Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 1500+ words.
Notes: Mostly gen, with hints of Sam/Annie if you squint. The title is from Act II, Scene II of Macbeth.
Sam never sleeps. Not really. He pretends to. He crawls onto the cot, positions himself into a resting arrangement. He doesn’t close his eyes. He waits for them to close themselves and hopes that one day they’ll open and he’ll be home. He’s perfected the art of working until you collapse. He’s checked the clock and it’ll have been later than 5 by the time he’s read through all the notes once, twice, three times and the world’s drifted into darkness. 2 hours of something, or nothing, and then it’s up and moving again. It isn’t sleep, though. He knows it isn’t sleep. You can’t sleep when you’re already in a dream world.
He’s afraid of telling Annie. He doesn’t appreciate the look she gives. Like she’s worried for his sanity but can’t help but like him anyway. She shouldn’t like him despite himself, she should like him because. And even though she is the only person he can really confide in, he’s not going to this time. Annie would tell him to go to the doctor. She would ask how he thinks he can run on empty. She wouldn’t get the joke about the petrol prices. It’s just too much.
“You look tired,” Gene says, planting himself in the chair next to Sam at the canteen table.
“Thanks. Feel tired, too.”
“What you need is –”
Sam interrupts. “Everyone to stop telling me what I need.”
“Fine then, Mister Crabby Pants, but don’t you be complaining after the rest of us appear all mellow and relaxed and you’re still tense as a wire.”
“It’s Sir Crabby Pants, thank you,” Sam replies with a sideways glance and a quick wry smile. “And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I rarely complain.”
“If by ‘rarely’ you mean every seven minutes.”
“Was there something you wanted Gene? A smack, maybe? A punch?”
Gene sizes him up, seems to think engaging in physical combat is a tad cruel and gets straight to the point.
“I need some help.”
“There’s a body down morgue with your name on it. Literally.”
Sam crosses his arms and frowns quizzically. “How do you mean?”
“It says, plain as day, ‘Sam’ in felt tip, just by the neck.”
“That’s a bit…”
“Morbid? Macabre? Mortifying?”
“E, all of the above.”
“Yeah, well. The boy’s called Sam. Bloody common name, if you ask me. Samuel Black. I could really use your expertise. You know, that sparkly science stuff you like to wow us with.”
“Fine.” Sam starts to stand, stretching his legs and pushing his head down to loosen the muscles at the back of his neck.
“No need to be so enthusiastic, Tyler. It’s not like you were doing anything important, is it? You were sitting here for a good three minutes, staring into space.”
“The fact you know that worries me greatly.”
“A good DCI always knows where his team is at any given moment.”
Sam gazes down at the body on the slab. The boy was young. Not yet out of school. He has wavy brown hair and softly angular features and he’s pale, nearing blue, very dead. Suffocation is no way to die at that age.
The writing is a little strange. He’d expected it to look hurried and scrawled, half-deliberate. Instead, it’s swirling lines and curlicues, elaborate, like it would have taken some time. And it does say ‘Sam’, plain as day, which gives him an odd feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“He was found down by canal,” Gene says. “Not in it, just on the road. He had his wallet on him, that’s how we know his name. Had his address and everything.”
Sam kneels down and examines the body. His interest in forensics is only passing. He reads a bit, he watches the tv shows – well, he used to – and he usually has short but detailed discussions with the pathologist, but he isn’t fascinated like Gene seems to think he is. He knows considerably more than any of the other coppers in the station, that’s all. This time, he sees light red fibre in the boy’s mouth, a strand caught between two of his top left teeth.
He turns back to Gene. “I think he was gagged. Maybe the gag went too far?”
“I thought that might have been it.”
“When’s Oswald back?”
“In an hour. I wanted another opinion quick-like. We’ve his mother in to identify the body.”
Sam shakes his head at Gene, who shakes his head back.
“This is our job,” Sam says quietly, leaning against the wall and looking up to the ceiling. He can see Gene nodding in his peripheral vision.
“You make do, Sam.”
“Why would my mind do that?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I can say that our minds work in mysterious ways. Just the other day I found myself humming All Creatures Great and Small, and I’ve no idea why.”
“Maybe you secretly long to be a vet?”
They walk back to the office.
The mother of the other Sam, the dead Sam, speaks between sobs. Her boy was supposed to have come home. He only went to a party. If she’d known, if she’d only known. But it’s always that way, isn’t it? If you’d known something terrible was going to happen, of course you wouldn’t let it.
Sam softens his voice, puts on a sympathetic expression. “Mrs Black, was it a party for both boys and girls?”
“They all are these days, aren’t they?” she answers. “I thought there was going to be someone there – taking care of them all.” She falls into sobbing again.
“We understand, pet,” Gene says, and he’s all gentle hand gestures and sad eyes. “Can you give us any names?”
As they arrive at the house where the party was held, it’s obvious that they are expected. There are two severe looking adults and two worried looking kids. They’re in their late teens and fidgeting. The parents usher Sam and Gene into the living room, opposite the teenagers.
“I have a feeling there’s a lot you can tell us,” Gene says, standing tall and domineering.
“I’m sorry,” the girl says, her eyes wide and fearful. “It was only ever meant to be a bit of fun.” The boy’s head snaps around, in shock or anger, it’s hard to tell.
Sam takes on an approach which is friendlier than Gene’s. “What happened?”
The girl looks towards her parents and then back to Sam when they nod. She is almost as pale as the young Sam had been. She rubs the skin on the back of her hand and bends her head to one side.
“It were hide and seek,” the other teenager interjects. “Special edition. You’ve got to escape when you’re it. You get put in the cupboard with a scarf around your wrists and a gag. The rest of us hide. Two others had already been it before Sam. They were okay.”
“What kind of game is that?” Gene thunders.
“Nothing bad’s ever happened before,” the boy yells in reply.
“It were only a matter of time,” the father says from the doorway. He looks half-broken, deflated, gone.
“He had a fit,” the girl says. “We heard him knocking around in there. We weren’t sure whether he was just playing, so we waited. After a while we realised he wasn’t coming out. He was… he was dead.”
“Why did you dump his body?” Sam asks, anger making his voice coarse.
“Weren’t thinking straight. We just panicked,” the boy answers.
“What about the writing?” Gene asks. The girl frowns a little and then pulls down her collar. She has the same types of marks, only it says ‘Joanne’ instead.
“That was Rita. She’s an artist.”
“Are we going to go to gaol?”
Sam slowly shakes his head.
“He was only fifteen,” Sam says, leaning against the table and gazing as Annie collects a pile of folders.
“It isn’t right, is it Annie? You’d think that if we had any control, we’d make things better. If I had any control, I’d make things better.”
“You need to take care of yourself, Sam,” Annie says. She raises her hand and brushes some of his hair back. “We all want a better world. But it’s something we need to work towards. To do that, we’ve got to be fighting fit.”
Sam smiles a smile with a hint of sorrow. He didn’t even need to tell her. She just knows. He rocks back slightly.
“Bye, Annie. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She has a point. He can’t keep living his life this way, if it is indeed a life he is living. He goes to the pub with the others and sits quietly by the bar, talking to Nelson when he has the chance. He plays a game of poker and loses, badly. He watches as it gets darker, the sun creeping down below the horizon. And then he goes home.
Sam shrugs off his pinstriped shirt. He pulls the underlying white cotton over his head. Undoes his trousers and leaves them crumpled on the floor. He climbs under the covers of his bed and takes a deep breath. He imagines every muscle in his body as a dead weight, dragged down by gravity, down, down. He closes his eyes. And eventually, after some time, and a lot of thinking – he falls asleep.