Real Men Don’t....Do They?
“Are you coming then Boss?” Chris called across the pub. “Down to the Crown, then the curry house.”
Sam looked round and raised his glass. “I don’t think so, thanks anyway Chris. After last night, I think I need to catch up on some sleep. See you tomorrow”.
“OK Boss”. Chris looked at Sam and nodded towards Gene questioningly. Sam glanced down the bar at Gene and used hands and eyebrows to signal back to Chris “No idea, try it”.
Chris looked nervous, but called out gamely “What about you Guv? Are you coming?”.
Gene looked up briefly. “No. Not tonight Skelton”.
Sam watched Chris’s birthday celebration move out of the Railway Arms; tonight he just felt too old for all that. He hadn’t been lying about the sleep, either. Although, looking at Gene propping up the end of the bar, he ought to make sure the Guv was OK first. The man was looking morosely into his beer – at least he’d had the sense to stay off the Scotch tonight.
Sam called over to Gene “Hey, Guv? If you’re ready to go, I’ll treat you to some chips. Best offer you’ll get tonight.”
Gene didn’t even look up this time. “Only bloody offer I’ll get tonight” he said bitterly, but he drained his pint and stood up. Sam raised his eyebrows to Nelson, but just got a shrug back.
They said goodnight to Nelson, and walked down to the chip shop. “So my company’s good enough for you now, is it Tyler?” Gene said abruptly. Sam looked round. “Of course, Guv” he said automatically.
“Was beginning to wonder. You’ve been the incredible vanishing DI all bloody day; never there when you’re needed.”
Sam smiled ruefully; he’d been so embarrassed about last night’s dream that he’d been doing his best to stay out of the Guv’s way. He obviously hadn’t been as subtle as he’d thought.
Gene didn’t bother coming into the chippie, claiming he wasn’t hungry. Sam ordered for him anyway; he ought to eat something. Chatting to the woman behind the counter as she wrapped the chips, Sam didn’t notice Gene walking off, but he did notice him coming back a few minutes later. “Tyler! Haven’t you got those chips yet! A man could starve waiting for you.”
Sam closed his eyes for a moment. When he’d got a calm look arranged on his face he turned round to reply, but he couldn’t hold it in the face of the bottle of Scotch Gene was holding. “Oh for God’s sake, Guv! You’re going to kill yourself at this rate! Give your liver a rest for just one night can’t you!”
“Nothing wrong with my liver Sammy-boy.” Gene retorted. “It’s only Scotch! Need something to wash down me chips”.
“Gene, I really am worried about you,” said Sam seriously. “Having a drink every night is one thing, but getting rat-arsed every night is quite another!”
“Leave it, Sam. You sound like the wife.” Gene said tonelessly, then stalked out of the chip shop and opened the bottle as he waited for Sam.
Sam paid for the chips, picking at what was wrong with that last statement. Quite a lot in fact. No Dorothy or Gladys. No imaginative metaphors or similes; no mock threats or jaunty undertones. Just flat, dead, weary - almost hopeless.
They walked back to Sam’s flat, eating their chips on the way. When they got in, Sam put the kettle on and Gene poured them both some Scotch. It crossed Sam’s mind more than once to wonder why Gene was here instead of heading home to his wife, but it seemed inhospitable to ask. An hour later, his mind screaming for sleep, he decided he would have to, but Gene spoke first.
“Thing is Sam,” he muttered into his Scotch. “Is this all there is? Getting drunk, passing out in other people’s flats? Waking up freezing cold in the early hours and going out into the dark on me own?? Drink some more when I get home and pass out on the floor? Is that all I’ve got to look forward to? Drinking alone until I’m too old to care any more?”
Sam looked at him. “You don’t have to go, Gene. You can stay here as long as you like, you know that. But – won’t your wife wonder where you are?”
Gene was silent for a moment, staring into his Scotch. Sam could see he really didn’t want to go; that Gene was seriously considering the offer to stay, but he didn’t understand why. The Guv didn’t talk about his home life, but Sam had always understood from the general talk in the pub that his marriage was very happy. Why would he not want to go home?
Gene looked up at Sam expressionlessly and said, “She’s gone, Sam. Walked out three months ago. Not long after you arrived as it happens. Apparently she got fed up of never knowing where I was or if I’d get home before closing time.” He leaned forward, staring at Sam intensely, and grabbed his wrist. “And nobody else needs to know that, understand Tyler?” He settled back in his seat, looking away from Sam. “Haven’t even told Ray yet, don’t need him trying to be all understandin’.”
Sam was silenced for a moment, then said “Guv, I’m really sorry. So stay here then, just for tonight.”
He watched Gene thinking about it. He hadn’t made the offer entirely out of altruism, although he honestly did feel sorry for the Guv going out into the freezing dark at this time of night. But this flat, tiny though it was, seemed to echo with loneliness at the best of times. In the quiet hours of the early morning Sam sometimes felt the silence crawling out of the walls and settling in drifts around him. He often found himself wanting to scream, just to break the unending stillness.
Almost any human company would have been preferable to the silence, but Sam was coming to realise that Gene was more than that. That his presence wasn’t just an antidote to the silence, but brought its own warmth and comfort. Sam felt ...safe ...with Gene here, even though something in the man’s newly-evident loneliness caught at Sam’s heart.
They both looked up at the same moment, and their eyes met.
Gene said “That’s OK Sam. I’d feel, I dunno, stupid, staying ‘ere again. What would anybody think? It’s just – I’ve never been on my own, I don’t know how to do it.” He looked down at his drink again. “Sounds daft doesn’t it”
“No, it doesn’t. Guv, I...”
“I have to be the strong man all day, and then at night...” Gene continued, then shrugged casually, but Sam could see the strain in his face, his eyes fixed on Sam’s. “I just wondered. Next time you go out. With all your mates from Hyde. How about if I join you? Just, for a meal. Few hours, bit of company. Well, someone to talk to really.” With the last sentence, Gene looked away from Sam.
Sam looked at him; at the humiliation showing briefly in Gene’s eyes before he looked back down at his drink. Sam was silent, trying to hide his shock at the Guv being so open with him. When he hadn’t even told Ray about his wife leaving; that was the biggest surprise.
Sam was still trying to think of something to say that wouldn’t humiliate both of them, when Gene drained his glass, put it down with a thump and got up. “It’s all right Sam, shouldn’t have said that, don’t take any notice. Forget it, I didn’t mean to put you on the spot.” He got up and headed for the door. “I’m making a complete prick of meself here. I’d best be going. Thanks for the chips.”
Taken by surprise, Sam jumped up. “Guv – Gene – wait, I didn’t mean... Look come back, sit down a minute. Gene. Please.” Gene kept on walking through the door. Sam went after him, still talking.
“Gene, it’s not that you wouldn’t be welcome. You would. Very. It’s just that – Gene would you for Christ’s sake stop a minute? Could we do this inside?” Gene hesitated for a moment. “It’s just that – well, you’ll laugh.” He stopped, embarrassed. Gene said quietly “Not laughin’ yet Sam.”
“It’s just - I don’t have a crowd of mates from Hyde – don’t have a crowd of mates full stop. Or even one.” Sam continued, lifting his chin in an attempt to cover his shame. “No mates at all. No nights out. No curries in Rusholme, not since that time... Nothing. I just come back here on my own every night. Have a few drinks. Tell a lie, a lot of drinks. On my own. Then I go to bed. On my own. Pathetic.”
Sam smiled feebly at Gene, feeling even more uncomfortable at the way Gene wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Gene, please. Come back in and sit down; have another drink. You’re not the only one who needs company”.
Gene had stood, head down, facing away from Sam as he listened to Sam’s embarrassed explanation. Now he turned back, hesitated a moment, and walked back to Sam’s door. “Well, I never took you for a Billy No-Mates, Tyler!” He punched Sam lightly on the shoulder before as he walked back to Sam’s door. ”Nice to know I’m not the only silly sod drinking on me own every night”. He walked back to the table and poured them both some more scotch. Sam really didn’t want it, but decided it wasn’t the time to say so.
Gene raised his glass with a half-smile and said, “OK, I’ll tell you what, Sam. Seeing as we’re apparently both useless bastards that nobody wants, you book us up somewhere to eat Friday night and we’ll pretend - I’ll be your gang of mates and you can be mine. And don’t tell bloody Ray.”
Sam clinked his glass against Gene’s. “You’re on,” he said, feeling his face widen into a grin.
Arriving at the station the following morning, Sam was still racking his brains for somewhere good to take the Guv for their “very small gang of mates” outing. He definitely couldn’t just ask Gene, that would be pathetic. Although why did he think that? There was no reason why Sam had to try to make it special, but, oddly, that was how he felt. As if it was important in some way.
He thought of asking Annie for suggestions, but she had started looking so sideways at him every time he came out of Gene’s office, that for some reason he didn’t feel comfortable even talking to her right now. And asking Carling was obviously a non-starter. Sighing, he decided to take the course of true desperation, and ask Skelton.
He caught up with Chris outside of Lost and Found. “Chris!” he called, “How were the birthday celebrations?”. Chris stopped and waited for Sam. He looked relatively healthy for someone who’d celebrated a birthday yesterday. “It were fine thanks Boss. I tried a Chicken Korma in the curry house; Ray had a Vindaloo though, so he’s feeling a bit rough this morning.” Sam winced, determined not to follow that train of thought any further.
“Chris”, he said quietly. “I need a bit of local knowledge.“
Chris looked back at him anxiously. “Well, Boss, you might be better asking Ray, he knows a lot more places than I do.”
Sam rolled his eyes and said “Chris. Have some sense, when have I ever been better asking Ray?” Chris grimaced and said “Sorry Boss”.
“Right”, Sam said. “Look, I want to take the Guv out for a meal, quietly, and I don’t need the whole bloody department knowing about it. Private, got it?” Chris nodded fervently. “OK”, Sam went on, “It’s just, I’m not too happy with some of the things that happened on the Forrester case, and I want to talk to him about it, just not in front of everybody. So it has to be somewhere not too noisy, and somewhere he’s not going to know everybody, else I’ll never get the bastard to concentrate. ‘Cos he’s not going to be happy talking shop after hours.” Sam looked at the look of blank anxiety on Chris’s face and sighed. “Look, you know the area better than I do. Have a think. For me, OK?”
“OK Boss, see what I can do for you, like.” Chris smiled eagerly. ” Gotta go now Boss, I’m late.” He hurried away.
Sam watched with misgivings as Chris went back in to the CID office. He should have told him not to mention it to Ray, but that would have been to guarantee it was all round the station by beer o’clock today. Hold on, he thought, why does that matter? ‘Cos I want this to be private? What’s that about?
His unsettling train of thought was rudely interrupted by a scuffle at the end of the corridor, as Gene strode in leading two uniforms who were dragging yet another luckless candidate for a quiet chat, Lost and Found style. “Tyler! With me.” Sam looked up to the ceiling for guidance, then followed him in.
After they’d finished with the suspect, they went out to the corridor, where Gene fiddled with a cigarette, and Sam said quietly “I’ll get us something fixed up for tomorrow night Guv, OK?” Gene looked at him levelly, blowing smoke directly at him. “Fine by me Sam. My day off tomorrow, so I’ll see you in the pub. Make it after the darts. Oh, and we are not going to Rusholme. No curry, OK? You know curry doesn’t agree with me.” Sam watched Gene walk away down the corridor before setting off for home himself.
“The Red Lion in Morton, boss.” announced Chris the following morning. “I, er, asked me Dad”. “Thanks Chris, mate, I owe you one.” said Sam, turning away and dialling the switchboard. When the restaurant finally answered, he thought for a moment, and then said “Hallo, I haven’t been in before; someone recommended your place. Can I book a table for tonight? Just two, yes. My G ...” not Guv... “er, my B...” don’t say boss, idiot, sounds like you’ve got no-one else to go with . “Erm, that is, ...my ...friend and I. Do you have a quiet table? We need a bit of privacy, to discuss some ...things.”
The voice at the other end said “Of course sir, I understand. I think you’ll find us very discreet”. Sam raised an eyebrow at that, but thought no more of it as he confirmed his name and the time. Just late enough to let Gene have his game of darts before, but early enough to make sure he didn’t drink too much first and forget or refuse to go.
He wondered if he should phone the Guv to confirm. What are you like, Tyler, he thought. It’s not a fucking date.
* * *
Gene looked at the heap of shirts he’d dragged out of the washing basket. He liked the green shirt best, wasn’t sure why, but he’d slept in it the other night at Sam’s flat, so that was out. He couldn’t keep on buying new ones every time he ran out. Perhaps Cartwright would take them to the launderette? He grimaced; couldn’t see Tyler allowing that somehow. Always on about how she was an equal member of the team. Not that she wasn’t of course, but women just seemed to know about this stuff and men didn’t.
How a man was supposed to keep the streets clean and his shirts at the same time, Gene had never understood. He’d always thought the deal was he kept the streets clean for decent people and the wife did the same in the house. He’d worked hard at his part of the bargain. He’d been a good husband as he understood it. And then she said he wasn’t there enough, so he’d even tried to get home early sometimes. But then suddenly instead of him being there more, she was going to be there less.
Women. He turned away from the useless pile of shirts and sighed. What was the point of choosing to spend your life with someone if it was like they were from a different planet? Walking into the spare bedroom he opened the cupboard hopefully. As he’d thought, there was just one more shirt on the shelf, still in its plastic. Green, exactly the same as the other one. That would do for tonight; ought to make a bit of an effort, he thought. He and Tyler might get lucky if they played their cards right.
Three o’clock. Wonder what time Tyler’s booked for tonight. Give over you daft bastard, he told himself, have you nothing else to get excited about?
Continues in Part 3 soon...