“Guv, I need your help.”
Gene suppressed his startled reaction. He thought he was at the station alone, his office light the only one still on. Damn that boy, but he was silent when he wanted to be, even with that creaky old jacket. He watched him now, outlined in the doorway. The jacket in question had had a hard life and was worn, faded, and even ripped in places. Still Tyler hung on to it like a safety blanket. Even Gene had moved on with the times and favoured black wool instead of his old camelhair coat.
“What is it?”
Tyler hesitated and didn’t move from his place in the doorway. “I can’t talk about it here. Can we go somewhere else?”
“Pub?” Gene suggested, standing. Any excuse to get away from these files.
“No,” Tyler said too quickly. “No, somewhere private.”
Gene watched him as he gathered up his coat. Tyler had been acting cagey these last few weeks, and he had seen that behaviour before. As much as Tyler would like to think otherwise, he wasn’t the subtlest of officers. Even Ray had picked up on it. But Sam always talked when he was ready, so Gene never pushed it. “Alright.”
As they walked to the car, he asked, “Can you at least give me a hint as to what’s this about?”
Tyler breathed deeply, as if steeling himself. “I have to leave.”
Gene looked at him sharply. “I thought we left all that nonsense behind us years ago.”
Tyler blinked. “No, not like that. I mean...shit.” He leaned against the car, looking like he was going to be sick. He had never hesitated about spouting his mad ideas before, whether it was ‘google’ or ‘antioxi-whatsits.’ This silence was unusual, and small alarm bells went off in Gene’s head. Not big ones, not ‘he needs a night in the cells’ ones, but something was bothering his DI, and that usually meant it would bother him too.
“Get in the car, Tyler. I know a place we can talk.” Tyler complied, happy to be given some direction.
His silence lasted until Gene pulled up outside an off-licence. “What are you doing?” he asked, sounding like his annoying, demanding self again.
“Tyler, I am not going somewhere private with a man unless there is heavy drinking involved. Do you want me to get candles and all? This isn’t a bloody date.”
Tyler made an exasperated, if amused noise, the one that meant he gave up. “Fine. Get one for me as well.” At Gene’s stare, he said, “It’s going to be a long night.”
Gene returned with two large bottles of whisky. Tyler looked at the label appraisingly. “Not your usual brand.”
“It’s not a usual night,” he said simply.
They drove in silence the rest of the way. Gene did not say where they were going, and Tyler did not ask. They eventually parked in an empty lot near the mills, beside the river. “Where are we?” Tyler asked finally.
“A good spot for thinking,” Gene said, stepping out of the car. He cracked open one of the bottles and Tyler followed suit. They toasted the night and took a bracing swig each. They settled against the front of the car. “So,” Gene started, “you tell me you want to leave.”
“Not want to, I just...I have to. It’s complicated.”
“Then what the hell are we doing drinking out in the cold instead of the warm pub where there’s mates and food and more booze?”
Tyler laughed. “Maybe you’ve infected me with your love of male bonding.”
“Good Lord, Tyler, this must be serious,” Gene said as he took another drink.
“Look, I’ll tell you, I will. But I just want to enjoy the peace, you know. The booze, the car, and the guv, all under the stars.” Tyler looked up at the sky, although the stars were mostly obscured from view. “You never really notice the stars, do you? How beautiful they are.”
“I’m going to have to be a lot drunker if this is what you want to talk about.”
Tyler laughed again and hopped onto the bonnet. He lay back against the windscreen and looked perfectly at ease. He didn’t continue talking.
Gene sighed. He was going to have to drag it out of him, something that never happened without a fight. “Alright, how about I start. I say a word and you say yes or no.”
Tyler sat up. “Guv?”
“Blackmail,” he said.
“Me or you?” Tyler countered. Gene glared at him and he settled back, sighing. “No, it’s not blackmail.”
“Undercover,” Gene continued.
Gene paused before he said the last option, knowing he had to ask but hating it anyway. “Corruption.”
He heard Tyler sit up fully but didn’t turn to him. “Me or you?” he asked again.
Gene laughed humourlessly. “You won’t even eat a spotty apple, Tyler, I hardly think corruption’s in your nature.”
“I don’t think you’re corrupt, Gene,” Tyler said quietly. He had an uncanny talent to make a silence heavy, and Gene knew there was more to come. “I found something, and it’s dangerous. To everyone, not just me. But I can’t tell them about it, they’re not ready.”
“Damn it, Tyler, spit it out. The last time you found something dangerous, it nearly got us all killed.”
Tyler shuffled closer. He was speaking right into Gene’s ear and the conviction in his voice was impossible to miss. “This is nothing like that, Gene. I made a mistake and I came back. The last seven years, have you ever had reason to doubt me?”
“Not yet,” Gene said, finally facing him. “But you’ve been acting very squirrelly recently, and you’re hiding something. If it threatens this team, your team, then you better well bloody tell me!”
“I’m trying!” Tyler shouted back. Now they were on familiar grounds. Gene could shout down an officer with the best of them, and Sam always fought back. Other people had drinking buddies; Gene had an argument partner.
“It’s a damn catch-22,” he said, for once making a reference Gene could understand. “If I tell you, it puts you in danger, and if I don’t...” Sam trailed off.
“Fine, we’ll leave that for now,” Gene said. They both returned to their respective positions, Gene against the bumper and Sam reclining on the bonnet. Their rows these days were quick to start and quick to end, Gene noticed. He wondered if that was a good sign or not. “Just tell me about this leaving business.”
“It’s to do with the thing I found. I can’t stay here anymore, not knowing what I know. I have to leave.”
“What, for your own protection like?” Gene asked. He’d pulled out his packet of fags and was puffing away, knowing without turning that a disapproving look was on Sam’s face. He heard Sam’s bottle glug as he took a drink.
“Sort of. Thing is, Gene, I can’t just disappear. The others, Chris and Ray, all of them, they’d ask questions. They’d want to find me, and you’d have to shut them down. It would make everything look suspicious.” Sam took a deep breath. “That’s why I need to fake my death.”
Gene nearly choked on his fag. “Bloody hell, Tyler!”
“And I need you to help me,” he continued as if nothing happened.
“Not bloody likely!” Gene said, booze limiting his vocabulary to short syllables and foul language. He pushed away from the car to face Sam, ready to fight again. “I know you don’t always trust this team, Tyler, or me, but you can trust us to protect one of our own.”
“I do trust you, you blithering idiot, that’s why I’m asking you to help me! Not Chris, not Ray, not anyone. It has to be you.”
“And what about Cartwright? Does she know about this mad idea of yours?”
Sam looked away, fiddling with the wedding ring on his finger. “She knows, in a way. She won’t be involved with this, but she’ll join me soon. Make up some story. She knows what to do.”
“For Christ’s sake, Sam, just as I think everything’s got back to normal, you go and turn it upside down again.”
Strangely, Sam smiled. “Yeah, it’s a bad habit of mine.”
Sam’s calmness took the fight out of Gene. “You’re really set on this. On leaving.”
“And you can’t tell me why.”
“Bollocks!” Gene yelled, surprising both of them. He wanted to hit something, but the only things in reach were Sam and his car. He wanted to throw something, but his bottle was still half-full. His frustration hit him suddenly, and it wasn’t until now that he realized how reluctant he was to let Sam go. As irritating as the toerag was, he was a damn good copper. Gene saw how he pushed the rest of the team, trying to get them to use their strengths, to go further, to be better. There had been a few moments, when Gene had let his guard down, when he saw how similar he and Sam were.
And now the little shit was bailing out!
Sam’s voice brought him back. He realized he had walked away from the car and down to the river’s edge. “Yeah,” he answered. He threw his cigarette butt into the water and walked back. He hated the worried look on Sam’s face. When Sam was worried about him, he was slipping badly. “You better have a damn, bloody, bastard good reason for running out on us.”
“I do, Guv,” Sam said. He reached into his pocket and pulled something small out. “Here. This is for when it’s safe. When you’re ready.” He held it out.
It was a roll of film. Gene took it gingerly, rolling it around on his hand. “And when will that be?”
“You’ll know,” he said. “And if you don’t, I’m sure someone will get through that thick head of yours long enough to tell you.”
“I can see you’re really torn up about leaving,” Gene said sardonically.
Tyler didn’t rise to the bait. He reached back into his pocket. “There’s something else. It might help, when the time comes.” He held the object out, but was reluctant to actually give it to Gene. He finally had to snatch it out of Tyler’s hand. The photograph was old and showed a young plod in uniform. He was a skinny twonk, probably didn’t have any dirt on his shoes let alone any experience in the field. There was something familiar about it, and Gene realized that the kid in the photo had the same smarmy grin as Tyler. There was nothing written on the back, and nothing to identify the kid.
“This your old man, then?” Gene asked.
Tyler started, and stared at Gene with a very odd expression, like something had just clicked into place for him. “No,” he said, “he’s...he’s someone much better than my father ever could be.”
Gene stuffed it into his coat along with the film. “Right. I’ll keep it safe then.” He stared hard at Tyler, already planning how to go about this. He’d spearheaded enough stings in his day; he knew how to make things look like he wanted them to. “When do you want to do this?”
Tyler waved him off. “Soon as the best opportunity comes up. But let’s not do this now, eh? Now that I’ve got it out, I just want to enjoy this.” He shook his bottle a bit.
“Yeah, you want to talk about stars and stuff, you ponce,” Gene said, but he settled down and soon enough they were hashing over new cases and going over old cases and who saved whose sorry arse more often. Gene found himself sitting on the bonnet beside Sam, which was more comfortable than he would admit. Gene’s bottle was long empty and he was slowly smoking a cigarette when Sam roused himself from his bleary state. Sam’s bottle was nearly empty and he kept slipping into quiet moments in which Gene thought he’d fallen asleep. Sam sat up beside him now and pointed his bottle emphatically.
“You know, you are the most irritating, backward, thick-headed, sexist, racist, disorganized, unhygienic bastard I have ever worked with, and that includes Ray...”
“Oh, stop it, I’m blushing,” Gene said.
“But,” Sam continued, “you taught me to trust my instinct, to know when something had to be done even if it’s not by the book, and for that, you lumbering dinosaur, I am forever grateful.” Sam smiled as if he’d just proposed.
“Tyler, if you don’t stop making goo-goo eyes at me, I’m going to have to dunk you into the river to smarten you up,” Gene replied, taking the bottle before Sam could drop it, “and then I’d tell Cartwright to whip you into next week.”
“She’d do it, too,” Sam said dreamily.
“God, give me strength,” Gene muttered. He finished off Sam’s bottle before chucking it with his own.
“ ‘M serious, Guv,” Sam slurred, stretching out. “That’s a damn fine team you’ve put together. Keep up the good work.”
“Thank you, Doris Day,” Gene said. When he got no reply, he looked beside him to see a very passed out DI sprawled out on his car. He sat smoking on the bonnet until his packet was empty, then watched the stars as the clouds scudded by.