"Yes, ma'am," Lewis bellowed into the mobile. "Yes. An Italian family. Hold on, ma'am, till we get to the house. It's raining."
That, thought James Hathaway as they crossed the lawn, may count as the understatement of the year. The fierce wind drove the rain sideways, forcing its icy prickles into his face as he strode head-down behind Lewis as fast as the dignity of detectives allowed. The SOCO team, in the garden behind them, had no dignity left; when Hathaway had last seen them they'd been wrestling with the white cloth of their tent like sailors desperate to free a broken mast of its sails before the gale sank their ship. The crime scene was already ruined by wet, but they'd do their best to preserve any clues left.
The wind increased, producing a banshee howl ahead. A small part of Hathaway's mind speculated on what part of the house's architecture was catching the storm and transforming it into wild music, but he was not about to look up and find out. He gasped as a mischievous gust slammed into what had been his slightly-less-saturated side; it felt as if some unseen being had thrown a bucket of water at him.
"Sodding hell," he heard Lewis yell out, and then one of the uniforms was opening the door to them, and they'd reached temporary sanctuary from the malicious elements.
"More like a sort of aquatic purgatory," Hathaway said, shaking out his raincoat and handing it to the constable. Lewis was back on the phone to DCS Innocent.
"Yes, I'm here, ma'am. The Antoniettis. House is called La Tramontana. Hathaway says it's a kind of wind." He listened for a moment. "No, ma'am. Not that I'm aware." He mouthed to Hathaway, "Mafia," and then tucked his head down again. "They've been here two generations. Yes, I'll let you know. Hathaway's about to interview the woman who found Mr. Antonietti senior's body. I'll start off talking to the relatives." He listened. "Yes, ma'am," he said, and thumbed the phone off. "Important family; we're to be very discreet," he reported.
"When are we not?" asked Hathaway.
Lewis gave him a half-smile, and shivered. "Take your coat off, sir," Hathaway said. "Here, I'll help you--"
"I can take my own coat off, Sergeant. Not that old yet. Wish I'd retired before today, though." He dismissed Hathaway with a wave. "Go and conduct your interview. DC Lyons will show you--" He gestured down the hall, and started shrugging out of his coat.
Lyons took Hathaway around a corner and pointed to a door. He dismissed her, knocked once, and went in. The witness was seated on a red velvet sofa, turned half away, gazing into a cold fireplace. Long black form-fitting dress, pale skin, chestnut brown hair tumbling down...
"Oh my God," he breathed, and Liv Nash turned to meet his gaze.
"Detective Sergeant Hathaway," she said. "I wondered if it would be you."
"You look like a Pre-Raphaelite painting," he replied. Idiotically. "I mean--"
"They often involve a lot of water, don't they?" she said, then bent forward to wring out the hem of her skirt.
"Oh, you're wet," he said, which might have given him second place in the understatement division, or at least the bloody-obvious one. "Why didn't anyone--" He cast about the room: light the fire? Wrap her up in the heavy curtains?
"It's all right," Liv said. "I'm a gardener; I'm used to getting wet. Not usually dressed like this..." He invited further comment, probably just by staring at her. "I was on my way to a funeral, believe it or not. My great-aunt's. In Banbury. I guess they'll have to go on without me now."
Reflexively, he noted that they weren't on the direct road to Banbury. "Why did you stop here?" he said, sitting down in a chair close to her.
"You're wet too," she observed.
"I had a coat."
"So did I; it didn't help much." They gazed at each other foolishly for another few seconds -- her hair looked lovely down around her shoulders, though he suspected she'd only released it so it would dry -- and then she seemed to realize what they were meant to be doing. "To answer your question: I'm renovating the garden here. They've cut my hours at the Botanic Garden -- staffing changes; you understand -- and I do have a certificate that says I'm a garden designer, as well as the degree in botany, so..."
"How did you get the job?"
"People tend to contact the Botanic Garden when they need help. I interviewed, showed them some ideas..." She shrugged. "I'd just last week put in a bed of Opuntia, and--"
"Translation?" said Hathaway. "Sorry, not a bit of Latin I know."
"A kind of cactus. I had a suspicion I hadn't augmented the soil well enough for good drainage, and with all this rain... so I stopped by to check on it. It wasn't raining quite so hard when I got here," she said, squeezing her dress again.
"Would that be the kind of cactus that Mr. Antonietti was found face down in?"
"Yes. I suppose it's a lost cause, now," she sighed, and then looked up. "I'm sorry; that was a dreadful thing to say."
"We all have our accustomed trains of thought. Liv," he said, wanting to touch her, "I need to ask what precisely you saw. The weather's isn't going to leave us much in the way of evidence, so an account of the scene when it was less disturbed will be invaluable." She nodded bravely. "Also," he went on, "I'm afraid I'll have to ask you where you were last night."
"I was sure you would. This is getting to be a bad habit of mine, isn't it?"
"Two bodies doesn't constitute a habit. With the third one we'll have to run you in on suspicion of godawful luck."
She smiled, with pity for herself or for him, he couldn't tell. "I am glad it's you, Sergeant Hathaway," she said.
"All right. James. Now, what would you like to know?"
"Who plants cactus in England?" Lewis said. "Not in a greenhouse, that is." They were on their way back to the station after several solid hours of interviews; it was the first chance they'd had to compare notes. The wind had let up some, but the rain was still pissing down, the wipers going full tilt. Lewis's back and legs were damp against the seat of Hathaway's car; the heater had dried his front out some. Bugger it; it was supposed to be summer.
"Liv does, apparently. Some people like to... stretch the boundaries." Hathaway negotiated a roundabout and then added, "You wouldn't think so, after what happened with Murray Hawes, but she said Mr. Antonietti requested it."
"Reminded him of home, maybe?"
"I don't think they have cactus in Milan. I'll ask her."
Lewis studied his sergeant: hands steady on the wheel; slight flush to the cheeks, but that might be the warmth in the car. "Ask someone else," he said. "You're too close to this witness."
"She has an alibi--"
"James. You've made this mistake before. Innocent's going to have us under a microscope for this case. And Liv doesn't have an alibi until we've checked it."
"I know that. Sir." Hathaway was silent for a moment, then said, "My relationship with her consists entirely of interviewing her about dead bodies. It's not a good basis for romance." Lewis gave him a semi-encouraging grunt, and he went on, changing the subject. "I gave Liv's evidence to Dr. Hobson before she left. The site was pretty wet already when Liv arrived, but it might help to know that she didn't see much blood. Despite the knife in his back."
"Could be he was killed somewhere else and dumped. In the cactus," Lewis said. "SOCO's going over the house. If there's blood residue, they'll find it." He watched Hathaway's hands again for a moment and then went on. "So, the family. Victim, eighty-three, Mr. Antonietti senior. Alonso."
"Allons-y," muttered Hathaway.
Lewis gave him a look; he just shrugged. "Emigrated from Italy as a young man," Lewis went on, "after the war. Later joined by his brother Simone, known here as Simon. Seventy-five. Professor of modern history. Has rooms at Beaufort College, but stayed at the house last night; claims to have been in bed all night. Vigorous for his age; has a teenage son by his second wife, Stephanie. She's forty-two. Away in Manchester on business. We'll interview her tomorrow."
"The fifteen-year-old son, Ben, is at boarding school," Hathaway reported. "Not far, though. Aveline House, in Woodstock."
"I've heard that name."
"It's known for accommodating... troubled youth."
"Ah. So, that's Simon's family. Alonso's son is Fiorenzo, known as Renzo, fifty, runs the family import business. Unmarried, no children. Spent the evening in Oxford with a lady friend, got home about three a.m. -- that's probably outside the frame as Laura currently sees it, but who knows -- went to bed, didn't see anything." Lewis surreptitiously adjusted the damp fabric of his trousers, trying to get more of it into the warm dry air. "How'd you make out with the rest of the household?"
"Stephen Wakenell is a sort of butler, though he calls himself 'assistant to Mr. Antonietti.' Interestingly, he's also Stephanie Antonietti's brother. Twin, in fact, hence the names. He lives there; says he didn't wake up all night. There's a cook who doesn't sleep in, and a woman who comes in to clean; they were called when the body was found and told to stay away, but I've got their information. There's also a part-time gardener-cum-odd jobs man."
"And Liv, but she isn't staff."
According to the family, she'd been there three times a week for the last two months, but Lewis supposed that still counted as a short-term hire. Hathaway had a fine sense for who was who in a country house, and Lewis wasn't about to question him on this subject anyway. Nudge him, yes.
"You like her."
Hathaway shot Lewis a glance, then returned his attention to the road. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I do."
Then bloody do something about it, man. But he couldn't manage to say it aloud; and besides, it was inappropriate. She was part of the investigation. "Then I'll handle any questioning of her," he said; it was the proper thing for a senior detective to say.
His sergeant could get a lot across with a syllable, but this one seemed to have a simple, honest meaning. Lewis found himself ready to argue with Hathaway's acquiescence, and kept his mouth shut with difficulty. Damn it, this sort of thing never happened to Morse.
Hathaway was searching back issues of the Financial Times online, bored out of his skull and waiting for the Milan police to ring him back, when Lewis jumped up from his desk and beckoned in Jean Innocent.
"We've preliminary reports on the Antoniettis and their company, ma'am," Lewis reported. "They started out importing from Italy, foodstuffs, handicrafts, that sort of thing, and then expanded their range to all of Europe. It's been a success; they're pretty rich, in fact. But we can't find there's ever been a hint of funny stuff in the financial management of the company."
"All sadly aboveboard, then?" Innocent said with a little oh well smile.
"Afraid so. We'll keep digging, but I doubt we'll find any leads there. And no ties to organized crime."
"Then the motive is likely to be personal."
"Yes, ma'am. They all claim to have adored him, but old men can sometimes be..."
"Inconvenient," Hathaway supplied.
"Hope that's not how you feel about me, Sergeant," Lewis said, then turned back to Innocent. "We have a lead on the personal front."
"Oh?" said Innocent.
"Alonso Antonietti had another brother. Roberto. Older by three years. He died in the eighties, poor as a church mouse, never left Italy. But his daughter, Piera, lives in Milan. And we've got her landing at Heathrow Saturday evening."
"Hm. Resentment of the well-to-do branch of the family?" said Innocent. "Anyone see her at the house?"
"That would be a stroke of luck, ma'am. But no."
"Your luck is usually excellent, Robbie. Keep probing. There's bound to be a toy giraffe somewhere."
They watched her leave and then exchanged glances. "I wish she wouldn't keep saying that," Lewis said.
Hathaway kept staring at the computer screen, but he could feel Lewis's eyes on him. "What's up with you?" Lewis finally said. "Last week you told me that future DS's would yearn for their own Hathaway's Giraffe, and that Lyons had a head start. Now it's 'mm.'"
"I simply didn't feel like repeating myself."
"You wouldn't; you'd say something else clever."
"I have off days. Perhaps the weather has a dampening effect on my wit."
Lewis made a hmph noise, then walked behind Hathaway's desk and leaned over his shoulder to examine the screen. "Any joy there?" he said.
"None whatsoever," Hathaway said feelingly, and the phone rang. He grabbed it, identified himself, mouthed "Polizia" at Lewis, and fought to stay afloat in the flood of heavily-accented English on the other end, interrupting along the way for a few questions.
"Grazie," he said when the vice ispettore was done. "Piera Antonietti has no criminal record," he reported to Lewis. "Not so much as a traffic stop, probably because she doesn't own a car. She's a secretary at the University of Milan. Good steady work record. Goes on budget holidays to seaside resorts on the Med: Italy, France, Spain. Never been to the U.K. before."
"Do we know what she looks like?"
"They're emailing the photo from her ID card. We can add that to the name for railway and airport checks. I've got Lyons ringing all the hotels in the region, but nothing yet."
Lewis put a hand on his shoulder briefly, and then went back to his own desk. "What else?" he said.
"Did you ask anyone about the cactus?"
"What about the cactus?"
"Where it grows. That sort of thing."
"Do you think it's important?" Hathaway shrugged. "Put Lyons on it, then. Let's focus on the immediate issues. Like alibis."
Hathaway could handle alibis. "We're pulling Stephanie Antonietti's phone records, but she should be in the clear: meetings till six, drinks till eleven, and she took a business friend to her room where they sat up till two. Female friend, by the way." Hathaway let that stand as it was, and went on. "The family called her at eight-thirty, and she checked out of the hotel soon after. She claims to have called a supplier in Croatia at six-twenty."
"Must live on coffee," Lewis commented.
"The son, Ben, is short an alibi. He apparently has a habit of running off from his school, and he was missing last night."
"Get that sorted, then. Visit the school tomorrow, and Ben should be home with his mum and dad by..." -- Lewis checked his watch -- "now. We'll do that interview together. Other than that..." He looked at his notes for a moment and went on. "I haven't yet managed to reach the woman Renzo claims to have been with last night. Nor your Liv's friend."
"She's not my Liv," Hathaway said, keeping his tone mild.
"Slip of the tongue," said Lewis. "To which I'd add something about cactus, but it doesn't sound a pleasant combination. So, drive back out to the house?"
Hathaway clicked out of the stodgy goose chase that was the Financial Times. "Give me ten minutes, sir? Dying for a cigarette."
"Meet you in the car park. I'll drive this time."
He nodded and made his way out of the building. It wasn't raining, miracle of miracles, but the sky looked as though it might start again any second. He lit a cigarette and sucked in the smoke gratefully. All day his skin had prickled with the irritation of unspecified resentment, like he'd donned a hair shirt at someone else's behest. The nicotine calmed the hypersensitivity, at least down to a level at which he could function, but he still felt fractious and vaguely defiant.
A woman exited the building, a statuesque fortyish redhead, her good looks spoiled by a snappish expression. No doubt the police were not catering to her whims. He attempted a smile as she passed; she shot him a wicked glare.
The quirk in his mouth frozen in place, he locked gazes with her, trapped, unable to look away. He felt turned to stone: a witch's curse. The discordant static under his skin buzzed louder, like a chorus of evil wasps. The woman's lip curled in a threatening grimace, and then she deliberately flapped a hand in front of her nose.
Ah. The smoking. Nearly staggering back with relief that there was something she could rationally hate about him, he let her pass, waited until she'd nearly reached her car, then stamped the cigarette out under his foot and took out his phone.
After an involuntary glance at the station door, he entered Liv's number and composed a text.
OPUNTIA: SPECIES NAME AND ORIGIN?
PLEASE, he added, and sent it.
When Lewis came out two minutes later, he hadn't yet received a reply. It came when they were in the car and headed out the Banbury Road.
O. HUMIFUSA, NATIVE EASTERN N. AMERICA. HARDY TO -31 C. SURPRISE!
Hathaway smiled. "What's that, then?" said Lewis.
"Lyons, saying the ID photo came in," Hathaway lied. His phone beeped again.
OTHER LESS HARDY SPECIES PLANTED WORLDWIDE BUT ORIGIN STILL AMERICAS.
"She's distributing it as we requested," he added. He'd better check on that later; Lyons had been looking ready to head out when he left.
"Good," said Lewis. "Can't wait to meet Ms. Piera Antonietti."
Hathaway watched him drive for a moment, then gazed out into the cloudy summer evening. The prickles still itched under his skin. He looked down at the text message again.
DRINK TOMORROW EVENING? he thumbed in. 8ISH.
ARE WE ALLOWED TO DO THAT? came the reply.
IF I SAY SO, he answered in a moment of silent rebellion.
"Sir," Hathaway said as they drove home from La Tramontana. The silence in the car was, for once, comfortable, and he didn't care to disturb it, but this was a bit of information he had to report.
"Stephanie Antonietti," he said. "She'd only just arrived when we got there."
"How do you know? Her car wasn't--"
"Because I saw her at the station just before we left. In the car park. She looked... venomous."
Lewis sighed. "Then we're no doubt in line for a bollocking tomorrow. We'd barely even questioned her yet!"
"And she received us graciously enough at the house. Though she didn't like us talking to her son."
"No." Lewis didn't say any more, and as well as Hathaway could tell in the dusk he had the thinking-cap expression on. A mile or so on, Hathaway's phone beeped: it was a text from Lyons about the photo, which made him feel some god somewhere was smiling on him, though not the one to whom he'd been accustomed to confess sins. He put the phone away pointedly without answering and told Lewis the text was from Liv. Lewis's answering nod of pride gave him a sensation of deadly acid eating away at his liver.
This was probably why, when Lewis asked him around for a beer and takeaway, he went. Later, slouching in comfortable chairs and crunching the last of the poppadoms, they returned to discussing the evening's work.
"Ben Antonietti," mused Lewis. "Odd sort of lad. How would you describe him?"
"Disengaged from the world most of the time," Hathaway said. "But smart. I didn't think he was tracking our questions at all, and then he started answering the ones we'd planned to ask next. But it was as if he'd allocated a small part of his brain to dealing with the annoying policemen, and something else entirely was going on in the rest."
Lewis nodded. "Foul-mouthed little berk, too."
Quoting became less resistible after the first bottle of beer. "You taught me language, and my profit on't is, I know how to curse."
"Don't tell me. Shakespeare?" Lewis said in his fond, exasperated voice. Barely letting Hathaway nod, he went on. "I blame the parents."
"They did seem... indulgent."
"If my son answered a detective inspector's queries with 'None of your fucking business' I'd have him over my knee in no time flat. And I never hit Mark once, not even the time he buggered up the microwave with melted plasticine."
It sounded such a blessedly ordinary way to get into trouble. "I'm fortunate that you don't believe in corporal punishment for detective sergeants either," Hathaway said, smiling involuntarily.
"There've been times. But it'd be Innocent's job most likely."
"I'd rather have you beat me."
"Didn't know you were into that sort of lark. I'll be bringing the riding crop tomorrow."
Hathaway felt his face go stone-still; he knew it must look like disapproval in the face of jovial piss-taking, but it was the only way he could stem the tide of heat flooding through his body. But Lewis knew him too well not to notice.
"I'm sorry, lad. I didn't think."
"Didn't think about what?" Hathaway said reluctantly.
"I... you never say much about when you were a kid. I thought maybe your dad hit you."
Hathaway could lie to protect his misdeeds, but he couldn't lie to gain sympathy. "Now and then," he said. "But not badly."
"And that's all I'm going to hear, right?" Lewis lifted a hand; Hathaway tensed. Touch, kindly meant or not, would trigger too strong a response, though he wasn't sure what it would be. But the hand only gestured to the bottle still clutched in Hathaway's. "Another?"
Hathaway put the bottle down and shook his head. "I'd better not. Don't want to be spending the night here."
"You'd be welcome. But you'll want to be on your way to Woodstock early. I'll be hearing Laura's report. For what it'll be worth. I've seen few wetter crime scenes." Lewis held up a hand to stop Hathaway getting to his feet. "We haven't talked over the rest of the case."
"Sorry, sir. Tomorrow? Lunch? We'll have more to go over then. I'm knackered. Sorry."
"Tomorrow," agreed Lewis, and let him escape.
"Well," said Laura Hobson, "he didn't drown, believe it or not."
"The knife in his back gave it away," Lewis returned. It always impressed him how Laura managed to joke about the deceased in that cool, dry tone without seeming the least callous or uncaring. He'd known many a pathologist who couldn't have struck the right note around a dead body if the corpse itself had hit him with a tuning fork. Mostly male pathologists, he had to admit.
"I was hoping to be clever and discover that he'd died of poison, but it was the knife," Laura said. "It hit the pulmonary artery. Massive internal bleeding. He might have lived, though, if someone had found him."
"No fingerprints on the knife hilt, I suppose?"
"Sorry. No DNA either. But remarkably I can tell you that he wasn't killed where he was found. Your Ms. Nash's observations--"
"She isn't my Ms. Nash," Lewis said, recognizing the echo as soon as he spoke.
"Nevertheless," said Laura, looking at him strangely, "her observations about the blood weren't much help, except that as she said we didn't find much at the site, but her description to James of how she'd altered the soil composition in that bed did point me to one important fact. The victim had dirt under his fingernails, and scratches on his fingers that I'd guess mean he scrabbled at the ground while dying. And the soil doesn't match. SOCO are taking samples throughout the garden. I'm not sure it'll help you if we pinpoint where he died -- you'd likely rather know why -- but it's interesting that he was moved."
"Yes. Thanks, Laura."
"Just doing my job, Robbie. And I'd appreciate it if in future you arranged for corpses on sunny days and not face down in cactus. Those little spines are painful, they go right through gloves, and I didn't manage to get them all with the tweezers." She sucked her index finger. "Everything else is in the report. Time of death as I said at the site, midnight plus or minus an hour. Are you in a hurry to leave me?"
"You keep checking your phone. Yet you wear a watch, so I deduce you're not in a hurry; you're waiting for someone to ring."
"Text, I expect. That seems to be James's mode of communication these days. We're having lunch when he's done at Woodstock."
"Robbie. You, texting?"
"Oi! Been managing it for years, now," he said before he realized she was having him on. "Oh, ha. I mean L-O-L."
Laura smiled. "I'd rather talk face to face, but whatever gets the message across."
"Sometimes--" Lewis hesitated, but Laura's expression was so welcoming he decided to go on. "Sometimes, lately, I think he texts because he doesn't care to talk to me. Maybe I'm just an old sod who can't keep up with the world; maybe he's trying to be efficient. But... ah, bugger it. Don't mind me."
"He's having lunch with you, right?"
"That's work. The case. We just need to put food down our throats once in a while. But we used to spend hours outside of work: pubs, takeaway, telly, just faffing about. Now he runs off in no time, if I see him at all."
"Oh, Robbie. Remember you used to complain that you saw Morse more than you saw your wife and kids? James doesn't have a wife and kids, but maybe he's finally managing to have a life. Without you. And if I know James, he'd feel guilty about that. Tell him he doesn't need to."
But I don't want him to have a life without me, was Lewis's first, ignoble thought, immediately suppressed. "I'll do that," he told Laura, knowing he wouldn't. "Thanks."
At lunch, Hathaway drank tonic water and bit his way solemnly through a sandwich. All evidence to the contrary, and there was a lot of it, Lewis often forgot that his sergeant didn't exist on air. Watching Hathaway eat should not have been an oddly surreal experience, like watching an ethereal moth consume bangers and mash and a pint, and in fact it usually wasn't, but today his eye was drawn to the chomping mouth, to the point that Hathaway raised an eyebrow in his direction before returning his attention to the sandwich.
After they'd eaten, he took Hathaway's report, and that was all it amounted to: a well-framed summary of the morning's interviews. Hathaway had an overall-positive impression of the school staff and their work; it didn't seem to be any fault of the school that Ben Antonietti escaped its grounds on a regular basis; they couldn't say what he got up to during those absences, except that once he'd been caught setting a fire in a stand of trees a few miles distant; his parents were over-indulgent and had repeatedly refused the suggestion that Ben be evaluated by a psychiatrist; the former was not an uncommon circumstance among the school's students, but the latter was unusual.
"Thanks," Lewis said. "Did you get the chance to talk to any of Ben's friends?"
"Doesn't have any. That the headmaster or staff knew about. I asked them to get in touch if anyone admitted to watching Ben on his days out." Hathaway hesitated, then said, "I'd like to make another visit."
"Don't think that'll be necessary. How would he have got from Woodstock to the house and back in the time?"
Hathaway shrugged. "Stole a car? He's young, but spoiled; someone might have taught him to drive. I'll check on it." He apparently noticed Lewis's slight wince, and added, "I'm speaking to the cook this afternoon. Perhaps she knows. No need to bother the family unless we have to. Did Innocent have you over her knee this morning?"
"Not too badly. She's not happy," Lewis said.
"Sorry to have missed it," said Hathaway, not sounding sorry at all.
Lewis grimaced and changed the subject. "One thing I was going to ask before you ran off last night. What did you make of Simon's suggestion that his brother was... changed, I think he said, in the month before his death?"
"'Altered' was the word, I believe. 'A different man.' He sounded as though--" Hathaway stopped.
"I was going to say, as though he meant it literally, but hardly that. I'm not suggesting that we have the wrong corpse, or have been fooled by a masquerade. More as if Simon thought..." Hathaway broke off again, and then, mouth twisting, went on, "As if he thought his brother were under a spell. Whatever the rational equivalent of that is. Transformation. A sea-change." Lewis gave him a what's that when it's at home? look. "'Nothing of him that doth fade/But doth suffer a sea-change/Into something rich and strange,'" Hathaway replied.
Another quote. No doubt Shakespeare. "Rich and strange, eh? That's the Antoniettis for you. D'you think--"
Hathaway's phone went. "Sorry, sir," he said, checking the display. "It's Lyons. Hathaway," he answered, finger in his opposite ear against the noise. He listened for a while. "Excellent," he said. "And the second thing?" Another long pause. "Same town?" he asked. "Well, one can't have everything," he added to Lyons's answer. "Thank you, Constable. Good work. Lyons found the hotel Piera Antonietti was staying at," he reported, ending the call. "In Aylesbury. She checked out Monday, before the murder, but it's a good lead. Lyons also got a follow-up email from Vice-Ispettore Marinotti in Milan. It turns out Piera and her father lived in Sardinia for a time, when she was ten to eighteen. Apparently she told a friend the story, said her father's name had been besmirched, or something of the sort; friend seemed to think he'd been sacked for drinking. Anyway, the father died, Piera went back to Milan, and now she's taken to visiting Sardinia on holiday. Three times in the last year. Flying visits."
"But not the same town she lived in."
"No. And it's a big island."
"Hm. Interesting, though. And why Aylesbury, I wonder? Thinking she could hide?"
"People do. Not realizing how eagle-like is the eye of the law. Or, of course, her visit could be completely innocent. I suppose you'll be wanting to visit the hotel today," Hathaway added.
"You have an objection to that?"
"Of course not, sir. I have the interviews with the Antoniettis' staff this afternoon, and I had plans for the evening, but..."
"A date?" Let him have a life, Lewis heard Laura saying in his head. But in the middle of an investigation?
"Cambridge friend in town briefly." He wouldn't look Lewis in the eye when he said it, though.
"You see your friend, lad. I'll go to Aylesbury."
"Thank you, sir."
It was gone eight when Lewis returned from Aylesbury, after a fruitless set of interviews. Piera Antonietti might well have selected the hotel on purpose to hide her movements; the clerks were listless and distracted, and there was a back door accessible with a key card. She'd "accidentally" taken the card with her when she left, so no getting any entry data off it.
Hathaway had rung him at six to report, among other useless information, that neither the cook nor the gardener had ever seen Ben Antonietti at the wheel of a car, that the cook had declared Simon and Stephanie to be an affectionate couple despite the huge difference in their ages, that she had not recognized the murder weapon as a resident of La Tramontana's knife drawer, that Stephen Wakenell was said to raid the wine cellar, and -- with practiced blandness -- that the gardener had thought Liv Nash no better than she should be. It would have been unfair for Lewis to agree.
He was, however, instinctively certain that Hathaway was with Liv tonight, which meant that his sergeant had lied to him and that he was compromising the investigation. It was a line he'd let Hathaway step over before, under what he considered extraordinary circumstances, and he wanted to shut his eyes and let the line be crossed again. But Liv wasn't a shadow of Hathaway's childhood, nor a connection to a dead and forsaken friend. She also wasn't a murderer -- her alibi had checked out that afternoon -- so Hathaway would survive the evening without Lewis's intervention. He hoped.
For another quarter of an hour he sat at his desk failing to update the murder book and googling Sardinia. It did look like a prime spot for a holiday, next time he took one that wasn't visiting Lyn in Manchester. Lovely beaches. He could ask James... though James would be taking holidays with his Liv... lying together in the white sand, short and tall, dark and fair, Liv nicely round in the right places, James stretching out long bare muscular legs, tanned, with a dusting of pale hair. In the vision, she slid her hand up his naked chest and, absurdly, incongruously, wrapped it around his throat.
"Oh, bugger it," Lewis said out loud, and reached for the phone to get James's mobile traced.
He'd had a weird moment of disconnect when he found where the trace had led, but now, sitting in his car in a spot where he could see the door to Prospero's Bar, he just felt like a bloody idiot, or worse, a stalker. All right, he'd have to reprimand James if it turned out he was seeing Liv. He didn't need to do it tonight; he didn't need to spy on him to do it. If he asked, face to face, he'd get an honest answer. Maybe.
Or maybe he was misjudging James; maybe he'd come out of the pub with another tall skinny ex-rower, or a chap in a monk's robe. Friar, whatever. It might not have been a lie. Except that James hadn't been able to look at him when he said it. Eye to eye contact was something James was good at; it was a grand way to unsettle suspects. It unsettled Lewis on occasion too. As did those reassessing ducks of the head, the rare smiles, and the even rarer laughter.
He was probably laughing with Liv right now.
Damn it, man, are you here because you're suspicious or because you're jealous? He managed to ask himself the question but he didn't manage to answer it; his thoughts kept tumbling and not settling, and he was beginning to cycle back to James having told the truth when the pub door opened and the object of his concern came out.
With Liv on his arm.
It had started to rain again, lightly; they didn't seem to care. They looked so right in that old-fashioned pose, like they were bowing and curtseying all over again, and then James pulled out his mobile and showed Liv something on the screen -- a photo; he'd taken a photo of them -- but it somehow didn't spoil the Victorian gentleman-out-with-his-lady manner, because this was James, and James baffled classification. He'd let go of Liv now, turned to face her, still talking at her, looming a bit, another favorite interview technique; Lewis himself would have backed off. Though James wouldn't have to move in far for the kiss. Which would happen any second if Lewis didn't stop it; which he had no business to stop. His sergeant had the right to break rules that he was perfectly aware of, and to be punished for it. He had the right to a life.
Lewis had just about decided not to get out of the car, when his phone rang.
He couldn't really be out of practice in reading signals, Hathaway thought. It was part of his job: except when faced with a truly good actor, he could read when someone was lying, hiding something, or simply longing for a smoke, a drink, a fix, or a piss. And he knew how to take advantage of all of those. Taking advantage was what seemed to be next on the evening's schedule, but he couldn't read Liv well enough to know whether she had the same thing in mind.
Perhaps she was holding back and trying to read him. Perhaps he ought to do something, like make the first move, whatever that was. Touch her face, flushed but cool in the twilight rain. Tell her he wanted her, so he could forget the rest of his existence. Invite her round to listen to his Gregorian chants. He was decidedly out of practice in making the first move.
Her little mocking smile told him she'd sussed this out; he smiled back, the sort of uncomplicated, relaxed grin he hadn't felt happen to his face in what must be years. Maybe they could just stand there like this for another month or two. He was due a holiday. O brave new world.
She said his name at the same second he said hers; they grinned at each other again, and then, wondrously, as though conjured from the guiltiest depths of his soul, came Robbie Lewis's voice.
"That's enough of that, now," he said, and tugged by the voice like a dog on a leash, Hathaway lurched away from Liv and turned to face his governor.
Lewis wasn't looking at him. "Your friend Susan came into the station this evening," he said to Liv. "DC Lyons took a statement from her. She couldn't lie any longer, she said. Of course, we would have got to her as soon as we'd followed up on the phone numbers. You gave us her mobile, and Renzo Antonietti gave us her land-line. With a false name, but it's easy enough to check. Not very smart."
"No," said Liv, bravely, with her chin up. "It wasn't. We were in a bit of a panic."
"So you were with Renzo the night of the murder?"
"In bed?" Lewis asked harshly.
"Does it matter what we were doing?" He waited, expectant. "Then... part of the time, yes. We were together at my flat until two-thirty. I looked at the clock when he left. We'll vouch for each other."
"Yeah, that's just what I'm afraid of," said Lewis.
"Sir," Hathaway tried to interrupt, but Lewis silenced him with a sharp glance.
"Eight o'clock tomorrow morning," he said to Liv. "At the police station."
"I'm due at work--"
"I don't care. Can I trust you to be there, or do we need to take you into custody?"
"I'll be there." Pale but doughty, Hathaway thought was a good if rather antiquated way to describe her. He felt inclined to hold her, to defend her against the full-on Inspector Lewis treatment. He also felt... relieved, that he wouldn't have to.
"I'm not letting Hathaway take you home," Lewis growled, the complete bulldog policeman. "Call a friend. Susan, maybe."
"I can get myself home," Liv said in the precise enunciation that meant she was holding back tears.
"You sure?" asked Lewis, the policeman dissolving into the father for a moment, and then reappearing. Liv nodded. "Text Hathaway when you're there. He'll be worrying. He'll also be with me, so no funny stuff."
"No funny stuff, Inspector," Liv agreed, and then dared a look at Hathaway. "James--" She made a helpless gesture. "Thank you...?"
He could only nod, and she threw him one last anxious glance and walked away. "Car," Lewis snapped, and Hathaway followed him.
They drove silent through the wet streets of Oxford. Hathaway watched Lewis out of the corner of his eye, saw the mouth opening to speak, cut him off. It gave him a small, pathetic sense of victory. "Sir," he said, "before you say it... I disobeyed your order, implicit though it may have been, and you ought to take me off the case. Or off the force."
"Not taking you anywhere but home yet," Lewis said, his voice still tight with anger. "Mine, that is. I'm not letting you out of my sight till we've questioned Liv." Hathaway nodded, the lump of injustice in his gut crushed by an avalanche of contrition. He was good at contrition, at the endless cycle of sinning, confessing, and not feeling sorry enough. "I've got an extra toothbrush," Lewis added.
"The riding crop would be more appropriate, sir," Hathaway managed, getting a twitch of the lip in response.
"Don't think I'm not tempted," Lewis said. "God, James. What the hell were you thinking?"
"Not thinking, I expect, sir."
"I don't pay you to not think." Hathaway considered pointing out that Lewis did not, in fact, pay him, but decided this was not the time. Lewis glared at him sideways as if he'd heard the remark anyway. "Did she tell you about Renzo Antonietti?" he said.
Hathaway pressed his lips together and barely let "No" escape them. He'd been so wrapped up in Lewis's justified rage and in his response to it, that he hadn't stopped to examine his feelings about Liv. They were... conflicted, to say the least. "I suppose," he finally got out through a constricted throat, "it's not surprising. They were thrown together and matters just took a natural course. It's not as if they knew there'd be a murder that night."
"I hope not," Lewis said; to Hathaway's relief, he sounded like he meant it. After a moment he added, "He's got to be more than twenty years older than her."
"Some people like older men. Sir," Hathaway said. Lewis shot him a quick glance and returned his eyes to the road.
"She looked as if she liked you," he said. Hathaway didn't answer; Lewis pressed him harder. "James, you haven't gone and fallen in love with her?"
"I think," he said, swallowing hard, "I think I was trying to."
"Whatever the hell that means," Lewis said. "Usually it just happens."
"Yes. You're right." He didn't dare look anywhere but out the window. Two turns away from home. Left, then right. Lewis parked the car and led Hathaway inside. Hathaway's mobile beeped as they came in the door; he glanced down at it.
"Liv," he reported. "Home safe."
Lewis nodded, but didn't comment. "You look in serious need of a drink," he said when the lights were on. He gestured at an armchair. "Sit."
Hathaway sat, and watched Lewis get out a glass and pour whisky into it, bringing the bottle to the coffee table. He handed over the glass and Hathaway put it away in two gulps, throat burning. Wordlessly, Lewis took the glass and poured some more.
"How much did you have at the pub?" he said after a moment.
"Not much," Hathaway said. "We were talking."
"Childhood memories, dreams and ambitions, that sort of thing?"
"Some of that," Hathaway answered cautiously; he knew his refusal to talk about his youth with Lewis was a sore spot. "Mostly... horticulture, theatre, politics. Whatever came up." It had been easy, surface-level conversation, but he'd had the feeling they were playing in the shallows of what might have been blue-water depths, as though it would take only a second date for him to tell her about Mortmaigne or Will. "Horses," he added. "She likes horses."
"Well, she can buy a lot of horses with Renzo's inheritance," Lewis said, the harsh tone back.
Hathaway suddenly realized that Lewis was furious with Liv not because she'd lied and damaged the investigation, but because she might have hurt him. Protective, fatherly concern, just as he'd shown momentarily to Liv despite his anger. Of course, he was furious with Hathaway too. Which was why he was feeding him decent whisky, letting him talk, and offering him a bed for the night. Even if was the sofa.
"Do you honestly think," Hathaway asked, "that she and Renzo killed Alonso Antonietti together, or that she's covering up for him? For love or for money?"
"What I think doesn't matter," Lewis said.
They could both play the silent waiting game; Hathaway kept his eyes on Lewis until he let out a breath and added, "The smart money's on Piera. But that doesn't mean we won't shake Renzo and Liv until they've nothing left to spit out. Bloody hell, you're a copper; you know that."
Hathaway gave him a tight nod, took a sip of whisky, and then said, "I asked her out. She wasn't trying to... cultivate me. If you'll pardon the expression."
"Yeah. I figured."
The whisky was beginning to dull Hathaway's thought processes slightly, a welcome lassitude, but even so this didn't quite make sense. "What do you mean, sir?" he asked.
"I mean you're not stupid. You knew this was risking your career, just like you knew it with Zoe and Scarlett, and you did it anyway. And not because you were beguiled by a woman. You did it because you wanted to." Lewis got up, fetched a glass for himself, sat down again, poured a finger of whisky, and drank it off: unhurried, as though he knew Hathaway wouldn't interrupt. "I think you did it because you want me to punish you."
He spoke as though in serious disagreement with his own words. Hathaway didn't think it was all that dubious a proposition, but he hastened to reassure Lewis nonetheless. "No, sir. As you said, I'm not into that sort of lark. Riding crops or disciplinary hearings." He almost went on, but Lewis was a detective, after all; let him ferret out the answer if he could.
Apparently this was the sort of detective work that required two shots of whisky. "Well," said Lewis when he put the glass down, "it's not that you're challenging my authority in order to show how ready you are for inspector rank. Because you don't want that, and this isn't the way to go about it anyway. You'd be lucky to be trusted for traffic duty, if I reported you. And I think you'd quit first." Hathaway nodded. "I should report you," Lewis added.
"I've let you get away with this before. Were you counting on that?"
Lewis leaned back, apparently relaxed, but his fingers drummed on the arm of the sofa. "Confess your sins and be absolved? Yeah," he added, "I know how it works, a bit. But you're a tight-lipped bloke and I don't think you see me as a priest. Which leaves you breaking the rules entirely on purpose, and not because you want punishment, because you don't see it as punishment, do you? You want to leave. You want me to sack you so you can leave, under a cloud or not; you don't care. For God's sake, James, why didn't you just tell me?"
"I didn't want to hurt you."
Lewis snorted. "I'm thicker-skinned than that, lad. Though you know I'd hate to lose you. Grown accustomed to your face, as they say in the song." He looked directly at Hathaway. "Maybe you've been fetching my slippers too long."
"It's not that, sir."
"You're more than ready for promotion. I've done my part turning you into a damn effective copper, not that I didn't have good material to work with, and you don't need to be a sergeant forever. But it's true enough that you don't usually have a problem taking orders. You get your own back in smartarse remarks, of course."
"Only when I know you want me to make them, sir."
"Oh, very funny. And I expect you think you're making a point sirring me left and right."
"Perhaps I'd like the difference in rank to be crystal-clear." He avoided adding a "sir" to that one, barely.
Lewis leaned forward. "You want to be servile. Fine." His eyes glinted dangerously. "So if I did ask you to fetch my slippers, you'd do it?"
Hathaway rose to his feet as smartly as he could given the amount of drink he'd put away. He hadn't been particularly honest about his consumption in the pub. "I don't know where you keep them, sir."
"Floor of the bedroom closet. Don't," he added as Hathaway turned to go. "Sit. Here." He patted the sofa next to him. Hathaway must have shown hesitation, because he then pointed more firmly. "Sit. There, that's better. Now, if I could get you not to leave your job as easily as that, I no doubt would, but it's your choice. I'll be sorry to see you go, that's all."
Hathaway sat stiff and still on the sofa cushion, too close to Lewis for comfort. "I don't want to leave you," he said, with careful stress on the words and a question lurking.
"Then don't," Lewis said softly.
Hathaway took a deep breath. "But I don't think I can manage this any longer. I'm going unless you order me not to go. Sir."
He expected to be told that it didn't work that way, that he needed to make up his own mind. Or, just at the edge of possibility, to be given the order to stay. But the words that came weren't addressed to him.
"Robbie Lewis, you are thick. Thick as a sodding brick."
Inspector Lewis solves the case. Hathaway couldn't help smiling a little, mostly in self-pity, but he didn't move until he was grabbed by the shoulders and turned to face his boss. Who, to his astonishment, looked nearly as tortured as he himself felt.
"Stay," Lewis said, his voice barely under control. "Stay here. Don't go. What do I have to do to make you not go?"
"Do anything you want to," Hathaway breathed, and Lewis's mouth was on his.
Some exquisite eternity of mad kisses later, Lewis pulled back just enough to murmur, "Trying to fall in love."
"I appreciate that, sir," Hathaway murmured back, nipping at the lower lip tantalizingly close to his.
"No," said Lewis, leaning back further. "Liv. You said--"
"I know. It was a desperate attempt to fix... the problem with you. The problem I thought I had."
"Could have bloody asked me, couldn't you?"
"Then I really would have had to quit. I suppose it would have been simpler. Though I did enjoy taking Liv for a drink." Lewis kept looking at him, inviting more confidences. He wasn't going to get kissed again until he talked, so... "I do like her. Maybe I could love her. I don't know. Before you turned up, I was thinking I might end up in bed with her."
"Six of one," muttered Lewis, which sounded promising. "It'd be easier. Being with a woman."
He didn't mean sex, he meant... life, Hathaway supposed. That was farther than he wanted to think at the moment. "I keep shooting myself in the foot," he said. "Might as well aim somewhere guaranteed to be fatal."
"The number of failed suicides I've seen would astound you," Lewis said, and stopped Hathaway from decoding the words by leaning in and kissing him again, almost unbearably gently, caressing his upper lip inch by inch and then drawing the tip of his tongue along the lower one; it made Hathaway forget everything but the need to provide pleasure in return. Lewis's hands traveled over Hathaway's back and down to his waist; they seemed shy of anything more adventurous until, suddenly decisive and imperative, they slid up Hathaway's chest and pushed at his shoulders, desiring him to lie down, and then, fingers trembling with what Hathaway hoped was impatience, moved to his throat and began to loosen his tie.
"I washed me face and 'ands before I came, I did," Hathaway said, strolling out of the loo at six in the morning. Lewis had seldom heard a worse imitation of Audrey Hepburn, or seen one either, but it hardly mattered when there was a tall, blond, skinny, depressingly young and completely naked man standing at his bedside.
"Oh? Planning to do that again, are you? Chance'd be a fine thing," he said, low and gravelly; he wasn't sure he'd ever get his voice back into its normal register. "Get into bed, you pillock."
"Derives from the sixteenth-century 'pillicock' which refers to the male member."
"Well, get that into bed too. And the dictionary." He also wasn't sure he'd manage to get used to having another erection in his bed besides his own, but so far he had to admit it had been bloody fantastic having Hathaway there. Probably he had gone mad overnight; certainly this was the most foolish thing he'd ever done; but for the moment all he wanted was to be foolish again before they had to go into work. He'd be yawning all day, but that was what God had invented coffee for.
A long, thin, slightly chilly body with a smile and some wildly spiky hair atop it slid next to his. "I'd forgotten how nice hot-water bottles are," Hathaway murmured.
"Yeah. I had too," Lewis said, and there must have been something in his voice, because suddenly his face was between Hathaway's hands and he was being kissed like it was the only thing keeping both of them alive. His body loved it; panic rose slowly in the rest of him. Too much; too much. I can't... But apparently he could; still lip-locked, he levered himself on top of Hathaway, chest to chest, groin to groin, rubbing his own pillicock against his bed partner's, his sergeant's, oh bugger what the hell am I doing? But he wasn't about to stop; it felt too good.
His mobile went. "Bloody Christ, no," he gasped out, and then Hathaway was reaching back over his head, fumbling at the table, grabbing the phone, a copper's instinctive response. He checked the display; "Innocent," he reported, and passed it to Lewis.
"Only just gone six," he muttered, pushing himself off Hathaway onto his back, and answered. "Good morning, ma'am. Where's the body?"
"Walking into the station in" -- she paused, apparently checking her watch -- "an hour and twenty minutes. Have you been running?"
"No." Although if feeling ridiculous had been an Olympic event, he would have won the gold medal. Thank God his mobile didn't have video. "Who's walking in? Liv Nash?"
Lewis sat up. "What? How?"
"She was picked up at Heathrow nearly an hour ago, checking in for a flight. I was woken up thirty minutes earlier than you, if that's any consolation."
He really couldn't tell her how little consolation it was. "I'll be there in half an hour," he said.
"I'll be there in forty-five minutes," said Innocent. "Call Hathaway; he can help you put a line of questions together." Lewis looked down guiltily at his sergeant, waiting patiently, feet crossed at the ankles and hands resting on his flat belly. "Oh, and Liv Nash, you said?" Innocent added.
"She's coming in for an interview at eight, ma'am. Under caution. I'll explain later."
"Well, you and James may have to play musical chairs a bit, but I'm sure you'll get it all sorted."
"Yes, ma'am. See you at the station." He turned the mobile off and handed it to Hathaway, who replaced it on the bedside table. "Well," he said awkwardly, "it was only to be expected," and repeated what Innocent had said. "You want the shower first?"
Hathaway just looked at him, a little smile of the not-very-funny variety playing around his mouth. Lewis considered for a second just how long he'd been wanting to kiss that mouth without acknowledging it to himself, and then said, "What?"
"We would have been having this same conversation if things had gone a different way last night, just that we'd have clothes on and you'd be shaking my shoulder as I slept on the sofa. I take it that you don't mean to explain everything about Liv to Innocent, and that I'm not being disciplined."
"I'd already decided that before we went to bed, if that's what you're wondering. If you don't want the shower, I'll take it."
Hathaway waved a hand, and Lewis escaped to the bathroom. He stared at himself in the mirror for a moment as the shower warmed, and then got in, washing quickly and efficiently and trying not to think about what he was washing off. When he was done and dry, he had a hurried shave and then grabbed a towel for Hathaway and walked back into the bedroom naked, because he had no other choice.
Hathaway had reassumed vest and pants and was following the trail of clothing they'd left, sorting as he went. "I'll shower at my flat, sir," he said, "if you'll drop me there." He handed Lewis a neat pile of yesterday's clothes.
"If you're trying to save my blushes--"
One of those what planet are you from? smirks took possession of Hathaway's mouth for a second. "I'd rather savor them," he said, "but I think Innocent at least would notice if I turned up in the same shirt and tie as yesterday. Perhaps, in fact, you could wait while I shower and dress. My car's still parked near Prospero's Bar."
Lewis was putting on clothes as quickly as he could. "Yeah, of course."
"We can talk over interview strategy on the way."
"Good plan," Lewis said vaguely, tucking his shirt into his trousers and reaching for a belt. It occurred to him that Hathaway was either as uneasy as he was about discussing what had happened between them, or as anxious to question Piera, or both. Just as well. He was going to be distracted enough today without talking about it.
Hathaway was standing still, watching him. "Well, get dressed then, Sergeant," he snapped out. "I want to beat Innocent to the station, washed, brushed, and ready to pin a murder on our incoming guest."
"But I have done nothing wrong," Piera Antonietti said. "Why then are you detaining me?"
Lewis took a moment to study his prime suspect. The niceties of the interview had got in the way up till now: water for her, blessed coffee for himself and Hathaway, a technical glitch getting the recording started. Now he could really look at her. Her passport declared her to be fifty-three, and she'd earned every year of it, but middle age suited her handsome face and graying dark brown hair. She was pale for an Italian, and not heavily made up; the dark circles under her eyes were undisguised. Her figure was slim and her outfit professional, but of a cheap quality Lewis was familiar with from his days as a sergeant. She was pissed off at the world and didn't care who knew it, but her voice was cool and calm, a rich, gently mocking alto; she spoke English fluently and her accent didn't get in the way. Lewis hated interviewing through an interpreter, and Hathaway's Latin was better than his Italian. All the phrases he'd picked up on the trip with Lyn a couple years back had vanished from his brain; only a few random lines from operas, inappropriate to the situation, remained. Scoperta è la trama, la perfida è qua. No. That wouldn't do.
"Well, for one," he said, "you ought to have reported your presence to us as soon as you heard about your uncle's death. Which if you didn't kill him shouldn't have been a problem, right?"
She shrugged. "I did not know my uncle. Either of my uncles. Why should you think I had anything to do with the murder?"
"Your father was estranged from his family?"
"All that happened a long time ago."
"Things that happen in childhood affect us the rest of our lives," Hathaway put in. "You must have resented your uncles and their rich families."
"It was of no matter," Piera said, but Lewis saw something fierce spark in her eyes.
"Mind telling us what you were doing in Aylesbury?" he said.
"I do mind, but I suppose that is your English way of saying you will arrest me if I don't tell. There is a doctor living in Aylesbury, retired now, who is a worldwide expert on a rare disease of the blood. A friend of mine, a childhood friend from Sassari, contracted this disease--"
"Doctor's name?" Lewis snapped.
"Dr. Leonard Dickinson." Lewis felt a movement to his right; Hathaway was up and away, phone already pressed to his ear. I love you, Sergeant, he caught himself thinking; it was not that he hadn't thought it before, of course, when Hathaway echoed his desires and filled his needs.
"Sassari," he said to Piera. "In Sardinia. Where you lived from age ten to eighteen. Where your father died."
"Ah, you have... what is it? Done your homework? Yes, we lived there."
"You were exiled there," Lewis told her, wondering where the word had come from. It took Piera aback too; she froze for a second and then laughed.
"Exile? My mother died. My father wanted to leave Milan where his memories resided." Lewis felt Hathaway slide back into his chair; he must have passed the doctor on to Lyons. "There was work in Sassari. Not enough work, then. Things are better there now."
"Your father was a bit of a failure, no? And then he died. You came back to Milan. Back to your father's home."
"My mother's as well," Piera said. "The Antoniettis are not my only family."
"Why did they leave your father behind? Alonso and Simone. Why not help him to Britain as well, make him a part of the business? He was the eldest. Something wrong with him? Did they hate him?"
"How could I know? Ask them. Ask the one who is still alive."
"I don't think I need to do that." Piera pressed her lips together, refusing comment. Lewis went on. "Did you ever meet either of your uncles? Or any member of their families?"
She hesitated a mere second before answering "No," but Lewis knew she was lying.
"Did you want revenge on them?"
"No? Or control over their lives? I think you're the kind that likes to be in control."
"I don't know what you mean. I have never..." She bit her lip.
"Did you kill your uncle?"
"No! Why should I? He had nothing I wanted. I have a good life, and if I should persuade him to give me his money, what would I do with it? I have no children, no husband."
"Buy a car," Lewis suggested. "Buy nicer clothes. Travel. Quit your job. There's a lot I'd do with a million pounds or so. Not that you were in his will. You'd have to kill the whole family to get any of the money. Were you trying to persuade Alonso to pay you off? Blackmail, maybe?"
"Something about why your father lost out on the family fortune?"
"I know nothing," Piera snapped. She was starting to breath hard.
"You know a lot more than you're saying." She glared at him. "Let's try this, then," Lewis went on. "Three visits to Sardinia in the last year. Not long enough for relaxing on the beach. What did you go there for?"
"My friend. The one who is sick."
"Your friend," Lewis said, not caring how clear his disbelief sounded.
He sat back; it was Hathaway's cue to get details of this supposed illness. Instead, he reached into his suit jacket and brought out a photograph. "A cactus related to this one" -- he tapped the photo -- "grows in Sardinia. Yes?"
Piera shrugged. "Yes. It is very common."
"Opuntia ficus-indica," Hathaway said. "This one is Opuntia humifusa. But I doubt you'd know the difference."
They hadn't discussed this in the car. Hathaway had to have got the Latin names from Liv, so no wonder he hadn't wanted to bring it up. Lewis wasn't sure where he intended to go with it, though.
"Not much cactus in Milan, I expect," Hathaway went on. "Perhaps to you it symbolizes--"
He was interrupted by a knock on the door. Lyons opened it, stuck her head in, and angled it toward the hall. "Sir," she said.
They came out, and she reported: "Liv Nash has just come in. Interview Three."
Lewis checked his watch: eight on the dot. "Thanks, Lyons. Not too early for you to wake Dr. Dickinson up now, I'd think?"
"I'll get right on that, sir," she said, and left. Hathaway and Lewis looked at each other.
"I want another crack at Piera," Lewis said. "You go talk to Liv."
"Sir, no," Hathaway said.
"Go on. She didn't do it, you know. And you two need to get whatever-it-was sorted."
"Sir. All due respect, but... I can't. Nothing to do with... anything personal. What if -- I know it's unlikely -- what if she and Renzo did kill him, and it came out that I--"
"Fine. Then she can wait," Lewis said; he itched to get back in the room with Piera.
"Sir, may I suggest--"
"Stop being deferential and say what you mean, James." It was the first time he'd used Hathaway's name since last night, when it had come out in a low moan. Hathaway's mouth went tight and Lewis knew he remembered.
"I think it would be better if I handled Piera. And it would be far better if you talked to Liv without me present. She's already frightened of you; you can scare everything you need out of her in one session."
"And I can't with Piera, you mean? Or you think I'm being too rough on her."
"Not too rough, sir," Hathaway said, and another irresistible memory of last night surged up. Lewis took a step closer; Hathaway backed away. "Too certain," he added.
"You don't think she did it?"
"I think it's likely. I also think there are other possibilities."
"Not saying there aren't. Just that we need to run at this one full-tilt."
"Tilting at windmills, sir?"
His tone didn't match the cheeky words. He'd backed himself nearly to the wall; Lewis took another step to put him against it, and then one more. "Yes, if you like," he said. "You good at that, Sergeant?"
Hathaway's mouth opened, but no sound came out. There was no one in the corridor; Lewis wondered what the scene would look like to witnesses. An inspector raking his sergeant over the coals, he hoped. It didn't feel like that. They were both holding their breath.
"Can you do this for me, James?" he whispered.
"Yes," Hathaway said on an exhale. Then an odd little smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, and he added, "I will be correspondent to command, and do my spiriting gently."
"Not too gently, mind," Lewis said; there was no point asking what he was quoting. He pressed closer, wanting to hitch up on his toes so they'd be mouth to mouth. "Get her, James. Get her and lock her up."
"Sir," Hathaway gulped, and Lewis turned and headed for Interview Three.
After Liv was cautioned to avoid lying to the police in future, and sent off to the Botanic Garden, Lewis sat at the interview table a moment longer, chin resting on clasped hands, staring ahead. Pretty girl, he thought, noting matter-of-factly that he'd never been jealous of a girl before. Woman, he ought to say, but she seemed so young, as young as James did sometimes. He reviewed in his mind James's voice when they met in the rain outside La Tramontana: Sir, you'll never guess who found the body. A bit gleeful, that. Same as the grin he'd surprised off the lad's face when he confronted them at Prospero's Bar.
She'd slept with Renzo, but she admitted it was a mistake and not something she wanted to continue; no interest in marriage or his money. He believed her, and after all, she hadn't known she would be running into James again. She'd graciously tried to take the blame for James's indiscretion. She'd hinted at asking why James wasn't there, and Lewis had felt obliged to inform her, obliquely because the interview was being recorded, that no suspension had taken place. He'd called James "my sergeant" with a slight emphasis on "my"; she'd smiled.
She was perfect for him; Lewis had thought so from the start. And if James had got a move on all that time ago, after they'd solved the Hawes case, if he and Liv were an item now, they wouldn't have been put on this investigation, and someone else would be doing these interviews, someone without a complicated personal stake in the result. He could ask Innocent to take him off the case, but how would he explain in a way that didn't hurt James?
Besides, he still wanted to be the one to arrest Piera Antonietti. He had to admit he had a sneaking sympathy for her -- knew what it was like to be looking at wealth from the outside -- but he didn't go around committing murders. Jealousy was a powerful motive, but if, for example, James and Liv ended up married, he wouldn't be killing anyone over it; in fact he'd act as best man without complaint or contention. Unless Liv had a brother; that might be better. He'd stay home with a bottle of whisky and his memories. Memories, my God. Every glorious fucking moment. James kissing a path down his body, taking him in his mouth. James coming apart under the ministrations of his hand. James calling him "sir" in the heat, as if they were going into battle together. The bliss and the alchemy of it all; he hadn't thought he'd ever feel it again.
And James had smiled. But not gleefully.
He heard the steps before the hand came down on his shoulder; his own hand covered it before Hathaway spoke, but there was no danger of it being anyone else. Still, he took his hand away.
He turned. "What are you doing here? Where's Piera?"
"I let her go, sir. After asking her not to leave Oxford." Lewis questioned him again, silently, lifting angry eyebrows. "Lyons got through to Dr. Dickinson, and he confirms Piera's story. I'll ring Marinotti in Milan and see if he can track down the friend in Sardinia -- I did collect her contact information -- but so far it seems--"
"The friend's an invention. I'll wager any amount. Or even if she exists... it is a she?" Hathaway nodded. "She's just an excuse for Piera to travel somewhere close to Oxford. And Dr. Dickinson can't give her an alibi for the time of the murder."
"True enough, sir. Not having an alibi is not sufficient reason to hold a suspect, however." Lewis sighed loudly. "I showed her the photo of the knife," Hathaway went on, "and not a flicker of recognition. I tried to trick her into letting out some descriptor of Alonso to prove she'd met him; nothing. She won't admit to knowing anything about the company or its financial situation. And all she'd say about the cactus was that it grows all over south Europe. Did you ask Liv why Alonso wanted her to plant it?"
"No, didn't think of that. You ask her." Hathaway looked surprised. "Just call her, lad. She's dying to talk to you; it was clear as a bell."
Now Hathaway looked confused. "Sir, as I said..."
"It's fine," said Lewis. "We'll have to get Renzo to back her story up, but I don't think either of them killed Alonso. I'd just as soon get that cleared up; call the house, would you, and find out if he's at home?"
Hathaway drove there, and was a silent, watchful presence through the interview with Renzo. Lewis kept his admonition about lying to the police mild, Innocent scolding in the back of his head, and heard Renzo out. His story matched Liv's in every particular, except that Renzo seemed more taken with Liv than the reverse, using language that Lewis thought would have had Hathaway's hackles up; his sergeant seemed unperturbed.
On the way back, Hathaway pulled the car into a lay-by, killed the engine, and took Lewis's face between his hands, leaning forward and kissing him as though he were a windmill and Hathaway was tilting at him.
Seconds after he'd started to kiss back, Lewis broke away in a frenzy of guilt and confusion, and, wildly searching for something to say, fell back on the weather. "Was that thunder I heard?" he said, breathless.
"No, sir," Hathaway said, bone dry, if just as short of breath as Lewis. "It was the beating of my heart." Then he started the car again and drove back to the station without speaking.
The sky was gray and threatening when Hathaway arrived at the Botanic Garden. Upon asking for Liv, he was pointed toward the Bog Garden, which apparently was extra boggy this summer thanks to the endless rain. He approached cautiously, not having thought to change his shoes before driving over. Liv was in fisherman's waders over jeans, and a T-shirt that had once been blue and was now a sordid shade of gray; she looked unfairly sexy up to her knees in algae-green water.
"Oh! James." They gazed at each other awkwardly for a moment, and then she said, "Don't go any farther. I'm coming out."
"What are you doing?" he asked as she sloshed forward to the edge of the water.
"All these plants that used to be on the margins" -- she waved a vague hand, as if he could pick them out without assistance -- "they're submerged now, so we're moving what we can. Look at the gunnera out there" -- something with enormous leaves -- "it's wallowing. But that's not what you came here for. Let's sit down; there's a bench over there. Wait while I get out of these horrible things."
Hathaway ended up helping her with the waders. "Tell me why you're smiling," she said in the middle of the struggle. "No, tell me, really," she added when he demurred.
"I was thinking that this is not how I imagined undressing you," he said.
"You've been doing that? Good news, I suppose."
"There were some brief moments. Liv, I--"
"No. Don't. Neither of us owes the other an apology. Well, I owe you one as a policeman, but I've delivered that to your Inspector Lewis."
He's not my Inspector Lewis, Hathaway thought of saying, but it was an ambiguous truth, murky as the bog. He hadn't meant to apologize, more to explain himself, if that was possible. Liv escaped from the second wader and poured the water out of it triumphantly, just missing Hathaway's shoes. She grabbed his hand and squelched up the hill to the bench.
"Five minutes," she said, sitting him down next to her, "then I really have to get back to work. Need to make up for this morning."
"I wanted to know what Mr. Antonietti told you about the cactus. Why did he want you to plant it?"
"Not sure. He wanted ficus-indica, though, and I had to tell him it wouldn't survive here. Not that humifusa is much better" -- she put a hand up to feel the drizzle misting in the air -- "but it won't die of cold. When I'd put the bed in, he came out to see them. He looked... disappointed, a bit, but then he touched one -- they're tricky; the spines are obvious, but the glochids jump out at you -- and put a hand to his mouth, and looked happier, for some reason. And then he said, 'Atonement.'"
"Atonement? Really?" Hathaway considered that he probably had a more specific, theological, and etymological view of the term than did most... all right, he'd been thinking "laypeople." But no matter how you defined it, that was an interesting thing to say. He was beginning to feel, as he often did at this point in a case, that he would like very much to have known the victim.
Well, Liv had, a bit. "What was he like?" he asked.
She thought a moment. "Variable," she said. "I saw him go through a lot of moods in a short time. Autocratic, then charming, then almost tender. He conversed very kindly one day with the cook's little girl she'd brought along. And then turned around and snapped at Ben. He didn't like his nephew much."
"Mm. Is Renzo like his father?"
Liv took in a little gulp of air and then spoke up. "More steady. It's not fair to compare men of such different ages and positions. But yes, I've seen him express all those moods."
"To you, I'm sure he's charming and tender."
"James... you don't have to... I'm not seeing him any more. It was only the once, really."
"Ah." He huffed out a breath that was half a laugh. "Well, one-night stands and murder generally aren't a good match. Someday I'll tell you why I should know."
She looked up, sober-faced, and Hathaway was sure he was meant to kiss her, but it was not in him to kiss two people in the same day. "Let's get you back to work," he said. Tenderly.
"I think I can call what's coming down rain and retreat to the greenhouse," she said, and he helped her carry the waders and tools in that direction.
Halfway there, his mobile rang. "Hold on," he said, shifting objects to his other hand, and pulled the phone out of his pocket. Lewis.
"Sir?" he said. As he listened to Lewis talk, he dropped wader and shovel, and reached out to put an arm around Liv. "Meet you there, sir," he finished, and ended the call. Liv, face pressed to his chest, twisted her head and looked up curiously. He hugged her again and then let go.
"It's Renzo," he said. "He's been killed."
Lewis's account of the crime had been terse, even curt, but he had said "Bring Liv" and Hathaway, despite his trepidation, followed the order. As they approached La Tramontana, he saw the body being loaded and the ambulance moving slowly away, and breathed a sigh of relief; at least she'd be spared that.
They walked around the house and down to the garden Liv had been renovating. Laura Hobson was with Lewis. "Poisoned, I'm pretty sure," she reported to Hathaway as he came up. "From the amount of vomit, died where he was found on the path, but then he was rolled over and laid out. This on his head," she added, handing over a clear evidence bag. Hathaway glanced at the stiff leafy garland and passed it on to Liv, understanding now why she'd been asked to come.
She was pale and still a bit shaky, but the task of plant identification seemed to calm her. Turning the bag from side to side and examining the leaves through the plastic, she said, "Acanthus spinosus. Bear's breeches. Spines on the leaves. It grows over there" -- she pointed -- "but I didn't plant it; in fact I was debating whether to take it out. It can be aggressive, though it's striking in bloom." She poked at the bag again. "Whoever made this must have worn gloves. It'd be too painful otherwise."
"Crown of thorns," said Hathaway thoughtfully.
"Yes," said Liv. "In fact acanthus is one of the possibilities for Christ's crown, though it's usually pictured as more like hawthorn. It would hurt to wear." Her voice faltered.
"I believe it was put on after death," Laura said. "I can't say he didn't suffer, but he didn't suffer from that."
"Thank you, Dr. Hobson," said Liv. "It's... not good to see you again, exactly, but..."
"Likewise," Laura replied with a sympathetic smile. Of course, they had met when Liv had found Murray Hawes's body. Just as well; Hathaway was not in the mood for social graces.
"So," he asked Liv, "the plant would be native to Jerusalem, then?"
"The whole Mediterranean region. Acanthus leaves are a motif in Corinthian columns. In ancient Greece they were used for bridal wreaths. Young leaves, not so prickly." She put a hand to her head, probably unconsciously.
"Does it grow in Sardinia?" said Lewis.
"Yes. At least I think so; it would make sense."
"Thanks," he said, in a voice of dismissal. "We'll get a PC to drive you home. Or back to work, if you'd rather." Liv shook her head; Hathaway could tell she didn't trust her voice any longer.
"I'll take her, Robbie," Laura said. "Then I can get this" -- she took the bag -- "to the lab and get them started. There's a chance we can get the murderer's blood off it. I'll let you know." She put a hand to Liv's shoulder and walked her away.
"Wait," said Hathaway and, very conscious that he was behaving inappropriately at a murder scene, went to Liv and took both her hands. "Thank you," he said, looking her in the eye, and then kissed her cheek and gave her a little push to send her along with Laura.
He watched her go before turning back to Lewis. Last night's insufficient sleep was beginning to tell on him, to make insubstantial and unreal everything in his world. Especially the reason for the lack of sleep. Lewis had slept more than he had, he thought, worn out with the exertion. He'd lain awake, trying to remember every moment, from the first kiss to the last, and everything in between, as though he knew then that was all there'd ever be, as though if he slept it would all vanish on waking and with it his reason for existence. Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.
Wrong play. Very much the wrong play.
We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep. Much better. If no less depressing.
Lewis was yawning. "I'll find you some coffee, sir," he said, desperately glancing about as if he'd locate a barista behind a boxwood.
"Never mind that. Come on."
And here they were again, walking up the lawn as if it were two days ago, except that it was raining less and a different man was dead. Lewis was silent until they'd nearly reached the house, a silence like surface tension on water, about to break and cascade into a torrent.
"I'll finish up here, Sergeant," he said, stopping ten feet from the back door. "You know what your job is now."
"I've pulled your nuts out of the fire how many times now? Even when I don't mean it literally," Lewis snarled, and then the accusations hammered at him in staccato bursts. "I told you to get her. You let her go. And now this. Laura says about ten a.m. Plenty of time for her to drive out here."
"She doesn't have a car."
"I don't bloody care."
"No one else could have done it. I've checked. Simon was at Beaufort giving a tutorial. Stephanie and Ben were shopping for funeral clothes. Stephen Wakenell was sleeping off a bender, I refuse to believe the cook did it, and I assume Liv can prove she was at work before you showed up. We only have one suspect. Find her. Go!"
He spent most of the drive back to Oxford with mobile pressed to ear, managing the mechanics of tracing a suspect: airport and railway alerts were still in place; roadblocks were unreasonable given the uncertainty of Piera having a vehicle, but he set DCs to phoning car hires and sorting through theft reports; her photo would be distributed to all police officers in the county. He rang the hotel she'd said she would check into; they'd never heard of her. He started Lyons checking all the other hotels in the region, again, starting with the one in Aylesbury, and then rang her back to get Dr. Dickinson's number. The doctor hadn't seen her.
"When you spoke with her," he asked, shifting down to take a corner with no hands left to steer, not quite knowing where he was driving, "did you get the impression that the friend she was inquiring on behalf of was real?"
"Oh, no, certainly not. They seldom are real."
"What do you mean by that?"
"She has the disease herself. Typical presentation: pale, pasty skin; shortness of breath. Looked like she hadn't slept in weeks. She'll need a bone marrow transplant and regular medication. I told her the doctors in Milan were fully up to it. She corrected me -- no, Doctor, Sassari -- but she knew I'd seen through her."
"Why would she lie?"
"Some people don't like being turned down, I suppose."
"She wanted you to treat her? Why? I know you're an expert--"
"But Aylesbury is a long way from Milan, and she couldn't get on the NHS. Besides, I'm retired. It had something to do with the money, I think. It would be an expensive treatment even with insurance."
"She's not very well-off."
"Ah, but I gathered she had relatives here who might help her."
If she kills enough of them first? "Thank you, Doctor. Please ring us if you hear from her."
Hathaway disconnected the call. Where had Lewis said the rest of the Antoniettis had got to? Beaufort College, and shopping. Shopping could happen anywhere; Beaufort was a definite location. And it was where Piera would look for Simon. Had Lewis warned him? He could ring him and check, but he was close to Beaufort already. Subconscious driving: his body ahead of his brain, for once.
He parked and strode toward the gate, asking the porter for the location of Professor Antonietti's rooms. And yes, a woman had come in, minutes ago, with the same request.
No time to call for backup. He thumbed out a quick, likely misspelled text to Lewis, which felt more like We who are about to die salute you than anything he would have really wanted to say, and ran. Reaching Simon's staircase, he went up light-footed, two stairs at a time, and sidled onto the landing to listen at Simon's door. Voices inside. He cycled through trying the doorknob and kicking down the door, and in the end opted for knocking.
Hathaway, you reckless, brainless idiot and similar phrases had been occupying most of Lewis's brain since he'd had the text -- which, despite being unexpectedly straightforward, had taken a moment to deconstruct, and shouldn't he just be glad it hadn't been in Latin -- along with the occasional panic-induced don't you dare die on me and a lot of surprisingly unedited endearments. He was staggered he'd remembered how to drive, with all that going in his head.
He had managed to remember, somewhere in the middle of what seemed an endless journey, to request uniformed officers to Beaufort, but apparently there was a daring mid-day hostage situation on the High -- what in the world had Oxford come to? -- and he arrived first. Hesitating, even for a second, was not under consideration; he ran, accosted the porter for directions, and ran again.
As he reached the foot of the stair a gunshot sounded. "Fuck it, James, no," he panted, and took the stairs as though they were his only hope of heaven, slamming his way through the door at the top.
Hathaway was on the floor. Not moving. He took that in first, then looked up to see Piera Antonietti pressed against the wall, and her uncle Simon with a revolver in his hand and a hateful smile on his face.
One second, and the whole case tilted, slid truthwards and righted itself, baring his stupidity, exposing it to the world's censure, which could not be greater than his own. He had killed Hathaway. Killed his James. Fucked up beyond measure. The brief glance had told him there was blood all over the floor; he couldn't look again. He wanted to throw himself on James's body and wait for Simon's bullet to bury itself in his brain. In fact that desire might have won out over training and instinct, if Piera hadn't taken advantage of his appearance and Simon's distraction, and run toward him.
Instinct triumphed; he grabbed her as she reached him, and pushed her out the door, dodging out himself just ahead of the next bullet. He yanked her toward the stairs. Simon burst out of the door and took aim as Lewis turned; there was nothing to do but hold on to her and plunge.
Solid oak treads, polished by centuries of passing feet, betrayed Lewis; he fell on his arse and slid, and Piera tripped and landed on him. Sharp staccato bumps happened to his back and head, and then a stab of appalling pain to his right wrist as they ended the ride in a bruised heap at the foot of the stairs. Falling seemed to take minutes, and it hurt like hell, but in the midst of it he heard shouts and running feet from outside the building, and then, from the top of the stairs, Hathaway's firm and blessedly living voice arresting Simon for conspiracy to murder his brother and nephew. Lewis was smiling when the stairwell disappeared into gray fog and deep midnight black.
They set his broken wrist at the hospital, and assured him that the bullet-score across Hathaway's scalp had done no essential damage, and that Piera had suffered only bruises. He was examined for signs of concussion and, dazed as he felt, passed all the tests. Laura came by while he was recovering and informed him that he was a half-witted old sod who deserved whatever trouble he got himself into; he saw mist in her eyes before she kissed his cheek. Then she told him that James was waiting in the lobby, with a significant look that made him wonder exactly who was the detective here.
By mutual consent they headed for James's flat; two functioning arms won out over an unspoiled haircut, and it wasn't like Lewis's skull had taken less battering, though the painkillers were fantastic. When they'd come through the door and closed it behind them, James took Lewis by the shoulders, gently, and bowed his bandaged head till their foreheads touched.
"We look like we've been through the wars together," he said, shattering Lewis with the echo of his own thought.
"And came out of it both alive, don't forget," he said.
"I'm not likely to," James answered, and pressed a kiss to Lewis's brow before breaking away and heading for the kitchen to make a cuppa for each of them.
That was as close as they got to snogging that afternoon and evening, which Lewis, exhausted, would have been just as glad of if he hadn't been tortured by the likelihood that it would never happen again. James was kind and loyal, and Lewis knew he'd turn his heart inside out for his old boss, but pity fucks or even snogs were not part of Lewis's code, and besides, he'd seen the look on James's face when he'd kissed Liv that morning.
But they were of one mind as policemen, and while Lewis had hastened to offer an apology even before leaving the hospital, he was unsatisfied but not surprised when James told him it wasn't necessary. And, that out of the way, they could discuss the case, and did so pleasantly for the rest of the afternoon.
Lewis had been getting bulletins from Innocent, and James from Lyons, so they knew that the incident on the High had resulted from Ben Antonietti finally going off his nut and turning on his mum. Stephanie and Simon had conspired together to murder Alonso and Renzo, but Ben had stuck the knife in his uncle's back and taken the poisoned coffee to his cousin, and planned how to do it, too.
"What d'you think the cactus and the other prickly stuff was about?" Lewis asked.
James shrugged. "The ram in the thicket? The son of God? Sacrifice. I'm not sure if it was Simon's idea or Ben's. I hope not Ben's." He didn't explain, just went on: "He'll be advised to plead insanity, I assume. I'm not sure that--" He stopped.
"I'm not sure he is insane. Though I can't help feeling somewhat sorry for him nevertheless. High intelligence and spoiling by parents can be a deadly mix."
"Yeah, well." Lewis gestured at James. "There but for the grace of--" The words cut off as Lewis kicked himself for prodding sensitive ground.
"Thank you, sir," James said, thin and dry, "but I was never that intelligent. Particularly," he added with a humorless huff of a laugh, "today."
The tone said don't touch it, so Lewis held himself in check and started making noises about curry. The takeaway that James returned with was carefully selected for bite-sized pieces and no cutting, so Lewis only had to concentrate on manipulating the fork with his left hand.
"Oh, bugger it," he said as a piece of lamb korma slid away from him for the third time. Hathaway's hand twitched in his direction, then subsided. Damn right you're not feeding me, Sergeant, he muttered inwardly, and then aloud said, "This is going to be a right pain in the arse. Six weeks till I get this thing off" -- he poked at the cast -- "and longer till I'm back to active duty."
"Let me help, sir. Anything. You know I'd do anything for you."
Lewis nodded, too overcome with affection to answer, and made a fourth attempt, spearing the lamb successfully. "Ha," he said, and when he'd swallowed it down, "Time to think seriously about retiring. Ten years ago I could have kept my feet on those stairs."
"Sir, it could happen to any--"
"But it's not only that," Lewis said, riding over him. "I fucked up the case. I got one bird in my sights and I was blind to everything else, no matter all the wings flapping around me. Peripheral vision. I used to be good at that. Upside down and backwards and out of the corner of my eye. Seeing what counts. Like magic, when the right answer seizes you. You know how it is. But it's not working for me anymore."
Hathaway nodded slowly. "And deeper than did ever plummet sound, I'll drown my book. But sir... you're wrong. It's not your fault. I... you were distracted," he finished, looking down at his plate.
"Yeah, and there's that, too," Lewis began, but he couldn't bring himself to go on. "Oh, forget it, lad. Let's bung this in the fridge and then you can drive me home."
"No. Stay," Hathaway said. "We can watch telly or... or... I have Scrabble."
Lewis laughed. "If you want my company that badly... tell you what, let's have some music. Assuming your wits aren't too addled to play that guitar."
It was pure self-indulgence; he wanted an excuse to stare at Hathaway without being stared at in return, and here was a chance he wouldn't likely get again. Hathaway looked stunned for a moment, but then rallied and took charge of tidying up their meal, refusing to let Lewis help. Then he waved Lewis to the sofa and pulled over one of the bar stools from the kitchen, perching on top like a lanky tow-headed eagle on the shelf of rock it called home.
He tuned his guitar and then gazed at it helplessly. "What would you like to hear?"
"Anything that comes to mind."
He supposed he was putting Hathaway to the test; if what came out was a love ballad, well then he'd have something to think about. Beyond that he had no idea what to expect, and he wasn't exactly disappointed when the clever fingers began to pick out a bouncy, lilting, intricate tune, far older in its origins than most of what he'd listened to. Barring The Faerie Queene, which it somewhat reminded him of, though at less of a distance. Antique, and yet immediate. The fingers bent and straightened, pressed and plucked, speedily and without hesitation; it had to be something long in Hathaway's repertoire.
He finished with a flourish, and Lewis applauded. "What's that, then?"
"Purcell," Hathaway said, and then added, "Disputed attribution. I like to think so, though."
"Not quite my cup of tea, is it? D'you know any Mozart?"
Hathaway caught Lewis's eyes for a long second, then ducked his head and smiled. "Try this," he said, and began to strum slow chords. The exquisite melody took Lewis a moment to recognize, as he'd never heard it on guitar before, and probably never would again: trust Hathaway to play opera for him. The most beautiful apology ever sung or spoken, and the most beautiful expression of forgiveness. It was ruthless music, and it pierced him to the heart without remorse.
"Oh, James," he said, and his voice shook.
The next morning Hathaway came by his place at eight to help him dress, a task he performed as coolly and efficiently as if they'd never stripped each other naked in the same room, and then drove him to work, making occasional observations on the weather or the state of Lewis's wrist, but mostly keeping silent. The bandage on his head was an uncouth addition to an otherwise immaculate ensemble. He'd probably start ironing it if he could.
Lewis sat down at his desk with a sigh; he could see endless piles of paperwork in his future, not just the detritus of the Antonietti case, but anything else Innocent could find to throw at a man who couldn't catch. Nevertheless, he seemed to have taken the right dose of painkillers to relieve the ache in his wrist without fogging his brain, and he wasn't dead and neither was Hathaway, and it had stopped raining, so a great deal was right with the world. He was whistling before he quite realized it, and figured out what it was a moment later: the catchiest bit of the Purcell.
Hathaway looked up. "Hark, hark; the watchdogs bark," he said.
"Sorry," said Lewis. By way of association, he checked his watch. "It's going to be a long day," he sighed again. "Ah well. Can't have a pint, not while I'm on this stuff, but care for a tonic water after work?"
Hathaway looked uneasy. "Actually, sir, I'm having dinner with Liv."
"Oh. Well," Lewis managed, and a second later his phone rang.
"My office," Innocent said on the other end.
"Yes, ma'am." He gave Hathaway a wondering eyebrow and headed out.
"Robbie," she greeted him, which was a better sign than Inspector Lewis. "How's the arm?"
"I can only hunt and peck with one hand for a bit," he said, "which will make me just as efficient at the paperwork as I was before."
"Oh, and I do have plenty of it for you. Including a couple of interesting cold cases for which Hathaway can do any necessary legwork. He's all right too?"
"Yes, ma'am. Just a scratch, he says, though I haven't seen under that bandage."
"Mm." She picked up a piece of paper on her desk and showed it to him. "I'm requesting a commendation for you. Another one."
"Oh, ma'am. You don't have to." She waved away his apparent modesty; he persisted. "Really, ma'am. I did nothing like my best work on this case. In fact I was considering asking you to accept my--"
She held up a hand. "Is this something you want to tell me now or when you've thought about it? When you're not in pain?"
Which may be never. "Yes, ma'am. I mean, later."
"Good. And you did save a woman's life, you know. A visiting foreign national, even, which must be worth extra points. She'll be here later this morning."
"DC Lyons took her statement yesterday; this is just to clear up any questions you have left. And she asked to see you."
"I'll let you have my office, when she arrives."
"Thank you, ma'am," Lewis said, and retreated.
The call came about an hour later; he found himself whistling again as he walked to Innocent's office. She was gone, and Piera Antonietti was sitting in a chair.
She looked up as he came in, and smiled; he stopped whistling, but she'd clearly recognized the tune. "You're not a contessa," he said, "but the sentiment is the same. Perdono." He gave her a little Hathaway-like bow.
"Più docile io sono," she responded on cue, "e dico di si. Of course I forgive you; I'd be dead now if you hadn't come. And I did lie to the police, so I should beg your pardon."
"Lying to the police is contagious, signora; everyone's catching it this week. Apologizing, too." She looked relieved. "Alonso was going to give you the money for your treatment, right?" he said. "And cut you into his will, no doubt." She nodded. "And Simon wouldn't have any of it."
"I had no idea of his intent, or that he was responsible for Alonso's death. Somehow he tracked me down" -- followed her from the police station to the hostel she'd decided to stay in, Lewis was pretty sure -- "and had a message delivered. I was to meet him at his rooms and he'd give me enough money to return to Milan and start my treatment. And then, when I arrived, he threatened to kill me. Sergeant Hathaway came in, expecting to be arresting me; when he realized what had happened, his face was all--" She opened her mouth and eyes wide; it wasn't an expression Lewis had ever seen on Hathaway, but then he hadn't been there.
"Gobsmacked," he said.
She laughed. "It is a good word. Gobsmacked. And then Simon made him stand against the wall with me, and he talked at us for a long while, and then Sergeant Hathaway tried to jump on him, and Simon shot him. But not very well."
"Thank God for that," Lewis said. "And I'm glad he missed us, too."
"Oh, but your poor arm."
"It's fine. Just makes it hard to cut up meat, and that." She smiled at him in sympathy. "Which means I have to choose my meals carefully. Don't suppose you'd care to have me take you to dinner tonight? A way of saying I'm sorry," he added. "Because I don't really sing. You could tell me all about Sardinia." It was one thing he didn't understand yet, why she'd gone there so often.
Her smile grew wider. "I would like that very much, Inspector Lewis."
It was a pleasant evening, and after he paid for dinner Piera kissed him on the cheek and said it would be her treat the next time. "Oh yes," he said, "I expect you'll be the heir to the Antonietti fortune now." And she smiled a little sadly and agreed.
After walking her to her hostel, he had a uniformed officer drive him home; his rooms all seemed deep in quiet. Not wanting to disturb the neighbors, but needing sound to fill the emptiness, he put in a CD but kept the volume low, skipping ahead to the ending because that was all he wanted to hear. Fischer-Dieskau knelt to ask for forgiveness, Te Kanawa generously forgave him, and all the principals sang their lovely harmonies in full-throated happiness: Ah tutti contenti saremo cosi.
Wrapped up in the music, his copper's ear caught the rattle and groan of his door easing open, and he immediately shut down the revels on the stereo and sat up straight.
"Sorry, sir. It's me," came Hathaway's voice. He stepped into view, pulled something out of his pocket. "You did give me a key," he said, displaying it. "I didn't want you to have to get up."
"It's my arm that's hurt, not my leg. But you're welcome, any time," Lewis said, reaching up to turn on a light; his heart was starting to beat harder. "Take a seat. I think I've figured out how to brush me teeth; you didn't need to come by for that."
Hathaway settled tentatively on the edge of the sofa cushion. "No, I... just wanted to see how you were. How was your dinner with Piera?"
"Grand. How was yours with Liv?"
They gazed at each other another few moments, the air about them bristly with awkwardness, and then both of them spoke at once.
"Listen, lad, if you want to move on--"
"Sir, what happened the other night--"
Hathaway, stubborn as ever, pushed on, and Lewis let him. "If you're thinking that I regret it, one minute of it--"
"I don't regret it either," Lewis interrupted. "Life's too short to spend time regretting things, even if they shouldn't have happened. Not to give you a swollen head, but it was bloody marvelous. But it's over, and--"
"No. It's not over. Not as long as I..." He clutched at his knees.
"Don't hold on, James. It's time for you to let go and move on."
"I don't want to. I won't. I love you."
Lewis, all the breath suddenly punched out of him, could still hear the swallowed "sir" at the end, and couldn't help smiling.
"You don't," he said. "You respect me, God knows why just now, and like me, and you're still a little lightheaded from what we did in bed. Not to mention getting shot; nothing like it to make a bloke have feelings all over the place. I'll bet you gave Liv a pretty fervent kiss goodnight."
Hathaway flushed. "I don't know why you have to keep assuming--" He shook his head. "No. This isn't working. Let's go back. To where you were sitting in the dark alone listening to happy people sing, and I came in. Sir," he said, standing up, "I let myself in with the key you gave me. I came to help you get ready for bed, and now I'm going to fetch your slippers. Floor of the bedroom closet, I think you said?"
Bloody-minded, bull-headed... "Fuck my slippers!"
"Is that an order, sir?"
The laugh snorted out, irrepressible. "You..." Oh, you. "'Spose you can't not be cheeky. Grown accustomed to that, too, besides your silly face. Val loved that film," he went on, watching the predictable stricken look steal the bit of pleasure he'd allowed Hathaway. "I always thought the ending was rubbish, myself."
"Endings usually are," Hathaway said. "It's what comes after them that matters."
Lewis, wondering if that was theological nonsense or some other kind, said, "Why'd she ever go back to him, then? Eliza."
"Some people can't help themselves," Hathaway said, moving closer. "Why did the Countess take the Count back when he behaved like an utter tosser? Why do swallows fly home in the spring? Why did Ariel tell the elements to screw themselves and wing his way back to lie at Prospero's feet?"
He knelt beside Lewis's chair, and Lewis, as unable to help himself as any of them, put a hand on the fair head. "I don't know Shakespeare like you do, lad, but I saw that play once, and it seemed to me Ariel was bloody glad to get away. Certainly didn't go back."
"That was the next scene," Hathaway said dreamily. "After the audience left."
"Ah. Trust you to wait around for it."
"You can't say I don't have patience." He put his head down on Lewis's knee, and Lewis stroked the fine hair, avoiding the bandaged spot. The bandage had been renewed, smaller now, whiter and considerably more tidy. Nothing to be concerned about: the wound would heal, and the hair would grow back. A few inches the wrong way, and he would have been dead.
His fist tightened, and James looked up, eyes dark with emotion. "I ought to get on my knees to you," Lewis said, his voice rough. "That's what you deserve. But I'm an old man and I fell down a flight of stairs yesterday. I haven't the strength."
"You're stronger than anyone I know," James said, rose to his feet in a smooth, graceful movement, and pulled Lewis up by his one good hand, not letting go. Careful of the sling, he leaned in close, clamped his spare hand to the back of Lewis's skull, and brought their mouths together. He clearly meant to be gentle, but Lewis, no longer in a mood to wait for anything, tilted his head and parted his lips, and James made a noise in the back of his throat and began to kiss him in earnest, unmercifully, sparing him nothing.
Things would have gone on without stopping if James hadn't grabbed him the wrong way and bumped the sling. Lewis couldn't help twitching hard with the pain, and James let go with a flood of sorrys.
"All right, all right, don't get your knickers in a twist. We'll work around it. It'll just take imagination. I'd say you've got plenty of that."
Clearly the imagination was working; James breathed harder for a moment, and then he smiled, and looked... God. Gleeful. "You can take me to bed in a minute, then," Lewis went on. "I just need to you to tell me, how'd you leave Liv in all this? You're not to hurt her, mind."
James touched Lewis's cheek. "You would want to know that. She's fine. She knows about us."
"You told her?"
"Actually, Laura told her. They had lunch."
"Laura told her." Lewis tried to think about that; he wasn't much in a mood for thinking. "Something I said, no doubt. She's got a keen eye."
"And she cares about you. Though," James went on, dotting kisses in a line from the corner of Lewis's left eye down to his mouth, "not as much as I do." His tongue flicked out, teasing at Lewis's lower lip. "I've cared about you for so long. Years. Every long second of every long day." Gentle breath, gusting against his. "I don't think I have any patience left. May we please go to bed?"
Lewis captured James's mouth in a brief kiss, and then pulled back. Eyes pleaded at him; the thin, nervous body vibrated against his with unresolved tension. So different from anything he'd known before; so different from Val. Sex was the least of the differences. But he was glad to find that after all he wasn't built to love only one sort of person, or to love only once in what he hoped would be a long life. He wasn't too old for something new. For a change. Sea-change, James had said. Into something rich and strange. But mostly just wondrous and wonderful and enchanting and... oh, all right. Arousing.
Lewis tugged at James's hand. "Come on, then," he said. "Indulge me."