Alex's Wardrobe

Series 1

Episode 1
Navy jacket and trousers, white blouse = present day
White fur coat, red dress, silver necklace, earrings and bracelet, black tights, red high heels, black handbag
dark grey or navy jacket with turned up sleeves (red and white check trim)
mens stripy blue and white shirt with a white collar
white leather jacket, blue off-the-shoulder top, black beads, watch with a black strap
blue jeans, long black boots, black belt, black bra
pink off-the-shoulder top, pink framed sunglasses

Episode 2
burgundy and white spotted dressing gown
dark grey or navy blue skirt, red belt, white beads
white jumpsuit, gold necklace and bracelet, gold and pearl earrings, gold shoes, gold belt
grey dress, wide red belt
white blouse with a pussy bow, pale grey skirt,
red beads, red framed sunglasses

Episode 3
red off-the-shoulder top, black bracelet
Cat Woman = strapless black dress, necklace with a gold heart, black gloves, black cat's ears

Episode 4
white boots, white belt
red or dark pink blouse with pussy bow, red bra

Episode 5
black or very dark blue jeans
black nightshirt
gold handbag, black leather skirt, gold top with a black top over it, black bow in her hair, black ankle boots, fishnet tights
long white coat/mac, black dress

Episode 6
blue blouse with pussy bow

Episode 7
red jumper with a grey diamond pattern

Episode 8 -nothing new

Series 2

Episode 1
grey dress or jumper with a sleeveless white top with black spots under it
grey blouse, black and gold diamond shaped earrings
thick knit purple jumper, turquoise sleeveless top under it, round gold earrings
blue blouse
long t-shirt or nightshirt white with pale blue stripes

Episode 2
black and gold round earrings, black jumpsuit, black high heeled shoes, gold bracelet
blue and black checked shirt
blue v-necked jumper, thick black bead necklace
belt which is thick gold at the front and black at the back

Episode 3
dark blue jumper with red diamond pattern
red blouse
white pyjamas with red stripes, thick grey bed socks
purple top with pussy bow

Episode 4
gold necklace with a v-shaped pattern
long white cardi with black and grey shapes on it, white blouse with a pussy bow
blue top with a zip at the neck, thick white belt, dangly white earrings (possibly checkered or with black spots)

Episode 5
purple jumper
pale pink blouse, dark grey skirt
black shirt with white spots, large red hooped earrings

Episode 6
blue and white stripped top, red scarf, black beret, small red triangle shaped earrings
black jumper with stripes of different colours, black hooped earrings,
purple scarf

Episode 7
jumper with red, grey and white geometric patterns
cardi or waistcoat stripped in 2 shades of blue or grey, gold zigzag earrings (lightning)
slinky gold dress, large dangly gold and black earrings
blue top of thicker material
thick knit pink jumper
red blouse with white spots

Episode 8
D and G anchor blouse in blue and white, with a white top under it, large anchor earrings
blue jeans with white piping down the sides
white blouse with tiny red spots and a red trim, fan-shaped feathery red earrings

Series 3

Episode 1
blue and white checked scarf = present day
t-shirt with the NY skyline on it in blue and yellow, plain navy blue jacket
blue jeans with red piping down the sides
black jumper with pale blue, white and peach geometric shapes on it
pale or mid-grey jacket, big blue hooped earrings, blue and black top (tiger print)
white comb holding her hair back

Episode 2
Uptown girl video = black and white strapless dress, black hat with a brim
long white jumper or dress with black pattern and black trim at bottom
pink top with small black spodges (like paint), long thin dangly gold earrings
navy wide (cotton?) trousers
grey jumper with coffee pot and cup design in pink and yellow
black jumper with purple or red stripes
black or dark blue jumper or top with turquoise stripes
necklace with chunky red beads and small black beads
navy jacket with small flexs of other colours (turquoise, red etc)
white bracelet with black spots
turquoise blouse
white pyjamas with turquoise and grey stripes
necklace with black and white beads (look like dice from a distance)
long red top with a low back, large shiny black hooped earrings

Episode 3
black and white top (tiger print) with red sleeveless top under it, lightning brooch

Episode 4
turquoise top with a small white pattern, black and red (plaited?) necklace
black and red arrowhead shaped earrings
navy and white striped top, wide legged black or dark grey (cotton?) trousers
blue jumper with a black and white striped sleeveless top under it, red ankle boots

Episode 5
several strings of pearls, large old-fashioned pearl earrings
wide black and blue checked sash or belt at the waist
black dress or coat with a zip up the front and a belt, over a blue polo neck top
blue or purple tights

Episode 6
purple top
thick grey coat with white flexs (herringbone pattern?)

Episode 7
Viv's funeral = black shirt or dress?
red top with black splodges (like paint)
black dressing gown
white dress with a sash at the waist
black jumper

Episode 8
black and red striped jumper (Dennis the Menace) with a black sleeveless top under it

Babe in Arms

It had been an airless, stuffy night and the temperature in the flat was becoming increasingly unbearable. Alex couldn't sleep, she got out of bed and opened a window, but there was no rush of cooling air, it was still and clammy outside. She leaned out of the window, remembering the time when the CID boys had "mooned" in the street, for her benefit. She'd been shocked, but not really suprised, she knew Gene was a man of his word, however ridiculous the promise he made. In the still air she could hear sounds of traffic, distant sirens, and a high pitched whimpering cry, possibly cats fighting she thought, or urban foxes. Did they have those in the '80s? She'd have to keep her eyes open.
She dozed for a while, and then gave up trying, and decided to make an early start for work. Catch the criminals napping, she thought smugly to herself. Since she was early, she decided to put her rubbish out on the way, so she lugged a black bin bag down the stairs, and out of the back entrance of the building. There were several industrial size bins at the back of Luigi's restaurant, smelling unpleasantly in the stifling heat. She wrinkled her nose up, and braced herself getting a good grip on the bag, so that she could throw it over the lip of the nearest bin. Then she heard the whimpering cry again, somewhere close, she tilted her head, listening intently. Maybe a cat had got itself stuck inside one of the bins, she wondered, tempted in by the smell of yesterday's Italian leftovers. She had a sudden vision of Garfield and lasagne. Then she thought about the potential reality of some bedraggled moggie, caked in pasta sauce, and she really didn't fancy reaching inside the bin. The crying was going right through her though, it was amazing how much like newborn babies cats could sound. Oh my God! It couldn't be a baby, could it?
She scrabbled onto an upturned crate, and peered into the bin. Her stomach lurched as she saw a tiny bare leg wiggling between the bin bags. She leaned right over, stretching precariously, placed one hand behind the baby's head and gently lifted it out of the skip. The child was still alive, thank goodness, she breathed a massive sigh of relief and clutched her tightly to her chest. "You poor little mite" she clucked, stroking the child's skin and soothing her. She had no thoughts in her head, other than the child's wellbeing, at that point.
The rest of the world moved on without them, a mother and a child, each of them lost and clinging to each other. Without considering other options, Alex took the child up to her flat, and bathed her gently in a bowl of warm water. "There, that's better now, isn't it?" she asked her new charge, who was still whimpering periodically, although with less urgent intensity. "You need food and clothes" she pondered "and your mother" the rational part of her brain added, but she pushed that thought away for now.

It was well past the time that Alex should have been in the office, and her absence had not gone unnoticed. Gene kept glancing pointedly at her empty desk, and scowling at the world at large. The others kept their heads down and endeavoured to avoid drawing attention to themselves, whilst indulging in a little quiet speculation as to the cause of her absence. "A heavy night" was the consensus of oppinion (lewd gestures optional, courtesy of Ray). Ray's little pantomime was interupted by the phone ringing.
"Carling, CID" he grunted into the receiver.
"Ray, it's Alex, I need to speak to Shaz"
"Where are you Ma'am? The Guv's on the warpath"
"Don't tell him you've spoken to me, put Shaz on, now" her tone was urgent and authoratative.
"But...." Ray wavered, looking up to see Gene bearing down on him.
"Is that Drake?" Gene asked.
"I can't talk now Cheryl, I've got important police work to do." Ray rolled his eyes in an exaggerated manner, for the Guv's benefit, and slammed the phone down. "Sorry Guv, it's that bird I met last night, won't take no for an answer."
"Bloody women" Gene muttered, returning to his office.
Shaz looked up and noticed Ray frantically gesturing to her. "What is it Ray?"
"Listen" Ray said "that was Drake, she wants to speak to you, urgent, don't tell the Guv"
"Alright Ray" Shaz bickered "I know when to keep my mouth shut!" She quickly made her way along the corridor, and dialled DI Drake's flat from the front desk phone.
"Ma'am,it's Shaz"
"Oh, the Guv doesn't know you're calling does he?"
"No Ma'am, what can I do for you?" Shaz was certain she could hear a baby crying.
"I need you to bring me some baby formula and a bottle, and some clothes, for a newborn, right away" Alex was businesslike.
"To your flat, Ma'am?" Shaz asked
"Yes,don't tell anyone," Alex repeated her warning.
Shaz wasted no time as she left,although she remembered to tell Viv, "You didn't see me leave, alright?"
"Didn't hear you on the phone either" Viv winked.
A short while later, she arrived at DI Drake's flat with the supplies, baby clothes in white, since she hadn't checked whether they were for a boy or a girl. She knocked gently, not wanting to disturb the baby. "It's Shaz" she hissed through the door. Alex answered, with the tiny infant in her arms, wrapped in a t-shirt. "Oh, Ma'am!" Shaz melted, she loved babies. The two women were soon busy with the task of caring for the little girl. Once she was fed and clothed, Shaz ventured to ask, "Where's her Mum?"
"I don't know Shaz," Alex admitted,"I found her in the alley behind the restaurant".
Shaz's eyes were like saucers, "Oh, how could someone abandon a baby? They could need help though Ma'am, maybe it's a teenager who didn't know what to do" Shaz was inclined to think the best of people, she couldn't believe anyone would throw out a baby, like a bag of rubbish. Alex clutched the child tightly. It didn't take a psychologist to see that she was getting attached. "We need to tell the Guv" Shaz said firmly, "What if the baby's ill, shouldn't she go to hospital?"
"She's not ill" Alex stated. She knew she ought to take the child to a hospital, hand her over to Social Services, leave her in some soulless children's home. She couldn't do it, just couldn't let go.
"Ma'am" Shaz coaxed her, "let's just go to the station".

"Where the bloody hell is Grainger?" Gene barked at the CID officers.
"Dunno Guv" several bowed heads muttered. Gene headed off towards the front desk, hoping for a more intelligent response from Viv. He arrived in the lobby just as Alex and Shaz entered the building, Shaz carrying several bags,and Alex.... Gene stopped and stared, his mouth open, Alex was holding a baby, and beaming happily as she looked at the child. He had a lump in his throat just looking at her. She grinned at Viv, who came round to greet them and fuss over the baby. Gene felt.....what? jealousy? Don't be so ridiculous, he told himself. He coughed pointedly, and three pairs of eyes turned to face him, the baby was still looking at Alex. "What the hell's going on? Does this look like a bloody nursery to you?" he stared firmly at Alex, the anger keeping other emotions at bay.
"No Guv, but this could be a case" Alex spoke quietly, "and please don't shout and swear around the baby"
"Give me strength" Gene said, sucking in air through his teeth.
They made their way into the CID offices, and Alex sat down at her desk with the baby, wafting the clouds of smoke away from herself and looking daggers at Poirot, who's cigarette was daggling dangerously from his lips. He hurriedly stubbed it out.
"Where did the baby come from?" Chris asked innocently, there were several guffaws.
"Ma'am found her in the bins behind Luigi's" Shaz said.
"Right, you two" Gene gestured to the nearest officers, "get over there, find anything you can that might identify this infant or it's mother"
"Yes Guv"
"Chris, get on the phone to the hospitals and GPs, you're looking for someone who recently gave birth and doesn't have a baby, got it?" Gene turned round to face Alex, "and you" he paused, Alex wasn't even pretending to listen. He narrowed his eyes, ordinarally, he would have raised his voice, or banged his fist on her desk, but he just couldn't do it. "Bols" he said softly, she looked up at him, and he could feel himself falling into her eyes. He tore his gaze away from hers, "get the station doc to give that baby a once over"
"Yes Guv" Alex's stomach felt jittery at the thought of handing the baby over, even to the station doctor. She wasn't going to let the little girl out of her sight.
"What should we call her?" Shaz asked.
"Call her?" Gene was incredulous "You're not naming a puppy, this is someone else's child"
"Umm" Alex wrinkled her face up in concentration "we do need to call her something, what about Summer? If it hadn't been a warm summer night, she might have died out there."
"Bloody ridiculous name" Gene scoffed.
"It's no more or less ridiculous than Gene" Alex replied levelly, arching an eyebrow as she looked at him.
"I think Summer's a pretty name" Shaz said diplomatically.
"Hmph!" Gene was not convinced, and not happy with the insinuation that his own name was ridiculous. He knew they should really pass this case on to the plods, even he could see that Alex was getting too attached to the baby, to "Summer". He smiled to himself, he almost felt like waggling his fingers when he said the baby's name, poor kid. What did it matter if she spent a few days with Drake, the craziness couldn't rub off in that time, and if he found the mother, then it would all work out for the best, wouldn't it?
Alex was loath to suggest media involvement, but she knew the story was news and she figured a photo of the baby, perhaps with Shaz in her uniform, would be ideal for the newspapers.
The CID search of the area behind Luigi's revealed several heavilly blood soaked towels. Gene scowled in the face of this new development. "Well, either Luigi's doing a Sweeney Todd act, or the birth was pretty messy, and the mother could be in some trouble" he mused.
"We best find her, as soon as" Ray affirmed decisively. A combination of CID and uniformed police was dispatched to speak to the previous night's patrons and staff at Luigi's, including of course, many of the force's own members, but no one seemed to have seen anything.
"All these bloody coppers, and not a decent bloody eyewitness" Gene grumbled. He decided to speak to Luigi himself, now that Alex and the baby were safely out of the way. As Gene entered the trattoria, Luigi was shutting up shop. His staff and customers had all been hauled in for questioning, he was swimming against the tide even trying to remain open. Luigi caught sight of Gene, an island in the tide of moving bodies.
"Signore Hunt, what is happen here?" Luigi gestured expansively, indicating the mayhem around them. Gene pursed his lips and considered how best to inform the emotional Italian. Sod it, he thought to himself, let the facts speak for themselves "DI Drake found a baby in the bins behind the restaurant this morning".
"Bambino, a baby, is...?" Luigi couldn't bear to ask "is alive?"
"Yeh,yeh, she's fine" Gene confirmed.
"Is a little girl?" Luigi picked up on the snippet of information.
"Yes, they've called her Summer, ridiculous name if you ask me".
"Yes, yes" Luigi muttered placatingly, grinning, "Signorina Drake, she has the baby?"
"Yes, at the station, we're looking for the mother" Gene said, attempting to get down to some actual police work. "If you see or hear anything that might be helpful, you let me know"
"Si, Signore Hunt"
"Anything unusual last night?" Gene continued. There hadn't been, as far as Luigi was aware. How did someone give birth and dump the baby outside a busy restaurant yards from a police station? Right under their noses, and they hadn't seen a thing.
Alex didn't do a great deal of work over the next couple of days. She was up at all hours with Summer, absorbed in caring for her. She took Summer into Fenchurch East with her, and the pair of them dozed at her desk, or distracted Shaz and the others. Gene watched them from his office, like an indulgent parent, allowing his children to misbehave. Alex tried to catch his eye, she almost felt as if she was looking for his approval, his acceptance of a situation, that she knew in her heart couldn't last.
The case was featured on the local TV news, images of Shaz in uniform holding Summer, and Alex (out of shot) appealing for the public's assistance. Alex stressed the fact that the police were concerned for the mother's physical and emotional wellbeing, and that she was not going to be arrested. They simply wanted to reunite mother and child. Those were the hardest words for Alex to say; her guts twisted in knots, wishing she could be reunited with her own daughter so easily, and knowing that giving Summer back to her biological mother was going to feel like pouring vinegar into that particular wound.
The public response was understandable, but 99% unproductive, in terms of the actual task of finding Summer's mother. Most callers offered sympathy, teddy bears and the like, or asked to be considered as prospective foster parents. Gene was exasperated, he didn't want an office full of teddy bears, it really didn't do much for his image. Viv fielded a steady stream of concerned local citizens at the reception, running interference with the practiced air of an experienced desk sergeant. Five days after the TV appeal, as the flow of visitors began to dry up, a teenage girl in school uniform approached the desk. She was fiddling nervously with a strand of her long, straight hair, and periodically stuck the end of the loose strand into her mouth and sucked distractedly on it. "You alright there?" Viv asked her.
"Can I speak to Shaz Grainger please?" the girl whispered, only briefly making eye contact with Viv. He gave her an encouraging smile.
"Have a seat, and I'll get her for you, are you a relative of hers?"
The girl looked nervously up and down the corridor, as if afraid that someone might overhear them, then she glanced back at Viv and replied "No, it's about the baby," and she backed away from the desk,her eyes wide, as if expecting Viv to react angrilly.
His mouth formed a silent "O" of understanding, "You just have a seat, don't worry about a thing" he tried his best to reassure her. The girl perched anxiously on the edge of one of the chairs in the reception area, waiting while Viv rang the CID office down the corridor. Moments later, Shaz appeared and gently guided the teenager into the interview room.
"DI Drake will want to speak to you" Shaz advised her "just tell the truth, everything will be OK, you'll see".
"Can I see her, Summer?" the girl asked urgently "Are you looking after her now?"
Shaz smiled sympathetically, "You'll get to see her, but they have to check some things first" Shaz was wary of saying too much, prior to the offical interview. She so wanted to tell the teenager all about how wonderful little Summer was, but they hadn't established whether she really was the baby's mother, and Shaz was well aware that even if she was, this was the beginning, rather than the fairytale end, of the story.
"Will you stay with me?" the girl asked Shaz. Shaz smiled and nodded, that much she could do.
Alex had secretly been dreading this moment, but she was not about to delegate the responsibility of speaking to Summer's potential mother, not to anyone. Shaz hadn't come back from the interview room. Alex smiled to herself as she realised that this left her with an interesting dilemma, where would she leave Summer while she conducted the interview? She looked at Gene, oblivious in his office, and she smirked. "Right then, little one" she told Summer "I think it's time for your Uncle Gene to babysit". She swayed into Gene's office, cradling Summer in her arms. She couldn't have knocked, even if the thought had crossed her mind, since she didn't have a free hand.
Gene looked up at the pair of them, "what brings you two ladies in here then?" he asked gently, unable to keep the smile out of his voice. Alex was grinning broadly, he knew something was up, she was about to take advantage of him in some unforseen way, and at that precise moment, he really didn't mind if you did.
"It's your turn" Alex said decisively.
He narrowed his eyes, here it comes, he thought to himself, and he rose to the bait. "My turn to do what exactly?"
"Babysit" she replied.
He spluttered, "what?"
"It won't be for long," Alex placated him "she's no trouble, look". She lowered Summer towards him, the baby was sleeping peacefully.
An expression of pure panic flashed across his face. "But...."
"I'm quite sure you can handle a baby Gene" Alex continued firmly. She leant towards him and gently placed Summer into his lap, guiding her into the most secure position. Gene pouted defensively. Alex grinned, waved, and turned on her heel, the office door left swinging in her wake.
Gene sighed heavilly, the warm soft weight of the baby held firmly in his arms. "Right" he said, but he couldn't even rub his hands together afterwards, because his hands were fully occupied. Couldn't even finish his cuppa, he realised, didn't want to risk spilling hot tea on the baby, he could just imagine Alex's horrified reaction to that sort of an incident. He looked down at Summer and she seemed to be staring straight back at him, with huge, wide eyes. He hardly dared move a muscle, watching his own chest move in and out as he breathed, and Summer's little body move with it. Complete innocence, he could see how Drake had been captivated by the tiny infant. He felt a sudden flood of compassion and love for this defenceless child, she deserved their complete protection, and she would have it, from now on, come hell or high water. He scowled, imagining himself defending Summer from the sort of scum he came across on a daily basis. "You'll be alright kid" he told her softly, and she stared back at him with those big, innocent eyes.
Gene began to wonder how long Drake would be gone. He couldn't spend the rest of the day holding a baby, he was supposed to be out there catching scum. He tried tentatively stretching his legs, carefully watching Summer as he moved. So far, so good. He stood up, and pushed at his office door with the toe of his boot, managing to wedge the door open and leave the smaller room. There he was, standing on the threshold of the CID offices, the Manc lion with a baby in his arms. Oh God! he thought to himself, I must look a right soft nancy! He scowled at his men, watching closely, to see whether their expressions suggested that he did in fact look like a div. Nobody spoke, stale mate. This lot would be good at poker, Gene thought, except Chris, he imagined.
Chris's expression suggested suprise more than anything else, and he was the first to crack "Guv, are you going to give Summer back to that girl then?" he queried.
"What girl?" Gene asked, his voice an ominous rumble, as the wheels began to turn in his mind.
Chris grew visibly paler under Gene's gaze. "Teenage girl in the interview room with Ma'am and Shaz" he managed.
So, she'd had a lead and left him holding the baby, she was going to pay for this, he fumed silently to himself. The double doors swung open, and Alex led a nervous looking schoolgirl into the room. As soon as the girl saw Gene holding Summer, she froze, stock still, staring at the baby.
"Tracy, this is Summer, do you want to hold her?" Alex asked gently.
"Just wait a bloody minute" Gene intervened.
"Have a seat Tracy" Alex continued, as if Gene hadn't spoken. He cleared his throat,and she raised an eyebrow quizically. As she turned to look at Gene and the baby, she was suddenly reminded of those absurd posters showing a muscular bare chested young man holding a baby, which had been very popular in the mid '80s (would be popular, she corrected herself.) She'd never liked them, the man was too perfect, nothing like real life at all. Real life was standing right in front of her, with a noticable beer belly, and questionable sideburns. But she could look at real life all day long and never get tired of the view.
"This is Tracy, Guv" Alex spoke clearly and precisely, seeming even more plummy than usual. "I believe she's Summer's mother". Tracy was watching him like a hawk. As the two women stared at him, Gene knew himself to be defeated. He carefully passed Summer to Alex, and she passed Summer on to Tracy. Gene watched Alex, watching the young mother and child getting to know one another. Alex took a step back, and Gene took a step forward, so that she was leaning up against him. He didn't say anything, didn't move to touch her, but she knew he was there, and she was grateful for that. He was always there.

Perfect 10

She wasn't quite sure how the conversation had reached this point, although alcohol was certainly a factor. The five of them were sat around a table in Luigi's, and someone, possibly Ray, had begun to speculate about the attributes of "the perfect woman". There was a long, reflective pause, as the pleasantly tipsy members of the team each pictured their prospective ideal partners in their mind's eye.
"Great tits" Ray said decisively, and he nodded sagely at the wisdom of his own words. "She has to have great tits" he gestured for emphasis. Alex rolled her eyes, and Shaz giggled. Chris and Gene nodded in agreement with Ray. "Absolutely" Gene said.
"What do you think mate?" Ray asked Chris. Chris cast a quick sideways glance at Shaz, she was his perfect woman, he knew that for certain. She beamed at him, and he knew just what to say.
"A nice smile" Chris grinned.
"You twonk" Ray batted him casually across the top of his head.
"Ah, babe!" Shaz said, and without waiting to be asked, Shaz adapted the question to accomodate her own answer. "I think the perfect man has to be able to make you laugh" she said.
"Good answer" Alex chipped in. Shaz continued to grin.
Gene glanced at Alex, remembering how he'd made her laugh with his joke about Ian Botham at their dinner date, all those months ago, picturing the look on her face, as she giggled softly, his heart pounding in his chest.
"So, what do you think, Ma'am?" Shaz asked.
"Um" Alex pretended to give the matter some thought. What could she safely say? "Broad shoulders" she decided. She looked around the table to see three men with puzzled expressions " I like a solidly built man" she continued, possibly digging a deeper hole for herself.
"You don't go for weedy guys then Ma'am?" Ray puffed his chest out as he spoke.
Alex chuckled slightly, "Not that I'd go for thugs either" she said.
Gene scowled, did she think he was a thug? He knew she didn't approve of the thump them first and ask questions later approach to policing.
"Your turn, Guv" Ray turned to face Gene. Gene raised his eyebrows and contemplated his options. "Apart from great tits, and a .....smile" Ray paused to emphasise his disapproval of Chris's suggestion. "What else Guv?"
In that situation, what else could he say?
"A nice arse" Gene said abruptly.
Ray's fist banged the table in appreciation, "Especially when her face isn't worth looking at, eh?" the DS joked.
"Hey!" Gene glared at him. "Her face is worth ...." he stopped himself mid-sentence.
"What?" Ray was confused, "Whose face?"
Gene sat stony-faced, "I need a pint" he spat, and headed for the bar.
"Excuse me" Alex got up from the table, and followed him. He didn't look around, didn't notice her standing next to him. "Gene" she placed her hand lightly on his arm. "I don't think Ray was talking about anybody in particular".
"Humph! Well, maybe I misunderstood him" Gene muttered.
"You were though, weren't you?" she questioned him.
"Maybe" he grudgingly admitted.
"So, whose face?" she asked.
He sighed into his beer. She was standing right there in front of him, his perfect woman, and he didn't have the balls to tell her. His eyes flickered over her face, "Yours" his voice barely above a whisper. She felt her stomach contract, and a soft grin spread over her face. She was unreasonably happy, like a school girl with a crush. She ought to know better, the rational part of her brain was saying, but she wasn't really listening to it.

The Living and the Dead

The end of another shift, one day much like any other. That might seem a ridiculous thing to say, every case was different, but the flow of cases blurred into one another. The pattern was the same, the faces might be different. "Humph" he reflected, even the faces were the same. The same scumbags committing the same crimes, over and over again. Round we go, and here we are, back in Luigi's after a hard day's work. Work hard and play hard, that was the way a team worked best, in his opinion, and they certainly knew how to play hard, his team. His men, .... and women, he rolled his eyes, couldn't forget the women, they wouldn't bloody let you.
Here she comes now, tottering across the room. Brace yourself, he thought, God alone knows what she's got on her mind, and no doubt she's about to give me a piece of it.
"Is this seat taken?" she asked in a playful, flirtatious tone. He toyed with saying it was, just to provoke a reaction, but the risk that she might leave him to spend the evening on his own was too great. He could feel his guts knotting up at the thought ( or maybe that was just the taste of the house rubbish).
Either way, after due consideration, he gestured at the seat opposite his own, and magnanimously declared "Help yourself".
She grinned triumphantly and took her seat. He poured her a glass of red without asking, and she sipped greedilly. She knew she ought to pace herself,but somehow there didn't seem to be much point. It wasn't as if she had far to go, she could literally crawl upstairs if she had to, and it might well come to that. It wouldn't be the first time, or the last.
He sat watching her, she was lost in a world of her own, eyes glazed over. He had long ago given up on trying to understand her. She talked a load of nonsence, and he just let it wash over him, particularly when he was drunk, but quite often when he was sober too. Now and again, he'd catch something she'd said, and pull her up on it, watch the fire ignite in her eyes as she explained some obscure point of psychology, or frankly bambozzled him with a conversation that might just as well have been in Hindustani.
She was really knocking back the booze. He'd have told her to slow down, but he knew it would make him an absolute hypocrite. No, he'd pace himself this evening, try to keep his wits about him, at least one of them should. He didn't want her wandering off with any "Thatherite wankers" again, or another "Boris" whoever he'd been. No, he was keeping a close eye on her. If he couldn't have her, nor could anyone else. It wasn't exactly a rational position, but he didn't want to analyse his motives, things just were the way they were, and that was that.
"I'm not really cold and heartless" she whispered. He looked up at her, she seemed to be on the point of tears. He felt his guts contract again.
"'Course you're not" he reassured her, solid and dependable. "I never really thought that" he continued softly.
"It hurts so much to talk about Molly" her eyes were damp, and she seemed almost to be talking to herself. He wanted to reach across the table and take her hands in his, but he wasn't sure she'd want that, considering he'd called her cold and heartless.
"You don't have to, you don't need to say anything, if it upsets you" he struggled to put his concern for her into words.
"But you think I don't care about Molly" she sobbed.
"No, Bolly, I don't think that" this time he was firm. He removed the wine glass from her hand. "You need to get some sleep". He stood up and attempted to guide her to her feet, she gazed up at him with those big, damp eyes.
"Molly's not in this world" she said softly.
At first he wasn't sure he'd heard her correctly, and then the penny dropped. "Molly's dead?" Gene stood slack-jawed, as the realization of just exactly what a complete bastard he'd been, dawned on him. "Oh, Bols" he gathered her close, and she clung to him, crying openly now. How the hell had that possibility not even crossed his mind? Some detective he was.
It would certainly make sense of some aspects of her behaviour. Who wouldn't want to get drunk, sleep around and try to forget as much as possible, if they had the death of a child on their mind? She'd talked about missing a birthday party. That's how it was sometimes when people died, it was the trivial things you missed. The belief that somehow, if you'd done the trivial things right, the person wouldn't be dead now. She must blame herself, talking about wanting to get back, maybe she thought that if she'd got back home sooner, she could have prevented her daughter's death.
No wonder she'd slapped him in the face, but he'd had no idea. How could he? he thought indignantly, but the voice in his head said "You're a bloody detective aren't you?" His shirt was starting to feel damp with her tears. Looking around him, he realized thankfully that they were almost alone, the last customers left as Luigi discretely cleared glasses away from nearby tables. "Come on now" he led her slowly out of the restaurant and up the stairs to her flat.

Needs Must ....


    He was walking, striding through the streets of London at night, walking, endlessly walking. Didn't know where he was going. Not drunk, well not rolling drunk anyway, and he'd thump anyone who said otherwise. Just had to get outside and clear his head, the atmosphere in Luigi's that night had seemed claustrophobic, he couldn't stay there without her. All the questions, speculation and well-intentioned comments wouldn't change the sickening reality.
  He could feel the lead weight of the gun in his hand, his arm hanging limply as he stood impassively before her crumpled body. It had happened in a flash, he hadn't been aware of it at first, as she doubled over in front of him, clutching her stomach, her eyes wide with suprise and shock. He just hadn't been able to comprehend it, until he saw the blood oozing between her fingers. Gunshot. His gun. The blood draining out of her. She was dying right in front of him.
   He walked on through the night, walking blindly, without seeing anything, street lights flickering as he passed. The lights are going out, the world closing in around him. There's nothing without her, no joy, no fire. It's then that he realises he's standing in front of the hospital, a crumbling Victorian pile, like a stately home that's seen better days. The red brick and grey facade unnecessarily fussy and over complicated, the inside a rabbit warren of interminable corridors, intersected by swinging double doors leading into yet more corridors. Visiting hours are long over, but he doesn't care, he has to see her, has to face the truth, the only truth, she's dying. So, he carries on walking, up to the hospital entrance, flashing his warrent card at the reception desk, through the maze of corridors and into the suffocating warmth of the intensive care ward. He strode purposefully forward, the momentum carrying him inexorably closer and closer to his destination. He saw her as soon as he entered the room, can't take his eyes off her. Doesn't want to look, never wanted to see her like this, but he can't stop looking. This is his punishment
  "Look what you've done Hunt" the words run through his brain, He finds himself yelling at her, shouting, pleading, anything, "Bolly, wake up now!" It's an order, and no one disobeys the Manc lion, but she remains motionless, the candle is flickering.
   He barely remembered being forcibly removed from the ward, can't see anything other than her lifeless body. Waiting to die. God's waiting room. How could anyone take her away from him? Could "God" be so cruel? Probably laughing at him right now, Gene reasoned bitterly. It was all that he deserved, but it wasn't what she deserved, was it?

     She stumbled along the hospital corridor in a blind panic. He was "everywhere" how's that for ironic? she thought wryly. His face on the monitors, his insistant, angry voice echoing inside her head. This was all just inside her head, wasn't it?
    She slumped down against the cold, industrial flooring. Her stomach hurt, but she'd been shot in the head, hadn't she? She looked down, and for a moment she saw the blood seeping through her fingers as she clutched her stomach. She blinked and the wound was gone.
   She must have passed out, she was lying in a hospital bed. Her senses were on edge, alert to the slightest indication, a sound, an image, that would indicate the nature of the "reality" around her. Was it 2008 or 1982? A nurse was approaching Alex's bed, humming softly to herself, Alex tried to place the tune " la da de-de de de de de-de", ever fallen in love with someone, a sick feeling gnawed  at her stomach "Yes Pete, I have" she said to herself. She must have made an involuntary noise, because the nurse looked up,
  "Oh, you're back with us are you?" she asked cheerily.
 "Yes" Alex managed to croak, then clearing her throat she tried again "Yes, yes I am, I don't remember what happened...." She trailed off, deciding that playing dumb might get the nurse to reveal some helpful information.
  "You've been shot, love"
Not terribly helpful, Alex thought to herself.
 "They've got the man who did it"
Layton? she wondered.
  "He came to the hospital, Sister had him removed from the ward".
Gene?
She must have looked shocked, because the cheery nurse patted her arm gently " Don't worry love, he's not coming back"
 She swallowed hard. Maybe she should try another line of questioning. "Have I had any visitors?"
    "Oh yes love, there's a nice, young girl, here every morning, regular as clockwork"
Molly? She closed her eyes and prayed, coming in before school perhaps? 
    "Chattering away" the nurse continued " talking about her wedding plans mostly from what I can gather"
"Shaz!" Alex beamed at the thought, and then her heart sank like a stone. 1982, it was bloody 1982.
     "She should be here any minute" the nurse glanced at the door, and made to leave.
Alex caught her arm "How long have I been unconscious?"
     "Oh" the nurse looked off into the middle distance "must be eight weeks now, love"
Eight weeks, and they thought that Gene had tried to murder her. Oh God, poor man. 

   "Ma'am!" Shaz grinned from ear to ear "Oh, Ma'am" Alex found herself wrapped in the young woman's tight embrace. "I knew you'd wake up". 
Alex drew back a little, and looked Shaz in the eye, "How's ....how's everything?" she asked tentatively
   "Oh Ma'am, it hasn't been the same without you, we've a new DCI..."
"What?" Alex interupted the babbling stream of Shaz's conversation. Shaz stopped short, and held a hand over her mouth. 
"Shaz?" Alex prompted.
    "The Guv's in custody, attempted murder" Shaz's voice was barely above a whisper
"I've got to get out of here" Alex began to struggle with the bed sheets, and attempt to lever herself out of the side of the bed. 
   "Ma'am" Shaz reasoned with her, "I'll send someone over so you can make a statement" and she helped Alex back into the bed. 
"Shaz, tell him I know it was an accident, tell him I'm sorry," she choaked back a sob "I need him". Shaz patted her hand and hurried off, she had work to do. 

  Back in Fenchurch East, everything seemed slightly off kilter. The offices were strangely quiet, the conversations muted, even the decor seemed dull, as if the lifeforce had been sucked out of the place. It made Shaz feel uneasy, things weren't right and she knew it. They had to accept the situation, all of them held in suspended animation, holding their breath, waiting for Ma'am to wake up, or.....
The Guv's fate hanging in the balance, all of their fates, Shaz realised, until Alex woke up and let them all live again. And now she was awake, and only Shaz knew it, like Sleeping Beauty, waking up in a fairytale kingdom, she could touch things and bring them back to life. Shaz was practically skipping down the corridor, the lights were coming back on. 
  Viv sighed behind the front desk, world weary, he glanced up as the double doors swung open, and Shaz skipped into the lobby. Suddenly the twinkle was back in his eyes, "Good news?" he asked.
  "Ma'am's awake" Shaz beamed. 
A grinning Viv tossed her a fat bunch of keys "Best give the Guv the glad tidings" he winked. 
   Gene was hunched over on the edge of his uncomfortable cell block bed, his head in his hands. He didn't know how long he'd been sat there, didn't care. The cell was rancid, the stink of his untouched breakfast fry-up turning his stomach. He heard the clang of metal as the key turned in the lock. "Take it away Viv" he muttered, without looking up.
  "Guv?" the voice was female, high-pitched and hesitant. His heart in his throat, he looked up and met her gaze. 
"Ma'am's awake" Shaz said simply. Such a small statement, the force of it hit him like a pile driver to the chest. Awake, she's awake, he wanted to dance, sing, shout ,scream, grin like a lunatic, but he did none of these things. He couldn't allow himself to believe it, he had to see it with his own eyes, had to put his hands into the wounds.
  "Guv?" Shaz gingerly touched his arm, he seemed frozen, outwardly he'd barely reacted, as if she hadn't spoken. He noticed her hand on his arm, suddenly seeing the details clearly, as if a downpour had ended and a rainbow appeared in the sky. He wanted to know everything, to ask everything, but he couldn't let his guard down, even for a second, because if he did, there might be no coming back. 
  "How is she?" he managed, through gritted teeth.
"Oh, Guv!" This time Shaz knew exactly what she had to say, "she said to tell you that she knows it was an accident, and she's sorry"
   "Sorry?" he repeated, what did she have to be sorry about? He was the one who shot her. 
  He wasn't sure he'd be able to look her in the face, he couldn't look himself in the face. Hadn't seen a mirror in weeks, he probably looked rough as hell.
 "She says she needs you Guv." Shaz ploughed on regardless, some things had to be said, and had to be understood by the man sat in front of her. She needs me, that registered. That was who he was, what he was, what Bolly would call his raison d'etre, oh yes, he understood French, but he didn't have to like it. "I was needed and I was there".
   Nothing else mattered, it was bollocks, all of it. She needed him. " I have to see her" his tone brooked no arguements.
Shaz stood her ground in front of him "You can't leave the cell, Guv" she reasoned calmly. When she looked at him, the fire had returned to his eyes, and she smiled.
 "Do you think this is funny, Grainger?" he growled.
  "No, Guv" she pacified him. "They'll drop the charges soon enough"
"Not soon enough for me" he said. After an interminable couple of hours, when statements had been taken, typed up and collated, the charges were indeed dropped, and the lion was released from his cage. He stretched his long limbs, and declared his intentions loudly to anyone within earshot, "Right, I'm off to visit Drake at the hospital, I want this station running like the engine of the Quatro in my absence, and I do not want to find anyone in my office when I come back."
  "Yes Guv!" the chorus of replies echoed.
 
     Crossing the threshold of the hospital, Gene's palms felt damp and sweaty, his foofsteps became heavy. The closer he got to the ward, the slower his pace, until he felt that he was wading through a raging stream, battling to move forwards against the tide. The doors to the ward wobbled in front of him. He rubbed his hands together, clenched his jaw, and steeled himself. A quick glance around the ward and he spotted her, sitting up in bed, reading. She hadn't looked up when the doors opened, apparently engrossed in her reading material. His boots clunked across the hospital floor, heading towards her. Alex could feel her heart pounding in time with the footsteps, getting louder and louder, she knew who it was without looking up. Slowly she lifted her eyes from the page, the snakeskin boots stopped about a metre in front of her. She raised her head and offered him a small, stiff smile, a lump in her throat. For a fleeting moment, she thought he looked desperate, panic-striken, then he returned the stiff smile, his face a rictus mask.
  "Gene" she whispered, suddenly terrified that he might walk away. She reached a hand out towards him, but he was too far away to touch. He froze, a pillar of salt under her gaze, resolve crumbling. He slumped into the plastic, bedside chair, his knees practically under his chin in the tiny seat.
 "What have I done to you?" he croaked.
  "It'll heal" she said, touching her stomach lightly. 
    "Will it?" he asked quietly, but he wasn't talking about her stomach.
"Gene" she reached for him again, he was closer now, and he felt her slip her hand into his. "I was wrong about you" she said "the things I said on the tape, I was wrong" she prayed desperately that he would accept her apology.
  "I shouldn't have said what I said, about your daughter" Gene replied.
"No, you shouldn't !" there was still anger in her voice, but she stopped herself, clamped her jaw shut and closed her eyes, waiting for the wave to break over her head, but it didn't. In the silence, she opened her eyes again. He was staring at her, holding her hand gently, as if it might break  at any moment.
 "You came back to me" his hushed tones were awed, as if he couldn't quite believe his own good fortune.
"You needed me" she said simply.

Politically (In)Correct

 "Like roachs in a Chinky" just a casual comment. Most likely he wasn't even aware that anyone might find it remotely offensive. Perhaps that was what annoyed her the most about it.
 One little comment, but it stuck in her guts. It was indicative of everything that was wrong with him, everything that was wrong with this ridiculous place. Of course it wasn't the first time that he'd said something inappropriate, oh no, Alex was well aware of that, but it hadn't really mattered before. She remembered the ludicrous barrage of insults Gene had hurled at homosexuals during the Neary case. At the time it had seemed so over the top, it became almost a pantomime. It was laughable, how could she take it seriously? What did it matter what an imaginary man thought? She sighed to herself, what if he wasn't imaginary? That was the dilemma she found herself facing. She'd started to allow herself to believe that this world was real, and how could she care about a man who used expressions like "Chinky" without even the merest hint of an apology? Of course she knew that it was useless to try to change the man, but part of her brain still wanted to try. Her jaw set in simmering indignant anger, she stewed silently as she sat opposite him at their usual table in Luigi's.
    He could see that she was angry, no doubt she was working herself up to boiling point. He allowed himself a small, grim smile. Should he precipitate the inevitable explosion? He almost looked forward to it, the anger flashing in her eyes as she jabbed a finger at his chest. In those moments she was so alive, they both were, drawn together in some crazy, drunken fandango. He opened his mouth and entered the fray "Go on then, tell me, what have I done now?" he dared her.
   Alex narrowed her eyes, and considered her options. "Well" she began, slowly and precisely "I could tell you, but really there's no need to take a sledgehammer to crack a walnut" she smiled brightly at him. "Metaphors" she grinned.
  "All over the shop" he rejoined dryly. She had a far away look in her eyes, and he sat back and waited for her to continue talking.
"I worked a case once, some time ago, before I came here" she continued, mentally Alex could picture the lettle gift shop, with its old fashioned dark wooden panelling, and the heavy scent of joss sticks. Rows of jewellry cabinets, their glass panes shattered after a robbery. Alex was there to interview the shop assistant, a pretty, Chinese girl in her early 20s. They had struck up a conversation, Alex trying to coax the girl out of herself. In spite of her ordeal, the young girl was resiliant. But it wasn't  the details of the robbery so much that shocked Alex, it was something much more unexpected. Standing there in the shop, this poised, articulate young woman told Alex, in a matter of fact voice, that she had faced racial abuse every single day of her 23 years. "Every single day!" Alex could barely comprehend the concept. Even as she retold the story to Gene, the incredulity was evident in her voice. "How could anyone....?" she floundered, her eyes wide.
  "She must have done something?" Gene rationalised "You don't get abuse for nothing", but almost as soon as he'd said it, he recalled numerous domestic abuse cases, where some drunken scumbag had come home and kicked the living daylights out of the wife and kids. You certainly could get abuse for nothing.
  Alex was lost in her own memories, "You know she told me that her father wanted the whole family to emigrate to Canada, there's a large Chinese community there" she explained, unsure whether Gene would know this, and then as she said it, unsure whether that was as true in the 1980s as it was in the twenty first century. "Anyway, she didn't want to go to Canada, she told me she considered herself to be British," Alex shook her head reflectively "even after all that abuse. So, do you see, how when you use a word like Chinky, you legitimize abuse like that?"
   "I wasn't hitting her!" Gene said indignantly.
"No" Alex replied, more softly, " but you should be setting an example, showing the team that this type of behaviour is unacceptable"
Gene felt somehow grubby, as if he'd behaved like the type of scumbags Alex was talking about. He rested his head on one hand and pouted, maybe, just maybe, she had a point.

Speechless

Alex could hear the frivolity, laughter and raised voices. She had her head bent over her paperwork, but as the noise level began to rise, she looked up.
   "You're quite right!" Poirot agreed, to snorts of laughter from several of the other guys.
Alex wasn't averse to frivolity, she really wasn't, she got up from her desk and walked towards the cluster of detectives. Jimmy glanced up and quickly looked away when he caught her eye. The man holding court in the centre of the group was DS Squires, he'd recently transferred from Kennington, he was an athletic, good-looking guy in his mid 30s.
   "She's just begging for it " he was saying, his gaze darting round the group, drawing the men into his story. Then he caught Alex's gaze, and winked cheekily, " Isn't that right Inspector?"
There were stiffled chuckles from the group. She looked Squires in the eye, her face expressionless, then she suddenly grinned "I'll leave that for you to decide" she replied. There were further chuckles at this. By this time, the noise levels had risen to the point where Gene, cocooned inside his private office, could no longer pretend to ignore events in the larger room. He flung his office door open with a theatrical flourish and strode into their midst.
  "What's this then, a fishwives convention?" he asked sceptically. "No Guv,.....sorry Guv" mutters as his men shuffled back to their respective desks. Gene looked questioningly at Squires and Drake, the only two left standing in front of him. They both looked as if butter wouldn't melt in their mouths. "Humph!" he turned on his heel and left them to it. Alex found herself feeling slightly strangely disappointed that he had chosen not to have a blazing row with her. Never mind, there was always "work to do".
  Another day, another inane conversation. Squires had installed himself, his feet were well and truly under the table. He was a real man's man, and the "boys" in the team couldn't get enough of his tales. Alex was sceptical, yes he was good looking, but had he really had all those women "begging for it"? A small part of her mind considered calling his bluff, if she came on to him, would he back away from her? This really wasn't the time and place to find out, and it wasn't as if she actually wanted anything to happen, did she? Lost in a world of her own again, Alex stirred her tea absentmindedly as she stood in the office kitchen. She was oblivious to her surroundings, as Squires approached her whistling softly to himself and feeling generally pleased with how things were going.
  "Alright?" he asked breezilly, she didn't even hear him. He began to feel mildly irritated, what right did she have to ignore him? "You dozy tart" he muttered half under his breath. Alex looked up, eyebrows raised. There was a loud, throaty cough from a figure standing behind Squires. Gene narrowed his eyes and glowered, the anger rising inside him like plumes of smoke from a volcano. He was beginning to get the measure of Squires, and he wasn't pleased with what he saw.
 "Guv," Squires adopted his cheeky chappy persona, and strolled past Gene. Gene scowled after him, and then redirected the scowl at Alex, who remained largely oblivious to events around her.
  Later in the office, Alex was deep in conversation with Ray, about a case they were working on. She was leaning over his desk, and behind her, Squires was enjoying the view. He wondered why Ray didn't make a move on her, perhaps he had, and he'd already been rebuffed, well Squires didn't take no for an answer.
  He stood up "I could use a brew" he said, to the world at large, and he made to walk towards the kitchen. Several heads looked up from their work, and Squires became aware that he had an audience. He stopped in his tracks, standing right behind Alex, he waited there just a moment more than necessary, then he said "Ma'am?". She turned towards his voice and found herself staring straight at him. He was too close, invading her personnal space, she found it uncomfortable. There was a hint of menace in the way he looked at her. Suddenly he seemed to lose his footing, and he was falling towards her. Instinctively she reached out a hand to steady him, and he reached out both of his hands at chest height. Before she knew it, he had his hands on her breasts. She let out an involuntary squeal, and inhaled sharply. His mouth formed a tight grin, but there was no light in his eyes.
  "What the?..." Gene bellowed from the other side of the room, every head turned to face him, Squires hands didn't move. Alex shivered convulsively and drew away from him. "Ma'am?" Shaz touched Alex's arm lightly. "Have a seat over here Ma'am" the younger woman steered Alex out of the firing line.
  "Squires, I've been watching you" Gene began, drawing himself level with the DS, Squires didn't flinch. "This is a bloody police station" he spat the words out like bullets aimed at Squires. Ray watched his boss intently, he'd seen Gene angry on numerous occassions, seen him punch and kick suspects, and watched him intimidate more witnesses than Ray had had hot dinners, but this was something different. It wasn't about the level of agression, it was the fact that Ray was aware, after years of working with Gene, that the anger he directed at villians, and hapless individuals who got in his way, wasn't necessarilly caused by the person it was directed at. Unfortunately Squires, having been caught redhanded, was both the target and the recipient of Gene's anger. Ray shook his head, why had Squires been so bloody stupid? It was one thing to tell lude stories, but it was something else entirely to fondle the Guv's bird right under his nose.
 "I'm not having this sort of behaviour in my station" Gene growled, daring the DS to breathe a word of defiance. He wanted to put his hands round Squires neck and sqeeze til his eyes popped. He leaned forward and whispered menacingly, "Your behaviour is completely..." he couldn't begin to find the words, his throat constricted with the depth of disgust he felt, "completely.." he paused again.
   "Inappropriate" Chris said suddenly, into the silence. Gene turned to face him. "Guv" Chris looked for approval, as the others held their breath. Gene gave the slightest of nods, and accepted the profered word. "Inappropriate" he said slowly, giving the word it's due weight. "We are serving, professional police officers, this is not a strip joint, not Friday night rolling out of some God forsaken public house, you, Squires are entirely....." he paused to draw breath, he could feel the blood pounding in his head.
  "Out of order" Ray said.
"Umm" Gene nodded more enthusiastically at this, a more down to earth expression, typical of Ray, and just what he himself would have said if it had come to him in time. Gene went on"You won't work in this nick again, I'm not having you or anyone else, touching up my ....." he stopped mid-flow this time, the word he'd been about to use was "bird". He glanced around, and caught Shaz's eye,
  "Staff" she suggested quickly.
  "Staff" he continued gratefully. He owed Grainger for that. "Out of my sight" he dismissed Squires, shrugging his shoulders, as if shaking off his very presence. They never saw Squires again.

Gentlemen Take Polaroids


    The brown envelope was on his desk, just lying there. It was the first thing he noticed as he walked into his office, the only thing that wasn't exactly as he had left it, the night before. He knew where everything was in that office. He could lay his hands on anything he needed, and he was absolutely certain he had not left that envelope on his desk. He strode defiantly across the room, silently challanging the envelope to contradict him, grabbed it roughly and tore it open. Then time seemed to stand still, a long frozen moment in which he stared, slack jawed, at the contents of the envelope. A single polaroid photograph, a woman naked, partially wrapped in a towel, as she stepped out of the bath.
   Gradually he became aware of a tapping sound, tentative but continuous. He wasn't sure how long he'd been staring at the photo in his hand. He knew he shouldn't be staring at it, but he couldn't take his eyes off her. The tapping sound, what was it? He dredged the recesses of his mind, oh yes, someone was knocking on the glass door of his office. He looked up and caught Chris's eye, as the younger man hesitated in the doorway. "Chris?"
   "It's these statements, Guv, they don't add up" Chris garbled his words, trying to make his point hurriedly, before the customary dressing down for whatever latest minor misdemeanour the Guv might decide to pin on him.
  "Um?" Gene raised his eyebrows in puzzlement. It was at that point that Chris noticed that the Guv was clutching something in his hand.
  "What have you got there Guv?" Chris inclined his head, indicating the photo.
   "Nothing" Gene's tone was abrupt. He slammed the photo, face down, onto his desk, and placed his hand flat on top of it, which was when he noticed that there was something written on the back of the photo. "Ripe as a summer apple" he mouthed the phrase, he could feel the blood draining from his face.
  "Guv!" Chris was panicked, the Guv was as white as a sheet. For a split second, Chris actually thought the Guv was about to pass out, he reached out a hand to steady him. The contact was enough to return Gene to reality with a bump. 
  "What are you doing, you fairy?" Gene's anger at his own weakness was redirected at the unfortunate Chris.
  "It was what that Graham Bathurst bloke said, wasn't it?" Chris said, in a moment of clarity.
   "Yeh," Gene chewed on his lower lip, "the bastard"
   "He wasn't though, was he?" Chris was still reflecting on the old case.
   "Not Bathurst, the bastard that took....." Gene stopped talking mid-sentence, before he gave too much away.
    "Took what?"
   "Nothing" and Gene slammed his hand firmly on the desk, indicating that the conversation was at a definate end. Chris left the office hurriedly, and more confused than he had been when he entered it. 
    Confused as Chris was, he just had to say something, whatever it was that just happened ( and frankly he wasn't sure what had happened), he couldn't keep things to himself.
  "Here, Ray," Chris began conversationally, "I think there's something wrong with the Guv"
   "You what!" Ray spluttered. Alex stifled a giggle, as she listened intently to their conversation, whilst attempting to look absorbed in the pile of paperwork in front of her.
   "Seriously mate" Chris continued " he was as white as a sheet, talking about that Bathurst case".
Bathurst, Alex reflected to herself, that was a case Sam had worked on, she vaguely remembered the details. Meanwhile, the office chit-chat continued around her.
   "I should maybe take him a cup of tea" Shaz suggested.
   "Yeh" Chris was satisfied with the potential healing power of a hearty cuppa.
Alex was alert again, "I'll take that Shaz" she said, as Shaz walked past her desk, with the mug of tea.
   "Oh no Ma'am, it's for the Guv"
Alex smiled reasuringly, "I'll take it in to him, perhaps I can find out what's really going on" she raised her eyebrows in a gesture that suggested that Chris had probably got the wrong end of the stick, as usual.
  Alex didn't knock, she just walked straight into Gene's office. Head in his hands, he felt the gust of air as the door opened, and looked up to see her standing there. She gave him a little, wry smile. "Cup of tea, Guv?" she asked lightly. He was staring at her, staring intently, but somehow she got the feeling he couldn't see her.
  "Gene" she touched his hand, and he jumped convulsively.
She was real, she was standing right in front of him. He wasn't sure what was real any more. His imagination must have conjured up that photograph, it couldn't have been taken. He wanted to see it so much that he'd imagined it. Yes, that was it. Maybe he really wasn't very well. His customary pout back in place, he finally met her eyes. "A little under the weather, Bols, nothing a good strong cuppa won't fix".
  Alex nodded slowly, "I see" she said, as if speaking to someone who was a little slow. A flicker of something that could have been fear passed through Gene's eyes, as he briefly wondered whether somehow she knew about the photograph. He felt sick, as if someone had kicked him in the stomach. He took a big gulp of tea, and gave her a reasuring smile. "Nothing wrong with me" he declared. Of course, it would be easy for Alex to believe that Chris had misunderstood the situation, but Alex wasn't stupid.
   "Tell me about the Bathurst case" Alex said, taking a seat opposite Gene. He swallowed, but maintained eye contact.
    "He was a scruffy, young kid. His girlfriend was murdered. I was convinced he'd done it, Sam thought otherwise".
   "Of course" Alex said cheerfully.
   "Turns out he was right," Gene continued "but that's not the point really". Gene was thinking about photographers and apples, and whether someone was deliberately trying to mess with his head.
   "Isn't it?" Alex asked.
He scowled, and wondered how much more he could say without appearing foolish. Right then, he had no idea that he was feeling almost exactly the way Alex felt when she wanted to explain to him about Molly, and her own "reality" but didn't. Gene leant back in his chair, with his hands behind his head, maybe he should try a different tack. "Bolly, you ever have any bother, with security, at the flat?"
  "What?" there was an expression of complete bewilderment on her face."What are you talking about?"
  "You know, anybody ever try to break in? Peeping Toms, that kind of thing?"
  "Peeping Toms? In an upstairs flat! Not unless he was a window cleaner" Alex laughed.
  "Window cleaner" Gene mused "I never thought of that" he appeared to be giving the idea serious consideration.
  "Really Gene, what is this about?" She leant towards him across his desk, and placed her hand on his forehead. He eyed her suspiciously.
  "You don't feel as if you've got a temperature" her tone was light and jokey, but once she'd touched him, she really wasn't quite sure what she should do next. She looked at him, and he made no attempt to move her hand. He broke eye contact, seeming to stare into the middle distance, lost in his own train of thought.
  "I need to speak to Luigi about this" he felt positive, having decided on a course of action. He could check the security arrangements for the flat quite legitimately, he decided, the safety of his team was a reasonable concern for a DCI. He stood up, and Alex's hand dropped into her lap. She fidgeted nervously, it dawned on her that she was as confused as Chris had been earlier.
  "Work to do, Bolly, work to do" Gene said, as he breezed out of his office, patting his jacket pocket, ready to rally his troops for the business of the day. "So Christopher, those statements?" the words hung in the air, and heads bent over various desks, as the team made an effort to look purposeful.
   About half an hour before "lunchtime" Gene emerged from his office. "Is it lunchtime, Guv?" Ray asked eagerly.
  "No Raymondo, it is not, I'll tell you when it's lunchtime" Gene left the police station, watched curiously by numerous pairs of eyes. No one asked him where he was going, they knew that if he hadn't told them already, he wasn't about to.
  In the silence that followed Gene's exit from CID, Chris asked "Where do you think he's gone, Ma'am?"
  "I've no idea" Alex sighed, "and I don't know what any of this has got to do with the Bathurst case".
  "Do you know about the case, Ma'am?" Ray enquired.
  "I think I heard about it from Sam" Alex rubbed her chin and tried to recall more of the details she'd read back in 2008.
  "I could tell you about it" Ray offered.
  "Thank you Ray, that would be really helpful" so Alex listened, while Ray recounted the tale. At the point where he mentioned Graham Bathurst using the phrase "sweet as a summer apple" to describe his girlfriend, Chris piped up "that's not right is it? It was ripe as a summer apple" 
   Alex raised her eyebrows, "Different connotations altogether" she said.
  "Different what?" Chris asked.
  "Meaning" Shaz added helpfully.
  "Right" Chris replied, tentatively.
   "Chris?" Alex looked across at him.
  "It was what the Guv said, right before he nearly...."Chris caught Ray's eye, and thought better of finishing his sentence "I mean...."
  "That was exactly what he said?" Alex questioned
  "Yes Ma'am, it was written on that paper"
  "Which paper?" Alex and Ray asked in unison. 
  
  Gene figured he had half an hour in which to quiz Luigi about the security arrangements for the flats. He approached the bar casually, "I'll have a beer" he established a reason for being there, Luigi wasn't fooled.
  "Can I help you, Signore?" Gene leant on the bar and stared across the room, as if studiously interested in an object on the opposite wall. After a suitable pause, Gene said "You got spare keys for the flats upstairs?"
  "Si, Signore, but I don't use them, I have tenants like Signorina Drake, they have privacy, no?"
  "Yes" Gene slapped his glass down on the bar. "Who has access to those keys?"
  "No one" Luigi replied, "That is, I do, but...." he frowned "What is problem, Signore Hunt?"
  "Problem Luigi, is that emm...." Gene pouted, and decided he just had to take the bull by the horns, and confide in Luigi
  "It's possible some scumbag broke into Drake's flat"
  "She is alright?" the concern was instantly evident in Luigi's voice.
  "Yeh, yeh, she's fine" Gene replied hurriedly, "don't mention this to her"
 Luigi frowned and began absentmindedly polishing a wine glass, "they take something from the Signorina's flat?" Luigi asked. 
  "You could say that." Gene's reply was cryptic. Luigi made a mental note to himself to speak to Alex about the whole incident as soon as he reasonably could without Gene becoming aware of it.
Gene considered his next move carefully, "so, you could put your hands on those keys right now, could you?"
  "Si" Luigi nodded.Gene raised his eyebrows in a gesture that said, get on with it then, and would have had the members of his team falling over themselves to do his bidding. Luigi barely moved.
 "You want a particular key?" he asked pointedly.
Gene could feel his temperature rising. "Of course I bloody do" he growled.
 Luigi grinned broadly and bustled off into the kitchen. The grin dropped suddenly from his face when he realised that the key to Alex's flat was not with the other spare keys. Signore Hunt was not going to take this well.
  Gene could see the change in Luigi's expression before he spoke, and felt a knot in his stomach, already certain that the key was missing. "Is not there Signore" Luigi raised his hands in a gesture of helplessness. Gene felt sick, somebody really had been inside Alex's flat, sneaking around, close enough to touch her. He realised he was clenching his jaw tightly, when the muscles in his face started to hurt. "Bastard" he slammed his fist onto the bar "I'll kill him with my bare hands".
   Sounds of laughter and running footsteps interupted the stillness of the almost empty restaurant. CID had given up waiting for the Guv's return, and unilaterally decided that it really was "lunchtime". Several of the team cast sheepish glances in Gene's direction. He gave them a slight nod, acknowledging their presence while discouraging any further contact.
  Alex strode purposefully towards him, he leaned back and drank in the sight of her, a view he would never get tired of looking at. Luigi glanced from Alex to Gene and back again, it was as if the two of them were pulled together on invisible strings, caught in a timeless bubble, while the world around them sped by in a whirl of timelapse photography. He couldn't bring himself to break the spell, and turned away to busy himself with his own responsibilities.
  Later, as Alex approached the bar alone, to collect some more drinks, Luigi seized the opportunity for a quiet word. "Signorina" he began, "how do you find it, living in the flat upstairs?"
  "It's good, Luigi" Alex had the glow of slight drunkeness about her.
  "You are not frightened, a woman living alone?"
  "No, of course not!" the confidence of drink talking. "Not frightened of anything!" she overstated her case with cheerful abandon.
Then she paused, a moment of realisation, hadn't Gene been trying to ask her something similar earlier this evening? She thought it was just one of his usual crude attempts to insinuate himself in her life, and get his feet under the coffee table, relaxing in front of the TV watching a western. Why was it so easy for her to picture that image? Get a hold of yourself Alex, stop it now. She stomped back to their usual table in the restaurant, drinks in hand.
   "Cheers" Gene raised his beer glass and sipped appreciatively. She scowled at him, he looked back open faced, slightly worse for wear. She softened towards him, wondering to herself how it might feel to run her fingers through his dishevelled blonde hair. Gene was aware that he was slightly inebriatated, but one thing he was certain of, he wasn't going to let Bolly out of his sight that evening.
  In the restaurant kitchens, someone else was considering their options for later that evening. Someone who could feel the cold metal of the key to Alex's flat pressed against his leg, in the pocket of his overalls. "Hot stuff!" the chef shouted a warning, as he dumped a large tray from the oven into the kitchen sink, and George nodded in acknowledgement. The dishes were piling up around him, he needed to concentrate, the fun could wait 'til later.
  Closing time, and Luigi began to chivy his customers out of the door. Discrete as ever, he left Gene and Alex alone at their customary table, until finally everyone else had left.
   Alex was so tired, she slumped forward, her arms folded on the table top, and leant her head down. She wanted to fall asleep right there. Luigi coughed loudly. Gene glanced over at him, and then at the prone form of Alex. "Come on Bolly knickers, lets get you upstairs"
 "No" she mumbled.
 "Yes" Gene was purposeful, as he took her arm and guided her upstairs to her flat. She moved like a sleepwalker, slow and heavy, barely conscious. Once inside the flat, she made instinctively for the bedroom, and began to get ready for bed, forgetting about Gene completely. 
  Gene decided to look around the flat to see whether he could find any evidence that someone had been snooping about there. He swung open doors and peered behind curtains, nothing came to light. There was a loud thud from the bedroom, and then an echoing silence.
   "Bols!" Gene shouted. 
Alex regained consciousness lying on the bedroom floor. Her first thought was that she was in bed, then gradually she realised that the surface beneath her was too hard. What was she doing on the floor? Was she so drunk she'd fallen asleep right there? As she opened her eyes, she saw a young man in kitchen overalls standing over her, looking at his hands in bewilderment "I didn't mean to kill you" he said softly.  Alex rubbed her neck which felt sore. The young man shook with relief as he realised Alex wasn't dead, and he began to bend down towards her. At which point, Gene flew into the room and lunged at him. "Oy scumbag" Gene grappled with George and held him down, one knee firmly in the small of his back. Having suceeded in overpowering the "villain", Gene looked up as Alex began to stumble to her feet, still rubbing her neck. "You OK?" he  asked, his face lined with concern. 
  "I must have passed out" she mused.
  "Drink'll do that!" he grinned. She gawped at him, open mouthed, about to lauch into an explanation about pressure on the airways and attempted strangulation. Then she just shook her head and smiled to herself, that was typical of Gene.
 



The time has come

    " I just can't breathe, there's no air, no air " , the car stereo mindlessly blared out. Behind the wheel, Evan's eyes glazed over, he could barely see the road ahead of him, " no air, no air ". He pulled the car over, and just sat there, with his head in his hands. It wasn't supposed to be like this, it just wasn't right. Suddenly he felt as if he was about to throw up, his stomach convulsed, he pressed his hand over his mouth, stumbled out of the car and bent over by the roadside. 
   Alex, his Alex, reduced to this, little more than a " vegetable ". He hated that expression, hated himself for using it. His hands were shaking uncontrollably. He shivered, suddenly unnaturally cold. " Like death" he thought to himself " death would be preferable to this, for Alex and for himself " the thought passed fleetingly through his mind. 
  " No " he said aloud, " No " more firmly this time. He was not going to lose control. 
   When he'd walked through the doors of the hospital, he hadn't known what to expect. Alex had been shot, they'd removed a bullet from her brain. He just hadn't really believed that such a thing could happen to her. When he saw her sitting up in the hospital bed, he thought the whole thing was just a bad dream. She was awake, conscious, looking at him: no, looking right through him, as if he wasn't there. 
  " Alex " he strode towards her and grasped her hands, " thank God " he sighed. She just stared blankly into the middle distance. 
  " Alex " he manoeved himself into her line of vision, and forced himself to smile, encouragingly, 
  " It's Evan " he said, " You remember me, don't you? " his voice faltering a little.
   " Evan " she repeated.
  " Yes " he nodded.
 " Drink " she said.
  " You want a drink? " Evan looked around and handed her a glass of water from the bedside table. She drank, smiled at him, and dismissed him from her presence with the words " I'll see you tomorrow ". That was it, the visit was over. He had nothing to give her, nothing she needed. His Alex, but she wasn't Alex anymore. She saw him, but he had no idea what was really going on in her mind. The hospital visits were like an endless, continuous loop of film, " I'll see you tomorrow " and every day he came back, a little piece of him died, each time he saw her like this.
  His Alex had been " so bright, so alive " and now?..... He couldn't let Molly see her like this. He had to protect the little girl. Was that his role in life? he reflected bitterly. Another tragedy, another little girl, and him; in the wrong place at the wrong time, again. 

    On the surface, everything looked normal in the offices of Fenchurch East CID; the desk sergeant was on duty, the phones were being answered, reports were being filed, heads were bent studying paperwork, ( or the racing form ). As he barreled through the double doors, Gene surveyed his kingdom,
 " Where the bloody hell's DI Drake? " he asked, fixing WPC Grainger with a penetrating glare. 
  " She's not answering her phone, Guv " Shaz replied, a hint of concern in her voice. 
 " Can't hold her drink " Gene muttered, and stomped into his office. Throughout the day, Gene found himself staring again and again at the empty chair where Alex normally sat. She didn't come into work at all that day. DI Drake's non-appearance was a topic of ribalt conversation amongst the rest of the male police officers. 
  " What is she's ill? " Shaz asked, unable to bear listening to them any longer. 
 " Self inflicted " Poirot snorted " I've got no sympathy for her. " 
  " Too right! " Ray agreed. 
 " Ray! " Shaz was angry, " Chris! " Chris hadn't even said anything, but she was still angry with him, because he hadn't defended DI Drake. 
  " What if she's fallen, and hit her head? " Shaz continued. 
At this point, DCI Hunt came out of his office, " If you're so worried Grainger, why don't you go over to her flat and check up on her? " he asked. 
  " Yes Guv " Shaz jumped at the chance to leave work and make sure her guardian angel was OK. She guessed that DCI Hunt wanted to check on Alex himself, but couldn't be seen to be doing so, in case he looked "soft". 
  Shaz popped her head into Luigi's restaurant before heading to DI Drake's flat, just to make sure Alex wasn't sat there. There was no sign of her, and Luigi hadn't seen her all day. Shaz knocked at the door of the flat, and there was no reply. By this time, she was becoming really worried, and when Luigi saw the level of concern on her face, he was easily persuaded to lend Shaz the spare key to the flat. 
  Shaz knocked again, as she gingerly opened the front door. " Ma'am, are you there? It's Shaz, " her words echoed round the empty rooms. There was no sign of DI Drake. Everything was neat and tidy, the bed was made, the dishes washed, clothes in the wardrobe, but no sign of Alex. Shaz opened the top drawer of the bedside cabinet, and glimpsed the warrent card sitting there. Then she realised Alex's leather jacket was still there too, in fact all of the clothes she could remember seeing DI Drake wearing were still in the flat. She put her hand under the pillow, no pyjamas or nightshirt. Was that what Alex was wearing when she disappeared? It didn't make sense. Shaz clutched at the crucifix around her neck, and said a silent prayer. 
   She became aware of the noise level rising from Luigi's below her. CID had obviously finished work for the day, and decamped en masse to their favourite haunt. Shaz was worried about Alex, and about DCI Hunt's reaction to what she was about to tell him. 
   " Disappeared? In her nightshirt? Don't talk bollocks. " Gene scowled across his pint. " This is some sort of stupid game, and I'm not playing." He told himself that he was not going to think about her, and for the first couple of pints, he suceeded, but as the evening wore on, he became increasingly morose. Where was she? Why did he care where she was? The stupid tart. He was angry, fuming, he could feel the anger coursing through his veins. He wanted to thump somebody, anybody. In the old days he would have done, but now even that release was denied to him, if he wanted to keep his job. There was nothing he could do, except look for her, and where would he look? 
   She'd turned up out of the blue, and now she'd disappeared the same way. "Easy come, easy go", only it wasn't easy to let go. Gene didn't want to contemplate the endless hours he'd spend staring at that empty chair in the office. Why didn't she just walk through the door, like she had all those months ago? He remembered the first time she'd walked into Luigi's, he could see her clear as day, striding towards him.
  " Guv, Guv? " Shaz touched his arm lightly.
  " What? " he jumped.
  " Why don't you come and sit with us, Guv? " she suggested.
Gene narrowed his eyes, " What? You and Pinky and bloody Perky over there? "
 " Guv " Shaz didn't know what to say, " well, if you change your mind...."  
DCI Hunt waved his hand at her dismissively, and Shaz hurried off to sit with Chris and Ray. 


     The doctors had found her a place in a residential home. Evan had had no idea just how soul destroying such places could be. Of course the staff meant well, and everyone smiled and put on a false air of jolity. Some of the other residents were beginning to recognise him, his visits were so regular. Like clockwork, every morning Monday to Friday ( his weekends were for Molly. ) Every day, " I'll see you tomorrow ". She never asked him any questions, he did all the talking. He felt as if he was babbling, about Molly, about work, he wasn't sure how much of it she was taking in. He felt like an intruder in the residential home, she belonged there and he didn't. The place was suffocating him. " This isn't your fault" that's what they'd said when Tim and Caroline died. Then why did it feel like it was his fault? Alex was slipping away from him, and she was never coming back. 

   Gene drove around in circles, he knew he was driving in circles. It was hopeless, bloody hopeless. Driving around in the middle of the night looking for her. It had been 3 days, and there was no sign of DI Drake anywhere. He was putting off the inevitable, but while he was still looking for her, he could convince himself that he might actually find her. If he gave up.... well, he couldn't give up, could he? Not while he could still see her face looking up at him, full of trust, when they'd both feared they were about to die in the vault at Edgehampton. That moment was etched in his memory, like all the other moments they'd shared. 
   Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a figure run into the road ahead of him. He braked sharply, and just in time. The figure rolled on the ground, caught with a glancing blow. " Just my luck, " Gene muttered, " what sort of drunken idiot..."  He stopped short as he reached the figure lying on the road. He wiped his hand across his eyes, he was seeing things, he had to be seeing things. It was Alex. 
  Gene's blood was boiling, he was shaking with rage, with fear, with he didn't know what. " You bloody stupid woman, " he bawled at her, " Christ, I nearly killed you! " Gene was ranting, swearing, shouting, he hardly knew what he was saying. Alex lay in the road and just stared at him, open-mouthed, frozen. Finally the tirade was over, exhausted, Gene crouched and peered at Alex.
 " Where've you been? " he whispered, holding out a hand to help her up. 
  " I don't know, " she replied honestly, and she clung to him for dear life.

The 17th

      It was raining heavily and water was pooling in the gutter, in front of a blocked drain outside Fenchurch East. Alex skirted gingerly round the edge of the puddle. Suddenly she was drenched from head to foot, the water spraying six feet into the air, as a bright red car screeched to a halt outside the station. 
    "Bastard!" she shouted reflexively, as she shook the water off herself. 
   "Good morning Bols," Gene couldn't keep the hint of laughter out of his voice.
    "Bastard" she said again, but more softly and with a note of affection, "I'm soaked".
   "We'll have to get those trousers off you" Gene grinned. 
   " In your dreams!" Alex replied, heading for the ladies toilets to dry herself off.
         By the time she entered the CID offices, it was obvious to Alex that something unusual was going on. There was a palpable tension in the air, everyone was working hard at giving the appearance of working hard. Ray looked up, and catching her eye he raised his eyebrows and inclined his head towards the Guv's office without saying a word. Gene's door was closed, but through the slated blinds, Alex could make out the outlines of two figures. Gene sat at his desk, and the Super standing up, leaning forwards, making his presence felt. He wasn't a very physically imposing figure, but Gene respected his rank, and behaved accordingly. There was a low buzz of activity in the outer CID office, everyone's senses were on alert, but the conversation in Gene's office remained a mystery. Then the Super opened the door, concluding his conversation with Gene 
    "Well, here's looking forward to the 17th" he said.
    "Yes Sir" Gene replied through clenched teeth. 
    Fortunately the senior officer wasn't looking at Gene at that point. The Super flashed a paper- thin smile around the outer office "Keep up the good work" he said to everyone and no one in particular. There were several mumbled replies of "Yes Sir"
   A little later on, Alex knocked on Gene's office door, and walked in without waiting for a reply.
 "So, what did the Super have to say?" she asked.
 "Nothing" Gene growled.
 "Really?" Alex kept her tone light and playful "So what's happening on the 17th?"
 "Nothing to do with you." Gene replied.
"St.Patrick's Day isn't it?" Alex wondered aloud. 
 "Might be" Gene was not going to expand on whatever Alex said.
"Gene, that's hardly a state secret"
"Humph!" he pouted "haven't you got work to do?"
Alex just gave him a withering look, and went back to her desk. Gene leant his head into his left hand and sighed. How was he going to get out of this?
    Midway through the afternoon, Shaz took a mug of tea and a plate of biscuits, and popped her head around the door of the Guv's office. " Cup of tea, Guv?" she asked.
  "I'd love one" Gene replied with feeling. 
 "There you go Guv". The Guv's desk was cluttered with random piles of paper, and Shaz eased a pile aside to place the mug and biscuits in front of him. Unfortunately, another pile of papers then fell off the edge of the desk. "Opps!" Shaz grinned nervously, and got onto her hands and knees to pick the papers up. An A5 size piece of cardboard dropped in front of her. She saw the words "St. Patrick's Day dinner dance" written on it in gilt embossed lettering, and quickly pushed it back into the pile, and made a rapid exit from the office. As she turned away from DCI Hunt, she grinned broadly. 
  "Would you like a cup of tea Ma'am?" she asked Alex cheerfully, as she passed Alex's desk. 
 "Oh, you don't have to do that,I'll get it myself" Alex smiled back at her.
 "It's no trouble Ma'am", but Alex had already left her seat, so the two women walked into the little kitchen together. Shaz was desperate to share the nugget of information, which she knew DI Drake would be eager to hear. 
 "Ma'am, about what the Super said earlier, the 17th?"
"Yes Shaz" Alex tried to seem as if she hadn't given the matter any thought at all. 
 "I know what it's about," Shaz continued.
Alex looked up expectantly "Oh?"
"It's a dinner dance, Ma'am, there was an invite on the Guv's desk" Shaz said.
  "Interesting" Alex's eyes twinkled.
       That evening, sitting in Luigi's, after a few large glasses of the "house rubbish", Alex decided to broach the subject of the 17th again. "You know, it might be good for your career prospects" she nodded gently as she spoke, as if she were mulling the prospect over. 
  "Um?"Gene looked up from his pint "What? What have my career prospects got to do with you, Bolly?"
 Alex opened her mouth as if to reply, then closed it again and gave a little shrug "just trying to be helpful" she said.
Why did she look so convincing? Gene knew she was up to something, but couldn't figure out what it was, and she was looking straight at him with those big eyes. She could have said almost anything, and he would have believed her, right then. 
  "It always helps to keep on the right side of the Super" she continued.
 "Yeh, well I think I've blown that one!" Gene reflected, the memory of his deeply embarassing appearance on Police Five rising unbidden to torment him. 
  "Maybe you could improve things?" Alex suggested softly. 
Somehow Gene felt himself getting sucked in again, "How?" he asked wearily.
"Well" Alex chewed her lower lip, "What about the 17th?"
"I'm not going" Gene was adamant ( forgetting that he hadn't told her he'd been invited anywhere.) 
 "You could take me with you,"  she gave him the smallest of smiles. Gene swallowed hard, the invite had said "DCI Hunt and partner". He had to admit that the prospect of walking into a room full of senior police officers and their wives, with Alex on his arm, appealed to him. If he was honest with himself, the fact that he hadn't had a partner to take with him, was one of the reasons he hadn't wanted to attend. He had a sneaking suspicion that the phrase "and partner" was some sort of dig at him. The Super must have known he was divorced and probably figured he'd bring some unsuitable tart with him. 
  "Gene?" Alex prompted. 
Reality set in again. "You sure you want to do this Bols?"
 "Why not?" Alex said decisively, her mind apparently made up.
 Why not? Gene could think of about half a dozen ways this could go disasterously wrong, and then he wondered what she'd wear, and smirked to himself. 
  In the couple of days before the 17th, Alex also wondered what she might wear. She was doing this to help Gene, to further his career prospects. She had to look respectable, to blend in with a group of middle-aged housewives. Oh God! she thought to herself, what have I agreed to do? She bought herself a new ( knee length ) grey dress, a string of pearls and matching pearl earrings, and hoped that she'd look suitably demure. 
  She could see from the look on Gene's face that he was less than impressed with her choice of outfit. Of course, he had wanted her to wear "something slutty", but it really wouldn't have been appropriate. "Shall we go in?" she asked him, as they stood outside the venue. He nodded. She smiled and snaked her arm through his, as they entered the hall. He gave her arm a little squeeze, but when she looked up at him, he was looking ahead, ready to meet and greet "the great and the good" of the Metropolitan police force. 
  Alex had been perfectly adept at these sorts of social events in 2008, but this was something very different from the dinners she was used to attending. She felt as if she had stepped even further back in time, to the 1960's, or possibly into the world of "The Stepford Wives" ( when was that film made? she wondered, could she make a joke about it in the 1980's? She really wasn't sure ). They were sat on a small table with three other policemen and their wives, the men "talked shop" and the women talked about their homes and families. Alex smiled sweetly, nodded and agreed with them. She would far rather have joined the men in conversation, but it wasn't the done thing, so she bit her tongue, and tried to participate in the "women's talk". 
  The truth was that the men's conversation was rapidly boring Gene. After briefly discussing work, it transpired that the other men at the table were all keen golfers, and Gene could feel his eyes glazing over as they discussed the relative merits of various golf courses they'd been to, and which Gene had no intention of ever visiting. The food was pleasant, everyone had had a few drinks, things seemed to be going fairly smoothly. 
  By the time the coffees were being served, the formal settings arrangements were breaking up. People began to mingle, standing in small clumps around the room, drinking, smoking, talking. A four piece band began to mangle some of the "classics" of the 1950's. Alex thought she heard them play "Come fly with me", a small number of couples moved onto the dance floor. Gene stood up and squeezed his way around the table, and bending down behind Alex he hissed " Dear God Bols, I can't take much more of this". Alex turned to smile at him.
   Suddenly there was a terrified scream from the opposite side of the hall. Everyone froze momentarily, the screaming woman pointed at the floor and shouted "a mouse, a mouse!".
  Pandemonium broke out, all of the policemen's wives began to scream and/or stand up on their chairs in an attempt to get as far away as possible from the dreaded "furry beast". The men stood around seemingly bemused by this turn of events, and no one seemed inclined to do anything constructive. Alex couldn't believe her eyes. "What is the matter with all of you?" she muttered to herself, as she got down on her hands and knees and crawled under the table to look for the poor, little mouse. It was tiny, and quite probably more terrified of the policemen's wives than they were of it. She cupped her hands around the little creature and picked it up safely. Several of the women were still shreeking and pointing at her. She caught Gene's eye "open that fire exit, would you?" she asked him " I seem to have my hands full". He did as she asked, and Alex set the innocent, little dinner guest free into the alleyway. "Good job, Bols" Gene said. 
 As they re-entered the hall several of people came over to speak to Alex. "Well, what a very suprising woman you are, Inspector" the Super commented. 
  "Thank you, Sir" Alex replied. This evening wasn't supposed to have been about her, she'd just reacted instinctively in a ridiculous situation. She looked around for Gene. The band began to play again. She spotted him on the fringes of the knot of people gathered around her. Everyone was repeating and re-living their own experience of "the mouse incident". They didn't need her physically present there to do that, and she slipped through the crowd to stand beside Gene. 
   "You dancing?"  his voice was gruff and his tone guarded.
 "You asking?" Alex grinned at him.
  "I might be" he said She tilted her head and smiled. He nodded barely perceptively, and they walked out onto the dancefloor, which was gradually filling with couples. Gene and Alex held each other tightly, and each of them closed their eyes for a moment. A moment that would last for ever, and be over in a split second.