This is a bit shit. Whatevs.
It was an ends and means thing, calling Alice. Jenny was fast asleep, snoring loudly in the room at the end of the hall, but he'd turned the volume up on Eastenders just enough so that his voice wouldn't wake her. He'd hesitated over the buttons on his phone, his fingertips ghosting over the numbers, on then off then on, while he picked up and replaced the phone on the hook. He had put Alice away, so he'd thought. Hogtied her in a pink bow and locked her up in a drawer in the back of his head, never to be looked at or moved. Calling her, asking her for a favour, meant letting her out, letting her in; they had finally reached a steady equilibrium in their relationship - her killing Iain was repaid by his stunt with the apple and the key card - and it suited John just fine, not having to owe her one. But this would mean upsetting the balance.
Jenny had been an unwelcome distraction, an even more unwelcome burden, but something about her made him smile. He wasn't attracted to her. Yes, she was an attractive girl right enough, but he didn't want to sleep with her like he had Zoe or Alice. It was more to do with the fact that she so strongly resembled the girls he had stumbled across during investigations - rape victims, prostitutes, bullies, and junkies - that he had been overwhelmed by the desire to protect her, and even after he knew she was safe, something still nagged at him to look after her. It was that same feeling that had driven him to digging out the ten digits Alice had neatly penned and slipped into his wallet.
It was a Spanish number; underneath was the name 'Lolita'. John had to chuckle, and, after his frantic bout of pacing and heavy sighing, he gave in and dialled, pressing the phone to his ear so tightly that it hurt
It took her only a moment to answer. "You don't call, you don't write… And here I was beginning to think you had forgotten all about me." Her tone was cool, collected, but he could hear a hidden tightness in the back of throat that betrayed her excitement and - dare he think it? - happiness at his call. He squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose. This was a mistake. His bones knew this was a mistake. On the telly he could hear Barbara Windsor rallying up to start spreading some rumours about this, that and the other.
"Alright?" He said, feeling rather put out. Only one word into the conversation and already he was losing their game of one-two. Alice sighed breathily, like a lovesick schoolgirl with a crush on the handsome teacher.
"Is that all you have to say? After all this time?" It had not been so long, John thought, but then she didn't sound all that angry.
"What d'you want me to say?"
She made a sound somewhere between a giggle and a sigh. "I miss you, come back, I can't live without you, I've done something terrible and I need you to help me clean up the mess…" she took a shallow, short breath, "all of the above?" She didn't know how right she was and John was suddenly very grateful that this conversation was being had over the phone - he might be blushing.
"Sorry, not today I'm afraid," he said, not sounding the least bit apologetic, "Though I actually do need a favour."
"Oo, sounds naughty. Need me to top another copper?" She laughed airily; he imagined her sitting on a darkened pier, her toes skimming the surface of a river or an ocean, looking to the passerby for all the world a happy tourist on the phone to a loved one back home. But John knew better. Had he said yes, had he been serious, she would be here in a minute.
He let himself smile, though, and tried to sound amused. "Nothing like that. There's this girl," he heard her breathe in sharply, but barely, "a kid really," she exhaled, "that's run into a bit of trouble. You ever heard of a gangster named Baba? A woman?" Alice thought for a moment and then said no; John wasn't surprised. "She's a background character, on paper, but she's running the show. Anyway, Jenny - the girl - she's cocked it up and they aren't going to let it go so easy. I need a threat, a big one, against Baba."
"Oh, John, how sweet of you to think of me!" And she did sound genuinely delighted. "What do you need? Should I arrange a kidnap, cut off some bits? Go to her house or maybe break in and rearrange things-oo, the possibilities are endless!" She said gleefully; John had to stop himself from laughing, genuinely this time, at her enthusiasm.
"No, no, nothing like that!" He half-protested. He'd love to see Baba and Alice in the old one-two, but the circumstances that would have lead to that particular confrontation were not worth thinking about. "I'm going to drop you into conversation and I just wanted you to be aware." He took in a deep breath. "They might try to track you down, so watch yourself and, I don't know, be careful I suppose."
A very sudden silence fell between them. It lasted about a minute, then, softly, Alice said, "I'm touched, John. I didn't know you cared." John almost scoffed. Almost. He was stopped by the strange thought that it hadn't occurred to him either. Caring for Alice had never been number one on his list of preoccupying thoughts. Catching her certainly had been up there, but Zoe, Madsen, Mark fucking North, and then Iain and that whole mess had booted it from the top spot. Most recently it had been Jenny's cluster fuck of a business venture that absorbed all his time and energy. He'd had barely a moment to spare thinking about Alice, and even then she had only came up because she had literally shown up.
Sensing he was just this side of straying into dangerous territory, he began wrestling all of his Alice related thoughts back into their neat little box. "Just try and stay out of their way," he said diplomatically.
"Don't you remember anything? I am the Roadrunner."
He had to laugh. "That's right, I forgot."
All of the tension seeped out of him at the sound of those two little words. Meep meep. It summed her up nicely. In his head, late at night, he liked to think she'd never be caught. She would just be some phantom on the wall, disappearing into the night like a cat burglar, never to be seen again. His apprehension faded, he smiled happily and said, "Goodnight, Alice. And thanks. For the favour." She hung up on him and he returned to his life. The world span on.