Out to Lunch
Annie let the blind fall and waited till she heard the Cortina roar away before walking into the Guv’s office to pick up the phone.
“DCI Hunt’s office; WPC Cartwright speaking.”
“I’m sorry Sir, I believe he had a dentist’s appointment.”
“You told me that yesterday, young woman.”
“Yes, um, I’m sorry Sir, that was my mistake. It turned out he actually was in the building when you phoned yesterday; I got the day wrong.”
“Just what I’d expect of someone in Hunt’s department. And a girl, to boot. I thought Hunt at least had more sense than that.”
“Can I take a message for the Guv, Sir? Only, you keep missing him, and he often does leave his desk at lunchtime – for lunch and that. Can I get him to phone you when he comes in?”
“No, you can’t take a message; I wouldn’t trust to you pass it on correctly. I will phone DCI Hunt again this afternoon, and he’d better be available.”
“All right, then, Sir. I’ll tell the Guv you called again at lunchtime but you didn’t want to tell me what it was about. Goodbye Sir.”
Annie put the phone down with relief, duty done for another day. It was all very well talking big to the Superintendent about the Guv being entitled to a lunch break, but he wasn’t, not really. Not when the Super wanted to talk to him. He was supposed to magically know that and be here waiting. She sighed as she automatically tidied up the files, coffee cups and shaving kit strewn about the surface of the desk. She was going to have to think up a new story for tomorrow. The alternative – telling the Guv that Rathbone was after him – didn’t seem like a good plan at the moment.
As far as Annie could see, it was only going home at lunchtimes that was getting the Guv through this difficult period, and if he couldn’t do that, who knew what the outcome might be, for the Guv or for Sam. Heart sinking, Annie walked back to her own desk and picked up her yogurt.
She had just finished her lunch when a commotion in the corridor alerted her to the return of Ray and Chris, arguing amiably.
“And I say it were 2 – 1,” Ray was insisting. “Come on, we’ll ask the Guv, he’ll know.” Catching his eye, Annie shook her head slightly and Ray continued hastily. “Tell you what, you get us some coffee first and I’ll get the files. Tyler’s job really, but as he’s not here ... “ He gave Chris a shove. “Get on with it, yer div, and we’ll catch the Guv in a bit.”
He walked over to Annie and said quietly “Not back yet?” He dragged up the chair from Sam’s polished empty desk and sat down. “What does he do there every day, Annie? How long does it take to make sure the dozy twonk’s not taken all his pills at once?”
Annie winced – there had been a few close calls in the early days – and leaned forward conspiratorially. “Just between you and me, Ray, and I never told you this, OK, but I reckon the Guv has half hour kip when he goes home. I’ve never seen him work so hard, but – last week or so, thereabouts – he always looks better when he comes back from lunch.”
“Yeah, well, sleep’s one thing, but he doesn’t want to go spoiling the twonk, does he. All this attention, make him think he’s special or owt. Guv’s been all over him like a mother hen since the day they found him.”
He hadn’t looked much like a mother hen when he first got the news, Annie remembered. More like a ghost, an ashen-faced, trembling apparition of himself.
He had been perched on the edge of a desk, briefing the team in what had become his usual lack-lustre way when Phyllis came running in with the news:
“Guv! Just had the Royal on the phone; sounds like they’ve got DI Tyler!”
He’d dropped his cup. He gave no indication of noticing the hot coffee soaking into his trouser-leg as his face turned utterly white and he started to shake. He cannoned off the door-frame as he crashed into his office, landing against the door so hard the whole office shook.
Annie had stood open-mouthed in the doorway as the Guv stood by his desk, hands shaking so badly he couldn’t close his fingers around the keys. When she saw the tears falling she quickly passed him some tissues from her bag and took the keys out to Ray. “Guv says bring the car round, will you Ray? He’s just, um, ...”.
Ray looked at her questioningly, but she just stared at him challengingly and he shrugged. “Oh well, every cloud, eh? It’s not often I get to drive the Guv’s car.”
She tried to look stern without giving away how worried she was. “I’ll send him down in a bit. Stick with him, Ray, he’s a bit upset – one of his team and all, you know how he feels responsible. Stay with him till you know exactly what’s happening with Sam.”
Ray walked off, grinning as he displayed the keys to Chris, and Annie hurried back to the Guv’s office, closing the door firmly in Chris’s face. She watched him turn away before speaking urgently to Gene.
“Guv? Guv, listen to me. Ray will take you to the hospital; you can’t drive in this state.”
She could see he was taking long, shaky breaths, trying to calm down. She pretended not to notice the tears as she picked up his coat and handed it to him.
“Look, he’s alive, OK? Hold onto that, Guv, and get yourself down there. I’ll tell them you’re coming.”
He started to fumble his way into the coat, automatically pulling his driving gloves out of the pockets. He couldn’t control his hands enough to get them on, but stood staring at them blankly. She took them gently from him, returning them to his pockets, and ushered him towards the door, talking calmly as they moved through the outer office.
“I’ll phone the hospital later, Guv, OK? Find out what’s happening. No need for you to worry about that, I’ll make sure everyone knows what’s going on, how he is.” The Guv had turned towards her at that, eyes haunted as he stopped walking.
She took his elbow, pulling him towards the lift. “Come on Guv, Ray’ll be waiting for you.” When the lift arrived, he stood unmoving until she pushed him in. It wasn’t until she followed him in and pressed the button for the ground floor that he seemed to gain control of himself and scrubbed at his face again. As the lift descended she could see him pulling himself together, and by the time they walked out of the building he was giving a reasonable impression of his normal self, although it was clear it was taking every ounce of his considerable will-power.
Once in the car he roused himself slightly, telling Ray to get a move on, they didn’t have all day. Ray revved the engine with delight, pulling away with a satisfied smirk and a screech of the wheels worthy of the Guv at his best.
* * *
The news that evening had been surprisingly good, and the hospital had confirmed that Sam would eventually make a full recovery from his injuries. Gene spent hours every day at the hospital until Sam regained consciousness, and on his discharge had insisted on taking Sam to his own house, although she offered to put him up in her spare room.
“Don’t be daft, Cartwright, think about your reputation for once. Not like he’s going to be good for anything for a while yet, is it! You’ll have tongues wagging all round the station without the hanky-panky to make up for it!”
She’d smiled wistfully at the idea and said no more about it. Luckily, everyone else seemed to take it for granted that Sam would stay at the Guv’s house.
“Guv’ll look after him; can’t stop on his own, like, can he, might do himself in,” Chris had remarked knowingly on the first day. The Guv had stilled, and looked at him sharply, then not five minutes later, announced casually that he was “Just off to check Gladys hasn’t fallen down the toilet, skinny little streak of piss that he is.“
That was only the first of several times Sam got confused and swallowed all his tablets at once. Since then Gene had slipped out at least once during every day to go and check on him, and Annie had a new job at lunchtimes, making sure the Superintendent never found out just how personal an interest the Guv was taking in DI Tyler’s desperately slow recovery.