George Street on a balmy summer Saturday evening. The crowds were out. And tonight, a somewhat different crowd than normal. A little more eccentric perhaps. A little more gaudy.
Rocky Horror had come to town.
He couldn’t believe how stupid he had been in agreeing to this. It was one thing to do it when you were a student, though God knew those days were long behind him now, no matter what Lewis said about how young he was. It was quite another to do it when you were supposed to be a senior detective.
He shouldn’t have gone along with Julie’s suggestions either. Fishnets were one thing, but the basque? And then there were the false eyelashes. His eyelids were itching furiously and he felt like he had half a ton of sand under his lenses. Did she really have to pile all this makeup on? Once she had started, though, he had felt it would be churlish to complain, especially as everyone else in their party, including the normally shy and retiring Gurdip, had gone through the same transformation.
All in the name of team-building.
At least Lewis wouldn’t see him like this.
In high heels. With shiny red lips.
He caught his reflection out of the corner of his eye as he passed the huge plate glass windows of Debenhams, and even amidst the gaggle of his colleagues, he looked for all the world like-
‘A giraffe in lipstick,’ he grumbled to himself.
‘Pardon, sir?’ Julie asked him. Her face was suffused with child-like delight. She really loved this. He couldn’t bear to disappoint her. He pinned on his ‘I’m having great fun’ grin.
‘Nothing, just thinking aloud.’
‘No thinking tonight, sir,’ she giggled. ‘Put that great big noggin of yours to sleep!’ She tapped him on the temple lightly with the knuckle of her index finger, and giggled some more. Giggling was clearly the order of the day.
Dear God, could this get any worse?
But then of course, true to form, it did.
Lewis came round the corner of New Inn Hall Street, carrier bag in hand, obviously at the tail end of a shopping expedition.
Please God, don’t let him recognise us, James prayed fervently. As usual, God must have been looking the other way.
Lewis was scanning the crowd, looking about him in order to cross the road. His eyes lit on James, and the world seemed to slow.
Please God, let me die now. Right now. Please?
James was not the only one to have seen the inspector. Julie was bouncing about and waving her arms. ‘Sir! Sir! Over here, sir!’
Lewis had known about the expedition, of course. He and Innocent had fully approved of Julie’s scheme for building relationships within the Serious Crime squad. He had graciously turned down a ticket, however, on the grounds that he would put a damper on the occasion for the younger members of the team. There was clearly no putting a damper on Julie, who bounced up to him now, with her arms wide open.
‘Ta-Daaaaaah! Well, what do you think, sir?’
Lewis grinned. ‘Great! You all look amazing!’
‘You could still come in with us,’ Julie enthused. ‘My mate Mattie was supposed to be coming but she had to cry off at the last minute. Her little boy’s gone down with chicken pox. So we’ve got a spare.’
She waved the little oblong of card in front of his eyes, hopefully.
‘It’d be great fun,’ she added in a persuasive tone.
His eyes fell on James.
No really, God, this time, I mean it. Please. Please make the pavement open up and swallow me? I’m not kidding.
And then something happened.
Lewis’ eyes raked James from head to toe, from the artfully tousled top of his yellow hair, along the length of his skimpily black satin clad torso, down his ridiculously long legs to the soles of his five inch high glossy red platform heels. And back again.
James dropped his head, miserable to the tips of his blue-painted fingernails.
‘Yes,’ he heard Lewis say. ‘Why not? If I’m not intruding?’
‘No, of course not, sir,’ Julie laughed, full of glee. ‘It’d be lovely to have you. Wouldn’t it, Sarge?’
She elbowed James in the ribs, and he jumped, and agreed as best he could, his cheeks burning.
And then he saw Lewis’ face. His expression. The look in his eyes.
‘I know, sir,’ he managed to say. ‘I look ridiculous.’
‘That wasn’t the first word that came to mind, lad,’ Lewis said.
The world began to spin a little.
The tone in Lewis’ voice. Was that appreciation? And something else too. There was not a word for it that James’ mind could come up with. There was just the sensation. Heat.
Inside the auditorium it became clear that Julie had intended to use the opportunity of the outing to match her now-absent friend Mattie up with her love-lorn sergeant. The seat set aside for her, the seat in which Lewis now positioned his beautifully curved rump, was right next to James. He could have cried.
The show started. It was the usual thing. James did his best to sing along and enjoy himself. He made a game effort to keep up with the Time Warp, but it turned out he was no match for his Inspector. Lewis proved a spirited dancer, bumping hips with Julie while doing the pelvic thrust, and laughing himself hoarse.
‘He’s doing the pelvic thrust’ was a phrase that kept going through James’ brain like a ticker tape for the rest of the evening.
It was agony.
After the show, the group decided to repair to the King’s Arms at the top of the Broad, an agonising totter away in five inch platforms.
‘How do women do this,’ James complained. ‘They’re impossible to walk in!’
Julie laughed. ‘That’s because you don’t walk in them. Its more a sort of controlled fall forward, and you keep your legs moving to stop yourself hitting the ground.’
James did his best to imitate her jelly-hips swagger, and nearly turned his ankle over. Lewis caught him as he stumbled, a large warm hand on his elbow, a delicious electric shock that seared up his arm and into his chest.
Oh God, seriously, now. Just. Stop. It.
God, as usual, seemed to have other things on His mind.
‘I’m going to need to have my feet amputated when we get there,’ James told Lewis. ‘These things are the invention of the Devil. Or possibly the Spanish Inquisition. Seriously, I wouldn’t put it past Torquemada to have come up with them.’
The rest of the team went into a predictable chant of ‘NOOOObody expects the Spanish Inquisition!’, and fell about all over the pavement laughing.
‘And this is before you’ve had a drink!’ Lewis chuckled at them.
Julie appeared at James’ side, winding her arm through his.
‘Now come on, Sarge, man up! We women have been putting up with heels for centuries,’ she pointed out.
‘Then you have my undying sympathies,’ he told her, just as they reached the door of the pub. ‘Oh, thank God.’
Finally, God seemed to be listening.
Luckily, other members of the audience seemed to have chosen the pub as their retreat, otherwise the whole team would have felt extremely underdressed. James and Lewis stood at the bar, waiting to buy a round for everyone. Someone passed behind James brushing against his back. The satin suddenly felt agonisingly thin.
Lewis leaned into his shoulder. ‘You okay?’
His concern showed in his furrowed brow. Protective. It felt nice.
‘Fine,’ James shrugged, feeling a soft glow inside.
Julie bounced up. ‘Your lippy needs a retouch, Sarge,’ she said, waving a stick of glossy red.
Dutifully, he craned his head down and pushed out his lips to be anointed.
‘There! You don’t want to smudge it,’ she said. ‘Unless you want to smudge it, if you know what I mean!’ She winked at him, and bounced away.
I want to die. Please God. If you have any mercy left at all. And I know I don’t deserve it, but just this once. Please.
God continued to be busy elsewhere.
When he turned back to the bar, Lewis was laughing softly.
‘What,’ James demanded.
‘Nothing, nothing. Just, you never stop learning in this life, that’s all.’
‘What do you mean?’ Now it was James’ turn to frown.
Lewis grinned. ‘Just never thought I’d see a giraffe having his lipstick retouched, that’s all!’
James rolled his eyes. ‘I never thought I’d see you dancing the Time Warp. Wonders will never cease. Where did you learn to move like that?’
Lewis took a long, inscrutable draw on his pint before he answered.
‘Northern Soul, lad.’
The image of a young Lewis in brown baggies and a tight t-shirt, dancing like a dervish to obscure Soul classics made James think his brain might explode. As it was he had to lean hard against the bar and recite an obscure paragraph or two of traffic legislation that he’d had to learn by heart for his sergeants exam in order to calm himself. After all, there’s nowhere to hide an erection inside black satin French knickers.
‘Want to share a taxi home,’ Lewis asked, as they left the pub.
‘Actually I was planning on walking up Summertown High Street dressed like this,’ James deadpanned.
‘I’m sure you’d fit right in,’ Lewis smirked, and then stood with his hands in his pockets while James levered his ridiculous shoes off his feet.
‘Where’d you find some your size anyway,’ Lewis said. ‘You must be a fifteen at least!’
‘The glory and convenience of the internet,’ James told him, allowing his feet to flatten onto the pavement for the first time that evening. His ankles ached, but they were nothing to the blisters on his toes. ‘Each pair comes with a free pair of oars at this size, too. It’s amazing what bargains you can pick up.’
‘Come on, Gloria,’ Lewis laughed, shepherding him gently with a hand in the small of his back. His palm slithered a little on the satin, and James broke out in a sweat.
Waiting at the taxi rank, James sighed.
‘It’s probably going to take me about two hours to get all this concrete off my eyes too. No idea how I’ll do it without going blind.’
‘Vaseline,’ said Lewis.
‘Vaseline. Takes it right off, no trouble.’
James examined his face hard for signs of mischief. ‘Is this something your daughter told you?’
Lewis was looking with studied attention up the road, watching the traffic lights change.
‘I was young once too, you know,’ he said. And then glanced up with a wicked twinkle just in time to catch James’ look of shock. ‘Let’s just say David Bowie has a lot to answer for.’
Lewis in eye makeup. Lewis all tarted up like Ziggy Stardust. As if Lewis in skin-tight brown baggies wasn’t bad enough.
I’m actually going to have a stroke, James thought. Right now, God. I’m going to have a stroke, and it’ll be Your fault.
And then Lewis turned and smiled at him, smiled that beautiful, sparkling, sexy smile that lit up his eyes and lifted his face, that smile that he must have known sent James’ heart winging into the clouds.
He didn’t know what made him do it. Perhaps it was the two pints of beer he’d drunk at the bar of the King’s Head. Perhaps it was the shameless influence of Dr Frank N Furter. Perhaps it was the satin caressing his skin. Or perhaps it was just the look in Lewis’ lovely eyes as he looked up at him. Whatever it was, he threw caution to the wind - along with his red platforms, which he tossed carelessly over his shoulder, hoping he’d never see them again.
‘Fancy smudging a giraffe’s lipstick, sir?’
Lewis reached out for him. ‘Thought you’d never ask.’