(Post NO STONE)
Wincing as a flood of painfully bright light flooded the aircraft cabin as the door swung open, Ray Doyle slipped on his sunglasses. Barely able to see the rickety exit steps because of the sun's hurtful brilliance, he grabbed the thin, bent handrail for support, grunting as the first blast of equatorial heat and humidity rolled over him. Even this late in the evening, the sky was still a deep azure blue without a trace of a cloud to mar its surface. As he stepped onto the cracked tarmac, he heard Bodie give a short, mirthless chuckle behind him.
"Welcome to Africa, mate." Sunglasses sitting firmly on his own pert nose, the dark-haired man swung a jaundiced look around them. He took in the sun-blistered buildings, the broken and sweltering tarmac upon which they stood and the ever-present odour of too much humidity and decaying matter. "God, it never changes."
Immersed in a battle to keep the sweat out of his eyes, Doyle barely heard him.
Glancing over, Bodie gave a slight twist of his lips. "C'mon, mate," he urged, wiping perspiration-limp curls off his partner's forehead. "Let's get you into the terminal. We'll find something cold to drink and get you cooled off, all right?"
"Yeah," muttered Doyle, automatically slinging his holdall over his shoulder.
Wearily, he followed the broad back through the pock-marked, paint-flaked wooden door into which their fellow passengers had already vanished. A short flight of stairs deposited them in a noisy, bustling, but most importantly, air-conditioned, terminal. Steering his fatigued lover over to a group of battered plastic chairs in one corner, Bodie gently pushed him onto a seat.
"Here you go. Stay put and I'll find us something to drink. Watch my bag?" Without waiting for a reply, Bodie disappeared into the swirling crowd.
Sitting back with a deep sigh, Doyle debated on whether he could get away with taking his shirt off. Deciding not to press his luck, he settled for unbuttoning another two buttons. Wiping his forehead once again, he held up his fringe to let some cool air blow over his face as he took his first good look around him. Just the same as any other major airport in the world, he thought wryly. Noise, confusion and an over-loud speaker system. In fact, if it weren't for the rapid babble of unintelligible speech, Doyle could well have believed he was back at Heathrow. That, and the fact that, here, ebony faces out-numbered white by a hefty margin. Finally beginning to cool off, he glanced around once more and spotted his partner weaving toward him through the crowd.
Upon reaching him, Bodie thrust out a large, plastic beaker. "Here you go. Wrap your throat around that." He took a large drink from his own as he dropped down in the seat next to Doyle.
Catching a whiff of a light, fruity odour, Doyle gratefully drank. "Mmm," he murmured pleasurably. "'S good, this. What is it?"
"Blend of three or four fruit juices. Locals drink it a lot in these parts; more popular than tea or coffee during the summer."
"Can see why."
Several quiet moments passed. Sipping occasionally, both men took the time to get better acquainted with their surroundings. It wasn't until he'd finished his drink that Doyle voiced the question which had been increasingly bothering him for the last few minutes. Well aware of the ammunition for teasing he was handing his partner, he hesitantly said, "Uh, Bodie?"
"Just where the bloody hell are we, anyway?"
Head turning at the plaintive query, Bodie grinned. "Little turned around, are we?" He reached over and snagged the empty beaker out of his lover's hand, then stood. "Well, we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto."
Ignoring the disgusted snort, Bodie walked over to a rubbish bin and deposited the used beakers. Turning back, he grinned again at the exasperated look on the exotic face. Sinking back into his seat, he closed his travel-weary eyes. "This should be Libreville in Gabon. I hope." Cracking open one eye, he glanced at his watch. "Local time -- 2030 hours."
"Christ, is that all?" Irritation plain in the husky voice, Doyle went on, "As many bloody cities as we've been in, shouldn't it be later than that?"
Bodie hid a smile. "It is later, sunshine." Meeting the green glare head-on, he elaborated, "Look, we left Heathrow at 1930 -- 7.30pm -- Wednesday evening, right? Well, it's now 8.30pm on Thursday. It is later -- over twenty-four hours so."
Tiredly, Doyle closed his own eyes and leaned his head against the wall at their backs. "At least this is fifth stop; only one more to go." A sudden worrying thought hit him, bringing him upright once again. "This is the fifth stop, isn't it?"
"Sure it is," reassured the younger man. Holding up his hands, Bodie ticked off the stops. "Lisbon, Dakar, Abidjan, Lagos, and finally, Libreville." He gave a sympathetic grin. "Only one more plane trip to go."
"One more," groaned Doyle, letting his head fall back against the wall. "And once we get to Taneala, it's how far by jeep to Sounole?"
"Two hours and fifteen minutes...depending on the road conditions."
Hearing the tartness in the determinedly neutral tone, Doyle gave the other man a speculative look. "Awfully concise there, mate." When it became obvious Bodie wasn't going to explain further, he pressed, "Been there before, have we?"
Bodie gave a quick, sideways glance, knowing he was under level scrutiny. With an inward sigh, he embroidered his blunt affirmative. "Was never the garden spot of Africa; doubt it's changed all that much. Just a wide, dusty spot in what they laughingly call a road over here." Standing, he effectively ended the discussion. "It's going on nine, Ray. If we're to meet our last plane by ten, we'd best catch a taxi. Can't be sure the cabby will know where that small airstrip is -- he might have to stop for directions."
Doyle gave in without further demur. Regaining his feet, he slung his holdall over a shoulder and stayed close to Bodie as they wove in and out of the crowds. Face carefully bland, his mind was working furiously. Bodie had been acting strangely from the moment George Cowley had informed them they were to collect Michael Coddington from the remote Gabonian outpost of Sounole. All of Doyle's attempts to draw out his partner had failed; Bodie steadfastly denied there was any problem and refused to discuss it. In fact, Doyle had been shocked a few moments ago by Bodie volunteering those few, terse sentences. Watching as his lover flagged a passing taxi, Doyle nodded thoughtfully. It might not be now...and it might not be soon...but come hell or high water, I'm going to have the truth out of him if I have to strangle the stubborn prat.
Mentally making himself that promise, Doyle slid into the ragged back seat of the badly-dented vehicle passing for a taxi.
As carefully as possible, Bodie stretched, trying to ease the ache of travel-strained muscles in his back and legs. Hearing a mumbled protest at the movement, he glanced down at the head of tousled mahogany curls decorating his right shoulder. Within minutes of boarding the small aircraft hired to take them to Taneala, Doyle had fallen into an exhausted sleep, his head propped on his lover's shoulder. In complete approval of the idea, Bodie had tried to remain as still as possible, thus enabling Doyle to catch a much-needed kip.
The older agent hadn't been sleeping well for the past fortnight; not since Cookie and Reynolds had been killed. Unobtrusively monitoring his other half, Bodie was becoming seriously concerned by the heavy, purple bags under the red-rimmed jade eyes, the grey pallor and the muted manner so unlike the mercurial Doyle. No matter how late he went to bed, regardless of how tired he was, within a short period of falling asleep, Doyle would awaken in a sweat-drenched ball of terror. He was also strangely reluctant to tell his worried lover about the nightmare. Bodie had tried every way he knew to pry the secret out of him, but Doyle had remained obstinately close-mouthed. Ray needs a holiday, Bodie fumed for the thousandth time in two days. He doesn't need to go flying halfway around the ruddy world just to collect some bastard investment banker who absconded with most of his banks funds, and then flew the coop before the bank collapsed!
Eight days ago -- belatedly becoming aware of something massively amiss with his bank's finances -- Sir Robert Whittier, chairman and great-great grandson of the founder, had called his old school chum, George Cowley, in a panic. It was a case of closing the stable door after the horses had already bolted. Within thirty-six hours of CI5 being on the job, the vice-president in charge of Overseas Investments had fled the country. Having caught wind of the investigation, and possessing a healthy respect for CI5's abilities, Coddington had swiftly liquidated all his personal accounts and hopped the next flight out of Heathrow. Faced with the ugly reality of over six million pounds embezzled, and a possible further debt of at least seven million more due to deliberately misleading investments, the venerable institution had had no choice but to declare itself insolvent. His personal wealth destroyed, hounded by the press, pilloried by the government and other investment banks for not having noticed sooner that something was awry, Sir Robert had gone into his study two days after the news had broken. Taking the elementary precaution of locking the door -- after all, his two young grandchildren were visiting that day -- he had stuck the barrel of an ancient Wembley automatic into his mouth and pulled the trigger.
Almost insensate with rage at the news, Cowley had driven his men without mercy. He wanted Michael Coddington, and he wanted him now. So fierce was his determination, he failed to notice the obvious evidence of Doyle's deteriorating mental condition, an odd oversight for such an abnormally astute observer. Brusquely shrugging off Bodie's pleas to grant his partner some leave time, the Controller had been adamant: once Coddington had been found and brought to justice, then Cowley would give the idea serious consideration. Five more days would go by before news of the embezzler's whereabouts reached CI5. Late that Tuesday evening, tiredly scanning a report sent by an Interpol courier, agent 4.5 had let out a whoop that brought partner, colleagues and employer running. Waving the dispatch victoriously, Doyle had triumphantly announced that their prey had finally surfaced -- and what was even better -- where he had surfaced...stuck behind the bars of a one-cell gaol in back-of-beyond Africa. His stomach tightening with foreboding, Bodie had heard him out.
The former bank official's luck had run out less than forty-eight hours after his flight from justice had begun. His headlong dash to a villa in the Maldives had suffered a serious setback when the non-stop Senegambian airline he had boarded in Dakar developed engine trouble before it could reach its destination of Nairobi. Grounded in Cameroon by the unforeseen incident, Coddington had been astounded to discover that it might take two or three days before he could secure a seat on another flight. Forced by this bit of unhappy news to charter a private plane, he had soon run out of luck yet again. Flying over the no-man's land of western Africa, the twin-engine plane had blown an oil seal and been forced to land at a small, private airstrip on the outskirts of Sounole, a tiny hamlet only a few miles from the Gabon/Congolese border. Upon being told that it might be days before a spare part could be cobbled together to fix the matter, the Englishman's blood pressure had hit an all-time high.
Notable only for the incredible ratio of pubs to homes in such a small village, Sounole was not the sort of place to invite great confidence. Undeterred, Coddington had hit every one of the numerous drinking establishments in his search for another pilot and plane. His expertise with stock and money manipulation totally useless here, the fleeing felon had soon made his first major mistake.
Desperate to recruit a pilot, Coddington had flashed his large wad of cash once too many times in all the wrong places. Aggrieved to awaken the next morning with a massive headache and a large goose-egg on the back of his head, his humour had not improved when he'd discovered his bare wallet. His mood had suffered a further serious decline when he'd finally become cognizant of his current surroundings.
Unconscious Caucasians a very rare sight in Sounole, the night officer of the three-man police department had quickly scooped up the battered figure littering a dirty alley and deposited him in the village's only cell. Suspicious of white men, and stung by an ill-conceived temper tantrum from his prisoner, Officer Nole had refused Coddington's furious demands that he be set free. The officer had, instead, sent a communiqu to Libreville, checking on wants and warrants. When the reply came from the capital three days later, the good officers of Sounole were flabbergasted at the news of an outstanding warrant issued by Interpol. Sullen and uncommunicative by this time, the embezzler had just snarled at the news.
Meanwhile, back in London, Bodie had listened with a growing sense of dread to Cowley struggling with flight schedules and time differences in an attempt to get a team into Sounole. The flight arrangements turned out to be a mishmash of cities and countries, all pointing inexorably to a little village in eastern Gabon. As it was well past four in the morning before all the logistics had been worked out, the Scot had had to be content with getting his men onto the early evening flight to Lisbon that day. He had then announced that, being as it was Doyle who had taken the time to read the report, it was only fair that it be 4.5 and 3.7 who fetched the thief back to Great Britain. A cold lump settling into his gut, Bodie had opened his mouth to protest, only to be beaten into speech. Tired to the point of lightheadedness by this time, Doyle's sole wish had been to get some sleep; if that meant agreeing to fly several thousand miles to Africa and back in three days, so be it. Grabbing his sputtering partner by the jacket sleeve, he had simply hauled Bodie out Cowley's office door. By the time they'd left Doyle's flat that evening for their flight out, a sense of fatalism had settled over the larger man. Que sera sera, and all of that...after all, he could hardly let Doyle go on his own.
A gruff voice broke into Bodie's musings.
"We will be landing in Taneala in approximately ten minutes, monsieur," reported the pilot. "You might wish to wake your friend."
Regretting the necessity, for Doyle appeared to have slept peaceably the seven hours of the flight, Bodie reached over and shook a bony shoulder. "C'mon, sunshine," he ordered quietly. "Up and at 'em."
Moaning in protest, Doyle fought his eyelids. Blinking, it was several minutes before he was able to focus on the apologetic face of his partner. "Wot's 'appenin'?" he slurred, still more asleep than awake.
"We're landing in about ten minutes," Bodie informed him. "Sorry, old son, but you're just too heavy to carry along with the luggage."
Finally completely awake, Doyle treated that remark with the contempt he felt it deserved. Stretching, he heard his spine and shoulders pop and felt much better. For the first time in two weeks, he actually felt somewhat human. He knew his sleeping patterns the last fortnight had been abysmal. Exhausted, but afraid of what would occur once he fell asleep, he would fight sleep and only give into it in the wee hours of the morning. Still, he would be awakened night after night by the same returning nightmare. Not unaware of his lover's worry, Doyle had been at a loss to explain his feelings, only somehow knowing that he must never tell Bodie about the dream. Maybe he was getting superstitious in his old age; if that was the case, then he would just have to learn to live with it.
Feeling the weight of his partner's gaze, Doyle brought his wandering mind to the present.
"I'm fine, mate, honest," he said in response to the silent concern in lapis eyes. "Know it's hard to believe, but that's the best -- and longest -- sleep I've had in ages."
Studying Doyle's face, Bodie had to admit that the nap seemed to have worked wonders. For the first time in much too long, there was a sparkle to the jade eyes and a little colour in the mismatched cheeks. Shaking his head, he gave an unabashedly affectionate grin. "Only you, sunshine, could get a good kip in a bouncing eight-seater."
Doyle grinned back, chipped tooth showing. "No accounting for talent, is there," he acknowledged modestly. He leant over to the tiny window and looked out. "Oh, damn."
"What?" asked Bodie, not seeing anything alarming in the early dawn light.
"Know you told me Africa isn't all jungle and such, but I was hoping for just a little something." Doyle pointed in disgust at the arid, dusty ground.
His own worries firmly pushed to the back of his mind, Bodie shook his head over him again. "Don't you worry your curly head about it, mate. By the time we reach Sounole, you'll have seen jungle enough."
Doyle immediately brightened. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. 'S not that far away, but it's close to the Ubangi so there's plenty of water. Sometimes too plenty, if you catch my drift."
By now, the plane had started a slow descent. Trying to look everywhere at once, Doyle happened to catch a slight frown on the pilot's rugged face. "Something wrong?"
Perplexed, Bodie looked at his partner just as the pilot answered slowly, "I do not wish to seem to eavesdrop, monsieur, but I could not help but hear that you are bound for Sounole. Pardon my asking, but are you planning to travel by the gorge road?"
"Yes, we were," replied Bodie, slightly surprised at the query. "Why, is there a problem?"
"I am afraid so. The bridge over the gorge washed out in the rains last year. The government says it has no money at this time to replace it. The only way to drive to Sounole is to take the southern road to Mbwagi and then turn northwest."
"That's over six hundred miles out of the way!" protested Bodie. "It'll take us over the Congolese border!"
Feeling almost nauseous at the thought of the additional miles, Doyle said nothing. He was not so far gone, however, that he hadn't heard the slight note of desperation in the usually smooth voice. Sneaking a look to his left, he was astonished to find that Bodie had paled somewhat, the muscles in his jaw now tightly clenched.
Doyle rushed into speech. "Don't worry about it, mate. Once we get down, we'll give the Cow a ring. Maybe he'll authorise another plane."
Taking a deep breath, Bodie nodded. There was silence in the small aircraft for the next several minutes. Coming to a sedate stop near the battered steel hut that passed as a terminal, the pilot turned around and studied them gravely. No, Doyle corrected himself, it's Bodie he's looking at. It's almost as if he's begging him for something. Dismissing the thought as a fancy of his overtired mind, Doyle opened his mouth to speak just as the pilot seemed to come to a decision.
"If it will assist you, monsieur, I can fly you both into Sounole." He spoke directly to Bodie. "In the morning, I will return you to Libreville."
"We would have to get authorisation from our boss for the added expenditure," Bodie replied almost absently. A faint frown had settled on the handsome face and he was staring at the large African through narrowed eyes.
"There will be no extra charge," the pilot said firmly. "It would not be right to charge you."
"But we only contracted with your firm for a flight to Taneala. What about the extra fuel, and your expenses in Sounole?" queried Doyle, aghast. "And what did you mean it wouldn't be right to charge for the trip, Mr., uh, sorry, never caught your name."
"Chilombo." The ebony eyes returned to Bodie. "Joseph Chilombo."
Bodie grunted as though he'd been gut-punched.
For the first time, a small smile appeared on the dark face. "That is correct, Monsieur Bodie. I am not surprised you did not recognise me; you had never met me and it has been fifteen years since you last saw Noel. You, however, have changed little since that photograph he sent me of you two." Opening his door, Chilombo stepped out. "If you gentlemen will excuse me, I must make arrangements for re-fueling. You might wish to get out of the plane; it will be thirty to forty minutes before we can leave."
Watching the big Gabonian stride across the tarmac to the quonset hut, Doyle cleared his throat before asking blandly, "Want to tell me what that was all about, mate?'
When the sable-haired man remained silent, he swung around to face his lover. Bodie, too, was staring after the retreating figure of the pilot, a stunned look still on his face. Several minutes later, he took a deep breath and rubbed a hand over his eyes. "Bloody hell, will the past never stay dead?" He sounded more weary than angry.
Startled, Doyle protested, "He didn't sound mad to me, Bodie! He can't be, not if he's willing to fly us to Sounole and back for no extra charge. 'S more like he was...thanking...you."
"Oh, yeah, thanking me," Bodie retorted bitterly, looking out the opposite window. Face shuttered, he continued, "One for the record books, this. Not every day a man thanks you for murdering his baby brother."
"There's got to more to it than that," his partner insisted vehemently. Hearing himself, Doyle gentled his tone. "I know you, sunshine; you don't kill without a good reason -- even as a merc. So why did you do it?"
It was obvious from the flicker of emotions in the back of the midnight blue eyes that Bodie was debating whether or not to answer. Finally, giving a deep sigh, he said tonelessly, "Guards at the prison camp where I was held liked to have a little sport with the prisoners. They weren't particular about who their toy was; very democratic, they were. They'd just haul some poor bastard out, whip the skin off his back with the cat o' nine -- maybe fuck him bloody, just to keep in practice -- then walk away and leave him hanging there in the hot sun for the rest of the day. Come dark, if he was still able to scream, they'd throw a bucket of salt water over him."
Swallowing past a knot of revulsion, Doyle forced himself not to react. "I take it this Noel feller found himself elected."
"Yeah." Closing his eyes, Bodie leaned back against his seat. "Bunch of us were just being herded back into our cells when they threw that damn water over him. Don't know, maybe it was the way he screamed...maybe it was because enough was just bloody enough...but that was the last straw. The fucking bastards never knew what hit 'em. By the time they'd realised there was a genuine riot happening, we'd managed to kill a few of the guards and grab their guns. The others started running for the trees, but I couldn't leave poor Noel just hanging there, screaming his lungs out. Knew if I just took off, the guards would only torture him all the more as payment for the lot of us escaping."
"So you put a bullet between his eyes," Doyle finished steadily. "You know you did the right thing; you couldn't have taken him with you, and it would've been inhumane to leave him to be tortured."
"Yeah, I reckon." Several quiet moments later, "Y'know, he'd often told me about his big brother; very proud of him, Noel was. Never thought I'd meet the bloke, though."
"Small world, isn't it?" remarked Doyle with a grin.
"No kidding." With a groan, Bodie leaned up and unlatched the passenger door. "C'mon, pet, let's go stretch our legs."
"Right you are," Doyle agreed with alacrity.
Once out on the tarmac, they both stretched, trying to ease the aches in tired muscles. Glancing around, Doyle suggested, "If Chilombo's going to be a bit yet, let's take a short walk, eh? Give our legs some exercise instead of our bums."
"Great idea, Batman." Bodie eagerly pounced on the idea. "We should be able to find a food stall somewhere close by; get ourselves something to eat and drink."
"Should've know you'd bring food into it somehow," grumbled Doyle good-naturedly as they set off toward the road they could see.
Much to the agents' gratification, once they were airborne again, it was only a little over an hour before they were descending onto the small strip outside Sounole. Getting directions to the police station, they shook hands with Chilombo and arranged to meet him back at the airstrip by three that afternoon. A brisk ten minute walk brought them to the door of the rundown mud-brick hut which bore the proud sign 'Department of Justice -- Sounole', hanging drunkenly from rusted chains. Shaking his head, Bodie lead the way in.
As they entered, a thin black man in a sweat-soaked brown uniform looked up from behind a battered wooden desk. That desk, along with a mate which seemed even more the worse for wear, and three wobbly-appearing straight back chairs comprised the sum of office furnishings. Giving the CI5 agents a hard stare, the officer abruptly froze, then rose slowly, right hand extended. "You wouldn't be the gentlemen from London? I am Bengalli." His accent was thick, making his words difficult to understand.
"That's us," affirmed Doyle, shaking the proffered hand. "I'm Doyle; this is my partner, Bodie."
Concealing his grimace at Doyle's use of his name, Bodie also shook hands. Giving a nod in the direction of the back room, he asked, "He been giving you much trouble?"
"Not since the first few days, no." The officer suddenly grinned, teeth very white against his coal-black face. "Now he is so tired of our heat and insects, that I think he will fall upon you and weep for his deliverance from this Hell." He led the way into the smaller back room.
Doyle's first glimpse of the sweaty, paunchy, middle-aged figure sitting on the sagging bunk did little to improve his opinion of the man. Visible perspiration running down his face and torso, thinning sandy hair matted and stuck to his pink scalp, Michael Coddington did not fit the image of one of the most successful and brilliant embezzlers of all time. When he spoke, however, his voice was smooth and cultured.
"Well, well," he murmured blandly, giving the agents a speculative look. "Can it be that I'm finally going to get out of this armpit of the universe and back to civilisation?"
"Wouldn't count on it, mate," Doyle answered shortly, irritation already setting in. "Unless you consider a jail cell in Cheltenham to be the height of luxury."
"I won't be there long." Coddington exuded superiority and confidence. "My barrister will have me out on personal recognisance before you know it."
"Think again, mate." Bodie's apology was as false as his smile. "Magistrates don't assign personal recognisance for felons with a history of skipping the bloody country. You're going to gaol, Coddington: Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred pounds."
"What?!" Staring at them through stunned grey-blue eyes, Coddington's jaw hung limply.
"Considering, too, how over-booked the courts are," Doyle continued with suspect affability, "you just might be sitting in there a long time before your case even comes up."
A broadly grinning Bengalli led the two agents out, leaving behind a felon almost puce with rage.
"That got him," the Gabonian announced with deep satisfaction. "I think I like you London boys."
"We strive to please," commented Doyle around his own toothy display. He shared a smug look with his partner before saying, "Thanks for everything, Officer. We'll be back at 1430 to take him off your hands. Right now, I need something cold to drink and a bed. Not necessarily in that order."
"Try Matushe's," suggested the justice officer. "It's on the corner two blocks up. Has the best beer and food in three townships; and, the sheets are washed daily."
"Always a plus," agreed Bodie. "C'mon, Trouble," tugging at a lean forearm, "last one there buys breakfast."
Scowling ferociously, Doyle allowed himself to be dragged out of the police station.
Know it's only gone eight in the morning, Bodie thought drowsily, but Christ, am I beat! After having enjoyed a filling, though unexciting meal, the two exhausted men had retreated to the room Doyle had booked prior to eating. Both were secretly pleased at finding only a double room was available; Bengalli had not been joking when he'd mentioned that Matushe's was a popular hostelry. Finishing his meal, Bodie had headed straight for the shower down the hall from their room while Doyle had purchased a bottle of scotch for afters. Fifteen minutes later, they had silently switched places; Doyle took off for the shower while Bodie turned back the bed and poured them both a drink. They had filled the intervening time since Doyle's return with several drinks and lazy, inconsequential talk.
"Time for all good little CI5 agents to go to bed, mate," announced Bodie around a yawn.
"Let's us out then," mumbled Doyle, his face half-buried in a pillow. He rolled over onto his back, yawning widely. "Christ, but I'm knackered. Never knew you could get so stiff just from sitting on your arse."
"Mmm." Groaning under his breath, Bodie snuggled closer, laying his head on a convenient shoulder. "You can have first shower this afternoon, pet," he offered altruistically.
Doyle was not deceived. "Ta, mate, but no thanks. I'm not getting stuck with the packing and paying the bill while you lounge around under the water." He poked a thin finger into substantial ribs. "I'll pack and you can pay the bill."
Refusing to open his eyes, Bodie just cuddled closer. "Can't pay the bill, can I?" he argued sleepily. "Room's booked under your name; have to use your Access card."
Planting a kiss on top of the dark head, Doyle leant over to turn off the light. "Room's in both our names," he said, around another massive yawn.
The light clicked back on suddenly.
"What did you say?" Bodie demanded, tensing.
It was a measure of Doyle's fatigue that he lay there for a moment, blinking drowsily, before answering, "Said room's in both our names; you can use your Access card, too." The rigidity in Bodie's posture finally sunk in. Sitting up, he reached out a hand. "What's wrong?"
Thinking furiously, Bodie took several deep breaths and forced himself to relax. Haven't recognised anyone and no one seemed to be watching us... Nothing," he said tersely, switching off the light again as he laid back down. We'll be leaving in less than seven hours. It'll be all right.
Abruptly, Doyle had had enough. "All right, mate -- that's it." The light came back on again. Glaring down at the guarded expression on Bodie's face, he snapped, "You're going to tell me what's wrong, and you're going to tell me now." Seeing the closed look settle on the handsome face, he snarled, "Don't fucking well tell me nothing's wrong! Ever since the Cow told us we were on this op, you've been as jumpy as a virgin in a biker's bar. What is it?"
Biting back a rush of responsive temper, Bodie closed his mouth over what he had been about to say and turned over, leaving Doyle to face an uncommunicative back.
Why, you half-Irish bastard! Deliberately switching tactics, Doyle tried one that had never before failed to work. "Must be bad, then, if you won't tell me." Careful not to overdo the pathos, he went on, "Funny, didn't think there was anything we couldn't tell each other anymore. Guess I was wrong."
Like a breaching whale, Bodie surged upright, looming over the smaller man. "You're a fine one to talk about keeping secrets!" he hissed. "Or does that only apply to me?"
"What are you on about?" Doyle asked blankly. "I'm not keeping secrets!"
"Sure, sunshine," drawled Bodie in his most infuriating tone. "You've been sleeping so well just lately, too."
A leaden silence fell.
Paling, Doyle tried to speak through a suddenly dry throat. "Oh, Bodie, it's not..." With a flash of painful insight, he saw how much he'd hurt his lover by his refusal to talk about the nightmare. Clearing his throat, he tried again. "Never meant to hurt you. Honest." Bowing his head to hide the unexpected tears, he contemplated his shaking hands. "'S just I thought... Oh, hell, I don't know what I thought!" His voice trailed off.
Hearing the thickened tone, Bodie speared him with a sharp look. He knew only too well how accomplished an actor his partner could be, particularly when he wanted his own way. It was only when he heard the tremulous, indrawn breath and watched a shiny drop of moisture fall onto the blanket that he realised Doyle was crying. Appalled by his own flash of temper, he swiftly gathered the lithe frame into a fierce embrace.
"Don't, sunshine; don't," he soothed, running his hands up and down the thinly-muscled back. "Don't take on so; there's no need. Should've remembered how tired you are; shouldn't have taken my temper out on you."
"Why not? Always take mine out on you." Doyle's voice was muffled, his face buried against the other man's smooth chest.
Putting a gentle hand under the round chin, Bodie lifted his lover's face up to him. "That you do," he acknowledged, smiling wryly before leaning down to softly kiss the full lips. "After all this time, think I'd be used to it," he finished, some intensely pleasurable minutes later.
Giving a shaky chuckle, Doyle commented, "You always were a slow learner, mate." Drowning in the rich sapphire depths gazing so tenderly at him, Doyle felt a fresh onslaught of tears. "Jesus, Bodie." Tangling one hand in the dark, silky hair at the back of the strong neck, he pulled his lover down for a thorough possession of that sensual mouth and tongue. Breaking the kiss only when breathing became absolutely mandatory, Doyle rushed into speech before his nerve and common sense could fail. "Was afraid if I told you about the nightmare, it'd come true. Stupid, I know, but it always seems so real."
"Bad ones usually do." Licking languidly at his lover's slightly swollen lips, Bodie asked quietly, "What happens?"
"It's...it's that meadow, y'know, where Cookie..." Taking a steadying breath, Doyle burrowed deeper into the strong arms. "Only this time, it's you standing there and you're all alone. Then, these figures carrying rifles come over the hill; they're not wearing masks, but I can't see their faces. They come up to you and..." Throat tightening, he could not go on.
Pulling the shivering form impossibly closer, Bodie gave a reassuring squeeze, saying calmly, "That's not ever going to happen, sweetheart, and you know it. I'm never going back to where Cookie and Reynolds were killed. Even if I do, Ulrike and her merry band are locked away where they can't hurt me. Or you. It's just your mind playing tricks on you, Ray. You're tired and I know you still blame yourself for Cookie. Let it go, lover...let Cookie and Reynolds rest in peace. They deserve it...and so do you."
Sniffling slightly, Doyle nodded his head.
Closing his eyes, Bodie concentrated his thoughts on the man resting so trustingly in his arms. Adrift on the sensations of warm breath blowing over his chest, and the tight press of velvety skin against his, Bodie was almost asleep when his lover suddenly jerked out of his embrace.
Doyle was staring down at him, malachite eyes wide in horror. "Oh, god, Bodie, I'm sorry. Christ, why do I always think of these things too late?!"
Barely able to keep his eyes open, it was all Bodie could do to respond, "Eh?"
He might not have spoken for all the notice his partner paid him. "That explains why you flinched when I introduced you to Bengalli, and why you were so upset when I said your name was on the room..." Taking a deep breath, Doyle guessed, "You're still wanted here, aren't you?"
Oh, God, trust Ray... Propping himself up on one elbow, Bodie smiled fondly at his agitated partner. "Of course, I'm still wanted, you berk." There was no recrimination in the placid tone. "Nobody likes it when someone escapes from their prisons."
"But, that was in the Congo; we're in Gabon," Doyle realised with a sigh of relief. "Surely you're safe here?"
"Hate to break it to you, sunshine, but this part of Gabon was part of the Congo up until about ten years ago. Congolese government could very well still have agents about; and it's only seven miles to the border. Bloke could be over before he knew it."
Doyle was back to being stricken. "Bloody hell, Bodie, why didn't you say something! To me or the Cow? I could have..."
"You were not coming out here by yourself," Bodie denied firmly. "Not as exhausted as you are. Besides," He laid back down, drawing his lover with him. "I'm probably just being paranoid. It's been a long time, and I'm not very memorable. We'll be out of here this afternoon without anyone being the wiser."
Allowing himself to be persuaded, Doyle hurriedly turned out the light before tucking his head under Bodie's chin. For some time, the only sound in the room was quiet breathing, then, "Bodie?"
"If...if they caught you here, what could happen?"
The ex-merc tensed slightly, then forcibly relaxed. "I'm under a death sentence, Ray."
Doyle lay staring out into the dimly-lit room, long after even breathing told him that Bodie had fallen asleep.
Bodie idly watched Chilombo run a quick visual check over the plane's exterior. Leaning over the tiny aisle to the tense figure sitting across from him, he whispered into a curl-covered ear, "'S all right, sunshine. Another few minutes and we'll be out of here. Then will you stop worrying?"
Squaring his shoulders, Doyle turned, grimacing slightly. "You know me. Always expecting the worst."
But he did give a huge sigh of relief when they were finally airborne. Glancing over at his partner who had drawn first duty with Coddington, he grinned. "All comfy, are we?"
Bodie grinned back just as sweetly. "Ta, mate." Sparkling cerulean eyes promised retribution for the remark.
"How long until we reach Libreville?" Coddington wanted to know. Securely handcuffed to Bodie's left wrist, he was beginning to wear a hunted look.
"Soon enough," the sable-haired agent answered curtly.
Chuckling, Doyle wiggled around in his seat until he was comfortable, then leaned his head against the back of the seat and closed his eyes. He was still almost unspeakably tired, despite his long rest on the flight into Sounole. Not surprisingly, he had found himself totally unable to sleep after Bodie's quiet bombshell. Now, however, he forced himself to relax each muscle. We're away from Sounole; Bodie will be all right.
It was on that comforting thought that Doyle felt himself start to drift off; only to be thrust heavily into the back of his seat as the plane gave a gigantic roar and shudder, the floor dropping beneath him.
"What the...?" Shooting open his eyes, Doyle was unable to clearly see Chilombo. Roiling black smoke -- shot through with bright orange tongues of flame -- filled the tiny cockpit. Numb with shock, he distantly heard Bodie yelling.
"Get your head down!" Beginning to cough on the noxious fumes filling the small aircraft, Bodie shouted, "Ray, for god's sake, get down and cover your head! We're going in!"
Events having gone too swiftly for his overtired mind to comprehend, Doyle instinctively reacted to his partner's frantic commands. Folding over, he grabbed the seat cushion next to him and pulled it over his head. Gasping and choking, he barely had time to register the sound of ripping trees and the high-pitched shriek of tortured metal before the world flew up and hit him.
Slowly, ever so slowly, sensation filtered back. At first, there was only the feeling of the hot wind against his skin; this was soon joined by the dim knowledge that something sticky was covering his right eye and cheek. Realising he could, Doyle raised a shaky hand and touched his right forehead; a flare of sharp pain told him that he'd found the sight of his injury. Right eyelid gummy with blood, it took several tries before he could force both eyes open. It was some moments after that that he finally was able to focus on the swaying, broken branch of a tree hanging high above him. Blinking, the slender agent frowned hazily. What the bloody hell...?
Memory returned with a sudden rush and he catapulted upright, fighting the pounding headache and nausea. Jerkily getting to his knees, he surveyed the immediate area with dread-widened eyes.
Attempting not to give in to the panic swelling inside him, he lurched to his feet and stood there, looking around him with dizzy urgency.
"Bodie, answer me!" It was hard to hear anything over the loud thumping of his own heart, but Doyle forced himself to wait. "Bodie, for god's sake...where are you?!"
There was pure fear in the plea.
Ignoring the ringing in his ears, Doyle's wild gaze flew around the small clearing. Upon impact, the plane had broken into two sections; somehow, he had been thrown clear. Finally locating the tail section half-hidden in the trees, Doyle broke into a stumbling run. Clambering recklessly into what was left of the passenger cabin, he froze for a heartbeat, taking in the ripped bulkhead and torn fixtures tumbled carelessly about.
There was no sign of Bodie.
Unaware of the tears streaming down his face, Doyle started to clear the debris, heaving the broken seats and pieces of bulkhead aside with unheeding strength. Mindless in his desperation, it wasn't until the sound was repeated, that he heard it. Vainly attempting to control his harsh and uneven breathing, he listened intently. Just as he was beginning to believe his hearing was playing tricks on him, it came again: a low, muffled groan, there, ahead and to the left of him. Infused with a surge of renewed energy, Doyle threw aside the snapped-off back of a seat and dropped to his knees. Intense disappointment greeted him as he beheld the shiny pink scalp and thinning hair of Coddington. Unmoved by the streaks of blood visible under the sparse hair, Doyle set back on his heels, panic well and truly setting in.
A stray thought filtered through his furiously careening mind. Handcuffs...Coddington's right wrist was handcuffed to Bodie!
Carelessly brushing the remaining debris off the embezzler, he uncovered a familiar jacket sleeve, partially buried under the larger bulk of the thief. Casually brutal, Doyle rolled Coddington off his partner, not hearing the increased moaning this action elicited from the half-conscious man. With trembling fingers, he reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out his set of handcuff keys and severed the metal link between the two men.
His entire being riveted on the unmoving form before him, Doyle was scarcely breathing as he slowly reached out. So badly were his fingers shaking that it was several heart-stopping moments before the too-rapid pulse registered. When it did, he couldn't have held back the sob of relief if his life had depended on it. Taking a deep breath, Doyle held it for several beats, willing himself to calmness. Bodie lay face down, his head turned away. From the way his left arm was bent back over his body, it was apparent that his shoulder was dislocated, if not broken.
Gently setting out to discover the extent of his partner's injuries, Doyle ran an exploratory hand over the close-cropped skull, grimacing when he encountered warm stickiness near Bodie's left temple.
Ten minutes later, he sank back onto his heels, bleakly surveying his still-unconscious partner. As far as he could ascertain, the ex-merc had suffered no neck or spinal injuries; there was no obvious swelling or bruising. Well aware of his limitations in the field of traumatic medicine, Doyle could only pray that he was correct. Aside from a large swelling on his left forehead, Bodie had at least two, if not three, broken ribs, also on the left. Pelvis, hips and legs appeared to be luckily undamaged. It was his lover's left arm and shoulder that had Doyle biting his lip in barely-controlled worry.
Careful examination had revealed that, not only was the left shoulder dislocated, so were Bodie's left elbow and wrist. Using his pocket knife, Doyle had sliced through the light jacket and cotton shirt, clear up to the shoulder. Mouth compressed, he had gingerly palpated the entire massively-bruised extremity and come to the reluctant conclusion that Bodie had at least three fractures present, two in his forearm and one just below the head of the shoulder. Coming across a suspicious crackling along the shoulder blade itself, he had given up in despair, overwhelmed by the amount of damage present.
Obviously, Bodie's left arm had taken the brunt of impact when the plane had crashed.
A low moan from Coddington roused Doyle from his introspection. Sparing the embezzler no more than a quick glance, he returned his attention to his partner. At the moment, he couldn't have cared less if Coddington was seriously hurt; Bodie was all that mattered. Rising to his feet, Doyle swiftly searched the wreckage for their holdalls and the First Aid box. Kneeling beside the prone figure once again, Doyle sent a fervent prayer skyward; gritting his teeth, he then carefully rolled Bodie over onto his back.
Wiping the copious sweat from his burning eyes, Doyle set back and grimly scrutinised the results of his endeavours. Fortunately, Bodie had remained unconscious during his partner's rudimentary medical treatment and was now lying under a canopy jerry-rigged from a portion of a tarpaulin Doyle had found amongst the scattered remnants of the plane.
The other portion he had used as a shroud.
Upon discovering that Chilombo was beyond human assistance, he had returned his attention to his lover's needs. Going through their luggage, Doyle had ripped apart their spare shirts. Two had gone around Bodie's chest to brace his ribs; the others had been torn into smaller pieces. He had first splinted the severely damaged arm with branches from nearby tress before fashioning a sling that held the arm firmly against Bodie's body. Any doctor in the world would probably have had the horrors if he had seen it, Doyle conceded freely, but it was the best he could do. He wished there was some way he could have reduced the many dislocations, but he'd been too afraid of making the fractures worse to put any sort of strain on the joints.
Once he'd finished with Bodie, Doyle had then reluctantly turned to their prisoner. Cursorily cleaning the abrasion on the back of the balding head, Doyle had listened stonily to the curses and complaints as Coddington had regained full consciousness. Finished with that task, he had then secured the dangling end of the handcuff to a section of twisted seating support before leaving to take care of the pilot.
No digging tools available, the CI5 agent had done the best he could for Joseph Chilombo. Dragging the badly torn body from the destroyed cockpit, he had wrapped it in its make-shift shroud and then stacked pieces of debris over it.
After tending to Chilombo's body, Doyle had taken the remainder of the tarpaulin and slung it over some low-hanging branches near the tail of the broken plane. It wasn't much, but it did provide some shade from the merciless sun. The inside of the passenger cabin was fast becoming a sweltering oven. Much to Coddington's dismay, he had not been included in the relocation and had protested loud and long at the omission. Curtly ordering him to belt up, Doyle had told him to be glad he was being left with a full canteen; if he continued with the verbal abuse, Doyle would have to reconsider his generosity. Clutching the water container to his sagging chest, the thief had fallen sullenly silent.
Becoming aware of being watched, Doyle lowered his eyes to find he was under hazy surveillance. Exhausted as he was, a broad smile still broke over his face.
"How're you feeling, sunshine?" he asked softly, brushing back silky hair from the high forehead.
"Been...better," rasped Bodie, attempting to speak out of a desert-dry throat.
Wordlessly, Doyle gently lifted the dark head and held a canteen to Bodie's mouth. "That help?"
"Yeah." After a few sips, Bodie squinted, trying to focus his uncertain vision. "You okay?"
"Never better. New knot on me head, but as you're always telling me, with a face as ugly as mine, no one will be able to tell the difference."
A ghost of a smile lit the ashen face. Bodie knew his partner was perfectly capable of minimising his own injuries, but not when both their lives depended on his fitness. Reaching out, he gently touched the swollen, bruised cut above Doyle's right eyebrow.
"At least it's on the same side as the other bump," referring to the plastic implant where Doyle's right cheekbone used to be. "Efficient, that."
"Ta, mate." Smiling down at him, Doyle continued to stroke his lover's hair.
Closing his eyes, Bodie relaxed under the rhythmic touch and attempted to take stock of his physical condition. His head throbbed and there was a boilermaker's din going on in his skull, but he could ignore that -- he'd had worse hangovers. Warily trying to take a deep breath, he clamped his teeth down hard on the cry which tried to escape. Broken ribs for certain -- how many, he didn't know or care -- but the white-hot flare of agony surging through his left arm and shoulder had caught him completely unprepared. He'd dislocated that shoulder before, but this pain was ten times worse. Waiting until the nausea and dizziness had died down a little before re-opening his eyes, Bodie felt Doyle carefully swab his face with a cool, wet cloth.
Prying his eyes open to mere slits, he asked, "Anything not broken on the left arm?"
Seeing that Doyle was deadly serious, Bodie bit back a sigh. "Oh, grand." For the first time taking a look around him, he went on, "Don't suppose you know where we are?"
"'Fraid not," Doyle replied regretfully. "Was hoping you could tell me. We couldn't have been in the air more than ten or fifteen minutes; can't be too far from Sounole. I just don't know which way."
"Didn't bring your compass, eh?" Grunting with the effort, Bodie strove to sit up. "Give us a hand, mate."
Lips pursed in disapproval, but knowing better than to argue, Doyle did so.
Gratefully leaning against the wiry frame, Bodie took short, shallow breaths. Some minutes later, his vision clear once more, he bleakly took in the immediate surroundings. "What a mess," was his only comment upon seeing the broken pieces of the small aircraft. "Coddington all right?"
"More's the pity. Bump and abrasion on the back of his head." Doyle jerked his head toward the tail section. "He's handcuffed to what's left of the passenger seating."
"Under that pile of debris off to your right."
Inadvertently stiffening as Doyle's terse statement registered, Bodie fought the wave of pain. "Oh, bloody hell," he whispered raggedly.
Casually wiping the perspiration away from the abnormally white face, Doyle said, "I wrapped him in a bit of old tarp, then stacked some of the debris from the plane over him." A beat, then, "Entire cockpit was a bit of a mess."
Frowning at the apparent non sequitur, Bodie glanced back toward his partner. "What did you expect? The ruddy plane crashed!"
"Just that I took a look around while I was in there, trying to separate Chilombo from the instrument panel." The round face tightened with anger. He shifted so he could see Bodie's face more easily. "There was a bloody bomb aboard that plane, mate; traces of powder were everywhere."
Thunderstruck, Bodie could only stare for some moments; then he sagged wearily against his partner and screwed his eyes shut. "Christ." His voice barely audible, he murmured, "Not again, damn it..."
Scowling worriedly, Doyle studied his lover. Bodie had lost whatever little colour he had left. "Not again what, mate?"
Face settling into a neutral mask, the larger man muttered, "Nothing. Forget it."
"Don't give me that bullshit." The husky voice was as hard as tungsten steel. "Talk to me."
When Doyle got that tone in his voice, Bodie knew better than to argue. "Just that my luck seems to be holding."
"Don't fuck with me, Bodie."
"Jesus, Doyle...can't you see it!" burst out Bodie bitterly. "Every time I run into my past, someone gets killed."
Light dawned blindingly.
"You listen to me, you stupid pillock and you listen good. You did not cause Chilombo's death." Doyle firmly overrode his partner's nascent protest. "What makes you think that bomb was meant for you? Christ, it could've been planted by anyone! You're not the only man in this world with enemies."
"Won't wash, Ray." Bodie shook his head, then obviously wished that he hadn't. "We know Coddington hadn't any accomplices, so there could be no one trying to help him escape custody. He was mugged within two hours of setting foot in Sounole, so there was no money left for bribery. You never heard of Sounole until Tuesday evening; stands to reason no one there ever heard of you, either."
"Could've been meant for Chilombo..."
"Possible, but not probable," Bodie interrupted crisply. "If someone wanted him dead, don't you think it would've been much easier all around if the killer had gone for him in Libreville where he lived and worked? Why wait until, by sheer chance alone, he flies into Sounole? In other words, mate: when all your other choices have fizzled out, you've got no option but to go with what's left. Me."
Doyle had no immediate reply. Swallowing hard, he met Bodie's eyes. "If you're right -- and that's only if -- whose fault is it that someone knew you were in Sounole?"
"What are you on about, Ray?" Bodie was frankly puzzled. "Dozens of people saw me as we walked about town; anyone of them..."
"No." Shaking his head, Doyle confessed miserably, "Who was the blabbermouth who used your name at the police station and then spread it around that damn hostelry?"
Finally understanding what his lover was trying to tell him, Bodie forgot and shook his head once more. "It wasn't your fault, Ray," he refuted as firmly as he could around a wave of nausea and dizziness. "You weren't to know it wasn't a good idea 'cause I hadn't told you." A corner of the long mouth lifted. "You may be almost perfect, my son, but I don't think you can read my mind just yet."
A reluctant grin surfacing, Doyle conceded the argument for the present. Giving their locale a jaundiced look, he enquired, "So what now? Found a stream just past those trees, but we haven't any food. Do we wait here and hope for rescue?"
"Not on your life, mate," denied Bodie fervently, "and I mean that literally. We're dead lucky we're not in deep shit already."
"Predators." Bodie indicated the cobbled-together grave.
"Oh." Paling, Doyle took another quick glance around. "You mean lions and leopards and such."
"Not really. Lions and leopards are just big cats; they won't eat carrion -- anything already dead. I'm talking about hyenas and jackals, those type of critters."
"Hyenas?" Risking another cautious look, Doyle made sure his partner was propped securely against a tree before climbing to his feet.
"Yeah, and you don't want to be around once they've got the smell of dead flesh." Bodie sounded positive. "Plus, the odour of blood will bring the big cats for a look-see and we're legitimate prey. I think it's in everyone's best interests, mate, if we put a few miles between us and Chilombo."
Bowing to the voice of experience, Doyle declared, "Give me few minutes to fill all the bottles I can find."
On those words, he darted into the damaged fuselage. Bodie could hear Coddington's voice raised in protest over the loss of his canteen. Seconds later, the curly-haired agent popped back out, laden with the two canteens and five plastic bottles of assorted sizes. He took off in the direction of the stream at a fast jog.
"Ray, be careful!" Bodie called after him, then cursed as the action pulled the muscles around his broken ribs and shoulder. He raged over the fact they hadn't been able to bring their guns along. As all they were supposed to be doing was retrieving a non-violent felon, Cowley had not felt the need to argue for permission from the various governments involved.
Heart pounding, Bodie counted the seconds and watched anxiously the direction his partner had vanished. Truth be told, no more than five minutes had passed before Doyle was re-entering the clearing, but Bodie felt he'd aged twenty years in the interim. Leaning into the plane, Doyle fetched his holdall and deposited the water bottles inside, then came over to Bodie. Wordlessly, Bodie extended his right hand for assistance in getting to his feet.
"You sure about this, mate?" Doyle knew the question was inane in the extreme, but he had to ask it. The ex-SAS sergeant was suffering badly just sitting still; getting to his feet was going to be an exercise in torment.
Reading the other man's mind with ease, Bodie gave a lopsided grin. "Let's just get on with it."
Gritting his teeth, Doyle reached down and in one, smooth pull, brought the larger man to his feet.
Once on his feet, Bodie abandoned useless pride and let himself wilt against Doyle. It took all his not inconsiderable willpower to remain conscious and hold back the screams of agony which threatened to escape his locked teeth. Biting his lip so hard it bled, he steadfastly concentrated on regulating his breathing. After what seemed like an eternity, the kaleidoscope of colours dancing before his eyes cleared and his stomach returned to its usual position.
Becoming aware of his white-knuckled grip on his lover's left shoulder, he eased his grip. "Going to have bruises," Bodie said contritely. "Sorry about that, sunshine."
"'S not important," Doyle dismissed matter-of-factly. Emerald eyes glistening with unshed tears, he released the stranglehold he'd had around Bodie's waist and brought up a trembling hand, gently wiping the cold sweat off the pain-bleached face just inches from his. His voice was steady enough, however, as he queried, "Need another drink?"
"Yeah." As the ex-merc was lowering the canteen, a sharp barking cry sounded in the distance. "That's it, mate -- we're leaving," Bodie announced hurriedly. "Grab Coddington."
Nodding mutely, the older agent did as he was told. Bodie quickly scanned the surrounding area as he waited. That cry hadn't been all that close yet -- maybe a couple of miles -- but it wouldn't take the four-legged scavengers too long to reach the crash site. Once, in his checkered past, he'd been privileged to witness a pack of hyenas feeding and the resulting nightmares could still occasionally haunt him. Hearing a noise, Bodie carefully turned as his partner and Coddington exited the downed aircraft. Doyle had his holdall full of water bottles slung over one shoulder.
"Where are we going?" asked Coddington worriedly. He was pale and sweating heavily, constantly licking his lips as he looked around nervously.
"Anywhere but here," Bodie told him bluntly. "Let's go."
Blinking in astonishment, the embezzler balked. "You can't mean to just walk off into the jungle?!" Eyes widening at the curt nod he received, he exclaimed, "You're bloody insane! We'll die out there!"
"We'll die here if we don't." Unwilling to spend either precious time or strength arguing with the portly man, Bodie snapped, "Stay if you wish, but think on this..." as more shrill barks were heard "...that's a pack of hunting hyenas and they've got the smell of blood. The lions won't be too far behind. If you want to come with us, move it. We're not going to drag your ruddy arse with us; we've got better things to do." With that, he turned his attention to Doyle. "Ready to go, mate?"
"Waiting for you," Doyle advised him. He moved closer to Bodie, unobtrusively offering physical support.
"Maybe later, thanks." His back to Coddington, Bodie looked at his lover.
Having no difficulty interpreting the look in the lapis eyes, Doyle's face softened. Stepping to one side, he made a grand gesture. "Lead on, MacDuff," he said quietly and fell into step with a smiling Bodie.
Judging from the clarity of fluent invective, Coddington was right on their heels.
Coming to a halt at the furious expletive, Doyle wearily turned back to see what sort of trouble Coddington had gotten himself into this time. The trio had barely gone a mile before the first complaint had surfaced. Used to a sedentary lifestyle of rich food and even richer drink, the investment banker was making heavy going of tramping through the African jungle. Treating him with silent contempt, Bodie had ignored the whining pleas for rest and continued on at the same measured pace. Barely looking back whenever Coddington had tripped and fallen -- which he did with surprising frequency -- the ex-merc had disregarded the other man's sweaty, red face and labouring breaths. Bodie knew his own strength wouldn't last and was grimly determined to put as much distance as possible between Joseph Chilombo's corpse and themselves.
This time, however, he was forced to halt as, muttering tiredly under his breath, Doyle returned to assist their prisoner. Paying more attention to his complaints than to where he was putting his feet, the embezzler had put a foot wrong on a slippery stone and, consequently, had fallen into the deep stream they'd been following. Flailing wildly and swearing at the top of his voice, Coddington was doing little to actually help get himself out.
Doyle had had enough of the histrionics.
"Shut the bloody hell up!" he growled. Reaching down, he hoisted the stout figure onto the dusty bank with scant regard for the other man's comfort. Gasping at the impact with the hard ground, Coddington struggled to catch his breath, coughing and choking like a landed fish.
Watching all of this with a weary eye, Bodie took the opportunity to sit down on a fallen tree and catch his own breath. Overlooking the betraying tremble of legs and his ever-increasing light-headedness, he mentally tried to calculate how far they'd walked. Not much more than three or four miles at the most, he admitted ruefully. His decision to follow the stream had been based on more than the necessity of a reliable source of water; this water course obviously dumped into the Ubangi River. By following the stream, Bodie hoped to reach the Ubangi and some recognisable landmarks.
What worried him, however, was how far they might have to go before they joined up with the river. True, the plane hadn't been in the air all that long -- and it was a small plane -- but that still meant they could be anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five miles from Sounole. Brutally honest with himself, Bodie knew there was no way he was going to be able to walk that far; he was practically at the end of his endurance right now. Left shoulder, arm and hand swollen to three times their normal size, shock was beginning to set in with a vengeance due to the pain and trauma of untreated fractures and dislocations. Unable to take a deep breath without a burning knife stabbing through his chest, he was weakening rapidly.
Ray could probably make it, he thought hazily. Doyle hadn't been badly injured and was in excellent condition. If he rested the remainder of the day hours, and started again when it was dark, he could be in Sounole by the middle of the next morning. Bodie was loathe to suggest this course of action, though. He had too much respect for his lover's formidable temper; he could just hear what Doyle would say if informed of this plan. Secondly, Bodie, himself, was uneasy at the thought of Doyle going on alone. He knew his partner was more than capable of taking care of himself, but that was in London. Here, Doyle was the proverbial fish out of water; unarmed and completely unfamiliar with the terrain and various fauna.
A bit-off exclamation drew Bodie's attention back to the present and he looked up to see Doyle limping toward him.
"What happened to you?" he asked, startled.
"Damn bloody sharp sticks," grumbled Doyle, sinking down beside his partner. Stretching his right leg out, he elaborated, "Went right through me boot's sole."
"Nah." Curls bouncing as he shook his head, the lithe agent dismissed the injury. "Don't think it broke the skin." Letting the holdall of water bottles fall to the ground, Doyle carefully avoided looking at the larger man as he said casually, "Could do with a break, though, until it eases up." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bodie give him a sceptical look, but the other man remained mute.
Doyle, also, had been doing some heavy-duty thinking...and worrying. He didn't have to be a doctor to see that Bodie's physical condition was getting worse by the minute. Darkened cobalt eyes, dull with pain and shock, looked out of a face -- dripping with cold sweat -- that had passed pale some time ago and was now almost translucent. Sitting shoulder to shoulder with his partner as he was, the ex-copper could feel the minute shudders gripping the powerful frame. Only too well aware that Bodie was quickly going into traumatic shock, Doyle was almost beside himself with fear and indecision. Having reach the same conclusion as Bodie, Doyle had also rejected the idea of himself continuing on alone, although not for precisely the same reasons. He knew he was unfamiliar with the land and its hazards but he had confidence that, with a little simple caution and common sense, he could most likely prevail.
What he was not prepared to do, however, was leave Bodie behind. No matter how logical and sane the argument was for him going on alone, Doyle refused to even consider the possibility. If I'm not here, who will take care of Bodie? Coddington's a completely useless sod, and all he cares about is himself. No, Bodie's my responsibility, and it's up to me to make sure he gets looked after. There's got to be another way.
Doyle was certain that, if only he weren't so tired, he would be able to think of several different alternatives.
Focused as he was on his gloomy thoughts, Doyle jumped when a hand came to rest on his left thigh. Startled, he looked up to find himself under exasperated scrutiny. "Eh?"
Covertly watching his lover's troubled face, Bodie had had no difficulties in guessing the other man's thoughts. "Ray, you stupid prat," he said, annoyed. "It isn't your fault. Get that through your stubborn head right now."
Flushing slightly, Doyle could not meet his gaze. "If it isn't mine, don't know whose else it could be."
"Oh, Ray..." Having forgotten they were not alone, Bodie reached up and tenderly brushed unruly curls away from regret-darkened eyes. "There's no need for this, sunshine. Truly. We'll get out of this, somehow -- promise."
Taking a deep breath, Doyle gave a rueful grin. "Isn't that supposed to be my line?" Glancing around, he caught sight of Coddington watching them through narrowed eyes. Pointedly ignoring the thief, he stood up and asked, "Ready?"
Nodding, Bodie used his good arm to push himself off the log. Dizzy and nauseated with pain, he staggered badly as he came to his feet. At his side in an instant, Doyle drew his partner's right arm over his own shoulders, pulling the shaking form closer for added support. It was several minutes before Bodie managed to steady and slow his respiration rate.
Refusing to give in to the weakness or the knifing agony in chest and arm, he said thickly, "Let's go, then."
His own chest tight and congested with fear, Doyle merely nodded, not trusting his voice. Carefully leaning to the side to gather up the holdall, he gently guided the unsteady feet back to the rough path along the free-flowing stream. It was perhaps better for his peace of mind that he did not look back to check on their unwilling companion. Coddington had finally added his twos and the savage look on the fat face boded them no good.
Less than a mile later, Bodie collapsed.
Staggering under the sudden dead weight, Doyle dropped the holdall and dragged his lover over to a patch of shade under a tree. Easing the unconscious figure down as carefully as possible, he tore off his jacket and, lifting the dark head, stuck it underneath. That accomplished, he darted back for the holdall. Pulling out their canteen, he moistened his handkerchief and lightly swabbed at the white face. In spite of the late afternoon heat, Bodie's skin was cool to the touch, and his breathing was rapid and shallow. Apprehension clawing at his guts, Doyle forced himself to stay calm. He would be doing no one any good -- least of all, Bodie -- if he panicked now. A flutter of the long lashes and a low moan announced Bodie's return to consciousness.
"Shh, easy, pet," Doyle soothed softly, brushing back the sweat-soaked fringe.
"R-Ray?" Finally getting his eyes open, the younger agent stared glassily at the anxious face hovering over him. "Wh...what happened?"
Cautiously lifting his partner's head, Doyle slowly tipped the canteen for Bodie to drink. "You passed out," he answered simply, laying the water aside when Bodie had drank his fill.
Fighting leaden eyelids, Bodie attempted to look around them. "Maybe we'd better rest here for a bit. What time is it?"
Glancing at his watch, Doyle was surprised to see it was only seven-fifteen; it seemed much later than that.
"Pretty late," he lied without a qualm. "Might as well make camp now; sun's on its way down. We wouldn't have gotten too much further before the light went." That, at least, was the truth. "You get some rest, mate. I'll be right here."
"'Kay." Reaching out, Bodie grasped a thin hand before giving in to the waiting darkness.
Curling his fingers around the capable hand in his, Doyle settled back against the tree trunk. Mind racing, he tried to formulate a plan. There has to be a way out of this ruddy mess! Mired in tight mental circles which went nowhere, Doyle had forgotten their prisoner, startling badly at the sarcastic voice.
"Mr. Macho down for the count?"
Exhausted, with his mind still mostly fixed on their predicament, Doyle was slow to notice the acrimony. "He's collapsed; shock from his injuries."
"Oh. That's all right, then." Coddington's voice was infuriatingly superior. "Here I was thinking that he might still be worn out from his...exertions...this morning."
Eyes narrowing dangerously, Doyle ground out, "What the bloody hell are you talking about?"
"Did I get it wrong? My sincere apologies." All spurious repentance, the embezzler took a long drink from his canteen. "It's just that he doesn't look the sort for a bottom man, you see."
Fatigue forgotten, Doyle released Bodie's hand and uncoiled like a striking cobra. Hands clenched at his sides, he faced the other man squarely. "Watch your fucking mouth," he hissed. "One more word out of you, and you'll be picking your teeth out of the grass."
Never long on common sense, Coddington failed to heed the warning signals. "Such hypocrisy!" he sneered disdainfully. "Acting so holier-than-thou, and the pair of you sore-arsed faggots. How dare such creatures as you treat me like a social disease!"
He never saw the lightning right cross.
"That's enough." Voice as frigid as an arctic wind, the slender agent reached down and, grabbing two handfuls of Coddington's collar, hauled him bodily to his feet. Tightening his grip until the other man was gasping for air, Doyle continued icily, "One more -- just one more -- word out of your filthy mouth, and I will take great pleasure in handcuffing you to the nearest tree. I will proceed to cut out that nasty tongue, and then I will sit back to see just how long it takes before the lions or something else finds you. That will make me very happy and I don't believe you want to do that. Do I make myself clear?"
Unable to speak due to the pressure around his throat, barely able to breathe, a purple-faced Coddington managed to indicate his understanding.
Releasing him with a toss that fetch the thief up solidly against a large boulder, Doyle contemptuously turned his back on him and stalked back over to where his partner lay. Sinking down beside Bodie once more, he again took Bodie's right hand in a firm grasp as he made himself comfortable. He affected not to notice the hate-filled glare lasering through him.
"Shh, sunshine. 'S all right; I'm here, I'm here."
Crooning that litany over and over, Doyle continued to swab the heavily perspiring face. His voice once again seemed to reach the delirious man, for Bodie ceased trying to thrash about and subsided weakly. Taking advantage of the momentary lull, Doyle stretched his aching back and threw some more branches onto the fire. Squinting at his watch in the flickering light, he cursed when he saw it was still several hours until daylight -- the night had seemed a hundred years long already. Shivering in the cool African night air, Doyle stoke the fire, unable to think of anything else productive to do.
Except for the brief period after his collapse, Bodie had not returned to lucidity. Watching with growing trepidation as time passed and still his partner remained unconscious, Doyle had become even more alarmed when he'd noticed two bright patches of red high on the cheeks of the otherwise colourless face. Swearing empassionedly under his breath when he discovered that Bodie was burning with fever, Doyle had set about doing his best to control it, and to keep his lover from making his injuries worse when he tossed and threw himself about in his delirium. But for Doyle, the spells of bone-shaking chills were the hardest to take; his entire body spasming with the involuntary quivering, Bodie had been unable to avoid crying out and the anguished whimpering and moaning had pierced Doyle to his marrow.
Dull-eyed with exhaustion, Doyle checked to see if Bodie was still resting quietly before he creakily climbed to his feet to go in search of more fuel for the fire. Unwilling to leave Bodie for too long a period, the ex-copper hunted around the immediate area for dry twigs and small branches. He automatically noted that Coddington had not moved from where he'd taken shelter against his boulder. Other than being childishly pleased when the embezzler's fumbling attempts at making a fire had failed, the CI5 agent had studiously ignored him. He was aware of a growing irrational hatred for Coddington, although he well knew that it was not due to the revulsion the other had exhibited or the calumny he'd heaped upon them. Rather, it was the simple fact that the thief had escaped the plane crash with no lasting ill effects, while Bodie -- who would not have even been in Africa, if not for Coddington's greed -- was critically hurt, his condition deteriorating steadily. Wary of being around the fugitive while his emotions were under such precarious control, Doyle simply avoided all contact.
Returning with his booty to the fire, Doyle placed the kindling to one side and resumed his post. He was considerably startled to discover the dark eyes were open and regarding him with a degree of clarity. Heartened beyond all reason, he gave a wide, unabashed smile of greeting.
"Hi, there," he quipped, running gentle fingers over a flushed cheek. His heart lurched in his chest when Bodie gave a weak, lopsided smile in return.
"Hi...yourself." The injured man's voice was a barely audible whisper.
"Want a drink of water?"
"Yeah." As his lover carefully held the canteen, Bodie took several small sips. Indicating that he'd had enough, he looked bemusedly around him. "Where are...we?"
Frowning faintly at the question, Doyle answered lightly, "Don't know, do I. You're the expert in this part of the world, mate; not me."
"Eh?" Completely bewildered, the larger man squinted up at him. "What...d'you mean...Ray? Where...are...we?"
Feeling icy fingers run up and down his spine, Doyle said softly, "We're in Gabon, remember? Africa?"
"Africa!" The glassy eyes went wide. "Can't be...there...can't go...back..."
Mentally exhausted, his reflexes slower than usual, Doyle was totally unprepared for what happened next.
Frantic gaze darting around the small clearing, Bodie unexpectedly surged upright, bracing himself on his out-flung right arm. Teeth locked against the abrupt scream of agony lodged in his throat, he blinked his eyes clear of unwanted tears.
"Not Africa...not Africa..." he panted hoarsely. "Too dangerous...not safe." The dark head twisted suddenly, staring out into the night beyond the fire. "Safe...where's Ray? Where's...Ray?" Becoming increasingly agitated, Bodie weakly fought off the strong arms holding him back. "Leggo...fuck you...gotta find...Ray! Ray!"
"I'm right here! Bodie, I'm right here!" Tightening his grip around the feebly struggling figure, Doyle tried desperately to reach his lover.
"R-Ray?" Strength failing as the adrenaline surge ebbed, Bodie sagged with a relieved moan against the familiar warmth at his back. "Thank...god. Couldn't...find...you, Ray. Thought...I'd lost...you..."
"I don't get lost that easily," Doyle reassured him through a throat tight with dread. Tenderly kissing the soft skin at Bodie's right temple, he carefully eased his lover down onto his make-shift bed. Forcing a strained smile, he brushed back the dark fringe as he whispered, "Now, shut those baby blues and get some sleep. You need it, and I'm not going anywhere."
Sinking fast into the torpor engulfing him, Bodie barely nodded. Seconds later, he forced his eyes back open. "You...gotta...rest...too. Here, sunshine..." With that, he held up his right arm, inviting Doyle to lie beside him.
Blinking back threatening tears, Doyle nodded. "Sure, love," he soothed, husky voice cracking. "Be right there." Going to the fire, he added the rest of the kindling, banking the fire carefully. Turning back to his waiting lover, he stretched out beside him, cautiously drawing the injured man into his side and placing the dark head on his chest.
Bodie gave up the fight to remain conscious. "Ray. Love...you..." Less than a sigh, the words faded.
Holding tightly onto his battered lover, Doyle stared into the all-encompassing African night, heedless of the tears spilling down his cheeks.
The intrusive noise finally registering, Doyle sat up, blinking in the brightness of the morning sun. Grimacing as he attempted to rub the kinks out of his neck and back, he glanced down to make sure that Bodie was still sleeping quietly, then took a look around, trying to ascertain just what it was that had awakened him. He was getting ready to stand up, when the noise came again; a loud rustling from across the stream, as though something large was moving through the trees. Stiffening, Doyle checked his instinctive grab for his weapon...
...And released the breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding when a young, slender black man, dressed in faded khaki trousers and a white shirt, emerged from the trees.
Gaining his feet in a rush, the CI5 agent called out, "Oi, there!"
Jumping like a startled gazelle, the youth whirled towards the sound. His mouth dropped at the sight of the bedraggled white man grinning at him from the other side of the stream.
"My friend is hurt," Doyle declared urgently. "Can you help us?"
Narrow forehead furrowing in frustration, the man shook his head. "No Inglais," he announced regretfully. Then, throwing up his hand to ward off Doyle's pleas, he half-turned, shouting rapid-fire French over his shoulder.
Another, deeper, male voice answered from close by. Doyle sagged in relief at the sight of a large, grey-haired white man. Stopping to exchange a few words with his companion, the older man then called in heavily-accented English, "Is there some problem?"
Almost weeping, Doyle fought to keep his voice steady. "Yes. Our plane crashed yesterday, and my mate was seriously injured. Can you help us?"
"Mas oui!" Nodding his head definitely, the man said something to the youth beside him. Looking sympathetically back at Doyle, the boy took off into the trees at a dead run. Without a noticeable pause, the elder of the two waded into the swiftly-flowing stream, determinedly heading towards Doyle. Reaching out a hand to help their rescuer up the steep bank, Doyle manfully resisted the urge to throw his arms around the other man and kiss him.
"Mate, you'll never know how glad I am to see you!" he vowed fervently.
"I think I could guess," replied the Frenchman, holding out his right hand and giving a wide smile that took years off his weathered visage. "I am Father Swarc."
Blinking a little, Doyle quickly recovered himself. "Pleased, Father. I'm Ray Doyle; my partner, Bodie, is over here." He led the way to where his lover was lying. "He's hurt pretty badly: has several broken ribs, plus just about every bone in his left arm is broken at least once."
Frowning, the priest squatted down and lightly touched the perspiring forehead. "Fever, from the shock and night air," he commented succinctly. Regaining his feet, he nodded across the stream. "There is a road only half a mile on the other side, through those trees; the truck broke down and we needed water for the radiator. My mission is only ten miles further; we can be there in less than thirty minutes."
Leaning against a tree, Doyle let out a bottomless sigh. "Didn't realise we were that close to Sounole," he admitted, then frowned as the priest shook his head.
"Not Sounole. It looks as though you were heading in the right direction, but you would never have made it. To find a way down the gorge, you would need to detour many, many miles -- there is no easy way into Sounole from here."
Stomach sinking, Doyle listened with a curious sense of the inevitable as Swarc went on, "The mission is in the Congo. We have a fully-qualified doctor and nurse on duty at all times."
Doyle licked suddenly dry lips. "We...we don't have any papers to enter that country."
Shrugging, the older man said lightly, "You are practically there already, Monsieur Doyle; the Ndombe marks the border. But, do not worry; if you will not tell the authorities that you do not have papers, then I will not. Your friend needs a doctor's care urgently. We will worry over the legal niceties later, yes?"
Biting his lip hard, Doyle stared unseeing at the ground for several minutes, thinking furiously. "Yeah," he conceded at last, looking up. "Guess you're right."
"Of course I am," Swarc told him bracingly. "Now, I shall go and help Raoul with the stretcher. It is an older model, and can be awkward to carry." Seeing that a troubled look remained in the malachite eyes, the priest lay a kindly hand on a bony shoulder. "Do not worry, my son. In a little under thirty minutes, your friend will have the medical care he requires. He will be fine."
Doyle gave a weak grin. "Thanks, Father."
He watched as the priest nonchalantly waded into the stream again and vanished into the trees on the other side. Running a shaking hand over his morning stubble, Doyle flinched when "It'll...be okay...sunshine..." issued from a soft, weak voice near his boots.
Dropping to his heels, the older agent gazed into the dulled, but lucid, eyes looking at him. "You heard, then?" he asked unnecessarily, automatically lifting the dark head for Bodie to drink.
Swallowing, Bodie nodded once. "Most...of it. Doctor's in the...bloody Congo...isn't he?"
"Yeah. The Father's mission is ten miles over the border." Abruptly feeling a desperate urge to explain himself, Doyle rushed on, "It's too far to Sounole, Bodie; down a gorge, and all! There's no road. You'd never make it, sunshine; you know you wouldn't!"
Trying to make his lover understand that he hadn't wanted to agree to take Bodie into the Congo, but had been forced into it by circumstances beyond his control, Doyle had completely forgotten maliciously listening ears.
"Father Swarc said he wouldn't tell the authorities. He wouldn't lie; he's a priest! Maybe once we get you fixed up, we can use his radio and hire a plane out of there before anyone's the wiser. No one needs to know you were ever in the Congo again."
"Ray..." Once again, Bodie tried to calm his distressed lover.
"It'll be all right, Bodie; I promise. The authorities will never find out." Laying a hand along a still feverish cheek, Doyle gazed intently into the dark eyes, pleading, "I won't let them take you, sweetheart. You know that."
Shakily, Bodie covered the thin hand with his own larger one. "I do...know...that. No...other option."
Blinking away the moisture filling his eyes, Doyle leaned over and bestowed a tender, cherishing kiss on the sardonic mouth. "Love you, Bodie," vowed thickly. "So much."
An unexpectedly sweet smile lighting his lustreless face, Bodie reached up with a trembling finger and traced the cupid's-bow lips. "It's...mutual."
Hearing Father Swarc hail him, Doyle squeezed Bodie's hand once before rising. Quickly becoming preoccupied with trying to cautiously transfer Bodie onto the unyielding stretcher, painfully distracted by the choked-off grunt of agony his lover gave before he passed out once more, it was perhaps no surprise that the little group was several miles down the dusty road before Doyle gave a thought to Michael Coddington. Oh, well, he mentally shrugged. No big loss. Save the government the expense of putting him on trial.
His attention turned back to his partner.
Coolness...and, oh, blessed relief; the searing, driving pain along his entire left side had dulled to a manageable ache. Murmuring in uncomplicated pleasure, Bodie fought the urge to open his eyes, reveling in being pain-free for the first time in what had seemed eons. A faint breeze blew over his face from somewhere, carrying with it many half-forgotten odours and another so familiar that Bodie just smiled. Turning his face into the breeze, he slowly opened his eyes, certain who he would see.
Doyle was asleep in an old-fashioned rocking chair pulled up close to the narrow, high-sprung bed in which Bodie lay. One hand was clenched tightly, even in slumber, around Bodie's right. Cobalt eyes softening, the younger CI5 agent took in his lover's haggard appearance. The lines about the sensual mouth were so pronounced, they might well have been carved into the skin; the closed eyes were sunken hollows above heavy, purple bruises. Bags under his eyes, hell...those are fucking luggage racks! A soft noise drew his attention and he looked up to see an elderly woman, dressed as a nursing sister, slip into the room. Upon seeing that her patient was awake, she gave a wide smile as she moved to the bedside.
"It is good to see you awake." Her voice was quiet, the Germanic inflection strong. "We had begun to think you would sleep until the Trumpet of Doom!" She gave a short chuckle.
Taking a liking to the twinkling brown eyes, Bodie gave a small grin of his own. "Was tired, wasn't I?" he defended himself. "And I'm not the only one..." Nodding at his partner, he asked, "Don't wake him up, okay?"
"Wake him up?!" The nurse affected horror. Checking Bodie's forehead with the back of her hand, she nodded, satisfied. As she pulled up the duvet and fluffed his pillows, she elaborated, "I can assure you, Herr Bodie; neither Doctor Schmidt, Father Swarc nor myself would even consider doing such a thing. Not when it took us so long to get him to fall asleep! Even then, we had to..." She didn't finish the sentence.
Chuckling quietly, Bodie gave a pained grimace as his abused ribs protested. "Put a little something in his tea, did you." It wasn't a question.
"Ja." Seeing the smile in the dark eyes, the nurse huffed out a sigh and shook her head over the man sleeping peacefully in the chair. "The doctor had told him that your fractures had been set, your dislocations reduced and your ribs taped." She looked at him, smiling once more. "You are an extremely lucky young man, Herr Bodie: If you had not been so healthy to start with, if your partner had not done such an excellent job of immobilising your injuries and taking care of you... Well, the outcome would have been much different, ja? As it is, you will need some physical therapy on that shoulder, but you should recover completely."
"How long have we been here?"
"Over twenty-four hours. You," she fixed him with a gimlet gaze, "have been asleep the entire time." By the continuing twinkle in her eyes, Bodie knew she wasn't displeased. "Herr Doyle, however, has only been asleep for about eight hours or so. We did not want to resort to subterfuge, but he left us little choice. It is obvious he is deeply exhausted; he needed to get some rest, not fret and worry over you! So, when I brought him some tea last night..." Her voice trailed off; a smug smile lit the aged face.
"Good for you!" Bodie sincerely applauded her actions. Unable to resist, however, he cocked a cynical brow at her and commented, "Might have been easier all around, though, if you'd just used a cricket bat."
Smug smile widening, the nurse turned to leave. "Believe me, if the tranquiliser had not worked..."
She shut the door on his snort of laughter.
Struggling not to laugh -- it jarred his ribs and shoulder painfully -- Bodie shook his own head over his recalcitrant lover. More stubborn than a herd of bloody mules, he thought fondly. All slept out for the present, Bodie amused himself with watching Doyle sleep.
An unknown length of time later, the thick lashes quivered, rising slowly to reveal eyes as soft and verdant as the spring grass. Falling in love all over again, Bodie whispered, "Good morning, sunshine," as he fell into the luminous depths.
"Morning." Stretching drowsily, Doyle gave a smile of sheer joy at seeing his lover awake and smiling so easily at him. "Feeling better, are we?" He moved to sit on the edge of the bed.
"Much, thank you," Bodie replied politely, grinning from ear to ear.
"Mmm." Bending, Doyle took the beaming mouth in a long, luxurious kiss. When breathing became an absolute imperative, he pulled away. "Yeah, you're definitely better," he muttered approvingly.
"Can't keep a good man down, mate," his partner informed him smugly.
"You don't say?"
Twisting, Doyle looked pointedly at Bodie's lower body. Seeing the disturbance in the bed linens, he chuckled fatly and, giving his lover one last, chaste kiss on the forehead, re-settled himself into the rocking chair. Disregarding Bodie's pathetic protests at being abandoned, he gave another lengthy stretch of genuine well being.
"That's not helping, Ray," moaned Bodie plaintively.
"Just you lie back and think pure thoughts," his lover commanded heartlessly. "You're not a well man."
Bodie almost snorted in outrage; then remembering how his ribs had felt the last time he'd done that, decided to change the subject, instead. "Nurse said we'd been in this charming place for about a day. You figured out a way to get us out of here?"
"Yeah." Yawning widely, Doyle nodded his head. "Father Swarc let me use his radio while the doctor and Mrs. Schmidt were fixing you up. Called this feller the Father suggested and he'll be here around six this evening. He'll only be able to fly us back to Taneala, but I reckoned that was better than nothing."
"You got that right, mate," Bodie agreed whole-heartedly. "Least ways we'll be back in Gabon." Giving an abbreviated yawn of his own out of respect for his ribs and shoulders, he let his eyes fall shut. "So what have you done with Coddington, then?"
There was dead silence.
"Ray?" Mildly curious, Bodie opened his eyes again and gave his partner a questioning look.
"Well, uh, you see..."
"Ray!" Dumfounded at the sheepish, slightly guilty look on Doyle's face, Bodie gave him a hard stare. "You haven't gone and lost him?"
"Of course not!" the other agent denied stoutly. He refused to meet his partner's eyes, however, as he mumbled, "'S more like he's...misplaced..."
"Misplaced?!" The deep voice was a whole octave higher. "How the bloody hell can you misplace a grown man?!"
"Wasn't hard, actually," Doyle admitted frankly. "Was worried about you, y'know, back there at the stream. So when Father Swarc and Raoul came along, my first priority was to get you loaded onto that stretcher and here where a doctor could take a look at you. Wasn't until we were halfway here that I even remembered Coddington. Think he must've sneaked off during the night 'cause when I asked him about it, Father Swarc says he never saw anyone but you and me."
"You didn't have him secured?" To say that Bodie was astonished at his normally ultra-competent partner's carelessness would have been a massive understatement. But also, deep inside, he acknowledged the warm feeling produced by this proof of Doyle's intense commitment to him.
"Back at the plane, was in such a hurry to get away before that hyena pack could get there, that I just released him and left the other end of the cuff still locked around the seat brace." Hard jade eyes dared him to make anything of this bizarre oversight. "Couldn't secure him after 'cause you don't carry a pair."
Subsiding back against his pillows, Bodie weakly shook his head. An unwelcome thought hit him and he turned to favour his unrepentant partner with a stern look. "You get to explain to Cowley that his man has been misplaced in the middle of bloody Africa."
"Sure thing." Untroubled as the Controller was still several thousand miles away at present, Doyle just gave a placid smile.
Through the small window came the noisy squeal of abused brakes as several large vehicles ground to a halt. Doors slammed and raised voices could be heard.
"Busy place for a mission," muttered Bodie, closing his eyes once more.
"Not really," refuted Doyle around another yawn. "'S first motor I've heard..." The unmistakable crack of rifle fire drowned out the rest of his statement. "Fuck!" With one leap, Doyle was at the window. "Can't see a bloody thing," he reported tersely. "Let me check it out."
"Ray, no!" Moving faster that his healing body actually appreciated, Bodie was already out of bed and heading toward his partner. "Could be rebels...could be anybody." More aware than Doyle of the constant political instability in this part of Africa, Bodie was busily drawing on his clean pair of trousers found in a small locker at the foot of the bed. "Be better if we just stay out of sight until Father Swarc gives the all clear." He was crossing the room to the door, intending to lock it, when the door burst inward, propelled by a booted foot. Faced with the business end of four FN rifles, the agents froze.
"No move, English!" snarled the man in the lead. Leaving his three companions to keep Bodie and Doyle covered, he stepped back into the hallway, shouting, "General!"
There was the sound of heavy boots coming down the hall, then the men at the door parted, letting in a tall, muscled, grey-haired black man. His light brown uniform was liberally festooned with ribbons and metals.
Beside Doyle, Bodie stiffened, biting back a curse. Throwing him a quick glance, Doyle was astounded to find every trace of colour had fled the classically handsome face.
"So...you do remember me." The man's voice was deep and educated, silky-smooth with menace. "Excellent. I, of course, remember you, Monsieur Bodie." The smile on the face of the tiger had nothing on his. Turning to Doyle, the tall man gave a small bow of mock-courtesy. "Permit me to introduce myself, Monsieur Doyle. I am General Kumar Mantawani, Chief Justice Officer of The People's Republic of the Congo."
"Innocent lives obviously pay well," Bodie sneered.
Quicker than the eye could follow, a rifle butt lunged out, catching the ex-merc squarely on his broken ribs. Choking back a scream, the dark-haired man went to his knees; Doyle's high-pitched "Bodie!" ringing in his ears.
Whirling on the general, eyes mad, Doyle was brought up short by two rifle muzzles in his face. "Can't you see that he's hurt?" he spat furiously. "Leave him alone!"
"Leave...it, Ray," panted Bodie, attempting to rise to his feet. A harsh shove on his broken shoulder left him curled in agony on the floor.
"I should do as he says, Monsieur Doyle," stated Mantawani dispassionately. "You are not currently wanted by the Congolese government; that could change at any time."
Hearing only his lover's gasping breaths, Doyle paid scant heed to the thinly-veiled warning. "This has nothing to do with the government!" he disputed hotly. "This is personal!"
"Very perceptive of you, monsieur." The general accorded Doyle a respectful nod. Striking a nonchalant pose against the door frame, he said courteously, "I have serious doubts, Monsieur Doyle, that you are aware of the full reasoning behind this. Take my advice and do not meddle in affairs of which you are ignorant."
Incensed beyond all hope of curbing his tongue, Doyle shot back, "I know he was lucky to escape alive from that filthy hell-hole your government called a prison camp!"
"Hmm. Your partner must trust you a great deal." A half-smile on his thin lips, Mantawani regarded the CI5 agent as one would an interesting bug. "Did he tell you how he escaped?"
"There was a riot," snapped Doyle.
"Indeed there was a riot; a riot that Monsieur Bodie instigated." The general came upright with a jerk. Eyes narrowed, he hissed, "Did he also tell you that, as a result of this riot, seven camp guards were killed -- along with the camp commandant, my son?" He stalked over to the rigid Englishman. "My only son...butchered by this mercenary pig!" Turning his back, he took several deep breaths and went on in a more moderate tone, "One of the guards had his young brother visiting him that day. This boy saw Monsieur Bodie kill my son; saw him, also, murder his elder brother, Natei Bengalli."
"Bengalli." His voice a mere whisper, Doyle stared blankly at Mantawani. "Dear god, I introduced Bodie to..." He glanced down to where his partner lay propped on his good arm. The look on the pale face was just as shocked.
"He had not been informed of which men were coming from London, only that two would arrive. When you walked into the Justice Office, he was suspicious, but not entirely convinced." The general went on conversationally, "It has, after all, been fifteen years. It wasn't until you, Monsieur Doyle, gave him your partner's name that he was confident it was the same man." Ignoring the involuntary moan from Doyle, the black man turned back to Bodie. "When he called me with the news, I told him to find some way to cripple your plane so that you would not be able to leave Sounole. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm was greater than his expertise; as you know, the bomb did not go off until you were already in the air. When I got there, I discovered his error. Fortunately, it will be Officer Bengalli's last." The sharkish smile had returned.
"How'd you track us here?" asked Bodie, trying to buy some time for the pain and nausea to fade back to tolerable levels. Beside him, Doyle was as white and still as a block of marble.
"Ah, yes." Mantawani gave a reminiscent smile. "It is truly heartening how many public-spirited people there are in the world. Imagine, if you will, my shock when I received an urgent radio message in my car from the commander of a small army post just a few miles north of this mission. The commander claimed that an Englishman, who had caught a ride with a farmer, was at his gates. It seems this Englishman stated he had information concerning a wanted felon. Naturally, I had him put the fellow on. Monsieur Coddington and I had quite a long discussion; a very fruitful one." Sighing, Mantawani sadly shook his head. "He does not appear to have much regard for either of you gentlemen. But that is of little consequence."
"That man is a wanted embezzler," Doyle contended hoarsely.
"Ah, but he is not wanted by my government, monsieur," the general explained softly, "and I have only the word of a fugitive felon and his associate that he is wanted in Great Britain. The man gave me useful information; I saw no reason to detain him."
"You let him go." Doyle seemed beyond shock at this point.
"But, of course! Monsieur Coddington asked for nothing except a way to a city so that he could continue his interrupted journey to Nairobi. This small thing was within my power to grant, and to show my gratitude, I had a helicopter fly him to Pointe-Noire so that he might catch a flight. He should be well on his way by this time."
For several seconds, the silence was broken only by Bodie's harsh breathing. Turning back to the door, Mantawani made a dismissive gesture. "Bring him."
Bodie's grunt of pain as he was forcibly hauled to his feet broke through Doyle's apparent paralysis. He gave a garbled scream and went for the nearest soldier, putting him down with a well-placed kidney punch. He then grabbed one of the men holding Bodie.
"Ray, no!" yelled Bodie, fearing more for his lover's life than his own. Seeing the fourth soldier raise his rifle, he fought to free himself. "Ray, stop! For Christ's sake...stop!!!"
A sharp retort sounded, deafening in the small room. The force of the bullet threw Doyle sideways, blood spraying from his head.
The last thing Bodie saw before a rifle butt lashed him in the face was the body of his lover, lying limp and unmoving across the bed.
Striding purposefully through the glass doors of the airport, George Cowley slid into a taxi and curtly gave the driver the address of the Brazzaville Hilton. Although he was looking out the window as the small Renault rocketed into the bustling traffic, he was not seeing anything. Instead, his mind was again replaying the bizarre radio call he'd received from Ray Doyle less than twenty hours previously.
Even though it was noon on a Saturday afternoon, the CI5 Controller had been busily at work in his office when Betty had let him know that Doyle was on the line. More relieved than he let on, Cowley had hurriedly picked up his phone. By that time, Bodie and Doyle had not been heard from since their plane had left Sounole. The Scot had not been prepared for an almost robotic-sounding Doyle informing him not only of the plane crash, but of the fact that a seriously injured Bodie had been assaulted, then arrested, by the Congolese authorities and was headed for Maillet Prison in the capital of Brazzaville. For once left speechless, it was several minutes before Cowley could marshal his thoughts into any semblance of order.
Catching his mental breath, the Controller had told Doyle to hold, then shouted into his intercom for Betty to make arrangements for him to fly into Brazzaville immediately, if not sooner. She was also to secure two hotel rooms; one for Doyle and one for himself. That settled, he had returned his attention to his operative. Greatly concerned by the arguing voices he could hear in the background and the leaden, emotionless voice from the normally temperamental Doyle, Cowley had demanded answers. Beyond mentioning that the voices were "Father Swarc and Dr. Schmidt. They don't want me to go to Brazzaville, but I'm going once the plane gets here.", Doyle had not been particularly forthcoming. Well-knowing his agent's stubbornness after seven years, Cowley had not pushed him. Sticking his hand over the phone as Betty came into the room, Cowley listened impatiently to his secretary before telling Doyle that a room had been reserved for him at the Hilton; he was to go there and wait for Cowley's arrival. Doyle was not to leave the hotel until the Controller got there...was that understood? For a long moment, there was only the hissing and crackling of an open line, then Doyle said abruptly, "Plane's here." and the wire had gone dead. Cowley had cursed volubly but there had been nothing he could do. Doyle had never stated where he was calling from; there was no way to re-establish contact.
Drawn from his reverie as the taxi pulled up in front of the ornate facade of the Brazzaville Hilton, Cowley quickly paid the driver and climbed out, giving an attenuated grimace as his travel-stiffened leg protested the movement. Shaking his head at a porter, he limped through the revolving door into the cool, spacious lobby. He had only gone a few steps toward the registration desk when he heard his name called in a heavy French accent. Warily, he watched the tentative approach of a grey-haired man dressed in priest's clothing.
"Pardon," the stranger said apologetically, "but you are George Cowley, Monsieur Doyle's employer?"
Belatedly recognising one of the background voices from Doyle's call, Cowley nodded. "I am, Father. You are...?"
"Praise Christ! He gave me but a quick description." Holding out a hand, the other man said, "I am Father Swarc; it was from my mission that Monsieur Doyle contacted you."
"I'm pleased to meet you, Father." Shaking hands, the Scot nodded in the direction of the lifts. "I take it Doyle is upstairs?"
There was a regretful expression on the cleric's face. "No. He is at the prison."
"What?" Face darkening, Cowley snapped, "I specifically told him..."
"Please, Monsieur Cowley, before you become angry... I must speak with you." Drawing the other man over to a quiet corner of the busy lobby, the priest indicated two over-stuffed chairs.
"All right." Sitting his small suitcase down beside one chair, Cowley seated himself. "What's so important?"
Sitting, Father Swarc told him how his two operatives came to be at his mission.
"Monsieur Bodie's injuries had been treated, he was recovering well and Monsieur Doyle had hired the son of one of my mission workers to fly them back to Taneala yesterday evening. Unfortunately, around eleven in the morning, General Mantawani arrived with a squad of men and demanded to know the whereabouts of Monsieur Bodie. When one of my assistants refused to tell him, the soldiers killed him." A look of grief came over the lined face. "Raoul was only nineteen." Shaking his head, the priest hurried on. "The soldiers ransacked the mission. Moments later, we heard another shot and feared the worst, but soon the soldiers reappeared, dragging Monsieur Bodie. They threw him in the back of their truck and drove away."
"He'd been shot?" Cowley questioned sharply.
"No, they had shot Monsieur Doyle." Forestalling the obvious query, Swarc told him, "He was very lucky; the bullet only grazed his head. Dr. Schmidt was concerned, however, about the concussion combined with his severe exhaustion and wanted to keep him in hospital. He was unconscious almost five hours."
"You would have more luck in getting the sun to rise in the West than diverting that young man when his mind is made up. The only one who's been able to accomplish that feat is Master Bodie, and even he is not always successful." The retort was automatic, Cowley's attention on something else the priest had said. "You said Dr. Schmidt had diagnosed severe exhaustion?"
Shrugging, Swarc replied, "I know only what Dr. Schmidt informed me. One night in the bush should not have brought about the degree of mental fatigue and physical debility that he observed in Monsieur Doyle. The doctor would only say that the condition must have been coming on for several weeks."
Suppressing the flare of conscience -- he clearly remembered Bodie petitioning for some leave time for his partner -- Cowley stood, saying, "You said Doyle is at the prison now?"
Rising also, the cleric nodded. "When I saw he was adamant about coming here to Brazzaville, my conscience would not permit him to come alone. He refused to come to the hotel when we arrived, but insisted on going straight to Maillet even though it was nearly ten o'clock at night by that time. When he was denied permission to see Monsieur Bodie, he told me he would camp outside the door until they changed their minds. Nothing I said could dissuade him, so I spent the night with a colleague at St. Agnes' and decided to meet you here. I was hoping you could persuade him to rest." Hesitating, the priest said slowly, "There is something else there, Monsieur Cowley; something besides his natural concern for his partner. I fear for his state of mind..." Swarc shook his head.
"Thank you, Father, for your kindness toward my men." Again shaking the other man's hand, Cowley gave him a small smile. "Don't you worry about young Doyle; I'll see to him."
"Good day to you then, Monsieur Cowley." Smiling, the priest walked away.
Going over to the registration desk, Cowley only took long enough to register for himself and Doyle, and to see that his bag would be taken to his room, before he was heading back out into the bright afternoon sun. Climbing into the back of the taxi the doorman had obtained for him, he said, "Maillet Prison."
He settled back against the seat, ignoring the strange look his stated destination had provoked. Some forty minutes later, the driver pulled up in front of a grey, nondescript building in one of the outlying districts. Giving the driver a handful of bills, he snapped, "Wait here." as he got out. Hurrying across the pavement toward the imposing steel doors, the Scot faltered and then stopped altogether when he caught sight of the grimy, disheveled figure huddled against the dusty brick wall.
Going up to his wayward agent, Cowley quietly prompted, "Doyle?", not wishing to startle the younger man if he'd fallen asleep. He then fell back a couple of paces in dismayed shock when the other man slowly raised his head to look at him. Remembering what Father Swarc had told him, Cowley gazed downward, frowning.
For quite some time, the CI5 Controller had been perfectly aware of Bodie's true feelings for his partner. The only apparent downside had been an increase in insubordination from the dark-haired man if Doyle were somehow in strife; the efficiency of the team itself had not been impaired. Therefore, Cowley had been prepared to overlook the matter. What he had always assumed, however, was that the emotions were one-sided. Now, as he looked down at the ravaged face and haunted jade eyes, he was berating himself for that ill-conceived assumption.
"They still won't let me see him." The husky voice was cracked and rough. "They said nobody gets in to see political prisoners." Dirty hands clutching into fists, Doyle said harshly, "I've got to see him...I've got to!"
"Nobody, eh?" Cowley said consideringly, gently urging Doyle to his feet. "Well, we'll just see about that, laddie."
It was a measure of Doyle's state of mind that it took several minutes for the statement to sink in. "You got a way in?" he asked eagerly, eyes brightening.
"Aye. Maybe not us personally, but it will do." Taking Doyle's arm, he led the younger man toward the waiting taxi. "We'll discuss it back at the hotel."
"No!" Pulling his arm free, Doyle stared mulishly at the Controller. "Gotta stay here. Won't leave until they let me see Bodie."
"Doyle." Biting his tongue, Cowley stopped what he'd been about to say. "You've said yourself they won't let you in. What good will it do to stay? Come back to the hotel with me for a shower and a meal; then we'll go about devising a plan to get Bodie out of that place."
There were a dozen reasons why he should remain where he was, but for the life of him, Doyle could not think of any at the moment. Too tired, he concluded muzzily. Be able to think better after a shower -- that always does the trick. Nodding wearily, he got into the taxi.
Groaning as he rolled over, Doyle forced his eyes open. Momentarily disoriented at finding himself in a strange, darkened bedroom, he looked around blearily. Memory returned and he cursed, groping for his watch. It was almost nine o'clock in the evening; he'd been asleep for over five hours. Giving in to Cowley's urgings to lie down "Just until the food arrives.", he must have gone out like a light the minute his head hit the pillow after his shower. Dragging on the freshly laundered jeans and shirt he found on a chair, Doyle was forced to admit how much he'd needed the rest. Still did, come to that. He was distantly aware of how close to the edge he was. Ever since regaining consciousness at the mission, he'd heard a continuous echo in his head: himself, promising that he wouldn't let anyone take his lover from him; Bodie's quiet admission of trust... Distracted by a soft sound, Doyle opened the door into the small sitting room separating his and Cowley's sleeping rooms.
"Evening," he offered, coming further into the room upon seeing his boss.
"Well, I must say you do look a bit more human," Cowley observed tartly, putting aside the paper he'd been perusing. "Amazing the restorative effects of a hot shower, shave and a good sleep. Now for a decent meal." Before Doyle could protest, Cowley had lifted the phone by his elbow and ordered a meal for two sent up. Replacing the receiver, he glared. "No arguments, Doyle."
Because it was easier to give in than to fight about it, Doyle just nodded, wandering over to peek through the heavy draperies at the busy street below.
Watching him closely, Cowley stated, "While you were sleeping, I spoke with an old friend of mine who happens to be on the French Embassy staff here. He promises he will go to Maillet first thing in the morning and intervene on our behalf. As Jeannot is the Deputy Counsel, he should have considerably more leverage than either of us."
Remaining immobile for several long minutes, Doyle eventually nodded, releasing the death-grip he had on the draperies. Getting up and pouring a large measure of scotch into a short, thick glass, Cowley thrust it into the younger man's hand.
"Drink it," he ordered.
Watching with narrowed eyes as Doyle did so, pacing aimlessly about the room meanwhile, the Scot asked quietly into the waiting silence, "What happened, Doyle?"
Lean hand tightening convulsively around the glass, Doyle quickly drank the remainder of his scotch. "I fucked up," he answered just as softly. Moving over to the mantle piece over the fireplace, he put the glass down. "That's the beginning and end of it. I fucked up."
"In what way?"
"In every way you can imagine, and then some." Thrusting his hands into his jeans back pockets, Doyle commenced pacing restlessly. "The first screw up is that I let myself become mired one of my better guilt trips after Cookie gets killed and start having nightmares. Pretty bad nightmares, too; got so I was afraid to fall asleep. Was only getting two to three hours of sleep a night; was so tired I could barely function." Glancing over at Cowley, he gave a mirthless grin. "You didn't even notice, did you?"
"No," acknowledged the older man. A trace of regret entered his voice. "Bodie did ask me last week for some leave time for you, but we were hip-deep in the Coddington mess by that time. I'm afraid I didn't see what Bodie was seeing."
"Don't take it too hard, sir. Of course Bodie was seeing it; woke the poor sod every night with me yelling, didn't I?" So lost was Doyle in his own thoughts, that he didn't even realise what he'd just let slip out. Cowley heard, however, and immediately filed it away for further consideration.
"By last Tuesday, I was so tired I was practically sleep-walking. However, bright lad that I am, I cheerfully agree, without even bothering to think it through, to fly out to Africa to collect some prick of an embezzler." Suddenly, Doyle turned and gave his Controller a level stare. "Although part of that was your fault, too. Didn't occur to you anymore than it did to me that maybe it wasn't such a good idea to send Bodie back to western Africa. Not one of your smarter moves, sir."
"Perhaps not," admitted the Scot. He poured them both another drink and handed Doyle's glass to him. "Although why it should've mattered is beyond me; you weren't supposed to be in the Congo."
"Yeah, well; as Bodie told me once I managed to pry his mouth open a little -- it seems that, up until around 1970, Sounole was part of the Congo. All these little bush wars, y'know. They play havoc with the national borders."
Shocked, Cowley lowered his glass from his mouth. "Why the devil didn't he tell me this? You could've..."
"Gone alone?" Doyle finished the sentence for him. "There's your answer. You know Bodie; he's very...protective." Voice breaking on the last word, Doyle swallowed hard. Running a thin hand through abundant mahogany curls, he went on, "Didn't help matters any that I used his name once too often, either. Introduced him to a man who thought he had a score to settle on his brother's behalf; a man who wasn't even sure the bloke with me was Bodie until I opened my big mouth.
"You know what happened then. The fool was so inept as a saboteur that he cocked up the job and the plane was in the air before the bomb went off. At this point, we now have one dead pilot, one slightly knocked-about embezzler, me and poor Bodie, who comes out of it with a lump on his head bigger than my fist and so many broken bones that I lost count."
Sealing his mouth shut, Cowley silently encouraged him to continue.
Stuck on a treadmill of guilt and dread, Doyle said, "When we tried to walk out, Bodie collapsed and there wasn't anything I could do for him. He'd started to run a fever and didn't know where he was..." Several minutes passed as Doyle struggled for composure. "Once more I fucked up."
"I was so worried about Bodie, so scared... I completely forgot about Coddington and let him see..."
"That you and Bodie are lovers."
The curly head snapped around, staring hard at the older man. Finally realising there had been no censure in the dry tone, Doyle gave a weak grin. "Yeah. He hadn't been too enamoured with us before; now, he really wasn't best pleased. I handled the situation in my usual brilliant fashion."
Too aware of Doyle's volatile temper, Cowley said blandly, "Knocked his head off, eh?"
"Nah." An absent shake of the curly head. "Promised to handcuff him to a tree, cut out his tongue and leave him for the lions. He backed off quick."
"Indeed." To cover the abrupt chill along his spine, Cowley drained his glass. It seemed he'd been seriously guilty of underestimating Doyle...in more ways than one.
"When Father Swarc and Raoul found us the next morning, I thought there really was a God. Then, Father told me where his mission was..." Falling silent once more, Doyle resumed his frenetic pacing.
"You did what had to be done, Doyle," the other man stated levelly. "Bodie's injuries had to be treated. There was no other choice."
"Yeah, that's what Bodie said," Doyle acknowledged hoarsely. Coming to a halt in front of the mantle again, he gripped the edge until his knuckles were white. "Promised him, didn't I -- promised him it would be all right. That I'd take care of him; make sure no one in authority knew we were there. Swore to him I wouldn't let anyone take him from me..." Voice breaking once again, Doyle lowered his head, fighting back the tears which came all too easily of late.
"General Mantawani somehow found out." The insertion was gentle.
Sniffing, Doyle nodded. "He'd known all along Bodie was back in Africa; was his man who sabotaged the plane. Old loyalties don't die just because the border changes. Lost us, though, after the crash."
"How did he find you again?"
"Very easily, actually."
With some trepidation, Cowley watched the lithe figure go rigid; heard the cold, emotionless tone return.
"Now we come to my most spectacular cock-up. I was so busy reassuring Bodie that nothing could go wrong, so concerned with getting him to the mission, that I totally forgot about Coddington -- forgot he even existed, to tell the truth. Was more than halfway to the mission before I even remembered him. Didn't really care all that much by that point. He was a city feller -- didn't reckon he'd make it out of the bush alive. Save the taxpayers some money."
The chill was back in Cowley's spine. "Go on," he ordered tersely. This was a side of the fiercely moral ex-copper he had never dreamt could exist.
"He'd overheard Bodie and me -- knew there was something fishy about Bodie being in the Congo. Didn't take kindly to being abandoned, either. So he makes it to the road, hitches a ride with a passing farmer to the nearest army post and spills his guts. The commander patches through a message to Mantawani and the rest, as they say, is history."
"Where is Coddington now?"
"On his way to the Maldives -- if he isn't already there." A cold smile came to the full lips. "As a reward for information received, Mantawani had him taken to Pointe-Noire so he could catch a plane. After all," Doyle gave an elaborate shrug, "he isn't wanted by this government."
"Yeah." All at once, the fight seemed to drain from the thin figure and he sank into one of the club chairs. Clasping his hands tightly together to try to hide the betraying trembling, he looked up imploringly at Cowley through his bedraggled fringe. "What are we going to do, sir?"
A sharp knock sounding on the door at that moment, Cowley went to let in the room-service waiter with their meal, saying crisply, "Do? Right now, you are going to eat every bite of your dinner, then you're going back to bed to get a decent night's sleep." Seeing the mutinous expression come over the tired face, Cowley snapped, "That's exactly what's going to happen, Doyle, and don't argue! Let Jeannot deal with the situation tomorrow; we can do nothing useful until then."
Nodding reluctantly, Doyle watched unenthusiastically as the waiter set up their meal.
Giving the relentlessly pacing figure a fulminating glare, Cowley bit off the scathing remark on the tip of his tongue and determinedly returned to his paper and morning tea. A sudden knock on the door startled him, almost making him spill his cup. Reaching the door first, Doyle jerked it open.
A short, portly man stood there, an immaculate mauve tea rose in the lapel of his expensive charcoal suit.
"Jeannot!" exclaimed Cowley, getting to his feet. He was suddenly conscious of a sick apprehension. Glancing at his watch, he noted it was only nine-thirty. Too soon; it was much too soon. Only two hours had passed since the Frenchman had called to say he was on his way to Maillet. Concealing his unease as best he could, Cowley gestured him in with a smile. "There's tea, or coffee, if you'd prefer. Doyle, this is Jeannot LePorte, Deputy Counsel of the French Embassy. Jeannot, this is Ray Doyle, Bodie's partner."
The diplomat acknowledged the introduction with a polite nod. "Thank you, George, but no thank you. My car is waiting downstairs. I only stopped by..."
"Have you seen Bodie?" broke in Doyle.
With an abrupt flash of clairvoyance, Cowley poured them all a measure of scotch and handed the glasses around. LePorte accepted with a slight twist of his lips.
"No," the Frenchman said slowly, "I did not see Monsieur Bodie. When I arrived at Maillet, I requested to see General Mantawani. I was told the general would be late in arriving as his car had experienced some mechanical difficulties on the road this morning. Some thirty minutes later, his aide-de-camp came to tell me that the trouble was more severe than originally believed so the General had decided not to come to his office at all today. The aide asked if he might assist me; at that time; I told him I was there to request an interview with Monsieur Bodie."
"Yeah?" prompted Doyle impatiently.
"I was then informed that, pursuant to Congolese law, Monsieur Bodie had been executed by firing squad at dawn this morning."
The words impacted on the two waiting men with all the savagery of a five kilo atomic bomb.
Long minutes passed before Cowley was able to shrug off the shock. Ruthlessly suppressing the surge of hot grief, he said, "Thank you, Jeannot." Faintly surprised that his voice should sound so normal, the Controller escorted his friend to the door.
"I only wish there was something I could have done."
"Aye. Well, you did your best." Abruptly spearing the other man with a taut look, the Scot asked, "The body...?"
"Also per law -- it was burnt..." LePorte stopped, aghast at his slip. "I mean, Monsieur Bodie was cremated afterward."
Bile rising swiftly, Cowley swallowed hard. "Aye. Thank you again, Jeannot."
"George." Giving a nod of farewell, the diplomat took his leave.
Running a tremulous hand over his face, Cowley turned back to the room and his eerily silent operative.
Doyle had not moved; indeed, he was so still he might have been carved from stone. Scotch glass in hand, the younger man stared at the spot where the Frenchman had stood. Worriedly taking in the grey face and the wide, blank jade eyes, Cowley put a hand on the bony shoulder. "Doyle?"
There was no sign the younger man had heard him.
Come on laddie, the Scot thought uneasily. Scream, yell, throw the glass, but do something! Grabbing both shoulders, he shook his agent firmly. "Doyle!"
Shouting...someone was shouting...who...? Oh, 's Cowley; he's always shouting about something, Doyle thought inconsequentially. Now what's Bodie done? Bodie... Sharp, bright flashes of memory: Bodie grumbling over having to write up their report...the look on the handsome face when they'd finally let Doyle out of hospital after the shooting...Bodie, eating Chinese takeaway and making scurrilous remarks about the man reading the evening news...pale face damp and twisted with fever and pain...the fear in those impossibly blue eyes as the soldiers started to drag him away...
There came an abrupt tinkle of breaking glass.
Blinking rapidly, the blank eyes focused with difficulty on the concerned face. "Yes, sir?" Still have to respond, didn't you...even if the world had gone all muffled and blurry.
"Let me clean up the glass; then I'll call a doctor. Don't move."
Finished with gathering up the larger pieces of the shattered scotch glass, Cowley rose to his feet. Pulling out his handkerchief, he wrapped it around Doyle's right hand to staunch the bleeding. Covertly glancing up as he did so, the Scot was relieved to note that the grey look had vanished, leaving the round face pinched and waxen. The over-wide jade eyes were looking at him with some intelligence, although the Controller did not care for the wildness lurking in the back. "There now. Let me call down for a doctor."
"There's no need for that, sir." Absently, Doyle flexed his injured hand. "Hardly hurts at all, and the bleeding's practically stopped."
Wanting a doctor to examine Doyle for more reasons than the cut hand, Cowley paused, experiencing a strange sense of hesitation. Perhaps it would be better not to press Doyle at this point; none of the cuts had seemed that deep and he was responding appropriately now. Without Bodie being there to tell him, Cowley had no idea how frail and brittle that calm was -- how imperfectly banked-down was the seething mixture of guilt, rage and unrelenting, soul-deep agony. Unknowing of any of this, the older man backed off, deciding that once again he'd misjudged his operative and that Doyle simply needed time to grieve in his own manner.
"Aye, maybe you're right at that, laddie."
"'Course I am." Confused, Doyle looked around for a moment, frowning. Where's...? Abrupt torment spasmed across his face, but was gone an instant later. He headed for his bedroom.
Cowley's voice stopped him as he opened the door.
"Doyle. Will you be all right?" Wincing inwardly at the inanity, Cowley nonetheless waited tensely for the answer.
A small smile was sent his way. "There's no other option, y'know." Doyle shut the door behind him.
Feeling curiously bereft, Cowley wandered over to the window and stood, gazing blindly at the street below.
Snapping awake with a start, the Scot turned on the bedside lamp and looked at his watch. Three in the morning -- now what in the world could have awakened him at that time of night? He rubbed at eyes that felt gritty and sore; not surprisingly, he'd taken a long time to fall asleep when he'd finally given in and gone to bed at midnight. The day had stretched on interminably; after making airline reservations for his and Doyle's return to London, Cowley had been left with nothing to do and less spirit to do it. Doyle had not left his bedroom again, refusing to come out for meals and drinks. Cowley had decided the first priority for Raymond Jeremy Doyle after getting back home was going to be a lengthy session with Doctor Ross.
Yawning, Cowley made to turn out the light, but the niggling itch at the back of his neck stayed his hand. Listening carefully, he could detect nothing unusual in either his bedroom or the sitting room. The faint, occasional sound of a car passing in the street was the only noise to break the stillness. Chastising himself for becoming a nervous old fool, he again reached for the light switch...a sudden, sick dread swept over him. Throwing back the bed linens, he didn't take the time to put on his robe, almost running to Doyle's closed bedroom door. Courtesy banished to the four winds, Cowley threw open the door, hitting the light switch as he did so.
Dear merciful Lord...he told me, but I didn't listen. No other option, was what he said... Abruptly feeling a hundred years old, the Scot walked mechanically back into the sitting room and dropped into the chair by the phone, dialing the front desk. When a deep male voice answered, Cowley identified himself and gave his room number, asking tonelessly, "I wonder if you might be so good as to do me a favour?"
"But, of course, Monsieur Cowley. What may I do?"
"Could you tell me please what time my companion checked out?"
"He left just after one-thirty, monsieur." There was confusion in the desk clerk's voice. "Is there some problem?"
"No, no," Cowley replied absently. "I had forgotten what time he was leaving, that's all. Thank you." He replaced the receiver with a studiously steady hand; he would not think on the implications of Doyle's defection. Climbing back into bed, he clicked off the light and re-settled for sleep.
"The Home Secretary is in your office, sir."
"Thank you, Betty." Turning back to Murphy, Cowley mused, "There must be something we've overlooked. Send Anson and Jax back to the farm; I want it torn apart."
Idly watching the tall agent turn the corner in the corridor, Cowley was conscious of a vague sense of gratitude for the man's calm demeanour: Murphy, Jax, Anson...all the old-timers. For they were the only ones who didn't look at him out of the corner of their eyes, whispering amongst themselves, as he walked through the halls. In the five days since the Scot's return to London and his announcement of Bodie's death and Doyle's disappearance, the younger members of the squad had grown increasingly perplexed.
"Okay, Bodie's dead," went the whispers. "Doyle's not. Why isn't the Old Man doing something about finding him?"
No, those puzzled whispers would never come from his senior operatives. They, like Cowley, knew only too well where Doyle had gone, what he was going to do when he got there. Cowley didn't want to put out a bulletin on Doyle's passport. He had no doubts it would be child's play to find the errant agent -- Doyle was probably not even attempting to hide any portion of his trail -- but as long as Cowley could pretend he had no idea what Doyle was about, then he would not be forced into action. Action he wanted to avoid with all his heart and soul.
Och, the Home Secretary awaited. Pasting on a bland smile, Cowley entered his office.
Twenty minutes later, just as he was despairing of ever getting the nattering fool to come to the point of the visit, Cowley looked up, stunned, as Betty burst into the room. Pale, but with her hazel eyes sparkling, she managed to get out in a rough approximation of her usual cool tones, "There's a phone call for you, sir. Line three."
"Eh?" he asked, confused. What the devil was the matter with the lass? She knew better than to interrupt during a meeting with the Home Secretary.
"Please, sir. Line three." Her eyes bored beseechingly into his.
"Very well." Slightly exasperated, Cowley picked up the receiver.
Less than five minutes later, the Home Secretary had the edifying experience of seeing a broadly beaming George Cowley exit his office at a dead run.
"That's the lot of 'em, sir," reported McCabe. "What shall we do now?"
Watching intently as the dispirited line of terrorists filed into the CI5 holding cells, Cowley decided it was time to be magnanimous. "Let them stew overnight, lad; we'll start interrogation in the morning. Mind, I want you all here at eight sharp."
A relieved chorus of "Yes, sir!" floated back to him. No fools, the six agents were already halfway down the corridor. Chuckling, Cowley entered the lift, heading for his office. It looked to be another late night; the clock in Betty's office had just finished chiming ten o'clock in the evening. He opened his office door...and came to an abrupt halt.
Bent from the mileage, at least a stone lighter, Ray Doyle sat slumped in a chair in front of the Controller's desk. The bowed head snapped up upon hearing Cowley's entrance, but he did not turn around. What could be seen of his face was gaunt and ashen. Writing a mental note to go over building security procedures, Cowley threw the files onto the blotter on his desk as he turned to the sideboard for the scotch decanter. Wordlessly pouring two large drinks, he pushed one into a limp hand.
"Here, get that inside you," he commanded gruffly. Draining his own, he waited until Doyle had obeyed, then poured them both a second measure. "I suppose it's no use asking how you got into the building undetected?"
A faint grin lit the wan face. Although tart, the Scottish voice had held no displeasure. "No, sir. However, if I were you, I would consider changing the frequency and timing of door checks."
"Hmm." Seating himself, the Controller got his first good look at the shattered man. "Laddie, laddie," he sighed, unable to conceal his concern. "What have ye been doing to yerself?"
Bloodless skin stretched tightly across too-prominent cheekbones, stress lines carved deeply about the perpetually thinned lips, curls hanging limp and lank, Doyle had the appearance of a man who'd spent years in Dachau or Auschwitz. Blood-shot eyes stared at the Controller out of sunken caverns. In spite of the fact that the jade eyes were watching him calmly and levelly, Cowley was chillingly aware there was not much left sane behind them.
"Want you to listen to something," Doyle said abruptly, pulling an audio tape out of his jacket pocket. Without permission, he reached over and shoved the tape into the player sitting on one corner of Cowley's desk. "He was dictating a letter to his solicitor when I caught up with him in Male -- never bothered to switch it off."
There was no need to ask who 'he' was. A faint click, then Coddington's voice, amazingly clear, filled the quiet office.
"...should take care of it. Who the devil?" A short pause. "Doyle?! How the bloody hell did you get in here?"
"Doesn't really matter, does it."
Cowley's skin crawled; he'd heard psychopathic serial killers speak with more warmth. Glancing at Doyle, he was disconcerted to discover the glassy eyes were watching him steadily.
"How dare you!" From the noise, it was apparent that Coddington had come to his feet. "You have no jurisdiction; there are no extradition laws here. How dare you sneak into my home in this way!"
"Won't do any good." Doyle gave an icy chuckle. "Cut the phones lines, didn't I?"
"What do you want?" For the first time, a trace of dread appeared in the other man's voice.
"Should be obvious -- even to you." The sneer was deliberate.
"No!" A piece of furniture turned over with a crash. "I'll give you anything you want -- just don't kill me!"
"Whatever I want?"
"Yes! Name it; just name it. You want money? How much? I can get you millions!"
An eerie chuckle, deadly and cold. "I want my Bodie back."
"You asked me what I wanted; I'm telling you." Coddington's gasp of pain came through clearly. "I want my Bodie back."
A loud crashing noise, the sound of a body falling heavily.
"Don't...please..." There was open fear in the embezzler's voice.
"They killed him, y'know. Just as I dreamt it all those weeks ago. He was all alone."
"NO!!!!!" It was a shriek of mortal terror.
Doyle began to chuckle. "What're you screaming for? No one about to hear, is there? Besides, never said I was going to kill you, did I."
For a long moment, there was only the sound of harsh pants and whimpers.
"You...you mean that?" Coddington's tone was cautiously hopeful. "You're not going to kill me?"
"Nah." Doyle's voice was bizarrely cheerful. "Want you alive; want you to pay for Bodie for a very long time. Can't do that if you're dead."
"You're taking me back to Britain for trial."
"Wrong again. Listen, think I hear 'em."
"Hear what?" From the tone of his voice, the embezzler had heard nothing.
"Sirens. Have to wait for the ambulance to get here, don't I? Very delicate this, don't want you snuffing it, remember."
"What are you talking about?!" Coddington was practically screaming.
"No good putting you in prison, you'd just get out in a few years. This way is better. After all, modern medicine had learnt to perform a few miracles."
There were faint sirens in the background now.
"No..." Coddington was frankly crying.
"Going to break your neck, y'see. Oh, not all the way through; just enough to paralyse you for the rest of your natural life. Just think about it, mate; the rest of your life -- probably at least fifteen years, medicine has made so many advances -- hooked to a machine that breathes for you. Unable to talk, unable to eat, unable to take care of yourself or even go to the bog by yourself. Unable to have sex. They'll have to put a tube through your nose into your stomach to feed you. Another tube up your cock so you can piss, and as for the other... Well, every couple of days or so, the nurses come in with those nice plastic gloves on their hands and dig it out of you. Sounds painful, doesn't it? Had a bird once who was a nurse, and she told me all about it. Fair gave me the shivers, it did."
The sirens now sounded almost on top of them. Moaning and whimpering, Coddington was beyond speech.
"Sounds like Hell, doesn't it? Well, I'm trying me best." Doyle's tone changed, becoming a hissing, animalistic snarl. "And you won't be able to off yourself 'cause your arms and legs won't work. Year after year of living death, day in and day out, second after dragging second... Your own personal Hell, courtesy of Ray Doyle. All because you couldn't keep your fucking mouth shut. You remember that."
There were now faint shouts in the background, the sound of a door being kicked in.
"You remember Bodie."
A muted thunk, a mercifully brief moment of tortured gurgling, then the tape ran out.
Try as he might, it was several minutes before Cowley could get his mouth in working order. "Why tell me this?"
"'Cause I did it for you, too. Knew how you felt about Bodie; knew there wasn't anything legal you could do." Doyle's voice was calm and conversational. If it hadn't been for the subject matter, Cowley could almost believe they were having an ordinary discussion.
Gazing down at his blotter for some time, the older man finally lifted his head. "Thank you."
A clock ticked loudly in the background. Breaking the silence, Cowley asked curiously, "What do you expect to happen now?"
"Don't know." Horribly, Doyle began to giggle -- there was more than a touch of madness present. Covering his face with his hands, he took several deep breaths, forcing himself back to relative calmness. When he had himself under precarious control once more, he lowered his hands and said bleakly, "Thought I'd leave that up to you. Reckoned you'd know best."
"Och, laddie." Conscious of a deep-seated ache in his chest, the Scot slid the audio tape out of the machine and into his suit pocket. Stranding, he said, "Come along, then."
As compliant as a small child, Doyle struggled to his feet. With Cowley's unobtrusive hand under his elbow, Doyle managed to make it downstairs, out the door (never noticing the slack-jawed stare he received from the man at the security desk), and into the Controller's red Cortina. Once in the car, he seemed to settle into a trance, more asleep than awake.
Pulling into a deserted carpark, Cowley killed the engine and quietly urged, "Up with you now. We're here."
Going around to the passenger door, he gently helped the debilitated man out and up the few steps into the huge stone building. Feet moving on their own volition, Doyle seemed to take no notice of where they were or where he was being led until they stopped in front of a wooden door.
Looking around fuzzily, it was some moments before Doyle placed his surroundings. "We're in hospital, aren't we?" His forehead furrowed. "Prince of Wales?" Looking over at the Scot, intent on the older man for an answer, Doyle didn't see the CI5 guard on the door.
"Aye, that we are."
"Thought we were going to gaol." Try as he might, Doyle could not make sense of this strange development.
"No. Quietly, now." Opening the door, Cowley waved the other man in ahead; he stayed on the threshold. At a discreet signal, Pennington slipped away...he headed straight for the nearest pay phone.
Doyle took two steps into the room before stopping as though he'd hit a brick wall. A wordless groan forced itself out of his chest. The sound evidently disturbed the sleeper, for the dark head moved restlessly on its pillow, long lashes fluttering.
"Three days ago, I received a call from the captain of a freighter newly-docked at London harbour," Cowley told the frozen figure. "He's got a few more bruises than when you last saw him, a couple more fractured ribs, unfortunately, and he's needed some surgery on that left shoulder -- will need some more, come to that, but everything is finally starting to heal."
Whirling so abruptly that he staggered, Doyle grunted, "How..." Then he fell silent, incapable of further speech. His gaze returned to the bed.
"While Bodie definitely had enemies in Sounole, he also had allies. Officer Bengalli wasn't the only one to recognise him or his name -- the desk clerk at your hostel did also. When he heard that Bodie had been taken, he contacted the leaders of his village and they decided on a rescue; it seems the people of Muevano consider themselves in his debt. A member of the village works in Maillet. It was easy for him to switch cell numbers on the death warrant; some other poor soul was executed in his place. Most of the guards didn't know what Bodie looked like; to keep away the one man who did, they arranged to sabotage Mantawani's car.
"Very early the morning of the execution, Bodie was smuggled out of Maillet. While Jeannot was telling us the news, he was being carried aboard the 'Ubangi Star'...its captain is a tribal cousin. Unfortunately, there was no doctor on board, but they did their best to take care of him."
Finally allowing himself to hope -- to believe -- Doyle stumbled over to the bed and stretched out a trembling hand. "Alive..." he breathed.
"Aye, lad...alive. Go on, touch him -- he won't bite." Cowley gave a short chuckle. "It's been a job just to keep him in bed and not out haring after you. That's the only reason there's a guard on the door."
Pulled by invisible strings, Doyle reached out. Before he could touch the sable head, however, the long lashes slowly lifted. To the mesmerised Doyle, it seemed as though the world had suddenly become bright and crisp again -- all the shadows were gone. Sinking breathlessly into the bottomless cobalt eyes, he laid one shaky finger on the sleepy mouth as it quirked into a smile of greeting.
"Oh, Bodie..." He could not go on.
Closing the door tightly behind him, Cowley headed for the nurse's station to arrange for a doctor to examine Doyle and for a bed for him in Bodie's room. He also intended to pull Pennington off the phone before he woke every agent in CI5.
Climbing out of the back seat of his car, Cowley told his driver, "I won't be long, Miss Pettifer." Coming up to the entrance to the block of flats, he pushed the intercom.
"Yeah?" It was Bodie.
"Bodie, is that the proper way to answer the intercom?" scolded the Scot.
"Nah." Bodie sounded supremely unrepentant. "Push, sir."
The ex-merc met him at the door to the flat. The long arm cast and brace which covered his left arm appeared to have been assaulted by an exploding colour wheel.
"Ray's work, sir," explained Bodie, seeing the slightly stunned look in the pale blue eyes. "Practicing his painting."
"I see," Cowley said dryly, heading into the sitting room.
"Cuppa, sir?" shouted Doyle from the kitchen.
"Yes, thank you, Doyle."
Seating himself, Cowley waited until the curly-haired man had arrived with mugs before saying, "Now, lads, there are one or two wee matters to clear up and then I'll be out of your hair."
Inspecting his mail the prior afternoon, Cowley had not been unduly surprised to find two letters of resignation amongst his post. Bodie's doctors had been blunt: The additional damage Mantawani's troops had inflicted on the already severely traumatised left shoulder had been the final straw. While physiotherapy could help, it could not perform miracles...Bodie had lost over sixty percent function of the shoulder.
As for Doyle, he knew and he knew Cowley knew, there was no way he would ever again be able to pass the psychological testing for CI5. Cowley had privately hoped that Doyle would at least confide to his lover about what had occurred. Comparing the serene-eyed man sitting across from him with the haunted shell he'd found in his office three weeks prior, he rather thought that had been the case.
Acknowledging an inner pang at the loss of his best team, the older man queried, "Have you two given any thoughts as to what you're going to do with yourselves?"
"Not really, sir." Doyle shrugged. "Old mate of mine from the Putney factory has a small cottage in Snowdonia. After Bodie's doctors give the all clear, we thought we'd head down there and just take it easy for a bit; let Bodie's shoulder heal as much as it can."
"Money's not an immediate problem," put in Bodie. "I've still got some left from my merc days, and we've both been paying steadily into a building society. We'll manage."
"Excellent. Being as you are both still officially on Injury Leave, I think we can bypass the mandatory two months notice clause. By the time you are off the leave, those months will be more than over. As per your contracts, your severance pay will be paid directly into your bank accounts within three weeks of your last official day with CI5. I believe that's all, gentlemen."
Standing, he extended his right hand, shaking first with Bodie, then, Doyle. "Good luck to you both."
Doyle walked him to the door. Hearing Bodie swearing behind them as he attempted to carry all three dirty mugs at once, the two men smiled.
"Don't you worry, sir," Doyle assured the Scot gravely. "I'll take good care of him."
"That's the one thing I have never had any doubts about, Doyle."
Smiling, George Cowley started down the stairs to his waiting vehicle.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Blind Run 3, Clueless Press, 1995