We've been having very high temperatures here in the UK lately, and this story erupted one day when I was lying on the sofa, sweating limply in front of a fan. As a result, I take no responsibility - I blame it all on my Muse!
The effect of hot weather on violent crime was once communicated to me by a friend who was a copper in Oxford, and who got called out to riots during a hot spell.
Reading it back, I have noticed that it comes across as a collection of some of my favourite lines from great movie love scenes. Virtual cookies to anyone who can guess which comes from where.
The heatwave started the week after they broke up.
It was chaos. Violent crime rates exploded. Fights were breaking out all over Oxford. Lewis and Hathaway got stuck with a really nasty domestic violence case – a woman had been beaten to death with an electric steam iron in front of her toddler, her body taken to nearby waste ground, doused with petrol and set alight. Solving it was a no-brainer, though, as Julie put it. The husband had been warned three times about domestic violence. (His confession included mention of the provocations of hot weather.) Of course, there would be ramifications for the force – failing to protect the victim was a political hot potato, which meant that Innocent went storming around the nick all week upbraiding her officers for failing to take domestic call-outs sufficiently seriously.
'She likes to spread the stress around, doesn't she,' Hathaway observed miserably. The heat didn't seem to be suiting him. He had been in a weird mood too, and Lewis couldn't work it out. Come to think of it, everyone was in a weird mood. Like they were watching him everywhere he went. Suddenly he had sympathy for all those bacteria under Laura's microscope.
On Wednesday, he was surprised when she texted him, asking him to meet her for coffee. He was grateful that the café she had chosen was air-conditioned.
She smiled at him, sunnily. 'I am. Are you?'
'Fine, except for this weather. Its making people mad.'
'I know what you mean,' she nodded, and sipped at her iced water.
'So, what did you want to talk about?' He felt awkward. He knew he shouldn't. The whole break-up thing had been consensual. Very civilised, in fact. They were friends. It worked best that way. Not as anything else. Still.
'Apparently, we have disappointed our public,' she said, turning her glass in its ring of dampness on the table with her delicate fingertips.
'What do you mean?'
'Jean Innocent turned up at the lab yesterday afternoon in a bit of a lather. She wanted to know why we broke up.
'And you said?'
'I didn't tell her, Robbie.'
Of course not. He knew her better than that.
'She actually asked me if there was anyone else. I said no.'
He shook his head. 'Don't know what it's got to do with her anyway.'
'Apparently the entire nick is on tenterhooks about it.'
'Oh, for God's sake!' He sat back in his chair and rolled his eyes in exasperation. 'Bloody coppers gossip! Haven't they got better things to think about? '
'You know what people are like,' she agreed. 'Anything to make their own lives seem less dull.'
'Being a copper may be many things, but dull it isn't!'
She laughed softly, her eyes shining, and he thought, I'm a bloody idiot, and she deserves better.
By Friday afternoon, things had reached fever pitch. Down in the basement, riot gear was being issued in response to the forecast for the weekend of thirty degrees and above. All uniformed leave had been cancelled. The shop around the corner ran out of ice creams by 10am, the air conditioner in the office had broken down, there weren't enough fans, and there was a simmering air of mutiny amongst Lewis's team.
And then they got an email from Innocent.
My office, 3pm.
'I think the shit just hit the proverbial,' James observed. Lewis glanced up at him. He was usually one of those people who looked cool even in the hottest weather, but things were clearly getting to him. His golden forehead was beaded with sweat, and his lilac shirt clung damply to his stick insect torso. He hauled himself out of his chair. 'Do you think she'll forgive us for not wearing our jackets?'
'Frankly, I'm willing to risk being banished to traffic rather than put mine on,' Lewis grumbled. He glanced down at his own forearms. They were coated in a sheen of moisture. 'When is this weather going to break? It can't go on much longer, surely?'
'Forecast isn't hopeful,' James said.
'You look like a limp lettuce,' Lewis told him.
'Thank you, sir.'
Lewis laughed, and they laboured off up the stairs through the soup-like air.
The blinds on Innocent's glass office walls were closed, shielding her from the world, the nick, and the sun.
Hathaway jabbed Lewis in the ribs and nodded towards the ominous venetian slats.
Lewis raised his eyebrows and knocked.
They filed in and assembled in front of her desk. She didn't look up.
'Give us a minute will you, sergeant?'
James slumped out again, closing the door behind him with painful care.
There was a huge desktop fan sitting on the filing cabinet in the corner. It filled the room with a delicious draft. Lewis shuffled his feet a bit until he got the full benefit. Eventually, Innocent looked up.
'You two are driving me mad,' she stated.
'More than usual, Ma'am?' He couldn't help himself.
She rolled her eyes.
'Infinitely. I would never normally interfere in my staff's personal lives, Lewis, but when it affects the functioning of my nick, I find I have no other choice.'
Lewis bristled. 'Frankly, Ma'am, I don't see that its anyone's business why Laura and I split up. Its not like it affects our work-'
'It's everyone's business when Hathaway is wandering after you looking like a lovesick spaniel, and the whole building is on hot bricks as to when he's finally going to pop the question!'
'Oh, come on, Robbie, are you really the only person on the planet who doesn't know?'
He gaped at her.
She actually laughed. 'What's your job title again?'
She shook her head in despair, and got up to open the door. Hathaway came back in, looking even more limp.
'Right, you two. This-' She held up a key. '-is the key to my office door. And I am going to walk out and lock it behind me. And you two are going to stay in here until you've sorted this out. One way or another. Because I cannot stand another bloody minute of it, do you hear? Oh, and Hathaway?
'Yes, Ma'am?' James's head snapped up.
'Try not to make too much of a mess of my desk, please?'
'Yes, Ma'am,' he frowned.
The door slammed behind her. And there was a click as the locked turned.
Lewis felt a little dizzy. He pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingertips.
'What was all that about?' James asked. There was a wary tone in his voice.
'Give me a minute, will you?'
He leant against the edge of the desk and tried to get his head around all this. James. Him. Love. How the hell-? None of it made any sense. Especially in the light of what had happened with Laura. Or - Oh, God.
Time to conduct a salvage operation.
He took a big, deep breath and turned to face his sergeant.
'Exactly how long have we known each other, James?'
'Erm- six years, eight months, nine days and –' He glanced at his watch, '-about three hours, sir.'
'How very precise of you. And just exactly how long have you been in love with me?'
Seeing James blanch was one of the great wonders of the world, as far as Lewis was concerned.
'I, er, er,'
'Just answer the question, sergeant.'
James, in his turn, took a deep breath and faced up to the situation.
'Six years, eight months, nine days and about two hours, sir.' His voice was as calm and resigned as the crack of doom.
'That soon, eh?'
They stared at one another. Lewis felt totally helpless. How had he not known? What kind of bloody detective did that make him? But then Val always used to say that he couldn't see what was under his nose. She had never been more right. He shook his head in disbelief. What an idiot. And Laura must have known, just like everyone else. That was why she – no, don't think about that. Not now. Somehow you have to salvage something from this, because he's your friend, your best mate and – Oh, who are you trying to kid?
He folded into himself miserably.
'Why didn't you say anything?'
James let out a joyless laugh. 'To the straightest man in the nick? You were still in love with your wife! You still are! What was I supposed to do?'
He wiped his long, bony hands over his face in despair.
'I didn't want to go to the airport that day. Hated it, being Innocent's errand boy. And then you walked through the door, and you were the most beautiful human being I had ever seen. But you were radiating grief like, God, like some kind of blast furnace. I'd never seen anyone in so much pain. And I stood there like a lemon with that stupid sign, and I told myself 'James, you can't have anything to do with this man, because you are going to end up falling in love with him, and he'll break your heart.''
'But you asked to be paired with me, even so?' Lewis looked up at him, feeling exhausted.
'Couldn't help it. I watched you stand at Val's grave, and I knew. I knew it was already too late for me.'
Lewis shook his head in disbelief, 'Oh, lad.'
'Look, I don't expect anything. I know you can't reciprocate. And I can ask for a transfer or something, or take another job. Just-' He swallowed so hard that the sound echoed round the room. 'I don't want to lose our friendship.'
'Neither do I,' Lewis told him with total honestly.
The thrum of the fan filled the space between them. Papers ruffled on the desk. Outside the window, far distant, an ice cream van's chime rang out.
Lewis stared off to the left, slumped on the edge of the desk, defeated.
'I wouldn't have made it through those first years without you,' he said, in the end. 'All that time. The torture of waking up every morning and turning over, and finding she wasn't there. That empty space where she should have been, everywhere I looked. Always being reminded.
'But you kept turning up like a bad penny, always knowing what to say, or when to keep your mouth shut and just keep me company. Turning up on my doorstep with a takeaway when you knew it had been a bad day. You always know – how do you do that?' He shook his head. 'I don't know when it happened. One day I woke up and wanted to go to work. I hadn't felt like that in so long. And I wanted to go to work because of you. To see you.'
He lifted his heavy head and looked into the confused eyes of his sergeant.
'What the hell do you see in an old crock like me?'
'I see you. I see the kindest, strongest, bravest, and most morally upright human being I've ever had the privilege to know. You have the kindest eyes. I love the way they twinkle when you are up to mischief. You are so kind, Robbie, even to people who don't deserve it. I don't deserve it. Even when I'm being a complete twat, you always forgive me. I don't think you realise how precious that is. No one has ever done that for me before, no one. You've stood by me through everything. You have no idea what that means to me. You are so brave. You don't shrink from doing what needs to be done. I love how outraged you get on other people's behalves. You don't take any shit. You tell it like it is. You can be terrifying and you can be the gentlest creature I've ever known. I've never felt about anybody the way I feel about you, and I know I never will for anybody else. This is it for me. You're the one. I don't know how else to tell you. I just don't have the words.'
'That must be a first,' Lewis managed with a wry smile.
James blushed a little and ran his hand through his hair. 'Yeah.'
'I'm too old for you,' Lewis pointed out.
'I'm too old for me!' James laughed miserably.
'Just tell me what you want. What you really want, not what you think I want to hear. Just be honest, James.'
Hathaway took a step forward. Shaking, he reached out and lifted Lewis's hand with a deep reverence, folding it in his own.
'I know I can't have it, but for just this once, let's pretend.'
'Tell me,' Lewis said, looking up into those eager, earnest eyes.
'I want to hold you in my arms. I want to kiss you and make love to you. I want to lie beside you every night, and know that you are there in the darkness. I want to cook with you and eat with you and laugh with you. I want to spend my life with you, because I belong to you, Robbie. I belong to you.'
For a moment, Lewis felt like he was under water. Everything around him seemed to be swimming. Bubbles filled his ears. He couldn't draw breath. There was a weight on his chest.
And then finally, after so many long years, there was release. The pressure was gone. No more pretending.
He found that he was standing. He found that he had taken James's lean frame into his arms. He found that his lips were pressed to James's. He found that James was trembling at his touch, and sighing. He found himself wrapped in those long arms. And he found that it was bliss.
He pressed his lips to James's ear.
'I love you,' he breathed. 'For so long, I've loved you and I couldn't let myself believe it. I told myself it was wrong, because I'm your guvnor, because I'm so much older, because we're so different. I told myself it was a fatherly thing. I told myself all kinds of daft things. But the truth is that I've loved you all along.'
James clung to his shoulders and whimpered, pressed his face to Lewis's neck and kissed along his jaw until Lewis could barely stand it.
'Oh, God,' he gasped, and gripped James's hips so hard they'd probably be bruised tomorrow. He didn't care. He'd kiss those bruises better.
James drew his head back, far enough to be able to focus on Lewis's eyes.
'Tell me,' he whispered. 'Tell me what you want.'
He studied the lad's face, his kiss-swollen lips, his flushed cheeks, his blown pupils, and the last vestiges of his self-restraint crumbled.
'I want you. Naked. In my bed.'
Innocent's blotter, rolodex and pencil pot went flying as James pushed Lewis back onto the desk and scrambled on top of him. There were more kisses, and one or two pearl buttons skittered against the metal fronts of the filing cabinets. A pile of manila folders toppled. The breeze from the fan brushed deliciously across sweat-damp, naked skin. Moans rose above its steady whir.
Innocent's phone beeped. It was a text from Lewis.
Think we've sorted it out.
'Right,' she grinned to her secretary. 'Let's go and tidy up the mess, shall we?'
The office door opened to reveal two rather dishevelled detectives and a room thick with the musk of sex. James's shirt was buttoned up wrong. Lewis was missing two of his buttons. He was trying (and failing) to smooth down his hair. They both looked a bit sheepish.
Her blotter was on her desk skew-whiff, and the pile of files she had been working through was stacked on the top of the cabinets, looking distinctly ransacked. Some cards from the rolodex had spilt onto the rug. She picked a pearl button up off the carpet and looked from one to the other of them with an admonishing expression before she handed it to Lewis. It was all she could do not to giggle at them.
Then she looked at her watch.
'Given that its taken over an hour to resolve this matter, and that its as close to the end of the working week as dammit, and I'm tired and hot, I suggest you go home and attempt to resolve any outstanding issues in your own time. I've got bigger fish to fry than you two, and I do mean fry at this point. I don't want to see you back here until Monday morning, is that clear?'
'Yes, Ma'am,' they chorused.
She caught James's arm as he made to follow Lewis from the room.
'Safety is the watchword,' she pointed out with a wink.
James flushed purple and scurried away.
She leant out of the door and called to her secretary.
'Monica, can you let Inspector Garfield know I've won the sweepstake, please?'