearest. Then you came out of the bathroom looking so…' He swallowed, and turned his eyes away from her. 'I lost it. Wanted you so much. Didn't think. Didn't think about Maddox, or that you were all over the place from the punch, or that you didn't know I'd come back or that your bedroom was in darkness. None of that.' He looked at her, then. Reached out to touch her hair, then let his fingers trail lightly down her bare arm. 'All I could think about was holding you. Kissing you. Keeping you safe. Couldn't stand it any more, Bolls, couldn't walk away again…'
What she saw in his eyes melted everything inside her, the warmth spilling from her in a smile she couldn't stop. 'Gene…' She put a hand to his face, stroked his cheek, tears making her eyes shine.
He put his hands to her hips and pulled her closer. 'Don't you dare cry,' he growled softly, his eyes glowing as he gazed up at her.
She shook her head, beyond words, barely able to breathe. Stroked her thumb lightly over his lips, she bent her head and feathered a kiss across his mouth; a sound came from her throat somewhere between a whimper and a laugh as Gene surged to his feet and wrapped his arms round her and they were touching, kissing, surrendering to the raging hunger. There was no more pretence – just wanting, and need. Alex devoured him, pulling his head to hers with grasping hands, her body pushing against his, close as they could get, the heat burning them up.
Gene's hands were in her hair, his mouth on her neck, on her throat; he murmured her name, hands straying down her back, stroking over her arse, pulling her hips tight against his with a groan of sheer lust, taking her mouth again, tongue darting and teasing till Alex's knees threatened to give way.
'Want you, Gene. Now. Want you now…' she growled between kisses.
'Upstairs.' He pushed her towards the staircase, managing to unzip her dress and unsnap her bra before they reached the landing, pulling his shirt over his head and kicking off his shoes by the bedroom door. They were both naked by the time they reached the bed, ravenous for each other, touching and tasting, desperate to be closer.
'Alex… beautiful. Want you too much… can't…' And he was inside her, grunting as she convulsed around him, trying to get control before he started to move; Alex wrapped her legs around his waist, her eyes all over him, black with lust. She put her hands to his head, framing his face; kissed him passionately, then gasped as he buried himself deep inside her. His eyes were the colour of sunlit ocean, deep enough to drown in. All barriers down, as close as they could be, the sense of completion was so intense that for a moment she forgot to breathe.
Then they were driving each other on, groaning, gasping, only heat and friction and hands and mouths and naked flesh until she felt him come, growling her name between clenched teeth before he collapsed on her, spent and breathless… She was tantalisingly close, and it took her only a few deft strokes while he was still inside her to make herself come, bucking under him, released.
Gene rolled to one side, kissing her and gathering her into his arms. 'Lovely Alex. So lovely.' He buried his face in her neck, squeezing her tight.
She stroked his head, her hand moving to the nape of his neck, rubbing gently. 'You okay?'
He took a deep breath, lifted his head and looked at her, a smile in his eyes. 'Top of the world, Bolls.' He caressed the curve of her hip, his touch so tender it brought tears to her eyes.
She kissed his shoulder as her fingers rubbed small circles on his back.
'Close your eyes, love,' he murmured. 'Get some rest. Safe with me.'
After two nights of broken sleep, she didn't need telling twice, and pillowing her head on his chest, she was out like a light.
She woke to find Gene gone. Not wanting to dress, but too cold to stay naked, she pulled a white shirt out of his wardrobe in lieu of a dressing gown. Treading silently down the stairs she could smell ciggie smoke, and saw Gene sitting in the lone armchair, fag and glass of scotch in hand, listening to Grieg songs, the volume turned right down. Her tape again.
'Hey,' she called softly, padding across the polished floor. 'I missed you.'
His voice was a rumble. 'Couldn't sleep. Didn't want to wake you.'
She perched on the chair arm and put an arm round his shoulders, leaning to kiss the top of his head. 'What's up?'
He waved the glass. 'Want a drink?'
'No, thanks.' She filched his glass and took a sip before handing it back, getting a slit-eyed look from him. 'Come on, what's wrong?'
He was a long time answering. Eventually he took a final drag of his cigarette and stubbed it out in the ashtray on the floor. 'Left it too late. And now I've let you down.'
Alex wriggled round and let herself slide down on to Gene's lap, her legs dangling over the arm of the chair. 'What? You haven't let me down. What's too late?'
'Waited so long. Wanted you too much. Disappointed you.'
She was frowning, trying to work out what he was talking about. Light dawned. 'No… It was wonderful –'
'Don't, Alex. Don't patronise me. I wasn't up to the mark. Couldn't make you come.'
'Gene, I was thirty seconds behind you –'
'You had to finish it.'
She looked into his eyes and saw he'd left himself wide open, defenceless. Her heart went out to him, and if she'd had any doubts, she knew now for certain. Felt nothing like this in her life before. She kissed him, and kissed him, and holding his gaze, smiled into his eyes. 'I love you, Gene Hunt.' She kissed him again. 'You think this is a one-night stand?'
'Wouldn't blame you after that performance.'
She chuckled softly. 'I grant you it wasn't a textbook seduction, but it was exciting. We can take the scenic route next time.'
He was quiet, watching her intently.
She traced her fingers over his lips. 'Have you taken a vow of silence?'
His hand pushed open the shirt she was using as a dressing gown. 'This is my best shirt, Bolly. Ironed and ready for a meeting with the AC tomorrow.' He was touching her breast, watching her face as he caressed and teased the soft flesh, arousing her instantly.
She pushed her hand inside his bathrobe, exploring. 'I'd better take it off, then.'
'Not yet. You look so good in it. May have to let you keep it.' As he kissed her, she felt his hand wander down her body, making her skin tingle, leaving her trembling.
She reached out and took his hand, pulling it towards her, opening her mouth over his index and middle fingers, her tongue snaking between them as she suckled.
'Jeesus…' Gene pulled his hand away and pushed her legs apart; the first touch of his fingers sent her spiralling up, muscles tensing, the fluid darkness gathering round her as he probed and stroked. He slid his fingers inside her, and she was lost, her head flung back, panting and moaning uncontrollably, winding up to a scream as she came, bucking and shuddering till the last waves pulsed through her, leaving her gasping with laughter, sprawled like a ragdoll over the chair.
'Back to bed, Bolls. Want you.'
She felt light-headed, drunk on him. 'Can't move. All my bones have melted.'
'Funny, I seem to have an extra one.' He scooped her into his arms and struggled to his feet, groaning with effort. 'Getting too old for this. You're going to have to stop eating, Bolly.'
Too weak to protest, she giggled helplessly as he staggered upstairs with her, and squealed as he dropped her on the bed; kneeling over her, he kissed his way from her mouth to her toes and half way back again. Alex had gone quiet, and he looked up for a moment. 'You gone to sleep on me?'
'No... Don't stop… please…' She reached down and pushed her fingers gently through his hair.
'What's it worth?' He was smiling, his eyes glinting, complicit in her pleasure.
'Anything you want. Everything… just… Gene… please, my love…'
He brought her all to soon to a second shattering climax, and before her heartbeat had slowed, he turned her over, pulled her to her knees and slid into her with a groan of pure bliss. Alex, beyond all thought, out of control, mewed and gasped as Gene took her to the next level, both of them lost to everything but the last intense moments, the heart-stopping climax and collapse into exhausted, ecstatic release.
Once back on earth, Alex sat up and struggled out of Gene's shirt, dropped the crushed garment on the floor and subsided on to his chest with a sigh of utter satisfaction. 'You are amazing…'
'Don't sound so surprised, Bolls.' He put his arms around her and squeezed, but let go instantly when she hissed with pain. 'Did I hurt you? What's wrong?'
'Bruises still a bit tender from the other night, that's all. Didn't feel them till just now.' She chuckled. 'I had my mind on higher things.'
'Roll over. Let me look.'
She did as asked, and Gene saw the extent of the damage properly. Great dark bruises on her back, from shoulder to hip, where she crashed against the speakers and fell to the floor.
'Christ, Alex…' She felt his hand on her back, soothing with the lightest of touches, in contrast to his voice, which shook with anger. 'That bastard. I'll kill him.'
Rolling over to face him, Alex put a hand to his face. 'He didn't know it was me. He's an idiot, but you've already made him pay through the nose.'
'I should have broken it for him.'
'Strap him down and shave his 'tache off in front of the whole team. He'd find that a lot more painful.'
Gene chuckled, and kissed her. 'You have an evil streak. I like that about you, Mrs Peel.' He looked thoughtful. 'Hmmm. Black leather catsuit.'
She grinned. 'Don't tell me. With a spiked collar.'
He hissed at the thought. 'Hellfire… That's a picture to keep a man going.'
'What do you look like in pinstripes and a bowler?'
'A prize tosser.' He scrambled out of bed and fished his bathrobe off the floor. 'Don't move.' He left the room, and Alex could hear him rummaging in the bathroom. He came back with a small round tin in his hand, and showed it to her. 'Lion Ointment. Made from the finest lions. Good for bruises. Shove over and lie on your front.'
She stretched out and pillowed her head on her arms, turned to one side so she could watch him from the corner of her eye. He sat on the edge of the bed and took the lid off the tin; she caught a faint smell of furniture polish. 'What's in it?'
'Told you. Essence of lion. Now shush. Relax. Go to sleep.'
Her giggle was a bit muffled. 'I've got essence of lion inside me.'
'Shh. Only works if you're quiet, Bolly.'
She felt his hand smoothing ointment on her shoulder blade, and sighed noisily as Gene rubbed in gentle circles. Lulled by the combination of endorphins, exhaustion, love, happiness and the bliss of being cared for, Alex was asleep in minutes. She was vaguely aware when Gene stood up and covered her with the duvet, and again when he got back into bed, a protective arm resting over her back. After that, she sank deep into dreamless sleep, woken only briefly by Gene's snoring.
She didn't wake till after nine; she hadn't heard Gene get up and leave, but there was no sign of the Quattro outside, and she found a note by the kettle in the kitchen.
'You've gone to the quack. Not expected till lunchtime. Relax. Have breakfast. Have a long bath. You can do my washing, the hoover's under the stairs and there's the wainscoting to be primed and painted in the spare room. G'
Smiling to herself, she made tea and thought about the night just gone. He hadn't told her that he loved her. He hadn't reacted when she said she loved him. But it was in his eyes and his touch and... He was everything she'd craved all her adult life, everything she'd failed to find in the men she'd dated. Let alone married. She could never have invented him, and she wasn't going to lose him now.
Alex put fresh sheets on the bed and the dirty ones in the wash, but ignored Gene's laundry; she did his washing up and wiped down the kitchen worktop, but ignored the hoover. She retuned the radio to Radio 4 while she tidied; he'd notice, and and she bet herself that he'd be annoyed enough to say something. Women interfering with a man's gadgets. The thought made her laugh out loud, mostly because she was happier than she'd been for years. There was something very appealing about treating his house like a home rather than a hotel, but was careful not to leave anything of hers behind when she left. Making presumptions about Gene was like forecasting weather; all the signs were that she'd be invited back that night, but the wind might change before evening.
She reached Fenchurch East at one-twenty to find DCI Hunt presiding over an empty CID room. One of the rare smiles lit his face when she appeared at the door of his office.
Smiling back at him, she gestured at the deserted office. 'Where is everyone?'
'I packed the lot of them off on a tour of their snouts to pick up a bit of gossip. They'll be back before long.' He got up and walked round his desk. 'Come here and greet your senior officer properly.'
She walked into his arms and was soundly kissed before being pulled into a fierce hug. Wrapped in his arms, Gene's face buried in her hair, Alex knew she'd found her place in this world. Something she'd heard her first day here rang in her mind. 'Where the Guv is, is the place to be.' Ray. Of all people, it had been Ray who'd said it.
As the team filtered in after lunch, Alex watched them going about their day as if nothing had happened. Which, as far as they knew, was true. They gathered round the flipchart to pool information they'd gleaned, and to work out what to do with it. She felt oddly detached, although Gene was apparently the same as ever, hurling insults in all directions and mixing metaphors with abandon as he dunked ginger nuts in his tea and listened to his team.
As the day ended and the team scattered to Luigi's, home or otherwise, Gene beckoned Alex into his office. 'Want to come back with me tonight?' He spoke softly in case of stray ears.
She put her head on one side, considering. 'Could do, I suppose. What's on offer?'
'Kebab and a video, once you've done a couple of hours' sanding.'
'Good decision.' His eyes glinted. 'Let's show our faces over the road for half an hour. Then you nip upstairs and stuff some knickers and your toothbrush in a bag, and meet me in the car.'
She saluted. 'Should we synchronise watches?'
'I'll synchronise you in a minute. Shift your arse, Truly Scrumptious.'
'Keep your hair on, Caractacus.'
She squealed as Gene goosed her, and skittered through his door, followed by her grinning DCI.
They lay quiet in each others' arms, bodies cooling and pulses slowing after another practice session. It was still early – they'd been in bed naked within sixty seconds of slamming Gene's front door. Well. In the bedroom, on the rug, to be accurate. They somehow migrated to the bed in the process, mostly because Gene was mindful of Alex's bruises, and the possibility of splinters off the still unvarnished floorboards.
'Why did we wait all this time?' Alex nuzzled his collarbone, tasting the salt on his skin.
'Point is, we've come to our senses, Bolls. Not before time, I grant you, but we've got all the time in the world now.' He kissed her head, sliding a hand over her bare back.
Have we, though? Have I? How long before Molly calls me back and I have to leave you? Alex wiped her eyes but failed to stop the first tears falling on to Gene's shoulder.
'Bolls?' He'd felt the tears. He lifted her chin so he could see her face; kissed her wet eyes. 'What's up, love?'
She couldn't tell him the real reason. 'Are you really leaving next week?'
'I'm leaving, yes. Don't have to go next week, but mid-June, latest.'
'Nothing could make you stay?'
'London's a swamp. The Met's a mess. Seems there are more villains in the Force than outside it, and I'm sick of fighting internal battles over budgets and red tape and bad press. We work like one-armed paper hangers and get fuck all result. And the footie project's important. Affects a lot of people. Interesting work and I've got a free hand. A tuppenny-ha'penny budget, but a free hand. Can't pass it up, Bolls.'
'No, course you can't.' She rolled on to her back and put an arm over her face, shielding her eyes from him. She'd been kidding herself. Whatever he felt for her, it wasn't enough to keep him in London; she couldn't compete with policing, football and the North. She had three choices: wave him goodbye and hope something would yank her back to 2008 before she broke her heart over him; keep the fragile relationship going long distance as long as she could; or try to follow him north. She moved her arm and opened her eyes.
Gene was lying on his side and had propped his head on one elbow so his face was only inches away; his eyes were glowing for her, the first time she'd seen him deep-down, unreservedly, simply happy.
They got lost in each other for a while. Then both spoke together.
'Take me with you –'
'Come with me, Alex…'
They broke off, but he nodded at her. 'You first.'
She swallowed. 'You'll need a psychologist. All those deviant personalities…' Her heart was in her throat.
'South Yorks Police, yeah. The hooligans are no trouble.'
Did he think she was joking? She was about to say something more, but he put a finger to her lips.
'I've already put your name forward, Bolls. Told the brass I couldn't do the job without you.'
She replayed the last few seconds in her head. What did he just say?
The smile was mostly in his eyes. 'Oh, you should see your face.'
'What's the matter with it?'
The penny dropped. 'What do you mean, you've already put my name forward?'
'Just that. I told them if you didn't agree to join the team I'd have to rethink.'
'Wha– … you… wh–'
'I wasn't going to leave the woman I love for some poxy job the wrong side of the Pennines, was I?'
Despite her best efforts to look angry, the smile crept across her faces. 'You devious, low-down, sneaky –'
'Concealia est prudentia, Bolls.'
'The only bit of Latin I ever learned. My school motto. Sneaky is best.'
The laugh burst from her. 'Do you know what's wrong with you, Gene Hunt?'
Her features melted into a blissful smile. 'Nothing…'
That cracked him up, and he fell on her, laughing as he kissed her smiling mouth. He told her then, over and over, between kisses. And one thing led to another.
Having squared things with Marsden for Alex to transfer, and getting the details boxed off with the Assistant Commissioner, there was no reason to keep the secret any longer. Gene called the team together at the end of Wednesday's shift and gave them the news before taking them all across the road to let them absorb it over a keg of beer.
CID was subdued first thing on Thursday. The gloom only lifted at mid-morning when Ray and a posse of DCs responded to a shout in Stepney, and Black Olive went with Lucas to a depot in Shadwell to follow up a report about a missing container load of Donkey Kong and Space Invaders.
'Like we haven't got enough to do to sort ourselves out, without arranging the careers of the entire bloody CID.' Gene growled as he tried to snare a straw mushroom at the Wu Wei on Borough High Street that evening. Half the team had wanted to talk to one or other of them about their future.
'It'll be a major disruption, with both of us going.' Alex, adept with chopsticks, picked up the mushroom and fed it to Gene before picking up a strand of crispy beef for herself. 'How long did it take Ray to ask if he could go with you?'
'He hasn't yet.' At Alex's expression of surprise he nodded. 'I know. Me too.' He scooped up a mouthful of fried rice. 'Fact is he'd be quite good. I was thinking of putting him back in Manchester to sniff around the North West.'
Alex put her head on one side, thinking, then nodded. 'Yeah. He could be very useful. He'd infiltrate easily, but he's lazy and undisciplined if he hasn't got you to stamp on his head.'
'There's a DI in Preston who might be interested. He knows Carling. I'll have a word when I get up there.'
'What about Chris?'
'No. I need self-starters. Chris needs his hand holding, and he wants Shaz to hold it.'
'That's the thing, Gene. I'd really like Shaz on the team. She's bright, well-informed, a hard worker and brave. She'd be perfect for getting at the hooligan WAGs.'
'Wags?' Gene shook his head, frowning.
'Wives and girlfriends. They'll overhear what their men are planning, and they'll have to clean up the bloody noses and scraped knuckles on Saturday nights. Some of them must be fed to the back teeth with it.'
Gene regarded her through narrowed eyes as he tipped the rest of his Tsingtao beer down his throat. 'You've been doing a lot of thinking in the last couple of days.'
She smiled, eyebrows flashing. 'You bet. It's exciting.'
'You coming up to Sheffield for the job, or for me?'
Alex reached across the table and squeezed his hand. 'For you, Gene. But it is a brilliant job.'
'Hmph.' He bit through a king prawn. 'Shaz isn't going to leave Chris in London.'
'He's not going to want to be left.' She snaffled the pork ball Gene was chasing round the dish and ate it, grinning at his indignation. 'I agree he wouldn't add much to the team, but there's bound to be a Skelton-sized hole in South Yorkshire somewhere.' She picked up another pork ball and offered it to Gene, who bit it off the chopsticks, holding her gaze with eyes that promised good things for later. She felt quite hot all of a sudden.
She slipped a foot out of her shoe and slid it slowly up Gene's shin, watching tiny muscles in his face shift, his eyes glittering. Alex reached for a spring roll and wrapped her lips around it, slowly and knowingly; Gene sniffed and looked round for a waiter.
'Bill, please. Now!'
At two o'clock on the last Friday in May, Gene changed down to second gear as the car nosed up to the traffic lights where the A1 met the North Circular at Hendon.
Alex was rooting through the glove compartment, where Gene kept his cassettes. 'Got any Tennessee Arnie Ford tapes?'
Gene turned a puzzled face towards her. 'Tennessee Ernie Ford?'
'Yeah.' She sounded a bit defensive. 'Or Rider Haggard?'
Gene exploded with laughter. 'Merle Haggard, you dippy city tart. No. Try Johnny Cash. There, look.'
'Ring of Fire?' Alex was scoffing at the title.
'They like their chilli hot in Texas.'
The lights changed and they crossed Hendon Lane; a couple of minutes later the red Audi shot under the blue motorway sign and Gene accelerated on to the M1. Putting the Quattro into fifth gear, he took Alex's hand in his, kissed her palm and rested their joined hands on her thigh as he pushed the accelerator to the floor and headed north.
- end -
[For eagle-eyed reference spotters, there is a line in there from The Sweeney, two from Charade and another from the Persuaders.]
Thanks to you all for reading, and to those of you who review, a big fanfic hug.
Maybe see you after A2A3 (but I will finish Storm, I promise), but for now – adios, signorinas, as Gene might say.