It had finally stopped raining for the first time in three days, and the temperature had plummeted. The air was full with fog and the damp clung to everything; it seeped and bled out of the concrete and the bricks and Manchester’s bare trees looked heavy and soft with moisture. Sam could see his breath in clouds and so became unusually aware of the rhythm of his own breathing all the way into work. Everything was clear and single-minded in his head at that point. He was too exhausted to do anything but focus on his next move, putting one foot in front of the other.
The fog confused him though. Earlier, he had managed to take a left turn one road too early and was walking for five minutes before he realised. He was late for work.
Gene had already left by the time he’d reached the station, and he’d left instructions for Sam to follow him on to the east of the city, to a bit of dirty scrubland between two blocks of flats. He was now approaching the unmistakable silhouette of the Guv’ in his camel coat through the wet, white air, standing by a police-cordon that Sam hadn’t told anyone to put up.
Gene’s hair was cut completely short, like how it had been when Sam had first found his way into A Division. “Got your hair cut, then?”
“Thank you Sherlock, I had noticed.” He sighed and ran his hand through it ruefully. “Ask the missus to cut it and this is how it’ll end up every time.”
“Makes you look younger.”
“You know that is exactly what my wife said.” Then Gene began to walk away. He shot back over his shoulder: “You walk a very thin line with your masculinity, Tyler.”
“I like to live on the edge.” He told Gene’s departing figure before following.
Gene walked them over to something that was very likely a body hidden under a canvas, just beside an opened sewer cover. Before Gene could tell him to leave it, Sam pulled the canvas aside to reveal a bloated corpse of a woman. She was in a state of decay that pointed towards her being dead and in a body of water for at least a few days. Lifting up the canvas had also unleashed the smell that had been trapped under there. Sam scrunched up his face while he tried to adjust to the sheer awfulness of it. He’d be smelling it for weeks.
“Found in the sewers. She were blocking the drainage.”
“Apart from it being an extremely fucking suspicious way to die, no, not really.”
“When’s the body getting picked up?”
“Any moment. See what Oswald thinks.”
Sam looked at the face and shoulders before he covered her back up. “Bruises. Probably inflicted on the victim before she died. Who found her?”
“The poor bastard over there who hasn’t stopped vomiting since you arrived, Gladys. I thought you were supposed to be a detective.”
“Right.” Sam hadn’t noticed him, but wondered how he could have missed the sound of retching. “Is he going to get checked out at the hospital?”
“What? All he needs is a bucket.”
“He should probably get a look-over, anyway.”
The anachronistic slang coming out of Gene’s mouth put Sam on the back foot momentarily, at least until he realised that Gene had probably picked it up from him. He felt a bit dense. He wasn’t shooting from all cylinders this morning.
“Uh. Crime scene. Has the crime scene been preserved?”
Gene looked at him. “It’s a sewer.”
“I’m going to look, anyway.”
Sam clambered down through the tiny, stinking hole in the ground, through to the sewers. He hadn’t slept in a while and was trying to go through the motions of crime scene investigation while struggling to string two coherent thoughts together. Gene, irritatingly, was picking up on it. He clung to the ladder and let his eyes adjust to the darkness. This part of the sewage system was Victorian and cavernous. The grate looked small enough to be mostly blocked by a body, and the water was flowing in the right direction, so he guessed that’s where the victim was found. The body could have been dumped anywhere from this point all the way up as long as the tunnel was uninhibited. They’d need maps of the sewage works.
The evidence board was now covered, end to end, with a detailed map of the whole city’s sewers. Sam had pinned a smaller street map of Greater Manchester to the corner and was trying to work out what went where by comparing the canal – the only identifiable landmark between the two. Sam was muttering to himself about scale differences while Gene rolled his eyes and shoved a big red pin into the smaller map, where the body was found. “Now find me that on the bigger one.”
Annie, who’d been in when they’d arrived back, shuffled forward and decided to make a more proactive contribution, helping with the map. She stood closer to the smaller one, then arched her head back to get a better view of what Sam was doing. “You need to be more to your left.”
“I’ve got it. Here, look.” He’d found the junction. Gene helpfully stepped forward and shoved another pin a little too close to Sam’s fingers for Sam to be assured of their safety. They all stood back and compared. Sam, pretty satisfied that they had it, stepped forward and drew a red line down the sewage tunnel, until he hit a grill. The tunnel went across a third of Manchester. Then he marked all the possible tributaries.
Basically, they were fucked.
He drew a shape on the street map, like a fat caterpillar, their zone for the possible body drop. He ripped it from the evidence wall and started to hand it to Annie. “See if you can find any…” He pulled it back. “Wait, wait wait. Hang on.” He spread the map on Chris’ desk and tapped his finger a little too hard on a spot on the map.
Right in the middle of the zone.
Annie craned over his shoulder. “What is it?”
“This is them. This is them.” He was sure of it. It was the same m.o., everything. He just needed to do a little more digging. He just needed a little more time…
“This is who?” Gene had loomed large up on his right side, and Sam had almost crashed into him turning around.
He attempted to dodge round Gene and placate him at the same time. “I just need a little time.”
Gene’s arm shot out and blocked his exit. “Well, you aren’t going to get it, sunshine. Now who is it?”
“It’s…I think this is related to the Totland Estate case.”
“I told you to drop that.”
“Well, I didn’t.”
“So far, I’m not shocked.” Gene rubbed his forehead in a way that suggested the onset of headaches. “So you’ve been…”
“I’ve got evidence, back at the flat.” Gene gave him a look. “I took the case file. Look, I’ve been working on it and I think…Just come and look at it. Hear me out.” He grabbed his coat that he’d thrown over a desk.
Gene held the back of a chair and leant forwards. He stared at his hands, and then at Sam. “You stole paperwork, after I had re-assigned a case.”
“You really need a better filing system.” Sam started reflexively bunching his coat in his clamped hand. He could feel every pair of eyes in A Division now boring into him, and got the distinct impression that he’d shown too many cards too soon. He could practically hear the “Oh hear we go again,” emanating from Ray’s corner.
Annie stepped forward and rested a hand on Sam’s shoulder. Sam jerked away, out of surprise, and turned to face her. She looked gutted; she looked so disappointed. “Sam.” She said it in that soft voice that she used when she was trying to ‘get through’ to him. He wasn’t doing this right. He wasn’t saying it properly. There was a communication block, somewhere.
“There’s evidence. There’s actual evi…I mean, most of it is circumstantial but it’s a good case. It’s got strong leads.”
There was a flicker of something on Annie’s face. Doubt. “Sir, do you think we should…”
“Do you want to tell her how your Totland Estate lead came about, Tyler?” Gene addressed Sam, cutting Annie off. Sam looked at him with an expression between ‘don’t you dare’, and ‘please’.
“Sam? How did it start?”
Sam looked at Annie. There was no way to explain and she didn’t want to hear. Her expression was imploring. She didn’t want this, with him, Sam thought. “I…I uh…”
“Your flat. Now.” Gene had run out of what little patience he had left. He grabbed Sam’s shoulder and shoved him towards the door, took the map from the desk and pushed it into Annie’s hands. “Cartwright, find me some actual leads.” He turned to Ray and Chris. “Aren’t you two supposed to be identifying the body?” They scuttled off to do something constructive. Gene marched out of the door, having bought them all an hour or so. Sam looked back at Annie, wracking his brain for something to say, a last minute save.
He had nothing.
He followed Gene out.
Gene was over by the window, standing next to the table where Sam had been working all night. As Gene moved closer to examine the surface, one of the files gave up its desperate cling to the table’s edge and fwumped unspectacularly onto the carpet. The dust motes whirled giddily for a second or two.
To say that Sam’s workspace was a state would be a disgrace to the good name of shit-piles everywhere.
Gene shifted the top scummy layer of work to reveal what was underneath.
“Tidy desk, tidy mind” Gene said lowly and Sam was fairly sure that it would have been a semi-cruel jab at him if only Gene could summon up the enthusiasm. As it was, he sounded almost rueful.
Sam chose to pretend he hadn't heard and handed him the wedge of notes he'd been scribbling down through the night. He would have said that the evidence spoke for itself, except that it frequently didn’t, and sometimes Sam would find himself pointing a finger at evidence and explaining its significance in increasingly simple terms to blank-faced stares. He knew not to take these things for granted anymore. Luckily his cynicism was unfounded, as Gene went “Hmh” thoughtfully while his brow creased at the notes in his hands.
“Guv, stop the car.”
“Oh what is it now, Gladys?”
“I am in a hurry.”
“GENE STOP THE CAR.”
Gene’s foot flew to the brake against his better judgement. The back-end of the Cortina slid out to the side in confusion as the back wheels kept spinning. They stopped, lopsided across the road.
“What the hell has gotten into y…”
A sudden burst of footsteps preceded a small girl running out from behind a building and plunging blindly into the road. Her ponytail swayed side to side and her schoolbag ricocheted out behind her. She was late home from school, thought Sam.
Gene slammed the horn and the kid, about 8 years old, froze in the road like a small animal and looked at them through the windshield with wide eyes.
“WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING, YOU LITTLE COW.”
The girl sprinted away.
Sam knew his maths: speed, time, trajectory, mass, force of impact. They wouldn’t have stopped in time. He knew this, and by the looks of Gene, Gene knew this too. Gene was giving the side of his head a stare with the intensity to start small fires in his facial hair.
The car was still stationary. The engine ticked over throatily.
“Yeah,” said Sam.
“How did you…”
“I don’t know. I just knew. I knew but I don’t know how.” Sam was babbling. Gene’s eyes were still boring holes into the side of his face. “I’d explain it if I could. But I can’t.”
There was a silence, just the engine noise and the world somewhere outside of the car.
“That’s a first,” mumbled Gene.
“There’s lots I don’t know,” countered Sam, a little confused.
“Yeah, but you never bloody admit to it, do you?” Gene held his breath momentarily. “Tell us summat else.”
“Tell us anything, go on.”
“I’m not a performing monkey. I can’t just pull them out of my head.”
“Richard Nixon is going to abdicate next year.”
“Hmm,” said Gene. “And I liked the bastard an’ all.”
Sam raised an eyebrow at Gene, then let out a snort. “No. Wait. ‘Course you do.”
Gene mulled the conversation over for a second. “This…” Gene thought about what to say next. “Isn’t…” Then he thought again. “I can’t just swallow this whole. I need some evidence.” He put the car into gear. “I need a big bloody drink and then I need you to back this bloody head-trip up.” The car pulled away in the new direction of the Railway Arms. “If I find out that I have caught mental off of you then I am going to rip your legs off.”
“Does Annie know?”
“Annie thinks I’m mad. I’ve stopped telling her…things like this.”
“Hmn.” Gene stared down his whiskey. “For the best, probably. What she don’t know won’t hurt her.”
“She knows something’s going on. Thanks for that, by the way.”
“So tell her.”
“She doesn’t want to know.”
“What, she tell you that?”
“Not in as many words. More implied. I may have told her that it was finished.”
“Jumped the gun a bit there, didn’t you?”
“I swear there was a seven-hour period of grace where I wasn’t going out of my fucking mind.”
“So…” Gene looked at Sam with a surprising lack of aggressiveness. “You going to let her off the hook?”
Sam stared at the ceiling; sighed. “I’d thought about that. ‘It’s not you it’s me.’”
“You’d save her a lot of bother.”
“I can’t make decisions for her, can I?” The question didn’t come out as rhetorical as Sam was aiming for. “I could tell her everything. Then she can make a decision.”
“Making her the baddie instead of you. She’d have to stay with you because anything else would make her the bitch.” Gene drained his drink. “Grow some testicles, Tyler. Deal with it, one way or the other.” He stood up. “Right. David Vince.”
“What about him?”
“Oh dear, not a bright spark today, are we?” Gene leant over and tapped a meaty finger onto Sam’s skull. “I want to question him, Margerie.”
Rathbone lowered at them, having the advantage on them in height, if nothing else.
“Mr Vince,” he drawled, quietly, “was a celebrated officer.”
Gene leaned against his desk, legs crossed, projecting an attitude of indifference. Sam stood next to him, projecting irritation. “We had reason to believe…” he started.
“You have nothing but circumstantial evidence and hearsay. This case is one of the flimsiest conjectures I’ve ever seen an officer try and get away with.”
“We have a good…”
“You have nothing.”
“If we got a warrant for his house…”
“You will get nothing of the sort.” His attention was fully fixed on Sam, although Gene stood still in the periphery of his vision, giving him the death-glare. “I have released Mr Vince from custody with our sincerest apologies and I am warning you, right now, that if I catch so much of a whiff of you two within twenty feet of his property or person again, I will have you thrown out of the force without so much as a hesitation.”
“We need to conduct this investigation fully and thoroughly.” Sam could feel the heat rise in his face.
“I quite agree. It baffles me, then, that you’d be worrying the Vinces.”
“He’s the most solid lead we have.” Sam was raising his voice. He probably shouldn’t. The looks that Gene was shooting him told him as much, even if he wasn’t listening to that tiny voice of self-preservation in his head.
“Then it strikes me that you are not looking hard enough,” Rathbone sniffed.
“Or are we looking in awkward places?”
Rathbone reared up to his full height, slipped his hands into his pockets. “I’d be very, very frightened about your position in this division, Detective Inspector Williams.” Sam looked at him, swallowing down the acidy tension in his chest. Rathbone walked to the door of Gene’s office. “Mr Vince has been removed from the investigation.”
He slipped out of the office. Rathbone never made any sound when he walked; ‘Nosferatu’, the plod called him. CID had decidedly stronger words.
Sam reeled on Gene, all petulant outrage. “He can’t, can he?”
“Don’t matter if he can,” Gene’s disgust showed in the curl of his lip. “He did.”
Sam slammed his way out of the office, to his own desk. He hunched over it, palms pressing into the files littering the surface, and he saw the tape of the interview, lying serenely on top of the notes he’d formed so carefully. He swatted the mug off of his desk then, and flinched at the satisfying noise of it breaking against the floor. He picked up the empty whiskey bottle and started looking for a target. Gene emerged from his office. “Are you going to keep throwing your toys out of your pram or are we going to deal with this like responsible officers of the law?”
“We are going to deal with this like responsible officers of the law,” Sam replied. He lifted the bottle aloft, “but first I’m going to throw this through a window.”
Gene caught Sam’s wrist in his hand and prised the bottle from his grip. “I am the boss around here. I make the orders.” His chest swelled slightly. “I am the only one who’s allowed to throw things through windows.”
“Well?” Sam wasn’t sure if he was egging Gene on or calling is bluff. He could feel the heat in his face still. He wanted to do something stupid and violent. Next best thing, he wanted to see Gene do something stupid and violent.
Gene looked down at the bottle in his hand, then at the nearest window. He looked at the bottle again. “Fuck it.” He lobbed it.
It soared and twirled silently in the air. Sam held his breath and felt the same stillness in the Guv’ as they watched the bottle arc its way into the window. It smashed, tinkled down to the floor.
The window bore a circular spider’s-web fracture. Gene looked at Sam with the hint of satisfaction hiding beneath the surface of his expression. Sam felt a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “We should probably…clear out for a bit, yeah?”
“By a lucky coincidence, it just so happens that our investigation takes us out into the streets of Manchester.”
A voice bellowed out from the corridor outside. “What was that noise?”
Sam pointed at an alternative exit: “We should….” Gene was already legging it.
Sam had gone up to the roof to think. He was aware that most of his trips up onto the roof had ended in attempted suicide, and that it was probably a bad sign that this was the place that he had chosen to go, but he needed the space and the air.
He’d been so sure, he’d been so arrogant. He stood, dazed, watching the pre-dawn lighting up the horizon, and gawped new at the world like a man who’d found out that the sun does not revolve around the earth and the centre of the universe was not Sam Tyler.
This isn’t in his head, is it? He looked out over the small, dim, unfamiliar little Manchester, and, as usual, casually wondered where he’d end up if he took a flying leap right now. He guessed that would offer a solid answer, just a very final one.
Gene grunted and sweated up the ladder. Sam pretended he hadn’t noticed. “I thought this was supposed to be Cartwright’s job?” Gene got himself onto the roof and adjusted his jacket, strolling over with affected nonchalance.
“You knew about that, then?”
“Course I knew about it. Your bird’s been singing to me about your dappy behaviour ever since you’ve got here. Seems to think I haven’t noticed you’re a fruitcake.” Gene fished a cigarette from a crumpled box and pursed it between his lips. “I have eyes.”
Sam shook his head at no-one in particular. “I didn’t come up here to jump.”
“Good to know,” said Gene, staring out at the skyline.
“I came up here for some space,” Sam clarified, staring pointedly at Gene.
“Well given your previous, Tyler, do excuse me for insisting on a chaperone.” Gene looked at Sam then. His eyes were a little too bright and his mouth a little too tight for his relaxed tone of voice to be believed. Guilt kicked Sam in the stomach.
“Nice to know you care.”
Gene looked away again. “The paperwork would have been horrific.”
They stood in slightly tense but not hostile silence, Gene working his way through his cigarette and Sam shivering, feeling more alert than he had in days. It was a strange feeling, coming to terms with the fact that something didn’t exist solely in your head. He could feel the city drift away from him, even; detach.
He felt incredibly small; more than a little bit stupid.
Gene, real-life actual Gene, blew a plume of smoke in the air. He took a couple of steps towards the edge of the building to peer over, cautiously. “So what’s the interest?”
Gene looked at him like he was an idiot. It was almost comforting in its familiarity. “Why is it jumping?”
“Don’t know.” Sam had been caught off-guard by the question. He supposed he shouldn’t be so surprised to get enquiries off of a detective. “…going somewhere, isn’t it? Seeing where you end up.”
“You end up on the floor.” Gene looked at the ground again and shook himself against the cold. “Can we get of the sodding roof yet?”
“Which way?” Guilt once again belted him one at the look he got off of Gene. “Ok, ok, sorry. Yeah.”