Title: Broken Trust
Characters: Robbie Lewis, James Hathaway
Genre: hurt/comfort, friendship
Rating: all ages
Spoilers/Warnings: No spoilers. Takes place three months after the pilot. One instance of coarse language, mention (not graphic) of canon-typical violence to an OC.
Summary: Robbie's been working with Hathaway for three months when a surprising discovery makes him wonder how well he knows his bagman.
A/N: Written for the Inspector Lewis Summer 2013 Challenge. Based on a prompt by Wendymr. Prompt at the end of the fic
Betas: Sometimes the line is blurry between 'official' betas and friends you've wheedled/begged/tricked/bribed into looking at a story that you're wrestling with. I owe infinite thanks to ComplicatedLight (Britpicker and beta extraordinaire, Yamx (a brilliant beta, even in fandoms she doesn't know!), Sasha1600, and UniquePOV. Thanks also to Wendymr for her intriguing prompt.
Robbie glares at his wristwatch. Nine o’bloody clock at night, and he’s sat at his desk instead of on his sofa at home. Can’t be helped, though. Innocent wants this administrative report on her desk first thing in the morning, two days before her previously announced deadline. There’s no urgent case to save him from the grind of paperwork, so here he is at his desk, staring at his damn computer. The blinking dot on the screen mocks him.
A squeaky rumble draws his attention away from the computer. One of the cleaners, a young bloke with short-cropped black hair, is pushing a wheelie bin down the hallway. He pauses in the doorway, glances at Robbie, and resumes his slow trek. Robbie realises belatedly that this isn’t the first time tonight he’s heard the squeak of those wheels. The poor sod has been waiting for him to leave. Someone may as well get his work done on time tonight. Clearly, it won’t be Robbie Lewis. "Oi! Come in. You can empty the bins now."
The cleaner hesitates, tugging at the collar of his dark blue boiler suit. No doubt his supervisor at the cleaning firm has cautioned him about disturbing senior police officers while they’re working.
"Come in, man," Robbie repeats.
The cleaner enters. Quickly, he empties the two small rubbish bins and fits them with new liners. He glances around the office.
"Ta. That’s good enough. If your boss fusses because you didn’t hoover or clean the windows or whatnot tonight, tell him Inspector Lewis said it was all right. He can phone me if he likes."
"Thank you, sir." The bloke doesn’t look happy, but he pushes his wheelie bin out of the room. By the time the annoying squeak fades away, Robbie is tapping at his keyboard again. Perhaps he’ll be home before midnight after all.
Bugger. He needs a few more details from the McMartin file to complete this bloody report. Robbie checks the stack of folders on the corner of his desk. Not there. He remembers suddenly that he’d given the file to Hathaway, who had been intrigued by the forged suicide note. Robbie snorts. His bagman is an odd duck, but in the three months they’ve been working together, it’s become clear that he’s got the makings of a fine detective. Besides the big brain (and the big mouth to go with it), he’s a hard worker. Not like some, reaching for the coat rack as soon as the second hand of the wall clock marks end of shift. Today, he practically needed to order Hathaway out of the office at half six. It wasn’t as though the bloke was working on anything urgent, or could help Robbie with his own assignment.
Hathaway had headed out, but not before nagging his governor for the umpteenth time to go out for food. "A half-stale sandwich at your desk won’t do much to restore mental or physical energy, sir. A short, brisk walk to the Jade Dragon, followed by a plate of their excellent kung pao chicken will make a new man of you."
"You’re my sergeant, not my carer," Robbie had grumbled. "Off with you." Once his sergeant left the nick, Robbie had taken a brisk walk to Casa d’Italia, where he enjoyed a plate of their excellent sausage lasagne. It didn’t make a new man of him, but it soothed his temper and gave him energy to face the bloody computer again.
Until now. The energy is gone, his head is starting to throb, and his stomach is hinting that sausage may have been a bad choice. He crosses the room to Hathaway’s desk and pulls open the bottom drawer where his sergeant usually keeps borrowed files. He can see a folder with the right colour label, half-hidden beneath a large brown envelope. As Robbie pulls the folder out, the flap of the envelope pops open, spilling some of its contents onto the floor. The Queen smiles serenely up at him from a dozen banknotes of assorted denominations. Bugger.
Not again. It's been thirty years, but his mind is instantly pulled back to Newcastle, and another young copper he liked and trusted. Steady on, Robbie. Focus on the present.
He sorts the bills into tidy stacks before counting them. It's exactly five thousand pounds. There are a pair of the new fifties, but most of the notes are old fivers and tenners, worn and crumpled. They didn’t come from a cashpoint. If Hathaway had taken five thousand pounds out of the bank to buy... something, he’d have a white bank envelope full of crisp fifties and twenties. Don’t jump to conclusions, he tells himself. There are some perfectly honest reasons for a man to have that much cash.
Another, more cynical voice adds, And ten times as many dishonest ones.
That’s absurd. Hathaway wouldn’t... Come off it, Robbie. You like to think you’re a brilliant judge of character, but even a canny old copper can be fooled. How much do you really know about him? Does he have family? Why did he leave the seminary? How can he afford his lifestyle?
The last question hits hardest. It’s something he hasn’t thought about before today. Robbie knows how much a DS earns. He’s been inside Hathaway’s flat a couple of times. His sergeant has some pricey electronics to play with. His suits—Robbie isn’t an expert, but he’s seen enough of Oxford’s fashionably-dressed elite to know that Hathaway’s suits don’t come from the bargain rack at M&S. Then there’s the flat itself. That much space in that neighbourhood has got to be beyond his means.
You don’t know about his family, he reminds himself. Maybe he comes from money. It’s possible, Robbie decides... but it doesn’t feel right. And whether Hathaway is as rich as Midas or as poor as an ex-churchmouse, it still begs the question: why is he hiding five thousand quid inside his desk? A large sum of money in small notes shrieks ‘payoff’. From Hathaway or to him? Doesn’t matter. Robbie shudders. The idea that his bagman might be a bent copper is sickening.
Why did he leave the money here in the nick? Why not take it home? Maybe he didn’t have the opportunity to do it discreetly. Robbie remembers how Hathaway had repeatedly urged him to take a meal break. Perhaps that wasn’t concern for his governor, but a desire to have the office to himself.
Robbie rubs his aching head. What now? He ought to report this to the Chief Super first thing in the morning. Even as the thought passes through his mind, he knows he won’t do it. Not right away. Robbie needs to look Hathaway in the eye and hear his explanation before giving up on him—on their partnership.
Right now, he’s got to finish the bloody report. He places the brown envelope in the file drawer where he keeps sensitive material, locks it, and resolutely turns his attention back to the computer screen.
Robbie is home by half ten, but it’s long past midnight before he falls into an uneasy sleep.
They’re walking through the woods in search of a criminal. Fortunately, there’s a trail of leaves to follow. Hathaway picks the leaves up and stuffs them into the pockets of his jacket, only they’re not really leaves, they’re banknotes.
"You should leave those on the ground," Robbie chides. "How do you expect to find your way back, eh?"
"I’m not going back, sir. I’m going to stay here, in the woods. With this—" He holds out a fistful of banknotes. "—I can rent a large tree." Hathaway looks thoughtful. "Maybe an oak. If I gather enough of these, I can afford an oak." He stoops down and grabs a handful of notes, passing one to his governor.
Robbie looks at it. It’s a £100 note, which seems as real and sensible as everything else around him. The Queen’s head turns to stare at him, and he sees that the face beneath the crown is that of Jean Innocent.
"Inspector Lewis, if you can’t even control your own bagman, perhaps you should consider early retirement."
He flips the note over only to find a very familiar face on the reverse side. The caption reads ‘E. Morse’ . Robbie grins. If they’d dared to spell it out, Morse would’ve haunted the bloody Bank of England. His former governor scowls at him. "LEW-is, I taught you better than this. Don’t settle for the easiest answer. Use your head!"
"But, sir!" he protests, just as a gust of wind rips the note from his hand.
"Clean up this mess," Morse barks. Faintly, from the other side of the note, Innocent echoes his words.
"I’ll take care of that, sir." A dark-haired bloke with a broom starts to clear a path through the wood. Robbie thanks him and hurries to catch up with Hathaway.
His sergeant exclaims, "I’m late, I’m late!" As Hathaway runs faster and faster, his long white rabbit ears flap in the wind.
"Curiouser and curiouser," Robbie mutters...
He’s up earlier than usual, determined to be the first one into the office. No sign of Hathaway’s car in the car park. Good. Once inside, Robbie sets his coffee on his desk. He won’t take a sip until he’s checked his traps. He stoops down in front of Hathaway’s desk. The short strands of dark thread that he'd pulled from the hem of his trousers and left tucked into all three drawers are on the floor. He checks his own desk. The threads he left there are also gone. Robbie returns to his sergeant’s desk and pulls the bottom drawer open. The contents have been moved about—not drastically, but he can tell that someone has searched it since he last looked inside. He feels less foolish now about the thread trick, which he’d read about in some old spy thriller. Hathaway must have returned late at night, after Robbie departed. He could verify that by asking to see the recording of the lobby CCTV, only that would raise official interest, and he isn’t ready for that yet.
He hears footsteps in the hallway, and forces himself not to peer over his shoulder, not to jump up in a hurry. As long as he doesn’t act guilty, no one will think twice about a DI looking in his bagman’s desk. Robbie returns to his own desk, and takes several deep gulps of coffee before turning on his computer.
The other day when he'd driven Hathaway home, there was a 'To Let' sign outside for one of the other flats in the building. He recalls that the letting agent had a peculiar name. Oddly, Oddity, something like that. Oddy, that's it. Robbie is no computer genius, but it isn't hard to find the agency website. The advertised flat is about the same size as Hathaway's, and the listed rent is... bugger. Robbie clicks the tab shut, frowning. He’s checking his email when Hathaway breezes into the office.
"Good morning, sir. You’re the proverbial early bird today."
"G’morning," Robbie grunts. And now I’ve got to work out if I’ve caught meself a worm. A lying, cheating bastard of a worm. The thought is depressing. Could he have misjudged Hathaway that badly? He’d planned to hold off on confronting his sergeant, study his behaviour, perhaps give him a chance to confess voluntarily, but he feels too weary. "Close the door."
Hathaway raises his brows, but does as he’s told. He returns to his seat. "Have we got a new case?" They’re not on the rotation just now.
"No. Thought you ought to know—I’ve got your money. From your desk."
Hathaway frowns. "Money? Oh! For the vending machines." His face clears. The machines in the nick are none too reliable about giving change. Hathaway keeps a handful of coins in his top drawer to buy the occasional Mars bar or packet of crisps.
"Not what I meant," Robbie says. He lays the brown envelope on his own desk. "Look familiar?"
Hathaway shakes his head. He looks attentive, mildly curious. "No, sir."
"That’s surprising. I went into your desk last night to get the McMartin file and I found this." He opens the flap of the envelope and lets some of the notes spill out. "I counted it: five thousand quid."
"Very droll, sir. The joke might have worked better if you'd left the envelope in my desk for me to discover. Are those counterfeit notes, or did you borrow real ones from an inappropriately helpful friend in Evidence?"
He can feel his blood pressure rising. "This is no joke, Hathaway, so I suggest you give it a rest with the witty remarks and tell me the truth. If you’ve got a good explanation for why that money was in your desk, well and good. If it’s just some foolishness on your part, then Innocent probably doesn’t need to know. But unless you tell me what’s going on, I’ve got no choice but to refer this on to the Chief Super and to Professional Standards."
Hathaway's smile vanishes. "Sir, I’ve never seen that envelope before. I don’t know where it came from."
"Don’t lie to me."
"I’m not lying. Look, if you did find that money in my desk—"
"If? If? So I’m the liar, is that what you’re saying, sergeant?"
"I’m saying that I can’t give you the answers you want, because I don’t know anything. That money was not in my desk when I left last night."
"What I am supposed to think? That Father Christmas came early?"
"Why not?" There's heat in the usually calm voice. "You’ve already made a number of assumptions. I’d like to know what I’ve done to warrant this level of distrust."
"Living beyond your means, for starters."
Hathaway rolls his eyes. "Ah, yes. You’ve discovered my yacht, my Lamborghini and my holiday villa in Rimini."
"I’ve seen some of the toys you’ve got in your flat. Maybe there’s no yacht, but a fancy laptop and a custom-built stereo—"
"And a vintage Gibson guitar. Yes, I’ve made some indulgent purchases over the years. I did what most people do—I saved up."
"Did you save up for all those fancy designer suits, too?"
"I buy most of my suits second-hand."
Robbie scoffs. "You’re not telling me that you shop at Oxfam for the likes of that?" He jabs a finger at the very smart suit jacket that Hathaway is wearing.
"There are shops in London where you can get a Versace suit for as little as £250. Regular customers are sent email notifications when something in their size arrives." He lifts his chin. "Anything else, sir?"
"As a matter of fact, yes. There’s your flat. I looked up the letting agency for your building. According to their website, a flat in your building goes for a monthly rent that's bigger than your pay cheque. You want to explain how you manage that little trick?"
Hathaway’s face goes curiously blank. He studies his clasped hands, as if they contain an important clue, then lets out a soft huff of breath. Robbie knows that sigh. He’s heard it in the interview room countless times, just before a confession. He’s both relieved and sad to hear it now.
"My mother died when I was fourteen," Hathaway says to his desk. "My father—let’s just say that we didn’t get on."
Robbie suppresses a grimace. Not the sodding unhappy-childhood excuse!
"Between school and university, and spending holidays with friends, I didn’t see him very often. That suited both of us. He died a few months before I graduated from Cambridge." He pauses, clasping his hands together tightly. "Shortly after I left the seminary, I received a letter from a solicitor in Norwich. He was the executor of my paternal grandfather’s estate. Apparently, not getting along with one’s father runs in the family. Other than biological necessity, I’d had no reason at all to suspect that I ever had a paternal grandfather."
"And I suppose this conveniently dead grandfather left you his fortune?"
"Sadly, no. He left me some money in the form of a small monthly annuity. Evidently, granddad was afraid that a lump sum might tempt me to splurge it all on something frivolous."
"Like a yacht?"
"He may have been worrying about something like that. I’d be more likely to indulge in a racing scull." Hathaway lets out another sigh. "The annuity is enough to make my flat affordable. With what’s left over, in six months I could save up for... oh, an aluminium dinghy," he says scornfully. He gestures at the envelope.
"The contents of that would buy a custom-built carbon fibre single scull."
"Are you telling me—"
"No, I’m not confessing. I’ve never seen that bloody envelope before, and I don’t know how it got into my desk. But since you want to think the worst of me, there’s a motive you can grab onto."
"I don’t want to think the worst of you, but I can’t ignore this, not without a good explanation."
"Do you know what bothers me the most about this mess, sir? It’s not that you think I’m venal, it’s that you apparently think I’m stupid."
"What? I don’t—"
"Having somehow procured my ill-gotten gains, I cleverly left them in an unsealed envelope in an unlocked drawer where anyone could stumble across them. Where someone did stumble across them. Well done, me!" He stares defiantly at his governor.
Suddenly, Robbie can hear his gran’s voice as clearly as if she were in the room with him. "He’s proud as Lucifer an’ twice as clever, but I don’t think there’s any real harm in the lad." Gran had been talking about one of the boys in the neighbourhood, but her description fits Hathaway to a T. He studies his sergeant with the care he gives to a piece of vital evidence. Beneath the cold anger there’s hurt—no surprise—and also fear. Fear? Of what?
Rejection. Here’s a young man who was effectively orphaned at fourteen. His mum died and his dad pushed him away. How and why don’t matter right now. The seminary kicked him out. Again, why doesn’t matter. And now his governor, the DI he specifically requested to work for is—no. Robbie won’t do that. Not without clear proof of illegal doings.
"You’re not stupid," Robbie says slowly, "so put those big brains of yours to work. Help me work out who put that in your desk."
James’s eyes widen. "You believe me?"
"I want to believe you," Robbie replies. He won’t commit himself further than that. "Can you get me some proof of that annuity of yours?"
"I can," Hathaway says promptly. He consults his Blackberry, picks up the handset of his desk phone, presses the speaker button, and dials a number. A woman’s voice announces the name of the solicitor’s firm and asks how she can be of assistance. Hathaway gives his name, account number, and some sort of password. He requests a financial statement. Less than five minutes later, the office fax machine is spitting out some very official-looking papers.
Robbie studies them briefly, then nods in satisfaction. He doesn’t really need them, and they’re not conclusive proof of Hathaway’s innocence, but his gut is satisfied. "So... who do you think we’re looking for?"
"What's the time frame? I assume you left the room at some point." Robbie gives him the times of his meal break.
"That settles when. Perhaps we ought to tackle why rather than who. Anyone in the building could have come into the office while you were having dinner." Hathaway wrinkles his brow.
"Someone trying to get you into trouble?"
"There are some people on the Force who’d be happy to see me fall on my arse, but I don’t think I have any real enemies. Certainly not the sort who’d go to this kind of effort and expense."
"And they couldn’t be sure it would make trouble," Robbie replies. "If I hadn’t needed that file, I’d never have seen the money." He glances at his sergeant. "Not until you found it and showed it to me." The words coming out of his mouth surprise Robbie as much as Hathaway, but they feel right. That’s exactly what Hathaway would do.
"A bribe?" Hathaway muses aloud. He shakes his head. "If I were going to spend that kind of money on a bribe, I’d want to sound out the recipient first."
Robbie nods. Too much risk of losing the money, or being reported to Professional Standards.
"Maybe..." Hathaway says slowly, "it’s not about me."
"What d’ye mean?"
"Sir, can you show me exactly where you found the envelope?"
Robbie takes the envelope, crosses to his sergeant’s desk, and pulls open the bottom drawer. He places the envelope in the drawer, careful to leave the flap open, just on top of the file folder for the McMartin case.
Hathaway studies the drawer. "When you went to dinner, sir, did you turn off the lights in here?"
"Course I did." It’s a well-ingrained habit. He hadn’t needed the Chief Super’s recent memo on energy conservation to do the sensible thing. "What, you think in the dark someone mistook your desk for mine?"
"I think someone didn’t care who the desk belonged to. Someone was careless, and in a hurry." His voice gains speed and confidence, the way it does at a crime scene when he’s theorising out loud. He removes the envelope and backs up until he’s pressed against the door. "Here’s our culprit—"
"PC Plod?" Robbie suggests.
Hathaway wrinkles his nose. Evidently he’s not a fan of Noddy. "Constable Dogberry."
Robbie decides not to ask.
"Dogberry has an envelope with five thousand pounds in small notes. For now, never mind how he got it. He needs to hide it. Mostly likely just for a short time, but he needs to do it immediately." He makes a dramatic gesture that would fit perfectly well in a panto. "Look! There’s a dark office. The occupants have gone home to sleep the sleep of the just. No one would think to look in here. When he’s done with his other business, he can come back and reclaim his money."
"So this Dogsbody—"
"So this constable dashes into an empty office and shoves his money into the first desk he comes to?" Hathaway’s desk is nearer the door. "But when he comes back, the lights are on and there’s DI Lewis, hard at work, and not looking as though he’s going anywhere soon." Robbie grimaces. "Which was accurate enough. I didn’t walk out of here until quarter past ten."
"So he waits—or returns later—and looks in my desk for his envelope. When he can’t find it, he probably searches the other drawers, and perhaps yours, too."
"Yeah, he searched both of them," Robbie replies, and explains the thread trick.
"MI5 ought to have recruited you sir," Hathaway says admiringly.
"Ah, don't talk rubbish, man. I'm not the devious cloak and dagger sort. Just a simple copper, me."
"Whatever you say, sir," Hathaway replies, in his best I'm-just-humouring-you tone.
"Rubbish!" he repeats. What was it that Morse said in his dream? Clean up this mess... And there had been a bloke with a broom, sweeping up the leaves that were really banknotes. "Sodding hell! The rubbish bins. He came in to empty them—no, he was in the hallway, and I called him in to empty them, and then sent him away. He looked none too pleased, though I didn’t think anything of it at the time."
"One of the cleaners? Do you know who he is?"
"A new bloke. Don't know his name, but I can find out." A quick phone call, and he’s got the information he needs. "Tom Barlow. He’s called in sick today."
"Financial flu?" Hathaway suggests. "Felony fever?"
"Let's find out."
The short drive to Tom Barlow's flat is made in silence. Robbie's under no illusion that things are back to normal between him and Hathaway. Once this money business is sorted, they'll have to talk. He hates the idea, but he's the senior officer, and it's his responsibility. More importantly, it's his fault. If Hathaway had jumped to conclusions like that on a case, he'd have given his DS a thorough bollocking for sloppy thinking.
Tom Barlow lives in a rundown building on a rundown street. A young woman answers the door, peeking out through the tiny gap that the security chain allows. She’s in her mid-twenties, wearing jeans and a black t-shirt with the logo of some band, but the name is hidden by the multicoloured striped shawl draped over her shoulder. Most likely she’s pretty when her face isn’t taut with worry and her eyes shadowed with fatigue.
"We’re looking for Tom Barlow," Robbie says in a kindly tone. The poor girl is younger than his Lyn, and may well be uninvolved in her boyfriend's scheming.
"He’s not here," she says promptly. "Gone to London to visit a mate."
It could be true, but Robbie would wager that it isn’t. He pulls out his warrant card. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Hathaway doing the same. "We really do need to speak to him."
She closes her eyes briefly. "Come in." The woman unchains the door. As she steps back to let them in, Robbie can see that the shawl is actually a baby sling. The occupant—plump, cheerful, and smelling of soap and talcum powder—gives him a toothless grin. Three, maybe four months old, Robbie judges.
They walk into a none-too-large lounge. Robbie catalogues the details in one swift glance: small telly sitting on top of a packing crate, a sofa covered with a faded blue paisley throw, and a battered metal foot-locker (painted yellow) serving as a coffee table.
"Tom? Tommy! The police are here."
A weary male voice calls from the back of the flat, "What?"
"I said, the police are here. Come out."
"That’s not funny, Sarah. I—" Tom Barlow freezes in the doorway of the lounge. When he recognises Robbie, he turns pale. There's a deep purple bruise on his jaw that wasn't there last night.
"Good morning, Mr Barlow," Robbie says. "Can we have a word?"
On cue, Hathaway pulls the envelope out of his coat. "You left a rather unexpected item in my desk."
"Oh, God." Barlow limps across the room, moving like a man three times his twenty-five years. Shakily, he lowers himself to the sofa. He looks back and forth between the two men, before settling his gaze on Robbie. "Please, sir. I need that money. I could give you a few hundred quid, but—"
Robbie holds up one hand, palm outwards. "Stop right there. Whatever you’ve done, attempting to bribe a police officer will only make it worse. If that money is legally yours, you’ll get all of it back."
"The only thing I'm guilty of is being a bloody idiot," Barlow says.
Sarah, now sat beside him, takes his hand in hers. "Tell them, Tommy."
It's an all-too-common story. A young couple, just starting out in life, faced with a flurry of unexpected expenses. Barlow lost his job at a shipping warehouse, and the cleaning firm doesn't pay nearly as much.
"And then..." He glances at the baby, now sleeping contentedly in the sling.
Robbie remembers all too well what a baby can do to a young family's finances.
Shortly after Luke was born, the situation became desperate. They were behind on the rent. The twelve-year-old Ford Fiesta that Sarah relies on to get to her job in a nursing home needed some expensive repairs. They'd already borrowed what they could from family and friends.
"I thought about going to one of those payday loan places, but none of them would give me as much as I needed. I was so afraid we'd be kicked out of the flat. I don't mind couch-surfing with mates, or even sleeping rough, but with the baby, we couldn't..." He finishes the sentence with a vague, helpless wave of his free hand.
Oh. He exchanges knowing glances with his sergeant. "And then someone told you about a friendly bloke who would advance you the larger amount that you needed?" Robbie doesn't need an answer; it's written on Barlow's face.
Hathaway jumps in. "Only the interest was more than you expected it to be, and it kept growing."
Barlow nods. "The last time, I couldn't make the full payment, and Mackie wasn't so friendly anymore. Started making threats."
"So where did you get five thousand quid?"
"From my great aunt. She hasn't spoken to me in years. Told me I was wasting my life by not going to uni. But I was desperate, so I went to her. After I'd begged and grovelled to her satisfaction, she went into her bedroom and came out with that envelope."
"Is she the sort who doesn't trust banks?"
Barlow snorts. "She's the sort who doesn't trust anyone. Told me that's all I'd get from her, and I wasn't to expect another farthing. She actually said that. Farthing. Like a character out of Dickens or something."
Robbie decides not to mention that he remembers being given a handful of farthings for pocket money when he was a boy. "What happened next?"
"By the time I'd got the money, it was late, and I had to go straight to work. I stuffed the envelope inside my boiler suit. I figured that I'd deposit it after work, except for the amount I owed Mackie. He prefers cash to cheques."
Most loan sharks do. It keeps life simple—an' it keeps the Inland Revenue out of your business.
"My mobile rang sometime around 7:00. It was one of Mackie's thugs, telling me to meet him at the cafe on the corner, right away. Said he had a message for me from his boss. I didn't want to bring the money with me. I was afraid he'd take it all, not just what I owed Mackie. Or even if I brought the exact amount, that he'd keep it for himself and tell Mackie I hadn't paid up. I don't have a locker or any place of my own at the nick." He rubs his chin with his thumb. "Your office was dark. I thought you'd gone home, and besides, it was just supposed to be for a little while."
He describes his meeting with the thug, who took great delight in telling Barlow that the interest on his loan had gone up again. "I told him I'd bring the money to Mackie's office first thing in the morning. Only..."
Robbie nods. Only DI Lewis was in the way, and afterwards the money was gone.
"I didn't sleep at all last night. Couldn't work out what I ought to do."
"You work in a police station, man. Why didn't you tell someone what was going on?"
"I was scared. Didn't know how to explain. And when I couldn't find the money, I thought..." He stares at the threadbare carpet.
He thought that I was a bent copper, that I'd stolen his money. And if he'd complained, it'd be his word against mine. Years of practice keep the anger at bay. Robbie's been called every foul name in the book. Suspects have charged him with every offence from rudeness to murder. This unspoken accusation stings more than most.
"In the morning, I went out. Didn't really know where I was going... just walking... and two of Mackie's thugs found me. They said they had a message from their boss." He winces. The sort of message with very few words, punctuated with fists and boots. And there's something in the way that Tom glances uneasily at Sarah that makes Robbie wonder if the thugs threatened to go after her, too.
Robbie looks at Hathaway. "I think we've heard enough. You want to call OTS? You speak their language." Hathaway nods and heads out of the room, mobile in hand.
"I don't understand," Barlow says.
"Office of Trading Standards," Robbie explains. "They regulate lenders, and they deal with unregistered ones like your friend Mackie. OTS will explain the details, but I'm telling you that you don't have to pay him back."
"What?" Barlow looks shocked, and Sarah's eyes are as wide as tea-saucers.
"There is no legal obligation to repay a loan from an unregistered lender. You don't owe him anything. Not a farthing," he adds with a broad smile.
"But they can't lock him up, can they? And what about his thugs? They're on the loose, and Mackie will deny sending them—"
Robbie raises a hand in a soothing gesture. "That's where we come in, Mr. Barlow. OTS will handle the financial end of things, and the police will see to it that the men who assaulted you are identified and arrested. And you'll get your money back."
Tom rubs his face with both hands, as if he's trying to wake himself up. "We get the money, and don't have to pay Mackie? Oh, that is fucking brilliant!"
Sarah gasps. "Really?" The baby, startled awake, starts to fuss. She bends her head over him. "Hush, sweetie. It's all right. Everything is going to be all right."
It's not quite that simple; few things are. Robbie has to call Innocent, which she makes clear he should have done before setting off on an 'impulsive, ill-advised jaunt' and 'setting a poor example for a subordinate officer'. He listens impassively, inserting 'I understand' and 'yes, ma'am' at appropriate moments. At the end of the bollocking, which is milder than others he's had from her, Innocent instructs Robbie to liaise with DI Wetton, who's been investigating predatory lenders in Oxford. There's a very awkward phone call to Miss Mavis Barlow, who is not at all pleased to have a policeman 'sticking his officious nose into private financial matters that don't concern him in the slightest,' but finally deigns to confirm that she gave her grand nephew a gift of five thousand pounds.
Eventually, all the right people are busily investigating Leon "Mackie" MacBain and his minions; Tom Barlow is being given a police escort to the nick, where he can be officially interviewed (with a brief detour to his bank to make a deposit); Sarah and Luke are left at home under the protection of a pair of plainclothes DCs. Robbie and Hathaway are free to return to their own work.
By then it's lunchtime. Robbie drives to one of his favourite takeaway spots. Ten minutes later, he and Hathaway are sat on a bench in the May sunshine, eating doner kebabs. Robbie finishes half the kebab, then distracts himself by tearing off small crumbs of pitta and tossing then to the growing crowd of pigeons.
He owes Hathaway an apology. "Erm, about this morning..."
"If it's all the same to you, sir, I'd just as soon forget about it."
"It's not all the same to me," Robbie says firmly.
"Yes, sir." Hathaway's head is bowed, his shoulders hunched. He sounds... resigned.
Robbie realises that his sergeant is expecting the sort of half-arsed apology that mostly consists of why his governor was perfectly justified in making the assumptions that he did. Sod that. It's not common for an inspector to apologise to his bagman—God knows that Morse never did—but if he's going to do it, he'll do it right. Hathaway deserves a proper apology, or better still, a full explanation. That means he's got to talk about the past, about painful memories that he'd rather not think about, let alone talk about. Only he made Hathaway do the same, didn't he? Made him tell me about his dad and grandad.
"I've seen my share of bent coppers," he says calmly. "No one likes to admit it, but we all run across a few bad'uns in the course of a career. If we're lucky, it's someone we don't know well. Just a vaguely familiar face in the squad room." Hathaway isn't moving, but there's a tension in his body that tells Robbie he's listening carefully. "Couple of years before I was seconded to the BVI, there was a DS stealing drugs out of Evidence. Hard stuff—mostly opiates. I barely knew the bloke. When I heard about it, I said 'good riddance to bad rubbish', and went on with my day."
Hathaway nods. "I heard about that incident, though it was before I joined the Force."
Robbie sighs. "When I was a very young and very green PC, back in Newcastle, there was another constable, name of Robert Summers. He went by Bob, but of course the jokers on the squad called him Bobby, so the two of us were 'Robbie and Bobby, the Carry On Constables'." They'd been nothing like the bumbling constables from the film, but the nickname stuck. "It brought us together. We were never best mates, but we'd have the odd pint together. Went to a footie match once, when my—when I was alone for the weekend." Val had been at a hen party for an old school friend. "Any road, after working together for two years, I thought I knew Bob. Came into the nick one morning, an' he's not there. They tell me he's been arrested for stealing jewellery out of Detained Property. Course I thought that was another sodding joke, but then the Property Officer told me himself." He shakes his head. "Wasn't just an impulse, neither. He'd been at it for months. Took a while for the thefts to be discovered because Bob was replacing the valuables with cheap stuff he'd bought at charity shops. String of fake pearls for real ones, that sort of thing."
"I was gutted," he confesses, and the pain in his voice is enough to make Hathaway turn and look at him. "I thought I knew him an' he was bent."
"Not just a crime, but a personal betrayal," Hathaway says quietly.
"Yeah." That's enough of the past. Time he was talking about the present. "I was out of line this morning. I needed to ask you about the money, no way around that—but I had no right to jump to conclusions, or to speak to you like I did."
"No, don't say anything yet." This is going to be hard enough without interruptions. "I'm a senior officer, and your governor. It's my responsibility to set an example for you, not go off half-cocked at the first sight of something that might be suspicious. I'm sorry for that." He takes a deep breath. "Last night, when I saw that money, it was Bob Summers all over again, only worse. I liked Bob, thought he was a halfway competent copper, so it felt like a stab in the back when I found out what he'd done." He shrugs. "I've known a few others in twenty-odd years on the Force. None of them hurt me as much as Bob did. I didn't think anyone could... until I found five thousand quid in the desk of someone that I respect as a copper and as a person."
Hathaway flushes pink and rubs the back of his neck. "Erm... thank you, sir. I appreciate the explanation."
Their eyes meet just for an instant. In that glance, Robbie can read a mixture of surprise and relief. He nods. "You ready to get back to work, then?" Do you forgive me? Still want to be my sergeant?
"Yeah." Hathaway stands up. He's silent as he walks beside his governor towards the car, but there's a lightness in his step that wasn't there earlier.
It's a start. They really need to get better acquainted: Robbie and his moody cleverclogs of a sergeant. Not by talking. They're neither of them talkers, for all that Hathaway can yammer away non-stop about all kinds of academic nonsense. When it comes to personal stuff, his sergeant is as closed-mouthed as a clam. A plan forms itself in Robbie's mind. Not today. Best give us both time to get back to normal. A few days, maybe.
The few days turn into a week, thanks to a murder-suicide of a married couple that turns out to be a double murder committed by the wife's ex. Hathaway does good work, catching a significant detail in an interview with one of the witnesses. When it's all wrapped up except for the paperwork, Robbie switches off his computer. "The rest can wait until tomorrow."
Hathaway stands up. "You won't hear an argument from me."
They head to the Trout for a pint, as they've done several times a week since the beginning.
"I was thinking..." Robbie says slowly.
"Another drink?" Hathaway starts to rise from his seat.
"No—yes! But I was thinking that after we could get some curry or Chinese and take it back to mine." He adds hastily, "You're free to say no." Could be the lad has other plans, or doesn't fancy an evening socialising with his old governor.
There it is again, that look of surprise and uncertainty. "If you're sure..."
"Not in the habit of making offers I don't mean," Robbie replies.
"Then, thank you, yes."
When they go out to the car park, Robbie makes a snap decision. "You're driving." He throws his keys at Hathaway, who catches them easily. They make a brief stop at Taj Palace, which is tiny and cramped and not at all palatial, but makes a prawn biryani fit for a raja. Once the back seat is loaded with carrier bags, Robbie settles himself comfortably in the passenger seat. "Seeing the goat curry on their menu reminded me of something..."
"Your New Year's resolution to eat a more adventurous diet?"
"Away with you, man," Robbie grumbles in mock displeasure. "Any road, this happened about a year after I came south to Oxford..." He tells the story of PC Smullen, a lifelong city dweller recently transferred from London; and Professor Bannister, a senior fellow in philosophy whose back-to-the-land experiment led him to install a pair of goats in his suburban garden. When Robbie reaches the part about The Great Escape and the neighbour lady's prize-winning roses, James bursts out laughing.
Robbie takes a deep breath, savouring the mingled scents of garlic and ginger, cinnamon and cumin. Even more than the tantalising smells filling the car, James's laughter promises that this will be one of the pleasantest meals Robbie has had in a long time.
Note: This fic was based on Wendymr's prompt:
A few months after they're paired up, James is out of the station and Robbie needs to find something urgently that he knows is on or in James's desk. While searching, he finds a brown envelope full of cash in a drawer - £5000 or thereabouts. He wants to believe that there's an innocent explanation, but keeps thinking about James's expensive suits, electronic toys, the flat that a DS shouldn't be able to afford, and his smoking habit...