Chapter 1: Prologue
The Sunshine of My Life, Stevie Wonder
You are the apple of my eye. Forever you’ll stay in my heart.
Robbie Lewis shook his head. "Begging your pardon, sir, but have you ever done anything spontaneously? Without thinking it to death?" He immediately regretted the words, even though he couldn't help the exasperation that had triggered them, and waited for Morse to prickle up like the grizzled old hedgehog he could be.
His DI had a few surprises left. Instead of prickling, he gave one of his rare, quiet smiles. "I proposed to Joan." Lewis had noticed he always got the same tender expression when he spoke of his wife. "I did that on the fly. Best thing I've ever done." His gaze sharpened. "But I've learned not to trust my luck. Besides, we solve puzzles, Lewis. That takes consideration, and reflection. Thinking." He finished his sandwich (Thursday: ham and Emmental with tomato), and offered Lewis half of the grapes Joan had sent along with it, washing it all down with the last of his pint. "Now then, Lewis, we have a murder to solve."
Something Stupid, Frank & Nancy Sinatra
And then I go and spoil it all, by saying something stupid like “I love you.”
Morse, feeling utterly desperate, blurted out, ”Marry me."
Joan Thursday stared up at him for a long moment, surprised and doubtful. "I don't want your pity. Besides, what would Dad say?"
In for a penny, in for a pound. "I can promise you it's not pity." His heart was pounding. Speaking up like this felt like it took more courage than facing the Crevecoeur tiger. "I love you. I don't know when it happened. I didn't realize it until the night after the bank robbery. I wanted to tell you that morning as you were leaving, but I’m rubbish at this sort of thing. I never know what to say and can't flirt to save my life. Oh, and I don't care what your father thinks." He trailed off in the face of Joan's incredulous stare.
“You— you love me? Even knowing how badly I screwed up everything?"
"The robbery wasn't your fault. The Matthews gang chose to rob the bank. Paul Marlock's stock in trade was manipulating people; if it hadn't been you, it would've been someone else. And they meant to be violent. They killed, not you. As for Ronnie Gidderton, he was trying to save his own skin, and to hell with anyone else."
"He was terrified!"
"So were you. Would you have told them I was a policeman?"
"Of course not!"
"Of course not. And then he betrayed you as well. You had a gun to your head because of him! I could forgive him selling me out, but not you. Beyond that, the Matthews gang didn’t need to kill anyone. They chose to rob the bank. They chose to kill. Don't carry anyone else's guilt along with your own. It's not your burden to bear."
"You drew that one man’s fire away from me. You could have been killed! And then Dad almost killed him. I’ve never seen Dad like that— I was afraid of my own father, Morse! I’ve never been afraid of him! How do you stand it?” Her voice was breaking as she fought back tears. “You and Dad? Seeing the evil, horrible things people do to one another. I couldn't bear it."
"You weren't meant to. That's why work stays on the hall table. That, and because your father needs someplace the darkness can't get to, and his home and family are that place."
"And where do you go? Where the darkness can't?"
Morse shrugged. "Music, I suppose. Music my rampart, and my only one. Stay. There's nothing that can't be mended, in time. Let us— at least let your parents— look after you."
"I can't. If I’d only kept my mouth shut about the cash delivery— “
“They could have surveilled the bank to find that out. I’m sure they did anyway. They needed to know more than just the delivery day. They needed to know time of delivery, bank staffing, the layout of the building and the block it sat on, the surrounding neighborhood. This wasn’t just a case of, ask a clerk when the cash is delivered then go in with guns blazing. Whatever they are, the Matthews gang aren’t amateurs.”
Joan listened, wide-eyed. The idea that maybe she hadn’t been as responsible as she thought started to seep past layers of guilt and self-recrimination.
“Besides, they could have chosen an honest life, working honest jobs, like most of us do,” Morse added, sounding like a grumpy old man for a moment.
Joan shook her head as reality pressed in on her again. “That’s not all. I've screwed up even more since then. I'm pregnant, Morse. Two months gone." Joan's laugh was a terrible thing. Tears rolled down her face. "He said he wanted to marry me in the beginning, when he offered me the flat. Come to find out— too late, of course— he's said that to a string of other girls. I'm not a child. I know how the world works— least I should. And he doesn't want anything to do with the baby." She shook her head. "I can't go home like this."
"They wouldn't care. Your dad told me once— it came up in the case that brought me to Oxford— that he hated the secrecy and shame. That it shouldn't matter, since we all get here the same way."
"They might not care, but the rest of the world will," Joan observed bitterly.
"Marry me,” Morse repeated. “Your child can have my name."
"Even though it's not yours?"
"It will be, if you'll have me."
"You'll get angry. We'll fight, and you'll throw it in my face."
"Never. Never, Joan."
Joan managed a short laugh through the tears. "That's the first time you've not called me Miss Thursday." She looked up at him doubtfully. "I don't want your pity or your charity, Morse. Do you really love me?"
"I do. If you'll give me a chance, I promise I'll do my absolute best for you." He glanced around his tiny flat. "Better than this in time, I hope."
"All the times I flirted with you and it flew right past— sometimes I thought you were interested, then I felt sure I'd imagined it." Joan wiped her eyes with one hand.
"I'm not any good with that. And then if I realize— "
"You blush and fiddle with your ear, like you're doing right now. You really have no idea how good looking you are, do you?"
"Good looking? No— I'm weedy and awkward— the freckles—“
"Big blue eyes, lovely hair, the freckles are darling, shy and kind, nice bum— Morse, you're gorgeous. How do you not have women throwing themselves at you?"
"Usually they're just mixed-up, or looking to escape,” Morse mumbled, remembering Bettina Pettybon. Then the rest of her words sank in. “Wait— you've been looking at my bum?” He blushed at the thought.
Joan couldn’t help chuckling, or the wave of fondness that washed over her. "Oh, Morse." She reached up to touch his cheek, gazing into his eyes, feeling like she was truly seeing him for the first time. "Would you really take me on? And the baby, too?"
He put his hand over hers. "Gladly. If you can find it in your heart to love me, put up with how I am— "
"When I phoned— I’d just found out I was pregnant and needed to hear a friendly voice again, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell you. I didn’t want you to know what a mess I’ve made of my life. Then, when you turned up at the flat— what was it you said? That things could turn out how we wanted them to? I wanted so badly to pack my bags and come back with you. But I couldn’t. I’d made my bed. Today, after Ray tossed me out, I didn't know where to go, or who else to turn to." She hid her face in his shoulder. Morse put his arms around her, feeling her tremble with a fresh bout of tears. This Joan was so unfamiliar: he was used to her being confident, sassy, and a little prickly, her hair and makeup impeccable. But this wounded despairing woman, with her hair rumpled and her pretty face bruised— he hated seeing her brought to this.
"Joan? Please, don't cry. I promise it'll be all right." He swayed gently, stroking her hair, doing his best to calm her, forgetting his nervousness in the need to comfort her. "I'll be here for you no matter how it goes, whether you marry me or not."
The phone rang. Morse bit back a curse and let it ring again. Joan looked up at him. "Might be work."
"Only thing it could be." He felt bereft when she stepped away from him.
Joan picked up the phone and handed it to him. It was Strange, with news on their case. "Can you hold on a moment?" Muffling the phone against his chest, he looked at Joan. "Stay here. Please? At least until I return? I don't have much in at the moment, but there's tea, and I haven't packed the kettle yet. Part of a loaf of bread." Joan nodded, and Morse returned to the call. "Break in the case," he told her after he hung up.
“And?” The curious light in her eyes was pure Joan, reminding him of how she used to be. He couldn’t bear to dim that light, and besides, she was a grown woman, not a child.
"We’ve been re-examining a five-year-old disappearance that County originally handled, nosing around some feral village out by the nuclear plant. I have to go. I don't know how late I'll be." He rummaged through the tiny kitchen and the boxes on the counter, getting out the toaster. "Marmalade and butter are in the fridge. The eggs have probably gone off; I was going to bin them. Cups and plates and glasses are in that cupboard. The milk's fresh." He knew he was running off at the mouth, but couldn't seem to stop. "You can have the bed. I changed the sheets a few days ago. You should rest— the baby and traveling and all." He changed into his suit jacket and put on his overcoat.
"I'll be all right." Joan straightened his tie and kissed her fingers, laying them against his lips. "Go save the world for me."
"Promise me you won't leave."
Once he'd left Joan put the kettle on to boil, found cheese and pickle in the fridge and made a sandwich. There wasn't a telly, so she looked through his books to see if there was anything to read. It was mostly poetry, some history and biography. Her dad liked spy novels, and was known to read a western from time to time. "Don't you ever read a trashy novel?" she murmured. "Or listen to a silly pop song?"
It had been a long, emotional day, and it wasn't long before exhaustion set in. Joan kicked herself for not packing a suitcase, but she'd not thought beyond getting out of Leamington. She'd never expected Morse to propose, or to repeat it after learning she was pregnant.
She didn't want to crease one of the few dress shirts in his cupboard by sleeping in it. A quick look through the bureau showed he only had vests, rather than t-shirts. It also revealed that nearly all his socks had darns in them, and that he preferred shorts to briefs. In a lower drawer she found a couple of sets of pajamas, well-worn and faded, soft from countless washings. She picked out one of the pajama shirts to change into, hung up her dress next to his suits, and stepped into the loo to get ready for bed.
In a pinch, she'd learned that rubbing toothpaste on with a finger was better than nothing to clean her teeth. His medicine cabinet didn't hold much: toothpaste and shaving cream, aspirin, a box of plasters and bottle of hydrogen peroxide, a bottle of kaolin mixture, a razor and aftershave. Her dad had always worn bay rum; she uncapped the aftershave to smell it and compare. It was the same familiar scent that clung to Morse when he picked up her dad in the mornings and that had mingled with the smell of his woolen suit jacket when he'd held her in the bank cellar: something fresh and green, lavender, spices, and a hint of not-quite-woody. It immediately brought to mind his shy glances and quiet smiles, the warm tones of his voice, and the wiry strength in his slender body.
She could easily love him, had always been partway there. Clever but clueless, warm but aloof, kind but prickly. She'd thought she had a taste for bad boys and flashy types, but here was a man who made her feel safe, not in a dull way, but in a comforting one. Morse knew how awful people could be, had faced violence and evil, been injured in the line of duty, and he knew how to handle all of it. She remembered him at the bank, calm and strong, taking responsibility for the safety of the group as automatically as he breathed, rational even when her own familiar father seemed to have gone mad. She used to take feeling safe and being treated well for granted, but the summer had shown her another side to things.
The bed held a slight scent of him: remnants of aftershave and warm skin, all blended together. She settled in, quickly soothed to sleep by it.
Bus Stop, The Hollies
Someday my name and hers are going to be the same.
When Morse returned the next morning Joan was curled up asleep in his bed. He was trying to get comfortable in the armchair when she stirred, stretching and opening her eyes. "Did you just get in?"
"Afraid so. It was a long night, but we've solved the case. Your dad sent me home to get a few hours' sleep. I'll go back this afternoon to take care of the loose ends."
"I'll not put you out of your own bed, Morse." Joan slipped from the bed, wearing one of his faded pajama shirts. "I hope you don't mind," she said, plucking at the collar. It came partway down her thighs and she'd rolled up the sleeves past her wrists. "I didn't pack anything yesterday. Just ran."
"No, I don't mind." He drank in the sight of her in the early morning light, her hair mussed, her lips full and pink, her eyes still sleepy. "You're beautiful," he murmured.
"Oh yes, I'm sure. Gummy-eyed and my hair a bird's nest." Joan collected her dress from his cupboard. "Do you want your shirt?"
"I only wear it when the weather's cold. My vest will be all right."
"I'll just borrow your bathtub."
"Go ahead. The towel and flannel on the shelf are clean. Where will you go today?"
"I don't know. Maybe back to Leamington to fetch the rest of my things."
"I don't like the thought of you going there alone. If he's there— he hit you once already. Which you don't deserve. No woman does," he told her firmly. "I went on too many calls as a PC where there was some brute of a man and a bruised woman. We can fetch your things together."
There was his protective side again, but instead of getting her back up, this time it gave her a sense of relief at not having to face a difficult thing alone. "All right."
When Joan exited the bathroom, Morse had changed into the pajama bottoms that went with the shirt she'd borrowed, leaving on the vest he'd been wearing. His suit and shirt were tossed over the bed’s footboard. He was lying on his stomach, seemingly asleep, but he slitted open his eyes when she stepped close to the bed. "There's some cash in the tin on the bureau if you need anything from the shops." His voice trailed off, his eyes closing as sleep claimed him. She carefully hung up his suit and shirt and put them away, then took a pound from the tin.
A quick trip to the nearest chemist yielded a toothbrush and a few other things she needed. Back at the flat she brushed her teeth and covered her bruised eye with makeup. She hated the idea that anyone would see her with Morse and think he was the one who'd hit her. Then she puttered around the flat, quietly tidying things before skimming a poetry book. At noon, she leaned over the bed. "Morse? Morse." She shook his shoulder gently.
"Five more minutes," he mumbled.
"Come on, Morse." He opened his eyes and lifted his head slightly off the pillow. "It's noon. When do you need to be at the station?"
"One. Didn't I set my alarm?"
"Not that I saw."
"Thanks." He sat up slowly, stiff and groggy, to stretch and yawn and rub his eyes. While he dressed in the loo, she put the kettle on and made toast.
"You really should see your parents," he told her over their little breakfast. "It helped your mum a great deal to get that phone call, but actually seeing you will do her a world of good."
"Says the man who's planning to run out on my dad with no warning. We're a fine pair, running away instead of facing up. It's a failing. We're supposed to be adults." She sighed. "Finding out I'm up the duff isn't going to help them worrying."
"Knowing you're safe and well will. And their first grandchild on the way? They'll be thrilled."
"They'll know it's not yours."
"It's yours. That's all they'll care about." Morse told her firmly.
"Why didn't you ever try anything with me? Was it my dad?"
"Not at all. Usually you were seeing someone else."
"That generally doesn't stop them."
"It does me. I'm not going to try anything with another man's girlfriend."
"Oh Morse, you're so square."
He shrugged. "If that's being square, so be it."
"Now you're getting prickly."
"I am not." He sounded affronted.
"You are. You do. You're like a hedgehog sometimes."
Hadn't Alice Vexin said something similar? Contra mundum. All corners and angles. Joan’s description was more picturesque. "A hedgehog?"
Joan looked at her watch. "And you'd better get your hedgehog self off to the station."
It took all his self-control to focus on work that afternoon. He had trouble looking Thursday in the eye knowing the man’s daughter was in his flat. And he was distracted, turning over his last conversation with Joan. He wasn't really like a hedgehog, was he?
"Strange, what do you think of hedgehogs?"
"Never really gave them much thought, matey."
Trewlove had just entered the CID office, delivering case files. "I think they're cute, but you have to be careful with them. You have to treat them just the right way or they curl into a ball with their prickles standing out. But when they trust you, they'll lie in your hands with their fluffy little tummies up and look like they're smiling at you. Why?"
"It came up in a conversation."
On the way home Morse stopped for groceries and a newspaper, in too much of a hurry to read it. It was Joan, sipping a glass of milk at his insistence while he tried to figure out something for supper, who found the story about the nuclear reactor. "God, this is scary." She read the article aloud.
"That's glossed over,” slipped out before he caught it and he wanted to slap himself. Not only was he not allowed to tell her, he didn’t want to. On the bus home that morning after dropping off the Jaguar, reflecting on everything from the discharge of radioactive water five years before to the near-disaster that morning, Morse had shivered from more than the morning chill. The thought of Joan being exposed to such danger, and what it could do to both her and the baby she carried, turned his stomach.
"Oh, really?" Joan's eyes lit up. He knew that look. "How would you know?"
“I— I'm just guessing, really,” he backpedaled. “They don't want the public thinking about the risks of nuclear power, do they? I can do beans on toast. I should have bought some meat. You need proper nutrition— protein and vitamins." The thought of taking care of her and a baby on a constable's salary while trying to look after Joyce and pay off the last of his father's debts scared him. London was looking better every minute.
"I want to know what you're not saying about that reactor."
"Nothing at all." The phone rang, and Morse answered it. "Morse. Hello, sir." He pointed at the phone, mouthing 'your dad' at Joan. "I had plans, but— what? Wait, what? For me as well? You're joking! And my Sergeant's? When? Sunday afternoon? Um— can I get back to you? Yes, I understand it's the Queen."
Joan's eyes were huge. Morse hung up the phone, looking dazed. He swallowed a couple of times. "They're giving us— your dad and me— the George Medal. And I'm getting my DS by the Queen's command."
"Morse! What did you do?" The penny dropped. "This has something to do with what you're not telling me about the power plant, doesn't it? Did you really run off and save the world?"
"Not the world,” he mumbled.
"Just Britain. And Dad did, too. You two are quite the pair.”
"They want us at Buckingham Palace on Sunday at one. He's taking your mum along."
"Well? Call him back. Tell him you'll be there with bells on! Go on." Morse went still. "What's wrong?"
"I can't do it. I can't go to London without telling them about this. I could barely look him in the eye today. And it will be worse around your mum. You're so lucky, Joan.“ His voice went soft and sad, so much so that her heart caught. "To have a mum like that. A family who care about you. My mum died when I was twelve. My stepmother hated me, and my father didn't really want me there."
The pieces started slotting into place, like a row of numbers adding up. No wonder he was so shy and awkward, so prickly, always expecting to be rejected. Joan reached out and took him in her arms, her heart breaking as she imagined him as a child, lonely and adrift. "Oh Morse,"'she murmured. "I'm sorry. You deserve so much better than that." She wished she could hug that lonely boy too, tell him he deserved to be loved, that things would turn out okay for him in the end.
"My father's last words to me before he died were that he'd never liked the police," Morse mumbled into her hair. She placed her hand on the back of his head, carding her fingers through his hair. She could feel his measured breathing, knew he was trying to control himself, and fell in love a little more at the glimpse of a vulnerability he hid so well. "I just wanted him to be proud of me. Or at least content."
"He should have been proud. Would he have preferred you take up a life of crime?" Joan asked tartly. She got a cynical chuckle in response. "Are you still going to take the job in London?"
"I don't know." Morse lifted his head, pulling back enough to look at her. "I enjoy working with your father. I've learned so much from him. And I love Oxford, I really do. I know how to talk to academics and the others don't, so I've got a bit of a niche here. My DS rankled— the only reason I failed was because they lost my exam paper. Only mine, out of the lot."
"That sounds fishy."
"It is. Even Bright agreed. He said I've made some enemies, which sounds ridiculous, but it looks like he's right. I'm sure they'd love to see me leave, so they can keep on with their dirty little games. I hate to give them the satisfaction. And there's not a thing they can do about this promotion."
"You've got the same look my dad gets. 'Not on my patch,' he says." Joan looked into his eyes. "I guess it's time to come clean, then. See my parents. Tell them the truth. You can hardly be expected to work with Dad and not tell him you married his daughter. And he's likely to turn up for a ponder over a case at some point. Probably once I'm too big to hide under the bed."
"Do you really want to do this?"
"Yes. I really do. I thought you were gorgeous when you turned up at the house that first morning. But I've never had a bloke miss so many hints. And then blurt out 'marry me' without ever mentioning he loved me. Or calling me by my first name."
"I'm sorry. I've made a hash of it. I'm rubbish at this. I should have gone down on one knee to ask you, too.”
"It doesn't matter." Joan bumped her nose against his. "I'll marry you, Morse. But some ground rules first: I don't want my whole life to be a wife and mother. It worked for Mum, but I need more than that. I want to go back to work."
"All right, if that's what you want."
"Really? That's it? A lot of blokes get upset over their wives working."
"I'd go mad with nothing but a house and kids all day, so I can hardly demand it of you. Besides, the extra income will help, especially if I snap and finally tell a few people what I really think of them."
"Are you likely to do that?"
"Probably not, but it's a recurring fantasy. The best thing I can say about the new Chief Constable and Assistant Chief Constable is that at least they don't appear to be corrupt. Other than that, new boss same as the old boss— I don’t know where they find these people. It's no wonder Bright had a bleeding ulcer last month." They were still in one another's arms in the middle of his flat. "Since we're setting ground rules, I need time after work to unwind with a drink and my music. Not long, but if I don't have it— “
"Your spines come up."
"Are we back to hedgehogs? You can be prickly, too. About bit my head off when I warned you about Marlock."
"I know. I'm sorry. I'll try not to be prickly at the same time you are."
"There seems to be no shortage of hedgehogs, so they must work it out somehow." Morse gathered his courage and caught her lips in a gentle kiss.
"Mmm. Add nice kisser to nice bum."
"Can we leave my bum out of this?"
"No. In fact— " feeling brave, she reached down to give it a gentle pinch. "As your wife, it’ll be all mine." She followed the pinch with a caress, which got a throaty little growl out of him that sent a thrill through her. So he did have a less-than-gentlemanly side. It was going to be fun bringing that out.
"If nothing else, my turning up wearing a wedding ring would give the game away. Your father's a detective inspector for a reason. And he knows I haven't got any social life to speak of. Or a girlfriend."
"Mail-order bride?" The snort of laughter she got out of Morse was worth it.
"We'll need to register then wait a month, unless you want a church ceremony, too."
"We’re not the churchy sort, so the registry office is fine with me. Could we just elope?”
"I want you and the baby to be eligible for widow and orphan benefits if something happens to me, so it has to be done properly.” Morse returned to the kitchenette. "I was about to start dinner."
"I'd kill for a cod and two penneth."
"Really? There's a good chippie down the street.”
“What are we waiting for? I’m eating for two, remember?”
"Fish and chips and mushy peas. It's not much of a date," Morse admitted wryly as they ate.
"Works for me. I've been craving fish lately."
They ambled after dinner, Joan's arm linked through his.
"Your dad said Sam's doing well for himself. They're talking about posting him to West Berlin."
"Really? That's brilliant. Who'd have thought my brother would turn out so well?"
They passed a chemist's. "Do you need anything?"
"I picked up a few things while you were sleeping. You certainly know how to show a lady a good time," she teased.
"There's nothing wilder than a Friday night in Oxford. Recitals, art showings, bookshops, chemists— the five-and-ten-pence shop for when we really want to cut loose."
"Don't laugh at the five-and-ten, Morse. It was good enough for Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's."
Further along on their walk, Morse asked when she wanted to go to Leamington. "The sooner the better, I suppose. Get it over with."
"How much do you have?"
"Not much. Two suitcases's worth, a box or two. I've still got my suitcase there."
"You can borrow one of mine. Your dad and I both have the weekend off. Strange is on duty; I might be able to sign out the car tomorrow. Or we could take the train, for only a couple of suitcases. Should we talk to your parents first?"
"I’m afraid if we do, Dad will insist on going to Leamington with us. He’d have put Ray in hospital if he’d known about the baby." They passed a cinema playing Barefoot in the Park. "I've been curious about this one," Joan told him. Her tone darkened. "Ray never really took me anywhere. He was always afraid we'd run into someone he knew. I was his dirty little secret." She'd begun choking up.
"Joan?" Morse put his arm around her, drawing her against his side. "You deserve so much better than that. A man should be proud to have you at his side."
"I have terrible taste in men. Always the flashy ones with no substance, or the ones who are trouble on legs. I managed to find trouble at a bingo hall! Who does that?" She shook her head. "Ronnie was decent, and I got him killed."
"Matthews killed him, not you. He didn't have to kill anyone, but he chose to."
"You're better than decent— what will I do to you?"
Morse had heard enough. "I have been stabbed, shot, poisoned by a mad pop groupie, almost mauled by a Bengal tiger running loose in Oxford— Joan Thursday, it's going to take more than you've got to do me in." She stared at him. "That's quite enough wallowing. You want to see Barefoot in the Park, we're seeing it. And if a rogue chandelier drops on my head in the cinema like The Phantom of the Opera, it won't be your fault!" He marched to the box office, bought two tickets, and turned to look at her.
"Okay, I'm coming." Joan held her hands up in surrender. "I'm coming. Now, what's this about a tiger? Dad never tells us any of the interesting bits."
"At least we don't have to climb six flights of stairs to my flat,” Morse mused as they left the theater.
"No leaking skylights in a cellar."
"I don't know if I have eccentric neighbors. I don't see much of them."
Joan tucked her arm through his. "What about going barefoot in Florence Park?"
He got the distinct suspicion she was ready to try it that very moment. "Not at night! What if there's broken glass?"
"I'll let you off the hook now, Morse, but in daylight— " her eyes were alight, and she smiled up at him.
When they reached the flat, Morse turned on the lights and put the kettle on. Joan followed him to the lounge; while he was looking through his records, she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. When he turned to her in surprise, she kissed him on the lips. "I think it went well for a first date. Or a second, if you count that double date with Jim and Maureen last autumn."
“Oh— er— good. That's good."
"Although I don't know how well you dance. As badly as Peter Jakes did?"
"I hope not."
"I wonder if his baby's been born yet?"
Morse shrugged. "He sent a postcard when he reached Wyoming, but nothing since." Joan sagged tiredly against him. "You should get some sleep. You can have the bed."
"It's your bed."
"I've slept in a chair before."
"You shouldn't have to, Morse." She considered for a moment. "We could share."
"Oh Morse, don't look so shocked. Your virtue is safe for tonight, I promise." Her expression turned teasing. "Unless you want it endangered?"
"Two people would be a tight fit." But lack of sleep was catching up to him. "I need a bath. Then we'll talk about it."
Sinking into warm water was wonderful. Morse closed his eyes and leaned back with a sigh, letting himself relax awhile before he picked up the soap and a flannel. By the time he was dressed in pajama bottoms and undershirt and had brushed his teeth, he was asleep on his feet. Spending the night in a chair didn't appeal, although if Joan was hoping for more than a cuddle from him she was going to be disappointed.
Or maybe not. When he left the loo, he found her asleep on one side of the bed, leaving half and the second pillow for him. He double-checked the door lock, turned off the lights, and slipped into bed. Joan was lying on her side, wearing his pajama shirt again, her back to him. He left some space between them, but she sighed and backed against him. Morse inched back as far as he could, trying desperately to be a gentleman. Joan didn't follow him, at least, and exhaustion sent him quickly to sleep.
Joan was wakened by a flurry of motion beside her and a thud. Opening her eyes, it took her a moment to remember where she was. Morse's tousled head appeared beside the bed. He looked sleepy and sheepish in the dim light. "Sorry I woke you. I fell out of bed. I don't usually do that."
She gave him a knowing look. "You were trying to keep a polite distance, weren't you? Come back to bed." Joan patted the mattress. When he lay down on his side, his back to her, she spooned up against his back. Morse, too tired to resist, closed his eyes, savoring the warmth and softness of her next to him.
When he opened his eyes the next morning he was lying on his tummy with her half atop him. He carefully raised his head to look at the bedside clock; it was a little after eight. He could have a bit of a lie-in, stay here in the warm, cozy nest his bed had become with Joan in it. Or— he eased out from under her as carefully as he could, gathered his clothes, and tiptoed to the bathroom to shave and dress, then crept from the flat, carefully locking the door.
It was a sunny autumn morning. Morse stopped at the newsagent first for a paper, then went to a nearby bakery for breakfast pastries. Back at home he made two cups of tea, wishing he had a tray, then went over to the bed. "Joanie," he sing-songed softly, wondering how she’d slept through the noise he’d made in the kitchenette.
Joan opened her eyes. "Morse?"
"Good morning. I have breakfast."
Joan sat up. "How did you know these are my favorite?"
"Lucky guess. They're my favorite too."
They had tea and pastries in bed. Then Joan went into the bathroom to change. "I'm looking forward to having something different to wear."
Morse called London, to turn down the job at the Met, and left a message with his landlord that he was staying on. Then he rang the CID office to see if he could borrow the car, but Strange was already out at a crime scene. "Looks like we're going to have to take the train to Leamington."
Morse checked timetables, then flattened two of the boxes he'd gotten for moving and stashed them in the larger of his suitcases. They reached the station just in time to catch the Saturday morning train to Leamington, found seats, and Morse stowed the suitcase. The train soon lulled Joan to sleep snuggled against him; he put his arm around her and watched the countryside roll by until it was time to wake her. "Joan? Joanie, it's time to wake up. We're almost there."
Joan checked local bus routes and found the one that went by the flat. The first thing she did when they arrived was change her clothes. It didn't take long to pack up Joan's few possessions. Morse was carrying out the suitcases when he heard someone talking to Joan in the hall. He left the flat and spotted Ray Morton. The man looked even more bruised than Joan, and he knew immediately it was Thursday’s handiwork. No wonder she hadn’t wanted to talk to her parents until after they’d retrieved her things.
"You've nothing to worry about. I only took what I brought with me, and my books and records. I left the clothes— in case you need them for the next idiot— and the key’s on the kitchen counter," Joan was saying, her tone sharp.
Morse went to stand beside her, brushing her arm with his. "Is everything all right, Joan?"
"Not that it's any of your business— I'm her fiancé."
"Fiancé? You do work fast, don't you?" the man sneered at Joan.
"I imagine you do as well," Morse answered icily, his words clipped. "Have you already got another young lady ready to move in? Does your wife know about your little pied-à-terre?" Morton blanched. Morse turned to Joan. "There's no need to waste any more time here." He steered her to the lift without looking back. They waited until the door closed to speak.
"Thank you." Joan kissed his cheek. She’d have hugged him if she wasn’t carrying a box of her things.
"I just wanted to get out of there before I lost my temper. Although he looks like your dad gave him quite a going over. I wonder how he explained that to his wife?"
While they waited for the bus, Joan took out a cigarette and lit it. Morse had never seen her smoke before his first trip to Leamington. She hadn’t smoked in his flat, which he appreciated, but his sharp eyes had noted an empty tin pressed into service as an ashtray outside his front door when he’d returned home Friday evening, with a few cigarette stubs in it.
He was just drawing breath to say something when Joan stubbed it out unused, then pulled the rest of the pack from her pocket and threw them in the bin by the bus shelter. “They’re probably bad for the baby,” she said quietly. “I didn’t much care before what happened to it or me, but now— “ she looked up at Morse. “Besides, you don’t smoke.”
“I tried it in college, but hated the taste. Now, with the singing? Bad for the voice. And I wouldn’t want to smoke around you or the baby anyway.”
They had a couple of hours until the afternoon train back to Oxford, so they left the luggage at will-call and went to find someplace for lunch. Along the way they passed a florist, with displays of fresh flowers outside. Morse remembered something Joan had said to him nearly a year before, when he’d said he didn’t think Monica was the flower sort. “We’re all the flower sort,” she’d told him.
He stopped. “Which do you like?”
“What? The flowers? Morse, you don’t have to buy me flowers.”
“You told me once all women like getting flowers. That implies that you do, too. Besides, I should give you flowers at least once before we get married, don’t you think?”
Joan laughed, the tension of the morning and seeing Morton again beginning to dissipate. The sun shone on her dark hair, bringing out deep glints of chocolate and showing off how shiny it was. She looked around, quickly settling on white and yellow daisies punctuated by sprigs of lavender heliotrope, kissing Morse’s cheek when he returned from paying for them.
“The shop owner told me the Ram’s Head in the next block has good food and excellent local ale,” he reported.
She chuckled. “So you got something out of it, too. Flowers for me, a pint for you.”
The Ram’s Head was a cozy place with a mix of locals, shoppers taking a break, and travelers from the nearby train station. Joan sighed when she sat down at a table. "It's such a relief to have that done. It was weighing on me. Thank you for coming with me.”
“I’m glad I came along, considering Morton turned up. I don’t usually approve of your dad using his fists, but in this case I don’t have a problem with it.”
“That’s saying something; Dad once told Mum and me you were raised by Quakers.”
“Just my mother. My father wanted me raised Anglican. So naturally I grew up to be neither.”
“My parents didn’t take us to church often. Dad admitted once that after the things he saw in the war, he lost all faith in religions or deities. I can’t say I blame him. He was transferred from the Sixth Armored Division to the Eleventh after Monte Cassino because he spoke German; they were going into Austria and needed men who spoke it. He never talks much about the war. I did a bit of research in the school library while I was at secondary on what his divisions did, then told Sam what I’d learned. That’s when we knew why he didn’t talk about it.”
On the train back, Morse figured it was time to bring up the elephant in the room. "When should we talk to your parents?"
"The sooner the better, I suppose," Joan admitted reluctantly. “We can’t really put it off any longer if you’re to go to London tomorrow.”
"As I see it, we have three choices: one, we meet them someplace like a pub. Advantages: neutral location, plenty of alcohol, the barman to keep your father from killing me if it goes wrong."
"He won't kill you. He likes you. Besides, he doesn't want to have to break in a new bagman."
"Second choice: their house. Not neutral at all, and there may not be enough alcohol. However, they'd probably be too happy to have you in their house again to put up much of a fuss about anything. Third, we invite them to my flat. Gives us the home advantage. And plenty of alcohol— there's an off-license down the street that's open late, so I can stock up before they arrive. However, they're likely to take one look at the flat and declare it not fit for you."
"They'll probably want us to move in with them. We lived with my grandparents when I was small. I don't think I can do that."
"I know I can't. And it's not necessary. I've paid off most of my father's debts, and I'll be getting a salary increase with my promotion. I send money every month to my stepmother— "
"That's saintly, after the way she treated you."
"It's really for Joyce, my younger sister and the only one who treats me like family."
"My vote is for having Mum and Dad come to your flat."
When they returned to the flat, Morse fixed a quick dinner. Afterward, he picked up the phone. "Shall I ring them?"
"Might as well bite the bullet.”
Morse dialed the number. "Mrs. Thursday? It's Morse. Would it be possible for you and Mr. Thursday to come over to mine now? There's something important I'd like to talk to you about." He put his hand over the mouthpiece. "She's gone to get your father. Sir? Yes. No, it's not about station business. Yes, it's partially about the London trip. I'd really rather you came here. I'll see you then." Morse hung up. "They're on their way. The bus usually takes about twenty minutes this time of day." He looked around the flat. "He sounded suspicious, and he's going to want to know why I've packed up my flat."
"Now I wish I’d kept the ciggies,” Joan admitted. “Fetch the booze. I'll unpack what I can."
"I'll be back in a trice." Morse kissed Joan's cheek and was off. When he returned, all his records and books were back on the shelves, the bedding was straightened, and Joan was giving the kitchen a quick tidy. It looked much better than what he usually managed.
"Clean the bathroom mirror and wipe down the sink," she told him, handing him a spray bottle and a rag. They were just finishing when they heard footsteps on the stairs outside. "They're here," Joan squeaked.
Morse squeezed her arm. "They'll be thrilled to see you." There was a knock, and he went to answer the door.
"We could've done this at ours," Fred told him, sounding a bit put out, ushering Win ahead of him. "Have some leftover blackberry tart in the fridge."
"Joan!" Win shrieked. She crossed the room, reaching for Joan and nearly crushing her in a hug.
Fred had frozen next to Morse, staring at his daughter. His gaze darkened. "Is that a bruise?" he asked quietly. It was fading, and Joan had done a good job covering it with makeup, but Fred's careful eye spotted it.
"I didn’t— "
"Of course you didn't, Morse. I know you better than that. She didn't have it when I saw her in Leamington the other day. Bastard took it out on her after I confronted him in the car park."
"I'm sorry I scared you both," Joan told her parents. "I didn't mean to. I just— after the robbery, I felt so guilty. I was the one who blabbed what day the weekend cash was delivered."
Fred looked confused. "What are you talking about?"
"Paul Marlock worked at the bingo hall, sir,” Morse explained. “He turned on the charm at all the women from the bank, trying to get information from them."
"And I'm the one who told him. Me, a copper's daughter!"
"But not one yourself. We can't keep our guard up all the time, pet. No way you can be expected to."
"But if I hadn't, maybe it wouldn't have happened. Ronnie might not have been killed."
"Now, you listen to me, Joan Winifred Thursday!" Fred bent down a bit to look his daughter in the eye. "The only people who got Ronnie Gidderton killed were the Matthews gang. They went in there looking to attack a group of unarmed people. They murdered a constable on the way in. And I've read the reports. Gidderton tried to sell out Morse and you to save himself. Rule one with hostage-takers is, you keep your head down and don't speak unless spoken to. Give no information that isn't directly asked for. I know what's in the robbery training manual we send out to all the banks in Oxford because I helped write it!" Joan had broken down crying and he held her close, his hand on the back of her head. "Oh pet," he sighed, "I'm sorry I didn't tell you that before you left. I thought I'd have time to help you through it." He kissed her forehead. "It's such basic knowledge for coppers, I forget sometimes."
Morse decided alcohol was a good idea. "Would you like a drink?" he quietly asked Win. "I have ale, scotch, and sherry." And plenty of all three. The clerk at the off-license had given him a funny look.
"A sherry would be lovely, dear. And scotch for Fred."
"Sit down while I get them."
While Morse attended to the drinks and awkwardly played host, Joan went to splash cold water on her face. Fred was telling Win the brief version of Morse tracking down Joan and his own trip to Leamington, without mentioning Morton.
"All this secrecy. I'm not some fragile thing you need to wrap in cotton wool," Win reproved him.
When Joan returned, Win reached out to touch her face. "Joan, dear. What happened?" She gently touched the bruise.
"That's my other screwup, and it's all on me. I— I met a man in Leamington. He said he wanted to marry me, put me up in a lovely flat— " Win saw the whole picture immediately, and her face fell. "Of course he was already married. When Dad came to see me they had words. Dad left, then he did. Then Ray came back looking like he'd had a good going over. He said he didn't need some interfering old man making a mess of his good time and told me to get out. When I asked what happened, he hit me." Joan broke down again. Thursday, standing next to Morse, twitched sharply. Morse had a horrible vision of of him haring off to Leamington with his gun, and put his hand on Thursday's arm without a second thought.
"Oh Joan." Win gathered up her daughter again. "Shh, love. It will be all right. The bruise will fade, and you need never see him again. There's no harm done."
"No harm done," Joan sobbed.
"Wasn't there? Joan?" Her gaze sharpened. "How far along?"
Fred scowled. "I let that rotter off easy." He considered for a minute. "It's not the end of the world. I'm sure we can find a doctor to approve on mental-health grounds. You were in a fragile state when that bastard took advantage of you. Or you can stay with Aunt Renie and adopt it out."
“Or your dad and I could raise it as ours— “ Win ventured hopefully.
"It’s— Morse and I have worked it out. He's asked me to marry him."
Fred and Win stared at Morse. "I asked her before I knew, but it doesn't change anything. I should have spoken to you first. It's traditional, isn't it? To ask the parents?"
"You have my blessing, dear," Win said without hesitating.
"Oh, Morse, you're hopelessly square," Joan told him.
"I know. Let me do this, all right?"
Joan shook her head. "If it will make you happy. But I'm not promising to obey."
"I wouldn't ask you to." Morse turned back to Fred. "Sir, I'd like your— your blessing, I suppose— to marry Joan."
"You have it, of course you have it, Morse. You've already looked out for her so many times. And she'd have a hard time finding a better man to yoke herself to. But you'll have to look to your career more closely and watch the drinking," Fred warned, "if my Joan's going to be depending on you. And my grandchild, too." He turned to his daughter. "When I saw you the other day, you said the one thing you didn't want was a council house with a pram in the hall."
"I know. Morse, don't look so worried. You understand. You already said you don't expect me to stay home." She turned to her dad. "I'm going to look for a job. It will keep me busy and help pay the bills."
"That's a good idea," Win told her. "You're used to working." She turned to happier thoughts. "We have a wedding to plan."
"No," Joan told her firmly. "We don't have long before I start showing. And neither of us want anything fancy. We would have eloped if we could."
"You'll need a new frock at least."
"We have time, Mum."
"We can go to the registry office first thing Monday morning," Morse suggested. He checked his wall calendar. "That would have us getting married in the third week of October at the earliest." He shrugged. "It would give me a chance to take you out on a few proper dates, at least. Since I've gone about this completely backwards. And you'd have time to reconsider, in case you want to change your mind."
"I'm not going to change my mind, Morse. And Mum, this still doesn't mean we're having a big wedding. Just us, at the registry office."
"Maybe a reception afterward then?"
"Where he can meet my embarrassing relatives? No."
"They can't be worse than my stepmother, not that you need worry. She wouldn't attend anyway."
"You could live with us after you're married. We can put a double bed in Joan's room."
"Thank you Mrs. Thursday, but it's not necessary," Morse stated, balancing gentleness and firmness in his tone. "I can afford the flat, and with my promotion, I can keep us even if Joan wasn't going to work."
"The lad's right, Win. Besides, you remember what it was like sharing a house with your parents."
"All right. But you should come home with us for now," Win insisted to Joan. "Morse can rest up and have some time to himself after this last case. And we've a busy day ahead of us tomorrow."
Joan kissed Morse goodnight before leaving with Win. "Are you sure you want to do this?" she murmured.
"I was going to ask you the same thing."
"You're the one taking on another man's child."
Morse shook his head. "It's mine, as soon as that ring's on your finger. Don't worry about it. You're taking on, well— you know what I'm like."
"I know. And you’re not the terrible ogre you seem to think you are.”
Morse kissed her cheek and forehead. "Sleep well, Joan."
Fred hung back after the women left the flat. "I've a practical matter to discuss, and I want you to hear me out. I remember a detective sergeant's starting pay; kept Win and the kids on it. Joan won't be able to work for long. I'd like to help you two out for awhile." Fred raised a hand when Morse started to refuse. "Now, don't go protesting. Our parents helped Win and me when we were starting out, and someday you'll help your own kids. It's no reflection on your ability to provide, lad."
"I'll let you do it, then. But only for Joan and the baby's sake."
Morse let himself relax with a glass of beer once he was alone, feeling a bit stunned. In the last twenty-four hours his life had completely changed its path. It didn't seem possible that Joan Thursday had agreed to marry him. In a month she'd be his wife. In seven months he'd be a father. He honestly didn't care that he hadn't fathered the baby; in his experience that didn't count for much. He couldn't help worrying about his ability to be a good father, though. It wasn't like Cyril Morse had been one to pattern himself after.
He was going to have to take things as they came.
Meanwhile, he was going to Buckingham Palace tomorrow. He'd had his new suit cleaned for his London interview so he gave a clean shirt a second pressing and picked out a pair of socks that didn't have any darns. He finished unpacking, finding that Joan had hidden the boxes she'd unpacked under his bed, then finally settled in, lying awake for awhile and woolgathering until he fell asleep.
At the Thursday house Win tried not to hover as Joan settled back into her room. "It's wonderful to have you home again."
"It's good to be home."
"Why did you choose Leamington?" Win asked.
Joan shrugged. "First train leaving Oxford that morning."
"Why didn't you go to London? All sorts of fun things to do there, trendy shops to work at— "
"I didn't even think of that."
"We can find you a dress this week, if you'd like."
"Do you think I'll still fit into it in a month?"
"I didn't show until I was four months in. I'm glad you've seen your way to marrying Morse. He's a good lad, and he'll do his best by you. Maybe you can bring him out of his shell, although I doubt he'll ever be the life of the party."
"He reminds me of a hedgehog. Prickly if you're not careful, but sweet if you approach him the right way."
Win chuckled. "I think you're right, from what your dad has said. A very shy hedgehog, though."
Joan took a shower and washed her hair, setting it on large rollers, then went downstairs, finding Fred in his armchair in the lounge. "Hello, Dad."
He looked at her fondly. "Hard to believe my little girl's going to be a wife and mum. Be kind to Morse. He's a tender-hearted lad underneath it all, but don't tell him I said that. He'll treat you well, he'll never run around on you, and he'll never raise a hand to you."
"I know. He needs looking after."
"He does. Having you at home should cut down on the nights he spends drinking and brooding, which will do him a world of good. Sometimes I think I created a monster, introducing him to beer."
After Joan had gone to bed, Fred and Win talked quietly in the lounge. "I told Morse we'll help them out financially to start. I'm thinking ten or fifteen quid a month."
"We can do fifteen. The grocery bill is half what it was when Sam was at home."
Fred chuckled. "I'm not surprised."
"I'd like to see them in a better flat."
"Morse will move them as soon as he can afford to, pet. It's better than how we started out, and we've done all right."
“But everything's so much more expensive now,” Win fretted. “We paid less than two thousand pounds for this house. The one down the street just sold for nearly twice that."
"Maybe so, but a DS makes more now than in my day. It all evens out. Don't go borrowing trouble; our new son-in-law does enough of that already."
"I'm so happy that dear boy will be part of our family. And our first grandchild, Fred! I’ll start knitting a layette this week.”
Stay Awhile, Dusty Springfield
I’ll tell you what I’ll do: I’ll be good to you, I’ll make you glad that you are mine.
They left for London on the nine-thirty train Sunday morning, Joan wearing a dark blue dress and jacket with black shoes, bag, and hat. Morse's shyness seemed to have returned with a vengeance; he blushed when they met at the station, while Joan was cheery and smiling.
"I'm going to the club car to get drinks. Win, will you help me carry them back?" The moment they'd closed the compartment door behind them, Fred and Win burst into quiet laughter.
"He's blushing like a bride," Win cooed. "You didn't ask what they wanted."
"A squash for Joan. I'm getting Morse either a bloody Mary or a screwdriver to relax him."
"Let's take our time. Give them awhile together."
Morse and Joan watched the compartment door for a few minutes, both making sure her parents wouldn’t suddenly pop back in for something they’d forgotten. Morse finally looked at Joan, hunger and hesitance written across his face. Her response was to reach for him encouragingly. He smelled of his aftershave and tasted of mint toothpaste, and made a needy little noise as they kissed. The sound made a thrill go through her belly.
“I was afraid you’d change your mind after sleeping on it,” Joan murmured between kisses.
“I was afraid you’d do the same.” He kissed his way down her neck and along her collarbone, his silky curls brushing her skin, and it made her tingle all over. He was more tender with her than Ray had ever been, kissing and caressing her like she was something precious.
All too soon they heard Win’s laughter and the low hum of Fred’s voice and sprang apart, straightening their clothes, Joan smoothing her hair with her hand, both trying to look innocent. They might have pulled it off, save for the lipstick smudges on Morse’s mouth. Joan’s eyes widened. “Morse! Lipstick!” she hissed, opening her purse to get her compact while he pulled out his hankie and wiped his mouth, glad Joan wasn’t wearing red lipstick. Joan touched up her powder and lip color while they heard her parents talking quietly outside.
Fred and Win had made sure to make extra noise as they went down the corridor, then hesitated outside the compartment. “Think we’ve given them enough time?” Fred asked.
Both of them were carrying glasses, so Win called out. “Would you mind opening the compartment door?”
Morse opened the door with one hand, putting away his hankie with the other. Joan was just closing her purse. Win handed Joan a glass, sitting down across from her. Fred handed one to Morse. “Orange juice?”
“Oh.” Morse took a sip and nodded.
Fred leaned over to murmur in his ear. “You missed a spot, on your right cheek.”
Morse blushed and wiped away the pale pink smudge with his fingers. It took everything Fred had not to chuckle.
They spent the first part of the day playing tourist, Win snapping what seemed like dozens of photos of Fred and Joan, Fred and Morse, and Joan and Morse. Then Morse took photos of Fred, Win, and Joan, and Win asked a passerby to take a photo of all of them outside the gates of Buckingham Palace.
They were ushered in to meet a protocol adviser who went over the etiquette of interacting with the Queen. "I'm going to do something wrong," Morse muttered as they were led through ornate rooms. "I just know it."
Joan squeezed his arm. "You'll be fine."
"Chin up, Morse. It's got to be easier than facing a Bengal tiger," Fred told him.
"I think I'd rather take the tiger, sir."
They reached the 1844 Room, which was quite understated in comparison to some of the other chambers they’d seen, with cream-and-gold damask wallpaper and light blue furniture. The large carpet was in soft colors repeated through the room. Morse hesitated at its edge. “I feel like I should take off my shoes,” he murmured to Joan, trying to subtly double-check the soles without the liveried footmen noticing.
There was a quiet flurry of activity as the Queen entered the room with a handful of other people. They were presented to the Queen, Morse and Thursday bowing slightly while Win and Joan curtsied; Joan was introduced as both Thursday’s daughter and Morse’s fiancée, and she congratulated them on their engagement. Then the detectives were presented with their medals, Morse blushing and trying not to fiddle with his hair or ear or stare at his feet the whole time while the Queen thanked them for their service and bravery. Win and Joan stood to one side, sharing proud smiles.
After the Queen left the four of them were led out. Once out of the palace grounds, Morse stopped and bent over, hands on his knees, catching his breath like he'd just chased down a suspect. "Knew I should've begged off," he gasped. "I thought of asking Bright to come with you in my place. He'd have enjoyed it."
"Ma'am as in ham," Fred said drily. "Come along, Morse. There must be a decent pub nearby. Get a pint in you, you'll be right as rain."
The next morning Win had two sandwiches ready. "Of course you get one, Morse. You're family. I'd have started doing this ages ago if you'd let me."
"Cheese and pickle," Morse said as he and Fred walked to the car.
Everyone congratulated them and wanted to see their medals. Morse had left his at home, and didn’t mention Joan, not liking to air his personal life at the station. In the CID office, Morse wrote down the address of the Leamington flat, then made a few phone calls in between working cases. By the end of the day he had filled a page in his notebook and went to Fred's office, closing the door behind him.
"I just wanted you to know: I have Ray Morton’s home address, phone number, employer, and the name of his wife. If he tries to cause any trouble I'll see to it his wife learns what he's been doing, at the very least."
Fred's eyes shone with dark satisfaction. "Good. I've always known you'd look after our Joan."
Joan spent the morning finishing her unpacking and going through the employment ads. One caught her eye: the OCP was looking for an assistant clerk for the business office at Cowley station, and it meshed well with her banking experience. She dug out the family's old typewriter, a lumbering beast after the electric ones she'd gotten used to at the bank, and wrote up a cover letter and CV, dropping them in the corner pillar for Tuesday's first pickup.
The Thursdays' phone rang a little past one on Wednesday. It was the manager of the Cowley station clerical department, who quizzed Joan on her experience, then set up an interview for Thursday afternoon. She greeted Morse with an ecstatic hug and kiss on the cheek when he dropped off her dad that evening. "I've an interview tomorrow! And you'll never guess where! Oxford City Police, at your station! They're looking for an assistant clerk in the business office. Payroll, collecting fines, securing inmate property, that sort of thing."
"I hadn't thought to look at the jobs board at the station."
The interview went well. Joan knew most aspects of the job already, and the others she could pick up quickly. A followup interview was scheduled for Monday.
Friday was Morse's birthday. Fred took him to lunch at the pub near the station. "Win expects you at ours for tea, and Joan's baked you a birthday cake."
“It’s not necessary. I don’t like to make a fuss— “
“Of course it’s not necessary. But they want to do something nice for you. Maybe the Morse family doesn’t make a fuss over birthdays, but the Thursday family does. Get used to it, lad. You’re one of us now. And you wouldn’t want to disappoint Win and Joan, would you?”
“Of course not.” Morse sighed. Being part of the Thursday family would take some getting used to.
“All right, then.” Fred changed the subject. “Mr. Bright spoke to me this morning. He wants to take on a new assistant, to eventually be Assistant Chief Superintendent of the station, and since we’ve two sergeants on CID day shift now, he wanted to sound me out.”
Morse felt his stomach drop. “I don’t want to be Bright’s assistant,” he said quickly. “I’ll go on night duty, like I planned before.”
“Don’t worry, Morse. We both agreed you weren’t cut out for the job. Besides, it’d be a waste of your talents. He wanted to know what I thought of Strange for the post. I told him I thought it would be a good step for the lad. He’s hardworking and clever enough, but he’s not the born detective you are. Bright wanted to make sure there’d be no hard feelings, though. He didn’t want you to feel you’d been passed over for a promotion, with everything that’s happened to you the last couple of years, so I told him I’d talk to you.”
“No. No hard feelings whatsoever,” Morse said emphatically. “I’d be terrible in administration. I came here to work with you, and I much prefer detective work anyway.”
“That’s what I thought you’d say. I’ll let Bright know. Could be helpful to you as you go along, Morse, having a friend like Strange in administration.”
Morse made a face. “I hate office politics. I just want to be left alone to do my work.”
“Which is exactly why you’re not cut out for administration. Don’t worry about it, lad— neither am I. The month I spent running the station while Bright was ill was the longest of my life.”
Win had made a pot roast so tender it was falling apart, with potatoes and fresh vegetables, and the chocolate cake was, in Morse’s estimation, perfect. Afterward Joan looked at film listings, Morse reading over her shoulder. “What sounds good to you?”
“It’s your birthday, you get to choose.”
“I want you to enjoy it, too.”
“Everything’s so deadly serious right now. I could go for something like what we saw with Maureen and Jim last autumn.”
“Really?” Morse stared at her. “You want to go to Friday Night Frights?”
“I love silly horror films and monster films.”
“What are they playing this week?”
Joan looked at the advert. “Something called The Extraterrestrial Nasty. It’s only an hour and fifteen minutes long if we hate it, but the name sounds promising.”
Morse shook his head. “I cannot believe I’m taking you to something with a name like that.”
Joan enjoyed the film but Morse kept nodding off, finally falling asleep with his head against her shoulder. She kept as still as she could, figuring he must need it, and feeling guilty that she’d dragged him to something that wasn’t his taste on his birthday. He stirred just before the end, burrowing his face into her shoulder with a sleepy groan then blinking awake as the house lights came on, looking lost and drowsy and utterly adorable.
“M’ sorry.” Morse sat up and stretched, covering a yawn.
“I’m sorry I dragged you to something you didn’t enjoy on your birthday.”
He shrugged. “Sleeping on your shoulder was nice. Although if I’d had my wits about me, I’d have spent the time more pleasantly. Since we’re in a cinema.”
“Snogging at the cinema, Morse? My image of you is rapidly crumbling,” Joan teased. She leaned over, her breath warm against his ear. “And I like it.” His answering smile was a darling blend of shyness and mischief.
He walked her home, and she invited him in for a cup of tea. There was no sign of her parents. “Dad must really trust you. He didn’t wait up.”
“Well, we are engaged.”
They drank their tea on the sofa, Joan lying against Morse’s chest. They talked about the station and Joan’s interview and wondered how Peter Jakes was faring in— “where was it? Wisconsin?”
“Wyoming,” Morse corrected. “I looked it up. Yellowstone Park is there— the place with the geysers and sulphur springs? Practically in his backyard.”
Joan tilted her face for a kiss, and he obliged.
I looked up movies to see what was playing in autumn 1967. There really was a horror film called 'The Extraterrestrial Nasty.'
Just Once In My Life, The Righteous Brothers
Just once in my life, let me hold on to this good thing I’ve found.
Morse was up bright and early the next day out of habit. He had the day off though, which left him with nothing planned for the day. It was a beautiful day so he kicked around, lost in his own head, wandering along the Thames, alternating actual planning for the future with woolgathering.
Then he did a bit of window shopping, wishing he could afford a proper engagement ring. There was a little jewelry shop near Florence Park that had caught his eye before, once when he'd seen a pretty ring in the window while he was dating Monica. He stopped to look at the window again. A ring with their combined birthstones would be pretty and elegant, but diamonds were so expensive. This shop carried new and secondhand jewelry, and did custom work.
It wouldn't hurt to check prices. Perhaps he could put something on layaway and have it paid off in time to give it to Joan when the baby was born. The bell jingled softly when he opened the door.
"Good morning, sir." The proprietor, a silver-haired, plump little man with a loupe over one lens of his eyeglasses greeted him. He was helping a couple of undergrads pick out a pair of simple gold rings.
"Good morning." Morse was allowed to browse in peace, which he greatly appreciated. There were so many things that would look lovely on Joan, from a classic strand of pearls to a beautiful ruby set. If he could, he'd drape her in silk and jewels. His eye kept going to the older pieces, the ones with a patina and stories to tell if they could.
Once the couple had bought rings and left, the jeweler came over to check on him. "Are you looking for anything in particular?"
"I'm getting married in a month. I'd like to look at wedding rings, but I'd love to give her an engagement ring to go with hers. It will probably have to go on layaway, though."
"Were you thinking of anything in particular?"
"I thought perhaps something combining our birthstones. Mine's sapphire, but she was born in April, and diamonds are so expensive. I could probably afford, well— a very small one. I like the look of the antique rings you have, though.”
"Ah. I think I might have some possibilities that would be quite affordable. In the 1930s and 40s, most young couples didn’t have much money to spend, and jewelry designers came up with ways to make small stones look larger.” He showed Morse several rings. “Yellow gold, with white gold surrounding the stones in Art Deco styling. I have a larger sapphire flanked by two diamonds, as well, if you wanted to go in that direction. Or, wait a moment— “ he went across the room to another case, bringing over a ring with a soft-blue sapphire surrounded by a few small diamonds, all set in a delicately carved white gold Art Deco background, while the main part of the ring was yellow gold. "From the interwar era, with some Art Deco notes in the styling. This came from an estate out near Wolvercote. The lady considered it a costume piece, even though it's gold and the stones are genuine, because this lighter blue is less desired and valuable than the deep-blue stones.”
Morse liked it the best of all. The sapphire reminded him of the color of Joan’s eyes. “It’s beautiful. How much is it?"
"How much is the down payment?
"Twenty percent of the total price."
Morse nodded. "I can do three pounds to start with. And probably five by the end of the week. I just received a promotion at work, and I've had some overtime lately."
The paperwork was signed and Morse took three pounds from his wallet for the initial payment.
"Do you know the lady's ring size?"
"No, I don't."
"It's easy enough to find out." The jeweler handed him a slip of paper marked with numbers. "Wrap this around her finger. The number the end touches will be her size. Ring the shop to let me know, and I'll size it. If you can tell me before I close up today at six, I can have it ready by Wednesday." At Morse's surprised expression, he added, "oh yes, you can take it on credit. If I can't trust a police detective, whom can I trust?"
"Thank you, sir."
By now it was midday, and all the walking had made him unexpectedly peckish, so Morse stopped at the Cowley Inn for lunch and a pint. Afterward, he wanted to see Joan, but didn't want to make a nuisance of himself. The problem was solved when he found her sitting on the bottom step to his flat, wearing a lightweight jumper and capris, petting a purring calico cat.
"I phoned a few times, but there wasn't an answer. I know it's silly, but I was worried something had happened.”
Morse helped her to her feet. "I'm sorry I worried you. I went for a walk and had lunch." He gave her a quick kiss and unlocked the door. The cat trilled, then trotted upstairs. "She lives in one of the flats next door."
Once the door was closed Joan went on tiptoe, kissing him insistently, tongue probing. He responded eagerly, steering her into the lounge. "Still no second thoughts?"
"None at all. You?"
Telling her about the ring would have settled it, but he wanted that to be a surprise. "Absolutely not." He sat down in his chair, pulling her onto his lap to give her a proper snogging.
"Mmm, this is nice. Glad to see you're not always such a proper gentleman."
"Only in public."
"Mum and I are going shopping later for new frocks for the wedding. Do you want to come with us?" On the one hand, dress shopping. On the other, more time with Joan. The latter won out.
"Okay. Oh, before I forget— I need to know your ring size." He measured her finger with the little strip of paper.
"Looking at wedding rings?"
“Wish we had more time before we have to meet Mum.” Joan snuggled against him, trailing little nibbling kisses down his neck that made him shiver.
Win was waiting for them at the entrance to Burridge’s. She greeted Morse warmly. "Hello, dear. I see Joan found you. She was worried, but I thought perhaps work called you in."
While the women browsed, Morse found a pay phone by the lifts and relayed Joan's ring size to the jeweler, then returned to the dress department. But dress shopping, even with Joan, was dull, especially since Win didn't want to run any risk of him seeing Joan's dress. He tried to feign interest until Win saw his eyes glazing over and laughed. "They've usually got tellies on in the furniture department. Keeps the men entertained."
Of the three tellies that were on, two were running sports: football and cricket. The third had the Oxfordshire news on. There was a weather update, then a rubbish story about a goose at Hinksey Park that chased and pecked people who'd fed it once they ran out of food. He wandered through housewares, which only made him depressed about the state of his kitchen: it really wasn’t fit for Joan. What department stores needed was a place to get a pint. He went to the menswear department, idly wondering how Peter Jakes had always managed to look so put together, and wishing he'd asked the other man for advice on that front once they'd become friends.
Eventually he found the baby department, full of impossibly tiny clothes. The clerk was surprised to find an unattended man in her domain. "My wife's due in April," he explained.
"How many outfits does one baby need?"
"Not that many, but they do grow quickly."
He found a light-green all-in-one suit that would do; the size said 'newborn,' so he supposed it would fit. It also came in pink, blue, and yellow. It wouldn't hurt to get a yellow one; one to wear and one to wash. They could get a pink or blue one once the baby was born. A packet of nappies. A little cap in pastel colors. He looked at blankets, but Win was already knitting one for the baby, so he got some tiny socks instead, and a plush rabbit. It was a start, and nobody was going to say he didn't provide properly for his child.
After that he returned to the dress department. "I've found something," Win told him. "Joan's narrowed it down to two."
Once Joan's dress was safely hidden in a garment bag, she noticed the bag he was carrying. "New shirt or something?"
"Er, no." He held it out to her. "It's a little soon, but I thought maybe to start.”
Joan peeked inside. "Baby clothes! Mum, he bought baby clothes! Two little onesies, socks, and a hat. And nappies and a plush toy." She kissed him rapturously while Win looked at his purchases.
Morse shrugged, surprised at her reaction. It was Win who explained to him after they left the dress department, while Joan was distracted by shoes. "She's been worried that you'd be disappointed, considering the circumstances," she murmured. "Not many men want to raise another man's child. Buying clothes for the baby drives it home to her that you truly mean it."
"If I didn't, I wouldn't have asked her to marry me."
"I know, dear. But she's met too many men who didn't mean what they said; she couldn't help doubting. I'm so glad she finally found her way to you, and you to her. You're a wonderful addition to our family, and Fred and I are very glad to have you."
He felt a little overwhelmed. "Thank you, Mrs. Thursday. It— it means a great deal to me that you feel that way."
Win squeezed his arm affectionately. "If you're going to be my son-in-law, you really should call me Win."
"I'll try— Win."
"There. Much nicer, don't you think?"
Soon they were boarding a bus to the Thursdays' neighborhood. Win had invited Morse to tea, and refused to take no for an answer. "I've got spaghetti bolognese sauce simmering. Fred came home from the war with a taste for Italian food, so I learned to make a few dishes. He's watching a match, so he's responsible for keeping an eye on the sauce. Knowing him, he's probably tasted it every half-hour."
The house smelled of basil and rosemary and other spices. Morse drew a deep breath and sighed. Joan saw him. "Should I learn to make spaghetti bolognese?"
"I won't expect it, but I'd love it."
"I will, then. They do say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach." She patted his tummy, then kissed him. He responded without thinking, feeling desire flash through him like electricity, his hands going to her waist to pull her close. Afterward he opened his eyes—- to see Fred in the lounge doorway. His brain cleared in an instant and he felt his cheeks grow hot. But Fred only gave him a somewhat strained nod, then continued into the kitchen to taste the sauce again. Joan followed her mum upstairs to put away their dresses.
"You're in for a real treat tonight, Morse. Mrs. Thursday does a delicious spaghetti bolognese. Would you like a glass of Radford’s? Or something stronger?"
"Beer is fine."
"Go on through to the lounge. I'll bring it to you."
Joan joined them in the lounge, carrying the Burridge's bag. "While Mum and I bought our dresses, Morse picked out some things for the baby."
"You did?" Fred looked at him like he'd taken leave of his senses.
Morse shrugged, feeling himself blush again. "I was wandering around the store and found myself in that department. I thought it a good idea to get started. Babies seem to need a lot of things. A cot, a pram, toys, clothes— “
"A thousand and one nappies," Fred added. "That's what I remember the most."
"I'm going to sign you up for a diaper service, and Dad and I will pay for it," Win said, joining them with a glass of sherry. "The young couple down the street use Happy Nappy and they've been pleased with it. It's not much more expensive than using a launderette, and the convenience will be worth it."
Dinner was delicious. They talked over plans for the next day while they ate. Morse and Joan did the washing up afterward, talking quietly. When Morse left, Joan followed him out onto the porch. They kissed and cuddled a bit. "Just wait: Dad's going to tap on the glass any minute."
"I'm not so sure. I overheard your mum telling him no scaring me off. She sounded quite stern. I wouldn't cross her when she sounds like that." He gave her a last kiss. "Go inside— it's getting chilly out here."
"'Night, Morse. Sweet dreams."
"Sweet dreams, Joanie."
Morse took the last hour of Monday afternoon off. "I'm going to look at wedding rings. I've enough cash put together to buy hers and mine both," he told Fred.
"You're not buying your own wedding ring, Morse. I'll go with you."
They stopped by the jewelry shop to see which one would work with the engagement ring best. Morse hesitated when he showed it to Fred. "Do you think she'll like it?"
"Very much so."
"I can’t afford much. Do you think she'll mind?"
"Not my Joan. She was happy with the prospect of a plain gold band. It's you she wants, not the things you can buy her. You'll spoil her, though." Fred's tone was indulgent. "Keep on like this, you'll need to earn your DI to pay the bills. And where will that leave me?"
“You could be detective superintendent if you wanted. They’re talking about consolidating CID at Kidlington sometime after the merger."
"Leading that whole lot would be like herding cats. I've a few more years before they turn me out to pasture, though. Suppose I should set a good example for my son-in-law."
Morse bought Joan's wedding ring, while Fred paid for Morse’s. They went into a double box, and Morse put the extra money he'd brought toward the engagement ring. "I'm almost halfway there. I should have it paid off by the wedding."
They arrived at the Thursday house to find Joan practically floating with excitement. "I got the job! I start next Monday!"
On Friday Morse was on the Thursdays' doorstep at seven, carrying an armload of flowers. Joan answered the door in the midnight blue dress she'd worn for her parents' anniversary party, her hair and makeup flawlessly stylish down to a heavy fringe of false eyelashes.
“These are for you,” he said, handing her a bouquet of daisies and yellow rosebuds.
"Thank you.” She leaned in to kiss him.
“The pink carnations are for your mother. She’s been so kind to me lately.”
“She’ll love them.”
He stepped inside to say hello to Fred and Win, giving Win her bouquet.
“Thank you, dear.” Win beamed and kissed his cheek.
Morse helped Joan into her coat, and they walked to the bus stop hand in hand. "I made reservations for 7:45 at Luigi's."
Joan didn't bat an eye to find he'd requested a table in a corner, where he sat with his back to the wall, the whole room visible to him. She caught the subtle scans he made of the room from time to time. It was the same thing her dad did, the eternal vigilance of a true policeman. They lingered over dinner, Joan's wry humor making him laugh. She loved making him laugh, the way it transformed his face and made his eyes sparkle.
Morse reached into his jacket pocket between their meal and dessert. "I have something for you." He drew out the little box, Joan's eyes widening.
"Oh, Morse— what did you do?"
He opened the box. "I thought you should have an engagement ring."
"I wanted one with both of our birthstones, but I couldn't afford much of a diamond. I thought the design around it made it look nicer, and the sapphire reminded me of your eyes. It's an estate piece— "
"Morse, stop talking so I can kiss you!" Joan leaned across the table, kissing him, reaching for his hands. Then he slipped the ring onto her finger. She tilted her hand this way and that, watching it in the light. "It's beautiful."
"We'll get a proper diamond ring later, I promise."
"We'll do no such thing, Endeavour Morse! It's perfect as it is!" Her tone was adamant.
He stared at her. "How did you find out?"
"Asked Dad. We agreed that if I'm going to marry you, I should know your full name. Is it a family one?"
Morse shook his head. "My mum was a Quaker. They like virtue names; her name was Constance. My father was obsessed with James Cook's voyages. They could have named me James, but they named me after his ship instead."
"It's distinctive. Call that out in a crowded room, you're the only bloke who'll turn around. Not like John or Bob or something." She stroked his hand and leaned in to kiss him again. “Well, I like it."
"If you have a boy, we're not naming him Endeavour Morse Jr. I won't stand for it."
They took their time returning to the Thursday house, strolling through the quiet streets.
“Sometimes I’m terrified about this,” Joan admitted quietly. “A baby is such a huge responsibility. But even before that— the delivery scares me. Mum had anesthesia for both of us, so she doesn’t remember anything.”
“They’ll be able to give you something to help. It’s not the dark ages.”
“What if I have to have a caesarean? Mum had to for Sam and me. I’ve never had surgery before.”
“Whatever happens, you won’t go through it alone. I’ll be there with you, probably putting the nappy on the wrong end of the baby or something.”
Joan laughed. “It might be a good idea to put a nappy on both ends. Babies spit up, too.” She turned serious again. “What if it comes out looking exactly like Ray?”
“With a mustache?" Morse joked, trying to lighten Joan's mood. "That would be one for the medical books.”
“You know what I mean. What if it’s a little boy who looks like him? Will you be sorry you took us on?”
Morse kissed her cheek. “Your dad once told me the if game’s no good to anyone. A dark-haired child is going to look more like you anyway.” He stopped walking and held her close, putting a warm hand on Joan’s tummy. “Whatever it looks like, it will be ours. A little you will be beautiful, girl or boy.”
Joan gazed into his eyes. “You really mean it, don’t you?”
“With all my heart. I can’t help loving this baby— it’s yours, part of you. I wish I could give you both everything you ever dream of.”
Joan’s eyes were bright with tears. “You’re amazing, Morse.” She leaned in to kiss him, lips soft against his.
When they reached the Thursday house, Joan wasted no time showing off her ring. "I don't know when he found the time to go shopping. Isn't it perfect?"
They chatted over weekend plans. Morse and Thursday had the Saturday shift and would be on call over the rest of the weekend, which meant they'd be staying close to home. "I should catch up on laundry," Morse admitted.
Fred and Win bade them goodnight awhile later. "They went up early to give us some privacy," Joan said quietly. She led him into the lounge, turning on the radio to play softly, then put her free hand on his shoulder. They danced in the lounge, snuggled into each other, Joan's head on his shoulder and his cheek resting on her hair. Later he ended up on the sofa with Joan on his lap, snogging one another thoroughly. But when her hand strayed to his shirt buttons he stopped her.
"It doesn't feel right, with your parents upstairs," he confessed.
"I want you."
"The feeling's mutual." He made up for it as best he could with a deep, lingering kiss.
“I don’t know what’s with me lately. It’s like a switch was thrown. I wonder if it’s a pregnancy thing, raging hormones or something, but I can hardly ask Mum about it.” She kissed her way along his jawline to his earlobe, which she nibbled thoroughly. Morse groaned softly, feeling himself respond. “What if I’m a sex fiend and just never knew it?” She actually sounded worried.
It was all Morse could do not to laugh loudly enough to wake her parents. “Joanie, if you’re a budding nymphomaniac, I shall give thanks all the days of my life.”
Joan's ring, found in a UK Etsy shop:
This Is My Song, Petula Clark
This world cannot be wrong, if in this world there’s you.
Saturday was busy at the station: two natural deaths, one drowning, and an especially bad road accident that killed a mother and small child and left the father on the brink of death. When Morse finally trudged down the little flight of stairs to his flat, drawn and tired and hungry, he was startled to open his door and smell something delicious cooking and hear unfamiliar music coming from his phonograph. Joan greeted him with a smile and a kiss, helping him out of his coat and suit jacket.
"What's all this?"
"I borrowed your extra key from Dad. I thought I'd make you a good dinner and we could spend the evening together. I hope you don't mind."
"Mind? It's exactly what I needed. We were nearly run off our feet today." Morse sank into his chair with a sigh, loosening his tie and collar.
"Anything interesting?" He hesitated, but Joan was determined. "We're not leaving work on the hall table. I won't have it."
"Two naturals, both elderly with health issues. One drowned in the Thames, probably intoxicated, according to DeBryn. Road accident that I'd rather forget. I brought home some of the paperwork to get a head start before Monday. I should really pay attention to the paperwork going forward, with more than myself to look after."
"Would you rather have beer or scotch?"
"Beer, please. You're going to spoil me, Joan."
"I certainly hope so."
He took a long drink, then let out a deep sigh. "So what's the music?"
"Petula Clark. I brought a few of my records and books over— I hope you don't mind."
"Of course not. This is going to be your home, too.” He was just going to have to learn to like pop music. Or at least tolerate it.
He didn't have a dining table, usually eating over the sink in the kitchenette or in his armchair while he read or worked a crossword. They ended up clearing off the coffee table and sitting on the floor across from each other.
"This is wonderful. You're an excellent cook."
"I wondered where you were when I dropped off your dad. I was looking forward to a kiss before I came home."
"You're likely to get more than a kiss, Dev."
"Do you hate it?"
"No. It's just— you're the first person who ever gave me a nickname. I mean, at school they called me Pagan because I wouldn't use my Christian name, if it even is, but that's not the same."
Joan took his hand in hers. "I can't imagine how lonely you've been." She kissed his fingers gently. "You deserve so much better."
Morse was speechless, feeling tears prickle in his eyes. Joan looked up and saw them. "Dev?"
"I'm not used to this," he admitted hoarsely. "Tenderness. Empathy. Not since my mum died."
"No one should have to do without it. Especially not you."
“Joanie— " he choked out, his self-control collapsing.
Joan scrambled around the table to gather him in her arms and hold him. "Shh, love. It's all right," she soothed.
"I'm sorry," he managed around tears. "I don't know why I'm acting like this."
"You've been too lonely, and carrying too many burdens, for too long. There's no shame in breaking down under it." She held him, rubbing his back and stroking his hair, letting him cry. "Let it out. It helps ease the hurt." It took several minutes for him to settle, and he very nearly wept again when she brought him a cool, damp flannel and gently wiped his face with it. "Better?"
He took out his hankie and blew his nose. "Better. Sorry."
“There’s no need to apologize. Never apologize for how you feel.”
They carried the dishes to the sink, where Morse insisted on doing the washing up. As he was finishing, Joan came up behind him and wrapped her arms around his middle. Once the last item was in the dish rack he turned to face her, giving her a deep, lingering kiss. They spent the evening cuddling on his bed while they talked, sharing stories of growing up and learning more about one another. Joan's heart ached for Morse as a child, losing his mother and sent to live where he wasn't wanted.
"It's part of why I started listening to opera. It drove Gwen spare."
"Usually teenagers listen to pop music to drive their parents up a wall."
Morse gave a wry smile. "I've never quite managed to be in step with everyone else. I've been called contrary and difficult. I hope you don't come to regret marrying me."
Joan stroked his hair; he closed his eyes and leaned into it with a sigh. "I don't think I will. I love you, Dev.”
His eyes flew open. “You do? You’re not just saying that?”
“I don’t say things I don’t mean.”
He practically surged into her, gathering her in his arms and rolling her onto her back, kissing her deeply, one thigh finding its way between hers. “I love you. I’ve loved you for months, longer than I even realized. I’ve worried that I’m taking advantage of you because of the baby.”
“I feel like I’m taking advantage of you. You’re a good man. Too good for me.”
“Don’t say that, Joan. Don’t even think it.” His voice was muffled by her throat; he was punctuating his words with kisses, his silky hair brushing her skin. The whole of it was making her tingle all over. He pulled back to gaze at her with his heart in his eyes. “I’ll do my best to make you happy. I promise you that.”
By nine-thirty Morse's second wind was gone, the day had caught up with him, and he was exhausted, half-dozing against her. He insisted on seeing Joan home despite her protests. They were set to linger under the porch light a bit, but Fred opened the front door as soon as they came up the walk.
He looked apologetic. "I hate to break up your evening, but I just got a call from the station. Shooting near Rose Hill. They're sending a car round. I rang yours, but you'd already left."
"Dad, he's dead on his feet."
"We're both tired," Morse said firmly. "It doesn't matter. We're the ones on call."
"He's right. I've told your mum not to wait up. Neither should you."
Morse gave Joan a quick, tender kiss while Thursday put on his overcoat and hat.
"Be careful, Dev." The way she straightened his tie and smoothed down his lapels reminded him of Win sending Fred to work.
"I will. Try not to worry."
They didn't return to the Thursday house until the first hints of dawn were lightening the sky. "You might as well have a kip in Sam's old room, borrow a set of his pajamas. Win will be up soon, you can get a good breakfast in you before you go."
"At work, it's Sir or Mr. Thursday. Off duty, it's Fred, lad. You're my son-in-law in another two weeks." Despite his weariness, Fred smiled at the prospect.
Win and Joan tiptoed that morning, letting their exhausted coppers sleep as long as possible. Fred had left them a note, and Joan eased open the door to Sam's room to check on Morse as soon as she knew he was there. He'd never made it into pajamas, merely kicking off his shoes, tossing his suit jacket and shirt over the desk chair, and leaving his tie hanging off the bed. He was burrowed under the covers, lying on his stomach with one arm hanging off the edge of the narrow bed, scowling in his sleep and mumbling. She couldn't help but smile tenderly at the sight, leaning over to kiss his furrowed brow. His face relaxed almost immediately. She tiptoed away to check on her dad. Fred was snoring softly, wearing his oldest and softest pajamas, and she suspected it was only her mother's intervention that had kept him from sleeping in his suit as well.
"They're both dead to the world," she reported. "Poor Morse didn't even make it into his jimjams."
The phone rang a little before noon with the report of a suicide and they were off again. Joan still had Morse's spare key, borrowed from her dad the day before, and brought over his laundry to wash and hang out. The afternoon was clear and dry, and she soon had everything pinned to the washlines in the back garden.
By the time Fred and Morse returned at dusk, bone-tired and famished, his laundry was neatly folded and ready to go back. Win had ironed his dress shirts with the same skilled experience that kept Fred's crisp and tidy. Win fed them a hearty supper, then Fred ran Morse and his laundry home in the Jaguar, Morse feeling sheepish and a little guilty than Joan had seen to his washing for him.
Morse was at the station a little before eight the next morning. He ran into Joan on the way in. "I thought I'd be picking you up at home."
"They want me in at eight, so it's back to the bus for me."
"Another couple of weeks, we can catch it together." He kissed her before hurrying upstairs to CID to check the reports.
The business office was similar enough to bank work that Joan settled in quickly, feeling safe there. "No one's thick enough to rob a police station," she told Morse over their cheese-and-pickle sandwiches at midday.
"I'd like to see them try," he answered. "The PCs would pile onto them in the lobby." She giggled at the mental image, as he'd meant her to.
The business office handled payroll, duty allowances for undercover work, and the clothing allowance for plainclothes officers, as well as securing cash and valuables for anyone brought to the jail and receiving fines for minor infractions like parking tickets. “You’ll both have to give your allowance requests to Marjorie from now on, since we’re related, or almost so,” Joan reported to them on the drive home. “When she mentioned it for Dad, I told her Morse and I are engaged. And someone else will have to check in your valuables if either of you get yourselves arrested in Cowley,” she added drily.
Thursday matched her tone. “We’ll keep that in mind, won’t we?”
As did Morse. “Yes, sir.”
Having Joan at the station was the only bright spot in a terrible week. The bodies of prostitutes were found on Monday and Thursday nights; Morse was sure there was a serial killer on the loose. Unlike Mason Gull, there was no complex pattern, just a vicious brute picking on people he thought wouldn't be missed. Strange, who'd begged Bright to let him join the investigation, was especially grim; in his PC days the stroll had been his beat for awhile, and he still felt protective of the lost souls there. He knew both of the dead girls.
"I used to bring them all tea with doughnuts or sarnies in bad weather, when they didn't have much business going. None of them had any family to look out for them, or the family was who'd thrown them out on the pavement first chance they got. No prospects, nothing. At least they can't be hurt anymore, poor lasses."
Morse rested a hand on his shoulder, remembering similar stories from when he'd been a PC in Carshall. His deepest dread was that something would happen to Joyce that would drive her to the streets, and the same fear had haunted him while Joan was missing. "We'll get him, Strange."
A stakeout with Shirley Trewlove as bait drew the man out on Saturday night, and he was lucky Morse was there, with the way Strange pounced on him. Once their suspect was cuffed in the back of a police car, he turned to find Thursday talking quietly to Trewlove, making sure she was all right after her first decoy job before sending her home to rest.
They interrogated the man for several hours before he cracked under the weight of the evidence against him. Morse booked him into a cell, then joined Thursday and Strange. The canteen had just opened and they decompressed over breakfast, none of them talking about the case.
"I heard DeBryn's going on another fishing holiday this week," Strange said.
Morse rubbed his eyes wearily. "Last time he did that, we had a tiger loose in Oxford. Wonder what it will be this time? Pack of wolves? Crazed grizzly bear? If the Home Office send that idiot pathologist again, I'm ringing in sick."
"Not on my watch," Fred told him. "I've got seniority, and Win hasn't had a proper holiday in years."
Morse gave him a tired glare over his tea and toast with jam. "I can feel a fever coming on already. And this headache is probably a symptom. It's flu."
"We all had our flu jabs beginning of September. It's not flu," Fred answered. "We'll wait to see who they send."
"Looking on the bright side, we'll get a nice chunk of overtime this paycheck," Strange reminded them.
"Bugger!" Thursday exclaimed. "We've been so busy, I haven't been down to the business office to see Joan."
"I was going to take her out to celebrate her new job," Morse said regretfully.
"She's used to coppers, lad. Another week, is it? Morse is marrying my Joan later this month."
Strange stared. "You kept that close to your vest, matey."
"Do you mind keeping it close to yours? It's nothing fancy. Just the registry office with Joan's parents."
"Of course. I'll take you out for a pint beforehand. Know you're not the type to enjoy a stag do. Congratulations. She's a cracking one— begging your pardon, Inspector." Strange stood. "I'm off, then. A kip in my own bed sounds like heaven right now."
Thursday and Morse headed out to the motor pool not long after. "Care for a kip at ours?"
Morse yawned hugely. "What Strange said about sleeping in his own bed is about right. Give Joan my regrets?"
"I will, lad."
Morse made a point of seeing Joan when she arrived at the station the next morning. "I'm sorry about the past week. Work— "
"Don't worry about it. I grew up with Dad, remember? I know how things go. Besides, you caught the killer. That's the important thing." Joan kissed him, straightened his tie, and headed off to the business office, while Morse went up to CID to check in before signing out the car to pick up Thursday.
One of my favorite scenes is when Morse has a bit of a breakdown in “Trove” when Monica brings him breakfast, and how she comforts him. I wanted a similar scene with Joan, where he can’t help showing his vulnerability and she has the chance to be there for him like he’s been there for her.
Finally— the wedding!
In the tradition of Inspector Morse, Lewis, and Endeavour, keep an eye peeled for a Colin Dexter cameo. I'm going to miss seeing him, and the behind the scenes pics of him with Shaun.
Also, the Rating goes up for this chapter. It’s Morse and Joan’s honeymoon, after all.
I Only Live to Love You, Cilla Black
When you came my way there was no yesterday, only tomorrow with you.
Morse woke early on the Friday of his wedding, feeling like energy was fizzing in his veins. They weren't due at the registry office until eleven, so he worked off his nerves by tidying the flat and putting clean sheets on the bed. Then he showered, washed his hair, shaved carefully, and dressed in his best suit before packing a suitcase. Fred and Win had insisted on sending them on a weekend honeymoon, and they’d decided on a trip to London.
Once at the registry office Morse sat down, reading the paper he’d bought along the way and working the crossword while he waited. He felt himself in a strange place between nervousness, an odd, suppressed sort of calm, and just wanting to get the whole thing over with, and was grateful Joan hadn’t wanted a big, elaborate wedding and reception.
Fred arrived a little before eleven. "Win and Joan are on their way in. I signed out the car for the day."
Win and Joan entered next. Morse stood to greet them, getting a hug from Win before he kissed Joan on the cheek. "You look lovely," he told her quietly. She'd chosen a light-blue dress of some kind of nubby fabric with a slight sheen, with a creamy white collar and cuffs. A strand of pearls borrowed from Win hung from beneath the collar, and her earrings were clusters of tiny pearls. Win was wearing a pale blue suit. They both wore corsages of daisies and heliotrope he’d ordered and had sent over, remembering the bouquet Joan had picked out in Leamington.
"E. Morse and Joan Thursday!"
"That's us," Morse muttered. He pulled the ring case from his pocket, handing it to Fred.
The four of them went in. The ceremony was short and simple. After their vows Morse placed one ring on Joan's finger, then she slipped the larger one onto his. They kissed, then signed the paperwork.
"Sir, we need your full name, please. Not just an initial."
Morse sighed and signed Endeavour Morse. He handed Joan the pen, and she signed Joan Winifred Morse. Fred and Win signed as witnesses, the clerk signed on his line, then handed over their copy. Morse folded it carefully, slipping it into his inner jacket pocket. They left hand in hand; Fred and Win followed looking fond and proud.
"In lieu of a wedding reception, how about a wedding lunch?" Fred asked. "The Trout Inn?"
It was a beautiful, unexpectedly warm day, more like late summer than autumn. They chose a table outside, overlooking the river. Win had brought a camera, snapping photos at the registry office. Now she took pictures of Morse and Joan by the river railing and on the bridge. "Newlyweds," Fred explained to the white-haired man at the next table. "My daughter and son-in-law." He offered to take a photo of all four of them together at the railing, then raised his pint to the new couple with a friendly smile.
Lunch was full of laughter and talk. Morse held Joan's hand as much as he could, kissing the back of it from time to time, glowing with happiness. She'd never seen him so happy, his eyes shining, a soft smile on his lips.
After lunch they went to the Thursdays' house to pick up Fred's big suitcase, stuffed with Joan's clothes and things, and her own packed for the weekend. "I'm not sure how many of the clothes will fit me in a few months," Joan said.
"I'm not sure how many will fit in my cupboard," Morse answered drily.
They dropped off the suitcase, picked up Morse’s, and went to the train station. Win saw them off with hugs and kisses, while Fred shook Morse’s hand warmly.
“I promise I’ll take care of her, sir,” Morse said earnestly, knowing Thursday was entrusting him with one of his greatest treasures.
“I know you will, lad.” Fred’s voice was husky with restrained emotion. “Have a good time.” He smiled at Morse’s blush.
The Friday afternoon train to London was full, meaning they couldn’t have a compartment to themselves. Joan sighed, disappointed, and snuggled against Morse for the trip.
Win had booked a room for them at a hotel in the West End. Morse closed the door after the bellhop left, to find Joan flopped on the double bed and toeing off her pumps. “This is divine,” she sighed.
Morse joined her. “We’d best enjoy it while we can. There’s a lumpy three-quarter awaiting us at home.”
“I’ve been putting money aside. We might be able to afford a new mattress in a few months.” Joan rolled onto her side and lifted up on her elbow to look at him. “Alone at last.”
“So it seems.”
Her hand strayed to his tie, undoing it before unbuttoning his shirt. Morse lay still, watching her face, letting her take the lead. Her eyes flickered to his and she leaned forward, kissing him gently. He reciprocated then hinted he’d like more, parting his lips for her. Joan deepened the kiss, her hand still busy with his shirt, tugging it out of his trousers and undoing the last buttons. Then she pushed his vest up and put of the way.
Morton had been Joan’s first, and she was curious about Morse’s body. He was whippet-thin, as she’d expected, with blond hair on his chest, his nipples tight in the open air. She leaned in to take one into her mouth, wondering if he would let her. Morse kept still, and she looked up to see his eyes closed and his lips parted. He sighed as she suckled on the nipple. She gave the other equal attention before, feeling brave, she kissed her way down to his belly button, licking a circle around it. She felt him groan, as well as heard it. His hand went to her hair, fingers combing through it.
“Oh Joanie,” he murmured. He opened his eyes, and they were full of tenderness as he gazed on her. The hand that had been in her hair went to her back, and he caressed her cheek with the back of his left hand. She could feel his wedding ring brushing her skin.
“Mine,” she said softly.
“Always,” he breathed. His heart was hammering as he cradled her face in his hands, kissing her deeply, feeling her hands at his waist as she undid his fly, little needy noises slipping from his throat as she reached into his shorts.
“Oh— Joanie— please— "
"Please stop, or please keep going?" Her tone was serious.
"Don't stop. Don't ever stop." He groaned, feeling himself respond to her warm hand gently working him. His hips began moving instinctively.
When he opened his eyes, his smoldering gaze made her heart leap and a little frisson of nerves go through her stomach. This was different somehow from her other experiences—- he was different. Morse with his defenses down, no longer aloof and self-contained, was still new, and he intrigued and excited her. He undid the zipper on her dress and caressed the soft skin of her back, unhooked her bra, then ghosted his hand down to the small of her back and lower, giving her bum a squeeze.
Making love with Morse was a revelation after Ray. He was intent on more than his own pleasure, tender and gentle and generous, taking care of her needs before his own, making sure she was relaxed and floating on a cloud of utter bliss before he rolled them over and positioned himself.
“Let me know if it hurts or doesn’t feel right or anything,” he murmured.
It felt wonderful, from his warm weight to the sensation of him moving inside her while he kissed and nibbled at her ear and neck. He’d closed his eyes so she watched his face, seeing the little twitches in it. Curious, she wrapped her legs around his waist; his eyes went wide and he gasped at how good it felt. It wasn’t long after that she knew he was on the brink. Tears welled in his eyes as he finished, then he collapsed carefully to the side, breathlessly saying, "thank you."
Joan smiled at the sweetness of it. "Oh, Dev." She kissed the tears from his eyes and held him while he dozed. She stroked his hair, gently played with his curls, studied his face. She found the thin line on his side where he'd been stabbed at the Bodleian, precise as a surgical scar. On the other side, close to his hip, was the one where he'd been shot not long after. It was larger, like a ragged sunburst and slightly raised, knotted with scar tissue from moving around too much while it was healing. She touched it gently, then slipped down to place a kiss on it.
Morse woke from a half-hour nap as the room was darkening with dusk to find her tracing the fine lines on his brow, her eyes full of love. "Joanie," he murmured huskily, "how did I get so lucky?"
"I was just wondering how I got so lucky," she answered, and kissed him tenderly. She reached for him and he smiled.
Morse’s answer was to pull her atop him.
Afterward, cuddled together under the covers, Morse sighed. “I suppose we should get dressed and go down to dinner, but I don’t much feel like leaving this bed.”
“Mum told us she arranged a tab at the hotel. They do room service. I’ve never had room service before.”
He kissed her forehead. “I’ll fetch the menu, Mrs. Morse.”
“Mrs. Morse— I quite like the sound of that.”
The menu had all manner of gourmet options, but Joan wanted a cheeseburger and chips. Morse ordered fish and chips. When dinner arrived, Joan settled back against the pillows in a sky-blue nightgown and peignoir bought for their honeymoon, giggling as she ate a chip. “This feels utterly decadent.”
Afterward Morse felt like he was part dessert and part science specimen. Joan was intent on his body, exploring and asking questions, curious about seemingly everything. There was a sweet innocence to it all, and he was glad she felt comfortable enough— and cared enough— to learn the mysteries and quirks of his body. Then she found a ticklish spot and pounced, reducing him to breathless laughter for a few moments until she relented.
They woke up in a warm tangle of limbs Saturday morning, Morse sleepily kissing a trail along Joan’s shoulder while she fondled him until they were awake enough to do something more.
They made it downstairs to breakfast, although Joan could feel herself blushing. When she looked over her menu to see Morse flushed pink as he studied his own a bit too intently, she broke down in giggles. “We’re a pair. Blushing like— like— “
“Stereotypical newlyweds? I wasn’t expecting it of myself, to be honest. It’s not like we’re wearing signs that say ‘honeymoon couple.’” He leaned close enough to murmur, “Be not discountenanced if the knowing know/ We rose from rapture but an hour ago.”
Joan wanted to see Carnaby Street and Kings Road. Morse mostly people-watched while she window-shopped and browsed. She’d brought her own money, and loaded up on Biba and Mary Quant cosmetics with it. She spotted a sapphire-blue velvet frock at Lady Jane and sighed when she held it up to herself. “I love it.”
“I’ll buy it for you.”
“It won’t fit me in another month or two.”
“You won’t be pregnant forever,” Morse pointed out. “It’ll fit you again after the baby’s born.” It really did look lovely with her dark hair and blue eyes. He shook his head at the men’s clothes in the shops, though. “I’d look like an escapee from a commune in that.”
They bought tickets to The Mousetrap for that evening, and Joan wore her new dress. This time they made it out of their hotel room, although Morse got distracted while zipping up her dress.
“When we get back,” she sighed as he kissed her shoulder, closing her eyes.
Morse gathered his courage that night, kissing his way down her body. He’d read about a few things in college that he’d promptly tried on Susan, but she’d pushed him away and told him it was dirty even though he’d had no problems doing it. Joan went wide-eyed and gasped as he used his tongue on her. “Dev! Where did you learn that?”
“The Bodleian has reprints of some very interesting works.”
“So that’s why you read Greats.”
“It wasn’t all Socrates and Euripedes, although this was strictly extracurricular studies. You don’t mind?”
“Why on earth would I mind? Dev, you’re amazing.” Her sighing sort of moan nearly undid him. She didn’t even mind when he kissed her mouth afterward. “You really enjoyed doing that?”
Morse nodded. “I did. You didn’t think— some people think it’s dirty.”
“Some people think sex is dirty, full stop. I think what consenting adults do in private is nobody else’s business. Besides, I warned you I might be a sex fiend.” The way he managed to growl and giggle at the same time made heat flash through her again, and she wrapped her legs around his waist to let him know what she wanted.
“I think if it’s not at least a little dirty, you’re not doing it right,” Morse told her as they moved together. Afterward, as they caught their breath, he admitted with a husky chuckle, “I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to make it to work in the mornings with you in my bed. Or concentrate once I’m there.”
Joan’s eyes were full of mischief. “That will make two of us, then.”
On Sunday they took the afternoon train back to Oxford. When they arrived at the flat Morse opened the door and looked around, surprised. "Somebody's been in here."
"Have we been robbed?”
"Thieves don't usually leave new things where they strike. Hang on— where are you going? I’m supposed to carry you over the threshold.” He picked her up, and promptly smacked his elbow against the jamb. “Ow! Hit my funnybone.” Then her knee on the opposite one. “Sorry!” The moment they were across the threshold Joan made him put her down. He apologized again but she waved it away, too busy looking around the flat.
The first thing they saw was unfamiliar bedding on a proper double bed. Then they found new towels in the bathroom and a little rug. New dishtowels in the kitchen. A shiny electric kettle. His mismatched few dishes, glasses, and silverware had been replaced by full sets of each. Even the refrigerator and pantry had been stocked.
"It was Mum and Dad," Joan told him confidently. "Probably because I didn't get a bridal shower and we didn't receive wedding gifts."
"They've done entirely too much for us. First the trip to London, and now this.”
"They want to, Dev. Dad told me he got away cheaply. He had five hundred quid saved up to put on my wedding." Joan sat on the new bed, giving it a bounce. "This is nice." She patted the space beside her.
Morse sat down, then dropped back to lie across the bed with a contented sigh, eyes drifting shut. It was a far nicer mattress than the old one. Joan lay down beside him, slipping her fingers between his shirt buttons to lightly tickle his tummy. He opened his eyes with a soft chuckle to see her giving him a mischievous look.
"We should give it a try, don't you think?”
Afterward they cleaned up and dressed, Morse adding his burgundy pullover to a shirt and trousers, Joan putting on a cardigan over a floral dress. "There's a little cafe a block over that has a good, basic menu. Nothing fancy, very come as you are. If that appeals?"
"I was going to cook something for you."
"Mrs. Morse, I refuse to make you cook on your honeymoon, or what’s left of it."
"I won’t argue with that."
After dinner Joan unpacked, putting underwear, socks, and tights in the bureau and hanging up clothes in the tiny wardrobe. She got the rest of her records out of the suitcase, placing them on the shelf next to Morse's. "I'm afraid they're all pop music. The Wildwood, The Searchers, Dionne Warwick, that sort of thing."
"I've heard The Wildwood. We had a case involving them in July."
"That's about the time they broke up. There were rumors about Nick. Some said exhaustion, but there's another story of a nervous breakdown."
"He was given an overdose of LSD. It made a mess of him. I suppose they took him to a sanitarium or something. The same person who drugged him slipped me some herbal concoction with the same effect. I spent several days in hospital, but they had me on such heavy sedation that I can't remember the worst of it. Your dad and Dr. DeBryn both said that was a blessing. I'd just returned home when you phoned me."
"What a horrible thing to do to someone." Joan was looking through her albums. “We don’t have any overlap, do we? Wait— what about Roy Orbison?”
Morse sighed. “Too painful. His music, and there’s a quality to his voice as well. It— it always seemed to hit too close to home, somehow.”
“I know what you mean." She chose a Petula Clark record and put it on the phonograph, then perched on Morse’s lap, leaning in for a deep kiss, fingers going to his shirt buttons.
He smiled against her lips. “You’re insatiable.”
He felt an answering smile. “You haven’t objected,” Joan pointed out.
“I’m not going to. This is wonderful.”
Joan woke first on Monday. Morning light was creeping past the curtains. She stretched, then looked over with a smile. Morse was still deeply asleep, lying on his stomach, utterly relaxed. She reached out one hand, placing it lightly between his shoulder blades, feeling the softness and warmth of his skin. She lay still, watching him sleep, wondering if he was dreaming and what he dreamed about.
It wasn't long before he started stirring, burrowing his face into the pillow, shifting about, moving onto his side. Slowly he blinked awake and rubbed his eyes, obviously still groggy.
"Morning, sleepyhead," Joan greeted him.
His initial answer was a drowsy groan. "What time is it?" His voice was husky with sleep.
"How'd you sleep?"
"Well. You've been dead to the world."
"Best sleep I ever get, after— " he trailed off. "Suppose we should get up. Not that I want to."
"Rather go back to sleep?"
"Rather not," he murmured, nuzzling at her neck, more awake now, hard against her hip.
"We have to get ready for work."
"Just a quick one? Please? I promise I won't take long."
"Are you always randy in the morning?"
"No. Seems a shame to waste a perfectly good morning stiffy, though."
"Whatever happened to the shy bloke I married?"
He grinned at her, pink and mischievous. "Hopelessly corrupted, and enjoying it immensely. I can splash out on a cab so we aren't late."
"Ten minutes, Dev. I need more time to get ready than you do."
Five O'Clock World, The Vogues
In the shelter of her arms everything’s okay.
Word of the marriage had trickled through the station, and Morse received a steady stream of handshakes and congratulations as he made his way upstairs to the CID office. Trewlove congratulated him, as did Bright when he and Thursday had a morning meeting with the station chief. At a post-mortem that afternoon, DeBryn spotted the slim gold band on his left ring finger. "It looks as though congratulations are in order."
"Oh. Yes. Friday. It was just a registry-office wedding."
"Far less nerve-wracking. Anyone I know?"
"Ah, the boss's daughter."
"I hadn't even thought of it that way."
"Of course not. I've met her at station events here and there. Lovely young woman."
Joan took over sandwich duties for herself and Morse. She made a few changes right away.
"Wholemeal bread?" Morse asked doubtfully.
"It's better for us."
“You really don’t have to make a sandwich for me every day. I’m used to just having a pint.”
“That’s not a proper lunch.”
“It is! Beer is brain food.”
Joan snorted. “I don’t know what they taught you in health ed, but they taught us about food groups and proper nutrition. You’ll ruin your liver drinking on an empty stomach. Besides, if I’m making a sandwich for myself, it’s just as easy to make a second for you.”
She also added fruit to their lunches, usually an apple or pear depending on what was a good price, and lamented they'd missed the last of grape season. An experiment with Win's sandwich schedule didn't last long, though. "It keeps tripping me up,” Joan complained. “Come the afternoon, I forget what day it is half the time."
Fred turned it into a game while it lasted. “Ham and tomato for me. I’m guessing—corned beef?”
Morse unwrapped his. “Cheese and pickle. You buy the pints, sir.”
Dinner quickly became a joint project. Joan refused to come home from a long day at work only to stand over a hot stove, and they couldn't afford takeaway every night. So Morse was recruited to kitchen duty, starting as her assistant but quickly learning enough to take the lead part of the time. It began as the price he paid for a working wife’s income, but he found he enjoyed puttering in the kitchen when he knew what he was doing and had proper ingredients. On weekends he followed her through Richardson’s with a trolley as she shopped; she was pickier than he was, and bought far more fruit and veg. He started sneaking things into the trolley when she wasn’t looking.
“You’re worse than Dad,” she told him when she caught him hiding jammy dodgers behind a box of Weetabix five minutes after he’d added a packet of toffees that were definitely not on the list.
“Your mum’s always after me to put on a few pounds,” he answered with a studiedly innocent expression. It was worth letting him do it, just to see him so unexpectedly carefree. Joan wondered sometimes if she was imagining it, but he seemed far less inclined to lose himself in gloom lately.
Joan spruced him up a bit, bringing home pocket squares that harmonized with his ties and crisp shirts in flattering subtle colors and patterns that fitted him properly, making sure the new suits he bought after his promotion were properly tailored, always checking his tie was straight and brushing any errant lint or hairs off his shoulders before they left the house on workdays, a glint of pride in her eyes. It reminded him of the way Win sent Fred off in the mornings, and he wondered if Thursday felt the same flash of warmth at being so cared for.
Even so, there were bumps along the road. Breakfast was usually cereal and orange juice, which Morse was used to. Her insistence that he eat lunches and proper dinners were a different story. "You okay, matey?" Strange asked one afternoon when he stopped by CID. He couldn't put his finger on it, but his friend seemed a little out of sorts.
Morse pressed a hand against his tummy. "It's all this food. Joan has me eating twice as much as I'm used to. Gives me a bit of indigestion sometimes."
"You needed it, though. You look healthier than before."
There were other adjustments to be made. Joan insisted on keeping the flat much tidier than Morse did. Their books mingled on the shelves on one side of the fireplace, alphabetized by author, while the records were on the other side. Her attempts to alphabetize his by artist quickly ran into trouble.
"Do I put this under Bach for the composer, or Vienna Philharmonic for the performers?"
Morse was engrossed in paperwork he’d brought home in his ongoing efforts to be a good policeman as well as a good detective. "Does it matter?"
"I'm trying to make things easier to find. Composer, I think. That's usually what you're looking for." The system quickly fell apart, due to Morse's tendency to put things back willy-nilly on the shelves, leave albums propped against the end table that held his phonograph, and books lying around the flat.
"Do you really need six days' worth of newspapers?" she asked another time.
"I haven't finished the crossword in a couple of them." Joan rolled her eyes and quickly went through the papers, tearing out the unfinished puzzles and putting them beside his chair, binning the rest. "What about the solutions?" The glare she gave Morse made him scurry to the bin to tear those out himself.
He learned to remember to ask for Green Shield stamps when he did the shopping; Joan was saving them for household items. He put his foot down when he learned one of the things on her list was a Teasmade. "I saw one of those blow up a flat once, then nearly duplicated it myself. No way I'm having one in here."
"You had to misuse it for that to happen. We’re not going to make our tea with turpentine."
"Even so, I haven't trusted them since."
Win finally allowed Fred to buy her a hoover, so the Thursdays’ old sweeper took up residence at the flat, along with a new broom to replace Morse’s sad broken-down one.
Joan turned up her nose at his ironing setup. "No wonder your shirts look like they do." She brought home a padded silvery cover for the ironing board and starch. "Try that. No, I'm not doing your ironing for you. I might while I'm on maternity leave, but only if I have time. Easier, isn't it? Looks nicer, too. A steam iron would be better, and there's one in the Green Shield booklet we could probably get in a few months."
Then there was his tendency to leave plates of half-finished food lying about. Eating together curbed the problem most of the time, but she often found something when she came home from running Saturday errands while he was working. "Crusts with jam on them? It's a miracle we haven't got ants."
Morse, sprawled on the bed, covered his face with his hands. "Ants have more sense than to take their chances with you," he grumbled.
"I heard that!"
"I just got home from a shift that ran us off our feet! I only wanted a bit of toast and a kip. Did you buy beer?"
"No, I did not. I bought food and household supplies. If you want beer, you can go to the offie yourself. Practically keeping them solvent single-handed." Joan was capable of being quiet to let him sleep after he'd had a long shift. The racket from the kitchen as she put away the shopping let him know he was on thin ice. He got up with an irritated grumble and collected his empty bottles— there were more than he'd realized, he noted with chagrin— and stomped off down the street.
A brisk walk burned off his ill temper, and he returned to the flat in a better mood. "I’m sorry I'm such a slob," he apologized. "I only bought a couple of bottles of beer, and no scotch this time." His drinking was more a habit than a coping mechanism these days, and he'd decided during his walk to break it before the baby came. Besides, his father's gambling had forced him and Joyce to do without growing up, and there was no way in hell he was going to shortchange his own child for the sake of alcohol.
Joan, sitting on her half of the bed with her feet up, waved it away. "I shouldn't have snapped at you when you've had a rough day at work." She’d put one of his Chopin albums on as a peace offering; she enjoyed piano pieces so Chopin, Schubert, and Satie were getting more play these days.
Morse snuggled next to her. "I really am desperate for some sleep, though." Joan was reading, and he rested his head on her lap. She started combing her fingers through his hair, progressing to massaging his scalp and the nape of his neck. By the time she finished the chapter, he was asleep.
The squabbles and rough patches were balanced out by the good times, though. Joan still couldn’t seem to get enough of him, and Morse was more than happy to oblige. “I’ve read that, in Jewish marriages, one of the husband’s duties is to keep his wife sexually satisfied,” he observed one evening as she was sliding off his pajama bottoms. He liked not always having to make the first move. It reassured him that Joan wanted him as much as he wanted her.
“What a brilliant idea. Kiss me, Endeavour.”
He almost liked his name when she said it. “Such a bossy thing you are. I’m quite henpecked,” he teased.
She kissed his neck. “Peck.” His collarbone. “Peck.” The hollow at the base of his throat. “Peck.” A circle around one nipple, punctuated by “Peck— peck— peck” as she went. He could feel her smiling against his skin.
“I do enjoy this sort of henpecking, though.”
“Good, because I plan to keep on doing it. Peck.”
Kissing through giggles was another thing he enjoyed.
Joan started showing in November, but fashionable dress silhouettes hid it reasonably well. Morse was fond of her rounded tummy, cradling it with his hand when they slept spooned together. Ray had never spent the night with her, always hurrying back to his wife and family, and sharing a bed with a man was a new experience. As the nights grew colder she appreciated the way Morse’s body put out so much warmth; it was like sleeping next to a heater.
Joan also loved how cuddly he was in his sleep. Sleep stripped away all of his second-guessing and awkwardness, and he gave in to his touch-starved nature. He spooned her, held her when he lay on his back, and often somehow managed to burrow under her when he was on his stomach. There were times when she woke to him rubbing himself gently against her in his sleep. She tried waking him once when this happened, thinking he might enjoy a sleepy middle-of-the-night tumble, but he barely stirred, grumbling under his breath and rolling away from her. On work days he hauled himself reluctantly from their cozy nest of a bed and shuffled off to the loo with his eyes half-closed to shower and shave, not even managing a ‘good morning’ until he emerged. She was fine with that. She wasn’t a morning person either, and her family had learned not to talk to her until she was fully awake.
Morse woke on a chilly, drizzly Tuesday in late November feeling awful. His head ached, along with the rest of him, and he was exhausted despite a good night’s sleep. When he tried to get out of bed, his entire body protested until he gave up and crawled back under the covers with a groan.
Joan watched him, concerned. “What’s wrong?”
“I think I’m ill.” His voice was hoarse, well beyond its usual just-woke-up huskiness, and talking revealed that his throat hurt, too. Joan fetched the thermometer, and he lay still with his eyes closed until it registered. She squinted at the markings and the thin line of mercury.
“One hundred one. And a half. You’re definitely ill. I’ll ring the duty desk and Dad to let them know.”
“Do you want anything? Cup of tea? Toast?”
His gorge rose slightly at the thought of food. “Just tea.” He sipped his tea, then dozed while Joan got ready for work.
“Phone me or Mum if you need anything.”
“‘Kay,” he mumbled drowsily.
When Thursday reached the station he went straight to the business office to talk to Joan, asking about Morse’s symptoms, then called Win with the details.
It was mid-morning and Morse was sleeping fitfully, when a key in the lock roused him. Expecting Joan, and feeling guilty that she’d left work early on his account, he was surprised to see Win.
“I did a bit of shopping, dear, but I wasn’t sure what you had in. I have Lemsip and broth, and a few other things.”
“Oh. Thanks. You didn’t have to.”
Win fluffed his pillows and straightened the covers, then checked his temperature, holding steady at 101.5. She brought him a cup of Lemsip before doing something in the kitchenette that he couldn’t see. He snuggled under the duvet, still miserable, but feeling warmed by more than just a hot drink.
“There’s currant jelly in the fridge to set for later, dear. Would you like me to move your phonograph next to the bed?”
“You really don’t have to— “
“Don’t be silly.” After moving the end table and phonograph, she brought over the records he shyly asked for. After making sure he didn’t need anything else and promising to stop by that afternoon to check on him, Win left and he went back to sleep.
Morse spent the day sleeping or listening to music. Win stopped by that afternoon just as he was boiling the kettle to make a cup of tea and sent him back to bed. She took his temperature— it had dropped half a degree— before bringing him two aspirin along with the tea.
Fred and Joan arrived a little after five. Morse had fallen into a deep sleep, and only twitched at the key in the lock, stirring when Joan leaned over the bed to stroke his hair and opening glazed, drowsy eyes.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you. How are you feeling?”
“Still the same. Your mum stopped by twice.”
“She rang me with updates both times. Do you want anything?”
Morse shook his head, closing his eyes.
He was off work the rest of the week, recovering. By Saturday he was well enough to venture from the flat for a bit of fresh air and change of scene. Joan made sure he was well bundled-up, wearing a jumper under his winter coat. “You need a scarf,” she fussed. “Maybe that will be your Christmas gift. Where are your gloves?”
“Haven’t got any.”
“No gloves? How do you not get chilblains?” She sounded exactly like her mother, but he thought it wiser not to mention it. “Keep your hands in your pockets for now, and I’ll pick up a pair for you. Black all right?”
He shrugged. “I suppose so.” He hadn’t had a pair of winter gloves in years; the last pair had been slightly mismatched after he’d managed to lose the opposites of two separate pairs. Then he’d lost one of those and given up on gloves.
Late that afternoon she returned from running errands with a Burridge’s bag. “Tell me what you think.” Morse opened a slender box inside to find a pair of black leather gloves with a warm woolen lining. He tried them on. “How do they fit?”
“Perfectly.” He flexed his fingers. “These are nice. I hope they weren’t too expensive.” And hoped even more that he wouldn’t lose them. Perhaps he should run a string through his coat sleeves to fasten them to, like his mum had done when he was small.
“They weren’t. I didn’t splash out on the cashmere-lined ones. We’ll save those for when you’re a DCI.”
Joan felt the baby quicken at the beginning of December. "It's weird, is what it is. There's something moving. I've never felt that before," she told Morse, wide-eyed. "I'm trying not to think of parasites and horror movies."
"No more Friday Night Frights at the cinema for you."
The first time she grabbed his hand and put it on her stomach to feel the baby move, his heart turned over. This made it real, rather than an abstraction. "We're really doing this, aren't we?" he breathed.
"Yeah. Mad, isn't it?"
"They're going to entrust us with a human being. I've never had more than a houseplant to look after. Joanie, what if I drop it or something?"
"What if I forget it on the bus?"
"Honestly? I'll probably be the one who forgets it on the bus."
Once the moment of panic passed Morse couldn't resist talking to the baby, telling it good morning and good night every day and kissing Joan’s growing tummy. He began playing his records for it. Joan tried not to giggle at first, then started using the time to nap. “It’s not like I have to be awake for Junior’s music lessons.”
“I thought you were starting to like my music.” He’d recently brought home a collection of Chopin waltzes especially for her.
“I do, but I’m tired, Dev. I’m working at the station and growing this little monster.”
Morse regarded her worriedly. “You don’t have to work. I can support us.”
“I’d go mad with nothing to do but sit around watching myself expand. I just need a bit of extra rest, is all. Besides, it’s good practice for when I’ll have to grab my sleep between the feedings and fussing.”
She was not happy with him when he played Haydn’s Surprise Symphony a few days later, throwing a toss pillow at him which he narrowly ducked. “You clot!”
“I’m sorry! I thought you were still awake.”
The next evening he was a little late getting home. “I bought something for the baby.”
“We don’t need any more socks or onesies or bedding, Dev. You’ve already brought home enough for twins.”
He held up a Blackwell bag. “Peter and the Wolf. To learn what all the instruments sound like. And nothing to startle you when you’re asleep.”
“If Junior grows up to be musical you’re going to be over the moon.”
Morse had a holiday concert with his choral group, and introduced his wife and in-laws to the others at the after-concert party. Joan was obviously pregnant now, and they received all manner of well wishes.
“You look well looked after," Dorothea Frazil told him. "Put on a bit of weight, even." She lowered her voice. "You've been busy," she murmured teasingly. "You never mentioned there was a baby on the way when you married. When's it due?"
"Middle of April."
"Naughty, naughty Morse." She chuckled good-naturedly when he blushed.
The Thursdays threw a small holiday party for family the week before Christmas, finally getting the chance to introduce Morse around. Win's older sister Irene, whom everyone called Renie, was a warm, welcoming woman who was much like Win; she took to him immediately, and he liked her as well. Fred's brother Charlie was loud and told off-color jokes; Morse avoided him like the plague after initial introductions. The rest blurred together to him. But they were kind, decent people, and they were all pleased to see Joan happily married to a good man who obviously loved her. Over the next few weeks, the relatives sent various wedding and baby gifts to their flat.
When Christmas came it was the best Morse had had in years, spent with Joan and the Thursdays. Sam managed to make it home on Christmas Eve, and they all met him at the bus station. Win grabbed him in a crushing hug. “Oof, Mum, I can't breathe." Sam turned to Joan once he was freed. "Look at you. A bun in the oven already." He shook his head. "Can't leave you unsupervised for a minute, can I?"
"I'm glad to see you too, Sam." Joan gave him a kiss on the cheek.
"Morse. Congratulations, or should I say condolences, on marrying my sister. She'll drive you bonkers, if she hasn't already." He gave his sister a teasing grin. "Welcome to the family, mate."
There was too much food, far too many sweets, Morse had Carol of the Bells stuck in his head for part of Christmas Day, and Fred and Joan got enough wine into him that he could be persuaded to wear the silly paper hat he'd gotten when they pulled crackers.
Nine o'clock found him settled comfortably on the sofa, Joan snuggled against him and dozing.
"I should take her home. She's been tiring more easily lately. I don't know how much is the baby, and how much is the holiday rush."
"I checked out the Jaguar for the holiday, if you want to borrow it."
"They're letting you keep it that long?"
"Perks of being a Chief Inspector. Or, we've put a double bed upstairs and turned Joan’s old room into a guest room. We've always got extra toothbrushes and clean towels, and you could borrow a set of Sam's pajamas."
They ended up staying, snuggling in bed amid the quiet sounds of the rest of the family settling in for the night. Morse was randy, but the combination of Joan's tiredness and being under Fred's roof dissuaded him, so he pushed the thought aside and dozed off.
He was wakened an hour later by Joan's fingers at his waist and her lips insistent on his. The brief rest had energized her, and she had his shirt unbuttoned and pajama bottoms down almost before he knew it, taking him in hand. He rumbled approval, kissing his way down her neck to nuzzle her swollen breasts.
"Have I told you how amazing these have gotten?"
"Enjoy them while you can. A few more months, they'll be the baby’s property."
"I know. Here, let’s put you on top. Junior's starting to get in the way. Ohhh, that's it. I needed this." He was murmuring, aware that Sam was next door and Fred and Win were across the hall.
"So did I."
"Have you asked how long we can do this? Before the baby?"
"As healthy as I've been, up to the last month. In the final few weeks, it might induce labor, which could be useful."
"I'll keep it in mind. Oh! Oh, Joanie. I'm not going to last— how close are you?"
"Close." He reached down to touch her as she moved above him, soon rewarded by her soft cry and the feel of her around him. It was all he needed to finish, climaxing with a quiet drawn-out groan.
"That was wonderful, Joanie. Thank you."
She chuckled. "You're not the only one who enjoyed it."
Morse wriggled back into his pajamas, kissing Joan’s tummy through her slip before he settled in again. “Good night, Junior.”
Joan winced. “Junior just kicked me. I think I might have a footballer in here.”
Never My Love, The Association
You wonder if this heart of mine will lose its desire for you— never, my love.
The baby grew more active in the new year, often keeping Joan awake. "Settle down," Morse told it soothingly one night as they lay in bed. "Let your mum sleep. Save the calisthenics for daytime." He lifted his head to look at her. "Probably doesn't know the difference, come to think of it. It's always dark inside you." He returned his attention to her middle. "Save them for when Mum's already moving around."
"Junior kicked me again, the little shite." Joan was tired and grumpy. Morse tried rubbing her tummy, then started singing a lullaby. The baby quieted and Joan was finally able to sleep. Morse lay awake for a long while, watching her and worrying about the birth. He knew women had babies all the time, but he didn’t trust his luck. What if Joan died, leaving him to raise a child alone with his heart shattered in a million pieces?
Morse solved several tricky cases that winter, building up his record. He was planning for the future, and wanted to earn pay raises to support his little family. He gritted his teeth when it came to the paperwork, dutifully filling out forms and writing up cases, making sure everything was filed properly. He kept a photo of Joan on his desk now, and when he was frustrated and ready to tear his hair out, he looked at it to to remind himself why he was minding his Ps and Qs if he couldn’t slip downstairs to steal a kiss. And evenings spent cuddling with Joan while they read and listened to music, putting his hand on her tummy to feel the baby move, feeling more at peace than he had in a long time, he knew in his gut he was doing the right thing.
They often had Sunday tea with Fred and Win, who usually sent them home with leftovers. Morse was gradually becoming accustomed to having people in his life who truly cared about him, who actually wanted him around. He and Fred worked on a careful balance between work and home. At work they were boss and subordinate, although Morse pushed and questioned and argued when he thought cases called for it. Off the clock, though, they were family. Morse was still prickly and difficult sometimes; he couldn’t unlearn the years of distrust and pain from his relationship with his own father overnight. But he was starting to relax and trust that Fred thought of him as a son, genuinely cared for him, and had his best interests at heart. And even when he was uncertain about Fred, he never doubted Win. She’d adopted him as a second son from the moment he’d proposed to Joan, and was as warm toward him as her own kids. Her Christmas gift to him had been a soft, cozy handknitted scarf in shades of steel blue, and every time he wrapped it around his neck he felt the affection that had gone into making it.
After coming home from Sunday dinner one night he was unusually pensive, putting on the Moonlight Sonata without a word. Usually he asked Joan if she had a preference; they were learning to enjoy one another’s music. Joan, sensing something was going on in that keen brain of his, perched awkwardly on the arm of his chair.
She stroked his hair. “Penny for your thoughts.”
He shrugged, leaning into her touch like a cat. “Just wondering what my life would have been if Gwen was like your mum.” He sighed. “There’s no point to wondering— it won’t change anything. But I can’t seem to stop myself.”
“I wish you’d had the love you deserve. The better I get to know you, the more I see how much it hurt.”
“If wishes were horses.”
“Still.” She leaned in to kiss his cheek, but her newly unwieldy body threw her off balance and she tumbled onto his lap with a small shriek.
Morse gasped out an “Oof!” when she landed. “Are you all right?”
“No harm done.”
“I suppose I should stop trying to sit on the arm of this chair,” Joan said, chagrined. “It’s obvious I don’t fit on it anymore.”
“You’re welcome to my lap anytime you like.”
“We’ll see if you still say that in another month or two.”
Morse was rubbing her tummy as she lay across his lap, and the baby kicked hard enough that he lifted his hand away. “I suppose it’s a good sign? The baby’s strong and healthy?”
Joan sighed. “I guess. I’ll be black-and-blue on the inside at this rate.”
Fred and Win sent over a cot in March, and Morse and Fred spent a rainy afternoon assembling it while Win took Joan shopping for the few baby things they hadn't already collected. "These instructions don't make sense.” Morse was frowning at the sheet of paper, tugging his ear like he did when a case puzzled him.
"Let me look, lad. Hmm— maybe we should just use the diagram.”
“It’s not much better.”
It was easier to talk when they were busy with parts and tools. "My dad set an awful example. What if I'm a bad father, too?"
"You won't be," Fred told him bracingly. "You're a kind person to begin with. And when you hold that little bugger in your arms, it will all click into place. You'll know in your heart you'd walk through fire to protect him or her."
"I hope you're right." Privately, Morse decided to pattern himself after Fred. Joan and Sam had turned out well.
Morse came home after a shift in early April to find Joan standing in front of the wardrobe mirror in a frumpy maternity housedress and sobbing. "What's wrong?"
"I'm big as a house, and shaped like a potato! What if I look like this forever?"
Morse held her close and kissed her forehead. "You won't. Besides, even if you did, it wouldn’t matter." He let her cry on his shoulder.
"I'm just so tired all the time, and sick to death of being pregnant. The baby won't get off my bladder, and kicks so much my insides are sore."
"Only a couple more weeks to go."
"I haven't even started tea."
"Don't worry about it. We can go out to dinner."
"Go out to dinner?" Joan shrieked. "Endeavour Morse, how could you even suggest such a thing! I look like hell, and you want to go out?"
"It was just an idea," he said weakly. Now she was sobbing even harder. He rubbed her back. "I'll fetch a takeaway instead."
"How are things?" Fred asked the next morning.
Morse hunched his shoulders. "Joan's moods are all over the map,” he admitted.
"I remember that from when Win was pregnant. All you can do is batten down the hatches and ride it out. And remember that she’s got it a hell of a lot worse than you do.”
"Dr. Moody says it's normal. Hormones, and her body changing so much from week to week. And she's fed up with being pregnant."
"At least it's not summer. Win did the last two months with Sam in July and August. She was miserable."
Oxford City Police officially merged with the other regional forces to become the Thames Valley constabulary on April first. There was concern about what would happen to Cowley station, as well as the people working there, but Fred was fairly sanguine. “The area’s growing,” he told Morse. “All the new housing estates going in out here— they’d be mad to close the station closest to it all.” Morse hoped he was right, but polished up his CV just in case and tried not to worry. He had enough on his plate with the baby’s imminent arrival and worrying about Joan and the delivery. He was having a recurrent nightmare about it two or three times a week, but hadn’t told Joan because he didn’t want to frighten her with the horrific scenarios his brain had conjured up.
Joan's due date was in mid-April, a few days after her birthday, and it was anticlimactic when nothing happened. She'd reluctantly given up her job a month before the baby was due, and was bored and so tired of being pregnant she could scream. Morse cautiously encouraged her to rest while he was at work. She was snappish, and he'd gotten his head bitten off more than once, but held his tongue. He felt like he could hardly blame her for being grumpy at this point. Her back constantly hurt, her ankles were swollen, and she'd gotten so big he was scared about the delivery.
One morning, a week overdue, she'd had it. "I can't get a decent night's sleep, between the baby kicking, not being able to find a comfortable position, and needing to wee every hour. And you've been snoring."
Morse was at the end of his tether too. Finally, he snapped back, “I'm not sleeping much either. You're constantly shifting in bed, back and forth to the loo— it's no wonder I'm snoring. You know I do when I'm overtired."
Fred, wondering where his ride to work was, arrived at the flat just in time to catch the climax of their row through the slightly-opened window beside the front door. "I'm doing the best I can!" Morse was shouting. "I found onion-flavored crisps and raspberry sherbet at one in the morning, remember? I've rubbed your ankles, and kept the hot water bottle filled for your back, and fetched and carried for you— even after that double shift last week. I'm exhausted too, and I'm not even the one who got you into this!" Dead silence. "Joanie, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean it."
"I told you we'd row and you'd throw it in my face." Joan sounded defeated, her voice thick with tears.
"Joanie, I'm sorry."
"Don't touch me!" she answered fiercely. Morse's answer was so garbled with tears Fred couldn't make it out. He heard a commotion and a slamming door.
Fred knocked on the door. "It's Dad,” he called gently. They both needed Dad Fred now, Morse too, even though he'd made Fred's little girl cry. Boss Fred would only make things worse, despite Morse apparently losing track of time on a work morning.
Joan opened the door slowly, face tearstreaked. She looked painfully large now, and he couldn’t help wincing. "Oh Joan." Fred took her in his arms, remembering Win at the end of her pregnancies.
"Dad!" He held her and kissed her mussed hair, looking around the flat for his son-in-law. Sounds of retching came from the loo and he sighed. Morse had thrown up his socks after facing the tiger in the Crevecoeur maze; apparently a bad row with Joan had the same effect. "How much did you hear?"
"Was I an idiot to think he'd get past it?"
"No. It sounds like you're both at the end of your tether. You were late, too. Your poor mum was half-mad with frustration and misery by that point. We rowed over the silliest things. Yet here we are, almost twenty-seven years later. A bad row doesn't mean it's over. And you and I have had so many of them, you should know it doesn't mean there's no love."
The loo door opened and he looked over to see Morse sagging against the jamb, pale and devastated. At the sight of Fred holding Joan, he choked out a jumble of "I'm sorry— I'm an utter shite— I’ve bollocked everything," in a distinctly Lincolnshire-tinged variant of his usual accent and turned around to sick up again. Father and daughter regarded one another with shock.
"He never uses that sort of language, Dad."
"I know he doesn't. Go phone your mum." Despite his sympathy, Fred was out of his depth. This needed Win's touch. While she was on the phone, he stepped into the loo. Morse was dry-heaving at this point. He rubbed his son-in-law's back. "Come on, lad. It's not the end of the world. Pull yourself together." He wrung out a flannel with cool water and wiped Morse's face, then filled the water glass. "Rinse out your mouth and take a sip."
"I don't know what got into me, saying such a terrible thing— and after I promised her I wouldn't." Morse wiped away a trickle of tears with the flannel.
"I do. You're both of you exhausted and worried beyond enduring. It's normal." He shepherded Morse out to the lounge then rummaged in their kitchen, finding some ginger ale in the fridge. "Sip this. It'll settle your stomach. I'll put the kettle on."
Morse huddled on the edge of the bed, looking like he'd just accidentally murdered someone. Joan was perched in his armchair, equally distraught. Between their sniffling, Fred wished he'd brought a second hankie as he stood around awkwardly. Win arrived to find them like this. "Oh kids," she sighed affectionately. "Joan, go sit next to Morse. We'll sort it out." She drew up a chair for herself. "Fred, sit down. You looming over them isn't helping."
She got them to talk, pouring out painfully similar tales of exhaustion, frustration, and fear. Morse wore an especially woebegone look at one point. "I keep worrying about— what if the baby's too big now? I lost my mum, I can't lose you, too." He hid his face in his hands.
Joan gathered him up, anger fading. "Dev, you sweet, silly man! If that happens, they'll just do a caesarean. Dr. Moody said they're likely to anyway, if I don't start labor soon."
Morse looked at her, frightened. "But that's major surgery! What if— the anesthesia goes wrong, or you bleed too much, or— I keep having this nightmare— there’s blood everywhere— and a doctor telling me there’s nothing they can do.”
Joan rubbed his back. “That’s not going to happen, Dev.”
Fred broke in. "The if game's no good to anyone, Morse. I've told you that more than once. If it comes to that, Joan will be fine.”
“I had two of them, dear. Joan because she was late too, then Sam because they said once a caesarean, always a caesarean."
"I can't believe I said such a terrible thing— I don't know where it came from. It was like— if I believed in possession— " he trailed off, hiding his face in Joan's hair.
Win shook her head. "Fred and I had an epic row when Joan was overdue. I told him I wished he'd stayed on the Continent."
Fred shifted awkwardly in his chair. "No you didn't, pet. Your exact words, which I clearly remember, were: I wish you'd gotten your damned John Thomas shot off in Italy."
"I did not!” Win was indignant.
"Burned into my memory, pet. No man forgets a statement like that."
Morse and Joan stared at them both, wide-eyed. Joan was the first to start laughing, Morse joining in. Their laughter was shocked and slightly hysterical at first, then relaxed into something companionable as they leaned tiredly against one another.
"Figures Mum would be so formal," Joan snorted. "John Thomas."
"I'd rather you'd threatened me instead of what I said."
"I'm sure I will next time. Probably say I wish old Millie's aim had been better or something."
"Ouch. Does this mean there might be a next time?"
"We'll see how I feel after this one comes out, but yes.” Joan smiled up at him. “I want a little boy just like you."
"And I'll love him the way you should have been loved, Dev. I promise."
Win leaned over to murmur in Fred's ear. "Crisis averted, I think. Give our Morse the day off. I'll ring for a cab and take them back to ours. They need a long sleep and a good meal they didn't have to cook for themselves, poor lambs."
She was right. Joan and Morse promptly collapsed on the guest bed and slept most of the day. Even the baby kept quiet for once. When they woke, Joan under the protective weight of Morse's arm, the morning seemed a distant nightmare, although Morse started apologizing the moment he woke.
"Stop it. I know better. You bought baby clothes before we were even married. You've been bringing home baby things ever since, like a bird getting the nest ready. You're always talking to it, saying how much you want to meet him or her. I heard you telling Junior to stop procrastinating last night when you thought I was asleep. Kissing my tummy. Playing your records and explaining which is Mozart or Bach or Wagner. I know you love this baby as much as anyone could. A thousand times more than Ray ever did."
Over dinner they speculated on ways to start labor. Win recommended climbing stairs. "But don't bother with castor oil, dear. All it does is make you sick." Fred suggested a drive on an extremely bumpy road. Joan said she'd tried jumping jacks but they were too uncomfortable, and joked that she'd considered rolling down a staircase, "since I'm too big to throw myself down one properly."
“I think it will be soon, dear,” Win reassured Joan. “You’re definitely carrying lower than you were last week.”
Morse suddenly remembered something but kept quiet, only insisting they go home for the night despite Fred and Win's protests. "Remember what Dr. Moody warned you about? Sex too close to your delivery date?" he asked Joan the moment they were alone in their flat.
"Is it even physically possible, do you think? It'd be like shagging a blimp."
"Necessity is the mother of invention."
Morse was at his desk the next afternoon, wading through paperwork, when his phone rang. “DS Morse."
"It's Joan. I need you to meet me at the Radcliffe."
His heart leapt into his throat. "Is it time?"
"It's time. Mum's with me. She's been timing the contractions, and they're speeding up. We've called a cab."
"I'll fetch your dad and meet you there."
Morse launched himself from his desk, shoes clattering on the linoleum tiles, and nearly collided with the doorframe of Thursday’s office. He stuck his head inside, wide-eyed and already looking frantic and scared. Bright was talking to Thursday, but Morse didn’t care about proper protocol at the moment. "It's time! Joan just rang! The baby's coming!"
Fred stood. "Sorry, sir."
"No, of course— go. Best of luck, Morse."
"Thank you, sir."
“Morse, stop panicking. She’ll be fine, and she’s got Win with her.” Thursday steered him out of the CID office, to congratulations from the other detectives.
He was able to see Joan briefly. "It started when I woke up this morning," she told him while Win spoke to Fred in the hall.
"Why didn't you say something?"
"I was waiting to make sure it wasn't a false alarm. Besides, there was nothing for you to do, and I didn't want you to worry. I rang Mum and she stayed with me while we made sure it was really happening." Joan breathed through a contraction, clutching Morse's hand. "I told the nurse what we'd been up to to start things. She laughed and told me we weren't the first. Said it was probably a coincidence that I went into labor today."
A nurse soon herded him out. "We'll let you know when the baby's born. There's a pub down the street, if you'd like."
The waiting room held a few other men, all blasé, none of them first-time fathers. They read magazines and newspapers while Morse paced and fretted.
"She'll be all right," Fred reassured him. "Win’s with her, and the staff know what they're doing."
DeBryn stopped by and Morse begged him to check on Joan. "You're a doctor— they have to let you in."
"Pathologists aren't usually welcome in labor rooms, but I'll see what I can do." He returned a few minutes later. "Before they kicked me out, I learned that labor is progressing well. Mrs. Morse is at eight centimeters; when she reaches ten they'll have her start pushing. It should be another two or three hours at least. Try not to worry— she's having a brisk labor for a first baby."
After DeBryn left Fred handed Morse his coat. "Come along, lad. I'm taking you to the pub before you worry yourself sick."
"But what if they try to contact us?"
"I'll let the nurses know to ring the pub. I imagine they're used to it, and the pub is too."
Fred managed to get some dinner in Morse, along with a pint of ale. He'd finally gotten the younger man mostly calmed down when the phone rang and the landlady called out, "Is there a Mr. Morse here?"
Morse sprang to his feet, nearly upsetting his chair. "I'm Morse!"
"Twas the hospital. Your missus is well, and you've got a wee lass."
Morse sank onto the chair, breathing hard, while a pub full of people raised their glasses to him and Thursday excitedly thumped him on the back. "I've got a granddaughter! I've got a granddaughter!" He rummaged in his pocket. "Been carrying these cigars around for weeks. Two with blue bands and two with pink." He produced two pink-banded cigars and handed one to Morse. "Congratulations, lad."
After a celebratory scotch, Fred paid the bill and they headed back to the hospital, Fred fiddling with his cigar. "Haven't had one of these since Sam was born. Let’s see if I remember how to smoke one."
"I haven't smoked since college."
Fred got the cigars lit and puffed contentedly on his. "Takes me back to V-E day, it does, along with when the kids were born."
Morse coughed only slightly from the smoke, but nearly gagged from the taste. "How do you manage it? It tastes awful."
"Try like this, Morse."
"Still disgusting. Sorry. What are you going to do with the other two, the blue ones?"
"Save them for next time? Our Joan said she wants a little Endeavour." Morse groaned at the thought of going through it all again.
Not long after, he and Fred stood at the nursery window while a nurse held up a small baby in a pale pink receiving blanket. Morse placed his hand on the glass, automatically reaching for her. "She's so tiny. As big as Joan got, I thought she'd be huge."
"Have you decided on a name?"
"Constance Winifred. We'll tell her the truth when she's old enough to understand, but I want her to always know that she's my daughter and part of my family, regardless of blood. Giving her my mother's name seemed appropriate. From that, it was a short step to naming her after both of her grandmothers."
"Constance Winifred Morse." Fred rested his hand on Morse's shoulder, his eyes welling. "Congratulations, lad. And thank you."
"I hope I can be a decent father to her. My own didn't set much of an example."
"You'll do fine, Morse."
They were allowed to see Joan once she was moved to the maternity ward. The nurses had cleaned her up, Win had brushed her hair, and she was dressed in one of her own nightgowns and a new bed jacket Win had sewn for the occasion. She was tired but radiantly happy, holding her arms out to him. "Dev!" She sniffed as she hugged him. "Do I smell cigars on you?"
"Your dad had them. Don't worry, they won't become a habit. He ended up finishing mine." Morse sat down on the bed, reluctant to let go of her. "We just saw her. She's beautiful. You did a wonderful job, Joanie."
"Mum says she looks like me when I was born."
It wasn't long before Joan dozed off. Fred and Win left to make phone calls, letting friends and family know about the birth. Morse stayed beside Joan's bed, watching her sleep and periodically going to the nursery to check on the baby, stubbornly refusing to be shooed out at the end of visiting hours. “My wife just went through her first labor and delivery, and I’ve a daughter only a few hours old learning how to live outside the womb. If you toss me out, I’ll simply come back in.” Fred had been right: his protective urges had kicked into overdrive, and leaving Joan and Constance right now was unthinkable. Besides, what would they do— arrest him? Everyone on duty at the station knew he had a baby on the way, and by now they probably all knew it had been born.
Joan woke in the middle of the night, frantic. "Where's my baby?" Morse jolted awake. "I need to see my baby!"
"She's fine. I checked on her a little while ago. They're looking after her."
"I don't care. I want my baby." One of the night nurses came over to reassure her, but Joan was insistent.
"May I take her to the nursery? Or have the baby brought to her?"
"We usually prefer the new mums get plenty of sleep first."
Joan was easing herself from the bed. Morse leapt to his feet to support her. "I'm going to see Connie," she gritted out, wincing. "Nobody is stopping me. I'll bloody well crawl if I have to."
"Just sit still. I'll fetch a wheelchair."
"Sir, we usually don’t— "
"I don't care what the rules say. My wife wants to see our baby, and she is going to see her." There was a wheelchair at the end of the ward and he brought it over, helping Joan into it. "It's after two AM— who's going to see us, anyway?"
The baby was sleeping peacefully and they watched her for a long time. "I dreamt something happened to her." Joan was on the verge of tears, and Morse knelt on the floor so he could hold her.
"She's safe, Joanie. I've been checking on her. You're exhausted and wrung out, is all."
Joan sighed, sagging against him. "You're probably right."
There was a young nurse watching over the nursery. She poked her head out of the door. "Which one's yours?"
"The Morse girl."
"We've named her," Joan added. "Constance Winifred."
"I'll write it on her bassinet, then bring her to the window for you." She wrote 'Constance' over 'Morse: Girl' on the bassinet label, then brought the baby to the window. Constance opened her eyes, looking vaguely around, while Joan spoke to her tenderly through the glass. She quickly went back to sleep, they thanked the nurse, and Morse wheeled Joan back to bed.
Once she was asleep, Morse dozed off in the chair again, holding her hand.
He woke to the quiet bustle of morning shift change, finding that someone had placed a blanket over him whilst he slept. Joan was still asleep, curled on her side facing him. He stood, stretching out the kinks and stiffness as best he could, kissed her on the temple, and went in search of a loo and tea before checking on Constance. By the time he returned the patients were stirring. Joan opened sleepy blue eyes and smiled at him. "Morning, Dev."
"Good morning." Morse leaned over the bed to kiss her. "I just checked on Constance. She's doing well, they said. Everything's normal."
"How do you feel?"
"Sore, mostly. And tired. Not sleepy tired, but physically."
"I'm not surprised. Delivering the baby was hard work. Turn onto your side." Joan rolled onto her side and Morse perched on the bed, rubbing her back.
"Mmm, this is nice." Joan drifted, not quite dozing, warm and relaxed and feeling cared for, until a student nurse brought her a breakfast tray and she sat up eagerly. "Oh, good! I'm starving. Have you had anything, Dev?”
"Bit of toast and tea downstairs."
A nurse brought the baby to them after breakfast. Joan beamed and held out her arms. "Morning, little love." After cuddling her, she turned to Morse. "Would you like to hold Connie?"
Morse was awkward and a little scared as he took the baby. "She's so tiny, I'm afraid I'll hurt her. Hello, Connie. I'm your dad, heaven help you. I promise I'll do my best."
Connie wrapped a tiny hand around his finger, gazing up at him. "Looks like a vote of confidence,” Joan told him. “That's two you've got: hers and mine. Four if you count Mum and Dad's."
Morse sat on the bed, holding her while Joan got herself ready to try feeding Connie under the guidance of one of the nurses, then handed her over. It took a few tries, but instinct told Connie what to do, and once she latched on she suckled eagerly.
"I'm glad she knows what she's doing, because I haven’t got a clue," Joan sighed. "This will take some getting used to."
"We can always switch to formula if you decide you'd prefer it," Morse reminded her.
"It seems silly to. It's an unnecessary expense and hassle, when I'm making my own without even trying. Maybe it will burn off some of the baby weight. Mum warned me, but I really didn’t expect to still look pregnant after having her."
Fred and Win arrived soon after morning visiting hours began, finding Morse and Joan squeezed side by side on the bed, studying Connie as she lay sleeping across their laps. "She's got tiny fingerprints," Morse was saying as he examined a little hand. "And lines on her palms."
"Going to read her fortune, lad?" Fred teased affectionately.
"Wouldn't waste my time on such guff. Would you like to hold her?"
"I'd love to." Fred took the baby with experienced hands. "Oh, look at you," he breathed. He kissed her head. "Our beautiful little girl." Connie was awakened by the kiss, staring up at him and waving an arm around. He offered a finger for her to grab. "I'm your grandpa, little one. And this here's your nan. You met her last night."
Win was leaning over his arm, a soft smile on her face. She looked at Joan and Morse. "I'm so proud of you both, and so happy for you."
Morse put an arm around Joan and kissed her forehead. "This one did all the hard work. I just tagged along and worried."
Connie spent some time being held by Win before returning to Joan, mother and baby gazing at one another.
After the baby went back to the nursery, a nurse helped Joan out of bed. "You need to start walking." Morse hovered at her other side as she gingerly walked the length of the ward and back.
"I'm sore in places where it's really bad to be sore."
"You'll heal up fairly quickly," the nurse reassured her. “At least you don’t have any tears or incisions." Morse winced at the thought.
Flowers and messages started arriving. The first was a spring bouquet from Chief Bright, with a card congratulating Morse and Joan. Then pink carnations and baby's breath from Joan's co-workers in the business office. Aunt Renie sent pink roses. A telegram arrived from Sam in West Berlin.
Joan ordered Morse home with her parents at midday. "Make sure he eats a proper meal and gets some sleep," she told Win. "He slept in a chair last night, in between checking on Connie and looking after me."
"I'm fine," Morse insisted.
"You're wearing yesterday's suit. A soak in the tub will do you good. Shoo. We'll be all right here."
They stopped at the flat for Morse to pick up a change of clothes, then went back to the house. Thursday didn’t stay long. “I ordered a box of cigars from the tobacconist,” he told Morse. “Going to pass them out at the station.”
Morse shook his head. “I think they’re ghastly,” he admitted after Fred left to collect his ‘It’s A Girl’ cigars and spend the afternoon at work.
“I’d rather have one of the chocolate ones they make for kids,” Win told him.
When Morse returned to the hospital at dusk, feeling refreshed after a bath and nap, Joan greeted him with a kiss. "You look much better." He took the baby from her and walked the length of the ward, stopping at a window to show Connie her first sunset. He stayed until visiting hours ended, seeing his little family safely tucked in for the night before he left.
He arrived the next morning to find Joan looking annoyed. "I'll need you to fetch an extra nightgown. My milk let down when they brought Connie to me earlier, and I made a mess of myself. Fortunately she was more than happy to help out." She watched him walk Connie around the room, completely engrossed in her, talking softly, kissing her little head, settling into being a dad. Joan sighed with relief, her last bit of worry fading. Morse had been right: Connie was his, as completely as if he'd fathered her.
When Connie fussed for her next feeding an hour later, he was almost reluctant to hand her over. "If we use formula, I could help with the feedings."
"I can use a pump sometimes, if you really want to." Joan settled Connie to nurse. "Mum and Dad are insisting we spend the first two weeks at theirs after Connie and I are released. I wasn't sure how you'd feel about it."
Morse shrugged. "It's probably a good idea. They've experience with babies. And knowing your mother, we won't have to step foot into the kitchen. Besides, I only have a week off, and I'd rather not leave you two alone yet."
"You worry too much," Joan told him fondly.
Morse tucked Connie's little pink foot back into her blanket. "I know. But she's so tiny and new, and you need time to recover without worrying about running errands or looking after the flat. I'll do what I can, but it's going to be hard juggling work and home at first. Especially when I'd rather spend every minute with the two of you." He put a nappy over his shoulder and took Connie, patting her back until she burped. "There, that's better." He tucked her against his chest and she gazed up at him. "I wonder what she's thinking about? Everything's completely new to her. Nothing but floating in warm darkness, then light and color and people talking to her. It must be strange and overwhelming.” Connie grabbed a handful of his shirt and yawned. "She probably wants me to shut up and let her sleep."
"She might be listening to your heartbeat. She's been hearing mine for however long she's had ears."
"Maybe." Morse sat back in the chair, relaxing and watching Connie. After several minutes his expression changed. "Joanie? I think she needs a fresh nappy." He looked a little scared.
"There's a changing table by the nurse's desk." Joan eased out of bed and led him over, walking him through the process. "Oh! You got a poo nappy."
"You make it sound like I won a prize. This is vile." The baby started crying as he clumsily cleaned her. "I'm sorry, Connie!" Joan walked him through pinning a nappy while Connie grizzled and glared at him— somehow the baby had Morse’s grumpy glower. He lifted her, still apologizing, only to have the nappy slip past her hips, so he had to lay her back down and repin it more tightly. "This will be easier once you've grown into your nappies a bit." This time everything stayed put when he lifted her to his shoulder. Then he froze. "Now she's wet," he sighed. Joan tried not to laugh while he repeated the process, getting the pin right on the first try this time.
Win arrived just as Joan was taking advantage of being out of bed to take a few turns around the ward, Morse beside her and Connie dozing on his shoulder.
"He's certainly attentive," the ward sister told her quietly. "Most fathers leave everything to the mum and the nurses."
"I'm not surprised. He's very conscientious, and he loves to look after those he cares for," Win answered quietly, smiling at the little scene.
Joan and Connie were released a few days later. Joan was recovering, while Connie was nursing well and dirtying nappies regularly. Fred and Win had bought a bassinet and put it in the guest room, and not long after they arrived Win tiptoed upstairs to find Morse and Joan spooned together asleep while Connie napped in the bassinet, which Morse had moved next to the bed. She returned downstairs.
"All three asleep. Best thing for them," she reported to Fred.
"Will you be all right if I go to the nick for the afternoon?"
"Of course." Win kissed his cheek. "Be safe, love."
Morse had been right: staying with the Thursdays was a good idea. Fred and Win both reassured them it was perfectly normal to check that Connie was breathing while she slept. Win made sure they ate. She taught Morse a few tricks for changing a wriggling baby's nappy— Joan had gotten fairly proficient in hospital. "You won't poke her with a pin. Even if you do, it's not the end of the world." She also knew how to get spit-up stains out of his shirts, but he quickly dug his oldest ones out of the back of the wardrobe to wear instead. He was scruffy and usually needed a shave, but was too exhausted to care and knew Fred and Win didn’t judge him for it. He fretted over Joan, who was still moving cautiously and spending most of the time resting.
“It’s normal, dear,” Win reassured him over tea and biscuits one afternoon. “She’s been through a great deal. It will take time for everything to heal, and for her to feel more like herself.”
Sometimes Morse lay next to Joan watching her nurse the baby, his heart brimming with love for both of them, drinking in every detail of their expressions. “You’re amazing, Joanie,” he told her more than once. He thought she was even more beautiful now, too, but she refused to believe him.
“I’m wearing a rumpled maternity house dress with milk stains on it, my hair needs a wash, I haven’t shaved my legs in months, and I still look six months’ pregnant.”
“And none of that matters. You have a light in your eyes, and there’s something in your face when you’re holding Connie— I wish I could draw. I’d sketch a portrait of both of you just like this.”
Connie's wispy hair was reddish-blond, making her look remarkably like Morse. "I wonder how that happened?" Joan mused one morning.
"It's a recessive trait," Morse told her. "Dark-haired people can carry a blond gene. It’s the same with blue eyes. Your father has a recessive gene for blue eyes, for you to have them."
After a week off Morse returned to work to congratulations all around and a few winks at the 'early' arrival. It seemed to garner him a sort of respect among the younger officers, thinking he'd slipped past the fearsome DCI Thursday to get to his pretty daughter.
Strange was one of them. "Never thought you had it in you, matey," he told Morse, friendly mischief in his eyes. "Can't say I blame you. Took a lot of bottle though, the old man being so protective and all. Then again, you're the one faced down a full-grown tiger." Morse changed the subject as quickly as he could.
Fred already had a couple of the snaps Win had taken framed on his desk. One was of Morse and Joan holding the baby the day they'd brought her home from hospital. Another was of Connie's little face, staring at the camera with a serious expression.
"She really does look like her father," was Bright's observation upon seeing it. "Same expression, too. Morse was the last one I'd expect to take liberties without benefit of clergy."
Thursday didn’t so much as twitch. "It's always the quiet ones."
Things are going to start moving at a much faster pace now.
At Last, Etta James
At last my love has come along. My lonely days are over, and life is like a song.
When Connie was two weeks old Morse borrowed the Jaguar to move his little family back home.
“Am I imagining things, or has our flat shrunk?” Joan quipped, looking around with Connie in her arms.
Morse put down their suitcases. “It certainly seems smaller, although I hate the thought of putting you through a move right after having a baby.”
“Easy to keep clean, at least. And we won’t need the launderette for a week or two, thanks to Mum.”
Morse had to tear himself away from them in the mornings. He wanted nothing more than to cuddle Connie and look after Joan, who was recovering normally and doing much better, but still finding it more of a process than she’d expected. Besides, they weren’t getting much sleep with a newborn around. Connie was a good baby, but she was a hungry one. Joan bought a breast pump, giving herself extra time to sleep while Morse gave Connie a bottle before he left for work, overwhelmed by love and tenderness as he watched his little daughter suckle. Then he’d change her nappy and put her in her cot, give Joan a kiss as she slept, and slip silently from the flat.
He loved coming home in the lengthening evenings, asking after Joan’s day and giving Connie a cuddle. Once, a week after they’d returned from Fred and Win’s, he came home to find Joan in tears and Connie wailing in her arms. Fear clutched his gut. “What’s wrong? What’s happened?”
“Nothing! I haven’t gotten a bloody thing done today! The flat’s a tip, I haven’t started tea, and I haven’t even managed to have a shower! All I’ve done is nurse and sleep.”
Morse held her. “Don’t worry about it,” he told her soothingly. “Nursing and sleeping are plenty to be getting on with right now. The flat’s still better than I used to keep it, we’ll order a takeaway, and I can nip out to the shops for anything else we need.” He took Connie from her. “Go have a bath, a proper soak with the Epsom salt. I’ll see if I can get Connie settled. Is she hungry?”
“She just ate. It seems like she spent the whole day eating.”
“What needs doing?”
“I was going to change our bedsheets.”
“I can do that. What else?”
“Random mess. Dishes.”
Morse kissed her cheek. “Go have your bath. I’ll see what I can do, although as long as we’ve clear paths through the rubbish and nothing smells, it’s fine by me. I’ve tried very hard to hide from you what a slob I used to be.”
Connie quickly quieted as he sang to her, and Morse suspected she’d been crying because Joan was upset and crying. “Will you behave and let me tidy up a bit for your mum?” he finally asked, placing her in the cot. She kicked her little legs and gurgled at him, and he gave her a dummy to suckle while he tidied the flat.
He changed the sheets but left the bed turned back; it seemed silly to make it up completely when they’d be climbing back into it in a few hours. The dishes weren’t that bad. He’d fixed dinner the night before and been too tired afterward to deal with them then. He washed up the dinner and breakfast dishes, glad that Joan had listened to him and was taking her time in the bath, then turned on the kettle.
Five minutes later, after checking that Connie was asleep, he knocked on the bathroom door and poked his head in. “I come bearing tea.”
“Thank you.” Joan had pinned up her hair in a loose knot.
He handed her the tea mug. “Want me to wash your back?”
He soaped up a sea sponge he’d given her while she was pregnant, then gently washed her back and shoulders. “Connie’s asleep and the bed and dishes are done.”
“You shouldn’t have to work all day, then come home and do housework.”
“Why not? I did it when I was single. You’re working, too. Connie’s a job and a half. We’re both tired and finding our feet with her.”
“You’re not sorry you took on the two of us?”
“Absolutely not! Don’t ever think that! I love you both, and Connie’s as much my daughter as yours. My only regret is this poky flat.” Morse decided it was time to change the subject. “What do you want for dinner?”
“I’d love some vindaloo, and the Indian place delivers. Do you think it would make my milk taste odd?”
“If it does, Connie’d best get used to it, since it’s one of your favorites.” Morse handed her the sponge and stood. “I’ll phone it in.”
He consulted Win the next morning while he waited for Fred. “It’s normal, dear. She’s tired and still recovering. Add in her first baby, and it’s no wonder she’s feeling upset and overwhelmed. I’ll stop by later to see if she needs anything and take them both to the park for some fresh air and sunshine.” He was even more reassured when he arrived home that evening to find Joan dancing Connie around the flat to Dusty Springfield.
Over the next several weeks they settled into the new routine together. Win helped out around the flat and made a point of getting Joan and the baby out for an airing most days. Morse came home after a half-day one Saturday to find Joan dressed, her hair in a ponytail tied with a scarf, and wearing a bit of makeup. “Connie’s fed and asleep. I’m going to Richardson’s and do the shopping.”
“I could do it.”
Joan shook her head. “I need to get out by myself for awhile. I love Connie to bits, but I’m desperate for a break.”
“Okay. Er— have fun?”
“I’ll try not to let the excitement overwhelm me,” Joan answered drily. She returned an hour later to find Morse asleep on their bed, Connie lying on his chest and a crossword falling from his limp hand. She stifled a laugh and tiptoed through the flat, hoping they’d sleep long enough for her to get the camera and take a few snaps.
A larger flat very nearly fell into their laps when Connie was eight weeks old, when one in the same building became available. Morse heard about it from the landlord when he was paying the rent. "It's not that much bigger, but it's got a proper bedroom along with an alcove like this one," Morse told Joan. "It's ten pounds more a month, but we can afford it."
Joan looked around the cramped flat, with the cot crowding their bed and no good spot for the pushchair Aunt Renie had sent. "It sounds wonderful."
They looked at it and decided on the spot to take it. A few weekends later Strange arrived to help them move. Joan carried boxes and lighter items, while Strange and Morse wrestled the cot and bed upstairs.
By the end of the afternoon most everything was unpacked and put away. The kitchen was larger, as was the loo. The cot was in the alcove, and Joan was making up the double bed in the bedroom. She came out just as Morse and Strange were putting away books and record albums. Actually, Morse was unpacking. Strange was sitting on the floor playing with Connie. "It almost looks like home."
"Once there's baby paraphernalia all over, you'll feel like we've always lived here."
"Mind how you go, Jim," Joan warned. "First you start playing with them, then you want one of your own."
Strange smiled up at her from his place on the rug. "Mum'd be right chuffed. Got to find some poor fool of a lass willing to put up with me first, though."
"Maybe you should borrow Connie. Morse gets them making gooey eyes at him when he takes her out by himself."
"Only a few times. Mostly it's grandmothers cooing over us." Morse picked up Connie after he'd put the last book on the shelf. He wrinkled his nose and gave Strange a calculating look. "If you want to be sure about it, you should change a few nappies first."
Joan knew that look, and its probable cause. "Dev, you can't subject him to a poo nappy to start with!"
"You didn't break me in gently. First one I ever faced was a poo nappy."
"She'd only had wet ones to that point. I didn't think they started until they'd been eating for a few days."
"Somebody skipped that chapter in the baby book." Morse carried Connie to the new loo, which was big enough to fit a changing table.
"Somebody else was a swot." Strange watched them playfully tease each other, pleased for his friend. Joan was good for Morse. They could hear Connie making noises, Morse answering her like they were carrying on a conversation. "I caught him discussing ancient Greek drama with her the other day. I told Dad he'd better start buying bonds for her education; at this rate, Connie's going to be at Lady Matilda."
"Lonsdale," Morse said decidedly, returning to the lounge with Connie. "They'll be co-ed by then. She'll manage what her father couldn't: Greats degree, maybe a doctorate." Connie blew a raspberry at him.
"Not sure if she's happy with that plan, matey."
"We've discussed this, Constance. Becoming a film star is highly improbable."
"Of course she can do that! She's the prettiest girl in Britain, besides her mum and grandmum." Fred had opened the door without knocking. "You should lock your door. You're usually more careful, Morse."
"We knew you and Mum would be by to check out the new flat," Joan told him.
"I told him to knock." Win went straight to her granddaughter, taking her from Morse. "With all the music Morse plays for her, she's going to be musical, just you wait. I'm looking forward to her degree recital at college."
"She might decide to be a copper," Joan said, giving Strange a watch this wink. Sure enough, the other three erupted.
"My granddaughter's not going to be a copper!"
"It's much too dangerous!" Win gasped.
"Absolutely not! She's going to college, and that's that."
Strange couldn't help stirring the pot. "You gentlemen don't have a problem with Miss Trewlove, and she's a fine copper. Morse even said she's got the instincts to make a detective."
Joan sat back, laughing heartily at her husband and father spluttering, reaching out to shake Strange's hand. "If Sam was a Samantha, I'd introduce you to her myself." Even Win was laughing at them.
Connie began sleeping through the night at three months, which gave Morse and Joan the chance to start catching up on their sleep. "This is wonderful," Morse sighed on a Sunday morning, stretching luxuriously. He'd awakened to find Joan cuddling Connie next to him, the baby slurping away. "I haven't felt this rested in months."
Once Connie was changed and back in her cot Morse returned to bed, snuggling against Joan. He had more than snuggling on his mind, though. Joan had been cleared by the doctor six weeks after Connie's birth, but he'd been so tired, between work and a new baby, that he hadn't been overly interested. Joan had been equally exhausted, and while she’d offered occasionally, he’d known her heart wasn’t in it. Now though, rested and knowing they had a few hours' break, Morse made a move and Joan reciprocated eagerly.
He soon paused. "What are we doing for protection? I love Connie, but another one in nine months would drive me round the twist."
"I talked to Dr. Moody. There's a good chance I can't fall pregnant while I'm nursing, but I don't want to count on that. I had him fit me for a diaphragm for now. Once Connie's weaned I might try the Pill. Give me a minute in the loo, and I'll be ready."
He resumed once she returned to bed, kissing his way down her throat then over and around her full breasts. She'd gone up a couple of bra sizes, and although he'd always been the sort to focus on the whole rather than parts, he'd found her larger breasts enticing ever since they'd appeared during her pregnancy. He took a nipple in his mouth without thinking, remembering the way she used to respond.
"Dev," Joan warned. "I wouldn't do that— " She knew the exact moment it happened. He froze, eyes huge, staring up at her in horror. "You might as well swallow it. It's just milk. And I doubt you're the first bloke it's happened to."
He gulped. "I wasn't even thinking." Morse looked guilty. "I feel like I've stolen food from her."
Joan tried not to laugh. "She won't go hungry. I'll make more." Her tone turned conspiratorial. "I actually tasted it, first chance I got."
She nodded. "Once I was back here and you were at work. It was just Connie and me. I squirted a bit into a glass to see what it tasted like." A shrug. "It tastes like milk. Works well in a cup of tea in a pinch, too."
"Joan!" He looked, and sounded, scandalized. She laughed, reaching for him, and he quickly forgot everything else.
As Connie matured they were able to do more with her, especially once she could hold her head up. They went out for walks on Morse’s days off with Connie in her pushchair, and sometimes packed a picnic lunch. One Sunday, sitting on a picnic blanket on the grass by the Cherwell, they ate sandwiches and talked while Connie amused herself between them by lifting up on her little arms and looking around, seeming like she really wanted to be able to crawl.
Joan brought her to the station from time to time to see Morse and Fred. Even Bright emerged from his office to cuddle her. The women on the clerical staff loved seeing how big Connie was getting, and quietly complained to Joan about her replacement in the office. “You’re coming back, right? This one’s a right cow, and not half as clever as she thinks she is.”
“As soon as Connie’s weaned. Mum can hardly wait to start looking after her for us.”
Connie had a growth spurt at four months, just in time for Burridge's annual baby sale in August. Morse was doing well enough that he'd put aside Fred's fifteen-pound subsidy that month to stock up for her. His Saturday off found him carrying Connie, Joan beside him. Connie was decked out in a sundress with matching diaper cover; Joan was in floral capris and a summer jumper.
Morse was in an especially good mood. Fred and Win had babysat the night before so he and Joan could have a proper night out, and they'd come home and had a lovely shag before they'd picked her up. Then he'd been awakened by Joan that morning, kissing her way down his chest.
"Woke up to a stiffy against my hip," she’d told him huskily.
"Mmmm," he’d rumbled encouragingly, shifting onto his back to give her better access. They'd been able to take their time, Connie obligingly sleeping in a bit and not crying for her breakfast until they'd finished.
Sudden inspiration struck Morse as they entered the department store. "When Connie asks where babies come from, I'm telling her a baby sale."
"Dad told Sam and me they came by mail order. Said there was a catalogue, and that you could buy factory irregulars for half price. Sam and I called each other irregular goods for years."
Joan sorted through clothes, estimating what size Connie would need in the autumn, winter, and following spring. "Mum said not to worry about jumpers. She's knitting jumpers and winter hats." Morse was asked his opinion on some of the little outfits, but mostly he walked Connie around, showing her things and keeping her entertained. Joan couldn't help smiling at the grandmothers cooing over Connie's reddish-gold curls and big blue eyes and saying how much she looked like her daddy. A woman her mum's age with short dark hair but without Win's kind expression noticed Morse and started talking to him. They seemed to know one another, but he appeared to take no pleasure in it. She guessed they'd met on a case, and went back to shopping. The next time she looked up, Morse was on his way back to her.
Morse had heard his name called and turned to see Caroline Bryce-Morgan. "Morse. I didn't expect to see you here."
"Nor I you."
"Who is this?" Her face softened slightly at Connie's toothless grin. "Your niece?"
"My daughter, actually." He rather enjoyed her flicker of surprise. "Constance Winifred, named for both of her grandmothers." Connie chose that moment to decide that his nose was the most interesting thing going.
"She looks exactly like you."
"That's what everyone says, poor thing. Hopefully she'll start to take after her mum soon." He gently removed the little hand from his nose. "How are you doing?"
"One gets on with things. You've obviously been busy. You didn't mention a wife last summer, nor a baby on the way. Anyone I know?"
"I doubt it. And we didn't know about Connie yet last I saw you." He hadn't, at least. “Is Susan expecting?"
"My nephew's wife. Their first."
She inclined her head in response. "I seem to recall seeing an article in the papers— something about a George Medal."
"My DI and I both received them."
"And I heard through the grapevine you finally made detective sergeant. I do hope that's enough, with everything that's going on with the police consolidation."
"It is. Once I can get more than two uninterrupted night's sleep in a row, I'll start studying for my inspectors' exam." Talking to Caroline felt like he was tiptoeing across a bed of coals, or dodging a stiletto aimed between his ribs.
"I wouldn't get too far ahead of myself, if I were you."
"I had an offer with the Met last autumn. I decided to stay in Oxford, but they've let me know I'm always welcome." Maybe it was constant exposure to Joan's down-to-earth personality, and maybe it was residual contentment from being well-shagged, but he saw things clearly now. He could almost hear that parrot he'd looked after last summer: mean old cow. It dawned on him that Caroline had probably persuaded Susan to break up with him: criticizing him whilst praising her ex until Susan gave in. Once that would have hurt, but along with loving Joan and Connie so much, the thought of Caroline for a mother-in-law instead of Win made him feel he'd had a lucky escape. He could have earned his degree with the highest honors and gone on to a fellowship at one of the colleges, but the son of a cab driver was never going to be good enough for Caroline Bryce-Morgan. He was casting about for a polite escape when Connie conveniently provided him with one. "It was good seeing you, but you’ll have to excuse me. Connie needs a change."
He made his way back to Joan. "I need the nappy pack. Connie's wet."
"Are you sure you don't want me to do it? You've not yet found a gents that's set up for nappy changes."
Win had sewn them a clever waterproof lined bag that held a couple of fresh nappies, a hand towel, a plastic bag to hold the used nappies, and another one to hold a flannel or two. Joan took it out of her tote and handed it to him. Morse headed off to the men's room, nuzzling Connie's little pink shell of an ear and making her giggle. "That was perfect timing, sweetheart. Thank you," he murmured.
Fortunately there was a countertop next to the sinks. He wiped it down before lying Connie on the towel. Merely wet nappies were easy by now, and he quickly had her cleaned up and changed, too focused on the task to notice the looks he was getting from the men who came and went.
"Detective Morse?" He looked up.
"Fancy meeting you here. Is this your little one?"
"She is. Constance, four months last week. My wife and I are here for the baby sale. She's growing so quickly."
"Do you change her nappies often?"
"Most of the time when I'm home or we're out together. Her mum's the one who carried her and is feeding her, it seems the least I can do."
"We have a changing table in the ladies' rooms on each floor. Do you think we should add them to the gentlemen's facilities as well?"
"I don't know how much use they'd get overall, but I'd appreciate it. Even just on one floor would be welcome." Morse had finished, washing his hands quickly and picking up Connie and the nappy pack.
"Perhaps in the gents closest to the infants' department. I'll see what I can do."
Morse rejoined Joan, who'd settled on several little outfits. It was expensive, but it only cost part of what he'd brought, and theoretically Connie was set for the better part of a year. Joan held Connie while he paid, nuzzling her neck to make her giggle and kick her plump little legs. He stopped to watch them afterward, admiring the picture they made and wondering how he'd gotten so lucky.
They wandered a bit after that. Joan turned down new clothes. "I can fit in a lot of my pre-Connie clothes again. It feels like a new wardrobe. You could buy some summer things, though."
"I'm okay with what I have. Kitchen things?"
"Mum's got us set for those. And linens." Next to housewares was the furniture department.
"Oh Dev! Isn't that lovely?" Joan had spotted a three-piece suite of two armchairs and a teak coffee table, all in the simple, modern lines she loved. It was lovely-- and half a month's salary even on sale.
"We do have installment payments available," a salesman told them.
"Thank you. We'll keep that in mind," Joan answered.
Morse deliberated, then decided to try out one of the chairs. "It's comfortable, and the back is high enough I can rest my head if I like."
Joan tried the other one. "This is nice. You'd have to stop using the table as a footrest, though."
"It's a bad habit anyway. What sort of a down payment would we have to make?"
"Ten percent of the price, then monthly payments, sir."
"We've got more than that with us. It's not earmarked for anything. The rent and bills are paid and the utility jars are full of coins."
They went over the terms, Joan double-checking the numbers. "She's an accounting clerk, and better at maths than I am. Congratulations, Mrs. Morse— you've got a lounge suite."
That night, wearing Fred’s dishwashing apron and doing the washing up for Win after tea, he looked over his shoulder at her. "I'm really exceedingly glad you're my mother-in-law."
"Thank you, dear. What brought this on?"
"I ran into the mother of the woman I was engaged to at college. She always treated me like I'd made a wrong turn at the servants' entrance, and still acts like she scraped me off her shoe. I almost had her for a mother-in-law. And as grandmother to my children. It would have been awful."
"She obviously doesn't know a good man when she sees one. I'm glad you're my son-in-law."
Morse arrived home a few days later to find Joan proudly showing the neighbors across the hall their new furniture.
"It gets even better," she told him after they'd left. "When I spoke to the landlord about removing the old furniture for us, he said we qualify for the semi-furnished rate now. It knocks a bit off the rent that we can put toward the payments."
Constance hit all her milestones like clockwork: rolling over, sitting up. One morning Morse spied the first tiny pearl of a tooth peeking through her gums. She began crawling at about the same time. Joan started weaning her, and Win was overjoyed at the prospect of looking after her so Joan could return to work. Morse worried that it was too soon, but Joan insisted.
"Money's so tight right now. It seems like Connie always needs something I didn't plan on. I shouldn't have let you buy me the lounge suite. It was frivolous."
"We're fine. The bills are paid and the rent is covered." It was what he told himself these days whenever he looked at their bank account and cringed. Morse had had his annual job review in September, a year after his promotion to detective sergeant, and qualified for a pay increase, which helped. He was glad he’d agreed to let Fred and Win help them out financially, though.
Morse and Joan celebrated their first anniversary in late October. Fred and Win kept Connie overnight, giving them the chance for a quiet evening together. They kept it simple: dinner out and a performance of Mahler at one of the colleges. Over the past year, Joan had come to like some of Morse’s music— she had discovered Mahler quite on her own— and hers was gradually growing on him. Joan wore the sky-blue dress she’d bought for their wedding. Afterward they stopped for drinks at a pub before going home.
“Nice not to worry about waking the baby,” Morse said later, as they lay in bed together, catching their breath.
“It’s weird not having her here. I miss her already— is that strange?”
“Not at all. I miss her too, even though it’s nice to have a break.”
They had a bit of a lie-in the next day, and collected Connie at mid-morning. “How was she?” Morse asked, cuddling her.
“Good as gold,” Win told him.
The Cowley station business office had just lost their replacement clerk, and happily took Joan back in early November. They had a new routine to adjust to, and after a hectic week of trying to get themselves ready, Connie up and ready, taking her on the bus to the station, then Morse ferrying her to the Thursdays' when he picked up Fred, Win looked at the two of them across the table at Sunday dinner, both more tired than they'd been in months, thought of the sleepy, fussy baby Morse had delivered to her five mornings running, and spoke up.
"I think I should come to yours of a morning. It would save you both so much trouble, and Connie could keep to her regular morning schedule. Once she's awake, I'll feed and dress her, then bring her over here."
"That would have you up so early, Mum."
"I'm used to it."
"I'll make Dad's sandwiches then. It will save you the job, and it's the least I can do."
"I could take the bus with you," Fred suggested to Win.
"There's no need for you to get up so early, love."
"One rule, Mum— no housework. Dev and I have it under control."
"All right, dear. I'll put my feet up and knit until Connie wakes. It'll be a relaxing way to start the day."
They tried it the next morning. Win arrived with time to spare, Morse and Joan kissed Connie goodbye while she slept, then caught their bus. Morse kissed Joan in the station lobby, checked the overnight reports, and headed out to the motor pool, picking up Fred on time and handing him a sandwich before he put the car in gear.
"Nice not to have the screaming," Fred observed.
"And to not have the baby carrying on as well," he teased.
Fred was less cheerful at lunch. "So Joan's still on the wholemeal bread kick." They were at a pub, taking a break between collecting witness statements and picking up a postmortem report from DeBryn. Somewhere along the line, Morse’s system had not only adjusted to the extra food, it was usually his stomach growling at lunchtime.
"You'll get used to it. It's supposed to be better for you."
"Have you noticed any difference?" Morse shrugged. "Not the fountain of youth, then." He took a bite. "At least it's cheese and pickle."
"Friday's sandwich on a rough Tuesday was the last straw, so Win's sandwich schedule has extended into its second generation. I suspect Constance will be sticking to it twenty-some years from now. We've dropped corned beef, though. I'm not fond of it, and it's not her favorite either. We've moved on to pastrami, although she'll do corned beef for you if you like."
Fred shrugged. "Never wanted to say anything to Win, but I’m not overly fond of it, myself."
"There's Emmental with the ham and tomato, and with the luncheon meat, for calcium." Morse opened a paper bag, handing Fred an apple. "And Joan insists we get our fruit in."
"Health nuts, the both of you," Fred teased. "I'll be the fittest-looking man at the undertaker’s."
For all his good-natured fussing, Fred liked Joan's version of the familiar lunches, although he would have preferred white bread.
Christmas came, spent at the Thursday house. Sam had a week's leave from his posting in West Berlin, and the whole family greeted him at the train station. "So this is the sprog. She looks like you, Morse. Hi, Connie. I'm your uncle, kiddo."
"Oh, no!" Win shrieked, looking through the pass-through on Christmas Eve. "Somebody stop Connie! She’s chewing on the tree!"
"Oi! No, kiddo, you don't want this." Sam was nearest the tree and grabbed his little niece, pulling a twig from her pudgy fist.
"I wonder if she's not getting a vitamin," Morse fretted.
"Probably just teething," Fred reassured him.
"I'll have Joan ask the doctor, next time Connie goes in."
"Ask what? I heard a commotion." Joan had come downstairs.
"Connie was chewing on the Christmas tree."
"I'll ask the doctor if she needs vitamin drops."
Nearly every time they put her down Connie crawled straight to the tree and started chewing on it, finally bursting into angry sobs when she was removed for the fifth time.
"Maybe she just likes the taste. Or wants pine-fresh breath."
"Sam, you're not helping!" Joan snapped.
"I caught her chewing on a record last week," Morse admitted. "Parsifal now has tiny teeth marks along the edge. Connie, here's your teething ring instead. You used to like it."
"Maybe you should rub a little pine sap on it."
"Samuel Frederick Thursday!"
"Okay, Mum! I was joking! Keep your hair on."
1969 began inauspiciously, Connie fussy with a cold and Morse sick with it, too. Joan put them both in the bathroom with a vaporizer to steam up the room, trying to open up their stuffy heads. Connie sneezed all over Morse’s shirt as he held her, and he grabbed a tissue to wipe her nose.
“That’s how I caught your cold,” he told her. She sneezed again, this time into the tissue. “How could a nose that small produce so much mucus?” Then it was his turn to sneeze. Joan poked her head in to check on them, beaming. “You look remarkably happy to have us both laid up,” Morse couldn’t help grumbling.
“What? No, that’s not it. I was just trying on clothes; I finally fit into the last of my pre-Connie things that I kept.”
“We can afford new clothes for you.”
“I like the things I’ve got. There’s ice lollies and currant jelly in the fridge. Dad just dropped them off on Mum’s orders. He wouldn’t come in though, and threatened to paint a red X on our door to warn everyone we’re contagious.”
“You’re not ill.”
“Not yet. But between the two of you, it’s only a matter of time.”
Connie took her first steps just before her birthday, clinging to Morse's hand, and said her first words not long after. Putting her to bed had become something he cherished, reading picture books aloud while she snuggled against him. Along with the picture books, Joan caught him reading to her from books of Greek and Norse mythology. He sang to her too, lullabies and bits of arias or humming favorite pieces of music.
Connie's first birthday grew into a surprisingly large event, with friends and family attending. Joyce caught the train from Stamford, greeting Joan with a hug at the station. “It’s so good to finally meet you.”
“Same here.” Joan was holding Connie.
“Hi, Connie! I’m your Auntie Joyce.”
Connie peeked out from Joan’s neck. “Hi,” she piped.
Morse carried Joyce’s suitcase and they caught up on the ride to the flat. “It’s a bit cramped,” he apologized as he opened the door.
“That’s thanks to Joan. Pardon the baby paraphernalia.” They’d bought a gently-used sofa from one of Joan’s co-workers with her parents’ fifteen pounds that would be doing double duty as the guest bed. “It’s comfortable. I’ve fallen asleep on it more than once.”
“He has,” Joan said with a chuckle. “I come home all the time on his days off and find him asleep on it, with Connie lying on his chest.”
“That must make an adorable sight.”
“It does. I’ve a roll of film at the developer with some snaps of them.”
Morse and Joyce talked quietly that night after dinner, while Joan got Connie ready for bed. Joyce had finished her studies at a secretarial school and found an office job that paid much better than the part-time one in a shop she’d had before. “With my new job, you don’t need to send money any longer. I’m supporting myself, and I can help Mum out now. It’s my job more than yours; I know she’s never treated you like a son. And you need that money for your own family now. Paying off the funeral and Dad’s debts was more than decent of you.”
“Are you certain?”
“Absolutely. You’ve done your duty and far more.”
Morse sighed. “If he’d taken the money he lost at the track and saved it instead, you and Gwen would have had a nest egg to draw from.”
“If wishes were horses— “
“He’d have lost money on those, too.”
Joan came out with Connie, the toddler dressed in a little pink nightgown. “Daddy’s turn.”
Morse took Connie. “Let’s put you to bed, little one.” He sat down in the rocking chair next to the cot, opening up a Dr. Seuss book. Joyce and Joan talked in the lounge while the low murmur of his voice lulled Connie to sleep and he tucked her in.
“Morse is such a good dad,” Joyce said warmly.
“He is. He stood up even though he didn’t have to.” Joan told her the short version of Connie’s origin. “He started buying baby things right away. I stopped worrying how he’d do with her the moment she was born. He was the most involved dad on the maternity ward.”
“I’m not surprised. He’s always been so warm-hearted and generous. He’s a good man.”
Joan nodded. “I’m lucky to have him.”
“He’s lucky to have you as well. He looks healthier and happier than he has in years. And you’ve managed to put some weight on him, which is no mean feat.”
“I know! He burns everything off! I’m a little envious, to be honest,” Joan admitted.
“And Connie looks so much like him, I’d never have guessed. Although I was a little surprised when she was born six months after you married. He’s no monk, but he’s usually so careful and cautious that I was surprised.”
“I hope she’s okay with it when we tell her the truth.”
“She will be. It takes more than just conceiving a child to be a true father. By then she’ll have years of good memories and of knowing how much he loves her.”
“I know he worries about being a good father to her. I take it he and Cyril weren’t close?”
“Unfortunately, no. I think Morse blamed him for leaving his mum. He felt abandoned, and then his dad went off and started another family. It had to hurt. And I’m afraid Mum never made him feel welcome.”
“That’s just incomprehensible to me. If he’d come to me with a child, I’d have loved it for his sake at the very least.”
“I’ve tried to figure it out. When Morse and I were going through Dad’s things after he died, we found some photos of Constance that Dad had hidden away. The resemblance between them is uncanny: same coloring, same slender build, similar features. It probably made things harder for Mum, having Morse look like Dad’s ex-wife. If he’d looked like Dad, she might have liked him more. I don’t know. It’s a sore point that she and I don’t talk about. Our family is very good at not talking about things.”
“So that’s where he gets it from.”
“I’m afraid so.”
Morse pulled the curtain closed across Connie’s alcove. “She’s asleep. Did I miss anything exciting?”
“Just comparing notes on your faults and foibles,” Joyce told him with an affectionate smile.
“That would take far longer than it does for me to read The Cat in the Hat,” was the wry response.
“You’re not as awful as you make yourself out to be.”
Morse made a dismissive noise as he poured himself a cup of tea.
Fred and Win were hosting the birthday party. They’d gone all-out decorating the house: pink and white paper streamers and balloons were everywhere. Win greeted Joyce warmly, thrilled to meet her and introduce her around, and Aunt Renie promptly settled her with tea and a pink-iced biscuit. Jim Strange and Shirley Trewlove were there, along with Dorothea Frazil and Mr. Bright. “Mrs. Bright sends her regrets,” he apologized, “but she did help choose a gift, and her giftwrapping skills are far superior to mine.” Aunt Renie was staying with Fred and Win, and a few other relatives were there, along with some of Joan’s co-workers that she was special friends with.
Connie, of course, had no idea that she was having a birthday. She reached for streamers and balloons as Morse held her, until she wanted to be put down. She toddled to the people she knew, was a little shy with those she didn’t, and went to hide behind one of her parents when she’d had enough. Joan helped her blow out the single candle on her cake before Win cut it, sending Fred around with plates. Connie sat on Morse’s lap, sharing his piece of cake. He tried feeding her from his fork, but she insisted on picking up bits with her fingers, smiling and crowing when she got a taste of the icing.
“Hard to believe it’s been a year,” Fred told him.
Morse grimaced. “I can still taste that cigar.” He shook his head. “It was honestly frightening, being handed this tiny person and knowing I was responsible for her.”
“Ah, you’re doing all right.”
“How’s the college fund going?” Dorothea Frazil asked. “Fred told me awhile back you’re going to storm the battlements of Lonsdale to make them go co-ed for her sake.”
Morse smiled shyly. “We’ll see. Things are changing. Speaking of schools, Joan’s enrolled at Raimer College for the accounting program. I’ll be handling this one on my own three evenings a week.”
“Accounting. That’s impressive.”
Joan shrugged. “I’m not musical and I can’t draw, but I’ve always had a head for numbers. There aren’t a lot of women chartered accountants, but I don’t see why that should stop me.”
“Let me know when you hang out your shingle. Doing my own taxes gives me a hellish headache, and the old gent who does the newspaper’s accounts is old enough I think he was at school when George the Fourth was king.”
Isn’t She Lovely? Stevie Wonder
But isn’t she lovely, made from love.
Every few weeks Win brought Connie to the station to see her parents and grandfather. Her little piping voice called "Daddy!" as she toddled across the CID office to throw herself into Morse's arms, carrying the teddy bear Sam had sent her from Berlin for her birthday.
"Hello, Connie." He scooped her into his lap and kissed her head. "Do you want to see your Papa?"
"Yes!" He carried her into Thursday’s office. "Papa!"
"Hello, pet. How's my best girl?" Fred reached out to take her from Morse.
Then she insisted on making the rounds of CID, saying hello to DI McNutt and Shirley Trewlove, who, thanks to recommendations from Thursday and Morse both, was now Cowley CID’s first woman detective constable. Morse had bought a nameplate for her desk, engraved WDC Trewlove, and she’d proudly set it between her phone and her in-basket.
After that Connie always scampered down the hall to Bright’s office. She’d taken to Bright when she was a baby, and the feeling was mutual. Bright held her, eyes full of tenderness and sorrow even as he laughed and played with her. Once, on a rainy May afternoon, as he sat with Morse in his office, Connie snuggled against him and fingering one of the shiny buttons on his uniform jacket, he spoke quietly. "We had a little girl once. Mrs. Bright had several miscarriages; Verity was the only one she was able to bring to term. The war started not long after she was born. Our unit was sent to Africa, but I insisted Mrs. Bright remain in India with the baby, well away from the attacks on Britain. They stayed until the end of the war. We worried about tropical illnesses, but she kept well. After the war, they returned to Britain, and I joined the police."
He stroked Connie's curls. "She was our pride and joy, clever and beautiful and kind. Golden hair and big brown eyes. Then, when she was twelve, there was an outbreak of infantile paralysis in Leeds, where we lived at the time. It happened so quickly-- one day a bit of headache and fever, the next we were taking her to hospital. Three days later they put her in an iron lung. She never left it. Mrs. Bright learned to care for her, as did I, and a nurse was sent round to assist once she came home. Verity was so cheerful, despite it all. Insisted on continuing her lessons at home."
Bright wiped his eyes. Morse was nearly holding his breath, heart hurting in sympathy. "She caught a bad cold the following winter. She couldn't cough, and despite everything we did, it went into her lungs. She was fourteen when we lost her. They came out with the vaccine only two years later. She would have been about your age now." Bright looked at Morse, his eyes piercing. "You make sure Constance gets all her jabs. All of them."
"We have. I remember the polio outbreaks, too. And the diphtheria ones, with planes flying serum into remote villages. My sister had whooping cough as a toddler; it’s not a sound you forget. Connie's getting everything. I— I'm sorry you lost your daughter. I don't know how anyone bears losing a child.”
Summer 1969 brought a buzz of excitement: a moon landing seemed imminent. Fred and Win bought a color telly in anticipation and were planning a party for the event, inviting friends, family, and neighbors for a potluck and viewing the landing.
Joan put Morse to work helping her bake biscuits. She’d bought all sorts of food coloring and crystallized sugar, and been experimenting for weeks. By the time the Apollo 11 mission was underway, she was ready. Their small kitchen was full of activity, and keeping fifteen-month-old Connie away from sugar and biscuits was a job on its own. Morse finally unfolded the playpen and put her in it with her favorite toys and a warm biscuit to gnaw on.
Joan and Morse made dozens of biscuits, using icing and sugar to make them look like full moons. Morse was doubtful at first: grey icing was singularly unappealing. But the sugar added a sparkle to the biscuits, and he had to admit they looked reasonably moon-like.
They arrived at the Thursday house on the evening of 20 July to hugs and kisses from Aunt Renie, who exclaimed over how much Connie had grown since her birthday party. The dining table was covered with potluck contributions, and Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” was playing on the hi-fi. Sam had just finished his two-year stint in the army and his physical resemblance to Fred had grown, though his playfulness hadn’t changed. He teased Joan and stole a moon biscuit before she’d put the first plate of them on the coffee table. Morse knew a few of the neighbors, and was introduced around to the rest once Fred had put a glass of beer in his hand to relax him a bit.
The lounge held the color TV, while the old black and white one was pressed into temporary service in the dining room, and people gathered around with plates of food to watch the landing. It was several hours before Neil Armstrong left the lander, but no one wanted to miss it, so Joan and Aunt Renie made pot after pot of tea and coffee to give Win a break. Morse was ensconced in Fred’s armchair, at Fred’s insistence, with Connie asleep on his lap, snuggled against his chest.
In the wee hours of the morning Sam nudged Joan awake where she dozed against his shoulder. “He’s coming out!” He raised his voice. “Armstrong’s coming out of the lander!” Dozing people roused, and Morse was already off to the dining room to alert that group— he’d put Connie in a travel cot upstairs earlier— then returned to the lounge to sit on the floor with Joan and Sam, Joan squeezing his hand as they watched.
Not long after watching the grainy footage of the first human walking on the moon, the party dispersed. “Don’t worry about the mess, Mum,” Sam scolded gently. “We’ll sort it in the morning.” Morse and Joan were staying in the guest room, Aunt Renie in Sam’s, and Sam was kipping on the sofa. He stood at the back door from the lounge, looking up at the sky as the neighborhood quieted.
Morse joined him, both looking at the moon and thinking of what was going on up there. “Amazing, isn’t it?”
Sam shook his head. “Can you imagine what our kids are going to see in their lifetime? It’s going to be like 2001.”
Connie turned two, and her parents steeled themselves for the Terrible Twos. But she mostly insisted on being more independent, with only the occasional tantrum. “Just like Joan,” Win observed. “Always saying, ‘I’ll do it myself.’” She was potty-trained fairly easily once she decided nappies were for babies rather than big girls, to her parents’ rejoicing. When she turned three they signed her up for a nursery school on weekday mornings. The Thursdays’ old telly had made its way to the Morse flat despite Morse’s misgivings, and he hated to admit there were times he parked Connie in front of it to watch a kiddy show while he did household chores or simply unwound from work, especially when Joan was in class or revising.
Joan studied hard to become a chartered accountant while still working at the station. They moved to a flat with two bedrooms and started saving for a house in earnest. By the time they decided to try for a second child in 1970, Morse’s salary was near the high end of the DS pay range and Joan would be able to take time entirely off work between passing her exams and looking for an accounting job.
"Are you sure we can afford this?" Joan asked.
"You've the head for finance. Are you sure you want to go through it all again?"
"This time I know what I'm getting into." She went on tiptoe to kiss him. "What about you?"
"It's not like I have much to endure by comparison. Although the banana and jam sandwiches you craved for a month were disgusting. As were the nappies."
By the end of the year Joan was pregnant. Both of them were calmer about the whole thing this time, knowing what to expect. Connie was excited about a sibling, and liked to chatter at Joan's tummy about everything. Joan was absolutely positive she was carrying a boy, and had settled on Frederick Cyril to continue the naming tradition. Once again she didn't start showing until she passed the halfway point. And once again she sailed past her due date without a twinge.
"I don't want to go through this again,” she groaned the next evening. Morse was carefully brushing rose-colored nail varnish on her freshly-trimmed toenails.
"Neither do I." Morse shuddered at the memory. "At least I can't stick my foot in it this time."
"You were here from the beginning. No one to blame but yourself."
"I seem to recall that you were more than eager. Nearly wore me out."
"I don't remember you complaining, Dev."
"No. Making them is the fun part. We could try jump-starting labor like we did last time,” he suggested.
“It’s too hot, and all I can focus on is the way my feet and back are throbbing in unison. I should have paid more attention to the calendar— being this pregnant in July is dreadful.”
“I’ll massage your feet once the nail varnish dries.”
Joan sighed. “You’re a wonderful husband. Even though you snored half of last night.”
When she stood, Morse looked at her more closely, remembering something. “It won’t be long.”
“How do you know, Dr. Spock?”
“Look in the mirror. The baby’s lower than it was last week, same as right before you had Connie.”
It was five days past her due date when Joan poked Morse in the side in the middle of the night. "Dev? Dev, wake up." He rolled away from her with a groan, pulling the covers over his head. "Endeavour Morse, wake up!"
"The baby's started."
"Okay," he mumbled, still half-asleep. "Lemme know when it's time to leave."
Morse opened his eyes and turned over to look at her. "How close?"
"Five minutes apart and getting stronger. It woke me about an hour ago. I'm so tired, I think I slept through the first bit."
Morse rubbed his eyes. "I'll ring your parents to take Connie." He stumbled to the loo to splash cold water on his face, then went to the phone.
By the time Fred and Win arrived, he'd thrown on some clothes, run a comb through his hair, and helped Joan put on a dressing gown over her nightdress. "I told the driver to wait for you," Fred told them. "We'll stay here. No sense waking Connie." He and Morse got Joan and her suitcase into the taxi. "Good luck."
The Radcliffe was quiet when they arrived. "Labor, five days late, second child, contractions five minutes apart. Her water hasn't broken yet," Morse reported efficiently at the intake desk.
Joan was whisked upstairs to the maternity ward. Things had changed quite a bit since Connie’s birth. In 1971 fathers were encouraged to help with the delivery, and Morse had dutifully attended childbirth classes with Joan. Once everything was ready, Morse was called into the delivery room to find her panting through a contraction.
“Um— good job?” he offered weakly when it passed. Joan rolled her eyes at him.
He fed her ice chips and held her through the contractions. “These encouraging phrases they taught us seem trite and frankly stupid,” he grumbled at one point.
“They are,” Joan agreed.
“Is there anything you’d prefer I say?”
“The only thing I really want to hear is: I have morphine and it has your name on it. Oh bloody hell, here we go again.” It felt like she was crushing his hand, she was gripping it so tightly. “I’d forgotten how bad it gets,” she gasped afterward. “How far along am I?” she asked the nurse.
“Bugger. We’re going to be here for hours.”
By noon she was crying, swearing, threatening terrible retribution on Morse, had sicked up water and bile on the surgical smock they’d made him wear, and all he could think to do was hold her and murmur over and over, “You can do this. I love you. I’m sorry. No more babies, I promise,” while wiping away his own tears as well as hers. He was certain Win would have been far more useful to Joan than he was, and felt like a traitor for wishing he could have waited in the pub again.
The delivery was like nothing he’d expected. There was blood, screaming (some of it possibly his own), a baby that looked more alien than human, and the doctor asking if he wanted to cut the cord. Morse took one look at what seemed to him like a gory disaster at the other end of the delivery table and promptly fainted.
“I’m surprised he made it this long,” Joan said mildly, calm now that the worst was over.
A student nurse was called in to look after Morse, while the doctor cut the cord and a delivery nurse cleaned up the baby. Morse came to to find Joan cuddling the baby with a beatific smile, cooing to it, a sheet drawn down over her legs to hide the worst of the mess from him.
“What is it?”
“It’s a girl,” the student nurse told him.
Morse chuckled. “It figures.”
Other things had changed when Joan was moved to the maternity ward. Mothers had the option to have their babies with them now, in a bassinet beside their bed. Joan had immediately chosen that, wishing they’d had it when Connie was a newborn. Joan soon fell asleep, and Morse picked up his new daughter with experienced hands. He could tell this one already looked like Joan. She had his chin, though, and possibly his nose. He settled into the bedside chair, snuggling her against his heart, giving her a finger to grab and kissing her dark-haired little head, tired but eager to get to know his new daughter.
No one tried to kick Morse out this time; there was another exhausted father asleep in a chair beside his wife’s bed across the ward. Joan woke from an hourlong nap to find him holding the baby and talking to her quietly. He was telling her about their family: her Nana and Papa, Auntie Joyce and Uncle Sam, and her big sister Connie who could hardly wait to meet her.
“Have you told her about her silly mum who’s been calling her Freddie all this time?”
Morse handed her over. “I figured that was on you.”
“I’ll make it up to you, little love. Mummy’s got some lovely milk for you, if you’d like.” Joan adjusted her nightgown and guided the little head with an expert’s touch, the baby latching on immediately. “Like riding a bicycle.”
A student nurse arrived with her meal tray. “I can bring it by later, if you’d like.”
“Absolutely not. I’m starving, and I learned to do everything one-handed when her sister was a baby.” Joan grabbed a piece of plain toast and practically inhaled it, brushing crumbs from the baby’s wispy dark hair afterward. “Dev? Do you want some?”
“I’ll get something downstairs later. Would you like butter and jam on the next piece?” he asked, slightly wide-eyed at the feral way she’d wolfed it down. Then again, she hadn’t had any food since the milk and digestive biscuits she’d eaten before bedtime the night before.
“That would be lovely.”
So Morse fed Joan while she fed the baby. Afterward he went down to the canteen for a quick meal, running into Fred and Win afterward. He’d rung them while the nurses were getting Joan and the baby cleaned up and moved to the maternity ward. Shirley Trewlove was looking after Connie for a few hours. They went upstairs, where Fred and Win cooed over their new granddaughter while Morse fetched more chairs.
Joan cuddled the baby, smoothing down her fluffy fine hair. "What should we name her? I never considered girl names."
"You don't regret her, do you?" Morse asked worriedly. The thought of either of his children being treated like he’d been made his stomach twist.
"Of course not!" Joan kissed the baby's head. "Mum kept telling me to plan for either. You kept saying, Man proposes, God disposes. I was just being stubborn. What about Frederica?"
"Absolutely not!" Fred told her firmly. "You're not saddling the poor mite with that!" He reached for his new granddaughter as if to protect her from awful names, holding her close and giving her a finger to wrap her tiny fist around. "If you want to give her a family name, how about one of your grandmothers'?"
"Not my mum's," Win said hastily. "Her name was Frances, but everyone called her Fanny."
"I never really knew either of my grandmothers," Morse told them.
"My mum was Margaret Rose, if that's not too old-fashioned."
"She has a sister named Constance Winifred, Dad. I think we're well past that point."
"I like old-fashioned names," Morse said decidedly. "Margaret Rose Morse. What do you think, Joanie?"
"I like it. And Nan Thursday was a wonderful person."
Morse took the baby girl from Fred. "Hello, Meg. Welcome to the family.”
Fred smiled. "Mum would be over the moon, having a great-granddaughter named for her."
Win brought Connie by later. Fred had gone to let friends and family know about the birth. Connie snuggled next to Joan, looking at the baby in her arms and gently touching her. She beamed when Meg caught onto her hand. “I’m glad she’s a girl. Boys are loud and play in mud.”
Morse took her home a little later, despite her protests that she wasn’t sleepy. “Mummy and Meg need to sleep, I need to sleep, and you, my dear, were just nodding off in my lap.”
Fred and Win dropped them off at the flat. Connie had fallen asleep on the drive home, and Morse decided she could skip her bath for once. Once she was tucked in for the night he drew a hot bath, poured some epsom salts into it for his aching muscles, and stayed in the water until it started to cool, feeling himself relax as he stared at the ceiling. He’d had a niggling worry that he’d feel differently about Connie once this baby was born, that he’d sense something different between her and a child that was biologically his, but to his relief he didn’t. The promise he’d made to Joan when he’d asked her to marry him, that her child would be his, held true.
So why hadn’t Gwen managed to do the same? Why couldn’t she have loved him for his father’s sake, at least? And why had his father married a woman who hated his own child? He sighed and rubbed his eyes. He was too tired to dwell on such things.
He looked in on Connie on his way to bed, caressing her silky reddish-blonde curls. She opened sleepy blue eyes. “Is it morning, Daddy?”
“Not yet. I’m on my way to bed.”
Morse stayed beside her, stroking her hair, as she drifted back to sleep. He could see so much of Joan in her: her independence, her stubbornness. He saw Win and Fred as well. Win’s big blue eyes, handed down to daughter and granddaughter. She had Fred’s mulish expression when she was being stubborn, which was terribly funny on the face of a three-year-old girl. He loved her so much his heart ached with it sometimes, and he delighted in watching her growing up and becoming her own little person.
“No matter what happens,” he whispered, “as long as I’m alive, I’m your daddy, Connie.”
References to people and events mentioned in the Inspector Morse series start appearing.
Only Yesterday, The Carpenters
Tomorrow may be even brighter than today, since I threw my sadness away only yesterday.
Sometimes it felt to Morse like time was flying past and he was barely hanging on by his fingernails.
Joan found a job with an accounting firm once Meg was weaned, and Win looked after the girls most days.
The Thames Valley Police consolidated Oxford CID operations at Kidlington in early 1972. It was a bit of a wrench leaving the Cowley station, with its familiar rabbit warren of offices and storage rooms. He, Trewlove, and McNutt packed up their belongings, Morse boxing up photos of Joan and the girls, a paperback crossword dictionary, and a green rubber dinosaur with a squeaker that Connie had given him because “your desk is lonely when you go home at night, Daddy. It told me so.” Fred, the new Detective Superintendent of Thames Valley CID, was packing up his African animal carvings, souvenir tankards, pipe rack, and family photos, and sorting through years’ worth of minutiae that had accumulated in his battered desk.
“I found a half-dozen tanners in a drawer. Think the bank will still let me trade them in for the newfangled stuff?”
“Keep them for historical value,” Morse suggested. “Besides, what can you buy for six pence these days?”
“Wondered where this had got to. Bought it on that police conference we went to at Blackpool a few years back.” It was a pen, with a tiny picture of a woman whose swimsuit slid down as the pen was tilted.
Morse lifted his eyebrows. “Really, Fred? Of all the souvenirs you could have found? I should tell Win on you,” he teased.
Thursday looked a little worried at the prospect. “Give it back.”
“I’ll tell her you’ve got a dirty pen.”
“What dirty pen?” Trewlove asked curiously, having come into Fred’s office. “Oh, one of the disappearing bikini ones?” She sounded disappointed.
“I bought one with a sailboat goes back and forth,” Morse told her.
“You’re such an innocent,” Shirley teased.
“It was for Connie!”
Thursday shook his head. “Connie wasn’t even two. You bought it for yourself.” He went back to rummaging. “I think this desk was a magnet for paperclips; I’ve found dozens. Oh, another quid! That makes four so far.”
“All I found in mine was lint and a tuppence that looks like someone pried it out of the tarmac in the car park,” Trewlove lamented. “And a stale cig Peter Jakes must have lost in the back of a drawer years ago.”
There were new people to meet and personalities to deal with in the airy new CID office. Morse’s desk was between DS Patrick Dawson, whom he’d met at various events and debated at police conferences, and DS Ron Pigert. They reported to McNutt and another DI, Charlie Hillian, although it was understood that Morse was Thursday’s protégé.
Dawson spotted the photos of Morse’s kids immediately. “Two girls?”
“Yes. Connie turns four in April, and Meg’s one in July.”
“You’re a lucky man, Morse.”
Morse tilted his head. “Yes, I suppose I am.”
“Never forget it.”
December of 1972 found Morse and Joan hosting the family Christmas gathering for the first time. It was just too much for them to wrangle a four-year-old, a toddler, and all their paraphernalia at the same time.
Thames Valley had sold off a large number of older cars from their fleet right after the move to Kidlington, including the trusty old Jaguar Morse and Thursday had used for so many years. Fred had promptly bought it, and now picked up Morse every morning on his way to the station.
“Sam rang from Manchester,” Fred told him a week before Christmas. “Asked if we’d mind if he brought Ivy with him.”
“Not at all. Joan really wants to meet her. She says Sam’s never been like this about a girl before. What about her family, though?”
“He said her dad passed a few years ago, and her mum moved back to Toronto to look after her own parents over the summer.”
Morse and Joan took hosting duties seriously, Morse stocking up on good wine and splurging on a bottle of Glenfiddich when he picked up beer at the off-license, and Joan triple-checking the grocery list.
“Do you see anything obvious that I’ve forgotten?”
Morse checked the list and shook his head before they set off for Waitrose, which had bought out Richardson’s a couple of years before. Joan shopped from the list, Morse adding things to the cart as usual.
“Bourbon biscuits and pickles? Dev, if I didn’t know better, I’d wonder if you were pregnant. And what are you going to do with capers?”
“There’s a recipe I’d like to try after Christmas.”
“We don’t need Nutella, too. Don’t look at me like that— after two kids, I can’t eat like you do.” Morse sighed and returned the jar to the shelf.
They borrowed the car and packed up the girls to go tree shopping, where Joan learned that Morse was pickier about Christmas trees than she was.
“There’s a bare spot on one side.”
The girls quickly grew bored, Meg falling asleep in Morse’s arms and Connie tugging restlessly at Joan’s hand. “Endeavour, choose one. Please,” Joan finally sighed.
“It’s our first time hosting Christmas.”
“It doesn’t need to be perfect, Dev. Nobody’s expecting our flat to look like Buckingham Palace.”
Sam and Ivy were staying at the Thursday house, riding over with Fred and Win on Christmas Eve. Ivy Williams was a pretty hazel-eyed redhead who worked in the same building as Sam. Win brought her brand-new crockpot over with a pot roast and vegetables in it for dinner.
The girls swarmed their uncle, raiding his jacket pockets for the jelly babies he always brought them when he visited. Connie shook hands with Ivy with grave politeness, while Meg stared at her red hair in fascination.
The lounge’s large picture window was decorated with fairy lights and paper snowflakes, while the tree stood in the corner, covered with ornaments the kids couldn’t break. Connie promptly showed Ivy her favorite, a deep-blue beaded one with velvet ribbons that Joan had made from a crafts kit.
Eight people meant the flat was crowded, but no one minded. Morse had put the leaf in the dining table and placed extra chairs around it so everyone could squeeze in for dinner. Meg refused to sit in her highchair, perching on Morse’s lap instead and helping herself to his plate. Afterward Fred insisted on doing the washing up, making Sam help him, while Morse corralled the girls to get them ready for bed.
“But I’m not sleepy!” Connie protested.
“If you’re not in bed when Father Christmas arrives, he might just skip your house,” Fred warned her.
The adults relaxed and chatted afterward. Joan and Ivy had hit it off immediately, and Sam and Fred were talking quietly, Sam’s dark eyes unusually serious, while Morse was sharing some concerns about Joyce with Win.
“Are the girls down for the night?” Win asked Morse after awhile.
“I’ll check.” Morse looked in on them, finding Connie and Meg sleeping soundly. “Not so much as a twitch,” he reported.
Fred handed the car keys to Sam. “Help Morse fetch everything from the boot, will you?”
They brought up the gifts from Father Christmas that had been hidden at the Thursdays’ and arranged them around the tree. “We shouldn’t keep you up late,” Win said. “The kids will have you up at dawn.”
Once they were alone, Morse poured two glasses of wine and settled onto the sofa with Joan, Bach playing softly on the phonograph.
“I like Ivy,” Joan said.
“Do you think Sam’s serious about her?”
“I think so. They seem so young to get married, though. Only twenty-four.”
“You married me at twenty-one, Joanie. Five years ago already. Where does the time go?”
“Do you think Connie will be too disappointed, not getting a bicycle for Christmas? She really wants one.”
“We’ve already decided that will be her birthday gift. Besides, this is awful weather for learning to ride.” Morse drained his glass and leaned over to whisper in Joan’s ear.
She giggled. “Isn’t it a sin or something? On Christmas Eve?”
“I was born in late September. I doubt my parents were the only sinners in Christendom. Besides, we don’t even go to church.”
Joan woke first on Christmas, roused by little voices in the lounge. “Dev? Dev, they’re awake.”
Morse woke with a grunt. “What time is it?”
“Little after seven.”
Connie and Meg were crawling around the tree, checking out packages, Connie reading the tags and dividing them up. “Meggie, here’s another one for you.”
Joan, wrapped in a warm quilted dressing gown, sat down with them to double-check tags. Morse put the kettle on before he joined them, a flannel dressing gown over his pajamas.
“Can we start?” Connie asked.
“Maybe we should wait until Gran and Papa arrive,” Morse said, straight-faced.
“Maybe we should,” Joan agreed, eyes shining with mischief.
“Perhaps we should all get dressed and go to church first. It might do us some good, sitting through a church service. A long church service. Two hours at least.” Morse was having trouble keeping from laughing at Connie’s expression.
“Oh, all right. We shall continue to be heathens. Go on.”
By the time the chaos ended, the lounge looked like a tornado had hit. The rest of the family arrived a little after ten. Morse and Joan had just finished dressing, but Connie and Meg were still in their pajamas, too interested in playing with their new toys to get dressed. There was another, smaller flurry as family gifts were exchanged and opened, and then Joan insisted the girls get dressed.
As usual, there were tins and plates of sweets and biscuits scattered around to snack on. Joan got out a fondue set she’d bought at Burridge’s, and lunch was different breads and vegetables dipped in cheese fondue. Afterward, Morse and Sam took the girls outside to run off steam in the playground in the middle of the flats.
“What’s it like, having kids?” Sam asked earnestly.
“Exhausting, frustrating, frightening. And wonderful. I can’t imagine my life without these two.”
“And being married?”
Morse smiled gently. “Best thing I’ve ever done.”
Meg came to tug on his trouser leg. “Swing?”
He picked her up, putting her in the baby swing then pushing her gently. “Thinking of taking the plunge?”
“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it. I really like Ivy, but I don’t want to move too fast and scare her away.”
They returned to the flat to find Joan trying to shoo her mother out of the kitchen. “Go sit down! Morse and I are doing dinner.”
“Mum, you did Christmas dinner for years. It’s your turn to put your feet up. “
“Winifred, listen to your daughter,” Fred told her mock-sternly. “Give her another glass of sherry, Joan.”
“Besides, there’s not much to do until the turkey’s closer to done. Especially since we’re not doing a plum pudding.”
“I still don’t see why you’re not having one,” Win fussed, taking a sip of sherry.
“Because none of us like it, including you,” Morse reminded her. “We only did it for tradition, and ate a bit to be polite. It’s time for a new tradition, and the chocolate gateau Joan made is delicious.”
“He should know,” Joan teased. “He ate half the ganache for it.”
“I did not! Just a few spoonfuls.”
“And the brandied cherries.”
“Only a couple! I’ve never made them before— I had to make certain they were edible. Besides, I used good brandy for them.”
“Our Morse is experimenting with cooking with alcohol,” Fred told Ivy. “Wine in the spaghetti bolognese, beer in the fish batter. Almost burnt down the house making cherries jubilee for Win’s birthday,” he added, teasing Morse fondly.
A few hours later, with the girls in bed and the rest of the family gone home, Morse and Joan collapsed on the sofa, exhausted and sagging into one another. “It went well,” Morse observed.
“It did. I don’t know how Mum did it every year, though. Maybe we should try a family potluck next year. We do the turkey and gateau, everyone else does a side dish.” Joan snuggled into Morse’s shoulder with a yawn.
April found the four of them out on one of the walkways around the greenspace and playground in the middle of the block of flats. Connie was perched uncertainly on her new blue bicycle, streamers on the handlebars, a flower-bedecked wicker basket on the front, and training wheels on the rear. Morse gripped the back of the seat while Joan held Meg nearby.
“Remember what I told you. Keep pedaling,” Morse told Connie. “Go on, I’ve got you.”
Connie bit her lip, fear and excitement warring on her face, then drew a deep breath and started pedaling. Morse trotted alongside, calling out instructions and encouragement, steadying the bike as best he could.
“Don’t turn so hard!” He caught her just as the bike started to topple. “Okay, straighten the handlebars and try again.”
They went back and forth on the walkway as she got a bit of confidence until Morse was jogging alongside, his hand near the bike seat but not touching it. She took a couple of falls, broken thanks to his quick reflexes. Finally he stood next to Joan, both of them watching Connie pedal around the greenspace.
“I wanna bike!” Meg wailed.
“When you’re bigger,” Joan told her. “You need to grow more.”
Connie started kindergarten in September, while Meg was going through a Terrible Twos that made Morse and Joan want to tear their hair out. “No! You cannot lick the car! Just because it’s a pretty color doesn’t mean it tastes nice.” He was a responsible adult, an officer of the law no less, and yet here he was, standing on the pavement in central Oxford telling a sobbing, shrieking toddler she couldn’t lick a shiny red Vauxhall. Morse finally gave up. “Fine. Go ahead. Give it a lick.” Meg cried harder at the taste of metal and carnauba wax. He picked her up, carrying her from the scene while she kicked and screamed. “Ow! Don’t bite me! Margaret Rose Morse, you’re sitting in the naughty chair when we get home.”
And Sam had just asked if Connie and Meg could be flower girls at his wedding. At this rate Meg would be wearing a muzzle, color-coordinated to the bridesmaids’ dresses.
When he told Joan about it, she laughed. “She gets it from you.”
“I don’t bite people.”
“Not with your teeth, at least.”
Men’s fashions had changed dramatically in the new decade, with even Burridge’s carrying wildly patterned shirts and bell-bottomed trousers. Morse hunted down more conservative shirts and suits in the corners of their men’s department and in staid dark-paneled shops that catered to academics. But he experimented a bit, growing his hair out a little and trying longer sideburns and then a mustache.
Joan giggled as he kissed his way down her body one night not long after it had grown in. “It tickles!” she gasped. He went for an especially sensitive spot, and her laughter rang out.
There was banging on the bedroom door and they froze. “Mum! Dad! What are you doing?” Connie wanted to know.
“Go back to bed,” Morse ordered.
“But it sounds like fun!”
Joan snorted. “She’s not wrong,” she murmured.
Morse huffed. “They get their sass from you,” he told her, climbing out of bed and putting on his dressing gown while Joan drew the covers over herself. Morse unlocked the door, finding his two little daughters with their blue eyes lit up with mischief just like their mother’s did. He herded them back to their room and tucked them in then returned to the bedroom, relocking the door, shedding his dressing gown, and joining Joan.
“I’m shaving off the mustache in the morning. It’s causing too much trouble.”
Morse had reached a point where most cases didn’t touch him as deeply as they used to. The only exception was any case involving a child, especially a girl. Connie had just started kindergarten when Mary Lapsley, an orphan who lived with her grandmother, disappeared. It was Morse who found Mary’s small body. He sank to his knees beside her, feeling like he’d been punched in the gut. She was eight, only three years older than Connie, and with her brown hair she reminded him of Meg. He knew at a glance she was gone, but still checked for a pulse. “Oh sweetheart,” he murmured. “I’m so sorry we didn’t find you in time.” He knew he shouldn’t touch her more than necessary, but he couldn’t bear thinking of her alone out here, and how afraid she must have been; he stroked her small hand as he blinked back tears, until he was composed enough to call McNutt to the scene.
When it was time to move her to the coroner’s van, he refused to let them put her in a body bag. “Have you got a sheet or something instead?” Max DeBryn helped him wrap her up in it, then Morse held her close and carried her out to the van, the pathologist beside him with his gentle round face gone hard and determined. They arranged her on the stretcher, Max making sure she was strapped in properly.
Morse left the station as soon as he could, going straight home. The girls were playing outside under Win’s watchful gaze. Connie saw him first. “Daddy!” She ran to him, Meg trotting after as fast as her little legs would carry her. Morse sat down on the grass, heedless of his suit, letting the girls swarm him, holding them close and trying his best not to cry as they hugged and climbed all over him, chattering nonstop. He looked up to see Win watching him with a sad, knowing look.
“We found Mary Lapsley.”
“I suspected as much. Fred used to do the same thing when it was a child.”
Joyce married Keith Garrett in the autumn of 1974. She asked Morse to walk her down the aisle, and he put up with Gwen for her sake. She also asked if Connie and Meg could be her flower girls. Meg had outgrown the Terrible Twos, and was a miniature of Joan with Morse’s nose and chin. During the wedding rehearsal she insisted on holding her daddy’s free hand when he walked Joyce down the aisle. Joan carefully explained afterward that at the wedding she’d have to stay beside her sister, and let Daddy focus on looking after Auntie Joyce on her Very Important Day. Meg nodded seriously. The next day she obediently went down the aisle beside Connie, both girls scattering flower petals from little baskets. But while Connie then went to sit beside her mum, Meg went over to Keith and his best man and stood next to them to watch her auntie come down the aisle in her pretty white dress. As the music faded and Morse handed his baby sister to Keith, her little voice rang out clearly.
“You be good to my Auntie, Unca Keith, or I’ll tell Daddy an’ he’ll put you in jail!”
Soft laughter rang out in the chapel, though Gwen looked sourer than ever. Joyce smiled, while Keith bent over to look at his small niece with utmost seriousness. “I promise you I’ll be good to her, Meg. Okay?”
“Okay.” Meg held out her hand to to shake his, her doll-like face grave, and Keith shook it, equally serious. Then she took Morse’s hand and let him lead her to the pew where her mum and sister were sitting.
Morse and Joan bought a house in early 1975. It was fifteen years old, semi-detached, and part of a modern-styled group of houses. Joan loved its clean lines and open floor plan, while Morse loved the floor-to-ceiling open bookshelves dividing the lounge and dining room. It even had a detached garage tucked next to the back garden.
Joan tugged on his sleeve during their first viewing. “Dev, look! No meters for coins!”
“And our own washer.” That was something worth getting excited about, in Morse’s opinion. He was sick to death of launderettes and communal laundry rooms.
Then they found a well-lit room added onto the garage. The previous owner had used it for a woodworking shop. “Playroom for the girls?” Morse mused.
Joan was looking it over, noting the windows, the Dutch door with a windowed upper half, and the stone pathways leading to the patio and the garden gate. “It would make a lovely office.” There was a wistful note in her voice.
Morse looked at her more closely. She’d found it harder to go back to work after Meg was born, enjoying spending time with the girls. She now understood why her mum had loved staying home with her and Sam. “Thinking of hanging out your shingle?”
“I’d like to. Dorothea Frazil keeps asking when she can hire me, for one. And the girls are growing up so quickly. But buying a house is expensive— “
“We can pay the mortgage from my salary. You wouldn’t need to rent an office with this. There’s already electricity out here. You’ll pick up more clients as word gets out. Money would be tight at first, but not nearly like it was when we were starting out. And you’d be here when Connie gets home from school.” Joan was still biting her lip and worrying. “You could try it for six months or a year and see how it goes.” He’d learned she liked having an established out when she took a risk.
Morse knew there were old desks and filing cabinets gathering dust in various back rooms of stations, so he asked around and they were able to furnish the office cheaply. Win made curtains and they had the bare floor carpeted. Fresh paint on the walls finished it off. It was an airy, cheerful room, with a corner set aside for the girls to play when Joan didn’t have clients in the office. Fred had a sign made for the front garden by the driveway:
Joan W. Morse
Business - Personal - Consulting
Joan shrieked and hugged him when she saw it.
Dorothea Frazil was as good as her word, bringing a thick file for her own taxes and a proposal to handle the newspaper’s taxes and payroll on an ongoing basis. “The contract for the paper will pay all the business expenses on its own, small as they are,” Joan told Morse. “All the other clients will be profit.”
The sign, which they’d thought would mostly direct existing clients to the office, actually drew quite a bit of business from the neighborhood. Joan was quickly doing work for contractors, various shops, and— to Morse’s delight— their nearest pub.
One warm summer day he and Fred stopped at the house after Morse had chased a suspect through what felt like half of Oxford so he could put on a fresh shirt, only to find a van with ‘Mitchell and Daughter - Plumbing Services’ parked in front of the house. Morse panicked at the thought of the upstairs bathroom flooding and getting into the ground-floor ceiling, but the house was quiet. After he changed he went out to the back garden, where Fred was looking at the vegetable beds they’d put in.
“You’re going to have plenty of tomatoes and courgettes this summer.”
“We weren’t expecting much, it being our first attempt. We’re not Tom and Barbara Good, but there’s something satisfying about growing your own food.” Morse continued to Joan’s office, where the upper half of the door was ajar, tapped lightly on it, and poked his head in. “Hope I’m not interrupting, but I saw a plumber’s van out front and was afraid the house had flooded.”
“No, no. Bob and Karen Mitchell. New clients. Are you all right?”
“Chased a suspect down Catte Street and through New College. I caught him, but in this heat I needed to change my shirt. I really must train myself to keep an extra one at the station.”
“Joan says you’re a policeman?” Bob asked.
“Good to know we’ve got one living in the neighborhood. Keeps the riffraff out when they’re afraid they’ll get nicked.”
“Good to know we’ve a plumber in the area,” Morse answered, shaking his and Karen’s hands. Bob was a sturdy, middle-aged man, while his daughter Karen was shorter and compact. They talked a bit. Karen had seen Joan’s sign during a service call down the street and they’d promptly made an appointment.
“Three sons, none of them interested in plumbing, although I did get an electrician out of the lot,” Bob said. “Karen’s the one always followed me around, started handing me tools when she was five. She’s a knack for it, and fits in tight spaces better’n me. So I figured, instead of Mitchell and Sons, why not Mitchell and Daughter?”
“And the wages are much better than a shop clerk,” Karen added.
Fred poked his nose in to say hello.
“Where’s McNutt?” Joan asked.
“Holiday at the seashore with his missus and Hillian’s out on a case with Sergeant Dawson, so I thought I’d get out of the office for a bit and play silly buggers with Morse. Where’s the Nutmeg?”
“She was bouncing off the walls and being a little terror, so Mum took her to the park to run off some of that energy.”
“If we could power the grid off of kids’ energy, we wouldn’t need the Bramford plant,” Bob observed.
“Isn’t that the truth,” Fred agreed. “We’ll get out of your hair, pet. Morse just didn’t want to spend the rest of the afternoon in that shirt.”
It took awhile, and some help from Fred with painting and boldly patterned curtains sewn by Win, but they made the house their own. Joan’s modern furniture made the house look sleek and streamlined. Then Morse and the girls promptly cluttered it up.
Morse had a security system installed. He’d put away some dangerous criminals over the years, and now that he owned a house rather than rented a flat, he wanted to keep his family safe. He also bought smoke detectors for both levels of the house; they were expensive, but he’d investigated too many fire deaths over the years to risk doing without. Connie and Meg thought his fire drills were fun little games, but learned to do as he’d taught them.
Win had been right about Connie: she was musical. Her favorite instrument had always been the cello, and on her ninth birthday Joan and Morse surprised her with a student model and lessons already arranged. She threw herself into learning, although the household had to endure a truly awful racket as she learned to coax music from the instrument, and her left fingertips sported plasters until she built up calluses. After the first rocky months though, she was playing simple melodies, delighting in the rich tones of her cello.
They’d eased into telling Connie about her birth father, casually mentioning the different variations in families over the years, that sometimes a mummy or daddy needs to find a new parent for their child, and that a mummy or daddy can love a child as their own even if they aren’t the birth parent. Connie had a friend at school who had been adopted as an infant, so the idea wasn’t entirely foreign to her. Not long after her tenth birthday they gently explained the circumstances to her.
Connie regarded Morse with a puzzled expression. “But you’re my dad. I’ve seen my birth certificate.”
“Yes, I am. In my heart and according to the law, I’m your dad. But genetically, I’m not. There’s a possibility that there are illnesses that run in his family that we don’t know about. When you’re eighteen, if you want to look for him, we can.”
“I don’t. If he could give Mum a baby then do a runner, he’s a toerag. You’re my dad, and that’s what matters.”
Morse gathered Connie up in a hug, feeling his eyes prickle with tears. Connie looked at him, confused. “What’s wrong?”
“I— I was afraid you’d think differently of me when you found out I wasn’t your birth father. Like I wasn’t your real dad or something.”
“Oh, Daddy, you’re silly. Of course you’re my real dad. Callie’s parents are her real mum and dad, and she’s adopted.” Connie hugged him hard. “You’ll always be my real dad. Even when you’re silly, or I’m angry with you.” She thought for a moment. “Besides, I look more like you than like Mum. I thought you were going to tell me you already had me when you met Mum.”
A week later he was sprawled on the sofa, musing on a case over a glass of Radford’s, when Connie raced downstairs and pounced on him. “Daddy, I just figured it out!”
“Figured out what, my dear?”
“Why I look like you. It’s because you loved me so much, the magic made me look like you.”
“Like in The Secret Garden. Colin used the magic to walk, and his father heard him and came home.” She shrugged. “You called the magic. It’s so obvious, you should have figured it out already. You’re a detective.”
Morse hid a smile as he stroked her hair. “I’m afraid they don’t teach us about magic in the police academy.”
“They probably expect you to remember it from when you were a kid.” Meg called to her from upstairs, and she trotted back to her room.
Joan came home a little later after meeting with a client, putting down her leather case with a relieved sigh. “What are you reading?”
“The Secret Garden.”
“Connie’s current favorite? What brought that about?”
Morse smiled and told her. “I suppose it’s silly, but I prefer her explanation to a random quirk of genetics.”
Joan snuggled beside him and lowered her voice. “I like to think it’s all the shagging we did whilst I was pregnant with her. You overwhelmed the original contribution, so to speak.”
Morse laughed. “I live in the midst of creativity that puts my wildest leaps at work to shame. Next time your dad asks where I got an idea on a case, I’m telling him magic.”
In September of 1979 Morse found himself facing the prospect of turning forty. He stared into the bathroom mirror for a long time after he finished shaving on the morning before his birthday. The lines around his mouth and on his brow had deepened. His hair was silver at the temples, with silver threads scattered through the rest, and he couldn’t deny that it had begun thinning. He’d gone past filling out, and was getting a bit of a tummy. “You’re middle aged,” he told his reflection glumly. “It’s all downhill from here.”
There was banging on the door and he jumped. “Dad! We have to get ready for school!” Connie shouted. “And Meg needs a wee!”
“All right, all right.” Morse sighed and left the loo. It was impossible to have a proper sulk with kids around.
After changing into his suit, he slumped downstairs to the kitchen. He and Joan would have their twelfth anniversary in a month, Connie had turned eleven in April, and Meg had turned eight in July. He had no idea where the time had gone. Sunrise, sunset indeed. Joan was thirty-three, but the clock seemed at a standstill where she was concerned.
“Morning, Dev. I heard the girls turf you out of the bathroom.”
“I’m getting old, Joanie. Can you still love an old man?”
“I’ll still need you and feed you when you’re sixty-four.” Joan kissed his cheek.
Fred was retiring at the end of the year. “I’ve stayed on longer than I’d planned,” he’d told Morse after he made the announcement in August. “You’re an inspector now, and DS Trewlove is coming along well as your assistant. It’s time. Besides, with Sam and Ivy settled in Manchester, Win and I need time to spoil that set of grandkids.” McNutt had retired in 1976 to care for his dying wife, and begun studying to become a clergyman after her passing. Bright had retired not long after the Cowley CID team moved to St. Aldate. The old guard was leaving, and Morse wasn’t sure he was ready to take up their mantle yet.
“You’re in a funk,” Trewlove told him over lunch (pastrami on wholemeal, with grapes).
“I’m getting old.”
“It’s better than the alternative, don’t you think? And you’ve got plenty to show for it: your career is going well, you’ve two great kids and a wife who loves you. And your in-laws like you,” she added sourly.
“Alan’s parents still being prats?”
“Now they’re peeved I want to hyphenate my name, and they want a big wedding they can invite all their friends and business associates to. Alan finally put his foot down. Told them we’re not a couple of kids, we’re paying for it, and if they want to throw a party for all and sundry, they’re welcome to do it on their own tuppence. Full stop.”
Morse roused slightly the next morning when Joan got up, but the bed was warm and cozy so he rolled over and dozed, having a lie-in for his birthday. He sensed some sort of activity downstairs at one point but nothing set off his copper sense, so he stayed put until the girls opened the bedroom door and pounced on him.
“Happy birthday, Daddy!” they chorused. Joan followed, carrying a tray with breakfast for him, although it quickly became a communal affair, with the girls stealing bacon and toast and fruit from his plate.
“You might as well help yourself,” he told Joan wryly.
“One would think they hadn’t just had breakfast.”
Afterward the girls hustled him out of bed, barely pausing for him to put on his dressing gown before they dragged him downstairs. “It’s time for your present!” Meg insisted.
He expected a package on the sofa or the dining table, but they were heading for the front door. “What is it?”
“We bought you a pony,” Joan teased.
“I hope it fits in the garden shed.” Out on the front walk, he stopped in his tracks. “Oh. Oh Joanie,” he breathed.
“Before you fuss, yes we can afford it. I was handling some matters for Stan at Cherwell Classic Motors, and I mentioned you’d seen it on the lot and come home lusting after it. We dickered, I pointed out how much money I’ve saved him, we dickered some more, I reminded him what a mess the books were in when he first came to me, we dickered a little more— and he gave it to me at just over his cost.”
“It’s beautiful.” Morse felt Joan slip a set of keys into his hand. “How did you manage to hide it?”
“Had it delivered this morning. At least you were having a lie-in.”
The Mark 2 Jaguar sitting on their driveway was deep red with a black top, chrome gleaming in in the morning sun. Morse circled it, taking in every last detail, before opening the driver’s door and sliding in. He drew a deep breath of the scent of leather upholstery, ran his hands over the burlwood trim, and sighed. “Joanie, you’re brilliant.”
The girls were already climbing in the back, begging for a ride. He shrugged and looked at Joan. “You may as well get in. It looks like we’re taking it for a spin in our pajamas.”
Weaving bits of Inspector Morse episodes into the story now. I imagine Joan looking a lot like Ruth Rawlinson from ‘Service of All the Dead,’ but with blue eyes.
Sunrise, Sunset, 'Fiddler on the Roof'
I don’t remember growing older. When did they?
Connie hit her teens in 1981, turning everything topsy-turvy for awhile. It seemed like when she wasn’t arguing with Joan, she was arguing with Morse, or shouting at a bewildered Meg, or slamming her bedroom door and refusing to come out, or sobbing on her bed. The only thing that soothed her was her cello, and they learned to gauge her moods by the music coming from her room. Like her father, sometimes she expressed herself better through music than words.
Once she got through that phase she entered another, one that Morse disliked even more. “Other girls in my year go on dates.”
“Not until you’re sixteen, Constance. Until then, only group activities,” Morse reminded her sternly. She was growing up to look like Joan, but with reddish honey-blonde hair that fell in flawless natural curls; Morse thought she looked like she’d walked out of a Botticelli painting and was dreading what was to come.
He started teaching Connie to drive the Jaguar. There were times he swore he could feel his hair going greyer as they lurched through empty parking lots while she got used to shifting gears, and then as she drove them through progressively busier streets. He tried not to fuss at her too much, and ignored the array of swear words she’d picked up without her parents’ knowledge. She grumbled at the old car’s fiddly shifting and odd quirks, privately deciding her own car would be something modern, even though the newer cars weren’t nearly as pretty as her dad’s classic.
On her sixteenth birthday Morse took her to get her license, and Connie hugged him until he was breathless after she’d passed the tests and shown him her brand-new license. Sometimes he let her borrow the car, and got used to finding pop music cassettes in the glove box. Once she forgot to remove one and turn down the volume, and he was nearly deafened when he started the car. “Bloody hell!”
Now that she was sixteen, he had to let her go out on dates. Joan wasn’t nearly as worried about it as Morse was. He glared at the spotty, scrawny, swaggering creatures with ridiculous hair and barely-there facial hair who turned up on his doorstep. “And who are you?” he asked in his most withering tones, getting reedy-voiced responses and sweaty handshakes in return.
One dared sit outside in a car and blow the horn. Morse stomped out to the driver’s side, rapping on the window like he’d done on patrol in his uniformed days, but with far more gravitas now.
“If you want to take my daughter out, you’ll come to the door like a well-raised young man, not sit on your arse and blow your horn like she’s a dog to come running when you whistle. Understood?”
Morse was in his face in a flash. “Listen,” his voice was low and dangerous, “This isn’t the way to make me like you. I solve murders for a living. I’ve dealt with people who’d make you soil yourself.” His eyes turned even flintier. “Some of them owe me favors.” He wanted to laugh at the way the boy’s eyes bugged out.
The kid meekly followed him to the door and was on his best behavior when Connie came downstairs. He brought her back fifteen minutes before curfew. Morse overheard her griping to her mum in the kitchen afterward.
“He didn’t try anything. Not even to slip his arm around me at the cinema. I don’t know what I did.”
“I doubt it was anything you did, lovey.”
Later, after Connie went upstairs, Joan gave Morse a knowing look. “Endeavour, did you say something to Connie’s date?”
“Of course I did. Several somethings. He sat out there blowing his horn like he was whistling for a dog. Then he got shirty with me. He’s no great loss.”
Joan sighed and shook her head. “You’re going to be as bad as Dad was, aren’t you?”
“If that’s the sort of boy comes skulking around my daughters— absolutely.” Morse turned to the crossword with a defiant rattle of newsprint.
Meanwhile, Meg was more interested in computers than boys. The school both girls attended had just added computer classes, she’d signed up for one out of curiosity, and had taken to it like a duck to water. She started begging her parents for a PC at home.
“It’s expensive,” Joan demurred.
“But it would be dead useful. It would make your job easier, for one. And I could do more programming than I can at school. I’ve got BASIC down; I want to learn COBOL and Fortran next. The school has introductory classes in those, at least. But I want to work with assembly language, too, and they don’t teach it.”
“Let us think about it,” Morse told her. Once Meg had gone upstairs, he looked at Joan and shook his head. “I understood about half of what she said.”
“If she stays with it, it could lead to a good career when she’s finished school,” Joan mused. “And I could use it in my work.”
It was Morse who looked up from his book that evening while Connie practiced upstairs and Meg did homework in her own room. “It’s Meg’s cello.”
“Connie has her cello. Meg’s never been interested in learning an instrument. She isn’t keen on horses like Strange’s girls— there’s an expensive hobby. She tried gymnastics in primary school and hated it.”
“That was a disaster. And she wouldn’t try ballet because she thinks tutus look ridiculous.”
“She’s never asked us for anything expensive and takes Connie’s hand-me-downs without a protest. I’m inclined to let her have a computer. I’ll see what they use at the school and check prices at the shop that just opened by the station. I remember that monster computer at Lovelace College when I was a DC— Jason, they called it. Beat a Russian chess master and helped us track down a suspect. Took up most of a room.”
A bit of reconnaissance quickly showed Morse he was out of his depth, but at least he had an idea of prices. When Meg’s birthday came, there was a small wrapped box at her place on the dining table. She unwrapped it with nimble fingers, finding a card inside:
Redeem for 1 computer of your choice.
Love, Mum and Dad
“We realized you should have a say in it, since you’re the one who knows about them,” Morse explained as Meg hugged them both.
“When can we go to the shop?”
“Tomorrow’s my day off.”
Morse drove them up to Kidlington, where Meg carefully studied options, asking questions of the salesclerk and weighing pros and cons. An hour later they were carrying boxes into Joan’s office, where the girls’ play area had become a study area with its own desk and bookshelf. Meg set everything up, connecting cables with an intent expression that reminded Joan of Morse. Finally she plugged it in, turned everything on, and sat down, flexed her fingers, and set to work.
Part of the bookshelf filled up with programming books that summer, as Meg threw herself into learning. Joan had to force her to go outside sometimes. “Go get some fresh air.”
“The windows are open,” Meg said distractedly, clicking a biro and staring at the screen like her dad facing a tough crossword clue.
“Run around. Get some exercise.”
“I’m trying to find a bug in this program I wrote. I’ll do it later.”
“Take a break, then come back to it. It helps.”
“Oh, all right.”
The dot-matrix printer spat out pages of documents that went into a binder. Meg taught Joan how to use the PC for her work, and she and Connie already had plans for using it to write school papers. Morse was slower to try it, but he found the pages of programming interesting in the same way ciphers and codes had been when he’d been in the Signal Corps.
“I think I can see what it’s saying,” he told Meg.
“Of course. Code is code, language is language.”
When school started again in September Meg took her binder to school to share with the computer teacher.
“Basically, I’ve done the work for the classes I was planning to take, so he’s going to let me spend the semester on advanced programming and assembly language,” she reported at dinner that night.
“That’s wonderful!” Joan enthused. “We’re so proud of you.”
The following spring, Joan had news for Morse. “Meg’s got her first crush.”
“Boy in her Comp Sci class. They bonded over Fortran. She says he’s the only boy at the school who isn’t an idiot.”
“I don’t want a new assistant, Strange. It takes too long to break them in,” Morse grumbled in 1986.
“I know you miss Trewlove since she transferred to Leeds for her husband’s work. But it’s been a year, you’ve been a chief inspector for three years, and you have valuable skills and experience to pass along.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere.”
“Just think about it, all right? How was your physical?”
“Blood pressure normal, heart and lungs clear, bloodwork good. He wants me to get more exercise and lose a stone.”
“Pfft. Mine wants me to lose five.”
Connie finished sixth-form college that spring and had been accepted to Lady Matilda’s music program; as a graduation gift they traded in her old student cello toward a professional model. Morse had done a bit of sleuthing after Connie turned eighteen, finding that Ray Morton’s wife had left him not long after Joan had, and Morton subsequently had a string of drink-driving convictions that ended with an obituary in the Bristol newspaper in 1983 when he’d crashed his car. His children, all older than Connie, seemed to be healthy so far. So when Connie reiterated to her parents that she had no desire whatsoever to find Morton or anyone connected to him, he burned his notes and mentally closed that chapter, feeling a burden lift from his heart that he hadn’t realized he’d been carrying.
Meg turned fifteen and looked much like Joan had in her youth. A few months later, the security alarm went off a little after two in the morning. Morse was out of bed in an instant, Joan on his heels. Connie had just started at Lady Matilda’s and was living at the college, but Meg didn’t poke her head out of her room. They went downstairs and found Meg in the front hall, fully dressed, wearing far more makeup than they permitted and looking scared.
Morse shut off the alarm then turned to his daughter. “Would you care to tell us what’s going on?” He saw her eyes dart around as she swallowed hard, casting about for a believable story but finding none.
“It was nothing bad, and it’s not a school night.”
“If it was ‘nothing bad,’ then why didn’t you tell us about it and ask permission?”
“Because you wouldn’t have let me go!”
“What about your curfew? You’re supposed to be home by midnight.”
“And who were you with?” Joan asked.
“Which friends?” Joan waited. “Which friends?” she repeated. “Or am I going to start phoning round to all their parents this minute?”
“No! Don’t do that! I was out with Danny!”
“You know you’re not allowed on one-on-one dates until you turn sixteen.”
“I’m the only one in my year who isn’t, Dad!”
“I don’t care what the others do. And who is this Danny?”
“You don’t know him.”
“We don’t know him? So he hasn’t been here to meet your parents, just sneaks around with you behind our backs. Sounds like just the sort of boy we want you seeing,” Morse added sarcastically. “What year is he in?”
“He’s not in school. He’s in college.”
“College! How old is he?”
“You’re fifteen!” Joan cried. “What are you doing with a twenty-year old?”
“Dad’s seven years older than you!”
“That’s different! We were adults when we met! I’d finished school and was working. He’d been to college and had a career.”
“Danny's at Lovelace, studying to be a software engineer,” Meg said, her stubborn expression identical to her father’s. “We met at the PC users club.”
“No decent sort of man sneaks around with an underage girl in the middle of the night,” Morse snapped.
“I’m not a child!”
“But you are underage.” Morse looked at Joan. Nineteen years together meant they could communicate with a look, no words needed. He turned back to Meg. “Margaret Rose, go up to your room, get into your pajamas, and go to bed. We’ll talk about this in the morning. And wash your face.”
They watched her go upstairs, then Morse reset the alarm while Joan went into the kitchen and filled the kettle. Five minutes later they were sitting across from one another at the dining table with their tea, listening to Meg settle into bed upstairs. Joan sighed and rubbed her forehead tiredly.
“I pushed boundaries at her age, but not like this. I wouldn’t have dared to with Dad. Have we been too easy on her, do you think?”
“I don’t know. Connie didn’t do anything like this. Or if she did, she was clever enough not to get caught.”
“She didn’t. She was more like you.”
“I was painfully shy and socially awkward. I could barely say two words to a girl. Connie was popular enough, and had a busy social life.”
“She’s cautious though, reserved. Thinks ahead. Always had her mind set on college, no matter how tempting the boys were. Meg’s gone lad-mad lately.” Joan shook her head. “I can’t help remembering some of the blokes I got mixed up with, and worrying about Meg. I’d hate for her to go through what I did. She might not be lucky enough to find someone like you to save her from herself.”
“Joanie, don’t.” He reached across the table and put his hand over hers.
“It’s scary, Dev. Nowadays, she’d be lucky if pregnant is all she came away with.”
“You’ve talked to her? About precautions?”
“Of course. But kids think they’re indestructible, that nothing really bad can ever happen to them.”
“I’ll track down this Danny character and have a word with him, make sure he knows she’s underage. And that I’ll have the law on him if he doesn’t drop her like a hot potato. What should we do about Meg?”
“I was going to say locked in her room until she’s thirty. Nothing but school? No social events?”
Joan nodded. “For how long?”
“How long can we bear it? I’ve learned that opera has nothing on teenage girls for drama.”
“Ugh, you’re right. Two weeks? She deserves longer. When I acted up at her age, Dad used to say he hoped I’d have one just like me.” Joan rubbed her eyes. “I’m too tired to deal with it right now. Save it for morning?”
“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” Morse quoted, rising. “You go upstairs. I’ll wash out the tea mugs and join you.”
Morse found Danny Travis easy to track down. Meg had told him she was eighteen, and the fact that she was underage combined with her father being a police detective made him eager to swear he’d have nothing more to do with her. Meanwhile, Morse and Joan took a deep breath together, gritted their teeth, and grounded Meg for a month.
“You’re to go directly to and from school. No stopping off with friends, no shopping trips, no parties or sleepovers,” Morse said sternly. “No school events that aren’t academic. And no computer club.”
“But Daddy— “
“Margaret, there are no buts. If you disobey, we’ll add a week to your grounding for every infraction.”
“Listen to your father. We’ve agreed on your punishment. How can we trust you when you go sneaking off in the middle of the night? That’s how young girls end up dead in ditches, Meg!”
The next month was long for all involved. Fred chuckled at his old threat to Joan proving true. “I always knew it. Connie’s like Morse, but our Nutmeg’s you all over again, pet.” But he and Win thought they were handling it properly, and provided moral support and a sympathetic ear when Morse and Joan second-guessed themselves or were driven spare by Meg’s whinging, tears, slammed doors, and sullen silences at the dinner table.
When Meg’s grounding ended, all three felt like they’d served the sentence. But it seemed to have done the job. When Meg tried to meet Danny Travis, he’d already found a new girlfriend. She re-focused on schoolwork, swearing off boys forever— which lasted about a month, until a new boy transferred into her school and was seated near her in history class. Morse had a case involving a murdered teenage girl that summer, and while he didn’t share the gory details, he told enough to make her and Connie, living at home for the summer, more cautious.
Besides, Meg had a new obsession: learning to drive the Jaguar.
References to ‘The Dead of Jericho,’ ‘Deceived by Flight,’ ‘Masonic Mysteries,’ and ‘Dead on Time.’
Warning: Some angst ahead.
One In a Million You, Larry Graham
To love you, to me, is to live.
Morse came around from the garage to Joan’s office after work one day the following spring. It had been a drizzly afternoon, although all the plants blooming and leafing out made things seem brighter. He knocked on the door before opening it, finding Joan on the telephone with a client and going over tax information. She held up one finger as she focused on what he could see was the sort of government document that made his head hurt just to look at. He was more than happy to let her handle their taxes, placing receipts and paperwork in a box on the kitchen counter set aside for the purpose and mostly forgetting about it until it was time to co-sign the forms.
He sat down in one of the client chairs across the desk from her, looking around the office whilst he waited. They’d bought nicer furniture than police station hand-me-downs not long after getting the Jaguar, and updated the decor a few years ago. The office managed to be sleek, modern, and professional, as well as cheery, light-filled, and welcoming.
Joan finished her call and hung up, turning to him with a smile. “Hi, Dev. I’m surprised you didn’t go straight to the house for your music.”
“What would you think of my trying for the Detective Superintendent position?”
Joan sat back in her chair, musing. “Do you want to?”
“I’m not entirely sure. I’m weighing my options.”
“Well, on the one side there’s the increase in pay, status, and authority.”
“The pay increase would be nice, with Meg eyeing Lovelace College,” Morse admitted.
“It would. On the other hand, there would be more staff management of CID, more paperwork, and more dealing with the higher-ups and the press. And more public-relations work.”
“All of which I detest, but I already handle quite a bit of it as a DCI.”
“But you’re happiest when you’ve got your teeth sunk in a mystery, running down leads and putting the pieces together.”
“Your dad used to say I was a good detective and a poor policeman.”
“He revised his estimation along the way. I heard him telling someone you were an outstanding detective and a damned good policeman once. I think it was right around the time Jim took over as Chief Super.”
“He never said anything.”
“Didn’t want you to get a big head,” Joan teased with a smile. “You remember everything Dad dealt with as Detective Super. Do you want that on your plate until you retire?” She watched him reflect, knowing the probable answer. If he said he did, she’d eat her shoes. Or check him for fever.
Morse sighed. “Not particularly. I just feel like, well, I haven’t gone after a promotion since my DCI. I don’t want to be taken for granted, or look like I’m resting on my laurels.”
“Everyone knows there’s less room for advancement in the detective division. If you’re happy where you are, why change it? And I hardly think they take you for granted: you’re their go-to man for the cases nobody else can solve. Run it past Strange if you’re concerned.”
“Part of it is, I know Bell is going after the position, and I can’t help but feel like he shouldn’t be able to just walk into it unopposed.” Morse looked abashed. “I know it’s petty, but— “
“But you and Bell have locked horns enough times in the past. Feeling the need to give him one last challenge?”
“I suppose. But if I go after it just to be stubborn, and then get it— “
Joan tried not to chuckle. “You’d be like a dog that caught a car: now what do I do with it?”
In the end Morse applied for the position, then promptly handled his very next case in a way that spoiled his chances of getting it. Joan wondered if it had been a conscious decision or not. Then again, his beloved Jaguar had just been badly damaged whilst chasing down a ring of car thieves, and while the department paid for the repairs, it still put him in a strop.
Then, the moment he’d gotten the car back, it was damaged again on his current case involving the death of a woman in his choral group. He came home grumbling nonstop. “And to think I was worried about the girls wrecking it when I taught them to drive! The worst they’ve ever done is a few little dings.”
Connie had come home for dinner that evening, and she and Meg both lifted their arms with wry little cheers of triumph.
DS Robbie Lewis became his assistant right after that. Morse quickly realized the young Geordie was clever and capable, and they settled into a good team. Lewis’ stories about the antics of his young kids brought back memories that seemed like only yesterday.
“Enjoy it while you can, Lewis. Before you know it, they’re practically grown up.”
Joan wasted no time inviting Robbie and Val and their kids over for a casual dinner. Joan and Val hit it off immediately, and Joan took Lewis aside for a quiet talk about Morse. “He can be grumpy,” she warned.
“You don’t say,” Lewis answered drily, and they both chuckled.
“Try not to take it to heart. He’s always been like that. The girls and I are used to it, and I forget not everyone is. It’s part of his armor against what he sees in his work, and against some of the people he meets. And he’s always been eccentric, bad at getting along with people. But he’s kind-hearted and generous underneath, and good to his sergeants, although he doesn’t suffer fools or foolishness.”
“Thanks for the heads-up. How did you meet him, if I might ask?”
“He was my dad’s bagman. Morse used to pick him up every morning. Imagine a skinny, blond, freckled bloke in a badly-tailored suit, looking afraid he was going to be eaten alive.”
“Doesn’t hardly seem possible.”
“I had a bit of a crush on him, but it took awhile, and plenty of crossed signals, for anything to happen. I didn’t think he was ever going to stop calling me Miss Thursday.”
“Thursday? As in Fred Thursday?”
Joan smiled proudly. “That’s my dad. Morse still picks his brain on tough cases.”
“I’m not surprised. The man’s a legend in Oxfordshire.”
“Stay around Morse, you’ll meet him. He’s still sharp as a knife. He and Mum are up in Manchester right now, visiting my brother and sister-in-law and their two kids.”
Lewis got used to Morse’s music in the Jaguar. One afternoon Joan had just dropped it off at the station after meeting a client when they trotted out to go to a crime scene. The moment Morse started the car Fleetwood Mac came from the speakers. “This makes a nice change,” Lewis said hopefully.
Morse ejected the tape. “Every now and then somebody leaves their cassette in. At least it’s not one of Meg’s. She plays dreadful rubbish in my car,” he grumbled. “At ear-splitting levels, no less. She’s after me to put a subwoofer in. My music doesn’t need a subwoofer.” It was all Lewis could do not to chuckle at Morse’s affronted tone.
Although he never saw it, and laughed if it was suggested, Morse had matured into a distinguished-looking man. Joan called him her silver fox, which made him shake his head in disbelief. From time to time women asked Morse about his marital status, despite the gold band on his left ring finger.
"Are you married?" Philippa Foster asked as he basked in the sun, ostensibly watching Lewis play cricket but actually observing the rest of the players and trying to work out who’d killed his old college friend Tony Donn.
"Yes. For over twenty years now."
"Two girls, Constance and Margaret. Meg looks almost exactly like her mother used to. Connie takes after me, but it looks far better on her. Connie's at Lady Matilda on a music scholarship, and Meg's in sixth-form college.” The pride in his voice was unmistakable.
He was always polite, always chivalrous in his old-fashioned way, but no other woman interested him beyond a casual look. Joan had borne him two wonderful daughters, and stood with him through thick and thin. Not only that, her whole family had welcomed him and made him one of their own, giving him the support, affection, and connection he’d needed and wanted even more than he’d realized.
Connie finished college with a music degree and teaching certificate, quickly finding a job she loved as a music teacher at a nearby girls’ school. She also joined a chamber music group that needed a cellist, and her parents never missed a concert. Fred and Win often attended, too, and Meg came if her classes permitted. She’d started studying computer science at Lovelace College, and the course books she brought home when she needed a weekend break from campus housing made Morse shake his head.
“Algorithms,” he told Lewis one Monday morning. “What the bloody hell are algorithms?”
“Something to do with maths.”
“I know that. I thought Joan’s accounting minutiae was bad. Yet neither of them can believe I read books in Ancient Greek and Latin at Lonsdale.”
“It’s horses for courses, sir.”
“That it is, Lewis. That it is.”
“You’re not supposed to have so many visitors, Morse. This is a jail, not a social club.” Strange sighed. The entire Thursday family had rallied around Morse, wrongfully accused of killing a woman in his choral group during a dress rehearsal for The Magic Flute. In one day Morse had been visited by Joan, Lewis, Connie, and Fred and Win. Joan had given Strange an earful.
“You know he’s innocent, Jim! You remember what he went through, out at Farnleigh! He had nightmares about it afterward!”
“I know. I promise you we’ll keep him here with us, and we’re doing all we can to clear him as quickly as possible.”
Connie had insisted on bringing her cello along, filling the holding cells with an unexpected Bach concert. Win had brought Morse a home-cooked meal and given Strange a fierce glare on the way out.
Meg was currently settled on Morse’s bunk, doing coursework and keeping her dad company. The glower she leveled at Strange when he appeared at Morse’s cell door was a combination of Win and Morse’s both, and Strange suspected it had shaved a few years off his life. Meanwhile Fred Thursday was nosing about, doing his own investigation into who had it in for Morse and had murdered Beryl Newsome and Desmond McNutt.
“You know as well as I do that I’m not supposed to be here. It’s a frame-up.”
“That it is, matey, and a piss-poor one at that.”
“Fred thinks it’s Hugo DeVries, to get back at me for putting him in prison years ago. I’m inclined to agree with him.”
“I have extra patrols keeping an eye on your house.”
“I’d like to take a look through your computer systems,” Meg said. “Especially the security on them.”
“I can’t permit that, Meg, but you can advise Sergeant Lewis where and what he should be looking for.”
Strange brought Morse a message the next day: someone had set off the security system at his house, but nothing appeared moved or taken. Fortunately Morse and Fred both had insisted Joan stay at the Thursday house until everything was cleared up; Connie was sharing a flat with another young teacher and Meg was living at Lovelace College while she worked on her computer science degree. Then Lewis found proof DeVries wasn’t dead after all, and a quick look through the actual paper files proved that the old charges against Morse in the computer system were bogus. The attempt to imply that he was having an affair with Beryl Newsome made the entire CID office howl with laughter. They’d seen their prickly DCI when his missus stopped by; there was no mistaking that he utterly adored her, even after twenty-three years. One beer bottle with his fingerprints in Beryl’s lounge wasn’t going to convince them otherwise, and nothing else of his could be found in her flat.
Morse and Joan returned home once he’d been cleared. That evening Joan was out in her office while Morse dozed on the sofa, exhausted. A shrill electronic screeching woke him in an instant and he leapt to his feet, seeing flames licking at the shelf of cassettes over his stereo system. He dashed into the kitchen, grabbed the fire extinguisher they kept by the stove, and quickly put out the fire.
Joan came running in just as he gave it one last burst from the extinguisher. “I heard the smoke alarm going off!” she shouted over the alarm’s ongoing squeal.
Morse shut it off. “That’s better.”
“Are you okay?”
“Just startled. I’ve no idea what happened.” Morse picked through the mess, grumbling at his damaged music before finding one especially blackened cassette. “Toscanini’s Magic Flute? This isn’t mine! I wouldn’t have it in the house!” He opened the case. “Ring the police, Joanie. This was planted, and it’s been tampered with— there’s a fuse in it.”
In the end, Fred Thursday, though retired from detective work for a decade, was right: Hugo DeVries had tried to frame Morse, discredit him, and finally kill him, only to fail miserably. Even so, when he and Lewis attended DeVries’ burial, he insisted on one last look into the casket.
“The ME already ID’d him, sir.”
“I know that, Lewis. I want to be absolutely, completely certain the bastard hasn’t slipped away at the last minute. I almost brought a fingerprinting kit.”
Fred and Win’s 50th wedding anniversary in 1991 was a quiet celebration with just the kids and grandkids, hosted by Joan and Morse at their house. Connie brought some of her friends who had a casual music group, and they played old standards. Morse learned the lyrics to several of them, serenading his in-laws with Stardust and Begin the Beguine while they danced cheek-to-cheek. They were both white-haired now and Fred had recently had a mild stroke. Watching them together, still so tender with one another, nearly brought him to tears more than once.
Morse was shocked to meet up with Susan Fallon on a case in the summer of 1992. She was as lovely as she’d been in their youth, and he was startled and a little frightened by the way his heart skipped a beat and sped up. As they interacted over the next few days, he found himself idly thinking what his life could have been. A fellow at one of the colleges spending his life among scholars, less of an oddball by comparison or at least in a place where eccentricity was accepted and a need for solitude expected. A lovely old house by the colleges, instead of a cookie-cutter postwar semidetached. He became distant and preoccupied, to the point where Joan started to worry.
“It’s normal for a man his age,” Win reassured her when she confessed her worries. “Thinking about paths not taken. Grieving for lost youth. Morse loves you and the girls with all his heart. Try not to worry, dear.”
“I don’t like it,” Lewis told Strange in his forthright way the next morning. “Susan Fallon making a play for another man’s missus, and Joan such a good, kind woman at that. She’s a saint to put up with his work like she does.”
“Her dad was a detective, so she knew better than most what she was getting into in that regard. But putting up with Morse’s— Morseness— that’s what makes her a saint, Lewis.”
Gazing into Susan’s warm brown eyes that afternoon, tempted to find if her lips against his would feel the same as before, he wondered if their children would have had her eyes, like Connie and Meg had Joan’s. The thought was like a punch in the gut, and he reeled from it.
“Morse? Morse, are you all right?”
A life without Connie and Meg— just the idea made his heart break. And Susan would have likely called him Morse all their lives, while Joan had given him her own special nickname almost immediately. She could draw him out of his head when the melancholy set in, and looked after him in her warm practical way. The gold band on his finger caught the sunlight, symbol of promises made and so far kept. This wasn’t worth breaking his vows and destroying his family over.
“I— I’m quite all right.” Morse edged back from the precipice as well as from Susan. “Just thinking about my daughters. Funny how you still worry, even when they’re adults.” He made his excuses and left soon after. On the way home he put in a cassette of Connie’s degree recital. The memory of Fred Thursday meeting his Italian wartime lover came back to him, and it was almost comforting to know he wasn’t the only man to be tempted. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” he murmured. He generally preferred English writers, but Fitzgerald had had a gift with words.
The semidetached was ordinary, but it was home. He went through it, past the bookshelves full of books and records and the house filled with the bits and bobs of seventeen years’ living. The staircase wall was covered with family photos: his and Joan’s wedding, the girls’ school pictures, family portraits as they grew taller and he grew greyer, larger portraits including all of the Thursdays, others of Joyce and Keith and their kids, a photo of Aunt Renie, gone five years and still desperately missed by all of them. His life was recorded on that wall, and while it hadn’t been his first choice, there was no denying it was a good one. Or that he was happy; it showed in every photo of him.
Morse went out the back door into the garden. The grass needed mowing, the tomatoes were escaping their cages, the courgettes were, as usual, ridiculous in their abundance, the Austin roses needed trimming yet again, and he really couldn’t put off painting the garden shed any longer. But the humdrum household to-do list suddenly didn’t annoy him like it usually did.
Joan’s office door was wide open, music coming from within. Her music, not his— Carly Simon, he identified. You Belong To Me— the irony made him wince. He poked his head through the doorway. “Joanie?”
“Dev! You’re home early. Are you all right?”
“I am. And no, Strange hasn’t finally sacked me.” He leaned over to kiss her, drinking in her beautiful blue eyes and shining dark hair, her creamy skin with the beginnings of fine lines around her eyes. Nearly twenty-five years she’d put up with his moods and faults, his clutter and the long hours his work entailed. Another man would have gotten along better, come further in his career, brought home a bigger paycheck, but she’d never cared about that. He could have been chief constable and she’d still have put out her shingle as an accountant, just because she enjoyed her work. “I am the luckiest man in the world, Joan Morse,” he murmured into her sweet-smelling hair.
He drew a deep breath, took both her hands in his, and finally admitted to Joan that the case involved Susan. She paled, looking so frightened that he hastened to reassure her, cupping her cheek in his hand. “The memory of fifteen months doesn’t compare to that of twenty-five years, Joanie. You are my past, present, and whatever future I have left. You and the girls are my life. Nothing and no one can change that.”
“I knew something was going on. You’ve been a million miles away lately. It was more than just the way you get on a tricky case.”
“I’m sorry I worried you.”
When Susan killed herself a few days later, he grieved for her. She had been his first serious love, and there was no changing that. But she hadn’t been his only love. He awakened at a little after two in the morning to find the other half of the bed empty. His first drowsy thought was that Joan was in the loo, but when she didn’t return within a few minutes he got up and went looking for her.
As he went down the stairs he saw a single light on in the lounge and heard music playing softly. Joan was huddled on the carpet next to his stereo, head down and shaking with silent sobs. It took a moment to identify the singer: Roy Orbison.
Just running scared, feeling low
Running scared, you loved him so
Just running scared, afraid to lose
If he came back, which one would you choose?
Morse’s heart broke over the evidence of Joan’s despair. She was so strong and calm that it was easy to forget that she took things to heart too. And that Connie’s musical sensitivity wasn’t just his influence. He crept the rest of the way down, avoiding the creaky step he kept meaning to have repaired.
Then all at once, he was standing there,
So sure of himself, his head in the air.
Across the lounge, silent as if he was stalking a suspect.
My heart was breaking— which one would it be?
His warm baritone quietly joined Orbison’s heartbreaking tenor as he knelt beside her. “You turned around and walked away with me.” He held her tightly. “Joanie, I’m sorry I made you doubt me.”
“I’m being silly, I know I am. And now she’s gone, and I feel badly for her, and for you because you loved her, and relieved that you won’t be able to run off with her now. And angry with myself over that, for being a horrible person.”
“You’re not a horrible person. If anything, I am. You’re my wife, and I love you, and I’d be a fool of epic proportions to throw away what we have.”
“You’re not horrible, Dev. You’re human.”
“And the same goes for you. Come back to bed.”
“I couldn’t go back to sleep yet.”
“Come to the kitchen then, and I’ll put the kettle on.”
Joan stepped into the powder room to rinse her face and blow her nose before joining him at the table. “We’ve had many a late-night cuppa at this table, haven’t we?” Morse observed. “Talking about the girls, or figuring out how to pay for a new furnace.” Over the years he’d learned that talking about everyday, practical things was the best way to pull Joan out of her head when she was worried or frightened.
She latched onto it like a lifeline, going immediately to their biggest current concern. “Worrying about whether to press Mum and Dad to move to a single-floor place.”
Morse sighed. “I wish they would. One of them’s going to take a tumble down those stairs one of these days.”
“And there’s that nice little block of flats two streets over that was just updated. We could keep an eye on them, and it’s got a lift. I’ll talk to Sam about it again.”
“When I married you, I got your whole family in the deal.” Morse’s small smile was warm as he poured the tea. Once he’d gotten used to it, he quite liked being part of the Thursday family, warm and loving and accepting even when they didn’t quite understand him.
“Of course. That’s how family works. We look out for one another.”
At her words, bits of the case suddenly fell into place for him. His hand shook.
“Dev, what’s wrong?”
He set down the teapot. “I— I just realized: it was a suicide pact. Henry and Susan Fallon. That’s why he didn’t leave her anything in his will, left it all to her brother and the death with dignity group. He knew she wouldn’t need it. Which means Marriott may not have been the one who killed him. She— Rhodes begged for her help, but she turned her back on him. Even knowing he’d had nothing to do with Henry’s death. Even if she wasn’t in on the plot to frame him, she was willing to let him go to prison knowing he was innocent.” Morse shook his head, eyes wide, horror written across his face. “I know how it feels to send an innocent man to prison by accident. It’s horrible, a guilt one doesn’t shake. But to do it on purpose, or to stand by and let it happen— “ Morse looked at Joan. “Could you— could you do that? If you were in her shoes? If Connie or Meg died horribly because their husband was a serial philanderer? Could you let him be framed for murder?”
“No, Dev. It wouldn’t bring them back to life. And the truth will always out. I’ve learned that from watching Dad and you. Someone will ferret it out.” Joan finished pouring the tea for them. “Besides, I’d be more likely to fetch Dad’s gun and shoot him for getting my daughter killed and then turn myself in.”
Morse started to chuckle, until he saw her face. “You’re serious.”
He remembered his old boss going to the Moonlight Rooms to face down gangsters to protect his family, and later training his gun on the Matthews brothers to protect Joan. “You may look like your mother, but you’re Fred Thursday’s daughter through and through.” He shook his head, wondering how he could have been blind to that darkness in Susan. He remembered Caroline Bryce-Morgan, the way she used to slip little verbal daggers between his ribs every time she talked to him, and wondered if Susan had done the same to Rhodes. The man was a thorough rotter, but scarcely deserved being framed for murder.
Then he looked at Joan, always kind and forthright and down-to-earth, like the parents who’d raised her, like the daughters she’d borne and reared, and felt the old love that had smoldered in its hidden corner of his heart crumble into ashes and dust. “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith,” he murmured. He reached across the table to hold Joan’s hands, marveling once again how fate had seemed to know better than he what it was he’d truly needed. “I am so unbelievably lucky to have found you. I love you with all my heart, Joan Winifred Morse.” He kissed her hands, missing the way she looked at him with her heart in her eyes, but not missing the way she relaxed, her fears assuaged.
Once Joan was relaxed enough to try to sleep, they went back to bed. Morse picked up the phone on his nightstand and rang the duty desk while Joan snuggled against him, her silky hair brushing his shoulder as she played with the silvery fluff on his chest. “Morse here. Let Strange and Lewis know I’m taking a few days off. Mrs. Morse and I are in desperate need of a holiday.”
“Where are we going?” she asked after he hung up.
“Not sure. Do you think that hotel we honeymooned at is still there?”
“Feeling like a second honeymoon, Dev?”
“I should take you on a proper one, to the Caribbean or someplace.”
“That’s not exactly a spur-of-the-moment thing. For one, the plane tickets would be exorbitant; better to buy them a couple of months ahead for the best price.”
“So much for spontaneity. I suppose that’s what I get for marrying an accountant.”
“How about the seashore?” Joan suggested.
Morse nuzzled her hair. “That sounds perfect. We can leave in the morning.”
“So how am I doing?” Morse asked as he buttoned up his shirt. His birthday was coming up, and Joan and the girls had hounded him into getting his annual physical on time for once.
His GP wrote a last note in the file. “Quite healthy for a man your age. Blood pressure’s normal, heart sounds good, cholesterol’s a little high but we should be able to manage it with diet. You need to get more exercise, and lose— “
“A stone, I know.”
“I’m serious, Morse. With your father’s history of angina and dying of a heart attack, you’re at greater risk for cardiovascular disease. I’m referring you for a stress test. They’ll run you on a treadmill and see how your heart does.”
“I let my sergeant do the running. It’s what he’s there for.”
“And I’d like you to cut back on the alcohol.”
“I thought a couple of drinks a day were all right.”
“They’re looking at lowering the recommendations, and I think erring on the side of caution is wise. Try cutting down to one drink a day, less if you can manage. It’ll keep you around longer with Joan and the girls. You might even get to play with your grandkids someday.”
Morse sighed. “When you put it like that, I guess I’m joining Lewis in the orange juice club.”
Songbird, Fleetwood Mac
To you, I’ll give the world. To you, I’ll never be cold.
Morse dropped an envelope on Lewis' desk in late September. "Invitation for you and Val. Connie and Meg are throwing us a silver anniversary party next month."
Morse shrugged. "It's all down to Joan, really. Putting up with me all of these years."
"Ah, you're not so bad, sir, once people get used to you."
"You're too kind," Morse answered drily.
The girls knew their dad too well to put him through the torture of a big party, so it was all old friends and family. Fred and Win Thursday, both white-haired now. Jim Strange and his wife. Shirley Trewlove-Pruitt had come down from Newcastle with her husband; they compared notes on the city with Robbie and Val Lewis. Sam and Ivy Thursday and their two kids, one of whom had just been admitted to Badeley College. Keith and Joyce and their son and daughter. Various other relatives, friends, and close co-workers. Someone who didn't know better might have mistaken Morse for an extrovert as he made the rounds chatting with guests. But he stuck mostly to the people he knew well, letting Joan be the social butterfly while he looked after Fred and Win, caught up with Shirley and her husband, and answered Allison Thursday's questions about Oxford while her brother Freddie listened in.
"If you get homesick and can't get up to Manchester, you can always drop by ours. We'll feed you a home-cooked meal and you can stay in Connie's old room for a night or a weekend, if you like. And Meg’s more than happy to show you the ropes. But you'll be so busy and meeting so many new people, don't be surprised if Michaelmas term ends before you have a chance to miss home too much."
"Thanks, Uncle M." His niece gave him a hug and kissed his cheek.
Fred couldn’t resist teasing Morse. “This one barged into my silver anniversary do with a case,” he told Lewis. “I was lucky my Win was so patient with work.”
“I didn’t want to,” Morse insisted.
“I know, lad. Besides, time was of the essence. Caught a murderer and saved a woman’s life that night, didn’t we?”
“Think so. Cases run together after this long.”
“You’ll be due to retire soon, lad.”
Morse shook his head. “I have to get Lewis through his DI first. And you’re the one who kept saying, once a copper always a copper. I’ll probably stay until they kick me out.”
Morse gave the first toast, thanking Joan for "putting up with my foibles and failings all these years." Then one to Fred and Win, for being "the best in-laws a man could hope for, and I'll try to be as good to whomever my own daughters bring home for keeps— "
"But they might want to hurry up. We're not getting any younger," Joan interjected to a round of laughter.
"Mum, I'm only twenty-one!" Meg reminded her. "Talk to my dear sister." Connie rolled her eyes.
Then Joan stood. “I'd like to propose a toast to my husband. To the best bloke I ever could have found, my love, my best friend, the father of our wonderful kids— To Morse!" Her lips tasted of champagne when he kissed her.
Classical music had played while people mingled and talked and ate, the music switching to pop from the 1960s and 70s for dancing during the rest of the evening. “We tried to give both sides equal time,” Connie told her dad as they danced together to Isn’t She Lovely. “Except for Wagner.”
“I still can’t believe the worst row we ever had when you were a teenager was over Wagner. With Meg it was always boys and curfews.”
“And that’s why Nan calls us two peas in a pod, Dad.”
“So she does. This song always reminds me of you girls. I wasn’t there when you were one minute old, though. They didn’t let fathers in the delivery room back then, so your grandfather took me to the nearest pub to wait for the phone call. The whole pub raised a glass when the landlady announced you’d been born.”
“You were there for Meg, though.”
“For all the good it did. I took one look and fainted.”
“You’ve been there for all the minutes since. I think we can let that slide.”
He danced with Meg next, who was practically vibrating with excitement. “Chief Strange wants me to apply to the Thames Valley IT department as soon as I finish my degree! He said I more than proved my abilities helping Lewis go through the system during the DeVries case.”
“That’s wonderful! Not to mention I’d appreciate having you on hand when I get tangled up in the computers at work. They’re useful tools when they’re not being persnickety.”
“They’re only as good as the data and programming put into them, Dad.”
“I know, I know: Garbage in, garbage out. Can you put Shanghai on mine?”
“Only if you promise not to play it when you’re supposed to be working.”
“Taskmaster,” Morse teased, kissing her forehead.
Then he took a break, sitting with Fred and admiring the picture Connie and Meg made as they chatted with their cousins, Connie with her Botticelli curls and Meg with her glossy dark hair in an elegant updo. He still remembered chubby toddlers and awkward adolescents, and couldn’t quite believe he’d had a hand in raising these clever, beautiful women.
Fred followed his gaze. “You’ve done well, lad. I’m proud of you.”
Morse bit his lip and blinked a few times, reminding Fred of the awkward, shy young DC he’d once been. “Thank you.”
Fred put a hand on his shoulder. “Bloody shame your father couldn’t see what a fine son he had.”
After the party, Morse drove Joan home in the Jaguar. "The girls did a great job," Joan said, resting her hand on his as he shifted gears.
"They did, although the playlist seemed quite weighted towards your music than mine," Morse mock-grumbled.
"I'd like to see anyone try to dance to Flight of the Valkyries, Dev."
"All right, I'll grant you that." At a red light, Morse lifted her hand to his lips. "You're still the loveliest woman in the room." Joan leaned over and they kissed deeply, lingeringly. Until a horn blared behind them, and Morse shifted into gear. "Yes, yes, keep your hair on," he muttered at the rearview mirror. Joan giggled, the sound taking him back to their youth.
"We've come quite a way from my dingy basement flat," Morse observed once they were home.
"I have fond memories of that flat,” Joan told him.
"Remember when we bought the lounge suite? Took us a year to pay off forty pounds."
"I'd say we got our money's worth. We still have the coffee table."
"And how your parents broke into the flat with new linens and dishes?"
"And a proper double bed. I'd love to have been a fly on the wall, watching Mum plan all that." Joan flitted around the lounge, dimming the lights and putting one of her CDs on the stereo. She held out her arms. "Dance with me."
"You didn't get enough dancing at the party?"
"I want to dance with you with nobody else around, Dev."
They slow-danced in the lounge, Morse breathing in the scent of Joan's perfume, as she softly sang along with the music.
For you, there'll be no more crying.
For you, the sun will be shining.
And I feel that when I’m with you,
It’s alright. I know it’s right.
He'd heard the song enough times over the years— it was one of Joan's favorites— to sing the second verse with her.
To you, I’ll give the world.
To you, I’ll never be cold.
‘Cause I feel that when I’m with you,
It’s alright. I know it’s right.
The exacting part of himself couldn’t help criticizing the lyrics and melody as simple. But he understood that she’d chosen the song on purpose, to tell him how she felt about him, and that fact was enough to transform a pop song into something as beautiful as any aria. It also helped that the tender part of himself had been nurtured by Joan and the girls for so many years, to the point where it could tell the exacting part of himself to shut up when needed. He kissed Joan lingeringly, feeling the familiar warm tingle going through his veins. "Come upstairs with me?"
And the songbirds are singing like they know the score.
And I love you, I love you, I love you
Like never before.
"I thought you'd never ask."
"I warned you long ago I was rubbish at this sort of thing," he told her with the teasing half-smile she loved.
"Good thing I've become fluent in Morse over the years." Joan took his hand and led him upstairs.
Well, this is it. I'm so happy so many people have read and enjoyed this story. Thanks for all the kudos and lovely comments. I ended it when I did because I didn't want it to languish unfinished on my hard drive, and it seemed like a good spot.
In my headcanon for this 'verse, Morse lives well into his seventies. Connie marries a fellow musician, while Meg meets PC Adrian Kershaw (from 'The Wench is Dead') while they're working together at Thames Valley and marries him. Morse gets to walk both of his daughters down the aisle and spoil his grandkids. When he retires, he does freelance work consulting on cold cases and tries his hand at crossword setting, and when Joan retires they travel. He's there for Robbie Lewis when Val is killed, and he suggests to Jean Innocent that Hathaway could be a good partner for Lewis.
Thanks again for all of the support and love for this story!