There are days when Robbie misses the tropics.
He’s trudging across a windy, wintry, Oxford college quad and longingly thinks of a time when rain and a cool breeze were a nice relief from the heat of the day instead of millions of icicles trying to drill their way through his woefully inadequate suit jacket.
It had been a drastic readjustment to his way of life, when he’d first arrived on Tortola, but that had been exactly what he’d needed at the time. He still remembers stepping off the plane on Antigua and feeling like he’d been hit by a very humid, very hot wall.
The local PC that had picked him up to take him by car and boat over to Tortola and Road Town had been fresh-faced and friendly and hadn’t looked sweaty at all. Robbie had been dripping within two steps of getting off the plane. He’d been tempted - for a minute - to just turn around and get the next flight back to the UK. But he hadn’t, because there wasn’t much besides loneliness and misery back home and he’d desperately needed to not be miserable.
He’d also desperately needed a drink.
It had been utterly and completely foreign, this new existence in the tropics and it had been the third best decision he’d ever made (apart from marrying Val and then, recently, agreeing to become James’ governor). Not least because it had stopped him from becoming an alcoholic.
The local beer had been bad enough to not be worth the effort and the other spirits he’d picked up as a trial had left him with such bad hangovers that he’d fairly quickly decided to simply avoid most alcohol. Coca Cola and Ocean Spray had become his drinks of choice with the occasional roadside coconut thrown in.
He’d never lived more healthily.
There are things Robbie really doesn’t miss from the tropics.
Even after two months back in Oxford, Robbie still marvels at being able to fill his kettle with water from the tap instead of a bottle. And he still checks his shoes for critters more often than not before pulling them on. It’s the little things that catch you out, the patterns of behaviour that you develop and then only notice when they are no longer necessary.
He sometimes misses lizards and geckos being everywhere.
It had made him feel less lonely, being in his Road Town flat - or any of the other accommodations he’d stayed in while travelling around the BVI - of an evening and seeing them flit across the floor from the corner of his eye as he read a book or prepared his dinner.
These days, there’s no living thing to keep him company when he gets home. Maybe, he thinks vaguely, he should get a cat.
It’s been a tough few days and they’re winding down with a pint in the Vicky Arms. James is unusually quiet. Even in the short time they’ve worked together, Robbie’s learned that James is rather good at finding some obscure topic to pontificate about while Robbie nods along amicably. But not tonight. Seems like entertainment will be Robbie’s task this time. But that’s okay.
He sometimes catches James looking at him in confusion when he obsessively cleans away any crumbs of food from his desk and maybe it’s time he explained. It’s also a way to share something personal without becoming too personal. He’s still not quite sure what to make of his sergeant at times. And anyway, it’s a funny story.
“I ever tell you about the time I woke up to find an entire ant colony in my wallet?”
Robbie grins. That’s got his sergeant’s attention. Good.
“Aye, I swear this happened. I’d been out with some colleagues the evening before, at one of the beach bars that are everywhere in the Caribbean. You should go one day, there’s really nothing like sitting on the beach and watching a tropical sunset, even if the beer’s rubbish.”
“You were talking about ants, sir?” James disrupts his reminiscence.
“Right,” Robbie gets back to his original story. “So I got home and put my wallet on the table and went to bed. Next morning, I wake up and find a trail of the things going from me balcony door, up the table leg and all the way across to where I’d left my wallet. Tiny things, they were, you wouldn’t believe how tiny ants can be. But there they were, a black double line marching to and from my wallet like they owned the place.”
“Did you accidentally get any sugary stuff on your wallet at the bar?”
Robbie smiled. “That was my first thought too, but nope. They weren’t there for the food, they were there because they’d started to build themselves a colony in the folds of my wallet. There was a queen right in the middle and she’d already laid about a hundred or so eggs between me coins.”
James shudders and pulls a face.
Robbie points at him. “My reaction precisely. Near as I can figure, that queen must’ve crawled into the wallet when I was out the previous evening and just decided to make herself at home.”
“What did you do?”
“Only thing I could do. Threw the whole damn thing out.”
James shakes his head. “It must’ve been quite different, living in the BVI.”
“Aye, it was. Especially since there was ants everywhere. And I really do mean everywhere. The moment you had food in your hands, there would be ants around. And if it wasn’t ants it was cockroaches or flies or geckos or what-have you. I don’t miss the critters, I have to say.”
“That’s why you don’t leave any food lying around,” James sounds like he’s solved a puzzle.
Robbie nods, but then he huffs out a laugh. “Don’t worry, though, lad. With our job, I’ll get used to doing that again soon enough and you’ll be cursing at me for having to clean up after me mess.”
James snorts. “I’ll look forward to it, sir.”
More than he imagined, he misses the smell and sound of the sea no matter where you went. Oxford has its bells, its rivers and its spires and he’d missed that too when he’d been away.
But there’s just something to falling asleep to the sounds of the ocean and the jungle at night that no amount of bells or traffic can emulate.
He doesn’t miss the constant smell of mosquito repellent on his skin. Or the smell of garbage rotting in the hot, tropical sun.
There are worse smells, true, and Robbie’s been subjected to more than his fair share of them, but the sweet-sticky smell or decaying fruit has a way of lingering in your brain long after it’s gone.
As he’s standing over their latest call-out next to a dumpster in a back alley behind one of Oxford’s finer restaurants, the smell wafting through the air is a visceral reminder of the time he’d gotten lost in one of Road Towns less affluent neighbourhoods. He’d been hot and sweaty and about two weeks into his secondment.
He remembers how appalled he’d felt at the living conditions of the people in that area. Couldn’t help comparing it to his own comfortable flat a few miles away and the even more comfortable life he’d had a few thousand miles away. He couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty at his own privilege, before shutting down that thought and concentrating on finding his way back into more familiar territory.
He can’t help but wonder now what kind of life this poor bloke had lived, that he ended up dying of heat stroke next to a stinking dumpster in an Oxford back alley on a hot August day.
He misses the fresh fruit and the friendliness of the locals. Oxford’s stuffy academics could never compare to the open cheerfulness of life on a tropical island.
“Are you going to join us, Inspector Lewis?” DC Cassal asked when they started collecting their stuff from their desks and getting ready to go home for the evening.
“Ah, lad, you lot wouldn’t want a sad old Inspector spoiling your fun,” Robbie said.
Cassal and the two PCs he was sharing the office with all looked at him with disappointment.
“Just one beer,” PC Cooper cajoled, “And you’re not so old, yet, Inspector.” Cooper himself was older than the other two and must be close to fifty, not so far from Robbie’s own age.
“Please, sir?” PC Florence joined in.
Robbie gave up the fight. “Aye, alright. I’ll come along for one pint. But no more, mind, we’ve an early start and a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”
They all beamed at him.
He had been with this particular station near Long Bay for three days now and the three of them seemed to form a tightly-knit and well-functioning office. Robbie’s first month on Tortola had been spent at the main station in Road Town, finding his feet, getting to know the local culture and - most importantly - working out how he could be of use in imparting his knowledge to the officers he was supposed to train.
It was a bit of an experiment, his position here. Normally, the training for police officers in the BVI was done at the Regional Police Training Centre on Barbados. But they were mostly focussing on new recruits and the lower ranks and there wasn’t much on offer locally for anyone above a DC position.
Trying to show that he was listening to his officers’ demands for better training, the new governor had come up with the idea of getting an experienced DI or DCI from the UK to come and work with them in a position that would be a mix of formal training for the DSs and informal support and instruction for the few DIs working on the islands.
Considering that Robbie’s only real training experience was working with the PCs on his team in general and his bagmen in particular, this more informal role suited him just fine. It also allowed him to be involved in the odd case here and there, which made him feel like he wasn’t losing his skills by sitting around on his arse all day.
Overall, he’d been treated with enthusiasm and warm welcome by everyone he’d met at the Road Town nick. His new colleagues seemed genuinely keen to pick up any tricks and ideas he could share with them and he had to say that most of them took their jobs seriously and worked hard to keep the islands safe. He had the feeling that he could be of good use here.
Robbie grabbed his wallet and loosened his tie in preparation for the more informal part of his evening. It really was hot here, inland and away from the sea and the constant breeze it brought.
In the end, he stayed later than he’d planned to, enjoying not only the company of Cassal, Cooper and Florence, but also the taste of freshly cooked melon curry for dinner. For a short while, listening to the three officers around him share their stories with him, he’d almost forgotten the weight of grief and loss that still lay heavy on him every day.
He doesn’t miss nothing ever being completely dry. He definitely doesn’t miss tossing and turning on a too-hot mattress at night because the electricity is off again and thus there is no aircon or fan to be had.
Right now, though, years after his return to Oxford, he’s lying in bed and can’t help but be reminded of that humid heat, because the body next to him feels like his very own, personal furnace and Robbie would like nothing better than to throw off the covers.
But he might wake Laura if he does that and they suffer enough from rudely disrupted sleep that Robbie is loath to spoil it for her when she’s finally fallen into the arms of Morpheus.
It’s a good thing, then, that Robbie’s had two years worth of practise sleeping while being overheated. Who’d have thought that particular inurement would come in so handy.
He’s looking at their latest body, a woman in her mid-twenties, head bashed in, and he longingly thinks back to the days on Tortola when the worst crimes he’d had to investigate for weeks on end was inattentive tourists having their possessions stolen or cases of domestic disturbance.
Not that the BVI had been a crime-free zone exactly, but murder was very rare. The most exciting cases were usually drugs related - often worked on together with their counterparts from the US.
The flowery hibiscus pattern on the dead woman’s dress reminds Robbie of a case he’d helped out with about a year into his secondment.
One of the posher villas on Beef Island had been burgled while the residents were living it up on their yacht and upon returning home they’d discovered that the thieves had made off with most of their electronics and jewellery.
A part of Robbie had wondered if it was really worth putting much investigative effort into it - if it wasn’t better to just put it down to social justice or karma or something and move on to more important matters. Then one of the PCs had found the hidden trap door and from one moment to the next, the case had turned from a simple burglary to a major drugs investigation.
In the end, the owners of the villa had pleaded guilty to repackaging and distributing cocaine; and while the major players had slipped through their net, they’d been able to at least shut down that arm of the organisation for the time being. It had been a win for local law enforcement.
The villa had been surrounded by hibiscus trees.
Maybe, if Laura doesn’t mind, he’ll plant one in their garden once he retires. He’s always liked the flowers.