Monday, 4 October 2010

Ch 17: Everything Changes

Morning had broken, and Gene was sitting across the table from Father Daniel , tucking into a welcome cooked breakfast, not for the first time that week.
“So...Gene, do you want to talk about Alex?”
“No!”.
Gene wiped his plate clean which some fried bread.
“You need to, you know”, the Priest continued.
“Maybe. Just not now”. Gene was adamant. He just needed a break. Surprisingly he had had a fairly decent night’s sleep at “The Refuge” as it was known, and he felt quite refreshed again. According to Father Daniel there were usually a few other bodies around, other waifs and strays that he took into his fold, gave them food and shelter, but at the moment Gene appeared to be the only one there.
“So. What now? Father, what do you have in mind?” Gene leaned back on his chair, lighting up a cigarette. “I need to make plans”.
“Please Gene, call me Danny. I hope to become your..friend. You can’t keep calling me Father, although I could well be old enough..”
Gene surveyed the priest. In the early morning light, he looked slightly older than he had done. Gene couldn’t guess his age, it was a tricky one.
“I have great plans for you myself, Gene” Daniel remarked, having washed the breakfast things.
“I’m not staying. I need to get back. To London. It was a mistake to come here. A big mistake” Gene said shaking his head.
“No! You can’t go. Not yet. Eventually though.” Daniel said, a little too quickly for Gene’s liking “Just not now OK – you have things to do.”.
“Like what? It’s what...1997? I don’t belong here...”
“Was. It’s not now. Not any more Gene”. The Priest poured another mug of tea for himself and offered Gene a cup but he refused.
“I don’t understand”.
Daniel sat down again across the table. He did look different out of his cassock, and clad in a white t-shirt and jeans looked like any other guy on the street. Nobody would have thought he was a priest.
“Let me explain” Daniel continued “ Up to your confession, yes it was 1997, but after that, you left it all behind, when we closed the door on the church. You see, Gene, you have been stuck, for years, in limbo, too-ing and frowing, 1973, 1981, 82, 83 ....then an almighty leap to 1997. You have to understand why..”
“But I don’t...why the huge leap I mean fourteen years...Jesus...that’s a bit much”.
“Don’t interrupt me, listen.” Daniel held his hand up to stop Gene from questioning further “Just hear me out. You were taken to 1997 for very good reason. It was a significant year, one of many. Iconic. There were things you needed to see.”
“Like the death of a Princess?”
“Exactly. The unprecedented outpouring of grief. You needed to see that, to feel it, be part of it”.
“But why? Don’t you think I’ve had enough”. Gene felt a little uncomfortable . He blew smoke rings in the air.
Daniel continued. “You ask too many questions. Just listen. You cried Gene, yourself. You saw all those people all around the world sobbing. Saying Goodbye. You never had that, did you Gene?”
Gene stood up quickly, the wooden chair falling over. He was in no mood for this.
“I don’t want to talk about this. Like I don’t want to talk about Alex. Got it?!”
Daniel sensed Gene’s anger.
“Ok. Ok. “ he held his hands up, thinking quickly what to do next.
“Why don’t we go out, go round town for a few hours.”
Gene leaned against the kitchen door, hands in his pockets.
“and I promise I won’t upset you again, not today. You need time, to get used to it, get your head round things...it ‘s a lot to take in, and once you have confessed it can be quite a shock to your system, that feeling of freedom, getting it all of your chest”.
Gene really didn’t know what to make of this guy. Who the hell was he, and furthermore, could he be trusted.
After a few moments he spoke
“Fair enough”.
Daniel also stood up and was about to speak but Gene interrupted him once more
“but you try any funny business, or mention stuff again then I will be out of here, on that first train back to London, Get it?”
“Got it”. Daniel grabbed a leather jacket that was hanging over the back of the chair, and put it on whilst Gene grabbed his own overcoat from the hallstand.
“Er...aren’t you forgetting something?” Gene made what appeared to be an “off with your head” motion at Daniel.
“Oh , the dog collar. No. Won’t bother today. I only get pestered by the Big Issue sellars with their dogs on strings. I don’t need it to feel close to God. Come on then”.
As Daniel locked the door of the refuge behind them Gene looked around , breathing in the morning air. Well everything certainly looked more or less the same, whatever year it was.
They walked into town, in silence, through the back streets, familiar shabby streets that still took Gene back to another time, a happier time.
Yet as they neared the city centre things started to look a little different. A new building had gone up here, another there, glass fronted like goldfish bowls. Still neither man spoke to each other. Gene noticed the CIS building still standing, the Manchester sky-scraper standing proud in the morning sky, with the familiar Strangeways Prison tower in the distance. He breathed in, expecting to smell the familiar odour of hops, for Boddingtons Brewery was just a short walk away near Cheetham Hill Road. Yet there was no smell.
As they walked along the bottom of Corporation Street , Gene began to feel a little uneasy again. Maybe it was the silence. Perhaps he should try and make conversation.
“That’s new”. He pointed to another strange looking glass building structure further along from Victoria Railway Station.
“Urbis”.
“What?”
Daniel continued “It’s called the Urbis building. Yes it is new. One of many”.
As Gene paced along , the clip clop of his cowboy boots on the pavement, he was aware of other new buildings. In fact, he thought he was in the wrong town. This really didn’t look like the Manchester he knew and loved, and it certainly didn’t look like the Manchester from the previous week, in 1997!
As they approached the area that Gene had known as the Corn Exchange, Gene stopped in his tracks. He was surprised to see a huge TV screen aside an even bigger object next to it – a massive Ferris Wheel, the type normally seen at a fair, only ten times bigger.
“What the f...?”
Gene noticed crowds gathered in the area below the TV screen. Looking at his watch he saw it wasn’t yet noon. It was just after 11am. A sea of red and white, and blue. Glancing at the screen he realised it was showing a football match, and not just any football match, but the World Cup.
“Jesus.”
“2010 Gene. 2010”.
“2010!! “
“Friday 18th June to be precise. England versus Algeria – kick-off later tonight, its in South Africa, but well, everyone’s getting in the party mood.”
“20-bleeding 10. I can’t hack this” Gene ran his fingers through his hair, as his eyes wandered from the TV screen, to the crowds already swigging beer, to the Ferris Wheel, and beyond. He did not recognise anything. And what was that damn noise. He pushed his fingers in his ears, trying to blot out the sound of horns.
“Yep, it sure is Gene. The year of the Vuvuzuela! I’ve taken you back to the future”. said Daniel.
“Oh, is it, DOC, and who do you think I am, Marty Pissing McFlY?”
Daniel sat down on a wall. “Just calm down Gene”.
“Calm down! You time-travel me another 13 years and you expect me to calm down!. I don’t know anything any more, who I am, where I am, or what I am doing here”. It was becoming apparent that Gene Hunt was not happy.
“And where is good old M&S – and what the fuck is that?!” he pointed ahead to a small glass bridge construction which linked one side of the road to the other. It looked like something out of Dr. Who.
As he turned round, Gene noticed Daniel had disappeared. And not only Daniel, but the football fans, the crowds, in fact everyone had disappeared. Gene was all alone, in the area once known as the Corn Exchange.
“Gene!”.
Startled, he looked up at the TV monitor which was still standing loud and proud.
“Bolly!” The face staring out at him was clear.
“Get out Gene, get out now!” and then it went blank, just white noise.
There followed an eerie silence, the calm before the storm, and then, suddenly there was an almighty bang – the biggest ever bang Gene had heard in his life, louder than the sounds of gunshots at Fenchurch, louder than those stupid horns. The force of it threw Gene off his feet , into the air, and all he remembered in that moment was he was falling, falling deep deep into a black bottomless pit.....

“Gene, Gene, Wake up, “. Somebody was slapping his face. Was he asleep? In bed?
Mary? Alex?
Reluctantly Gene opened his eyes to see Daniel standing above him.
“Are you OK? Come on get up, we need to get out of here”.
Disorientated, the Priest helped Gene to his feet. He was covered head to toe in dust.
“What the....? Gene looked around him, not sure at all what had happened, what was happening.
All he could see was a thick cloud. All he could hear were police sirens, screams and alarm bells. What had happened, it must have been some kind of gas explosion maybe?

“There’s been a bomb Gene. Manchester has been rocked by an IRA bomb” said Daniel. "We are back in 1996".

Gene was stunned. This time, he hadn’t been mugged, or beaten. Nor had it been a dream. The realisation that the city centre of Manchester, his beloved Manchester , had been shook by a bomb blast slowly started to sink in

Dust. Debris. Destruction.

Manchester was like a ghost town.

Gene rubbed his stinging eyes as billowing smoke poured out of buildings

It was like a scene from an action film.

Only it wasn’t. It was real. Very bloody real.

For a couple of seconds after the blast there followed an eerie silence and another word beginning with D sprung to mind. Death.

Gene’s fight or flight mode set in, and he spotted Father Daniel helping an elderly woman to her feet, a nasty gash on her head oozing blood. There were people on the floor all around, some obviously injured, others in shock, stunned and dazed by what they had just witnessed.

And then the noise started again, a horrible noise, the sound of the shop alarms howling, systematic with people wailing. Panic was setting in. Chaos erupted,people started surging along Market Street, all Gene could here were the words “Run, run, run!” There were police cordons and a noise above startled him. He noticed the police helicopter circling and saw Daniel talking to a frantic copper.

“Come on Gene, this way, we have to get out, the Copper tells me there could be more”.
"Why? Why Danny, Why am I here...?" Bewildered Gene couldn't make sense of anything but Daniel was too busy helping others to bother with Gene and his questions.

Fleetingly Gene wondered could there possibly be any more damage done, judging by what he was witnessing.

Sirens wailed, and the surrounding streets were full of people scurrying away to get to a place of safety.

“If we get separated, head for Piccadilly train station, Gene, I’ll meet you back there” Father Daniel cried above the noise. Pandamonium had well and truly set in. Gene hurried along towards Deansgate, and using his policing experience, started to usher people along, stopping to assist occasionally to help somebody up off the floor, or reassure the injured that help was on its way. And he had seen a lot of injuries so far, mostly cuts to the face. He saw one poor woman outside Kendals Department Store, obviously blown off her feet , with glass stuck all over her face. By her side a pretty teenage girl with long fair hair was holding her hand.

Confused a little himself, he turned back up Deansgate, and cut across up Cannon Street and suddenly saw a vision in white running towards him.

“Gene!”.

The bump to his head was making him hallucinate for it wasn’t an angelic looking Alex but a bride, and her groom, or groom-to-be. Obviously their wedding day hadn’t gone without a hitch, Gene thought. Suddenly he felt a tug on his arm.

“Have you seen my daughter, I’ve lost my daughter….” He stared into the eyes of a distraught woman in her thirties, her soft brown eyes pleading.

Hyperventilating, she continued “She went to Kendals, to get a Father’s Day present. Mmmy. H…h…husband can’t get in the city, there is no way in, or out. Please. Help me. I need to get to her….”

Women and daughters…How many times must Gene be involved in the scenario, the same old scene. How many kids were out in town, all looking for last minutes gifts. Gene thought of Alex, and Mollie.

“Listen, love, am sure she will be fine…” He thought for a second then, continued, this was a long shot but….”see if you can cut down there through to Kendals. Come on, I’ll take you, there was a girl outside. What did..er does she look like?” he corrected himself, not wanting to use the past tense. So far he hadn’t seen any fatalities but there could be with a bomb this big.

As they neared Kendals the woman let out a scream as the young girl turned towards them. Paramedics were on the scene attending the lady with the glass in her face.

“It’s her. Emma! Thank God. How lucky. Oh thank you, thank you…you lovely man”. She reached up to Gene and planted a kiss on his cheek before rushing to reunite with her daughter.

Gene felt elated but only briefly for the sound of a police loudspeaker was urging people to get right away out of all the main areas.

Gene fled back up Market Street, noticing the red postbox on the corner outside what was Marks and Spencers. Amazingly among the mayhem, and by some sheer miracle it was still standing. However, there were bodies all over the pavement outside. Gene’s earlier breakfast suddenly worked its way up his body and he spewed in the gutter at the side of the road. Composing himself he heard a voice behind him and saw a young Chinese couple brush past him.

“Dummy” The man commented.

Gene was certainly in no mood for abuse, and was about to punch the guy’s lights out when the pretty Oriental girl by his side, giggled and pointed in the direction of M&S.

“Yes…Dummies…ah…Man-e-quins.”

They continued hurrying away, leaving a bewildered Gene staring at what now appeared to be the models from the shop window strewn across the pavement, forced out by the blast. Thank Bloody Christ for that!

It was hard trying to keep it all together and he wondered how Daniel was coping. He hadn’t seen him for some time. Mind you, he should be good with people, after all, he was a priest. Images from his past floated before his eyes…that damn clown, another blast, the car-bomb, Alex..Passing the Arndale Centre he spotted an advertising sign.. “Expect the unexpected”. What the hell was going to happen next?

As he passed the Lewis’s Department Store he deducted that every single window must have been blown out, judging by the glass on the pavement. He became aware of a smell, a decaying odour, like rotting flesh. He thought he would vomit again. As the emergency services scoured the streets for casualties, another policeman was shouting through a loudspeaker, and policewoman directing people away from Piccadilly.

“This way, Sir, “

“Is there another alert?.” He hasked a pretty WPC with auburn hair. Did he have a thing for women with auburn hair now?

“Move along Sir,”. He would have pulled out his policeman’s ID but remembered it had been stolen with his wallet the night he was mugged.

He decided to just use his charm.

“Has anybody ever told you , you look just like.. Julia Roberts?”. Even though Gene only knew who she was through watching the film with Mary, he knew it had worked when the policewoman gave him a beaming smile and said quietly

“Yes…there’s an alert for Piccadilly Station, and also at Chinatown, but we are trying to keep some calm amongst this chaos. Now please just head towards Portland Street and follow directions. By the way….” She looked down at Gene’s feet “I love your boots. Would never have thought you did line-dancing…Cowboy!”. And with that she winked at him and continued motioning the crowds.
Gene smirked to himself. That was it about Manchester people. True Grit. In times of disaster, they rallied round, helped each other, faced whatever challenges came about, and always with a sense of humour. He spent the next hour or two helping people along the way, coaxing, reassuring, offering sooth words of comfort to old and young alike, even giving out change for people to call loved ones, that's if they could get through, the queues at the various phones boxes were lengthy.

Everything had changed.

At 11.16 on 15th June 1996 – his beloved city had gone. Manchester destroyed. It’s very heart ripped out.

But not Gene’s. As he finally saw the area near the back of Piccadilly Station in sight, and the building that housed the Black Cat Club, a warm feeling washed over him, filling his every bone. He was tired, and weary. And emotional. He had been near to tears for most of the day, and shell-shocked, but most of all, he was proud.

Gene was proud to be what he was and crossing London Road he reflected some things never changed – nothing, not even this huge bomb explosion would keep him down. He still was, and always would be, the Manc.Lion.