The piazza is filled with golden light. A bit of a cliché, but Lewis has discovered over the years that if something is a cliché, it is usually because its true. Florence is full of warm, golden light. It is as if the brick and stone of the Renaissance monuments exudes it, just as much as the intense Italian sun.
Lynn announced a passionate desire for shopping at breakfast, and Lewis isn’t a father likely to deny his pregnant daughter anything in the world. Luckily, she was happy to go off on her own, not wanting her old dad tagging along to hiss and tut and get bored by her insatiable curiosity for Italian fashions. Which left her old dad at a loose end. Which was a good thing, it seemed. Because he had a lot to think about.
It is now lunchtime, and he is still thinking.
Although the coffee in the little piazza café helps, he still hasn’t come to any conclusions.
First, he went to the church that James had raved about. Actually, not raved - Lewis doubts whether James has ever actually raved about anything in his life. He just isn’t the type. Maybe enthused, then.
Lewis visited it with Lynn earlier in the week, as instructed. And it has to be said that it lived up to every expectation. Of all the churches he has seen in the world, and if Lewis were willing to believe in God (they still aren’t on speaking terms), then he would be ready to believe that this might be a house where He might live. James’ God, of course. Maybe that is why Lewis went back. In search of some insight into the enigmatic mind of the man who is dogging his thoughts at every turn.
But the high arches and dazzling light didn’t help, though he sat there contemplating, in a pew half way down the nave for over an hour. He sat there so long, in fact, that a priest came up to him to see if he was alright. Well, he supposed that was what the man had asked. He’d asked in Italian, of course, and languages weren’t one of Lewis’ strengths. But from the gesticulations and the expression of concern, it was pretty obvious what he meant. Lewis smiled and laughed and shook his head in a pantomime of insistence that he was perfectly fine, thank you, no need to worry. And then gone back to his pensive thoughts.
For another hour, he wandered around the streets, not really noticing the beauty or the crowds around him. Eventually he realised he was lost, so he flagged down a taxi and asked to be taken back to the piazza behind the hotel where they were staying. And now here he sat, at a table at the café in the corner of the square, listening to the ubiquitous fountain playing lightly on the green-slimed stones, watching the passers-by and sipping at his coffee. He texted Lynn as soon as he had ordered. She will turn up for lunch eventually. All he needs to do now, all he has to do, is sit and watch the world go by.
But he can’t help thinking.
Maybe thinking is what Florence is for, he muses, the taste of the espresso lingering on his tongue. All these geniuses it has attracted. Maybe its something in the bricks and mortar that makes people think great thoughts. Only I’m not thinking great thoughts. I’m thinking the same thoughts over and over again. And not getting anywhere.
It all comes down to James. The last few weeks were tough, with the miserably bitter murders at St Gerards, and all the stressing about whether to retire or not. If he is honest, though, it has been building for a while, though he can’t quite put his finger on when it started. St Gerards just focussed it somehow.
It had been so easy to think about it only in terms of retirement. I’m not getting any younger, he told himself. And then said the same to James. The coming baby spoke to him of things he had never allowed himself to admit before. All the time his own dad had missed with his grandchildren. Lewis didn’t want to be the same. And he didn’t want to die in harness, like Morse had.
Florence brought Morse back into his mind again with sharp focus. Not that he wasn’t always there in some manner, a quiet haze of influence in the background, always barking inside Lewis’ skull about his punctuation or his lame theories about criminal motivation:
‘Lew-issss,’ he would groan when Lewis found himself thinking something particularly pedestrian. Morse never liked pedestrian crimes. He liked the knotty, complex ones, the ones with weird, unnatural motivations. Criminal crosswords.
The last time he’d been to Italy was with Morse. HIs old chief inspector had fallen for that dodgy soprano. A fool for love, Morse was, ever the romantic, which was why Italy suited him so well. He’d never seen the man look happier or more at home than in the burnished streets of Verona. But Verona was a long time ago, and though he half expects to bump into Morse around every corner in Florence, the memories feel as if they happened to someone else. Too much has happened since. Too much has changed. Yet now, here Lewis is, just as much of a romantic old fool as Morse, and with no more idea what to do about it.
He sips at this coffee and runs it through his head again. Professor Pinnock offering James the chance of a lifetime, a research post in the perfect field. Lewis himself contemplating retirement, and with the baby on the way, a move to Manchester. The constant nagging doubt in the pit of his gut about it all. The conversation he and James had shared in the cloisters at St Gerards, the delight in James’ eyes at news of the baby turning to supressed pain at the thought of Lewis’ plans. (Lewis knows he didn’t imagine that look.) Then that conversation by the river at the Trout.
‘If you go, I go.’
And now James has turned down the job he was made for in order to stay with Lewis, on the shaky basis that Lewis doesn’t really want to retire. The lad has made a major life decision based on wanting to spend eight hours a day (and frequently more) with a man twice his age.
Lewis can feel the ache the thought of that gives him under his ribs.
And the truth is that Lewis doesn’t want James moving on either, no matter how much he wants the best for him. My James, he thinks wretchedly, yet again. Its not right or fair to feel so possessive of a young man who doesn’t really owe him anything. Except that James would say he owes Lewis everything.
‘After all, who else would put up with me?’
Lewis fingers find the handle of the espresso cup. It is tiny between his thumb and forefinger, next to the bulk of his big, age-spotted hand. Val used to say he had the hands of a miner. Not pretty hands like James’, all long and delicate and dextrous.
When he is with Lynn, he misses Val. She is so like her mother. Now she is pregnant, ever more so, with a rose in her cheeks that her mother had all those years ago. Val was never so beautiful as when she was pregnant.
The loss has dimmed in recent months, in a way he never thought it would. Now when he feels empty, he knows James is what fills him up. And that’s what the real problem is. Here he is in Italy, in this beautiful place with his beautiful daughter, and all he can think of is how much he misses his sergeant. Which ought to tell him everything he needs to know. It is impossible and ridiculous, and utterly, utterly perfect in every way. And all he wants to see right now is James’ rangy body across the table from him, slumping in his chair, skinny legs flopping out sideways, golden head down, squinting at his mobile phone.
My James, he thinks again, and realises that a soft smile has sneaked onto his lips without his permission.
The smile isn’t the only thing that’s been sneaking about without his noticing. Here is Lynn, weighed down with several shopping bags from what look to be expensive shops, and a knowing grin on her face. She’s been standing in front of him for several moments, it seems, and seen everything.
‘Dad,’ she wheedles, sitting down with a knowing grin. ‘Anything you want to tell me about?’
‘You’ve been spending,’ he tries to admonish, pointing at the bags.
‘Don’t try and change the subject.’ And God, she’s like her mother sometimes. She can spot a soppy thought a mile off. Lewis realises his cheeks are glowing.
‘Come on, is there something you need to tell me,’ she asks again when the waiter has taken her order.
‘Oh, I don’t know, lass,’ he sighs, leaning forward on his elbows to toy with the teaspoon in his saucer.
She reaches across the table and strokes the back of his hand. ‘Why don’t you just tell him?’
His head snaps up, but all the teasing is gone from her kind features, and there is only a gentle compassion.
‘Am I bloody transparent or something?’ he blusters.
She squeezes his fingers and sits back. ‘You’ve been texting him every day, Dad. That’s not something an inspector normally does with his sergeant when he’s on holiday.’
‘He’s been here before,’ he protests. ‘He knows all sorts of stuff about history and architecture!’
Lynn’s coffee arrives, and when the waiter has gone, she sips at it slowly.
‘You could get all that out of a guidebook. Or Google,’ she says. And damn it, she’s right.
He slurps up the last dregs of his own coffee. ‘I miss him,’ he concedes.
‘Then tell him so.’
He studies her, her soft, smooth skin, that same mixed shade of delicate rose pink and freckled gold that her mother had, her auburn hair shining copper in the sun, the sweet little rosebud of her mouth. She could be Val sitting there, telling him to move on with his life. And maybe that’s the point.
‘You don’t mind, then?’
‘I just want you to be happy, Dad. I worry about you being alone, you know. It doesn’t suit you. You aren’t a solitary creature.’
She knocks back her coffee and gets up. ‘You stay here. I’m going to pop these up to my room,’ she tells him, picking up the bags. ‘And then we’ll have some lunch, and decide what we’re going to do this afternoon, shall we?’
He wonders if she is deliberately leaving him on his own so that he can make a phone call to Oxford. The phone call he has been longing to make all morning. The phone call he is absolutely determined not to make, so as to avoid embarrassing himself because he’s useless at these sorts of things, and it’d be just his luck if he’s got it all wrong, and James has just been being a nice person and humouring him.
Once she’s gone, he starts having doubts about his resolution. And within five minutes, he is completely fed up with the whole ‘not knowing’ thing, and determined that he isn’t going to waste another minute of his holiday ruminating on whether his sergeant is in love with him.
To whit: one text message. After all, there’s no point in waiting.
RL: Miss you.
The response comes almost instantly.
JH: I miss you too, sir. How’s the Italian Renaissance?
All very automatic and surface, too flip by half. Lewis wants – needs - more.
RL: Very warm and sunny and no bloody fun at all without you smart-arsing about everything. Like I said, I miss you.
There’s a long pause, this time, and Lewis knows, just knows, that James is now in deep cogitation mode, trying to work out what his boss actually means. And Lewis decides he doesn’t want to have any more confusion, so he follows it up with his coup de grace:
RL: I don’t feel whole without you.
Well, that’s that then. Either he’s completely buggered his professional life, put himself in the way of a sexual harassment charge, and lost his best friend into the bargain, or , well –
The phone rings.
‘I don’t feel whole without you either,’ says the voice on the other end, all smoke and velvet and James. And there is a note in his tone which conveys to Lewis immediately and without doubt just how emotionally naked and vulnerable the lad is allowing himself to be right now. This is not the devoted friend. Lewis can hear all the unrequited yearning.
‘Aw, pet,’ he manages, trying to conceal that he is choking up.
‘Don’t be upset,’ James says, sounding suddenly panicky.
‘I’m not upset, you daft thing, I’m happy!’
He sits there for some moments, trying to get a hold on himself, knowing all the while that James is on the other end, phone pressed to his ear, trying to do the same.
‘This is daft,’ Lewis sniffs eventually.
‘All I want to do is get on a plane to Florence right now,’ James tells him, and his voice has a wobbly edge.
‘Innocent would skin us both alive.’
‘Don’t care,’ James verbally shrugs. And that’s why Lewis loves him so much, he realises: that, there, the complete single-mindedness, the utter commitment, the devotion. And the willingness to throw everything to the wind for the cause. And bugger the rule book.
‘I’m coming to get you from the airport, you realise,’ James tells him with an air of finality. ‘When you get home on Thursday, I’m going to be waiting for you. With a sign.’
‘No bloody sign,’ Lewis chuckles, remembering the first one James made. ‘Besides, you won’t need one. You’ll recognise me.’
‘Might not. You might be all tanned and athletic from your holiday.’
‘I’ve been walking round churches, and eating too much pasta, James,’ Lewis reminds him. ‘I’m hardly going to come back looking like George Clooney.’
‘That’s good,’ James says. ‘Seeing as I don’t fancy George Clooney.’
Which give Lewis further pause for thought.
‘Are you sure about this, pet? I mean, I’m not really a bargain in anybody’s book, am I? Decidedly second hand at best.’
‘This hole inside me,’ James says in a voice that tells Lewis he is speaking directly from the heart. ‘The one that is empty when we aren’t together. It’s a very distinct shape. Nobody else would fill it. Nobody else ever has. Or ever will, for that matter.’
And there it is. Devotion.
‘I love you,’ Lewis tells him, without reserve.
There’s a long silence on the other end of the phone. For a moment, Lewis thinks he has miscalculated. But when James replies, there’s no more doubt.
‘Come home soon, Robbie.’