Williams woke up early on Saturday, stretching slowly in the restful silence. Something was missing. Turning onto his back, he stared at the ceiling as he tried to work it out, but nothing came to mind. Something unexpected was also present – a holiday feeling?
He thought about that one for a while. He was hardly about to take off for the Costa del Sol. He was going into an important, career-defining and possibly sanity-busting undercover operation, so why the feeling of release from everyday cares? Unable to identify the cause, but relishing the stillness and sense of peace he decided to give himself the luxury of staying in bed for another ten minutes.
He was awoken three hours later by the phone ringing. Morgan. As he listened Williams felt an indistinct sense of dread enveloping him, although there was nothing in Morgan’s words or manner to give reason for it.
“Sam, sorry to bother you on a weekend, but I just wanted to check what time you’re going in on Monday. Hunt starts work early – give him his due, he’s always in before his team – so I think you should be there by 8:30.”
Now Williams recognised what had been missing, because it was back. He’d never realised before that his constant faint feelings of fear and inadequacy were actually caused, or perhaps magnified, by Morgan.
He held the receiver away from his face and forced himself to slow his breathing before answering. “That sounds fine, Sir. I’m just packing up today, and then tomorrow I pick up the car.”
“Excellent, Sam, well done. Feel ready for this?”
Williams’ gut twisted as he kept his voice calm. “Of course, Sir. Frank. Looking forward to it in fact.”
“Good man. Till Monday, then. Seven OK for you?”
“With your new badge, Sam. Wish you well, that sort of thing. I’m losing my best man for six months; I want to see you off personally, as it were.”
“Thank you Sir, that’s very kind. Yes, seven o’clock’s fine for me.”
Well, at least now he knew what had been missing when he woke up. The holiday feeling still hovered at the edges of his consciousness though, and grew stronger as he treated himself to jam on his toast.
It wasn’t until he was clearing away his lunch things that he remembered that Pete hadn’t phoned back. He dumped the pans into hot water and tried the number yet again, trying not to picture the landlady and the Yugoslavian student in their separate rooms, ignoring the ringing in the hall. He tried to think what Pete could be doing, but concluded regretfully that it was months since he had known what Pete might be doing at any given time.
Whatever else he might be doing, it was clear he wasn’t sitting at home waiting for anyone to ring, so Williams decided to write a short letter instead. It might be months before he would see Pete’s answer, but he could not see any other way. At least he would have done his best.
Just a brief note: I wanted to let you know that I will be away, if you understand what I mean, for quite a long time. I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch for a while. I understand now that I should have phoned you, and I’m sorry I didn’t. I hope London is treating you well. I’ve been trying to ring you all this last week, so I hope you’re OK. Perhaps we can get together for a drink when I come back, although I don’t yet know when that will be.
All the best,
When he’d finished washing up, he sat down at the kitchen table wondering what to do next. He couldn’t collect the car until Sunday, the flat was even cleaner than usual and the case files - his normal Saturday reading - had been handed over to Morgan.
This stage of an operation was always the hardest, he thought. The excitement and anticipation of the planning and preparation phase had worn off, but the disconcertingly addictive fear of the operation itself had not yet taken its place. Not long now, though, he knew. His normal pre-op anxiety would only increase over the rest of the weekend, but his main feeling at the moment was still a slightly panicky excitement about taking on the Tyler personality.
He decided to go through the ‘A’ Division briefing papers one more time. No use having the personality in place if he didn’t have the facts as well.
The papers made worrying reading: reports of injuries sustained when suspects had “fallen down the stairs” or “resisted arrest”; photos taken by the police doctor showing battered faces, crushed fingers, bruised ribs. It was clear that DCI Hunt was completely out of control. Although strangely, the only photograph he had of the DCI, from the Gazette, showed an individual who appeared to be very much in control, both of himself and everyone and everything around him. Williams studied the picture yet again, looking closely at the long-lashed eyes burning out of the page; at the messy light-coloured hair and the grim line of the uncompromising mouth. There would be no mistaking this man when he met him.
By the time he’d finished working his way through the rest of the pile, studying, memorising and strategising, it was still only five o’clock, and the late afternoon sun shone enticingly outside his window.
He decided to go down to the canal for an hour. It must have been months since he was last down by the water, and it would be something to fill the early evening. In the six years he was at the orphanage he’d spent many a Saturday afternoon by and under the bridge. The other boys were more interested in playing football, and he could be alone there, away from their constant teasing.
He was half-way there before he remembered that he had done the same just before the Davis job, although on that occasion it had been Pete’s idea rather than his own.
Reaching the cut, he stood undecided on the bridge for a minute, then picked his way down the muddy path and leaned against the fence watching the water rippling gently as it murmured through the city. The tiny wavelets rippling against the concrete banks plinked and echoed in the cavernous space under the bridge, making the same muted sounds now as they had then.
* * *
On a wet Monday afternoon, damp and miserable, Williams is watching the canal as it flows sluggishly towards the lock. Pete, he realises, is watching him. It seems an odd place for a walk. He hasn’t been to the canal much since he left the Home, but Pete, uncharacteristically, has insisted.
Pete repeats his question and Williams answers, irritated. “It’s just as I said. I won’t be here next week. I’ve been given another undercover job.” The Davis operation, he does not add. “I’ll be gone about six weeks, starting next Monday.”
“And you didn’t think to mention it?” Pete asks. ”Couldn’t you have told me before now? I had... I mean I thought we ...” Seeing the blank look on Williams’ face, he dries up momentarily.
“Well, they only told me last Tuesday; I haven’t had a chance to talk to you since then.” Williams looks round at Pete. “Is it a problem?”
Pete stares at him, dumbfounded. “A problem? That you’re going, or that you didn’t think to tell me?” He catches himself, visibly calming himself down, before asking more lightly “So, where are you going? What’s the job this time?”
Williams shifts uncomfortably. A narrowboat is just visible in the distance and he watches it emerge from the lock. The holidaymakers on board clearly know what they’re doing as the three lock workers swing the top gate shut and jump on board without ceremony. He keeps his eyes fixed on the boat as he chooses his words. “You know I can’t tell you much about it: same as usual, that’s all, nothing interesting.” The fender at the front is frayed, he notices; it looks untidy. “I’ll be gone about six weeks; I won’t be able to contact you during that time; you know the drill, just shove a note through my door and I’ll get it when I come home.”
“Sam.” There is an odd note to Pete’s voice, and Williams turns his attention from the boat for a moment. Pete is still watching him closely and he speaks quietly, intensely.
“Sam, when are you going to stop?” He moves closer; he’s only four feet away, blocking William’s view of the narrowboat. “When are you going to concentrate on being yourself rather than other people all the time?”
“I ... I’m not sure I would know how. I’m good at this, at undercover work, I mean. They need me.” How are you supposed to “be yourself”, he wonders briefly. Who else would you be? And who is “yourself” anyway? It’s not as if you can look inside and see. You just are.
He dismisses the thought and watches as Pete turns impatiently away, pushing through the nettles and cow parsley to kick the broken-down fence.
Pete speaks just as the boat chugs past; Williams hears the words but, distracted by the engine noise – Stuart-Turner, he notes automatically – he thinks he must have misheard. He raises a hand in reply to the girl at the tiller, then addresses his words to Pete’s rigid back.
“You heard. I’m thinking about getting a new job. I’m fed up.” He’s uncharacteristically terse.
“But you’ve got a great job already. Well, you’ve always said it’s great.” He’s puzzled: something has changed, but he doesn’t know what.
“In my trade, Sam, if you want to stay cutting edge, you’ve got to be ready to move on.” He sighs. “I’ve told you this before. You’ve always got to look for the next challenge and make sure you’re ready for it.”
“But aren’t you challenged in this job? You just need to get them to give you something more interesting to do.”
Pete turns, moving forwards shockingly fast, and yells, right in his face: “And you need to get yourself a real life instead of all these pretend ones!”
Williams looks at him in shock. He doesn’t know what to say. “It’s not like that. It’s not,” he says feebly.
“No? Are you sure?” Pete turns away again, staring at the raindrops dimpling the surface of the steel-grey water.
Williams waits fifty seconds, then when he doesn’t say anything else, Williams moves towards him.
Pete half-turns towards him but keeps his face averted. “Just a minute, got something in my eye.” He puts a hand up to his face. After a moment he turns to look at Sam fully. “Please, no more, Sam. You’re killing yourself, I can’t bear to see it.”
There is a silence, as Williams looks at Pete, disconcerted by this new, intense version of Pete. “Well, it’s nice of you to care, Pete, but I can handle it. I can, really.”
“...Nice? Sam, I’m begging you here, please, I... don’t go. This is too much. Too much.”
Williams has never seen Pete anything less than bright and cheerful before, and he can’t understand what’s changed. He takes refuge in the formality he’s more comfortable with, but doesn’t normally use with Pete.
“I’m sorry Pete, I can’t do this now. I’ve got to go, it’s my job. This is what I do.” He half-turns, takes a step away. ”Look, I need to get back to the office, I was only supposed to be out an hour.”
Pete does not move. “Sam. If you ever want to have a... a normal life, you’ll stop this now. Tell Morgan where he gets off.”
“Pete, you know I can’t do that. This is my normal life. It’s all I’ve got.”
There is a shocked silence. Pete’s mouth is open as if to speak and his eyes are stretched wide. He closes his mouth, swallows, then tries again, his face white.
“Is that really how you see it? After all this time?”
Williams looks at him, confused. “Well ... yes. What else is there?”
The expression on Pete’s face turns flat and hard; his eyes are still wide. “Well, if that’s how you see it, I won’t take up any more of your time.” He speaks over this shoulder as he starts walking in the opposite direction to the office. “Bye then. Let me know when you get back.”
Williams stands on the towpath, watching him go.
* * *
Williams shivered, remembering how cold he had been, standing there trying to work out what Pete’s problem was, and whether he should follow him and ask. By the time he decided it was probably better not to, he was already well over the hour he’d said he would be out of the office.
It was just one more example, though, of how he lost a friend every time he went undercover. This one just hurt more than all the others put together.
Eventually he decided to walk home, going the long way round back along the towpath. Realising for the first time that he had nothing to go home for, and nothing to stay out for, he understood at last what Pete had tried to tell him so many times. The years of undercover work had taken more than his time; while they’d given him confidence in some ways, they had stolen it in so many others.
He resolved to have it out with Morgan after this one. He had done more than his share of these operations, and it was time he made it clear to Morgan that he would not be bullied any more.
* * *
Sam Williams sits up in bed, staring at the wall. He puts his hands up to shield his face.
* * *
Faces and disjointed images flash incoherently through his mind: linked, unlinked, sense, nonsense.
And Morgan. Always Morgan.
Arranging his pens precisely on the desk; smoothing his waistcoat; leaning over the desk; waiting, always waiting.
Watching his hands shaking.
Filling his head with fear and knowing. Knowing what he really is.
* * *
Morgan, controlling his entire career.
The warehouse, Peters, Max; the college, Kirby; the post office, Higgins, the old lady; the bank, Baxter, Moss, Franklin, the girl. Oh dear God, the girl.
Forensics, procedures, paperwork. Paper job.
* * *
Morgan’s a DCI, tying him down in procedures and methods and meetings until he can’t think any more.
Hunt’s a DCI, tying down suspects with methods and beatings until they can’t think any more.
Hunt’s on the edge.
* * *
Williams is on the edge. Morgan would sack him if he knew how close to the edge he really is.
* * *
Hunt’s a DCI. He looks terrifying.
Long-lashed eyes burning out of the page; hard-edged control.
Hunt’s a DCI. But I’m a DCI too.
Not a real one. They just promoted you to keep you quiet. You’re not real.
* * *
Hunt has a hard face and a mouth like a steel trap, staring grimly out of a newspaper report.
This time could be the sacking.
* * *
Morgan messes with his head about reports and paperwork and progressive policing.
This time could be the last.
* * *
Without the job, what could he do, where could he go? Nothing to go out for. Nothing to stay in for.
Without the job he’s nothing at all. Nothing, and no-one.
Sam Williams sits up abruptly with a look of utter shock on his face. He stares sightlessly ahead and opens his mouth as if to scream. After a minute he mutters “No, no, no,” then puts his hands over his face and slowly curls up into a tight ball, rocking.
* * *
... continued in Part 7a