This story is about the characters Andy Dalziel and Cap Marvell as they appear in Reginald Hill's books, not the TV series, although I hope that you need no prior knowledge of the books to be able to enjoy it. These characters belong to Reginald Hill, not me.
The first Dalziel and Pascoe novel which I read was The Death of Dalziel, and this story is simply something which I would have like to have happened afterwards. So, it can be taken as happening either instead of, or after, the events of A Cure For All Diseases - it doesn't really matter which.
Many thanks to my ever-encouraging and helpful beta RedSkyAtNight, and to anyone who reads and reviews!
"Bloody hell, I'll never get enough of yon view."
"It is rather amazing, isn't it?"
The view in question was indeed a remarkable one. From halfway up the Scottish hillside, they looked out over an intricate labyrinth of small islands and inlets, stretching away to open sea at the horizon. Now, in the early evening, each piece of land was just a dark silhouette, while the water reflected silver, just starting to be touched with gold as the sun dropped lower. The still sky was dotted with small lacy clouds, each picked out as though gilded at the edges by the setting sun. It was a scene of rare beauty and tranquillity, certainly unrivalled by anything Mid-Yorkshire had to offer.
Cap Marvell had been disappointed, she had to admit, by her first view of the bed-and-breakfast which she had booked for their holiday. When Andy Dalziel had first proposed taking her to Scotland, she had been, although she did not show it, more than a little touched that he wanted to share such a defining aspect of himself with her, and had got on the internet forthwith. The B&B had seemed perfect with regard to location, but any romantic notion she might have harboured about an old stone croft had been swiftly shattered when she caught sight of the unprepossessing modern bungalow perched on the hillside. The interior too had proved something of a trial, containing altogether too much chintz and too many twee little ornaments for her taste. However, all disappointment had faded into insignificance when the landlady had shown them their room, with its massive picture window looking out over the islands and sea. After all, who cared what the place itself looked like, when the view from it was so glorious?
The other good thing about the bedroom window was that it was not at all overlooked; in fact, no other dwellings were even visible from it. This meant that the inhabitants of the room were free to do whatever they liked, in whatever state of dress or undress they liked, with no need to close the curtains and thus deny themselves the amazing view. Although in actual fact, this was perhaps more of a mercy for any hypothetical onlookers than for the occupants themselves, as neither Cap nor Dalziel felt any embarrassment about nakedness. If not exactly exhibitionists, they could at least both be categorised as don't-give-a-fuck-ists.
They had arrived in mid-afternoon, having taken the train up to Glasgow the night before, stayed overnight in a hotel, and come up to Oban that morning on the slow but extremely beautiful West Highland line. A hire car had been waiting for them at the station. Cap had put her foot down about driving the whole way, insisting that Andy still tired too easily, following his coma after the explosion that had nearly killed him, and that there was no way that she was doing all the driving. So the train had taken the strain, which meant that after the landlady had left them to settle in, they were both feeling quite fresh and even ready to indulge in an activity which, at home, would certainly have necessitated closing the curtains.
After that, though, Dalziel did need a snooze; Cap had been right about his stamina not being what it was. She propped herself up against a couple of pillows next to his snoring bulk, and read a novel, a pleasure that she never seemed to get time for at home. Eventually, in the early evening, Andy snorted, roused, and uttered the already-quoted comment about the view, with which Cap could only agree. Then they showered, dressed, and walked three-quarters of a mile down to the small fishing village which contained the nearest pub.
The pub clearly made few concessions to tourists, and although the range of single malts was such as to gladden Dalziel's heart, the menu was somewhat limited. The rather sour woman behind the bar looked askance at Cap when she asked if there was a vegetarian option, and brusquely suggested an omelette. Dalziel, who was enjoying the exchange, thought the woman might develop apoplexy when Cap promptly asked whether the eggs were free-range. Once she had taken Cap out the back, however, and shown her the chickens happily scratching around in the garden behind the pub, relations between the two women thawed, and even began to approach cordiality. Dalziel merely ordered a mutton pie and got on with it.
At first the locals in the bar regarded them with some suspicion, but a little conversation with an elderly man revealed that he had known Dalziel's Uncle Hamish, who had hailed from the larger village a few miles away. Hamish had been quite well-known in the area as a fiddle-player and as such had often been invited to gatherings; it transpired that quite a few of the older occupants of the bar remembered him. Best of all, they learned that the following evening there was to be a ceilidh in the next village. At this news Andy's eyes lit up, and Cap, who well knew that few things animated him like the skirl of the pipes, happily acquiesced to going. Silently she was delighted; this, she thought, was just the kind of pick-me-up he needed.
They slept late the next morning, before tackling the formidable Highland breakfast prepared by the landlady. After that they took a leisurely drive up the coast, where more sublime and unpopulated views met their eyes at every turn, each made more beautiful by the hazy sunlight. On the way back they were able to take in a visit to a distillery, which further lifted Dalziel's mood before returning to the B&B to rest and prepare for the evening.
The ceilidh was a small affair, held in a community hall in the next village. The attendees were overwhelmingly locals, and no-one seemed to have dressed up for the occasion, but there was no mistaking the fact that everyone present had a genuine respect and passion for the music. The band – a drummer, accordionist, flautist, fiddler, and a singer – were excellent, playing all the old favourites, jigs and reels and stately strathspeys, and when they took a break, a local piper took their place and played slow airs of such melancholy beauty that it brought a tear to the eye of more than one there.
Dalziel was in his element; he grinned, clapped, sang along with every song, and danced as one born to it, displaying a lightness of foot which most people would not expect to find associated with such bulk. Cap had seen it before and was not surprised; nevertheless she felt more delight than she could put into words, at this further evidence of the return of the Andy of old. Gamely she joined him, whirling and reeling, grateful that her early years had given her a solid if uninspiring grounding in Scottish dance, yet aware that she could never be more than competent next to his flair.
His stamina was still compromised, and though sheer enthusiasm carried him beyond the limits of his physical ability, there came a point where he had to take a break. But after sitting out a couple of dances he was up again, and with only one more rest, able to see it through to the end. Eventually the piper's last notes died away, the company dispersed, and Cap drove an exhausted but extremely contented Andy back to the B&B.
Night-time took the view from the window to another dimension, as the moon, hanging like a ghost-light in the velvety sky, made a black and silver filigree of the lochs and islets. Beyond them, its reflection created a shimmering pathway, leading away across the open sea. It was an almost eerie tableau, enough to make someone of a more romantic or superstitious nature think of water spirits, of kelpies, fairies and ashrays. Both Cap and Andy would, of course, have dismissed such suggestions as so much rubbish; nevertheless, they were sensible to the scene's rare beauty. Loath to shut it out, they left the curtains open as they sat side by side in the moonlit bed, drinking in the view, his arm around her, her head resting peaceably on his chest.
"That were a grand evening," he remarked, casually.
"It was." Although Cap was feeling pleasantly drowsy, her voice was as crisp as ever. "I thought the band was excellent. Did they play your favourites?"
"Some of 'em." Dalziel was also feeling contentedly sleepy; Cap felt his voice rumble in his chest. "Some of the ones on that tape. You know, that you played me while I were in the coma."
At once she looked up, startled, turning wide, astonished eyes on his face. "You mean you could hear it?"
"Oh aye." He frowned in puzzlement, surprised at her surprise. "Didn't know where I was, like, or where the music was coming from, but I could hear it all right. Loud and clear. Reckon that was what kept me in the land o' the living, sometimes."
She stared at him, mouth open, trying to assimilate what he had said. The weeks when he had lain in the coma – when she had faced the very real possibility of losing the only person with whom she had ever wanted to share her adult life – had been unspeakably awful, matched only by those few fateful days, years ago, when she had thought her son was dead. No-one who observed her at the time, at Andy's bedside, would have guessed, from her calm and down-to-earth demeanour, just what inner turmoil she was experiencing. She had done what all the advice said you should do – keep talking to the person, play music, do everything possible to keep stimulating the brain and its connections with the world around – while all the time harbouring a deep, secret dread that it was all futile, that nothing was getting through. When Andy had at length recovered, she had been too relieved, too pleased to be once again looking to the future, to dwell on the past and the processes that led to his recovery. Now here he was, telling her – as though it was obvious and she really should have known it already – that what she had done had made a difference. Had even, perhaps, made all the difference.
Tears filled her eyes and a lump came to her throat as the significance of all this hit home. Seeing him still looking puzzled, she swallowed and tried to explain. "I never knew… that you could hear it," she whispered, aware of how inadequate she must sound.
"Course I could… some of the time, at least." Dalziel could see her distress, even if he couldn't understand it. He put both arms around her, pulled her close and kissed her forehead. "The music, you talking… even bloody Joe Kerrigan and his prayers. They all helped, I reckon."
Relief that her efforts had indeed helped to stave off an outcome too horrible to contemplate, made Cap voice an utterance that normally she would have gone to the ends of the earth to avoid. "Thank God," she avowed fervently, her voice stronger but still with a catch in it. "Thank God."
For a moment Dalziel was reminded of the odd conversations with God that had gone on in his head while he was unconscious, but he swiftly put the uncomfortable thought away. He was ninety-nine per cent sure that they had just been his imagination, anyhow. But Cap, and all she had done for him – they were real. "Nay, lass." He gently lifted her chin to look into her face, a rare gesture of intimacy. "Thank you."
She swallowed again, wiped away a tear and kissed him, a long, tender kiss that expressed what neither of them could say in words – how very, very glad they were to have, and to still have, one another. Then they lay down in each other's arms and went to sleep, the ethereal moon still shining in, bathing them and the room and the land and sea beyond in serene silver.