Three conversations in reverse chronological order. Regarding how it all came about.
Note: Just a fun, little story. Hope the language isn't too horribly done and/or off. Thanks to WhyAye for the help in that regard.
Particularly for the last conversation, I wanted a feel reminiscent to the novels. Without the bother of actually tracking to the library and rereading a few, not sure how close I got, but it was incredibly fun trying. Hats off to Colin Dexter.
The afternoon immediately following the conclusion of the first Inspector Morse episode, The Dead of Jericho.
"Let me get this straight, Morse," Chief Superintendent Strange said from behind his massive desk. "After all the years of me telling you that you need your own sergeant, you're finally agreed to take one on?"
"Yes, Sir. I am. And I want Lewis."
"Lewis is a highly sought after candidate, Morse, now that Chief Inspector Bell is moving up. I've already had Inspector Basleton asking for him."
"Basleton!" Morse spat out. "Why the man couldn't find his car in his own garage! You'll never get a good detective pairing a man up with Basleton!"
"Now, Morse, we'll none of that! DCI Basleton has been looking for a good man for quite some time, while you…what's made you decide you need your own sergeant now, hmm?"
"Well, I don't know, Sir!" Morse, who was an expert at examining the motives of others but preferred to be blind to his own, answered in exasperation. "Does it matter? Lewis and I seemed to get on with this business in Jericho, and I just thought-"
"Found it was easier having him to run off to Woodstock chasing prints and statements rather than doing it yourself, did you? Left you more time at the booze, I dare say." It was a rare day when Strange didn't enjoy toying with Morse. It was, at times, one of the few pleasures he got from his job which every year seemed to become less and less what he'd signed up for. "No, Morse. Wanting a sergeant is all well and good. But not Sergeant Lewis. He's a good man. But young, inexperienced. You had him riffling through offices without a warrant, man! You'd have his career ruined outside of three months."
Morse opened his mouth to retort but stopped himself. Perhaps telling Strange that his young, inexperienced officer had taken quite happily to the illegal search and with a competence that indicated it hadn't been for the first time…yes, perhaps, it was better to keep that to himself. It would hardly help his case, and more than likely just give Strange something else to carry on about. Honestly, they both knew if Morse wanted Lewis he'd have him.
Morse may not have said the right things to get that superintendency, but he did the right things to get him pretty much anything he wanted from Strange. Namely, he solved cases. And he did it well, very well, and with a minimum of fuss (except Strange's own for which Morse hardly felt accountable).
"You and your, shall we say unorthodox, way of detecting, Morse. You've been the downfall of more than one good man—and that just with temporary placement. You don't follow procedure, Morse!" It was an old complaint, but there it was, it needed saying.
"I don't make it a practice to operate without a warrant. And if I had a man like Lewis, Sir, a man to stay on top of the paperwork and forms, why, I'm sure I'd never have occasion to do so again." Morse told him earnestly.
Strange snorted. "Oh, no. I'm sure you won't, matey. For if you do…well, it can't continue, Morse, it really can't. Things are changing. You and I…we got away with it—not in disregard of the law, no, certainly not. But to get the job done, well, we…but these younger chaps—it's a whole new type of policing they'll be working under. Let's leave Lewis to learn it right, shall we? How about Sergeant Gallan…he worked that banking case with you, I recall. Good man?"
Morse sighed dramatically. "Gallan would have had his hand in the till if I hadn't kept my eyes on him. You're lucky I solved the case at all, what with having to watch his sticky fingers at all times."
"Well, I can hardly give you a man like Lewis, Morse. If it's not teaching him to uphold the law by breaking it, you'll be jumping on him for how he speaks the Queen's English and—"
"Little worry of that, Sir," Morse murmured over the superintendent's words, "I don't think Sergeant Lewis does speak the Queen's English."
Strange paused to glare at Morse before going on, "…correcting his spelling like he's a school boy, telling him where to drink and what to be having while he's at it! No, I can't possibly give you Lewis. You can have Sergeant Marks."
"I don't want Sergeant Marks. I want Lewis," Morse said, trying to sound patient but only managing to sound peevish. "Marks has no initiative…he probably can't eat his supper without his wife telling him to get on with! Lewis does have initiative. I'm sure Mrs. Lewis never has to tell him what needs doing."
"I'll pretend you didn't say that. I want Lewis. Now, you've said, more than once, that I need a good sergeant…well, why not Lewis?"
"I can't sacrifice one more good man to your ego, Morse. How many sergeants have you trodden down under your demands and insults and not a 'good job, thanks' in it for them no matter how hard they try?
"Oh, really, Sir. If they can't stand a bit of criticism and bucking up what are they doing in the police force to begin with? It's my job to solve murders not build up fragile egos. Besides, I never say what isn't true. Not my fault if they don't want to take the advice of a senior officer and better themselves. Lewis, however, doesn't seem to be adverse to a bit of friendly and helpful correction." Here Morse paused slightly to eye the superintendent who had given another derisive snort, and then continued, "Besides, he's quite the steady sort. I hardly think he'll crumble if I don't pat him on the head and say 'good, boy' whenever he does the job right."
"Well, you might be right there. He does seem rather…resilient, is that the word?" Strange reluctantly agreed. "So that's why it has to be Lewis, is it? Only one you think can withstand your blustering day in and day out?"
"If you like," Morse conceded hoping the game had gone on long enough that he could collect his new sergeant and maybe nip off to the Trout for a congratulatory pint.
Strange sighed in defeat, "It's Lewis you want and no one else will do, is it?"
Morse relaxed slightly, "That's right, Sir. Unless you think I am better on my own afte-"
"No, no, Morse. You need a sergeant, and you want Lewis…well, I'll talk to him and see what he has to say about it. Could be working the Jericho case with you was more than he could stomach—"
"We got on quite well, Sir!" Morse protested. "He's a bit too chatty and…sparky, but he has initiative and…" Morse paused, and DCS Strange, who'd begun to think the interview would go on all day before Morse finally gave him what he'd been wanting all along, leaned forward to hear the finish, "…imagination."
Strange sat back in disbelief. "Imagination! You want the man because he has imagination! Since when does a CID sergeant require imagination?"
"Imagination and wit make a detective, Sir. I would have thought you, of all people, would know that. Lewis most definitely has the imagination…it remains to be seen if he has the-"
"Poppycock! Imagination indeed! You want Lewis because he's the only man you've found who's been able to put up with your pontificating and boozing ways without filing three complaints and a request for transfer before the case is even solved. I know. Don't give me 'imagination'!"
Morse sighed, dropped his head, and said resignedly, "As you say, Sir."
Strange frowned. "As I say, Morse, I'll talk to him. Let's leave it up to Lewis, why don't we, hmm?" Morse nodded glumly and the interview was over.
Strange sat back with a satisfied smile on his face. He put his hands behind his head and said to himself, "Well, now. Couldn't have brought things around so well if I'd tried. Very good, very good, indeed."
There was no need for DCS Strange to call Sergeant Lewis to his office, for he had already been. Bright and early, long before Morse had staggered up out of his bed.
"I know Chief Inspector Morse hasn't a sergeant of his own, and me, being without an inspector, like, for the moment…I wondered, Sir, if…well, if you thought he might take…me on…just until he found someone more to his liking, of course…Sir." The young sergeant had started and sputtered along until Strange had begun to wonder if he'd ever manage to spit the request out.
"Perhaps you better have a seat, Sergeant," he offered Lewis who nervously perched himself on the edge of the chair opposite. "You want assigned as Chief Inspector Morse's sergeant? Is that what your saying, Lewis?"
Lewis relaxed slightly in relief. "Yes, Sir," he said. "That's what I'm trying to say."
Strange made a show of frowning thoughtfully over the proposal. He couldn't very well tell the man the truth. That he'd planned and maneuvered for this day for the past few years…of course, he'd not expected to see fruit for his efforts quite this soon. And certainly not in this way with Morse basically throwing himself into the sergeant's waiting arms. But it would do. It would do very nicely, indeed…if he could only get Morse to agree to take the man on.
He cleared his throat. "Well, as you know, sergeant…Morse is not the easiest man to work with."
"No, Sir," Lewis agreed with a slight grin. Well, well. That was a nice relief. Strange had had the nasty twinge of guilt whenever he really had given the plan a long think over. It had seemed a hard thing to do, throwing the lad to the lions, so to speak. But, here was Lewis eager for another round with Morse. It really was going to plan.
"He'll be after how you talk, how you write up your reports—I dare say, your spelling isn't up to his standards—and then the boozing. I'd not be doing you—nor Mrs. Lewis—any favors assigning you to Morse."
"Oh, I don't think he's that bad, Sir. A bit moody, maybe. Gets into a bit of a grump now and again, but—"
"Now and again!" Strange could hardly believe what he was hearing. And he'd taken Lewis to be a clear-headed fellow. "The man's always in the doldrums. And he'll have you there with him, as well, if you don't watch yourself!"
Sergeant Lewis blinked trying to find a response that wouldn't cause another outburst. He'd only rarely been in the chief super's presence, and he was more than a little surprised to hear him disparaging one of his officer's. Particularly as that officer was Chief Inspector Morse. He swallowed hard and decided no response was required of him.
Strange, not waiting for one in any case, went on, "He's not one for keeping station hours. He'll have you out to all hours of the night, and I'll have Mrs. Lewis on the phone after you."
Lewis blinked and swallowed once more. He could see his career going straight down the tubes at the thought of his wife calling the chief super to complain about his hours. "Oh, no, Sir," he protested. "As long as she knows what I'm about, she won't be bothering you…I mean, I'm sure she would never-!" He stared wide-eyed at Strange trying to find a way to assure the man his Val would never behave in such a manner.
Concealing a smile, Strange took pity on him. "You don't think the hours will be a problem, then, is that what you're saying, sergeant?"
"Umm, yes. Yes, Sir."
"Hmmm…well, if you're sure? Quite sure. I don't want you back in here within the day, grousing about how Morse is treating you."
Ignorant the shocked look on his face conveyed clearly that the possibility would never have crossed his mind, Lewis stammered, "No, Sir. I wouldn't think of it." He blinked at the chief inspector and assured him, "I'll get on. Now, I can't speak for the Chief Inspector, of course. Perhaps, he won't find my work satisfactory—"
"Most certainly he won't," Strange said.
Lewis blanched causing Strange to hurry on, "He never does find anyone's …work..satisfactory, that is. Except his own, of course."
Lewis suddenly grinned as though Strange had relieved a great load off of his mind, "Ahh then. I'll keep that in mind when he isn't best pleased with me."
Strange allowed himself to return the grin with a small one of his own. It was hard to think of an odder pair, morose old Morse and this young chipper Geordie. "Right then. No promises, but if you are sure, I'll speak to Morse."
"Thank you, Sir. I am. Very sure. Thank you very much," Lewis said with relief. He stood up and practically made a run for the door.
"Sergeant Lewis," Strange called him back. "Just what is it that makes you want this anyway?"
Puzzled, Lewis paused and looked back. "Well, he's the best, isn't he?" The answer only went so far in Strange's view; but it was apparent that in Lewis' it said it all.
Would it be enough, Strange wondered. Was that reward enough for what he was asking of Lewis? This plan, sacrificing the sergeant to Morse, as it were…that, too, was because Morse was the best—and would be even better with the right sergeant to keep him grounded. DCS Strange had found that reason enough to bring Lewis to the Thames Valley CID in the hopes he'd develop into the sort of officer with whom Morse might be willing to work.
But, the whole enterprise…he'd seen it as profitable to the CID, who could only stand to gain by an even better Chief Inspector Morse, and essential to Morse if he wasn't to hoist himself on his own unorthodox and sloppy police procedure, melancholy, bull-headedness, and sheer arrogance. But he'd seen no profit it in for poor Lewis. Just constant and steady losses. Oh, not permanently, of course. No one expected him to stick it with Morse long. A few years at the most. Couldn't ask for more. A few years of lousy hours, right hard work with hardly a word of praise or thanks in it, but a daily ear full of complaints, corrections, and reprimands. Why that would be enough for any man. More than the chief super had the right to ask of Lewis, he knew. Yet, here was Lewis all but begging for the thankless job—it did his conscience good, it did.
"He is that, sergeant. The very best," Strange said softly. "But…not the easiest."
"No matter," Lewis told him with another grin absolving Strange's conscience of any lingering guilt on his behalf. "A man would put up with a lot to work with the best," he explained. "Leastways, I would."
"It's a good job, that. If you're going to be Morse's sergeant, you'll have to."
If Strange thought his words would make the young sergeant rethink his choice, he was disappointed. "Yes, Sir," Lewis said, his delight at having a chance to put up with whatever Chief Inspector Morse had to dish out evident in his voice.
Strange shook his head after him and was still shaking it when, almost immediately, Lewis poked his head back into the room.
"I'm sorry, Sir," he said, "but I'm afraid I might need a bit of an increase in my expense account, working with Chief Inspector Morse and all."
"What's this? Whatever for? He's not been on you about what tie you're wearing, has he? Or your shoes?"
"No, Sir! It's just…well, you see, I've only worked the half a case with him, and he's already drunk up me lunch money for the month."
"I see," Strange said. He sat back and considered for a moment before offering, "Three rounds for every case the two of you work? That do you?"
"Best make it five, Sir…if you could, seeing how it is."
Chuckling inwardly, Strange sighed and said, "Five rounds, then. When you're on a case. And an extra two to cheer the winners home, how's that? Get on then. Out with you, before you've let him drink down the entire budget!"An evening two to three years previous…
The annual conference where Strange and his fellow chief superintendents gathered was invariably in a picturesque town on the coast over a long weekend on which the sun never shone and the rain always fell. Since none of them would have been likely to venture out onto the sand to dip their toes into the sea in any case, it suited them fine. It left them long evenings where they could, over underdone roast beef and fine, dry wine, discuss the various struggles and challenges of their jobs.
It was generally agreed that, Oxford being Oxford, Strange had it the best as far as postings. However, he had Chief Inspector Morse, and that was, they all recognized, a significant challenge.
Here was a man, without question the best detective in all of England, who simply couldn't seem to stay out of trouble. Poor Strange was required to spend a considerable amount of his time pouring oil over troubled waters, smoothing ruffled feathers, and the like to just keep the man on the payroll.
"A good detective, poor policeman," one of the men commented on hearing the latest catastrophe Strange had had to put to rights before he could pack up Mrs. Strange and attend the conference.
"That's it exactly," said another.
"Pity. A mind like that. An ability like that."
"What you need, Strange," said the chief superintendent from Newcastle, nudging a colleague out of the way so he could slide into the seat beside Strange, "…what your Morse needs, is a good sergeant. You know, a good copper to keep him…within bounds."
"Might be," Strange said, "but…there's no one who will work with him. Not for any length of time. He's too arrogant…and too stubborn…and let's face it, too intelligent. I don't have another man that can keep up with him."
"Oh, aye. But that's not what he's a-needing, is it? Someone to keep up with him? No. It's like what was said, he's a good detective…he needs someone to let him get on with detecting then. Someone who can get on with the policing. See? Keep your superiors off your back by making sure things are done proper-like. Keep your man from straying too far across the lines or getting lost in wilds flights of fancy. Be a buffer between the arrogant so-and-so and your other officers."
"He wouldn't need to be clever, you're saying?" one of the others asked.
"Nah. Not what I'm saying at all. He'd have to be a right clever sod."
Strange shook his head. "Well, I'm afraid that's out. The only thing Morse can't abide more than fools is a clever man. And I've never seen a clever man who can abide him either."
"A woman then. A clever woman," someone threw in.
"Good heavens, no," Strange said faintly. "Morse and women…oh, no."
"What then?" The chief superintendents looked around at each other over their glasses and empty plates and gave it a bit more thought.
It was growing late; some of their number headed off to their wives. Strange, thinking the conversation about Morse and his hypothetical sergeant had drawn to a close, moved to join them. Mrs. Strange would be returning from her bridge game with some of the other wives and wondering where he'd gotten. The DCS from Newcastle caught his arm as he moved to leave.
For the first time, Strange realized the man was more than just making idle conversation. He frowned at him. He knew the rumors. Something, something high up in the Newcastle CID, was amiss. In a very bad way. Strange didn't like to think it had anything to do with the colleague holding onto his arm. They'd spent many a conference together, and, though it was hard to think of a regional department much less like Oxford than Newcastle, they had found common ground in their hopes and goals for the departments and men under them.
Strange thought it might be wisest if he excused himself as he'd planned, but instead he said, "Would you care to join me in an evening stroll, Neville?
Strolling for a man of Strange's size merely meant moving to a table in a quiet corner. "Is there something you wish to tell me?" he asked his friend as they settled into the plush leather seats.
"Aye, it's not just talk I'm after about this sergeant for your Morse. I've the man in mind, me."
Strange, having been dreading hearing some sordid Newcastle CID scandal, blinked in surprise. "Oh?"
"The very lad. Listen, no need for us to mince words. Newcastle CID is in for it. None of the lads on the street, mind—them that's higher. But they'll blacken all our names. I've been trying to get me lads out, them that I can. Sending them on before there's nowt left for them. The young lads mostly…them I know haven't been in on the trouble and haven't got enough under them to weather it out."
"I'm sorry to hear it," Strange told him.
"As was I, I can tell you. But, still, I've got my years and I've got my supporters and I think I'll come through to the other side. It's not me I'm worried about, no."
"I've the odd opening for two or three constables. But, I'd have to know for sure they're clean, you understand?"
"I do, and I thank you for it. But…the constables are too low to end up with any dirt on them. It's my young sergeants I want out. And I've the one. A good lad he is. More than that, a good copper. And he's clever. But what's best for you…he doesn't know, does he? That he's clever. Funny that, but true. Just what you need."
"Oh?" Strange queried, not quite following his friend's logic although sympathetic to his troubles.
"Aye. What you need for your chap is a sergeant clever enough to do for him without the ego to go with it. Only sort you'll find to solve your problem, I dare say. Someone young enough, inexperienced enough, and apparently dull enough to not raise your Morse's hackles. Someone used to the hard work of policing, someone used to keeping his nose clean even when those around him are wallowing in the muck. He'd do for you, Strange. I'm sure of it."
"You don't know what you're suggesting, Neville. Morse is a hard man to work for, I wish it wasn't so, but it is. He'll chew—"
"Doesn't matter," Neville said.
"How can it not matter? You care for this man, you can't want him—"
"What I don't want is for him to have to be there when the lid comes off in Newcastle! It'll ruin him, Strange. He's that sort of a copper. Takes it all very serious, fighting crime, protecting the public, upholding the law…all those things you and I…well, when the world was young, all those things we thought policing was really about. All those things policing ought to be about. Listen, I know it's asking a lot, but I promise you, he'll do for your man Morse. Not right away, mind. He'll need to learn the way you do things down in Oxford. Harden up a bit, may be, to withstand your Morse's bad temper and sharp tongue…and to be able to stomach that much 'thinking'—he's more an orange juice man, I'm afraid, at the present…but he'll grow, he'll grow. Anyways, it's time you'll need."
"Need? For what?"
"For convincing your man he found him himself…isn't that the sort he is? If you assigned a sergeant to him, he'd find an excuse to shake him loose before he'd moved his papers into the desk. But make him think he thought of taking the lad on himself…"
"Yes, that's just the sort Morse is," Strange said beginning to wonder if Neville understood the whole situation better than he did himself. "If I do decide to take your boy on…how are we going to convince him to leave Newcastle for Oxford? Quite a change, I dare say."
"Well, it's another reason I'm sure Robbie is your man…he's married to an Oxford lass—and no, don't ask me how that came to be. I've not the foggiest, but they're happy enough, Robbie and his missus. Anyway, if you're agreeable, I'll just happen to mention to him like I heard you had an opening and then I'll ask if his Val isn't pining for Oxford and…leave it to me. He's a canny husband, he'll want to make the wife happy. The only tricky part is convincing him it would be all right for him to leave us down at the nick…"
"Well, if you can, convince him—to take a job with us, that is…I'll see there's a place for him. If he's half the man you say he is I'll get my money's worth whether or not things pan out with Morse."
"Oh, no fears there, I've heard you going on about Morse all these years, and I know Robbie. They'll be getting on. If you can keep your man from getting the heave-ho before me boy's grown into the job. But, no, you can't go wrong with bringing the lad aboard—he'll make a fine detective himself, given the proper time and encouragement. Mark me words."
Their plans laid for the unsuspecting Morse and Lewis, the two men shook hands and ambled off to their beds.