Way of Life
The world is made of people who never quite get into the first team and who just miss the prizes at the flower show – J. Bronowski from "The Ascent of Man"
'It isn't fair.' If Alex had been hoping the world would actually miraculously right itself at her spoken accusation, then she is sorely disappointed. The world stubbornly remains as unfair as it had been a minute ago. It doesn't even make her feel better to vent her frustration in the privacy of her own office, because it changes absolutely nothing.
Alex Fielding is not someone to strive for glory. She cares about her job, about doing it right, catching the killers and making Bradfield a safer place for everyone. Technically that means she should count this last case a success, have a celebratory glass of wine and clear her mind for whatever case happens to come on her path next. Technically.
There is no real reason to be as angry as she is, she knows. She hasn't even been actively seeking after a promotion to DCI, but the fact that someone else has gotten it has suddenly made her care quite a bit.
It's because it isn't fair, Alex decides, which brings her back to her starting point. It has been a trying case, stretching over several jurisdictions, which would lead to minor turf wars in normal situations, but even more so now that she has found herself going head to head with DI – now DCI – Patrick Davies, an arrogant sod with more ego than brains in Alex's limited – but for her taste still far too extended – experience. Tony no doubt would have been able to name whatever mental disorder the man is suffering from, but what it is she doesn't know, because she had been forbidden from bringing him in on the grounds that she is too reliant on him – which she isn't; she just knows what resources to use in what situation and Tony would have been their best bet. Even though they caught the perpetrator in the end, a serial killer preying on married women in their thirties, they would have caught him much sooner with Tony's help. Two women should not have died the horrid death they had been subjected to and that makes Alex fight the need to fasten her hands around Davies's handsome neck and throttle the life out of him. Tony probably has a word for that too, but in this case Alex isn't sure she wants to know what it is.
The very thing that vexes her so – apart from those unnecessarily lost lives – is that Davies swept in to take the credit the moment they caught the culprit, thanks to the hard work of mostly Alex's team. Now he has both the credit for cracking an exceptionally difficult case and a promotion for something he hardly contributed to. If anything, he was more in her way than helping. And she rather thinks she is allowed to be angry over that, because damn it, 'it isn't fair!'
'What isn't?' a somewhat puzzled voice asks from the doorway.
Alex swivels around, caught by surprise. She hasn't heard anyone entering, so she didn't know someone had joined her. Her team knows better than to disturb her after the strip she had torn off Kevin when he had asked her about a file of little consequence. She reckoned it would take them at least another hour before they try their luck with her again.
The man standing in the doorway, holding the customary blue plastic bag, doesn't belong in her team, although he's such a regular fixture on the work floor that he might as well be. Alex briefly wonders if he has heard her mental pleas for his help and showed up to help, albeit a little too late.
'Tony,' she acknowledges.
'Alex,' he greets, staring at her in what appears to be bewilderment; a novel thing to be seen on the face of Tony Hill. 'Kevin just called me about the Jeffries file, but if you are busy…' He trails off uneasily. Her icy tone must have made him realise that perhaps today is not the best time to come asking about documents that won't be needed for another two weeks.
Alex narrows her eyes at him and he does a step back, forgetting that he had shut the door behind him, so he staggers right into it. 'Kevin called you?'
She'll be needing to have words with him about that later. The Jeffries file is the same file he asked her for and that she refused to hand over on the grounds that he has some other cases – if not as interesting as the Jeffries case – to finish first and Alex isn't quite finished with it herself, so Kevin will have to wait. At the moment it looks like he doesn't like the idea of that, but if he thinks he can use Tony as a backchannel to getting what he wants from her, then he's got another thing coming. She hasn't gotten to where she is now by being a soft pushover and Kevin would do well to remember that before he pulls a stunt like that again. She's been working here for well over a year now, so she had thought that her authority had been established well enough. Clearly she is mistaken.
'He did.' Tony only confirms what she herself has been thinking already.
'Sneaky bastard,' Alex growls. The way she says it, it probably sounds like a curse, which in this case is exactly how she means it. 'He came asking me for the same thing just fifty minutes ago.'
Ah, he understands. 'And when he couldn't get it from you, he came to me,' he says, realisation dawning in his eyes. From there it spreads to the rest of his face before it transforms into a sheepish look when he realises he has been used. 'Ah.'
'Yes, ah,' Alex says with emphasis, a tone she mostly uses with Ben when he has been trying to pull one over her and she makes it clear that she is on to him. 'You really fell for that?' It must be one of the world's greatest mysteries why the man who unravels the minds of psychopaths and otherwise mentally deranged criminals with one hand tied behind his back can be so oblivious to the motivations of ordinary people.
'He's making coffee,' Tony offers.
Alex snorts. 'So now he's offering bribes.' This day just keeps on getting better and better, sarcasm fully intended. 'What did he want you for anyway?' Other than using him to get the document, that is.
'He said he wanted me to explain some details of the case to him,' Tony replies. 'I'm guessing that was just a ruse to get me here to do the dirty work for him, though.'
'No doubt there's a clinical word in one of your books for his behaviour,' Alex remarks wryly.
Tony doesn't miss a beat. 'Ambition is the word you're looking for.'
She wrinkles her nose at that. These past few weeks she's seen entirely too much ambition from the insufferable Davies to tolerate it on her own team. Of course it is nothing new with Kevin; if office gossip is correct then he did this under her predecessor as well. He's always been ambitious, but it still doesn't sit right with her, especially now.
Tony helps himself to the only other chair in the office. Knowing that protesting will gain her nothing except a hurt look – something she is not looking for from him – she lets him.
'Is that why you were destroying police property?' he asks interestedly, nodding at the remnants of the pen she still holds in her right hand. To her dismay she discovers there is a small dent in her desk where she must have hit it against it. Her superiors are going to love this.
'No,' she says and it is true; after all Kevin is not the reason why she locked herself in here to deal with her frustrations in private.
He looks at the pen as if he is weighing the possibilities of her stabbing something more sentient than a desk with it. Evidently he thinks not, because he asks: 'Then whose ambition?'
'How on earth did you know?' she exclaims in exasperation. Of the two of them she is the one who works for the police; she should be the one to piece things together. On the other hand, she had guessed Kevin's motives long before he did. How that is even possible, she'll never know.
There are times that she wishes someone would write the Complete Guide to Tony Hill, but the wish is usually quickly followed by the realisation that even if someone had gone to all that trouble, the result of their efforts would have at least as many pages as the Bible. Alex doesn't fancy reading that very much.
'Oh come on, Alex,' he says, the classic start of an explanation where he thinks she should have followed him without any clarification. 'You wrinkled your nose when I said ambition and you were saying something about how it wasn't fair when I came in.' He shrugs. 'Someone got a promotion they didn't deserve?'
Too right he doesn't deserve it. Her irritation is close to boiling over; quite apart from all the trouble with Kevin and her anger over DCI Davies, it seems horribly unfair that he can seemingly read her like a book while she cannot decipher the first thing about him without him telling her. 'Have you turned into Sherlock Holmes while I wasn't looking?'
'Sherlock Holmes?' For a moment there he seems confused, but then he recovers. 'I couldn't be.'
Alex arches an eyebrow. 'Why?'
'I don't have a sidekick,' is the answer that follows immediately. Fortunately he refrains from dubbing her the sidekick. After the week she's had, she isn't certain she could appreciate the humour of it. Perhaps Tony knows that it is better for his health too; she's still holding the pen after all. 'And Alex, can you really see me wearing a hat like that?'
Despite her own persistent irritation – at Davies, at Kevin, at Tony and at the world in general – she smiles, sits down herself and spills out her heart, telling him about the case they've just closed and the result of it, especially the result of it for Davies.
'It's not fair,' she finishes. 'He didn't do much; he was more of an obstruction than a help and yet he is the one to walk out with a promotion.' While her efforts have gone completely unnoticed and unappreciated. Talking to Tony always helps her to channel those undefined feelings into more conscious thoughts. 'It's a men's world, Tony.'
'And you think that it is because you're a woman that you didn't get what you're owed.' Tony nods.
'No,' she says, because she is definitely not that pathetic. And, to be fair, her predecessor managed to get to the rank of DCI, so it is not as if she can't get there too. Sometimes she would like to get some pointers from Carol Jordan, though, if not on how to get a promotion, then on how to deal with the psychologist currently occupying the chair opposite her. 'It's because Davies knows how to butter up to all the right people.' And Alex has never been one to stoop to bootlicking to get her way. Unfortunately it's the bootlickers that get promoted first so that they in turn get into positions where someone will have to smarm their way around them to get higher up. 'And because he's ambitious enough to do what it takes to get that promotion, even when it isn't fair.' And I am not.
'Ambition is a natural thing, Alex,' Tony points out. She can feel a lecture coming on.
But she humours him for now. If he gets too annoying – or confronting – she can always kick him out; this is still her office. 'Oh?'
'It's a human thing to want what we don't have,' he says.
Some are just prepared to go farther for it than others. It's not what she says, though. 'A lot of people want what they don't have and still don't get it,' Alex mutters angrily; she still isn't over the injustice of Davies's promotion. 'There's a whole world full of people who never get the top jobs.' If there is one thing she has learned from this fiasco, it's that. That and the realisation that those who make it, don't always deserve it, hence her frustration in the first place.
'It doesn't stop them from trying,' Tony maintains, comfortable in his all-knowing psychologist role. 'Take Kevin for example.'
'Using you to get me to hand over a file,' she understands. 'Anything to get what he wants.' Including exploiting her emotional weaknesses. Not that she would ever count Tony as a weakness, but that is clearly how Kevin sees it, consciously or subconsciously, though, that remains to be seen. Alex hopes to God it's the latter, but she won't get her hopes up. He's a shrewd fellow.
'He might get somewhere with that someday,' Tony reminds her.
She is still mad enough that this doesn't make her feel any more kindly inclined toward him. 'I'll give him a one-way ticket to Traffic,' she says. 'If I'm feeling kind.'
'Which might make him fight that much harder for what he wants.' Tony always seems completely unflappable in the face of her foul moods – some exceptions aside, especially when his skills are called into question and that is not so now – a trait that Alex only ever appreciates when she is in a good mood herself. She wants to stay angry, unreasonable though that may be, but it's not Tony she's angry with. To make him suffer the consequences of her irritation at Davies and Kevin would be unfair. And try though she might, it's very hard to be angry with Tony – annoyed, oh yes, but not angry – when he is being so understanding.
'So it's not so much wanting what we don't have as wanting what we can't get,' she theorises with him. She is not a psychologist, but she's human. There are things that can be understood without years of study.
'It's the way of life, Alex.'
She folds her hands under her chin and studies him, suddenly curious. 'What is it you want, then, Tony?'
For a moment he is silent and Alex fears she may have crossed a boundary there. But well, she's a policewoman; it's in her job description to be overly nosy and she cannot always help herself. And Tony is still so much of a mystery that she will always have questions. But she values their friendship, so she wouldn't want to overstep.
She knows he's going to answer when he relaxes back in his seat. 'Me? I just want the dossier on the Jeffries case.'
Alex suspects that he is not telling her the full truth, but she is going to let that pass. Tony is not the soul-baring type and if he wants to be let off with a quip, then she'll oblige. Pressing the point will gain her nothing and lose her more than she is prepared to risk. It's not worth it.
So she grins at him. 'Like you said: wanting what you can't get.'
The grin must be contagious; it spreads to his face. 'Kevin will be very disappointed.' He tries and fails to feign some disappointment himself.
But Alex is not quite done yet. 'Which is why I am going to give it to you. Because as soon as you'll have it, you'll no longer want it. You'll want something better you can't get.' She feels a small measure of triumph at what feels like beating him at his own game.
'Ah.' It's all the indication she gets that she surprised him at all. 'And what are you going to do?'
Alex pulls the file out of a drawer and puts it on the desk in front of Tony. 'Giving Kevin something he doesn't want,' she announces. Her tone of voice can leave no doubt as to the nature of the "gift" she is about to bestow on her subordinate. 'And if you can be a good boy and stay in my office, I might even bring you coffee on my way back,' she adds. Not that she thinks he is going to defend Kevin – he knows better than to get in her way when she is really vexed – but it can't hurt to sweeten the deal.
'So now you're offering bribes,' he observes, parroting her earlier words right back at her.
'Yes.' Denying it would be pointless. 'And you're going to take it.'
He plays along nicely. 'Am I?'
Alex is confident in her reply. 'Yes.'
His facial expression is a silent request to elaborate.
She obliges happily. 'Because you want what you don't have and you know I am the one who is going to give it to you as long as you do as I say.'
She leaves him to ponder on that while she sets out to give Kevin a piece of her mind.
Tony does not follow her.