“Honestly, Tom. How would you feel if your old DCI just turned up on your doorstep?”
Tom Barnaby looked at his wife tolerantly. “First of all, we are not turning up on his doorstep because we don’t know which doorstep to turn up on. Second, I think you’ll find that I did work with my former DCI. It was an experience filled with personal disappointment, but I didn’t object to seeing him.”
They climbed the steps to the Oxford Constabulary building and walked up to the desk sergeant. “Excuse me, Sergeant, but is DI Ben Jones on duty today,” Tom asked.
A tall blond man in plain clothes said, “He’s working today, but he caught a case in Jericho. Perhaps I can help you?”
“No, thank you,...” Joyce realized she didn’t know how to address him.
“Inspector,” he said.
“I’m Ben’s old guvnor, not that I’d have let him call me that,” Tom added.
“Ah, DCI Barnaby. We’ve heard about you. I thought Oxford had a high murder rate until I heard about Midsomer.”
“No longer a DCI, Inspector, please call me Tom, and this is my wife, Joyce.”
“Mrs. Barnaby,” the Inspector said with a nod at her. “Give me a moment?” He wandered off.
Tom and Joyce looked at each other, and the desk sergeant motioned them to the chairs by the door.
“Thank you, Sergeant,” Tom said.
Within five minutes the plainclothes inspector came back. “Here’s Jones’ card with his work phone on it, and I wrote his personal number on the back -- with his permission.”
“It’s much appreciated, Inspector.”
“Not a problem, sir,” the other man said and, with another nod, added, “Mrs. Barnaby.”
Joyce said, “He seems a bit solemn.”
“As long as he does his job, being solemn shouldn’t matter,” Tom peered at her fondly. “Now let’s call Jones and see if he’s free for dinner.”
The restaurant was very nice as Joyce commented when they were led to their table. They were both somewhat surprised to see that it was a table for four.
“Have you married, Ben?” Joyce asked, her eyes wide at seeing him with a beard.
“No. Or maybe ‘not yet.’ We’re… I’ll introduce you to Kate when she gets here.”
“Of course you will,” Tom said, giving his wife a pointed look. “Joyce was just saying how nice the restaurant was.”
“I let Kate choose. She knows which places are more likely to have a last minute table open. Failing this we would have ended up at The Raj Palace for Indian.”
“Which would have been just fine, Ben,” Joyce said. “But I must say I rather like this.” She picked up the menu.
“How are you liking Oxford? Any problems with the locals, Inspector?” Tom smiled at his former Sergeant and was pleased when he laughed.
“You know, sir,” he began.
“Less of that. You’re promoted and I’m retired. I’m Tom.”
Ben nodded. “I appreciate that, Tom. Well, as I started to say, I thought that I wanted to go back to city living, but I found myself waking up in the night once I got here, with all the city noises. All my years in Midsomer turned me into a country lad.” He glanced up and smiled, standing when his guest reached the table. Tom stood, too, and Ben said, “Tom, Joyce, this is Kate Wilding. She took over as coroner cum forensics lead when Doctor Bullard retired. She’s come to Oxford to cover for Doctor Hobson who’s taking a long vacation.” He seated her as they all greeted each other.
“And will you return to Midsomer when the other coroner comes back?” Joyce asked.
Kate glanced up from her menu and said, “No, I may take another open coroner’s post nearby, but I’m also considering a post-graduate course. We’ll just have to see.” She and Ben caught each other’s eyes and gave a little smile.
“I see,” Joyce said. “Tom, would you like to share the crab salad?”
“I wouldn’t. I think the smoked trout is more my speed. If worse comes to worst, I’m sure we can take our leftovers back for lunch tomorrow.”
Joyce nodded. “He was supposed to lose some weight on our travels, but we ate so much.”
“Vacations should be enjoyed,” Tom said. “Venison for my main course, I think.”
Ben said, “I wouldn’t know much about vacations, s... Tom, but enjoyment would seem to be the point.”
The waiter arrived and they all gave their orders, with Tom and Joyce insisting on buying a bottle of wine for the table.
Kate picked up the conversation when he left. “So, did you enjoy your vacation? Where all did you go?”
“The list of where we didn’t go would probably be shorter,” Tom said with some amusement.
Joyce added, “Now that we’re sure Cully -- that’s our daughter -- is doing well and happy, we thought we could spend as we liked for a little while.”
“And the government are still paying the pensions, I assume,” Ben said.
“They are indeed.” Tom turned to Kate, “Our biggest trip was to the antipodes. I’d always wanted to see Tahiti. Joyce had relatives in Australia. New Zealand was between them. So we took our time and saw a great deal of the South Pacific.”
“Gosh,” Joyce said, “Looking back we took about seven months traveling there.” She turned to Kate and added, “Tom insisted we take a tramp steamer around to some of the less traveled islands in Polynesia. I was a little wary of it, but, in some ways, it turned out to be the best part of the trip.”
“Yes, it’s amazing how soothing it is to watch other people work and know that you don’t have to,” Tom said.
“Wouldn’t know what that’s like, Tom.” Ben chuckled to himself. “I have to say, I’m glad we’re on first name terms. It’s a little confusing that I worked for two DCI Barnabys.”
Kate smiled at him and said, “I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand. And it sounds like you both enjoyed French Polynesia.”
“Yes, well, it wasn’t all tramp steamers, either,” Tom said.
“No, in return for the tramp steamer I got a long weekend at a luxury spa on Bora Bora. We came back through Canada, but we stopped in Singapore and Japan on the way.”
“Long stops?” Kate asked.
Tom shook his head. “Two days in Singapore and, what, a week in Japan?”
“About that,” Joyce said. “I think it worked out to eight days total. Tokyo was overwhelming, but Mount Fuji was lovely.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ben Nevis,” Ben said.
“You’ve been to the Alps, surely,” Kate said.
“No. Take my days off at the beach. There’s nothing to fall off of,” Ben said.
Tom nodded. “A sensible approach.”
Kate rolled her eyes.
Ben and Kate insisted on paying for dinner, much to the Barnaby’s surprise. They paid for the wine and all four of them enjoyed a last cup of coffee before splitting up for the night.
“How long will you two be in town, Tom?”
Tom glanced at Joyce who answered, “We thought we’d explore the region a little. Use Oxford as our base and see Boarstall Tower and some of the manor houses. We’re at a very comfortable bed and breakfast.”
Kate said, “In that case, why don’t you come for dinner on Friday night? Barring call outs, of course. Neither Ben nor I is on call, but…”
“A policeman’s -- or a coroner’s -- life is not always their own,” Tom said. “We’d love to. Why don’t we bring dessert?”
“That would be great,” Ben said. He leaned in and kissed Joyce on the cheek. “I’m so glad you came by today. I would have kicked myself if I found you’d been here and I hadn’t seen you.” He and Tom shook hands and Kate smiled at all of them as Ben handed her into the car.
Tom put his arm around his wife’s waist and said, “The hotel should be over that way,” he pointed toward the center of town.
“I need a walk after that meal. It was delicious, but very filling.”
“Do you think they’re likely to be permanent?”
Joyce looked at him. “I thought policemen were supposed to be able to read people.”
“They seem comfortable enough to be long term, but I thought I’d appeal to your woman’s intuition.”
Tom’s expression was a little devilish and, Joyce thought, all the more endearing for it. “Then, yes, I concur. If their careers can be complementary rather than conflicting, I think they’ve got a jolly good shot. Ben deserves a nice girl.”
“Yes, Doctor Wilding seems like a lovely woman. Now then, what shall we do tomorrow -- Boarstall Tower or Charlecote?”
They walked back to their bed and breakfast discussing the relative merits of each.