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With a Girl Like You

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Monica found out first from the papers.

Morse hadn’t come home the night before, which had kept her up worrying until the wee hours. But a policeman’s lot and all that, and by morning she’d been able to convince herself, if only barely, that he’d been delayed at work with no chance to ring her.

So she’d buttoned herself into her uniform, pulled back her hair, and tried to ignore how tired she looked in the glass, all the while hearing her mother’s voice in her ear: A copper, child, and you working in a hospital, with doctors and nurses n’ all. I despair of you, I really do. Her mother’s Jamaican accent was always stronger in these ghostly remonstrations. But he’s a good man, Ma, Monica silently answered. And he’s leaving the job anyway; going to be a teacher. Her mother’s disbelieving snort echoed in her head all the way to work.

Things were busy on her ward, but during her first tea break, Monica picked up the paper someone had left at the nurses’ station.

TWO TOP COPPERS DEAD. ANOTHER STRUGGLES FOR LIFE. FELLOW OFFICER IN CUSTODY.

Monica forced herself to read the article, though the words slipped and shivered as her hands shook. The first thing she took in was that Morse’s name wasn’t among the dead or wounded. This slowed her heart rate from tachycardiac to merely racing, and she realized, with a sinking heart, that that the wounded man was Morse’s boss, Thursday. The suspect’s name wasn’t mentioned.

“Regular murder spree, right here in Oxford,” Betty Hamblin said, looking over her shoulder.

“The one who’s still alive—is he here?” Monica asked, keeping her voice controlled with difficulty.

Betty nodded, clearly enjoying all the excitement a bit more than she should. “Third floor. Quite the drama. Surprised you haven’t noticed before now.”

But Monica was already on her way upstairs.

There was indeed something of a circus around Thursday’s room when she arrived: solemn policemen crowding the corridor; doctors and nurses hurrying in and out of the room; several keen-eyed people who were probably reporters; and three disconsolate civilians hugging the wall—Monica’s heart clutched when she realized they must be Thursday’s family. She scanned the crowd desperately, but none of them were Morse.

“How’s DI Thursday?” she asked, catching the sleeve of a nurse she knew.

The nurse pursed her lips and shrugged. “Too soon to tell,” she said, just as one of the hospital’s senior administrators raised his voice and announced, “These areas must be cleared at once so we can work. Move along everyone; we’ll let you know as soon as we have any new information.”

Monica reluctantly turned away with the rest of the murmuring group, starting back down the stairs to her ward. So preoccupied was she with where Morse might be—putting himself in danger, trying to catch Thursday’s shooter, or himself lying hurt somewhere—that she nearly stumbled over the man leaning against the wall at the first landing.

She gave a little yelp and started back, amazed she hadn’t smelled the stale beer and tobacco coming off him before she saw him. He was tall, almost cadaverously thin, with circles under his eyes so dark it looked like he’d been punched. He hunched over the cigarette in his hand, drawing on it like life itself.

Annoyed by her own surprise, Monica put on the crispest tone she could muster. "Sir, you’re not allowed to smoke in here.”

The man seemed not to register the words, only her uniform and the direction from which she’d come. “Any news?”

“On DI Thursday? I'm afraid I can't say. And we’ve been asked—“

“He’s not—I mean—he’s still—?” Something in the man’s tone made Monica wonder whether he’d been lurking there for hours, something shameful preventing him from getting any closer.

“Still with us, yes. Hey, hang on there—“

For at her words, the man had suddenly slumped further over his cigarette, his knees beginning to buckle. Monica automatically tried to keep him upright, but she only succeeded in slowing his slide down the wall to a seated position.
“I’m all right,” he muttered, batting away her hands.

“No you’re not,” she told him, though her practiced eye could see nothing wrong with him besides a severe hangover. Still, better safe than sorry. She tugged at his arm. “Come on, I’ll get someone to take a look at you.”

He waved her off, head bent over his drawn-knees. His shoulders tightened, twitched, as if he were trying to hold back tears. Monica observed him for a moment. The man was a wreck, and clearly had no one to thank for his condition but himself. Then she realized he was merely giving way to the same emotions she was experiencing herself. If she hadn't been at work, she might be crouched in a corner crying, too. With a sigh, she knelt beside him.

“Do you work with DI Thursday?” Despite his condition, something about the man screamed “policeman.”

The bent head nodded. Monica could hear a convulsive sort of swallow.

“I’ll tell you what. You stay here, and I’ll get you a cup of tea. How’s that?”

A pause. Then another nod, and a sniff.

“Oi,” Betty said when Monica entered the break room. “Where’ve you been? I need your help with Mrs. Turtledove.”

“Sorry, sorry.” Monica dropped three sugars into the tea, along with a healthy dollop of milk. As an afterthought, she grabbed three digestives from the communal packet. “Back in a tick. I owe you one.”

The man was still on the landing where she’d left him. His head came up when he heard her step, and Monica got a brief, poignant sense that he hadn’t expected her to come back. Even more overcome by sympathy, she sat next to him and watched his face as he sipped the tea and took careful bites of the biscuits.

“Ta,” he said, sounding like someone who’d escaped a room full of smoke and is still unable to draw a good breath.

“You looked like you needed it.”

When his face had taken on a less sickly hue, she asked the question that had been beating in her throat all the way to the break room and back. “Do you know what’s happened to DI Thursday’s constable?”

“Morse?” He looked green again, like he might be sick. “Do you know Morse?”

“He’s—he’s my neighbor. He didn’t come home last night.” She left it at that; let him make of it what it what he would.

His bloodshot eyes went wide. As a nurse, she saw people in pain every day. But there was something raw in the man’s voice when he answered her, a depth of emotional anguish that was much rarer. “You haven’t heard, then?”

+

Monica put on her best suit to visit the prison. Not the one for weddings, but one she’d bought for job interviews and the like, a dark-red worsted, with brass buttons. She made sure her hair was smooth, and did her face carefully. The worse the situation, her mother always said, the better you should look.

It made no difference.

“Visiting hours are over, love,” said the guard at the entrance, giving her a look she’d seen too many times before. Her good suit and coat meant nothing. All he saw was the colour of her face.

She had to stand on the steps a while after that, hugging her arms about her, and waiting until she was calm enough to make her way home. Just as she was about to leave, though, the policeman from the hospital stairwell appeared.

He’d cleaned up a bit since then, and swung himself up the steps to the prison with considerable self-possession. Clearly, all his unruly feelings had been herded back to their usual dark corners. She suspected he'd had a good deal of practice with that. When he caught sight of her, though, he first looked alarmed, and then surprisingly pleased. “Here to see your neighbor, Miss—?”

“Hicks.” She smiled tightly. “Monica. And yes, but they won’t let me in. Visiting hours are over, apparently.”

“I expect I can do something about that. One good turn, eh?” He held out his hand with an embarrassed laugh. “DS Jakes. Peter. I suppose we weren’t properly introduced, before.”

And that, Monica knew, would be the last she’d hear of his near breakdown at the hospital. If that's what he wanted, though, she was willing to go along with it; she had her own facade to maintain, after all. She followed DS Jakes back into the jail.

“She’s with me,” Jakes told the guard at the desk, who raised his eyebrows at her in a disgustingly knowing way, but merely nodded. And since she was with DS Jakes, they were taken directly to Morse in the cells, rather than meeting him in some visiting room.

When Monica saw Morse in that cruel place, the prison clothes on him, and the bare, hard walls around him, she wanted to embrace him, to run her fingers through his lank hair and kiss some warmth back into his pale cheeks.

But she held back, restrained not only by Jakes’ presence, but also by the shuttered expression on Morse’s face.

It made her think of a boy she’d known from school, nicked one day after he stole a radio on a dare. He’d never been the same after his stint inside. Cold as ice, with a hair-trigger temper he’d never had before.

If Morse was pleased she'd come, he hid it well. And the look he gave Jakes was first astonished, then furious, then, surprisingly, frightened.

 

“Thursday?” Morse asked softly, not meeting their eyes. He thinks he’s dead, Monica realized. He thinks the only reason we’d visit him is to tell him Thursday’s dead .

“No, no, hanging in there. Takes more than a bullet to stop the old man,” said Jakes, coming to the same conclusion.

Morse nodded, a degree of tension leaving his shoulders.

“We just wanted to see whether you needed anything,” Monica put in, instantly regretting the “we,” as if she and Jakes had come up with this plan together.

Jakes looked sharply at her, and then at Morse, trying to figure out their relationship, no doubt, but Morse maintained his stony impassivity.

"I'm fine," he said, focusing on some spot just beyond Monica's left shoulder. Then he turned to Jakes, his face suddenly suffused by determination. “Just get me out of here.”

+

And then he was out. Just there one day waiting for Monica when she got home. Drawing her into his flat and showering her with kisses. He looked tired, and he needed a haircut even more than usual, but he’d lost the glacial reserve he’d had in jail, so Monica allowed herself to be relieved. DI Thursday had regained consciousness the day before, she knew, and she supposed whatever light he’d been able to shed on matters had secured Morse’s release. But that was only supposition, because Morse evaded all her questions.

“Come here,” he said instead, “I’ve missed you.” And he buried his head in her breasts and held on like a drowning man.

But what now?, she wanted to say. Will you leave the force? Will we go away together like you said? Very soon, though, she found that she, too, wanted to forget the loneliness and the questions and the look in the prison guard’s eyes, and fill her world with his warm flesh and eager hands. Afterwards, they lay quietly for a long time, just touching, relearning each others' bodies as if years had passed, instead of merely days.

“I should make us something to eat,” Monica said eventually. She fended off Morse’s efforts to keep her in bed, and was just pulling on her slip when a knock came at the door.

“Don’t get that,” Morse said, looking like he wanted to hide under the covers.

But Monica hurried into her skirt and sweater. “What if it’s someone about your case? Get some clothes on, you.”

It was DS Jakes.

He blushed deep red when she opened the door, a startling effect on so pale a man. “Miss Hicks. I—I’ll come back later—I mean, another time. Erm...” He trailed off.

“Don’t be silly.” Relief and romance had made Monica magnanimous, even giddy. “Come in; I was just going to put together some tea.”

“I don’t want to intrude.”

Monica actually put a hand on his jacket sleeve and pulled. “No, no, he’ll be glad to see you.”

But Morse, now dressed and standing by the bed, looked anything but glad to see DS Jakes. His prison stoniness had returned with a vengeance. His arms were rigid at his sides, and his silence was sharp as a rebuke.

“I only wanted to leave this.” Jakes pulled the whiskey he’d brought out of its carrier bag, and held it out like a guilt offering, not a celebratory gift. Morse made no move to take the bottle. “And to, well, to apologize.”

Monica frowned. She’d assumed, given the level of Jakes’ distress at the hospital, and his determination to see Morse in prison, that the two men were friends of some sort. Clearly, she’d badly misinterpreted things.

“I never meant,” Jakes went on, tripping over his words. “If I’d known—if I’d come with you—maybe he’d never—and you’d never—and I—“

Monica, her hand still on the door handle, couldn’t imagine what would happen next. Would they come to blows—was that the sort of thing such men did? Or would Jakes slink off and Morse never speak of this again?

Instead, the most surprising thing of all happened. Stiffly, as if it were an effort to make his muscles obey his will, Morse reached out and took the bottle. “Shut up," he said thickly. "The things that happen to us when we’re children, we can’t help them. They make us who we are, for better or worse. I shouldn’t have asked you. Once I found out—once I knew everything—I knew I shouldn't have.”

He sounded formal, almost distant, but Monica knew with Morse that was a sign of deep emotion. She had no idea what they were talking about—she probably never would, given how forthcoming Morse was about his job—but she knew he meant what he said.

Jakes seemed to know, as well. He heaved a sigh of relief, and as all the tension left his body, it left the rest of the room as well. “I—I—thanks, mate. I mean—let’s have a drink.”

Morse moved to find glasses, and Monica took the opportunity to dart over to her own flat for provisions. There wasn’t much—she hadn’t been expecting company—but there was enough toast and cheese that they wouldn’t starve, and even a bit of cake.

By the time she got back, everything had changed. Morse and Jakes were sitting shoulder to shoulder on the unmade bed, their backs against the wall, and their feet hanging over the edge, Jakes’ comically so. Their faces were flushed, and they looked like they’d been drinking for hours instead of minutes.

Monica paused in the door, watching them. Jakes seemed to be catching Morse up on what had happened in his absence, recounting some long story in a vein of high sarcasm Monica assumed was his characteristic mode, though she'd never seen it before. Morse ducked his chin and laughed in his soundless way, and that set Jakes off into more expansive gestures and invective. The few words Monica could catch from the doorway made no sense to her at all. But the men were beautiful, in their camaraderie and shy abandon.

Just look at them, child, with their drinking and their secrets, said her mother’s voice inside her head, more regretful than scolding. Can you not find a man who’ll give his whole heart to you? One who’ll give you smiling babies and a nice house—not keep you up at night worrying he’s been shot dead in the streets?

Oh, Ma, thought Monica. There’s so much more to life than that, can’t you see?. And she moved fully into the room, intending to fill their glasses and to find something cheerful to put on the phonograph.