Fandom: Life on Mars
Rating: PG-13 for use of expletives, mature themes and violence.
Word Count: 8,300 words out of approximately 17,000 words.
Thank you to my family for putting up with me during the writing process and helping me edit this.
Sam hadn’t had much sleep. He’d been running through his notes, adding observations, correcting miscellaneous thoughts. He had been working several cases at a time, pleased to have the distraction. Lately, he had started to worry that his 1973 life might be more permanent than he had initially been convincing himself. The brief moments of contact with 2006 he had previously encountered were diminishing as the weeks wore on. He’d stopped hearing things, seeing things. At first, this had been a welcome relief. Then, it occurred to him what this might signify.
He strode into CID intent to get the day off to a good start. It was quiet, even quieter than usual at this early hour. Chris sat at his desk, his head bent low. Ray sat opposite, his eyes fixed on a point on the wall, his mouth slowly opening and closing like a goldfish with a fetish. Sam looked at them in query, then walked into Gene’s office.
There were boxes lying on the floor. Three of them. They were full of odds and ends. A tape dispenser. A pile of folders. An oil can. Lying next to the boxes was one of Gene’s posters.
“What’s this, then? Spring cleaning? You’re either very early or very late, Gene. It’s the middle of summer.”
Gene turned from unpinning his posters. His eyes bore into Sam’s, cold and uncompromising.
Sam frowned. “On holiday?”
“How’d you mean?”
“I’m quitting, Sam.”
Sam’s mouth opened, then closed, then opened again. Ray’s affliction was contagious.
“You can’t quit. You’re the Guv.”
“Not anymore, Sammy-boy,” Gene said, successfully taking down his The Good, The Bad and The Ugly poster and starting to roll it up. “My best bet is that DCI is going to fall to you. Aren’t you pleased? You’ll finally be getting what you’ve always longed for.”
“Now, hold on. What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Don’t play the innocent, Tyler. From the very beginning your dream has been to be in charge. Your time has come.” Gene laughed, a malicious grin marring his features. “You’ll get them all doing everything by proper procedure, poles up their arses.”
“That’s not fair, Gene. Never once have I demanded authority. Just because I’ve contravened yours, does not mean I want ownership of the law of the land.”
Gene laughed again, a hollow sound reverberating against the walls. “Give over.”
Sam shook his head. He pointed at Gene. “I’ve been DCI, it’s no great shakes.”
“Well, see, now I know you’re lying. I checked with Hyde. They have no records of promotion or demotion regarding one Sam Tyler. It’s all in your head.”
“Fine, then!” Sam exclaimed, raising his arms up. “It’s all in my head. I’ve been DCI in my head, and it’s no great shakes.”
Gene turned back to the wall to unstick another relic of the cinema. “So. What? You’d turn it down?”
“No need. It pains me to say this, Gene, but you’re the best DCI I’ve worked with. You’re not quitting. I won’t let you.”
Gene spoke over his shoulder, nonchalant and dismissive. “You can’t stop me.”
“Just watch me.”
Gene stopped carefully peeling the final poster off the wall and ripped it instead.
“I’ve no choice in the matter, Sam. Rathbone has made himself clear. I either quit or get sacked. At least this way I’ve a say in the matter.”
Sam’s expression was a picture of confusion. “But why?”
“Our latest case.”
Sam put a hand to his forehead. Their latest case had been a regular spate of burglaries, hadn’t it? They’d had witnesses, they’d brought in the culprit.
“What about it?”
Gene sighed, his head lowering a fraction or two before he raised it again with a snap. “It’s a right balls up.”
“I don’t understand. Nothing went wrong. No-one got hurt. We got the bugger.”
“The bugger is Rathbone’s nephew.”
“You heard me.”
Sam stepped forward, suddenly feeling a knot in the base of his stomach.
“You’re kidding me. Tell me you’re joking, Gene? So what if McAuliffe is Rathbone’s nephew? He’s still a burglar. We have everything we need to prove it.”
“You know as well as I do that reports, witnesses, and evidence can go missing if need be,” Gene replied, his mouth set into a straight line. “And I’ve told Rathbone I won’t stand by and watch him walk free. So he’s said I can shove off.”
“I don’t believe this.” Sam paced from right to left, his hand banging against his thigh. “No. No way. You are Gene Hunt. You’re not just going to roll over because Superintendent Frank Rathbone’s asking you to. We’re going to go in there and tell the Super just what we think of him.”
Gene took a deep breath. He went to light the cigarette in his hand, but Sam stepped forward and took it from him before crushing it with a well-placed Cuban heel.
“There’s no use, Sam.”
“There’s every use in the world.”
Sam took Gene’s wrist and dragged him out of the office. He expected Gene to put up some kind of resistance, but he didn’t. Chris and Ray watched as Gene let Sam lug his overweight frame out of CID, all the way to Superintendent Rathbone’s corner of the station.
Sam stormed into the room, no preface of pleasantries. “If you think Gene Hunt’s going to quit, you’ve got another thing coming.”
Gene walked in slowly behind Sam. He hovered in the doorway.
“Good day, Detective Inspector Tyler. Still making a lot of commotion, I see.”
“Look, we’ve everything we need to convict McAuliffe,” Sam said, stabbing a finger towards Rathbone’s mahogany desk.
“Do you really? Forgive me, but I fear I have no knowledge of the situation one way or another.”
“He did the crime. He’s going to pay for it. Getting Hunt to quit isn’t going to change any of that.”
“I never once suggested it would.”
Rathbone was cool and calculating in his gaze. “I never intended to let Detective Chief Inspector Hunt resign.”
“You didn’t?” Sam’s head wobbled with confusion. He glanced from Rathbone to Gene. Gene was staring at Rathbone with intense malice.
“No. He doesn’t need to resign. He’s fired.”
“On what grounds?”
“Is it, now? I think we can make a very compelling case otherwise. And not just for Gene Hunt.”
“I won’t stand for this.”
“You won’t have to.”
“What do you mean?”
“Sam Tyler, you are hereby discharged from duty. Place your police identification on my desk and leave the premises immediately. The same goes for you, Hunt – but you already knew that.”
Sam stared at Rathbone for a minute, searching his eyes for a sign of humour. There was none. This was not some elaborate practical joke. Or, if it was, it wasn’t Rathbone’s. Sam placed his badge on the desk and walked out of the room, numb. Gene followed closely behind. He dragged Sam, just as Sam had dragged him, back to CID. He shoved a box into his arms.
“Help me pack the Cortina.”
Sam nodded, his face pale. “I can’t believe this.”
“I did tell you, Sam.”
Sam shook his head, the action slow and measured. “But, it’s not real. I mean, it’s just not possible.”
“I’m afraid it is, Sammy-boy.”
“But we’re coppers. That’s what we do.”
There was a certain weariness in Gene’s gait. He waited for Sam to regain his composure.
“He committed a crime.”
Gene bundled Sam into the car. Sam was still talking, half to himself. He didn’t understand. He knew that there was corruption on the force, but this much corruption? This was insane. He couldn’t have lost his job. It was all he knew. What was Sam Tyler if he wasn’t working on a case, tracking down criminals? He was nothing. He might have been dumped in 1973, but at least he had still been given a badge.
Sam hadn’t had time to think about it, but he had told Gene that he didn’t want to be DCI. Was that true? Maybe this was a test. It was the most logical explanation for it. And that was the scary thing. Logic just didn’t factor into what had happened in one short hour.
Sam didn’t notice the streets speeding by as Gene drove him to his flat. Had he just… ? No, he couldn’t have. No. Any second, he was going to open his eyes, and this was going to have been a ridiculous nightmare.
Sam opened his eyes. Light filtered in through the window, highlighting the dust of his flat swirling in yellow abandon. He squinted at the clock. It was eleven fifty, barely morning. On this - the sixth day of having nowhere to be and nothing to do, he had finally slept in.
Part of it had to do with his having drunk himself into a stupor the night before. He was relatively sure he had consumed more than half his body weight in whiskey. Well, whiskey and peanuts. And crisps. And possibly some vodka. Definitely some beer. Hell, he’d drunk the whole of the Railway Arms dry, and eaten all forms of salted snacks, with Gene by his side. He half-remembered patches of conversation with Gene, what had they been?
He was only just managing to hold himself up with a hand on the toilet cistern when there came a pounding knock at the door.
“Wait,” Sam called, scrunching up his eyes and praying for quick relief.
He hobbled to the door and opened it with little ceremony. Gene stood in the doorway, a ludicrously large grin on his face.
“Ey up, Gladys. Don’t you look lovely.”
His sarcasm was well-placed. Sam’s hair was sticking up over his head like a set of pins in a pin cushion. His trousers were low slung, allowing a gap of flesh to emerge below the hem of his vest. He hadn’t yet shaved, his jaw was covered in bristles. And he had lines over his cheek from the sheets of his cot, a jagged and jarring pattern.
Sam’s words came out with a slight slur. He wasn’t quite drunk, but he wasn’t quite sober either. “What d’you want, Gene?”
“What the hell for?”
Gene walked past Sam into the flat, his hands in his pockets. He was astonishingly casual. “What we were talking about last night.”
“I had a long night, Gene. I’ve no idea what we may have done or discussed. You could have proposed marriage and I’d’ve said yes.”
“I’m honoured Sam, truly I am, but you know as well as I do you’d never be able to wear white.” Gene sauntered into the middle of the room. “We made plans to go see our new base of operations.”
“Operations for what?”
“Our detective agency, Sam. What else?”
Sam felt he had a permanent expression of bafflement etched into his features these days.
“What, for fuck’s sake, are you talking about? Explain. Slowly.”
“Last night, my dearest Sam, you and me decided we were going to use our shared powers for the good of the community.”
“By establishing a detective agency.” It was a statement, not a question, but Sam still waited for a response. When none came, he crashed into the closest armchair. “How drunk did you get me last night, Hunt?”
“Just think of the prospects, Sammy-boy,” Gene said, positively glowing. Sam had rarely seen him so cheerful.
“Prospects of…” Sam stopped. He didn’t know how to finish the sentence.
“Of continuing the fine work we started on the force.”
“But we won’t have any jurisdiction.”
“We won’t have any restrictions, either.”
“We won’t have the support of the full weight of the law.”
“We won’t need it ourselves - we’ve contacts.” Gene looked down at Sam, his eyes glinting with reckless power.
“This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard come out of your mouth, Gene. And let’s face it, that’s saying something.”
Gene waved the insult away, a grin creeping onto his face once more.
“Hunt and Tyler, private dicks.”
“If we do this thing – and I cannot stress this enough - if - we are going to be known either as private eyes or private investigators - not private dicks. I don’t know what kind of clientele you’re after, but it’s not the same as mine.”
Gene placed his hand at the back of Sam’s neck, his fingers gentle. Then, he grabbed at the material of Sam’s white vest and hauled him up to his feet. Sam stood, half suspended by Gene’s upper body strength. He desperately wanted to collapse back down again.
“Get dressed, Sam. We’ve places to see.”
Sam cringed. It had been a horrible week. He hadn’t really thought things could get worse. Not when it came down to it. But apparently, it could. The only thing which had kept Sam relatively sane all this time in 1973 was his job – and now that was gone. It really was gone, wasn’t it? This wasn’t simply an extended series of hallucinations? He, Sam Tyler, the whitest of the white, had been fired for corruption. Only, he wasn’t corrupt, and certainly not in the way he was being accused.
Sam had stalked outside the police station for the first two days. Rathbone had sent a bobby to inform him he’d be arrested if he continued. The thought had been tempting - at least that way he’d be in the station - but he’d heeded the warning and left the car park to wallow in his flat.
Throughout this time, Sam had been trying to get in contact with the Chief Superintendent. He felt sure that if he went to a higher authority, he could sort everything out. He had rung no less than thirty-three times. On the thirty-fourth attempt, he had finally got through and been told that the Chief Superintendent wasn’t interested in discussing matters with disgraced coppers and if he didn’t stop ringing, his career wouldn’t be the only thing in disrepair.
Annie had stopped by and talked to Sam about everything that had happened. She was worried. Chris had rung him up several times to ask for advice. Ray had apparently spoken to Gene. There was mass confusion at the station. Rumours were running around about corruption, but nothing had been said out in the open. Of course, Sam knew that the suspects of corruption in this instance weren’t the ones that should be investigated.
Marlowe had been appointed acting DCI until such time an appropriate replacement could be sought. Sam didn’t mind Marlowe. He wasn’t completely useless. He was no more useless than Ray, at the very least. He wasn’t overly organised. He didn’t have much initiative. The most worrying thing about him was that he embodied all of Gene’s worst traits when it came to policing, yet had none of his instinct or drive. Sam could only imagine the waves of glee rolling over the criminal sectors of Manchester. Tosh Preston would be having a field day. His attempts to take over the Warren empire would now go largely unchecked.
Sam finished buttoning up his shirt. He exhaled deeply and closed his eyes for a moment before turning back to Gene.
“Take me to your leader.”
It was red brick. Some of the bricks looked loose in their mortar. They jutted out at odd angles. Sam climbed out of the Cortina and walked closer to have a good look. The wooden door to his left had gaps between the parts which made it a whole. It looked like it was only held together by the beam which ran along its centre. Gene placed a large metallic key in the lock and rattled it three times. He could have just kicked the door down, it would have been a quicker and more efficient method of gaining entry.
Sam followed Gene in. On the inside, it was not gigantic, but it wasn’t small either. The roof was a long way up. The part of the floor which wasn’t adorned with large wooden crates was covered in a thick layer of dust. There were tracks in the grime, telltale signs of rats and their brethren. Sam felt slightly sick to his stomach at the thought of them all, scuttering along. He couldn’t see any at this moment, and that was a relief.
This was a warehouse. Sam guessed it was one of the smaller warehouses in the district, but that’s definitely what it was. To the left, there was a mezzanine, wooden steps leading up to it. To the right, there was more dust. Another door lay opposite, but this one looked brand new and sturdy, and Sam knew it must lead onto a private establishment. Pillars punctuated the wide open space. Large windows ran along the top of every wall, and they would probably let in a lot of light, if they weren’t covered in grime.
“This is where you want to set up a detective agency?” Sam asked. It suddenly occurred to him that Gene was not by his side. He turned to look for him and saw Gene standing behind, his eyes glowing with an odd kind of fervour.
“It’s a dump.”
“It’s nothing a bit of tender loving care won’t fix.”
Sam darted his head around, trying to see if there was anything he missed. He couldn’t see anything extraordinary.
“It’s cheap. Very cheap. So cheap, little birds are put to shame by the sheer chirpiness of it. It’d cost us a quarter of the price to buy this place than it would a small office type building.”
Sam smiled, a bitter little smile which made his brown eyes look dull and disheartened.
“Sounds about right.”
“Not only that, but crime’s been going up in this area ever since we put Warren behind bars. We can be guaranteed work in this vicinity.”
“This is madness.”
“I don’t know the meaning of the word. And neither should you. We could do great things, Sam. How many times have we known that a crook was planning something, but haven’t had the resources to track him? Now we can. How often have you been hampered by the rules? Now, we make the rules.”
This was the Gene Hunt of his youth – foolishly optimistic, unbelievably idealistic. It was faintly unsettling. Sam stared at him, his foot tapping lightly in the dust.
“Why are you doing this, Gene? I mean, really? First, you give up on years of being on the force, and now – now you want to risk God-only-knows-what on a pipedream?”
“Needs must, Sammy-boy.” Gene’s attitude snapped from enthused to infused with anger. “Look – sometimes you’ve got to know when to duck and run. I’ve never been one to stand against a barrage of bullets, and I’m not going to start now.”
“I’ve seen you stand up to bullets,” Sam said, his voice deadly quiet and his eyes fixed on Gene’s.
“What am I proposing, Sam?”
“Marriage, if our earlier conversation is anything to go by.”
Gene advanced, vaguely menacing in his approach. “I’m serious.”
“That we become private detectives.”
“And what do they do, Sam?”
“They investigate things? For a fee.”
“The key word in what you just said was ‘investigate’. Care to tell me why?”
Sam blinked and had a revelation. Of course. Gene wasn’t completely off his rocker, then.
“It might be cheaper than an office, but this place is still going to cost a bomb. How can you afford this, Gene?”
Gene avoided Sam’s eyes. He wandered away, over towards the mezzanine, apparently examining it with immense interest. Sam stared at his camel-hair clad back. Finally, Gene spoke.
“I’ve a nice little nest egg at home. Once we’re up and running, the business will pay for itself.”
“How’d you get a nice little nest egg? I’ve seen your pay packet, you don’t get that much.”
Gene was peering intently at the concrete floor. “Before you came along, Sam, I’d take the money. Every two weeks I’d take the money. No questions asked, plenty of favours granted. And every two weeks I’d stuff the money into a suitcase in back of wardrobe and try not to think about it. I never spent more than a fiver of it at any one time.” He looked up, straight into Sam’s widening eyes. “There’s thousands there.”
“You want to set this up with dirty cash?”
“It’ll be doing good, Sam. Think about how many people we could help, lives we could make better.”
Sam thought about it. Gene had a point. What was the use of a wad of cash in a suitcase, when it could be used for the greater good? He’d never have thought this a week ago, but he was feeling more than slightly desperate, especially as the days wore on with little result. He wanted – no, he needed something else in his life. He was beginning to think there was no escape. Worse than that, he was beginning to think he’d never find out how he’d ended up here in the first place. And he couldn’t help but admit that part of him still thought this was all a game. If he passed go, would he collect £200?
“I’ve seen you, Sam, you’re always on the go. Aren’t you just itching for another case to solve?”
“I don’t have much choice do I?” Sam said, sighing. He sucked in his cheeks and straightened his back. “Okay, fine. Let’s do this. Let’s be Hunt and Tyler – Private Detectives.”
“I thought that was Hunt and Tyler - Private Investigators?” Gene smirked. “There’s a lad, Sammy-boy. Now we’re right on track.”
“What does your wife think of all of this, Gene?”
“I haven’t told her.”
“You what?” Sam couldn’t believe him.
“There are some things a man and a wife needn’t discuss.”
Sam raised his eyes to the heavens to pray. Instead, he saw wooden beams and a worse-for-wear ceiling.
Gene knew that Sam had worked in a DIY store in his gap year. He also knew that this had something to do with construction. Sam hadn’t had the heart to tell him that being able to assemble an IKEA shelving unit in seven and a half minutes was not the same as renovating a long abandoned warehouse that was in need of more than a few licks of paint. Instead, Sam had rolled up his shirtsleeves and got to work. Actually – first, he’d gone to his local library and looked up some construction manuals. Then, he’d rolled up his shirt sleeves and got to work.
Sam had been peering at a diagram in one of his borrowed books, having been up and at it for two hours, when Gene appeared on the scene. Gene rolled his eyes.
“There’s you, not even attempting to figure it out on your own,” Gene remarked, chewing on what Sam presumed was gum.
Sam poked a finger at him. “D’you want a new set of stairs? If not, we could always just put a ladder up there. Call it quits.” He hoped Gene would argue against the notion. He’d been working on these replacement stairs for three whole days, and the thought of all that work going up in a puff of smoke was not especially appealing.
“No, Gladys, you’ll do what you’re told,” Gene replied, giving Sam what he wanted. Gene shrugged off his coat and stood by Sam. “What do you think I should start with?”
Sam had a look around, squinted, and turned back to Gene. “How’s about you organise some coffee?”
Gene gave him a clip round the head, but put his coat back on and left the building again. Sam grinned to himself. His first real grin since the whole affair had started. Every time he woke up, he felt sure it was all a dream. Then he’d wait a bit for the truth to sink in. Not a dream. Unless, of course, it was. But still, not the kind of dream he wanted it to be. Why couldn’t his mind have imagined sand, sea and surf, if that’s what it was? No, instead, he got a grimy bedsit, a career in tatters, and Gene Hunt to keep him company.
They had been working on the warehouse for a week. Sam had decided early on that the mezzanine was structurally sound, but the way leading up to it was not. Gene’s legs had fallen through one of the steps and there had been a panic-ridden minute of flailing and wide eyes before Sam had pulled him free. When they were on solid ground again, Gene had taken a deep breath, clapped him on the shoulder, and actually gone so far as to thank him. Sam had been oddly pleased.
So far, they had cleared away debris, cleaned up the dust, and made good headway on making the place seem somewhat respectable. There was still a lot to be done, but it wasn’t impossible. Chris and Ray were coming on the weekend to help out. Annie had already popped around a few times in the evening. Reports were that things at the station were running relatively smoothly, but part of that had to do with a temporary lull in serious criminal activity. Sam had a horrible feeling that crime lords were taking a day or two off to make serious plans for mass Manchester domination.
Sam had commissioned Chris as his spy at the station. Sam wanted to know about any visitors Rathbone had, any places that he went to. He wanted to know it all. Chris admitted to feeling torn between his official and unofficial duties, but he’d been doing a good job so far. As yet, they had nothing which could be any use, but it was only a matter of time.
Gene returned after half an hour with a thermos of coffee.
“Nipped back home to get it,” he said, by way of explanation. “Seemed the most sensible thing to do.”
Sam nodded and took the cup from him gladly. He gulped down the bitter substance, feeling it tingle in the back of his throat. Gene was rolling up his shirtsleeves. Sam nodded to a pile of wood.
“I’ve marked all that out. It just needs to be sawn along the places indicated.”
“Oh, and you left it for me? How kind of you.”
“You wanted something to do,” Sam replied with a shrug. “I could always do with some breakfast, so if you’d prefer to get an apron on and whip me up some bacon and eggs, that’s your prerogative.”
Gene glinted at him, and Sam knew he’d taken it too far too early in the day. Gene thumped him, once, hard, on the upper arm. It made the entire limb go dead. Sam lashed back at him, kicking him in the shins. They scrabbled about for a bit, legs kicking and fists punching wherever they could.
“You talk to me like that again, Sammy-boy, and I’ll have you on the ground, pleading for your life,” Gene growled, fisting Sam’s collar with one hand, raising the other above his head.
“You’re over-exaggerating,” Sam coughed out.
Gene’s voice was hoarse and uncompromising. “Try me.”
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry.”
Gene relinquished him, lifted one of the planks of wood and gestured towards Sam with a menacing glare. He set it up on the cutting table they had erected and began sawing. Sam rubbed at his arm, cracking his neck to one side and promising himself he wouldn’t sulk. It had been a joke, for Christ’s sake. He licked at his lip and tasted the tannic flavour of blood.
Sam set about his own sawing, placing all of his anger in the up and down thrusts of the saw. He went through four, five, six pieces before sitting down and having a rest. He liked to keep relatively fit, he had crims to run after, but he wasn’t used to manual labour. He certainly wasn’t used to this. He realised he was soaked through, so he peeled off his shirt and hung it to dry on an old hook by the mezzanine. It felt better, to have the breeze brushing against his chest, cooling down his body. Gene raised his eyebrows, but didn’t comment. Sam did some more measuring, some more cutting, and before he knew it, it was lunch time.
“What d’you feel like today, then?” Gene asked, quite out of breath. He was puffing, sweat trickling down his face.
“I dunno. Feeling a bit sick of burgers, to be honest.”
“I feel like a bacon buttie.”
Sam smirked. “You look like one n’all. Grease and gristle.” He paused for a bit, thinking. “Okay. Bacon buttie it is.”
“Get your shirt on, then,” Gene said. “We don’t want a bunch of swooning girls following us everywhere we go.”
“You sure about that? We could rope them into helping.”
They drove to the nearest café, a small green place that smelt powerfully of lavender. The café didn’t make what Sam would consider ‘haute cuisine’, but he was fairly sure they didn’t utilise cockroaches in the cooking process either.
“After lunch, I was thinking we could have a look for furniture. Might be able to get something at auction, what do you say?”
“You promise to be on your best behaviour?”
Sam bit into his buttie and chewed for a bit. “What does that involve?”
“In your case, keeping your mouth shut and your eyes open.”
“Tell you what, I’ll make you a deal. If you return the favour, I’ll be as quiet as a mouse.”
“You’re a right mouthy bastard, Sam Tyler.”
Sam didn’t especially want to get into another fight, although he felt sure that this time he’d beat Gene, who was still looking the other side of knackered. He nodded in agreement and finished the last of his food.
Sam surveyed his surroundings with no small amount of pride. The warehouse looked fantastic. On the ground floor, where once was a big empty hole, was now a comfortable looking living room setting – newly upholstered armchairs and sofa in deep blue. A coffee table, adorned with a vase of flowers, rested on a large Persian rug. There were standard lamps illuminating the area. Under the mezzanine they had a series of screens and behind these lay a storage area which at this moment housed the tools they had used in their renovation work.
Sam walked up the stairs to the mezzanine. Close to the railing there was another sofa facing inwards, this one deep green. There were two desks, set parallel to each other on either side of the space. On Sam’s desk there was a notepad and pens all set in a neat line. On Gene’s there was a party seven, ready to be opened. A large filing cabinet sat in the corner, and a table arranged with two pairs of binoculars, three cameras and various different types of tape recorders was placed next to it.
Setting up the requisite lighting had proved to be some trouble. The wiring for the fixtures on the ceiling was shot to pieces and the estimate the electrician had given them had turned Gene bright purple and Sam a pretty shade of pink. They had to have lamps on the desks and standard lamps dotting about the place. Getting the electricity back on in the warehouse had been a feat in itself. Sam must have called no less than fifteen times.
But now it was done, and they could get down to some actual detective work. Just that morning, Gene had placed advertisements in all the local rags. They had spoken to former informants and got the word out on the street that Hunt and Tyler were in business. Sam leaned over the railing, watching over his dominion with an almost manic grin. In the to and fro of setting this up, he had forgotten any troubles he had, any worries he’d harboured. He just had something real to concentrate on.
Sam heard the key turn in the new door. It swung open and there was Gene, a large paper packet in his hands. Sam heard Chris and Ray singing loudly outside and they followed Gene into the room. Phyllis and Annie were next. Sam half-expected to see other members of CID and the Women’s Department joining them, but none came.
Gene looked up towards Sam and nodded.
“Great, bring down the party seven will you? I’m dying of thirst.”
Sam collected the tin off the desk and made his way down the stairs. The stairs he’d built. No, that they’d built together. Gene was placing the fish and chips on the coffee table. Ray and Chris had collapsed onto the sofa. Phyllis was perched on the edge of one of the armchairs. Annie was standing awkwardly to one side.
“I’ll be back in a sec.”
Sam went behind the screen and collected two dining chairs that were serviceable but needed a lick of varnish. He moved back towards the crowd and set them down before leaning forward and taking a chip.
“Place looks amazing, boss,” Chris said, waving a hand full of chips around.
“Thanks Chris. You were a great help.”
“That reminds me. I’ve a present in the car.”
Chris stood and practically ran out of the building. He returned with a large flat object covered in linen. He nodded to Ray, who got up and helped him peel away the material.
In shining metal on a black backboard, the sign displayed:
Hunt and Tyler
“That is wicked,” Sam said, staring. He grinned, his eyes shining brightly. He glanced towards Gene, who also looked pleased. “You’ve really outdone yourself, Chris.”
“It’s really professional,” Annie added, her eyelashes fluttering down towards her cheeks.
Discussion of the station was tinged with bitter laughter and a great deal of mockery. Marlowe had taken to trying to throw his weight around, but as Ray said, it wasn’t like he was heavy enough to do so. He was tall and thin and not very good at trying to be menacing. Phyllis explained how he had no idea how to liaise with the Women’s Department and had made a fool of himself making requests. No-one knew how long it would take to get someone more qualified for the role. Sam guessed that Rathbone wanted a DCI who wouldn’t ask questions, and those were surprisingly difficult to find.
They finished the fish and chips and dispersed to let the guests have a look around the warehouse. Chris bounded up the stairs in boyish enthusiasm and quoted one of Juliet’s famous speeches in high-pitched falsetto. Sam was impressed that he could get through so much. Ray stood underneath and the thought that flittered across Sam’s mind made him laugh and turn away. He saw Annie, her mouth set in a straight line, looking at a painting on the wall. It was one of his favourites, they’d found it at an antique store. It was a picture of a young boy alone on a road, looking up towards the starlit sky. He’d nicknamed it ‘The Traveller’.
“Are you okay, Annie? You seem a bit down.” Sam placed a hand on her upper arm, letting it glide down to her elbow.
“Have you given up, Sam?”
“How d’you mean?”
“This is all looking like a proper business. Aren’t you going to fight anymore? What about Rathbone?”
Sam cocked his head to one side, searching Annie. She stared back at him defiantly.
“I haven’t given up, but if we’re going to investigate Rathbone, we’ve got to do it carefully. And what if it doesn’t work? What will you have me do then?”
Annie flicked some of her fringe out of her eyes. “You’re a copper, Sam.”
“You think I don’t know that? I’ve wanted to be a police officer for as long as I can remember, but for the moment, life is conspiring to take me on another path.”
“That’s mystical, that is. I just hope you know where you’re going.”
Annie walked away, towards Phyllis in the corner. Sam stared at her back, feeling a mixture of frustration and confusion.
“Oi, Sam,” Gene called. “Shift-it-like and help me set up this record player. We could do with some music, don’t you think?”
“No Roger Whittaker,” Sam yelled back.
“Now why would you say that?” Gene asked. When Sam neared Gene, he grabbed his arm, pulled him close and whispered “we’ll have Whittaker playing all next week for your insolence.”
Sam smirked at him. He looked around the room. It was going to look like a right tip in the morning, but before then, at least, he could spend some time enjoying himself.
Sam sat with his head firmly planted on the table. It had been eight days, eight whole days and they hadn’t had anyone come to them. No-one had rung up. Not a soul had expressed a need for their expertise. Why had he thought this was a good idea again? And why did he bother coming to the warehouse every day?
Sam had tried to convince Gene to start keeping a watch on Rathbone, but Gene had stated in no uncertain terms that it would be safer to have a few cases under their belts first. If they had a successful business, why would they bother investigating a bent Super?
“Up and at them, Sam,” Gene said, stomping up the stairs. He had been out for lunch – eating alone only because he was starving hungry. Sam felt too nauseous to eat.
“We’ve somewhere to be.”
Sam’s head shot up, a look of hope painted in the curve of his mouth, the set of his brow.
“A case,” Gene confirmed. Sam almost whooped for joy. He stood up and clattered down the stairs behind Gene, grabbing his leather coat off the stand and putting his arms through the sleeves.
“I thought this day would never come,” Sam said, climbing into the Cortina and raising his eyebrows at Gene.
“You’ve no patience, that’s why,” Gene replied. He started the car and they were away.
They stopped along a pretty avenue, flowers in garden beds and kids playing football under a tree. Gene hunkered lower in his seat and brought out a pair of binoculars. He handed them to Sam.
“What’re these for?”
“Observation, what d’you think? Get lower.”
Sam did as he was told, pressing the binoculars to his eyes and looking around the street. He couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary.
“So, tell me about the case – the main players, the main events, how much we’re getting paid...”
“I was in café and heard this woman talking to the ugly bag she was with about how she’d rarely seen her hubby ever since he started work in his new factory. He often went out in the afternoon – to his mates, he said. She was desperate to know what he was up to. I wandered over and offered her our services for a fiver an hour.”
“We’re here to spy on someone’s husband?”
“Yeah. You got a problem with that?” Gene asked. Sam shrugged. “Didn’t think so.”
“What’s his name? Better yet, what does he look like?”
“Felix Angus. She gave me a picture, hang on a sec.”
Gene rifled through his coat pockets before brandishing the aforementioned photograph. Felix was a good looking man with brown wavy hair and bright green eyes. His square jaw was accentuated by dimples at the corners of his lips as he smiled. Sam had the immediate impression of a charming man. Just how charming was he?
“Where should we be looking, then?”
“House opposite,” Gene replied, pointing lazily towards a place three houses down and on the other side of the road.
Sam cast his attention to the house. It was new, well-kept. The curtains at the windows gave it the appearance of opulence. There was a small child’s bicycle resting against one side of the wall.
“If we find out he’s been cheating on his wife, how are we gonna tell her?”
“I was going to let you say it. You’re good with the calming down of hysterical bats.”
“Liar. You’re the one with the sympathetic eyes and the offerings of pink wafers.”
Gene’s tone was more than slightly dismissive. “My name comes first on our sign.”
“How long do we have to be here?”
“Anyone would think you’ve never been on a stakeout before. Look, just shut your trap and wait, will you? You’re doing my head in.”
Sam and Gene waited for the better part of an hour. Sam started getting restless and tapped out a few beats on the dashboard. He was about to suggest they play ‘I Spy’ when he saw movement at the front door of the Angus house.
Gene waited until their prey had driven to the end of the road before following in pursuit. Usually, subtlety was not one of Gene’s strong suits, but in this, he had the right idea. They trailed behind Felix in his Jaguar, Sam noting down exactly where he went.
They travelled down main streets and alleyways before stopping down a street that was starkly different from the one where Felix and his wife lived. This street had no flowerbeds, nor children playing. It was dull and lifeless. It looked inconspicuous, a street you’d glance over when driving by.
“I know this place,” Gene said. “Stopped a raging fight here last year on the way to a crime scene – a domestic dispute between some bloke and his boytoy.”
Gene pulled a camera out and started taking pictures of the street and Felix. Sam watched as Felix knocked on the door. A tall man with dark features opened it. He was wearing a towel low-slung around his hips and not much else. He grinned at Felix, before throwing his head back with a laugh.
“Suddenly it all makes sense. He’s a pretty pink fairy, and that’s his wand.”
“Maybe they’re friends?” Sam said, shrugging and giving Gene a look of condemnation before turning back to the subject of his surveillance. The man standing at the doorway grabbed at Felix’s buttocks as he moved into the house.
“Very friendly friends,” Gene replied, raising his eyebrows and smirking.
Sam sighed. “How am I going to explain this?”
“Hello darling, sorry to say but your husband likes it up the bum – need a cig?” Gene remarked, gesturing with vaguely non-descript movements.
Amused, Sam continued the imagined conversation. “Have you ever thought about acquiring a strap-on?”
Gene frowned. “A what?”
Sam decided that this was one discussion he didn’t especially want to go through.
“Best be getting back, at any rate,” Gene replied, unfazed.
He started the car. Sam sat back in his chair and mused to himself, disappointed. For a first case, this had been startlingly dull. Weren’t private detectives supposed to have excitement and adventure in their lives? This wasn’t much different from the reams of paperwork back home.
Sam spent the morning clearing away the area underneath the mezzanine. They’d dumped everything there in a higgledy-piggledy lump. He wanted the mess to be organised into different categories, at the very least. And he didn’t have much else to do. There were saws to be put into some kind of order, several cans of paint, not to mention the rundown old furniture they had bought at auction for a pittance and decided to keep unless they needed it. Sam suspected at least a couple of the pieces were true antiques and he wondered if there was a way he could put them into storage for when he went back to 2006. Sam rolled his sleeves up and pushed and pulled items into position. He was shifting a table when he realised that the thumping sound he heard was coming from the front door.
Sam popped his head around the screen to see Gene opening the door. He wiped his hand across his forehead and walked forward. Gene was ushering in the short young man with a wave of his hand. Sam usually liked to say something like “please, come in, have a seat” and “would you like a coffee? tea?”, since people coming to private investigators tended to be more jumpy than others, but Gene didn’t have that kind of finesse. Sam guessed he should count himself lucky Gene wasn’t slamming prospective clients into walls and getting them to cough up whatever information they wanted or had.
The young man was decidedly nervous. He also couldn’t have been any older than twenty-two. He had short blond hair, even shorter than Sam’s, which Gene pointed to behind his back with a raise of his eyebrows. Sam gestured towards the sofa with a friendly smile.
“Hi, my name is Sam, and this is Gene.”
“Brian,” came the reply. Brian had puffed out cheeks, giving him the appearance of a hamster storing food. If you only saw his face, you would think he was overweight, but his body was slim and elegant. He sat down on the sofa and gazed up at Sam who sat opposite on one of the armchairs.
“How can we help you, Brian?”
Brian spoke quickly, breathlessly. “I’ve this competition coming up in two days. Been working on my entry for months. Recently I’ve been receiving these threats-”
Gene interjected. “Death threats?”
“No, damage threats.”
Gene looked confused. “Of what, exactly?”
“Of the stuff, you know…”
“Brian, how about you start from the beginning. You’ve been working on this entry for a competition – what entry and what competition?”
“It’s for inventions. And I’m sorry, but I’m not saying what my invention is. That’s the thing. I’ve been on the quiet-like. I don’t want anyone to know what it is until the big reveal.”
Gene rolled his eyes, crossing his arms against his chest and planting himself down on the other armchair.
“Understandable,” Sam said, ignoring Gene.
“So, a week ago, I got this telephone call. It’s all crackly on one end of the line and I can’t really make out what they’re saying, except I hear something about my life’s work and a future event. I tried not to think anything of it at first, but yesterday I got a letter. It said my entry was going to be destroyed – just like that, plain as day ‘your entry is going to be destroyed’. I couldn’t handle it. I had a look in newspaper for someone who could help and here I am.”
“You want us to find out who’s sending you these nasty messages,” Sam said, nodding.
“No. I want to ensure that my invention is safe between now and the competition. Hold on a second.”
Brian stood up and walked out of the building. He came back with a pale brown box.
“D’you think you could keep it here for me and watch over it?” Brian requested, placing the box down on the ground with care.
Sam frowned. “Let me get this straight. You want to hire us as guards for a big cardboard box?”
“Why not just rent some storage space?”
Brian’s reply was tinged with a patronising look up to the ceiling. “They might know. They might get to it.”
Sam was about to apologise and explain to Brian that that was just not what they did when Gene spoke.
“How much are you willing to pay?”
“A once off payment of £230.”
Gene’s eyes widened. “How can you afford that?”
“I’ve been saving up for a new bike since I was sixteen. But this is more important. If I win the comp, I’ll get a research grant and all the prestige you could ever want.”
Gene leaned forward and shook Brian’s hand.
“Don’t worry, leave it with us, we’ll keep it safe for you.”
“Thanks. Now, I know I probably don’t have to say this, but I will. Please don’t look inside. You probably wouldn’t understand what it is anyway.”
“Don’t worry, you can trust us.”
Brian left with a smile. He looked satisfied, pleased. Sam turned to Gene and raised his eyebrow.
“This is ridiculous.”
“It’s money, Sam.”
“We can’t charge the poor bugger £230 for taking care of a box.”
“Why not? He’s perfectly willing to pay for a service. I say we let him.”
“We’re private investigators. We’re supposed to investigate. Not baby-sit wood pulp and whatever’s contained inside.”
“You never stop complaining, do you? It’s always whinge whinge whine whine with you. Go back to your compulsive tidying and leave me and the box alone, will you? I can watch over it, even if you can’t.”
“You’re going to go upstairs and read aren’t you?”
Sam bit into his bottom lip and shook his head, levelling Gene with a look and a tongue in cheek smile. He went towards the screen and commenced sorting through the clutter once more. He managed to turn what had been a pile of wood off-cuts into a sack of wood off-cuts.
An hour later, he came out to get a drink and stared at the box. Suddenly, its contents were filling him with curiosity. He had been saying he was an investigator. What harm could a little investigation do? He stepped above the box and looked down at the flaps. They were arranged with tucks and folds, but he thought that if he was very careful he might be able to…
“Step away from the box, Tyler, or I’ll have your guts for garters,” Gene commanded, his voice floating down from the mezzanine.
“Good to know you’re doing your job,” Sam replied, and walked upstairs to get a beer from the mini-fridge they’d installed the day before.