The water was damn cold.
Charlie had taken off all his clothes except his briefs. No way was he skinny dipping while looking for a murder weapon.
He was now sat on the edge of the pier, his feet dangling over, submerged in the water. He had just let them skim the surface really and he knew already it will be hell to dive in.
Stupid Ashby, and stupid Blake, Charlie thought morosely. He grimaced at remembering the smirk on Mattie's face as well. Really, a young bloke dies after being thrown in the water, yet everyone is more than happy to let him dive in without any backup.
Charlie shuddered, looking around. Hoping that maybe someone would take pity on him but no one even spared a look his way. Obviously, half naked police officers playing in the water was a common sight in the autumn. Charlie snorted, dipping a bit more of his legs into the water.
All the hair stood at attention on his body and he shivered once again.
„Ah, bloody hell," he cursed and knowing things would only get worse... he pushed off the pier.
It was like dipping into ice.
He knew logically the water wasn't as cold, but... Charlie had very little tolerance for cold water. He could handle scolding hot, but give him lukewarm water and he was jumping out of the shower like a squealing girl. That was also one of the reasons why he left so little warm water for the others in the morning. Thinking about it, perhaps this was Mattie's payback for that.
Charlie grimaced, gasping and spluttering, trying to keep his head above water.
He was an average swimmer and was in decently good shape due to his daily runs, but the cold had still affected him more than he would've liked. His skin felt like burning or rather freezing, muscles contracting violently in an attempt to keep the vital heat inside. For a moment he wasn't sure he could even catch his breath and wouldn't that just serve Blake right?
Ten to fifteen minutes!
God, Charlie doubted he could handle five without drowning!
There was still no one in sight wondering just what the hell he was doing, no one taking pity on him. Charlie was waving his arms wildly just under the surface, kicking around, hoping to get the blood pumping.
It took a moment before his body seemed to accept the fact he wasn't leaving the water anytime soon, even though it was a fight. His skin had become somehow numb and although the muscles around his ribcage still felt tight and attempting to squeeze the breath out of him... he managed to slow his gasping.
Now all he needed was being able to take a deep breath without his teeth chattering, because that was counterproductive to holding his mouth shut. While he thought it would've served Blake and Ashby right to have to deal with the kerfuffle of trying to explain his drowning to the higher ups, he really didn't fancy the idea of his mum getting the call.
So he treaded water until he was sure he could handle himself. Then he took several deep gulps of air in quick succession and with the last one, dove under.
He thought the water on his skin was cold, but the sensation of his head being submerged was even worse. Gritting his teeth, Charlie grabbed the leg of the pier and used it to push himself deeper down.
He couldn't really open his eyes. Somehow he never learned that particular skill, to swim underwater with open eyes and he didn't care to try, definitely not now.
He could have used some goggles, hell, he could have used the diving suit, but the divers were stuck in a search and rescue mission, so no luck with that.
Diving blindly in a cold lake water where a young boy had drowned only a day before was not fun.
Charlie had gone down and back up about three times, each time searching around the bottom with his hands. Once he let out precious air as something brushed his hand. The idea of some snake slithering along was too scary to even contemplate. Charlie's eyes opened involuntarily in the startle. He managed to make out the sight of weeds as he was kicking his way back up. His foot hit something on the way, but he was too desperate to get to the surface to stop and check it out.
Spluttering and rubbing water out of his now burning eyes, Charlie coughed and cursed. He didn't even notice the boy until there was a hand reaching over the pier and a pair of worried eyes trained on him.
„Sir? Are you alright?"
Charlie brushed the rest of the water and some unwitting tears out of his eyes and blinked. He knew the boy... it was...
„Arnie, right?" he asked, then cleared his throat. The boy paused, his hand still held out in an offer of assistance, but then he nodded.
„Yeah. You're... one of the policemen?"
„Sergeant Davis," Charlie nodded as well, then shook his head, refusing the hand.
„Thanks, but... I still need to get back down," he said gruffly. He felt the throb in his big toe and knew whatever he hit wasn't the sandy bottom of the lake.
„Isn't it a bit too cold for that?" the boy asked worriedly. „After Dennis..." he choked off at the name.
„Y-yeah," Charlie said, stuttering a bit. He thought being under the water was cold, but the breeze on his wet hair was something else. „I still need to... get something."
„Oh. Do you need some help?"
Charlie wanted to refuse. After all, this was police business. But then... he didn't see anyone else around. Blake and Mattie were still gone and hell... if he had taken few swallows of that damn water, there was no one else to help. Also the breeze on his face told him that getting out would be even less fun than getting into the water.
„Can you maybe... bring me something to dry off?"
Arnie blinked, looking at the pier and noticing Charlie's uniform on the floor... and nothing else.
„Oh. Like... a towel or a blanket?"
Charlie nodded, trying to stop his teeth from too much chattering. Treading water didn't do much for keeping warm. He would have to get back to work or risk freezing. And what was the time anyway?
Damn the Doc. If he's stayed, Charlie would at least know how much he needed to hurry.
Well, he supposed, feeling his discomfort, that the faster he did this the better.
„Yes, sir. I'll be right back," Arnie said with a serious nod, then took off at a run towards one of the nearby buildings. Charlie felt a fleeting gratuitousness towards the boy as he saw him hurry. At least someone took this seriously, he thought a bit bitterly.
Feeling a bit easier at knowing someone would be around shortly with a dry towel or blanket, Charlie focused on the task at hand. He needed to find whatever it was his foot had connected with and if possible, pull it up.
Taking several more deep gulps of air to fill up his lungs properly, Charlie once again dove under. It took him a bit and he was about to give up on his first attempt, when his fingers brushed something sharp and metallic. Charlie felt around and his other hand caught the leg of the pier. Great. He should know where to dive next.
When he came up, Arnie was there, holding a blanket, eyes curious.
„I've got this, sir."
Charlie nodded, taking in few more breaths before speaking.
„Arnie... can you... help me?"
„I think I... found something, but... I don't think I can get it up there."
„You want me to go into the water, sir?"
Charlie shook his head.
„No. Just... take it from me... when I come up."
Arnie's eyes brightened, relieved.
„Oh, alright. I can do that, sir."
„Good," Charlie nodded, then gave a lopsided smile. „It might... take me a few tries though."
„I'll wait," Arnie said all seriously.
It took Charlie three tries total. First time he had to use his hands to free the object from all the weed and grass that kept it trapped in the bottom. Second time he struggled to take it up, but found out something was still holding it down. He pulled it off the lake floor only for it to slip from his grasp. Charlie managed to get his feet out of the way, but decided he needed some air before another attempt.
Third time was the charm and it was a good thing that Arnie was there. Charlie's arms were trembling even as he was handing the object to the boy. He didn't think he could've got it up to the pier by himself. He realised how exhausting this whole dive was as he had to grab Arnie's hand to get himself out of the water. The gravity hit him like a truck and he stumbled a bit, even as he grabbed at the blanket. The breeze on his skin was just too much. He looked down next to his feet at the rusty old wheel disc.
He absentmindedly thanked the boy, when wouldn't you know it, Blake and Mattie sauntered in as if nothing was the matter.
Charlie felt like sniping at both of them for leaving him alone. He wanted to tell them the water was bloody cold and they took their sweet time, but his brain seemed to be working just a tad too slow to get the words out. In the end, he was just proud of his accomplishment on finding the possible cause of death...
When of course Blake had to come up with a new theory and suddenly Arnie was the suspect.
„Looks like you didn't have to go swimming at all, Charlie," Blake said with that incessant smirk of his and Charlie entertained the thought to just... give Blake a slight push into the water.
Sometimes, Charlie hated the way the Doc's mind worked.
Well, sometimes. The offered flask helped to sooth some of the irritation as the whiskey burned a trail down his throat.
The simple thought of sending Blake swimming in the lake and the whiskey, coupled with a deep breath helped settle the irritation he felt. It didn't do anything for the cold though and he wrapped the blanket tighter around his body.
„I think we best take Arnie back to the station with us," Blake said and Charlie blinked. He wasn't quite following. Did Doc really think he was going to waltz into the station, dripping wet in his briefs?
„I... need to change," Charlie somehow managed to say. Blake frowned at that, giving him a quick glance.
„Your clothes are dry, just hop in them? Actually, you best dress up, Charlie. Staying out in this breeze wet is a sure way to catch a cold."
Charlie almost snorted at that.
„My... underwear... is wet!" he whispered, turning his face and hoping perhaps Mattie didn't catch it, but her snicker said she did. The slight understanding twitch of Blake's lips somehow just made it worse.
„Ah, of course. Let's see... we can stop by the house and then head for the station? We have to share the car anyway."
Charlie grimaced. He wasn't that happy about it, knowing the Superintendent will find it a useless loss of time. But the breeze hit his bare feet and he could see a small puddle of water around them. He just wanted to get dry and warm.
„Arnie... we will need you to... come with us."
Arnie looked at the same time confused and scared.
„But... I didn't do anything, I swear."
„It's alright, Arnie. We just need to ask you a few more questions about Dennis. You're going to be fine," Blake jumped in reassuringly, gently patting Arnie on the shoulder. Arnie looked at his face, then at Charlie and finally at Mattie. Then he looked around, as if searching for someone familiar, but the pier was empty. With a sigh, he slowly nodded.
Charlie let out a relieved breath. He really didn't want to have to pull rank while divested of his clothes. Which reminded him... he grabbed the pile with his uniform and headed towards Blake's car. There was no sense in putting the clothes on while he was wet anyway. He looked to see the others following him with somehow amused looks on their faces. He must've looked ridiculous, he could admit that.
It was with that much more satisfaction he saw the smile drop from Blake's face as he settled right on the passenger seat, wet underwear or not. He shot Blake a look, as if daring him to say something. The man chuckled and sat himself behind the wheel, admitting defeat.
„Hey, I wanted to sit there," Mattie protested, as she sulkily crawled onto the back seat, next to Arnie.
„Oh, sorry. Wanna... change places?" Charlie asked and there was a squishy sound as he turned on the leather seat. Mattie made a face, rolled her eyes and settled back.
„Not anymore," she said with a pout. Charlie shrugged, then pulled the blanket tighter around his shoulders.
Blake started the car and they were off.
It was several minutes later that Charlie felt his eyes slipping closed. He leaned his head against the window, his jaw clenched tight to stop his teeth from chattering. An occasional shiver wracked through his body, jolting him awake.
Blake shot him a look and started fiddling with the heating, but gave up after a particularly threatening sound.
„Sorry, Charlie. Looks like you'll have to wait till we reach the house," he noted. „You doing alright?"
Charlie shrugged, eyes already closed. Of course the heating didn't work. It was a wonder that old car even started at times.
There was a momentary silence, broken by chatter from the back of the car. Mattie was talking to Arnie about idle things pertaining the sport. Blake was surprisingly silent, but Charlie didn't care. He could tune all of them out and perhaps get some shut eye. If he was asleep, he wasn't feeling cold. God, he wished for a hot shower right about now.
While the thought of water didn't exactly interest him, he craved the warmth of it. And it would serve Mattie right if he used up all the hot water before her shift at the hospital.
With these thoughts, it was almost understandable he didn't pay much attention to the conversation. So he must've misheard his name being called once or twice... at least he thought that was the reason why there was a slim hand nudging the back of his head.
Of course he didn't expect any such contact so saying it startled him was an understatement. Charlie jumped in the seat, pulling away and looking around with wide eyes.
„Wha-?" he managed to utter, before he realised where he was and what was happening. He blinked, then felt at least some heat touch his cheeks. It was just Mattie. He freaked out on Mattie. Damn.
„It's alive," she deadpanned, although she was giving him a curious look.
He wanted to say 'No thanks to you', but the moment he opened his mouth, a shiver wrecked his body and his teeth clapped shut. He startled, thankful he didn't catch his tongue, but unhappy about the new development.
"Still cold?" Blake asked, sounding almost sympathetic.
Charlie shot him a glare. Of course... did Blake expect him to get miraculously warm while sitting in wet underwear covered only in a damp blanket?
"His skin is a bit on the icy side," Mattie commented, unhelpfully. Charlie would have glared at her too, but she was sitting behind him. He didn't feel like putting that much effort into it anyway.
"How long have you been in that water, Charlie?"
"I told you ten-fifteen minutes top," Blake told him with a slightly reprimanding tone. Charlie felt his cheeks flush, despite the coldness. It was one thing to be reprimanded by his boss, whether it was Ashby or Lawson... and another thing coming from Blake. Especially with Mattie and Arnie in the back seat.
"My w-watch is-isn't w-water-proof!" Charlie stuttered back, letting some of the irritation soak into his voice. Although it seemed to be drowned out by the chattering.
Blake had the decency to look a bit chagrined at least.
"One would have thought you wouldn't want to dilly dally in that water for so long then," she noted.
"M-n-not a d-diver," Charlie bit back. Hell, he really didn't like going under water. If the situation was different... he would have flat out refused and not just because of the cold. He hated the feeling of water clogging his ears, always had trouble with that as a kid. Not to mention being down there, unable to see and knowing there was no one waiting above. Hell, Dennis was seventeen, well trained. And still drowned within a minute. Charlie doubted even Blake could have brought him back after twenty minutes under if anything went wrong.
So lost was he in his little self-pity party, that he didn't catch the movement, until there was a hand on his cheek. He pulled away on instinct, but it was too late.
Blake was already giving him a disapproving look.
"Well, nothing a good cup of tea can't cure," he said finally.
He had expected something else to follow based on the look, but maybe he was just getting paranoid.
He wasn't paranoid. He should have known Blake would pull a fast one on him. But he let himself be lulled into the sense of safety... or well. The idea that Blake would understand the need for duty. After all, Charlie was still on the job.
"B-be r-right back," Charlie said, or tried to, as soon as the car parked in front of Blake's house. He pointedly ignored the raised eyebrow Blake shot him, and he forced back a groan when he heard the other doors on the car open.
He hoped it was just Mattie following him inside, but one look said it was all three occupants. Great. Having a possible suspect inside the house was just what Ashby would approve of. Not.
Charlie wanted to protest, but just then Jean stepped into the hallway and gave a startled yelp.
Charlie froze, realizing a bit belatedly that he was indeed covered only in a flimsy blanket and most likely dragging in some dirt. It was Mattie who had a hold of his uniform and admittedly his shoes as well.
"What on..." Jean blinked, shooting questioning looks at all four of them. "Lucien?" she settled on the most likely culprit and cause of trouble, arms crossing over her chest, head inching to the side.
Blake of course gave her an utterly innocent look.
"What? It was... police business," he said, then with a sigh gave Charlie's shoulder a very light nudge. "Come on Charlie. Warm shower for you, a cup of tea and a quick lie in should fix you right up."
While all of these sounded rather enticing, he hardly had the time. They needed to question Arnie.
"I'll just c-chan-ge, Doc. W-wait for me."
Blake shook his head.
"Nonsense. I can't in good conscience let you go back to work in this state. You spent too long in that water. Don't want you to get pneumonia."
Charlie glared. It felt as if his face had permanently frozen in a glare this last half an hour, but that was just Doc and Mattie's charming presence it seemed.
"Need to g-get to w-work," Charlie argued vehemently, standing his ground, while trying not to shake like a leaf.
"Don't worry, you can pop back in once your skin looses that blue shade," Mattie joked. Charlie didn't much appreciate the humour.
"D-doc," he turned to the man, hoping he would see the seriousness in his eyes.
If Lawson had been still there, maybe Charlie could risk taking half a day off. He knew that Blake and Lawson went along well and he had the man's respect, albeit it was small. But with Doug Ashby? Charlie just wasn't sure. He was of two minds with the man and he didn't want to risk putting himself into the crossbows by appearing to be weak or having done a stupid mistake. Charlie needed to make sure Ashby saw him as competent enough, so that his position in Ballarat was still secure. There was no other way he could protect Blake from the higher ups wanting his head on the silver platter.
"Don't worry, Charlie," Blake jumped in. "I'll let him know you went above and beyond duty and just need a few hours of rest."
"Or rather under and over," Mattie quipped in with a good natured smirk. Charlie still wasn't happy about that and he was planning to say it out loud.
"Oh, stop this arguing. Charlie... go take that shower. You're dripping water on the floor. I don't care what the rest of you are planning to do, but it better not be pestering him," Jean said in a tone that broke no argument. Blake raised his arms in sign of supplication. Arnie took a careful step back and Mattie just sighed and rolled her eyes, realising that her fun was over.
For his part, Charlie felt both embarrassed and... oddly thankful.
That was until he saw Jean's imploring look.
He didn't dare to disobey. He would take her sympathy over annoyance any time.
With one last glance at Blake, asking him to wait, Charlie scurried upstairs and towards the bathroom, though he made a short stop in his new room. Last thing he wanted was to be left without any dry clothes... so he grabbed some fresh underwear and an undershirt, realizing with a grimace that his uniform was still downstairs with Mattie.
He grabbed his sweat pants too, just so he had something to get downstairs in.
All set, he trailed to the bathroom, feeling a bit reassured as he heard sounds of talking downstairs. Good. Blake was still there, which meant he would wait for him.
With that thought in mind, Charlie hurried to the shower.
All he wanted was to turn on the hot water, but realized just in time it would feel scolding. He used his hand to test the temperature. After some trials, he found the only temperature he could tolerate was lukewarm. Even that felt a bit too hot on his skin.
The shivering just seemed to get worse for a bit. Charlie thought that perhaps a bath would have served him better, but he knew he would have fallen asleep in that. He was adding hot water to the shower until there was steam fogging up the bathroom mirror and his skin had turned from pale white to pink. He still felt off. Cold inside, too warm on the outside, but supposed that was the best he could get.
He lost track of time as the shivering ceased, until the water turned once again cold.
Startling, he turned it off, clenching his teeth, then got out.
Putting on some dry clothes felt like heaven and his eyelids were feeling a bit too heavy, but he forced himself to pass by his room and head downstairs. He would feel much warmer in his uniform, he knew.
Only trouble was... he couldn't find it.
Not the uniform... not Blake.
Charlie heard Jean moving around in the kitchen, but the living room was empty. He had a bad feeling so he went to the window... and sure enough. Blake's car was gone.
"They left ten minutes ago," Mattie spoke from behind and Charlie turned around.
"Where's my u-uniform?" he asked, glad that the chattering was mostly gone.
Mattie shrugged, her lips twitching in amusement.
"O'Brien," he said, going for a threatening tone, but failing miserably.
"What? I was sworn to keep the uniform safe... until you're no longer a popsicle."
"I'm fine now," Charlie said, hands clenching into fists. His body decided to betray him just then as a shiver ran through him. Damn it. He knew he should have grabbed the longsleeved shirt instead of the singlet, but he wasn't planning on staying home.
"Tea is ready!" Jean called from the kitchen and Mattie raised an eyebrow.
"Just what the doctor ordered," she said, lips twitching. Charlie wanted to argue, but Mattie had already turned on her heels and headed to the kitchen. Seeing as she was the one knowing the whereabouts of Charlie's uniform, he had no choice but to follow.
He was planning on persuading her with his... charm? Charlie snorted in his mind. Right. Pressuring her wouldn't help either. This was Mattie after all. She was as tough as they came and she was enjoying this way too much to just give up.
Perhaps he could try and get Mrs. Beazley on his side? She seemed to have some sympathy for him after all... and knew what it was like having to deal with Blake on daily basis. Yes, Charlie decided, Mrs. Beazley it was.
"Ah, there you are. Chop chop, drink that tea while it's hot. I added a splotch of something stronger... it should fix you right up."
Charlie took hold of the too warm cup and dutifully blew on the steaming tea, then took a sip.
His eyes watered and he coughed, trying to pretend it was the heat and not the excess alcohol that caused the reaction. Based on the snicker coming from Mattie, he didn't pull it off.
He put the cup back down on the table, but Mrs. Beazley raised her eyebrows.
"Something wrong, Charlie?" she asked, voice honey sweat but sharp at the same time.
Charlie shook his head and took another sip.
Well, after his tongue got used to the scalding temperature, or numb enough to tolerate it, the liquid actually managed what the shower didn't. Charlie felt the warmth spreading from his stomach, through his chest and to his limbs. Despite himself, he slumped slightly in the chair, letting out a sigh of comfort.
Mattie and Jean exchanged a look, but for once didn't comment. Mattie asked about what was the plan for dinner and Jean said something Charlie's mind didn't catch on. He blinked, feeling the alcohol and the hot tea doing its work. He was relaxed. A bit too much perhaps, Charlie thought as his eyes slipped closed. He felt like perhaps resting his head down on the table would be nice. It had felt all too heavy suddenly.
"Why don't you go sit on the couch, Charlie? At least, until you finish the tea," Jean spoke, startling Charlie out of his impromptu slumber.
He shook his head, tensing.
"Need to go to work," he protested. "Need my uniform," he slurred slightly, shooting a glare at Mattie. It was frustrating, but instead of answering him, she looked at Mrs. Beazley.
"Alright then," Jean said with a sigh. "Mattie, go fetch the uniform. Charlie... go to the living room and drink that tea at least. I'll need the table to prep some food."
Charlie couldn't really argue with that as Jean was already ushering him out of the kitchen. He begrudgingly took the half empty cup of tea with him and trudged to the couch. He haven't noticed that Jean followed him, until there was a thick blanket wrapped around his shoulders.
"There. All set for now," she said with a smile, gave Charlie's shoulder a surprisingly friendly pat, then left.
Charlie was alone in the living room, wrapped in a blanket, with a spiked tea in his hands. He could hear Jean chopping some veggies in the kitchen, but no real indication as to where Mattie had gone.
She was taking her sweat time.
Where did she put his uniform anyway? On the roof?
Charlie chuckled at the idea. It was surprisingly not that farfetched... at least not in his current state. He knew Mattie was capable of doing just about anything she set her mind to. And this was a great opportunity for a bit of payback for their first meeting. Show a woman in a cell once and she will never forget it, jeez.
Charlie looked at the clock on the mantle, then blinked. The clock handles seemed to blur in front of his eyes. He reached up to rub at them, but his hand had to pause to cover a yawn.
What was taking so long?
Charlie blinked, turning around.
Mattie still wasn't there. Another yawn broke through his face. The cup started to feel too heavy, so he leaned over and put it on the table. Perhaps he could rest his eyes just for a moment. Until Mattie came. He was sure she would be happy to nudge him awake if he fell asleep.
She did not wake him. In fact, no one did.
Charlie was pretty sure he would have slept through the rest of the day and the night too, if it wasn't for the sweltering heat.
He felt like someone put him in the oven and baked him for an hour, wrapped up like a turkey. Grimacing, Charlie opened his eyes. Wrapped up was the right description. He tried to move his arms, but he found out it was almost impossible. There was not one, but two thick blankets wrapped around him as he lay on the couch, a pillow under his head.
Charlie was pretty sure it wasn't there when he closed his eyes.
He also hadn't been lying out on the couch, but sitting. And then there was the sweating. Waking up to feeling hot was rather disconcerting after the memory of the cold water.
Still... the warmth that currently coursed through his veins came from something else. It was for the first time since his arrival to Ballarat that he felt almost like... home.
He knew that Mrs. Beazley had her reservations about his presence. Despite that though, she was trying to help and offer some measure of comfort. Even though it was currently stifling him, Charlie thought as he struggled to get out of the blankets, he find the gesture to be heart-warming. Perhaps there was a chance to gain a powerful ally in his quest to keep his place in Ballarat and Blake at his job. For whatever crazy reason.
Charlie finally shrugged out of the blankets, and brushed the sweat from his face, sighing in relief.
He felt better.
Actually, he felt good. Ready to conquer the world... or at least get himself into the kitchen and find out how much time had passed. Whether Blake had returned from the station. If not, Charlie would head out and make sure to do his best in working the case and prove Ashby he deserved the promotion. And in the meantime... maybe he could come up with something to show Mrs. Beazley he actually appreciated the care. As for Mattie and Blake... well. Charlie would make sure they got a few cold showers in the mornings for the foreseeable future. After all... he grew up with younger brothers. He wouldn't have survived that without a little bit of petty streak himself.