Whisper of a Kill


Dualities by Suzan Lovett thumbnail

Chapter One

He waited in the shadows silently, patiently. The lessons learned in his trade had been thorough, and of them number one was, bide your time; never, never rush your prey.

Hunching against the cold and drizzle, he glanced up at the little bit of overcast November sky visible between the overhanging buildings. Even the weather would work to his advantage by providing additional cover. They suited each other, he and the night. Both were wrapped in black on the outside, but with him the black went clear through.

His spirits were good. He was close now and the anticipation of the kill beat in his blood.

The recessed doorways and alcoves of the old style architecture provided perfect concealment as he studied the ancient building across the way. It was just coming on six and yellow light poured from two dozen or so windows that faced the street. Focusing his sight on one particular third floor window, he reached inside his leather jacket and retrieved the Browning Highpower. His other hand secured the suppressor from a hidden pocket in his jacket sleeve and with a soft click the weapon was ready. He didn't really expect his target to appear for several hours yet, but in his line of work one always anticipated the unexpected.

Settling the gun snugly inside the special sling built into the lining of his jacket, he flattened further against the wall, prepared to wait.

It was all very amusing, he told himself. They did the same work, and yet, this man and his organization were considered clean, inside the law. They were legitimate and respectable while he was not. That thought darkening his mood a few degrees, he realized the futility of such musings and shook them off. Concentrate on the job at hand, he admonished himself. Job...that's what it was, a job. But for the men in that organization it was a profession. Did having society's authorization really make that much difference? He knew it did and his mood crawled a little further into the black.

He considered the information he had gleaned bit by bit over the past several weeks. He had learned everything about that man and his elite little group. Powerful, they were. Answered to no one except the very highest in the monkey tree. And they were good. Very good. He had to give them that. But he was better, and before the night was over he would prove that. He smiled and grew a little warmer.

Across the way lights began to blink off one by one and a steady stream of people poured out of the front entrance. After the rush only seven windows of CI5 headquarters glowed yellow, that particular third floor window among them.

Does he suspect? No doubt word has leaked, it always does. Maybe that's why he was such a slippery catch. Perhaps he heard a whisper of a kill.

It didn't matter now, because George Cowley's minutes were numbered. Sometime between eight p.m. and midnight, given his non-routine, Cowley would emerge from the building using one of several different doors. Never one to create a pattern was George Cowley, but the suddenly dark office window would signal when. The appearance of Cowley's car and driver would indicate where. When Cowley did emerge, he'd make his way to today's ride. He always varied the route too, but the Browning would be waiting and that would be that.

The job completed, reports would be filed. Within hours of confirmation, final payment would be placed in the proverbial Swiss account. More importantly, good standing with the Cartel would be secure.

The thought brought him little joy. He hated doing their bidding, felt it beneath him. This was his first such assignment. Never before had he taken money to hunt down another man and shoot him from ambush. The term "hit man" played over and over in his head.

He really was too good for that organization, and wanted his skills put to better use. Had he left Africa ten years ago as planned, he might have sold them to Cowley, but.... He swallowed the bitter bile in his throat. It was just another of fate's unkind ironies that instead of working for this man he was going to kill him.

He clamped down hard on those thoughts. It was too late for that. The choice was made, and now was not the time to get stupid...and dead. But in a back room of his mind were the doubts and questions. Always there was that voice wanting to know how he planned to live with himself after. Each night it took a little more scotch to quiet that voice enough to let sleep claim him.

Distracted as he was, he still noticed the moment the third floor window went dark. After checking for passersby, he emerged from his hiding place. The rain had stopped, but he pulled up his collar against the damp, cold wind and slipped across the street.

The unsuspecting driver was dispatched with quiet efficiency then propped into a normal sitting position. Fading back into the shadows he was hidden from view, yet able to see his prey approach. Smiling in admiration, he watched Cowley exit a different door from the previous night and, also keeping in shadow, walk briskly toward the waiting car.

The exact moment to move would be when George Cowley was most vulnerable--when he had one hand on the car door latch and the other filled with the ever present briefcase.

Heart slamming against his chest, he took the last step just as Cowley's hand touched the car door. Shock registered on the older man's face, but it was too late.

The sensation of victory filled him as a vision of Cowley already dead on the ground flashed before his eyes. Then the door to the back room of his mind opened onto hell. It compelled him to step into the light, flip the Browning around his trigger finger and offer it, butt first, to George Cowley.

"Name's Bodie," he said, "I want to work for you."

Chapter Two

Only his heavy breathing betraying him, Bodie stood with gun arm outstretched, holding the Browning loosely, unthreateningly. He did not take his eyes off Cowley as the Controller stared him down for several long minutes. Bodie waited, determined to force Cowley to make the next move.

"My driver?"

"He'll have a sore head, but otherwise he'll be okay."

They might as well have been discussing the weather for all the interest either appeared to show.

Finally, Cowley reached out to accept the proffered weapon. Bodie, mouth dry, stood waiting the Controller's next move.

Once in control of the Browning, Cowley reached into the car for the RT that lay on the seat. Within seconds three men came crashing through the same entrance Cowley had used, guns drawn.

"Ach, put those away," Cowley said, anger and frustration thickening his accent. "I've the situation under control now."

With little wasted movement one man saw to the driver, another scouted the immediate area while the third gave Bodie a quick frisking. Then, hands on his head and surrounded by the three agents, Bodie followed George Cowley back into the building, passing through darkened corridors and finally entering a small room. As soon as the overhead light came on Bodie recognized the space for what it was: an interrogation room.

Bodie submitted to a thorough, impersonal body search from two of the agents, releasing a held breath when he wasn't asked to strip. The taller one relieved Bodie of the contents of his jacket and shirt pockets which contained the Browning's extra magazine, a biro and note pad. Then he took the watch off Bodie's wrist and inspected it.

"Empty 'em," the shorter agent said, pointing at Bodie's trouser pockets.

Lowering his hands slowly, Bodie dug into his pockets and placed the contents on the table--cigarette lighter (he didn't smoke but found a lighter had many uses), Swiss Army knife, hotel key, penlight, handkerchief (his mother's influence and it also had many uses) loose change adding to 76p, wallet containing 63 pounds.

"Permission to search the grounds, Sir?" The third agent requested.

"Do it, though I doubt you'll find anything," Cowley said as he emptied the Browning and held it up for inspection.

"Sir, I don't think you should be alone here with..." the other agent tried to put in.

Cowley favored the agent with a look that would stop anyone dead. "I have already been alone with him, out in the carpark." The Controller didn't add, "And where were you?" He didn't have to.

Paying no more attention to the departing agents, Cowley removed a large ring of keys from his briefcase. Using them to open a wall cupboard, he placed the Browning on a shelf and removed a tape recorder. "You'll have no objections," he stated rather than asked as he began setting up the equipment.

Knowing Cowley expected no answer, Bodie shrugged and made himself as comfortable as possible in the hard, straight-backed chair on his side of the table.

"Interrogation of Mr. Bodie. Tuesday, November 3, 1977, 11:59 p.m. For the record," Cowley continued, "state your full name and any others you have used, your date and place of birth."

"William Andrew Philip Bodie, born January 6, 1950 in Liverpool. No aliases."

Bodie watched with interest as Cowley used a pen to poke through the items on the desk.

"No identification," Cowley stated.

"No identification," Bodie confirmed.

"I'm flattered at the attention," Cowley said abruptly changing the subject, "but tell me, who sent you to kill me?"

"Zafael Cartel." Bodie saw recognition in Cowley's eyes. "They're planning on expanding their routes into England and you're provin' to be a right pain in the arse."

"Go on."

Bodie began explaining the Cartel's purpose and his assignment as Cowley pushed the tape recorder across the desk.

"You had no doubt of success?" Cowley asked when Bodie ran down.

"No, Sir."

"You made no contingency plans, then?"

"Only a fool would be so smug," Bodie replied, knowing where this was leading. Determined to be as straightforward as possible, he began before Cowley had to ask. Giving away his escape plans, Bodie said, "Victoria Station, level two, locker G54 contains a passport, a weapon and 500 pounds."

"And if you had to go to ground?" Cowley pressed.

He'll leave me nothing, Bodie thought, but was not surprised. "Liverpool, 1903 Huntington Place, garage in rear, vehicle with another passport, weapons, money and supplies." Letting out a heavy sigh, Bodie slid down in his chair.

"Two passports at least, and no aliases?" Cowley queried, clearly disbelieving. At any other time, Bodie would have smiled at his own, old joke.

"William Bodie. Andrew Bodie. Philip Bodie."

Cowley frowned. "Only two escape routes?"

"Yes, Sir."

Luckily for Bodie, the supply of tape gave out about the same time as his voice. It was just after 4:00 a.m.

Bodie was relieved when Cowley signaled a halt. He noted that the Scot was showing little sign of fatigue; just the opposite, George Cowley seemed exhilarated by his brush with death. Bodie watched as Cowley went to the door, opened it and called for more tapes. Within seconds an agent from the carpark, the tall one, appeared and set four cellophane wrapped cassettes on the desk.

"Take these we've finished with and find someone to transcribe them. And Morrow, some coffee please."

"Coffee coming right up, Sir." The agent picked up the tapes and headed for the door, only to turn back at Cowley's next question.

"I take it your search revealed nothing."

"No, Sir. Nothing." The agent's eyes flicked to Bodie and then back to Cowley.

Leaning back in his chair with a studied casualness, Bodie could guess what the agent was thinking, but the other man left without saying any more.

The break was short. With a mug of hot coffee between his hands, Bodie was talking again.

"Now," Cowley said, "start from the beginning. I want the structure and principals of Zafael Cartel."

As he repeated the information, Bodie cynically wondered how much of this information coincided with what George Cowley already knew.

The room was warm, and around 6:00 a.m. Bodie could not help himself; he began nodding off. But Cowley was having none of it. Chin resting on the palm of his hand, Bodie came abruptly awake when the supporting elbow was knocked from under him.

"You were saying, Mr. Bodie, how they actually plan to get the drugs into Britain."

Searching through the cobwebs in his brain, Bodie recited the routes.

By 8:00 a.m. fog filtered sunlight began seeping through the small window, announcing daybreak. Bodie barely noticed as he tried to concentrate on Cowley's questions.

Aroused by the aroma of fresh coffee and bacon, Bodie realized he had dozed off again. Awake now, he assessed the scene playing out before him.

Two new occupants were setting up a takeaway breakfast as George Cowley gave them orders for the day. Bodie was too hungry to care. "Permission to eat, ah, Sir," he asked, interrupting.

Cowley replied with a wave of his hand and Bodie reached for a plate of food.

"Betty's already transcribed several tapes," the Controller continued. "Get the information from her, then you two set about checking it out.... Come in," he said, interrupting himself, "ah, 2.9, good lad, you can see to Mr. Bodie here. He's to have a shower and shave," the Controller favored Bodie with a glance as he continued bolting down breakfast, "but not to be out of your sight. Have him back here in thirty minutes. Then you can have a look at his hotel room." Cowley tossed Bodie's keys to the tall newcomer.

"Yes, Sir. Want me to fetch anything back here?"

Bodie paused at the question and watched as Cowley hesitated for a moment, obviously considering the answer. "Retrieve all identification, monies, keys and the like. Leave the personal belongings--I want it to appear occupied," Cowley ordered. "Report back with what you find and arrange for a tap on the phone in case anyone tries to contact our Mr. Bodie."

The agent nodded to the Controller and started for the door. Gulping the last swallow of coffee, Bodie followed.

"Is 2.9 your first name or last?" Bodie queried the agent as they walked.

Bodie received an easy smile in reply. "If it's too much for you, try Murphy."

"John W. Murphy, III, of the Bantor Place Murphys?" Bodie inquired. He knew his point was not lost when the smile on 2.9's face froze.

Grateful for the privacy provided by the shower cubicle, Bodie let the steaming water pour over him. Somewhere in the back of his mind questions were trying to form. Questions he had been ignoring since his split-second decision in the carpark. Questions about the wisdom of his decision and what the Cartel would do when word got back. The roiling in the pit of his stomach punched home the foolishness of having such thoughts now. He scrubbed his skin hard and when the water turned cold he stayed under the stream until he began to shiver.

Long months in the jungle had made Bodie fastidious about his personal hygiene. He considered putting on dirty, sweaty clothes a mild form of torture. Having no choice however, he did it quickly, had a shave, then trailed Murphy back to the same interrogation room. Cowley wasn't there so the two settled down and concentrated on emptying the coffee pot.

"Just got in from Africa, I understand. Kinshasa, wasn't it?" Murphy asked.

Bodie, who had been contemplating the swirls in his coffee cup, looked up at the question. These were the first words spoken to him in a conversational, friendly tone since he had come into CI5 headquarters, but he was not fooled. He knew the technique and that Murphy was acting under orders from Cowley. The Controller had kept at Bodie all night using a harsh, no-nonsense, sometimes threatening investigative tone, never letting Bodie relax. Now, he thought, after a shave, shower and breakfast, comes the soft-spoken friendly type to engage in some seemingly general conversation and lull me into talking and revealing any inconsistencies in my story. It was the old "good-guy/bad-guy" scenario, but Bodie wasn't buying it. "Anything I've got to say, I'll say to Cowley."

Murphy shrugged. "Suit yourself." With that he picked up the empty coffee pot and left the room.

It did not surprise Bodie that within ten minutes Cowley was back, also shaved, showered and freshly dressed. The interrogation began again. It was all the same questions in different order and interspersed with new ones. Bodie had to admit that he had not been wrong about the Controller of CI5; this man knew what he was doing.

"What time and ah, day is it, Sir?" Bodie asked, after a long session.

George Cowley favored him with a searching look then glanced at his watch. "3:06 p.m., Thursday, November 5. You do know the year?"

Guy Fawkes day, he realized and felt a strange empathy with the wicker man at the bonfire.

"Yes, Sir, at least I think I do." Bodie rubbed his eyes and struggled to his feet. "Permission to walk a bit, Sir?" he asked as he tried to stretch the kinks out of his tired, cramped muscles.

"Granted," Cowley muttered and Bodie watched as the Controller changed the tape in the machine and added the full one to the stack on the desk. Then Cowley stood. "I will return shortly," he said, leaving Bodie on his own.

Alone in the room, Bodie began a quick routine of isometrics. Ten minutes later he felt alert enough to continue. Just hang on for a little longer, he told himself. Cowley would have to run out of questions soon.

Bodie retook his chair and stared at that stack of tapes on the desk knowing they represented the last thirty-six hours of his life. He thought about the damaging evidence they contained against the Cartel. Those tapes represented his death warrant--dictated in his own voice.

"I've better things to do than listen to you snore, Mr. Bodie."

Bodie would have liked to punch George Cowley's smug face, but he knew that this too was part of the strategy. Cowley had slept last night while Bodie had undergone another interrogation with fresh agents. Cowley was trying to get him angry enough to speak without thinking, to slip up. But Africa had prepared him for this also. Using his best tone, Bodie said, "Sorry, Sir, can't seem to stay awake."

Cowley surprised him by turning off the tape recorder. "Then I guess it's time you had some sleep. I'll get nothing more from you until you do." Cowley reached for the intercom.

As he was led from the room Bodie inquired, "Any chance of getting fresh clothes from my hotel room, Sir?"

Bodie waited several seconds, but when he received no response he followed his escorts out of the room.

Bodie woke gasping for air, not knowing if the perceived threat was real or dreamed. Sitting straight up he quickly glanced around the room to get his bearings and he remembered being alone in the squad room. He was wet with perspiration, his shirt sticking to his chest. Lying back down on the couch to catch his breath he knew there was no point in getting up to check the door. It was locked from the outside. The clock on the wall showed 10:00 a.m. Have to be Friday, the sixth, he concluded as his breathing evened out.

The clammy feeling finally drove him up and to the windows. Only one would open, and only part-way. Ironically it over-looked the carpark three floors below. He could see the spot where he'd been standing, remembered exactly where Cowley had been. There lies the place, he thought blackly, where William Bodie took leave of his senses. He smiled thinly and turned away.

The room did have a electric kettle and tea makings, so he helped himself. Soon, he knew, someone would be back to fetch him and the interrogation would begin again. His stomach growled as the kettle whistled. Scrounging through the cupboard, Bodie located a rather worse-for-wear swiss roll and ate it.

Just as he was about to relieve himself out the partially opened window the door opened. A woman, "Betty", he remembered an agent calling her, gestured for him to follow her.

"Fine, luv," he said, "but I need to stop at the Gents first."

"Certainly," she replied, "and you'll find a holdall with the clean clothes you asked for. Mr. Cowley says you're to have a shower." Betty smiled.

Bodie returned her smile gratefully as he realized just how awful he must look and smell. In the shower room he found a nondescript gym bag and it contained everything he needed: a razor, a suit of fresh clothes and toiletries. As Bodie sorted things out he could hear someone take up guard duty outside the door.

Feeling much better, Bodie found himself facing the door of the interrogation room. He straightened and mentally prepared himself for what was on the other side of the door. As he expected, there sat Cowley with his trusty tape recorder. Bodie was beginning to hate that machine.

"This time," Cowley began, "let's start with your background. Tell me about growing up in Liverpool."

Bodie lapsed into his standard response to this question. "Lived with me mum, dad and sister--and granny while she was alive. Dad was a meat porter. Regular working class family."

Cowley called a halt at seven p.m. "I have a dinner engagement, but we'll pick this up around nine. Would you prefer your dinner here or in the squad room?"

"Squad room, Sir. Not so claustrophobic."

"Very well." With that Cowley shut off the tape machine and led the way.

"Walker, have you had your dinner?" Cowley asked of the slender blond who was the room's only other occupant.

"No, Sir. Was just about to call a takeaway."

"Get enough for two. You're in charge of Mr. Bodie here till I return. He's not to be out of your sight, or have contact with anyone."

"Yes, Sir. I understand."

As the Controller turned to leave Bodie saw him almost collide with a blur rushing in the door. The blur stopped short in front of George Cowley and Bodie stared, intrigued at the interaction between the two.

"Well, 4.5, explain yourself."

"Sorry, Sir. Just goin' to write up me report before goin' off duty."

"Be about it then, but not in this room."

"What? Well, where then?"

"You're meant to be one of Her Majesty's finest; ferret something out. And next time enter a room properly."

"Yes, Sir," the new man said to Cowley's back. Then, when the Controller had gone he turned to Walker. "What's up his nose?"

"Lack of sleep," Walker said. "Be a mate and stay here while I order some takeaway, will you?" He turned to Bodie. "Anything you can't stand?"

"Not when it comes to food and birds," Bodie replied. Walker nodded and left the room.

"Name's Doyle," the newcomer said as he plugged in the kettle.

"Bodie," Bodie replied and he tried to reconcile the scene in front of him with Cowley's words. This skinny, unkempt bloke was one of Her Majesty's finest, and by Cowley's own words? Perhaps then Bodie did have a better chance of being accepted into CI5 than he had originally thought.

"Want some?" Doyle asked as he readied a cup.

"Yeh, thanks," Bodie answered casually, but did not take his eyes off the man. By the way this Doyle moved Bodie had no doubt that the agent could react instantly when the occasion presented itself. He seemed poised on the balls of his feet, as if always prepared for action. And the clothes could be for undercover work. But as his eyes traveled down the tee-shirted back, muscled arms working at making tea, shoulder holster pulling tight with every move, as they rested for a moment on the snug, bum-hugging jeans, then moved down the muscled thighs stretching beneath the denim, Bodie wondered, what kind of undercover work?

As Doyle turned, a full mug in each hand, and advanced toward him, Bodie had his first real chance to study this man face on. The effect was disconcerting as Bodie got caught up in a pair of wide-set eyes that seemed to change from hazel to green as Doyle came toward him. His looks could not be considered classically handsome, and the scarred right cheek added to--rather than detracted from--a truly remarkable face.

Doyle set the tea in front of Bodie just as Walker returned. "Guess I'll go ferret me out a space like the Cow said. Cíao."

"Yeh," Bodie answered, "and thanks for the tea." He motioned with his cup then took a sip.

After a halfway decent Chinese takeaway Bodie managed to catch an hour's kip before Walker shook him awake. "He's back, mate, and ready to go again."

Bodie did not have to ask who "he" was.

The questions didn't change, just more, more, more of the same. Again and again Cowley forced him to repeat the information, coming at it from every direction, leaving no area untouched.

"...Abdullah, I told you before, Rahman Abdullah!" Bodie snapped, then sighed in bone-weary frustration. "Sorry, Sir, just tired."

"Aye, Laddie, me as well."

The change in the Controller's tone brought Bodie instantly alert. He knew that it meant another change in Cowley's tactics. Sure enough Cowley sat back in his chair and loosened his tie. "Tell me," he said in a conversational voice, "what made you decide to turn against Cartel Zafael?"

Bodie leaned back in his own chair as he tried to compose his thoughts. The words "turn against" were not lost on him. Even though Bodie knew that Cowley was baiting him yet again by calling into account his loyalty and integrity, it still stung. Can you ever really be trusted? the Controller was asking.

Knowing he had to tell Cowley the truth, Bodie chose his words carefully. "Was too close to home," he said after several seconds. "I never had a desire to hurt my own country or countrymen. Over there, it felt like they were still fighting for a civilized life for everyone. At least, in the beginning I believed I was helping. Like the French Revolution or Yanks' civil war," Bodie shrugged. "I felt there was some purpose to it all. Then they started asking me to kill not because some ruler wanted to oppress people but so they could run drugs." He did not tell Cowley how just thinking about it had turned his stomach sour.

Bodie looked up to find George Cowley staring at him. "Perhaps we had better call a halt for a while," was all he said.

Bodie's relief was short-lived as Cowley got up and walked to the window. After staring out into the darkness, he came back to lean across the desk, looming over the younger man. Bodie began to perspire under the scrutiny. He felt a large, hard lump forming in his stomach.

"I've just one more question for now, Laddie." Keeping his intense blue eyes fixed on Bodie, George Cowley said, "The key question, Mr. Bodie. Why am I still alive?"

Instantly the lump went from the pit of Bodie's stomach to the back of his throat and doubled in size. He had known the question would come, had thought he would be prepared for it. He was wrong.

Bodie knew the answer he gave now would decide his future. The first crisis had come when he'd handed over his weapon. Then, once past those first few seconds with George Cowley, Bodie knew that CI5's Controller would glean every bit of information from him. Now, after all the hours of interrogation, that goal had been reached and it was time for George Cowley to exercise his options.

Bodie's mind spun with the possibilities. Given CI5's mandate, Cowley could have him locked away on some technicality which no one would ever question. He wouldn't even put it past the man to have him stuffed into a box and shipped back to Africa. Or the Controller could simply turn him loose and put out the word that he'd grassed. In either of the latter cases, the Cartel would solve the problem most efficiently.

The thought of spending several years in a damp English prison made Bodie shiver, yet he knew the very real chance of Cowley's choosing such an option. The Controller might also decide to keep Bodie around CI5, using his brain and brawn, but never allowing him the honor and prestige of agent status. That, to Bodie, would be the worst fate of all.

Bodie's hands were clammy and perspiration covered his forehead. He knew Cowley's eyes were still on him, waiting. Cowley wanted an answer, wanted the truth. Bodie would have to give that now, as best he could.

Taking a deep breath Bodie looked up into Cowley's eyes, then glanced at the tape recorder and back up at Cowley. After a slight pause Cowley reached over and shut off the machine. "Now, Mr. Bodie, why didn't you kill me?"

"Because you're the only one who could give me a chance to wear the white hat." Bodie caught the flicker of surprise in Cowley's eyes.

Knowing he had only this one opportunity, Bodie didn't stop to think or choose his words.

"Want to be able to stop lying to myself."

"Go on," Cowley prodded.

"Only know one thing, don't I? Weapons, hand-to-hand combat, explosives. I'm good at what I do. Not much call for good jobs though, I mean you don't see my type of work called for in the adverts, now do you? After I jumped ship at Dakar I spent a couple of years doing shit work, anything I could find. Then I took this job hauling 'cargo'. Knew it was guns, so I made it my business to learn to use 'em. Found I had a knack for it. Hooked meself up with some lads who knew their business. Got meself in good with the ring leader, followed 'im around and learned everything I could. Next thing I know I'm fightin' a war. Believed I was doing some good, then had to lie to meself to keep believing it. After a while that got harder and harder to do. Hell, one week we're allied with group A shooting at group B, and the next week it's the other way around. There was no 'us' and 'them' anymore. After a while it's impossible to tell yourself you're fighting for some high ideal.

"Couldn't take it anymore, didn't re-up when my time came, was planning on coming home, but...plans got changed." Bodie shrugged. "Tried going legit for a while. Was workin' as a bouncer, some body-guard jobs, that sort of thing. Then I 22

ran into some of the old mob and went back into the jungle. Last year I joined up with the Cartel--rationalized it by telling myself that it was just more gun running to the highest bidder. That worked for a while and I could look down at the lads running drugs and taking the hit jobs. But with these 'business men' you have to keep proving yourself. That only gets you in deeper and deeper. You're suspect if you seem too happy in one spot; it makes the higher ups nervous. They start putting on the pressure and force you into a corner. That's how I ended up stalking you."

Bodie cleared his throat as he reached for the water glass in front of him. Swallowing all it contained, he stole a glance at Cowley. Bodie was not surprised to find that the icy blue eyes gave no clue to the Controller's thoughts. George Cowley was too practiced at his art to give anything away. Instead he just sat waiting for Bodie to continue.

Bodie's next words, though forming in his mind, stuck in his throat. It was as if these words were weapons and he was about to voluntarily deliver them into the hands of the enemy to be used against him.

Startled by a low noise, Bodie looked across the table to see Cowley shift in his chair. Knowing the impatience this action implied, Bodie forced himself to continue.

"Trailing you like I was, I got to know some of what you were about, what you and your men did." Bodie forced himself to meet Cowley's eyes. "Seemed to me that there isn't much difference in what we do. The difference is in why we do it." Bodie shrugged self-consciously. "You and yours wear the white hats, and I want one."

Chapter Three

"You what!" Ray Doyle stared at George Cowley in disbelief. "You can't be serious."

"Since when have I taken to playing the jester, Doyle?"

"Cowley...ah, Mr. Cowley..., Sir, you can't mean this. Some hired gun tries to kill you and because he couldn't go through with it, you want to give him a job. It's ludicrous...Sir. It's a set-up."

"Sit down, Doyle, and listen. For all practical purposes, as of 11:37 p.m. on November 3, I was a dead man. Mr. Bodie had me in his sights. And where were you and the rest of my so-called agents while he was stalking me? Did any of you notice anything amiss? Don't interrupt," Cowley said forestalling Doyle's explanation. "I've spent the last three days listening to this man. He is a wealth of information, both on the organization that hired him and our own shortcomings...."

"You can't trust what he says, Sir. You'll never be able to...."

"Enough, Doyle. That's why I'm putting you on the job. You will work with Bodie. You will watch and question and track down every lead. Then report to me."

Doyle threw himself back in his chair, auburn curls bouncing. "Why me?" he demanded.

"Because, Doyle, I know you. When all your indignation is spent, you'll listen to him and you'll be fair. If you give him a clean bill of health, we can all rest easy in our beds."

Staring at George Cowley, his face still radiating his feelings on this matter, Doyle accepted the offered glass of scotch. "I'll start reading the transcripts of the tapes...."

"No, you will not," Cowley said flatly. "Do your own."

"But," Doyle sputtered, "why...? Comparison," he said answering his own question.

"Very good, Doyle. Now, first of all, you will move into a flat with Bo--"

"What? You want me to what?" The still-full glass hit the desk with a thud.

"Is your hearing failing, man? I said you and Bodie will be sharing a flat. I want you with him at all times. We both know the Cartel will not let this insult pass...."

"Retaliation," Doyle stated flatly.

"Exactly. And this organization's budget does not allow for around the clock protection for such as Mr. Bodie. Therefore, I want you guarding his back."

"His back!" Doyle was on his feet again. "Who'll be guarding mine?"

"I will."

Doyle turned at the words and their eyes caught. Then like equally charged forces, they repelled. Now that department scuttlebutt and George Cowley had filled him in who and what Bodie was, Doyle made no attempt to disguise his contempt.

"William Bodie, Ray Doyle," Cowley said by way of introduction as Bodie entered the room.

Bodie took two steps forward, hand outstretched. Knowing Cowley was watching and evaluating, Doyle copied the move. Hands clasped and the already flowing current ignited.

Nodded heads substituted for verbal greetings, but Doyle did not for an instant believe that Cowley was fooled by their overly polite actions.

"You have your orders, 4.5." Cowley's head went down, concentrating on the other work demanding his attention.

Recognizing the futility of further conversation, Doyle shook his head and headed for the door.

Doyle called by the housing office. He made arrangements for the use of one of CI5's vacant flats, ordered supplies, and signed papers. Those chores finished, he accepted the keys and stalked out of the building knowing the other man had no choice but to follow.

After a coldly silent drive of twenty minutes Doyle let them into their "new" home for a look around. The front door opened into a good sized lounge, with electric fire. To the left was a bedroom, on the right they found the kitchen, bath and finally the second bedroom at the end of the hall.

Doyle was relieved to have the bedrooms at opposite ends of the flat. At least, he hold himself, we won't have to listen to each other snore.

"Not bad," Bodie stated. "CI5 does well by its lads."

Doyle suppressed several negative comments. "Flip for the bedroom nearest the loo." He dug into his jeans for a coin.

Bodie won the toss and Doyle swore under his breath.

"I'm hungry," Bodie said, obviously deciding it was best to ignore Doyle's annoyance. "How about fish and chips or something, then go for our gear. That suit you, Doyle?"

"Yeh," Doyle muttered and made for the door. Heading for his choice of restaurant, he thought about the two of them going after their belongings. He wasn't keen on taking Bodie to his flat, but he realized that if Bodie was as good as George Cowley believed he was, it really didn't matter.

Doyle swung the Escort into an available spot and made for the restaurant. Once more leaving Bodie to follow or not.

"You gonna tell me you hate Chinese?" Doyle asked after they were seated.

"Would I be here if I did?"

So, Doyle thought, it's gonna be like that. Christ, what's the Cow got me into this time?

At Bodie's suggestion, they decided on a dinner-for-three and keeping the conversation limited to "please pass the whatever," emptied every dish. Bodie proved as proficient with chopsticks as Ray.

It was dark when they exited and headed for Doyle's.

"Want help?" Bodie asked. "Or maybe you don't want the place contaminated."

"Earn your keep," Doyle snapped as he slammed the car door.

With the boot full of Doyle's necessities, they headed for Bodie's hotel.

It was a rather small place in a very respectable, read expensive, area near the Thames. Doyle noted the exclusive address as he circled the block. After the second pass he said, "I make two blokes outside the pub across the way and two more in the black Escort down the street."

Bodie concurred. "I don't think we should risk another pass-by."

"Agreed. They'll spot us sure if they haven't already. Anything in there you can't live without?"

"Not really. Clothes can be replaced." And anything else of value, he thought, is safely locked away.

"You willing to just leave your gear then, at least for now?"

"Yeh, I think that's best."

"Tomorrow," Doyle said, "we'll get an expense chit from Cowley, and do some shopping."

"Doyle, I don't need Cowley's chit for clothes, or anything."

Doyle was amused by the hint of anger in the merc's response.

"Oh yeh, I forgot. You just got paid for a job--partial payment anyway." Doyle's tone said he clearly hadn't.

"Matter of fact, I did," Bodie said. "But I don't need that either."

"Africa must pay well."

"Better than CI5. We goin' to jaw here all night, or can we buy me a toothbrush?"

Back at the flat Doyle called in a report before disappearing into the bedroom to unpack his three holdalls.

Returning to the lounge, he found it empty. A quick glance in the kitchen found Bodie opening two lagers.

The ex-merc looked up. "Look, Doyle," Bodie said, handing Doyle an opened tin. "I see what you're saying. In your shoes, I'd feel the same. But we're stuck with the circumstances and each other, so let's try not to get too far up each other's nose." Without waiting for a response, the he left the room.

Doyle was left alone holding his beer. He took a long swallow and tried to straighten out his tangled thoughts. He didn't have much success except to admit that Bodie was right on at least one count; they were stuck with the situation, for the time being anyway.

Doyle realized that his fear lay not in what Bodie might do to him as an individual. That made no sense. Bodie had had his chance at Cowley, and for that matter, all the agents in CI5. What worried Doyle was what Bodie might do with information he picked up on the organization. As far as Doyle was concerned, Bodie represented one great big security leak, and why George Cowley couldn't see that was a mystery. What's the Cow really up to? Doyle wondered.

Cowley wouldn't even give him a fact sheet on Bodie. "Question him yourself," the Controller had said. Well, Doyle would do just that, and he was confident that when he finished with this ex-merc, Africa would again look good to him. Whatever or whoever he was, CI5 was no place for this intruder.

Bodie resisted the temptation to slam the bedroom door. He closed it with a soft click wishing it was the world he was shutting out, not just his contrary keeper. Finally alone and able to relax, he was overwhelmed with the realization of what a mistake he had made, a mistake of gigantic proportions. Slipping off his shoes, he flopped onto the bed and stared at the ceiling.

Whatever had he been thinking, he wondered. He had hoped for a decent shake, looked forward to a good life; finally on the side of right. But if Doyle was anything to judge by, they would never trust him, or accept him as part of their closed club. It was more likely that Cowley and Doyle would pump out every last bit of information he possessed, then give him the boot.

Luckily, he had had enough sense to hold back some information, not give everything despite the long interrogation. For his own survival, he would stick to that strategy and dole out the prize bits only when he had to. He'd know those times just by looking into their eyes. Bodie leaned up on one elbow and took a long swallow of lager. It was always the eyes that gave them away. Cowley's would flash cold blue ice, and Doyle was even easier to read. He'd poise on the balls of his feet, nostrils flaring and his eyes would flash hot green fire.

In some things he found the man amazingly easy to read and he knew Doyle suspected him of playing a double game. Maybe he would even do what Doyle was thinking. He would go back to the Cartel with information. He could tell them that after trailing the CI5 mob, he saw that Cowley's death would solve nothing. The government would send in another controller and things would go on as before. The Cartel might doubt him, but who was to really argue his story? Besides, he would have a lot of information to placate them.

Satisfied that he still held a few aces, Bodie was able to relax and think about sleep. He drained the can and aimed the empty at the waste-paper basket and the Russian judges gave it a six.

Doyle woke to the smell of frying bacon and perking coffee. With some effort, he rolled out of bed, pulled on his jeans, and followed his nose to the kitchen.

"Miss Domesticity?"

Bodie raised the spatula in warning, but Doyle held up a hand of peace.

"I'm not complaining, I'm not." He ducked out to the loo and when he came back Bodie was already at the table digging into the full plate in front of him. Doyle helped himself to eggs, bacon, toast and coffee. "Good," he said with his mouth full. "Very good."

"What's on today?" Bodie asked, ignoring the off-handed compliment.

"Twenty questions," Doyle said, waving a packet that Cowley had sent via an early morning run with Murphy, "then checkin' the answers."

"More like twenty thousand questions," Bodie said, emptying his coffee cup, then getting up for a refill. "I'll need some time to get my shopping done."

"Yeh, we can manage that."

Breakfast finished, they sat at the table silently sipping coffee till the pot was empty.

"I'll tidy up," Doyle volunteered, "since you cooked. Then we'll begin."

Bodie made another pot of coffee while Doyle cleaned. Finished, Doyle asked, "Where do you want to sit?"

"Lounge--more comfortable."

Doyle agreed and moved the paraphernalia. Bodie followed with the fresh coffee.

"Where do you want to start?" Bodie asked as he sprawled on the settee.

"From the beginning."

They went at it steadily with only loo breaks until hunger drove them out. After a quick lunch at a nearby restaurant they drove to Regent Street. Bodie had very specific stores in mind, not to mention very specific clothes. He also had, Doyle noted with interest, several bank drafts and charge accounts.

Several hours later they arrived back at the flat laden with packages. Hearing the telephone ringing as they neared the door, Doyle took the steps two at a time, managed the door key, then sprinted across the room.

"Hello--hello. Damn," he said to the dial tone in his ear.

"They'll call back," Bodie stated, scooting the packages he couldn't carry across the lounge with his foot.

They made a pot of tea and went back to their assigned roles; Doyle asking the questions, Bodie providing the answers.

The phone rang again and Bodie listened to the one-sided conversation that told him absolutely nothing: Doyle. Yes. Right. Yes. Right. Fine. He was quickly bored enough to rest his head against the back of the settee and consider a quick kip, but Doyle rang off.

"That was Cowley on the heavyweights our boys picked up 'round your hotel last night," Doyle said, replacing the receiver. "Two men in the pub, two in the Escort. Our lads nicked 'em."

"Identify any of them?"

"Yeh, locals--cheap muscle, and not very good. They all talked, but didn't know much, now did they?"

"Suspect not. Hired by someone who also knows nothing. Cowley say anything else?"

"Not much of a talker, our George. Just wanted to know how it was going. Oh," Doyle added, "he did say to tell you that the information you gave him on Charlie checked out. Said you'd understand."

Bodie nodded absently and the two went back to the job at hand.

A pattern developed as one day turned into another. Taking advantage of their easy routine, the two slept until past eight then went to a nearby park for a thirty minute run. Back at the flat they took their time with breakfast and showers since it was a luxury neither often enjoyed. After working steadily for a few hours on the files CI5 already had on Zafael Cartel, they broke for a late lunch then spent a couple of hours checking out Bodie's local leads. At opening time they would have a pint before finding a nice place for dinner, unless there was a good match on. Then they'd get takeaway and eat in front of the telly. All this time both were watching for any subtle indications that someone was about to make a move on Bodie. After dinner, Doyle would write his report and then re-join Bodie in front of the TV.

"You have to read all those newspapers?" Bodie asked as he watched Doyle divide his attention between the screen and several local and worldwide news sheets.

"Yeh. The Cow expects us to keep current, he does."

"He know you call him that?"

"I suspect so. But you won't catch any of us saying it within his hearing, now will you?"

Any impartial observer would have quickly noted that their behavior often resembled that of two jungle cats facing off in uncharted territory. Each swaggering about hoping to impress the other, all the while sniffing out the other's weakness and strength, hoping to gain ground with each new discovery. To observe was the plan, watch and take in all the nuances of behavior the other would give without being asked, then when the time seemed right, dart in and try to claim a little more territory, always keeping one's own flank well guarded.

Whatever his personal thoughts, Doyle did as his profession and George Cowley required of him; he questioned this Bodie in a neutral manner. His opinions of the man and his deeds he confined to the reports that were for Cowley's eyes only. Bodie, for his part, gave only what he considered necessary to keep CI5's Controller happy.

It was usually past midnight when the two headed their separate ways down the hall.

"What's up your nose?" Doyle snapped when Bodie didn't answer his twice asked question.

"Just thinking," Bodie mused. "Openin' time was twenty minutes ago."

Doyle glanced at his watch in surprise. "We have been at it a while. Let's call it a day."

Doyle noted that this statement brought a smile to the ex-merc's face.

Showered and fresh, their moods were elevated with anticipation of a Saturday night ahead of them as they walked to the nearby Black Gander.

The pub was crowded with happy, relaxed people. The two pushed their own concerns aside and joined in the merriment. With pints and birds plentiful, the hours passed unheeded.

Doyle divided his time between two brunettes and did a double-take when he noticed the leggy blonde who had draped herself around Bodie.

He maneuvered himself and his two dancing partners in for a closer look, then, when he caught Bodie's eye, excused himself for a trip to the loo.

"Not thinking of settin' up housekeeping, are you?" Doyle asked when Bodie joined him.

"Well, she did invite me home to meet her bed. I don't suppose you could be a mate about this?"

"Just call me the Cow's grass," Doyle stated with a wide smile.

Bodie winced at the very bad pun, then asked, "Am I allowed any privacy?"

"Only in the sanctity of your own little room." Doyle's smile widened further.

Bodie walked away and avoided Doyle the rest of the evening. For his part, Doyle slipped out and made a phone call.

The lights blinking and a "last call" put an end to the festivities. After telling several lies the two regretfully untangled themselves from their respective beauties and headed back toward the flat.

"You prefer blondes, too?" Bodie asked, not appearing to carry a grudge over his loss.

"What makes you think that?"

"Well, I caught you giving my Liesel the once over more than a few times, now didn't I?"

"Just natural interest," was Doyle's comeback. "Sometimes that's all this job allows." Mentally he noted the name, 'Liesel.'

"You trying to discourage me from joining up?"

"Just stating facts, mate. Just stating facts."

"Yeh. I've noticed our lack of a proper social life. Such a shame too, she's crazy about me and I hate disappointing such a beautiful bird."

"She'll live," Doyle told him. "Uncle Georgie gave me strict orders. You're not to be out of my sight for more than a trip to the loo--and then I'd better be able to hear you," Doyle finished as he maneuvered the key from his pocket and let them into the flat.

It had not yet gone midnight, but Doyle was not surprised when Bodie headed to his room. Doyle did the same.

Waiting a few minutes until the flat was quiet, Doyle retrieved his RT. He plugged in an earpiece thereby insuring some privacy before making contact. "Four-five to Alpha One. Come in Alpha One."

"Alpha One went home." It was Murphy and his tone was surly.

"Got you out of a warm bed, did he, Murph?"

Murphy muttered some obscenity at Doyle who only snickered and asked, "Camera set up and ready?"

"Of course," Murphy confirmed. "It's in the closet. I'm across the street with a view of the front door. Now would you mind telling me what's going on?"

"Well, I do believe our ex-merc and hopeful young agent is about to have a visitor."

"Yeh, I figured that when I heard the name. What I want to know is how you got him to invite her back to his own flat--with you there. I can't believe--never mind. There's a car pulling up. Yeh, here comes our blonde bombshell now."

"Is she alone?" was Doyle's next question.

"Yeh, alone," Murphy confirmed. "Should I tell the backup to stand down?"

"Not yet. I checked the front door--latch's been taken off. How's the picture?"

"Fine. Bodie just lying on the bed. Doyle, what do you figure they've got planned?"

"Exchange of information, what else. She's probably working for the Cartel Zafael same as Bodie. Last reports put her in Africa. I kept too close a watch on them in the pub so they decided to try this. Why? You thinking they might be after me? That doesn't make any sense."

"No, I don't think that, neither does Cowley. He said...."

"Never mind," Doyle interrupted. "There's the door now--got 'em, Murph? Murph?!"

It was thirty long seconds later before Murphy replied. "Yeh, got 'em now. Coming in clear. Hey."

"What's going on?"

"Doyle, they're exchanging information all right, but it's very personal."


"Those two are in a clinch that may just melt the camera lens."

"Bloody hell!" was Doyle's only comment. "Still at it?" he asked Murphy when the silence had gone on for several seconds.

"Yeh," Murphy said with little enthusiasm. "If they don't come up for air soon, you're goin' to have to go in there and do CPR."

"You see, Murph, I told you they knew each other. Hell, this could mean we're in for a wait. How long do you suppose it's been since our ex-merc there had any? I mean with him stalking Cowley for the past few weeks he probably didn't have time for much else."

"What gets my goat," said Murphy, "is that we didn't catch the slightest scent of him. Suppose he really is that good?"

"Hell no!" Doyle said angrily. "At least, I don't like to think so. What I can't figure out is what the hell Cowley is doing."

"Me either. Asked him the other day."

"You asked him!" Doyle blanched at the thought. Murph, sometimes I think you have a death wish. Well, what'd he say?"

"Said that in our business men as good as Bodie don't come along very often. Said he was a natural...oh, bloody hell."

"What now?"

"They're undressing each other." Murphy's whisper was raspy over the RT, "Good lord, they're crawling into bed. Oh my, that's nice," he muttered, voice growing distracted.

"Just keep filming!" Doyle said, not sounding nearly as confident as he would have liked.

"Doyle, they're really going at it. This isn't my idea of fun." He snickered. "Sex is a participation sport, and I'm on the wrong end of this bloody lens."

"Shit!" It was all Doyle could think to say.

"Jesus! I gotta try that some time."

"What? Murph, what?"

"I'm not explaining," Murphy told him. "You watch the tape. You plannin' on keeping at this all night?"

"Yes. Shit!" Doyle flopped onto the bed. "What a mess." Doyle waited through several seconds of silence broken only by Murphy's quiet breathing. "What're they doing now?" he asked.

"You got ears. Listen." Murphy plugged Doyle into the circuit.

"Christ," Doyle muttered.

The two agents listened, and Doyle knew that Murphy's eyes must be glued to the monitor.

"I can see why she decided to get laid first," Murphy stated, a little out of breath.

"Now what the hell's that supposed to mean?" Doyle demanded.

"You get a look at him sometime, then ask me."

"I don't mean that," he grated, refusing to think about the implications, "what did you mean by, 'first'?"

"I was just thinking that they'll fuck first and talk later, that's all. Why, what are you thinking?"


"You sure, Doyle? Look if you've any ideas...."

"Hell no, Murph, I was just wondering...oh, never mind."

The erotic noises in his earpiece made Doyle get up and pace. "Christ, Murph, haven't they finished yet?"

"Hey, our lad can go; got stamina, he has."

"Great. This is great, just great! The Cow's gonna love this. I promise him information and get all set up for what? A video nasty."

"A damned good video nasty," Murphy breathed. "Well, Doyle, you promised him action, and he's getting that. Oh, maybe not the type he wanted, but...."

"Shut up, Murph."

"Oh boy, here we go."

"What? What?"

"False alarm. They're just changing position."

"They're gonna go again?"

"Looks like it," Murphy stated flatly.

"Ray," Murphy speculated, "you don't suppose that Bodie just wanted to get a leg over, that he doesn't know who she really is?"

"No! Not possible."

"Why not?" Murphy wanted to know.

Because if that was all it really was then he'd never live it down. "Because I said so," he stated flatly. "We can place her in Africa." Doyle wasn't sure who he was trying to convince with that statement. "Hell, he has been out of the country for over ten years and back in the bush for most of that time. You think maybe he doesn't know who she really is?"

"Bloody hell, Doyle," Murphy swore, "do you realize what that means?"

"Hell yes. She's living up to her name. It means we'd better be ready for anything when they're finished. If they finish. Bloody hell!" Doyle flopped back onto the bed. He drummed his fingers on his thigh for several minutes, then got up and paced some more.

Two loud sighs followed by one "Oh, God!" and one deep-throated "Christ!" and there was silence.

"They done now?" Doyle asked feeling as big a berk as Murphy must.

"Looks like it. Doyle," Murphy's voice grew panicky, "she's leaving, and she's naked."

"She's just going to the loo, Murph." Doyle's voice was heavy with exasperation.

"Oh yeh, I guess you're right. And Bodie's just lying there smiling. I would be, too. You better be ready as soon as she comes back."

"Right, just give me the word."

It was several minutes before Murphy said, "Okay, Doyle, go."

Quickly and quietly, Doyle made his way out of his room, across the lounge, and down the hall past the loo to crouch next to Bodie's bedroom door. "I'm in place," he informed Murphy in a whisper.

Murphy continued to feed information. "...Still sitting on the bed next to Bodie...Still talking...Bodie's trying to coax her back into bed. She's begging off, something about an early morning. She's going for her clothes...underwear. God, she's built! ...And wears sexy knickers, Doyle." The whispered commentary stopped suddenly and Murphy was practically yelling down the line, "Christ, Doyle, go! She's got a gun...!"

Before Murphy finished his command, Doyle had shouldered his way through the door. He landed in a crouch, gun aimed. "Drop it," he said to the blonde who had already snapped a silencer into place and was just swinging around to aim the weapon at Bodie's chest.

Bodie had already rolled off the bed and was keeping low to the floor.

"You know," Doyle said to the blonde as he relieved her of the weapon, "being lousy in bed's not a killing offense."

"Well, it should be." This from Bodie as he got up, offensively unconcerned with his nudity, and went looking for his pants. The blonde only sneered. Peripheral vision all he had to work with, what with his attention on this lovely assassin, Doyle felt his masculine ego twinge as he watched Bodie dressing from the corner of his eye. The man looked better naked than he did in clothes, that was for bloody certain; all smooth skin and hard muscle--Murph was certainly right about Bodie. But Doyle could have wished for a bit less distraction, right at the moment....

"Situation under control," Doyle said into the RT as he gave Murphy the all clear. "Send in some paper and string. I've got a pretty package I want wrapped nice and tight."

"All right, Doyle, what's going on?" Bodie asked, pulling on his cords.

"You really don't know who you just fucked, do you?"

Bodie shook his head. "I can bet you're about to enlighten me, though."

"Be my pleasure. Bodie, may I present Ms. Willi Van Broegen."

"Bloody hell!" Bodie breathed, sitting down hard on the edge of the bed. "The Blonde Widow!"

"Right." It was Murphy in the doorway, panting hard. "And as far as I know, you're the only one to ever escape the web alive."

Bodie knew that Doyle's job was to watch him, keep an eye out for anything suspicious and keep him alive. He knew that this included surveillance at whatever level Doyle thought necessary. What he hadn't expected was that such surveillance included a bloody camera in his bedroom.

After Murphy left with the woman in tow and an altogether too smug smile, Bodie tried several times to begin a conversation and voice his indignation. Problem was, he couldn't seem to get past the first inhale of breath.

"Can't believe you just thought she was another bird," Doyle repeated himself for at least the fifth time, and whatever control he'd had blew.

"Just shut the fuck up about it won't you?" he growled, the need for action bringing him up off the couch and pacing hard. "Or go and tell it to the Sun, but leave off with it around me."

He heard Doyle's sigh, but the quiet invitation still surprised him. "What's wrong, mate? What's really wrong?"

"You had a fuckin' camera in my bedroom, Doyle, and I don't like it," he admitted, turning on the man. "Not one damned bit."

"Well since havin' it there saved your bollocks I don't see where you've much room to complain."

Bodie sat down and rubbed his face, feeling confused and angry by turns, finally smiling faintly. "That's the problem," he admitted mildly. "Just doesn't mean I have to like it, now does it?" Doyle smiled back and the tension eased in the room. But one question, one of the only two real important ones, had to be asked. "Been there all along, has it?" he asked, trying to keep the strain from showing.

"No! Sorry," and Doyle did sound contrite, "I didn't realize it would look that way. I had Murph set it up when I recognized the bird. That was the call I had to make from the bar. Thought you two had a meet planned--well, you did," and he smiled again, "but I was expecting you to exchange information, not be getting a leg over."

Bodie finally exhaled, letting go his anger and acknowledging to himself that Doyle had, in his own covert little copper's way, ultimately been protecting his back. At least, that was how it had turned out, which had to be good enough for now.

"I want it out, Doyle. And I'll thank you to at least consider asking me outright next time, rather than go to all this bother.

"And one more thing--I want that fucking tape. I'll not have half the squad, hell, half the population of England--maybe the world--watching me perform. In fact, I'll not have anyone watching me perform that I haven't at least invited meself. I want it gone."

When Bodie entered his bedroom late the next afternoon, an unassuming, untitled cassette lay in the center of the bed. He didn't have to view it to know what it was, didn't want to even think about it--damned embarrassing indeed, finding oneself the star attraction in such things.

Especially given how good it had been.

Chapter Four

"Patricide! That's the kind of man you want to hire, a man who committed patricide?" Blazing eyes and tone of voice left no doubt as to Doyle's feelings.

George Cowley looked up and studied the young agent. "Bodie told us that he left England within weeks of his father's death and that he was only fourteen at the time. What else do you have on this matter?"

"It's all right here." Ray dropped a file folder on Cowley's desk. "And it's enough to convince you that CI5's no place for Mr. Bodie."

The Controller picked up the folder and spent the next several minutes reading through it while Doyle lounged confidently in a chair.

"No," Cowley finally said in response to Doyle's statement, "this is not enough. Bodie was a fourteen year old boy at the time and this is an Open Coroner's Verdict. Nothing here is proven." He closed the folder. "I want more. I want the whole story. Take a few days, go to Liverpool, and ferret out all the details."

"Sir, I understand that there could very well be extenuating circumstances in this matter, and no one knows better than me just how good Bodie could be at this job, but this," Doyle leaned forward and jabbed his finger at the report, "just goes to prove that he's not CI5 material."

"Very amusing, Doyle." A slight smile spread to George Cowley's eyes. "Those are almost the exact words Dr. Ross spoke of you when we were processing your papers."

"What?" Doyle sputtered. "Why?"

"She felt there were some aspects of your personality that, shall we say, strayed from the norm."

"But you hired me," Doyle said in confusion.

"Yes. You see, Doyle, one thing Dr. Ross tends to overlook is that an organization such as this seeks certain quirks of personality in its agents."

"Quirks? What quirks in my personality?"

"I seem to recall the term 'adrenalin junkie' was bandied about."

"Adrenalin junkie! No, Sir. Not me...."

"Not now, Doyle, I haven't the time. On your bike to Liverpool."

With Doyle gone almost three days now, William Bodie was at a loose end. The endless questions had, indeed, ended. As had the habit of lying in of a morning--Cowley'd seen to that quickly enough on Doyle's return to his old flat. Having exhausted Bodie's information on Britain, CI5 handed him over to an agent borrowed from Special Branch who specialized in foreign affairs, where he answered a whole new set of questions. When Cowley was satisfied that they had wrung every bit of useful information from him the Controller had set him in the same damn interrogation room where it all started, with all the transcripts of his interviews from November 3 to the present. Now he was up before dawn (or so it felt to Bodie), into the office and, for the last three days, reviewing his transcripts for typographical and informational errors. His eyes were feeling the strain.

It wasn't the only strain; with Doyle gone from the city entirely and Cowley sparing him only the odd glance, life was too damned quiet. He also wondered what was going on.

Following the Van Broegen episode Doyle had returned to his own flat and Bodie was moved into a bedsit that was drab and shabby, and altogether beneath even his lowest standards. Around the office, the agents didn't trust him, didn't try to get to know him--didn't talk to him at all, save for an oddly curious and unnervingly pleasant Jax.

Ah well, he thought as he approached Betty's desk, it can only get better.

He was wrong.

"Transcripts again?" Why another day going over transcripts? Bodie couldn't believe it.

"Sorry," Betty said with a shrug, and went back to her own work.

Bodie was far from pleased at his day's assignment. Bodie was expected to go over each one for errors that, even if they existed he would no longer recognize, because George Cowley had reduced his brain to Swiss cheese. After thirty minutes Bodie tossed the stack across the room.

Something was up. He could smell it. Doyle had been gone for the past three days, the only explanation given that he was "on another case." Bodie's inquiries as to the nature of the case got him no answers, but the ex-merc had his suspicions. He had let it go for the first two days, but not the third. Without telling anyone, he left CI5 headquarters and went out to do a little investigating on his own.

The late morning train from Euston to Liverpool was on time, so it was just gone noon when Doyle spun his car to a stop at the curb in front of Lime Street Station, and George Cowley got in.

"Afternoon, 4.5," Cowley said as he settled himself down and accepted the portfolio Doyle handed him. For the next few minutes he studied the papers therein. "She knows the situation and she's agreed to talk to us; that's a good sign. Any reluctance on her part, do you think?"

"Don't think so, Sir. Spoke with her yesterday, and she seems to want to do this for Bodie."

"Keirin Bodie," Cowley mused aloud, "two and a half years older than her brother."

It was half twelve when Ray Doyle parked the car in front of a block of renovated flats on Victoria Street.

Cowley pressed the buzzer and the door clicked open, giving them entrance to the building. They climbed the steep stairs to the first floor.

The door to number three was already open and a pleasant looking woman of about thirty years or so stood in the doorway. She smiled tentatively at Doyle, and invited them in.

"Ms. Bodie, this is Mr. Cowley," Doyle said by way of introduction.

"It is most gracious of you to see us," the Controller said as he handed her his hat and coat.

"Please," she said, appearing quite nervous as she accepted them, "go on through to the sitting room. I'll bring in the tea."

Within a few minutes they were all settled by the electric fire and Keirin began pouring tea.

"I want to thank you, Miss Bodie," George Cowley said again as he accepted a cup from her slightly trembling hand, "for agreeing to see us on this matter. I know it canna be easy for you."

"No, Mr. Cowley, it's not very pleasant. But Mr. Doyle," she handed Ray a steaming cup, "has explained the circumstances to me, and I want to do this for my brother."

Cowley took a long sip, then set down the cup. "Best we begin then. I understand that your mother had been ill for some years, and that she died as a result of that illness."

"Yes, she had Multiple Sclerosis, and was confined to bed for as long as I can remember." Setting down her cup, Keirin went silent for several seconds, then said, "Mr. Cowley, would you mind if I just told you what happened in my own words? I believe I would find that easier than answering questions."

"By all means, Miss Bodie," Cowley responded, "and go at your own pace. Our time is yours."

Keirin Bodie leaned back in the overstuffed chair and crossed her legs, obviously trying to relax. "As I said, my mother was ill and confined to bed all of Will's and my lives. My earliest memories are of sitting next to Will on her bed, listening to her read to us. Poetry. She read a lot of poetry...." As she spoke, her fingers toyed with a loose thread on the arm of the chair.

As the story began to unfold, Doyle sat quietly, fading into the background. He watched as Cowley tried to ease the situation, and win the confidence of this young woman. She wasn't what could be called beautiful; attractive would be a better word to describe her. Neat and well kept, she possessed a fine-boned, delicate sense of grace which showed in her every move. Long of torso and limb, she was within an inch of her brother in height; but where Bodie was broad, Keirin was not. The genes these two shared had manifested themselves in very different forms, except for the eyes. Keirin shared her brother's deep blue eyes. An attractive woman, he decided before shifting his concentration back to her story.

"My father worked as a meat packer," she was saying, "and my grandmother lived with us. She took care of the house, us kids, and my mother. My memories of those early days are very happy ones. It was after Granny died that things started to go sour. I was eight at the time and Will almost six...."

"What do you mean by sour?" Doyle interrupted. "And why do you think that your grandmother's death caused a change?"

"I can only tell you my feelings in retrospect, Mr. Doyle. I've had a lot of years to think on this, and I've come to the conclusion that it had mostly to do with dad's lifestyle. While Granny was there taking care of things, his life wasn't much different than that of his mates at the plant. He got up of a morning and went to work. He stopped at the pub, then came home to a clean house and found a hot meal waiting."

"This grandmother," Cowley asked, "from whose side of the family did she come?"

"The Bodie side. She was me dad's mum."

Once interrupted, Keirin seemed to lose her train of thought, and hesitated when Cowley asked her to continue. Obviously restless, she stood and walked to the window, facing away from her audience. "On the surface, one would think that the only thing my father was lacking was his marriage rights. Although I know that was not true."

"So," Cowley said, trying to cover the awkwardness, "while your grandmother lived, your lives were about the same as those of your school chums."

"Yes, except that my mother never left her bedroom." Keirin went back to her chair and her tea.

"The change in our home came when Granny wasn't there to care for things." Keirin refilled the tea cups, and passed the plate of biscuits which Cowley and Doyle declined. "My early memories of Dad are very vague. But I know that after Granny was gone he was angry all the time." She shook her head. "He didn't seem to know how to deal with the disorder. First we had a series of girls to cook and take care of the house. I remember that as a strange and frightful time. Will and I never knew who, if anyone, would be there when we got home from school or woke in the morning."

"Were you frightened?" Doyle interrupted again. "I mean waking up alone and all," he shrugged, dropping his eyes in sudden embarrassment. Her story, told in her quiet voice, and his own knowledge that this was Bodie's past he was hearing, were drawing him in and making it personal.

"Yes, Mr. Doyle, I was." Keirin shared a melancholy smile. "But Will's being there helped. That's when he became my big brother instead of my little brother. He was very protective of me."

Doyle had been watching the young woman for several minutes now, and he had come the to conclusion that the protectiveness ran both ways. The hair on the back of his neck prickled at the thought of an angry Bodie, if anyone bothered with his sister.

"Dad went through a series of women," Keirin continued. "They never seemed to stay very long. Sometimes there would be supper on the table and a note saying they wouldn't be back, more often it was just a note. One time a lady left right after breakfast; food still on the table and Mum alone all day with no help. It was a strange thing, and at the time I didn't understand. But the girls that Will and Mum and I liked, the ones who were good to us, well, they didn't get on with Dad at all. The others, the ones Dad preferred, they were either neglectful or downright mean to Will, Mum, and me. It took me a long time to understand what was going on."

Doyle noted the look this remark produced on Cowley's face as the Controller asked, "As a wee lad, how did Bodie fare in all this?"

Keirin almost smiled at his question, tilting her head and looking at him in a manner exactly like her brother's. "It's been a long time since I thought of Will as a 'wee lad'. But to answer your question, the first year after Granny died was very bad. Then little-by-little, Will and I learned to take over the chores, and a nurse from the Health Care Office came once a day to help Mum. By the time I was eleven, Dad quit bringing in girls and I was expected to do the meals, house, and laundry. Will helped and as he got bigger, took over the heavier duties."

"We did very well for a couple of years. I remember those times as almost pleasant. Dad was gone a lot and Will and I took care of the house and Mum. Then...."

Doyle noted that her voice had been growing steadily softer, and when she finished it was just a whisper.

"Miss Bodie," Cowley said when she had been quiet for a long time. "Would it help to know that Doyle is one of my best detectives and that he has been investigating this for several days?"

As the implications of his words penetrated, Keirin's eyes began tearing. "You know then, that my father molested me." She laid her head on the back of the chair as tears ran down her cheeks.

Doyle's insides were alive with a helpless anger. It was all he could do to stay seated and remain silent. He wanted so badly to hit something, anything--or comfort her.

"Your mother was still alive when this began?" Cowley's voice was soft, his tone gentle and leading.

Before she could answer there was a noise like a small explosion at the door. They all turned to stare as it burst open, broken lock swinging, and a raging Bodie charged into the room.

Realizing his prediction had just come true, Doyle sprang into action. Uncertain where Bodie's anger would land first, Doyle stepped in front of Cowley, who had also gotten to his feet. In that same instant Keirin was up and moving toward her brother.

"Will. Will," she kept repeating, visibly startled by his unexpected presence.

Bodie grabbed her up and pulled her along with him as he made straight for the CI5 men. "Out!" he yelled. "Get out now, before I kill you both!" One arm was around his sister, the other up and ready to land a blow.

All four were talking at once, but nothing could be heard over Bodie's roaring voice. "Out!" he continued to order, "Get out!"

Face-to-face with Doyle now, the yelling continued until Cowley stepped between the two men. Getting close up in Bodie's face, he issued his one word order.


When the two jerked back in surprise Cowley moved even closer. Grabbing Bodie by the shoulders he forced the younger man to make eye contact. Bodie suddenly froze, his breath coming in great gulps.

"Sit down, lad, and listen to me," Cowley said, his voice returning to normal.

Still breathing heavily and trembling with suppressed rage, Bodie allowed Keirin, who had never let go of his arm, to lead him to the sofa, and gently push him down.

"Get out," he said again, having caught his breath. "You had no right to do this."

"But I did, lad. You gave it to me when you signed on."

"Well, I'm signing off," Bodie said, hunched tensely against the back of the sofa. "I wouldn't work for you now--for anything."

"Will. Will," Keirin crooned as she sat next to her brother, patting his arm. "Please, don't do this."

Bodie turned to face her, an unhappy smile twisting through his rage as he looked at her. "Kit, I'm sorry. I never meant to bring this on you, but it's over now." He took hold of her hand as he turned back to face his adversaries, his features hardening. "Didn't you hear me? Get out--of my sister's life--of my life."

"Bodie, lad, think of what you're saying." Cowley deliberately kept his voice calm.

"No!" Bodie stood, anger flaring again. Doyle started forward only to halt at a wave of Cowley's hand.

"Will." Coming up, Keirin put her hands on Bodie's face, forcing him to look at her. "Will, listen to me. I won't let you do this. I want to tell them. Oh God, Will, I need to tell them." She was crying now. "I can't keep it inside me any longer."

Ignoring the other two men, Bodie pulled her to him, wrapping his arms around her. "Kit, it's all right, now. I'm here. I'll take care of you."

"Oh Will, you're not listening. This is eating me alive!"

"Okay, Kit," he said, still attempting to soothe her. "If you need to talk, we'll find someone--a doctor who can help--"

"No," she snapped angrily, and Doyle saw his partner in her all over again: all temper and stubborn determination and flashing eyes. "I'm going to do this for you, for both of us."

These two, brother and sister, were locked in events from the past that would stay buried no longer.

To allow them at least the illusion of privacy, Cowley and Doyle stayed quiet and moved to the other side of the room.

"Kit, you listen to me. I won't work for that man and his lackey for anything." Bodie spat out the words as he jerked his head in Cowley's and Doyle's direction.

"And I know what will happen," Keirin said. "You'll go back to Africa, and I'll lose you for good this time. No, Will, you don't understand. I want to go on with my life." There was desperation in her voice as she sat and yanked Bodie down next to her on the sofa. "Will, listen to me. I've met someone--I have a chance at a new life, a chance to be whole. Please, don't deny me that."

"Kit, you can have those things without baring your soul to these hypocritical bastards."

Doyle and Cowley were forgotten now, unimportant in comparison with Keirin's need to be free of this personal devil. She grabbed hold of Bodie's jacket and he seemed as startled by her intensity as the CI5 men. What private hell, Doyle wondered, had they unleashed in this young woman?

Tears were streaming down her face now, and she was close to hysterical. "Will," she demanded, "I want this said!"

"Why, Kit? We don't have to let this be so important. We can handle it. It's like I've always told you, you have to put it behind you. It was less than six months out of your life, surely...."

"Six months!" She jerked away from him, her rage almost equal to his earlier. "Six months! You can't still believe that fantasy. It was over five years of my life!"

"Kit?" Bodie shrank back as if struck, and her instinct to protect her brother won out over her anger.

"Oh, Will, I'm so sorry. I never meant to do that. But you have to know the truth, for both our sakes." She moved in close to his face. "Will, look at me." He stared unseeing as she said, "He started when I was eleven years old--before I even began menstruating." Her hands and voice trembled, tears ran down her face, and Bodie just sat there, stunned into silent immobility.

She leaned against his chest and sobbed for a long time.

Quieting some, her breath coming in great gulps, Keirin reached for the paper hankie box that sat next to the tea things. After blowing and wiping a few times, she turned back to her brother and took a deep breath. "Will, I'm going to do this. You can stay--or go--as you must, but this is going to be said, here and now." Her hands flailed as she spoke and her voice broke, but her determination was unmistakable.

"The lass is right," Cowley said quietly from across the room. "Let the truth be said, then laid to rest once and for all."

As if just remembering they were there, Bodie came to his feet with a jerk and headed in their direction. "Get out!" he bellowed. "This is none of your concern. I won't have Kit exposed...."

Bodie's body suddenly went slack, as if his knees were about to buckle. Both Cowley and Doyle moved quickly to aid him, but in the end it was Cowley who took hold of Bodie and led him back to the sofa. Doyle knew that his touch would only make matters worse.

Needing something to do, Doyle went to the kitchen and looked in a few cupboards. His search was quickly rewarded. Returning to the lounge with bottle and glasses, he poured two fingers of scotch all around. Keirin's hand shook to the point of spilling the liquid, but she drank, making a face at the taste. Keirin took the teapot and disappeared into the kitchen. Water ran, telling Doyle that fresh tea would be more to her liking.

Bodie, staring into space, would not accept the offered glass, so Doyle took his hand and placed the drink in it. When their eyes did meet over this action, there was nothing but contempt in Bodie's deep blue stare.

The three stayed quiet as sounds of tea making echoed in the background. Doyle refilled Cowley's glass, but was not quite sure he should again venture near Bodie's. Instead he handed the bottle to Cowley.

"Here, lad. Have some more." Cowley poured, ignoring the look of disgust he was getting from Bodie.

"I could kill you for this," Bodie's eyes went from Cowley to Doyle, "both of you."

"But you won't," Cowley told him, "because you're a man of ethics and principle. That's why I was willing to take a chance on you."

Keirin, returning with a fresh pot of tea, provided a needed distraction. "Anyone else?" she asked, then poured for herself when all declined. She took a few sips, using the time to regain control, then set down the cup, and turned to Bodie. "Will," she said, taking his hand in hers, "I am going to tell everything that happened. It's not going to be easy, but I'm going to do it." Tears had started again. "Will you stay here with me, and help me through this?"

Bodie only nodded, like a condemned man stepping up to the gallows.

Keirin sat back and Bodie put his arm around her shoulder, pulling her close.

"To answer your earlier question, Mr. Cowley, yes, my mother was still alive when my father began molesting me. That's why I didn't feel I could say anything to anyone." She clenched the hand that Bodie was not holding. "It's not that simple, of course, there were so many factors. I was young, and afraid. He told me it was my duty to take over for my mother."

Bodie's head jerked back at these words, and what escaped his lips was like the choked-off cry of a wounded animal.

Keirin tightened her hand around Bodie's, but continued to speak directly to Cowley. "He wasn't hurting me at first, just holding me, comforting me, and that didn't seem so bad. In fact, I enjoyed that. For so many years he had ignored me, and at first I liked the attention, but then...." She had to stop and reach for a tissue. "You really don't need all the sordid details, just to know that it started once Mum had been moved from the upstairs bedroom to the lounge. It was easier for everyone who had to care for her, and she was less alone. We set her up there with the telly and all.... That left Dad and me with rooms upstairs. Will's room was in the attic. Dad never touched me when anyone else was around, only in my room. He settled into a routine of about once, perhaps twice a week, and it was always late at night, when everyone was asleep."

As she continued her story, Doyle felt his heart break for her and what she had been living with, and not only her. How many others had similar stories? It made his own family history seem almost benign by comparison. His own sense of guilt was overflowing after what he had thought of Bodie. No wonder he killed the old man, Doyle thought, knowing that in those circumstances he would have done the same.

It was hard enough just witnessing how Bodie was taking this now. Obviously, he was as caught up in it as his sister, the tension standing out starkly because Doyle knew where to look: jaw so tight he could imagine he heard grinding teeth, muscles hard with tension, his face utterly blank in a way Bodie managed only under duress.

"When I was sixteen--in fact it was my birthday," Keirin's head went to Bodie's chest and she cried for a long moment as Bodie held her tight. "...That's the night Will found out. He had come downstairs and must have heard me. My father was--my father was..." she trailed off, but it was Bodie's face that paled. "He was with me in my room."

Bodie cleared his throat and when he spoke, his voice was distant, many years away. "I'd gone down for the loo and heard something, got scared because I thought someone must've broken in. When I got to the doorway, I saw someone on--with Kit. I was just about to go for whoever it was when I saw, Christ I saw it was him." Bodie's voice tightened in pain; Keirin's hand touched his arm. He stopped and glanced around, seemingly startled at his lapse.

Doyle jerked out of his chair, unable to sit any longer. He went to the window and stared out at nothing.

Bodie held one arm tight around his sister; with the other, he smoothed her long hair.

"I turned at a sound and Will was standing there, frozen, and then he bolted away.

"When Dad finally went to bed, I went up to check on him, to make sure he was all right. He was crying, he must have been since he left my doorway. I tried to comfort him, and it was then that I told him it was the first time Dad had done that. I gave him some story about it having been my birthday. I was afraid, you see, so terribly afraid that if he did anything it would destroy the family. Mother wouldn't have survived the news, and I knew that the state would split us up in foster care. I'd have done anything to keep Will with me--I loved him so much more than I hated Dad and what he had done. I tried to make some kind of sense he would accept, because I knew my brother. He was only thirteen, but I knew him and I wasn't willing to let him act on his instincts.

"Mum was sinking faster than ever by then, some days she didn't even know us. What she was on the inside was gone. It seemed that Will and I were just biding our time, trying to figure out a way to cope when she passed on. I knew Will wouldn't stay with Dad, but..." she looked up, with eyes wet and beseeching. "I was only sixteen, I'd no idea how to earn a living and I had precious little education. I wanted to be able to take care of Will, and back then what with the 'family secret', I could barely take care of myself."

Bodie drew in a breath and opened his mouth, seemingly to pick up the thread of the story, but Keirin continued first. "Mother died just a bit less than four months later. After that I didn't know what I was going to do. And in all honesty I was terrified of what might happen, that I'd lose Will to the courts or our father's temper. Things had gotten worse, much worse after that night and Will could be an unholy terror when Dad was about. But--" her voice choked to silence and she shut her eyes. "But in the end...."

Now Bodie did break in, his voice flat and calm. "She'd spun me a good story that night, but it mustn't have been good enough, because she was right. I decided that night in my bed that he wouldn't live much longer. I couldn't do anything then, you see, just stood there frozen and heard her crying and her pleas, just fucking stood there and watched my own sister getting raped, but that was the last time. I swore then that it was the last time I'd ever let my fear rule me, the last time I'd stand by without doing what needed to be done."

Cowley poured another glass of scotch and offered it to Bodie, who brushed it away.

"I thought about it all the time, couldn't concentrate on anything else. Had liked school before, did good work, but it all went to hell after that night because I flat didn't care anymore. And when I found out that no-good bastard was taking time off work just to get at her, I never went back. All I knew was, the sonofabitch was going to pay for what he'd done."

Keirin seemed to have gathered her thoughts, because she overrode her brother's words, taking the telling back onto herself.

"I was terribly afraid for Will. He pushed--well, you may know something of what he's like now. He was no different when he was young. Our father spent his days heaving beef carcasses, he was a big man. Taller, heavier, stronger. Will kept picking fights with him and I knew, I knew that it would get beyond anyone's control, that Dad might kill him out of hand in an angry moment. But I couldn't get Will to stop, I couldn't get him to leave it alone." She paused, and when Bodie started to speak she clutched at his arm. "Please Will, just give me a moment. Please."

Keirin paused for a moment and Bodie looked up at Cowley once with angry betrayal in his eyes, then caught sight of the glass of scotch on the table in front of him. He loosed his hold on Keirin just enough to reach it before settling back.

When the silence stretched too long, Doyle turned to see Bodie place the empty glass back on the table. Doyle wished to hell he had never come to Liverpool. He had never wanted to do this to another human being, but knew that his chances of ever convincing Bodie of that were nil. And he wasn't sure who, right in this moment, he felt more genuine pity toward; Keirin, who had been hurt and abused those many years ago, or Bodie, who had suffered for her before offering his own brand of justice and trading off any future he may have had. Doyle was certain of one thing, though; this scene, once begun, had to run its course. Knowing that, he forced himself to go back and sit in the chair next to Cowley.

"Dad had an awful hangover one morning at breakfast, but was as kind and careful as he had ever been with me. Will didn't come down at all, and after Dad left for work I went to check on him. I found him still in bed, face black and blue, bruises everywhere, so sore he could barely move, and I realized then that they had been fighting. Really fighting, not just bad tempers and nasty words."

Keirin went on, timidly. "I really did think that Dad would just kill him outright," she whispered, so quietly Doyle and Cowley leaned unobtrusively forward in their chairs. "They faced off like animals, didn't stay in the same room together for love nor money and Will kept his back to the wall at all times. After he dropped out of school, he was always home, or near it...."

Bodie's eyes flickered for a instant, then fixed into a blank stare and he interrupted her in mid breath. "She's right about that. I was bound and determined to have done with him, but I wasn't stupid. The waiting was hell, and home like a war zone. But I couldn't not stay--anytime I was away was open season on Keirin, the bastard."

At Bodie's silence, Keirin picked up the thread. "Dad was so much worse after Mother died; I think he was afraid I'd run away, I'd threatened to do it so many times. But Will knew the truth, knew I wouldn't leave without him and didn't know how to take him with me. I wanted...I wanted.... A couple of weeks after the fight, Dad came home furious. He'd been reprimanded at work, and had gone off to his local before coming home. It was obvious he was looking for someone to take out his troubles on."

Again, Bodie tried to interrupt her, and again she shushed him. "As soon as Will came home, not fifteen minutes after Dad got there, Dad started in on him." Her voice took on a faraway quality as memory caught hold, and her smooth white skin paled even further. "He had a bottle of gin with him, and I couldn't stop him turning it up between every breath. Will started antagonizing Dad when he got quiet, backing off when he got too riled."

"Kit, stop it," Bodie grated in a pain-filled voice. "Stop it right now."

"No!" She continued on, doggedly, "It was past midnight, and I shooed Will on up to the bath. Anything to keep him away from Dad, anything to keep that monster from hurting him again. Because I knew, I knew it wouldn't stop this time."

"Bodie left the room?" Cowley interjected quietly.

"No," Bodie growled, "I didn't bloody leave the room. The three of us were in the kitchen, and he decided to try to get to me through Kit. He started saying things about her, how she was his best girl, and..." he faltered just for an instant, "God, it made me sick...." Keirin's eyes were tearing again, but Bodie was no longer smoothing her hair. Now his fist was trembling as it clenched and unclenched. "But I waited, didn't even know for what. Then, right out of the blue he pushed Kit aside and went for me. It was the strangest feeling, I remember. I wasn't scared at all, just tense and ready. I sidestepped him, and he slammed into the cupboard, and when he turned I knew I had a chance. He was in a rage, and not thinking straight." Bodie's eyes glazed over as his face tightened in anticipation of victory. Keirin lay crying softly on his chest. "He wasn't even quick anymore, the drink had ruined that. All he had was his bulk. I kept baiting him. Kept it up until he was blind with rage. Then he just stopped...wouldn't charge me anymore. He was out of breath, panting like an old dog, sweating rivers. The alcohol was winning over his temper; left to his own, he'd just sleep it off. Knew if I didn't do something, I might never get another chance. So, I hit 'im. I remember he blinked, and looked so stupid, like he couldn't believe what I'd done. I backed up toward the cellar stairs just like I'd planned in my mind. Over and over I'd pictured it...."

Sweat glistened on Bodie's forehead as it must have that night. It filled everyone's nostrils, and the tension was so thick that even Keirin had gone quiet.

"It was like it all happened in slow motion," Bodie said, still staring backwards in time. "He lunged at me, mouth open--screaming, but I couldn't hear anything. I just gave the door a little push and stepped aside. Moving like an express train he was, nothing could stop him. He hit the doorway and kept screaming all the way to the bottom. I was afraid to go down, but had to make sure. He was laying across the bottom two steps, had to step over him to get out of me own shadow and have a good look." Bodie shivered. "God, he was still breathing, could see that bear chest heaving in the dim light. I almost threw up I was so scared. But I had to do something quick, cause if he got up, I was dead. Went looking for something to finish the job. Found an old coal shovel and went back to him. Kit was there by then staring down at him, crying." Bodie's voice was quickening as he seemed to want this done with. "...So I hit him, I just hit him and it was over...."

"Bodie," Cowley's voice was dead calm, "there was no shovel. The wounds were not consistent with that kind of weapon...."

"See. See Will, it won't work. They know!" Kit was shaking him, her voice eerie and trembling. "They know what happened." She jumped up to face Cowley and Doyle with wild eyes. "I did it. I did it," she repeated, body quaking, but voice steady. "Don't you see, I couldn't let Will do it, not for me, I had to do it--besides, I wanted to do it! I wanted him dead!" she screamed. And then more quietly, almost a whisper, she echoed, "I wanted him dead. And it was so easy. His head was lying right there on the edge of that last broken step--right there, like it was meant to be. All I had to do was pick up his head and smash it down, pick it up and smash it down, pick it up...."

"Easy Kit, easy," Bodie crooned as he pulled her back down next to him and rocked her back and forth in his arms. "Kit--shh, come on, settle down...."

Doyle heard Cowley swear under his breath, while he tried to keep the bile down.

Fully drained of all energy, the four sat quietly for a long time. It was Cowley who finally broke the thick silence.

"So, Bodie, you accepted the blame. Knowing that at sixteen, your sister would face an adult court, and you at fourteen might not, you hid the truth."

"The truth was," Bodie said, his voice a raw whisper, "she just beat me to it. If she hadn't finished him, I'd have done it--with the shovel."

"But you let the blame fall to you, and fled the country to keep it so."

"I had to, she couldn't stand up to any more questions. Enough," Bodie rasped, "no more."

"You had help," Cowley continued, ignoring Bodie's plea. "From whom?"

"Our uncle John, Dad's brother," Keirin volunteered. "He understood, I think, and he helped. He got Will a place on an outgoing ship and paid for the passport. He helped me, too, he and Aunt Meg. We got the house sold and they helped me find a flat and a job. It was Aunt Meg who suggested I get some more schooling..." Keirin trailed off.

"He knew what his brother was like, you see?" Bodie explained, then he too fell silent.

"Do you suppose, Mr. Cowley, that I'll go to jail?" Keirin's sorrowful voice cut them all to the quick.

"Ach, no, lass," Cowley soothed. "This is no official inquiry. As far as the courts are concerned, this case is long closed, and no word of this afternoon will go beyond this room."

"Are you sure?" The sudden hope in her voice was high contrast to the disbelief on her face.

"I am. There are no outstanding warrants on this matter, Doyle checked that out. Your brother even entered this country under his own passport with no trouble. No, lass, you have nothing to fear."

"Then it's all right." A small smile began to grow in her eyes. "It's all right, I said it all--out loud, and it's all over." She hugged Bodie close and sobbed, but the sound was different this time, not the strangled cry of despair, but of relief and of hope for better times to come.

Bodie, finding his voice, echoed her words. "Kit, it's all behind you now. Tell me you believe that, and that we won't ever speak of this again." She shook her head and smiled at him.

"I can go on with my life now. I met someone, his name's Jeremy,

and, Will, he wants to marry me. Don't you see, now that I said it out loud, I can tell him...."

"No," Bodie snapped. "No one else has to know...."

"Oh yes they do," she snapped back with equal fire. "Will, I couldn't marry anyone with something like that between us. I need a clean slate, and now I can have it. It's so wonderful, being with him." A full smile lit her face for the first time. "He's so good to me, and, Will, he's the first I can let touch me. When he puts his hands on me, it's him I feel, not Dad.... Do you understand what I'm saying?" She took tissues and wiped away her tears. "I feel as if I can breathe again. I've been living with that so long. I feel--alive, alive."

Doyle knew that she was on the point of hysterical shock. He made for the loo and returned with a wet cloth, then found her glass in the mess on the table and poured a half inch of scotch into it. Approaching her from the side opposite Bodie, Doyle took her hand and brought the glass to her lips. She took a sip, and Doyle tipped the glass so she swallowed it all. After a cough, she smiled up at him. "Thank you. I think I'll be okay now." Doyle handed her the cloth and she pressed it to her face.

A voice in the doorway caught everyone's attention.

Kit's smile brightened further. "Jeremy, oh Jeremy," she called as she went toward him.

Fear, confusion and anger all mixed in the man's features as he tried to determine what was happening here. "God, Keirin, are you all right?" he asked, pulling her close to study her face. "You've been crying. My God, what's going on here? What have they done to you?"

"Oh Jeremy, everything's just fine now, just fine. But we have to talk." She glanced back at the three hard faces. "Not here. I want us to be alone when I tell...."

"Kit, " Bodie interrupted, coming to his feet. "Don't."

"What the hell's going on!" the young man demanded.

Pressured again, Keirin began to cry. "Please, Will, let me finish this. Please...."

With a glare and a sweeping wave of his hand, he left her to it and sank back to the sofa.

Grabbing the angry, confused young man by the hand, Keirin pulled him toward the door. "I'll explain it all, Jeremy, only not here. Let's go upstairs to your flat where we can talk." Wiping tears again, she dragged Jeremy out the door.

A heavy silence flooded the room as the three men were left to deal with their own emotions.

Doyle watched in amazement as Bodie took only a few seconds to change his whole persona. The slumped shoulders straightened, making him appear to grow three inches. Then his face hardened as each feature froze in place. Lastly, those deep blue eyes turned to stone. The transformation complete, a very menacing Bodie looked up at George Cowley. "Get out. You got what you came for, now get out."

Cowley had been pacing, rubbing not his leg, but his chest. Doyle guessed that the afternoon's events had turned his stomach sour to the point of pain.

Looking as grey as the November afternoon, Cowley paused. "What I came for, Laddie, was to set the record straight so that...."

"Just get out! None of that matters any more. There's no way I'd work for you!" The ugly glare he had for Cowley spread to Doyle.

When neither man moved, Bodie started toward them and Doyle knew that leashed emotions were about to erupt. Absolutely clear where his responsibility lay, Doyle moved in front of the Controller, and took Bodie's fist square on the jaw. He went down, rolled and came up ready to give one back.

Cowley sidestepped him. "Four-five! " he snapped, and training halted Doyle in his tracks. "If you've a mind to hit someone, Bodie," Cowley continued, "it had best be me. Doyle was just following orders."

His prey within reach, Bodie stopped, fist drawn back, rage burning in his eyes.

Unflinching, Cowley stared him down. "On a cold rainy night not so long ago, you asked for a chance. Now I'm asking for the same."

Bodie took a deep breath, his whole body trembling as he fought the adrenalin rush, the need to release his pain into violence, then ever so slowly the dead weight of his arm dropped to his side.

Doyle backed away, rubbing his jaw, and let Cowley go on.

"You, Laddie, are asking for membership into a very elite club. Our little group provides security for heads of state, not to mention the numerous other top security items in our brief. Now how do you suppose the Home Secretary took it when I proposed hiring you?"

Bodie's head jerked up at this.

"Well, did you think you'd be welcomed with open arms? No, I'm afraid not. My superiors suggested I use you, get all the information I could, then send you packing."

The trembling was beginning to still in Bodie, but as his eyes measured the Controller, it was clear the younger man was listening.

"But I don't work that way. I saw something in you that night, something I thought my organization could use. I'm willing to give you a chance, but first I have to convince others."

"A man like you makes his own choices," Bodie snapped.

"Not always, Laddie, not nearly as often as I'd like. I have certain requirements to satisfy, not the least of them being Dr. Ross and her tests."

Bodie winced involuntarily at the mention of that name.

"Aye, I see you remember your bout with that iron lady. Well, she remembers hers with you. She was not fooled, knew you were hiding something, keeping it back. Something not to do with Africa--you were too open about that. Something, she thought, from your youth. Now we know what it is, don't we; now we have a lever to get her to retest, re-evaluate you."

"Sod off!"

But Cowley would not be put aside. "I refuse to accept that. You put your life, your very being in my hand that night. Not even this afternoon can change that. I'm not going to let you waste yourself on Africa, not when I can use you."

"Well it isn't your decision any more," Bodie sneered.

"Just tell me," a new voice intruded and all turned to the graven-faced young man in the doorway. "Just tell me," Jeremy repeated, "is what Keirin says true? There'll be no legal problems over--over this?"

"She is correct, young man, you needn't worry." It was Cowley who responded with authority.

Looking relieved at the reply, Jeremy nodded and disappeared.

Cowley turned his attention back to Bodie. "Your sister needed this." He stopped when Bodie started for him, murder in his eyes.

"No!" he shouted, "don't try that. She has nothing to do with what's between us now."

"I think maybe she does," Doyle ventured. "She needed an authority figure to confess to...."

Bodie turned his icy blue eyes rage on Doyle, but the other man stood his ground.

"You told her," Doyle went on, "that it would be all right. Didn't believe you, did she? Needed to hear it from the father confessor here. Took his words to release her."

Having said his piece, Doyle subsided, but not Cowley.

"Doyle's right about your sister needing this," Cowley reiterated, "and we needed it. You were asked for this information and refused to offer it. I had to know, have to know everything about you, and you understand that need. You tried to hide this from me and there was no other way to uncover the truth. Secrets are one thing I cannot and will not risk allowing my men to have. Though I'll admit," he added almost in afterthought, "that I can understand your motives.

"Nevertheless, Bodie, I believe this benefited everyone involved."

"Christ," Bodie said turning his back on both men, "next you'll be wantin' me to thank you. Could've helped her without you...." His voice trailed off into a whisper.

"Not quite," Cowley continued, "and it's not over yet, not by half. You'll need to stick by her, get her counseling. I'll give you some good names...."

Doyle backed off and watched. He did not understand what was between these two disparate men, but something linked them. Otherwise why was it so important that Cowley convince Bodie to stay? Doyle could not remember the old man ever having done anything like that before. Obviously, Bodie had touched something in George Cowley, but just what, Doyle wasn't sure. No other would-be agent--or full agent, for that matter, had ever talked to Cowley like Bodie had, and not received his walking papers. Yet here he was, a leader who picked his men from the best this country had to offer, talking hard and fast to one William Andrew Philip Bodie, trying to convince him not to walk away from a job he didn't yet have, and might not get.

And what was Bodie searching for in his life? What had motivated him to hand over the Browning Highpower, and take a chance on George Cowley? He tried to imagine himself in Bodie's shoes, gun in hand, anticipating the smell of cordite and the flow of blood, and then just...handing over his weapon. And couldn't. He couldn't begin to imagine the strength required to take so great a risk--and he knew Bodie wasn't stupid. He knew Bodie had known exactly what he was getting himself into. But that was history past, and here in this room was history in the making, make-or-break, and the biggest question of all in Doyle's mind was where was this all going to end?

They had intruded on Bodie's private life, his past. The final outcome of that might be on the plus side, if this Jeremy could take it all in stride and come through for Keirin. Doyle secretly hoped he would. She deserved her chance at a whole life. But would Bodie come to see it that way?

"Enough," Cowley finally said, and Doyle recognized the tone. Cowley would have no more arguments.

Bodie had retaken his seat on the sofa, and Cowley was leaning over now, glaring down at him. "You signed on with me, Laddie, and that makes you my man until I say otherwise."

Bodie glared back.

"No!" Cowley gave no chance for argument. "Take a few days, stay here with your sister, and think about this. Then report to me on Monday next." He waved Bodie to silence. "Don't speak now. Monday will be soon enough."

"Come along, Doyle." With a wave of his arm, Cowley made for the door, Agent 4.5 in his wake.

Chapter Five

Too weary to move, Bodie lay slumped on the settee staring at nothing. He had endured an afternoon of witnessing the total disintegration of everything he had lived the last twelve years to protect, then, within a few minutes of each other Keirin, then Cowley had walked out on him. His brain, on overload, had simply shut down.

But, Bodie being Bodie, he couldn't manage to keep it that way. His head clearing, Bodie studied the room until he remembered where he was. "Bloody Christ," he muttered to himself when it all came flooding back. Unable to face anyone, he struggled to his feet and let himself out of the flat before Keirin and her boyfriend could come back.

On the street, it took him several minutes to remember that he had rented a car for the trip to Liverpool, and several more to recall where he had parked it. It was like living in a nightmare; everything was disjointed, skewed out of place and there was no thought of how to fix it.

With no real conscious decision of a destination, Bodie drove the city. Soon he found himself cruising familiar neighborhoods, past the old school yard, the playground, Fenton Street where Granny had shopped. The car finding its own direction under his absent, inattentive hand, drove slowly down Leeds Street, past number 67 where it had all happened. Warm light glowed from the front windows, people moved behind lacy curtains. Who lives there now? he wondered. Do they know a man died at the bottom of their cellar steps?

Suddenly wanting no part of that house, Bodie squealed tyres as he rounded the corner.

Sometime later he spotted the Blue Bull pub. He knew the name but had never been inside the place before, did not know why he was here now. Parking the car, he remembered what facts he knew about this particular establishment. "A man's pub," he recalled his father saying, "no place for decent women." Bodie had heard his dad's stories of this place any number of times. It had been called the Blue Anchor then, but that was when the Liverpool docks were in full swing with cargo coming and going day and night. The demise of the docks had taken several related businesses down. The arrival of the meat packing plant, giving jobs to many of the out-of-work dockers, had facilitated the pub's re-opening, albeit with a new name. But, by the look of it, Bodie decided, the same old decor.

As Bodie's eyes adjusted to the dim lights, his ears and nose were assaulted with the peculiarities of these early evening socializers. A deep drinking, loud, rollicking group of hard-working, physical men who stank to high heaven. "You never get the stink off ya'." Bodie's father's words echoed in his mind. Their clothes reeked of sweat, alcohol, and the blood of the animals they slaughtered.

All carbon copies of my old man, Bodie thought as he squeezed himself a place at the bar and ordered a pint. He listened to the bragging and the bullshit and noted that some things never changed. The government doesn't know what it's doing; the boss is a sod; your team will win its next match because it's the best; your old lady and kids do things your way, or else; and there's nothing worth watching on the telly.

Bodie turned to swig another ale and survey the crowd as it began to thin out. The braggarts were heading home to narky wives and hungry kids waiting supper.

The pub grew quieter as the career drinkers ordered another pint all around, while the conversation slowed to a crawl and grew morose. These were the serious malcontents angry at a system that had robbed them of a man's job. Just like my old man, Bodie thought again as he continued to drink and eavesdrop on snatches of conversation. Most came from two or more generations of dock working families and planned to make it their way of life. Their fathers and grandfathers had been men doing men's work. The commerce of the world had passed through Liverpool ports and the men had loaded and unloaded crates from any country you could name. To spend one's day handling everything from the exotic prizes of the rich, to the medicines and necessities of everyday life, to the small cheap trinkets that brought some joy to the Isle's poor gave a sense of satisfaction. Now their descendants spent their days slaughtering cattle, and the satisfaction was gone.

Bodie had heard all these stories at the supper table. His father's face would get red, his tone angry as he pounded on the kitchen table and raved about the injustice of it all. Even Granny had her memories of Granddad to contribute. Bodie hated supper time and had made himself a vow. No matter what he did for a living, he would never spend his days in the slaughterhouse.

Why'd Dad take it out on us, Bodie asked himself as he chugged down his drink and re-ordered. It wasn't our fault. But how to reason with a dead man? And, even were he alive, how to see past all that anger and pent-up rage, past the perversion and the drink and say there, that's what must have caused all this. Feeling his mood slinking from darker to black, Bodie admitted to himself that he didn't give a damn what had made his dad the way he was; the simple truth of it was that as long as all of the abuses kept raining down on ignorant little kids, the reasons didn't matter at all.

Bodie continued to listen as the drink loosened these men's tongues and their feelings. Noticing a change in the atmosphere, he was somewhat unnerved by the sense of sadness and loss that began creeping into the voices. Feeling sorry for themselves, they are. Crying in their beer for Christ's sake. What about the wives and kids waiting at home? Who feels sorry for them?

Bodie cast a disgusted eye over the crowd. Do your wives and daughters tremble at the sight of you, he wondered, and do all your sons want you dead?

"Better they stay here," he mumbled. "No one would care if you lousy scouser bastards never came home!"

"'Ay!" the man next to him said, "who you callin' scouser?"

"You--all of you," he snarled, aching to deliver his own retribution. "Lousy scouser bastards!"

The words were barely out of his mouth when the first fist caught him on the jaw. It was followed by one in the stomach and another to his face, all of them so fast he didn't even have time to wonder why he had asked for this. He was left to roll with the punches and take the pain as meaty arms held him for his beating, and punches landed hard from every direction. Too mentally weary to fight back and almost welcoming the physical assault, Bodie gave himself up to his fate.

Better me than their kids. He held onto that thought when a hard knee caught him in the kidneys, forcing his breath from his lungs to make room for the pain in his back, and he groaned aloud, needing it to stop and stop now, and wondering if it would ever end at all. Fists were flailing around him, everyone trying to land his blow and too many succeeding. Hands and arms held him upright, forced him to stand against the repeated torture of jabs to his gut.

His face had gone almost numb from the pain, his lips cut against his own teeth filling his mouth with the soured metal taste of fresh blood.

And Christ, had it been only a few seconds? Time was spinning out with the agony, but over the noise of the one-sided fight he could hear the bartender and landlady discussing his destiny. The bartender was all in favor of calling the police, but the landlady did not want the extra trouble. "Just get 'im out of 'ere," she yelled.

A particularly strong blow landed in Bodie's middle and he went slack against it, knowing that with no stiffened muscle between the blows and his organs, the next strike would do real damage. And it didn't bloody matter. He was barely conscious as the arms holding him dragged him the length of the pub, through the door and heaved him into the street.

Bodie lay in the gutter too bruised and beaten to get himself up. He had started the fight, wanting physical pain to replace the one in his heart. It didn't work. Nothing could make it go away. That pain went soul deep.

Spewing hate for everyone, Bodie fought to override the pain that was only physical and concentrate on his list of grievances, Hate all them lousy scouser bastards. Still furious, still ready to kill them all, he muttered the words over and over. Hate them all. No good--none of 'em. Family's no better--Mum, Dad, Keirin. People just use you. Like Cowley and that bastard Doyle. Like.... Just use you and throw you away. Family's the worst. All those years I stayed away, and for what? To protect her, I thought--more the fool me. Betrayed by all of them.

Christ, he hurt. Everywhere hurt, the pain burning in his kidneys and guts like a branding iron searing through him. His face was swelling already, jaw growing tight and tighter still, but it didn't matter. The pain didn't matter.

Mum--why'd you have to be so sick all the time? Don't remember ever seeing you in anything but that damn dressing gown, lying in bed. Never even saw you in street clothes. Mum, Mum.... Bodie tried to pull himself up on his elbows only to flop face down into the street as the ache in a little boy's belly came back with knee doubling intensity.

He clenched his fists to fight off the tears, turning them into anger, blaming them on the pain. Like Dad, always angry about something. Using us, then throwin' us away. And Keirin, so helpless when she was scared, wanting her secret kept. But strong enough to spill her guts when she's no longer in need. Cunning bitch! Yeh, she had the strength to throw you over for another protector. You've been replaced, Sir Galahad.

The sins of the fathers were indeed visited upon the sons. Bodie knew that. He, his mum and sister, even Granny had all paid the price of this particular father's disappointment. The man had taken no pride in earning his daily bread and visited the sin of the slaughterhouse on his family. He was no damn good, no real man would do that to his wife and children. Again Bodie damned his father to hell and congratulated himself for being a better man. No, a small voice in the back of his mind said, I would never kill cows for a living--I kill people....

The pain of that realization hit him harder than any blow in the beating he had just received. "No, no, no..." he rolled in the street and wrapped his arms tight round his burning middle. "That's not the way it is."

The door to the pub opened and disgorged some of the cow killers. As they passed one of the spit on the man still lying in the gutter. "Crazy bastard's talking to 'imself," he said and then they all laughed.

Laughter cut through Bodie's pain to open a new wound and his mind's eye saw how he must appear. This would never do. No matter the pain, no matter what had brought it all on, he could not allow himself to be looked down on by his inferiors.

He had lost control and, to Bodie, that situation was worse than hell. As a deck hand and merc he had learned discipline. Keep your hands busy and the task will occupy your mind. Having only that experience on which to draw, Bodie struggled to his feet and, wiping some of the blood from his face with a sweep of his shirtsleeve, he made his way shakily for the car.

Finally locating a rental shop, he parked the vehicle and threw the keys in the letter box, wondering about deductions for blood stains in the upholstery. He caught a taxi to within a block of where his getaway car was parked. He knew Cowley had emptied his stash from the Victoria Station locker, but crossed his fingers that the car was still here in Liverpool.

It was, though the passport, gun and money weren't.

Slipping under the dash, Bodie soon had the motor started. A stop at a cash point and a visit to "Jimmy's" replaced the important items Cowley had taken. A passport he didn't need now. It was well after midnight when he started south for Wales, and by noon the next day Bodie was solidly dug in at someone's remote cottage.

Doyle gave Cowley his report, then sat back in his chair. The room was silent except for the scratch of Betty's pencil flitting over paper as she wrote.

"So, there you have it, Dr. Ross," the Controller stated, looking anything but pleased. "He's gone to ground. Why? And what will he do next?"

Dr. Ross's face softened into what for her passed for a smile. "The 'why' is very easy, George. You and Doyle pulled the bottom out of his life and his sister didn't help by aiding you. Bodie has spent almost half his life protecting certain secrets. First about what his father was doing, then about how the man died. Those secrets forced him from home and country, and at a very early age. They kept him away twelve years."

"He's feeling resentful, then?"

Everyone smiled. George Cowley always did have a gift for understatement.

"Yes," Dr. Ross continued, "and hate, and most of all betrayal."

Ray watched as Cowley nodded agreement. For his part, Doyle felt several emotions, the strongest one deep embarrassment. All the things he'd thought, all the accusations made, and Bodie had deserved none of them.

"That's the why," Cowley stated, "what can we expect him to do next?"

Dr. Ross sat a little straighter. This was where she earned her keep. "As you say, he's gone to ground to lick his wounds, taking no real care to hide his whereabouts."

Cowley's look was skeptical.

"She's right," Doyle agreed. "If we didn't suss him out before and can now, it's because disappearing isn't his number one concern."

"Agreed," Cowley acquiesced, nodding to Betty to insure she noted that bit of information.

"My 'educated guess'," Katherine Ross provided the inverted commas using her index fingers, "is that Bodie is sorting things out. He needs to reflect and put this new information into perspective. He's replacing the old reality with a new one he can live with. When all the anger is gone, he'll want to come back."

"Will he?" Cowley's eyebrows rose in doubt.

"He may not even know it himself right now, but I'll bet my reputation on it."

"That's good enough for me," Cowley said. "Has your opinion of him changed since your first interview?"

The jackpot question, Doyle thought and listened for Dr. Ross's answer.

"Of course this trauma changes my interpretation of many factors of my assessment," she nodded, "but I'll want another go at him before I'll clear him."

"Thank you, Doctor," Cowley said and as Ross rose to leave, Cowley turned his attention to Doyle. "Take a trip to Wales. Tell Mr. Bodie to report to Macklin on Monday next."

"I thought Brian was doing a two-week survival course for the SAS?"

"He is."

Doyle grimaced as he pictured Bodie going through the hell of one of Macklin's SAS spectaculars. "Punishment?" he queried.

"No," Cowley replied. "Just seeing what he's made of."

"Christ," Doyle muttered eight hours later as he bounced his way along the back roads of Wales. Bodie deserves a fortnight with Macklin for putting me thought this.

A freshly dressed pheasant in his belt, Bodie made his cautious way through the woods towards the cabin he'd called home for the past four days. Sensing something, he stopped and dropped to a crouch, then carefully circled the building. When he noted the flash car with the high-powered radio he knew it wasn't the owners come home to claim.

Gun drawn, Bodie snapped the cabin door open and aimed. Doyle, leaning back in a chair, his feet on the table, saluted him with a glass of amber liquid.

Bodie safetied the weapon and stuck it in his waistband. "Make yourself at home," he said with a wave of his arm.

"Already have, but thanks, mate." Doyle stopped in mid swallow to stare at Bodie. "Run into a door, did you?" he asked, referring to Bodie's very bruised eye.

"Don't recall inviting you," Bodie said, ignoring the remark as he walked to the kitchen and threw the bird into the sink.

"Didn't relish coming--orders." Doyle took another swallow of scotch.

"That the only excuse you've got?" Bodie went to the fireplace, stoked the dying embers and put on two more logs.

"Yep," Doyle emptied his glass. "Messenger boy is what I am." He threw a piece of paper onto the table. "Be there--on time."

Bodie walked over to look down at the paper, then at Doyle.

"What's this, Messenger Boy?"

He watched as Doyle's face conveyed his feelings on the remark, then Doyle got up and headed for the door. Bodie stood where he was as first the cabin door then the car door slammed. Only then did he move.

"Sorry," he called from the doorway. "Hungry?" he asked when he could think of nothing else to say. "Should eat before heading back."

Receiving no reply, Bodie went back inside expecting to hear the car motor any second. Needing something to do, he readied the bird for cooking.

He had just put the roasting pan in the oven when he heard the cottage door open.

"You cooking that pheasant?" Doyle asked.

"Just put 'er in." Bodie pointed to the oven.

"Okay," Doyle nodded and headed for the easy chair in front of the fire.

"Didn't happen to bring any beer, did you?"

"In the boot." Doyle dug into his pocket and tossed Bodie the keys.

Sipping lager in front of the fire, the aroma of roasting pheasant filling the room, the two sat silently as embers popped and cracked in the fireplace. Outside the early December night grew colder.

"Beer's a peace offering," Doyle supplied after several moments. "Feel like a real berk about that whole business with your sister."

Then before Bodie could start anything, he added, "Got anything to go with that bird?"

"Found some tins: yams, corn and green beans. And a bread mix. Does that suit you, Sir?"

"Yeh," Doyle smiled, pretending not to notice the sarcasm. "That'll do just fine. In fact, I'll just catch me a little kip here by the fire and you can call me when dinner's ready."

"Don't hold your breath," Bodie muttered as he jerked up out of his chair and went to the kitchen. He knew that Doyle would be asleep within minutes. The haggard look and dark circles Doyle sported had not escaped Bodie's notice.

Bodie woke Doyle with a "grub's on", and Doyle dragged himself from the easy chair to the table.

"You look knackered, Mate. Too many late nights?"

"Yeh, only not the kind you mean. We're short handed and everyone's pulling extra duty."

"And I'm causing you extra work, that what you're saying?" he snapped.

"Christ, Bodie, don't get so defensive. Martin's in hospital and Short's on disability, and the IRA seems to be plotting something big, and we're all busy. That's the way it is with this job. Feast or famine." The hard look on his face softened. "Speaking of feast, now this is one." With great relish he slipped a large piece of meat into his mouth. "Mmmm, that's good." Bodie accepted the olive branches of explanation and compliment, trying to relax with Doyle.

"Don't talk with your mouth full. Didn't your mum teach you anything?"

Without any planning, they fell into their old routine, and Ray cleaned the kitchen because Bodie had cooked. Bodie used the time to bring in more wood and build up the fire.

Chores done, Ray found the cards Bodie had been using for Patience and the two played PonToon for a couple of hours.

"Tell me about this Macklin," Bodie asked. "What can I expect?"

Doyle looked pained, then smiled ruefully. "Two weeks of hell. He's a mean tough bastard with CI5, but for some reason the SAS really brings out the worst in him."

"Why's Cowley doing this?"

"We all get it at one time or another. I think the old man feels that if you can survive it, you're fit for the mob."

"Did you mention something about seeing Dr. Ross again?"

"Yeh, she wants another go at you, but I think you'll pass this time. She knows all about Keirin of course," Ray's voice lowered somewhat at these words, "but she knew there was something you were hiding, and now I think she understands."

"Christ, I hope so." But the prospect of more sessions with that icy headed trickster was almost enough to drive him back to Africa.

Having enough of cards, Doyle got them each another beer and headed back to the comfortable chair.

The next hour passed in silence, Bodie on the settee and Doyle dozing in the recliner that had seen better days. Bodie had spent the time watching Doyle and it put him in mind of another such chair with himself the occupant. That particular chair had belonged to one Sheila Pierson whom Bodie had met one night in a bar in Brazzaville. Quickly realizing they both wanted the same thing, she had invited him home. They had made love immediately and, since Bodie was on R & R, several more times through the night and into the next day. By evening they were both feeling quite peckish. After as good a dinner as Bodie could afford they sat in her lounge listening to soft music, and making love again in the cramped shower.

Wearing only his robe, Bodie had relaxed in a chair not unlike the one Doyle was dozing in now. And like Doyle, Bodie had raised one arm over his head to rest it on the top of the chair. Also like Doyle, Bodie had closed his eyes in a light, comfortable sleep.

As Bodie dozed he had been marginally aware of Sheila approaching and felt her lips on his raised wrist. Then the sensation of satiny cloth, like her robe, slipped around that same wrist.

"Shhhh," she had whispered when he tried to rouse. "Shhh, Bodie, we're going to do this my way."

"Hmmm," he remembered responding, smiling behind closed eyes. She reached for his other wrist and, raising it above his head, kissed it then bound it to the other. Bodie tested the restraints and found the slight pressure just enough to excite. He had never played this game before, but decided what the hell, it was probably time he did.

Bodie's crotch twitched as he held that mental image and watched Doyle, curls falling over his forehead, shirt buttons open to the waist. What would he think, Bodie could just imagine, if I tied him to that chair?

After a few seconds of silence Sheila had slipped a silk scarf over Bodie's closed eyes. Bodie's cock grew at the memory. Hell, he thought, with my luck I wouldn't even have a clean handkerchief to use on Doyle. Bloody hell, I'd rip the bed sheets if I thought I could get the job done.

His arms secure, and his eyes covered, Bodie had felt the slide of his robe belt being slowly pulled from around his middle. Next the toweling material slipped around one ankle and his legs were gently pushed apart. The belt tightened around his ankle and a soft hand ran up and down his calf gently pushing his leg to the side of the chair, then his foot was nudged back. Knowing the other leg would be next, Bodie had to consciously unlock his knee to allow Sheila to push his leg into place. The belt tightened around the other ankle and the chairleg, effectively spreadeagling him for her.

Bound now, his robe lying open, Bodie felt an incredible rush of arousal that belied their earlier bouts of sex. Sheila began with light kisses at his neck and proceeded south. There was a lengthy detour for each nipple and another to circle around and around his navel.

It seemed an eternity before that soft mouth had finished with his navel and continued on its southward journey.

"Suck it!" he'd ordered as she hovered over his steel cock.

Immediately she withdrew.

"Damn it, Sheila." Angrily Bodie thrust his hips forward straining for her mouth. "Suck it."

"Bad Bodie," she whispered in his right ear. "Remember, I said we're doing this my way. Now be a good boy or Sheila will have to put a gag in that pretty, pouty mouth."

"Damn it, Sheila." Bodie repeated as he pulled at the bindings.

Surprisingly enough, they did not give. Then the swish of material and another scarf went around his mouth. "Shei-la!" He struggled to talk but gave up when she ignored his twisting protests.

"Now that's a very good Bodie boy," she whispered in his left ear just before running her tongue along the rim and sucking the lobe into her mouth.

Bodie found that part of the intrigue was not knowing where she would touch next. She would withdraw and stay quiet just long enough for him the feel the sensory deprivation as his anticipation and anxiety built. Then a soft touch would light somewhere on his body.

One hard jerk, Bodie knew, would free him, but he also knew that he really didn't want to end these sweet sensations.

Sheila began again, from that same spot on his neck and re-tongued her way around each nipple, to navel, to hover over his cock. In helpless frustration, but silently this time, Bodie pushed forward hoping she would take pity on his throbbing need. She didn't. He felt the pressure of her body lift from him and groaned heavily around the gag.

"Shhhh" she scolded, then wispy fingers fluttered over his inner thighs. His cock throbbed in time with his thumping heart.

"There'll be no mercy, Bodie. Not for you tonight." With those words a feather played its way up and down his thighs, withdrew to gently flutter its way around his face and neck.

After a lengthy silence that almost drove him mad, Sheila knelt between his legs, her naked breasts pushing up under his balls, brushing back and forth, her nipples rubbing up and down the pulsing vein of his standing cock. He strained against the ties, thinking he'd explode as his body yearned for each teasing stroke.

After what seemed like an eternity, Sheila mounted him and they rode to a spectacular finish.

Remembering that exquisite torture and his sense of helplessness he looked at the man dozing six feet from him and wanted to work that same sweet on torture him. Might as well be half a world away for all the good it would ever do me. Stiff-necked berk would probably have a heart attack.

Bodie's rock hard cock throbbed inside his cords and he knew to move quickly would be to injure himself. He shifted slowly and moving quietly, he got off the settee and made for the loo, there to end his own torment.

The hand massage brought only marginal relief and Bodie was reminded of the difficulty of pissing with his cock pointing at the ceiling. Having completed both, he went back to the settee to sit and stare at the sleeping Doyle.

When he thought his voice was no longer in his balls, Bodie laid a hand on Doyle's shoulder. "Better get to bed," he said, "get a right crick in your neck sleeping there."

"Yeh," Doyle muttered and stretched, completely unaware of Bodie's eyes on him. "Goodnight." He stood and headed toward the bedroom Bodie had said he could use.

Bodie, in his own bed, relieved his fantasy into a face flannel, the back of his free hand pressed hard against his mouth to stifle the sound of his climax.

Chapter Six

Hot water pouring over him, Bodie slumped against the cold concrete block of the shower wall. He concentrated his last reserves of energy on keeping his feet under him. There was no question of washing himself. He hadn't the strength to soap the flannel, much less lift his arms to scrub the latest addition to two weeks of dirt embedded in his skin. He would stay under the stream of water as long as his legs would hold and if some of the dirt ran off him, it did; if not, that was all right too.

He had honestly been naïve enough to think there was nothing worse than jungle training, but Brian Macklin had apparently been there himself and found the program sorely lacking. In the last thirteen days, he had climbed a million miles of rope and rappelled right back down; he'd run across every hill and valley; jumped over every crag and crawled through every mudhole in Wales. He had been worked over so professionally it made the beating he'd taken at the pub seem like a kiddy carnival, and there wasn't a single inch of skin, muscle or bone that wasn't bruised and aching. He was so far beyond his last reserves that he'd have sobbed with fatigue, if only he'd had the strength left.

When his knees began to buckle, Bodie staggered toward his cot, without even attempting to turn off the shower or grab a towel, and fell across it. He was asleep before he landed, his mind in despair. Tomorrow he faced Dr. Ross.

Bodie watched from the window of his hastily rented bedsit as Ray Doyle whipped the Escort into an empty parking space. The car horn blared three quick blasts, but Bodie did not move. Calculating that Doyle would be good for ten minutes, he headed for the dining room and another cup of tea.

Nine minutes and 30 seconds later Bodie stepped out onto the sidewalk. Doyle was already maneuvering the car into traffic as Bodie caught the door and hopped in. Tyres squealed.

Doyle concentrated on his driving while Bodie made himself comfortable in the passenger seat and smiled out the passenger window. The car radio provided a one-sided conversation as Doyle threaded his way through the early morning traffic.

Rolling to a stop in CI5's parking lot, Doyle hit the auto door lock switch and turned off the radio. He threw Bodie a challenging look and said, "Brian and Kate put it to you, huh? Well don't take it out on me." Doyle paused, then continued, "As for that business with your sister, I'll apologize just once for that, but I had to do it, and you know that." In a kinder tone he asked, "How's Keirin gettin' on?"

"Fine," Bodie snapped, then unlocking the door, he got out.

Left no choice, Doyle shrugged and followed Bodie to Cowley's office.

After ten minutes they were given leave to enter. "Late, as usual," George Cowley said, not bothering to look up. "Doyle, get with Jax. He has your orders."

Doyle frowned at the injustice, but only nodded to the top of the Controller's head and retreated without a word.

Bodie stood at parade rest until Cowley finished, called Betty, turned over the paperwork and gave instructions. His desk cleared, he focused on Bodie.

"Your sister is well?" George Cowley asked.

"Bloody Christ," Bodie swore under his breath. Did everyone know where he'd spent the weekend?

When Cowley cleared his throat Bodie finally said, "She's fine, Sir," but he kept his gaze focused just over Cowley's head.

Scrutinizing Bodie, the Controller shook his head. "Ach, sit down, man, and stop these games.... Have you even had morning tea?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Well, another cup can't hurt. Come along."

Cowley led the way to the squad room. "Coffee do?" he asked on seeing a full pot. Bodie nodded and accepted the offered cup.

Since the room was otherwise empty, Cowley chose the window table. It provided the room's only sunny spot on an otherwise gray Monday morning.

Cowley looked up after several sips of the hot drink. "I did what had to be done and you understand that." Still studying the young would-be agent, Cowley continued. "You aren't naïve enough to believe your background would not be fully investigated. And as for Doyle, he was following my orders, just as all my men do, just as you will. Now wipe that sulk off your face and keep it off," he ordered crisply, and Bodie found himself fighting the automatic urge to obey.

George Cowley sat back in his chair and stared Bodie down until he finally offered the mandatory "Yes, Sir."

"Bodie, I know you're anxious to get on with your work and your life. But these things take time. It's only been six weeks."

Almost seven, Bodie thought, but decided not to split hairs. Taking advantage of the informality to be candid, Bodie said what was on his mind. "Been wondering, Sir, if I've made a mistake. I know governments. They don't want me in this job."

"You're right, they don't," he agreed. "The Home Secretary choked on his tea when I mentioned your background. But you have skills and contacts that I can turn to my advantage. I'll get the task done, but it'll take some doing. So be patient." Cowley fixed Bodie with a hard look. "Laddie, you have few options in your life right now. Don't do anything foolish." Bodie looked up to find Cowley's eyes still on him. "Do I make myself clear, Mr. Bodie?"

"Yes, Sir," Bodie repeated for the third time that morning.

His lecture finished, the Controller went directly to the business of the day. "You'll be working with Loveday on surveillance this week. He'll be in at eleven o'clock to brief you.... And by the way," Cowley said almost as an afterthought. "You will need to stop by the armory for your weapon and identification."

Bodie's eyes widened in surprise as Cowley continued. "It's to be the lowest security level to start. And the work will be routine, but it is a beginning."

Bodie tried to suppress the grin he knew must be all over his face.

Cowley acknowledged the smile, but kept his own confined to his eyes. "Come along," he said. "Betty will have your papers ready."

His manner completely sober now, Bodie accepted the folder of papers Cowley handed him. He began reading and was half through the Official Secrets Act when Betty announced a visitor. The Controller rose as the guest was ushered in and Bodie was on his feet and at attention in the next instant. Under Doyle's tutelage he had committed the face and vital statistics of every high government official to memory. He knew the man entering the room was the Home Secretary himself.

"Sir?" Cowley questioned, obviously not expecting this visit. "To what do we owe the pleasure." It was just as obvious that Cowley wasn't sure it would be.

"To our Mr. Bodie, here." the dignitary said, his eyes assessing as he walked a half-circle about Bodie. "You were about to swear him in, were you not, George... into our bosom, as it were."

"Aye, Sir, as I told you yesterday when we spoke. Has some information surfaced since then?"

Bodie's heart sledgehammered against the wall of his chest.

The Home Secretary, his eyes still measuring the young man standing silently before him, did not answer immediately. "No," he finally said, just when Bodie thought his lungs would burst. "I thought perhaps I would witness the oath taking, the swearing of allegiance. Do you mind, Mr. Bodie?"

"No, Sir," Bodie said, his voice cracking, "I'd be pleased."

The Home Secretary moved toward Cowley and the two began talking quietly as Bodie almost flopped back into his chair from sheer relief. Jesus Christ, it could have been anything.... Hand shaking, he picked up the folder and tried to read the words, but the print kept blurring before his eyes.

He really didn't need to read every word. Bodie knew what he was committing to and the penalties he faced for failure. His composure regained, he stood. "Finished, Sir."

"Good lad, then we are ready to continue. The Home Secretary has a few questions he would like to put to you before we get on with the swearing in."

Again Bodie's heart rate began to accelerate as the Home Sec stepped toward him. "I have gone over your transcripts most thoroughly, young man, and Doctor Ross's evaluation. Of course, I know what George here thinks. What I would like now, Mr. Bodie, is to hear your feelings."

Bodie swallowed hard and plunged ahead. "It's my country, Sir, and I want the chance to serve her. Didn't think much about that when I was coming up...." Bodie almost lost his train of thought as the image of the Home Secretary reading all the bits about his dad and Keirin flashed through his mind, but he shook it off and continued. "But in Africa, when I was learning to fight, even then I wanted to put my skills to better use." Bodie pulled himself up a little taller. "You won't regret takin' me on, Sir. I won't fail you, CI5...or my country."

"Very good, Mr. Bodie, now if you would raise your right hand."

Nice Christmas pressie, that, Bodie thought as he recited the words.

Time has a funny way of playing with people, Bodie reflected as he sat at the same window table he and Cowley had shared just six weeks ago. Now another six weeks had passed and the situation within CI5 and Bodie's state of mind were even worse. The only bright spot had been Christmas day spent with Keirin and Jeremy.

"What's up?" Bodie heard Jax ask as he slid his cuppa onto the next table and sat down beside Mike Upchurch.

"Well, it's not the roof," Upchurch said dismally. "That's about to fall in."

Before Jax could extract any more information Betty appeared in the doorway and summoned the four from the previous night's disaster to Cowley's office for an official CI5 debriefing. Bodie deliberately lagged behind Griggs, Monroe and Upchurch.

As he entered the office the first thing Bodie noted was Cowley's face. It was a stern-faced man indeed who sat behind the Controller's desk. The icy blue eyes were hard and facial muscles drawn tight. He looks more angry now, Bodie thought, than he did the night I almost killed him.

Completing his evaluation of the Controller, Bodie turned his attention to Upchurch, Monroe, and Griggs. Having scooted his chair back ever-so-slightly before sitting down, Bodie could then lean back and cocking his head a bit, observe the other men.

The three sat stick straight in their chairs in front of the big desk. Upchurch was visibly perspiring. Well he might, Bodie reflected, for when all the facts came out--and Bodie had no doubt that they would--agent 6.4 was going to be--as the Yanks so aptly phrased it--in deep shit.

Monroe sat with his eyes down and hands in his lap, looking for all the world like a worried student before an angry headmaster, which was about right, actually. Griggs was twisting his wedding ring and staring out the window. Muted traffic noises combined with mysterious building rumbles and drowned out the occupants' deep breathing to provide the only sound. Bodie glanced surreptitiously at his watch. It was 8:25 a.m. and already it had all the makings of a really lousy day.

"Now," Cowley said, drowning out the silence in the room, "let us begin with you, Mr. Upchurch, since you were in charge of this particular operation."

The agent squirmed in his seat then coughed. "Well, Sir, ah as you know, Bodie and I were on stakeout at number 16874 Morelane Court. Object of surveillance was 16873, the house over the road suspected of harboring one John Highland. On information provided by an informant, we were expecting an arms deal. Monroe and Griggs were backup and...."

Bodie listened to Upchurch's words. They sounded as if he'd stayed up the rest of last night rehearsing them--which was very possible. More importantly Bodie knew what Upchurch wasn't telling. He wasn't saying how dissatisfied he was not only with his assigned duty, but also with his partner for that duty. While not as adamant as some Bodie had encountered, Upchurch did not believe that Bodie should be allowed duty status until he had full security clearance. But even more strongly were the agent's feelings on the worthiness of this particular operation. "It's Johns and Clements who are where the action is," he had complained over and over. "That's where it's going to happen." To say that due to this frame of mind, Upchurch had not given his best to this operation was an understatement indeed.

"What I want," said Cowley, interrupting and startling Upchurch into jerking the chair backwards, "are the facts of what happened between midnight to 0600 hours this morning."

"Yes, Sir." Upchurch said tugging at his shirt collar. "Bodie was on watch, and I, well, Sir...I was off the premises."

"I see." Cowley leaned back in his chair, but continued to focus on the nervous agent who was now sweating profusely.


Heaving a deep sigh, he began with a new resolve and Bodie had to credit the man his honesty, if not his personality, sense of duty or skill. "I left the premises and it wasn't the first time. We had been there eleven nights and I was gone for three to five hours on four of those nights. Leaving Bodie on watch, I went through the back alley to a bedsit on the next street. Had a bird stashed there and.... Always had my RT though," he added, trying desperately not to sound completely inept. "Was never out of range, was less than three minutes away."

"Those three minutes cost us the whole operation." Cowley's voice was calm and deep and scared Bodie to hell.

"Yes, Sir." Upchurch's voice was a whisper.

"Go on," Cowley commanded., obviously determined to force Upchurch to dig his own bloody grave and lie down in it, thereby sparing himself all the bother.

Upchurch swallowed again. "Was about 0230 when Bodie called on the restricted channel, said that a black van and a blue car, Escort, he thought, had pulled up with six men, all armed, big stuff. He was yelling that something was going down and that he was going to switch over to an open channel and call for backup. I.... I told him no, said to do nothing till I got there."

"Sir," Bodie interrupted only to have Cowley turn on him and fix him with a venomous stare.

"Quiet! I'll get to you later!"

Bodie froze in his place and after a few seconds Upchurch continued.

"We...ah.... We kept the RT open. I ran back, Bodie yelling all the time. They were getting into position. Finally, he said he was gonna call for backup 'cause they were going in. Then I heard shots."

"How did you proceed?" The calm in Cowley's voice would have fooled anyone--except those who worked for him.

"Ran faster, didn't I? Didn't have to worry about being heard, all hell had broken loose. Didn't go in the house, ran around to see Bodie engagin' in fire...."

"Enough. Now Bodie."

A relieved Upchurch slumped in his chair while Bodie straightened in his. "I counted six, four in the van, tag TSP 5423, two in the car. It was an Escort, tag MTF 6091. After calling for backup, I made my way outside for a closer look. To buy time, I sliced the van tyres and started working my way to the other vehicle. Shooting from inside the house had stopped. Came face-to-face with one of them coming out the side door. Took him out, but not before he got off a warning shot. Then they were all over me. I made cover and returned fire, but the other five were in the car and gone before Monroe and Griggs arrived. That's about it, Sir."

"Monroe," Cowley said immediately, "was there any delay with your team's response?"

"Somewhat, Sir. We were getting conflicting reports. Bodie was yelling for us to get moving, that the op was goin' down, and, well, Sir," the man shifted uncomfortably in his chair, "well, Upchurch was saying to hold on until he assessed the situation."

"What exactly did you do?" The Controller leaned forward and zeroed in on Monroe.

"When we heard the shots, we took off. But...."

"But," Cowley interrupted, "by then it was too late to salvage anything."

"Yes, Sir."

"Griggs, do you concur with your partner's report?"

"Yes, Sir."

Bodie watched as Cowley sat back in his chair again and steepled his fingers. In front of the big desk breaths were held all around.

"So," the Controller began, his voice deceptively calm, "we have two men dead, Highland and one unknown thug, and the money we suspected Highland of having to make the arms buy was not found, and they know we're on to them. Analysis, Mr. Upchurch."

Mike Upchurch paled as he inhaled deeply. "No excuse, Sir, Bodie does not have full status and was not to be left alone. But I knew he wouldn't report me so I took advantage and did something I've never done before, left my station. Then, when things started to happen, I panicked and didn't use my head. I knew if Bodie called for backup, people would ask where I was. I have no excuse, Sir," he repeated, "very unprofessional of me and," Upchurch stood and came to attention, "I feel that I must offer my res...."

Cowley came out of his chair to lean over the desk at Upchurch. "Sit down, man, and don't make me an offer I am in no mood to refuse."

Upchurch closed his mouth and sat down.

Silence prevailed like a dark cloud for several long seconds, then Cowley asked, "Does anyone have anything else to add to this report?"

Four modest "No, Sirs" were voiced.

"Then you are dismissed. Upchurch, wait outside. I'll have more to say to you. Bodie, stay."

Bodie retook his seat while Cowley paced the room.

"I know this 'whipping boy' business goes on, of course, but I never thought one of my men would allow it to go this far. Have you experienced this behavior with the other agents I've partnered you with?"

"Somewhat, Sir, but nothing like this."

"But you have had problems?"

"You know the game, Mr. Cowley," he said shrugging. "'Bodie, fetch the sandwiches,' 'be a good lad and get some coffee.' 'Bodie's not really one of us, he can't talk back so give him the scut work.' Mostly it was that kind of funny stuff. I was used to the game playing, knew I was low man on the squad and had to take my time in the pit, but then it started getting serious. If we pulled an early watch, I was the only one there; my 'partner' would show up mid-morning or so. I guess I knew it was only a matter of time, then Mike got carried away. He didn't like the op, thought it a waste of time...."

"I don't ask my men to like their assignments! I expect them to obey orders...." Cowley visibly caught his own anger, forcing a calm on himself before continuing. "So, they've all played these little games?"

"Well, no, Sir, not all of them. Jax was always straight with me. Scuttlebutt says he had it pretty rough in the beginning. Guess that's why he didn't dish it back.... And Doyle, he always gave me equal status if the job allowed it. Surprised me, sod that he is. But I guess we both know why." Noticing that Cowley had cooled somewhat, Bodie pushed his luck and asked. "You givin' Mike the boot? He's really a good man, you know."

"You think I would tell you before him? And if I should ever want your opinion, I'll ask for it. Go on with you," he waved Bodie away, "I'm finished for now. And tell agent 6.4 that I'll be ready for him in exactly 15 minutes."

"Yes, Sir." Once dismissed, Bodie did not linger.

Finding Upchurch sitting by himself in a corner of the squad room, Bodie gave him the word then retreated.

The other agents had duties which allowed them to leave the scene of the execution, but Bodie had no orders, and no place else to go. He could only sit across the room from Upchurch and guess what the agent was thinking. Bodie made no move to engage the man in conversation. Experience had taught him that most men in Upchurch's position preferred to be left alone. In the end, Bodie reflected, we all hang alone. Right at this moment there wasn't a man on the squad who would change places with Mike Upchurch. In a few minutes he would face the brunt of Cowley's wrath alone.

No one, except the two involved, knew what was said in the Controller's office that morning, but then no one had to. The results showed themselves in the duty rosters. Mike Upchurch pulled a month suspension, without pay, then repeated basic recruit training and began pulling below status assignments. Bodie was no longer low man on the squad.

Chapter Seven

Uncomfortably scrunched down in the front of the Escort, his legs twisted at an odd angle and his back already aching, Bodie kept his eyes glued to the binoculars as he peered through the haze. He was having trouble keeping his eyes open. Coffee would help, but a sleeping Doyle was between him and the thermos. Damn he hated these early morning jobs.

Eyes drooping, Bodie noticed movement behind the curtains of an upstairs window. "Here we go again." Bodie's words were wrapped around a long, drawn out yawn.

"Hmmmm," Doyle muttered in his sleep.

"Don't get up on our account, Sunshine. We're just doing our usual morning chores." Only a hint of sarcasm touched Bodie's voice.

"Airing our bedding again, are we?" Doyle asked in his state of semi-sleep.

"You win the Kupie doll," Bodie said as the window in question flew open and a duvet was spread over the sill.

"Great!" Bodie muttered. "Here we sit at the crack of dawn watching some housewife air out her bedding." He could not help but laugh at the situation.

Doyle roused himself enough to reach for the thermos. Handing Bodie a cup, he proposed a toast. "To CI5's finest," he said, "and the daring, deadly, difficult jobs we do."

Then they both laughed, and laughter between them was easy.

Some of the strain in their relationship had dissipated over the past weeks, particularly when the boring monotony of the job drove the two to joke with each other, kill each other or go crazy.

"Here," Doyle said, slapping a newspaper into Bodie's hands. "Read while I watch."

"Why," Bodie queried, "do you get to sleep while it's my turn on watch and during your turn, I have to read?"

"Cause I said so that's why." Though not delivered with any semblance of animosity, Bodie still took exception to Doyle's words.

"Look, Doyle..." Bodie began.

"No, Bodie, you look. You claim to want to be an agent in this organization and that means keeping up on what's going on in the world. You've been out of touch for a long time. Ms. Von Broegen should have proven that to you."

"And?" Bodie said, waiting for what Doyle wasn't saying.

"And what?"

"Come on, Doyle. There's more to this. Since when do you care if I make it as an agent or not?"

"Since the rest of the squad said it couldn't be done, that's when. They're placing bets, you know. And for some reason the Cow seems to have some faith in you, although I'm sure I don't know why. He thinks you can make it, has gone to bat for you with the Home Secretary; if you come up short, Cowley looks bad."

Bodie, subdued, picked up the newspaper and began reading.

"Bodie, your mum air her bedding out the window?" Arms propped on the car's window ledge, Doyle leaned on the binoculars.

"Granny did, why?" Bodie answered from behind his newspaper.

"So'd me mum. But why is this woman doing it?" he asked absently. Doyle had an annoying habit of mulling over things aloud and Bodie toyed with the idea of telling him in no uncertain terms just what he thought of it. "Not something you'd think a suspected smuggler would be doing, now is it?"Doyle went on. "Either we've got the wrong woman or she's a flake. Me mum would put the bedding out and leave it; this lady keeps fussing with it, coming back to the window and fluffing the duvet. Now she's taken the white one in and put a blue one in its place. Something just doesn't make sense...."

"A signal!" The two said in unison as Bodie straightened, the newspaper falling to the floor of the car.

"Those two kids," Bodie began looking for the spare pair of binoculars, "they just left for school like they've done every day this week. So what's different today that she's signaling that it's all clear?"

"I don't know, but something just might be." Doyle kept his binoculars trained on the house as Bodie used the second pair to scan the surrounding area.

"To the left, Doyle, someone's coming up the street."

Doyle swung his head and focused on the figure in question. "Bodie," he said excitedly, "that's our man. That's Little Mart the Fart, and he's carrying a satchel." Doyle quickly exchanged the binoculars for a camera.

The man in question did not approach the front door of the house. Instead he stood close to the tall hedges and waited. Within a few minutes the garage door opened and the car pulled out, the woman who had been so conscientiously airing her bedding behind the wheel. After placing his satchel in the boot the man got in and the car drove away. The whir of the camera's motor drive filled the expectant silence between the two as Doyle recorded all of these events on film.

Doyle finished the roll and handed the camera to Bodie. "Who would ever suspect such an ordinary looking woman?"

"Me," Bodie said as he rewound the film and unloaded the camera. He had seen enough in Africa to suspect everyone. "That's who they recruit, Doyle, the ordinary, innocent-looking ones."

Something in Bodie's tone made Doyle stare at him as he picked up the RT to call in their report.

Chapter Eight

"Damn bloody bitch!" Doyle slammed the bedroom door with such force that the old safehouse shook.

Bodie, sprawled on the bed, forced his eyes open and looked up as Doyle shucked his clothes and pulled on a jogging suit. "What'd Miss Manners do this time?" he asked absently, already knowing the source of Doyle's irritation and vaguely taking the opportunity to enjoy the show of skin and temper.

"Jesus, Bodie, she's one right bitch--got no feelings for anyone," he snapped.

"'Cept herself."

"Soddin' right! She's on that poor Pakkie maid again--had her in tears. Woman needs the job and--oh bloody hell!"

"Don't let 'em know they're gettin' to ya, Doyle." These last words were said to Doyle's back as the frustrated agent pulled on his trainers and bolted. Bodie knew Doyle had to run off this anger. Better than hittin' birds, or the bottle, he reflected. There was another slam of the outside door and Doyle was gone.

His hands behind his head, Bodie stared at the ceiling trying to muster the energy to face that 'knife-nosed bitch'--as he mentally referred to Ms. Talbot. Eleven days of baby sitting her had left him weary to the bone and Doyle's spring wound tight to exploding. What had begun as another routine babysitting job had rapidly turned into a right pain.

Mild depression had settled heavily around Bodie. It had been six months since he left Africa, six months of all night surveillance, files and babysitting. He should have stayed in Africa working for the Cartel. Instead of babysitting spineless cowards who turned Crown's grass on their cohorts for a lighter sentence, frightened women who had to admit they had no idea what line of work their husbands were really into, or spoiled brats like Margo Talbot who would rat on their own fathers' drug peddling just to keep their share of the ill-gotten goods, he could be in Africa...running drugs to England and guns to South America. At that thought Bodie's depression worsened.

He was reminded of Cowley's words about his lack of options at this time in his life. Boring menial work with men who still didn't know him and weren't sure they trusted him, or murder, drugs and mayhem to help callous rich men get richer. It wasn't much of a choice or much of a life he had worked himself into, and his options weren't going to improve in the near future. But CI5? he asked himself.

He wondered again what he had been thinking that night when he had surrendered his gun to George Cowley and he decided, again, that he must have been crazy. Too much African sun. Yet something in Bodie had to take the chance, something in him knew that if he completed his assigned task of killing George Cowley, his life would cease to be under his own control. A shiver skated over Bodie's back as he remembered that night. His voice might have sounded steady, but his heart had been pounding in his chest when he spoke those life-deciding words. He had felt Cowley's eyes bore into him, but he'd stood his ground and met the older man's gaze. Bodie's eyes had been watering and his outstretched arm cramped in pain before Cowley had finally taken the weapon.

And why, Bodie now wondered, had he bothered?

Everything was lousy in CI5: the pay--if it weren't for his savings he'd be starving by now; the flat--a paint-peeling, cramped, share-the-bath bedsit was not his idea of a flat. Still on probation, Bodie's housing did not come out of George Cowley's budget, and Bodie'd be damned if he'd use his own money. The weather was lousy. He'd been freezing his arse ever since he left Africa. But worst of all, in Bodie's opinion, was the job. Since Cowley had not yet been able to get him full security clearance, Bodie had been relegated to all the low priority jobs--errand running and records maintenance. And when that type of assignment wasn't available he was sent to the files. At times like this he felt that the old man would never get the job done, never get him security clearance; that he would grow old and die listening to the bitchy whining of the world's Margo Talbots.

Bodie stretched lazily but did not move to get up. He decided that he had better turn his mood around before he faced the dragon lady. He told himself that there had to be something good about his decision or he wouldn't have made it, and he continued to think on the matter.

Of course his renewed relationship with Keirin balanced out the past six months on the positive side. They were really the only family each other had, and he had missed her. Once he had sent money and she had flown to Abidjan for holiday. They had spent two great weeks together with him showing her around and buying for her. He had thought that she was doing well, had no idea that all that rubbish with their father was still locked up in her. He should have known better. Although he would not admit it to anyone, he was relieved to have it out in the open and Keirin on the mend. While spending the Christmas holiday with her, Bodie had watched as Keirin opened up to life. Having rid herself of her burden, she was beginning to live. Someday, he thought to himself, he should forgive Doyle and let him off the hook, but not for a long while yet. It was too convenient having the mop-headed agent on the defensive.

Doyle.... Bodie pictured the green-eyed golly. Irritating bastard, he was. Instincts of a street fighter; quick, good with a gun, could have used a dozen of his kind in Africa--but in the personality department, he needed some work. Testy sod most of the time but a guilt center twice the size of his brain. Doyle...the verdict wasn't in on that one yet.

The image remained in Bodie's mind and he had to admit that something had caught between the two of them from the beginning. Both knew it, yet neither would admit it. Bodie smiled to himself as he recalled how accommodating Doyle had been since the incident with Keirin, and Bodie suffered no pang of conscience about taking advantage. The only thing that made his bedsit livable was that he didn't spend much time there. When the two worked together, Bodie bunked at Doyle's flat. It was a nice, roomy place with a big tub and shower, and while Doyle was not as tidy, Bodie found it tolerable. After Africa, Bodie found almost anything tolerable, but he wasn't about to let Doyle know that. Bodie's smile grew as he tried to feel some guilt at his treatment of his partner, but he simply told himself that the man deserved it. Bodie would have his shower after Doyle, being gracious and letting the host go first. This assured him that Doyle would conserve on hot water and Bodie could have all he wanted. Then Bodie, draped in a towel, would, not really meaning to mind you, just lie on the bed for a few minutes to rest. Once he was asleep, soft-headed/hearted Doyle would never wake him and would sleep on the lumpy sofa himself. One of these days, Bodie knew, Doyle was going to be pushed too far, but by then Bodie hoped to have his own flat.

Then, of course, there were the birds. Between him and Doyle there was a constant fresh supply and here too, Bodie felt no compunction about taking his pick. The heat of some of these memories began to center in his groin, and Bodie knew he had better get his mind back on the assignment. The thought of Margo Talbot was like cold water on his crotch.

They had been the third unit assigned to babysit the bitch First team was two females. Margo complained that they weren't able to provide her proper protection. Cowley acquiesced, providing a mixed unit. Again Margo grumbled, but only about Meg. Cowley's next decision was to assign Doyle and Bodie, figuring that if she wanted men, she deserved those two.

Bodie remembered the first two or three days of this assignment. It had begun, or so Bodie had thought, on a positive note. Margo Talbot seemed a well educated lady who kept matters on a business level, only occasionally allowing her fear to show. Their conversations were interesting and timely and mostly concerned with their work. Ms. Talbot had a lot of questions on that subject and seemed to find their partnership very interesting.

Though Bodie considered her a real dog in the looks department (long pointed nose on a horsy face that tended to blotch and would not improve with age), he did attempt to join in the conversation and answer her questions. After all, they were going to be spending two weeks together and those cases were always easier if everyone was pleasant. What Bodie couldn't figure out was why Doyle was so standoffish.

"I know you don't mess around on duty," Bodie had stated, "but can't you at least be civil?"

"Stay away from her," Doyle had snapped. "I've had dealings with her kind before and they're nothing but trouble."

"Her kind? What's that supposed to mean, and since when are you ducking that kind of trouble?"

"Christ, Bodie, you've been in the jungle too long. You see the way she's comin' on to both of us. What'd you think she's at?"

"Playing one against the other," Bodie replied simply. "It won't work, but then she doesn't know that."

Doyle shook his head. "First thing, Bodie, she isn't playing, she's serious. I'll lay odds she's one of them that likes it rough, and...probably the two-to-one ratio. Bloody hell, Bodie, I'm telling you--stay away from her."

Bodie had pictured that in his mind: he and Ray and Miss Margo Talbot all turned on and hot in an under-the-covers tryst. The three of them naked, arms and legs entangled, bodies sliding and rubbing against each other. Ray naked was a sight to behold, Bodie knew that from sharing a flat with the curly headed moppet. Lean, toned, muscled body of a dancer Ray had, and he could just imagine Doyle aroused; the sheen of sweat on his skin, the pleasured flush of sexual heat in his face, the proud erection.

Doyle, angry and naturally deciding that the world needed to know it, had intruded rudely on the pleasant image.

"Bodie! Are you listening to me?" Ray demanded.

"Doyle, you're daft." Bodie laughed, the thoughts still in his mind. "Well, when this job's over and we're feeling kinky...."

"No." Doyle was adamant. "I've had enough of her type, I'm not messing with her and neither should you. Just like Ann--leads to nothin' but trouble, you understand?"

"Yeh, yeh, all right," Bodie capitulated, not really understanding and wondering who the hell this Ann was and just what she had done to Doyle."

After that Bodie had followed Doyle's lead and played Miss Margo Talbot strictly by the book. Trouble was, the cold shoulder seemed to excite her.

Bodie glanced at his watch. Doyle had been gone over thirty minutes now and the house was too quiet. Like small children, Margo was usually up to her worst mischief when you couldn't hear the breakables flying.... It took a real effort for Bodie to get off the bed and go looking for Margo Talbot. He found her in the kitchen.

"Do you know," she stated in the whiny voice Bodie had come to hate, "what he said to me?"

"No, but I'm sure you're gonna tell me." Turning on the kettle, he readied a cup for tea and wished it could be something stronger. Somehow, he thought, that irritating nasal quality of her voice would lessen with alcohol. Bodie knew that when people were placed in tense situations for an extended period, facades melted away and personalities crumbled. This, he now knew, was the Margo Talbot normally hidden from view. Doyle had been right, she wasn't a likable person.

Bodie half listened as she rambled on, watching disinterestedly as she sighed between statements of Ray's less than admirable qualities, her shoulders heaving and mouth trembling. Whatever Bodie may have thought of her in the beginning, he had long since given up the idea of wanting anything to do with her, kinky or not. She was a whining bitch and her name would not even make it to his "desperate-and-no-one-else-around" file.

"...he's an awful man," she said concluding her remarks.

"Think so?" Bodie said absently.

"You wouldn't agree, of course. You're just like him."

Bodie was about to remind her that they didn't hook children on drugs as her daddy did, but he knew that would only start her off again, and she did seem about to run down. The sooner he calmed her down the sooner he could get away from her. "It's the work," he offered as he stirred his tea. "Makes us mean."

"You kill people!"

"Two nights ago you might have ended up dead if Doyle and I hadn't been good at our jobs."

"That doesn't alter the fact that you kill people for a living!" She was red-faced and yelling again.

"Yes, but we do it quick, with a bullet. We don't turn them into zombies first." Bodie knew he'd made a mistake before the words were out of his mouth, but he didn't care. He'd had enough of her superior attitude.

Margo Talbot threw her tea cup at him and stormed out of the room.

After ducking the cup, Bodie could only listen to which way her anger would take her. He sighed in relief as the door to her bedroom slammed shut. Yesterday her anger had taken her out the front door and Ray and Bodie had to follow and coax her back inside. Bodie was in no mood to repeat that experience. Of course, Bodie realized that someone, probably the Pakkie maid, would pay for his words.

Taking his cup to the lounge he turned on the television and sat down. What, he found himself wondering, would he be doing now if his mum hadn't become ill, if he hadn't left school, if his dad hadn't....

He had liked school and had done well. He had shown an aptitude for maths and was well on his way to passing his "O" levels. Bodie tried to picture himself in some soft job, nice home in the country, wife and kids, the whole lot. He shook had head and smiled. Knowing himself as he did, he realized that whatever job he did, he would still be using the same skills--he would still be a shark, only in a three-piece suit.

Alert as the door opened, Bodie heard a low whistle that announced itwas Ray. Then 4.5 was in the room, down on the floor doing cool down exercises.

"Andy's outside," he said between huffs and puffs. "Everything's quiet. How's the snake charmer?"

Bodie smiled. "Said you were a awful man and went to her room." Bodie's imitation of Margo's voice was poor. "It's been quiet since."

"Yeh, well if we're lucky it'll stay that way. And you, sweetheart, get the first watch. I'm going to bed." With that, Doyle was up and gone.

"Ray," Bodie had only to whisper the name. "It's time for the two o'clock check. Stay alert till I get back."

Doyle mumbled that he would as Bodie struggled into his black leather jacket, pulling at the tight fitting sleeves. "Damn Macklin to Angola," he said, cursing the physical training instructor to his own version of hell. All the exercise and weight training he had forced on Bodie had increased the size of his upper arms and now his favorite leather jacket did not fit.

"That's all right, sunshine, fits me just fine. Just hand it over."

"Not on your life, goldilocks, I'd put it through the department's shredder first." Bodie quietly shut the bedroom door.

"Selfish bastard," Doyle muttered indifferently as he got up and headed for the loo.

It was difficult to tell who was happier when CI5 officially turned Margo Talbot over to the authority of the court; agent 4.5 and his almost partner who didn't have a number, or George Cowley.

The two agents watched as an almost smiling Cowley popped into his little red car and headed back to headquarters. He had, they were sure, figured out a way to recover most of the lost expenses for this case from the court system's budget.

Bodie and Doyle showed their relief by playing tag as they ran back into the safehouse to do a final search, pack, and secure it.

"Bo-die, what's keeping ya? I want to see the last of this place."

Bodie knew that Doyle was anxious, not only to be gone from here, but to get home to watch the match he had programmed his new video recorder to tape for him.

"Bo-dieee." Ray was standing in the doorway glaring.

"Hold on to your underpants, Doyle. I can't find me jacket."

"Your leather jacket?" Doyle asked, concerned, and began looking. "It was here last night, I wore it...."

Bodie just looked at him. "Well, it's not here now, so where'd you hide it?"

"Not me, sunshine. I wouldn't do anything that would keep us here a moment longer than necessary."

Bodie knew that to be true. "Okay, then, let's go." He grabbed his holdall and started out of the room.

"What about your jacket?" Ray seemed horrified at the thought of leaving it.

"It'll turn up," was all Bodie said.

Ray didn't like the idea of leaving without the prized possession, but when Bodie headed out the door he had little choice but to follow.

The final reports took just under two hours to write, then they were free and taking the steps out of CI5 headquarters three at a time.

"We'll pick up Chinese," Ray was saying, "and then...."

"Not Chinese, we always eat Chinese. I'm turning into a fortune cookie. I want to eat something normal for a change."

Doyle wrinkled his nose. "Don't think you know the meaning of the word. And just what would you consider normal?"

"I don't know, Indian maybe, or Greek for a change."

Doyle threw up his hands. "Normal."

"I've got it," Bodie said as he whipped the Escort into traffic. "There's this four-star just off Belgrave that can make us a great takeaway." Nearly giving Ray whiplash, Bodie swerved the car into a too-small spot, got out and made for the phone box.

"This is Vietnamese," Ray exclaimed as Bodie double-parked.

Bodie shrugged. "They don't give fortune cookies."

The meal and the ten quid wine Ray had sprung for were excellent and the match exciting even though they had known the outcome for several days. They sat in the afterglow and enjoyed the satisfaction of full stomachs, good wine, and being off duty. The thought passed through Bodie's mind that what was needed to complete the evening was a couple of willing birds. He half toyed with the idea of suggesting as much to Ray, then decided against that. It would take too much effort. Was nice just sitting here with no need to be overly social....

How that condition had come about between himself and Doyle, Bodie was not really sure. After the incident with Upchurch, Cowley had partnered Bodie exclusively with Jax or Doyle. Probably, Bodie had decided, because these two seemed the least bothered by his lack of full security status. Just when Doyle had changed his mind or why puzzled Bodie.

It began after the Mumford stakeout. Bodie remembered how Doyle had taken a lot of heat on that one: 'spying in matronly ladies bedrooms now, are we, Doyle?' 'Goin' give us a full report on her undies?' Doyle had played to game, going into great detail on the imaginary underpants and antics he had seen through his spy glass, but Bodie knew that it had gotten under his skin.

Of course, when they had come up with the goods on "little miss housewife," the skeptics turned red-faced and begrudgingly congratulated them both on a job well done.

That long boring siege had given them time to get to know one another a little better. And since neither of them were the kind to carry a grudge just for the sake of it, a truce had been called. Then, to break the tedium, the joking had begun. Bodie wasn't sure how the rest had fallen into place, but here they were, happy in each other's company and content to sit and enjoy the mood alone together--

The intercom buzzed, startling Bodie from his reverie.

When it buzzed a second time Doyle groaned and he pulled himself out of the easy chair. "Who'st?" he asked disgustedly.

"It's Margo--Margo Talbot."

Ray threw an angry look at Bodie, whose facial expression pleaded innocence. Doyle released the door and jerked it open. "What the hell are you doing here, and how did you find this place?"

"Tony Miller," Margo said, "the young agent who was in court today, I told him I just had to see you, and, well, it took some coaxing, but he told me."

"Gonna kill that lad," Doyle muttered.

When it became obvious that Doyle was not going to invite her in, Margo stepped around him and walked into the room.

Bodie, dumbfounded at what he saw, could only stare at Margo. There was no other explanation; before him stood a woman who was looking to get fucked.

Margo Talbot was dressed all in black; a black sleeveless V neck

dress showing just enough cleavage to be intriguing, and the cut and fabric of the garment spoke money. Black stocking showed below the knee length swishing skirt of the frock, and she twirled and pranced in black high-heeled shoes. Her shoulder length blond hair was not tied back as it had been those last days at the safe house. Instead it was done in a soft feminine style that fell softly to her shoulders and flipped as she walked and turned, which she continued to do for the effect. Haven't seen anything like that since Veronica Lake on Classic Movie Theater, Bodie thought. When she walked by him he could not help but notice that her petticoat rustled, and she smelled good.

"I just had to come and explain," she began in a voice three octaves lower than either man had heard come out of her mouth before, "about why I've been acting like such a shirtie."

"Why," Doyle demanded, his eyes still big as swiss rolls, "aren't you in a safehouse under guard?"

"Isn't someone going to offer a lady a seat and a drink?"

"No!" Doyle snapped, "Answer my question, what are you doing out on your own?"

"Oh, that's all over," she waved her arm as in dismissal of something trivial and set the box she was carrying on the table. "Daddy told the police what they wanted to know. He couldn't stand what all of this was doing to me."

"He settled," Ray said incredulously, obviously considering all their wasted labor. Bodie just kept staring.

Margo continued to stroll around the room, making her slip rustle as she explained how her daddy could not bear to see her suffer through a trial and perhaps be maimed or killed so he got her off the hook. From there she talked her way into an apology for her own behavior.

"I am sorry," she said as she perched on the arm of the settee and crossed her legs, "but you must understand the stress I was under. People shouldn't be held accountable for their behavior under such circumstances, don't you agree?" She cocked her head and looked up at Doyle. When he ignored her she ran her fingers through her hair then continued, "But now that this is all over and I'll be leaving England tomorrow...."

"What d'ya mean you're leaving?" Doyle wanted to know.

"Australia. I'll be going to a new job in Australia. I just can't stay here after all that's happened. I have a new job away from all of this, will be able to make a whole new life. Daddy's solicitor arranged it. So you see, this is my last night in England, and...."

Doyle stood rooted, his glare intensifying.

Finally she seemed about to run down and went to fetch the box she'd carried in with her. Bodie waited. He could guess what was coming and was actually looking forward to hearing her explanation.

The top came off the box and out came Bodie's black leather jacket.

"Where the hell did you get that?" Doyle demanded, staring at the jacket.

"It was Arakie." Margo glanced at Doyle, unnerved by his tone. "I really am so embarrassed. I can't believe her nerve. Those Pakkies are just not trustworthy." The woman turned her attention to Bodie, rubbing her hand over the smooth leather. "I must apologize. Goodness knows what other things she's stolen, but she'll get no reference from me."

Bodie found himself amused by her obvious tactics, but his smile disappeared as he glanced at Doyle.

"You're a damn liar!" Doyle said, slamming his hand against the table startling both Bodie and Margo. "You're lying," he repeated as he stalked crossed the room toward her. "You took that jacket, planned this from the first. For once be woman enough to admit it."

"Why would I do that?" she asked, still using her coy tone as she looked up at him.

Bodie watched Doyle with a new eye. He had spent a lot of time in the company of the CI5 agent and could not remember ever seeing him angry before. There was a time or two when he had turned on the strong-arm tactics, but that was just to convince someone to tell him what he wanted to know. This Ray Doyle was truly angry. "Ray," Bodie put in, "leave it. Just take the jacket so we can be done with her. 'S'not worth the trouble."

Bodie should have saved his words for all the effect they had on Ray Doyle.

"Bloody hell if I will," Ray spat the words at Bodie. "Her kind think they can slander anyone anytime just for the sake of it." He turned his attention back to Margo whose expression showed that things were not going as she had planned. "Admit it," Doyle said pushing up close into her face, his own now twisted in anger. "Admit you took the jacket."

"I most certainly did not," Margo protested in her more familiar nasal tone as she took two steps backwards.

Concerned at Doyle's whole bearing, Bodie was on his feet and moving toward Margo and Ray. "Ray, just let it go...."

"No, Bodie," he snarled.. "Her kind think they can get away with anything. Rotten spoiled brat is what she is, thinks she can have everything her own way. Knew someone just like her once. They're all alike. We both know what she came here lookin' for...."

"Yeh," Bodie interrupted. He had no idea what sparked this over-reaction in Ray, but certainly something had. No, Bodie corrected himself, someone in the not too distant past was the cause. Deciding to intervene, he stepped in front of Doyle and took hold of Margo's arm. "But she's not going to get what she came looking for, now is she?" He was steering Margo toward the door.

"Don't touch me!" she demanded, jerking away.

"Look," Bodie said, trying to keep his words just between the two of them, "if you know what's good for you, you'll just leave."

"Leave me alone. I don't have to put up with this. I'll have my solicitor...."

Bodie, whose only thought had been to get her out of the flat before Ray did something deadly, was fast losing patience with Margo Talbot.

"You're right, Ray," he said as his own mood swinging down to match Doyle's. "She is a spoiled brat."

Bodie winced as Margo's heel came down on his instep. The pain turned to instant anger as he grabbed her upper arm and pulled her close to face him. "Your daddy should have beat your bum when you were a little girl, but we both know he hasn't the balls for that. Luckily, I do."

Yanking her around Bodie sat down hard on the sofa and pulled a squealing Margo across his knees. "Somebody should've done this years ago," he said delivering first one then another hard smack to her bottom. Realizing that the skirt and petticoats were cushioning the blows, Bodie jerked up the black skirt and slip. Intent on administering one good stinging slap, Bodie was taken aback at the sight that greeted him. He was not surprised to find Margo wearing hose and suspenders, not those more familiar one piece things, but the absence of knickers astonished him. It confirmed her reason for being here and for some reason he did not understand, increased Bodie's anger. In earnest he brought his hand down again and again, turning Margo's round pink bottom bright red. The more she struggled the harder he hit.

Finally having spent his anger, Bodie relaxed his knees and Miss Margo Talbot tumbled twice over his legs to land face up on the floor where she lay whimpering.

His head not quite clear, his ears still buzzing with disgusted fury, Bodie was somewhat amazed at his own actions. He rose and crossed the room in three long strides as it suddenly became imperative that he put distance between himself and Margo Talbot. Feeling a hand on his arm he looked up to see Doyle holding out a drink to him.

Bodie took the glass of scotch and swallowed. As he drank, Doyle looked past him at the woman on the floor.

"I'll say this for you, Bodie," Doyle said shaking his head and looking rather amused, "you sure know how to defuse a situation."

"Just wanted to keep you from smacking her and getting me tossed out of CI5 before I'm even in." Bodie took the bottle from Doyle and gulped a long swallow.

"Well, it seems to me," Ray said, his eyes now dancing green sparkles, "that you've only made matters worse. Now you've got a lady in distress on your hands."

"What?" Bodie questioned as he turned to check out the information. On the floor where he had left her lay Margo, dress and slip around her waist. She was staring up open-mouthed at the two men, her eyes moving in anxious hunger back and forth between them. He glanced back at Doyle and smiled, accepting the challenge. Doyle might not know how to deal with bitches like this; but Bodie did.

Bodie threw down another drink, then walked over to look down at Margo as her eyes followed his every move. "Is Doyle right," he asked when he stood over her, "Do you want to get fucked?"

Her answer was a weak "Yes."

"Louder," Bodie demanded. "I need to make sure this is what you want."

"Yes. Yes," she stated with a little more force each time.

"Well then, get up on the settee."

Scrambling to sit up, Margo did as she was told and Bodie moved to stand over her. "You'll have to get it ready," he said.

Margo began rubbing the inside of Bodie's thighs and then reached for the swelling length beneath two layers of material. "Go on, sweetheart," he murmured, kicking off his shoes, "pull it out." Trembling, her hands went to his belt buckle, loosening the leather then reaching for his zip. As the metal teeth rasped open, Margo caught her breath in anticipation. Bodie paused to glance down at her before he slipped off the cords, underpants, socks. "All right darling, lean back and spread it for me." She did as she was told, and with no preamble he entered her and began pumping.

As Bodie continued to push into her he realized that it was not passion, but anger that drove him. He had enjoyed swatting that spoiled backside, but this was turning into a chore. If he wouldn't look such a right prat, he would stop right now and send Margo Talbot packing.

Not totally immersed in what he was doing, Bodie studied Margo's face. Her eyes had a far away look, and although she was moving to his rhythm, Bodie realized as she squirmed and panted that she was caught in some fantasy of her own in which he was only a player.

He watched as she moaned and turned her head to search out Doyle, and he remembered Ray's comment that she probably liked higher odds, more than a one-to-one encounter. He had thought to use her, and instead she was using him...them....

Bodie followed her line of sight to Doyle who was, he noted, absorbed in the actions on the settee.

Bodie recognized all the signs, chest heaving and falling in that light breathing that signaled sexual excitement, sheen of perspiration on his forehead and upper lip, and as a final give-away, Ray's tongue sliding slowly over his bottom lip.

Bodie continued to stare as he realized that while Ray was looking back, it wasn't at Margo Talbot. Bodie's cock burned hotter and he pumped harder as he felt the heat of those green eyes travel up and down his naked length.

Their eyes caught and held for a second and Bodie's heart stopped. In that instant he knew what he--what they both wanted. Bodie's heart began beating again, and now it pounded in his chest as he tried to figure a way to make this work. One wrong word, he sensed, and the opportunity would be lost.

"Ray," he said in a throaty voice, "get over here. She can put that cheeky mouth of hers to some better use than insulting people."

Ray hesitated, but their eyes caught again and created a tether that led Doyle across the room, undoing his zip as he walked.

Bodie withdrew from Margo and rolled her roughly onto her stomach, then pulled her back so that her hips lay over the low padded arm of the settee. One hand on each side of her hips, he kneed her legs wider apart and guided himself back into her, pumping slowly, completely distracted by Doyle. Ray pushed down his jeans and briefs, stepped out of them and sat down, and Bodie's eyes followed the clean, hard lines, the erection heavy and thick with arousal. Doyle slid down into a comfortable position and Bodie released a long-held breath.

"I've never done this before," Margo whined in whimpering protest when she realized what was expected of her.

He smacked her upturned arse for the weak, innocent act. "You're lying again, darling," he answered pleasantly, pulling his eyes away from Ray just long enough to match his hand to the pink palmprint on her bottom, "but it doesn't matter because I'm going to lead you through this every step of the way." He heard a sharply indrawn breath and his eyes went back to Ray, whose mouth was open and eyes wide and burning with the heat between them now.

Eyes still locked on Doyle's, Bodie smiled slowly and began in a calm, quiet voice. "First, take it in your hand, come on luv--gently, gently," he prodded with voice and action. Christ, her body felt wonderful to him now; all the arousal that Margo Talbot should have inspired flowed through him like fire, and all of it solely owed to the look in Doyle's eyes. "Now, bring it to your lips, that's it, kiss it nice, now. Oh come on," he needled, "you can do better than that. Use your tongue, the soft part underneath, slide it over the tip, that's it, that's it." He dropped his eyes to watch as she followed every instruction, felt his mouth water as her lips closed over the head. He had to swallow before he could find Ray's eyes--Ray's eyes that had never once left him--and continue. "Take it into your mouth now, all the way in, come on, you know the routine. Swallow him," he said almost sweetly. "Touch his balls, be a good girl now...."

Bodie's voice was husky with arousal, but he had long since stopped talking to Margo; his words were for Ray. She was an inanimate object that both allowed them the freedom to engage in this act, and yet stood safely between them.

Doyle's eyes hazed over--Bodie's knees threatened to buckle.

For her part, Margo forgot any pretense of innocence and began sucking enthusiastically while the two men concentrated on each other and the act plunged its way to completion.

Draped over the back of the settee, sanity returning, Bodie was afraid to open his eyes. He wondered just what the bloody hell they were going to do now. 'Thank you, Miss Talbot,' he could say, 'please, you take the loo first. We'll just stand here and drip.' Nah, more like 'thanks for everything, bitch, now see if you can find your way to the door.' That thought gave him a private snicker; maybe he would send her a 'thank-you' card. Bodie wasn't sure how they had gotten into this, or if they should have, but he knew that given the same situation, he would do it again.

If only he knew what Ray was thinking. Unpredictable little bugger Ray was and Bodie's biggest fear was of facing him. The sexual intensity gone from his eyes, what would Bodie find replacing it? A satisfied leer and earthy chuckle, he could cope with. In fact, he realized he could even cope with making a date to shop for new window curtains together...that brought him up short. What in bloody hell had just happened here? And what was he prepared to do about it?

The silence that had followed orgasm stretched on abysmally until Margo, showing no shame or self-consciousness, and seeming to enjoy theirs, skipped off to the loo leaving them to find their clothes and somehow get dressed.

If the bitch hadn't been just beyond the bath's open door, Bodie imagined he'd have grabbed Doyle up and kissed him as he wanted to. But even as he zipped his slacks and the thought coalesced, Miss Margo sailed back into the room all smiles and artificial class, grating on his nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard.

"That was delicious," she murmured, taking up her purse. "I really wish I weren't leaving so soon."

"Wouldn't do you any good," Doyle said without heat as he slipped his shirt back over his shoulders. "Wrong place, wrong time, wrong person." And the heat returned full-force. "Now get the fuck out of my house."

Margo was visibly ruffled...but Bodie kept his reaction in. The chill that crept up his spine was frighteningly unsettling. It hadn't meant anything, it wasn't supposed to mean anything--and his partner's words sure as hell shouldn't have hurt as they did.

So, a moment out of time. Never happened. Fine then, he'd played that game before with the best of them; he could play it again. "Think I ought to push off as well, mate," he said carefully, slipping into his loafers and reaching for his jacket. Margo was heading for the door and flipping that fucking hair one last time, smiling at them both, an odd, uneasy smile.

The last thing Bodie wanted was the scene that could arise when he was alone with Doyle. He knew only one tactical maneuver for this situation: retreat. "Wait up, luv, you can drop me." There, that should be enough to convince Doyle he was as straight as a die, not a bent bone in him, not a single cell that wanted to take Ray in his arms, to.... He slipped on the jacket and closed the door on his wandering thoughts. How to forget it? God only knew.

Doyle was staring at him with angry fire in his eyes. 'Don't worry mate,' he wanted to say, 'I got the message.' But he shrugged instead and followed the bitch out the door.

It saddened him when he realized it, but it was as if Margo had, after all, won some victory.

Back in his bedsit, bottle of scotch in hand, he flopped onto the bed and stared at the ceiling, that scene playing and replaying in his mind. His groin grew hot each time he remembered Ray all flushed, his green-fire eyes traveling Bodie's length. Bodie had been viewed with lust before, but never like that, and not for a very long time had he returned such feelings for another bloke.

He knew how he felt about this evening, and that he wanted it repeated with just the two of them. But Doyle had put an end to that little fantasy easily enough. Just what was going through the sexy little sod's mind right now? Would they get through it? And the even more difficult question, how was he going to spend hours on end with the golly without having his balls tied in knots? Having no way of knowing what Ray was thinking, and his fantasies played out to exhaustion, Bodie could only will himself to sleep.

He woke several times with a start when his dreams of Ray turned nightmarish.

Chapter Nine

Having caught a cab back to his bedsit last evening, Bodie stood at the window wondering if Doyle would even bother to come by for him. When the white Escort rounded the corner Bodie made for the door and took the stairs two at a time.

"Morning," he said, his voice subdued, and Doyle returned the greeting with a grunt.

Bodie spent the rest of the trip to headquarters pretending to tune in the radio. It kept his hand busy and his mouth shut.

If fate was ever kind to them, it was that morning. Things were buzzing at headquarters and for once Cowley did not have time to worry about security clearances. Bodie and Doyle walked in the door and immediately ran back out chasing Cowley. Bodie drove while Ray read the pertinent information aloud and Cowley gave orders over the RT.

The day ended as it had started, running all the way and Bodie gratefully found himself sent in one direction while Doyle went another. Back at his bedsit after midnight, he was too tired to curse the overly soft bed.

Winding up the auto bombing operations took the rest of the week, and the two continued to go their separate ways. With the weekend ahead, Bodie secured a bird for an out of town trip and made himself scarce.

Home again on Sunday evening, although he refused to think of the bedsit as such, Bodie checked in with headquarters only to learn that Doyle would fetch him in the a.m.

Grabbing the scotch bottle, he surveyed the contents. Less than a third of the golden liquid remained. It was enough, Bodie decided, and flopped on the bed to stare at the dirt-specked, paint peeling ceiling.

The memories flooded back with the same intensity. Surely, he thought, they should have dulled by now. But the picture of Ray, flushed with sexual excitement, was as clear as if he were in the room. Bodie reached to stroke himself then had a better idea.

Deciding to take advantage of the one perk this horror of a house offered, Bodie grabbed up his things and headed for the bath. At this late hour there was no competition for the room. He filled the gigantic old tub to the point of overflowing and lowered himself into the steaming water, then sank down to his chin. The bubbles floated up to tickle his nose. Having learned that little trick from a bird, he added the soapy liquid to the water whenever he indulged himself so. Then draining water did not leave a ring, making the tub easier to clean, and the stuff was neutral enough to not leave one smelling like someone's old maiden aunt.

The light from the 40 watt bulb over the wash basin cast subdued shadows in the old room. Bodie fashioned those shadows into the form of one Ray Doyle and let nature take its course.

Bodie rubbed the back of his neck in an attempt to erase some of the tension there. Doyle had arrived this morning wearing a two-by-four on his shoulder and thus had their day begun. After two or three verbal snipes, Bodie had responded in kind and by noon neither partner was speaking to the other unless absolutely necessary. Bodie didn't know about how Ray was feeling, but his head was splitting by lunch. The afternoon had managed, somehow, to get worse. Bodie could think of nothing else to do so he stayed quiet and kept to his side of the car.

Should have known better, he chided himself, broke one of the most important commandments. Keep your pecker in your pants at work. Don't shit in your mess kit. He'd ignored that rule and both he and Doyle were paying for it now. Why, he wondered, couldn't Doyle just forget the Talbot bitch incident? He would certainly be glad to. But no, every word and look from Doyle was a reminder of his anger at the incident. Almost home, Bodie thought, and he would be glad to see the last of Ray Doyle for at least several hours.

The Escort skidded to a stop in front of Bodie's bedsit, but before he could get out of the car Bodie spotted his landlady hurrying down the front steps toward him. The look on her wrinkled old face and her liver spotted hands twisting on a handkerchief told Bodie that there was trouble here as well.

"Hold on, Doyle, this may be something." Bodie rolled down the car window. "Mrs. Finney, what's the matter?"

"Oh, Mr. Bodie, I just don't know. A man came to see you earlier today, a rough talking little man. I told him you wouldn't be back until after five, and I thought he went away. But later, when I went upstairs to clean the bath, he was there--right there in me hallway." She put her hands to her face and shook her head. "He frightened me so."

Bodie got out of the car as Doyle killed the motor. "There, there, Mrs. Finney. Tell me what he did then," he soothed.

"He said he didn't think I would mind if he waited. But he never asked me, and I don't know how he got in." She wrapped her arms around herself and rocked back and forth as she continued to lament the situation.

"Mrs. Finney," Bodie said firmly, "you stay right here. Doyle," Bodie called looking around, but Doyle was already out of the car and headed for the back of the house.

His landlady settled snugly in the Escort, with instructions to wait there until he came back for her, Bodie jogged toward the entry. Going in through the front door, he began a methodical search of the lower floors.

The two agents met at the top of the stairs. "Nothing," Doyle signaled as Bodie rounded the corner. "How about you?" he asked in a low voice.

"No," Bodie whispered, "didn't find anything out of order." Bodie glanced at the four closed bedroom doors. "Should I get the pass key from Mrs. Finney so we can have a look?"

"Since when do I need a pass key?" With that Doyle slipped his gun back in the shoulder holster and took a small metal tool from his inside jacket pocket. One after the other, he opened the bedroom doors and allowed Bodie to do a thorough search which turned up nothing.

"How 'bout the loo, you check it?"

"Not yet."

"I'll do it, you have a look in the airing cupboard."

After drawing another blank the two met in front of Bodie's door and with a great deal of extra care, Bodie inserted the key and turned the lock. Using his foot, he slowly pushed open the door. More fancy tactical maneuvers brought them spectacularly into an empty room with their guns aimed at no one. Another thorough search turned up nothing. They shrugged and went back to retrieve a very relieved Mrs. Finney. Once they had led her back into the house and reassured her that there was no danger, Doyle turned to Bodie.

"What'd you think," he asked, "any ideas?"

"Several," Bodie said tightly. "That's the trouble, isn't it?"

"Well, the Cow will want a full report. Let's get it over with so I can go bloody home."

Thanks a bloody bunch, Bodie thought, but he took the lead up the stairs to his room. He pushed through the half open door with Doyle at his heels.

Bodie sensed the other presence immediately and in that instant glanced at Doyle. Agent 4.5 was already preparing to tuck and roll as he reached for the shouldered weapon. Bodie began to copy Doyle's move, but a guttural voice stopped them.

"Freeze it, Bodie, just where you are. You too, Red."

The ominous sound of a gun safety release dropping did what the words alone could not. They stopped their intended moves with their backs to the threat.

"That's better. Now I'll be a nice guy and let you both stand up, but do it slow. It's not a good idea to make me nervous."

"Weasel Joe Murdock," Bodie said not as a greeting but to give Ray the information. Though his insides were tightening, Bodie's voice did not betray any emotion. "How'd a slimy bastard like you get into this country?"

"Oh, Bodie Boy, don't go cheeky on me just cause I caught you with your trous down. You know I've come to do a job."

"Where'd 'e come from, 's what I want to know?" Doyle demanded as he threw Bodie a quick glance.

Bodie caught Doyle's look of anger and frustration. Putting him on alert, Bodie said, "Told you to check the airing cupboard, didn't I?"

"I checked it, every place a man could hide."

"Well, that's just the problem, isn't it, Doyle. Weasel Joe here isn't really a man. Not in stature anyway. More a boy in size, is our Joe." As Bodie talked he was trying desperately to think of some way to get him and Doyle out of this mess alive. He knew

Doyle would move the instant he had notice, but would it be fast enough and would they get the chance?

"So, Bodie, why is it we're still standing here taking orders from this weasel boy?"

A noise that passed for Joe Murdock's laugh filled the room.

"I guess you know whereby our lad gets his name."

"Yeh," Doyle said disgustedly, "but you haven't answered me question."

"Go ahead, Bodie," Joe encouraged, "tell Red here why you're standing there with your back to me shivering in your boots."

"Cause in your left hand is that big government model Colt .45, and I would guess the magazine's loaded with 230 grain hard ball." Again Bodie was giving specific information to Doyle, though he had no idea what good it would do either of them.

"Glad to see you're still keeping up on things, Bodie. And I'll bet the Browning High Power that's hanging in your armpit is full of those new 147 grain sub-sonic jacketed hollow points. Pity you won't get the chance to use 'em."

"As I was saying," Bodie stressed his words to reclaim the conversation and stall for time, "until I saw Doyle here shoot, I would have said you were the best, Joe."

Joe's sucked in breath told Bodie that his remark had hit home.

"I am the best, Bodie, and I'm just about to prove it to both of you."

"Shootin' people in the back now, Joe?" Bodie tried to sound amused, playing on the ignorant sod's infamous pride and praying it would be enough to trip him up..

"Oh, Bodie, don't go feeling slighted. I'll give you a chance to turn around before I blow you away."

Bodie hung on those words knowing they could be his and Doyle's salvation.

"This is all too sweet a reunion," Doyle interrupted. "If it 's all the same to you, I'll just be on my way and let you two continue reminiscing."

Doyle began a slow turn. He stopped when Joe ordered and stood straight again. But Bodie noticed that he had used the maneuver to increase the distance between them by another half meter.

"Oh, now there see what you've done, Bodie. Hotshot here's got his feelings hurt. Don't you go worrying Red, I've got plans for you, and I do believe that when I'm finished, what's left of you will have to concede to the better man."

Bodie noted that Joe's tone had turned conversational. Not hard to figure out, Bodie told himself, Joe was always good at blowin' his own horn.

"Bodie's my paid job," Joe continued, "but you, Red, you will be just for fun. Like I was saying, Bodie here's a paying job. He really did manage to piss off a lot of people on the continent of Africa. And they are paying me a shitload of money to rid the world of him. One might say I'm the clean up crew. But as for anyone else who has the misfortune to be with Bodie, well, the man paying the bills said I could be inventive."

"You're more like an exterminator," Bodie said, hoping to rile Joe.

The tactic worked and Joe's tone turned cold. "Exterminator--for cockroaches like you. Shouldn't have gone against the Cartel, Bodie. Wasn't very smart, and I always thought you were such a bright boy." The hired killer paused and when he continued the bragging tone was back in his voice and his words aimed at Doyle. "Bodie's no real challenge, you see. Got to waste him. They want his guts spread all over the place. No finesse, these guys. But killing you, Red, will bring out all my talents."

Bodie didn't have to see Ray to know he was bristling at that remark, but that was the least of their worries.

Bodie continued to listen for any sounds that would indicate where Murdock was standing. He sensed Murdock shifting his weight and imagined him perched on the edge of the table next to the door. It was a favorite stance for the small man.

Bodie heard the rustle of cloth and decided that Joe had reached inside his jacket for the small Berretta .25 caliber he always carried there. Bodie could almost picture him waving it at Doyle's tee-shirted back.

"You know anything about the spinal column, Red?" Joe asked in a conversational tone. "Probably about as much as the average person, right? You know that it controls all the important movements, and that if something goes wrong with it, well, then it's all over, isn't it? You see, Red, I've studied the spinal column, made it sort of a hobby. Take this situation with you for instance. I've some planning to do. Now I could put one of these babies in the back of your neck and bingo, you're dead from the neck down. Just dead, Red. Nothing moves 'cept maybe the eyeballs and maybe with lots of therapy you could learn to twitch your nose." Joe hiccoughed a laugh, apparently amused by his own poor joke. Then his voice turned cold. "And I can do it, Red. Don't like to brag, but I'm that good. Bodie will vouch for that, won't you, Bodie?"

"You don't need me, Weasel," Bodie emphasized to descriptive name, "you always were good at blowing your own horn."

"Yeh, well, you'll see, Bodie, when your friend's lying here begging me to finish him before I blow you to kingdom come."

Having accomplished his goal of making Joe mad, Bodie decided it hadn't been such a good idea after all. Before he could think of anything to defuse Joe, the hired killer was back at it.

"Oh, I can do it, Red. You believe that. I can block out my distance and be sure where this .25 caliber with your name on it goes. It's just like taking out the ten pin in bowling."

"Slip an inch further down, just above and between the shoulder blades," Joe went on, really warming up to his medical lecture, "and you can't breathe without a machine. Can move the neck though, for all the good it'll do you. Go an inch beyond that and you can shrug your shoulders. They call it gross movements of the arms, and it really is gross because your hands won't work. Can't brush your teeth, your mum will have to do that for you, and spoon feed you." Joe laughed again. "But that's not an easy shot to make. A fraction of an inch off and there goes the heart and no more Red, or ricochet off a rib and get the lung. But you'd probably prefer that wouldn't you, Red. I know I would in your place, because the alternative isn't very pretty. Ever wonder what it must feel like to drown in your own blood? They tell me it's an inch-by-inch choking process, and it takes such a very little hole...."

"You'll have your voice though. You'll be able to beg someone to put you out of your misery."

Joe began talking faster, lisping some of his words together. Bodie would give even money the slimy bastard was drooling. Let him talk, Bodie advised himself. As long as he's talking, he's not shooting.

"Of course I could always squeeze one in between the big sacrum and the lumbars and that takes out all the good stuff. Everything goes from the waist down. Can't get it up, can't piss, have to shit in a bag. How'd you like that, Red? Never piss by yourself again. Yeh, that kind of tickles my funny bone. I wonder what happens to a cock that never gets used. Probably dries up and falls off. Maybe you could talk the nurses into giving it a flick every once in a while, just for old time's sake. I can see it now. You'll end up in one of them convalescent centers and you'll pray that they turn you every hour. Skinny as you are, Red, you'll have bed sores in no time at all. They tell me a person can get sores so bad you could put your whole fist in one. And when they get bad enough the doctors operate to remove the tail bone and the hip bones. Then there's nothing left of a body but a bag of bones." Joe laughed that high, shrill hiccough again and Bodie knew that if he ever got the chance, he would rip out that perverted voice box with his bare hands and shove it back down Joe's foul mouth.

Tension thickened the air as Joe rattled on. Bodie could hear Murdock's heavy breathing, knew Doyle could too. Christ, what a cretin! The sadist liked playing with people; for him this was better than sex. Bodie had seen Joe naked and knew that his gun was bigger than his dick.

This wasn't the first time Joe had played this particular game. Bodie had seen a couple of versions in Africa and knew they'd both be blessed with a few more minutes of life, now that Joe had gotten rolling. Being reminded that he had been a part of any group that employed Joe and his methods turned Bodie's stomach sour. No matter what happened here, Bodie knew he was glad to be done with that life.

But Bodie wasn't done yet. Since they'd come into the room Bodie had been frantically searching for something that would cast a reflection. Guessing by sounds was not going to be accurate enough, he had to be able to see the sadistic bastard if there was any hope for he and Doyle.

They had entered the room at dusk and the few minutes spent in stimulating conversation had put the room in darkness. Joe would, Bodie calculated, have to turn on the overhead light if he were to see to his "work." He couldn't trust his two captives in the dark. Right on cue the light flipped on. Keeping his head still, Bodie's eyes flew to the window. Damn, bloody damn, he swore to himself. The angle of the window provided no useful view, nor did the glass lamp shade--but there, if he shifted to the left just a little, yes, in the picture over the settee, there in the vase of flowers, right over the daffodil was the ugly smile that was Joe Murdock.

Bodie watched as Joe slid off the table. Taking a wide stance Joe hefted both weapons. Bodie's heart swelled at the sight. Just as he had thought, the Colt was in his strong hand, the .25 caliber in his weak. To carry out his threat against Doyle, Joe would have to change hands. Weak handed he could use the Colt on Bodie. Aim not counting for anything, the Colt would do its damage no matter where it hit. But to carry out his threat against Doyle, Joe would need the 25 caliber in his left hand. Little did Joe know it, but his own ego was going to be his undoing.

Son-of-a-bitch! Bodie almost said it out loud, We're going to got out of this! He hoped Joe couldn't hear his heart pounding. It had to be soon now, Bodie knew. Joe wasn't so dumb as to miss his own image in the glass for much longer.

"Enough talk," Joe said, tucking the .25 caliber into his waistband, his eyes catching sight of his reflection as he looked up.

"Now, Doyle," Bodie said and the two flew into action.

Drawing the Browning, Bodie did a tuck and roll. In that same instant Joe flipped the Colt and caught it in the strong hand just as Doyle turned and rushed him. Grabbing the barrel, Doyle levered it around. Joe yelled in pain and surprise as his wrist twisted and his own finger squeezed the trigger. The bullet caught him center mass and he slumped to the floor.

Seeing Joe down, Bodie pulled back his aim and didn't even bother to fire. "Doyle," he demanded, "you okay?"

"Yeh," Doyle answered, kneeling over Joe, breathing heavily. "And the best part is I don't even have to clean me weapon." The flat sarcasm hid nothing from Bodie; Ray had been piss-scared just as Bodie had, and with very good reason.

"I'll call Cowley," Bodie put in after a few seconds, "and ask how he wants this handled."

Chapter Ten

His belongings hastily packed and thrown in the boot of Doyle's Escort, Bodie sank into the passenger seat and slammed the door just as Doyle revved the engine and peeled rubber into traffic.

"Just drop me at a hotel," Bodie said, his voice giving no evidence to the anger and frustration he felt.

"Bloody, damn Cowley said you were to be a my place!" In sharp contrast to Bodie, Doyle made no effort to hide his feelings.

"The hell with bloody, damn Cowley." Bodie was beyond caring.

"Yeh, well I've a lot more to lose than you, now don't I?" was Doyle's reply.

"Whatever," Bodie muttered as he let his head drop back against the seat. Doyle could drive where he pleased but once the car was stopped Bodie would go his own way.

Disaster was too feeble a word to describe the last couple of hours and Bodie didn't believe the English language contained an appropriate word. The scene with Joe had been bad enough, but the one with Cowley had been infinitely worse.

Not really surprising them, Cowley himself responded to their call and arrived at Mrs. Finney's house within twenty minutes. The look on his face should finish the job that Joe Murdock had started.

While the backup crew Cowley had called secured the scene, collected evidence, and saw to the removal of the body, George Cowley dealt with Doyle and Bodie.

According to the Controller they had done nothing correctly. First, had they properly checked the house they would have discovered Joe Murdock and avoided this whole situation. Second, that the two of them had allowed Murdock to keep, let alone take them prisoner was inexcusable. Third, that they had allowed unauthorized gunfire in a residential establishment was irrefutable evidence of their incompetence. And fourth, that they had killed a perfectly good witness before he could give them any information was incontrovertible proof of their stupidity. All this from Cowley in the first five minutes after his arrival. The remaining one and a half hours had been a nightmare. The two could do nothing but stand and listen to the tirade.

When Cowley finally finished, Mrs. Finney began. Stating in no uncertain terms that she ran a respectable business, she was very firm in her opinion that Mr. Bodie had misrepresented himself and there was no room in her home for such as Mr. Cowley and his mob of hooligans. She wanted Bodie and the rest of them gone and gone now. And of course, she expected recompense for the damage done to her room.

Cowley let Bodie and Doyle know that the costs of repair would come directly from their salaries.

Bodie sighed heavily and truly wished himself back in Africa. Should have killed that old man when I had the chance, Bodie told himself, almost meaning it.

The Escort skidded to a stop nearly throwing Bodie through the windscreen.

"Don't," Doyle said with all the rage he could not vent on Cowley, "even think of going off. The Cow says you're to stay here and here you'll stay, no matter what it takes."

Bodie had no doubt that Doyle would make good his threat using any means possible, and in his present mood violence would be at the top of that list. Having no appetite for a scene here in the street, Bodie exited the car and followed Doyle, catching the front door just before it slammed in his face.

"Now," Doyle said, stopping in the bedroom doorway, "I'm going to run and see if I can get rid of this urge to kill you. But if you're not here when I get back, I'll hunt you down and do the job. Don't think I won't, Bodie." With that he turned and disappeared into the bedroom. A few minutes later he brushed past Bodie and was out the door.

Bodie found a cold beer in the refrig and pressed it to his forehead. Back in the lounge he sank into an overstuffed chair and asked himself why in hell he was still here.

Certainly he wasn't afraid of Doyle, although he had no real desire to get into a punch up with him. Both would end up the worse for wear and then there would be Cowley to face again.

The real problem, Bodie admitted to himself, was that he had almost gotten Doyle killed--or worse yet, maimed for life. The possibility of that whole scenario going just as Joe had planned was still very real in Bodie's mind. The little prick knew exactly what he was doing by playing on an agent's worst fear. He remembered the tension in the air, the smell of their own sweat, as he and Doyle were forced to listen to Joe go on about the damage he could do. Any man in their line of work would prefer outright death to the life of a paraplegic and Joe was expert enough to make good his threat. Bodie thanked the god he only believed in at times like this, that some bit of luck, and the fact that he and Doyle were better, had turned the odds in their favor.

An hour later Doyle was back, sweating profusely and glaring about almost as viciously as he had when he'd left. He walked by Bodie without a word and within a few minutes Bodie heard the water running in the shower.

There had to be some way to defuse this situation. Glancing at the wall clock he realized it had been almost twelve hours since they'd eaten. Pulling himself out of the chair, he called a restaurant he knew delivered an excellent takeaway. It would cost him plenty, but he decided they had earned it.

Doyle emerged several minutes later, got himself a beer and settled onto the settee. Bodie watched him stare at the telly, knowing he had no idea of the program. Getting up, Bodie went to the stereo and started the record on the turntable, hoping Doyle would find it relaxing. Then he shut off the telly.

Strains of Sky filled the void in the room, and the takeaway arrived soon after. Bodie set up the table and tucked in; the aroma dragged Doyle from the settee.

"Chinese again," Doyle muttered as he began filling his plate.

Bodie ignored the comment as he got up and got himself another lager. Doyle copied his action a few minutes later.

Storming back to the table Doyle sat down hard. "Had to take the last bloody damn one, didn't you?"

Bodie looked at Doyle who was again savagely attacking his food. He's not going to settle down until he hits someone, Bodie thought, and I guess I'm elected.

Resigning himself to the deed, Bodie got up and retraced his steps to the refrigerator. Digging around the egg carton and a jar of gherkins he grabbed a tin and took it back to where Doyle was sitting. "No, I didn't take the last bloody damn beer. This is the last bloody damn beer." With those words Bodie jerked loose Doyle's robe at the collar and dropped the icy can down Doyle's back.

Doyle came up yelping, then his closed fist shot out and caught Bodie on the jaw. Bodie staggered but kept his balance as Doyle stomped across the room.

"Are you finally satisfied?" Bodie demanded, moving his jaw carefully side to side.

"No!" Doyle yelled.

"What the hell do you want then?" Bodie wanted to know, his voice thick with exasperation.


"What?" Bodie asked, he could not have heard correctly.

Doyle turned to face Bodie. "Said I want you. Have from the first time I saw you."

"That day in the squad room...?" Bodie asked, still in shock.

"Before," Doyle said. "You were the talk of the department. Had to get a look at you and when I did...knew I had to see more. Didn't think I blundered into Cowley by accident, did you? No, I knew you were in there...had to get a closer look."

"Disappointed, were you?" Bodie said just to fill the silence.

"Hell no. Fulfilled my every expectation you did," he said urgently, "and then some.... A walkin' wet dream is what you are."

There was a pregnant silence between them; Bodie imagined he could hear Ray's breathing from all the way cross the room. Doyle opened his mouth to speak, but a look of embarrassment shut it again, and he dropped his eyes to the floor.

"What, Ray?" he prompted, barely breathing now.

When Doyle looked back up, Bodie was caught in a hard, hungry stare. "Remember Van Broegen? The bitch who tried to hit you? Remember the tape?"

"Yes," he nodded, knowing suddenly where this was headed; feeling pure lust boiling up in him to chase away latent embarrassment.

"I watched it," he whispered. "I'd have made a fucking copy, if I could have. You were in my head for days."

"Christ, Ray." Bodie took a hesitant step forward then stopped and swallowed hard. "Then why're we still standin' here?"

"We're not." Doyle crossed the room and pulled Bodie into a fierce kiss.

They wrapped themselves around each other as together they stumbled. Weak-kneed and lightheaded, the two would have fallen to the floor had the wall not saved them.

Using it as a support they made their way down the hall to Doyle's bedroom, the trip made all the longer as hands tugged at hindering fabric and mouth searched out mouth.

Bodie managed to loosen the waist tie on Doyle's robe and pushed it back off his shoulders. It slid to the floor, and suddenly Bodie's hands were full of naked, vibrantly aroused Ray Doyle. He crushed Doyle to him and toppled them both onto the bed, determined to caress every inch of heated skin while his tongue explored the sweet/sour of Doyle's mouth.

"Stop," Doyle commanded as he heaved Bodie off him.

Bodie froze, fighting the arousal that coursed through him, forcing himself to look and listen. What now? he wondered as Doyle's eyes burned into him.

"Want you naked, Bodie," he breathed. "Want to see you."

Bodie's breath caught in his throat. Doyle wanted to see him?--well Doyle would bloody see him. Immediately Bodie began complying with Doyle's wish and then four hands were pulling at Bodie's clothes. The offending items quickly disposed of, he locked their bodies together again, breaking the new kiss only when the need for air demanded, their two rock-hard cocks pressed tight between them.

The heat of Doyle's erection against his thigh almost burned; like sweet acid in his veins, the sensation spread out through him and he knew that if Doyle felt as he did then neither one of them would last very long. At the very least, he wanted to be horizontal when it hit. Wrestling his partner backward, he waited until the edge of the bed buckled Doyle's knees, falling with him without even breaking the seal of lips and tongues between them.

His weight was bearing down on Doyle, pressing the heat together and stoking it even higher, and he had to pull his mouth away just to breathe. But Doyle's whispered words weren't helping him any...

"Ah Bodie, Christ you feel fucking fantastic-- Get your hands on me mate, come on--" and through the gasping and panting, Ray was running determined fingers down Bodie's arm, kneading over bicep and elbow, grabbing his wrist and wriggling his hips aside to make room between them.

"Come on, Bodie, wanna feel your hands on me--put your fucking hands on me Bodie before I die from wanting it--"

Clenching his teeth against the desire to spill it all just from the breathy, fanning words alone, Bodie closed his eyes--

And remembered the heat in Doyle's eyes from another night. The other night. But Margo Talbot wasn't between them now. There was only him and Ray and Ray was his--wanting him, wanting Bodie's hands to stroke him there. To squeeze him just so. The pleasure of it was so intense as to border on pain, and Bodie squeezed away threatening tears.

"Want you so much, Ray," he whispered as the one hand did Doyle's bidding, holding their cocks together between them, and his free hand traced Doyle's hairline, the wide cheekbones...the fullest bloody lips he'd ever seen...and when Doyle groaned beneath him, thrusting up hard and opening his eyes wide to share it with Bodie, all coherent thought fled.

He lay in the tight circle of Doyle's arms, breathing hard as the pleasure they had shared waned and traced light through his nerves, wanting nothing more than to do it again with Doyle, and again and again, to show Ray just what he felt, and how deeply he felt it.

Doyle's heart was pounding against Bodie's own chest, and Bodie felt the closeness, the intimacy between them like fine silk, binding them like the damp sweat that sealed their skin together--until Doyle shoved roughly at his chest, dumping him back alone and separate on the bedcovers.

"What was that for!" he demanded, natural defenses coming to play in the face of a sincere Doyle-glare.

"Damn it, Bodie...."


"After all these months of wantin' you and waiting," Doyle lamented, "and it was over so soon. Good--damned good," he grumbled with sudden good humour, "but too soon."

Bodie felt an inane grin spreading over his face and made no attempt to hide it. Instead he just drew Doyle back into an embrace, sharing a wet kiss with him and trying to encourage those faintest glimmerings of returning arousal.

"That's okay, Sunshine," Bodie reassured the man in his arms, "cause I'm gonna spend the rest of the night sucking you inside out."

Chapter Eleven

Shivering in his state of half-sleep, Ray reached for the warm body that had loved him so well during the night. His hand finding only cold sheets, Ray's eyes popped open as he sat straight up. Scrambling out of bed, he sprinted bare footed through the flat and scanned every inch of it. His suspicions confirmed, he returned to sit on the bed. Instantly the old feelings swept over him as perspiration drenched his body. "Damn him, damn him, damn him!" Ray gasped the litany as he rubbed his chest, trying to assuage the pain gripping him and making breathing difficult. "It's always the same. Always. Care about someone and they leave you. Mum...Ann...now Bodie. In the end they all leave you."

Knowing it was useless to continue on that bent, Ray pushed himself back on the pillow and forced himself to take deep, even breaths. "Bodie," he told himself, "has no idea of your past and the demons that drive your nightmares. So why blame him for what's your own fault? You threw yourself at him. He had his fun and then left. Don't try to make last night more then it was."

Up again and pacing the room, Ray continued to berate himself for having hoped or believed that Bodie might still be here in the morning. Stupid, that. No, whatever they shared had burned off with the rays of the morning sun, and he had better accept that double-quick.

His equilibrium somewhat restored, Ray made ready to get on with his day and ignore his partner's conspicuous absence. Crossing the room to the loo he caught sight of Bodie's black leather jacket draped over the back of a chair. A piece of paper was sticking out of the breast pocket. Grabbing it up, he read:

Sorry about leaving, Sunshine, but yesterday's scene with Joe was just a little too close for comfort. I've gone--as Elvis would say--'to take care of business.' If I succeed, I'll be back. Keep the bed warm.

It was signed with an "L" then under that a "B. " Beneath that was a postscript which read,

You were right about the jacket. It does look better on you. Wear it in good health, Sunshine.

Ray read the note several times as the knot in his middle began to soften and a warmth flowed through him. Maybe, he told himself, just maybe this time would be different.

Doyle sat sipping his morning cuppa, Bodie's note staring up at him from the table. The ex-merc had gone back to Africa to settle with the Cartel. Stupid sod. Wonder how long he's been planning that? Three-quarters of an hour and half a pot of coffee later Doyle had figured out what he was going to do. Now, he told himself, for Mr. Cowley.

Showered, shaved and dressed, Doyle stood before the dresser mirror in his bedroom. Holding his new possession, he ran his hands over the rich leather, the aroma filling his nostrils: old, well-treated leather and expensive cologne, and underneath that the elusive scent of Bodie. Slipping into the jacket, he judged his reflection. It did look good, and he would thank Bodie for it properly when they next met--after he beat the stupid sod's head in.

The drive to work was short and sweet, and he barreled into Cowley's office with a purpose. Ray Doyle stood in front of Cowley's desk and stared the older man down, compelling him to bring the subject up.

"I gather," the Controller said, "you have ascertained that Mr. Bodie has left the Isles for the shores of Africa?"

"Yeh, figured that out, didn't I?"

"Then what is there for us to discuss?"

"My following him."

Doyle smiled at the surprised look in Cowley's eyes. For once he had caught the old man off guard.

Cowley waved his hand in frustration. "Don't be daft, man. I haven't the time for games."

Doyle flopped into the chair, sat back and crossed his legs at the ankles. "The way I figure it," he began, "he's been planning this for some time and lots of other people are in on it. MI6 certainly and Special Branch. Probably even the Home Secretary." When Cowley attempted to interrupt, Doyle only raised his voice, "...They all know where Bodie's gone, and under a false passport, at that, but no one would ever admit to anything. If Bodie gets the job done and makes it back here you'll all pretend it didn't happen. If it goes wrong, you can take his real passport from the wall safe in your closet there," Doyle jerked his head in the direction of the closet door, "and claim you had no knowledge of Bodie ever leaving the country." Finishing his opening move, Doyle sat quietly waiting.

After being silenced by Doyle, Cowley had remained quiet. "Am I to take it you checked the duty roster?"

"Didn't have to, did I? Bodie on family emergency leave to be with his sister. Yeh, that's what I'd find. Very clever, that. And if anyone should bother to check they will find that Keirin will concur with the cover story."

"Of course." Cowley stated. "Now that we have that settled, would you like to get on with your next assignment?"

Doyle straightened in his chair. "Only," he began, "if that assignment gets me a false passport and a ticket to Africa."

"Are you insane, Doyle? You know nothing of the situation there. What help could you be to Bodie?"

"I know more than you think. And besides, you don't send a man into a snake pit like that without backup."

Cowley's eyes hardened. "I did not send Bodie to Africa. He came to me with the idea some time ago, as you surmised. He believes he has a reasonable chance of accomplishing his goal."

"With me at his back he'd have a better chance."

"Really, Doyle?" Cowley sat back in his chair. "Convince me."

Given this opportunity, Doyle launched into his prepared argument and finally ran down with, "...and besides, I know you, Sir. You always like a man on the inside whenever possible. The Home Secretary still doesn't trust Bodie, doesn't want to give him full security clearance. This is another test for him, isn't it? I'll be able to corroborate his story."

"And if both of you are discovered and your cover story compromised?" was Cowley's next question.

"You're off the hook either way. We're both on personal leave and traveling under false passports so you can deny any knowledge of our plans."

"And you, Doyle, do you realize what that will do to your reputation? Everyone will believe you a bent copper, corrupted for the promise of financial gain."

"Yeh," Doyle said, his voice not as confident as he would have liked. "But I'll be dead, so what will it matter either way?"

The look in Cowley's eyes said he wasn't buying that story. "There's more to this, Doyle. Suppose you tell me what it is."

Doyle searched his mind for a reason he could state out loud for the Controller of CI5. "Keirin," he said, "we owe her that much, to keep her brother safe after tearing her life apart." The reason was valid, if not Doyle's first concern.

"She's on the mend and that secret needed exposing."

"Know that, don't I? But who appointed us God and assigned the task?"

Cowley leaned forward, toying absently with his reading glasses. "You point is well taken, Doyle, but I'll have to clear this with the Home Secretary. And we will expect certain information on your return."

"You'll get it," Doyle said, noting that Cowley had implied "when" and not "if".

"Suppose Bodie does throw back in with his old lot?"

"That's what everyone thinks, isn't it? Well, it won't happen...." Realizing that he was about to make a complete fool of himself, Doyle snapped his mouth shut.

Cowley watched agent 4.5 as he contemplated the words that had just passed between them. Knowing Bodie would have gone to Africa in any case, Cowley felt it was only expedient to use this opportunity. After all, this untidiness was spreading all over CI5's doorstep and would continue to do so, until it was swept clean at the source. Doyle, though, was a different matter. This problem wasn't of his making and Cowley did not want to lose Agent 4.5 on some foreign shore or at all for that matter. He was also curious and suspicious of Doyle's motives. Still, he counseled himself, it would be good to have an observer at the scene. And it was probably the only work he'd get from Doyle until this matter was settled.

"Go down to identification and have a your picture taken," Cowley finally said. "In the meantime I'll see what I can do. If matters can be worked out, you'll be on a plane day after tomorrow."

"Yes, Sir," Ray said as he got up to leave, "and, thank you, Sir."

Ticket in hand, Ray boarded the plane under the name Ronald Dunbar, feeling totally naked without his gun. Cowley would brook no argument on that point, making Doyle surrender the weapon in exchange for the passport. Well, Doyle consoled himself, Bodie will certainly have access to an arsenal. I'll take my pick--after I finish thumping him.

"Ronald Dunbar" had spent a turbulent plane flight remembering every scrap of information that Bodie had ever revealed of Ivory Coast in those long-ago hours of interrogation. Even still, none of it seemed much help in this situation, and he landed in Abidjan with very little to go on. Bodie had mentioned a certain hotel several times, and Doyle prayed that once, just bloody once, his partner would behave predictably. An English speaking cab driver dropped him at the "Hotel Ivoire" thirty minutes after his plane landed, and once there he reserved a room.

Not sure what he had expected from this place, he was surprised to see that it was very cosmopolitan: the room was of medium size with a double bed and a firm mattress, and unidentifiable seascape prints hung on the walls. The bath was standard with shower and tub, and Doyle, body already tired from Africa's heat and humidity, tried that right off.

Feeling somewhat refreshed after a shower and clean clothes, Doyle returned to the lobby. Dropping off his key with the desk clerk, he inquired after a Mr. Jeffrey Stuart and learned that indeed Bodie was here. Knowing where to find him, Doyle asked the desk clerk for a casino pass and directions.

Locating the bar, Doyle ordered Glenfiddich straight up. Because, he told himself, if we live through this escapade, we'll turn in the bill on expenses. ...And if not--well, what the hell. Drink in hand he went round the corner and down several steps. The "casino" was a largish room with tapestry wallpaper, wood paneling and not overly impressive chandeliers. Carpets were worn too. It was certainly not the Monte Carlo Bodie had painted.

Between sixty and seventy-five people milled around the gaming tables, though Ray noticed few women in the room. He spotted Bodie at one of several blackjack tables, in a dinner jacket no less--and if the large pile of chips in front of him was any indication, then Bodie appeared to be doing all right.

Ray spent the next hour meandering around the room, stopping to watch roulette for several minutes and even taking a hand at the slots for a while. When he realized he had dropped the local equivalent of twenty quid, Doyle quit and made his way back to where Bodie was sitting. He stood a bit apart from the throng around Bodie's table; glancing around himself, he could only wonder at the people for whom this was a way of life. Though Doyle did have to admit that Bodie surely seemed at home here, especially with the fetching, busty brunette who ran long painted nails across Bodie's shoulder and up over his neck. Bodie, his concentration on the cards, didn't even seem to notice the attention, so Doyle shivered for him. No luv, he thought with a private smile, that's not quite the way to get him going. Now if you slid your hands down his back, and fanned your fingers over his ribs...now that would get him going! He could almost imagine himself in a place like this with Bodie, where the money made any behavior acceptable, and where he took the lovely brunette's place. Would Bodie be so cool, he wondered, if those were my hands on him? If it were me plastered against him from arse to collar? Somehow, he didn't think so.

Still, this was a glamorous, exciting life, and he couldn't yet reason out why Bodie had tossed it all away to work for CI5. Dwelling on it for any length of time made him doubt Bodie's sanity, so he shoved the thoughts out of his mind and concentrated on getting his partner's attention.

Finally he caught Bodie's eye, but neither man gave a hint of acquaintanceship. Bodie continued to play, to lose some and win more, while Doyle remained a part of the watching crowd. After thirty or so minutes Bodie signaled that he was ready to leave the table. Ray made his way back to the bar, ordered another Scotch and waited while Bodie cashed in his winnings. Soon Bodie was standing next to him ordering a drink and making polite conversation.

"Come to Abidjan for the gambling?" he asked.

"Naw," Ray drawled in thick cockney, "too rich for me blood."

"Staying here at the Ivoire?" he asked, absently dragging his index finger across the bar's polished surface: three-one-nine, three-one-nine.

"Yeh," Doyle replied, nodding at the silent communication, then added under his breath, "and I'll be sending you the bill."

Smiling, Bodie finished his drink. "Think I'll get some air before turning in. Good night." With that he excused himself, leaving Ray sat at the bar sipping his Scotch.

Ray finished his drink and went the back way to Bodie's room. When his soft knock was not answered he jimmied the lock and let himself in. Damn, but Bodie hadn't even returned yet. He paced the floor, waiting, every passing second fueling his rising anger. Hearing footsteps in the hall, Ray set himself by the wall and before Bodie could close the door Doyle's fist caught him square on the chin.

Bodie looked up from where he sat on the floor and glowered, rubbing carefully at his jaw. "Bloody hell, Doyle, that all you know how to do?"

Doyle, nursing his aching hand, fired back, "Don't ever do that again!"

"Do what?"

"Fuck and run."

Bodie looked surprised. "Christ, Doyle, I didn't."

"Woke up alone, didn't I?"

"It wasn't like that...."

"Just don't ever do it again!"

Bodie had never seen that particular look on Doyle's face before and wasn't sure what to make of it. "Ray, this isn't your fight. Go home and let me do this. Then I'll be ba...."

"No! I'm not goin' anywhere. We do this together."

Scared for Doyle, for both of them, Bodie was secretly pleased by Doyle's determination to guard his back. "Always wanted me very own knight in shining armor," he admitted, reaching for a hand up. "I guess you'll have to do."

"Well slip into something low-cut, soft and flowing, and I'll see if you're worth protecting." Doyle's tone did not quite match his words as he pulled Bodie to his feet.

When their eyes met on even footing the amusement was gone.

"Bodie, I know this is serious, so start talking. I want to know what you're planning."

"First this, Sunshine." Bodie tugged hard on the hand still holding his, bringing his lover off balance and into his arms. "Just this," he whispered again, staring intently into eyes so green, so wide open and startled, he thought he could fall into them. And then he remembered that he already had.

This kiss was gentle as so many the week before had not been; he nibbled at the soft, full lips beneath his, licking them wet and moist before teasing them open for his tongue. Was it Doyle trembling in response, or Bodie's own body ushering on the feelings between them?--he wasn't sure, and didn't care. As Doyle's arms came up around him, hands rubbing flat-palmed over his back through the cool silk shirt he wore, all he cared about was Doyle. " 'M glad you came, Ray," he whispered, pulling away from the kiss to see the hungry look in his lover's eyes. "Glad this mattered enough."

"I'd have come anyway, you dumb crud," he answered back with a bite to his words that stung Bodie sweetly. "I'd have come because you're my partner and my friend. I'd have come because I love you. Berk."

Distracted as he was by the press and heat of Ray's body against his, and by the aggression in Doyle's voice, he almost missed the words themselves. I love you. Berk. They played back in his head at least a dozen times, rebounding through him and building in momentum as they were joined by every tendrest feeling he had for his partner. Lover. Friend. "Yeh, I must be a berk, to love you this much," Bodie whispered back, and knowing Doyle felt the same, he wondered how much like prats they'd feel if ever they looked back on this moment. But he was willing to feel like a prat, just as long as he held Ray in his arms.

"It's almost midnight, Ray," he whispered, feeling seductive, and amorous and desperate to have him. "We're in Abidjan, in an expensive hotel room, with an exquisite bed just behind you a ways." He punctuated his words with a kiss, burying his fingers in the curls at Doyle's nape to guide his head, to dominate the mood, just a little. "It's the middle of Africa: romance, danger, night flowers in bloom."

"So?" Doyle said sarkily, but the fire in his eyes belied the teasing challenge in his words.

"So," and Bodie bent his head to drag an open-mouthed kiss along Doyle's exposed neck, "I want to make love to you."

"Lucky thing for you, then," Doyle replied, caught up in Bodie's words and Bodie's arousal, "because that's what we're about to do."

Doyle kissed him and he felt careful fingers unknotting his bow tie, sliding it from under the collar of his shirt with such eagerness it sent a shiver down his spine. "Bloody dinner clothes," Doyle said against his lips, "it's a damned good thing you look so good in black tie, that's all I can say." And before he could reply Doyle's tongue was in his mouth, and the hands were sliding down his back to release his cummerbund and drop it to the floor. And then Doyle brought his hands up between them, fingers artfully plucking at Bodie's shirt buttons. There was such delicacy to the movements even in their haste, and that delicacy was obviously so much a part of Raymond Doyle in love, that Bodie felt his throat tightening from the rapt attention.

Doyle pulled his mouth away then, tilting his chin down even as Bodie tried to kiss him again, his fingers fumbling at cufflinks then braces. "Now the braces," he said, "those I like. Have to get you a whole supply of these." Doyle's fingers loosened Bodie's trousers and delved inside his pants, cupping his genitals with tender urgency.

"Christ, Ray," he breathed, feeling the blood igniting in his veins, feeling the swelling ache of strong emotion deep in his chest that far surpassed the swell of passion in his groin.

"Well," Doyle said with an ironic smile, "I wouldn't go that far."

"That's because you're not on the receiving end," he said all in a breath. He wondered how he could have missed making love with Ray so much, after only a few days' separation. But when Ray's hands relinquished their hold on his erection, resting against his chest to slide the silk of his shirt across his aroused nipples, he wondered instead how he'd gone without it for so long. "Careful," he muttered, reaching for Doyle's own clothes and manhandling him out of them, "you'll bring me off where I stand if you keep this up."

"You like it standing, then?"

On his knees before Ray, jerking loafers off narrow feet so he could get Doyle out of his trousers, Bodie smiled wickedly and slid his hand up the inside of a bare thigh. "Like it a lot of ways," he leered.

"Yeh?" And the teasing that kept them safely afloat in this sea of emotion disappeared as quickly as it had come. He glanced up at the serious tone, past demanding arousal and slender body to see his lover's face. The expression there was so gentle, so open it almost embarrassed Bodie, for he knew his own face must look the same. "You tell me how you want it, mate," Doyle promised, "and that's how you shall have it tonight. Anything you want."

For a moment Bodie stopped breathing as his body made several urgent suggestions. Suddenly, with a ravenous hunger, Bodie knew that he wanted to take Ray. Really make love to him. Slide it into him and feel the tight press of flesh against his cock, see the tension, the learning and pleasure of his lover's first time. But his heart was thinking for him, for he knew that Doyle's offer was unconsidered. Doyle, he was sure, hadn't even thought of being fucked yet.

He knew if he asked for Ray's arse right here in this room, then Ray would give it to him.

And Bodie wanted it.

Rising slowly, forcing a measured breath, he stripped off his own trousers and pants, and pressed up against his lover, grabbing his arse to press their heated cocks tight together. He wanted it, but he didn't know how Ray would take to it. Didn't know how sore Ray would be after, or how uncomfortable if he had to go running about. No, now wasn't the time. Now would probably be the worst time. Soon, he promised his over-eager body. It was a masterful sacrifice on his part, but one easily made.

"Then I want you to suck me, Ray," he half-lied, letting Ray pull him to the bed. "Want to lay back and watch you swallow me whole, and take it slow, and let you make me come so hard I won't get it up for a week."

Doyle grinned and licked his lips but he said archly, "And what about me, then?"

Gratefully, Bodie slid away from the emotional precipice and back into the humour. "I'll just have to my imagination, won't I."

"Dangerous, that," he panted, his belly hollowing as Bodie rubbed a hand across it, "your imagination."

Bodie just smiled and sat down against the chill of the duvet, sliding back across the bed to make room for Ray beside him. "I think," he said matter-of-factly, looking up the long expanse of narrow waist and furry chest to Doyle's down-turned, expectant face, "that you'll like it all right."

Lying side-by-side in the bed, Bodie told Doyle that he had contacted an old friend still employed by the Cartel and made him an offer he couldn't refuse. "Jake is greedy, just like all of them. He thinks he can run the operation without their contacts." Bodie smiled in amusement. "Dumb bastard, the authorities will eat him up inside a week, but he's too stupid to see that."

"Let's hope he stays stupid till we get this job done," was Doyle's comment. "Now how and when you gonna do it?"

"Three days--no," Bodie checked his watch which showed three a.m., "Day after tomorrow night, eleven o'clock. Got it all set up. There's a small inboard at one of the lesser used docks. Leave just after dark, 9:30 or so. Jake will be on guard on the big yacht. He'll help me plant the explosive, then leave with me. Couldn't be simpler."

"Christ, Bodie, don't do that," Doyle snapped.

"All right, so a lot of things have to fall into place. But Jake wants this and he knows that four of the other six men will follow him." His eyes locked onto Doyle's. "It'll work--it has to."

"This Jake, he won't betray us?"

Bodie found he liked the sound of that: 'us'. "If he was going to, I wouldn't be lying here with you. Enough talk for now, Sunshine. Come 'ere."

Bodie happily soaped himself as the hot shower poured over him. The morning was beautiful and Ray was here. No, he admitted with a wry half-smile, the morning's beautiful because Ray is here. Doyle was still happily dead to the world, spread out across every available inch of mattress. He was probably glad to see the back of me, gave him more room. And if all was not right with his future, he hadn't a single complaint about his present.

He was thinking absently of how they would entertain themselves today when a noise caught his attention. He crouched into a defensive position just as the shower curtain flew back to reveal a naked, sleepy Doyle with a very angry look on his face. Ray's face softened somewhat as he looked at Bodie's hand, and Bodie followed Ray's eyes to see that he had the bar of soap aimed center mass at Ray. Both laughed as Bodie shrugged his shoulders.

Anything harsh Bodie might have been about to say was lost in Ray's smile. "Startled me, Sunshine," he said, then grabbing Doyle by the hand, Bodie pulled him into the tub and a very tight embrace.

Bodie ran his hands down Ray's torso and worked the tension from the knotted neck and shoulder muscles as the hot water sluiced over them both. His cock sprang to life and as their bodies pressed close he felt Doyle's own response. Using the soaped flannel, Bodie scrubbed Ray's back and buttocks, remembering again his barely checked desires of the night before while his mouth was searching out his lover's. He found it eager to respond.

William Bodie was faced with a difficult decision indeed: to keep doing what he was doing, to make love yet again under the water, or address Doyle's constant, unbidden fury at any unexplained absence. With a sigh, he acknowledged that this must truly be love....

Knowing that the little scenario the two of them had just played out was somehow wrapped up in Doyle's past, Bodie searched for non-threatening words to question his lover. Keeping Doyle in a tight embrace, Bodie whispered in Ray's ear. "Look, Sunshine, you know all my secrets. Now, if we're gonna go steady, it's only fair that you share yours."

Ray tried to pull away, but Bodie held tight. "I saw the look in your eyes, Ray. Meant something, it did."

Wiggling out of Bodie's embrace, Ray climbed out of the tub and began drying himself while Bodie glared down at his persistent morning erection.. "Don't go looking for problems where there are none, Bodie. Just woke up alone and got worried, that's all.... With the mess you're in, who's to know what might happen."

Bodie abandoned impure thoughts completely in favor of his lover's fears. "Nice try, Ray, but it won't wash.

He watched as Doyle's eyes changed from hazel to green. Funny, he thought, how that happens when he's pondering what to say and what to keep hidden.

"Come on, Doyle," Bodie encouraged, "what gives?"

Back in bed, nestled together like spoons, Bodie nagged between running kisses up and down Doyle's neck and shoulder.

"Worse than a bird," Doyle muttered. "Always asking questions." Then sighing heavily, he said, "Look Bodie, it's no great mystery. Just don't like waking up alone when I didn't fall asleep that way."

Bodie realized that buried in his response was the reason Doyle never let a female stay the night. They'd do it at her place, then he'd leave. That little idiosyncrasy had inconvenienced Bodie severely on several occasions. Whatever was eating at Doyle, Bodie wasn't getting the whole story and probably never would. Letting it go for now, he wrapped himself tighter around Doyle and snuggled down for much-needed kip. After a few minutes he felt his partner do the same.

Chapter Twelve

The heat of the room combined with that of the hot body next to him woke Bodie and drove him from the bed. On his way to the bath for another quick shower, he recalled the look on Doyle's face the last time he had tried that. Determined not to let this morning's incident spoil their time, Bodie said in a good-natured tone, "Come on, Sunshine, time to get up. We've play time till six o'clock and I've a very special sight-seeing tour planned for you."

"Christ, Bodie, you're a right pain in the arse!" Doyle's disembodied voice came from under the pillow.

Bodie remembered the electric rush of anticipation that he'd felt before at such thoughts, and smiled. "Not yet, Sunshine, saving that for a special occasion."

"Bodie!" Doyle sat up, wide eyed.

"Good, you're awake. Here, get dressed." Doyle's clothes landed in his lap.

Showered, shaved, and fondled one last time behind the closed bedroom door, they went together down to the lobby.

Bodie's first treat to Doyle was breakfast by the hotel pool watching topless bathers; French female topless bathers. It was a pleasant meal indeed, and they lingered over every bite. From there the two headed for the inlet where Bodie wanted to check out the boat he and Jake would use to gain access to the Cartel's yacht.

Doyle gave the small weather-beaten rowboat a once over. "Yeh," he said somewhat sarcastically, "that's a boat, all right. And just how far do you have to row it?"

Bodie pointed out to sea. Doyle shaded his eyes with his hands and peered at a speck in the distance. "Bloody hell, Bodie, you'll be an old man before you get there."

Bodie's killer smile warmed him more than the blazing sun. "Along with the weapons and explosives I've stashed, there's a small electric motor. So you see, Doyle, I won't even be out of breath when I get back."

The implication of Bodie's words were not lost on Doyle and his thoughts were too mixed up to be voiced. He could only say, "Yeh, well lets hope you're right about that."

During the next few hours Bodie walked Doyle all over Abidjan, or so it seemed. To his surprise, Doyle found his tour interesting. The city of almost half a million people had the look of a European metropolis, if not the feel. He definitely knew his was in a foreign country. If nothing else signaled it, certainly the sight of two native males walking down the street holding hands did. Elbowing Bodie in the ribs, he jerked his head in their direction, wanting an explanation.

"Different culture, Doyle, doesn't mean what you think it does."

"Into mind reading now, Bodie?"

"Only with you, Sunshine, cause it's so easy."

About two o'clock Bodie took a table at an outdoor cafe.

"This where we're meeting Jake later?" Doyle asked after observing the change in Bodie's manner. The casual sightseeing demeanor had disappeared the instant they rounded the corner to this cafe. Bodie was instantly on guard to everyone and everything.

"Yeh," Bodie finally said after ordering a light lunch for them both.

"Thought the meeting wasn't until six o'clock."

"It's not," Bodie said as he leaned his chair back against the stone wall behind him. The fact that Bodie had selected a table where he could sit with his back to a wall and afforded clear and direct exit and commanded a view of the street said not so much that Bodie was paranoid in this particular incident, but that he was a man in a business where it paid to be cautious.

Doyle did his own reconnaissance of the area as the two ate. Satisfied that nothing seemed out of order, at least for now, he asked. "What'm I looking for?"

"Nothing special. Just getting the lay of the land," was Bodie's comeback. "Haven't been here for some time. Want to make sure there's no surprises."

After lunch Bodie took them for a further check behind the cafe before hailing a cab. "Got time to kill yet," he said as they emerged from the cab. "Let's go bowling."

"Bowling?" Doyle questioned, eyeing Bodie skeptically.

"Yeh, nice place, and the only bowling alley in West Africa."

"Enough already, Professor. I'm not going bowling." Suddenly remembering why they were here, Doyle frowned. "When this is over we'll go bowling."

Walking silently Bodie led the way to the local Cocody Marche. The two inspected the wares at each and every booth, and Doyle marveled at the diversity of merchandise offered for sale. Mostly junk, was Bodie's description. "That's why they call it a Bazaar."

Doyle stopped when a carved ivory box caught his fancy. He picked it up for closer examination.

"Buy it, Ray," Bodie urged.

"Hell no, I'm not buying it. Some poor elephant died for that bloody box."

"And your not buying it will bring it back to life?"

"Bodie," Ray said looking disgusted, "I'm not buying ivory."

"Ray, some craftsman spent hundreds of hours turning it into a piece of art. Besides, the way public sentiment is leaning, the purchase of ivory will probably be illegal in a year or so. Might be your last chance."

"No." Doyle shook his head. He set down the box and walked on. "Now, about these guns you have stashed. We are gonna get them?"

Bodie smiled. "We'll get them just before we need them. Be buying trouble to do it any sooner. We've no special permit and I'm not looking to call attention."

"Right, then." And he surprised himself by letting it lie and enjoying the sunshine.

Almost back to the hotel, that damned ivory box popped back into Doyle's head. There was an image, vague and foggy but so substantial it seemed like deja vu, of himself in the future, looking out a window and holding that box in his hand. Doyle wasn't one to believe in omens, but he couldn't shake off the image, nor the sudden desire to go back and buy the bloody thing. It was beautiful, with its intricate craftsmanship and ornate grace, and Bodie had been right--in a year or two, he'd never be able to find something like that. But still he hesitated mentioning it, glancing sidelong at his lover. He was unwilling to recant on his ivory ban because he knew, he knew that Bodie would make him pay.

They passed from dry heat to the air-conditioned hotel lobby in silence, Doyle wondering what his chances were of slipping away and buying the box without having to tell Bodie. But, bloody hell, Bodie'd see the damned thing eventually....

They made it to the elevator doors before the itching desire to own that thing made him turn.

"Changed my mind," Ray blurted out while the two were waiting for the elevator. "I'm going back for the box."

Bodie raised an eyebrow and, damn him, the corner of his mouth twitched in humour. "Well, oh great savior of the wild beast, what brought this on?"

He shrugged, refusing to defend himself. "You're right. I probably won't ever get back here again, and it's a beautiful piece of work, and the elephant's already dead..."

"Ray, you want the box, go buy it."

Doyle nodded, sure now of his decision. "Right then, let's go."

"Us? 'Let's'? Not me, mate, I just came in from the oven and I am not going back out into it because you're fickle."

"Bodie, it can't be more than a mile," he scoffed. "Come on."

"No. 'En - oh'. No. I'm going up to my room, where I shall take yet another cool bath and lie in wait." He waggled his eyebrows and lowered his voice so that it just reached Doyle and went no farther. "You're welcome to join me, of course."

"Prat." But he was smiling, both at Bodie's typical, obstinate laziness and at the sweet charm of the invitation. "I'll be back in a bit, then. And you," he licked his lips for Bodie's eyes alone, "don't use up all the cold water, eh?"

"Wouldn't dream of it, mate. Don't forget to haggle. The merchant'll be insulted if you don't."

"Yeh," Doyle skidded to a stop, turning back on his heel. "What's the going rate, 50 to 1 French Franc?"

"Yeah, close enough," Bodie replied, stepping through the just-opened elevator doors, and Doyle was off again.

Holding the box, Ray ran his fingers over the intricate carvings studying the scene as he retraced his steps back to the hotel. One could not help but admire the craftsmanship and appreciate the hours that went into the piece of art. He didn't have it all figured out yet, but for some reason he felt this box was a symbol. It had to do with this new relationship between him and Bodie, but also with his trip here to Africa--mysterious, dark continent, his first trip outside Europe and taken solely because his lover was in trouble. There was a magic to this place, tangible in the heat of the wind and the glare of the bright summer sun when his mind wasn't on Bodie and their present danger. That magic was tangible in this little box of coolest ivory, and he could hold it in his hands, take it back to Britain and think of it whenever he wished.

For now, though, there were priorities. As pleasant as Bodie's invitation had been, there wasn't really time for loving, so he detoured to his own room to drop off the box, shower alone and change into fresh clothes. Clean and shaved, Doyle headed for room 319. His first knock went unanswered. So did his second, and third. With a sense of un-named panic gripping his middle, Ray picked the lock and let himself in. There was no one, nor anything there. The room was empty: no Bodie, no clothes. Even the bottled water was missing from the sink. The room looked as if it hadn't been occupied in some time. Ray studied the sterile, clean, unoccupied space and wondered if he had really been in that bed with Bodie less than eight hours ago, or had he just imagined it?

Then the realization hit with a physical force: Bodie did it to him again! The sonofabitch had gone and done it again! The pain of it doubled Ray as he bent to sit on the bed, and the bile of betrayal rose in his throat. After I told him I couldn't deal with this, he fucking well left me again. Doyle's emotions bounced from anger and betrayal to a panicked fear and back again. From hate for Bodie back to love and around and around again.

Was he hiding? Haunting memories of childhood returned to him with a vengeance. Nerves tingled, memory settled to his very bones sneaking out to make his body tremble with fear and confusion. Come on Bodie. Come out, come out wherever you are. But there was no Bodie to come out.

"Hate this feeling," Doyle told the empty room as he rubbed his chest to assuage that familiar ache. I hate this feeling. God, why do I let myself in for this?

Bloody Christ, Bodie, how could you? Ray asked the same question over and over as he paced the room. How could you do this to me? You made me talk about it, just last night. Don't like to do that, but I opened up. Admitted I don't like being run out on. And what'd that get me. You did it again.

He had spent his whole life trying not to get close to anyone, not need anyone. And any lapse in that behavior always ended in disaster. When will you learn, Doyle? When will you bloody-well learn?

Needing something to do, and to be out of this room, Doyle bolted from the room and down the stairs. Composed somewhat by the time he reached the lobby, he went to the front desk and asked for Mr. Jeffrey Stuart in 319.

"We have no Mr. Stuart registered at the hotel, Sir."

Wanting to explode in the man's face, Doyle held his temper as he reminded the clerk that only yesterday he had received a different answer to that same question.

"No, Sir," the clerk avowed, "couldn't have."

Further questioning produced the same answers as the clerk repeated that room 319 had not been occupied for a week and, again, that there was no Mr. Stuart registered in the hotel. Realizing that he was getting nowhere, and with his frustration ready to explode into rage, Doyle left the hotel before he made a scene.

Once outside, Doyle took several deep breaths as the implications of the past few minutes began to take hold. For the desk clerk to go along with this charade could only mean one thing; someone had gotten to him. Playing around with hotel registration is frowned upon my both management and the authorities. Someone had paid off. Was it Bodie buying his way out? Is that why he'd urged Doyle to go back for the box, to give himself time? It was the only answer Doyle could conceive of--unless.... Did he buy the desk clerk? Doyle's mind suddenly questioned. If not, who has him and why?


With something to fixate on, Doyle could put the painful thoughts aside. Hailing a cab Doyle cursed Bodie for not revealing where he'd hid the stash of weapons. It was almost 6:30 when Doyle got back to the cafe. Having no idea who he was looking for, Doyle could only meander to a vacant table like any other customer, take a seat, place an order and casually watch. Not exactly sure what he was looking for, Doyle spent the next two hours sitting and staring.

Waiters watching him with suspicion finally drove Doyle from the cafe and again, it was a choice of 'go quietly' or make a scene whose attention he couldn't afford. With little other choice, he hailed a cab, and not having the command of French that Bodie did, and being in no mood to haggle, Doyle waived a handful of CFA at the driver. "Take it or leave it," he said.

The cabby took the currency and followed Doyle's instructions to drive to Golf Hotel. Watching out the window as they passed the Ivoire, Doyle ignored the urge to check Bodie's room again. From his drop-off point in front of the Golf Hotel he followed the two mile trail he and Bodie had taken to the ocean front earlier that day.

Doyle had been anxious to get back to the inlet where Bodie had stored the boat, refusing to ask himself what he hoped to find there. The small boat was still there, incoming tide slapping against its sides, but there was no sign of anyone around or even of anyone having been there. His lack of options forced Doyle to wait.

Hoping to surprise anyone who might be interested in the rowboat, Doyle tried to sit quietly in the thick underbrush but the heat, humidity and mosquitoes made that impossible. Slapping at the insects and scratching their bites, he tried walking on the soft sand. After a couple of hours of that his legs ached. Tired, angry, he sat to take off his shoes and poured out the sand. "Christ, I'm thirsty," he swore aloud as he tried to work some saliva into this parched mouth and throat. Several more agonizing hours of alternate walking and sitting produced nothing but aching legs, an upset stomach and a determination to first find Bodie alive and safe, and then beat him to death, with his bare hands.

Somewhere around 3:00 a.m. Doyle was back at the Hotel Ivoire. After getting his key, and a strange look, from the desk clerk, he took the back stairs to Bodie's room. The room that had been Bodie's, Doyle corrected himself as he stood looking around at the still empty, unlived in suite.

Back in his own room he showered, then lay down just for a few minutes, or so he told himself. It was 6:00 a.m. when he woke. Ten minutes later he was dressed and about to have another look in Bodie's room before leaving the hotel. Opening the stairway door, he heard voices. A quick glance around the corner revealed a man and woman entering room 319, giggling in hushed tones. So much for that, Doyle told himself as he quietly headed down the stairs.

Along with returning his key to the front desk Ray left a hurriedly scribbled note for Bodie. The clerk frowned as he accepted the sealed envelope for Mr. Jeffrey Stuart, but said nothing.

"Cafe Medor," he told the cabby.

Doyle stuffed himself with fresh croissants, cheese and jam, trying to stretch breakfast as long as possible, and wished to hell he knew what he was looking for--besides Bodie that is. His few discreet questions were rewarded with nothing but more suspicion.

He felt desperately naked without his shooter, but knew that to seek one would only add to his troubles. Leaving the cafe, he walked until he found a street of small shops then he hunted until he found one selling blades. Though most were for decorative purposes, his search and patience were rewarded with a real find, a small hunting/skinning knife with its own sheath. A weapon, not a toy.

Feeling somewhat less vulnerable with the knife tucked in his jeans, and having no other options as he saw it, Doyle prepared to go back to the inlet. At one of the other shops he purchased a backpack, then proceeded to fill it. First on the list was bottled water, then food. Remembering what Bodie had said about it being safe to eat any fruit that could be peeled, he bought some oranges and bananas and a package of biscuits. Spotting a pile of cheap rugs, he grabbed one. Better than sitting in the sand, he told himself. A display of sunscreen on the counter caught his eye. He selected a tube and then went looking for a hat with a wide brim. Ray's final purchase was a pair of binoculars.

A 5,000 CFA waved in a cabby's face and he was on his way. Bodie would laugh his arse off if he caught me tossing money away like this, he thought darkly.

The sun was high and beating down hard on the beach by the time he got there, and when he spotted the rowboat he wasn't sure if he was relieved or not. Binoculars glued to his face, Ray scanned the beach and the wooded area, then turned his sights on the water. He spotted the yacht and fine tuning brought it into focus, but at this distance the glasses were not powerful enough to detect movement on the boat. After several minutes he admitted the futility of this action.

Stashing himself and his gear in the underbrush, Ray settled down to wait--for what, he did not ask himself.

The tall palms provided shade, but there was no respite from the heat. His clothes, wet with perspiration, hair hanging limp in his face, he cursed Bodie yet again. Splashing a small amount of bottled water on his face didn't help. A large swallow of that same water did--some. He was so sweaty that his sunglasses kept slipping off his nose.

Finally giving up all pretense of hiding from anyone, or that anyone would even show up, Doyle found himself a more comfortable place. Sitting on his rug under a bright blue sky, surrounded by lush vegetation, his back against a palm tree, Ray stared out over the water. How beautiful this place was, or could be under different circumstances. He thought of the magic again, held as close in this damp sea air as it had been in the arid heat of the city streets. He wondered if the magic had taken Bodie. He wondered what to do next....

"Christ, Bodie, where the hell are you?"

Never been to a place like this before, he said, continuing his mental conversation with the absent Bodie, trying to feel his partner's presence somewhere inside him. Thought about it though. Warm sun, waves coming in, birds carrying on as they do. We'd be swimming if you were here. But if you were here, I wouldn't be on stakeout.

Stakeout? Where had that thought come from? From Bodie running out on me, Ray answered himself. Leaving me out of it to handle the Cartel by himself. Maybe he didn't, the other half of Ray's mind argued, maybe the Cartel has him.

Logic made him question why they would bother. If Jake or the Cartel were on to him all they had to do was kill him. Why all the trouble to clean out the hotel room? Ray's questions and answers took him around in ever widening circles. Had Bodie abandoned him or been kidnapped? He could convince himself of either scenario with chilling ease.

He'd come here to help Bodie do this job--this killing job. He'd thought of him and Bodie as a team, as being on the same side, but that had stopped when he found himself alone in room 319. All of a sudden Bodie was on the other side.

Yes, this had become a stakeout; one affording too much time to think, and that was never good on stakeout. God I hate this sitting around--and nobody to play cards with. The picture of him and Bodie on their last stakeout flashed through his mind.

The sliding angle of the sun as it swept almost directly overhead drove him to change positions. He pulled the rug and backpack to another palm tree and had lunch: two bananas and an orange. His stomach placated, Ray lay back, pulled his hat over his eyes and tried to nap. The hit isn't scheduled till eleven o'clock tonight, plenty of time to catch a little kip, he told himself.

Ray sat straight up and stared at the rowboat as another thought dawned: Bodie had no plans for that boat, never had had any, except to distract Doyle. It was a red herring never meant to be used: its sole purpose to keep Ray occupied. Ray pressed the heel of his hands to his eyes. He had never felt more stupid in his life.

Ray bolted from his sitting place. With no outlet for his sudden urge to hit something, he stripped off his clothes and ran headlong across the hot sand into the surf. The water felt cool and refreshing on his hot skin, he swam for a long time, but the calming effect lasted only as long as he was in the water. The instant his feet hit the hot sand his thoughts were in turmoil, his skin, dry and burning in minutes. Ray pulled on his jeans, shirt and shoes.

Grabbing up his hat, he began pacing up and down the beach, covering and recovering the same short strip of sand, watching his own recent footprints stretch on ahead of him. Soon enough his mind was running in fast-forward again. Doyle played all the arguments, re-examined every word he and Bodie had exchanged on the subject of the Cartel. As the afternoon wore on his thoughts condensed and polarized into two scenarios. Either Bodie had been taken against his will or he had deliberately left Ray out of his plans. And if the latter was the case, it followed that he had no intention of going back to CI5. The third option; that Bodie was sparing Ray by leaving him out of the action, Ray found impossible to believe. Ray had made his feelings on that subject very clear and besides, Bodie had no reason to do that. Their chosen occupation put them in constant danger; it was a way of life. Ray's gut feeling said Bodie didn't betray him, but as much as he wanted to, he couldn't let himself believe his gut.

Itching all over from the sand that had dried on his skin and found its way into every body crevice, Ray scratched. Perspiration under the band chafing his wrist, Ray pulled off his watch, noting in irritation that it was 4:25; he shoved the offending item into his jeans pocket feeling completely useless.

Continuing his pacing, and scratching, Doyle watched his shadow grow in the late afternoon sun. But rain clouds were building out over the ocean. He knew a storm was brewing and prayed to god it bring cool air with it.

By early evening, a light rain began to fall. Doyle stood where he was, welcoming the cool breeze as it ruffled his sweat-soaked shirt and enjoying the refreshing raindrops as they plopped onto his parched skin and sticky clothes. It was almost refreshing, almost enough to help scrub away some of his tension and pain. But only almost and when, less than half an hour later the clouds drizzled out and began to scutter away, he sank back onto his now damp rug.

The sun was low in the sky, low enough now to peek out under the remaining clouds. Soon he'd lose the light altogether, and still he hadn't the first idea what he was doing here. He sat, not thinking, refusing to go over all of the possibilities yet again in his mind, and watched the cooling disk of the sun turning orange, then blood-red as it sunk behind the hills to the west. Dusk, now, with already dried clothes and a splitting headache to keep him company.

God, why didn't I remember to buy some Panadol? Raising the binoculars, he stared out at the speck that was the yacht, and the torment of not knowing what was happening there drove him to his feet again. If he knew where Bodie had stashed the motor, Ray would be heading out into the surf right now. As it was, he could do nothing but stomp up and down the beach.

Stuffing another empty water bottle into the backpack, Ray took out a bag of biscuits. They stuck in his throat, and he opened the last bottle of water to wash them down. If only I knew what was happening out there! If only Bodie hadn't run off like that...or been carried away. If only I had the first idea of what to do.

Cowley will bloody kill me. 'You see sir, I just had to have this ivory box--yes, a beauty, isn't it?--and when I came back, he was gone.' 'Well, he hit me over the head and made a break for it!' 'We'd just made love, you see--yes, I did say made love--no, not with anyone else, but that can wait. Anyway....'

Ray did not realize that he had fallen asleep until a noise jarred him awake. Shaking his head to clear it, he focused his stare in the direction of the intrusion. The night's clear sky and almost full moon made for an excellent view, almost better than the blinding glare and radiant heat of the day. Ray watched as a truck came rattling down the beach. It was a very old truck, or at least one in bad repair, if the engine noise was any indication. Realizing it was about to pass just a few yards in front of where he lay, Ray scrambled into the underbrush as the battered vehicle passed and came to a stop less then a quarter mile down the beach from where he hid. He turned his head in response to another new arrival and was able to make out a small launch heading in from the sea. It's from the yacht, Ray decided, has to be. There was only one man in it, a man who wasn't Bodie; this one sat too tall, and the moonlight reflected brightly off his uncapped, shaggy hair Doyle's eyes were drawn back to the action on the beach where two men had gotten out of the truck and were maneuvering something out of the truckbed. "Bloody Christ," Ray swore under his breath, and his heart hammered as he realized what it was the two men were carrying down to the water's edge. Its distinctive shape and tell-tale sag in the middle told him as clearly as if the neon letters 'Property of the London Coroner's Office' had been imprinted on its dark plastic exterior.

Not letting himself think about who could be in that bodybag but believing it without a doubt nonetheless, Ray was up and running. He began yelling the instant he realized he would not be in time to stop them from transferring the bodybag to the boat. Turning in response to his voice, the men hurriedly dumped their bundle into the launch. Then two were headed back to the truck at a dead run and the man in the boat started the motor. The launch was away in a instant, but Doyle gained on the truck as its engine misfired once, then twice. Then it caught, was thrown into gear, and was speeding down the beach when the passenger leaned out the window and sprayed automatic gunfire in Ray's direction. Ray dove for the sand and lay there as both truck and launch moved further and further away from him. Bodie, he muttered to himself, Bloody Christ, Bodie...

Ray was again up and running, this time back to the row boat. Refusing to listen to the part of his brain that was telling him the gesture was useless, he dragged the rowboat across the sand, launched it and began rowing. His mind firmly slipped into "agent mode", in which a man stopped to think about his actions only if he was dead, and with the wind against him, Doyle rowed toward the yacht. Even breathing hard, he was able to put every ounce of energy into pulling those oars. He focused on the object of the job: to rescue the bodybag. To rescue Bodie. Until he had seen it for himself, he knew he would not rest. But, hard as he rowed, his heart seemed to be pounding out a message that told him he was standing still in the water. Might as well be sitting still, he cursed himself as he struggled to make an even greater effort.

The explosion registered in his ears as the shock waves rocked the boat, but Ray Doyle had stopped rowing. His peripheral vision had already caught the glow in the sky. Flipping the oars into the boat, Ray jerked around. A small blaze on the horizon, only slightly nearer him than the beach now was, was all that was left of the yacht. Ray could only watch as the burning mass sunk into the ocean and the horizon faded to the black-and-silver nothingness of the moonlight.

Heart colliding with his chest wall, head splitting, stomach churning, Ray lay in the bottom of the boat and heaved. He couldn't think, didn't want to think of his lover's dead body zipped into that grey bag. Wanted to think even less of tiny pieces of Bodie showering over the flat water, blown to bits before Ray's very eyes.

Rousing only when the rowboat struck bottom, Ray gazed around, numb, and realized that he owed his return trip ashore to the incoming tide. Climbing out, he left it churning in the tide. He didn't even consider stopping for the things he'd left strewn under the palms; none of it seemed even slightly important.

Moving on pure instinct, Ray walked the path that led away from the beach and to the only sanctuary he knew; his hotel room. Somewhere along the highway a cabby stopped and opened the car door. Ray slid in and fell onto the seat and did not move until the cabby shook him awake in front of the Ivoire. Pressing a handful of bills into the driver's hand, Ray stumbled out of the cab.

Instinct still directing him, Ray bypassed the hotel's main door in favor of the back entrance. The last thing he needed was for bully boys to know he was about. It was bad enough, the mess he'd made at the beach: missing the men, being fired upon, leaving his fingerprints over every bloody solid object in the area.... And in his present state, there was no question of going to the front desk for his key.

After jimmying the lock, Ray made for the bathroom. He felt an almost compulsive need to wash this day from his body, to free himself of the grit and dirt, the salt and sweat and then, somehow, to free himself from the nauseating image of that explosion in his mind's eye. Stripping off his clothes he climbed into the tub, plugged the drain and lowered himself against the cool porcelain. The water poured from the shower head as sand and dirt ran from his body. Pulling the curtain across the opening, he sunk deeper into the rising water.

Two opposing thoughts volleyed for attention in his mind: Bodie was dead; Bodie had planned the whole scene so Doyle would believe he was dead. Bodie was in that body bag. Bodie had planned the whole scene so Doyle would believe he was in that body bag. Bodie was dead. Bodie was somewhere laughing at Ray for being so gullible. Bodie was dead. His head was splitting with the conflicting imagery.

Bloody Christ, Doyle thought, I don't know whether to mourn him or hate him.

When the water got too cold for comfort, Ray pulled himself from the tub. Half drying himself, he went into the bedroom and rooted through his suitcase for a clean pair of jeans. He pulled them on, then propped against the wall for support, staring blankly out the window.

Shouldn't have let him out of me sight, Ray chided himself. But, if Bodie was determined to lose me, he'd have managed. He told me to go home, leave this job to him. Should have listened.

Something was telling him to think. Something was telling him to open his eyes and use his training; something that sounded suspiciously like Cowley's voice in his head was trying to point out all of the possibilities he might have missed. He had no proof, not really, that Bodie was in that bag. He had no proof that Bodie was scarpering off. He had no proof whatsoever that Bodie was alive or dead; all he knew, and he knew it on a level where he didn't think he could bear the pain, was that Bodie was gone.

Turning around at a noise in the hallway and seeing the bellhop and a man in a dark suit walk past, Ray realized he hadn't even shut his door. He dragged himself up, wondering if it were even worth the effort, to shut the world away. On his way across the room, however, his gaze landed on the ivory box. Picking it up, he studied the intricate carving. It was the carving that had drawn him to that particular box. What a stupid thing to focus on--and it had cost him Bodie.

With that thought, an unfamiliar rage--at Bodie, at this room and the whole bloody country it was in, at the sonofabitch who had sold him the box and the worse sonofabitch who had killed the bloody elephant for a few feet of ivory in the first place--shook him, made his breath rattle painfully in his lungs and his skin feel on fire. With every ounce of his energy Ray threw the box and watched without feeling as it smashed against the wall and shattered.

"That how you gonna treat our good china?" asked a voice from the doorway. At the voice, Doyle froze; the rage chilled inside him to utter, bone-numbing shock.

"I said," the familiar voice repeated, louder this time, "Is that how you're gonna treat our good china?"

Slowly, Ray turned. And stared. The features were unclear, the corridor light leaving the figure in shadow. Slowly the voice and the figure in the doorway reconciled themselves into a person and the truth began to register in Ray's stunned mind. It was Bodie! Bodie was here, in this same room with him. Bodie wasn't dead!

"Ray, Christ, Ray, you all right? God, you look terrible." Certainty and warmth trickled out of Bodie's voice like water down a drain. "Ray? Uh...Ray?...

With a hand on the wall to steady himself, Doyle found his voice. "Well, if you're not dead that only means one thing, doesn't it," he managed flatly. "You did it again, you bloody bastard. Christ, you did it to me again. After I told you that I can't deal with being left, you left me out again."

"No, Ray, it wasn't like that. Ray...."

Ray felt pressure on his shoulders. Bodie? Bodie had hold of him by the shoulders. Bodie!

Jerking his arms up, Ray broke the hold and grabbed Bodie's wrists and slammed him up against the wall. "Shut up, Bodie. There's nothing to listen to. You lied to me. Christ, to me! You're just like the rest of 'em--me mum, me so called friends, Ann--the whole stinking lot of you--all the same."

"Ray, I don't know about your mum, or Ann, whoever she was. But I'm not them." Bodie got close in Doyle's face. "This is me. Bodie! And I didn't run out on you."

Ray wasn't listening. His face twisted as years of accumulated hurt pooled, then the dam was open and things Doyle had not allowed himself to think about for years spilled over.

"Ray, what is it? Ray, Christ whatever it is, say it before it crushes you!"

Ray was lost in the past and it had come back to life. Dad always gone, making money; and what good was money when the family was falling apart? What good was money when mum was half out of her head, wandering all over town with a four-year-old at home alone crying in his bed? What good was any of it when she was so out of it she walked into a train? The vision of himself at thirteen following the sirens and the people to the railroad yard, pushing his way through the crowd the feelings of dread accelerating in his middle, and finally, the sight of what was left of his mother splattered all over the tracks. The memory took him to his knees.

When he came back to himself, Ray was sitting on the floor, his head propped against the bed. Bodie was next to him, calling his name softly and offering a wet flannel. Too drained to do anything else, Ray took it and pressed it against his face. His face buried in the cloth, he tried to collect himself. Nerves too raw for words and nothing left to say to Bodie anyway, all Ray wanted to do was be left alone.

Dropping the flannel, he opened his eyes to face the unavoidable, Ray wondered if his raw throat would let him speak without his voice breaking. Without really looking at Bodie, he accepted the offered glass of water. The very last thing, he told himself, he would ever take from Bodie.

Setting down the empty glass, he thought for a long moment about getting up. Noticing first one hand then the other, he stared. Something had mixed with the moisture on the outside of the glass and smeared all over his hands. After all his years on the job, Ray Doyle knew the look and feel of old blood...there was blood on his hands. "Bodie?" Ray said, finally looking up. "You bleeding?"

"Naw," Bodie shrugged, "it's nothing--"

Anger surfacing again, Ray reached out and grabbed Bodie by the shirt collar. "God damn it, Bodie, answer the fucking question. Are you bleeding?"

Bodie held up his arms for Doyle's inspection. Letting go of the shirt collar, Ray took hold of Bodie's wrists.

"Ouch," Bodie yipped, trying halfheartedly to pull his hands away, "that 'urts."

"Rope burns." Doyle spit out the words as he recognized the marks on Bodie's raw, scraped wrists for what they were. Scabs broken open, oozing blood. "Who did this? Jake?"

"No. Well, not directly, anyway." Bodie reclaimed his wrists and began rubbing them. "You don't know him, Ray. His name's Phillippe, works for the French DGSE and Jake's working for him." Bodie shifted to sit next to Ray, his back also propped against the bed. "Seems they already had their own plans for the Cartel when I showed up. Phillippe gave Jake instructions to play along with me, then got me out of the way so as not to mess up what they had going."

Ray watched as Bodie pulled up his knees and dropped his head. "Christ, Ray," he whispered, "I knew what you must be going through--from the minute they grabbed me I knew every thought you'd be thinking. I begged Phillippe to find you, to bring you to where I was." Bodie looked up, a tentative smile in his eyes. "Could have used some company in that damn cellar, anyway."

"Christ, Bodie, who was in that damned body bag?"

"Hell if I know, Ray. Some poor John Doe who picked the wrong time to die and had the misfortune to have dark hair and be about my size." Bodie shook his head. "Christ, they beat his face to a pulp so they could pass him off as me, then slit him stem to stern, pulled out his innards and filled his guts with explosives and a timer. Sealed it all in plastic so the body fluids wouldn't short the thing out. There was nothing I could do, Ray."

"Bloody Christ, Bodie," Ray exclaimed, "it could have been you!"

"Too bloody right it could have been. If Phillippe hadn't been willing to make a call to London for me, it probably would have been. And you can thank Jake for that," Bodie grinned ruefully. "Said he knew me well enough to guess I'd actually manage to do a crazy thing like hire on with my mark!"

Still not convinced, Ray asked, "Why'd this Phillippe let you go?"

Bodie just shrugged. "I'm not important, Phillippe knows that. The Cartel brings a lot of drugs into France and they just wanted to put them out of business. Soon as they had confirmation of the explosion they cut me loose. Booted me out with very specific instructions to get out of town.... Besides," Bodie added, "he talked to Cowley in person this morning."

"It's over then, we're through with this lot?"

Bodie's arm went around Ray's shoulders. "Yeh, Sunshine, it's over. Phillippe said that yacht went up like a Roman candle then went down with Rachid, Spinoza and Metgor all on board."

They sat like that for a long while as Doyle tried to put all the pieces into place. Finally, Bodie said, "Knew you'd be livid, me disappearing like that. Was expecting to take one on the jaw again, knowing your temper. But I wasn't prepared for you to pass out on me. What was that all about?"

Elbows on raised knees, head in hands, Ray said nothing for several minutes as he weighed the pros and cons of answering Bodie's question. "Was me mum," he finally said, "she had--problems. Would wander off, not remember who or where she was. Walked into a train one day. I got there just after it happened--saw what was left of her. When that boat blew, I saw it all over again, only this time it was you.... How soon can we get the hell out of here?" Ray added before Bodie could say anything. Bodie, bless him, took the hint and changed the subject.

"There's a plane for Paris at 10:00, and we're gonna be on it. Now, come on, let's get some sleep--want to cuddle with you."

It took very little time, actually, to get Bodie his abso-bloody-lutely necessary bath, and crawl under clean sheets together.

"Who's Ann?" Bodie asked offhand, breaking the peaceful silence.

"Ancient history, Bodie."

"Put you in mind of Margo Talbot, does she?"

Ray laughed softly. "Am I so easy to read?"

"Only to me, Sunshine."

"Forget about her, Bodie. Want to talk about that cabin in Wales," Doyle said. "Liked that place, so quiet and peaceful. Think we could borrow it again for a weekend, or maybe even contact the owner and see it we can lease it legal like?"

"Don't see why not," Bodie said warmly as he remembered the cottage, the recliner in front of the fireplace, and his fantasy. The image of Ray, tied up tight in that chair trembling and shivering all over with sexual heat, complaining and threatening and totally under Bodie's power, was almost enough to overcome lack of sleep, the normal let-down of lost adrenalin, and heat exhaustion. But only almost--before his mind could really take the bit between its teeth and run with the idea, his body was fast asleep.

Ray lay his room key on the counter. "This," he said to the deck clerk, "is Mr. Jeffrey Stuart."

Bodie leaned across the desk and pinned the clerk with a menacing stare. "Why," he asked, "did you tell my friend here that I wasn't registered in this hotel?"

"I.... Well, I..." the clerk sputtered.

"Never mind," Bodie glared, "just give us the bill. Just the one room," he threatened coolly, "seeing as I was never here."

"Need to get my suitcase," Bodie said, as they threw Ray's into the boot. He flashed a small key. "Phillippe stashed it in one of those lockers. Says me passport and ticket are there as well, so all in all I can't fault him much for his treatment of me." He grinned, looking altogether too much like a mischievous schoolboy, and added, "But Cowley certainly could! Can't wait to worm the story out of the old man." Doyle just rolled his eyes and slid into the cab. Best just to humour him, he decided.

As their cab passed by the Cocody bazaar Bodie ordered the driver to stop.

"What now?" Doyle asked, then said, "Forget it, Bodie, I sure as hell don't want you buying another ivory box."

"No, Sunshine, got something else in mind," he said, thumping Doyle's shoulder in reassurance. "Be right back." Bodie was out of the cab and running.

"You make us late and I'll thump you," Ray called after Bodie's retreating back. Wanting nothing more than to be out of here, Ray threw himself against the back seat in frustration. Trust bloody Bodie to want to find some last-minute bargains in this bloody hellhole, when all Doyle wanted was Home and Hearth back in London.

Within ten minutes, though, Bodie was back in the cab with a bulge inside his jacket. Deceptively casual, Doyle made a grab for it that Bodie defended mightily. In the end, though, Ray won. "Well now, just what do we have here?" He peered into the bag, reached in and pulled out first one, then another silk scarf, counting a few more left inside the bag. He slid the pleasant fabric through his fingers, wondering what on earth had prompted his lover to buy them. He looked to a stupidly grinning Bodie and was instantly suspicious. "Want to tell me what you're playing at?" he queried.

But Bodie just grinned more broadly, turning his head to stare out the cab's window at the scenery beyond.

"These for Keirin?" Ray finally asked when Bodie didn't seem to be able to get his tongue to work.

"Yeh, yeh," Bodie said, his grin widening. "That's it, they're for Keirin."

-- THE END --

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