Mrs. Albert from next door came over to tell Morse that she was very sorry, but that at least his mother was in Heaven now, and that he would see her again one day if he was a good boy.
Morse wasn’t entirely sure he believed her. He’d never really made much sense out of what the Bible told him was the truth.
“I’m sure your father will be glad to see you” she said quietly, a little bit bashful because his mother had dared divorce his father, and Morse wanted to tell her that he was old enough to live on his own, that he for one was absolutely certain Dad had no interest in having him live with his wife and his new baby, but didn’t.
There was no point in objecting to something he didn’t have a choice in.
He remembered Mrs. Albert’s words as he sat in his room, listening to Dad and Gwen quarrelling downstairs. Most likely they were fighting about him; she kept trying to send him away to a boarding school, and he couldn’t quite understand why Dad hadn’t done so yet.
Soon, there’d be no reason for them to fight about it anymore.
He would be dead. Sure, Joyce might miss him – a little; but only a little, and for such a short time – she was too small to remember him long.
He hadn’t been sure then, but he was certain now that there was no such place. He’s just cease to exist. What was even the purpose of him continuing to live in Dad’s house? The man barely talked to him.
He closed his eyes and once more started his list of methods he could use.
A little while later he decided that the way he’d handled potentially killing himself had been rather clever, and that he probably shouldn’t waste a mind like his if it had been.
The first body he found as a PC was that of an old man whose daughter had called from Manchester to ask that someone look after him since she couldn’t get him on the phone. Morse was the new guy, so of course he was sent to check.
He knocked and rang the bell, but no one opened. A neighbour who’d seen him from her living room window brought him the key Mr. Waters had entrusted her with of her own volition, perhaps glad that she wouldn’t have to be the one to search for him.
It wasn’t as bad a sight as could have greeted Morse. The old man had passed on while sleeping peacefully in bed, and decomposition hadn’t commenced yet.
But… Morse didn’t really have a fear of corpses; rather, he was scared of being sick because of a dead body, and as he looked down at Mr. Waters, he felt the nausea rise up all the way to his throat.
As he was sick in the dead man’s bathroom, he reflected what a colossal waste it all was. Seventy, eighty years if one got lucky, and then – it was over. No more books, no more music, no more crosswords. Everything one had been, gone. Dead as a doornail.
At times he still wasn’t sure whether he should have taken back his letter of resignation or not; but with Thursday’s warm blood flowing over his hands as he tried to cover the wound, he wished he’d never set foot into Oxford again.
“The ambulance is on its way, sire. Don’t worry.”
They told you to keep talking to people who had been seriously injured. And to the dying. The doctor had said that Mum could still here him, even when she was asleep, and he’d spent whole nights at her bedside as she’d slowly slipped away.
He wondered if he’d be doing the same for Inspector Thursday.
Even if his boss had died, it wouldn’t have made a difference, he soon learned. He’d have been across town in prison, unable to do anything.
Life had long ago become a series of goodbyes. DI Morse knew that.
They never got any easier.
It was Strange who’d sent him here.
“The old man… they’re not giving him much time. His heart, you know. When I visited him, he said he hadn’t seen you in quite a while. It’s just the right thing to do, matey.”
They still lived in the same house they’d raised their children in, the one Morse had so often picked him up from.
Mrs. Thursday let him in, still as cheerful and friendly as she had always been, fussing over his thin coat as if no time had passed.
DCI Thursday – no, Fred, ever since his retirement party – was reading in the living room. He looked tired and old, but he was happy to see him.
“Morse. Long time no see.”
“Good evening, s- Fred. Yes. You know how it is…”
“Yes, yes, in-between the cases and the music it’s not exactly a priority to visit your old DCI.” Thursday smiled the old smile Morse remembered so well.
On his invitation, he sat down next to him and nodded towards the pipe lying on the table. “I thought Mrs. Thursday confiscated that years ago.”
“There is no point in abstaining anymore, is there.”
He hesitated. “Fred…”
There was so much he could have said, and as always in his life, he couldn’t push the words past his lips.
Fred raised his hand and squeezed his shoulder. “It’s alright, lad… You don’t mind me calling you that, do you? I remember those days so well. Almost better than last week, when I think about it. We had our ups and downs, but in the end, we made Oxford a safer place, and that’s what matters in the end.” He smiled. “Who knows, maybe you’ll find your own Sergeant to make a DI out of yet.”
Long after he had said goodbye, the words stayed with Morse. He doubted it. There’d never been anyone who’d worked as willingly with him as DCI Thursday had done.
The next time he saw Mrs. Thursday was at her husband’s funeral the next month.
And still, he worked alone.
He knew his sergeant suspected something was wrong. Normally, he’d have Lewis drive him to a pub, but instead he’d ordered him to bring him home.
“Sir… I’m really sorry about Doctor DeBryn.”
He’d hoped he wouldn’t speak of it. In the same way he’d hoped that Lewis hadn’t realized he’d cried alone in his office after the hospital had called to tell him the news, but that hope was quickly proven to have been misleading when he saw the honest pity in Lewis’ eyes.
Morse couldn’t even bring himself to hate the man for it. He was too decent for that, at least.
“Yes, well.. It was only a matter of time.”
Good old Max, working until the very end, his last words a reminder that had helped crack the case.
Suddenly he remembered Mrs. Albert’s words so long ago and smiled wryly as he imagined DCI Thursday and Max toasting him in some imaginary Heaven.
“He was a good man” Lewis said, and Morse would have objected if he hadn’t known him well enough to realize that what would have sounded generic coming from anyone else was actually the highest praise Lewis could come up with.
One thing was for sure, he wouldn’t speak about him like that once he was gone.
“Yes. I suppose he was.”
“You’d known each other a long time.”
“Thirty-five years” he replied quietly, wondering where they had gone.
Lewis didn’t drive off after he’d stepped out of the car. Instead, he followed him home and had a drink with him, just keeping him quiet company.
He’d miss him when he was made an Inspector, Strange had been right about that.
Morse knew he was dying. In a way, he was lucky; not many would have lived so long the way he’d done.
Lewis came to visit him, of course. Robbie Lewis, loyal to the last.
One of the few true friends he’d ever made in his life, and perhaps the best.
He couldn’t tell him, of course. Even with Death stealing towards him every hour, he couldn’t say it out loud.
He would have liked to.
In the end, he made it. True, Lewis wasn’t there, but Strange was; and so he could ask him to thank Lewis for every hour he’d dealt with him, always kind, always patient.
Of one thing Morse had been absolutely sure since his mother died.
After death, there came nothing.
He would have said it was the first time in his life that he was glad to be wrong, but… well…
Maybe it was all a hallucination anyway. In that case, why not enjoy it while his brain died?
Thursday’s eyes crinkled as he helped him up. “Still the sceptic, I see. Although it is nice to know I’ve finally managed to surprise you. Ready for the big beyond?”