‘Two arson attacks last week. One of Maggie Thatcher’s trusty councillors, and the Greenhill Army barracks. An’ tomorrow is election day; now, my guess is, whoever’s startin’ these fires is waitin’ to put on an even bigger show when the world an’ his wife’ll be watchin’.’
Keats is supposed to be leaving today. He’s been looking forward to it all week, in that kind of way you do when you know it’s supposed to happen, but have a dreadful feeling it’s not going to. The team’s made an effort though, putting on a few drinks and a hedgehog for him. Just to, y’know, make sure he knows how much they’re all looking forward to him going. And he definitely wants him out of the way of this one. Any threat that remotely links to the Government is automatically on every bastard’s radar. He could do without the added bonus of little Jimmy watching his every move. He’ll be getting enough of that from MI5, the Civil Service, the Home Office, Special Branch and the Commissioner, thanks very much.
‘Sorry to be a party pooper, but Countryman’s going to keep me here a wee bit longer.’
Yeah. Thought so.
In the background, under all the normal bickering, the phone’s ringing.
‘Guv, we’ve got another one. Polling station.’
This? Is going to get messy.
~ ~ ~
‘Drake, Raymondo, you take that side. Me an’ Chris’ll go in here.’
How the hell did Keats get here first, in that shitty little thing he drives? It doesn’t matter. It’s like the world’s on fire, this close to the blaze. They’re nowhere near the inside of the thing, but you could chew on the air out here, it’s so thick.
He’s pretty sure he didn’t tell Ray to go inside the building. The man’s a nutcase, but he’s a bloody hero too. He saved that cleaner’s life, even if he did have to have a fireman save his in return. Jimbo, of course, makes out that it was his fault. He even gets another dig in about shooting Drake. But it’s almost worth it, because for the first time in a while, she seems to be on his side. She’s not actively giving him shit anyway. She stands with him against Keats. She hasn’t even brought up Sam this week.
Then again, maybe he’s just looking for reasons to be hopeful. He’s told himself about that before, hasn’t he? Because when it’s over, and Ray’s back and in one piece, and Keats seems very insistent on having a word with him…she’s looking in the bottom drawer of her desk.
That coat’s still there. He can feel it. A bit of Sam, in his new world. It’s not right.
‘Mano et mano – that’s Latin.’
‘Ohyou smarmio tosspotio, tha’s Latin an’ all.’
Wanker. Wanker wanker wanker. And why’s his office so bloody hot?
‘You see these files here? These are cases dating back to nineteen-eighty. This is your past, Gene. And it will determine your future. All your grubby little secrets and malpractices, waiting to be uncovered.’
He’s touching those boxes like a normal bloke would touch a woman. It wouldn’t surprise him to find out he gets off on them.
‘I’m going to unearth you, Hunt. Expose you to the air.’
‘Good! Well. You knock yourself out, in both senses of the word.’
‘Ray nearly died tonight, trying to impress you. Poor bloke feels like he had something to prove.’
‘Well, we all have to prove ourselves, Jim. Every day.’
Enough of this. If he thinks he’s going to be intimidated by this bollocks-
He’s ringing the bell on one of the bikes they’ve stored in here. ‘Ask not for whom the bell tolls.’
….riiiight. He’ll be getting off for a drink, then.
~ ~ ~
Ray’s invited the fireman who saved his arse for a drink. Andy Smith, his name is, and his brother Steve. It’s not a bad evening – drinks, lots of banter. Just how it should be. They see in election day with a pint in their hands. For some reason, he has hope it might just stay this calm.
But, no. The next morning there’s another run-in with Keats, a twelve-year-old gobshite who was at the scene last night and another arson attack – all before ten o clock. This attack’s a house fire, with a some local journalist still inside. They might be able to pass it off as a random occurrence, but the fire Chief reckons it was started the same way as the others. The journo is obviously linked somehow, but there’s no clue how. The only thing they’ve managed to turn up is Ray’s theory that the fires are being started by someone with military intelligence, because of devices or something on the circuit boards.
Oh, and yeah. Like she says, they’ve still got a twelve-year-old graffiti ‘artist’ in the cells. Or vandal, as he prefers to think of him.
Interestingly enough though, the little bastard does have something useful to say, in between all the questions about Drake’s bra size, and whether or not the two of them have sex. He makes a positive ID on the arsonist – Andy Smith, the fireman who saved Ray’s bacon. He’s probably full of shit, of course, but they have to look into it.
~ ~ ~
Ray’s acting weird. Not as bad as Shaz was a while ago, but still different. Maybe it’s not surprising. He’s had an interest in the Army for a long time - something to do with his family. And Smith did save his life. He can understand why it’s awkward for him, having to go and arrest him on suspicion of starting the fire in the first place. But it has to be done. They can’t just ignore the bloke, because they know him a bit. And of course he’s going to ask Ray to be the one to do it. The bloke’s not a fairy, he’s a police officer. Ray’s rarely let him down. He may shout and whinge about it, but he’ll do the job.
Besides, he needs this. Sometimes there is no easy route, and it never hurts to let people remember it. The man’s a DI, now. He’s got to get used to making the tough calls. You can’t hide in the background forever, reading porn mags and taking backhanders. Eventually you have to step up, or get the hell out of the way.
Keats whispers something in his ear as he goes to storm out of the office. Drake’s muttering in his ear, ‘can’t someone else go?’ But Ray shuts them both up.
‘If it’s gotta be done, I’ll go. I’m not scared.’
That’s more like it. It's obvious he’s not happy though. And Drake’s not happy either, so that’s the equilibrium firmly shot to hell again.
She goes with Ray. Keats is left behind, watching him from behind the smoke of his cigarette. He’s forgetting to play the nice guy in public a bit, these days. But none of others seem to see that. They always seem to be looking the other way when he gets that face on him.
~ ~ ~
One interview with Smith – hell, five minutes of an interview – and he knows they’ve got their man. There's not a chance in hell it isn’t him. The bastard’s twitching all over the place. Unfortunately, she’s right about them needing evidence, something concrete to tie him into it – like she says, he’s a war hero, and it’s election day. The Home Office are going to crucify them if they get it wrong.
They’re not wrong, though. He knows it. If it’s evidence they need, it’s evidence he’ll get.
‘We haven’t got any proof, so we let him go.’
That’s Ray’s contribution. It’s worth about as much as he’d expect.
‘The only place he’s goin’ is the holding cell, an’ you’re takin’ him there.’
And he needs to stop looking at him like that, like just because he’s a DI now, he shouldn’t get shouted at any more. He’ll start getting treated with respect when he bloody well proves he deserves it.
‘Now, DI Carling.’
Things are starting to get a bit hairy. He never expected Ray to be so stubborn about the bloke’s innocence, and it’s throwing him off. It means he has to put his foot down, and that’s pissing her off, which means tensions are ratcheting up the scale. It’s not like they weren’t high enough to begin with.
‘If we don’t crack this case, Newman will see that I join the ranks of the three million unemployed, an’ nothin’ will give Keats a bigger lob-on than seein’ me fail.’
He sounds worried even to his own ears. What’s weird is that usually, these things are all about pressure from above. This time, all he can think about is Keats.
‘You can’t charge him! You can’t take that risk – if you take your eyes off the streets, today of all days, and somebody burns to death then we arereally sunk.’
‘Our little pyromaniac friend is in that room. Now I am tellin’ you Bolly, you do not let Keats call the shots. What we need is a bucketload of evidence. Startin’ with the wife.’
~ ~ ~
The wife provides a bucketload of evidence. Well, not really. Except she backs up his hunch about Smith, which brings Bolly back onside. Enough for her to stand up to Keats, when he orders them to release the bloke. It’s surprising, and then depressing, because last year it would neverhave surprised him. It just shows how much they’ve lost. Reminds him how much he’d like it back.
But there’s a job to do. He’ll take what he can get. He needs her believing him, seeing as Ray seems to be stepping further and further away.
Strangely enough, there hasn’t been a single fire since they’ve had the bloke banged up. The journalist from the house fire dies though, and Smith’s brother starts a scrap in the cells. They’ve got nothing to connect the bloke to it…and then Keats flies in, like Mercury bringing a message from the gods.
‘Army recruitment office, Bank Street. Just burnt down. Time’s up, Gene. Newman’s orders – release him.’
Ray’s wittering about how he knew he was innocent, blah blah blah, but all he sees is the look on Keats face. All he can feel is the fury at being bossed around by the twat. And mainly, the knowledge that he knows they’ve got the right bloke. He’d lay a year’s wages on it. Ten year’s. But the pencil-neck won’t let him do his damn job, and now he’s got no choice but to let a psychopath go. Bastards On High. They never do anything but screw things up.
~ ~ ~
The recruitment office is a copycat. It had to have been his brother. Andy’s house turns up a list of the targets – and Maggie Thatcher’s constituency is next up. This just got a whole lot worse. He has to call Special Branch in - Finchley’s out of his jurisdiction. But Drake’s got other things on her mind.
‘Listen, Guv, I want you to keep a really close eye on Ray, OK? He’s not taking this very well at all, and he won’t talk to me.’
‘Bolly. I am not here t’babysit my DI. Little bit busy savin’ the Great Handbag. Now move it, woman.’
She doesn’t come. Stubborn as a mule riding an elephant, she is. And her tone is even more dismissive than usual, which doesn’t help but…yeah. There’s a threat against the Prime Minister, so he can’t exactly bother about it now.
~ ~ ~
The psycho bastard changed his plans. It turns out his brother’s been boffing his missus – a reason to be pissed off, admittedly – so he turns on her instead. They walk in on him planning a nice little bonfire. Wife tied up, uniform and medals and flag in a pile in the living room. Petrol over everything. It's a right mess.
It’s not often he’s surprised in this job, anymore. But when Ray picks up the petrol can and pours the stuff all over himself, you could knock him down with a feather. The bloke stands there, like he’s been taking lessons off Bolly for years, and talks Smith down. Ray doesn’t talk to people. He cracks jokes, and leers over birds, takes the piss out of Chris, and does as he’s told. He doesn’t stand there and make up stories about how his dad was never proud of him. He doesn’t…empathise with criminals. He doesn’t get tears in his eyes, and say I’ll never be good enough, like he means it.
It works though. He gets the lighter off Smith. One arsonist bastard, in custody. Day; saved. By Ray.
However long he works with the man, he’ll make it a point to never, ever, bring up the fact that he knows he was telling the truth. The man wants to act like he was just talking out of his arse, that’s fine with him. Best all ‘round. But he’ll get a few bloody big drinks tonight, that’s for sure.
A good bloke, his DI. He’s hardly ever let him down.
~ ~ ~
‘Carling did well. You owe him. ‘Cos that would’ve been a bloody big nail in your coffin, Gene.’
One day, maybe, Keats’ll come out with this shite when there’s someone else around to hear it. Maybe they won’t all fall under his spell, then.
‘Still, that’s the thing about this place. Always plenty of nails.’
‘See. I was right about Andy Smith, an’ you were wrong. Put that in your report, Jimbo. D&C; nil. Gene Hunt’s guts; one.’
‘It’s funny you bring that up. Your guts. ‘Cos you ain’t got the stomach to go where I’m taking you.’
He’s looking at him like that again. Like there’s something else going on. He wishes he could say that he’s imagining it, but he’s not. He knew it that first day, didn’t he? When the bloke shook his hand. It was then that this started. His guts told him, and he tried to pretend it was nothing. He should know better than that by now.
‘It’s Ray’s victory today, not yours. And he knows it.’
All he can do is shake his head.
‘Turning them all against me. How exciting.’
‘Oh, I don’t have to, mate. The scales are falling from their eyes.’
For a moment, they just look at each other. It’s not like anything needs to be said. Keats turns to leave, but he’s got a final shot.
‘I hear Alex has been talking to Manchester. That’s interesting.’
He wishes it didn’t turn him cold. Wishes this fear weren’t real.
Wishes she would just stop.
Doesn’t she know what she’s doing?
~ ~ ~
‘Three words. Well done, Ray.’
He places the Cuban down in front of him. He gets a funny look on his face, a bit like Granger did after that job she did with the murderer.
‘You OK, Raymondo?
‘Yeah. I’m OK. Thanks, Guv.’
Ray did well. He can’t deny it, and wouldn’t anyway. When they step up, they step up, and Ray was stellar today.
He gets the drinks in. On the news, Maggie is winning the election by a landslide. It feels right to stand up and applaud. That bird’s got more balls than any of them.
It was a victory today. They got the job done, and Ray proved himself. Keats lost – that’s two-nil, by his reckoning.
But the game’s not over yet. And he gets the distinct impression it’s only going to get harder from here.