Shadows lengthened and deepened along the quiet street as the sun set in a leaden sky. He walked more briskly towards the Underground as the chilly darkness seeped around him. It was unusually quiet this twilight hour; though in the distance he could hear the famous bells of St. Mary Le Bow. The oddly comforting sound brought back memories of childhood. Smoke and incense, chants and hymns spoke of an ancient magic. He stopped at the street corner to listen more carefully. There was always a mournful quality to the bells at dusk; he wondered briefly why they still rang at all. He couldn't imagine that many people went to Vespers here.
Simon loved church bells when he was an altar boy. Especially he adored their victorious pealing on Easter morning, heralding man's triumph over death. Another childhood memory surfaced; one of devotions to Our Lady and Masses on the first six Saturdays in Her honour. Those who completed that cycle of devotions were assured that they would not be abandoned at the hour of their death, nor die "in Her disgrace." It was a cheap enough insurance policy taken out for the hereafter; he'd completed the cycle in the company of his mother and sister. He could even recall the Act of Perfect Contrition that was a Catholic's last hope for salvation. Almost involuntarily, the words flooded his mind.
O my God I am heartily sorry for having offended TheeSuddenly he was not alone. He turned, uneasy that he'd been so focused on his memories and the bells that he'd heard nothing else around him. Still, there was no cause for alarm. After all, he was off duty in a perfectly safe, usually busy part of town. He looked at a woman beside him with a guidebook in her hand and a slightly panicked expression on her face. A lost tourist, and a very pretty one. Playing Sir Galahad couldn't be made easier. Perhaps she would welcome joining him for a drink in a nearby pub.
And I detest all my sins for fear of Thy just punishment
But most of all, because they offend Thee, my God,
Who art All-Good and worthy of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more,
And to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.
There was something vaguely familiar about her, though he had no idea what it was. He smiled as she pressed closer, book open in her palm, until their elbows nearly touched. A faint scent teased at his nostrils, unsettling but not powerful enough to be unpleasant. Some peculiar perfume, perhaps. He bent his head towards her dark hair and dutifully looked at the page she presented.
"Can you help me find my way, sir?" Her voice was slightly accented. "I would so appreciate it." Her smile glittered under the streetlight.
"'Course, miss. Where are you trying to get to, then?"
"MI6 Headquarters." The smile was gone now.
He stared back for a split second too long.
"Do you have any idea what this is about?" came Doyle's irate voice as he stomped down the hallway. He'd had a perfectly pleasant evening all planned, and breaking this date on such short notice would likely terminate a budding relationship as well. It was enough to curl a man's hair. Not that Doyle needed any assistance in that regard, Bodie reflected, as he watched his colleague approach.
His own plans had been likewise cruelly shattered, but the sight of his fuming auburn haired partner restored his good humour for some reason. He hid a smile that lurked just below the surface. "Haven't heard anything yet," he responded, "except for us to sit out here and wait for Cowley to come along and brief us. No sense in wondering about it until then." He curled as comfortably as possible on the lone bench in the corridor outside Mr. Cowley's office.
His deliberately bland answer earned him a sharp look from his friend. Whatever Doyle would have said in reply was cut off by the sound of the office door handle turning, followed by Cowley opening it. Their Controller did not step through however; he merely held it open for the Minister to pass, then motioned his waiting agents inside. The Minister nodded at them, then turned to Cowley once more. "Three hours, then, George. You'd better hurry."
Bodie caught the faint signs of strain on the older man's features, saw him attempt to mask it as he turned to face them. Much as he would have liked to complain as often as Doyle did, he could never forget that the old man worked harder than any of them. Many were the nights he simply did not go home. Tonight looked like one of those nights. Clearly, this was not going to be a routine assignment, what with the Minister already involved, and all.
He wasted no time on idle preamble. "Simon Stuart is dead. The Metropolitan Police patrol discovered his body in the City nearly an hour ago. Let's go." He firmly shepherded them towards the door, ignoring their gaping mouths. Stuart was a solo undercover agent, very experienced, very tough. Doyle had teamed with him once to recover two kidnapped hostages while Bodie and Murphy thwarted a terrorist assassination attempt. The man was good.
They knew better than to ask any questions until they were ensconced in the rear seat of the car and their driver was pulling away from the curb. Cowley looked over his right shoulder and forestalled them. "He was working as a consultant on a problem MI6 has been having. A very serious problem. Three of their agents have been found murdered in the past week and a half. Now Stuart has been murdered in apparently the same fashion. The Minister has given authority over the entire case to us."
Bodie and Doyle glanced at each other. MI6 weren't going to be terribly happy to relinquish this mess to their rivals, especially since it involved their own people. Willis and Cowley had been on the outs ever since the former had tried to frame Bodie for an assassination. And what exactly had Stuart been doing for them? Cowley's brief synopsis raised more questions than it had answered.
They were, alas, thoroughly used to being given incomplete information on a need-to-know basis, and this looked like no exception. Bodie settled in philosophically while Doyle chewed on a hangnail, wondering how much more he could get out of the old man. He settled on an obvious query. "In the same fashion, hm? No chance it could be unrelated to the case he was on?"
Cowley didn't bite. "No chance at all, 4.5. You'll see for yourself soon enough."
He knew better than to ask what that meant. "And the three MI6 men? Any connection between them, or were they just targeted at random because they were in that mob together?"
"An interesting line of thought, Doyle. I don't believe this is a random terrorist attack on MI6 the way CI5 were targeted by Wakeman, and neither did Stuart. Had it been a matter of hitting people based on mere opportunity, these particular three would have been unlikely targets at best. There must be some connection between them, though at the moment, Willis doesn't know what it is. They were not currently assigned to anything together. But in the past..." Cowley fell silent for a moment. "We shall have to find out."
Bodie considered what was said, and unsaid. "And, of course, once they, er, realise what the connection is, they'll tell us straightaway."
Cowley didn't even bother to respond to that.
"So how are we going to discover the connection if they don't co-operate? Do we have authority to search their files and operation reports? I don't imagine Willis will approve, do you?" Doyle wanted to know.
"The Minister hasn't given him much choice." Cowley irritably waved Doyle to be silent and continued, "Yes, of course he can drag his feet, and probably will for a time, but it's not to his advantage to hold us up indefinitely. Not if he wants to protect his own people. They haven't the resources or the training to do standard police work, whereas we can. He's not a complete fool."
Doyle kept his own counsel on that regard. "The Met is giving us support on forensics, then?"
"A special team of our own criminal laboratory people and theirs are working on any physical evidence found. The Chief Coroner will report directly to us about all the bodies."
Neither agent had bothered to ask where they were going. By now it was apparent that they were being taken to the very heart of the old City. The well-known dome of St. Paul's Cathedral came into view. A few moments later they turned onto Watling Street, then up Bow Lane. Doyle stared at the crime scene vehicles in the middle of the block.
"This is mad! We're within sight of St. Paul's. A mere block or two from the Underground station. There must be dozens of potential witnesses. When did they find the body?"
"Shortly after six. The corpse was still quite warm. And no witnesses have come forward. Ah, here we are."
They clambered out and rushed over to the demarcated area where the greatest concentration of police uniforms stood about. Stuart lay covered at an odd angle, partially obscured by the corner of a building. Still, a passer-by ought to have noticed something. It had still been rush hour at that time of day. Doyle bent over and gently lifted the fold of the blanket up as Bodie looked on, holding a torch steady.
"Jesus Christ!" Both men stared, dumfounded for a minute. Finally, Bodie ventured a remark. "Saw a man mauled by a starving lion once, in Africa. Looked a bit like this. Only more bloody. With injuries like that, where's all the blood, then?"
Doyle swallowed, forcing his brain to engage after the initial shock of seeing Stuart's face. Bodie was right; when a man's throat has been ripped out, allowing an observer to partially view his vertebrae past the torn windpipe, there ought to be gallons of blood on the scene. There was none. Only his shirtfront corroborated what had become of him.
Both men stepped back as Bodie swept the immediate area with the torch. Nothing. Cowley joined them, having concluded his business with the Officer in charge. He stood quietly for a moment, then allowed, "If you're looking for blood on the ground, you won't find any. Not so much as a drop."
He had their undivided attention now. "I take it the other three corpses looked like this?" Bodie asked, his voice deliberately steady. "Not exactly your typical M.O., is it?"
"Hardly." Cowley sighed. "The other MI6 victims looked exactly like this; throats torn out, nearly decapitated, virtually bloodless. No gunshot or knife wounds; no sign of poison or drugs in their systems. All these men were experienced, skilled in hand to hand combat and well armed. Not one even drew his weapon."
Doyle checked to verify Cowley's pronouncement. Sure enough, Stuart's gun lay untouched in his shoulder holster. He sat back on his heels, frankly bewildered. "How could something powerful enough to tear his throat out just creep up on him without being seen?" He examined one of Stuart's hands. "His nails aren't broken; his knuckles unscathed. As if he put up no fight at all."
"Or didn't have time to," Cowley added.
"This makes no sense. Stuart was a tough man. His reflexes were honed as fine as Macklin could make them. Why would he just stand here and let something rip into him like this?"
"Something or someone? You're not suggesting a wild animal has a vendetta against MI6, are you?"
Bodie looked at his superior sharply. "Obviously, a someone. A someone with enough speed and strength to do this with, what? What was the murder weapon, sir? Teeth, nails, a garden claw? I'm sure you'll know."
The slightest hint of a smile lightened Cowley's grim features. "Into the car with you. We'll let them wrap things up here and await their reports."
The car was in motion for all of five minutes before Cowley uttered the one word Bodie was patiently waiting for.
Bodie frowned, not truly surprised, but puzzled all the same. "Human teeth?"
"That's being debated as we speak. At least, I am assuming that the debate will continue over Stuart's body as it has over the others. Several learned pathologists have been called in to identify the precise causes of these marks. Human saliva has been found in the wounds of the other three men. It matches to each of them, and it is not theirs. Yet the pattern of the bite marks do not fully match the human mouth. Incisors are far too long."
"So we have, what? A person who immobilises his victims somehow, renders them helpless, puts on a pair of false teeth and rips away as they stand there?" Doyle shook his head. "Then what does he do with the blood? Drink it?"
Cowley peered over his shoulder. "You have a likelier explanation?"
Bodie stretched and yawned behind his hand. "Sounds like our next move is to put out an APB on Count Dracula, doesn't it? You think he might be paying London a visit again? Perhaps just a distant relative of his. But why pick on MI6? Or poor Stuart for that matter?"
"This isn't a laughing matter, 3.7," Cowley scolded.
"Believe me, sir, I'm not laughing. What provisions has Willis made to protect his people?"
"They're off the street, travelling in pairs. He's moved their accommodations around. Other departments, including ours as much as possible are picking up assignments. We can't place a guard on every one, though. Still, it's reasonable to assume our murderer will try again."
"Where are we going?" Only Doyle had apparently been paying attention to his surroundings as they travelled west on the Strand.
Cowley did not quite hide his amusement at their joint reaction to his announcement. Nor did he comment on the glances that flew from one to the other. He allowed that morsel to sink in for several heartbeats, then continued as if uninterrupted. "The Minister has been making arrangements for special inquiries on this particular assignment. We are going to see to it that everything is properly organised, and render our assistance."
"What sort of special inquires, sir?"
"That will become more apparent later, Bodie."
Doyle finally erupted. He'd been doing a slow burn since uncovering Stuart's crumpled body. "So we get to play twenty questions with you while some maniac is tearing people apart, is that it? How the hell are we supposed to be responsible for this case when someone else already is, and you won't even..."
"You're not." Cowley's calm reply sliced right through Doyle's rant.
"We're...not. I don't under..."
"I am. Directly answerable to the Minister 24 hours a day until this is resolved. You are my hopefully able assistants, but I am the primary investigator. It is my responsibility to see the case solved, and to work unstintingly with the person being asked to inquire directly. Any further questions, 4.5?"
He knew when he was beaten and slumped back against the upholstery. "No sir."
The ride to Buckingham Palace was notable for its silence. Cowley chose to impart nothing else and neither man was willing to risk further questions. The driver had no comment to make. They stopped and gave their business at the front gate, then proceeded through to the imposing front entrance. Cowley gave no indication that this was out of the ordinary, and his agents kept their tongues still. Neither could have pretended to be blasé about this amazing turn of events, and saw no reason to act otherwise. It was time to place their trust in their leader and keep still about it.
If Cowley noticed their joint decision to offer him their full support, he took it as his due. They were announced at the door as if they were visiting nobility, then ushered deep into the shadows of the Palace. Doyle shook his head, then tried to commit every detail of what he saw to memory. His mother would kill him if he didn't.
Bodie noted his preoccupation, and smiled encouragingly. He had no one to impress, other than the two who stood beside him, but he was always willing to help out where Doyle's family was concerned. His mum had taken Bodie under her wing, and it was a comfortable place to be. Besides, he was better at embellishing a tale for ladies than Doyle was.
They found themselves led into an old-fashioned chamber in a presumably less travelled area of the Palace, and offered refreshments. They took their cue from Cowley, who refused everything. Moments later all three stood; Cowley with unfeigned respect, Bodie and Doyle in stupefied astonishment.
The Queen Mother came over to greet them.
It was hard not to fidget like an ill-mannered schoolboy. Doyle did his best, and for once envied his partner his military training. Bodie looked like he could stand at parade rest until Hell froze over, in perfect ease. Even his clothing dared not crease or wrinkle. Not so himself, Doyle reflected. He probably came off as a ragamuffin cockney child, here by blind chance. Upon further consideration, that was quite appropriate. It was what he was.
If the Queen Mother even noticed him, he had no clue. She'd been engaged in quiet private conversation with Cowley for nearly a quarter of an hour. He had been correct, attentive, and apparently at ease, though Doyle would have bet he was no more familiar with the halls of the mighty than himself. From their position, nothing could be overheard. He directed his attention once more to standing still.
After an eternity of waiting, the Queen Mother and Cowley finally rose from their seats. Their Controller motioned them forward, then took Queen Mary's hand and kissed it, bowing deeply. They were dismissed.
Once they were outside, Cowley indicated that they drive themselves. "A car has been called to take me back to Headquarters. You two are to proceed directly to Portsmouth. You will meet the Hovercraft at midnight, and pick up our guest. A lady will be arriving from France, travelling under the name of Eleanor Genet. She will be expecting you. Please bear in mind at all times that she is a most honoured guest of the Crown. You are not to trouble her with questions, but do answer any she might have for you. You are to transport her forthwith to the Tower of London, where I will be waiting for you. Do you understand?"
They didn't, of course, but neither said so. Theirs not to reason why... They climbed into the front seat of the Ford Granada and Bodie prepared to fire up the ignition.
Cowley leaned into Doyle's open window, weighing his last words to them, "Be sure to treat her exactly as you treated the Queen Mother. No differently. Is that clear? Then, be off with you. I'll meet you at the Tower."
At this late hour, few were weathering the Channel crossing. Customs were nearly deserted. Scattered family groups awaited their arrivals with an air of stolid resignation. It was quite cold.
A few moments after midnight, the Hovercraft pulled into dock, its mighty engines slowing to a roar over the water. Disembarkation proceeded with all due haste; everyone, it seemed, wanted to get out and along to their final destination.
All but one. Bodie scanned the crowd repeatedly, but one after another person got taken in hand by waiting friends, relatives or colleagues. No lone females appeared. He cursed briefly; they didn't even have an idea of what she looked like. They could find themselves here half the night looking for a stranger. It was not an appealing prospect.
The crew began leaving as well. He couldn't take any more. Catching Doyle's eye, he intersected with one of the hostesses, for once all business. "Might you have noticed a lady travelling in from France, all alone? We're supposed to be meeting her here."
"Name?" The woman was tired.
"Her. She's coming. Takes her time, that one, when she wants to. Just hold on a bit."
They wound up waiting until nearly twelve-thirty. All but the cleaning crew had left by the time she came up the ramp into the now deserted station. There would not be another departure until the morning. It had to be her, something about her air of grace and nonchalance.
She was of medium height, very slender build, in a black trench coat. High heeled full black leather boots, a black silk scarf about her neck, and a large brimmed, veiled hat completed the ensemble. Oddly enough the effect was not dour. She might have been a Hollywood movie star travelling incognito. The entire outfit and everything else about her fairly shouted of money.
Or was it power? Bodie was suddenly uncertain, and knew that even if the waiting area had been crowded to capacity instead of empty, he still would have found himself staring at her. If only to catch a glimpse of her face.
She strode over to them purposefully. "Gentlemen?" Imperiously, she raised one leather-gloved hand.
Bodie took it immediately, bowed, and brought it to his lips. He straightened with extra effort, barely resisting the urge to salute. He caught Doyle looking at him curiously, but paid it no mind. He had no idea who she was, but if her bearing was any indication, Cowley had done well to warn them to treat her like a queen.
Doyle was slouched against a pillar, making no move to change position yet. Either he had not heard the same message Bodie had, or he was deliberately choosing to ignore it. Bad, that. He couldn't imagine her tolerating it. Part of him wanted to thump his sarky partner on the head, the other moved to defend the little bastard. This one could eat him alive if they weren't careful.
She was nothing if not direct. "Are you here to escort me to the Tower?" she demanded, looking right at Doyle.
"Yes indeed, ma'am, if you are Madame Genet." Bodie murmured, running interference.
Her eyes never left Doyle. "Then stand up straight when I am talking to you. If you ever behave with such ill grace in my presence again I will have you removed from this mission at once. Do you understand?" The voice was deadly soft, utterly cold.
Wide green eyes met veiled dark ones. He straightened right up, chagrined, looking for all the world like a schoolboy chastised by a headmistress. "Beg pardon, ma'am."
"You are excused, this once. Now, collect my bags while this gentleman shows me to the car." There was just enough of an inflection on 'gentleman' to make Bodie doubly glad he had seen fit not to test her. This one would overlook nothing. He offered his arm to her and they proceeded forward without a backward glance.
The car had been left directly in front, a perk of being CI5. Bodie opened the passenger side at the rear, but the lady forestalled him. "I should like to sit in the front." He opened the correct door and helped her in without comment. Doyle loaded her bags into the boot and wordlessly took the back seat. Bodie slid in on the driver's side next to her.
It was his first opportunity to really take a look at her, albeit sideways as he started the engine. Her veiled features were regular, possibly beautiful, though it was hard to be sure. He was dying to see her eyes. They had possessed enough authority to cow Doyle, not an easy thing to do. Even their boss had trouble with that at times.
As if on cue, she removed her hat, put her gloves inside it, and ran long thin fingers through straight, shoulder-length, chestnut brown hair. She was beautiful. She had the kind of ageless perfection of line and form that once more reminded him of a movie star. High cheekbones, large eyes, wide mouth, silky hair... She could be thirty, or fifty. He had no idea.
He still couldn't tell the colour of her eyes, but could feel their power whenever she glanced his way. It was unnerving. Hairs prickled along the backs of his arms as he pulled onto the main road. That was ridiculous; she was still just a woman. He decided on a little light conversation. After all, even royalty engaged in small talk with the help. "Beg pardon, Madame Genet. Have you been to Britain recently? Your English is very good."
A tiny smile curved her painted lips. "Actually, no. Not for many, many years. But I did once live here for a time. Things are much different now, I am sure. I must say, I am looking forward to seeing how much."
"Monsieur Genet must be sad to be left behind. Will he be joining you later?" he ventured.
The smile widened. "You wouldn't be trying to flirt with me would you, Mr....eh? Or is it interrogate?"
"Bodie, ma'am. Just Bodie. Well, a lady as lovely as yourself must be used to poor blokes like me. No offence meant."
"None taken. As to your question, I have been a widow for many years."
The silences were companionable now. Bodie occasionally pointed out some landmarks that could be seen by night. It was well over an hour's drive, but the lady seemed quite alert; considerably more than Bodie felt. Doyle never said a word. Bodie did check once to see if he was even still awake in the back seat. He was staring out the window, so Bodie said nothing.
The lights into London grew with the traffic. She asked more questions about their surroundings, which was a good thing, because the strain of driving as well as being awake for so long was beginning to tell on him. They had turned onto the Victoria Embankment, heading east towards the Tower when out of the blue her next question brought him up short.
"Do you know why the Queen Mother asked me to come here?"
He answered as honestly as he could. "Not really, ma'am. We've been told the specifics of the case we are assigned to, but not why it was deemed necessary to send for your specialised assistance. Nor would anyone explain what that was when we asked about it."
"Is that why your young friend is so morose? He thinks his precious time is being wasted by a lot of foolish secretaries?"
He glanced back at Doyle, who was sitting ramrod straight in his seat now. "Perhaps. It might be best to ask him that directly."
"Why? You probably know him better than he knows himself."
How she had come to that conclusion, Bodie dared not even guess.
Neither man had ever been inside the Tower of London at night. It was unearthly in the moonlight. The great walls were more imposing, the battlements more threatening. The grey stone took on a silver sheen that reminded Doyle all too much of a graveyard. The deep silence didn't help either. Three rows of gates were each opened for them by a Yeoman Warder; a shock, since every Briton knew the gates were locked at 10 PM in the ancient Ceremony of the Keys, much loved by tourists. No other soul seemed around, though he knew Cowley and the Constable of the Tower had to be nearby. There was only a light over at the entrance to the White Tower, the oldest part of the castle complex. Bodie drove over to it and parked. It was the correct decision, for Cowley and the Constable emerged from the shadows to assist the lady by opening her door.
Cowley bowed as deeply as he had earlier in Buckingham Palace, and took her proffered hand without hesitation. The Constable followed suit, traditionally attired in scarlet tunic and hose. "Your rooms stand ready as always, Madame," he murmured after greetings. "I am responsible for your comfort and satisfaction during your stay. Please inform me at once if there is anything you require."
Another Beefeater emerged from the shadow of the building and took the luggage in hand. It was little enough, really. She'd only declared a carryall and one suitcase, besides her purse. Doyle trailed along, bringing up the rear of the small party entering the ancient edifice.
Part of him was utterly incredulous at this pompous display of rank and obsequiousness; the other part was furious with Bodie for going along with this rubbish. He'd been chatting her up right proper in the car. 'Course, she was a looker, no doubt. But there was something unusual about his demeanour with her. The bloody merc seemed to genuinely like her. This was beyond Doyle's comprehension. She grated on him; had from the moment he'd laid eyes on her, though he was hard pressed to say exactly why.
As to their assignment, he'd given up even trying to figure out what Cowley was up to. As long as it didn't get him or Bodie looking like Stuart, he had no choice but to play along.
He started to pay closer attention to where they were going. They had been steadily ascending a spiral stone staircase for some minutes, then moved down a lateral corridor. They'd bypassed the modernised parts and seemed to be heading to an unrennovated section of the tower. Now this was interesting. He knew there were areas of the Tower that had never been opened to the general public, but had supposed they hid thoroughly mundane modern offices. This certainly did not seem to be the case tonight. The dust on this floor appeared untouched for decades.
Their journey ended at an ancient arched stone doorway that showed no signs of having been unlocked for at least as long as the floor had gone untrod upon. Straw torches hung in cobwebbed iron grates on either side of the entrance, musty, decomposing. The Constable hastily lit them; as old as they were, he had no trouble getting them to catch fire. Next, he fumbled with a set of keys that looked as if they too should be in a museum, rather than the security arrangement for one. The lady said nothing as first one, then the other massive lock turned.
The curved paired doors themselves were wedged tight. First the Constable, then Cowley and Bodie leant their shoulders to them. It took their combined weight, plus the Warder and Doyle's, to finally push them all the way open. Beyond lay cold, stale air and deeper darkness.
The lady gently but purposefully took a modern torch from Bodie's hand and led the way inside without comment. Even with its help, the room beyond felt Stygeian, close, dense, airless. Doyle brought up the rear again reluctantly.
The other men must have felt the same, for there was a flurry and bustle of activity as candles were searched for and lit. Within a few minutes the greater dimensions of the chamber they had entered became more apparent.
It was larger than he'd expected, with the kind of vaulted ceilings one more customarily found in the crypts of Gothic churches. As little as Doyle knew of archaeology, he had no trouble guessing that at one time this had been a place of sophisticated wealth and luxury. Candlestick holders were everywhere in abundance. A large hearth lay piled with kindling and wood; it took little more than a match to light it. In a matter of minutes, heat and light intruded into every crevasse of the deserted room.
Deserted? Doyle revised his hasty appraisal. Unused, certainly, and for a very long time. But the lady moved about it without hesitation. Ancient, exotic furnishings, silk hangings and tapestries, gilded wooden chests abounded in the quiet spaces. He felt like a grave robber; this was surely how they found the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs, with every utensil, every implement ready to service its master in this life or the next. A great curtained bed dominated one corner of the room, while the shadows beyond it hinted of a doorway to yet another chamber.
If the mustiness disturbed her, she gave no indication of it. The Constable and the Yeoman Warder conferred briefly with her and Cowley, presumably to see to their future needs and wishes, then beat a hasty retreat. Their Controller showed no sign of a similar departure, however. As expected, Madame Genet took a seat in a carved wooden chair by the fire, indicating that Cowley was to do likewise. Bodie moved closer, as did Doyle himself. Time for business, though it was a hell of a time in the morning to conduct it.
Cowley came armed with a briefcase that Doyle assumed would carry the pertinent details of the case, nor was he proved wrong. The Controller began sorting and displaying things at once.
"Madame, I presume you have already been familiarised with some of the particulars of these terrible incidents? You must surely appreciate how uncommon such occurrences are now." As opposed to when, Doyle silently asked. This whole thing was taking on the aspects of a Hammer film. He was itching to have it all laid out, even as he refused to take any of it seriously. Only Stuart's death reminded him that ultimately it was no lark.
Suddenly he had the full brunt of the dark lady's attention upon him. It was enough to squeeze the breath out of him. In that instant he knew what grated on him about her. It was simple fear.
"You knew the last victim personally, Doyle?"
His mind went blank with panic. There was nothing in the room but he and her. There was no thought of dissembling. "Yes, ma'am. We worked on a case together a while back. He was... very competent." Only after her eyes moved elsewhere was he able to wonder how she had come to know his name. Maybe Bodie had told her.
Even Cowley was not unaffected by her. He stuttered slightly as he laid out the police photographs of the other victims before her. Of course, he might just be embarrassed at showing such horrible sights to a lady.
Madame Genet displayed no more than clinical interest in the grisly pictures pressed before her eyes. Of equal concern to her were the encompassing details; the lack of witnesses, the lack of blood, the lack of struggle. In the process of her review of the evidence, Doyle learned that the other three victims had also been killed just after dusk, in relatively populated areas. It was a clear pattern all right but a pattern of what? Ghouls that went bump in the night? He refused to countenance that.
A proper police investigation would be focusing on what assignments the three MI6 agents had in common in the past few years, and what, and how, Simon Stuart might have found out about a connection. If Willis didn't like it, too bad. Time was being wasted, and other lives might be at stake.
"That's utterly correct, Doyle. See to it first thing in the morning. That must tell us who our murderer is, and what the motive is for killing these particular men." She actually smiled.
Doyle blinked as Bodie and Cowley stared at him; he had no recollection of speaking aloud, but since everyone was looking at him, he must have.
"And you must help him, Bodie. See that he gets no trouble from, what is his name, Willis? If you encounter interference, you will tell Mr. Cowley. If need be I will take care of it myself." There was just the slightest hint of warmth in her tone, though what it meant he had no idea. "As for you, sir, I fear you must personally defuse the menacing situation we are facing. At first light you must go to the morgue where these poor men lay and see to it that their rest is not disturbed. Then, at dusk all of you shall report here and take me to the murder sites. We shall proceed from there. For now though, you three must take your rest. There is room here, and little enough time. Find bed spaces now and sleep. Dawn comes soon enough for you, I fear."
Bodie and Doyle fell out together upon the great bed in the corner without further ado. They lifted the covers and shook the dust off, then crawled right in, too exhausted to care about anything else. Food would have to wait until morning. The lady and Cowley retreated to the other chamber just beyond. She pointed to a smaller bed in that room, then opened a door to yet another space. Cowley did not follow her gaze there.
"You are a wise man, Mr. Cowley. Sleep well. The sun will rouse you here soon. See to your needs and those of your men by day. I will meet you here at sunset." Then she was gone.
Echoing in his mind for several minutes were her detailed instructions on how the MI6 men and Stuart were to be disposed of in the morning, that their rest might not be disturbed. They were not far from what he had expected. But he could not keep his eyes open for long. The instructions sunk deeply in whilst he slept. All that stayed at the level of the surface was his surprise at how sweetly Doyle and Bodie were sleeping in each other's arms in the bed beyond.
No trace of that tender intimacy survived the first cold rays of a bleak dawn, Cowley noted with some relief. As she had predicted, all three awoke with a start, chilled, rumpled and hungry. He decided that hot food, warm showers and a quick change of clothing took precedence over all else, and directed Bodie thus once in the car.
"Find the time to pack a bag or two today, lads. We'll be staying in these accommodations until everything is in order. I have Stuart's last report with me; that may save you some steps, though I can't say that anything jumped out at me when I read it. I was as shocked as any at his death."
"Perhaps he himself didn't understand the significance of something he'd heard or seen," Doyle suggested. "Something that his killer didn't want to wait for him to piece together. Still, if the pieces are there..."
"But how did the killer even know that Stuart was assigned to the murders? Seems to me that suggests either an inside job or a security leak, " Bodie opined.
Cowley shook his head. "I hate to bring it up in the light of day, but you might as well hear this directly from me now. Normally I'd agree with you, Bodie, but how did Madame Genet know what Doyle was thinking last night? How did she tell me without words what I must do this morning? You're not stupid; you must know she has been brought over to help in this case because... because of what she is. She is what the other one is. You know that."
Silence. The car's wheels turned wetly on the damp pavement, grey with the first signs of day. It was Doyle who finally could stand it no more. "I can't accept that," he offered, not belligerently. "Can you, Bodie? Believe what's being suggested here? You don't believe in anything without evidence, you said. What evidence is there?"
Bodie shifted uncomfortably. "Evidence. Where's Stuart's blood, then? I don't understand any of this, but it doesn't hurt to keep an open mind, does it? What might help us sir, is if you could tell us something more about Madame Genet. Brought over at the request of the Queen for this case... has her own little old digs at the Tower... what connection is there between her and the Crown? Surely, that might give answer to some of Doyle's misgivings about this business."
"I can't say, 3.7. I truly can't; it isn't permitted. Either she must tell you herself, or you must draw your own conclusions based on what you see and hear. Of course, you will keep all of it to yourself in either case." Cowley considered the instructions he had received for this morning. "What I can do is take you with me to the morgue, show you what must be done, let you see that for yourself. Then we'll tackle MI6 and Willis together. Best I can do, lads."
No one had anything of consequence to add since they'd consumed a hasty breakfast on the road and stopped briefly at Headquarters to perform their ablutions and change. The morgue was empty at this very early hour. They followed Cowley's lead back into a private holding area apart from the rest of the facility. He picked up a suitcase at the very entrance to the room that had apparently been left for him and motioned them along.
Once inside it became apparent that this was a morgue within a morgue. The four corpses they had come to view lay side by side, covered only with white sheets. Their investigations had evidently been concluded, but no move had been made to place the bodies back into refrigeration. Yet, there was little stench other than the usual chemical odours of such places. Oddly enough, it was hard to tell which was the earliest corpse versus the latest. Neither man commented on that.
Doyle might make light of Hammer films, but he had seen damned near all of them as a kid. He had a pretty good idea what happened next and his own queasiness appalled him. Just the thought... he brought himself up short. If the Cow could do it, and Bodie could stand there at ease, so could he. It was bound to be ugly, but he'd seen worse. At least these poor bastards wouldn't feel a thing.
He hoped. Suddenly, he was not really sure.
Cowley pulled back the sheets from all four. They lay like some odd brotherhood in death, ghastly pale, identical tears in each bloodless throat. He motioned his agents closer and opened the suitcase. Four wooden stakes and a mallet lay within, along with a surgical hacksaw and four bulbs of garlic.
Doyle gasped despite himself. "Is this really necessary? Surely, they've been all hacked up from the autopsies. That ought to be enough."
"Not quite, Doyle. The autopsies were specifically designed to determine the cause of death and rule out other factors. Since the causes were fairly evident, no removal of internal organs was necessary."
Bodie examined the nearest corpse. "You did already mention that drugs and such were ruled out with laboratory work. So they did look hard enough to be quite sure..."
"They did. Right, let's get this over with." Cowley positioned the first stake over the heart of the nearest corpse, took steady aim, and drew back on the mallet. A second later it sank in halfway, then, with the next stroke, all the way through. Between the two blows came a gurgling scream that went through Doyle and left him shaking.
"Oh, Jesus, he was still alive!"
Bodie stared at him with a cold eye. "With all his blood gone and half his throat exposed to daylight for a week? Don't be so daft." Exasperated, he took the next stake out of the kit himself and held it in place so that Cowley could swing with both hands. It made the next one faster, though no quieter.
Doyle knew he should try to help, as Bodie was, but could barely hold himself in place. The urge to flee this dreadful scene and never return was all consuming.
Bodie swung the mallet himself on the next one, powerful, economical in motion. It was over before silence returned to the room. There was but one left to do. It was Stuart. The other two men were looking at him, eyes grim, demanding. He could not... he could not...
He stared at Stuart before him. There was not the slightest sign of life. No colour, no blood, no pulse. He touched the shoulder nearest him and looked directly into the deepest part of the wound. Colder than winter ground, the edges of the wound were stiff and raw. There was no way the man he had fought beside could still be here, frozen in this battered clay. Whatever Stuart had been was long gone. It had to be.
Still, his hands shook as he took the mallet from Bodie's hand. His partner silently offered to hold the stake in place, but Doyle grasped it as well. He feared to miss and hit Bodie with a glancing blow. This way, he would have to steady his nerves to do the job properly. Really, it wasn't as if he was killing someone. Not like pulling a trigger on a living, breathing human being, which he'd done often enough.
He pulled back and struck once with all his might.
At first he thought that not hearing another horrible scream was a boon. Then he saw Stuart's face. The eyes were open, sane, warm, alive. They probed right into his and smiled. The lips moved with the faintest of whispers. "Ta, mate." Then the eyes glazed over once more, this time in true death. The features relaxed and froze in place again. Doyle dropped the mallet nervelessly to the ground even as it rose up to meet him, to envelop him in welcome darkness.
He came to on the floor, curled in the warmth and safety of Bodie's arms. They had never felt so strong, so secure. He trembled, then gradually got up the nerve to meet his partner's eyes. So, he was a right prat, but after all, this sort of thing didn't happen every day, did it?
Bodie's deep blue gaze was warm with concern. "Lay still a minute, old son. No need to go anywhere just yet." His arms tightened reassuringly around Doyle's middle, pressing his face back into the curve of his neck.
The grating sound in the background made Doyle suddenly realise why Bodie was being so solicitous. Cowley was still busy.
They waited on the floor together until Cowley turned, his sleeves rolled up, to wash his hands at the sink. He'd laid the hacksaw off in a corner of the room and the mallet inside the suitcase. Their sheets neatly covered the dead men. An electric light bulb swung aimlessly from the ceiling. Everything was in order once more.
It was surreal. But, no dammit, he'd seen it. It was real. It was just... real. And there was no point in going on about it like a Victorian virgin dashing through a darkened castle with her candle flickering and her nightie flowing. He might as well get up and stop making an ass of himself before Bodie refused to ever let him live it down. At least the good news was that neither Bodie nor Cowley could ever tell anyone about it either.
"It's a bit early in the day, but I'd say we've earned a wee dram later. Come on, let's get out of here." Cowley actually helped him to his feet. "It's all right, lad. The first time is quite difficult, no matter what anyone says, or thinks they believe."
"First time?" Bodie's face was shuttered now, but his eyes never left his Controller's. "You've seen this before."
"Aye, lad. You think I read the Sunday lessons for nothing? It was during the war, in Eastern Europe. Once you know a thing is possible, well, it changes everything, doesn't it? Some things you never forget." He turned away. "Still, it's best not spoken of these days. Let's go."
Cowley drove, leaving the back seat to them. It was time to pay a visit to MI6, then back to Headquarters. There was still much to be set into motion. First, the funeral arrangements for these unfortunate men. Their families would be given a polite fiction, and a proper send-off. Nonetheless, cremation would be insisted upon. Communicable disease, or some such excuse.
The day's initial cloudiness had given way to a gloriously clear blue sky. That lifted Bodie's spirits considerably. A blue sky, fresh, clear air, the swell of the Thames; these were the things he'd never had trouble comprehending. He didn't need, or care for, weighty explanations for the natural world his senses brought to him. What passed for magic in one generation was bound to be exploited by the next. He'd seen Uzis in the hands of tribesmen whose fathers had hunted with bows and arrows. All that mattered was how he dealt with what he could see. And he'd seen right off that Madame Genet was not like anyone he'd ever encountered. This morning's little demonstration had clinched it. It didn't mean he had to accept the standard, orthodox explanation for such events; it just meant that there was no point in denying the events themselves. He wasn't about to join Cowley's church, but he sure as hell would take whatever advice the old man could give on how to fight these creatures. He'd leave Doyle to examine the philosophical permutations of their situation.
He glanced over at his still pale partner. The bionic golly had taken it hard; wouldn't do for him to go off the deep end and join a monastery after this was over. Bodie reached over and impulsively squeezed a bony knee. "You okay?"
Mysterious green eyes that always reminded him of a prowling backyard tom's met his. They were hooded, deep in thought, but reacting to his concern. "Yeah, I guess." He brushed back a stray auburn curl from his forehead. "Still can't believe it; it's so fuckin' fantastic, y'know?"
"You could say that; threw me, it did."
"Did it? You stood there, so dammed cool and precise, like you'd just finished reading the sections in the training manual on it." Doyle strove to keep his tone light, but Bodie was not fooled.
"Habit, I suppose. When in doubt, act as if you know what to do. The fiction becomes the fact. First law of soldiery. Fake it until you make it. Never let them see your weak points. They might be on the other side someday, and remember them."
Bodie shared his unwritten mercenary code with no one as a rule. Doyle stared intently, then murmured, "But you show me things sometimes. Like now, about yourself." His voice almost sounded pleading.
Like a raw recruit looking for reassurance. Bodie grinned. The poor sod really was shaken up. "Course I do. You're me mate. Whole other thing, you see. You already know how perfect I am, so there's no harm in reminding you at times that I am still only human."
As expected, Doyle snorted.
MI6 was in a state of siege. An untrained observer could have seen that there was something amiss. Gone was the cheerful bustle, the calm orderliness typical of a large government office building in the morning. There were too many security personnel in the hallways. People were quiet, tense, scurrying about with minimal interaction. Too many eyes followed their movements as they made their way down the corridor towards the office of the MI6 Controller.
Far too many eyes followed them in. Cowley refrained from cursing under his breath. He'd never thought of Willis as a coward, but this sort of nonsense got right up his nose. The man ought to be out and about, seeking answers, following leads, not cowering behind his desk, waiting for Cowley to clean his doorstep for him. It was disgraceful.
Too preoccupied to even pick up on Cowley's annoyance, Willis ushered them right in after his secretary announced them. A hasty sideways glance at Bodie was the only acknowledgement he gave of the last time they'd all met. There was nothing on Bodie's smooth features to give any indication that Willis even existed, much less that this man had tried to frame him for murder and kill him. Cowley's humour returned; if Bodie could present Willis with a placid demeanour, so could he.
"Gentlemen?" He indicated seats for all. "I've compiled a list of everything that Stuart looked at while he was here. Terribly sorry about that business. He was a good man. Family?"
"Taken care of," Cowley replied shortly. "I must take the liberty of making arrangements for your men too. They must all be cremated."
Doyle made himself handy by reaching for the folder on Willis' desk. "May I?"
"Please." His attention was fixed on Cowley. "Cremated. By order of..."
"The Home Secretary, and if need be, the Prime Minister."
Willis' mouth opened, then shut again without sound. "Then it is... as serious as that."
"I'm afraid so."
"There's no doubt?"
"None. I made sure of it myself this morning."
The man's face greyed visibly. His eyes closed for a moment, then opened. "I've seen many strange things in my time, but I never expected to have to deal with anything like this."
It was on the tip of Cowley's tongue to point out that Willis was, in fact, not dealing with anything. He bit it back. That was none of his concern. He needed this man's co-operation. "Indeed. Few have. It would be problematic enough if we had a rogue stalking citizens at random through our streets at night. For a security agency to be so targeted is unheard of. Still, that must certainly be our best lead. Whoever this is must have some connection to your department. And since the murdered men were not recently assigned together, nor were they apparently targets of convenience, we must begin where Stuart left off. I've read his latest report, dated two days ago. He'd examined the bodies, but was at a loss to explain what had happened to them. Has anything more recent than that come to light, something that had him excited?"
"He'd requested a computer search with some specific parameters listed on Tuesday. I er... was hesitant at the time to fill the request, as you might well imagine. We discussed it, and I'd told him I would give him my answer in a day or so. I'd planned on clearing it with the Minister first, you see."
Cowley sighed. "So he did suspect what we are dealing with? And you were unsure how far your authority extended to disclose anything further?"
"Exactly. He'd requested a list of people that might have died at the hands of MI6, either directly or indirectly, in the past five years; here at home or abroad, who might have had some connection to East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia or Hungary. A tall order, considering the scope of his request. Nearly the entire Warsaw Pact. Quite a lot to investigate."
"But narrowed, surely, by cross-referencing that list with the involvement of the dead agents. He was right on, of course. We'll need that data as quickly as possible. How soon can you have it available?"
Willis hesitated, but only for a moment. "I don't need to tell you what a fiasco it would be for this sort of information to reach the light of day. We are, after all, essentially at war with those governments. You might as well ask for the names of all the former Nazi sympathisers amongst the nobility."
The Controller of CI5 chuckled. "I already have that list. Of course, I appreciate your concern for national security, and needless to say, I share it, or else the Minister would not have entrusted this investigation to me. You understand, however, that formal police detection is a task better suited to my lot. At this point we can't be sure if a hostile government is behind this or not. We must assume that is at least a likelihood."
"Which brings us to our next avenue of investigation," Bodie cut in smoothly. "Why Stuart was killed by the same party or parties responsible for the deaths of your men. How many people here knew what he was doing?"
"Myself, my secretary, the lead investigator within our own department, perhaps a few others, but not many. He'd only just started working with Davison last week."
"Where's Davison now?" Doyle asked, waving the folder he'd been perusing. "According to this, they'd already checked out two of the victims' most recent assignments and were planning on interviewing in regards to the third death. Seems they were looking internally. The first victim, one John Leeds, was on duty at the time, staking out a possible KGB agent when he got it. No one should have even known he was there. His body was found by the stake out relief in the morning."
Willis nodded. "It was logical to conclude after he was found that his death was related to the assignment he was on. Not that it made any sense. Routine surveillance work and all that. Still, it was the only explanation. We continued to tail the KGB man and picked him up right on schedule. He never even knew he was under suspicion, much less that someone had been killed while watching him. If the killings are related to the Eastern Bloc, it's not someone who gives a damn about KGB activity, one way or the other."
"And then the next man, Walter Campbell, was on holiday. Coming back from shopping at Harrods. Hadn't been on active service for over a week. Probably knew nothing about Leeds' death. And there was no reason for anyone to even know what his location was. So how did our killer find out? Was someone tailing him?"
Cowley pursed his lips. "And so, Stuart and Davison were gearing up to check out the third fellow's death, eh? Then Stuart gets it. I'd say we'd better have a talk with Davison sooner rather than later. Where is he?"
Willis pushed the intercom button on his desk. At the return beep, he parlayed their request for Davison to join them post-haste. "He did know about Stuart's murder last evening, of course. We all did. We talked briefly about it and I suggested he gather his notes on the case as quickly as possible, since I was fairly sure the Minister would do what he did. I'm surprised he hasn't been by with them already."
"Has anyone seen him since last night?" Bodie wanted to know.
"I don't know." Willis got back on the intercom with more urgency. After a few minutes it became clear that he had not been seen yet in the building this morning. He rang the man's phone number, but received no answer.
"What's his address?" Cowley demanded. "We need to speak with him at once."
Back in the car, Cowley reviewed the folder from Willis while Bodie drove. "He might be trying to continue the investigation on his own, or might have already started to look into the third victim, one Peter Jenks, as scheduled. But why not show up this morning and turn over what he knew?"
Since the answer was obvious, no one said it aloud. What Doyle did ask of no one in particular was whether Willis could be trusted to clean house thoroughly in the event that there was an internal leak. That reply was obvious as well, and likewise went unanswered.
They pulled up to the address given them in Chelsea with a distinct sense of foreboding. Davison's house had a garage and in its driveway a car stood parked. Either he'd merely stayed home for reasons of his own and chose not to answer the phone, or...
Doyle sprinted around to the back as Bodie and Cowley took their time getting up the front steps to the door. There was no sign of activity within. The shrill ring of the doorbell brought no response, nor did a succession of loud knocks. Estimating that Doyle had had enough time to cover the back, Bodie slipped the first lock and made short work of the second with a master key. There was still a chain to deal with, but a swift kick settled that. They were in.
He knew better than to underestimate Cowley, but Bodie still wished it were Doyle at his side, covering his moves with their perfect attunement. His gun drawn, he made his way cautiously from side to side, watching for even a hint of motion, a warning sound, a flash of something untoward. Cowley stayed right with him, equally prepared. They covered the entire main floor without incident; Cowley met Doyle at the back as Bodie prepared to check the second floor. There was no cellar to concern themselves with.
Doyle caught up and covered Bodie's ascent, spot by spot. Still, nothing marred the house's eerie quiet. By the time Bodie had reached the top of the landing, Doyle's gut senses were turning sour.
They found him lying face down upon his own rumpled bed, his body nude and still wet from his morning shower. Someone had blown the back of his head off.
"Well, at least it was no bloody vampire this time!" Doyle erupted after they'd combed the room and the rest of the second floor. "I can even manage to figure out how he got in. Nothing supernatural either." He gestured to a broken window on the ground floor, by the kitchen."
"Indeed, 4.5. Can you also come up with a reason why the man had no warning? Why didn't his alarm system alert him or MI6 that a break-in was in progress?" Cowley inspected the shards of glass as if they held the answer, but his eyes glittered.
Doyle leaned against the kitchen table and re-holstered his gun. "God damn it to hell. Someone had to turn off the system at the source."
"MI6. Sounds like we're due for another visit there after we bag this lot. Damn, and here I was, hoping for a decent lunch." Bodie chimed in. "So our vampire has an accomplice or two who are equally deadly by day. Double agents, from the look of things. Well then, what did Davison know that he wasn't supposed to tell us?"
"That's for you to find out. Stay here and comb this place thoroughly. I'll have Murphy take a look at his desk and files at his office. We'll meet back at Headquarters as soon as you're both through."
"And you, sir?"
Cowley grimaced as at a sudden taste in his mouth. "I'm afraid my appetite for lunch will have already been spoiled by having to stare at Willis again. This time, with the Minister. Call me with any news."
Lunch was a hurried affair; a few egg rolls and mixed fried rice from a Chinese take-away, and tea. The flat where Davison died revealed nothing save the essentials of his death. If he had had any papers with him, they were long gone. Murphy had drawn a similar blank at his office. All they had were the notes Willis had handed to them that morning. The other agent sorted through them as they ate.
"So, we need to take up where Stuart and Davison left off. The untidy murder of one Peter Jenks." Bodie turned a chair around and straddled it, laying his chin on the back under his hands. "All we know is that he was found not far from a pub he frequented, near his flat. He'd been seen in the pub earlier, was reported to have left about six. Might be that someone in the pub would have noticed a stranger that night. Suppose we ought to check it out."
Cowley entered the mess room and shook his head. "You'll need your wits about you tonight, Bodie. You too Doyle. We'll be up all hours with Madame Genet." He sat on the chair Bodie had relinquished to him without a sound. "Two teams is what we'll need. One for the daylight investigation, one for working with Madame. No point in running everyone into the ground trying to do both at this point. Murphy, you'll head the daylight team; pick at least two available personnel to help you with the legwork. Certainly, Jenks' death needs looking into. But our assassins have tipped their hand by having to move quickly. They couldn't wait for nightfall to finish off Davison. Therefore..."
"Therefore, this is an operation," Murphy speculated. "Some foreign agency is behind this, no matter who they're using to do what. A mole in MI6 had to discover whatever it was that Davison and Stuart knew or were about to find out, then finger them to his mob. Their regular operator killed Stuart." He stopped to wince. "Assuming you can call that regular. But then they had to bring in backup to finish off Davison long before sundown. The mole must have had access to the security system wired to Davison's flat; he disengaged it so that it gave no warning."
"And that is their weak spot. Find the mole, then identify the agency, and finally locate the vampire." Doyle concluded.
"Or vice versa," Bodie added. "Locate the vampire and unravel it all from that end."
"Precisely, 3.7. We need to be at both ends. Murphy and his team will see to the mole. You and Doyle will be working directly with Madame Genet. Get home, pack your bags and return to the Tower. With any luck, you'll manage a few hours sleep before she awakens."
"And you, sir?"
Cowley sighed. "I must be there when she rises. She'll be expecting it. But I need to move proactively too. With all these deaths, it's hard to stay ahead, but we must. Who is their next intended victim, and why? Would you, if you were a powerful, hostile organisation, waste such a lethal weapon on mere field agents?"
"Willis." Bodie and Doyle spoke together.
"Willis," Cowley concurred. "It's the only move that makes sense."
"But why kill these other men at all, then? Merely serves to warn him."
Cowley tapped his forehead abstractedly. "Perhaps that was the price of getting the vampire's co-operation. After all, the laws of men or political concerns as a rule do not bind these creatures. They have no need to be. This one must be young in their world, possibly seeking revenge for its own death. If this foreign agency somehow got wind of what had happened to it, and offered it a partnership..."
"Kill your enemies with our help, in exchange for killing ours." Murphy summarised.
Bodie grinned. "What is it the Women's Libbers like to say? 'The personal is the political'."
"Which also implies that our friend Willis is not being entirely forthcoming with us, doesn't it? Does he know who's out to get him or not?" Doyle demanded.
"Certainly it looked this morning as though he believes himself to be a target. But, no, I don't think he does know who's behind it. Not yet." Cowley straightened in his chair. "Off with you two. I'll meet you at the Tower at six."
By the time they'd returned to the Tower, the afternoon tours were in full swing. It was oddly reassuring to see the old castle in its more familiar mode. Large mobs of foreign visitors gathered like children around the scarlet clad Yeoman Warders, as those venerable guides boomed forth with the gory details of the many royal executions that the Tower had seen.
Bodie and Doyle slipped past the crowds, unseen, and quickly found their way to the foot of the stairs they'd taken the night before. A young Yeoman Warder stood guard there, with a very modern pistol tucked neatly out of sight. He perused their identity cards, then added.
"I've been told to expect you, gentlemen. I hope you'll find everything in order upstairs. The Constable wishes to see to your needs in any way possible. With your permission, dinner will arrive at five thirty. He understands you'll be out and about by nightfall, but please feel free to take all your meals here as our guests."
The Constable was apparently determined to maintain the Tower's reputation for royal hospitality. The well lit, aired out, thoroughly cleaned apartments they entered bore little resemblance to the dank rooms they had vacated at dawn.
Battery lamps and Victorian furniture had been moved in, with comfortable sofas and chairs, a dresser for clothing, and an armoire. The ancient bed was still there, but its linens had been replaced and augmented with thoroughly modern pillows and duvets. Most of the other medieval furnishings had been neatly tucked away. Hitherto unseen windows opened to the courtyard below. It was unexpectedly beautiful.
The adjoining room Cowley had slept in had likewise been transformed. An ornate Victorian desk stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by substantial chairs, writing materials, and more lamps. It had been set up as the command centre. A newly installed telephone line snaked along the walls as well.
The last room beyond remained shut off. Neither man commented on it; they simply returned to their share of the quarters.
"We must be the most exciting thing that's happened here since the Constable took office. Bet he loves all this." Bodie lost no time in putting away his belongings and stretching out on the bed.
"Probably the most exciting thing that's happened in the Tower since Rudolph Hess. Wonder if he got nice digs too."
Doyle puttered briefly, then examined a note left on the dresser. "Says there's a modern bath and toilet on the floor below." He showed Bodie the hand drawn map. "X marks the spot; guess they won't be sending any comely maidens to empty our chamber pots, then. Pity. I was looking forward to that."
"Content yourself with a real dinner, my son. They're going to feed us, man, what more can you ask for?"
"Feed, feed, feed. That all you ever think of? You'd not make a bad vampire, yourself."
Their bantering continued, as Doyle settled in beside his partner, but not for long. Both were only too happy to take whatever brief hours of rest were allotted to them. By the time they accommodated themselves to each other in bed, they were nearly asleep.
All at once, Bodie felt Doyle stiffen beside him. "What now? Miss your Pooh bear?"
A jade green glare deigned to respond to such rot. Instead, Doyle proposed another question. "And once she's up and about, who gets to, er, feed her? Us? Is that why Cowley sent us back early?"
"Now you're being paranoid. He needs us."
"He needs her more."
Bodie sighed. "I don't know what provisions he's made for her, but I sincerely doubt if they include us being her main course. Now shut up and go to sleep. Besides, they'll wake us before she's up and about."
"So? Think us being awake would make a difference to her?"
Exasperated, the larger man climbed out of the bed.
"Where are you going?" Doyle demanded.
For answer, Bodie went over to his clothes and retrieved a small object from his pocket. As he returned to the bed, Doyle saw what it was: a slender dagger with a silver hilt in the shape of a cross. Bodie plopped down next to his partner and unsheathed the blade for his inspection. The blade was finely carved dark wood. He pulled Doyle close in next to him on their sides, until his chest cradled Doyle's back, his arms encircled him, and the blade nestled in Bodie's right fist guarded Doyle's chest. "Now are you satisfied?" He squeezed lightly.
"Where the hell did you get that thing?"
"What? How come you get one and not me?"
"He only had one. Now shut up before you annoy Madame."
A small sound came from the general direction of his partner in reply, but Bodie was too tired to decipher it. A few minutes later he was asleep.
Tired as he was, sleep did not come as quickly to Doyle. Something about the scent, the nearness of his partner, his unspoken promise to protect Doyle, left him vaguely unsettled. They'd been together a good bit longer than most and he had no doubts about their friendship. But this seemed like something more to him and he wasn't sure how he felt about it.
He knew Bodie loved him as the merc loved no other. That had been obvious to him for some time. He had never really explored or expressed how he felt in return. Now, in the late afternoon quiet, he wondered why it was suddenly so important to even think about it. Was it because of the way she looked at Bodie last night? Or the way Bodie seemed to instinctively trust her despite the great danger she represented?
Stupid crud, he thought at his sleeping partner. Cowley's right. Can't you see it's you needs protecting? Luckily for you, you've got me at your back. And your heart. Won't let that French wolf bitch get near either one.
Then Doyle slept.
George Cowley rubbed his eyes. They were bleary with fatigue and not likely to get much better as the evening wore on. At least his afternoon meeting with Willis and the Minister had gone better than expected. Both men had taken his concerns very seriously, especially Willis. He was rendering Murphy all the assistance he could ask for in locating the mole. Still, Cowley was uneasy. He liked Murphy quite a bit and worried over his safety. Oh, he could look after himself well enough by day; so could Stuart. Sundown was another story. The mole undoubtedly knew what was up by now, and might well have already passed word to his organisation to target CI5's men.
Sufficient was his concern that he called Murphy on his R/T and had the team come back to Headquarters for the night. No one was going to be going off alone in the dark while this investigation was on.
Including him. Cowley was not vain but he knew his worth. He arranged for an escort with the Metropolitan Police and thanked them as they ferried him first to one location, then dropped him off at his final destination. The sun had already dropped its dying rays into the western sky; soon, its reflected light would likewise fade. The air was growing colder.
The light and heat emanating from their quarters were both unexpected and welcome. As was the fully laden table his two best agents sat before.
"Here you go, sir. Saved you some, not that that was difficult. The Constable knows how to put out quite a spread, he does. Roast lamb, potatoes, a nice salad, even a good burgundy. Seems they'll do us breakfast as well, come mornings."
Bodie's cheeriness was mildly contagious and the aroma of the food irresistible. He sat and helped himself, taking note of the altered surroundings. "He does know how to impress his guests. Very cosy."
"Even had a telephone installed. Hope Madame doesn't mind the redecorating. From what I could gather from the lads here, nothing had changed in these rooms since the reign of King John, if you can believe it." Doyle's eyes never left his face.
"I do believe it, and no, I don't mind the new look at all. Quite pleasant. I'm glad you've been made comfortable." Three pairs of startled eyes turned to the woman standing in the doorway. Cowley made to rise, but she forestalled him. "No, sir. Sit and eat. You've taken no rest today," she rebuked mildly. "Take it now. These young men-at-arms can tell me what has transpired since this morning."
Doyle had already risen to give the lady his seat, taking careful note of her appearance. She was indefinably younger than she'd seemed the previous night, nor was it a trick of clothing or makeup. Her dark eyes were as hypnotically powerful as before, her pale skin translucent. She was unquestionably beautiful. Her natural coldness and hauteur diminished somewhat when she spoke to Cowley. Despite himself, Doyle liked that. He took it upon himself to brief her up to the point where they had separated from the Controller.
By that time, Cowley had done justice to a good portion of his meal and was able to take up what little remained of the narrative. "And so, we've got every agent accounted for, under wraps, and not one left alone. Willis too."
"Our own as well, sir?" Bodie enquired. He too was fond of Murphy.
"Yes indeed. Our lads were off the street by sundown and bunkered in at HQ. They should be safe enough until morning."
The lady nodded her approval. "This traitor, the mole as you call him, does he know about me, do you think?"
The Controller shook his head, smiling. "Only myself, these men and Murphy, the Constable, and the Minister know anything at all. Neither Willis nor anyone else at either squad has heard about you. Of course, Their Majesties, since they called upon you, have the most thorough knowledge."
"That will change after tonight," she replied soberly. "In order to draw the other one out, I must make my presence known. A challenge must be issued. I had not anticipated there being mortal accomplices who might stalk me by day. I shall reply upon you to guard my rest, Sir George."
His face actually pinked slightly, much to the secret amusement of his agents. "Merely Mr. Cowley, Madame. I have never been knighted."
"A foolish formality from a different age, sir. The function is all, and the function you fill for me here is every inch that of a man I have been accustomed to calling 'sir.' Considerably more so than those who receive such titles these days for writing silly love songs. Bear with my old fashioned manners, I pray you."
He bowed gravely. "Madame, the honour is mine. Your rest will be as secure as it is possible for us to arrange."
He got up stiffly; his men realised that his leg was acting up due to fatigue. "I have been remiss in my manners. I have something for you, Madame."
She smiled. "I know. I was in no hurry. Thank you, sir." He retrieved a small leather satchel and handed it to her as Bodie and Doyle exchanged glances. No one said a word as she retreated back to her room. "I shall return in a moment. Please find us several horses. I assume you can ride?"
"Horses?" Even Cowley was taken aback.
"I hate automobiles. And for what I must see and sense and send forth, a horse is more suitable."
He bowed again slightly. "As you wish, Madame. There are stables on these grounds. It should not prove difficult to arrange." He did not add that his leg might preclude his accompanying her. He'd once loved to ride, as a young man, but it had been a long time since it had been tolerable for more than the briefest of occasions. Instead, he made the necessary phone call and poured himself a stiff drink from the bottle left by the Constable's men.
When she re-emerged from her room, her eyes were thoughtful. "May I have a word with you in private, Sir George? I believe we are almost ready, but there is one thing we must take care of." She picked up his empty glass and filled it, taking it with her as he followed without comment.
"Horses? In the middle of downtown London at dusk? She wasn't joking when she said they'd know all about her after tonight. Christ, what a target!" Doyle fumed.
"What target? She has nothing to fear from them by night, any of them, I suspect. Nor do we, so long as we're in her presence."
"Think so? What, their agents can't shoot at us after dark? Not allowed?"
"Unlikely they'll be out and about. Can you imagine they trust their own vampire all that much? We'll be safe enough, sunshine. Madame knows what she's doing, I'll wager."
"You..." Whatever Doyle might have gone on to say was mercifully cut short by Cowley's re-emergence with Madame Genet at his side. Sufficient was the change in their Controller that it knocked his other line of thought clear out of Doyle's head. He was carrying the empty Scotch glass carelessly, his hands steady, his eyes bright and clear. No trace of either pain or fatigue remained in his demeanour. He looked younger, stronger.
"Ready, lads?" He assisted Madame with her cloak, then, without waiting for a reply, followed her out and down the stairs. There was a bounce to his step Doyle had never seen.
It took but a few minutes for their mounts to be readied. The Constable himself saw to it. The sky was dark now, though faint traces of light lingered briefly in the west. The horses were fine beasts, and ordinarily Doyle enjoyed riding. But tonight he felt an odd tingling up his spine. The scene was somehow disturbing, unearthly, as though a much older London that slept by day was now awaiting them, perhaps with unpleasant surprises. Cowley took the lead past the opened gates, with the lady at his side.
"Any particular direction, Madame?" her escort asked. "Perhaps we could start at the site of the latest murder. It's not far from here; just a few blocks over to Watling Street."
She nodded her approval and they were off.
They passed along Cannon Street in the early evening gloom. What pedestrians there were seemed to take scant notice of them. Fortunately, the weekend was upon them, so the usual dense financial traffic was at a minimum. Madame Genet looked this way and that, evidently enjoying the sights. Doyle had to admit it was a novel experience to view the City this way. He was comfortable enough in his boots, jeans and jumper beneath his leather jacket, but he doubted if his fashionably attired partner was equally warm. As for Cowley in his thin business suit...
Well, he had to admit, the old man worried him, but for an entirely different reason than that. He was altogether too spry, not to mention nearly ebullient as he showed off the sights to his companion and commented upon them. She was dressed in black, as usual, but loose fitting wool trousers covered her boots and her cloak draped her upper half quite warmly. Not that he supposed she needed the protection. Merely looking at her gave him goose bumps.
They arrived at the Bow Lane site within a few minutes. It was still cordoned off with yellow tape, though all other signs of the horror there had long disappeared. At least to the naked eye. The lady dismounted and went directly to the spot where Stuart's body had lain. She stood motionless for some seconds, eyes shut. Doyle had the impression she was listening to something at first, then saw the tip of her nose quiver ever so slightly. It hit him that she was concentrating on some elusive scent too subtle for any human nose. No sooner had that occurred to him than he realised what Bodie had already tried to tell him; she could have heard everything they'd said, back at the Tower.
Then again, if Cowley was right, she could probably hear what they were thinking as well. He couldn't help but wonder what the range of her abilities were, quite as if she was some deadly long-range rifle here for his inspection. Would the other one be equally endowed? He wondered how to ask without angering her.
She turned and looked right through him, leaving him as shaken as before. Clear as his own thoughts, perhaps even more distinct, came her answer. The other one is very young and has had no formal rearing by one of our kind. She has no idea what she can do yet, which is well for you, else you would have already met her.
Bodie and Cowley stared at him.
She spoke aloud too. "Indeed. Our range of suspects can be narrowed a bit. A woman who favours Continental perfume, that much is sure."
"That will narrow it down." Cowley immediately lifted his R/T and transmitted the news to Murphy at HQ. "Anything else, Madame?"
She shook her head and remounted. "Not here. Let us move on. Perhaps one of the other murder scenes will hold more clues."
Cowley consulted his notes. "Closest to our present location would be the place where the first man, John Leeds, was killed. He was engaged in a routine surveillance operation in a flat in Islington, near City University."
They turned north on Bow Lane, then west, up Newgate Street. It was not far in miles, but the lady was in no hurry. She seemed to be directly imbibing the City with all her senses. Traffic slowly curled around them, yet she paid it no mind. As before, Cowley attempted a running commentary, showing her what had changed since the war.
She smiled at one point. "You really ought to thank the Germans for... what do the Americans call it? Urban renewal? I've never seen London so clean and well ordered."
"There was a price." Cowley's voice was strained. "Most of the City churches had to be rebuilt. We nearly lost St. Paul's. The East End has yet to recover. Paris was luckier by far."
"Perhaps. Paris suffered in its own way. You were not occupied." She did not belabour the point. Beneath its modern trappings, it was an ancient argument and they both knew it.
Islington bore no resemblance to what it looked like before the war, which was the thrust of her earlier comment. It had been a well-known slum in the first half of the century, and was only now being rebuilt in clean, though sombre brick multi storey flats. One of those buildings was still empty. The party dismounted and tied their horses to a gate in the back yard. Bodie unlocked the door and pulled out his torch. They ascended the stairs with him and Doyle in the lead, their guns drawn purely by force of habit. Cowley did not dissuade them. It was as well they kept their edges honed. If it amused Madame Genet, well at least she could not fault their caution.
Nor did she. She waited with all due patience for them to sweep the place and determine it to be empty, though she surely knew that already. Nor did she waste the time spent, Cowley realised. She was sensing intently every step of the way up the stairs.
Once they reached the vacant flat where Leeds had watched and waited, her concentration intensified further. She wandered from wall to wall touching blankly at times, as if blind. But her eyes were unclosed and blazed into absorbed interest at unseen details. Doyle shuddered; there was something about her every move now that said, 'Not human.' Had he any true doubts left, they would have gone.
"Her hair is dark, fairly long. Her scent is becoming more and more apparent to me, now that I can isolate it from the host of others on Bow Lane. I can identify her by it now quite easily, not that I need it to know what she is." She turned. "The only question now is where she is. Let us go. I must try to call her. If nothing else, I may get a sense of her direction."
"Where to, Madame?"
She pondered a minute. "I should like to complete our night's work at Tyburn. Are there any other murder sites along the way?"
Bodie pulled out a list from his jacket pocket. "Peter Jenks was the third man killed. He was found outside a pub he frequented, near his flat in Bloomsbury. It's along the way to, er, Tyburn."
No one mentioned that Tyburn's gallows had been moved to Newgate Prison two centuries ago. All that remained of that infamous place of execution was a plaque on Bayswater Road. The site was now home to the Marble Arch, the splendid entrance to Hyde Park. The ancient Tyburn River itself, that still fed into the Thames, was now completely underground. The city had grown above it.
They rode to Bloomsbury in near silence. Jenks' flat was off the Tottenham Court Road, not far from the YMCA. It was a pretty enough neighbourhood, but no one remarked on it. Bodie referred to his notes and led them directly to the scene, no longer cordoned off. She did not dismount this time; there seemed to be little need. After a brief moment's inspection, they moved westward once more.
They no longer tarried to view the sights, though there were plenty to be had. Once known as Tyburn Road, Oxford Street was now a major east-west thoroughfare, as modern as any in the world. Traffic here was heavier than in the City, befitting its more varied role. It had been London's premiere shopping street for over a century. Cabs whizzed by them, and at least one curious bobby had approached, wondering at their odd mode of travel, especially at night. Cowley headed him off with a flash of his identity card without breaking their pace.
It was nearly midnight and the wind had turned bitter by the time they reached the site of old Tyburn gallows. The park was immensely dark and quiet after the bustle of Oxford Street. Doyle stood in his stirrups to stretch and twist. He liked riding well enough, but five straight hours in the saddle was a bit much, even for him. Bodie was beginning to look equally uncomfortable.
"You boys." Madame sounded quite amused. "When I was your age, I rode from here to Jerusalem. You two couldn't have kept up with me by the time I crossed the Pyrenees, half a century later. And you are supposed to be in top shape. Really."
Both men flushed and sat still. Cowley said nothing at all, but smiled. His lack of distress had already occurred to them both, though neither commented on it. It didn't bear thinking about, at least yet. They waited.
Taking pity on them, she dismounted and signalled them to follow her. Doyle found it was pure heaven to be back on the ground; he followed with only mild curiosity as to what was to transpire next. She clearly had a plan of action, even though no one else knew what it was.
It occurred to him that he'd become as pliant in his attitude toward her as he'd thought Bodie was earlier. It brought him up short, though no one seemed to notice. Was it some subtle influence of hers, or merely the normal effect of close proximity? He wasn't sure.
His attention was diverted by a far more dramatic incident a second later. Sheltered by the great trees of the empty park, horses in hand, deep in solitude, the lady stopped. She howled.
The sound was beyond adjectives. No dog could have duplicated it, though a huge timber wolf in the wild might have come close. It sang of strength and loneliness, of desolation and remorse in a way that broke one's heart. It pierced every nerve cell in his body, from his toes, up his spine, to the crown of his head. It was well the shock of it held him still, else he might have drawn his gun out of habit. Bodie instinctively moved closer to him, but Doyle was too awed to attempt a snide remark. Even Cowley looked taken aback.
She waited, motionless in the dark. For what, they dared not ask. Moments passed, then, from what direction they could not rightly say, came the response. It was distant, but had the same mournful lupine character. There was not the depth and range of personality and experience in it that they'd heard up close, but its raw power was still frightening. No one doubted whom they had heard.
The lady howled again; this time there was more than a hint of threat in the air, though the sound was still sonorous. The reply, for such it clearly was, reeked of fear and defiance even to their untrained ears. This time Doyle thought its direction was southerly from the park, though the hovering trees might have obscured it.
A third time Madame Genet raised her unholy voice. This time only silence answered her. She waited for long minutes, then shook her head. "The little fool. I might have been able to save her, but she will not have it. Alas, only true death will stop her quest for justice."
"Justice?" Cowley responded, looking pained. Her remark had obviously disturbed him.
"What is justice to some may appear to be mere vengeance to others. She believes herself to have been greatly wronged, and does not much care for this existence. She will avenge herself, then die quite happily. That makes her particularly dangerous. She has not hunted yet tonight. I have frightened her a bit, so I doubt if she will. But of course, tomorrow night, hunger will overcome her caution. We must be ready; she will seek to accomplish her goal as quickly as possible. Are you sure you know who her ultimate victim is?"
Cowley nodded. "We believe it is Willis, the head of MI6. He is already under heavy guard. All the other MI6 and CI5 agents will likewise be guarding each other's backs. Any clue as to who she is?"
"No, but of perhaps more importance is where she is."
Bodie asked, almost demurely, "Did her answer come from south of the park, fairly close by?"
"Indeed, yes. Very close. She is not more than two miles from here, nearly due south. But her lair will not be easily discovered; I doubt if she will go there tonight, lest I find it. By dawn she will return to it, but I must also go to my resting-place then. In any case, I cannot sense her once she is asleep in her native soil. I will try to give you an idea of where to look, but it will not be an easy matter. She is not completely helpless by day. You must remember that."
"One of the men was killed near Harrods, in that general direction. Would it do any good to go there, do you think?" Doyle wondered.
"Certainly, it is worth a look. There is little else we can do tonight. Let us go."
Doyle led the way through the darkened park, along the Ring, to the other side. They emerged onto Kensington Road and took side streets down past Brompton Road, where Walter Campbell had been discovered. It was a remarkably well lit and heavily trafficked area, even so late on a weekend. They encountered a few stares on their journey. Madame paid them no heed at all; she was clearly preoccupied with sensing her quarry. Several times she stopped and turned in her saddle, covering the night with a keen gaze.
"She was very close to this place when she answered. It is this area your people must concentrate upon in the morning." She shook her head, as if to clear it. "Very close."
They inspected the last murder scene with little comment, then remounted and turned east towards the Tower. Doyle was half hoping the lady would take pity on them and choose a more modern means of transport for the return trip, but that was not to be. The party rode along in silence back up Brompton Road to Hyde Park Corner, where once more she stopped and sniffed like a great hunting dog. "Very close," she repeated, muttering. "But not here now."
They picked up the pace and cantered along Constitution Hill to the Mall, passing Buckingham Palace. Despite their haste, she did slow to take in Charing Cross and Trafalgar Square, then followed the Victoria Embankment back into the City. From that point it was a scant two miles to the Tower gates. Doyle could barely contain his joy. Visions of a hot bowl of soup and tea to comfort his numb fingers tantalised him, though he doubted if anything was going to make his sore bum feel better any time soon.
It was close to four when the guards opened the gates for them once more. Another man hastily emerged to take the reins of their mounts, and then they were free to return to their quarters. The lady stopped and spoke low to Cowley, who then signalled to one of the guards, but neither Bodie nor Doyle paid it any mind. They were both too bone weary, though neither dared show it. Madame's earlier criticism of their endurance still stung. They waited stolidly for her and Cowley to ascend, then trudged up behind them.
A fire had been kept going in their quarters and the warmth felt heavenly. They crowded around the desk in the centre room as Cowley opened a detailed map of London and traced out their route for Madame Genet. She studied it intently, then fingered particular spots of interest. The area she was most taken by was their last stop, close to Harrods.
Her next question surprised them. "Why did Stuart think the person was of Eastern European origin?"
Cowley shrugged. "Probably because most people think of vampires as originating from that area. Count Dracula, and all that."
"There's also the connection to MI6; he simply assumed it had to be a person who had connections to the Warsaw Pact nations," Doyle added.
She snorted. "Well, his reasoning left much to be desired, but his intuition was probably correct. Isn't this area here the embassy section of London?"
They all peered over her shoulder. Bodie ventured a question in answer to hers. "Madame, is it true that she must rest upon her native soil? And if so, do embassies count as native soil?"
Her smile was so warm it filled the room. "Quite so, on both counts. You have a location in mind?"
His finger traced a path parallel to her own. "The East German Embassy is right here, at Belgrave Square. Does that appear to be the general area you heard her from?"
"Very, very near. I cannot be completely positive, but she could not have been more than a few blocks off, in any case. Ah, here's your soup, gentlemen. Sit and relax whilst I study this further. Do you have a close-up map of this area, Sir George?"
He did, and produced it as Bodie and Doyle set up to eat in the other room. The table was laid for three, but Cowley seemed disinterested. Bodie took the time to worry about the older man; he'd been in the saddle every second as long as they. Nor had he rested during the day, as they had. He ladled some soup into a bowl and took it to him as he conversed with Madame Genet. She however, waved them both away and nearly commanded Cowley to eat. He demurred no longer, and sat beside his lads with spoon in hand.
"Here's tea, sir. Bloody marvellous, if you ask me. I was desperate for something like this." He might have added that part of the pleasure was no longer sitting astride a horse, but even a comfy chair did not ease his aching thighs and rump. He prayed there would be time for him to take a hot bath.
Cowley merely grunted, turning his attention to his soup.
It was not really that odd for them to be retiring at dawn. They'd done their share of all night stakeouts together. With Cowley too, for that matter. What seemed strange was the 'tag team' approach they were taking. It worried Bodie that Murphy and his crew would be searching the area around Belgrave Square without them. Of course he trusted the chap and had confidence in him, but still... Something kept nagging at the back of his mind. It teased him with a vague sense of something seen but not noticed, or sensed but not understood. Perhaps Madame Genet, whoever she was, felt it too. She took the maps back into her own room as they sky lightened. He did not forget her warning that neither she nor the other one was helpless by day. And he'd seen for himself what they could do.
His lower back, rump and thighs were killing him, and he knew without self-pity that it would only worsen with sleep. A shower helped some, and Doyle had given him some aspirin, but his muscles would still stiffen during the day. He said as much as he collapsed nearly nude onto the bed.
Doyle sat beside him, towelling his damp locks, looking equally miserable. "What we need is a team of Swedish masseuses who don't mind getting quite personal down there. Not that I think I could do more than say 'thank you' in this state." His eyes brightened with a sudden thought. "Think you could do it? Massage me, I mean. We could take turns; do us both good."
Bodie turned onto his side and considered his partner's query. They'd showered and slept together often enough, used the latrine side by side for years. Bandaged each other up, fed each other, put up with Macklin together. The notion of receiving such treatment certainly appealed. "Why not? Toss you for who goes first. Mind, the second chap will be the luckier, since he'll just get to sleep after."
"Fair enough." Doyle leaned over to where his jeans lay and retrieved a coin from his pocket. "Heads."
It was tails. Both men stripped down completely by unspoken consent. Bodie stretched out wordlessly onto his belly and let his thighs fall apart. True, he'd have to stay awake to do Doyle, but at least he'd be feeling better sooner. Doyle rummaged through his bag and pulled out some massage oil, then knelt between Bodie's legs. The satiny coolness of it against his lower back was a delight; he groaned in deep appreciation as Ray's fingers nimbly worked it in.
"You keep making noises like that, and Cowley'll think we're having it off in here," Doyle warned.
"Dammed if I care right now. Don't stop." Bodie closed his eyes and luxuriated in the kneading pressure being exerted upon his lower back. Gradually, his partner's hands moved lower, against the taut muscles of his sore buttocks. God, that's wonderful. Uninhibited sounds of pure satisfaction kept bubbling up from deep in his throat, despite Doyle's earlier comment.
Those comforting hands slowly worked their way in between Bodie's aching thighs, brushing ever so lightly against his balls. Good thing it was Ray doing this; he didn't think he could've let another man get so close. Not since Africa had he... He tried to close his mind on that thought as he had in the past, but today it wasn't that easy. It somehow merged with sudden awareness of how much pleasure he was getting from the working of Ray's hands. Yes, it was pleasure, and sexual at that. He didn't kid himself. Time for this to end, before he embarrassed himself and his partner. Reluctantly, he shifted, pulling away.
"Ta, that's enough, mate."
Doyle sat back on his heels. "You sure? How about the front of your thighs? Mine are killing me. Turn over."
He couldn't find a good excuse not to. Ray would be suspicious if he demurred too strongly. Luckily, things were not yet at the stage where they were obvious. He did as he was told, watching his partner's features as he turned. Normally they were mobile, expressive, eye-catching, but right now they were shuttered, telling nothing. His hands smoothed Bodie's inner thighs, from groin to mid knee, then outward over their front muscles.
It was heaven. It was torture. He dared not lower his guard too much, yet those hands demanded that he relax, go with them, let them soothe him. He closed his eyes in concentration, trying to perceive only the relief, not the arousal. It half worked, keeping him from making a huge display of himself, but another man would surely notice the tightening of his balls, the lengthening and thickening of his cock. God, what if Ray got offended? The man had temper enough for the two of them some days. That thought succeeded where control had failed. He managed to endure the sweet torment without incident, but there was no danger of his falling asleep.
"My turn, sunshine." Doyle slipped over Bodie's leg and lay prone, his arms above his head. Bodie stretched for a moment, then took up his position between his partner's legs. Now he could allow himself to relax. After all, Ray couldn't see him. He squirted some oil into his palms and warmed it, eyeing Doyle's pink, round bum. Even an out and out homophobe would have to admit this was a pretty sight.
He started at the lower back, as Doyle had with him, but before too long his hands had crept down onto that tempting mass of flesh. Its texture was a nice surprise. Redheads could have coarse, dry skin at times, but not his Ray. It was buttery soft, inviting him to put his lips down and taste. He resisted the urge, of course, but its intensity was shocking. This was a new development in his friendship with the man before him. That Doyle had engaged his emotions as well as his loyalty was no surprise. He deserved every bit of all that, had earned Bodie's trust time and time again. But this... Bodie tried to blank his mind. Tried to only see form and shape, as if he was in a museum doing nothing more than admiring a sculpture. It didn't work. Some Pandora's box had opened inside him, not to be so easily closed and forgotten. His hands now ached to touch more intimately.
Nor was Ray much help. He was easily as vocal in his pleasure as Bodie had been earlier, if not more so. Plus, he squirmed. Back and forth, to and fro, he moved his hips in rhythm to Bodie's massage like some exotic dancer intent on turning on a roomful of strangers. Or a man making love to a woman under him.
That image almost undid his control. Bodie carefully repositioned his fingers lower, over the back of Doyle's thighs and began to work again. That sufficed for a while, but then it was time to massage their insides. He forced his hands not to tremble as his knuckles brushed the soft down of Doyle's scrotum.
Did Doyle enjoy this as he had? Did he dare think about it? Bodie looked at the other man's back in sudden wonderment. It distracted him enough to enable him to complete the rubdown. Well, true his partner was writhing like a cat in heat, but then, that was Ray. Feline sensuality was something he exuded like musk. Women adored it. They could just tell from the way he moved what a great lay he would be. That didn't mean he was as indiscriminate as a cat. Didn't mean he would or ever could want Bodie. Nothing said that.
He sat back, silently signalling Doyle to turn, but the other man sank deeply into the bed, emitting a loud sigh. "Thanks. That's enough."
"Thought your front thighs were killing you."
"I'm too knackered. See you later." In a minute or so, his breathing had deepened, his limbs at rest.
Bodie arose ever so quietly, so as not to disturb him, but he'd barely gotten off the bed before Doyle opened one inquisitive green eye. "Where're you going?"
"The loo. Back in a flash." He turned and fled without another word.
When Doyle awoke, his partner lay beside him, dark lashes fanning down over his cheeks in a veil. There was no telling when he'd returned to bed. His features, so strained before, now were slack and peaceful in sleep. Doyle studied them, as if they were not someone's that he'd spent the better part of five years in the company of. As if he'd never rightly seen them before.
He knew perfectly well what had happened to Bodie. Could sense it in every move his partner made. Nor had he made it easy for him. He just let it go on and on, his complaisance a tease, a come-on. He flushed. Doyle was nothing if not honest, sometimes brutally so. He hadn't started out with the intention of turning his partner on, but the heady power of it was irresistible.
He could make Bodie want him.
Now, it was one thing to play with a man's heart; quite another to fool with a man's balls. Having both, he knew with certainty just how much trouble he could get them both into. It was imperative that he understand what the devil he was about, why he had allowed things to come to such a pass between them.
What he didn't need to comprehend was Bodie. No, indeed. The bloke loved him, wanted him, trusted him completely. And had painfully demonstrated just how much Doyle could trust him.
The real question was, how much could Doyle trust himself?
He'd become aroused too. Did he really want Bodie? Or was he merely infatuated with the knowledge that he could be so desired? He'd never had sex with a man, nor had he ever had any inclination to, though he'd received his fair share of invitations over the years. They had been a source of amusement, nothing more. But now...
He looked over the sleeping man. Of course he knew Bodie was an attractive man. All dark power and sleek muscle. He was magnificent in his smooth-skinned nakedness. Broad shoulders, narrow hips, big hands that were surprisingly gentle... Doyle stirred at the memory of their touch. Yes, Bodie was beautiful. Could he overcome a lifetime of inhibitions and respond to that male beauty fully? Should he?
Women loved Bodie's sugary tongue, his visage all smiles, promising fun. Somehow he conveyed a heady combination of spicy danger and warm safety to even the most wary. He'd watched the masterful pick ups often enough. But Bodie last night was a different man. Brooding, barely controlled, remote... Yet gentle in spite of it all. A man who stood at the edge of falling in love.
It was tremendously exciting to be the object of such intense emotion. Beyond that, he could decide nothing. There would have to be time to think about it later. He got out of the bed.
For now he desperately needed a nice hot bath. His lower limbs ached every inch as much as he'd expected them to, and he could only pray that She Who Must Be Endured had had enough of riding through London town.
One hot tub full later, Doyle felt not only his arse, but also his brain unwind. Idly soaking, his attention wandered to the continuing mystery of Madame Genet. He could sneer at her in her absence, but her raw potency in person never failed to slap him down to size in short order. It was irritating, to put it mildly, the way his skin turned to goose bumps when she looked at him. No, looked through him. He must be as transparent as glass to her, since she only did it to him. Bodie and Cowley seemed not as affected. But then, she didn't need to keep them in line, did she?
He wasn't sure if that was good or bad.
So, who was she? A former English queen from the looks of things, born in France, but which one? Most of them seemed to be from France. What had she said last night about going to Jerusalem and crossing the Pyrenees fifty years later? There couldn't be many who fit that bill, now could there? Then there was the reference to King John she had not denied. It was possible that her given name really was Eleanor, but it was a fairly common royal name. Then there was her surname, Genet. Short for Plantagenet? That had been a royal dynasty for nearly five centuries. He'd studied art in school, but history had not been one of his favourite subjects. Betty could find out for him, though he wasn't sure if he could keep it from Cowley. It would take some manoeuvring, but he was determined to find out for sure.
She couldn't be... who he thought she was. Eleanor of Aquitaine. A notoriously beautiful woman straight out of legend, tough as steel; a warrior queen, who in an age of great knights, easily held her own. Spouse to Henry II, mother of Richard the Lion-Hearted. And John, the wicked younger brother. He squirmed inside, for what reason he did not know, and turned his attention to the other problem at hand.
As for the one they sought, an equally uneasy sensation crept through his nerves, though he dared not give it voice, lest it become true. How many East German women who'd died at the hands of MI6 did he know of, after all? Only one, and there was no real reason to suppose it was her. Certainly, there was no cause to mention any of his misgivings at this point to Bodie. He had enough on his mind.
On the other hand, Marikka Schuman had died in England. And had been buried here. And knew who had killed her.
And loved Bodie. Doyle shivered, despite the heat of the water. Cowley was nearly always ahead of him, which meant it was no accident that they were on this case and not another. And Cowley was genuinely fond of Bodie. Where would he be safer than at the side of Madame Genet?
The old devil! He and Madame were a likely couple, indeed. Now, what trap were they setting?
They might have been an old married couple, sitting as they did, on either side of the desk. But only one was having tea. Dusk had settled around them. Bodie and Doyle were in the next room, devouring another fine meal courtesy of the Tower staff. This time, Cowley did not join them. He wasn't hungry.
"Your laddie thinks he has things figured out now," she observed with amusement in her voice. "Who I am, who she is, and what you've been up to. Too bad he hasn't taken some of that restless cerebral energy and decided what to do about Bodie."
At that he looked up. As Doyle matured and settled down, he would someday be a logical choice to succeed him. This he'd known for some time, despite Bodie being his emotional favourite of the pair. It did not surprise him that Doyle had followed his own reasoning. But what did she mean about Bodie?
Then he remembered. The other morning, the way they'd slept. His unease, that he'd quickly, too quickly, thrust aside. He had not been wrong, after all, to be uneasy. She saw it too.
"Yes. But there is really no cause for alarm, you know. It does not change who they are, or what they are capable of. You, of all people, should know that, Sir George."
He bowed his head. How foolish, really, to think that anything could be kept from her. "I do know. But nonetheless, it complicates things considerably. We are not as tolerant now as your great court was, Your Grace. If they are discovered..."
"They won't be. You'll see to that," she replied confidently. "You must teach them, of course, and that won't be easy for you. But you will do it. It will be all right."
He smiled back. "And what if he does succeed in confirming your identity?"
She shrugged. "It is not that important to me, now that I have met you, my lord. As you have known, he is the best choice for your position. Doubtless, he would have had to be told in any case."
He nodded. "And his notion about the other's identity? Do you think he is correct? I had thought as much, but it is only a surmise, after all."
"His intuition is a powerful tool he really ought to be encouraged to develop. I suspect that the level of discomfort the thought brought to him is indicative of its probability. He is very protective of Bodie, and any true threat will eat away at him until he confronts it. Yes, I think it may well be her. Of course, proving our suspicions is not as simple as voicing them. We must take great care in how we use our young friend Bodie. He may be the key, if we are right."
"She will probably try for him tonight. If she is clever she will reverse her usual pattern of attacking at dusk, and strike after midnight instead, when men's minds are clouded by fatigue, and their guard is down. I personally would wait until near dawn for the same reasons, but I doubt if she is that bold yet. She needs her shelter far more than I do, being so young. What a pity."
"You tried to give her a way out last night. If she had taken you up on your offer, would you have protected her? Even from me? She did kill Stuart, after all."
She patted his hand. "Why trouble yourself, my lord? We shall never know."
To Bodie and Doyle's unparalleled delight, Madame consented to riding in a car over to Headquarters in Whitehall. Given that it was pouring rain, the decision was particularly welcome. It helped that it was no mere car, but one of the Queen's Rolls Royces's kept at the Tower for her use. Their stiffness also may have had a hand in convincing her, though Doyle doubted it. He could walk, hiding his pain well enough, but he knew there'd be no chance of him running a foot race and catching anyone faster than Cowley.
Thinking of Cowley, his earlier disquiet returned. The old man had not eaten with them and looked entirely too comfortable. It bore watching, though he hadn't the slightest idea what to do about it. It was bad enough having to worry about Bodie without adding Cowley to the list.
They met with Murphy and his team in one of the briefing rooms. As per orders, they'd vacated MI6 and got in just before sundown. The offices were heavily guarded, though not so noticeable as it had been at MI6 the other day. The other team carefully displayed their best party manners to Madame Genet, who likewise was cordial, though not especially forthcoming.
Murphy took the ball. "We've had no leads whatsoever in locating the mole, though we've managed to eliminate some suspects at present. Whoever it is, is apparently well placed, which is worrisome. Willis is concerned, but not tremendously helpful. He had no idea how the security system in Davison's flat could be circumvented. It took a bit of convincing to show him that it had to be an inside job, else the man would have been warned."
Cowley tapped his fingers on the table impatiently. It was not what he had wanted to hear. "Any luck in following Jenks' trail the night of his murder?"
Susan jumped in. "Some. Thanks to your call last night, we were able to jog a few memories at the pub he stopped at. There was a foreign woman there that night; at least two people remarked upon her accent. It sounded German to them. She left minutes after he did. We brought them in and did our best to get a composite sketch of her. As you reported, she does indeed have longish dark brown hair. Fairly tall for a lady, slender..." Her voice trailed off as she took in Madame Genet, then picked up. "Very pretty, as far as they could tell. Wore sunglasses and a hat."
Madame apparently could not resist. "My German is abysmal, my accent purely French. Besides, I have an alibi. I was in France at the time."
"And you are much lovelier, I might add," Murphy attempted.
Bodie kept his face straight. Doyle didn't even try.
A chastened Susan produced the composite with a flourish. This time, Bodie's face did change. So did Doyle's.
"You know her?" She guessed.
Bodie looked up at Cowley, speaking to him alone. "Perhaps. I can't be sure. I can't... It's her style of dress, her look, if you will. But the picture itself could be any woman her age and general appearance."
The Controller nodded. "We shall have to make sure. Have we a list generated from this description and cross-referenced to MI6 files of terminations? Better still, does it match any of the names of our victims in terms of assignments?"
"In part," Jax replied. "We'd narrowed our list of MI6 terminations down to about twenty names, based on age and sex. Then we tried having the computer cross it with the three MI6 men. Two of them hadn't left Britain in the past three years, so then we looked at only those that would have been encountered here, at home. We wound up with ten names. Here they are."
Cowley put on his glasses and perused the list. He was fully aware of how much thought and effort had gone into the simple white page before him. More, he appreciated what it would do to the dark man standing silently at his elbow.
One of the names was Marikka Schuman.
Knowing it was a possibility had not prepared Doyle for the walled-in hurt his partner exuded, at least to him. It sliced right in, leaving him defenceless, save for anger. Bodie pulled in behind closed eyes.
"We can't assume anything about this. Do we know where these unfortunate women are buried?" asked the lady. "For if we do not, we must find out at once. Before dawn, if possible. If we can find photographs of these ten, then perhaps the people in that pub might also be more able to help in her identification."
"We've been working on that," Murphy said. "Fortunately, MI6 kept those files and we were able to obtain permission to acquire them first thing in the morning. We should have all their photos by nine. Of course, we already have Marikka Schuman's, since she was an actress. As for where they are all buried..." he shook his head. "I honestly don't know. It might be in their files, though I don't see why it would be. More likely, we'll have to go through the coroner's records. The bodies all had to be investigated, since they were unnatural deaths. Then they had to be released to someone for burial. Usually a funeral home. These funeral homes will then have records of where and when the actual interments took place. We can comb the coroner's records tonight, but I doubt if we can get anything from the funeral homes until tomorrow."
"Surely she won't be there," Doyle demurred. "If she is a foreigner, as we believe, then she must have already moved her hiding place to one where she can rest on her native soil."
Cowley nodded. "True, but then we'll know for certain who we are looking for. Whoever's grave is empty."
"And who will be watching for whoever it is in the meantime?" Bodie asked acidly. "What about the search teams around Belgrave Square? Did they find anything?"
Susan shook her head. "That area has been combed through. Lots of small mid-priced hotels on the side streets. Our people were on it all day and turned up nothing."
"She isn't going to sit about tonight, waiting for us to do our homework," he warned.
"Indeed she is not," Cowley agreed. "Murphy, MI6 can earn their keep too. I'll call Willis and have his people search those files now. If they can, they should inform us of the burial locations. At the least, I want those photos well before dawn. They can also spend the night searching the coroner's records if the locations are not on file. No point in the lot of them sitting on their rumps while we run ours into the ground."
He turned to Bodie. "You're right, 3.7. She'll be hunting tonight. We think she'll go after Willis. I want you and Doyle to get over there and..."
Betty came to the door and interrupted. "Excuse me, sir. We have an emergency in progress at Controller Willis' office. The call just came through for backup. There are at least two men down."
"Damn! She didn't wait."
Madame shrugged. "She kept to her original pattern after all. Which means she will not succeed, since his troops are fresh and were expecting her, armed with the weapons you gave them. Still, we must go. Where is MI6 headquarters? I shall meet you there."
Cowley pointed it out on the wall map without a word. It was but a few blocks away. The lady took her leave; Murphy and his team followed her movements with disbelieving eyes. She simply went over to the window, opened it, and leapt out. Cowley gave them no time to think about it.
"Well, are you going to sit there all night? Let's go!"
The scene at MI6 was utter carnage. Unlike her earlier murders, the vampire had not tidied up out of hunger. Blood was everywhere; the entire hallway where she'd broken through was covered with it. Three MI6 men lay virtually dismembered, in the midst of it all. The five surviving guards were in a state of shock.
Bodie had never seen anything like it. Not in Africa, not even after bombings in Northern Ireland. Those dismemberments were random, scattered, and not viciously purposeful as these were. The woman he had once known and loved could never have been capable of this. He was sure of it.
Despite her raging, she had not broken through the line of defenders, and had been forced back out into the night. Sharpened wooden staves and arrows embedded in the walls bore testimony to the fury of the battle. Garlic cloves added their pungency to the ghastly scene. Half-empty flasks of holy water and broken crosses lay scattered upon the floor.
It was a tableau worthy of Bruegel's hell, Doyle reflected. One that Madame Genet chose to eschew. Perhaps it was all the garlic. Willis was babbling off in a corner to Cowley, nearly hysterical. Bodie stood frozen in place, his normally pale complexion utterly ashen. Susan and the others were doing no better. Murphy went off to a loo to throw up, crossing himself along the way.
Madame met them outside. "She has fled, nor can I detect a trace of her now. She must have left as soon as they called us. We must take Willis and his people to a place of safety. We may not be so fortunate twice."
"But where?" Doyle demanded, incensed by what he had seen. "She can pull the bloody walls down if she has a mind to, it seems."
"Not the walls of a church." Her quiet answer stunned him into silence.
"Westminster Abbey," Cowley muttered. "It's the closest to Whitehall. We have to round everybody up and get them there under guard. Any other thoughts?"
"She will not attack so long as I am with all of you. Or if she does, so much the better for us. Obtain conveyances and move these poor souls at once, Sir George. I will guard them until they get there. Once inside, they will be beyond her reach."
Luckily, most of the office workers at MI6 had departed for the evening already. Those that had remained were either guarding Willis or working at his direction. It didn't take long for the dozen or so left to be taken away, leaving the corridors eerily empty.
"Once I am finished escorting these people, we must search this place for those files," Madame continued outside. "We have to discover her resting place as quickly as possible. She has gotten completely out of control."
"Doyle and I can stay here and start looking," Bodie offered.
"No." Her tone was sharp, decisive, leaving Cowley no room but to acquiesce. "She is rabid. There's no telling what she will attack next. I can't protect all of London at the same time, but I certainly can keep you lads safe. All of you are to stay by my side at all times. Especially you, Bodie." As he opened his mouth to speak, she forestalled him. "And you damned well know why."
It took less than an hour to deliver MI6's controller to Westminster along with his mob. A few CI5 agents were summoned to stand watch also, though from the inside of the sacred grounds. Murphy and his cohorts were beat and hungry, but there was no time for such indulgence now. They all tromped back to MI6 headquarters under Madame Genet's watchful eye. To Doyle it had the fantastical appearance of a gaggle of geese obediently following a hawk.
Cowley had brought two MI6 secretaries back with them. They were shaky, but sufficiently recovered to assist in their file retrieval. Even Madame joined in the hunt. He'd also asked Betty to join them.
Betty arrived, armed with her own notes and a large cardboard box stuffed with take away fish, chips, and mushy peas. The day team descended upon said larder with heartfelt gratitude. It wasn't sleep, but it would do for now. The MI6 women showed them where to make tea.
"That was very thoughtful of you, mistress, but you must take care too. No one is safe now. We must all stay together after dark," the lady explained. "Until this is over."
Bodie and Doyle searched steadily while their colleagues took a breather long enough to eat. "Did anyone get a good description of their assailant from those guards?' Bodie asked of no one in particular. "Perhaps a security camera picked her up. We might be able to identify her from that."
"Useless, even if we had," Madame responded absently as she riffled through a file cabinet. "A vampire attacking wouldn't exactly match a photograph of her during her life. I'm sure they'd be happy to tell you all about her red eyes and her long teeth, but that won't help us find her. As for the video camera, that may be useful, but the same problem applies. She will have been moving very fast once she entered. It's certainly worth looking into, but don't be surprised if all you see is a blur."
Susan swallowed a morsel the wrong way and needed Jax to thump on her back. Her eyes flew from Bodie to Doyle to Cowley to Madame, but once recovered she said nothing.
Several hours and hundreds of files later, nine of the ten in question had been located. Marikka Schuman's refused to turn up, despite continued effort.
"The mole?" Doyle hated to say it out loud, but it only made sense, after all. Bodie must be thinking it too.
"Maybe. Maybe a ruse to throw us off the real trail. In any case we can now locate the funeral houses for these others and run them down. We might get lucky and have one of them tell us they know where Marikka is buried too."
"There's no need for that," Bodie told his controller. "I know where she lies; I buried her there myself." He turned away from the group and looked out the window, back straight, shoulders square.
Cowley said nothing.
His partner ached for him, as he'd never thought possible. If Bodie had broken down and cried, Ray didn't think it could be that much worse. He longed with every fibre of his being to go to him, to throw a casual arm across his shoulder, to try to elicit a smile, however small. He dared not with so many eyes upon them. But when they were alone...
Betty called the coroner's office and harassed the staff into disregarding the time under penalty of dismissal. It worked. Within two hours, they had the nine cemeteries and plot numbers verified and listed. Bodie silently wrote down Marikka's location below the others, then carefully put down the pen beside it.
At last Cowley was satisfied. "Best we can do for now, I expect. Let's head back to our own HQ and let you three get some rest. The laboratory people can take a look at the camera and see if they come up with anything, just to be sure. We have a busy day ahead of us."
They dropped the secretaries back at Westminster with the others, then moved on to their own familiar turf. No sooner had they turned the block, however, then Madame called a halt to the lead car she was in. She motioned everyone else to remain in their seats while she got out and patrolled the entrance, looking this way and that. Finally, she pushed open the main door.
That in itself told a grim story. The door should have been locked and the guard behind it challenging her. No one appeared.
Cowley emerged, anxious now, with Bodie and Doyle beside him. Murphy and the rest were but a few steps behind. They hastened up the steps to the door where Madame remained, still seeking invisible clues.
"How many people were left on duty here after hours?" she wanted to know. "Guards, cleaning crews, anyone."
Betty answered forthwith. "Perhaps a dozen, not more than that. A total of four guards, a cleaning maid for each floor, the communications staff, and the odd late worker who might have been putting in overtime, if any. Why?"
"I don't hear anyone inside moving. In fact, I don't hear anything at all."
Cowley put his hand on the door. She brushed it off and entered before him.
"Those are my people in there!" he stormed.
She turned, a study in sorrow. "You can't help them now. Let me just search for hidden traps first, then you can follow. Come, lads." She motioned to Bodie and Doyle, who fell in place beside her. They entered both doors at once, nearly abreast, guns drawn, covering each side.
The rest of the team fell in behind them, likewise armed. Jax closed the door behind them and bolted it as an afterthought. No one thought that was odd, or even funny.
"Wait here." Madame ascended the stairs with her chosen two while the others waited below. Clearly, something was terribly wrong. It merely remained to locate the bodies.
They found the first one in the men's washroom; his appearance in death mirrored Stuart and the others. There was not a drop of blood to be had.
"She worked up quite an appetite in that battle with MI6," Madame commented. "For sustenance and revenge. This one was for food. The others won't look so clean, I suspect."
She was not mistaken. The washroom was converted into a temporary morgue; as they discovered each new body, they dragged it into there. Each landing held a corpse and all had been savagely mutilated. Murphy and Jax pitched in, while Susan and Betty covered Cowley at all times. There was no point in taking chances.
The last body found was that of the chief security guard. His headless corpse lay across Cowley's closed office door. Bodie cursed. It was obviously a message designed to infuriate the Controller. He shifted his hand onto the doorknob with great care, but their lady forestalled him.
"Allow me." She turned the handle, oblivious to threat of bomb or shot. Her eyes surveyed every corner of the darkened room before switching on the light. She already knew what they would find.
But they were not prepared. Right on top of Cowley's desk was the guard's ragged head, his eyes frozen wide in terror. Blood splattered all over the blotter and ran down the sides of the desk onto the floor.
Cowley came up beside them, his face flushed with exertion and rage. "Well, if it's war she wants..."
"She already knows what will happen when she is caught, my lord. She is simply making this as expensive for you as possible. She knew perfectly well that these poor souls were no threat to her. She was simply unable to get to the ones that are. And we must not give her any chances. No one is to leave this building before dawn."
"And you, Madame? You cannot stay here that late either."
"I can stay later than she, being older. If you can get me back to the Tower at the last possible minute, all should be well enough. She will have already gone back into hiding." She sat on the edge of the desk, oblivious to the gory sight thereon. "At which point you must be ready to search out her grave without delay. Sterilise it, in case she attempts to return to it. Once her identity is known, we will know which embassy she has taken refuge in."
Bodie gingerly lifted the head away from Cowley's desk and placed it in a plastic bag. "I hate to bring this up, but what are we going to do once we know that? We can't search their grounds without their permission." He carefully put the bag down outside the door, next to the man's body.
"Diplomatic immunity," Doyle explained to Madame.
She snorted. "I am not unaware of diplomatic protocol, my young friend. Once we know where she is, we can pay them a visit, make our information known to them, and ask if they would like a war in kind. All very diplomatically, of course. Since neither she nor I really exist, what can they complain about? That you are threatening their vampire with your own? If they are the jackals they have always been, those pathetic courtiers will attempt to eliminate her themselves in order to avoid that scenario. They won't succeed, I should think, unless she is an utter fool. But they will drive her out, where she will be vulnerable. That is what I am counting on." She smiled at Cowley, who returned it readily enough.
Too readily. Doyle could not suppress the thought fast enough for her not to hear, but she gave no indication of it. He carefully blanked out further concerns about his boss and forced his unruly thoughts to ponder their roles come morning. The last thing he wanted was for Bodie to be the one to dig up Marikka's grave, whether or not she was in it. Surely, Cowley would understand that. All he had to do was get him alone.
A commotion on the stairs below diverted their attention. Familiar voices, raised in acute distress, heralded the arrival of more men.
Lucas and McCabe had just finished a protracted assignment in Liverpool and returned earlier than scheduled, hoping to finish their reports and thereby acquire a bit more free time the next day. Poor sods, Doyle commiserated. What a bloody mess to walk into. As for time off...
Murphy walked in beside them, trying to update them as they entered, but it was clear that they weren't absorbing much yet.
"What in the name of God is going on? This is incredible!" McCabe raged.
"God has had rather little to do with it, at least so far," the lady responded, amused. She turned to Cowley. "More of your people? You must pick them for their charm."
Lucas nearly ran into Murphy's back, as the other man stopped dead in his tracks. He hadn't seen Cowley's office yet either, and was as shocked as they. How could this woman be making jokes about it? Nothing was said, but it was evident from their eyes what they were thinking.
"Now that you mention it, perhaps so; can't possibly be for their brains that I pick them, now can it?" Cowley flashed a warning look at the men gaping in the doorway. "What the devil are you two doing here at this time of night? Why didn't you call ahead and let someone know you were coming? If you had arrived a few hours sooner..." His eyes hardened. "Well, now that you're here, report to Murphy. You're on his team. Oh, and by the way, you're staying the night."
Bodie took McCabe by the arm and steered the lot of them out of the office, away from the carnage. "Let's go to one of the conference rooms," he urged. As far as he knew, there were no ghastly surprises in any of them. "Murphy and I can fill you in." He glanced over his shoulder at Doyle, who motioned him ahead with a slight wave. He frowned a bit, then shrugged. Doyle must have some good reason to linger with those two.
Cowley turned to him when the entourage had departed. "Spit it out, 4.5. I haven't got all day." The large dollop of Scotch he handed to the younger man softened his words. He poured himself one as well and saluted the lady with it ironically.
She smiled, equally ironic. "Water, water everywhere. And not a drop to drink."
It was enough to chill Doyle to the bone.
"Sir, about tomorrow..."
"What about it, man?"
"I, er, don't think it would be a good idea for Bodie to be along at the opening of Marikka Schuman's grave." He took a long pull of the soothing liquor. "He's been through enough already because of her."
It was the lady who answered, and her voice was not unkind. "I know why you feel that way, Doyle, but I think you are mistaken. True, discovering that it is indeed she would be painful, but witnessing it for him would remove all doubt. If it is not her, he will heave a great sigh of relief after seeing such terrible things tonight."
"And is it so important to remove all doubt?" he flashed back.
"Is his life important to you? She will come for him, if it is she. You know that, surely. He must be armed with the knowledge of what she has chosen to become."
"Was it her choice?" Doyle asked.
"To be a vampire, perhaps not. To commit these monstrous crimes, yes. The Marikka he knew is no more."
Doyle hung his head, defeated. He too had known Marikka, albeit briefly, and he had liked her. Her loyalty to Bodie had commended her to him easily enough. Wasn't her rage now due to the obscene injustice of her passing? How would he have responded if Willis and his men had killed Bodie?
"Your compassion for her does you credit, young man. But she has murdered nearly twenty people now, and shows no sign of wishing to stop. This isn't about Willis anymore."
Cowley took the now empty glass from his hand. He looked up, pleading silently, a thing he would never have done for himself.
"She's right, Doyle. But then, neither of us ought to be standing here deciding this for Bodie. He can tell me himself what he feels he should do in the morning. I will abide by his wishes."
"Thank you, sir."
All turned to face the dark man in the doorway, save the lady. Doyle felt his face flame. Cowley filled a third glass and gave it to Bodie, then poured himself another drink.
"Just what is it I'm to be deciding in the morning, sir?" He sipped at the single malt Scotch calmly.
"What sort of assignment you feel is... appropriate for you tomorrow, 3.7."
"And the other lads get a choice too?"
"Dammit, Bodie, I've no time for this! You can stay and guard Madame in the Tower, or you can join the others searching for this creature's grave."
Bodie met his eyes soberly. "I can't rightly say I want to, but I must. I have to see for myself if it's her or not." He took a large gulp of the Scotch and silently asked for a refill, which he got.
Cowley nodded. "Good enough. Doyle and Mc..."
"No sir! If Bodie's going, then I'm going." Doyle stood his ground, oblivious to Madame's amusement, Bodie's quizzical expression, or Cowley's thunderous brow.
She took his side for once. "Let him go, I pray you, my lord. His mind will be there anyway. Your other two lads will do just as well. With luck, perhaps they won't bicker as much." Her eyes actually twinkled at Doyle as she uttered that, leaving him flushed for the second time, but he was too grateful to take umbrage at her teasing. He could feel Bodie still looking at him out of the corner of his eye, but his partner added nothing.
The Controller sighed, ceding acquiescence. "Well then, off with both of you. Find cots for everyone. Call the Met to haul away all these poor souls, and inform the Coroner I'll be along at dawn again. Tell Murphy he's to accompany me this time. We'll join you in the field as soon as we can."
Silence finally came to CI5. It was nearly three. George Cowley sat, staring into the night. He ought to have been exhausted; instead strange buoyancy lightened his bones, strengthened his muscles, and eased his aches. He knew why and wondered if he hadn't made a devil's bargain to catch one. Then he shrugged. It wouldn't be the first time he'd put his very soul at risk for the sake of his duty. He could only hope that in the end his motives would be perfectly understood, and his actions forgiven.
He'd eschewed the common comforts of man for that duty; friends, lovers, family. Bodie was the closest he'd come to having a son of his own, and he admitted in the quiet dark that he loved him dearly. Even so, he would not hesitate to imperil him in the pursuit of this mad creature. Such was what he had made of himself.
Not for him was the passionate loyalty to Bodie that made Doyle all but a lover. And if Madame was right, that too was only a matter of time. It worried him; those two always did. He knew them well enough to understand that once they turned onto that difficult road, it would be permanent. And if one was lost... It didn't bear thinking of.
She came up behind him and laid her hand upon his shoulder, silent as dust. The entire building reflected their moment of introspection, echoing only the customary sounds of old buildings as they settled down.
"How does my good lord?" There was a melodious sweetness to her voice that augmented the honeyed richness of her words. It would have been impossible not to love it. Impossible not to respond to her. He turned, and lost himself in her eyes.
Something was subtly different tonight; she was not merely offering, she was asking as well. He knew that somehow without words. She hungered. For him.
What did a person of her immense stature in history see in him? Middle-aged, balding, half-crippled... a lonely, driven man who drank a bit much? He shook his head as if to clear it. Surely, he was mistaken.
She sat in front of him, the warmth of her normally cold features dispelling all doubt. "You are too hard on yourself, Sir George. What would you expect of me? That after all these years a pretty smile or a shapely chest would sway me? What interest could I have in children, save as their mother? But you, you are no child. No more than my Henry was when I met him, though I was his senior by almost a dozen years. Did you think he was a giant of a man, beautiful and tall? He was not. Indeed, he was as crafty and wise and determined as you. Those things were what made him great, not his crown. That was merely an accident of birth. You two would have made great friends, or great adversaries, just as he and Becket did. Never doubt it; he would have seen you as an equal, as I do."
Her words took his breath away, as did her closeness. It was dizzying, looking up at her as she hovered nearer and nearer. His head fell back, exposing his neck in wordless consent.
Instead, she lowered her lips to his. He could barely remember when he'd last kissed a woman; it thrilled him too much to even let him think.
"Ah George," she whispered against his ear. "All work and no play. You haven't let go and allowed yourself even a smidgen of pleasure in such a long time. Tonight is your night."
"And yours. Have many offered freely what you desire most in recent years? I half hope not, for I wish it to be as memorable for you as it surely will be for me." His last words came out as a gasp when she divested him of his tie and her cool fingers rested against the heat of his neck.
"Not many, not often. And none that entice me as much as you do." She lifted her head and looked at him soberly. "But there must be no misunderstanding between us. I want us to be friends, always. This alone will not cause you to change after death. Only death in my arms can do that. And that is something I do not offer very often."
"Nor would I wish it," he replied.
"Then you are wise indeed, my dear friend. Come here." She cradled his head in her arms, her fingers splayed across the side of his face. Their mouths met again, urgent, almost fearful. It was delicious.
Cowley let himself be pulled in, let himself be led and held and lost in her embrace. Never had he felt such reined-in power in the arms of a woman. Of course, she was not, strictly speaking, human now. Her comparative gentleness was a matter of training and great discipline. It enthralled him, as no woman had in a very long time.
From far away a soft moan broke the silence; he realised that it was he who made that plaintive sound. Then another. Her lips were at once cold and heated, like chilled whiskey that went straight to his head. He was dizzy with longing.
Desire turned to sheer desperation. Had her lips been a drug, he could not have been more addicted. Every nerve in his body sensed there was more to be had, and wanted it, no matter the cost.
Her mouth descended onto his ear, then his neck. It was hard to breathe, his heart was pounding so hard. Was it some mysterious pheromone that so enslaved her victims? No matter, this was his decision, and he cared not at all for the consequences now. All he wanted was her, in whatever manner she chose to take him.
She licked the base of his throat, close to the jugular vein, with the utmost delicacy, like a cat cleaning her young. He could barely sit still; his arms enfolded her slender frame as much for self-control as to hold her. A deeper, more wrenching noise was torn from him. Still she teased and licked and nuzzled, in no hurry at all. He held his breath, silently pleading for complete possession, for release, for consummation.
At long last he felt the harder edge of her teeth just grazing the tender skin. They were razor sharp, he knew. Only total control kept her from tearing him to pieces like Stuart and the others, yet he had no fear. He had trusted her from the first moment he saw her. And this... this pleasure was beyond description.
There was the barest whisper of pain as they penetrated his skin. It was meaningless, dazzled as he was by the blinding intensity of it. He fancied he could hear her heart. Or was it his? All he could focus on were the unbearable surges of lightning consuming his very being to the core. Death at that moment had no terror; indeed, it had no meaning at all.
There was a sound from very far away, and he felt her tense ever so slightly, but then she relaxed again. He paid it no mind, lost as he was in Paradise. Part of him begged her to never stop. He sensed her desire to go on as well, but then that iron control he had trusted in surfaced, and he felt her slowly withdraw from him.
It was a terrible pain to lose her, to feel alone inside his own skin once more. How gladly he would have given her his last drop! But she would not take it, and he was too shaken and exhausted to argue.
"My dear, dear friend. You have no idea..." she sighed. Then he saw it had been like that for her too; more than mere sustenance, or even commonplace desire. That knowledge was a balm to his lacerated soul.
"My turn," she murmured against his lips, kissing him once more. "Take and be strong." He didn't know what she meant at first, then the bittersweet taste of her blood filled his mouth. It hit him with hurricane force, blasting away all preconceptions of how much ecstasy a man could stand and live. The tiny drops she had laced his scotch with earlier had not prepared him for this. He was sure he would rise and float away, save for the force of her arms restraining him.
Then that too faded, leaving him twice bereft of her. His head fell onto her breast, her arms cradled him. A soft French lullaby echoed in his ears. A primal part of him saw the analogy, realised the potency of it, acknowledged it, then allowed it to pass. Human milestones could only hint at what he had experienced. He slept.
Doyle half ran back to where he'd left Bodie, scared, upset, confused. He'd only gone to check on the old man, expecting him to already be asleep. Nothing had prepared him for what he'd found instead. His insides quaked.
She had known he was there, of course. One hard look from those red-glazed eyes would have been enough to send him scurrying, had it not been a matter of life and death. He'd made himself stand there, rooted, until he was sure Cowley was in no danger. That his Controller had consented to... that... boggled him, but he did not really doubt it. There was no mistaking the consummate pleasure echoed in his voice, his absorbed face, even his shaking hands. He could have no quarrel with that. How could he, shocking though it was? He only had to make sure she wasn't taking advantage of him.
If she found his protectiveness amusing, she didn't show it. After that initial eye contact, she ignored him completely. Once she pulled away, he found he could breathe again. The sheer eroticism of Cowley's response went straight to his groin, left it aching as if he'd felt her feeding on himself. At last, he'd turned and fled as quietly as he'd come.
He wasn't sure what to tell Bodie as he entered the otherwise empty room where he'd left his partner. Then he realised he had no choice; his shock must still be evident on his face, for Bodie looked up, then sat up from his sleeping bag, concerned.
"What is it, sunshine?"
Doyle collapsed beside him on the floor, trying to find words for what he'd just witnessed. He shook his head twice, as if to clear it, still unsure how to begin. She would hear, of course. She might even tell Cowley. Then again, what difference did it make? She could hear his thoughts as he stood there. She might even hear them from here.
Bodie must have guessed some of his thoughts too, for his expression darkened. "Did you and she have words or something? What is it?"
"Or something. I went to check on Cowley, and found the two of them, well, you know..."
Amazingly, Bodie's face broke into a huge grin. "You don't say. With her? The old devil!" There was more than a hint of admiration in his voice. Then his demeanour sobered. "You didn't say anything? I mean, you didn't embarrass him, did you?"
"Course not. I'm not a complete fool. I just wanted to make sure the Cow was all right, that's all. I mean, it's not like it's just the usual thing, you understand." He shuffled slightly, anticipating the words to come.
"And what were you going to do about it if he wasn't, Ray?" There was such open affection in Bodie's voice, it made him squirm. "Come 'ere. Rest your busy head. You worry too much, you know. Madame wouldn't harm him." Bodie pulled him down beside him onto the sleeping bag. Tired and wrung out, Doyle did not demur. He allowed himself to be cuddled close next to Bodie's solid frame, absorbing his heat and comfort.
Visions of Cowley's arousal flitted through his mind, like a melody refusing to leave one's consciousness. Somehow, it coalesced with Bodie's nearness, his indulgent concern, his strength. Doyle gazed up at him, unsure of what he was asking Bodie for.
Bodie knew. That knowledge was plain to read in his sparkling night blue eyes. He tilted his partner's chin up, smiling. Doyle felt himself go hot and cold, scared, elated, relieved that he didn't have to say it aloud. Bodie ever so lightly touched his lips to Doyle's forehead. A brotherly kiss, full of innocence and affection, it demanded nothing. A friendly peck to tip of his nose followed that. Still Doyle did not move; enchanted by this side of his partner, he only wanted to see where it went from here.
The next kiss caressed his closed mouth. It tempted, teased, offered more, but still refrained from pushing him. Bodie's lips were delicate and light and surprisingly romantic; not at all what he might have expected from such a man.
Quite suddenly Doyle did want more, and was impatient with his own lingering trepidation. He gripped both sides of Bodie's face, unwilling to let him go when the kiss was over. His wide jade eyes pleaded silently again.
His partner stared back, intent and sombre now, but made no move. Ray understood; it was his turn to commit himself. He leaned forward and captured Bodie's lips with his own. This time the tone of the kiss was far from brotherly. The atmosphere was too sensually charged between them to be mistaken.
Bodie settled in closer to him and allowed the kiss to deepen. He let Doyle set the pace, giving his partner the lead. Yet he was astonishingly responsive; each twitch of his mouth followed Doyle exactly, absorbing him. It was all enveloping, like a mist that gave way before you, only to lose you in its softness. Doyle felt himself falling into that mist, further and faster than if Bodie had come on strong to him. The kiss whetted his appetite and took his breath away all at the same time.
His nipples and groin were filling with blood-heated desire as he ground more and more forcefully into his partner's accepting frame. Bodie groaned in his ear, letting him know that his state was shared, as if the hardness between them had not already told him that. Daring, his hands roved down Bodie's face, along his neck, across his shoulders, then rested at the opening to his shirt. They halted there, still unsure of their welcome, until Bodie's fingers joined them and showed them the way past the barriers of his buttons. They followed with all eagerness, revelling in the sweetly smooth skin before them, then sought the tiny nubs that would pleasure his companion.
Bodie's head fell back, luxuriating in the tenderness of the caress. His eyes were slits, blue sapphires in a jewelled setting of ivory velvet and black silk. They enticed Ray to kiss them, to let him know how deeply precious they were. He was enthralled by the light in them as he did so and repeated his gesture more than once. His fingers kept up their small dance of seduction on the broad expanse of chest below them in the meanwhile.
"You like this, mate?" All at once he needed the reassurance of Bodie's voice, not merely his passive acquiescence. It would mortify him if Bodie were merely going along with this to please him. But that was nonsense and he knew it. Still, he needed the words.
"You're killin' me, sunshine," Bodie breathed. "Want to tear into you, I do. Keep it up, and I might."
"Go ahead, then. Show me what you want, Bodie. I need to know. New at this, y'know." Doyle's hands stilled long enough for Bodie to catch up. His shirt was tugged open and then Bodie's powerful hands were on him, pulling him closer, enveloping him in heat.
His partner's mouth trailed down his neck and landed on his chest, pulling at the hair around his sensitised nipples. His breath came out in rasps. "Want you, Ray. Want to hold you and lick you and suck you senseless. Want to make you want me."
"I do want you, mate. Never thought about it like this before, but..."
"Shhhh," his lover soothed. "Don't think about it now either. Time for that later." He further distracted Doyle by kneading his slender jeans-clad thighs, hands slowly settling on his zipper. Ray could not help but sigh aloud in anticipation. This was going to be very, very good, he could tell. His hips wriggled of their own accord, exhorting his tormentor to continue.
"Ah, Bodie, don't tease me now," he begged, voice strained and husky. "I'm burning up."
"Good." The grin his companion gave him was devastating. His hands grasped the button above the zipper and slipped it open, then pulled the zipper down slowly, carefully. Ray realised his care was necessary; his bulging cock had filled his jeans so thoroughly there was scarcely room to pull them down.
There was a moment of total freedom, of fear mingled with the desire, but then Bodie took his cock in a steady grip and all that was left was throbbing need. He bit the back of his hand to keep from crying out at the sweetness of it.
"You like this, mate?" Bodie teased him with the echo of his own words, but his eyes were unaccountably gentle.
"God, Bodie! Please..." He tried to reach for his partner but was pushed back onto the sleeping bag.
"One thing at a time, sunshine. Take it easy, now. You'll get your turn."
"Bodieee!" He couldn't stay still; Bodie's weight settled across his legs, trapping him. "Ohhh!"
"Noisy fucker, aren't you?" His lover quieted him with another luscious kiss that sealed his mouth. Bodie's one hand teased his erect nipple while the other pulled tenderly at his engorged cock. He rested his hands on Bodie's waist, clinging as if to sanity while his hips still jerked helplessly beneath Bodie's weight. Only the threat of suffocation caused his partner to release his mouth, and then only long enough for a deep breath. Doyle felt assaulted, drowning, lost. The myriad of sensations was escalating beyond his endurance.
He came with a deep roar in his ears, then silence, as if he'd gone deaf. Bodie's arms were the only reality left, the only anchor. Now he truly knew the meaning of the phrase, 'blown away'. He was marginally aware of Bodie kissing his eyes and cheeks, then noticed the moisture that his partner was lapping up. But that was all right. Bodie would never tell.
It was heaven with a diabolical twist; it didn't last forever, only seconds.
On the other hand, it could happen over and over again.
His hands drifted lazily from Bodie's waist, down to his fly, and began unfastening the light wool slacks. The fabric was soft and fine, enticing him to outline Bodie's rigid penis with it. It was impressive in its size, Doyle decided in a proprietary sort of way. His mouth sought Bodie's again as his partner's arms came around him. Nothing had seemed this secure, this perfect, in such a terribly long time. Perhaps it had never been so before.
Bodie's grip told him how desperate the other man was for release. There would be time for subtleties at a later date. His hands opened the fly the rest of the way and fondled the wonderfully hard cock thrusting at him. One slithered down and caressed the soft sac of balls, while the other worked at Bodie's head, sliding the foreskin to and fro. His mate growled in his ear, a deeply hungry sound that sent shivers through his body.
Bodie came only a few strokes later; his arms tightened so much that Doyle had to struggle for a moment to breathe. His brow, moist and hot, fell upon Ray's shoulder. Not a sound had escaped him, save one final groan at climax. Doyle could not help but wonder idly what it would take for the big man to totally lose control and howl. He determined at some point that he would have to find out.
For now though, his own arms comforted and held his gasping partner. Even that felt so right between them. Doyle could not remember experiencing such soul-deep contentment as this, seeping through him. Feeling his mate come was as satisfying, in a way, as if he'd done it again himself. Not in a physical sense, he realised, but emotionally, another instance of their hard-won attunement.
Now that they'd gone this far, he knew it had probably been inevitable. He loved William Andrew Philip Bodie. And he had every reason to believe that the feeling was mutual. His earlier hesitation and concerns seemed to have melted like hoarfrost on a June morning. He only wondered how it was that they had waited this long.
No woman had ever touched his innermost being the way Bodie did without trying. It was time to face facts. He loved him completely and there would be no turning back now.
Bodie snoozed lightly in the circle of his arms, a look of thorough satisfaction softening his features. Moments later, an exhausted Doyle did the same.
But Bodie's distant memories crowded into his dreams, waking him, disrupting the peace Doyle had so unexpectedly offered him. He had lain thus with another he had loved, sweet-lipped from the taste of her, inhaling the scent of her long, dark hair. He had also cuddled in her arms, secure and sated. She had whispered words of endearment to him in the night, happy and content. They were lovers once, and would have been again if only she had lived.
How in the name of any god had that sweet memory become entwined with all this horror? It could not be her, he reasoned fiercely. He knew her. It had to be another, and on the morrow he would prove it.
Scant minutes before dawn they saw Madame Genet off, to be escorted to the Tower and guarded by McCabe and Lucas. Cowley waited a hair longer, until the first rays of the sun were indeed visible, then departed with Murphy for the City Morgue. Doyle did not envy his colleague the experience.
Arriving reinforcements were assigned the grisly task of putting the office to rights, sorting out the mess at MI6, and getting those remaining staffers out of Westminster and into safe houses. Willis was to be attended by his own guards, in a safe house of his own choosing. After all, the mole would likely have access to his list of safe houses, and CI5's as well. A random selection was his best bet.
He and Bodie had gone over the cemetery list with Jax and Susan and split it between them. No one even questioned Bodie's right to pick Marikka's grave; Susan and Jax out of courtesy, and Doyle out of a sense of inevitability. All he could do now was pray that it was not her.
He did manage to convince Bodie to leave her for last.
"After all, if they want to set her up, make it look as if it's her, they might empty her grave, expecting us to look there first. We might miss looking for the real one. So, let's check every grave, regardless..."
Bodie did not argue. Logistically, it was impossible on such short notice to have the digging equipment necessary for such a task in ten different locations. Only Betty, acting with Cowley's authority, could have pulled off even an approximation of said feat. She managed to get two heavily equipped engineering units from the Army to stand by and follow the CI5 teams to the gravesites, one after the other. They could all be finished by afternoon, assuming they had to open every single grave.
Doyle had diligently avoided thinking about what they might have to do once they had opened the coffins. In his usual prosaic way, Bodie had not, and schooled Susan and Jax in the proper technique of using stake, mallet, garlic, and hacksaw. They had seen too much the night before to even look askance. But there still were questions.
"Do we just do them all, or is there a way of telling which one it is? This is assuming they're all at home. Obviously, if one's missing..." Susan wondered aloud.
"Then that's the one," Bodie agreed. "Well, the corpses we saw Cowley do hadn't decayed even a bit. If they're completely rotted, there's no point to it. I guess we ought to do anyone that isn't greatly decomposed. Besides, being exposed to the sunlight ought to flush out the real one too."
Jax sighed. "I don't think my mum would approve of all this. Well, here goes. Keep in touch on the R/T. I don't want to dig up anyone I don't have to."
"Neither do we," Doyle added. Although, I did set us up to look at every single one, because I'm so afraid it's her and he won't cope well. What a pillock I am. It's me that won't cope well.
They split up and went to meet their respective Army units.
Six tedious and stomach turning hours later, both teams were on their last gravesites. The previous eight had turned up nothing but the very mortal remains of years-old human flesh. The Army units had learned quickly to keep well back once their initial excavation work was accomplished. Doyle's only relief was that none of the corpses' conditions had warranted any sort of desecration. They had reburied them as they went along.
He was torn between the certainty it was Marikka, and the fear that if it wasn't, they had absolutely no clue where to look next. He stalled a bit, wanting Jax and Susan to have ruled out the very last other possibility before proceeding. Bodie probably knew what he was up to, but didn't object. After all, Doyle sensed, how eager could he be to view the contents of her coffin, no matter what was there or not there? He had been her lover.
Jax radioed their last failure. Now, there was no escape.
Marikka's grave lay before them.
Her headstone (that Bodie must have bought?) was a model of serene beauty and taste. Doyle swallowed, touched by the unexpected depths his partner sought so often to hide, even from him. Love spoke in every graceful line.
Did she know that? Had she looked upon it with tenderness upon arising?
He forced himself back to the business at hand and gave the signal for the soldiers to proceed. Then he stepped back, as close to his silent partner as he publicly dared. Bodie's face displayed nothing.
It was no surprise that this final disinterrment took longer than all the others combined, or so it felt to him, waiting. He fidgeted, awed by Bodie's rigid military stance even at this most painful of moments. The man was unconquerable. His heart swelled with a myriad of turbulent emotions, love and admiration predominating, closely followed by compassion and shared suffering.
The coffin was laid bare. They scooped the dirt away at an angle, affording easy access to it, having worked this out throughout the day.
Bodie half faced him, features sheltered from the others. For a half second, his mouth melted into the most tender of smiles, that seemed to communicate all the love, trust and support Doyle had longed to show him openly. Then it vanished just as quickly as Bodie turned and strode forward purposefully to the sloping edge of the open pit.
Doyle watched helplessly, knowing full well that Bodie would never allow anyone this task but himself. His heart ached, but with pride.
Then suddenly he was no longer alone. Cowley stood beside him, grim, yet not remote. His pale blue eyes scanned the scene with precision, but when they rested on Bodie, it was clear what he too felt. Nothing needed to be said, at least not yet.
Bodie balanced himself along the edge, then started on the casket with the tools he'd been handling all day. Practised, it was but the work of minutes to release the screws that held the cover in place. Once unlocked, he opened it without pausing, then sank back onto the disturbed ground. His tools fell by his side. Even the Army crew drew nearer, sensing something different.
This coffin was empty.
For all that he had been expecting it, Doyle was speechless. It was one thing to suspect something; another to see it displayed openly for all to see. Then he came to himself and focused on his still sitting partner. Bodie was a picture of calm, but his face had gone a ghastly white. None of the more grisly sights they had seen this day had so altered his colour. Cowley also moved to his side.
"Come along, man. Work to do," the Controller urged with a mock severity that impressed neither of them. "We have to render this hideaway useless to her. She might return to it for shelter at some point."
Bodie slowly unwound his crossed legs and stood up, not responding. Nor did he reply when Cowley pressed a garlic wreath in his hands. He might have wondered why this task had fallen to him as well, but either he knew the answer or it was not important to him.
He tossed the garlic wreath into the open coffin, followed by an open flask of holy water, and the crumpled remnants of a communion wafer. Only then did his frozen features manage to thaw briefly. "What if she's a devout communist vampire, sir? Perhaps we should burn Chairman Mao's Little Red Book and place the ashes inside, just to be sure."
Cowley tried his hardest to scowl, but his relief was visible, at least to Doyle. This was their Bodie; he suspected his own reaction was likewise palpable.
Their work accomplished, they moved away from the grave and strode back to Cowley's car. "Now for the hard part," he muttered. "Marikka was born in East Germany; her husband was a double agent that Willis arranged to have placed in a position of high authority. We must assume that upon arising, she went to the East German Embassy and blew his cover as revenge for his sacrificing her to the cause. For what it's worth, we should try to warn him, I suppose."
"She started at least two weeks ago. I imagine it's a little too late," Bodie commented, unconcerned. He had no reason to care if Schuman survived or not; that set-up had nearly got him killed, along with Marikka. "More to the point, sir, what's our next move? Head on over to the Embassy and threaten them with Madame Genet?"
"All in good time, Bodie."
Murphy and Charlie awaited them at the car; Cowley motioned them to get in with him and Murphy, leaving Charlie to drive their own vehicle back. The tall Irishman took the wheel.
Cowley picked up the R/T and placed a call to the Minister, summarising their discoveries to date. They had little time to waste; it was already afternoon and the sun was sinking early in the October sky. He wanted an interview with the East German Ambassador, if nothing else. Whether he would get it on such short notice was another matter. He motioned Murphy forward.
"If nothing else we can reconnoitre around the building complex. Nothing illegal about that," he explained.
"Nothing particularly safe about it either," Doyle pointed out. "We already know she's not impressed by guns or numbers. If she is staying there, we don't want to be sitting around at sundown. I doubt if she cares all that much what the East Germans think about murder on their doorstep. She's using them for revenge as much as they think they are using her."
Cowley agreed reluctantly, but insisted upon driving past the Embassy on their way to the Tower. It was nearly time to confer with Madame Genet anyway. Jax and Susan were scheduled to meet them there.
"What about HQ?" Bodie asked. "We can't afford a repeat of last night."
"Of course not," the Controller snapped. "What kind of fool do you take me for? The building will be evacuated long before sunset. Everyone connected with CI5, from the janitors to the housekeepers, are going into safe houses tonight, as are as many people from MI6 as possible. Did you think I've been doing nothing all day?" The weight of last night's massacre would not fade easily from their leader's shoulders.
Doyle recognised that, but felt the need to persist anyway. "What about the mole? He'll pass on the location of the safe houses, surely. He must at least know the MI6 ones, and probably ours as well."
"I'm counting on it," Cowley responded grimly.
Triple think. Doyle considered the possibilities. "You've passed out phoney locations for the top brass. If she bites, we'll have the identity of the mole at least, and no harm to anyone."
Cowley nodded. "It took a bit of doing to shuffle that many people around, but it's done now. If Betty ever leaves us, we'll all die."
"Marikka will be furious," Bodie observed. "Wouldn't want to be in the area when she discovers she's been lied to. Hope no one else is at those addresses."
"Vacant flats in isolated parts of town," Cowley answered absently. "We've set up remote camera equipment at all of them; not an easy task, I assure you. We'll be able to track her moves from a safe distance. With luck, Madame will be able to reach her in time to confront her, though it is by no means certain."
Murphy raced the car along at breakneck speed, winding through the City traffic. "We've set up an imaginary hideout for Willis, first and foremost, then leaked a backup location, so the mole won't be too suspicious. He'll relay both, of course, but we hope she'll go for the second address."
"And if she doesn't?" Bodie pondered aloud. "She may not be as suicidal as we think. What if she goes after an entirely different target?"
Cowley and Doyle both stared at him. Finally, Cowley broke the silence. "That's why you're staying within earshot of Madame at all times tonight."
McCabe and Lucas were just finishing the remnants of their dinner when the rest of the team arrived. Jax inspected the empty plates with a hopeless air; Susan groaned and fell off her feet onto a chair. Expecting nothing better, Murphy ignored it all, and stared out the window at the setting sun.
Bodie was not so inclined to be philosophical. There was food involved. "Anything left at all?"
As if by magical response to his desire, an attendant arrived with another cart laden with tantalising aromas. Cowley smiled. "Bless that girl. She thinks of everything."
"Who, Betty? Not this time, sir," Lucas replied. "Madame Genet made arrangements herself this morning. Said she's tired of us all getting anaemic; won't do at all."
Doyle snorted, trying hard not to look at Cowley, then sat next to his mates, readying himself to dig in as well. "Well, it's not sleep, but it'll have to do. What is it, anyway?"
"Liver and onions. Takes our blood counts seriously, she does." McCabe chimed in. "Hope this isn't a warning or anything. When does she, er... ah..."
"Later tonight, if we are fortunate," Madame spoke from the doorway. "If our snare is unusually effective. If not, well..." She came around to stand behind Bodie's chair teasingly. "It's either him or Murphy. The rest of you are mere skin and bones." She eyed Doyle with a particularly malicious glint. "And a lucky thing, too, else I'd have made mincemeat of you last night, little one."
As always, Bodie was supremely at ease with her joking, leaning back into her arms familiarly. Flushed, Doyle could only marvel at his unusual level of trust. Cowley guffawed loudly; the other agents laughed along, but with a quizzical look. No one chose to enlighten the rest of them.
"All is in place?" she inquired, more briskly. "I want to know the minute she is sighted."
"Wouldn't it be helpful for us to be closer to the most likely spot?" Susan asked gamely, "or is there a reason we aren't doing that?"
"There is," the lady approved. "She will sense me if I am too close, and bolt the scene before we can trap her. And, of course, it is not safe for the rest of you to be any closer, either. Our objective tonight is merely to deprive her of her mole and confront the East Germans after she is photographed. They will give her up with the proper persuasion, I am sure. Then we can tighten the noose about her by day, when she is far less of a danger. It is the most expedient solution. If we are fortunate enough to come upon her, so much the better, but don't count on it."
Cowley nodded. "Lucas and McCabe will be manning the remote camera equipment next door, since they were able to take turns sleeping a good part of the day. The rest of you are official guests of the Tower tonight. The Constable has made arrangements for some cots downstairs. I suggest you take advantage of this break and try to rest. Our work, if it happens tonight at all, may occur at any time now. Bodie and Doyle, you stay here."
Even though Cowley was in the next room, asleep, and McCabe and Lucas down the hall, the silent room seemed eerie in its isolation. Doyle knew Madame Genet was very close, keeping an eye on Bodie, but he could not rightly sense her presence. Too tired to worry for long, he settled in next to his exhausted partner, fully dressed, and cuddled. They might have to get up at any time.
"Wish I had the energy to treat you right, sunshine," Bodie whispered in his ear. "Want to..." he broke off with a thunderous yawn. "Seems like such a waste to just sleep. It's barely six-thirty."
"Not now," Doyle whispered back. "Just kiss me and let me hold you. I was so proud of you today, mate," he got out in a rush.
Bodie smiled into the tangled auburn curls he nuzzled, then turned Ray's head for a proper kiss. It was sweet, unhurried, tempered by fatigue. When Bodie lifted his head, his eyes were shining, though half closed. "Proud? What for? Didn't do anything but dig."
Ray snuggled into the crook of Bodie's neck above his collar, pulling him even closer. "You know," he answered with a yawn of his own. "Glad you're on my side, sunshine. You're unconquerable."
Bodie inhaled his partner's scent, profoundly content despite the weary, painful day. His Ray was proud of him, was he? Good enough.
He'd loved Marikka dearly a long time ago, but she had not returned his love to the same degree. He could see that clearly now. Ray would never have sent him away, would not have married someone for their wealth, no matter how difficult his life, would never have cheated on someone if he did marry. Marikka was a manipulator, and it was a supreme irony that she had been an amateur in the midst of professionals. He was sorry for her, sorry for her untimely and unnecessary death, and he had not forgiven Willis for it. All the same, the creature he hunted now could lay no claim upon him or his affections. The man at his side held those.
The residual emotion nestled in his heart for her had begun to fade with the sight of the carnage at CI5. He had dearly hoped it was not she, so as not to lose the sweetness of her memory, but that had been finally dashed this afternoon. He winced, then pulled Ray a little closer for comfort. If she had ever truly loved him, she would not have slaughtered his mates. So be it.
All the same, he half prayed to an unknown god that it would not be his hand that laid her low forever.
Midnight's darkness chilled the air around the great old bed. Doyle sniffled, not knowing why he had awakened. He was quite comfortable right where he was, absorbing Bodie's heat beside him. His eyes closed.
Then they opened again. He looked about, uneasy. Was something here? No. Then what?
He sat up, acutely aware of his darkened surroundings. Nothing stirred. Bodie's breathing was a gentle rumble beside him. His hand went to his gun reflexively as his hair rose. Part of him silently called out, wondering where Madame was.
Once the connection was consciously made he understood the cause of his discomfort. It was her, calling to him. Why?
He got up, his disquiet no less for realising it was her now. He had not Bodie's or Cowley's faith in her. Still, he got up. She must have some reason for not wanting to disturb Bodie. It was the only thing that made any sense. He padded over to the closed door in his stocking feet. It opened by itself silently, chilling him even more than the night air.
Cowley's bed was rumpled but he was nowhere to be seen. The old Victorian desk had but one lamp burning on it. Beyond it, shadows hinted at the other room they had all avoided.
That door too was open.
He was shaking, as much from nerves as cold, but his feet carried him forward. It occurred to him to see if he could consciously stop them. He faltered for a moment, feeling her pull more forcefully, then found them shuffling towards her again anyway. The implications of that frightened him enough to make him turn, trying to call Bodie.
Then she was at his side, with a blanket that she draped over his shoulders. "Shh, don't be alarmed. It's just that we need to talk. Alone." Her hands were gentle, but he was not fooled. He could not fight her and win. He shuddered again.
She led him through the second doorway, into deeper darkness. The barest minimum of reflected light entered this chamber; no windows broke the stony surfaces. Its only furnishing, if it could be called such, was a huge stone sarcophagus, its ornate cover carved with her body and features, adorned in the robes and crowns of a long dead century. His throat moved, but no sound emerged.
"Hush, child. It will be all right. Really. I have no need to lie to you, you know." Her hands reached up and shaped his face, forcing him to make eye contact with her. Those deep brown eyes of hers were sincere, concerned, perhaps a bit impatient, but not dangerous. He finally believed her.
At last he found his voice. "Why?"
"Bodie. He will not be safe as long as she is out there. But she is no fool. She knows we will watch over him carefully for that very reason. If we did not, she would sense a trap. Knowing this, who do you suppose her next target might be?"
He stared into her beautiful almond eyes, finally understanding. "Me. If she wants to make Bodie come to her, she will take me to force his hand. She knows how we feel about each other. Hell, I told her myself when I interrogated her."
Her hands slipped from his cheeks to his shoulders. "Exactly so. She will seek to abduct you while we are protecting others. But she would not dare harm you; she needs you alive to bring Bodie to her."
"And you need me to be taken so you can find her by day." This he could appreciate. It only made sense. "You need to be able to track me, once she has me. A homing device or a wire, or..."
"She would probably look for that. If not she, then the East Germans might."
His jade eyes darkened in distress. "So you have another way."
"Don't look so wary. Have I given you cause to fear me so? Yes, that is the way of it." She smiled sadly. "Do you think I have so little pride that I enjoy forcing myself upon the unwilling? This is, as they say, for your own good. You have done far more difficult things in the past for your partner's safety and your own."
"You want my consent." Some deep part of him thawed.
She nodded. "It will work far better if you are with me, not against me. Yours is the sort of mind that already carries an attunement to mine. Once we have exchanged blood, I will be able to hear you, to see you, to find you anywhere."
He swallowed as she drew nearer. "Will this change me?"
Her hands pressed on his shoulders, pushing him to his knees on the stone floor before her. "Every experience changes us, Raymond." She laughed deep in her throat at his startled reaction. "You know, that was my uncle's name. A common one in our family, and a lovely one. It was when I visited his court in Jerusalem that I first started on the road to being changed into what I am now. I will not make that choice for you. Only you can determine how much this experience will change you, what it might leave you hungering for. But no, you will not be made into what I am as a result of this alone." She leaned over him and brushed her lips against his.
"Give yourself to me freely, Raymond. Let yourself flow into me, and I into you. For Bodie, my young friend."
For Bodie. He closed his eyes, feeling some moisture well up behind his lids. Yes, he could do damned near anything for Bodie. Even this.
He'd expected her to move his half-open shirt, to find his throat, but she kissed him instead, a deeply powerful kiss that left him bereft of speech. He trembled against her, dizzy.
"There must be no mark that anyone can see. Let me enter."
He obediently opened his mouth once more, allowing her whatever she willed. Their mouths and tongues met as if drawn together by magnets. He could not comprehend what was happening. Whatever it was, it had nothing to do with desire or pleasure, at least for him. Yet it was something akin to love.
It was her raw, burning instinct for survival that scorched his mouth, pierced his tongue, took his blood. No thought distracted him from the fury of it, only the image of a hapless gazelle being ripped to pieces by a lioness intruded upon his consciousness. As inevitable as that...
Then she withdrew. He felt her lips gently upon his cheeks, kissing his tears away, holding him close, seeking to comfort him.
"Hush, Raymond. Just a bit longer. Here now..." Her tongue entered his mouth once more, but this time it was to give, not take. The dark power of her blood exploded within him, smashing Ray Doyle into a million pieces. He gasped in reflexive horror, then in wonder at it all. The familiar world he'd always thought he understood shifted on its axis.
He could no longer deny that he knew who she was, or how he knew it.
Eleanor of Aquitaine. Mother. And Bodie...my brother.
His head sank upon her breast as her cold hand cradled the back of his neck. She knew him too. She had to. Perhaps she had all along.
"Yes, my dear. I knew. I knew from the moment I saw both of you. How glad I am that you love each other so well. And my lord too. All is well, child. All is well. Did I ever fail to protect you all?"
Bodie shifted uneasily in the bed. A slow awareness built that he was by himself when he should not be, not any more. One eye opened, in faint concern. Where was his golly? He lifted up on one elbow to scan the room.
"There you are. Had me wondering for a minute. What are doing, standing by the window?"
Ray turned to him, pale in the reflected light of the midnight moon.
His former anxiety returned full force. Were those silver streaks tears on his lover's face? "Come 'ere, sunshine. You look awfully cold out there."
Obediently, Doyle returned to the bed and allowed himself to be caught up in a tight embrace.
"Christ, you're freezing, mate!" Bodie wasted no time in pulling Doyle underneath him and dragging the duvet over them both. "What the hell were you doing?" He peered into his lover's eyes, now truly worried. "Are you sick or something?"
Doyle shook his head and responded with an embarrassed grimace. "Stupid damned thing, Bodie. Just a bad dream; I didn't want to wake you. Sorry. Must have been all that bloody grave robbing today."
Bodie appeared to swallow it. He snuggled his friend closer, massaging his bony back with gentle strokes "Can't say as I blame you, sunshine. Things have been far from ordinary, even for us. Wasn't a pretty sight in the lot of them. Let's get you thawed out here." His mouth nuzzled the side of Doyle's neck, then nipped, then kissed it.
Ray shifted and met him head on, blazing with sudden need. It was as if he wanted to envelop him, inhale him, absorb every particle that called itself Bodie into himself, and not let go of any of it. He did his best, kissing him until Bodie pulled back panting, in surprise.
"Wow." He gingerly touched his lips as if to make sure they were still there. "Cold hands, warm heart, eh? You're somethin' else, sunshine."
"Then get back here and shut up," Ray demanded. "Stop wasting time. Never know when the alarms will go off." He pulled the back of Bodie's head towards him, snaked his legs around his waist, and gripped one ass cheek with force through his trousers. "Come on, Bodie. I want you."
"Gathered that." His partner slid one hand between them and opened Doyle's jeans. He grasped Doyle's turgid erection through his cotton briefs. "Question is, how do you want me? Want this, or..."
"I want to fuck you." Doyle looked nearly as surprised as Bodie by his words. "How about it?" His eyes met Bodie's with as much entreaty as arrogance.
"All Hearts and Flowers, aren't you? Your seduction technique could stand a little polishing, y'know." Bodie informed him severely. "'How about it?' my arse! You could at least tell me you can't live without me." He did not look away, though.
Doyle rolled them both over until he was on top, straddling his lover. His lips caressed and fingers busily opened clothes, letting them do his talking for him until Bodie sighed, too charged by the ministrations of a passionately aroused Doyle to resist.
"Okay?" Doyle finally whispered. "Need you, mate. Oh, God..."
"Get on with it then," Bodie rasped harshly. "You know I'd give you anything I had, you stupid crud."
Ray was too wired up to smile, though he moved his muscles in the attempt. And Bodie loved him for it. Fuck. Bodie adored him. Perhaps Ray knew it, knew he was pushing it, taking advantage of his partner's feelings, but was powerless to stop himself. Still, he did see to his partner, to ready him with snaking tongue and slender probing fingers until Bodie squirmed, breathless. Then he prepared his lover very carefully with his massage oil.
No one had ever touched Bodie in that place before; none of his women had expressed any inclination to do so, nor had he ever thought to ask. He was mildly shocked by the depth of pleasure his rear was capable of. From trepidation he passed into eagerness. Part of him wondered briefly where Doyle had acquired such skills, but he saw no reason to pursue it. Made no difference now.
All that mattered was that he continue their sensual exploration; this dark continent of desire beckoned to him with greater and greater lightning bursts of bliss. He squirmed, clenching and unclenching his muscular buttocks in response to the tender invasion. Small animal groans filled his throat, unheeded. His hands twisted in the sheets, wishing they were on Doyle's sweet flesh.
Then Ray entered him from behind. It was moist and slow, but still painful at first. He gritted his teeth, working to get past the stretching, burning, ripping sensations. Ray stopped moving above him, murmuring words of comfort in his ear. He couldn't comprehend what they were, but their tone was precious to him, and gradually calmed his alarm.
How Doyle waited, he didn't understand, but he did, until Bodie was ready for him to carry on. He signalled his willingness with a jutting shove back against his partner's balls, then felt Ray take over again.
Doyle rode him with long, deep strokes that never hurried, never forgot who he was or what they were doing. He fell into the rhythm quite naturally, letting it carry him closer and closer to their mutual goal. Pleasure kept building tenderly within him, until he grew impatient and attempted to hasten the pace with his own efforts.
"No, luv, let me," his golly whispered. Doyle held his hips immobile by force and weight, still sliding slowly to and fro. "Don't rush it now. We're almost there."
Frustration burned in his blood. He tried to reach his own trapped penis with one hand, but was unable to work it underneath himself. Only then did Doyle take mercy on him and start to add a snap to his rhythm. The peak of the thrust was too exquisite to bear. It forced little cries and sobs from him.
"Jesus, Ray! Please!" His prostate was on fire, his cock quivering. Blasts of energy seared the nerves from his groin to his head. He thrust into the mattress below him. Ray eased back enough to reach his penis, fondle it, and smear fluid on the head of it. He nearly screamed with the joy of it all.
Then he was there, pushed over the edge in a totally new way. The man above him had tensed, surged and erupted just as he had come, he vaguely realised. Falling, gasping in profound relief, feeling Ray go with him was like nothing he had ever imagined.
Doyle fell on top of him, panting and sweating, then slipped out and slid beside him. He half turned and took the lad up in his arms, too knocked out to speak. His eyes said it all, he suspected. He knew a few tears were leaking from the corners of his eyes, but didn't care. Doyle was openly shedding a few himself. Bodie kissed them away, only to have his licked off in turn. They stared at each other, still silent, until Bodie pulled his partner close and nuzzled and kissed his forehead, his eyes, his nose, his flawed cheekbone. There was no part of Doyle he didn't adore, he suddenly knew. And, gods willing, he'd have time to show him that.
His companion melted in his arms, at peace from the looks of him. They rearranged their garments a bit, in case they were called. Bodie let his own eyes drift shut again after that.
Cowley stared pensively at his sleeping men, then determined the best way to wake them was from outside the doorway. He'd sat up with McCabe and Lucas in the monitoring room most of the night, no longer wondering why he became so alert after midnight. His rest in the early evening was more than enough now. She had said that might happen.
They could have passed for two young lads in their innocent posture, but Cowley was not fooled. He had a fairly good idea what had transpired in the wee hours after midnight. So be it. They would be as one from now on, but Madame was right there too. It was as useful as it was dangerous.
It would be his responsibility to see to it that they were used in the right way. His to keep them safe. Stuart's ghost did not so much haunt him as cajole him to do his utmost. This he would have done anyway, for he loved Bodie with all his heart. He'd come to realise just how deep his affections ran when he found himself standing next to Doyle, tensely watching Bodie open Marikka's coffin.
He'd wished to comfort the tightly coiled man who suffered beside him, as well. Odd, for as much as he admired and relied on Doyle, he had never thought himself especially fond of him. There was too much contention between them. Belatedly, he saw that it made no difference. His feelings for the difficult ex-copper were more complex than for Bodie, but no less powerful. They were both his sons in a way.
And now they were lovers. The cynical side of him was pleased that it afforded Bodie an additional layer of protection against Marikka. He knew his man well enough to know that Doyle was paramount in his affections now. Indeed, perhaps he had always been.
Sorrow grazed his heart briefly. How might his own life have gone, had he found such a great friendship to rely upon? He had loved Annie once, but that had not been reciprocated. He was alone, as he had been for such a long, long time.
Suddenly, he was not alone. She called, her presence so powerful, he turned, expecting to see her standing there. Instead, he heeded her summons, moving back into his own room.
She stood at the entrance to her dark chamber as the sky lightened slightly. "Sir George. My dear friend." She said nothing else, but it was enough. He went to her willingly, unconcerned.
"I love you, my lady." His words echoed against the cold stones. Nothing had ever sounded so right.
Her arms embraced him, lending strength and sweetness, if not warmth. "And I love you, my good lord." As I have for all these eight centuries.
He started at the words that entered his mind unbidden.
What does it matter, now, beloved? We are together.
His mind swirled as his mouth opened to speak. She silenced both with a kiss, then spoke aloud. "It is time, my lord. I think she will be moving soon."
They'd been wakened abruptly, and found themselves in a dark-windowed car within a matter of minutes. Madame sat next to Bodie in front while Cowley checked with McCabe on the telephone. There had been no movement seen yet at the safe house.
"What time is it?" Doyle yawned.
"Nearly four thirty. About an hour 'til dawn. Suppose we ought to thank her for letting us sleep most of the night. I needed it."
"Then why are you two so bleary-eyed?" Madame inquired with mock severity. "Perhaps this will help." She pulled a thermos from under her seat and handed it to Bodie. The coffee's deep aroma was wonderful. Bodie smiled his thanks and passed the cup behind him to Doyle. Just then, Cowley's phone rang again.
"Alpha One here. Do you have visual on the suspect? Very good, man." He raised his voice as he replaced the receiver. "She's been spotted approaching the first safe house. Let's go!"
By prior arrangement, Bodie drove the vehicle towards the second safe house. With luck they might be able to get close enough for Madame to have a shot at catching her before she turned and ran. Unless she was sufficiently paranoid to have already bolted. It was a gamble, but it was better than doing nothing.
He approached with all due haste. The second safe house was located in Bermondsey, just across the Tower Bridge, in a nondescript area still largely empty since the war. Given the location of the first safe house, near the new Covent Garden Market, they knew she would be approaching, if at all, from the west. She would feel rushed, as the sky imperceptibly began to lighten. All they had to do now was stay just out of her sensory range, and wait for McCabe or Lucas to call them. He pulled onto a quiet street nearly a half mile away and parked.
Madame sniffed the night air like a great hunting dog, then opened the car door. "If this fails, she will head back to the Embassy straightaway. You have surveillance set up there as well?"
"Across the street since this afternoon, but they didn't see her leaving tonight. She must have a hidden way in and out," the Controller replied. He handed her an R/T and a homing bug. "As you chase her, we'll follow. Should it get too close to dawn, take cover and call us with your location. We'll pick you up and get you home as fast as we can."
She looked at the devices with some amusement. "I have summoned you more directly than this, but never by day. It is a wise precaution," she admitted.
The phone rang and came to life in Cowley's hand. "Alpha One. Proceed." Then. "She's already left New Covent Garden, bearing east, towards us."
The lady stood, then turned and leaned into the car window. "Always stay east of me. At no time must you allow yourselves to get between us. That could be fatal." She straightened again, head high, waiting.
The minutes crawled.
"Any chance any of you were followed today?" she wondered aloud.
Cowley shrugged in the back seat. "We thought not, but it is always a possibility."
Madame turned to them again. "Tell our people at the Tower to take cover inside the chapel at once. Something is wrong. She should have been here by now."
Cowley relayed the message to Lucas and McCabe. "Now we won't know of her approach," he murmured.
"I'll feel her, if she comes."
The phone rang again. "A woman has been spotted on the Tower grounds," Cowley growled.
With that, the lady vanished.
He'd thought he understood her, but in that instant, Bodie realised he understood nothing. Her powers were truly incomprehensible from a human perspective. He'd barely restarted the engine and turned it towards the Tower Bridge, when Cowley suddenly rapped him on the shoulder.
"Head the other way down Tower Bridge Road towards St. Mary Magdalen. Hurry, man. This could be a set up, damn it."
He gunned the powerful car and squealed the tyres forward at top speed, shifting furiously. Cowley handed he and Doyle a flask of holy water. Still shifting, he pulled out the ebony dagger and handed it to Doyle.
He felt rather than saw Marikka out of the corner of his eye. She was fast approaching from his right, across an open field. Cowley was taping crosses on the windows, urging Doyle to help him. He rammed his foot on the accelerator, heedless of passing traffic.
It was her all right. It was the only thought he had when her beautiful face appeared at his window, the only one untaped. Her hand shot through the glass, shattering it all over him, and grasped his neck, pulling herself towards him.
Without thought, without emotion, he dashed the flask of sacred water in her face.
The scream that followed deafened him, but she did not let go. Her nails dug into his neck. Then he felt Doyle behind him with the knife, jabbing it into her arm. Cowley also splashed her with water. She screamed again.
The church was dead ahead. He simply aimed the car at it, not bothering to slow down.
She let go.
Now he hit the brakes, still acting reflexively, and turned the wheel enough to avoid actually hitting the building. They crashed through the wrought iron gate and landed within a few feet of the church door. He looked behind them.
She stood, snarling at the edge of the gate, stymied by the wrought iron crosses it was made of.
Doyle did not hesitate. He opened his door, aimed the knife and threw it at her. She moved in time for it to miss, but her face contorted with such rage that for the first time, Bodie could not distance himself from his fear.
It gave them enough time to get to the church door before she found a breach in the row of crosses confronting her.
Cowley shot the lock off the door and all three men rammed it in with their shoulders, then tumbled inside, gasping. She had just reached Doyle and nearly got him by the arm when Bodie overturned the baptismal font in the vestibule. The water splashed towards her, making her relinquish her prey.
Cowley pulled Doyle the rest of the way to safety.
She growled one last time from outside the door, eyes glazed over, teeth and claws exposed. Then she was gone.
From the east, the sky began to lighten.
They collapsed onto the nearest pews, hearts still pounding. Doyle examined the deep cuts still spurting blood down Bodie's neck and pressed a handkerchief against it. "We've got to get him to hospital," he rasped, barely able to speak.
"This'll work faster." Cowley took another flask of water from his pocket and soaked the handkerchief Doyle held.
Doyle would have jumped back, but Cowley held his hand in place. "Only for another minute, laddie," he whispered regretfully. "Then it'll stop."
Bodie collapsed in Doyle's arms, shaking until the handkerchief was removed. No blood remained, but an ugly burn mark was visible. Doyle held him close, his lips against his partner's temple.
"I wonder what the devil is going on at the Tower," their leader groused. "Hand me your R/T, 4.5."
Ray did so, silently thanking the old man for his acumen. Had he been off by another minute, they would have all been dead meat. Yet he expected no applause; it was simply time to move onto the next task.
The Tower was likewise in an uproar, as it turned out. They had been indeed under attack by a vampire, and all present might have come to misfortune, had it not been for Madame Genet's warning. By the time the creature arrived, they had all taken refuge in the various chapels on the grounds.
Then Madame came to finish the fight.
It had not been a remotely equal battle. The little punk rocker girl Marikka had sent as a decoy had been undead for no more than two days. She was barely sixteen years old.
"Marikka had promised her all manner of lovely things; power, immortality, eternal youth... The little twit fell for it completely and thought nothing of what she was about to do. She had no idea that she was just being used to throw us off. She thought this was some sort of initiation challenge. Poor fool." Madame paced inside her darkened room, with just the door ajar, while the others sat in their makeshift HQ. "Marikka failed, but only just, no thanks to me. You might have all been killed. I should have been more careful."
"So should we have," Doyle murmured "This wouldn't have happened if she hadn't discovered the location of your lair." He turned to his superior. "How did you know Marikka was after us, sir? I had no idea."
"Neither did I," the Controller confessed. "I just had a very nasty feeling about the way things were transpiring and thought we'd better move in a hurry. Whether it was Marikka, or a couple of East German assassins, I didn't know. Didn't really matter."
"It matters to me," Madame Genet exclaimed. "I ought never to have left you there exposed. It was the most unpardonable stupidity. I'm surprised you don't send me packing back to France, my lord."
"Enough!" Cowley roared in such a manner that it was obviously good-natured. "Post-mortems are useless. We're all here, all alive, and Susan and Jax are off to pick up our prime suspects for treason. With her source of information gone, Marikka will have a much harder time of it. This was her big shot at us, before we close in on her. She missed, no matter by how much. She missed. Now comes our shot. And we'll not miss."
There was the sad matter of dealing with the dead girl and her estranged family. She had been a runaway, living off the streets, whoring and dealing drugs to support her heroin habit. Cowley had planned on coming with them to deal with it all, but Bodie demurred.
"No need for all of us to take care of this, sir. Doyle and I can handle it. Leaves you free to deal with those suspects."
It was perfectly dreadful. The girl's parents sobbed, raged, then fell into hysterics. Bodie was surprisingly effective at dealing with such raw emotion, maintaining his poise while offering genuine sympathy. Doyle was impressed. He'd had to do it often enough, with the Met, but when had Bodie acquired such experience? Africa? He resolved, not for the first time, to pin his elusive partner down one day.
The trip to the morgue had been nearly an anticlimax after such emotional turmoil. He waited in silence as Bodie completed the steps necessary to release whatever remained trapped within her mortal flesh. Since it was to be a closed casket funeral, the family was not even informed. Afterwards, the body would be quietly removed and cremated. They need never know about it. Cowley had seen to that.
Back in the car, Doyle tossed his head against the headrest and closed his eyes. He wanted nothing more at that moment than for it all to be over. Now that Marikka had lost whatever inhibitions she'd started off with, there would be no safety for anyone in London.
Bodie drove away, and for several minutes there was only silence. Then he pulled off into a side street and stopped the engine. Doyle opened one eye in curiosity, then smiled. His partner was coming to him with arms that offered comfort and at least momentary peace. They wrapped around his torso as he bent his head into the crook of Bodie's bandaged neck. His own arms enveloped the larger man, pulling him closer. Bodie buried his face in Doyle's hair and nuzzled it. Still, nothing was said. Nothing needed to be.
They remained thus for nearly five minutes, savouring each other's nearness, warmth, and understanding. It was not sexual at all, but it had not been possible prior to their having sex. Doyle pondered the foolishness of it; now that they were lovers they could allow each other what they had probably needed so desperately in the past, and had been forced to receive from strangers.
"You smell good," Bodie finally whispered. "Herbal shampoo?"
"Yeah." He raised his head to gaze at his lover. "I love you, Bodie. Kiss me?"
"Here?" Bodie looked around, then decided. He lowered his face until they touched ever so lightly, cheek to cheek, then bestowed a gentle kiss full of sweetness. It deepened slowly, laying bare all the aching places in his soul, until Doyle felt near to tears from it. No woman had ever done that to him. He melted completely, letting Bodie support him.
"We've got to go," he whispered regretfully, as Bodie pulled back a little.
"I know." Bodie's dark blue eyes were on the verge of revealing more. His own met them without hesitation and waited. Whatever Bodie wanted...
"What happened last night?" There was no challenge in Bodie's tone, merely matter-of-fact inquiry. "You know what I mean. Before we made love."
This was the last thing he'd expected. Why he was so surprised, he didn't know. After all, who knew better than he did just how clever Bodie was? So, he hadn't been taken in after all. Doyle sighed, but didn't look away. "It's a bit difficult to talk about," he apologised.
"Gathered that, or you'd have told me last night when I asked. Has to do with either Madame or Cowley or both. Probably both. C'mon, mate. Unless Cowley swore you to secrecy..."
"He didn't. He hasn't even indicated he knows, though I'm sure he does."
"Knows what?" Bodie was all hunter now.
"Madame, well... She..." He averted his gaze.
Hands turned him to face his inquisitor dead on. All trace of patience was gone now. "Did she force you? Where's her marks? I looked, but I didn't see any."
Doyle gulped and chose to answer the first question. "No, not really. I can't say I was crazy about the idea, but I understood why..."
"Why?" Bodie's breathing was harsh.
"She's afraid I might need protecting. Or finding, if it comes to that." He waited for Bodie to pounce all over that with a sense of inevitability.
He didn't right away. For long moments he said nothing at all. His hands gripped the steering wheel as he stared straight ahead.
"Bodie?" This silence frightened Doyle more than his partner's temper. "It's all right, you know. She didn't harm me. It's just a precaution."
At last the big man next to him stirred. "A precaution she didn't feel the need to take with me, though I'd seem to be the likelier target. What kind of fool do you think I am, Doyle?"
Ray winced. "Ah, sunshine..."
"And don't try that either. Just because I love you doesn't mean I've gone simple. Well, at least not completely. What are they planning? To use you for bait? When and where?"
"I don't know." And because it was nothing but the truth, he knew Bodie would bear with him. He waited a decent interval, then tried again. "You saw how she used that silly girl. We've got to find Marikka, and fast. Every night is going to be another catastrophe until we do. And beggars can't be choosers. She'd know it for a trap if we left you wide open for her to snatch. She'd expect you to be guarded. But not me. Bodie, she can't hurt me if she wants you to come to her."
"Are you so sure?" Dark blue eyes scalded him with their intensity. "Sure enough to bet your life and God knows what else? What if you're wrong? She didn't seem to care who she killed in front of the church this morning!"
Doyle forced himself to meet his angry partner head on. "Then I'm wrong. For Christ's sake, Bodie, it's our job. Neither of us has to like it. And after all, Madame took this...step...before the events this morning. She had no idea Marikka would attack us like that. Perhaps she's changed her mind. I don't know; we haven't rightly talked about it. No time."
Bodie's hands gripped his shoulders in a painful embrace, nearly shaking him. "When this is over, sunshine, I'm going to turn you over in my bed and ream your sweet arse so hard you'll sit sideways for a week. You understand me?" Not waiting for a reply, his mouth came down hard, punishing, demanding, forcing his way into Ray's.
Doyle understood all too well. He accepted the bitter onslaught with neither anger nor fear. It was how he'd felt last night, and Bodie had not turned him away. As he allowed the kiss to go on, he sensed Bodie easing up, turning tender. Bodie's hands began to rub the sides of his arms. He cuddled closer, even as Bodie released him.
"Don't say anything," Bodie commanded. "Let me just look at you like this for a minute. Then, we have to go."
His name was Jason Whit and he was breaking. Oh, he'd put up a good enough front for a while, but the facade was cracking and Cowley zeroed in. He'd already pretty much eliminated the other two; now, he was sure. An Englishman born, Whit would have to understand they'd show him no mercy once he was exposed as a traitor. He was directly responsible for Davison's death, and indirectly, for the others as well.
It was time to dangle the bait. Cowley gave the signal to Jax, who had been playing the 'bad cop' to Cowley's 'good cop'. He marched out of the room in disgust, slamming down his cup of tea as he left. The Controller leaned forward, quiet, sombre, alert.
"We know what you've done and you know what to expect. There isn't any hope of bluffing your way out of this now. But there is a way out. You'll wind up in East Germany, most likely, but that would be preferable to prison, I assume. Needless to say, you must show us a modicum of co-operation; Willis would have my head if he knew I was willing to trade you for information. But you surely realise that we are more interested in finding Marikka Schuman than in you. Your usefulness has ended for them. They have no reason to save you. Tell me where she is and I will turn you over to them when she is found."
It was a long shot at best. He doubted if the man knew; it would be quite sloppy of them to have informed him, in the event of capture. His only real expectation was that the man would be panicked enough to jump.
Whit was. "I don't know," he blubbered, then shut up at once as he realised his mistake. He tried to back-pedal. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Of course you do," Cowley replied wearily. "Who else would I be looking for, except Marikka Schuman? You were told that yesterday, when Mr. Willis went into hiding."
"Well, yes, but..."
"But you already knew that, of course. You are her inside accomplice, accountable for her nearly twenty murders. Now, I want you to think about this. She has killed and created a 16-year-old girl, merely to use her in her mad quest for revenge. The child died as a result. So far, we have found all her victims and disposed of them properly, to prevent any re-occurrences. Soon, that will be impossible. All it will take is a few loose rogues stalking the streets of London to create a very difficult situation. Now, I don't expect to appeal to your non-existent patriotism; merely to your common sense. When that happens, how do you think the British Government is going to respond to East Germany? In kind? I should think so, don't you? The Cold War will become a great deal colder very soon. And you, one of its many casualties. Madame Genet will use you to send our return message, you understand. Not one of us will stop her."
The agent hung his head. "I knew this was insane from the beginning. There were so many easier ways to get to Willis. But that is irrelevant now. They were willing to sacrifice my cover right from the start, so enamoured they were with her power. But they are fools; they cannot control her now. They never could. She has done what she wished, without regard for any greater good that might have been accomplished."
"Greater good," Cowley murmured, taken aback. But then, every man believes himself in the right of it. This one was no exception. "If you are correct, they may have also come to see her as a liability. I am considering trading you for her whereabouts. Do you understand what that means?"
He nodded. "They will not be pleased, nor will they welcome me with open arms, but I do think they realise that her time is almost over. And if they leave me here, it would ultimately damage their credibility."
"Indeed. Not to mention their bodies," Cowley growled. "Let us hope for your sake, and theirs, that you are correct."
Now that he knew for certain that they were aware of Madame, his heart eased for the first time all morning. Whit clearly knew, and it was inconceivable that he would not have informed them. Marikka might not have, expecting a double cross if things became heated, but Whit had had no reason not to pass along the information. It was bound to frighten them.
He had every expectation that the East Germans would be ready to deal soon. All the same, he had to have a contingency plan as a backup, in case Marikka was suspicious enough to have moved her hideaway without their knowledge. A plan that left Doyle sufficiently, but not obviously exposed.
Then he had to pray that she had not gone completely mad. After this morning, he was no longer sure.
Cowley's voice crackled over the car radio. "Alpha One to 4.5 and 3.7. Do you read me?"
Doyle answered, "Yes, sir. 4.5 here."
"Proceed at once to the East German Embassy on Belgrave Square. Meet me at the front entrance. It seems our appointment with the Ambassador has been moved up to this morning, though not at our request. Do not, repeat, do not enter without me. Alpha One out."
The two men glanced at each other briefly as Bodie accelerated the silver Capri.
"Now, they're calling us? Doesn't sound too good for them, does it?" Doyle commented.
Bodie pursed his lips. "They've got a tiger by the tail, and they'd dearly love to let go. She must have thrown quite a fit when she missed us this morning. She's clever enough to know what that means. Her mole has been exposed, and her safety at the Embassy is bound to be compromised. We're coming down to the wire, old son. She's liable to do anything now."
There was no trace of affection or concern in his voice, Doyle noted. All the same, he knew his Bodie. The man was capable of fanatical loyalty to those few he had let into his heart, and Marikka had been one of them. In spite of all she had done, he was suffering. Or because of it. Doyle suddenly saw why Bodie had volunteered them to deal with the girl's family. As her former lover, he must have felt it to be his duty, as much to her as to them. Did he blame himself for her present condition as well?
The thought was odd enough for Doyle to wonder where it had even come from. Then he thought about it some more. Bodie had accepted the most bizarre aspects of this case far easier than he had, and faster. Why?
"Bodie? Did Marikka ever tell you anything that would explain what has happened to her?"
Bull's eye. Bodie's hands stiffened on the steering wheel. Doyle waited, just as Bodie had waited for him. That they were incapable of keeping secrets from each other was at the moment only a source of pained, sardonic amusement to him. The silence deepened inside the car as the tyres squealed around a corner.
At last Bodie was ready.
"She told about something that happened to her once. A joke, or so I thought at the time. She'd met a bloke at school; first man she really fell for. He was into all this occult nonsense, claimed to be from Rumania and descended from the Bathory family. She told me about having some sort of ceremony with him, where they exchanged blood and all that rot. She didn't take it seriously, didn't believe a word of it. She only told me about it to demonstrate how weird some of her ex-boyfriends had been before she met me." His brief laugh was bitter. "Weird? I wonder what she'd think of what I've become."
"Bodie!" Doyle was taken about. Guilt and angst was his forte, not his partner's. He'd cruelly pointed that out to the dark man more than once, even though in his heart he knew better. "Look at what she's become, for God's sake! You couldn't hold a candle to her killing spree if you tried with a grenade launcher at Piccadilly Circus."
"Why? Because I wouldn't last twenty minutes?" Bodie finally smiled. "Suppose you're right there, sunshine. There's something to be said for near invulnerability."
"You realise you're feeling this way because you loved her, right?" Doyle asked sharply. "Even though none of this has anything to do with you?"
Bodie cast a shuttered glance at his partner. "You'd laugh if I told you that I keep thinking, 'If only I had been more clever, and not gotten her killed by Willis."
"Jesus, Bodie! Laughing is the last thing I would do!" Doyle's right hand crept of its own volition over to Bodie's thigh and squeezed. "You're daft, mate, but I'd never laugh at a thing like that. You know it's not true, though, or you wouldn't have put it that way."
"I guess," Bodie sighed.
Cowley was waiting for them at the front of the Embassy, as he'd said, but there were also a half dozen ambulances parked, with their red lights flaring in all directions. Medics scurried back and forth through the open gates with gurneys, as others leaned over the transported victims, holding IV fluids aloft, and administering first aid. The scene was too reminiscent of the terrible night at CI5 Headquarters, though it seemed there were at least a few survivors. Neither man had any doubt about what must have happened as they walked up to their leader.
"Seems they got a taste of their own medicine," Bodie commented as they neared him.
There was just a glimmer of dark satisfaction in Cowley's pale eyes. He was not above enjoying divine retribution either, though he would never have wasted time or resources plotting such a reprisal. It would have been unprofessional.
"So it would appear."
A more immediate concern of his was the press. Already, several television and newspaper reporters had arrived on the chaotic scene. The East Germans had demanded a news blackout, and for once he was only too happy to comply. The area was being cordoned off and additional Met police were enforcing the restriction. Cowley had phoned the Home Secretary to see about slapping a D-notice on the press, and was assured that would be no problem.
"I imagine we'll be hearing more about it from the Ambassador. Let's go inside."
They were ushered right up to the formal offices reserved for state business by some very harried looking security guards. Not only the Ambassador, but his chief of security awaited them. A secretary took notes in a corner. It was oddly silent when contrasted to the hubbub at the Embassy gates. In the distance, sirens could be heard as the ambulances departed with their battered cargo.
Handshakes and introductions accomplished, Cowley wasted little time getting to the point.
"I see there's been quite a bit of goings on downstairs, sir. Can it be that you have asked us to come early to seek our assistance? Mr. Whit indicated you might be willing to consider such a move, and that was before this...this..."
"Debacle?" The Ambassador wrinkled his nose. "Is that the proper English word?"
The chief of security, a man named Drukker, stirred restlessly in his chair, eyes darting back and forth between them. He was pale and sweating. Bodie had no doubt that he'd initially thought using Marikka was a good idea. It might have even been his pet project. Right now he looked physically ill.
"An excellent choice of words, Mr. Ambassador. I could not have picked a more descriptive term myself," Cowley purred.
"Indeed. Well, needless to say, we have utterly no idea how such a thing might have come about, but it seems that a crazed assassin gained access to our grounds just before dawn and wreaked havoc with the guards stationed to defend us soon afterwards. A terrible mess." He stopped and pulled out a handkerchief, worrying it between his fingers. "The person has escaped, worse luck, nor do we know where to look, or for whom."
"Really?" Cowley had expected no confessions, but he couldn't resist toying with them. "Mr. Whit gave me to understand that using Marikka Schuman to murder Willis of MI6, and myself, was the whole point of this unfortunate plan. He also assured me that you understood what form our retaliation might take for such inexcusable behaviour."
Score one for the old man. Bodie was pleased; he preferred the direct attack himself. The spook next to the Ambassador had gone from pale white to green.
"I do not know who this Mr. Whit is, nor why he would say such vicious things about us, Mr. Cowley. This must be some awful mistake!"
"It most certainly is, sir. Yours. Or perhaps, his," Cowley pointed to the security chief. "Or maybe orders from home. I don't know, nor do I care at present. What matters is the timely resolution of this situation, don't you agree? And for that to occur, you must give us your full co-operation right now. Oh, we'll find her and destroy her, with or without you, but the consequences for anyone found to have been involved in this dreadful episode will be extreme. On that you have word of Her Majesty's Government."
At that the security chief broke in. It was evident that he had merely been awaiting an opportunity to do so. "Whereas our assistance would surely count as a manifestation of our good will?"
"Of course," the Controller replied smoothly. "Neither side has anything to gain from a protracted finger-pointing session. Once this matter is taken care of properly, it would be best for it to be forgotten by all concerned."
"I couldn't concur more," the Ambassador boomed heartily. He turned to the man at his side. "Perhaps you can take Mr. Cowley with you and ask his advice concerning our immediate problem. Then, I am sure you two will engage in enough constructive dialogue to assure each other of your best intentions. Gentlemen?"
The bloody Kraut certainly spoke beautiful English, Bodie reflected. All very diplomatic. That couldn't obscure the foul odour of excessive blood awash in their lower basement. It was horrific.
The living had already been removed. The dead were being collected in body bags and piled in a corner. There were at least five of them. Bodie shuddered involuntarily. It had been Cowley's perspicacity that protected them from a similar fate earlier this morning. That, and blind luck that a church was so near.
The older man was now speaking to Drukker, making sure he understood the necessity for proper disposal of those corpses. Another time, and Bodie would have worried about their trying to hoard one or two to use as they had used Marikka. This was the last thing on their minds now, he could see. Drukker was all for resolution of any potential threat and displayed his readiness by ordering the tools Cowley would need immediately.
Bodie moved ahead, content to let his superior deal with that mess. He was inspecting every corner of the brick cellar, eyes darting after his torchlight. Doyle caught up with him, silently following his movements. In the darkest part of the low-ceilinged crypt, Bodie found what he sought. An oblong box. He opened it, to find dirt strewn along the bottom of it. The impression of a body was left in its surface.
"This was her lair, all right. They were waiting for her, must have come in soon after they thought she'd lain down to rest. They assumed she was helpless right after dawn. But she's not that stupid. She was expecting this sooner or later, and waited in a dark corner."
His torch illuminated boot prints in front of the casket. "When she was sure of their intentions, she attacked them from behind. The poor bastards had no chance, really." He stooped to pick up a piece of a wooden stake, tossed to one side during the battle. It had been broken in half.
Still silent, Doyle tossed a garlic bulb into the open box. Cowley came up beside them and added the crumbled wafer and sacred water.
"There has to be a way in and out, protected from daylight," he called out to Drukker, who was still attending to the corpses on the other side of the room. "Where is it?"
"Behind the old coal chute hatch. There is a tunnel that connects to the Underground and around Victoria Station." He didn't even try to mask his dismay at revealing this information, but neither did he hesitate.
"Marikka has certainly put the fear of God into them, hasn't she?" Bodie murmured, amused. "He really doesn't want us to sic Madame on him; to hell with the cause, comrades."
"Do you blame him? He can't afford things to get any uglier." Doyle replied from beside the aforesaid chute hatch. It was loose, and opened easily enough. Bodie handed him a wooden plank to prop it with.
"Wait," Cowley commanded. "We need back-up. And maps of where this tunnel goes."
Both agents looked back at him in surprise.
"Well, what are you staring at? You can see this bloodbath here. Sending you two in after her would be like sending a couple of kids with popguns after a lioness."
"That never stopped you before," Doyle muttered under his breath.
The Controller scowled. "Only when there was no other way, 4.5. Or when I was under orders. Believe it or not, I have invested quite a bit of Her Majesty's money in you two, and I don't care to waste it."
"The longer we wait, the further away she's going to get," Bodie warned. "There are hundreds of miles of Underground and old train lines, not to mention the sewers, for her to hide in. She could stay down there forever and not be found."
"So long as she has some of her native earth to take refuge with," Cowley pointed out. "That is what we must determine next. Because if she doesn't, she'll have to return here for some." He turned again to Drukker, who had nearly finished staking all five bodies. "Did she have access to her native soil, other than what is lined in the box?"
"No." The man stood up, shaking his head.
"So, you did everything possible to ensure that she would not, and thereby be dependent upon you for shelter," Cowley mused. "But is there any chance she could have circumvented you? We must check with the surviving guards and see if any of them saw her carrying a bag. Do you have surveillance tapes of this area?"
He sighed. "If I said yes, it would be tantamount to admitting we knew she was down here. Therefore I must say no. What I can do is find the answer to your question and relay it to you as quickly as possible. After ... interviewing the guards, of course."
"We don't have time for that," Bodie growled. "If she is coming back, I'd think you'd want to be as prepared as possible this time. We need to know now."
Drukker nodded. "Give me fifteen minutes," he pleaded. "I should have an answer by then. By all rights, it ought to be 'no', but at this point I cannot guarantee anything." He turned and quickly ascended the stairs.
Murphy plodded down as the other man passed him on the stairs. "The surveillance team never saw a thing. Guess you already know that." He surveyed the scene with a curled lip. "Lovely. Now what?"
Bodie pointed to the open hatch. "Feel like crawling through the sewers, the Underground, and God knows what else?"
The big Irishman approached and looked over Bodie's shoulder into the dark hole. "Oh, bloody marvellous. Can't wait."
"Well I can!" Cowley growled. "You two, go on up after Drukker and pry that damned answer out of him now. Murphy, give me a hand with this mess. I'm not taking any chances with them not finishing this up right. We've got enough to deal with as it is." He removed the hacksaw from the toolbox Drukker had provided and handed it to the large man. The lone remaining East German guard merely stepped fearfully out of the way.
The Security Chief was busily studying his tapes in a darkened room when they entered. He didn't bother to hide what he was doing, only waved at chairs for them to take beside him.
On the screen before them, they could clearly make out Marikka Schuman.
What struck him forcefully at first was how utterly normal she looked. Bodie saw none of the fangs and claws, the vicious expression he'd encountered before dawn. She just looked like Marikka. Nothing else.
Except that Marikka was climbing into an open casket. Knowing that it had happened did not make viewing it any less surreal. He swallowed, forcing himself to pay attention to the task at hand.
"There are three weeks' worth of tapes to go through." Drukker brushed his hair back anxiously. "You see why I can't give you a quick answer? She could have been smuggling dirt out this whole time, a handful here and there. We were aware of this possibility, or at least I was, and tried to limit her access to it, but who knows? This whole thing has been a nightmare from the beginning."
"You too?" Doyle did not try to hide his sarcasm.
"We all know the nature of our business and obey orders, Mr. Doyle," the man replied wearily.
"Well, it's just that it's rather funny how everyone charged with carrying out those orders really thought it was a bad idea from the start, now that the shit's hit the fan."
"What else is new?" Drukker countered. "Your organisation is immune from this? The Americans even have a name for it. They call it the Abilene Syndrome."
The door flew open, as a young guard, face wet and pale, began shouting in German.
Bodie dashed out the door, waiting on no one, as Doyle and Drukker raced behind him.
"What is it?"
"She's back! And Cowley's down there!" Bodie didn't waste any more breath. He took the stairs two at a time, vaulting over banisters headlong. Despite his speed, the flights seemed interminable. The silence ahead of him was frightening. If she's hurt him... He pushed the thought aside. Nothing must be allowed to slow him down.
Nothing stirred as he launched himself down the last few steps into darkness.
"Where's the light switch?" He paused only look enough to turn on his torch. The odour of coagulated blood was even stronger, now that the corpses had been beheaded. He swept it around the room as Doyle fell in beside him, panting.
Drukker pulled a cord hanging from the ceiling to reveal what Bodie's torch had already found.
The young guard, eyes wide open, seeing nothing, lay with his throat ripped out. Murphy lay face down beside him, blood oozing from his head.
Cowley was nowhere to be seen.
He ran to the still open coal chute hatch and flashed his torch down the length of it, as far as the light would reach. "Cowleee! Can you hear me?" he bellowed as he hooked a leg over the opening. No one answered.
Doyle caught him by the shoulder. "Wait, dammit! What good's that going to do? They're gone already. Let's get Murphy to hospital. He's alive."
Bodie hesitated, but still did not remove his leg. "We've got to find Cowley. Now!"
"We will, mate, we will! But use your head. He's alive! She was in such a hurry to get him out of here alive, she didn't even kill Murphy. So why would she kill him now? Obviously, she wants him alive. And that's all to the good. Can't you see? Madame can track him." He stopped to catch his breath. "Madame can track him just like she planned to track me. We'll find them, Bodie, but not by thrashing about in the dark."
"What if she kills him before sundown? What then?" Bodie shouted back, frantic.
"Why should she? She wants him for something, or she wouldn't have taken him in the first place."
"Willis," Drukker said quietly behind them.
Both men turned to face the East German.
"She wants Willis. Wanted him last, after she destroyed his whole organisation. Mr. Cowley was never her main target, though we obviously wouldn't have minded that either. We wanted her to go for him first, not bother with those other men, but she would not. She wanted him to suffer as much as she had."
Bodie bit back a curse. "You're being awfully helpful all of a sudden, aren't you?"
Drukker shrugged. "I am not a fool. We have been watching Mr. Cowley, and you, and your... Madame? Whit told us what to expect. If I don't help you get Mr. Cowley back alive, I have little doubt that she will tear us all apart."
"Indeed, she will," Doyle muttered. "And if she doesn't, we will. Call an ambulance for Murphy. Come on, Bodie. We've got to wake Madame."
The air was foul with sewage, wet trash, animal remains. All that made it bearable was the speed with which they were travelling. Cowley estimated they were easily going at least fifty miles per hour. The darkness meant nothing to her.
Hoisted over her shoulder, Cowley could not have seen much anyway. He surmised they were moving though old sewer lines and had covered a considerable distance from Belgrave Square. Given the amazing extent of London's subterranean passages, they could be anywhere. He could not keep himself from coughing at the stench.
She'd have to put as much distance between herself and Madame as possible, as fast as she could. The rate of speed Marikka was maintaining suggested that she had her route already mapped out. Doubtless, she was taking him to her new lair.
He cursed himself for not having a homing device planted on him, the way he'd managed to do to Doyle. The boy hadn't even noticed yet. Still... He forced his unruly mind to go blank. To concentrate only on the here and now. Nothing else must be allowed to come through his mind. Marikka's powers could be developing apace with every night's meal.
At last her breakneck speed slowed, then came to an abrupt halt. Still, he could see nothing. The blackness was complete here. He might as well be in a grave. Then he realised he was.
She set him down, then pushed him against a wall. Cowley wished he could see her features, see anything. He stood there, helpless in the dark.
Marikka did not deign to speak to him. He heard her move, then return to his side. A characteristic ripping sound told him what to expect next. Sure enough, she grasped his wrists and yanked them painfully behind him, then wrapped them with tape.
"Why, Marikka?" he forced himself to ask. "What will this accomplish?"
She pushed him to the floor and likewise bound his legs. "Willis. You are going to tell me where he is, now aren't you?" Her fingers clutched his throat.
"Even if I could, you'd never get to him," he lied. "You knew where he was the night you attacked MI6 headquarters, but you couldn't get through his defences. What makes you think you could now?"
He sensed rather than saw her feral smile. "Then your men are going to have to give him to me, for you. Bodie cares about you, trusts you. He has no reason to love Willis, any more than I do. He'll trade." She laughed. "If you are lying, and I think you are, now would be a good time to say so. It would keep you from putting Bodie in that position. I'd let you go, unharmed, if you did. No one but the two of us would ever know."
"And if I don't?"
"Then Bodie will bring him to me, in exchange for you. And, Cowley, I'll keep him. Once I have Bodie, I won't send him back with you. He'll stay with me, just to save you, at least at first. Later, he'll stay for love, as before. You have no idea what I can offer him." Her icy fingers caressed the side of his neck. "Or perhaps you do. The other one's been feeding on you, I see. Don't count on her saving you, either. She can't find you here. No one can." She slapped a final piece of tape over his mouth. "When I wake up, you'd better have an answer for me. Think about it."
They were halfway to the Tower when Doyle started coughing. A deep hacking sound burst from him, leaving him confused.
"Smoking in the toilet again, eh?" Bodie teased, though his heart was not in it. He was still too upset over Cowley. When no answer came from his partner, he spared a glance over from watching the road. His frown deepened. "What the devil's wrong with you now?" Ray's colour was grey.
"Don't know," he sputtered. "God awful smell. Like a sewer."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Don't know," Doyle repeated, his voice higher. "I can't see... It's dark, and cold. Bodie?"
"'Course it's dark, you clown. You've got your eyes closed. C'mon, Ray. This is no time for..."
"No! I mean it, Bodie. I can feel this place. This other place... Cowley! That's what I'm feeling." He broke off to cough again, though less forcefully.
"Are you trying to tell me that you can feel the place where she's taken Cowley?" he asked quite reasonably.
"I... think so. What else could it be?" His breath came out in a rasp.
"A nervous breakdown?" Bodie supplied helpfully. "Happens to anyone under enough stress, they say." He smirked at Doyle's glare. "Now, now, sunshine. If you're right, Madame will be able to find him easily enough. Just breathe, okay? Don't want to have to take you to hospital too."
His airy ways didn't fool Doyle for a minute. The comforting pressure of his big hand on Doyle's thigh told the whole truth. But Ray was too immersed in that other place to fully respond to it. The suffocating darkness, the odour... the discomfort in his limbs...
"He's bound and gagged. Someplace very dark and quiet. She 's nearby, sleeping. I don't think he's hurt." His voice had a distant quality, even to his own ears. The pressure on his leg increased.
"Ray." Bodie was the soul of calm deliberation, though his hand shook on the wheel. "Can you see anything at all? Can you move from that place to here?" He could scarcely believe he was saying such things, yet by now he'd given up on his notions of the impossible.
It took a long time for the other man to respond. He tensed and strained in his seat, effort evident in very muscle. Finally he sprawled back and closed his eyes. "It's all so confusing," he offered in a small voice. "I think I could do that if I only knew how. But I can't make it happen right now."
"Relax," Bodie advised. "We're here. Let Madame sort it out."
Lucas and McCabe met them at the doorway to the Command centre. They'd already heard about Cowley's abduction and Murphy's injury from Betty. Jax and Susan were en route from Headquarters.
Doyle pointed with his thumb to the closed door beyond. "Have you tried waking her?"
"Stood outside the door and pounded. No answer. We couldn't get it to open." McCabe replied, frustrated. "Any ideas?"
"Maybe." In truth, Doyle had no idea what he was about to do, but his experience in the car gave him a small hope. There had to be a way to reach her. Guided by nothing more than instinct and desperation, he went over to the door and pressed both palms against it.
"Thinks he's Luke Skywalker now, does he?"
"Facing the Dark Side of the Force, aren't we? You have a better notion? Let's hear it?"
Good old Bodie. He pushed that away, along with all the other distractions. He'd been in that room, knew what it looked like. All he had to do, he suddenly realised, was picture himself inside, standing next to that sarcophagus. From there had had but to pry open the ornate, carved lid and look within...
The connection exploded across his consciousness, nearly blinding him.
She was awake.
Raymond! What is it? Child?
His thoughts were too jumbled for coherence, so he loosed a host of images to flow instead. The cellar. The bodies. Murphy hurt. The dark tunnel. Cowley gone. Then, later, unsure, the images of foul odour and dank dark that had so oppressed him in the car.
Well done, Cheri. I hear you. Now, you must get me to the Underground. Quickly. We must move while she still sleeps.
Then he saw the way of it. It was simple, really. He turned, unaware of the expressions of the other men in the room. "We have to move her down to the Underground in her coffin. She'll be able to get up and hunt where there is no sunlight."
"The door..." Lucas fell silent as Doyle turned the knob and opened it.
He walked in and pulled off the heavy stone lid, just as he had moments before in his fantasy, heedless of the weight of it. Bodie rushed to help him, only to be nonplussed at Doyle's show of strength. Then he stared at the still distant look in Doyle's half-slitted eyes. No one said another word.
The coffin within was a plain pine box in stark contrast to the gothic thing that housed it. He turned again to his companions. "All we have to do now is carry her downstairs. Give us a hand, then, will you?"
Susan and Jax arrived just as they were lifting it out of the stone.
"Perfect timing, you lot. Grab an end."
The box itself was not too heavy, and the lady slender. They navigated the stairs with some clumsiness, but no real difficulty. It took but a matter of minutes for them to reach the ground floor of the ancient White Tower.
"Where to now?" Jax wondered aloud. "We can't just walk this over to the Tower Gateway Underground and go down the escalator. There has to be a way to get her below with a bit less notice than that would generate."
Doyle thought furiously. "We need a hearse. With that we can take her to any entry site and turn her loose."
Bodie chimed in. "A railway station. Escorting a coffin home for burial is a common enough practice. We just need to pick one with a tunnel that connects to the Underground."
"Or the sewer system," Doyle added. "Or both. So long as she can get from one to the other easily."
"Why not just take her to the East German Embassy and open the box in the cellar?" Susan asked with some asperity. "We'll have to start from there anyway."
"Because they'd be fools to let her in. She just might get hungry and exact retribution for this mess. And we'd be fools to allow them within ten feet of her, on their soil, in daylight, in case they decided to neutralise that threat," Bodie explained. "Once she's awake, she can go there and defend herself if need be."
They quickly decided upon Victoria Station. It was the closest train station to Belgrave Square and the Embassy, had extensive connections to the Underground stations in the area, and numerous sewer lines ran beneath it. They knew that the tunnel from the Embassy connected to it as well. Alas, it was also the most heavily traversed train station in London. They would have to use every inch of the small print in their official brief to pull this off without exciting undue attention.
Doyle set Betty the task of arranging co-operation from the people in charge; she had already notified the Home Secretary about Cowley's disappearance. Another time, and she would have had to deal with the Home Office's attempt to send a political appointee over to take command. She'd headed that off by the simple expedient of telling them all that Madame Genet had assumed direct control of CI5 until Mr. Cowley was recovered. It was hardly a lie. She understood the situation well enough to predict that without asking anyone's permission.
It was early afternoon by the time they arrived at the deepest level of the train station, blocked off at their orders. All six agents gingerly laid their burden down upon the platform; all but Doyle stepped back. He prised the simple lock that held the lid in place and carefully opened it, unsure of what he would see.
She was beautiful beyond words, and younger than he had ever seen her. Early twenties at the most, he thought, then realised that was likely to be the age at which she had begun her dark journey. She must have used her supernatural abilities to appear older, to enhance her authority.
There was no time to ponder those nuances of her personality. He had not sensed her presence during the trip over, and assumed she must have slept again. Nothing indicated awareness on her part. It hit him with a start how vulnerable her position was, how deeply she had to trust him to expose herself like this. His own mistrust, that he had never completely discarded, felt like a tawdry, petty thing by comparison. He knelt. With great care, he lifted one of her cold hands and kissed it.
He felt the people behind him step back in a rush as she opened her eyes. All but Bodie, who never left his side. Together, they lifted her hands and helped her up. It seemed like the only courteous thing to do.
She looked around the deserted platform, completely alert, a shocking contrast to her apparent unconsciousness a mere second ago. "Victoria Station? Did I hear you aright? This will do well."
So much for her unawareness. Doyle handed her a homing device and an R/T. "Cowley was snatched less than a half mile north-west from here, right under the East German Embassy. They've given us this map; we should be able to backtrack to it easily enough." He did not bother to mention the blood-curdling threats Bodie had employed to obtain said map. It was unnecessary.
Madame smiled. "I suppose they'll have to dig a new tunnel now. Let's take a look." She perused the drawing for less than a minute, then traced the route with her finger. "You have maps of the Underground tunnels and the sewer lines as well?" Bodie opened those before her without comment. "Very good. Yes, I suppose we'll have to start by heading towards the Embassy. I sense nothing around here at all."
She turned to the other two teams. "There's little point in all of us chasing about under here. McCabe and Lucas, I want you to man the van with the tracking equipment and be prepared to follow me from above. I'll contact you when necessary." She held the R/T aloft in her hand. "Susan, you go straight to Headquarters. I want you to act for Mr. Cowley in his absence, in regards to all other matters that might arise. Should anyone give you trouble, have Betty call me. I'll set them straight. I expect you to put together backup teams for when we locate Mr. Cowley. McCabe and Lucas will direct them to us. Jax, go to the East German Embassy and maintain contact from there. Don't let on that we're nearby. Find out, if you can, how much soil she had access to. This is still important. She may have more than one hideout." She turned to Bodie and Doyle. "You two are with me. And I do hope you can run better than you can ride."
Madame Genet led the way into the tunnel. "Have you felt anything from him since this morning, Doyle?"
"No, ma'am. Not a whisper. You?"
"He's all right. I'd know if she harmed him. But, no, I have no particular sense of where he is. Mostly because he doesn't know, himself. Not to worry, lads. We'll find him."
"You'd better move on ahead without us," Bodie observed. "We'll only slow you down. We'll track you with the homing device through McCabe and Lucas."
"Not until I know the route is clear between here and there. If she was to get between us..." she didn't bother to finish. "Besides, I need you there when I find her. Oh, I can kill her, all right. But I cannot destroy her; only you can do that. You have what you need?"
They nodded. Nothing was said for some moments after that. They ran flat out a good part of the way, torches reflecting off the curved tile walls. Then Madame ducked into a small side tunnel where the air grew staler. Her pace quickened; the agents strained to keep up with her in the confined surroundings.
They emerged just under the coal chute.
"Looks different from this side," Bodie commented, catching his breath. "Can you see anything?"
She directed him with her hand to flash his torch down the other way from the opening. "She took him that way from here. Let me see the map again."
He did as he was bid in silence.
She perused it thoughtfully, her hand to her chin. "If I was her, I'd try to get as deep as I could. There's something comforting about being so far below the surface for our kind, especially the young ones. She would feel less exposed, more powerful. She might well assume I cannot sense her moving presence by day, and in part she is correct. My powers are not as acute. But they are still better than hers. Of course, if she is at rest now, I cannot feel her presence at all. George, however, I can track by day or night; I do not think she understands that. If she did, she would not have risked taking him with her."
"Unless her lair is somewhere other than where he is," Bodie pointed out.
Ray shook his head. "I don't think so. It didn't feel like that to me this morning. 'Course, I suppose she could have moved since then."
"Doubtful," Madame replied. "She is too young to do so easily. Just staying awake this morning was taxing enough for her. Ah well, we shall find out soon enough. Let's go."
There were no clear words to describe what happened next. The only analogy Bodie could think of was the first time he'd parachuted into hostile territory. There was a moment of total commitment, the sudden whoosh of air, an awful sense of the inevitable looming below, exhilaration combined with near nauseating fear. It all came back in a rush to him. Madame Genet grasped him by the waist with one arm, Doyle with the other, and propelled them down the endlessly black corridor before them. Within minutes, there was virtually no light to be had at all.
He could only guess at the speed at which they were moving. Bodie's arm circled Madame's astonishingly small shoulders and gripped Doyle's on the other side of her. The poor golly was shaking. Suddenly Bodie knew why. Doyle had endured this before, that morning, when Marikka had taken Cowley. No wonder he shook.
He knew they were going deeper, though he'd long lost any sense of direction. Time likewise was impossible to gauge. They might have been gone ten minutes, or half an hour. The air became stiller, colder, the surroundings more silent. The odours of earth and sewage grew stronger. Without doubt, they were following the route Marikka had used.
She halted as quickly as she'd started. Bodie would have fallen were it not for her iron grip on his waist. Then she gently put them both down.
"Where are we?" There was only the slightest quaver in Doyle's voice. It would have gone unnoticed had it not been for the echoing quality of the walls about them.
"I was rather hoping your lads above could tell us," she replied. "Let's find out, shall we? I don't want to get too far underground without checking. What is the effective range of these things, anyway?"
It was a good question, but one with an uncertain answer. It could depend on traffic patterns, atmosphere, frequency of other radio waves in the area, many factors. In the city, they could be counted on for ten miles. Beyond that was anyone's guess. Bodie did his best to explain, while Doyle obediently pulled his R/T out of his jacket and called Lucas and McCabe.
"Marble Arch. At least that's the nearest Underground stop to where we are. And they're having a devil of a time tracking us. It's not just the speed, it's..."
"That we are rapidly descending. Yes, I thought as much. She followed the old route of the Tyburn to this place, and now she seems to veer to the northeast. Show me the map again."
"The Central line runs east-west from Marble Arch. It should be right above us." Bodie offered as he held the map open. Doyle's torch illuminated the area in question.
She sniffed the air, then slowly nodded. "Tell them to go north and call us from Euston station. If need be, we'll surface to contact them."
It wasn't the sort of thing one could easily get adjusted to, but the second time aloft was less frightening. At least they knew what was coming and it beat running to catch up with her. Doyle closed his eyes against the gust hitting him in the face and used one hand to cover his nose and mouth. Based on his experience with motorcycles, he guessed their speed to be in excess of sixty miles per hour. At that rate, their next stop should take mere minutes, if they were going in a straight line.
They were not. Madame zigged and zagged along ancient crumbling tunnels, turned, doubled back, and went ever deeper. He had no doubt the trail was deliberately thus. Finally, she stopped again.
"We're not far, I suspect. His scent is getting stronger, but we must take care not to awaken her. Are those lads up there yet, do you think?"
"I doubt it. They can't travel at sixty along Tottenham Court Road without getting themselves killed. It'll take them at least another ten minutes or so to catch up with us."
"Fair enough. Let us see what else is around here."
They crept along as quietly as possible, disturbed only by the squealing of frightened rats as they went by. The torches showed that they had long since left the Underground behind and were at a deeper level.
Thank God it isn't raining, Doyle contemplated. The sewers could be death traps for the unwary. In the nineteenth century, destitute people had eked out a living scouring the sewer system for lost or discarded items that could be resold. Many had lost their lives to the torrential underground flooding that accompanied a sudden downpour.
Fifteen long minutes later, Doyle's R/T beeped and crackled to life. Reception was dreadful, but at least they knew McCabe and Lucas had gotten as far as Euston. After several attempts to improve the sound, they'd determined that the monitoring equipment showed them to be quite close to Hampstead Heath.
"Tell them to come here, then, and call for the backup teams. We'll wait." She settled against a wall. "Why here, I wonder? She would have done better to get as far away as possible."
"Perhaps she was simply tired," Bodie offered. "Then again, you said she would want to go deep. Hampstead is the deepest Underground station in the city. If there are tunnels even below it, they would be very deep indeed."
Doyle stirred restlessly. "Once the lads are above us, what then? I'm not sure our maps will even show them the area we're going to. It may be uncharted, believe it or not."
"I want the other team to block her way, if possible. I'm sure the place she is resting will have multiple exits. We must try to surround her. This won't be easy. If she awakens, things could get very bloody." She sniffed the foul air again. "Stay here. I won't go far; I just want to see where the next tunnel goes."
Once she was out of the range of their torches, they stopped looking after her. Doyle started to lean against the wall, then thought the better of it. Everything stank. Bodie came up next to him and put an arm across his shoulders.
"Cold?" Doyle turned to embrace his partner and nuzzled the soft white skin of his neck, nodding into it for answer.
"Scared?" This question was softer, but Doyle did not hesitate to nod a second time. "It'll be over soon, sunshine. One way or another." His lips grazed Doyle's temple, then roved back into his hair. "Love you, y'know."
Doyle swallowed. He knew Bodie well enough to understand that he would not hear this mush very often. Time was running out. He lifted his head and sought Bodie's lips in the dark.
For the moment, the kiss blotted out all else from his mind. It was so sweet and fiery he let himself be lost in it. Bodie held him tightly against his broad chest, sharing his body heat, his arousal. Nothing else mattered.
It was perfectly stupid to be doing this now, he realised, but then again, would there ever be another time? His arms crept around Bodie's neck. Their mouths finally parted company, only to suck in air.
He lay his head on Bodie's shoulder, wishing this moment could go on and on, as he closed his eyes.
Disorientation struck him as suddenly as it had that morning. The darkness and silence were unchanged, but the sense of being alone was subtly altered. Cowley? Cowley? Cowley! He felt the connection somewhere deeper inside than thought and it made him shake all over again.
"Sunshine? Ray?" Bodie's worried voice came from a great distance. "What is it?"
"Him," he whispered. "He's close. Very close. He's scared too. Something... Something's wrong and he doesn't know what..."
"'Course there's something wrong, you berk. He's being held prisoner by a mad vampiress in a dark, deserted dungeon. He doesn't need any other reason to feel nervous. Has enough already, he does."
"No." Ray insisted. "Something else."
Bodie straightened them both as the softest of sounds approached. "Madame?" He held his ebony knife at the ready, then relaxed as her face came into the range of the torch.
She gestured to them. "Come. We can wait no longer."
It was impossible to say how things were different, but they were and he knew it. Marikka was awake, Cowley was sure of it. What it meant he dared not even guess. She might be able to hear his thoughts. Even his tenuous connection to Doyle was a danger to them both. He'd touched the lad earlier and was able to convey the fact that he was alive, at least. How he had known to do that, he could not even say. Perhaps it was part of the silent wisdom of Madame's blood.
His boys were close now, and so was his lady. Her presence fairly permeated the darkness. Try as he might to think of nothing, it was there, like a mighty toothache. Could Marikka sense her too? It seemed impossible that she would be so unaware of her rival. Then why was she doing nothing? He was frightened, more frightened than he could remember being in a very long time. Something was terribly wrong.
A brutal hand shot out of nowhere and grasped him by the neck. Marikka's stinking breath struck him in the face, made him gag, though he could not speak.
"You've outlived your usefulness, I think," she hissed. "Time for you to die, Cowley." Her teeth snapped against his throat as she dragged him over to her coffin.
They moved as one with a fluid grace that defied gravity. She led the way, through floor hatches, down iron ladders that seemingly connected to nowhere, further down, always down. Doyle left off thinking altogether and concentrated on following as noiselessly, as swiftly as possible. There was little time left, his gut senses were fairly screaming at him.
He nearly ran into Madame's back, so quickly had she halted. Yes, he could sense it too. Cowley!
Cowley was there, but fading, like a tattered WWII newsreel. The realisation made him moan involuntarily.
Cowley was dying.
They surged forward into an open space. His torch marked off signs of recent disturbance along the ground. Beyond lay Marikka's coffin.
He swept the torch around, so intent on finding Cowley that he paid no mind to the beeping of Bodie's R/T. It didn't matter now. They were here, weren't they? And so were Cowley and Marikka.
But where? His torch followed Madame's sudden movement along the ground. Blood. A lot of it, leading to the coffin. His mouth went dry.
She went to the box, hands frantic, prying at the lid, when Bodie's quiet hiss stopped them dead in their tracks.
They turned as one at him, waiting for the rest.
"That was Jax. Marikka took a fair amount of plastic explosives with her on one of her last forays." His open hand gestured. "Now where would you put it, if you were her?"
Madame growled, an unearthly, vicious sound.
"Under Cowley, so when we opened the lid..."
Bodie's smile was feral. "The bitch."
"He's dying in there, Bodie." Ray didn't try to hide the distress in his voice. "If you're wrong... If we wait too long..."
"If we don't wait, we'll all likely wind up dead. Even Madame. She took enough to level a fair-sized building."
Madame nodded. "It makes sense. We can't take that chance. How quickly can you find out if you're right, Bodie?"
He put his torch down and examined the box. "It ought to be attached to the inside of the lid, so when it's opened, it goes off. Easiest thing to do, though hardly the safest, is to try to saw open the box from either end and bypass the lid."
"With what?" Doyle demanded. "We don't have time!"
Madame Genet put her ear to the top of the box. A mere second later, she straightened, went to the end at her right, and splintered it with a lightning fist.
Doyle let out the breath he was holding after about thirty seconds of silence. "Can you feel any wires nearby?" he got out.
She shook her head.
"They might be attached to him, so that when we move him..." he flashed the torch into the small opening. "Can you see anything attached to him?"
She carefully cracked and removed more handfuls of wood. "No. I can see two wires going from the inside of the lid to underneath him. That's all."
Bodie handed her a Swiss Army knife, with the scissors out and ready.
"Which one do I cut first?" There was a very human note of fear in her voice, the first Doyle had ever heard.
"Dammed if I know. What colours are they?"
"Red and white. Any opinions?"
Bodie shrugged. "Just so long as you don't hold it against me if I'm wrong."
"I imagine we'll never know." She smiled up at them both slowly. "Or if we do, from the other side, I doubt if it'll matter. So, red or white?"
Bodie put one hand on her shoulder, another around Doyle's waist, pulling him close. "White." He closed his eyes and waited.
Once it was apparent they weren't going to die immediately, she cut the second wire. Doyle tore at the lid, yanking it open at last. He gasped.
George Cowley's pale eyes stared sightlessly open in cold death.
There was no time, no time at all. Doyle was too distraught to see it and Bodie... Ah, Bodie was broken inside, though he held his brother-in-arms in a comforting embrace. But she knew. She saw what must be done.
"Bodie! Can you reactivate the bomb, but with a timer? Give us enough time to get out of here before it goes off?"
He stared at her at first as if she was speaking the Langue'doc of her youth. Then his blue eyes narrowed unpleasantly. "With the right tools, yeah. I'll get Lucas to bring them down. You and Doyle clear out of here."
She shook her head. "It'll be faster if I go for them. Tell Lucas I'm coming and have him meet me with what you need at the Hampstead Underground. Tell him to hurry! You two, stand here." She drove the point of a wooden splinter into her wrist, then dripped a circle of blood around them, the coffin, and Cowley. "Don't touch or do anything until I get back. Marikka can't get to you in this circle."
She turned and vanished beyond their narrow beams of light.
Alone together in the all-encompassing night, Doyle went back into Bodie's arms, both offering and seeking comfort. His shocked tears filled the dense chamber, echoing wetly off the narrow tile walls. Cowley dead. It couldn't be; it just couldn't. Not the Controller; it couldn't be him, lying there with his throat torn out. Yet it was. They'd cut off the tape, still praying for some slight pulse, some wisp of breath. Their hope was futile. Bodie had closed his eyes.
He'd admired, feared, respected, distrusted, loathed the old man at times. Until this minute, he'd had no idea how much he also loved him. It didn't bear thinking of.
He peered at his partner's pale features, trying to make out their expression in the near dark. Bodie seemed closed in upon himself, brooding. His jaw was set so hard it made Ray's teeth ache. Tentatively, he touched one slender finger to his beloved's taut lips. "Bodie?"
Those beautiful eyes focused at him, softened slightly, then smiled. "It's all right, sunshine. Madame will take care of everything. As for Marikka..." His brows converged into a single black line. "I'm going to put that rabid bitch down myself."
As promised, Madame did not take long. McCabe and Lucas had just barely gotten off the elevator at the lowest part of the station when she arrived. "Wait here," she commanded them after receiving the materiel, then turned and fled the way she had come, while the two men stood there, bewildered. There would be time for explanations later. Or not.
She was beginning to get a bit nervous. Marikka was a good adversary, very good indeed. What she lacked in experience she more than made up for in sheer inventiveness. That bomb could easily have been a masterstroke, were it not for Jax and the duplicity of the East Germans. It might have killed them.
Even her and Cowley. She didn't need heightened senses to know how badly her lads were hurting over the loss of their leader. She knew better than to try to comfort them, especially with the truth right now. She had no intention of allowing George Cowley to stay dead.
There would be time for that later, too. Or not.
They were waiting just as she had left them, true to her instructions. She handed the timing device and wires to Bodie, along with the tools Lucas had assembled for the task. "Allow me," she murmured, removing Cowley's limp body from the coffin. He hung heavily in her arms. "You'll need to remove most of the plastic. We don't want an explosion big enough to disrupt the Underground. Just enough to convince her that her scheme has succeeded."
Doyle held the torches steady as Bodie worked. His eyes were red, but otherwise he'd composed himself prior to her arrival. Bodie channelled all his energies into setting the timer, refusing to take notice of aught else. He looked up only once.
"How much time will we need to get to the surface?"
She calculated quickly. "About fifteen minutes, at a dead run, of course."
"Of course." He finished wiring the connections, then turned the hands on the dial to the appointed time. The whole thing went back into the box, and the lid closed. "Let's be off, then."
She led the way again, with Cowley still in her embrace. Their footfalls thudded in time to hers, steady as their well-trained hearts. No one said a word as they clambered up rusting iron ladders into increasingly larger passageways. The air grew more breathable with each level attained. Finally, they reached the level of the Underground tunnel itself. From there, progress was quick and relatively easy. McCabe and Lucas stood waiting at the end of the platform. They were out of danger.
Even so, the explosion made itself felt under their feet. A mighty rumbling curved along the walls, followed by a disturbance of soot and air. It lasted but moments, then subsided into dark silence.
The other two agents rushed to them, too shocked to speak at the sight of Cowley's limp body in her arms.
Madame Genet laid her precious burden down very gently on the ground before them and knelt beside him. "What time is it now?"
Doyle consulted his watch. "Nearly four." He did not mention, though his stomach certainly knew, that they'd been up and running non-stop for nearly twelve hours without food. His throat was parched. "Now what? It'll be dark in two hours, and she'll be free to come and go at will."
She stared down the dark tunnel from which they'd come as if it held the answers she sought. "If we had lifted the lid ourselves, McCabe and Lucas would be trying to raise us on the R/T. They would have heard, or been informed of the explosion." She looked up at them, noting their stricken faces. "What would you have done then? Come down immediately after us, or called for the backup teams?"
Lucas tried to focus on her face, his eyes watering. "We would have called for the backup teams as arranged, then prepared to guide them down to your last known location. Once the bomb went off, we'd have lost your homing devices, so we'd have had to search a bit. He cleared his throat and squatted to the ground next to her. "Mr. Cowley..."
"There's nothing more that could have been done. She only used him as bait to get us down there. Now we must see to it that we did not lose him for nothing." She brushed Cowley's hair from his face. "You men, do exactly what you would have done. Call the backup teams in, but make sure they are heavily armed with holy water and arrows. We must try to convince her she succeeded. Do your best to make it look realistic."
She stood up. "Bodie, you and Doyle take Mr. Cowley's body back to the White Tower, and wait for me there. She must not see you, or she'll suspect she's failed. Maintain radio silence, just in case she is listening in."
"And you? Where will you go?" Doyle demanded. "It's still day up there."
She turned one last time before re-entering the tunnel. "I think it's time I had a little talk with the East Germans myself. Their sudden change of heart is a bit much, don't you think?" Then she moved away, down the long tunnel.
They used the same coffin from the van that had earlier transported Madame to Victoria Station. Doyle took the wheel in silence and began the long drive across town. There seemed little enough to say. Both men were exhausted, emotionally drained, half starved. The normal traffic of the great city, the ebb and flow of life around them seemed surreal, distant. Life was forever changed. George Cowley was no longer there to lead them, to use them, to protect them, to scold them, to teach them. They were orphans.
Bodie had nearly nodded off beside his partner when they pulled into the massive gates of the Tower. He shook himself, then looked around, still in a fugue. Was it only since this morning that he'd nestled safely in Doyle's arms? The attack near the church, the horrific scene at the Embassy, the sudden, bold abduction of their controller, the hunt through the underground, all conspired to enter his mind at once, leaving him dazed and shell-shocked. He literally could not think.
Perhaps Doyle shared his plight, for his mate gave him a little shove at the shoulder. "Come on, sunshine. Let's get him inside." He opened the back of the van and called for the guards at the entrance to give them a hand.
Not until they were safely back in their temporary headquarters did his fog lift sufficiently for Bodie to even question their actions. Just what were they doing, bringing his body up here? Doyle had directed them to place the coffin in Madame's private chamber without hesitation. Why? He turned, the question shining in his eyes, but waited until they were alone again.
For answer, Doyle simply handed him a large Scotch. "Drink it," he replied, weary beyond words. "I imagine they'll bring up some sandwiches in a bit. Then we'd better rest while we can. The night's not even started yet."
He tried again. "We should have gone to the morgue...We need to..."
"Drop it." Doyle's tone was flat, nearly vacant, but there was a flicker of something behind his green-eyed gaze. Something Bodie could neither face nor question.
They took turns showering and changing their clothes in the small bathroom down the stairs without comment. Another time, and Bodie would have sensuously joined Ray in the shower. At the least, they could have comforted each other with their nearness. But his prickly partner was giving off 'touch-me-not' signals and Bodie had not the heart to overcome them right now.
He sat down as the guard brought up their meal, but discovered after a few bites that his usual healthy appetite had left him. He forced down a few morsels, more out of the feeling that he ought to than because he had any desire to. Doyle ate mechanically, without comment or evident enjoyment. Soon enough he too pushed his plate away.
"Let's go to bed." His words were harsh and unfeeling in the cold room.
Bodie looked up, at a loss. "Ray. What the hell are we doing, then?"
"Waiting." The leaner man stood and made his way to bed, then collapsed onto it.
"Waiting?" Bodie joined him, expecting more.
"We've got an hour or so before sundown. Madame will call us when she needs us. Might as well catch a kip while we can. Probably be up all night hunting." He closed his eyes and rolled onto his side.
There was something wrong about this scenario, but Bodie had no energy left to figure it out. He lay down beside his partner, still trying to piece it together, but the pieces kept dancing elusively out of his ken. All he had were questions.
Why had they brought Cowley here? Where was Madame now? What was she planning next? Why had she gone to the East German Embassy?
What were they waiting for?
He fell asleep to the image of rats scurrying before them in the dark tunnel.
The room was in complete darkness when he next came to. Years of soldiering caused him to awaken fully conscious, ready to fight if need be. Even so, his honed reflexes were no match for the woman beside the bed.
"Marikka! No!" He leapt up next to her to make her let go of Doyle's throat, knife ready.
She tossed him across the bed, easily, casually, still clutching Ray by the throat with one hand. His face was purple, eyes bulging. His breath was coming in harsh gasps. He was still fighting, punching her face with his fists, kicking, but without effect. She didn't even seem to notice.
"Marikka, Please! For God's sake, let him go!" He was not too proud to beg, not for Doyle. "Tell me what you want."
She turned to him and laughed, eyes gleaming in the dark. "That's more like it, Bodie. Why couldn't you have been so reasonable this morning in the car? Cowley would still be alive now."
He forced back down the bile that threatened to choke him. "What do you want?" he repeated hoarsely. "Just tell me."
"You know," she taunted. "The same thing you would have wanted if you weren't such a coward. I want Willis; I want his throat, his blood, and then I want his head. After I get him, I'll leave for home and bother you no more. There are a few there I also have a score to settle with."
"Just put him down, okay? You win." He struggled to his feet and came up beside her again. "I'll find out for you. Just let him go."
She tossed her prey into Bodie's arms like a rag doll she had tired of. Bodie caught his partner and sat them both back onto the bed, opening Doyle's shirt, massaging life back into his tortured lungs. Ray was nearly unconscious.
It took several minutes of sputtering and coughing before his colour returned to normal. Bodie turned to her, rage still in check, but burning in his eyes. "You fucking bitch. You didn't have to do that. Or kill Cowley either, for that matter. I would have given you what you want, to keep him safe too."
Marikka tapped her foot with deliberate impatience. "So touching," she sneered. "You certainly didn't respond that way for me when I died. Didn't kill any of those bastards standing around, their guns still hot and smoking. No, you just tossed your rifle to Doyle and walked away. You pathetic excuse for a lover! Did you think I would forgive you that? I died trying to protect you, and what thanks did I get? A pretty headstone?" Venom seethed from her dark eyes.
He stood then, up to his full height, blue gaze more troubled than furious. "Is that it? Is that why you attacked CI5, then Cowley? To get revenge for something I did? Why not just kill me, then?"
"Bodie, Bodie, don't be so melodramatic. I'm quite glad you survived today. I need you to tell me where Willis is, and I knew you would, given the right stimulus. I did plan to use Cowley at first, but then I saw the chance to get rid of that other bitch. Too bad for you, she's gone too." She stared down at Doyle, who was still supine on the bed. "There's no one to protect you now."
"I know that," Bodie replied. "She was our last chance."
She grasped Doyle's arm and yanked him up, making him yelp from the pain in his shoulder. "Indeed she was. Now, you will give me what I want."
Bodie moved forward. "There's no need to pull his arm out of its socket. I told you I would give you Willis."
"Ah, but you're a liar, Bodie. Just like all the rest. You'll tell me, all right, because if you don't..." She gave Doyle's arm another vicious tug. This time his lips went white, but they stayed silently compressed. "I will pull him apart, right in front of you; piece by piece. And there won't be a thing you can do about it except look and listen."
"Bodie, don't..." Ray gasped. "She'll kill us both anyway."
He moved closer. "I got it, all right? Willis means nothing to me. Do whatever you want with him or me, I don't care. Just let Doyle go. He never hurt you. Leave him here. I'll take you to Willis myself."
"Not a chance," she replied. "He goes with us, for insurance. Do as I say, and I swear he'll live. Now, get moving."
Bodie led the way into the command centre. "It might take me a few minutes to find out where he's hiding. Just be patient, okay?" He picked up the phone.
"As long as you don't try anything stupid, leibchien." She dropped Doyle into a chair, then stood behind him, hands on his shoulders. "One word I don't like, and I'll rip his head off."
He picked up the phone, still thinking furiously. Marikka held all the cards. Even if Madame showed up right now, Doyle would get killed, he was sure of it. Worse yet, he really didn't know where Willis was hiding. Cowley knew, but Cowley was dead. He had to find some way to get Betty to tell him.
She answered the call as she had a hundred times before, but the catch in her voice betrayed how hard she had taken the terrible news about Cowley. Bodie had no time to comfort her, another sharp pain to his heart.
"I've got to pass a message to Willis at once. I've just received information that the East Germans sussed out his location and passed it onto the vampire. We have to contact him, warn him, and make sure he's okay. Can you warn him?"
"No sooner said then done, Bodie." She was all business again.
"Thanks, luv. Tell him to proceed to the designated backup safe house immediately. We'll meet him there to provide cover. Which one is it?" He held his breath.
"Safe house number seventeen, near Bermondsey, Bodie. You know the one I mean?" Betty's words came across without the slightest hesitation.
'Yeah, I know it. Thanks, Betty." He let his breath out silently.
"Well then, be careful, mind you. I'll see you later, Bodie." She rang off.
Still amazed at the ease of his success, he gently replaced the phone on its cradle. "You heard?"
"Yes." She hauled Doyle back out of the chair. "Let's go. You'll need to get rid of the guard downstairs and bring the car around. Don't make any mistakes now."
He did exactly as he was told. The guard was sent off to give an innocuous message to the Chief Constable while Bodie moved the car. It was all too frighteningly simple. This time, nothing was going to stop Marikka. Nor, in truth did he care. All that mattered now was the man she still gripped by the elbow.
Doyle seemed dazed, in pain. Eyes downcast, he allowed himself to be propelled down the empty corridors without demur. Bodie had no idea what he was thinking. Marikka pulled him into the back seat with her, as Bodie prepared to drive off. He wished more than anything for just a brief moment of eye contact, some sign of reassurance, something from his partner, but nothing was forthcoming. He started the engine and manoeuvred the vehicle back out through the gates and into the city.
Deep within CI5 headquarters, another call went out. Betty lifted the receiver and dialled swiftly, then spoke. "They're on the way. Bodie just called."
"Excellent. Tell the others to be prepared."
Then both lines went dead.
Eleanor Plantagenet, once Duchess of Aquitaine, Queen of France, then Queen of England, stared out the window. It would all have to fall into place perfectly, if Bodie and Doyle were to emerge from this unscathed. She crossed the room and opened the window. "Come, my dear friend. Awaken. It is time," she whispered into the night. There was no need to shout. She knew she would be heard.
From across the city, a pair of light blue eyes opened at once, disoriented for a mere second, then narrowing in sudden comprehension. His powerful hands opened the box in which he lay, then moved the stone cover away from it. Just as Madame had known, Marikka had not been able to sense him in his quiescent state. It was time to move in. His lads needed him.
Bodie drove recklessly through the city streets, wipers moving the mist across the windshield. It was imperative that they reach the safe house first, if he and Doyle were to have any chance of survival. His heart was still pounding loudly enough for him to be aware of it. It hurt, hurt in a way that an hour of running did not make it hurt. Doyle would not look at him, and Marikka, Dear God, Marikka was mad. There was nothing more he could do. The bitter finality of his failure rest upon him. Cowley was dead, Willis soon to be. Then she would eliminate Bodie and his partner. He had few doubts about that. Only Madame could possibly save them, and only if Betty thought to tell her that Willis was moving. It was a very long shot indeed.
He pulled onto the street where the safe house lay nestled, in the middle of the block. The street was utterly silent. He turned this way and that, looking for any sign of CI5 presence. None was visible. They must have arrived first, else the others would be around. Still, it was too early to sigh with relief.
He parked far enough back to go unnoticed, then led the way to the back of the house. The locks would be standard enough; he knew the combinations to get them in.
He'd started on the lock when she interrupted him with her hand on his. He froze while she put her ear to the door and listened intently for several heartbeats. Apparently she was reassured, for she then signalled for him to continue. This he did in utter silence.
The tumblers clicked and turned in sequence. Very gently, he pushed the door open.
The house was dark and quiet. No evidence of recent occupancy intruded in its sense of isolation. They entered without turning on the lights. Soon enough, they would have to let Willis' guards know they were waiting inside.
Bodie was determined that no further CI5 men should die. He said as much in a hushed whisper as they made their way to the front of the house. It ought to be simple enough for him to lure them out of the way and give her a clear shot at Willis alone.
"Why should you care?" She asked, amused. "A moment after I leave they will declare you both traitors and probably gun you down as you stand. You have thought of that, haven't you? You would both be safer coming with me."
He had thought of it, though he'd assumed she would have already killed them herself. "Take Doyle with you, then," he ordered harshly. "If I'm here alone and explain you have him as a hostage, they may believe me. In any case, they'll know he had nothing to do with this."
"Bodie..." Doyle looked at him for the first time since they'd left the Tower. "Don't do this. Not for me."
"Why not? Love you, don't I?" He forced a smile to his lips. This was how he wanted Doyle to remember him, if it came to that.
A choked off sob answered his words. Then, "Love, you too, mate."
"No wonder you couldn't be bothered with avenging me," Marikka commented, still smiling, though her eyes were two black agates. "I was never more than a diversion, I see. This is your one true love!" She cuffed Doyle's shoulder, though not as hard as before.
Bodie cursed himself for six times a fool. Now she would surely kill Doyle, if not both of them. Her apparent gentleness did not fool him. They had minutes to live, at best. Ignoring Marikka, who moved to the window, he enfolded Doyle in his arms. He suddenly knew what he had to do but dared not think about it. Not now.
Headlights on the street in front of the house heralded the last act of this damnable Greek tragedy. There was nothing more to say. He turned Doyle's chin up anyway, just to look one last time. Just to see those unforgettable green eyes...
Those eyes were smiling back at him. The message they conveyed was so at odds with their situation that Bodie could only stare numbly. It made no sense.
Marikka stared out the window, pensive. "I don't see Willis. Just a bunch of CI5 agents. What are you trying to pull, Bodie?"
"Nothing. Think about it. Of course, they would send a team in to scout out the place first, before bringing him in. Wouldn't you? You just have to stay out of sight until they give the okay to bring him in."
"Where?" She gripped Doyle's arm again and forced him to her side.
"There's a basement below. I'll keep them out of it; I'll say Doyle is checking it out. Now, go." He dared not look at his mate this last time. It would hurt too much.
He waited until they were out of sight, then turned the lights on. Fumbling, he managed to pull out a notepad and a pen. There was just the barest chance that she could not hear thoughts the way Madame could, but he had to try. Please God, whatever you are, please keep Doyle safe. Please. He wrote crudely, hurriedly, focusing on his silent prayer, not the task. If not, then let me kill her myself. For Cowley and Doyle. Please. He finished the note that would warn them about Marikka.
McCabe opened the front door, gun out. He relaxed only marginally, seeing Bodie in the centre of the room. "What's up?" His eyes scanned the room even as he spoke. Lucas took up a covering position behind him.
Bodie walked closer. "Place looks clean enough," he said casually. "Doyle's checking the rest of it out now." He put the force of his mind behind the words even as he handed the note to McCabe.
The other agent's eyes widened as he read the note and showed it to Lucas. "Good show, Bodie. I suppose we can radio ahead, tell them to bring Willis along then, eh? We'll go out to the car and let them know."
He breathed a sigh of relief. Whatever happened, he was doing what George Cowley had hired him for. Doyle would understand. He stood alone once more in the room, waiting for the others to return. The door to the basement remained shut. No sound escaped from it.
The front door swung open again. Bodie tensed, expecting the entire CI5 team to come blazing in, weapons ready, to assault the basement. Instead, Willis himself stood in the doorway, upset, angry, obviously reluctant.
Behind him stood a ghastly pale George Cowley.
His Controller put his finger to his lips, smiling faintly. Willis said nothing at all, though he chewed on his moustache nervously.
Bodie's agile brain took it all in, his reflexes responding at once. He led the way to the basement door, opened it, and called down.
"Marikka! Willis is here. We're coming down. Show me Doyle." Without hesitation, he descended the wooden steps, Willis behind him, followed by Cowley.
She had Doyle by the neck, still wary, all the way on the other side of the cavernous room. "Well, well, well. I didn't expect to see you again, Mr. Cowley. So, where is your bitch queen, may I ask? I assume she is alive and escaped the explosion too."
"If she was still anywhere in the vicinity, you would have felt her, no? Then you would kill these men and run off again before she could get here." Cowley came down into the basement, putting himself between her and the other two men. "There's no need for that. I'm going to give you Willis, in exchange for Doyle. Fair enough?"
Willis started, clearly taken aback, but Bodie caught him by the arm, and forced him to stand still, gun at his ribs. He could not repress a shiver of pure glee. This was more than he had expected.
Doyle was pale, but apparently unharmed, his eyes wide and sombre.
She stared at the older man hard. "That's awfully reasonable of you, Cowley. Why the sudden change of heart? You wouldn't give him up to me earlier, to save your own life. Why do it for Doyle?"
"That was before you changed me," he explained with a smile. "Now everything is a bit... different. I was looking at the weary end of a mortal life, filled with pain and loneliness. Honour was everything. Of course, I would not betray my mission, my very purpose in life, merely to save my own hide."
"But now?' She prompted.
"Now, I see a very long and, dare I say it, glorious future as Controller of the entire British Intelligence network. MI5, MI6, CI5, all of it. They'll give it all to me gladly after this, you know. And who needs this useless fool then?"
"Yet you want Doyle?" She queried. "Why?"
Cowley's icy eyes took on a bit of heat as he looked over to his scruffy agent. "Because I love the lad, smart mouthed trouble-maker that he is. And I don't give a good goddamn for Willis here. The choice is a simple one. You'll have to leave at once, of course. East Germany can have you with my blessings."
Marikka took a second to ponder the truth of his words, then nodded. "All right then. Pity you didn't come to this conclusion a bit sooner. You send him over to me and I'll let Doyle go."
"Not a chance. You let Doyle go first," Bodie barked. Still, he pushed Willis forward, towards the middle of the large room.
The man was sweating, arms shaking. "You're all mad, do you hear me? She'll kill us all! Don't be a fool, Cowley." He glanced at Bodie's gleaming eyes and fell silent. He knew better than to even try that one.
Cowley spread out his hands expressively. "An even trade, then? You send Doyle walking to the centre of the room; we'll send Willis, step for step. Okay?"
"No!" Willis cried. "Listen to me!" "I..." His words were cut off by Cowley's cold hand on his throat.
"Start walking now, or I swear I'll kill you myself," the Controller hissed. His eyes glowed with an unearthly tinge. He made his MI6 counterpart go with a push. "Get moving, while I still have a use for you."
Willis trembled, then did as he was told.
Marikka released Doyle, who likewise began walking right towards Willis.
The space between the two men in motion seemed endless, filled with shadows and secrets. Bodie shivered in the chilly dampness, his nerves taut to breaking. He'd given up hope of getting Doyle back alive; now his reborn faith in George Cowley fed into his painful anxiety. It could still go all wrong. One false move...
Doyle and Willis were within a few feet of each other, each man walking with measured deliberation. Doyle, because of natural caution, Willis because he had no safe place to go. Bodie re-holstered his gun. It would be of no use here.
Three feet, then two. Bodie involuntarily held his breath. Much as he wanted Doyle safe in his arms, he had never sent a man so purposefully to a certain, and unpleasant death. Even Cowley's contrivance did not make it entirely palatable.
They were abreast of each other now. Neither man looked at the other as they passed, separated only by inches. Willis was visibly shaking. From across the room, Marikka waited, a smirk disfiguring her beautiful features. Cowley was utterly impassive.
Then his bionic golly erupted in the nervy way he was famous for. His left arm snagged Willis and dragged him backwards as Doyle made his lightning break for Bodie.
Faster yet, Cowley streaked past him and tore head on into Marikka, who had begun to give chase. The force of their collision dropped them both to the ground, where they rolled, locked in combat.
Bodie ran over to Doyle as he divested himself of a blubbering Willis and cried out, "Madame! Now! Wake up!""
The air was not still from his cry when the rear panelled wall of the cellar smashed into the room, showering Cowley and Marikka both with wooden debris.
Madame Genet stood at the opening she had made, but only for a split second. With speed beyond knowing, she reached into the snarling fray and plucked Marikka out of it and held her aloft.
The other woman was screaming, foaming, eyes glazed red, teeth and nails bloody. "You!"
Eleanor regarded her gravely. "I gave you a chance, my dear. Pity, you didn't take it. I am truly sorry." With that, she turned her body and with a sudden twist flung Marikka to the ground. The snap of her neck was audible, even in so large a room. Marikka lay still.
Cowley got to his feet, his face bleeding. "This will not finish her. Bodie..."
He knew what he had to do. Reaching at his feet, he found a large splinter of wood from the panel, sturdy enough to do his business. With his other hand he drew his gun out and prepared to use the butt for a mallet.
Her eyes were open in terror when he rolled her over. A momentary queasiness struck Bodie as he looked into her still lovely face. Yet, he would do it. It was, after all, only what he had asked for. He knelt.
Bodie steeled his nerves and pointed the stake at her heart. His free hand prepared to swing the gun butt around when warm fingers pried the gun from his hand. Doyle knelt beside him.
"We do this one together, mate."
Bodie did not demur. He held the stake steady, and looked away as Doyle swung the gun butt onto it.
He felt and heard her last spasms, then nothing.
Gathering his courage, he looked down at the woman he had once loved. To his awe, there was no trace of pain or fear or anger marring her features now. They were as beautiful as he had remembered them, when she had slept by his side, smooth and serene.
"God grant her peace." Cowley bent over and gently closed her eyes.
Outside in the night, the air had turned crisp but not bitter. The sky was bright with clear moonlight and vast streaks of stars. More than anything else, Bodie seemed to need to just stand there, oblivious to the organised chaos swirling around him. It didn't seem possible that it was over, that they had finally won. The night was theirs again.
Doyle came up beside him, saying nothing. He knew better than to disturb his mate in this sort of mood. Besides, he needed the release too. Though he'd never really doubted Madame's plan, he was well aware of how many things could have gone wrong. It was bound to make a bloke very glad indeed to be alive and whole.
Sooner or later, the shock would wear off and Bodie would start to ask questions. Questions that had, in some cases, painful answers. Doyle was not looking forward to the inevitable confrontation.
Cowley had directed the clean-up operation himself. Willis was sent packing at once, to everyone's relief. Anything he might have said aloud was forestalled by a few private words with Madame Genet. After that he roared off in his car, post-haste. McCabe and Lucas took custody of Marikka's body; whatever they thought about Cowley's sudden re-appearance they kept to themselves. Headquarters were notified of the successful conclusion to the mission with a succinct message from Madame herself. There was nothing left to do.
Doyle felt at loose ends, starting with as simple a matter as where to go. Never had an op ended so strangely. Was Cowley supposed to still be alive and were they all going to go along with it? What would Madame do now? He pulled his leather jacket together and zipped it up, trying to shrug off a sudden chill.
Likely she knew what he was feeling, for she came up to both of them and placed an arm at each of their waists. "Go on back to the White Tower. Take the car. Eat. Rest. Sir George and I will be along after a bit. We have some private business to take care of. There is nothing more to fear."
This time, Doyle drove. Bodie leaned his head back against the seat and closed his eyes nearly at once.
The room was just as they had left it a mere two hours or so before. The guards were clearly pleased to see them; someone must have told them something of what had transpired. Even the Chief Constable came over to congratulate them and make sure they wanted for nothing. A magnificent late supper arrived soon after they arrived and made themselves comfortable. It was delectable. Doyle tried to cast aside his foreboding and smiled sunnily at his mate. Food was bound to make Bodie happy.
Bodie returned the smile and ate greedily enough, but there was something distant about his manner. He was brooding still. Doyle said nothing. After all, he was entitled to grieve for Marikka, if that was what he was doing. Then again...
Then again, he was probably piecing the entire puzzle together at last. Which meant that sooner or later he would want to know why everyone else was in on the plot to trap Marikka except him. Doyle was not looking forward to explaining that particular part. Feigning ignorance would simply not wash; Bodie had seen how he'd grabbed Willis and plunged to safety with him. No, he would want the whole truth, and Madame and Cowley were conveniently absent. Damn them!
There was nothing for it but to take the plunge and get it over with. He had every intention of bedding Bodie tonight, so the sooner they got this nonsense out of the way, the better.
He waited until their supper was done, and poured them both a good hefty Scotch. Cowley wouldn't be missing it any more. But when he turned around, Bodie was standing right behind him, sloe-eyed with lust. Doyle shivered and put all thought of explanation out of his mind that very instant. It would have to wait.
Bodie took the drink from his hand and swallowed a healthy amount, never taking his eyes off his partner. Doyle followed suit; just the intensity of the blue gaze directed at him was making him hard inside his jeans. He knew he was getting flushed. And Bodie had not even touched him yet.
"Do you remember what I told you the last time I kissed you?" Bodie's voice was rich and deep, caressing him. He took another sip of Scotch, slowly, clearly savouring the taste of it in his mouth. His lips were wet and shiny and very red.
Ray gulped another mouthful himself, eyes wide. He hadn't expected this kind of romance, this studied seduction. It was setting his nerves on fire, yet he had no urge to hasten things. Let Bodie take his time. They had all the time in the world now. "Yeah," he got out hoarsely. "I remember."
The darker man moved closer, then very gently touched Ray's hand against the cold glass with one finger. "Good. Just wanted to make sure." His finger slipped into Doyle's glass, then traced the outline of Doyle's lips with the Scotch.
His lips parted breathlessly; his tongue darted out and tasted the Scotch, then the finger that conveyed it to him. Eyes never leaving his mate's, he drew it into his mouth and sucked, hollowing his cheeks around it. Two could play at the game of seduction.
Bodie's breath caught, then released in a hiss. Gently, he disengaged his finger, then cupped the roundness of Doyle's broken cheek in his palm. "God, you are so bloody gorgeous. How did I not see that for so long?"
Doyle took another sip to wet his suddenly dry mouth. "So are you." He could find nothing more to say, and drew closer, intending to initiate an embrace. But Bodie forestalled him with a palm to his chest. He frowned quizzically. "I want to kiss you, Bodie."
"No. Not yet. Once we start, I won't stop all night long. I want to see you first." Bodie gave him a devastatingly sexy grin that curled Doyle's toes. "Take off your shirt, Ray. Let's have a look at you."
Aware of the heat emanating from his skin, Doyle complied. He put his drink down and unbuttoned his shirt, then pulled it free from his jeans. It eased slowly off his shoulders. "Now you. Don't I get to look too?"
Just as slowly, Bodie copied his motions. He dropped his shirt on the back of a chair. "Nothing you haven't seen before, mate."
"Nor you either." But it was different. Bodie looked downright edible, standing there in just his grey slacks. His taut muscles were perfectly defined; his clear skin glowed with health and vigour. Even the white plaster still on his neck was a source of tenderness. Doyle licked his lips again. His right hand went to his belt buckle.
"Wait," Bodie urged. "I want to do that myself." He pushed Ray's hand away, then undid the brass buckle and top button with great care. His hands slid around Doyle's hips and cupped the round buttocks that lay just below well-worn denim. "I love your plush bum, sunshine. Always did like it."
Doyle was getting restless, fevered. He wanted more than words, dammit. He wanted those large hands all over his bare body. A low moan escaped him.
His partner heard it and took pity on them both. His hands came forward again, hooked at the waistband of Doyle's jeans and smoothly tugged them down his hips. Ray finished the job and toed off his trainers and socks as well. Only his plain white cotton underpants remained. At the moment they were accentuating his condition more than hiding it.
Bodie smilingly undid his own belt and pushed his trousers off quickly. It was getting too cold on the stone floor to cavort about much longer like this. When he had on nothing more than low-cut black silk briefs he took Ray's arm and drew him over to the bed. "Now I'm going to kiss you," he warned. "And kiss you and kiss you..."
They fell together onto the duvet, friction setting each other on fire. Their bodies melded as their lips finally came together.
Bodie's kisses... They were bloody amazing. Ray felt himself drawn under his companion, felt those hands stroking him, just as he'd wanted. It was enough to make a man want to jump out of his skin. Their tongues duelled for what seemed like an eternity, until he could not longer breathe. He tilted his head back, mouth still open, gasping, "Bodie... Bodie, don't stop."
Bodie didn't. His mouth trailed down Doyle's neck, seeking the sensitive spots along the collarbone, tugging gently at the soft down of his chest. His fingertips busily outlined the muscles of Doyle's ribs and belly, reached up and sought his flat little nipples.
Doyle groaned, arching towards the source of such exquisite sensation. He wanted to reciprocate, and sent his own palms to wander along the smooth planes of Bodie's back. "Your skin... such a delight to touch, mate. Ah God, I love what you're doing." His hands slid down into the elastic of Bodie's briefs and stroked inside. They travelled around to the front and traced Bodie's rock hard erection beneath the silk. It gratified him to hear his partner's gasp, feel him lose his concentration for a moment.
Then Bodie was back, caressing first his belly, then his cock; the white cotton barrier was pulled aside. He could not remember ever being so painfully hard.
"Shouldn't we get rid of these now?" He tugged lightly on the silk band to make his meaning clear.
Bodie smiled. "Whenever you're ready, sunshine." He knelt back and slowly drew Doyle's underwear down, then all the way off his legs.
Still smiling, he hooked his thumbs in his briefs and slid them to his knees. When he lay back across Doyle, he kicked them off the rest of the way.
"Better now?" His face nuzzled the soft auburn curls of Doyle's crotch.
"Yeah, oh yeah." Ray's legs fell apart, encouraging the intimate touch. "Wonderful." His hands sought and kneaded Bodie's broad shoulders. "God, you're fantastic."
He wasn't sure until the last minute if Bodie could really do it, any more than he was sure of himself. But then his partner's mouth closed over him, pulled him in, sucked him deeply and strongly. He let out a hoarse cry, unused to such power behind the suction. It was almost painful.
"Jesus, Bodie! You're gonna kill me!" Doyle tried to wriggle his bum away, but Bodie caught and held it, easing up just a bit. His tongue trailed the length of Doyle's cock, laving along the veined sides and ridge greedily.
It was amazing to see Bodie do this. It was also an unbearable turn-on. "Hold up, mate, I'll never last like this," he panted.
Bodie gave him a secret smile, then ran his tongue just along the tip. Ray thrust helplessly, trying to hold back without success. His lover continued to tease lightly, while reaching for Doyle's massage oil. He squeezed some onto his fingers.
It felt cold for a minute against his arse, but Bodie's fingers were warm and nimble. Ray twisted and cursed, the sensations overwhelming. He knew from past experiences with women that this could be a great turn-on, but nothing had prepared him for this intensity.
"Easy, Ray, take it easy. Slow your breathing down; you'll be all right," Bodie coaxed. "You know I wouldn't hurt you."
"It's not that," Doyle got out. But he heeded Bodie's words and forced himself to calm down, to relax his taut muscles. Now was not a time for talking. God, but it was hard to stay still. Bodie was doing all sorts of impossibly delicious things with his mouth and fingers.
One finger finally stopped teasing and slowly worked its way into him. Doyle held his breath despite his good intentions; Bodie ceased until he began to breathe again. "You okay, sunshine? Tell me..."
"It's good, Bodie. Just takes a bit of getting used to, is all." He squirmed a little, overcoming his own resistance, pulling the finger deeper inside. "Move it."
Bodie resumed his heated mouth play along the length of Doyle's cock while his finger slowly slid back and forth. After a minute Ray joined him in setting the rhythm, rocking his hips into Bodie, then having Bodie delve into him. Sweat broke out on his brow and chest; he knew without self-consciousness that he was flushed and wild looking. Just the way Bodie wanted him.
Bursts of sweet sensation were working their way through his nervous system, leaving him tingling from his ears to his toes. It was impossible to stay still, to keep quiet. He voiced his pleasure over and over, in time to the rhythm Bodie was keeping. It could not last much longer; of that he was sure.
But then Bodie stretched him with two fingers. He grunted, worked past the momentary discomfort, then pushed back again, impaling himself further. He was rewarded with a jump to yet another level of ecstasy.
"Can't hold on much longer, Bodie. You've got to do it now!" He arched his back, begging.
His mate crawled above him until they were eye to eye. Bodie had never looked so beautiful, so lost to control, so ruddy and so hot. Their lips came together as Bodie helped him position his legs, resting them on the backs of his shoulders. Doyle could feel the rounded tip of Bodie's cock pushing deep into the cleft of his arse.
There was a second of panic, of wondering how the hell he'd come to this; then it was gone. Bodie was waiting, as if he knew what was going through Doyle's mind. As Doyle relaxed in his arms, he began his entry.
"Yes, oh... fuck, Bodie! Do it, mate. Oh, fuck!" He writhed and twisted as Bodie handled his cock, gentled him, entered him further.
He could not tell at that moment if it was pleasure or pain he felt. The two concepts, so separate in ordinary life, had merged beyond all recognition. All he could be sure of was Bodie's presence. He clung to his arms, cursing and sobbing for breath.
Bodie held tight; his large hands gripped his bum and pulled it to him over and over. Sweat roiled between their bodies and fell to the sheets below.
"Easy, sunshine; don't hurt yourself." But Bodie's warning was too far away to be heeded. Ray bucked and squirmed, the incredible sensation in the pit of his belly the only reality. He felt it grow and flare, then burst forth to consume him. And still he could not have told if it was pleasure or pain. Not that it much mattered. Bodie's grunts in his ear told him he was not alone. One last frenzied push... and over they both went.
He fell back, boneless, utterly spent, as Bodie withdrew and collapsed on top of him, gasping for air. Their sweat glued them together. Gradually, Bodie rolled to his side, taking Doyle with him, still enclosed in his arms. The night air was cold enough to send them reaching for the covers, but soon they were well tucked in and content.
"Your feet are cold," Bodie pointed out softly after a lengthy interval of silence. His own feet wrapped themselves around Doyle's; their lower limbs intertwined.
Doyle merely grunted in reply, then turned and snuggled closer to his partner. His head lay over Bodie's heart; its solid beat a source of joy and comfort. The steady rise and fall of Bodie's chest lulled him into a state of peace unlike any other he had known. He could envision nothing greater in his life than that this moment should last and last. He and Bodie. Lovers.
He grunted again, all but asleep.
"Ray? You knew what was going to happen tonight, didn't you?"
The question. The one he'd been secretly dreading all night. Its urgency pulled him back from the sea of dreams he had been about to float away onto. He yawned, shifted then looked up to meet the eyes of his lover.
Even if their relationship had not taken this turn, he doubted if he could have lied to Bodie. Now, it was utterly out of the question.
It was not the question he had anticipated. Part of him felt reprieved. "In the van, on the way back, Madame Genet spoke in my thoughts. She was expecting Marikka to come after us. We were to lead her to the trap, where Madame would be waiting, asleep, and therefore not detectable to Marikka. She told me to bring Cowley back here too, though she didn't say why."
"Then she knew what I would do to protect you, just like she knew what Marikka would do."
"Yes." He peered up into Bodie's face, trying to ascertain his mood.
"Why didn't she tell me? Why didn't you?" There was honest bewilderment, and some pain in Bodie's voice, but little anger.
Doyle touched his cheek. "She was afraid that Marikka was reading your thoughts without your knowledge. Think about it. Marikka seemed to always know where the traps were, what we were doing. She managed to keep one step ahead of us right to the very end. Since you two had been lovers once, she might have been more attuned to your mind than to anyone else. We couldn't take the chance, not even to hint at it to you, for fear she would hear."
Bodie nodded, eyes still grave. "I supposed it must be something like that. Couldn't believe you wouldn't trust me, Ray. Or her and Cowley either, for that matter."
"Course not, you berk. Don't you know by now, how much they love us?" He did not add that his own faith in George Cowley had been tested this night, and not found wanting.
"Mother and Father..." Bodie stared at him in confusion. "Ray, what made me say that?"
"You must know who she is, then." It was not a question. "You know."
Bodie's eyes widened. "Ah, so is this incest, on top of sodomy? Are we their children?"
"Maybe we were once. Perhaps it's just the way she needs to see us, to love us in that way. Her mind is very powerful; it could be simply her influencing us to think that and nothing more. But it doesn't matter, really, if it was literally true once. What matters is that it is true for her now and will be true hereafter. Yes, we are Eleanor and Henry's sons." He lay his head back down.
His partner took this in, still holding him to his chest. "She's not going to let go of him, is she? Even if he wanted us to end it for him, she wouldn't allow it."
"I suspect you're right. But I didn't get the feeling tonight he was all that eager to die, in any case. He would have said so otherwise, and gone with us. Instead, he went off with her, God knows where."
"Don't you know? I mean, can't you feel him if you try, like you did before, Ray?"
"I've been a bit distracted lately, can't think why," Doyle rebuked with a tiny chuckle. "Let me see."
Quiet moments passed. Ray let his thoughts wander in no particular direction. He saw that his earlier experiences had been initiated by Cowley, mediated by the lady's blood they'd shared. He had no clear notion of how to do it himself. He recalled the way he'd awakened Madame much earlier that day, but wasn't sure how to apply the same technique. After all, he didn't know where they were. He voiced his misgivings aloud.
"What if you pictured him sitting at his desk, as you walked into his office?" Bodie mused. "Maybe it doesn't matter where he is at the moment, so long as you can see yourself talking to him."
"I'll give it a try." He settled himself more comfortably on Bodie's chest, hearing once more the steady beat of his mate's heart. It became the backdrop of his entry into CI5 Headquarters. There he went, past the guards, down the corridor, up the lift, out into the hall. The door to Cowley's office was closed. He knocked once, then reached for the doorknob.
The door opened, not to Cowley's office, but to the private compartment of a moving train. Cowley and Madame sat opposite each other, speaking quietly. Beyond them, the windows showed naught but the darkness of the countryside they rode through. As he entered, two pairs of fiercely powerful eyes fixed on him. He shuddered. So startling was the ease of the connection that he nearly lost it for a second, but those eyes held his steadily.
Cowley's features mellowed into the semblance of a human gaze. Aye, 4.5, what's the matter now?
"Just wondering where you are, sir. And Madame. Didn't mean to intrude. And, er..."
I should think you and Bodie would have enough to do to occupy your time tonight," Cowley replied. "You have three days leave, starting tomorrow. I'll be in touch by then. Susan and Betty will manage without you. They know where to reach me if necessary.
"But CI5... If the Minister knows you're dead..."
There are all sorts of conflicting rumours buzzing about Whitehall at the moment. No one is quite sure what has happened. And, if you have any sense at all, you and Bodie will make yourselves scarce until we return. Do you understand, Doyle?
The connection broke with such appalling speed that it nauseated him for a second. He gasped, then sat up. His partner was chafing one arm, softly calling his name with some alarm.
"They're on a night train to Scotland," he got out.
Bodie nodded. "Makes sense, that. He needs his native soil, doesn't he?"
He related the rest of the message, then added, "I think he knows about us."
"Well, of course he does, sunshine. But that's all right; we know about him too."
It felt strange, collecting their things and preparing to move on in the morning. They notified the Chief Constable of their intentions, and watched with some bemusement as the rooms were rapidly returned to their original order. Not a word was said about the last room, which was left severely alone. As they were leaving, the great wooden doors to the quarters were jammed shut and locked again. No trace of their habitation would remain.
"Guess we'll have to go elsewhere to celebrate our anniversaries, sunshine," Doyle mock mourned.
Bodie cast a lust-filled glance over at his mate. "We can worry about that when the honeymoon's over. Let's get out of here before the tourists descend on the place."
"My flat or yours?"
"Yours. You probably have more food lying about."
"I shouldn't count on it, as long as I've been gone. Probably all went bad by now."
All the same, neither man was in the mood to waste time marketing. By unspoken agreement Bodie drove them straight back to Ray's flat.
The phone was ringing as they entered; Doyle picked it up and answered with an air of weariness that evaporated in seconds. He cradled it on his neck as he motioned Bodie over. "It's Susan." A broad grin broke out over his face. "Right. Tell that pillock to mind his step from now on. We'll be watching." His face changed again as he listened intently. "Are you sure? No one's said a word to me about it." A few more moments passed. Bodie helped himself in the kitchen to the teakettle and set it on the burner.
He'd just finished adding boiling water to the teapot when Doyle entered the kitchen, his face sombre. "What is it, sunshine? Our leave get cancelled?"
Ray shook his head as he reached into the cupboard. "No, actually. Some good news. Murphy regained consciousness this morning. He's pretty banged up, but nothing permanent."
"That's great." Bodie waited patiently for the rest while his partner set the cups down and rummaged for some sugar. He even managed to remain still as they settled themselves at the table, though his forbearance was wearing thin. Ray sipped distractedly at his tea; Bodie followed suit.
When he thought he couldn't wait another minute, Doyle blurted out, "The official story is that Mr. Cowley was killed yesterday in the line of duty. His funeral is scheduled in three days time."
"Just in time for the Cow to make it back from Scotland," he commented neutrally, "though I doubt if he'll attend. Any word on his replacement?"
Ray raised troubled jade eyes to his. "Me." He put his cup down. "Susan says she'll hold the fort until we're back on duty."
"What?" At first he was sure it was a bad joke. "That's impossible. You mean Acting Controller, right? Until they find some school tie political replacement."
"That's what I would have assumed too," Doyle replied. "But it seems that there's been considerable pressure put on the Home Secretary to give it to me."
"From who? Cowley? I can't imagine they would listen to him, not about this."
"From the Crown." He took a sip of tea. "I suppose it must be Madame. They do owe her, after all."
Bodie sat back, finally convinced. It made sense. Through Ray, Cowley could still dominate CI5 for as long as he wished. "You're going to be a busy lad. I'd better get you back to bed while I still can. No wonder Cowley gave us three days leave."
"You don't mind?" There was a plaintive note to Doyle's voice that Bodie had seldom heard.
"Mind? Of course I'll mind us not being partners. It'll take me forever to break in a new one." He smiled. "And I'll miss spending so much time with you. But it is best for CI5, you know."
"Is it? They could have given it to you. You know how to dress, how to talk; you can charm them..."
"Don't be daft. I haven't the education, remember? Dropped out of school at fourteen, didn't I? You, you finished and even went to Art School a bit, then Police Academy. No, it's yours, mate." He patted Doyle's arm. "It's the right choice."
"I don't have a military background; don't have those contacts in the Establishment like he did. Dammit Bodie, I don't see how I can pull this off alone." He stormed into the kitchen and put his empty cup in the sink.
Bodie came up behind him with a squeeze to his shoulder. "Now, you know Cowley will be supporting you for as long as you need." Maybe longer, he kept to himself.
"That's not what I mean." Doyle turned to face him. "I need you with me. If I asked you to be Assistant Deputy Controller or whatever the hell we call it, would you do it? For me?"
Bodie chewed on a nail. "Close as we are, it would be dangerous, Ray. Think about it. Unless, of course, you decided to let this go..."
"Don't even think that! I'd turn it down first!"
He grinned at Doyle's vehemence. "Don't turn the green-eyed glare on me, Golly. If that's what you want, we'll give it a try." Mind you, Cowley might veto it, but we'll see. "Anything else on your mind?" He drew closer and put both hands on Doyle's thin waist.
Ray moved into his arms completely and returned the embrace, his mouth next to Bodie's ear. "Do you really think we can pull this off?"
The heat of his breath sent a shiver through Bodie. He turned his head to capture that sweet, wide mouth with his own. Just before they collided, he muttered, "Count on it."
The day of the funeral was obligingly bleak and damp. Chilly rain and wind gave everybody red noses and wet eyes, leaving little to distinguish between those who knew and those who didn't. Doyle and Bodie stood in a tight circle, flanked by Susan, Betty, McCabe, Lucas and Jax. Murphy was still in hospital. A distant cousin sent flowers, but no family came. A few old Army friends did arrive, but the majority of the mourners were simply CI5. That chilled Doyle more than the weather; if not for Bodie he too could wind up this isolated at the end of his life. He reminded himself that the coffin they decorated with flowers was empty, a sham, and that George Cowley had a whole new existence before him.
The Home Secretary came up to them and personally offered his condolences, along with his congratulations to Doyle on his appointment as Controller. There was nothing in his demeanour to suggest he was looking Doyle over, but Ray felt under a microscope all the same. Even the PM showed up briefly, along with her husband, and did the same. Though he was loath to admit it, he was grateful that his mate had dragged him to half a dozen shops the day before and revamped his wardrobe. At least he more or less looked the part, though his tie was killing him.
Off in the distance a black Rolls Royce with dark tinted glass stood motionless, as it had since the funeral began. He had no proof, but Doyle would have bet his new title that Cowley and Madame were in there watching the proceedings with considerable amusement. He thought about trying to contact his mentor, but was unsure if he could pull it off under the present circumstances. Better to wait until afterwards.
When the ceremony was concluded however, and people returned to their cars, the Rolls was no longer in sight. He remarked upon it as they took their respective places in Bodie's silver Capri.
"I'll be dammed; I was sure he wouldn't come. Perhaps Madame made him do it."
"I can't imagine Cowley letting her lead him around by the nose; no, if he came, it was for his own reasons," Ray responded pensively. "I think he wants to meet us, but where? Any ideas?"
Bodie shrugged. "Somewhere dark and deserted, I would think. Unless he simply plans to wait until nightfall. What about the Tower, then? Madame's sarcophagus is there. She'd need it, wouldn't she?" His attention was diverted by the sudden appearance of the black Rolls alongside the road. Quick as thought, he pulled off behind it.
The car then proceeded back onto the main road, with Bodie right behind them. "Well, so much for how to contact them. Wonder where we're going."
The Rolls maintained a steady speed all the way back into Central London. As traffic grew more congested, it slowed, allowing them to easily keep pace. "Damn," Bodie commented. "Looks like we're going straight to HQ." But at the last minute, the Rolls turned off in the direction of Buckingham Palace. "What the devil?"
Bodie was not alone in his bewilderment. George Cowley peered over at his companion, suspicion writ large on his features. "Now what are you up to, Madame? I still have no idea why we had to go to that dreadful ceremony, merely to contact Bodie and Doyle. A simple phone call would have sufficed."
"Patience," replied the lady driving the car. "It's your own fault. If you're going to insist I learn to operate this bloody automobile, you'll simply have to be content to remain a passenger." She smiled over at him. "As it turns out, you were right. I don't half mind these things as long as I'm doing the driving."
"I'm sure you don't expect to shock me with that bit of news," he rejoined. "I would still like to know what we are doing here in broad daylight." That statement came out with a bit more strain than he'd intended. Truth to tell, he was nowhere near as comfortable as she with being out and about, even on a very dark and overcast winter afternoon. She'd assured him they would be safe behind the tinted glass, but it made him uneasy all the same.
Part of it, he knew, was the difference in their ages. In time, she'd explained, his powers would grow, as would his ability to tolerate indirect daylight and running water. It was not something she chose to do often, but, she insisted, this was a special occasion. A man didn't get a chance to watch his own funeral that often. He suspected that was not the only special occasion she was referring to. She had donned a long black silk gown, covered by a great fur mantle, and had insisted that he dress up too.
By the time they'd parked in an underground lot and been ushered through a tunnel into the Palace proper, he began to have an inkling. Bodie and Doyle hurried to join them.
"Sir?" It was Bodie. The lad seemed downright relieved to see him again. A strange feeling worked its way through his still changing nervous system; one he could not give a name to yet. It caused him to smile and wait for them to catch up.
"3.7," he acknowledged. "Dammed if I know the man standing beside you, though." Doyle flushed, much to his delight. "4.5, is that you? My God, man, I'd have died sooner if I'd thought it would get you into the proper attire." He chuckled as the nameless sensation returned, a bit stronger, and his hand reached out to ruffle Doyle's still unruly curls. It was then he recognised it for what it was; hunger. She had warned him about that. He was unsettled, but not concerned; years of utter self denial had prepared him well for this role. "I don't suppose you two know any more than I do what this is about?"
They shook their heads as they both fell in step beside him, Madame leading the way. The staff bowed to her and indicated the way to follow. As he suspected, they found themselves in the same room where they'd previously met with the Queen Mother. All the same, he was taken aback.
She was seated, dressed in crown and ceremonial robes, waiting for them, but rose as Madame swept into the room. The two queens came together and curtsied to each other in the centre of the room as equals. Then they embraced as old friends might. "Your Grace, I had not expected to see you again in this life. Welcome back to England. I thank you for all you have done for us, now and over the course of these many, many years."
"It is my honour and my pleasure, Your Majesty," Eleanor replied. She then turned and motioned for Cowley to come beside her. "You have met Mr. Cowley, I understand? He bowed deeply to them both, aware of all eyes upon him.
"Indeed we have. And I must say, your request pleased me greatly; I can think of no worthier conclusion to this entire matter." She turned to Cowley as Madame waved the other two men forward. "My only regret is that this must be done privately. Come sir, kneel before me."
Bodie was too much the military man not to respond to the simple ceremony with awe. He watched, eyes shining, as his Controller knelt and the Queen Mother raised her jewelled sword to his shoulder. Her ancient hands were steady, her voice clear, as she called forth, "I dub thee a knight." The sword wove its way to his other shoulder. "Be ever faithful. Arise, Sir George." He kissed her hand and bowed as he did so. He took Madame's hand and kissed it as well; as he turned to them, Bodie had no doubt about how the honour bestowed had affected him. Sir George Cowley's hard features were aglow with pride and gratitude. And love.
Madame had already made arrangements for a private tête à tête with them in a separate wing of the Palace. After the Queen Mother left them to return to Clarence House, she urged her company to follow her into the secluded recesses of the building. They found themselves in a quiet study with the fireplace lit and the curtains well drawn. It was the least imposing of the rooms they'd seen, and the most comfortable. Books lined the panelled walls and a circular table in the centre held a bottle with matching glasses. Cowley poured the amber liquor as he always did, but this time Bodie and Doyle alone drank.
He did suggest the first toast, however. "Here's to the successful conclusion of a most unusual case." They dutifully raised their glasses.
Bodie led the next one. "To Sir George Cowley. Congratulations, sir." He was rewarded by Madame's warm approval. Once again the tumblers went up.
Madame offered, "To the new Controller and Deputy Controller of CI5." How she knew about all that, they didn't even hazard a guess. Cowley never blinked an eye.
It was Doyle's turn. He searched all three faces before him, hesitant. "Journeys end in lovers meeting. To Madame and Sir George; may you find much happiness together." He needn't have worried. They both glowed and cast adorable, abashed glances at each other.
Then, rapidly, fearing to lose his nerve, he added, "And to Bodie, for taking me on as well." He waited, breathless, for their responses.
Bodie's grin would have melted frost; he tossed off the last of his drink with gleeful pride. Madame kissed their cheeks in turn, equally pleased. Best of all, George Cowley himself came over and placed an arm over each of their shoulders. Doyle finally exhaled completely and let himself be embraced by his leader, a lump in his throat. The old man's approbation meant more than he'd been willing to let on, even to himself.
Relief and the effects of rapid drinking made him boneless. He barely noticed at first when Cowley drew him away from the others and sat him down before the fire.
Ah, laddie, I've much to tell you; much to explain. Bear with me for a bit?
Peaceful warmth enveloped him; only when he looked up did he realise that his mentor had not spoken aloud. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Madame and Bodie were engaged in their own private conversation. He nodded, knowing that Cowley had already sensed his willingness. It was time to take over the family business.
Much later, his head was bursting with new understanding of the complexities Cowley had wrestled with alone, for so long. Exhausted, he let Bodie hustle him off into their car and head for home. He didn't demur when his partner used the R/T to place an order for takeaway dinner. It was Indian this time, an assortment of curries. He slouched back against the seat and said not a word until it was time to get out of the car. Only then did he mutter something about being knackered.
"First day on the job, and already you're a sad sight." Bodie's eyes were warm and surprisingly sweet. "Come along then. Dinner first, then to bed."
Once his nude body hit the cool sheets, he understood his fatigue was more mental than physical. Bodie slid in beside him, apparently content to cuddle for a bit. This suited Doyle not at all. He needed Bodie's loving hands all over him and said so.
His mate searched his face intently for a moment, then touched it with great tenderness. "You look so tired, sunshine. Let me love you to sleep."
Ray was normally far from passive in bed, but this was an offer too wonderful to pass up. He sighed in utter contentment as Bodie began to stroke and knead and kiss him from head to toe. Once in a while he reached out to glide his fingers along Bodie's beautiful skin, or to taste it with his open mouth, but mostly he lay back and let Bodie have his way with him.
It was a revelation. 'Making love' had always been merely a flowery phrase to him. It didn't coincide with his cool, sophisticated attitude toward sex. But then, neither did his relationship with Bodie. He could think of no other terms that fit what Bodie was doing with him. Never in his life had he felt so cherished, so special, so completely cared for. It filled his heart and forced the words out of his mouth.
"I love you, Bodie. Oh God, I love you so much."
His partner came up and kissed him then, lying atop the length of him. "Love you too, angelfish. Always have. Always will." His words were punctuated with light busses along Ray's eyelids, his nose, the hollow of his throat, his cheekbones, and then his full, hungry lips. One callused hand teased the nearest nipple, while the other played with his balls and worked his cock.
Doyle was drowning in a sea of love. He stopped fighting the waves pulling him under and relinquished himself to them in great flowing bursts. He shouted, too blissed out to do anything else.
Vaguely he was aware of Bodie stropping himself against his thighs. He knew he should help and raised his hands to Bodie's chest. Between the two of them it took but a few minutes. Then Bodie's sweating, trembling frame collapsed on him, utterly spent.
He managed, just, to open one eye and look at the top of his lover's dark head, cradled under his chin. He kissed it. "Luv..." He said nothing more.
After a time, Bodie shifted and pulled the duvet over them. He gazed at his sleeping lover/brother/friend and saw with a start that there was nothing he would not do for this man, be it fair or foul. Bodie was the perfect backup. Cowley must have known that too. Whatever small doubts he had about their ability to handle CI5 together faded.
He got up to get a glass of water.
The flat was dark and quiet. Bodie knew his way around it well enough to get to the kitchen without turning on a single light. There was no need to disturb Ray. He padded silently to his destination and took a glass from the cupboard, then turned on the tap.
He whirled, nearly dropping his glass at the familiar sound of that voice.
George Cowley sat at the table in the dark. When he smiled, his teeth caught reflected moonlight and glinted. Bodie felt his heart suddenly lurch.
"Ach, laddie, you've no cause to fear me." There was just enough of his usual irritation in his tone to calm Bodie instantly. The old man wouldn't lie to him. In any case, he had no need to do so.
"You startled me, sir. Had no idea you were in here." Of course, Cowley knew all the security codes, could obtain keys to any lock. His appearance was not all that supernatural.
"Goldilocks is asleep." It was not a question. "We need to talk, you and I. Sit down, 3.7."
He did as he was told out of long habit, acutely aware of his nudity at the same time. Cowley deigned not to notice.
"Madame and I will be leaving for the south of France tomorrow night. It may be some time before we return. Of course, I do expect you will come and visit when you're on holiday. I also expect you to call me, should the need arise. Doyle will not want to; he has something to prove. You, on the other hand, are less prideful in that regard. I'm counting on you, Bodie."
He nodded, uneasy. It wouldn't do to keep secrets from Ray. Still, the old man was right. If a situation was important enough he'd call, even if they had to fight over it, but he would not lie to his partner.
"Nor would I expect you to. He is your leader now, after all. I have no desire to undermine his authority or to set you two at odds. Far from it. I merely wish to be kept informed, that's all."
It was unnerving, being read so openly. How was it that Cowley's abilities were increasing at such a pace, when Marikka's had not?
"Madame's blood; she is so very old and wise. You have no idea what she has seen, where she has been. Thanks to her, I am also not as afflicted with the blood thirst that consumed Marikka." He sighed. "Poor girl. She was completely unprepared for what happened to her. I think it drove her mad. You must not think ill of her, Bodie. That sort of personality change is, alas, all too common with my kind. Only the strongest of wills can prevent it."
That made sense. He'd never met a man with a stronger will than George Cowley. No wonder Madame trusted his self control enough to have brought him over to her world. He took a sip of water, suddenly aware of the other reason Cowley was here. And yes, he trusted him too. Had trusted him with his life for years and years. Tonight was no different.
"Thank you, Bodie." The older man arose and stood beside him, a hand on his shoulder. "Are you sure? Trust is all very well and good, but do you understand the amount of disclosure involved? For a time, we will not be entirely separate. Your privacy means a great deal to you."
He sensed Cowley withdrawing, giving him space to decide. It was not hard. He loved the old man unreservedly. Only Ray Doyle had more pull on his soul. "Whatever you need, if I have it, it's yours." The room fell silent as Cowley took his arm and led him to the parlour. He sat on the divan, and was surprised when Cowley took off his coat and covered him with it. Only then did he realise how chilled he was.
"You'll catch your death, wandering about stark naked in the dead of winter, 3.7."
"Wasn't expecting company, now was I?" He lay back in the circle of Cowley's arms, comfortable and curious. He had wondered what all the fuss was about with this, but knew better than to ask Doyle. Now he would see for himself.
He'd expected some level of intimacy, some kind of contact beyond the physical. After all, Cowley had warned him of it. But nothing anyone could have said would have prepared him for the depth and raw intensity of Cowley's invasion. He knew instantly that Doyle had hated it, and why. Giving one's blood was a minor thing; he'd donated in the past when a mate had been injured. But this... It was terrifying, really, to be dissolving into the mind of another. Unless it was someone you loved. He held to that notion, and let his love open him to an even greater extent than he had thought possible. Then, ecstasy.
When Cowley was through with him, he was cold again. He snuggled deeper into the other man's arms, seeking a warmth that was not there.
Cowley knew it and sighed silently. Time for you to go to bed, lad. You've got a busy day tomorrow.
"Yes, sir." Bodie stirred and stretched languorously. Wonder if I'll ever get to do that with Ray.
Perhaps. Who knows?
Bodie's eyes opened, suddenly aware that speech was not needed between them anymore. Sir?
Go to bed, son. You're cold. Go to bed.
He waited in the doorway until Bodie had done his bidding. The sight of them lying together with their limbs loosely entwined no longer disturbed him. Quite the contrary; it filled him with great joy. Love came to men in many ways. He knew that now.
Soundlessly he turned to leave. His own ancient lover beckoned in the night.
-- THE END --
Originally published by Cornhusker Press, 1998