James looks up from the case report he’s updating at the sound of his governor’s tread heading towards the office. Lewis got called into an unexpected meeting with Innocent twenty minutes ago — just him, James was not invited — and he was about as pleased as James would expect at the summons. James has been hard-pressed to concentrate on his work ever since.
He can’t think of anyone they might have offended lately, inadvertently or otherwise. As far as he knows, they’re all up to date on their reports, even the ones Lewis hates and always leaves until the last minute. The only other thing he can imagine is that Innocent is making another attempt at putting him forward for OSPRE, hoping that attrition might succeed where argument has so far failed. Lewis knows he isn’t interested, though his governor’s been trying his own brand of persuasion now and then for the past six months or so. He’s fairly sure that Lewis will withstand anything Innocent might come up with, but he can’t help having a degree of nagging doubt — Lewis, after all, was always ambitious himself, and loves the job in a way James has never managed to. It’s difficult for him to comprehend that a capable sergeant might not want to advance in the ranks.
Well, neither of them can force him to sit the exam, he’s reminded himself many times.
It’s not OSPRE this time, he’s certain now; Lewis’s walk is light, almost jaunty, and that’s not an indicator that his boss has had a difficult time in Innocent’s presence. That suspicion is confirmed as soon as Lewis appears in the doorway; he’s smiling, looking jovial.
“How’d you fancy a few days by the seaside, sergeant?”
James blinks. “What?”
“Peterson and Marks were supposed to be representing Oxford’s finest at a training session on new advances in forensics techniques next week. Now Peterson’s got to be in court all next week instead — that drugs gang case from last year, case has been brought forward — and Innocent’s sending us instead. So we get a few days by the sea, in return for briefing everyone else when we get back.” Lewis grins. “Never say working with me’s not without its rewards.”
James smiles in return. This is good news — he’d been interested in this particular training when he’d heard about it, and had been disappointed when Peterson and his bagman were selected to go. And, of course, a few days away from Oxford in his governor’s company is definitely worth looking forward to.
Not that he has to show overwhelming enthusiasm, of course. He allows alarm to appear on his face. “Isn’t that session in Blackpool?”
Lewis nods. “What of it?”
“Blackpool.” He groans. “Of all the places... I mean, if you want to talk about a proper seaside resort, what’s wrong with Cornwall? Or the south coast, or even Wales? Can you get any more tacky than Blackpool?”
“Blackpool’s all right,” Lewis objects. “Took the kids there once years ago. They liked the illuminations an’ the pleasure beach. Val used to like the slot machines on the pier.” For a moment, his gaze focuses on memories only he can see. Then he’s looking at James again, eyes narrowed. “To listen t’you, you’d think the only decent seaside towns are south of The Wash. Never mind Blackpool, what about Scarborough? Whitby? Robin Hood Bay...” Lewis shakes his head. “Typical bloody Southerner. You’ll come to Blackpool an’ like it.”
Crossing to his desk, he picks up a pile of folders. “An’ just for being snobbish about the north, you can finish going through these overtime reports. Innocent wants them before you go home tonight.” Lewis drops the folders on James’s desk.
Even though there are few things he would rank lower in terms of how he enjoys spending his time at work, James stifles a grin as he opens the first folder.
Even though he’s finished his own work already, Robbie finds a few extra things to do so he can stay and keep the lad company. Once James announces that he’s submitted the last report, he shuts down his computer. “Pint?”
“If you can stomach the company of a Southerner,” James retorts, smirking.
“You could be from Timbuktu as long as the first round’s on you.” He leads the way out of their office and down to the car park, a definite spring in his step.
In the Old Vic’s beer garden, James says, “The course is from Wednesday lunchtime to Friday early afternoon, isn’t it? How do you want to travel?”
“Thought we’d drive up on Wednesday morning. Have to leave pretty early, but I’d prefer that than going up the night before. Give you less time to have to put up with Blackpool’s tackiness,” he adds with a grin and a raised eyebrow.
James takes a drag of his cigarette. “I’m sure I’ll survive, sir,” he retorts, tone dry as dust, then drops the act and smiles. “So, we’ll leave on Friday? If you want to see your daughter on the way back — it seems silly not to, since we’d be passing Manchester — I don’t mind taking a train home.”
Robbie’s already been considering visiting Lyn — her house is less than twenty minutes from the M6. “Wouldn’t make you do that, man. There’s no direct train, for one thing, and for another travelling on a Friday’s bloody awful. Anything you’d be in a hurry to get back for on the Friday?”
James shrugs. “I believe my social life would survive the delay.”
Robbie grins, though he knows he should be encouraging the lad to rectify that situation. At times, he worries that James will end up like Morse, alone, bitter and drinking himself to death — and he’s not going to be around to keep an eye on the bloke then. But James is an adult, responsible for his own life, and he won’t thank Robbie for giving him yet more advice about his personal life.
“Well, if you’re all right getting back a bit later, we’ll go an’ see our Lyn. ‘Bout time you met her and the family.”
A frown appears on James’s face, and he looks distinctly uncomfortable. “Sir, I couldn’t possibly intrude—”
“Don’t be daft. You won’t be intruding. Lyn’s said lots of times she’d like to meet you. Even if she hadn’t, you’d be welcome. She grew up in a copper’s house — coppers I worked with were always treated like family.”
James nods, but he still looks uncertain. Robbie glances at his phone where it’s lying on the table, then back at James; the bloke nods and smiles, gesturing with his hand.
Lyn answers quickly, and after some casual conversation Robbie explains why he’s calling. “So, will you be around next Friday? Okay if James and I drop in for dinner?”
“Of course!” Her response is immediate and enthusiastic. “I’m off-duty for once, and Tim and I don’t have anything planned. We’d love to see you — and I’ll finally get to meet the elusive James, then?”
“Yeah, well, once I convince him he won’t be intruding.” Robbie winks at James, who is smoking and pretending not to listen.
“Silly sod,” Lyn retorts. “I’ve wanted to meet him ever since... well, you know, Dad.” He does; Simon Monkford. “You should stay the night, both of you,” she adds. “I mean, by the time we’ve got Matthew to bed and had dinner, it’ll be around eight and we’ll barely have had a chance to talk. You’re not working on Saturday, are you?”
“No, we’ll be off until Monday. It’s a good idea, pet, but I should ask James. Hold on.”
“What, he’s with you?” he hears Lyn ask, but he’s already lowering the phone to focus on James, who’s giving him a quizzical look.
“Lyn’s invited us to stay on Friday night. Makes sense — we’d be driving back very late otherwise. I’d like to, but I don’t want to take half your weekend if you want to get back.”
Again, James shrugs. “There’s nothing I’d be doing that wouldn’t keep. As long as you’re absolutely sure I wouldn’t be in the way.”
“Like Lyn said, course you’re not, you daft sod.” He ends the conversation with Lyn, confirming that they’ll stay overnight and leave around lunchtime on the Saturday, then glances back at James. “Thanks. I appreciate it.”
“Nothing to thank me for. Of course you should see your family. I’ve never been to Manchester,” James adds reflectively. “I could take myself off early on Saturday morning and come back when you’re ready to leave. That’ll give you some time alone with them.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Robbie says immediately, but then it occurs to him that quite probably James doesn’t want to spend half his Saturday hanging around a suburban semi with people he doesn’t know — including a noisy, messy toddler. “Unless you want to,” he adds, feeling a bit daft himself.
He stands, picking up their glasses. “I’ll get them in. Same again?”
The course is good; packed full of useful information, in both the sessions themselves and at the exhibition stands. They’re kept busy — there are evening sessions after dinner, and following those Lewis, who is more sociable here than James has ever seen him, is happy to join other attendees in the bar for an hour or so, chatting amiably in a manner James sincerely envies. It’s nearly eleven before they make it back to their shared room both evenings.
James hadn’t expected that they’d be sharing a hotel room — not that he minds in the slightest. “Budgets,” Lewis had commented on the Tuesday as he’d confirmed arrangements with James. “Peterson and Marks had agreed to share, and Innocent said she assumes we’re okay with that too.”
Of course he is — even though, after the first night, he’s now aware that Lewis snores, and sometimes fairly loudly. But then, after boarding school dormitories, not to mention noisy accommodation at Cambridge and the seminary, there’s not much would keep James awake.
On Friday, they’re packing before breakfast and the morning sessions when Lewis’s phone rings. James knows it’s Lyn immediately when he hears Lewis’s “Hello, pet. Yeah, you just caught us getting ready. We’re going down for breakfast in a bit.” He focuses on what he’s doing and tunes out his boss’s conversation, mostly, until he hears his name. He glances up and sees Lewis pointing to the desk. “Grab that programme for us, man, will you?”
He passes it over, and Lewis confirms the time the course ends. “So, all going well, we should be with you by around four. That okay?”
Apparently it is, and Lewis ends the conversation shortly afterwards. James has to avert his face from Lewis after that, because the broad grin that remains on his governor’s face — clearly at the thought of seeing his family in just a few hours’ time — is making him smile fondly as well.
And Lewis is happier still in the car once they’re heading south on the M6, chatting amiably — and expansively — about Lyn and her partner. James already knows a lot of the details, but now he’s treated to stories about Lyn as a teenager, and how young Matthew is very like Mark as a baby. It’s only as they’re turning off the motorway that James thinks to calculate how long it’s been since Lewis visited his family last. At least five months, he thinks, and given how busy they’ve been on multiple cases he’s guessing his boss hasn’t had much time to talk on the phone either. He resolves to make a point of seeing that Lewis goes north for a couple of days at least every two months from now on.
A few minutes later, Lewis pulls up outside a 1940s semi, and almost immediately the door opens and a young, dark-haired woman appears, a small child in her arms. Even without the baby, James would have recognised her as Lyn; the resemblance both to his governor and to the woman he’s seen in the photographs Lewis keeps at home and at work is striking.
He hangs back, getting their luggage as Lewis hurries forward to hug his daughter and take his grandson in his arms. “Come on, man!” Lewis calls, nodding at him to hurry up; bags hanging from his shoulders, he strides up the path, hand outstretched to greet Lyn as Lewis makes the introductions.
She takes his hand, smiling. “Lovely to meet you at last, James! I’ve heard so much about you from Dad.”
“Likewise,” he says, summoning his most polite expression — because, despite all of his boss’s assurances, Lyn’s clasp is brief and her smile is definitely not reaching her eyes.
Oh, James really can be a bloody awkward sod sometimes, can’t he? Robbie sighs as he watches his sergeant interact with his daughter. Why can’t the lad just relax and be himself?
Give him time, he tells himself. “I could murder a decent cuppa,” he says, bringing both James’s and Lyn’s attention back to him. “Tea’s always crap at training courses.”
Lyn grins, squeezes his arm and leads the way inside. “I’ve already got the kettle on. Know you well, don’t I?” She gives him the smile that’s so like her mum’s. “You’ll be upstairs as usual, Dad. We only have the one spare room,” she continues, still looking in his direction, “so I’m afraid it’ll have to be the couch for James, all right?”
There’s something in her expression for just a moment that makes Robbie pause; it’s almost as if she expects him to disagree with her. He ignores it. “All right with you, man?” he asks, glancing back at James.
“Of course, sir,” James says, and he’s still far too stiffly polite for his own good. “I’ll take your bag upstairs for you — which room, Lyn?”
“Second on the left,” she says and then, as James disappears up the stairs, “Come on, Dad, let’s get that tea.”
“I was wondering about that camp-bed of Tim’s,” Robbie comments as he follows her. “For James – we could’ve set it up in the spare room with me an’ he’d be out of everyone’s way. But, like I keep telling him, he’s too tall, really.”
“Mmm.” Lyn sounds oddly non-committal. “He’s a lot younger than I expected. I didn’t realise he’s only about my age.”
“Couple of years older, I think,” Robbie agrees, sitting at the kitchen table with Matthew in his lap and starting to make the boy’s favourite aeroplane noises. “You don’t really notice with James, though,” he adds as Lyn bustles around making tea. “He’s a bit of an old soul. I’ve tried over the years — to get him to loosen up a bit, you know? But that’s just the way he is.” He smiles fondly. “S’pose I wouldn’t have him any different.”
He’s about to change the subject when Lyn says, sounding surprised, “He calls you sir.”
“Course he does. I’m his governor.”
“But you’re not working now, are you?”
No. They’re not — just like they’ve not been working any one of the hundreds of times James has wound up at his flat for a sociable evening, or he’s invited the bloke out for a pint on their day off. Yet James has always called him sir. “Does seem a bit daft, doesn’t it?” He gives Lyn a sheepish smile.
She goes back to making the tea. “I’m sure it’s none of my business.”
Before he can ask her what she means, James appears in the doorway, but doesn’t come any further. Stupid sod’s actually looking as if he thinks he’s intruding. “Come on in, man.” Robbie gestures with his head to the chair next to his. “About time you met me grandson.”
James sits, and gives Matthew a somewhat wary look. Robbie shakes his head. “All right, Matthew, that lanky stringbean’s your Uncle James. He’s not very used to babies, so you’ll have to be patient with him. All right?”
With that, he passes Matthew over so that James has no choice but to hold him. Robbie doesn’t even bother to hold back his smirk as he sees the look of hastily-smothered alarm on James’s face before he grips Matthew very carefully, watching to make sure the child is secure and not about to burst into tears.
“Dad!” Lyn exclaims. “Matthew’s not a parcel to be passed around! And maybe James doesn’t want to hold him!”
To Robbie’s surprise, she marches over and sweeps Matthew up off James’s lap, holding him one-handed against her hip as she finishes making tea.
He looks over to James, giving the lad an apologetic grimace. For just a second, before the bloke’s face shutters over into that polite mask that’s impossible to fathom, James looks as if he’s been slapped.
What on earth’s got into Lyn?
James bides his time and is polite, joining in the conversation whenever Lewis invites him, and pretends that he doesn’t notice Lyn’s obvious hostility. Lewis notices it, he’s certain of that — his boss rarely misses that sort of thing anyway, and of course Lewis knows his daughter. His conviction’s confirmed when he notices Lewis watching Lyn with an assessing look in his eye, just as he would study a witness whose story isn’t adding up.
He should have insisted on getting the train back to Oxford. It’s not just that he’s stuck here now for the entire evening, even if he does head out on his own early in the morning. It’s that his presence is making Lewis’s daughter uncomfortable, which in turn will make Lewis uncomfortable.
So, once Lewis excuses himself to use the loo and he hears his boss’s tread on the stairs, James turns to Lyn.
“If it will make you more comfortable, I can invent a reason why I need to go back to Oxford tonight.”
“What?” She’s not very good at dissembling, clearly. “Why would I...?”
“Let’s not pretend.” He stands and goes to lean against the door-jamb, where he’ll be able to hear Lewis returning. “You don’t want me here, and that’s fine. My only concern is your father, who happens to matter a great deal to me. I don’t want him hurt or worried in any way, so I’ll come up with a story he’ll believe and I can be out of your home very soon.”
Lyn’s gaze shifts to somewhere to James’s left. “I told Dad you’re welcome, and I meant it. I’m sorry if I’ve...”
He waves a hand dismissively. “The point is that he’s noticing. The longer I stay, the more obvious it’ll get. He sees little enough of you and his grandson as it is, and I’m not going to spoil this chance for him to spend time with you.”
Lyn meets his gaze suddenly, and her eyes are round in surprise. “You really do care about him.”
“Of course I do.” His tone’s more abrupt than he intended, but he’s always been crap at acknowledging feelings.
She doesn’t answer immediately, and he can see that she’s considering something. Then, as a creak sounds from upstairs, she jerks her head towards the back door. “Outside. You smoke, don’t you?”
He glances at the baby. “Not around him.”
She shrugs. “Whatever — we can’t talk here, not with Dad...” She leads the way outside, and James follows.
Lyn closes the back door and stands on the crazy paving outside, Matthew still balanced on her hip. The toddler’s squirming a little and looks heavy, but after Lyn’s reaction earlier James isn’t going to offer to hold him for her. He stands a few feet away and waits.
“I really didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable,” she says, tone awkward, once the silence is beginning to stretch. “The thing is, I was always grateful to you — I know how good you’ve been to Dad, how much you helped him after he came back from his attachment. It’s only the way things have changed recently... I’ve tried, I really have, but I just can’t...”
He’s missed a step or two along the way, surely. “I’m not sure I understand,” he says carefully. “The way things have changed...?”
“You and Dad. Oh, he hasn’t said anything, but I’m not stupid, James. I can add two and two and make four — I don’t have to be a detective in CID to do that. And I’m not prejudiced either, though I know I couldn’t blame you if you thought that. I don’t care that you’re a man. It’s that... bloody hell, you’re my age! And if it wasn’t for you, Dad would have retired and moved up here, close to us. He’s not a young man any more, and you can’t expect him to keep up with you indefinitely, on the job or...” She waves her free hand in a gesture James suspects he’s supposed to understand.
The words are tumbling over themselves in his head: I’m not prejudiced; you’re my age... can’t expect him to keep up with you... A gradual comprehension is settling in, combined with a sense of disbelief – surely it’s not possible that Lyn could imagine...?
“And what happens when he gets older? You certainly won’t want to be with him when he’s creaky and half-deaf and can’t get it up any more—”
“Lyn—” he begins, but halts as the back door opens abruptly.
“So there you are! Indulging your vice, I suppose, James?”
He swings around, composing his features so as to give away nothing of his reaction to his boss. “Not smoking today, sir. Lyn was just showing me the garden.”
“Right.” Lewis comes out to join them. “Yeah, they’ve done a lot of work out here. The shrubs look lovely, pet.” He stands next to James, their shoulders brushing, and he pats James on the arm. “You’re with family, man. Keep the sir for work.”
James just nods. Without realising it, Lewis has just given his daughter another reason to believe her wild theory, hasn’t he? And now that Lewis has joined them, James can’t do anything to disabuse Lyn of her misconception. He certainly doesn’t want Lewis finding out what his daughter believes their relationship to be. It would embarrass Lewis — and Lyn, once she knows the truth – and he can’t think of any way it would not change the relaxed, companionable relationship he enjoys with Lewis. Above all, that’s what he wants —needs — to protect. Well, that and the secret he’ll never reveal under any circumstances: that what Lyn thinks is exactly what he wishes were reality.
He takes his own lead and asks Lyn questions about the garden, steering the conversation to safe topics until they go inside again. And, almost as soon as they’re back inside, Lyn’s partner arrives home and dinner is being prepared. While the additional presence of Tim and the greater activity means that Lyn’s attitude to him is far less obvious, it also means that James doesn’t get a chance to speak to her alone and put her straight.
The best thing, he decides, would be if he phones or emails her once he’s back in Oxford. He can make things clear to her in a way that will be less awkward for being at a distance, and for Lewis being nowhere in the vicinity.
James confirms, that night as Robbie helps him to make up the bed on the sofa, that he intends to go into the city centre in the morning. Robbie doesn’t try to change his mind. Bringing the bloke here’s not been the unmitigated success he’d expected.
Guessing that James intends to be up and out before anyone else is downstairs, Robbie confirms that he’ll phone the bloke when he’s ready to leave, most likely just after lunch, and he’ll come into the city and pick James up.
He’s right; when he comes down, Lyn tells him that James is gone and the bedding he used was left neatly folded on the couch. She also doesn’t think he had breakfast before going out. Since Tim’s likely to walk in at any moment, he just nods and says, “That’s James. He’s even more organised than I was as a sergeant, which I don’t mind at all. He’s also a bit too self-effacing for his own good sometimes, an’ that I do mind.”
She looks surprised. “I thought he was clever and a bit of a know-all, didn’t you say? Like Morse?”
He shrugs. “Oh, sometimes, yeah. But that’s mostly for show. Stops most people from digging deep enough to see the real bloke underneath.”
Lyn nods at that, and then Tim comes in and the subject’s dropped. After breakfast, though, when Tim takes Matthew upstairs to be changed, he seizes his opportunity. “Can you get Tim to take Matthew out for a bit? Send him shopping or something. I’d just like a little chat, all right?”
He says it as casually as possible; the last thing he wants is for his daughter to think he’s treating her like a suspect in one of his cases. She still looks taken aback, but agrees, going up to talk to Tim. Half an hour later, they’re alone in the house, and he sits her down over a cuppa.
“I need to talk to you about James, Lyn. Specifically—”
“You don’t need to tell me.” She’s shaking her head, not meeting his gaze. “I know—”
“You don’t know anything, lass.” His tone grows a little harder, though he’s not showing the full extent of the anger that he’s been hiding from almost the moment of their arrival yesterday, when he first noticed her hostility towards James. She’s his daughter and he loves her, but she’s behaved very badly, and offended — and very possibly hurt — someone else he cares about. “An’ I’m sorry to say that I’m ashamed of you. To think your mother’s daughter would make someone so unwelcome in her home. I brought James here as a guest, and you said it was fine, that you’d like to meet him, and then...” He shakes his head.
Lyn flushes. “I didn’t mean to, Dad, really. I just... Well, okay, I’ll say it. I’m not happy with the way things are between you and James. I’m also not happy that you didn’t tell me. I had to work it out for myself.”
“Yeah, I know you did. I heard what you said to James.” And only his years of police training and experience has kept him outwardly calm until now, when he can talk to Lyn privately.
Her face grows redder, and she twists her hands. “I never meant you to hear any of that, Dad!”
“But it was all right for James to hear it?” He pauses, waiting for that to sink in. “An’ after everything you’ve told me about how glad you are that I have him to keep an eye on me down in Oxford?”
“That was before I—”
“The thing is, pet,” he says, his tone gentler now, “you don’t know James. You only know what I’ve told you about him, an’ I know half the time I’m either moaning about him or laughing about stuff he says. What you don’t know is that he’s the most loyal, decent bloke I’ve ever known. He could’ve moved on an’ left me behind years ago — he’s clever enough, and Innocent would put him forward like a shot if he showed an interest — but you know what he told me a year or so ago? If I go, he goes. He’s no fair-weather friend. For some reason, the daft sod has stuck with me through thick and thin, even when I’ve been a bloody grumpy bugger an’ impossible to be with.”
This time, when he pauses, Lyn doesn’t interject, and he carries on after a few moments. “It’s not James’s fault I didn’t retire last year. I didn’t want to, an’ that’s all there is to it. I don’t think he wanted me to either, but he didn’t try to influence me one way or another. As for whether he’d stay with me when I can’t get it up any more—”
“Dad!” He’s well and truly shocked her now, but that needed to happen. If she thinks it’s all right to say that to James, she can hear it back from him.
“Lyn.” He waits until she’s looking at him. “If you’re not happy with me, you talk to me. You don’t take it out on an innocent third party. Regardless of how you felt about what you assumed about me an’ James, that wasn’t the way to go about it.”
“Assumed?” Her eyes widen.
“Yeah, assumed. James is my sergeant — and a good mate. He’s not me boyfriend.” And that’s still mind-boggling. How Lyn could jump to the conclusion that he and James are having it off... it makes no sense. What, does she imagine he was just pretending all those years with her mam? Or that he’s having a mid-life sexual identity crisis?
“He’s not?” Now Lyn sounds horribly embarrassed. “Seriously?”
“Seriously. And even if we were... like that,” he adds, “it wouldn’t make any difference to you an’ me. You’re still me daughter and I love you,” he says, holding her gaze and keeping his tone gentle. “You and Tim and Matthew are my family. Nothing will change that – an’ I can guarantee you that James would never want it any other way, whatever my relationship with him. Didn’t tell you, did I, that he insisted I come to see you on our way back, even though it inconvenienced him?”
“No.” Her voice is very small, and she sounds on the verge of tears.
“C’mere.” He reaches for her and hugs her. “It’s not worth crying over, pet. You made a mistake, but it’ll be sorted.”
Lyn swallows. “I said all those things to him... The poor man, he must have been mortified.”
Yes, he would have been. That’s been running through Robbie’s mind as well ever since he first opened the back door and heard what Lyn was saying. He knows James well enough to be able to read most of his poker-faced expressions by now, and he’s well aware that the lad was hiding both anger and humiliation. And then James hid it all, no doubt to protect Robbie from the knowledge of what his daughter was thinking about them.
Not to mention that James must be horrified that anyone would assume he’d be romantically or sexually interested in his boss. Bloody hell, apart from being young enough to be his son, James is a good-looking, clever bloke and if he ever actually made an effort he’d be snapped up by someone much more suitable.
“You’ll apologise to him, I know you will, lass. Not today — I’ll be meeting him in town and then we’re going home — but you could phone him. Or email, if it’s easier. An’ you can make a fresh start next time you meet him.”
“If you think he’ll want to meet me again,” she says, her voice wobbling as she looks at him uncertainly.
“He will.” Robbie’s tone is entirely confident, with good reason; he knows James well enough to make that promise. It’s unfair, in a way, because James would do it for him, not for Lyn — but he would do it.
“I hope so,” Lyn says, and she looks at Robbie with contrite eyes. “I’m really sorry, Dad. You’re right — I behaved very badly. And...” She swallows. “Even if I’d been right about you and James, it’s none of my business. I know that. You’re entitled to—” A private life, he assumes she’ll say. “—be happy with someone new. God knows I hate the thought of you being alone. And, to be honest, with everything you’ve told me about him, I sort of wish I had been right, now. I... I think... your James would be very good for you.”
After everything she’s said, that’s quite an admission from Lyn, and it takes Robbie aback. It’s good that now she’s recognising what a lovely bloke James is and, yes, the lad is very good to him. Good for him.
But as a partner? Him and James?
He’s been so agitated about how Lyn treated James, and the humiliation James must have been feeling over what she said, that he hasn’t really stopped to think of the implications. Him and James? But he can’t imagine it, really. Even if he could get his head around the idea of kissing or shagging the bloke, James would never be remotely...
“What made you think it?” he asks suddenly as the thought strikes him. “That we were... you know.”
“Oh!” Lyn flushes again. “It was... a number of things. He always seemed to be with you when you phoned, and you asked him before you made any decisions about coming here. Though I think the penny only dropped — well, I thought it did — when I phoned you yesterday morning at the hotel and he was in your bedroom.”
“We shared a room — the Chief Super was saving on expenses,” Robbie says, pulling a face. “Not that I minded. He’s a mate, like I said. As for the rest, course I asked him. Just good manners, isn’t it, since I’m delaying him getting home.”
“Morse never cared how anything affected you — he just did what he wanted regardless,” she points out.
“I’m not Morse,” he points out simply.
She nods. “Anyway, after that I started thinking back over a lot of things, and... well, do you know how much you talk about him? You spend a lot of time with him outside work, as well — more than with anyone else, as far as I can tell. And you never did say why you stopped seeing Laura — when we were in Italy, you talked about her a bit and mentioned going out with her a couple of times, but that all seemed to fizzle out. And I remembered you texted James at least once a day while we were there... And the way you sound sometimes when you talk about him.” She shrugs. “It all seemed to fit together.”
Putting two and two together and making ten, more like. Yes, he does talk about James a lot, probably, but they work together. Even if he only saw the lad at work, he’d still be spending more of his waking hours with James than with anyone else. And, yes, they drink together and the bloke’s round at his flat sometimes for a casual evening – and he did text James from Italy, but only to get the lad’s opinion on places he was considering going to. There’s nothing there that anyone wouldn’t do with a mate.
“The way I sound?” His forehead wrinkles in puzzlement.
“You should hear yourself, Dad.” Lyn grins suddenly. “Your voice goes soft... fond. And, honestly, the way you look at him! When you came out into the garden yesterday and stood next to him — are you absolutely sure you’re not in love with him?”
“Course not,” he protests, but Lyn’s grin only grows wider. And, Christ, this is ridiculous. Of course he’s fond of the bloke – and, well, yes, it’s not an exaggeration to say he loves James, but as a best mate. It’s not like he wants to touch him and kiss him, or move in with him...
“And you should see the way he looks at you, too, when you’re not looking,” Lyn adds, getting to her feet. He’s about to ask what she means by that, but she shakes her head. “Just look.”
The way James looks at him? With smug grins and cheeky smirks, most of the time — even when he’s pretending to be respectful with his sirs.
But then Robbie remembers a day by the river and James saying Who else would understand me? — and, not long before that, James staying up all night working on a case just because it was getting to Robbie. And not able to tell Robbie why he’d done it, though it was blindingly obvious by the lad’s body language after Robbie asked the question.
And another day, only a couple of months ago, when the bloke cared enough to book a dental appointment for him — and made sure he went. And thinking of that reminds Robbie of the icy fear that gripped him when he realised James was alone in a house with a man who’d killed twice and had nothing further to lose by killing again.
No. It’s ridiculous — now he’s getting carried away by Lyn’s far-fetched theories. Never mind ignoring the irony of her putting them forward, considering her reaction when she thought he actually was shagging James. It’s daft, that’s what it is.
All the same, as he goes upstairs a few minutes later to pack his things, giving Lyn a few minutes on her own, there’s an image of James smiling fondly at him that refuses to leave his head.
He’s in Manchester Cathedral when Lewis phones. The cathedral’s close to Victoria Station, and he’s been debating for the past hour or so whether to tell Lewis he’ll take the train home. It would allow Lewis to spend more time with his family, of course — and put off, perhaps eliminate, any awkward conversation that might arise concerning Lyn. Because, even though Lewis has — James hopes — no idea of what Lyn assumed about the two of them, he knows Lewis noticed Lyn’s attitude to him.
But Lewis is already driving into the city, his phone on Bluetooth, so there’s no changing of the plans now. He explains where he is and says he’ll wait by the main entrance.
He jumps into the car quickly when Lewis arrives around ten minutes later, throwing his bag into the back. “Thank you for picking me up, sir.”
“Said I would, didn’t I? And we’re not working. It’s Robbie, man.”
“Robbie, then.” It feels strange to call his boss by his first name — almost disrespectful — but he’s accustomed to following Lewis’s orders, so that’s that.
To his great relief, Lewis doesn’t mention Lyn, or even his grandson, as he steers the car towards the motorway, instead asking what James did with himself for the morning. He’d strolled along the towpath of the Rochdale Canal for a while until he reached Deansgate, and then up to the John Rylands Library in time for its opening; it’s been one of his ambitions for a long time to see the St John Fragment. And after leaving the Library, it’d been a short walk further up Deansgate to the Cathedral. Lewis humours his descriptions of his travels, as his governor usually does when James waxes eloquent on the subject of historical antiquities, architecture or other topics Lewis doesn’t find enthralling.
They’re not going to mention Lyn, then — and why would Lewis, anyway? He would never criticise his daughter, even implicitly, to James, let alone say anything that might appear to take James’s side against her. But then, an hour or so later, Lewis pulls off the motorway at the Stafford services and parks. “Inside with you. Didn’t have lunch, you, I bet, an’ I want a cuppa.”
Lewis slides into the seat opposite him a few minutes later, armed with a mug of tea and a doughnut. He munches the latter with apparent enjoyment, then sits in silence and watches James eat the remainder of his beef salad sandwich. And, just when James thinks he’s escaped interrogation yet again, Lewis says, “Sorry you were put in such an awkward position yesterday.”
He shakes his head. “It doesn’t matter. Forget it.” Denying anything happened isn’t an option; that would only lead to the discussion he’s trying to avoid. And Lewis isn’t stupid; he knows very well that James noticed how Lyn was behaving towards him.
At least Lewis has no idea why. That’s the only saving grace.
“It does matter.” Lewis leans forward, elbows on the table. “Would never’ve brought you if I’d imagined for one second you’d have to put up with that. I know what she assumed,” his boss continues, and James cringes inside. Christ, it only needed that. “Heard what she said to you in the garden. Well, most of it. But, like I told her, regardless of what she thought, that’s no way to treat a guest in her home. A friend of mine.”
“You... put her straight, then.” James focuses his gaze on a point just to the left of Lewis’s shoulder.
“I did. Told her, though, that even if it had been true — or if I was with someone else — it didn’t mean she wasn’t still me family.”
“Of course.” And surely that should have been obvious to anyone fortunate enough to be this man’s family or loved one? Was that it, though? Was Lyn jealous of his place in her father’s life, regardless of whether he was a lover or a work colleague? “Is... is everything all right between the two of you, s— Robbie? Because I’d never want to be the cause of a rift between you and your daughter.”
“Told you, wasn’t your fault. And, yes, everything’s fine. She wants to apologise to you, by the way. You’ll be hearing from her.” Lewis leans back in his seat then, a smile hovering around his lips. “And get this — once I’d set her straight on a few things about you, like how loyal you are, everything you do for me... she said she wished it had been true.”
He tries to summon up a smile to match Lewis’s little laugh — ah, yes, sir, very amusing. As if you would ever fancy me, of course. It’s not really working, though. He stands and collects their dishes. “Do you mind if we push on and get home? I... had some things I wanted to do later.” It’s not entirely a lie. There is laundry awaiting his attention, and the flat needs cleaning.
“Course.” Lewis stands, pats James on the back and leads the way outside.
Robbie smiles to himself as he eases the car off the sliproad and back onto the M6. Lyn had said look, and he’d looked, and he’s seen.
He turns the conversation to Matthew and some of the funny and clever things the lad had got up to this morning. James seems grateful for the change of subject, and he smiles and nods in all the right places, and asks questions designed to encourage Robbie to continue. The discussion — well, more of a monologue, really — takes them almost all the way back to Oxford.
Robbie can sense James’s relief as he pulls up outside the bloke’s flat. He’s tempted to let James go — poor sod’s endured enough in the past twenty-four hours — but he knows himself well enough to be aware that if he leaves this now he’ll never get himself to this point again, Lyn’s motivational speech and his own dawning of realisation regardless.
So he turns to James, pre-empting the bloke’s speech of thanks. “Mind if I come in for a bit?”
It’s obvious that the lad wants to refuse, but he’s far too well-trained to say no to his boss. Most of the time, anyway. “Of course, sir.”
He’s sir again, is he? But James is on edge as it is, without Robbie adding to his stress, so he says nothing.
Inside, James goes immediately to the kitchen. “Tea or coffee?”
“Tea.” He gets the mugs and milk while James puts the kettle on, then strikes while the iron’s hot, so to speak. “About what our Lyn said—”
“Please, sir, can we leave it? I really would rather not discuss it any further.” James’s back has gone rigid, and he’s avoiding looking at Robbie.
“Well, I would, except...” He rubs at his eyebrow, then takes a deep breath. “Been thinking, like. And... well, I think she’s right.”
“In... what way?” James has half-turned, and although his expression is carefully schooled, his eyes dart from side to side, as if he’s trying to plan his escape. Bit difficult, though, given they’re in his flat; he can’t exactly claim he has to go home.
“That you’d be good for me.” Hands in his pockets now, he continues to watch James. “Course, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’d be good for you — but that’s for you to decide, isn’t it?”
The kettle boils and then clicks off, but James ignores it. For several seconds, there’s complete silence in the flat. And then James speaks, sounding unusually wary. “If I’m understanding your meaning correctly, sir, then I’d have to point out that there’s a lot more to the choice of a partner than that potential partner being good for one. If you’ll forgive the choice of example, then I know you’re well aware that a number of people, myself included, think that Dr Hobson would be good for you — but it seems that she isn’t what you want.”
Robbie pulls a face. He should have realised that James was going to need more than that, especially after what he’s had to put up with over the last twenty-four hours. He needs to know that he’s more than just a convenience — and he deserves to know it, too.
“Course it’s more than that, man.” He moves closer to James, reaching out to touch the lad, but waits to see whether that’s going to be all right with James before he completes the gesture. James doesn’t move, so he lays his hand on the bloke’s arm, squeezing lightly. “I didn’t see it until she told me, but...” He pulls a face, self-deprecating. “Seems I look at you like I... well, not like a man looks at his best mate, let’s say.”
James’s eyes widen, and for the first time since the subject of Lyn came up he’s starting to lose that wary, uncertain look. “And... did she say anything about me?”
“Course she did, or I’d never have the bottle to say any of this.” He grins, just a little. “She said you look at me the same way.”
James exhales noisily, but the closed-off stiffness is gone. He’s starting to look as if he might actually let himself believe that this could be all right. “Christ. I hope Innocent’s never noticed. Or anyone else at the nick.”
“I never noticed,” Robbie points out. “But Lyn... she’s like her mam that way. Val never missed a trick when it came to this sort of stuff.”
“But...” Oh, it wouldn’t be James if he didn’t have objections. “Are you sure this is what you want? That you’re not—“
“Oi.” He stretches up to shut James up in the most effective manner possible. It not only works, but also reassures Robbie about the one area where he’d had some doubts. Yes, he does want to kiss and touch James. And, as James moves closer and kisses him back, he becomes very much aware that he’d like to do a lot more besides. And it seems the feeling’s very much mutual.
James glances up from examining his phone in bed the following morning, raising an eyebrow at Robbie, who’s lying on his side next to him. “Email from Lyn — apologising profusely and saying she hopes I’ll forgive her and come up to Manchester with you again soon.”
“Oh?” Robbie pushes himself into a semi-seated position, leaning against the pillows. “What’re you going to say to her?”
“Well, obviously I’ll accept her apology.” He trails two fingertips along Robbie’s arm. “Though I think I’ll also send her flowers. What does she like?”
Robbie’s mouth turns down in that half-embarrassed way he has, and it makes James want to kiss him again. “I’d have to ask Tim. Why d’you want to do that?”
“Why do you think?” James does kiss him now, simply because he can. “If she hadn’t jumped to conclusions the way she did...”
“Send them from both of us,” Robbie instructs him. “But not now.” And he rolls over towards James in a way that makes very clear what his immediate intentions are. James is more than happy to participate.
It’s a long time later before James gets around to ordering the flowers.