Lewis turns into the street that leads to the pub. His steps are slow, his legs feel heavy. The events of the past week are a weight on his shoulders, a knot in his guts. Of course his forty years on the force have thickened his skin, shown his how there's no limit to people's capacity to hurt one another in any number of ways. That's why he went after Cecile Rattenbury relentlessly and without an ounce of compassion: a suitor driven to murder, twice; a husband driven to suicide; the lives of both her children ruined, in the name of – what? family? pride? middle-class appearances? He shudders and quickens his steps. He needs a drink.
The pub is half empty, pretty quiet. He orders a pint for himself. He doesn't order for Hathaway because he isn't at all sure he'll join him later, after laying old ghosts to rest with Fiona McKendrick. But Lewis doesn't have anywhere else to go, and may as well spend his time here as elsewhere. He settles in, takes a long pull of beer and takes the card with Uccello's Hunt in the Forest out of his pocket. The case is closed, yet he's still haunted by it: the more he looks at it, the more muddled he gets. But he doesn't have anything else to do, he can indulge himself.
He holds the picture at arm's length. It's called a hunt, but there's no violence. Hunters, dogs and deer are not after one another: they're all rushing together towards the mysterious central point in the darkness, the punto di fuga, the point of vanishing. Nice Miss Wheeler at the Ashmolean had explained to him and Hathaway that it was all a metaphor for desire and that the point of vanishing was some point of pleasure; but now Lewis is thinking that maybe the point of vanishing is just that, vanishing for ever into the dark – death. And after people vanish, there's nothing, except whatever traces they leave in the people close to them. Whether you met them once or twice or lived with them for years, that's all they leave behind, traces, in your mind, in your guts, maybe in your actions.
That's why he occasionally, after a drink or two, holds imaginary conversations with Val and Morse. He doesn't for a second delude himself that they still exist somewhere else – in some celestial lounge bar surrounded by fluffy white clouds, drinking tea together? – listening to him, answering him. But he talks with them all the same. Because they're inside him, part of him.
And so is Tom Rattenbury, at least for the time being. With his sarcasm covering up his feelings of failure, and with his twenty-first century equivalent of a suicide note, the message left on his wife's mobile. The decisive piece of evidence. Not easy to forget, thick skin or not. Half my life pummelling Christ, and here I am, at the end of it, chasing redemption. Lewis gets up, goes to the bar, orders a second pint. His fingers wander into his pocket and close on Rattenbury's St Christopher medal. In Cecile's hate-filled mind, a lucky charm. For him, something that just happened to be in Rattenbury's pocket. He hears Hathaway's voice, quiet, unchallenging, yet with something like hope in it, Yeah – maybe. Hathaway believes in redemption. Lewis can't, but Hathaway's intelligent faith is one of the marks of strength in him, like his physical fitness, like his undergraduate humour. Something that grounds him. Something that from time to time Hathaway, without pushing it, offers Lewis.
He turns the card around and looks at the line of poetry on the back. A lover's rebuke by someone called Wyatt, who was in love with Anne Boleyn, no less. Hathaway knew a bit about the poem – he read it aloud, lines about a woman who had long arms, who kissed the poet and then took leave of him. A bit like Fiona McKendrick. Who dumped Hathaway and left him alone among the hunters and dogs and deer in the forest.
"We're all alone," Tom Rattenbury's voice says quietly beside him. "Even those who are married and have children. All any of us can do is reach out in the dark. Sometimes it works. More often it doesn't."
"My marriage was good," Lewis answers silently, leaving unlike yours hanging in the air between them. "After Val died I went around in circles in the dark for years, and then Jim found the man who killed her, and now I can begin to let her go. But that doesn't mean that I'm happy being alone."
"Of course you're not happy," Morse snaps, facing him. "You're looking from the wrong perspective. You're looking ahead, at the punto di fuga," his Italian accent is better than Hathaway's and much better than Lewis's, and his voice is patronising, as usual, but not ungentle, "where all lines look as if they're converging. Try looking around you, beside you. You may be surprised."
"I am already surprised. Hathaway and a woman. When I asked him if he was gay, he wouldn't give me a straight answer, so I decided that he was. Gay. Or summat."
"Lew-is." Morse exhales his name in a long-suffering sigh. "You know better than that. People are hardly ever one thing or the other. No neat lines, like Hathaway told you once. Shades of grey, Lewis. People may prefer one or the other, but, should the right circumstances arise . . ."
Lewis would like to inquire what "the right circumstances" might be, and for whom. For instance, a man who hasn't as much as given a second glance to another man for fifty-six years. For a miner's son who never went to university and prides himself on his common sense. But there's a soft chuckle in his right ear, and Val's voice addresses him, tender and mocking. "A straight answer. That was good, Robbie."
"Don't you start and all," Lewis says, flushing a little. But Val smiles at him.
"Well," she says slowly, reflectively. "You know what they say about jokes." Lewis shakes his head: he doesn't, and isn't sure he wants to find out. "That there's always some truth hiding behind every joke. Like Darling, I think we should explain," Lewis colours some more at the memory, "and Come on, sir, let's tuck you into your tux." She pauses for a moment. "And I'm with Laura Hobson. He's definitely a 9. What do you think?"
"Come off it. You know how happy you and I were."
"Yes." Val's voice is so soft and wistful that for a moment Lewis is tempted to believe that she is really there, standing by his side. "We were. And we could have been for the next forty or fifty years. But."
"But." Lewis drains his second pint and starts walking towards the bar. He stops dead in his tracks as the door opens and Hathaway strolls in, glances around, and walks slowly in his direction.
"Dishevelled and dishy," The smile is back in Val's voice as it fades away. "How's that for a joke, love?"
"Reach out," Tom Rattenbury says gently, distant, almost inaudible. "While you still can."
* * * *
Hathaway does not talk to dead people. He knows a few Catholics who do, lonely men and women who can't find comfort any other way. As far as he's concerned, he's self-sufficient, most of the time. However, in his first year at Cambridge, he wrote a rather successful Eng Lit essay on the way some contemporary writers use parentheses as a device to highlight internal tensions and contradictions. His own mind works a little like that too when it debates with itself, putting desires and contradictions and ironies into invisible brackets. Maybe that is a form of what Catholics call the examination of conscience, part of what priests and theologians call the Sacrament of Reconciliation and ordinary people still call confession.
After Fiona gently closes the door of her house behind him, he stands in the street until all the lights in her house go off, and then moves away a few steps, leans against a pillar, and fishes the slim paperback of Thomas Wyatt's poems out of his breast pocket.
They flee from me that sometime did me seek. Jessica Rattenbury had wanted Steven Mullan to read that line as a rebuke for not being close to her. But Hathaway knows that it's really a poem about a woman moving away from a man. Not inappropriate to tonight, in fact. (And I have leave to go of her goodness, /And she also to use newfangleness). But tonight had been a reconciliation too. Almost a Catholic one, since both he and Fiona had acknowledged that they had failed and then sought and granted forgiveness. And a chaste one – no "rumpy-pumpy" for old times' sake. (Can he admit to relief?).
Hathaway lights a cigarette and draws on it deeply, wondering if not being heartbroken is evidence of a rational mind or emotional withdrawal. He takes another long puff and remembers Manfred Canter's confession (another confession), the despair in his voice when he said "Passion is something that only happens to other people". And himself sitting there, frozen. Passion has never really touched him either. Whatever had happened between him and Fiona, passion had never been at the centre of it – they were too similar, it was almost like looking at himself in a mirror: same age, same rank, same height and looks, same class and education. (Why did he think about age and rank first?) And, whatever it was, it had turned (he checks the poem again: he is still a scholar) into a strange fashion of forsaking the moment the first difference appeared: her wish to move ahead in her career and therefore, inevitably, to move on. No blow-up, no shouting at each other: a tactful ending, as discreet as their liaison had been.
He stubs out what's left of his cigarette against the pillar and flicks the stub into the gutter. He just isn't good at relationships. Not that there have been many, with either sex. (Should he take the easy way out and blame his parents for packing him off to boarding school at the age of six?) No: it's only partly true, and partial truths are traps. Maybe the whole truth is simply that relationships, unlike chess games, can't be worked out in advance.
You can't tell a gift when to come, as his spiritual adviser used to say whenever Hathaway complained that genuine, spontaneous faith eluded him. And if, instead of a spiritual gift, some inappropriate desire should present itself, the thing to do is ignore it. (And if it refuses to go away? If you catch yourself wondering if you're invisible? If you catch yourself hoping that your senior partner might open up his eyes and actually look at you?)
If absurd thoughts persist, irony is a good strategy. Jokes suspended between the said and the unsaid, so that the person they're meant for is left wondering. (All those jokes that assume an inappropriate relationship. We were even trying to work out how on earth I was going to break up with you, sir. Then she went her way and I got lumped with you. Attempts to force him to open his weary baby blues?)
Maybe the shield of irony needs to be discarded eventually. (Lewis isn't your foe). Risky, personally and possibly also professionally. But maybe relationships are, in some way, like chess games: you have to risk losses if you want to get your opponent to reveal his intentions, and then you can start to attack. (Lewis isn't your opponent). The outcome could even be passion, if he had the courage to act on the stirrings he feels when he isn't watching himself and suddenly thinks of direct blue eyes, solid build and strong square hands.
Hathaway half-smiles to himself as he turns into the street where the pub is. He feels his steps quicken and his spirits lift. He looks around, sees Lewis moving towards the bar and walks up to him.
* * * *
"You look surprised, sir."
"I am. It's only ten o'clock. Here's your drink. Our table's over there."
"Hmm, two empty glasses. I see you you've been making good use of your time."
"I could ask you if you've made good use of yours, but it would be indiscreet, and I won't."
"You do want to know, don't you? We parted as friends. You gave me good advice. Thank you."
"Still looking at this picture?"
"Yep. And getting a bit morbid – wondering if the vanishing point in the darkness is actually death."
"Could be. Or it could be something unknown. Unexpected. A unicorn. A pot of gold. Depends on what you're looking at. And where you're looking from."
"This applies to everything, not just pictures. Take Hobson, for instance. She told me that she'd give you nine out of ten for attractiveness."
"To which you replied . . .?"
"I told her you're a free man, not a number. But if you twist my arm . . ."
"Consider it twisted."
"Hmm. I reckon you'd be an eight, maybe an eight and a half."
"D.I. Lewis. You actually looked at me. I'm amazed."
"Sergeant Hathaway. I've had three drinks and I'm too knackered to decipher your cryptic clues. Why don't we leave this till tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow is Sunday, sir. Did you forget, or could you bear to put up with me outside working hours?"
"Oh, for pity's sake, man. We've played squash. We've had several meals and who knows how many drinks."
"Right. Let me suggest something different. There's a festival of classic Westerns at the Phoenix."
"You? Classic Westerns? Go on."
"Just trying to be helpful. They're also showing a German film about the Stasi. You'll like it, I promise you. The Lives of Others."
"I've got enough trouble with our lives. But yeah, I heard of the film, it's supposed to be good. And I hate going to the pictures by myself. OK, it's a date."
"Sir, you just made a joke. About us."
"I thought it was my province."
"You thought wrong. Finish your drink and let's be going, it's almost midnight. What're you grinning at?"
"Just thinking about something my spiritual adviser told me long ago. It was private, and he was right. And what are you smiling at?"
"Some other people who were right. It's private and all. Wait a minute – want this?"
"This picture? I thought it meant quite a lot to you, in different ways."
"It does. But I reckon I don't need to carry it around any more. Want it as a souvenir? Of what, I haven't a clue."
"Very romantic of you, sir. Thank you. Sleep tight. See you tomorrow."