“Consuming alcohol lowers the body’s natural reserves of vital elements, such as iron, potassium, water and bacon. Every unit of alcohol kills the equivalent of two inches of bacon, which must be replaced the next morning.”
The Ladybird Book of the Hangover
‘I bet this one’s even got a name,’ Lewis said as they rounded the next corner, more dead twigs rattling on the roof of the car. The wind hit them from the side, sweeping through the copse on the right. The wheels skidded. James’ knuckles were white on the steering wheel.
There was cold sweat blooming down Lewis’ back. He hung onto the handle on the door, wishing that it was he who was driving, so that he wouldn’t feel quite so helpless.
‘Derek, I think,’ James said between gritted teeth.
‘Derek? What sort of name is that for a storm,’ Lewis grumbled.
Another flurry of leaves tumbled across the road ahead, another sweep of driving rain. The tyres were inches deep in water. The headlights caught strange shapes made by the wind-tortured brambles in the hedges.
‘They ought to name them something sensible,’ James said. ‘Like Ormerod. Or Nebuchadnezzar.’
‘I reckon this one’s called Habbukuk,’ Lewis said. He could hear the strain in his own voice. Why the bloody hell had they risked coming all the way out here anyway? He’d seen the forecast before they left - James had showed it to him on his phone. That bloody phone. Prophet of doom. They’d reckoned from the rain radar that they would manage to keep ahead of the storm on the way back. Unfortunately they had not bargained for the uncooperative witness they were meant to interview. Or the high winds blowing the weather in quicker than expected from the south west. Now they were in the middle of bloody nowhere in one of the worst storms for decades, and with no useful evidence to show for it.
‘Why’d they start naming them anyway,’ Lewis asked, hoping for distraction, just another gust hit them side on, and James’ had to struggle to keep them from tipping over into the ditch. He swore under his breath, and gripped the wheel with renewed focus. Lewis scrunched his eyes shut. It was a long time since he’d been this scared.
Having his eyes shut meant that he didn’t see the tree come down in the road ahead, the thick trunk making a swallow dive gracefully into the pearly pool of the headlamps. He heard James shout though. And he felt the pressure of the brakes, the sudden stop, and the squeeze of his seat belt across his chest as the car squealed to a halt inches from a bough that might so easily have punctured the windscreen and taken both their heads off.
That was when he opened his eyes. And then wished he hadn’t.
They sat there, staring at the toppled tree, the engine ticking over, the wind roaring, though not loud enough to drown out their fear-laboured breathing.
James swallowed. ‘I think,’ he tried but his throat seemed to seize for a moment, and he had to swallow again to find his voice. ‘There was a pub at the edge of the last village that still had lights on.’
‘Yes,’ Lewis croaked. ‘Good idea.’
They sat for a minute more, and then James grappled with the gears, his hand shaking, and twisted his body, grabbing the back of Lewis’ seat with his left hand so that he could see over his shoulder more reliably. Lewis had to admit he liked it when James did that, although he knew he did it too, out of habit, when he was reversing. It felt intimate. It felt like something they weren’t, but that, sometimes, Lewis wished they were.
The engine whined as the BMW reversed steadily back up the narrow road, splashing through the flooded patches. James was gritting his teeth even more now, trying to see his way by the weak glow of the red rear lights. Another gust hit them, buffeting them hard enough that James had to stop sharply rather than lose control. It was at least another mile before they’d reach the pub, Lewis reckoned.
‘Isn’t there anywhere we could turn?’
‘I don’t think so,’ James said, pulling away again. Maybe he’s got his nerve back, Lewis thought. But I bloody haven’t.
Eventually, his heart in his mouth, Lewis glimpsed lights through the dripping trees.
‘Looks like they’re just shutting up,’ James said, peering into the windows as he drew up. There were a couple of other cars in the car park. ‘Maybe they won’t have any space.’
‘I’ll sleep on a bloody sofa rather than be out in this lot,’ Lewis growled as he turned up his collar and leapt out into the gale. He thumped on the front door as James joined him under the porch. A few moments passed and then there was a clatter of keys in the lock and the door opened a crack.
‘Oh lord,’ the woman inside said. ‘You must be drenched, come in, come in!’
Lewis was not sure how they had got soaked to the skin just running the few feet from the car to the door. They stood dripping on the mat and showed the woman their warrant cards.
‘Don’t suppose you could put us up for the night? The road’s blocked by a fallen tree, and I don’t reckon its safe to be out there much longer,’ Lewis told her.
‘Yes, of course. We’ve already had a few other waifs and strays,’ she said, bustling behind the half lit bar. ‘I was just closing up – the thing is, I’ve only got one room, and it’s a double.’
‘I’ll sleep in the bar,’ James shrugged. ‘I don’t mind.’
‘Well, I bloody do,’ Lewis told him. ‘You’ll be no use to anyone in the morning. You’ll just have to put up with me snoring.’
‘Yes, sir,’ James said in that deliberately meek way that told Lewis he was taking the piss.
They followed the landlady, who introduced herself as Mrs Snape, up the stairs. At the top, the light flickered and died. Sudden blackness enveloped them. Outside the wind gave an ominous roar.
‘Bulb?’ James asked.
There was a frenzied clicking. ‘I think it’s the electric,’ their hostess said, her voice sounding slightly strangled. ‘I thought it might go out. Hang on.’
‘Are you sure you’re ok,’ Lewis asked her.
‘Find my way about this place blindfold,’ she said, and he felt a pat on his chest – perhaps she was going for his shoulder and missed. ‘Used to having no streetlights out here, you see. Not like in town. Stay put, I won’t be a mo. I know I’ve got some candles and a torch in the cupboard down there.’
They stood on the landing and waited. Lewis could feel the slight heat of James’ body close to his, and the damp smell of his wool coat. The building creaked around them, bracing itself against the storm. Somewhere, a gate was banging.
Then there was a weird light from the bottom of the stairs, and Mrs Snape appeared, her features softened by the kindly glow of candles. In each hand she held an old-fashioned candle stick, the kind with a saucer bottom and a handle. They reminded Lewis of old Dickens movies.
‘Here we are,’ she said, mounting the stairs. ‘One each.’
‘Won’t you need one?’ James asked her, taking his.
She patted her pocket with her now free hand. ‘Trusty torch,’ she grinned. ‘Come on, I’ll show you your room.’
James bounced on the bed.
‘God, could it get any more clichéd? Handsome, virile inspector forced to spent the night in the same bed as his innocent bagman by once-in-a-decade storm.’
‘Oh, give over,’ Lewis grumbled. He took the toothbrush out of the packet and examined it. It was cheap, but he was just grateful that Mrs Snape had a couple of spares tucked away that she could donate.
‘Just promise you’ll be gentle with me,’ James mugged, plaintively.
‘With you? It’s me that’s most likely getting ravished here,’ Lewis told him, dropping the toothbrush on the bed and picking up the little sample tube of toothpaste to glance at the label. It was the tooth whitening kind. James didn’t need that, of course, but Lewis was glad of it.
‘How do you reckon that?’ James puzzled.
‘Well, look at you – all tall and blonde. 100% Viking stock right there.’
James rolled his eyes. ‘That’s raping and pillaging, sir.’
‘Same difference on a dark and stormy night, lad,’ Lewis told him, emptying the change out of his pockets onto the bedside table with a rattle. ‘Now go and use the bathroom before I change my mind and make you sleep in the carpet!’
James picked up the remaining un-broached toothbrush and the paste, and sloped off into the ensuite bathroom, leaving Lewis to contemplate the situation.
He sat on the edge of the bed and heaved off his sodden shoes and socks. God, he was getting creaky these days. His raping and pillaging days – or ravishing, or even running slightly amok at polite tea parties - were definitely over. The weather didn’t help, mind. He began unbuttoning his shirt, hung it up on a hanger in the wardrobe so that it wouldn’t crease too much more, and started on his trousers. He found himself suddenly grateful that he had failed to keep up with the laundry this week. He had run out of y-fronts that morning, and been forced to wear the modern jersey boxers that Lyn had bought him for Christmas. They were alright, but not particularly comfortable, which was why he rarely wore them, leaving them at the bottom of the drawer. Tonight he was glad he had them on, though. The thought of what his sartorially gifted sergeant might say if he came out of the bathroom and found his guvnor sporting a pair of greying ‘old man pants’, as Lyn so kindly put it, made any discomfort more than worth it. He stripped to his underwear, tried to avoid catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror, and sat down to listen to the howling wind outside. The candle by the bed flickered ominously. God help any poor bugger caught out in this weather, he thought.
James presently emerged from the bathroom with red-rimmed eyes. He was carrying a glass in either hand, obviously the glasses put out for teeth cleaning. Each had about an inch of water in it.
‘You alright, lad?’ Lewis frowned as James tottered a little uncertainly to the dressing table and put the glasses down with care.
‘Contact lenses,’ he said, by way of explanation. ‘Don’t want to mix them up in case I get them in the wrong way round tomorrow. And don’t drink them, or I’ll be really stuck.’
‘Wouldn’t dream of it,’ Lewis said, feeling a little green about the gills at the thought. Eyeballs in general, and contact lenses in particular, always made him feel a bit queasy.
‘I thought you wore those daily ones,’ he said.
‘I do, but I don’t have a fresh pair for tomorrow, and since I can’t sleep in them, this is the best I could think of.’
James started blithely stripping off with the unconscious physical confidence of the young. He folded his clothes, arranging them on the chair in the corner. Lewis watched him blink owlishly, and realised he was probably really struggling to see what he was doing without his lenses.
‘You done in the bathroom?’ he asked, not wanting to subject his friend to further scrutiny, and risk embarrassing him.
James looked up. ‘Oh, sorry, I’ve used both the glasses. There won’t be anything to soak your dentures in.’
Just a whisper of mischief in his unfocussed eyes. Cheeky bugger.
‘Oh, yes, very funny,’ Lewis said, snatching up the toothbrush. ‘Me teeth may be wonky and yellow, but they’re bloody well still all me own!’ And he stomped off to the bathroom in mock chagrin.
When he emerged, James was huddled under the duvet on the right hand side of the bed, the candle blinking dangerously in the draft. Lewis put the candle he’d brought back from the bathroom on the left hand bedside table.
‘How’d you know which side I sleep?’
James shrugged. ‘I noticed which side you keep your alarm clock when I passed your bedroom door once.’
‘Clever clogs,’ Lewis said getting into bed. ‘I might even make a decent detective of you, one day.’
‘Half a decent detective,’ James reminded him, and blew out his own candle.
Lewis settled himself under the duvet, aware of the warmth that another body in the bed provided. He brushed off the pang of memory. No sense in being maudlin about it.
‘You alright, sir?’ James asked. Clever lad. He always knew.
‘Yeah, fine,’ Lewis replied. He opened his mouth to go on, and then found that he couldn’t. No point in telling the lad that this was the first time he had shared a bed since Val died. Some things were more intimate than sex, after all.
He settled his shoulders back against the pillows and then realised he hadn’t blown out his own candle.
‘Bugger,’ he grumbled, and propped himself up again on his elbow. ‘Ready?’
‘Yes,’ James said, his eyes glittering softly in the candlelight.
Lewis blew out the light.
There was a pungent scent of wax and smoke, and the night swallowed them whole.
‘Night, sir,’ James’ voice said quietly in the inky blackness, sounding all smoke and velvet. ‘Sweet dreams.’
‘Yeah, you too, pet,’ Lewis replied, and then realised what had slipped out, and lay on his back with his cheeks burning until sleep finally took him.
The charms of Morpheus wore off about 3am, as they usually did. When he woke, he was immediately aware of three things.
The first was the wind battering against the side wall of the building, lashing the window panes with icy rain.
The second was the habitual complaining of his bladder which had woken him. One of the hazards of getting older, his doctor had commiserated. And considering the occasionally profoundly dangerous nature of his job, Lewis was grateful to be in the position to suffer the complaints of accumulating age.
The third thing was the fact that his arm was completely dead. This appeared to be because the circulation was being interrupted by the firm application of a smooth, warm forehead to his shoulder. Squinting into the half-luminous, stormy darkness of the room, Lewis could just make out that James was lying facing him, curled up like a baby, with his brow pressed to Lewis’s upper arm.
It seemed strangely appropriate.
The lad was obviously dreaming, his breathing somewhat irregular, and every now and then he’d emit something like a whimper.
He lives so much in his head, Lewis thought. It’s like he’s trying to force his mind into my body.
James breathed his name, softly.
Lewis carefully eased himself out of bed and felt his way to the loo. There, the feeling started to come back, and he spent a painful few minutes hopping about and wringing his arm to get the blood going again, all the while swearing inside his head.
When he got back to bed, James had obviously shifted back out of REM sleep. He was sprawled on his front, snoring like a hog.
Val’d love this, Lewis thought ruefully as he pulled the thick duvet over his ears. Payback for all those nights I kept her awake.
He woke to daylight, and blue-green eyes.
James was lying beside him, head propped on his hand, watching him. There was a gentle smile on his face, and a tender expression in his eyes.
Lewis couldn’t bring himself to move or say anything. All he wanted to do was lie there and gaze back. So he did.
Around them, the building creaked and eased itself into the new day. The wind had abated a little, and there was a susurration of rain on the roof overhead. None of it mattered. All that mattered was the warmth here, under the duvet, the warmth between them.
‘Hello,’ James said, eventually.
They went on looking at each other. Lewis couldn’t help it. How could he drag his eyes away? The lad had a delicate pink flush in his cheeks, and the pearly light caught fine threads of gold in his fringe. There was his expression, too. So devoted. Lewis knew he didn’t deserve it, but he couldn’t bring himself to spoil it, to break the spell. He wanted to keep the dream of being loved like that alive just a little while longer.
Then James stuck his lower lip out. ‘You didn’t ravish me,’ he pouted.
‘Well, you didn’t ravish me, either,’ Lewis pointed out.
‘True,’ James grinned. And then snuggled down against Lewis, resting his head on his chest, nudging in under his chin. ‘Some things are more intimate than sex.’
Lewis couldn’t help but gather the lad into his arms.
They lay there, quiet together, Lewis aware of that long, strong body pressing against his side, the large, sensuous hand resting in the middle of his chest, over his heart.
‘I want to stay here forever,’ James said after a while, his voice muffled by Lewis’ neck. ‘I want to snuggle up with you under the duvet and never go out again. Do you think they’d let us?’
‘It sounds lovely,’ Lewis smiled. ‘But a man’s got to keep up his natural bacon levels, after all.’
‘They might bring us bacon sandwiches in bed,’ James suggested.
‘Aye, they might.’ Lewis found himself chuckling. He pulled the edge of the duvet right over their heads. ‘There, how’s that?’
James grinned up at him. ‘Perfect.’
After a while, Lewis said,’ when I was a kid, we had these horrible nylon sheets. Scratchy, sweaty things they were. But you could rub your knees against them and get up quite a head of static. We used to call it playing Thunder and Lightning. We’d lie there in the dark, making little storms. It was almost worth sleeping in those sheets for all the fun we had doing that.’
James giggled. ‘I don’t think you can do that with cotton ones.’
‘No. You can’t, we tried. Mam saved for ages to buy cotton ones, and we did nothing but complain because we couldn’t make the sparks!’ He shook his head. ‘Kids, eh?’
‘Show me,’ James said, raising his head.
Lewis lay on his back and drew his knees up to his chest, or as close as he could manage these days. Then he rubbed them up and down briskly, jiggling his knees until they both dissolved into fits of laughter.
‘What a charmed childhood you had,’ James laughed.
‘Well, we had to make our own entertainment in those days. No game boys and that.’
‘Game boys went out with the ark, Robbie.’
‘Whatever.’ He pulled James back into his arms again. The lad nuzzled against his cheek.
‘You know there are other sorts of thunder and lightning we could make under the sheets.’ He lifted his head and looked into Lewis’ eyes, and there was no mistaking his meaning.
If he was honest, it wasn’t the way he’d thought it would be. He always thought it would be rough with another man. Rough and tumble. A bit of a wrestle. Too much rugby in his youth had probably influenced him, he supposed. That, and the odd gay porno he’d seen when he’d been on the Vice squad in Newcastle. They tended to be pretty straightforward, if you could put it that way. Masculine. Blokey. In other words, there was no tenderness. No gentleness. Not soft touches, no real stroking, no sense of any emotion at all. Blokes could do that, though, couldn’t they? Have sex without love. Or at least, so people reckoned.
Lewis was not like that.
It turned out that neither was James.
Lewis was glad. Glad that when James kissed him, it was gentle and quiet and tender, and so, so intimate.
There was no hurry either, no storm of kisses, no urgent surge towards climax, no grabbing, no focus on getting there whatever the cost.
This was slow. Languid, even. There was time. There was time, because this first kiss, and this second, and third, were just the first of hundreds, thousands perhaps. They could afford to take their time because even though this was their first kiss, and second, and third, they had been building towards this moment since the day they first set eyes on each other in that shabby airport arrivals lounge so many years ago. It had already taken them so long, and now they had arrived, there was no hurry to do anything except get it right and enjoy every second.
They were just getting into their stride, with Lewis’ hand on James’ ribs, and James’s hands sliding down deliciously towards Lewis’ buttocks, when there was a sharp rap on the bedroom door, and they bounced apart in shock.
‘Morning, gentlemen!’ came a call from the other side. It was their hostess. ‘I’ve bought you some tea!’
Lewis swore under his breath and scrambled out of bed because one of the last things he’d done before they went to sleep the previous night was to drop the latch on the door, out of a policeman’s subconscious obsession with security. Mrs Snape would have to be let in. Unfortunately, he was sporting a substantial erection that was tenting his nice, new jersey shorts. He glimpsed the wicked grin on James’ face, and grabbed the throw off the end of the bed, threw it round himself and bunched it at the front to cover his embarrassment.
‘Am I decent?’
‘Oh, very Old Testament Prophet, sir,’ James smirked.
Lewis rolled his eyes and flipped the latch.
Mrs Snape pottered in with a tray of tea things.
‘The power’s back on,’ she smiled, setting it down. ‘The heating’s coming through, and there should be enough water to wash, but I’d use the shower because that heats the water on demand, and I don’t think there’ll be enough in the tank yet for a bath, okay?’
They nodded obediently.
‘Breakfast will be in the bar. I’ll start cooking when you come down.’
‘Will there be bacon,’ James asked, mischief written all over his face.
Lewis couldn’t look at him.
‘Bacon, sausages, the works. All local. Right, I’ll leave you gents to it.’ And she bustled out.
Lewis poured them each a cup of tea and bought them back to bed. They sat back against the headboard, side by side, and sipped. It was still pretty hot, despite having been transported up the stairs. Just what Lewis needed.
After a while, James said, in a wistful tone, ‘Shame. We were just getting to the ravishing part.’
‘Yeah,’ Lewis found himself agreeing. ‘Never mind, at least there’ll be bacon.’
‘We’ll have to go back, won’t we,’ James said, staring at the wall at the foot of the bed sadly. ‘To the real world. Pity. I was starting to really enjoy myself.’
‘Well, tell you what,’ Lewis suggested, after thinking a moment. ‘We pick our way back to the office this morning, because Innocent’ll be hopping mad for bodies in the middle of this mess, and we’ll do our bit. And we’re on the bottom of the rota this weekend, so we’ll get a break and finish at six. So why don’t you stop off at yours and pick up enough bits for the weekend, and come over to mine?’
‘Yeah. You know. Clothes and that.’
‘Mmmm. I was sort of hoping I wouldn’t need clothes.’ James glanced at him out of the corner of his eye.
‘Bacon not enough for you, eh?’ Lewis grinned, impressed at his own forbearance when it came to sausage jokes.
James flashed him a positively lavicious smile. ‘Nothing will ever be enough,’ he said. ‘Except you.’