The Ghosts That Haunt Me
by Merlyn Smith
This story is the first in Merlyn Smith's "Transformation" series. This Bodie and Doyle are very much grounded in the lads we first met on "The Professionals," but this series explores what might have been occurring on another track...
Yorkshire - October, 1991
The mists always rise up fairly deep around The Towers. By rights they shouldn't come at all, situated as it is high on the hills, but most nights of the year the fog rolls in, rich and thick and blanketing, like instant mashed potatoes. Nobody in their right mind goes there, mind you, but the fog and the damp convey the general aura of gloom and disarray which serve to keep the few would-be visitors at bay.
What brought William Bodie there was his grandfather, or rather his grandfather's Will - it amounted to the same thing. He'd had no contact with the old man but once - when his mother's father had shown up at her funeral; a fight had ensued between his grandfather and father and the old man had been shown the door. Bodie's family connections ended the day of the funeral. That night he'd packed his few possessions up and run away. If his father noticed or made any attempt to find him, it would be news to Bodie.
And that had been that, until the call from the solicitor's in York, and then the impressively long- winded and wordy documents which arrived in an embossed heavy cream envelope bearing the legend "Smythe, Anderson, Barkley, Hewitt, and Fenniston, Solicitors" in the return address and a dry as dust letter from Mr. Fenniston, which informed him that he was his grandfather's sole heir. Mr. Fenniston had been equally dry as dust upon personal meeting, dry and to the point. Which was, Bodie mused on his way to the car, that he was now in possession of 124,000 in boring and safely invested stocks and bank accounts and his mother's family home, called simply "The Towers."
Mr. Fenniston had been of the opinion, showing what might have been a glimmer of humor, that it was "a great useless mossy pile, shrouded in mist most of the time and far too big for 100 people let alone one." He'd been forced to visit the place on a regular basis, for old Mr. Evans had been fond of changing his will every other month or so. An odd and rather stupid hobby, Mr. Fenniston thought privately, but Mr. Jonas Evans paid his bills on time and really, the client's wishes were paramount. "You won't want it. I know a good estate agent..."
"Thanks, but I'd like to make up my own mind about that. I like solitude." Bodie hadn't really wanted the place up 'til then, but telling him what he would want to do had never sat well with him, and even years of enforced discipline hadn't totally eradicated the tendency to immediately do the opposite. "I'm a writer, you see, and that tends to be a rather solitary occupation."
Mr. Fenniston tried to picture someone happily living and working at The Towers and failed utterly - not through any lack of imagination, though being a lawyer, his imagination was rather limited, but simply because he knew the house too well to entertain any fantasies about its prospects. "Miss Parkinson will give you the keys, then, Mr. Bodie - ah, or should I say 'Sir William?' The baronetcy was hereditary you know. Should you decide to sell, we would be more than happy to assist you in that endeavor." Let the silly chap find out for himself.
Bodie whistled under his breath as he drove through gates once impressive, but now rusty and half off their hinges. The drive was a winding track, up the side of the hill, and then through the gates, up a sweep of driveway which curved around the front of the... mansion, he supposed, for want of a better word. Gothic Pile? Yes, much more accurate. He'd known, vaguely, that there had once been money in the family - his greatgrandfather had made a bundle in the shipping or manufacturing tar or textiles or something, in the boom years before the turn of the century. He'd been knighted for it, by Queen Victoria, who was very fond of people who produced tonnes of revenue for the Empire. Mr. Fenniston's 'Sir William' came back to him. He was 40 years old and of all the damn silly things... a title, at this late stage in the game.
The house didn't look any more inviting close up than it had from a distance, and the ubiquitous mists that Mr. Fenniston (and to be honest everyone else he'd had occasion to talk to in the nearest village) had mentioned were already rising, though it was just half past four in the afternoon. Still, it was October. The sun was already dropping to the horizon, a gloomy looking red ball, and he wished he'd put off his inspection until the morning. A night at The Hooded Man, the small local inn his editor so highly recommended, began to look good. He considered the comforts of the inn against the hour's drive through the dark it would take to get there and reluctantly changed his mind. He was tired, and since the accident, he wasn't overfond of driving anymore. At least not in the dark. Like it much or not, The Towers would have to do. At least Fenniston had assured him it contained eccentric and borderline antique central heating, equally eccentric plumbing, and electricity.
Whoever had originally built the house (Mr. Fenniston had been unsure of that fact) had succumbed to a passion for the pseudo-medieval. Heavy double oak front door swung open into what could only be described as a Hall, in the truly baronial sense of the term. Arched, stained glass windows soared from the floor very nearly to the vaulted roof overhead letting in what light there was from the rapidly fading day; banners, faded now and dusty hung from the rafters and buttresses; the paneling was heavy dark wood; the floor was of flagstones which struck cold even through Bodie's shoes. He flipped on the torch he'd had the forethought to bring along and swung the beam around. He would be able to locate a lightswitch. Because little as though he fancied driving in the dark, he fancied still less staying in this vast place with only the light of a torch or flickering candles for company.
"There you are," he said softly, and almost jumped at the way his voice echoed in the stillness. He caught himself and strode forcefully over to the array of lightswitches his torch beam had revealed on the wall immediately opposite to the front doors. He began flipping them and on the third try the entire entry hall blazed into life; Mr. Fenniston had warned him about that ("it works on a rather hit or miss basis, I'm afraid.") Well, that might well turn out to be a problem, but his electrical arrangements appeared, as far as Bodie could tell, now that he could see, to be state of the art. Subdued track lighting illuminated the lead paned, stained glass of the windows, and the pennants hanging from overhead were highlighted. All in all the place looked, as most things do, much more welcoming. Feeling a damn sight more cheerful about the whole thing than he had in a fortnight, Bodie snapped off his torch, set it on the massive trestle table that graced the center of the hall, and went back outside to begin unloading his cases and the food he'd the forethought to bring along.
Nothing untoward happened for the next couple of days and by the fourth day in the house, Bodie found himself to have fallen into a very comfortable routine. He rose late, threw something together in the way of lunch and then spent a couple of hours exploring the massive old place. Most of the rooms were either empty and full of dust, or else full of old furniture covered in sheets and equally dusty. He was occupying what he supposed had been his grandfather's room - a suite really. There was a massive bedroom, complete with elaborately carved four poster; a rather crotchety but functional bath; and a third large room that led off his bedroom, which contained several chairs, two small sofas and a massive table. The table served as an excellent workplace. Bodie soon had it covered with the material that comprised a beginning draft of this latest novel; this room would make an excellent study. If he'd known the wiring was up to it, he'd have brought his PC as well, but he! 'd always written his first drafts by hand in any event, so it didn't matter. The PC could come later, when he sorted things out here and decided whether to settle or not. The only has was certain of was that he was not going back to live in London. London belonged to the time before the accident, before Alex... a mental door always slammed on that thought; blocking it all out was second nature by now.
Later, he could never say when the feeling of uneasiness began, exactly. It was like one of those toothaches that comes on so slowly, so imperceptibly that it seems as though one minute everything is fine and the next - agony. Bodie had been in what he called his "sitting room" - comfortably stretched out on the one of the small sofas, a fire roaring away in the fireplace and some Mozart playing on his portable CD. The feeling of being... not alone grew slowly. It must have been quite two hours before he found that he was glancing up from his book every few minutes or so, ears pricked, listening... for what? He chided himself for being stupid. After all, he'd been in the house for the better part of a week, and it had all been perfectly ordinary and straightforward. Despite the size of the building, he'd never felt a moment's pause. Until now. Rather sheepishly, he turned up the CD player volume and forced himself back into the book he'd been reading. Perhaps that was it, he thought, when after another five minutes or so had passed, he found himself wanting to jump up from the sofa and... the book was an anthology of ghost and occult tales; short stories all. He'd bought it on the way, intending to study it since he'd never tried his hand at short stories and found the idea rather attractive. But the ghost stories had been the only such volume the market town bookstore had and so...
Bodie slammed the book shut on a particularly harrowing tale of a haunted town with a bridge the living weren't wise to cross over and laughed aloud, and if he sounded nervous there wasn't anyone but himself to notice.
Or there shouldn't have been. Except he could not shake the eerie feeling he was being watched. Eyes bored into the back of his skull and he could feel the warning prickle of hairs rising on the back of his neck, and the sensation hadn't been caused by the occasional flurry and snap of sparks when wind gusted down the chimney.
Don't be such an ass... a few spook tales, a little rain and some wind... anyone would think you were a schoolchild with an overactive imagination. Of course, writers did tend to have overactive imaginations anyway, but this was getting absurd. He switched books (to Woody Allen), he switched CDs (to Led Zeppelin), he switched books again (P.G. Wodehouse), and then finally, unable to relax and unwilling to admit that he was truly frightened when there was nothing apparent to cause such a feeling, he went to bed.
He was in the post office the next day, for he'd arranged with his editor to have all of his post forwarded to the village, and the man behind the counter was disposed to be friendly. Knowing small towns and villages as he did, it was no surprise to find the postmaster knew all about him.
"Old Mr. Evans grandson, now. That's a bit of a surprise, you know. Always said he'd got no family, but of course those of us who've lived here for years knew about his daughter. Will you be staying in the old place then, Sir William?"
Bodie smiled. "Just Bodie, will do. I don't think I'll ever get used to being 'Sir'd.'"
He'd said the right thing, the postmaster smiled back, "Aye, I don't think I'd welcome it much myself. Your grandfather wasn't much for it, either, come to that. Always said the title'd brought more harm than any good to the family. Course, those are old stories, and nobody puts much mind in them nowadays."
It was all news to Bodie and he said so, adding "He never got on with my parents, so I don't know much about the family at all."
Elias Leaford eyed him measuringly for a moment, then nodded as though some internal question had been answered. "Well, if you're interested, I know a bit of the lore, as you might say."
Bodie was interested.
"Well, it would have been in your Great-great grandfather's time, 1871 or thereabouts. The Evans family had lived hereabouts for a long time, 400 years or more, but they were always just plain country gentry. Sheep and farming, mostly, prosperous, but not hugely wealthy. It was your Great-great grandfather who made a fortune by patenting some process or other for textile machinery. The Queen knighted him, and there was some trouble over it."
Bodie raised an eyebrow. "Over the title?"
"Nooo... leastways, not exactly. See folks hereabout said that Mr. David, that is Sir David, hadn't really come up with the idea at all. He was a young man then, only 25, and he'd been friends almost all his life with a Raymond Doyle. Another local family - all died out now. Anyway, they were the same age; David's father took a shine to Doyle and had him educated with his son. They did everything together." Mr. Leaford looked a bit uncomfortable here, and paused, obviously choosing his next words with a care that made Bodie wonder what was the problem.
"Well, there isn't any evidence, but folks hereabout used to say that it was young Doyle who was the mechanical genius, always drawing things, always thinking up ways to streamline tools so they'd make work easier for folks. He went to university for engineering, so did Mr. David, but he wasn't nearly... well, he didn't do as well, let's say. But friends they were and friends they stayed. Until..."
More amused than anything, Bodie hid a grin at the dramatic pause and prompted, on cue, "Until?"
"One day Doyle was here and the next he wasn't. David gave it out that he'd gone off to Australia, emigrated, and maybe he had, 'cept he wasn't the sort to just up and leave and not a word to anybody. Just after that the machine David patented as being his own invention caused a revolution in the textile industry and he made a fortune, was knighted... married an Earl's youngest daughter too."
"So he lived happily ever after, thought it seems as though he might have stolen the patent - and by implication, the fortune from young Mr. Doyle."
Mr. Leaford shook his head. "Well, I wouldn't say that... exactly. Still, I don't know, it seems like telling tales out of school..."
"Well," Bodie said, deliberately using Mr. Leaford's favorite word, "if you don't tell me, there's nobody else to do it. I'm the last of the line, so you'd better out with it."
"Your Great-great grandfather had one son, of course, as you know. And he lived to be what was a good age in those days. But his marriage was sour, still many were and are. Never got on with his son, either. And your grandfather, well - you know how that turned out. He always said the title brought more problems than it was worth, but he wouldn't tell anyone why. Maybe your grandmother knew, but somehow... In any event, David, he got, well, odd, towards the end. Wouldn't see anyone after his wife died, just shut himself up in The Towers, even did his own cooking; one morning, after he'd not been seen or heard from in over a month, the local doctor finally insisted on the constable breaking into the house and they found Sir David, dead, sitting upright in a chair in the study off his bedroom, the master bedroom it is. That wouldn't be odd, except that's exactly how his son died and now your grandfather too. Sort of a string of coincidences."
Against his will, Bodie shivered. There was something disquieting about it, even though he knew coincidence in real life was far stranger than anything in fiction. "I hadn't heard all that! Though I don't think I have anything to worry about - the only machinery I had anything to do with was long ago army days, and now I write novels."
But that night, when he was almost asleep, he could've sworn he heard footsteps in the next room, and later, in the hallway outside his bedroom. When he investigated, however, all was quiet. His dreams were crowded after that - the car accident sounds and smells all mixed in with feelings of anger and bitterness; at dawn, Bodie, who never cried, not even over Alex, woke sobbing. For the first time since he'd come to the house, he rose early.
The next night he was just as restless, and the night after that and after that... until finally, he gave up on it altogether. When he closed his eyes, such a kaleidoscope of dreams and fancies played out before his mind's eye that it was easier to simply sit up and work, rather than face the visions of blood and the overwhelming feelings of guilt and agonizing loss that flooded him when he let his guard down and dozed, all mixed in with replays of the accident, and Alex... no, in the end, after battling it with a strong will and spending three days of waking with a huge surge of adrenalin coursing through like hot alcohol injected straight into his veins, tears running down his cheeks, he gave up on sleep.
His novel grew by leaps and bounds. And all the while what he'd come to silently call his 'watcher' kept unseen and unrelenting eyes on the back of his head no matter where he was.
It was almost as bad as the nightmares.
Bodie scratched out the sentence for the fifth time and threw the pen across the room where it hit the wall with what should have been a satisfying clatter. Too tired and frayed to feel stupid, he shouted "Enough! Show yourself, damn you! Whatever or whoever you are! SHOW YOURSELF!" He shouted it because it was what he'd been longing to shout for a week now, and because he thought that if he made the words racing in his head real, the fear would somehow be vanquished. Whatever he expected it was the vast and ringing near-silence, punctuated by the occasional snap and crackle of the fire and distant patter of rain, not the whisper which followed in the dying echo of "YOURSELF..."
The 'V' in very blended into the last 'f' in yourself and Bodie jumped knocking papers to the floor as he stood. Glancing about him wildly, for a moment or two Bodie was convinced that at last that he'd gone utterly mad. Talking to oneself was one thing but when you started hearing answers...
Except the shadows thrown by the fire blazing on the hearth suddenly seemed thicker, darker, almost viscous in appearance, and Bodie rubbed his eyes, only too well aware he should not be seeing any such thing.
The shadows grew darker and thicker and finally coalesced into a definite shape, human in outline at least, and Bodie held his breath as he waited to see what his lack of reason would produce next.
It wasn't terrifying, at least not in the accepted tradition of most horror novels.
"You wanted to see me?" The voice was soft, the accent a bit odd, kind of 'old fashioned' for want of a better term.
Bodie found himself nodding to the vision, which was a man of medium height, slender-muscular build. He had a riot of dark curls that tumbled across his forehead and down about his shoulders. But he man's eyes were his most striking feature, being deeply, darkly green, with lighter rims and long lashes. One cheekbone bore a deep indentation, as though it'd been smashed in and allowed to heal as it pleased. This added to the general charm and appeal of his face, somehow making it more real.
"Who are you?"
A smile. "You don't know? Ah, but then you wouldn't. The family is quite fallen apart now, isn't it?" Another smile, "The name is Doyle, Raymond Doyle."
Bodie took a step back and then forced himself to stand his ground. "If you expect me to believe that - even if you are in that Hallowe'en getup..."
Doyle looked aggrieved and glanced down at his clothing in mock dismay. "You've no liking for my choice of outfit? It's my best suit."
"120 years out of date? I don't believe you. Nice costume though."
Doyle leaned negligently on the mantle and crossed his legs. "120 years? Is that all? A nothing, that is. But I'll grant you - it certainly is Hallowe'en," he flicked an imaginary bit of dust from his lapel and stared hard at Bodie. "The veils are thin. You'd not be seeing me otherwise."
"I'm not seeing you at all. You're an insomniac's hallucination." Bodie made a show of gathering up the papers that he'd knocked to the floor in his earlier surprise. "Go away."
"I can't. You've asked me to show myself, and here I must stay until the dawn. It's October 31st - the day between worlds, you see. The veils are so thin..."
"You've said that before," Bodie interjected, irritatedly, "What the devil does it mean?"
"As to that - ask your great-great grandfather. Ask David. It's he who started it all. And like him, his descendents have all lacked the courage to finish it."
"Finish it? Finish what?"
Doyle's dark green eyes seemed to bore into him, and he recognised the feeling.
"YOU. You're the one whose been watching..."
"So, you believe me now? I thought I was a hallucination? No, I can see you know I'm no such thing. Watching you? Yes. It's what I do. All I can do, except once a year, if called. They all called at the last you know, all of them."
Bodie found himself sitting down, hard, in a chair. "All of them..." It didn't come out as much more than a croak.
Doyle's face could have carried the caption "Portrait of A Bitter Man" and it still would not have done the expression he wore justice. "All of them. Your grandfather, his father, David... they all called me at the last, and then they laughed. Because they were going over, you see, and I was trapped here. I was cheated, they were the thieves, and yet I am punished."
"I don't see what you are getting at."
"Did no one ever tell you the story? It is quite a tale, William."
"Mr. Leaford said something about a patent." Bodie realized the paper he was shredding was a copy of the his grandfather's Will and he let it be. "He said my... he said Sir David and you were friends, that you'd grown up together and then one day you disappeared."
"He murdered me," Doyle said matter of factly, "when I found he'd registered my patent as his and told him I was going to take legal action if he didn't retract the registration."
"Isn't it enough? Oh," Doyle said impatiently, "it wasn't the money. I know now that's what David thought, but it was never the money. I didn't invent my machines with that end in mind, though it would've been a nice enough byproduct. It was that the person I cared about most, trusted most, would have done this behind my back. Everything I believed about him was false, you see. Even that he loved me. He hit me with a poker, like that one," he pointed to the side of the fireplace, "I didn't die quickly. He stood over me and I told him that he might kill me, but I would be with him forever... with him and all his kin, they would never be free while they were on earth. Youthful dramatics and rash, but at the time I meant it, every word." He stood in front of the fire, and the snapping flames were visible through him. His green eyes glittered like living jewels. "It was the betrayal of us that I could not forgive, William, not the money. Do you know about that sort of thing, William?"
Bodie's legs weren't being cooperative and he landed in his chair with a thump. Somehow it no longer seemed crazy to be carrying on this odd conversation with a... ghost? Eliminate all the possibilities and whatever left, however improbable, is likely the truth. A ghost. Vengeful? Toward him personally? He couldn't quite believe that.
"Do I know about that sort of thing? The person I'd most trusted..." He stopped, staring at the table top, unwilling to bring Alex into this.
The tone was soft but carried a definite command. Bodie forced himself to look up, to meet the eyes of his watcher. They were so dark a green as to be almost black and he felt as though the whole of the story was being willed out of him.
"I fell in love with Alex the moment I set eyes on him. He was one of those... he was like... sunlight and laughter and security all rolled into one. People were drawn to him, they couldn't help it. Call it charm or personal magnetism, whatever, he head it. In spades. When he was with you, it was like you were the only person in the world." He realised he was dangerously close to babbling and made himself pause. "Being with Alex was like having captured sunlight."
"But?" Doyle prompted.
"But like sunlight, he was also ephemeral. Oh, he loved me. Right up to the end, I know that. But Alex couldn't help wanting everybody. He couldn't bear to be tied down. He tried, with me. He really did. It just wasn't in his nature to stick with one person forever." Bodie realized, with a sudden shock that went past anger and grief, that, for the first time, he really understood that it wasn't some deep dark defect within himself that had caused the breakup. And it wasn't Alex either, it was just... a mismatch. "The timing of it was bad, though. He'd been more and more distant for weeks, and of course, I did exactly the wrong thing. I tried to bind him, to hold on to him. Finally, we were driving back from a party at my publisher's home and he told me. It was over, he was leaving. He'd got a chance to go and work in Paris, you see, and he couldn't pass it up. And we weren't working out. I was... I suppose I was blind for a moment with pain, or rage, I'm not sure. A few seconds inattention." He drew a deep shuddering breath. "I took a turn too fast and lost control of the car, it went down a steep embankment and hit a tree. I was thrown clear and had a concussion. Alex was killed on impact." His mouth twisted. "I don't drive much anymore, and never at night if I can help it."
Doyle's voice was very gentle. "And you've never forgiven yourself."
"I was driving! Of course it was my fault."
"He could've waited until you were home. Or, he could've driven himself. You never intended he should die, William. There is a betrayal there, perhaps, but it is not unforgivable."
"And you? All these years and you've never forgiven David." His voice sounded harsh and Doyle's shadow- form seemed to darken and shimmer at the same time.
There was no sound, even the rain seemed to have been muffled, though Bodie could see it streaking lines down the glass window panes. He found himself holding his breath, as though whatever Doyle answered would exonerate him in Alex's eyes as well.
"I..." Doyle's voice seemed to come from somewhere inside Bodie's head. "Until now, no. I never could. But... I must find a way. If ever I am to be free, I must find a way back..."
"Let me help you." He hadn't intended to say that, hadn't intended to say anything, but even so, Bodie knew they were right, they were what he wanted.
"You would offer for me? Why? You owe me nothing." Doyle's voice was flat and definite.
Bodie laughed, a harsh sound that hurt his throat. "Don't I? Don't I owe you a great deal? No one in my family has ever done more than ignore the debt we owe you. Our lives at your expense? I think, Doyle, that we - I, owe you a great deal. Let me help you."
Doyle was staring at him, an expression akin to wonderment on his face. "There is a way." He held up a hand as Bodie would have rushed into speech. "Wait. It is far from certain, and it is possible that you may not return."
Bodie shrugged. The thought of dying didn't raise a protest in him. Of late he'd lost the passion there had once been for his writing, merely turning out books 'by the numbers' to fulfill contracts and with Alex gone, there was no one to care whether he was around or not, and more importantly, no one to make him care for himself. "There is nothing to hold me here. What must I do?"
Doyle's figure gave the odd shimmery effect again. "If you would free me from the curse I so rashly pronounced, then you must help me over the void between this world and the next. I don't know... William, think!" For the first time his voice was neither cool nor bitter, but impassioned. "Think! It is not yet your time, if you do this it is likely you will not be allowed to return, your own soul may be lost inbetween. How can I allow you to take such a risk?"
Bodie rose to his feet and walked forward, one hand outstretched toward Doyle. He was smiling in sheer relief. He couldn't yet put a name to the weight that had lifted from him, but it was gone and for the first time since the accident, he felt whole again. "How can you not? This is certainly your salvation and it very well may be mine. I need to do this, for myself, also."
Doyle searched Bodie's face for a long moment before his gaze dropped to the outstretched hand. His whole body seemed to shudder as his pale translucent fingers touched Bodie's and then engulfed them.
He'd never been struck by lightning, but this was what it must be like. A huge jolt slammed through him as Doyle's hand curved around his, flashes of electricity exploded around and within him; he felt terror and exultation mingle in his veins. And all the while he could feel Doyle's hand grasping his; at some point the sensation changed and he felt as thought he was holding fast to hard, warm, living flesh. Bodie could not see anything beyond a silvery whiteness that had become part of him, and the rest of his own body seemed to have become a featherweight, almost dissolved in the jolt of "lightning" that had taken him. Through it all, he could feel movement, as though he was rushing through a wind tunnel, or rather, he was the wind rushing through a tunnel.
Gradually the sensation of movement lessened and then ceased. He could still feel Doyle's hand holding his, warm and secure. There was a voice in his head, though that was not the right description, because the voice wasn't separate from him at all... Would you give your life for his?
"Yes." Bodie answered without hesitation, knowing it to be the truth and wanting to laugh because it was so right. He felt Doyle's grip tighten almost painfully.
Will you forgive the one who went before?
Alex. Bodie was stunned. He forgive Alex? There is nothing to forgive. It was true. Alex could not help being as ephemeral as sunlight, any more than Bodie could help being what he was. At the same time Bodie had the dim, but certain, understanding that no outside force asked him the questions; he was both witness and interrogator and something more...
...Another jolt of lightning, stronger this time and so painful it wrung a cry from him; he was rushing at high speed through nothingness and Doyle's hand, so reassuring and solid, was gone, everything was gone... and he was lost...
"Can you tell me who you are, dear?"
Bodie blinked until his eyes focused, and found he was staring up into a craggy face that reminded him of his editor, except his editor was a man and this face definitely belonged to a woman.
"I'm... William." His voice was a croak and his throat ached mightily. He coughed and tried again. "William Bodie."
"I'm Dr. McClean. You've had a nasty time of it."
Bodie realized he was still in the study, he was laying flat on his back on the floor and there was, strangely enough, blue sky overhead. Dr. McClean had a great quantity of gray hair piled up on her head and kind eyes.
"What happened to the roof?"
"That's a wonder. It was raining last night, but the wind that blew up was gale force or more and came out of nowhere. You've lost part of your roof."
Bodie tried to sit up, gasped and didn't need her restraining hand to immediately lay back down. "I feel like I've been run over by a train. What time is it?"
"About 10 a.m. Some workmen saw the debris on the road and came up to check, that's how he got here. We think you've been hit by some slate, though there's no obvious bruising. I'll know more after I've x- rayed you at hospital."
Bodie nodded, found he instantly regretted it. His body ached, his head was swimming, even his teeth hurt. But the feeling of being watched, of the presence unseen was gone - as long gone as the missing roof overhead.
His last thought, before losing consciousness again, was that all in all, he'd never felt happier in his life.
Yorkshire - February 1, 1992
"It's a fine book, Will, a fine book. The best you've ever done." Nikk Murphy's voice lost none of its old Etonian charm, even over the phone line, and Bodie grinned.
"Thanks. I had a lot of... inspiration in writing it."
"I'd like you to come up to town..."
"No, wait. I know you don't like London anymore and it's like pulling teeth to get you out of odd corner of Yorkshire you've buried yourself in, but hear me out. I've found a new artist, he's been doing some great work for us, and I think he'd be perfect to do the cover of your book. But since..."
"But since I have a contract that stipulates that I approve cover art you want me to come to the City to approve him." Bodie couldn't really argue with that. Besides, he found that, for the first time since the roof had blown off his world, both literally and figuratively, the idea of going to London and mixing with people appealed. "All right. I'll take the train up tomorrow morning."
"That's fine, then." Nikk's voice was relieved and pleased. "I think you'll be quite astonished at how good he is. And Will..."
"It really is the best thing you've ever done. I couldn't put it down. Your usual audience may be unhappy at you changing horses, as it were, but I think that this is the one which'll be remembered. Where did you, I mean, how did you get to know about all that letting go of the past section?"
High praise indeed from a man whose usual comment was 'Well, at least it is typed and not too many jelly stains, either, dearie. I suppose it'll sell.'
"I had some help from a couple of good friends who are experts on the subject." Bodie was still smiling as he replaced the receiver on the hook.
February 2, 1992
Nikkolas Murphy's offices were located in Allerton Street, in what once been a regency gentleman's "town" residence. The publishing company had kept the period decor as much as possible, while installing miles of modern computer cable behind the walls and updating the lighting considerably.
Nikk's secretary smiled widely at him and opened the door to Nikk's office, ushering him in. Sunlight was streaming through floor to ceiling windows behind his editor's desk, and for a moment he was dazzled by it, only able to discern that Nikk's figure had come round the desk to greet him.
"Bodie! By god, it's good to see you in person at last! How are the renovations going up at your grandfather's place? Got the new roof, eh?"
Bodie laughed. "Yes, it's all coming along nicely. I've even got the eccentric plumbing updated at last." The sun had gone behind some clouds, and his vision cleared. Nikk was beaming at him.
"Good, good." Nikk waved him into a chair and produced an artist's portfolio with the air of a magician producing a platinum rabbit out of a hat. "Take a look at these."
Bodie obeyed and his eyes widened. "Who..." His voice came out in a whisper. "These are perfect. Who did them?"
"I knew you'd be pleased." Nikk leaned back and punched the intercom on his desk. "Betty, send him in."
Bodie didn't look up as he heard the door open and close. He was completely taken up in studying the colour drawing before him. The play of light on shadow was quite extraordinary, giving the painting a three dimensional quality that was almost unnerving. Planets hung in balance in the background as light and darkness fought for the hero of his book, and the man portrayed was nothing more or less than the man he'd seen in his mind's eye when writing.
"You like the idea? When I read your book, I couldn't get this image out of my head."
Bodie jumped; Nikk grabbed the picture before it hit the floor. Bodie didn't look up, forced himself not to look up.
"Well, what do you think?" The voice prompted again.
Bodie got to his feet, raised his head. He still didn't speak.
The voice belonged to a man of middle height, slender, graceful but well-muscled. He was wearing jeans and a denim workshirt, with a dark grey jacket, and sneakers. He looked like and not like every third man in the street. He was smiling, and had put out his hand as Bodie got to his feet. The smile was playful, knowing, happy. Bodie felt an answering happiness bubble up in him, not having any explanations, not needing any.
The man had the greenest eyes Bodie'd ever seen.
Bodie took the offered hand in his own; the man's grip was firm and warm and reassuring. As it always would be.
The man was grinning from ear to ear, eyes sparkling as he introduced himself. "Hello, William. I'm Ray Doyle."
-- THE END --
Originally published in Free For All, Felix Press, 1992