Disclaimer: I do not own the Ashes to Ashes characters, or for that matter the movies mentioned below. If you want to avoid spoilers for A2A series 2 and 3 and/or any film, read no further.
I have inserted a couple of lines of dialogue from A2A, notably episode 2 from series 3, written by Ashley Pharoah, and episode 8, AKA That Finale, written by Matthew Graham. Many, many thanks to Al for taking the time to transcribe the whole shebang.
My five-part Guv-centric piece called "The Heart of a Lion," on which I've been hard at work, is still not quite ready for posting. Hence this bit of post-series 3 therapy to fill in the gap.
Thanks to Siggy for giving me just the right push to finish this, via her A2A story "Rumours of Angels." Extra points to anybody who can spot the references to Unforgiven and The Ox-Bow Incident.
You Want Romance? I Can Give You Romance.
How was time measured in this world? In pints of bitter and glasses of wine? In conversations and in memories? Alex didn't know.
What she did know was that there was finally no reason to rush anything, none at all. She could linger over a glass of wine, which was always good - no, perfect - and admire sunsets, and read books, and watch films, and talk, really talk, with Mum and with her friends.
Moreover there were no Twilight Zone or "Monkey's Paw" twists to any of it, no tricks played by malevolent forces, or even simple biology: no PMT, no hangovers, no irritation from the clouds of cigarette smoke in the Railway Arms. There wasn't even any rubbish on the telly in the saloon bar.
The afterlife was good. It was very good.
Not that it all couldn't prove bittersweet at times. When she'd come through the door she had remained wholly herself, or all her various selves: that little girl with traumatic memories; that woman staring down the barrel of a gun; even at times that lonely, weeping thing she'd been at the last. She hadn't forgotten any of it; it all remained inside, all of it.
But that too worked to her advantage. Her mind had always needed something to engage it, and why should that change in the afterlife? She could revisit her previous existences, any scenes she liked, and see them all perfectly, as though watching a film.
She could even, at times, reach out her hand and feel the past, just as it had happened...
I'm with Molly again, I'm watching her sleep. She has such soft, plump little hands, and the tiniest fingernails, and downy hair covering the crown of her head, and a rosy little mouth, so perfect...
It's the first day of school, and Molls is putting on a show of being confident, but I know she's my baby still, for all the bravado...I can tell by the way she holds on to my hand as we approach the gate...
Oh, God, I've just given her one last hug, and she's running away from me, she's running to meet Evan...
Here's a kiss, Molly. Catch it. Catch it!
Goodbye, Molls. Be strong. Be strong. You're surrounded by love - Gran and Granddad's, Evan's, and mine, even if you can't see me now.
But you will, someday.
We'll be together again. We'll be together.
Be strong. We'll be together again.
That was her mantra now, in this world, in this new world where there was finally enough time to contemplate everything.
Of course she saw images of Gene here too, for all that he had never belonged to her world - she'd slipped into his - and, as with Molly, the pictures were clear and bright, the sounds vivid:
Boots up on the desk. The door of his office opening, and Gene shrugging on his coat, pulling on his gloves. The squeal of tires as the Quattro took another turn and her stomach took another lurch. The clink of his glass against hers. The timbre of his voice. You and me, Bolly, you and me...
The film analogy was curiously appropriate, and painfully so, because if she could see and hear him in a crystalline mind's eye, she could not touch him as she could Molly, could not feel him lift her in his arms, take her hand, press his lips against her forehead...
Her other senses, and her active mind, would have to do.
And so she went over every last day, and especially those last months - each comment, each look. No matter how painful the memory, no matter how inconsequential the moment, she reviewed it all, every last thing she and Gene had said or done together.
Even the time they had filled out those bloody questionnaires for the dating agency.
"Favorite drink: bitter, but only from Central Manchester.
"Favorite film: High Noon.
"Most admired person: Winston Churchill.
"Philosophy on the opposite sex: maid in the living room, cook in the kitchen, whore in the bedroom."
"Favorite film: Thelma and Louise.
"Never 'eard of it."
"Hasn't come out yet."
"Favorite drink: sauvignon blanc, but only from the South Island of New Zealand...
"...and I've told you more than once, Bolly, Nelson Mandela IS a terrorist."
Alex had had plenty of time - in fact too much time - to contemplate those replies, Gene's and her own, and found the process more than a little disquieting. No matter how much she might have wanted to render the Manc Lion in marble, he wouldn't stay on his pedestal but come roaring back as the rough, blunt, tactless, infuriating man he'd been in life - no, in her mind - no, in the lines between life and death, between her mind and Gene's. She ought to have turned her back on him forever, might have done if she were the same woman she'd been, but there was no undoing it, any of it. He was impossible. He was everything she wanted.
As for her own replies to that questionnaire, she'd flattered herself that in life she'd been a responsible, reasonably well-adjusted adult, and self-aware - no, inordinately self-aware - but now had to cringe at the image she'd constructed for Elaine Downing of the Crescent Moon Dating Agency, for Gene, in fact for the whole of CID.
Naming Thelma and Louise her favorite film had seemed so cool and edgy and appropriately feminist of her. Bollocks. It was a movie about a pair of emotionally damaged women on the run from the law - in fact, from life itself. End of.
And the end of the old Alex Drake too - who'd been all about the law, all about the mind - seeing connections, understanding motivations, reading people. The truth was, she hadn't been able to so much as read herself, not wholly, and she'd paid for that, paid dearly.
How she'd loved life, difficult as it had been. How desperately she'd tried to hold on to it, for Molly's sake as well as her own. But then Gene had told her it was time to let go, and she had.
And where did it all end? At the doorway of the Railway Arms. Once inside she would be just another punter, just another screwed-up punter with a half-full glass and a sad story. Everything and nearly everyone stripped away - a cruel fate, or so she had believed.
Yet as she'd crossed the threshold, she felt something rushing through her, something she could not put a name to until afterwards.
Be strong. We'll be together again.
As for High Noon, no surprise there. Gene was the sheriff of Manchester, of Fenchurch East, put on Earth to battle evil, even if he had to do it by himself.
But that had been his tragedy, would always be his tragedy. There it was, and yet...and yet how else might they have known each other?
"High Noon? Cooper was brilliant in that." Ray paused in lighting his cigarette. "A real man's man."
"He wasn't well when he was making it, though," observed Shazzer. "You can see the pain in his face."
"It's called acting, Shaz," said Ray, with a lift of his eyebrows, followed by a smirk. "He got the Oscar for it and all."
"But he was ill, at the time."
"Oh, give over - "
"It's very much a film of its time," interjected Martin Summers. "Intensely political."
"Don't be daft," said Ray, abandoning one argument for another.
Martin was not deterred. "You don't see it, do you?" he said quietly, not looking at any of them. "The moral cowardice. The man abandoned by his own community."
A chill went through Alex, if a chill can go through someone in heaven.
"That's why he's heroic," said Ray impatiently.
"But he wasn't entirely alone," said Shazzer. "There were people still on his side."
"What are you going on about?" groaned Ray. "His deputy walked away from him. So did all the other blokes."
"The women stayed loyal," said Shazzer. "Well, two of them did. His wife and that Mexican."
"Do not forsake me, oh, my darling," sang Chris, in his best Tex Ritter twang. He put his arm round Shazzer and gave her a little squeeze.
"Loyalty's fine, but some things a man's got to do alone," say Ray, to a chorus of howls from the female coppers.
"Oh, for God's sake, Ray," said Alex. "Who among us hasn't needed to call for backup?"
"And sometimes the backup is a woman," said Chris, with a wink at Shaz.
"Or your best mate," said Sam. He looked at Alex. "Did you ever see Lonesome Dove?"
"No." She recognized the title, but westerns hadn't exactly been a priority in her previous life.
"What's Lonesome Dove?" asked Chris.
"Another western, but for television."
"What's it about?"
"Two lawmen. Best mates. Nothing at all alike." Sam was smiling, but a bit sadly, and Alex noticed that Annie had taken his hand and he was squeezing hers, perhaps unconsciously. In that instant Alex felt closer to both of them than she ever had.
"They take one last job, just the one. Only they don't know how it's going to turn out - everything down to luck, timing, chance encounters with genuinely evil men."
"Scum of the Old West," said Ray helpfully.
"Things beyond their control," finished Sam.
"Destiny?" said Alex.
"Destiny? If you like," said Sam. "I can't rightly say. Brilliant film, though. More realistic than most westerns. Great actors, too - Robert Duvall, that Texan who played his best mate - can't remember his name now - Anjelica Huston, Diane Lane."
"So it all isn't strictly testosterone-fueled," said Alex, savoring the opportunity to tease Ray.
Sam smiled. "The women are tougher than the men, some of them. Smarter, too."
Maybe Nelson had overheard their conversation and decided to take up the theme himself; he'd put on the Eagles again, "Desperado" this time.
"Ooh, I love this one," sighed Shazzer. "Dance with me, baby," she said, standing up and taking Chris by the hand.
"Can you dance to this?"
"Yes, you can dance to it," said Shaz, pulling him towards an empty spot on the floor.
And of course they could dance to it, thought Alex. Chris didn't even need any sense of rhythm. All he needed to do was stand in place and shift his feet now and then, and keep his arms about Shazzer, maybe plant a little kiss on her brow -
"I was never one for westerns meself."
"What?" said Alex, starting.
"I said I never much cared for westerns," said Phyllis Dobbs. "Romance, that's what I like. Ronald Colman. Ooh, that film he made where he can't remember who he is and all. Case of - what's it called - "
"Amnesia," prompted Alex.
"That's right; he had amnesia. First he can't remember who he is, then he can't remember her." Phyllis was fairly sighing. "Cried me eyes out over that one when I was a girl. What was the name of that film?"
"I don't remember," said Ray, blue eyes wide with feigned anxiety.
"Oi, you, you've got no romance in your soul at all. Most blokes don't."
"That's unfair," said Annie, with a smile, and a look at Sam. "And you have to give them points for trying."
"Love, I give them points for lots of things. Romance isn't one of them.
"Ooh, that Ronald Colman. Now there was a man."
"Now what's a beautiful lady like you doing drinking on her own again?"
"I just need a little time, Nelson. Just a little."
Nelson finished pouring the glass of sauvignon blanc, then corked the bottle, looked at Alex, and smiled. "We got nothing but time here, DI Drake."
Nothing but time. She smiled back at him, picked up the glass, and took a sip. "Of course they say hell is your own company, for ever and ever."
Nelson snorted. "No need for you to worry about that, ma'am."
"No?" Maybe Nelson knew something. Maybe -
"No worries," he repeated. "They sent you to the right place."
Sent. Yes, she'd been sent - by Gene.
You need me, Gene. I can't - I can't go in there!
Yes, you can.
Alex brushed the tears from her eyes and turned to look at Martin Summers as he approached the bar.
"All right?" he asked, deliberately casual, and she wondered if he'd seen how she'd sought escape from the cinematic fantasies of Phyllis's girlhood, and Shazzer and Chris's pas de deux. Of course he had.
Nelson appeared before an awkward silence might take hold. "Same again, mon brave?" he asked Summers.
"Please. And I think DI Drake needs another glass of wine. Or perhaps a brandy?"
"No, no, wine would be lovely." She leaned against the bar, settled in.
"So how many nights are you going to spend here on your tod?" asked Summers, taking out yet another cigarette and lighting it.
"I don't -"
"I know you don't," he said, extinguishing the match. "But sometimes you have to get away. I've seen it."
"Yes." Alex studied her wineglass. "You see, I love them all dearly." She'd shocked herself by introducing the word love, and in front of Martin too, but had to press on. "But they're - well, sometimes I get to thinking, get to remembering."
"We all do."
"You as well?"
"Oh, yes. It followed us, Alex. It all followed us through that door," he said, nodding towards the entrance.
"Yes." It was such a relief to hear someone say it, even if it was Martin. But why should that be so strange? There were things he knew about her that no one else did, not even Mum.
"Doesn't take much, does it?" Martin was saying now. "Anything can trigger a memory. Anything. A song. Even just a film." His tone had hardened - more like DI Summers than PC Summers. It was difficult to keep up sometimes.
"Yes, 'just a film,'" said Alex, waggling her fingers in midair. "An art form of tremendous psychological depth and meaning."
"Or not," said Martin evenly. "Sometimes it's nothing but car crashes and explosions." Too late he realized he'd employed precisely the wrong image. "I'm sorry, Alex. I shouldn't have -"
"No worries, Martin, I know what you meant. And nothing can hurt me, or my mother, not now." And yet...
"You don't have to pretend to be tough, Alex," he said, just as though he'd read her thoughts. "Not with me."
"Oh, but I am tough," she said resolutely, holding his gaze.
He looked away first. "That you are. Maybe you wouldn't be out of place in the Old West."
"Like in that film Sam was talking about?"
"Lonesome Dove. I'll tell you something about that," said Martin. "Those strong women are left on their own, more often than not. The men always find a reason to go." He paused, just long enough to let the phrase sink into Alex's brain. "Or they get themselves kicked by a horse. Or shot. Or killed on a fecking cattle drive. It's the way of the world, but there's no romance in any of it."
Way of the world. With an effort she said, "It sounds like a revisionist western. Then again, I don't know the story."
"That's too bad."
"And I suppose the men had good reasons for what they did."
Martin snorted. "'A man's got to do what a man's got to do'?" he said, in a passable American accent.
"If you like. I can respect it a healthy sense of obligation. What Gary Cooper has in High Noon."
"Ah, High Noon. Now there's a macho fantasy." Martin paused to take another drag on his cigarette. His expression was inscrutable. "The lone hero, willing to risk getting himself killed in the cause of justice."
Alex felt her fingers tightening around the stem of her wineglass.
"Even if he's got a beautiful woman in love with him, who's willing to give up everything to be with him."
"No, she isn't."
"She isn't willing to give up everything to be with him. In fact she expects him to change for her. Only she's the one who is transformed. Perhaps by the end they both are."
"Still, he risks losing her." Martin had turned towards her again, was looking very directly into her eyes. "He's too busy being a hero. Saving the world, or at least his little bit of it. His fantasy."
Several ounces of Nelson's best sauvignon blanc went splashing across Summers's face, and an awful silence fell over the punters at nearby tables.
Alex looked at her hand, and at the wineglass she was still clutching. "I'm sorry," she said, blinking at Martin. "I'm sorry. Did I really just do that?"
"Alex?" Ray had come over, closely followed by Sam.
"It's nothing, Ray." Alex grabbed the cloth Nelson proffered and was about to undo her work before Martin stopped her, took the cloth himself.
"I guess I had it coming," he said, wiping his face.
"We all have it coming," growled Sam, in an astonishingly good Clint Eastwood impression, clapping Martin on the shoulder.
"You're lucky it was just wine, mate," said Ray. "A man wouldn't feel his own jaw after her left hook." Then he pulled Alex aside. "You sure you're all right?"
"I'm fine, Ray."
"All right, then." He smiled at her, but a bit sadly. Then he leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek, whispering in her ear, "The winner and still champion."
In the end, it was all right, or nearly. She apologized to Martin, and he to her. There were no lies in the Railway Arms, but no grudges either.
By that time Sam and Ray had collected their drinks, and a packet of playing cards, and took those and Summers back to their table, after a halfhearted attempt to persuade Alex to join them. She wasn't much for games, except quiz night, when she was a fierce competitor and a much sought-after teammate, and she suspected Ray would only risk letting a plonk spoil his card game because he hated to see Alex left on her tod. Dear Ray.
She'd been standing alone for a few minutes, nursing her sauvignon blanc, when Mac arrived at the bar. While waiting for his whisky he turned to Alex and murmured, "So what could Martin possibly have said to you to earn himself a drink in the face?"
"You saw that?"
"Films. We were talking about films."
Mac was skeptical. "Just films?"
"High Noon, to be specific."
"High Noon, eh? Cooper's best, in my humble opinion. Do you know he never played a villain? Not once. Always a good man. Always."
Always a good man.
"Mac, I wanted to ask you - "
"I mean, I - do you still believe - "
"Believe? Believe what?"
That you can't help who you fall in love with.
"I - nothing. It's nothing."
"Doesn't sound like nothing.
"But I'll tell you a secret, shall I?"
Alex shuddered. "No, no, you don't have to -"
"It's just this: What I believed doesn't matter, not now.
"All that matters is what's true."
"Enjoyed that sauvignon blanc, DI Drake?"
"It was lovely."
"Care for another glass?"
"Not just now, thank you." But Alex didn't move from the bar. "Nelson, did you ever see a film called High Noon?"
"High Noon?" said Nelson, frowning uncharacteristically. "That the one with Cleavon Little playing the sheriff, and Madeleine Kahn as that German singer, and Frankie Laine - "
"Oh, wait, that was Blazing Saddles." Nelson grinned, and reverted to a Mancunian accent. "I'm just having you on, ma'am. Everybody knows High Noon."
"What does it say about a man if his favorite movie is High Noon? Bill Clinton's favorite movie is High Noon," added Alex, before Nelson could answer.
"Well," said Nelson slowly. "I'd say he's a man of courage. Faces challenges on his own, if he has to, even if no one else is willing."
"It's important to do the right thing. And for the right reason."
"Yeah." Nelson looked up. "But sometime good intentions go awry." He must have seen Alex's face change, for he said, very gently, "Ma'am, a barman's supposed to listen to your troubles and help you find the answers. He's not supposed to make you cry."
Nelson snorted. "Nothing to be sorry about. It's from the heart," he said, indicating his chest.
"Now, what can I get you?" He had reverted to the Jamaican accent. "Something to eat? Crisps? Or how about some nice steak and kidney pie?" He gave her a sideways glance, and an ingratiating smile, so that Alex couldn't helping laughing through her tears.
"No, thank you."
"A slice of that chocolate cake, then, and some coffee."
"All right. Thank you, Nelson."
"I knew it! Women always have to have their chocolate. Even here."
"Especially here," said Alex. "What kind of heaven would this be if there were no chocolate?"
Nelson laughed. "Now you're talking. Go and have a seat. I'll bring everything over," he said, nodding in the direction of the saloon bar.
Alex took a table by herself. Through the doorway she could still hear Ray's voice, and Chris's, and sometimes Sam's, but she had no desire to join in the discussion, or argument, whichever it was, or to watch them play. She had to think. She needed to be on her own and think.
He's too busy being a hero. Saving the world, or at least his little bit of it.
Gene Hunt would not lie a coward in his grave, damn him. That was the tragedy, his tragedy.
And hers too. Across time, across the barricades of life and death, more permeable than she had ever imagined, she had known him, he had known her. A lifetime apart, brought together by two senseless tragedies - well, not wholly senseless, if they'd found the connection between them, if they'd found each other, if they'd needed each other.
Yet in the end he had sent her on.
Can't have you putting me off my stride, can I? I mean, I'll end up wondering if I'm not completely right all the time. Can't have that.
And so he had gone his own way, and she had gone hers.
You've got to walk that lonesome valley
You've got to go there by yourself.
She wasn't Thelma, she wasn't Louise, driving off and leaving Harvey Keitel in the dust. She hadn't even had a choice; Arthur Layton had seen to that.
And perhaps Gene had had no choice either. Someone else had seen to that.
Destiny. That was it, wasn't it? The barrel of a gun, the bottom of a grave.
Wake up and smell the Paco Rabanne, Alex Drake. She'd been a fool to bristle at what Martin had said. He was right, after all. He was right, damn him.
Gene went his way, she went hers. End of.
"Ma'am.' Shaz would persist in calling her that, no matter how close they had become. But she also didn't ask whether Alex had been crying and, better yet, didn't ask why. She only put her arms round her DI and hugged her tightly, as Mum might have done if she'd been in the pub that night.
Nelson, with his impeccable timing, arrived after Shazzer had settled into the seat next to Alex, and promptly set off again to fetch PC Granger a cup of tea and some pudding of her own. He got back just in time to see Annie and Phyllis joining the other plonks, necessitating another round of tea, coffee, and chocolate cake. No wonder Nelson was so thin, given the mileage he racked up in a single evening.
"How are they getting on in there?" asked Shazzer, nodding towards the other room. "Is Chris doing any better?"
"I couldn't bear to watch," said Annie. "It's like a road accident."
Shazzer sighed. "Chris always was rubbish at cards."
"We thought we'd see what was on the telly," said Phyllis. "And don't tell me it's a western. I've had enough of that lot for one evening."
"Actually, it's Pride and Prejudice," said Alex brightly.
"Ooh, with Laurence Olivier!"
"No, Matthew Macfadyen."
"Never heard of him, love," said Phyllis.
"Don't worry. He's very good."
"I'm sure he is. Mind you, so long as it's a love story and not High Noon, I'll not complain."
Shazzer got a little smile on her face. "High Noon is a love story."
"Is it?" said Alex.
Shazzer nodded, smiled again. "Maybe blokes don't see it that way, but it is."
"A love story," breathed Alex.
"He needed her, ma'am, and he knew it. In the end he knew it."
"And he knew she would have done anything for him. "
"Well, yeah," said Shazzer. "Isn't that love?"
Strange, that even in heaven a film could make Alex believe in happy endings.
From somewhere in the distance a train whistle sounded.
Be strong. We'll be together again.
A/N: Lyrics to "The Ballad of High Noon" were written by Ned Washington. No copyright infringement is intended.
I can't tell you the origin of the lyrics from "Lonesome Valley." I'm not sure anyone can.