His head was pounding, and the voice was far too annoyingly insistent, so Robbie mumbled something that he hoped came out as, “Go away.”
“Sir! Wake up.” There was a pause, and then, “Please.”
It was that final word that cut through the fuzziness, and Robbie forced his eyes open. James was crouched over him, watching him with an expression that couldn’t seem to decide whether it wanted to be worried or annoyed.
“About bloody time, sir. How do you feel?”
“You don’t want the honest answer to that question.” Robbie paused and gave the world another moment to come properly into focus. “What happened?”
“You’ve been unconscious for about ten minutes.”
Ten minutes? That long?
“Ambulance response times are getting a bit sloppy.”
“Yeah, there’s a small problem on that front,” James replied. “There’s no one coming. And we’re a bit... stuck.”
He wasn’t in the mood for James to be enigmatic on top of what was probably concussion, so Robbie tried to push himself into a sitting position. His left arm was stopped short before he even managed to get it under himself, and he thought he heard a sharp hiss from James at the same time. Robbie rolled his head sideways and the problem immediately became obvious.
Robbie’s left wrist was handcuffed to James’s right wrist, and the chain was looped behind the pipes of an old radiator.
“Yeah. That’s the problem,” James said with an annoyed sigh. “That, and the fact that anything useful, like phones and keys, are across the other side of the room.”
He waved his free hand and Robbie cautiously raised his head. He saw what James meant when he spotted their jackets, phones and assorted personal belongings in a pile on the bare floorboards of the room they were in.
Memories began to filter back into Robbie’s brain. It was supposed to be an empty property, but they’d had a tip off that the suspect, Willis, had been hiding here. They had detoured to check it out, started searching the house, and that was when it all got a bit hazy.
Rather more cautiously this time, Robbie pulled himself upright, James immediately offering a hand to get him propped into a sitting position against the radiator. James sat down next to him, the metal of the cuffs chinking as they moved.
“So what happened?” Robbie asked again.
“Willis was lying in wait for us. He whacked you over the back of the head, and pulled a gun before I could do anything to stop him. Then he forced me at gunpoint to drag you in here and do this.” He moved his right hand enough to tug on the handcuffs. “And then he did a runner.”
“So, not the most successful arrest we’ve ever made, then?”
James’s huff of laughter was enough to surprise an answering chuckle from Robbie. Even taking the concussion into account, it was too bloody ridiculous not to laugh.
“Right, so... Don’t suppose you’ve come up with any escape plans while you were waiting for me to wake up?”
“I’ve been trying to reach our things, but they’re too far away.”
“Course they are.”
Robbie pondered another moment.
“What about this radiator? Looks pretty old. Reckon between us we could pull it off the wall?”
James twisted round to get a better look and give it proper consideration, and an experimental tug.
“Both of us with both hands free, I’d say yes. Both of us with one hand each at an awkward angle? I think we’d probably cause more damage to ourselves than to the wall.”
“I take it you’ve already tried calling for help?”
“Actually no. Both houses to either side have ‘to let’ signs, which suggests they’re as empty as this one. And we’re at the back of the house, so chances of anyone hearing from the street are minimal.”
Robbie sighed. “You’re a right ray of optimism, you are.”
They sat in silence for a while, and Robbie turned what James had told him over in his mind, trying to ignore the insistent pounding headache. He tentatively prodded the back of his head, and discovered his hair was sticky with what was almost certainly drying blood. He frowned when it occurred to him that he hadn’t checked one other important question.
“Are you okay?”
James looked surprised by the question.
“Me? Yes. Unless you count terminally embarrassed at getting us get into this situation in the first place.”
“He didn’t attack you as well, then?”
“No. Just pulled a gun. With you already out of it, there wasn’t a hell of a lot I could do at that point, other than follow his instructions.” James hesitated. “I’m sorry, I should have thought of something.”
“Oi!” Robbie waited until James looked him in the eye. “First rule: No heroics when there’s guns involved. You did what you had to.”
James’s raised eyebrow suggested he was resisting the urge to point out exactly how many times both of them had ignored that rule in the past, particularly when the other was the one being threatened. He sensibly refrained from saying anything, though.
Robbie knew he ought to make a suitably sarcastic comment to that look, but he was too busy trying to quell the mental image of waking up and finding his sergeant bleeding out from a gunshot wound.
They lapsed into silence again, and Robbie let his gaze wander around the room, looking for something they could use to their advantage. He kept coming back to the pile of their things. It had to be a good seven or eight feet away from them. He frowned, looked at James, and then back at the pile.
“You’re what? Six foot three? Are you sure you can’t reach that lot?”
“I can give it another go if you want but I’ve already tried.”
“Yeah, but that was before I woke up. Maybe now I can move about a bit, you can get a better angle.”
James looked like he was thinking about that for a few seconds, and then he nodded.
Robbie watched as James slid down until he was lying on his side, his arm stretched out where it was attached to the cuff, and the rest of that long, lanky body covering most of the distance across the floor towards their goal. He was right; it was still short by maybe six inches.
“Hang on a minute.”
Robbie shuffled until he was kneeling alongside the radiator, and with a bit of shoving and squeezing managed to push his wrist and forearm behind the pipe far enough that he could bend his elbow... just.
“Try it now.”
James shuffled further across the floor, the extra few inches gradually closing as he stretched his foot out. The metal cuff was biting hard into Robbie’s wrist and the joint of his thumb, but he tried to ignore it. They were so close. A few more seconds of discomfort was more than worth it if it got them out of this bloody mess.
“Hold on, sir. I think I’ve got it.”
Robbie twisted to look. The tip of James’s shoe was nudging the edge of Robbie’s jacket. James made a small sound of frustration, and pulled even harder on the cuffs until he managed to snag the jacket collar and gave an experimental tug. On the top of the pile, Robbie’s mobile wobbled and then tumbled down onto the floor. In the first stroke of luck they’d had since they entered the building, it tumbled towards them rather than away, and James hooked his foot around it and slowly dragged the mobile across the floor until it was within reach of his free hand.
Robbie barely had time to sit up before he was juggling the phone one-handed, and letting out the breath he hadn’t even realised he was holding.
Two minutes later, backup was on the way, and their suspect had become the most wanted man in Oxford. It was only when Robbie ended the call that he realised James was still trying to reach the rest of their things, a look of intense concentration on his face.
“There’s no need for that now, they’re on their way, lad.”
“I’m trying to get the keys, sir. If we can get ourselves out of this before anyone arrives, it might mean we’re only the joke of the station for a week, instead of a month.”
Robbie conceded he had a point. But Robbie also still had his elbow jammed around a radiator pipe at an angle that was starting to hurt his back, never mind his arm. He glanced down at their joined wrists and the source of their problem.
“Oi! You’re bleeding.”
James paused and looked up, apparently surprised when he saw the sliver of red in the midst of the line of raw, scraped skin on his wrist.
“Sod that. Get yourself back over here, before you do yourself a proper injury.”
James looked like he was going to argue. Robbie gave him his patent ‘which one of us is in charge, here?’ glare.
“There’s help on the way, lad. I agree it’s not exactly dignified, but it’s a poor show if we’re not both man enough to put up with a bit of embarrassment.”
James didn’t look entirely happy with the idea, but he dragged himself back and waited while Robbie eased his arm out from behind the pipe. Then they both sat down next to each other again. Robbie tried to surreptitiously rub his arm, but of course James noticed.
“You should have said something sooner.” There was an accusation in his voice.
Robbie ignored that tone of voice.
“You never mentioned you were bleeding, either.”
He had to wonder exactly what James had been trying while he had been unconscious for his wrist to get into that state already. He was pretty sure it hadn’t just happened in the last few minutes.
They fell into another silence. There was nothing they could do but wait. After another minute or so, Robbie thought he could hear police sirens getting closer.
“So, just how much are they going to take the piss?” James asked, a look of resignation on his face.
“Depends who finds us, and how much of a meal they decide to make of it.”
He heard a car pull up outside the front of the house, and the siren stopped. Robbie suddenly had a rather worrying thought.
“I just hope it isn’t...”
A worryingly enthusiastic voice called from the front door. “Inspector Lewis?”
Robbie and James looked at each other. Robbie was sure his own expression mirrored the pained look on James’s face.
They both finished his sentence at the same time.