It's one thing to be tempted, Escalus,
Another thing to fall.
Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
The conventional sound of the old telephone through the presbytery made Father Cleaves jump. Partly, it was the half-forgotten, strident tone. Primarily, it was the person he knew was at the other end. Nobody else remembered the old number any more, and with all the mobiles, social networks and email, hardly anyone had reason left to use it. He kept the old landline in his residence for one purpose only, for the sporadic use of one man who didn't care to acknowledge innovations younger than himself. Or, more preferably, no later than 1516, when Martin Luther had written The Ninety-Five Theses and sparked the Reformation.
"Your Excellency," Father Cleaves said into the bulky receiver, his heart pounding, short of breath, even though he'd taken only a few steps to get to the phone.
"Edmund, my dear boy."
He was thirty-five. He was starting to find occasional grey hairs at his temples. Still, the gravelly, rumbling voice made him feel like the boy he'd been when he'd thought that voice must rival God's. "Good evening, my Lord Bishop."
"Unless you have company, no need to be so formal, Edmund."
He happily substituted, "Mathias. It's so good to hear your voice. How are you?"
"I will be much better with your presence. I'm in need of a secretary. Any chance you would apply?"
"Your diocesan secretary is leaving?"
"A personal secretary, I should've said."
Edmund's heart jumped. "And you thought of me?"
"You're an historian and an admirable coordinator, exactly what I need," Mathias Osborn said, more matter-of-factly than Father Cleaves would have wished. "I've found the production company and the financial backing for the documentary to present my collection. Blessed be."
"Blessed be His Holy Name," Cleaves added wholeheartedly. There were only two surviving heirs to the bishop's vast family fortune. The distant cousin who'd inherited it all, severely handicapped from birth and in a care facility for over forty years, was not expected to live out the year. Osborn had control of the inheritance by proxy, and while he'd never skimped on his cousin's care, otherwise he'd been using it to amass a collection of holy relics and artefacts steadily, at heart-stopping cost. If he was ready to showcase the collection publicly, he must be planning to turn it over to the Church when his cousin died and he could no longer disclaim ownership. Right and proper -- finally. "Oh, Mathias, that is great news. I'm so happy for you."
"For us, Edmund. For us. I need the one man I can trust implicitly to deal with all the practicalities, as my representative, my right hand. And where I go from there, you will go with me, so what say you?"
Tu Rex gloriae, Christe. "My Lord Bishop," he pointed out, "you have no need to ask it of me, you can simply order me."
"When have I ever done that, my dearest boy? I've always chosen to let you come to me of your own free will."
Let? Strictly speaking, it was true. But Edmund Cleaves doubted he'd ever had free will when it came to Mathias Osborn or ever would. "Directly on the morrow," he lapsed into the antiquated speech pattern that had always surprised and delighted Mathias to hear, especially from a young acolyte all those years ago, "I shall, as is your wish, take it upon myself to apply for the position," Cleaves had learned early how to cast his lures as well. Mathias laughed his booming laugh, and as ever, it felt like a blessing. "Surely you never doubted it."
"'Certainty generally is illusion, and repose is not the destiny of man' -- even at my age. I have such plans for us. With your young mind and limbs by my side, we'll accomplish great things, Edmund, great things."
One thing Cleaves had accomplished was to exchange his certain place in line to become the vice-chancellor of his diocese for being a glorified go-between. But what did that matter? He was being called back to his rightful place after more than a decade's exile, and his mind was already busy, planning his move to Oxford.
"Ellie, Ellie!" Bradley Powell's voice could be heard down the corridor, on his way to her office. If he had to yell like a fishwife instead of waiting to see if she was in yet, Eleanor McKenna saw no reason to waste her breath to answer him and kept looking out of the window. She could see the skyline cluttered by the curve of the London Eye and the up-thrust of the Gherkin, which, along with all modern structures, she considered blots on the city's venerable vista.
"Ah, there you are." Powell waddled in and deposited his bottom-heavy body onto the sofa she used when she worked too late to get home.
Well, damn. Now she had to get up from behind her desk and join him if they were to talk like assistant producer to executive producer. And, of course, The Director; he was executive producer so he could always be The Director, uppercase mandatory. "Good morning, Brad," she reminded him of his manners as she picked up the script she'd been marking, and dragged one of the chairs in front of her desk with her so she wouldn't have to sit on the sofa next to him.
"A great morning, Ellie. Talked to His Overblown Reverence half the night. The man's mental, I'm telling you. He's assigning an intermediary --a priest-- to deal with the production, he wants an armoured van to cart his treasures back and forth from wherever he's hiding them, guards to safeguard them on the set. The least whiff of impiety anywhere in the script and he'll pull out. He's a bloody fanatic, but long as he's fanatical over the project -- gift horse, et cetera. The upshot is, we're green-lit, the documentary is a go."
As if he gave a toss about the documentary. The Lost Treasures of the Bible, Found. Right. The only treasure he was interested in was the one he had finally finagled from the Catholic Church, BBC funding, and the lucrative concessions he'd get from the host city. He'd promptly raid it to pour the majority of the capital into his precious pilot for a series he hoped to live off for years, and cobble together something half-arsed for the documentary.
"Look, Brad," she said, tossing the pilot script onto the coffee table between them, "I'm willing to work with you on this dross -- "
His cherubic face, at odds with his balding dome and the nasty temper she knew too well, twisted with a sneer. "Dross? Why would you call it dross?"
That's the scum formed when true metal is smelted, you nitwit. "Oh, I don't know, maybe because Oliver Goldsmith wrote the original in the eighteenth century. Wait, it'll come to me -- oh, yes: She Stoops to Conquer."
"He stoops to conquer in our case."
How original. An impoverished scholarly student pretending to be a footballer to secure the affections of an empty-headed heiress. "Let me rephrase, I'm willing to work with you on this innovative script, if you'll give me the documentary. You know I can get exec billing anywhere else, so you can let me have it for one project. You have no interest in it anyway."
Just on the principle of never letting go of power, he hesitated, but she knew she'd picked her time well and he'd opt to concentrate on his pilot. "Well, you see, Ellie, it's such a shoestring budget for the documentary," he immediately started to short-change it as she'd expected. "I'd hate to saddle you with -- "
"I'll make it work, Brad, you know I will. Just say yes."
"Oh, all right, it's all yours," he said as if he'd just made her a Dame of the Realm, then leered at her. "It'll save you a fortune, right? You won't be shuttling back and forth every weekend to see your Oxfordian; you'll be right there."
She forbore telling him the term referred to adherents of a specific theory, not an Oxford resident. "His name is Llewellyn-Pierce, and in fact, I'd like to have him on set as consultant. He's one of the authenticators the Ashmolean uses; he's excellent." Bargaining for an impossible budget was one thing, falling for fakes and forgeries some deluded bishop wanted to unveil, a totally different thing. This was one project with the Powell seal that wasn't going to go as pear-shaped as Bradley was.
"Long as you can get him to do it for your pretty eyes, or whatever portion of your anatomy makes him salivate, fine with me." He scooped up the script with her notes that he was sure to discount and left.
She closed the door after him, picking up her mobile. It was still early; she expected Richard to be home and send her call to his messaging service, but he answered. "Good morning, sweet Eleanor."
What a relief he was, with his cultured voice and his refusal to truncate her name into something more suitable for a cow. "Good morning, Richard. Tell me, how would you like to work closely with me for a few months?"
"You've wrested the documentary." He sounded pleased for her.
"It's mine, all mine. I still have to work with the Satan-spawn on his miserable pilot, we'll be shooting simultaneously, but I'll manage. He agreed to having you on set as consultant. Be warned, though, it'll get you little more than another entry for your CV."
"Bishop Osborn's long-rumoured collection will finally be revealed and I'll be the first expert to lay eyes on it -- oh, His Excellence will be apoplectic. Which, let me admit just for your delectable ears, is an irresistible incentive."
"It'll take a few months for the prelims, I should be in Oxford in autumn. Along with lorries' worth of film crews, so heaven help your city."
"Heaven should help our dear Bishop if his collection is rubbish. He'll call it an endowment and bribe his way into the Archdiocese, you realise?"
Even though Eleanor said nothing to indicate her rising discontent, Richard seemed to sense it and promptly added, "But for your sake, my sweet, I hope it's the rarest of marvels, and your documentary will be as exceptional as you are."
Good save, my love.
"Let me see them," Idris Abbas said, fingering through the bowl of nuts on the table, wishing he could pop some of the Jordan almonds into his mouth and crack their hard candy shells. He could handle the peanuts, but some bits were bound to slip under his dentures and give him hell. He pushed the bowl away. "Come on, I need to see them before I make an offer."
"I have thirteen of them, all that were found." The junior archaeologist from the Bethsaida Dig clutched his backpack tighter to his chest. "Shouldn't we go somewhere private?"
Sneaking around would attract more attention in the politically-troubled Al-Shaghour district of Damascus than two tourists chatting in a crowded coffee house. With his dodgy heart, Idris Abbas didn't need any extra excitement in his life. "Just pass me the bag casually. Don't worry, I won't run off with it. I'm a businessman, I don't need a bad reputation." Yours, of course, is worth no more than camel's spit. Sergei, if that was his real name, did as told, his eyes flickering around worriedly. If I'd smuggled a rare find out from under the noses of the Israelis, I'd be worried, too. "Drink your tea and give me a minute."
The bag was as heavy as Abbas had expected for metal items. He opened it just enough to look inside for a quick evaluation and his heart gave a couple of hard thumps that almost worried him. Yes, this find could very well be part of the lost collection of codices mentioned in the Book Of Revelation. The dimensions seemed right, corroded plates the size of paperbacks, held together with bulky rings. Careful of the edges that had flaked and thinned to cutting sharpness, he flipped through a couple. About a dozen plates to each codex, filled with images, symbols, and ancient Aramaic Abbas could recognise on sight but could not read. Some pages were sealed shut, by hand or by time. His Syrian expert had rust-dated the plates to early first century AD, isotope analysis had placed their mining site approximately around the Yarmouk Valley. If the markings were as old as the metal --always the tricky part, but a concern for scholars later, not him-- they might predate the writings of St Paul and would be beyond price.
Idris Abbas didn't give a fig for things beyond price. They were worthless to satisfy him, his wife's desire for a summer villa in the Jordan Valley, his son's university fees at Oxford, his mistress's endless wishes. He intended to be rid of the find while a hefty price could still be set on it. It was advisable to get the things out of the Middle East as soon as possible; Christian relics fared better in Europe, and Israeli agents preferred to keep a low profile in those countries. He should visit his son. While he was in England, he could see a heart specialist, also see about getting better fitting dentures. "All right," he told Sergei, "Let's talk."
"It's not really a sabbatical, I'll be working very hard through it." Richard was explaining to their dinner guests why he'd opted out of teaching for the Michaelmas term.
Just shut up about it, thought his wife. If he didn't elaborate, they'd assume he wanted to concentrate on what he called his definitive book on antiquities, Facts and Fancies. But if he mentioned on-set consultancy for a TV special, half their guests would look disdainful, the other half would get stars in their eyes, and some of the sillier wives were bound to start tittering.
"I've been contracted as expert consultant on a Biblical documentary for the Beeb, you see."
Oh, there he went. What they didn't see, and neither had Drusilla, was how much he'd be paid on that contract. The university had reduced his wage to the mere pittance they had to pay for the privilege of keeping his professorial name on their rolls, so the film company had better be parting with a substantial amount. Substantial enough to let her keep her show hunters in their stables, which might make her turn a blind eye to his opportunities for shagging his tart more regularly. One day, Richie, you're going to regret her.
"Yes, they'll be filming right here," he was answering the curious. "True, mine is just a dusty old documentary," he addressed the youngest wife in the group, little more than a child, "but they'll be shooting the pilot for a series as well, so there'll be occasions for celebrity watching."
"Oh, Dru, you must be so thrilled," the young thing said to her.
Let the tittering commence.
"We have a perfectly good props department, Father," McKenna argued, turning the recast of the La Melik-handled jar in her hands and comparing it to the photos of the original spread out on her desk. "This is a fine replica." All right, maybe far from fine, but serviceable. A little creative lighting and it'd look like the real thing on film.
"Bishop Osborn does not agree," Father Cleaves told her.
"If he'd allow us to makes casts from his originals -- "
"Out of the question," the priest cut her off with his perfected brand of ecclesiastical severity.
Not that she'd expected any other response. The bishop's collection couldn't be used in any way except to be brought in safely, put on something steady, be filmed and returned. "What would you suggest then? I'm putting together a documentary, not a catalogue. The artefacts or their copies must be used in re-enactments, and as we can't touch the -- "
He cut her off. Again. "Museums display accurate reproductions in order to preserve originals from wear and tear. They also routinely commission inverted replicas to be able to present fuller versions of damaged artefacts."
"Bully for them. They must have the funds for expert artisans."
"A poor world it'd be, if money were the highest recompense."
McKenna kept herself from snorting into his too-handsome face. "Maybe in your circles."
"As you say," he told her smugly. "Which is why I'll be seeing a devout member of our congregation, an assistant manager of collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum. He promised to interest some of his expert artisans in our venture."
"For their reward in heaven, I hope."
"You will pay them for their time. Their expertise, they may donate. As well as proper respect for sacred heritage."
The bishop's watchdog was a haughty bastard, but McKenna wasn't going to let him frazzle her as long as he made her film better. And kept the costs down. "Don't forget to mention they'll get screen credit."
He checked his watch. "I must go. Mr Armitage is a busy man, he's squeezing me in between appointments."
McKenna got up from her desk after he left, went to look out the window at the lot in front of the warehouse that would be serving as location headquarters for Powell Productions for the next three months or so. Past the busy hive of the lot circled by a security fence, the area was flat, unprepossessing, but behind it the beautiful domes, turrets and spires of the old city rose out of the autumn foliage. Summer had faded spectacularly in Oxford, the riot of reds, golds and oranges a lovely complement to the aged, warm hues of the building stones. Not a bad place to work.
As he drove up, Lewis saw the fire engines on the end of Longwall Street, where an unconscionably early call had sent him to check out a possible crime scene outside the last building on the corner. The few onlookers were being held at bay by constables while a tent was being erected in front of a deep doorway or maybe an alleyway. The forensics van was already on site, but he couldn't see Hobson. No doubt she'd be disgruntled about the hour. She wasn't likely to be terribly pleased with him this morning either.
Stepping out of the car, he looked for Hathaway, accustomed to his sergeant getting to calls fast enough to meet him with the facts and figures when he arrived. Nowhere could he see a blond head sticking out of the group; it was PC Lockhart who separated from it to meet him, carrying a scene suit package. She was looking green around the gills, quite a feat with her complexion. It must be bad.
"'Morning, sir. Nothing to report yet. We couldn't, well, get close."
She was having a hard time talking and trying to swallow at the same time. "It's all right, we'll wait until we can," he said soothingly. "Anybody think to call Hathaway?"
"He's said not to call him in early for the next few weeks if at all possible. But if you asked for him, we're to ring right away," she handed him the package and grabbed her radio, "so I'll just --"
"No, no, that's fine." Hathaway had said nothing to him, but he must have his reasons. "I'll have a look first." He tore open the package.
"You only need the overshoes," Julie said.
Just as happy to bypass the bunny suit, he fished out the slip-ons. Seeing Laura lean out of the tent to crook her finger at him, he handed the package back to Julie. "Why don't you stay here and guard our perimeter," he told her with a friendly pat on the shoulder; she wasn't the bristly sort of WPC who'd mistake concern for derision.
He made sure he said, "Good morning," to Laura as he paused by the tent to slip on the latex overshoes. She wasn't in the mood for social graces for a change; she scowled at him. "Bad?"
"See for yourself." She lifted the tent flap for him.
"Cheers -- oh, bugger. Again?" The first immolation he'd seen had been one too many, and he hadn't seen much of that, too busy struggling to hold his drug-dazed sergeant back from the flames. The second time had been only about eight months earlier, with no explosion to bring that one to a quick end. And now a third? Hathaway's biblical hell seemed set on making a point.
At least the flame-repression foam covered the charred body, the smell of burnt flesh and fat inside the tent was somewhat bearable. He knew it had to be his imagination, any airborne particles would've dispersed by now or been subdued by the foam, but he still had to will himself to breathe the air that felt greasy. A large jerry can, also covered with foam but recognisable, sat heat-bonded to a skeletal hand. Petrol must've been the accelerant. "Dental ID is our only option, I take it?"
"Such optimism." Hobson leaned towards the remains slumped into the wall, its fire-ravaged limbs grotesquely contorted, and hooked something...melty...with the end of a long probe. She lifted it close to his face.
Lewis tried not to cringe from identifying it, "Dentures?"
"You got it." She put it back precisely where she'd lifted it from; it squished into place. She had to be keeping the scene intact for fire investigation. "No teeth to identify."
"Any way to tell, at least, if this is -- " he waved at the scene vaguely "--self-administered?"
She pointed at the other fleshless, twisted hand with the probe. "I see the edge of a lighter there, but whether or not that's the lighter that lit the fire -- " she shrugged noncommittally. "Fire chief might be able to tell you more about that. I should let him get on with it, while I work out how to scrape up all the parts of him that have melted into the bricks --yes, him, going by the pelvic bone and the size of the tuberosities I can make out." She looked at Lewis, and what she saw in his face made her relent. "Sorry. I already made you sick once this week, didn't I?"
Who'd come up shorter there was debatable. "Can we just forget that? Please."
She finally smiled at him. "Cheer up, he might have a metal implant. Or maybe an ID insert in his dentures."
That would be nice. Cheering up, on the other hand, was too much to ask. He was more inured to grisly sights than he cared to be, but there was no way he could dismiss them as easily as she could. He pulled out his mobile while he left the tent and impatiently punched in Hathaway's number. Whatever you're devoting yourself to every morning lately, wrap it up and get here. I'm not doing this alone.
Hathaway had put his shell into the water with the barest glimpse of light on the horizon. In a few weeks, it would get too cold to brave the predawn on the river, he didn't want to miss a single day of rowing he didn't have to. It was working for him. He had the river to himself at this hour, blissfully relaxing while gliding fast on the water backwards in a coxless shell. He could fix the buds of his iPod in his ears, listen to music, and not worry about warning shouts from the coxswains of other boats. The early-morning tranquility, the stability of his balance that kept the narrow shell steady under him, his breathing in cadence with the smooth slide and reach of his body, the deep, rhythmic pull and push of his legs and arms: hypnotic. An uninterrupted hour or so of rowing soothed the cares of the previous day, the melancholy or the agitation of the night, left him pleasantly lax and supple in body, calm in mind, and ready to go through another day with the equanimity he needed.
Falling in or out of love couldn't be dictated by will, but behaviour could. Seminary had taught him that much. And now, over a decade later, he was a grown man, more confident of his path, long past youthful proclivity for silly drama. This time, he had no desire to alter his feelings even if he could, or regret them; they were his own, he had a right to them as long as he kept them to himself. It took firm governing -- the heart was a petulant, whiny thing, it wanted, demanded, made him ache, but it could be governed.
Some habits had stayed with him through the last decade. Close enough to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin celebration on the devotional calendar, he was listening to Regina Coeli on a new Catholic Metal release. It started with meditative strings, drums came in to kick it up and quickly led the way into a tremolo fest, a deluge of sound punctuated by slides screaming up and down the neck of the lead guitar. It filled his head with pure sound, pushed thoughts aside, gave him the welcome respite he was after. Into the frantic pace of the music came the softly spoken prayer in centuries-old serenity: Regina coeli, laetare, alleluia.
His first warning was a turbulence in the water he felt shiver up the cleavers into his arms. It made him twist his head to see behind him as he became aware of a drone of voices that penetrated past the ear buds. He was fast skimming towards a jumble of skiffs and -- power boats? There weren't supposed to be power boats where rowers practiced.
A crowd on the shore was waving and yelling. There were floodlights and his first thought was: crime scene. As the reflectors and booms, the cameras on great swinging arms, registered, he was already bearing down on one cleaver and easing off the other to turn his shell. Too late he saw the speedboat heading for him, someone with a loud-hailer on its bow. It also veered to avoid collision, a lot more swiftly than he could manage by muscles alone, and the high wave generated in its wake rolled towards him. There was no time to point either end of his shell into it to ride it out, no way to avoid catching it directly on the side of his light craft. The only thing he had time for was to take a deep breath and hold it.
At least the river held residual warmth from the summer. He could avoid gasping and expel his breath slowly though the sink and rise. As his head broke the water, he felt his mobile vibrate against his side in its watertight pouch.
"Caught you in the shower, didn't I?" Lewis concluded upon noticing Hathaway's wet hair and apologised, "Sorry about that." In turn, he got a scowl. Did he really deserve the scowls he was getting today? Laura might have some justification, but what had he done, or failed to do, to James? Well, I could've let him be, he thought. "Not much can be done about the case yet, if it is a case." So far, two experts had refused to choose between suicide and homicide. "I probably shouldn't have called you in, but...." He shrugged. Just needed you by my side would sound so feeble.
Hathaway nodded at the tent. "I'll take a look, shall I?"
"Take a deep breath first," Lewis warned, waving him on. He should go back in with him, but by now Hobson had to be scraping and scooping and he didn't have the stomach for it. Bad enough he had the imagination for it. He hoped he wasn't turning as squeamish as Morse in his old age.
Hathaway's face was more severely set than usual when he rejoined Lewis. He stood for a minute, saying nothing, hands in pockets, watching his shoes.
"All right?" Lewis asked.
"Yeah." He took a long breath, let it out, raised his head to meet Lewis's eyes. "Of course you should have called me in."
"Have we started house-to-house, or should I?"
"Julie's on it. Let's hope somebody saw something or we have nowhere to go." He started walking towards their cars.
"Unless he lived alone, someone would've come out of one of the houses to wonder if he's the suddenly missing husband, father, somebody," Hathaway said, pacing him. "Probably not from hereabouts."
"We'll check with Missing Persons."
"Might be a little too soon. We may have to -- " he stopped suddenly. "Hold up."
Lewis turned to face him. "What?"
"No, no. Here. If it is self-immolation, that's usually a statement, a protest. Where matters."
"I know, but what's significant about 21 Longwall Street?" It was just another typical old building in a typical Oxford road. The relevance of the people living or working there was yet to be determined.
"That's the address now," Hathaway turned and started back towards the corner; Lewis hurried to keep up with his long strides, "but this was once the grounds of an estate fronting the adjacent street, and the gallows stood right there at the crossroads, where Longwall Street becomes St Cross Road." He led Lewis past the tent and the people working around it, pointing out, "This was originally part of 100 Holywell Street," he stopped as he rounded the corner, nodded at a plaque placed high on a wall, "and that might be the significance."
Near this spot, the plaque said, listed four names who, were executed for their Catholic Faith, and gave a sixteenth-century date.
"Installed three years ago," Hathaway supplied. "With much fanfare."
"Don't we already have a stonking big Martyrs' Memorial?"
"For Protestant martyrs."
"Right." Six of one, he made sure he didn't say. "More's the pity. No shortage of pedestrians at that busy junction."
"Life is not a box of chocolates, sir."
He knew it was Hathaway's attempt to divert him in his typically awkward but well-meaning way. He grimaced as he was supposed to. "Whatever you were doing this morning --" he paused in case James might care to fill in the blank, continued when silence stretched,"-- I should've left you to it. All right, you may have a point. Let's check and see if some zealot is missing from his usual haunts. I'd sooner chalk this one up to fanaticism, martyrdom, any affliction, and forget it."
"Except you won't," Hathaway said as they started to walk back to their cars. "'Haeret lateri lethalis arundo.'"
"'Once the iron enters our soul.' Vergil."
"You know, James, anyone who references Forrest Gump and Vergil practically in the same breath --" oh, that sentence should never have been started, it didn't have a single good place to go.
"Has a crack in his soul?" Hathaway suggested.
"I didn't say that."
"I didn't say that either."
"You were thinking it."
"As a joke."
"Yes, sir." Deadpan.
Clearly, it was fated to be one of those days.
In a different century, you'd have been drowned as a witch, Hathaway was still thinking about Lewis as he walked into the station on his heels. The man could instinctively add up a couple of unrelated comments into an astute observation and not even know he was doing it.
"The lighter's bothering me," Lewis said over his shoulder.
"What about it?"
"It was still in his hand." They moved aside to let pass a gaggle of school kids clearly on a class trip. "You'd think he'd have dropped it sometime during that agony," Lewis said in an undertone out of deference for tender ears.
"Depends on how crazy he was." He didn't remember Zoe burning, thank God, but Ellerby was etched into his brain, still a regular feature of his nightmares. By the time she'd started screaming, she hadn't a mouth to form around it.
Lewis's hand gave his wrist a quick squeeze. "Let it go, James."
Yep, drowned as a witch. No doubt. For mercy's sake, Lewis hadn't even been looking at Hathaway. His attention was on a young man talking animatedly to the duty sergeant, saying, "...hasn't called my mother or my sister."
"I have the Voss inquest this morning," Lewis said, pointing him sketchily towards the desk before heading for the staircase. Hooper had seen Lewis do that once and made a his-master's-trained-dog comment, too dull to recognise confidence that could eschew words. Earning that was better than any promotion.
The young man at the desk looked Middle-Eastern, at most twenty, spoke perfect English except for a slight roll of the 'r's. "...missed his meeting with a dealer at Thames Valley Antiques," he was telling the duty sergeant. "I didn't hear from him at all yesterday or the night before, and that's not like him, believe me, it's not. He was supposed to --"
Hathaway stepped in. "I'll take this," he told the duty sergeant, introduced himself and motioned the young man towards a couple of empty seats. "And you are?"
"Rashid Abbas." He added almost challengingly, "I'm Jordanian."
"Sit down, please." Hathaway sat next to him, indicated the Balliol crest embossed on the leather organiser the young man was holding, "Student?"
"Yes." Still ready to bristle.
"I gather you have a missing person to report? I can help."
"My father, Idris Abbas," Rashid said, concern overriding whatever misgivings he'd had. "He's been here nearly two weeks, on business."
"Import, export. Antiques."
"Right. Go on."
"We had supper the day before yesterday. Around five, too early for us, but he had a meeting later. That's the last I saw him. He was supposed to pick me up this morning, I was going to show him Balliol's new Historic Collections Centre. He wanted to go early so he could keep an appointment with Dr O'Brian before noon, but he never showed up. I've been calling. Nobody's heard from him, his mobile's not answering. For all they say, say to me at any rate, his hotel knows nothing --this is not like him, it's not. He has a heart condition, you see, and I'm really worried."
"In the majority of cases, missing persons turn up with a good explanation. What was the meeting after your supper?"
"He didn't say. He had a heavy package, so I assumed it was some sort of transaction with a client, a showing, a delivery, something."
"Let's go and check his hotel. They'll tell me more than they told you." He started to rise, saw the young man was not following, settled back down. "What is it?"
"You're a terrorism something or other, aren't you?"
So that was his sore spot. "Nope, just a regular copper," He pulled out his warrant card, flipped it open and handed it over. "I only want to help. Nationality has nothing to with it." Except it might mean his deduction of the morning hadn't been worth his breath. "No chance your father is Catholic, is he?"
Rashid gave him a withering look. "He's not into orthodoxy of any kind and he's certainly not Catholic." He was about to return the warrant card when he did a double take at it. "CID? You investigate deaths, don't you?" He gave it back, unzipped his organiser, pulled out a photo and held it out.
Hathaway looked down at it: Rashid, at some airport, with his father's arm around him, both of them smiling. The man was taller than his son, dark, with an impressive moustache and a mane of grey hair. When he looked back up, Rashid was biting his lip, his eyes pleading. "I've no use for it." He chose his next words carefully, "I have nothing for comparison." Of course, the young man took it to mean we don't have a body, instead of what it was: it hasn't a face. "Let's go and ask some questions, shall we?" He hustled Rashid out to his car. If he established a plausible connection between the missing father and their burnt body, he'd ask for a swab, but it was too soon to upset the young man that much.
According to the chamber maids, Idris Abbas's bed hadn't been disturbed for two nights. According to his son, the only things identifiable as missing from his room were the clothes he'd been wearing on their last meeting. At Thames Valley Antiques, they talked to the person Abbas had been scheduled to meet and learned nothing new, except the names of other business contacts that they either called or visited. By their fourth stop Hathaway had decided he was catching sight of a man on a motorbike --probably a man, difficult to tell under full gear-- at the periphery of his vision too often for coincidence. Maybe Rashid had good reason to be wary of the terrorism paranoia. Or maybe it wasn't paranoia. He made a mental note to ask Innocent to inquire through the proper channels.
He was getting a picture of Abbas senior from his contacts and self-immolation seemed out of the question. Unless he was following the wrong lead, they were dealing with murder. Since a package was missing, he asked Rashid if he knew of any courier agencies his father used, got a shrug in return. "I don't know where else to check, I just don't," the young man mumbled, slumped listlessly in the passenger seat.
"All right, let's go back to the station and you can fill out a -- wait, didn't you say he had an appointment with a doctor?"
"Dentist. I keep forgetting you call them Mr here --Ms, in this case. He must've missed that appointment, too."
You idiot, Hathaway berated himself, you may have wasted half the day for want of a single question. "His teeth were giving him problems?" he asked casually.
"He had new dentures made. Ms O'Brian wanted to see him once he'd had a few days to get used to the fit."
There. How likely was it that the day they got a body identifiable only through dentures there'd be a missing person with them? Once they arrived at Beardsley& O'Brian Dental Practice, he judged it best to leave Rashid in the car. When he unceremoniously pulled the dentist away from her patient, it took only minutes to get the barcode of the microchip embedded in Idris Abbas's dentures. He left the office and stopped in the hallway, feeling elated, no longer noticing the major and minor annoyances of the day. He was sliding his hand into his pocket for his phone, eager to give Lewis the news, when it buzzed. He checked the screen and quickly answered it. "I was about to call you," he said, right over Lewis saying, "You can come back." They both paused, and again informed each other simultaneously: "I know who our body is," "Laura identified our body."
He should shut up and let Lewis talk, but he couldn't help thinking, damn it, I identified our body, and rushed to say, "He's Idris Abbas, Jordanian, late fifties. More than likely, it's murder."
"No," Lewis stretched the word, "he's Murdoch Cullen, a vagrant, Catholic, something of a fanatic. You were right in the first place, and it looks like suicide."
Hathaway dropped Rashid off where he'd found him, to fill out a missing person form at the front desk. At least he hadn't told the young man anything alarming, the only saving grace of the whole fiasco. He trudged up the steps, the day dragging on him again, all the peripheral irritations setting his teeth on edge. He was getting more and more uncomfortable in his clothes and there was only so much adjusting he could do in public. He hadn't eaten all day, but that was fine; he still wasn't ready for food. However, a cigarette -- having refrained for hours in deference to his passenger, he'd sell his soul for a cigarette, but Lewis was waiting for him, and he was also anxious to know where he'd gone wrong.
Hobson was in their office, one hip canted on the side of Lewis's desk, talking to him. He was standing in front of her, arms crossed, listening. The way he kept shifting his weight from side to side said he'd been doing it for a while. Sit down properly somewhere so he can, too, Hathaway thought, annoyed. Haven't you yet noticed he has manners?
Then again, he could be out of sorts with Hobson for pipping him at the post. When Lewis said, "Ah, there you are, Laura's been waiting to dazzle you," he managed a politely interested expression.
"It wasn't fun digging the ID insert out of that mess. It's the cheap version, thin foil under cyanoacrylate resin. Try scraping that carefully enough to preserve the code," Hobson complained, making Hathaway clench his teeth to keep from reminding her it was no more than her job. "According to the NHS, he's Murdoch Cullen, seventy-eight, once under psychiatric care, where they must've required denture markings. Some institutions do -- a very good thing. No known residence since then, and vagrants are the most difficult to identify when they come a cropper."
More obvious than dazzling, Hathaway thought, uncharitably.
She made a dismissive motion in the air at him, "Robbie says you have another identification, but you're wrong. What you have is someone else who wears dentures. Common enough, especially for a Middle Eastern of some age." Hobson wasn't shy; when she had reason to feel superior, she didn't tone it down. Hathaway suspected his polite expression had started to slip when she said, "No need to be miffed. Too bad you wasted your time on a wild goose chase, but -- "
Lewis interrupted, something Hathaway couldn't remember him doing to her before, "He was following the lead I sent him on and doing his usual thorough job." Get off his back, came through more clearly than Lewis must've wished. Hathaway thought it was unworthy of him to feel so ardently pleased about it, but he couldn't help it any more than he could help a lot of feelings when it came to Robbie Lewis.
With a shrug, Laura gave both of them her usual you-boys look. "Anyway, I couldn't spare time for lunch, I'm going now -- hungry?" she asked Lewis.
"I ate earlier," he responded. "Ta."
She looked at Hathaway. He knew it was mere courtesy and shook his head. "I'm fine, thank you." He waited until she left before asking, "'Earlier' was what, yesterday?"
Lewis grimaced. "Laura doesn't get how much thicker her skin is. " He picked up his jacket from the back of his chair. "Come on."
Hathaway assumed they were going to Innocent's office to report, but Lewis led him down the stairs to the outside, crossed the car park to the perimeter wall and perched on it. "Sit. You're gasping for a smoke."
He lit up, took a long, blessed draw and let it out before he asked, "How did you know?"
"How did you know I hadn't eaten?"
Neither question needed an answer after all. Hathaway put his cigarette back into his mouth. After some more welcome smoke went in and out of his lungs, he asked, "How do we know Cullen's a fanatic?"
"He's been in the nick plenty of times, sobering up, has a long record of public nuisance, praying and raving all over the place, buttonholing people to try and convert them. He lived off Catholic charities, moved from hostel to hostel."
"Before we close the book, would you mind if I checked when he was last seen?"
"Not about to close it before we check. Tell me your version first." Hathaway barely had time to think, Are you humouring me? before Lewis was answering him, "If it was worth your time, I want to hear it."
He knew Lewis had been both surprised and pleased when he'd said: You go, I go. This is one of the many reasons, he thought, you never dismiss my work out of hand. He detailed his morning, was immeasurably pleased when Lewis said, "I'd have concluded the same thing," patted his knee lightly and rose. "Let's check some hostels, see if Cullen has disappeared."
By late afternoon, the names and locations of the hostels and everybody they had talked to were blurring into a haze for Lewis, but he knew all the information, what little there was of it, was safe in James's BlackBerry. Of course, a big portion of his lethargy was due to his blood sugar crashing. At the Cathedral Church of St Justin, he let Hathaway go on ahead, walked to the corner shop and picked up two chocolate bars. He made himself eat one, carried the other with him into the church. A sister told him his sergeant was in the back office checking their charity rolls, and no, she didn't know a Murdoch Cullen. Then again, vagrants mostly went by their street 'handles,' she believed was the term, not their baptismal names. Bureaucracies might require the poor souls to remember, charities didn't.
Lewis decided to wait for his sergeant in the vestibule. Somewhere in the body of the church a choir practice --rehearsal, he amended, remembering Laura correcting him-- was going on, the clear voice of a young boy singing about the saving power of waters flowing from a temple. At the end of a day that had started with fire's destruction, the chant was soothing to hear, temple or no temple.
He saw Hathaway come around the back and started towards him. His sergeant was smiling to himself, but Lewis knew the difference between his 'successful' and 'captivated' smiles; this was the latter. He hadn't found anything worth finding; he was touched by the sweet voice raised in song, the purity of its high trill. The look he cast at the ceiling where the sound seemed to emanate from was wistful. Maybe he missed having his days surrounded by these sounds. "Now that," Lewis said quietly as they met in the middle of the vestibule, "almost makes you believe in angels." He held out the candy bar, Hathaway took it absently, most of him still up by the rafters. "Do you miss all this?"
"Not all. Some. Sometimes."
Double doors opening to one side drew their attention, and when they saw old and infirm people, a few in wheelchairs, the only young person a very pregnant woman, being helped into the vestibule, they both stepped over and held the doors. There was a bottleneck, until the sister Lewis had talked to earlier bustled in and took by the arm an old man coming in backwards. "Is this the man?" he said to her, his speech slurring and hard to understand, "By him who died on the cross."
"That's right, Mariner," she said as if it had been said so many times that it no longer meant anything. "Come now, let's get your prayers said so you won't be late for your tea."
"The man had penance done and penance more will do," he whined, but let her lead him. She didn't try to turn him around to face forward, merely steered him as he kept shuffling back blindly.
That was the only reason Lewis recognised him as a feature on the streets who used to cross his path periodically until he had left Oxford on secondment. The man had always been unkempt, skeletal; he was practically collapsed now, especially his face. It looked like one of the shrunken heads at the museum, but he was still grimly going back to something or getting away from something. "Shrieve me, oh shrieve me, holy man!" he cried out, sputtering and dribbling, before the sister led him around the corner.
"The old codger quoting scripture," he told Hathaway as they headed for the front doors, "seen him around since in the days with Morse. He always walks backwards. Must make sense to him somehow." Or it could be the manifestation of a pickled brain; he'd never seen the man sober.
"He wasn't quoting scripture," Hathaway said. "He was quoting bits and pieces of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."
"Only in Oxford," Lewis mumbled, shaking his head. Maybe Mariner was one of those 'handles' the nun had mentioned. He indicated the chocolate bar in Hathaway's hand, "Get outside of that, will you. No joy in the records, I take it."
"None." He started to unwrap the bar.
"I think that's it," Lewis concluded, "The few charities who bothered to note his name know nothing about him any more. I wish we could find a next of kin, but it's time to pack it -- James?" Noticing he was walking alone, he turned around. Hathaway stood frozen at the door to the church, staring at nothing, the half-unwrapped bar forgotten in his hands. Lewis quickly retraced his steps. "James?" Focused on the unresponsive face, only when he put his hand over Hathaway's did he realise it was shaking. "What's the matter? James!"
Hathaway gasped in a breath as if he'd forgotten to take one for a while, blinked, looked at Lewis and gave a start at seeing him so close. "Sir?"
You're asking me? "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," he said immediately, still looking like a deer in headlights. "I, erm -- nothing." He pulled away, glanced at the chocolate bar, wrapped it back up absentmindedly and slid it into his pocket.
Not a good idea, it might melt through, but Lewis couldn't concern himself with his suit at the moment. "What's wrong? You're starting to worry me."
"Sir, will you give me a minute? I need to go and see -- just a minute?"
"Yes, of course." Hathaway spun around to go back into the church. "Should I come with you?"
Right, then. Nothing to be done when James Hathaway went into his clamshell mode but stand by. He leaned against the door to wait, registering that the lilting treble of the boy had been replaced by a mature, deep, rich voice. It was the same chant, now being sung in Latin, some of the words recognisable even to Lewis: Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. A faceted, resonant voice, in sharp contrast to the thin clarity of the boy's, a voice with a seductive power. It made him think there was thin line between captivating and ensnaring.
He studied Hathaway's face as he was coming back. Anything making the man keep that blank an expression had to be a big deal. "All right?"
The sum total of information he was going to get, obviously. "The bloke who was singing," he said when they were outside the church, with little or no idea why he was saying it. Mere instinct, but Hathaway wasn't giving him anything else to go by. "That's an unsettling voice." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the lad do a double take.
"Is it?" James asked in a tone that was overly casual. "Why?"
"Oh, I don't know. Almost spellbinding. It can lead you anywhere, like the Pied Piper."
Hathaway huffed softly and his lips curled, not a smile, closer to deprecation. Why or towards whom, he kept to himself.
"Been a long day," Lewis changed the subject for him, "I'm done with it. A pint?"
"Oh, yes." Now he looked relieved. When Hathaway went into wilful avoidance, Lewis worried. It never boded well.
He managed to get the lad to dig out and eat the chocolate bar, but once they were at the pub and Lewis waved off food for himself, Hathaway didn't order anything to eat either. Even though it was chilly, they sat outside to nurse their pints to escape the after-work crowd. For the second time that day, Lewis hoped he wasn't turning into Morse, who'd believed beer was a fine replacement for a meal and went down easier. "It won't bother me to watch you eat," he told Hathaway, who was squirming in his seat. He'd been doing that all day, making Lewis wonder. He slouched a lot, bopped to music sometimes, but he wasn't the fidgety sort. If made uncomfortable, his inclination was to pull in and lock down, acid-tipped barbs at the ready. The most fretful thing Lewis had seen him do, rarely at that, was chew his thumbnail. "My problem's not only this morning's sight. Been out of sorts all weekend."
"Didn't you have a date or something this weekend?" James asked indifferently, aimless eyes roaming around.
He knew damn well Lewis had had a date; Lewis had told him. "Therein lies a tale." Hathaway's head snapped around and his eyes focused so fast that Lewis felt as if searchlights had been turned on him. "No blame to her, but Laura's a little too far on the culinary edge for me."
"Mussels and scallops in hazelnut cream, topped with something she called green curry froth. Looked grand."
He shrugged. "Pretty much all right. Texture, not quite the ticket. Not for me, any road."
"I'm sure you didn't tell her that." But a contrary glint in his eyes seemed eager to hear otherwise. Laura must've really got up his nose at the office.
"Not in so many words. But when it wouldn't stay down...." He shrugged again. "Let's just say her plans for the evening had been a far cry from that."
Nosy sod. "Probably. Then again -- ah, James, how do I know? Sometimes I think it's little more than the path of least resistance. And really, that's a crummy reason to foist on anyone, let alone a good friend. For all I know, getting sick at just the wrong time may have been best for us both." Laura had been solicitous, but the only way that situation didn't become humiliating was to see the humour in it. As the hostess with the culprit dish, Laura...hadn't.
Hathaway, on the other hand, was clearly having the devil of a time trying not to see the humour in it. "Talking of mishaps," he said, not quite managing to keep a cheeky smile from his lips, "I'll raise you."
Oh? "So what happened to you this weekend?"
"Not this weekend, this morning. I wasn't in the shower when you rang, I was taking a dip in the river."
"In this weather?"
"Believe me, I hadn't planned on it. Did you know there's a film crew in town?"
Lewis stared at him. "Doesn't everyone? Community Liaison's swamped with their permit requests. The nick's been buzzing for weeks, troops climbing over each other for assignments to location detail."
"I don't do detail, I'm yours," Hathaway loftily explained away his disinterest in the bustle and blather of the nick. He sounded so self-satisfied about it that Lewis had to smile, then had to keep his smile from bubbling into laughter as James told him of his abrupt and unfortunate encounter with the film crew on the river, concluding with, "I'm dripping wet, having just dragged myself and my shell out of the water, try that fully-clothed sometime, I'm trying to dig out my phone -- by then I'd missed your call, and nobody's handing me so much as a tea towel so maybe I can keep the phone dry and check my message. Everyone's too busy scolding me, and this waddling little man keeps jabbing at my chest, screeching about losing his light, how his colours are gone, gone, gone."
"And you've no idea what he's talking about," Lewis said, mostly to let out some of the ebullience rising up in his chest, fighting his efforts at staying sympathetic.
"Something of an idea, no inclination to care," Hathaway said gruffly, and continued his tale of misery. "I had my suit with me, to change into at the station. I keep a small towel in the boot in case of splashes, not exactly sufficient for a dunking, but serviceable, so I was able to get dressed in my car."
The thought of the width of his car and the length of him --daddy-longlegs in a pillbox-- almost undid Lewis. He started to take a sip of his beer to distract himself, thought better of it, afraid Hathaway would say something to make him spew it.
Sure enough, Hathaway did. "I hadn't expected to need a change of underpants, though," he added woefully.
Oh. Oh, dear. "You mean, running around all day long..." he barely managed to hold back flapping about, "...commando?" A snort escaped.
"Not funny, sir," James said, all gloom and squirming again. "Seams chafe."
That was it, he couldn't stop for love nor money, had to laugh. He put his beer down, leaned back and let it come rolling out. It wouldn't be as hilarious if Hathaway weren't so properly buttoned down most of the time, but he was, and it was.
"May I remind you," Hathaway said with disapproving severity, except the corners of his lips wouldn't stay turned down, "you're no longer fifteen years old."
"I so enjoy it when you make me feel like I am," he managed to blurt out between snorts and chortles and outright gales.
Hathaway stopped trying to make his lips behave and broke into a bright grin. "Not much of a challenge, I must say." He looked rather delighted at making Lewis laugh uncontrollably, throwing in a few chortles of his own.
It took Lewis a while to wind down, catch his breath and wipe his tearing eyes. "I'm hungry," he announced, the bout of laughter having made him feel loads better. Still in the same silly mood, he couldn't keep from adding, "Bet you never imagined that bit of you would get me hungry." Hathaway choked. Literally choked and started coughing. Lewis wondered if it'd help to get up and pound his back a little. "Need a hand?" he asked.
"Oh, God," Hathaway moaned in between hacking, waved off aid -- rather desperately, Lewis thought, and let him be. He finally collected himself, tears in his eyes now, his colour high from coughing, or perhaps a blush. "I must protest the...bit...bit, sir."
"You're right, I know better." Now the lad's mouth dropped open. "Give over, we're both in and out of showers at the gym." Oh, dear. That was a blush. He should stop embarrassing the poor soul. Hathaway was such a modern young man in so many ways that he kept forgetting the prim seminarian still lurking in him. "Let's go and order in while we park ourselves in front of, well, your telly. So you can slip into something more comfortable." Sod it, there he was again. If anybody overheard them, they'd think he was flirting with a lad almost half his age. He'd let hilarity carry him too far. "I'm paying," he said by way of a small penance.
Drusilla Llewellyn-Pierce had crumpled and straightened the overdraft notice so many times that it was hard to read any more, but she still could make out the words and they still enraged her. Last overdraft the bank was willing to fund. It had made her ring the bank and find out what that bloody production company was actually paying for Richard's services. I can put him out to stud, let him do what he's already doing, she thought, and get the same return. Practically nothing. So that was why he'd taken to advocating the culling of her aging horses, keeping only the show-worthy ones. If I'm to cull anything I've had between my legs, Richie, guess where I'd rather start.
She heard the garage door open and close, and the first thing Richard did when he walked in was to head for the cabinet and pour himself a single malt. He turned while tilting the drink towards her in lieu of asking if she'd like one as well, noticed her attire and asked, "You've been out riding this late?"
Hitting her crop repeatedly against the leather of her riding boots as she'd been pacing for hours had been her only outlet. If he had any sense, he wouldn't remind her there was a better target in the room now. "Ah, you are aware how late it is."
"Filming got delayed. The other set had an interruption early on, our producer had to go and sort out the rest of their day's schedule. We fell behind."
Which does not explain your recently-showered look. "Why is it always your set that's delayed?"
The vein in his temple was pulsing; she was annoying him. "They have to work with fleeting light; we shoot indoors."
"And we are not getting paid nearly enough," she snapped at him, balling up the notice and tossing it at his head. "I found out just how little. You have two choices, Richie, give up this nonsense or insist on proper compensation. While you're at it, quit your slag, too, 'cause I've just about had it."
"Whatever you're accusing me of -- " he started, and did the worst thing possible, he came towards her. She lifted the crop and slashed down with it -- across his lying face, she'd intended, but he lifted his hand, splashing his drink, and took the blow on his knuckles. With the severity of the strike he broke the glass in his hold, showering himself with the whisky and glass shards, started bleeding. "Goddammit!" He dropped the remains of the glass and cradled his hand, wisely backing away from her. "Fucking bitch!"
"Honesty. At last."
"Want honesty?" he screamed at her. "You've just about had it? I have had it. I have someone who loves me, wants me -- wants me, not my bank account. She's sexy, she's intelligent, and I'd have to be crazy to play this charade. Guess what, Drusilla, I'm not. We're finished."
You're finished, my dear, she thought, oddly calm now. How did one get blood stains off a valuable Persian carpet?
Lewis said he wanted to go easy on his stomach and opted for soup from the Chinese restaurant. Hathaway knew thin soup wouldn't suffice once some of it went down and reminded Lewis he had a stomach, bypassed his usual highly-spiced choices and settled on an extra large order of plain chicken and veg on noodles. Within minutes of the food arriving, Lewis was eyeing it covetously, and Hathaway could point smugly at the plate and the fork he'd already put on the coffee table for him. When it came to the care and feeding of Robbie Lewis, he was miles ahead of Hobson; he paid attention.
"University Challenge?" he suggested, flipping on the TV.
Lewis looked taken aback. "Terminally pointless, isn't it?"
"Like slugs and black pudding. According to you."
"Oh," Hathaway remembered. "I was talking about pub quizzes."
"And the difference -- ?" he cut off as the box got his attention by announcing the competing teams: King's College, Cambridge, against Queen's College, Oxford. "I see," he said. "I'm not daft enough to watch that with you, you're bound to get worked up. Top Gear?"
"Oh, please, sir."
"What young bloke isn't interested in cars?"
"Cars are fine. Reckless drivers -- have you seen the one with the turbo-charged caravan? I want to drag the lot to the Magistrate's."
"You really need to loosen up, James."
The issue was decided in favour of a Jeeves and Wooster repeat, Bertie's frantic, witless attempts to keep Sir Watkyn's scandalous memoirs from publication an amusing distraction for both until the food was polished off and the coffee table was cleared. Once Lewis slumped back and started dozing in front of Late Kick Off, however, there was nothing left to distract Hathaway from the thoughts he'd been pushing away all evening.
Back then it had started with a voice raised in chant, too. Fourteen years ago now. He hadn't reached the seminary yet, but he was heading for it determinedly. He'd been at St Laurence's one Sunday for a rare Tridentine Mass, caught up in the reverence of the traditional Latin rite. He could still remember his head had been bowed when the magnificent voice had washed over him, still hear the words that made him think he was listening to the purest form of devotion: Exsultate iusti in Domino. Rectos decet collaudatio. He'd thought that must be the voice Longfellow had called "the organ of the soul," glorious and transcendent.
He hadn't seen Edmund yet, hadn't known the seminarian would look to him as celestial as his voice. By the time Hathaway was in the seminary, the young man was in the novitiate, still living in the dormitory while serving under Father Osborn who'd been a leading light of the Cambridge Oratory at the time. Neither had Hathaway known his association with the ardently spiritual Edmund Cleaves would quickly, pitilessly, make him yearn to reach for grace and fall from it at the same time, find out that there was a vanishing line between agony and ecstasy. But he'd been very young then.
What was his excuse now? He looked at Lewis, sprawled carelessly at the other end of the sofa. Nothing celestial about him, all the more disturbingly real for it. Hathaway wondered why he seemed to want only the impossible, the untouchable. Too fearless or too fearful? Probably the latter, since both times he'd boxed himself in where doing anything but wanting was completely out of the question and, whether it suited him or not, he was forced to stay more or less chaste.
He didn't know if the voice he'd heard earlier belonged to Edmund. He'd realised the rehearsal was taking place on the balcony by the pipe organ, and halfway up the stairs he'd decided not to find out. That period was no more than a bridge to him now, taking him from the fourteen-year-old who had laughed in his best friend's face, because braying like an ass was what boys did when something made them uncomfortable, into making him realise why he'd been so uncomfortable, to now, into more certain, mature feelings he'd rather die than corrupt. "Sir," he said quietly, and when he didn't get a response, touched Lewis's arm lightly. "Sir?"
"Hmm?" Not a single twitch.
"Time for bed, don't you think?"
"Wasn't asleep," Lewis claimed, his mouth the only part of him moving. Barely. "Oh, bugger. At yours, aren't we?"
A fact that would've been abundantly clear if he could be bothered to open his eyes. "On the contrary, you're home, you weren't asleep, and I'm a figment of your imagination."
"Smart arse," Lewis mumbled, pulling himself up to hunch over his knees and rub his face. He looked knackered.
"Why don't you stop the night?" Hathaway offered. "You can go home to change in the morning."
"You won't mind?" And that proved how drained he felt.
"Of course not. I've slept on your sofa often enough. You'll sleep in the bed, though."
Lewis waved off the offer. "No, none o' that."
"On your bike then, sir, 'cause you're sleeping in one bed or the other tonight."
Lewis gave him a sidelong look. "A bit stroppy, aren't we?"
"My best offer."
"Oh, fine, I'll take it and thank you for it. Don't blame me if you muck up your back."
No, I blame me for mucking up your back. He'd been drugged silly at the time, his memories were spotty, but there'd been no shortage of people to confirm who'd run into the burning building to carry him down the stairs and out to the safety of the street. In all likelihood, that feat had set Lewis up for the injury at the squash court later, not that he'd ever said anything about it. If he associated the two incidents in the first place. "Give me a minute in the bathroom, then it's all yours."
He finished quickly, put out clean towels, unearthed the spare toothbrush Fiona had told him a bachelor should always have available, untouched since he'd bought it, placed it on the side of the basin in its package. When he came out, Lewis was sitting at the foot of the bed, shoes and socks off, stripping out of his shirt. "Good night, sir," Hathaway said, carefully watching his own feet as he left the room.
Hathaway stared at Innocent. "Apologise?"
"Right away. Wholeheartedly, as if you mean it."
He barely kept himself from rolling his eyes at her straight-faced contradiction. "I was the injured party."
"If the film company seeks damages for work interruption as their producer is threatening to do, I might be the injured party. I'm already running this place on a pauper's budget. Go, look contrite, apologise, beg on your knees if you have to, get this monkey off my back." She whirled to head into her office, adding, "And as long as they're shooting on it, stay away from the flipping river."
He almost snapped that he had no idea where to find the miserable film company except on the banks of the flipping river. After he finished fuming and could think past feeling put upon, he went to the Community Liaison Office and perused the copies of the day's permits, chose the address they had supplied for their production offices. "When Lewis comes in, tell him Innocent sent me on an errand," he said to the duty sergeant as he was heading out. "Back soon as I can."
The production company had set up in a repurposed warehouse, the huge lot around it choked with vehicles parked haphazardly, from vans to cars to lorries to golf carts, and some strange contraptions with treads that must require tracks to run on. His warrant card wasn't enough to get past security, calls were made to the station to confirm his identity, only then was he given a visitor's badge and allowed to go through the metal door cut into the corrugated side of the massive building. Utter chaos reigned inside, all manner of equipment piled here, there and everywhere, a great number of people rushing pillar to post, a din of voices over it all.
"May I help you?" issued from somewhere around his breastbone.
He looked down. A ginger pixie with short spiked hair and cut-off denims had sprung into his path. "I need to see the producer." Too pretty for a boy, a young woman, he decided, although woman was stretching it. She was carrying an iPad, had a couple of BlackBerries, a light meter, and spring-type metal clamps attached to a wide belt she wore like a bandolier, a bluetooth over one ear, clunky earphones with a mike wrapped around her neck, its cord dangling free.
"Which one, Powell or McKenna?" she asked.
"Haven't the faintest. Either one in?"
"This way." She preceded Hathaway to a metal staircase leading to high catwalks circling the vast space. Once she was on the higher rungs, he noticed she had smashing legs. She was, however, too young to ogle. "Who shall I say?"
From up high, he could see the equipment on the ground floor was crammed in between various sets, makeshift rooms with partial or missing walls, looking like a demented doll's house. Groups of people doing something or another in them, some in costumes, from footballers, to priests, to -- shepherds? "Sergeant Hathaway," he introduced himself. For heaven's sake, sheep, in an enclosure with sides painted like a hilltop. "Oxfordshire Police."
"Oh, no, it's the trees, isn't it? I told them they had no business stripping leaves off trees that belong to Nature Conservancy." She glanced over her shoulder to check for a reaction. Hathaway kept a blank face; he'd conducted too many interrogations to hold back the rope from people intent on hanging themselves, even if they were cute little ravers. "They didn't know one side of Cowley Road is part of Boundary Brook Reserve. I study at Oriel --this is just the spare-time internship my tutor set up for me; he's a consultant here. So I knew, I told them and they stopped, but a bit late, eh? Who complained?"
You did. "I'll discuss it with your producer."
"Right, you can't tell me. Sorry."
They passed by a glassed-in area where half a dozen people were busy with their laptops, and film clips of stationary objects -- things that seemed to belong in a museum-- were running on a large screen. Metal doors at the far end opened up into a reception, with a door on each side, one open to an empty office. The other door was closed but the transom over it let out the argument going on inside.
"I bend over backwards to make this work for you," a woman was saying. "To make everything work for you. For years! I can't get a single line of interesting narration past the bishop's mouthpiece, nothing's reverential enough if it's not dry as dust, I spent a fortune I don't have to get replicas made of his antiques, Brad's conscripted my best cameraman, he's forever cutting into my budget, my hours, and now you have to pressurise me? You agreed to the work conditions, and suddenly you're holding our relationship to ransom?"
"I don't want to upset you, I love you, I love working with you," a man argued.
Great, a domestic tiff seemed to be going on. The young woman with Hathaway stated fidgeting. "Erm, maybe we should wait outside," she told him.
On the other side of the door, the man's voice rose unpleasantly, "But I'm an expert, not a charity, I deserve more than the pittance you toss my way. If you can't see I'm worth it --"
"I know you're worth it, I simply don't have the funds," the woman interrupted. "And don't yell at me as if I were a shrew, I'm not your wife. Why are we suddenly back to what she needs, what she wants? You said you were finished with her."
Domestic-plus-one, then. Hathaway decided he'd wasted enough of his day, ignored the young thing now tugging urgently on his sleeve and cleared his throat loudly, pointedly. Voices on the other side of the door dropped to furious whispers.
The red-head sighed, looking like a spooked doe. "I'm in so much trouble."
"Blame it on me, you're just being a good citizen," Hathaway told her quietly. "What's your name, by the way?"
The way she wrinkled her nose at her own name made Hathaway ask, "Virginia?"
"Just as bad. Ginevra -- " she huffed contemptuously " --fair and smooth."
"In English. It's also a Teutonic name," he said, feeling indulgent. "It means woman-of-the-people. Not a bad thing to be." She was young enough to forget her troubles and twinkle up at him coquettishly. Oh, dear.
The door finally opened and they could walk in. The woman was a stranger to Hathaway, but he recognised the man from the telly, expounding on one exhibit or the other for the Ashmolean. He had a bandage across his right hand he was trying to keep from slipping off.
"Ms McKenna, Professor, I'm sorry, I'm really sorry," Ginny rushed to say, and promptly passed on the blame, "but Sergeant Hathaway insisted. He's with the police."
As he wasn't the film producer he was looking for Hathaway was going to ignore the man, but the sudden alarm on his face claimed his attention. "Professor... Pierce, isn't it?"
"Llewellyn-Pierce," he corrected, looking relieved that the policeman couldn't readily access his full name. It immediately made Hathaway think: What have you done to assume I'd come for you?
"That'll be all, Ginny," the woman took charge, waited until she left, then said, "I'm Eleanor McKenna, how may I help you?"
"I'm looking for the producer of your company."
"I'm one of them, the other's Bradley Powell. He's out on location. Will I do?"
"I don't know. I had a run in with your film crew on the river yesterday. My Chief Super wanted me to come and talk to the producer. She did not specify which."
"So you were the disruption," she concluded, going to sit at her desk and motioning him to a seat, which he ignored. He wasn't staying that long. "You must've met Brad yesterday. I'm betting he was the one having a screaming fit."
The droopy-arsed sod with the jabbing finger. "I thought he was the director."
"One and the same. What did you want to talk to him about?"
"There seems to be a question of damages resulting from the incident."
"And you're hoping to do what, talk him out of it? Brad Powell, greed incarnate? Glimmer of a chance and he'd be the mouse that ate Oxford. Mind you, I'd hand him a spoon if I thought my production would see a penny from it." The last was said to Llewellyn-Pierce, meaningfully.
"My Chief's idea may have been an apology, I have a better one," Hathaway told her. "If he'll forget the damages, I may forget the trees." Not if the Reserve took note and registered a complaint, but it was worth a gamble.
She made a face. "Ah, you found out about that. He was so hoping that'd be attributed to early frost."
"It still might -- but tell me," curiosity got the better of him, "why strip trees?"
"So we can dress them up digitally in green shoots and blossoms for the later scenes. It's not financially feasible to bring the crew back in Spring. But now we'll just film the ending in London and call it Oxford."
Dear God, he couldn't wait to be rid of this counterfeit playground. "Autumn, Spring, Oxford, London -- by any other name?"
She laughed at that. "Welcome to my world."
"No, thank you. But while I'm passing through, may I see your livestock permit?" Her face fell. "Also, I may have noted some safety issues in and around the warehouse. An HSE inspector been in yet?"
"And I was just beginning to like you," she grumbled. "Very well, Sergeant, I'll impress upon Brad that there's no profit in biting someone who can bite back harder. Anything else?"
"That'll do." He didn't reach to shake hands. She wouldn't care to, and he didn't care to shake the professor's; that man was culpable of something. "Good day," he said to both for civility's sake and left.
"You'll be fine," he told Ginny who was loitering outside the door, "they have bigger issues." She started to accompany him. "That's all right, I can find my way," he waved her off, eager to leave the annoying, fake enclave behind and get back to real life.
He was down the stairs and heading for the exit when he heard, "James? James Hathaway?"
He turned and immediately wished he'd kept going as he watched his past separate from the bedlam of make-believe and come towards him -- that priest's outfit hadn't been handed out by the costume department. He felt his heart beat in his throat.
After going home to change in the morning and before heading for the station Lewis had stopped by the corner of Longwall Street to take a look at the now-cleared scene. He'd wanted to see what was visible from where, hoping to have a better idea which witness statements waiting in his office were more likely to be accurate. When he got to the station, the duty sergeant handed him the report Hobson had dropped off and told him that Hathaway would be out for a while.
He took a look at the report as he mounted the steps. How had a body burned long enough on a city corner to leave practically no soft tissue and turn the organs into sludge? The gate recess where it had been found was deep, true, and behind it was a cluttered yard, leading to a row of old, unused garages, and there was nothing across from the site except the long, high wall of the street's name, but still.
He ran into Innocent in the corridor. After exchanging greetings, he asked with little hope, "Any chance of a forensic osteologist for my body?"
"I thought you already identified him."
"Circumstantially, aye." James had been so sure of his identification, though. A bone expert would confirm whether or not they had the body expected of an old, worn-down vagrant. Laura was a great pathologist, but she wasn't a bone specialist. "I'd like to make sure."
"Shall I list all the things I'd like but can't afford?"
"Not a chance then?"
"Unless you suspect him of being the police commissioner or the heir to the throne, none."
He noted the order of the priorities, found a smile. He hadn't expected a different outcome. "Cheers all the same."
Once he looked through the reports on his desk, he'd solved the mystery of the time the body was allowed to burn. The first caller had mistakenly attributed the smoke to leaves and debris being burned in the deserted yard and reported it to the council as an environmental issue. Expectedly, the lone overnight clerk hadn't rushed over just to impose a fine. Only later had a bin man on early rounds seen it directly to realise a body was involved. All that was left to do was to wrangle the findings, the witness statements and the forensics into a report for the inquest. He had written enough reports in his time, didn't care to write any more, but his sergeant was still out. Nothing for it but to buckle down.
He didn't get far before Hathaway hurried in, took one look at what he was doing and started pulling together the papers on his desk. "I'm sorry, sir, I'll take over now." He nodded at Lewis's screen. "Just send that to mine."
"Why don't you sit here and finish up? I'll go and get some coffee."
"I can get your coffee."
Hathaway was a studious soul who did more than his share of work, put in unreasonable hours without being asked; even so, this eagerness to get stuck in and fetch was a bit much. Something must be pricking his conscience. "Sit," Lewis said firmly, leaving his seat to him. "So, what were you about?"
"Innocent sent me to the film company, to apologise for ruining their schedule yesterday."
"Exactly what I said. Apparently she had word they might seek damages from the department."
"You weren't even on duty at the time." But he knew they'd have reckoned the department would have deeper pockets than a sergeant and tried it on.
"Doesn't matter. I fixed it," Hathaway told the screen as his fingers flew on the keyboard.
He felt offended on James's behalf. "Did you apologise?"
"Nope." A world of satisfaction in one word.
"You fixed it anyway."
That was all right then. "Good man. I'll go and get my coffee. Want a cup?"
"No, thanks, I just had some. I, erm -- " his hands stilled, his eyes stayed on the screen. "I ran into someone. A friend. From a while back. Quite a while. Stopped a bit to have a coffee with him. Catch up."
Lewis marvelled at how clear a Deep Waters Ahead warning it was when Hathaway-the-wordsmith chopped his sentences into fragments, each pause flashing: Don't ask. "I'll make up for it, sir, I won't take lunch break," he was reassured conscientiously --as if Lewis gave a toss about that-- and Hathaway went back to entering data.
"A sandwich from the canteen will do me, too," he said. The lad could have his penance if it was going to make him feel better, miss out on the two or three cigarettes he'd have squeezed into his break; he didn't need to fast on top of it. "We can make it up at some place decent after work."
"Erm, I'd like to, but I have rehearsal this evening."
"Ah. Your mates back from hols?"
Lewis shuffled the papers on his desk until he realised that, this time, Hathaway wasn't going to ask if he'd like to come along to hear his group rehearse. He went only sometimes, but he must've become used to being asked. A bit of a sting there. Act your age, he told himself and left to get his coffee.
The clarinet kept sounding too breathy -- change the bloody reed more often, Hathaway thought, irritated with the whole rehearsal, always an uneven thing after a long break. Bill, wielding the group's only wind instrument, was such a quiet, diffident soul that nobody willingly admonished him. Hathaway cringed when the clarinet again sounded an airy off note and seemed to want to take it into a motif, as if they were improvising instead of rehearsing a set piece. He'd been steadily cursing the impulse that had made him invite Edmund when the man had asked, over coffee, what he was doing with his music lately. Cursing the impulse on one hand and regretting Lewis on the other. He truly hadn't realised he'd established a pattern of inviting him until he'd failed to do so and heard an expectant silence follow. He'd almost opened his mouth, but introducing Lewis and Cleaves? Chalk and cheese wasn't in it. More like a lit match and a stick of dynamite.
Anselm, their pro forma leader, tapped his bow on the neck of his cello. "We're all over the place, let's see if a break will help. Take ten."
Hathaway placed his guitar securely on the closed top of the piano, jumped off the stage and went to where Cleaves was sitting. "Mind if we step outside?" he asked, patting his pockets.
Father Cleaves rose. He'd changed from the outfit he'd had on earlier, opted for a casual jacket over a rabat and his roman collar. "You're still smoking," he commented disapprovingly.
"I'm trying to give it up."
"Apparently, it's proving harder than giving up your calling."
Bugger. "I have no doubt smoking is bad for me," he said, following Cleaves to the exit out of the auditorium.
"Are you making the argument that doubt is more destructive than certainty, good or bad?"
He reached past Cleaves to push the bar on the door and held it open for him. "For me, yes." For most people, too, he thought, but didn't expect Cleaves to understand; he suspected Edmund had never met a doubt in his life.
"Faith paves your way over it."
No, not a single doubt. "That is the crux, isn't it? Unquestioning faith."
"Mysteries are there to marvel at, James, not to reduce to their components and examine."
"Clearly, my inclination is for the latter."
"I'm talking of divine mysteries, not earthly crimes and misdemeanours. You should've come to me back then, I could've helped."
You're the last person who could've helped then, he refrained from saying, covered up his silence by lighting a cigarette. Seeing Edmund after so long had shaken him to the core. The immediate reaction hadn't lasted long, he was grateful for that. But he felt as if his restless youth had awakened in him with all the immediacy of his passions and confusions, only to look around and find that his home had since outgrown him. He no longer belonged there, but he kept walking around, kicking the walls, raising a memory here, a reckless thought there, playing havoc with his equilibrium. He inhaled the cigarette deeply and steered the subject to safer waters. "How goes the documentary?"
"Not smoothly. The producer wants a docudrama, my Bishop wants a document. Difficult to balance."
They backed up against the wall to let a crowd of tourists pass by, and not a single female went past without noticing Father Cleaves --until they noted the collar, became abashed, but still kept stealing glances. Edmund's looks had changed from youthful, ethereal purity to a serene maturity. His blue-black hair, almost a shocking contrast to his light hazel eyes under arched brows, no longer fell to his shoulders in lush waves like a young boy's, the dimpling of his cheeks had become creases, his face had lost its soft, smooth look, now pared down to reveal his bone structure, which only made him harder to look away from. Hathaway found it a great relief he could look at him now as appreciatively as he would at any exquisite piece of art, but without coveting. And when he remembered the coveting, he mostly remembered hurting over it. "I'm actually sorry for inviting you," he said after they could peel themselves off the wall. "We're so rusty, your ears must be bleeding." Lewis would have tolerated it, he was easy-going; Cleaves had the most sensitive hearing, was anything but easy-going.
"It's only a rehearsal. I can't stay any longer, though. I have to attend a bereavement. It came up unexpectedly, the way bereavements do." He held out his hand. "Look me up sometime, I'll be at -- "
Hathaway took the offered hand. "St Justin's, I know."
Cleaves frowned. "St Mary's. They're filming the bulk of the documentary in the Old Library. What made you say St Justin's?"
"I was there on an enquiry yesterday, heard you rehearsing." Sod it. What could he say if Edmund asked why he'd left without notice? He kept talking in the hopes of avoiding the question. "I've never attended services at St Justin's, but maybe I should. It seems to have extensive outreach programmes."
"The Sisters of St Mark run a hostel and a clinic in the Auxiliary. As for services, I don't conduct them, my Lord Bishop does only on special days. Our regular priest, well, just between us, he's a bit scattered and he mumbles. You wouldn't like it." Cleaves's hand was tightening around his instead of letting go. "But the enquiry -- what was it?"
"Nothing to do with the church," he assured.
"Even so, I live there, I'd like to know."
"We were trying to identify a vagrant who depended on Catholic charities."
"Only in the sense of proving a negative." He was getting uncomfortable, standing under the bright lights of the theatre front and, to all intents and purposes, holding hands with a priest.
"What do you mean?"
"I shouldn't delay you," Hathaway said, tugging back on Cleaves's hold. Once upon a time, he'd have bargained away his soul for it. Now it made him uneasy. He was finally released.
"Good night, James," Cleaves said distractedly and turned to cross the street to his car. He still had the easy, graceful lope that used to make Hathaway wonder how another young man had reached the same height while managing such smooth coordination. He had had to learn to hold still not to betray his awkwardness.
Cleaves got into his car and got out of it almost with the same move, his mobile to his ear. He talked into it briefly, put it away, closed the car door he'd been holding open, and crossed the street back to Hathaway. "Don't need to go after all," he said, smiling brightly. "Turns out, the family's more comfortable with their previous parish priest, and he's already there. I'm all yours."
Unsettling choice of words. And Hathaway had been thinking that the rehearsal might end early and he could go by Lewis's flat to see if he'd already eaten. "Are you sure? We're really discordant tonight."
"It's the clarinet."
"I know. Bill's usually good. He's off tonight for some reason."
"He's still good, except he's trying to go contrapuntal and nobody's willing to go along."
He hadn't thought of it that way. "You think so?"
"That's how it sounded to me. Maybe he's been listening to old ragtime-- or reggae? Something older, more raw than the jazz you're borrowing from, at any rate."
All the contradictory notes that had irritated Hathaway suddenly fell into the off-set pattern of early jazz long before it had found manners, when the dominating, instinctual character of African music had first met ragtime, and the unorthodoxy of the West Indies sound had also crept in. Rare to hear that raucous, cheerfully atonal rebellion in it now, except on the street corners of places like -- "New Orleans. That's where he went on holiday, just came back. You should be a detective, Edmund."
"You should be a priest," Cleaves countered.
Best swerve right past that one. "We're not a brass band, we can't duplicate that sound."
"You can duplicate the form -- the spirit, so to speak." It was only a friendly dig. Edmund seemed to have learned to lighten up. "Use the base as the tuba for the rhythm, you and the piano as the trumpet for the melody, and let Bill be the wild counterpoint he wants to be. It'll wreak havoc with the harmony, but it'll add a whole new texture. Your music is more syncopated than homophonic anyway."
Hathaway couldn't wait to try it. He tossed away his cigarette and practically dragged Cleaves back with him into the auditorium. "How about a change of pace?" he asked, waving everybody back onto the stage and Edmund to the fore, "Tell them."
"The last piece," Cleaves chose without preamble, taking charge as easily as breathing. That hadn't changed. "If this suits all of you, you'll switch to a more fitting piece later, but let's start with the familiar." He motioned at Anselm. "Keep the beat. Simply. You," he told Hathaway already sitting hunched over his guitar, "and the piano, cantus firmus."
"Fixed melody," Hathaway translated for their young pianist who wouldn't know Latin if it bit him.
"And you," Cleaves said to Bill, who had caught on by then and looked delighted, "do what you want to do, but drop the dissonance for the resolution and join the harmony. All right," he chopped at the air to indicate the beat, "One and two and...."
On the same wavelength right then, it felt fitting to have Edmund back in his life. As a friend without complications.
"Any reason this can't wait until tomorrow when I'm in my office?" Bishop Osborn asked through the phone, his voice dripping icicles.
So I can do this without the interference of your prissy priest, Llewellyn-Pierce thought -- what a waste, too, that man choosing priesthood when he could've pulled birds by the bushel. "A very good, reason, Your Excellency," as an Oxford professor, he was used to spreading honorifics about, even when he'd rather choke, "which I'm sure you will soon appreciate."
"I've studied a lot of collections before yours, as you know."
"Yes, yes. Expert. Granted. Your point?"
Fine, then. "I've never seen a collection without at least a couple of questionable items in it, even an outright forgery or two. Or at the very least, items that defy all search for provenance."
A brief silence, then, "I repeat, your point?"
"It leads me to believe that you're not revealing your complete collection, only the items in which you place a high level of confidence. Commendable, of course. A man such as yourself wouldn't care to jeopardize his standing by making rash claims. But if any items are very dear to you," rather, the return you'll get for bestowing them on influential church officials, "I'd be willing to authenticate them for you privately."
"And once they're authenticated by an expert...." he let the sentence fade.
"There are other experts."
That could mean Don't bother me again. Or it could stand for Will it be safe? Llewellyn-Pierce chose to take it as the latter. The former wouldn't get him paid. "All the more reason your treasures should be authenticated by one who knows how to anticipate the issues others can raise." How much clearer can I make this, Your Haughtiness?
"Your time, I take it, is valuable?"
"Without undue modesty, yes." The wealth that had been lavished on the collection Llewellyn-Pierce had only seen a portion of must be great indeed.
"How do you suggest we proceed?"
"First, I must see the items. I can visit your collection in situ -- " he heard a grunt and had the impression of a bristling dragon huddled over his gold "-- or perhaps we should meet somewhere convenient to you, where I can privately conduct a preliminary evaluation." This is all your fault, Dru -- you and your avarice.
The rehearsal had lasted longer than any of them had planned on, toward the end they had all started improvising, each instrument teasing the others to up the stakes.
"You look pleased," Cleaves said as they came out into the street.
"I always enjoy playing, but it's been a while since I got excited about it."
"Looks good on you. Fancy a drink?"
Thank God for the question, for Hathaway didn't know how he could've responded to the comment. "There's a decent wine bar around the corner." Cleaves had never been much for pubs or ales.
Edmund tapped his collar. "Bit of a wet blanket for the punters. Let's spare them and go somewhere peaceful. How about by the river? Remember the outings on the banks of the Cam?"
Under the guise of revision sessions, they would start sober and serious, the affinity of seminary students for spirits would eventually turn them rowdy. If Cleaves happened to be there, he'd round everybody up and point them to their rooms. "I remember you were a right Tartar."
"Kept all of you from getting sent down," Cleaves said lightly. "Come on, let's grab a couple of sandwiches and a bottle of wine -- if you don't mind sharing the bottle."
"Fine with me."
Cleaves patted him on the shoulder. "Lead the way, James."
Hathaway chose a dead-end tributary that veered from the river and formed a tiny cove surrounded by a grassy knoll backed by trees. Having learned from recent experience, he had two large towels in the boot of his car, and a bin liner for storing wet clothes, should the need arise again. The towels were useful to sit on --in Cleaves's case, to recline on-- and the liner served as picnic cloth. Boat engines could be heard on the river, doing a thriving business with dinner cruises for the tourists, their lights and the occasional lanterns of the punts twinkling in and out of the trees ahead.
"Sort of a cloister, this," Cleaves said softly, eyes on the swathe of moonlight shimmering on the water. "God's own cloister, owing nothing to man."
What would it mean if man didn't look upon it? "And if we weren't sitting here?"
Cleaves laughed softly, folding out a corkscrew from his key case, uncorking the wine and passing the bottle to Hathaway. "I'll say His creation doesn't need our interpretation, you'll ask why the church is laden with interpretations in that case -- we've had these debates before, James, and here we are. Let me cut to the chase: are you happy, content?"
"I don't think I'm made for happiness," he said sincerely, took a long swallow from the bottle and passed it back. "I'm periodically...fulfilled." If God was in everything, then He was in all that was magnificent and benevolent along with all that was horrifying and destructive. Periodic fulfilment seemed the best that could be hoped for. It seemed like God's basic, no-frills plan, in fact.
Edmund handed him a sandwich. "Cheers," Hathaway said, and changed the sticky subject. "You're filming at St Mary's? I thought it was still under renovation."
"It is, they're working around us. I assume they couldn't pass up the money, given the sad state of the economy. You should visit the set sometime. I understand the Old Library was the first university building in Oxford."
"The nascence of all that followed, yes. It's been closed for a good while. If I can find the time, I'll take you up on that. I'd like to see it again."
"Time is an issue for me as well, dealing with the ins and outs of Osborn's documentary -- you do remember him?" As if Cleaves hadn't been the one to drag Hathaway to the man's lectures at the Oratory with all the irresistibility of Attila the Hun. "Of course, you do," Edmund concluded without waiting for an answer, confident as ever of Osborn's ascendancy in the natural order of life. "But I make time for the choir, I need its cleansing." Cleaves offered the bottle again. "Or the celluloid world will drive me to break a commandment."
That'd be the day. "I don't think they use celluloid any more."
"Osborn's my superior, I use the terminology he prefers. Modernity distresses him."
Mine lets me use it to poke fun at him. But then, he's down-to-earth. The thought made him smile, just for himself, not meant to be shared.
"Do you have someone in your life?"
"Yes." He was appalled at the word out there, bald-faced in the open air. What perversity had prompted that question at just the unguarded moment? He hurried to qualify, "Not like that. I mean someone who makes me feel what I'm doing with my life is worthwhile." Makes me feel I'm worthwhile.
He expected a debate, perhaps a barbed question about what had lacked worth in serving God, but Cleaves reached to take the bottle from him, pointing at the guitar he'd insisted Hathaway bring with him. "It's a lovely night, James, play something for me."
If Edmund could refrain from being dogmatic, Hathaway decided it behoved him to be companionable. He pulled his legs into position and the guitar onto his lap, ran lightly through the opening chords of the Magnificat. Edmund gave him a beatific smile, and once the melody was established, started to sing softly: Magnificat anima mea Dominum. Et exsultavit spiritus meus....
Father Cleaves had been driving on this road for months now, if road it could be called. At Mathias's insistence, he even drove an unwieldy armoured van over it regularly, Osborn willing to trust pieces of his collection to the vehicle when they had to be ferried to the set and back, but not to any stranger driving it. And Cleaves still feared getting lost or worse. Once past the village of Burcot and veering toward the left bank of Thames, it shot in and out of mazes of copses, took tight bends, then turned into a winding stretch of furrowed soil and became really difficult. He had to be vigilant to avoid the rusted iron palings and the rotted wood tracks, detritus of habitation and industry from as far back as when the village had been a transshipment point on the Thames before the canals were cut, the river then unnavigable closer to Oxford. The landscape was also dotted with much older Roman ruins, excavation mounds and remains of aqueducts overgrown with vegetation, the only visible evidence of the ancient cisterns underground.
The old estate left to Osborn's cousin through a distant maternal aunt had been palatial once. Now the manor house looked like a huge, decrepit ark. Soon, the whole edifice was going to sink into its rotting foundation. One of the reasons Mathias wanted his collection out of it, into a place that could safeguard it properly.
When Cleaves had seen the house for the first time, about a quarter of a century earlier, he'd been eleven and he'd been thrilled. It had been ancient then, too. Staying in the sprawling manor that dated all the way from the Cromwellian period should have been a trial, but it had delighted Edmund. The long line of descendants of Mathias's conservative, reclusive family --going back to Castilian nobility through an attendant who had arrived in the retinue of a Spanish queen-- had resisted innovations mightily since then. Having never forgotten the hard lessons learned as unswerving Catholics through too many royal vagaries, the family had always preferred to live, in modern parlance, off the grid.
By the time Cleaves was a guest in the manor, electricity was fitfully coming from outdated, deafeningly noisy generators -- to a fanciful boy, siege engines outside the castle walls. Refrigeration had consisted of deep cellars; bottles had been submerged in wells and, when Mathias had allowed him small portions of the wine, the smell of algae remaining from their immersion had imbued the drink with subterranean mysteries for him. Sewers then and now went only as far as septic tanks, not that they were used all that often any more, while water came from the ancient cisterns through pumps into reservoirs, no longer drinkable, barely fit for basic sanitation. The furnishings had been so very old but well-maintained, much like a once gorgeous dowager still holding onto her frayed fineries with worn pride, her tired beauty still shining through.
The fineries were since gone, riches accumulated through many generations sold piecemeal, even the stained-glass and most of the lead-paned windows exchanged for iron-grated weather boards. The ground floor was a dark, empty cavern, gritty and grimy. A single bulb in a sconce lit the way up the stairs to what had once been a sprawling ballroom, the only part of the house kept immaculate, powered by two huge industrial propane tanks installed at great cost. It had been turned into a gallery, plinths and cabinets and lecterns displaying the vast collection of sacred artefacts that had replaced the family antiques and burdened the family fortune.
"Where have you been?" Osborn asked, looking up from a parchment he was holding, his hands encased in latex gloves. "You were only going to be a couple of hours."
"I'm sorry," Cleaves apologised, taking off his shoes and pushing them to the side where Osborn had left his muddy boots. He must've gone for a long walk. "I invented an excuse to leave early, but something came up and I thought it best to stay." He pulled on a pair of gloves as well; there were strict rules to entering the room. Osborn was in the flannel shirt and corduroys he invariably wore on the estate, and as usual looked like a great bear of a field hand. Age might have lessened him, but not to Cleaves's eyes.
He joined Osborn by the fireplace --never lit, to keep the room free from smoke and soot-- went to his knees and bowed his head, Bless me, Father. When the large, heavy hand came to rest on his head, he sighed gratefully. It always felt like coming home. The hand went on to stroke down the side of his face and gave his shoulder a pat before leaving, permission to stay where he was. He turned until he was curled around his knees, only then noticing the items spread out on a pristine cloth on the hearthrug in front of them. Before he could ask why they were out of the vault, Osborn tilted one up for him to see. "Look at this image. That's a cross, the mound behind it looks like a tomb, and those etched squares, that's a wall. Tell me this doesn't depict a crucifixion taking place outside city walls -- the Holy City of Jerusalem?"
"Could be. But that doesn't attribute a date."
"Attributes a period," Osborn was clearly choosing to misread the fact Cleaves had meant the date when the image had been carved, not what period it referred to. "I must get these texts read."
Oh, that wasn't wise at all. "Perhaps not right away," he suggested carefully.
Osborn nodded at the parchment he'd put aside, a thoroughly authenticated item. "Writings from the period talk about these -- think of it, Edmund, we could be looking upon objects held by the first saints of the Church."
Cleaves reached to run his fingers lightly over some of the other items on the cloth, a ritual cup, the carvings on it just different enough from well-known Moabite to be that rarity, evidence of Ammonite text. An ancient crucifix, rubbed by so many devoted hands for so long that the Christ-figure on it looked like a stick insect. The limestone ossuary; the carvings on the box reduced to partial words. "Ya-akov bar-"was James, son of-, but the father's name was gone. In the next line, "hua" could be Yeshua, Jesus, but if connections had been specified, they were no longer visible. Still, it was an extremely rare find in that it held bones, could be dated. The baker's dozen that Osborn was lovingly handling, though -- those could be downright dangerous. "You are not thinking of including them in the documentary, are you?"
"Documentary?" Osborn huffed dismissively. "Once these are authenticated -- "
"If they're authenticated," he had to point out.
Osborn ignored him, " -- they'll be more pivotal than the Dead Sea Scrolls. They're too sacred for the provinces, and really, that's what we are, provincials in our little corner, aren't we?" His hand came back to stroke and play with Cleaves's hair. "Tell me, my dear Edmund, how would you like to go to Rome with me? After all, you brought me this wondrous find."
Once the documentary was released with due fanfare, the collection was supposed to have been presented to the Archdiocese. Now Mathias had the Vatican in his sights for his largesse? "I will go anywhere you bid me go," do anything you bid me do, he thought, his eyes wanting to close at the feel of the fingers carding through his hair, tugging playfully on a strand, "that's never a question. But for now, the old friend I went to meet tonight -- " he felt Osborn's hand leave him as if he'd suddenly realised what it had been doing. He regretted disrupting it."I knew him years ago in Cambridge, James Hathaway, a seminary student. Lost his calling back then." Cleaves had always known he'd played a role in that, hadn't cared, didn't care. "He's a policeman now. I used to bring him to the Oratory with me often. You also lectured for his year, thought highly of his Latin."
"I think I remember him. A pale pole of a thing, wasn't he? Is he Irish?"
"Irish? No. Why?"
"They usually are, the ones who flip from priest to plod. More shame to them, for confusing divine service with public service."
This plod might attend services at our church, look into our charity programmes. "Yes, my Lord, but -- "
"I keep telling you, dear boy, no need for honorifics in private."
"As you wish, Mathias," he amended, although he hadn't meant it ecumenically, but in the way he had loved saying it so very long ago. He'd just started his secondary education at St Bede's; the honorific was only dreamt of then, and they would be in private while he sat at Osborn's feet, just like this, and imagined himself the favoured page of his larger-than-life, powerful knight, devoted to his service, privileged to anticipate his every wish. "But I beg of you, listen to me, I must tell you something."
Osborn was again riveted on the primitive carvings. Despite everything, Cleaves couldn't help but feel a profound satisfaction at having put in his hands something that transported his dear, dear face --deeply lined now, but radiant at the moment-- with joy of past and future glories. For a long minute, he simply watched, then used the one sure way of getting Mathias to listen and pay attention, "Please, Father, will you hear my confession?"
Lewis wasn't sure he cared for the benevolent look Innocent was giving him; there was something calculating in it. "Been to Leeds?" she asked, tapping some papers on her desk meaningfully.
He couldn't tell what they were, except that the top one seemed to be a schedule of some sort. "Aye, once or twice."
"You'll see it again tomorrow," she said smugly, pulled out an ID badge from her drawer and placed it at the end of her desk closest to him. "That's where they're holding this year's National Law Enforcement Conference."
Delegate, it said on the badge. Oh, no. No, no, no. Attendance badge, all right, bearable. Delegates participated. Or, heaven forbid, gave speeches.
"You won't be speaking until the last day," she chimed his doom bang on cue, "so you'll have a few days to put your speech together."
"Erm, Ma'am, I'd much rather -- "
She interrupted, "You need to touch strongly on this privatisation lark the Home Office is planning. How would you like a corporate drone for your bagman?"
"I wouldn't." He wouldn't want one of the bright sparks on their own rolls, either. He saw no reason for any replacement. "But, Ma'am, I don't see why -- "
"Go and tell them the drawbacks," she interrupted again. "Take a firm stand."
He sighed. "I'm not getting out of this, am I?" This was his penance for having a clear desk for more than twenty-four hours. Where was the latest serial killer when you needed one?
"You're a senior officer, these things come with the job once in a while. Last time you gave a speech, you did us proud."
Last thing he wanted to be reminded of. "I didn't write that speech," he protested, "Hathaway did."
"So get him to put something together you can take with you. You'll have time to revise there."
He had a much better idea. "Can I take him with me?"
She glared at him. "What are you, joined at the hip? No, you can't take him with you. Before you start, no, not even if you're paying his way. I know you two. You'll tuck yourselves into a corner with a couple of pints and avoid socializing. I want you to circulate, make our views known at the Conference." She held out the stack of papers and rustled them in the air impatiently when he was slow in accepting them. "Besides, I need Hathaway in IT for the next few days."
He grimaced at the conference circulars now in his unwilling hand. "Ma'am, truly, I'm not the best person for this."
"You're the one I'm sending -- go." She tapped at her desk to remind him of the badge he hadn't picked up. Once he reluctantly put it in his pocket, she waved him on his way. "It's only three days, you'll survive."
I wouldn't count on it.
"Oh, and, Robbie," she called out after him, and when he turned, "It shouldn't be all work and no play. Don't forget to have a good time," she added with odd, misplaced glee.
Llewellyn-Pierce feared his relationship with Eleanor wasn't going to survive too much togetherness. She had made it clear she had no time for problems immaterial to her work at the moment, what with the odds already stacked against her. She'd meant his problems, of course.
Which was why he was following a lackey into Bishop Osborn's office and despairing of the riches lavished on the clergy at this level. The office they entered was sprawling and sumptuous, rare woods ornamented with carvings and gold leaf, niches with statues, oil paintings, stained glass: all glory be to God -- right.
When Osborn saw him enter, he rose from behind his desk without so much as a greeting or the offer of a seat, waved away the lackey and proceeded to heft a case from the office safe. The man was at least a quarter of a century older than Llewellyn-Pierce, but he didn't look it. More than anything, with his massive build and large head, he looked like a bull preparing to charge. Utter dogma must lend some sort of invigorating power to the bull-headed.
Osborn put down the case next to a sideboard large enough to land a plane on, partly draped with something like an altar cloth. He carefully pulled off the sheet to expose the items already placed on the board, then held out a pair of latex gloves. Llewellyn-Pierce shook his head, rubbing his fingers together. "I need the sensitivity." He ignored Osborn's glower and leaned to inspect the artefacts, a cup, an ossuary and a crucifix.
He picked up the cup, carried it to the window for better light, felt every inch of it minutely, then again. No hint of moulding, it was solid carved stone, chipped and pocked with age, not an aging process. Then he studied the carvings. "Not a ritual cup, a tribute one." Damn it, it felt authentic, and was that...? He pulled out a jeweller's loop and looked closer. Yes, that was a feminine singular 'lyh in the inscription, a distinct difference from Biblical Hebrew. First or second century BCE, he'd bet, and probably Ammonite, an elusive text which would excite scholars no end. He was holding a fortune in his hands, except it'd do him no good. Any expert could authenticate the authentic.
He put it down and picked up the crucifix. That was better. No identifiers on it, carved from pyramidale, common balsa wood of South America. Clearly, centuries of hope and grief had been foisted on the simple thing by the hands of the gullible. He could invent a provenance for it, possibly tie it to one saint or another. It'd earn him some of his keep.
The ossuary; hardly any had been found still containing bones, or in this case, a bone, broken in two. The letters incised on the limestone surface -- oh now, that was interesting. With the father's name missing from the inscription, not too far a reach to assume son-of-Zebedee, was it? Even follower of Jesus, with that useful "hua" right there? "I'll have to get it under an electron microscope --discreetly, of course-- to make sure no traces are left of the missing letters," he told Osborn, "but this can conceivably belong to James the Greater."
"I should get the bones carbon-dated then?"
Did the man have any functional brain cells? "That'll leave a record, and what if it's not the answer we want? Surely a couple of bone fragments from the first century can be found in a dusty corner of a museum or lab; this is Oxford, after all. I'll see if --"
"Stop that barbarity at once!" Osborn thundered, making Llewellyn-Pierce jump. "Do you imagine that I -- I -- will perpetrate a fraud on the Church? How dare you, you offensive cockroach!"
Llewellyn-Pierce suddenly became intensely aware of the man's mass, the size of his gloved hands. "But th-then, wh-what's the p-purpose -- " he stammered "-- of this whole -- ?" Damn the overbearing bastard's pride, had he simply wished to be sure he hadn't been a patsy for sharp practice on some undocumented items? Was that the only reason for a private evaluation? "I thought we had an -- "
"Spare me! Your worthless thoughts must be as unspeakable as you. Perform your function, state your fee and be done. As quickly and in as few words as possible."
"Erm, well...I can certify the cup. I estimate the ossuary between the first and the third century, carbon-dating will narrow it, providing the remains are from the original internment." None of that would get him more than any expert would for any straightforward certification. "Is that all?"
In lieu of an answer, Osborn placed the case on the sideboard, opened it, and Llewellyn-Pierce was fascinated despite himself at seeing the small, ring-bound metal books in neat, padded rows. Could they possibly be -- ? Dear God, if they were a portion of the lost collection of codices that were believed to detail the last year of Christ's life, perhaps even the crucifixion --
Osborn must be hoping for exactly that. His face that had been so cold and disdainful all along was suddenly showing a ferocious avarice, an expression all too familiar to Llewellyn-Pierce. He'd long learned to recognise it, in his career and his marriage. Even found it useful at times.
The corroded edges of the lead sheets had thinned to wicked sharpness. No sense in flirting with lockjaw, he pulled on the gloves Osborn had offered earlier, easing one over the bandage across his right hand. His heart beat fit to burst his chest as he concentrated solely on the images. They looked absolutely authentic and he was a scholar of antiquities, could still be excited by their possibilities, even awed. The story the carvings and the reliefs told wasn't neatly sequential, but then, some plates were stuck shut, and history never came through time accurately anyway, especially history cluttered with so much myth.
Now for the lettering. He turned over some pages randomly, until the inscription on one of them jumped out at him: "ἄλυπε χαῖρε, Ἀβγαρ ὁ καὶ Εἰσίωνἄ" in mirror-writing.
His heart gave another exultant thump, for a whole different reason, then settled down. How trifling a matter, after all. "I'm pretty sure they're authentic," he said, "but I need time to study the text, compare it to other writings from the period."
"There's paper and pencil," Osborn pointed to his desk.
Pencil? Really? Did the man expect him to take rubbings? He pulled out his mobile. "Photos. Which I can sharpen and contrast on an image program so I can see better. Cover up the images if you want, I only need the text." Osborn scowled, but put his hand over the relief under the legend and Llewellyn-Pierce started taking the photos.
When he was done, Osborn returned the books reverentially into the case to carry back to his safe. "I only need to confirm a few points," Llewellyn-Pierce told him, heading for the door. "I'm sure I'll be able to get you the certificates in a day or so. We'll discuss my fee then." And my real fee a little later.
Lewis's collar was undone, his tie loosened and askew, his sleeves rolled up, and he had yanked fistfuls of his hair so often that he was beginning to look like a startled hedgehog. Hathaway thought it was unfair to find the sight charming when the poor man was suffering from anxiety over yet another speech Innocent had foisted on him. "You're making too much of it, sir. Once you start, you'll be fine. Just like last time." He'd even gone off text to crack jokes and the crowd had enjoyed him.
"If only it had stayed the last time," Lewis grumbled. "You know, this could be your fault. If I'd gone with the rubbish I'd written--"
"It wasn't rubbish. It merely needed a little rearranging," he said loyally.
"Being up on a podium rearranges me." He glared at the delegate badge he'd tossed onto his desk. "Last time it was puffery for the press, don't give a toss what those hacks think. It's our lot this time."
"Should make it easier. You'll know some of the attendees."
"On the job for donkey's, bound to be familiar faces. Not friends, though."
"Nobody else going from here?"
"Can you see Innocent springing for overtime and travel for more than one? Reminds me, what'd she fob off on you?"
"The new National Database is going up beginning next week. Our system's not compliant with configuration upgrades yet, she thought I could help with -- "
"Spare me." Lewis held up his hand. "My head hurts already." He grimaced, then asked at Hathaway's look, "What?"
"I was told more than once that you used to be the go-to bloke for technology. Were they having me on?"
"Once upon. For some years there I stopped paying attention. " He looked away with a closed expression that always told Hathaway which years he was talking about, then shook himself back to now and continued, "That's a geologic age in technology. Compared to Morse, I was Steve Jobs. Compared to you, I'm, well, Morse." He made a face at the papers spread out in front of him. There was a neat document on his screen, but he was still shuffling the scribbled notes. "Morse loved this stuff. Groused about it, aye, but he groused about everything -- unless he was listening to a lusty opera singer, especially a soprano. He was good at this sort of palaver. I'm going to make a pig's ear of it."
"Sir," Hathaway inclined his head to draw his attention to Innocent heading for their office. Lewis looked up, but failed to straighten his expression or slump, might have even said something vindictive under his breath.
"Just wanted to wish you a good trip before I left," she said brightly once she was at their door. "Don't spend all your time fiddling with the speech, it'll be one among many. Just enjoy yourself." With no more ado, she turned to leave, throwing a conspiratorial look at Hathaway on her way out.
"Ta," Lewis mumbled to her back. He waited until she disappeared, then blew out an exasperated breath. "First she tells me how important the bloody speech is, now she's telling me it's not." He shook his head disconsolately. "Sometimes I just don't understand women."
Hathaway thought that, in all likelihood, he was a lot more handicapped in that area than Lewis had ever been, but he'd been the one stuck with keeping a blank face while listening to Innocent moan about how Lewis and 'our lovely Laura' couldn't seem to get it together. She had tried to recruit him to her way of thinking then, and that look she had just given him -- "I'll print the speech out for you," he used as an excuse to turn to his screen. As the printer was running, he called up the National Conference page and clicked on the functions -- sure enough, The Changing Face of Forensics. He went down the list of attendees. Right there: Dr Laura J Hobson.
Clearly, Innocent was yet again playing matchmaker. Rather astounding after the creepy disaster a previous attempt had turned into. The woman was incorrigible. And Lewis didn't seem to have the first clue. Come to think of it, Lewis probably owed the speech that was upsetting him so much to Innocent's sneaky tactics. He'd be alone, anxious, off balance....
Should he be told? Was it any of Hathaway's business? Did he have the right to make it his business? In truth, no. It was less his business precisely because he wasn't impartial -- but why should he be impartial? If it were in my power, he thought, you'd go home tonight to find your Val waiting for you, and I'd want no more than seeing your smile tomorrow morning. But Hobson? She was a lovely woman, a good friend, but if she loved Lewis as a lover should, she wouldn't have kept him guessing for so long.
Come to your senses, he told himself, it's not as if he doesn't know that. He's not going to take the relationship further just because she's there -- unless he wants to. And if he does, then it's his decision and you'll live with it. If it came to that, he'd dance at their wedding, wish them happiness and mean it. Because, really, past friendship and loyalty, what did he have to offer in its place?
It took him a while to notice the printer had stopped running. He put the papers together and took the thin stack to Lewis's desk. "Here you go, sir."
"Cheers." Except Lewis looked anything but cheerful.
Hathaway pulled himself together, perched on the corner of the desk and leaned towards him. "Listen to me for a minute. We know the job, we know what it takes. There will be serious pitfalls to privatising portions of the service. We just wrote them out. As with any responsibility you have, you'll get up there and tell them. You'll do it well, that's the only way you know how to do the job. Past that, as long as there's profit potential for the companies backing the politicians, it doesn't matter what you do or say. So just think of the nice pint you'll have once you're done and don't tear yourself up over it. There's no call."
Lewis looked at him for a long minute, then smiled softly. "Right," he said, rising and pulling down his rolled up sleeves. "So come and have a nice pint with me now and convince me. It has to last me for three days."
Hathaway handed him his jacket. "The pint?"
"Oh, I'll have plenty more of that. Your silver tongue and friendly face."
He hoped his grin didn't look as soppy at he feared it did. "Nobody's ever called my face friendly. I'm not sure about the silver tongue, either."
"They're not standing where I am," Lewis told him, shrugging into his jacket. "Tough luck, 'cause I'm not leaving -- well, except for the next few days." He led the way out the door. "So as they say, keep the home fires burning, James."
If you only knew the burning I feel and the burning I risk. But at the moment, he was ridiculously content. "Always, sir."
"Don't forget to feed Monty."
Father Cleaves came back from the day's shooting with the revised script Osborn had been waiting for. Everything took frustratingly longer than anticipated or promised in all aspects of filming, the re-writes no exception, and Mathias had been getting testy.
Script in hand, Cleaves went to the bishop's office, but they were yet to settle in to discuss it when word came that a vagrant in the care of the Sisters of St Mark was ailing from starving himself. Sister Agatha was hoping a good word from His Excellency would help. Osborn immediately got up to go and Cleaves followed him to the Auxiliary, to one of the small rooms set aside for the very sick. And the troublesome. The nun was trying to spoon something mashed into the mouth of an old man, patiently entreating him to eat. To no avail, judging by the man's stubbornly shaking head and the food splatters on the towel spread out over his chest.
Cleaves waited by the door while Osborn tried to be of help, but neither coaxing nor scolding got him anywhere. As weak as the old man looked, he kept spluttering, flecks of saliva flying out alongside his protests against any more gruel, he'd eaten enough slop on the seas, pap was only fit for babes in arms. Suddenly, he started crying, keening about a babe, the sweetest babe he'd once had in his arms but was lost, lost, lost.
Sister Agatha gave a resigned sigh. "All right, all right," she said, putting the bowl and the spoon back on their tray. "Calm down now, calm down. Would you like our good Lord Bishop to pray with you for your babe? You'd like that, wouldn't you?" She got up to help the hiccoughing man drink some water, wiped the dribbles and the tears off his face, bundled the stained towel to put on the tray she picked up. "I'll bring you something fit for a man next meal. You must put in your choppers to manage it, though."
"Can't. They be all wrong."
"He's been refusing to wear his dentures," Sister Agatha explained as she passed by on her way out. "Thinks they're not his," she added as she pulled the door closed.
"Ask him," the old man cried out, pointing at Cleaves with a skeletal finger, "He knows. The thief!" Mathias's eyes snapped to Cleaves.
'For there is nothing covered' Cleaves despaired, 'that shalt not be revealed.'
Lewis was actually enjoying the last day of the conference, now that the dreaded speech was behind him. The speech had made him recognisable and, among coppers, popular. Among bean counters, not so much. The Scotland Yard lot, ever in hock to prevailing politics, also gave him a wide berth, with one exception. Fiona McKendrick was in attendance and she'd made a point of exchanging pleasantries with him. She'd introduced a deputy assistant commissioner of the Yard as her fiancé, making him wonder how Hathaway would take it, if he should be told or not.
Once he'd circulated long enough to fulfil Innocent's requirements, he went up to his room to get ready for the evening's wrap-up bash. Left to himself, he'd have given it a miss and started the drive back home, but he didn't want to disappoint Laura yet again. Running into her at the conference had been a surprise, and if she hadn't been just as clearly surprised, he might have felt hoodwinked. He was still wondering about Innocent, who consistently belied her name when it came to meddling in matters none of her bloody business.
The speech had gone well, but it had still made him sweat buckets; he needed a shower before dressing for the shindig. Before then, though, he felt obliged to call James to tell him how well -- oh, sod it, he plain wanted to call him. For three days now, he had turned around to say something to the lad so many times, had even called a waiter 'James' while thanking him for a pint, that he was starting to think, when he finally did retire, he might have to look for the AA equivalent of Hathaway-dependence. He missed having him around. Maybe Morse hadn't been as wilful as he'd always thought, constantly wanting him around.
"Hope I'm not interrupting anything important," he said when Hathaway answered, mindful that it was sundown on Saturday. "Just wanted to tell you your speech went down a treat." He shrugged out of his jacket, switching hands on his phone.
"Your speech," Hathaway corrected. "I know it went well. Fiona sent a glowing message. I understand she's there with her fiancé."
So the lad already knew. "Short, old, running to fat. Not a patch on you," Lewis said, tugging off his tie.
Hathaway's smile came through in his voice, "Thank you, sir, but I don't particularly care. And I don't think he's that old."
"He's about my age, too old for the lass."
"She's about my age, so no, he's not." He sounded huffy about it.
Lewis sat on the bed to take off his shoes. "You need to revise your maths or get out more often."
"My maths is fine and I am out, even as we speak."
He harrumphed. "Probably another rehearsal or something."
"Or something. As out as I get."
"Well, I'm going out." He started unbuttoning his shirt. "I might even dance."
"Don't break any hearts, sir."
"I'm long past the stage I endanger hearts."
"You'd think so, wouldn't you?"
Slightly off, the way the sentence was stressed. He couldn't decide how to take it and left it alone. "I'd better go and get ready."
"Have a good time, sir."
"You, too, James."
It wasn't until dinner gave way to a live band and dancing commenced that he saw Laura, pathologists occupying a table lost to him in the crowd that had doubled with spouses and dates. Bare-shouldered, she was in something long and slinky that couldn't be called too tight, but it clung and shimmered with her movements. She seemed to be in demand as a dance partner, which Lewis thought was probably just as well. The colour of her dress was so close to her skin tones that it would be all too easy to think of her without it. He did dance with some of the women at his table, until he felt hot and sluggish and reckoned he'd put in his time, it wouldn't be impolite to leave. He started across the room, stopping here and there for small talk in preparation to making his escape.
"Oh, no, you don't," he heard --so near freedom-- and Laura's hand was on his arm, tugging him back. "It's not nice to neglect old friends," she told him with mock severity. "You owe me a dance or three."
"How about a drink instead?" The bar across the lobby was practically empty and looked peaceful.
"Maybe later. First, I'd like a whirl."
"Have a heart, Laura, I'm melting in this suit."
"Take off your jacket." She promptly started to push it off his shoulders.
"All right, all right." He got out of the jacket, folded it over his arm until he could get to his table and drape it over his chair. "One dance."
She beamed at him. "Or three."
All too soon, he knew it had been a big mistake to take off his jacket. In a strapless dress, Laura had obviously opted out of a bra, a fact that was becoming more and more clear as her nipples reacted to her breasts rubbing against his shirt. The absence of the jacket became no aid to cooling off, exactly the opposite. His hand spread on the small of her back clearly transmitted the sway of her hips, the flimsy material of the dress feeling like no more than a slippery film over her skin, her scent an alluring mixture of perfume and her -- by the middle of the second dance, he had no idea how he was going to get off the bloody dance floor without becoming a lurid joke told at the next conference.
"Let's get out of here," Laura said, feeling his discomfort. He hoped that was all she'd felt.
Too much to hope for, since she kept his hand while turning around and towed him carefully close behind her until he could grab his jacket. He appreciated it no end, but as she kept pace with him into the lift with nary a word exchanged, he started wondering what came next. He did the easiest and pushed the button for his floor. She gave him a look he couldn't interpret, pushed the button for hers, two levels below his. She kept glancing at him, making him feel under inspection. When the doors opened on her floor, she gave him another searching look, mumbled, "'Night, Robbie," and stepped out.
"Good night, Laura." The doors started to close, but her hand suddenly shot out to keep them open. She glared at him, stepped back in, let the doors close. As soon as the lift started moving, she slapped at the stop button and brought them to a juddering halt. "Laura, what -- ?"
"You weren't going to follow me to my room, were you?" she asked too evenly, clearly holding her temper in check.
He hadn't heard an invitation, had he? "No."
"You're not going to ask me up to your room, either."
"Erm, no?" He hated it coming out like a question, but she was knocking him for six.
"And no chance whatsoever you'll take any advantage of this private moment?"
He was suddenly angry. "That's your old mate Alec, not me," he snapped.
She looked daggers at him. "Do you know how close I am to slapping you?"
"Damn it, Laura, what do you want? What's this in aid of?"
"Damn it, Robbie," she echoed him precisely, "I was the one dancing with you." She nodded at the jacket he was still holding in front of him. "I know what you're hiding."
"That's not enough reason to fall into bed." After all, his shower flannel often caused pretty much the same reaction. "I'm not hiding anything, either." He moved the jacket to hang by his side. "Any more."
She actually looked down to check, and something struck her as funny. She laughed, her whole demeanour softening. "We're never going to get it together, are we?"
Might as well find out once and for all. "What is 'it,' Laura? What exactly are you interested in getting together? 'Cause I've been getting mixed messages for years now."
"While I've been getting one message. You'll have all or nothing." A light on the panel next to her had been flashing red, she'd been ignoring it. The receiver on it started buzzing; she ignored that as well. "I like my life, I don't want to change it. I'm not ready to retire and become a gran of sorts."
Ah. That might explain her German doctor soon after Lewis had told her about Lyn's pregnancy, his possible early retirement and move to Manchester. No wonder she'd kept acting as though he'd been at fault.
"But I'm not getting any younger," she continued, "and I get lonely sometimes. Why can't we simply see each other through those times? You must feel the same way, it's been what, eight years, nine? A long time to -- "
"No," he cut her off. "You can't propose casual sex with one breath and bring up Val with the next. You either know what I need or you don't. You can't have it both ways."
"Be honest with me, Robbie. Do you love me enough for...more?"
She bit her lip and gave no more of an answer than he had. "I suppose I'd better get this thing moving."
"Please. Before we have to explain ourselves to the Rescue Squad."
While the congregation of St Justin's filed out after the Vigil Mass, Hathaway lingered to take a closer look at the panels of the Stations of the Cross on the north aisle, beautiful oil paintings on arched, gilded wood. An earlier call from Edmund, saying he normally didn't conduct Mass but he would that evening and he hoped to see James there, had brought him to attend the service -- not what Lewis would consider being out on a Saturday night. It hadn't been what Hathaway considered attending a service, either. He had been constantly distracted by Cleaves conducting the Mass as if sleep walking through it, by mere rote. What had subdued the ardent youth he remembered?
He was close to the last panel when he realised Edmund, without his vestments, was waiting quietly for him in the chancel, hands folded in front of him. "I was only admiring them," Hathaway said; he hadn't walked the Stations for a very long time.
Cleaves joined him. "I noticed you didn't take communion."
"I haven't been to confession recently." If years could be called recently.
"Confession greatly eases the spirit," Cleaves said with a sudden infusion of the untainted fervour that had once entranced Hathaway. "Don't you miss it, James?"
He had always known that, a lot more than his looks, Edmund's boundless capacity for faith, the way he'd seemed aglow with it, had attracted him. He now wondered what he had hungered to have for his own back then, when he'd been young enough to be confused, the beautiful man or his absolute certainties. "It's not for me any more, Edmund. At its simplest, how can I reconcile the sanctity of the Sabbath with my job?" And at its more complicated, there are things I will not regret or change. "Some doctrines are contradictory to life outside the Church. I'd rather avoid hypocrisy."
"The Church's or yours?"
"I meant mine." He'd never understood why having doubts about faith seemed to disturb the doubtless more than the doubter. "Anyway, I can't imagine you'd attribute it to the Church even as a point of debate."
"A debate is ephemeral," Cleaves said as if that were the point. "It doesn't have eternal consequences."
"Depends on the people it persuades and their resultant actions, doesn't it? And then, do the consequences apply to the persuaded or the persuader? Where does free will come in?"
"You've become a dan -- difficult man to debate, James."
Hathaway felt sure he'd been about to say dangerous, gave him a sidelong look, but Cleaves had his head turned away, watching the altar boys tidy up. There was something weighing on him this evening. "This is a beautiful church," Hathaway said instead of asking: is there something you need to tell me? He didn't want Edmund to feel like he was being interrogated by a copper.
"I'm usually out or in a back office, but yes, it's one of the finest. Let me show you around." Cleaves threaded an arm through his, surprising him. In the seminary, some students tended to walk arm in arm after the fashion of their monastic brethren, but Edmund had never shown any inclination to do so. He took Hathaway into the Lady Chapel to show him the mosaics depicting Mary's life, each an intricate, delicate piece, then led him outside to the cloister, indicated the residence joined to the church by the ambulatory, housing the secondary bell tower of the structure. "The offices are on the ground floor of the Chancery. My Lord Bishop lives upstairs, I have a room there as well." He waved at the buildings edging the courtyard, "The rest are given to community outreach programmes, and that's the old Memorial Chapel of St Mark."
In manus tuas, Domine, Hathaway could hear coming from the charming, ivy-drenched chapel in mixed voices in response to a low, feminine voice, Sisters of St Mark and their charges starting Compline. "Our elderly still find more comfort in services conducted in Latin," Cleaves said. "Thank the Lord our traditional liturgy has been reinstated. Must everybody comprehend every word in order to believe in The Word?"
It helps. Hathaway decided to take the question as rhetorical and didn't voice the answer. There was a time they'd been so compatible in thought that he'd felt mated to Edmund, in mind, if never in body. It was disconcerting to walk attached to him by the arm while feeling a chasm yawn between them. He let Edmund tow him through the covered arcades to the western side of the cloister, where the two stories of old dormitories and workshops of the lay brothers of the past had been repurposed to serve the needs of the community.
"Mathias was attending one of our residents. Very old, at the end of his time, I'm afraid. While we're here, I should look in," Cleaves explained, leading him into the infirmary. "Individual rooms are set aside for the contagious and the dying," he supplied as they approached a closed door. He let go of Hathaway's arm, tapped lightly on the door and pushed it open, releasing an overwhelming scent of incense, thick and stale and truly unpleasant. A small room, probably an old cell, dimly lit, and a priest leaning close to the old man on the bed, giving the blessing of the Final Anointing, "Clementissime Deus, Pater misericordiárum et Deus totius consolatiónis, qui néminem vis perire in te credéntem atque sperántem."
Hathaway recognised the gruff, rumbling voice of Bishop Mathias Osborn. The greying hair he remembered was now completely silver and the wide shoulders had rounded, resembling a hunch more than broad beams.
"Oh, the poor soul has departed," Cleaves whispered, bent his head to join the prayer. Hathaway kept his head bowed.
"Per istam sanctam unctionem et suam piissimam misericordiam, indulgeat tibi Dominus," Osborn finished, crossed himself, rose to leave the room. He merely nodded at them as he passed by and, as he was carrying the Eucharist, they stood aside and quietly let him pass. Cleaves went into the room right after him, the light from the open door fell on the dead man's face briefly -- very old indeed, must've been blind, too, the slits between the eyelids showing a thick grey film over the eyes. Skin like waxy parchment had sagged to outline the skull, his mouth in a gummy rictus, giving him a look of alarm. Some people who died in their beds met death no more peacefully than the crime victims he'd seen. Cleaves quickly lifted the sheet to cover the face already looking well on its way to desiccation, came out to join Hathaway and closed the door after him. "I should call our doctor for the death certificate. He won't want to make the trip on a Saturday night."
"I'll let you deal with it, I should get on -- "
"Come to think of it," Cleaves interrupted, taking his arm again, "death visits our charges too often, we have the forms. You can confirm the death as a police officer, can't you? The doctor's been expecting it for a good while, I'll have someone drive over the signed certificate, he'll fill out the medical information. I should have the undertaker remove the body right away. Best do it before our old dears are reminded of their own mortality."
Edmund was as much a whirlwind as he'd ever been when something needed to be done. Within ten minutes, he had finished making calls, delegating tasks, and was pulling a bottle of wine and two glasses from a cabinet in the corner of the Chapter House. "We'll have a drink," he said. "Come on. I'll show you the best scenery of the church."
The second bell tower at the back of the church, reached by a spiral staircase, was missing its bells. "Being recast," Edmund explained, as he closed the low door they had both ducked to clear, "but Mathias likes this spot so much, he doesn't really want them back."
It was a likable spot, the parapets at the bases of the open arches comfortably wide to sit on and linger, the tower high enough to see the rooftops peek out of the autumn foliage that resembled humpbacked waves in the dark. The profusion of spires rose into the haze of ambient light capping the city like an ethereal dome. Cleaves sat down and poured two glasses of wine, motioned at Hathaway to sit with him. For a few minutes, they drank quietly, watching the view.
"I was thinking," Edmund spoke up, "would you spare the time now and then to play for my youth choir? Maybe strum along in accompaniment? It'll give us a chance to spend time together. The way we used to." He looked at Hathaway and laughed. "Oh, James, look at your face. Don't worry, I'm not trying to draw you back into the fold. I'm not the firebrand you remember, I have settled into my age."
Hathaway was starting to feel a little pursued, and why else would Edmund pursue him? Then again, Cleaves didn't have roots in Oxford, he was working out of his comfort zone, Osborn had to be around seventy and had never struck Hathaway as the social sort. Maybe he's just lonely and considers running into an old friend God-sent. "My guv and I, we work all hours when there's a case. I may not show up, or I might get called away, no telling. But when I can make it, sure, I'd like that."
"Bless you. It's so difficult to keep the young interested; they'd be delighted with a guitar joining in. We'll have some informal sessions. It'll be fun."
Might be at that. Edmund raised his glass as if saluting their agreement, Hathaway copied him, they drank in silence for a while.
"I've been hearing Oxford called the City of Atheists," Cleaves was the one to break it. "But look at it, James, each and every spire marks a great institution, places of learning, devotion, enlightenment, bestowed on the people by the Church. 'How sharper than a serpent's tooth,' indeed. Enough to pierce your heart. Or do you count yourself among them now?"
"Atheism requires as adamant a certainty as absolute faith." Or sometimes, a devastating heartbreak. "Not my forte."
Silence descended once more until Cleaves spoke again, "Where do you stand on forgiveness lately?" It was an odd question, made Hathaway give him a searching look. Cleaves shrugged in answer to it, looking away. "You were never much given to it, were you? Personal responsibility was always your sticking point."
"Some people forgive to obey God's dictate, mostly because they're helpless to extract the justice they need. They have no choice but to leave the reckoning to God. Some forgive not to lose an advantage, or to gain one, some do it because they love too foolishly. Very few do it unconditionally, from true generosity of spirit. It's frequently rooted in impotence or self-interest."
"Dear me, James, when did you become so relentless?" Cleaves looked almost scared, making Hathaway wonder what he had to be scared of. "Is being judgmental a requirement for working in justice?"
"My boss would say our remit is law, not justice." He hadn't cared for it when Lewis had pointed that out in the Zelinsky case, but he had no good argument against it. "Worldly justice, he's not at all interested in the divine."
"I wonder how you can work with him?"
He tried not to bristle."Very well, actually," he said shortly. "But I was talking of forgiveness. Mercy is different. You don't have to forgive to be merciful."
Cleaves seemed relieved. "Tell me your views on mercy then."
That went too deep to share. "I hear it's not strained," Hathaway paraphrased irreverently.
"'It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,'" Edmund continued the quote more accurately.
"So the writer says." His reference was earthly. He rose to cross to the opposite arch to look towards the scattered lights on Headington Hill, reminded of being in Innocent's office two years ago, when the crown prosecutor on the case had announced Monkford would be charged with murder, no mitigating circumstances since he'd caused a death during the active commission of a crime. None of them had expected Lewis to raise an issue, but he had: Where had the spineless, petty con man found the bottle for a real crime? And the 'very nasty men' he'd decamped to Canada to get away from, he wouldn't have referred to coppers that way, especially not to a copper. Something wasn't adding up. Hathaway had reluctantly interviewed Monkford again and found out that, yes, he had driven the getaway car, but for his own getaway, having had second thoughts and abandoned his accomplices, in the lurch and after his blood. He'd been running away from the crime. Back in Innocent's office, the prosecutor had argued that it made little difference; the man wouldn't have been there if he hadn't consented to the crime in the first place. If one intention matters, so does the next, Lewis had said, and summed it up with a single, clipped word before he'd walked out of the room and the building, holding up a hand to prevent Hathaway from following him: Manslaughter.
What it had taken to see past the destruction of his life and love to behave justly towards a worthless cretin, Hathaway couldn't imagine. But he did know it required more than the 'gentle rain' of a soft heart. It required a principled man who could harden his shattered heart against his own pressing need and do the right thing. God had required his son's life as ransom to grant his mercy.
How could he not love Robert Lewis?
He heard the heavy tread of someone coming up the stairs, then a call, muffled by the closed door, "Edmund? Are you up there, Edmund?" He thought it a good time to take his leave and tossed back the rest of his wine. By the time he turned around, Edmund had opened the door and Bishop Osborn, wearing a huge smile, barrelled through the opening that looked too small to admit him, threw his thick arms around Cleaves and literally lifted him off his feet. "There you are!"
And Edmund laughed like a delighted child, the abrupt, bubbling laugh of a boy taken unawares, his face suddenly radiant. For the second it lasted, Hathaway simply saw its unadulterated charm. It was only when Edmund caught himself in the next second and his whole demeanour stiffened into such an austere propriety that he felt as though he'd just had a glimpse into an inconvenient mirror. Right then, he couldn't quite decide what to think, except for fervently wishing he'd left much, much sooner.
Osborn noticed they had company, didn't look the least bit discomfited. "Ah, your friend's still here," he said, unhurriedly putting Edmund down. "Good. Gives me a chance to greet him. I remember you. Hathaway, isn't it?"
"Detective Sergeant James Hathaway of the Oxfordshire Police," Edmund rushed into the formalities, his voice shaky, "James, His Excellency, My Lord Bishop -- "
"Oh, I'm sure he knows all that," Osborn waved it away good-naturedly, then extended his hand, offering his ring.
Hathaway leaned and briefly touched his lips to it. "Good evening, My Lord Bishop."
"You must overlook an old man's exuberance, as well as forgive the intrusion, but I've had such great news tonight. From the Vatican, no less. I had to share it with my loyal Edmund."
"If you'll both excuse me then -- "
"Sure you won't join us in a celebratory drink?" Osborn interrupted to ask.
"No, thank you, I'm driving. I'll be on my way."
"You won't forget the youth choir rehearsal, James?" Cleaves asked. "After Mass tomorrow?"
"I'll be there," he promised; what else did he have to do with his Sunday? He quickly bid them a good evening and hurried away. The last thing he saw was Osborn unceremoniously chugging wine directly from the bottle.
He'd neglected to pull the door closed after him, and the stairwell carried Osborn's voice down to him. "I just heard," he was saying excitedly, "they're satisfied with the provenances, and they'll be honoured -- note, Edmund, honoured -- to accept my gifts. They're sending a delegation in a few days to deal with the bureaucratic hassles on behalf of His Holiness. Think of it Edmund, my collection in the Vatican. I'll have returned Christianity's ineffable treasures to Christianity's holiest home, imagine that. Are you ready for such exalted circles, my dearest boy? For we'll visit the Vatican soon, God willing, and we won't ever...." The rest got lost with distance as Hathaway took the steps two-three at a time.
A little late in arriving on Sunday morning to feed Monty, with his second hurrying step, Hathaway tripped on the holdall left just inside the door and went wind-milling into Lewis's flat. Next, Monty was rushing to greet him, promptly choosing the better part of valour with feet flying about, becoming a blur darting in and out of his way. By the time he was able to spare the cat and catch himself, he was halfway through the flat, bent-over, one hand gripping the jut of the wall where it led into the hallway to the bedroom, and the chest of the flat's owner was five inches from meeting his nose.
"You're back!" rolled joyfully out of his mouth, with no filter whatsoever. Flustered, he tried to regroup. "Erm, you're home, sir," he stated the obvious again, straightening. "Only, I wasn't expecting -- " he didn't know what confounded him more, that Lewis was back already, or that he was wearing no more than pyjama bottoms barely held up by his hip bones " -- well, you. Right, who else? Early, that is --I mean, I wasn't expecting you until later, that's what I mean." Just shut up, blathering idiot!
"Aye, figured." As if standing there only fuzzily awake, tousled, barefoot and bare-chested, wasn't enough of a provocation, Lewis started knuckling the sleep out of his heavy-lidded eyes, looking like nobody's 'sir,' ever.
Back away, Hathaway told himself, grateful that it wasn't peel yourself off your boss and back away. A few unguarded words seemed negligible in comparison to what he might have done. "Erm, I'll let you get back to bed. Let me feed Monty, and I'll get out of your -- "
"Pop the kettle on while you're at it," Lewis half-said, half-yawned, patted him vaguely on the arm as he passed by to go to the sofa and stretch out on it, ignoring Hathaway's offer of letting him go back to bed. "Make me an eye-opener, there's a good lad, then I'll make us breakfast. Oh, you might want to close the front door."
Monty was hoovering the food more than eating it and the kettle was bubbling on its base when Hathaway was able to get past other distractions and realise Lewis's early return meant he had not followed going out with spending the night. No runs, no wicket for Jean Innocent. Smiling to himself, he reached to pull down two cups and lost the smile and almost the cups when out of nowhere Lewis's palm was on the small of his back. Quiet as Monty's paws, those bare feet, he thought as he fumbled clumsily.
"Forgot it's Sunday, sorry," Lewis said, as if an addled klutz in his kitchen was nothing to notice. "You were rushing fit to break your neck to get to church, weren't you? Didn't mean to keep you, go on, go."
He took care of the klutz part by putting the crockery safely down. He was still addled, blamed it on the warm, light touch of the hand that seemed in no hurry to leave him. "Don't want to -- I mean, need to go -- I mean, been already." Lewis glanced at the clock on the cooker, so he added, "I went to Vigil Mass last night."
The pressure of the hand on Hathaway's back increased noticeably and Lewis looked unduly concerned. "Vigil? Who for?"
"Oh, you thought -- nobody. In anticipation of Sunday is all it means. Regular Saturday evening Mass."
"Ah." The hand patted him for good measure and was removed. "All newly polished and pure this morning, eh?" Lewis grinned up at him, part indulgent, part playful. "And me not havin' touched a razor to me face."
Hathaway had a deranged impulse to grab that face between his hands and show him how far a bit of stubble was from wanton impurity. A felicitous saint must've been watching out for lunatics; Monty, having inhaled his food too fast, made a gagging sound and threw up in between their feet, making them both jump back a pace.
"You don't have shoes on," Hathaway waved Lewis away, "go and lie down. I'll take care of it."
No fool he, Lewis promptly took him up on the offer and headed for the sofa, quipping, "Greater love has no man."
You don't know the half of it.
By the time the floor was scrupulously clean --Hathaway being severe about cleanliness-- the tea had steeped. Lewis looked asleep, but Hathaway filled two cups anyway and carried them to the coffee table. When he leaned to put the steaming cups down, he saw that Monty had now flattened himself on the floor to reach a paw as far as possible under the sofa, trying to dig something out. He rather suspected what it could be, went to his knees, bent over and slid his hand in, groped blindly.
"What're you doing?" Lewis asked from over his head, reminding him of the utter indignity of his position.
"Just a minute -- ah, got it." He walked the photo back with his fingertips until he could pull it out. Lewis's head was hanging off the sofa, curiously watching Monty's paws argue the toss with Hathaway's hand. "Must've missed one," he explained, handing the photo to Lewis, much to Monty's disgust. He rolled over to sit with his back against the sofa, patting his lap to distract the cat.
Lewis sat up while looking down at the photo. "Missed one?"
"Your floor was covered with photos yesterday, and that," he pointed at the box he had repacked and put out of harm's way on a high shelf, "was turned over in the hallway." From the address on it, he'd assumed Lewis had packed it to post to his daughter, and Monty might have been bored with the tidy flat. After all, he'd been living amid eye-popping clutter previously. "They're not badly damaged," he assured. "Some are a little chewed on the edges, but just the edges." A few were no longer as glossy as they'd been, Monty apparently fond of licking emulsion off photo stock, but maybe that could go without mention.
"Wretched little pest," Lewis grumbled at the cat, then, as was his wont, assumed the fair portion of the blame, "I shouldn't have left it in reach without taping it." Raising two kids must've inured him to diminutive troublemakers. He rose to pull down the box, carried it back to the sofa and opened it to thumb through the photos. "Lyn wants to scan these. Now that she's going to be a mother, all of a sudden she's turned into the family archivist."
Hathaway kept petting Monty who'd settled in his lap. The cat was coming in handy this morning, now giving him a reason to stay where he didn't have to look at Lewis. He hoped the thought of splatters would make him get more clothes on before he started breakfast. Silly to be so off-balance over it, as if he didn't see the man in all forms of undress at the gym, but that was a public place for public demeanour. There was an artless abandon to the man who'd rolled out of the warmth of his own bed, the pyjamas he'd slept in more naked somehow than nudity.
Pretending preoccupation to avoid saying anything was, of course, as good as shouting in Lewis's ear. "You looked through them?" he asked.
"I just picked them up."
Lewis gave his upper arm a backhanded slap, neatly getting across his views on perjury. Clearly, Hathaway's habit of rifling through anything available for rifling hadn't gone unnoticed. But what could he say, yes, I looked, but I don't know the man in those photos? A very nice looking man with the same sweet smile and bright blue eyes, playing with his kids, embracing his wife, mugging for the camera, part of a family unit. Especially in the holiday photos, his hair a little longer, a little fuller, in the skimpy getups men could once sport on the beach without blushing, he was lovely, lively, yet undimmed: the man Valerie Lewis had loved. The one who grabbed at his heart wouldn't have existed had she lived, the lonely man intimately familiar with pain, etched deeply by time and loss, still holding on to his kind nature.
He groped for something innocuous to say. "You moved a lot then, too, didn't you?"
Lewis chuckled. "Not really. We rented a flat when we moved here until we found our feet, then bought a semi-detached. Once the bairns are school age, it's the same house. Except every couple of years Val would strip it down and dress it up differently."
He put the box aside, picked up his tea and moved the other cup into Hathaway's reach. "She'd be sitting there frowning at an empty spot, and we knew something was bound to fill it soon -- empty places need filling, she liked to say. Something would take her fancy, she'd put it in the spot, start frowning at that and we'd start hiding the things we didn't want rid of. Whatever the new thing was, it just hadn't fitted in right, so everything around it had to change. Can't tell you how many hours of overtime I put in just to help the house go topsy-turvy all over again." He didn't sound complaining, only wistful, and a little amused. "She changed so much around us that once I told her I feared she'd exchange me one day for another bloke. She laughed at me, said I was quite filling. Except I wasn't. Working with Morse, I was gone a lot, or I was so knackered I was as good as gone. She didn't complain, well, not often. She probably thought Morse was so empty, he needed filling. Not far wrong there. My lass wasn't into sitting around and moping, worked off and on, took classes, went to lectures. She was curious about a lot, liked learning new things, another year, another language -- come to think on it, she was a bit like you."
Absolutely, positively not going there, Hathaway thought.
"So let's fill you up," Lewis's voice lightened, "Bangers or bacon?"
It was Sunday and getting onto noon. "Sure."
"Good man." He went to pick up his holdall. "The hotel served a great tayberry jam from a local farm, talked them out of a jar. You'll like it."
Look how empty you left him, Val. He's happy to make breakfast for his sergeant.
Digging into the holdall for the jam also unearthed laundry to be done, and throwing them into the machine unearthed clothes that must've been left in the washer and the dryer for days, judging by Lewis's repeated, "Oh, bugger," as he set some to wash or dry and piled others into a basket and shoved them aside. He did get around to donning trousers and a polo shirt, started the fry-up, which enticed Monty into the kitchen. Hathaway pulled himself up off the floor and followed.
"What's been happening at the nick?" Lewis asked.
"We're set for the new National Database. Or if we're not, we won't find out until tomorrow morning." Hathaway poured his tepid tea into the sink and got a fresh cup. "There was another break-in on Boar's Hill, complete carnage this time. If you'd been here, we might have caught it. Laxton has it."
"This is what, the fourth break-in?"
"Except this one has a body count." He changed the subject, "We have a couple of new people -- one's not so new, actually. Knox came back." Only days into his suspension, DI Knox had been done for drink driving again and knocked back to sergeant. He'd requested a transfer and Innocent, merciful for once, had put it through.
"There's a surprise. How come?"
"No idea. He made it clear he doesn't care to talk to me."
As usual, Lewis didn't inquire further. He'd never asked about Hathaway's earlier working relationship with Knox, either. He opened the eggbox. "Boiled, scrambled, fried?"
"It's a fry-up."
"Right you are." He set the butter to melt in a pan. "Grab a couple of plates and sit down, I'll be dishing up soon."
Good thing it was the weekend and Hathaway was wearing a t-shirt. Despite letting Monty lighten the load, the amount of food that ended up in his stomach would've have popped the buttons on his tailored shirts on a weekday. Lewis might not be much of a cook otherwise, but his fry-up justified the pleasure he seemed to get out of serving it. Hathaway suspected it had been his speciality when he'd had a family to gather around his table, did his best to be decent company, eat as much as Lewis clearly wanted him to eat. After breakfast, he thought it only fair and started on the washing up while Lewis gave some attention to his laundry. Shortly, he came to the sink and picked up the next soapy plate. "Go on," he prompted Hathaway by bumping him lightly with his shoulder. "Go and have the cigarette you're dying to have, I'll finish up."
It was a brisk, sunny day, the light, as usual for Oxford, buttery, and getting its low autumn angle, throwing longer shadows. Two different residents of the building smiled spontaneously at Hathaway as they passed by him, but only when a little girl running out to meet her friends on the street flashed him a gap-toothed smile, children not being given to pre-emptive civility, did he realise a smile was hanging around on his face. He put a stop to that, then found himself whistling in between drags of smoke -- what was the matter with him? True, he felt content for the moment, but that normally had a calm, contemplative feel. This time it was accompanied by an...effervescence. Maybe there was a bubbly component to -- what? Happiness?
Lewis yawned hugely as he put away the last of the dishes. He'd had too little sleep. At the late hour he'd arrived home, he'd had to park streets away, haul his holdall and trudge back. He'd opted for another shower even though falling straight into the bed clothes and all had been the most attractive option. Except Laura's perfume lingering on him had been an inconvenient reminder all through the drive; he hadn't cared to take it into the bed with him. Maybe he should've gone back to sleep as James had suggested, but the lad had been so obviously delighted by his return. He couldn't think of a single person who'd been that glad to see him in...well, felt like forever. He was glad he'd made the effort. With good company and the smells of cooking lingering, his flat felt like a home for a change.
He set up the ironing board and pulled the clothes out of the dryer, piled the shirts on the back of a chair to wait their turn. He was folding the rest on the cleared table when Hathaway came back in, nodded at the shirts and offered, "I'll give you a hand with those, shall I?"
Lewis cast him a glance to make sure he was serious. "It's your Sunday."
Hathaway plugged in the iron, caught Monty in mid-leap as the cat tried to jump onto the board, sternly explained the dangers of a hot iron while carrying him to the bedroom to shut him in. He came back and proceeded to press wrinkles into submission, and the table started looking like the host of a gathering of gentlemen as immaculately crisp shirts draped the shoulders of its chairs. "You're going to make Innocent weep for joy," Lewis had to say. "I won't be able to live up to it unless you start keeping house for me full time. How would I explain that to her?"
"Talking of whom," Hathaway said, a bit too hurriedly, "she'll have a new nestling. The other addition to our ranks will arrive tomorrow. Someone on the accelerated fast-track they're trying out."
"I should get her a cigar." Innocent was something of a mother hen with her fast-tracks. "Lad or lass?"
"Lad. An Etonian. Straight out of training, coming in under the brand new rank of inspector trainee."
The old-timers would have fits. Their noses were out of joint even with the fast-tracks who'd paid their dues in uniform. "Maybe tucking him under her wing will keep her busy -- enough to keep her from meddling in my life, any road." He pushed the folded stacks to one side and upended the basket onto the table, started sorting socks. "Laura was at the Conference. I had no idea, she had no idea, but I suspect Innocent had another one of her dotty ideas to pair me off. Means I got lumbered with that bloody speech for sod all."
Hathaway didn't say anything, didn't so much as look up, bent even further over the board. He may as well have been waving a flag of disavowal. In false colours. Lewis waited for the silence to stretch long enough for his eyes to flicker up, and accused, "You knew."
"I didn't know exactly," he tried to squirm out of it. "Just...sort of...rather... suspected."
"And you didn't tell me why?" That all-purpose reticence, he'd bet, which somehow did not apply when it was Lewis dodging the issue of Laura. Nosing about seemed to be acceptable then.
"It's still not any of my business, is it? I didn't want to presume."
Lewis huffed impatiently. "We're pottering 'round my flat of a Sunday, you cleaned cat sick off me floor, you're standing there pressing me shirts -- go ahead, presume a tad."
Lewis had meant it in general, but Hathaway applied the permission on the spot, "In that case, what happened?"
"Not much." He went back to pairing his socks. "Got into a bother last night, she sort of yelled at me, I sort of yelled at her, then we backed off and agreed it's not going to work. At least that's settled."
"Are you disappointed?"
"That it took yelling, aye. Cleared the air, though." Enough sharing. He held up a sock, squinted at it, then dangled it towards Hathaway. "Is this dark blue or black?"
"Blue." Lewis picked a mate for it from the pile on the table, only to have him add, "That one's black."
Hathaway stepped around and quickly separated the colours. "I've said this before -- "
"Don't say it again," Lewis cut him off. "I don't need specs."
Sir. So commonplace to hear from Hathaway's mouth, and right then it felt wrong. Lewis almost said Just call me Robbie, before he realised it wasn't the word that was inappropriate, it was everything else. When had he ever sorted Morse's socks? He couldn't imagine Hathaway pressing a single shirt for Knox, either. Just because Lewis felt a little battered from the night before, he had no business taking advantage of the lad to...to fill up the empty places. "It's your day off, James, don't you have something better to do?" came out of his mouth -- sod it. Now he'd said something the poor man couldn't answer either way without denigrating his boss. "Fun. I meant something fun."
"Fun?" Hathaway asked as if the word had changed its definition on him without notice.
"Look, let's leave all this, put on some music. Your choice." And if Hathaway preferred something spiritual, well, it was Sunday. "If you like, there's Handel somewhere on the lower shelf. It's by a children's choir, though."
Hathaway took two steps and stopped abruptly, "Damn it, I forgot."
"I, erm, sort of promised -- it's a rehearsal. Not my rehearsal, just a youth choir. I don't have to go."
"If you promised, shouldn't you?"
"Right. I should go, shouldn't I?"
"If you want."
Hathaway seemed to scoff at that, but as he chose Latin to express it, Lewis couldn't be sure. "Volo," he mumbled and gave a disparaging huff. "Differentia est vacuus." He shook his head as if to clear it. "Right, I'm off, sir. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Have fun," Lewis called out after him.
He ironed the one shirt left to be ironed, rolled the socks, put everything away, released Monty, gave the table and the worktops another wipe unnecessarily -- and it was still Sunday. He flipped through the newspaper, then the telly, thought of a nap, couldn't settle for any of them, finally gave up and dug out his BlackBerry. Latin wasn't a complete stranger to English at the root. He knew est was 'is.' Differencia had to be something like 'difference,' 'different,' 'distinct' -- yes, 'difference.' Vacuus? 'Vacuous?' 'Vacuum?' Ah, 'empty,' an all too familiar state. But what did 'difference is empty' mean?
He searched for the one word he didn't know at all. Volo: 'to wish,' 'to want,' 'to will,' 'wishing,' 'wanting' -- suddenly it fell into place. 'If you want,' he'd said. 'Wanting,' Hathaway seemed to have responded, 'is a difference that makes none.'
And meant what by it?
Don't be a nosy prat, he told himself, if you needed to know, he'd have said it in plain English, and picked up the remote again.
Lewis arrived at work early, having had enough of rattling around in his flat. As he was crossing the car park, a well-scrubbed young man came out of his car, nodded at him politely, and proceeded to button his jacket, tug his shirtsleeves to match each other, smooth his already slicked-down hair. Lewis noted the Eton tie, black with baby-blue stripes: Innocent's new fledgling in all his proud plumage. Obviously, police training hadn't quite prepared him for the nitty-gritty. By the time Lewis had exchanged pleasantries with the desk sergeant and walked upstairs, the young man was in the Chief Super's anteroom, looking like a head boy waiting for the head mistress.
Hathaway had come in early, too. He was already in the incident room, looking over the crime scene photos of the home invasion that had been tacked on the whiteboard for a briefing. "Good morning, sir," he said when Lewis approached.
"Morning. Do you happen to have a spare tie in your locker?"
Hathaway cast an appraising eye over Lewis's own tie. "I have a couple, if you want to change yours for something...else."
Better, Lewis was sure he'd avoided saying. "My tie is fine, thank you." He gave Hathaway a cautionary look should he be foolhardy enough to dispute it. "But if you don't mind loaning one to our new recruit, he's in Innocent's reception. Guess he wanted to show his colours to Oxford, except poking the troops in the eye first thing won't earn him any favours." Clueless young things needed as many favours as they could get. "Go and have a quiet word with him."
"What colour is his suit?"
"Dark grey. Light blue shirt."
"I should have something that'll work."
Lewis ran his eye over the photos on the board after Hathaway left. Three battered and bloody corpses, a man, a woman, both middle-aged, and an old man, husband, wife and the man's father, according to the notations. He read the notes jotted around the photos, the list of suppositions down one side, some sparse facts involving the previous incidents on Boar's Hill, obviously considered linked -- except that felt wrong to him. He stood there mulling it over until he realised people were arriving in a steady stream, and Hathaway was back, looking over his shoulder. "This feels like rage to me," Lewis told him quietly. "Tends to be personal. Nothing personal about the earlier break-ins."
"I think the prevailing assumption is that they made the mistake of entering an occupied house. The occupants fought back, hard."
"How hard did he fight?" Lewis tapped the photo of the old man collapsed on the floor in front of his wheelchair at the top of a landing. In any case, though, he should leave it alone before Laxton came in and found him sticking his nose into her case. He wouldn't like it, why should she? He headed for their office, Hathaway in tow. "What did you think of the new boy?"
"He rejoices in the name Colin Berkleigh-Collingsworth. Told him to lose Berkleigh if he didn't want to be known as The Berk all his working life. Not that Colin Collingsworth is an improvement. He'll probably become Collie. If not worse canine appellations."
Poor lad. "Other than his unfortunate name?"
"Squeaky young and he knows it."
"Starting a step ahead of you, then."
"I was never that young." Hathaway told him huffily.
Lewis smiled and let it go.
The idiosyncrasies of the new National Database kept Hathaway whinging at his terminal for the next hour as Lewis twiddled his thumbs and agreed, off and on, yes, it could've been programmed better, with only a vague notion of what he was agreeing to. Finally he got bored enough to pull up the CID Internal Audit page and fill in their monthly spreadsheet for expenses, which really bored him. So much so that Innocent leaning into the office and saying, "Robbie, a word?" was welcome, even if he still smarted from what she may have done to his peace of mind lately. Again.
Hathaway started to get up to leave, but Innocent motioned him down. "We have a brand new officer, needs someone to familiarise him with us and the city. Seeing how you don't have anything pressing, I'd like to borrow Hathaway to take him around for a day or two. I hear they've met already."
Lewis couldn't think of a reason to refuse, and why should they both sit in the office and get bored? Before he could agree, Laxton was also at his door, saying to Innocent, "Excuse me, guv." She addressed Lewis once Innocent nodded at her to go on, "I'm long on assignments and short on people, would you mind terribly if I borrowed Hathaway?" making Lewis mightily resist the temptation to ask: Do I hear a bid?
"Case work trumps rank," Innocent decided unilaterally, waving her permission, "he's all yours." She exchanged a done-deal nod with Laxton.
Hathaway looked from one to the other and pointedly swivelled his chair towards Lewis. "Sir?"
Good thing the lad wasn't after quick promotions. Snubbing the highest ranking officer in the room wasn't the way to get them. "Until we have a case, sure, go ahead."
Hathaway followed Laxton out of the office to join her briefing, Innocent followed them to keep an eye on it, and now Lewis's office was as empty as his flat. And just as devoid of anything worth doing. After finishing up the spreadsheet, he played a hand of solitaire, felt guilty about frittering away work time and stopped. He sat back, itching to go and join the only thing he could see happening, the briefing outside.
Bad idea. Laxton had less seniority, he'd snatched a case from her once already, she might feel he was attempting to upstage her. Best stay in his office. Even if seeing Hathaway out there -- you couldn't overlook that height and that blond head for trying -- paying attention to someone else's case felt...wrong. How ironic that what Innocent had inadvertently joined together by getting him a simple ride from the airport was the woman's only success at pairing him off. Should it be enough of a success, though, to remind him of Lyn, eight years old, coming back from school in a lather, wailing about her best friend who'd taken to playing with someone else? A bit embarrassing, that. He shut off the thoughts and tidied his desk drawers instead -- oh, that's where all the paperclips had gone.
Briefing over, Hathaway came back in, gave a put-upon huff and started transferring addresses from the phone directory into his BlackBerry. "I meant this when I said it before, I mean it now," he grumbled. "When you leave this building for the last time, I'll be right behind you."
"Don't cross that bridge in a hurry, your view might be different from a step higher. What's the problem?"
Hathaway cast a glance outside their office. "I asked the question you raised about Standish senior -- that's the old man. The answer was, he must've seen the perpetrators when they tossed the bedrooms for valuables, might've been able to describe them."
"You don't agree."
"Apart from some impressions of bloody shoes, there are no prints, no trace evidence that don't belong to the occupants or the very few people regularly in and out of the house. The intruders broke in, encased in what, rubber suits? But forgot to cover their faces?"
"You think it's an inside job." The severity of the attacks had suggested the same to him.
"I do, but unless the cleaning service they used throws up some possibilities, there are no candidates. It's a small, reclusive family, very tight-fisted according to sources, not given to friends or entertaining. Just two elderly aunts in town, well-off in their own right. And sixteen year old twin sons at St Edward's, living in a boarding house of the school. The other six kids in the house alibi them for the time of the incident."
"There's a mystery right there."
Hathaway frowned. "Where?"
"Tight-fisted. Why pay boarding fees when the family lived in town?"
"I lived in the vicinity and boarded at school year-round."
Why? came to the tip of Lewis's tongue. He bit it back. Maybe one day Hathaway would volunteer the reasons. Right, that would happen. He left it at, "Your nearest didn't end up in our morgue."
"True. In any case, I'll keep it to myself for now." He made a face. "Laxton's team has been on the case for four days, opinions have hardened. I'm just there for drudge work." He raised his BlackBerry. "I'll be out checking pawn shops for the stolen items. Too bad fences don't advertise in the directory."
"I can help with that. Let me make a call." He located Norman Wilkes, the Oxford Mail reporter he'd known for as long as he'd been in the city, took advantage of the man's prodigious memory and his lifetime of poking around the city's underbelly. He jotted down notes, told Norm, yes, he'd be happy to buy him a drink --or five, knowing Norm-- that evening, put down his phone and handed the notes to Hathaway. "That should keep you hopping."
"So kind of you, sir." His droll delivery made Lewis smile. "Think I'll take Colin with me. Pounding the pavement is a good way to learn a city."
And off he went. Unless a case came up, probably for days. Norm should have enough interesting stories to fill one evening at least.
Ah, yes, there it was. Llewellyn-Pierce stuck a post-it to mark the page that was going to...well, not make him rich, but solve all his problems. He closed and put the book on top of the pile of tomes he'd been double-checking. Ginny was a clever girl, and would make an excellent research assistant next term. She'd tracked down the most important inscription in an easily-missed book from the Halicarnassus Museum in Asia Minor amidst a stack of them she'd collected for him at the library. He once more rifled through the photos he'd printed from the shots he'd taken in Osborn's office, just for the sheer satisfaction, then swept the prints of the codices into a drawer of his desk and locked it.
First, he'd call the damned bishop and set up another meeting, at a more private place this time. Then he'd tell Drusilla that if she held off on spreading her poison for a few more days, he'd be able to set up her and her horses comfortably. Sometime soon he had to pack a bag. He could no longer stand being in the same house with her.
He couldn't wait to get himself to a hotel, invite Eleanor, show her how wrong she'd been for doubting him, and let her work out how best to make it up to him for giving him such a hard time lately.
Hathaway arranged the valuables he'd spent days collecting from various pawnbrokers and fences on the interview room table. He stood a moment, frowning down at the items. Nothing suspicious about them; Boar's Hill was a posh, old-money neighbourhood and an abundance of valuable heirlooms was expected. From all he'd gathered, though, the items had been sold by young men of various descriptions during the two days between the crime and the cleaning service coming in to find the bodies. Nobody had used the word 'teenager' in his hearing, but the shifty eyes and unnecessary avowals said that 'young' stood for very young. None of the descriptions matched the twins, but instead of ridding him of the sickening suspicion that had lodged in him early on, it was reminding him that the alibi for the Standish boys had been furnished by half a dozen teenagers. Except he doubted the fences would be in any hurry to identify underage kids from photos even if he had permission to get photos and disseminate them.
He sent a constable to collect the twins, asked to be notified of their arrival, and headed for his office. Colin saw him crossing the incident room and waved him over enthusiastically to his newly-assigned desk. Lewis seemed to be occupied in their office, talking to the department psychiatrist, probably in preparation for Bethan Vickery's hearing, so Hathaway veered towards Colin.
The young man now waved at his desk as if he wished he could introduce it by name. "Yes, very nice," Hathaway felt obliged to say about the standard-issue desk.
"It's a start," Colin demurred like any good-family progeny warned against showing off. "It'll do for now."
They hadn't supplied the desk with a visitor's chair yet; Hathaway perched on the corner of it. "For now?" Even accelerated fast-track wasn't likely to be as fast as Colin might be hoping for.
"I know I have a lot to learn," Colin said modestly. "That's why I chose Oxford, you see. It's rather old-fashioned, isn't it? I mean, which other force uses the term 'bagman' any more, I ask you? It's positively antediluvian."
Hathaway tried not to glare at him. Was the whelp trying to make him feel hoary? "Your point being?"
"Oh, no, no. That's what I want," Colin hurried to say, letting Hathaway know his attempt not to glare had been a failure. "Precisely why I wanted to be here. With a mentor, that's the way I'd like to learn. I mean, you ought to know. It is the best way to learn the job, isn't it? "
Oh. OK. "In an ideal world. In practice, it depends."
Not hoary then. Just an oracle, judging by the way he was being regarded in all earnestness. Hathaway dropped his voice. "Your DI. In the first place, no guarantee of one; there are fewer inspectors than sergeants. Usually, a DI won't put you down or raise you up; you both just get on with the job. For some, a bagman is a bagman." He'd had first-hand experience in being one of the seen and preferably not heard. "Too often, you're the closest target for blame when anything goes wrong. If you're very lucky, you'll get a DI who'll mentor you when you need it but not patronise you, forgive your screw ups, value your contributions, might even come to treat you as a colleague." And more importantly, he thought, there's his or her heart.
In the course of a single case, he'd realised Lewis didn't stand outside cases looking in, didn't watch the clock, he listened and heard, valued evidence more than his own conclusions even when it went against his grain, was tolerant, protective. But it hadn't been until the very end, as Innocent was arriving on the scene, Hathaway had squeezed in a call to Trudi Griffon at the hospital and found out Lewis had already been there to absolve her son. That was when he'd decided: He's the one, if he'll have me. Most lead investigators would've considered the case closed, the job done, the participants no longer a concern. Lewis's first imperative had been to rush off to give the grieving mother the only consolation he could.
"That's the ideal world," he was concluding when he noticed Colin was no longer looking at him. He followed the young man's gaze to see what had drawn his attention: Lewis, half-rising to hand some papers across his desk. "Forget it, he's mine." Colin's jerk and his widened eyes that snapped back to him made him realise belatedly what he'd said.
"Y-yes, I k-know," Colin stammered. "I just -- he must be one of the best, I was thinking. I mean, for you to stay with him for so long, right?"
"Right." He'd managed to moderate his tone, and it would've been fine if Colin had stopped there.
"But you must be moving up soon. You came in on fast-track, too. Innocent said you can get your promotion just like that," punctuated by a snap of his fingers, "and she thinks it's high time you should."
Bloody Innocent and her meddling! "My track is none of your sodding -- " he started before his brain caught up and reminded him he was talking to a clueless young trainee. He'd said something a lot more unforgivable to Lewis when he'd been the junior whit, and to his shame, he hadn't been clueless, not after seeing the man at his wife's grave. "I'm being an arsehole," he backed off the bewildered young man. "I'm sorry, Colin. Truly."
"Sore spot?" Colin asked.
"You might say. Sorry."
"I'm sorry if I said anything wrong."
"You're fine. Let's just say I'm on the track I want to be and leave it at that."
"Buy me a pint later and we'll leave it at that."
"Spoken like a true copper. You learn fast." He got to his feet. "I should get back to work."
Lewis was on the phone with an MI5 busybody who'd rung to berate him for not keeping Judith Suskin's name and whereabouts out of the media during the Voss inquest. In the middle of clenching his teeth and explaining to the man that the Suskin name, business and photos had already been in the media before there was a case, Hathaway came in, shut the door, put a file on his desk and stood over it, tapping it with two fingers.
From his tense, too-tightly controlled movements, Lewis knew James had in fact stormed in, slammed the door, slapped down the file, and was stabbing it repeatedly. No, he told the voice on the phone, he didn't know the cost of relocating the Suskins with new identities and, no, he had no way to judge the danger left over from an old feud in Ireland, or venture an opinion as to the safety of the participants if left in place. But he was sure, he added deliberately, there was a government agency that could. Would it be MI5?
It worked a treat. The man got off the phone. "Pillock," Lewis mumbled, and asked Hathaway, "Problem?"
"The unwritten rules of policing, as usual." He stopped jabbing at the file, but didn't turn around. The tightness of his jaw came through in the way he was biting off his words. "Any Joe Bloggs, kick down his door, drag him out, toss the place, no problem. The rich and the mighty, tug on your forelock and bow away."
Lewis sighed. "You know, James, if someone borrows your belt, they don't expect to find you in the trousers they need held up."
That worked, too. Hathaway faced him, his demeanour slackened into a picture of: Huh?
"It's Laxton's case, but all right," obviously, his sergeant wasn't playing well with others, "go on, tell me about it."
"I had the Standish twins brought in to identify the items we recovered. There's something terribly wrong with those boys."
"They're young, they lost their whole family, some weirdness is normal. What did they do?"
"They identified some stuff, didn't recognise others, or so they said. Mostly, they kept finding ways to make Julie lean over the table and leered at her backside."
Teenage hormones shouldn't overcome devastation that much. "And you want to do what, interrogate them, search their rooms?"
"Been done. I want to search the other boys' rooms, interrogate them, the ones who gave the alibis."
Whoa. "Bad seed, happens, I get it. Rage exploding in a family, I get that, too. But six other sixteen year olds, not even related? Premeditated conspiracy? I doubt it, James."
"I'm not saying they were in on the killings. After the fact. Even rich families don't give sixteen year olds money to burn. They may not have questioned or wanted to question the windfall at first. Later would've been too late, they'd be implicated already."
Not totally out of the realm of possibility. "I take it you talked to Laxton about it?"
"And Innocent. Been warned off by both. Gut feeling can't get me a warrant, yes, I'm aware, but they're just a bunch of kids, probably scared silly by now. They'll break if someone leans on them. Unless I have evidence to justify it, though, I'm not to go near them. That'll bring in the parents and that might cost Innocent a soiree invitation or two. There's no concrete evidence tying in the twins, let alone the others."
"But you can't let it go."
"Probably not." I have no business sticking my nose in, he thought, but in for a penny. "Morse used to say if you can't go forward, go back to the beginning. Crime scene still intact?"
"Yes. Nobody's living there any more."
"Rawbones was on a sabbatical, Laura was at the Conference. Who processed it?"
Hathaway put the last nail into Lewis's reluctance, "Your favourite locum, Cook."
"Now I know someone has to take another look at it. Grab a kit." Lewis got up and snagged his jacket from the back of his chair. Start with chucking a mattress into a skip and look where you end up. "Hobnailed boots."
He shrugged into his jacket. "What Laxton's going to use to stomp on me."
Hathaway took his coat and Lewis's anorak from the stand. "Talking of leather accessories...."
"Did you compare me to a belt?" He handed over Lewis's anorak. "Really, sir?"
"Funny, I don't remember saying 'come in'," Hobson said from the door of her office.
Lewis and Hathaway whirled to face her. "Good evening , Doctor," Hathaway said. "We didn't expect to find you in at this hour."
"'Evening, Laura," Lewis added, "We were just -- "
"I was just leaving you a note," Hathaway overrode him, trying to keep Lewis out of as much trouble as possible.
Laura was regarding them as if she'd caught a couple of miscreants, which wasn't too far off the mark. "Good evening, Sergeant," she said indifferently. "Lewis."
Hathaway didn't care how she chose to address him, but a quick look at Lewis confirmed he did.
"What's so urgent that it couldn't wait until morning?"
It would have, if you hadn't come in. "I was hoping you wouldn't mind casting an eye over Dr Cook's conclusions for the Standish case. I looked at the crime scene again, and I think he may have missed a few things. It can wait until tomorrow."
"I'm here now." While Hobson's voice didn't warm up at all, she wasted no time in coming to her desk to locate the file and flip it open, as professional as ever at her job. "What do you think he miss -- oh, wait." She went back and forth through some pages. "Not missed so much as started out with a faulty assumption maybe. In this case, hard to blame him. He says no appreciable trace evidence was recovered from the perpetrators, only the occupants. You're thinking, what if they're one and the same?"
Hathaway could've kissed her. As FME, she was priceless. "Exactly."
"Did you find the shoes that match these sole impressions?"
"I doubt we can. Sir, you're holding some evidence bags for me?" he asked to cover up the fact Lewis was holding them because he'd been the one to notice the uncollected ashes under the grate and sift through them. He pointed at the bags Lewis took out of his pocket and placed on the desk. "Grommets from shoe eyelets, I believe. A couple of metal buttons and rivets, probably from jeans, teeth from zips. All recovered from the fireplace." Clearly, bloody clothes and shoes had been burned.
Lewis put another bag holding a few crimped metal shoelace tips on the desk."And these thingummies."
"Aglets," Hathaway supplied.
"Aigullettes," Hobson corrected.
He knew he should let it go, but out it came anyway, "In English, aglets."
"Originally aigullettes. In French."
"Actually, its origin is Latin, acus."
"Thingummies was working for me," Lewis mumbled.
"Haven't we already established what works for you doesn't necessarily work for me?" Hobson threw over her shoulder pointedly.
Now Hathaway could've slapped her. An awkward silence fell until Lewis broke it, "Right then, I'll let you get on with it." A light touch on the arm told Hathaway: Not your problem; stay. "I'm off. Good night, James --" a second's hesitation, then "--Laura."
Hathaway unclenched his jaw long enough to say, "Good night, sir," while Hobson lifted a hand sketchily, her attention on some photos in the file. She was probably unaware of the moment Lewis had almost pushed her to a professional distance but chosen not to.
"That's interesting." Hobson squinted at a photo. "Where did these blood drops in the kitchen come from? They're isolated, no smears or trailing drips connecting them to the bodies. " She motioned at Hathaway and led him into the lab. There, she dug into a cabinet and started pulling out evidence bags from the case. "Stop looming, sit somewhere," she said, "Give me time to check a few things."
He hoisted himself onto a low cabinet while she wrote a note, called in a tech and handed it over. "Do it now," she said to him and sent him on his way. Then she removed some samples from the bags, started working on them. "Oh, stop it," she told Hathaway without looking at him as she set up four small phials.
He wasn't doing anything except waiting quietly. "Stop what?"
"It used to amuse Robbie when I took Morse down a peg." She glared over her shoulder at him. "You, however, bristle."
"From all I heard, Morse deserved to be taken down a peg."
"No," he answered shortly.
"That's your informed opinion, is it?"
Why did she always assume they kept tattling to each other? "You're under a misconception, Doctor. Lewis and I don't share nearly as many confidences as you think we do. I don't know what happened between you. But I do know he doesn't take it lightly, and he was...disappointed."
"That's what he said." He didn't think he was stretching the truth too far.
"He's not the only one." She finished with the tubes, pulled out a blood test card, smeared small amounts of hydrated samples on the fields. "DNA sequencing will be done when it's done. By the quick and dirty way -- just a sec, it's clumping. Ah, Group A."
"Both male victims were Group O, the female, AB."
He hopped off the cabinet. "So there's blood from someone else on the scene."
"Not only that, if an offspring of O and AB doesn't inherit either, Group A is a safe bet." She indicated the bags they had delivered to her. "If I carefully burned my bloody clothes, I'd also wash. I sent a tech to process the bathrooms."
"We -- " sod it " -- I thought of that. Reckoned any evidence would've washed away."
"Stains in pipes might still show up under black light. Tissue transferred from the victims could be caught in the traps. If you want to wait and see what comes back, go and have some coffee or something. It's going to take a while."
Upon leaving, Lewis found that the brisk, chilly slap of the night air suited his mood. He was tempted to keep walking, knowing he could easily walk back in the morning; his flat wasn't that far away. But Hathaway would notice the car, wonder, maybe worry, and check on him -- in case he'd been abducted by aliens, he supposed, since there were no other takers around.
By the time he parked his car on his street, he'd had to admit that, yes, there'd been takers, some without ulterior motives, and he couldn't very well blame them if he had chosen not to go along. He may have even used Laura as a comfortable excuse to avoid other possibilities. If he had to make peace with anybody, he should look to himself, shouldn't he?
He could take that walk now and nobody would notice. Or care.
Hathaway loitered in the corridor outside Forensics until he saw the tech come back. He was further reining in his impatience to give Hobson time to study the results when she walked out, buttoning her trench coat. "The boys' bath drain is stained," she informed him. "Better yet, a few strands of hair with bulbs in the trap. Dyed, so probably from the mother. For anything more definite, we all have to wait. I'm going home."
"Thank you, Doctor." Good night, he started to say, but of course, the car park was in the same direction for both of them. He fell in step with her, pulling on his own coat. "I do apologise for -- "
"Once I have the results," she interrupted him, "I'll take them to Laxton directly, tell her I found discrepancies in Cook's report and followed up on them." She looked at him with something like tolerant exasperation. "Going behind a colleague's back isn't the done thing, and dissembling isn't Robbie's style. It's best if proprietary issues don't come up at all, don't you think?"
Once again, he could've kissed her. "I'd appreciate that." He held the door to the outside open for her. "Greatly."
"So I was a bit snappish, but he's still a dear friend, you know. More than that just didn't work out." A gust of wind made her hunch her shoulders and lift her collar. "Predictable, I suppose. We've known each other a long time. Familiarity might be cosy in a settled relationship, but it's dulling at the start. Nothing new to get the blood stirring, as it were. And we're both too mature to be carried away by the prospect of...rumpy-pumpy, as Strange preferred it said. I think the main appeal was the ease."
Ease. Right. So unfair how easily she could've had it and how casually she could dismiss it. "All due respect, Doctor, but that's a bit too much information for me." He was, however, glad to know that the silly epithet for sex had been handed down to Lewis from up high.
"You're too young to act the prude," she chided. "Just toss it into the category of confidences you two don't share."
What a crowded category that was. He saw her to her car and headed for his.
Cold and somewhat footsore as he entered his flat, Lewis expected to be glad of the warmth and the promise of rest. But turning the light on and seeing the place exactly as he'd left it threw him back into the disquiet he'd thought he'd exhausted by a long, determined walk. Unless he changed it, or Monty was very, very bad, nothing ever changed in his flat. He closed the door in the morning and opened it at night on the same tidy, empty, quiet same. Too late to wish he hadn't yelled at the kids when their toys, books, school bags had cluttered his path, hadn't demanded their noise or loud music to cease, hadn't minded getting tangled in Val's delicates when he'd wanted a late shower, hadn't -- an endless list, really. Of no more.
Monty had given up on him, settled for dry food and burrowed in between the two pillows on the bed too deeply for anything more than an ear twitch. What purpose the second pillow served except help cover the width of the bed -- Lewis tossed his jacket and the tie he yanked off onto the foot of it and left the room.
He wasn't a big enough hypocrite to deny one point Laura had made -- yes, he'd like to have a sex life once more. For the longest time, he hadn't been able to manage a single thought of sex without thinking he'd never love Val again, never hold her, feel her touch, see her beautiful hair fanned out on the pillow, hear her sighs and cries, smell her, taste her. For years that had been the end of any thought of sex and he'd discounted it, but it hadn't stayed discounted. Wanting sex, though, didn't mean wanting only sex. What would that do except make him feel bereft all over again once the heat cooled?
He sat on the sofa, felt too confined, got up to pace. Not that the fifteen or so feet he could cover back and forth were likely to help if walking half the length of the city hadn't. The wind had died down outside, there were only the muted sounds of the occasional traffic on the street, and the regular, too-familiar noises of the flat, the intermittent drip of the tap in need of a new washer, the buzz of the fluorescent light over the worktop, the low hum of the fridge, the click-click of the boiler cycling on and off. Tonight, it all felt sterile to him, as if the flat were a mechanical life-support system, geared to sustain a semblance of life. Much like the set up that had sustained Chloe Brooks, was sustaining Claire Gansa, efficiently and impersonally, in limbo. A loving sister may have made all the difference for Chloe, Alex Gansa might yet make a difference to his wife. Whatever James might claim, or whyever he'd claimed it, most differences made one.
The ringtone of the mobile breaking into the isolation of the flat startled him. Hathaway, the screen said. Oh, thank God. At this hour, it had to be a case. He was awake, mostly dressed, and it'd be such a relief to turn his mind in another direction. "Where?" he asked as soon as he had the phone to his ear.
Bugger. "Not calling me out to a scene then?"
"No. Just thought you'd like to know the lab results."
Any distraction should've been welcome, but he was disgruntled enough to say, "Now? It's ten to one, James. I could've been asleep."
"Not unless you sleepwalk."
How the -- ? "Where are you?"
"In my car. In front of your flat."
Ah. He went to the front window. The blinds were still up where he'd left them in the morning. He could see the car on the street, and when Hathaway turned on the interior light Lewis could also see him, craning to look at him through the passenger side window. "Go on then, tell me."
"Hobson found blood drops unconnected to the victims. There's some indication they might belong to one of the boys. There may have been an altercation, maybe the father gave one of them, I don't know, a nosebleed? Could've escalated until the boys grabbed the pokers from the fireplace. Or maybe the twins got into it with each other before or after. Any case, there's blood and hair evidence, the latter from the mother, in their bathroom."
Lewis was paying attention, but at the same time he was amused by a surreal sight. His own reflection was on the glass, and Hathaway's head and shoulders lit inside the frame of the passenger window looked like a small telly screen playing on his belly. Belly-telly. He chortled.
Too, too silly to share with anyone over five. "Should be enough to get you a warrant or two," he said soberly. "By the way, James, if you saw I'm up and around, why didn't you just come in?"
"I thought, at this hour, if you hadn't put yourself to bed yet --" he abruptly cut off.
"Yes?" Silence through the phone. "Spit it out."
"You must have something else to put to bed," came out in a rush. "I didn't want to intrude. But maybe you should know that, erm, Hobson..." he trailed off uncertainly.
What about her? "I’m aging as I stand here."
"She said she'll take the findings to Laxton and tell her she found discrepancies while checking over Cook's report."
"She doesn't need to do that. I'm going to talk to Laxton in the morning. I should've done it before we hared off, but...."
"Apologising is easier than asking permission?"
Apologising was harder. Except asking permission may have only stymied Hathaway further. "Something like that," Lewis let pass. "My problem, I'll solve it. You shouldn't have asked Laura -- "
"But I didn't," Hathaway interrupted, a bit warmly. "She chose to do it, out of consideration for you. None of my business, sir, but I think you should let her. I suspect she wanted to make up for being...'snappish,' as she put it."
Good to know that years of friendship could survive, with maybe a few bruises, but basically intact. "You may have point. And, James, thanks." He didn't like underhanded dealings, but this way Laxton wouldn't feel her thunder was stolen by another DI. Or worse, a DS.
"Get some rest, sir."
As Hathaway drove away, Lewis realised that he'd like to go to bed now and sleep. Sometimes even an unreasonably late call made a difference.
Hathaway was in another early briefing, diligently keeping the I-told-you-so expression out of his face. Laxton was handing out assignments indicated by the evidence he pretended to hear for the first time when Lewis came out of their office, both their coats over his arm. He was already on his feet as Lewis got Laxton's attention to say, "Hate to interrupt, but I've a call-out. If you don't mind, I need my sergeant back."
"Yes, of course," she said with a nod to Hathaway. "And Robbie," she called after them, "thanks for sharing."
Lewis acknowledged it with a quick wave, leading the way out as if he'd just spied water after a long slog through the Sahara. Sometimes it was nothing short of indecent how their blood quickened at other people's misfortunes. Lewis took the steps at the pace of a much younger man, handed Hathaway his coat at the bottom, saying, "Sorry for taking you away. I know you got invested in her case."
"Frankly, sir, this is one case where I'd sooner not know the circumstances that led to it." The telly and the newspapers were bound to scream them out for all to hear soon enough. Besides, for the first time in days, Hathaway wasn't feeling...lopsided. "What do we have?" He kept in quick-step with Lewis out of the building and across the car park.
"Not sure yet. Uniforms got a vandalism call, took one look, backed out and called us." He chose his own car. "Get in."
Once they turned from Sandford Link onto a side road and Hathaway saw what loomed ahead, he had to groan. "Now I wish I were elsewhere."
"What -- why?"
"That warehouse is the centre of operations for the film company. That," he pointed at the patrol cars and a crowd in a ring around a large cargo container at the far end of the lot, "must be our destination. Is it too late for me to beg off, sir?"
"Buck up, man," Lewis said as he nosed the car in, parting the crowd with brief honks. "I've seen you dive into a lake of muck with chomping big blades spinning in it."
"That muck didn't pretend to be anything but muck," he grumbled as he got out of the car, noting the crime scene tape enclosed a substantial area. What it held, he couldn't see yet through the crush of anxiously chattering people the constables were trying to persuade to go further back. With the costumed actors scattered about, the place looked like carnival grounds.
"You again!" a shrill voice piped up from the crowd and a stumpy torpedo shot out of it towards him. "Bugger off, bugger off my set, you poxy wanker!"
Oh, hell. Hathaway tried to step back, came up against the car, wondering how aggressive he could get before Innocent got aggressive with him, as Brad Powell shrieked, "Piss off, you sodding bastard," and jabbed him in the chest, "just piss off, or I'll have you thrown -- ow!"
Lewis had come around the car and grabbed the hand on its way to jabbing into Hathaway again. Judging by Powell's yelp and wince, none-too-gently. "That's enough of that, sir," he said evenly. "Your name, please?"
"Damn it, let go of me! This is my company," the man tried to bluster, but as he was squirming with the pressure on his hand that Lewis hadn't released, he just looked silly. "I want this scum off my premises," he snarled.
"Your name, please," Lewis repeated.
"I'm Bradley Powell and this is -- "
"Your company, your premises, yes, you've said. I'm Inspector Lewis. This is Sergeant Hathaway, my sergeant. You will not accost him whilst he's on duty. I suggest you don't accost him otherwise either, because, well, look at the size of him." He finally let the man's hand go. "Now, if you'll wait somewhere quietly, I'm sure we'll want to speak to you -- once my colleague and I've decided what we want to speak to you about. Constable," he called out to the closest uniform, indicated Powell, then ignored the man who was turning purple and sputtering about dire consequences. "Come on, James."
"With your permission," Hathaway made a point of saying to Powell too politely and followed Lewis.
They ducked under the tape, took two steps and stopped abruptly before stepping on -- what? Water, certainly, sudsy swirls of it shallowly covering a wide expanse of the concrete, but pinkish, with some red ooze here and there. Buckets and mops and scrubbing brushes were scattered all about, a couple of hoses snaking around them. "Fuck," Hathaway couldn't help swearing as he realised he was looking at an interrupted effort to obliterate whatever the scene had held.
Lewis was shaking his head. "Laura will go spare."
Hathaway pointed towards the back end of the cargo container where he could see Hobson dressing someone down. "She already has."
A WPC trotted up to them. "Sir," she acknowledged Lewis, nodded at Hathaway, "we got a malicious mischief call. That's one of their trailers, for carting sets and props to location. They'd thought someone had broken in at night and thrown red paint all around the inside. By the time we got here, they'd already unshipped the thing and started cleaning up. We could see it was no paint, made them stop and called you." She looked forlornly at the scene. "We didn't go into the trailer, of course, though I doubt there's anything left to disturb."
Lewis thanked her, adding, "Ring the station and get more people, that's a big crowd to handle." As she hurried away, he pointed at two vans driving up with satellite dishes on their tops. "About to get bigger, too."
"Lots of actors around," Hathaway said. "They'll flock to the cameras soon as they appear. We'll have peace for a while yet."
Lewis frowned at the slush at their feet. "We can't screw it up any worse. Let's go and see what's left to look at."
Heading towards the back of the container, they could see Hobson and her techs sorting through piles of dripping...stuff, while she kept berating someone behind her. "How stupid are you that you couldn't tell at the first dash of water? What did you cack-handed morons think, vandals were considerate enough to use water-soluble paint? Of all the witless, bungling, blundering, thick-headed -- "
Once past the side of the container, Hathaway could see the person standing there under Hobson's barrage. Ginny, silently bristling, her iPad clutched to her chest, wearing the fierce it's-not-fair pout perfected by the young. She saw him, couldn't seem to decide between smiling and scowling.
Hathaway went to Hobson who had yet to run out of adjectives. "She's just an intern, Doctor," he said quietly. "Does what she's told, that's all."
"What're you -- ?" With a start, Hobson looked over her shoulder and spun around. "I wasn't talking to her. Where's the other one," she asked Ginny, "McKenna?"
"She stepped away once you turned your back." Ginny informed her, still aggrieved, then gave Hathaway a sudden, beaming smile, spread the fingers of one hand holding her iPad to wriggle them at him. "Hi," she mouthed.
"She did, did she?" Hobson said direly, and called one of her techs to her side. "Fetch back the producer of this sideshow." She waved him away, and explained to Lewis, "I wasn't done by a long shot."
"I think you can go now," Hathaway told Ginny, stepping closer to her. "Stick around, though. We might need to talk to you."
"Oh, I'll be right here when you want me," she said like a bright promise, and damn near skipped away.
"That lass is too chirpy for there to be a body around," Lewis concluded, eyes running over the interior of the mostly empty container. "So what do we have, Laura? This isn't stage blood, I'm assuming."
"It's real all right, human," she said, indicating the portable scene-kit she'd laid out to one side. "With all the chemicals they introduced, that's as specific as I'm likely to get -- unless I find an uncontaminated patch amidst this clutter." She waved at the haphazard piles of furniture, props and costumes that had been carried out of the container.
"That's it, just blood trace?"
"Here, yes. So far. But there's a body somewhere. I can't declare homicide on supposition, mind. For now, my best guess is all you get." She led them to a large, rectangular panel propped upright against one of the piles. "Untreated plywood, absorbed the blood deeply enough that rinsing couldn't obliterate the stains. You can clearly see the initial spray pattern. That's arterial spurt." She pointed at the angled cast-off spatter with jagged, elongated tails, "Slashed with something sharp but not smooth. Death in two minutes." She waved at the wet pavement all around them. "I have no way of measuring the volume of the water they used, but it's a lot and it's still tinged. There is a body. If there were trails on the concrete, they're gone now. Any case, it'd be simple to wrap a body while still inside, in layers of plastic, canvass, tarpaulin -- take your pick. They're all provided," she motioned at the pallets placed around the lot, piled with folded sheets of everything to pack and store or haul away any size item. "Then you can pull a car up close and tip the body into the boot."
"Any chance of a timeline?" Lewis asked, but clearly had no expectations. "Right," he said at Hobson's impatient look, "between whenever someone put the last item in the container and this morning, I got it."
"What's the flaming hold-up here?" they heard Powell demand, turned and saw that the tech had towed in the wrong producer. "Do you have any idea what this delay is costing me?"
Hobson lowered her head and glared at him. "Who the devil are you?"
Powell put his face close to hers and pulled himself to his full height, topping Hobson by maybe two inches. "I, Madam, am Bradley Powell, and this is my -- "
"I've heard this tune, it hasn't improved," Lewis chivvied Hathaway along. "Let's go and do something worth doing."
Hathaway walked away with him, although he would've dearly loved to stay and watch Hobson excoriate the squawking bantam.
"You can just about carry her in your pocket, can't you?" Lewis commented casually.
"Hobson?" he almost squeaked.
Lewis goggled at him. "Give over, nobody's that daft. I meant the bonny lass from earlier, the red-head."
"The way she was looking at you, I thought you'd slipped on shiny armour while me head was turned."
"I didn't notice." But of course he had. It had made him uncomfortable. "She might be twenty, but I doubt it."
"So a dozen years is too many, but more than twenty between Fiona and her fiancé is just fine?"
Who cares about Fiona and her fiancé, I was talking about --what I can't talk about. "Well, yes. Fiona's over thirty, she's a mature woman," he said, doing his best not to sound defensive.
He either failed or Lewis saw something in his face before he collected his wits. "I shouldn't have brought up Fiona," he said. "Not as over her as I thought, are you? Sorry, James."
However utterly wrong that conclusion was, it was a convenient hiding place. "No worries. I don't mind."
They ducked under the tape as Lewis told him, "I'll take the crew, you take the actors."
Hathaway made a face at him. "Your kindness knows no bounds, sir."
Once he was able to round up the actors and distance the reporters, the prevailing opinion seemed to be, people from outside had broken in and done whatever was done. He sent a uniform to walk the perimeter to see if the wire-topped high fence showed signs of breaching, and found out that if anyone from outside had come in, they must've come in through the manned gate. According to the keeper of that gate, only authorised personnel had driven into the lot. Cars leaving the lot weren't noted, he told Hathaway, and no, it wasn't customary to check what anybody carried in or out.
Reinforcements from the station had arrived, the work load of the moment was easing. However, unless a body was found on the grounds, the work load later was going to be monumental. With all the company's hirings and firings, contracted and un-contracted workers, numerous extras picked off the streets -- so many people to track down to find one missing person. Judging by all the self-important tattling poured into Hathaway's ear, it was going to be even harder to whittle down who had it in for whom and for which reason.
At least the warehouse, which would be a nightmare to search, had cameras trained on its entrances. Hathaway was looking around for someone to lumber with watching the surveillance footage when he saw Cleaves, sitting doubled over on a workbox in a corner of the lot, his head sunk into the support of his hands. He looked so despondent that Hathaway hurried to his side, touched his shoulder lightly. "Edmund?"
Cleaves flinched away from the touch before the fear --fear?--in his blood-shot eyes that snapped to Hathaway was replaced by a dull recognition. "Oh, it's you." He dropped his head back into his hands.
Had he been crying? Hathaway squatted in front of him, took his wrists in a light hold and tugged gently to make him surface again. "Edmund, look at me." Christ, the man looked faded. His eyes were like bruises. "Talk to me, what's wrong?" He noticed Cleaves was regarding the hands around his wrists as if they were handcuffs, so he removed them. "It's only me, Edmund."
"Only," Cleaves whispered as though he'd found something ironic in it, and the next instant he'd straightened his shoulders, collected himself, was looking at him steadily. "Nothing's wrong, James, I was half asleep, that's all. I've been up all night, I'm exhausted. We're not allowed to leave or even get in our cars." He indicated their surroundings with a sweeping motion. "While this may be any normal day to you, it's more than a little disturbing to me."
"If it weren't just as disturbing to me, I wouldn't be in this job," Hathaway couldn't stop himself from retorting, "I don't do it because it's thrilling or enriching."
Cleaves looked chastened. "I know that, of course I do. I'm sorry." He carded his fingers wearily through his hair. "I'm just really, really tired."
"Don't worry about it," Hathaway relented. "Let's see if we can send you home. What were you doing through the night, where and with whom?" Not the way the questions should've been phrased for a priest, or a friend, but he could tiptoe around them or get them out of the way. "I have to know before you can leave."
"I understand. The day's shooting at St Mary’s wrapped around six, we came back here, I stayed in the car park to meet Mathias. Once a week they put the footage into a roughly edited form for him to see and approve. Waited about an hour for the set-up, viewed it, Mathias didn't much like it, gave me and McKenna a lot of notes. He left, oh, around ten or so, McKenna and I went into the editing room with her team and worked the night through. I don't know what time we were finished. She might."
"Everyone stayed in the room all night?"
"Of course not. Techs were in and out, hunting up more and more footage, we all took breaks, went to get the coffee and the sandwiches catering had left, some went out to smoke. I was out here a couple of times myself," Cleaves freely offered, "to walk off a frustration or two."
"Did you see anything that looked out of the ordinary? Anyone?"
"I was preoccupied, but no, nothing. It was quiet."
"And this morning?"
"Madhouse as usual. Add to that the hue and cry. I just wanted to get in my car and go home, but I was told nobody could leave. Is it OK if I go inside and lie down somewhere?"
"No reason you can't go to your own bed. I know where to find you." He rose and extended a hand. "Come on." Cleaves took his hand, stood, seemed to feel woozy and swayed, making Hathaway put a supporting arm around him. "I'll get someone to drive you."
"No!" Cleaves pulled away from him and repeated more moderately, "No."
"Edmund -- "
"I'm fine, James, really. I can drive." He leaned down and picked up a gym bag from behind the workbox.
"Tell me you're not planning a work-out," Hathaway said, also noting that Cleaves was wearing trainers with his priestly garb.
"Certainly not today." He hefted the bag wearily. "Actually, it's mostly books. For research, and for those hurry-up-and-wait times." He started for his car.
Hathaway walked alongside and, when Cleaves raised his eyebrows at him questioningly, he explained, feeling apologetic about it, "I need to take a quick look at your car before you can leave."
"What do you expect to find?" Cleaves guffawed. "A body?"
"I don't expect to find it, but I must look."
"If you must, you must." Cleaves pulled out his keys and aimed the remote at his car to release the locks on the doors and the boot. "What a life you lead, James."
Lewis was wishing he had left the crew to Hathaway and opted for the actors; the breadth of their job: acting. He wouldn't have been trying to keep track of a whole new lexicon for folks who did all manner of baffling things. Gaffer, it turned out, wasn't just an old man, he or she, young or old, did...what exactly, gaffering, gaffing? What did a Grip grip? He was sure Best Boy wasn't what it sounded like, unsure what kind of focus could be pulled by a Focus Puller, and he'd run into a handful of lads going by the title of Cable Puller, literally for pulling cables out of the way -- OK, he got that, safety first, but what in heaven's name was a Food Stylist and why did food need one?
The burly bloke he was talking to was the foreman of something called swing-gang for the Dressing Props Department. At least the man was helpful and to the point. He'd led Lewis to another container to show what an undisturbed one looked like and how it functioned. Unassembled sets at the far end, a couple of bars for hanging costumes in front of them, shelves built in for props on both sides, quite a wide area free in the middle for access, strong interior lighting and a pulley system to get heavy items in and out, which of course could also be used for a body, making it as easy to handle for a woman as for a man. "We only lock 'em up proper on location," the foreman was telling him. "Here, they're just latched for easy access." He pointed at a large, U-shaped bar on one of the doors that would swing down on both sides of the other door and keep them closed.
"So it can be locked from the inside just as easily," Lewis concluded.
"Barred, not locked. The lock's outside."
Lewis gave him an I-wasn't-born-yesterday look and reached to rattle the length of twisted wire hanging off the interior arm of the bar. Fastened onto the handle of the opposite door, for all purposes, it would lock them from the inside.
"Oh, aye...well..." he cast a furtive look over his shoulder.
The McKenna woman was waiting for Lewis's attention a few paces away, no doubt to ask yet again how much longer he'd be tying up her workday. He leaned closer to the foreman who bent his head and pretended to scratch his neck. From behind the cover of his arm, he said, "Useful place, innit? For a dram or two in peace, playin' a few hands with a few mates." His voice dropped to a bare whisper, "For gettin' a leg over."
So anybody could've been in the container, doing anything they didn't want seen. "Any way to know who was in there last?"
"Work-wise, sure. We pack in a specific order, last in, first out, all ready for next day's set-up. Lemme find the inventory." No electronics for him, he took the bulging clipboard he was holding under one arm and started flipping pages.
Lewis looked around while he waited. Order had been established on the lot. Hobson's techs had almost finished packing up their vans with the items collected from the scene. Past a lorry, a van, and a smaller vehicle, Hathaway was checking the boot of a car. When he put the hatch down, Lewis could see the actor he'd been questioning -- some casting choice. Despite his costume, the bloke's striking good looks made him an implausible priest.
"Do you know where I can find the Professor?" he heard someone asking, turned around. The young red-head had come up and was talking to McKenna. "I've been looking for him."
"He's not in today," McKenna answered her shortly, not bothering to look at her.
"He's on the schedule."
"I left him a message earlier not to bother. I was up the whole night and I still have to deal with Brad's contretemps. It's not as though we'll be allowed to do any work, is it?" She was clearly asking it of Lewis, which he conveniently overlooked.
"But he was supposed to bring back -- " At McKenna's sharp look of are-you-still-here? she cut off and started away.
Lewis took the pages the foreman removed from the clipboard and handed him. "Thank you. I'll be keeping these a while. Duty calls," he said to both the foreman and McKenna as he hurried off, much to McKenna's obvious displeasure. He didn't have anything against the woman, give or take her dismissive way with an underling, but she'd already given a statement pertinent to the case and had only demands left. Also, she was reminding him of Emma Golding in all the wrong ways.
He trotted to catch up with the young lass, who heard him and stopped, flashing him a sweet smile. "Ginny, isn't it?" he said as he came up to her. "I'm Inspector Lewis."
"You work with Sergeant Hathaway." Apparently, a higher credential than mere inspector.
"I do, aye." He spared her the specifics of rank which weren't likely to count much in her priorities. "You were asking after someone who's supposed to be here but isn't?"
"Professor Llewellyn-Pierce, consultant-on-set."
"But not today?"
"Not every day, only as he's needed. But he'd said he'd be here today. See, he was supposed to bring back some books I checked out for him from the Balfour. A lot of books, and they're due back -- " She suddenly looked contrite. "I'm sorry, I know it's insignificant, I mean, considering. But I'm also a student and I can't jeopardise my library privileges. It's all right, though, I'll call him at home, pick them up myself."
"When you find him, tell him to give us ring, would you?"
"If you can't find him, you give us a ring. You know who to ask for." Not a snowball's chance that would be inspector-anybody. But Hathaway was right in his severe way, she was too young for him, poor lass.
Shortly afterwards, Lewis had to inform Bradley Powell, squeezing his words in between the man's objections and dismal cursing, that, yes, Hobson's crew could and would take away the items they'd collected, even tow away the container should they see fit. And no, there was no telling when any of it could be returned. Yes, the premises would certainly be searched, it would expedite matters if Powell gave permission instead of waiting for a warrant, and, regretfully, the fact that two productions were being disrupted could not be Lewis's primary concern. He got through it by imagining Morse in his place, past noon and no pint in sight. When his scenario reached the point of arresting Morse or helping him hide the body, he left Powell to his tantrum and walked off to find his sergeant.
"Tell me something I want to hear," he said when he located Hathaway, who seemed to be free enough to commune with his BlackBerry.
Hathaway didn't disappoint. "We don't have to search the warehouse. The security footage shows nothing body-sized carried in through the night. Hobson's people did a basic walk-through, didn't see anything untoward -- although what their definition of untoward could be in regards to that place is difficult to fathom."
"I've seen all I can, talked to everyone worth talking to." He grimaced, unsure he'd talked to anyone worth talking to. Wasting breath was the price of doing business in most cases, but usually there'd be a hint or two that would draw his attention. Nothing here so far. "I’m finished. How about you? You noted anything untoward, talked to anybody interesting, anyone?"
"N -- no."
The tiny hitch in his answer made Lewis ask, "Nothing I need to know?"
"Well then, let's stow all this for an hour and have a bite." The day had warmed up nicely. He might have a pint with his late lunch. He rarely drank in the middle of the day, but he'd justify it as a tribute to Morse and have one today. He hoped a decent meal would energise him, prompt his brain to get to work. He couldn't remember a case where his mind hadn't found a single morsel to at least gnaw at. Surely there was something in this one, too. Somewhere.
Father Cleaves knew the housekeeper would wonder why he'd lit the fire in his room on such a warm day, but being the old-fashioned, motherly sort, she'd call it thin blood and start serving him liver. While waiting for the flames to take firm hold, he splashed his face with cold water to stay awake. He locked his door after himself and, with a lot of trepidation, went to look for Mathias, found him in his suite -- kneeling at his personal prie-dieu, hunched over his elbows with his rosary in hand, praying.
Cleaves backed out quietly, returned to his own room. He waited until he had a roaring fire, pulled on a pair of the disposable gloves he used for handling artefacts, made sure his door was locked, and opened his gym bag.
Four library books. Shame to burn them, but soaked in blood, they were already destroyed. He fed them to the fire, threw in after them the stained latex gloves he'd used the night before. The metal book wouldn't burn, of course. He took it, and the half bottle of wine on his sideboard, into his small bathroom, washed it, then poured the wine over the sharp edges of the pages. With the pits and the flaking, probably not good enough. Mathias was sure to miss it if he tossed it into the river. He decided to put it in the safe in Osborn's office where only he and Mathias had access, decide on it later. He was bone-weary, thinking on top of doing was getting difficult, and he had more to do, a long drive to take. First, though, there was still the gym bag and his shoes he'd stashed in it. He could wash them, leave them to dry by the fireplace, and put them in one of the collection boxes for donating used items to the poor.
Before he left his room, he changed into casual clothes, minus his collar. A quick check confirmed Mathias was still at his prayers. He longed to go to his knees, clasp his hands and lose himself in prayer as well, but it was going to be hours before he could seek solace.
Leaving the church without his collar, something he hadn't done in a decade, made him feel cold and naked. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners. He ducked his head, hunched his shoulders protectively about his neck and told himself to get on with it.
By sundown, Lewis had read through all the statements and still hadn't found that elusive 'something.' Innocent was in their office, looking askance at the incident board Hathaway had tucked in behind his chair where he could swivel back and forth and fill in the names and the possibilities they teased out of the pile of paperwork.
"That's all very well, but -- " Innocent turned to Lewis with a look of do I need to say it? " -- your prime evidence, the best way to open a murder enquiry and expect me to shell out for it: the body?"
"I wish I had the body, Ma'am; I don't."
"Yet," Hathaway put in, earned a glare from Innocent. Once, that would've stopped him, but no longer. "Doctor Hobson's assessment is all we need, isn't it?"
Bad idea, lad. Lewis pretended to study the papers on his desk to avoid meeting Innocent's eyes.
For once, though, their boss didn't question the dodgy statement. "CPs hate to prosecute on mere circumstantial evidence, and I hate corpus delicti cases," she said, turning to leave. "Find me the body, Lewis."
Once she was safely away, he raised his eyes to Hathaway, who looked thoroughly unrepentant as he pronounced, "Corpora delicti."
"She said 'cases.' Plural. Corpora delicti."
Lewis stared at him. "You want to talk of misspeak? You know bloody well Laura inferred there's a body, she didn't declare homicide."
"It's a safe bet, and I didn't specify she did. It's Friday evening, Innocent's had her hair done, has a shiny new manicure, she's going places. She'll leave it alone until Monday. The body or better evidence might turn up by then."
"If you keep going to the sharp edge with her, you're liable to cut yourself one day." Probably his fault, though. Hathaway had been a lot more deferential towards their superiors in the early days. Until Innocent had tried to use him to corral Lewis in the Mallory case and he'd jumped the fence instead. He seemed to like where he'd landed. "But OK, we'll see what develops." He rose to pick up his jacket and coat. "Make a list of the people we need to track down, tell the next shift to start on it. If we don't get called back in the meantime, we'll pick it up Monday."
It was dark by the time Cleaves made it back to St Justin's. Beyond tired, he felt punch-drunk, taking the steps to the residence with the tread of a man twice his age. All he wanted was to throw himself onto his bed and close his burning, gritty eyes. He trudged to Osborn's rooms instead, found them empty. He stood swaying for a long minute, pretty sure where he could find the man, not so sure he had the wherewithal for the stairs to the top of the bell tower. His yearning for some peace of mind eventually overcame his need for rest and he dragged himself up into the brisk, open air, found Osborn sitting on the parapet in the dark with his head down.
"Mathias?" he said softly.
No answer. No acknowledgement at all. I have burdened him so. I didn't mean to. God knows I didn't mean to.
He kneeled, leaned until his forehead rested on Osborn's knee, waited patiently for a long time. Until finally, finally, one hand covered his head. He sighed gratefully at its welcome weight, his bones seemed to unlock, his tight throat loosened. "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned."
The weekend started with a lovely, throwback day, seemingly on delayed transmission from early September. For once, Monty, on the windowsill with his eyes blissfully closed and his fuzzy belly exposed to the sun, looked uninterested in disrupting the lie-in Lewis intended to have. He burrowed back into his pillow, rolled this way and that, found that he couldn't settle and within minutes he was in the shower. He bypassed shaving for the day and got dressed as Monty spared one eye and one ear to follow him intently and a questioning mrrrrrp? issued every minute or so. Still reluctant to abandon his place in the sun, he didn't follow Lewis into the kitchen. While calling himself a proper pushover, Lewis took his food bowl to him so the little hedonist could bask and eat at the same time.
Deprived of a lie-in, he decided to make himself a nice breakfast, but he made the mistake of going out to the front steps and picking up his morning paper, and there was the case, headlined: Unscripted Mystery Interrupts Production. It had more photos than it needed of this and that actor, and mostly talked of the disruption to filming. He couldn't very well carp about it, he didn't have a clue, either. His nice breakfast turned into a cup of tea and a bowl of Weetabix. In any case, his fridge wasn't exactly stocked. As he ate, he duly planned on shopping, running errands, taking a walk, getting some lunch at a pub, watching a match or two. Once he put on his wind-cheater and got in his car, though, his next stop was the car park of the station, at about the same time he'd have been there on any workday.
Here's an idea, he told himself, get a life, you sad bastard. But he'd burned one bridge already, they didn't exactly crowd his landscape, not much of a chance another would heave into view today. He might as well get some work done. He got out of the car, locked it, took a moment to put his head back and breathe in the mild air. Waste of a bonny day, he thought ruefully, but doubted he'd have enjoyed it. Having an itch to scratch while engaged with a case was normal to him; he eventually hit the right spot and got relief. Being on a case he couldn't engage in had set up an itch he didn't know how to scratch, let alone where, and it was beginning to drive him batty. He headed in.
He ran into Knox on the staircase. As they were on different shifts, it was his first opportunity to welcome him back, but he kept it brief; having to address Lewis as a superior now must rankle for the bloke. In the office, Lewis found that Hathaway had printed out a neat, prioritised list of persons-of-possible-interest and left it on his desk. Good lad.
Not even five minutes later, the good lad breezed in with his guitar in tow, bringing the outdoors with him, in cargoes and his hoodie, his curlier-than-normal hair and flushed complexion attesting to rigorous exercise on the river. "Is it just me, or did Monday come too early?" Lewis quipped, immoderately pleased to see him, attempting to gloss over it. He dearly appreciated having a sergeant whose work ethic mirrored his own, but that also meant James had no more of a life than he did. He was too young for that.
"Look at it this way, sir, if this one's rubbish, we'll have another crack at it."
"It's a point." Lewis nodded at the guitar Hathaway was carefully stowing out of the way. "Got a rehearsal later?"
"No, audition." The stress on the word coupled to a modest smile told Lewis it was that time of the year again, when Hathaway's group auditioned, unsuccessfully so far, for the Oxford Contemporary Music Council in the hopes of earning a spot in the annual Christmas concert it sponsored at the Sheldonian.
They divided the list between them, started making calls, got frustrated in short order. The film industry didn't acknowledge weekends, either, production crews jumped from set to set; work requirements usually kept mobiles turned off. But at least most calls were returned promptly and the list slowly but steadily got shorter. The fact that actors used stage names while their phones tended to be under their legal names was a problem until Hathaway hit on a bright idea, rang the Casting Office and got the numbers for their agents, who seemed tied to the actors with umbilical cords.
Many cups of coffee later, the list was almost exhausted, and everybody who'd had even the slightest reason to be on the lot of Powell Productions, from caterers to publicists to drop-ins, seemed to be still breathing somewhere. Lewis took a trip to the canteen and came back with a couple of sandwiches, handed one to Hathaway and sank back into his chair, feeling more wiped than sitting on his backside and punching in numbers could justify. "I'm getting too old or too dull for the job," he grumbled. "Both, I'd wager."
Hathaway's head snapped up and he gave Lewis a stern look. "Neither." His next comment was in Latin as he looked back down.
Lewis might not have had a posh education, but his memory was still functional, thank you. "The Vergil bit, iron entering the soul, what you said about the previous case," he addressed the top of Hathaway's head. "And?"
"It hasn't entered yours yet."
"So far there's nothing about this case to grab you, however hard you've been trying."
"Someone's dead. I should care about that."
"Dead, yes -- in supposition." Hathaway leaned back and looked at him. "A case isn't an abstract puzzle, not to you. The people involved, from the admirable to the despicable -- human nature, that's your acumen. This time we haven't seen the life that was taken, can't personalise him or her with so much as a name, there's not even a crime scene to speak of. You wouldn't ask a master pianist to play Chopsticks, it'd be a waste of your time and his talent. Why would you ask it of yourself?"
Taken aback, Lewis attempted to banter, "Chopsticks is about all I can manage on a piano. Now, on a harmonica -- "
Hathaway was having none of it. "You know what I mean," he interrupted, and concluded in a tone that brooked no argument, "You're not old or dull, merely outside your element for the moment." Looking smug at having demolished the irksome notion, he turned to his screen.
You don't know me, Lewis remembered accusing Hathaway once, some years ago. He wondered if James had shouldered it as an assignment since then. But it wasn't the clear insight so much -- five years, bright lad, of course he knew how Lewis worked, what motivated him. It was caring enough not to let a self-deprecating remark stand even as a passing comment. Any number of people in and out of his life had cared about how he felt towards them. Someone who'd argue against him for him, practically reprimand him, because it mattered how he felt towards himself -- that was rare. In fact, in all his adult years: one. And now, evidently, two.
Immediately, he had the urge to apologise to Val, but he was looking at James at his desk, pale and spare, angular and austere, and it felt as undue as apologising to the warm sun for the cool shade.
Blimey. Be writin' poetry next. Getting fanciful in our old age? Soft-in-the-head, more like. Stop staring at your sergeant and eat your lunch, you barmy plonker.
He was halfway through his sandwich when Hathaway got a call, picked up the phone, identified himself and asked, "Who? Oh, yes, sorry. No, no, it's fine, I am working. What may I -- ? I see. No, of course you should've. Yes, I'm sure he did. It's very helpful, thank you." He put the phone down and turned towards Lewis, looking a bit accusatory. "Seems you told Ginny to ring me."
"I said us, but I'm just the old duffer who works with you -- don't start, far as the lass cares is all I mean. What'd she have to say?"
"She's been trying to locate Llewellyn-Pierce and can't -- let me check something." He skimmed the gatekeeper's list. "His car came into the lot at quarter to ten the night of the incident, no telling when it left. Of course, they just note the vehicles, not who was in them. Personnel are checked at the entrance to the warehouse." He consulted another list. "He didn't go into the building. According to Ginny, the professor's mobile is off, he hasn't been at the College, and nobody answers at his home. The phone, that is. She didn't feel right about knocking on his door."
"Falls to us then." Having already chucked the remains of his sandwich into the bin, Lewis grabbed his wind-cheater with one hand as he rubbed his chin with the other. "What do you wager these people are on Innocent's social register and I'll be over the coals for looking loutish on an official visit?"
"It is the weekend, sir," Hathaway smiled almost too sweetly at him, "and at most I'd say: rakish."
"I doubt she'd see the difference, not sure I do. Come on. Bring your sandwich. You tuck in, I'll drive."
The front garden of the Victorian house in suburban North Oxford looked a little neglected, but that could be the season. The horse-head knocker on the door, and the discreet bell-pull almost hidden behind the ivy, went unanswered. Knocking on neighbouring doors got them askance looks and only general information, until they found one house that shared the services of a domestic with the Llewellyn-Pierce household. Had shared, as it turned out.
"They let me go," the woman told them. "Herself said it was only temporary, but as my landlord won't temporarily forego his rent," she shrugged, "I'm pet-sitting the weekends." She recounted escalating strife, mainly over money lately, cold silences between the Llewellyn-Pierces punctuated by sharp arguments, and oh, her word, he also strayed something rotten; shameless doxies, any woman who'd lead a man astray; and the missus now, in all fairness, she was more rightly married to her horses, wasn't she? As to where either was at present, she couldn't venture an opinion.
"Financial woes, infidelity," Lewis concluded as they walked back to the car, finally feeling more in his element, "they can easily go wrong."
"I know one 'shameless doxy,'" Hathaway said. "McKenna." He told Lewis about the confrontation he'd overheard at the production office. "She was on the lot through that night."
"Gird your loins then, that's our next stop." Lewis started the car. "Once more unto the breach -- what?" he asked at Hathaway's sidelong look, feeling a little frivolous, blaming it on the lovely weather. "Don't tell me it's Shakespeare."
"The first one's from the Bible, 'let your loins be girt,' to be precise. The second is Shakespeare. Where did you think it came from?"
"No, you didn't."
He kept a straight face. "Yes, I did."
"I don't believe you. You don't even like science fiction."
"Used to be very fond of Dan Dare."
"'The world's number one space hero,'" he quoted, "'the pilot of the future?'" Now they were both giving each other sidelong looks. "Never mind. Before your time."
"I still don't believe you."
Lewis relented. "All right, fine, I knew -- only because Lyn had a book bag with famous quotes on it, mind."
They went through the busy sets on the ground floor of the warehouse and found Eleanor McKenna in a glassed-in sound booth, supervising a voice-over session. Once she accepted she had to talk to them and now, "Take five," she told the techs and the actors. "Five," she stressed to one actor who had pulled out a cigarette and was hurrying out, called out after another one, "Watch your pronunciation. Ge'ez is an old Ethiopic dialect, not something you produce after beans-on-toast."
She closed the glass door of the booth, silencing the din from the outside. "Don't know why I bother, of course," she grumbled as she studied the sound panel and disabled the open mikes. "His Exalted Excellency the Bishop seems to have suddenly decided he needs to," she made air quotes, "'reconsider the suitability of the project.' After we complied with every single one of his whims, complete script control, final say-so on editing, an armoured van to ferry his precious collection from the back of beyond, a fortune on replicas. And I can't even argue my case, because he's," she formed another set of quotes, "'under the weather and can't be disturbed.' If he thinks I'm going to let all my work go to waste --" she huffed impatiently. "I'll redo the script, drop the 'Found' from the title, use only the footage we shot with the replicas and finish the documentary. Brad can deal with the legalities of the contract he signed. Talking of legalities," she faced them, crossing her arms, "yes?"
"We've been unable to locate Professor Llewellyn-Pierce," Lewis said. "Would you happen to know where we can find him?"
"I haven't needed him on the set the last few days, so no."
"You do see him off the set." Hathaway, in his blunt way, didn't bother making it a question. McKenna glared at him, neither confirming nor denying; Hathaway glared right back.
As interesting as it might be to see who'd break first, Lewis didn't care to waste time. "What's your relationship with him?"
"He's the expert consultant for my documentary."
"I meant personal relationship."
Oh, for heaven's sake. Like pulling teeth. "How friendly?"
"Inspector Lewis is referring to your affair," Hathaway clarified. "The affair I overheard both of you discussing."
"You must've misunderstood."
"I did not." And there was the glaring match again.
"Ms McKenna," Lewis started, but Hathaway seemed determined to handle the woman himself this time.
"The 'armoured van' you mentioned," he told her, mockingly copying her air quotes, "if you're referring to the vehicle in the bay next to the entrance, it's not, or its weight would've shredded those flimsy tyres long since. That is no more an armoured van than that," he pointed past the glass enclosure at a large model being assembled like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, "is the Colosseum. You dressed up an old vehicle and fooled an old bishop to save money, fine, but for us, you'd best exchange fiction for fact. The truth, please."
Lewis wondered how nonplussed Innocent would be if one day he sent her flowers with a note saying: Thank you, he's priceless.
"You really are the most inconvenient man," McKenna groused at Hathaway, "and I work with Brad-the-Vlad. All right, yes," she told Lewis, "I had an affair with Richard. Had. As of four days ago, it's over. No use asking me where he is now. Ask his wife. If he doesn't show up the next time I need him as consultant, you can ask our solicitor."
"How long an affair?"
Not a casual one then. Had the man eventually decided to keep his marriage intact? And how angry had that made this woman who clearly wasn't the forbearing sort? "Why did it end?"
"Wednesday evening, Richard rings me to announce he's left his wife, he's checked into the Parklands, he's all mine, and I should immediately rush to him. I tell him I'm up to my eyeballs in work, I waited three years, he can wait a day or two. No, he can't, so I drag myself to the hotel after I'm finished here. Right away, he's expecting effusive gratitude in the form of -- fill in the blanks and don't stint. I was dead on my feet, saw no reason to be grateful that he finally got around to doing what he's been promising for years. He said he could've stayed home and not got any sex, it may have been a joke, but it wasn't funny to me. I told him if that was what our relationship added up to, it was over, and I left." She glowered at Hathaway. "Is that sordid enough to fulfil your requirement for truth?"
"I hadn't put any qualifiers on it. Your truth is informed by your own propensities."
Then again, Lewis could sometimes see why most people gave Hathaway a wide berth, why a good-looking bachelor in his prime attracted so little interest. He was an acquired taste and even then you had to be able to tolerate sharp flavours. "How did Richard take it?" he asked McKenna. Maybe the professor had pulled up stakes and gone away in a huff over the break-up, could be drowning his sorrows somewhere.
"I don't know. I didn't look back."
"Did you know he was on the lot Thursday night?"
McKenna shook her head. "I didn't need him on the set. If he'd come to talk me out of my decision, good thing he thought better of it." She shrugged. "He doesn't hold up well on close acquaintance."
Clearly, she wasn't at all associating him with any theoretical crime victim. "Give us a ring if you hear from him. Or of him."
A phone call to the Parklands established Llewellyn-Pierce had checked out after one night's stay. Lewis drove back to the station, told Hathaway it was time to pick up his guitar and pay attention to his audition, almost asked him to drop by afterwards, but the lad should celebrate or mourn with his mates. Who knew, maybe they'd go to a pub, someone would chat him up, turn his night interesting. He gave James a pat on the back, wished him luck, and went to the front desk to issue an APW on both the Llewellyn-Pierce cars. Without any evidence tying the couple to the incident, he couldn't track their bank cards or check their accounts. For all he knew, the husband and wife may have gone somewhere to mend their marriage. Or one may have done away with the other and was on the run. He'd have to wait for more information.
Maybe there was a late match he could watch, or he might turn in early. He picked up fish and chips on the way home. He was sure to get a particularly warm greeting from Monty once the busy little nose caught the aroma. As much 'effusive gratitude' as was likely to come his way.
Hathaway woke up early, felt too good to stay in bed even if a dull headache was reminding him that he'd imbibed rather a lot the previous evening. Well, good wine, good mates, good audition, and finally, finally, one of the coveted spots in the line-up of the Sheldonian's Christmas Programme. He hadn't felt that uncomplicatedly elated since he'd been awarded the Sporting Blue, the highlight of any Cantabrigian's varsity life. So he'd indulged a bit too much, so what?
Still in high spirits, he bounded out of the bed -- oh. Ouch. Maybe he shouldn't be moving that fast. Adjusting the showerhead to spray softly helped, as would the Paracetamol he took, soon enough. He was rarely this cheery, he wasn't going to let a sore head get in his way. Or the rain, he thought when he lifted the corner of the blind and checked the weather. He went to his wardrobe, pulled out his jeans, thinking he probably wouldn't be able to keep from blurting out his news as soon as Lewis opened the door. Or maybe he wouldn't have to; Lewis, being Lewis, would take one look, draw the right conclusion and invite him in despite the hour -- he stopped, one leg in and one leg out of the jeans, hopping to catch his balance -- the hour.
It was Sunday, the sun was barely clearing the horizon. How presumptuous to even think of knocking on Lewis's door at such an inappropriate time just because he was eager to share his news, which wasn't even case-related news. And that was the crux, wasn't it? He hadn't been thinking any more than a moth drawn to the flame.
He let the jeans fall to the floor and stepped out of them, reached for a suit instead. Once his mind caught up and arrested his impulses, he was perfectly capable of limiting his behaviour. As to the proverbial --and for him, problematical-- serenity to accept his limits, that took work. For years now, church service only sometimes centred him, but the quiet solemnity, the sheer gravity of an empty church always did and Sunday Mass wouldn't start for a few hours yet.
When he got there, however, the nave of St Justin's wasn't as empty as he preferred or had expected. Up the middle aisle, he saw someone bowed on his knees, and almost backed away, but the person called out, "Help me."
Once he came around the pews, he realised Cleaves was bent over a man on the floor, tugging at him. "Get up," he was saying, "please, Mathias, get up!"
Consideration of the Bishop's age made Hathaway grab his phone to summon aid as he hurried towards them, but Edmund looked over his shoulder, recognised him, and urgently said, "No calls, just help me get him up."
Now that he was closer, Hathaway could see it wasn't a medical issue. Bishop Osborn had prostrated himself towards the altar at the cross of the transept, legs together, arms stretched out in the pose of crucifixion -- for a Roman Catholic, rather odd nowadays. He went to his knees on Osborn's other side, he and Edmund took an arm each, together pulled him up to a slant until they could get their shoulders under them. After that, it was easier to get him to rise to his knees, not that he showed the least inclination to be moved. "I'm sorry, Mathias," Edmund kept apologising, "but the altar boys will be arriving, we must get you up."
They struggled to their feet with Osborn a considerable dead weight between them, his arms still flat out like stiff boards, and sat him on the closest pew. His stubbornly stretched arms made the voluminous, pointed sleeves of the Old English surplice he had on look like the wings of a prehistoric bird. His normally ruddy, fleshy face was pale, sunken, making Hathaway wonder at the change in just a week. As drawn as he was, though, the man’s head was up, his eyes were open and lucid. He simply seemed determined not to alter his stance or speak. Hathaway wondered if he’d taken a vow, and if he had, did they have any business interfering?
Edmund didn’t seem to have any compunctions about it. “You’re so cold,” he despaired, having tenderly cupped the haggard face between his palms. “Have you been out of bed all night? You’re going to get sick.”
It wasn't cold in the nave, but the floors were stone, and Osborn didn't seem to be wearing anything but the surplice. Hathaway took off his coat and draped it over the bishop like a blanket as Edmund went to his knees, sat back and took Osborn’s bare feet onto his lap, trying to rub warmth into them. Feeling like the third wheel, Hathaway distanced himself by taking a seat up the aisle, ready to come back if needed, but far enough to afford them privacy. Except he hadn’t considered the acoustics of the church, and he could hear Edmund entreat Osborn again, “You’ve turned your face from me and I can’t bear it. Please, Mathias, for the love of God, please, I’ll do anything you bid, but if you cut me off –all right, all right, I’ll bear even that if I must, I have before, but look what you’re doing to yourself. Just tell me what’s to be done and I’ll do it, when have I ever not? Mathias, please.”
Eventually, Osborn’s rigid pose slackened, his arms fell to his sides, and Edmund’s voice became a muffled murmur, sounding buried by the folds of the robe. If Osborn said anything it was too low to hear, but in the end he was persuaded to rise. Edmund rose with him, draped the coat over the man’s shoulders and led him away through the choir entrance.
Hathaway thought he should’ve gone to the river for the peace of mind he’d been after. It took mere muscles to navigate those currents. He didn't care to speculate about the ones inside these sacred walls. Whereas speculation was a process he could cut short, recognition had registered too suddenly to avoid. How ironic that when he had been struggling with his feelings for another young man, he had never stopped to wonder why Edmund, a devoted scholar of theology, unswerving in his faith, had delayed taking his final vows for so long. He'd certainly known from the beginning that his friend revered Osborn, but he hadn't recognised this --this depth of feeling-- back then. Now, he couldn't miss it for trying. Still, he had to try. Edmund had come to faith-based St Bede's at the age of eleven; his attachment to Osborn could simply be filial due to being under his tutelage from an early age.
And if Hathaway tried diligently, he could even believe it. Otherwise, there were only two possibilities, one too close to home, the other...unthinkable.
When Edmund came back, he had Hathaway's coat in one hand, a stole in the other. "Thanks," he said, folding the coat on the back of the bench and sinking heavily into the seat next to him, still distraught.
"How is he?" Hathaway asked quietly.
"I put him to bed, told the housekeeper to take him tea and toast. Whether he'll stay there or eat anything -- " he shrugged listlessly. "He still drinks, but hasn't eaten in days." He sank his face into his hands, the purple stole dangling from them. "I'm losing him, James, and I don't know what to do."
He sounded so tormented that Hathaway wanted to say something to ease him, but consulting a doctor must've certainly occurred to Cleaves and he had no idea what else to suggest or offer. Except maybe sit there quietly and let his friend unburden himself.
"He's cut me off before, soon after you'd left the seminary," Edmund continued, his voice half-smothered by his hands. "He said I'd stayed a novice longer than I should've, I had to look to my own calling. He was right, I couldn't stay under his mentorship forever, but dear God, it tore my heart when he moved away and left me behind."
Christ. Too, too close to home.
Cleaves's hands fell to his lap, his fingers twisting, scrunching the stole. "We stayed in touch off and on; it was something at least. Now, he hasn't said a word to me since he last took my confession, didn't even give me an act of contrition. He just...closed off." He gave a start, looked up to meet Hathaway's eyes as if he'd been suddenly alerted to his presence, gave him a lenient smile. "It's all right, James, you don't have to understand."
"But I do," came out of his mouth, at the same time he realised he'd recalled Edmund's attention by laying his palm on the restless hands to still them. Flustered, he seized on the mangled stole as an excuse, rescued it, put it on his own lap to smooth it out.
Cleaves rose, took back the stole, draped it around his neck, and only then broke the awkward silence, "I shouldn't have said that. I know you do."
Hathaway tried not to gape at him. How could he possibly -- ?
Edmund scattered his thoughts further by leaning in and kissing him on the temple. "We won't speak of it again, be at peace," he intoned like an absolution as he straightened. "I must go into the confessional, people must be lining up. Thanks for listening, James. It helped." He took a few steps, turned to say, "Stay for the choir practice after the service, please?"
"Erm, sure, yeah, fine," Hathaway said, just mouthing the easiest response.
He sat dumbfounded for a time, before he collected his wits and realised that Edmund couldn't have the first notion of Lewis. He'd been referring to himself. Relieved, he slid lower in the seat, laid his head back. So Edmund had been aware of his feelings back at the seminary without ever letting on, so what? As long as his knowledge steered clear of Lewis, it no longer mattered to Hathaway. After a few steadying breaths, he got up. He had just enough time to go back home and pick up his guitar. Two of his guitars, he decided. Kids, being kids, wanted to have a go, and since he'd had it stolen and Lewis had managed to get it back for him, he couldn't help being overly protective of his best guitar. Especially now that he'd be using it for the Christmas concert.
Thinking of that reminded him he had reason to be glad today, despite its unsettling start. On the way to his car, he texted Lewis to convey his news without intruding on his day of rest.
Lewis's phone on the bedside table gave a ping. "Someone remembers us," he told Monty stretched out on his chest, using the hand that had been absently scratching the cat to reach to pick it up. Monty took exception to the change, went up on all fours and arched his back. "Settle down, puss, it's only James -- what the...?" He frowned at the screen. Hathaway avoided text-speak in his messages to Lewis, but this was too formal, surely. It seemed to be cordially inviting him to the University of Oxford, Sheldonian Theatre, on the 22nd of December at 8:00 PM, cocktails in the lobby, for an Evening of Christmas -- oh.
He slid Monty down to his lap and sat up, grinning. The lad must be thrilled. He started to text back, but Monty kept butting at the phone with his head. Now that he was partially upright, the little tyrant was determined to have first priority. He managed to punch in I'LL CONSULT MY SCHEDULE in keeping with the spirit of Hathaway's message. "Oh, all right," he told the cat, and swung his legs around. Monty immediately jumped down, prancing in place in his impatience to lead him into the kitchen. "If he can't bother to bring his news, he can wait for his congratulations." It did dawn on him that Hathaway might have considered it too early to barge in, and truth be told, he'd have grumbled at the hour, but just a bit, and only until he'd heard the news. Then he'd have been delighted for the lad and his mates.
He padded after the cat into the kitchen, put food in one bowl, fresh water in the other, plugged in the kettle, opened the fridge. After working through Saturday instead of running his errands, the fridge was still mostly bare. No one's fault but his own. "He could've dropped in and brought breakfast," he groused, "now that would've been a treat, but no -- the silly sod."
Unfair of him to blame his lack of decent food and decent company on the lad. Hathaway had worked through his Saturday, too, and had an audition later; he was probably in church this morning. Lewis settled for a cup of tea and a few digestives, had a lie-in with the newspaper until the pubs opened for lunch.
He chose The Abbot. Practically next door to the station and unable to compete with the prices of the canteen, the pub made up for it by surpassing it in the quality of its basic, unfussy menu. The place was more crowded than Lewis had expected of a Sunday, a large group of officers interrupted their boisterous chatter to acknowledge him. Lewis returned the greetings happily enough but shook his head at the offer of a seat, took himself to a corner table, ordered cottage pie and orange juice.
Halfway through his meal, he started thinking church services would've concluded, he should send a text to congratulate Hathaway properly and see if he'd care to share a couple of pints later to celebrate. He was sliding his phone out when he saw Knox separate from the group of officers leaving the pub, and head towards him. He let the phone drop back into his pocket.
Knox motioned at the seat across from him, a mostly-full glass still in his hand. "Got a moment, guv?"
"Sure," Lewis waved at him to sit down, "and Charles, out here, it's still Robbie."
"Cheers." Knox sat down, put his drink on the table, shoved it to one side with a scowl. "Non-alcoholic," he explained, although Lewis hadn't questioned even by a look, "Cat piss, more like."
If he was looking to be offered anything stronger, he was at the wrong table. "Busy weekend?" Lewis asked instead.
"Laxton's case wrapped up with arrests all over the place. News hounds must be baying at the nick by now -- Shirebrook was so much more peaceful. Hated to leave it."
Lewis had known Knox had transferred to East Anglia, hadn't realised how small a corner he'd been in. But he seemed to have liked it.
"As it turned out, peaceful to me, dull-as-dishwater to Pru," Knox answered another question Lewis hadn't intended to ask. "She couldn't stand it. Tried, though, I'll give her that. On the condition I settle for cat piss, mind. She stuck with it for five years, but once our youngest left home, she up and decided she was moving back. With or without me, her final word on it. Not that ours is much of a match any more, but what's the alternative? Pathetic, that's what. Being alone at our age, or out on the pull, it's too hard, Robbie -- well, you know that only too well. I couldn't face it."
I wasn't given a choice. Maybe a dry Knox was even less tactful than the sodden one, and they'd never been that friendly in the first place. Grousing over a couple of pints about something work-related, aye, anything more personal, hardly ever. The man was now carrying on about how long he might have to put up with his current situation until he got a decent pension out of it, but Lewis couldn't manage to care greatly. He pushed away the remains of his food and interrupted, "Did you have something to ask me? Or tell me?" Judging by the look thrown at him, he may have been more brusque than he'd intended.
"That sergeant of yours -- I'd heard you inherited him. How you've put up with him for so long -- " his hands moved in a baffled spread. "Hard worker, have to give him that, but God Almighty, so bloody-minded, too clever by half, and that sharp tongue of his."
"Haven't noticed," Lewis lied with a straight face.
"No end of theories he's pulled out of his arse and has to waste your time on -- "
"Haven't noticed," Lewis repeated, now in honesty, but more as a warning to Knox that he wasn't talking into a sympathetic ear. At times Hathaway may be all kinds of difficult, but he was his difficult now.
"You haven't changed, Robbie, that's you all over. If you could put up with Morse all those years, what can't you put up with?"
Right about now, you.
"Truth be told, I'm more surprised he stuck with you," Knox continued, then seemed to realise how he'd sounded, rushed to add, "No reflection on you, that's not what I meant at all. It was always clear to me, though -- on the fast track, so cocksure and stiff-necked with it, keen to get to places. I was just a wayside station he was chafing to leave behind."
In all fairness, Lewis had noted some of that early on. But a bit of leeway, and as much give as take, seemed to have worked for him. "He was, what, twenty-five when you got him? They grow up, Charles."
"They don't get any less snooty, do they? Look, I don't know what he told you about working with me -- "
"Not a thing." Lewis hadn't asked, either, knowing better after having had Morse ask him. What could any poor sergeant say, except something complimentary, without making his new boss wonder what would be said about him one day? "Backroom tattle isn't his form." If you'd paid some attention, you might've noticed that.
"But here's the thing, see? Ever since I've been back he won't stop calling me 'sir.' Tell him to stop it with the sly innuendo, all right? Yes, I know, I was demoted, I'm the one who has to live with it. I don't need the haughty git poking it in my eye."
How could the man have worked with Hathaway for two years and remained so clueless? Lewis had no doubt that if he turned into a dotty old coot drooling into his gruel in the pensioners' home and Hathaway became the High Commissioner of Law Enforcement, James would still call him 'sir' and mean nothing by it but respect. "You're much older, you were his guv, you still have seniority over him," if not the rank any more, "what'd you expect him to call you? But OK, if it bothers you, I'll ask him to stop." Those who couldn't recognise courtesy when they heard it didn't deserve it.
Knox seemed to be reconsidering. "You don't think he means anything by it? You sure?"
"My word on it. Hathaway wouldn't do that. He was raised polite, that's all."
"Hmm." Knox took an absent-minded sip from his glass and, reminded of its taste, made a face at it, then spared a smile for Lewis. "You're really fond of the smug tosser, aren't you?"
Oh, for heaven's sake. "We rub along."
"All right then, you may have the right of it. Forget I said anything, eh?"
Gladly. "Done, and now I should..." Lewis started, intending to leave.
"I was looking over the recent cases, saw Murdoch Cullen mentioned," Knox said. "Your case, right?"
"Couple of weeks back, aye. Did you know him? I'd like to find a next of kin if I can."
"Far as I know, there's none. When I was first in uniform, me and the mates, we used to frequent a pub on the wharf by Tooley's Boatyard. Cheap dive, long closed. He was a fixture there. Put it away by the bucket, but he was an interesting bloke. Did odd jobs, been a sailor previously, had all kinds of stories. Nothing you'd expect from an old salt, though. Devout Catholic, you see. Had a wife, a daughter and a grandbaby. He loved that babe to pieces; his surprise present from the Guy, he used to say. Apparently, his girl went out one Bonfire Night and came back carrying. Devout as he was, he clearly loved his daughter more than doctrine. Anyway, they were all lost in a house fire, oh, near thirty years gone now. Word was, he hadn't paid the gas bill, they were using paraffin lamps -- no wonder it broke him. I ran into him for years, a shambling ghost on the streets."
Well, that more than explained self-immolation. Lewis hoped that the unbearable agony had at least balanced the accounts for the tortured soul.
"You must've seen him, too," Knox continued. "Couldn't miss him, used to walk backwards."
"What?" he asked with a sinking feeling, suddenly realising he'd seen the old man more recently that he should've, had told James about him as they were coming out of...which church?
Knox had no idea he'd just knocked over an ant hill the size of the Cotswolds. "He explained it to me once, while he still made some sense. They'd kept pulling him back to keep him from running into the burning house. He said he was still backing away but couldn't get far enough to stop seeing it."
Lewis's heart and brain flew off in different directions, one twisted with pity while the other clamoured: No, damn it. He couldn't have misidentified a body, not again. "Was he called 'Mariner,' by any chance?" he had to ask.
"From his sailing days, I figure. I first learned his name from the reports of the fire."
Christ! He had. Again. He wouldn't blame Innocent if she wanted his brain in a pickle jar. He rose, barely noticing the chair he almost upset and Knox lunged to catch, dug out his wallet. "I'm sorry, Charles, but I've bollixed a case, must go and sort it out." He threw more than enough to cover his bill onto the table, left Knox looking after him slack-jawed and hurried out.
Which church? They'd been in so many that day. Damn it, which church? He stopped short of his car, unmindful of the rain and the sideways looks from the pedestrians forced to go around him, tried to picture the scene: a group of indigents coming into a vestibule. Right before then, Hathaway, looking up with a smile, entranced by -- yes, the choir rehearsal, the last place they'd checked. The Cathedral Church of St Justin. Where a sister had called Cullen "Mariner," not knowing any better. Neither had he, as the man he'd been looking for had shuffled right past him at arm's length. What a cock up.
On the drive over, he tried to organise the possibilities in his head. Given: a body, burnt, unidentifiable. Except through dentures. Or so they'd thought. If only Innocent had loosened the purse strings for a bone specialist they might have found the discrepancy earlier, but water under, no sense wasting time on it now. Could Laura have made a mistake? No, the dental ID, by way of NHS records, was solid. As Cullen had been seen alive after the body presumed to be his was already in the morgue, the remains and the dentures belonged to different people. How had that come about?
The type of dental marking recovered from the remains predated ID chips by a large margin; the dentures must've been made at least twenty, more like thirty, years ago. They could've been misplaced, discarded, replaced. Given the living and mental conditions of the homeless, exchanged, sold, taken, or just plain substituted by mistake.
And of course, planted. Which would turn his suicide into homicide. He should've looked closer at the lead Hathaway had developed. He would now, as soon as he located Murdoch Cullen and found out if he was capable of answering a few questions.
At St Justin's, once he described the sister he'd talked to earlier as best he could, a young nun led him through an arched walkway, past a courtyard misty with rain, into a small chapel. "Sister Agatha," she said, indicating a woman doubled over, inspecting the undersides of the benches.
"Chewing gum," Sister Agatha explained when he approached her. "Where there's been bairns, there'll be chewing gum." She squinted up at him. "I know you, don't I?"
He reintroduced himself and asked to see Murdoch Cullen, known to her as Mariner.
"You don't say, one and the same, eh? Live and learn, but I fear he's since left us, Inspector."
Sod it. All that searching for the man, all to do again. "Do you have any idea where I might find him?"
"I do, yes," she gave him a lenient smile, "but I doubt you'd be in any hurry to follow him. He's been called, you see, a week gone now, God rest his weary soul."
"You mean he died?" She nodded solemnly at him. "How? Where?"
"In his bed in our infirmary, and may the Good Lord forgive me for saying it, but not before time. He was just a shade."
"He was sick?"
"Sick, heart-sick, old, frail. He was long done with this world."
That might well be, but right then Lewis was taking no chances. Paupers' funerals were usually a cremation unless the local council believed that cremation would be contrary to the wishes or religion of the deceased, which must apply to a devout Catholic. Knowing from his last visit that they kept records of their charitable works, he asked for the death certificate if they had a copy, the address of the doctor who'd issued it, and the funeral director involved. He hoped it didn't have to go as far as exhumation, but the same person presumed dead a week earlier than he'd actually turned up dead and buried? Conveniently? He was going to peer under every stone even if it meant turning over a communal grave.
"Our Lord Bishop was with him at the end, gave him his last rites," Sister Agatha said reproachfully, as if that should've put all questions to rest, but led him out of the chapel, back past the courtyard and into the vestibule of the church. "Ah, there's Father Cleaves, he'd made the arrangements, he'll know." She motioned at Lewis to wait, hurried after a priest and stopped him at the foot of the steps he'd been about to mount. The man, very tall, leaned towards her as she quietly explained the situation to him.
Another choir rehearsal seemed to be going on, nothing angelic about this one, sounded like pure fun, young voices falling in and out of a song they clearly didn't know well, belting it out enthusiastically nevertheless -- green bells of Cardiff, silver bells of Wye-- to the accompaniment of a guitar. When the kids lost their place and trailed off, Lewis could hear the underlying voice keeping the song going for them. Not a strong voice, but light and pleasant, and the precise pronunciation of the lyrics --oh, what can you give me, say the sad bells of Rhymney-- tugged at his ear familiarly.
"Yes, of course," the priest answered Sister Agatha in a tone Lewis could hear, focusing his attention on them. "The papers are still on the desk in the Charter House," he turned around and smiled amiably at Lewis, "but we can do better than that for the inspector."
Lewis's first thought was that he must tell his sergeant this priest was a real priest, his second was to despair of his wits. Hathaway hadn't only glimpsed the man on the film lot to assume he was an actor purely on his looks, the way Lewis had. He had interviewed the priest, searched his car, would've entered every relevant fact about him into his BlackBerry. Being Hathaway, he probably hadn't even noticed how disturbingly good looking the bloke was.
But that had happened on the scene of a whole different case, hadn't it? Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence, he told himself, didn't quite believe it.
By then, Sister Agatha had introduced them, said, "I'll get those forms for you," and bustled off.
"You were on the Powell lot," Lewis said to Father Cleaves.
"I thought I'd seen you before. Yes, Friday morning. The company is filming a documentary about Biblical antiquities, partially sponsored by the Catholic Church. I'm the uneasy go-between. Or was. The fate of the venture hangs in the balance at the moment."
"Uneasy?" Lewis chose that word to question, while his mind had snagged on another: antiquities. As in: dealer-of. As in Hathaway's discarded lead. One more hook from one case into the other?
"Between the transcendental and the material, shuttling from the divine to the profane -- yes, Inspector, exceedingly uneasy," Cleaves said with a humble inclination of his head, clasping his hands in front of him. "But that's of no account, let us put your mind at ease. First, though, thank you for bringing us the name of one of our flock, may God's mercy rest his soul. Now we can include him properly in our prayers -- not that it matters to Our Father; he knows each and every one of his children."
Uh-huh. One of those, too pious by half. "How astute of him," he said, causing the pillock's handsome head to snap upright. "I doubt the NHS is all-knowing, though. How do you get medical care for the nameless in this flock of yours?"
"Praise be that the more fortunate of our congregation prefer spiritual compensation over government cheques. Some are doctors. They oblige us."
Clearly, the battle was joined. "There's the death certificate. Does the County Registrar also oblige you?"
"We submit all the information we possess. How bureaucracies deal with them past that, I have no way of knowing -- ah, there, Sister Agatha has the forms for you."
Lewis took the papers from the nun. On top was a copy of the death certificate issued by the Registrar, under it, a handbill from Hancock and Son Funeral Service, and under that -- yes, indeed, the copy of the green form required for an internment.
"But as I said, we can do even better," Cleaves was continuing. "One of your colleagues was present on the sad occasion, you can talk to him." He went to the foot of the staircase, raised his head and called out, "James, could you come down for a minute?"
One of the most common names, yet Lewis knew who'd be coming down those stairs before the next second he flipped to the copy of the cause of death form and the signature at the bottom of the page jumped out at him.
Once again, the secretive sod had kept something he shouldn't have from Lewis.
The music hadn't stopped. Father Cleaves took the steps two at a time to the mid-landing and called out louder, "James. I need you down here." The sounds cut off, except for some whinging from the kids, and the priest headed back down -- rather swaggeringly, Lewis thought.
He looked back at the form, inoffensive on its own, properly signed by an officer as on-site witness. Common procedure when a law officer was present at a death and circumstances were clear, except this was his officer and he didn't have complete confidence in the clarity of the circumstances.
The two cases were showing signs of turning into one tangled mess, and now his sergeant was in the middle of it. Worse than that --he glared at the signature-- his sergeant was evidentially in the middle of it. If there was anything untoward going on, and all his instincts were screaming there was, this one piece of paper could land Hathaway in real trouble. Let's not be hasty, he counselled himself. Wouldn't be the first time his instincts were wrong. That was easier to believe than that James, James, would knowingly or foolishly overlook something shady.
If he could just get past: he lied to me. To me. Again.
He could hear Hathaway's voice in the well of the staircase, getting closer while issuing mock-threats against the folly of any boy putting grubby hands on his guitar. He sounded so cheerful, so carefree. Such a rare thing.
Not exactly lies, just his usual bent for avoidance, Lewis tried to make himself accept, couldn't. Not on the job, damn it.
He heard Hathaway say, "If you don't like my music selection, Edmund, you should've -- oh. Sir?"
As Hathaway hurried to Lewis, who seemed intent on some papers in his hand, his first assumption was that his mobile had malfunctioned and forced his boss to come to fetch him for work. Before he could pull it out and check it, though, he realised that Lewis shouldn't have known where to find him. "Sir?" he repeated, uncomfortably aware that he was standing between two men he'd hoped would never meet, and that Lewis was yet to look at him. "Something wrong?"
Lewis turned a sheet of paper around for him to see. "Care to tell me about this?" He sounded matter-of-fact, but the phrasing, the clamped-down delivery, and the fact he avoided looking at Hathaway blared that he was furious.
He looked down at the paper, wondered why and how Lewis had ended up here with it in his hand, blurted, "It's a cause of death cert --" before he collected his wits. Idiocy wouldn't be tolerated right then. "Last week when I was here for Vigil Mass, which I told you about, I, erm, had occasion to visit the Infirmary -- " why did that sound so dodgy now when it had been so straightforward then? " -- and I witnessed...exactly what this says I witnessed."
"So you signed it."
"No, fine. Perfectly in order."
Why won't you look at me? "Sir, what's wrong?"
"With the form -- " he lined it up with the other papers, folded them "--probably nothing." He finally looked up as he tucked them into the pocket of his anorak.
Hathaway's heart sank. This wasn't simply anger. "What did I do?" he asked with little breath.
Lewis glanced past him pointedly, making him look around. Young, curious faces were lined up and down the staircase, peering at them from in between the banisters and over the handrail. "Go back to what you were doing," Lewis said, not leniency, an order. "We'll discuss it tomorrow at the office." He raised his voice to say in Cleaves's general direction, "I'll have copies of the forms sent for your records." He directed a gentler tone at the nun standing to one side, "Appreciate the help."
He turned and strode out briskly, but Hathaway couldn't fail to notice his shoulders had the pulled-in, rounded set that always made him look guarded, isolated.
"James? What is it?" Cleaves touched his arm, making him realise he was still in place, now staring at nothing but the sheeting rain through the front entrance.
"I've disappointed him," he said, mostly to himself.
"I meant, what is it about the form?"
"You tell me," he whirled on Cleaves with sudden purpose, "what is it about the form?"
With a start, Cleaves backed away a step. "It's just a regular one, we fill out our share."
"Not you, a doctor or a law officer."
"You are one." He turned his head to call out to the boys, "Upstairs, all of you."
"Where we'll be closing the doors and minding our own business," the nun added, following the scarpering boys, clapping her hands as if at a gaggle of geese.
Cleaves turned back to Hathaway, "You were there, James. You saw and heard what I saw and heard. What can be wrong with the form?"
"How would it come to my inspector's attention otherwise? There has to be something."
"As in what, carelessness, neglect, wrongdoing? Who are you accusing, the charity of the Church, me, my Lord Bishop, our good Sister Agatha?"
"No," he had to say. "No, of course not."
"Thank you," Cleaves intoned huffily, then softened. "I'm sure it was just a routine check."
What did he think Lewis was, a paper-pusher? "He doesn't do routine checks."
"I'm sure he'll tell you at the office. Must say, though, quite contentious, isn't he? Not at all what I thought when I saw him the other day. He looks so mild and...well, bland."
Bland? Lewis? But Edmund had said something more important. "The other day? When?"
"When you had the temerity to search my car so officiously. He was watching us from a few cars away."
How anything that had happened in the last minutes connected to anything else and why, Hathaway still had no idea, but he had a pretty good idea, now, what had set Lewis off. "I have to go," he said, already halfway to the door, patting his pockets for his keys.
"Why? Sounded like you were having fun with -- "
"I have to go."
Cleaves caught him up at the door and grabbed his arm. "James, look at yourself."
His tie and jacket off, collar loose, sleeves rolled up. So? Who cared? "It's fine."
"No, it's not. It's raining out there, it's chilly. Half your clothes are upstairs with your guitars. Come on, James, you're upset, you're not thinking, this isn't like you." He leaned to look at Hathaway's face closely. "You're more than upset, you're practically scared. Just because your boss has a bee in his bonnet? Are you afraid of losing your job?"
He yanked his arm away. "Bugger the job, I'm afraid of losing --
Providentially, Cleaves snapped, "James! Remember where you are," and prevented him from finishing the reckless sentence.
He clenched his mouth shut. Obviously, the best state for it. He ran upstairs and gathered his things. Under Sister Agatha's strict eye, the boys cast him inquisitive looks but kept their curiosity to themselves. With time to think, it dawned on him that he was going to have to tell Lewis more about Edmund than he'd ever wanted, but there was no wriggle room left. So be it. If he was going to lose Lewis's regard, at least it wouldn't be over a deception. He pulled on his coat, put his guitars in their cases, picked one up by the handle, stuck the other one under the same arm to leave a hand free for his keys.
Cleaves was waiting for him at the foot of the stairs. "James -- "
"I can't stay, Edmund." An even bet if he'd be coming back. He only hoped he didn't have come back in an official capacity.
"He's the one, then, is he?"
"One what?" An instant too late, he knew he really, really shouldn't have asked.
"The one who makes it all worthwhile. That was how you put it, wasn't it?"
He'd been right in the first place. His mouth was best kept firmly shut. He hurried out to his car, put the guitars in the boot, got in and drove off.
He didn't have the patience to wait until tomorrow. Anger was one thing. At worst, Lewis would give him a bollocking and let it blow over; he wasn't nearly as clement over disappointments. He'd already forgiven Hathaway for the same offence twice. Twice more than he'd forgiven God. Hathaway grimly drove and tried not to think of what three strikes might mean.
The doctor who'd scribbled Cullen's last-known medical condition on the form might prefer spiritual rewards to money, but he wasn't as generous with his time on the Lord's Day. Murdoch Cullen had been death-too-long-delayed in his opinion, no doubt in his mind, what could possibly be questionable about it?
Maybe the man was right. If for nothing but Hathaway's sake, Lewis hoped so, having calmed down a bit. At the time James had signed the form, he hadn't known it might become evidence later --if it did. No reason he should've mentioned it to Lewis. Not informing his boss about his association --close association, obviously-- with a person on a crime scene was, yes, very serious. Especially after experiencing the consequences of lying about personal involvements previously. Twice. But OK, done was done. And in this one case, Lewis's attitude towards religion and the religious may have made him reluctant. It wasn't an excuse, but something to hang at least a small hat on.
Lewis's attempt at good will lasted until he got to Hancock and Son to find out the internment had been nothing of the sort. Cullen's body had been cremated. He stewed over it until he drove home, turned the motor off, finally relieved of the swishing wipers that had been aggravating the headache lodged behind his eyes. He rubbed them for a moment, then pulled out his mobile and rang St Justin's. "I don't mean to offend in any way, but I need some information," he told Sister Agatha when at length she was called to the phone. "I thought the Catholic church prohibits cremation. Am I wrong?"
"Not so much wrong as behind the times," she said. "There are still some stipulations about it, but it's been allowed by the Holy See for a while."
"No longer so strict with the whole sacred-temple thing, then?"
"What modern times we live in, Inspector," Sister Agatha said, a wry smile coming through in her voice.
He asked the important question. "Do you know if Mariner chose to be cremated?"
"I understand he lost his family in a fire. Maybe he thought it fitting?"
"Any burning, he'd have left to the next world. He was a true believer."
He thanked her and got off the phone, angry all over again. He had two cases to untangle, maybe three, possibly connected, with little or no evidence, on shaky conjecture, and he had no sounding board. Hathaway had disqualified himself. 'You were wrong and it looks like Hathaway was right' was hardly the way to approach Laura at this juncture. Innocent would raise questions about Hathaway Lewis didn't want raised before he'd had time to decide what to do with Hathaway, what could be done with, for, despite Hathaway.
Bloody hell. Too damned much Hathaway.
He left the car, jogged up the street, rounded the dripping hedges to the walkway to his building, and there, standing at the top of the front steps, half-in and half-out of the overhang in the pouring rain: Hathaway. Hands in coat pockets, shoulders hunched, collar up, chin tucked in, obviously waiting for him. 'Tomorrow at the office' had been unclear how?
"Unless it's a call-out, go away." Lewis realised how sharply he'd spoken when Hathaway flinched. His feet stayed planted, though. "Go home," he softened it a little, leaving the garden gate open behind him as a hint.
Hathaway straightened his shoulders, swept the waterlogged mop of his hair back from his forehead. "I need to talk to you, sir."
"About a case?"
"Not now then." He went up the steps straight to the door, riveting his eyes to the keys in his hand. Somewhere, somehow, Hathaway had become someone who could bypass his ire just by looking miserable and his ire didn't care to be bypassed.
"I won't take long."
"You can wait until tomorrow." He put his key in, turned it.
"I can't -- I mean, I don't -- "
"I said tomorrow, Sergeant." He pushed the door open.
"Sir, if you'd just let me have a --"
"No." He needed a drink and a long, quiet time to think, not this...this...this too tall, too long-faced, too secretive, too aggravating --
About to close the door after himself, Lewis's eyes snapped up to Hathaway.
"I meant sir. I'm sorry, sorry."
-- too wet, too wretched, the sodden strands of the hunk of longer hair sliding down his forehead again. "Oh, for the love of -- get inside."
Hathaway scrambled after him to his door and into his flat. Two steps in, and he seemed to run out of steam, stood there looking wary.
Lewis threw his keys onto their tray. "I'm not bleeding royalty, you can say my name. Caught me by surprise, is all." He waved impatiently at Hathaway to go past him. "Get in."
"I'm all -- " With a look down at himself, Hathaway hurried by and chose the kitchen. As the safest surface to drip on, apparently.
The presence of someone in the kitchen brought Monty running; water drops from the hem of the sodden coat on his upturned face sent him running out again. No welcome for James Hathaway, even from the cat. Lewis sighed, pointed at the tumble dryer. "Put it on air-dry and throw your coat in there for a bit." He took off his anorak before going to the bathroom to get him a towel. And he'd thought Morse had been as high maintenance as they came.
He went back, tossed the towel to Hathaway with a short, "Dry off," plugged in the kettle.
"Sir, if I may --"
"Belt up. I'll be talking first." He pulled down two mugs. "When I'm ready." The tea was steeping in the mugs when next he looked at Hathaway. The daft sod had done no more than wipe his face and, at most, passed the towel over his head, was holding it uselessly in one hand. "Give me that," Lewis said, yanking it away and pulling out one of the stools."Sit."
A few minutes of brisk --and admittedly, rough-- application of the towel got the blond hair, if not dry, no more than damp, and rid Lewis of some aggravation. Hathaway stayed stock-still for it and, when Lewis had finished, his face emerged flushed from under the towel.
Lewis pulled out a bottle of whisky as he tossed the towel onto the worktop, added a splash of liquor to each mug, brought them over along with the milk and sugar, placed the other stool across from Hathaway, sat down. "Drink."
One highlight of having Hathaway at a disadvantage, strict obedience. When the meekness started bothering him and enjoying it felt petty, he knew he'd calmed down enough. He looked up at Hathaway, who seemed to realise time to talk had arrived, pushed away his mug, braided his fingers in front of him and visibly braced himself.
"After all this time, it's ridiculous how little I know about you," Lewis said mildly, raising a hand when Hathaway attempted to open his mouth. "No, fine, there's a lot you'd rather keep to yourself, that's your right. But there are things I must know. When I don't -- " he noted how white Hathaway's knuckles were turning " -- damn it, James, haven't you realised yet that's when we get in trouble, not when you're frank with me. I'm used to having more questions than answers -- on the job, from you. But I won't have it from you on the job. Once and for all, is that clear?"
"However bad anything is, we'll sort it, I promise. So," he pushed away his mug, too, "I'm not ordering you, but if you're ever going to come clean with me, this is the time. There's no later."
"Right. I...erm...." He hesitated, started again, " Been so long, I --" He cut off again to clear his throat.
"At your own pace," Lewis allowed.
"I've known Edmund --Father Cleaves-- since I was eighteen. We'd lost touch after the seminary. I ran into him again recently."
"Aye, you told me you'd met up with an old friend. We're not finished with that subject, I want to know why you kept it a secret when he turned up on a crime scene. But first, answer me this. The form I showed you earlier. What do you know about the man whose death you signed away?"
"I was only there at the end of the last rites. I attested to what I witnessed. A sister took the form to fill in the information they had about him. She referred to him as Mariner, and I thought he might be the old man we'd seen earlier, quoting from the Ancient Mariner. That's all I know."
"They called him Mariner. Care to know his real name?" Watching Hathaway's expression as he cast about for the possibilities, Lewis saw it hit him.
"Please tell me it's not Murdoch Cullen."
Lewis said nothing, let the implications sink in.
Unlacing his fingers, Hathaway dropped his head into his hands. "Oh, God."
"One more thing. Friday morning, did you search Father Cleaves's bag?"
Hathaway looked up at him, distressed and a little dazed. "Bag?"
"You were checking his car when I saw you two. He had a gym bag in his hand. Did you see what he was carrying out of our crime scene?"
"Edmund said -- " he seemed to realise the absurdity of his answer, amended it to " -- no, I didn't. I'm sorry. I should have."
"You would have. If he weren't your friend and a priest to boot. Conflict of interest rule is there for a good reason. If you had alerted me, you wouldn't have been the one interviewing him. Why does this keep happening, James?"
"Would you have pulled me off the case if I'd said we were in the same residence at the seminary? You didn't take me out of Crevecoeur after you knew I was raised there, did you? Not until Scarlett became the issue."
That, and your tongue that can flay the skin off a bloke, Lewis thought.
"You'd have asked what the conflict was," Hathaway continued miserably. "If you hadn't, Innocent would have."
Lewis felt they had at long last arrived at the crux. "What's the conflict you couldn't tell us about?"
"Once...back then...long time ago...I, erm," he looked everywhere but at Lewis, "I loved him."
Hathaway's eyes snapped back to him, more than a little combative. "I was in love with him."
An answer three years in arriving, not that Hathaway's smokescreens around the issue at the time had been all that effective. Lewis hoped the lad had been, at least for a while, happily in love, done everything young people in love do, before he'd seen fit to scour his soul. A dim hope, of course. Hathaway was no hypocrite, he couldn't have ruthlessly thrown strictures at McEwan if he'd given in to the same temptation himself. "All right, maybe you couldn't tell Innocent." Past pulling him off the case, Lewis would bet Innocent's only other reaction would've been to placidly tick one more box in her minority-hire list, but this was Hathaway, reclusive by nature. "You could've told me."
"Telling her would've been easier."
Really? After all the years? And hadn't he expressed --not gently, either-- what he thought of McEwan going to Hathaway with his confused feelings? That big a jump to conclude telling him would be safe? His temper hadn't calmed down after all. "It's the same thing all over again, isn't it? What's your problem, James? How many times -- what's left to -- what more can I --" he suddenly felt bone-weary " -- oh, forget it." He rose and swept the mugs up.
"No." Hathaway scrambled to his feet. "No."
Lewis went to the sink, dropped the mugs into it clattering and splashing.
"No," Hathaway repeated from right behind him. "You can't make me come clean and clam up yourself. Even a criminal gets to know the judgment against him."
"What're you talking about?" Lewis whirled on him. "What crime, what judgment? How many ways can I prove it to you? I. Don't.Care. If you're gay, that's fine; bi, straight, fine. If you're any or none of those, just don't want to be labelled, that's fine, too. Why should it make any odds to me? You're you, I value you, what're you so bloody scared of?"
"That it will make a difference."
"It won't, it doesn't. What am I doing wrong that you don't know that?"
"It's not what I don't know. It's what you don't know."
"So tell me, what don't I know?" Incapable of not searching when aware of something to find, his mind took off ahead of the answer, prospecting.
No answer was forthcoming anyway. Hathaway bit his lip, shook his head, wouldn't meet his eyes.
"You still don't trust me -- look at me." Exasperated, he bracketed the stubborn head with spread fingers and turned it firmly to face him despite resistance and kept it there.
Hathaway gasped. "Don't."
Christ. He looks so brittle. Lewis had to tell him, just so there'd be no doubt, "Here's my word, James: I won't break you, and if it's at all down to me, I won't let you get broken, I swear." Having established that beyond question --he hoped-- he let go.
James kept looking at him unblinkingly, as though his eyes were trapped open. "You might," he said with hitched breath, "but I don't know how else to get out of this corner. I'll have to take her word."
Lewis saw his hands come up towards his face, suddenly knew it'd take one touch for the tumblers he was just realising were there to start falling. As the hands cupped his face: that touch. When James leaned in and kissed him --no more than a bit too emphatic press of lips against his-- the instant of foresight kept it from being a complete surprise and he carefully didn't react. So this is the wanting you couldn't let make a difference? OK, all right, we'll sort it. That the wanting was aimed at him was staggering, though. How starved are you that the Ploughman's at hand looked like a feast to you? He opened his mouth to say something distracting, something un-hurtful, to ease the awkwardness bound to follow.
Clearly, the wrong time to part his lips. Hathaway made a ragged, needy sound, sealed Lewis's mouth with his and avidly took what he must've thought was on offer. Lewis's stomach flipped. It felt too earnest to be offensive, but it was overwhelming. And when James pushed as if he craved more, bending him back against the worktop, overbearing. Too tall, too strong, too voracious. And weirdly, too scrupulous. He wasn't pressing against Lewis anywhere except his face, which left Lewis arched backwards, sliding on the tiles, grasping the edge of the worktop to stay on his feet, with no hands to push Hathaway off or pull him closer -- wait, what?
"Oh, God," James said half inside and half outside his mouth as he wrenched away abruptly, his hands dropping to Lewis's upper arms to pull him squarely onto his feet. He let go immediately and stepped back, a stricken expression on his face. Only then Lewis realised a forbidding sound had risen up his chest, its vibrations still in his throat. Aimed at James or himself or both, he had no idea. He tried desperately to think of something to say, to make it right. Or at least to keep it from going horribly wrong.
Hathaway spoke up urgently, "Don't. For God's sake, don't say anything."
No longer off-balance, able to think once more, Lewis found himself marvelling at what a leap of faith a kiss had to be under the circumstances. If it was beyond him to catch and hold up the lad, he could try to let him down gently. Don't allow this, too, to become a failure of faith to him. "James," he started, stopped to clear his throat when he heard how husky he sounded.
"No, please," Hathaway said, "not now, I can't --" his shoulders sagged, and when he continued his voice was strangled. "I won't exacerbate it by apologising. There's no excuse for it, I knew it was wrong, I -- " he grappled briefly for more words, then spun on his heels and headed for the door, his long legs swallowing the distance.
Lewis followed him. "James, wait, we need to talk."
Hathaway stopped at the door, didn't turn around. "I've been trying so hard to behave properly around you, but right now, I can't. You saw I can't. You're the most merciful man I know, so please, let me leave. If you want me to transfer, tell me tomorrow and I will. For now, let me go." He didn't wait any longer, opened the door, stepped through and yanked it shut after him.
Lewis hurried to throw it open again, called out, "I didn't ask you to leave, remember that. I won't tomorrow, either." The outer door had been closing after Hathaway. No telling if he'd heard any of it.
Lewis saw his hand on the door knob was shaking. He didn't know what he felt, but whatever it was, good or bad, right or wrong, it was the most acute feeling he'd had in years, a surprisingly alive feeling. How blunted and blinkered had he been walking through what stood for his life lately that he hadn't noticed the person who spent most of it with him was in a bind? Over him.
He looked down at Monty who'd come to weave around his legs. Reckoning the cat was likely to have as much of an idea as he did, asked him, "What're we going to do with our James, puss?"