It won’t do a blind bit of good, but he’ll go with him. He’s not leaving him now.
Things he has to do tonight float vaguely around his head. First thing is going to see Viv’s mum. It’ll be a double blow, of course. Viv did all this to try and get his nephew out of prison – now he’s gone, young Carl doesn’t have a chance either. He will never, in a million years, tell his mother what Viv did. It couldn’t matter to him less. The only thing that matters is that he’s gone. And Keats was there when it happened.
He thinks Ray’s gone to help clear up the mess upstairs. A murmur somewhere says that Special Forces have quelled the disturbance – with Sacks dead, the bastards have no leaders, and a bunch of criminals without direction is never going to be a threat for long. So it grows even quieter, ever more dark. Still, he doesn’t move. He’s vaguely aware that they’ve all pulled away. Just him and Viv, at the end of the corridor.
‘I’m sorry, Skip.’
In all his years of doing this, how many has he lost? Not that many, he thinks. Harry Woolf, maybe. SuperMac came right in the end. He’d forgotten, is what. Forgotten how much it hurts when you don’t get there in time. The price of failure is someone’s life. He’s killed people, of course. Killed Sacks not an hour ago. But that’s different. They know what the game is – it’s his job to stop them hurting people, and their job not to get caught. If they lose, they know what happens.
But losing one of his own – there’s nothing that can make that better.
‘Skip, I’m sorry.’
Maybe if he says it enough times, he’ll hear him. Wherever he is. Maybe it’ll get through. He’s had to apologise to Viv before, and the bloke always understood. Please, please, whatever’s out there, let him understand this time too. Please.
He’s crying, and doesn’t care. Not sniffles, or sobs or anything. Just tears, dripping down his cheeks. He can still see Viv’s tears under his eyes. The blood all over him still glistens in the reflected floodlight glare. He could be knocked out from a fight, and Gene could be sitting here waiting for him to wake up. But it’s not going to happen. He closes his aching eyes, and drops his head back against the wall. Islands of light, reaching out to each other. Alex, Ray, Chris. Shaz, Sam. Him. But not Viv. There’s nothing there, only black.
‘Guv? Coroner’s here.’
He nods at nothing. A moment later, he wipes his face with gloved hands, and stands up. Viv looks smaller with the life gone from him.
‘I’ll talk to your mam myself. I won’t tell her you were scared, I promise. I won’t tell her what you did. An’ I’ll do me best for Carl.’
He swallows the rock in his throat. Footsteps are approaching. On an impulse, he kneels down one more time, and puts his hand on Viv’s shoulder.
‘Why didn’t you tell me? I would’ve done what I could for him-‘
He doesn’t look around. He takes one last, long look at his friend. ‘m’sorry, Skip.’
The coroner has the grace to look away. Gene stands, and turns to him. ‘I’m going with his body, John. Argue with me and I’ll flatten you, alright?’
Hands go up in surrender. ‘I’m not going to try and stop you, Gene.’
It doesn’t take long to get him loaded up. He walks next to the stretcher through the prison corridors, across the ruined mess hall, through the guard’s stations until they’re spewed out into the night. No one says a word. Coppers everywhere, and all of them remove their helmets as they pass. Gene can’t look at any of them, but he won’t shy from their stares. He lost one of them, and if they want to blame him, he won’t deny them the chance.
At the van, he has to step aside. They push Viv into the back, and he climbs in after. Someone else tries to follow. He stops them with a glare. The doors close, the engine starts. A minute later, and his hands are sliding the zip open. He can’t see Viv in the darkness, but it doesn’t matter. He takes his head in his hands.
‘Come on, Skip. Come back.’
He’d be hard-pressed to say what he’s doing. Viv’s gone. But he has to try.
‘I can’t change it. But you don’t have to go with him. Did he do this? C’mon Viv, don’ do this to me.’
His throat is tight with desperation, and angry tears. And there’s nothing. No answering light. Nothing but the shell of his mate.
It’s ten minutes to the coroner’s. The bag is re-zipped when then doors are opened, and he’s sitting, watching the bag like he never touched it.
‘We have to take him now, Gene.’
He nods. ‘I know.’
John’s a long-standing acquaintance. He knows not to push. Gene appreciates the squeeze on his shoulder, regardless. He sits as they take the gurney away, watches the bag all the way through the doors until it’s just him, sitting in the back of the van.
He’s going to lose. He doesn’t know how he knows it, but he does. When this started, when Keats walked in, he hadn’t thought the git had a chance in hell. But he’s slicker than he looks, and now Viv is dead. The team’s falling apart. Alex said she hated him.
He lights a cigarette. It tastes awful, and his throat’s almost too tight to swallow the smoke. But he perseveres. Only when it’s all gone does he get out of the van, and stand in the air. He has to go and talk to Viv’s mum. No one else can do it. And after that, there’s a few bottles with his name on, somewhere. It seems such a small thing to do. He gets pissed most days. Today should be different, but there isn’t anything else.
He looks back at the double doors they took the body through. Closes his eyes. No light.
‘I’m sorry,’ he says, again. And then takes a breath, squares his shoulders and starts walking. Job to do. There’s always the job to do. And sometimes, just sometimes, he really can’t remember what he’s doing it for.