“This is Debryn.” The doctor’s gruff voice was succinct though it was clear with only a few words that he was already annoyed.
“Sorry to disturb you Doctor..”
“Lewis?” His tone lightened for only a moment with pleasant surprise before it ricocheted swiftly back into the realm of irritation. Debryn huffed adamantly into the reciever, “I’m on holiday!”
“Yessir, I know, sir,” Lewis was unruffled and expert with his polite northern charm that never seemed pandering, “I was actually looking for Inspector Morse. Superintendent Strange told me that ye may know where he is..”
Debryn barked a ‘HA!’ before the sound was muffled by the phone clearly being pressed to his body for privacy. The silence resulting stretched on only for a moment before another rustle brought the doctor back on the line, “Then I am sure you’re aware that he’s also on holiday.”
“Aye, I know that too sir. It’s just we’ve had something unexpected come up and the Superintendent insists on him coming round the station to look a few things over-”
By now there were more sounds like muffled murmuring followed by shifts and static that indicated the phone was being jostled. The sound dampening efforts became increasingly less effective as the seconds passed. Lewis was sure the indignant secondary voice was Inspector Morse though he was only catching snippets of the conversation.
‘--got it. --it down.’
‘Jim bloody St-- come round hims- ----- holiday!’
‘Give it here-’
‘I wi---- lunch.’
There was what sounded like quick bickering, more jostling, and then light laughter. Whatever effort there was to muffle the phone seemed to be abandoned, though when the talking resumed it was much further away.
‘Did you just shove me away?’
‘I certainly did. Its my phone.’
‘Its my call! And my sergeant!’
‘Patience is a conquering virtue, Morse.’
Lewis found himself smiling during his inadvertent eavesdropping. Their rapport was easy and entertaining but he felt very much like he was intruding onto a domestic scene and certainly something that his governor would not have wanted him privy to. He felt a little guilty for bothering them, but orders were orders. There was a low chuckle into the phone when Debryn finally rejoined Lewis on the line.
“Well, you’ve got him all twisted up now. He’ll be absolutely useless company. Come round and pick him up, Lewis. And you can tell Jim Strange that the next time he can come fetch him himself.”
“I’ll pass that along, sir,” Lewis lied obediently.
Lewis spent the drive mulling over the fact that Morse and Debryn were taking simultaneous holidays and spending some portion of it together, on a weekday morning, at the pathologist’s home. They were close, he knew that, they took drinks together often enough and the doctor was one of the few people that Morse addressed easily by his first name, but they had also been working together (along with the Superintendent) for a very long time and he’d never given the familiarity a second thought. Morse was stingy with the details of his relationships and free time. Besides the few women he’d seen Morse rather aggressively pursue through their cases, he knew nothing of his romantic entanglements either. Lewis had little to go on, even now, so he settled on the one simple truth that he’d been working with all along: he knew very little about his superior officer and that was the way Morse liked it.
Robbie had barely rung the bell at the small house when the door swung open and Dr. Debryn met him with a coy smirk and a shushing finger to his lips. There was an agitated monologue sounding from somewhere on the second floor that wafted down the stairs behind him. Debryn held Lewis in silence until the climax of the ranted speech resulted in him mouthing a silent yet perfectly synchronized pantomime of Morse shouting, ‘We should’ve gone to Italy!’
“Robbie! Come in,” Max said rather theatrically to ensure he was heard up the stairs before he moved aside to let Lewis in. Given the cue, Morse’s discourse ended quickly. Robbie couldn’t help a small laugh at the eccentric doctor who clearly didn’t bat an eye at the Inspector’s dramatics. Lewis had worked with the doctor quite a bit during his time in the Thames Valley Police, but he realized now that not nearly as much as he had since he’d come along under Morse. Even the other Inspectors turned to Morse to coax the stickler of a pathologist into giving up tidbits of information.
“Your Cinderella is still preparing for the ball,” Debryn smirked, “But I’ve just put lunch out if you’d like a bite. I’m sure you could at least manage a cuppa while you wait.”
“That’d be grand! Thank you doctor,” Lewis perked noticeably with the promise of food. He’d been rushing around all morning and this would be the first bit of anything in his stomach since his usual coffee on the morning drive.
“Max, please. Not all of us are impersonal heathens,” Debryn adjusted his glasses and despite his humor's seeming severity, it was clearly it was all jest. He gestured to be followed and Lewis was struck with a momentary fascination, did Debryn know Morse’s given name?
That question took a seat on the back burner as Debryn escorted him further inside. Robbie was genuinely interested in the house which was a bit smaller than he expected. He’d always assumed anyone with a string letters attached to their name was living a posher life than he, but if the doctor was sitting on some king’s ransom he certainly wasn’t flashing it about. Each room, from the quick glances he managed, were tidy yet unique. Each corner seemed packed with bits and bobs that oozed personality. There was a book crowded office to one side of the hall and a rather comfortable and well used sitting room opposite it. Max led him towards the back of the house and into a rather new looking kitchen where a lunch spread was set casually for two. The little house seemed a testament to its owner - much more interesting beyond the first glance.
“Charming little place you’ve got, Max,” Robbie’s stomach growled unexpectedly at the sight of the food and he was thankful that Debryn didn’t seem like someone who skimped on his meals.
Max fetched and poured Lewis a cup of tea, “I just had the kitchen done actually. What do you think? It hadn’t been touched since the seventies.”
“It’s nice,” Lewis accepted his tea and took the moment to make it to his preference. “The wife keeps bringing up our cabinets and counters. You know, slipping in comments here and there. Picking surfaces out of catalogs and such,” He took a single sip of tea and sighed pleasantly, “But who’s got the time?”
“Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now, ” Max settled at the table where he’d clearly been sitting when Lewis had arrived and judging by the newspapers (one folded to a half-done crossword) and the state of the doctor’s plate, probably when the phone had rang as well.
“Who’s that sir?” Lewis questioned the quotation, waiting for some philosopher or author, someone he’d never read. Morse’s usual lecturing had taught him to simply ask when in doubt, though playing the dunce often worked well to grease his governors gears on a case.
“George Harrison,” Max snorted and peered over his glasses. It was the most relaxed Lewis had ever seen him and the first time without his signature bow tie. It took a severity off of the the man that suited him in the morgue but would seem out of place in this cozy setting. “Have a bite to eat, Lewis. No reason to waste good food. He’s certainly not going to eat it now.”
The uneven steps of Morse finally descended the stairs just as Lewis gratefully approached the table but before he could get his fingers on even a nibble, before he could even sneak a second sip of tea, Morse was there in the doorway.
“ Lew-is ,” Morse tsked with disappointment, “First, you interrupt my breakfast-”
“Lunch,” Debryn corrected out of the side of his mouth in a way that made Lewis nearly laugh.
“I’m on holiday!” Morse’s voice rose defensively a moment before he continued at a more even tone, “and now you’re holding up our jaunt for a cuppa and a bite? If I’m not mistaken, one of us is working and it’s not me .”
Robbie glanced at Dr. Debryn who had propped his chin on his hand and was watching the interaction intently. There was no rescue to be found with him. The sergeant could only sigh as he abandoned hope for a meal in his future, “Right-o sir. You ready to leave then?”
Morse frisked himself with a frown, “Just give me a moment. I’ll meet you at the car.”
Robbie gave a polite nod, put his tea down, and thanked the doctor for his hospitality before he stepped past Morse and headed for the front door. Morse passed him to move further into the kitchen and once out of sight, Robbie slowed his pace as he embarked down the hall. The temptation to dawdle was too difficult to ignore and though he couldn’t see the pair of men any longer, he strained to overhear their goodbyes to satisfy his own curiosities.
‘I wish you’d eat something, Morse. Take some toast for the road at least.’
‘I’m alright. Besides, I won’t be long.’
‘I haven’t fallen for that line since the Stoker suicide.’
Morse laughed, and his tone was softer than anything Lewis had ever been privy to, ‘Which turned out to be a multiple murder and robbery. I can’t believe you’d hold that against me.’
There was something murmured low from the doctor that he couldn’t make out but Lewis had a feeling it wasn’t meant for his ears and the thought of what it might be made him a bit warm under the collar. It was the first moment he’d seriously considered what the relationship dynamic here truly was. At the front door, his hand closed around the knob.
'Try not to collect too many corpses this time, Morse.’
The light through the kitchen doorway was broken by movement and Robbie could see Morse leaning close to the out-of-view doctor. He once more felt as if he was pushing into invasive territory by snooping.
'Do you mock me, sir?’
‘The dull pray; the geniuses are light mockers.’
‘Modest as always,’ Morse was moving again and Lewis hurried to open the front door and step outside.
‘I’ll see you later.’
‘Remember if there are any bodies-’
‘Yes, Max, you are on holiday.’
‘There’s a good lad.’
There was a silence then, the sort of pause that was usually filled with one kissing their spouse goodbye, a tie adjustment, or a smoothing of the lapels. Maybe it was a kiss on the head or a smile as a packed lunch was handed over. It was the sort of silence that said volumes and Robbie found his heart pounded lightly in his chest from the revelation. He had stumbled upon a privacy that was precious to Morse. It certainly wasn’t his business but Robbie had to admit some small relief to know that somewhere, with someone, the detective seemed remotely comfortable and (dare he say it?) happy. Who it was with and how it worked was certainly none of his business.
Lewis had managed to make it to the car by the time Morse finally appeared on the doorstep with his usual severe expression. He was still running his hands and up and down his torso as if he’d lost something when the doctor’s voice bellowed through the hall, “MORSE! WARRANT CARD!”
The Inspector spun and hopped back through the door. When he returned a moment later with his hand tucking into the inside of his coat, Morse caught sight of Lewis watching him. He briskly advanced, “Don’t dawdle, Lewis. Let’s see what the Superintendent thinks is so important.”
Lewis, unsure what to say suddenly, sunk into the driver’s seat and started the car. When Morse settled beside him he could feel those keen blue eyes probing him. There was something pensive in Morse now and Lewis didn’t miss the tension in his shoulders. When Robbie returned his gaze he was struck by a rare vulnerability in Morse’s eyes, a tender concern that feared judgement or misunderstanding. It brought about a sudden protectiveness in the Robbie that he hadn’t expected. Morse’s secrets were certainly safe with him.
“Alright Lewis?” Morse asked finally.
Robbie smiled and meant it, “Fine, sir.”
“Right, good,” Morse nodded and seemed relieved. With a clearing of his throat, his shoulders adopted a much less defensive posture. Morse’s edge came back with an irritated flick of his fingers towards the road, “Well, let’s get going then.”
Despite the revelations of the afternoon, Lewis still felt like he was missing something as he pulled into traffic.
He remembered what it was as soon as his stomach growled again: Lunch.