Memoirs of a Merc
"We have to nobble him," Doyle said. He downed a good third of his large whisky. "Plain and simple. Our boss has got to go. Right?"
"Right." Murphy signalled the bar maid for another round. "We can't let him destroy CI5."
"Have to get rid of 'im."
"And quick." Doyle tossed back the rest of his drink.
"Right." Murphy slammed his empty glass on the table top. The bar maid brought their new drinks over and hurried away. "But how do we do it?"
Doyle considered the question carefully. "Well, I reckon we should handle it as if we were after the goods on some criminal. Watch him, bug his office, bug his car--keep a constant eye out for anything we can use against the bastard."
"Right." Murphy frowned. "Imagine, putting half the squad on forced leave. Unpaid leave. The nerve of that rat."
"It's absurd," Doyle agreed. "Load of bull, too, that speech he gave. 'New methods for new times'. 'Special men for special jobs'. All that crock about hiring 'technical consultants' on an as-needed basis 'cause it'll 'streamline' our efforts. We know what he's really up to. Bastard."
Murphy nodded vigorously. "Sneaky, underhanded, know-nothing git, that's what he is."
"Right." Doyle sipped his whisky. "Charles ruddy Barrington-Smythe is one unadulterated, class-A prick."
"I hate him," Murphy said.
"Let's drink to that."
Doyle clinked glasses with his former co-worker. Poor Murph, he thought, out in the cold with no money and an uncertain future. He felt mild pangs of guilt over having been picked as one of the agents their boss was keeping on. But the pangs passed. Especially as it meant he'd be doing twice as much work.
Damn, damn, damn. He used to think Cowley was bad, but then, he'd never had a chance to compare him with an alternative. Until now.
Charles Barrington-Smythe, an ambitious, insufferable, efficiency-minded upper-class twit with more political than military experience had, at the relatively youthful age of forty-five, been chosen as Acting Controller of CI5 for the next three months. Cowley had gone off to his holiday cottage in Scotland, to recover from an unusually painful bunion-removing operation.
Their new boss had ideas. He also apparently had the ear of the Minister and the Home Secretary, for he had gotten permission to test out his new system for running CI5, and with it, a chance to prove he should stay in the position. Cowley, he argued during his speech to the agents, was behind the times and long overdue for retirement. It was time for a young man with vision to take over the reins.
What he'd done, Doyle reckoned, was appeal to the Minister's ever-present concern over money. Trim the CI5 budget, and he'd prove to everyone he was the right man for the job. Thus the scheme Charles B-S, as Doyle had immediately come to think of him, had laid on the men: they must stop wasting "resources" during slow periods. The number of agents would be reduced to the bare minimum needed. No more keeping men "on standby", no more paying people when they weren't actually working. Have only enough men to handle most of the work most of the time, and when things got extra busy or especially tough, they would hire temporary help: "technical consultants" who would simply lend a hand, do their bit, and leave. And of course, these consultants wouldn't bother CI5 with messy little items such as pension plans and sick leaves.
Clever, Doyle thought. Save money, impress the politicians. And no doubt work the regular agents into early graves.
No, their Acting Controller had to go, hopefully in a terribly embarrassing manner. He never imagined thinking it, but Doyle desperately wanted to work under George Cowley again.
Poor Murphy was one of the agents being put out to pasture during Charles' trial run. Doyle got to stay on, but he wasn't thrilled by his good fortune. Nor by the prospect of having to work with "consultants", most of whom probably wouldn't know a real live terrorist from his Uncle Mervin.
"Bloody hell," he muttered.
"You read my mind," Murphy replied.
"I'll bug his office first thing tomorrow. And his car." Doyle frowned. "Probably be too overworked to do any decent surveillance, though."
Murphy grinned. "I'm not busy."
Doyle brightened. "Good thinking--you get a couple of the other lads who've been given 'leave' together, and arrange round-the-clock eyeballs on old Charles B-S. We're bound to find something to bring him down with."
"You know," Murphy said unhappily, "that could be a problem. I mean, I'd love to catch him in the act of wearing nothing but an oversized nappy while being pushed round the house in a pram by a whore dressed as a nanny, but I get the feeling he's not exactly going to cooperate."
Doyle sighed. "Yeah. He's cleaner than the Pope."
"What we really need," Murphy said, "is to show the Minister and the Home Secretary that this idiot scheme of his isn't going to work--somehow, we need to make a public ass out of him, as a direct result of this whole nonsense of his. But how?"
"Don't know," Doyle admitted. "Let's just see how things go for a few days, me on the inside, you on the outside. We'll think of something."
"Right." Murphy clinked glasses. "To a successful nobbling."
Doyle drank. "To George Cowley," he added.
"To the Cow," Murph agreed.
On that, they both finished off their whiskys.
"Mercs," said Charles Barrington-Smythe. He slapped a file folder on the desk.
Doyle cleared his throat. "Sir?"
Charles took to pacing in a slow, deliberate fashion about the office, hands clasped behind his back, head bent in a thoughtful position. He pursed his thin lips. "What can you tell me about mercs, 3.4?"
Doyle cleared his throat. "It's 4.5, sir."
"Yes, yes. Come on, man, snap to it. I want information."
So do I, Doyle thought in exasperation. Like, what the hell are you on about? "On mercenaries, sir? As in people who sell their soldiering expertise to whoever's buying?"
Charles paused to give him a patronizing glare. "I am quite capable of reading a dictionary, Doyle."
Well, at least he got my name right.
"What I want," Charles went on, resuming his thoughtful ambling, "is knowledge. Who are these men? What are they like? And most importantly, what do they want?"
Feeling unenlightened, Doyle ventured another query. "Which men would that be, sir?"
His new boss shook his head sadly, no doubt bemoaning the fact his agents weren't telepathic. "The mercenaries, of course. Don't you keep up with the daily internal reports on suspicious activity?"
Doyle made an elaborate show of checking his watch. It was 9.03. "You mean the one that's issued every morning at nine sharp? That report?"
"You've got to stay on top of things in this outfit, Doyle." Charles picked up the folder and shoved it at him. "Go on, do your catch-up reading."
I'm gonna kill him if I can't nobble him. Doyle skimmed the report, homing in on the pertinent lines. "Five members of the same mercenary outfit, most recently active in Angola, have turned up in London. Led by a bloke named Krivas. So?"
"Don't you find it highly suspicious? All five of them returning here at the same time?"
"Not if they all left Angola at the same time."
Charles knitted his brows. "Are you attempting to be amusing? Because I don't tolerate amusement on the job, Doyle. Or anywhere else, for that matter."
Doyle gritted his teeth. "No sir. Sorry, sir."
"Now, then," Charles said, "I'm convinced this gang is going to create trouble here. We need an expert on the mercenary mentality. Someone who can predict their every move, someone who has walked in their shoes."
Suddenly, it all became clear to Doyle. A technical consultant was about to rear his ugly head. "Nobody with that kind of knowledge is on the Squad, sir." He refrained from adding, what's left of it.
"Precisely. Thus, we must seek out a specialist. And I know just the man." He tossed a newspaper at Doyle, folded to a half-page advert.
APPEARING TODAY at Beekman's Books, it read in extra bold type, WILLIAM BODIE, author of the bestselling "Memoirs of a Merc." GRAND PRIZE WINNER in Action Man's True Life Adventure Contest.
Doyle bit his lower lip. Pity Charles wasn't into amusement, because he had a whole load of funny remarks.
"I've read Mr. Bodie's book," Charles said. "Amazing stuff. The man spent years fighting in the jungles of Africa, suffered countless torments, triumphed over endless adversities, and survived by his wit, strength, and incredible knowledge of weapons, tactics, and fighting techniques. Not only that, he was in Angola the same time as Krivas. Surely he can advise us on this gang's intentions. I want you to go get him."
Doyle stared at the photo accompanying the ad. Good-looking bloke...with far too smug a smile on his face. "You want me to do what, sir?"
"Go to this book signing event," Charles replied. "Explain our little situation to Mr. Bodie, and tell him we wish to engage his services as a technical consultant for a few weeks. Here is the contract he'll need to sign. I'm counting on you, Doyle. Time is of the essence. We need this man now, is that clear?"
Memoirs of a Merc... Doyle mentally groaned. Handsome or not, how skilled could he be? The man was a celebrity author living off past glories. Published by Action Man Press, the ad said in smaller, less-bold type. Who also brought you "Mad Mike: The Fighting Machine of Mongolia" and "Attack! The Story of Jack 'No Quarter' Quinn".
"Well?" Charles B-S demanded. "What are you waiting for?"
An intelligent boss to come back from Scotland, Doyle thought.
He quickly made his escape before he could succumb to the powerful urge to voice the thought out loud.
"Ooh, ta ever so, Mr. Bodie." The pretty young blonde smiled seductively. "I think you're ever so much handsomer than your picture." She clutched her newly-autographed copy of Memoirs of a Merc to her well-developed bosom.
"You're very kind," William Bodie replied.
She lingered a moment longer but, receiving no further signs of encouragement, finally said, "Well, it was ever so nice meeting you," and made her exit, glancing over her shoulder in the doorway before sauntering off down the pavement.
"Phew." Bodie leaned back in his chair. "Thought she'd never leave."
Doyle stood by a bookshelf, watching the entire interplay with impatience. He checked the time. That had to be the last of them--the autographing session was officially over. And none too soon. If he had to see one more bird fawn over Mr. Macho there, he might lose his breakfast.
"Now, now, let's be generous to the customers," said a thin, reedy young man sitting with Bodie behind the small table. He was, Doyle had learned on arrival, Bodie's publicity agent, a high-strung fellow named Henry Pettigrew. "After all, these people are giving you money, aren't they?"
"I'm beginning to think I had an easier life in the army," Bodie replied.
He was definitely handsome, Doyle decided. Short dark hair, riveting blue eyes, sexy mouth, trim and fit body...he idly wondered what Charles B-S would have to say about CI5 agents and bisexuality. Probably wouldn't find it terribly amusing.
The object of his attraction turned a sparkling smile on him. "Mr. Doyle, wasn't it?"
"Right." Doyle extended his hand and got a firm, lingering grip in return.
"I'm Bodie. Just Bodie."
Just Bodie, Doyle noted as he retrieved his hand, was displaying a remarkable degree of come-hither body language and expression towards him, for a man who was busy making piles of money off swooning females. The eyelash-batting had already reached alarming levels. And they were rather alarming eyelashes.
"Um...I'm here to talk with you about a little consulting job. Are you familiar with CI5?"
Bodie turned his chair to face Doyle, casually splaying his thighs, which showed off his groin rather nicely. "That's that new TV station, isn't it?"
Doyle rolled his eyes.
Henry Pettigrew tapped Bodie's shoulder and whispered fiercely in his ear.
"Oh," Bodie said, looking suitably chagrined, "of course. That CI5. Yes, naturally, I've heard of your mob. Fine work you're doing. What's it about then? Promo piece? Need a few posters to impress the prospects with, eh?"
Doyle cleared his throat. "We don't advertise."
Bodie raised one cocky eyebrow. "Well, you ought to. Won't get mistaken for TV stations that way." He smiled. "What do you want, then?" The sultry emphasis on "you" clearly suggested the personal and singular, while the rest of CI5 could go hop in a lake.
Well, Doyle thought, considering the possibilities, he does have very nice...legs... He cleared his throat again. "We'd like to pay you for your expertise on mercenaries." He launched into an explanation of the situation. The further into it he got, he noted, the paler Bodie's face became, and the more his fingers nervously intertwined.
"So," Doyle finished up, curious about the man's reactions, "you can see from this contract that the pay is quite good, and the work fairly easy for someone with your skills." He opted to add a pitch worthy of Charles B-S himself. "Times are tough these days for crime fighters. CI5 needs you, Mr. Bodie."
"Uh, that's very flattering, but I'm afraid I have so many engagements--"
"Nonsense." Henry Pettigrew leaned forward eagerly. "I'll simply rearrange your schedule."
Bodie cast him a vicious glare, which Pettigrew either didn't notice or chose to ignore.
"Don't you see the possibilities?" he enthused. "Think of how good it will make you look in the public's eye. Doing your bit to help your country--why, it's a gold mine." He gave Doyle an anxious look. "We can publicize this, can't we?"
Doyle nodded. "Oh, yeah. After the case is over, of course. And without mentioning CI5 or its operatives by name."
"Yes, yes, naturally." Henry slapped Bodie on the back. "It's perfect. Go in, do the job, catch these nasty criminals, and then we go to town. You could write a new book about it. Merc versus Merc. And then there are the film rights..." He rattled on to himself, cheerfully listing every way they could make money off the venture.
Bodie squirmed in his seat and loosened the neck of his shirt. Doyle thought he'd start hyperventilating soon if his nerves got any worse. But why was the prospect of being a technical consultant making Mr. Macho Merc so anxious? Easy work, good pay, great publicity... Suddenly, a possible answer flashed in Doyle's mind. Easy work...or was it? Maybe not. Memoirs of a Merc was supposedly a true story, but just how much of it was true? Could Bodie have exaggerated a bit here and there in order to win the contest? Maybe he didn't know as much as he claimed. Maybe he was milking the public's credulity for all it was worth. Charles B-S had believed the book, but that was a good argument against its authenticity, not in favor of it.
Doyle knew he had to succeed in his mission of hiring the bloke. If he was merely a teller of tall tales, his employment by CI5 would go a long way towards undermining Charles' new scheme of things.
He waved the contract at Bodie. "Would you like a closer look? Particularly at this bit here?" He pointed out the rather substantial monetary offer.
"Er, yeah," Bodie replied unenthusiastically. "Very tempting, but--"
"But, nothing." Pettigrew snatched the paper. "You'll sign. We simply cannot pass up such a tremendous opportunity." He glanced over the contract rapidly, then slapped it on the table and shoved a pen in Bodie's hand.
"My wrist's gone numb. All that autographing."
"Use your left," Pettigrew replied. "No one will notice."
Bodie looked beseechingly at Doyle.
Doyle responded with a seductive lowering of his eyelids and a sexy pout. "C'mon," he said huskily. "Sign it for me." He winked, glad that Pettigrew was on the far side and couldn't see him. The things he did for CI5.
Reluctance etched in every movement, Bodie slowly took pen in hand and put name to paper.
"Thanks," Doyle said as he pocketed the contract. "You won't regret it. When can you start? This afternoon all right?"
Bodie nodded glumly.
"Terrific. Pick you up at two. Where can I find you?"
Bodie gave him his home address. He slumped in the chair, looking entirely pathetic.
"I'll be there." Doyle extended his hand again. This time Bodie shook it limply. "I'll take you to our HQ, give you a little tour. Then we can get a start on tracking down Krivas."
Bodie's eyebrows shot up. "Krivas?"
"Yeah." Doyle realized he hadn't mentioned the merc by name during his earlier explanation. "He's the leader of the gang."
Doyle frowned, trying to recall what had been in the report. "I think so."
The most amazing change came over the reluctant hero. Bodie grinned, eyes crinkled in utter delight as he rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Well, why didn't you say so before? You bet I'll help you run in Harry Krivas. I owe him."
"Oh. You know him?" Doyle tried to keep the disappointment from his voice. Bodie must not be a fraud after all. Damn.
Bodie looked positively demonic in his joy. "Oh, yeah, I know Krivas. He's a dirty, sneaky, underhanded, backstabbing little creep. This is gonna be fun."
"Great." Doyle put more enthusiasm into it than he felt. So much for embarrassing Charles with Mr. Macho. Oh, well, maybe he could still get some good out of the whole mess.
He smiled warmly at Bodie. "I'm looking forward to working with you. Very closely."
Bodie smiled back. "It'll be a pleasure."
"He's a poofter?" Murphy said.
"Well," Doyle replied carefully, "he certainly seemed to be coming on to me." He felt it was unnecessary to detail his lustful feelings for the fellow. What Murphy didn't know wouldn't hurt him.
They sat in the same pub where they'd first discussed their nobbling plans, nursing pints of lager. It was early evening, and Doyle had relayed the tale of his mission to secure Bodie's services, as well the successful meeting that afternoon between Bodie and Charles B-S. Bodie hadn't done any actual work yet, though Doyle had shown him around HQ and given him a few files to look over. Tomorrow they would start on the assignment in earnest.
Murphy sadly shook his head. "No, it's not good enough. Hiring a poofter isn't going to bring old B-S down. We need something better."
"I was hoping he'd turn out to be a fraud," Doyle admitted. "You know, made up all that guff about his glorious career in Africa just to win the contest, while really he's a bank clerk. I mean, he acted very nervous at first about taking on the job."
"Could be you've got something there. Guys who really know the score don't talk about it. And the only ones who do talk don't know what they're talking about, right? Right. I say we check him out."
"But he seemed to know all about Krivas," Doyle said.
Murphy shrugged. "So? Maybe he met him someplace else. Army, wherever."
"Maybe." Doyle sighed. "Okay, I'll run some background checks on the computer. What about you?"
"I've got a reporter friend at the Evening Star," Murph replied. "Likes to do investigative journalism. I'll see if I can sic him on your new partner."
"Temporary partner," Doyle said. He wondered what Bodie was doing at that moment. And with whom.
"Your temporary poofter of a partner," Murphy added.
Doyle wondered what Murph would say if he told him just how much he wanted to screw said poofter through the nearest mattress. Tempting, if only to see Murph's face turn purple.
He opted to order another round instead.
"Krivas demands absolute loyalty from his friends," Bodie said. "If he even so much as suspects one has double-crossed him, or gone behind his back in any way--" He drew a dramatic line across his throat. "They're history."
"Fascinating." Charles B-S sat at his desk, raptly attentive to every word. His secretary dutifully jotted down notes while Doyle lounged against a filing cabinet, bored out of his wits. He entertained himself by ogling Bodie's crotch, of which he had a very good view, since Bodie was sitting with one ankle propped on his other knee, turned slightly Doyle's way.
Nice basket, Doyle thought wistfully. He sighed.
Charles looked up. "You have some comment, 6.7?"
"No, sir." Doyle had given up correcting him on his number.
"Fine. Now, then, Mr. Bodie, what else can you tell us about this man?"
"Well, he's very sneaky. Doesn't do things according to any rules but his own. Enjoys fooling the establishment, likes to find ways around the regulations. Doesn't want to work for a living like everybody else--wants everything to be his for the taking. He's a very greedy bastard."
Charles nodded happily. "Great stuff."
Doyle stopped ogling and said, "You seem to know him quite well. Did you work together in Angola?"
"No, no, I'd never work for anyone that vicious." Bodie bit his lower lip. "I, er, met him at a pub. Yeah, see, there was this special place all the mercs used to hang out at, in um, the capital city--"
"That would be Luanda?" Doyle asked.
Bodie narrowed his eyes at him. "Yeah, that's right."
"Doyle," Charles broke in, "are you quite done interrogating Mr. Bodie? Because we have some serious business to attend to."
"Yes, sir." Doyle shrugged and resumed ogling.
"So," Bodie went on, "that's where Krivas used to go, to this pub...infamous place..." He paused, brow furrowed, then suddenly snapped his fingers. "The Dragon's Teeth. That's what it was called. Great dive."
Doyle rolled his eyes.
"Wonderful," Charles replied. "And you hung out there, too. Marvelous."
"Krivas liked to talk a lot," Bodie said. "And loudly. Couldn't help but know him, we had no choice."
Charles let out a tiny little laugh, no doubt, Doyle thought, the only sort of laugh he was capable of. "Very droll, I'm sure. Now, I seem to remember you saying something yesterday about how much you hated the man. Why is that?"
Bodie shifted about in his seat. "Well, there was this girl..." He let out a mournful sigh. "Suzanne. She was beautiful. Had this lovely, long red hair...well, it doesn't matter now. It was jealousy, you see. He wanted her, I wanted her, but I won. And he couldn't take it. One day, when I wasn't around, he came round to her, and he had this knife--" He broke off, rubbing a hand across his eyes. "No, I can't tell you about it. It's too painful."
Doyle had never witnessed such a fake performance in his entire life. But his boss was clearly moved by it.
"Such a tragedy," he said.
Bodie took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "Well, it's history. It's over. Let's just move on, shall we?"
"Of course," Charles replied. "You're such a brave fellow."
Doyle nearly gagged, but managed to hold back.
"Now then," Charles went on, "what we need to know is this: why is this man and his gang here in England? Do you have any ideas?"
Bodie nodded solemnly. "After studying your file on him, yes, I have a very good idea. He's planning a bank robbery."
"Amazing." The gleam of admiration in Charles' eyes fairly blinded Doyle. "And how did you come by that conclusion?"
Bodie leaned forward in his chair, hands on knees, disrupting Doyle's view of his crotch. "According to your information, Krivas' father passed away last month. He was devoted to the old man. He died a penniless, bitter, alcoholic wreck. You know why? Because years ago, everything the family had was taken away. Old Krivas constantly borrowed beyond his means, and spent beyond his means, and one day the axe fell. The bank took away his home, his car, the furniture--it ruined him. He wound up living in a hovel, barely ekeing out enough to survive, a mere shadow of a man."
Talks just like his book, Doyle thought. Maybe he really did write it.
"And Harry Krivas wants revenge on the bank?" Charles asked.
"That's my theory exactly, sir. He was but a lad at the time his family was ruined, only fourteen years old. Feeling deep shame, he ran away, and wound up in Africa, where he's been ever since, struggling to drown his memories in an ocean of blood and booze. But now--now his father is dead, and he's feeling guilty. He never did anything to help his poor old dad out all those years ago, because he couldn't. And the years in Africa didn't erase his memories--no, he still adored the old guy, and wants to make amends by punishing those who brought his family down. You see, he'd never think that it was his father's fault for being so incompetent with money. He'd blame the bank. That's the way his mind operates."
Charles beamed. "Brilliant. And which bank was it? Do you know?"
"The Fellingham National Trust and Loan. Located in Fellingham, little town outside Liverpool."
Doyle groaned. "Way up there? Sir, can't we just call the Liverpool police and--"
"Certainly not." Charles looked distinctly annoyed. "We can't do that, it wouldn't be responsible. How is a local police force supposed to know how to handle a gang of vicious mercenaries? No, no, we have to deal with this ourselves. You and Bodie, get up there and stop it. And fast. Is that clear, 2.3?"
Doyle nodded. He was beginning to wonder if a pair of well-filled pants was really worth all this. Liverpool. Honestly. It was pouring down rain out there.
He quirked an eyebrow at his new temporary partner. "Do you like to drive?" he asked.
As soon as they were settled in the Fellingham Hotel, Doyle pleaded a headache and retired to his room for an alleged nap. Alone at last, he dived for the telephone.
"Well?" he demanded as soon as Murphy's voice answered.
"You're gonna love this," Murph replied.
"Tell me. I gotta know what I'm dealing with here. I haven't had time to run checks on him yet, and I'm stuck in the middle of nowhere with this idiot. Christ, you shoulda heard him schmoozing up to old B-S this morning."
"I'm afraid to tell you," Murphy said, "that what you're dealing with, son, is a class-A operator. No one by the name of William Bodie has, according to the passport office, ever set foot in any country in Africa. No one by that name has ever been reported to have been a mercenary soldier, either in Africa or anywhere else. Your one consolation is that he has, as he claimed, been in the Army. Four years, before being dishonorably discharged."
Doyle was afraid to ask. "For what? Bein' a poofter?"
"Nope." Murphy paused dramatically. "For blowing up his barracks."
"Oh, Jesus." Doyle sank back on the bed.
"He claimed it was an accident, if that helps."
"Didn't think it would. You're in trouble, mate. Afraid you'll have to stop that vicious band of mercenaries with the help of an out-of-work ex-Army-failure who dropped out of school at fourteen and who likes to spend most of his free time at the horse track. Never done an honest day's work in his life."
"Your reporter friend has been busy," Doyle replied.
"Very. It's bad news for you and your assignment, mate, but it's good news for us and CI5. Once this gets out to the press, old B-S will be history."
"Hang on a moment." Doyle wasn't sure he wanted to blow Bodie's story just yet. Not without giving him a chance, however slim, to redeem himself. "What about Krivas? He seems to know all about him."
"Don't know about that," Murphy admitted. "My pal hasn't finished all his digging yet. We've got time. You wanna hold off for a bit on the expose of your buddy?"
"Like you said, we've got plenty of time." Doyle wanted more answers before they broke this wide open. "Besides, I'd be happier if Bodie were someplace else when the vultures descend. Away from me, for instance."
"Ah," Murphy said, "embarrassment by association, eh?"
"Something like that."
"Okay, I'll hold my friend off 'til you get back. Good luck."
"Thanks. I'll need it." Doyle rang off. As he lay there staring at the bland ceiling, he wondered what the best course of action would be. Maybe Bodie was a fake...then again, maybe he had a good explanation. So his passport didn't match his story. Well, maybe he'd gotten into Angola on the sly, avoiding the formalities. As for keeping track of all the mercs in the world, well, no one could do that accurately. None of it really meant anything. No, there were far too many questions. Bodie should have a shot at proving himself first.
Doyle decided the only thing to do was to get to know the man better.
A lot better.
After a rapid and near-miraculous recovery from his "headache", Doyle knocked on Bodie's door.
"Hi," he said shyly. "You want to get some lunch?"
They wound up at a pub Bodie picked out for its street position--directly across from the Fellingham National bank. They took a window seat in order to keep half an eye on it.
"You know this town pretty well," Doyle remarked over the arrival of their beer and sandwiches.
"Grew up 'round here," Bodie replied vaguely.
"Really? So you knew Krivas from way back?"
"Oh, sort of. I mean, I knew of him. And his family." Bodie took a sip of his beer. "What about you?"
Trying to the change the subject, Doyle thought. Fine. "Me? I grew up in Derby. Boring place."
"So's this. That's why I left."
"For a life of high adventure?" Doyle put a note of doubt in the question.
Bodie grinned. "Nah. Ran about for a few years, getting into no end of trouble. Had one too many gambling debts, and my dad had to bail me out. He made me join the army instead of paying him back, thought it might give me discipline."
"What's he do, then?"
"My dad?" A slight flush crept into Bodie's cheeks. "Oh, he's a bank manager.
Doyle nearly choked on his ham sandwich. "Not the Fellingham National Trust?"
"Got it in one."
"Jesus." Doyle glanced through the window at the plain gray bank building. "He over there now?"
"Nah," Bodie said. "Retired last year."
Doyle rubbed his temples. A genuine headache was starting to make its presence known. "He still live around here? You planning on paying a visit?"
Bodie shook his head. "We don't exactly get on."
"Oh." Doyle took a long drink.
"What about you?"
Startled, Doyle raised his eyebrows. "What do you mean?"
"Do you get on with your family?"
"Oh, them." Doyle relaxed. "Yeah, most of the time. It's not like we're that close though. Usually only see 'em at Christmas." He paused, wondering which direction to aim the conversation. More questions on Bodie's family? On his background? Try to trap him in a lie? In the midst of this strategizing, Bodie favored him with a smile that was dazzling in its warmth. Doyle, surprised by the resulting pleasure he felt, suddenly decided he could care less if the man had ever set foot in Africa. God, he was gorgeous. "What's so amusing?"
"Nothing." Bodie's blue eyes had a delighted twinkle in them. "Just feel happy."
Doyle risked smiling back. "I get the feeling you like me."
"Observant, aren't you?"
"It helps in my profession."
Bodie offered a seductive lowering of his eyelashes. "Yes, I like you. Very much. Did you happen to notice how comfortable those hotel beds were?"
"Not so fast," Doyle replied, struggling not to drown in that gaze. "We don't even know each other."
"Oh, you're right." Bodie leaned back. "So let's take care of that. I like darts, squash, football, fast cars, action films, rock'n'roll, jazz, fishing weekends in the country, poker games, pubs, sleeping in on Sundays, pot roast, swiss rolls, comfortable clothes, late night movies on the telly, strong coffee, and cozy winter evenings in front of a fireplace. I don't like polo, swimming, films with subtitles, cigarettes, washing up the dishes, poodles, French cooking, ties, overdue library notices, spiders, squeaky shoes, and meter maids. Okay, your turn."
Doyle laughed. "I'll tell you what I like. I like your sense of humor."
"Thought it would save five or ten years or so of getting to know each other well."
"Best mates, now, are we?" Doyle asked, amused. "You forgot to tell me your shoe size."
"Nine. And I agree with every like and dislike you mentioned except for fishing and pot roast."
"That's all right," Bodie said. "Even best mates have to disagree about one or two things."
Christ, he was falling for the idiot. Doyle could feel himself going over the edge, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. It wasn't every day that he met someone handsome, charming, quick-witted, amiable, and comfortable to be with who happened to display an intense interest in his own sterling qualities. Hell, it had been a long time since he'd fallen for anyone at all. A long, long time. And it had suddenly struck him that Bodie was the best thing to come along in his life in many years. Okay, so he might also be a right bounder who had fooled the reading public with false memoirs--well, was that such a crime? He wasn't really hurting anyone by it, as far as he could tell. And he had such lovely eyelashes.
"Finish your drink," he suggested. "And let's go check out that hotel bed of yours."
"Isn't this still illegal?" Bodie lay stretched out on the bed, quite naked.
Doyle casually tossed the last of his clothes in the general direction of a chair, and lay down beside him. "What, you and me doin' it in a hotel room? Yeah, I reckon. Adds a little spice, doesn't it." He ran his tongue over his lips as his gaze roved over Bodie's sleek, firm body.
"Like what you see?"
"So do I." Bodie stroked Doyle's chest, pausing to pay extra attention to his nipples.
Doyle lay back, enjoying the caresses. Bodie's talented hands soon brought him to a fevered excitement, and he sought to bring Bodie to the same state with his own explorations.
His encouraging touches had the desired effect.
"Nice." Doyle nodded at their erect cocks. "What d'you want to do with 'em?"
"Oh, I reckon we'll think of something." Bodie leaned over him, rubbing their cocks together. At the same time, he took Doyle's mouth in a long, deep kiss.
The contact electrified Doyle. He moved, breaking from the kiss to shove Bodie onto his back. Then he planted a row of light kisses down Bodie's smooth torso. As he drew near the tip of Bodie's jutting cock, he knew just what he wanted to do with it. After a few strokes of his tongue up the shaft, he took the head into his mouth.
"Oh, yeah..." Bodie moaned, hands on Doyle's head, fingers roaming wildly through his tangled curls.
Doyle took him in, lavishing all his attention on the thick, hard shaft. When Bodie suddenly bucked and cried out a warning, Doyle was ready for him.
And when Bodie was spent and had slipped away, Doyle was ready for a little reciprocity.
Bodie, however, lapsed into a satiated languor, and failed to make any further moves.
"Oi." Doyle poked him in the ribs. "What about me, then?"
"You?" Bodie murmured with lazy satisfaction. "Oh, you were terrific."
Doyle sighed. "That's not what I meant." To emphasize this, he leaned over his bedmate and thrust his engorged and very ready cock into his soft belly.
"Oof," Bodie said. "All right, all right, have a little patience."
After some more intense nudging, Doyle got his full attention, and Bodie set about reciprocating. His mouth proved to be as talented as his hands, quickly bringing Doyle to an intense height. And then he was there, going over. As his thoughts blurred in the haze of release, Doyle vaguely heard bells ringing, reverberating in his head.
Never heard bells before, he thought as he came back down. He grinned at Bodie, a happy, satisfied grin.
Bodie stared back with a puzzled frown on his face. "Do you hear bells?"
"Yeah," Doyle replied cheerfully. "Nice, isn't it?"
Instead of agreeing with this sentiment, Bodie chose to get up and go to the window, pulling the drapes open a crack.
It belatedly occurred to Doyle that orgasmic aural effects were not normally shared, and that they also didn't normally continue after one's orgasm had subsided, and it also occurred to his rapidly returning senses that these bells bore a suspicious resemblance to alarm bells.
"Bloody hell," he said, leaping up to join Bodie at the window.
Down the street, the Fellingham National Trust and Savings was boldly and unimpededly being robbed.
Doyle muttered a string of curses while tossing random clothes Bodie's way. "Get dressed!"
Two minutes later they were on the street, running towards the bank. Doyle felt he could've run a bit faster if he hadn't put both socks on one foot, but made a good effort anyway. They reached the bank just as a lorry roared off, gunfire blazing from its rear. "Shit." Doyle spun round, back towards the hotel, yanking Bodie's arm as he went. "This way. Car."
They ran for Doyle's Ford. As they leaped inside and Doyle screeched away from the curb, Bodie said, "You did grab your gun, didn't you?"
"Of course I did." Doyle tore down the street after the lorry. "I'm not that out of it. Jesus." He patted his jacket pocket, where he'd hastily stuffed the weapon. "How stupid do you think I am?"
A sullen silence permeated the front seat for a minute or so.
Bodie cleared his throat. "Is it loaded?"
Doyle took his eyes off the road to stare at him. The ammo clips were in his hotel room, no doubt right where he'd left them on the table. He'd been intending to give his gun a quick cleaning when they'd first arrived, and hadn't gotten round to it, having gotten distracted by one thing and another. "Hell."
"Watch it!" Bodie snatched the wheel in time to avoid the oncoming hedgerow. "Not loaded, eh?"
"Shut up." Doyle took control of the wheel and drove on. This was not going to get better anytime soon, he could tell.
The chase led them out of town and into a wooded countryside. The lorry had a good start on them but Doyle managed to keep it in view, barely, until it disappeared around a sharp curve.
He slowed just a little to negotiate the curve, not wishing to bungle the op any further by wrecking the car. When he finally rounded it, he spotted the lorry a ways ahead, sitting dead in its tracks. Doyle braked, bringing the car to a halt half on the road and half on the verge. There was no sign of activity near the lorry.
"Ditched and ran?" Bodie suggested.
Bodie shrugged. "Krivas is unpredictable. He's also a double-crossing little bastard. I wouldn't be surprised if he's planning to get rid of his cohorts somewhere along the line."
Doyle slowly opened the door. Nothing. "Come on. Let's go." He took out his gun and slid between the car and the hedge alongside.
"Not terribly useful, that gun," Bodie said as he joined him.
"Yeah, well, they won't know it isn't loaded."
They scurried beside the hedge, approaching the lorry with caution. The back flap was open enough for Doyle to see, as they drew close, that no one was inside. That left the cab. He paused near the rear. "Take the other side."
"Oh, yeah?" Bodie gestured with his empty hands. "And what should I do when I get there--threaten 'em with my good looks?"
"Improvise," Doyle replied, and took off.
He slowly edged alongside the van until he reached the cab door. As he reached to yank it open, he wondered just what he should do if there was someone inside, someone whose gun was most likely loaded. Part of him cared rather a lot, and part of him felt that he deserved whatever he got for blowing the op so badly so far. Being shot by Krivas would surely be a less troublesome fate than having to tell Charles Barrington-Smythe that he'd been screwing around on the job...literally.
"Oi, it's empty," Bodie called.
"Oh." Doyle stopped pondering his short-term future and looked inside the cab.
Bodie looked back across the deserted interior. "What took you so long?"
"I tripped," Doyle replied.
"Uh-huh. Pull the other one, mate."
Doyle sighed. "Sorry." He was impressed that Bodie had been bold where he had balked. "You act braver than you talk, you know."
Bodie grinned. "Yeah, but don't tell anyone, okay? Might ruin my reputation."
Doyle smiled. "Thanks, anyway." He gazed out at the surrounding woods. "So, where now?"
"That way." Bodie nodded towards the thickest part of the woods. "Deepest cover. Like a rat going for its hole."
"You really don't like this guy, do you?"
"No." Bodie headed off through the trees.
Doyle followed. "What'd he do to you? And don't give me that song and dance about Suzanne and how beautiful she was."
"You didn't believe it?" Bodie sounded disappointed, though whether in Doyle for not giving him credit or in himself for poor acting quality, Doyle couldn't say.
"Not a word," Doyle replied. "You want to tell me the real story?"
Bodie came to an abrupt halt. "Why? You won't like it."
Doyle took a calming breath and looked him directly in the eyes. "I deserve the truth."
"What--because we had sex?"
"No," Doyle said. "Because we could have a lot more." He took another deep breath. "And I don't just mean more sex." It had been good, if a bit hectic, and he wanted to get to know Bodie a lot better, as a friend and as a lover, but only from a basis of honesty.
Bodie stared at him a long moment. "Yeah," he said at last, "you do deserve it." He smiled. "Later, though, okay? We're in the middle of a chase, you know."
"Point taken," Doyle replied. "Later, then." He headed off.
He didn't need to go far. Twenty feet along he nearly tripped over a bloke lying on the ground. Granted, the fellow was wearing camouflage fatigues. Granted, he'd been expecting his opponents to be upright. Nonetheless, Doyle had to curse himself for screwing up again. Things looked more positive this time, though. The fellow was handcuffed, his shoelaces were tied together, and his mouth was gagged. The same bizarre circumstances applied to the three other men Doyle found lying nearby.
They were all alive, but not terribly happy looking. Doyle scratched his head and turned to Bodie for answers. "Krivas?"
Bodie nodded. "Told you, he's a double-crosser."
"You mean he tied up his own men?"
Bodie bent down by one of the fellows and tugged the gag off. "Did Krivas do this?"
"Goddamn fucking sonofabitch--"
"Yeah, yeah, we've heard. What happened?"
"Fucking bastard pulled his gun on us! Took all the goddamn money! If I get my hands on him--"
Doyle came over. "Which way did he go?"
The man jerked his head northwards. "Go blow the bastard apart!"
"No problem," Bodie replied.
"One problem," Doyle said as they headed off again. "We don't have anything to blow him apart with."
"Oh, yeah." Bodie halted. "You know, these guys had automatic weapons at the bank holdup, but we didn't see any back there on the ground. And Krivas couldn't have carried all of those guns with him very easily. Which means--"
"The other guns are back in the lorry." Doyle cursed himself a third time. "Okay, why don't you run back and pick up a couple?"
"I'm not going anywhere except after Krivas," Bodie replied firmly. "You go."
"Look, if we spend all day arguing, he'll just get farther away from us."
"Then you'd better get moving." Bodie had a stern look about him which Doyle didn't feel like fighting.
"Fine," he relented. "But you stay put until I get back. Right?" He took off at a dead run back towards the lorry.
Doyle swore it took no more than five minutes for him to reach the lorry, find two guns, and return to the spot he'd left Bodie. But somehow, during those five minutes, Bodie had apparently gotten bored, for he wasn't there.
Bloody hell. Doyle didn't get a chance to start truly worrying, because shouting reached his ears. Christ, Bodie had found Krivas... He ran.
He broke through the trees into a clearing, and saw two men wrestling on the ground. Krivas' gun lay off to one side, and Bodie seemed to have the upper hand in the match. With every punch he landed, Bodie shouted something incomprehensible about someone named Sue Ellen. Doyle pondered the situation.
Well, he could shoot Krivas...if only he weren't moving around quite so much. He could leap in to help Bodie...but that would mean putting away the gun. He could hang about and wait for Bodie to finish up on his own...he seemed to doing just fine.
In the end, Doyle grew tired of waiting, and opted for shouting himself. "Oi! I've got a gun! Now, knock it off!"
Krivas chose that moment to collapse. Bodie stood over him, slightly wobbly, shirt torn, blood running from his nose. He looked at Doyle. "I was enjoying that."
"Yeah, I could tell." Doyle reached in his jacket pocket for the handcuffs he liked to carry with him for these occasions.
Bodie gave Krivas one last kick before Doyle cuffed him. "That'll teach you."
Doyle waved him off. "Go on, you've 'ad enough." He decided to leave Krivas lying there until they could call for backup. "And just who the hell is this Sue Ellen bird? What happened to Suzanne?"
"One and the same," Bodie replied. At Doyle's puzzled frown, he added, "I'll tell you later."
"Later," Doyle said as he headed back through the woods, "is going to happen real soon."
Doyle's report, which omitted a few details and elaborated on others, was received with enthusiasm by Charles Barrington-Smythe. This pleased Doyle in that it kept Bodie's little misrepresentations from being found out, and he was fond enough of Bodie by now to not want him to become the object of embarrassment. It did not, however, please Murphy, who wanted that very thing.
"How could you?" he asked Doyle over a post-report pint. "I thought the whole plan was to let this fraud of a merc mess the op up royally, then reveal his false credentials publicly and wave Charlie goodbye. What happened up there? Have you gone mental?"
"Not quite," Doyle replied, feeling it unnecessary to enlighten Murphy on his recent sexual exploits. "But I did get to know the bloke. He's okay, Murph. And he acted like he knew his stuff--bold, brave--braver than me, if you must know. It didn't seem fair to unmask him." He paused, considering the evidence so far. "If there's that much to unmask. Maybe he was in Africa--lack of a passport entry doesn't mean much."
"There's a lot more than that," Murphy said. "My reporter friend John dug up a bundle. I'm sorry you're feeling generous towards Mr. Merc, 'cause it's too late. My mate's gunning for him."
"Hell. What'd he find?"
"First, a few little inconsistencies in Memoirs of a Merc. Your new pal has got clans rising up months and sometimes years before they actually did any rising, he's got monsoons when there were dry spells, and he describes picturesque jungles in spots where you can't find a tree for miles."
"So he made a few typos," Doyle said. "Or took on a bit of poetic license. It happens."
Murphy solemnly shook his head. "It also happens that my reporter mate tracked down a woman named Philomena Pruitt, who happens to be in the ghostwriting business, and who happened to receive a few hundred pounds from a William Bodie a few weeks before the manuscript was turned in for the contest deadline."
Doyle took a large swig of his beer. "Philomena Pruitt?"
"That's right. She ghostwrote other books for Action Man Press. It's her specialty."
"Hell," Doyle said.
"Too right," Murph agreed. "And just what are we supposed to do with Charles B-S now, eh? You got any more bright ideas?"
"Nope." Doyle stared moodily into his glass. "Sorry."
They spent a rather unpleasant afternoon engrossed in pint glasses, toasting Cowley with ever greater frequency.
That evening, Doyle invited Bodie over to his place for dinner. They had avoided each other on returning to London, Doyle to make his report, Bodie to attend to book business. But there was only so long Bodie could stall him, and his time was up. Doyle was going to get the truth out of him, no matter what it might be.
He waited until they had eaten their meal, and had a chance to begin the digestive process in peace. They had just gotten started on a little post-dinner wine when Doyle popped the question.
"All right, give over. You've never even been to Africa, have you?"
Bodie squirmed in his chair. "Can we do this somewhere more comfortable? Like, the bed?"
"No." Doyle crossed his arms. "You'll just seduce me, and then try to talk me into forgetting all about your little fabrications. And that's not fair."
"Can't blame me for trying." Bodie eyed the lounge. "How 'bout the sofa?"
Doyle pursed his lips. Still dangerous, but not as bad as the bedroom. "All right," he relented. "But keep your hands to yourself."
Bodie pouted all the way to the lounge. "If I tell you the whole sordid tale, will you make love to me for afters?"
"Maybe." Doyle sank onto the sofa beside him, but not too close. "Depends on how sordid your sordid tale is. Let's start at the beginning, shall we? Africa?"
"I've never been there," Bodie said. "I made it up. Sort of."
"You've never been a mercenary," Doyle said as calmly as he could manage.
"Well, no," Bodie replied.
Doyle sighed. "I fell in love with a fraud."
Bodie raised his eyebrows. "Did you say 'love'?"
"You're right, I should amend that." Doyle sipped his wine. "I was falling in love with a fraud." He gave Bodie a steady look. God, he was beautiful... Pulling himself together with a jerk, he said, "I could always stop."
Bodie simply stared at him, his piercing blue eyes partially obscured by long, sultry lashes.
Doyle gulped. "Don't do that."
"Do what?" Bodie asked innocently.
Bodie favored him with a smolderingly sensual gaze.
"That!" Doyle yelled.
"Can't help it," Bodie replied smoothly. "I want you to keep falling in love with me. 'Cause then I can fall in love back."
"Oh." Doyle wrenched his gaze away and focused on the wine glass. He was too fond of the idiot, that was his whole trouble. He let out a long-suffering sigh. "Okay. I'll work on it." He looked up again. "But first I need the truth. Please?"
"All right." Bodie dropped the seductive looks and settled back against the sofa, taking a sip of his wine. "I'll tell you."
It belatedly occurred to Doyle that he hadn't told Bodie the truth yet, either. "Wait a minute. There's something you have to know."
"One of my mates put a reporter on your trail. We thought--well, it's standard procedure in CI5 to check people out. We thought we'd better look into your background. This bloke found some stuff out and is planning to blow your story apart. When he runs his article, you'll be ruined. A laughingstock."
Bodie smiled. "Don't worry. I can handle the press. 'Sides, I have what I needed out of this whole game."
"Money?" Doyle figured it had to be something like that. The contest prize was pretty hefty. "You did it for the money?"
"Well, I did the op for revenge. But yeah, I did Memoirs for the money. I needed it."
"Don't we all. Go on."
"No," Bodie replied, "I really needed the money. Lots of it." He looked away. "I kind of owed somebody."
Bodie took a long drink. "It all seemed so simple at first..."
Doyle rolled his eyes. "This is a long story, isn't it?"
"Yeah. You have any more wine?"
Doyle rose to get the bottle. "Go on, get started."
Bodie cleared his throat. "Well, it all started with Ned. That's my brother. Younger. I hate him."
Doyle resettled on the sofa. "Good at school work, was he?"
"How'd you guess?"
"I've got a younger brother, too." Doyle refilled both their glasses.
"Oh, then you'll understand this whole thing. Sort of. See, Ned was perfect. Good grades, good in sports, good manners, good with money, good with birds. All my life, my mum and dad wanted to know how come I wasn't as perfect as Ned, and me being the oldest and all, I should've been setting him an example, when what I was doing instead was getting into trouble a lot. Just 'cause I didn't take to school, that's no reason to get upset, if you ask me. I mean, just because I ran off a few times--well, that doesn't really matter now. The thing is, Ned did everything right, and I did everything wrong, and when I turned eighteen, dad made me go into the Army to straighten me out. I mean, at least that bit of my story was true."
"I know," Doyle admitted. "We checked it out." He wondered where this family history was leading. "So Dad liked Ned best, is that it? So?"
"So, he wanted to give Ned all his money! Can you imagine, threatening to cut me out his will, simply because of a few gambling debts and a little dishonorable discharge--"
"Heard about that, too," Doyle said. "Blew up your barracks, didn't you?"
"It was an accident. Wasn't anybody in there at the time. Can't understand why they thought I should be booted out for one little mistake."
"Only one?" Doyle was dubious.
"Well, that, and the time I shot my CO in the foot."
Doyle groaned. "Accident, right?"
"I hardly see how it's relevant."
"Never mind. Just get on with it."
Bodie nodded. "I'm getting there. What happened was, last year my dad loaned Ned a thousand quid, to see how much money he could make off it in the following six months. Little bastard invested it in some high-risk bonds he'd got a tip on, and turned it into five thousand. So when I got booted out of the Army, I told dad I wanted the same chance. It was only fair, and all that."
"He loaned you a thousand quid?" Doyle was afraid to ask his next question, but went ahead anyway. "What did you do with it?"
"Well, I had this really good tip on this horse--"
Doyle nearly spilled his wine. "You lost a thousand quid on a horse race?" He opted to drink most of the wine in order to avoid spilling it in the future. "Christ, I didn't just fall for a fraud, I fell for a complete idiot."
Bodie looked distinctly miffed. "Look, it's all very well for you to sit there in judgment, but if you'd suddenly got hold of a thousand quid and had a chance to turn it into ten, wouldn't you be even the least bit tempted?
Bodie frowned. "Not even a little bit?"
Doyle thought long and hard about it. "No."
"But, listen, I'd just had this really good run of luck at the race track, and I thought, you know, it's destiny. I was meant to win the big one, it was my turn. I mean, why not?"
Doyle couldn't believe he had to ask. "Because it's incredibly stupid?"
"Now, look here--"
"I am looking," Doyle said, "very closely." He thought it might be time to open a second bottle of wine. "I can't believe you blew the entire loan on a ruddy horse."
"I had this really good tip--"
"You know," Doyle replied, "I hate to tell you this, mate, but what you had was a really lousy tip."
"Yeah, I know," Bodie admitted. "But it sounded so good." He sighed. "But I knew dad wouldn't exactly see things my way. I knew he'd throttle me if he found out."
"I'm surprised that you didn't throttle the bloke who gave you the tip."
"Thought about it," Bodie said. "But Sneaky's bigger than me."
Doyle definitely knew it was time for a second bottle. "You made a thousand quid bet on the advice of a bloke named Sneaky?" He got up and headed for the liquor cabinet.
"Yeah, well, he's been right plenty of times before. How was I supposed to know about Gloria?"
Doyle halted in his tracks. "I'm afraid to ask. Who's she?"
"Bird I was going out with at the time. She didn't tell me she was married."
Doyle decided that wine wasn't strong enough. "Let me guess," he said as he went for a bottle of scotch. "Her husband happened to be Mr. Have-I-Got-A-Hot-Tip-For-You."
"Right. Never knew Sneaky was married, either. Secretive bloke. But somehow he found out about me and his wife, and I swear I would've dumped her in a second if I'd known, but no, he has to go and ruin me completely."
"Some people just have no heart." Doyle returned to the sofa. "Scotch?"
He poured it out. "Okay, so you owed your dad a thousand. I thought the contest winner got five thousand quid?"
"Wrong." Bodie swirled the amber liquid. "Dad seemed to think that I should be able to do as well or better than Ned did, or else it would be proof that I was a no-good layabout who'd never amount to anything--"
Bodie ignored the comment. "And he told me, that if I didn't make at least as much as Ned had, he'd cut me out of his will completely. He's worth a lot, too. So there I was, needing to get five thousand quid in six months. Plus interest. And there I was one day, drinking my sorrows away in the Dog and Manger--"
Doyle moaned. "Great way to solve problems, getting sloshed."
"We're doin' it right now, aren't we? Don't go getting high and mighty on me."
"I'm not," Doyle protested. "I'm getting sarcastic on you. You deserve it." He slid down more on the sofa, feeling lightheaded, not sure if it was due to the drink or to Bodie's story. "So you were getting drunk in a pub with a bad name."
"Right. And who should stroll in, but an old mate of mine from the Army."
"Oh, yeah? Does he have a funny nickname, too?"
"No, not at all."
"Good." Doyle kicked off his shoes. "And you got drunk together, is that it?"
Bodie settled down more on the sofa as well. "Yeah. And you see, he really had been a mercenary in Africa before he came home and joined the army. He got in this reminiscent mood, and started telling me all these tales about it. He used to do that a lot, actually. Got a bit boring. But anyway, he went on and on as usual, and then when he was done, he said, somebody ought to write his memoirs, 'cause it would make a great story and sell lots of books and he'd be rich."
Doyle was not sure he liked where this was leading. "Did you steal this bloke's memoirs?"
"Well," Bodie said, "he wasn't going to get any mileage out of them. You see, he passed out in the alley behind the pub, and got run over by a garbage lorry next morning." He shook his head sadly. "Poor Killer."
"'Killer'?" Doyle sputtered. "You said he didn't have a nickname!"
"He didn't. Was his legal name. Killer Malloy." Bodie made a sweeping motion up one of his arms. "See, he had these numbers tattooed up his arm--from his merc days. Every month, he'd total up his kill, and have it tattooed on his arm, and then the next month, he'd get a new total, and have an X put through the old one and get a new tattoo a little ways further up. Those numbers ran all the way up one arm, across his back, and down the other, and the last one had three digits in it. Trust me, he was not a nice man."
"I see," Doyle said, not sure if he really did. "So he deserved to get run over by a garbage lorry, did he?"
Bodie looked affronted. "No, no, I'm not saying that. But he certainly didn't deserve to become filthy rich off multiple digit tattoos."
"No, I can see that."
"The very next afternoon," Bodie went on, "I happened to be walking along the street, mulling over the brevity of life--"
"Okay, so I was mulling over the state of my hangover, can't I elaborate a bit?"
Doyle smiled. "Seems to come naturally to you. What happened while you were mulling?"
"I passed by this bookshop. It had this big window display for Action Man Press and the contest they were running for a true life adventure story. It struck a nerve in me--"
"'Nerve' is the right word," Doyle muttered.
"Are you gonna make sarky comments all bloody night, or are you gonna let me get on with this?" Bodie asked.
Doyle lapsed into silence.
"As I was saying," Bodie said, "There was this contest. The winner would get published, lots of publicity, and five thousand quid plus royalties. The contest deadline was only a few weeks away. Now, I knew that I couldn't write, so I looked up "Writers" in the phone directory. And that's where I found Miss Philomena Pruitt."
Doyle decided he wasn't drinking his scotch fast enough. "Was wonderin' what happened to her. She wrote 'Memoirs of a Merc'?"
"Yeah," Bodie confessed. "Guess she kinda hurried over the research part, huh? Didn't think it really mattered, myself. It was the spirit of the story--"
"You mean, the spirit of Killer Malloy's story."
"Oh, right." Bodie had the decency to sound ever so slightly guilty. "I told his more vivid tales to Miss Pruitt. In three weeks, she whipped out this terrific manuscript."
"How much did you pay her?"
"Two hundred quid."
"Is that all?" Doyle said. "And you got five thousand?"
"Hey, the old bat was living in Mayfair." Bodie grabbed the scotch bottle and topped off his drink. "She was doin' all right for herself. I don't think she got that house off her nanny income."
"Philomena Pruitt is a nanny?"
Doyle snatched the bottle from him and refilled his own glass. "I don't believe it. 'Memoirs of a Merc' was written by a retired nanny. Christ." He drank.
Bodie grinned. "She wrote 'Tough Man of Manila' and 'Blazing Uzis', too. Those were two of her earlier hits. Quite a versatile old gal."
"I give up."
"Good." Bodie sounded pleased. "I'm tired of watching you look surprised every thirty seconds. Look, I entered it in the contest, and I won, what's the big deal? They were lookin' for an image, and wanted everybody to send in their photo with the MS, and at least I sent them a picture of me. It wasn't all fake."
Doyle wondered if perhaps he'd fallen down a rabbit hole, and just not noticed. "You've never set foot in Africa! And it's supposed to be a true story!"
Bodie shrugged. "Details, Ray--you're always harping on details."
"Sorry," Doyle said. "Habit of mine. So you got the five thousand and proved your worth to your dad." An unpleasant thought crossed his mind. "You did tell him about all this, didn't you?"
Bodie slunk down even further. "Not exactly. I left a few details out."
"I'll bet." Doyle sighed. "Still, all's well that ends well, right? More or less. You're square with your family again, you won't be disinherited, you've made quite a pile, and you're about to receive some terrific publicity courtesy of CI5 and Harry Krivas. Unless the negative publicity from our investigative reporter friend hits first."
"Told you, I can handle it." Bodie set his glass down. He turned towards Doyle, the smoldering look back in his eyes. "If all's well that ends well, why are you still looking so glum? Can't we just forget about the whole mess and start getting to know each other better?"
Doyle finished off his scotch and put the glass aside. "Yeah. We can do that." There wasn't much point in enlightening Bodie about his troubles--about Charles Barrington-Smythe and their failed campaign to dislodge him. Why spoil the evening? He shifted over, closer to Bodie. "Just one thing, though. Who the hell is Sue-Ellen whatshername?"
"Oh, her." Bodie blushed. "Thought you'd forgotten."
"Not a chance."
"Okay, okay." Bodie casually draped an arm round Doyle's shoulder. "There never was a Suzanne. You were right about that tale I told your boss."
"Thought so." Doyle liked the feeling of Bodie's arm around him, and snuggled into a tighter embrace. "But you did know Krivas once, didn't you? From where? Army?"
Bodie shook his head. "Nah. Primary school. We were twelve."
Doyle's eyes widened. "You mean to tell that all your guesses about what he'd do, and all that stuff about what he was like, was based on primary school? Oh, my God."
"It worked, didn't it?" Bodie tweaked one of Doyle's curls. "He hasn't changed any, far as I can tell."
"I know, but--but--" Doyle gave up.
"He was the school bully," Bodie explained. "Tormented me no end, stealing my lunches, sticking gum on my chair, tripping me when I wasn't looking, that sort of nonsense. He hated me because my dad kept hounding his dad to pay back his bank loans. Anyway, there was this girl--Sue Ellen Bigglethorpe--she was thirteen and very pretty. Had the most incredible long red hair, which she kept in pigtails. And freckles, of course. Every boy in my class wanted to be her friend. Including Krivas. But I was the one who won her heart--first girl I ever kissed." He sighed. "Actually, I thought it felt kind of disgusting at the time, but I didn't say anything. Harry was jealous, wanted to put me in my place. So one day he snuck up on her, and he had this pocketknife--"
"Jesus," Doyle said, shocked. "What did the bastard do?"
"Cut off one of her pigtails."
Bodie frowned. "It was a terrible day. Naturally, she had to cut her hair very short all round to make it match. And she wouldn't have anything to do with me afterwards. Women. I just never could understand them." Then he grinned. "But at least I finally got my revenge. You know, he's taller than I remembered."
"No doubt." Doyle relaxed, glad that the whole sordid tale was now out in the open. "You're an idiot, though, if you must know."
"Thanks," Bodie replied. "May I remind you that I'm a rich idiot?"
"It's not that much money," Doyle said. "And I'll bet you'll find a horse or two to blow it on."
"No, I'm done with that." Bodie took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Don't know what I'm going to do next. I'm tired of being a layabout."
Doyle studied his face. He actually looked serious. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. In the meantime, though..." Bodie deftly undid the buttons of Doyle's shirt. "Can we go on being...well...friends?" He stroked Doyle's chest.
Relaxing into the caress, Doyle nodded. "Absolutely." He kissed Bodie deeply, which soon led to other things.
Many other things.
Two days later, Doyle sat in front of his television set, attention raptly held by the talk show guests, one of whom was Bodie, and one of whom was Murphy's reporter friend, John Hare of The Evening Star. Bodie looked cool and confident, despite knowing that Hare's job was to tear apart his contest-winning story bit by fabricated bit.
"Now," Hare said after a little introductory business, "I have a few points I'd like to clear up about your memoirs." He produced a copy of the book and flipped through the pages. "Here in chapter three you write, 'The terror of the Mobigdu clan was paralleled by none. In that summer of 1971, they came roaring out of the hills of Denshai to raid the unprotected towns and farms, brutally massacring everyone in sight.' Very vivid image, Mr. Bodie."
Bodie smiled. "Yes, horrifying."
"But a bit odd, since, according to my research, the Mobigdu didn't rise up or roar anywhere until two years later--autumn of 1973, to be precise."
"Yes, I know," Bodie said calmly. "My proofreader failed to catch that simple error of fact. These annoyances are common in the book publishing trade."
"Apparently they're very common, indeed," Hare persisted. "For instance, let's look at this little oversight from chapter four. There you describe the bright, burning sun and pounding heat of the summer of 1970 in the Congo basin. 'An intense, non-stop glare which ceased to let up during the whole of August, trapping us in a fierce, unvarying heat that brought the men to the edge of insanity.' Colorful writer, aren't you?"
Bodie shrugged. "Just telling it like it was."
"A pity it wasn't like that, Mr. Bodie. According to the international weather bureau, that area of the Congo suffered one of the worst rainy seasons in fifty years during August of 1970. Another proofreading error, perhaps?"
"Nope," Bodie said casually. "Poetic license. Authors frequently use it. You should try it sometime, might make your dreary articles more entertaining."
Hare began to show signs of frustration, particularly as the studio audience laughed at Bodie's flip remark. "Indeed? Well, was it also poetic license you used in chapter seven, where you describe in lush detail the jungles of Kulanari? 'Vast growth surrounded us, a massive wall of green, a sea of vines and fronds and towering canopies of leaves wherein lurked hidden dangers.' That's Kulanari, right, Mr. Bodie?"
"Well, no," Bodie replied smoothly. "Kulanari is a desert plain. Dry as a bone."
Taken aback by this unexpected honesty, Hare fumbled a moment, then rallied. "Then why did you lie about it?"
"Well, who wants to read about Africa without a few jungles? Come, come, Mr. Hare, surely you'd find it a bit boring otherwise."
Hare pounced. "Africa? I'd love to read about Africa. Especially from someone who's actually been there. But you haven't, have you, Mr. Hot Shot Mercenary--your passport is singularly devoid of any indication that you ever set foot there. In fact, the furthest south you've ever been in your entire life is Avignon!"
The audience gasped. Doyle bit his lower lip.
Bodie merely rolled his eyes. "Oh, honestly, Mr. Hare. Do you really think that mercenary soldiers travel about the world in legal ways? How naive of you." He then turned to the pretty young hostess. "Must we continue this charade? Isn't it rather obvious that Mr. Hare is merely attempting to find a scandal where none exists for the sake of more newspaper sales?"
"I'm not finished yet!" Hare leaped up. "You may waltz around the rest of your falsehoods all you like, but I'd like to see you lie your way out of this!" He waved his arm towards the backstage. "Bring her out!"
A tiny but spry old woman clutching an enormous handbag trotted onto the stage. She nodded politely at the hostess. Bodie rose gallantly to shake her hand and proffer an introduction.
"Such a gentleman," she said as she took her seat.
"Hmpf." Hare glared at Bodie. "A gentleman you know quite well, isn't that right, Miss Pruitt?"
Oh, bloody hell, Doyle thought from the safety of his sofa. He's going to get pummeled now. The bastard's found Philomena the Nanny, retired. She'll blow it all wide open. Damn. He waited, hunched forward, fists clenched, teeth grinding.
Miss Philomena Pruitt looked at Bodie, then back at Mr. Hare. "A very nice looking young man," she said. "Who is he?"
Doyle muttered a grateful "thank you" to the ceiling. How the hell had Bodie managed that one?
Hare's jaw dropped. "But Miss Pruitt--why, we only spoke a few days ago about Mr. Bodie. You told me you had ghostwritten a book for him--you told me you were the real author of 'Memoirs of a Merc'!"
"Me?" Philomena looked positively astonished. "I think you need your eyesight and hearing examined. I've never met Mr. Bodie before in my life. Wrote 'Memoirs of a Merc'? Heavens, Mr. Hare, how utterly ridiculous. I'm a retired nanny!"
The audience howled.
John Hare slumped in his seat, put his hands over his eyes, and set about groaning.
A commercial quickly came on.
Doyle leaned back and let out a sigh. He wondered just how much Bodie had paid Miss Pruitt for her silence. He was good. Very, very good. Totally wasted talent, too, Doyle thought. The fellow ought to be putting his enormous mental resources to work for something better than Action Man Press contests.
His thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. It was Murphy, who looked entirely too cheerful for a man on temporary unpaid leave.
"Where's your booze?" he asked, pushing past Doyle into the lounge. "We need to celebrate."
"Hello to you, too," Doyle replied. He helped Murph fill up a glass with scotch, and joined him for a drink. "What's up?"
Murphy pulled a cassette tape from his pocket. "Ray, my friend, we are back in business. You, me, the rest of the lads, CI5, Cowley--we are back! Got a tape player handy?"
Curious, Doyle turned on his stereo and popped the tape in the cassette deck. "And what am I listening to?"
"Charles Barrington-Smythe," Murphy replied gleefully. "Remember how you planted a bug in his office? Well, forget about embarrassing the blighter with bad judgment calls on the job, mate. We've got something tons better. Cleaner than the Pope, eh? Not by a long shot. Go on, press 'play'."
The first voice Doyle heard was female.
"Who's been a bad boy today?" The unknown woman spoke in seductive tones. "Has Charlie been a bad boy? Ooh, he's done the naughtiest things, hasn't he? Bad Charlie--bad, bad boy. Now, tell Auntie Julia what happens to boys who misbehave."
Doyle, barely able to control his astonishment, heard Charles Barrington-Smythe's pleading voice.
"Bad boys must be punished!" he cried. "Spank me, Auntie Julia--spank me!"
The sound of rhythmic slaps on bare flesh and Charles' moans were interrupted only by Doyle's laughter.
"Yes!" He clapped his hands. "We've nailed him!" Charles, he knew, was very married, and not to anyone named Julia.
"Priceless, isn't it?" Murphy turned the recorder off.
"I would never have guessed," Doyle replied. "How do we handle this? I've never been a blackmailer before."
"Simple." Murphy produced a second cassette. "This is the copy I made--I'm just going to pop it in a plain envelope with a simple note, typed up on a machine I used at the library, stating how much we're going to miss Charles after he's gone, and how much we're looking forward to Cowley's return. I think he'll take the hint."
Doyle grinned. "He'd better. Fancy that falling into the hands of the Home Secretary." He clapped Murphy on the back. "Good work."
"Ta," Murphy said. "Well, I'd best be getting on with my little delivery. You know, I never thought I'd say this, but I'm actually looking forward to going back to work. It's been dead boring."
"He'll have to bring the rest of the agents back on, won't he?" Doyle asked. "You'll put that in the note, won't you?"
"Oh, definitely. Mind you, any number of 'em have already landed better-paying jobs elsewhere. Did you hear about Reynolds and Hancock? Jumped ship to MI6, the bastards. And Shelby landed a cushy number with the Special Branch, and Brown is thinking of taking an offer from them as well." He shook his head sadly. "Dropping like flies, they are. Cowley won't have but half a Squad left when he comes back, at this rate."
"He might be pretty desperate," Doyle agreed. And then a devious thought occurred to him. "You reckon he'd be willing to try out someone new who doesn't quite have the best background in the world, but has already proven himself in the field? Sort of on a trial basis, say. Especially if that someone had the backing of you and me."
Murphy stared at him. "Bodie?"
"Why not? I'd be willing to risk training him as a partner--"
"Bloody hell, you've gone barmy on me." Murph made a tsk-tsking sound. "You really think Cowley would hire on Mr. Memoirs of a Merc? He's a fraud, Doyle!"
Doyle smiled. "Yeah, but he's a damn good fraud. C'mon, mate--back me up on this, and I'll buy you a free round every week for the next six months."
"Definitely barmy." Murphy headed for the door. "But I'm not dumb enough to turn down free drinks. Just make sure he doesn't screw up during any ops I'm on, okay?"
"Guaranteed," Doyle replied happily, showing Murph out.
Not half an hour later, Bodie turned up at his door.
As soon as he'd got safely inside, Doyle kissed him. It was always good policy, in his opinion, to soften up a victim before the sacrifice. "Good job," he said, taking the bottle of champagne Bodie'd brought. "Poor Mr. Hare."
"Yeah, he was fairly frothing by the end." Bodie followed him into the lounge.
"Got some good news today," Doyle said as he popped the champagne cork and filled up two glasses. "Heard about a job opening that would be perfect for someone with your talents."
They settled down on the sofa. "Oh, is there a seat going in Parliament?" Bodie asked.
"Very amusing." Doyle raised his glass in a toast. "To Memoirs of a Merc, which brought us together."
Bodie clinked his glass and drank deeply. "So what's this marvelous opportunity, then?"
"Something that will help keep us together," Doyle said, not that he had any doubts on that score regardless of Bodie's occupation. But working together would bond them in ways far beyond the bedroom.
Bodie raised one questioning eyebrow. "You're hiring me as a live-in housekeeper?"
"Wrong." Doyle took a deep breath. "How would you like to work for CI5?"
Bodie spilled his champagne, most of it landing on his shirtfront.
"Better take that off," Doyle suggested.
"You said that on purpose, didn't you?" Bodie quickly removed his shirt. "Just so I'd spill my drink. It's a bloody strange way of seducing me."
"I was serious," Doyle replied. "But I'm willing to take advantage of the result." He stroked Bodie's smooth chest. "'m gonna put in a good word for you. Play up your army training and the Krivas op, downplay everything else. It's worth a try." He gave Bodie a quick kiss. "Isn't it?"
"You want me to help you track down criminals?" Bodie sounded dubious.
"You're a natural," Doyle said. "You understand the deviant mind."
"I'm not sure that's a compliment."
"Try not to think about it too hard," Doyle replied, leaning in to kiss Bodie's chest. "Just think about you and me, side by side, day in and day out."
"And night in and night out?"
"Absolutely," Doyle said. "And the money's not bad, either." He paused to suck at a nipple. "Say yes."
Bodie smiled. "Can I say yes tomorrow morning, when you're not busy seducing me?"
"Okay." Doyle agreed easily. "But how do you know I won't be seducing you tomorrow morning as well, hm?"
"Because," Bodie replied, fingers working at Doyle's shirt buttons, "tomorrow morning, I plan to be seducing you."
With that, they stopped speaking for some time, a silence which Doyle didn't mind at all.
-- THE END --