|This was Andy's
second favourite way of spending a Sunday lunchtime -
in the Black Bull, roast dinner, pint of real ale and the
Now and again, Peter indulged him; dragged himself out of bed and joined him. He enjoyed it really, liked reading the various supplements in relative peace and quiet. The smoke he was used to and the beer was good.
So with their dirty plates stacked together at the edge of the table and the papers open, Andy puffed away on the one cigarette he allowed himself while Peter supped his beer and tried to do the crossword.
"This bloke," Andy piped up randomly a couple of minutes into five-down, nine letters, "the one in the coma."
Peter glanced up, glass half-way to his lips. "Oh, the accident in Manchester? That was frightenin'."
"Aye, could 'appen to anyone who stands next to their bloody great 4x4 in the middle of a slip road off a busy flyover." Peter rolled his eyes. Looking for sympathy? Try somewhere else! "I once knew a bloke, a DCI in Manchester; Gene Hunt. He'd been on the force years, bit of a troglodyte..."
One large eye nailed him. "Watch it, you."
Peter couldn't suppress his grin. "Sorry."
"Like I was sayin', bit of a hooligan - better? - but a good copper. Used to be ahead of his time, doing stuff like taping interviews and conducting hostage negotiations at a time my superiors were still going in guns blazing and getting everybody killed."
"Is there relevance here...?"
"Oy!" Peter schooled his expression just the right side of cheeky; when it came to Andy he could get away with everything up to and possibly even including murder.
"Do go on."
"Thank you. This bloke had a DI by the name of Sam Tyler. Good lad by all accounts, a bit bonkers but Hunt was very fond of him - and remember this is back in the old days when senior coppers didn't sleep with their inspectors."
Peter met the knowing smile with a grin. "Where's the fun there?" He could have sworn Andy was blushing when he turned back to his pint. He savoured the beer for a few long seconds before carrying on.
"From what people said, there were a couple of bizarre bits of circumstance surrounding Tyler - for a start he had a car accident on the way from his old patch and when he walked into the nick he started accusing everyone of not being real."
Peter shrugged. "Concussion. What's bizarre about that?"
Andy ignored him. "Then there was the murderer he allowed to escape - a man with the same surname as him and a four-year old son called Sam."
"Mebbe. But most bizarre of all was his disappearance."
"One morning, Hunt went to pick him up from his flat - or that was his story and he were sticking to it - and Tyler's not there. After a couple of hours, they start searching, but he's gone. No sign of him. Hunt blamed a local corrupt businessman - Stephen Warren - who he and Tyler had banged up a couple of months before. But no one knew anything and there was no evidence. Hunt went through Manchester like diarrhoea, arrested anyone who got in his way, banged up countless criminals and even took a few bent coppers out for good measure. But he never found Tyler. He retired fifteen years ago; went a bit bonkers himself at the end, some say, used to get drunk and talk about Tyler having come from outer space or sommat."
"It's touching, Andy," and it was, oddly, "but I don't see...."
Andy lifted the newspaper and Peter looked at the photograph of the DCI who was now lying in a coma in a hospital in Manchester.
"That is DI Sam Tyler."
"They've got the same name, you mean?"
"And the same face. The photo went out to every station at the time of his disappearance. That's Hunt's missing DI."
Peter thought to himself that it may not just be the Hunt and Tyler who were a little bit insane. "Bollocks. Andy, that's not possible!"
"I'm serious, Pete. Senior coppers might not have slept with their DIs back then but it didn't stop the thought crossing their minds. I spent a night in a hotel bar with Gene Hunt, ten years after Sam Tyler vanished off the face of this earth, and he still carried a photograph of the man, and he still asked me if I recognised him, if I remembered seeing 'im. I'll never forget listening to him, watch him drink a bottle of single malt and bite back the tears when he talked about Sam. Didn't understand it - not until I met you."
He was serious. Peter was lost for words.
"When I read about Hunt retiring I thought what would I do if you went missing. And I think I'd go bonkers too."
Reaching for his beer, Peter shook his head, "I think you've already lost it, Andy."
In a run down flat in a suburb of Manchester, the same Sunday news was spread across a stained, aging breakfast table.
A wrinkled hand with yellowing fingernails rested reverently across the photograph of Sam Tyler while tears leaked from still-sharp eyes to the black print beneath.
"I'm sorry, Sam." But Gene Hunt knew that the words were coming much, much too late.