Categories > TV > Life On Mars0 Reviews
The door was old but the lock was sturdy, and it took him an extra kick to get it open. There was Harry Althwaite staring down at him, with bulging, glassy eyes.
There's nothing in it, kid," he whispered. "Only a tin star. They don't hang the right ones. You got to fight everything twice. It's a job for a dog."
John M. Cunningham- "The Tin Star"
Gene didn’t believe in fate, and had never heard of karma. He believed that coincidences, no matter how eerie, were just that: coincidence.
Nevertheless, he was the one who got the shout that morning, and he was the first man on the scene, so perhaps the universe disagreed with him. It was an elderly neighbor who called, the sort of nosy old bird who lived in her dressing gown and was never seen to venture beyond her doorway – curlers in her hair and all. She insisted that someone come round and see about that awful smell coming from next door.
The address was familiar, though he didn’t recognize it until he was halfway there. That was when he knew that it wouldn’t be a dead cat waiting for him in that flat. He’d only been there once, but that had been all too recent.
The door was old but the lock was sturdy, and it took him an extra kick to get it open. There was Harry Althwaite staring down at him, with bulging, glassy eyes. The smell washed over him as if it was desperate to escape the cramped, dingy little flat. Retching would be an appropriate response, or putting his fist through the nearest wall. Instead, he found he couldn’t move, could only stare, as all the proper procedure for this kind of thing left his head.
This was the first time he’d ever been inside Harry’s flat. When he was here last, he’d not made it past the front door.
Harry had opened it just wide enough to hand him a battered tin hipflask. "You're going to need it, when they find out what you've done."
Gene had drained Harry's flask several times over. The last drops scorched their way down and he wiped his mouth on his sleeve. The mangy creature he was searching for would be somewhere around here, skulking. The little scrotum would be choking on his own intestines by the time Gene finished with him. Until then he would wait, doing a bit of skulking himself.
You can learn a thing or two from villains, Harry always said. You've gotta understand their rules if you want to enforce your own.
A dim streetlamp flickered in the darkness, like a solitary watchman cowering before the oncoming horde. The city wasn't quiet, even in a place like this on a night like this. Cats spat and hissed and yowled in a dilapidated alley nearby; fighting or fucking – it was difficult to tell with cats. The occasional motor zoomed past – rich wankers out for a night of fun with Daddy's car, hoping to get a hand up Sally's knickers this time. No one paid attention to an old bombsite like this, even during the day.
You saw them, scurrying past with their eyes averted; those who remembered too well the sirens and the screams. Six years gone since the krauts had made this particular dent in his city, and even if people weren't scared of the next wound anymore, they didn't want to see the scars. The politicians called them eyesores and promised restoration, but Gene knew better. Sometimes scars needed to be seen.
Gene lit a fag and lurked in the shadows, despising every minute of it. Coppers didn't belong in shadow. Coppers chased criminals down and dragged them off in cuffs; they did not ambush them at night under cover of darkness, away from interfering eyes.
Then, when he'd used up all his admittedly small reserves of patience, he saw the telltale torchlight. The man walked with a cocky spring in his step, as if he expected the whole world to move out of his way. In a neighborhood like this, there was only one man who would take this shortcut with so little concern for his conspicuousness.
Jack Pierce: a man who had nothing to fear from this place, because even the stupidest petty thief knew better than to mess with one of Benjamin Miller's top henchmen. Miller owned this street and everyone in it; the law to the lawless.
Gene flicked his cigarette to the ground and ground his heel on it. He stepped forward.
Pierce noticed the movement and stopped, looking around with curiosity but not a hint of trepidation.
"Pierce." The torchlight shifted to his face, burning his eyes. Pierce's face was beyond the soft white glow, but Gene could see the glint of yellow teeth in an unpleasantly pleased smile.
"Ah, Constable Hunt, isn't it? A pleasure to see you again. I'd like to offer my sincerest condolences on the passing of your former partner. A terrible loss for us all." There was that sneer. Gene remembered that expression well; he'd seen it the day Pierce waltzed out of the station, with a wink and a grin for his captor. But not until after he'd divulged his little arrangement with Harry Althwaite, with the sneer that spoke to the truth of his words.
Gene continued walking steadily forward, not saying a word. He owed no explanations.
"Have you reconsidered my generous offer? Mind you, it won't be near as generous now, but I'm sure we can come to an agreement, all friendly-like." He smirked his most simpering smirk. "And I'm sure you'll agree that Harry would've wanted us all to be friends."
The name did it, and Gene teetered over the edge, unable to restrain himself a moment longer.
It wasn't the way he'd imagined it. In his mind it had been quick – one blow to the head and Pierce out cold in the dirt, where he belonged. But Pierce dodged the first blow and nearly landed one of his own, and from there each attack was frenzied, uncontrollable. It was fists gone too wide and losing too much force to do more than bruise. Boots clashed against shins and arms were bent the wrong way, and each movement was sloppy and awkward but achieved the desired affect: pain.
A man like Pierce didn't get to where he was without knowing his way around a fight. He was a large man, and strong, but he was past 40 and past his prime. His opponent was a well-built 19-year-old fresh out of National Service.
Gene finally pinned him to the ground and bounced his skull against it. Pierce moaned and all it took was another smack to turn the lights out. Not for good; Gene could still feel him breathing, ragged though it was. He pulled himself up, staggering, and surveyed the damage.
Over the course of his career, Pierce had done far worse to far better men.
He thought it would help, seeing Pierce curled on the ground, bruised and bloody and looking as bad as Gene felt. But it didn't. His guts still felt all twisted up, only now he had the bruises and scars to go with it.
It was a stitch-up. It had to be. One minute, they were hurtling into an alley, his new partner Harvey Pell leading the charge. The next, Harvey had buggered off, and Gene was surrounded by three huge bastards, armed to the teeth with cricket bats and knuckledusters. He didn't go quietly, but it wasn't what you'd call an epic battle. Three seasoned gangsters against one young flatfoot – even Gene would admit that the odds weren't exactly in his favor.
He'd wondered how long he'd have to wait for the retribution. Pierce had too much influence to let a slight go overlooked. Each day he was kept waiting felt more certainly like his last. Some would say that the anticipation was as bad as the event itself, that it was better to get things over with immediately. But they had obviously never had an outing with Miller's goons.
From where he was standing, life was anticipation. You had to take things as they came; he refused to live in fear.
Miller's men seemed intent on keeping him conscious; they conspicuously avoided his head, though everything else was fair game.
He tried to imagine work the next day – "Fell down a flight of stairs, sir. Right clumsy, me." Or "Oh, this? Unfortunate run in with a door, sir." Laughter behind hands – that little gobshite Pell wouldn't be able to keep something this good to himself. Let the smug bastard coward boast about his part in this; anyone who didn't have his head up his arse knew what Pell was. But they knew what Gene Hunt was too, and therein lay the problem.
When they'd quieted him up a bit, he was dragged through a door at the end of the street, and into a dark basement. Someone flicked a switch.
There was Benjamin Miller, the man himself, sitting straight-backed in an armchair, smiling grimly in the shadows like a Republic serial villain about to lay out his nefarious plans. Pierce was standing next to him, glaring daggers at Gene. His arm was in a sling and the angry red-and-purple bruises on his face were only just starting to recede.
"Hello, Mr. Hunt."
"Fuck off." This earned him another sharp kick from one of his captors.
"Manners, son. Remember who you're speaking to."
"/What/ I'm speaking to, more like."
Miller nodded at Pierce, who stalked over to Gene, holding a large meat cleaver menacingly in his hands. He rested the blade flat against Gene's face and grinned.
"Now, no more of your cheek. We can all choose to be civilized, Mr. Hunt. Or I can hand you over to my friend Mr. Pierce, who is rather anxious to finish that discussion the two of you had during your last encounter. It's your decision."
Gene eyed the knife, and said nothing. Pierce looked rather disappointed.
"Very good, Mr. Hunt. Now that you're feeling a bit more amenable, perhaps we can reach an agreement."
Somewhere on the horizon the sun was rising, but you couldn't see it for the buildings and the factory smoke. In the grey mist of twilight Gene stood by the canal, too sore to keep moving and too bloodied to face anyone, at work or home. His wife would fret and his former mates would laugh; he'd got what was coming, hadn't he?
They hadn't killed him, so that was something. But he understood the whys and wherefores of that decision and it left him feeling as hollow as an empty grave.
He felt in his pockets for the roll of notes, which crinkled beneath his leather gloves.
A copper owned was worth more than a copper dead. There were lines that even criminal scum like Miller preferred not to cross. When the chips were down, coppers closed ranks around their own. Bent coppers may feel alright taking hush money or playing the system in their favor, but even the lowest, slimiest toerag on the force drew the line at crawling in bed with a cop killer.
They kept him alive because they had him right where they wanted him: beaten, broken and bought.
He pulled the cash out of his pocket and stared at it. It was more than he could remember ever having in his hands all at once. Stepping closer to the canal, he extended his arm, fist curled tightly around his hard-fought gains. It wasn't in every business that you got paid for losing.
He could chuck it in.
No one would help him in this. If he faced Miller again he would be alone (again), and he would lose (again).
It was dirty business. It was dirty money, and he didn't want any part of it. He could give it back, and they would jeer at him and call him a fool and they would still win in the end; they would still get him in the end, one way or another. The way they got Harry.
His arm was shaking with the cold and the pain, and he was squeezing his fist so tightly it hurt.
He could chuck it in, but what would that prove?
Slowly, he retracted his arm and stuffed the notes back in his pocket. The fog was lifting, and soon it would be full daylight. Already his city was waking; it stopped for no one. There would be new villains to catch, old ones to bang up again, and new evils on the prowl, waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting.
It was the same damn world it had always been. Only now, Gene understood.