“How d’ya fancy a weekend at the seaside, Sergeant?”
Lewis is sat behind his desk, leaning back in his chair, watching James as he hurries into the office bearing proper coffee from the shop round the corner. The coffee is by way of a thank you to his governor for covering for him while he dashed across town to buy a new set of strings for his beloved guitar. The D string broke last night, and he’s known for a while that the G is on the way out too, but he’s been putting off buying replacements. He doesn’t like the feel of new ones—takes him a long time to adjust. But now he doesn’t have a choice and he’s decided to replace the lot.
He hands Lewis his drink then sits at his desk, switching on the computer as he shrugs off his suit jacket. He takes a swig of coffee.
“Run that by me again, sir? I could have sworn I heard you offer to whisk me away on a romantic weekend break.”
Lewis snorts. “Hate to disappoint you Sergeant, but in my experience there’s nothing romantic about the Police Federation New Initiatives Conference.”
“Really, sir? Never had a conference fling? A Federation flirtation?”
Lewis shoots him a look. “No! I was married, happily married, as you well know. It was always early to bed with a mug of cocoa and a good book for me when I was away at these kind of things.”
James smirks into his coffee. “No romance. Lashings of cocoa. Understood, sir. Can’t wait. So, when do you take me away from all this?” He sweeps his eyes round the grey, functional office.
Lewis shakes his head. “God help me. The conference is this Saturday in Brighton, but it starts early so we’ll go the night before, straight from work. I know it’s short notice—DI Warren and her sergeant were meant to be going, but her oldest was mucking about yesterday and fell off a swing and broke his arm, so she’s not going anywhere for a while.”
“I see. Did it occur to you that I might already have a social extravaganza of a weekend planned, sir?”
Lewis considers him for a long second then shakes his head. “No, Sergeant. Strangely, it didn’t. Should it have?”
James lets out a short, mirthless laugh. “Probably not.”
They don’t have a case on the go so they get away early on Friday, hoping to beat the weekend traffic down to the coast. James carefully places his overnight bag next to Lewis’ in the boot of Lewis’ car and feels a ridiculous twinge of happiness just seeing the two bags next to each other, picturing them shifting about during the drive, brushing against each other. Lewis has taken off his jacket and loosened his tie. He looks relaxed and happy, and James busies himself with sorting out his own jacket to hide the smile that’s tugging at the corners of his mouth. He settles into the passenger seat and stretches out his legs. Lewis grunts softly as he drops into the driver’s seat. It’s a sound that James has heard many times before—a sign that Lewis’ back is complaining about the accumulated strain of the week. James opens his mouth to say something, but can’t come up with anything that doesn’t sound like he monitors Lewis’ every groan and sigh. Instead he slips the compilation CD he worked on last night into the player as they pull out of the station car park.
“Oh, what’s this?”
“Some in-car entertainment sir. Thought conjuring tricks might be difficult to follow while you’re driving.”
“I see. I suppose this is meant to stop me having the two-hour blast of Wagner I’d planned, is it?” Lewis looks stern, but there’s no bite.
“I wouldn’t dream of assuming sir . . . though I might hope . . .”
Lewis chuckles. “Go on then. I’m sure you put many hours thought into exactly how to torture me musically, didn’t you?!”
James shrugs non-committedly as the opening chords of the first song kick in. He’d certainly put the hours in . . . trying to think of tracks that Robbie would enjoy. He knows that his governor is open to trying new things as long as he has a point of reference, as long as there’s some connection to what he already knows and likes. So James has put together a whole CD of great cover versions that Lewis is unlikely to have heard, but of songs that James is convinced Lewis already likes. It was just the kind of musical challenge that James loves, and not only because it’s purpose was to give Lewis pleasure. The task he set himself wasn’t as simple as just coming up with cover versions that Lewis will enjoy. They also have to be songs that work for a car journey. And they can’t be too romantic or personal and therefore inappropriate for a sergeant—this particular sergeant—to be sharing with his inspector. So, amongst other favourites, Hannah Peel’s music-box driven version of Tainted Love is out, though it pained James to exclude it because he thinks Lewis will love it. But it makes James seasick with dread and longing every time he listens to it, so it was never going to see the light of day on this CD.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that Lewis will actually approve of the things James has included—Lewis can be a tough gig—but that’s OK with James—he’s OK with the feeling that he has to work a little. He’s OK with the squeeze of nerves snaking round his gut, so intimately connected with arousal.
The first track is the Show of Hands version of Boys of Summer. James fiddles with his phone while watching Lewis out of the corner of his eye. He sees recognition, then puzzlement, then finally unmistakable pleasure wash over his boss’ face—Lewis is smiling and nodding in time to the music as he noses the car out of the car park and into the Friday afternoon traffic. And then as if that wasn’t sweet enough, he starts rummaging about on the dashboard for his sunglasses and then puts them on. James has no idea if it’s in response to the song, and if it is, whether it’s conscious or not, but it’s perfect. James puts his sunglasses on too, and faces forward, pressing his lips hard together, clamping down on the soppy smile that’s threatening to ambush him.
There are a couple of hold-ups on the M25 but mostly they make good progress. The CD is an unequivocal success. Once or twice Lewis shoots James a quick questioning look as a new song starts—I’m not sure I like the sound of this one, Sergeant—but each time as the tune or the vocals kick in, he nods and smiles and as often as not is unselfconsciously singing along by the end of the first verse. When the Futurehead’s version of Hounds of Love begins with its rough, almost barked a cappella intro, they’re stuck in stationary traffic, and his boss turns and gives James the full-on Lewis what the hell?! grumpy stare. James knows that Lewis is a major Kate Bush fan, so this could go either way. He meets his boss’ gaze and waits. As the lead singer delivers the first line—his boyish, northeastern voice urgent—Lewis’ mouth falls open and his eyes widen in recognition—and then—and then he laughs out loud, utterly delighted. He doesn’t actually say anything to James, but his astonished, admiring smile is everything.
When the CD finally comes to an end, they settle into a comfortable silence. James lets his mind wander to this evening—a shared meal, a couple of drinks. They spend evenings together in Oxford of course, but there’s something about being away together, staying in a hotel in an unfamiliar town, that makes it feel different, more intimate, somehow. He can almost pretend to himself that they both chose this, to be here together alone.
He’s pulled out of his musings by Lewis asking him to switch on the sat nav to guide them through the outskirts of Brighton to their hotel. A quarter of an hour later Lewis is reversing into a space in the hotel car park. They collect their bags and head for reception. There are seagulls wheeling overhead and everything about the quality of the light and the air say that the sea is very close. James can’t remember the last time he saw the sea. Maybe he can tempt Lewis to a stroll along the beach after dinner? Or would that look too romantic, too much? Sometimes he doesn’t trust his judgement about things like this, so he errs on the side of distance and facetiousness—on balance better for Lewis to think he’s a bit aloof, a bit of a smug bastard, than for him to think something else equally true and even less palatable.