Rating: Brown Cortina
Word Count: 2100+
Summary: Those boys may never learn that going undercover leads to danger.
"We should have a safe word," Gene says, suddenly, drawing his thumb over the bottom of his shot glass.
Sam splutters and coughs. "What?"
"In case something goes wrong. Something to say, 'right then, off I trot'."
"Oh." Sam's mouth forms a perfect circle and he flicks his head and raises an eyebrow all at once. "I… yeah, okay. Like what?"
Gene frowns a little. "Have you been spending too much time with Chris? What makes you think 'banana' is a suitable response?"
Gene looks like he's between a smirk and a smack. He raises his glass to his lips and says, "How's about 'lighter' instead?"
"I suppose that could be acceptable."
"So glad you approve. It's all arranged?"
"Yeah." Sam nods. "Still think it's bloody stupid it's you going in. One of these days they're gonna recognise you."
"Not this lot, out-of-towners, aren't they?"
Sam tilts his head back, downs his whisky. "I thought your reputation was worldwide?"
"Yeah, but it doesn't come with an illustration."
Sam shrugs on his jacket, ready to leave. "For future reference, can we use the term 'code word'? I don't think 'safe word' is exactly right."
Gene uncharacteristically smiles and Sam belatedly realises there's every chance he was winding him up.
"Have a look, boys, his blood's red after all. There I was thinking the bunch of you were cold as they come."
Sam will not beg. He will not cry. He glares up at Preston, willing the prick to slice deeper. The blade digs further into skin and sinew.
"My blood's not the only thing that's red, Preston. So are your hands. You're going to go down for an incredibly long time."
"Aww, you've still got some fight, isn't that cute?" Preston says, leaning in menacingly and breathing hot air all over Sam's cheek, making the fine hairs at the back of his neck stand on end. The smell is whisky, tobacco and something nauseating, a midday meal. Sam's chin feels heavier, the combination of blood loss and disgust making him dry retch.
He obstinately wills himself to look up at his other assailants, tall and hefty, with their own weapons to dull and daze him. His eyes settle briefly on Gene's.
It's only supposed to be a short operation. Three weeks, tops. Gene doesn't answer his summons after the first week. Sam says to give it time, even though he's silently panicking.
Another week without contact goes by. They do some light surveillance work. Gene's working okay, looking fine, unhurried, unpressured. Good for him. The rest of them are frantic, overworked and miserable. Sam's as good as DCI again and he's holding it all together, doing his best, getting everyone using league tables and cross referencing. Annie is a Godsend, learning the principles and explaining them to those that are confused. They listen, because they all think Annie's a bit of alright. Sam feels slightly bad for exploiting her, but not enough to stop.
"Still nothing, Ray?"
"Not a dickie bird."
"What's the bastard up to?"
Any second now, Sam thinks. Any second, Gene's going to sound the alarm, send the cricket bat he's holding sailing into the back of Preston's head with a sickening crack. He's going to cut away the ropes and haul Sam up, supporting his weight because of the broken leg.
Or he'll continue to look at him blankly, not saying or doing anything, just like now, just like before. This is it, Gene's cracked. Like his mentor. Decided life's too short, that his power is best used to be scum, not clock them.
How much money does a DCI make? Someone of Gene's intelligence and brute strength could quadruple it in three months if he wanted to. And it would take an amazing person to bring him down. Someone who knew him, knew his strengths and weaknesses. Someone who had his own techniques and reasoning. Someone like Sam.
Another two weeks. Sam has taken matters into his own hands. If Gene's not going to come to him, he will go to Gene. He puts Ray and Chris in charge together. Ray's less than happy about that, but doesn't say anything, just stares malevolently. If Sam had his way, Annie would be leading them, but Rathbone forbade it - actually used the term 'forbid'. Rathbone sounds like he's put Gene's head on the chopping block and is simply awaiting the newly sharpened blade for the guillotine. It doesn't fill Sam with confidence of best intentions.
Sam decides that he needs to pretend to be 'an out-of-towner' too, to divert suspicion from another new addition to Preston's pretty little gang, so he practices his scouse accent and hopes he's got the correct pronunciation of the word 'twat'.
He makes friends with one of the blokes on the outskirts of Preston's band of merry men, starts doing some light robbery, gets himself banged up for a petty crime. It takes two weeks and all the while he's hoping Gene's stopped being an utter arsehole and has rung the station or sent out a signal, or something. But he hasn't. It's been over a month of Gene undercover and now Sam's going under too.
The hit knocks him off balance, sending him crashing to the ground. Sam laughs through spit and blood-stained teeth.
"Always knew you were insecure, Preston. Why else move from your cozy little town and competition of Drake, Harris and Cadman, to here, a city newly devoid of an empire? Predictable, grandiose garbage, that's what you are."
Preston laughs, his moustache quivering. "I'm not the one whose blood is spilt on the concrete floor. Makes a nice pattern, you know, all curved and slick." Preston grabs hold of Sam's hair, or attempts to, his hands slipping through sweat and short strands. "I'm not the one whose brains are about to be kicked to smithereens, you odious little twerp."
"Struck a nerve, Toshy-boy?" Sam opens his mouth, licks his lower lip and grins again.
"Philips," Preston says over his shoulder. "Come over here and teach the kid a lesson."
This is it, make or break.
Gene readjusts the bat in his hand and swings it high above his head, to send it crashing down on Sam's shoulder with a dull mechanical action that causes untold pain.
Sam screams out, tears running down his cheeks. He swears loudly, trying to suck oxygen into his system. He stares up at Gene blearily.
It takes some clever talking, deviousness and an ability to drink large amounts of alcohol - actually, it's not unlike fitting in with CID - but Sam finds himself working within the peripherals of his target within a week. He tries not to play it too safe, knowing that doing so would alert those ever-watchful. He affects the air of a right mouthy bastard, dishing it out to the best of his ability. He does it in earshot of Preston and is called into his office.
Sam's unsurprised by false opulence. The room reeks desperation of grandeur. Preston sits at mahogany and wears a tailor-made suit. He has a cigar and a silver lighter. He's entirely too cardboard cut-out for Sam's tastes, but it's not up to him to choose his adversaries.
"People tell me you're a shithead."
"Pride myself on it," Sam says, chewing gum and scrunching his nose.
"I need a shithead for this next job."
"I'm your man."
"Not much more than a boy, are ya?"
Sam raises an eyebrow, but doesn't correct Preston's impression. He's changed his look deliberately - spiked up hair, short sleeves, blue torn denim - so he guesses he should be glad it's worked.
Preston is halfway through explaining what he wants Sam to do - a small-time robbery to serve as a decoy for the real heist, when someone knocks on the door. Preston allows entry and Gene comes in, showing deference and apologetic tones that suit him as much as his awful purple shirt.
There is no recognition in Gene's eyes. Not a spark. He hardly looks at Sam. It's for the best, of course. It probably wouldn't be the smartest thing in the world to reel back in shock and horror, but it unnerves Sam greatly.
Sam can't speak. There's blood trickling down his throat and his head is throbbing with the steady stampede of ten thousand elephants. One word rings in his ears, "mistake!", sung by an opera singer with a sick sense of humour.
A thousand things that could have gone wrong and this wasn't even envisaged. Sam had blindly trusted Gene.
He's wrenched back up to his knees and held steady, he doesn't know who by. Sam opens his eyes to see Preston and Gene staring at him.
"Finish him off," Preston says, holding a knife towards Gene's hand. Sam chokes and coughs in horror.
Fucking burning in Gene's eyes as he stares at Sam - who could know green could get so hot - and a wave of tension rippling, casting out around them like a net in the sea. Gene takes the blade and calmly walks over.
Sam rocks back, his shoulder twitching with piercing pain as he wrenches it further in its socket. "Can I… can I have a smoke first, please? One of you must have a lighter," he says, looking into Gene's eyes again to see a flicker of anything he knows. There's nothing but the now familiar heat.
"A lighter, you know, that you use, to light things? A fucking lighter," Sam yells, his voice a couple of pitches higher than normal.
Gene continues advancing. It's a last ditch hope, but Sam has to remind Gene of what he is, who he is. "Banana!" Sam screams. "Banana!"
Preston starts to laugh. "He's gone mad," he chuckles. "I love it when they're hysteric-"
He's cut off by Gene's hand firmly lodged in his stomach. He falls back, holding onto the handle of the knife.
From then on, it's fight and fury. Gene takes on the other two thugs in the room, earning bruises and cuts. Sam passes out into the sweet oblivion of black.
Sam tries to talk to Gene, but never finds him alone. He's frustrated and confused. He expected Gene to seek him out by now, explain what's going on, why he hasn't been in contact, but Gene doesn't do any such thing.
Sam's not going to do the same as Gene. He's not going to leave the others in the lurch. He checks that he hasn't been followed and makes his way to the pre-arranged rendezvous, where Chris is sitting with half a chip butty and a soft-porn mag.
"How's it going, Boss?"
"Fine and dandy," Sam lies. "I've a couple of errands to run for Preston. I haven't gathered as much intel as I'd like, he keeps it all under wraps."
"What about the Guv?"
"I have no idea. He's not speaking to me. I'm worried, Chris. I'm worried he's on a leash, unable to move. I reckon we need to get out, and sharpish. Call it a blow-over, a failure. Better than the alternative."
Chris takes these words in and nods thoughtfully. "I'll go back and tell the Super."
Sam indicates that he thinks that's a great idea and starts walking back to the base of operations.
Upon entering the door, he's set upon, hessian covering his face within seconds and his lower back rigourously beaten.
"You didn't trust me," Gene says, low and quiet, hospital coffee in his hand.
"No," Sam replies. There's no point denying it.
Sam shakes his head. "It was stupid of me. I should've known you could never forget who you are."
Gene purses his lips. "You are joking? What the hell do you think's happened over this past year? I've been flipped upside down, rearranged, I don't know my head from my arse half the time. For a second I thought I could kill you. I thought that I'd have to, to save the situation, finally nab the bastards. One tiny piece of time, but there, eating away at me."
Sam's incapable of forming words the words he wants to. "Gene-"
"You were right not to trust me, Sam. I don't trust myself."
This is where Sam's incoherency flits away. He grasps Gene's arm.
"Well you fucking well should. One second does not a lifetime make. One second in a million. You saved my life, Gene. You stared at temptation and you told it to sod off. You're the strongest man I know."
Gene throws his shoulders back, his chest heaving, but he doesn't look reassured by Sam's words.
"I wasn't tempted by what you think I was."
"I'm not like him, Sam."
"You're a stupid bastard, yelling 'banana' at the top of your bloody lungs to prevent your own death."
Gene puts his hand briefly over Sam's and then lights a cigarette. "You don't know nowt."