Disclaimer: I don't own the Ashes to Ashes characters or scripts, though I've borrowed the former and quoted liberally from the latter.
This chapter was written quite some time back, even before THOAL's midpoint installments were completed, but with the nagging sense that I still hadn't done the guv justice. Multiple rewrites and a few visits from the Rat of Despair later, here's the final version, ready for your reactions and reviews. Oh, and Siggy, I wrote a certain scene well before No. 36 of your "Rumours of Angels" appeared. Great minds with but a single thought.
Recap: After a journey that's taken him from Fenchurch East to Washington, D.C., to the door of the Railway Arms, DCI Gene Hunt achieves that much-anticipated reunion with his fellow armed bastards, and maybe someone who's been haunting his dreams...
The Heart of a Lion
Chapter 8: I Know This Much Is True
Dear God, that voice. Couldn't bear listening to it on those tapes, but now -
Alex squeezed past Raymondo - not that he seemed to mind - and staggered into the light. I thought for a moment she was going to tumble over on those high heels, but she got her balance and stood there, feet wide apart. Looked good, but then she always had done. Especially when she was smiling at me. Which she was.
"'ello, Alex." That's all I could say to her with that lot from the Railway Arms staring at us. And the look she was giving me.
"Gene Hunt - "
"Remember my name, then, do you, Inspector?"
"More than that, Mr. Hunt, more than - "
She clapped eyes on Skip then, and gasped. "Viv!"
"Ma'am." He nodded and smiled at Bolly, but she just stood there staring, not saying a word.
"I'm sorry," she said finally. "I didn't know. I - welcome." She took hold of both his hands, held on tight for a moment. "Welcome, Viv." Then I heard her sob and saw her put her arms about him. Did Skip a world of good, I reckon. Still, she was hanging on too bloody long.
I cleared my throat. "If you've quite finished, DI Drake."
Alex let go of Viv and turned round to face me. "I'm sorry. I thought you were - I mean, I thought - then it's not true?" She didn't say it loudly, but everyone seemed to hear and stopped talking straightaway.
And right about then Bolls started with the tears.
"Move along, people. Nothing to see here," announced Ray, pushing at shoulders, herding folk back into the Railway Arms.
"Coming in now, Guv?" asked Skelton, who was still standing about. Like he reckoned it was a good time for a chat. But Shazzer just gave me a look, then grabbed Christopher by the arm and dragged him off into the pub.
By then Ray and Nelson had got the rest of that lot back inside, leaving me alone with Alex, who was well and truly crying. Bloody dream had come true, or near enough to it.
"Come 'ere, Bolls," I said, and for once she didn't give me an argument. Even let me put a comforting arm round her - two of 'em, actually.
"Now then, Bollykecks, it's not that bad," I said, but she was too busy blubbing all over my jacket to pay any mind. "It'll be like old times - you and me, a table, bottle of house rubbish."
"No - what?" She raised her head from my shoulder. "But Viv - you're here to bring Viv - "
"'Don't know about that, Bolly. Was about to 'ead for the pub meself when Skip turned up. Nearly gave me an 'eart attack."
Her eyes misted over again. "Yes. Well, he had a long way to come.
"And you. You had a long way to come."
"Hm. Don't know the 'alf of it, Bolly."
"Maybe. Maybe not." She almost smiled but wouldn't look me in the eye. "But we've all come a long way.
"So tell me," she said, with both her hands on my chest. "Is it true? Is it really true?"
"That you're staying."
"Of course I'm staying, you dozy mare!"
Hoped that would get another smile out of her, but Bolls always did have to analyze everything. You could almost see the cogs turning inside her brain.
"Not for one night," she whispered. "Forever."
"'fraid so, Bolly. Sheriff's back in town."
"Yes," she said, giving me that smile. "Yes, you are." She put her hand up to the side of my face, then leaned in close.
Tasted like wine, and not the house rubbish.
Felt good too - every inch of her.
"You can use my Christian name now. Considering where I've got my 'and."
It'd been a long time since I'd heard Bolly laugh.
"Well," she said, leaning back for another good look at me. "It's a start."
Sounded like I was on a promise. No more unfinished business. No more -
"You smiled then too," Alex was saying.
"When?" I mumbled. And stopped her from answering me. I'd waited long enough for this, dreamed about it -
"Last time I saw you," she said, soon as she could draw breath. She ran her thumb along my lower lip. "Do you know, I'd hardly ever seen you smile."
"Didn't have the chance." We'd been too busy clearing the streets of scum, Bolls and I.
"But you did smile, right before you - right before you said, 'Go.' One word, just the one," she said, looking down, stroking my chest. "And yet it hurt so much.
"I think it took every bit of strength I had not to turn around and look at you again. Especially when I could feel your eyes on me.
"But I kept walking. I had to get that door open before I could look back at you one last time. And there was always a last time; I knew that. I'd known it since I was a little girl.
"I'd learnt something else too: Even the second chances didn't last forever. I'd still lose everyone I loved," she whispered. "Everyone I ever loved.
"And there it was, happening again. I'd almost lost Molly once before, you know, when she was little, and I'd have to lose her after all - "
I tightened my arms round Alex. "I know, love. I know."
" - and you. Only it wasn't true."
What wasn't true, Bolls? That you never -
"I'll see Molly again; I know that now. And you - well, you're here, aren't you?"
"I bloody am, so stop turning on the waterworks, woman. Beginning to think you're not glad to see me."
Alex smiled and sniffed almost at the same time. "Oh, I don't think there's any doubt about that."
"'Course not, Bolls. A bird's never 'appy till she's got something to cry about, is she?"
Her eyes went narrow. "Do you know something? Even here, even now, with all eternity staring us in the face, you're still the most difficult - "
She stopped talking long enough to give me a kiss.
"- stubborn -"
" - obnoxious -"
" - misogynistic, and reckless human being I've ever known. And rather missed." She stroked the side of my face and whispered, "No, not 'rather.' I've missed you so much. Even here."
Looked like she was about to start with the tears again, so I said, "Yeah. Yeah, and you, Bolly."
"'Yeah and you, Bolls' what?" she said, giving me another smile.
"Spent three years in my kingdom, Bollykecks. Enough time for me to get used to a posh bird like you." Hadn't been the same afterwards, either, hadn't been a day when I didn't wish she would -
"Oh, God, give me strength."
I couldn't tell by the look on her face if she was about to punch me or kiss me. Or maybe start crying again. But then she surprised me. Bolls always surprises me.
"Come on, let's have a drink. A very big one. You're here now; that's all that matters. And it's not as though we'll never have time to talk, will we?"
"Didn't come here to talk, Bollyknickers."
"No?" she said, cocking her head.
First thing I'd thought when I first clapped eyes on her was that she needed a good seeing-to. Still did. I'd turned down our first chance, Bolly had turned down the second - and maybe the third, fourth, and fifth ones too; I'd lost count - but there wasn't anything to stop us anymore, and if she kept looking at me that way I was going to have her right there, up against the side of the pub, soon as -
Bolls and I stopped in mid-snog and turned our heads towards the door of the Railway Arms.
Ray was standing there, red as a tomato. "Sorry, Guv," he said, looking at the ground. "Thought you might need backup."
He shrugged. "Bastard might've followed you and Viv."
Bloody Keats wasn't even there and he'd found a way to interrupt me and Bolls. Wouldn't do it again, though. Never again.
"Nah, that's sorted," I told Ray. "No worries."
"Good." He still wouldn't look me in the eye. "You coming in, then?"
"Keep your 'air on, Raymondo!"
"Right. See you in a minute, Guv. And you, Boss. Ma'am." He turned round and went back into the pub.
Soon as he'd shut the door behind him, Bolly started to giggle. "Dear Ray.
"Well," she said, "I suppose it's time we faced the music."
She stood there smoothing my collar, straightening my tie. Giving me that smile of hers, and that look. And we were properly alone, or at least would be until Skelton took it into his head to come back outside.
Assuming Shazzer didn't stop him.
Can't say how long Bolly and I were out there, but it was more than a minute. Long enough to make a start putting things right between us.
"Now then, Bollinger Knickers, what's that you said about a drink?"
"Come on." She took my arm, started to lead me towards the pub, but just before we got to the entrance, I stopped her one last time.
"Alex - "
She turned to look at me.
We went through the doorway then, Bolly and I. Nelson had put on the record by by that Bowie bloke, same as always. Don't know why he does that.
I thought we were never going to reach the bar, with all the people stopping me to shake my hand, even kiss me - Shaz and Annie already had, of course, but then Phyllis did the same and all. Phyllis Bloody Dobbs. Don't think Alex minded, though, and besides she was right next to me, always beside me. Like old times.
Then Caroline Price came up to us - I reckoned she hadn't spent much time in pubs; must've come for Skip's sake - and she shook my hand and said something over all the noise. I couldn't hear anything but the name Alex. Then I saw her smile at Bolly, who squeezed her hand and looked like she was ready to start blubbing again. Women. Completely baffling, even here.
Finally Bolls and I got ourselves a table, and people started coming over to bring me pints, and steak and chips. Alex rolled her eyes at the sight of it, but didn't say a word as I scoffed it all down. Best I'd ever had, and my first proper meal since that fry-up. The hospital grub didn't count.
After that we settled in, with everyone gathered round - Tyler and Cartwright, Carling, Granger and Skelton, of course, but Harry Woolf too, and even Litton, plus a few lads who'd joined the GLC when I had.
Might've been sitting there for a few minutes - or maybe hours; can't rightly say - when I noticed the record that was playing. Some American bird with a rough voice. I could just make out the words.
Because the night belongs to lovers,
Because the night belongs to us...
And I reckoned then was as a good time as any to make my move.
"So, Bolls, why don't you and I -"
But when I looked round, she was gone.
Couldn't have got far, though. Place wasn't that big. With any luck, I'd find her camped out at a table with Cartwright and Granger, drinking wine and talking psychiatry bollocks.
But Annie hadn't stirred from what I reckoned was her usual spot next to Sam, and Shazzer was sitting on Chris's knee. Young love. God help us all.
Left that soppy lot to it and started across the room to investigate the most obvious place. Bolls would be leaned up against the bar, I was sure of it, and in just a tick I'd clap eyes on her - firm, supple, with a peachy ripeness that was just begging for a good old -
But from where I stood I couldn't see Bolly or much else of anything else; there were more coppers in the place than I'd counted on, and they weren't exactly parting like the Red Sea. Half the blokes recognized me too, as I walked through the room, and wanted to get me a pint. By the time I reached the bar there was no sign at all of Alex, and nobody waiting there but a couple of the lads from London, and that Irish copper, who raised his whiskey glass and nodded at me. Couldn't stop for another drink, though, and I wasn't about to ask him if he'd seen Bolls. No, if anyone could sort this out, it was Nelson, only there was no sign of him either.
I went past the bar, left the lads to their pints and chasers, and found the doorway I wanted.
No answer. But I could hear voices coming from inside.
Of course I heard voices; Nelson had left the television on, to a program about another boozer. I could see beer and whiskey glasses everywhere, and almost as many blokes as you'd find at a football match, the lot of them singing at the tops of their voices.
And it's no, nay, never
With that everyone pounded the tables till the telly started shaking.
No, nay, never no more
Will I play the wild rover.
No, never no more.
Blimey, they were all coppers - and their missuses; I recognized that blonde sitting over at one of the tables. She must've known I was watching, because I saw her smile, then nudge the bloke next to her. Knew him too: a copper who'd got all those scars on the streets of the city. His city.
"Gene! Gene, what are you doing in there?" he said, grinning. "Bar's that way!"
"Oh, stop," said Barbara, pushing at his shoulder. "What he means is, we both know who you're looking for."
"We've seen her now, Gene, and she's lovely. I think she was even waiting for you - correction: is waiting for you."
"You heard the boss," said Marty. "Get back out there. But hey, no pressure - "
"You need something, mon brave?"
The telly had switched itself off, and Nelson was standing there, bottle of whisky in one hand, vodka in the other. "Something to drink?"
"Erm, not just now."
Nelson gave me a funny look, then shrugged his shoulders. "Suit yourself, Guv," he said, making for the door. Then he turned round, grinned. "Only I got single malt. You just say the word."
"Will do." I followed him out the door - and spotted Bolly standing on the other side of the room.
She had her back to me, but I knew it was her. She'd put on a white frock, cut low enough to show off that back, high enough for me to get a proper look at those legs. Almost all the way to her stocking tops.
"Yes, mon brave."
"Changed my mind about that drink."
"Single malt. And you got anything fit to serve a lady?" Don't you bloody say port and lemon.
Nelson looked across the room, then back at me. "A nice sauvignon blanc?" he said. "DI Drake's favorite."
I knew that; she'd told me once.
"Hm. Might do. Only I was thinking of something special. Something she 'asn't 'ad in a while."
Nelson grinned. "Something special. Yeah, I reckon I can manage that."
"Good man. Saloon bar. Five minutes."
"Coming right up, Guv."
Right, that was sorted. Now all I had to do was pry Bolls away from Caroline Price.
I had no idea at all what Alex would be talking about with the most brilliant barrister in the Railway Arms - only barrister in the Railway Arms, I reckon - but they were going on the way birds do. Then I saw Caroline take Bolly's face in her hands. Fandabydozy. I turn my back for a minute and those two start.
I was on my way over there when Caroline Price spotted me - and smiled. Bolls turned round, saw me coming, and then things got very bloody strange indeed: Alex was hugging Caroline, and I saw her stroking Bolly's hair - which she'd changed again; I'd noticed that earlier - but I didn't get there fast enough to hear what they were saying to each other.
By then they'd broken apart, and Caroline was standing there smiling again, bold as brass, while Bolls had gone a nice deep shade of red. Hadn't thought there was anything could make her blush. Not even the Gene Genie.
But she looked even better from the front, wearing that posh white silk - not too much of it, and it fitted her in all the right places - and her hair loose, and a bit less warpaint than she used to. Before I snogged her.
"Well, I see your sergeant's glass is almost empty," Caroline Price was saying. "And I could use a touch of pinot noir myself." She gave me another smile, and squeezed Bolly's hand before heading over to the bar.
Soon as she'd got out of earshot, I said to Alex, "So, Bolls, is it like this every night?"
"Is what like this every night? The noise level?"
"Yeah - no." It was bloody noisy, but I wasn't bothered about that. "I mean you. Looking like that."
"No," she said, her eyes misting over again. "No, tonight is special."
"Got plans, then, Bollyknickers?"
"Quite a few, actually," she said, looking right at my mouth, then back into my eyes.
"Mm. Time for a drink first?"
"Of course. We've got nothing but time, Gene."
"Best make a start, then." I put my hand low on her back, just above her arse, and gave her a bit of a nudge in the direction of the saloon bar. Felt Bolly quiver soon as I touched her, and then she was looking back over her shoulder and smiling at me.
You've either got it, my friend, or you haven't.
We found ourselves a table and had just time enough to settle in before Nelson came over with our drinks: scotch for me, something girly for Alex.
I picked up my glass. "You and me, Bolly," I said, clinking it against Alex's. "You and me."
"Forever and a day," she said, and took a sip of that cocktail Nelson had made for her.
"That's red as a baboon's arse, that is."
"It's called a cosmopolitan," said Alex. She looked over at my glass of single malt and smiled. "And you're drinking whisky."
"See, that's us, Bolly," I said. "Posh totty and a bit of rough."
"Uptown girl, downtown man."
"Southern lass, northern lad."
"Woman in white, man in black. Gene...Gene, I'm sorry."
"What about?" Don't you dare, Bolls. Don't say this is a mistake.
"I'm sorry I left."
I relaxed and had another mouthful of whisky. "Told you to go, Bolly," I said, shrugging. "And you listened for once."
"No, not that," she said, tracing the rim of her glass with one finger. "I meant the night before."
Oh. That night.
"I'm sorry, Gene. Sorry that I left you alone."
"Are you, Bolls?"
"Yeah," she nodded. "You know what they say: 'Woulda, coulda, shoulda,'" she said, running her fingers up and down the stem of her glass. "What might have been. So many regrets.
"Of course I can never make it up to you -"
"Yes, you can."
Made her blush again, but she smiled at me. "Well, I thought if we can never have that particular night back, maybe we can have something better."
"Hang about. You mean these plans you've got for this evening -"
"They involve you, yes."
"And this is you apologizing." Wasn't a question.
"If you mean the dress, the stockings, the flirting, yes," she said. "Yes, it is."
"Blimey, Bolls, if this is how you apologize, we ought to fight more often." Every day, in fact.
"Mind you, could be a big job," I added, looking her straight in the eye.
She smiled. "Well, I'm up to the challenge."
"Oh, so am I, Bolls. So am I." Had been since I'd seen her - the first time, mind you, the very first time.
"And I'll tell you another thing," said Alex. "I'm not distractable anymore. Now I finish what I start."
"Is that right?"
She nodded, took another sip of her drink, and licked her lips. "I like to see things through - to a satisfying outcome.
"And Gene -"
" - I'm not going anywhere, ever. I'll be here. If you want me."
If I wanted her? Of course I wanted her. Always had. Always will.
"Get your coat, then, Bollykecks," I said in a low voice, softly as I could. "You've - "
I looked up and saw Viv coming across the room towards us, full steam ahead.
"Bad timing, Skip." Worst timing ever.
"I only just heard," he went on, like I hadn't said anything. "And I've got to say - "
"Going to have to wait, Skip." Till tomorrow. Or maybe a week from now. Month, probably. Or forever.
Alex was nodding at him - just slightly, just so I could see - but smiling a bit too, and Viv smiled back at her, smiled as I never thought I'd see him do again.
"Right. Sorry, Guv. Of course it can wait."
"All right, then."
"See you later, Guv. Ma'am."
"Okay, Bolls. Out with it," I said when Viv had gone. "What's the secret?"
"Secret? There are no secrets here, Gene."
"There's something you 'aven't told me, though, isn't there?"
"It can wait," said Alex, picking up her glass. "It can definitely wait."
"Yeah. Well, I can't anymore," I said. "Is there somewhere we can go and not be interrupted every bloody minute?"
"We could pop up to my place."
"What? Like your flat above that Italian restaurant?"
"Oh, it's much nicer than that," she said. "This is heaven, remember?"
Mind you, we still had to fight our way through the crowd again to reach the stairs. And it was noisy in the Railway Arms, what with the record playing: another American bird with a hard, raspy voice.
Just take it! Take another little piece of my heart now, baby!
Must have been someone from CID who put it on, because Raymondo, Shazzer, and Annie were singing along, and Chris was thrashing about, pretending to play the electric guitar, while Sam just sat there grinning in that way he has.
At the next table Phyllis had her port and lemon, her ciggy, and a bit of a laugh with Viv - birds of a feather and all, and Skip looked more and more like his old self.
I spotted Caroline Price, too, going on about something to that Irish copper. Must've prised him off the bar while we weren't looking.
Any road, Alex and I left the lot of them to it, and kept moving towards the stairs.
"Oi, Nelson! Got any Herb Alpert?" I called out as we passed the bar.
"Of course. Whatever you like, mon brave."
"Although, under the circumstances, 'Deh vieni, non tardar' from The Marriage of Figaro would be much more appropriate," said Alex. I didn't have a clue what she was on about, but anything that put Bolls in the mood was all right with me.
Nelson was grinning back at her. "You like opera, Boss?"
"I love it!"
"Got that too, any version you want. Sit down, stay a while," he said, jerking his head in the direction of the saloon bar. "It's a nice long one."
"Uh, Bolls - "
"On second thought," said Alex quickly, "maybe later."
"Yeah. Not tonight, mate," I said to Nelson. "But let's have a bottle of Bollinger."
"Knickers optional," added Bolly, leaning against me.
Don't know if Nelson heard her - didn't look like it; he just passed the champagne to me, and two glasses to Alex - but even if he had I wasn't going to hang about for explanations.
Move along, people. Nothing to see here.
Right. One hand on the bottle, the other on Bolly. Up the stairs, two at a time. Could have made it three, the way I was feeling.
There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as
evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organization. If
there are such things as angels, I hope that they are
organized along the lines of the Mafia.
Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan (1959)
"Because the Night" was written by Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen. I recommend reading all the lyrics - under the circumstances, of course - plus a translation of "Deh vieni, non tardar" from The Marriage of Figaro.
"Piece of My Heart" was written by Bert Berns and Jerry Ragovoy, and recorded by Janis Joplin.
"The Wild Rover" is a traditional song sung all over the world and recorded by more artists than can be listed here.