This is probably what the Roman Generals felt like, marching into battle. The ranks follow behind him, striding between the rows of tables and chairs. Above them, in front and either side, the monkeys scream and throw their missiles. They’ve got the higher ground but hell with it, his boys are tooled up, and it’s time for fun.
He looks him dead in the eye. Sacks looks back. He’s got a chain wrapped around his knuckles.
And then they attack.
It is fun, until the moment of realisation. It comes at the exact same moment everyone else has it, and Viv’s voice rises up to sound the retreat.
‘We’re surrounded. They’re overpowering us. Fall back!’
He has no choice. The others are retreating, and they have to stay together. He lets go of the bastard he’s hitting, and heads back out. On the way, he grabs the radio out of his coat pocket, and barks into it, ‘I need medical assistance. We’ve just walked into a bloody ambush.
Viv, are you receiving me, over?
…Skip, where are ya?’
Fear grips him like a cold hand around your throat in the dark, and he rounds on the collected plod who are trying to get their breath back.
‘There’s a man still in there. Who was coverin’ for him? Rule number one, you never leave a man behind.’
He hits the nearest one on the shoulder, and swivels on his heel without thinking. He can’t think. He can’t contemplate what…no. He can’t.
‘I’m goin’ back in there.’
‘You can’t do that!’ The copper grabs him immediately. He lashes out on reflex, and then they’re on him. Two, three, six of them, nine of them.
‘Guv! Calm down! Guv!’
He can’t calm down. Viv’s in there. ‘Get off me. Bastards…get off me…!’
But they don’t get off him. They don’t let him go, and he’s drowning under their weight. He’s lost Viv. They won’t let him go, and he’s lost him.
He’s lost Viv.
~ ~ ~
‘His name’s Jason Sacks.’
‘Bloody hell, Guv. Are you all right?’
He knows he doesn’t look his best.
‘Police Constable Michael Sterling disturbed him tryin’ to rob a garage. Sacks cut the tendons in his legs, burnt the place down. He was twenty-three years old.’
It’s a given that Sacks is not a nice bloke. It’s a given that they’re all horrified, and scared for Viv, and it’s a given that Drake is the voice of reason and confidence, telling Shaz not to worry, that they’re going to get him back. But he can’t help feeling that Sacks is not, exactly, the point. Oh, he is in one way. The most pertinent way, what with him holding his desk sergeant hostage. But not…he doesn’t know. There’s something else. Something that feels related to the way Keats says, all casual-like,
‘Perhaps it wasn’t the wise call to take charge of the attack.’
‘Are you sayin’ this is my fault?’
‘Well, there was an existing unit leader who had been fully briefed, and you deposed him because, what? Fancied a punch up?’
The worst thing is that he can’t dispute it. And neither can anyone else, judging by the way they’re looking at him.
Keats is different since the thing with Litton. There’s far less pretending to be nice, far less buddy-buddy with the lads. No longer the snide threats behind closed doors. Now he’s sitting there, bold as brass in the middle of CID, tearing him down in front of his team. That’s what this is all really about, isn’t it? It’s what it’s been about since the very first day he walked in, when he stood in his office and told him he was going to rip his kingdom apart. Splitting them from him, peeling each one of them away until he’s standing on his own, exposed. And then…
…and then, nothing. Bollocks to it. He has to get Viv back, and nothing else matters.
‘Viv is one of us, an’ we won’t let him down. Not on my watch. We’re gonna get him out of there.’
They scarper to set up the incident room over at the prison. Keats comes over, and lights up a fag. ‘So you're playing the old straight bat now? Might be a bit late for that, mate.’
‘I’m not playin’, Jim. Not anymore.’
No more games. Not with him. It’s a straight race to the finish, as far as he’s concerned.
~ ~ ~
Jason Sacks has a gun. How does a man who’s been in prison for nineteen years get a gun? He points it at Viv’s head. They watch on the CCTV, and he feels like his bones are trying to crawl out through his skin. But Sacks doesn’t shoot, and then he hangs a sign around Skip’s neck; One more word and he dies. It puts paid to any more ‘negotiation’, and the gun puts a dampener on another full-on assault. They’re into the waiting game, but around here, is there ever really such a thing? Ray turns up with news on their escaped prisoner. The one that was supposed to be their focus before he lost Viv, because he fancied a punch up.
It couldn’t just be any escaped prisoner either, could it. It had to be him. Paul Thordy. It had to be…but why is he surprised? Of course it’s all linked. Sometimes he closes his eyes at night, and sees little islands – names, people, places; they all have faint lines of light coming from them, reaching out into nothing. But lately, they’re reaching out to each other. They’re getting closer. Sometime soon, those lines are going to meet. He can feel it. Because he’s not playing. Not anymore.
‘Who’s Paul Thordy?’ she asks.
He’s brought the lads out, away from Keats, away from her. But she would follow, of course.
‘Con man,’ says Chris, and none of them volunteer anything else.
‘…and you had to come out here to discuss that, did you?’
‘You got a location for him?’
‘He’s been spotted near a B an’ B in Croydon.’
‘Right, go an’ pull him in.’
‘Well…shouldn’t uniform be doing that? We’ve got a siege here! We’re got a stand-off, we need all our resources.’
She will never learn not to question him, will she? Never not be an annoying pain in the arse. There’s not a chance he’s going to volunteer any info about Thordy, and with any luck, they’ll be able to stop the bloke ever crossing her path.
The lads go fetch. She goes back to watch over Viv. He ferrets out the offices, and starts going through files. There has to be a link here. Of all the people to escape, why would it be Thordy? He’s not a big bloke, not strong and tough. He wouldn’t be able to fight his way clear. OK, he’s clever, but he’s also a bloody mental case, if memory serves. So maybe he saw an opportunity, and took it. Or maybe…
‘Our escaped prisoner, Paul Thordy, turns out he shared a cell with Jason Sacks. Well, somebody seems to have tried to cover it up.’
‘What, you think his escape and the riots are connected?’
‘No, I jus’ spent an age scouring those files for my own mindless entertainment.’
The boys have got Thordy. As soon as he hears Ray’s voice say it, his gut tightens. The bastard has to know something. And even if he doesn’t…
(I know what you did.)
It’s fear that makes him do it. He can’t deny it. About three seconds after he drags the bloke into the equipment room, Thordy opens his mouth. And while he wants him to talk, he finds he’s afraid of anything he might say. So the first punch lands, like it was always going to. It feels good, the release of tension. But then he can’t stop, and Thordy’s not even trying to talk – even if he were, he probably couldn’t.
But then she arrives, and it has to be about more than just beating him to a pulp. He can’t let her see that the terror is anything more than because of Viv.
‘Planned this together, didn't you, Thordy? I know you shared a cell with him. Now I've got a good man in there. What does Sacks want?’
And Thordy just smiles. ‘I want to float amongst the stars.’
He had enough of this shit the first time ‘round. He remembers…something. Something the same. Something that he was told…he hits him again, and keeps hitting him. The pain in his knuckles flashes up his arm like an electric shock, but fades almost immediately. Blood runs freely down Thordy’s face, and he’s making no attempt to stop him, or fight back. Still, he can’t stop. Won’t. Or can’t. Either one.
‘The only thing you're going to be floating in is your own shit!’
Ray tries to cut in, point out that he won’t get anything. But Gene reckons if you hit anyone for long enough, they’ll break. Maybe not in the way you want, though, because the man’s on the floor now, and not getting up.
‘You’re goin’ t’talk, Thordy. You’re goin’ to bloody talk!’
Not right now, though. He’s not going to be saying anything for a while.
~ ~ ~
‘You know, three years I’ve known you. Three years, and not once have I come this close to hating you.’
‘Well, you’ve made a bloody good show of it.’
‘What you did to that man in there was akin to torture.’
‘Oh, that was just a tickle.’
‘Oh, you’ve done worse, have you? You know what!? Don’t answer that. Because I know that you have.’
He finishes his drink. Of course she knows he has. She thinks she knows it all.
‘You? Are becoming a stranger.’
‘Is that right? Well, what are you doin’ here? Didn’ your mother ever warn you about strangers?’
‘I know things. Things about you. Things about Sam Tyler…’
No, not this. Not today. He’s on his feet before he can stop himself, the rush of anger as strong as he’s ever felt against her. ‘Viv is bein’ held hostage in there by some nutter, an’ you keep banging on about Tyler. What are you tryin’ t’prove, Bolly?’
She just looks at him. Is she so obsessed with Sam, really, that she puts all that before Viv? Really?
‘I am not sorry I beat that bastard up in there. He’s a convict, he should be in prison, not on the run. An’ Viv should be in front of that desk, there is somethin’ wrong with the world when he’s not!’
He can’t ever seem to make her understand. There is something wrong with the world.
‘There’s a hell of a lot at stake, Bolly.’
He slams the desk for emphasis, but she doesn’t get it.
‘Well, I hope you’ve got a heart in there.’
‘Oh, I’ve got two. Mine, an’ some toerag’s that I ate earlier.’
She snorts at him before she walks out. And he’s seen that look of derision on her face before, but never with such genuine contempt behind it. It’s no good trying to pretend that things can ever go back to how they were. He’s known that since Bevan, but when she said she was close to hating him just then, she meant it. And that was never how it was supposed to be. Even Sam never actually hated him.
~ ~ ~
He tells them all to go home, get some sleep. He doesn’t try it himself. He paces CID, feeling the burn of every cigarette in his mouth, and then the ache in his legs when exhaustion starts to creep in. He can’t sit down, can’t stop pacing, can’t stop thinking. Viv, Thordy, Drake. Sam. Little islands, with strands of light reaching out. Creeping closer, ever closer.
~ ~ ~
She finds out the truth. About Thordy. That he was Sam’s last arrest.
He tells himself he’s here, in this cell, to get to the truth as well. In his head, he tries to explain that he has to find out what Sacks has planned. He has to get Viv back. All last night, he kept seeing him in CID that morning, trying to talk to him, trying to tell him that he wanted a word. But he didn’t listen. Keats kept butting in, acting all matey, his hand on Viv’s shoulder even as he parried a shot and lobbed it back. All deflection, and he let it happen, and he didn’t listen and now Viv’s gone.
And there’s a plastic bag over Thordy’s head. The voice of sanity says it’s time to take it off, but he doesn’t. Just a bit longer, and then he’ll talk. Another twist, to make sure there’s no air in there, and it’s for bloody sure he’s floating now. Just another few seconds, another half minute. Then he’ll talk,
(you are not Sam Tyler)
and he can make the world right again.
The cells alarm is going off. Did he hit the button? One of the two plods dragging the body out? Not body. He’s not dead. Not yet.
She would bring Jimbo with her, of course.
‘What are you doing here?’
‘I work here.’
‘No, here. Now. In his cell.’
‘I was helpin’ him.’
He was too. In his way. Not a way he can explain to her, but she wouldn’t listen anyway. She thinks the man’s just going to spit up information on Sacks because she asks, but that’s just it, isn’t it? She’s not so interested in what he might know about Sacks.
‘I know you’re still obsessed, but that man is not Sam Tyler!’ Oh yeah, Thordy’s tried that on with him, too. Is there any wonder he could do without him hanging around here? ‘He’s a confidence trickster. You don’ listen to him. You don’ talk to him. Viv is our focus. Our colleague. D’you hear me, Bolly!?’
She’s running away, though. She’s not listening. And Keats just loves it. He just loves all of this.
‘The good ship Fenchurch is listing, Gene. That crack in the hull is only going to get wider.’ And he’s laughing about it. ‘What now?’
‘Now? I’m goin’ t’show you something.’
Everybody thinks he’s allergic to paperwork, and with good reason. But he’s ready to concede it has its uses. Like last night, when he painstakingly went through the prison’s Visitor Log Book. Guess whose name came up? And guess who looks visibly thrown, just for a moment, when it’s mentioned.
‘You chaired a number of meetings between prisoner’s reps, and the authorities.’ The cogs are turning, and he can see him thinking. And his guts are telling him he’s not wrong on this. ‘Make any friends?’
‘…you’re suggesting I had something to do with this.’
‘You had background information that you chose not t’tell me.’
As usual, there’s that second where they look at each other, and the pieces of the game are there for both to see. And then Keats smiles, and deflects, a grey suit in shadow. ‘Do you want me to take over?’
No. He doesn’t want him to take over. Over his dead body will this man take over his kingdom.
‘Ohhh, look at you. Lost at sea.’
‘Well, either I’m sinking on this leaky ship, or I’m floatin’ above the ocean. Make up your bloody mind.’
‘Oh, I think I’ll go for the drowning analogy. Flailing at the passing flotsam, any paranoid notion just to give yourself a few more moments.’
‘I’ve got a man stuck inside there.’
‘Let yourself go under, Hunt.’
‘The thing you’ve got to know about me, Jimbo...’
Is that he’ll never go quietly, or give up, or stop fighting. Not while there’s a single breath left in him.
He’ll take this as a victory. It’s pathetic, but he’ll take it. Every defiance of Keats is significant, and it’s focusing on Viv that does it. It’s easy to remember what he’s here for, when his mate is being held hostage. God knows what they’re doing to him right now. It’s time for some direct action. She can knock herself out with Thordy, and Keats can go screw himself.
~ ~ ~
‘It’s not a protest! It’s a set-up.’
‘What’re you talkin’ about now?’
He knows that tone. That’s her ‘breakthrough’ tone.
‘Viv, he’s in on it. He’s bait…where are Chris and Ray?’
He’s just put Chris and Ray into the prison. Undercover, as reporters.
‘No. Viv is not a wrong ‘un. I won’t have it.’
‘He didn’t want to go in. He wanted to talk to you. Maybe he was going to confess.’
‘This is all on the say-so of Thordy. I told you, Bolly, not to listen to the lying bastard.’
‘How does he know so much about us? Why is he pretending to be Sam Tyler? I don’t get it.’
‘Just leave it.’
How many times does he have to say it?
‘I want to know!’
And everything has to take a backseat to what she wants, of course. ‘Thordy is tryin’ to get inside our heads. We need t’get this into perspective. Viv is one of us. He’s down the line.’
‘Viv conducted an audit yesterday. One gun was signed out in the name of Chris Skelton.’ She shoves paper at him. ‘That is not Chris’s signature.’
She’s right. It isn’t.
~ ~ ~
And now they’ve got Ray and Chris as well. Three of his lads in there, at the mercy of someone who just wants to kill coppers.
He didn’t sleep last night. Exhaustion hits him now, listening to Sacks’ recorded voice telling them all to identify themselves. And Keats is even worse when he’s not crowing. When he’s speaking softly, and with what anyone else might think of as compassion.
‘I need to step in now, Gene.’
He’s got nothing. He can’t stop him. He didn’t listen to Viv, and he lost him. He sent Ray and Chris in, and he lost them.
‘This is Commander Grey. Special Forces. We’ve had authorisation from the Home Office to prepare a raid.’
He looks Grey up and down, but there are no words.
‘We need your desk. You don’t mind, do you?’
Nothing he can say. He knows Drake’s listening, and she’s not looking at him, so she probably agrees with everything he’s saying. And Shaz…well.
‘You sent them in there. That bastard’s right. It’s on your hands.’
She’s not scared by him anymore, it would seem.
It hurts to walk to the door, but what can he do? The shame of Keats taking over here is beaten into submission only by the cold knot of fear for his boys. Maybe a raid is best. Maybe that’s their only hope.
‘Oh, DCI Hunt? Do you have a…an acceptable level of collateral damage?’
He turns to face the git, and the shame turns to fury.
‘We can’t guarantee everyone’s safety.’
Grey’s right next to him. He makes sure to speak nice and clear, so he can be sure it gets through.
‘Not a hair on their heads.’
That’s that, then. Keats behind his desk. The lives of his boys, in that bastard’s hands.
~ ~ ~
The only place to go is where he belongs. Walking back to the nick is good for clearing the head, if not the boulder of fear in his stomach. He reckons a stiff drink will help with that, and then maybe a solution to this mess will present itself. Keats shot himself in the foot there, with that parting shot. Maybe he really wants the game to carry on, because how else did he think he’d react? His lads are not ‘collateral damage’. And if one of them ends up hurt at the hands of Special Forces, there’s going to be hell to pay.
The bottle is in the top drawer of his desk, along with a clean shirt, a spare tie, assorted papers and stationary, and…the box. A box. Only, also…the box.
It’s been sitting there since he came down to this office. He never looks at it, never thinks about it. Never sees it, except in the most peripheral of ways. It’s simply part of the background of his desk drawer.
Today, he sees it. He properly sees it, for the first time in three years. His hand stills over the bottle, and he tilts his head, blinking at it before pulling the whiskey out after all. He doesn’t touch it. Touching it would imply there’s some meaning to it. It’s just a box. Never mind that he hasn’t taken any notice of it in years, and now he feels like he should be...like there’s something in it that might be important. The way his guts have knotted up is enough to tell him to leave it alone. There may be answers in there, but there are no questions he wants to ask. Anyway, the focus is Viv. Viv. No matter what they’re saying about him, no matter that doubts have been cast. Skip can put them right when he’s free. Until then, nothing else matters.
He’s still staring at the box when she pipes up. He hadn’t heard her walk in. And for a minute there, he thought there was a moment of truce, almost. Like he could almost forget she told him she hated him, and she could pretend he didn’t put a plastic bag over Thordy’s head.
‘Thordy. It needs to be done right. You have to do as I say.’
‘That an order?’ He turns on his heel, the moment gone. ‘Anyone would think you didn’t trust me, Drake.’
~ ~ ~
‘...it’ll all evaporate if you let me free.’
He was right, he has heard this before. Or something like it. Thordy was always a screw loose, as impressionable as soft wax. And he’d been around when Sam was going through his...problems. They’d talked, he remembers. Sam and Thordy. And Thordy got even weirder, but who cared? He was only a scrawny little conman, full of shite with a gob that just begged to be punched closed. He’d been more preoccupied with Sam being weird. Thordy’s rambling’s were nothing to Sam’s, by the end.
‘What about me, Thordy? Doubt I evaporate that easily.’
Drake only looks over her shoulder. She plays the ‘disapproving’ part so well. There’s a reason for that, obviously, but for the purposes of interviews like this, it serves well enough.
‘Gene. Here we are. Look at this, the Three Musketeers. Gene, Alex and Sam; who’s got a camera?’
The way he says it, it’s like he really believes it. Either that, or he’s just trying to convince with the power of enthusiasm. Act or not, he is tired of this. Unfortunately, an arm around the bloke’s neck only seems to make him worse.
‘Kill me. I want to die.’
No one’s stopping him. Hell, he’ll provide the rope himself if the little shit wants some privacy to do the necessary later. But for now, he has information, and he’s not getting out of here without giving it up.
‘Your men are gonna die, Gene! But Sacks’ll still walk free in a few years.’
‘How is that possible?’
‘He won’t be carrying out their executions.’
‘The good guys. It’s all. Very. Clever.’
They all talk in riddles. They all throw up these questions, nag at him, taunt him with their guesses and lies and half-truths. He has had enough. Thordy’s head meets the table with a thump that would normally satisfy, but tonight he’s to wound up to notice it.
It’s hard to remember that it’s all an act. When she tries to intervene, she’s telling the truth. She’s not pretending. ‘Get off him!’
‘I am jus’ trying t’get my men out of there. I never said I was perfect.’
‘No, you are far from perfect. You are rotten. And it’s true, those closest to the rot are the last to smell the stench.’
He leaves them to it. Maybe she’ll even succeed. It’s a long shot, but it’s all they’ve got. She could have done a better job of pretending, though. Could have lied.
~ ~ ~
‘Sacks has electrified the place. He knows it’s going to be stormed. He’s set up tripwires. If anybody goes in, Chris, Ray and Viv will be electrocuted.’ He puts his foot down, and the Quattro roars.
‘Thordy was right. The good guys are going to kill them.’
In front of the prison, you can’t move for riot police. Keats is with them, and she tries yelling to him, telling him not to go in. But he doesn’t hear her. Or he pretends he doesn’t. He disappears amongst the coppers, wielding a truncheon, taking himself to the head of them. Well, let him. The only thing that matters is fixing this before the good guys murder his lads.
He bends down and picks up a brick. He always did favour the direct approach.
He runs, following the thick electric wires along the wall. Instinct tells him they have to lead somewhere. His heart is in his throat as he lobs the brick at the fuse box, and it blows up. The lights go out. He can hear the alarms from out here and somewhere above, the doors are getting broken down.
It’s dark inside. The coppers have used smoke grenades, and all the lights are out. It’s nothing but a brawl now, shadowy figures in black against dark shapes in blue trousers. Everyone’s yelling and punching, Bolly puts one down with a tidy right hook. He stamps on its head as he passes, but there’s no time to get involved. Ray and Chris are there, and thank God, they look alright. Beaten, but alert and talking.
His heart is still in his throat.
‘Sacks took him.’
He leaves them to it. He’s got a radio, and his gun, and he’s going to get his man back.
~ ~ ~
‘Where are ya, Skip?’
Sometimes he closes his eyes at night, and sees little islands of light. Like stars. They flicker, and glow. They have lines coming from them, reaching out into the darkness. Light, searching for light.
‘Skip, is that you?’
Viv’s voice, crackling through the radio, is so quiet. And broken. So very broken.
‘Don’t tell her.
…don’t tell my mum.’
‘Don’t tell her what?’
‘Don’t tell her I was scared.’
‘You’re not scared, Viv. You’re a brave man.’
‘Don’t tell my mum. I was scared.’
‘…you got the heart of a lion, d’you hear me!?’
If anyone sounds scared, it’s him. He’s so scared he can’t keep it out of his voice. They’re still fighting up there, but he can’t hear them. It’s quiet down here. A floodlight shines from somewhere, like light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a maze, and he can’t find his way through.
But there’s Sacks. That, he can do something about. One shot takes him down.
‘Where is he?’
‘My place has been assured. I. Am. A. Legend. Immortal. Immortal…’
Nineteen years in prison, and the man was a model prisoner. Why now? What made him turn into this nutter, with an obsession with immortality?
It doesn’t matter. The light fades from his eyes, and he’s got someone more important to find. Viv has to be around here somewhere. But he’s not answering on the radio, and his light is flickering. It’s like he’s falling away, and the fear in his throat is threatening to close his airway. He can’t breathe. He has to find him. He has to get there first. It has to be him.
He follows where his legs want to take him. There’s something up ahead, and he goes to it. But when he rounds the corner, he sees…he can’t see. There’s a shape, and…
…and from here, it looks like Keats has his hands on him. It looks like he’s bending over him, and now the fear is terror, and he can hear nothing but the hammering of his heart, and the crashing of blood through his ears.
The words sound funny. He can’t look at Keats.
‘I just got here. He was gone.’
‘I’ll take him.’
He kneels down, and wrenches Jim’s hands away.
‘It’s too late, Gene.’
‘I’ll take him.’
Viv’s head lolls in his hands. His eyes are closed, and there’s blood all over his face.
‘C’mon Skip, stay with me.’
Nothing. He’s too late. There’s nothing. No light.
And Keats is looking at him, smug, sneering, and of all the things in this world he hates, it’s this man most of all.
‘What are you trying to achieve?’
He almost sounds pitying. Gene Hunt will not be pitied by him. Not when there’s a dead man in his arms. Not when he’s just lost one of his own.
They find them there. Bolly, Ray, Chris. He hears them coming, but what does it matter?
He looks up at their faces, and back down at their friend. They loom over him, and for a minute, he feels very, very small.
‘He was defending this wing. Alone, to the death. So we put aside past mistakes, understand?’
They say nothing, but they’re listening.
‘He’s a hero.’
Keats walks away. But the others, they come and kneel with him. His team, crying over the death of their friend.
But he can’t cry. He can’t believe it. He can’t process it. This is shock, she would tell him. He’s felt it before. Only he’s no stranger to people dying in his arms, and this doesn’t feel like anything he’s felt before. There’s a gaping hole, and an absence of light, and the knot in his chest won’t let him draw a full breath.
This was his fault. He didn’t listen. He failed to help. Keats won, and now Viv is lost forever.