Ahi! Attenzione!”

The crash is deafening and followed by a shrill scream.

Accidenti! Ma cosa fai, stupido! Madonna…

Suppressing a grin, I carry on polishing wine glasses with vehemence. That's the third time in one hour that poor Luigi got in his boss's way, but this time he's obviously managed a disaster. Mamma Maddalena - nobody calls her anything else - is now warming to her topic, although I can't understand a word of the enthusiastic tirade that is pounding down on the boy's meekly hanging head. Honestly, she could give even Cowley a run for his money when she's really got her eye in.

Ma dì, questo maledetto ragazzo non è buono a nulla!

Spent, but still muttering to herself, la mamma now trots out of her kitchen to join me at the counter.

“Do me a favour, per carità, e fammi un caffè - eh, piccino?

Subito. ” Great. One of the estimated thirteen Italian words I can pronounce halfway correctly.

La mamma watches me brew her espresso with sharp eyes that hardly ever miss anything. I realised soon enough why everybody makes sure to stay on the smooth side of her tongue. Her tantrums are legendary, and her seemingly infinite repertoire of insults and curses tends to make even the oldest and toughest mafioso blush like a schoolboy and hastily mutter excuses.

This leaves me inordinately grateful that I don't understand a single word of her tongue-lashings and that I am hardly ever on the receiving end. It appears that la mamma is fond of me, or rather of young Mark Davis, the new waiter her son hired a week ago.

Sipping her coffee and chatting about Luigi's latest kitchen calamity, she looks at me with genuine affection, and I wonder once again what she would say if she knew the truth about me. As it is, she seems to like my looks, especially my bum, which she gives the occasional appreciative slap, and my hair, which she keeps ruffling. She has to stand on tiptoes to do that. I'm not all that tall and she reaches up to my chest at most, though what she lacks in height, she makes up in girth. Round and chubby, her face flushed from the kitchen heat, she's still bouncing with energy and surprisingly sprightly for her bulk and age.

I worked often enough in the past in various Italian restaurants and wine bars to fumble my way through the menu and a few bits of conversation, but thankfully this family has lived in London long enough to speak a confused mixture of English and Italian so I get along without missing too much.

Which is a good thing, given why I'm working here.

Domenico Scarpia, business-minded owner and manager of Ristorante La Tosca, is la mamma's pride and joy. In her books, her son comes directly second to the pope, although on occasion, he gets his fair share of dressing-downs like the rest of us. God knows if even the pope would be all that safe.

At the same time, though – and possibly even unknown to mamma Maddalena – Domenico is one of the major players in various business areas that have nothing to do with pizza and pasta, but everything with white powder and bundles of dirty money. He might not be your typical Sicilian Mafioso, but it seems he has the right connections at least. With the mob at its finest, including some faces our fearless leader would sell his auntie for if that would bring them behind bars.

At least that's what Beppo told my partner three weeks ago, claiming he'd personally witnessed his padrone do shady dealings with some well-clad men he clearly recognised as onorabili. The other two waiters are, according to Beppo, also involved. When he gave us the names, Bodie realised he knew one of them, a certain Angelo, so the odds were high that Angelo would recognise Bodie as well.

But Angelo didn't know me, at least not until I showed up at the restaurant to apply for a job. Luck had it that they had a vacancy, although I must admit that Beppo's departure wasn't exactly his own idea, but rather that of George Cowley who convinced him he should urgently visit his family in Manfredonia if he didn't want to go end up in the nick for his sins.

So now I've got the job and am polishing glasses. My boss is happy with me, the other waiters are friendly, and mamma Maddalena likes me – a good start, and I hope that over time they'll trust me enough to let me get a glimpse of their other activities as well. Without offering too much insight, Beppo hinted at being involved in that, too, so there's a good chance that sooner or later, they need someone to replace his other services as well.

Preferably sooner, I decide yet again, since I've just started an affair with a fantastic red-head named Cindy whom I have now left behind, however reluctantly, with merely a few vague explanations about having to go away on business for a while.

I sincerely hope she won't turn up at this popular restaurant one day to find me serving spaghetti bolognese: she doesn't live all that far from here and loves Italian food. To make sure or at least be warned in time, I asked Murphy to keep an eye on her. I purposely did not ask my partner, for obvious reasons.

Bodie would certainly find it hard to pass on the opportunity, Cindy being gorgeous to say the least. Although, come to think of it, he's been pretty subdued ever since it turned out that I was the lucky sod to go undercover. Well, he couldn't do it, could he? Angelo knows Bodie's face and would have blown the whole op in thirty seconds. He'd never met me before, though.

The back door opens with a bang, startling mamma Maddalena as much as me. With her usual panache, la mamma sails back into her kitchen to give a piece of her mind to the new arrival and, for good measure, also to Luigi who has by now re-emerged from wherever he escaped to after his little accident with a few plates.

Ah, it's Giuditta, la mamma's daughter-in-law and widow to Domenico's brother Cesare, sadly passed away from lead poisoning administered by some rival mobster family a couple of years ago. She and her daughter still live with la mamma, and little Nicoletta often comes in after school. She's a nice girl, and pretty. Bet she'll be a real looker like her mum once she grows up.

Yeah, beautiful Giuditta with her long black hair, shapely bottom and her sensuous lips, cherry-red today. Entirely kissable, and, judging by the looks she gives me, this is not at all a hypothetical idea.

Down, boy! I scold myself. You've got Cindy back home, and provided Murphy sticks to his promise to leave her alone, she'll be waiting for you, all hot and ready, once this is over. Hopefully soon. So far, I'm bored out of my skull. Cleaning glasses and playing waiter really isn't my idea of an inspiring job. Wonder what Bodie's up to and if his day is a little more exciting right now.

Ah, the first client of the day.

“Yes sir, we're open. I'll be right with you.”

Angelo and Peppino should be here any minute. I put on my long waiter's apron and reach for the menu.

“Prego, signore.”

"So what's the idea?" Cindy says over her Pimms. It doesn't help that she's licking the strawberry they've skewered to the top in a way that… well…

"Idea?" I say in mock innocence. "Like I told you, Ray asked me to keep an eye on you while he's away. Make sure you didn't need anything. So I thought there'd be no harm in a quiet drink. I mean, he might want progress reports."

She snorts faintly. According to the story I've dutifully stuck to, but one that was arranged extremely rapidly and is a little lacking in the finer points, Doyle's busy out of town on some boring research stuff for his equally boring job in some obscure Ministry. What sort of Ministry employs people with long hair and tight jeans isn't something I'd like to try and explain, mind.

"And he trusts you? You married or gay or something?"

Oh Jesus. The stupid bugger said she was 'unusual', but let's say she's a shade on the blunt side, not to mention the fact that she's rather aware of her charms.

"Neither," I say, my tone a little sharper than I intended, as I'm a little offended and particularly about the 'gay' part. "Unattached. But Ray's a mate."

"So you both said. And he's not been calling me much. Don't they have pay phones where he is or something?"

Damn. Think, Murph.

"Probably all been vandalised."

Oh, clever.

"Vandalised? At some sort of Government place?"

"Don't suppose they let him call from there, love. And apparently his digs are a bit seedy."

"So you know where he is?"

Shit. This is worse than an interrogation, and I'm not used to being on the wrong end of one.

"Well no, not exactly. He just said it was… not a great area he was living in. Actually," I have a flash of inspiration, "I think he's doing something rather hush-hush."

"Oh my," she says, suitably impressed and files that away, looking a bit happier. "Must be more fun than selling used cars. That's what Ray said you did…"

I'll kill the sod for that one when he gets back. I'd already promised him that much when he told me that was my 'role'. There are times when Doyle's sense of humour gets the better of him.

"Yeah," I say tightly.

"Must come to see you," she says. "Particularly if you could organise some sort of deal?"

I hate you, Ray Doyle.

"Not unless you're in the market for a Roller or a Bentley, love."

God, I'm brilliant. I knew CI5 hired me for something.

"Wow!" Her eyes light up. "Must say you looked incredibly smart for some sort of car salesman. I'd love to come and try one out, mind."

"Sorry," I sigh, sliding quite happily into all this after my stroke of inspiration. "We don't actually have showrooms. We just do the special stuff – ordered by VIPs, bulletproof windows and special features - that sort of thing. One-off models. So that'd be a bit hard."

"Mmmmm," she murmurs. "I can just imagine myself draped in a limousine with a champagne bar, telly…"

Well, Doyle, this might put a strain on your CI5 pay my lad, if she's got that sort of expensive tastes.

"Refill?" I ask, rather proud of myself for rising a few notches in her esteem. "They've called last orders."

"Love one," she nods, giving me a particularly delightful smile. I watch her unobtrusively as I go up to the bar, and have to admire Doyle's taste. She's petite, slim, but rather well endowed. Dresses nicely if a shade revealingly. As for the hair, it's a dark, coppery red: he always did like redheads. Although this one is nothing like that Holly woman who looked like she put makeup on with a trowel. Cindy's definitely a bit less heavy-handed with the warpaint.

"So," she says brightly as she comes back. "To get back to you. Unattached, you said."

"Yes," I say honestly. "But extremely honourable. Which is why Ray…"

"Asked you to do the honours," she finishes for me. "Just didn't realise he was the jealous type, or not until he said a mate of his would be keeping an eye on me. I was curious about who it would be, but heaven knows I'm not complaining."

What am I supposed to say to that?

"No?" I try not to make it sound like a come-on, but I think it probably sounds rather like one.

"Definitely. But the thing is, you see…" she pats me on the knee, "I can't stand jealous men. Nor people trying to tie me down. And I only agreed to meet you to see exactly who he'd lined up. I expected you to be short and fat."

"Gee thanks," I manage.

"And it's a real shame you're honourable, Patrick, because you're frankly very much my kind of guy. Corny but true. I suppose you're going to be all shocked and horrified now, and tell me you wouldn't dream of seducing me. Right?"

I swallow.



"Shame," she says cheerfully. "Because if Ray's really going to be away for weeks, I'm not guaranteeing I can be half as honourable. And if I know him, he'll already be screwing some stupid secretary anyway."

"Oh, I'm sure he wouldn't…"

I'm certain he would, that's the trouble. Doyle tends to consider all women fair game, just as Bodie does. I strongly suspect that even if he's sufficiently attached to Cindy to have me keep an eye on her, he wouldn't turn down any opportunities that arose elsewhere, either.

"Don't be daft," Cindy says a little scornfully. "Ray enjoys me because I'm dynamite in bed. To hell with false modesty. He's not bad himself, for that matter. But I've got him sussed, believe me, and he's not really got me figured out at all, or he wouldn't have let you anywhere near."

Oh hell. Now if I was Bodie, I'd grin, steer her out of the door and be in bed with her within half an hour.

"Look," I say awkwardly, "this is a bit…"

"Surprising?" she says with a cheeky grin. "I like to surprise people. In fact with Ray, I play all demure, ladylike, no low necklines and then turn into something else entirely in bed. Am I shocking you?"

"No," I lie once again. She's shocking me all right but in a way that's playing hell with my groin.

"Good," she chuckles. "Well, are you going to report back to Ray that I'm an utter tramp? Wouldn't blame you."

She would have to go and ask that.

"Of course not," I find myself saying. "I think you might need to talk to him at some point, though. Sort of set things straight about… um… how you both think about each other," I say lamely. "It might not be fair to let him think you're waiting for him if you're… er…"

"I could do, yes," she says demurely. "But sexual politics are such a pain, aren't they? I suppose I am a fool for playing little miss faithful and leading him up the garden path a bit. It started out as a bit of a joke and I got carried away. But yes, I'll set him straight. If you don't do it first."

"I won't," I say, watching her sip from the long straw and wondering what the hell we're both playing at.

"But in the meanwhile, I can think of another solution."

"Which is?"

"You could keep me happy while he's away. Then we'll give it some thought when he does get back. And he did say you should see if I needed anything."

Jesus Christ. I'm supposed to be here instead of Bodie dragging her off by the hair and having his way with her, and she's trying to do exactly that with me.

"I don't think that's quite what he had in mind," I say primly, trying not to stare at her boobs. "Neither do I. But at this moment, he's away doing heaven knows what. We're both here, consenting adults, and I find you extremely attractive. It's Ray's own fault, really."

It is, I admit to myself. Definitely.

The pub's nearly empty now, and she gets up, taking my hand. I wish she hadn't done that as I have the feeling I've just taken a rather irreversible step.

Our cars are the only two left in the car park. I just hope the Granada's what a Rolls Royce expert would drive, as she's looking at it.

"We don't get to drive the goods," I say a little defiantly.

"Shame," she says, licking her lips and turning towards me. "Warm night though, isn't it."

It is. And there are parts of me that are downright hot. When she pulls me closer, I shudder, trying not to let her get close enough to realise how hot.

It doesn't help that she kisses like a dream, and she's not only homed in on my lips but also on my erection, caressing it through the thin, summer weight trousers. I should take her hands away, but my own hands are rather busy. One's sliding up inside her top and the other's on her bum.

We totter over to the Granada, parked underneath a tree, by which time she's panting and I'm feeling a whole lot less honourable still. She's an expert in undoing trouser buttons and zips with one hand, and I'm doing pretty well with the single-handed approach to bra hooks. She's very well endowed indeed.

Her hand… the one that isn't exploring my underpants… pulls my fingers where she wants them. As in between her legs.

Then she pushes me away, which throws me completely for a second, but it's only to pull her panties off and renew her efforts with my now open fly and what's now jutting out from it.

"We could get arrested," I say. It's my sensible side coming out, in direct contrast to what I really want. Well, that and the thought of explaining this away to Cowley if we're caught. Or Doyle. Christ. The trouble is, I'm already exploring under her skirt, which at this precise moment means sensible is fast becoming a memory.

"Don't like living dangerously?" she says.

"I think… I could live with it," I murmur, probing a little more. "In the car?"

"I love doing it standing up," she says firmly, and braces herself against the side of the car. "Now, Patrick.

I don't wait to be asked twice, and she reaches for me, guiding me inside her skilfully, getting the balance rapidly. God, it's good.

She was absolutely right in the bit about no false modesty concerning her abilities either, because as quickies go, this is about as erotic as it gets. She's probably a bit bossy about it, telling me exactly how to pinch her nipples as I ram into her, but who's complaining. She even tells me to let go and come – not that I need much encouraging – and rapidly introduces her own fingers into the mix as soon as I stop shuddering and climaxes in turn, even before I'm out of her.

"Nice," she says, picking up her panties because, as she says, she doesn't want to leak onto the upholstery.

I'm a bit surprised by her matter-of-fact attitude as well, I suppose. Most of all, though, I feel torn between being surprised, happy and just a bit guilty as I rearrange my own clothing.

"Don't start feeling guilty," she adds, reading my thoughts. "It was my idea. So where do we go from here?"

I must look blank, and she grins.

"Not as in true love, mortgage and kids, Patrick. This is about sex. I was thinking your place or mine, for round two."

Christ. Does Doyle know she's a bloody nympho or something? And was that my mouth that said 'mine's closer'?

Along with all the other feelings, another one creeps in. One that says that it's not too bad a feeling to have been tested and found a good substitute for one of CI5's resident Casanovas. Even more, it really is Doyle's fault if he decided that good old reliable Murphy was too honourable to pinch his bird, and after all, she's turned out to be the predatory one, hasn't she? What's more, I don't think he'd have thought twice about pinching one of mine whether she was predatory or not - I know full well he's already done it to Bodie.

Poor bugger, though, if he thinks she's demure. Or faithful. But we'll worry about that later – after round 2. Or three. Or whatever.

“It's close to Firenze, you know, Fiesole. High up on the mountain, very nice view.”

“Oh yes, la Madonna di Fiesole,” I say casually.

She looks up sharply from her pasta dough. “You know that?”

Folding another napkin into a Bishop's mitre, I nod and tell her I remember it.

It's true. Luca della Robbia, Ghiberti, Donatello, the lot. I remember very well even. A teacher from art school had some business to see to in Florence between terms, and knowing I couldn't afford the grand tour, she offered to take me along so I could get to see some genuine early Renaissance art in the flesh.

I grin. Oh yeah, it was quite a bit of flesh I got to see, and by no means all of it in polished marble and five hundred years old.

Miss Suzanne cared very much for her students and was very eager to round off young Ray's education in every respect. And that part of our journey definitely proved to be highly educational, there's no other way of putting it.

Yet that was only half of it. She was an art expert, but also loved what she saw and had the knack of opening my eyes as well.

I find myself telling la mamma about all those palaces, statues, paintings and the Florentine goldsmiths' craftsmanship that made such a vivid impression on my mind, and I realise it not only deepens her affection for me, but also gives my cover substantial background that could prove very useful.

It seems safe enough to tell her. A young boy from the heart of England who studied art but somehow never got round to using his skills and ended up as a humble waiter. Quite believable, I'd say, judging by what has become of some of my mates from those days.

Who would associate that art stuff with a copper's life? Nobody, not even my own partner did when we first met. I remember that look Bodie gave me when he found out that he was to work not only with an ex-plod, but also an ex-art student. He never stopped teasing me about the live classes and all that for months. Until I saved his life for the first time, I muse. I suppose that's what clinched it.

Anyway, la mamma's really smitten with “Marco” now. She even tells me about her youngest son who is called Marco as well and still lives with his wife and kids in Fiesole, in the house the Scarpia family owns there.

He's a musician – they all love music, she tells me. Her late husband – Dio l'abbia in gloria! – loved the opera more than anything, and that's why they called the restaurant Tosca when they started out here in London decades ago. And that's why they are playing opera music all the time, she beams.

“Much better than that horrible modern chiasso, eh, Francesca?”

I have to agree. Most of the crap other Italian restaurants play is horrible indeed. And to me, most of the melodies and the fine voices they play here even sound eerily familiar. My mum loved that kind of music, along with Barry Manilow, of course. As kids, we used to scream when she turned up the volume of her kitchen radio in a useless attempt to drown out Chuck Berry blaring out of our transistor upstairs with Nessun Dorma.

Francesca also nods fervently, and I smile. I've heard her hum along with the tunes most of the time while she's washing dishes or even scrubbing the floor.

She's roughly my age, but looks a lot older and sort of submissive, as if life is constantly dragging her down. Maybe it is. La mamma confided to me that the slightly hunchbacked girl was disowned by her family because of the one lapse she committed in her life – an illegitimate daughter called Mimi, now six and best friends with la mamma's grand-daughter Nicoletta.

I finish another mitre and look at the pile of immaculately ironed napkins in front of me. Don't go too fast, I admonish myself, for I need to drag my work out a bit.

All this talk about past times is all very well, and it's certainly intriguing to listen to la mamma's confidences, but what I really want to know right now is what's going on behind that closed office door.

I've barely caught a glimpse of Domenico walking in with visitors, two unobtrusive men in unobtrusive grey suits and expensive Italian shoes, both carrying elegant executive cases. You could easily take them for some kind of well-to-do merchants or perhaps lawyers, if it hadn't been for the slight bulges underneath their armpits and the big black Roller parked in the back alley with two heavies in it.

There's clearly some business going down in there, and right now I'd give an arm and a leg to know exactly what it is.

Just my bad luck that there's no way of listening in without technical assistance, and even the ground plan is unfavourable to obbo work. I can barely see the office entrance from the kitchen, let alone from the counter where I usually work.

I'll have to get bugs installed, but first of all, I need to obtain them. I mentally kick myself for not bringing them in the first place, but you never know who'll be going through your things when you start out on an undercover job, especially if you're staying in a room right above the restaurant, wall to wall with one of the other waiters.

No, I need to report in and ask for someone to deliver the bugs. Should be easy enough to smuggle them in. Maybe they can even send Murph so I can ask him how Cindy is holding up, provided I get a chance. That part, however, wouldn't be all that easy given the way Giuditta has seemingly decided not to leave certain parts of my delicate anatomy unobserved for any length of time.

Well, I've got Cindy at home now and I'm damned well aware where my loyalties lie.

Ruthie's a nice girl. And here, I mean nice, despite a taste for sarcasm and a bit of an attitude. I somehow can't imagine her doing the whole seduction scene let alone a quickie in a car park.

God, I was stupid.

And God, she was good. Cindy, that is. Doyle's bloody girlfriend.

"… cow," I catch from the other side of the table.

"Sorry Ruthie?"

"You will be sorry if you call me Ruthie again. Sounds like some sort of mentally deranged bag lady."

I try to look apologetic and wonder why she's talking about our beloved leader in here, but in fact she isn't. My bistecca arrives and it is indeed a little like half a cow, as she finally repeats. As in cows with four legs and a tail.

Doyle's grinning as he picks up the oil and vinegar for the insalata verde with a most convincing flourish and slaps it down on our table, accidentally knocking over my napkin.

He bends down, I bend down, and hey presto, one small consignment of bugs is quickly slipped into the pocket of his apron along with his notepad.

Good things, those aprons, I think to myself. The way he wears his jeans he probably couldn't get more than a credit card in his pocket.

I've been trying to avoid his eyes ever since we came in – just call me a coward – but I meet them now as we both finish scrabbling around on the floor.

"Ta," he says levelly, in an undertone. And "so sorry, sir," a little louder. "Enjoy your meal." He looks amused more than anything else, I decide. Good. Daft sod always did like all this undercover stuff.

Ruth cocks her head on one side and asks if I'm going to sit and look at my meal all night, and I remember what I'm ostensibly here for. I take a long gulp of Valpolicella and slice off a piece of steak.

It tastes wonderful, but I'm not really hungry. I keep thinking that if Doyle knew…

Things improve after a while though, and when Doyle comes over to ask if everything's all right I cheerfully tell him it's excellent. Ruth says the saltimbocca is perfect too. Doyle grins and shimmies off to another table.

"Looks like he's enjoying himself," Ruth mutters. "Oh, and you seen the vampire queen over there?"

I've been looking at all the staff, wondering who's who and trying to put names to faces from the little information Doyle provided. The woman Ruth's eyes were following has only just come in, but she's part of the restaurant judging from a few curt comments she makes to another of the waiters.

"The sister-in-law," I say quietly. "At a guess, although I imagined her more…"

"Widow-like?" Ruth asks. "Well, she is wearing black, but apart from that…"

"Quite the glamour-puss," I agree. She's dressed even more provocatively than Cindy was, in fact.

"If you like them on the showy side with too much lipstick," she snorts.

You can always count on women for comments like that.

"I don't," I say almost automatically. It's true, anyway. Usually. Doyle's girlfriend with low-cut blouses and a penchant for sex excluded, perhaps. I make a silent vow to stick to nice, demure, unattached females for the rest of my life. Soon, anyway.

"Could be Doyle's type though," she muses absently. "Remember that Holly woman? She was rather generous with the heavy-duty foundation and mascara as well."

"Didn't know you met her," I say, amused that she's come to the same conclusion as I have about the make-up.

"Briefly. Doyle brought her to the pub once. Now, speaking of cows with small Cs, she was one all right. Looked down her nose at Anson, spoke to Jax like he was just out of the jungle…"

"Ouch," I agree. "Only saw her in passing myself but I know Bodie wasn't over-impressed. He got a bit cut up over it though – Doyle did – from what I gather."

"So I heard. But he's got a new girlfriend now, right?"

"Grapevine's working then," I chuckle.

"Of course it is. You met her?"


"Briefly, yes."

And fucked her three times in one night. But you don't need to know that, Ruthie.


"And what?"

"What's she like?"

"Oh… ordinary," I lie. "Pleasant enough."

"Ah," she says, realising I'm not going to expand on the subject as I'm pretending my steak is demanding all my attention. "Wonder how long this one'll last? Or if she'll wait for him if this job drags on a bit?"

Women are infuriating. I don't comment on that and stab viciously at a leaf of salad.

"It's not easy, is it," Ruth continues, sipping at the wine. "Finding somebody who understands about the sort of life we lead. It drives me nuts."

"You too?" I say, surprised. Funny, I'd never really thought about the women in the squad having the same sort of problems as we do on that score.

"Machos one and all, you are," she shakes her head, doing that irritating mind-reading thing. "And yes, me too. And Susan. Even Betty. You mean it never occurred to you that we also like the idea of a social life? And much as society might have progressed, it's still not that easy for a woman to pick up a guy. Although I heard Doyle's new one did precisely that."

"She did? Blimey."

"Apparently." Ruth giggles, and drinks again. I think her tongue's getting a little loosened with all this. "Maybe I should try it myself sometime. Picking a bloke up."

"Maybe," I agree, picking up the bottle. "More?"

"No, really. We are supposed to be working."

"Can't hurt," I encourage her, anxious to know more about Cindy's tactics with Doyle. She's not playing though, and in any case Doyle in person comes over to take our plates.

"Dessert?" Doyle asks.

Personally, I'd be glad to get out of here but Ruth takes the menu. Doyle's saying something about tirami su or panna cotta, or maybe the zuppa inglese. Ruth opts for that and I point at something at random. The vampire woman's at the next table and studying Doyle carefully, which is worrying me a little.

"Zabaglione, " Doyle says politely. "That will take a little while, sir."

"No problem," Ruth says smoothly. "We're not in a hurry, and we're enjoying ourselves."

If this is enjoyment, the next time we do a muddy obstacle course it'll be bliss in comparison. What if Doyle's cover's broken? What if Doyle manages to ask me how I'm doing with Cindy?

Dammit, the widow-woman's coming over here now, smiling sweetly. Are we happy?

"Ecstatic", Ruth says with feeling. "And such wonderful service."

Doyle grins at this. Don't overdo it, kids, I feel like saying.

"Good," the woman nods. "We hope you'll come again then. Your first time here?"

"Yes," Ruth says. "But not the last."

This is useful, really, as we most certainly will be back if the case takes long enough.

"Young lovers," she purrs. "You are always welcome. Marco… bring them a sambuca on the house."

Doyle rushes off, the vampire sails off too, and I roll my eyes slightly. Like the good little agent I am, however, I manage to get things back on course a bit by turning the conversation to food and wine, both of which apparently Ruth appreciates greatly. Like I said, she's a nice girl. Light years away from Cindy, and probably from Miss Vampire too.

"Oh this was fun," Ruth says, as she polishes off the dessert and looks up at me with a cheeky smile and a very strange expression in her eyes. "And on expenses as well. I just hope I was reasonable company at least?"

Oh hell. If I wasn't mistaken she's not only slightly tipsy but…

No, not Ruthie. She can't be coming on to me, can she? I mean I might have scored with Cindy and had my ego (and a lot else) well and truly stroked, but Ruth?

"Well… of course…" My stuttering isn't very convincing.

She grimaces slightly, and then amazes me by taking one of my hands and leaning over.

"Oh, don't worry, this is all for show," she says, her mouth inches from mine. "But look over there. To my right, over by the bar. Quick. "

As fast as I dare, half-expecting to see Doyle, cover well and truly shattered, being led off at gunpoint, I glance over and just catch a long, slim hand with bright red nail varnish straying over Doyle's bum as he leans over to pick up a bottle.

"Well, well," Ruth murmurs. "Looks like the lad's made quite an impression, wouldn't you say? And he's not exactly fighting her off."

Well yes, I agree. Typical bloody Doyle. Suddenly, I feel a bit better about the whole Cindy episode.

Doyle comes over with two tiny glasses, looking just slightly smug.

"There you go, young lovers."

Ruth manages to smile gracefully, and I realise we're still hand in hand.

"It's… we're…" I start.

"No worries," Doyle grins. "I'm a great believer in perks."

"So we saw," Ruth shoots back, which only gets us another self-satisfied smirk.

Doyle can be infuriating.

After that, though, Ruth removes her hand and is rather subdued as I drive her home.

"Sorry," she murmurs as she gets out of the car. "I'm not really a tart, you know. Blame the wine."

"It was fun," I assure her, dredging up my manners from somewhere. "Thanks, Ruthie."

"Next time," she says, back to her normal self, "you call me Ruthie, I'll kick your balls under the table."

Thirteen point nine, fourteen point one – fourteen point two. Done. Tap very carefully on counter surface. Seal. Lay aside with the others.

Take another small plastic bag. Peel open. Lay on scales. Take bowl with powder, insert spoon, shake a little, spoon into bag. Look at scale, compare with note to make sure you've got the figure right. Fourteen grams and a bit – getting better at estimating the correct amount. Well, not an Olympic record after some thirty-five so far. Makes more than one pound of glistening, snow-white powder. Fiddle with sliding weights. Fourteen point one. Fourteen point two. Done.

I watch Giuditta cut open the next bag and mix the powder with corn flour. Each bag contains 250 grams, ten packages on the whole.

Makes 2.5 kilo of uncut, finest coke with a street value of what? A hundred thousand quid at least, probably more. And that was just one carton. Peppino said they get a consignment almost every three months, sometimes more often. Makes ten kilos of uncut a year, for crying out loud.

Who'd have thought Ray Doyle would be preparing this kind of goods for sale? Except that it isn't. Ray Doyle, I mean.

It's Marco who's finally on the inside, and that's what counts. I've been lucky, but you have to be in a situation like this, don't you? Seems the shipment came earlier than planned, and their contact was edgy for whatever reason. I overheard them talking about new customs regulations, didn't get what it was exactly, but it obviously did the trick.

Domenico had been eyeing me for a couple of days already before beckoning me over to his office after a shift and quietly asking me if I was interested in making a few more bob. I pulled the old number of 'dunno, what would I have to do', and he admitted they did a little on the side.

I hesitated a bit to keep up appearances and then told him I could really use the money, having been a bit down on me luck recently, and he bought it.

So when I arrived for work today, the boss told me to stay after the lunch shift while the restaurant was closed, ostensibly to stow away a consignment of coffee and wine just arrived from Italy – and pointed at a carton marked zucchero in polvere, icing sugar.

Giuditta would show me how to cut it and refill it into small bags of fourteen point two grams each, meaning half an Imperial ounce for the British market. Retail quantities, Domenico added with a nasty chuckle.

I just smiled indifferently, doing my “what do I care” bit, knowing all too well that the street peddlers would cut the coke again and fill it into those small wraps of one eighth of an ounce that their petty clientele could usually afford.

“One more thing,” Domenico added, sobering. “Make sure you're finished before my mother comes back for the evening shift. We have to make sure the stuff is gone before she decides to make tirami su with it. And in no circumstances must she know anything about this. Capito?

I nodded firmly, secretly a little relieved that la mamma apparently has nothing to do with her figliolo's dirty little hobby.

Giuditta, though, seems to be well into it, which is no surprise really, given that her late old man's picture is still hanging at a prominent spot on the wall of Domenico's office. He was the elder of the two, so probably Domenico took over as padrone only after the opposition offed his brother.

Seems he's been trying to take over the onorabile Cesare's place in Giuditta's bed as well. Domenico isn't married, much to la mamma's grief, and she would be all too happy to see him tie the knot with the fiery beauty and finally proceed to produce a suitable heir to the family throne, possibly along with a whole pack of further pretty bambini.

Giuditta, however, doesn't play ball. She's stringing him along, at least for the moment. I get the impression once she's had enough of larking around and firmly established her role in the family business – both legal and sideline – she will eventually condescend to yield to Domenico, if only for the sake of little Nicoletta who still misses her father dearly.

Anyway, for the time being, Giuditta doesn't show a particular interest in domestic bliss, quite the contrary, it appears. On the quiet and accompanied by lewd glances, Peppino and Angelo have told me quite a few juicy stories about their giovane padrona. Seems the lady isn't such a lady after all. Realised that myself, didn't I? All those looks she gives me – and not all of them directed at my smiling face.

Not like Cindy, I drift off while working on. She's a nice girl, and she's really made a change at last. After that crash landing with Ann, I was down a bit, in one of my sulks, Bodie complained, but I guess it wasn't all that easy for me. Bodie never seems to let things get to him, although I'm certain it's merely a façade, most of the time anyway.

I knew damn well I had to put her out of my mind, and quick. As usual, the job didn't leave me much time to wallow, which probably was a blessing. Still, the prospect of chatting up a girl at random and all that wining-and-dining didn't appeal to me for a while.

Cindy was the first to catch my eye, and boy did she catch it when I finally noticed her. Funnily, for once, she was the one to take the initiative. Not that she'd stoop so low as to chat me up, but she was definitely interested and I caught on very quickly.

She's all I liked so much about Ann, and then some. Cool, eloquent, well-educated – a lady from head to elegant shoes – in daytime, that is, because in the dark of the night she's red-hot dynamite, no other way of putting it.

Merely thinking of her pert, petite body and the incredibly arousing things she does with it makes my jeans uncomfortably tight around the groin.

Hope Giuditta doesn't – oh shit, judging by the knowing little smile, she's noticed all right. She gives me one of those looks, a come-hither if I've ever seen one. And she most definitely makes an impression on my cock, which is getting ideas of its own.

Nah. No can do. Not with Cindy waiting for me, not with all this coke lying around and not with Domenico and his goons coming back God knows when, but predictably at the wrong moment.

I'm saved by the bell, so to speak, for the phone rings and I go to answer it. I note down a reservation, watching from the corner of my eye as Giuditta disappears into the loo.

Tight jeans forgotten, it strikes me that this is the moment I've been waiting for to place those bugs Murph, good lad that he is, slipped into my eager hands when he came over last night, ostensibly to enjoy our much praised bistecca alla fiorentina and a bottle of Valpolicella with Ruthie acting as his bird. Dunno where Murph hid the bugs, given the way he wears his jeans.

Our young lovers, I chuckle. Ruthie played her part damned well – or was that gleam in her eye more than just a well-practiced role? They did look convincingly like a pair of moon-struck adolescents – you never know, maybe the wine just worked its magic and they did end up in bed.

You have my blessing, kids, if it means old Murph leaves his dirty paws off my Cindy, I grin to myself as I place the bugs.

One's already slotted away in the phone on the counter, and while Giuditta's in the loo and I have a pretext to be in Domenico's office, I make a quick job of planting the second in Domenico's phone and the third under the–

Oh shit, she's back, and she comes in to find me kneeling under the desk. Desperately, I'm fumbling for an excuse and gratefully find a pen on the floor, which I hastily grab. I get up and lay it on the desk with exaggerated care, but she doesn't even realise.

Her eyes are wild, and not at all with fury, oh no, and fastened onto my groin. I gulp as she approaches, giving a convincing impersonation of a slick black panther about to pounce.

And she does. Her lips are ruby today, like Murphy's wine last night, I think incoherently as her mouth latches onto mine. Her hands cup my face then slide down my arms to take hold of mine and firmly push them over her boobs. By God, this wild cat sure doesn't stand on ceremony.

Neither do I as my groin reports back to active status, and then some. She makes little purring noises while we're kissing, or is it me? No idea. I briefly think of Cindy, but then again, this is a job, for crying out loud, I need to maintain my cover, don't I? All in the line of duty. God, she feels good. I'm really getting into the spirit now.

Our hands are urgently exploring, our lips glued together as we're devouring each other with tongues, lips and teeth. Her blouse is already open, as suddenly are my belt and the zip of my jeans. Much more comfortable, I must say. And definitely inspiring, I decide as her fingers glide up and down my length, her nails scratching lightly over the sensitive skin.

Looking around for a suitable location for the next stage, I spot Cesare's photo on the wall in front me, complete with black ribbon, and momentarily wonder whether this is such a good idea after all, but the thought of her late husband evaporates in the same rosy cloud of body heat as Cindy's elegant image while Giuditta hoists her skirt and peels off her lacy pants. Ruby-red, I notice, just like her lips, and I mutter something about moving over to the sofa on the far wall.

But no, she has ideas of her own. Loves doing it standing up, she murmurs breathlessly, and I have to smile. Like Cindy, who gets all hot and bothered when we do it against the wall, so Giuditta's suggestion is highly appreciated to be honest.

She bends over the desk, exposing her neat rounded bottom, leaving no doubt what position she has in mind. Si, signora, too pleased to oblige. I take her from behind, and she moans approvingly. I pause for a moment, shuddering, as pleasure ripples through me. Boy, this is good. Then I start to thrust, getting into a rhythm. The lady likes it fast and strong, it turns out. Fine by me, cara, most definitely fine by me.

Then, in mid-thrust, I almost choke on a moan and nearly lose my stride. The bugs! Dammit, I just planted them, they can't be listening in already, can they? Oh yes they can, I decide ruefully, Murph's note said they'd be standing by and switch on soonest, given the urgency of the matter.

Urgency, however, currently has quite a different meaning for me, for she's making keening noises now, moaning my name. She's close, and we've made too much noise already, so I decide it doesn't matter any more.

Growling, I pound into her and feel her clenching me in response as she starts to shake and pant. With a heartfelt groan I follow her over the edge.

There. Hope you enjoyed the show, whoever you are in the buggy-boo. The two of us certainly did.

Bodie can be the most irritating bastard in the world at times, and one of those times is now.

I know full well Cowley's trying to keep him busy with some sort of routine case, but I think he's wasting his battery because the idiot's constantly poking around everything to do with the Italian Job, as he cheerfully calls it. The old man's busy himself, which is keeping Bodie out of too much danger of being found out, and that isn't helping me either.

"Don't tell me you just happened to be driving past the buggy-boo," I say a little acidly. "And I'm not going to believe it if you tell me Captain Kirk's lent you the beaming-down equipment either. You're supposed to be in Somerset."

"Delegation, my lad," Bodie says airily. "Got the plods up there working on it. And speaking of plods…"

"Which we weren't," I retort. "But yes, one bug's in place and the others should be soon. Yes, Doyle was still alive and making cappuccino half an hour ago, and yes I have enough tape to cover every eventuality."

Bodie has the grace to look a little embarrassed. He's brought peace offerings, though, in the form of sausage rolls. Not complaining about that either, although the steak from last night could have staved off a famine.

"So how was last night?" Bodie enquires politely, around mouthfuls and as though he's reading my mind. "Good food?"

"No complaints," I nod. "And before you start on the company…"

"Oh yeah, Ruthie," Bodie grins. "Bless 'er."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Just… nice girl. Not really my type, actually."

For some reason I feel I have to defend the poor woman.

"So what is your type, Bodie? Always thought it involved anything with boobs and under fifty."

"Roughly," Bodie agrees. "But I make exceptions now and then. Ruthie's… well… not my type."

"Turned you down, did she?" I tease, although I think I could be right.

Bodie doesn't answer this, mainly because he's heard Doyle's voice on the channel I'm switched to and he's listening intently.

"Test for number two, phone in office, if anybody's listening yet. About to go for number three under the desk."

Good lad, I think to myself and see Bodie grinning to himself as well.

It's amazing, really, with those two. When they're separated they're both on edge, and particularly Bodie. Never thought he'd have such a protective streak. When they're together, though, they spent half their time on arguing and one-upmanship and on pinching each other's girls…

No, we won't go there. I have the distinct feeling that although Bodie would quite happily pinch Cindy, he'd probably thump me if he knew what I'd been up to and if he thought Doyle really cared about her.

I catch the sound of a voice I think belongs to the vampire queen, which gives me an idea.

"Tell you what," I say casually. "There is somebody your type at the restaurant. Trouble is, she fancies Doyle."

"Yeah?" Bodie's interest is aroused and he tears himself away. "Some people have no taste. You met this Cindy of his yet?"

"Grapevine's working then," I say, remembering Ruth knowing about her from the gossip as well. "And yes. Briefly. Doyle asked me to do the honours as you were supposed to be in cider-country."

"Bullshit," Bodie says with a grin. "He just knows she wouldn't be able to resist me."

"And she would me?" I snap. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, mate."

"Nah. You're just too honest and upstanding and…"


"Did I say boring?" Bodie picks up another sausage roll. "Besides, I think Ruth rather likes you. Apparently she was quite excited about last night. You didn't…?"

"Didn't what? Dammit, Bodie, we were working."

"At the restaurant, maybe. I'm talking about afterwards. What you need is to seize opportunities."

"With somebody who isn't your type, which is as good as saying she's repulsive?"

Bodie shakes his head sorrowfully but a snatch of conversation from the newly placed bug saves him from trying to wriggle out of that one.

It's Doyle all right, with the vamp whose name appears to be Giuditta. Doyle sort of groans it out, which makes Bodie frown at first, then he starts rolling his eyes.

I can hardly believe my ears. Did she just ask him to…

Blimey. Shades of Cindy all over again. Anybody'd think they'd been comparing notes.

This is… rather embarrassing in a way. Unless you're into the voyeur stuff.

"Now there's a tape we could blackmail 'im with for years to come," Bodie says thoughtfully as both of them start getting more vocal. I watch the tape go round and round and can't help thinking of Cindy.

"We could… probably wipe that one," I suggest. "It's not exactly evidence, now is it?"

"Depends on what you mean by evidence," Bodie murmurs against a background of Giuditta obviously getting what she was after. "You do know he'd do the same if it was me in there and him in here?"

"I can believe it, but you're not," I inform him, reaching for the tape. "And once again, it's work. He can't exactly refuse her if he's going to get well in with them…"

Doyle roars at this point, and is told he's an amazing lover followed by a few bits of Italian and some clothes-adjusting-type sounds.

"Suppose so," Bodie says mildly. "Not that I'm jealous or anything."


"I don't need to be jealous, my dear boy. Not when I have half of London panting for me."

"And modest with it," I add, rewinding the tape and pressing 'delete'.

"Now you –" Bodie jabs at me with the last sausage roll, "you're not a bit jealous at hearing that and at playing Mr. Integrity with 'is bird so she'll wait for 'im?"

"This might surprise you, Bodie," I say, irritated. "But I do have a sex life, thanks."

"So you and Ruthie…" Bodie's eyes gleam.

"I took Ruthie home like the perfect gentleman. But you don't have a monopoly on the irresistible stakes, much as this might surprise you. This was somebody else."

"Well, well," Bodie winks at me. "When do I get an introduction?"

"Not any time soon," I say airily, wishing I hadn't brought this up just to prove a point.

"She good?"

"Nosey. But yes, as a matter of fact she is."

"Got a friend, 'as she?"

"You that desperate?" I snort. "I thought you had 'em lined up. And no, Bodie, I'm not going to play that sort of game. I'll let you and Doyle play pinching each other's birds…"

Hypocrisy is now my middle name.

"Fair enough," Bodie says easily, and switches the microphone to the other channel. "Did Doyle seem all right last night?"

Phew. Thank God he's gone back to protective mode.

"Yep. Looked like he'd spent half his life as a waiter."

"He's good undercover," Bodie says with a touch of pride. "But I hope we soon get all we need, wrap it up, get back to normal."

"Mmmm," I say absently. I'm not quite so sure I do, considering I have a date with Cindy tonight.

"Right," Bodie sighs, licking greasy fingers. "I'll go and see what the Somerset plods are up to. You'll let me know if anything interesting happens?"

I nod without thinking, and only realise it's got nothing to do with him, this case, I mean, when he's set off at a speed that isn't really designed for a small side road.

I settle back into the seat and allow myself a small grin all the same, though. Considering the way those two behave, they're both only getting what they deserve: Bodie's being deprived of a chance to blackmail Doyle with the tape and of fooling around with his partner's girlfriend on the one hand, and Doyle deserves all he gets for turning that bug on so damned early. Anybody'd think he'd done it on purpose… and much as I defended him he wasn't exactly sacrificing himself too much by the sound of it.

Yes, I think I'm doing Doyle a favour, really, because even if he does care for Cindy, she's basically a tart. In fact I hope to do her several favours before Doyle hangs up his pinny because I rather like the idea of Murphy the Sex God, admired by both Cindy and Ruthie – who isn't half as uninteresting as Bodie makes her out to be.

I'm almost sorry I didn't play the game with her a bit more last night now, particularly if she did turn Bodie down. One-upmanship is a very fine thing.

When will those pills finally start to work? Dammit, this isn't funny at all. I've taken four already, but they don't seem to live up to the promises on the package.

Still, I'm glad to be up and about now, after almost two days flat on my back. Or rather, to be precise, curled up on my side alternatively spitting blood, throwing up and doing my best not to. Lovely.

God, I'm really an idiot. Deserve every single punch I got. Should never have touched that minx in the first place.

Awkwardly, I get up and limp over to the cupboard to fetch the onions. Damn, my knee hurts like hell, and it's still so swollen I hardly managed to put on my jeans earlier today.

Yet it's nothing compared to my ribs. Poor buggers got more than their fair share this time. I'm pretty sure at least one or two are cracked. Francesca assured me they're not dislodged so not truly broken. Can't feel any difference, though. I make damn sure not to move too quickly. Deep-breathing exercises are definitely not on the menu right now. Neither is coughing, which I've valiantly managed to suppress so far, although it gets harder.

I've been lucky, though. Thankfully, Francesca turned out to be a qualified nurse, and when I told her she was doing an excellent job, she confided to me that she had indeed been a sister until her Catholic hospital kicked her out when she got pregnant. Her words were clipped and matter-of-fact, yet her eyes told another story: one of grief and guilt and desperation.

She was the one who found me on her way home – luckily for me, Luigi had managed to get the sauce béchamel burnt and she'd stayed longer to scrub the pan and remove the evidence so the boy wouldn't get punished.

Once she spotted me, she called la mamma who, in accordance with local custom, favoured me with a good tongue-lashing despite my deplorable state.

Can't blame her. It was my own fault, although I didn't tell her that it's simply a downside of my job. Getting caught in the act, that is.

Two days ago, I stayed after the lunch shift, ostensibly to refill bottles and other routine work. Domenico was away and had taken Angelo with him so we were a bit understaffed that day and I had a good excuse to stay behind – and search the padrone's office in peace and quiet.

I got lucky. Just before leaving, Domenico had seen those two visitors again. With the help of the bugs and McCabe's very discreet job with a zoom lens, we knew that one of the sleek men was actually a big number in the mob, one Giacomo Benfatto, well-known Godfather of many a loyal mobster, and the other his personal consigliere Giorgio Valerio.

Now all we needed was solid visual proof, and I was pretty sure I'd find something as my temporary boss couldn't have time to hide any documents properly. And I did find them, shipping papers, addresses and all, and got them on microfilm good and proper.

The only problem was that I found something else which made a much deeper impression on me. It was a photo of a very young girl, and it took me a minute to register it was Francesca's little daughter, Mimi.

Yet the moment I spotted the picture the door banged open and I hurriedly made sure to slip everything back. No time for anything except snatch up the receiver and pretend to be taking a call when Domenico ambled in, followed by Angelo and startled to find me in his office.

I tried to keep up a casual air, but I could tell he was suspicious. I didn't want to make more of it than necessary and was just about to slip out with a muttered excuse, but for once, fate was against me.

Domenico spotted the door to one of the wall cupboards was slightly ajar. I hadn't even noticed it, but I could hardly tell him I hadn't been the one to open it.

What I didn't know then and found out only later was that Domenico kept his personal stock of coke – for special friends – behind that door. He suspected me at once, of course.

And he wasn't the only one, as it turned out, for at that moment, Giuditta turned up. Seemed that family not only loved the opera but also had a damned fine feeling for dramatic timing.

She grasped the situation instantly – or what she thought the situation was – and came to my rescue, telling her brother-in-law I'd been waiting for her for a fling before the evening shift. Tough. Just what I needed, although it did save my neck at that particular moment.

Domenico let it go, obviously reluctant to get into a tiff with his in-law and inevitably his mother, but giving me a distinctly evil eye as I trudged off in Giuditta's wake, relieved to get off lightly, at least with my cover still intact.

But, as they say, everything has its price. The one I paid was Giuditta's insistence that I had in fact been after the coke and why hadn't I simply told her? She liked a pinch of the white stuff herself now and then, especially while fucking, and she did have some coke she'd taken from Domenico's little stash and was more than willing to share it with me in recognition of my more than satisfactory exploits in bed.


Hoisted with my own petard, my boss would say.

If there's one thing I hate more than drugs it's fucking a bird who's high on them. I can't deny it does have a certain… booster effect, but I still prefer the natural thing, so to speak. I certainly don't need artificial sweeteners to enjoy that kind of candy with every fibre of my body and soul.

The things I do to keep up my cover.

The problem was, however, that Domenico was obviously well aware of all this and the thought didn't make him happy.

Giuditta left my room so late that I barely found time to slip the microfilm into an envelope, together with a note telling Cowley about what I'd found, but I didn't make it to the post-box before I was due back for work.

During the evening shift, I noticed Angelo and Peppino exchange furtive glances and was half convinced something was up, but didn't expect them to be so thorough, I must admit.

They did wait for mamma Maddalena to march off to her flat a little further down the street, which gave me time to go for a refreshing walk before turning in. When I came back, however, they were waiting for me.

Cigarettes in hand, they were both leaning ever so casually by the back entrance. I had to pass through the narrow passage between them.

The first blow got me in the stomach and doubled me up. Others followed, and I retaliated, but tried not to give my training away. There was still a distinct possibility this was merely the revenge for me having it off with Giuditta, judging by Angelo's cutting remarks and the vicious looks Peppino had given me during our shift.

And I wasn't wrong, for when they finally stopped beating me into a pulp, Angelo bent over me and hissed into my ear:

“Remember, stronzo, that's what you get if you can't leave your dirty paws off that lady's honourable behind, capito?”

Oh, I understood perfectly well. Once I managed to stop panting and the rushing in my ears settled down, that is. By then, Francesca had spotted my crumpled carcass next to the dustbins and had rushed off to fetch la mamma.

The two of them somehow got me upstairs to my room to patch me up, accompanied – at least in mamma Maddalena's case – by further priceless bits of colloquial Italian of which only porca miseria imprinted itself into my rather befuddled mind.

When she started to talk about calling the police I hastily confessed that Peppino and Angelo were the ones who'd done the honours, on Domenico's orders. This shut her up for a moment. Then she muttered something unintelligible, which was probably my luck because it made Francesca blush deeply. The only words that I could make out of that particular tirade were putana and stupido – the latter quite obviously designating the deprived state of my mind.

Given the impartiality that la mamma exercises in giving those around her a piece of her mind, I was pretty sure, however, that Domenico hadn't heard the last of it either. Not that I cared at that particular moment. I was too busy getting my tender anatomy sorted.

For almost two days both women looked after me, God bless 'em. La mamma rustled up some painkillers, which I gratefully took once my stomach decided to talk to me again, and Francesca did a thorough job of strapping my busted ribs so I could at last get up and move about.

So here I am chopping vegetables instead of playing waiter. Well, no good scaring off patrons with that bugger of a black eye, not to mention swanning around in a long apron if I can hardly keep upright, let alone walk properly with that knee.

Seems the tablets are finally taking effect for my mind starts to get a bit cloudy. Grateful for the numbness, I keep my hands busy and let my thoughts wander off.

Garlic, onions and carrots, finely chopped for the battuto that la mamma will convert into soffritto, which is the basis for her world-famous ragu – better known on these fair isles as Bolognese sauce.

I've always liked Italian cooking, but for the first time I'm actually working in a restaurant where the cook loves what she's doing and takes pride in doing it right. No industrial foodstuff for la mamma, and the only tins she uses contain pelati and carciofini – peeled tomatoes and artichokes. She makes everything else herself, even the pesto.

When I wondered aloud why she didn't simply open a jar, she was outright indignant.

“No good using that porcheria, Marco. Cooking is not just to feed people, sai, it can be an art – and you know all about art, eh piccino?”

I've learned a lot from her, I ponder while I'm chopping away. Next time I set out to impress a bird, it won't be just spaghetti alla Benny, I promise myself, smiling ruefully. Although Ann certainly didn't complain about that. There were other things she found fault in, plenty of them.

Suppressing another bout of coughing, I shake off the mental image of her disappointed, tear-filled eyes and her neatly painted lips condemning me. No use crying over spilt milk anyway.

I have work to concentrate on, and I suddenly realise how fervently I want this job to be a success. I can't afford to give up now just because of a little bodily harm. My body has been harmed too often for this to make any difference.

Not when I think of what we're dealing with. The microfilm of the documents should by now have reached its destination courtesy of her Majesty's post, and Cowley knows there's more going on.

Yet I still have to get hold of that photograph, or possibly others if there are any. Deep down, I'm silently praying that there aren't, but my mind already knows all too well what we will find in the end.

I have to stop working for a minute as my hand clenches around the knife hilt.

It will be much, much worse than just a photograph of a six-year-old girl chained to a king-sized bed, her eyes wide and glazed. Mimi. Naked except for a studded dog collar around her delicate neck.

"Of course I've been damn well listening," I tell Bodie. "So have the others. There's been virtually nothing going on in Domenico's office, which is first priority. The telephone on the counter hasn't given us much except people who make reservations, and before you start…"

"They're making a list at HQ in case they're interesting," Bodie says miserably and proving he's got his ear very much to the ground. "But you've not heard Doyle. You sure he's still in there?"

"We assume so. It could be that he simply doesn't usually take reservations or answer the phone. Not in his job description."

"Very funny," Bodie snaps. "But at first…"

"At first we heard him shagging. Then we heard him get into a bit of trouble with Domenico but he rode that out pretty well."

"And rode something else afterwards," Bodie sighs with a tiny grin. I might have known he'd have homed in on that transcript – the one where Doyle's new admirer stepped in neatly and saved him from blowing his cover. Or at least blowing it where the Italians are concerned – I'm pretty sure that typing that up, and all it clearly indicated, raised a few female eyebrows.

"Yeah," I chuckle.

"Still wish we knew if he was actually in there."

"Bodie," I explain patiently. "You know as well as I do that we can't post people at both the main entrance and the staff entrance. They'd notice, or at least if they're worth their salt in the criminal world. I'll be going in there as soon as they're open, and I'll report back. Right?"

"Right," Bodie mutters, absently twiddling with the channel switch. "And you're sure they didn't mention…"


"Sorry." Bodie's apology is both unexpected and sincere. "I just…"

"Worry about the daft sod," I agree, softening a bit.

"That, yeah. And can't understand why he hasn't just walked out of there. We've got what we wanted."

"Maybe he thinks there's something else? Maybe he's waiting for me to confirm that Cowley's happy?"

And, I add to myself, once he knows that Cowley is happy and has said he can abandon his new career, he'll be rushing back to Cindy. Even tonight, if he downs tools and walks straight out of there for good. Somehow I can't see Doyle's devotion to duty stretching to him waiting on people any longer than he has to. Well, unless he decides to have one last fling with his new ladyfriend. Speaking of which…

"The others don't like Giuditta much," I tell Bodie. "That much we did pick up from some of the chatter near the counter. Think that gave the translators quite a blast. Some of the kitchen staff have quite a… picturesque way of describing her. "La putana" seems to be the favourite – even my Italian stretches that far."

It's funny, really, I think to myself. Doyle having a fling with one lady who's a little free with her favours and me doing the same.

"How's Cindy?"

Ah, now that's interesting. Bodie connecting putana with Cindy. Or worrying, if he's tumbled me…

But no, I decide. He's just thinking about Doyle and women and being jealous. Apparently the bit of Somerset he's been stuck in wasn't exactly populated with buxom young wenches, as he's complained several times about that.

"She's fine," I say, as casually as I can manage but still needing reassurance. "Had a quick drink with her the night before last, like I already told you. What made you think of her? She's not exactly the same type as the Italian woman, surely, just because she asked him out. Don't tell me you missed that little detail from the grapevine?"

Bodie shrugs, admitting nothing.

"So she's…?"

"Fine," I repeat, not prepared to give any more details or rise to the bait, much to Bodie's frustration.

'Fine', she certainly was: my bedsprings can probably attest to that. And my settee.

"Typical," Bodie says. "Doing the honest, upstanding stuff again. I was just wondering when I'd get to meet her. Doyle seems to think she's pretty hot."

Hot, definitely. I try not to think about just how hot.

"Knowing Doyle, not any time soon," I tell him. "Unless he's decided to keep the Italian bird, that is, although she's likely to end up behind bars, that one."

"Don't go for 'is cast-offs," Bodie says wickedly. "No challenge there. You thinking of offering her a shoulder to weep on if and when he does ditch her?"

I can't see Cindy weeping, somehow. In fact to be perfectly frank with myself, she's way too much of a handful, and I can't see me staying around for long after Doyle's back on the scene anyway, whatever he decides to do. Although another couple of nights would be… fun.

We both turn our attention to the loudspeaker again, but it's just a few words of Italian. Ah yes, stronzo. It seems to be one of the guys' favourite expressions, rather primly translated by our linguists as 'idiot' but according to Jax, who speaks a bit of the lingo, it's a little stronger than that.

"Dammit," Bodie grumbles. "We really should have had a bug closer to the kitchen."

"What, in case Doyle had his evil way with his new conquest among the vegetables?"

Bodie just sighs and jumps as somebody taps on the van door. It's just Khan, one of the squad coming to take over, and Bodie glowers at him when he dares ask why he's here.

"Social call," Bodie says neutrally, although I don't know who he's kidding.

"Still boring as ever in there?" the young Pakistani asks, tactfully not questioning Bodie's presence although he must be aware of the standing joke about Bodie and Doyle being joined at the hip.

"Yup," I say. "But you're about to get lucky."


"I'm going in when they open to get pizza. For those officially on duty," I add. "As in you and me, Khan."

"He eats pizza?" Bodie eyes the newcomer with dangerously narrowed eyes.

"Certainly do, mate. Or would you prefer me to be bringing my own chapatis?"

Nice one, Khan. I'm used to Bodie and his rather peculiar attitude to any of our 'coloured cousins', but it looks like this lad can handle himself.

Fortunately for us all, Bodie doesn't pursue that line and just does the 'poor suffering me' thing. Khan squeezes himself into the remaining jump seat, unruffled.

"They've finished going through this morning's tapes," he informs us. "The Italian bits we couldn't figure out ourselves, anyway. Mostly odd bits from the kitchen staff – stuff you hear when people are going in and out."

"Such as?" Bodie interrupts. "Anything about Doyle?"

"Nah, mostly the old woman yelling at the others - she sounds like quite a tyrant. She did mention Marco once, but we didn't hear the rest."

"So he's still there?" Bodie asks.

"I said," Khan says patiently, "she said something about Marco, which we presume was Doyle, but that was all. The other bits we had weren't clear. I do love it when the Italians start on "piano piano" though. The mamma's obviously got a soft spot for somebody at least as that came up a couple of times."

"Piano means?" Bodie asked. "Quietly, right? As in music?"

"Think the translators put 'take it easy'. And never knew you had a knack for languages, Bodie. Want a few basics of Hindi while I eat my pizza? If you're staying, that is?"

Bodie doesn't come up with a snappy reply to that on, which surprises me a bit, and I wonder what he's thinking. Sometimes it's almost as though he's got a sixth sense when Doyle's in trouble, but I can't think the odd 'piano' is enough to draw any major conclusions.

The time crawls, though. We all seem to have little to say. Bodie's obviously on edge, so I'm starting to be tempted, if Doyle's not going to leave there and then, to give Cindy a call rather than hanging around here any longer than necessary. I could take her a pizza round and make a grande finale of our short-lived adventure, couldn't I?

Now and then we flick channels, but Domenico's office is still quiet. The bug on the counter reveals little more than Giuditta, the putana in person, taking reservations. She's charming with some and condescending with others, saying that the restaurant is very busy and they are very fortunate to find room.

Khan chuckles and says he'll have to tell his uncle, who runs a curry house, to try that approach sometimes. Bodie makes some sort of half-hearted comment about Indian restaurants needing to pay clients to go in, but once again Khan doesn't rise to the bait.

"They'll be open now," Bodie says eventually, and I glance at my watch. It's about thirty seconds after six. I know better than to make him wait any longer and climb out of the van.

"Back in a bit," I say. "Any preferences? For the pizza?"

Khan says no anchovies, and I start to go and then catch Bodie's expression again. He looks as miserable as sin, and I'm the world's biggest softie.

"Bodie?" I ask. "You?"

This gets me a faint grin.

"The works, Murph. And ta. Oh, and I'll pay. Even for 'is." He jerks a thumb at Khan.

He really is worried, then.

Giuditta eyes me up and down as I go in, obviously deciding whether or not I'm worthy of appreciation.

"Saw you did pizzas to take out when I was here the other night with my girlfriend," I say politely.

She studies me a bit more, and nods superciliously. Ah yes, the bistecca, she says graciously.

Charming. Well, I suppose if doctors can refer to 'the broken leg' instead of the patient's name it's logical enough for clients to be identified by what they eat.

She hands me a menu, again displaying blood red nails a bit like Cindy's and snaps her fingers. One of the waiters comes over, fills a glass with something and pushes it over to me disinterestedly.

"For while you wait," he says.

I'm not complaining. It means I can take my time to study the menu and look around for Doyle, who isn't in evidence although two other pinafore-clad waiters – those I'd seen the other night – finish off preparing the tables for the evening's diners.

"You new?" I say conversationally.

"Usually in the kitchen," the guy says.

"Really? Difficult to get waiters, is it?"

Careful. Mustn't overdo it by sounding too nosy.

"Nah. Not here. This is good restaurant."

"Oh definitely," I agree enthusiastically, studying the various types of pizza diligently. By the looks of it, he's replacing Doyle, but why? And is Doyle replacing him?

"I mean," I add, hoping that he's simply swapped and Doyle's slaving over a hot stove because they've discovered he can cook spaghetti, "It's a good idea to rotate staff, of course. If that's the idea."

"Rotate?" the Italian frowns, probably wondering if I'm thinking of making him stand there and spin round and round or something.

"Yeah, as in do different things. Sometimes cooking, sometimes the bar, waiting tables…" I decide to help out. "Worked in a restaurant myself when I was younger."

Nice, Murphy. Not that I ever have, but if I can be a car salesman I can be an ex-maître d'hotel if I feel like it. Will he bite?

"Right," he says, not very helpfully.

"So you prefer being in the kitchen or here?" I prompt, afraid I'm going to get a look that says 'order the bloody pizza and leave me alone'.

"Kitchen," he says eventually, warming to his subject a little. "I know what I'm doing in there."

"Oh dear… and the guy who's in the kitchen in your place doesn't?"

"Slow," I'm told with a sigh, and my glass is refilled. "Very slow, not good. No talent. Too busy with the ladies, too."

Ah, now that does sound like Doyle, and we're getting quite chummy here. I just hope we're not going to get too technical about the chef-type stuff, as I don't know my flambé from my brûlée if I'm honest.

"Not a problem for the food, though", my new-found friend adds. "He's just doing vegetables. Can't even chop a zucchino properly, if you ask me. He's not Italian."

Of course, I feel like saying. I mean only Italians can chop zucchini. It also strikes me that being sent to the kitchen is probably his penance for that little scene in Domenico's office.

I'm relieved, I admit, and order four pizzas in the hope that Doyle will be too busy making minestrone to abandon ship right now and I can go and get busy with a lady (although I'm not certain Cindy qualifies for that description) myself. Serves him right.

My new friend disappears with the order, and I sit back where I can see the kitchen doors. As they swing open, I catch a glance of a curly head and grin to myself. So far, so good. Still need to see him, though.

Being brilliant, I have an idea, and call after the waiter who pauses at the entrance to the kitchen.

"Sorry, forgot to say no anchovies on the quattro stagioni. And where are the toilets?"

The other side of the restaurant, by the big flower display, I'm told, and bingo: Doyle's head nods slightly. Good lad.

I take myself off there, and sure enough the door opens only a couple of minutes later.

The sight of him's a shock, and he's limping. From being pretty glad I've got one over him I'm concerned – he looks like shit. Pinching his bird's one thing, but Doyle's still a mate and he's obviously hurting.

"What the…"

"Daren't be long," he says. "But listen…"

"No, you listen. You can get out of here. Right now would seem like a good idea, in fact. What the hell happened?"

"Ran into a fist or three after the little episode in Domenico's office. But that's just it: I found some stuff in there that we need to follow up. Photographs – child porn. Didn't know they were into that but it looks like they are. So I'm staying for a bit."

"Ray…" I study his face, and the bruises on it, and definitely don't like what I see. "Drop it – we'll get it out of them when we move in. We'll have it all set up for when that special consignment comes in, thanks to the film you took."

"But that's only in a couple of days, Murph. And from what I gather from gossip in the kitchen, Domenico's got some sort of meet with somebody for his 'other sideline' before that, so maybe I can find out more – that could be the child porn stuff. I'd like to see if we can get some of the others involved in that, in case what we get over the drugs stuff doesn't lead back to the bastards."

There's a glitter in Doyle's eyes that tells me he's off on one of his crusades.

"Ray… you're nuts. You sure?"

"Certain," he says. "Look, I've got a photo hidden up in my room. I'll go and get it and give it to you outside the staff entrance in – say – ten minutes. Only got it this morning, and it wasn't easy, believe me. Didn't have time to send it over yet. I'll nip out - say I need a breather. Maybe it'll be a start. And you need to get going or the owners of the fists might start wondering. I think Luigi – the guy standing in for me – is probably pissed off with me as well so watch it."

Suddenly, I'm not quite as fond of the rotating waiter as I was, but I do as I'm told. If Bodie ever gets his hands on any of this lot, I think, they won't be chopping any zucchini or pouring Valpolicella for a while.

Phew! That was a close shave. Talk about precise timing. Cowley should be proud of us.

Murphy was waiting by the back entrance all right when I came back from my room, ostensibly to fetch the pills I'd forgotten to bring down earlier. Good old Murph, precariously balancing his pizza cartons while I slipped the photo between two of them. Just what he bought four of them for is beyond me. I have a pretty good idea of who was with them in the buggy-boo, regulations or no regulations. But four?

There wasn't much time to talk, anyway, which was a shame. I was so impatient to find out how Cindy was keeping, but there was hardly a chance to get a proper answer even though I did manage to ask him briefly. Still, he could have been a little more forthcoming, damn him. Just hope he hasn't… I mean, she is pretty passionate when she wants to…

All right, I know I wasn't exactly in danger of being qualified as a saint as far as my fling with our giovane padrona is concerned, but what was I supposed to do? Anyway, it's over now, even though she seems to regret it a little. So do I in a way, but I'm also relieved. Very.

On all accounts, I want this to be finished, get the lot of them busted and then go right back to my own life – and Cindy. God knows I've been missing her badly, despite the distinctly three-star menu of sex lavished on me by the dowager mafiosa until the shit hit the fan.

That woman sure knows which side her toast is buttered. She's all smiles and giggles for Domenico and him alone now, even lets him fondle her arse. Putana – that's what they secretly call her, and I must say they're not altogether wrong.

Mamma Maddalena's really worried about me. Every few minutes she's by my side asking me if I'm okay and telling me to take it easy if I'm not feeling well, God bless the good old soul. Piano piano piccino – if I've heard it once, I've heard it a few dozen times by now.

Just like Bodie, I grin. My partner can be a real mother hen at times, although I suppose I'm not all that much better where he's concerned. It's just more striking to see tough, wanna-taste-my-fist-sunshine Bodie going all mushy because his equally tough partner's physique gets ruffled.

Can't have that right now, or Bodie might feel inclined to do his Save the Whales bit. So I told Murph in no uncertain terms what he was to tell Bodie – and what not. And what fate he's looking forward to if he doesn't, once I'm back in shape, that is. Which will certainly be a little while still. Right now, I could already use my next dose of pills: I'm hurting all over, especially as that damned cough is getting worse.

Maybe I should just let it go, like Murph said. Stamp 'case closed' as far as I'm concerned on it all, and sink down on my settee for a good long convalescence. Thing is, however tempting this scenario may be, there's also that ice-cold knot in the pit of my stomach that's bothering me more than any of the bruises or scrapes. I need to get those bastards. And I'll do anything to stay close to them while the trace is still warm and pungent.

I've been looking for an opportunity to gather evidence ever since that near-disastrous encounter in Domenico's office, but basically kept a low profile, given my poor shape.

Yet when I started my shift this morning, Peppino phoned in to say he'd had a puncture and would be late. I knew Angelo was away with the padrone and realised I'd be all on my own for a few minutes until la mamma and Francesca turned up.

The office door wasn't locked, and the desk lock yielded easily to my experienced fingers.

I found what I was looking for. And then some.

Photographs. Not only the one I'd spotted a few days ago, but a whole bundle of them. Professionally made, glossy, perfectly focused, some black-and-white, some in tasteful colours. Downright artistic. Exquisite eye candy for discriminating clients with refined tastes and money to match their sophisticated desires.

It was little Mimi all right, I recognised her without doubt. I've seen her more than a few times in the kitchen, along with Nicoletta. The two of them are best friends, two cute little lasses. Too cute for their own good, it seems. Come to think of it, Mimi has been a little downcast just recently, although I haven't exactly paid attention.

There she was, her eyes glassy and empty, her painted mouth hanging a little open. The obscene collar cut deep into her throat as she lay on the glossy pink satin sheets slumped against the bedpost, kept from sliding to the floor only by the gleaming chain.

I wince, and this time it has nothing to do with the state of my ribs. I need to nail those bastards, I think yet again. Nobody who does things like that to kids will be allowed to walk the streets if I can help it, whatever the cost.

I took the photo, knowing full well about the risk that implied, because I knew it might be my only chance to get it, and I didn't have time to fetch the micro camera from upstairs. I'm glad Murphy came in so I could hand it over, as I could hardly pretend I was going for a walk while I was still limping about like Cowley on his worst days. I'd even considered using the bugs to tell them to send someone round to collect the photo, but there wasn't a single moment when I was alone at the bar, now I was exiled to the kitchen.

It would have been tricky anyway, and I couldn't risk any more near misses now they were already ogling me with suspicion. Just now I could swear Angelo was giving me the evil eye. Nah. Just nerves. No wonder I'm jumpy as hell. Bet the guy's still pissed off because of Giuditta. Probably thought she'd take comfort in him now that I've been hauled over the coals good and proper, but the lady doesn't even spare him a look. Aw, poor baby.

La mamma's sprightly as ever, but Francesca appears somehow subdued tonight. Dunno what's up with her sometimes, but she's all grumpy and silent, not her usual style at all, and she doesn't hum along to the music although they're playing that tape that she likes so much.

Oh, well, who could claim to understand what's going on in a woman's mind, eh, Doyle? And don't chuckle, it'll only make you cough again, I admonish myself as my ribs pull. God knows I've had my bellyful of the female of the species for this week.

"So explain. What d'you mean he's had a 'bit of trouble'," Bodie says, smelling a rat and not even grabbing for the pizza boxes. I made sure my first sentence was 'I've seen Doyle' to avoid him shaking the details out of me, but he looks like he's about to do so now I've given them the quick run-through.

"Like I said, Bodie, a bit of trouble. Black eye… apparently that's not ideal for the image of the place. So he's in the kitchen, chopping vegetables. Quite an art, apparently."

Bodie doesn't seem to give a flying fuck about the artistic side of preparing courgettes at first, but then seems to pull himself together, probably for young Khan's benefit.

"So he thinks they're into child pornography as well as all the rest, you said? And they're not onto him or anything?"

"Apparently not and it was just to warn him off the putana. So maybe you could make yourself useful, Bodie, and take the photograph in? Once you've had your pizza, of course."

I hand Doyle's precious piece of evidence over to Bodie, who shudders. Khan, mid-bite, puts his slice of pizza down abruptly, swearing softly.

"Nasty, that," Bodie agrees. "And apparently she's the daughter of somebody in the kitchen, so it's pretty clear there's a connection."

"Exactly what Doyle said, which is why he's staying around to see if this contact of Domenico's shows up."

"So he's all right?"

"He says he is," I tell Bodie honestly, like Doyle's made me swear to do but I'm not entirely easy with the whole thing.

"He'd say he was if he was at death's door," Bodie says, frowning. "Daft sod. Mind, Khan, it's better than being a wimp."

Khan cocks his head on one side, starts to say something and then thinks better of it. Sensible lad. I happen to know that 'wimp' isn't a good way to describe our Pakistani friend considering he's got a black belt in karaté and spent a few years with some sort of special intervention force. He's obviously figured out that Bodie's worried sick at well but is diplomatic enough not to mention it.

Bodie's so frustrated, though, that he's spoiling for a fight of some kind and starts glaring at me instead.

"Khan can take the photo. I'll stay here."

"No," Khan says evenly. "And if something happens in there and you decide to show your ugly mug and blow the lot? I mean at a pinch if there's a fight I can go in there and play the friendly neighbourhood do-gooder in search of a pizza and probably get Doyle out without busting the whole case open. That, Bodie, is one very good reason why you aren't part of the surveillance team, remember? Officially, at least."

There's a pause where I wonder if the buggy-boo's going to turn into a boxing ring but in the end Bodie concedes defeat and nods. I notch up another point in Bodie's favour: he's good at the job and knows Khan's right. Khan, I'm rapidly deciding, will go far. I just hope they don't come to blows at some point tonight if the Pakistani blows his cool or Bodie makes one racist joke too many.


"Murph what?" I say, deciding I don't want to stay around much longer in case Bodie starts digging for details and I have to lie on Doyle's behalf any more than I already have. "I'm off. No doubt I'll see you in the morning. Both of you, probably."

Khan conceals a grin, but Bodie's finally reaching for his pizza, and then points at the other two as I pick them up.

"Said I'd pay for 'em, but didn't know you were intending on double rations?"

"I paid," I tell him calmly. "And no, I have no intention of eating both thanks. Name's not Bodie. You can go and get something from Khan's uncles' curry house tomorrow if you're still hanging around."

"Can't stand curry," Bodie mutters. "Worse than liver paste, curry."

"Double chapatis then," Khan says calmly. "Think of 'em as Indian sausage rolls without the sausage."

I leave while Bodie's thinking up a suitable retort for that one.

Cindy, it turns out, eats pizza with almost as much gusto as she puts into sex. In fact she grabs a slice even before she puts the rest into the oven to heat up a bit.

"I'm so glad you were free after all, Patrick," she purrs. "I just love impromptu stuff."

I've noticed, I tell her, deciding that she's done a pretty good job in the ten minutes between my phone call and arriving, as she's lit a couple of candles and is obviously fresh out of the shower. The loose robe's not concealing much either.

Blimey… as she slides plates out of the cupboard I also get a glimpse of what little is underneath it, and it looks very much like black… leather. Oh my.

Suddenly, I'm not that hungry any more – or for food, anyway. She realises where I'm looking, and gives me an extremely saucy grin.

"Wonderful pizza," she says, licking her lips. "Really good, these. Where'd you get them?"

"Oh, an Italian place," I say intelligently.

"Never. I thought they'd be from the China Diner," she grins, looking at the boxes. "Oh, Tosca. A ristorante, eh? Never heard of it. You eaten there?"

"Yeah," I say casually, then realise the last thing I want is her suggesting we go, or even dragging Doyle in there at some point in the future – if it hasn't been closed down because the owner's in the nick – because that would bring all sorts of problems.


"Terrible," I tell her. "Except for the pizzas, that is. Not somewhere to go for an evening out."

She shrugs her shoulders, which reveals a little more of what she's wearing. My groin does predictable things and I'm extremely glad I've skipped round the Tosca issue before my brain turns to mush.

"Have a bite," she says. "Of the pizza, that is… and then find the corkscrew, would you? It's over there somewhere. I'll go and get some wine."

I start looking but don't find it immediately. What I do find is her pinboard, which is several layers thick in Post-Its and other stuff, pinned rather precariously. So precariously, in fact, that as I start fishing around in a big jar full of spoons and spatulas, a few of them come off and I absently start shoving them back until an unmistakable logo catches my eye. The curly letters in a deep burgundy are all over the place: I've seen them on the napkins, the menus, over the door…. Tosca. This, I realise, is their takeaway menu, and it's fairly well thumbed at that.

Job-type instincts take over from more basic ones and I slide it back under the nearest, biggish sheet of paper on the board at the speed of light, and scrabble frantically for the corkscrew, which I finally identify. I barely take in the fact that it's in the form of women's legs with the screw part between them, I'm so stunned that she's lied to me. I mean… why?

She's forgotten the name, I persuade myself as she comes back into the kitchen. That must be it, right?

"So," she says as I attack the cork and fumble it a bit. "How about a little aperitif?"

The way she's looking at the tool in my hand and stroking my chest tells me she's not thinking only of the wine.

If the aperitif was good, involving me getting acquainted with the distinctly risqué underwear and satisfying her if not myself, the main course surprises me even more. Do I like a little fun, she asks? A little… naughty?

Before I've even answered, she slides open her bedside draw and points at it with a giggle. My mouth dries as I see the handcuffs and I think she feels me flinch slightly.

"Don't fancy it?" she says lightly. "I thought it was every man's dream, to chain a woman to her bed?"


"Don't worry," she says. "I'm not going to ask you to reciprocate if you don't want to. It just excites me. Go on…"

So help me, I do. And it sure as hell does excite her as well and I've no complaints at all in many ways although I'm not sure I get quite into it as much as she'd like: submissive women aren't really my cup of tea.

I undo the cuffs eventually, absolutely knackered, and slump down on the bed beside her deciding that she is most definitely too much for me to handle.

"Ray's not really into that," she pouts. "Shame, really."

I didn't want that piece of information, I feel like telling her. It's one thing pinching Doyle's bird, but I'm not really up for a blow-blow blow account of how they do it.

She's lying there fiddling with her toys, grinning faintly. I feel somewhat queasy for some reason. Suddenly, the massive bed and satin sheets seem tacky rather than sexy.

"Mind you," she adds, "I never give up hope. You sure you don't want to try it? Apparently it's incredibly arousing for a man as well. I keep telling Ray so but he won't do it either. I was really hoping you were more adventurous."

Did she, indeed.

"Dildos, now, they can be really…" she starts, and I can't stop myself frowning but cover that up by pretending I can smell burning.

It takes me a huge effort to eat some of the pizza, which she insists we take to bed. Even before she's brought it, though, I've decided that I'm not up for any more games, or in fact anything else at all. Doyle, I decide, is welcome to her although I'm almost sorry for him because I don't think the poor bastard's realised she's such a tramp. Can't exactly tell him so, can I? And neither can I decently escape before I've forced some of Tosca's best down me.

When Cindy gets up, licking her fingers and saying she's going to take a quick shower, I decide I'll get dressed and invent some sort of pretext for leaving rapidly. This isn't that easy unless I can think of some good reason, such as a potential buyer of a Rolls Royce needing a salesman at ten o'clock at night.

I start reaching for my clothes as I think, grabbing my shirt from where she's dropped it and then find myself staring at the drawer she took the handcuffs from. She's got quite a little treasure trove in there, in fact. Nipple clamps… ugh. And some sort of studded collar. A couple of dildos, a tube of K-Y jelly… and something else. I poke around a bit and pull out a tiny whip, almost…

… child size.

No, that's because of the photo I saw before. It's just small and I'm jumping to conclusions because I'm thinking about Doyle. I can't resist picking it up though, in a kind of revolted fascination.

There's a sort of tiny cat embossed on the handle, I notice but then decide it's time to push the stuff back in the drawer. As I sit up, shit in hand, I realise Cindy's standing there staring at me. Shit.

I mumble apologies, but she's laughing. Tells me she knew I'd be interested after all.

Desperation, however, kicks my brain into gear and I manage a theatrical sigh.

"Have to save that for another time, love. Got some sort of weird client from Saudi in tomorrow really early, and I want to make some extra commission from him. Then maybe we can go and celebrate somewhere really nice – better than any Italian place. And then play with some of your toys afterwards."

She looks a bit disappointed, but doesn't argue too much. I manage to kiss her goodbye but getting out of her flat and into my car, I breathe a huge, heartfelt sigh of relief. I haven't the slightest intention of seeing her again, let alone play with her toys. Kinky's one thing, but not when you're just a substitute for some poor bugger who's been beaten up and has no idea what she's really like.

I'm almost tempted to poke around a little, see exactly what this job of hers is just for the hell of it and if we've got anything on her, as well. She says she works at some sort of trading company, which 'isn't really interesting', but I'd be interested to see what she trades in. Whips and handcuffs, maybe?

Right, I decide as I head for home. I'll get Ruthie onto that. She's discreet enough not to give the game away with Doyle, or at least I hope so. I'll say it's because I've heard a couple of rumours about her being married or something and don't want to see Doyle hurt – or rather any more hurt.

That thought cheers me up a bit at least as I get home. I even call the buggy-boo to find – as I expected – Bodie's still there and still getting up Khan's nose although they seem to have called some sort of truce, Khan assures me.

So everything will be fine.

The door bangs open and in bounces little Nicoletta, her black hair all tousled from running home after school. All excited and cheerful, she tells her granny about some prank they played on their teacher. La mamma grins indulgently. Bambini – what can you do?

Yeah, bambini. I like kids, I really do. As long as they're other people's kids – those you can hand back after a few hours and say 'that was nice, I'll be pleased to take them again in a month or so'. Like my sister's brats – lovely kids, but after half a day I could happily wring their tiny necks.

No. Don't say things like that. Don't even think them. Those photographs I saw are still glued to my inner eye like those ads they say you don't consciously notice yet remember all the more clearly in your subconscious. Pictures of kids, young kids, that make your stomach churn. The one with the dog collar wasn't even the worst by far.

“… where's Mimi been today if she wasn't at school?” I hear Nicoletta finish the question she's obviously directed at Francesca – who bursts into tears and runs off to the loo, leaving Nicoletta and la mamma equally puzzled.

Now that's interesting. However much I'm personally touched by all this, my professional mind instantly picks up on the lead. Last night, Francesca was clearly worried, but this? I don't like it one little bit.

Something very fishy is on the menu right now, and I am not talking about the huge coda di rospo la mamma is trimming, although it's probably at least as ugly. If my copper's nose hasn't suddenly gone to seed, it all comes down to the fact that little Mimi is missing – and her mother's not only upset, but obviously knows she's got very good reason to be.

Christ - does she know about the porn stuff?

Nah. Can't imagine that, however often I've come across kids who'd been abused not by some nameless, faceless nutter, but by their own beloved uncles and daddy's best friends.

Now Francesca is back, her eyes red and puffy, but outwardly composed as she resumes her work under the concerned scrutiny of la mamma who, however, doesn't comment. I wonder if they're all aware of what's going on, but somehow can't convince myself this is really the case.

As the shift ends, Giuditta sails off to her hairdresser's – obviously a matter of utmost importance and bound to last quite a while. At least that's what I gather from la mamma's acid comments as she ushers Nicoletta out of the door to some dentist's appointment, accompanied by the girl's petulant whines.

The rest of the staff is off to make the most of their afternoon break, but Domenico is holed up in his office so I haven't got a chance to snoop around some more. On the other hand, it's an opportunity to ask Francesca to check my bandages. The one on my neck where Angelo's sharp signet ring left an ugly deep scratch is thoroughly soaked and stuck, and the rib strapping proves not to be overly compatible with kitchen work.

She sits me down close to the window and helps me take off my shirt, tutting about the impressive shades of my now fully developed bruises. She is working expertly while I try not to flinch and divert my mind by concentrating on the pleasant warmth of the fine autumn day. As if by magic, the low, golden rays of sunshine make the seedy back alley look compellingly like some mediaeval vicolo far away from the frenzy and filth of this monstrous city.

Francesca is still quiet, kind of reticent, and I find myself debating for a moment whether I should really break through her silence. She's not a pretty girl, with her plain, slightly sour-looking face, long nose and uneven teeth.

La mamma told me she's a distant relative of the Scarpias, and that's why they took her in when her family kicked her and the baby virtually into the gutter. I'm sure she'll think she owes them, so whatever's going on it will be difficult to make her tell me anything even though my instincts tell me she is a crucial link in the chain.

Just as I'm about to open my mouth to give it a careful try, I suddenly hear hushed voices nearby. I instantly recognise Domenico, but the other one doesn't register at once.

Something must be afoot for I didn't even hear Domenico leave his office and go to the staff entrance, the same place I met Murphy yesterday. It's pretty well hidden from the restaurant and the alley and therefore well suited for a quiet little chat without witnesses. Yet by the open kitchen window I have a fairly good vantage point, even though only acoustically.

The two men are talking rapidly in Italian, and even though I catch at most one word in ten, I get the distinct impression they are both rather distressed. I make out a few titbits, common words like bambina, and piccina, which both seem to mean the same. I've heard la mamma call me piccino often enough to know it means “little one”. But what little girl?

Damn, what if they're talking about Mimi…? Suddenly I feel cold as I recognise another word out of context: incidente, then another: sfortunato. Something has happened, and it must be bad – or do they mean fortunate? Nah, they're too serious, too concerned, and the one with the silky voice keeps repeating mi spiace – now that's one expression you learn very quickly if you work as a waiter, for it conveniently covers each and every disaster from tomato sauce down someone's Armani lapel to sending a pizza margherita flying like a frisbee.

He's sorry about something, and obviously gets an earful from Domenico –

With a start, I realise that Francesca hasn't moved for minutes now. As if frozen into place she bends over my chest, her hands on the bandage, her unseeing eyes fixed on my throat. Her body and mind seem to be focused entirely on her hearing. I grasp both her arms with my hands, maybe to prevent her from keeling over, I don't know myself. But she doesn't even notice.

Now the silky voice continues to whine, obviously trying to explain something away. I catch droga and errore – error? Someone has made a mistake with whatever drugs?

Then Domenico asks a question so clearly and loudly that even I get all of its ugly meaning: “È sicuro dunque che la piccina è veramente morta?”

As the silky voice is meekly confirming he's sure the little one's dead, I suddenly feel the tension double, then the muscles explode into action beneath my hands. All I can do is hold onto her with all the strength I can muster, which isn't all that much given my present state and my awkward position with one buttock parked on the edge of the kitchen counter.

Francesca stiffens again, then looks at me, her eyes huge and wild. Her mouth opens, but I quickly put one hand over it and shake my head vehemently. She struggles a bit, but slumps forward, relying on me to catch her before she crashes into my poor ribcage.

We stand like that, silently, unmoving, listening to them talk. At this point, I don't understand very much, except the odd word and then a place: Tower Hamlets. What on earth…

At last, we hear the two voices mutter an unfriendly ciao and fast steps move away through the alley towards the main street. Domenico shuffles back to his office, then out of the back door and slams it shut. A minute later, a car is started and quickly drives off.

Releasing a gush of air, I finally let go of Francesca who is now shaking pitifully as tears start to flow. I steady her and catch her as she makes to escape my grasp, but she seems to have no strength left. I make her sit down and wait until she's ready to talk, which is quite a while.

Then we puzzle together what I have heard and what she has heard, and it appears I was right. There's been an incident involving a little girl and drugs, and the kid is now dead. Her body needs to be disposed of, and that's why the silky one has come to Domenico, for he knows what to do if you want to get rid of someone. Those were his words, Francesca repeats, as fresh tears well up.

“Where are they going to dispose of the body?” I ask her once she's go herself under control again.

Un grande cantiere,” she says. “I don't know where.”

“They said Tower Hamlets – is that it?”

“I don't know, but I think that was the place.”

I can piece together that grande means big, but as for the rest…

“Francesca, what is a cantiere? Some kind of pub, or canteen?”

“No, no, not that. A cantiere is a place where they build something… ships, for example.”

“A shipyard? Near Tower Hamlets?” I'm baffled. “There are no shipyards in that area. Can it be somewhere else?”

Senti, non solo navi – un cantiere can also be a place where they build a house, or a road.”

“A building site? Ah.” Now that would be a much more convenient place if anyone intended to provide someone with a pair of cement shoes.

“All right. so we know the place. Have they said how they're going to proceed?”

“Il padrone told him to take the dead girl there and he'd then make sure of the rest. What are we going to do, per carità? Madonna, if that girl is dead my Mimi may be in danger too, and if the police find out we will all be in trouble…”

She's about to jump to her feet, but I manage to get her seated again.

“Wait. We'll think of something, Francesca, but first I need to know the details. First of all: who is the man the padrone was talking to? Do you know him?”

She shudders. “Si. It is signor Valerio, he works for signor Benfatto. They do business with il padrone…” She looks at me sharply. “… but mamma Maddalena must not know about that.”

Ah. L'onorabile signor Valerio, it all comes together now. Although…

“But you know about their… business?” I ask her very cautiously.

“Yes,” she admits and hangs her head. “It was for Mimi, you know, I wanted her to have a better life one day.” She looks at me pleadingly. “All they did after all was to take pictures of her in pretty clothes, you know like… un indossatrice, what do you call that – a model? I know she is much too young, but she loves pretty clothes so much and they always gave her nice new dresses and shoes and all the things I could never buy her…”

Is that what they told her? That they were taking her daughter to have her pose for fashion photos?

Prompted by my careful questions, I finally get the whole story, or at least a good part of it. Haltingly and weighing every word, she tells me what Domenico has told her: With the help of Benfatto and his consigliere, he's going to launch a children's fashion line, moda italiana per bambini. Yet they need to do it quietly because of the competition in that market – everybody knows, after all, that the fashion industry is all corrupt and rotten, so there was good reason to start first and tell about it later.

La mamma was not supposed to know because she wouldn't have approved. She doesn't think much of fashion, it appears, and would not approve of her son's new sideline. Her heart is in the restaurant she and her late husband built up with hard work and love. All she wants is for her children to take over the family business and carry on.

So when Domenico approached her and asked if he could “borrow” little Mimi to pose for photos designed to feature in fashion magazines and brochures, Francesca reluctantly agreed – and kept her mouth shut, even when she realised that Mimi came home after those “sessions” all downbeat and sometimes even sick – too much ice cream, Domenico had explained.

I sit for a minute and try to digest all this. Now comes the worst part of it.

“You said your Mimi might be in danger as well. Why?”

She shrugs impatiently, an obstinate pout on her face, but doesn't answer. I do it for her.

“I think they took her for another photo session last night and she didn't come home. Is that it?”

She looks at me, suddenly furious. “It is all right. Il padrone told me there were technical problems with the camera and it took longer than they thought, so she stayed over night with his friends where they take the photos. She's fine there, they give her pretty clothes and nice food and ice cream…”

She rambles on, visibly trying to convince herself everything is okay. I grab both her shoulders and hold her tightly, willing her to look at my face.

“Listen, Francesca. This is very important. Did they mention the dead girl's name? Did they say who she was?”

She shakes her head, and I can see she is unable to acknowledge one horrendous possibility. “No. A little girl. And we have to do something to get Mimi back because if the police find her there they might get il padrone and all of us into trouble.”

I know when to give up, and I silently think maybe she's better off this way for the moment. In my own mind, there's not a trace of a doubt who the little girl will turn out to be once they've found her body. Speaking of which…

“Listen, Francesca, let me take care of this. I'll think of something, but until then you must keep your mouth shut and not speak to anyone, not even la mamma. Do you understand?”

She nods, looking at me with wide eyes and a blank face.

“Do you trust me, Francesca?” I ask, and she nods again. I smile reassuringly.

“Good. Listen. You go to your place now and leave everything to me. I'll stay here and tidy the first-aid stuff up and then see what I can do, va bene?”

She manages a tiny smile. “Va bene, si.”

She shuffles off, and I hastily ponder my options. I find Domenico's office door locked and thus head for the counter, pick up the phone and deliver an urgent message to the bug in the receiver. Someone in the buggy-boo will hear me and make sure CI5 finds the broken little body before Domenico's personal jerrybuilders do.

Why, I ask myself as I toss and turn, didn't I ask Cindy where she worked? As in exactly where? I mean that smart camera of hers that was lying around could be just a hobby of hers, and she might be heavily into soft-focus sunsets rather than…

Oh, stop it. She might even be a company photographer. Do trading companies have those? To take photos of anything from sacks of coffee beans to… whatever they trade in.

Why, why, why?

Well, sunshine, because first you were too randy to care and then too shocked to think about it. Very professional, all that.

Maybe I'm just getting suspicious for nothing. My mind's just putting two and two together and making five.

Of course I am. She's just an over-sexed bimbo.

Or is she?

She lied about knowing Tosca, didn't she?

By the time my clock says quarter to six, I've had enough of all this, so I get up and drink too much coffee and then call Khan as I set off. Nothing's happening there, he says, and why am I awake as I'm only supposed to take over at seven?

"Couldn't sleep," I say wearily.

"Too much pizza?"

"Something like that. Bodie still there?"

"Nope. Finally kicked him out when the restaurant closed. Why?"

"Just wondered. Look, is there any chance of you staying there for a bit? There's a couple of things I need to look into at work. About the case. It's a bit early to clear it with Cowley, I know, but…"

"No worries, mate. Got a couple of hours' kip anyway. Thought you were in for an evening off, not chewing it over?"

"So did I," I say grimly. "Thanks, Khan. No doubt you'll have company before long anyway."

"Can't think who you mean," he chuckles. "Take your time. And if he gets in touch, tell him to bring breakfast."

"Will do."

Right. Now to see if Cowley still keeps strange hours.

He does. I take a deep breath, ask if he minds sending somebody else to look after the bugs and say I've got something I need to do – check out some details about child porn.

"Miss Pettifer is handling that," he says abruptly. "And what with Bodie trying to pull the wool over my eyes and Doyle refusing to return, I would rather like to think that a few people still realise who is in charge here."

Damn. Cowley in this sort of mood isn't easy, and I know better than to try and budge him, or at least much. Compromise time.

"I do, sir. I'll give Ruth what I know and see if she can follow it up, then. Is that all right?"

"Very well," Cowley says shortly, then sighs and looks up at me. "Very unpleasant business, Murphy, child pornography. It will, however, ultimately be handled by the vice squad. Miss Pettifer is just putting some of her former knowledge to work to see if we can make any more links between that and those involved the drug business."

"Exactly. I…"

"Fine, then see Miss Pettifer and don't waste too much time over it. Understood?"

You have to love George Cowley when he's in 'get on with it' mood. I do pick up one thing, though. Miss Pettifer must be another early riser. What's more, my luck's holding so far because Cowley doesn't bother asking exactly what I know. Not sure if Ruthie'll be quite as uncomplicated though.

"Patrick," she says as I find her in Archives, "you're early".

"So are you."

"Yeah, well… Cowley's waiting for results and as touchy as hell thanks to Bodie and Doyle cheerfully ignoring instructions as usual. So I thought I'd make a start. Gain a few Brownie points. What do you want, anyway? I presume you haven't come to declare undying love, and I thought you were due to relieve Khan?"

"I was, but he's also being selfless and staying on for a bit. I came to pick your brains, actually, to see if you remember anything about… shall we say kinky equipment suppliers from the old days."

She stares at me, but I've already come up with a good smokescreen. I didn't miss the touch of irony about 'undying love', though, but decide it's not a good idea to react to that.

"Just some information I remember from way back," I say airily. "But it would be helpful if you could check the photo Ray gave us to see if the – um – equipment comes from a particular manufacturer. See if there are any… distinguishing marks on it. Like… "

"Could do," she says. "So far I've been trying to see if the location or the child tells us anything. Comparing the studio it was taken in with other stuff I've coaxed out of everybody from my old section to Interpol. It's not exactly fun stuff, and there'll be a lot more coming during the day."

"I bet," I sympathise, but she's staring at me, frowning slightly.

"But even if we found out who supplied the collar that isn't going to help much. There's nothing illegal in that. And there are dozens if not hundreds of makers."

"I know," I admit. "It's just that I… well…"

"Well what? And what sort of information do you mean?"

I knew this was going to happen. I take a long, deep breath as she watches me expectantly.

"I know somebody who's… well… into that sort of thing a bit. It's a fairly thin link and she probably doesn't have anything to do with these photographs…"

"Just a minute, Patrick." Ruth has launched into highly professional mode here and my smokescreen is suddenly fading rapidly. "Who are we talking about? I'm not trying to pry into your personal… affairs, but…"

"I'm – look, Ruth, I'm not into that stuff. It's just not a good idea to – er – involve this… person. Believe me."

"Put it this way – if you give me a name I can try and make connections. Or at least something to go on."

"Does a sort of cat logo mean anything to you?"

"On what?"

"On… whips and things," I say miserably. The reproach in her eyes is evident, but she's obviously thinking hard.

"I'll look," she says curtly. "Although at some point I'll need to know who has the whips in question if it's not going to be just another wild goose chase."

She's right, and my idea of keeping this quiet just won't wash.

"Doyle's girlfriend," I say quietly. "I was at her place last night and… poked around a bit. She had some pretty weird stuff."

"Poked around," Ruth says coldly. "I see."

"It's not…"

"I don't care what it is or it isn't, or even what sort of 'poking' was involved, Patrick. I also accept that you're trying to protect yourself – even Doyle, I suppose, but why suddenly think she's connected to all this just because she has rather bizarre tastes?"

I tell her about the camera, about the lie about Tosca, and about the trading company, which gets me a brief nod. Then I give Ruth her full name and address, which she notes.


"It's all right. If I don't come up with anything I'm not exactly going to broadcast it from the rooftops that at least Doyle if not both of you have rather strange taste in ladyfriends. Maybe the vampire queen's pretty tame in comparison."

Her tone's pretty cutting, so there's not much point saying anything else.

"Thanks, Ruth."

"I'm not going to say you're welcome," she shoots back.

Cowley chooses this precise moment to appear, with a face like thunder. This is all I need – particularly if he's suddenly decided to ask me exactly what I'm playing at.

But no. Apparently the Minister's decided that CI5 can take up the pornography side of it all as well, which considering we're short-handed (as usual) does not please the Cow one little bit. McCabe has been dispatched to take over from Khan, he adds, and where's Bodie?

I hesitate a little, and Cowley grimaces.

"If he's where I think he is, tell him to get back here and get the bloody Somerset case wrapped up instead of trying to play truant any longer. There are limits to my patience."

Oh, I know that, I feel like saying. Instead, I ask why McCabe's been sent to the buggy-boo.

"Because you can assist Miss Pettifer until further notice, Murphy. I expect results, and fast."

With that, Cowley turns on his heel and slams out again.

"Right," Ruth says. "Better get down to business then, and believe me, you aren't going to enjoy it."

I believe her. A finger points to the table, piled up with files next to a microfilm reader. I sit down meekly, but first incur Bodie's wrath when I phone him just as he's about to head out. I just hope he doesn't defy Cowley once too often.

"First," Ruth commands, "you go through all those photographs and the films and see if you can find any with a similar setting or if the same child is in them. That would be of particular help because you can't prosecute the people behind this unless you can put a name to the kids, and in this case we have one."

"But that's…"

"Ridiculous, but that's the law. And, of course, it would tell us who's behind it if the photo of Mimi matches any we've got from known sources. The people at the restaurant might just be dealers, not the people who actually take the photos and films."

It sounds horrible. In fact it is horrible, I see as I open the first file.

Ruth and I both sit there and pore through the stuff, which makes my stomach churn to the point I get up, unable to take it any longer.

"You all right?" she says, speaking to me for the first time in hours.


"It's revolting. One reason why I left the vice squad. They're monsters, these people."

There's a tiny catch to her voice, and I'm tempted to squeeze her shoulder.

"I can understand Doyle wanting to nail them," I agree, shuddering at the photograph in front of me.

"So what's Doyle doing with a girlfriend into… that?"

"I don't know," I sigh. "I don't honestly think he knows just… how much she is into it. Although it's not quite the same as this."

"Not quite, but there are connections. People who like the kinky stuff aren't always paedophiles, but some are."

Jesus. This hardly bears thinking about. My eyes are tired – in fact after so little sleep I'm knackered, and I'm still torn between thinking the stuff with Cindy's a coincidence born of my over-fertile imagination or suspecting her of something revolting.

"She did approach Doyle," Ruth says, thoughtfully. "So…"

"She was… pretty… forthcoming with me as well," I admit on impulse. "And no, it's not an excuse, but let's say she's a little loose with her favours and not exactly shy about it."

"Ah," Ruth says neutrally. "Well, I suppose if you're offered something on a plate…"

That's one way of putting it, although I don't comment on that.

"Look," she says, sighing. "Let's go and get a sandwich. Then I'll start looking into manufacturers and so on afterwards. We're getting nowhere here and it could be worthwhile."

It's a small truce, but a welcome one.

Bodie's up in one of the offices, attacking a typewriter with very little enthusiasm.

"What, no friendly typists?" I ask him.

"No friendly anybody this morning," he says mournfully. "Why's McCabe at the buggy-boo?"

I explain, leaving out my own little investigation and thankfully Ruth doesn't mention it either.

"Ah," Bodie nods. "So where are you off to?"

"Sandwich. Want one?"

"Two," Bodie says. "No liver paste, though."

When we get back, I put the curried chicken specials on his desk and disappear back to Archives before he opens them.

When Bodie arrives downstairs a couple of hours later, looking almost as thunderous as Cowley did earlier, I get ready for the outburst but it's nothing to do with sandwiches.

Bodie's curt and to the point. Apparently Doyle's got a message through to Mac about the kid in the photograph, and it isn't good news either. Cowley's even pulled him off his report and told him to grab me and get over to Tower Hamlets, fast, and to look for building sites. They'll radio more details in to us as we drive once they've tried to find out just how many sites we might have to look at.

"Look for what?" I ask.

"Looks like they've got a dead kid somewhere – maybe the one in the photo," Bodie says.

I grab my jacket. Ruth's on the phone, as she has been on and off ever since lunch, and she's been getting more frustrated by the minute as apparently she's getting nowhere with the 'Cindy connection' and I think she'll soon abandon that avenue. The news makes her face cloud over, and she shakes her head slowly.



"Don't know yet," she starts, "but…"

"Come on," Bodie interrupts, and Ruth says it can wait, whatever it is. At least she doesn't start by saying something like 'about Cindy and whips', bless her.

Bodie's positively champing at the bit. I'm familiar with him in this mode, so I get myself down to the garage in his wake at a fast trot – and know better than to even suggest driving.

Bodie says little at first, concentrating on not killing any innocent pedestrians and glaring at cars in front of him at traffic lights and who have the impudence to stop when they're red.

"He's stupid," he says fiercely. This would be Doyle, of course. I wait for him to elaborate, which he doesn't as he's too busy scattering a few more drivers who seem to think speed limits are there for a reason.

"Stupid?" I ask eventually.

"Too much of a risk, using the bugs. Should have waited until Mac or Khan went in."

"And what if he couldn't talk to Mac or Khan?"

"You know what your trouble is?" Bodie snaps. "You like playing by the book too much. And you don't have a partner."

That shuts me up. Partly, because he's right and partly because I'm pretty surprised he's let his feelings show that much.

A few miles further, Bodie heaves a huge sigh, and mutters an apology. I tell him I can see his point, and the silence becomes a little less hostile.

Central radios in to say there are two building sites at Tower Hamlets: one's fairly small but the other's a big renovation project on a community centre, and the builders are called Rezzonico, which is…

"An Italian name," Bodie says patiently. "And not that we're jumping to conclusions but these Eyeties do tend to give their custom to their mates. We'll start there."

We arrive, and get Khan on the R/T as we arrive: Cowley's dug him out of bed and sent him along to help. He'll be there in a minute.

"And there's another one with family all over the place," Bodie grumbles. "Which reminds me. Whose idea was the curry sandwich?"

"It was that or liver paste," I lie. "Besides, I thought you and Khan were working on a little entente?"

Bodie just grunts at that and brakes outside the gates to the site just a little more flamboyantly than is necessary.

"Suppose there could be worse than Khan," he says as the young Pakistani rolls up and parks without creating a second plume of dust. "Women field agents, for instance."

"Not that you're racist or sexist or anything," I say lightly as we get out and prepare to tackle the foreman.

"Me?" Bodie says. "Course I am. Don't like the look of this guy either. You can do your charming stuff."

I do my best, but think it's the CI5 ID that impresses the diminutive guy in the hard hat more than my charm or even my extra inches. What Bodie's taken umbrage about with him I don't know as he sounds more Cockney than Italian, but I know better than to comment.

What? A dead body? On his site? Impossible.

Well, I insist, we're going to check anyway. Could they please stop work and let us go ahead?

The foreman stands there looking confused more than anything else, then says he's going to phone his boss. Khan tells him politely that if he does, he'll shoot him. This makes Bodie chuckle appreciatively and I mentally chalk up another few Brownie points for the lad.

In fact, Khan takes him along to keep an eye on him while Bodie and I start at the opposite end of what looks like the foundations of a building.

"Cement shoes," Bodie says softly. "Bet that's what it is. We should have asked what they were cementing earlier."

"Could be too late if she's under some of this," I point out.

"Possible," Bodie admits. "Apparently Doyle didn't know when they dumped her."

We walk around, or rather climb around, checking out everything we can see from piles of rubbish to sacks of cement and stacks of breeze blocks or girders. Bodie curses and mutters about the dust, the dirt and the quality of workmanship, which leads me to ask him when he qualified as an architect. Fortunately, he just chuckles.

Then Khan yells us to come over and Bodie's face drops immediately, because there's something in his tone that tells us he's found what we're looking for.

The foreman's pretty occupied being sick, and Khan looks green himself. I fight to keep the emotions at bay as I reach one part of floor where the rough rubble was in the process of being gradually covered with a nice, thick layer of concrete… and see the tiny hand from under a tarpaulin. Khan's holding a shovel.

"I covered her up. Another hour," he says quietly, "and nobody'd ever have found her. Ever. Thought I saw something, and dug a bit...."

His voice is barely controlled and he turns away from the sight. To my amazement, it's Bodie who goes up to him and pats him on the shoulder, tells him he's done a good job. I get onto the radio, trying not to look at the child when Bodie lifts the rough fabric. Even he looks shaken.

"Jesus," he says quietly. "They could have left her clothes on, the bastards."

"When we get these people," Khan says quietly, "shooting's too good for them."

"Agreed," Bodie nods. "Although a couple of well-placed bullets would give me immense satisfaction, personally."

I get Cowley, whose temper hasn't improved one iota and who says that Bodie and Khan are to go and replace Mac, and I'm to inform Bodie that if he puts one foot inside the restaurant he's fired: he's there to hold the fort if Khan goes in, and under no circumstances must we create an uproar at the restaurant before the consignment comes in. As for me, I'm to go back to the archives once the police and forensics people arrive.

I pass on the information, and steer the foreman back to his portakabin, taking one last look at the tiny form under its filthy cover.

Uh-oh, careful, my lad. I mutter a choice selection of oaths under my breath as I nearly cut off the tip of my left index finger for the third time in ten minutes. The bell pepper I'm chopping looks like a major carnage after a bomb blast, blood-red scraps scattered all over the wooden board.

Cynic. I know. But I'm on edge, and the problem is I damn well know I've got reason to be. I can't shake off the image of what may – no, most probably will – be waiting for whoever Cowley sends to that dratted building site. Child porn is one thing, horrible as it is, but dead kids never cease to turn me inside out, no matter how many I've seen over the years.

Every copper has seen plenty of horror. It's our daily bread, and it's dished out in hearty portions.

It takes a lot to shock me, honestly. Take the kinky stuff. I'm pretty relaxed about people's tastes, and although I know precisely where my own preferences lie, I have no problems conceding that everybody is entitled to their own little corner of heaven – but this has nothing to do with what's going on here. It's hell, in all its abject ugliness, that these people conjure up for all those they use, or rather abuse.

That's really the problem – it's the unknowing, the innocent ones who get tangled in the web and once they've served their purpose they're chucked away like a clapped-out piece of machinery.

I feel fury build up inside me, but I pull myself together. It's not time yet, but I promise myself it won't be long now.

They're getting nervous. Seems like that incidente doesn't suit their other plans. Angelo has been watching me with a peculiar expression ever since he came in half an hour ago. He doesn't even make an effort to hide his dislike.

Francesca is over there at the sink, white as a sheet, but stubbornly scrubbing a huge pan. She keeps to herself, looking at nobody after she cast me an enquiring glance when she came in. I shook my head slightly and mouthed “later”. She shrugged and got on her rubber gloves without saying a single word.

For once, la mamma doesn't seem to notice. She's grumpy, obviously unnerved by Nicoletta's antics at the dentist's and peeved at Giuditta who hasn't turned up yet. That's nothing new, though. She's never punctual, and I bet she does it on purpose to let everyone know who's the resident queen bee around here.

I'm still undecided what to do next, and when. It all depends on what HQ comes up with. For the moment, I'm more or less safe. We'll open in a few minutes, maybe then they'll send someone over. I'll just have to keep an eye on the front door.

Domenico's out again, but I saw his car parked in the alley just before I came down to work, so he must have been in at some point between shifts. God knows what he's doing, probably still trying to locate the body, which I sincerely hope has already been retrieved by CI5.

I know I should get out of here soon. It's as tight as a spinster's girdle, and getting tighter by the minute. No idea what will happen when Domenico comes back, but I desperately need more evidence and, above all, confirmation that there actually is a body to be found, however cynical it may sound. CI5 can't rely on one ex-copper's nose for trouble and even less on his soft heart.

I came in early and tried the office door again, but found it still locked. I didn't want to get caught with a set of skeleton keys in my apron and would have had to break the lock without them. Damn!

As soon as I know for sure, I'll grab whatever proof I can get and take French leave as fast as I can. So far, my cover's intact, I assume. Otherwise, they wouldn't let me work in peace and quiet right now, would they?

So I'm playing the waiting game for a bit longer – but getting edgier by the minute and nearly cutting off my own fingers.

Finally! I'm more than relieved to spot the dark head at last. A Paki buying pizza? No problem these days, even though my partner may think otherwise, I snicker to myself. Khan is one of the nicer youngsters the Cow has recently taken on. I quite like the guy's dry sense of humour and the way he just shrugs off all the usual ribbing foisted upon rookies.

He even seems to make fun of having his family scattered all over Greater London and all the major trades. I teased him that the Cow only hired him to have his family infiltrate each and every business in London as CI5 informants. He nearly pissed himself laughing at that.

I spent some most entertaining hours on an obbo job with him while Bodie was on leave recently, and I think maybe that's one further reason for my beloved partner to eye the lad with suspicion. God knows where Bodie's protective streak suddenly popped up from, but it certainly did once we became mates. Not only protective – he can be downright jealous.

I nip out to the loo and find Khan in there all right. He gasps when he sees my face, so I assume Murph has kept his mouth shut about my misery: good lad. My threats must have sounded convincing.

Khan looks sort of shaken, pale and dishevelled, which is unusual for him. Yet when he rapidly brings me up to speed, I soon realise that it's not merely the sight of my battered mug that's upset him.

So they found the kid, and it was the child on the photo. Meaning my famous copper's nose has again been given the official seal of approval. Great. I should be proud of myself, but I rather feel like throwing up, and it appears my young colleague does too by the looks of him.

It's nothing to do with either of us being wimps, though: even special intervention forces don't come across discarded dead kids all that often. I've seen pretty nasty things over the years, and even I'm very glad I didn't have to be there.

“Did you find her?” I softly ask him. He nods.

“Bodie and Murph were there, too, but it was me who…” He swallows hard.

So Bodie was there as well: seems the old man has put him on the case after all, which relieves me quite a bit. It's amazing how much I miss my other half when I'm on a solo op, even though I could happily throttle the daft sod at other times.

I nod and pat Khan's forearm briefly. He dredges up a grin.

“Listen, Ray. Cowley says you're to get out of here as fast as you can–“

“I can't,” I hiss, suddenly feeling the fury well up again. “Not yet, anyway.”

Hell, what am I going to tell Francesca? I have to get her out of here, and fast.

“You listen, Khan. I will hop it, and very soon, I promise. I just need to get some more evidence. I know there are more pictures and probably documents there in that office, all I need is to open that door and grab them. Understand? I must get them.”

I wince at the petulant sound of my voice, but he doesn't seem to care.

“There's something else, Ray. The bug in the office phone picked up that they have another shipment coming in at short notice, and it seems it's tonight, at least that's what we gather from what little we have.”

Now that's interesting, and it explains why they're so nervous. The dead kid itself is a problem, but it might also ruin their lovely little schedule for the next serving of coke. Which means Cowley's right to pull me off now if they don't want me to get caught in the middle of a major drugs raid. Yet…

“First of all, we have to get Mimi's mother out of here now. Is the buggy still parked opposite the post office?”

He shakes his head. “No, we've moved it. It's in front of that antiques shop now, you've probably seen the place.”

“Right. Listen. I'm sending Francesca there in a minute. We need to pick her up before anything happens to her or she runs off. I can't afford to tell her right now her kid's dead, she'd only raise a riot. You'll have to break it to her. And gently, eh?”

Khan nods, his dark eyes wide. Still, he doesn't give up easily.

“But listen, the Cow is adamant that you chuck it in here. Not to mention your bloody partner.”

I grimace. “I can imagine. Tell him I'll be out in few minutes at most. Honestly.”

He hesitates, then nods meekly, and I decide to go for levity. “Now go on before someone thinks we're having it off in the loo. I assure you you're not my type, my lad.”

He chuckles despite himself. “No? That's two of us then because you're not mine either. Maybe you should meet my sister, though."

Then he's off to pay for his pizza and slip out, ever so casually, while I brace myself for the next step.

It hasn't been all that difficult, thank God. She's clearly aware it's bad news, although I just said it's for her best to go now and meet those friends of mine who will tell her exactly what's happened. It's thin, I know, but she bought it. I told her to go to the antiques shop and wait there.

She told mamma Maddalena she wasn't feeling well, and she certainly looked green at the gills. I listened intently, anxious to have her out of the way and afraid mamma Maddalena might raise a major fuss. But no, la mamma still seems occupied with the fact that Giuditta hasn't arrived yet. She merely cast a concerned glance at Francesca, told her to lie down and take it easy for a bit and that was it. Phew.

So here comes the final curtain call before I stage my discreet exit. I'll have to leave my stuff upstairs, but that doesn't matter if they take the whole place down tonight. I'll slip out for a breather at the earliest convenience and then vanish into thin air, or rather into the buggy boo.

Domenico is back, so fortunately his office door is now unlocked, even slightly ajar as if to invite me in. Can't turn down an opportunity like that, especially as he's busy in the restaurant with a bunch of special guests he waits upon hand and foot, in person. Must be fairly important people, although I haven't got the time to check that right now. Let's hope the bug at the counter picks it up.

Everyone in the kitchen is very busy now that Francesca is gone, and it's not a good moment to get away, but I only need a couple of minutes. I slip into the office and bingo! even the desk is unlocked – seems Lady Luck is smiling at me at long last.

I know where to look and at the speed of light I open the drawer, grab the bundle of pictures and shove them into my shirt, wincing a bit as I manage to hit the wrong set of ribs, but I've got them and that's what matters. Now quick, a few documents…

Shit. Movement behind me registers too late, and I have just enough time to duck so the blow merely glances the side of my head. It's still a good one, I concede as I go down on my knees, and delivered with feeling.

It's Angelo. Damn. Should have known he'd keep an eye on me. And here's also Domenico, and Peppino. Nice. Everybody there? Fine. Party time, then.

Seems that's their idea as well. Three on one is a bit steep even if it's one of her Majesty's well-trained agents, especially if said agent is still stiff and sore from the last round. I get in a few immaculate punches even Macklin couldn't have bettered, but that's all. After that, I'm quickly reminded of my precarious state of health.

And it's not only fists this time, I realise with sudden alarm. Angelo has taken out his switchblade, an ornate, elegant thing he's very proud of. And he's good with it, I've seen him show off.

He slashes at me, and I manage to dodge the first swipes, but then he gets me in the upper right arm and I cry out in pain. Suddenly, there's blood everywhere and my arm is useless. He gets in another one which leaves a gash in my side, and I feel my body going limp no matter how hard I try to stay upright and defend myself – my life. Have to get up and fight, have to….

Senses reeling, I slide down and wait for them to make short work of me. But no, they leave me in a heap on the floor and seem to discuss what to do with me. I use the respite to get my breath back and gather my scattered thoughts.

Shitshitshit! Damn, why did I wait too long?

Ah, they've come to a decision. Not that it matters, I couldn't do a thing about it, whatever it is. Somehow, though, I can't bring myself to believe they're going to finish me off here and now, but that won't stop them from doing it somewhere else. And that grande cantiere might come in handy yet again.

Seems I'm right, at least about the first part, for they're now hauling me to my unsteady feet and dragging me to the back door. I hear la mamma gasp and launch a tirade which our beloved padrone shuts up with vehemence saying something about catching me with my hand in his safe, but I don't get the rest because my brain has obviously decided it has enough of the fun and games, and I start to black out.

OK, Doyle, that's what you get for your complacency and mulishness. A very impressive performance indeed, I sneer at myself. Well done. The Cow will be really, really pleased. And Bodie'll go spare. Can't blame him. Sorry, mate, not quite the exit I had in mind either.

And speaking of CI5, my fuzzy brain comes up with a last spark of hope before it tunes out: They must have picked up the fight over the bugs, and there's enough of my blood on that carpet to leave no trace of doubt who was the silly ass who got himself slaughtered in there…

Back at the ranch, Ruth's emerged from the archives and into the conference room - mainly, she says, because at least she sees daylight up here and there are more telephone lines to play with as she's due to act as duty officer in Cowley's absence tonight as well. The old man's apparently about to take his bad temper off somewhere, probably to bicker with the Minister about our caseload (huge) and funding (less huge) over a wee dram or two. Could do with a dram myself, to be honest.

It's just after six, I notice as I glance up at the clock, and I can't see me getting out of here before tomorrow looking at the ominous amounts of documents laid out in neat piles. I've just battled my way through the rush hour, my mind full of that tarpaulin plus memories of Doyle's battered face and Bodie's tight control as he set off back to the buggy-boo. If he's stuck in traffic as well, God help the population.

She looks up at me as I walk in, grimacing.

"Heard the news about the child."

"Yeah," I sigh and sink down in front of yet another pile of photographs. "You got anywhere?"

"Not really, no. Waiting for the blow-ups of the photo Doyle brought in – we're so short-staffed there was nobody to do it earlier. The vice squad still owe me a few details about logos and stuff, but that wasn't exactly their first priority." She sounds as tired as I feel.

"Anything from Doyle?"

"Last time I heard from Khan it was all quiet on the Western front – he should be in the restaurant around now. Bodie got there quite a while back, while you were still at the building site." She shudders. "Bad, was it?"

"It was," I nod. "God, Ruth, how on earth did you sleep at night when you were working on this sort of stuff all the time?"

"Good question. Like I told you, it was one reason why I left. Blood and guts is one thing, but dead kids…"

"Is another," I say glumly.

"No point in brooding," she says crisply, "That isn't going to help, is it? There are two more piles of photos, and I've still not got any matches with that studio or the kid - Mimi, wasn't it?"

"Right. We should get more photos from the morgue," I tell her.

Then I take a deep breath and start looking at more photos, more kids. It's almost a relief when Cowley comes in and I can look away. I think I'd rather face Cowley's temper than much more of this.

"Bodie's taking the child's mother to a safe house," he says. "Doyle's sent her to the van and apparently he promised to follow."

"The mother's not involved?" I ask. Nothing could shock me any more today, I think, although if I know Bodie like I think I do, he's not going to be happy about that sort of errand if Doyle's due to re-emerge at any moment. Mind, it'll be a stay of execution for me when Bodie realises that Doyle's not exactly quite as unscathed as I gave him to understand.

"Apparently not", Cowley says thoughtfully. "However, the translation of what the bug picked up has just come through in final form, and it confirms our initial suspicions that the shipment will be in later tonight. I've cancelled my appointment with the Minister. More instructions shortly, although we shall be intercepting it shortly before midnight."

Ah. Well Doyle, my lad, might be better to get out of there then. I don't think he's in great shape to get mixed up in a shoot-up at this moment, not to mention he's not armed.

"Does Doyle know that?"

"Not that we'll be moving in – only that it was possible the shipment was for tonight. Khan will have told him, and had instructions to tell Doyle to leave immediately." Cowley says, as the phone rings again. Ruth picks it up and passes it over.

Cowley listens and his face tightens. He answers with a few terse syllables, says 'under no circumstances' and sighs heavily.

"Doyle," he says. "They've tumbled him in Domenico's office. What the hell was he doing taking risks like that?"

Shit. Oh, shit.

"What…?" Ruth starts.

Cowley shakes his head. "There was a fight. Khan says it sounded like Doyle was getting the rough end of it, but couldn't tell much."

"And he went in?"

"No. Although he was extremely anxious to do so. I'm sending one of the translators over to the van, see if anything's mentioned as well as somebody to keep an eye on the service entrance in case they move him, if it's not too late and they already have."

"Who's going to tell Bodie?" I ask.

"I am," Cowley says. "When I see fit to do so."

Ouch. I'm not sure which is worse, really: Bodie knowing now and going berserk – probably including a one-man assault on the restaurant – or finding out later and going berserk then, with anybody from myself, Khan, Cowley or the world in general on the receiving end.

Once Cowley's left, Ruth and I end up looking at each other.

"Now what?" I groan.

"God knows," she sighs. "I'll go and find some coffee. It's going to be a long night."

Two mugs of coffee later, my head feels as though it's bursting and I'm so on edge I jump as one of the secretaries comes through with an envelope and hands it to Ruth. She slides the photograph out - I can see what it is - and her eyebrows rise. Silently, she passes it across and I see that it's a close-up of the studded collar Mimi was wearing. The logo, although blurred, is clear enough to see. It's a cat.

Without speaking, Ruth picks up the phone and gets through to her vice squad mates. Yes, she says. She'll hold.

It takes her a while to find the person she wants, but she finally reaches him and asks again if they've got the stuff she wanted on logos. Cat logos in particular, she says. Oh, they also wonder who makes them? Well, well.

Ruth puts the phone down and cocks her head on one side.

"We won't be moving into the restaurant for hours yet, Patrick. How about paying your ladyfriend a call? Ask where she buys her toys?"

Oh hell. I probably look a bit taken aback, and I could swear she finds this faintly amusing.

"I'm not sure…"

"Suit yourself," she shrugs. "But if the guys behind this aren't linked to the Tosca people's other little sideline, any way of finding them would be useful. Even if the suppliers have nothing to do with them, they might just know where some of the studios are?"

She's right, annoying as this is. I hesitate all the same.

"Look, Patrick. If those bastards have got Doyle, any link to them is useful. She might at least put us on their track without her realising it."

I nod miserably and pick up the phone, half-hoping she's not in.

She is. All happy to hear from me and of course I can pop round for a quick drink, she says brightly, placing a slight emphasis on the 'drink' which makes it clear that's not what she thinks I'm going for at all.

Wrong, darling. I put the phone down carefully and head off. I'll get the information I need… somehow, and then it'll be the end of a beautiful affair, I reassure myself. Doyle - if he's still alive, poor bugger - is welcome to her.

The revealing negligee – she's done another fast change, I expect - looks tacky more than sexy this time. I do manage to give her a kiss though, and tell her I've had a really bad day.

Oh dear, haven't I sold any nice expensive cars, she asks, which a slight edge to her voice.

Right, might as well get this over with. I've been practising my whole approach all the way here. Quick kiss and cuddle, find an excuse to get my hands on the whip as though I'm interested, then a rapid change of heart. Nothing to it.

I let myself be coaxed into the bedroom after about two sips. So far, so good. I even manage what I fondly hope is a wolfish smile as I oh-so-casually slide open her bedside drawer and pick up the whip.

"Oh my," she simpers. "You will be gentle with me, won't you?"

The temptation to smack her pert little arse for real is almost overwhelming, but I grin back as she licks her lips.

"Nice little piece, this. Where'd you get it?"

"Oh, somewhere. Why?"

This isn't the way it's supposed to go, dammit, although to be honest I had realised it wouldn't be that easy.

"Just wondered. I – um – find them quite… stimulating. Get a bit embarrassed about it to be honest."

"Do you indeed," she says delightedly. "Tell you what, then… let's play a little game."

And that wasn't on the programme either. Considering I'm anything but aroused this isn't going to be easy either.

"Well, I –"

"Questions and answers," she giggles. "I answer yours when you've done something for me, and then I ask you something and you can demand a favour in return. How about that?"

Shit, shit, shit. The things I do.

"What do you want me to do?"

Well, maybe she'll want me to tie her to the bed and whip her, which is not without its attractions as I'm starting to like her less with every minute that passes.

She picks out the handcuffs, and kisses me again. I'm going to love this, she says. But I have to get my clothes off first. All of them, and lie on the bed.

Trying not to show my reluctance, I do. She stands over me, studying me with what looks like approval… or at least until she realises I'm not exactly all ready to perform.

"You're nervous," she purrs. "I find that so attractive. But don't worry, we'll soon get over that."

We will?

Jesus Christ, she's got a handcuff around my wrist and the bedpost. I protest, and try to sit up, but she chuckles delightedly and tells me, yet again, that I'm going to adore this. It's not exactly as though she's going to harm me, so why don't I lie back and enjoy it?

She uses another two pairs of cuffs on my ankles, which I find frankly terrifying. CI5 training doesn't exactly cover this sort of thing. Handcuffs, maybe, but to perform on demand?

I send urgent signals to the appropriate parts of my anatomy, which steadfastly refuse to play the game. The fact that she's twisting the whip round and round in her hands doesn't help.

"Very nice," she says casually. "Let's just get the other wrist attached… don't want you thrashing around, now do we? There we are."

I don't like this. Not at all. She strokes the whip down my chest, probably hoping for results, and then brings it down sharply on my belly. I yelp.

"You see, Patrick, you've been a very, very bad boy. Because you're getting all too curious."

"Well… I…"

"Much too curious," she says brightly. "But I suppose that goes with the job. Doyle's as well. Snooping around – thought this might happen even if I'd covered my links to Domenico rather well, actually."

Jesus Christ. My eyes widen.

"Oh yes," she continues. "I mean picking Ray up in the first place was because Beppo's a friend of mine – he wanted them busted on the drugs business but preferably not on the other stuff – he's got some sort of Italian-type score to settle with Domenico. But I broke all links with my client who sold the stuff to him anyway. Can't be too sure, can I?"

I'm shivering slightly. Can't help it. Cindy's quite enjoying her little story now.

"Anyway, I stopped taking photographs for that one and found myself some other takers, with a little help from Beppo who's been very successful on that score back in Italy. As for Ray, we knew he worked with the CI5 guy that Beppo knew, so I figured that if anybody got suspicious of me or my business he'd start poking his copper's nose into my affairs – so at least I'd have advance warning if I had him where I could keep an eye on him. That way I could have done a runner in good time, although it didn't suit me quite yet."

"Look," I stutter. "Whatever you're into, this is nothing to do with me…"

She carries on, ignoring that with sheer contempt.

"I must say it was terribly irritating when he had to go away and you turned up – wondered if you'd be just some poor sucker he'd lined up to babysit or you worked with him. You soon gave yourself away a bit, though - mixing up the used car salesmen line with somebody dealing in brand-new Rollers. Then there was your ID card I saw in your wallet when you were asleep. You never woke up, fortunately."

I didn't. Of course I bloody well didn't thanks to the athletics we'd just indulged in.

"You can't do a runner anyway," I say with as much conviction as I can muster, which is not an easy thing to do in my current position.

"Don't bother to play games with me, sweetheart." She licks her lips, still fingering the leather whip. "I can and I will. I've been a busy girl, setting it all up between keeping you happy."

"You still won't get away with it," I say, which is a terrible cliché but considering the situation I can't come out with anything snappier. "Our lot know where I am."

"Such bravado," she smirks. "And I doubt you've been spreading the word that you've been shagging Doyle's girlfriend while he's away even among your CI5 mates. Besides, I'll be out of here by tonight. Change my name. Get out of the country for a while as well once I'd had a bit of fun with you. Must say I half-thought it would be Ray who ended up in your place if anyone did, though."

Cindy pokes the whip at me again, this time where it hurts even more. She laughs, then goes over to the window and waves.

The handcuffs don't budge an inch, although I can't resist trying. God almighty, who's she got out there? Whoever it is will most probably be here to kill me, quite obviously. What choice do they have?

"Who's this? Another client?" I ask, my voice not quite as level as I'd like it to be.

"You really think I'm going to humour you by answering that?" she says. "You're so naïve, Patrick. You and Ray both."

"Naïve? Hardly. I've got backup outside." It sounds pathetic even to my ears.

"Very funny," she says. "And no you haven't – I made sure of that. You came alone – more proof that you didn't want anyone else to know about your little games." She goes to the door and opens it, not even pausing to put any clothes on. A tall guy comes in and gives her a kiss before grinning over in my direction.

"This your real boyfriend?" I say spitefully. She nods, pouring them both a drink.

"He likes the kinky stuff, does he? Knows about all your little preferences? About Beppo? Suppose he's another one you like to fuck."

Getting them angry probably isn't such a great idea, but I can't help myself.

"Oh absolutely. Roger knows all about me, including about Beppo and the fact that he doesn't actually like women, only kids. And he also knows just how much I get turned on by certain things. Go ahead, Roger. You first."

Jesus. I've had it now and I'm more terrified than I've ever been in my life. Roger's standing over me, and instead of using the tiny whip, as I expected, he went to the wardrobe first and came out with one that's far, far bigger and has wicked, metal-tipped leather strands.

I close my eyes as he raises it and can't help crying out as it hits me. Cindy laughs.

"That was just a taste though, Patrick. Now you get to beg us not to do it again and Roger to fuck me instead."

Roger obediently unzips his fly. My chest and belly are on fire in a dozen places.

I won't do it. Won't play their sick games. Whether they decide to fuck or not, they're hardly going to undo me and send me home, are they?

After another two lashes, this time from Cindy, I'm not sure. A couple of the metal tips have drawn blood, but every single one has left its mark - I can see that already. The pain's so intense I'm gasping, and each stroke is moving lower – the next one will probably be…

"Please…" It's my own voice I hear.

"Louder, Patrick. You can do better than that. Tell him what you want him to do."

I swallow, watch him take the whip again slowly and raise the revolting-looking thing. He's erect, wild-eyed, and halts to slide a hand rapidly between Cindy's legs before grinning at me.

"Go fuck yourself, you arsehole."

There – last stand. I'm quite proud of myself in a blurred sort of way, although it's bound to be short-lived. I tense…

… and the metal tips cut into my chest again and there's a bang and God it hurts and his aim's a bit off and I really think I'm going to…

I really don't want to open my eyes again. Cindy's talking to me. She can go to hell.

No, it's not Cindy. It's…

Oh God, it's Ruth. I bite back something halfway between a sob of pain and one of relief, and struggle to get my wits together. By this time, competent hands are already working on the cuffs around my wrists. Cindy and Roger are both there but not going anywhere fast as they're also sporting handcuffs and firmly attached to the towel rail in the bathroom next door. Roger's bleeding from his right arm. The whip arm, I realise.

She tells me she's going to call an ambulance for me, but I find myself shaking my head and refusing. My voice is not exactly its old self, but she hesitates at least. She does help me sit upright, which makes me yelp and look a little less heroic.

"How did you…?"

"The Vice Squad finally came up with the goods. They suspected her of being involved in a whole lot of things, but couldn't prove it. In fact to all accounts Cindy here is rather a nasty piece of work and so are her mates. So rather than expecting she'd give you the name of the suppliers in all innocence, I got a bit worried she might tumble you if you asked too many questions. I - felt a bit bad about insisting you went over here once I realised she was definitely not just a tart."

By this time Ruth's freed my legs and I swivel around slightly. I hurt like hell and this isn't an easy manoeuvre, but I'm also highly aware that I'm stark naked.

"Glad you did," I say as nonchalantly as I can muster, reaching for my underpants. "And she knew who Ray was – and me – right from the start."

Ruth's eyebrows shoot up and she glares at Cindy when I add that she's been the one doing the photography of the kids – in fact I half think she's going to hit her judging by by the look of disgust and anger on her face.

"So who's your client, Cindy?" I snap. "The one who supplies Domenico?"

She just looks at me with contempt and stays silent. I grit my teeth and try to get the rest of my clothes on, which isn't a particularly pleasant task as my whole body feels like it's been steamrollered, or more accurately… well… whipped.

"She's not very conversational," Ruth says casually. "Can you take my gun for a minute, Patrick?"

I stare at her and take it, and watch in amazement as she picks up the whip.

"Right," she says. "I'll start with you, darling – or would you prefer it was your boyfriend?"

"You wouldn't," Cindy says although the fear in her voice tells me she rather thinks Ruth would. She's not the only one either.

Ruth looks from one to the other, and smiles over her shoulder at me.

"Tell you what, Patrick. You choose."

"Her," I say firmly. "Apparently it turns her on to watch, and being turned on isn't exactly the effect I was aiming for."

"Fine," Ruth says cheerfully, and strides over there.

"Benfatto," Cindy says quickly. "Benfatto pays me and supplies my stuff to Domenico. Or he did. I've stopped working for him now… I told you…"

"More," Ruth encourages. "Tell me more about Benfatto. Where's his home? His studio?"

Cindy gives us the address of the studio. I probably look a bit puzzled, but Ruth informs me that they caught a snatch of conversation about a studio of some sort at the restaurant, and it was one theory about where Doyle might be.

She leaves off and calls Central to send somebody to pick up our two now highly subdued prisoners, gives them the address of the studio, and then continues to bring me up to speed as I fumble with buttons. McCabe has apparently sussed out as much of the restaurant as he can, including the kitchen through the window near the service entrance, and there's no sound from Domenico's office, so…

"Doyle's either dead in there or they got him out pretty fast," I say wearily. "Let's hope they did take him to this studio and not anywhere else."

"I hope so. I'm counting on the fact that they'll save him until they've got time to find another building site or something as they're all busy waiting for the consignment. And they obviously needed to get him out of the restaurant."

"Yeah," I sigh shakily as her R/T chirrups again and she answers with a few 'will dos'.

"Right," she says. "I'm off to join Bodie in a minute. I said you're up to finishing here. You up to it?"

"Course," I say. "You just be careful, OK?"

"I will. And here. I think you'll need this."

To my huge surprise, Ruth goes over to the bar and passes me a drink, frowning at me. The whisky goes down a treat, in fact. I even manage a half-hearted toast to Cindy and then remember my manners enough to thank Ruth again for her excellent timing.

"It could have been better. Christ, you gave me a scare," she adds quietly, so the others can't hear. "Mind, them jumping you and then using that thing can't have been fun for you either..."

She thinks they jumped me? Oh, that's a relief. That's a whole lot better than her knowing I more or less willingly let myself in for all this. I take another, large swig of the whisky and hear police sirens in the distance as Ruth rushes out.

Now all we have to do is get Doyle out in one piece and haul in Benfatto and his mates.

Idiot. Idiotic. Ignorant. Ill-fated. Oh yeah, you'd like that don't you? Nah. Your own stupidity.

Ill-judged – that's more like it. Illogical. Imbecile. Impossible. Incapable. Insane. Irrational. Infuriating. Inglorious. Insensitive. Insipid. Ironic. Irritating.

Oh yes, definitely irritating. And that's only the ones with “i”. I could go on, and then there's always those with “j” – jerk comes to mind - and “k”, for knock it off, know-all.

I've been calling myself seven kinds of fool ever since I woke up half an hour ago. I can just hear my partner scoff: all those lonely nights spent with the dictionary come in handy at last, Doyle? Oh yeah, Bodie would be thrilled if he saw me like this.

In fact, as things stand, I'd be rather pleased if he did see me like this, for it would mean I'd still be alive when all this is over. Just hope they picked up that there actually was a fight back there and who got his teeth kicked in.

Which is by no means certain right just now. I may be an idiot by any other name, but I'm still perfectly aware that I'm in hot water. Plenty of it.

Apart from cursing myself, I've spent the first quarter of an hour trying to clear the fog in my mind, and the second to get my bearings in this… place. It's a cellar of sorts, or something similar. Anyway, it's dark and it's slightly musty and it feels like a cellar.

Full marks, Constable, I scorn myself. Another remarkable piece of detection, like the last, let me think, what was it… oh yes, the bit where I thought I'd simply grab the evidence and then take wings and all would be well.

Bullshit. Complete and utter… oh damn, those ribs don't like chuckling or even snorting. Seems at least one of them is now truly broken. Shit. Really could have done without that, and without that bleedin' – now there's an appropriate word, lad, – that arm bleedin' all over the place, I mean.

Okay, once I finally got myself sorted I found a sink with a functioning water tap, even a pile of clean paper towels so I could patch myself up a bit. Taking stock after that little exercise, I can now say that apart from an impressive black eye and a full array of exceptionally colourful bruises, I am sporting also two deep knife-cuts, one numbing my right arm and the other making my flank feel fairly fiery, never mind the alliteration. Most of all, though, I'm pissed off with myself.

I definitely painted myself neatly into a corner. No kidding, ex-art student, poor man's Grand Tour participant with Miss Suzanne, the works. Ray “Raphael” Doyle, that's me. Artist extraordinare, yet when it comes to undercover work I've not exactly come out as an expert this time, have I?

My head feels a bit fuzzy, too, although I persuade myself it was merely pain and shock and not concussion that made me black out back there at la Tosca.

Which brings me back to the crucial question of where I am now. One, no two things are certain: I am alone and I am in some sort of basement, and it doesn't look as if it belongs to some well-kept Edwardian mansion, let alone some modern building.

No. This is old, damp, and uncomfortable, to say the least. Yet I get the distinct impression that it's not just any old abandoned house, because it seems as though these rooms have been used, fairly recently even judging by the lack of dust on everything.

There's a loo, and a shower, and both have been cleaned and equipped with soap, paper towels and even some terry-cloth stuff neatly folded and stored on a shelf – further towels, it turns out, and bathrobes – tiny little bathrobes.

My stomach churns, and this time it has nothing to do with the beating. Child-sized bathrobes.

Through the persistent haze, my mind starts chewing over the implications, while my eyes and hands get busy looking around.

A door to the left opens easily and leads to a room full of heating equipment, humming away in the dark, tiny red eyes glaring at me.

I close the door and turn to the one on the right. It's locked. Ah.

No time for finesse. I pick up a screwdriver from the boiler room and prize the door open. I find a switch next to the door and wait for the neon light to flash on. And stand frozen in place in dull amazement.

A dungeon. No. One of those luxury hotels rooms you see advertised in Playboy sometimes – all burgundy plush and satin and canopies, complete with tassels and all the trimmings. A Kitsch- lover's dream. But still a dungeon.

I recognise the bedpost and the satin sheets they haven't even bothered to change. This is where they photographed little Mimi all right – only now she's dead, Khan told me, and all this … paraphernalia seems to me like a blasphemous setting for a mock funeral worthy of a Fellini film.

Another Italian. Damn. I've had my fill of pizza and pasta for a while, I think. No question there is a distinct connection between Domenico and whoever is behind the child porn stuff. My theory is that La Tosca serves mainly as a cover for the drug business, but for some reason, Domenico has branched out to this little – if probably extremely lucrative – sideline.

And here's all the… equipment. There's plenty of it in a wall cupboard, stowed away tidily. The fact that it isn't just tucked in there but neatly orgnanised like expensive instruments makes my skin crawl. These are professionals. They know the price of their goods just as well as that of their tools, and they make sure they stay in shape – or usually, if you don't count poor little Mimi. All those collars, chains, handcuffs, ornate gags and tiny nipple clamps – all neatly arranged like in a shop. I once saw one of those in Paris, a retailer in sex toys. Impeccable. Like a warped kind of Harrod's.

I finger one of the collars. It's exactly like the one Mimi wore on that photo. Wonder what she looked like when they found her at that building site? If they know how she died? Probably Khan's first dead kid, poor bugger. Hope somebody's propping him up a bit over it – Murph, or Bodie, for instance.

Which brings me back to my partner. Why the devil did the Cow dispatch him to that job? Knowing that Bodie was well out the way in the wilds of Somerset rather than poking his nose into this case and risking blowing it if I got into trouble did reassure me in a way, although I readily admit – to myself, anyway – that I'd be glad to have the daft Neanderthal around right now.

Blimey, what's this? The small whip is made of very soft suede, and the ends have none of the usual metal tips as if to make sure not to damage the goods. Yet the little cat logo somehow sticks out – where the devil have I seen one of those before?

Who was it who showed me some slightly kinky toys, just recently? Cindy, of course! How could I forget her? Damn, my mind must be all over the place.

She showed me that whip of hers and we fooled around a bit, laughed about how tiny and soft it was, and then she asked me if I liked that kind of stuff. Apparently it turned her on somehow, but I said not me, darling, I prefer my pleasures plain and unadulterated, and that was it. She never mentioned those toys again, although…

Can't be…

Yet I remember that cat logo. My mind seems to pick out details like that. Numbers, licence plates, names, faces – I'm good at remembering even seemingly irrelevant stuff. A knack that has often served me well, but this time I really can't see what…

No. Impossible. Stop it, Doyle. Just because the cat logo was on Cindy's stuff – it's just me putting two and two together and making five. It's just a coincidence.

I try to concentrate on other, more immediate problems. Like who is behind all this and how the devil am I supposed to get out of this mess.

It all comes down to Domenico selling the pictures he gets from someone who takes them here in this studio which is in a cellar of God knows whose house. I blacked out back at la Tosca, and then vaguely felt being moved in a car and woke up later down here. Yet my watch tells me that I wasn't out very long, so it can't be all that far from the restaurant.

Okay. Just why didn't they simply off me and dump me somewhere? Why take the risk of driving around with an unconscious bloke bleeding all over the upholstery and then drag his carcass into someone's musty basement? Good question.

Then I remember. Khan said they have a shipment coming in tonight. Right, so they wait for the goods to be delivered and will then come back to get rid of me. Great. That should give me a couple of hours at least, maybe more. Could be worse.

Come on, Doyle, get your act together. Unsteadily, I trudge back to the boiler room to try and find more tools, something I could use as a weapon or, if push comes to shove, to dig my way out of this dump, but I draw a blank. Very well. In that case, my old friend the screwdriver will have to do.

I grab one of the studded leather straps – the function of which totally escapes me and I really don't want to know, to be honest – and tie it to a sling to support my arm which is by now hurting like bloody hell. Right, that's better. I'm more or less mobile now, but definitely not up to anything heavy, so let's just hope there's nobody home if and when I manage to locate the blasted exit.

I do. There's another door, fitted with a simple lock that I can break even with my left hand. Now through the corridor and around the corner. There's a staircase leading up to another locked door, and there's a window high up just below the ceiling. Out of reach, more's the pity. Right, it'll have to be the stairs and then…

Damn. Someone outside. Shoes crunching on gravel, then quiet. Shit. If they're coming for me already…

I edge back into the maze of the cellar and try to melt into the wall, listening intently, but all remains quiet for a while.

Then there's the sound of a car approaching, tyres on gravel this time. A car door slams shut, footsteps approach the house.

Suddenly there's shouting, the sound of scuffling. Voices murmur, car doors click, then silence.

Then a shot rings out and there's a crash – what the hell….? Footsteps above my head, at least two pairs of feet, echoing through what sounds like a stairwell and trampling all over the place.

Could it be that… Nah, don't be daft, Doyle. You can count yourself lucky if headquarters knows by now that you're missing, but how could they know where you are? Honestly–

Shouting on the other side of the door at the top of the stairs, which crashes open. Then a voice I instantly recognise.


I could weep with joy. My partner, bellowing at the top of his lungs. And sounding so thoroughly frantic that I almost fear he'll thump me first of all before giving the baddies what's their due.

“Down here, Bodie,” I shout back as loudly as my ribs allow me. Which isn't all that much, but he's downstairs in two leaps, his face displaying unmasked terror for a few seconds until he's got himself under control again. If it weren't for my ribs – and our manly reputation – I could hug the daft bastard.

“You okay?” I could swear his voice is shaking slightly. Must be all that running around. Yeah.

“I'm fine,” I manage and finally realise that it's over. The relief makes my knees buckle, but before I can disgrace myself by sliding to the floor, my partner catches me, peering worriedly at me.- I acknowledge he has every reason to be miffed. He can tell it's not tomato sauce that's been dripping all over my shirt front and down my flank.

He grouches about me being a silly sod and why didn't I jump ship earlier and all the rest. I grumble back that I have no idea and would he please shut up so we can get out of here and sort this out later when there are no mobsters around who might come back and use us as clay pigeons any time soon.

“I might just inform you, Doyle, that while you were down here playing hide and seek, we not only found you, but also nabbed one of the villains as he was obviously just about to put you out of your misery.”

“You did?” I'm amazed. “That was the car I just heard then?”

He nods. “Yup. One of your Eyetie pals, a certain Giorgio Valerio, authorised representative and ambassador extraordinary for the honourable signor Benfatto who, incidentally, owns this place. And who apparently dispatched said envoy to dispose of you with the help of a magnum .45. At least it would have been a quick, clean job.”

“Benfatto, eh? Should have known,” I say, shuddering. I know that tone. Bodie must have had a lovely time between learning I was missing and finding me alive and more or less in one piece.

“So where's the rest of the crew?” I ask. “You didn't take him out single-handedly, did you, batman?”

“Nah. Ruth's with me. She's upstairs, looking after the tailor-made three-piece suit.”

“I thought you appreciated those. And what mental disorder is the Cow suffering from if he agreed to you working with one of the female staff who are – to quote you – only good for making coffee and filing, preferably in tight mini skirts?”

He snorts. “Ah, well, I… Uh, she's not so bad after all, since…”

“Since the blonde bimbo managed to save his bacon just now outside that door, that's what he means,” Ruthie says as she appears in the open door. I try to hide a relieved grin while my partner looks somewhat embarrassed.

“Err… something like that, yes.”

Without sparing him a glance, Ruth looks me up and down. “You okay, Ray? You look pretty rough.”

“Nah, just a bit battered. And most of it's still from the first round when I…”

Oh shit. Didn't mean to say that, and I can already see my partner's expression cloud over as he takes a closer look at my face. Nice one, Doyle. Murph won't be pleased.

“… when I got myself into a little tiff with one of the waiters the other day, I was going to say, so keep your shirt on,” I say firmly, and Bodie shrugs and looks away.

“Did you get Benfatto as well?” I stall. “I suppose he's behind all this – you should see his private little chamber of horrors over there. A fully-fledged porn studio with all the trimmings, and the fitting selection of toys. Go and have a look. It's rather… impressive.”

My voice quivers despite myself. Ruth looks at me and opens her mouth, then obviously decides to play along.

“All right, Bodie, let's go and find out if we can broaden your experience. I've seen it all before, remember.”

Bodie steers me to a chair and gently lowers me onto it, then walks off with Ruth to look at the dungeon.

“Well, you're the expert on kinky stuff, so they tell me. What are you going to teach me, then, mistress?”

“Call me that again and I'll show you…”

Their voices fade a little while I lay back my head and close my eyes. They're still bickering when they come back, Ruth tight-lipped and even Bodie somewhat subdued.

By the time Bodie's called in and asked HQ to send over a forensics team, I'm pleased to discover that I've more or less gathered my wits.

“What about Francesca?” I ask. Bodie hesitates. It's Ruth who answers.

“We've got her, Ray. Bodie drove her to a safehouse. She's given us all the details, of what little she knows, that is.”

“I suppose someone told her…?”

Ruth nods. “She took it badly, as expected. Liz Spalding is staying with her.”

“Hm,” I manage. Of course she took it badly, poor bloody woman.

We're all silent for a minute while I'm trying to sort out the chaos in my head.

“So you've got Valerio, you say. But what about Benfatto? You didn't get him, then?”

This brings Bodie back into action mode.

“Not yet. But we will. He'll be at la Tosca later when the shipment comes in to see to it that the goods are being handled with care. At least that's what our honourable consigliere told us five minutes ago. After being told politely by Ruthie here – “ this earns him a glower from his blonde colleague, but he just chuckles – “that she would just love to try out some of his rather bizarre toys on his own expensively-clad posterior. Especially when she told him she's good with a cat-o'-nine-tails–”

“Yes, yes,” Ruth interrupts him, rolling her eyes. “And speaking of that shipment, perhaps we could get a move on if we want to deliver our prisoner to HQ and Ray to hospital before joining the fun and games at la Tosca?”

I object. There's no way I'm going to miss out on that – I owe Domenico, and most of all Angelo, a few choice words and maybe, if I'm up to it, even a fist or three. Or at least a well-placed knock on the head with the butt of a gun.

Bodie throws me a sceptical look, and Ruth is also about to argue as her R/T bleeps and Cowley calls back, clearly relieved he doesn't have to shell out for a replacement for agent four-five.

I talk to him briefly and he orders me to have my battered self checked out in hospital and if – just if – the doctors think I'm up to it, I may also proceed to la Tosca. After all, I might come in handy, given that I know all of them as well as the localities. Have to hand it to the Cow, he's never less than practical.

So, supported by my partner's unobtrusive hand under my elbow, I wobble up the stairs and collapse into the back seat of the silver Capri, greeting the sour-looking man chained to the handle with a heartfelt “Evening, stronzo.”

As Bodie starts the car, a thought strikes me.

“How did you find out I was here in the first place? And is Murph still on the case? Thought he'd have been with you?”

Ruthie sort of winces, which puzzles me, and sticks an elbow into Bodie's ribs as he starts to speak. “Long story. Apparently he was with Cindy–“

“Murphy's… busy right now but he did help us find you. There'll be time for all the details later, Doyle,” Ruthie drowns him out with a vehemence that surprises me. Something's afoot here. “We'd better concentrate on that raid right now, and you should rest or you'll not be up to joining in the fun.”

“Suit yourself,” I mutter, at a loss. With Ruth in that kind of mood and our prisoner beside me I know better than to insist. I console myself with the certainty that I'll find everything out before long. Mind, if Murphy's out entertaining Cindy instead of trying to save my skin, I'm not exactly going to be pleased with him.

Khan's still eyeing me up and down. I try hard not to wince as I put the cup of thermos tea down, checking my watch for about the twentieth time. He's been sensible enough not to ask too many questions about my encounter with Cindy, although Ruth's apparently radioed to tell him I was staying to hand her and her perverted bastard of a friend over to the coppers while she joined Bodie.

Voicing my own thoughts earlier, Khan expressed the opinion that Bodie's mood when he found out that Doyle had been hurt and was prisoner must have been 'fairly spectacular', not to mention his reaction to finding out he'd got Ruth in tow. Poor Ruthie, I've thought on several occasions. And what it's going to be like for all of us if they find a body instead of his partner, maybe a little knocked around and furious, in that studio doesn't bear thinking about.

I try to get comfortable without showing that every movement that brings abused skin into contact with clothing hurts like hell, and find myself staring at two small white pills in Khan's palm.

"Can't hurt," he says casually. "Just painkillers. Ruth said you had a bit of a set-to in there."

Did she indeed.

"I'm fine," I say defiantly.

"Sure. That's why you're bleeding, right? I think we've got plasters and antiseptic in the first-aid kit as well."

No way. That would entail pulling my sweater up and revealing the telltale marks although knowing Khan he's probably realised what the specks of blood come from anyway. I just shake my head, pretending to listen intently to what we can hear from the restaurant – which isn't much. There's the usual bustle around the bar, a little shouting from the waiters but nothing very helpful. This, according to regular reports from our tame translator sitting in the passenger seat with headphones on, includes the Italian bits, which are, to quote him 'somewhat vulgar'.

God, I hate waiting. I swallow the pills with another mouthful of tea just to shut Khan up, and try not to fidget. Then the R/T crackles and we both snatch for it. Khan, who is nearer and faster, picks it up.

"Doyle," he tells me, putting me out of my misery. "They've got 'im. Right, 3.7, see you later then."

I let out a massive sigh of relief and grin as Khan passes the handset over and I get Bodie. "We'll be with you in a bit. But why the hell didn't you tell me he was already in bad shape when you saw him…"


"And what the fuck stopped anybody from telling me they'd got 'im…"


"And what for Christ's sake are you playing at? Ruth wasn't exactly forthcoming, but…"

I take a deep breath but suddenly it's Ruth on the other end.

"We're taking 4.5 in to be checked over. He's not in great shape but he'll probably be with us when we move in… and as for the details, we'll go into all that once we're all together."

I can hear Doyle on the other end, who's saying quite calmly that there's no 'probably' about it and then obviously grabs the handset.

"Murph? What the bloody hell is going on your end? Ruth says you were with Cindy…"

The pass-the-parcel continues as Khan removes the R/T from my hand and tells Doyle that I'm a bit worse for wear but OK, but we'd better not start on all that now as we'd be better advised to keep tuned to what's going on in the restaurant.

God bless Khan. Or rather whoever looks after Pakistanis on the religious stakes bless Khan, I think distractedly.

Peace descends on the buggy-boo once again, with the minor distraction of Mac letting us know that he's finished his pizza, it's all quiet in the restaurant, and he's now parked just up the road. Me, I'm all too aware that once the three musketeers roll up it's not going to be a picnic… and I'm not talking about the raid, either. As days of playing CI5's finest go, this is not one of my better ones.

Fortunately for me, the fun starts almost as soon as the van door opens to reveal Bodie with the two others in tow, nearly an hour later. I just have time to take in the fact that Doyle's pale but upright, Ruthie looks completely unruffled and Bodie has a face like thunder, when our translator raps on the glass partition and tells us that Benfatto's just called Domenico's office to say he's on his way.

This, I have to admit, is a gift from any god at all since it gives us far more time to get ready. Ruth nods to me, and as already discussed with Cowley we set off for the restaurant, ostensibly to order pizzas even though it's after closing time. I've closed my jacket over the telltale stains on my sweater, although I can see her eyes homing in on that little detail.

Doyle's supposed to be waiting outside with Mac while Bodie and Khan head for the service entrance. Something in his eyes tells me, though, that this arrangement might not altogether suit him.

We go through the doors and wander up to the counter, to be met by the vampire's extremely unwelcoming stare, just as Benfatto's car pulls up. No, no, she starts waving her hands. They're closed. No matter how wonderful and delicious their pizzas might be, we'll have to wait for another time.

Ruth pouts and starts pleading that she's starving, just finished a late shift, and then glances over her shoulder as Benfatto comes in with two heavies. Look, she says cheerfully, we're not the only ones hoping for such a gastronomic experience.

Benfatto tenses immediately to see unfamiliar faces there and glances back towards the door as if he's wondering whether to make a rapid exit, but then Domenico comes bustling through. He, too, doesn't look exactly delighted to see us, but Giuditta launches into some sort of rapid explanation, which at a guess would be about stupid clients.

Come on, I urge the team handling the kitchen staff silently. They should have got them at gunpoint by now, and used generous amounts of duct tape to make sure they don't issue any unwanted warnings.

Finally, blessedly (there's a lot of blessings going on here), Benfatto shrugs and heads for Domenico's office with the two others in his wake, one carrying a large holdall.

"Excuse me," Ruth says politely, and they glance her way as I undo my jacket ready to draw my gun. "I still think the service here's lousy. Or at least for food."

Giuditta starts to sneer, just as – predictably – Doyle pushes the doors open and they all whirl.

"Don't move," I say pleasantly, as Doyle moves to retrieve their weapons.

This is the precise moment that the kitchen doors fly open and a figure bursts out of it. Doyle, to his credit, keeps his weapon trained on Benfatto and his mates, as does Ruth, but then, suddenly, it's chaos.

Benfatto tries to draw his own weapon and Ruthie shoots him in the shoulder a millisecond after I take the holdall-carrier in the arm. I can see Doyle moving to grab their guns, Khan dashing from the kitchen in pursuit of what I recognise as the waiter I've seen before, and then Doyle's down in a tangled heap.

The second heavy starts to leg it, bolting behind the bar and back towards the kitchen, and Khan hesitates for a second and belts after him as I rush over to Doyle, not daring to shoot as they struggle on the ground.

The kitchen doors swing open again, I see out of the corner of my eye, and I'm vaguely aware of a stocky figure wielding something back in there, but need all my attention to kick Benfatto's weapon away and grab him while Mac deals with the guy I've shot in the arm and Ruth handcuffs the putana and Domenico to the rail of the bar amid a hail of insults.

Oh, Jesus. This is all we need. Doyle's on his knees and he's got a knife to his throat. Didn't see this guy come in… one of the waiters…


The guy's babbling something, wild-eyed. Doyle's face is pinched but he says nothing. Then Bodie flings open the kitchen doors and stands there, horrified.

"Don't be stupid." Ruth speaks, and her voice is calm despite a tiny wobble. "Let him go – you've got nothing to gain."

This just brings about another stream of insults and the knife point hovers perilously close. Then I see a slight figure edging around behind him: Khan. Bodie tenses almost imperceptibly, and Ruth sees him too as she keeps the wounded heavy in her sights but doesn't react beyond a slight tightening of her fingers on the gun.

"So what d'you want, mate?" Bodie says to the waiter, trying to distract him. "C'mon. We can sort something out."

His voice isn't quite as steady as he'd like it to be, but he's doing a decent job.

I can see the guy's knuckles whiten around the knife, which I don't like one little bit, but then Khan literally pounces, slamming him away and to the floor. Bodie's only a hair's breadth behind him, and Doyle reaches for the knife.

"Stop it, Bodie," he says calmly as his partner grabs the Italian by the hair. "'E's mine."

Fear flickers in the dark eyes as Doyle straightens up, not without effort, and motions Khan away. Bodie grins slightly, watching.

"So, Angelo," Doyle says calmly. "Who killed the child? You?"

"Noooooooo," it's a gasp. "He did. Or those bastards…" Angelo nods in the direction of Benfatto and his two companions.

"Did he indeed," Bodie says pleasantly. "What d'you think, Ray? Balls or kneecap?"

"You can't!" Benfatto's face is a picture.

"Oh, he can," Khan says fiercely. "Believe me. In fact I'd be delighted to help out."

"An accident," Benfatto stutters. "An accident. A little too much of the drugs…"

Doyle takes two strides forward and slaps him, hard, across the mouth. I'm quite enjoying the little scene but then look over as Mac emerges with an elderly woman in tow.

"All sorted in there," he announces cheerfully, realising that things are in hand this side of it too. "Although it's definitely the first time I've ever seen somebody knocked out by a side of ham…"

"Marco!" The woman gasps, staring from Doyle to Domenico to Giuditta and finally to Benfatto, the two felled thugs and Angelo. "They –" she gestures to Khan and Mac, "- say Mimi, she is dead… killed by these… these…."

Words fail her, and Doyle pats her on the shoulder.

"It's the truth, love. And I'm afraid Domenico and Miss Putana here aren't exactly snow-white either. Come and sit down. Ruthie, you think you could break open something strong on the bar?"

Ruth grins slightly, not fazed either by the use of the pet name or the idea of being appointed bartender, and swings into action. Bodie's still a bit shell-shocked by the looks of it and starts giving Doyle a fairly thorough visual once-over but does leave off to thank Khan, to his credit. Knowing Bodie I'd half-expected him to give the poor bugger a lecture on the dangers of disarming people with knives but I think he's fairly impressed. I know I was.

Khan glances over at me as he snaps handcuffs onto a now wilting Angelo and suggests he should inform Cowley and get the plods in.

This sounds like a very good idea indeed, just as the glass of whatever it is that finds its way into my hand is extremely welcome. We've got over one – very major – hurdle, but as far as I'm concerned there are a few more to come.

Someone's shouting at me as I sink down rather heavily into one of the chairs, vaguely aware that my hand is clutching the tabletop. I shake my head and slowly the roaring in my ears ceases.

Oops, must have been on the brink of passing out. Lovely. Just what I needed.

And just what my partner needed as well, it seems, because the someone in question now turns out to be Bodie looming ominously over me and sounding terminally pissed off. Oh dear.

With an effort, I manage to gather my wits, and as my head stops spinning, I try to take stock.

Bodie's still grumbling about stupidity and he should never have allowed me to leave the bloody hospital in the first place. I tell him for God's sake to shut up and gratefully accept the glass Ruthie is handing me.

Yup. Definitely what was on order, I acknowledge as the fiery liquid burns its way down to my stomach, and push any second thoughts about mixing alcohol and strong painkillers into the back of my mind.

Generously dismissing my near blackout just now, I'm glad I could persuade the doctor to let me go. Maybe spinning him a line about national security and millions of people in grave danger and his own personal liability if he didn't let me do my job had something to do with it as well, but I'm even a little pleased as I look around and take in the almost cosy picture I see.

Mamma Maddalena is slumped in a chair next to mine, looking extremely unhappy, sniffing into her hankie and crossing herself from time to time. I really feel sorry for her, considering she's just come through what she must have thought was an assault on her beloved kitchen, only to find we're the law and her wonderful figliolo and her equally wonderful in-law are knee-deep in a stinking bog.

The two of them are still chained to the bar rail, both looking furious. Domenico's silent, probably weighing his chances, but Giuditta's uttering what sounds like sinister curses under her breath, and the hell fire her dark eyes are blazing in my direction gives me a fairly good idea of what giving someone the evil eye really means. I catch myself wanting to check my shirt front for burn marks.

Ruth is perched on one of the bar stools, sipping at her drink and looking to all the world as if she's enjoying a delightful night out – if you ignore the pistol she's pointing unwaveringly at the baddies, that is.

Next to her, Khan is talking into his R/T. From what I overhear, I gather the locals will be here any minute and our fearless leader's also on his way – well, he's got every reason to be pleased, hasn't he? We've nabbed the whole gang including Benfatto and his latest consignment of coke, which should be enough to send them all down for a good long while.

And we have Benfatto's admission about the poor little girl. Together with the dungeon at his place, the porn case should be fairly watertight. And thanks to the photos I managed to grab at the office here and miraculously found still stuffed into my blood-soaked shirt when they peeled it off me at the hospital, we also have a solid case against Domenico, at least for selling them.

Which means we'll even get to those who buy them. The clients, the ones who really deserve punishment for making it all happen in the first place. Without the demand, there would be no supply, would there? Wonder if we can get whoever's been doing the actual photography as well? Can't think it was Benfatto with an Instamatic. Have to ask Murph about that as there's a lot I seem to have missed.

Angelo is looking gloomy, as if all the fight has gone out of him. Bodie's promise to thump him one should he get any funny ideas hasn't done much to improve his mood either. I'd bet he'll be ready to spill his guts before long.

Mac and the others are looking after the rest of them, trying to sort out baddies from harmless kitchen staff. I finally remember some of the details that I've been wanting to ask all the time, but now the local coppers are rolling up with Cowley in their wake, and somehow I momentarily lose track of my partner.

In the general bedlam of police towing away handcuffed villains, Cowley giving everyone within earshot the third degree about causing a major pandemonium in this honourable neighbourhood, and la mamma suddenly reviving to her usual form to give everyone a piece of her own mind about the damage done to her kitchen, I find myself alone in my little corner of the restaurant, along with good old Murph who for once doesn't look his best tonight.

Still, just the bloke to ask about Cindy and what the hell Bodie meant with his crack in the car as well as everything else. I trudge over to his table and flop down with a choked gasp. He looks up, and panic seems to flicker in his eyes. What on earth's up with him?

“You okay, Murph?” I ask.

He shrugs and winces. As he carefully leans back in his chair, I ask him what he's been up to, which gets me another shrug and wince while his face – already pale – turns even paler.

“Better fill me in a bit, I think," I snap rather more sharply than I intended to, but I'm really in no shape for playing twenty questions right now.

Haltingly, but with what looks like grim determination, he finally tells me how they found out about the studio and all the rest. I don't get it at first.

“Cindy told you? Come on, you must be joking. I mean, I know she likes a touch of the kinky stuff, but… involved in this?” I wave my hand in the direction of Domenico's office, flinching as my ribs pull. “I can't believe it. And it still doesn't explain why you look like shit or why you decided to ask her about the studio in the first place.”

“Ah,” he says, licking his lips, then falls silent as my partner approaches and I get the distinct impression Murph is not at all happy about this part of it.

“Seems Ruthie got there in time to save Murph here from the lady's evil clutches,” Bodie explains helpfully. “From what little these two deigned to tell me, she's quite something, that Cindy of yours, isn't she, Murph? Especially with her toys, I hear.” Bodie's voice is all silk and satin, but we all know what that means.

Murph most certainly does, for he's practically hyperventilating now, as if he's doing his best to pass out and hopefully miss the best bits. I feel sorry for him…

… until I finally get the picture and fury takes the upper hand.

“You mean to tell me you've been playing with her and her toys? Did you fuck her as well?”

Murph mutters a 'yeah', his eyes pleading for mercy, but I'm incensed now.

“So you did, you bastard. I know she's dynamite once she gets going, but she's not…”

"She is," Murphy says softly. "But she's a tart, Doyle. And she's the photographer. It took me a while to realise, but…"

“You mean you were fucking her all the time?”

A hint of a nod. I can feel Bodie tense beside me.

“You were supposed to keep an eye on her, not screw her through the mattress, for crying out loud! Jesus, and I trusted you slimy, lousy–“

Movement beside me suddenly makes me realise that my own fury is nothing compared to what my partner is obviously feeling, for he now grabs Murphy by the collar and hauls him halfway out of his chair, ignoring the other's yelp.

“You bastard!” Bodie roars, his face two inches from Murphy's. “You lousy creep. You didn't tell us about Doyle's injuries because you wanted him to stay there so you could screw that bitch a little longer, didn't you?”

Seeing Murphy's obvious pain, as much physical as anything else, I realise it's time to draw a line and grab my partner's arm, but before I can think of something to say, an icy voice cuts in.

“Stop it, Bodie!”

Ruth has appeared beside us like a formidable guardian angel. Under her blazing eyes, Bodie withers a little and comes to his senses. His face still speaking volumes, he slowly releases Murph and even helps him settle back into his chair.

“You got it all wrong, Bodie,” Ruth says. “That wasn't Murphy's idea. Doyle told him to keep his mouth shut, so he did. And your Cindy damn well is involved, and big time, right from picking you up to getting her clutches into Patrick in your place. She knew exactly who you were right from the start.”

Bodie says nothing, just glares at me, then mutters about people who haven't the slightest sense under that mop of hair and he should have known I've finally flipped with my taste in women.

Ignoring him, I slump back into my own chair, the anger giving way to infinite weariness now as it all sinks in and makes some sort of sense.

“Jesus", I say, turning back to Murphy. “She really knew who I was all the time…?”

Murphy nods, and finally the rest of the story comes out between him and Ruth. Beppo's little ruse, Cindy's role in the whole porn stuff and her nice little loophole south of the Alps where she intended to enjoy the fruits of her dirty work once they'd got Domenico's lot out of the way. Lovely. I even notice that Murphy has some little splotches of blood on his sweater and realise exactly what Ruth meant about him in her clutches.

"She do that?" I ask tiredly, pointing. Murphy gives another tiny nod, adding that she's obsessed by the damn things and I'm lucky I wasn't the one on the receiving end.

“Bitch.” I'm too tired to be genuinely furious now. And besides…

“Looks like you've even done me a favour then, mate,” I say, and watch Murph look up and Bodie's eyebrows climb.

“Yeah. I wasn't the one who got a taste of that, so I suppose we're even, sort of."

This obviously cheers Murph up just a bit. Ruth utters a strangled sound that seems to indicate she's extremely relieved but still anxious to avoid any more fights tonight. She directs her deadly stare at me for a change, probably in case I change my mind and lose my rag again.

“You mean you're not…?” Murphy croaks.

“Nah, you're forgiven, my son. And Bodie here –” I cast my partner a sharpish glance – “Bodie here's reconsidered his urge to thump you on my behalf, haven't you sunshine?”

Bodie nods briefly and looks away, his mouth set. Ruth snorts inelegantly but finally seems to think the matter is settled for good. Seeing that the rest of the crew has nearly finished clearing the general chaos and everyone is leaving, she gets to her feet and is about to shoo Bodie and me away as Cowley materialises in front of us, visibly pleased despite his earlier outburst.

“Good work, everyone. All accounted for, and enough evidence to get them all behind bars.”

His expression unfathomable, he looks at Murph who huddles even further into his chair, then turns to stare at me.

“And Doyle, the next time you decide to ignore my explicit orders and wait until we have to send the cavalry to haul you out of the trouble you've managed to get yourself into, you're fired. Is that understood? And that applies to you too, Bodie – the part about disobeying orders. If I want you in the communications van during a job, I shall say so.”

I nod, suitably subdued, which seems to satisfy him. Bodie just smirks for a second before turning on his 'penitent' face and offering an 'absolutely, sir'.

“I do hope so. Now, I hear you'll be on sick leave for a few days, Doyle, so I suggest you take that partner of yours out of here before he falls asleep in that chair, Bodie. And concerning your encounter with that young woman, Murphy, what I would like to know is…”

I don't hear the rest because my partner is already hauling me to my feet and for a moment, I am much too busy sorting out my various complaining body parts to pay much attention. While I'm limping off, supported discreetly by my partner, I catch scraps of Cowley's tirade on carelessness and getting involved with possible suspects, and Murph's muttered answers. The last thing I hear as we've reached the door is Ruth's slightly defensive tones chipping in.

Bodie is silent now. It didn't take much to persuade him to take care of another thing that's been worrying me, and I suspect his resistance had more to do with keeping up appearances than with really objecting to the idea. Apart from the fact that he would like to see me nicely tucked into my bed rather sooner than later – something I know all too well and secretly appreciate, although I'd never admit that aloud, of course.

Yet this is something I need to do before my body can have a say. Ever since Francesca and I overheard that mumbled conversation by the back entrance, I've been feeling that familiar bitterness about the way things are. A totally ineffective, even harmful feeling of betrayal that gets me nowhere but into a spiral of self-disgust and unreasonable rage. Bad medicine, Bodie'd say. And he'd be right.

Yet it creeps up on me every time these things happen and I'm forced to stand back, unable to prevent them – not even revenge them because that wouldn't achieve anything except satisfy my personal grudge. Mimi is dead, and no revenge, however justified, will bring her back.

All we can do is try to look after those left behind. So I've asked Bodie to drive me to the safehouse to talk to Francesca just briefly, see how she's coping. Maybe dredge up a few words of consolation from somewhere even though it will be hard, given that Mimi's death was so totally unnecessary.

“You know,” Bodie suddenly says, “I suppose that old biddy back there at the restaurant, the cook, whassername…”

“Mamma Maddalena?” I supply.

“That's the one. Seems big mamma had no idea of what was going on there or what her respectable son and in-law were up to, neither concerning the drugs nor the… other stuff.”

The way he says it tells me he's much more shaken by the porn case than he's admitted to anyone. I know him too well to trust that impassive façade.

“That was my impression as well,” I muse. “I reckon her older son started it, the putana's old man, and then Domenico took over when his brother was killed. I can't imagine la mamma would have tolerated drugs in her kitchen, let alone that other sideline.”

Bodie nods. “I talked to Cowley briefly, and he thinks so, too. We'll have to check her out properly, of course, but I suppose she'll be out of custody in a day or two.”

“So what are you aiming at?” I ask, mildly puzzled why Bodie should care.

“I was just thinking that someone should take care of Francesca, that's all,” he replies, kind of defensive now, and finally the penny drops as I remember it was Bodie who drove Francesca to headquarters and handed her over to Liz.

Looks like worrying about me has turned on my partner's protective mode to the full.

“And that someone should be mamma Maddalena?” I ask. “How do you know she's not going back to Italy now that her son, daughter-in-law and half of the staff are behind bars and not the sort you drink at."

He shrugs. “Dunno. Just an idea. You know her best, eh, Marco?” he smirks, successfully hiding any trace of concern.

He does have a point, though. With Giuditta in the nick, someone will have to look after little Nicoletta as well. And somehow, I can't see la mamma give up la Tosca, considering it's all that's left of the family's ambition to get themselves a respectable life in their new country. Francesca could fare worse than to stay with la mamma and perhaps look after Nicoletta a bit which would probably serve them both – the bereft mother as much as the temporarily motherless child.

“Oi! You haven't heard a word that I just said, have you, sunshine?” Bodie startles me, and I have to admit I haven't.

“I said shame about your Cindy. Not that I ever had the pleasure of meeting her, considering you didn't trust your own partner to keep his hands to himself,” he huffs airily. I snort but regret it immediately. He catches me flinch and his tone changes at once even though he doesn't comment.

“I got the impression you were pretty serious about her,” he says quietly. “Surprising she managed to fool you like that, though. Your copper's instincts not working for a change?”

“I've no idea,” I reply honestly. “I'd like to know that myself. She seemed so… dunno. Different. She reminded me of Ann somehow and…”

Uh-oh. Wrong answer. I feel Bodie tense and remember belatedly how he feels about the “selfish, red-haired, bitch”, as he called her while he was doing his best to pick me up from the floor after she'd left.

“Oh, forget it, mate,” I say gruffly, more to conceal my embarrassment than because I'm really annoyed. “She's gone and you don't have to worry I'll go overboard.” This time, I silently add, remembering the rather precarious state of my mind after Ann dumped me. No way I'm going through all that again just because I allowed Cindy to trick me.

“Fair enough,” Bodie says, and I'm grateful he doesn't insist. “Stay off redheads in future, maybe? Another question, though…”

I cast him a wary look. What now? But no, he half-turns in his seat and purses his lips.

“Your place or mine?” He lisps with a sappy grin.

“You mean for the night, once we've finished?” I ask back, chuckling and wincing. “Depends on what's in your fridge, actually. I know that mine's empty. I missed dinner, remember?”

“So did I, mate,” Bodie says to my utter amazement, but puts things into perspective straight away. “Except for a lousy serving of fish and chips after I left the safehouse, just before they told me to go to Benfatto's place presto.”

“Not to mention the pizza Khan bought for the two of you back at Tosca,” I suggest.

“Err – no. Didn't get to eat it, did I? At least no more than half of it, because you sent Francesca over to the buggy-boo. What the hell were you thinking about, staying there? You were practically begging them to tumble you!”

“Pack it in, Bodie,” I snap, truly not in any condition to argue. He gives me a sharp glance and for once thankfully belts up. Maybe I look as miserable as I feel for he even reverts to the old diversion tactics to pacify me.

“You know, that chippy down the block from that safehouse is really a public menace. No comparison with the one around the corner of my place. Now that's what I call hearty portions and…”

I relax back into the seat, close my eyes and let my partner's gastronomic appraisal of about half of London's fish-and-chip stalls wash over me.

Seeing Francesca will be hard, but Bodie's idea of persuading la mamma to take her under her wing has definitely cheered me up a little. Once we've got that behind us, I'll allow my partner to steer me to whichever of our pads he chooses, feed me greasy chips and help me to get settled for the night, knowing he'll be right there on the sofa to watch over me.

Like Ruth probably will be looking after Murph, I grin, judging by the way she jumped in feet first in his defence against Bodie and even the Cow. Have to ask Bodie if he thinks that those two… Nah. Ruthie turned me down – reluctantly, I pride myself – and I happen to know for sure she rebuffed Bodie quite firmly. Yet the way she obviously went all mushy over poor Murph back there at la Tosca… my, my.

Lack of sleep, the alcohol and painkillers doing rather interesting things to my concentration, plus a fair dose of relief, mean that I sit there watching Ruth defend me to Cowley in a sort of haze. I'm not 100% certain I'll have heard the last about it from Bodie, somehow but at least he's too busy worrying about Doyle to pay much attention to it right now.

Or maybe he'll leave it at that: he's not exactly a saint when it comes to women, but he seems to get away with it most of the time. Daft bugger – he's a weird mixture of tough guy and complete charmer, and with a soft spot for his partner that sometimes makes me sorry I'm the eternal one-man show.

Ruth's doing quite a nice line in the caring stuff at the moment, though, from what I've picked up from both what she's said and her body language.

"… tomorrow." Ruth's speaking and I stare at her blankly. Cowley's looking at me expectantly as well.

Ah, they must mean the whole writing up reports and getting another tongue-lashing stuff then. Never say I'm stupid, even if I'm not really all here. God knows what was in those pills of Khan's, but those plus the whisky are quite effective, I must say. And at least I don't have a partner to grumble at me about that like Bodie was doing to Doyle. So maybe the Lonesome Cowboy's got something going for it after all.

Got to answer them. Can't have Cowley demanding I go and see the doc and then receiving a report saying exactly what happened. Ruth's fobbed him off with something about me being in a fight, bless her. Still generous with my blessings, I am…

"Yes, of course. No problem," I manage, which seems to meet with his approval. He disappears and I admit to Ruth I've no idea what she just said. She purses her lips, and informs me that our most benign, magnanimous leader has suggested we get a good night's sleep and then get together to write our side of the report. No surprises there, then, if you don't count the fact he's actually thought about the sleep part of it.

I nod wearily and haul myself out of the chair. In an ideal world, Ruth would now drive me home, tend to my wounds and kiss me goodnight. Now who's the daft bugger? Ruth, I remember, has recently witnessed me being unresponsive to her overtures at Tosca, discovered I was messing around with Doyle's bird, and has rescued me from lying naked and handcuffed to a bed. I hardly think she's in 'ministering angel' frame of mind.

I'm wrong. Even about the goodnight kiss, although it's only a peck to my forehead after she's told me to get my sweater off, raided my first aid box for disinfectant and anointed my chest and belly with surprising gentleness despite her matter-of-fact approach to it all.

"Nice," I murmur, wishing I wasn't so bloody tired. She grins.

"What, no lewd suggestions about whether I want to inspect the below-the-belt damage?"

"Physical or mental?" I say grimly. "And no for the physical part at least. She hadn't got that far when you arrived. And I haven't said thanks properly yet."

"You're welcome," she says, still brisk. "Right, I'm going home. Take more painkillers if it hurts. And if it looks like any of those lashes that drew blood get infected, you'll just have to see a doctor."

I nod miserably, wishing I was Bodie and could come up with the suggestion that she should check them regularly just to make sure. Instead, I watch her pick up her bag, jacket and gun.

"Tell you what," I say on impulse. "Can I take you out to dinner sometime? Soon? As a proper thanks?"

She hesitates. Then takes pity on me yet again.

"You're on. Just anything but Italian," she says and grants me another brief peck, this time on my cheek. Lousy as I feel, things might just be looking up.

Well, this isn't the romantic tête-à-tête I'd hoped for, I must admit. Mind, the sight of Bodie peering at an Indian restaurant's menu and frowning has certain merits.

I'd been a bit nervous about seeing both he and Doyle, really: Bodie managed to swing a couple of days off in the end, apparently to make sure his partner wasn't about to engage in any more heroics. When Ruth comments on this, Doyle says he's been heroic anyway considering he's been force-fed with Bodie's cholesterol-rich fry-ups.

Both of them look fairly relaxed, though, and there's no mention of Cindy. Doyle even asks me how I'm feeling, so it looks as though it really has blown over.

Bodie stares around at the restaurant in between muttering about foreign food. It's definitely high-class Indian, I must say and now I'm feeling relaxed myself I realise I'm starving. Khan informed us earlier that his uncle was offering us special prices and service too, which Doyle didn't exactly sniff at.

When a sari-clad figure approaches our table, we all look up, even Ruth, and I have to admit the vision is rather pleasing.

"My sister," Khan says with a touch of pride. "She helps out sometimes."

Doyle isn't saying anything, but watches her as she starts pointing out some of the house specials. Ruth seems to be fairly expert on all this and takes us in hand, ordering various things and – which is yet another pleasant surprise – asks for my opinion on it all. She even shuffles a bit closer to me as she does so and I'm not complaining about that, either.

Bodie takes a sip of the beer after staring at it suspiciously for a while, and pronounces it drinkable. For Indian beer, anyway. He's watching his partner watching our waitress, which amuses me.

"Not getting any urges to nip round the back and fetch yer pinny and help her out a bit?" he asks Doyle as she makes her graceful way back to the kitchen.

"Hardly. Although from what I've heard la Mamma's busy assembling troops and fully intends to re-open Tosca before long," he says thoughtfully. "We should pay her a visit when she does, maybe."

"At least the Eyeties had decent steaks, from what I heard. And desserts," Bodie says, looking at a plate of appetisers that arrive.

"We have desserts," Khan assures him.

"Indian Swiss rolls, I suppose," Bodie grumbles, and Khan's eyes flicker slightly but why, I don't know. I thought the two of them had got over the whole cultural differences stuff.

Doyle's not eating. He's definitely fascinated by Khan's sister, which Ruth has also noticed as she gives me a slight dig in the ribs, a slight nod in that direction, and winks. More complicity, I note with a great deal of pleasure. I've been on my best behaviour for the last couple of days, while we wrote up reports, and enjoyed her company. Haven't pushed it, but I still hope she'll be up for an evening out with just the two of us. When she gets up and heads in the direction of the ladies' room, Bodie smirks.

"Romance in the air, eh?" he says, to nobody in particular. Doyle shoots him a 'shut up Bodie' glance, Khan looks at Doyle, and Doyle looks at me.

Khan's sister arrives with more food after a while. One plate – Bodie's – has a silver dome on it, which she lifts off with a flourish. There, amid all the Indian stuff, is a portion of fish and chips, still in the newspaper. So that's what Khan dreamed up.

"Be back with the vinegar, ketchup and the little plastic fork in just a moment, sir," the girl says sweetly as we all try hard not to laugh out loud. Bodie, to his credit, stares at the plate for a moment and then guffaws and states that this is real food and vastly superior to anything foreign, ta. Khan and I exchange glances: he looks ever-so-slightly relieved that Bodie's reacted like this rather than thump him.

"What do I get then?" Doyle says cheerfully as Bodie tucks in. "A pizza?"

"Nah," Khan says. "None of the family have got into Italian yet. Bit of a closed shop that is, or so far anyway – you never know. Although I did tell you we've got a relative with a chippy, which is where that came from…."

Fortunately, Bodie sees the funny side of this, even when Khan points a finger to the "Patel's Superior Ketchup" that he'd missed in his enthusiasm.

"So," says Doyle when we reach the end of the meal and our wine glasses are again filled – with Italian wine, which I expect is another of Khan's little schemes – "Here's to us, then. Thanks, Khan, and not just for bringing us here. And Ruth and Murph for their… research and self-sacrifice and all that."

Bodie stares at his partner.

"Oh, and you as well, Bodie. Suppose you came in useful too."

"Typical," Bodie rolls his eyes but there's more affection in them than anything else. "Ungrateful bastard."

"Charmin'," Doyle says. "Eat yer pudding and shut up."

Bodie does what he's told, and is fairly quiet since he discovers that Indians, or more precisely Pakistanis, make excellent ice cream.

"So," Doyle asks me quietly as we're finally on the point of leaving. "You don't have any secret designs on Khan's sister? Just so's I know?"



"Only kidding, mate. Like I said, forget it and keep working on Ruthie. I'm just going to nip back in and ask the lovely lady for a date while Bodie's arguing with Khan about colonialism and how India and Pakistan were far better off with the British running the show. Keep 'im occupied for me if he runs out of steam?"

I nod enthusiastically and wander over there. Ruth joins us and Bodie beams at her.

"Want a lift home, darlin', or are you off with Casanova here? Got yer handcuffs handy, Ruth, if you are?"

Ouch again.

"I'd only have brought handcuffs if I'd been seriously contemplating going anywhere with you, Bodie. Which I'm not."

Nice one, Ruth. Bodie starts looking around for Doyle, who actually emerges with Khan's sister before I need any more delaying tactics. Quick work indeed.

"Just dropping her off," he says airily. "Khan, as I'll be taking the motor, can you take Bodie home?"

Reluctantly, Bodie hands over the keys and shrugs, muttering something about at least this one not being a redhead. Maybe, he adds, he should take Khan for a real pint somewhere as they've just got time before they close. He knows these barmaids…

They all head for the cars, leaving Ruthie and I standing there.

"Now there's something," she says. "Doyle with a Pakistani girl in tow. That'll keep Bodie busy with the pointed comments, and Khan'll be keeping an eye on his sister. Hope our Ray knows what he's in for."

"Could be interesting," I agree. "Although Khan didn't exactly have a heart attack at the thought and he knows what Doyle's like."

"As in his performance with the putana?" Ruth giggles. "Apparently that was quite… steamy."

"Thought you'd have heard about that one by now," I say, remembering it rather clearly myself yet trying to push away the lustful thoughts of Ruth that are creeping in. I can't resist a try, though, even if I'm determined to be honourable Murph again. "You got your car?"

"No, came on the tube because I was rather hoping you'd take me home," she says. "As long no handcuffs are involved, that is…"

"Given 'em up for good, like whips," I assure her. "Didn't like 'em much in that context anyway. And I promise to behave myself if you'd like a coffee or something."

"Behave yourself?" she says sweetly. "I do hope not, Patrick. Can't let Doyle have all the fun, can we?"

-- THE END --

August 2003. The usual disclaimers apply.

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