Driving back from the doctor’s office, Williams faced up to the fact that one of the most respected psychologists in the North of England had just told him he was risking his sanity, permanently, if he ever went undercover again.
The advice did not sit comfortably with the fact that, unless he really wanted to ruin his career, he was doing just that in three days time, but he knew it wasn’t enough to change his mind. If this was going to be his last chance, he was going to grab it for once: stop being a passive victim of circumstance, roll back the years of isolation and increasing strain and start again.
This time he was going to face life with a personality he had chosen himself. The one he had at present was not so much chosen or evolved by its owner as thrown in his face and tied round his neck by circumstances. He smiled to himself as the sentiment came out in the very words Pete had used.
Well, it was all going to change now. Susan’s reaction to his smile had been a pleasant surprise; perhaps he really could use other people’s perceptions to help him change the way he was.
The lights were on his side for once, and he arrived at the office only a few minutes after his normal Thursday start time. Walking straight past his own office on his way to the weekly team meeting, Williams wondered if Whittaker had called Morgan. The doctor might feel that his duty to Williams’ interests - as he saw them - obliged him to breach confidentiality and advise Morgan to stop the operation.
Williams hesitated outside the office. He knew Morgan would never do that, but he might find someone else to send, even at such short notice, and then Williams would lose his last chance for a new beginning, away from Morgan.
Noticing the time, he fixed his thoughts resolutely on the first item on the agenda, opened the door and stepped decisively into the room. Morgan looked at him oddly as he walked to the empty chair at the end of the table. Williams smiled briefly, his normal tight lower-face-only work smile. “Sorry, everybody. Alarm didn’t go off.” He held his breath as he sat down casually.
Morgan nodded. “We’re at Item Two, Sam. Mark, if you’d like to lead off?”
The meeting seemed to drag on longer than usual, although Morgan took them through the agenda with his usual brisk efficiency. Knowing he was not going to be here when the audits, overviews and other operations were implemented made it hard to remain focussed, and as the talk continued into the second hour, Williams felt his attention drifting. He really needed to talk to someone about his ideas for the “personality change”, but he was on his own. He was used to that, of course, especially since Pete had moved on, but it didn’t make it any easier. Yet again, he wished he could phone Pete, but Pete didn’t have the sort of boss who allowed personal calls at work.
A sudden shuffling around the table brought him back to the present. He looked around, hoping he hadn’t missed anything important. People were discreetly collecting up papers and putting away pens, as Morgan spoke briskly.
“OK, David, thanks for that. One last item: the new man at ‘D’ division is DCI George Felling. He started last week, replacing Sweetman.” He shuffled his papers together. “Right then, that brings us to “Any Other Business”. John, David, Mark? ... Sam?”
To Williams’ relief, heads were being shaken all round the table. “OK then, that wraps it up for today, thank you everybody. Same time next week. Sam, if you could just stay a moment?”
Williams waited uncomfortably as the other three filed out, looking back at him curiously. Morgan closed the door and came back to the table.
As he gathered his papers from the cup-strewn surface, he said “I thought it best not to mention anything about your operation, Sam. I think in a case like this. the fewer people who know the better. Can’t be too careful: you never know who’s got friends where.” Turning towards his desk he looked out of the window, tapping his fingers on the sill as he said “Unusual procedures, I think, Sam, for an unusual operation. On Monday I’m going to note that you’ve called in sick, and then ... “ He glanced over his shoulder at Williams and continued, “Well, we’ll sort something out from there, once we have a feeling for how long things are going to take.”
Williams had an odd feeling that something wasn’t being said, but was unsure whether it was Morgan or himself that should be saying it. In the end he stood up and picked up his folders.
“Leave those with me Sam, it will save me collecting them next week,” Morgan said, holding out a hand.
Williams gave him the folders with some reluctance – he would have liked to know who they were going to, and hand them over himself – but he did not argue.
When he returned to his desk, someone had scribbled him a note: “Records rang, can you go down there as soon as possible. Problem with a name or something.”
He hated going down to Records; it was dark and dusty and depressing down there in the basement, and it was where he’d first met Pete. He emptied his half-cold coffee into the sink by the machine and headed for the back stairs.
Scuffing his way down the last flight of stone steps, Williams peered cautiously round the door to the Records Department.
“Yes?” The girl at the desk looked far too young to be a battleaxe, but she had obviously had lessons from her Granny.
“Er, Sam Williams. I got a message to come down.”
“We were expecting you here half an hour ago, Sir. Mr. Morgan said this was very important; I’ve got someone waiting specially.”
“Well, I’m sorry, but I’ve been in a meeting the past two hours with DCI Morgan and he didn’t mention it.”
“That’s as may be Sir, but we need to know what name you’re going to be using. It’s quite ridiculous leaving it this late to inform us.” She looked disdainful at his lack of foresight. “We can catch up with the computer records later, but you must have your badge by Monday. Wait there a minute please.”
Williams watched with frustration as she disappeared into the dimly-lit regions behind the tatty partitioning. What was it about him that made a 21-year-old clerk think she could insult a DCI and get away with it, he wondered, irritated. He sat down to wait, tapping his pen on the chair impatiently.
* * *
Williams pushes the door open cautiously, and walks slowly into a deserted waiting area. It’s clear they don’t exactly welcome visitors down here. He stands, uncertainly, near a sign saying “Ring For Attention.” He leaves it; he’s not going to give them the chance to deliberately ignore him.
After a few minutes, a man several years younger than himself appears. Same height as Williams, slightly too much dark curly hair, softly rounded physique, just this side of chubby. Rather a sweet face, with a bright, genuine-looking smile.
“Help you, mate?” He steps forward to take the requisition Williams holds out, glancing over it quickly. “Oh, yes, heard about this one.” He looks up at Williams with what looks like respect. “Your notes go back years, mate, ’s getting difficult making up stuff for you that you haven’t got in there already.”
“I’m sorry?” Williams speaks a little stiffly. He doesn’t know this man’s rank, but he can’t be very senior. “I’m not with you - ‘making up stuff’?”
“Well, yeah, didn’t you know?” The man looks at him in surprise. “It’s not all updated automatically on the computer, mate! In fact a lot of it never gets on the computer at all.”
“Not on the computer?” Williams is confused now; he somehow thought everything was on the computer.
“Well, obviously mate, none of the really important stuff’s on there, can’t have all the progs reading it.” He waves a hand airily at the door behind him. “But what we do down here is, we keep logs on the computer of all the jobs you’ve been on. Or, should I say, the ones you’ve “been” on! See, all your time has to be accounted for, so’s when you go for a promotion they can see what you’ve been doing, right?” The young man grins encouragingly.
“Makes a bit of a mockery of ‘undercover’, though, don’t you think,” he went on, “if all your time away is logged as undercover for any junior programmer straight out of University to find!”
Williams reels under the flow of words, so different from his own careful, watchful style, and that of his colleagues in the special operations department. The young man continues to talk, turning towards an inner office and beckoning Williams to follow.
“So what we do is, we invent jobs. Copy them from other officers usually, change a few details, you know how it goes. But it means you end up with a complete record, so your casual observer, as it were, can’t tell you’ve actually been out doing things you’re never going to talk about for the last six weeks.” They push through the double doors, and Williams looks around the dreary office and its inhabitants with faint distaste. “But your record, like I say, it’s getting difficult to make up anything new. You’ve got more made up stuff on there than real stuff.”
The chatty stranger plumps himself down onto a chair at what is presumably his own desk – it’s casual and welcoming like the man himself – and gestures to Williams to take the chair from the unoccupied desk next to it.
Williams is normally reserved to the point of rudeness, but the ebullience and sheer easy friendliness of the man - “Oh sorry, Pete Martin, pleased to meet you, mate” – is like a warm bath, soothing mental muscles he hadn’t realised he’s been keeping taut.
Jolted out of his usual state of abnormal calm, he even jokes back, tentatively. “So if you’re a programmer, how come you haven’t got leather sandals, with socks, like all the others? And a beard you’ve been growing since you were six?”
To his faint relief, his new maybe-friend laughs. “Different university, mate. All Oxbridge, that lot. UMIST, me - Electronics Engineering. Did a bit of programming for my project, decided that was the future, and here I am.” The man looked assessingly at him for a moment before saying, lightly, “Got some dark red cords at home though if that makes you feel better. I’ll wear ‘em next time you’re coming down.”
Williams feels faintly uncomfortable for some reason. “Erm, thanks, but don’t worry on my account.” Perhaps he just isn’t used to people being friendly. “Anyway, DCI Morgan sent me down. I need to get some papers for a job I’m going on next month. He says you’ve had all the details.”
It takes off from there. Pete Martin and Sam Williams meet for a drink after work once or twice a week; they chat about their respective jobs, and speculate about gadgets and other wonders of the future. One day, during one of Pete’s more exuberant flights of rhetoric, Williams hears himself laughing and it crosses his mind that he’s actually happy. The laugh softens into a smile and it occurs to him that he’s getting used to those. He’s got a friend, he realises; lonely, reserved Sam Williams has an actual friend.
* * *
When the fierce young woman returned, Williams barely heard her opening volley - “He says he’s busy now, you’re going to have to wait a while.”
He stood and turned towards her, still smiling at the memory of Pete’s guileless way with words. Like Susan before, her eyes widened. Clearly changing her mind about sitting behind her desk, she leaned against the corner nearest to where he stood and smiled up at him. “I’ll tell you what, Sir, if you just sit back down a minute, I’ll get you a cup of coffee, and then I’ll go and chase him up again for you. He’s only being difficult.”
Matters were resolved quite quickly after that; it seemed he was not the only person this girl knew how to order about. By the time he left the gloomy basement twenty minutes later, his transfer papers were typed up in triplicate and his badge had been ordered. He could collect it on Friday afternoon.
Well, that worked then, he thought, impressed despite himself. Even if it wasn’t planned. Perhaps I should have tried that years ago.
But he knew he’d never had the nerve, before. Once, years ago, a colleague, braver than the others or perhaps just drunk, had said to him “You’re so lucky, Sam, you’ve only got to smile at women and they melt all over the floor. But then you ruin it, you open your cold arrogant mouth and they freeze up quicker than Christmas. Be nice to them, Sam! Nice is not weak; nice is good.”
He had not known quite what to say, and had filed the information for possible future action.
But then a bright, cheeky temp had stood too close and told him confidingly that he had a very ... sexy ... smile. She’d grinned at his obvious confusion, and the comment had frightened him so much that he had kept his face carefully schooled at all times since, determined not to give anyone else the chance to take him less than seriously.
The result, predictably and satisfactorily, had been that most people took him very seriously indeed, and had long since given up trying to take him any other way. It could be lonely though.
Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt, he thought, if while he was at ‘A’ Division with Hunt’s more ‘primitive’ people, he were to smile more. In fact, from what he had seen this morning, it might positively help. Providing there were women in the department of course, which didn’t seem too likely.
And assuming DCI Hunt had a soft spot for a sexy smile, which also seemed less than probable.
So in other words, it wouldn’t help at all. Oh well, it was a good idea while it lasted. Worth remembering though, he thought, mentally labelling it anyway: Sam Tyler’s smile.
Sitting alone with his lunchtime sandwich, Williams reflected on the morning and tried to pull together his thoughts on the new personality. His hand ached with the volume of notes he was busy making about the way Sam Tyler was going to be, while around him the gloomy room echoed with successive waves of people arriving for lunch. He did not notice each group sweeping its collective glance over him before deciding to sit elsewhere, something about his little notebook and the cramped intense way he hunched over it making it clear that company was neither expected nor required.
Oblivious to the crowds moving around him, he summarised: Sam Tyler was going to be quite different from Sam Williams in a number of very important ways. He planned to think later about how he would relate to women in his new role, but when it came to dealing with men, Sam Tyler was going to throw his weight around whenever necessary. He would challenge DCI Hunt on a man-to-man, almost primal, basis. All intelligence from ‘A’ division indicated that the man allowed his officers considerable latitude provided they performed adequately.
Sam Tyler was also going to shout. Williams had always despised himself for not being able to raise his voice. It came from those years in the Home: shouting in St Barnabas’ Home for Orphaned Children got you nothing but the cane, and the cold bedroom, and no tea.
So Tyler was going to shoot his mouth off if he felt like it, and he was going to answer back to Hunt whenever he wanted. Williams fretted briefly over how that would fit in with the need to be inconspicuous, until he realised that with a boss like Hunt, being polite and forbearing would itself presumably stand out as unusual. No DI worth his salt would lie down and take the kind of bullying Hunt was known to hand out, and Tyler certainly wasn’t going to.
In some ways, though, Sam Tyler should be softer than Sam Williams. With witnesses, and even suspects, he was going to be more human. Williams knew he’d fallen into the contemptible habit of being clever with witnesses, learning from Morgan its occasional effectiveness but, like Morgan, lazily over-using the device. By contrast, Tyler was going to present himself as a friendly and reasonable man, and he would show them respect. “I’d like you to call me Sam,” he was going to say.
In short, Sam Tyler at work was going to be the man Williams had always wanted to be: still careful with detail - picky, as someone on the receiving end once described it; always highly professional and concerned with best practice; but more flexible and human with it. All in all a better officer, if he could manage it.
He sighed as he got up, moving his crockery to the trolley. That’s the crunch point, isn’t it. If I can manage it. He knew he was going to be fighting on all sides: with DCI Hunt over treating witnesses and even suspects with humanity; with Morgan over being allowed to run the operation in his own way; and not least, with himself, every time he almost forgot who he was supposed to be. To help him remember that, he was considering changing the way he spoke as Sam Tyler, perhaps using a slightly different accent, but he was just starting to realise how much effort that would take, and he still had a lot of work to do on learning the cover story.
He couldn’t help wondering if along the way he was going to discover some aspects of his own character that had been covered up for years. It was an uneasy thought.
Seeing the sunshine outside as he emerged from the dusty stairwell, he decided to go for a short walk before heading back to his desk. Walking around the tidy streets of Hyde, he studied the faces of the other pedestrians, trying to spot who was confident and comfortable in themselves, and who was not, and what the visible clues were. It was in the walk, he decided, the angle of the hips and even the tilt of the head. Confident people had a loose, easy walk and they looked straight ahead as they walked, meeting others’ eyes calmly.
Back in his office, he spent an hour trying to concentrate on the briefing papers Morgan had given him. Eventually he gave up, and turned back to his “Sam Tyler” notebook, adding another five pages of ideas by the time movements in the corridor alerted him to the fact that it was time to go home.
continued in Part 4b