Rating: Blue Cortina, more or less, for language and violence (... well, more of a teal, really.)
Word Count: 2964
Notes: Drugs? Check. Drink? Check? Danger? Yep. I think I'm good to go, though I will say that, apart from vertelemming kindly reading through this, it hasn't had a beta and I'm a) Canadian and b) born in the 80's. I've done what I can, but any corrections are heartily welcomed.
When Sam’s eyes finally opened, he had a mouthful of shag carpet and the bulk of Gene’s weight pinning him to the ground, the man’s cigarette-soaked breath hot and heavy on the back of his neck. His head was spinning, and on top of him Gene reeked of his own mixture of booze, gunpowder and bad aftershave.
It wasn’t as romantic as it sounds.
Gene was struggling to catch his breath. He’d been running and to look at him he wasn’t in the best of shape, but that threadbare dinner jacket he was wearing was a good three sizes too small and wasn’t helping. “You dead yet, Sammy-boy?”
Sam had to think about that one. There was liquid, warm and sticky, soaked through the front of his rented clothes—a mess of soft peach ruffles and polyester—and he pawed at the stain with nervous fingers. “Champagne,” he concluded, with relief. The flute had been knocked from his hands as he tumbled forward, shattering into large, dangerous shards against the wood of a nearby table. The broken stem rose out of the gold carpeting like a menacing glass spire a few inches from Sam’s face. He winced.
“That’s a no, then.” Gene wrenched Sam back to his feet and forced him forward as another spray of bullets buried themselves in the ochre plaster of the wall behind them. Somewhere on the other side of the hotel lobby, where Ray and Chris had ducked behind a support pillar and had started returning fire, there was a scream as party guests and hotel employees scrambled for safety and, Christ, hadn’t this situation gone to hell in a heartbeat. In the chaotic seconds as Gene and Sam stumbled forward, heads down as the bullets went flying overhead, all Sam could think about was that if this was the day—if he had to die today—he wanted it to be with dignity.
But this was 1973, and a dignified death in evening wear would mean a change of clothes. They collapsed behind the concierge’s desk and, fumbling with his revolver as beside him Gene started to swear, Sam prayed for life.
It was the first break they’d had in weeks, and Sam was prepared to thank his lucky stars that their fortunes had finally turned. She’d been a pretty girl, sure; those smoky eyes and that haunting, comely smile had followed him for weeks, from the front page of every newspaper in town. But Melissa McKeag was different from the other pretty, dead girls they’d fished out of the canal. It didn’t matter she’d died with a bullet in her brain and a needle in her arm; her family had wealth and influence, and all it had taken was a single phone call to turn their murder investigation into a full-blown media circus.
Gene had borne the brunt of Supt. Rathbone’s frustration, but to his credit he didn’t show it. High society bird meant high society scumbags, in his thinking, and he’d been careful to afford the rich types shuffled through their interrogation room all the usual warmth and sensitivity he lavished on his murder suspects. No official complaints yet, but Sam figured it was only a matter of time. He’d written off the whole interview process as a waste of resources.
“You’re buying me dinner, then.” It was a matter-of-fact statement more than anything else. Gene lit a cigarette and lounged back in his chair, feet up on his desk like the king-of-the-bloody-jungle. In other circumstances, Sam might have found the man’s arrogance annoying—infuriating, even—but forensics had been less than useless and he and Chris had been mired in conflicting incident reports for days.
If what this kid said was true, it was the first solid lead they’d had since the case first broke. Sam frowned. “You’re sure he said it was Sunday night.” They’d figured the crime was drug-related, from the money she’d been sinking into her addiction, but there hadn’t been any conclusive evidence of a connection until now, and it seemed they’d stumbled onto a fledgling heroin distribution network into the bargain. Wouldn’t DI Robinson and the drugs squad be pleased.
Gene shoved the tape recorder across the desk. “Courtesy of DC Skelton,” he said, with a self-satisfied smile. “You’ll like this one. The last track’s a killer.”
“Chris sat in?” Sam said. There was surprise in his voice as he picked up the tape recorder and tucked it under his arm. Chris had said he’d spend the afternoon reviewing witness statements, and from the look on Gene’s face he’d heard about that little assignment too.
“Sorry, what’s that word again?” Gene knocked the ash from his cigarette into the ashtray on his desk, ignoring the way Sam was glaring at him. “Oh, that’s right. Multi-tasking. Fancy a curry this time, I think. You’re paying.”
In the end, they cut the little snot loose. Sure, Ray seemed to adhere to a more primitive version of that old saying about a bird in hand and two in the bush, but it hadn’t taken much to win Gene over to Sam’s side. From what the kid half-sobbed in the interrogation room, he was expected to meet with the men responsible for the killing at a time and location that hadn’t yet been determined, and even Gene was willing to admit the murderers probably wouldn’t be free with that information if their contact was still banged up in one of Phyllis’s holding cells. They’d made a deal; trading the possession with intent to supply charge for information.
Little else they could do now, other than watch and wait. Gene had slumped against the window of the Cortina, arms crossed and looking for all the world like he was asleep. Behind him, Chris had a couple of folders splayed out across the back seat of the car. Sam was about to comment that this was a stakeout, not a chance to catch up on their paperwork, when Chris looked up. “How long we going to stay here, boss?”
“Long as it takes,” Sam replied. He looked back towards the building. The door was slightly ajar, but otherwise everything looked normal.
Gene snorted, ostensibly still asleep.
“Chris,” Sam said, after a moment. “Yesterday, when I asked you about…”
Chris held up one of the files, a sheepish smile on his face. “Witness reports.”
Sam grinned at him.
“Hate to spoil the moment, ladies,” Gene said, his eyes still closed. “But the little twonk is on the move.”
Sam turned around and, sure enough, a squat, hooded figure was darting across the street. He glanced nervously over his shoulder a couple of times as he ran, ostensibly checking for traffic, and by the time he made it to the Cortina his breathing was ragged and the sweat was pouring down his face. The exercise, the fear or the heat, Sam couldn’t tell. He lowered the window. “What’ve you got?”
“The Claiborne Hotel,” he said, panting. “Saturday, 10 o’clock.”
“The sixteenth?” Chris said, confused. “There’s some big do over there on the sixteenth.” When the others turned to stare at him, he held up one of the folders defensively. “Witness reports,” he echoed, by way of explanation.
The kid nodded, reluctantly. “Party’s cover. Drop’s in the lobby, unarmed—in and out in a couple of minutes. Look, I have to—”
Gene’s eyes snapped open and the kid visibly jumped. “I find you’re telling porkies, I can’t be held responsible for my actions. Got me?”
The kid didn’t wait for permission, he just ran.
“Clever bloke,” Chris observed, after a moment.
Sam watched him run. “Not too clever, I hope.”
Talk about best laid plans. By the time the first of the guns were drawn, they hadn’t even made a move. Sam had been effectively snared into conversation by one of the guests—a heavy-set, friendly sort keen on terse football talk, mostly—when he caught the first signs of movement out of the corner of his eye, but it was already too late. Their informant was gone, and suddenly they were faced with three armed men—young, ruthless, and unfamiliar—that fired indiscriminately into what was left of the evening crowd.
They’d known from the start that they were dealing with dangerous, armed criminals, that junkies and dealers can’t always be trusted, and if they’d had their way every third man in that hotel would have been an undercover copper itching to take care of the bastards once and for all.
But they hadn’t had their way, and isn’t that always the way the story goes.
Gene was running up behind him, screaming for him to get down, but it was the flying tackle that finally sent him to the floor.
“It’s still crooked.”
Gene looked up, a sour expression on his face. The man made no secret of his opinion of trendy, wealthy types—with their dinner parties and their pansy martinis—and, from what little Sam had seen of his interaction with them, they made little secret of their disdain for him. Still, there he sat, the shaving mirror out on his desk as he tried in vain to straighten the black bowtie tied haphazardly around his neck.
It even looked like he’d made some effort to comb his hair, would wonders never cease. “You in here for a reason, or you want I should have at a guess?”
“Ray’s made the last of the arrangements at the hotel,” Sam said, as Gene returned his attention to his reflection. “What’d Supt. Rathbone say?”
Gene hesitated in front of the mirror. “What do you think he said?” he said, the bitterness obvious in his voice. “Doesn’t matter. From what our little bird’s told us, once the final drop’s been made our boys will be back to London and we’ll have missed our chance.”
“So we’re going ahead,” Sam said, concerned.
“It’s your plan, Sherlock. If you don’t think it’ll work, now’s the time to say so.”
Sam shook his head. He’d run the operation over in his head too many times to count. There were a lot of variables, more than he was comfortable with, but hardened criminals were rarely accommodating and they were running out of time. “Plan’s sound, so long as the exits are covered and we don’t make a move until the suspects are separated from the party guests and hotel employees.”
“We’ve got the lads outside, if we need them.” Gene smiled grimly, pushing himself to his feet. His movements were awkward; Sam hadn’t noticed when he was sitting down, but the suit Gene was wearing was worn with years of use and altogether too small from him. He’d sucked in his gut a little as he straightened up, likely hoping Sam wouldn’t notice, but the black dinner jacket was still pulled tight across his stomach. The early 1960s hadn’t reached the level of gaudy polyester disaster that dominated the fashion scene these days, and the combed hair and outdated, ill-fitting black suit gave the overall impression of James Bond gone to seed. For what it was worth, Gene tugged at his sleeves. “To hear Rathbone tell it, they’ll be parking cars.”
Sam snorted, because he was pretty certain that was a joke. Then Gene gave him a look and suddenly he wasn’t so sure.
“Saturday night’s alright for fighting, eh, guv?” The chewing gum was back, smacking around in Chris’s mouth as he laughed. They’d kitted him out as a porter and Sam had to admit he looked the part. What he didn’t much like the look of was the stack of clothes—a heap of cheap-looking raspberry and peach fabric that had been rented for him, once the others had found out there wasn’t much call for fancy dress in Hyde—that had been piled beside him. Somebody had dropped a butterfly bowtie on top, apparently as an afterthought. It was the crowning touch on Sam Tyler’s personal fashion nightmare, but truth of the matter was this evening he had other things on his mind.
“Right, lads,” Gene barked, as the detectives around him chuckled. It went a ways to restoring order to the room, even if there were still a few residual snickers as he spoke. “This isn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill booze-up. You’re all expected to be on your best behaviour. Whatever that means.”
There were a few ripples of laughter, but more or less the mood was determined and professional. They had their instructions, and there wasn’t a man among them that didn’t want to see the job successfully completed. There’d been rumors of reward money, after all.
“Remember,” Sam said. The others had already started to scatter, holstering their weapons and assembling the last of their disguises before their arrival at the hotel. Few seemed keen to listen. “And this is important. Nobody moves until—”
Chris smiled at him, the gum smacking against the inside of his cheek. “We got it, boss.”
“Coulda, woulda, shoulda,” Gene sneered, ducking back behind the desk. He hadn’t been hit, but it’d been close and he wasn’t in a very good mood. “If we’d called in RCS, half these people would already be in body bags.” He was interrupted by a crash, as a couple of stray bullets struck the mirror behind them and the glass went crashing to the floor. He didn’t so much as finch. “Now, shut up and help me shoot these bastards.”
“Still time for that.” Sam checked the revolver. He was almost out of bullets. “We got anyone down out there?”
Gene peeked over the desk and was nearly shot in the head for his trouble. Swearing, he scrambled over to the broken mirror and grabbed one of the larger shards. His hands were bleeding, but he didn’t seem to notice. He looked to Sam for confirmation.
“That could do it,” Sam agreed, as Gene eased it into position. “Careful.”
Gene took one last look in the mirror, squinting at the little figures reflected in the glass, before finally he shook his head. “Bugger this. Wish me luck.”
The stupid bastard, he’d rolled out from behind the desk. He must have had the luck of the devil with him, because the gunman that had effectively pinned them in for the last fifteen minutes dropped like a stone without firing a shot. Must’ve been an impressive sight, too, because a few seconds later Sam heard Chris’s voice, strained but alive, call out, “Bit blond for Bond, aren’t you, guv?”
Gene shouted at him to shut up or he’d thump him one.
They’d managed to take down the other two in short order, wounded but alive. CID had got off easy, more or less; cuts and scrapes were the worst of it, and the civilians hadn’t got off much worse. Turns out, Gene observed sagely, these rich kids can’t shoot for shit.
“And let that be a lesson to all you boys and girls.” Gene delivered a swift kick to one of the wounded men lay writhing on the ground. “Drugs is bad for you. Who’s for a pint?”
There arose a cheer from around the pub, but the detectives had been drinking for hours and it was never hard to coax a little good-natured revelry out of men that’d stared down their own deaths a few hours before. Sam had parked himself at the bar, back in his old clothes at last—how strange, that these days he’d come to think of the leather jacket and flared trousers as his clothes—and had quietly nursed a pint for the better part of forty-five minutes, the sounds of the others’ celebrations ringing loudly in his ears.
Nelson had smiled at him in that laid-back, Jamaican way of his and had moved to speak, but he fell silent as Gene approached. The camelhair coat was gone, and if it was anyone else Sam would’ve thought the man was thoroughly pissed. Gene stumbled forward a little as he mounted one of the stools, nodding for a drink that Nelson amicably provided. He looked over at Sam, frowning. “You’re not drinking.”
“I was thinking,” Sam admitted. Gene had told him to stop doing that, but it was one of those instructions that had never really stuck.
“Drug trade dented, dead bird avenged, scumbags locked away.” Gene slumped over the bar, the beer cradled in his hands. The bandages—the only solid reminder of what had happened earlier—were plainly visible and peeling on his hands. “What’s to think about?”
“The more I think about it,” Sam hesitated. He’d run the scenario over in his head countless times. But nobody had been killed, had they? He closed his eyes and tried to convince himself that was something. “I should have seen this coming.”
Gene snorted. “Here’s a prediction for you, Nostradamus. That won’t be the last time we get shot at by armed lunatics. Leave the fortunetelling to the hippies and their magic carpet rides.” He brought the pint to his lips and Sam couldn’t shake the feeling that this was as close to comforting words he was ever going to get. But that was how it was supposed to be, wasn’t it? He’d asked for life, and here it was.
“Nelson,” Sam said. “I’ll have another pint, please. Thanks.”
“Regular 007,” Gene said contemptuously, after a moment. The glass swayed in his hands a little, and Sam wondered just how many of those he’d had over the past few hours. “Jane Seymour’s a bit of alright, but he’s a bit of a ponce, isn’t he?”
Sam couldn’t stop himself from laughing. “Don’t say,” he said with a smile, as he settled back and waited for John Wayne to swagger into the conversation.