Thursday, 16 December 2010

Ch: 23 Heaven Must be Missing An Angel (Tavares)

Gene continued to stare at this child in front of him.
“Where did you get that?”
“Told you. Gypsy Lady gave it me. Was my lucky dip”
“Give it to me!” He went to grab it from Maggie.
“No.” She stepped back away from him “It’s mine”.
“I said give it me!” Gene felt his anger mounting. He hated the way the whistle pierced through his head, penetrating deep into his brain.
“Noooo...mine” the girl’s voice quivered and she started to cry.
Oh Jesus. What was he to do with her?
“Look. Let’s do a deal. “ he bent down on his haunches again “You can keep it, but promise me you won’t blow it..at.. all....not unless you get lost. Do you understand?”
Maggie gazed back at him and said defensively
“But I like it. I like blowing it...” she went to put it in her mouth once more.
“NO! Maggie. I mean it. I will take it off you right here and now. It’s important you do not blow it unless you are lost. If we get separated for some reason, then you can blow it.....but only then. Now do you understand? Because if you don’t....I am going to either leave you here or drag you to the nearest cop shop and abandon you. Now do I make myself clear?”
Maggie nodded her head sheepishly. Gene felt a pang of guilt. She really was such a cute kid, but it was for her own good. A bit of discipline never hurt anybody.
“Good. Now come on let’s go and walk along the front, and then if you’re lucky we can go for a ride or two at the Pleasure Beach before...well. before we head home”.
Gene had no idea when that would be. He needed to check the train times but it was only mid afternoon and they still had a few hours to kill he imagined.
Dragging the little girl by the hand, they crossed the tramlines carefully and wandered along past the various shops and amusement arcades, past the hotels and B&Bs, passing couples who were so obviously there on a dirty weekend. Various gangs of both lads and girls, on hen and stag parties paraded along in various get-ups. Yes. Blackpool never changed.
“Can I have a hat?”
Here we go again, thought Gene.
Anything to keep her quite, Gene stopped at one of the shops , bought a “Kiss me Quick” hat and plonked it on Maggie’s head. It was a little large for her but at least it would keep her covered. He secured it under chin with the ties provided. There had been another which had the same suggestion but the addition of “and Squeeze me slow” but he deemed that entirely unsuitable for a child of her age.
She smiled back at him. He had to admit that was a killer smile. She would grow up to be a beauty and break somebody’s heart one day.
“Are you getting one Gene?”
Gene laughed. “The Gene Genie does not wear hats, neither Kiss me Quick nor any other”.
“Not even a cowboy hat..?”
Well that might be the only one he would consider. What a strange thing for her to say though...
“Come on Kid, before it rains again, let’s get to the Rides”.
A long walk along the Prom later, and they arrived at the Pleasure Beach. Maggie went skipping off into the entrance and stopped when she reached the Laughing Clown, ensconced in his glass cage. She turned to Gene, mimicking the dummy.
Gene hated that damn clown. Always had. In fact he would like to punch his lights out there and then.
“Keep moving. We’re not going on all of them we won’t have time ...so MUSH!”
He ushered Maggie along. The excited child jumped up and down, wanting to go on every ride, but Gene explained she couldn’t because she was not old enough. He told a white lie too that she wasn’t the correct height to go on the Ghost Train. There was no way he was going on that, after the last one....he shivered as he remembered the nightmare trip up to Manchester, and meeting Father Daniel at that weird castle in the park.
So they went on the Gold Mine. And in the giant Noah’s Ark.
They sailed through the River Caves.
They entered the magical world of Alice in Wonderland, again on a boat.
Maggie seemed happy, as she squealed all the way through each ride. Gene was merely chilled to the bone, a bit wet and fed up. He was also knackered.
As they came out of the Fun House he noticed the sky had darkened and wondered what the time was. Glancing at a clock in the window of a nearby stall he noticed it was gone half past four. They needed to start getting their skates on.
“Best go and get some tea, Mags, and then see about a train”. He pulled Maggie along, sensing her reluctance to leave by the way she pulled back on his arm.
“I’ll get you a hotdog, and some popcorn as well” he bribed her.
That seemed to work as she skipped along in front of him. What a sorry sight she was, Gene thought, looking at her outfit, and that damn Womble still hanging from her arm. In fact he caught sight of himself too in one of the Magic Mirrors at the exit/entrance of the ground. Jesus. He looked like he had been dragged through a hedge backwards too. Mind you, that’s what the Blackpool air did to you.
They passed the stupid clown, still laughing away in his case and Gene felt a shiver run down his spine. He turned round for a second. Christ. It was that damn Pierot..the one that haunted him..the one he had seen before, all dressed in white, the one that haunted his dreams, gave him nightmares...
He rubbed his eyes, looked away, then glanced back. It was gone. All that remained was the original clown ha-ha-ha-ing to everybody who passed by.
They needed to get out of there. And fast.

True to his word, Gene purchased a couple of hotdogs from a stand, lashing his with tomato sauce, mustard, onions, the whole shebang, whilst Maggie just settled for red sauce, some of which she spilt down her once white dress. It looked like blood. That un-nerved him. He also got her a bag of popcorn.
“I want to see the lights.. Gene, can we stay and see the lights..please...the luminations....”
“NO!” and then “ And it’s Illuminations. We have got to get back to Manchester”.
“Pleeeeease. I never seen them. Please. I may never see them ever again....”
To Hell with it, Gene thought. He looked across at the Promenade and saw a tram coming along, all lit up with bulbs so it formed the shape of a rocket.
“Hold on to your hat then”.
Scooping Maggie into his arms, he quickly crossed the road, dodging the traffic and headed to the tram stop. If they only went as far as the Tower, that might satisfy her. There was no way they would go all the way to the the North, and onto Cleveleys to where the large tabloids were. They really needed to get back home.
Yet as Gene leaned back on the tram seat, having paid the conductor the fares, he watched as the little girl’s face lit up as she looked up the various novelty lights, depicting famous fairy tales, and nursery rhymes.
“Oh look.!” Maggie suddenly held up the stuffed toy as Gene noticed the same pointed nose and beady eyes staring down from a great height above him,
“Remember you’re a Womble. Remember you’re a Womble. Re-member.member.member what a Womble Womble Womble you are!” Maggie started singing at the top of her voice.
Kids! Who would have them? Gene reflected but somehow he couldn’t help feeling something growing for this child, deeper by the moment. He felt the need now to look after her and protect her. It appeared they were both alone in the world together, with nobody else. She was a pain in the arse, doing his head in, yet at the same time she was tugging on some emotion deep within him. He felt it was his duty to look after her. As he looked up again at the cartoon character suddenly a very bright star caught his eye above. He watched as suddenly it moved and shot out towards the direction of the sea. A shooting star...that’s all it was..he told himself...
Once they reached the Tower stop, Gene told her they must get off there. Half expecting some retaliation he was surprised when she merely said “Ok, Gene” and they both departed the tram in silence.
They needed to walk back on themselves now as the train station was up near the South Shore not far from the Pleasure Beach. Gene decided the back streets would be the quickest and best option.
They walked in silence, apart from the occasional chant of “Remember you’re a Womble” from Maggie in between mouthfuls of popcorn, some of which she also fed to her beloved bedraggled toy.
As they neared Rigby Road, Gene had an thought. The coach park was up here somewhere.....and the Football Ground. An idea formed. Maybe, if they were lucky, they could hitch a free ride back. There was sure to be a charrabang heading back to Manchester with some footie fans surely, or even a coach taking day-trippers back. Yes that seemed a better option than the train at this time.
“Maggie, come here” Gene said, taking her hand “Don’t let go of me now. It’s gonna get a bit busy round here OK? I do not want you getting lost. Do not, under any circumstances leave my side. Understand?”
“Understood, Boss!”
“And don’t give me bleeding cheek!” Gene couldn’t help smiling to himself. This kid had balls.
The darkness fell around them and as they neared the Football Ground it was evident the match had ended as fans started to pour out of the exits of the ground. He wondered what the score was, and more to the point who the local club had been playing. Suddenly he got shoved from behind as the crowds grew. He held onto Maggie’s hand even tighter.
In horror he recognised the colours of the scarves and woolly bobble hats. Millwall. Bloody Millwall fans. And they were not happy.
Christ.
Millwall fans were bad enough when they won. Notorious for thuggery. If they had lost.....it was unthinkable.
As they crowds grew, all making their way out of the ground, it became evident Blackpool supporters were being let out amongst the Millwall fans. God whoever had opened the gate at the other end needed shooting. This was a recipe for all out war. Already Gene could hear cheering and taunting from jubilant Blackpool fans. So it was evident who had won. Suddenly somebody threw a bottle, which went flying right over Gene’s head. This was turning out to be a bad idea. As he pushed his way through the growing crowds, trying to find a way to escape the masses suddenly he felt somebody grab his shoulder, whilst another arm punched him in the back. Immediately without thinking one hand went to his shooter, the other lashing out at his attacker. He was unware at that point that he had let go of Maggie’s hand.
As he wrestled with a Millwall hooligan, a skinhead who neck was covered in tattoos, he also felt a kick on the back of his shin. Feeling claustrophobic he struggled to keep on his feet as the crowds jostled, pushing and shoving along. Bottles were flying all around. Beer cans, some empty, some full, were hurled through the air too. He heard a cry as he saw some poor geezer get clopped round the head with half a brick. He would be lucky to get out of this lot alive.
He heard the wail of sirens, and could see the faint blue light flashing in the evening sky. There were also several coppers on horses, obviously they had been expecting trouble.
Trouble.
Jesus.
Maggie. Oh for Fuck’s sake.
His heart almost stopped beating. Christ. That kid....she would be trampled alive in this lot. Frantic he continued to try and fight his way through what was turning into a full blown riot.
“Maggie! Maggie! “
Yet he couldn’t see her. All he could see was a mass of blue and white and orange, all blending in to one mass colour, swirling around his head. He felt sick. And dizzy. Nothing could happen to that kid. Nothing. He would never ever forgive himself if......
Something caught him on the side of his head and nearly knocked him out. He stumbled. Dazed, he put his hand to the spot where it had hit and felt something wet, and sticky. Blood. This was turning into a living nightmare. Yet it didn’t matter how he felt. All that mattered was that he find that poor little girl.
The crowd had dispersed slightly in front of him but gangs were still fighting. Women were screaming. The police dogs were out, barking and he could even see plods with truncheons and what looked like some kind of riot shields. He felt inside his breast pocket. The shooter was firmly in place. In his other pockets he searched. He still had all his bits and pieces. He felt the cross and chain, and held it in his fingers for a few moments, praying. Where the hell was she? She couldn’t be far away.
Those back streets of Blackpool near Bloomfield Road had turned into hell on earth. As gangs separated and milled along the pavements, Gene spotted an alleyway along the side of the football ground. He would make a play for that.
Shoving an orange clad Blackpool fan out of the way, he started to make his way towards the ginnel, kicking an object with his foot and almost tripping up as something tangled in his feet.
He bent down to untangle himself. It was a black hat. A “Kiss Me Quick” hat, all dirty, battered and torn.
Jesus. No! Please God. Please. Make her be OK. He was reminded of other times, of rescuing some other little girl, from the car, the bomb. Oh what the hell was going on...?
As Gene ran towards the alley, like a man possessed, crying out her name in vain, he swore to himself he would look after this kid for the rest of his life. Adopt her if necessary. He had to find her.
Suddenly he heard a sound. The screeching in his ears was unbearable and he stopped to cover them as the shrillness of a loud whistle filled his head.
Realising it was coming from the opposite end of the alleyway he rang along the narrow corridor of darkness. The fact that it stank of urine and something else fairly nasty didn’t matter to him. Only one thing did.
The whistle-blower sent out their signal once more and Gene was unaware that he wasn’t the only one being beckoned by the racket.
As he arrived at the entrance of the alleyway and turned the corner, he felt a sigh of relief at the sight that met him. For standing between a parked car and pavement, still clutching her stupid Womble, was Maggie. And she was not alone. She was talking to a copper.
Thank Christ for that. He was so overcome with emotion he felt his insides turn to jelly and thought he would wet himself there and then.
“Gene! “ Maggie shouted waving her toy in the air.
The copper turned round to face him.
Gene Hunt found himself staring into the face of one very familiar plod.
Chris Skelton.
He stared back at him. At first in silence. Then in disbelief. The other PC walked towards him, taking Maggie by the hand.
“I believe she belongs to you,” he said before adding “Guv”.
Gene couldn’t quite take it all in. As he glanced firstly at Skelton’s uniform, then at the child who was smiling up at them both, and then back at Chris Skelton.
And suddenly, slowly, the penny dropped.
And he knew.
“Ok. Police Constable Skelton. What brings you to these sunny parts then?”
“We got a tip off there was going to be trouble. I was drafted across from Salford. Can’t say I was looking forward to it. Not had much experience of this kind of bother, especially back in Manchester. Maybe a bit of rivalry and scuffles on Derby days but nothing like this. Give us back the golden years when it was just an enjoyable game eh? I used to dream about being a cop, but not quite like this”.
Ah , those golden years, thought Gene. The days of the team.
They could still here the noise from the nearby streets, the sirens constantly wailing. No doubt it would be on the 9 O clock news later.
“So why are you here then?” Gene asked Chris again. He looked a little younger than when he had last seen him. He still had that poncey haircut though it wasn’t as bad.
“My Guv...er.....I mean .Sergeant..told me to. Said I had little choice in the matter.”
“And if he put his finger in the bloody fire, would you do that too?”
“Eh?”
Gene asked again “Do you always do what your bloody Sergeant says? Like a lapdog? Up his arse? You after a quick promotion? “
“Yeah. Course. We were briefed this was going to be a bad call. You know what these football fans are like these days. They don’t just carry scarves and rattles any more. Some have knives. Even guns. Especially those from the Smoke. We had word, one of the notorious thugs was up today, out to cause trouble and nothing else. Not interested in the game. He’s been done for fire-arms stuff in the past. It was my mission to try and seek him out. The Sarge told me to get in position and wait here, just do as I was told, and wait for the signal. He was gonna blow a whistle. So when I heard it go off I came running. Only I found this!” Chris Skelton touched Maggie by her shoulders.
Gene smirked, and bent down to the child.
“What did I tell you about that bleeding whistle? Eh?”
He looked back at Skelton. He still didn’t know quite sure what the hell was going on, but he knew they were all there for a reason, and one reason only.
“To be honest, I’m glad she blew it. Well, for starters, you have found her, and I was feeling a bit jittery back there. You know, I needed more back-up but it was just me. Can you imagine what would have happened if ...if it had been that armed bastard...I could have been a gonna.... and nobody would have known ..”
Gene swallowed hard. A lump in his throat was threatening to choke him.
“Well, you’re not are you , you daft ponce Nancy boy! Get a bleeding grip”.
Gene patted Skelton on his back, not quite sure what to say to him. What do you say to somebody you have just saved from his own death? What had he said to Carling? Oh yeah, go out and shag that Scottish bird.
“She’s a lovely kid...” Skelton interrupted Gene’s thoughts.
“What..? Oh yeah.. she is ...I suppose”.
Chris ruffled Maggie’s hair as she gazed up at them both with those big sad eyes.
“Yes, heaven is certainly missing one angel here” He looked back at Gene.
“I’d love one like her one day. Kids. Hopefully if I meet somebody, you know, “the One”, the right girl....”
Gene smiled to himself, feeling a little smug like Gypsy Petrulengo himself.
“Oh you do.. mate. “ thinking of the Plonk.
“you bloody do” .
“Can we go home now. I’m knackered!” the small voice interrupted them.
“Yes, in a minute, and don’t bleeding swear..” Gene shouted at Maggie.
“You do.” She pointed out.
“Yes, but I am the Gene Genie, and that’s why it’s OK. Understand?”
Gene knew at that point there was nothing else for him to do. The task has been done. He had stopped Chris Skelton from getting shot by some nutter. Well, OK , he hadn’t entirely done it alone. He had his little sidekick to thank .
He turned to Skelton, and took his hand to shake it.
“Cheers mate”
“I think it’s me who should be thanking you, Guv” Chris replied, staring him in the eyes, and Gene knew that Chris knew exactly what had happened, what had passed between them. Just as Carling had.
“I got it wrong , or I thought I had, you know, responding to the whistle, when I saw the kid.....but now...well I don’t care. I’m not a failure am I? I didn’t get it wrong did I Gene?”
“No, Skelton. No, you didn’t. You did good.. Bloody good.”
With that, he pulled Maggie towards him, and they turned around to walk in the direction of the train station. Sod any ideas of a free ride home. He would get back home the same way he had arrived.
He glanced back as he watched Skelton turn away also and walk towards a waiting patrol car. Maggie turned too, and waved. Gene looked at Maggie and smiled, and when he turned around again Skelton, and the panda car had gone.
Job done.
Hurrying along, away from the rabble and towards safety, they finally made it to the station, and Gene was thrilled to see a train on the small platform. Checking that it was definitely heading for his destination - Manchester - this time, he boarded , shoving Maggie on first.
The carriages were fairly full and there was standing room only in one of them but Gene managed to find a couple of spares seats and he ushered the child into them.
He really was cream-crackered.
As the train started to slowly pull out of the station he couldn’t believe what a day, or 24 hours it had been. He had set out looking for Mary, ended up thinking he was looking for Alex in London, yet had finally wound up here in Blackpool, and found Maggie. Dear little Maggie May, or whatever she was really called. He noticed a man across the way from him, reading the evening newspaper. The headlines on the Blackpool Gazette were all about the football riot. Bloody hell, news travelled fast, this must be the latest edition. Another headline further down the page caught his eye.
“Girl, Missing. Found, safe and well”.
Gene smiled, looking across at the sleeping Maggie, clutching her stuffed Womble that looked like it had seen better days, to her chest.
Happy that all had turned out well in the end...he felt content once more. A warmth ran through his veins and into his heart. He was certainly on his journey now and he felt good, and he was pleased with the knowledge that he was not alone. Somebody, somewhere was watching out for him. He was certain.
As the train picked up speed he knew it wouldn’t take too long to get back to Manchester. Yet he was shattered.
Taking a leaf out of his young companion’s book, he shifted down into his seat, his right arm placed protectively around his dozing ward, and he closed his eyes, drifting off into a deep sleep.
He awoke, some time later, to a stalled train, on the platform at Piccadilly. The carriage was empty, and his arm was stiff. He stretched it out to relieve the muscles, flexing his fingers to try and ease the pins and needle sensation. And it was then that he noticed something was missing.
Maggie had gone, and all that remained on the seat next to him was a tatty and torn stuffed toy.

Ch: 22 Devil Woman (Cliff Richard)

As Gene stared back into those big greenish cat-like eyes, he knew he had stared into them once before. And more than once.
“I’ve been waiting for you. I am lost”. The little girl spoke again.
Gene rubbed his forehead. Christ. What was going on?
Leaving the exit to the exhibition he went back outside once more. The rain had stopped but the wind was still blowing.
“Take me with you”. The young girl ran behind him to catch up, as far as her little legs could carry her.
Gene ignored her. If he pretended she wasn’t there, didn’t exist ,maybe she would go away, and just disappear.
“Please! Gene!”.
Gene turned round.
“You know my name?”
The girl stood staring back at him, the wind whipped her hair across her face. She must be freezing in that get-up, Gene thought feeling a little guilty.
“So. What’s your name then?” Gene bent down on his haunches, bringing himself to her level.
“I’m not telling you. “.
“Where’s your Mother? Did she never tell you not to talk to strangers?”.
“Yes. But you are not a stranger.”
Gene was even more intrigued, yet so much had happened over the past few weeks, nothing really surprised him anymore.
“No. You can’t come with me.”
The girl started to cry. Silent sobbing at first, then it got louder so that passers- by looked as she wailed.
“Ok. “ Gene deliberated what to do. He thought about the posters he had seen in the various shop windows looking for a missing girl. Was this her? Hell, he had no idea. What should he do? Take her into the cop shop? Somehow he knew this would be wrong. Sixth sense maybe ? He had no idea but something was telling him she had found him. And for a reason.
“Ok. Come on then, but you can’t wander round like that , you will catch your death, and I will not be held responsible.”
Reluctantly taking her by her tiny hand, he pulled her along beside him. They walked along in silence, Gene casting a glance her way every so often. She stared intently ahead of her, her shiny black shoes splashing in the puddles causing her white socks to become grubby. Gene saw a small Woolworths store come in to sight.
“In here” her dragged her inside away from the elements where he ushered her along the aisles until he found the children’s clothes. Judging by her size he guessed her to be no more than six years old. Picking out a multi-coloured anorak, complete with hood, and some red wellies, the only colour left on the shelf, he pulled her along towards the cashier.
“I want a Womble”.
“What?”
“I want a Womble! Please can I have one?”
“No.”
She turned on the tears once more. Bloody Hell, typical woman.
Reluctantly he gave in picking up the furry looking creature wearing spectacles
“Not that one! That one!” she pointed to another one without glasses”.
“Fine.” Gene snatched up the stuffed animal and flung it on the counter along with the wellington boots and coat. The cashier, a bottle blonde with 3 inch roots and a toothy smile rang up the goods. Gene handed over some notes.
The cashier handed Gene his change and was about to put the purchases in a plastic carrier bag when Gene stopped her.
“She’ll be wearing them now” He grabbed the coat and flung it at the girl who obediently put it on, still tagged. Next she undid her muddy shoes and placed her feet in the wellies.
“Actually I will have a bag, for these” Gene handed the cashier the small shoes which the cashier placed in a bag, and handed the little girl her cuddly toy.
The girl gave a beaming smile.
“She’s adorable, your daughter. Such a little angel”. The woman commented.
“She’s NOT my daughter!” Gene quickly reprimanded her. Whether she was an angel or not was anybody’s guess.
“Right, kid, Feeding time!” Gene said noticing that it was almost 12 noon God. Where had those few hours disappeared to?
“Can I have chips?”
Can I have, Can I have, I want. Christ. He was going to have to sort something out with this child. But what?
They wandered across to the Central Pier and Gene bought them both a bag of chips. He was starving. It must be the Blackpool air. He watched intently as the girl devoured her chips, clutching her Womble tightly.
“So what shall I call you kid?”
“What do you want to call me?” The girl didn’t look at him but merely carried on munching.
Gene had many names he could think of.
As they sat on the side of the pier, watching the tide turn, and the seagulls struggling ahead against the wind, Gene heard a song blasting out from one of the amusement arcades.
“I know. I’ll call you Maggie”.
The girl looked up then and stared at him with those big eyes. Gene wished she wouldn’t look at him like that. It un-nerved him.
Then she smiled before carrying on with her chips. She tugged at his heart-strings from that point onwards, her vulnerability bringing out something he never knew existed in him. What a sight she looked in her fairy frock, anorak and wellies. A real little urchin.
They spent the next hour or so wandering along the pier,looking around the various stalls, and then disappearing in the acrades when the showers came. Gene ended up spending more money, on the fruit machines, and various rides which “Maggie” wanted to go on. He stood and watched her, holding the Womble and thinking what had he come to and more importantly how and why had he gotten here?
He bought Maggie some pink candy floss whilst he had a tub of cockles. Yes – there was something about the Blackpool air that gave you a ravenous appetite. No doubt by tea-time they would be tucking into hot dogs with onions and mustard.
Gene lit up a much needed cigarette, on the third attempt, as the wind was making it difficult. As he leaned against the back of a stall watching Maggie on a roundabout ride with her Womble he felt a tug of his heart-strings once more. What if...what if..he had had a daughter? Would she be like Maggie? He saw the young girl’s smile, the happiness in her eyes, and her giggle as she went round, and round, and up and down on the carousel horse, still clutching her Womble. He suddenly thought of Alex. And Mollie. Is this how she felt? What if he and Bolly...what if they had a kid together...? He suddenly had an overwhelming urge to protect this little girl. She needed him. And she was doing something to him. In the short space of a few hours something was happening. He couldn’t explain it, but it was. He only had to look into this child’s eyes and he was mesmerised.
He was brought out of his daydream by a wellington boot kicking his foot.
“Hey. Wake up”
“I’m wide awake Maggie, never fear!”.
“Can I have some rock?”
“No. It’ll make all your teeth fall out”.
“Pleeease”
“No. You’ll be sick.”
As Maggie stopped in her tracks, her bottom lip quivering Gene knew he had lost, once more.
“Here” he handed her some coins and watched her skip into the Rock Shop.
Leaning back on the form on the side of the pier, he closed his eyes for a few seconds. Perhaps when he opened them this might actually be a bad dream and she would be gone, and he would be back in good old Manchester.
“Look what I got!”
He opened his eyes and got the shock of his life as he stared at some huge cat-like face, its green eyes glowing in a sticky black surround.
“What..in hell’s name is that?”
“Its’ a Black Cat rock lolly. It’s made of rock. They had red ones too, but this is special the man said. Its liquorice and aniseed mmmmm”.
Gene watched in horror as Maggie licked the huge cat face with her little pink tongue. Apart from thoughts of what chips, candy floss, liquorice and rides would be doing to the little girl’s stomache, he couldn’t get his head round the fact that out of all the things in the Rock Shop she had to go and choose a bloody cat. A black one at that too. Why not a big sugar dummy, or some of that fruit shaped rock, or even a good old fashioned teeth rotting stick with “Blackpool” written through it’s centre. No a bloody black cat. Oh well maybe it was a sign of good luck. Who knows.
“I feel sick”.
I bloody knew it, Gene thought as Maggie tugged at his sleeve.
“I am not surprised, stuffing your face, and jiggling around on that horse over there.” He looked at the girl whose face had turned a little ashen.
“Come here” he pulled her towards him, wiping the sticky sweet from her around her mouth. He noticed even the Womble had some stuck to his fur.
“We need to get off here. It will be dark soon, and cold”.
He pulled Maggie’s coat together and zipped the jacket further up. Taking her hand they turned to walk back along the pier.
They were half way down when Maggie stopped and screamed.
“Jesus what now?”
As he turned, Gene noticed her boot was wedged in a plank of wood that had come unhinged. Bloody hell that was dangerous. He peered at the gap below....the tide was out but even so it was a long way down. The bloody council needed to get that repaired pronto before somebody had a serious accident.
“Here” he bent down to free her foot.
They stood up and carried on . It was true what they said about kids Gene thought. You certainly needed the patience of a saint.
“Hey, Mister. Want to buy a lucky charm?”
Gene looked up to find a woman with long black hair, and swarthy olive complexion staring back at him.
“No I bleeding don’t. I need more than one. Have you got a bucketful by any chance?”
“What about some lucky heather then? Cross my palm with silver, and I read yours. You got a lucky face, Mister”.
Lucky. Lucky? Ha. Gene thought. I should be so bloody lucky.
“Outta my way, woman” Gene went to push her aside but she grabbed his coat, her long scarlet talons clung to his sleeve.
“If you don’t I curse you. In here. Now”
She pulled him into a small booth, Maggie trailing behind him.
“Sit!”
Gene really wasn’t in the mood for some poxy fortune teller but neither did he want any bad luck. Gypsys’ curse or not.
“Here, child” the Gypsy handed Maggie a picture book to occupy her mind whilst she spoke to Gene.
“Make yourself comfortable whilst I prepare”. Gene looked around . The booth was decorated with various shiny curtains, baubles set against a background of dark, damask and satin curtains, all ruby and deep purple. He noticed a variety of black and white photographs adorned the walls, some famous faces he had seen on the TV, sports stars and celebrities and the sign “Gypsy Petrulengo”.
He watched as the Romany woman laid out a black cloth covered in suns, moons and stars.
“Cards or Ball?”
It made no odds to Gene. It was all a load of balls as far as he was concerned.
“Go, on tell me what’s on the cards then?” He may as well humour the woman. Maggie was quite content reading the story book, still clutching Mr. Womble.
The Gypsy shuffled a pack of large blue and gold backed cards. She then handed then to Gene and asked him to cut them in three, place them back together and choose ten at random, thinking about a question.
“Is there something you want to know, desparately?”
Oh bloody yes, thought Gene. He didn’t just have one question though did he. He had around a million and one!
One word went through his head. Alex.
He concentrated on his number one question and picked out some cards which he handed to Gypsy Rosalie or whatever her name was, and watched as she placed them on numbers on the cloth. He noticed the medium sized crystal ball at her side. What a money-spinner. She must be on a bloody good number sitting there with her headscarf and big gold hoops dangling from her ears.
Gene watched as she turned over the cards, one by one. Intrigued by the pictures flashing before him, a man with a Lion – well say no more...he was the Manc Lion! There was a Tower on one, followed by The Fool, The Hanged Man, The High Priestess, The Hermit, something that didn’t have pictures on it he wasn’t quite sure what the hell it was, The Chariot and he was horrified to see the Death card too, but it was the very last card which impressed him. The Lovers.
“Oh Gene, I see you have a struggle on your hands”
He froze. She had called him Gene.
He looked up into her eyes, she had gotten his attention now.
“See. You don’t believe me do you. That I can tell your future. I know your past. And your present. I know where you have been, and where you are now. And I can tell you your future. You have been very bad haven’t you. Tut. Tut” she shook her head, beads all ajangle.
“but you didn’t mean to be. I can see that now. There is some good in you Gene. A lot of goodness. You now have to let that goodness come out. You have been selfish and now you are learning to be selfless.” She looked across at the little girl. Gene followed her gaze. Maggie had fallen asleep, her head resting on arms on the table, Womble dangling by the skin of his teeth.
Gene listened, still not sure where it was all heading but he was prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt.
“You are trapped , here.” She pointed to the Tower card.
“All your life has crumbled around you. You feel as though you cannot escape. You are suffocating, helpless. And it’s going to take you all the strength you have to resolve your situation now. You have a battle on your hands. Only you can get out of it now. I see you are on a journey. You have a long way to go still, but you have started out on the road, and it is the right road believe me. Yet it is not without it’s perils... Now, think of your question again. I need more from you”.
Gene stared back intently and gazed into the fortune-tellars eyes. They were very dark and as she stared back it was as though she could see into his very soul. He shivered. He thought he could see flames in her eyes. His eyes took in the rest of her face and her lips, coloured a deep magenta. Her teeth were small, white and even. She was quite a stunning woman actually underneath all that tackiness.
“What does this mean?” Gene pointed to the final card. The Lovers. He had to know. He needed to know.
“Wait. You are in too much of a hurry. We are only here, still. “ She pointed to The Hermit.
“You do realise, you have been an idiot, Gene. A Fool. And you still will be if you do not listen to me. There is a crossroads you are coming to, two directions you will face. Which one will you take? One direction is the correct one. You must make the right decision”.
Gene shifted in his seat. He wasn’t sure whether to believe this clap-trap. She probably spouted the same crap to everyone, it was all run of the mill stuff.
“Don’t give up, Gene. You are very strong. You can do it, and if you put your mind to it, nothing can stop you. There are people here helping you. Listen to them. Listen to what they say. They will help you get to where you want to be. With Alex”.
At that point Gene nearly fell of his chair, as something rubbed up against his leg under the table. Thinking the woman was getting fruity he felt a little relieved to see it was cat. Another bloody black cat! Jesus. The cat rubbed backed and forth against his shins purring loudly before disappearing behind the curtain.
Alex.
Gene leaned further into the table. Now she meant business...
“Tell me about Alex”. He demanded.
“They are all here, Gene. Everyone of them. You know who I am talking about don’t you? They are waiting. But....I don’t know that I can see Alex”.
“What do you mean, you can’t bloody see her? You must have, you just mentioned her?” Gene felt his heart starting to beat rapidly. He must try and remain calm.
“Just a minute.. I see you have the Wish card. That’s something. So make your wish now....”
There was only one wish Gene could possibly make. So he did.
“It’s not very clear....they are there...but not Alex. “
“Where? Where the hell are they, and where is she for Christ’s sake. You know it all, the future, tell me” he thumped his thist on the table knocking some of the cards over. The sudden noise caused Maggie to stir.
“I want to go home” she cried, lifting her head.
“Hush, pet, won’t be long now..you go back to sleep for a few minutes” Gene shouted across to her, trying not to be angry with her, it wasn’t her fault after all. He wondered how much this lot was going to cost him thinking he could have just got Mystic Morgana on the Pleasure Beach to do it from the machine.
Gypsy Petrulengro bent to collect the cards that had fallen.
“I was going to ask you to choose three more. To try and make it clearer so I could finish the reading. As it happens, we should use these three” she pointed to three that had fallen separately to the rest of the pack. “They have fallen for a reason”.
As she turned the three cards over she suddenly gasped, bringing her ringed hand to her mouth. The High Priest, The World, and The Devil.
“What? What is it?” Gene asked, desparate now to know.
She quickly glanced into her crystal ball, and stared intently.
“All is not as it seems. Gene. Listen to me. You are on a journey. It will end. And it will herald the end of something. You have the wish card, and the World. This means everything will be yours that is the good side. But...something isn’t right. There is somebody around that you cannot trust.” She pointed to The Devil card.
“It’s him”.
Only one name was echoing round Gene’s head at the point. Bloody Jim Keats.
He looked back at the cards. The Priest. Well that was so bloody obvious. Daniel. God, he must be wondering where he had gotten too. He needed to check the trains soon before it got dark, but there was the small matter of Maggie to contend with. Could he take her back with him? Another waif and stray for Daniel?
“I see danger, Gene. Grave danger. Beware. “
“but what about Alex. Is she there? That’s all I need to know?”
“I can’t see her. Not clearly. But you have a choice to make and you must make the right choice Gene because if you don’t you may never see her again....just be very very careful. If you don’t..... I am exhausted now. You had a very strange reading. It is quite unusual to get all the Major Acrcana..”
“The what?”
“Major Arcana, Picture cards.....quite unusual. Right that will be £3.50!”
Gene reluctantly put his hand in his pocket and pulled out some notes and a 50 pence piece and as he did so, the cross and chain got caught up in his fingers.
“Stop. Where did you get this?” The Gypsy went to take it from him.
Gene snatched it back.
“Never, let this out of your sight, Gene. Never. As long as you have this....”.
Gene placed it back in his pocket along with all the other bits and bobs.
“And keep the St. Christopher too, it will protect you on your journey..”
“How.. the devil.....?” Gene wondered how she could know what else he had in his pocket.
He needed to get out of there now. Enough was enough. She had better not curse him now. He remembered his Mum saying something about the gyppos years ago. And his gran too. Something about them doing the work of the devil with their tarot, runes and crystal balls. Well this devil woman wasn’t going to upset him any more. It was probably all a load of bollocks.
“Come on, Missy” Gene called to Maggie , shaking her gently by the shoulders, and they made their way to the exit of the booth.
“Remember Gene, be careful. And God speed Maggie – here have a lucky dip for being such a good girl”. The Gypsy handed the little girl a basket full of small coloured parcels, wrapped up in tissue paper.
Gene didn’t know what to make of it all. He was half inclined to believe it was a load of rubbish, and as they left the Pier he was about to cross the tramlines to the other side of the Promenade, when he saw a tram was coming and stopped before it struck them both. His head was whirling. How could she possibly know some stuff...the names..his, Alex and he noticed she had just called the kid Maggie? How could she know?
He realised he was deparate for a pee, and luckily spotted the underground toilets.
“Wait here, and don’t move!” he instructed Maggie. The child merely nodded.
“I’ll be back in a jiffy”. He sprinted down the stairs, did what he had to do, and was back up in minutes.
He looked around where he had left her.
Maggie was gone.
No way. No bloody way. He had been seconds...literally.
“Maggie? Maggie? “ he turned around, looking left, then right. Then across the road towards the shops. Then back towards the Pier. Maybe she had headed back there . She seemed quite happy on there. Mind you weren’t all women when they were getting their own way and you were spending money on them.
He started to panic. He didn’t know why. He didn’t like this feeling, as though he was losing control.
His head started to spin again, and as he marched over towards the Pier entrance, a gust of wind blew.
“Gene!” He turned round. There was nobody there.
He heard a laugh. An evil laugh. One that he had heard before. Many times. He looked out to sea. The tide had started to turn again. Soon it would be getting dark. Christ. Where was the kid? Bloody hell she was a child. There were so many nutters and perverts around. He hoped nothing had happened to her. He would never forgive himself. She had appeared from nowhere this morning, and now, after spending such a short time together he felt he couldn’t be apart from her. They had made a connection. A bond. In God’s name he couldn’t explain what it was. He might never know. All he knew was he had to find her and quick.
As he leaned over the railing looking down to the beach he felt sick. Suddenly there was the most deafening sound behind him. Right behind him.
It hurt his ears.
There it was again. Going on and on. A shrilling, piercing noise that penetrated deep into his brain.
“Gene. Look what I’ve got? !”
He turned. It was Maggie.
Smiling up at him.
And between her lips was a whistle which she blew once more so loudly it was enough to waken the dead. A policeman’s silver whistle.

Ch 21: Missing (Everything but the Girl)

Ch: 21 MISSING (Everything but the Girl)

As it turned out, Gene did not get as drunk as he wanted to. He had a couple of beers and a few scotches in one of the back street pubs that was still functioning yet his mind was on other things, and both were women, firstly Bolly, and secondly Mary. He had been looking forward to maybe seeing Mary in order that she might take his mind away from whatever crap was going on with Alex. He felt confused. One minute he felt like Alex was really there and then at others it’s like she was playing with him. Why? If she loved him and cared for him, surely she wouldn’t be playing games with him or teasing him. He recalled the last time he saw her, as she left him to go into the Railway Arms. The tears in her eyes, her soft voice, the way she cupped his face in her hands and tenderly kissed him. Oh that kiss. He touched his own fingers to his lips. How could he ever forget that? Or forget her? His mind then wandered to Mary. She was some looker. Her skin had been so silky and fragrant, that red hair, and her sexy figure. God! The very thought of her. Yet this was mad. Insanity. What had she done to him too? Where was she now? Was she there to take his mind off Bolly or was she there merely to tempt him away. He had to see her, try and find out what was going on. He had no idea what was happening to his life, where he was going, or even where he would end up. Yet for the duration of any time remaining, Hell, he was going to try and make the best of it! He didn’t know anything anymore – apart from one thing, he was missing both of them.
Finishing the remains of his whisky he made his way to the area of the arches. Everywhere was fairly quiet. He was looking forward to seeing the inside of the Black Cat Club once more yet he was disappointed for as he approached the building he noticed it was all in darkness. No red lights in the window, no lights up stairs. In fact the windows were boarded over. The place was derelict. Jesus. What now? Where in God’s name was she, and everyone else for that matter? Had he lapsed into yet another time zone? He had felt certain Mary might have come back and he could seek the pleasure of her company. He just didn’t want to be alone. Daniel had been so pre-occupied after the bomb with his waifs and strays he had started to more or less leave Gene to his own devices. Ray Carling briefly entered his head. Lucky sod up there in Scotland, having it away with his woman. And yet here he was, the Gene Genie, alone and going out of his tiny mind.
He stood for a few seconds wondering what to do. He heard a whistle, and glancing across the road, he knew. Within a few minutes he was standing on the platform gazing up at the timetables. Although he hadn’t felt very drunk the alchohol must have affected him since everything seemed a little blurred and he couldn’t quite make out the times. He spotted a guard peering into a wastebin.
“Oi, mate. What’s time’s the last train to London?
“Oh man, you need to get a move on” the Nigerian work rolled his eyes in his “over there, goes in 5 minutes”, and before he got chance to ask him anything else the guard was accosted by two teenagers.
Gene looked in the direction of “over there” and spotted a solitary train. Legging it along the platform as fast as his cowboy boots would carry him, he reached the end carriage and jumped on. Within seconds the train whilstled once more and started to pull out of the station. With a bit of luck the guard wouldn’t be around to collect tickets until near the end of the journey. If so, he would have to make a quick getaway jump like they did in the films but he didn’t relish the idea.
As the wheels started to move slowly the rhythm of the chug chug chug started to make Gene feel a little sleepy. That, and the effects of the drink he had consumed. He settled into his seat, leaning his head back on the upholstered headrest. If anything it was going to be a long night. If this was the last train to London it could be the sleeper which meant it would stop at nearly every stop. So it could be stop.start.stop.start.....all the bloody way! Glancing briefly around the carriage he noticed there weren’t many other passengers. A middle aged couple sat opposite, the man reading “The Manchester Evening News”, the woman some Woman’s weekly type magazine. Gene squinted across trying to make out the headlines but it seemed a blur, all he could make out was the word “Missing”. There was another young family further along. They had 3 children of varying ages, including a baby. Bloody kids. That’s all he needed. He just hoped they were kept under control so he could get a bit of a kip. Decent shut-eye was needed for what he had in mind. If Mohammed couldn’t come to the mountain...well he was going to try and find Alex. He intended to got back to Luigis, to the flat. Maybe back to the office, although he was entirely sure about that. If he could find the Railway Arms to...maybe...just maybe...he might take a walk in there....perhaps Alex would there now, waiting for him. Maybe it was time..... With that thought in his head, he closed his eyes, shutting out the world, and drifted off into a sleep as the train chugged on. A few short moments later he was awakened with a jolt. Opening his eyes he looked around briefly. Everything was as it was. The middle aged couple still engrossed in their literature. The family still trying to sort out their screaming kids. Gene shuffled around in his seat to make himself more comfortable, and fell into another slumber as the train started its journey into the night.

When he finally awoke he felt disorientated. Rubbing his eyes he felt a creak in his neck, and a bit of a headache. Never again would he get the sleeper train. Now if it was the Orient Express well....that would be an entirely different kettle of fish. He realised it was morning. It was light outside and the early morning sun was also just awakening. He realised also that he was alone in the stationery carriage. Gone had the couple, and the family. Once more, it was just Gene. Yet after he had composed himself he realised it wasn’t just himself for coming towards him at the far end of the carriage was a guard. Oh no. He remembered he had no ticket! Quickly he jumped out of his seat, opened the door and ran along the platform. Luckily the guard hadn’t followed him and it was only when he approached the railway exit he realised it was looking pretty unfamiliar. This wasn’t Euston Station. Or St. Pancras. Or even Kings Cross. So where the hell was he?
Thinking he had maybe just got off too early, or too late, he spotted a guy in a yellow hi-vis jacket, sweeping up some rubbish.
“That train pal....do you know where it’s come in from?”
The cleaner looked up at him, giving him a toothy smile. “That’s er..what time is it...” the old guy looked at his watch...”er the 0630 from Manchester. “

Gene seemed a little puzzled...0630...yet he had boarded it at what...almost midnight?
As if he could read his mind the cleaner laughed out loud...”Don’t tell me, you were heading for London? Right?” Gene looked baffled. How could he possibly know?
“How..do you know that?”.
“Easily done mate. You’re not the first, and sure enough you won’t be the last...” he continued to sweep, intermittently bending down to pick up a fag dimp which, after examining, he tucked away into his pocket.
Gene stared at him blankly. This guy was talking in riddles and he was in no mood for some moron at 0630 in the morning gabbling on. Christ. Breakfast TV was bad enough.
“Like I say, easily done. Folk hop on the train – it’s in a couple of carriages see,...” he had now propped his brush up against the wall and was explaining things by waving his hands around.
“There’s usually two carriages here, at the back, then maybe a couple more at the front. The train pulls out of Manchester but the tracks part at a junction, and the carriages separate. The front lot head offf to the Smoke, the remaining ones get hooked up to another carriage, which heads up here. Simples”.
Gene felt a sinking feeling in his stomache...
“And where exactly is Here?”
The cleaner smiled and pointed to the large sign hanging on the wall behind Gene..
“Why...Blackpool of course, Mecca of the North”.
Blackpool! Bloody Blackpool? Sure enough Gene spotted the sign, it’s big black letters bold as brass BLACKPOOL. Jesus Bloody Christ.
“What about the next one back..to Manchester..or London even...”
“No trains running just yet mate. Leaves on the line. “
Bloody Great. Gene was now stuck in Blackpool for the duration of however long it took to shift the leaves. A few poxy leaves. Like the bloody snow. A few flakes and the whole country came to a standstill. Gridlocked.
He looked at the guard he carried on sweeping, whistling away. Poor sod. He must have done this job for donkey’s years. What a life. Still it wasn’t his fault was it? No. Gene blamed himself, being in too much of a tearing hurry, blind drunken stupor and for falling asleep.
“Here, mate, cheers” and he handed his cigarette packet to the old guy. The old geezer may as well enjoy the three cigs that remained.
With that he pulled his coat towards him and set off towards the town centre.
Blackpool. Bloody Blackpool. How dim could he get? Bang went his plans for looking for Alex, and Mary. Sodding Blackpool on a cold autumn day too. For it was autumn, evident by the leaves appearing under his feet as he walked through the back streets making his way towards the Tower. Yes you couldn’t bloody miss that. Phallus-like it loomed up into the morning sky, standing tall and proud. At that very moment Gene felt like travelling to the top and hurling himself off into the Irish Sea. On second thoughts...no...it was a dirty pit of sewage out there full of shit and God knows what else. Maybe he could throw himself under a passing tram?
He found a tiny cafe just opening it’s doors. Daniel had given him some money a few days ago to tide himself over. He produced a note from his wallet and ordered a full cooked English breakfast and a large mug of builder’s tea. He polished it off in no time since he was starving.
Once had paid and left, he stood for a few seconds wondering what to do with his day. He realised he was staring into space and as he became of his surroundings he noticed the newspaper board outside a corner shop. The only headlines on it read “Missing”.
He looked back at the row of shops. Their tacky offerings on display in the dirty dusty windows. Christ that little mechanical amusement was still there. Gene rummaged around in his pocket and produce some coins. Inserting them into the slot in the window he stood back and watched as a little wooden man, dressed in a kilt and pompom hat danced a jig to “Donald Where’s ya trousers?” . Nothing ever changed. That must have been in the shop window for years. He remembered seeing it as a kid when he had visited the resort on day trips with his Mam and brother. Hoots Man! Gene could never fathom why it was a little Scotsman other than Blackpool was a favourite place for people from North of the Border. As he made his way towards the sea-front he found the black and white Windmill. A cold wind blew into his face. September. Illumination time . Looking up the famous Golden Mile from left to right he could see all the lights above him. They looked nothing in the daytime but at night they were spectacular. Tacky, but even so they drew the crowds in from all over. That, and the Pleasure Beach.
Yet Gene was not in the mood for pleasure. He was feeling cold and somewhat pissed off. Still a good blow might do him good even if it wasn’t the kind of blow he had had in mind when he set out the previous evening. Blackpool was starting to waken up slowly.. He saw the donkeys crossing the road heading for the sands for the start of their day. He remembered a joke his Mum used to tell him.
“What do the Donkey’s in Blackpool get for their lunch Gene?” she would ask.
“Hay? Or Straw?” Gene would answer.
“Carrots” his brother would chip in.
“No. Half an hour!” his Mum would laugh. Oh Happy days.
Dark clouds loomed overhead and rain began to fall. The poor donkeys would be out in all weathers, they had no choice. Yet he did. He needed to find shelter, and not in some gift shop or amusement arcade where he might be tempted to spend all his money. He had a good few hours to kill and needed to do it sensibly and fulfilling. At least this weather would clear his head, and blow away a few cobwebs.
He walked back towards the Tower, passing the notorious “Manchester pub, famous for its fights and shindigs. He spotted a poster in one of the windows. It read “Missing” and he could make out a blurred photo of a little girl. Poor Kid. Whoever she was. He doubted she would still be alive. Some pervert would have got her. He cut up a few side streets and headed towards the back of the Tower where the local market was normally held.
The rain had started to fall pretty heavily and already his coat was feeling wet.
“Atishoo!” he let out a sneeze. He would catch his death walking about in this weather. He needed to get indoors, find shelter. He pulled his collar up, and pushed his hands further into his pockets, feeling relief his little trinkets, or talisman where still there. He felt the cold of the crucifix against his fingers. Yet somehow it didn’t feel so cold...it felt quite warm, and comforting.
As the rain turned to hail he hurried along, desparate to find somewhere to rest. He noticed a large entrance door to a building on his left. What was it now? He tried to remember...was it the back of the Tower, which led up to the Ballroom? No.. he hadn’t quite reached the Tower yet. All the same he went inside, thankful to be out of the driving rain.
He walked up a couple of flights of stone steps. And turned. And then up some more, until he came to a large room, brightly lit. There was an eerie silence.
As he looked around he realised exactly where he was. And he wasn’t exactly “alone”.
Standing next to him were Cassius Clay, the famous boxer, or Mohammed Ali as he was now known. Along with Elvis. And the Queen! He was in Louis Tussards Waxworks!
He looked around, fascinated at the likeness of the models. There were quite a few too he had no idea who they were. Some bint with red hair, which reminded him of Mary.
Maybe he would be in there one day. Maybe.
Yet he didn’t exactly feel he was quite alone in that house of wax. It certainly was a little creepy. It was all in the eyes.
At the moment he was startled as he heard a slight shuffling. To his relief he spotted a cleaner, complete with her bucket and mop. The smell of pine discinfectant wafted up his nostrils. As the woman, in her mid 40s maybe, drew closer, he felt panic rising. He didn’t want to startle her either. He really shouldn’t be there, at this hour, not before the place had opened. Plus there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
So there was only one thing for it.
Placing himself between the legendary David Bowie, and Elton John, he stood still. Very very still. Quickly he sneaked a glance round and noticed a smiling Princess Diana behind him. Thank God it must still be around 1997 then, he thought. Taking up is pose once more he held his breath as the cleaner was almost in front of him now. With a little luck she wouldn’t even look his way. Praying that he wouldn’t cough, sneeze or let out a fart, he stood as stone, his heart beating so loud he thought the whole of Blackpool would hear it. What the hell had he come to? He almost let out a giggle. As she swept past him and cleaned next to Mr. Spock and the Starship Enterprise Gang, Gene breathed a sign of relief. He had certainly boldly gone where no Gene Hunt had previously. He would wait a few more minutes before heading away, back down the concrete staircase, but as he stood for those waiting moments, suddenly a child passed in front of his eyes. A little girl. Her bobbed hair had a slightly auburn tinge to it. She suddenly stopped in front of him, and turned. Christ, she looked familiar. Her dress was unusual.. It was a white lace dress, the skirts sticking out like a little fairy frock, and she had white shoes and socks. And a white button up cardigan. Gene tried not to blink and continued to stare straight ahead. He could see the waves of the Irish sea thrashing about as the tide started to come in. The Life boats might be busy later. He felt un-nerved as the child continued to stare and he lost his gaze. As he moved his eyes towards her she looked up and smiled, and put a tiny finger to her lips as if to say “hush”. Gene shut his eyes tight, waiting maybe for her scream, for her mother...who maybe was the cleaner, God knows. Yet when he opened his eyes she was gone. Vanished in a second.
Without any further hesitation Gene ran across the wet floor, almost breaking his neck at one point and ran down the stairs, desparate to get out the place. It gave him the creeps. After losing his balance he became a little disorientated and when he came to the door at the bottom he found it was locked. Bolted. He tried to open it but it was shut solid. Making his way back up he knew he couldn’t go back into the main hall in case the cleaner and her kid were still there. He noticed another door off the stairwell was ajar and made his way cautiously through that.
It seemed to be in total darkness. As he tread wearily along his hands out in front of him, he suddenly felt cold metal. Something unfamiliar. Like a blind man he felt his way along the object trying to define what it might be. It had a round top, like a helmet, and suddenly a soft rubber prong prodded his stomache.
Lights suddenly flashed on and off, red, gold and green.
“Exterminate. Exterminate”
A fucking Darlek! To Gene’s surprise and amazement he realised where he was, and as the mighty Tardis morphed before his very eyes he felt a sense of happiness at having walked bang into the Doctor Who exhibition. Bloody Hell. How many times as a kid had he wanted to visit. How many times had his waste of space drunken father promised to bring him. And how mant times had he been let down, and disappointed.
And now he was here. As if by magic. This was the dogs bollocks!
Not even thinking if anybody had heard the darlek’s voice, his first and only thought was to get inside the Tardis. There was simply no way he could leave the building without taking a peak. It would be rude not to. He remembered joking with Father Daniel about having a Tardis if they were to be time-travelling. How bloody ironic and coincidental.
He pushed opened the famous blue Policebox half expecting Jon Pertwee to be inside at the controls. Or maybe the old guy..Patrick Troughton... but no..it was empty.
Oh this called for a bit of role play.
Fascinated by the controls Gene stood at the helm, his fingers caressing the knobs. Darleks, Sea-Devils, Cybermen. Oh you could keep your Cling-ons and Vulcans Captain James T. Kirk. The Doctor rules. Gene Hunt would be the next Doctor Who! With Alex Drake as his glamourous assistant of course. His mind raced on in fantasy mode.
“Gene!”
Gene turned round in shock.
Wh..what..who had shouted him. He looked back at the controls.
“Gene!”
Damn. That sounded like Bolly’s voice again. But it couldn’t be. Surely. Not here.
Then, for a second, he thought he was dreaming. He could smell smoke. He could hear a weird noise, getting louder, and louder. A familiar noise. The noise the Tardis made when it was ready to set off.
“Oh fuck me” Gene started to panic, pressing various buttons. This couldn’t be happening. Surely. It wasn’t real. Not really.
All of sudden the box jolted, shook from side to side, and then fell still. And silent.
Gene glanced down for a second, relief washed over him. And then he heard a voice speak.
“Have you come here to find me, Doctor?”
He looked up and to his surprise the little girl in the white fairy frock was standing before him. Smiling. Pleading.
And at that moment, Gene knew the things that were happening were not incidental, or co-incidental even. They were happening for a reason and that very reason had brought him here to Blackpool on a godforsaken wet autumn day. Yet it still didn’t make sense. Any of it. Something was missing.
He stared at the little girl in front of him. She looked vulnerable. And so so familiar. And a feeling of protection and an overwhelming need came over him. Whatever was going on, whatever it was, he was hoping he was about to find out.

Ch 20: Postcards From Heaven (Lighthouse Family)

Surprisingly, a few days later, and back in 1996, Gene was still feeling in a fairly good, if not calmer mood. Whether it was mostly to do with the incident with Ray which no doubt had given him a huge boost, or the fact that he didn’t feel so alone at the moment. The Refuge had a couple of people floating around, and not all dead-legs, druggies or homeless. Daniel also rented out a room or two to those who were maybe just passing through, and had nowhere to stay in the City Centre due to the bomb damage at hotels..
Father Daniel had taken his refugees, and Gene , on a whistle-stop “tour” of the City the previous day. That was something neither Gene, and his companions in the group would ever forget. What a sorry sight Manchester was. Bulldozers had moved into, scaffolding was being erected, wooden hoardings placed around unsafe areas, and Jesus there was a lot of them. It really was a sheer miracle that nobody had been killed. It was like walking through a war-zone. Hardly anybody had been let back into shops and offices. Health and Safety prevailed at what might lurk in the empty buildings. It wasn’t just structural damage but hidden dangers such as cracked gas pipes and asbestos disturbance. It was an eerie feeling walking around the perimeter of the cordon which was all the police would allow, listening to the various alarm bells ringing out, and the stench from the Arndale Market, and other food concerns. The rotting food was another health concern. Livestock would have a field day.
Gene had stopped near the area that was the epicentre of the blast, leaned against a wall and stared at the now famous red pillar box. There it was loud and proud, as if saying “I’m still standing”. A bit like me, Gene thought. Maybe that was a sign? Like a phoenix rising from the ashes. The shiny red reminded him of his beloved Quattro...
That was yesterday. His thoughts turned to the current task, a very important task. He was making his lunch. To his dismay there were no Hoopsin the kitchen cupboard so he settle for macaroni cheese. As he spread some margarine on toast and poured out the contents of the pan, he grabbed the daily paper, looking forward to catching up on whatever else was going on in the world outside Manchester.
Yet it wasn’t meant to be. Daniel walked in at that point. Gene’s heart sank. He was looking forward to having his scoff alone. To his surprise, it turned out he would be doing.
“Just grabbing a sandwich. Got a bit of counselling work to do this afternoon.” he said to Gene, as he opened the fridge door and took out a silver foil parcel.
“Oh, by the way, there’s some post on the side, it’s for you. I forget to mention with everything going on. It came yesterday”. Daniel continued to pack a plastic box with a variety of fruit.
“Post? What? For ME?”
Gene left his food and went to where Daniel had pointed on the kitchen unit. He picked up a couple of letters. Sure enough, addressed to DCI Gene Hunt.
“Ha.” The first one was a postcard, bearing various emblems of Scotland.
“It’s from Ray”. Gene turned it over and instantly recognised Ray’s scrawly handwriting...
“Dear Guv,
As you said, I decided to come up here for a while. See if I can work things out with Carol. I love it up here it’s so peaceful but I can’t understand a bloody word they say!” I know you wanted me back on Monday but I wondered if it was OK if I stayed a couple of weeks to sort my head out. Maybe six. Am sure you can manage without me for that long. But I will be back Guv, I promise. Thanks for everything and saving my bacon.” It was simply signed “Ray”.
Then it read “PS: if you get over to the Black Cat Club. Ask for Mary. WOW. Is she something else? They don’t have titties like that up here them Scottish birds. Shang-a-Lang!”
Gene stared at the tacky card. Pleased on the one hand. He had asked for a sign from Ray, and this was it. He was OK. He had been saved. Yet Ray’s mention of Mary at the club had now un-nerved him. How could Ray possibly know Mary? It didn’t make sense. Mind you what did?
He scratched his head, baffled, and went back to his dinner. He hated cold pasta.
“Don’t forget Gene, if you need me this afternoon, just bell me on the mobile OK?”
And with that the priest left him alone to finish eating.
Gene hadn’t really been listening. What did he mean, mobile? Mobile what?
As he turned the pages of “The Sun”, he stopped and glanced at Page 3. Some busty blonde. Ten a penny. He thought of Mary, wondering where she was. Did it mean she was back at the Black Cat? Maybe he would take a walk later. After all there was little else he could do. If she was back, maybe they could watch a film together. He had enjoyed her company. Looks like he wasn’t the only one. Bloody Carling got there first.
He glanced briefly at the news, and turned to the TV pages. Then he looked at the latest films and laughed out loud at some of the titles in the Cinema. Fargo sounded OK. Jerry Macguire sounded too close to home with the IRA bomb having just happened. Lone Star, Lost Highway and Mission Impossible. Bloody Hell. He was on a bloody impossible mission that was for sure, lost on the bloody Devil’s highway more like too. Primal Fear, Scream, Secrets and Lies. Jesus. They could all be about what he was going through at that moment in time. Beautiful Girls and Swingers reminded him of the Black Cat Club once more. He was in no mood for Shakespearean slush as he spotted Romeo and Juliet on the list. He wondered who Larry Flynt was. And as for Courage under Fire. He had been under fire for that long from all angles. Yes he had made his mind up. He would have a wash and brush up, tart himself up a bit and take a hike over to the Arches. He was feeling positive and really wanted to see Mary. Maybe he would ask her if she did know Carling.
It was whilst he was day-dreaming about Mary, and her sexy figure, that a title caught his eye. Another film. Called The English Patient. There was a small written review. Maybe that was the kind of film Mary would like, although he had had his fill of hospital beds for obvious reasons. He wondered which picture place he could take her to..the nearest...obviously not one in the town centre. Yes maybe she might want a bite to eat too. They could find a nice little Italian somewhere or head out towards the Curry Mile near the University.
Suddenly he was startled by the ringing of a phone. Only it didn’t sound like his normal everyday office telephone ring. It was coming from some brick like contrapment on the kitchen unit.
Gene quickly stood up and went to look. Yes it was ringing. He froze.
A name was flashing up on the green illuminated screen.
And that name – was Alex Drake.
His pulse beating in his throat, he fumbled clumsily with the buttons. Damn. Which one did he need to press? But after a few rings it stopped. Blast. Maybe she would ring back? He waited. Yet there was nothing. He took the phone back to the table, never taking his eyes off it, willing it to ring once more. Yet still it remained silent. He turned his attention back to the newspaper. If he concentrated on reading maybe it would ring again. That’s how it always happened didn’t it, when you took your mind of stuff, stuff happened.
As he reached the adverts he noticed there were lots of these phones for sale, or “for contract purposes”. Mobile phones. Mobiles. What had Daniel muttered earlier? Something about contacting him on a mobile. This must be Daniel’s phone. Yet if so...what the bloody hell was Alex Drake doing ringing him? That Bastard knew more than he was letting on. Gene was in half a mind to go and seek his counselling session at the Church Hall and give him something Daniel himself would need counselling for, but it was then he remembered the 2nd letter that had arrived for him and which he had forgotten to open. Tearing the brown envelope open untidly and impatiently with his fingers, he then turned it over to see the hand-writing. A very familiar handwriting.
He unfolded a piece of white paper, quality too, watermarked. He became aware of a fragrance. Something very feminine, something a little rose-scented. Something very Alex Drake.
He stared down at the letter before him, in disbelief, as he started to read the neat writing.
“Dear Gene,
I know I should be addressing you as Dear Guv, but quite frankly you are no longer my Guv. Certainly not at this moment in time. I just wanted you to know that I am so proud of what you did for Ray. He needed you Gene. We all do. Please do not try to contact me. No matter what you think. No matter what you are told, or instructed to do. It is very important that you listen to me. Take Care. All my love, Alex.”
That was it? There was no address. No date. Nothing. What the bleeding hell was that all about?
Just then the phone beeped at him, and the screen lit up once more.
It read “You have one new message”.
Somehow, he wasn’t sure, but by pressing various buttons at random he managed to dial Alex. He waited, heart pounding as he listened. Waited for her voice at the other end to say “My name is Alex Drake..” yet the only sound he could hear was his heart, and the blood rushing around his head.
It rang out and then the line went dead. Silence.
“Bols?, Bolly, Alex? Bloody Hell Drake talk to me!”.
He tried to work out the buttons to see what the new message might be, yet it all appeared a little complicated. He wondered if there was an instruction manual or something. Bloody technology.
Deciding to leave it alone again, he picked up his dinner plate and placed it in the sink. He would wash it later. But then no, he would do it now, in case he got lucky. He remembered he had been planning a trip to see if Mary had returned, but it didn’t seem as appealing any more. He ran some hot water and squirting washing up liquid into the bowl Gene Hunt became a domestic goddess. He also washed up some cups and cutlery. All he needed now was a clean tea towel and a pair of Marigolds. With dripping hands, he opened a kitchen drawer and pulled out a fresh tea-towel, and as he did so, something fell onto the floor. It was a booklet. A booklet about Getting started on using your mobile phone! Aha. Quickly wiping his hands, he sat down again at the table and started to read. He never read manuals. Who in their right mind did?
Flicking impatiently through the various sections, he cursed at the tiny writing. Why did they have to make it so bloody small. He found a bit about something called “Text Messages and Voicemail”. And there was code number you had to put in. What would it be. Had Daniel changed it from the original instruction? Or not. Was it to be his lucky day?
He punched the first thing that came into his head. Four digits. 1234. This unlocked the phone. Magic.
He then dialled the 3 digit number to retrieve the voicemessage. He waited seconds but they seemed like years. And then he heard the her voice. How bloody glad he was to hear her Miss Prim and Proper tones.
“Gene. It’s me. By now you will have gotten my letter. I need to you to listen to me. I know how bloody stubborn you are and you think you know it all but you don’t. Not this time. As I said in my note, just be very very careful. Do not press your own self destruct button. Think about anything you are asked to do. And under no circumstances contact me. I hate you being there. I hate the fact that you are going through this bad time, alone. But I am here, Gene, right here waiting for you. I don’t care how long it takes. And one day, when you have done all you have to do, I will be there, when you need me the most. “
And then the message stopped. Nothing more.
Gene replayed it. Again. And Again. Christ. To hear her voice. Knowing she was somewhere, so close, and yet so far. Where the bloody hell was she? He needed her now. Right this damn minute. Damn, damn, damn. Jesus. He couldn’t take much more. Just as he thought he was finding his feet, getting himself back on track, his meeting with Ray. Christ. He put his head in his hands.
He looked at the kitchen clock. It was almost 2pm. He needed a drink.
Making his mind up, he needed something, anything to take his mind of Alex, Ray, his old team, all the crap that had happened during the past couple of weeks. This bloody tin-pot priest. Whoever he was, and whatever he was doing here, in Gene’s life. He needed to get out and away before he cracked up well and truly and ended up in Prestwich Mental Hospital. He suddenly remembered a scene, when his Mum had been going on at his brother, annoyed at him getting mixed up with narcotics and such substances...”You’ll end up in Prestwich” that was the saying that the locals used. Maybe he should just get a bus there right now so they could sling him in a straight jacket and padded cell. That would prevent him from...what was it Bolly had said...pressing his own self destruct button...?
What did she mean? Was he in some kind of danger? He had his doubts about the dodgy Daniel, who switched from Jeykl to Hyde in a flash, but surely he wasn’t that bad? Maybe it was Gene’s mistrust of everyone getting the better of him. Perhaps he should just go down to All Soul’s now, and sit in with Dan on his sessions, help out a bit, keep his mind occupied?
Maybe.
But not today.
Hearing Alex’s voice on the line had conjoured up all kinds of emotions. And there was only one way Gene Hunt could deal with his emotions.
Flinging on his topcoat, he slammed the door, and marched out of the house, down along the road towards the direction of the Arches and the Black Cat Club.
Gene Hunt would deal with his emotions in his own way. The only way he knew how. He was going to get steaming drunk on one all mighty bender. All thoughts of Mary, films, getting laid, nothing was further from his mind.
All he knew is that he needed a drink, to blot out the world he was currently living in. This dismal bloody place where nothing made sense, other than the fact that Alex Drake was still very much a very big part of it.
And one day he would find out why.

Ch 19: Army Dreamers (Kate Bush)

Gene woke with a start, banging his head against the window, and realised he was still in the daft car, with Daniel by his side. Only it was no longer night-time, and a new day had dawned.
“Morning Gene”.
“Why do I get the feeling I have just slept my way through another time zone?”
“So...did you have sweet dreams of Alex then?” Daniel asked.
Gene couldn’t actually remember dreaming anything.
“Can we not drop it? You have your answer now about her don’t you?” Gene was tired of the constant questions.
“That may be however, I don’t want you to forget and get complacent. You have to make amends. You took her for granted, and now she’s gone. If you get her back, you treat her with the love and respect she deserves. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly and will be cautious about trusting you again. That’s assuming she still wants you...I mean, she may have already met somebody else, some other lost soul looking for a little TLC, somebody who appreciates her and I mean REALLY appreciates......”
“Will you fuckin’ shut your mush. I don’t do mornings as it is without your ramblings”.
“Second chances, Gene. Remember. Not everyone gets them..” Daniel still continued to provoke him.
“Whooa stop..the pub there......it’s back, it wasn’t there last week, Jesus, that car...it’s Sam Tylers, that one there parked outside...”. He craned his neck as Daniel appeared to put his foot down on the accelerator.
“Really? You do surprise me” Daniel retorted with venom in his voice. Gene couldn’t get his head round the guy. He was like some Jeykll and Hyde character, alternating between goodie and baddie.
Gene switched the radio on. Bagpipes boomed out. No t the Jocks again. Could the day get any worse? As the DJ’s voice droned on after the record finished about the Pipes and Drums and Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, Daniel interrupted.
“mmm Quite appropriate actually”.
The way Daniel came out with these sweeping statements had started to irk Gene even more. Gene stayed quiet.
“Do you not wish to know where we are heading? Shall I give you a teeny weeny clue?”
Gene still didn’t speak.
“It’s 6th May, 1972”.
“6th May.....was that VE Day, or near abouts?”
“Close, Gene. That’s a good guess...”
“Bastard Cup Final. Arsenal v Leeds United. Bloody Excellent. Wembley. Wembley....” Gene’s mood suddenly brightened, his voice perkier. This time travelling maybe had its good points.
“”Afraid not Gene. Nothing as easy as that. In fact, we here now.”

Daniel stopped the car outside a terraced house. Gene’s heart sank. He had an awful feeling he wasn’t going to like what was going to follow, whatever it was.
“Now. You know how I took your confessional, and last night you finally confessed your love for Alex and your desire to be with her. Well, I can help you do that. However, there is a price for you to pay. You have a penance, or rather a job to do before you can see her again.”
“Fire away”.
“How does your new role , DCI Gene Hunt, Saver of Souls grab you?”
Gene stared back at Daniel, a worried look on his face.
“Don’t understand”.
“Ok. Let me put it this way. You have been the Keeper of Souls. And that was so very very wrong”.
“No. I rescued them. Kept them safe with me”. Gene argued.
“But they didn’t belong with you Gene. You kept them with you against their will. You now have a chance to put that right. This is your first task. You have to prove yourself now”.
“But what am I supposed to be doing? And who with, or for?” Gene was confused even more.
“You, Gene, are going to release the souls now” Daniel pointed out.
“I have already done that. I let them go, back to the pub, The Railway Arms”. Gene was adamant he had done penance.
“No. That wasn’t good enough. What you are going to do now is SAVE their souls.....we are not talking Afterlife here Gene. We are talking Life before Death”.
Gene looked at the terraced house. The front door was open. Somebody was waiting for him inside.
“Go on Gene. You can do it. You’ll know exactly what to do. Take your time. I ‘ll be right here waiting for you”. Daniel re-assured him.
Gene took a deep breath and sighed. Running his fingers through his hair, feeling agitated he got out the car, flexing his legs,after being cramped up for some many hours, if not years. That tosser ought to get a bloody Tardis if he was planning more of this. As he walked towards the front door he glanced back at Daniel, who simply nodded his head.
The door ajar, he tapped on it. There was no answer. Tentatively he walked in to the shabby looking hallway.
“Hello?” There was no answer. The hackles stood up on the back of his neck. His hand instinctively went to his shooter.
“Anybody there?” He could hear the noise from a TV set blasting out in a back room. It was the football.
Entering the room he noticed the TV set was chanting away to itself.
He noticed a couple of Tetley beer cans on a table. Empty. Lying next to them was a thick rope. The chair had been pulled out from under the table as though somebody had been sitting there not long ago, evident by a half-lit fag hanging over the ash-tray, some of the ash spilling out onto the tablecloth. There was smell in the air of smoke mixed with Brut for Men. He noticed a bunch of keys on a keyring for a MarkII Ford Granada. And he knew.
“Oh. Afternoon Guv. I didn’t hear you sneak in there”.
The voice was instant recognisable. A warm feeling flowed through Gene’s veins. He knew that voice anywhere.
“Raymondo. My good man. How the bastard are you”. Gene moved towards his old colleague, and friend, and put his arms around him, giving him a bear hug. Both men looked a little uncomfortable at first but then they burst into laughter and the ice was broken.
“It’s good to see you Guv.”
“You too Carling. You don’t know how bloody much.”
“Fancy a beer?”
Gene nodded , suspecting by the empty cans on the table, and in the waste-bin, that Ray had had more than one.
“What’s the score?” Gene nodded at the TV as he sat down in an armchair as Ray returned.
“1 nil to Leeds. It’s nearly over now so looks like they wrapped it”.
Ray pulled up a chair and offered Gene a cigarette. Ray lit them both one.
“So...what do I owe this pleasure, Guv?”.
“Quit the Guv tonight, Ray. It’s just plain old Gene”.
Ray stared back at his Chief as Gene inspected the DI, or DS or whatever he was. Although he looked a little younger he had a pained expression on his face and his skin was saggy, making him look older than his years. That would be the drink and fags. Why had he never noticed before?
“I don’t know Ray. I just felt I had to pop in and see you. How are you doing?”
Ray took a swig from his can of beer and a drag of his fag. “Oh you know, doing away”.
Doing away. That was a funny little saying. Certainly not a Manc. One he recognised.
Cheers interrupted them heralding the end of the match. Leeds had won, the single goal carrying them to victory.
“Where have you been Ray? You haven’t been around for a couple of weeks. I need my right-hand man back, pronto”.
Gene watched a Ray downed the remainder of his beer pretty quickly, and lit another cig in succession. God, even he couldn’t knock them back that fast, or chain smoke. He stared at Ray’s nicotine stained fingers.
“I haven’t been too well, Guv, I mean Gene. Just a bit low, you know”.
“Oh, I know Raymondo my friend. We all get times like that. You just have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and carry on”.
At that moment a familiar theme tune came on the TV.
“Bloody Hell, Dad’s Army, this’ll cheer us up. I could do with a bloody laugh”. Gene settled back in the armchair. “Captain Mainwaring” He saluted to Ray.
“Get it off Guv. Can’t watch this”. Ray suddenly got up and turned the TV over to another channel.
“Fancy another?” Ray shook his empty can.
Gene nodded. It looked like he was in for a long night.
Whilst Ray was in the kitchen, making them a sandwich each too, Gene looked around the small living room. Jesus it felt weird to be back in the 70s. He half expected the boy wonder Tyler to walk through the door any moment. Maybe if he was lucky he would be outside waiting for him in the Cortina, and not that Tosspot in the Smartcar.
Gene noticed some black and white photographs on the wall, and some more on the sideboard. He moved in for a closer look. Men in military uniforms looked back at him. A shiver went down his spine. He remembered just a few short weeks ago, how he had first met Daniel, in a military uniform in the Fleet Air Arm place. Yet these faces were not Daniel’s although there were somewhat familiar, very familiar.
“Gene. “
Ray had returned from the kitchen and was handing Gene another can of beer and a doorstop sized sandwich on a blue and white plate.
“Only had thick bread sorry. And Mother’s Pride to boot. I put plenty of Cheese, and HP sauce on”.
“Cheers my good man. The mice won’t be happy tonight will they?” Gene took a bite of the wedge.
“Mmm you..mmm want get yourself one of them fancy gaff’s near town that they are throwing up”
“Dunno. I might not be around here much longer”. Ray shook his head. His speech was becoming a little slurred Gene noticed.
“Oh yeah. Got other plans have you?”
Ray Carling looked across at the table, at the rope lying there, and back at his Guv and said nothing, just looked him in the eyes. At this point the penny dropped with Gene. He needed to coax Ray to talk. He rattled his brain to think of something to get him started.
“You got a bird then, you dark horse, Ray? Come on, spill the beans”. Gene knew it was a good point to get Ray started on women.
“Well, yeah there’s one or two. One in particular”.
“Go on, pray tell. Have I got to order a new hat?” Gene joked.
“Well..do you remember that night, when there was the concert for the Rollers? “ Ray asked Gene.
“I do Raymond. Shang-a-bloody-lang”. It had been a manic night. The Bay City Rollers attracted millions of screaming teens. He looked at Ray questioningly.
“No, it wasn’t a young one, don’t worry. It was her mother! Divorced. Nice girl. Do you remember, her daughter had lost her glasses and her inhaler. Got too excited and had an asthma attack...”
“Oh god...Yeah...Blonde. Bit tarty looking..big.er..” Gene motioned breasts.
“Big knockers yeah! “ Ray copied him
“What was her name. Karen..or Caroline. She came back to the station didn’t she. We got the kid sorted with a replacement inhaler but not the specs”.
“Carol. That was her name”.
“Oh God, yeah. Christma s Carol....we called her ‘cos it was December...23rd something like that. What a cracker! ” Gene laughed.
“Ding Dong!”. Ray laughed.
“So, what goes it with the two of you?” Gene needed to continue this line of enquiry sensing Ray’s mood had suddenly lifted.
“It’s not easy. She’s up in some jock village somewhere in the Outer Hebredes...well actually halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh. The motor’s tonned up a few miles, not to mention the phone bill!.”.
Ray winked at Gene.
“It can work. Long distance. It’s all about trust”. Gene reflected.
“Harp at the Gene Genie. Giving me advice on love” Ray chuckled. “You met anybody special then Guv, especially with those words of wisdom”.
Oh yes. He had met somebody very very special. He was about to confess to Ray that it was none other than good old Miss Bollykecks when he realised Ray wouldn’t know her. Alex Drake was probably only a twinkle in her father’s eye and if not, a toddler. Jesus it was almost verging on paedophillia if you looked at it from that angle.
“I believe there is somebody out there for everyone Raymond. And when you meet them you will just know. There will be a connection. Nothing can break that. Just go for it. Even if there are obstacles along the way. Don’t be afraid of failing”.
The minute Gene uttered that last word he realised he had touched a nerve for Ray crushed the empty beer can with his fist and flung it across the room.
“Failure. Story of my bloody life”.
“That’s crap, and you know it, Ray. You’re a good cop. One of the best”. Gene reassured him.
“Bollocks Guv. Am sorry but I’m not even that great at that am I? It was the next best option, and the only way I could get my hand on a gun after...”
“After what Ray?”. Gene was determined to coax an answer out of him.
Ray put his head in his hands. He remained like that for a few minutes. Suddenly his body racked with paroxysms as he sobbed his heart out. Gene stood up and walked across to the chair. Without thinking he put an arm round his mate and tried to comfort him.
“C.mon Raymondo. Nothing can be that bad. Believe me. You are a fantastic cop. I couldn’t do without you. My life wouldn’t be the same with you. ”.
“ I am a failure. I failed them” Ray lifted his head and looked towards the photos across the room.
Gene looked up with him.
“My Dad. And Grandfather. They were in the Army. It’s what I wanted to do. But I was too bloody pig-headed. Failed by basic training thanks to that” Ray kicked another empty beer can at his feet.
“It would have meant so much to them. And me. Nothing but a bloody failure”. His voice was still shakey and his eyes were bloodshot.
So Gene had gotten a confession from Ray, just as Daniel had gotten one from him.
Ray continued.
“That’s why I joined the force. Next best thing. It cut me up though, knowing I should have been out there, fighting for my country. Maybe out there in Antrim. Saving lives of innocent people. And instead what am I? Nothing but a failure, and a bloody army dreamer”.
At this point the other side of Gene Hunt kicked in. It was time.
“Carling. Shut the fuck up, Nancy Boy, get on your feet. NOW! And that’s a command”.
“What?” Ray looked up.
“You heard me. Carling. Stand by your bed. I am Gene Hunt - your Lieutenant, Chief Commanding Officer, whatever!”
“Sir!” Ray stood to command and saluted. Gene saluted back, clicking his Cuban heels.
“You do as I say. Understand?”
“Yes”.
“Yes what?”
“Yes. SIR!”
“Now. Enough of this namby pamby soft soap twaddle. I want you back at the yard . Monday morning 6am sharp. We got a dawn raid planned and you are my next in command. Got it?”
“Sir.”
“Do I have your word?”
“On my Father’s life Guv. Sir!”
Gene felt a strange feeling , which started in the pit of his stomache and was working his way up to his heart, to his throat, to his brain.
“and another thing. Get up to Jockland and make an honest woman of Karen.”
“Carol”.
“Get this joint cleaned up, and meanwhile get yourself down to the Black Cat Club,sober yourself up with a few black coffees, get a shag that’s if you can still get it up the state you’re in, and then a good night’s kip.”
“Guv.....thanks”.
Gene turned to Ray once more.
“Oh, and I’ll have this” and Gene picked up the piece of rope that had been lying on the table.
“You won’t be needing this now”.
“I don’t know how to thank you, Gene. How can I ever repay you?” Ray asked as Gene headed out into the hallway.
Gene turned again to face Ray. Gene knew that Ray knew what had just happened. Ray knew what Gene had just done.
“Don’t go all soppy on me Raymondo. You ain’t a ponce. Just give me a sign in the next few days or so that you’re OK. And then it’s back to work. Get it?”
“Got it Guv”.
And with that, Gene walked out of the front door, slamming it behind him, Pleased he had just done his job. A satisfactory result. He had saved Ray’s life. He relished his new found title, Gene Hunt Saver of Souls. Task number one could now be ticked off the list. He felt good. Bloody good. The best he had felt in ages. As he walked down along the pavement to Daniel and the waiting Noddy car, even that couldn’t blacken his mood. Nothing could. It was good. He was confident. He was one step nearer to Heaven, and one step nearer to Alex Drake and nothing was going to stop him now. Nothing.

CH 18 Forever Love (1996 Gary Barlow)

It felt like an age since the explosion had happened. Gene was leaning against the wall near the Refuge smoking a much needed cigarette when Father Daniel finally appeared.
“Thank God, nobody was killed” he said and went on to explain to Gene where he had been.
“I have given some shelter at the Refuge, hot sweet tea for shock, and biscuits. It’s a miracle – things could have been a lot worse.”
“Could they?” Gene doubted the fact as his beloved Manchester had gone up in smoke. He felt as though his very heart had been ripped out. Realising what Daniel meant he apologised.
“Yeah sorry mate. It could. What about injuries, any ideas on numbers?”
“Well, it’s mostly the glass cuts and stuff like that, a lot of walking wounded. Christ what a bloody mess! Give us a drag” and Father Daniel snatched Gene’s cigarette , had a few puffs before returning to him.
Gene was surprised to hear the Priest blaspheme and see him smoke. Although under the circumstances anybody would. Bloody IRA, assuming it was them. God if he ever got hold of them.....
“I need a drink”. Gene announced.
“Good idea” replied Daniel.
“Question is.....where?” Gene asked. After all the town centre, what was left of it was a no-go area.
“We’ll have to go out of town a little.” Father Daniel suggested.
“I ain’t walking. I think we have both done enough today – we are both knackered.”
“Bus then.”
“I ain’t catching no bus...and besides there won’t be any proper services will there? Think logical. said Gene.

The two men stood quietly for a few seconds, then the Priest spoke.
“Leave it to me. Come on”. Father Daniel lead the way along Every Street until they turned up Pollard Street. The night was drawing in Pollard Street was pretty badly lit although there were a few cars parked along the road. Suddenly Father Daniel started to retrace his steps. Gene ran after him and watched as the priest bent down to retrieve something from a piece of wasteland nearby. Gene noticed to his surprise it was a crowbar!
“What the...?”
“Shut it . Stay there and keep watch”.
Gene glanced back up the street. There was nobody around and he then heard a creaking, an engine start up and before his eyes Father Daniel appeared from around the corner – in a car.
“I am NOT getting in THAT thing! Who do you think I am, Big Ears?”. Gene shouted.
“Your chariot awaits. It’s this or nothing. Just shut up and get in. Nobody will notice it’s missing!”
Gene, reluctantly got in the vehicle thinking this priest was becoming even more of a mystery to him. He certainly wasn’t your run of the mill padre.
Struggling to get his legs under the dashboard he banged his knee.
“Bloody Hell” he said rubbing the bone.
“Shut up moaning. If you want a drink this is our mode of transport. Its dire emergency circumstances. Beggars can’t be choosers”. Father Daniel replied.
Gene sighed. Yes he really really needed a scotch right now.
“Well, there’s nothing for me to say is there other than Fire up the Smartcar Danny Boy! Get this horse to water before I die of thirst!”.
Some fifteen cramped and uncomfortable minutes later they pulled up outside a pub. Gene thought it looked familiar as he peeled himself out of the dinky car. He looked around at the other surroundings. Yes. It definitely was familiar ground. He glanced up at the name of the pub and a shiver went down his spine. “The Nelson Tavern”.
“I know this place. Why have you brought me here?” Gene looked at Daniel who was trying to lock the car, as if anybody would nick it.....although...
“I have my reasons, Gene. Shall we go in? My shout?”
Gene walked through the doors tentatively, not really knowing what to expect. Of course, it wasn’t “Nelson’s” Tavern as in Nelson, the man himself. No. But it was a pub with an uncanny name that he had frequented in his early Manc days , and with Sam Tyler too. He recalled one occasion when there had been a stick-up at the Post Office up the road. They had actually nicked the robbers in the nearby Brookdale Park and then once they had been carted off, all piled into the Tavern for a few celebratory beers.
Gene noticed it hadn’t changed that much.
Daniel ordered two whiskies which they both downed in one, and ordered another round which they took across to a small table in the corner.
“So” Gene sipped this second one a little more slowly “Why exactly have you brought me here Danny Boy? To exorcise some more ghosts?”
“We need to talk”. Daniel replied.
“Oh. You mean it’s the...”This relationship isn’t going anywhere...”
“Gene. Shut up and be serious for once. YOU need to talk”.
Gene was too tired for games. It had been a long slog and he was just glad to get away from the chaos of the city for a while, and try and shut out the devastation of the day.
“Do you not think I did enough talking the other night. You got me to confess. What more do you want? You can’t get blood out of a stone, pal”.
“You need to talk. About Alex.”
Gene took a long gulp of scotch.
“Why?”
“Don’t go on the defensive. Look at me tonight, not as a priest. But as a mate. You know, man to man.”
Gene remained silent.
“You have to talk about her. She did exist. You can’t just sweep her under the carpet.”
“What if I don’t want to talk about her?” Gene took another swig, aware that his heart had started to pump a little faster.
“Fair enough. But you do want to see her again, don’t you? “
Gene still didn’t say anything but the look on his face said it all.
“See. You say it best, when you say nothing at all” Daniel remarked. “You need to admit stuff to be able to move on. She’s there, waiting for you, you know.”
Gene knew she was there. He could feel her, all around, all the time. God he wanted her to be there so badly.
“Get me another” he pushed his now empty glass at Daniel “and maybe I will” before adding “Oh, and a packet of dry roasted nuts”.

Without hesistating, Daniel made his way to the bar once more, returning shortly with double whiskies, and something in a small packet.
“What the bleeding hell are they?” Gene examined the contents. They smelt a bit fishy.
He put one in his mouth.
“Scampi Fries. They ran out of nuts”.
Despite the taste, Gene devoured the packet pretty quickly. He was starving. He learnt Daniel had grabbed a sandwich back at the Refuge. He wasn’t sure how they would get back if they were both knocking back the whiskies. Mind you anything, even shanks’s pony was better than that damn Noddy car.
He took another swig of whisky plucking up the dutch courage, and leaned back in his seat.
“So, Daniel. Fire away. Ask me whatever you like.”
“And you will answer honestly? The truth Gene, nothing but?”
“Nothing but the truth”.
“Tell me how you feel about Alex, or shall I call her Bolly?”
“No. Alex is fine. She was Bolly to me. Not you”. Gene interrupted.
“Ok. That tells me something already. A pet name. Did she have one for you?” Daniel asked, running his finger around the rim of his glass.
“She probably had a lot for me. Not all repeatable.” Gene grinned remembering some of their heated discussions... “Wanker springs to mind”.
“You had what is known as a love-hate relationship” Daniel said matter of factly.
“Yeah. She loved me and God at times I hated her wittering on. And on”.
“So you didn’t love her?”
“Pass. Next question” Gene took another drink.
“We’ll come back to that later. Gene. You are not getting away with it now. OK. Erm. Did you ever lie to her? You know. What about other women you may have been involved with during your years with her? Did you tell her about them? Was she jealous?”
“What is this, the Spanish inquisition again. Listen Magnus Magnusson what relevance has this got to do with it?”
“Tut tut. Gene. You have no idea have you how to handle a woman?”.
“Oh and YOU have?!” Gene glared across at the Priest, who looked even less like a priest, still clad in his dusty jeans, and t-shirt, the leather jacket hanging over the back of the chair.
“Come on then Marjory Proops. You tell me your expert guide to marriage counselling. I am all ears”.
Gene leaned forward staring Daniel in the eye before leaning back in his chair again thinking what an arsehole this guy was.
“OK. You want answers? Right. Well just shut up and listen.” Daniel now took two gulps of whisky in sucession and then continued.
“Gene. During your time together you and Bo...Alex built up a relationship. OK so it wasn’t always a bed of roses, you took the rough with the smooth, good with the bad. That’s what relationships are. You rescued her from scrapes. She remained loyal to you. Didn’t she?”
“Yeah. Well. There may have be one bloke.....” Gene cut in.
“That’s nothing. Not what I am talking about either. She was loyal to you, and the team. She cared about you Gene. Do you understand that word? CARE? She had nobody and she came to rely on you. Oh, she was feisty alright. Gusty. Had balls. Yet underneath that exterior she was vulnerable and just wanted looking after.”
Gene was starting to feel a little uncomfortable again. Why was this guy insistant on dragging up memories of him and Alex. She wasn’t here anymore.
“Did you CARE for her Gene? Really CARE? I mean. Or were you just messing her around? Telling her one thing, meaning something else? Playing with her feelings? Because you could?”
“No”. Gene said quietly.
“Were you out shagging women? Then falling back on Alex when you were bored? Was she a bit of a backup for you when all else failed? She had a damn good intuition. She would have known if you were lying? Did you lie to her Gene?
Gene was silent, his jaw starting to clench in anger, his knuckles tightened.
“And what about Mollie? Supposing the boot was on the other foot, and you had a daughter, and it was just you and her? How do you think Alex would have been? Or felt? Jealous? No. Would she have wanted you to get back to her, so you could spend time with her? You are damn right she would because that’s the kind of CARING, LOVING person Alex Drake was. She put others before herself. Only you were too damn blind, or stubborn to realise it. You lied to her and led her dance”.
“I bloody well didn’t lie” Gene stood up smashing his fist against the table. A few customers looked up.

“Is everything OK lads?” the landlord cried across.
Gene sat down again, trying to control his temper.
“Stop goading me. “ Gene glared at his companion, and started on the other glass of whisky, his fourth.
“Admit it Gene. Ok, then if you didn’t lie, you certainly didn’t tell her the truth did you? Or the others for that matter. How would you have felt if say, she had shacked up with one of the others..Chris maybe”.
Gen smirked “That wimp. No bloody chance he was besotted with The Plonk anyway.”
“Ok. Ray”.
“What, Carling with his porn-star looks, do me a favour.”
“Look it doesn’t matter who, any colleague..Just answer me how would you have felt? Seeing her close to somebody else, kiss somebody else....”
“Ok Ok. I would have broken their bloody legs. Happy now?”
Daniel smiled.
“Now we are getting somewhere...at long last”.
Gene continued to sip his scotch only a little more slowly now.
“So. Despite the fact that you couldn’t admit your true feelings , you kept on day in, day out. Living a lie. Telling her one thing, and somebody else another. You hid the truth and made her go through all what she did. Letting her live in in hope, day in day out, thinking that something might come of all this, and there would be an end product. She never pushed you too hard though did she? She was naturally inquisitive that’s all. And if she had false promises...”
“I never promised her anything”
“Didn’t you?”
“Why didn’t you do anything sooner. Confess to her. You had plenty of opportunities. Ok so you had a few encounters, alone together”
“It was too soon. Never the right time.”
“Is there a right time ever Gene? Life is too short, as you well know. You need to grab happiness by both hands, take what is there, and live for the day. How long would you have made her wait? Another seven months, 8, a year? Why wait? Looking for the right moment? What was the point of waiting, hanging around because it “wasn’t the right time?” You’d had enough time in your little world, you’d kept the gang there long enough, and Alex, poor poor Alex. On your long list of priorities just where exactly was DI Alex Drake? Hey? Your precious Bolly Knickers? Somewhere between the Quattro and your cowboy boots? Or at number 98 on your list ? Jim Keats was right about you. You were a cruel selfish bastard. Thinking only of number one. You should have just booted her out, let her go back instead of keeping her dangling. You lived a lie and liars have bad memories Gene. They get found out and when that day dawns , Whoosh, all that you may have wanted and hadn’t realised suddenly vanishes in a puff of smoke and it’s too late...”
Gene stood up again, this time his anger flared. He stormed past Daniel knocking over a chair as he fled out of the pub. Daniel, grabbing his leather jacket ran after him.
“Gene! Stop.”
Gene was striding, he wasn’t sure where he was heading.
“Gene?”
He stopped in his tracks. Feeling a little light-headed and turned towards Daniel. Tears poured down his face.
“I loved her.”
“What did you say Gene? I can’t hear you” Daniel put a hand to his.
“ I loved her”.
“Louder, Gene. Who did you love?”
Gene looked up at the night sky, which was dark, except for one bright star shining down.
“I LOVED HER. I LOVED ALEX DRAKE. I LOVE MY BOLLY . I STILL DO”.
Racked with a string of emotions, guilt, regret, Gene sank to his knees. Daniel rushed across.
“ Gene. That’s all I need to hear, and all you needed to say. It’s been a long time coming. Way too long”.
Gene couldn’t move.
Suddenly there was the sound of a siren, and the flashing lights of a police car, and an ambulance arrived along the lane.
“Come on Gene, on your feet, unless you want to get us both arrested”. Daniel helped Gene stagger up, and led him along the pavement to the row of nearby houses.
The police car and ambulance had stopped outside once of them. Gene froze.
“Oh God. I used to live there”. Gene said, his voice almost a whisper.
“I know. “ replied Daniel.
“Oh Christ” Gene put his hand to his mouth in horror as he watched the ambulance men quickly go in a house, the house that he lived at, and come out in a matter of minutes, with a body on a stretcher, covered head to toe in a blanket, which only meant one thing.
Gene puked up over the pavement. Whisky and scampi fries pumping out. Once he had recovered it was apparent he was visibly shaken.
“Silly Sod. He wouldn’t listen.”
Daniel looked at him. As they watched the ambulance drive away in silence, no need for the siren anymore, the police car remained and Gene watched as a WPC put a comforting arm around a woman.

“Mum!”.
“She can’t hear you Gene. She’s all alone now”.
“Bloody idiot. I told him the drugs would get him one day. Stupid bastard brother of mine. God. “
“Yes but it wasn’t all his fault Gene. Don’t be too hard on him. He just needed help and didn’t get it. Blame your Father”.
“Oh I do. He’s the reason I was like I was. We used to hate mealtimes. With his temper. That’s why I was so bloody skinny – couldn’t wait to get away from the table.”
Gene put his head in his hands.
“Why? Why are you doing this to me?”.
“Because you need to see Gene. See how life was, and how it might be”.
“What do you mean, how it might be? I don’t understand”.
Daniel tried to explain.
“Look. You have admitted now that you loved and still love Alex. Therefore you can be with her again. If you really want to. And I think you do, don’t you?”
Gene nodded his head “More than anything”.
“One day, who knows, there could be little Genes running around”.
Gene laughed, the first time in hours.
“So what happens now?”
“Well” Daniel said “You have got to stop pretending now. You have admitted the truth. There is no going back. You will get to where you want to be . Eventually. Let’s , for now, call it...a work in progress if you like”.
“and how long is all this going to take? I so desparately want to be with Alex, now. I don’t know how much longer I can wait. Can you not take me to her now if you know where she is?”
Gene pleaded like a desparate man.
“Not yet. Come. We need to go”. Daniel bundled Gene once more into the tiny Smartcar. Gene was past caring about drink driving laws. What did it matter any more?
As Daniel fired up the vehicle, Gene put his head against the window. He was so tired and all he wanted to do was sleep. Forever.
“I can’t wait for my bed. I hope you haven’t let it out to some tramp Dan” Gene slurred.
“Oh. We’re not going home yet. Gene. Things to do...”
“Oh, what now?” Gene was shattered. Enough was enough. He looked at the clock. It was 10.30pm.
“Do you want to see Alex again?”
“Yes. How many times do I have to bloody tell you?”
“And you want her to be your forever love?”
“Yes. Bloody Yes for the millionth time”.
“Right then. We move on to stage two. We go pay somebody a little visit right now”.
And with that Noddy and Big Ears drove off in the direction of Toytown once more to seek out Mr. Plod, the policeman. Only it wasn’t Toytown, and it wasn’t Mr. Plod they would be visiting.