Josh paced. Back and forth. Back and forth. Pause. Back and forth, back and forth.
"If you don’t sit down, I won’t be held responsible for my actions…"
"What?" Josh questioned distractedly as he crossed the tiny room once more.
Charlie sighed. "Just sit down and stop panicking, will you."
"I’m not panicking!"
"Just wearing a rut in the floor for fun?"
"Fine." Josh sat on the foam-covered bench, laughably known as a bed, next to Charlie. "Happy?"
"You blame me for this, don’t you?"
Leaning back against the cold plaster wall Charlie shook his head. "Of course not, mate. There’s nothing to blame anyone for. Any minute now the custody sergeant will open that door and we’ll find the car and head home. We’ll laugh about this in the morning."
Josh was not convinced. He wasn’t even completely sure that Charlie was convinced. The other man looked decidedly uncomfortable as he spoke, but then again they were both wearing slightly damp and very sandy clothes and locked in a ten-foot square room together. It was enough to make anyone feel uncomfortable.
He stood up again, despite Charlie’s warning, and sauntered across the room, feeling the grit between his toes as his boots threatened to flop from his feet. He couldn’t believe it when the policeman had asked for their shoelaces. ‘Suicide risk, we’ve got to take precautions’ he’d said. As if. Mind you, this would hardly look good, back at Ambulance HQ, getting a criminal record halfway to Gloucester when he should by rights be at work. He said as much to Charlie.
"And what about the poor innocent nurse you dragged along for the ride?"
Josh looked rather horrified.
"I’m kidding Josh. It was my decision to come with you – we are partners in crime!"
"How can you laugh about this?"
"Because it’s ridiculous. Indecent exposure, I ask you! They’ve got five other cells packed with football hooligans, they’re not going to bother with us; two upright law abiding citizens. First offence for both of us too. Once they’ve finished with those yobs they’ll give us a ticking off and send us on our way."
"You’re very confident for a man in a cell."
"Duffy once punched a man, and the cops let her go."
"Duffy? What man?" Josh said, shocked by the unlikely revelation.
"Some cinema owner, she was offended by his choice of porn. Anyway," Charlie continued glossing over any details and leaving his friend just as baffled as before, "I’m more concerned about explaining where I disappeared to today to the guys at work. It’s ok for you, you’re the boss."
Josh slid down the smooth, graffiti-ed wall and sat on the floor, legs stretched out in front of him. "No one will make too much fuss over one afternoon, will they?"
"I would. If one of my nurses, or any of the doctors, absented themselves I’d have very strong words on the subject ready for them. And just because I am the most senior nurse doesn’t mean Tess or Harry couldn’t shop me to the board. Jan would really love that!" Charlie groaned.
"I’m sorry if I get you in trouble."
"Oh, shut up. I’m old enough to make my own decisions. And to be perfectly honest I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun." He laughed and swivelled on the ‘mattress’ so he could lie down, one arm under his head to act as a pillow. "I should really thank you."
"For showing me that there’s a world outside the hospital. I’d forgotten that."
"I should be thanking you. I could have done something very stupid today."
"Like hit someone?" Charlie replied with mock innocence.
Josh looked guilty and picked at a stain on the knee of his trousers. "I hope he’s alright. I never meant to do him any serious injury."
"I know," Charlie replied sincerely. "He’ll be fine, he was coming round as we left."
"I have never wanted to hurt anyone the way I wanted to hurt… everyone, today. Except maybe bloody Kaminski."
"Well, who hasn’t wanted to hurt him?" Charlie grinned.
"I’m serious. I’m not a violent man. I hate violence; I see what it does to people every day. But it just sort of bubbles up inside me and has no where to go."
"I kicked in a dustbin. I think it hurt me more than the bin but it made me feel a hell of a lot better." He couldn’t look at Josh as he spoke, and stared at he ceiling instead. It was humiliating to admit to, but it seemed daft to feel humiliated with someone you’ve just been bundled into the back of a police van naked with.
"When was that?"
"In Canada. I went to visit Baz at her work, and her boyfriend mistook me for the janitor, and went right up and kissed her. I could have smashed his face in," he said through gritted teeth.
"But you didn’t."
"Because I’m a coward, not because I rose above the urge. I just walked off and picked on the first thing I found that couldn’t fight back."
"Charlie…" At his friend’s earnest tone he rolled onto his side, head propped on elbow. "Can I ask you something?"
"You can ask…"
"If she came back to Holby, said she made a mistake, whatever, would you take her back?"
He wasn’t proud of it. He wanted to say, ‘You’re kidding right? After how she treated me! I wouldn’t touch her with a barge pole’ but he didn’t, he told the truth. He’d take her back, he’d give anything to hold her again, to be reunited with his family. He might not be able to forget her betrayal but he could bring himself to forgive it, like he’d forgiven her in the past – like she’d forgiven him. Heaven knew he was far from perfect himself. But maybe it was all easy to say because deep down he knew it wouldn’t happen.
"Me too. Take Colette back, I mean."
"We really do need to get out more."
Josh smiled, despite himself. Charlie was right, Colette and Baz had moved on, a bit too swiftly with men who were much too young, but they weren’t sat around feeling sorry for themselves.
The tiny hatch in the heavy metal door dropped open and the cellmates instinctively turned to see a pair of copper’s eyes looking at them. Obviously satisfied that neither man posed any threat he unlocked the door, opening it wide.
"OK gents, time to go."
"You’re just releasing us?" Josh asked.
"Unless you want to be arrested, You should have sobered up by now and as long as you promise not to go skinny dipping on a public beach again I think I’ll risk it." His voice was dripping with sarcasm but Charlie and Josh ignored it and both stood. "We just need you to sign for your belongings and you are free to leave." He turned on his heel and returned down the wide corridor between cells. "Well come on then, I don’t have all day!"
Charlie breathed a long sigh of relief, "Thank God for that," he muttered as they followed the sergeant out.
"And I thought you weren’t worried…"
They made it back to the car in good time. The walk was welcomed, the exercise, not to mention the fresh air, was a nice change from the stuffy cell. They passed the journey in amiable silence, perhaps both figuring they’d had enough honest discussion for the day. As they neared the Beetle Charlie strolled out to the driver’s side and unlocked the door.
"Back to reality…"
Josh nodded solemnly, "Shame."
"It is, isn’t it?" He faced the other man over the car’s roof, leaning on the polished surface.
"Do we have to?"
"Yes. We do, but…"
"But maybe not yet?"
"Might as well get hung for a sheep as a lamb…"
"We could get in a lot of trouble."
"We could. Exciting, isn’t it?! I wonder what the night life’s like around here?"
"Only one way to find out!"
And they headed back down to the seafront...