A few days later and Phil Bellamy had called in at the hospital to see Nick who was looking much better, sitting up and much more comfortable although he was still bruised around the face and in some pain from the damaged ribs.
"So how long are you malingering in here for?" Phil asked with a grin as he sat down by Nick's bed.
"Hoping to be out of here tomorrow or the day after," Nick said. "What's going on at the station then?"
"Oh just the usual. You give us all a real fright you know. Next time you go clomping round a derelict warehouse in your size tens check the floor's up to it first eh? You dozy sod."
"Cheers. I'll remember that."
"And Sandy's dumped me," Phil said sorrowfully. "Had to abandon her to go looking for you! Lets just say she weren't that impressed."
Nick gave a snort. "You've been looking for an excuse to give Sandy the push for weeks."
"Well, yeah. She were all right but she couldn't half moan," Phil said with a wince. "Any road plenty more fish in the sea as they say." He looked up as the door to Nick's room opened then jumped to his feet as Sergeant Blaketon and no less a personage than Inspector Mallory came in.
"Evening sir," Phil murmured. "Sarge."
"Its all right Bellamy you're not on shift now," Blaketon said. "But we do want a word with PC Rowan if we may."
Nick looked slightly anxious as Phil said to Nick, "I'll call in and see you at home, mate, if you're home tomorrow."
"Thanks Phil." As the door closed behind his colleague Nick looked quizzically at his superiors.
"Its all right, lad, its not trouble, as such," said Blaketon reassuringly.
"We had a visit this afternoon. From Harry Shaw, Tom Shaw's father," began Inspector Mallory then stopped as the door to Nick's room opened and this time Kate came in. She stopped.
"Oh – shall I wait outside?" she asked.
"No, no, come in Dr Rowan. In a way this concerns you too," said Blaketon.
She raised an eyebrow at Nick as she sat down by his bed.
"To continue," said Inspector Mallory, "we had a visit from Tommy Shaw's father Harry this afternoon. He told us that Tommy is very upset by the events of the other night."
Kate saw Nick's fingers convulsively grab the blankets on his bed tightly and she instinctively took hold of his hand.
"Mr Shaw told us that Tommy has had nightmares and has been very distressed by what happened," went on Inspector Mallory. "He knows that what he did was wrong, his father says, and he is distressed he didn't go and get help for you. In short, what Tommy wants to do is come and see you Nick and apologise for his actions."
There was a silence. Nick did not respond.
"How would you feel about seeing Tommy, Nick?" Oscar asked carefully. "Its absolutely your decision, lad."
"We'll stand by whatever decision you make," Mallory assured Nick.
Nick looked levelly at them. "I don't want to see him," he replied quietly. "He could have phoned the station after it happened. Or he could have told his dad straight away. But he waited all those hours. Whatever his reasons, I don't want to hear any apology from him. Its empty words."
The two senior officers looked at each other.
"For what its worth lad, we're with you on this one," Mallory admitted. "Frankly if Mr Shaw hadn't been so – insistent – we would never have come to you with this."
"Don't you worry," Blaketon told Nick.. "That lad will get what's coming to him. I'll make sure of it. You rest up Nick and don't worry about it any more."
When the two officers had left Nick glanced at Kate. "I'm right aren't I?" he asked her.
"Yes," she told him gently. "It was unforgiveable what that boy did. Nick – I really thought I'd lost you that night. I don't think I'll ever forget it. It was the longest night of my life."
He said, "It wasn't just the pain although that was bad enough. It was the cold as well." He hesitated. "When he ran off, the boy, I really thought he would do something, get some help down there. When I realised he hadn't…" Nick shook his head. "No, there's nothing he can say to make this any better. It's beyond that Kate."
Nick came home from hospital the following day and Kate took some time off work to look after him. He said he didn't need looking after but Kate begged to differ and he gave in. Privately she was worried about him. He was inclined to want to sleep a lot, and was generally quiet and withdrawn. But when she tried to draw Nick out, tried to get to the bottom of things as it were, he closed down. Kate thought a lot of it was delayed shock and hoped time, rest and quiet days at home would prove a remedy.
So that afternoon Nick was asleep on the sofa and she was doing some work in the kitchen. She'd put her head round the door a couple of times but he seemed fine and comfortable. So she was really annoyed when the quiet of the afternoon was disturbed by an insistent knocking – banging really – on the office door of the Police House.
"Oh for goodness sake!" Kate went through to the office and sharply opened the door. A young boy was stood on the step, looking pinched and cold.
"Hallo," she said, speaking more gently than she had first intended. "Who are you?"
"Please," the boy said. "Please, I need to speak to the policeman."
"Well. He's not here at the moment," Kate answered gently. "But I can get help for you. Tell me what's wrong? What's your name?"
"Tommy, miss. Tommy Shaw. Please miss. I need to speak to the policeman."
Tommy Shaw. Kate knew immediately who this was.
"You shouldn't be here." She spoke sharply.
"Had to come miss. I need to speak to the policeman. I need to tell him. I'm sorry, I am." The boy was shivering now and Kate despite herself began to soften. But then she tensed as –
"Kate! What's up?" Nick came into the office behind her. Damn.
"Nick." She turned anxiously toward him. "Its Tommy Shaw. He's turned up on the doorstep. He wants to see you."
Nick wordlessly moved to stand beside Kate at the doorway. "What do you want?" he asked Tommy. "Does your dad know you're here?"
"No. I just came here, like. I needed to come and see yer. I'm that sorry you see. I had to tell yer." Tommy stolidly wiped tears away. "I don't know what I were thinking of. All of it, I mean."
"Nick. He's freezing. We should at least get him in the house and let him warm up a bit," Kate whispered.
Nick did see the sense of this. "All right," he said reluctantly. "You take him in the house and I'll ring Ashfordly. They'll have to tell his father where he is and send a car over to pick him up."
Kate cleared away the work on the kitchen table, then indicated the boy should sit down at the table which he did.
"Hot chocolate?" she asked him. "It'll warm you up a bit." As she put the milk on to boil she said, "It was wrong of you not to tell your mum or dad where you were going. They'll be worried. And you really shouldn't be here you know." She paused. "Weren't you nervous of coming here?"
"Aye. But I had to come. I keep thinking about it and what I did. I want to go back and do it different in my head but I can't." The boy stopped speaking and looked down at the table as Nick came into the room.
"Ashfordly are sending over a car for him," he said to Kate watching as she put the drink in front of the boy.
"Nick." She put a hand on his arm. "I know – what we said. But – could you hear Tommy out for a minute? It must have taken some courage to come and knock on that door you know."
Nick looked silently at Tommy and then moved to the table and sat down opposite him. Kate did not join them but stood leaning against the kitchen units, watching.
"Look at me Tommy," Nick said.
The boy lifted his head and looked at Nick.
"What do you want to say?" Nick asked him.
"I'm really sorry. For all of it. For going to burn down that shed for starters. I never should've said I'd do it. But t'other lads said they'd leave me alone at school if I did. I couldn't see any other road round it."
"Could you not have told your mum or your dad what was happening at school?"
"No.. I'd have got it double at school, I swear, if I'd grassed. They would have known if I'd talked because me mum and me dad would have come to the school and they'd have known."
"When you chased me," Tommy went on, "I were scared. I thought I could hide in that warehouse. I didn't think you'd find me in there but you did. When you – fell through that floor – I were sure you were dead. So I went over to you."
"I spoke to you," Nick said. "I asked you to get help."
"An' I wish I had," Tommy gulped. "I should've, I know I should've but I didn't an' I'm that sorry." And then he lost his self control completely and put his head down in his arms on the table and began sobbing convulsively. Kate moved immediately to him and put her arms round him trying to comfort him glancing pleadingly at Nick.
"Tommy. Tommy, I believe you're sorry." Nick said quietly.
"Come on," Kate said, "Sit up now. Its all right."
Tommy sat up in his chair eyes fixed on Nick.
"I do believe you're sorry, Tommy," Nick told him. "You're still in a lot of trouble, sonny, I can't lie to you about that. But I do believe you're sorry about what happened."
"I know I'm in trouble. I don't care even if I do have to go to a school for naughty kids. I just wanted to tell you I'm sorry. That were all I cared about. And I'll never do owt like this again I swear."
"No. No I don't think you will." Nick despite himself was moved by the boy and absolutely sure he was genuine. No child could act out such distress. And Nick himself felt strangely soothed by the boy's genuine remorse.
A few weeks later Nick was stood in the corridor of Ashfordly Magistrates Court with Kate. Nick was back on duty and again in uniform although not quite back on full duties as yet.
He and Kate looked up as Inspector Mallory came walking toward them.
"Tommy's been given a reprieve," said Inspector Mallory. "A suspended custodial sentence. If you hadn't spoken up for him in open court PC Rowan I suspect it would have been a different story."
"I just felt he meant what he was saying, when he said he was sorry." Nick replied. "Easily led maybe and a bit slow but I didn't think he was bad. Approved school would have been the very worst place for a kid like him."
"Well I agree as it happens," Mallory said. "It was a brave thing for him to do, searching you out and speaking to you face to face. With any luck Tommy'll turn things around for himself now."
They stopped speaking as Tommy came up to them with his parents.
"We just wanted to say, thanks," Harry Shaw said to Nick. "For speaking up for the lad."
"Tommy's going to get a real chance now," Mrs Shaw said. "My parents are paying for him to go to a school – a real good school. The school's agreed to take Tom and they'll be able to bring him on – help him with the lessons he finds hard. It's a real chance for you Tom."
Tommy smiled looking happier than he had for some time.
"It's a last chance this Tommy," Nick said. "No more reprieves. Don't make an idiot out of me after I've spoken up for you."
"No Mr Rowan. And – thanks, like."
The family moved off and Inspector Mallory said briskly, "Well that's that. I must get back to HQ. Hope to see you back on full duties soon PC Rowan." He nodded at Kate then briskly strode out of the building.
"I'm proud of you Nick Rowan," Kate said squeezing Nick's hand.
He gave her a smile and a quick kiss. "You're not so bad yourself Dr Rowan."
"Rowan" Oscar Blaketon bawled down the corridor. "We haven't got all day."
Nick gave Kate a rueful grin then turned to join his Sergeant. Kate watched him go with a smile. It was good for things to be getting back to normal.