The Shadow of a Ghost


Cowley opened the front door with Doyle's key and entered the silent house. He walked straight through to the kitchen and found the letter addressed to himself propped against the flowering plant on top of the fridge.

He stared at the inscription, putting off the actual opening because he knew what it would contain, and was distracted by the vocal welcome from the cat that weaved round his ankles.

"Good evening, Shadow." He bent to pick up the small cat. "I'd rather you didn't trip me up. And I don't suppose you care if I get cat hairs all over my good suit."

Shadow purred in his ear, indicating she was delighted to see him and that cat hair was the height of fashion. Had he heard the other men in her life complain?

"Come on, I must read this--though God knows I don't want to. These kitchen chairs play havoc with my leg." Cowley carried the cat into the lounge, dropping her onto the settee and poured himself a stiff drink. He lowered himself wearily into the winged chair and waited for Shadow to settle herself on his knees. Anything to put off the evil moment.

It was strange how a cat took over people's lives, he reflected, stroking the smooth black fur. He remembered Doyle's quiet voice relating her history during their late-night conversations of the past few months; sitting, drinking and trying to forget.

First she had moved in on Bodie, who assumed she was male and called her 'Cat'. Nobody had known that a cat had decided to reorganise Bodie's lifestyle until he introduced her to his astonished partner. Only an innocent inquiry about injections and spaying brought out the fact that Bodie thought she was male. After that it was Doyle who attended to Vet's appointments and after-surgery convalescence, causing Bodie to say that the cat was Doyle's shadow. So, 'Shadow' she had become. And now she was the shadow of a ghost.

Angrily he opened the sealed envelope and tried to concentrate on Doyle's familiar scrawl, but conjured up instead the faces of two of his top agents...not only subordinates, but friends, too. He'd always tried to keep a distance between himself and those whom he daily sent to face death, but these two had been different. In some ways equals; in others, the sons he'd never had. And now they were gone...swept away like the rest, dead leaves before a storm.

There was no inscription to the letter, just the date; a week previously. As he read, it was almost as if Ray Doyle was in the room with him.

Forgive me. If you are reading this, it will be because I took an offered opportunity not to survive a mission. I promised you both not to commit suicide and I wouldn't imperil an operation just to please myself.

That out of the way, I'll return to reasons. The plain and simple truth is that I can't live without him. It sounds ridiculous...I thought so myself. After all, I lived for twenty-seven years without even knowing he existed. We never knew when you found out we were lovers, but we were glad of your approval. Bodie always said it was a week after it happened. I maintained you knew before we did.
Cowley raised his eyes from the letter and smiled to himself. Doyle had always had a devious mind, just like his own. His memory drifted back to a rather sordid case five years ago involving some old friends of his. Bodie and Doyle had spent a month posing as lovers while working as part of a dance band. It had been a toss-up whether they would kill each other or turn fantasy into reality. After the case he'd recognised their changed relationship and bought himself a drink to celebrate that they'd finally seen the light. It had been perfectly obvious to him for over a year that they only needed a slight push. Their working relationship now developed beyond the merely intuitive into something bordering on the clairvoyant.

He was drawn back to the present by Shadow, who disapproved of being ignored. He stroked her until she settled down, then returned to Doyle's letter.

I think I would have got over Bodie's death if our relationship had been primarily physical. But we were part of each other and that is what I can't cope with...losing him and half of myself.
Something that had always amused Cowley was the way that their monumental arguments never affected their working life. Certainly Bodie's military precision and Doyle's attempts for the Slob Of The Year Award were at the bottom of every fight, but they had been sensible enough to know that sharing a house would never work. They each needed a retreat.

The last few lines concerned Shadow's future and he wondered what she would make of being catapulted into the noisy Doyle family home. That could wait until the morning. Tonight she could come back with him--he would be grateful for the company.

"Down you get, it's time to go home."

But Shadow's ears had pricked up and she bounded off Cowley's knees. The hairs on the back of his neck rose as he remembered her doing the same when Bodie's car drew up outside. He followed her into the hall and as he feared found her waiting behind the door.

"They're not coming, kitten. Ever again," he told her, fervently wishing that she had been right. The small black cat regarded him with wide green eyes, shivered and padded down the hall towards him.

Her ghosts had departed.

-- THE END --
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