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Vigil

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It was just him and Strange to cope with the murderess and Morse between them. Strange cuffed her to the bannister and then ran down the stairs to the car to call for the ambulance and the doctor, while Thursday knelt beside his bagman and watched the madness roll over him.

Men on LSD had burst their hearts being restrained by the police, others had fallen down the well of hypothermia and never made it back up again. Thursday gave him space while shrugging out of his coat and, even in the warm summer afternoon, tried his best to drape it over Morse. At first the constable reacted as though he had been draped with a python, but after a moment he forgot his anxiety at the coat and folded himself into a sobbing, shaking heap in the corner by a table. Thursday hastily removed the heavy vase from atop it lest it be shaken from its place and come smashing down on his head. Morse curled into a ball in a shaft of sunlight and gave wailing, pained sobs, as though awash with pain. Perhaps he was; Thursday had seen enough in six long years of war to understand that mental anguish was no less real than physical.

Strange returned from the landing with a heavy step, face stony. “It wasn’t LSD she gave him,” he reported, and Thursday was momentarily grateful – not for the news but for the fact of it. He wouldn’t have to go out there with his bagman’s wails in his ears and abandon the principles he had so shakily recovered to elicit the information from the girl. Wouldn’t have to be the man Morse didn’t want him to be. “A mix of henbane, mandrake and jimson weed, she said.” Strange’s hands were fisted; he stood well back, eyes on Thursday’s face rather than the wreck of Morse.

“Fetch us a blanket, then get her out of here.” He spoke in a soft, guttural tone, the one he had used in the kitchen when the children were young and asleep overhead. It had been exhaustion then, from hours brushing shoulders with thieves and murderers; it was desperation now. Morse was begging in a thick voice, stammering pleas over and over. Thursday tried to reach out to him and he screamed, batting at the outstretched arm. Strange hurried away, footsteps disappearing.

No one needed to see this. To see the ruin of a man who prided himself in his intellect above all else, see him come apart at the seams like a rotten scarecrow and spill himself unprotected and unrestrained before the world. That was a kind of violation, Thursday felt, one that was knotting his stomach.

“Alright, you’re alright Morse,” he said, mechanically.

But the truth of it was that there was absolutely no sign of it – and nor had there been from Emma Carr’s previous drugging victim. Victims, if it had been LSD that stopped Barry Finch’s heart. Thursday had hoped, when he had brought the raving Nick Wilding out of the fire burning in the folly, that he might never have to clean up after the wreck of another young person lost to drugs. And here he was, his bagman on the ground in front of him like a dog, begging for a respite Thursday couldn’t offer.

In the heart of his despair Thursday found anger, as he so often did. Anger at what had been done to Morse, and the other two lads. Anger at what they had lost – what they could lose. Anger at what he could lose.

He had lost so much already. Too much. Losing Morse to drug-induced madness was unthinkable. But it was a copper’s job to think the unthinkable, and he had too much experience of it. He could lose Morse – might have already. There was no kindness left in the world, perhaps, not for him.

Strange returned with the blanket and then took his leave, unlocking Carr from the bannister and escorting her downstairs. Thursday tried to drape Morse in the blanket but he was muttering about fire now, sweat running down his red face. He pushed off the blanket and staggered up to his feet with the help of the wall, climbing up it like a creeper.

Thursday followed him cautiously as he slowly paced around the far corner of the landing, terrified he would get it into his head to make for the stairs. Most deaths are accidental. Walking into traffic, onto rail lines, stepping off high buildings, DeBryn had said. And tumbling down staircases? Easily possible.

But Morse, rather than continue on his stumbling expedition, collapsed again onto his hands and knees, then onto his side, beneath an oil painting of a woman in Renaissance dress sitting at a river’s edge. With his hands he scratched at the floor, fingernails scraping over hardwood. Thursday lay the blanket over him and this time he accepted it, curling up under it and weeping into its folds.

“There, there, lad,” repeated Thursday helplessly, praying as he did that this wasn’t the end – the end for Morse and, if there was no salvation for the lad, perhaps the end for him too. “There, there.”

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The police surgeon arrived before the ambulance in a car with the siren running, which Thursday considered vastly unnecessary given that there was no other traffic on the estate. It set Morse off again; he sat up abruptly and smacked his head hard against the wall, arms tangled in the blanket. He struggled out of it, snarling and tearing at it, then turned to stare at Thursday with such wild eyes that the inspector was struck momentarily dumb. They were the unfocused, crazed eyes of a mad animal, of something caged and tortured beyond rationality.

“Morse? It’s just me, Morse. Morse?” He reached out carefully; Morse stood and tripped on the blanket, falling heavily and letting out a shocked wail.

Stern, the police surgeon, arrived then with a Gladstone bag in one hand and two constables behind him. Thursday turned on them savagely as Morse cried heart-rending tears behind him, “Get out you two. Wait for the ambulance. Go on, out with you.” They turned and fled, while Stern produced a vial and drew down a clear liquid into his syringe.

“How long since he was drugged?”

“Half an hour, perhaps.”

“The report said LSD?” Stern was looking to him now; his eyes were dark in a pale face. Underneath his sleek head of prematurely white hair they looked like two holes, staring bottomlessly into Thursday.

“We thought so originally. Turns out it’s some mixture of natural highs – henbane, mandrake, jimson weed.”

Stern nodded, advancing. “You’ll need to hold him still. Perhaps the constables…”

“I’ll manage,” replied Thursday, grimly. Then, to Morse: “Alright Morse, it’s just me now. Just you and me.” He reached out gently; for a moment, Morse allowed himself to be touched, allowed Thursday’s hand on his arm. Then he tore himself away, tumbling over once and hitting the wall shoulder-first. For a moment he sat, stunned, and it was long enough for Thursday to grab him and Stern to slip in with the needle.

“What’s that, anyway?” asked Thursday, as Stern darted back again and Morse screamed in pain or rage, or both.

“Valium. Keep him from doing himself a mischief – or us.” He returned to his case and produced a dark bottle, tipping some pills from it into his palm. While Morse was still upright he returned and slipped them into his mouth, holding his jaw closed forcefully until he swallowed.

Activated charcoal, Thursday knew from long nights in the drunk tank and Casualty, doctors mopping up after those who had dosed themselves into stupor or worse with cocktails of unknown drugs. “Isn’t it a bit late for that?” he asked, as Morse slumped bonelessly to the floor, Stern supporting his head.

“Might do some good. Absorb whatever his body hasn’t already.”

“Will he be alright?” asked Thursday, voicing the question that was burning him up from the inside.

Stern looked up, his fingers at Morse’s throat. His face was an impenetrable mask. “Too soon to tell.”

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Thursday was no stranger to vigils. He had sat them over dying soldiers, then over the children’s beds in their illnesses, and then one long night in London while his bagman laboured to breathe – and then had laboured no longer.

This was a different kind of vigil: it felt like the last. If Morse didn’t pull through, if he lost himself… what ruined Morse would ruin Thursday too. He knew it now: he couldn’t stand another loss, not when he was already broken inside. Another blow would shatter him.

Even under the valium Morse had fought and twisted for hours, the madness in him refusing to let him rest. Thursday had sat by him for hours before the needs of the world had finally overcome him – the need for food, for coffee, to report in. So he had gone down to the mortuary in the basement and found DeBryn just preparing to leave.

“It’s Morse,” he had said, and just like that the doctor set down his briefcase. It was probably the look on his face that conveyed his meaning, he decided later; at the time, it seemed simply like his grief rolling ahead of him in a relentless wave.

“How bad is he?”

“Bad enough. Will you sit with him?”

“Of course.”

So he had left DeBryn with Morse like some kind of guardian angel in an argyle vest, and gone to the nick. Done his reporting, consumed a cup of dreadful coffee and a biscuit, and returned.

“He’s been quiet,” said DeBryn, unfolding himself from what Thursday had come to think of his own chair. “I can stay with him, if you’d like?”

Thursday shook his head. “I’ll sit for a while. Perhaps later.”

He couldn’t leave the lad. Not now.

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Morse slept for a night and a day, lying stretched out on the hospital bed in the clothes Thursday had fetched in from his flat. Familiar things would be a comfort, the doctors said. Familiar to Morse meant Bach and Verdi, not flannel and cotton, but he had to settle for the latter.

Thursday, Win and DeBryn took shifts sitting with him, Thursday wrapping up at the end of the day in the chair he had begun it in, while the housekeeper cleaned the floor under him. She had just gone when Morse stirred.

“Morse? Morse?”

Morse opened his eyes, their blue very dark in the shadowed room. He looked up, puzzlement washing over his face; Thursday felt his breath catch in his throat.

“What day is it?”

“Corned beef,” replied Thursday, nearly a question, entirely a test.

For what seemed like an infinity Morse paused, brow furrowed. Then he smiled, and snuggled down into the pillow. “Friday. It’s Friday.”

The tension went out of Thursday like a burst balloon; his heart giving a relieved rush and then slowing to a more dignified pace.

“That’s right.”

This time, one more time, it was alright. He still hadn’t lost quite everything, could still stand to be himself, to carry on for a little longer.

He wondered faintly, as Morse turned over to enquire about Emma Carr’s fate, just how many more vigils he would be able to stand.