It happened so quickly, is all that he can think. Robbie Lewis has been a copper for more years than he cares to count. He knows that any situation can go pear-shaped in the blink of an eye—or the flash of a gunshot. And still it came as a surprise. Even as he strides through the too-familiar corridors of the John Radcliffe to A&E, he relives those horrible few seconds. Evan Murchison, the panicked suspect, pulling a gun from the pocket of his jacket. Robbie’s warning shout. The sharp crack of the gun, followed by Hathaway’s cry of pain as he crumpled to the ground. The second, slightly muffled shot—muffled because Murchison had the muzzle of the gun pressed to the side of his own head when he pulled the trigger.
It seemed hours before the ambulance arrived, though the paramedics told him it was only seven minutes. Once James was whisked off to hospital, Robbie paced the frost-covered cobblestones of the alley. As soon as a couple of uniformed officers turned up to secure the scene, he jumped into his car and hurried after his sergeant.
He rounds the corner and what he sees nearly causes his heart to stop. Two people are standing outside the room where James is being treated. One is a man in a green scrub suit; the other is Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent. It must be bad, to bring her down here so quickly.
As he hurries forward, Innocent turns to greet him. He can tell just from the look on her face that she’s got bad news, but not the worst news. “Robbie! James is alive, he’s stable, and is expected to make a full recovery.” She holds up a hand. “There’s something we have to discuss before you go in. He’s going to need surgery.”
“What’s he doing in there, then?” Robbie gestures at the closed door. “Why isn’t he already in the operating theatre?”
The man turns to face him. His staff badge identifies him as Dr Hassan Khalil, Senior Registrar, A&E. “Mr Hathaway is in no immediate danger. I can assure you that his wounds are not life-threatening. However, we are not equipped to treat such an unusual case. A specialist—a surgeon from the Princess Margaret Rose Orthopaedic Hospital is flying down from Edinburgh.”
Unusual case? A specialist? Robbie doesn’t like the sound of that. What’s wrong with James that they have to send all the way to bloody Scotland for a surgeon? If the John Radcliffe doesn’t have the right sort of expert, Nuffield Orthopaedic is just two kilometres away. And London is as full of world-famous doctors as a pudding is full of raisins. Why wait for someone to travel down from Edinburgh? He takes a step forward.
“Robbie, we have to—” Innocent begins.
“Ma’am, we can talk all you like after I’ve seen my sergeant.” Robbie pushes the door open and freezes.
James is lying on his back, hooked up to a worrying number of tubes and wires. His eyes are closed, and his face is even paler than usual. He’s wearing a pair of faded blue scrub trousers, but he’s bare above the waist. A gauze bandage the size of an old-fashioned handkerchief is taped over his right shoulder. The bloodstain on the bandage is rust-coloured, turning brown. Dried blood, so not actively bleeding.
His detective’s eye automatically notes all of these things, leaving the rest of his mind free to wonder if he’s dreaming. Robbie blinks, twice, then rubs his eyes. James Hathaway is still lying there, his lean, pale torso framed by a pair of half-folded wings the colour of antique ivory.
He’s not sure how long he’s been standing there gawping when Jean Innocent clamps a firm hand on his left shoulder and guides him out of the room. They’re in the hallway only long enough for him to notice that Dr Khalil has disappeared before she steers him into a nearby empty waiting room.
“Sit down, Robbie.”
He remains standing. “Why the hell wasn’t I told about this?”
The Chief Superintendent’s long, steady gaze tells him clearer than any words that he’s gone past incivility and is perilously close to crossing the line into insubordination.
“Sorry, Ma’am.” Robbie lowers himself into the nearest chair. He takes a long breath and releases it slowly.
Innocent softens. “I know it’s a shock. It was for me, too, and I didn’t find out in such a dramatic way. Legally, this is considered a medical condition, and Sergeant Hathaway is protected by the laws governing medical confidentiality. He came to me six or seven months before you returned to Oxford. He’d been assigned to an undercover operation having to do with drugs being distributed in a dance club. We needed younger officers who could pass as students—or at least as postgraduates.” She smiles, remembering. “James walked into my office, more stiff and formal than I’d ever seen him, and said he needed to request special accommodation under the Disability Discrimination Act. He was holding the outfit they wanted him to wear in the club, which included a very tight-fitting t-shirt.”
Robbie’s mind is starting to function again. He understands now why James’s off-duty wardrobe seems to consist mostly of hoodies and baggy sweatshirts.
“He placed the t-shirt on my desk and said that he did not wish to be removed from the assignment, but that it was impossible for him to wear that particular garment. Naturally, I asked why. He said he would prefer to show me. In private.” Innocent chuckles at Robbie’s gobsmacked expression. “I don’t usually take junior officers into windowless storage rooms to disrobe for me. I thought that perhaps he had severe scars from a childhood accident, or some kind of congenital deformity, and he was too embarrassed to talk about it.”
Personally, Robbie thinks that stripping off in front of his female boss would be far more embarrassing than anything he could imagine saying.
“He took off his jacket and tie, and when he started to unbutton his shirt, I could see he was wearing something underneath it. It looked like a cross between a straitjacket and an old-fashioned elastic girdle. And I still didn't suspect the truth until he unhooked the straps and his wings just spilled out.” She shakes her head. “It’s hard to believe how tightly they can be folded up. He stretched them out a bit—that corset of his must be very uncomfortable—and told me that he was very much afraid that standard clubwear would make him conspicuous, and would most likely compromise the investigation.”
Robbie chuckles. He can almost hear James’s dry voice reciting those lines.
“As soon as James’s wardrobe issues were sorted, everything went smoothly. The dealers were apprehended and two of them turned on their supplier. James requested that I not inform anyone unless it was unavoidable. No one else knows.” She hesitates. “I will have to tell Dr Hobson. Even though Murchison killed himself, there will be a report. The bullet that struck James will have to be entered into evidence, once the surgeon removes it. Evidently, there are markers in the blood that would reveal his... condition to someone who knows what to look for.”
“Laura knows how to be discreet. And she likes the lad. She’ll do right by him.”
“She will. And now that we’ve finally had this little talk,” she says with only a hint of acid, “perhaps you’d like to go and see your sergeant, Inspector Lewis?”
“Yes Ma’am. Thank you.”
“He’s under light sedation, plus painkillers, so don’t be surprised if he drifts in and out,” she warns.
“Is he going to be upset that you told me, Ma’am?”
Innocent shakes her head. “He did say unless it was unavoidable. If Sergeant Hathaway thinks that I could prevent you from seeing him under these circumstances, then he grossly overestimates my authority.” She makes a shooing motion with one hand. “Go.”
He goes. James’s eyes are still closed, but his arms are positioned differently, and his face is tilted to his left. Robbie seats himself in the visitor chair. He takes the opportunity to study the wings. They’re somehow different to what he expected. The feathers are more textured, and varied in size. They range in colour from pure white to a soft gold just a touch lighter than James’s hair. He supposes that his ideas have mostly been formed by the fake wings of angels in Christmas pageants and cupids and fairies at fancy dress parties. Fluffy, useless things, constructed of down and cardboard. These are the real thing, made of bone and sinew, muscle and blood. Wings that move, that fly.
Robbie tries to imagine DS James Hathaway soaring over the spires of Oxford. Dressed in his usual immaculate suit and tie? In a Cambridge hoodie? He shakes his head in amazement. He’s seen a BBC documentary on... people like this. ‘The world’s rarest genetic anomaly,’ the presenter called it. ‘Literally one in a million.’ There are perhaps 60 of them living in Britain. Robbie wonders if that count includes James. He wonders if there others who keep themselves secret. He wonders how James will feel when he realises that his governor knows. He wonders if James would ever have chosen to tell him the truth.
As if responding to his thoughts, James mumbles something indistinct and opens his eyes. “Sir?”
“Hullo, Sergeant. Had a nice nap?”
“Sir! Are you all right?”
“Easy, lad. I’m okay. You’re the one who got shot,” Robbie says matter-of-factly, “but the doctor says you’ll be fine.”
James stares at him from beneath drooping eyelids. “I heard a second shot.”
“Didn’t go anywhere near me,” Robbie assures him. He spreads his arms wide. “See? Not a scratch. You, on the other hand, need a bit of surgery to remove your little souvenir.”
James nods and his head starts to loll. Suddenly, he stiffens. “Murchison?”
“Sorted,” Robbie says easily. “He’s not going anywhere.” It’s not a lie, after all.
“‘Kay,” James murmurs, and this time he does fall asleep.
He returns to the waiting room. Innocent is about to leave, but Laura Hobson has just arrived.
She gives him a quick hug. “Robbie, how are you doing?”
“Me? I’m not the one with a bullet in his shoulder.”
“No, you’re the one fretting himself half to death.” Laura sits, and pulls him into the chair beside her. “I’ve seen the x-rays. It’s really not a bad injury.”
She sighs. “But the bullet went into the scapula, where the wing joins the shoulder. There are some blood vessels and nerve clusters that make extraction from that area a bit tricky, even in an ordinary person. And of course, the underlying structure is very different. God knows they didn’t cover wings in any of my anatomy lectures. There are only four or five doctors in the world who are qualified for this. We’re lucky that Dr Morrison is relatively near at hand. If he’d been unavailable, the next closest specialist is in Rome.”
For some reason, Morrison’s name seems familiar, but he can’t think why. “Will you be there for the operation?”
“I’ll scrub in, and I’ll be there to receive the bullet once it’s out. I’ll probably remain to watch the rest of the procedure. Out of interest, both personal and professional. Sir Andrew Morrison is a genius in his field. James couldn’t be in better hands.”
“I’m glad to know that you’ll be there. You can explain things to me afterwards.”
“Of course, Robbie.” She pauses. “May I see him?”
Robbie is touched, in a way he can’t explain even to himself, that Laura asks his permission. Of course, she’ll see him later in the operating theatre, though he supposes the lad will be covered with all kinds of sheets. “Come along, then.” He rises and she falls into step beside him.
James is soundly asleep now; his head sagging on his chest. Laura stands for a long moment studying the wings, then looks at the readings on the monitors. With a touch on Robbie’s elbow, she indicates that she’s ready to go out. “He’s in much better shape than I would expect for a man with a bullet inside him. His heart rate is strong, and his O2 sats—sorry, blood oxygen levels—are good. He’ll be fine.” She smiles. “And now I have strict orders from your boss to take you out of the hospital and see that you get some dinner.”
He starts to protest. “I should—”
Laura waggles a finger at him. “You should be sensible for once and do as you’re told. Honestly, Robbie... James is perfectly stable. There’s no point in your going hungry in order to watch him sleep. The operation can’t possibly start for another two hours at the earliest.”
They take Laura’s car to an Italian restaurant on George Street, where she orders sparkling mineral water with lemon. She mustn’t drink before entering the operating theatre, even though she’ll only be an observer. “But for you, Robbie, I prescribe a couple of glasses of wine with dinner.”
“Doctor’s orders, eh? Why not?” Linguine with prawns and a carafe of Pinot Grigio do a lot to soothe his nerves, as does a pleasant conversation about ordinary things: Laura’s music, Robbie’s planned holiday in Manchester, a recent film they’ve both seen. When they return to the hospital, they discover that Dr Morrison has arrived ahead of schedule and that James is being prepared for surgery.
“That’s my cue,” Laura says. “I’ll see you afterwards, Robbie. Don’t be worried if it takes a few hours. This is the sort of operation where even the best surgeons are going to be slow and cautious. Especially the best surgeons.”
The long wait is made more difficult by the presence of Jean Innocent in the waiting room. Robbie appreciates her concern for James (and for him, too, he supposes), but it’s awkward. He’s self-conscious; can’t pace the room as he’d like, and her attempts to make distracting conversation just put more strain on his nerves. It feels like two hours past forever when a stout, balding man in a blue scrub suit enters, trailed by a similarly-dressed Laura Hobson.
Morrison heads straight for Jean Innocent. “It went very well,” he says without preamble. “As you know, the bullet was in a tricky spot, but we managed a clean removal. No nerve damage, and minimal trauma to muscle and bone, as such things go. It will be a few months before he’s completely recovered, but he will get there.”
“Can I see him?” Robbie demands.
The surgeon glances at Innocent, who replies, “Detective Inspector Lewis is Sergeant Hathaway’s governor.”
“And his friend,” Laura adds, “and the person most likely to be helping him through his convalescence.” She glances from Innocent to Robbie. “He won’t have the use of his right arm for a while. He’ll need help with certain things, even after he goes home. And I think that the only people he would trust to see him... exposed are all standing in this room.”
“That’s true,” Innocent agrees.
Morrison looks Robbie over thoroughly, and whatever he sees appears to satisfy him. “Normally there are no visitors allowed overnight, but we sometimes make exceptions for family, and in cases where there is no family, for close friends. I’m staying the night at the Randolph. In the unlikely case of an emergency, the hospital will page me. Tomorrow morning, I’ll meet with Mr Hathaway, and if he consents, with Inspector Lewis as well. Half ten? Splendid.”
Hospital chairs seem designed to discourage visitors from stopping too long. Fortunately, an old copper like him has got plenty of experience sitting for long stretches of time in uncomfortable places. And unlike a stake-out, he can get up and stretch his legs when he likes.
James is back in his room. The anaesthesia has worn off, but he’s sound asleep. Robbie sighs. Laura told him this is normal, since surgery puts almost as much strain on the body as the initial wound. James might well sleep through the night. Her look had said clearly that Robbie ought to do the same, preferably at home. He can’t do that. It’s irrational, but Robbie can’t help thinking that James will be okay so long as he is present when the lad awakens. So he sits on the pathetic excuse for a chair and pretends to read a newspaper. Once every hour or so, he gets up and paces the room for a few minutes.
He studies James’s face. Has it got a little more colour in it? Hard to tell in the dim light. He studies the monitors, but the readouts make no sense to him. If any of them were showing something bad, he supposes that it would beep or ring or signal somehow.
Sitting down again, he feels his eyelids begin to droop. No harm in resting his eyes, he supposes. Just for a moment.
He’s not sure if it’s sound or movement that pulls him up from sleep. It’s a muffled curse that brings him fully awake. Robbie sits up straight and blinks at the bed. James is trying, not very successfully, to pull the sheet up using his left hand. Hiding the wings, Robbie realises.
He stands up, and in two quick strides is beside the bed. “Easy there. I’ve got it.” He grasps the top edge of the sheet, lifts it up, and lays it gently over James’s torso. “Warm enough? Or do you want the blanket, too?”
James doesn’t meet his eyes. “The sheet is sufficient, sir. Thank you.”
Robbie pulls the chair closer to the bed and sits down. “I won’t ask how you’re feeling because I don’t want to tempt you to lie. Anything you need? Water? Anaesthesia dries you out something fierce. I remember that from when they took me appendix out.”
James nods, so Robbie fills a plastic cup from a jug on the bedside table. He holds it against James’s lips.
“Thank you, sir,” James says again. He’s staring at a spot somewhere in the vicinity of his knees. “That’s very kind of you.”
Robbie doesn’t bother to reply. “You awake enough to do some talking, James?”
James stiffens. “Yes, sir.”
“Good. First of all, the surgeon will be by to talk to you later, but I’ll tell you what he told us―you’re gonna recover completely. Full use of the arm and wing.” He manages to say the last two words with hesitation or special emphasis. “They brought down a specialist from Edinburgh. Fellow named Morrison.”
“Sir Andrew Morrison?” James asks.
Figures that James would’ve heard of him. “That’s the one. Seems like a decent bloke, and Laura tells me he’s one of the top men in his field.”
“Dr Hobson?” It’s clear from the look on James’s face that he’s trying to find a polite way to ask about her involvement.
“Yeah, Innocent called her in to take charge of the bullet. She’s given it a good cleaning, so it will go into evidence properly identified, but without any traces of your blood, which I’m told could be awkward.”
There’s the briefest of pauses as James assimilates what Robbie said―and didn’t say. “I’ll have to testify, of course.”
“You’ll have to give a statement, but there won’t be a trial. That second shot you heard? That was Murchison, putting a bullet into his brain.”
James glances at his heavily bandaged right shoulder. “He might have had the courtesy to do that first.”
Robbie does not say that no reasonable person would expect courtesy from a man who shot his wife and the colleague he wrongly believed to be her lover. “I think he panicked, and when he realised that he’d gone and shot a copper, he panicked a bit more.”
“Sir, when you said that Dr. Morrison told ‘us’ about my prognosis, who was present?”
Robbie’s been expecting that question. “Meself, Laura, and the Chief Super. Was there someone else who should be told? Anyone you want to call?”
“No, sir. Thank you.” He seems to be waiting for something.
“After the surgeon’s seen you tomorrow―” Robbie glances at his watch. “Later today, that is, Innocent will let you know about leave. She’ll probably give you more than you want to take, knowing you, but you’re not to rush back until you’re ready.”
“Yes, sir.” Hathaway’s face is unreadable.
“If you’re in too much pain to talk now, I’ll call the nurse for you and take myself off, man. I can babble at you some other time.”
“For God’s sake, sir, if you think you’re being kind by delaying this, you’re mistaken.”
“Just... tell me,” James says. He sounds tired and defeated, but he manages to look Robbie full in the face. “After my leave, what happens?”
Robbie hopes he doesn’t look as stupid as he feels. “You come back to work. Maybe desk duty at first.”
Does Hathaway think he’s going to be sacked because of what he is? Innocent isn’t the sort to do that. And if she were, she’d have done it years ago, when she first learned his secret. Or is it that James feels he can’t work with someone who knows that he’s different? He’s a very private person, after all.
Robbie clears his throat. “Work as a Detective Sergeant. As my sergeant. Unless you want to request a change, erm... a different governor, and then I’d... well, I wouldn’t stand in your way.” But I’d miss you something fierce.
James is staring at him as if he’s speaking Greek. Or maybe Swahili or Russian, because the lad speaks Greek, after all. “If I want a change?”
“Well, I don’t want a change. Why would I?” James continues to stare at him. “What, because you’re... different?” Robbie says incredulously. “Special, more like.”
James snorts. “Special. Do you know, in the 15th century, ‘special’ creatures like me were property of the Crown, in the same category as swans and whales.”
“In the sodding 15th century, we were still burning harmless old grannies for witchcraft and hanging children for stealing bread. I think society has progressed a little in 600 years. And don’t you dare call yourself a creature!”
“What would you prefer? Freak? Monster? ‘Mutant’ is technically correct, but it makes people think of comic book characters, and brightly-coloured spandex really doesn’t suit me.”
He’s trying to push me away before I can do it to him. How can he believe that of me? After all this time we’ve worked together. The anger flares up, hot and furious, and the words spill out of him like an old-fashioned kettle boiling over on the hob. “I told you once that I didn’t care if you were gay or straight. None of my business. I would have thought you’d understand from that what’s important to me--and what isn’t. It’s important to me that you’re the best sergeant I’ve ever had. It’s important to me that you’ve got a brain bigger than the Bodleian. It’s important to me that you know what I think, sometimes before I do. What’s not important to me is that you’ve got a sodding pair of oversized feather-dusters on your back.”
“Feather-dusters?” James’s voice goes higher, almost cracking like an adolescent. “Feather-dusters?” he repeats. He starts to make harsh, wheezing sounds. Robbie’s heart nearly stops before he realises what he’s hearing. James is laughing.
“Daft sod,” Robbie mutters.
James laughs harder. His face reddens, he breathes in ragged gasps, and his shoulders shake. “Feather-dusters!”
Robbie can’t help himself. It’s contagious. He lets out a loud guffaw.
A nurse rushes into the room. She studies James, then scans the monitors. “Sir,” she says to Robbie, “You’re not to disturb the patient like this.” The warm Caribbean lilt of her voice has turned as frosty as the winter air outside. “Mr Hathaway needs his rest. I must ask you to leave.”
Nurse Grace Bailey looks nothing at all like Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent, but the implacable expression on her face is all too familiar. It’s clear that she expects her edict to be obeyed. Immediately.
“Sorry,” Robbie says, half to the nurse, half to James. “I’ll be back to see you at half ten. Get some sleep.”
“You too, sir.” James punctuates his reply with a yawn.
Robbie is standing outside James’s room at 10:00, sipping a large coffee from the hospital’s cafe. Visiting time on this ward doesn’t begin until noon, but his warrant card got him past the reception desk. Luckily for him, the formidable Nurse Bailey seems to be off shift. He doesn’t want to enter, in case James is still sleeping.
At 10:15, a nurse goes into the room, shutting the door behind her. Robbie can hear the familiar sound of James’s voice responding to questions. Not asleep, then. When the nurse exits a few minutes later, Robbie walks in. James is propped up in the bed, trying to read a newspaper. A tray with a half-eaten breakfast is sitting on the bedside table. It looks about as unappealing as such things usually do.
“I’m sorry about last night―”
“Sir, I want to apologise―”
They both come to an abrupt halt. Robbie waves his hand to indicate that James should go first.
“I want to apologise for what I said last night, sir. It was inappropriate and disrespectful.”
“Forget about it. I shouldn’t have gone after you like that, especially not right after you’d come out of surgery.”
“It’s all right, sir. I understand.”
Robbie’s not so sure that James does understand. It’s not that he was mouthy and sarcastic―Robbie has put up with much worse from his bagman―but that he was insulting. Because how else should he feel about someone assuming that he’ll act like a sodding bigot? He suspects he’ll have to explain it properly, but now isn’t the time. “Forget about it,” he repeats.
A soft knock on the door announces Sir Andrew Morrison. He greets the two of them cordially, then asks Robbie to leave the room while he checks his handiwork. When Robbie comes back in, Morrison waves him into a visitor chair. “Mr Hathaway has asked for you to be present while I review his case. If either of you has questions, please don’t hesitate to interrupt me.”
The surgeon quickly describes the injury and the procedure. “I see no reason why you should not regain full use of the arm and wing. Do you fly, Mr Hathaway?” he says as matter-of-factly as if he were asking about vitamins or allergies or sleep habits.
James’s eyes widen, but he replies calmly enough, “Not very often, and not in the past two or three years.”
Morrison nods. “And I gather that you’re in the habit of wearing a binder under your clothing. You will have to avoid that for at least two weeks, until the wound is sufficiently healed that it can withstand sustained pressure.”
“I don’t care if it aches a bit―” James begins.
“It’s not an issue of pain, Mr Hathaway. If you compress that area while it is still healing, you risk permanent nerve damage to the wing and the arm. You may choose not to fly, but I daresay you would prefer to retain use of your right arm.”
“But I can’t be away from work for two weeks―”
“You can and you will,” Robbie says firmly. “I’ve already cleared it with Innocent.”
Morrison continues with his post-operative instructions: changing bandages, keeping the wound site clean, physical therapy exercises. “After the first week, you can do the movements with a hand weight. About half a kilo or thereabouts. If you don’t own any exercise weights, a tin of beans will do quite nicely.”
Robbie adds tinned beans to his mental shopping list of Things James Will Need. They both have a few questions, but really it’s not a complicated situation. Morrison prescribes a painkiller for the next few days, and hands James his business card. “In case you need to contact me.”
“Thank you.” James looks ruefully at his right hand and settles for a bob of his head instead.
“My email address is on the back,” Morrison continues. “It’s confidential. No one accesses that account other than myself. If you have questions, even those not related to the surgery....” He pauses. “After you’re fully recovered, you might consider going on holiday. There’s a small island in the Outer Hebrides... uninhabited most of the year, but there’s a lighthouse keeper’s cottage that’s been refurbished. Very relaxing, very isolated. It’s private property, but the owner has been known to let it at reasonable rates to the right sort of people.” He gives James a meaningful look. “I’m told that there are some exhilarating updrafts off the seaward cliffs.”
Robbie suddenly remembers why Sir Andrew seems familiar. He was in that BBC programme. His daughter was winged, and she’d had some sort of injury that left her unable to fly. It had been her greatest joy in life, the presenter said. A few months later, she’d gone on an birdwatching excursion to the cliffs at St. Abb’s Head. In what was described as a ‘tragic accident’, she’d fallen from the path, tumbling helplessly to the jagged sea-rocks 90 metres below. Poor lass. Had she gone there with that purpose in mind, Robbie wonders, or had the sight of the seabirds swooping and wheeling been too much for her to bear?
James looks gobsmacked, but he manages to thank Morrison for his generous offer. “I’ll erm... bear it in mind.”
The surgeon turns to Robbie. “The island has attractions for us groundlings, too. Fishing, birdwatching, and a sheltered inlet that’s very well-suited for swimming.”
Robbie isn’t sure what the point of that last comment is. What has he got to do with James’s holiday plans? Still it’s clear that Morrison wishes James well, beyond his responsibilities as a doctor. He thrusts out his right hand. “Thank you, Sir Andrew.”
After the surgeon leaves, Robbie turns back to his sergeant. “Right. I’ve got a few things for you.” He’s got some clothing from James’s flat: track bottoms and a sweatshirt with slits cut into the back. “I’m afraid your coat is gone. They had to cut it off you in A&E.”
James looks ruefully at the sling supporting his right arm. “I wouldn’t be able to wear it in any case.”
“It’s nippy out there. You can’t be without something warm, even if it’s just in and out of the car. So I got this at a charity shop.” Robbie spreads open his prize for James’s perusal. It’s a long cape in a dark grey tweed.
James’s eyes widen in surprise. “Thank you, sir.”
“This particular shop carries a lot of odd stuff. Costumes and vintage clothing and whatnot. I told the woman that my friend was coming home from hospital, and couldn’t wear a coat with sleeves.” He does his best to mimic her accent. “Busted ‘is wing, did ‘e, poor dearie?”
James sputters with laughter. “She didn’t say that!”
“She did. I swear. So I told her that your arm was in a sling, and she showed me this.”
James runs his good hand over the cape’s soft lining. “You’ll tell me how much it cost so I can repay you.” It’s not a question.
“Give over, man. It wasn’t all that much. Told you, I got it from a charity shop.”
“And I appreciate your kindness, sir, but you’re my governor, not my― that is, it’s not your responsibility to provide me with clothing.”
“Can’t a man do a favour for a friend?” Robbie grumbles. He almost points out that his salary is bigger, but that’s not going to be received very well. No kindness in further injuring the lad’s pride. “It was five quid.” Ten, actually, but there’s no need for James to know that. “You can buy me a couple of pints when next we’re at the Trout.”
James eyes him suspiciously, but it’s not as though he can demand to see a receipt. He allows Robbie to arrange the cape over his shoulders and fasten the buttons.
An orderly with a wheelchair appears in the doorway. “Your chariot awaits,” Robbie says cheerfully. “I’ll go and get the car.” James nods curtly. As Robbie strides down the hallway, he resists the temptation to look over his shoulder. Now comes the hard part.