The middle-aged woman sat in a corner of the cafeteria and ordered some tea to warm herself up after a long day spent on a nasty murder case.
Working as a criminal profiler could be quite rewarding when a positive result was achieved, but most times it was merely a matter of grasping at straws and dealing with the worst traits of people’s personalities, which more often than not lead her to question her faith in humanity and regret that the age of retirement was still a few years away.
Setting the steaming cup aside, she pulled out her laptop, hoping for a quiet half-hour to check her personal e-mails and maybe send a message to her son in Canada. The mere thought of him made her smile fondly to herself, and for a moment she wished she had the time to visit him more often. But no sooner had she typed in her password than a big gloved hand slammed down the cover and uncerimoniously pushed the computer aside, demanding her full attention.
“Time for chit-chat’s over, Flash-knickers. We need to talk.”
She looked up into a weathered face she’d got to know very well in an earlier season of her life, only mildly surprised by his unannounced arrival.
“Oh, and hello to you too, Guv. Nice to see you again. Twenty-seven years since we last spoke and I see that your manners have vastly improved.”
He ignored her sarky remark and plonked himself down in front of her with an agility unexpected for a man his age, holding his walking stick horizontally across his lap like a sword.
Annie sighed and crossed her arms upon the table, wondering what could be so important to get the old man to track her down as far as that little cafeteria in Leeds.
“You know luv, it isn’t very nice of you to come over to Manchester so often but never come and see your old Guv, is it? Bit rude toward the man who supported you at the beginning of your brilliant career so many years ago, I must say.” His piercing green eyes were locked onto hers and held a clear message of disapproval.
“What makes you say that?”, she asked casually, but feeling completely exposed. “I haven’t been to Manchester in ages. My life’s pretty busy around here, you know.”
She looked down and tried to concentrate on the steamy mist of her drink. Not that whatever excuse she tried to come up with would make any difference. Gene Hunt was certainly not famous for giving up a bone once he had it between his teeth, and honestly she’d never expect him to act in any other way, so she just sat there and waited for the inevitable lecture that was about to follow.
“C’mon girl, let the bloody cat out of the bag, before I catch it and skin it myself. With all that’s been going on in Manchester in the past few months, I half-expected you to show up at my doorstep sooner rather than later.”
“Don’t really know what you’re talking about, Guv.”
“I know you’ve been to see him,” he said bluntly, waiting for her reaction.
She paled slightly, but still feigned indifference. “No, I haven’t.”
“Have. Most definitely and more than once. And if you were trying to get away with it without leaving any tracks behind you, you did it wrong, missy.” He dipped a hand into his coat pocket and produced a purple silk scarf she knew very well. “Found this in his hospital room a few weeks ago, hanging from the coat rack. You should be more careful with your personal belongings.”
“C’mon, that evidence is inconsistent,” she shrugged unconvincingly, trying to keep up appearences. “That scarf could belong to anyone.”
“Yeah, sure. Too bad it belongs to you, luv. Well, at first I though it could be his mother’s, but then I smelled your perfume on it. Would recognise it everywhere, even after all these years, so don’t you go feeding me your little lies again, Cartwright. It’s your favourite scarf and I bet you’ve been racking your little brain for weeks wondering where it was. I know that because I’m still a bloody good detective, thank you very much... and also because I’ve been keeping an eye on you, thinking you’d eventually end up doing something stupid and sentimental, and I was right.”
Annie sighed and finally grabbed the scarf, putting it back around her neck and smelling it to find out whether her scent was really as strong as he claimed. No use trying to find other excuses that would only insult the Guv’s intelligence.
“Alright then. You got me, so what? What do you care if I wanted to be close to him again once or twice, just for a little while? I only ever entered his room when he was unconscious and there was no-one else around, anyway. Don’t you think I have the right to see my deceased husband, even though he’s currently still alive, as fresh-faced and young as I remember him, while instead I’m all wrinkly and white-haired, and old enough to be his mother? Life’s been cruel enough to me as it is, creating a temporal paradox I didn’t expect and don’t even know how to handle. I think I deserved a few more minutes alone with him to make up for all the lost time, and you can judge me all you want, but I’d do it again, if I had the chance.”
Her blue eyes were now clouding with tears in spite of her trying to push them back. She started playing with her scarf out of nervousness.
The absurdity of the situation had started to sink in ever since she’d first read in the papers about DCI Sam Tyler’s unfortunate road accident and consequent coma, suddenly realising that all those stories he’d been telling her about the future, stories she’d always regarded as the empty ramblings of a lunatic, were instead completely true and unravelling in front of her eyes.
Whatever her reasons, though, Gene didn’t seem to be very sympathetic. “This isn’t right, Cartwright, and you know you’ve been playing with fire. You ran the risk of modifying the events of the part of his future leading to his past, or whatever all that crazy timeline crap I’ve heard of is all about, and this is not good! What if he’d seen you or sensed your presence close to him, eh? What would you have told him if he’d woken up and started to question you? That you’re his inconsolable widow, that he has an adult son who never knew his father, or that he’s eventually gonna jump off a roof and go back to 1973, so that his past self can put his car into the river and drown like a bloody idiot only a few years later? Do you think it would make him feel better to know all this about himself? Or would it just lead him to the funny farm once and for all?”
“But Guv, none of those things have happened to him yet! Not to the Sam Tyler who was lying comatose in that bed until the other day, and who has only just started to recover. Yet they’re here, in my heart and in my memories, and I can’t forget them as fast as you have.”
“I haven’t forgotten,” he muttered sternly. “Never can and never will.”
“I know you care about him as much as I do, Guv. Neither of us would ever hurt him intentionally, I’m sure of that. I just... I just wanted to see him, to touch his face and feel his heartbeat once again, as long as I could. Is that so difficult to understand?”
“You do love him, right? Then listen to the Gene Genie and try to forget him, forget it’s your husband and friend inside that body. Don’t try to cross his path again and let him make his own choices, for better or for worse. If you want his life to come full circle, things must happen exactly as they did before, or the past will be in danger and our very lives with it. You’re an intelligent woman, Cartwright: you know how this is gonna end, right?”
“I know, but... I don’t wanna see him die, Guv! I don’t think I’m ready to lose him all over again. I just wish there was another way.”
“Sorry, luv, there’s nothing we can do about it. Not even the Gene Genie has the power to bend fate.”
“I just hope... I hope it happens quickly enough for him not to suffer.”
Leaning forward, he picked up a corner of her scarf and dabbed at her face gently, while she let her tears fall freely onto the table and into her now cold tea.
“C’mon, Flash-knickers. I’ll take you home. But stop blubbing first, or you’ll end up ruining my new car’s upholstery and then I’ll give you a bloody good reason to cry a river! Understood?”
At the same time, thirty-three years in the past, history repeated itself and an unscathed DI Sam Tyler emerged from a dark railway tunnel in order to save the day and live the rest of his brief life in the twilight zone.