Sergeant James Hathaway stood in front of his DI’s front door, pushing the bell impatiently. ‘Please be home; please be home; please be home,’ he muttered under his breath with each push. He kept looking over his shoulder nervously, as if he were being followed. He was the very antithesis of his usual unflappable self.
Finally Hathaway heard exasperated noises on the other side of the door and it flew open to reveal a grumpy Inspector Lewis, with a frown on his face and no very great welcome in his eyes. Until he saw who was standing there, that is. Then his expression immediately softened and his mouth crooked into a half smile.
“Give it a rest, Hathaway,” he grinned. “What on earth is the matter?”
Hathaway shuddered slightly and pushed his way inside.
“Spiders are the matter, Sir. Spiders!”
He looked so shaken that Lewis found himself glancing outside to see if there were any eight-legged creatures following hot on the heels of his Detective Sergeant. The quiet tree-lined street was spider-free, however. It was a sleepy Sunday in July and nobody seemed up and about yet, even though it was getting on in the day. He’d heard the midday chimes of Magdalen, Merton and Christ Church ringing out across Christ Church meadow not long back. There was a soft breeze in the perfumed air. He found himself wishing he’d kept that allotment on. This would have been a perfect day to be digging in the warm earth.
Shaking his head, Lewis closed the door and followed Hathaway back inside. He found him in the kitchen, having helped himself to a glass of water. He was gulping it down, and still looked shaken.
“Out with it, then, lad,” Lewis said at last when Hathaway had finally finished and had slammed the empty glass down on the counter.
Lewis continued in a calm and encouraging tone. The one he used on nervous witnesses.
“It’s clear that you have had a spider-related shock of some sort, but how bad could it have been? What size spider are we talking about, Hathaway?”
“Huge, sir. It was bloody huge.” Hathaway went a little pale as he continued speaking. “I woke up this morning and this….thing… was on the bedroom ceiling, right over my head. “ He shuddered again at the memory. “I only just got out of bed in time, before it fell on my pillow. If I hadn’t woken up when I did, it would have landed on my face! I shot out of the room, slammed the door and trapped it inside.”
Lewis tried to restrain a smile.
“How specifically big are we talking here, Hathaway? If memory serves, the larger species of arachnids aren’t indigenous to the British Isles. It couldn’t have been all that enormous. “
Rational through and through. That was Lewis.
“Could be and was.” Hathaway was emphatic. He made a circular shape with his two curved hands to demonstrate, suggesting something around the size of a large dinner plate to prove his point.
This time Lewis laughed out loud, shaking his head in disbelief.
Hathaway was unrepentant. “You didn’t see it Sir. We’re talking ‘Guinness Book of Records’ huge, here. I don’t think I’m ever going to be returning to my flat again. Not to that bedroom, anyway. Lucky I had some unsorted laundry in the kitchen, or I’d have come over here barefoot and in my boxers.“
He sounded like he meant it, causing Lewis to laugh again at the vision of his tall, lanky Sergeant in such a state of undress. He’d seen Hathaway in mufti a many times of course; jeans and a t-shirt being his weekend alternative to the spruce suits and silk ties that he habitually favoured. Boxers were another thing altogether. Lewis wondered idly what colour they were. He’d put his money on mauve.
Hathaway grinned ruefully, at himself this time. “ I don’t suppose you’d like a roommate?” he asked half-seriously. He kept looking out the window into the street, as if he expected the giant spider to have followed him over. “You know I said I was a card-carrying arachnophobe? Well I wasn’t kidding, Sir. I really can’t go back there.”
Lewis saw it was time to take charge.
“Right,” he began. This is what we are going to do. For one thing, we are BOTH going to go back to your flat…” He held his hand out to shush Hathaway’s immediate objections, and continued. “Then we are then BOTH going to rid your flat of its eight-legged intruder.
“Finally, we are going to seriously think about getting you over your arachnophobia. My God, man. I’ve seen you face down armed criminals without batting an eye. You can’t let something the size of a fifty pence piece scare you off.“
“This big Sir. It was THIS big.” Hathaway again made a circle of his hands, suggesting the gargantuan size of the spider. “And I’ll go with you, Sir, but with respect, if you think I’m going anywhere near that thing voluntarily, you’re very much mistaken.”
Lewis tutted and went to get his coat and keys. “With me, Sergeant,” he said firmly as he started out the door.
“Always, Sir,” Hathaway replied.
The drive to Hathaway’s flat was uneventful, but they did stop off en route at one of those Tesco Express shops that were the only thing open on Sundays in their vicinity. Lewis told Hathaway to stay in the car while he went in and bought something he’d seen on display a few days before. He came out with a carrier bag, but wouldn’t answer Hathaway’s questions about what he’d bought.
“I’ll give it to you soon enough,” was all he said. “See it as a present from a concerned friend.”
Hathaway didn’t see how anything sold in a Tesco Express could help in his particular spider situation. A flame-thrower seemed more to the purpose. However, he bowed to the inevitable. They were almost there anyway.
And then suddenly there they were. Inside his flat and standing outside his bedroom door. And Hathaway had actually started trembling. There was a sheen of sweat on his forehead.
“Sir, I’m really not liking this. Couldn’t I just wait in the car? Please, Sir?”
“Man up, Hathaway,” his boss said, brooking no nonsense. Here you go. This will solve your spider problem.
He threw Hathaway the Tesco’s bag. Inside was something that looked for all the world like a toy light sabre. The device was little more than a long clear plastic tube, open at one end with a shiny blue hand-grip at the other. The packaging read: “Humane Spider Vacuum – battery included. “
Hathaway looked unimpressed.
“Not big enough, Sir. My spider will laugh when he sees this.”
“Here on earth we say thank you when we get a gift, Sergeant! Just put the battery in and then we’re in business.”
Hathaway bowed to the inevitable, and fitted the battery. Then he tried the device out, pointing it at a bit of fluff on the laminate floor and flicking the ‘on’ switch. The device had no trouble sucking the fluff into the tube. So far, so good. But fluff was fluff and giant spiders were giant spiders. Not the same thing at all.
He looked pleadingly at his boss, but Lewis merely pointed to the bedroom door. “In you get, young Skywalker,” he ordered. With his blond hair and white t-shirt and jeans, Hathaway did resemble the would-be Jedi Master.
“Only for you, Sir. Only for you,” he replied.
Hathaway opened the bedroom door slowly and entered the room, with the spider vacuum held in front of him, slowly waving it from side to side like a metal detector. Lewis rolled his eyes, and followed close behind him. The two of them soon stood shoulder to shoulder, scanning the sunny room for signs of THE spider.
“Can you see it, anywhere, Sir?” Hathaway whispered, the fear evident in his voice.
“No. And I don’t think you need to whisper,” Lewis whispered back. Hathaway’s nerves were clearly catching.
The room was basically a white cube, offering little in the way of spider hiding places. However, Hathaway’s duvet lay in a heap on the floor near the foot of the bed, where he had thrown it in his haste to get out of the room.
Both men looked at the duvet and then at each other, then back at the duvet again.
Lewis spoke first.
“Got to be in there somewhere. I’ll grab the duvet, give it a good shake, and then throw it on the bed. Hopefully, your spider will fall out on the floor. Then you move in and suck him up with that contraption. Agreed.”
“Agreed,” Hathaway said, unhappily.
“On the count of three, then. One….two….three!”
On “three” Lewis grabbed the duvet, shook it and threw it onto the middle of the double bed. Then he spun back to look at the place on the floor that had been covered by the duvet. And there it was. THE spider. Hathaway’s nemesis. It was pretty big as spiders go, but not the size of a dinner plate. More like a fifty pence piece, as he’d thought. It stood frozen at suddenly finding itself sitting in a blazing patch of sunlight. Perfect target. Behind Lewis there was silence and a total lack of movement.
“In your own time, Sergeant,” Lewis snapped.
Suddenly he heard something clatter to the floor , followed by the sound of footsteps disappearing into the distance. He looked back and saw that Hathaway had dropped his spider vacuum, and decamped. Shaking his head, Lewis picked up the device with a sigh, and headed towards the spider. “Just you and me, kid,” he muttered, as he backed it into a corner and then used the device to suck it up. With a rather revolting ‘shwoop’ sound, in it went. Then opening the window, Lewis emptied the spider outside and watched as it scuttled into the grass verge. Problem solved. Easy peasy. Lemon Squeezy.
Then he turned and went back into the sitting room. Hathaway was standing warily on the balls of his feet, looking like he was going to make a run for it if necessary.
“Calm down. All over and done. He’s out the window and making a new home somewhere that isn’t your bedroom. “
Then Lewis adopted the tone of a disappointed teacher.
“I hope you are heartily ashamed of your behaviour, Hathaway. I never saw you as a quitter.”
The sergeant looked suitably sheepish, and muttered an apology, but he was soon grinning happily from ear to ear.
“Is it really gone, Sir?
“You are my hero, Sir!” He was positively beaming.
Lewis couldn’t resist smiling back. It did him good to see Hathaway so happy. He didn’t smile enough.
“Think nothing of it, Hathaway. What are friends for, after all? Now, how about taking me out for a pub lunch to make up for ruining me Sunday.”
“Absolutely, Sir. You go on ahead and I’ll meet you. Bird and Baby, OK?”
“Works for me,” said Lewis as he headed for the door. Then he paused and with a twinkle in his eye he turned back and added, “But Sergeant…you do know what they say about fear of spiders, don’t you? Fear of spiders suggests an unhealthy fear of sex." With that he spun back and walked out the door, leaving a blushing Hathaway behind him.
“Definitely not afraid of sex, Sir,” Hathaway replied at last, but Lewis was already well out of earshot. “Might have been once, but definitely not any longer, ” he continued softly. “And I might just try to prove that to you someday.” The last was said almost in a whisper.
Then, as always, he followed obediently after his Detective Inspector. He would continue to follow him, wherever he went.