Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abraham, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.
— Genesis, 16:1-2.
The case begins in the vague hours between midnight and 2 AM. It’s already been cold some time now, and Robbie’s bones are aching when the phone call comes. He’s not been sleeping, words and looks eating what little sense his skull had had left in it – he’s been standing in the kitchen, cold rising through the wool of his socks, waiting for the kettle to boil. The buzz of his phone still startles him, though. The little lit-up screen flashes Hathaway’s face at him knowingly.
“Pregnant girl turned up dead in a B&B, sir. I’ll swing round and pick you up, shall I?”
Robbie runs water over his face, avoids his reflection, leaves Lyn a voicemail saying he probably won’t be calling her at breakfast like planned, but that he trusts she’ll still be emailing him the ultrasound photos, and finds himself some trousers. He needs to do the laundry. He needs another hour’s worth of sleep.
The kettle boils in the kitchen: click, then quiet.
The cold is bitter as they reach the B&B’s front steps. It’s a small building, and quaint; the kind that caters for the class of folks inclined to pay for character over space. There are bare rose bushes in the garden and an empty bird bath, all bleached yellow beneath the steady light of a street lamp. The steps themselves are old, their incline not quite straight, with high sides that channel the air against them. Robbie wonders absently how they pass any kind of accessibility standards.
Hathaway looks like a man who had actually been asleep before the call out, his face chilling pink as he tugs his coat collar higher. Winter normally suits Hathaway, but tonight he’s blowing on his hands as they walk through the front door – an EMT holds it for them, slack expression in his eyes as he hurries out behind them - and into the narrow hall. There’s a phone on the stand, old-fashioned, curly cord tangled into itself, the vase beside it tipped over, red-berried mistletoe scattered on the the floor. People have been trampling over it.
“Mrs. Eileen Brooks is the proprietor,” says a kid with impossibly straight teeth; new to the Force, Robbie wonders, or simply older than he looks. He’s new enough to still sound eager. “I was the first on the scene, he adds, with a gesture that starts out sure and ends up wonky, as though he’s belatedly remembered that someone has died. He founders, points to a half-open door to their left. “She’s in there. I made her tea.”
Robbie gives him a good lad, pats a hand to his shoulder automatically, and heads into the room with as gentle an expression as he can manage. No-one is a suspect yet, even if everyone is; even if he knows nothing at this point, nothing more than that there’s a dead girl upstairs. Robbie would normally go up, as first port of call. Would normally see the crime, the victim, but he finds, tonight, that he needs a moment more. Pregnant girl turned up dead.
Eileen Brooks is by the window, an untouched cup of tea on the desk at her side. It’s a sign in her favour. People tend to forget things in shock. Robbie has seen women, men too, prepare pot after pot of tea and then not drink a single drop of it. Just for something to do, just for the familiarity of it. Mrs. Brooks has a string of cloth and beads half wrapped around her left hand – not a rosary, fat knots, black and green, tassel at the end. Hathaway would know what they were. Mrs. Brooks is stringing them through her fingers, knot by knot, and staring out at the street in a way that makes Robbie think she probably isn’t seeing it.
There are two ribbons of grey through her hair, as though it has aged selectively.
“Mrs. Brooks,” says Hathaway, and introduces them.
She turns, and they can see the bandage on her other arm; lightweight and loose enough to let it breathe.
“Are you hurt?” Robbie asks.
Mrs. Brooks looks confused, then glances down and says, “Oh. Oh, the tea. I – I made tea, for her. She doesn’t sleep, too big with the baby, you know, and I was out late, shopping. The radio said it was going to snow tomorrow and I avoid driving in the snow. She is usually still up late, so I thought to take some up to her. I—”
The straight-toothed copper has followed them into the sitting room. He chooses this moment to step into Robbie’s line of view, and say, “The EMTs were treating her for the burn when I arrived, sir. Said she dropped it in the shock. The cups are on the floor up there.”
Robbie frowns at him. Hathaway says, “Yes, thank you,” and pulls the kind of face that makes the younger man blink and respond, “I’m going to go see if they need anything, then, upstairs, I mean.”
Robbie listens to the officer’s footsteps moving further away. Everyone is already on-scene, so there’s no traffic directly outside, just the distant rumble of Botley Road a few blocks away; those with early starts beginning their daily commute.
“Your prayer rope is beautiful,” Hathaway says softly, taking a step towards the silent woman. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” he says, and Robbie knows from his tone that he’s quoting something old, and doing so in such a way that it will make Mrs. Brooks properly meet his gaze. She does, at first with uncertainty, as though not sure whether she is being mocked, then with quiet relief.
“Most people think it is a ‘strange rosary’,” she says. She doesn’t have a discernible accent, but there’s something to the way she talks that makes Robbie think English was not her first language. Or maybe it’s the rest of her, the way she holds her body before them, against them. Her grasp tightens on the – what had Hathaway called it? The prayer rope? – as she winds it up closer to her wrist and palm. “But if you know the Jesus Prayer, I am not surprised you also know the difference.”
“It’s a very long time since I’ve seen a layperson use one,” Hathaway says, and he’s smiling a little. Robbie feels the well of strange push over him, like he always does when Hathaway references religion. Robbie has never had a problem with peoples’ faiths before, doesn’t have one now, actually, but something about it bothers him, when it comes to Hathaway. Bothers him because of what it’s done to Hathaway in the past. Bothers him because of what it could do to Hathaway in the future.
“Mrs. Brooks,” says Robbie. “I’m afraid I have to ask you a few questions. Can you tell us what happened?” He really would see the body first, usually. He doesn’t like the way the world baby is circling his temples, doesn’t like the way he already knows that the child is as dead as its mother – the ambulance still sits outside, and nobody has called social services.
Hathaway takes away Mrs. Brook’s cup of cold tea and pours her a fresh one, and she tells them about the girl who’d rung for a room a two months ago, name Isobel Harding, driver’s licence given as ID. She talks about how she usually only has guests stay two weeks at most but that this girl had been different, had been too gentle to send to some faceless hotel where nobody would pay her any kind of personal heed. Robbie can hear what she’s saying, can hear the loneliness between her words. He sees the ring on her finger, worn and sharp with age, sees the photographs on the bookshelf, carefully dusted, beside what he thinks is a Bible, though the faded gold on the spine isn’t in a language he can read.
“I have three rooms,” she says, “so it is not as though other guests could not come. And Isobel pays in advance, her money is good.”
Present tense: the death is not real to her.
Did Isobel have visitors?
Mrs. Brooks frowns, and she wrinkles her face disapprovingly at the cup of tea Hathaway had placed in her right hand. “Two. Never together. A man – older than him, younger than yourself,” her face nods first in the direction of Hathaway, then of Robbie, “and a woman, maybe thirty, thirty-two, with a pram. They came a few times. There would be talking, sometimes raised voices.”
“Do you know the name of Isobel’s visitors?”
Mrs. Brooks shakes her head.
Upstairs, Laura is waiting for them. She’s kneeling on the floor, but stands when they enter the room, dressed in their blues. She brushes her hands against the rustling material of her own SOCO clothes. Robbie’s stomach twists as he sees the body on the floor at her feet. It isn’t the violent, sick lurch of when he’d first been on the job, of when he’d been young and green, but it’s a no less unsettling motion, even with all his experience.
Pregnant, his mind protests. The dead woman looks nothing like Lyn, but she’s as young as Lyn, and her belly curves high beneath a blood-soaked shock blanket that someone has placed across it. Her jeans are skinny, and she is wearing one fluffy skipper; the other barely visible beneath the bed. She is pregnant, so pregnant, about eight months, Robbie hazards a guess, though having two children of his own an expert does not make.
“The kiddie—” he starts.
Laura shakes her head. Looks down at the blanket. The blanket does not fit with the room, and Robbie recognises it as belonging to the paramedics; Laura would not have put it there, would not have covered a body, however unpleasant. “They tried an emergency C-section,” Laura says, “but it was too late. They’ll be lucky if they don’t lose their jobs over it.”
Robbie lets that slide. Confirms, “It was the paramedics, then?”
Robbie has seen some god-awful things done to pregnant women.
He wants to phone Lyn. Wants to check that she’s okay.
Laura confirms it, and Hathaway sends an officer to take the statement of the EMT they’d passed coming up the stairs. Now Robbie can place the look of blank-eyed grief he’d worn.
“Cause of death?”
“Not suicide, if I had to guess,” Laura says, wry tone of voice, and leans down again to lift the shock blanket back. “She’s been strangled.”
The bruises are raw and ugly, crooked, purple at her neck, her jaw, on the side of her head. There is nothing neat about it, nothing that suggest it would have been quick and over. Robbie has been around enough crime scenes, knows enough about forensics, to know that she could only bruise that darkly while her blood was still pumping. This was a slow and ugly process.
“Not a professional job, then.”
Laura shakes her head. “I wouldn’t imagine so. And, before you ask, since I know you’re going to, she’s only been dead about two hours, tops. She was still warm when the paramedics arrived on scene, and algor mortis confirms it.” She heads to the door. Says, “I’ll let you know more when I do.”
“We’re going to need firm evidence that it was the paramedic who cut her open,” he reminds her.
He gives her ascrap of a smile; says he’ll talk to her later, and listens to her footsteps as she heads down the stairs.
Robbie can feel Hathaway’s gaze upon him. Robbie might not be able to read those eyes half of the time, but he can always tell when they’re looking at him. Just now, they’ve been looking at Laura, then looking at Robbie, turn and turn about. Robbie knows that if he puts his full attention on Hathaway, Hathaway will glance away as though he’s nothing but mildly curious.
Maybe it would be simpler, if Robbie actually believed that.
Robbie looks at the face of the girl on the floor – the mother on the floor, Isobel Harding – and lets her face sear into his brain. Plain brown hair, eyes dilated enough that he can’t see their original colouring; blank, and giving the impression of shock, of disbelief. Had she known her killer? Statistics would suggest so. Here she is, in her room, and the front door had allegedly been locked, when her landlady had come home from her shopping. Robbie makes a mental note to check that, to send someone down to the place where Mrs. Brooks had been shopping, to show her picture around and check the CCTV.
There are defensive wounds on Isobel’s hands, small and raw. Possibly her nails have been broken, or maybe she’s simply never cared much for them.
“Somebody must have heard,” Hathaway says.
Robbie glances at him. Sees a subtler mirroring of the disgust that he knows is on his own face.
Hathaway turns away. He walks to the other end of the room and begins a survey of a mess of papers spread across a desk beneath a window. It’s a pleasant room, not cheap, Robbie would imagine, though he’ll have to check that with Mrs. Brooks. There is a view across the pale-lit street. As for the desk, it was the first thing he’d noticed, aside from the dead girl – the room is very tidy, it needs to be understood, and the desk, by contrast, is covered in papers. There’s a flurry of them, all lined with, Robbie can see as he moves closer, economical black-inked handwriting. Years ago, Robbie would have presumed it were the handwriting of a much younger person but, nowadays, it could just as easily belong to a greying don: the cursive is increasingly out of style, even in Oxford.
Robbie thinks of the love letters Val had written him, a lifetime ago; thinks of the swoons and curls of her affections.
“Interesting, isn’t it, sir?” Hathaway is saying.
“Hmm? Oh, yes.”
Hathaway’s fingers are long and blue in his gloves, drawing Robbie’s attention as he selects a piece of paper. Hathaway reads from it,
“Love set you going like a fat watch,
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place amongst the elements.
“Sylvia Plath,” he adds, and shifts the sheet in his fingers so that he can pick up a second.
“Plath?” says Robbie. “I’d have expected something more miserable. Wasn’t she the one what—?”
“Head in the oven, yes, sir. But even the most maudlin of us are allowed to be happy sometimes, wouldn’t you think?”
Robbie gives him a look. He wishes, sometimes, that he could work out with greater certainty where it is that Hathaway’s self-mockery ends, and his blunt honesty begins.
“There might be something of a theme here, sir.” Hathaway flicks back to the first sheet and says, “Look at this, this part has been emphasised. Underlined. She’s just about gone through the paper with the pressure of it.”
“Presuming it was Isobel that did it.”
Hathaway almost smiles. “Presuming that, yes.” He tilts his head at the paper, as though asking for permission to read further.
Robbie shrugs, impatient.
“I am no more your mother
Than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.
“The title here is Mourning Song,” Hathaway continues, “but I’m not sure…”
Robbie is familiar with the face he has on; knows full well how Hathaway doesn’t like to be uncertain. He watches as Hathaway scans the few books in the room – they sit like soldiers on the otherwise empty shelving.
Face lighting up, Hathaway seizes on one of the books and flips through the pages; runs his finger down an index page. “See, here, sir, it’s the morning song, as in, morning like the start of the day. Not the mourning with a u. That’s been added in.”
Robbie nods. “So she wasn’t happy. Or she couldn’t copy properly. And now she’s dead. Such a bloody waste.”
His thoughts are disturbed by the team with a stretcher coming in to take Isobel’s body away. Robbie watches as they lift her on, then raise it up again bit by bit. The mechanics of it need of an oil. After a moment, they leave, taking her with them.
Robbie looks around the room, and sighs a little. “I’d be unhappy too, that pregnant and stuck here on my lonesome.”
Hathaway almost smirks. “Can’t really imagine you pregnant, sir,” and then they can actually work.
Isobel Harding did not own a mobile – or, at least, there’s no sign that she had, certainly none in her room, nor record of a number with her landlady – so Hathaway takes himself to a computer to see what there is to see, while Robbie sits with the young woman’s papers spread across his own desk. Hathaway was right, to say that there was a theme to most of it. Almost all of it is handwritten, quotes and excerpts and bits and bobs, and the majority of it about babies. Or, about motherhood, more specifically. If the girl weren’t so obviously pregnant herself, Robbie would have presumed she were researching a paper on the subject.
“Not a student, was she?” he asks.
Mrs. Brooks, of the B&B, whose alibi had already checked out, had said that the girl had paid in cash. There had never been mention of a job of any kind. The presumption, it seemed, was that she came from money. That she kept to herself didn’t mean she couldn’t technically be a student, however. A graduate, perhaps. They can study online these days, after all. At a library, perhaps, seeing as there is no evidence that Isobel had owned a computer, either.
“There’s nothing coming up in student records, or student loans, sir. Fraud have already messaged me back about her licence, and it’s legitimate, so there’s no real reason to presume that fake names are involved. By the way, though, her residential address hasn’t been updated in over a year – she’s down as living in London.”
Hathaway’s doing something distracting to the inside of his lip, gnawing a little as he concentrates. Robbie can see him clicking from one database to the next. Then, a shake of the head. “No, nothing,” Hathaway says. “There is a Mary Harding, however, listed at the same London address. Minor things. Shoplifting, mostly. A few housecalls for domestic violence, that sort of thing. The notes say that social services became involved.”
“Mother, from the age, but I’ll have to run it to be certain. She could be an aunt.”
Robbie picks up a pencil. Twiddles it around. Puts it down again, annoyed at himself. “And the domestic violence?” he asks, “By her, or done to her?”
Hathaway shakes his head. “These records are pretty vague, sir. By her, I think. I’ll have to contact the officer who actually wrote the notes. We’re talking eight, nine years ago, now.”
“Not everyone can be as good at their paperwork as you, I suppose,” Robbie says vaguely. He’s been leafing his way through the sheets of paper. Now he stops, attention caught by a piece of A4 that has been typed, rather than handwritten. There have been a few other typed sheets: a generic letter from the RSPCA, thanking Isobel for a fifteen pound donation, and a some brief lines reminding her of an Ob/Gyn appointment for the coming Thursday. Robbie will let Hathaway follow up both those. This sheet, however, has all the markings of business letter. Samson Terry Intended Parents Support & Assistance, declares the ostentatious gold lettering at the top, and it has the date of an appointment eleven months earlier on it, beneath the main body of text.
Robbie reads the entire thing once, then a second time, before saying, “Jim. Our Isobel may have been a surrogate mother.”
He can hear Hathaway’s chair being rolled backwards, can hear Hathaway’s familiar footfalls cross the room. Hathaway leans in against Robbie, leans down and puts a hand against the letter as though that will better help him read the words upon it. “Intended parents,” Hathaway reads. “If she were a surrogate, sir, we’re going to need to find the father … mother, even.”
Robbie sighs. “We were going to need to find the father, regardless. That much is given. But it’s a place to start.” He shrugs, and then his stomach rumbles.
Hathaway’s amused huff brushes against the side of Robbie’s face, and Hathaway’s hand reaches over to turn Robbie’s wrist to be able to read the face of Robbie’s watch. The hand is just ticking past 6 AM.
“Life of a copper,” says Robbie, “glamorous business.”
Hathaway snorts. “Fancy some breakfast, sir? I need a smoke anyways, if you’d like me to grab something while I’m out. We’d be best to wait a while before we start the ring-around, however you look at it.”
Hathaway moves back, away from Robbie’s desk. Robbie feels the absence of his body warmth.
Hathaway takes his coat down from its hook, and fishes in the pocket to check his cigarettes are present and accounted for.
“Something warm’d be nice, I’m not fussy,” Robbie agrees. “Just don’t you go freezing your backside off any more than you need to.”
“All for the sake of the nicotine god, sir,” Hathaway says, with a smile. He does pull a bright red scarf from his desk, though. He wraps it high around his neck before he heads out, and down the hall.
It is a glamorous life indeed. The morning is spent making phone calls, waiting on phone calls, and listening to sharply voiced pre-records telling them that This number has been disconnected.
Mary Harding has vanished off the face of the planet – the London Met say that her street has been bought up by a corporation intent on gifting London with a few more high-rise estates, while Social Services say that she’s missed her two last appointments. On the bright side, Social Services can also reassure them that Mary is, indeed, Isobel’s mother, saving Hathaway the BDM search.
Isobel’s Oxford doctor, an Anita Gupta, of the letter appointment, is willing enough to talk, once she knows the circumstances. She can confirm that the girl was, indeed, a surrogate, but that Doctor Gupta herself hadn’t known anything about the parents involved. This was unusual, she admits, because people who want a surrogate traditionally like to attend appointments, particularly when there’s a chance of seeing the baby via ultrasound; but then, the girl had apparently mentioned something about her regular doctor having been in London, though Gupta had been forwarded records.
“Are surrogacies so common?” Robbie had asked, and the doctor had said, “No, but not as infrequent as you might imagine. Just like IVF and AI are on the rise, Inspector. We’re living in times where people can and will do whatever they can in the face of impediments to their own fertility.”
Robbie listens as Hathaway phones the number on the Samson Terry Intended Parents Support & Assistance letter. He rubs at his temples as Hathaway leaves a generic message on an answering machine.
10 AM and Innocent drops in to be briefed.
“How much contact have you had with Samson Terry?” is the first thing she says, when Hathaway finishes catching her up on the case.
He can honestly feel Hathaway’s willpower stopping him blinking, Robbie is convinced of it.
“Not much, ma’m,” Robbie says. “Just a message on a machine.”
Innocent looks relieved. “Samson Terry is under investigation by Immigration.”
A case, Robbie knows, is never so complicated as when it crosses into another department’s territory. He supposes he ought to be relieved that Innocent has been able to warn them this early on – there had been no alerts in Hathaway’s research – because otherwise they could have cocked it all up, but, well, it never sits entirely rightly with him, not right at all, to be told that he can’t follow his own investigations wherever they take him. For whatever reason. And that, experience says, is what tends to happen.
“I know it’s not for me to decide,” he says preemptively, “but questionable surrogacy or – what, immigration? – is surely not as pressing as a dead lass. A dead young mum and her unborn child, ma’m.”
He can tell that Innocent is expecting his response. It’s written all over her face. Robbie is glad that she seems fond of them, for some mysterious reason. “Yes,” she says, predictably enough, “I rather thought you might say that, but it’s bigger than you’d think. People do get hurt, Robbie. And the politics... you can imagine, I’m sure. Give me half an hour to make some calls of my own – I know the fellow running this one, and he was just saying the other day that he needs—”
“What, over canapés?” Robbie can’t help himself, and see, this is why it’s a miracle with Innocent, honestly. He really doesn’t know why Hathaway hasn’t taken up kicking him under the table except that, when he glances sideways, there is a look of faint amusement on his sergeant’s face.
“Wine and cheese, if you must know,” Innocent says, long-suffering. “Just don’t do anything, alright? Let me make some calls.”
Innocent is barely out of the room before Hathaway has Robbie’s computer on and is looking up the Samson Terry case. He’d been standing behind Robbie while Innocent had been talking; now he perches on the edge of Robbie’s desk, like he belongs there, thigh resting against Robbie’s empty coffee mug. Robbie should tell him to piss off back to his own desk, but he doesn’t. He watches Hathaway type, watches the sway of his floral tie as he does so, then turns his attention back to the screen as Hathaway points at it.
“Samson Terry. Runs this surrogacy charity and support group, all of which would be perfectly legal, if only it weren’t for the suspicion that he helps girls into the UK for their services, illegally. And then organises business between people who want a surrogate and people who are happy to be a surrogate, which is furthermore illegal. Catering to Britain’s desperate body-clock watchers.”
Hathaway scrolls down the screen.
Robbie reads it. “Mostly infertile couples… a few who don’t want to lose their figures,” (Robbie can’t help but snort in disapproval at that), “and your usual suspects of the homosexual elite.”
“Usual suspects?” Hathaway repeats.
His face is obliquely disapproving, and Robbie has put his foot in it. Again. Sometimes he loathes the entire topic. Robbie can’t even tell if he’s even cross, or just pushing Robbie’s buttons.
“It’s nothing to do with me,” Robbie retorts. “I’m just saying that – and, anyway, I’d have thought you’d be against it. Surrogacy. Don’t your lot frown at it? Catholics, I mean?”
Hathaway pulls a face, and doesn’t even deign that with an answer. Instead, he turns back to the report on the screen.
According to the work done, Samson Terry has been under surveillance for a while, but he’s canny.
“I suppose they’re being cautious because of the clientele involved,” Hathaway suggests. “Some of these names, you wouldn’t want to go making false accusations.”
There’s a knock on the open door, and Innocent comes in again. “I hope you remember that, James,” she says, walking to Robbie’s desk and turning the screen so that she can see it too. “I know at least two of those couples,” she continues, conversationally. She makes a motion towards a photograph of two handsome men, arms entwined, smiling winningly at the photographer. “And those two, they’ve spoken publicly against paid surrogacy, when the tabloids asked them about their daughter.” She’s making a point, and Robbie waits for her to explain what it is. “This is the one where you put on the kid gloves, the both of you,” she says, “and make as though you’re doing nothing but walking on egg shells.”
It takes Robbie a second to catch up. He blames the cold, because it is cold, even in here, in his office, with Innocent watching him critically, and Hathaway’s warm body far too close to be appropriate.
“We’re getting the go-ahead with the Isobel Harding case, then, ma’m?”
Innocent shakes her head. “No. You’re getting the go-ahead to join the Samson Terry case.”
“Ma’m?” Hathaway sounds as perplexed as Robbie feels.
“The pair of you,” she says, and sounds far too satisfied for it in any way to bode well, “are going to decide that a baby would be an excellent addition to your otherwise idyllic marriage.”
Robbie’s mouse blinks red as Hathaway’s thigh jerks against it, startled.
“Ma’m?” Hathaway says again.
“You’re going undercover, gentlemen. I’ll have the full notes with you in an hour, and there’s a handler coming in from London. Do try to be convincing.” She moves to leave, then pauses, at the door, and actually grins, not a jot of professionalism left on her face as she adds. “I’m sure it oughtn’t to be too much of a struggle.”
It takes everything Robbie has, not to look sideways to see Hathaway’s reaction.
Hathaway is tapping the flats of his fingers against the steering wheel, and glaring at the rainbleared lights as though that will make them change all the faster from red to green. It’s his car, so he’s driving – he’d been the one to pick Robbie up in the wee hours of the morning, after all – but his mood is making Robbie a jittery passenger. They’ve been silent since leaving the station, only exchanging enough words to settle on Chinese for dinner and, now, heading back to Robbie’s place with the car smelling of fried rice and silent tension, Robbie feels for all the world like a husband who’s just been put in the proverbial doghouse. It annoys him, and it’s been a long day, and he’s been thwarted in his case, and that’s probably why he doesn’t keep his mouth shut, instead of saying,“In all honesty, I would’ve thought you’d be alright with it. All things considered.”
The lights choose that moment to go green. Hathaway lurches the car forwards, even as he echoes, “All things considered, sir? Are we talking about my sexuality here, your newly formed presumptions about my views on surrogacy, or the fact that we’re supposed to be married? Sir.” He tacks on he latter like a kind of mean afterthought.
“I swear I’ve never met anyone who could put so many meanings into that title,” Robbie says, and it’s an apology, more than anything else. He knows it was a doltish thing to say, and he doesn’t deal well with the terse lines on Hathaway’s forehead; doesn’t deal well with the way that Hathaway is glaring out at the road before them. He’s grateful, then, to see some of the tension slip from Hathaway’s arms. Gratified, as always, to be reassured that their partnership can survive his idiocy.
The streets are wet. People huddle in bus stops, pretty young things with nowhere near enough clothing on to be anything but freezing in this weather. Smoke blurs blue beneath street lamps and fog, and Robbie sighs. “Look. I’m not sure I’m any more comfortable than you are, but if it will get me closer to finding a killer.”
“The killer of a young, pregnant girl,” Hathaway observes, and glances at Robbie, some of the lines smoothing from his forehead. “Is this at least partly about your daughter?” There is still reproach in Hathaway’s voice, but Robbie senses it is for a different reason, now.
“I suppose you could say that,” he admits. “Don’t think I’d ever be less disgusted, but it… yes.”
“Have you rung her yet?”
They’ve reached Robbie’s place. Hathaway pulls up, and looks out at the rain, clearly calculating how best to get from here to Robbie’s front door.
“Later,” says Robbie. “She’s on night shift tonight, anyway.” He gets out his front door keys, even as Hathaway pulls the plastic bag of take-away into his arms.
They make a run for it.
Hathaway’s face is flushed and wet, when Robbie locks the door behind them. There is water clinging to his lashes, and Robbie has to clear his throat; has to say, “Clean towels under the bathroom sink.” Hathaway’s coat is heavy with water and it’s stupid, stupid how soaked they are, after such a short dash.
Robbie heads into his bedroom. He pulls on dry clothes, and finds a jumper that ought to fit his sergeant; throws it at him, when they meet in the hall again. Hathaway’s face is pink beneath the towel he’s attacking his hair with. Robbie busies himself with the take-away, spreading the cartons on a newspaper on the coffee table. He fails to not-study the lines of Hathaway’s stomach, as Hathaway puts his wet coat and shirt on a kitchen stool, then pulls Robbie’s jumper over his head. The jumper does fit him, actually manages to look big on him, compared to the usual tight of Hathaway’s clothing. Robbie says as much, as they sit on the sofa, Hathaway at his side as always, television on in the background as an excuse not to talk.
Hathaway cranks up the volume when they get to the news item about Isobel Harding. It’s a standard news bite, a quick snap of words saying almost nothing, and Robbie notes that neither he nor Hathaway are to be seen in the brief video footage. “Police are continuing their investigation into the alleged murder. Any members of the community with knowledge about the deceased’s partner or family would be greatly appreciated,” says a fresh-faced woman, probably in her mid-thirties, and the by-line beneath her talking head says D.I. Llewellyn.
“Do you think that they’re trying to be subtle?” Hathaway asks. “Implying that we believe Isobel had a husband or a boyfriend?”
Robbie supposes that’s exactly what they’re doing, but the words husband or boyfriend take him straight back to the tension in the car. He chews thoughtfully on a mouthful of dumpling, then asks, “So, are we going to talk about it? Or just ignore the elephant in the room?”
“The elephant in the room? Really?” Hathaway echoes, like it’s a phrase worth taking note of. Finally, he says, “What is there to talk about, sir? We’ve been given a job, and we’re good at what we do, so we’re going to do it. You said it yourself, this is the quickest route to being able to give Isobel Harding the attention she deserves, what with the current lay of the land.”
Robbie could push. He could, he knows he could – he picks up another dumpling. He wants to know why Hathaway had seemed fine with it, in the office; why he’d had his ever-professional poker face on, when they were talking to their handler, when they were reviewing the case, when they were spending hours learning the cover story that had appeared so rapidly that Robbie could only presume Innocent’s contract had been chewing at the bit for some chumps to cast in his starring roles... why that had been the case, but then, in the car, when it was only the two of them: strain.
A politician tells lies on the telly, newscaster smiling like she doesn’t know it. Hathaway’s side is warm against him because this is what they do, this is what they do, isn’t it? Robbie sitting in the middle of the damn sofa like he’s never thought of making more room, Hathaway slotting in beside him like it’s never occurred to him to ask for it.
Robbie rubs his hand against his face.“Better to be undercover with you, Jim, than anyone else. Wouldn’t be comfortable with anyone else.”
The sofa shifts beneath Hathaway’s moving weight, and there’s a mouth against Robbie’s jaw, Hathaway’s lips warm and his breath scented with their meal. The kiss lingers, Hathaway’s fingers brushing Robbie’s knee. Hathaway’s eyes are clear when he pulls back, and Robbie looks at him, just looks at him.
“Figured it was better you pull that expression, rather than in London, sir. Won’t molest you any further,” is all Hathaway says, and settles back against his side of the sofa; settles back and reaches for the remote, switches channel to a man arguing about folk versus pop.
“Right,” says Robbie. “Right.” He doesn’t touch his cheek, doesn’t brush his fingertips against his knees, and doesn’t hear a word said on the telly, neither.
‘Jim and Robert Wishart’ email Samson Terry Intended Parents Support & Assistance two weeks in, and three days later have a letter back, addressed to their flat in London – which is still a flurry of boxes, though they’re already on talking terms with one of their neighbours, even if they haven’t unpacked all the crockery that some bright spark thought would be necessary for their cover story of moving in. The letter invites them to a face-to-face meeting at a time convenient to them, please ring this number to set up a date.
James – Jim – is the one who rings. He uses a new phone voice, one Robbie hasn’t heard before; he manages to sound more even polished than he usually does.
Robbie digs around in a box marked KITCHEN while he listens. He finds a tea-towel, and hangs it from a handle near the oven. He fills the kettle from the hot water tap, switches it on then, after having waited a moment to check it isn’t disrupting Hathaway, tugs a jar of coffee from the Tesco’s bag on the counter.
“Yes,” Hathaway is saying, “yes, that would be absolutely marvellous. We’re very eager to get moving with this, but I suppose people are always saying that to you.” He laughs a little, and nods at whatever is being said at the other end of the line.
He’s wearing plain rimmed glasses, contacts away while they’re undercover, and worn jeans. The button down shirt is clearly some kind of compromise between his usual working clothes and his usual casual clothes; it’s a pale purplish colour, like a bruise, like watered-down plum juice. His feet are bare against the tiled floor, and Robbie wonders that they aren’t too cold.
“All set?” Robbie says, when Hathaway hangs up.
“We have an appointment tomorrow.” Hathaway shifts his shoulders crookedly, and joins Robbie at the counter. “Would you like me to make dinner?” he asks, and starts selecting groceries from the bags.
Robbie accepts and gets out of the way, only angling back in to make the coffee. Hathaway gets out bread and butters it; puts it in the oven, dried pasta already swelling in a saucepan of quickly bubbling water.
“It’s not much,” Hathaway says, but the garlic on the bread is enough to have left bronze smudges on his fingertips, and the pesto smells as green as it looks, and Robbie bites down all the teasing, all the inappropriate comments that lurch to mind, because this might not be much in Hathaway’s book, but it’s the best Robbie’s eaten in weeks. “Want to go over it again?” Hathaway continues, breaking off a piece of bread and popping it into his mouth. The butter is rich. It makes the wedding ring on his finger gleam. Hathaway seems to have settled something inside of himself, Robbie thinks, because he’s got on that expression of blandfaced beguilement, the one that Robbie has no idea how you can even feel, let alone express.
“It’s just,” Hathaway is saying, “tomorrow is going to be a big day, and we don’t want to go in half—”
“If you say ‘half-cocked’, I’ll have to seriously reconsider my declaration that I’d only do this with you, so help me,” Robbie complains.
Hathaway gifts him with a grin.
Robbie sleeps on his side of the bed, carefully, carefully, and not all that well, to be honest.
The secretary, a middle-aged woman with her hair in one of those buns that probably takes hours to make artfully messy, shows them in with a smile. The office is simple, plain; again, the kind of understated that takes a considerable quantity of money to pull off. The timber, Robbie knows with a scratch of his nail, really is timber.
Robbie lets Hathaway do the talking, because Hathaway is wonderful with his poker face, but when the man behind the desk – not Samson Terry himself, but a younger brother, Patrick – asks how long they’ve been together, Robbie chooses that moment to take Hathaway’s hand and say, “Not married all that long, it’s true, but together, what, coming on six years now, isn’t it, love?”
It doesn’t feel like the lie it’s supposed to be, and Robbie hopes that that impossibly translates into affection, rather than supreme awkwardness.
Hathaway squeezes his fingers gently, and smiles that smile that Robbie knows gets him whatever he wants, at least in most circumstances.
Patrick Terry smiles back, a shade of almost wistfulness in his tolerance, and settles against his chair more comfortably. “It can be a long waiting period,” he explains, “but we do the best we can, and sometimes it’s possible to move things along with a little bit of... charm.” He goes on to explain the process, Hathaway humming in agreement as Patrick covers exactly what their handler had already briefed them on: the general system of legal surrogacy, from declaring their need, to waiting for someone suitable to approach the organisation and offer her time and services. It is perfectly above board.
It’s Robbie, then, who says, “Is there no way at all to...” he waves his free hand meaningfully. “...speed it up? I’m sure you’re sick of hearing this from everyone, probably, but I’m not getting any younger.”
Patrick is crossing his legs, when Hathaway adds, softly, “We have the money, Mr. Terry. We just want a child.”
Robbie buys it. Robbie buys the emotion in Hathaway’s voice, and he knows it’s all made up.
Patrick Terry’s expression softens. He looks thoughtful for a moment, before opening his top drawer, and taking out a business card. “You understand,” he says, “that nothing in this process is guaranteed. There can be complications. Pregnancies that don’t go to term...”
He’s turning the card between his finger and thumb.
Robbie hears his words and feels a sympathetic pang. Val had miscarried once. They’d been so young, it had been so early on, they’d not even been trying, really, but it had been a blow nonetheless. He cannot imagine what it must be like, to be already so separate from the act of bearing your own child, from even creating it, only to lose it like that.
Robbie lets these feelings show upon his face, though he normally wouldn’t.
Patrick smiles, but his eyes have an answering sadness in them. Robbie wonders who it was that the man had lost – just the one baby, or more.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Patrick says, putting the business card on the table, and sliding it towards them. “Which of you will be the donor? There are tests we advise you to take.”
There had been no question that they would be married. Their handler had had the prerequisite paperwork drawn up before she’d even met them, just the signatures lacking – most surrogates, the detective had explained, preferred to know that the parents, of the child they would be carrying, were committed to that level. Now Robbie rubs his thumb against the underside of the wedding ring. Not his ring to Val, no, and it had been Hathaway who had put the envelope on Robbie’s desk, said simply that that wouldn’t be right, and here are two that Evidence won’t miss.
“Jim,” says Robbie, and glances at the man who Patrick Terry believes is his husband. “I was married in the past, I’ve had my turn.”
“Of course, of course,” says Patrick, and he looks at Hathaway a little longer, before nodding. “If you could fill in the forms at the front desk, Angela will see that you’re given all the information you’ll need.”
Six in the morning, and it has begun to snow. Robbie has been awake for an hour – he sleeps nothing but poorly, rigid on his side of the bed, and conscious, so bloody conscious, of James, on the other side. He’s sitting, shoulders hunched over a laptop, when he hears the snow begin to fuff against the window. Perhaps Hathaway is sleeping as shallowly as Robbie had, because Robbie looks up at the snow, then over at the motion of Hathaway rising onto one elbow. The snow hushes against the window panes. The bedsheets rustle; the blankets, and the fine quilt that Robbie knows full well was brought by Hathaway from his own place, rather than by the handlers (when Robbie had pulled it from its box it had smelt of Hathaway, just a little, just enough, just a touch of smoke and his sergeant). Now it all shushes together, as James reaches out to find his glasses on the bedside table.
Robbie can’t be held accountable for the warmth that fills him at the sight of the man; specs a bit askew and his hair all up in angles, t-shirt crumpled. It’s one of Hathaway’s own, the t-shirt, Robbie knows, because he’s seen him in it before. He is beautiful, Robbie thinks. Robbie knows. Robbie acknowledges. Beautiful, here, in the soft light and the gentle tick of the heating. Always, yes, but here.
“Hey,” Robbie says, and earns a smile for his efforts. “Sorry, did I wake you?”
Hathaway rubs at the red marks the bed sheets have left against the pale of his arms. “Having trouble sleeping,” he says, voice dusky with waking.
It’s six am, and it’s snowing, and Robbie wonders whether Hathaway’s problem with this, with this cover story, had been that it takes so very little effort. No effort at all, actually, to play house. To spend the days together, to come home, to go out for a drink, or to stay in, to watch the news and – and it’s so familiar, so much of the same old same old that it makes Robbie’s heart wobble.
“Yeah,” Robbie says. “Me too.”
Hathaway’s cheeks are pink from being crushed against the pillow. Robbie has to look away.
“It’s this Isobel Harding case,” Robbie says, which is not the whole truth, but certainly some of the truth. It’s her case that he has up on Hathaway’s laptop, her case that he’s been staring at, as though it’s going to miraculously solve itself in thanks for his attention. “I just can’t get it out of my head that there’s something more we could be doing, instead of poncing around here.”
Hathaway stretches. His belly is pale, fine strip of blond hair trailing down to the elastic of his trackpants. “There’s the support group, tomorrow. Maybe she was a member. You can charm people, and I’ll see if I can get onto a computer, what do you say?”
Robbie sighs. “Just let’s neither of us stuff it up, I guess. And, me? Doing the charming?”
Lyn would look at him knowingly, Robbie knows it; she would raise her eyebrow and tease that he’s fishing for compliments. Maybe he is. He’d like to think he just genuinely finds it baffling. Oh, he knows he’s good with people, with most people, but charm, really?
Hathaway is smiling warmly. “A charm invests a face, sir,” Hathaway says. Robbie knows he’s quoting something or other, so he huffs as is expected.
He can hear the blankets shifting again, then Hathaway says, “It’s cold, and staring at those documents isn’t going to help. Come back to bed, sir.”
Robbie feels sick, except it isn’t sickness, not sick at all, but – he shuts the laptop down and walks to the bed. He climbs beneath the sheets and wants to turn his face to the wall but looks at Hathaway instead. His body, inside, is twitching. The snow pats against the window, the bottom half of the panes already snow-coated. The glass is foggy on the inside. The heater pings.
Hathaway nods, as though all is well with the world, sleepy but serious, and takes his glasses back off. He places them back on the beside table; rolls closer, into Robbie’s orbit, and mumbles, “I know I promised not to molest you, but you let a lot of cold in, you know.”
Robbie laughs, can’t help but laugh. Laughs and does not think, does not allow himself to think, just prods at Hathaway’s shoulder until the man rolls onto his side so Robbie can put his arm around him.
“Sir,” says Hathaway, and here’s another tone, here’s another nuance, but hasn’t Robbie heard it before, hasn’t Robbie known it already – this voice, like Hathaway is trying to get him into bed. Only now, only here, well, Robbie already is in bed, and he can imagine the small, amused smile that must be on Hathaway’s face, but he doesn’t try to look at it, just tucks one of Hathaway’s hands beneath his own, and lets his breath puff against the back of Hathaway’s neck.
“Shut up and go to sleep, already,” he orders.
Counting the rise and fall of lungs, counting the throb of Hathaway’s pulse beneath his own, Robbie follows his own command.
The support group is larger than Robbie had expected. There are married men and women, or men and women who are clearly couples, anyway; two women, in their late thirties, wearing matching, chunky woollen scarves; and a considerable number of men. Some with rings, some without. Robbie himself feels perversely glad for the ring on his own hand, as they meet-and-greet. Robbie isn’t stupid, and he can see the look on some of the men’s faces, as they’re introduced to his Jim. Robbie has met enough married men, who conducted affairs even while their wives were desperately trying to get pregnant, not to be surprised by it, but it still disgusts him. Hathaway must notice, because he rolls his eyes en route to the tea and coffee.
“Chocolate?” he asks, and offers Robbie a biscuit and a wry smile.
He puts his hand on Robbie’s knee, when they find a seat on one of the overstuffed lounge chairs.
The whole business is very casual and Robbie finds himself glad, yet again, for how easy it is to do this with Hathaway. James makes it simple, as though they don’t have a cover story, just themselves. Hell, Robbie almost wonders whether he should be bothered by how easy Hathaway seems to find it to pretend to be something which he is not: Robbie wonders whether it’s from years of pretending to himself, because he must have done, mustn’t he? All those years, and—
Robbie wonders whether this is something MI5 had seen, to approach a theology student.
He puts his hand over Hathaway’s, as Hathaway speaks of their move to London, of what they’re after in a surrogate, of the child they’re supposedly dreaming of. Hathaway is so earnest that, for a moment, Robbie finds himself imagining what it would be like – never mind that he’s too old, never mind that he’s surely retired from that particular business – some part of him is fascinated by trying to work out what kind of father Hathaway would make. A better one than most people would imagine, he suspects. Possibly. In the right circumstances, with the right woman. Man. Person.
Who is Robbie even kidding, though.
One couple, a pair of bankers, have photographs of their surrogate in their wallets. They take them out, showing Robbie a mature lady, early forties perhaps, belly large with child. She’s carrying twins, they say; she has a family of her own already and enjoys being pregnant, enjoys the idea of helping other people out. Hathaway asks how they support her, and they smile, say that her eldest has just gotten into Cambridge and they’re paying the fees. Not, they add hurriedly, as a payment exactly, so much as a gift. A gift, and a debt that can never be repaid; they, Robbie can see from their faces, are the ones who see themselves as in debt.
It’s Hathaway who fills a silence with the query, “But does it ever go wrong?” and Robbie can feel the shift his question brings, can see the way some people hold their teacups closer, the way others look away from his earnest gaze.
“Our first surrogate miscarried,” says one of the knobbly-scarfed women – Nerys. “It was awful. She… well you can’t blame her, but she wouldn’t try again. I mean, with the donors and everything, it’s complicated. But, still.” Her partner, Lorraine is glaring at her teacup, like she doesn’t approve of public declarations of their personal problems. “We were lucky to find someone else,” Nerys finishes lamely.
“You think you have problems,” mutters a man in a dark pullover. “You have heard about the Metzgers? It was all over the bloody news, you have to have seen it.”
There’s a flurry of spoons against cups.
“Do you think they even know?” a woman asks. She’s one of the married heterosexuals. At least, Robbie presumes so. The man she’s brought along with her has spent most of the time gazing blankly into space; Robbie wonders whether he’s simply disconnected, or whether he’s had no say in the matter. He’s not sure how he would have felt, himself, if he’d had to have a third party involved in the creation of his children, after all. “Aren’t they overseas?”
“Wait, was Isobel even theirs?” a skinny man asks. “Wasn’t their surrogate called Irene?”
“No,” another protests – this one has sideburns, and a vague look that, were they at home in Oxford, Robbie would interpret as ‘literature student’ – “Irene’s ours, or she will be ours, once she signs the damn paperwork; apparently her dick brother is a lawyer. I’m sure Isobel was the Metzgers, though, wasn’t she? They’re going to be distraught if nobody’s let them know she was on prime time.”
Robbie can feel Hathaway’s emotion through the squeeze of his hand against Robbie’s leg; doesn’t even need to look at him to know that his face will be that perfect kind of blank that says nothing at all without looking like he’s going for that result.
Hathaway spends forty minutes on the phone that night, talking to a computer forensic who finally confirms that William and Rebecca Metzger are on the books at Samson Terry Intended Parents Support & Assistance, and that they have been for two years. There is no surrogate listed with them, however; according to the records, they are still on the waiting list. In fact, while Isobel had clearly been assigned as a surrogate, there is a blank next to her name. Forensics suggest it’s an admin error. Robbie wonders.
“So Isobel was probably paid, then,” Hathaway says, when he hangs up and rests his head back against a kitchen cupboard. “And I don’t mean, paid in a ‘let’s put her kids through college’ kind of way, I mean cash in hand and under the table.”
“Have they found her mother, yet? It’s probably not connected, but I don’t much fancy coincidences.”
“Mary Harding is apparently even less known than her daughter. The whole thing is a bit…” he trails off, and shrugs.
“Depressing, I know. The thought that nobody would miss you, or at very least speak up on your behalf.”
Hathaway has turned and is looking in the fridge. Silently, he pulls out the makings of a salad, and two steaks he’d put out to defrost before they’d left the flat that morning. He unwraps the steaks and pops them in the grill, pushes a cutting board and some tomatoes in Robbie’s direction and asks the question with his eyebrows.
Robbie gets a knife out of the drawer and begins to chop.
A fortnight passes. They share a bed, spooning beneath the bitter cold of the winter, Hathaway pressing back against Robbie when he’s half asleep; rolling over and flinging his arm across Robbie when he’s almost waking. They go out, meet Nerys and her sullen girlfriend for drinks, and discover that she isn’t so sullen so long as nobody is discussing her private life; that she becomes animated, in fact, if you bring up Arthur Conan Doyle – she and Hathaway get into complex conversations about BBC remakes, and Benedict Cumberbatch versus Robert Downey Jr. They meet a few others for dinner. Make friends with their neighbours. Hathaway cultivates Angela, the Samson Terry secretary, talking about the graduate degree she was never able to finish, talking about the grandfather she quit study to come back to London and take care of: she knows nothing about Isobel Harding. Mary Harding is still not found. The Metzgers have been, however, and are apparently being detained in Belgium for questioning; not because Robbie thinks they’re necessarily involved – why kill your own surrogate? though he’s seen stranger things of course – but because the Powers That Be don’t want them getting back and telling anyone at Samson Terry that the police have a connection. From the report that Innocent forwards on to them, along with well wishes from Laura, the Metzgers have a pretty solid alibi, but are busy denying ever paying Isobel for anything; not their surrogate, was the lawyer’s line, not their problem. Robbie lets it sit in his mind, and meanwhile tries to find some other reason why Isobel could have been killed.
“What if it had nothing to do with her pregnancy?” he asks, one morning, when Hathaway comes back from ostensibly attending a job interview – in reality he’d been meeting with the wife of a local detective, who’d said she’d be happy to slip him a position if their case went on too long for it to be realistic that neither of them were even trying to work.
“What else, sir? We know so little about her, apart from the fact that she was the Metzger’s surrogate.”
Robbie stabs a finger in the direction of the laptop. “We know she had a crappy childhood. This rap sheet of her mother’s, it’s clear that the woman was out of control most of the time. From what the case worker said, Isobel was fostered out twice before she was ten. She grew up in bad neighbourhood. I’m not going to say that’s an automatic reason to be killed, but we can’t simply ignore it.”
“Why Oxford, then?” says Hathaway, putting two cups of tea on the table beside Robbie, and pulling up a chair of his own. “The Metzgers live in London, so why was their surrogate in a B&B in Oxford? I’m sure she wasn’t a student, nor had ever applied to be one, but there has to be some kind of logic behind it.”
“Really?” Robbie can’t help but smile.
Hathaway snorts. “Well, there’s a fair chance of it, anyway. Most people don’t do things without some reason.”
Robbie picks up his cup, and takes a sip. “Speaking of reason,” he says, “how did your ‘interview’ go?”
Hathaway smiles, one of those small, crooked smiles that he trots out when he’s actually happy about something, but too conflicted to think he has the right to be so. “The college is only small, but it has a good reputation. Apparently they’ve been looking for a theology lecturer for three months now; the last one died in his sleep, old age, his heart just went. The potential employee field just isn’t what it used to be, according to Professor Singh.”
“Would you take it?” Robbie asks. He looks at the talking heads on the telly and reads their lips; they’re talking about the economy and its nosedive into the disaster. “If it were genuinely offered?”
“I’ve been offered similar before,” Hathaway reminds him. Robbie remembers, remembers the friars-not-monks, remembers the way he’d seen Hathaway breathing in the place, pining over it. “But we’ve had this discussion.”
Robbie doesn’t think they have. Not really. Except, oh; if you go, I go. Is that what Hathaway would do, if he were to go? Find some quiet place and teach about a god Robbie isn’t entirely convinced the man even believes in?
Robbie wants to ask him, But do they know? Do they know who you are, the way that even I only partly do? Would they take you, if they did?
Hathaway is pursing his lips. “You know what my choices depend on,” is all he says. Drinks. Swallows. Adds, “I won’t be what I’m not anymore, sir. Won’t pretend I don’t feel what I do.”
Robbie finds that he cannot answer that.
During dinner – Hathaway has wound a purple scarf around his neck, because this flat might be posher than either of theirs but it’s still bloody freezing – the mobile Hathaway has been using as Jim Wishart pings with an email. It’s Angela, from Samson Terry, forwarding him his test results, and a list of potential surrogates.
“Looks like we’ve been given the green light with fast-tracking it,” Robbie says. He takes the phone from Hathaway and scrolls through the names. A few that are obviously Indian, and he wonders whether they’re even in the country at this point. Some are more traditionally ‘English’, while one has to be Dutch, or maybe South African. “Considering at least two people at the meeting warned me they’ve been on waiting lists for six months.”
“I wonder when the money comes out to play.”
Robbie hands the phone back.
Hathaway reads the email a second time, and says, “One of them is in Oxford. She might have known Isobel. We’ve seen how this close group seems to keep, even though I bet many of them wouldn’t interact otherwise. Shall we meet her?”
Robbie gives the go-ahead, and Hathaway hits the return button.
The snow kicks in again that night. Hathaway is reading in bed, glasses shiny in the lamp light, the handful of books from Isobel’s room spread across his knees, and tumbled down between his ankles.
“But thou and I are one in kind,
As moulded like in Nature’s mint;
And hill and wood and field did print
The same sweet forms on either mind.”
He’s reading aloud, fingers beneath the words on the page. “She had that underlined on her paper, too, didn’t she?”
Robbie thinks so, gets up and checks by searching, and nods. She’d had quite a few things underlined with emphasis, Isobel had.
“I feel like I’m missing something, here,” says Hathaway.
“I feel like there’s something literally missing,” says Robbie.
Hathaway looks over.
“This,” Robbie waves his hands at her notes on his laptop, at the books on Hathaway’s lap, “it feels too much like research to me. If she wasn’t a student, perhaps she was a poet herself, a writer, something.”
“Except that there was nothing original in her room. No manuscript, no drafts.”
Robbie sighs. “Except for that.”
Outside, somebody blares their car horn in protest. A woman swears.
Hathaway puts down the Tennyson. “How long are we supposed to do this for?”
Robbie closes the laptop, gives him his full attention. “What’s that?”
Hathaway is stacking the books in a pile, straightening them on the far side of his bedside table. “How long, Robbie,” he says again, “I’m not going to actually impregnate some girl. We’re meeting a surrogate next. It’s what Patrick Terry will be expecting.”
Robbie is distracted by his name, takes a moment to catch up with the words that had followed it.
“Of course you won’t be,” he says, “of course not, Jim. Don’t be daft. We meet this girl. We’ll play the rest by ear.” Robbie sits on his side of the bed. He puts his hands against his knees, because it’s that, or reach out and touch Hathaway’s face.
Hathaway has his eyes closed. “I know that, obviously I do. It’s simply…”
Robbie gives up, does it. He reaches out and cradles Hathaway’s cheek in his palm. It is surreal, to be doing so, with no audience, with no excuse, without the room black around them and the blankets hiding them from the universe.
Hathaway goes still beneath his touch; looks at him intently, searchingly.
“I want to find out who killed her, James. I need to know that.”
The snow, the heater, the familiar sounds of their bed, and Hathaway leans in against him, sighs a sigh that could be resignation, could be defeat, could be simple exhaustion.
Says, “I know. I do too. We’ll be talking to this girl tomorrow.”
They already have bags packed, set waiting by the door. Robbie wonders whether they’ll be coming back here, depending on where the girl in Oxford leads them; depending on the information she can give.
Robbie still has his hand on Hathaway’s face. He’s been brushing his thumb against Hathaway’s jaw, slight stubble beneath it. Warmth. James.
James puts one of his own hands on top of Robbie’s. Takes Robbie’s hand, and puts it back on Robbie’s side of the bed. Robbie thinks, so that’s it then, we’ve finally reached the point where it all hits the wall – but Hathaway is moving with his hand, is putting his own flat against Robbie’s chest.
“You called me Robbie,” Robbie says, because it makes sense in his head.
Hathaway’s palms are warm through his jumper.
“I did,” says Hathaway. He’s worrying his lip. “Tell me this is a bad idea,” he says.
Robbie puts his hands on top of Hathaway’s. “It is,” he says, “a very bad idea.” But he tightens his grasp, as Hathaway goes to pull away. There’s a moment, where Robbie can barely look at him, can barely risk it, but it’s worth it, to see Hathaway’s expression rearranging, taking it in.
Robbie cannot breathe, cannot believe that he cannot breathe. He cannot believe that he could have this, that he could want to have this, that he could want anything but to have this.
The snow, the sheets, Hathaway’s hands growing gentle beneath his own. A flash of certainty, a surge of boldness in Hathaway’s eyes. “I was wondering,” Hathaway whispers, “whether you would mind terribly if I were to kiss you.”
Robbie thinks he might be smiling. Somewhere, yes, beyond the ache of his ribs expanding, beyond the throb of his heart, he might well be smiling. “I think I would like that,” he admits, after a beat, and takes his hands off of Hathaway’s only to put them at his face, to cradle the expression that blooms there – and then to simply hold him, as James leans in, sheets tugging at his hips, and puzzles their mouths together.
They kiss, and the snow falls; kiss, and the heater pops and mutters; kiss, and Robbie works out the shape of him, the feel of him, and it isn’t really so different except that it’s completely different, and it doesn’t really matter either way because it’s James, and he is warm, as he slips willing across Robbie’s lap, as he puts his hands tighter into Robbie’s shirt, as he opens his mouth and makes a tiny noise when he touches their tongues together.
“I—” says James, and Robbie holds him, settles his hands at the small of James’s back. James inhales, a strange, abortive sound, and it makes Robbie’s own breath hitch, as James puts his lips to Robbie’s throat. Robbie thinks, absurdly, for a confused second, that he really can’t afford to have a love bite, that they’re going to be in Oxford tomorrow, that he’s too old for that kind of nonsense. James is too close, and Robbie pushes against him, pushes up, and James wriggles in his lap, pushing back in counterbalance. He’s hard.
James says, “Are you sure, sir?”
Robbie knows that this is something he cannot take back. He knows it with the same certainty that he’d had, as a young man, with a young lass, a lifetime ago – there had been no take-backs with Val, could never have been, not with her, and he knows that it doesn’t matter what year he’s in, doesn’t matter what the world expects: he knows that there can be no take-backs with James, either. Not this James, eyes naked before him, face flushed, lips dark, an expression of such hope and doubt and marvelling. Robbie doesn’t know, will never know, what it is that he has done to earn that face, what on earth is that that James could be seeing when he looks at him – at him, for god’s sake – but he knows there can be no take-backs.
“James,” he says, “I am.”
James’s hands are strokedown his front, and the sheets are fall further back. The cold air of the room is shocking as Robbie loses his jumper, as he loses his shirt, as James leans in to kiss at his shoulder, at his chest, back up at his face. It doesn’t matter, because James’s hips are bare against him, James’s belly is curving against him, oh what crooked lovely shoulders, and Robbie has his hands upon them. He feels a jolt of terror, of anxiety, but he goes iwth the feel of James, with his reactions, with the quiet, reassuring affirmations; Robbie slides thumb over prick, slides prick against prick, feels the heat and the urgency. He presses his other hand to James’s bottom and pushes them closer, flush to one another. James swears at the push, pulls his head back to stare at Robbie, wide-eyed beneath his glasses, and somehow that makes Robbie want to laugh, but he kisses him instead, surges up to find his mouth.
James nips his lip, says, “Are you certain you haven’t done this before?”, teasing, joyous, and then Robbie does laugh, the laughter letting him slow, letting the heat in him pool to a slower pace, and he lets James rock them together, hands and words and shallow breaths, until James comes and Robbie follows, hands on him tight, tight and holding.
Cooling heat, and drying mess, and I am, I am, soft in the air like a vow between them.
James smiles a smile that can only be described as smug, smug with bells on.
“Oh, you,” says Robbie,
They slip between the blankets; elbows and knees and steady, steady warmth.
Morning, and they catch the train to Oxford. James takes the window seat, but leans against Robbie all the way, and Robbie has to acknowledge that this, then, has not changed, whatever his brain might like to suggest; it would have been this way years ago. They never did have any sense of personal space. Now, though, James has one of Robbie’s hands in his lap, long fingers toying with it absently. Robbie aches, muscles he hasn’t used in a while protesting against the walk to the train station in four inch snow.
The icy air had made Hathaway’s ring freeze and it ghosts cold against Robbie’s skin.
A man walking past glares. A teenage girl, young thing with her eyebrows pierced, smiles sweetly. An older lady huffs. Most people don’t even notice, and Robbie enjoys it, enjoys this, this being touched and being allowed to touch in return. Because it’s different, now. It isn’t to make them credible to want-to-be-parents. This is just because he can. Because James wants to. Robbie would have thought– well, but he was wrong, and he finds that he does nothing more than ignore the glaring man, and smile at the huffing woman, and give the teenager a waggle of his eyebrows as she heads to her seat. He likes the way she giggles, and the way she gives him a thumbs-up of, he can only presume, solidarity.
With his free hand, Hathaway is working his phone, swift thumb and efficient fingers: checking there haven’t been any updates to the background of their proposed surrogate; updating Innocent about their whereabouts; and, Robbie sees as he leans to watch the words form, letting Lyn know that her father is safe and well.
“Give her my love,” Robbie says, and Hathaway adds it to the text, Robbie sends his love. Robbie knows to expect the text that pings in his own pocket just ten minutes later but he doesn’t take out his phone, simply huffs with amusement at the speculations he’s sure it will contain.
“She knows, doesn’t she?” Hathaway asks, looking at him, obviously pleased by the thought.
“She’s been making fun of me for months,” Robbie admits grudgingly, and then smiles at the laugh that that gets him.
Lyn has always been the one with her mother’s brains. The one with her mother’s pure breadth of compassion.
“Months,” says Hathaway, after a while, and Robbie thinks that he looks as though he might kiss him, if they weren’t on a train.
Robbie can feel the heat on his own face, but gives up and shrugs his way through it.
Hathaway gets out his iPod, chooses some music and offers Robbie the right bud. It’s some world music thing, sitars and harps bleeding into each other, but it somehow works, when Hathaway is the one sharing it.
“If this is all over by then,” Robbie says, quietly, “would you like to come with, for Christmas?”
Hathaway’s answer is a smile, the small, private kind, and it sets a whole new standard for the sort of responses Robbie is aiming for, now, in this life he’s lurched into.
They meet in a café, not one Robbie has been to before. It’s primarily populated by students, but enough older types to make him not feel mind-numbingly out of place. They’re still undercover, so they introduce themselves with the names Samson Terry would have given her.
Small talk, the clank of cups, and then Hathaway says, “I’m loathe to play devil’s advocate, but are you absolutely certain about this? It’s such a huge proposition.”
The girl, Amy, looks tired, but healthy, in a pleasantly plump kind of way. According to the details Angela had sent them, she’s twenty-nine, but she seems younger. She has a set to her shoulders, though, that makes Robbie think she’s not the kind of woman who makes her choices lightly. She’s business-like, and well-spoken – an archaeology graduate nearing the end of her doctorate, with a part-time job in the quiet depths of a local archive – and she seems pleased both by Hathaway’s mein, and by the way that he and Robbie interact. In fact, she’s been watching them like a hawk since they’d walked through the door, and Robbie isn’t entirely sure that they would have passed even a week ago.
“I know girls who have been surrogates,” she says. “I’ve seen them fuck up, if you’ll pardon my French, and I’ve seen it go swimmingly. You’ll understand that that’s why I’d like to meet with the both of you a few more times before I agree to anything. I actually wouldn’t mind seeing where you live, even. As for me, I have about as much attachment to my uterus as a dog has to a cat, and I figure it may as well be doing some use for someone else, since I doubt it will for me. Besides, I could do with the money. Oxford is unholy expensive and we of the prehistory persuasion aren’t exactly having jobs thrown at us left, right and centre. I’ll pay my rent for the next year with this.”
She’s blunt, and Robbie approves. “I don’t suppose we could talk to any of the girls you know,” he says. “I guess I’m as anxious as you. You know from my details that I’ve been married before, and I suppose I’m just… old-fashioned, and generally paranoid.”
“My kind of human, then,” laughs Amy. She tugs a gigantic leather handbag from the floor, and rummages around to find her phone. “I can write you some names down, though I can’t guarantee that they’ll be willing to speak to you. We’re pretty close-knit and we’ve had a death in the family recently. The mood is a bit down, as you can imagine.”
“In the family?” asks Hathaway, taking the names and numbers she’d jotted on a serviette; four women.
Amy smiles. “Family is what you make it, and we’re all Aces. Not your garden variety, obviously, but we dance willingly enough to our own song. As they say.”
At Robbie’s perplexity, it’s Hathaway who nudges him with his shoulder and says, “Asexual, darling,” in the kind of tone that leaves Robbie relieved that ‘sir’ isn’t currently in play.
Robbie lets his age be his excuse as he puffs out a breath and says, “What will they think of next.”
Amy laughs, and tells them to ring her to meet up again, and Robbie thinks that, you know, if he were in this gig for real, she’s the kind of lady he’d select.
She’s the first person, on this case, that he’s genuinely felt bad for misleading.
Innocent is waiting with two cups of coffee and an impatient expression.
“We’ve run the phone numbers,” she says, by way of greeting.
“Good to see you too, ma’m,” Robbie says mildly.
She frowns at him, then gives a little shake of her head and a smile.
“Any connections to Isobel Harding?” Hathaway asks.
“Very much so,” Innocent replies, and proceeds to explain that Isobel had lived with one of them, a student. “I want you to see her tomorrow, be there ringing on her door first thing.”
“As officers, ma’m?”
“As officers. I trust you brought back the things that are actually yours?”
“Everything but a quilt,” says Robbie, double-checking with Hathaway for confirmation.
Innocent doesn’t comment, simply jots it on a post-it by her phone, and then motions for them to stand. “You’ve done good work,” she says. “They’re going to bringing Samson Terry in tomorrow. With evidence from the Metzgers alone we have enough to convict him. We’ll leave off bringing in Amy Russell, for questioning, until after you’ve spoken to Isobel’s roommate. We’ve had a success here, gentlemen.”
“I just hope it was worth it, for Isobel Harding and her child,” Robbie agrees.
Innocent doesn’t answer that. She picks up her phone and begins to dial.
Isobel’s flatmate, listed on Amy’s serviette as Caro Cresswell, is an older woman, and she has a baby on her hip when she answers the door. The baby has a pained expression, and Caro looks harried, as she takes in the badges that they flash at her.
They’ve barely sat in her living room before she thrusts the child in Hathaway’s direction.
“If you’ll just hold him a second,” she says, “I’ll make tea,” and she slots the child into Hathaway’s arms without waiting for permission. Perhaps it’s the police thing, Robbie thinks, that makes him trustworthy enough to hold unfamiliar babies. Or maybe it’s just James. Robbie wonders whether it’s the priest thing that makes him capable of holding babies as easily as he is currently doing, with so little warning – Robbie knows what he had been like, when Val had first handed Lyn over, and he’d had kid brothers.
Hathaway’s face is registering surprise, though, for all that his body relaxes into it, and Robbie wonders whether this is a moment, if this is the moment, where Hathaway realises that it’s all a terrible mistake. Not a mistake with the case, you understand, but with him, with them, with this thing they have. What about children, what about—
“Keep pulling that face and you’ll scar him for life, sir.”
Robbie blinks, and huffs. He lets his thoughts swing back to the world of the rational, and leans towards the baby. “Ah, wouldn’t do for such a little tyke to form a bad view of the long arm of the law, eh?” And he jiggles a tiny, perfect little foot.
The baby opens its mouth in a brilliant, toothless grin.
“Fred,” says Caro, as she comes back in, three cups on a tray with some biscuits. The flat is disordered, but the teacups are immaculate, and Robbie has no problem with reaching out to take one. “Fred’s his name. After the Weasley twin. You know. Harry Potter?”
That gets a smile from Hathaway. He bounces the baby a little as he says, “Hello, Fred.”
Fred considers him solemnly, though he’s clearly more interested in James’s face, than his words.
“Amy said to expect you,” Caro says, breathing on her tea to cool it. “She didn’t say you were police.”
Robbie feels a pang for that. “She didn’t know we were,” he says. “I’m so sorry about the deception, and I hope to be able to apologise to her directly about it. It’s about Isobel Harding. We understand she lived here?”
Caro does not look surprised. “For a while,” she says. “She was in London, with that failure of a mother, when I first met her. Online,” she adds, “we journaled on the same site, wrote about similar topics.”
“Bonded over your sexuality?” Hathaway hazards.
“That, yes, though we simply have – had – a lot in common. She needed to get out, and I suggested she come here.”
“Had she already signed with Samson Terry at that point?”
“Yes. She was already pregnant, too,” Caro agrees. “I think she regretted it. I sort of feel like that’s my fault, since she… well, Amy is charismatic, can be really persuasive, and we’d all decided to be surrogates at the same time, you know. I’d agreed, I needed the money. But then Fred happened, and I think Izzy realised just what a mess she’d gotten herself into.”
Robbie had been wondering about that. “Fred was a surrogate baby?” he asks.
Caro nods. She puts her tea cup down on a table covered with academic journals and a muddle of DVDs with military types and a big round circle behind them, and reaches for the baby. “I was to be his surrogate. The father’s sperm, my ova. Amy probably explained to you her view on motherhood, she does so like to tout it, and I’m much the same. I never wanted children of my own, nor really understood the pressure for it that all these people have. Like Amy, I wasn’t bothered by the biological act of it, either: I’m not revolted by sex, I just don’t want it. Besides, it’s not as though I’d have to actually touch anyone. That’s not how it works. And the pair I signed up for, well, they were so desperate. They said they’d do anything to have a child, and the woman couldn’t have kids at all. So I agreed. They paid up. On the third try, I fell pregnant.”
She tousles Fred’s face, turning his gaze towards her. The baby grins, fists her hair into his chubby little hand and tugs. She smiles, the sort of smile that speaks of love and grief together.
“And then he was born, and he couldn’t hear a thing, and suddenly they weren’t that desperate for a child at all. They only wanted a perfect child, not the one they’d ended up with. They did tests and everything, trying to prove somehow it was me, but the genes were on his side. Without them signing the Parental Declaration, though, he was mine. I was suddenly his mother. What could I do then? Tell the kid he’d been so unwanted that even the woman who’d borne him had given him up to state care? Most people just aren’t interested in adopting babies with ability issues, after all.” She pauses. “His original parents demanded their money back, did you know that, and what could I do? I know as well as the next person that I could go to gaol just for soliciting my services as a paid surrogate, it’s not like I can ring you people about it. It’s why I didn’t speak about Isobel. And, yes: I gave them their money back.” She shrugs, as though she’s resigned herself to the troubles that she could yet find herself in. “Amy likes to describe Fred as the perfect example of why the system is flawed. But he’s family, now, as much as the rest of us. I think he’s why Isobel moved out, though. She was always such a daydreamer – she was a writer, you know, she was writing a book about the entire experience, like it was going to be some kind of pregnant Eat, Pray, Love or something – and I don’t think she could deal with the reality of him staring her in the face, and her so fat with someone else’s baby.”
Robbie tries to process that, tries to understand what kind of a woman this is before him. A mother, truly, though whether she’d appreciate the term as the honour he considers it to be, he isn’t sure.
“Had you met the Metzgers by the time Isobel moved in?” Hathaway asks.
Caro looks at him over the top of her son’s head. “The Metzgers? They’re the ones who flunked out on Freddy, what do they have to do with Isobel?”
There’s a pause, and Robbie has to reshuffle everything in his mind, tries to see the reports that they had been sent, tries to think of what, exactly, it was that other inspectors had asked the couple in Belgium. Had they asked them if they’d had a surrogate, or had they asked specifically if they’d been Isobel’s surrogate? Would they have gone into greater details, unless pushed, about leaving a surrogate with a child she’d never planned on keeping? Or about demanding money back from her?
“The Metzgers were the ones who’d paid you to be their surrogate?” he says, carefully.
Caro nods, and jiggles Fred against her chest.
“Then who was Isobel paid by?”
Caro looks at them like they’re the most stupid policemen she’s ever had the misfortune to meet. They probably are. “Patrick Terry, of course,” she says. “Who else?”
Robbie makes a pained noise, gets out his mobile, and dials Innocent.
“Robbie,” Jean says, before he can speak, “just the man I was about to ring. We’ve found Mary Harding, and we’re bringing her in.”
Mary Harding is thin, far thinner than her daughter had been, the kind of thin that talks to Robbie not of magazine ideals, but of poverty and pain and too many cigarettes. Her hands are unsteady against the flat of the table, but her voice is weedy as she says, “I suppose you think this is all my fault.”
Robbie decides that is as good a starting point as any. “Care to explain, Mrs. Harding?”
“Ms,” she corrects, a kneejerk reaction that tells him that that response has been there for years now. “He never married me, you know. He was going to, but there was the poor baby we lost, and then there was his bloody gay boys, and by the time Izzy arrived, I—”
“Can you tell us about your daughter?”
Mary rubs at her face, powdery makeup blurring the lines of her skin beneath her hand. “Isobel was… I didn’t want her, you’ve got to understand that. I only had her to make her father stay, but he didn’t, the bastard, he’s such a bastard, he’d never forgiven me for the one I lost, never even stayed for Isobel’s birth, never even saw her once, do you know that? I wrote him, before I had her. He just said he had no daughter, said he had no kids at all. I would’ve killed him, if I could’ve found him, but I never could. Gave up, once Izzy was there.” She pauses, looks hard at the table, as though it were judging her. “Gave up on everything, I s’pose. I used put her in the with neighbours, used to tell her she never have no father, never have no point.” Her voice is steady now. Spiteful. Bitter. Aching.
Robbie struggles to keep the disgust from his face. He thinks of his own children, thinks of how things may not always have been as good as they could be, thinks of Mark, and Lyn, and he wants to shout at this woman, wants to tell her that it had still been her child, that it had still been her responsibility.
Hathaway takes over, says, “Did you know your daughter had made the decision to be a surrogate, Ms Harding?”
Mary draws in a breath. “She mentioned it. Told her it was stupid, til she explained the money. She’d never been normal anyway, God only knows she always acted like there were nothing between her legs, so good luck to her, I figured. It was my chance to get out, God, all those years of her clinging to me like I should have cared, like I was supposed to have cared.”
“So, when the land you lived on was bought, you left her?”
“It wasn’t like I left her on the street! She had those girls, those ones like her. That one with the sharp face, she was pregnant, I saw her in the car that came to get Isobel. I had every right to leave.”
“And has it been worth it?” Robbie can’t help but ask, “Not even knowing your own child had died, until someone found you to tell you?”
“You shut your mouth,” Mary says. “You shut your bloody mouth. You never lived my life, you never knew what I’ve been through. I loved him, and he left that kid with me like it was never his, just because I’d lost the first. He blamed me, do you know what that’s like? To be blamed? He said it was my fault, though the doctor’s didn’t, you look up the records, I was clean, I was healthy, it just happens sometimes, that’s what they said, only he never believed me, he never believed me.”
“We will look them up,” agrees Hathaway affably, but Mary is crying now, her anger turned to tears, and Robbie wonders how often bars have heard this lament, how often strangers in the dark.
“It was a boy, by the way,” Robbie says, as he pushes his chair back and stands.
Mary blinks at him, not understanding.
“The child your daughter was pregnant with. It was a boy.”
They’re at the door, Hathaway with his hand already on the handle, when Mary mutters, “So was my first. A boy. It was all Patrick had ever wanted. Might even’ve married me for it. Carry on his fucking name. Only use he ever had in a woman.”
Robbie’s hand slips over Hathaway’s, stopping him from opening the door, but Hathaway has already frozen. They turn in unison, and there is no sense of grim justice in Robbie’s chest anymore, no sense of righteous fate.
“What was his name, Mary,” he asks, “the father of your children?”
Mary spits the words against the interview desk. “Patrick fucking Terry, may God take his sorry soul and shove it where the sun don’t shine.”
They find the manuscript in his desk, top drawer, flush beneath the business cards he’d handed them on his first visit. That part of the office is surprisingly tidy, though the rest of it looks like a bomb had hit; Robbie supposes that, with Patrick’s brother being hauled in first, his employees would have presumed there was going to be a raid on the legality of their operation, not on whether a senior partner had murdered his own daughter.
Hathaway holds the manuscript gingerly, reads the first page in silence. “She was gifted,” he says, when his eyes have reached the bottom, and he’s flicked across the next few. “She could really write. This is good stuff, Caro might have been right about her making it big.”
“Making it big if she weren’t dead,” Robbie says, and takes the manuscript from him. There is blood on the folder that holds it; a smudge of a fingerprint.
“But why?” says Hathaway, turning around the room as though the answer is going to be somewhere amongst the shredded papers and the blank computers. “Why kill Isobel? Do you think he even knew who she really was?”
Robbie has flicked forwards, is reading the final pages of the manuscript. He feels his heart shift to his stomach like a leaden weight.
“Sir?” asks Hathaway. “Sir, are you all right?” Hand on Robbie’s back, warm and steadying, brush of fingers against the cotton of his shirt beneath his jacket.
“He knew,” sighs Robbie, and points to the final words, “Because she found out. She was writing her family history, we know that from Caro, was writing about motherhood and about not having what it takes. She hunted him down, Jim. She found out who her father was.”
That’s the moment that Patrick Terry breaks free of the female police officer who has been holding him. He comes at them, desperate. “I didn’t know, I didn’t know, how could I fucking know, I just wanted a child, okay, I just wanted a child and I’m surrounded by it, day in day out, surrounded by it, helping people out with it, there was no harm to it, there was no harm.”
Robbie holds up the manuscript. “Except that you already had a daughter, Mr. Terry. And she was the one you chose to impregnate. You were donor to your own daughter.”
The man is crying. “I didn’t know, I swear it. She was the one who rang me, told me to come and visit, said she needed to talk about the baby, said there was something the doctor had said, and I get there, I get there and she’s hysterical, she keeps waving all that fucking paper at me, keeps on saying stuff about Mary, about her last name, but it’s a common enough name, I hadn’t even thought, why would I have thought, why would I have thought? I couldn’t take it, I couldn’t listen to it, the words, the words, the things she was saying, I couldn’t.”
Robbie gestures at the officers. “Get him out of here.”
“I didn’t know,” he’s still whispering, as they lead him out, this time hands cuffed behind his back. “I didn’t know, I couldn’t.”
It’s Christmas day, after lunch, and James has his sleeves rolled high, hands deep in the sudsy washing-up, when Lyn leans heavily against the counter and points out their rings.
James flushes, and Robbie starts with surprise.
“They’ll have to back to evidence, sir,” says James, waving his hand so that a few bubbles fly off and land on Lyn’s apron. She laughs, and wipes them clear. James is still staring at his hand, and looks confused as to how he could not have thought of it instantly.
“It’s been a busy week,” Robbie reassures him. “Arrests. Writing reports on behalf of mums.”
But James is smiling crookedly, now, even as Lyn looks approvingly from the one to the other. He says, with a shrug, and a mischievous glance, “I suppose they’re more comfortable than I had thought.”
Lyn shifts herself from the sideboard to pick up a tea-towel, and begins to dry, while he washes. She’s so huge that Robbie isn’t even sure how she’s still standing, but his repeated suggestions that she sit down and put her feet up have met with nothing but declarations that she’s pregnant, not invalided; her partner had shared a sympathetic sigh and said he’d given up on that one, sorry man. She is so very much her parents’ daughter.
(Robbie had spent five minutes with his arm around her and his hand on her belly, when they’d first arrived. “Bad case?” she’d said, brushing snow from his coat, and that was that.)
“Do Catholics do gay marriage, yet?” Lyn asks, now, her most innocent voice out to play, as though she’s six years old and requesting ice-cream for breakfast please Daddy.
Hathaway gives her an amused look over a mixing bowl. “Not in the least,” he answers. “But I guess there’s always some rebellious, asking-to-be-excommunicated element, happy to preside over civil unions, isn’t there?”
Lyn laughs in the face of her father’s spluttering, and Robbie thinks, good god, with all of them against me I have no hope. He steals his daughter’s tea-towel and shoos her out of the room to go find more dishes, if she’s so determined to be on her feet like a workhorse. He can hear her chuckling all the way down the hall.
“What, was I wrong, sir?” Hathaway asks, wide eyes and far too much teasing.
“Wrong about calling me, sir, for sure,” Robbie declares, and pulls him into his arms, wedding ring and wet suds and smugness and all.