Tea for Two
Doyle rubbed his hands together briskly. Then he made fists and blew on them, and his breath made white puffs which floated away into nothingness.
"Feeling the cold, 4.5?"
Cowley sounded remarkably cheerful for a man whose office heater had broken down during London's worst winter in fifty- three years. He's probably been warming himself with scotch, Doyle decided, heartily wishing he'd done the same. "A bit, sir," he replied.
"3.7?" Cowley glanced at the man in the chair beside Doyle's, who sat there completely composed and attentive, displaying no signs that he was in the least affected by the freezing temperature.
"I'm fine, sir."
Doyle looked at his partner and frowned. Of course Bodie was fine. He also resembled an arctic explorer. Doyle was positive Bodie was wearing three or four assorted shirts and sweaters beneath his down-padded parka, not to mention the wool scarf, cap, gloves, and heavy boots he had on. Shivering, Doyle wished for the hundredth time that he hadn't put off his winter clothes shopping until every shop in the entire country had sold out of thermal underwear and parkas. He crossed his arms over his chest, huddling deeper into his threadbare peacoat.
"Here, have a look at these." Cowley leaned across his desk to hand over two file folders. Doyle reluctantly stopped hugging himself and grabbed one.
"This is what we have on the group of IRA sympathizers who are probably responsible for the recent armory theft."
Bodie glanced up from his folder. "Thought Robbins and Stuart were on that."
Cowley nodded. "They were. I've pulled them. You're on it now." He flipped through a pile of papers on his desk. "We believe this group has hidden the stolen arms in Oxford. The people you are reading about belong to a political group which meets regularly at a certain Oxford bookshop."
"Red and Black Books," Doyle said, pleased that he'd found the appropriate spot in the mass of papers, despite fumbling through them with numb fingers.
"Aye. This shop specializes in subjects of, shall we say, a leftward slant."
Doyle let out a low whistle. "Owned by Richard Lumley. Isn't he the commune nut who inherited pots of money?"
"Yeah," Bodie put in. "I saw a Sunday supplement on him a couple months back. Where Are They Now, that sort of thing. A right nutter." He smiled and shook his head. "The poor bloke never left the Sixties behind."
"Indeed." Cowley handed over two more files. "You'll need this information on him as well. Richard Lumley is technically an earl but refuses to use titles. He inherited a large estate and a great deal of money in 1966, at the young age of twenty- four. He turned the estate into a commune, where the inhabitants grew organic food and practiced 'free love.' Lumley also ran an alternative press there."
Bodie smirked. "Hasn't changed much, far as I could tell from the article."
Doyle decided it was time to show off his own knowledge. "He makes a lot of money off herbal teas now," he said brightly.
Bodie turned to favor him with a scornful expression. "Drink 'em a lot, do you?"
"Yeah." Doyle glared back. "They're good."
Cowley cleared his throat, and both agents immediately returned their attention to the matter at hand.
"As I understand it," Cowley said, "Lumley grows only herbs now on his farm, herbs used in the production of Lumley's Long Life teas. The commune disbanded in '77, though there is at least one person from those days still living at the estate. Mr. Lumley continues to preach left-wing idealism through his press, and sells his publications through the bookshop." Cowley paused and shifted in his chair, looking uncomfortable. "He is also President of the Sexual Tolerance League, which is dedicated to establishing legal 'rights' for homosexual relationships."
Bodie's eyes widened. "He's queer?"
Cowley cleared his throat again. "I believe the current term is now 'gay'."
Doyle frowned, suddenly suspicious. "What exactly are we supposed to do?"
"You are both going to Oxford." Cowley turned to Bodie. "You, Bodie, are a free-lance journalist. You will interview Lumley and as many of the ex-commune members as you can locate. We strongly suspect the stolen arms have been concealed somewhere on Lumley's estate."
"Thought he was one of those love, peace, and understanding nuts," Bodie said.
"He is. Or so he claims. But he doesn't control the political group. That's where you come in, Doyle."
"Me, sir? You want me to join this group?" Doyle shuffled through his files. "What're they called...oh, yeah. The AFS. Anti-Fascist Society." He looked up. "Not very original, is it?"
Cowley ignored the remark. "It would be extremely difficult to infiltrate such a small group. Especially one which, as Stuart discovered, thoroughly screens potential members."
Bodie grinned. "Got caught out, did he?"
"No, Bodie, he did not. That is, they didn't find out he was CI5." Cowley frowned. "They did, however, discover his subscription to Majesty."
Doyle stifled a laugh. "Shoulda seen Stuart during the royal wedding, sir. Took one of those two-inch portable tellys with him everywhere. Bought a whole set of Charles and Di mugs- -"
"Aye, that's enough of that, 4.5."
Doyle nodded, though he couldn't quite keep the smile off his face.
"We aren't going to try getting someone inside the AFS again," Cowley went on. "Instead, we are going to get someone inside Lumley's bookshop."
Doyle raised his eyebrows. "Me, sir?"
"Red and Black Books has posted an opening for temporary Christmas help." Cowley handed him a newspaper. "They want someone who's knowledgeable about leftwing politics and literature. You're well read on the topic, as it is part of your job."
Doyle, who had liked the idea of escaping London for a spell, found his enthusiasm dwindling as he read the newspaper advertisement. "Yeah, I suppose so. But what's this other stuff?" He read from the paper. "'Should also be familiar with a variety of alternative subjects'?"
Cowley searched his pile of papers, then handed over a bookshop catalog. "According to this, the store stocks a wide range of books of an esoteric nature. Witchcraft, paganism, astrology, that sort of nonsense. Ah, and herbal tea remedies-- I'm sure you can handle that part."
Doyle rolled his eyes. He carefully avoided looking at Bodie, knowing full well his partner was sniggering. "But why should they hire me?"
"I've had an old friend of ours give the shop manager a ring, with a glowing, personal recommendation for you." Cowley smiled, and Doyle didn't like the smile one bit. "Fellow named Pellin."
Bodie laughed. Doyle turned to glare at him.
"The Gay Youth bloke?" Bodie grinned at Cowley.
"He happens to be a good friend of Lumley's." Cowley gave Bodie an admonishing stare, then turned his attention back to Doyle. "It should give you a decided edge. Along with your last name, that reddish hair of yours, and those green eyes."
"Huh?" Doyle was still trying to recover from the Pellin information.
"They prefer hiring Irish employees," Cowley explained. "You're close enough. Tell them your grandfather came from Ireland."
"Then that should do nicely."
Doyle sighed. This jaunt to the country was growing less enticing by the minute. If he had to put up with one more sarky comment from Bodie, he'd wrap that damn scarf around his neck so tight he'd be seeing Christmas lights long before dark. Doyle risked another look at his partner, who had his nose buried in a file. Trust him to pretend to be interested just to make points with the Cow.
Bodie suddenly whistled, and whipped a photo from the file. "You bastard," he said to Doyle in a less than kind tone.
Doyle feigned a hurt expression. "What'd I do?"
"That's the shop manager, mate." Bodie gave the picture over.
Doyle studied the stunning, red-haired, and very buxom young lady's photo, and the information printed beneath. "Colleen Dunbar." He smiled. He felt much, much better. "And she's unmarried. Good."
Bodie calmly smiled back. "You happy now? Glad you're getting first crack at her, are you?" He leaned towards Doyle and whispered loudly, "Better tell her that Pellin's just a friend, hadn't you?"
Doyle blanched as the implication hit. "I don't have to pretend I'm gay to land this bloody job, do I, sir?"
"That shouldn't be necessary, Doyle."
Doyle sank back in his chair, letting out a long sigh. He returned to his study of Colleen Dunbar's charms.
"Here, give it over." Bodie reached across to snatch the photo back. "After all, I might need to interview Ms. Dunbar, isn't that right, sir?"
"Unfortunately, yes. She helps run Lumley's press."
Doyle scowled at Bodie, then reluctantly turned his attention to Cowley and more mundane details. "Will we have contact on this assignment?"
Cowley nodded. "Yes. You and Bodie can work together openly. Your story, Doyle, is that you've grown tired of London and wish to relocate to a smaller community. Bodie will be an old mate of yours who lives and works in Oxford. We've arranged for a flat to be let there in Bodie's name. He's offered you a place to stay until you get work."
"What?" Bodie gaped. "We have to share? Is it a two- bedroom flat?"
"What would a bachelor need with two bedrooms, Bodie?" Cowley had a satisfied smile.
Bodie sighed. "So much for Colleen Dunbar." He cocked an eyebrow at Doyle. "You're getting the sofa, mate."
"So kind of you." Doyle inwardly cursed the vagaries of the CI5 budget. Plenty of bachelors had two-bedroom flats--the Cow had simply gone the cheap route. "How long is this going to last?" he asked.
"Until you find out what the AFS is up to, and where those stolen weapons are. You have a job interview scheduled for tomorrow morning at ten. And you, Bodie, will be interviewing Richard Lumley at that time." He cast a searching look at Bodie. "I take it you can do a halfway competent job of passing as a journalist?"
"Yes, sir," Bodie replied, not sounding at all confident.
Cowley handed Bodie a piece of paper. "This is your new address. Report in to me when you have something worth reporting, and not before." He began putting his files in order, obviously dismissing them.
"Yes, sir," Doyle muttered. He gathered his pile of information and hugged it to his chest as he got up, in a hurry to get somewhere warm.
In the hallway, Bodie immediately accosted him. "This is all your fault."
"How do you reckon?"
Bodie tweaked one of Doyle's curls. "You and your Irish grandfather."
Doyle batted the hand away. "Don't give me that. Anyway, you're half-Irish." He grinned. "You're just upset 'cause I'll have first go at the delectable Colleen."
"Never fear," Bodie replied confidently. "I shan't be far behind you. And after you've thoroughly repulsed the young lady- -" He gave Doyle a disapproving once-over. "--I shall step in to provide the more attractive alternative."
"Yeah." Doyle smiled. "And then you can dine her, wine her, and bring her back home." He paused. "To our place." He chucked Bodie's chin. "Right, ducky?" He dashed off down the corridor.
"You--" Bodie chased after him. They bounded down the stairs and across the car park, Doyle deftly avoiding Bodie's lunges, until they collapsed against Doyle's car, laughing.
Doyle felt cheered, and warmer. "Bit of a lark this, really," he said, more optimistic again about the job. "Week or two in Oxford, nobody shootin' at us--well, probably nobody. You know what these groups are like." He dug his keys from his pocket.
"Yeah, all talk, no action," Bodie agreed as they clambered into the car. "Spend all their time arguing over who takes out the trash in a classless society. Bunch of idealistic, over- educated, insulated prats, that's what we're up against."
Doyle grinned. "You'll get along great with Lumley, I can tell."
"I can be polite if I really work at it, you know. Well, at least for an hour or so."
"Could've fooled me." Doyle ducked the light punch Bodie aimed at his shoulder. "Now, now, is that any way for me best mate to behave?" Doyle turned the motor on, and drove out of the car park, halting at the exit. "You reckon we should head up there tonight? Wouldn't want to miss me interview."
"Yeah," Bodie sighed, "guess we'd better." He rubbed his hands together. "Quick pint first?"
Doyle smiled. "Anytime." He turned the car in the direction of the nearest pub.
As he pulled to a halt on the long, curving drive, Bodie wondered how many years of scrimping and saving on his CI5 salary it would take before he could afford a place even one-tenth the size of Richard Lumley's mansion. He studied the Rolls sitting there, and the chauffeur who was busy waxing it to a pristine shine, and slowly climbed out of his well-worn Capri. He decided being an ex-hippie commune leader wasn't such a bad thing after all.
Lumley's mansion stretched out forever in a basic T shape, all three stories of it. Bodie didn't know one architectural period from another, but the place looked similar to ones he'd seen gracing the covers of his last girlfriend's towering pile of Regency romance novels. Well-kept, too--even the lawns and hedges looked neatly manicured. It was all vaguely disappointing. Bodie had expected a thoroughly run-down place overgrown with flowers and bushes gone mad, with perhaps a leftover psychedelic paint job on the mansion's facade and a few battered, bumper-stickered, day-glo Volkswagen vans in the drive. Well, he thought as he rang the bell on the large oak door, there's still time. Haven't seen the inside yet.
Expecting a servant to answer, Bodie was mildly surprised when Lumley opened the door. At least, the man in the doorway looked exactly like the tall, silvery-blond, leanly aristocratic fellow in Lumley's most recent file photo, down to the lackadaisical, lopsided grin. He wore a plum-colored velvet jacket over black silk shirt and wine-colored slacks, and he sported a diamond earring. Bodie barely got his hand out and managed to make it through "Hello, I'm--" when Lumley grabbed the hand, shook it vigorously, and blurted, "The reporter! Yes, yes. Come in, man. Brody, isn't it? Lovely day. Hope you found the place all right. Traffic not bad, was it? This way, this way."
Lumley took off down the hall, but Bodie came to an abrupt stop in the large, semi-circular entranceway. Oh, yeah, the interior was different, all right. The entrance walls were covered with a mural of life-size nude figures, cavorting hordes of copulating flesh which stretched up to the twenty- foot ceiling. Bodie stared at the multitude of forms--men with men, women with women, even a few men with women--an orgy of nakedness and sex acts so complex he had to turn his head sideways to figure out what exactly was going on. His eyes widened at the size of the cocks on display. Surely they were way out of proportion to the bodies? Nobody was that big.
"There you are!" Lumley strode up to him. "Good, isn't it? Quite an amazing piece of work, really. Took months and months. Come along, then, dear boy." He took off again down the hall.
Bodie slowly followed, and stopped dead in the hallway. The entire length of it was flanked by sculptures and oil paintings- - all of men doing varied and acrobatic things with each other. "It's obscene," Bodie muttered, then drew close to one for a better look.
"Gotten lost again, Mr. Brady? Can't have that, now, can we?" Lumley tugged at his jacket sleeve. "Would you like a tour of the house? Lovely work, isn't it? It's all Geoffrey's, you know. He's done everything in the place--very talented. Very enthusiastic. Did you see the staircase?"
Bodie glanced over at the object in question. The newel posts were carved into giant penises. Think tolerant thoughts, he reminded himself. You're supposed to be a journalist doing a sympathetic write-up on Lumley. Pretend you like it. "Um, yes, it's quite amazing. And my name is Bodie, actually."
"Yes, of course it is. Come along, I'll show you the library."
This time Bodie was determined to keep his concentration firmly on following Lumley. They walked down to the first door off the right, which opened into a book-lined room. Bodie found it more calming. No sculptures, no paintings, simply books. Then he stumbled into two huge stacks of glossy magazines with photos of naked men splashed across the covers. As he straightened the piles, he glanced at the titles. Blow Job, Stud, Hot Shots He stopped looking at the titles and went over to the more sedate appearing bookcases. The first spine he encountered read Whipping Boys of Waterloo Station.
"I have the finest collection of gay erotica in Western Europe," Lumley said. "Did you bring a tape recorder?"
Bodie blinked. "What? Oh, yeah." Calm down, he ordered himself fiercely. Control, composure, professionalism. It's just a bloody job. He set his bag down and dug the small recorder out, and tried to focus on the file information he'd studied. "The fellow you mentioned--that would be Geoffrey Evans?"
"Hm?" Lumley had wandered over to a huge writing desk, where he idly flipped through a stack of papers. "Geoffrey? Yes, that's right. The artist. He lives here. I'm sure you'll meet him, he's always about. He's my companion, of course. I'm sure he'll like you. I thought we paid the plumbing bill."
Bodie sighed and flicked on the voice-activated machine. "We can start the interview now if you're ready, Mr. Lumley."
Lumley tossed the bill aside and looked up, grinning. "Oh, do call me Richard. Everyone does. Come along, let me show you the kitchen. Susan is making some fresh applesauce. I'm sure you'd enjoy some. Very healthy. Susan lives here too, you know. Been here since the old days, takes care of the animals, helps with the farm. You do want to see the herb beds, don't you? Only a few winter things growing now, can't really see anything, but it's where the commune used to be, and that's what you're here for, isn't it? Bit of Sixties nostalgia, is it, Mr., um, what's your given name?"
"Just Bodie is fine." He followed Lumley out and down the hall to a massive kitchen, bigger than his own flat. A stocky, vaguely forty-ish woman with waist-length gray hair stood over a bubbling pot which smelled strongly of apples.
"Susie!" Lumley sounded pleased, but noticeably kept his distance from the woman. "This is our reporter, come to talk about the good old days." He took one nervous step towards the stove. "Is it ready yet?"
"It is not." She turned a dour face towards Bodie. "The good old days? Hmpf. Load of whiners, that's what we had here. All ran back to their homes first time the crops failed. Couldn't give up their tellys and their central heating in the name of the revolution, no, not them. Bunch of wet, would-be do- gooders with no fucking balls--"
Bodie cleared his throat. "You lived on the commune?"
"I was one of the first And I'm still here." She turned back to her pot. "Load of bleeding-heart rich-kid twits--"
"I'd like to talk to you more some time, Miss, um--"
"Right. Whatever you want to talk about, that's fine--"
"That's my name, you idiot. Ms. Susan Solidarity."
Bodie struggled to maintain his bland expression. Think liberal thoughts. Or better yet, ask a noncontroversial question. "Mr. Lum--I mean, Richard, tells me you keep animals?"
She glowered at him. "I do not keep them. They live here."
Bodie gritted his teeth. No wonder Lumley was standing off in the far corner. Bracing himself for another round of abuse, Bodie prepared to ask Ms. Solidarity which sorts of animals chose to live on the estate. But the question was at least partially answered by the sound of deep, excited barking.
"Let me show you the rest of the house!" Lumley suddenly shouted. "Quickly!" He scurried towards the kitchen door, but it was too late. Three Irish wolfhounds crashed through the outer door, sending it thudding into the wall. One made straight for Lumley, snarling, while the other two cornered Bodie against the worktop. With tails wagging and tongues drooling, they leaped up to plant huge, muddy paws on his shoulders and slobbered his face.
"Down!" Lumley yelled, "Get back!"
Susan calmly lifted the lid of her pot and stirred the contents, humming.
Bodie shoved the tape recorder between his face and the massive tongues. The dogs immediately developed an intense desire to clean his hands for him.
"Try inching your way towards the door," Lumley hissed.
Think kind thoughts, Bodie told himself. Animals are our friends. "Stop licking me, you stupid buggers!" he shouted.
Susan stopped humming. She raised one menacing eyebrow and an applesauce-coated spoon at Bodie. "There's no need to be rude to the poor creatures, Mr. Bodie. They are only behaving in their natural way."
Bodie was relieved to find that the Irish wolfhounds' natural way also involved a keen interest in spoons, for the instant it was out of the pot, all three beasts galloped towards the stove and made for Susan's up-stretched arm. Bodie didn't waste a moment. He bounded for the door, colliding with Lumley in his escape. They stumbled together into the hallway, and as Lumley reached to close the door, Bodie caught a glimpse of three huge dogs happily fighting over the spoon while a scowling Susan Solidarity rubbed at her arm.
"Phew." Lumley got the door firmly shut, and leaned against it. "Damn dogs." He frowned. "I mean, of course I love all animals. They're such innocent creatures, and mankind has done nothing but abuse them for centuries. But for some reason those particular animals simply do not like me."
"They liked me," Bodie replied. He wiped at his face with his jacket sleeve, and checked to make sure the recorder was still working.
"I'm so sorry about that, dear boy. Would you like a wash?"
After the decor he'd been exposed to so far, Bodie was not eager to discover what the Lumley mansion bathrooms might contain. "No, no, I'm fine."
"Good, good. Lovely animals, wolfhounds, really. Just a tad enthusiastic. This way." He bounded off towards the main entrance. "Let me show you the upper floors. That's where the press is. You do want to see the press, don't you? Started it back in the commune days, we did. You know, somewhere in the house is an entire room stuffed with memorabilia from the commune, but I've no idea where it's got to. Anyway, you'll want to see what we're doing now, won't you? Of course you will. We're printing lots of pamphlets on world peace and government abuses and war and Ireland and women's rights and free speech and free love--"
Lumley rattled on, and Bodie nodded. They reached the sweeping staircase, and Bodie automatically put his hand on the newel post before stepping up. Belatedly remembering what it was carved into, he glanced down to find his hand gripping a detailed cock head.
Lumley smiled. "Delightful, aren't they? Geoffrey is very keen on realism in art." He took off up the stairs.
Bodie quickly removed his hand, wondered idly what exactly one would put a prick that large into, decided he must be going ever so slightly mad, cursed Cowley, and followed Lumley.
They viewed the press, and Bodie actually managed to get in a few pertinent questions about Lumley's political acquaintances, not that he got any sensible answers. Then they went on to a tour of Geoffrey's studio, which Bodie could have lived without, the only good part being the fact that Geoffrey wasn't there. Afterwards they made a rambling outdoor foray, covering dormant rosebush beds, dried-up, leaf- strewn fountains, and the scraggly winter herb farm. They perused the outside of the summerhouse, which Lumley claimed was "extra special," but as it was locked and he had no idea where the key was, it was left for another visit.
The tour ended back at the house, where Lumley headed him towards the wine cellar. "You look a tad fraught, my boy," he added. "Would you care for a taste? It's a truly superb collection, been in the family for simply ages. I'm sure we can find something suitable. This way."
They reached the musty, dark depths of the cellar, lit by two low-watt bulbs hanging from the ceiling. Rows of bottles stretched along the length of the room for a good twenty feet.
"Got a lovely Bordeaux somewhere down here--just tried it out the other night, I'm sure you'll like it--ah, yes, here it is." Lumley pulled a bottle from its nesting place. "Now, there are glasses down here somewhere." He wandered off.
Bodie leaned against the cool brick wall facing the rows and rows of bottles. This was a waste of time. He needed to talk to Lumley's friends, not Lumley. The scatterbrained fool wouldn't recognize a terrorist if one walked up and handed him a pipe bomb.
Lumley returned, clinking two glasses together. "Found a corkscrew, too. Very handy." He deftly uncorked the bottle and poured out the wine.
"Thanks." Bodie sipped at the red liquid. "Mmm. Quite good."
"I don't drink that much, of course, but it would be such a shame not to make use of this. And I do like to have it for entertaining my friends."
Bodie leaped at the opening. "I'd love to talk with some of your friends, especially ones from the old days. To get a fuller picture, you see."
"Yes, I've been thinking about that."
Bodie nearly choked on his drink at the concept of Lumley thinking. He did hope the fellow hadn't strained his gray matter too hard. "Hm?"
"Well, you want to interview my friends, and no doubt you wish to do so as quickly and conveniently as possible, yes? Yes, of course you do. Then you should simply come out here for the house party I'm having over the long Christmas weekend. There will be quite a few people coming whom I'm certain you'd be interested in, and I know they'll all be delighted to talk about the old days. Simple, isn't it? Do say you'll be my guest, Mr. Brody."
"It's Bo--ah, hell, it doesn't matter. Are you sure I won't be putting you out?"
"Nonsense, dear boy. I absolutely adore having lots of houseguests about. It'll be great fun. Do say you'll come." Lumley smiled and winked. "And do bring along any special friend you might have, too."
Bodie frowned. "Well, I don't really--"
"Oh, come, come, say yes and worry over the details later."
Bodie had no intention of turning the idiot down; Cowley would never forgive him. He simply hadn't wished to appear too eager. He shrugged. "Yeah, okay. It does seem like a good idea. Thank you."
"You're quite welcome. Anything I can do to help you out, you let me know."
Bodie whirled at the sound of movement, automatically tensing. He relaxed when Lumley called out.
"Geoffrey! What are you doing back there?"
Out of the shadows of the cellar appeared a man in his late thirties, with a stocky, muscular build, and straight dark hair brushed back off his forehead. He wore jeans and a blue work shirt. As he strode up to them, he gave Lumley a warm smile. "I was merely looking for something." He held up a bottle. "And I found it. Didn't mean to disturb you." He turned to Bodie. "Is this our journalist?"
"Bodie." Bodie offered a hand, and Geoffrey gave it a firm shake.
"I've invited Mr. Bodie to join the house party," Lumley said.
"Yes, I heard."
Bodie wondered if Geoffrey Evans made a habit of listening in on Lumley's conversations.
"You know," Geoffrey said, turning to Lumley, "you were planning to see the agency today about the extra household help for the party. Perhaps you'd best be going--you know it always takes a long time to screen the files for suitable people."
"Yes, yes, you're so right, and I do need to see to that personally." He gave Bodie an exasperated sigh. "Sometimes they send people who simply aren't happy working here."
Can't imagine why, Bodie thought. "Don't let me keep you, then."
"Oh, but I did want to give you some of my tea to take with you--"
Geoffrey was already ushering Lumley towards the stairs. "I'll have it put in his car, all right? And I'll see Mr. Bodie out. No need to worry." He gave Lumley a light pat on the back. After Lumley had vanished upstairs, Geoffrey came back to where Bodie waited, and gave him a long, piercing look. "Writing an article, are you?"
"No, a book, actually."
"The history of twentieth-century British communes." Bodie felt distinctly uncomfortable under Geoffrey's penetrating, dark- eyed gaze. "You were here then, weren't you?"
"Briefly. I met Richard a year before the commune broke apart. There are people who will tell you it broke up because of me."
"And why would they say that?"
"Perhaps because I was honest about my feelings. And I felt that most of them were nothing but leeches, taking advantage of Richard's generous nature. I don't like it when people take advantage of him, Mr. Bodie."
"Yes." Bodie smiled sweetly. "I can see that would be a bad idea." He was happier now that he'd figured out Geoffrey's angle; the man was simply protecting Lumley. "He is very generous, isn't he?"
"Indeed. It's a miracle he isn't penniless."
Bodie was quite sure that Geoffrey kept a close eye on Lumley's purse-strings. "Doesn't he make a good income off his teas?"
"Yes. It makes up for the money he sinks into that press of his, and the bookshop. But they make him happy, and that's what counts."
Bodie nodded. He drank down the last of his wine. "And is that what makes you happy? Seeing that he's happy?"
Geoffrey quirked an eyebrow. "Is that part of your interview?"
"No. I'm just curious. It's in my nature."
"I see. Well, I think you'll find that I'm quite curious myself, Mr. Bodie. Here, let me take that." He took the wine glass and set it aside. "Let's get you that tea now, shall we?" He waved Bodie towards the stairs.
As he was leaving the mansion, Bodie noticed, for the first time, that the entire Lumley drive was done in the shape of a giant penis.
Cowley knew how to cut corners, all right. Third-floor flat, no lift, whole thing looked as if it'd been thrown together out of cardboard by the village idiot. Bodie heaved a sigh of relief as he dropped the huge box of Lumley's Long-Life Teas onto the rickety kitchen table, then waited to see if the table would fall apart. It held.
"Forty pounds of herbal tea." Bodie shook his head. Why couldn't Lumley have given him a present of Bordeaux? He needed something to relax with after a morning of Lumley and his Mansion of Giant Pricks. Food wouldn't be a bad idea. He glanced at the counter, where a bowl of bananas perched. No. That wouldn't do. Bodie opened the fridge. A bag of sausages lay on the top rack, cucumbers on the middle. He slammed the door shut.
A little lie-down, that's what he really needed. Bodie went into the living room for a brief rest on the sofa. Keeping one's eyes closed was really the best way to handle the living room- -it was difficult to look for very long at the muddy-brown shag carpeting, which Bodie was certain hadn't originally been that color, nor were the blue-and-orange flowered, peeling wallpaper and bright red, cracked, fake-leather sofa inspiring. The windows were so thin he could see frost on the inside of the panes, and the drapes looked as if they'd been made from worn, stained tablecloths.
He couldn't get the steam heater to work. Cheap CI5 flat. Bodie tapped idly at the pipes for a minute, then gave up and went along to the bedroom, whose decor failed to match anything else in the place, with its faded, creaky wood floor and green wall paint of a shade Bodie had never seen outside of hospitals and public toilets. At least the heater in there came on fine, though with a good deal of clanking and hissing. He took off his shoes and jacket and lay down on the bed, taking a few deep, calming breaths. No more thinking about Lumley's mansion, no more encounters with bananas, sausages, or cucumbers. One more phallic object and he would lose it.
It wasn't Lumley's shrine to manhood that made him a bit tense. Someone who got easily flustered at unusual environments wouldn't last long in CI5. No, the thing that caused his edginess was what that phallic house made him think about.
Bodie closed his eyes. How long had he been having those thoughts about his partner? Three, four months now? He'd caught himself eyeing that slim arse with a sudden intensity, not to mention the tight pull of Doyle's jeans across his crotch, or the brief, tantalizing glimpses of chest hair.... He didn't know why he wanted Doyle. But he did.
He'd firmly buried the feelings, kept the errant thoughts at bay, and continued playing his role of CI5's top womanizer. He thought he'd done a good job, and he kept telling himself it was merely a passing phase, that it would go away in time.
Then he'd suddenly been inundated by images of naked male flesh against male flesh, cocks jutting everywhere he looked, visions of rippling torsos, well-muscled thighs, strength meeting hardness...and he thought of Doyle. Bodie shuddered as a tingle of arousal shot through his groin. Shit. Maybe it was time for a shower.
The sound of a key turning in the front door made him groan. Bloody hell. Doyle. Bodie heard the front door open, accompanied by cheerful whistling. Great. Not only was Doyle back, he was in a good mood.
Bodie struggled to his feet and steeled his nerves as he walked slowly to the bedroom door. He was not going to let this nonsense get to him. He valued his sense of self-control very highly, and he was damn well going to maintain it. Bodie flung the door open. And got a bottle of champagne thrust towards his face.
"Oi, I got me a job!" Doyle shouted.
Bodie reeled back. "What?"
Doyle stood in the hallway, staring at him. "I said, I got the job--you okay, mate?" He lowered the champagne bottle.
"I'm fine." Bodie pointed at the offending object. "What's that in aid of?"
"Just want to celebrate, that's all. You sure you're all right?" Doyle started into the room.
"Yeah, I'm fine." Bodie forestalled Doyle's entrance by pushing past him and on down the hall. He strode into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee.
Doyle ambled up behind him and set the bottle on the counter with a distinct thud. Hands on hips, he stared at Bodie's coffee-making efforts. "Don't know what you'd want that for when I went to the trouble to get champagne."
"I'm a little tired, that's all." Bodie turned to give him a reassuring smile, took one look at the tilt of Doyle's hips and the tightly stretched jeans fabric and instantly turned his smile into a frown. "Why the big production? I thought the bookshop job was set up."
"Mostly, but you can never be sure. Didn't know you needed a good excuse to drink." Doyle yanked a kitchen cloth off a wall hook, nearly pulling the hook with it, and set to work on the bottle. A minute later the sound of the stopper going made a loud pop. Doyle grabbed a nearby mug and filled it.
Bodie gave up on the coffee. He snatched up a glass and held it out.
Doyle grinned and poured champagne into the glass. "Cheers." He clinked his mug against it. Then he nodded at the table. "What's in the box?"
"Your Christmas present."
"Very funny." Doyle pried open the lid. "Ah. Had a good time at Lumley's, did you?"
"Hey, I like this kind--the Five Spice Special--and there's loads of it in here. You don't need any of this, do you?"
"Told you," Bodie said, "it's your present. Can't help it if you opened it early. What'd you get for me this year?"
"Half a bottle of champagne," Doyle replied.
Bodie smiled. "Sorry about being touchy earlier. Had a wearing morning. Good thing about the bookshop. Did you have a good time with Colleen Dunbar?"
"She was okay," Doyle answered vaguely.
"Ah ha. Didn't she take to your charming ways?"
"Didn't really have time to find out," Doyle muttered. "She spent twenty minutes on the interview, hired me on the spot, and put me to work."
"It's a rough life." Bodie grinned, trying to envision Doyle the Bookshop Clerk. "What'd she make you do, then?"
"Had to memorize the stock." Doyle rubbed at his neck. "Got a crick from turning me head sideways to read the bloody titles. Do you know how many different books have been written about the power of pyramids?"
Bodie dutifully shook his head.
"Too damn many. Big sellers, though, Colleen told me. Outdoes Chairman Mao's little red book by ten to one."
Remembering what Geoffrey had said about the shop not being profitable, Bodie asked, "Is that why they branched out? Politics not making enough money?"
"Yeah. Colleen didn't sound terribly happy about it, either. She'd much rather see nothing but leftwing propaganda. But it was losing money."
"That's what Geoffrey Evans told me, too."
"He's behind the change," Doyle replied. "That's what Colleen said. Or to put it her way, 'it's all the fault of that damn lover of his'. She doesn't mince words. Anyway, he made them stock the astrology stuff, and the UFO books, witchcraft, paganism, tarot cards, you name it--started around two years ago, and it's working. They might even make a profit this year."
"Makes sense. I'll tell you one thing--Evans is very keen on watching after Lumley's interests. 'Course, somebody ought to, 'cause Lumley is busy living in Cloud-Cuckoo-Land."
"Oh, yeah?" Doyle picked up the champagne bottle and headed towards the living room. "Not busy harboring terrorists, then, is he?"
Bodie followed, joining him on the sofa. "Not bloody likely."
"What about Evans?"
"Don't know. Doesn't seem political. The only political one there was a commune hold-out named Susan Solidarity, if you can believe that."
"I do. She's in the files somewhere." Doyle poured more champagne. "Most of 'em changed their names when they moved to the commune. 'Course, most of 'em changed 'em back again."
"Yeah." Bodie gulped down his champagne, hoping the alcohol would warm him up. "So you have to go off to work early tomorrow, do you?"
Doyle sighed. "Nine o'clock." He gave Bodie a suspicious look. "What are you going to be up to?"
"Thought I'd pop round to the local newspaper, have a look through their files, see if Lumley or his friends turn up. And in the afternoon, I'll see about interviewing Ms. Dunbar. In the meantime, what are we doing about supper?"
"There's a pub two blocks down that looks all right." Doyle stood and crossed to the heater. "Why is it so cold in here?"
"'Cause that thing doesn't work."
"What?" Doyle tapped at the pipes. "What's wrong with it?"
"How should I know? The one in the bedroom works just fine."
"Good." Doyle sat down again. "'Cause there's no way I'm sleepin' out here tonight."
Bodie paled. The last thing he needed right now was to share a bed with Doyle. "It's not that bad. Use some extra covers."
Doyle turned wide eyes on him. "It's bloody well freezin' out here, mate."
"Yeah, well, the bed's a bit small--"
"Is not. What's the matter with you?"
"Nothing." Bodie was wrong about the last thing he needed. The last thing he needed was a suspicious Doyle. "Just didn't think you'd want to put up with me snoring."
"I'll put up with a herd of ruddy elephants snoring if it means I get to be warm."
"Yeah, okay." Bodie shivered; it was freezing in there. "Supper? We can always finish the champagne later."
"Good idea." Doyle set his mug down, stood, and stretched, displaying more of his lithe muscles than Bodie cared to think about, and he tried very hard not to be affected by it. Doyle relaxed, put his hands on his hips, and looked at him patiently. "You comin', or what?"
Bodie gritted his teeth. It was going to be a long night.
As it turned out, Bodie survived, though barely. When they climbed into bed that night, he scrunched over to the edge as far as he could get and turned his back to Doyle, who began snoring thirty seconds after his head hit the pillow.
Bodie lay there fitfully, unable to sleep, until he finally gave up his grip on the bed edge and rolled onto his back. Some time later, as he drifted in and out of a light doze, Bodie felt Doyle shift, and then suddenly Doyle rolled towards him, arms and legs flinging about randomly. An arm flopped across Bodie's chest, a leg nudged against his. Doyle began making the strangest damn noises Bodie had ever heard--a series of weird little whimpers and odd groans. Bodie gently dislodged the arm, all the while wishing he could draw Doyle even closer, and knowing that he couldn't. He wondered what on earth had gotten into him to make him feel so physically affectionate towards someone who flopped about in bed like a crazed octopus. At last Doyle gave out a tiny moan and rolled back onto his side, leaving Bodie in relative peace. For a while.
Three more times during the night Doyle did his octopus imitation, and each time a drowsy Bodie carefully moved the offending limbs off his body.
Bodie survived. But he never did get much sleep.
"And here's your change, sir. Thank you for shopping at Red and Black Books. Happy Christmas." Doyle's smile lasted until the customer was out the door, then he let out a long- suffering sigh. When would these fools leave him alone?
He was the only one there. Colleen had stepped out for lunch and her office was beckoning to him. He wanted to snoop so badly, but all these bloody people kept coming into the bookshop, wanting to buy books, for chrissakes.
Three more customers idled about the shelves. There was no way he could get into the office now. Doyle resigned himself to doing it some other time, and put the fake smile back on his face as yet another holiday shopper entered.
Bet Bodie wasn't having such a taxing day. Lazy sod had been snoring away when Doyle had risen at seven-thirty. And he'd been snoring away when Doyle left an hour later. Could still be sleeping for all he knew. Why did Bodie get all the luck on this assignment? Wasn't fair.
"Do you have the latest Castaneda?" A customer broke into Doyle's reverie.
"Yes, ma'am." Doyle led her to the proper aisle. "Down at the bottom there."
"Oh, dear me. What's he doing next to Lobsang Rampa? I don't think that's terribly appropriate. Rampa should be in the Asian Religion section, young man."
"Sorry. I'll have a word with the manager, shall I?"
"Well, I think you should. This place has always been disorganized. Edgar Cayce in the UFO books, witchcraft lumped in with paganism, vampires and werewolves in the ghost section and zombies in a completely different place. It's a disgrace."
Doyle nodded. "Yes, I expect you're right." He made his escape, returning gratefully to the cash register. He supposed it could be worse. Bodie could walk in at any moment, for instance. After all, he had said he wanted to interview Colleen. The sneaky bastard didn't really want to interview her, of course. The sneaky bastard wanted to make a move on her. Well, Doyle would have to see about that. If he could manage to make a move first, that might hamper Bodie's plans ever so slightly.
He waited patiently for his boss to return from lunch. Not long after she did, his opportunity arose. The other temporary help person, a young woman named Katherine, arrived for her part-time afternoon shift. Doyle happily turned over the cash register to her and went along to Colleen's office.
"Come in, come in." She sat with her feet up on her desk, dressed in jeans and a soft, flowing, white silk blouse, her long red hair cascading over her shoulders. "Close the door, Ray. What is it?"
"Well, I had a complaint today," he began as he glanced round the room, searching for something against which he could lounge. The filing cabinet was too far away, and the only other furniture was a tea trolley and a long padded bench. He made do with putting his hands on his hips and tilting them.
Colleen looked up from the papers she'd been perusing. She smiled. "Don't see how anyone could complain about you."
That was quick. "It wasn't me, exactly. Was the way the books are arranged."
"Oh, that." She swung her legs off the desk, put the papers down, and stood. "Would you like some tea?" She crossed to the trolley and poured out two cups.
"Yes, please. It's been a long morning."
She handed him a cup, then sat on the bench, patting it. "Sit down. Much more comfortable."
"Thanks." He relaxed on the bench beside her. This was going well. Poor Bodie didn't stand a chance. He sipped at the hot, sweet liquid. "Um, that's good. Not drinking Lumley's Long- Life Teas, I see."
"Can't stand the stuff." As she drank, she gazed up at him through long lashes. "You know what I'd really like to talk about, Ray?" She smiled and let her hand drop casually onto his thigh.
Doyle smiled back. She was his for the taking, all right. "No. What do you want to talk about?"
Colleen gazed lovingly at him. "The oppression of the lower class."
"What?" Doyle nearly dropped his teacup.
"The lower classes are being systematically abused by the people who control our school systems," Colleen replied. She gave Doyle's thigh a light squeeze. "And something has to be done about it. Don't you agree?"
"Well, I suppose so." Doyle gulped down more tea. "But I'm not sure what you mean."
Colleen set her cup down and snuggled close to him, her thigh solidly against his. "Beatrix Potter," she purred.
Doyle wondered how he could go about dumping this madwoman on Bodie. "Me mum used to read Beatrix Potter books to me," he replied cautiously.
"And I'll bet it made you feel bad, didn't it?" Her voice dropped to a sultry whisper. "All those middle-class bunnies in their nice, comfortable, middle-class homes with their nice middle-class furniture and their nice, clean, middle-class clothes--how did you feel when you looked around at your poor, shabby, lower-class surroundings, and your poor, threadbare clothes? Inferior, that's how." She leaned in closer to put her hand on Doyle's chest, sliding it beneath the shirt fabric where he'd left it unbuttoned. "School libraries should ban all such works," she breathed huskily. "It's a crime to force those feelings on poor, innocent children. Don't you agree? I could tell when I first set eyes on you that you were the kind of man who would understand the class struggle." She found a nipple and pinched it. "And I find that very sexy."
Doyle held onto his teacup for dear life. He had second thoughts about dumping Colleen on Bodie. Even Bodie didn't deserve this The question was, how was he going to get out of her clutches? There had to be a way. Cowley hadn't said anything about having to sleep with this nutter. And dammit, he had fond memories of Beatrix Potter.
He had to put a permanent halt to her advances now. There was no telling where it would lead otherwise. Three-hour post-coital diatribes on the evils of Enid Blyton? Doyle shivered. Christ, how was he going to put her off without making her angry? After all, she was his employer, and Cowley would kill him if he messed up the op by rejecting a lunatic female.
"You're so attractive." Colleen nibbled his ear. "At first, when we got the reference from Pellin, I thought you might be gay, but then I saw you, and I knew that--"
"I am gay!" Doyle clutched desperately at the straw. He scooted away from her down the bench.
She straightened, frowning. "Come now, you must at least be bi."
"No," Doyle protested. "Not at all." He inched further along the bench.
"Well." She crossed her arms. "I'm not sure I believe you. Maybe you just don't like me."
This was going from bad to horribly awful. The last thing Doyle needed was to lose his job on his first day. "No, really, I do like you. But I am gay."
"Have you got a boyfriend, then?"
"Yeah." Doyle smiled. He'd thought of a way to save Bodie from her as well. "That's why I moved up from London. He lives here. We got tired of commuting. Here, I've got a picture." He set down his cup and dug out his billfold. A year ago, at the CI5 Christmas party, McCabe had gone round snapping candid shots, and had got one of a very drunken Bodie with his arm draped around the shoulders of a very tipsy Doyle, and they looked quite happy together. Doyle had talked McCabe out of it, intending to use it somehow someday to embarrass his partner, and had stuffed it in his billfold and forgotten it. Until now. He took it out and showed it to Colleen. "That's him. Bodie. He's a journalist. Handsome bloke, isn't he?"
Colleen sniffed. "If you like the type."
"Oh, I do." Doyle took his photo back and tucked it away. "We've been together six years now."
"Well, I'm sure I'm very happy for you," Colleen said briskly. She stood and collected the teacups. "You'd best get back to work."
"At the register again?" Doyle didn't relish an afternoon of demanding customers.
"No, Katherine can handle that. I'll show you the stock room. We've got plenty of mail orders that need filling. It should keep you busy."
"Good." Doyle followed her out of the office and into the back of the shop, glad that he wouldn't have to wish a happy Christmas to anyone else that day, and more than pleased, for once in his life, to have successfully escaped romance.
Bodie whistled as he entered Red and Black Books. He was looking forward to teasing Doyle about his new position. Then he saw the girl behind the register and stopped whistling. Where the hell was Doyle? Larking about, no doubt. Lazy sod. Bodie ambled about the shop, checking the aisles. No luck. Well, fine. The teasing could always wait. Meanwhile, he wanted to have a go at Colleen Dunbar. Maybe a bit of harmless bird-chasing would take his mind off the attractions of that partner of his.
"Afternoon." He strode up to the register and flashed a big smile at the girl there. "Can you tell me if Ms. Dunbar is in? I'd like to see her about a possible interview for a book I'm writing."
"Yes, she should be in her office." She led Bodie to the closed door and knocked. It opened to reveal a tall young woman with long red hair, as pretty as her file photo. As Bodie introduced himself, he concentrated on his chat-up techniques, including the warm, disarming smile, steady eye contact, and softer, respectful tone of voice.
She waved him into her office and shut the door, offering him a bench seat. "Would you like a cup of tea?"
"Yes, please." He turned down milk and sugar.
"You're Ray's--" there was a pause, "--friend?"
"Yeah, that's right." What the hell had Doyle been telling her? And why? Bodie took the cup as she joined him on the bench.
"He said you were a journalist, but he didn't say you wanted to interview me. What's it all about?"
"I'm doing a book on communes," Bodie replied. He casually leaned back, splaying his thighs. "Been researching Richard Lumley."
"Ah. But I was never part of the commune--too young."
"Yes, I know. Part of the book will be a 'where are they now' chapter, and I'd like to put in something about Lumley's press. He still puts out pamphlets and sells them through the shop, doesn't he?"
"Quite a lot of them, yes. But he could tell you a lot more about that than I could."
Bodie shifted close to her and gave her a long, penetrating look. "Don't you help with the press?"
"Not really. Sometimes I work on page layouts and design, nothing special. I certainly don't write anything."
She was definitely keeping her distance, and maintaining a cool demeanor. Bodie searched for something else to ask her, anything. "Can you tell me what else Lumley gets up to these days?"
Her lips formed a little pout. "Well, he stops by the shop from time to time, and he spends quite a lot of time working on fund raisers and other events for the Sexual Tolerance League."
Bodie batted his long eyelashes at her. He wanted a little sexual tolerance, and he wanted it right about now. "How fascinating. I'd love to talk with you more about all this, though it would be nice if we could do so somewhere more...elegant. Perhaps I could talk you into dinner?" He leaned in closer to turn his most sensual gaze on her.
"I beg your pardon?" She arched an eyebrow.
"Fine restaurant," Bodie persevered, "a good bottle of wine, candlelight--I'll bet your hair looks lovely in the candlelight."
She stood abruptly. "I think you can leave now, Mr. Bodie. And I've a good mind to tell Ray what you've been doing."
Bodie blinked. "Just a bit of harmless fun--"
"Fun? You were trying to chat me up!"
"Well, yeah." No point in denying it. But what was she getting so upset about?
"Of all the rude--you just get out of here! That's no way to treat Ray. He's such a lovely man. How dare you try to cheat on him like this!"
"What?" Bodie dropped his tea cup, and the liquid streamed across the carpet. He jumped up. "I'm sorry--"
"Sorry, hell. Just get out!" She opened the door. "Now!"
Bodie dashed out of the office, and the door slammed shut behind him. He stood numbly in the corridor. What the hell? Cheating on Doyle? Cheating on him? Bodie shook his head. There was only one way to clear up the confusion. He stalked back to the cash register to demand Doyle's whereabouts.
"I think he's in the stockroom," the girl told him.
"Right. And where's that?"
"At the far end of the corridor. But customers aren't allowed-- "
Bodie was long gone. He stormed down to the door at the end of the corridor, ignored the Employees Only sign, and pushed it open. Doyle stood at a work table, surrounded by shelves of books and towering boxes. He was busy stuffing books in boxes, ticking off titles on an order form, and barely glanced up at Bodie's entrance. "'ello," he said casually. "What're you doin' back here?"
"I'm looking for an answer." Bodie planted himself on the opposite side of the table, hands on top, leaning menacingly towards his partner. "I've just had a little talk with your boss."
"Oh, yeah?" Doyle didn't look up from his work. "You doing your interview?"
"Among other things." Bodie slapped at the order form in Doyle's hands. "Will you bloody well look at me?"
Doyle looked up. "What the hell's up with you?"
"Either your boss is one strange lady, or there's something you haven't told me, sunshine, 'cause I just got thrown out of her office, and I want to know why, and I want to know now." He poked at the books for emphasis, knocking the top two off the pile.
"Oi, watch it, mate." Doyle crossed his arms and glared back at Bodie. "What did you do to her?"
"Nothing! Only tried a little chat up. Nothing threatening, that's for sure."
"Oh." Doyle suddenly paled, and he shifted a bit from foot to foot. "Think I need to go take a leak--" He started towards the door.
"Hold it." Bodie put a world of threat into the two words.
Doyle halted. He gave Bodie a weak smile. "She's a bit weird, Colleen is."
"So are you. Keep talking."
"Well," Doyle let out a long sigh. "Well, she's got some very odd notions of foreplay, you see." He scratched his head. "I tried it on with her earlier today."
Bodie tapped his foot. "I'm still listening. This better be good, Doyle."
Doyle inched closer to the door. "She kept going on about the class struggle, Bodie. All about middle-class people ruining lower-class kids in school. She wouldn't shut up. And she kept coming on to me the whole time. It was 'orrible."
"Really? Make me believe it."
"It was, I swear. I couldn't take it. Didn't want to have anything to do with her. She's nuts. You wouldn't want to go out with her. It would be criminal to let you--"
"Couldn't let me decide for myself, could you?" Bodie advanced on him. "What the hell did you tell her?"
Doyle made another move towards the door. Bodie blocked his way. "Nothing," Doyle muttered. "Just that I wasn't, um, available."
"And why is that, Ray?" Bodie backed Doyle up against a tall shelf overflowing with books. "Why aren't you available, hm? Already got someone, is that right? But you didn't tell her you had a girlfriend, did you?"
"Not exactly, no." Doyle gulped. "She happened to mention Pellin, and I thought, well, it wouldn't do any harm to get out of it by pretending to be, um, you know--"
"You told her we're lovers!"
"Yeah." Doyle nodded. "Sorry."
Bodie put his hands over his eyes, gritted his teeth, and counted slowly to ten. When he lowered his hands, he saw Doyle staring at him, face flushed, eyes wide, biting his lower lip. The books on the shelf behind him were teetering precariously. "Sorry," Bodie repeated. "You're sorry." Of all the stupid lies Doyle could have come up with, why did it have to be that one? "You realize she'll probably tell Lumley?"
"So? He won't mind."
"I bloody well know that!" Bodie jabbed at Doyle's shoulder. "You realize he's invited me to his Christmas house party? You realize he wants me to bring along a guest? Well, now he'll expect me to bring you! As my 'special' friend!"
"Sorry." Doyle tried to move away from the shelf.
"Where do you think you're going?"
"I'm trying not to get me head bashed by books!" Doyle shoved past Bodie and strode back to the work table. "I was only doing you a favor, anyway, so stop getting hot and bothered."
"A favor?" Bodie followed, stopping a couple of feet away, hands on hips. "You were doing me a favor by telling everybody I'm queer?"
"I didn't mean to. It just popped out. Got desperate--I'm telling you, she's a right nutter. And what's wrong with me going to Lumley's party, anyway? We're supposed to be investigating his friends--why not do it together?"
"Because they'll all think that we're...that you and I are...well, you know." Bodie fumbled, unable to talk about the wretched mess, especially as sex with Doyle had been on his mind so much of late. Of all the idiotic situations. "Why'd you tell her it was me, anyway? You could've made somebody up."
"You were handy," Doyle replied. He grinned.
"Oh, very funny." Bodie shook his head. "You're going to suffer for this, Doyle. Believe me." He turned and stormed out of the room without looking back.
Doyle counted out the last of the one-pound notes and jotted the number down. Then he used the calculator to add everything up, comparing the total to the one on the register receipt. "Fifty pence short."
"Do it again," Colleen said.
It was a little after half past five and the shop was closed. Katherine had left and Doyle was back at the register, where Colleen was showing him how to balance the till. He'd started the laborious process of counting the coins all over again when the phone rang.
"Red and Black Books. I'm afraid we're closed--"
"It's me." Bodie's voice sounded distinctly chilly.
"Oh. You still pissed off?"
"I've had the repair man in to the flat," Bodie said in brisk, clipped tones, "to fix the living room heater. You can sleep on the sofa tonight." He rang off.
"Same to you, mate," Doyle muttered as he slammed down the receiver.
"That was Bodie, wasn't it?"
Doyle felt a slight flush in his cheeks. "Yeah." He concentrated on counting coins.
"I don't know what you see in him," Colleen went on. "He's a brute."
"What? No, Bodie's all right. It's only that--" Doyle paused. He might have known he'd have to embellish the lie once it was started. "You see, this is the first time we've tried living together, and we're having a few rough patches, that's all." He'd lost track of the count, and had to start over.
"Are you sure he's not taking you for granted? He seems so casual towards you."
Doyle shrugged. "I know he enjoys flirting with everyone he meets. Doesn't mean anything." He gave her a quick smile. "Don't worry. I can handle Bodie."
"If you ask me," she replied, "you deserve better." She crossed over to the shop's bulletin board, took a business card down, and handed it to him. "Here, I want you to have this. Just in case. They're very good, and they're quite open- minded."
Doyle looked at the card. BREMIS AND KNORR, Sexual Counselors, with a phone number and address. "Um, thanks." He put the card in his jacket pocket and started his count of the coins for the third time.
Bodie rose grumpily to switch the TV channel. It was a black and white TV, and it was ancient. It made an odd hissing noise. The picture squeezed people into short, pudgy figures and the entire thing went into a flickering wave pattern every three minutes, except during adverts, when it was absolutely clear. The TV was, however, an improvement on the stereo, which didn't work at all.
"Bloody Cowley." Bodie returned to the hard, lumpy sofa and his Chinese take-away dinner. He was actually managing to enjoy the soggy chicken chow mein when he heard a key turn in the front door, and automatically stiffened.
Doyle strolled into the living room carrying a Chinese take- away bag in one hand and a bottle of scotch in the other. "Hi." He sat at the other end of the sofa. "See we had the same idea about dinner." He held up the bottle. "I got this for afters."
Bodie studiously maintained a dignified silence.
"You find out anything at the newspaper office?" Doyle asked as he dug into his food.
They ate quietly for a few minutes, except for the hissing of the television set.
"I didn't find out anything at the shop today," Doyle ventured. "I think Cowley's got the wrong end of the stick on this one."
Bodie munched thoughtfully on his noodles and kept his gaze riveted to the flickering images on the TV. He thought it was possibly a soccer match he was watching, though it could be lawn bowling. On the other hand, neither sport seemed like the sort of thing one would air in December. He squinted. It wasn't soccer. It wasn't lawn bowling, either. It was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
"There was a notice on the shop bulletin board about the Anti- Fascist Society," Doyle persevered. "Said the December meeting was cancelled 'cause of the holidays. Lot of good that does us. There were a couple of contact names on the notice. One of 'em was your Ms. Solidarity."
Bodie nodded. "It's in her file." The picture and sound suddenly cleared up--advert time.
"The other name was David Northbrook."
"Um-hm." Bodie had got to the fortune cookie. He broke it open and read the slip inside. YOUR HEART IS IN THE RIGHT PLACE. Terrific. It wasn't his heart he was particularly worried about, though.
"You gonna talk to me, or are you gonna sit there and sulk all night?"
Bodie raised an eyebrow. "I am not sulking."
"You're doing a damn good imitation," Doyle replied. "And why are you watching a gardening program?"
"I'm not." Bodie stared at the TV, which had gone all wavy again. "It's Rudolph."
"Is not. Look, that's an elf there--"
"That's a turnip." Doyle leaned forward. "I think. And that bloke was talking about winter roots--"
"Was not. He was singing about someone's tooth. I've seen this one before. The elf wants to be a dentist."
"You're having me on."
"Definitely a turnip," Doyle insisted.
Bodie stood up and switched the channel. "There," he said as he sat down, "All Creatures Great and Small, the Christmas Special. It's listed in the Radio Times."
They sat in silence while Doyle finished his meal. He picked up his fortune cookie, cracked it open, and looked at the fortune.
"What's it say?" Bodie leaned over.
"Oh, are you talkin' to me now?"
"Just give it here." Bodie snatched the paper. YOUR HEART IS IN THE RIGHT PLACE. "Great." He tossed it on the coffee table.
Doyle got up to retrieve two glasses from the kitchen. He returned to the sofa and poured out the scotch, handing a glass to Bodie. Bodie took it, drank one small sip, and then fixed his attention on the short, pudgy figures on the screen.
Doyle gulped down a good portion of his drink. He turned to give Bodie a long look. "So," he said, "when are you going to tell me why you've been so moody lately?"
"What?" Bodie stared at him.
"I'm not talking about today," Doyle went on. "I'm talking about the past couple of months. Or didn't you think I noticed?"
With a great effort, Bodie managed to keep his expression blank. Bloody hell. "Noticed what?" he said casually.
"Don't give me that. You've been edgy as hell, and you know it. You've been giving me weird looks, and then turning away fast when I catch you at it. You don't come by on our days off anymore, but on the job you act as if nothing's different. You keep getting up and leaving the room when we're writing reports together, you smile at me one minute and frown the next, you leap ten bloody feet if I touch you. Something's wrong, mate, and I'm gonna get an explanation, and I'm going to get it soon."
Bodie swallowed a large portion of his scotch. How much did Doyle suspect? And how the hell should he handle it? Obviously, the chilly, distant bit would only make Doyle angrier. He had to make amends, and quick.
"Sorry," he said softly. "Don't know what's gotten into me lately. Honest."
"It's not some bird, is it?"
Bodie frowned. "Eh?"
"A bird," Doyle repeated. "You haven't gone and gotten serious about some bird, have you?"
Bodie thought Doyle looked genuinely disturbed by the idea. "No. It's not that." He shrugged. "Whatever it is, it'll sort itself out."
"Hope so," Doyle murmured. He stared into his glass. "You got awful pissed off at me today."
"Well, how'd you expect me to react?"
Doyle finished off his drink and refilled his glass. "You could've been a bit more understanding."
"Understanding? You tell everybody we're a couple of poofters and you want me to be understanding?"
"Did not. Only told Colleen. Yeah, she'll probably clue Lumley in, but where's the harm in that? I've been thinking about all this, and I think it's a good idea I came up with."
"Oh, you do, do you? How do you reckon that?"
"Like you said before, Lumley will expect us both at the house party now, and that means two of us to do the investigating instead of one. And Lumley's friends will probably trust us a hell of a lot more if they see us as a gay couple instead of just a snooping reporter and his friend. Besides, nobody knows us up here, so who bloody well cares what they think? It's just a big joke, Bodie, you know that."
It wasn't a joke, though, not to him. Bodie sighed. It would no doubt be best to treat it that way, though--a lark, something to tease each other about. Sulking just got on Doyle's nerves, and protesting too much would make him suspicious. Joking around would lighten things up, keep them both in a relaxed frame of mind. Yeah, that was the way to handle it, all right. Lighten up. Laugh about the whole mess.
"Yeah, I suppose you're right." Bodie reached for the bottle of scotch and topped off his glass. He grinned at Doyle. "Can I call you 'ducky' next time I come round the bookshop?"
Doyle smiled. "Yeah. Do it while Colleen's there. Maybe she won't think you're a brute any more."
"Did she say that?"
"Um-hm. Thinks I deserve better. But I told her I could handle you."
Bodie rolled his eyes. "That'll be the day."
"You're not still mad at me, are you?" Doyle cast him a wistful look.
"Nah." Bodie gave Doyle's shoulder a light punch. "Never can stay angry with you."
They watched the rest of the Christmas special in companionable silence. At least, they tried to watch it. When Bodie determined that the credits were rolling across the screen, he got up and turned the set off. "So," he said, sitting back down a little closer to Doyle, "what exactly did Colleen say that got up your nose? I mean, you've had to seduce left- wing nutters before. It's all in the line of duty, you know."
"Yeah, I know. But she was so determined about it. She wants to ban Beatrix Potter!"
Bodie sputtered as a sip of scotch went down the wrong way. "That is insane. Why?"
"The animal families are too middle-class. Makes the lower- class kids feel inferior." Doyle shivered. "Made me flesh crawl, she did. And she was serious. S'pose she's gonna be at the party?"
Bodie nodded glumly. "I'd lay odds on it. Don't think we need to worry about the IRA, mate. We're gonna have our hands full with the bunny-hater and her pals."
"Who's this David Northbrook chap?" Bodie asked. "The bloke on the AFS notice--"
"Oh, him. He's one of Lumley's pamphlet writers. Hang on--I snagged one at the shop today." Doyle had slung his coat over the sofa back earlier, and he reached over to rifle the pockets. "Here it is. 'On the Evils of Property Ownership.' Can't see why Lumley would publish this. Hasn't given his property to the poor, has he?"
"Not unless you count Susan Solidarity and the Wolfhound Three," Bodie replied. "At least, I don't think they're paying rent." He took the pamphlet and skimmed through its pages. " 'Violence is a direct result of property ownership,' " he read aloud. "Somebody ought to tell Cowley." He skimmed further along. " 'Mankind's troubles will end the day the fences come down. It is in man's best interest to dwell not in separate houses, but in large, communal buildings, where people can learn to cooperate rather than compete, to share and share alike.' Hmpf." Bodie threw the pamphlet aside. "Load of rubbish. Don't want to share. Want my privacy, thank you very much."
"Well, you'd better get used to sharing with me," Doyle replied cheerfully. "Don't think Lumley will put us in separate rooms, do you, sweetheart?"
Bodie narrowed his eyes. "Don't call me that."
"I'm deeply hurt. What shall I call you, then? Sunshine?"
"No." Bodie set his glass down and tried to look menacing, while simultaneously trying not to burst out laughing. The pent-up tension of the day was definitely getting to him, and there were only two ways to deal with it--anger or laughter. Fortunately, laughter was winning. Keep it light he reminded himself, make it a joke. Relax.
Doyle set his own drink down, and looked deeply into Bodie's eyes. In an overly serious tone, he whispered huskily, "How 'bout your favorite--how 'bout if I call you 'ducky'?"
"You like breathing, don't you?"
Bodie lunged for him. They wrestled about on the sofa, grappling harmlessly. Doyle's laugh was infectious, and soon they were both chuckling madly as they rolled and twisted, nearly falling off, jostling each other relentlessly until, exhausted, they collapsed against the cushions, heads lolled back, arms and legs spread wide, gasping, trying to catch their breaths.
"Feel better?" Doyle said.
"Yeah." Bodie reached over to ruffle Doyle's hair. "Thanks, Goldilocks."
"There you go. Perfectly good nickname. You can call me that at Lumley's. They won't know."
"Won't know what?"
"That you call me that anyway."
Bodie frowned as a sudden chill tingled along his spine. It was true--he'd been calling Doyle affectionate nicknames for years. What the hell did that mean? He didn't want to think about it.
"Hm? Oh, yeah, I'm fine." Bodie furiously concentrated on changing the subject. "I was thinking about Lumley's place. I've never been stuck in a house full of liberals before. What the hell am I supposed to talk to them about? How do I break the ice--discuss the differences between revolvers and pistols? Should I tell them how many ways there are to kill a man with your bare hands?"
"Ah, it won't be so bad," Doyle replied. "You'll think of something."
"No," Bodie shook his head, "it's gonna be awful. I mean, once I get the commune question out of the way, what then? I bet they're all a load of bleedin' intellectuals. They'll want to chat about art, and classical music, and foreign films."
"Yeah, you're right. You better tread carefully there." Doyle waggled a cautionary finger at him. "Don't bring up books. You might've read something that'll insult 'em. Like Peter Rabbit."
"Oh, God," Bodie groaned. "It's gonna be 'orrible."
"Optimist. Wait'll you get a look at Lumley's mansion."
Doyle looked puzzled. "Why?"
"I'm going to let it be a surprise."
"Oh, ta very much." Doyle stretched his arms over his head. "You know, this sofa is lumpy."
"And it's too short."
"Looks fine to me."
"Then you sleep on it," Doyle said.
"I've got a perfectly good bed to sleep in," Bodie replied.
"So you have. A nice, big bed. Without lumps."
"Me? What about you?"
"That's different," Bodie said with what he thought was impeccable logic, "I don't have to listen to my snoring."
"Ah, come on. I have to work tomorrow--I need me rest. Not like some lazy sods."
Bodie did his best to look affronted. "I'm doing my bit. Might even need to drive into Town tomorrow. Thought I'd check out the galleries where Geoffrey Evans shows his work, see what they think of him."
"I'm sure it'll be very taxing."
"I'm sure it will."
"But nowhere near as hard as flogging books," Doyle said. "Takes an alert, well-rested mind and body, that does."
"You toss and turn all bloody night," Bodie replied.
"Do too." Bodie jabbed a finger at Doyle's shoulder. "And you make peculiar noises when you're dreaming."
"I don't." Doyle's brow furrowed. "Like what?"
Bodie derived great joy from imitating the whimpers and moans he'd heard last night, and watching Doyle's eyes widen as he did so. "Like that," Bodie said when he'd finished his recital. "Just what were you dreaming about, hm?"
"You sure you're not making all that up?" Doyle gave him a suspicious look.
"You never were."
"Yeah, well, it's the thought that counts," Bodie said.
"No," Doyle replied, "it's the bed that counts. And that's where I'm sleeping tonight."
Don't protest too much, Bodie thought reluctantly. Make it a joke. "Whatever you say, sweetheart." He chucked Doyle under the chin, and resigned himself to another fitful night.
"There you are, Mr. Brody! So glad you could come. And Mr., um, Mr.--"
"Doyle. Ray Doyle."
"Yes, of course. Come in, come in!"
Doyle gaped at the entranceway murals. So that's what Bodie was on about. Mounds of naked flesh towered around him, writhing in frenzied antics. Must have taken ages to paint all those convoluted bodies.
"Oh, sorry." Doyle followed Bodie and Lumley into the main hallway. He stopped to stare at the sculptures lining it.
"Georgie will take your bags," Lumley said, ringing a bell pull. "George! Where are you, dear boy? Ah, there you are. Be a good lad and take Mr. Brody and Mr., um--"
"Doyle," Bodie prompted.
"Yes, yes, that's right. Be a good lad and take these gentlemen's bags up and show them their room--first floor, west wing, first on the right. And do come down to the drawing room once you're settled, dear chaps--we're having a little tea, and I'm sure everyone is dying to meet you. We've got a lovely big tree up in there and everyone is helping to decorate...well, everyone except the pagans--they've gone out to the garden to make some sort of circular stone thing--you're not pagans, are you?"
"Don't think so," Bodie replied.
"Well, that's all right, then. Rather cold out in the garden. Do go on up--we're having a lovely buffet luncheon later, and don't worry about dressing--we're terribly informal around here. I must dash. I'm so glad you could come."
Doyle watched Lumley hurry off towards an open doorway, from which the sounds of merriment echoed. As he reached the threshold, a stocky, dark-haired man stepped out of the room and planted a kiss on Lumley's lips before they turned to enter the room, arm in arm.
"Sorry." Doyle followed Bodie and the servant to the staircase, pausing to look at the newel posts. "Did Evans do all this decoration?"
"Yeah. Seems to have a one-track mind, doesn't he?"
"And then some." Doyle went up the wide steps, eyes darting everywhere, searching for the next piece of phallic decor. At the top of the stairs they turned down a hallway lined with oil paintings which left little to the imagination. Doyle braced himself at the door to their room. Would it, too, be decorated in Early Modern Penis?
George swung the thick door open, dropped their bags just inside, and hurried away. Doyle walked cautiously inside, Bodie close behind.
"Looks fairly normal," Bodie said. He picked up his bag and dropped it on the queen-size bed. "No nude paintings on the walls." He unzipped the bag, pulled open the drawer of a chest beside the bed, and tossed his clothes in. It was a pity they couldn't bring their guns on this assignment; he always felt vaguely naked without one.
"The bed posts aren't carved into giant cocks, either," Doyle replied. "What other surprises has this place got?"
"The library is full of porn." Bodie crossed to the windows and opened the drapes. "Hey, we've got a view of the gardens."
"Yeah? Are the pagans out there?" Doyle joined him. In the grounds below, two women and a man pranced about in a circle, holding hands.
Bodie cracked the window. "They're chanting. Sounds like a foreign language."
"Druid, no doubt." Doyle chuckled softly. "Couldn't make it to Stonehenge this year."
"Think they're secretly planning to blow up Parliament?" Bodie asked.
"Absolutely. All terrorist gangs masquerade as druids these days. Haven't you been keeping up? Nobody ever suspects 'em, you see. Can travel anywhere inconspicuously."
Bodie smiled as he shut the window and closed the drapes. "Can't believe we're getting paid for this lark."
"Quiet." Doyle put a finger to his lips. "Cowley's got big ears."
Doyle set about unpacking his bag. "This is definitely an improvement on the flat. Bet they'll feed us well. And it beats working, too." He'd spent an entire week at the bookshop, getting nowhere, until Christmas Eve finally rolled around, the shop closed up, and the house party started. Three days of being catered to in a mansion--the party wouldn't end until after Boxing Day--Doyle figured he could handle a bit of luxury now and then.
"Will you look at this." Bodie opened an inside door. "We've got our own bathroom."
Doyle came over to check it out. Toilet, washbasin, tub--all to themselves. And all in flaming pink. "Nice. More or less."
"Just close your eyes while you're in there."
Doyle retrieved his shaving kit and set it on the basin counter. "What do you reckon Lumley meant by 'informal'?"
"Means wear whatever you're wearing," Bodie said.
Doyle looked down at his shirt, blue jeans, and trainers. Then he looked at Bodie's good white shirt, tie, slacks and jacket. "You sure?"
"There are pagans dancing on the lawn," Bodie replied. "I really don't think anyone here cares who we are or what we look like. You could go starkers and they wouldn't mind."
"Yeah." Doyle grinned. "Maybe Evans would want to paint me-- what do you think?"
"Would you want your private parts splattered all over the walls?"
Doyle grimaced. "Put like that--not exactly, no."
"Shall we go down for tea and crumpets?" Bodie said in a posh tone.
Bodie shook a finger at him. "You stay away from the crumpet, Raymond. You're supposed to be mine."
"Oh, yeah." Doyle let out a sigh. "Almost forgot about that."
"Well, I didn't," Bodie replied with a trace of menace.
"I said I was sorry ages ago." Doyle paled as a thought struck. "You don't think they'll expect us to be--you know, demonstrative--in front of everybody, do you? I mean, did you see the way Lumley and Evans acted? Everybody in the drawing room must have seen them. Are we gonna have to hold hands?" He studied Bodie's lips, wondering if he'd have to kiss him. Shouldn't be all that horrible, he thought. They were nice- enough looking lips. And it wasn't as if he didn't like Bodie...Doyle checked his thoughts. This damn assignment was starting to get to him in peculiar ways.
"What are you staring at?"
"Hm?" Doyle shook his head. "Oh, nothing. What do you reckon we should do, then? Play it by ear? Do as the natives do and follow Lumley and Evans' lead?"
"S'pose so." Bodie looked distinctly nervous. "I think I can hold your hand without falling down laughing."
"What about a kiss?" Doyle pressed.
"Why don't we wait and see what happens?"
"'Cause if they're so informal that they're all over each other down there, and we decide to not look suspicious and at least act a little like a gay couple, it will look suspicious if we start fumbling all over the place, won't it?"
Bodie's face had gone positively white. "Are you suggesting we practice or something?"
Doyle nodded. "Why not? Can't hurt." He smiled. "What's wrong--not up to it?"
"It's not that."
Bodie was trembling, and for some reason, his nervousness excited Doyle. It was as if he had found a new hold over his cool, controlled partner. And all because Bodie was skittish about physical contact. That was odd, considering how much he enjoyed giving Doyle friendly touches and pats. Of course, a kiss was decidedly different, but still--he was Bodie's best mate, it shouldn't matter that much. They should be able to handle any situation together.
"Then what is it?" Doyle asked, moving in close. "What are you worried about? I don't bite, you know. Come on, it's just an undercover role. Gotta make it look good, right?" He touched a finger to Bodie's lips, and felt a galvanic shock as Bodie leaped backwards. "Coward," Doyle said in a friendly tone. He closed in again, backing Bodie up against the wall. "You're gonna blow the op if you keep acting like that."
Bodie gulped. "You really think we'll have to act that...well, friendly in front of the others?"
"We should at least be comfortable around each other." Doyle was enjoying Bodie's discomfiture tremendously. Imagine hard-as- nails Bodie walking on tiptoes around anything--it didn't seem possible. But Doyle had certainly found a button to push. And he liked pushing it. "How about one quick kiss, just to loosen up? Hm?" He advanced, took hold of Bodie's shoulders, and leaned in for a chaste peck on the closed mouth before Bodie could pull away. "There, that wasn't so bad, was it?" It had barely been a brushing of lips, but Bodie looked dazed and flushed. Now, that was interesting. Curious about Bodie's responses, Doyle decided to push further. "Wouldn't fool anybody, of course," he said. "So let's try a real kiss." He pulled Bodie close and kissed him, pressing forcefully against Bodie's lips until they opened for him, and then he was sucking energetically, tongue probing boldly into Bodie's mouth. Suddenly he felt Bodie's arms around his waist, then they moved to stroke his back and Doyle felt a warm tingling up his spine. He gasped and pulled away, staring at Bodie, who stood there with his eyes shut, mouth open, breathing raggedly.
Bodie's eyes flew open and he spun away from the wall, striding to the center of the room, where he leaned against the bedpost, his back to Doyle.
Christ. Doyle, shaken, studied the slumped line of Bodie's back, wondering what the hell had happened. His own words of the past week suddenly came back to him. Why have you been so edgy lately? You don't come round anymore, you leave the room, you jump when I touch you. He thought of the varied reactions Bodie had to this whole gay couple ploy-- first he was angry, then joking, and now this incredible nervousness. And then there had been his attempts to keep Doyle from sharing a bed.
"I'm not talking about it." Bodie's back straightened.
"Talk about what?" Doyle couldn't say it, couldn't even fathom the idea that Bodie might be attracted to him.
"Nothing." Bodie turned to face him, expressionless. He patted down his shirt and jacket. "We'd better get down there."
Doyle decided to let it lie. For now. "Right. Then let's go." He moved past Bodie to the door.
"I read one of your pamphlets the other day," Doyle said as he sipped his tea. He'd been approached by David Northbrook, who turned out to be a short, pudgy, bald man in his early fifties. "It was all about how owning property leads to violence. Very interesting."
"Oh, why, yes, thank you," Northbrook replied in a high- pitched, nasal voice. "I'm engaged in writing a book now, as a matter of fact."
"So's he." Doyle nodded across the room at Bodie, who sat on the arm of a plush sofa chatting to, of all people, Colleen Dunbar. "On British communes."
"Really? I must go and have a word with him sometime. The thing of it is, I lived on the commune here, as a matter of fact. For five years. We had such a communal spirit then, such a glorious sense of sharing. Don't you think people should share more, Mr. Doyle?"
"Ray." Doyle continued staring at Bodie, who was laughing loudly. Yeah, some people should share more, all right--they could start by telling their best mates how they truly felt. He frowned as Colleen laughed back, and patted Bodie's thigh. What the hell were they talking about?
"Oh, why, yes, and please do call me David."
Doyle felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned his attention back to Northbrook, who was smiling at him in a positively lecherous fashion. Doyle shrugged, dislodging Northbrook's hand. "Need a refill," he said, holding up his teacup. "Nice meeting you." He made his escape to the table in front of the room's French windows. An array of teapots sat on colorful trivets, cosseted by tea cosies. Each had a placard showing which variety of Lumley's long-life brews one could choose. He picked Golden Harvest Herbal and filled his cup. In the center of the table lay a tray piled with biscuits and tea cakes. Doyle ignored them, not wanting to spoil his lunch. He leaned against the table, sipped his tea, and took a long look at the house party guests.
He and Bodie had been introduced all around when they'd first come in; Doyle now put his CI5 training for faces and names to the test. The pagans had come in from the cold. All three of them sat on a settee in the corner farthest from the Christmas tree, where no one else dared venture near them. The two women were sisters, forty-ish and rail thin, with matching blonde hair done up in fancy braids intertwined with flowers. Must have cost a bit to buy daisies in December. They wore long flower-print dresses which didn't quite match the heavy boots they'd been wearing out in the garden and still had on. Emily and something else with an E. Doyle frowned. He couldn't be losing his touch already. He stared at his tea. Maybe Lumley had spiked it with herbs of a different color. Doyle looked back over at the pagan clan. Esther, that was it. Emily and Esther Moonglow. Doyle smiled at the recollection of Bodie's expression when they were introduced earlier. The contortions he'd gone through to keep from cracking up when Lumley announced the women's surname had been classic.
The man with them was named Rupert Flax, and he was as rotund as the Moonglow sisters were slim. He wore a purple track suit which clashed hideously with his bright orange ponytail. Doyle had no clue what the exact relationship was among the three, and he wasn't sure he wanted to know.
In the center of the room, Richard and Geoffrey stood over a box of decorations, debating which colored balls went best with pink tinsel. At the Christmas tree a married couple, Graham and Julia Hunt, were busy hanging sundry ornaments. They were odd, Doyle thought, in this particular company. The Hunts both wore very expensive suits, and Julia sported pearl earrings and necklace. Both had short, dark brown hair and even their long, patrician features were similar. Doyle edged along the table to catch their conversation.
"No, darling, do put that somewhere else." Julia Hunt gently tapped her husband's wrist. "It looks positively hideous beside the little drummer boy."
"Does it? Oh, sorry. What do you think of this spot over here, my dear?" Graham Hunt held the reindeer ornament close to a mostly empty branch.
"Yes, that's quite suitable. Oh, gracious, look at this angel. It simply won't do at all. We never allow plastic ornaments on our tree."
"No doubt purchased at one of those charitable events Richard is forever attending." Graham wrinkled his nose. He leaned close to Julia and whispered fiercely, just loud enough for Doyle to overhear, "He never really left the Sixties' idealism behind, poor fellow."
Julia nodded. "It's sad, isn't it, how some people never move on. But at least he managed to keep his money. It's the others- -" She turned to cast a disparaging glance towards the pagans. "--the ones who never learned that having money is the way to change things, who are truly pitiable, don't you agree, darling?"
"Yes, quite true. What do you think of this sleigh?"
"A bit quaint, isn't it? Don't we have something very like it on our tree, only all in solid gold? So much better than--" Julia sniffed. "--well, than whatever that is made of."
Doyle sidled away again. He'd heard enough. He remembered what he'd read of the Hunts from the CI5 file. They'd met each other at Lumley's commune and left shortly after to become highly successful real estate developers. They had a nine-year-old daughter named Victoria, who no doubt had been left at home with the nanny to prevent exposure to the Phallic Palace. The Hunts consistently voted Conservative and never gave a dime to charity.
Bodie's laugh broke into Doyle's thoughts again. He decided it was time to investigate Bodie's new-found amiability with Colleen. Doyle ambled over to the sofa, flashed a big grin at Bodie, then nodded at the empty spot beside Colleen. "Is this seat taken?"
"Not at all." She patted the sofa. "Sit down. We were just talking about you."
Doyle sat down, fixing Bodie, who still perched on the sofa arm, with a steely look. "All good, I'm sure."
Colleen let out a soft laugh. "Bodie was telling me about the time you locked yourself out of your flat with only your underpants on, in January, in the middle of the night. I never knew you led such an exciting life."
Neither did I, Doyle thought. What other fabrications had Bodie come up with? "He's a good storyteller, isn't he?"
"Oh, he's wonderful." She gave Bodie a wink. "And he's much nicer than I first thought." She leaned close to Doyle and said softly, "I think he must be very fond of you. You're all he talks about."
"Is that so?" Doyle smiled sweetly at Bodie, whose own smiling expression seemed ever so slightly strained. "What else did he tell you?"
"Well, I don't know if I should repeat certain parts."
"Go on," Doyle urged, looking not at her but at his partner, "I don't keep any secrets from Bodie."
"All right, then," Colleen said, "is it really true that you once got drunk in Soho and had a rose tattooed on your rear end?"
Doyle's eyes went wide. "You bastard!"
Bodie burst out laughing.
Colleen looked from one to the other, then focused on Bodie. "You've been having me on."
"Only a bit." Bodie shrugged, then grinned. "It's not on his bum."
"I'll get you for this, mate."
"Ah, don't be like that." Bodie looked to Colleen for support. "We were just having some fun, right?"
"Absolutely." Colleen patted Doyle's thigh. "No harm done. Please say you're not angry with him, Ray."
Doyle opened his mouth to protest, saw the triumphant look on Bodie's face, and shut it again. No, he wasn't getting off that easy. Retribution was in order, but not in the manner Bodie might be expecting. Doyle recalled the power he'd held over Bodie back in the bedroom, and how simple it was for him to make Bodie squirm. There would be no angry words, no recriminations-- quite the opposite. And Bodie would be helpless, unable to do a thing about it.
Doyle rose, set his teacup on the coffee table, and closed in on a suddenly nervous-looking Bodie. "You're right," he said to Colleen, "no harm done." He laid his hand on Bodie's thigh, which twitched in response. Bodie's eyes had narrowed. "And I'm not mad. See, his sense of humor is one of the things I love most about him." Doyle leaned in to rest his head briefly against Bodie's shoulder, and wrapped his arms around his waist for a tight squeeze. Feeling the tremors running through Bodie, he hugged him even tighter. Then he lifted his head to plant a kiss on Bodie's cheek before releasing him. Giving one last pat to Bodie's thigh, Doyle returned to the sofa. He gazed up at Bodie with the sweetest, most innocent expression he could manage, pleased beyond words to see the strained look on his partner's face.
"Good," Colleen said. "I find it sad that so few relationships work out these days."
Doyle replied with a noncommittal grunt.
Bodie, having regained his composure, nodded towards Richard and Geoffrey, who were happily hanging red and green ball ornaments with abandon. "They seem to be doing all right. Been together six years, haven't they?"
"Nearly seven. Yes, they do get on well."
"What about them?" Doyle nodded at the Hunts.
"I wouldn't know," Colleen replied. "I never see them except at these parties. Richard always invites everyone who was at the commune, but very few show up. And those two only come so they can gossip about all the others."
"Do you know of anyone else who's coming?" Doyle asked.
"Paul will no doubt turn up. He's Richard's nephew--his sister's son. I think he's only nineteen or twenty. The sister married a charming actor who never made any money, and Paul has never forgiven her for it. He can't stand Richard but shows up to all the parties to sponge off him. He really wants very much to be rich. Luckily, Geoffrey is quite practiced at warding off leeches."
"Is that all the guests?" Bodie asked.
Colleen shrugged. "Anyone else who was coming would have been here by now."
"S'pose I'd better make my rounds, then."
"Eh?" Doyle raised an eyebrow at Bodie.
"Need to find out if any of them want to be interviewed," Bodie replied. "You know, about the 'good old days'."
"Oh, yeah, your book." Doyle smiled. "Start with David Northbrook--he's quite keen on politics."
"Absolutely. Fascinating man." Doyle looked over at the balding, pudgy Northbrook. "I'm sure you'll get on famously."
Bodie cast him a suspicious glance, then shrugged and stood up. "I'll see you later."
Doyle sat back and relaxed, ready to enjoy watching Bodie deal with Northbrook. But his serenity was disturbed by Colleen.
"Ray." She laid a hand on his knee. "Can we talk about more serious matters?"
He swallowed a large gulp of tea. "Such as?"
"Have you ever heard of the POCS?"
Doyle felt a tingle of excitement--could this finally be it? A clue to the terrorist gang? Their first real evidence? He shook his head, but leaned forward, looking interested.
"It stands for Protect Our Children Society," she replied earnestly. "The group which is striving to remove classist books from the school libraries. I know you're interested in the class struggle, Ray, and I'm hoping you'll join us. We're meeting in early January to discuss the books of Enid Blyton- -"
Doyle sank back and let her rattle on, defeated again. And, in trying to appear at least vaguely attentive to Colleen's verbal assault, he failed to pay attention to Bodie and Northbrook, missing out on all the fun.
It took Bodie all of five minutes to figure out why Doyle had foisted him onto David Northbrook. The man couldn't keep his hands to himself, and Bodie only got him to cease and desist by forcefully aiming the heel of his shoe into Northbrook's shin. Another ten minutes of awkward conversation told Bodie all he needed to know, that Northbrook had but two topics on his mind-- the evils of property, and sex. So Bodie excused himself and made his way over to the pagan corner.
"How nice of you to join us." The Moonglow sisters spoke in unison. They shifted over on the settee.
"So kind." Bodie scrunched down between them, then smiled at Rupert Flax, who gave him a glowering look in return.
"Geoffrey has told us all about you," one of the sisters said. Bodie believed it was Emily, though it was hard to tell.
"How thoughtful of him," he replied.
"He says you're going to write wonderful things about the commune we lived on," Esther added.
"Well," Bodie said carefully, "naturally I'll try to tell the truth."
"The commune was a delightful place," Emily said. "We found Rupert at the commune."
Bodie smiled and nodded, then glanced over at Flax. He scowled back. Bodie turned back to Emily. "I'd like to talk to you about that sometime, if you don't mind."
"We'd adore that," she replied.
Bodie wondered if either of them ever referred to herself in the singular. He cleared his throat. "I'm also doing a sort of 'where are they now' chapter--you know, to follow the commune members into the present, find out what they're doing, how they've changed--"
"Oh, we haven't changed," Esther said. "Not much, anyway. Have we?"
"No." Emily dutifully shook her head. "We're quite, quite the same as ever. We just don't live here anymore, that's all."
"What do you do now?"
"We run a natural foods restaurant here in Oxford, in the market. Perhaps you've been there--the Brown Rice Cafe?"
"I'm afraid I haven't had a chance to eat there yet," Bodie replied, making a mental note to avoid it at all costs.
"Rupert is our chef," Esther said. "When we found him at the commune, he was making the most delightful herb salads you could ever put into your mouth."
"We bake the muffins and bread," Emily put in, "with all natural ingredients."
"You must come and eat there. We make a lovely wheatgrass juice."
Bodie made an effort to stop his lips from pursing. "Yes," he said slowly. "I must do that."
"And bring your friend, too."
"I'll do that." Bodie smiled benignly at the Moonglow sisters. "It's been delightful, but I must get back to Ray now. He never knows what to do or say without me, you see."
Esther and Emily simultaneously turned their heads towards the sofa where Doyle sat, looking totally uncomfortable with Colleen.
"Yes," Emily nodded, and her sister nodded with her. "We can see that. You'd best run along, then. We've thoroughly enjoyed meeting you, Mr. Bodie."
"Thanks." Bodie stood, giving Rupert Flax one last chance. "Nice meeting you all."
Rupert Flax curled his upper lip and made an unpleasant snarling sound.
"This place is full of lunatics," Bodie said.
He perched on the marble-topped coffee table, looking down at Doyle, who lay stretched out on the sofa. The tea party was over and everyone else had gone up to see the latest works in Geoffrey's studio. Doyle had begged off, claiming a headache. Bodie, who'd seen the studio recently anyway, had given Doyle a malicious grin, then told Geoffrey in a concerned tone that he "couldn't possibly leave dear Ray all alone." Geoffrey had given him an approving nod, while Doyle merely scowled. "I mean, I'm beginning to think there never was a commune here," he added. "It was really a sanitorium."
Doyle gazed up at him, one arm flung over his forehead. "Be fair. We haven't met the nephew yet."
"Bet you twenty quid he's crazier than the rest of 'em."
"You're on," Doyle replied.
Bodie studied Doyle's knitted eyebrows. "Do you really have a headache?"
"Yeah. Courtesy of Colleen. She went on at me again."
"Pity. She never tried to talk to me about banning books. She must have a soft spot for you."
Bodie watched Doyle adjust his head on a small pillow. He wished he knew what he was thinking. Doyle had obviously caught on to something earlier, in the bedroom, after that incredible kiss. But precisely what had he made of it? And more important, how would he react if he knew the truth? No, he couldn't let Doyle know the truth. There was no need, not when he wasn't exactly sure what the truth was himself. There were plenty of ways to cleverly conceal how he felt, provided Doyle fell for them. First, though, he needed to know what his partner was thinking without bringing up that damn kiss himself. Maybe he could start with a lesser kiss--perhaps the one Doyle had planted on his cheek at the party. Bodie picked up his lukewarm cup of tea and took a sip. "So," he said casually, "did you have fun teasing me in front of Colleen?"
"You deserved it," Doyle replied. "I do not have a tattoo on my bum."
No, Bodie thought wistfully, wouldn't want to mar a perfect surface. "True. Caught me a bit by surprise, though, hugging me like that."
"And giving you a kiss." Doyle narrowed his eyes at Bodie. "Or were you trying to forget that?"
Bodie considered it a perfect opening. "'Course not. Why would I do that?"
"Oh, I don't know why you'd want to forget one of my kisses," Doyle replied sarkily. "Seem to get you pretty excited, don't they?"
"Nah, not at all," Bodie said breezily, as if it meant nothing to him.
"No? What about up in the room? I didn't imagine that flush on your cheeks, mate. And you were shaking hard enough to knock down a wall or two."
Doyle's eyes opened wide and his brow furrowed as he wagged an angry finger at Bodie. "Don't try denying it." He scooted up to a sitting position, crossed his arms, and took a deep breath. "You're my best mate--why can't you just tell me what's going on in that head of yours?"
"Because there isn't anything going on." Bodie tried to stay flippant, but it was difficult with an angry Ray Doyle glaring at him. "So what if I got a bit flustered upstairs? It's not every day my best mate sticks his tongue in my mouth."
"Wasn't only that."
Confused, Bodie said, "What do you mean?"
"I mean there's more to it. There's the way you've been acting edgy these past few months, the way you jump whenever I get anywhere near you, then this damn op and the way you tried to keep me from sharing the bed, and you nearly killed me with a bookshelf when you found out I'd told Colleen we were lovers, and then you act real damn strange about that kiss and then say you don't want to talk about it afterwards, and if I didn't know any better, I'd think you were having peculiar thoughts about me, mate." He sank back against the pillow, out of breath.
Bodie sat paralyzed, staring at a harmless spot a foot above Doyle's head. It wasn't the reaction he'd wanted. Why the hell couldn't Doyle have simply accepted his flippant lie and let it rest? Brush it off as another joke, smile and forget it, go on with being good friends as before, and nothing more. Why did he have to push it, make it worse? Bodie took a calming breath, found his legs again, and got up. He crossed to the tea table and refilled the cup. Dammit, did Doyle honestly want him to confess his attraction? Did he like the idea, for chrissakes? No, that wasn't possible--he knew Doyle, he wouldn't like it. At least, he thought he knew Doyle. But then, he'd thought he'd known himself pretty well, too.
When he turned around to face the sofa, Bodie said simply, "What do you want, Ray?"
Doyle had brought his legs up and now sat cross-legged, staring at him intensely. "Not much. Only the truth."
"And what if you don't like it?" Bodie found it hard to look back at him.
"Won't know how I feel about it 'til I hear it, will I?"
Bodie drank the tea down in one long gulp and set the cup aside. He leaned back against the table, supporting himself with his arms. He felt a tremendous yearning to erase everything that had happened in the past few months, to pretend his world had magically changed and that the uncontrollable ache of desire he felt whenever Doyle was near would dissolve into nothingness. But reality refused to budge.
Doyle continued to stare at him. "Bodie?"
"The truth," Bodie replied slowly, each word hurting more than the last, "is that yes, I've been feeling...attracted to you. I don't know why, and I don't know what to do. I can't seem to stop thinking about what it would be like to--" He broke off, unable to go on. He pressed his palms hard against the tabletop to stop the trembling.
Doyle stayed put on the sofa. Bodie was grateful, not for the first time, for Doyle's intuitive sense of what he needed, and at this moment, Bodie needed to keep a physical distance. Though now that the truth was out, he didn't want to be alone, either. He knew they needed to talk.
"You ever felt that way before?" Doyle's question broke the silence. "I mean, about other blokes?"
"No." Bodie honestly shook his head, then, on some defensive impulse, asked, "Have you?"
Doyle hesitated just long enough.
Bodie's eyebrows shot up. "Ray?"
Doyle shrugged. "Not really. Well, once, maybe--nah, that was different."
"Why?" Bodie pounced on the revelation. "When was it? Where?"
"Art school," Doyle replied calmly. "Sometimes we got male models, and there was this one fellow--I swear everybody in the whole class was after him." He paused. "We had these parties, all the students would go. He was a student, too--most of the models were. So he came to the parties, and well, we used to get a bit wild back then. We were only experimenting, having some fun. Didn't mean anything."
Bodie tried to picture Doyle at a wild art student party-- maybe even an orgy, just like the murals on the entrance way walls. He shivered. "No?"
Doyle shook his head. "Don't think so. Just a phase I went through."
"Could be what it is for me, too, don't you think?" Bodie struggled to sound reasonable, despite the churning of his insides. Doyle was taking it far too calmly. Surely the fireworks were due any minute. "A passing phase. I'll get over it."
"Is that why you've run through more birds in the past two months than I've had in the past year? Were they supposed to help you get through this phase of yours? Doesn't seem to have worked, has it?"
"I'll get through it," Bodie insisted. "Being on this bloody op, in this damn house, hasn't helped any, you know."
"Reckon it wouldn't." A flicker of a smile crossed Doyle's features, then he sobered again. "I don't know what to say, Bodie. Don't know what to think. Doesn't make much sense. Why me? Why now?"
Bodie studied a spot between his feet. "You're not the only one who's confused." He hesitated, unused to expressing sentiment. "I do know that I've never felt as close to anyone as I do to you." He looked up. "Don't want that to change."
"It won't," Doyle said softly.
Doyle nodded. "I'm sure."
Bodie wanted to believe it. He did believe Doyle was sincere, but that was now, and things had a way of changing whether one wanted them to or not.
"Bodie?" Doyle's smile was reassuring. "What do you want to do? We could call Cowley, tell him the op's a bust--"
"No." Bodie shook his head firmly. "I'm not blowing an op simply because I've developed a temporary quirk."
"Is that what it is?"
"Yeah." Bodie had nearly convinced himself that was true. "Shouldn't have even told you." He straightened. "I'm going for a walk. Alone." He strode across the room, stopping at the doorway to glance at the sofa. A puzzled and lost-looking Doyle stared back. Bodie let out a heavy sigh. "I'm not running away. I just need some time to myself. All right?"
After a lengthy pause, Doyle nodded.
He didn't know whether to be glad or not that his suspicions had been confirmed. In theory, Doyle believed it was always best to get one's feelings out in the open. In practice, it definitely could cause complications. So Bodie felt physically attracted to him. Well, it wouldn't be the first time a bloke had expressed such interest, though it was the first time his best mate had done so.
He cared for Bodie a great deal. He might even say he loved him, as a friend. It wasn't something Doyle consciously thought about--it was simply there. Bodie was a major part of his life, very possibly the most important part of his life. Obviously Bodie felt the same way, but Doyle had been surprised to hear him come out and say it. Never felt as close to anyone--it wasn't like his self-contained partner to get so emotional. Though he had heard it before. Doyle remembered a time, a bit over a year ago, when he'd been lying in a hospital bed, barely alive, flitting in and out of consciousness. Bodie was there, holding his hand, talking softly to him. Every time Doyle woke up, Bodie was there. And one morning, after a rough, feverish night, Doyle awoke to see Bodie leaning over him, red-eyed, unshaved, his shirt wrinkled, looking half-asleep. The moment Doyle's wakeful state registered, Bodie instantly brightened, squeezed Doyle's hand, and said in a parched whisper, "Had me worried there for a while, sunshine. Can't lose you, you know. Would hurt too much." He brushed back damp curls and lightly kissed Doyle's forehead. Then he slumped in his chair, head nodding, and thirty seconds later Bodie's snores filled the room. Doyle wondered, for a long time after, if Bodie even remembered that moment. Neither of them had ever mentioned it since.
Maybe that was when it had started, subconsciously, anyway. Bodie had been so protective of him during the following months, more than usual, and enough that they had argued over it. And he'd spent even more time in Doyle's company than before, like a shadow, to the point where Doyle sometimes felt spooked if he turned around and Bodie wasn't there. He'd got so used to it that Bodie's increasing reluctance to be with him during the past couple of months had stood out glaringly in contrast.
Doyle uncrossed his legs and stretched. Sitting here brooding over the mysterious workings of Bodie's mind made him tired. He needed to stop worrying it for a while, occupy his mind with something totally irrelevant. He stood and gazed about the room. Nothing there to distract him. There were the other guests. He could go join them. But he'd had his fill of that lot this morning, and would have to put up with them again at lunch. No, he wanted peace and quiet, maybe something to read would do the trick. Doyle wandered out and down the hall to the library, shutting the door behind him. He sat in an overstuffed armchair, leaned back, and idly picked up a book from a nearby table.
Bodie got his anorak and muffler from their room, then bounded downstairs and out the kitchen's back door. The crisp coldness of the outside air invigorated him. Heading off along a path through the rose garden, Bodie walked without a destination but with definite purpose--to release the stress of a very grueling morning.
Frost crunched beneath his boots. He paused at the end of the gardens to gaze upwards. Dark, looming clouds were rolling in. Bodie decided he didn't care if a blizzard engulfed all of Oxford--he needed a walk. So he kept going, heading out to the herb farm a quarter-mile off.
Bodie paced around the scraggly herb beds for half an hour, back and forth, up and down, trying hard not to think about anything at all, without succeeding. Doyle's query kept popping into his head unbidden. Why me? Why now? Damn good questions. He wished he could come up with a damn good answer.
Why Doyle...well, hell, Bodie quizzed himself, letting the answers take whatever reckless course they would, why not Doyle? Because he was a bloke, for one thing. So? So, well, so Doyle was also the closest friend he'd ever had, and probably ever would have, and shouldn't the person you fall for be a friend? What did he mean, fall for? Had he fallen or was he merely temporarily intrigued? Bodie stumbled over a tree root and stopped to take in his surroundings. He'd gone past the last herb bed and nearly ended up in the woods bordering the estate. He turned back and stomped around the farm some more, keeping half an eye on the dark gray cloud bank.
Why now...hell, he didn't know. Maybe because he'd already gone through all the warm, willing birds in London and been left wanting--well, okay, that wasn't fair. Maybe he'd only been through three quarters of them. Could still be the girl of his dreams out there, waiting for him, ready to make his life complete. Except that it did feel complete, whenever Doyle was around. The irritable, moody, overly concerned, feisty, goddamn lovable bastard had gotten to him. Bodie kicked a large rock off the path. Dammit, it wasn't supposed to be like this. He wasn't supposed to care this much. Look after number one first, that had always been the way of things. He didn't need to worry about himself and somebody else as well. Took far too much effort.
So what did that mean? He should never let anyone in close, ever? For his whole life? Suddenly that prospect looked to him as bleak as the surrounding landscape, cold and empty. But to love another man--no, scratch that--to want another man--he wasn't ready to call it anything else yet--surely that was a half-baked cure for loneliness. But then, he'd not exactly led the sanest of lives so far.
Bodie stopped again. He'd come back to the beginning of the farm and the edge of the gardens. Up ahead stood the desolate- looking summerhouse, and beyond it rose the mansion. What was Doyle doing right now? Having a good laugh? No, he wouldn't do that. Worry himself sick over it, that was more likely. Would no doubt psychoanalyze Bodie more thoroughly than any CI5 shrink could. Great. Probably be Twenty Questions Time again when he returned.
He had just started his way through the gardens when Bodie heard someone whistle. He saw a plump, gray-haired figure in the distance, near the kitchen door. Good old Susan Solidarity. She whistled again, a tremendous piercing sound. Oh, shit. She was calling those damn dogs.
Bodie whirled about, searching for signs of the beasts. Three huge shapes came bursting out of the woods beyond the herb beds, running at breakneck speed for the mansion. And between the farm and the mansion there was a clear route. Straight through the garden where Bodie stood.
He had no desire to be mauled by three wolfhounds, even if it was a friendly mauling. Bodie frantically sought for a haven, spotted the summerhouse, and made haste for its encircling porch. As he reached the stone pillars enclosing it and leaped up the few steps, he heard a continuous barrage of barking draw close. He tried the door. It was locked. He heard the heavy panting of large, excited dogs, and dashed round looking for entry at the building's windows. They were all boarded over. A loud thumping told him the beasts had gained the porch. There was another set of steps on the back side and he bounded down them, but not quickly enough. Huge paws landed on the middle of his back, knocking him flat. Bodie stayed rock still, face downward on the ground, hands covering his exposed head, and tried to play dead. A massive tongue slobbered over his fingers and it was all he could do to hold steady. Then a third sharp whistle sounded, and the Wolfhound Three took off for the mansion, leaving him in relative peace.
Cursing, Bodie sat up, wiping his hands on his jacket. As he stumbled to his feet, something shiny caught his eye. He bent to pick the familiar cylindrical object up.
A lark, that's what this assignment had been so far. A waste of time, a wrong turn. Except when a nine-millimeter cartridge turned up on the grounds.
Bodie pocketed it and headed towards the mansion. As he reached the safety of the main entrance, it began to snow.
It took him a good twenty minutes to track Doyle down to the library. Bodie found him scrunched in an armchair, snoring, an open book on his lap. Sitting on the chair's footstool, Bodie reached over to pick up the book and started reading the page it was turned to.
Trevor wrapped his powerful, wrestler's arms around Dirk's sleek, sun-tanned waist and gripped his firm buttocks.
Bodie's eyes widened as he read further. What on earth was Doyle doing reading this? Well, he wasn't reading it--looked as if the description of two men having sex had gone and put Doyle right to sleep. Bodie closed the book as Doyle stirred and stretched, rubbing his eyes. He blinked, then smiled at Bodie and sat up straighter, shaking his head and running his hands through long auburn curls.
"It's snowing," Bodie announced.
"Yeah? White Christmas and all that?" Doyle leaned over towards the window a few feet from the chair and pulled the drape aside. "Wow." Big, fat flakes poured down, virtually blotting out all else. "We could get stuck out here past Boxing Day if that keeps up."
"What?" Bodie feigned shock. "It's only a mile into town. Forgot to bring your snowshoes, did you?"
"Very funny." Doyle let go the curtain.
Bodie dropped the book onto Doyle's lap. "Doing a bit of research?" he asked pleasantly.
"Hm? Oh, that." Doyle laid it on the table. "First thing I happened to pick up, that's all." He grinned. "It's a little weak on plot."
"I'll bet. How's the headache?"
"Gone. Probably come back after another round of Colleen at lunch." Doyle checked his watch. "We've got a two-hour reprieve 'til then. What do you reckon we should do?"
"I think a bit of actual sleuthing is in order." Bodie retrieved the cartridge from his pocket and handed it over. "Going out for a walk proved quite productive."
Doyle rolled it between his fingers. "Nine mil. Very careless. Where'd you find it?"
"In back of the summerhouse. Door's locked, windows are boarded up." Bodie decided to leave out the details of his encounter with the wolfhounds.
"Perfect storage place for stolen arms," Doyle said. "Who'd look for anything in a summerhouse in mid-winter?" He handed the cartridge back. "So who has keys?"
"Lumley gave me a tour of the grounds when I interviewed him," Bodie replied, re-pocketing the evidence. "He was going to show me the summerhouse, but he didn't have the keys with him. I remember he said the place was 'special'. Knowing his tastes, that no doubt means it has more phallic art inside."
"Evans would surely have a key as well. Maybe Susan, too."
"Oh, she's at the top of my list," Bodie said, smiling. "After all, those dogs of hers are Irish wolfhounds."
"Come on. Tell me who's really on your list."
Bodie considered the roster of lunatics in the house. "Northbrook would be on top. He's actively political, and anti- status quo."
"Colleen's political," Doyle pointed out.
"She's too busy hammering Beatrix Potter's bunnies. Where's she going to find time to fit in the IRA?"
Doyle shrugged. "Maybe. Could be a smoke screen. She makes a point of rattling on to everybody she meets about banning harmless books, and then nobody takes her seriously."
"And nobody investigates her beyond the surface. I take your point."
"We can eliminate Lumley, right?" Doyle asked.
"Yeah. I don't think he's putting on an act. He's a genuine, lifetime member of the Space Cadet Corps."
"Haven't noticed anything political about him," Bodie said. "Other than being secretary and treasurer of the Sexual Tolerance League. What did you make of the Hunts?"
Doyle wrinkled his nose. "They're too stuck-up to be terrorists. How 'bout the Moonglow sisters?"
"They're too weird to be terrorists. Rupert Flax, however, is an unknown quantity. Did you try talking to him?"
Doyle nodded. "He growled at me."
"Me, too." Bodie stood and paced in front of the floor-to- ceiling bookshelves. "So what do we have?" He ticked off suspects on his fingers. "David Northbrook, pamphlet writer who hates property ownership. Colleen Dunbar, who's Irish and may be covering up her true political aims. Susan Solidarity, who never left the Sixties. Flax is a wild card. Evans looks clean but he does have access to the summerhouse, as does Susan. Lumley's right out of it, and the Hunts and the Moonglows are damned unlikely candidates. Not exactly a promising line-up."
"There's still the nephew," Doyle replied. "If he shows up."
"Yeah." Bodie stopped pacing, halting in front of the window. He peered outside. The land was blanketed by snow as far as he could see, which wasn't very far through the heavy flakes cascading down.
"First thing we need to find out," Doyle said, "is where the key to the summerhouse is normally kept."
"Right. And then we need to keep a close eye on our top suspects to see if any of them head out that way when they think that nobody's looking." Bodie turned to face Doyle. "Who do you fancy following?"
"Anyone but Colleen."
Bodie smiled. "You can have Northbrook, then."
"Oh, no, I'm not trailing after him."
"Now, now, it'll be all right. He likes you."
Doyle slumped in the chair. "It's gotta be him or Colleen, doesn't it?"
"Fair's fair, Ray. I'll spy on Colleen if you take The Lecher."
"It's not fair."
"Is too. We've got to divide 'em up somehow."
Doyle suddenly brightened. "Right. So I'll take Northbrook and Rupert Flax and you can have Colleen and Susan."
"Hang on a minute." Bodie tried to come up with a more palatable arrangement. "How 'bout if I add Evans and Flax and you take on Susan?"
Doyle resolutely shook his head. "Nope. I'm taking Flax, and I'll take Evans, too. You can have Susan and the nephew, if he turns up."
Bodie sighed. He supposed he'd have to make the sacrifice, or risk being ragged about it for the rest of the op. "Okay, okay. That covers our top suspects. Shouldn't be too difficult to keep track of them."
"What's everybody doing right now?" Doyle asked, rising from the chair.
"I saw Evans on my way in earlier," Bodie replied. "He said we were all on our own until the luncheon, so your guess is as good as mine."
Doyle crossed to the window and looked out again at the snow. "My guess," he said, "is that everybody is standing about staring out windows."
Doyle leaned dejectedly against the wall of the first floor landing. Yes, it had been a good idea to follow the suspects and watch for any signs of underhanded activity. But none of the suspects were cooperating.
Northbrook was in the press room talking to Lumley about his new book proposal, while Geoffrey Evans hovered in the background. Doyle hadn't been able to find Rupert Flax anywhere and had been ready to give up on the prime suspects and follow the Hunts instead, until he saw them go into their room and shut the door. So that was that. There simply wasn't anyone about doing anything remotely suspicious.
Doyle shoved himself off the wall, turned to start downstairs, and nearly knocked down Bodie, who was coming up. He grabbed Bodie's arm to keep him balanced. Then they both sat down on the top step. "Hey," Doyle said, "is it all right if I follow you for a bit?"
"What?" Bodie raised his eyebrows.
"Can't find anybody else to spy on. How are you doing?"
Bodie sighed. "No luck. Ms. Solidarity is in the kitchen with the temporary help getting the luncheon ready. I did spot a large keyring there, with about twenty keys on it, hanging by the back door right above the heads of three very large and very hairy animals."
"You don't like dogs, do you?" Doyle asked.
"Those aren't dogs," Bodie replied. "Those are beasts."
Doyle smiled. "Wasn't gonna say anything earlier, but I did notice some gray hairs on your jacket when you came in from your walk. Been having some close encounters with those beasts?"
Bodie looked away, coughing lightly. Then he shrugged. "They like me."
"Ha. I'll bet." Doyle nudged Bodie's shoulder until Bodie turned back towards him. "So Susan's not up to anything suspicious. What about Colleen?"
"She's in a room next to the library with the Moonglow sisters. Looked like they were telling her fortune with a pack of cards."
"Don't know. Couldn't get that close. I gave up. Where's your lot?"
Doyle told him. "Can't find Flax, though. He could be in his room. The door's shut."
"Reckon we better get bundled up and go outside then," Bodie said. "Take a closer look at the summerhouse before it's completely buried in snow."
Doyle thought about his threadbare peacoat and his total lack of gloves. "Do we have to?"
"All in the line of duty," Bodie replied briskly, standing up. "Come on, let's get a move on."
"I'm movin', I'm movin'." Doyle reluctantly got to his feet and trailed down the corridor after Bodie.
Everything was white.
Bodie walked slowly. He was fairly certain where the summerhouse stood, but it would be easy to miss, being built from white marble. Three inches of snow already covered the ground and the tremendous downpour of flakes fell so thickly he couldn't see more than a few feet.
"It's incredible," Doyle murmured, close beside him. "Never seen anything like it before."
"Me neither. Not too many people have, if it's the worst winter in fifty years."
"Whatever." Bodie trod onwards, searching for the darker squares where the summerhouse windows were boarded up. At least they should stand out in all this white. It was an eerily quiet place, the outdoors in snowfall. Bodie didn't like it.
When he finally found the summerhouse, it was only because he nearly collided with a pillar. The boarded windows weren't visible until he climbed the steps and, with a roof above his head, at last had a clear view free of snowflakes. Doyle stomped up after him, brushing snow from his coat.
"Let's have a look," Bodie said. "You go that way, okay? Meet you at the back side." He started off in the opposite direction, going slowly, stooping to scan the floor of the circular porch. The search didn't take long--any evidence would have shown up easily against the white marble. He met Doyle at the rear of the building.
"Nothing," Doyle said. "Didn't really think we'd find the odd semiautomatic or pound of gelignite lying about, though." He had his arms wrapped tightly around his chest. "Can we go in now? It's freezing."
Bodie took a closer look at his shivering partner. "Why the hell didn't you put something on your head? Or at least wear a muffler? Have you got any gloves on?" He yanked one of Doyle's arms free to find a cold hand. "Are you nuts?"
Doyle jerked his arm back and tucked it round his chest again. "Haven't got any," he said, teeth chattering.
Doyle shook his head. A flurry of droplets went flying, from the snow that had melted in his hair.
Bodie sighed. "No muffler?"
"Nope." Doyle sniffed, rubbing his reddened nose.
"I gave you one last Christmas. What happened to it?"
"Got blood splattered on it last month." Doyle stared at a spot between his feet. "Couldn't get it out," he mumbled. "Had to throw it away." He looked up. "Sorry."
Bodie shook his head. "You're an idiot." He pulled Doyle close and wrapped his arms around him, hugging him tightly. "Why didn't you say something before?"
"Forgot." Doyle didn't resist the embrace.
"You know, some people might have gone out and bought a new muffler," Bodie said. Doyle was still shivering, so Bodie unzipped his anorak and pulled Doyle's arms inside around his waist. He took off his own muffler and wound it around Doyle's neck.
"Don't have to do that--" Doyle tried to pry loose.
Bodie held him firmly. "I've got my head covered, that's enough." His wool pullover cap fit snugly and was quite warm. He finished tucking the ends of the muffler inside the neck opening of Doyle's worn-looking coat. "So shut up and get comfy."
"We should just go back to the--" Doyle halted abruptly.
Bodie started to ask what was up when he heard the tread of a heavy footstep.
"Sounds like it's on the porch," Doyle whispered.
There was another step, then the rattling of the summerhouse's front door. After a pause, the heavy tread started up again, one, two, three steps and another halt.
"We better stay put," Bodie said into Doyle's ear. "Try to look like we're not doing anything suspicious." He didn't want to ruin the casual intimacy of their embrace, didn't want to push anything, but he had no choice. He put his hand to Doyle's chin and turned his face close. "Give us a kiss, okay?"
"You really think whoever's there is gonna believe we came out in a blizzard just for a quick snog?"
Bodie shrugged. "I've heard there are people who consider snow quite romantic."
"Yeah. And they're all Eskimos."
The footsteps started again, drawing nearer.
"Sorry," Bodie muttered, cupping Doyle's face in both hands. "Honest." He touched his lips to Doyle's, brushing lightly against them. Doyle's lips parted and Bodie worked at them more hungrily until Doyle's mouth opened fully, allowing him in. Bodie was too caught up in the sensation of warmth and arousal to wonder at Doyle's response. He couldn't resist slipping a hand under Doyle's coat, running it along Doyle's back, briefly massaging the taut muscles before laying his hand against Doyle's lower back and using it to press Doyle even closer as the kiss continued. He felt Doyle momentarily sag against him, then abruptly pull away at the sound of rapid footsteps.
Bodie broke the kiss in time to catch a glimpse of a retreating figure, a bulky form with a tell-tale orange ponytail. He listened as Flax thumped down the front stairs, then the footsteps faded. "Wonder what he was doing out here."
"Don't know." Doyle pulled completely away and wrapped his arms around his chest. "I'm going in." He took off so quickly it was all Bodie could do to keep his dark coat in sight as he hurried after.
Hell. Bodie cursed himself for overdoing the kiss. Wasn't like Doyle to run away, though, not at all. A flippant remark or angry retort would have been more likely, so why in the world had Doyle bolted? If he spent all his life at it, Bodie thought ruefully as he trudged through the snow, he would never understand the mind of Ray Doyle.
He lost sight of the dark coat. Bodie shouted Doyle's name and broke into a jog.
Doyle had never felt so confused before.
As he neared the main house he quickened his pace, though he could hear Bodie calling his name. He didn't want to talk to Bodie yet. Doyle hurried inside and dashed back to the library, shutting the door behind him. He leaned against it, panting. He shook the snow from his hair and brushed it from his coat and muffler--Bodie's muffler. Doyle frowned. He'd never known Bodie to be quite this affectionate before, and he didn't really understand it. Pure physical attraction he could comprehend, but this other side of Bodie, the one he'd rarely seen, was more disturbing.
But maybe he was overreacting. Surely Bodie had simply wanted to keep him warm with that close embrace, nothing more than a gesture born of friendship. And the kiss had been strictly pragmatic, necessary to allay suspicion. So why had Doyle enjoyed every second of Bodie's touch, even wanted more....
Doyle shook his head again. This op was slowly driving him over the edge, that's all. Soon as they got out of here and back to London everything would return to normal.
Doyle jumped as a loud knock sounded at the door. Damn. He wasn't ready to face his partner yet; he still felt far too confused. He ran to the window near the armchair he'd sat in earlier, sliding behind the heavy, floor-length drapes. As the library door opened, he concentrated fiercely on being absolutely quiet.
"Are you sure he came in here?" Bodie's voice, coming closer. And he wasn't alone.
"Well, I was at the other end of the hall." It was Evans. "But you checked the rest of the rooms."
"Don't suppose it matters that much." Bodie's voice was very near, and then Doyle heard the creak of the armchair as a large body sank into it. "He'll turn up eventually." There was a long sigh.
After a moment, Doyle heard Geoffrey's voice--it sounded as if he were right by Bodie, probably on the footstool. "Are you all right?" he asked.
"Yeah," Bodie replied. "No. I don't know."
"You can talk to me if you want to. I mean, Richard and I have had our ups and downs--"
"No, it's not like that." There was a lengthy silence. Doyle could practically hear Bodie's mental gears going, no doubt trying to find a way to discuss his and Doyle's "relationship" without letting on that they didn't have one.
At last Bodie went on. "You see, we've been friends--good friends--a long time. Years. But the rest of it, that's all happened fairly recently. And sometimes I don't know how I truly feel about Ray."
Well, Doyle thought from the sanctuary of the drapes, that was honest enough.
"I think I understand," Evans replied. "Richard and I were friends before we became lovers. Maybe not as long, only a year or so. But I remember how we used to worry about things changing between us. He thought I'd become too possessive, I thought he took me too much for granted. All those things take time and patience to work out."
"Yeah, I suppose. But sometimes...sometimes I think it's just sex--"
There was a soft laugh from Evans. "No, it's not. Anybody can see you two have a lot more going between you than that."
"What?" A note of genuine surprise entered Bodie's voice. "What do you mean?"
"Well, it's obvious. The way you look at each other, the way you watch each other when there are other people about. Those smiles you two are always giving each other, the way you touch--it's very sweet, if you don't mind my saying so."
With a great effort Doyle managed not to laugh. He imagined Bodie minded a great deal about any action of his being called sweet. He would have given anything to see Bodie's face.
All he got, though, was a discreet cough from the direction of the armchair. "Didn't realize it was so apparent."
"Oh, yes. You two belong together. I can see that."
"You really think so?" Bodie sounded strained.
There was another long pause. Then Bodie said, "He's moody, temperamental, aggravating, over-emotional, overly critical--" He went on, numbering Doyle's faults down to his inability to return things he'd borrowed. Doyle went through a variety of facial contortions, trying to keep from reaching through the drapes to throttle him.
"Now, now," Evans said when Bodie finally finished. "He must have some good points."
"Oh, I reckon he has a few. Pity I can't think what they are right now."
There came another soft laugh from Evans. "Come on, it's not that bad, is it?"
Bodie answered with a chuckle. "No. I only wanted to let off a bit of steam. Thanks."
"Anytime. I mean that. I'll see you at lunch."
Doyle listened to Evans' retreating footsteps, and then the opening and shutting of the library door. He wondered how long Bodie was planning to sit there. He desperately needed to take a leak.
"You can come out now," Bodie said.
Doyle gasped. He pushed the drapes aside to find Bodie looking directly at him. "You bastard." But he couldn't help smiling. "Can't think of any of my good points, eh? Did you know I was there all along?"
"Nah. Figured it out pretty quick, though. You really ought to change out of those wet clothes." Bodie glanced down.
Following his gaze, Doyle saw the little pool of water that had formed around his feet and spread out a few inches from the cover of the drapes. "Snow," he muttered. "I don't think I like snow."
"Gave you away all right, along with the larger puddle by the door. What you need," Bodie said as he stood up, "is a long hot soak in the tub, a drink, and some warm, dry clothes."
"Thanks, but I did have that figured out already."
"Go on, then. I'll be up in a while."
Doyle started to ask why Bodie was telling him to go after his effort to catch him up, but decided to leave it and take the temporary reprieve. He left the library and went up to their room, immediately stripping off all of his thoroughly wet, cold clothing. The bathroom had only a tub, no shower. He made use of the toilet, then sat on it while the steaming water filled up. Then he slipped into the luxuriously hot bath, instantly feeling ten times more human than he had a mere quarter hour ago.
There were times when he wished his brain came with an on- off switch. One which would enable him not to think about anything at all short of total unconsciousness, to simply drift in a peaceful, non-stressful state, free of any worries, not bothered by unwanted thoughts or persistent questions, to let go completely, if only for a little while. Yes, he had his various methods of distracting himself from the pressures of the moment, but he rarely succeeded in keeping them fully at bay. Always, no matter what mental games he played, they would be lurking in a corner of his mind, waiting to come leaping to the forefront again. It simply wasn't possible to shut everything down, not naturally anyway. And even in sleep, there were always dreams.
The bath felt good, and it was relaxing, and Doyle tried his damnedest to drift off into a calmer place, but he didn't succeed. Thoughts of Bodie insisted on intruding. Bodie wanting him sexually, Bodie giving him warmth and affection as if it were going out of style, Bodie chasing after him one minute and letting him go the next. How much of the extra affection and teasing was part of the role Bodie had been forced to play here, and how much was real? Why did he claim the attraction was only a "passing phase" one moment, then kiss him passionately so soon after? Maybe somebody really had spiked the tea.
Twenty minutes later Doyle climbed out of the tub, no clearer about his or Bodie's feeling about anything. But at least he was warmed up and his hair was clean.
He put on the green bathrobe hanging on the back of the door and grabbed a towel to dry his hair. He heard the bedroom door open and shut, followed by the sound of Bodie whistling "Deck the Halls," off-key.
Still patting his hair, Doyle opened the bathroom door and peered out. Bodie sat on the edge of the bed with two steaming mugs. "Perfect timing," he said, holding one out.
Doyle emerged, sniffing. "Hot cocoa?" He took the mug.
"Geoffrey whipped 'em up for me. And kindly added a wee drop of Bailey's. It's not bad." He sipped at his own drink.
"Um. Not at all," Doyle replied as he drank the hot, sweet liquid. He sat on the room's only chair, facing Bodie. "Did he know I was there all along, too? In the library?"
"Evans? No, I don't think so."
"Thought he must have done," Doyle said, "the way he went on about us. You know, all that nonsense about the way we look at each other."
"Is it?" Bodie asked.
"'Course it is."
Doyle didn't care much for the insistent questioning, especially since it forced him to think things through more thoroughly. "Well, you know, it's not what he thinks it is. I mean, even if we do act that way, it doesn't mean anything. Except that we're partners and best mates. You know that."
"Yeah," Bodie agreed. "I know that."
Doyle continued dabbing at his hair and taking occasional sips of his spiked cocoa. He waited, unwilling to initiate any conversation.
After a while Bodie said, "Don't know about you, but I've moved Rupert Flax to the top of my suspects list."
"Depends on what's inside that summerhouse. Maybe there's something besides stolen arms, something no natural foods chef can be without."
"Oh, you mean there's a special type of moss growing on the walls inside, and he wants it to make juice from?"
"You never know with this lot," Doyle said. "Anything's possible."
"True. Especially with someone who doesn't even talk. Was there anything in Flax's file about his not being able to speak?"
Doyle shook his head. "I reckon he just doesn't like people. Except Esther and Emily."
Bodie finished off the contents of his mug and set it on the nightstand. "Guess we'd better do a bit of B & E."
"You want me to go back out in that mess?" Doyle shivered at the very thought.
"Not right away. Maybe we can manage it after the luncheon. Shouldn't be too hard. No one can see us from the house if it's still snowing, and you're good at picking locks."
Doyle frowned. "I am when I've got the tools with me."
"Oh. Can't you rig something up?"
"Haven't got any hairpins with me, sorry." Doyle shrugged. "One of us will have to lift the keyring from the kitchen." He knew perfectly well he would be the one to do it; not only was he better at stealing things, he wasn't worried about the presence of wolfhounds, either.
"I'll do any necessary distracting," Bodie offered. "And you can nick the keys."
"Right," Doyle replied in a resigned tone. He tossed the towel he'd been using on his hair aside and focused on drinking his hot cocoa.
"So," Bodie said, giving him an anxious look, "why'd you take off like that?"
Doyle had been wondering when Bodie would get around to the summerhouse embrace. Having told Bodie earlier that all he wanted was a bit of honesty, Doyle realized he could hardly respond with less. "I'm not sure," he replied. "It took me by surprise."
"What--me hugging you, or the kiss?"
"The hugging part." Doyle spoke his confused thoughts aloud. "I mean, you were so distant the past couple of months, and then finally you told me why, and then suddenly it's as if you're making up for it all at once."
Bodie studied the fingernails of his left hand, his face strained. "Yeah, maybe. I did want everything to be the way it was before--when we were easy with each other."
"It will be. But not instant-aneously."
"Sorry." Bodie looked genuinely remorseful. "Didn't mean to overdo it. And then when Flax came along, well, couldn't help that part."
He looked so stricken that Doyle felt compelled to say something, anything, to make him feel better. "You're good at it, you know," he blurted out, immediately regretting the admission.
Bodie's eyes widened. "Kissing?"
Doyle flushed and buried his face in his mug. When he glanced over again, Bodie had a sly smile, though Doyle could have sworn he had a slight blush as well.
"You're not bad at it yourself," Bodie replied.
"Not bad? What do you mean, not bad? I'm damn good at it--" Doyle broke off, his indignation succumbing to acute embarrassment--just what had Bodie felt during that kiss? Had he become aware of Doyle's response--the fact that he'd been enjoying it? He scrunched down in the chair, concentrating fiercely on the dregs of the cocoa. Perhaps there was a limit to being honest. After all, it had been nothing more than a sheer sexual response. He hadn't had sex for a couple of weeks now and was feeling randy as hell. Doyle, being more than familiar with his body's needs, was well aware that he was capable of losing control much more easily than he sometimes liked. He shook his head, as if to clear it of unwanted thoughts. For chrissakes, he ought to be able to control himself around Bodie.
Doyle started at the gentle voice. "What?"
"Are you all right?"
"'Course I'm all right." There was absolutely nothing left in the mug, and Doyle gave up pretending to drink from it. "Think I'll find some dry clothes to put on." And I'd rather you didn't stick around to watch, he added mentally, giving Bodie a pointed look.
Bodie took the hint. He stood and stretched. "I'll go see if I can find someone doing something suspicious, then, shall I?"
"Good luck." Doyle flashed a reassuring smile.
"Thanks. I'll need it." Bodie strode out of the room.
Bodie studied the bowl with its suspicious brown contents. "What is it?" he asked Geoffrey, who stood beside him at the buffet table.
"Goose liver pate," Geoffrey replied cheerfully. "Delightful stuff."
Bodie's entire face crinkled. He hated liver in any way, shape, or form. "And that?" He nodded at a bowl of white and green gunk.
"Oh, that's spinach dip. Very tasty."
Bodie eyed the biscuits he'd already put on his plate. Perhaps he could eat them plain. Didn't anyone believe in cheese anymore? He moved on to a relatively safe looking pasta salad and dug in.
"Be sure to try the ox tongue, too," Geoffrey advised.
The spoon Bodie was ladling his salad with poised in mid-air. "It's not hidden in the salad, is it?"
Geoffrey grinned. "Oh, no. The only thing hidden in there is escargot."
Bodie caught the twinkle in Geoffrey's eye. "You're doing this to me on purpose, aren't you?"
"Couldn't resist. Sorry."
"And there are no snails in here?"
"Not unless Susan has suddenly acquired a sense of humor. No ox tongue, either. That is liver pate, though. And it is delicious."
"Thanks, I think I'll pass on it." Bodie finished spooning out his salad and moved on along the table, very carefully filling up his plate.
The buffet table ran along one wall of the formal dining room. Once their plates were filled, the guests took seats at the main dining table in the room's center. Bodie found a place between Colleen and Lumley, directly across from Doyle, who had a scowling Rupert Flax to one side and an empty seat on the other. Esther and Emily sat to the left of Rupert and the Hunts had positioned themselves to Lumley's right. Geoffrey chose the spot at the head of the table and Susan and Northbrook took root towards the other end.
Bodie had taken his first bite of pasta salad, and survived, when a newcomer suddenly made an appearance in the dining room. The young man's entrance caused Lumley to leap from his chair to greet him. "Paul! I'm so glad you could make it! Wonderful timing, my boy--we've only just started. Everyone, this is Paul Stuart, my nephew."
Lumley introduced the guests all round. "My sister's son. Doesn't he look wonderful? Came up from London especially for the party, didn't you? Was it a lovely trip? No trouble getting through all that snow? Well, of course not, you've got that American army jeep thing still, haven't you, can get through anything, however you managed to find something like that I shall never understand, but anyway, this is the luncheon buffet, do take whatever you want, we're so glad you could join us--" His voice trailed off as he walked Paul over to the buffet table to fill his plate.
A few minutes later they returned to the main table, and Paul took the vacant seat beside Doyle. He had the same fair hair as Lumley, and the same light blue eyes. Bodie figured him to be nineteen or twenty, and the patrician features of the family were softened by youth. But there the resemblance ended. Paul's hair was quite short and neatly trimmed, his eyes were alert, and most amazing of all, he wore a well-tailored, dark blue suit and tie.
Bodie watched Paul closely as the young man gazed at the guests. His eyes narrowed ever so slightly at each face until he got to the Hunts, at whom he smiled and nodded. Then the narrow-eyed look returned until he got to Bodie. For some reason his face brightened. "Hello. I don't believe we've met before." He spoke softly, with careful enunciation.
"No, I'm not one of the usual guests," Bodie replied. "Richard was kind enough to invite me. I'm a journalist, and I'm working on a book about the Sixties."
"Ah, yes, the infamous commune. I was born there. Don't remember it, though. My mother left when I was two. One of the few sensible things she's done in her life."
Bodie stared at him, then gave a noncommittal shrug.
Paul turned his attention to his uncle. "I see your press is still going strong."
"Oh, yes, yes." Lumley had a mouthful of croissant. "Like to get a pamphlet out once a month," he mumbled.
"I ran across one the other day. Can't recall the title, but the topic was our current prime minister."
"Ah, that was mine." David Northbrook joined in from the far end of the table. "What did you think?"
"I found it far too critical and one-sided. Mrs. Thatcher is doing a splendid job."
While Northbrook spluttered, Bodie raised his eyebrows. How in the world had the Lumley family managed to produce a Conservative?
"Maggie Thatcher is ruining this country!" Northbrook finally found his voice. "Privatize this, privatize that--before long, the underprivileged will have nowhere to turn, and big business will be running the country--"
"Nonsense," Paul calmly replied. "Mrs. Thatcher is merely providing opportunities for those who have initiative."
"I quite agree," Graham Hunt put in.
"You would." Northbrook turned his anger onto the Hunts. "You're making plenty of money by tearing down perfectly good, low-income housing and putting up overpriced prettified blocks of flats for the wine-bar set that no working- class people can afford."
"Well, I never," Julia Hunt sniffed.
"Ignore him, my dear," Graham replied, pointedly turning his head away from Northbrook.
"No one is getting opportunities except the rich," Northbrook continued, undaunted.
"No, not only the rich," Paul said. "Opportunities exist for those who have the intelligence and imagination to make the new political climate work for them. One can hardly feel sorry for those who are too ignorant or too lazy to better themselves. The only class of people I feel sorry for are the workers who have been displaced by all these foreigners we've let into the country over the years. But that's an entirely different matter. My point is, our prime minister has the right ideas. It's only people who have become too used to having the government give them continual handouts who are complaining."
"Well said," Graham commented. "She's doing a fine job in very trying times."
"She's doing a fine job for the rich and powerful," Colleen replied.
"And how would you know?" Julia Hunt said icily.
An extremely uncomfortable silence fell over the entire table. At last Geoffrey cleared his throat and said, "Perhaps we could discuss something a tad less controversial?"
"Yes, yes, good idea," Lumley leapt in. "Have I told you all about the special Christmas game we'll be having this evening? Do it every year, quite the tradition now, loads of fun. We call it the Gift Guessing Game--rather silly, I suppose, but it is a house party and you simply must all join in. Don't you think so, Geoffrey? Of course you do. And you're so good at explaining things, would you be so kind?"
Geoffrey leaned over and patted Richard's arm. "Of course. It'll be fun, I'm sure." He addressed the table at large. "It's really a very simple game. Everyone draws another guest's name from a hat. Then you get to find a gift for that person from among the household objects. The idea is to find something amusing or embarrassing, but it can't be larger than a bread box. Anything else is fine. Don't worry, we've already removed objects we don't want wandering about. Once you find the gift, you have to hide it in your person's room without being seen. The drawing will be held at five this afternoon, and you have until the evening party to accomplish your task. The second part of the game, of course, is to find the gift that your person hid in your room, and try to figure out who the person is. At the party, which starts at eight, you bring your gift with you and everyone gets to hand their gift to the person they think is behind it. If it's wrong, the person hands it back. Those who guess correctly get to sit down, and we continue until it's all sorted out, and the last person to get theirs right has to play Santa and hand out the real presents that are under the tree, while wearing a silly-looking red hat."
"Oh, that sounds delightful," Emily Moonglow said. "We think it'll be fun, don't we?"
Esther nodded. "We played it last year, and someone gave us one of those frozen dinners." She giggled. "They're so absurd, you know. Not what you'd find at the Brown Rice Cafe."
"I got a nightie." Colleen blushed at the memory. "A bit racy, really. I've always wondered where the person got it from."
"Wasn't mine," Geoffrey replied.
A ripple of laughter went round the table, easing the tension. "Well, I'm up for it if everyone else is," Graham Hunt said. "What's a house party without a few good games, eh?"
Bodie looked over at Doyle, caught his attention, and rolled his eyes at him, hoping no one else noticed. Doyle grinned back at him. Games, indeed, Bodie thought. What a load of nonsense.
"One more thing," Geoffrey put in. "The rules are, you have to leave your bedroom door ajar from the time the game starts until the time of the party, so that everyone has a fair chance to plant their object. If you have any valuables you're worried about, not that anyone here is a suspicious character, mind you, but just for your peace of mind, do please give them to me or Richard before the game starts and we'll keep them safely locked away."
Bodie suddenly had second thoughts about the stupidity of traditional Christmas house-party games. For three hours every room in the house would be open for inspection, and no one would think twice of someone sneaking about in the guest's rooms. He broke into a big smile. If this wasn't the perfect opportunity to search through the various suspects' belongings, he didn't know what was. Feeling ten times better about the day ahead of him, Bodie returned to his meal, picking up a miniature sandwich so tiny he couldn't tell what was in it. Bravely, he bit into the thing.
It was filled with liver sausage.
As the luncheon wound down, the guests, having gone to the buffet table a final time to nibble, stood about chatting in twos and threes. Bodie edged his way over to Doyle and succeeded in extracting him from the clutches of Colleen. "I think it's time we went for a little walk outdoors," he whispered.
"Have you thought of a clever way to steal the summerhouse key?" Doyle asked. "Something a bit more detailed than 'I'll distract whoever's there while you grab 'em'?"
"And what's wrong with that? It's a perfectly good plan."
"Yeah, well, I've been thinkin' it over," Doyle said. "And no matter which way I think about it, it always ends up the same. I have to get past three enormous dogs, and you don't. It's not that I've got anything against dogs. I like dogs. But three of them at once--"
Bodie grinned. "Gettin' cold feet, are you?"
"It's not my feet I'm worried about. It's my hands. I rather fancy them the way they are--with all the fingers intact."
Bodie pondered the problem. Distracting the kitchen help should be simple, but how to distract the Beasts? He reached over to the table and snatched three of the tiny liver sausage sandwiches and wrapped them in a napkin. "Here, put these in your pock--" He looked at Doyle's form-fitting jeans and shirt. "Never mind." He slipped the sandwiches into his jacket pocket. "I'll hand 'em to you when we go into the kitchen, and you can toss 'em somewhere for the beasts."
"Yeah, okay." There was enough enthusiasm in Doyle's voice to inspire a slug.
"Look," Bodie said, "we might as well get this over with. Who knows when we'll have a better chance? That idiotic game starts in a couple hours and we'll be tied up indoors the rest of the day. This is the best shot we've got at getting into the summerhouse while no one else is out there--"
His speech was interrupted by a loud clap from Lumley that caught everyone's attention. "We've got a tremendously fun idea," Lumley said, nodding at the Moonglow sisters standing nearby. "Emily and Esther have suggested we take advantage of this wonderful winter weather and have a snow sculpture contest." He rubbed his hands together. "We've got a couple hours before the guessing game starts, so let's all go outside and enjoy ourselves!"
"You want us to make snowmen?" Julia Hunt asked.
"Oh, no," Emily put in. "No snowmen. That's much too simple. We want artistic snow sculptures. We want you to free yourselves from your childhood constraints and go wild with passion and creativity--"
"What's the prize?" Paul said.
"Ah, yes, of course there will be prizes," Lumley replied. "I shall do the judging. First place winner will get to choose any bottle of wine he or she wants from my wine cellar."
"You can count me in, then," Graham Hunt piped up. His wife glowered at him.
"Second place may choose any book from my library."
David Northbrook perked up at that one. "I'm up for it."
"And third place gets a jar of Susan's homemade applesauce."
Rupert Flax growled.
"Right then, let's all bundle up and get started, shall we? There's plenty of space out back between the house and the gardens. It will be wonderfully good exercise, a bit of fresh air, I'm sure we'll all have lots of laughs. Come on, let's go!"
Bodie watched the guests trail out of the dining room. "Great," he muttered. "So much for breaking into the summerhouse. Don't exactly fancy doing it in front of an audience."
"Cheer up," Doyle replied. "Think how good all this will look in our report when we get back to HQ. 'Spent the afternoon making snowmen.' Cowley's gonna love that."
"We'll have to disguise it," Bodie said. "Make it sound like some sort of technical exercise, camouflage it with a few big words."
Doyle concentrated. "'We spent the afternoon...testing the, um, structural properties of...I mean, inherent in, um--'"
"'In compacted, frozen water'," Bodie finished.
"Right." Doyle smiled. "'Course, he might want to know why we were doing such a peculiar thing."
"That is a point. Have to work on it."
"It's gonna be the weirdest report I've ever written, I can tell you right now," Doyle said.
"We can leave a few things out," Bodie replied, suddenly serious.
"Yeah?" Doyle headed out after the others, and Bodie followed. "S'pose we'll have to," Doyle added as they climbed the stairs to their room. "Wonder what Cowley'd say if we told him we'd been snoggin' in the snow."
As they entered the room, Bodie said, "He'd just reach for his scotch."
"You reckon we should try giving him a ring?" Doyle crossed to a chair near the heater, where he'd left his coat and Bodie's muffler to dry.
"Nah." Bodie shook his head. "Let him suffer. Serve him right for sticking us with that wretched flat. Besides, we can't trust the house phones here--anyone could listen in."
"Too true." Doyle put his coat on and wrapped Bodie's muffler round his neck. "Don't suppose you've got an extra pair of gloves?"
Bodie sighed as he tossed his suit jacket and tie on the bed and pulled on his anorak. "You can probably borrow some from Lumley. Do we really have to do this? I've never made anything out of snow before."
"Not even as a kid?"
"No." Bodie refused to elaborate. "I'm not making anything on my own. We'll work as a team."
"Fine by me. What do you think we should build?" Doyle grinned. "How about a snow wolfhound?"
"Let's not push our artistic talents, hm? Think of something simple." Bodie thought back to his tour of the wine cellar that first day he'd come to this place. Rows and rows of the finest wines in the world, some no doubt collectors' items. To be able to pick any one of them he wanted.... "Lumley's the judge, so let's pick an object he'll really go nuts over."
"That's easy," Doyle said. "We just make a giant prick."
Bodie's eyes widened, then he burst out laughing as he realized how perfect it was. "Yes!"
"No!" Doyle protested. "I was joking!"
"Too bad," Bodie said. "You're helping me make a snow cock, and that's all there is to it. That is one fine wine cellar, mate." He pulled on his gloves. "And," he added with the merest hint of menace, "this is one structural test of frozen water which is not going into our report."
Bodie kicked at the snow in disgust. His cock was drooping. "Damn," he muttered as he circled the leaning tower of penis that he and Doyle had spent the last hour constructing. "This is hopeless. It isn't going to stay erect."
"The balls are good and solid," Doyle replied, studying the large white mounds at the base of their sculpture. He gazed up at the rest of their work. "But it isn't strong enough to support something that, well, that tall. Maybe we need to trim it a bit."
"After all the trouble I went to getting the head just right?"
"Isn't gonna matter if it keels over." Doyle stepped back as the snow shifted and the cock tilted ever more precariously. "Maybe we should start over. Do it lying flat on the ground, sort of stretched out."
"Too easy," Bodie said. "Be more impressive if it's upright. What we need it something to shore it up with. Some kind of solid core to build around."
"Can we take a break first? My arms are killing me."
"Yeah. Let's take a look at our competition, shall we?"
The layer of snow covering the grounds was more than a foot thick; the flakes continued to fall, though lightly. Bodie and Doyle tromped through the snow to survey the efforts of the other guests. The Moonglow sisters and Flax were putting the final touches on a large log-like object.
"It's a loaf of cracked wheat bread," Emily explained. "Rupert is going to make an apple to sit beside it, and we're going to work on some goat cheese."
"Great," Doyle said with something less than honesty.
They moved on to observe the Hunts, who were being aided by Paul Stuart in the building of a lumpish mass with a large middle and two smaller ends.
"Rolls Royce," Graham announced confidently. "Having a spot of trouble with the details, but we'll get there."
Doyle, who thought it looked much closer to a Volkswagen, merely nodded.
"We've got this thing sewn up," Bodie said as they moved along. Northbrook and Evans were busy making not a snowman, but a bulky snow-woman. They were putting large, unattractive features on her.
"Maggie Thatcher," Geoffrey told them. "We're going to make her look truly hideous."
"You've got a good start," Doyle replied.
"Definitely hideous," Bodie said as they moved out of earshot. "Told you, we've got this wrapped up. No problem. All we have to do is get it to stand up straight and we're home free. Nobody's doing anything as original as ours. Nobody is-- " He broke off as the last sculpture came into view.
Susan and Colleen were making a wolfhound. A very realistic wolfhound. "Damn," Bodie muttered.
"Told you we should've done one of those dogs," Doyle said as he circled the sculpture. Colleen was using a butter knife to carve long, wavy strands of wolfhound hair in the packed snow.
"Very nice," Doyle told her morosely.
"Thank you." She knelt by the huge snow dog's rear end. "We did consider doing something phallic instead, but we decided that would be too obvious a ploy, as well, of course, as being terribly juvenile." She looked up. "What are you making?"
"A mess," Doyle replied. He grabbed Bodie's arm and hauled him back to their wobbly construction. "Got it sewn up, have we?" He nodded at the sagging cock. "Looks more like a banana." He made a circuit of their sculpture, checking it over with a critical, artistic eye. "Look at these balls. The left side is smaller than the right."
"Maybe I was aiming for realism," Bodie replied. "Not everyone is perfectly proportioned, you know."
"Realism?" Doyle snorted. "This thing is six feet tall. And if you're aiming for realism, then where's the pubic hair, eh?" He headed towards the rose garden to scour for twigs. "We'll have to make do with some dried brush," he called back.
When he returned with his bundle of twigs and branches, Doyle found Bodie perched on nearby marble bench, pouting. The top half of the snow penis had finally given up its attempt at erection and had fallen off. Doyle dumped his load at the base of the balls. "Never mind. We'll start over. Got plenty of time."
"Still need something to support it," Bodie replied.
"Hello, there." Geoffrey had walked over to survey their work. "I think I see what you're trying for here. Having some trouble though, aren't you?"
"You're the expert on phallic sculpture," Bodie said. "Any suggestions? We were thinking it needed an internal support."
"Ah, yes. You'd need something hard, of course, and the right shape, and it would have to be fairly cold and smooth." He gazed around the grounds, and he paused at the summerhouse, snapping his fingers. "Of course! You need one of Richard's lingams."
Doyle blinked. "We need a what?"
"A lingam. Richard collects them. They're sacred Hindu stones--they're all phallic shaped. He's got some rather large ones--I think the tallest is a good four feet. The collection is kept in the summerhouse. Hang on, I'll get the key." He loped off towards the mansion.
Doyle sank onto the marble bench beside Bodie. "Well, you know what I always say. Never use ingenuity or brute strength when a simple invitation will do."
"Damn," Bodie muttered. "I was looking forward to breaking in there."
"Yeah. B & E is your forte, isn't it?" Doyle smiled at him.
Bodie raised an affronted eyebrow. "And I suppose you're better?"
"Nah." Doyle shrugged. "I'm better at breaking out of places than into 'em."
Geoffrey returned with the keyring. He led them off to the summerhouse and opened the door. Inside stood concentric circles of phallic stones of all sizes, each anchored in its own stone base. Doyle counted five circles, each with a foot or so of space between it and the next. In the very center stood a pair of lingams which were at least four feet high. The walls were hung with Indian-style paintings depicting various sexual positions. There were incense burners sitting on all the window sills.
Doyle pretended to make a careful tour of the stones, making appropriately admiring comments. In actuality, he was examining the floor, searching for signs of recent disturbance or any other evidence that something here was amiss. On the opposite side of the room, Bodie was doing the same.
"Impressive," Doyle said when he'd made his way to the center and stood in front of the room's matched showpieces. "We can't really use one of these, can we? Aren't they valuable?"
"No, actually, the small ones are the valuable ones. The larger ones are all fakes." He nodded at one of the monsters. "Let's get it out of here, shall we?"
The stone was damn heavy. Doyle and Geoffrey maneuvered it through the circles, each hefting an end, while Bodie carried the base. They emerged from the circles and stopped for a breather, setting the lingam down. Doyle looked up at the doorway to see Paul Stuart standing there.
"Need any help?" the young man asked.
"We'll manage." Doyle and Geoffrey lifted the stone again and headed outside as Paul stepped out of the way. "How's the Rolls Royce?" Doyle said.
Paul fell into step alongside them. "I'm afraid there's some disagreement on the relative sizes of the front and rear wind screens. Graham and Julia have gone off to the garage to make comparisons. I got bored and came to see what everyone else is doing."
They halted next to what was left of Bodie and Doyle's sculpture, and Doyle and Geoffrey set the lingam down.
"What's it supposed to be?" Paul asked.
Doyle studied the lopsided white mounds and the collapsed cock. "It's a sundae," he replied. "Two scoops of ice cream and a half-eaten banana." He grinned at Bodie. "Right?"
Bodie just rolled his eyes.
Second place. Bodie sighed as he lay back on the bed. Bloody hell. All that work re-doing the damn sculpture, getting it perfect even down to the stupid pubic hair, and Lumley had gone and awarded first prize for the wolfhound. It wasn't fair. Lumley didn't even like the stupid dogs. Probably just trying to keep Ms. Solidarity in a pleasant mood--didn't have anything to do with artistic merit. Second place. Damn. Bodie didn't need a bloody book from the finest gay porn collection in Europe. He needed a bottle of wine. Correction--by the time they finished this op, he'd need a vat or two of wine.
Something suddenly pricked at the back of Bodie's mind. He sat up and looked slowly about the bedroom. Doyle's coat and his muffler were where Doyle had thrown them before going down to the library to pick out their prize. His anorak, gloves, and cap lay neatly on the armchair. His tie lay on the bed pillow...and his suit jacket was nowhere to be seen.
He knew he'd thrown it on the bed before going outside earlier. Bodie got up and made a thorough search--wardrobe, chest of drawers, bathroom, underneath the bed. Nothing. The jacket was gone.
They must have left the door ajar before going outside earlier. Neither he nor Doyle had brought anything valuable with them, and they weren't exactly expecting Lumley's guests to ransack anyone's room, but obviously somebody had.
Or something. Bodie groaned as he remembered what he had left in the jacket pocket. Liver sausage sandwiches. And a wolfhound, like any hunting dog, would have a very keen sense of smell.
Bodie bolted down the hall and the stairs towards the kitchen. He'd brought that suit, the most expensive one he owned, to impress people with his Serious Journalist persona. It was worth half a month's pay.
Caution overtook him as he approached the kitchen door. He slowly pushed it open, peering around the edge. It looked empty of humans, at least. He stepped inside and was greeted by a deep growl. Across the room, the largest of the Wolfhound Three sat by the back door, the jacket between its huge paws, the pocket firmly gripped by very large teeth, guarding it from the other two, who hovered out of biting range.
Bodie glanced around for a weapon. On the kitchen counter lay a rolling pin. Knowing those Beasts, it would probably no more than stun them, he rationalized as he picked it up. "Here, pooch," he coaxed as he crept forward, "give us the jacket. Come on, be a good dog and drop it." The dog snarled, fangs bared, and it stood up, the jacket clenched between the vicious teeth. The other two dogs circled warily.
Bodie was close enough now to see the drool stains all down the front of the jacket. The sight did not make him happy. He shifted the heavy wooden rolling pin out of sight behind his back and took a few more steps forward. "Good doggie. Give me the jacket--"
The beast backed itself up against the door, tail down, head lowered, hackles raised. The growling increased in intensity. Bodie took a deep breath. One of the sleeves trailed on the floor. If he could reach down and grab it and yank hard while threatening the dog with the rolling pin, maybe the damn dog would let go. He slowly brought the pin from behind his back, holding it down to one side. Bodie had no intention of hitting the beast. He simply wanted to present a barrier other than his arm. Getting a good grip on the handle, he raised the rolling pin ever so slightly while taking another step closer. The dog growled. Saliva dropped from its lips onto the jacket.
Half a month's pay. Bodie bent down, his hand snaking out towards the sleeve end. His face was three feet from a mouthful of sharp teeth. "Good doggie," he whispered, raising the rolling pin a bit higher. He got his hand on the sleeve and gripped the cloth tightly. With a satisfied sense of impending victory, he balanced himself, ready to straighten, ready to tug with all his might, ready to put a rolling pin between himself and wolfhound jaws. And then Susan Solidarity walked out of the pantry ten feet away.
Bodie looked at her. She looked back. Her gaze fell on the rolling pin. The gaze turned into a solid glare. Bodie gulped. He had a clear choice. Get his jacket back more or less intact and be savaged by Susan, or let the dog savage his jacket and be left in peace. Bodie looked at the snarling jaws of the wolfhound. He looked at the baleful stare of Susan Solidarity. No contest. Sighing, he lowered the rolling pin. On the off chance the dog was merely overacting, he gave the jacket sleeve one experimental tug anyway, standing up and leaping back as he did so, out of bite range. The beast shook its head violently, ripped the sleeve out of Bodie's grasp, and bounded for a corner of the kitchen, where it calmly lay down to continue its shredding of the pocket. Bodie stayed where he was, studying the one sleeve button in his hand, the only souvenir from his life-and-death struggle. He sighed again, gave Susan a little smile, carefully placed the rolling pin back on the counter, and made his retreat.
Bodie returned to the bedroom to wait for Doyle. He sank onto the bed, put his hands over his eyes, and muttered to himself about the unfairness of life in general and this assignment in particular, and was still muttering darkly when Doyle strolled in a few minutes later. Bodie didn't bother looking up.
"Oi. What's the matter?" Doyle sat beside him.
Reluctantly, Bodie explained. When he lowered his hands to look at Doyle, he got a smirk in response. "It isn't funny, you know."
"Depends on whose jacket it is, doesn't it?" Doyle shook his head, a tolerant smile on his lips.
"I really hate those dogs," Bodie said. His one consolation was the fact that he would no longer need to impress anyone with his suited, professional journalist look. The only other outfit he'd brought was a casual slacks-and-pullover-sweater affair. "Oh, well. It's my fate to be abused by the Beasts."
"You must've been a dog catcher in a former life," Doyle said. "They can sense it."
"That would be a good theory if I believed in that sort of thing." Bodie turned his attention to the book in Doyle's hands. "So what did you choose?" He grabbed the large paperback Doyle had brought from the library. On the cover were two well-muscled, well-tanned, very blond young men in swimming trunks, arm in arm.
"It's the one I was reading when I fell asleep," Doyle replied.
"Lifeguard Lust? There were five thousand books in there and you picked Lifeguard Lust? Are you mad? There might've been something valuable in that library."
"But nothing as amusing." Doyle snatched the book back and waved it in the air. "Imagine that this book somehow makes its way surreptitiously into the CI5 rest room and gets left in plain view of anyone entering. Now imagine that it's inscribed, 'To Darling Murph, many thanks for the night of a lifetime.'"
Bodie gazed at Doyle with a new-found admiration. "Anybody ever tell you you're downright devious?"
"Yeah." Doyle stood and tossed the book on the bed. "You have. Many times. Come on, it's nearly time for the name drawing."
"Oh, damn." Bodie had almost forgotten the gift-giving game. He rose and headed for the bathroom. "I need a shower first. Too much sweating in the snow."
"Which reminds me," Doyle said as he followed, stopping in the open bathroom door to lean against the frame. "What'd you think of the summerhouse?"
"Not terribly interesting." Bodie stared at the bathtub with annoyance. "There's no shower."
Bodie frowned at him. Then he shrugged and turned on the taps, adjusting the temperature. If Doyle was actually going to stand there and talk to him the whole time, a bath would be better anyway, as it was somewhat more concealing. Very aware of his partner's continued presence, Bodie slowly stripped off his clothes as the tub filled with steaming water.
"I didn't notice any signs of disturbance," Doyle went on. "Or any signs of hidden weapons."
"Me neither." Bodie lowered himself into the hot bath, letting out a deep sigh of relaxation. He rested his head on the rear edge and simply lay there, soaking up the heat.
"Did you think it was odd the way Paul turned up to see what we were doing?"
Bodie closed his eyes. "You mean," he murmured, "he could be involved, and wanted to make sure we didn't find anything?"
"Right. Doesn't seem likely though, does it?"
"Nah. The guy seems more likely to start a Margaret Thatcher fan club. If he hasn't already." Bodie wriggled his toes. He opened his eyes to look for a flannel. "Hand me one of those, will you?" He nodded towards the towel rack near the door.
Doyle brought the flannel over, then sat on the toilet seat. "Want your back scrubbed?"
"I can manage, thank you." Bodie sat up to wash himself. "What are you doing in here, anyway?"
"Nothing. Just wanted to talk about the case. Why? Am I bothering you?"
"No," Bodie said quickly. "Not at all." He glanced over at Doyle, who sat with his thighs spread wide, straddling the toilet seat. Doyle's crotch, in its tightly sheathed denim, was right at Bodie's eye level. Bodie studiously returned to his washing, scrubbing diligently between his toes. "Why should you be bothering me?"
"Oh, I only wondered." Doyle sounded hesitant. "From what you said earlier, maybe you don't want to be this, um, cozy with each other."
Bodie pursed his lips as an unpleasant thought struck. Did Doyle want to get a reaction? It would be just like the teasing sod to actually enjoy trying to get a response from him. For whatever devious little reasons, Doyle was testing him. Fine. He wanted a reaction--maybe he'd get one. But probably not what he was looking for. Bodie decided that no matter what Doyle did or said, he would remain calm, casual, and in control. "Don't be ridiculous," he replied smoothly. "I like being cozy." He gave Doyle a warm smile, then left off his foot washing to rub his back, stretching as much as he could to reach all of it.
Doyle abruptly stood and headed for the door.
"Hang on," Bodie called, "where are you going?"
"Feel a bit sweaty, too." Doyle paused in the doorway. "Thought I'd put a clean shirt on."
"Come back here a second," Bodie said, determined to test his theory on Doyle's behavior a bit further. "There's a spot I can't quite reach." He held out the flannel.
Doyle bit his lower lip. "Thought you didn't need any help."
"Changed my mind." Bodie turned a little, exposing more of his back to Doyle, an open dare. If he was teasing me earlier, Bodie thought confidently, then I've neatly turned the tables on him.
"Yeah, all right." There was a new note of challenge in Doyle's tone. He walked over to the tub, perched on the edge, and took the flannel, dipping it in the water before rubbing it gently over Bodie's back. "How's that, then?"
"Perfect," Bodie replied. The smooth, sure touch sent a tingling through him. As the circular motion of Doyle's hand moved increasingly downward, Bodie suddenly felt a surge of adrenalin. The touch was more sensual than he might have liked. Dammit, Doyle was still trying to provoke him. Retain control, he told himself fiercely. Then Doyle rubbed the cloth across his lower back and a jolt of arousal shot through Bodie's groin. Hell. He drew his legs up and wrapped his arms around them. Don't let him know he's getting to you he ordered himself. Be cool. He swallowed and said, "As long you're there, you might as well give me a quick massage. My neck and shoulders are killing me."
The roving hands stopped. "What are you doing, Bodie?"
Uh-oh. Was Doyle calling him on it? "Nothing." Bodie rested his chin on his knees. "Told you. My neck hurts."
"Yeah, I'll bet." Despite the words, Doyle tossed the flannel aside and began kneading Bodie's neck and shoulders, stroking firmly. "You're doing this to me on purpose, aren't you?"
"Doing what?" Bodie asked cautiously. God, Doyle's hands felt good.
"You're teasing me."
"Am not. Ah--" Doyle had found a knot and was working hard on it. "'Sides, you started it."
"Me?" Doyle jabbed his thumb at the knot and Bodie let out a yelp. "I wasn't doing anything."
"No?" Bodie took a series of deep breaths as Doyle continued his vigorous stroking. "Watching me get into the bath, asking if I wanted a back scrub...asking if you were bothering me...practically sticking your crotch in my face...ow!" Bodie twisted away as Doyle jammed into another knot. "Watch it!"
"Sorry." Doyle grinned at him.
"You bastard." Bodie splashed some water Doyle's way, scoring a hit on the side of his face.
"No fair." Doyle wiped the water off. "You've got all the ammunition."
"Then behave yourself." Bodie turned his back towards him again.
"Couldn't help it." Doyle resumed the massage, much gentler this time. "You annoy the hell out of me sometimes."
"It's mutual." Bodie relaxed again, letting the soothing hands ease the tension in his muscles. "Honesty, Ray, remember? You want to tell me what's going on in that head of yours?"
"Don't know," Doyle replied softly, all challenge and teasing gone. The massage turned into a caress as his fingers slowly drifted over Bodie's back. "Something happened earlier, at the summerhouse." He paused. "I mean, the first time. In the snowstorm."
Bodie shivered. "You mean when I kissed you?"
There was a lengthy silence. Doyle's hands eventually came to rest on Bodie's shoulders. "I'm not sure what's going on," Doyle said. "Sometimes I want to be as near to you as I can get, and sometimes I want to run as far away as I can. Don't know what I want, don't know what you want...don't know how I feel anymore." He hesitated again. "Guess I'm playing games 'cause I don't know how else to handle it."
Curious, Bodie turned his head to gaze up at Doyle. "What happened?" he asked, focusing on Doyle's first statement. "What happened when I kissed you?"
Doyle rose and crossed to the door. He pulled a towelling robe off the rack and held it out. "Come on, you've been in there long enough."
Bodie released the drain and obediently climbed out of the tub, allowing Doyle to wrap the soft robe around him. As Doyle started to pull away, Bodie grasped his wrists and held him. He stared intently at Doyle's face and was startled to see something in Doyle's wide eyes that he rarely saw. Fear. "What happened?" he repeated.
"I liked it," Doyle said simply. Then he jerked his wrists free and shook his head. "I don't know what I'm saying." He turned towards the door again.
Bodie grabbed him by the shoulders. "Ray--"
"Let me go." Doyle shrugged free and bolted into the bedroom, Bodie right on his heels. He crossed to the wardrobe, yanked it open, and tugged a shirt from its hanger. Bodie, shaken by this unexpected development, stared helplessly as Doyle stripped off his shirt and hurriedly pulled on the new one. He liked it.... Bodie's earlier determination that this was all a passing phase slowly dissolved. The more he looked at Doyle, standing there with his shirt half- buttoned, soft whorls of hair down the taut chest, a brownish- pink nipple peeking through, the more Bodie knew just how much he wanted him. And how much he needed him, and how he wouldn't be able to rest now that he knew it was possible.
Doyle's tantalizing chest disappeared as he finished buttoning the shirt. "Get dressed," he ordered. "We have to go down for the name-drawing."
Bodie silently crossed to the chest of drawers to retrieve his pullover sweater and his other pair of slacks. He grabbed clean underpants and socks, then went to sit on the bed to towel himself dry before quickly putting his clothes on. He didn't look at Doyle until he slipped into his shoes and stood up, ready to go. "Okay. Let's get down there." He went to the door and held it open, gesturing for Doyle to go on ahead. Doyle started to, then halted, half in and half out of the room, turning to stare at Bodie. Bodie waited, one hand on the doorknob, his face mere inches from Doyle's. He saw Doyle's intensely puzzled eyes, and his slightly parted lips. "What do you want, Ray?" he said, responding with a openly sensual expression. "Do you want me to kiss you again?"
"Yes...no." Doyle shook his head. "I don't know."
Bodie glanced down at the slight swell of Doyle's crotch. Probably it was nothing more than his partner's overactive libido getting out of control. He wasn't ready to deal with a randy Doyle who was simply feeling sexually experimental as well as totally confused. When Doyle truly wanted him as much as he wanted Doyle, then something would happen, but not before. He changed his expression to one of utter blandness and said, "Well, when you figure it out, be sure to tell me, okay?" Then he shoved past, pushing Doyle off the threshold, shut the door, and walked on down the hall.
Doyle stared at the name he'd drawn. Paul Stuart. Terrific. What sort of silly gift was he supposed to find for Lumley's nephew? The only thing he really knew about Paul was that he admired the prime minister. It wasn't a lot to go on.
He sat on the drawing-room settee and watched the others pull their names. Lumley had bowed out of the game to make an even number of people. Doyle watched Bodie draw his slip of paper, saw him frown as he read it. Then Bodie came over to slump down beside him on the settee.
"Who'd you get?" Doyle asked.
Bodie crumpled the paper. "Supposed to be a secret."
"Ah, come on. I'll tell you mine. I got the nephew."
"Then you've got it easy, mate. Just give him a bunch of Northbrook's pamphlets."
"Too obvious," Doyle replied, feeling that, in the spirit of the game, he ought to make a more challenging choice. "Don't know much about him, though."
"Ask Lumley. He's sitting out, that makes him a neutral party."
"Good idea. Think I'll do that." Doyle, slightly cheered, jostled Bodie's arm. "Come on, tell me who you got. It's not me, is it?"
"No." Bodie handed the paper over.
Doyle smoothed it out. He suppressed a guffaw as he read the name on it--Susan Solidarity. "Oh, that's rich. Maybe you can find a muzzle or three to give her."
"Shut up." Bodie snatched the paper back and stuffed it in his trouser pocket. "You gotta help me with this."
"No, I don't. You're on your own, mate."
"Oh, ta very much." Bodie gave him a hurt look.
Relenting a bit, Doyle said, "Ask Colleen. She knows Susan pretty well."
"That's true." Bodie looked somewhat happier.
Everyone had drawn their names. Lumley, standing in the center of the room, clapped his hands. "Now remember, you can use any object in the house that's smaller than a bread box. These are gag gifts, so you won't be keeping them, unless of course you truly want to, I suppose. I've put wrapping paper in everyone's room--do wrap the gift, put the person's name on it, and hide it in their room. And remember to leave your doors open. No one gets to open their gift until we meet back here at eight for the party and the guessing game. Naturally, most of you brought real presents to give each other, and we'll hand those out right after. Now, to make this as exciting as possible we've added a couple of interesting resources to further your clandestine activities. First, we've placed a number of man-sized, leafy plants along the guest wing corridor for hiding behind. And second, I've put torches in your rooms as well as a map of all the secret passageways in the west wing."
Bodie's ears pricked up. "Secret passages?"
"Oh, my, yes," Lumley replied, clapping his hands gleefully. "The house is positively riddled with the things. The original builders were quite mad about them. They're truly wonderful, though I must warn all of you that most of them are a tad musty. Now, then, let's all have some fun!"
"Hmpf," Bodie muttered. "Fun."
"Cheer up," Doyle replied. "Could be worse. You could've gotten Northbrook the Lecher. Or Rupert Flax. Or one of the Hunts."
It was Doyle's turn to look hurt. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Doyle swore he saw a flicker of pain cross Bodie's face. But then Bodie shrugged nonchalantly and said, "Nothing. Just never know what to get you."
"Yeah?" Doyle looked over at the Christmas tree in the corner, where a pile of brightly-wrapped packages sat, gifts for the real present-giving. He had snuck the gift he'd bought earlier in the week for Bodie underneath the tree, and he was certain Bodie had done the same. "Didn't you get me anything good this year?"
Bodie smiled. "Got you a muffler."
Doyle caught the twinkle in his eye. "Liar."
"Yeah, well, you'll have to wait 'til this evening to find out what I got you, won't you?"
"Okay. Have it your way." Doyle stood up. "Think I'll go chat with Lumley about Paul."
"Hang on. Let's divvy up the rooms first."
Doyle turned to look down at him. "Hm?"
"The guest rooms," Bodie said patiently. "They'll all have their doors wide open for the next three hours. Might be a good idea to search them." His eyes widened. "Don't tell me you hadn't thought about doing that?"
"Of course I did." In truth, Doyle had had too many other things on his mind recently to give the case his full attention. But he was hardly going to let Bodie know it. "It's simple," he said with an air of confidence he didn't entirely feel, "you take all the rooms on one side of the hallway and I'll take the ones on the other."
Bodie rubbed a hand across his chin. "I'll take the ones on the same side as our room, all right?"
"What about Richard and Geoffrey's room? It's on the ground floor."
"You can take it," Doyle offered.
"Anytime. What about those secret passageways? You want to check 'em out?"
"Not while everyone else is in them," Bodie replied. "We'll do it later."
"Okay." Doyle checked his watch. It had just gone five. "Why don't we meet in our room at seven, see how things are going."
For some reason, Doyle kept standing there, staring down at Bodie, unable to move. Ever since leaving the bedroom, he'd wanted desperately to clear things up between them, but he didn't know where to start, or how. Bodie gazed back up at him with a puzzled yet tolerant expression, and Doyle felt a sudden ache inside. They were on such tricky ground--every word, every act, every look could possibly harm the friendship they had. The last thing he wanted was to lose anything through carelessness, or to destroy anything from his own confusion. He could hurt Bodie so easily. And that knowledge caused the ache within.
"Ray?" Bodie's voice was low and soft. "Try focusing on the op, okay? It makes thing easier."
"Sorry." Doyle took a calming breath. "But this is important."
"I know. We'll sort it out. I know you're confused right now, and it's my fault." Bodie reached out to grasp Doyle's hand, squeezing it gently. "I'm too fond of you for my own good. Or yours."
"Don't say that. Isn't anybody's fault." Doyle, oddly touched by the impulsive gesture, squeezed his fingers in return, then circled his thumb across the back of Bodie's hand. He moved to sit on the arm of the settee, keeping Bodie's hand in his, turned to face him. "Used to think I knew myself pretty well," he said carefully. "Thought I knew what I wanted in life. And what I needed. Thought I had it, too. A job I liked, good friends, comfortable place to live, and a new bird every few weeks." He paused. "Sounds too simple, doesn't it?"
"But that's the way life is," Bodie replied, tightening his grip on Doyle's hand, "if you never think about the future."
"Don't like to think about it," Doyle said. "Used to take it for granted that you'd always be a part of it. And now I just don't know, and it scares me." He bit his lip, trying to hold back his emotions. "Dammit, Bodie, I told you this wouldn't change our friendship--" A sense of helplessness seized him. "I don't want to ruin everything."
"You do realize," Bodie said, attempting a lighter tone, "that there are other people in this room?"
"Don't care." Nonetheless, Doyle glanced around the drawing room. "None of 'em are paying any attention to us." He took another deep breath, determined to go on with this until his world made some sense again. "I don't know what to do. I feel as if everything is fine between us one minute, and then the next, everything is going wrong. I don't even know how to act around you anymore. To hell with knowing what I want-- maybe I just need to know what you want."
A tremor ran through Doyle as he saw the wave of desire cross Bodie's face. "I want to go to bed with you," Bodie said.
Doyle caught his breath, then let it out slowly. "Thought it was only a passing phase."
"Well, it isn't passing fast enough," Bodie replied sharply. "Listen, Ray, I don't want to ruin anything, either. But I can't lie to you or myself any longer. I want you." He stood and pulled Doyle up to face him, mere inches apart. Doyle, mesmerized, stayed absolutely still as Bodie cupped a hand round his cheek and leaned in to kiss him.
Doyle found it impossible to resist the touch, opening his mouth to Bodie, allowing the probing tongue to explore every surface and tasting Bodie in return, reveling in the sudden closeness. And then Bodie pulled back, leaving him bereft. Doyle quickly turned to kiss Bodie's palm as Bodie withdrew his hand from Doyle's cheek.
"Dammit," Doyle whispered, "don't do this to me." He wanted more, he didn't want to let Bodie go, and yet he was afraid of what it would mean to hold on.
"Don't do what?" Bodie asked. "Be your friend? Be your lover?" He brushed a finger across Doyle's lips. "Because that's what I want. And I want to be completely clear about that. No more confusion--at least, not for me."
"That's just great," Doyle said, still flushed and flustered from the kiss. "And what about me, then? What the hell am I supposed to do?"
"You," Bodie replied calmly, "are supposed to go talk to Lumley about a gift, and I am supposed to talk to Colleen. I'll see you at seven." He released Doyle's hand and started to move away, then stopped to turn back. "And in the meantime, consider thinking about the future once in a while."
Doyle stared after him as Bodie moved swiftly across the room to catch up Colleen, who was heading out. The two of them left together.
The future? Hell. Doyle shook his head. What, precisely, did Bodie mean by that? The immediate future? Something beyond that? No, he couldn't possibly mean anything like that. There was only one obvious and immediate future possibility--going to bed with Bodie, having sex with him. Judging by his body's responses so far, Doyle knew it could happen, sensed that it would happen. He shivered. The way Bodie kissed him was electrifying. To have more--to lose himself in the sheer sensuality and strength of Bodie's touch, to touch him completely--it could be incredible sex. But surely it couldn't be anything more. No, that wasn't Bodie's style. He didn't commit, he didn't form relationships. All he ever wanted was the experience. Easy-going, carefree Bodie, that was how he had always been. And that's how it would be- -an experience, a one-time thing, get the physical longing out of his system and that would be the end of it.
Which was fine with Doyle. He had no intention of going beyond one experimental night, not with Bodie. It simply wasn't possible for Bodie to have meant a future together, not that way. A future as friends, yes. They'd have some fun here, end all the wondering by simply doing it, then finish the assignment and go home to London, where they would surely resume the familiar old patterns. That was the only future that made sense.
Doyle sighed. He shook his head again, not wanting to think about any of it anymore, not now. Reminding himself that he was supposed to be working, he headed across the room towards Lumley.
Six towering, thick-leaved potted plants stood ranged along the corridor walls, three for each side, providing excellent cover for proper skulking.
Doyle appreciated Lumley's thoughtfulness as he stood behind a plant, waiting for the coast to clear. He'd chosen the hallway for his mission on the theory that everyone else would be tempted to try the hidden passages, and thus he wouldn't run as great a risk of bumping into someone. But he'd only made it halfway to his target--Paul Stuart's room-- when he'd heard voices and had to duck behind the concealing foliage. The voices belonged to Northbrook and Colleen, and it was soon obvious that Colleen had caught Northbrook in her room. Doyle clutched the gift he'd just finished wrapping up for Stuart, pretended to be a statue, and listened to the conversation.
"No, you're wrong," Northbrook was saying. "I went into your room in error. I'm not your person, honest."
"Nonsense," Colleen replied. "I caught you red-handed. You hid this box in there."
"I didn't. It was already in there."
"Come now, David. I can always tell when you're lying. Your nose wrinkles up and your pull on your left earlobe. I saw you doing the same thing at last month's meeting, when Tyler was quizzing you."
"I wasn't lying then, either!" Northbrook's high-pitched voice grew insistent. "That was merely creative phrasing. Tyler has no right to question our tactics."
"Your tactics, David. Not our tactics."
"Oh, yes, that's a fine way to put it. Always changing your tune, you are. What's the matter, haven't you got the stomach for it? You never used to be squeamish about a little blood."
"Then maybe I have changed. Those kinds of attacks don't work. They only serve to turn people against us."
"And sometimes they wake people up!"
"Forget it, David. I'm not going to get you to understand, so why go on about it--"
The voices faded as the two moved off down the hallway and down the stairs. It was a conversation which would definitely need following up. Can't handle a little blood? What had Northbrook meant by that? Clearly they were talking about a meeting of the Anti-Fascist Society, but what, precisely, were these tactics Northbrook seemed so fond of?
Well, it would have to wait. Right now Doyle had a mission to complete. He poked his head round the plant. All clear. Quickly scurrying past the plant and along the wall, he safely slid into Stuart's room. Now, where to put the stupid present. Doyle didn't feel like sticking around long, so he chose the simplest hiding spot--the wardrobe. The gift was a tin of fruitcake. Lumley had told him about a particularly embarrassing moment from Paul's childhood which involved a few rude but honest comments on a favorite aunt's traditional Christmas fruitcake, and promised that such a present would bring a flush to his nephew's cheeks. Then he'd helped Doyle find some of the stuff buried in the back of the pantry.
Relieved to have got the most difficult part of the game out of the way, Doyle opened the wardrobe and shoved the wrapped-up tin in the back. Stuart's room was on his designated side of the hall, so he went ahead and made a quick search of the wardrobe's contents. Nothing but clothes-- a few expensive shirts, good pair of shoes, and a heavy overcoat. There were no suits, and Doyle wondered if Stuart had put all his money into the elegant navy blue one he'd been wearing today. Perhaps the young man wanted to impress everyone with how well he was doing, and perhaps it was really a front.
Doyle checked the pockets of the coat and found a set of car keys, an ordinance map of the area, a Swiss Army knife, and a standard-issue RAF wristwatch. Doyle put everything back in the pockets. It didn't surprise him that Stuart had an interest in things military; it seemed to fit his love of Conservative politics and his American Army Jeep-driving image. An odd young man.
There was nothing of interest in the rest of the room. Satisfied, Doyle peered through the open doorway. The hallway was empty. Unless, of course, someone was hiding behind one of the plants. Deciding to ignore the possibility, Doyle worked his way down the hallway to continue his search of the rooms.
Bodie entered their bedroom at precisely seven o'clock to find Doyle sitting cross-legged on the bed with his nose buried in Lifeguard Lust.
Doyle slammed the book shut at the sight of Bodie. "'ello. Has it gone seven already?" He glanced at his watch.
Suppressing a strong urge to leap on his partner right there and then, Bodie composed his thoughts, walked quite deliberately to the armchair, and sat down. "Time flies," he said. He spied two Christmas packages on the bed pillow beside Doyle. "Are those our pressies?"
"Got it in one." Doyle picked up the smaller package and tossed it across. "Found that under the bed."
Bodie caught it with one hand. There was a piece of plain white paper taped to the front with "Mr. Bodie" written in an unadorned style. He shook the gift. "Doesn't weigh a thing. Feels as if there's nothing inside. Don't suppose you saw anyone going into our room while you were sneaking about the hallway?"
"Me neither." Bodie turned the package every which way, tried to feel through the paper, but all it did was make empty squishing sounds. He shrugged and gave up. "What'd you get?"
Doyle picked up the larger package. "Feels like a book."
"Ah. The companion to Lifeguard Lust, no doubt." Bodie grinned. "Make interesting reading, does it?"
"Yeah, well, it's not like there's anything else to read around here," Doyle protested. "Other than a pile of Northbrook's pamphlets on the virtues of socialism."
"Good old David." Bodie had searched Northbrook's room earlier. "You know what I found on his nightstand?"
Bodie shook his head.
"Mao's little red book?"
Doyle squinched up his eyes and rubbed his chin. "101 Ways to Make Money Without Being a Capitalist Pig?"
"Close," Bodie replied. "But a bit more amusing."
"Okay, I give up. What was it?"
"The Complete Works of Beatrix Potter."
Bodie shook his head. "I swear on my mother's grave."
"She's still alive," Doyle pointed out.
"Well, I would if I could."
"Uh-huh, I'll bet." Doyle uncurled from his cross-legged position, stretching out his limbs. "That could explain why David and Colleen don't get on."
Doyle told him about the conversation he'd overheard in the hallway. "How much you want to bet he hasn't taken her anti- library book campaign seriously, and she's getting back at him by trying to block his suggestions to the AFS?"
"Could be," Bodie said. "Wonder what he meant by the reference to blood? Nobody's ever traced any violent acts to the AFS so far."
"We'll have to find out." Doyle drew his legs up and clasped his arms around them. "Did you find anything interesting in anyone else's room?"
"Yeah. Julia Hunt has a vibrator. And Susan Solidarity has a tattered banner from a 1969 antiwar march over her bed." Bodie opted not to mention what he'd found in Richard and Geoffrey's room--a large supply of K-Y jelly--nor the fact that he'd nicked a tube. "What did you find?"
"Rupert Flax and the Moonglows have adjoining rooms," Doyle replied.
Bodie nodded. "Bet he's doin' both of 'em."
"Shocking, isn't it?" Doyle grinned.
"Sort of depends," Bodie said thoughtfully, "on whether he's doin' 'em one at a time, or together."
"'Fraid I didn't catch 'em in the act," Doyle said with an air of regret. "So I couldn't tell you."
"Pity." Bodie briefly imagined the three pagans in bed together, and shuddered.
"I can tell you that Rupert has a previously unsuspected bent for things poetic."
"Is that right? Secretly penning poems in his spare time, is he?"
"One poem," Doyle said. "I found an enormous manuscript in his room, must've been three hundred pages. It was all one long work. Called 'Ode to Priapus'. From what I could figure out, it's one giant orgy in rhyming couplets."
"Priapus, eh? As in priapismic?" Bodie felt quite familiar with the term, having looked it up once after being teased by Doyle. "Might explain his attempt to get into the summerhouse. Maybe he needed some inspiration."
"Or is simply obsessed with things phallic," Doyle replied.
"He's nothing more than a randy old goat," Bodie decided. What he couldn't understand was what any woman, even a Moonglow, would see in an overweight, nonverbal, orange- haired natural foods chef. "Wonder if there's something in brown rice?"
"Nah," Doyle said. "I heard it was wheat germ."
Curious, Bodie asked, "Who told you that?"
"This bird named Lydia." Doyle sighed. "She had this terrific body." He paused. "But she kept trying to get me to eat plain yogurt all the time, with wheat germ sprinkled on it." He wrinkled his nose. "You ever tried plain yogurt? It's disgusting. And she put wheat germ on everything I ate. She even brought a little jar of it to restaurants to sprinkle on the food." He shook his head. "Oh, well."
"Did it work?" Bodie asked.
Ever patient, Bodie said, "The wheat germ. Did it--you know- -make you randier--"
"Oh, that." Doyle let out another little sigh. "Nope, not that I noticed." Then he raised an eyebrow at Bodie. "Not that I need anything like that."
"No." Bodie narrowed his eyes and shifted to a softer, sensuous tone. "You certainly don't need any help in that department."
"Stuff it, Bodie."
I'd love to, Bodie thought before checking himself. Calm down. There's plenty of time. Wait 'til he's ready, for chrissakes. He cleared his throat and sat up a bit more in the chair. "So what else did you find?"
"Hm? Oh, nothing else of interest in the pagans' rooms. Or in Colleen's. Paul Stuart has some military paraphernalia." He described the contents of Stuart's coat pockets.
"If he's into the military, he's into weapons," Bodie said.
"Yeah. I didn't find a gun in his room, but he probably wouldn't leave one lying around. If he does like guns, then this estate would be a good place to do some target shooting."
"If Lumley allowed it," Bodie replied. "Are you thinking that cartridge was Paul's? That he came out here at some point to practice shooting, and got careless with his ammunition?"
Doyle shrugged. "Could be. It doesn't necessarily come from the stolen arms."
"No," Bodie agreed, not that he cared for the idea. If they were completely wrong about the arms even being on the estate, then Cowley would not be pleased. "What did you get him, anyway?"
"Paul? A fruitcake. Lumley promised he wouldn't like it. What'd you get Susan?"
Bodie hesitated. "You don't really want to know, do you?"
Doyle merely raised two incredulous eyebrows.
"Yeah, okay." Bodie cleared his throat again. "Remember Colleen said someone gave her a sexy nightie last year? Well, she ended up getting to keep it, though she claims she didn't really want to. Anyway, she brought it with her this year in the hope that she could embarrass somebody else with it, but the person she got wasn't appropriate. So she loaned it to me."
Bodie couldn't recall when he'd last seen Doyle's eyes get so wide. "You gave Susan Solidarity a sexy nightie?"
"It's perfect," Bodie replied, feeling defensive. "I'm the last person she'll suspect."
"Or the first, for having such incredibly poor taste."
"Poor taste? Me?"
"Wouldn't be the first time," Doyle said.
"Thanks a bunch, mate. I'll have you know Colleen thought of it. She thinks it's a terrific idea."
"Exactly," Doyle said triumphantly. "Think about it. You're taking advice in matters of taste from someone who believes that Peter Rabbit is a crime against humanity."
"Oh." Bodie's certainty of the rightness of the gift abruptly dissolved. "Put like that, I see your point. Damn."
"Too late to get it back, I suppose?"
Bodie nodded glumly. "Saw Susan going into her room right before I came here." He slumped in the chair, resigned. "Doesn't matter. It's not as if it will seriously alter our relationship. She already hates me."
"That's true. Got on her bad side from the very beginning, didn't you?"
"Yeah." Bodie thought back to his initial encounter with Ms. Solidarity. "It was distaste at first sight."
They lapsed into silence. Then, out of nowhere, Bodie's stomach let go with a tremendous rumble.
"Don't worry," Doyle said, "I'm sure they'll feed us at the party."
"Hope I can hold out that long."
Doyle smiled sweetly. "I know where there's some fruitcake."
"I'll hold out," Bodie replied.
When Bodie entered the drawing room at eight o'clock, he made straight for the food-laden table which stood beside the Christmas tree. Doyle trailed behind, putting a few items on his plate while Bodie loaded his with massive portions of everything in sight.
"Watch it," he whispered as Bodie's hand hovered over a plateful of sandwiches, "might be liver sausage in those."
Bodie leaned in close to sniff them. "Tuna fish." He grabbed a handful and moved on.
Doyle finished with his selection and turned around to see Colleen beckoning to him. He went to join her on the sofa.
"Is that alcoholic?" Doyle nodded at the punchbowl sitting on the coffee table.
"Champagne and orange juice," Colleen replied.
"Good." Doyle ladled a good portion into a glass and sipped it. "I need this."
A look of concern crossed her face. "Aren't you enjoying the house party?"
"Oh, the house party's fine." Doyle nibbled at the food on his plate between large sips of champagne. "I've just had a lot of things on my mind lately. You know, having to change my whole life to move up here, trying to find work." He looked over to the settee, where Bodie had taken a seat next to David Northbrook. "And finding out a few things about someone I thought I knew pretty well."
Colleen gave his knee a light pat. "He's treating you all right, isn't he?"
"Yeah," Doyle replied. He thought about the abundance of affection and concern Bodie had shown him that day. "More than all right." He gave Colleen a reassuring look. "It's me. Sometimes I feel confused about what I really want."
"Doesn't everyone?" she said.
"Oh," he replied innocently, "you mean I'm not alone?"
She made a tsk-tsking sound. "Now, don't tease, Ray. You do realize that you do that whenever you want to get out of a serious conversation, don't you?"
Doyle blinked, surprised at her astuteness. "Well, maybe I'm not a very serious person--"
"Yes, you are," she said firmly.
He stared into his champagne glass, then took a large swallow.
"I'll tell you what helps me," Colleen went on.
"Helps you what?" Doyle looked at her, curious.
"In figuring out what I truly want. Whenever I'm faced with a big decision, or some kind of potential risk, I always try to imagine myself ten years in the future, looking back on the moment of choice. Then I ask myself if I'm looking back with satisfaction, or with regret."
Doyle gazed absently at his feet. There was that damn future again. "And does that work?"
"Well, I haven't had any regrets so far."
"Must be working then."
"Yes," she said simply.
Picking idly at his food, Doyle looked over at Bodie again. What would it be like to lie beside him, naked and aroused? Doyle had been having second, third, and fourth thoughts about sex with Bodie. Now he wondered yet again as he thought over what Colleen had suggested. He tried to imagine himself ten years from now, not terribly happy with the idea. He'd be in his forties, probably retired from active duty. Would he still be with CI5 in some other capacity? Doyle had trouble visualizing what he'd be doing otherwise. Frowning, he tried to see the other aspects of his life. Would he be living alone? Would Bodie still be coming by for regular pub crawls? And the most important question--would he be looking back at this night wondering what it would have been like to go to bed with his best mate, or would he look back and know the answer?
Doyle finished his drink, then picked up the punch bowl ladle and filled the glass again. He did want to know what it would be like. But he was damn well going to fortify himself first.
"Hm?" He brought his attention back to Colleen.
"You mentioned looking for work. I wanted to talk to you about that. Have you found anything permanent yet?"
He shook his head.
"Well," she said, "I know it's not much, but I could use you at the bookshop a while longer. Katherine's going on holiday for a fortnight, and there's an important conference in early January I'd like to go to. Do you think you could handle things on your own for a few days while I'm away?"
"'Course I can." He hated to get her hopes up by committing to it, but he had to keep his cover going. He doubted they would be in Oxford past New Year's. If they didn't find any sign of the arms soon, Cowley would pull them back to London.
"Good," Colleen replied. "I might even have some work after I get back. We do inventory in mid-January."
Trying to sound genuinely interested rather than nosy, Doyle said, "What sort of conference is it?"
"Oh, I'm not actually attending. It's the big Labor Party meeting in Blackpool. There will be a number of very influential MPs there. I'd like to try talking to a few of them about the Protect Our Children Society."
"Ah. I see." Doyle knew about the Labor meeting. It had been one of many items mentioned at a general CI5 briefing earlier that month. A tip had come through about a group of right- wing extremists possibly disrupting the proceedings. If it wasn't one group of nutters they were chasing after, it was another. Things would never change.
Doyle picked at his food while keeping up a flow of mindless chatter with Colleen about children's books. The rest of the guests and their hosts had by now arrived, and the next half hour was spent in eating, drinking, and idle conversation. Doyle had finished his second glass of punch by the time Lumley called for everyone's attention.
"Has everyone got the gift they received?" he asked.
Doyle glanced down at the present he'd set on the coffee table. He hoped whatever it was wasn't too obscene.
"Good, good," Lumley went on after getting nods from everyone. "We'll open them one at a time, going around the room. Who'd like to start? Geoffrey, be a sport and get things off and running."
Geoffrey dutifully unwrapped his gift, producing a long, cylindrical object. "'Super Deluxe Personal Massager'," he read off the handle. "Hm. I think I could make some use of this."
"That's not mine, is it?" Lumley peered intently at it.
"No, no, different brand. Wonder where it came from?"
Doyle looked over at Julia Hunt, and saw her blushing.
"Most amusing," Lumley said. "Who's next--Esther?"
Esther Moonglow ripped off the wrapping paper to reveal a cassette. "'All-Time Favorite Christmas Carols'." She smiled. "That is a silly thing to give a pagan."
Julia and Graham Hunt were sitting next to Esther. They opened their gifts simultaneously.
"Oh, a box of chocolates," Julia cried with delight. "How simply scrumptious." She turned adoring eyes on her husband. "You must have been my person. Weren't you, darling?"
"Clever girl," Graham replied. He held up the bottle of massage oil he'd been given. "And you must have been mine."
"Of course I was, dear." They gave each other a peck on the cheek.
Doyle tried to keep the look of nausea off his face.
Colleen went next. She carefully removed the gift wrap from around a small carton, then opened the box to pull out a cup and saucer. "Dear me." She held up the cup for all to see. It was decorated with illustrations from Beatrix Potter. "I think I know who gave me this." She cast a suspicious glare at Northbrook.
It was Doyle's turn. He slowly tore open his package. It was a book, all right. As he looked at the cover, he felt a flush creep up his face.
"Don't be shy," Lumley said. "Do tell us the title."
Reluctantly, Doyle read it off. "'The Joys of Anal Sex.'" He heard a snort of laughter from Bodie's direction and scowled at him.
"That's the best one we've had so far," Lumley pronounced. "Who's next--Emily, do open yours."
Emily's gift turned out to be a Christmas tree ornament depicting the baby Jesus, at which she wrinkled her pagan nose.
Then Rupert tore into his present, revealing another book-- How To Cook for Beginners. He growled at it.
Paul unveiled the fruitcake. He blushed briefly, then gave his uncle a look. "I'm never going to live that incident down, am I?"
"It's all in good fun, Paul," Lumley replied. "All in good fun."
Then it was time for Susan to unwrap hers. Doyle grinned at Bodie's discomfiture as she gasped at the contents. "Well, I never," she said as she turned the nightie this way and that. "This is disgraceful. I mean, it's so...so...personal."
Lumley repeated his injunction that it was all good fun. Susan gave the nightie a look of utter distaste and tucked it back in its wrapping.
Northbrook was next in line. His gift was a bottle of hair oil.
Doyle watched the frown form on the bald man's face. Then Northbrook gallantly switched to a forced smile and said, "Yes, yes, that's quite amusing." He gave Paul Stuart a suspicious look.
That left Bodie. Doyle leaned forward as Bodie opened the small package. He fervently hoped it was more embarrassing than his own.
Bodie held up his gift--a clear plastic packet with something inside which Doyle couldn't make out from across the room. "What is it?" he asked.
"Condoms," Bodie replied. Doyle detected a faint blush. "Special King-Size," Bodie continued, "with a French tickler." Then he looked at Lumley and smiled. "Mind if I keep these?"
"Oh, by all means. We have lots more where those came from."
"Thanks." Bodie looked directly at Doyle and grinned.
Doyle felt the flush return to his face. Bastard, he thought. But somehow he couldn't help but grin back.
"Well, that's everyone," Lumley said cheerfully. "Now for the guessing part. You all need to stand up. Come on, everybody up. That's it, good, good. Now, on the count of ten, you must hand your gift to the person you think gave it to you. If you're correct, you get to sit down. If you're wrong, the person gives the gift back to you and you have to try again. Last person standing loses. Ready?"
Lumley slowly counted to ten while Doyle stared at The Joys of Anal Sex, wondering who on earth gave it to him. By the count of eight, he'd narrowed it down to Colleen or Geoffrey, and on ten, he turned to hand the book to Colleen. She handed it back. "Sorry."
On the next round he tried Geoffrey, who immediately confessed. Elated, Doyle sat down, pleased to see Bodie still standing, looking utterly bewildered. And he was still looking bewildered after everyone else had figured their person out. "Shit," he muttered.
"I'm afraid you lose," Lumley announced. "Who was Mr. Bodie's gift giver?"
Rupert Flax raised his hand.
Doyle burst out laughing at his partner's shocked expression.
"That means," Lumley went on, "that you have to hand out the real presents." He crossed to a side table to pick up a large red and white Santa hat. "And you have to wear this." He started over to Bodie, who fixed him with a smoldering glare.
"Come on, Bodie," Doyle called out. "Be fair."
Bodie turned the glare in his direction. Then he stomped over to the coffee table, filled up a glass from the punch bowl, and gulped the contents down in one long, noisy swallow. He strode back to Lumley, snatched the hat, and stuck it on his head. "Okay, I'm ready."
Doyle decided it was time for his third glass of champagne.
As Doyle fingered the soft, thick wool of the blue-green muffler, he said, "You knew all along, you bastard." He smiled fondly at Bodie, who now sat on the sofa beside him, his present-giving duties finished, the silly Santa hat discarded.
"Can't think what you mean," Bodie replied.
"The muffler you gave me last year," Doyle said. "You knew all along that I had to throw it away, didn't you?"
"Yeah," Bodie admitted. "Wanted to keep you guessing, though."
"Well, you did." Doyle rubbed the plush material against his cheek, then wrapped the muffler around his neck, luxuriating in its warmth. "It's perfect. Thanks." He put his arm around Bodie's shoulders and hugged him. "Go on. Open yours."
"Okay." Bodie eagerly shredded the paper of his gift. He pulled out a pair of black leather gloves. Checking them over, he said admiringly, "How'd you know?"
"Spotted you eyeing 'em in a shop window earlier this month," Doyle replied. "And I noticed your current pair are getting worn."
"They are indeed." Bodie brought the gloves to his nose and inhaled deeply. "Ah...there's nothing like the smell of new leather." He pulled the gloves on and flexed his fingers.
"Didn't know you'd get so excited," Doyle said.
"Ah, Raymond, my son," Bodie murmured, cupping Doyle's face in a leather-clad hand, "did I neglect to tell you about my little fetish?"
"Don't tease. I've had enough shocks for one holiday." Doyle pushed Bodie's hand away, though the pungent aroma of leather lingered.
"All right," Bodie said reluctantly. He tugged the gloves off. "It is good stuff, though."
Doyle sniffed the air, admitting to himself that it was an enticing aroma, but unwilling to pursue that line of thought any further. His life was far too complicated already.
"Best Christmas present I got this year," Bodie said. He hugged Doyle back. "'Course, it's the only present I got this year."
"What? No bottle of scotch from Cowley?"
"That's never a present," Bodie replied. "That's a bribe."
"Yeah, you're right." Doyle leaned forward to grab his champagne glass from the table, then leaned back again, his arm still draped around Bodie's shoulders, head lolling gently against his. He felt warm and comfortable and affectionate.
Bodie's hand dropped onto his thigh, squeezing it lightly. "Can't stay like this all night, you know."
"Why not?" Doyle replied muzzily. "Feels nice."
"Because we're not here to feel nice," Bodie reminded him. "We're here to mingle. We need to talk more with these idiots. Try to steer the conversation into politics, see if anybody goes over the top on anything interesting."
Doyle only half-listened. "Don't want to mingle. Want to drink more champagne."
"Oh, yeah? And how's that going to be listed in our report? 'Tested the structural properties inherent in fermented grapes'?"
Sighing, Doyle lifted his head a bit and turned to look Bodie in the eye. "All I want is a little alcohol to set the proper mood."
"The proper mood for what?" Bodie replied.
Doyle found himself being held by an intense gaze, and felt a lurch of fear in his stomach. He couldn't bring himself to say the truth. He removed his arm from Bodie's shoulders. "I'll let you know," he said, leaning forward, arms resting on knees, the champagne glass twirling between his fingers.
"Well, I wish you would." Bodie stood, picking up his own glass and refilling it. "I'm going to mingle. I'll see you later." He moved off.
Doyle brought his glass to his lips and chugged the liquid down.
Bodie was drunk. Not truly sloshed, but very pleasantly tipsy. He leaned against the frame of the french windows, champagne glass in hand, not really looking at anyone or anything. He'd spent four hours chatting with the assorted nutters that Lumley called friends, doing his best to get people to talk about something interesting, especially anything political, and getting nowhere. The Hunts were hopeless--they had nothing to discuss other than their various friends' deficiencies. Colleen was on another anti-bunny rampage, Geoffrey had only his latest gallery showing on his mind, and Northbrook kept making intoxicated attempts to feel Bodie up.
Lumley, of course, didn't have a clue about anything. The Moonglows were willing to natter endlessly about the virtues of organic eating and the joys of the pagan lifestyle, while Rupert Flax made his usual growling noises. Susan refused to talk to him at all, merely glowering at him from a safe distance. Paul had a few things to say about how unfair the Labor party was to all good, upstanding, right-minded British subjects, which failed to captivate Bodie in any way.
He was tired of them all. The room felt stuffy, the company stifling, and his stomach was a tad too full. Bodie wondered how cold it was outside. He could do with some fresh air. Why not simply quietly slip outside and escape for a while? As he scanned the room he noticed, with a sense of mild exasperation, that Doyle had managed to successfully leave the party without attracting attention. Even he hadn't seen Doyle depart, the sneaky sod. That decided him. If Doyle couldn't be bothered to put up with Lumley's guests any longer, then neither could he.
Bodie made his move, gently clicking the latch of the French windows open and slipping through onto the patio beyond. As he wandered towards a huge evergreen planted between patio and lawn, the cold, crisp air fully registered, and he was hit by a sudden, urgent need to pee.
Snow two feet deep glistened before him. Furrowing his brow in concentration, Bodie unzipped his trousers and set about writing his name on the natural canvas provided.
Steam hissed up off the snow. He only made it to the bottom of the "B" before running out of ammunition. Shouldn't have made it so big, Bodie decided. Tucking himself back in and zipping up, he paused in his return to the house as he heard an odd whooshing sound.
The peculiar noise came from the other side of the evergreen. Bodie slowly edged round its snow-laded branches. There, in a previously pristine bank of whiteness, lay Doyle, flat on his back, moving his arms briskly up and down.
Bodie moved to stand at Doyle's feet. He put his hands on his hips and glared down at the soggy figure. No coat, no hat, nothing but jeans, cotton shirt, and the brand new muffler. "What the hell're you doin'?"
Doyle's arms stopped flapping. "I'm makin' a snow angel, of course." He hiccuped.
Letting loose a long-suffering sigh, Bodie bent forward to grab Doyle's wrists and pull him up. Doyle tottered, knocking Bodie backwards into the evergreen. Lumps of snow cascaded onto their heads.
"Shit," Bodie muttered. He regained his balance, then yanked Doyle onto the patio, where he set about brushing them both off. "Thought you didn't like this stuff."
"Only when it's cold." Doyle grinned. "And I'm warm now."
"I'll bet you are. How much of that champagne did you drink, anyway?"
Doyle shrugged. "Not that much." He weaved a bit as Bodie turned him round to brush off his back.
Bodie steadied him. "You're soaking. You'll catch a cold, and then I'll catch it, and we'll both be miserable. I'm warning you right now, no matter what, I am not sharing a bed with a runny nose."
"'s not running--"
"It bloody well will be if you don't get inside." Bodie pushed him across the porch to the French windows.
Doyle came to an abrupt halt, causing Bodie, who was directly behind him, to trip on his heels. They staggered about, clutching each other as they tried to avoid crashing into the glass. Bodie managed to steer Doyle away, and they sagged together against the nearby wall. "Now what?" he shouted into Doyle's face, not caring if anyone inside could hear.
"You didn't give me a chance to look at my angel," Doyle replied petulantly. He hiccuped again, shoved Bodie aside, and lurched over to the snow bank to stare down at his handiwork.
Bodie reluctantly followed. The snow angel was a pathetic mess, its wings so crooked it looked more like a snow butterfly that had just been smashed by an errant schoolboy. "It's lovely," Bodie remarked. "Can we go in now?"
"What's that s'posed to be?" Doyle pointed at the wobbly trench lines in the snow beside the evergreen.
"It's a 'B'. It's as far as I got." Bodie tugged at Doyle's arm. "C'mon. I've had enough fun for one Christmas Eve."
"Yeah?" Doyle stared intently at his wristwatch. "It's only midnight." He looked at Bodie and smiled. "Hey, it's tomorrow. Happy Christmas!" He gave Bodie a tremendous hug, nearly knocking him off balance again. Then he sagged against Bodie's shoulder, arms draped around his neck, murmuring, "Sorry. Me legs are going."
Doyle's warm breath tickled Bodie's cheek. Bodie got an arm around Doyle's waist to support him. He gently led the way once again towards the house, this time making it to the French windows and safely through them to the drawing room, where he propped Doyle against the back of an armchair. "Okay, Ray, what next? One minute you want to be the life of the party, and the next you're passing out. Can you make up your mind what you want to do?"
"Wanna lie down," Doyle murmured.
"In something other than snow?"
"What an original idea," Bodie replied. "Lying down on a bed. Fancy that."
Doyle gave him a glassy-eyed stare. "You're gonna come with me, aren't you?"
"Wouldn't miss it for the world." Bodie got Doyle's arm around his shoulder again and his own arm round his waist and propelled him out of the drawing room towards the stairs.
Bodie unceremoniously deposited Doyle on the bed. Then he made an about-face and left the bedroom to hike downstairs to the kitchen, where he pinched a pot of coffee and two mugs.
Upon his return, he found Doyle sitting on the middle of the bed, tugging ineffectually at his snow-sodden muffler. Bodie ignored him; he set the mugs down and poured out the coffee. He still felt pleasantly tipsy, but in control of the situation.
Doyle got the muffler undone at last and flung it towards the heater. He missed. The muffler plopped wetly on the rug.
"Now is that any way to treat your pressie?" Bodie said sternly. He yanked his shoes and socks off and sat on the bed, holding out a steaming mug to Doyle.
"Don't want that." Doyle pushed it away.
"Yes, you do. Come on, drink up." Bodie forced the mug into Doyle's hands. Then he took up his own coffee and drank it.
"I'm not thirsty," Doyle said, but he put the mug to his lips and gulped the coffee down. When he finished, he thrust the mug at Bodie, who put both his and Doyle's on the bedside table.
"You still have your shoes on," Bodie observed. "Not to mention the rest of your clothing, which happens to be a bit damp." He plucked at the back of Doyle's shirt where it clung to the skin. "See?"
"Um-hm," Doyle murmured. "Don't care." Nonetheless, he kicked his trainers off and then peeled away his socks, flinging them with abandon across the room. They landed on the armchair.
Bodie smiled. He felt relaxed, happy, and quite calm. With the sure knowledge of a practiced seducer, he was prepared to wait for the proper moment to execute his designs. The excitement was yet to come. "Now the shirt, Ray." He shifted closer to help Doyle unbutton it, and felt something hard under his hip. "What's this?" He left off his intended undressing of Doyle to pick up the object. "Ah." It was Lifeguard Lust. "Inspirational reading. Hm." Idly flipping through the pages, he found an appropriate scene and read aloud in a low, sensual tone.
"'Trevor's pulse quickened as Dirk breathed hotly down his neck, then reached around to rip the shirt from Trevor's well- muscled chest. Dirk ran his strong, athletic hands eagerly down the smooth, warm, receptive flesh.'" Bodie smiled wickedly at Doyle. "That sounds like fun, doesn't it?"
Doyle snatched the book from his hands. "'Receptive flesh'? What the hell does that mean?" He studied the page in question.
"Oh, you know," Bodie replied, smoothly moving behind Doyle, "tingling...excited...willing." He blew a soft breath into the curls lying on Doyle's neck, briefly parting them to reveal the skin beneath. Then he gently touched Doyle's shoulders, slowly moving his hands down and around to the top button of his shirt. He blew another puff into the curls, much closer, nuzzling the soft hair with his nose. "Like this." He undid the button and slid his hand inside, caressing Doyle's flesh, circling his fingers through the whispery chest hair.
Doyle looked up from the book, twisting his head to search out Bodie's face. "And then what happens?" he asked, a slight tremor in his voice.
"Wild, incredible, passionate sex," Bodie replied huskily. As he undid the next button and the next, his hand roamed ever downward towards Doyle's trembling abdomen. He stilled his hand, holding it there. He looked at Doyle with utter openness and longing, and asked softly, "Yes?"
Doyle held his gaze, uncertainty slowly fading. Then he nodded. "Yes." He tossed the book aside. "Don't need a manual, either." He reached inside his shirt to clasp Bodie's hand, moving it, encouraging a steady stroking. Then he let go to tug the shirt from his jeans and shrug it off. He twisted, trying to get at Bodie's sweater.
Bodie left off his stroking to allow Doyle to pull the sweater over his head. Doyle held the bunched-up sweater between them for a moment, then set it aside. He lay a hesitant palm on Bodie's chest and Bodie shivered. "Your hand's cold."
"Sorry." Doyle pulled his hand away.
"It's all right." Bodie took both Doyle's hands in his to warm them. "Bet the rest of you needs warming up as well." He let go to press Doyle to him, wrapping his arms around him, rubbing Doyle's smooth back. Doyle nestled his head in the crook of Bodie's neck, then turned to kiss Bodie's cheek.
"Um," Bodie murmured. "Much better." He turned to kiss Doyle on the lips, lightly, then pulled away. The heat of arousal flared within him, and he shifted his position so he could unzip his trousers.
"Let me." Doyle undid the button and slid the zip down.
"Ah--" Bodie revelled in the touch as Doyle slowly worked the trousers along. He wriggled and twisted his hips to ease the process. Doyle succeeded in wresting the trousers down and off. He ran his hand along Bodie's bare thigh up to his hip, then tugged at the waistband of his skimpy blue pants.
"No fair." Bodie brushed him away. "You've still got your jeans on. Wanna see those sexy legs."
Doyle laughed. "You sure you're seducing the right person?"
"Yeah." Bodie reached for the zip. "I hope so." He undid Doyle's jeans and yanked at them without making much progress. "How do you get in and out these things?"
"Pliers." Doyle lifted his hips.
"Thought so." Bodie finally managed to pull the recalcitrant denim off and cast the jeans to the floor. "That's better." Only one more article of clothing to go. He looked at Doyle's pants. "Ducks?" Doyle's hunter-green briefs were decorated with flying mallards.
"They were on sale," Doyle replied.
Bodie sighed. His ardor had waned a bit. Time to get serious about this again. He stretched out to lie next to Doyle, on his side, close but not touching. Sliding his fingers under the waistband of Doyle's briefs, he ran his hand around Doyle's slim belly, along his hip, and on to palm the taut buttocks. Then he hooked his thumb around the top edge of the pants and tugged the material down.
As he worked them along, Doyle reciprocated, pulling gently at Bodie's briefs. They twisted and turned, moving together to free themselves of the last barrier to total nakedness. Released from the restraining cloth, Bodie drew Doyle into his arms, on fire once more, desperate to touch and to stroke, eager to know every plane, every hollow, every smooth and rough surface of Doyle's body. Doyle's hands roamed over his chest and shoulders in return, tentative at first, then stronger, surer, moving downward to stroke Bodie's hips and thighs. Bodie moaned softly as their cocks brushed each other, hard, urgent. "Want you," he said, his voice a harsh whisper. "Need you." He sought out Doyle's mouth and their lips met in a hot, panting kiss. Then Bodie moved on to suck and nip at Doyle's neck, to lap at his throat, urged on by Doyle's sighs of pleasure. He kissed the hollow of Doyle's neck, then blew light, warm breaths across his chest, creating tiny ripples in the whorls of hair.
"Ah...more," Doyle murmured. He hooked his leg around Bodie's and rubbed his entire body against his.
Inflamed by the contact, Bodie ground his hips against Doyle's. Then he bent his head to touch his tongue to the tip of Doyle's cock, reaching his hand down to cup the tight sac beneath. As Bodie caressed Doyle's balls, Doyle groaned, hips bucking, hands gripping Bodie's shoulders, urging him on. Bodie took Doyle's cock in his mouth, sucking rhythmically, fiercely intent on Doyle's satisfaction. Doyle plunged into him and Bodie briefly pulled back, then, at the sound of Doyle's moan of deprivation, he opened to him again, giving his mouth fully, indulging in the taste and feel of Doyle's engorged cock. Doyle's thrusts became frantic, his fingers convulsively clenching Bodie's shoulders, his body surging against him. A reverberating throb of need pulsed within Bodie as he sucked harder, fevered with a passionate desire to possess the flesh beside him, around him, within him. And then Doyle came, shuddering into him, and Bodie swallowed the warm fluid, drawing in all of it he could get, licking the last drops from the tip when Doyle was spent.
They drew apart, Doyle lying on his back in a satiated sprawl. Bodie, tensely aware of his own needs now, propped himself on one elbow to lean over Doyle, his other arm across Doyle's chest, one leg across Doyle's thigh, his demanding erection pressing into Doyle's abdomen. He leaned down to kiss Doyle.
"Mmm," Doyle murmured, his eyes half-closed.
"Ray--" Bodie nibbled at an earlobe. "Need you--" He was close to the edge--it wouldn't take much to send him over. But he needed contact.
Doyle's hand reached for him, wrapping around Bodie's straining cock, pumping the rigid flesh. Letting out a deep moan, Bodie pushed against the pressure of Doyle's hand, his body rubbing against Doyle's, wanting more, knowing it couldn't last. He was there, he was coming, and with a half- gasp, half-cry, he shuddered and jerked, spurting over Doyle's fingers until he felt emptied, simultaneously transported and desolated by release.
He collapsed on top of Doyle, drained. A few moments later he felt Doyle's hand on his back, gently massaging it. Bodie shifted halfway off him, their legs still entwined, his arm flung over Doyle's chest, his head resting on Doyle's shoulder. Doyle continued stroking his back, the movement steadily slowing, growing more languid with each touch until Doyle's hand stilled. Bodie lazily stretched his arms and legs, then settled again. "Incredible," he muttered, planting a kiss on Doyle's neck before laying his head back on his shoulder.
"Um-hm," Doyle replied sleepily.
"Have to try it again sometime."
There was no response. Bodie glanced up to see Doyle's closed eyes, and he listened to the deep, even breathing, and sighed.
Bodie woke up with a new urge to pee. He should have known. Champagne always affected him that way, worse than any other kind of alcohol. Raising his head, he checked the clock on the bedside table. Its glowing dial told him it was three a.m.
With a soft groan, he shifted himself, careful not to wake Doyle, slowly lifting his arms and legs and rolling over until he could get off the bed with minimal effort. Satisfied that Doyle hadn't noticed a thing and was still sleeping soundly, Bodie padded into the bathroom to tend to his business.
Emerging a minute later, he groggily became aware, for the first time that night, of the moonlight pouring through the windows. He walked over to pull the drapes but didn't, pausing instead to gaze out at the sky. He couldn't remember when he had ever seen it so clear before, so black. The full moon appeared impossibly bright in contrast, a luminous globe in a sea of darkness.
On the wide expanse of the grounds below, a frosty crust had formed on the deep mantle of snow, and it glimmered with a million diamonds of reflected light, until the whiteness met the shadows of the woods far in the distance and was swallowed up.
Bodie stared down at the gardens, at the dark shapes of the hedges looming above the snow, and the barren branches of the rosebushes pricking through. The summerhouse came just within view, isolated, its marble walls and pillars standing cold and silent.
As Bodie started to turn away, something flickered near the corner of his eye--a shadow, or the ghost of a shadow. Or was he merely imagining mysteries in the mysterious winter landscape?
He rubbed his eyes and stared at the summerhouse. Nothing. Feeling extraordinarily tired, he continued the vigil another ten minutes, struggling to keep his eyes on the spot. Nothing there at all. No point in chasing after ghosts in the dead of a winter night. Bodie gave up and, having forgotten his original intention of shutting the drapes, turned around and looked at the bed. Doyle lay stretched out on top of the covers, neither one of them having bothered to pull them up. The moonlight streamed across the bed, giving an ethereal, sculptural whiteness to Doyle's body. As he looked at the still, pale form, Bodie momentarily froze, waiting, watching, listening...then he saw the smooth rise and fall of Doyle's chest, heard the susurration of breath, and he relaxed. He shook his head. Christ, what had he been thinking?
He crossed to the bed and carefully climbed onto it to lie beside Doyle, propped on one elbow, staring at the quiet figure. He touched a hand to Doyle's chest and traced the long, jagged scar there, wishing he could erase all the painful memories it engendered. Then he lay his arm across Doyle's waist and settled in, his head on Doyle's pillow, as close as he could get without disturbing him.
Bodie lay there, simply watching Doyle, and he knew that he loved him.
Though Bodie eventually fell asleep, it wasn't for long. But the next time he woke, it wasn't because of his bladder. He woke because of the high-pitched screaming.
Both he and Doyle bolted upright and rolled instantly off the bed, instinctively going for cover before realizing they were in no danger. The screams, which emanated from the corridor, had subsided to loud sobs, and a man's voice could now be heard.
Bodie went into the bathroom to grab two robes; they threw them on and rushed out. In the dimly lit hallway, Graham Hunt held his hysterical wife, handing her his handkerchief while making soothing sounds. Other doors opened all along the corridor and the other guests emerged to hover near the Hunts.
"It's nothing," Graham said as Bodie and Doyle came up to the couple. "She's had a fright, that's all."
"What sort of fright?" Bodie asked, directing the question at Julia and ignoring Graham.
She pulled away from her husband to look at Bodie, slowly taking in Doyle and the rest of the guests. "It was horrid," she moaned, dabbing the kerchief at her eyes.
"Yes?" Bodie prompted.
"You don't have to tell them anything, darling--" Graham stopped when Lumley bounded up, Geoffrey close behind.
"Oh, my, dear, dear me, what in the world is going on here? Are you all right? Come now, there's no need to cry, you're perfectly safe here."
"Someone touched me!" Julia cried.
"Oh, no, no, we can't have that," Lumley said, stepping close to pat her on the arm, despite a scowl from Graham.
"What do you mean, someone touched you?" Doyle asked. "Where?"
"On my shoulder--"
"No," Doyle said patiently, "I mean, where were you when this happened?"
She sniffed loudly. "I got mixed up." She paused to look at her husband, who gave a resigned nod.
"Yes, yes," he muttered, "might as well give them the story." He glared at Bodie. "They won't go away without it, it seems."
"We're concerned," Bodie replied. "That's all." He cast Julia a warm smile. "Go on, Mrs. Hunt. What happened?"
"I got mixed up," she repeated, calming a bit. "Because I was so sleepy, I suppose--I couldn't get any sleep, you see, the bed is too firm and I never sleep well in strange places. So I went down to the kitchen to get some hot cocoa." She suddenly glanced about in confusion. "Oh, Graham, I've gone and dropped my cocoa!"
"It's all right, my dear. I'll get you some more."
"Thank you, darling." She gazed at him lovingly.
Bodie cleared his throat. "Mrs. Hunt?"
"After you got the cocoa, what then?"
"Oh." She shivered, clutching Graham's arm tightly. "I came back up the stairs, and I got to the top, and I was so tired--I thought I was back home for a moment, and turned the wrong way. And then I couldn't find the right door, and then--oh, Graham! It was horrid! It touched me!"
Sighing, Bodie waited for her to calm down again.
Lumley scratched his head. "You went into the other wing? Why, the east wing hasn't been used in decades. Everything's all shut up."
"Someone brushed past my shoulder," Julia insisted.
"Too tall to be one of the wolfhounds?" Doyle asked.
"It wasn't a dog! It was a person!"
"Male or female?" Bodie said.
She shook her head. "I don't know. It was so dark, and I ran--I just wanted to get away from there!"
"Can you remember anything else at all? Height? Build? Hair color?"
Graham glowered at Bodie. "Leave her alone."
"I'm trying to find out what happened."
"Well, find out some other way! I hate journalists--always trying to sensationalize everything." Graham put his arms on Julia's shoulders to guide her into their room. "Come along, dear. You've had enough." The door shut firmly behind them.
"Goodness," Lumley said. "I never heard such rubbish." He looked at Geoffrey, who was standing near Doyle. "We simply don't use the east wing anymore. Can't think why anyone would be wandering about down there. I mean, naturally we have our odd ghost or two, every decent mansion does, you know. But I can't say as I've ever actually seen one. Have you, Geoffrey?"
"Well, there you are, then. Most curious."
"Perhaps we could take a quick look?" Doyle suggested.
"Electricity is shut off in that wing," Geoffrey replied. "But I can get some torches." He took off towards the stairs.
The other guests continued hovering in the hallway, whispering among themselves. Bodie belatedly realized he hadn't checked to see who was there, or when they had appeared. He cursed himself for getting slack on the job. A careful scan confirmed that everyone else was present, but concentrate as he might, he couldn't recall which guests had come out right away and who had turned up later.
Geoffrey returned with two torches, and it was decided that he and Doyle would make the check of the east wing corridor. As they headed off, Susan came up to Bodie and Lumley.
"It could be one of the temporary staff," she said. "One of them might be trying to search our rooms for valuables."
"But they all came with such impeccable references," Lumley replied. "And they were all from the agency, and my word, they charge an enormous fee."
"Naturally they do," Susan said. "But do you think the poor workers see much of that money? No, of course they don't! It goes to line the managers' pockets. They're as exploited as any other unskilled, underprivileged, lower-class peon and I wouldn't blame them one bit for--"
"Susan, dear," Lumley interrupted, "they were only day help. They've all gone home for the night."
Susan looked momentarily perplexed, then quickly rallied. "I know that. But one of them could have returned and broken in."
"The alarms would have sounded," Lumley pointed out.
"Hmpf." Susan crossed her arms. "Some people know how to get past alarm systems." She turned to glare at Bodie. "What do you think happened?"
Bodie smiled. "I think Julia Hunt is simply possessed of an overactive imagination. It was probably nothing more than a combination of cobwebs and a tired mind."
"Oh, I see," she replied. "I suppose next you'll say it was a 'female' thing. Tell me, Mr. Bodie, if a man had run out of that corridor yelling that he'd been touched by someone, would you still blame it on an overactive imagination?"
Bodie rolled his eyes.
"Susan, my dear," Lumley put in, "I'm sure Mr. Bodie didn't mean anything of the sort."
Oh, yes, he did, Bodie thought. Aloud, he opted for appeasement and said, "Absolutely not. A mere slip of the tongue." He grinned.
Doyle and Geoffrey soon returned, with little to report. "All the doors are locked," Geoffrey said. "No sign of an intruder. Everything's as it should be."
"Found this." Doyle held up an empty mug. "And there's cocoa spilled on the carpet, about a third of the way in."
"We should search the rest of the house," Bodie said.
"Richard and I can do that." Geoffrey took the torch back from Doyle. "But if any strangers had been anywhere inside, the dogs would have gone mad with barking."
"That's quite true," Susan said. "They're natural watchdogs." She favored Bodie with a suspicious glower. "I think I'll bring them upstairs to keep an eye on things."
"Splendid idea," Lumley replied.
"Four in the morning," Doyle complained as he crawled into bed. "What are people doing mucking about in disused hallways at four in the morning?" He let out a huge yawn as he wrestled with the bed covers. "Want to be under these this time." He managed to get the sheet, blanket, and duvet loose from their tightly tucked-in state and slid beneath them, pulling the top edge of the duvet up to his chin. "Bloody idiots. Don't mind trying to track down criminals in the afternoon. Don't even mind doing it in the late morning or early evening. But this four in the morning nonsense--I'm not putting up with any more of it." He rose briefly to plump his pillow, then sagged back down.
Bodie, who had stood near the other side of the bed throughout this performance, just nodded and smiled, content to listen. He had long known that a complaining Doyle was a happy Doyle, and the knowledge made it easier to weather his remonstrances.
Doyle turned to look at him. "You gonna stand there all night? If you're not coming back to bed, at least make yourself useful and close the drapes. That ruddy moon is shining right in me eyes."
Bodie frowned, remembering how he'd felt about that very same moonlight only an hour before. "You should see it on the snow," he replied as he crossed to the windows. "Sparkling like mad everywhere--"
"Um-hm...just shut the drapes, okay?"
"Yeah, yeah." Bodie pulled them to, dropping the room into darkness. "That better?"
"You're welcome." Bodie made his way to the bed, tripping over their discarded clothing. He climbed in, snuggling under the warm covers, and shifted across the wide bed to lie close to Doyle. "Thought I saw something out there earlier," he said.
Amused by how quickly Doyle had shifted from outrage at the early hour to sleepy monosyllables, Bodie nudged him sharply with an elbow.
"Oi, watch it."
"Awake again, are you?" Bodie asked sweetly.
"Shut up. Don't wanna be awake." There was a pause. "What do you mean, you saw something?"
"Ah, at last I have your attention."
"Yes, I saw something," Bodie said quickly. "Well, maybe I did. It was around three o'clock, and I was looking out the window--"
"You what? Why?"
"Had to get up to pee. Anyway, I was looking at the grounds, and I could see--"
"But what were you doing at the window? You said you went to the bog--"
"Ray, will you just listen?"
"Yeah, but it doesn't make any sense. You get up, you go pee, you come back to bed. How's the window get into it?"
Bodie took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Then he waited, not saying a word.
After an awkward silence, Doyle said softly, "Bodie? You going to finish telling me about it?"
"Are you going to stop interrogating me?"
"I only wanted to know--"
"I got up," Bodie cut in, speaking in short, clipped tones. "I went to the bathroom. I had a little pee. I came out. I went to look out the window--because I bloody well felt like looking out the window." He paused, waiting for another interruption, but Doyle wisely remained quiet. "I looked at the grounds," Bodie went on. "I could see the summerhouse at the far end. As I was turning away from the window, I thought I saw something move out there--possibly a shadow across the snow. When I looked back, I couldn't see anything unusual. I waited there for about ten minutes, watching, but nothing happened. Then I came back to bed."
"Um," Doyle replied.
Bodie waited for more, but it wasn't forthcoming. He took another deep, calming breath. "Is that all you have to say?"
"Thought you didn't want me to talk," Doyle said petulantly.
"No, I don't want you to interrupt. That's different."
"Bloody-minded, that's what you are."
"Yeah, well, I've learned from the best, haven't I?" Bodie replied, gently prodding Doyle.
"Okay." Bodie lay his hand on Doyle's chest instead, caressing him.
"You feeling randy again or something?" Doyle asked.
"A bit," Bodie admitted. "What about you?" He let his hand wander lower, softly stroking Doyle's abdomen.
"Sorry, mate. I'm so tired right now I couldn't keep me little finger erect."
"Pity." Bodie stopped the massage, but left his arm lying across Doyle's torso. "Bet Dirk and Trevor go at it all night long."
"Yeah, but I bet Dirk and Trevor don't get interrupted by screaming women."
"True." Reluctantly reminded once more of the case, Bodie added, "Wonder if she really did bump into someone."
"You think we should take a closer look at the east wing?"
"Tonight?" Bodie shivered. "No, thanks. Not with the wolfhounds in the way."
"Told you," Doyle replied sleepily, "I couldn't get up again if the place was burning down. We'll do it tomorrow. I mean, later today."
"Good." Recalling his earlier lapse, Bodie said, "Did you happen to notice who came out into the corridor, and when?"
"Well, I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have been, but I think that Flax, Northbrook, and Stuart all showed up a bit later than the rest. Still, our room's nearest the landing, so if anyone tried to get from the east wing back to their room, they would've come right past us."
"Right." Bodie frowned as something tugged at the back of his mind. Some important factor, about people sneaking about the corridors. "Shit," he said, sitting bolt upright.
"Now what?" Doyle murmured, not moving.
"Passages." Bodie leaned over to switch on the bedside lamp.
"Passages?" Doyle repeated, rubbing his eyes. "What are you- -oh, those passages."
Bodie rummaged in the nightstand drawer and pulled out the map they'd been given which outlined the secret passageways. "It only shows the west wing." He nudged Doyle again. "Don't suppose you want to sit up and take a look at this?"
Doyle shook his head, eyes closed. "Why don't you tell me all about it." He yawned.
"Lazy sod." Bodie studied the map. "There's one passage running behind both Stuart and Flax's rooms. It comes out somewhere beyond the stairway landing--the map ends where the east wing starts. Northbrook's room doesn't have a passage, but the room next to his, which is empty, does. Looks like it has a secret staircase leading down to the ground floor, where Richard and Geoffrey's room is. And there's another passage going from their room to the drawing room." He set the map aside. "It's not good enough. We need a map of all the passageways in the whole house."
"Oh, great--are you falling asleep again?"
"Tired," Doyle murmured, turning onto his side, his back to Bodie.
"Yeah, yeah." Bodie was feeling the effects of a long night himself. But the mystery of the east wing intrigued him. "Wonder if we're on the wrong track with the summerhouse."
"Light," Doyle replied.
"What? Oh, right. Sorry." Bodie flicked off the bedside lamp and settled down beneath the covers. "Something suspicious is going on here in the house. I thought it was only Julia's imagination, but those passages make a difference. Someone could have been in the east wing, been startled by Julia, and dashed into one of the rooms. Then he went along a secret passageway to his own room and came out into the west wing corridor with everyone else. Simple. Someone is up to no good. I mean, who would bother sneaking about just to frighten a snooty upper-class woman like Julia Hunt for the fun of it?"
Doyle chuckled. "I would."
"Yeah, I'll bet. Gonna put you at the top of my suspects list." Bodie rolled onto his side, wrapping his arm around Doyle. "You can go to sleep now," he whispered into Doyle's ear.
He didn't get a response.
A sliver of brilliant sunlight made its way through a crack in the drapes and fell directly on Doyle's face.
He'd been awake for some time, but had been trying to ignore the condition. The light was too much, though. He gave up, stretched, and rolled onto his back, rubbing a hand over his eyes. Bodie lay alongside him, one arm flung lazily across Doyle's waist, snoring intermittently. Not a bad night, Doyle decided, despite the lack of sleep. Sex with Bodie had been every bit as exciting as he'd thought it would be--quite an enjoyable experiment. It reminded him of his wild art school days when, if you were at a party and feeling randy, anything went. He hadn't felt that same sense of sexual recklessness since. Until last night.
It had been good with Bodie. But that was last night, and now it was morning, and their little experiment was over. Surely Bodie must have gotten the urge to see what it was like out of his system, and would be ready to leave it as a one-time thing. Surely that was what they both wanted.
He lay staring at the ceiling a while longer; then Bodie began to stir, making grumpy waking-up noises while shifting about. Doyle shook his shoulder.
Bodie snuffled and rolled onto his back, eyes opening. "Hmm," he muttered. "Mornin'."
"Got some sleep, did you?"
"Yeah. A bit."
Bodie turned back onto his side, propping his head on his hand to look down at Doyle. "It was good, wasn't it?"
"Yeah," Doyle murmured contentedly. "Was fantastic."
"Yeah. Wanna do it again."
"Hm?" Coming more fully awake, Doyle blinked and stared up at him. "You what?"
Bodie smiled. "Want to make love to you again."
Love? Doyle's brow creased in a puzzled frown. "Make love?" he repeated tonelessly, aware that something was very, very wrong.
"Oh, did I forget to tell you I love you? Sorry. I love you. Want to make love to you." Bodie bent down to kiss him.
Doyle froze. Then he pushed Bodie away, struggling to sit up. "What the hell are you saying?"
Bodie stared at him with a look of utter incomprehension. "I thought...I mean--" He shook his head. "What's wrong?"
"You are," Doyle said, shocked by Bodie's admission. "We had one night of good sex, that's all."
"That's all?" Bodie repeated numbly.
"Yeah." Doyle continued staring in disbelief at him, amazed that Bodie could be so out of touch with reality. "You know, just to get the tension out of our systems--just to try it--and we did, and that's that--" He stopped when he saw the pain in Bodie's eyes.
Bodie abruptly hoisted himself up. He wrenched the covers off, swung his legs off the bed, and sat on its edge. Then he lowered his head to his knees, face buried in his hands. "Oh, shit," he muttered. "Oh, shit."
At a loss for what to do or what to say, Doyle merely sat there, worried and confused as Bodie's muttered curses filled the air. Then Bodie stood and stalked into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him. Hell...how could it have gone so wrong?
It wasn't an experiment after all. It wasn't simply a tension- easing bit of fun. Bodie had damn well gone and fallen in love.
Impossible. Doyle felt like pinching himself to make certain he wasn't dreaming. Bodie? In love? With him? Letting out a pent-up breath, Doyle tossed back the covers and got up. This was crazy. That had to be the only explanation. His partner was experiencing a temporary bout of insanity. He would just have to sort him out.
He went to the bathroom and tried the knob--locked, of course. He pounded on it.
"Leave me alone."
"I have to pee," Doyle demanded, which was quite true.
After a short while the door flew open and Bodie strode roughly past him to begin rummaging through the clothes on the floor.
Doyle silently went into the bathroom and used the toilet. He grabbed a robe and came out to find that Bodie had nearly done dressing. He stood and watched him, trying to make sense of the mess they'd made of things. Bodie looked remote and determined as he finished pulling on his sweater and reached for his shoes.
"Talk to me," Doyle said. "Don't just walk out."
Bodie slipped his shoes on. "I'm going down to breakfast."
"You haven't even shaved--"
"That's right. I haven't." Bodie headed for the door.
"Wait, dammit!" Doyle sprang after him, jerking on Bodie's arm to get him to turn around. "We can't leave it like this."
"Why not?" Bodie's voice was cold and controlled. "It's obvious I made a mistake. I thought last night meant something more than you did, and I was wrong. And I've made a fool of myself. That's fine--it wouldn't be the first time. So let's simply pretend that nothing ever happened between us, all right?" He turned to the door.
"No, it's not all right!" Doyle couldn't stand the idea that Bodie might go on like this--cold, distant, shutting him out again. "Nothing's right."
"I'm going to breakfast," Bodie repeated firmly. "I'll see you afterwards to discuss the case." He opened the door and walked out.
Doyle leaned on the door frame for a moment. Then he slowly closed the door and stood looking blankly at the bed with its mussed covers, and at the floor where his clothes were strewn, all reminders of a night of sex...and nothing more.
He crossed to the bed and sat down heavily on it. Why hadn't he seen it--were there signs he had missed? Words he hadn't heard? But he knew Bodie better than anyone. How could he be misreading him so much of late?
Christ, he'd asked Bodie what he wanted, and Bodie had told him. I want to go to bed with you. Plain and simple. No declarations of love, no romance. It was purely physical. Why the hell was Bodie trying to turn it into something it wasn't?
Doyle thought back over their earlier conversations, trying to figure out how he'd missed following the turnings of Bodie's mind. When had Bodie ever mentioned love? As far as Doyle could remember, he hadn't. But there had been that odd ending to their embrace at the party, when Bodie had kissed him, and told him what he wanted, and then he'd told him to think about the future.
Was that it? Doyle hadn't really known what Bodie had meant by it at the time. He tried to recall what he'd told Bodie-- something about not knowing where he'd be in the future, what he'd be doing, who he'd be hanging out with.
Think about the future once in a while. Had Bodie actually meant a future relationship? With him? But that was absurd. And who the hell was Bodie to tell him to consider the future--Bodie never thought past the next payday.
He shook his head. What the hell had gotten into Bodie, anyway--love? Relationship? No, Bodie's parting remarks just now had been more sensible. Bodie had made a fool of himself, and the sooner they both forgot about this nonsense, the better.
Doyle sighed. How could they put it behind them--how could they ever go back to the way things had been before? All he wanted was his best friend back--was that so much to ask? All he wanted was the friend who he could understand, not this stranger. Where had Bodie the Romantic been keeping all these years? Or had he missed those signs, too? How long had he failed to see what was right in front of him? Or had he been seeing only what it suited him to see? Yeah, his best mate, who he knew better than anyone. Or didn't know at all.
Frowning, Doyle thought about the conversation they'd had only a few hours ago, when he couldn't fathom why Bodie had paid a nocturnal visit to the window. Because I bloody well wanted to look out it. No, that wasn't the whole truth. Bodie had gone to the window to see the moonlight on the snow. He'd said something about it later, when Doyle made him close the drapes. You should see it sparkling. That was Bodie the romantic. And it had slipped right past him. Just shut the drapes. Maybe Bodie had been giving him little clues like that all the time he'd known him. And maybe he'd ignored them as thoroughly as he'd ignored moonlight and snow.
My best friend. Yeah. Right.
Doyle rose and went to the chest of drawers to pull out a clean pair of briefs, socks, and a fresh shirt. He picked his jeans off the floor and began to dress. Nothing would be solved by sitting here. Maybe Bodie thought he could pretend it hadn't happened. Maybe Bodie thought they shouldn't talk.
Well, Bodie had another think coming.
Doyle was late for breakfast.
He slid quietly into his seat, not wanting to create a disturbance. It was bad enough that the other guests were all there and already eating. At least they'd left some food for him. He speared two sausages from a warming plate and grabbed a piece of toast, though he didn't feel much like eating. As he poured a cup of coffee, he glanced across the table and saw that Bodie's plate was piled high with food. So Bodie couldn't bother being upset long enough to even lose his appetite. Terrific. Doyle attacked his sausage and toast, eating steadily and silently. He didn't trust himself to speak to Bodie in such a public forum.
He didn't hear any of the idle talk around him, didn't pay attention to anything but the food on his plate, adding eggs and potatoes to a second helping of sausage. If Bodie's appetite could remain unaffected, then so could his. It wasn't until he'd washed down the last of the meal with coffee that he bothered looking over at his partner again. And saw that Bodie had barely touched his food. A tiny lump formed in Doyle's throat as he guiltily swallowed the last of his coffee. Hell. Bodie was scrunched down in his chair, having set his fork aside, and was staring morosely at the table top, looking more miserable than Doyle had ever seen him. Suppressing an urge to leap over the table and shake the idiot until he came to his senses, Doyle settled for kicking Bodie's foot.
Bodie started, sat up a bit, and frowned at Doyle. "What do you want?" he muttered.
The breakfast was breaking up--most of the guests had left the table. "Want to know what your plans are for this morning," Doyle said.
Bodie rubbed at the stubble on his chin. "Before or after I shave?" he replied stonily.
Controlling his temper, Doyle said calmly, "After."
"I thought we'd have a little chat with our host," Bodie replied. "About architecture." He pushed his chair out and stood. "But first, my shave. Why don't you go keep Lumley occupied until I return, okay?" He walked off without a backward glance.
Doyle simply sat there, unmoving, the large breakfast he'd eaten settling solidly and uncomfortably. So it was going to be all business now with Bodie, was it? Work on the case, keep busy, don't talk about anything else. Fine. Even if they only discussed the case, at least they'd be talking, which was an improvement on silent stewing.
Tossing his napkin on the table, Doyle shoved back his chair and got up to go corner Lumley.
"A little hobby of yours, is it?" Lumley said. "Quite fascinating, the study of architecture. Yes, indeed."
"We're both very keen on it," Bodie replied. He had come back downstairs, now clean-shaven, to join Doyle, whom he'd found chatting with Lumley in a quiet corner of the drawing room. "Especially in the great houses of--" Bodie hesitated, suddenly aware he had no idea in which century the Lumley mansion had been constructed. He waved his hand at the room. "In houses of this period," he finished lamely.
"Ah, yes," Lumley said, nodding absently. "It is a fine example of Palladian neoclassicism. Not exactly a Vanbrugh, but still rather handsome."
Bodie wished he'd skimmed a book or two on English architecture before embarking on this plan. He cleared his throat and plunged ahead. "There's something we're particularly interested in," he said. "Architectural oddities-- unusual constructions, peculiar designs, hidden rooms and passages."
"Ah!" Lumley clapped his hands. "Of course! Naturally you're intrigued by this house, then. The things are all over the place."
"Yes," Doyle put in, "you said something about that yesterday, when we did the guessing game. We got such a thrill out of the passages in the west wing that we were wondering if we could possibly look at some of the others."
"Well, of course you can, dear boy," Lumley replied. "Come along to the library, I've got more maps in there."
They followed Lumley into the library, where he began rummaging through one of the two large desks. As he hauled out a pile of oversized leather-bound books and rolled-up papers, he said, "You're more than welcome to look through this mess. I'm afraid we don't have the original house plans anymore, but there are plenty of copies about. Of course, later generations insisted on adding on to the damn things, and sometimes they drew up new plans and sometimes they simply scribbled over the old ones." He paused to give them both a wink. "You know, Geoffrey says the passages are terribly Freudian." He smiled and resumed his search.
"Is it all right for us to go into any of these passages?" Bodie asked.
"Oh, certainly. Wander about wherever you please. And do take the keys--there's a bunch in the kitchen you can use, hanging by the back door. You'll want to be able to get into the rooms in the east wing, and you might also find the summerhouse of interest. That's where the air raid shelter is."
It took an effort for Bodie to keep the look of astonishment off his face. "Air raid shelter? Beneath the summerhouse?"
"Why, naturally. Father had it built during the war. Everybody had one--it was simply the thing to do."
"But why put it way out there?" Doyle asked.
"Well, you wouldn't want it in the main house, because that would have presented the largest target for an enemy plane." Lumley looked vacantly into space, smiling. "I remember how we used to sneak down there when we were children. Sort of our extra special hiding place. There was plenty of room, and bits of furniture, and we would have lovely tea parties with our stuffed teddies. But of course, it's not used for anything now. Rather a pity, really."
"I still don't understand," Doyle persisted. "Wouldn't people be exposed as they were running out to reach the shelter?"
"No, no, not at all," Lumley replied. "Naturally a tunnel was built as well, to connect it to the main house. Comes up in the east wing. It's marked on here somewhere." He shuffled through the growing mass of papers.
The library door suddenly popped open and Geoffrey looked in. "Ah, there you are."
Lumley left off his search. "Yes? Do you need me?"
"I'm afraid so. Susan has a few questions about the dinner."
Lumley turned to Bodie. "Will you be all right on your own here?"
"Then I'll leave you to it. Do come find me should you have any questions. Have fun, you two." He trotted off with Geoffrey.
"I'll be damned," Doyle said excitedly, picking up the top paper on the pile. "It is the summerhouse. Has to be. The perfect hiding place for the arms. They're there, all right-- underneath the building." He frowned at the paper he was holding. "If we can figure out where the damn tunnel entrances are. This is unreadable." He set the paper down and took up an ancient leather-bound tome, opening it at random. A tiny cloud of dust flew up. "Great." He peered at the pages. "Covered with what looks like tea stains. Where it's not torn." Setting the book down, he looked at the towering mass of old, crumpled, worn, torn, and decaying material. "It'll be like a treasure hunt." He rubbed his hands together enthusiastically. "Come on, let's sort through it."
Refusing to allow Doyle's enthusiasm to affect him, Bodie solemnly divided the pile in half. He carried one part of it to the other desk, which was on the opposite side of the room. He deposited the load, then crisply announced, "I'll take this half. You can have that half."
Doyle's shoulders slumped. "Don't you want to go through it together?"
"This will be quicker." Bodie sat at his desk and buried himself in the papers, effectively dismissing Doyle. He had no intention of casually resuming their old working camaraderie, not now. No, he intended to behave in a cool, professional manner, ignore any overtures of friendship, just get the job done and get the hell back to London.
What would happen then, he didn't know. For Doyle to continue as his partner would be hell. Despite his outward control, inside the pain was tearing him apart, and he doubted it would get any better.
Just a night of good sex, and that's all. How could Doyle not have felt what he felt? How could he not have seen where it was leading? He'd shown Doyle more of himself, given him more tenderness, than he had ever dared give to anyone before, and Doyle had refused it as if it were nothing but an amusing aberration. A temporary quirk. Something he simply needed to "get out of his system."
Bodie tried to focus on the pile of papers, without much success. He glanced over at Doyle, who had settled down to work at the other desk, dully staring at his half of the pile. Bodie instantly looked away again, not wanting Doyle to see him, not wanting him to think he had any interest in his activities whatsoever. He had to keep his distance. He couldn't show any physical or emotional closeness to Doyle--the inevitable rejection would hurt too much. There was no other choice but to shut Doyle out, despite the fact that Bodie still loved the bastard.
Hardening his expression into a blank mask, something at which he had a lifetime of practice, Bodie picked up a rolled- up plan, spread it out, and began an intense study of its contents.
Doyle tapped his fingers idly on the desk top.
Bastard. Cold, unfeeling, malicious bastard. He looked at Bodie, then down at the book he'd opened. It was no good. No matter how he tried, he couldn't even begin to hate Bodie. But he could be incredibly pissed off at him, which he was. The bastard wasn't even willing to be sociable about the case, wouldn't work with him, was, in short, using any excuse he could to keep him at more than arm's length.
How long did Bodie think they could continue this way? They had to talk, they had to sort it out, because if they didn't--
If they didn't, Doyle realized with a painful lurch in his gut, they wouldn't be able to work together at all.
Suddenly feeling more alone than he had in many years, Doyle shut the book, unable to concentrate on it. He leaned back, sunk low in the chair, staring vacantly at nothing. It just wasn't any damn good. He couldn't sit here and let Bodie abandon him like this.
He sat up, leaning forward, hands resting on his knees. "Bodie?"
Bodie slowly looked up, his face blank. "What?"
Though he tried, Doyle couldn't keep the strain out of his voice. "I want to talk."
"Well, I don't," Bodie snapped, bending his head down to his task again.
Doyle waited, staring steadily at Bodie, willing him to look up again. But it didn't happen. "Bodie?"
Still he refused to look at Doyle, eyes fixed intently on the papers. The emptiness Doyle felt warred with his anger, and the anger won out. He slammed his hand on the desktop, startling Bodie into looking over. "I am not letting you shut me out, damn you!"
Bodie sighed. "Why? What do you want to talk about--how big an idiot I've been? Or perhaps you had some other topic of conversation in mind?"
"You could start by talking to me like a mate," Doyle said, "and not some total stranger."
"Ah," Bodie interrupted. "That's where the trouble lies. Maybe we don't know each other very well at all."
The coldness of the statement hurt Doyle, not least because it brought into the open the same fears he'd had himself.
"Think about it," Bodie went on, his tone bitter. "How often have we had serious conversations? About anything? All we do is kid around with each other. Keep everything light and on the surface. Don't talk about the deeper stuff, do we? No, that's too personal, isn't it?"
Doyle shook his head. "That's not true. We know each other pretty damn well when the shooting starts--"
"Oh, great. That's the answer, is it? All we need to do to have a meaningful chat is to get into a life-or-death situation. Isn't that a bit inconvenient?"
"Dammit, you know what I mean."
"No," Bodie replied. "I don't know what you mean."
Incensed by Bodie's offhand dismissal of years of trust and closeness, Doyle said, "All right, fine. Tell me one thing, then. If you don't really know me, how the hell did you manage to fall in love with me? Hm? Mate?"
Bodie didn't answer; he turned away to poke idly at the books and papers.
"It's a lie," Doyle said, not fearful anymore, simply angry. "We know each other well enough. You know me well enough to know I don't like being shut out. And that's what you're trying to do. Close yourself off from me, act as if I'm not even there. Well, it's not going to work."
"Look, we made a mistake," Bodie replied evenly, not looking up. "A big one. And I don't want to talk about it. Why can't you take a fucking hint?"
Doyle sighed and rubbed his eyes. Hell. He'd enjoyed having sex with Bodie--he didn't want to think of last night as a mistake, didn't want to remember it that way. Nor was he willing to allow it to destroy their friendship. Last night he'd thought it was a damn good idea, had believed it would make things better between them, remove the underlying tension, get them back to their old, easy ways. Instead it was threatening to ruin everything they had. And they did have something special, despite Bodie's remarks. That was simply part of Bodie's attempt to cut him off, his way of denying any emotion. Bodie was good at that, all right. But Doyle knew better. The emotions were there, beneath the surface. Bodie still cared for him--apparently, very deeply. They were still best mates, they had a special friendship, and no matter what Bodie was saying right now, Doyle knew he didn't truly mean it. And he knew that no matter what happened, their friendship wouldn't end. He intended to see to that.
Doyle studied Bodie's stern, set features and wearily conceded it wouldn't be an easy task. There would be rough times ahead, more harsh words spoken, and, knowing his own temper, he'd probably be the first one to lose it. No, he couldn't take a hint. Well, he could, but that didn't mean he had to bloody well knuckle under and play Bodie's game by his rules.
Steeling himself for another assault on his partner, Doyle was interrupted by the sound of the door opening. It was Lumley.
"Oh, good, you haven't gone gallivanting about yet," he said. "I quite forgot to tell you about our little event in the music room, which is going to start straightaway."
"Music room?" Doyle asked.
"Yes, we're going to have a sing-along. It's a Lumley Christmas tradition. We all gather about the piano and sing Christmas songs. Julia will play for us. Terribly good fun."
Bodie glared at him. "You want me to sing?" he said darkly.
Doyle stood. "Lighten up, Bodie."
"We always have a wonderful time," Lumley insisted, ignoring Bodie's unpleasantness. "Nobody cares if you're off- key. It's strictly for fun."
"Can't I be a pagan for a day?" Bodie replied, not giving up. "I'll bet the Moonglows aren't going."
"Um, no, actually," Lumley admitted. "They always spend this time baking organic cookies for the Christmas dinner."
Bodie looked ill. "Great. I'm really looking forward to that."
Heading for the door, Doyle turned and cast him a baleful look. "Come on, you great lug, have some holiday spirit. God knows somebody around here should."
"Yeah, yeah." Bodie heaved himself out of his chair and slowly followed Doyle and Lumley out of the library.
Bodie survived the sing-along, barely.
Afterwards, however, he and Doyle were not allowed to escape. Everyone had to stay for a light tea, accompanied by the first test batch of Esther and Emily's Hearty and Healthy Granola Crisp Cookies.
Having made sure he was nowhere near Doyle throughout the torture of the Christmas songs, Bodie continued his evasive maneuvers, taking his tea and plate of cookies to the corner farthest from his partner. He wound up sitting beside Paul Stuart on a window seat.
Bodie was mildly surprised to see that the impeccably attired young man of the day before had finally gotten more casual, now sporting expensive slacks, shirt and tie, but without his matching suit jacket. Putting it down to the inconsistencies of youth, Bodie smiled politely and offered him a cookie.
"No, thanks," Stuart declined. "Baked compost would taste better."
"Um." Bodie nodded his agreement as he risked a minuscule nibble. "I think I agree." He set the plate aside and concentrated on his tea. He studiously avoided looking directly across the room, where Doyle had been waylaid by Colleen.
"So, how is your book coming along?" Stuart asked.
"Hm?" It took a moment for Bodie to realize Stuart was referring to the commune history he was supposedly researching. "Oh, not too badly, I guess. I'm afraid this lot hasn't been much help." With a strong suspicion that Stuart didn't particularly care for most of Lumley's guests, he added conspiratorily, "You know, between you and me, I think they're all a bit, well, touched."
"That is absolutely true," Stuart replied delightedly. "Load of nutters. Mind you, the Hunts are all right."
"Yes, one can see that," Bodie said. "It's the others. Take Susan, for instance. She seems rather hostile, or is it only me she dislikes?"
"No, it's not you. Susan hates everyone. You see, she thinks it should still be 1969, and we should all act accordingly, and she can't understand why no one else thinks the same way. Hopeless, really."
The sneer of disdain on Stuart's face almost made Bodie feel more sympathetic towards Susan. But not for long. "Then there's Colleen and her ban-the-Beatrix-bunnies campaign," he went on.
"Hmpf," Stuart snorted. "There's no excuse for that sort of favoritism, if you ask me. That's what it amounts to, you know--giving extra attention and privileges to the lower classes simply because they've allegedly been 'oppressed'. Utter nonsense. They haven't been downtrodden. They've simply been too ignorant to better themselves. Any intelligent person can work hard and find a way to get out of poverty, but no, that's not good enough. We have to reward stupidity and laziness by making the poor feel 'special'. It's ridiculous."
Taken aback by the vehemence of Stuart's outburst, Bodie replied, "I expect you've been feeling more optimistic about things since Mrs. Thatcher took office, though."
"It's true she's doing a lot of good," Stuart said. "But we do need to be ever vigilant. One should always keep an eye on the opposition."
"Quite." Wondering if that was why Stuart was here, Bodie glanced round the room. This load of oddballs hardly seemed to pose a major threat to the Conservative party. "Do you think Lumley's press has much influence?"
Stuart shook his head. "Only among the weak-minded. No one with any brains pays any attention to the swill he pours forth. Especially Northbrook's garbage. It's laughable." He gave Bodie an inquisitive look. "I do hope, when you write your book, that you plan to say something about how soundly these people's socialistic ideals have failed them."
"I'll certainly consider it," Bodie replied.
"Good. In that case, I shall look forward to reading it."
Bodie nodded. He almost wished he could write the thing, just so he could find something to put in it which would offend this pompous young man.
He risked a glance in Doyle's direction and saw that he was still entrapped by Colleen, looking thoroughly bored. Bodie checked the feeling of commiseration which welled up within him. Doyle didn't need his sympathy. What Doyle needed was to be left alone--so alone that maybe he'd realize what a damn good thing he was turning his back on, and just maybe he'd regret it.
Bodie sipped his tea and waited patiently for the gathering to break up, knowing that when he and Doyle got back to the library, it would be time for round two.
Doyle stared at the worn, wrinkled, stained plan he'd found of the east wing's ground floor. There were tiny arrows and indecipherable scribbles all over it, and it had taken him half an hour simply to figure out which was the top edge of the paper, yet it was the best one he'd found all day.
He'd kept quiet since he and Bodie had returned to the library, hoping to establish a nice, peaceful lull which would make Bodie relax. Now he was ready for the next step--trying to talk to him about something other than last night. Something, anything else would do, as long as it was casual and noncontroversial. He hoped it would ease the way back to their former camaraderie. It was worth a try. The icy barrier Bodie had built between them needed to be chipped away at.
Doyle cleared his throat and looked over at the other desk. "You know," he said warmly, "I think we should get extra hazard pay for having to eat those cookies."
"Yeah," Bodie replied. "And we could get Cowley to consider stocking 'em as a weapon, too."
Brightening at the response, Doyle chuckled and said, "They'd make perfect ammunition for anti-personnel rocket launchers. Or we could use 'em to poison our enemies."
Bodie started to say something, then an odd expression of regret flickered across his features and he turned away. "Got work to do," he said coldly.
Feeling utterly let down, Doyle simply stared at him, the hurt washing through him stronger than any physical pain. So there wasn't even to be any casual talk, no friendliness at all. Struggling to control his emotions, Doyle looked back down at the house plan. But he wasn't really seeing it.
After another ten useless minutes of gazing blankly at the plan, Doyle gave up. He couldn't sit here any longer and quietly take Bodie's rejection. He picked up the keyring he'd collected earlier from the kitchen and sorted through it for the oversized summerhouse key, working it free. Shuffling the best of the plans into a pile, he rose and stuffed them under his arm. "I'm going to the east wing to look it over," he said sharply, slapping the large key on the desk. "Here's the summerhouse key. There's no point hanging about in here, and if you don't like it, you know where you can stick it." He turned and strode for the door.
"There's no reason to get upset," Bodie's calm voice floated after him.
That tore it. Spinning on his heel, Doyle marched over to Bodie's desk, stopping a foot away. "No reason to be upset?" he yelled. "When you've gone and tossed me out of your life like so much soiled laundry? You can't say one civil word to me to save your life, you won't come anywhere near me, it's like I've gone poisonous or something." Bodie kept his head down, presumably studying one of the plans, which made Doyle even angrier. He slapped at the papers. "You won't even fucking look at me, for chrissakes!"
Bodie looked up, his eyes far away, but he didn't say anything, merely tapped a pencil on the desktop.
Doyle took a deep breath. "It's like I don't even exist for you any more." He wanted to shake Bodie, but held back. "What the hell are you doing?" he said, his voice strained. "It was one night, dammit, just one night of good sex and then you go and lose it on me. It's not my fault you went overboard. What the hell do you want from me, anyway? Undying declarations? True love forever? You want me to give up birds, move in together? Are you nuts?"
Still Bodie remained grimly silent, and Doyle tore onwards. "Do you have any idea what that would do to our careers? Have you given any thought to what it would mean at all? We're mates, dammit, why can't we simply stay mates and leave the rest of it behind? We tried it, it was fun, and that's that."
There was a long, long minute in which they merely stared at one another while Doyle waited for a response. At last Bodie put the pencil down, and said quietly, "I'm sorry. I love you, and I can't change that."
Shaken, Doyle took a moment to compose himself. "I happen to love you, too," he replied, "as a friend. Doesn't mean I want to have a relationship, for chrissakes."
"Why not?" Bodie replied in a matter-of-fact manner. "You said the sex was good. You said we were best mates. What else do you need in a relationship?"
Doyle opened his mouth, couldn't think of a reply, and shut it again. It had never occurred to him to look at it in quite that way. Good friends, good sex...and they had more--things like trust, and respect...and love. It was a good question, and it startled him. What else did he need in a relationship? "I don't know," he replied. "Sanity?"
A smile touched Bodie's lips and was gone. "Sorry. Afraid I can't guarantee that. All I can offer you is the best friend and lover you've ever had."
Doyle thought of the way Bodie had held him, had touched him, had kissed him--and for a moment, he wanted to believe him. But then he remembered Bodie's history of relationships, and slowly shook his head. "For how long?" he asked. "You don't commit to anyone. I know you."
"People change," Bodie replied simply.
"Yeah, they do that, don't they." Doyle looked away, unable to handle the sadness in Bodie's eyes any longer. "Look," he said, moving away from the desk, "let's work on this separately for a while, okay?" He referred to both the job and their own feelings, and he knew Bodie caught his meaning. "I'll look for the tunnel entrance in the east wing. You can check for the one in the summerhouse. I'll see you at supper."
He'd made it to the door before Bodie called out after him. "Ray?"
Doyle paused with his hand on the knob, looking back. "Yes?" Even from a distance, he could see the whiteness of Bodie's knuckles as he gripped the desk edge.
"I need you," Bodie said softly, his voice catching.
Unable to find anything more to say, Doyle turned and walked out the door.
Though the summerhouse had been ice cold when Bodie first came in, he had since removed his anorak and muffler, having worked up a sweat from moving lingams about.
Working on a theory that one of the phallic stones might trigger the trap door to the air raid shelter, he had twisted, turned, and toppled some three dozen of the things, of all sizes and weights. The larger ones were damn heavy, and he found it impossible to move the largest one at all. Now he had temporarily given up in favor of a rest break on one of the room's stone benches.
He had wanted to ask Lumley where the entrance was, having failed to find any indication on the various maps and plans. But Lumley was busy helping with the preparations for the big Christmas dinner, and Bodie didn't want to talk to him in front of any other guests. He couldn't risk anyone finding out what he and Doyle were up to.
So he sat on the cold stone, staring at the jumble he'd made of Lumley's neat, concentric circles. Where the hell was the damn shelter entrance? Surely the builders would want it to be obvious. But then again, maybe not. If they feared an actual invasion at the time, they would have been as clever as possible about hiding it. And who knew if Lumley had done anything to disguise it further since then.
Bodie tried to concentrate--where would he put a trap door, and how would he hide it? He considered the erotic paintings which hung over most of the wall space. Naturally he had checked behind each one when he'd first come in, searching for a possible hidden lever. And he'd found nothing. Could the key to the mystery lie somewhere else in those decorations? Doubtful, since they surely were a recent addition, probably put up by Geoffrey.
What else? He'd lifted each of the intricate incense burners adorning the stone bench opposite, but they were simply incense burners. He'd checked out the benches, too, pushing here and there at random in pursuit of a magical door-opening trigger. He'd gone over the floor, stomping on each inlaid slab of marble. He'd tested the doors and windows. It didn't leave much--nothing, in fact, except those damn lingams.
There was still the big one--the twin of the four-foot monster they had used for their snow cock, but even thicker and heavier. He'd failed to turn it. It would certainly be possible to tip it over, but Bodie was afraid the resulting crash of stone on marble would capture the entire household's attention. It wouldn't make much sense to hide the trap door beneath it, if it always took two people or a lot of noise to move it. Unless you wanted to discourage anyone from going down there.
Bodie checked his watch--another two hours until the dinner. He decided to dedicate at least one of those two hours to either a long, hot soak in the tub or a long drink of whisky, or both. But that still left another hour to kill, and no good excuses for not spending it in continuing his search.
He wondered if Doyle was having any luck in the east wing. And he couldn't help wondering what thoughts were bubbling and boiling away in his partner's convoluted mind. His tactic of cutting Doyle off cold had worked faster and more effectively than Bodie had dreamed possible. Doyle truly couldn't handle being abandoned by him. That alone gave him cause for a guarded hope--that, and the fact that Doyle hadn't punched him out or told him to go to hell. Obviously he hadn't regretted their night together. He had simply viewed it a bit differently than Bodie had.
Well, Bodie thought, perhaps he was being a tad optimistic. Their little difference of opinion was really a pretty major one. The question to be decided was, who would be the first to capitulate? If they were to have any chance at all of going on together, remaining friends and working together, then something had to give. Either he gave up any hope of being Doyle's lover and closed his heart up so tightly it might as well be a steel trap, or...or else Doyle accepted him completely, physical relationship included. Bodie realized he had no real choice in the matter. The outcome lay solidly in Doyle's hands. There didn't seem to be much else he could do or say to influence him. Doyle knew how he felt, and Doyle surely knew that Bodie didn't want to shut him out. But he also had to know that total withdrawal might be the only way Bodie could deal with rejection. Not that shutting Doyle out of his life would mean he could ever get Doyle out of his mind.
That was a problem he didn't want to think about yet. Not if he wanted to have any chance of remaining useful on this op.
What the hell was Doyle thinking about right now?
Bodie shook himself and stood up to stretch. Where was the damn entrance? That was what he should be focusing on. Yes, people going to the shelter would enter through the tunnel from the east wing, but there had to be way for them to get outside at this end. Didn't there? Yes, dammit, there did. Rubbing his hands together, and trying very hard not think about what Doyle was doing, Bodie strode back to the circle of lingams to start moving the damn things about once more.
Doyle was thinking about women.
He sat on a stool in an empty room in the east wing. It was the third room he'd searched, without any luck. The plans were no help at all. The first two rooms had a few pieces of musty, covered-up furniture in them; this room had nothing except the mustiness. He'd spent an hour slowly canvassing the walls, tapping away at them, listening for hollow spaces, pausing whenever he got tired of bending and crouching to check the lower sections, or of climbing and stretching up and down to check the higher sections. It was bloody hard work. And whenever he paused, to sit for a few minutes on the stool, he thought about the pattern of his relationships.
Birds. Women. Females. He'd been through an awful lot of them. So many he'd lost count ages ago. What had they meant to him? Sex. Companionship, too, though it was always fleeting. They came, they went, nothing ever happened. Each one lasted what--a few weeks? A few months at most? Had he ever truly cared about them? Well, yes, there had been a few times when he'd thought he was in love. And he'd been wrong.
All his relationships broke up. He liked to believe it had to do with the job. Called out at all hours, no regular work schedule, dates broken off left and right--who would put up with that for any length of time? The unpleasant truth, of course, was that there were agents who had steady girlfriends, even wives, and they made their relationships work the same way doctors or fire fighters or policemen did. If the tie was strong enough, a person would put up with anything to be with someone they loved. It was too easy to blame all his failures on inconvenience.
So what was it, then? Lack of something deeper, perhaps. He had fun with his girlfriends, they had a good time, but it was all very casual, very superficial. He rarely talked about work with any of them, never discussed life, death, anything truly significant. The most philosophical he ever got was in debating the ideas in the latest film they'd seen.
No, none of his relationships lasted because they had nothing substantial to hold them together. And who was there for him, each and every time he went through a break-up?
Bodie. Easy, familiar, and comfortable.
Doyle couldn't believe he was even thinking these thoughts. It was ridiculous. Surely someday, somehow, he would meet someone of the opposite sex, dammit, who would understand him as well as Bodie did, who could talk to him about anything in the world with the same rapport, who could offer the same kind of friendship and trust, who would need him the way he needed--
No, no, he couldn't think that. What the hell did it mean--that all he really wanted was a female version of Bodie? He was certain what his partner's reaction would be if he casually announced to him, "Oh, by the way, I've figured out our problem. All you have to do is get a sex-change operation." Yeah, that would go over well.
Bodie was Bodie; there couldn't be anyone else like him out there, male or female. No one would stand for it.
Except him, of course. Doyle stared at the blank room around him. Empty, lifeless, nothing left here for anyone. And nothing left for him if Bodie walked out of his life. A shiver ran down Doyle's spine, which he instantly attributed to the lack of heat in the room.
Bodie couldn't just walk out on him...he couldn't. They were a team. They were partners. They had a history together, for chrissakes. You couldn't simply throw it away like yesterday's newspaper. Bodie couldn't turn away from him as if none of it meant anything. Why was Bodie letting him go so easily, why wasn't he fighting harder--did it really hurt so much that his only response was to shut everything out? It wasn't fair. Bodie was forcing it all onto his shoulders, forcing him to make all the moves by his retreat. And Doyle didn't like having that kind of responsibility.
He didn't have any answers. There had never been a time before in his life when he was at such a loss, never a feeling of such overwhelming helplessness. What the hell was he supposed to do?
Doyle felt an unaccountable trembling in his hands; he stood and paced about the room to warm up. He couldn't change his whole life and his attitudes at a moment's notice, couldn't toss out all his assumptions and beliefs about what a permanent relationship should be just like that. Surely he and Bodie could work something out, some way of salvaging their friendship, something that wouldn't turn his world upside- down. Why couldn't Bodie see how crazy it was to try having a sexual relationship? Why did he have to go and complicate something that was working just fine as it was?
Bloody hell. He couldn't waste time pacing about empty rooms all day. Having gotten nowhere with his musings, Doyle made one last scan of the room and prepared to move on to the next.
Bodie sighed as he sank up to his neck in hot, steaming water. As the sweat he'd worked up in the summerhouse washed away, he reached for the glass of whisky he'd set on the rim of the tub. A few relaxing sips later, he felt a thousand times better than he had a few minutes earlier, and quite content. Especially since he had taken the foresight of locking the bathroom door against potential intruders.
Raymond Bloody Doyle. Nuisance, irritation, aggravating sod--and the only person who had ever taken the time and effort to truly get to know him, rather than the facade he put forth to the world. Of course, Doyle had probably made at least part of the effort out of self-defense, having been saddled with a partner from the very top of the CI5 agents' private, unofficial, Most Undesirable Team-mate List.
But he had made the effort. Bodie thought of their first encounter fondly, when he'd spent an hour laconically bragging to Doyle about how tough he was and what a nasty, hard world they were entering together. And broadly implying that Doyle had better damn well be up to it. He hadn't exactly been impressed by the scrawny, scruffily dressed, battered- looking former policeman, and hadn't gone out of his way to disguise his feelings. Doyle had taken it all in, making mostly inconsequential comments, until near the end of their pub- room chat. Then he'd set his glass down on the counter, stood, said quietly but firmly, "I've heard that talk is cheap. Now I believe it," and walked out.
Well, he'd had to admit that he'd had it coming, Bodie reflected. He had judged Doyle before they'd done anything at all as partners, making up his mind on looks alone. He'd been premature, and he'd been quite mistaken. They had then gone through training sessions together, everything from the basics to simulated ops. Doyle had been prepared, hard-working, and damn good at making fast decisions. But he'd also been quietly moody, temperamental, and quick to anger when things went wrong. Bodie hadn't known what to make of his new partner, and their working relationship was a tense one. They each had a point to prove, and neither was willing to give away much to the other.
It wasn't until their first real assignment that things finally began to click. Supposedly a simple surveillance job, it had flared out of control when the terrorists in the house they were watching panicked, taking the family next door hostage. When backup arrived, they moved in, Doyle taking the back, Bodie the front. Suddenly a woman had screamed as a shot rang out inside, and they were forced to storm in, ready as they ever were going to be. Bodie had burst through the front door and dropped into a crouch, and the first sight that greeted him was Doyle breaking through the other door. Then one of the terrorists hurtled out of a room, with a young woman in his grasp and a gun to her head, facing Bodie. Bodie didn't move at all, and a fraction of a second later Doyle fired, dropping the man where he stood. Then they silently moved towards the room he'd come out of, Doyle rapidly and effectively quieting the shaken young woman and getting her out the way before they plunged into the thick of things-- which turned out to be the least dramatic part of the day. The second terrorist already lay dead on the floor, shot by the other in a falling-out. It was all over.
Afterwards, slowly coming down from the intensity of the abrupt shoot-out, they had gone to a pub and had a few drinks, and talked. Really talked, for the first time, about a lot of things, without pretenses or facades or any bragging. It had been a revelatory evening. They certainly hadn't opened up completely with each other, but they had made a start. And as they continued working together, as their reliance on each other and their mutual respect grew, so the friendship grew. Where they had at first merely tolerated the differences in their personalities, gradually they came to enjoy, and eventually to treasure, those differences. They complemented one another very well.
Bodie knocked back the rest of his whisky. It had been a long road, from that first meeting to now. They'd had plenty of good times, and far too many painful times, but when he looked back, what Bodie remembered most was that Doyle was there when he needed him. And he didn't want to lose that. He had spent most of his life alone, in one way or another. It had never particularly bothered him before, when he hadn't known what he was missing. Now he had found, without trying, someone he could bear to be with day in and day out, and more. And he was on the point of being relegated once again to solitude, only this time he would feel the lack, and would know its cause.
Bodie rolled the empty whisky glass between his palms. Then he set it in the bath, flicking his hand to give it some ripples to travel on, a little glass island in the water.
Doyle had found a treasure trove.
It was in the last room along one side of the floor, which he'd determined to finish before supper. When he'd opened the door, a cloud of dust had risen off stacks of crates, boxes, and chests of all sizes, filling the room. At first he thought it would be a simple matter to finish off, since there was little floor or wall space he could reach between all the junk. But then he made the mistake of allowing his curiosity to get the better of him and he pried the lid off one of the crates.
An hour later he was still pawing through what turned out to be a museum's worth of memorabilia, all of it from the commune days, going back to the mid-Sixties.
He found boxes stuffed with tie-dyed shirts and jackets with mandarin collars. There was an entire chest crammed with beaded jewelry and a variety of colorful headbands, and another one full of leather sandals. There were books-- everything from organic gardening tomes to the collected works of Jeremy Bentham. In one corner he found a stack of records, the most popular commune music being that of Donovan. Then there were the crates jammed with miscellaneous odds and ends: peace symbol belt buckles, anti- nuclear posters, Indian bedspreads, a variety of pipes, packets of rolling papers, a bamboo flute and a tambourine, bottles of patchouli oil, a bag of Runes and a Tarot pack, and at the bottom of one very dusty box he found a framed photo of Fidel Castro and half a dozen Maxfield Parrish calendars.
Near the end of his ransacking, Doyle found a box containing three oversized books with plain covers. Inside one of them, the front page stated simply, "Journal: 1966-1970." The next one covered 1970 to 1974, and the third one went from there to the commune break-up in 1977. Skimming through the volumes at random, Doyle quickly figured out that they had been written by Lumley, who had spent most of his time chronicling the ups and downs of the organic farm and the day-to-day details of his alternative press. He was about to give up reading from sheer boredom, when an entry from 1976 caught his eye.
Three months ago, Lumley wrote, I met the man who has since become the closest friend I've ever had--Geoffrey Evans. We are quite different, he and I, and yet whenever we are together some magical combining of opposites occurs, and we are suddenly attuned to one another perfectly, and seem to see the world as one instead of two. Such a feeling has never occurred to me before.
Doyle shut the book. He couldn't read something so personal.
He opened it again and flipped through the remaining pages to see if it really did tell the story of how the relationship developed from friendship into love and a sexual partnership. It definitely did. He shut it again. He really couldn't read it-- surely that would be impolite. Of course, on the other hand, precisely how would his hosts ever know he'd seen it? He certainly had no intention of telling them.
Doyle looked at the journal. He really shouldn't. He had no good reason to make such a voyeuristic dip into the past, except curiosity.
After a few seconds, he flung the cover open, found the right page, and began to read.
"The snow is melting," Julia Hunt announced as she took her place at the dining table. "Did you notice how much it's warmed up? Rather sad, I think."
"Yes," Graham agreed. "But easier to drive in."
Bodie listened for a bit while Julia proceeded to harangue her husband for being too pragmatic, but his interest quickly waned. He turned to David Northbrook, who sat next to him, and engaged him with a query about his current activities, hoping to draw him out on the Anti-Fascist Society.
"Ah," Northbrook replied cheerfully, "my next short-term project is to write a pamphlet on the current immigration laws."
Bodie nodded politely while Northbrook rattled on. He poked at his salad, wondering how he could dispose of the sprouts which overflowed the plate. And this was only the first course of the big Christmas dinner. He eyed the roll sitting beside his salad with suspicion. It was dark and had seeds in it.
Glancing over at Doyle, Bodie was surprised to see him intently studying Richard and Geoffrey, who were sitting near him. It didn't seem as if Doyle were saying anything to them; he was simply watching them, catching every gesture and look between the two men. What the hell was Doyle up to?
"...and provide more opportunities for underprivileged people from other countries," Northbrook finished.
"Very interesting," Bodie said automatically, having heard perhaps one word in three. He felt that his venture to sound Northbrook out was failing miserably.
"It would take jobs away from British citizens," Paul Stuart muttered from down the table. "And bring in hordes of uneducated, poverty-ridden coloreds."
Northbrook pointedly ignored him.
The soup arrived. Bodie managed to talk the servant into taking his barely touched salad away. He kept the roll, though still uncertain what to do with it. A whiff of garlic hit his nostrils as he leaned forward to smell the soup. There were a few unidentifiable chunks of vegetables floating in the light- colored broth. At least there weren't any sprouts. Feeling bold, as well as famished, Bodie tasted the stuff and discovered that it was edible. With a growing sense of culinary courage, he broke off a hunk of the roll and dipped it in the soup. Finding the result quite pleasant, Bodie relaxed a bit about what the rest of the meal might entail. He turned to Northbrook again and said, "Are you working on any other sorts of political projects these days? I mean, outside of your writing."
"Well, I do the odd protest now and then," Northbrook replied. "You know, mostly anti-nuke things, the occasional gay rights rally. And I do fund raisers for various organizations. Then there's the AFS. I'm sure Colleen's told you about our efforts to battle fascistic trends here in England. We're particularly keen on fighting anyone or anything that promotes intolerance. Perhaps you'd like to read some of our literature?"
"Yes," Bodie lied, "I'd love to. And maybe I could attend a meeting sometime?"
"Oh, I'm afraid they're restricted to members. But I'd be happy to put forth your name to our membership screening committee."
"Thanks." Bodie sincerely hoped it wouldn't become necessary to follow through on this nonsense. "But why do you use such security measures? Have you had problems?"
"We feel it's best to err on the side of caution," Northbrook replied. "I'm sure you realize that there are certain right-wing, fascist organizations in this country which would love to infiltrate our group. Especially the various police and secret service agencies. Nothing but a bunch of underhanded, amoral, vigilante types with no respect for the rights of private citizens. Well, you're a liberal-minded journalist, you know what I mean."
"Absolutely." Bodie tried hard not to smile. "I know exactly how those secret police gangs operate. They're run by ruthless bastards who would shoot you as soon as look at you if they thought you were some kind of terrorist, and the proof can come later. And I'll tell you something else. They go around planting bugs in people's houses on the flimsiest of reasons."
"Innocent people's houses," Northbrook agreed enthusiastically. "You are so right. And as a journalist, it must outrage you that they can do whatever they please and then hush it up in the press."
"Ah, the infamous 'D Notice'," Bodie replied amiably. "Drives me up a wall, that does. Think they can muzzle us every time they violate someone's rights, in the name of 'national security'." He paused to munch on his soup-dunked roll. This was fun. He wished Doyle could join in. But when he looked that way, it was to see his partner still engrossed by Richard and Geoffrey. Apparently he was talking to them now, as he nodded attentively at them, hanging on their every word. What was Doyle doing?
"National security, my foot," Northbrook said. "What they ought to be looking at is their own security. How many spy scandals does it take before they realize they should spend less time checking into every detail of the lives of ordinary citizens, and more time checking out their own people? I mean, you have to wonder what sort of person would want to join an organization like that in the first place. Someone with a desire to mix with the lowest forms of society--thieves, murderers, drug smugglers, arms dealers. Someone who likes the idea of hanging out in disreputable pubs and gambling dens, running about chasing people in dark alleys, using guns, actually shooting and killing people. You'd have to be some kind of deviant to want to do that sort of job."
Bodie struggled to contain his laughter throughout the tirade. Deviant--he liked the sound of that. "Bet they're all psychopaths," he replied, striving to maintain a serious expression. "You're right to screen your group. You wouldn't want a load of nutters getting in."
"Certainly not. I'm so glad you understand. You know," Northbrook leaned close to Bodie, dropping his voice to a whisper, "one can never be too careful when it comes to politics. Even here, you have to watch what you say to certain people."
"Well, if you mean the Hunts, I can tell they're Conservatives."
"Yes. It's wise to keep an eye on them. And watch out for Paul, too. I happen to know that at least two of his friends are in the Army."
A capital offense if there ever was one, Bodie thought. "I'll be careful," he replied. "Thanks for the tip."
"Anything for a fellow liberal." Northbrook patted Bodie's arm and smiled.
Uh-oh. Bodie wondered if the relentless bastard was going to try it on with him again. He didn't give up easily.
"By the way," Northbrook added casually, "you wouldn't happen to be covering the Labor Party meeting next month? I'm going, of course. Perhaps I'll run into you there?"
Yes, he was damn well trying it on again. Bodie started to tell him to stuff it, but was saved by the timely arrival of the main course, which to his delight turned out to be a genuine, honest-to-goodness goose and not molded lentil loaf. And along with it came steaming plates of potatoes, yams, vegetables, and plenty of wine. Sometimes even left-wing nutters did things right.
Bodie rubbed his hands together and prepared to dig in.
"So," Bodie said as he stretched out on the bed, arms behind his head, "I suppose we should go over what we have on this case so far." He frowned. "If anything."
Doyle sprawled in the armchair. They had come up to their room after an endless series of social activities. After the dinner, which had dragged on for hours, there were more silly games in the drawing room, including a round of charades at which they both proved hopeless, followed by the lighting of a cheery blaze in the fireplace around which everyone gathered for more Compost Cookies and apple cider.
It was now late evening. They hadn't had a chance to talk to each other alone since parting earlier in the day. Doyle hadn't been certain that Bodie would even bother trying to talk to him again, but he supposed the case was a safe enough topic. "What we have," he replied tiredly, "is a lot of questions and no answers. Which will result in one angry Scotsman."
Bodie snorted. "It's Cowley's fault for sending us up here in the first place."
"He must've had something on this lot."
"Nah." Bodie shook his head. "He's working on a hunch. All that rot about 'we've received certain information' and so on and so forth--what 'information'? All he's got is some vague report from some unreliable source saying the arms were taken by left-wing terrorists who might be in league with the IRA. And maybe they're connected with the AFS group. And so here we are. Don't know about you, but I haven't heard anybody so much as mention anything remotely related to Northern Ireland."
"No," Doyle agreed, "that's true. Heard a few left-wing rants about other stuff, though. Still, I don't think Colleen is planning to blow up any school libraries."
"Northbrook might blow up something. Who knows what, though. He's got all sorts of causes."
"Let's tackle it from another angle," Doyle said. "Forget worrying over who makes a good suspect. If we can find the arms, they'll lead us to the right person." He stared up at the ceiling, trying to concentrate. "Suppose they really are hidden in the shelter beneath the summerhouse. And suppose the person who hid them there was also the person who startled Julia Hunt in the east wing. What was he doing there?"
"He was on his way from the shelter back to his room." Bodie paused. "No, why use the hallway instead of the secret passages? What's it like in the east wing, anyway? Did you find anything interesting?"
Doyle left off his study of the ceiling to look at Bodie. "Didn't find the tunnel entrance. Did find another staircase, down at the far end. Goes from the ground floor up to the other two floors."
Bodie sighed. "Doesn't make sense. What was this fool up to last night?"
"Let's try it from the beginning." Doyle sat up straighter so he could lean forward and rest his arms on his thighs. "Our guy has stored the arms here. He's waiting for something or someone so he can get rid of them, and meanwhile, they're hidden under the summerhouse. The house party starts. He's suddenly worried about people hanging about the place, maybe even going out to the summerhouse, so he's keeping a close eye on things. Could be that the snow sculpture contest spooked him, or maybe the guessing game with everybody sneaking around. So he decides it's not safe to leave the arms where they are."
"And in the dead of night," Bodie said, "he goes out there to move the arms--where? Into the east wing? Via the tunnel?"
"Probably. We know some guests have gone into the summerhouse, or tried to--like Rupert. And us. I mean, we haven't found the bloody air raid shelter entrance, but maybe some of the others know where it is--the ones who visit regularly, and the people who live here, of course. Our man probably wasn't expecting anyone to go out there in winter, though, and that's why he picked it as a hiding spot. But then he decides the disused wing is safer--nobody's been hanging around down there. He could lock everything away in one of the rooms."
"Our suspect would need to know this house fairly well," Bodie observed. "And have keys."
"There's a master key on that keyring I borrowed," Doyle replied. "Opens up every room in the east wing."
"Handy. And easy enough to borrow to make a copy."
"Susan has the best access," Doyle pointed out. "We keep forgetting about her. She does live here--she must be pretty familiar with the layout."
"Northbrook comes around here a lot," Bodie said. "For press business. So does Colleen."
Doyle nodded. "Yeah. I suppose they'd have opportunities to check the house over, given Lumley's lack of attention." He frowned, trying to get back on track. "Let's leave that for later. We'll just go with someone who knows the house pretty well and has access to the keys, and who wants to move the arms into the east wing. Right? Right. The tunnel would most likely come out on the ground floor, so he'd probably hide them in a room down there, rather than haul them upstairs. I only managed to get through half of those rooms today, so who knows what's in the others. Anyway, let's say he finishes the task and he's ready to go back to his own room in the west wing."
"And doesn't want to risk going up the main staircase," Bodie said. "So he goes up the other one you saw, at the far end of the east wing. And walks along the east wing corridor and bumps into Julia? Why not use the secret passages to get back to the west wing?"
"It's four in the morning," Doyle replied. "Why not simply walk down the corridor? It's unlikely that anyone will be up and about. He just ran into her out of sheer bad luck."
"Okay, then if the corridor isn't that risky at four a.m., why is the main staircase a danger?"
Doyle pondered that one for a minute. "Because of the dogs," he answered. "He'd have to go down the main hallway on the ground floor to get to the central staircase--past the kitchen."
"Good. I like it." Bodie furrowed his brow. "So he hides the arms, goes up the far staircase to the guestroom floor, heads off down the corridor. But then he accidentally runs into Julia Hunt--"
"--and now he has to use the passages to get away, otherwise he'll be seen by everybody."
"So he rushes into one of the east wing rooms, using the master key to unlock it--"
"--and sneaks along the passage that connects the two wings-- "
"--and gets back into his own room--"
"--and quickly comes out again into the corridor with the other guests to see what all the screaming is about," Doyle finished.
"We know there's a passage running along there," Bodie said, "behind the guest rooms on the one side. And we know it has openings into Flax's room and Stuart's room. But not Northbrook's."
"It could still be him," Doyle replied. "If he were bold enough, he could've come out into Paul or Flax's room, hoping they'd already be out in the corridor--and then he snuck out there himself. Everyone was paying attention to Julia and wouldn't have noticed which door he came out of."
"True. And he could be bold enough. He does have a certain tenacity."
"Thought he was against violence, though," Doyle said. "You know, owning property leads to violent acts and all that."
"It's a front," Bodie said confidently.
"You've got it in for him, haven't you?" Doyle asked, amused. He thought he knew the cause of Bodie's antipathy to Northbrook. "Been flirtin' with you again, has he? I noticed he was being friendly with you at supper."
"Oh, did you?" Bodie's eyebrows lifted. "I'm surprised you noticed anything--you were so enchanted by our hosts. Just what were you talking to them about?"
Doyle pursed his lips, not sure how much he wanted to tell Bodie. Then he shrugged, opting for honesty. "I asked them how they met," he said, looking away from Bodie, down at his feet. "Wanted to know how it changed from friendship to love, and how they knew--" He stopped, feeling unaccountably embarrassed.
The ensuing silence from the direction of the bed finally made him look up. Bodie was simply staring at him, with a puzzled expression. "Doesn't have anything to do with us," Doyle added quickly. "Was just curious. Found these journals in the east wing, from the commune days. Lumley kept them. That's all. Doesn't mean anything." He shut up again, unsure why he was even rattling on about it.
There was another lengthy silence. At last Bodie cleared his throat and said, "And did you find out?"
"Find out what?" Doyle asked.
Bodie rolled his eyes. "How they knew when the friendship had changed, you idiot."
"Oh, that." Doyle nodded, staring with great concentration at his feet again. "Yeah. Geoffrey told me that one day he realized that no matter what happened between them, no matter what they did or said, that he'd reached a point where he couldn't ever walk away from Richard without leaving some part of himself behind." It occurred to him that he probably sounded like a complete fool, repeating such romantic sentiments, even though he knew Bodie harbored the occasional romantic notion himself. But Bodie wouldn't come out and say things like that. No, his style was more direct. Just I want you, or I need you, or I want to go to bed. Yeah, he had a terrific command of the language, all right. Not that Doyle needed anyone to say things like that to him. Still, the way Geoffrey spoke about Richard had touched something in him, whether or not he wanted to admit it. Not that it really had anything to do with him and Bodie.
"Lumley told me he had memorabilia somewhere," Bodie finally said. "When I first came out here to talk with him. Was there anything political in the journals? Or in the other stuff you found?"
Doyle rubbed his nose with his index finger, glad that Bodie had changed the subject. "No, nothing except what pamphlets he was printing." He did a mental inventory of the room's contents, visualizing each box he'd gone through. "And a couple books by Jeremy Bentham, and a photo of Castro. Oh, and a few anti-nuke posters. But nothing overt, nothing on how to make explosives in your kitchen or overthrow the government in your spare time."
"Pity." Bodie yawned. "Think I'll take a little nap."
"A nap? It's getting on to nine," Doyle said, surprised. "Are you planning to get up again later?"
"I'm going to spend the night in the east wing. Keeping watch." His tone was stern. "By myself."
Doyle felt a pang in his gut. Must be those damn cookies. "Shouldn't we both go?"
"And be tripping over each other? No, thanks." The firmness in Bodie's voice brooked no argument. "I can handle it. Alone."
"Yeah, okay." Doyle gave in. "You want any relief?"
"Nah. I'll get a couple of hours' sleep, head down there 'bout eleven. Think I'll take the ground floor. I should be able to hear anyone mucking about. Don't really expect our man to be out tonight, but you never know." Bodie closed his eyes. "I'll see you in the morning."
Doyle watched him for a while, not happy with the abrupt dismissal but unwilling to push it. Obviously Bodie didn't want to talk about anything other than the case, and they'd dealt with that. So he'd been consigned again to the silent treatment.
Well, he wasn't going to simply sit here. Maybe a little reading would distract him. Glancing about the room, his eyes fell on Lifeguard Lust lying on the nightstand. Somehow it didn't seem quite the thing he wanted right now.
Rising, Doyle stretched his arms. Then he took another look at Bodie's quiet figure, and decided to leave him to the solitude he apparently wanted. He headed down to the library.
The uncarpeted east wing floor was not the most comfortable place in the world.
Bodie sat with his back against the wall near the far stairway, wishing he'd brought a pillow for his head. The only things he had brought were a torch and the master key from the keyring Doyle had borrowed.
He hadn't gotten any rest during his attempted nap earlier, and now Bodie felt sleepy, irritable, and foolish. There was only one reason he was stuck out here, suffering like this, and it had nothing to do with the case. After all, the odds that the suspect would go traipsing about a second night were less than slim. So the only real reason for being here was that he didn't want to spend the night in the same room as Doyle.
Bodie shifted, trying to get more comfortable. He checked his watch to find that it was all of 12:05. Terrific. He'd been here one hour. Only seven or so more to go. This was ridiculous. Why was he punishing himself? He could simply use the master key, find a room with a bed or something, and actually get some sleep. No, better not. He'd told Doyle he'd watch the damn wing all night, so he'd better stay put. Bodie yawned.
He leaned his head back against the very firm wall and waited for something interesting to happen.
After an hour or more of tossing and turning about in bed trying every conceivable position, Doyle finally began to drift off into the drowsy limbo between wakefulness and slumber, unsure of what was real and what was half-formed dream. In a lazy, languorous motion, he rolled onto his side to fling his arm across the warm body lying beside him...and hit empty air.
Coming abruptly awake, he patted the other side of the mattress for a few seconds, seeking the absent form, before remembering that he was quite alone.
Doyle sighed and rolled onto his back. He glanced at the lighted bedside clock. Nearly one a.m. He had stayed in the library until well past eleven before venturing back up, wanting to be sure Bodie would be gone. And now that he was gone, Doyle found himself missing the idiot.
Dammit. Doyle flung the covers aside, rose, and went to the window. The moon shone in a clear sky. On the grounds below, only a thin layer of snow remained. The sculptures had all congealed into large, unrecognizable lumps. Nothing sparkled--it hadn't gotten cold enough for a frost to form. As he gazed out at the fading winter landscape, Doyle wished he'd seen what it had looked like the night before.
An aching longing hit him hard as he looked at the melting snow, then turned to stare at the empty bed. He leaned back against the window frame, clutching the heavy drapes. Why did it have to be all or nothing with Bodie? Doyle knew, with the ache gnawing within him, that it would be all or nothing. They wouldn't be able to work together, they wouldn't continue seeing each other as friends, not with this standing between them.
And he knew that if he let Bodie go, something of himself would be irretrievably lost, gone forever. Doyle stopped staring at the bed and turned to look outside again. Something important had happened last night, something he might have seen if he'd been looking for it--if he'd known he'd been looking, or known he'd been wanting. There was a barren place inside him and he hadn't realized how much he needed something there. He couldn't remember ever feeling the lack before. When he was younger, it hadn't seemed important, but now--well, now it was important, but he'd always had Bodie to fill the emptiness. He hadn't known that he needed anyone quite so much.
What was he supposed to do, then--love another man? Love his best friend, the person who loved him? Why was that so difficult? Because it wasn't what he expected, because it wasn't sane. And yet, exactly when, and where, and how, in the world he lived in, would he ever find sanity?
Doyle didn't know all the answers to those questions. He did know that he didn't want to be alone, and he knew there was only person he wanted to be with right now. He cared more for Bodie than anyone else in this screwed-up world, and if that couldn't be the basis of an all-encompassing relationship, then he didn't know what could.
Doyle suddenly felt enormously content. Pulling the drapes shut, he dashed into the bathroom to grab a robe to put on. Then he hurried into the corridor. Bodie had gone down to the ground floor. The easiest route would be down the east wing to the staircase at the far end. Doyle sprinted along the dark corridor, only slowing up as he sensed its end. He felt his way down the staircase, moving as quickly as he could, and hit the landing ready to find his partner.
Except that his partner found him first. Out of the corner of his eye, Doyle caught a glimpse of movement, and before he could get a single syllable out, Bodie was on him, tackling him at the knees. Doyle landed face down, the wind knocked out of him, leaving him incapable of speech. As he tried to clutch his abdomen, gasping, Bodie grabbed an arm and twisted it behind his back, then he was roughly turned onto his side and a bright light hit his eyes. Then he heard a string of muttered curses as Bodie released his hold. Doyle sat up, panting as he tried to get his breath back.
"What the hell are you doing?" Bodie hissed.
Doyle tried to talk and only managed a series of spluttering grunts.
"You're a great ruddy fool," Bodie went on. "Why are you sneaking about in the middle of the night? Ow--" There was a pause as Bodie got to his feet, moaning. "I think I've sprained my back."
"I...I'm--" Doyle took in great gulps of air. "I'm-"
"Shut up." Bodie's voice was fierce. "I heard something."
"Oh." Doyle managed to take a few more deep breaths. Then he heard it, too--footsteps overhead, moving quickly, and a door shutting.
"Bloody hell." Bodie took off, bounding up the stairs.
"No...wait--" Doyle gasped. This was not exactly going the way he wanted. Lurching to his feet, he followed Bodie. He heard more footsteps above, running now, and another door slamming. But by the time he reached the first floor landing it had gone quiet. He moved cautiously along the corridor, checking doorknobs as he went. There was no sign of either Bodie or his quarry.
Great. Now what? Doyle went up and down the entire length of the east wing corridor. Nothing. Had they gone into the west wing, where the guest rooms were? He peered down that way. Still nothing. Turning back to the east wing, he had started along it one more time when a door opened and Bodie came storming out, nearly running him over. Without saying a word, Bodie stalked off towards the west wing.
Resigned to at least a bit more unpleasantness, Doyle quietly followed him back to their bedroom. When the door was shut, Bodie turned on him, his voice softly menacing. "I lost him," he said, glowering, advancing to within a foot of Doyle, arms crossed against his chest. "He disappeared into that room, but by the time I reached it, there was no one inside. He must've gone into a secret passageway, but I couldn't find the entrance."
Doyle swallowed. "It was definitely a man, then?"
"Yeah, as far as I could tell in the dark, from a distance. Now, of course, if a certain person hadn't come fumbling along, creating enough of a racket to spook the bastard into running off, then maybe I would've heard him mucking about up there, and maybe I could've snuck up on him quietly, but no, I couldn't have that, could I?" He loomed in even closer, his face inches from Doyle's. "What did you think you were doing?"
Doyle was relieved to see that, despite the glowering, there was no real anger in Bodie's expression, merely simple annoyance. "Sorry," he replied. "Wanted to talk to you."
"Oh, great." Bodie threw his arms up in exasperation and moved away, to pace up and down the room. "You wanted to talk. We're in the middle of a case, it's the dead of night, I'm on surveillance, the suspect is on the prowl, the trap is all set to be sprung, and you decide, at one o'clock in the bloody morning, that it would be a grand idea to come storming down to have a little chat. That's just terrific. That's absolutely brilliant, mate. How do you think these gems up? Did you take a special class on How To Annoy the Hell Out of People? You wanted to talk." Bodie halted mid-stride to cast Doyle a suspicious glare. "What the hell did you want to talk about, for chrissakes?"
Doyle, having patiently waited for Bodie to wind down, simply smiled and said, "Does your back still hurt?"
"What?" The question abruptly stopped Bodie's tirade, and his expression was puzzled.
"You said you strained it." Doyle moved close to Bodie, who stood near the end of the bed. "Does it hurt?"
"Nah." Bodie frowned. "Well, a little."
"Right." Doyle nodded towards the bed. "That's my fault, so I'll fix it up for you. Get undressed and lie down, and I'll give you a massage."
Bodie blinked. "What the hell are you up to now?"
Doyle, detecting an ever-so-slightly hopeful note in Bodie's tone, kept his own voice firm and commanding. "Nothing. Go on, get moving."
"Why do you want to give me a massage?" Bodie insisted, eyes narrowing.
Doyle gave a nonchalant shrug. "Because you're my best mate, and your back hurts."
"Doesn't hurt that much." Nonetheless, Bodie glanced down at the bed with a clear look of longing.
His patience sorely tested, Doyle said slowly and carefully, "There's no point going back out to the east wing tonight, which means you're going to sleep in here tonight, which means you're going to have to get undressed and get into bed in any event, so why don't you stop fussing and bloody well get into the damn bed and you can have a massage as well while you're lying there, you great--"
"Fussing?" Bodie broke in, sheer outrage replacing all other emotions. "Fussing? I've never fussed in my life!"
"Well, go on, then." Doyle nodded at the bed again.
Sighing, Bodie sat on the edge of the bed and pulled his shoes and socks off. "You've gone round the bend, you 'ave." As he drew the sweater off over his head, he muttered, "Daft. Crackers. Round the twist." He tossed the sweater aside and looked up at Doyle. "You never answered my question."
"Which question?" Doyle asked innocently, knowing perfectly well.
A tolerant smile touched Bodie's lips. He rose, walked around to the side of the bed, and pulled the covers down. "You know," he said as he took his trousers and briefs off. He climbed onto the bed, lying face down, arms crossed on the pillow to support his head. "What did you want to talk about?" He turned his head to one side, resting his cheek on his hands. "Well?"
Doyle sat cross-legged on the bed near Bodie's feet, and took in the full length of Bodie's naked form, smooth and pale and muscular. "Wanted to get you to come to bed," he replied softly. He picked up Bodie's left foot and gently rubbed it, using his thumbs to press along the sides.
"It's my back," Bodie protested, "not my feet--"
"I'm workin' my way up there." Doyle continued his slow massage, moving on to Bodie's right foot.
"Definitely certifiable," Bodie muttered. After a pause, he said, "Why?"
"Stop being difficult," Bodie replied. "No, forget it--that's like asking you to stop breathing. Ah--" He let out a light moan as Doyle started on his lower leg, finding tense muscles there. "Oh, yeah...that's good...go left a bit."
Doyle worked the stiffness out, then went on to the other leg, stroking firmly and smoothly, pausing occasionally to knead tight, knotted areas before moving on. Bodie's moans increased in frequency as Doyle made his way up to his thighs.
"Don't you go and think I've forgotten," Bodie murmured. "No more stalling. Why did you want me to come to bed?" His tone turned suddenly bitter, and he twisted his head to gaze back at Doyle. "It's not one-night-stand, part two, is it? Feeling randy again, are you? 'Cause if that's what it is, you can go to hell." He started to push himself up.
"Don't want sex," Doyle said quickly.
"No?" Bodie gave him a confused frown, then sank back onto the pillow. "Then what?"
"Already had that last night." Doyle shifted his position, moving up to sit beside Bodie's hips. He shrugged his bathrobe off, then he laid one hand on Bodie's lower back and began a lazy, circular motion. "Decided I wanted to try something different this time." He leaned over to lightly kiss one of Bodie's shoulder blades. "Want to try making love instead."
A little gasp escaped Bodie's lips. "Make love--" He twisted onto his side to clasp Doyle's forearm. "Why now? What changed?" he said in a harsh whisper, his eyes searching Doyle's face.
"Couldn't stand not having you around," Doyle replied. "Don't know what to do without you." He brushed his fingers across Bodie's cheek.
Bodie suddenly pulled him into an embrace, and Doyle felt the fine tremors running through Bodie as he clutched him tightly. "Is it really true?" Bodie asked, his voice shaking.
"Yeah," Doyle replied, and then, needing to be absolutely fair, he added, "I think so."
Bodie thrust him away, though he kept a grip on his shoulders. "You think so? Can't you bloody well make up your mind?"
"I'm sorry." Doyle wanted more than anything not to hurt Bodie, yet he had to make everything clear. "All I can promise right now is that I'm willing to try, and that I do want it to work. I mean, you and me, us, being together--" He broke off, unsure how to go on.
"It's called a relationship," Bodie said, maintaining his hard grasp on Doyle's shoulders. "Is that what you want?"
Doyle nodded. "I want to try. Dammit, Bodie, it's not easy to change your life overnight."
Bodie simply stared at him, his eyes fierce with yearning. "Do you love me?"
Momentarily taken aback, Doyle nodded again. "Told you that before. Thought it was 'cause of you being my best mate, but it's more than that." He reached up to put his hands on Bodie's arms, rubbing them until Bodie relaxed his hold and let go of his shoulders. Doyle took one of Bodie's hands in his and squeezed it. "You remember last year, when I was in hospital? Every time I woke up, you were there." He hesitated, striving to get the words right. "There was one night--I'd been restless, feverish, and it finally broke--and when it did, you said something to me, about how worried you'd been and how much it would hurt to lose me. And then you kissed my forehead. Do you remember that?"
"Of course I do." Bodie looked down at their joined hands. "Didn't think you did, though. You never mentioned it."
"Thought it would only embarrass you. Can't think why, now. It's not foolish to admit you care about someone."
Bodie looked up. "No. But I don't make a habit of it."
"I know you don't," Doyle replied. "Guess that's why it feels special when you do. Rare things are more valuable, aren't they." He let go of Bodie's hands and ran his finger down the middle of Bodie's chest. "Anyway," he said, "that's how I felt tonight. That it would hurt too much to lose you." He pressed his open palm against Bodie's abdomen. "I know I'm asking a lot of you. I want you to let me try to love you the way you want me to, and I can't give you any guarantees. If you say no right now, your life will have a hell of a lot less trouble in it." He waited, motionless, caught between hope and fear, unsure of anything save the one unalterable desire, no matter what happened, to be wherever Bodie was.
After what Doyle would have sworn was an eternity, Bodie smiled, and he looked happier than Doyle had seen him in a long, long time. He cupped Doyle's face in his hands and leaned in to kiss him, a light brushing of lips before pulling back. "Trouble?" he said, his eyes smiling as well, "I was born to handle trouble. Wouldn't know what to do without it."
An overwhelming sense of relief flooded Doyle and he grinned, tension easing. He let his hand drop from Bodie's abdomen onto his cock, giving it a quick stroke. "Never finished your massage, did we?"
"You start in there and I won't care about the rest of it," Bodie replied. "All be over too soon."
"Yeah, you're right." Doyle took his hand away. "Want to go slow, make it last." He glanced down at his own mildly aroused organ, a light heat rising within him. "No rushing," he instructed it, then looked over at Bodie's groin. "What do you call yours, then?"
An affronted look passed over Bodie's face. "I beg your pardon?"
"Oh, come on. You must have a nickname or two for 'im. I mean, I've got mine."
"That's personal," Bodie replied tersely.
Doyle raised his eyebrows. "Thought you loved me."
"I do," Bodie said. "But I have my limits."
"Ah. Gotta keep at least one little secret from me, do you?"
"Adds mystery, that does," Bodie insisted. He sank back down onto the bed, stretched out on his side. "Come on, I've had enough talking. Want a proper kiss."
"All right, all right." Doyle stretched out alongside him, their bodies touching, the heady feel of warm skin against his threatening to overwhelm him. Easy, he told himself forcefully, willing his body to relax. He wrapped his arms around Bodie and kissed him, lips parted, seeking Bodie's mouth, tongue running deep within as the contact touched off a fire of need. He broke away to nip and suck at Bodie's throat, sighing with pleasure as Bodie's hands roamed over his back and thighs.
"Want you," Doyle murmured, unable to stem the tide of desire. "Want to...I want you...." He moved further down, licking at smooth flesh, finding a nipple to lap his tongue around. Fully aroused now, his cock hard, he ached with a need to possess.
Bodie shifted, pushing up on one elbow to reach across Doyle to the nightstand. "Got something here." He plucked a tube from the drawer. "Might come in handy." He gave it to Doyle. "You want me, you got me," he said simply. He rolled onto his stomach. "All right?"
Doyle stared at the K-Y jelly, a shiver of nervousness returning. Then he looked at Bodie's calm figure and the trusting face turned towards him. "Yeah. Fine."
Bodie drew one leg up a bit, crooking his knee. Doyle ran his hand along Bodie's spine to the cleft between the buttocks, then dipped in between, a quick, hesitant exploration.
"Go on," Bodie said. "Wanna feel you."
Doyle rubbed the jelly on his cock, smooth and cool and slick. Then, with more of it on his fingers, he probed at Bodie's buttocks again, sliding into the opening there with one finger, working at it as Bodie gave a tiny jerk, giving out little groans, his hands clutching at the pillow. "Okay?" Doyle asked.
"More," Bodie muttered thickly, "want more--get in there, do it, Ray--"
"Raise up a bit," Doyle said. Bodie pushed up onto his knees as Doyle, behind him, positioned himself between his thighs, placing a hand on Bodie's back for support. Carefully inserting two fingers, he pushed them in further, eliciting more moans, which drove him on, exciting and arousing him, working him up to a frenzy. Doyle withdrew his fingers and shoved the head of his cock in, sliding his other arm around Bodie's waist, seeking out Bodie's thick, hard shaft, stroking it firmly as he pushed his own cock further in, gasping as the tight channel pressed in on him. Urgent now, all thoughts of taking it slow long fled, Doyle pumped into Bodie, his cock completely embedded, inflamed by Bodie's demanding cries for more. He pulled out and thrust back in repeatedly, increasing the incredible friction as Bodie pushed his hips back, grinding against him, echoing his own motion, a rhythmical joining of their bodies. And then Doyle felt the surge of orgasm as he came, sending him up and up to a fiery height from which he never wanted to fall, an endless passion savored, yearned for, held onto with all his will, and still lost, intangible, a fleeting moment of utter fulfillment that could not be sustained.
With a final, weak spasm, Doyle withdrew, collapsing onto Bodie's strong back, his hand loosely encircling Bodie's erect cock. Gradually he became aware that Bodie was trying to push against the hand, wanting contact. Doyle gripped him harder, using his other hand to massage Bodie's taut balls.
"No," Bodie murmured, strained, "need you...need to see you- -"
Doyle slid off his back and Bodie rolled over, pulling Doyle to him for a fervent kiss. "Please," Bodie whispered when they drew apart. "Need you." He pushed Doyle's head towards his groin.
With a new-found craving to please Bodie in every way he could, Doyle avidly sought out his goal. He ran his tongue lightly along the underside of Bodie's cock, then kissed the tip before taking it into his mouth. As he eagerly sucked the firm flesh, he worked at Bodie's balls with one hand, gently kneading and stroking, delighted at Bodie's deep sighs of pleasure. Then Bodie's hands were grasping him, and his body shuddered beneath Doyle as he came, warm fluid spurting into Doyle's mouth. Swallowing rapidly, Doyle pumped him for all he was worth, drawing away at last as Bodie subsided into a lazy sprawl, with a look of pure satisfaction on his face.
"Hm...." Doyle settled his head on Bodie's shoulder, arm draped across his chest, and nuzzled his neck. "You happy?"
"Ecstatic." Bodie kissed Doyle's forehead. He wrapped an arm around him, held him close. "Love you."
"Good," Doyle replied sleepily, "'cause it's mutual."
"Say it, then," Bodie pleaded.
"I love you." There was no hesitation. There was no question in Doyle's mind about the strength of his emotion, though lingering doubts about their future together remained. He would simply have to wait and see how things went--what would happen when they returned home, and what would happen as they continued being lovers under Cowley's nose. Doyle sighed. He didn't want to think about that. Cowley wasn't their sole problem. Their working environment was riddled with sharp-eyed agents trained to observe, trained to spot things out of the ordinary, and surely some of them would pick up on the fact that neither he nor Bodie was going out with women anymore. It was inevitable that questions would arise someday, but they would deal with it when it happened. In the meantime, all he wanted to do was make Bodie happy, and all he could do was hope that he wouldn't screw things up. Aware of his own faults, Doyle didn't want to let his moodiness, or his temper, or his occasional fickleness, ruin what they now had. But sometimes he simply couldn't control what he said or did, even when he was conscious at the time of the effect it had on those he cared for, even if, at the very moment of speaking, he wanted to hold the words back. So many times he had mentally kicked himself mere seconds after yelling a harsh opinion or lashing out with his temper, often not even believing that he had said what he had, as if his own mind had been temporarily out of his control. And then he was often too stubborn or too proud to retract or apologize, and often he felt, with a painful intensity, that he could never do or say what was needed to make up for the hurt he had caused, and so he remained silent.
"You asleep?" Bodie's voice drifted out, rousing him from his reverie.
"No. Just thinking." Doyle shifted a bit, reaching for the covers. He nestled back down, drawing the covers snug around them. "Promise me something, will you?"
"Anything you want," Bodie said, his breath warm against Doyle's face. "Except my stereo, that is. I've seen you eyeing it, and you can't have it."
Doyle smiled, giving Bodie a soft pat. "Okay. You can keep it."
Bodie let out a long, drawn-out yawn. "What is it you do want, then?"
"Promise you'll always give me a second chance."
"Well," Doyle replied, "sometimes I say things or do things that I wish I hadn't."
"Everybody does," Bodie said. "Mind you, you do have your own special style, but still--don't worry about it."
"Can't help it. This is important."
"I know." Bodie's tone was soothing. "But I've managed to put up with you so far."
"That's true," Doyle admitted. "Don't know how you do it sometimes."
"Infinite patience," Bodie said serenely.
Doyle laughed. "They should sell stock in it. You'd make a fortune."
They lay quietly for a while, and as he rested in Bodie's arms, warm and contented, Doyle began to yield to the pull of sleep. Then he felt Bodie briefly tighten his hold on him, and heard him whisper, "You'll need some, too."
Too tired to follow this, Doyle asked, "What?"
"Patience, of course. I do have my less-than-pleasant moments too, you know."
"Hm. I had noticed."
"Yeah, really." Doyle yawned, stretching within Bodie's embrace, then he subsided into a peaceful stillness. For once, for at least a time, his world felt whole, the empty spaces filled, the puzzles solved. He struggled to hold onto the feeling, pushing away his deep-rooted sense that all good things must be transitory, and he refused to let the contentment of the moment fade.
Bodie woke to the sound of rain battering the windows, with a strong wind whistling through the cracks. The weather, however, did not concern him at all. Only one thing mattered to him--the fact that Ray Doyle was lying quietly asleep in his arms. It was a most amazing and delightful sight to wake up to, and he hoped there would be many, many more mornings like this.
Though he felt a strong desire to stay in bed forever, eventually Bodie succumbed to the need to stretch dormant muscles. He did so as carefully as he could, but Doyle stirred nonetheless, sleepily rubbing his eyes. "Sorry," Bodie said, lightly stroking Doyle's back.
"It's okay." Doyle blinked and opened his eyes. "Is it morning?"
"Hard to tell." Bodie glanced at the rain-streaked window, where the partly opened drapes revealed a dark gray sky. "Looks to me like a day for staying indoors, somewhere nice and warm and cozy...like a bed...."
"Can't." Doyle yawned and stretched his arms. "Got work to do."
Vaguely disappointed at Doyle's unromantic reference to reality, Bodie shrugged and said, "Don't have to go off investigating right away, do we?"
"Nah." Rising up on one elbow, Doyle smiled down at him. "Got better things to do." He kissed Bodie's lips. "What do you think, hm? Sex before breakfast?"
Relieved, Bodie nodded. "Before, during, after, whatever you want."
Doyle tilted his head, considering. "During might be interesting. Wonder if anyone would say anything? I can hear Lumley now. 'Excuse me, dear chaps, but I couldn't help noticing that you two are, um, well, you know, screwing each other through the dining room carpet.'" He grinned. "Polite, he is. He'd probably offer us some margarine."
Bodie wrinkled his nose. "'orrible thought. Forget about the 'during' bit. Let's just try 'before' for now, okay?"
"You're on." Doyle gave him a shy smile. "You wanna fuck me? It's your turn, you know."
"Oh, are we taking turns?" Bodie was amused by the idea. It seemed appropriate, since they took turns in so many other areas of their partnership. "You gonna keep track, are you?"
"Well, I'll 'ave to, won't I? Got a memory like a sieve, you do, when it comes to takin' turns."
"Not when it's as important as this, I don't," Bodie replied firmly. "What did you do with that tube of K-Y, anyway?" He glanced over at the nightstand, but didn't see it.
"Gettin' right to the point, are we?" Doyle lay a hand on Bodie's abdomen, smoothly stroking it in a lazy, circular motion. "C'mon, do it proper and work up to things a bit slower."
"Oh, like you did last night, hm?" Bodie had nothing but pleasant memories of the act, but years of teasing Doyle couldn't be casually tossed aside. "You gonna teach me the Doyle Method, are you?"
"You berk." Doyle gave his belly a poke, and Bodie flinched, covering the area with his hands. "Whatsamatter, not sensitive there, are you?" Doyle pounced, trying to tickle him, as Bodie furiously batted his jabbing, grasping hands away.
"No!" Bodie yelped as Doyle went for a sneak attack, suddenly curving downward to tickle the back of Bodie's knee. Then he curled up even more to go for the feet. Bodie kicked his legs about to discourage him, while wrapping his arms around the wriggling torso, trying to wrestle him off. In a tangle of bed covers they tossed and thrashed about, legs and arms flailing and grasping, grappling for advantage, thwarted by the close confinement, until Doyle let out a surprised cry of triumph, stopped struggling, and sat up from the wreckage of the covers holding a tube in his hand. "Aha. Found it."
Bodie lay back, panting lightly. "'Bout time you did something right." He pushed himself up, and snatched the K- Y from Doyle. "Can we get serious now?"
"Yeah, we can do that." Doyle lay down and started to turn onto his stomach, but Bodie stopped him, pushing him onto his back again.
"Want to look at you this time," he explained. Then he began to caress Doyle's chest.
"It's gonna be a bit awkward."
"Oh, we'll manage. Here, let's try this." Bodie snatched up his pillow. "Lift up." He shoved it under the small of Doyle's back. "That should help." He moved to kneel between Doyle's open, bent legs, and leaned over him, trailing kisses down chest and abdomen. Then he planted a few on his semi-erect cock and the taut sac below.
"Ah," Doyle gasped. "Do that again."
"Hm? Which part?"
"Your face--it was rubbing against my balls--felt fantastic."
Bodie nuzzled him there with the side of his face, and Doyle wriggled and moaned, grasping Bodie's head to keep it there. "Yeah...more--"
It was his beard stubble, Bodie realized. The friction of the short, rough hairs rubbing against Doyle's sensitive sac was driving him wild. Doyle's balls tightened and his cock hardened as Bodie continued the special caress, immensely pleased to have found a new way to excite Doyle, wondering what other discoveries they would make in their sexual forays.
Aroused now himself, Bodie lifted his head to run his tongue along Doyle's cock, then shifted up a bit, pausing to lick Doyle's nipples. When he looked up, he caught sight of Doyle's expression of pure abandon--head thrown back, eyes closed, lips lightly parted. Those full, sensuous lips begged to be kissed, and Bodie did, long and deeply, entranced by the taste and feel of Doyle's mouth. As he drew away, he lapped up the tiny beads of sweat which had formed on Doyle's upper lip. "Too warm?" he murmured.
"Hot," Doyle replied huskily. "You've got me all hot." His hands found Bodie's chest and he stroked him up and down. "Come on...do it...get in me--"
Bodie balanced on one arm and used his free hand to twist off the tube cap, and started to squeeze out the gel. But Doyle intercepted, grabbing it from him to dab some onto his own fingers. Then he reached to rub it on Bodie's hard cock, the touch tormenting in its potent sensuality. Fighting to retain control, Bodie took a few deep breaths, revelling in Doyle's touch but not giving in to total indulgence. He wanted it all, longed to fully experience every sensation, yet he had to hold something back, wait for the right moment to lose all restraint.
Doyle took Bodie's hand and squeezed more gel from the tube, directly onto Bodie's fingers. Then he lifted his hips and raised his legs, propping them over Bodie's shoulders. Bodie sought out the opening, stuck a finger in, tenderly exploring. He pushed in further and Doyle gasped.
"More?" Bodie breathed, acutely conscious of the ache in his balls.
"Yeah," Doyle whispered. "Go on."
Bodie worked two fingers in, felt Doyle clench around them. "Deep breaths," he said. "Relax." He listened to Doyle's breathing, felt the loosening of tense muscles. "That's it." He carefully pushed again, went in deeper, then pulled out and guided the head of his cock inside, striving to ease into Doyle, attentive to each groan and sigh Doyle gave out. He balanced his arms on either side of Doyle, and as he drove in harder he intently watched the struggle on Doyle's face between pain and pleasure, gauging his thrusts in response. When he pressed into the deepest recesses of Doyle's body, Doyle let loose with a sheer animal cry of satisfaction. Bodie felt the urgency rise within him, lost all restraint, and rammed into the tight heat of Doyle again and again, his body as close against Doyle's as he could get, touching and rubbing wherever he could. Dimly conscious of the rhythmic beating of the rain against the windows, which counterpointed the rhythm of their joining, Bodie became lost in the storm of sensations, shouting incoherently as climax overtook him--an annihilating release that threatened to consume him. It ended far too soon, gradually returning him, unwilling, to an awareness of reality.
They had both collapsed; Doyle lay sprawled beneath him, legs spread-eagled as Bodie lay on top of him, his legs between Doyle's, hips against hips, chest against chest, cheek touching cheek. Bodie rested there, only slowly becoming aware of the warm stickiness that had pooled on Doyle's belly. He raised up enough to see the evidence of Doyle's orgasm, his flaccid penis lying softly across one thigh. "Ah," Bodie muttered, "couldn't wait any longer, hm?"
Doyle weakly shook his head. "Was too much, feeling you inside me--seeing your face, feeling you against me like that. Couldn't hold it back."
"I know how that feels, believe me." Bodie shifted down a bit so he could rest his head on Doyle's chest. "Think we'll need lots more practice at this."
"Every chance we get," Doyle replied.
Bodie lay there, knowing they would need to get up soon, deal with the ordinariness of dressing, shaving, getting ready for breakfast. He let out a little sigh, and determined not to move a muscle until the last possible minute. It was too comfortable here, nestled against Doyle's chest, soft whorls of hair beneath his cheek. He listened for Doyle's heartbeat, found it, pressed his ear closer.
Doyle encircled him in his arms, and blew a warm breath across his forehead. "Hey," he said, "did you know it's raining something fierce out there?"
"Did you just notice that?" Bodie asked, incredulous.
"Yeah, well, I had other things on my mind."
"And very interesting things they were, too," Bodie said. He could, unfortunately, see the clock from his current position. "Gonna have to get up soon, you know."
Doyle nodded. "That's okay. There's always tonight, and the next night, and the next--"
"And the afternoon, and the next morning, and--"
"You're insatiable, aren't you?" Doyle broke in.
Bodie looked at him, saw the twinkle in his eye. "Yeah," he replied. "Are you going to tell me you're not? Model of restraint, are you?"
Doyle smiled. "Not exactly. Reckon we're pretty well matched there."
"Randy bastards, that's us," Bodie agreed happily. "So when do you want to get up?"
Doyle glanced over at the clock. "Tomorrow," he replied.
"Will you settle for half an hour?" Bodie said.
Doyle ran his tongue around his lips. "A lot can happen in half an hour."
"Especially," Bodie said, watching Doyle's tongue with interest, "with two randy, insatiable bastards--"
Doyle kissed him, and put an effective end to their conversation.
The rain continued to pour down. Bodie stood at the back door of the kitchen, staring through its tiny window at the gray sheets of water outside. Why was he doing this? He didn't really have to go out there.
When they had come down to breakfast, it was so late that most of the food had been cleared away and the dishes washed up. He and Doyle had only been able to grab a few slices of toast and some weak coffee. Then everyone had scattered to do their own thing for a few hours, and they decided to continue their search for the tunnel. Doyle had announced his intention to return to the east wing's ground floor, to take up where he'd left off. Bodie had gone up to get his anorak before heading out to the summerhouse. But now he found it hard to get past the kitchen door, the weather much too daunting.
He didn't really need to go out to the summerhouse. He'd already searched it as thoroughly as possible, and had no ideas about new approaches. Perhaps he should go to the east wing and help Doyle instead. Why get soaking wet for no good reason?
Suddenly something pressed into his side. Very slowly and very carefully, Bodie turned his head. Slowly and carefully, he looked down. And saw a wolfhound snuffling at the pocket of his anorak, tail wagging furiously.
At least it wasn't snarling. He swore it was the same one that had savaged his suit jacket. Maybe the damn beast thought he carried liver sausage sandwiches as a rule. It was certainly expressing a keen interest in the contents of his pocket, which was liver sausage-free, containing only a pocket knife and the key to the summerhouse. He held a torch in his right hand, and contemplated using it to discourage the dog's attentions, but decided not to tempt fate. Instead, he tried simply to move away. The huge dog butted its head against him, pinning him right where he was. Resigned, Bodie felt for the door handle and his only avenue of escape--the great outdoors. Slowly he opened the door. The beast pricked up its ears. "Stay!" Bodie commanded. The dog growled.
As swiftly as he had ever moved in his life, Bodie flung the door open, rushed outside, and slammed it shut again just in time. Heavy thudding sounds echoed from the other side as an eight-stone wolfhound leaped at the door, barking madly.
A torrent of rain pummeled Bodie as he made a dash for the summerhouse, slogging through the slush of melted snow, slipping and sliding, cursing, anxious to reach shelter. But despite being cold, wet, and thoroughly annoyed, he still skidded to a halt ten feet in front of the marble building, to stand gaping at it in disbelief. There, embedded in the wall beneath the porch, for all the world to see, stood a three-by- three foot wooden door.
Bodie stared at it, ignoring the huge drops of rain hitting him. It was on the outside. All that time he'd spent shifting stone phalluses about, all that sweat and mental effort he'd exerted scouring the interior of the summerhouse, and all the while, the shelter entrance was on the outside of the damn building. He hadn't seen it before because it had been covered by a bank of snow.
Shaking his wet head, Bodie trudged over to the porch and squatted beside the door. There was a padlock, but the wood was old and soggy. After a few minutes' work with his pocket knife, he had pried loose enough boards to be able to open the door. With an adrenalin rush of anticipation, Bodie opened the door and made his way down a flight of steps until he hit what felt like a hard-packed earth floor. Only a little of the gray morning light penetrated the underground chamber; he flicked on his torch.
The room was lined with thick concrete slabs; a door was set in the center of one wall. Empty metal shelving lined the other walls. A rickety wooden table and two chairs stood in the middle of the room. The shelves and furniture looked as if they had been there since the war, but the three crates stacked on the floor near the table were most decidedly modern. Very modern, if the army lettering on the outside was any clue to their contents.
Bodie eagerly knelt by a crate and pried the lid off. A neatly piled cache of nine-millimeter automatics shone in the torch light. Grinning with a sense of impending victory, he opened the other two crates--ammunition in one, gelignite in the last. One of the ammo packages was torn open and it looked as if some was missing--was this where the cartridge he'd found had come from? The thief might very well have armed himself from this lot. If they could just figure out who the idiot was, they could clear up this damn mess and go home.
Belatedly deciding it would be better not to handle the evidence any further in case it became necessary to dust for prints, Bodie went to examine the other door. It had to open onto the tunnel to the main house. There was a simple handle and Bodie turned it, heard a click, and swung the door open. The dark passage lay beyond. It looked to be a little over six feet in height, and perhaps a bit over two feet in width, and he couldn't see the end of it. Bodie smiled as a mischievous thought struck him. Doyle would be busy searching the east wing. Why not sneak up on him via the tunnel, give him a little surprise?
He padded quietly and slowly along the narrow tunnel towards the main house.
Doyle, however, was not yet in the east wing.
He had gone first to the library to look over the plans that had been in Bodie's half of the pile, and after half an hour of scrounging he'd picked out the ones most likely to be of use. Then, because his stomach was still grumbling after his light breakfast, he headed off in search of food.
In the kitchen he found a small tray of cold scones and a pot of tepid coffee. As he considered this meager offering, he noticed the wolfhound which happened to be scrabbling at the back door, whimpering pathetically. Not sharing Bodie's dislike of the creatures, Doyle crossed to the door. "You want out?"
The animal threw itself against the door.
"You know it's raining out there?" Doyle said. The dog barked eagerly. "Yeah, yeah, okay." Doyle released the handle and the beast bolted through, tearing across the grounds as if it knew precisely what it was after.
Probably smelled a rabbit, Doyle decided. Shrugging, he returned to the food problem, finally opting for two scones and a cup of coffee. With the plans tucked under one arm and his provisions in both hands, he started for the ground floor of the east wing.
Bodie heard a noise ahead. He flicked off the torch and stood motionless. Had Doyle already found the other entrance? Another possibility occurred to him. Their suspect could be on the move again. He quickly considered his options. He could make his way back to the summerhouse and wait there, hidden, with a greater advantage of surprise. Or go all the way back to the house, find Doyle, take the bloke on together. What if the fellow was armed? On the other hand, what if it was Doyle? He'd look a right prat retreating from his own partner. But he had no way of telling. Perhaps he could simply creep a bit closer, just enough to determine who was down there.
He moved cautiously a few paces forward, in the darkness, and bumped into the left side of the passage. Bodie paused, momentarily considered turning the torch on briefly, decided not to risk it. Up ahead something white flashed into view and disappeared, something around shirt-size. Doyle had put on a blue shirt today. This was foolhardy. He should go back.
Bodie moved forward again instead, shifting away from the left side of the passage. And promptly hit the other side, the torch held in his right hand banging the wall with a clunk.
In the next moment, Bodie became aware of two things: an odd, heavy scrabbling noise rushing up on him from behind, and the reappearance of the patch of white, this time with a glint of metal. Someone holding a gun...and something behind him--he had nowhere to go, he was trapped.
And then, in the split-second before the gun aimed in his direction was fired, the thing behind him pounced, knocking him flat, the bullet zipping harmlessly overhead.
There was a large dog digging at his jacket, a very heavy dog. A dog which had just saved Bodie's life. As he was re- evaluating the value of wolfhounds, Bodie suddenly realized his quarry had not fired a second shot, and had taken off, his footsteps echoing away in the distance. He'd be heading for the east wing--and Doyle would be there, unprepared.
Bodie tried to get up, but there was an eight-stone dog on his back. He struggled, shrugging off his anorak, and tossed it away. The beast went for it, and Bodie got to his feet, turned on his torch, and ran down the tunnel.
Doyle stood in the east wing corridor, with his hands full, muttering darkly to himself. He'd left the master key upstairs in their room. No doubt he'd need a torch as well. But he was still hungry and thirsty, and the cup of coffee wasn't getting any warmer. Maybe he should eat the scones and drink the coffee right here, and then go upstairs.
As he stood there considering his options, Doyle heard a commotion from behind the door nearest him. He moved towards it to investigate. The door flew open and Paul Stuart barrelled into him, sending papers, scones, and mug flying as both men tumbled to the floor.
Doyle saw the gun in Stuart's hand. Stuart had landed on top of him, and Doyle immediately brought his knee up between Stuart's legs and twisted, levering him off. Then he scrambled to his feet and kicked at Stuart's gut as Stuart tried to stand, and the man doubled over. But as Doyle moved in for another blow, Stuart lurched upright and swung round, his fist landing hard on Doyle's jaw. Doyle staggered back, and Stuart aimed the gun at him, but didn't fire, his face white. Doyle stood there, rapidly running possible actions through his mind--but he had few choices with a gun pointed at his chest. Stuart suddenly moved in close, and Doyle was about to try a last- ditch attack when Stuart struck first with a swift punch to Doyle's gut. The force of the blow sent him to his hands and knees, gasping. Stuart turned and fled down the corridor.
Bodie burst through the open doorway. He took in the scene in a glance, then headed for Doyle, but Doyle quickly gave him a thumbs-up okay signal and jerked his head in the direction Stuart had run. Bodie nodded and took off.
Doyle got to his feet and followed, arriving in time to find Bodie tackling Stuart where the wing met the main hallway. As Bodie sent Stuart flying to the ground, Doyle moved up to stomp on Stuart's wrist. Stuart let go of the gun. Doyle snatched up the weapon, then leaned back against the wall, still catching his breath, but holding the gun steadily on Stuart as Bodie rolled off him and got up.
Bodie went to Doyle's side. "You really okay?" He put a hand on his shoulder.
"Yeah," Doyle managed. "You?"
"Yeah. Want me to take the gun?"
"Nah." Doyle straightened from the wall. "I can manage."
Stuart was sitting up now, glaring at them. He started to say something, but at that moment the drawing room door opened and Lumley and Evans came out. They looked towards the little group, and hurried down the hallway to join them.
"What in heaven's name is going on here?" Lumley stared at the gun in Doyle's hand. "Have you gone quite mad, Mr. Doyle? Do put that hideous thing away this instant."
"It's not my hideous thing," Doyle replied, nodding towards Stuart. "It's his. Just took it away, we did."
"You ought to tell your nephew," Bodie added, "that it isn't polite to play with firearms. Or with explosives, either." He looked hard at Stuart. "Do you want to tell your Uncle Richard what you've been storing in his house, or shall I?"
Stuart looked warily from Bodie to Lumley. "It wasn't me!" he cried. "I only happened upon them!"
"On what?" Lumley looked more confused than he normally did. "What are you nattering on about?"
"Stolen arms," Bodie explained. "There are crates of stolen arms in your summerhouse, down in the shelter. And he's the one who's been hiding them there."
"Good God," Geoffrey muttered. He gave Stuart a dark, suspicious glare.
"No, you've got it all wrong." Stuart started to rise, but Doyle stepped towards him, threatening, and Stuart sat back down. "I was simply exploring the tunnel, and I happened upon them there."
"Really?" Bodie asked. "And did you simply happen to fire at me as well?"
"I was scared. I panicked." He looked up at Lumley, pleading. "I swear, I don't have anything to do with any of this."
"So it wasn't you who hid the arms," Bodie said, "and it wasn't you trying to shift them into the east wing last night, or the night before, and it wasn't you who bumped into Julia Hunt?"
Stuart shook his head vigorously. "No. Never. I swear. None of that's true."
Bodie smiled grimly at him. During this conversation, he'd been looking at Stuart's white shirt, and thinking about the continued absence of Stuart's expensive navy suit jacket, which had failed to make an appearance since the day of Stuart's arrival. He remembered noting it at the tea break yesterday, but hadn't thought that it was significant. Now he did. He turned to his partner. "You looked through Paul's wardrobe when you were planting his gift, didn't you? Did he have any other suits than the navy one?"
Doyle shook his head. "No. Just the one, and a lot of shirts."
"Right." He went to Stuart, gripped his upper arm, and hefted him to his feet. "Come on, we're going for a little walk back to your room." He marched Stuart down the hall towards the main stairs. Doyle kept close by, holding the gun on Stuart; Lumley and Evans followed.
"Must you be so rough?" Lumley protested as Bodie dragged Stuart up the stairs. "You have no right to treat a member of my own family in such an aggressive fashion, Mr. Brody." They reached the first floor landing and headed off to the west wing. "I mean, honestly, this is intolerable. My nephew claims he is innocent. Surely we should call the police to let them sort this out. I don't understand it."
Bodie shoved Stuart into his room, and made him sit in a chair.
"Just who do you think you are?" Geoffrey joined in with Lumley's protest.
Doyle went to stand near the chair, not taking the gun off Stuart. "We're CI5," he replied.
"What?" Geoffrey's eyes went wide. Lumley merely blinked and raised his eyebrows.
"CI5," Bodie repeated as he opened the wardrobe to begin searching. "Sorry. I'm afraid we've been here under false pretenses." He didn't see the jacket on the clothes rod. He dug about at the bottom and pulled out a suitcase. "We were sent here to investigate an arms theft which we suspect is tied to a terrorist group." He tossed the suitcase on the bed. "Some guns, ammunition, and explosives went missing from an armory." He glanced over at Stuart. "You've got friends in the army, haven't you? Wonder who they are? I wonder if any of them happen to be attached to the base where the arms were stolen from, hm? A little inside help, perhaps?" He opened the case.
There, folded neatly on top, was the suit jacket. Bodie shook it out and laid it on the bed. A dark stain marred its front. "I think when we get the lab boys onto this, they'll find it's composed of cocoa." He glowered at Stuart, who sank low in the chair. "Wonder how that got there," Bodie went on coolly, "if you were never sneaking about corridors, bumping into people in the middle of the night."
Lumley and Evans turned their attention full on Stuart. "I warned you not to trust him," Geoffrey said to Richard. "Said that years ago."
Lumley shook his head sadly. "Tell us what this is all about, Paul. Go on."
For a moment, Bodie thought Stuart would continue trying to bluff. But then the young man broke down, and in a quavering voice said, "It was my friends--they talked me into it. The whole thing was their idea."
"Your army friends?" Doyle asked, lowering the gun.
Stuart nodded glumly. "They're the ones who wanted to use them. A chance came up to take the arms, but they didn't have a plan right off for using them, so they asked me to hide them here, until the right moment when we--I mean, when they could do something. And so I did--I put them in the summerhouse. I didn't think anyone would go out there in December. But the house party started, and people kept going out there, and I got scared they'd be found. So I tried to move them into the empty wing."
"That was the first night?" Bodie asked. "When you ran into Julia?"
"Yes." Stuart sat sullenly, clasping and unclasping his hands. "I'd only got started. There are twelve crates and they're rather heavy. I'd been working about an hour and had moved four of them over, when the batteries of my torch went dead. I had more in my room, and I was on my way to get them when Julia appeared. I panicked and ran into one of the rooms."
"And went through one of the secret passages back to your own room?" Doyle asked.
"That's right. I know them quite well--used to play in them all the time as a child." He paused, took a few calming breaths, then went on. "The next night I tried again. I figured running into Julia was a simple fluke and it was safe enough to have another go. But then I heard someone else in the east wing. One of you, I suppose." He looked at Doyle accusingly.
"Both of us, actually," Bodie replied. "So you took off again. But you still hadn't finished moving all the crates, so you went at it one more time."
Stuart let out a long sigh. "I thought no one would bother mucking about in the east wing in the daytime. I didn't know who you were. Thought you were simply a curious reporter."
"Indeed," Lumley put in. "I really think you might at least have told me who you were beforehand."
Bodie shook his head. "Would you have allowed CI5 agents free access to your house and your party guests?"
Lumley pursed his lips. "Well--"
"No," Geoffrey answered for him. "We would not have allowed it." He sounded displeased, but the expression of distaste on his face was aimed solely at Paul Stuart. "But then, we didn't know we had a violent criminal in our own home, either. I'm glad you've caught him."
There was one small point which was troubling Bodie. "You know," he said to Stuart, "I'm impressed by your acting ability. All that pro-Thatcher, anti-liberal talk really had us looking the other way. Must have been difficult to insult people like Northbrook when he probably holds similar political views to yours."
Stuart frowned. "Northbrook? I can't stand the bastard."
"Oh, come on, there's no point hiding anything now. In a minute, we're going to give our boss a ring and he'll be wanting a good, long chat with you about your Irish friends."
"Irish?" Stuart gave him an incredulous look, then burst into hysterical laughter. "Are you mad? Do you honestly think I'm some sort of idiot left-wing radical? God, what fools!" He laughed again, shaking uncontrollably. "Oh, my God, I've been caught by utter incompetents...it's so unfair!"
Bodie looked at Doyle. Doyle coughed and cleared his throat. "I have a feeling," Doyle said, "that Cowley did have the wrong end of the stick on this one all along."
"He's not associated with the IRA," Bodie replied, mentally kicking himself for his narrow-minded thinking. "He's not a left-wing terrorist at all."
"He's a right-wing terrorist," Doyle finished. He studied the subdued young man. "What were your friends planning? Did they ever choose a target?"
Stuart hesitated, then answered resignedly, "Yes. We were--I mean, they were going to plant some explosives at the Labor Party meeting next month."
"Ah." Bodie finally felt as if all the pieces were coming together. It was obvious that Stuart was more involved than he cared to admit, but Bodie was perfectly willing to let Cowley sort it out. He rubbed his hands together briskly, turning to Lumley. "Could we make a call to London? I'm afraid Paul will need to go to CI5 headquarters for questioning."
"I have a right to see a solicitor," Stuart interrupted, regaining some of his composure.
"I'll send mine along," Lumley replied.
"In the meantime," Bodie said, "we'll need to lock him up somewhere."
"There's a fairly comfortable room on the first floor that would do," Lumley replied.
As they prepared to escort Stuart out, they were interrupted by the arrival of a wolfhound, who was bearing the shredded remnants of Bodie's anorak in its teeth. The dog deposited the remains in front of Bodie and wagged its tail.
"Oh, dear," Lumley said, "is that yours? I'm terribly sorry. Of course I'll have it replaced."
"Don't worry," Bodie replied, actually venturing to pat the dog's head. "As far as I'm concerned, he can tear up my jackets all day long. And," he said to Doyle, "remind me, before we leave, to buy the biggest dog bone in Oxford, okay?" He grinned and headed off, leaving an astonished Doyle in his wake.
"CI5? CI5? Well, I never heard of anything so sneaky, underhanded, and despicable in my life. Of all the unconscionable, devious, and outright impolite things to do--"
"Susan, dear." Lumley's voice cut into her tirade. "These two men are still my guests."
He had gathered the others into the drawing room and had explained the basic situation to them. Now Bodie and Doyle found themselves the recipients of many wide-eyed stares.
"Hmpf." Susan crossed his arms and glared at Bodie. "You don't even know if they're using their real names. Bodie and Doyle. Ha. A more ridiculous pair of fake names I've never heard."
"William Andrew Philip Bodie, to be precise," Bodie said, smiling. "Send you a copy of my birth record if you want." He sat on the sofa beside Doyle, and nodded at his partner. "And this is really and truly Raymond Doyle. He doesn't have a middle name."
"Do too," Doyle said.
Bodie's jaw dropped. "You what?"
"Stopped usin' it when I was sixteen," Doyle continued. "Never put it down on any papers, so it sort of slowly disappeared."
Still agog, Bodie managed to find his voice. "Well, what the hell is it?"
Doyle shook his head. "We all have our little secrets." He smiled sweetly. "Adds mystery, that does."
"You're not going to tell me?"
"No, I'm not going to tell you."
Bodie smiled in spite of himself, unable to stay annoyed at Doyle when he had that twinkle in his eye. "You just wait. I'll find out. Must be pretty embarrassing if you stopped using it."
"Nah. Didn't care for it, that's all."
Determined that one day he would solve that little mystery, Bodie shoved the problem aside for now and returned to their audience. "I know some of you may feel a bit, well, annoyed by our deception, but it was necessary. We were after a potentially violent gang, and it turns out we were quite right in looking here for evidence." He paused. "We may want to ask some of you a few more questions."
"You're not even writing a book, are you?" Northbrook asked with indignation.
"I'm not telling you a thing," Northbrook said. "Organizations like the one you work for are fascist and corrupt. I don't care what Paul was up to. You have no right to barge into people's private homes and spy on them."
"He was going to bomb the Blackpool Labor meeting," Doyle put in. "Weren't you planning to attend that?"
Northbrook spluttered. "Well, yes, but, well, that doesn't matter, it's the principle of the thing--"
"Oh, do be quiet." Colleen's calm voice broke into his speech. She turned a tolerant gaze onto Doyle, whom she was sitting close to. "I can't say I always agree with your sort of methods or aims. But putting a halt to madmen like Paul and his friends is not an act I plan to complain about."
Doyle leaned towards her, keeping his voice low so that no one else would hear. "I'm sorry I couldn't let you know the truth."
"And I'm sorry, too," she whispered back. "I'm losing a very good bookshop clerk."
"Thanks." Doyle didn't particularly want to ask her about the AFS, but this was his best opportunity. "I overheard an argument between you and David--I didn't mean to," he lied, with the ease of years of practice. "I was in the corridor, hiding because of the gift-giving game, and there you were. Will you tell me what it meant? It won't go any farther than this room, I promise."
She frowned. "I'm not sure I remember."
"You were talking tactics. Something about spilling blood."
"Oh, that." She gave a light laugh. "David keeps coming up with these foolish ideas about getting more attention for our causes. The latest involved going into the office of our least favorite MP and dumping pig's blood on his desk. I shot him down on it, because it's complete idiocy." She paused, looking puzzled. "You didn't suspect me, did you?"
"No." Doyle was pleased to be telling the truth this time. "Not you. Had a few unkind thoughts about Northbrook, though."
"I see. And is CI5 going to continue spying on AFS members?" she asked.
"I don't know. Are you planning to do anything illegal?"
"Forthright, aren't you." She let out a sigh. "Of course we're not, as long as I have a strong voice in our affairs."
"Good." Doyle knew they were on opposite sides in many ways, but he found it hard not to admire her determination, despite the anti-bunny campaign. "You can't tell me that the idea of someone investigating your group is news to you."
"No," she said sadly. "It's not news to me that our government spies on its own citizens. I really should hate you, and all you stand for. Why did you have to be so nice? It's not quite fair, is it?"
"Don't worry," he replied. "You're wrong. I'm not nice at all."
"No?" She didn't look as if she believed him.
"Well, maybe once a week, for half an hour or so." Doyle turned away, and caught the end of a conversation between Bodie and the Hunts, who were congratulating him on working for such a fine organization. Northbrook had gone to a corner to sulk, along with Susan, and the Moonglow sisters were busy chatting to each other while Rupert sat between them, scowling.
"...and if you ever require our assistance, feel free to call on us," Graham finished. He leaned in close and added, "Especially where this lot's concerned."
Bodie nodded unenthusiastically. "Certainly. Thank you."
As the Hunts moved off, Bodie turned to Doyle and whispered, "Can we go home yet?"
"Soon," Doyle replied. He looked over at the pagans. "Do you think we should go ask Rupert why he went to the summerhouse, and why he never speaks?"
Bodie gave a shudder. "I don't want to know."
"Yeah, I think you're right. Might disturb him if we force him to say something. You know how sensitive these poetic types are. Wouldn't want to upset him so much that he stopped writing 'Ode to Priapus', now, would we?"
"Nah," Bodie replied. "Besides, I've decided I prefer him quiet."
Lumley and Evans came over to the sofa, and Lumley reached to shake their hands. "I wanted to thank you for stopping Paul," he said. "It's a pity you're not really a journalist, but all in all, I've quite enjoyed having you both here, and you have averted a possible tragedy for our family, and I am grateful for that, though I do think it's a shame about the book, it would be so wonderful to have a history of the commune and all that, and I do apologize for Susan's little outburst."
"No problem," Bodie said, pleased that they hadn't annoyed Lumley too much. He'd gotten to like the fellow. "We're used to it."
"There's one thing I'd like to know," Geoffrey said.
He looked from one to the other of them. "Are you two really lovers?"
Bodie smiled warmly at Doyle and took his hand. "That," he said to Geoffrey, "is classified information."
Geoffrey studied each of their faces for a moment, then nodded, and gave them a wink. "My lips are sealed. Do take care." He and Lumley walked off towards a far corner, and Colleen joined them, leaving Bodie and Doyle in solitude on the sofa.
Doyle squeezed Bodie's hand, and gave him a wistful look. "Won't be able to do this when we're back in London."
"Hm?" Bodie put an arm around Doyle's shoulders. "You mean, sit here like this, being a bit too affectionate in public?"
"Yeah. Have to keep your hands to yourself, won't you?"
Bodie shrugged. "We'll survive. It'll make our private encounters all the more exciting."
Doyle raised an eyebrow. "You think being frustrated is exciting, do you?"
"Only if it doesn't last too long."
"Oh, yeah?" Doyle slid his free hand up Bodie's thigh towards his crotch. "And how long is too long?"
Bodie swallowed. "At the moment, about thirty seconds."
Smiling, Doyle took his hand away. "You'll have to stay frustrated for a bit longer than that."
Bodie looked him up and down, eyes smoldering with love and lust. "You wait 'til we get somewhere quiet, sunshine."
"Won't stay quiet long, hm?" Doyle leaned in to kiss him lightly, then pulled away. "You think we're gonna make it work?" he asked, suddenly serious.
"Yeah, we'll make it," Bodie said confidently, squeezing Doyle's hand again. "When have you ever known me to give up on something I truly wanted? And when have you ever given up? We're both too stubborn and determined to let go of a good thing. And this isn't just a good thing--it's the best thing."
"Is it?" Doyle allowed his lingering doubt out in the open. "Is it really the best possible thing?" He searched Bodie's face. "I do love you," he reassured him. "But I can't help wondering about the future."
Bodie brushed his cheek. "What about it?"
"Things never stay the same," Doyle said, trying not to be affected so strongly by Bodie's touch, and failing.
"I know," Bodie replied softly. "People come into my life, and sometimes I care too much about them, and then they go out of my life again, sometimes forever. But that isn't going to happen, not this time." He looked down at Doyle's hand clasped in his, then back into Doyle's eyes. "This time I'm going to hold on."
"You do that." Doyle gripped Bodie's arm. "I told you before, I'm going to give you trouble, and I meant it. But dammit, Bodie, don't let go too easily--don't turn away from me too soon--you hear me?" He whispered fiercely. "You damn well do that--you hold on."
"I will," Bodie said simply. Then he smiled at him. "You do realize," he said smoothly, "that there are other people in this room?"
"Are there?" Doyle smiled back contentedly, and lowered his head to rest it on Bodie's shoulder. "Pity. Bet they wouldn't like it if we started screwing each other through the carpet."
"We were supposed to do that during breakfast," Bodie replied. "Remember?"
"Oh, yeah. Forgot, didn't we?" Doyle gently nuzzled Bodie's neck. "Memory lapses--that's a sign of old age, that is."
"You should know," Bodie said.
Doyle glanced up, relieved to find that love had done nothing to dim Bodie's talent for getting at him whenever possible. "You're supposed to respect your elders, you know."
"Oh, I do," Bodie said. "Every morning, I still respect you--"
The pinch Doyle gave Bodie's thigh was sharp, quick, and unexpected, and no one else in the drawing room ever knew exactly why Bodie suddenly yelped.
"Told you we should have done the washing up before." Bodie handed Doyle a mug to dry.
"It's not so bad." Doyle applied a cloth vigorously to the mug Bodie had just cleaned. "And I don't mind spending one more night here, do you?"
"Nah. Just complaining for the sake of complaining." Bodie gave him a freshly scrubbed plate.
They were back at the Oxford flat Cowley had rented for Bodie. A two-man technical team had arrived at Lumley's mansion to look over the arms and the house, accompanied by Murphy, who was there to take Paul Stuart back to London. He also delivered Cowley's message--that agents 3.7 and 4.5 were to remain in Oxford until the morrow, in case any loose ends needed tying up, but mainly to make certain the flat was spotless. CI5 wanted its cleaning deposit back.
"Cheap bastard, Cowley." Bodie scraped at an egg-encrusted plate, one of many, many plates in the furnished flat, all of which were dirty. Hadn't they cleaned anything since they'd arrived? He couldn't remember. "Hell. It's baked on here. Maybe we should hire someone to come in and do this for us. You got any money?"
"No," Doyle replied quickly.
"Come on, it could save us hours." Bodie looked at him meaningfully. "Hours we could spend doing something else."
"It's not that bad," Doyle insisted. "Only the washing up, and sweeping, maybe clean the tub. Won't take long."
"Optimist." Bodie took a knife to the plate, chipping away at the dried egg. "Or maybe you're just as cheap as Cowley is."
Doyle swatted Bodie's bum with the drying towel. "Am not. Told you, I don't have any money." He stalked off to the living room, returning with his brown leather jacket, digging in the pockets for his billfold. "Got three quid in here." He pulled the billfold out for Bodie's inspection. As he did so, a small piece of paper fluttered out of the pocket.
"Dropped something." Bodie stooped to pick it up. He looked at the printing on the business card, his mouth dropping open as he did so.
"What is it?" Doyle reached for the card, but Bodie kept it out of his grasp. "Come on, mate, what's got your jaw hanging down?"
Bodie grinned, holding the card so Doyle could read it.
BREMIS AND KNORR, it said, Sexual Counselors.
"There something about you that I don't know?" Bodie teased. "How long you been going to sex clinics, eh?" He ventured a swift grope of Doyle's crotch. "Got some surprises for me, have you? Some special little kink or two you've been savin' up for later?"
Doyle fended him off with more towel-slapping measures. "Colleen gave it to me, you berk. After you came storming into the shop that day."
"Oh, did she?" Bodie gave up on the dish cleaning completely, and began stalking Doyle towards the corner, trying to grope him between towel flings. "Thought I was a mean bastard, did she--thought I was treating you rough, eh?" He made a lightning grab for the towel and got a firm grip on one end, but Doyle tugged back, and they danced around the kitchen, striving for control of the dubious weapon, until Doyle ran into the table and let go to get his balance.
"Now you're for it," Bodie said, waving the towel aloft in triumph. "Colleen was right--I'm a fiend. A beast. Especially with a kitchen cloth."
Doyle grinned. "Aggressive bastard, aren't you? Never felt so terrified in me life." He strode towards Bodie and in one quick move snatched the towel back, dropping it on the table. "Want a kiss, you maniac."
"Anything you say." Bodie took him in a tight embrace, and took Doyle's mouth with his. He put all he could into the kiss, pressing his body against Doyle's, hands moving to Doyle's backside to grind their bodies together. Releasing him with a gasp, Bodie slipped a hand inside Doyle's shirt, undoing buttons as he stroked his chest. Doyle had started to return the favor when the door buzzer sounded.
"Bloody 'ell." Doyle pulled away. "Who do we know who'd drop in on us here?"
"Only half the lunatics in town." Bodie pulled him back into the embrace. "Let's ignore it, hm?"
"Might be Murph," Doyle said. "Don't know if he's left yet."
"Yeah," Bodie replied as he lightly caressed Doyle's chest, "he's come to borrow Lifeguard Lust."
"Nah, it's not Murphy. It's the Wolfhound Three. Want to collect their pressie." He nodded towards the mammoth bag of dog bones Bodie had bought which sat on the table.
Bodie shook his head. "No. It's Susan. She wants to apologize. She's realized what an incredibly charismatic man I am, and can't stand to spend another minute away from me."
"Ha." Doyle got a hand on Bodie's bum, and squeezed.
The buzzer sounded again.
"It's Northbrook," Bodie said through the haze of arousal rising within him. "Wants us to consider trying a threesome."
Doyle made a face.
"Rupert?" Bodie nibbled at Doyle's ear. "Wants to get one last growl in?"
"It's Esther and Emily," Doyle replied breathlessly. "Got some brown rice recipes for us to take back home."
"Whoever it is," Bodie said between kisses along Doyle's throat, "they should bloody well get a clue and go away."
At the third ring, however, Bodie gave up. "Come on, let's get it over with." He straightened his shirt, as did Doyle, and they went to open the door.
Richard Lumley stood there, looking faintly abstracted. "Oh, you are here. I'm so glad. I didn't disturb you, did I? So sorry, but I do feel ever so grateful for what you've done, and I wanted to do something for the two of you, as words always seem so inadequate."
"No, no, it's fine," Bodie said. "Besides, we're not allowed to accept rewards."
"Ah, but I simply want to give you something, and you don't need to think of it that way, do you, dear chap? Think of it as an ordinary gift, from me to you, and nothing has to be said to anyone at all."
Bodie thought about Lumley's wine cellar, and his generosity, and he thought about the nutcases he'd had to put up with over the past few days, and he thought about the snow, and the rain, and the cold, and his mangled jackets, and he thought about the idea that somewhere, someday, somehow, there would be justice served in the world, and how it would appear in the form of the largest cask of the finest, most expensive Bordeaux in all Europe. He smiled. "Well, when you put it like that--"
"Splendid!" Lumley reached inside his jacket and produced two envelopes. "I've got one for each of you."
Bodie frowned as he took his, with a sinking feeling. Whatever it was, it wasn't a cask of Bordeaux. He opened the envelope and pulled out an official-looking, extravagantly written, stamped certificate on thick, cream-colored paper. As he read the contents, he strove to keep his dismay from showing.
This document, it read, certifies that Mr. William Bodie is a life-long, fully paid-up member of the Lumley Long-Life Herbal Tea Of the Month Club.
He gazed at Lumley, stricken into silence.
"I can see you are overwhelmed," Lumley said, clapping Bodie on the shoulder. "It really is quite special. From now on, you will both receive a pound of one of my twelve herbal teas every month for the rest of your lives. Mr. Murphy was kind enough to provide me with mailing addresses for you. Such a kind, helpful young man, isn't he?"
Bodie found his voice. "Oh, yes. We think the world of him." Visions of Lifeguard Lust, with the special inscription for Murphy inside, danced in his head. "Even got him a gift while we were here." He carefully folded the certificate and put it back in its envelope. "Thank you."
"Yes, thank you very much." Doyle actually sounded happy about it.
"Well, I must run. I'm so glad you like it."
"Wait a moment." Bodie dashed into the kitchen to grab the dog bone bag, returning to thrust it into Lumley's arms. "For the wolfhounds."
"Oh, that's wonderful. Quite kind of you, really." Lumley staggered under the load as he reached out to shake Bodie's hand. "I do hope we meet again someday, Mr. Brody." He walked off, weaving down the stairs with the heavy bag, talking amiably to himself as he went.
Bodie shut the door. He slowly ambled into the living room to collapse onto the lumpy sofa. Doyle came to sit beside him.
"Tea." Bodie took the certificate out again just to be sure. He stared at the fancy lettering. "Of all the bloody times to get my name right, it's on here." He looked up forlornly. "If he'd got it wrong, maybe the tea wouldn't reach me." He let out a long-suffering sigh. "Why couldn't he have had a Lumley Long-Life Wine of the Month Club?"
Doyle sat looking at his own certificate. "I like Lumley's teas," he replied.
"Good. You can drink all of mine, then." Bodie took Doyle's paper and his own, stuffed them together in one envelope, and laid them on the coffee table. "Now, then," he said, leaning in close to cup his hands round Doyle's face, "where were we?"
"In the kitchen," Doyle said, smiling, but instead of thumping him, Bodie opted to kiss him instead.
-- THE END --