Maybe he was just tired. He really needed to get his head down.
He started to make his way back towards the City Centre, his mind elsewhere.
Gene was startled. A mangy cat jumped out from behind some dustbins into his path. It was so sudden he nearly tripped up over it. It glared at him, its green eyes piercing into him.
“That was nearly one of your lives mate”. Gene shouted after it. It really was a tatty looking thing, its black fur all matted and probably flea-ridden. It was no doubt on it’s night hunt for some rats, and by God there would be plenty around here, with all the remnants of the restaurants and take-aways littered around the back entries, yet it still looked a little scrawny and bony. It probably had worms too.
Gene continued walking. Town was fairly quiet now with hardly another human around. Most places were closed. There was something really eerie about the place. The fun of the earlier parade long gone, the only memories an odd pink feather here and there and a lot of litter. Maybe he could get a job as a road-sweeper, but on second thoughts... The streets of London might be paved with gold, whereas the streets of Manchester were usually covered in crap, used condoms and hyperdermic needles. It was a risky business.
When he got to Piccadilly, Gene made his way towards the railway station. He was sure there used to be a half decent place to stay down there, although nothing looked the same. He might have been drinking, but he wasn’t stupid, or thick. Why couldn’t he remember? Or was it that he had shut things out, stuffed things away in the back of his mind like clothes in the back of a cupboard.
As he turned off London Road, he saw a couple of figures in the shadows ahead of him. Instinctly he felt for his gun, then realised where he was. The Arches. It would be the prostitutes on the look-out for some business. It didn’t really matter what time of night, or day for that matter, they always hung around this area. It was ideal. The arches ran all the way around the back of the station, and there were plenty of deserted dead end streets and lock-ups where somebody could park up for a bit of hand relief, or a bang up against a wall. He had spent enough time down here, either checking up on the girls when there was a serial killer or rapist around, or moving them on for loitering in a more public place. He was well known to them – for all the wrong – or was it right, reasons.
As he moved under the bridge, a voice said,
“Want any business, Sir?”
He turned and saw a face appear out of the shadows. A familiar face from years ago, although somewhat more haggard. The woman smiled, a toothless smile. No change there then. She didn’t have many teeth way back then in the Tyler days.
“Betty Cartwright! And it’s DCI Hunt to you, always have been, always will be”. Gene surveyed the old prozzie. She must be around 60 now. Apart from her gappy gob, her straggly hair was still a badly dyed raven black, her make-up still garish like a painted doll and her face looked like it needed a damn good iron. Gene stopped there. He dreaded to think what the rest of her body looked like and was glad that she was clad in a long fur coat. The old saying..fur coat and no knickers sprung to mind...there was only one person he would have liked to see in such a state of undress. How the hell could he have ever assumed Alex was a prostitute when they first met.
“How you diddlin? Betty. Back on the waggon then?” Gene remembered the old dear had needed the cash to fuel her alcoholism. She was always promising she would stop, yet it was obvious she hadn’t by her boozer’s nose.
“Hey Trace, this is that nice cop I was telling yer about. “, A young girl with long peroxide hair also appeared out of the darkness. Betty continued
“he used to look after me, and some of us girls, proper nice. A gentleman”.
The young tart needed her roots doing Gene thought, she looked like a skunk. As she came closer she smelled like one too. Weed probably although that’s what they usually had to keep them going before they got the cash to fund something a little more substantial. It was obvious by the girl’s anorexic state, and sunken black eyes that she was a user. Her long gangly legs were on show as were all her wordly possessions Gene noticed, as she was wearing a tight black mini skirt and nothing underneath. Gene had seen it all before time and time again. Would they never learn? The risks they took to feed their habits. What they wouldn’t do for a bit of amphetamine, barb, not to mention some cocaine. He vaguely remembered the streets when the Yorkshire Ripper was on the loose. What a terrifying time that had been, with each girl wondering if she would come back from a pull alive. They had been told to operate in twos, so some punters would have thought Christmas had come early. Luckily there had only been two murdered from Manchester. Gene would have strung him up by his balls if he had caught him however he had upped sticks and gone down to Fenchurch before the Ripper was finally caught.
Mind you there was always some other physcopathic nutter walking the streets.
“Where’s that Hotel Bet, you know the one I took you in that night. Do you remember? You were in a bit of a state. I was gonna pull you in for being drunk and disorderly then discovered you’d had some bad news”. Betty’s face dropped, her eyes glazing over. She had lost her only son in a fatal car accident up Oldham Road one foggy November night. Yet it hadn’t stopped her from doing a stint just a few hours after she learnt of his death.
“It was there. Pulled it down. Yonks ago”. She pointed to where the old Fire Station was.
“Damn. I need a bed for the night” Gene scratched his head.
“I could warm you up Mr. Hunt” Betty offered, giving Gene her best toothless smile. Some advert for Pearl Drops.
Gene would rather stick pins in his eyes.
“That place has got rooms” . The young blonde called Tracy pointed to a building just across the road. Gene hadn’t noticed it but it looked to be some kind of bar, or club and it had rooms above it. He had a pretty good idea what sort of place it might be, and it wasn’t the kind he wanted to get his head down in. He was about to walk away when something made him stop and look again.
Leaving the two ladies of the night to their own devices he crossed the deserted main road and walked up to the entrance. It certainly looked like some kind of den of eniquity with its dimly lit door way, the rosy red glow of the lamps behind the curtains, and the bulbs around the sign....wait a minute! Impulsively, and impatiently he rummaged in his pockets. They were still a little damp, and in fact his coat also had begun to smell a bit like that wet dog smell. He was beginning to get an indication what it was like to be a homeless person on the streets. He could feel all the little momentoes he had collected from Fenchurch deep in his pockets. He put his hand in his right one. Aha! He pulled out the card he had been looking for. The one he had picked up from Ray’s desk. Turning it over he looked at the tatty red card under the dim streetlight. He glanced up again at the neon sign. They both said “The Black Cat Club”. Instinctively he put his left hand in his pocket and felt another card. He remembered the fit bird who had picked him up on the motorway, the copper’s wife, had also given him a card. That must be hers. Again he peered at it under the lamp. It also said “The Black Cat Club”. He held both cards in each hand. The looked almost identical although Carling’s was a bit tatty round the ages and stained! God knows where he’d had it. He turned them both over. Why was he not surprised to see the same name “Maggie” scrawled in biro on both of them. He was too tired to even start analysing the whys and wherefores. He just wanted to sleep.
As he entered the club he found it certainly smelled like a place of ill repute. There was a cloying scent, a mixture of the familiar smell of marijuana, mixed with an oriental musky perfume and something else he wasn’t quite sure of. The entrance foyer was painted black which only added to the atmosphere. A buxom blonde was sitting at a counter, and Gene noticed a burly coloured guy behind the door.
“Good Evening, Sir? Would you like to come in? “ Gene was about to say no, but curiousity had got the better of him, and he felt as though something was sucking him, willing him, drawing him to go behind those heavy brocaded curtained doors like a magnet.
“It’s normally £5 “ the girl continued “But since it’s...” she glanced at what appeared to be an expensive looking gold watch. A Rolex, Gene noticed “almost 3am...just go through, especially since it’s your first time”.
Gene felt a little nervous as he ventured through the doors. He could hear music blasting, and began to have second thoughts about asking for a room. If he didn’t know better they would probably be already occupied already.
His eyes nearly popped out of his head. For in front of him, on a small stage, adjorned with silver tinsel strips, was a semi naked girl, tanned and toned, performing tricks with what appeared to be a fireman’s pole. There were a few customers sat at tables , cheering and leering as the girl gyrated to some tune being sung buy a nasal voiced singer..”Like a Virgin, touched for the very first time....” As if. Gene smirked, doubting there was even one left in the whole of Manchester let alone this very room. He was just about to turn on his heels and go, when another girl suddenly burst through the curtains, brushed past him and made her way towards the stage. Gene whistled. She was tall and slim and had a fantastic figure, made all the more appealing by the sheer fact she was dressed head to toe in a leopardskin tight tight cat suit, complete with tail and ears.
“Miaow”. Gene purred under his breath. Maybe he would just stay a little while longer. He wandered across to the bar and ordered a whisky from the topless barmaid and sat down at a table near the front of the stage, sipping his whisky.
The song finished, and the gyrating girl, who was now naked all but for a strip of netting strategically placed, gathered up the bits of clothes she had been wearing when she started out her act and went off the stage through a door. The buxom barmaid came across to him with another glass of scotch.
“Compliments of the house. For a new customer” she smiled.
Gene took a gulp. It tasted a little bitter but he had drunk so much maybe it was just the taste in his mouth. The music started up again. It sounded like the same artist although the song sounded like it was called Vogue. The girl in the cat costume came out and started to dance rather sexily Gene thought, around the same pole. As the song progressed, she suddenly turned her attention away from the silver rod and head down towards her audience, much to the delight of the men sitting with their hands on their laps. Only their hands didn’t remain there very long for as the girl approached them, they pawed at her, touching her breasts, her ass, running their pudgy little hands along her body, up and down, then touching themselves. Gene shifted in his seat. He was becoming a little hot and sticky, and he loosened his tie, and top button. Something else was also stirring. Oh God. No way. How embarrassing. Gene Hunt was not horny! He was tired and weary, wanted a bed, just to sleep in. Nothing else. Maybe he should make a move. Fast. Only it was too late and he wasn’t quick enough for the next minute he found the girl sitting in his lap. He waited for the usual gun in pocket jokes but she said nothing. She felt very light, and as she smiled into his face, he found himself looking into some familiar cat-like green eyes. Her hair was tucked inside her outfit, however one or two tendrils had escaped and he noticed a few reddish curls. He had seen her before somewhere. Recently. She didn’t look like the type of dancers you normally got in a strip joint, or whatever this place was called. He knew if Ray and Chris were with him they would be lapping it up. Why wasn’t he? The girl held Gene’s face close against hers for a few moments, her sweet breath on his face, the smell of her clean, fresh fragrance wafted up his nostrils, and he was overcome with something. He had absolutely no idea what. It certainly wasn’t of a sexual nature. She loosened his tie a little more, and then suddenly pulled it off, as she jumped off his lap , all the while never taking her eyes of him until she jumped back on the stage and continued through to the end of her act, sliding her agile body up and down the length of the pole.
Gene couldn’t take any more.
He was off. Tie, or no tie.
He fled out of the place, gasping for air, thankful to get outside. Crossing the road, back towards the arches, he just had to get away. What was he feeling? The girl, in a funny sor t of way had actually reminded him of Alex. Maybe it was her eyes, or her clean skin. Or her smile. But he felt a sadness. And guilt. Oh so guilty.
"Alex. Alex. Alex." he cried " will I ever see your beautiful face again? ".
Where he was heading he didn’t know. He noticed there were no prozzies around, they must have got lucky. However suddenly he heard a noise behind him. He glanced back towards the end of the arches and saw a tall figure. He turned back to face the way he was going walking rather quickly only saw another tall figure at the opposite end. It looked huge, and strange. He remembered the rat-catcher man frequented this area. He could be seen around with his strange ultra-sonic equipment and headphones, searching out the rodents that ran rife around this area, and then scurried back to their base along the canal. In the daytime he looked odd, he was a large black guy, dressed in a strange jumpsuit like forensics wore, and heavy duty boots so he could venture down into the sewers and the various tunnels that ran under the City. A hidden underworld. Yet at night, silouhetted he could look positively monstrous. Only Gene’s sixth sense told him it wasn’t the rat-catcher. Nor was it one person after rats. They were after him. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. His throat constricted. His jaw tightened. His heart started to beat. Fast. For one of the few times in his life Gene Hunt was scared. Terrified. He tried to grab his shooter only he was frozon solid. Paralysed to the spot. Why couldn’t he move, or function. Suddenly Gene’s vision became blurred. He couldn’t see straight and things started to swim in the darkness in front of him. He felt odd. Peculiar.
His life began to flash before him, he felt sick, and dizzy, and as though he would wet his pants and just then somebody stepped out of the shadows. He felt the first blow to his head, smelt the blood. The second was harder, in his stomach and knocked him off balance. He fell onto the pavement. Then there were the kicks. Repetition. In the head, the groin, his back, his stomache. He hurt all over, yet they continued. All he could hear were noises, screams, nasty demonic images flashed before his eyes, devils, with horns, teeth dripping blood, nails clawing at his already shattered and battered body. And then suddenly there was silence. A loud whistle sounded somewhere in the distance.
He heard her voice, like an angel, so close, and yet so far.
“Gene. I am here”.
He was vaguely aware of a figure, dressed in white standing over him, and that was the last he knew before he vomited violently, and lying in his own puke, he rolled over into the gutter, battered and bruised, the smell of urine, rats piss, and other putrid odours emanated up from the drains, and he lost all consciousness.