hughes: (a-division)
Erin (La Cidiana) ([personal profile] hughes) wrote2015-09-18 04:12 am

Fanfiction: Starman | I: Iron Man | i

i.

has he lost his mind
can he see or is he blind
can he walk and talk
or if he moves will he fall

---

"Wonder how a bloke gets like that. Being a monster."

Sam glanced up from his notebook. Gene's shoulders were squared, fingers idle on the neck of his flask. He looked like he'd gone three rounds with the Sandman and lost the privilege of sleeping for a week.

Sam knelt down and scanned the flat's carpet, once light tan and now stained dirt-colored red. Blood spatter soaked through the wallpaper nearby, peeling the edges as it dried. "We don't know if this murderer is a bloke, Guv. Might not even appear especially monstrous."

Gene snorted. "Who did this, then -- an enthusiastic butcher?"

Sam's eyes flicked over the carpet, from spots of red to a clump of hair to a tooth lodged somewhere in the rug fibers. He swallowed, pressed his pencil to paper and went on with routine. "I can't pretend to know what goes on in a lunatic mind."

"You can't pretend to know what goes on in bloody general." Gene took a swig from his flask, then capped it. "Fact in point, your nancy forensics have been 'bout as useful as tits on Clark Gable last three crime scenes."

"Killer cleans up well." Sam scowled inadequately.

"If you call this 'cleaning up,' I've a notion why your flat's modeled on a particularly gloomy portion of the Gulag."

Sam rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand, then let his gaze wander the length of the room, resting on the other detectives in turn, faces collectively haggard, mouths dry and slack. They hadn't looked this bleak since the Lamb ransom fiasco some weeks ago, and they hadn't even been the ones suffering a bloody drug overdose at the time.

Sam sighed. "Cleans up anything useful," he amended.

"So what the hell does he want, then?" Gene muttered in response, voice taut, fist clenched. "Page in the paper? A sleep-deprived department?"

"Fava beans and a nice chianti," Sam offered with a small groan of exhaustion. He ran a hand down his face as he stood from the floor. "Some twisted sense of purpose. A bastard friend. Who bloody knows."

Gene jabbed him in the shoulder. "So keep the plods on task 'till you've a better ruddy answer. Meanwhile, I'm off."

Sam scoffed. "Quite a time for a breather."

Gene straightened his lapels. "You can blame your own for this one. Call came in, few minutes ago. Seems I'm back to CID on account of one of your mates."

Sam frowned. "Mates?"

"Yes, Tyler -- mates. Something you'd know about if you weren't so bloody irritating." Gene turned to the door as he clarified. "Some bastard from Hyde, tossin' about papers and saying he's been lent to the case. Already a brilliant waste of my time."

Sam's hands tensed -- Hyde -- but he swallowed it down, and nodded, and crossed his arms over his chest. "Right, and while you're gone, I expect I'll be conveniently burdened with addressing the media frenzy."

Gene waved over his shoulder. "You play the bastard self-martyr. Be one."

---

Sam wasn't sure what disgusted him more -- the violent hedonism of the murders or the glee with which the papers embraced them. Or maybe Gene's willful obliviousness to any professional propriety in handling either -- last time the Guv had addressed the public on the matter, he'd coined the nickname "Manchester Mangler," which had regrettably stuck.

Now, with the murmur of reporters and photographers finally dissipating from outside the building, the crime scene lay in front of Sam in eerie, tangible silence. Most of CID's members had retreated back to the station, and the few that remained had desensitized enough to the spectacle to go about their business, but not enough to do it with conversation. Perhaps that meant they were treating this crime with a little more sensitivity and a little less macho attitude, or maybe trepidation occurred even in the Guv's men when faced with the reality of a four-victim body count.

God. Four. This time, it'd been a woman -- Sarah Wellington, no more than twenty-three -- but the first had been Harold Free, an old man in Trafford, the second a schoolboy -- not seven years old, the third a middle-aged clothier, all gone missing and presumed dead from scenes awash with blood. No apparent motive, and aside from the similar states of the crime scenes, no pattern in location or identity. They were clean jobs under a messy guise, bits of flesh scattered with all the deliberate theatricality of rose petals -- and so far they'd offered no witnesses, no fingerprints, and not a single actual body. Just gruesome bloodbaths and a citizen gone missing once a week.

The calls were mounting, the tones were rising. No one in the station had gotten much sleep the past couple of weeks, because what Gene had said was true -- this killer was a monster. No one knew what he'd do next.

Rrrrriiing.

Sam turned toward the phone on the kitchenette counter.

It rang again.

Sam looked around, as he normally did -- as he normally had to do in this fantastic delusion he called everyday life. No response from Annie, gently nudging through the closet, or Chris, rifling through a chest of drawers.

Sam took several cautious steps and picked up the receiver. He braced himself for the soft hiss of a breathing tube, the beep of a heart monitor, but instead--

"Don't stay inside."

The voice was low. Unfamiliar. Sam's stomach clenched.

"What?"

"He'll tell you to stay inside. Don't."

It clicked to silence.

"Boss--"

Sam dropped the receiver, then turned. He tried to focus on the rattled expression on Chris' face rather than his own, tried to look like a trained professional and not a lost bloody castaway.

"Yeah?" Sam said.

"Uh, stuff I found in the dresser." Chris offered an evidence bag. His Adam's apple bobbed as his eyes took an erratic sweep of the room.

Sam took the plastic bag and thumbed through its contents from the outside, regaining composure with each object. Pack of gum, a compact mirror, and an old lighter.

"Any obvious prints on these?" Sam flipped the bag in his hand and studied it.

Chris looked back to Sam with a start. "What? Oh. Dunno."

Sam twisted his mouth. "Chris, it's our job to keep our heads about us, regardless of circumstances. For the sake of the public."

Chris shifted his weight and looked at the floor. "I know, Boss. Jus'... bad week, s'all. Personal-like."

Sam's expression tightened.

"Trust me, Chris. It could be worse."

"870, come in. DI Tyler, do you read?"

Sam juggled the bag into his other hand and reached under his jacket for his radio. Annie approached in his peripheral vision, holding a cardboard box.

"Alpha One," Sam responded, "this is 870, over."

"Guv's callin' you to station. Says to stop slave-drivin' the others and let 'em out to pub. Over."

Sam rolled his eyes at what he could only hope was Gene's attempt at irony. "Right, Phyllis. Over and out."

Normally, a smattering of applause might arise from the plods on scene after hearing the exchange, but in the morbid atmosphere, Sam was spared the slight humiliation. Instead, Annie cleared her throat, drawing his attention to her box of collected clothes.

"S'all I found in the closet." She offered him a glimpse of coats, skirts, a manky scarf, and then shrugged in her self-conscious way. "Don't know if it's any help."

Sam smiled with weary honesty. "You never know what could make or break a case." God knew that if someone could recognize the value of a thorough investigation under these circumstances, it was Annie, but with 70's chauvinism as rampant and disgusting as venereal disease, the chances of her getting out of collator duty were close to nil. Although...

She blinked at him. "What is it?"

"We could use some insight on this killer. Find a pattern." Sam glanced at the bulk of the blood puddle and winced. "Forensics aren't getting us much, and with the Guv at an impasse, maybe he'll finally accept some alternative leads -- profiling."

"Profiling." Annie shifted the box in her arms. "You mean writing up a report? Getting a look in the killer's head, like?"

Sam's brow creased. "Not a pleasant job, I know."

"I didn't think a WDC's job was supposed to be pleasant." Annie tilted her chin and smiled.

Sam paused, then returned a small smile of his own. "Right. You're right." He cleared his throat and took a step toward the box. "Do you need help--"

"I've got it, sir." She stepped backward, smile waning, then walked toward the door.

Sam watched her go. He turned and got an eyeful of Chris, still standing idle, looking off with strange melancholy.

Sam scowled and shoved the bag of evidence into Chris' chest. "Tag these in the logs and hand them to forensics before you finish tonight."

Chris' faraway expression fell into something more like mundane disappointment. "But, Boss--"

"For the sake of the public," Sam countered.

Chris sighed and pressed his fingers into the plastic. "Right, Boss. Sake of the public."

---

It was late by the time Sam made it back to the station. Cold, too, and not just because he'd spent the last few hours watching the coroner tweeze up bits of anatomy from a crusted carpet. The sharper bite of winter had started to roll in over the city's usual chill, and the sky afforded little light save for pinprick stars, blurred and glowing faintly above Manchester's hazy veil.

CID wasn't much warmer. Neither was the Guv's greeting, terse and immediate as Sam pushed open the door to his office. "'Bout time you buggered on over."

Sam glanced from Gene to the tall, lanky bloke sitting across from him. Gene waved his hand in a gesture that bordered between introductory and dismissive.

"DI Tyler, meet DI Smith. From C-Division."

The man turned in his seat to grin at Sam.

He looked a bit odd, Sam thought immediately -- all big teeth and gawky angles, wrapped up in an over-tailored suit. But before Sam could take any further stock of the man, he leapt up, hand outstretched.

"John Smith," he said. When Sam took his hand, the man returned the motion with a tighter grip than he was prepared for. "Sam Tyler, I've looked forward to meeting you."

"You have?" Sam glanced over his shoulder at Gene, and for a brief, surreal moment, they shared the same "What's he on about?" look, followed swiftly by a roll of Gene's eyes to denote, "You tell me; he's from your Hyde brood."

Smith grinned even wider. "Of course! Catching robbers, saving hostages, bringing gangsters and drug lords to timely and, ah, legal justice..."

Smith must've heard about A-Division's exploits up to the recent heroin deaths, though it was hard for Sam to put the whole affair into context without remembering Maya's painful farewells alongside it.

"Dunno 'bout Hyde," Gene broke in, with the peculiar contemptuousness he reserved for the word, "but 'round here, catching villains is what we do."

"Yes, well." Smith, unfettered and still handshaking, clasped his free hand to Sam's shoulder. "Nothing wrong with congratulating a man for being the best he can possibly be."

Smith stared at Sam, his eyes big, wide, open.

Sam cleared his throat and tugged his hand away. "We try," he said about as diplomatically as he could without Gene calling them a couple of poofters.

"Oh, aye, try." Gene leaned back in his chair. "Must be why you haven't a sodding clue who the Mangler's hitting next."

"The killer," Sam muttered.

"Same bloody thing."

"Yes. Bloody." Smith whirled around and tapped his chin. "There's rather a lot of that on the scenes, isn't there? Blood, I mean. But no bodies."

"So you've noticed," Gene shot back, "along with every paper this side of Liverpool."

Sam crossed his arms. "You'll have to excuse DCI Hunt. He gets a bit tetchy when there's a new gunslinger in town."

"Only if they ride in arse-backwards." After a moment, Gene stood from his desk and grabbed his camelhair from the rack nearby. "But seeing as I'm 'excused,' I'll be off for me evenin' social. If you Hyde boys care to join, I suggest you do it before I'm deaf in both ears from facts I already know."

Sam's brow furrowed. "We have a serial killer on the loose. I'm not quite sure a night of drinks--"

"Do you get off on everyone in this station looking like their mum's up and died?" Gene shrugged on his coat and cricked his neck. "Poor sods have been working this two days straight. Mangler hits once every week like clockwork, and right now, it's been six sodding hours."

Expect Gene to make insinuations of shoddy police work and then become a sordid example of it. Sam clenched his fists. "We should be setting a standard--"

"Could do both."

Smith shifted his weight from foot to foot. When he noticed Sam and Gene staring, he beamed.

---

By the second case file, Sam had decided DI Smith wasn't a bad bloke to drink with, and by the fourth pint, so had everyone else.

"Nice meetin' you, Mr. DI, sir!" Chris had exclaimed as he'd stumbled for the door, but for the most part since the card games had started, Sam and Smith had been left alone in the Arms' corner booth to pore over the leads.

"So, this Mangler," Smith started.

"Killer," Sam corrected.

"This killer doesn't leave a trace? None at all? Hairs, dirt, fingernails, footprints, particles of any sort?"

Sam ran a hand down his face. His mind flashed briefly to DNA, NAFIS, god-damned Google Earth.

"None that our... limited technology can gather, no."

Sam expected to earn a pause or glance with his uncensored temporal frustration, but instead, Smith leaned away from the file and splayed his hand on the table.

"That's peculiar. Very peculiar, for something this... messy."

Sam frowned and took a draught from his bitter as he studied this man from Hyde. Smith was the peculiar one, as far as he was concerned, and Sam could only suppose it was his own long-running madness that had blinded everyone else from noticing. The pinstripe suit and fitted overcoat weren't poncy enough to land Smith in Litton's league, but they did seem... off, somehow. Something about the swirl-patterned tie shimmered too brightly; the stripes in his suitjacket lined up too perfectly. Smith's hair stood up like it'd been electrocuted or gelled, and Sam wondered if the latter was even in style this decade.

And then there were the shoes, which Sam had first noticed from the lack of clicks against the station's hard floors. Rubber-soled. Bloody Converse, in fact. Had those been invented yet?

But all of these, at least, Sam could chalk up to his own escalating delusions or paranoia thereof. What he truly couldn't shake from his mind was--

"That accent of yours. Not from 'round here, originally?"

Smith glanced up, pulled a face, looked back down. "No, suppose not."

Sam tapped his glass with a finger. "How'd you end up at Hyde, then?"

Smith paused, then stretched arms behind his head. "Oh, you know, this and that. I've traveled a bit -- ended up here."

"Here. Manchester, 1973?"

"Why not?" Smith regarded him mildly.

Sam's lips quirked with pathetic, personal humor. "I could think of a few reasons."

He allowed his eyes to wander across figures in the bar who might or might not have been included in those reasons, ending with a requisite few seconds on Ray. The great idiot's gambling pile had dwindled from 50 p to 20.

Sam couldn't help a small smirk. He looked back to Smith, intending to point out this very example, but paused when he caught Smith's eyes fixed somewhere on the table. Sam followed Smith's gaze to find his own hand, clasping his drink.

"Your finger," Smith said.

Sam realized he was tapping a nervous rhythm against the glass. He stopped and glanced up, a little confused, a little drunk.

"Sorry, mate. Didn't mean to bother."

From this angle, head canted and features cast in shadow under the pub's dim light, Smith looked almost painfully tired. Alone.

Then he smiled and leaned forward to grip his drink. "S'bit nice, actually."

---

Sam was willing to concede, by the time he stumbled into his horrible flat, that Gene might have been right about winding down at the pub.

Or maybe that was the last scotch talking. Or the last few days working more hours than not, or bits and pieces of four missing victims on four cold mortuary trays. After all, Sam wasn't drunk, exactly -- just a little unsteady on his feet and knackered to hell, enough that when he fell onto his saggy bed and rested his eyes a moment, he failed to notice the empty test card glowing from his television set.

"You want so much, Sam."

His eyes snapped open.

"It must be hard, to want so much."

He wrenched himself up on one elbow, stiffened his jaw to silence. Her red dress glowed from the shadows.

Sam swallowed. "I just want to go home."

"You can't do that, silly." She skipped in place. Her feet hit the carpet in little pitter-patters. "It's gone, gone, ashes, we all fall down!"

Sam heard a blast, and then silence, a void, overwhelming isolation. He shook in it, choked on it. Her red dress floated toward him.

"You left them. You got scared and you left them, but I understand. I'll even help you, Sam. I'll tell you a secret."

A murky ocean weighed on his shoulders. He struggled to raise his eyes, but his body protested, heavy and nauseous. A small hand gripped his chin like a vice and pulled his gaze up inch by inch. Her smile overtook his sight, wide and powerful.

"All in your head."

Sam closed his eyes and shuddered. She lowered her voice.

"Can't you hear it, Sam?"

"I don't know," he mumbled to the air, "I don't--"

"It's all in your head," she sang, tone rising and falling to rhythm, "all in your head, all in your head, all in your head."

What you really need is a doctor.

Gasp, clutch, breathe.

Sweat on his hands, metal on his tongue, razor-sharp air through his nostrils. His heart jackhammered in his chest like a panicked animal and he had too much blood to pump -- he was going to die, he was surely going to die.

His fingers tangled tight in clammy sheets, cold and shaking. For several seconds he fell straight through the mattress, through time, into darkness, a chasm beyond depth. He shut his eyes and bore out the vertigo like a man tied to a mast, frightened and helpless and held captive far from home.

---

"Sam?"

He raised his head, fingers idle against the edge of a witness statement. For a moment, all he registered was her face. Wide blue eyes, creased brow, mouth drawn tight in concern.

"Are you all right?"

"Oh." Sam rubbed his temple. The station's sounds came back into focus -- typewriters, papers, footsteps. "Yeah. Sorry. Long night."

Annie smiled as she smoothed down her skirt and settled into the chair next to his desk. "I heard. Must have been nice, yeah?"

Sam stared back at her, attempting to reconcile her words with the previous night's horror. She clarified, gently, "Seeing someone from C-Division, I mean."

Something clicked. Sam's shoulders relaxed. "You mean Smith."

Annie laughed. "'Course I mean him. Come on now, what's he like?"

"What do you mean?"

"Some of the WPCs were saying he wasn't... well. Bad looking, let's say." Annie smiled in her small, disarming manner and leaned toward Sam, conspiratorial. "He came by the station this morning, but I didn't see him -- went out to chase a lead, the Guv says." She paused. "I don't think he likes him much."

Sam let out his first real laugh of the day. "The Guv doesn't like anyone, least of all blokes from Hyde."

He knew he'd made a mistake as soon as Annie's face brightened, as she leaned back in the chair and folded her hands in her lap. "Right, then, from Hyde. So you do know him."

Sam felt a wave of self-awareness -- of looking like a dead man walking. Dark eyes, ashen face, meandering movements, and... Christ, he always looked like a dead man, and with that momentum, he finally said, "I don't remember him, Annie. I don't remember anything from Hyde. You know that."

Annie did know, but she deflated all the same. She averted her gaze in that small, awful way that told Sam this world had deprived him another friendly conversation for the privilege of confiding in one single bloody person.

"He doesn't seem to know me either," Sam murmured by way of apology. He shifted in his seat, grasped a pencil and did nothing with it. "Not personally, anyway. Must've transferred in after I... allegedly left."

Annie raised her head again. "Transferred? From where?"

Sam shrugged. "London, I'd say."

"You don't know?"

Something in her voice made Sam's fingers tense. "Haven't checked yet."

"Haven't checked?" Annie set her feet flat against the ground and leaned forward, imploring. "Why not, Sam? He might be able to help you, if he's from Hyde--"

"Exactly. Hyde. What would it bloody matter where he came from before?"

His voice came out sharp, mean. He pursed his lips in the wake of it, exhausted, frustrated. He couldn't bother to correct himself.

Annie narrowed her eyes. "Right. Suppose if you found anything, might make things too real."

The last words came out thin, angry, as her mouth tightened into a line. Sam opened his mouth, but she shook her head, stood up, and marched back to her desk.

"Annie--" Sam got out, stuck in his throat until a moment too late. He lowered his head back to his papers and caught the small smirk Ray gave from his desk. He'd lost the rest of his 20 p last night, but Sam expected now he felt a bit better.

Good. Good for Ray, because Sam right well bloody didn't.

"All right, gents!"

The Guv's office door slammed open as his voice broke through the room with its comfortable authority. Sam turned to see him shrug on his coat as Chris trailed behind him. "DC Skelton's found us a lead -- told you the week would take a turn, Christopher."

Sam jumped to his feet, eager to get out of the station. "What kind of lead?"

"This'un, Boss," Chris grinned as he proffered a small pamphlet, sealed -- thankfully -- in an evidence bag. Sam took it and squinted at the front advert.

"Camille Lupei? Fortune-teller extraordinaire?"

"Turn it over," Gene grunted.

Sam did, and paused. Two drops of blood, smudged on one corner.

He looked to Chris. "Where'd you find this?"

Chris crossed his arms, wearing a satisfied smile. "'Ad a hunch. Like one of the Guv's," he credited, nodding to Gene. "Back panel o'the dresser on the last scene seemed loose -- stopped by this mornin', gave it a whack, this fell to the ground. Must've been stuck behind it."

His grin widened, and he looked to Sam with unparalleled pride. "For the sake of the public, yeah?"

Sam raised a brow, then flipped the pamphlet back to its front. He considered -- and scowled. He looked up and wagged it at Gene and Chris.

"If this was left over from the crime, why was it deliberately tucked away?"

Chris' expression faltered. He fiddled with something in his pocket. "Dunno, Boss. S'where I found that... bag. Evidence in the bag, I mean. Put into the bag--"

"Dammit, man, it's a clue, innit?" Gene snatched the pamphlet back, then stormed toward the hall. "Chris' hunch paid off, or does he have to be a pureblood Tyler saint 'stead of a ruddy bastard 'tween the two of us?"

"Wh--" Sam stuttered for a moment, then shook his head -- hard -- and followed. "Seems awfully convenient, is all -- a piece of paper that happens to have some blood and an address?"

Gene slammed his hand down on the lift call button. "Right, I forgot -- in your world, everything has to be bloody difficult."

Your world.

Sam winced. "Just... let's not jump to conclusions, Guv."

Gene scoffed as the lift whirred. "You're the one assuming I'd bang someone up over a sodding pamphlet."

"Wouldn't you?"

The lift dinged. Gene stepped inside.

"I'd have to have reason, now, wouldn't I? For instance--" he whirled on Sam, furious, "--blood on the damn thing. Now get in here!"

Sam grit his teeth and stepped into the lift. He hit the button for the ground floor and turned around to face the hallway as the doors slid shut.

"Percy Lane."

Sam looked to Gene, to the hard line of his expression as he gazed down at the pamphlet's address line.

Sam frowned. "What about it?"

Gene didn't answer a moment. Then he shrugged and pocketed the thing.

"Utter shit-hole."

---

Sam squinted at the row of run-down flats through the Cortina's windscreen as he contemplated the truth of Gene's statement. The lopsided brick buildings looked like they'd be bulldozed to the ground if subject to 2006's safety standards, and the grey sky conspired to make the half-boarded windows even dingier, misting up the grime-covered glass panes and soaking into their rotted mullions.

"If that fortune teller knew owt of the bloody future, she wouldn't be living here."

He glanced over at the driver's seat, where Gene was nursing a cigarette.

Sam curled his hand around the door handle. "It's not about knowing the future -- it's about knowing people. Telling them what they want to hear."

Gene remained silent. His cigarette embers glowed in the darkness of the Cortina's interior, tempered by smoke to give his eyes a peculiar smolder.

Sam frowned at him. "Guv--"

"D'you know something rhetorical when you hear it or are you that determined to sound a wanker?"

Gene shoved out of the Cortina and walked down the street. Sam paused, then exited the car.

"You're the one with all your 'hunches'," he said as he shut the door. "Isn't that psychic superstition?"

Gene flicked his cigarette into a nearby puddle. "Nope. Magic. Gene Genie, remember?"

Sam caught up with him on the pavement. "Then tell me what possible connection a petty swindler could have to a systematic psychopath."

"Mangler's a lunatic monster, Tyler." Gene adjusted his collar against the cold. "Can't get more senseless than that."

Sam scowled. He looked off and intoned the question that had nagged him ever since this entire mess had begun. "Thing is, all serial killers have a reason for choosing each victim, even if it only makes sense in their mind. Where's the pattern here?"

Gene raised his eyes to the sky. "Oh, lovely, now he learns what 'rhetorical' means."

"I still say the advert's a plant," Sam muttered as he searched his jacket for his notepad. "Too easy."

"And I say we're already looking into it, so stop whinging and keep walking." Gene glared at a couple of children kicking a ball down the street. "'Sides, gypsies are into that kind of twisted bollocks, aren't they?"

Oh, god. Sam winced. "What 'twisted bollocks,' exactly...?"

"Voodoo, sacrifice," Gene offered absently, glancing at a derelict police box, "smearing blood on walls, good fun."

Sam stared at him. "I think you're mixing up your stereotypes, Guv." He scowled. "Is that what this is about, then? Pinning the crime on the nearest minority?"

Gene turned to reinstall the full weight of his glare on Sam. "It's about pinning the crime on the nearest serial killer, or are they one of your nancy causes now too?"

This line of inquiry had fast become futile. Instead of replying, Sam stopped and flipped his notebook open, checked his handwriting. He frowned up at the brick-decayed mess towering over them. "I think this is the address."

Gene stopped next to him. For a moment, he stood there, hands stuffed in his pockets, breath misting in the cold.

His mouth twisted. He marched up the front step and ripped a faded paper sign off the door.

"Bloody disgrace." He turned and waved the paper's lettering at Sam -- something Romanian. "You'd never know this once was a proper English street!"

"I was unaware the country borders had been redrawn," Sam replied, deadpan.

"Oh, aye." Gene crumpled up the paper and tossed it. "Right now you're standing on the boundary of Smart-arse-landia and the Republic of Shut Up and Get Over Here."

Sam scowled and pocketed his notepad. He walked up to the door beside Gene and raised his hand to knock on it when a crash and a bang hit the air.

Sam's head snapped toward Gene. They both looked back to the entrance.

Their feet came down on the door and smashed it off its hinges.

"Police!" Gene shouted as they took quick steps into the building, rotting floorboards creaking underfoot. A screech rang out, followed soon by a crack and a strange, low buzzing noise.

Sam grit his teeth and rushed forward, heart pumping as he rounded a corner to an open door that allowed him a chaotic view of the flat within: a wood table turned over a manky oriental rug, scattered stuffing from a misshapen armchair, and crystal ball shards, littering the dank room like iridescent leaves. Gene dodged inside and opted to take the nearest door further into the flat. Sam grit his teeth and followed--

Into a bedroom brighter and cooler than the others through virtue of its shattered window. Curtains stirred with the slight breeze, and Sam's attention snapped to the figure they obscured.

"Oi!" Gene shouldered past Sam to face the suspect. "Hands up, blades down!"

The figure jolted, then spun around.

Sam froze. "DI Smith?"

"Right, that's me! Hello, Sam!" Smith grinned at him, rather inappropriately, Sam thought, given both the disheveled state of his suit and the dangerous step Gene took toward him.

"Lead paid off, I take it." Gene raised his chin an inch.

"Yes. Well. Ran off, more like it, but..." Smith trailed off as he turned to the window. "Which is why I'll be on my way -- alloonnns-yyyy!"

Before Sam could protest, Smith leapt out of the window and onto the fire ladder, then slid down and out of sight. Sam looked to Gene, then back to the window, muttered "sod it," and followed suit.

Sam's boots slammed into the pavement. He grit his teeth on impact, then sprang forward and chased the edge of Smith's brown coat down the dank, poorly lit alleyway. Behind him, he could hear some faint shout from Gene about how he wasn't going to pretend he was a bloody man-sized squirrel you little shit, but it was lost in the pounding of Sam's feet on the ground and in his breathing, deep and controlled.

His senses honed in on uneven cobblestone and the brick walls that towered over him. Sam might have been reminded of a dream if his real bouts of slumber didn't have a tendency to turn into such cracked-up terror-fests in the first place, but then again -- this was classic dream fodder, wasn't it? Chasing someone -- sure only vaguely of the reason and even less of where they were -- breathing hard, fists clenched, head swimming from adrenaline and hazy oxygen, sharpened by an edge of irrational fear.

Or were you supposed to be the one getting chased? In dreams.

Sam shook his head, cleared his thoughts. Christ, he needed proper sleep.

He turned a corner and nearly bowled Smith over, who'd apparently decided to stop running and instead stand still as he tapped a finger on his chin. Sam staggered back a foot as Smith's eyes darted about with hummingbird attention span.

"Lost her. Well," Smith continued, heedless, "she probably isn't working alone, is she? Given the tachyon-saturated air in this area, I'd say there was some sort of catalyst for her actions -- I mean, some minor telepathic ability might have made Lupei more susceptible to the latent psychic field, but to be affected into doing something like murder..."

Sam stared at him. "What?"

"Exactly -- what could have morphed tachyon particles into a psychic field in the first place, and moreover, how..."

Smith trailed off as his gaze drifted back to Sam.

"Ah." He looked Sam up and down, as if reminding himself of something. "Er -- sorry. Got, erm. Ah-ha." He scratched his head. "Bit ahead of myself, wasn't I?"

Sam racked his brain for anything in his still-piss-poor 1973 vocabulary that might possibly explain what the hell Smith was on about, but only continued coming up with blank pages, and question marks, and the word "psychic."

With sudden sinking dread, Sam cleared his throat and asked with perfect composure, "DI Smith, could I see your badge?"

"Yes -- yes, of course." Smith dug into his coat, forced a grin, and thrust forward--

"That's a blank sheet of paper," Sam said.

Smith stared like he'd been struck across the face. He looked to his paper, then to Sam, then to a point somewhere past his shoulder.

"Is it really, Sam," he murmured.

An engine rumbled down the street. The blessedly solid bronze of the Cortina sped around the corner and squealed to a stop.

Gene barked, "In Hyde, does standing 'round while a suspect escapes pass for policing?!"

Sam had never felt so relieved to be shouted at. He snatched Smith's "badge," then stepped forward and shoved it through the Cortina's open window. "DI Smith's identification. Perhaps you lot should pay more attention to proper procedure before allowing a complete stranger access to a top-level investigation!"

Gene wrenched the Cortina into park. He took the blank ID-holder and gazed at it a moment, then snapped it shut.

Sam rapped his fingers on the car roof. "Well?"

"Well." Gene shoved the "badge" back at him. "Unless this is two days expired or some other picky-pain bollocks, I'd say Phyllis did her bloody fact-checking and I've nowt clue what you're on about, okay!"

Sam's eyes darted to the plain white paper, clean and blank and clear as fucking daylight, back to Gene's face.

"Are you mad?"

"Are you?"

Sam stumbled backward before he knew his feet had betrayed him. Smith appeared between them and plucked the paper from Sam's hand.

"I'm terribly sorry, DCI Hunt," he said, straight past Sam's dumbstruck face. "It should specify Dr. John Smith. Your DI caught me in a spot of lazy protocol, I'm afraid."

Sam's mouth went dry as the paper disappeared back into Smith's coat. Sam clenched his jaw and looked back to the Cortina, frantic, desperate, alone.

"Gene--"

"In the car, Tyler," Gene said. "We've bigger problems right now."


---

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