Marie O'Neill hurried through the corridors of Fenchurch East police station wondering how the hell she was going to explain this.
"Seen the Guv?" she asked Michaels as she dashed past.
"No… he'll be at lunch by now," he called after her.
She'd transferred a year ago, not expecting to get promoted so rapidly. Despite her record and her qualifications, most DCIs would have passed her over in favour of one of her male colleagues. At first she'd expected that her promotion would have some kind of price tag attached to it. Hunt was probably the most misogynistic man she had ever met, but he'd never laid a finger on her… unlike some of her male associates who thought her arse was there to provide them with cheap thrills. Hunt could be a cruel bastard of a man but despite the shite he put her through he did listen to her opinions… sometimes. Would he listen to her this time?
Everyone at the station had heard about Alex Drake but no one dared mention the name, especially not in front of the Guv. As with all rumours, everyone told a slightly different variation of the same story. Her male colleagues told a triumphant tale of how the Guv had shagged and then dumped the best looking bird on the force. The WPCs were of the opinion that Drake had been a cruel, callous bitch who'd broken Hunt's heart when she left him for another DCI. Marie preferred to rely on the evidence of her own eyes. No matter how many attractive women sidled up to him of an evening, the Guv always drank alone.
In fact, she struggled to remember a time when she hadn't seen him with a drink in his hand or a cigarette dangling from his lips.
There was no one in CID when she burst through the door. Even though it was late, Marie was surprised to see that the Guv's office was empty. Hunt was usually first one in and the last one out. She thought about waiting until morning but the woman in the cells … Alex, had seemed desperate. Marie didn't want to face Hunt's displeasure if he thought that she had been withholding information from him. She'd seen him reduce grown men to tears and had no desire to suffer a similar humiliation.
Perhaps she could leave him a note? She scribbled a few words on a pad before ripping off the sheet and walking into the office to place it on his desk. Marie couldn't have said what made her hesitate. It was the first time she had been in there alone and her curiosity got the better of her. There was something about the way Alex had spoken that made Marie want to find out more about the man she worked for. There was suddenly more to Gene Hunt than met the eye. He had a past and the very idea intrigued her.
A cursory glance around his office told her nothing. There were a couple of newspaper clippings on the notice board, one of which looked as if it had been crumpled up and then painstakingly ironed flat. Neither of them mentioned a woman named Alex.
The photo was tucked away on the shelf behind the Guv's desk. On first glance it looked like nothing more than a shot of a group of friends at a party. Marie narrowed her eyes as she took in the detail. There was Gene Hunt, standing very close to a woman who was wearing a very short gold dress. They were smiling at each other, oblivious to anyone else in the group. Something about the photo brought a lump to Marie's throat. She had never seen the Guv smile at anyone, not like that. It was almost as if he…
But it was her. The woman in the cells… Alex. She was thinner than she had been when the photograph had been taken. No longer elegant, or even beautiful. But it was definitely her.
"Having fun are we?"
Marie looked up. He was standing in the doorway, the ever-present glass of single malt balanced between his fingers. She froze, unable to do anything but watch as he strode to her side, his hand clamping around her wrist.
"No one goes through my stuff!" he spat.
He wasn't drunk but the stench of whisky on his breath was overpowering. Marie held her ground. She had the feeling that this was too important to let go.
"It's her, Guv," Marie said, showing him the photo. "She's in the cells. She's asking for you."
Hunt took the picture from her trembling fingers, holding it reverently for a second before crumpling it up in his fist.
"Alex Drake disappeared two years ago."
"No, Guv… I'm telling you…"
Marie ducked quickly as the glass he'd been holding streaked past her head and smashed into the wall behind her.
"She said her name was Bolly!" Marie shouted at him.
Marie backed away, softening her voice in her attempts to get him to see reason.
"I think you should talk to her."
"Yes well… I don't happen to care what you think Detective Constable O'Neill. I care what…"
"Look Guv, she's probably as mad as a bag of bees but she must have got the name from somewhere. Maybe she knows something about what happened to your DI Drake?"
"That's the point, O'Neill. She's not my DI Drake… she never was."
Bollinger Knickers… Bolly … Bols… Lady B… The names flashed through his mind, some affectionate … some less so. The most annoying, argumentative, woman he'd ever had the misfortune to meet.
But when he'd realised that her negative qualities had been accompanied by a wicked sense of humour and the ability to drink most grown men under the table… If only she hadn't been so fucking gorgeous he might have stood a chance.
Gene Hunt poured the last dregs of whiskey into his glass, staring into the darkness and wondering what cruel cosmic joke had dragged Alex Drake back into his life. Beneath his fingers lay the crumpled photo. He didn't look at it… didn't want to. Didn't want to remember the night she'd put on a dress that barely covered her arse just to make him happy. Of course shortly after that everything had gone to shit. He'd shot her and she'd never trusted him again. When he sat and thought about it, he couldn't remember the exact details of her leaving. The memories seemed to slip away until all he could recall with certainty was the night, the music and the way she had felt as she danced in his arms. Gene knew his mind wasn't as sharp as it had been. He blamed the booze.
A mad woman shouting nonsense at him for no reason? He shouldn't have needed some wet behind the ears DC to state the bleeding obvious.
Alex Drake was back.
He had every right to leave her exactly where she was. Let her face the charges and finally rid himself of the lingering guilt that nagged at his gut, but he couldn't do that. He had to see her one more time, convince himself that she really did mean nothing to him… less that nothing. Leaving his half finished drink on the desk, Gene headed towards the cells.
Usually it didn't bother him that the place was a shit hole. As far as Gene was concerned, if you broke the law you shouldn't expect to spend the night in palace, but as he looked down on the woman sprawled across the bunk, he realised that there were limits. One of the other cells was still splattered with vomit… Sergeant Michaels quite clearly needed a kick up the arse. He used that thought to distract himself for a moment, anything to avoid looking at her too closely. But dreaming up creative punishments for the desk sergeant couldn't keep him occupied forever. It was Alex. He could see it now…. Despite the longer hair… the dirt.
And Gene knew that he couldn't ever walk away.
The voice was soft, barely breaking through pounding in her head. Alex wanted it to go away… she wanted it all to go away.
Louder this time. She felt a hand pushing back the rank mass of her hair away from her face and she opened her eyes.
Gene was crouching beside the bed. Alex stared at him for a moment, not quite believing the evidence of her eyes. She reached out, letting her hand rest against his cheek for a moment.
"Brought you this. Thought you might need it."
He pushed a mug into her hand. She instantly recognised the dark liquid… oxtail soup. Her teeth chattered as she attempted to sip the hot liquid. Her hands were shaking so much that she was in danger of spilling the soup. Gene however, took pity on her. Cupping his hands around hers, he helped her take a drink. Alex fought back a grimace. It tasted like the machine had half mixed it with coffee and orange juice.
"Why am I here, Gene?" she asked.
"You were picked up at Kings Cross, soliciting," he said quietly. "And in possession of a small quantity of heroin."
"Gene you know I wouldn't…"
Taking her hand, he rolled up the sleeve of her jacket. The track marks were livid on her skin. There was no denying the evidence before her eyes.
"What happened Alex?" he asked.
"I don't know," she said simply, horrified by the sight of her ravaged veins.
"And you expect me to believe that?"
"Gene… this is about trust, it's about faith. You said that to me once."
"Yes I did… and then you buggared off with Jimbo Keats and never said goodbye."
She frowned. Didn't he remember? Or maybe he wanted to forget?
"I was… I was somewhere else."
Alex was struggling to put her experience into words.
"Where's that? Just south of nowhere in particular?"
She shook her head. There was nothing she could tell him. Gene Hunt wouldn't let himself believe in anything that he couldn't touch or feel. She almost smiled when she imagined what his reaction would be. The oxtail soup was roiling in her stomach. She covered her mouth with her hand.
"I think I'm going to be sick."
Without a word, Gene helped her up and across to the toilet. He held her hair back as she threw up again. She leaned against him when she finally stopped retching, her fingers clutching at the lapels of his jacket, suddenly terrified that he would think she was no longer worth the effort and leave. Alex had no idea what was happening to her.
"How long's this going to last?" he asked.
"Heroin withdrawal… Symptoms will persist for 4-7 days," she replied, wiping her mouth.
"Right. Stay put. I'm going to talk to the super."
"To put in for some of that leave he owes me."
"Shut your gob woman. I'm taking you home with me… end of."