Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 3000+ words.
Notes: And I continue the tradition of naming stories after songs by Canadian songwriters. :D Thank you to bakednudel for beta-reading this for me. This is Sam-centric gen.
Gene calls it ‘settling in’, I call it ‘resignation to my fate’. No more fighting. No more shouting. I’ll just accept it for what it is. I’m stuck here whether I want to be or not. And some days, it’s more want than others, so it’s not all bad. Not all cases are simple. I never realised how much time could be wasted waiting. You get so used to the information age, where it’s all now, now, now. So when it’s not, when it’s more next week, well, let’s just say I can’t completely condemn all of Gene’s methods, even though the finer points of my character have the desire to. I occasionally find a case which brings to mind another I’ve worked on. I’ve stopped using them as launch pads for extra-curricular investigations. It seems Manchester has some criminal families which go way back, and no matter how much I try to shoehorn them into providing me answers to my predicament, no solution is found. I wouldn’t call it giving up exactly, except for the fact it probably is.
The case we’re working now, it’s one that looks to be involved. And by involved, I mean bloody difficult. It’s a gang. I’m fairly sure it’s a gang. Of youths, no doubt. Terrorising three streets with exploding fireworks in bins and letter boxes. With the current IRA crisis, it’s not in the slightest a harmless action, and when we catch the bastards, they’re going to pay. Knowing Gene, most likely with blood and a pound of flesh each. It’s not hard to understand where he’s coming from. But tracking them down, that’s the difficult part. Our witnesses are a seventy-two year old woman with coke-bottle glasses, a nine year old boy with an overactive imagination and an attractive, but slightly batty young woman who got a thorough work-out from at least five of my colleagues. Their descriptions are about as useful as Chris come trivia night – enthusiastic, muddled and in touch with a reality unlike our own.
I’ve commandeered one of the blackboards and set about sticking up a timeline. I’ve taken the three witness accounts and cross-referenced them with other local events. I’ve done a fair share of interviewing and canvassed each of the areas that were targeted. And it’s been completely disregarded, as usual. Annie asks me why I bother anymore – I tell her the truth – if this is it, well, I’m going to make the most of it. One of these days, and it’s some day soon - you mark my words, something I do is going to be the success of the case and then Gene will eat my dirt. She thinks I’m competing with him, but it’s not that. Not really. It’s more that I’ve seen proven results from these methods. They can’t just work in one time and not another. Well, I keep saying that and maybe I’ll see vindication. Maybe timelines don’t work in 1973. Maybe cross-referencing is pointless. But they’ll all need these skills in the coming years, won’t they? Assuming that there is such a thing as a coming year. Perhaps it’ll loop back to January, who knows.
“What’s that, Tyler? You want to get me a tea? Black? Three sugars? You are a sweetheart.”
Gene drops his gloves on the desk by my hand and gives me an oddly artificial widening of the lips passing as a smile. That’s the look he gives when he’s thoroughly pissed off with the world, but too much of a man to show it. Least, that’s how he’d say it. I’m not going to compete with him this time and the movement will give me a break, so I nod and go down canteen. Tea. Black. Three sugars. And he wonders why he’s halfway to a heart-attack. Considering there’s every chance he just wolfed down a bacon sarnie in the guise of a late lunch, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s edging towards three quarters now. I return to him, not bothering to knock on the door. He takes the cup from me with a small flick of his head, which I think is ‘thank you’ in the great Hunt thesaurus, and I go to sit opposite.
“Here you go. Took the liberty of getting one for myself too, hope you don’t mind.”
If Gene does mind, he doesn’t show it. He doesn’t even seem to care I’ve invaded his inner sanctum. “Shame you didn’t bring a biscuit or two.”
I point at him with a deliberate narrowing of my eyes. “You look like you’ve had enough biscuits to last you a lifetime.”
“What are you? My drill sergeant?”
“Drop and gimme twenty.”
It’s gearing up to be one of our typical conversations. I’ve well come to accept that the only way to get Gene to listen to me is to play the bantering game. He doesn’t respond well to direct invocations or logical reasoning. If I ever want him to talk to me – properly talk to me – I have to go a round of ‘guess that pun’ first. I’ll confess that part of me enjoys it. It’s a matching of the wits. For a man who mixes his metaphors and doesn’t know the difference between alliteration and assonance, he’s good at it, quick with the comeback. But I’ve always got to be mindful that eventually I twist it round, so that the real Gene, that man who lurks in there with a small furry beast, gets to see the light of day. Otherwise, we’d be here for hours, sparring with each other, and sad though I am to say it, there is such a thing as work. So sometimes I have to concede defeat at the mouth of the almighty Guv and isn’t he best pleased.
“Twenty smacks? Twenty punches?”
“Twenty reasons to say I love you... to a sheep.”
“One, you want their wool. Two, you want to be baaaaad.”
I smirk at him. “I really don’t want you to continue that. I’ve seen enough of the deep, dark recesses of your mind already.”
Gene gulps down some tea and smacks his lips appreciatively. “What’re you doing here, then?”
Straight to the point early in the game. Good for him. “I want to query our next plan of attack.”
Gene nods. He was expecting it. “In which way?”
“Well, what are we going to do?”
“Wish I knew, Sammy-boy.”
“We could… put officers on surveillance in those streets which have been the site of the pranks already,” I say. I’m anticipating his reaction. It will be a no.
“Round the clock-like?”
“Too expensive.” Bingo. Still, I’ve got to push it a little bit more.
“I’d be willing to do it off the meter.”
“That’s you. Unless you’ve got yourself a nice little squirrel army at your beck and call, that leaves two more streets unaccounted for.”
I gesture towards him. “You could do another.”
“Whatever happened to ‘deputy to the law’, Gene?”
“It got filed away under L for ‘later’. Sam, I’ve already been doing overtime. The missus has been wondering where I am, what her name is, and whether I’m planning to invite her to our wedding anniversary. I can’t afford to spend another twenty-four hours out and about in Manchester on a whim.”
“But they’ve no doubt got a connection to those places somehow. Who knows? Maybe one of our profiles isn’t completely inaccurate?”
“Maybe I’m descended from a long line of Saxon kings,” Gene retorts. “I’m not wasting resources on maybes.”
“So, what? Beat up anyone we see on the street in the hopes they can tell us something?”
“How’s about you stop being such a mouthy git and find another way?”
I can tell that this is just going to go around in circles so I stand and leave his office. Chris is hovering by my desk, looking very much like he’s forgotten where he’s put his brain. He’s fidgeting and rearranging my notes and being a nuisance. As usual.
Chris stops moving for a minute. He stares at me, open and honest, a grin half-formed. “Boss. Got a question, boss.”
“Okay,” I say. Chris waits. I nod to encourage him to speak.
“You know that thing that she said, boss? About the kid with the orange hair?”
I stare at him for a moment, trying to decode his secret message. “You’re referring to Miss Parker, right?”
“Uh. She said that she saw a…” I look through my notes. “A teenager with red hair, standing by the street corner shortly after the incident. She said that she didn’t think he was involved.”
“We just arrested someone who matches that description about three streets away from one of the rubbish bin jobs.”
“You mean that grand description of ‘red-haired teenager’?”
I try not to roll my eyes. I fail. “Alright, Chris. You get the tape recorder, I’ll meet our suspect in Lost and Found.” It’s also an effort not to use air quotes.
“Want me to tell the Guv?”
“Nah, leave him be. He’s busy.” Being a misery guts.
I roll up my shirt-sleeves and ask Phyllis which cell they’ve placed the kid into. It’s cell three, renowned for being between two and four. I open the hatch and watch him. Yep, he matches the description alright. He’s a surly sort, all curled upper lip and wrinkled nose. I’m polite in the way I approach him. Some things may have changed, but I still think that if you show them some respect, they’ll appreciate it and show you some back. Unfortunately, the memo appears to have been lost in translation, and very few people ever respond the way I’d hope. This kid, whose name is James McEwen, is not one of the few. He spends the entire trip to Lost and Found blathering on at great speed about how he ain’t done nowt and all cops are filthy scum. Lovely. I’m tempted to ask if he kisses his mother with that mouth, but thinking about mothers and kissing is a sore point right now, so I’ll save that for another day.
I sit James across from me at the table, lining up my writing implements and establishing a positively charged atmosphere. Chris comes bundling in with the tape recorder, muttering something about needing to find spare tapes, and having to go through Stationer Ray to do so. I may or may not smirk. I know for a fact I feel no guilt. James watches all of this with disinterest. He’s waiting for a free moment when he can start mouthing off again; wants it recorded for posterity, no doubt. When Chris gets it all set up, I indicate towards the seat and he settles next to me. I state my name for the record, so does he, and for once we get an exact time, even down to the seconds, because Chris’s watch is new and he wants to show off.
“Tell him why he’s here, Chris.”
“James McEwen. You’re here because you were found nicking a bike outside Rosemary’s Groceries. And don’t try and say you didn’t do it, ‘cause we know you did.”
I whirl around in my seat to face Chris and lean forward. “Sorry, what?” I whisper harshly.
Chris angles towards me, his voice low. “Yeah, seen by a flatfoot, just making off with it. The nerve of some people.”
Jesus Christ Almighty. “Detective Constable Christopher Skelton, you led me to believe that this young man had committed a serious crime, not gone off with two wheels and some metal piping.”
Chris shakes his head. “It’s Christian.”
“Chris is short for Christian in my case, not Christopher. And me middle name’s Paul.”
“… right. Sorry.” Sometimes I think I’m in purgatory. I turn back to James, who is sneering and smirking at the same time. Quite a feat. “James. We have reason to believe that beyond this petty thievery, you’re also involved in the recent spate of exploding public property. What d’you say?” We have no reason to believe any such thing. Red hair may be a recessive gene, but it’s not unequivocal proof.
“I say you’re a prick.”
“Oh yeah? Any more outbursts like that and I will show you how much of a prick I can be. Believe me. It’s not a pretty sight.” Wait. That comes out wrong.
I tap on the table, try to get my mind in working order. What is it about this kid that registers on my sensors? He’s confident. Too confident. Leery. He’s done more than steal bicycles, Chris is right for a change. If he had done only that, he wouldn’t be so calm. He’d be jittery, and when I spoke about the exploding public property, there was a spark of recognition there. He knew more than the papers had explicated. See, Chris, he might be the sleepy sort, but he has flashes of brilliance.
I have a thought. The letter box which exploded had some of its paint scratched away on the edges of the opening. And it looks like James here doesn’t only have red hair.
“Show me your hands.” James immediately tucks them under his seat. “Show them to me or I’ll get my colleague here to bang you up with Roaring Robert. You wouldn’t like that. Robert bites.” It seems Gene can turn up in an interview, even when he’s safely in his office. James eventually acquiesces, pushing his hands over the table. I make him turn them over so his palms are showing. He has flecks of red paint, under his nails and adhered to his fingertips.
“Literally caught red-handed,” I grin. Chris is still two minutes behind, gazing at me as if I know who to go for in the pools. Just because I knew Sunderland got the FA Cup. “How’s about you tell us all about your mates, James?”
Suddenly, the great well of confidence James was drawing on dries up, and he starts showing me the appropriate amount of deference. Well, so he should. He stresses that no-one’s been harmed, no-one’s been hurt, and I guess I should agree with him, because technically he’s right, but I just keep thinking about the fear he instilled in those who lived near to his jokes. They were harmed. They were hurt. They were bloody terrified. Not to mention the hours I’ve spent trying to figure out who’s responsible. There’s been no small amount of pain on my side of the deal, either.
He coughs it all up. Everything. Names, descriptions of appearances, addresses. I get Chris to tell the others to go arrest the little buggers as I continue the interrogation. The timelines and cross-referencing go down the drain. Our genius criminals sorted out which streets to ‘play in’ by closing their eyes and randomly pointing at a map. Surveillance would have been a bust too, because none of them live anywhere near their targets and weren’t planning on returning to the scenes of the crimes. The only reason James was anywhere in the vicinity was because he was stealing the bicycle as a favour for a mate who wanted to avenge a stolen girlfriend. It’s all so infantile. And they only did it because they were bored. Bored and destructive. And stupid. It’s like my life. I only do things because I’m bored. And maybe not quite destructive, but certainly not all that constructive. And only a little bit stupid, or so I’d like to think.
Another case under my belt, and I should feel pride and accomplishment. And I do, in a way. But so many answers here feel like they fall from the sky. I get my leads from following feelings, not hard facts, and that’s wrong. I know that you’ve got to have some idea of what to go towards, but that idea has to be backed up with evidence. Evidence in the beige interior so often feels null and void. It’s feelings and dealings and screw procedure, it might as well go in canal. It’s backward. Crimes aren’t supposed to be solved on coincidence. That’s just not how it’s done. And there’s no-one who fully understands that. For them, it’s par for the course.
“You did a good job, Sam,” Gene says, and he’s still annoyed, I can see it in his stance. He’s not annoyed at me, though, so I think I’m free from a bashing for a while.
“Thanks. It was Chris, really.”
“Next time someone with short brown hair commits a robbery, make sure you wear a hat at all times,” Gene says with a nod. I can’t help but smile at that. I was wrong. Sometimes, he understands.
“Is it always like this?”
“You tell me. Why are you always asking me questions as if you’ve just joined the force?”
“I like to make you feel comfortable in your superiority. Can’t have you scared I’ll supersede you every week. It’ll ruin my sneak ninja attack.”
Gene pretends not to hear me, or wilfully ignores me, or just doesn’t find me all that funny, and says he’s off home. At least he’s got a something else to go home to. I’ve got wallpaper I’m planning on ripping down and a steadily expanding music collection. But then there’s Annie walking down the corridor, also off duty, and I think I’d prefer her company instead. That’s how I get by, relying on those around me. It’s pretty much all I can do. It might be the lesson I’m supposed to learn, and once I learn it… but I can’t keep having those kinds of thoughts. It’s quite clear to me that there’s not one fixed lesson, one definite answer to everything – and if there were, it’d probably pop up out of nowhere anyway. So I’ll take each day as it comes. I’ll stop thinking about every day as a hurdle to be jumped over. There’s no end to this race. It’s not the ten yard dash or the fifteen hundred metre marathon. It just is. Some fantastic.