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.
"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"
"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.