The priest looked like anyone else lying there in the hospital bed, his neck bare and defenseless against the whiteness of institutional sheets. Lewis felt like a voyeur, to see the lad so vulnerable.
He'd never liked priests much, even the C of E sort that had married him and Val. A lot of mumbo jumbo - although Val took it all more seriously. The Catholic sort, well, they couldn't even marry and have a proper family life, could they? No wonder so many of them went off the rails! And then the Church hushed it up.
Which brought him back to the lad lying in the hospital bed beside him.
A good lad, Lewis thought, under it all. Over-earnest, but sincere. He couldn't be older than his mid-twenties but his pale austerity in the long dark robes of his calling had given him a certain authority. Lewis looked again at the bed, and this time pale eyes looked back at him.
Once again the boy's voice surprised Lewis with how deep it was. Tones perfectly at home in Oxford echoed uncertainly off the bare walls of the hospital room.
"Aye," he replied. "You've been attacked, lad, and you're in the hospital under police guard. Did you see anything?"
The boy's eyes closed wearily, and he sighed before opening them again to gift Lewis with a look of such deep disillusion that the older man almost flinched.
"Yes," he said in a voice that seemed remote as the ice in the north. "I know who it was."
The voice began to steadily recite the events of the previous night, faltering a little as it recounted betrayal from one who had been the embodiment of all that an idealistic man could hope to achieve. Sordid deeds, hidden, and a soul gone so far astray that it tainted all it touched, culminating in physical violence.
"He told me that I would have been defrocked anyway, so it was better for me to die," said the cold tones. And stopped.
The room felt more than empty, it was sucking the energy from the surrounding town into a void of such deep loss that Lewis ached.
"You did nothing wrong, Father Hathaway. You know that. He was the one who... to use your terminology, sinned."
There was a flash of grief across the boy's face.
"And it started long before you got there, didn't it? You were just the poor sap who found him out and tried to do something about it."
"Yes," he admitted. His eyes closed again. "I think I'm tired now, Inspector. Could you go now?"
Lewis stood up. "Of course," he said. The pale lashes against the boy's impassive face were still. "What will you do now?" he asked impulsively.
For the first time, Lewis saw the boy's mask crack. He let out a crack of laughter that was half a sob. "I have no idea," he admitted.
"You wouldn't make a half bad detective," Lewis suggested. He rested one hand, warm, on the boy's shoulder before he took his leave.
Behind him the door clicked decisively closed, but he turned to look anyway. Just an ordinary hospital door. Nothing to see.
He strode out into the cool sunlight of an Oxford spring.