All Lewis characters are not mine. There is no kite festival in Oxford AFAIK, but...
"If. I. Hear. This. Flipping. Song. ONE MORE DAMN TIME!" James' words were clipped when he shot out of the nick's main building.
"Whot got his nib's knickers in a twist?" enquired Hooper to the desk Sergeant.
"Dunno, mate, I think he dunnot like this summer's radio hit. Either that or it's the heat..." Two sets of eyes followed the suited man as he took the stairs outside two by two and climbed into his car. Hooper shook his head and went back inside the building.
Meanwhile, one James Hathaway was ready to punch someone (or something, he was not fussy about this). He was supposed to collect his boss at home, Lewis being forbidden to drive or otherwise use his left arm until it was fully healed from the knife wound. James did not know exactly what threat Dr Hobson had used, but it seemed to prove extremely efficient, since his governor had asked himself to be picked up each and every time they had been called this week. Not that James minded, he would have done so unasked, but it was much easier with Lewis cooperating.
Stopping in front of Lewis' place, opening the door, waiting until he was properly seated and seatbelt fastened. He reached for the contact key when the dreaded song came once more on the loudspeakers. James' head hit the wheel at the same time his hand switched off the radio.
Lewis looked at him with curiosity. "I would have thought you'd like it, nah? Classical music more to your taste?"
"It's not that, Sir, it's just that it must be at least the thousand times I hear it since the beginning of this week." James was not blushing. He was most certainly not.
Lewis shook his head in amusement. "Exaggerating much, are we? Oh, well. What have we got?"
"Body in the Oxford University Parks. Dr Hobson is already on site, as well as a lot of uniforms because it's in the middle of the Oxford Universities Multicultural festival."
"In the middle of... och, bloody hell! How many possibly involved people are we talking about, then? Hundreds? Gaaah." Lewis had been to the festival when it was very young and barely starting, to watch the kites with his kids, or to listen to some of the music with Val. But the thing had grown exponentially during the last years, and the organisers now rented their own security services to police the festival.
Stepping out of the car, striding determinately to the rectangle of field delimited by red and white tape, James kept on giving information to his governor, checking his notes. "Death apparently occurred in the middle of the sports kite competition. Adult competitors of all shapes and sizes have two to five minutes to produce their predefined program in front of the judges. The area were they can fly their kites is 400 feet long on 500 feet large, the area where they have to be is much smaller." He indicated big red flags at the four corners of the area, and the delimited zone at one end of it. "Judges are sitting by the tent there", he pointed at the tent, "and the competitors, that is from one to three people, are staying in the set-up area roughly ten minutes before they perform."
Lewis grumbled. "Is all this necessary?"
James shook his head. "Sadly more yes than not, because despite being filmed, that is the best indication we are going to get about who was where."
They had arrived near the body, and Lewis greeted Dr Hobson with a smile and a "Hello, lass, what have you got for us?"
Said dr. took the time to stand up, and brush her suited knees with her gloves to gather her thoughts. "Hello to you too, Robbie. Victim is Choe Mi Yeon, she was taking part in the kite competition. Her roommate who was there to cheer her will give you more information. But... Robbie... death cause is weird, I won't have real answers until I've had her on the slab, but there's a group of white competitors who have been making trouble from the start of this year's festivities, and they are already rejoicing in this death... be careful, please?"
"Ha, of course I will. Come on, clever clogs, we have witnesses to interrogate." James trailing behind him, Lewis went to the tent. He sighed. At least ten people were waiting, showing signs of impatience. He hated most Oxford dons. Shaking his head, he left the crime scene teeming with constables taking statements. One of them almost had to confiscate a mp3 device since the witness kept singing along "Hey, yeah, diri-diri-diriridi, Daddy, go" instead of concentrating on questions. James made a remark about the witness being a perfect suspect as they neared the car.
"Sí, sabes que ya llevo un ra...." the song was cut off suddenly. At least, they had managed to relocate to the interrogation room at the nick. The festival place was far too sunny and too noisy for the tastes of both coppers. Here, in the well lit but cool space, they could even have cold beverages at hand. And maybe Lewis would stop trying to scratch under his arm dressing.
Also, since James had closed the door, calm and silence too, especially because some of the constables were insisting they needed to listen to the summer radio hits.
Sitting on the other side of the grey table, a young woman with a hijab was fidgeting with her handbag, face stained with tears and red patches.
Aditi eyed the two police officer warily. "Yeah, we shared a room, else we wou'd have to do an hour long journey twice a day. What of it?"
James gave a hint of a calming gesture. While the young woman did not need to bee privy to their sleeping arrangement, he had been invited into the Hobson-Lewis home since an incident with an experimental drug a while ago, and did literally sleep with them on and off. "I understand perfectly, miss Joshi. But I am compelled to ask, we really need to check as many of the suspects as possible to reduce our list. The fact you were absent for the last two weeks removes you from it by default, but considering the sheer number of people involved, we really need your help."
Lewis had stood up calmly, and was hovering in the background, as non threateningly as possible. Aditi seemed to deflate. "Sorry, sorry, but we've had so many problems with all kind of people... white supremacists, homophobes, islamophobes, right wing MPs, you name them we had them."
Lewis face got thunderous. James had rarely met someone as fair and open minded as his governor, and he remembered the dressing down he had given to one of the new sergeants who had been badmouthing Gurdip the previous week. He managed to school his expression into a neutral face, and went on. "I am sorry to hear that, miss Joshi. Has anyone sent or made more... prominent comments? Written threats, perhaps?"
"Not... not recently, but I have not really talked to her those last two weeks, I was very busy, and... usually one of us gets the mail for both of us, so I would not have seen... what..." she trailed off, tears falling again. Lewis went out of the room, coming back with a bottle of Gurdips' home made iced mint tea, which he deposited in front of the young woman with a flourish.
Surprised, she first flinched in recoil, before looking at Lewis. Discerning no animosity, she tried the beverage. Her voice was still shaking when she spoke. "Oh. Thank you! That's... thank you."
Taking a deep breath, she went on. "Neither of our religions would allow us to be together. It was known by, I think, the majority of the other people in the building, and perhaps one of her professors. We... I did not call her while she was at her parents, because... they would neither understand nor approve. I study mathematics... and knots are an important part of it, well, not the one you can do for real, but she found it fun to see me have a hobby using something similar to what I study. She is... was... in botany. At the gardens."
"We were supposed to go together but my parents wanted me to come and sign things and... well, I am not close from them, and I also wanted to change some things, so instead of a day, I spent almost two weeks there. I should... I should not, I should have been there..." voice cracking under the emotions, she started to cry in earnest.
Lewis hesitated a bit before offering. "Do you want a hug, lass? I know it's not very copper-like, but you look like you could use a bit of friendly shoulder."
Nodding, still unable to speak, she straightened a bit, and accepted Lewis' offer. James was reminded for the umpteenth time of what Lewis had said to him. "What a shame. If my boy was… ah, it just wouldn’t matter."
Pondering in the front of the incident board, Lewis was making faces at the comitee part of it. "Right. So, we have 8 officials, 5 other participants, and 2 media people. Everyone else was too far away and / or did not meet her to do harm. Did Laura send her report already?"
A radio was making noise in the background, and James took great pleasure at hitting it just to shut it down in the middle of a sentence: "Vi que tu mirada ya".
He shuffled the papers on the desk, finding no trace of any report. "I don't think so, sir. We have a message from SOCO telling us there is nothing suspicious or wrong with the kite, though."
Lewis, who had been looking at him, suddenly turned back toward the board. "Hm. ok. Let's go to Laura...."
"Give me five minutes, sir? I'm sure she would love an iced coffee. Do you want one too?" Standing up, gathering his warrant, wallet and notebook, but decided against taking his jacket.
"An iced coffee. What kind of things kids nowadays think of." Lewis seemed serious, but the twinkling in his eyes was giving him away. "Yeah, thanks man, that would be lovely. See you in five." Lewis left his own jacket on his chair, and went on to the pathologist's office.
Nodding, James went out to the nearest coffee.
"I am NOT saying it is the cause of death, Robbie, LISTEN up a bit. I am saying she has weird abrasions and cuts on hands, arms, and even one at the neck. I am not a specialist of kites, but the firsts seem logical since they use sharp ropes and might hurt themselves, but I don't get the cut on the neck, it makes no sense." Laura was tense, she really did not like not knowing. Lewis was in "Ooops, sorry, I'm listening now" mode.
James coming in with three iced coffees was a very welcome interruption. "You have the best ideas in the world, James. Thank you!" Giving him a kiss, she sat at her desk with her cold treat.
Giving his drink to Robbie, James sat down, or rather slouched, on a nearby stool.
"So. Not wound that can explain her death. No organs in a state that can explain it, she was dehydrated, but not... well, and thanks to her roommate, I have her medical file, which shows nothing either." Standing up, she indicated the neck wound. "See, this is in now way a fatal wound. And the other are as shallow as this... now, wait a minute!"
"I. Am an idiot". Despite the denial gestures from both men, she went on. "Yes, I am. You may put this on the account of the heat." Slipping on gloves, taking a vial on one of the shelves and a bit of cloth in a drawer, she bent over the body and started cleaning the face, and then the hands. Under the makeup, done to correspond to the design of her kite, her lips were blue, her head presented little red dots, "petechiae", Laura indicated by pointing one of her gloved fingers, and her neck also had some marks like small warts.
"Of course, none of that was visible under the makeup, and the initial dryness and breathing problems were attributed to heat. But yes, she has been poisoned." She was checking each part of the body. "I can find no puncture mark, and her stomach was empty, so... I still don't know "how" she was poisoned. I'm sending sample to toxicology, but you might want to check with someone with poison knowledge in the meantime."
Robbie, who had stood up and watched her demonstration close by, swept in for a kiss before commenting "you still beat us to the point, love, so do not beat yourself over that case. Coming, lad? I think you still have a friend at the Gardens, don't cha?"
James went bright red at the words. "She's not.... I'm not... I..."
Lewis' smile was kind and happy. "I know, bright lad, I know. But you still kept in touch with her, didn't you? I'm sure she'll be willing to talk to two tired coppers, na?"
"I... yes. She would. Sorry. Still not used to... what we have, to pda, to ... I'm a mess, ain't I?" Still sitting on the high stool, he straightened a bit. He sighed, moving his feet like he was drawing something above the floor.
"Oh, James. You're being silly. If we did not want you, we would have said it, and said it clearly." Laura had moved close enough to touch him, and had seized his hands. "Now, give me a parting kiss, and scoot!"
James snorted. "Yes, ma'am." He kissed her, stood up, and followed Lewis who was half lost in thoughts and wandering outside. James called this state the "I have an idea but I won't say anything until I've asked specialists" state.
As they exited the mortuary, James thought he heard a bit of a song, "Tú, tú eres el imán y yo soy el metal" but it might have been the heat or the tiredness.
By the time they arrived at the Oxford Botanical Gardens, James had gotten a positive answer to his message to Liv Nash. "She is waiting for us at the small cafe, since it's so hot outside."
"Good." Lewis parked the car and looked at him. "Are YOU all right, lad?"
"I am, it's just. The heat, that much prejudice against them, and. Additional unfair burden. You know. Some days I do not know if I am really made for that." James was forever unsure of himself, but Robbie and Laura were working on that.
"Right. Come here, daft lad. Give us a kiss. Then we will go." After agreeing and doing so, James was looking more himself. They exited the car in unison, went up the few stairs shoulder against shoulder. James was the one to see and greet Liv first.
"Thank you for having us, lass. I am not certain, but I think our current victim, you knew her perhaps, was poisoned wi' plants. Think you can help?"
Liv was bot miffed and honoured. "Of course I can help! I want to! Your friend's recommendation did help me secure my postgrad place, for that only you can come for help as many time as you need." She smiled. "So, tell me, who are we speaking of, and why do you think it's a plant?"
Lewis summarised the state of the body as well as possible, indicating that the victim's roommate had mentioned her being "in the gardens".
"The name doesn't ring a bell, no, but if we specialise in very different things... let me check our directory. Ah, yes, she is an undergrad with professor Donald McGhee. Their research are on the use of plants for treating cardiac problems in children. Aaaah, that's why you think... hm." She typed again on her tablet.
Turning the screen towards the duo, she went on. "Chelidonium majus. Their main plant of interest. Yes, we have some in the gardens, but it's dangerous, so it's in a restricted area. Symptoms... hm, would correspond. Did your pathologist make a toxicology report?"
Lewis smiled. "Aye. She asked for one, but... it's the summer, and most departments are understaffed. But I'm willing to bet it will show the use of the.... ah... Kyley? Whatever."
Meanwhile, James had stood up, walked to the counter, fiddled with the radio, and sat back at his place. The words "Muéstrame el camino" suddenly changed into "Take a look at the lawman" under the puzzled gaze of the woman behind the counter.
Liv sniggered. Lewis could not tell if it was about his words or James. "Che-li-do-nium major. She was not alone, there are two other undergrads listed. A miss A. Cartwright and a mister H. Flambeau. Go on, go and bother professor McGhee, he's an old fashioned Don, I predict great success with you..."
Lewis snorted and stood up, paying the drinks as he went out of the cafe. "No other guys in the band this time, though. Come on, bright lad, you can dazzle him with your Latin. Thank you, lass, you were really helpful!"
James stood up more slowly, and bowed to Liv, as it seemed to be their original way of greeting each other. He followed Lewis on the dirt track meandering between the trees and various plants, lost in thoughts.
"Jam.. oh." His sergeant and partner had stopped walking in the middle of the track and was looking at the trees forming a green arch way above his head. He looked relaxed and happy, and was smiling.
"I am more myself in a garden than anywhere else on earth." as usual, James was quoting... was it poetry? Lewis was not sure, though he had to agree with the quote. They had started to make something of Laura's garden, and whenever James was on a task there, he seemed more centred and more at ease in his own skin.
"Aye, aye, but come on, we still have work to do" his tone was kind.
"Of course, sir. Let us chase trees and catch flowers." How James managed to keep a straight face no mater what he was quoting was one of the great mysteries of life for Robbie.
"Professor McGhee? Inspector Lewis and Sergeant Hathaway, Oxford CID." Lewis' tone was slightly frosty, due to the answer they had first gotten from the receptionist. Apparently, CID was not on the "do admit immediately" list. James would have sworn he could hear Lewis' teeth grinding.
"Well, yes, but I have a meeting in five Minutes with the dean, and..." James winced. The professor's tone was prim and patronising.
"Good, then let's not waste time. One of your undergrads is dead, murdered.
So I'm going to need everything you have on her, what her research were, see her desk, and also anything she would have told you in the last few days." Lewis' voice was sharper at each word.
Fearing the metaphorical sparks, James was almost completely behind an armchair, but sadly his size prevented him from being hidden. Some students were blasting music outside, so he closed the window on "Quiero desnudarte a besos despacito..." with a bit more strength than really needed. Professor McGhee and Lewis stopped arguing at once at the curious gesture and sound.
"Ah, I ... ah... what was I saying?" The professor seemed totally derailed by James' action, which suited Lewis perfectly well. He was finally paying attention to the coppers.
"Your student?" Lewis was less tense than a few minutes before. He must have sensed he had the professor.
"She is. Really. She is dead?" The professor seemed gobsmacked.
As Lewis nodded firmly, McGhee sat down heavily at his desk. "Ah, yes, well... she told me that she had managed to germinate a new series of flowers with less toxicity without lowering the usable properties. Which... is good. Very good for the department. She had set them under automatic light and watering, in order to take four days off for something... or other. She would have been credited for that in our current paper and I tend to give them a small bonus in such cases." Professor McGhee was clearly doing his best to recall things, now.
James raised a hand. "Is it possible to check whether the plants are still here?"
The professor seemed surprised. "Yes, of course. My secretary... Wait, she did drop in unannounced and without having set a rendez vous to tell me about her success. I was alone here at that moment."
James exchanged a look with Lewis. While the professor did not seem to be involved, one of the other undergrad might be. "I see, thank you, sir. Might ou tell us where we can find miss Cartwright and mister Flambeau at the moment?"
"You think they... good lord! Of course, of course. They are supposed to be in their respective laboratories, but mister Flambeau has a habit of going away without warnings. Check with my secretary for their phone numbers."
Leaving the professor sitting with his head in his hands, they asked the suddenly unctuous secretary what they needed to know. The labs were close by, little more than cells with scientific apparatus.
"Mister... Flambeau?" James was pronouncing it 'à la franaçaise'. Apparently the young man came directly from Paris.
"Oui ?" Flambeau was wearing high price clothing and a watch worth more than Lewis' monthly salary. Rather strange for working in a lab, both Lewis and James thought.
James saw Lewis squint at his words. "Bonjour, police d'Oxford. Vous êtes bien un collègue de Choe Mi Yeon ?"(1)
"Oui, et alors ?"(2) the man was definitely not friendly. Lewis was puzzled at the sudden recognition appearing on James' face, especially since he kept asking his questions. Lewis was looking everywhere like he had no idea of what was going on, but he was following very carefully.
James had recognised the man since they had seen him a bit earlier. The witness who refused to remove his earbuds to answer the constable because he was listening to that stupid music. Well, well, well.
"Vous savez qu'elle a été assassinée ?"(3) James' french was slow and deliberate, and he suspected that Lewis could understand too, but had a reason for looking clueless as possible.
"Assassinée ? Elle n'est pas morte de mort naturelle ? J'étais sur place quand elle s'est effondrée, mais il y avait plusieurs médecins, alors..."(4) Shrugging, Flambeau was being very dismissive of both his colleague and the coppers.
James saw Lewis checking a message from the corner of his eye and point at Flambeau, making a "handcuff" sign with his hands. James nodded with a predatory smile, and went on. "Non, c'est un empoisonnement. Mais vous le saviez déjà."(5) tilting his head, he looked at Flambeau directly.
"Quoi ? Non, je ... ce n'était qu'une collègue mineure, de toutes façons ! Le professeur est beaucoup plus intéressé par mes découvertes. Je suis le pilier de ce laboratoire." (6) Flambeau was trying to inch away from James, but without realising it, was herded right into Lewis' arms, or rather handcuffs.
As he closed the handcuffs, Lewis made a face of disgust at Flambeau and showed his phone to James. "Ah. Le rapport de toxicologie est arrivé, elle a été empoisonnée avec du Chelidonium majus. Et surtout, nous avons retrouvé votre cerf-volant et la corde est couverte de ce poison !" (7).
Flambeau was still trying to escape, but Lewis held him too well for that. They waited for the uniforms to arrive, and once Flambeau had been charged and taken down to the nick, they made their way back to their car, chatting happily.
"By the way, James, why did you suspect him from the start on?" Lewis was genuinely curious. James was a very good copper, but it almost bordered to powers of divination in this case.
James looked up, thought a bit to place the question, and answered with finality. "Hm? Oh, he had to be bad, he was listening to that damn song willingly, and enjoying it!"
Lewis stopped moving, mouth opening and closing soundlessly. "You... he... WHAT?"
"Well, yes, you know, "this summer's party hit" as they say on radio, I hate this song, and there he was, having it on repeat on his player." James got out smoothly, living Lewis gobsmacked in the car.