“I’m sorry to bother you, man,” Lewis began, “but can you come back to the station?”
Lewis quickly explained his need.
“Give me fifteen minutes,” James said. Lewis could hear the smile in his voice.
Jean Innocent hummed quietly to herself as she walked through the empty corridors of the nick. She was rarely here, in this part of the station, at this time of night. She’d been forced to return for her phone charger after discovering her husband must have packed her spare one to take to his conference in Edinburgh. It was either that or he’d put it in a ‘safe spot’. Again.
She revelled in the dim light and near silence. Only the occasional message light flashing on a phone and the low hum of the standby lighting broke the stillness.
Metal clanged against metal and Innocent bit back a startled yelp. The noise had come from the supposedly vacant incident room and she tried to figure out who could be in there at this time, and why.
She approached the main door cautiously.
The room itself was empty, as expected, but a crack of light slipped out from under the door of Lewis and Hathaway’s office in the far corner. The blinds were also drawn, and thin slivers of yellowish-white patterned the glass. That was worrying; Lewis was supposedly on his way to Manchester for the weekend, or so she’d been led to believe, and she'd said goodbye to Hathaway shortly after three when he’d passed her on his way to a multiply-postponed dental appointment. She knew the office door didn’t have a working lock and, with several recent information leaks fresh in her mind, Innocent was now concerned someone was poking about where they had no right to.
Innocent moved forward slowly, and on reaching the door listened carefully. A familiar grunt drifted through the door, followed by an equally familiar snort.
“Have you done this before?” she heard James ask. There was thinly veiled merriment in his voice.
“A few times, thank you.” By his tone, Innocent could easily imagine the look Lewis was giving James – his ‘I might not be a clever clogs but I do know what I’m doing’ double raised eyebrow glare.
“But…” Now James would have his lips pressed together, torn between a frown and a smirk.
Lewis’s voice wavered. “I’ll give; last time it happened I... I might have made a bit too much noise. Val even threatened to throw me out the door; she was convinced the kids were going to come down the stairs and see the whole thing.”
Innocent had raised her hand to rap on the closed door and now froze.
“That looks too wide to fit. You’re sure you know what you’re doing?”
Innocent could only imagine the wordless conversation which took place in the brief silence that followed. Lewis huffed. “Pass that wee bottle. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t fit easily if it’s lubricated well.”
“I’ll defer to your superior knowledge.”
A cap popped and the soft fart of spurting liquid followed.
“Are you ready to give this a shot?” she heard Lewis ask after a moment.
“Whenever you are.” James’s voice was cautious.
Innocent strained to listen without pressing her ear to the door. Something scraped against the floor.
“You’ll have to hold still, James.”
James exhaled sharply. “That’s not quite… If you push too hard it might get stuck or worse.”
“Worse?” Lewis grunted deeply.
A scraping, scratching sound, not unlike a filing cabinet being rocked, was followed immediately by James’s cry.
“Shit. Sorry.” Lewis sounded panicky.
“Shit, is it torn? It’s torn, isn’t it? Bloody hell, that hurts.”
“Just squeeze it tight. NO! Don’t try to look at it. You have to stop the bleeding.”
“Can you do something?” James groaned. “If it gets all over the floor...”
There was the soft shuck of tissues being ripped from the box. “Here.”
There were muffled words Innocent couldn’t quite make out, and a moan of pain.
“Sorry.” Lewis’s voice was guilt-ridden.
“You've said that.” James was decidedly grumpy, which was quite a mild reaction if Innocent was correct in her assumptions.
“Are you all right?” Lewis asked quietly
“Of course I’m not all right – I’m bleeding.”
“You’ll never get a plaster to stick there. Squeeze harder; that should stop it.”
“How am I supposed to…?” James sounded frustrated. “I’ve got that stuff all over my other hand; I can’t get a decent grip. You’re going to have to do it for me.” There was the sound of more tissues being pulled from the box. “Bloody hell! Gently!”
“Sorry. Just trying to get a decent grip on it like you asked.”
There was a sigh of relief; however, Innocent couldn’t quite determine if it was from Lewis or James.
“Can you hold that in place now?” Lewis asked. “I’ll go get the first aid kit from the break room.”
Innocent looked around quickly for somewhere to hide. If she were caught out here she didn’t know what she’d say. One look at her face would make it glaringly clear how much she’d heard, though she doubted James and Lewis could be any more embarrassed than she was feeling right now. It was one thing to suspect something deeper – oh God, that was a bad choice of word – was going on between two of your best detectives; it was something else entirely to have it confirmed in so dramatic a fashion.
“No. No need.” James sounded calmer. “Check in my bottom desk drawer. There should be something in there you can use.”
Innocent breathed a sigh of relief as she heard a drawer opening.
“Have you been raiding Dr Hobson’s supplies? You could open a small pharmacy with this lot.”
“I find it pays to be prepared.” There was another pause broken by the sound of tearing paper – wrappings being removed off something, Innocent assumed.
“That’s going to be awkward to keep a bandage on, you know,” Lewis said. “And a plaster's never going to stick there.”
“So you’ve already pointed out, thank you. D’you think it might need stitches?”
James sounded concerned. Innocent was concerned. If her assumption was right, she couldn’t begin to imagine how James was going to explain this away if he needed to take time off to heal.
“I don’t think…” Lewis grunted softly. “Can you move over here? Under the light.”
“No. No stitches required. You were lucky.”
“No thanks to you,” James grumbled.
“Oh, thank you.” Lewis was indignant. “I was just trying to get it in. We could have swapped places, but you offered...”
“I know.” James sounded contrite. “I thought it might have gone in a bit easier, that’s all. It’s not exactly my first time either.”
Innocent bit her lip so she wouldn’t make a sound. She couldn’t alert them. She had to move, to get away from the door. If either of them were to change their mind and come out to look for something she’d be trapped like a deer in the headlights. She was torn. She should leave; Lewis and James were both very private men and this was a gross invasion of their privacy. On the other hand, why were they… doing that… in the station at all? They both had homes they could go to. She started to move cautiously toward the outer door, stopping a few paces away from the office. What if someone else were to come in like she had? She had no idea how long they’d been here or how long they might stay, and it wasn’t beyond reasonable doubt for any member of any of the teams who were on active cases to turn up unexpectedly.
“How’s that?” Lewis’s voice drifted quietly through the door. “It looks like it’s stopped bleeding at last. How does it feel?”
“Sore, but not too bad.”
“Do you want to keep going?”
“Yeah. Sooner we’re done the sooner you can get on your way to Manchester as planned.”
“Probably best to use as much of this as possible – just to be on the safe side.”
A quiet pop and fart followed Lewis’s words, and Innocent’s mind was made up. She turned and walked away as quickly and silently as she could. If she had to stand watch outside the door to CID until she heard them leaving she would. She was determined to find a way to ask them to be more discreet without letting them know what she’d inadvertently witnessed. She and Laura wouldn’t always be able to look out for them, and she wasn’t going to lose her best team over a foolish indiscretion.
Robbie sagged against his desk and watched as James slipped his hoodie back on. He winced as James carefully pushed his bandaged hand through the sleeve.
“I really appreciate your help, man. At least now I’ll still be able to get up to Lyn’s before midnight. I’m just sorry you hurt yourself getting the bloody seat in place. S’not what I had in mind when I asked for your help.”
“I know. These things happen.” James studied his hand and then looked down at the shining red bicycle which stood in the middle of the office floor, balanced by its training wheels. “You are going to be the best Grandpa ever.” He grinned at Robbie, who grinned back. “What I don’t understand is why you didn’t order the bike preassembled if the plan was to take it to Lyn’s ‘ready to go’?”
Robbie wiped the last of the lubricating oil off his hands and tossed the tissues and the empty tube in the bin. “I thought I had. Last bloody time I do that online ordering business by meself.”
James laughed softly. “Can’t leave you alone for a minute, can I?”
Robbie rolled his eyes. “When the delivery bloke arrived with a box and not a bike… Lyn, the wee bugger, thought it was hilarious when I rang and told her why I’d be late.”
“You didn’t consider taking it up ‘as is’ and assembling it when you got there instead?”
Robbie nodded. “First thing I suggested to Lyn, but she said Jack was so excited about this weekend she was afraid he’d wake up if we started banging about in their wee place. None of us wanted to risk ruining the surprise, so… I called you.”
James nodded. “I’m glad you did.” He looked at the bike and his hand again, and then started to giggle.
Robbie turned and stared at him. “What’s so funny?”
“I was just thinking how it might have sounded to someone outside the door – you and me putting the bike together.”
Robbie thought for a moment and started to chuckle. “Reckon it would have made Laura’s day.”
James sat on the edge of the desk next to him, pressing his thigh against Robbie’s. “And Innocent would be deciding whether or not to put us up in front of Professional Standards.”
“Ah, I don’t think she’d throw us to the wolves.”
“And risk splitting up one of her best teams?” Robbie grinned. “Nah. As long as we promised to keep it out of the nick I reckon she’d turn a blind eye.”
“Do you think they discuss… us – Dr Hobson and Innocent?”
“I know Laura’s got her suspicions, and sometimes I get the feeling Innocent’s watching us, looking for something, but I don’t think they’d talk about it; not without some sort of… evidence.”
James rocked himself against Robbie. “I guess what they don’t know can’t hurt them, right?”
“No, I guess not.” Robbie turned his head, looked fondly at James, and sighed. “I wish you could come up to Manchester with us.”
“But we agreed.” It was almost a whisper.
“I know.” Robbie brought a hand up to rest on James’s shoulder and exhaled slowly. “But it's high time you and Lyn met. I’ve decided I'm going to have a chat with her tomorrow night, after Jack’s party.”
“You’re certain?” James looked a little overwhelmed.
“She’ll be… surprised, but she’ll be fine with it. She’s like her mum; you’ll be more than welcome, I’m sure of it.”
“Okay. You know her best.”
“Aye, I do.” Robbie squeezed James’s shoulder and stood up. “An’ I know if I don’t get a move on she’ll be on the phone thinkin’ the worst’s happened.”
“I’ll help you get the bike into the car.”
“Not with that hand you won’t.”
“I'm perfectly capable of holding doors open.”
Robbie conceded. “Fair enough. But first things first; I won’t see you for a couple of days, so how about a decent goodbye kiss, pet.”