Robbie Lewis answered his phone, slightly surprised to see it was James calling him. As far as Robbie was aware James was still at work and therefore would normally have texted if he had anything to tell him: he was running late; a request to buy something for dinner; Laura had invited them to Sunday tea. Phone calls tended to mean bad news.
“Hello!” Robbie said.
“Don’t worry,” James instantly responded. “We’re all okay, but his case is causing problems. Can you meet us at our usual for a drink at 6.30? It’ll give Lizzie someone to talk to.”
“No problem. What do you want to do about eating?”
“Either we’ll eat there or pick up something afterwards.”
“Right. I’ll see you then.”
Robbie sat and listened as Lizzie told him about the case; not the specifics, but the general details. He nodded and said, “It’s never easy. I remember my first time. My desk sergeant told me someone had phoned up to report they hadn’t seen their neighbour for a few days, so could I go round and make sure everything was all right. I’d been a copper for about three or four months, and we were a bit stretched at the time, so I went on my own.
“I got to the house and knocked loudly on the front door, but there was no reply. The curtains of the front room were only half drawn, so I looked through the window but couldn’t see anything. As I was doing so, the lady next door came out to see what was going on. When I explained she confirmed she hadn’t seen her neighbour for a few days. I asked if she normally saw him, and she said she quite often saw him out the back of the house, but it had been raining for the past few days, so she’d not been out there.”
“She wasn’t the one who’d phoned then?” Lizzie said.
“No, that was a neighbour from across the road. The lady I was talking to also told me the next-door neighbour the other side worked nights, so it was unlikely he’d have seen anything. It looked as though I was going to have to break down the door.”
“In those good old days, didn’t you just put the boot it?” James asked.
Robbie treated him to a glare. “In the good old days, you first checked for keys under plant pots. The man’s wife had died a couple of months before, and whilst he might not have left a key out, there was a good possibility there was still one there from before the wife died. I found the spare key under a large stone, unlocked the door and went inside, pulling the door to behind me. It was as well I did, the man had hanged himself in the kitchen doorway.
“I felt sick and for half a minute I felt like panicking. But then my training kicked in. The sergeant had always been adamant – if it’s something you can’t deal with, get help. The man was clearly dead and had been for some while so there was nothing I could do for him. So I left the house again, pocketed the key and went to phone the station. I must have sounded very shaken because the sergeant ordered me to return to the house and stay outside until someone came.”
Robbie smiled. “As expected there was a fair amount of comment in the canteen regarding how white I looked when my colleagues arrived. But it was good-natured, and I was pleased to discover there were those who had actually been sick when confronted with similar, so I was quite proud I hadn’t been.”
“But you got used to it,” Lizzie said.
“In a way. The first time’s always the worst, but it’s never going to be easy. And if you find it is then you’ve lost part of your humanity and you need that to be a good copper. Now, are we eating tonight? I notice they’ve got toad-in-the-hole on the menu.”