James Hathaway has never fooled himself into thinking he's a stupid man. Yes, he's made stupid mistakes - criminally stupid ones - but he is possessed of enough self-awareness to know that he is intelligent.
It's not the Cambridge double-first that makes it obvious. Nor is it the fast track to sergeant, either. No, it's his ability to read people, to understand what makes them tick. And even before he's met the man, Detective Sergeant James Hathaway can read Detective Inspector Robert Lewis like a book.
James has been at Oxford CID long enough to have heard all about the bloody brilliant Detective Chief Inspector Morse (and he might have read some case files, too). Morse had been man of such uncompromising intellectual breadth that he out-classed the most of the dons at Oxford. Someone not to be envied or emulated - at least not with those vast and insatiable appetites. Morse had been an unabashed collector of pornography, an aficionado of art and opera and an inveterate lover of puzzles - the more obscure and complex, the better. He'd also been a man who rarely met a woman he didn't fall in love with.
Morse had also been man who never passed up the chance to belittle his loyal sergeant and treat him as his intellectual, social, and moral inferior.
And for each story he'd heard about Morse, James had heard another about Robbie Lewis. A kind-hearted man with no pretensions. A family man who loved his wife and children above everything. Even-tempered with no serious vices. A man who'd been so thoroughly gutted by the Christmastime hit-and-run that killed his wife than he'd climbed into a bottle and might still be swimming in the brandy fumes if it hadn't been for a timely secondment to the Virgin Islands. But for every personal story - every tidbit of gossip - there's another one about how Robbie Lewis cracked the case, how Robbie Lewis - and not that great bastard of a Chief Detective Inspector - had been the one to put all of the pieces together and tie them up in a bright red bow.
When Innocent asks - and by asks, it's generally understood that the request is an order - James to fetch the Lewis from Heathrow and take him home, James tries not to appear too eager. That wouldn't do at all. He knows that Innocent wants to shuffle Lewis off to some quiet, out of the way training assignment in preparation for a well-earned retirement. She's been doing that with all of Chief Superintendent Strange's leftovers. She's deemed them irredeemable dinosaurs - and truthfully, most of them are - who could never tolerate a woman in charge.
But from everything that Hathaway's heard about Robert Lewis, he doesn't think the man is a dinosaur, or even a lame horse that would be grateful to spend the rest of his days in a pasture instead of heading to the glue factory. No, Hathaway thinks that Lewis is a good copper, one who hides his sharpness under the guise of an affable Everyman.
But meeting Robert Lewis is, at first, something of a let-down. He looks nothing like what James had imagined - not a sharp detective returning triumphant from a foreign assignment. Instead, he's just so ... ordinary, wearing an improbably garish paisley shirt under his suit jacket, pushing a luggage trolley like a tourist, and reclaiming a wrapped parcel of travel-weary orchids from the flight attendant. James does his best not to wince, even when Lewis says "Home, James".
It's hard to reconcile what he learned with what he sees, at least until Lewis asks him to make a detour, until James watches the man clear away encroaching weeds from a gravestone and place the flowers that have traveled a thousands of miles and two long years on that grave. Lewis says nothing, but all the same James can hear hear the longing, the sadness, the grief.
It's carried on the summer breeze, in the stirring of leaves, the soughing of grass.
James feels as if he's invading Lewis' privacy, even at this distance. To cover the sounds, he silently recites prayers for the dead and for the living, seeking the benediction of a God he doesn't quite believe exists anymore.
Réquiem ætérnam dona ei Dómine
et lux perpétua lúceat ei
Requiéscant in pace
Once upon a time, James had been so certain of God, of the holy grace of Jesus, of his calling and his place within the world. He hasn't had the luxury of such conviction for a while, now. It's not that he denies God, he's just not certain that God is not denying him.
He does find certainty in the work, though. In being a copper - a Detective Sergeant - even when he's just a bagman for a barely competent alcoholic whose contempt bites at him like a flies buzzing around a pile of dog shit. Is it luck or fate or the hand of God that puts D.I. Knox in the path of a routine patrol after he's had a few too many? James isn't going to question it, not after spending a bare few minutes with Lewis, watching him work the crime scene.
It's a revelation, really, working with Lewis. It's hard to remember that this is a man who came up the old fashioned way - probably a few years of military service, then a desultory career as a bagman for this copper or that before Morse latched onto him. Lewis is brilliant, in a way that no double-first under singing bells and dreaming spires can ever bestow. It's a brilliance that only life and experience can bestow.
James doesn't feel the least bit diminished by that brilliance. He feels energized by it. Enhanced, even. And for the first time, he doesn't wake up and feel regret for the life he'd needed to leave behind. For the first time, he wants to be right where he is, doing the work as if it's another holy calling. He wants to work with Lewis, who understands what it means to be human. That's something that Hathaway, himself, forgets most of the time.
Perhaps he can learn it from the man himself.
Innocent has offered him a choice, but it's no choice at all. He looks at Lewis from across the street, his lined face set in sadness - for his own loss, for the loss he's just witnessed. This is a man worth following. Worth walking one step behind.
Beneath the exhaustion and grief that smudges him like ash from a coal fire, James can see a man with something more than a copper's sharp intellect. He sees a man of compassion, of grace. A man who would walk through fire for the people he cares about.
And James Hathaway wants to be one of those people.