All was quiet at Fenchurch East. For once there was no impromptu football match in the corridor, no witnesses were being dragged kicking and screaming into the interview room, and Gene Hunt and Alex Drake weren't having a blazing row in the middle of the room. In fact, there was an air of something akin to civilisation pervading the station.
Christopher Skelton, feet up on the desk in front of him, was flicking through a file of witness statements with a casual detachment that suggested a mildly interesting football report rather than an armed robbery. Opposite him, Ray Carling was asleep, his head nodding onto his chest, snoring lightly. Chris aimed a pen at him, missed, and looked round to check that no-one was watching. The room was almost entirely deserted. A couple of WPCs were rifling through filing cabinets and one or two men were slumped over their desks, cigarettes hanging from their mouths, in a kind of inane stupor.
The corridor door opened suddenly, letting in a gust of fresh air, the smell of strong coffee, and Shaz. Chris straightened up and grinned at her, feeling a disproportionate sense of achievement when she smiled back. Perhaps he had too much time on his hands.
"Busy in here, isn't it?" Shaz said dryly, handing Chris a cup of coffee and setting one down in front of Ray, who muttered something unintelligible and jerked awake. Shaz perched on the edge of Chris's desk, cradling her mug in both hands.
"I've been thinking...about the seating plan, d'you think it's a good idea to have your mum next to mine? They didn't exactly get on last time they met, and I don't want anything to –"
"Give over, you two," mumbled Ray grumpily, reaching for a cigarette, none the happier for having been woken suddenly. "I'm happy for you, an' all, but this bloody wedding is taking over my life, and I'm not even the one tying the bleedin' knot."
"Cheerful bugger, you are," said Chris mildly.
"You can hardly blame me, can you?" Ray crossed his arms irritably over his chest and regarded Chris with a faintly accusatory expression. "What with you two wetting yourselves over bridesmaid dresses on the one hand, and Drake and the guv making eyes across the room on the other..." He shook his head and lifted his mug with an air of resigned annoyance.
Chris swung his feet off the desk and leaned forward conspiratorially, taking advantage of the almost empty room. "Hey, do you reckon Drake and the guv are...y'know..." He trailed off uncomfortably and cleared his throat. "Well...y'know..."
"Shagging?" Ray snorted. "Course they are. I'd put money on it."
Chris frowned. "I dunno, they always seem about to rip each other's heads off these days..."
"Rip each other's clothes off, more like," chuckled Ray with characteristic glee. "It's only a matter of time, if they ain't done it already. Have you seen –"
"Well, I think it's sweet," Shaz interrupted, resting her elbows on the desk in front of her and frowning disapprovingly at Ray. "Unspoken love, like. It's so romantic. Both of them thought it was unrequited, and then one day..." She gazed dreamily into the middle distance and trailed off.
Chris coughed pointedly. "I dunno Shaz, don't sound much cop to me. Anyway, it's not really the guv's style, is it? Unrequited love, and that."
The door swung shut behind them and Ray glanced around swiftly, making sure that the guv and DI Drake weren't about to walk in on their conversation. He waited until whoever it was had passed them by before turning back to Chris and Shaz and raising his eyebrows. "I dunno about that, but if they're not shagging, I'm the bleedin' Dalai Lama."
"Never mind. Div."
Shaz checked her watch. "Okay, I promised the guv I'd look out those old files this morning. Try not to get into too much trouble while I'm gone, boys." She paused on her way out and tapped a piece of paper lying on Chris's desk. "You won't forget about this, will you?"
"Course not." Chris looked slightly pained. "Would I? Can't wait."
"Great." Shaz grinned at him, either oblivious to his sarcasm or pretending to be. "See you later, then."
Chris watched her leave the room, and then pulled the piece of paper towards him with a resigned and somewhat tortured sigh. Ray cracked his knuckles, grimaced and set to work on a pile of miscellaneous and mind-numbingly boring forms. For a moment, silence reigned. Then Chris, scratching his head with the tip of his pencil, leaned back from his desk and frowned.
"Hey, Ray, what's a chrys..a chrysanth...this thing?"
"A what, mate? Let's have a look." Ray stubbed out his cigarette and bent over the list on Chris's desk. "Lilies? Geraniums? What is this, flower arranging?" He recoiled in disgust. "Chris, you twonk."
"Centrepieces," Chris muttered gloomily. "For the wedding. Dunno why Shaz thinks giving me this is a good idea. I dunno what half of it means."
"I don't know. Flower arranging." Ray snorted. "Tell her where to get off, mate, that's out of order, that is. Flower arranging. It's for girls and poofs, that's what it is."
"I can't tell her where to get off, Ray, I'm marrying her, aren't I?" said Chris in exasperation. "Anyway, I can't complain, she's doing everything else. How difficult can it be? They're all flowers, right? No-one's gonna notice anyway, I'll just..." He sketched some vague pencil lines between some of the names, screwing up his forehead in concentration. Ray watched him for a moment, his expression becoming increasingly pained.
"Hey, hey, Chris, you can't put them two together, mate," he burst out finally, stabbing the paper with his forefinger. "That one's pink and that one there's orange. Recipe for disaster. You'll have all the guests puking in their vol-au-vents."
Chris looked at him blankly. "Er...okay..." He returned to his list. "I'll stick these two together instead then...they'll look okay, right?"
Ray cast a cursory glance over the list and sighed in despair. "No they bloody won't. Have you ever seen a delphinium, mate?"
"Er, no..." Chris laid his pencil down in frustration. "Hell. I'm never gonna make this work, Shaz is gonna kill me." He paused. "Since when did you know so much about it, anyway? Are you, like, an expert or something?"
"Don't know what you're talking about. What do you think I am, a poof?" Ray turned away and hurriedly immersed himself in some files lying on Chris's desk. Chris leaned back in his chair and tapped his pencil against his teeth, a grin spreading across his face.
"No, it's just...you seem to know a lot about this flower arranging stuff. Seeing as how you said it's "for girls", an' all. How do you –"
"Drop it, Chris, will you?" Ray hissed furiously, glancing around the room in trepidation. "Look, I've got work to do. Good luck."
"Ah, come on, mate!" Chris held out the list, a pitiful plea for help. "I don't care if you've got a secret flower arranging hobby. I don't bloody care if you're a ballerina in your spare time. But I really have to get this sorted, and if you can help me I'd really...I'd really appreciate it. Before Shaz gets back. Please, Ray?"
Ray's expression remained thunderous for a moment as he stared at Chris's outstretched hand. Then, making sure no-one else was watching, he sighed and held out his hand to grab the paper.
"All right then, give it here. I'll have a look." He held up a hand to stem Chris's grateful thanks. "On one condition. You mention this to anyone – anyone – and you're on your own. Deal?"
"Deal." Chris folded his arms and leaned forward to watch as Ray pored over the list. "So how do you know all about this stuff?" He squinted at the paper, trying to decipher the names that Ray was circling. "I don't even know what most of it means..." Ray rolled his eyes and glared at him.
"Fine. If you must know...I worked in one of them flower places for a bit before I joined the force. For two months!" He added hastily as Chris's eyes widened in amused delight. "Look, I needed a way to earn some money and it wasn't difficult...stop smirking, will you?" He shoved a pen at Chris, who was still chuckling in disbelief.
"What am I supposed to do with this?"
"Write what I tell you, you div. I can't do it; Shaz'll know it's not your writing. Quit it, will you?" he added impatiently. "I'm doing you a bloody favour here."
"Sorry, sorry. Maybe when we're done I could get you a thank you present. A bunch of flowers? You could put them on the mantelpiece or something. Or, hey, they might look nice on your bedside table..."
"Shut it," said Ray warningly. "Okay, write this down..."
By the time Shaz appeared half an hour later, the list of centrepieces was completed, and Chris and Ray were engaged in a heated game of darts in the guv's office. Shaz dumped a few dog-eared files on her desk and joined them.
"All right, Shaz?" Chris grinned at her and missed the dartboard by several feet.
Ray shook his head. "Twonk."
"You two have been in here all morning, haven't you?" Shaz sighed. "Centrepieces, Chris?"
"Oh, er..." Chris handed his darts to Ray and headed over to his desk, skirting round the piles of discarded evidence and general clutter. "Centrepieces, yeah. Hang on a mo, Shazzer."
"You've done them?" Shaz looked grudgingly impressed, and a smile spread over her face.
"No need to sound so surprised," said Chris indignantly, avoiding Ray's eye. "You only gave me one thing to do, did you think I'd forget or something?"
"Well..." Shaz stretched out her hand. "Let's have a look, then." Chris and Ray shared an apprehensive look as she skimmed her eye down the page. When she reached the bottom of the list, to their great surprise, she looked up at them with tears in her eyes.
"Oh Chris, they're going to be beautiful!" She threw her arms around him. "Thank you! I knew you could get in touch with your feminine side if you tried." Ray spluttered into his mug of tea. Shaz glared at him and turned back to Chris. "This is going to be perfect...you've got all the colours exactly right, and the combinations...did you really do all this by yourself?"
"Well, erm..." Chris caught Ray's eye over Shaz's head and raised his eyebrows questioningly. Ray winked and gave him a thumbs up. Shaz was looking up at him expectantly. Chris shrugged offhandedly. "Well, y'know me, Shazzer. I'm multitalented. Flower arranging? Piece of cake."
"D'you want to see the finished seating plan?" Shaz said eagerly, pulling a folded sheet of paper out of her pocket. "I left my mum where she was in the end, they can hardly start scratching each other's eyes out at a wedding..."
"Nothing like a healthy relationship with the in-laws," Ray chuckled. "Hey, Shaz, who've you put me with, then? Let's have a look." He scrutinised the paper over her shoulder. "Rebecca. Who's she then? Pretty, is she? Nice pair of –"
"She's my niece, Ray." Shaz sighed and then laughed despite herself. "She's twelve."
At that moment, the door opened and Gene Hunt and Alex Drake swept into the room. Reluctantly, Chris and Ray abandoned their game of darts and hurried out of the office. Shaz handed the files to DCI Hunt, who gave them a cursory glance and threw them onto the enormous pile of paperwork spilling over his desk.
"Right! Christopher, Raymondo, I want to see some progress on the drugs case you're allegedly hard at work on...jump to it. Shaz, I need you to find out everything you can about this bloke." He pushed a battered folder at her and clapped his hands together. "Off you go!"
"Guv," Ray complained, "we've done this case to death, you know we have. There's as much chance of us getting a lead out of this one as there is of Chris making superintendant."
"No giving up, Raymondo. One final push and tomorrow the drinks are on me. Deal?"
"Tomorrow?" Chris looked surprised. "Not coming down the pub tonight, boss?"
"Not tonight, no." For a moment, DCI Hunt looked almost shifty, his arms swinging awkwardly at his sides. "I've got...er, places to be. Sights to see. Things to be doing." He coughed uncomfortably and surveyed his team with a fierce glare, before turning around and heading into his office. "Unlike you lot, apparently. Chop chop!"
"Oh..." Chris's surprise was compounded with a look of deep confusion. "What about you, ma'am? You up for a pint after work?"
"Sorry, Chris?" DI Drake's smile was just a little too bright, a little too fixed, her tone ever so slightly too casual. "What did you say?"
"Er, the pub..." Chris floundered. "...after work?"
"Oh," she said vaguely, pulling some papers out from a pile on her desk, smile still firmly in place. "No, sorry. I've...er, I've got plans, actually."
"Plans?" Ray grinned. "Anything interesting, ma'am?"
"Not particularly, DS Carling," she responded sharply, pinning him to the spot with one of her piercing looks. "Not that it's any of your business, but no, nothing you would be remotely interested in." Leaving Ray, Chris and Shaz staring in bewilderment at her back, she gathered up her papers and swept into the guv's office, closing the door firmly behind her.
"Ray..." Chris gazed after them, comprehension slowly dawning on his face. "What you were saying before... that makes you the Dalai Lama, then, does it?"
"It makes me emphatically not the bloody Dalai Lama," said Ray, torn between frustration at Chris and gleeful delight at the revelation. "Div," he added as an afterthought.
"So are the guv and Drake really..." Chris trailed off, bemused.
"Looks like it." Shaz laughed, her expression slightly stunned. "Well...good for them. I suppose they think we're completely clueless, don't they? Typical. God knows how they thought we wouldn't notice, but there you go..."
Tearing his gaze away from the office door, Ray rolled his eyes and returned to his paperwork, muttering a superior and distinctly triumphant "I told you so..."
Shaking her head in baffled amusement, Shaz turned back to her desk and started to shuffle through the mounds of files and papers in front of her. "Chris, what have you done with the flower arrangements? I want to take them round to –"
"Christopher, you pathetic nancy-boy twonk!" The office door flew open without warning, bouncing back on its hinges with a deafening slam. Gene Hunt appeared in the doorway, brandishing a piece of paper. "What the bloody hell is this?"