(Story 16 in the Building to Last universe)
"Here, Cam. Have a cuppa." Bodie plonked a chipped china mug in front of me.
I looked up from the listening equipment. "Ta ever so."
"Anything interesting happen while I was gone?" Bodie sat down cross the table from me.
"Nah. Thimsen's just left for the shops. Thought I'd set the equipment for noise activation."
"Have you notified Doyle and Murphy?" Bodie took a sip of his tea.
"Teach your grandmother to suck eggs. Of course I have. And they're right on his tail." I reset the equipment.
Bodie just grinned and scratched under the edge of his wrist cast.
"When does that come off?' I asked as I eased back from the table.
"About a week before you get that thing removed." Bodie waved in the direction of my ankle cast.
"Lucky bugger," I muttered under my breath.
Bodie just grinned again. His sunny attitude was getting up my nose. But it was better than what was about to happen.
"What's the problem between you and Murphy," Bodie asked abruptly.
"Not a blessed thing," I replied.
Bodie grimaced. "Pull the other one. That one has bells on it."
"What makes you think there's a problem?" I asked.
"Oh," Bodie drawled. "It might have something to do with the way the two of you have been moping round in corners for the last few months. You aren't communicating with each other."
"We get the job done," I said defensively.
"Barely," Bodie said dryly. "The whole of the action squad has noticed that there is a problem. If the two of you don't do something, it will affect your work."
"What happened? The rest of the squad decide that someone had to play Agony Aunt and elect you to the position?" That streak of sarcasm my mother so deplored was coming out with a vengeance.
"Something like that," Bodie admitted. "I'd still be talking to you, even if the lads hadn't asked me to. It's obvious that something is wrong. And I am your friend."
That last bit rocked me. Yeah, Bodie's my friend and we both know it. I'd just never expect him to come right out and say it. But it set my mind going. I gave Bodie a jaundiced expression as I said, "Tell me that Doyle's not giving this same speech to Murphy."
"Sorry, sunshine," an unrepentant Bodie confirmed my suspicions.
I rolled my eyes in exasperation. "It isn't like the poor sod hasn't suffered enough. First he falls in love with his partner, who's a confirmed closet case. Then he finds out his lover's going to drop him without a word, only someone kills Chris first. That's enough to make any bloke a bit melancholy. Now you've set Doyle on the poor bastard. And you know what he's like when he's got the bit between his teeth. A grip like a bull terrier, has that boy."
"Yeah. But he has a soft spot for Murphy. He'll go easy on him."
"I don't think Doyle knows the meaning of the word," I said gloomily.
"Quit changing the subject," Bodie ordered. "We're supposed to be talking about you, not your partner. But, the two are related, aren't they?"
"Course they are," I agreed. "We're partners, aren't we? Though Cowley never should have assigned me to Murph. Murphy really needed a woman agent or a confirmed heterosexual male. Assigning a bisexual male agent was too much like replaying the past."
"Which is why the old man did it," Bodie countered. "S'like getting back up on a horse that's thrown you..."
"What would you know about horses?" I jibed.
"A lot more than you might think."
"You and that shady past of yours." I took a sip of luke-warm tea.
"Stop evading me," Bodie admonished. "We still haven't talked about why you've been moping round like a love-sick swain..."
"Been reading poetry again, have we?" I interjected.
Bodie ignore that. "What's wrong, Cam?"
"You mean, being partnered with a bloke who doesn't want to know isn't grounds enough for melancholy?"
"How bad is it?" Bodie asked.
I just looked at him.
"C'mon, Cam. You know I can keep my mouth shut."
"Yeah, I do know," I admitted. S'funny, though. Most of the squad thinks it's Doyle who's the people expert. They're wrong. Oh, Doyle makes a good show of bleeding over people. People in the abstract, that is. But I've noticed that it's Bodie who usually does the comforting. You know--watching at the hospital bedside; providing a shoulder to cry on; being the sympathetic ear.
"So tell me, Cam." Bodie's voice brought me out of my brown study.
"It worked at first. I mean, I expected some resistance from Murph, but there really wasn't much. We even seemed to work well together. But lately..." I paused, searching for the right words. "It's like he blames everything on me. Anyway, it feels like it. We don't talk except for the essentials. Most of the time it's like Murphy can't stand being in the same room with me. I've no clue."
"Ray thinks it's because Murphy's finally woken up and discovered that he's partnered with a very attractive man..."
"C'mon now!" I protested. "The whole squad knows how Murphy's working his way through the female population of London, and none of them lasting more than a week or two. He's no more ready for another relationship..."
"Yeah," Bodie cut in. "That's part of it. Murphy isn't ready for another relationship. But he is getting over losing Chris. He's started to wake up emotionally. At least enough to feel some sort of attraction for you. And it scares the living daylights out of him. Which is why he's treating you like a leper and doing a course in birds."
"It almost makes sense," I replied after thinking about it. "Trust Sherlock Doyle to try and analyze something to death." I looked pointedly at Bodie who only grinned at me.
"Yeah. Always thinking, that's my Ray." The patented Bodie smirk appeared.
"I just hope that his bedside manner is better than yours."
"Bedside manner?" Bodie's eyebrow rose in question.
"You have been playing at psychiatrists, haven't you?"
"Not very well," Bodie grumbled. "Still haven't got you to talk about how you feel about all this."
"And you won't," I said firmly.
"You don't trust me." Bodie pouted and I realized that Doyle wasn't the only manipulative bastard in that relationship. I wondered how Ray coped with getting a dose of his own medicine.
"'Course I trust you," I told my temporary partner. "S'just that I haven't quite figured out how I do feel about it."
"Are you attracted to Murphy?" Bodie asked.
"Physically, yes. He's a very attractive bloke. Emotionally..." I sighed. "I'm not sure I want to take on that kind of responsibility."
"Not sure you want to settle down?"
"Not sure I want to get serious with someone who has that much emotional baggage," I admitted.
"Yeah," Bodie said slowly. "Emotionally, Murphy's a mess."
"And it's likely to get worse before it gets better," I said gloomily. I looked across the table to see doubt on Bodie's face.
"You think so? I'd've thought that the worst of it was behind him."
"Not while he's still denying everything. That's what it is, you know. The birds; the way he treats me--it's all denial."
Just then we were interrupted by the warning beep of the surveillance equipment. Someone had entered the house cross the way and it was time for us to get back to work.
Bodie grabbed the headphones and switched the equipment back to active listening. I picked up the logbook to bring it up to date. Fortunately that was a routine that left me with a lot of time to think. And I certainly had enough to think about.
I still didn't know what I was going to do about Murphy. But I knew that I had to do something. And it had to be soon.
Of course, I left it 'til too bloody late. I kept putting off having that little talk with my partner. Me mum could tell you that when it comes to emotional scenes, Procrastination is my middle name.
Last night my time ran out. Murphy announced his engagement.
She's beautiful, inside and out. Her name's Victoria Travers and she's a psychiatrist. I talked to her at the party last night... before the announcement. Afterwards I could hardly remember my own name, let alone carry on a conversation.
It was someone's birthday, I don't remember who's. The squad was ready for a party, so any excuse would've done. I noticed Murphy's bird immediately. She's bloody hard to miss. About five foot ten or eleven, blonde mane reaching nearly to her knees, and a nice figure. She's no anorexic, but a "nice, healthy girl," as my mum would say. I talked to her for quite a bit, asked her to dance, got her a drink. She's got a nice sense of the absurd, a certain clear-eyed practical view of the universe, and she can stand up to Murphy. They'll do well together.
I didn't know that it would hurt like this. After all, last week I was still debating whether or not I even wanted to get involved with the man. Foolish, that. I was already involved, even if I didn't admit it to myself. What make is worse is that when he made the announcement Murphy was looking straight at me. I guess that shows me where I stand with the man. He obviously knows how I feel about him, and this is his answer.
Bodie brought me home last night. After the announcement we all toasted the bride-to-be, then I kept right on drinking. The Bisto Kids acted like a couple of mother hens with just one chick between them. By pub closing I was in no condition to drive. Doyle found my keys and handed them to his partner. The two of them didn't even talk about it, as if everything had already been arranged.
I envy their relationship. In its own way it's as good as that of my parents--my gold standard for marriage. Bodie wanted to stay the night, but I didn't want him there reminding me of what I couldn't have. I assured him I wouldn't do anything foolish. Told him the hangover I was going to have next day was as far down that path as I wanted to go.
I know that I'll get over this feeling. Unrequited love rarely kills, and I've too good an emotional grounding for it to leave a mortal wound. But right now it hurts.
Cowley may have seen this coming--last month he offered me Brian Macklin's position as Head of Training. I asked after Brian and was told that he'd accepted another position. Rumour has it that the Cow is grooming him as his successor. At the time I couldn't see myself leaving the squad... leaving Murphy. I turned it down.
Come Monday I'm going to ask Cowley if it's too late to change my mind about that. I can't work with Murphy after last night. The Training Centre would suit me just fine. I like the thought of teaching young men how to survive and take care of their partners. I'm a bloody good teacher. It fits my personality better than being on the Action Squad. If the job's already been filled, I'll resign. A person with my background can always get a job elsewhere. Teaching, this time. Definitely teaching. Working the streets is too much like trying to plug a hole in the dyke with nothing more than a wet tissue. Teaching will give me something to do that's life-affirming, and looking to the future.
Yes. Come Monday I'll talk to the Cow.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Chalk and Cheese 18, Agent With Style, 1998