Southern Hospitality


Whistling cheerfully, Ray Doyle sauntered through the automatic doors. One step outside, he uttered a startled yip and jumped back three feet, bowling over Bodie in the process.

Removing a rather cumbersome holdall from his rib cage, Bodie glared up at his partner, snarling, "What the bloody hell are you on about?!"

Giving the outside world a furtive glance, Doyle's jade eyes widened as he beheld his mate sprawled across the airport floor. "Oi, what are you doing down there?" he enquired worriedly, squatting beside Bodie and putting an anxious hand to the pale forehead. "You take a turn or something?"

"Oh, no, no, no," Bodie reassured silkily, wincing slightly as he regained his feet. "Just wanted to become one with my environment. Why'd you knock me over, you pillock?"

A heavy frown creasing his brow, Doyle rose to his feet. "I did?" he asked bemusedly.



"Just now, you raving berk!" Bodie was rapidly losing his equanimity. He didn't care that the local clock proclaimed it was only two in the afternoon...his mid-section earnestly believed it was after six and was seriously protesting its empty state. "Christ, Doyle; you barely set foot outside before you're jumping around like some ruddy kangaroo!"

With an almost audible click, light dawned. "Oh. Sorry," Doyle apologised sheepishly. "Just didn't expect it, did I."

Gathering up their bags, Bodie glanced up, a puzzled look in his cobalt eyes. "Expect what?"

"It hit me, y'see," explained Doyle.

"Eh?" Bodie queried intelligently.

"It hit me."

"What hit you?" Bodie didn't think there had been anyone close enough to take a swing at his partner...and why had Ray said it...?

"The air, Bodie!" Doyle was sounding aggrieved now, losing patience with the dark-haired man's obtuseness. "I just walked out the ruddy door and it bloody well hit me in the face!"

"Oh, for god's sake!" Thoroughly exasperated, Bodie dumped their bags again, and stood there, glaring.

Returning glare for glare, Doyle stood aside contemptuously. "Be my guest," he invited with heavy courtesy, waving Bodie ahead.

Nose in the air, Bodie brushed past him, sniffing disdainfully. Hands on non-existent hips, Doyle watched with narrowed eyes as Bodie strode briskly through the airport's automatic doors. As his partner stepped out, Doyle swore he saw the broad back twitch, but macho ex-SAS that he was, Bodie gallantly forged on three more steps before coming to a quivering halt. Smirking broadly, Doyle went to join him, belatedly remembering their luggage. Taking a deep breath before he pushed through the doors, Doyle came up next to the suitably cowed figure.

Taking pity, however, he only asked fastidiously, "What is that smell?"

Giving his better half a grateful glance, Bodie delicately sniffed and wrinkled his pert nose, replying wryly, "Ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit, approximately 150% humidity, polluted river and swamp. Oh, and..." giving another cautious sniff, "...smog. Welcome to New Orleans, sunshine."

"Cheers," Doyle said ruefully, docilely following his partner to the rank of waiting taxis.

The squad room was a riot of raised voices and ringing telephones. Scowling darkly as he surveyed the noise and confusion, Doyle decided that the last time he'd seen this much commotion was in Putney seventeen years prior. A little old lady, with more generosity than brains, had donated all of her late son's books to the local lending library. Unfortunately, two small hitches had developed in this philanthropic act: Firstly, her son was still very much alive; and secondly, said son had placed a pools ticket in one of the books for safekeeping. All still might have turned out well except it was announced in The Daily Mail that the harried son with the senile mother had held the pools worth fifty thousand pounds. People had come from as far away as Edinburgh to ransack the poor building. By the time police were able to restore order, the library had assumed the appearance of a nuclear bomb strike.

Glancing at his watch for the twentieth time in as many minutes, Doyle let out an exasperated sigh. A quick sideways glance was enough to tell him that Bodie was still asleep; although how anyone could even close their eyes, let alone sleep, in all this racket was beyond him. Bodie and Doyle had had an appointment with a Captain Kolchak of Homicide for four o'clock--it was now five-thirteen. Perched on a rickety wooden chair that had definitely seen better days, Doyle could only glare sourly at the hectic room.

Fuming silently, Doyle attempted to ignore the rising disquiet in his stomach. Desperate for a quick meal before their meeting, the Dynamic Duo had popped into an eatery on their way to the police station. Two hours after consuming a wolfed-down meal consisting of a heavily recommended local favourite--shrimp, red beans and rice--followed by a slab of pecan pie, and all washed down with two beers (ice cold), Doyle was praying for a reprieve from the governor.

To take his mind off his rebellious innards, he started a blistering mental indictment against Cowley. Easy pickup, me Aunt Fanny's arse, he groused. Fly into New Orleans, inform the locals they were there to take O'Houlihan off their hands, sign all necessary triplicate and quadruplicate forms, take the time for a decent meal and a good night's rest in a nice hotel, then fly out again the next morning, prisoner in tow. Just in and out, as easy as falling off a log, Cowley had assured them. The locals were aware they were coming and were more than happy with the idea; they'd informed Cowley he was welcome to the IRA bomber...the New Orleans PD had enough of their own scum to play with.

The plan was logistically simple--the flight, first into Dulles airport and then on to New Orleans, had been uneventful, unmarred by even simple turbulence. Two steps into Louisiana's usual sweltering mid-July atmosphere and Doyle had had enough. If there's any justice in this world, he griped, sodding O'Houlihan will have escaped, gone back to his bomb making ways and will blow this whole misbegotten city to hell and back by lighting a match in air filled with swamp gas. The notion was so appealing it was several minutes before Doyle realised he and Bodie were being summoned.

Belatedly glancing up, the curly-haired agent saw a tall, skinny black man waving impatiently at him. He poked his partner in the ribs. "Rise and shine, mate. Our time has finally come."

"Didn't even know it was breathing hard," muttered Bodie as he got to his feet.

Ignoring him with the ease of long practice, Doyle led the way over to where the black man waited restlessly.

"Sorry about the delay," the man said curtly. Throwing open the door into a glass-enclosed office, he announced abruptly, "The two guys from London, Captain." Closing the door after the agents had entered, he hastily took himself elsewhere.

Behind a desk overflowing with paper, a tall, broad man got to his feet and extended his right hand. Late afternoon sunlight caught the grey in the sandy hair and accented the wrinkles about the grey-blue eyes. "Sorry about the long wait, gentlemen. A full scale riot has nothing on this place. Captain Karl Kolchak, New Orleans Homicide."

Doyle shook the proffered hand. "'S okay, Captain," he assured, lying through his teeth. As Kolchak shook Bodie's hand, he continued with what he hoped was a passably sincere smile, "You should see our HQ sometime. I'm Ray Doyle; this is my partner, Bodie. George Cowley sends his regards and sincere thanks for finding Liam O'Houlihan. We've been looking everywhere for him since the Tottenham Court bombing last November."

"Well," grunted Kolchak as he re-seated himself and waved his two visiting colleagues into chairs, "if he'd wanted to remain anonymous, he shouldn't have started that fight at The Muddy River. Those Cajun boys are mighty proud, and they don't take kindly to foreigners coming in and laughing at them about `talking funny'."

"Case of the pot calling the kettle black," Bodie quipped agreeably. He was feeling much more benign now. A good meal, a good kip and a man felt more on top of things.

Speaking of which, he mused comfortably, languidly watching his partner forcing himself to make nice with the Yank copper, won't be too much longer now and we can get to the hotel. Seeing the tension and tiredness Doyle was attempting to disguise, Bodie knew he had just the cure. Take his Golli back to their hotel room, start off with a cool shower, and then add a satisfying round of horizontal stress relief. That'll put the bounce back in his curls, Bodie decided smugly. He brought his wandering attention back to Kolchak in time to hear, "...all this way for nothing."

Even though he had been paying marginally more attention than Bodie, Doyle found himself just as confused. "Eh?" he asked, forgetting his party manners.

"You heard me." Kolchak eyed the two men calmly. "You haven't got a prisoner to take back; at least, not at this particular time. Liam O'Houlihan escaped this morning during his transfer to the jail in this building. I called your Mr. Cowley first thing, but you two were already in the air from Washington."

Doyle moaned in disgust. "Bloody fucking hell...why am I always right?" Deeply introspective, he missed the startled looks thrown his way.

In their hotel room an hour later, Bodie's previous good humour had completely disappeared. Upon entering their room, Doyle had insisted on placing a telephone call to their Controller. He was intent on telling Cowley that O'Houlihan was still amongst the missing, and that he and Bodie would be on their scheduled flight out the next morning. Knowing by Doyle's suddenly blanched face that something was seriously amiss, Bodie had been dumfounded by Cowley's orders--clearly audible to any listener--that they were to stay put. Doyle had barely heard that edict before he threw the phone receiver at his partner and dashed into the loo.

On the wire, Cowley had been adamant; the New Orleans police had assured him that it was only a matter of time before they had O'Houlihan back in custody. It was far too expensive for Bodie and Doyle to return home, only to fly out again a few days later. His burr very noticeable, Cowley had gone on to say they were to assist in any way possible.

"I don't want to see any expensive hotel or restaurant bills, either," the Scot had snapped. "Nor any for any dubious entertainment. You and 4.5 are to assist the locals, do you hear me, 3.7? Assist. If I hear about a renewed War of 1812, you two will wish you had never heard of Brian Macklin. Have I made myself clear?"

Sullenly, Bodie had mumbled, "Yes, sir," and barely resisted the urge to slam the receiver back in its cradle. Pacing, the ex-merc counted his sorrows: he hated cops, be they Yank or otherwise; the heat, humidity and stench of the nearby bayous were too reminiscent of Africa, and... Hearing the toilet flush, Bodie added another grievance. The sounds which had emanated from the small room after Doyle had slammed the bathroom door had put paid to any idea of a romantic night on the town.

The loo door slowly opened and an ashen-faced, bedraggled Doyle staggered out, flopping down onto the large double bed. "'S true, then?" he questioned half-heartedly. "We really do have to stay in this mucky town?" He didn't sound as though he cared much one way or the other.

"Yeah. Evidently your mate Captain Kolchak told the Cow that they have the ID's of the blokes who sprang O'Houlihan, and the licence number of their motor. They're `expecting' to have him back in custody `any time now'. We're supposed to lend `all assistance required'," Bodie finished gloomily. "We've got almost fifteen years in CI5, and Cowley still sends us out as common errand boys. Christ, I hate this kind of job."

Doyle echoed that with a muffled groan, his face hidden in the bedding.

Reminded of his partner's indisposition, Bodie leaned over, slowly massaging the tense back. "What brought this on, then? It can't have been the nosh; you've eaten worse and survived. Remember those Thursday lunches at the CI5 caf?"

Another heart-rending groan. "Bodie, please, mate. Me stomach can't take much more!"

"I take it this means our night on the town is not on."

"I just want to lie here and die in peace," asserted Doyle with as much force as he could project. Cautiously rolling onto his back, he caught sight of the disappointed pout on the handsome face. "Ah, sunshine, I'm sorry," he said regretfully. "Maybe we could do it tomorrow night, instead?"

Shrugging his broad shoulders, Bodie said flatly, "Sure."

Hating to see his lover so dejected--and knowing that Bodie could be worse than a two year old when he decided to sulk--Doyle rolled closer to the other man. Putting his head on a muscular thigh, he peered up through a mass of tousled mahogany curls, shot through with silver at the temples. "Got something special in me holdall," he announced. "Was going to save it for celebrating after we'd got O'Houlihan tucked away, but I think this is more important."

Interest caught despite himself, Bodie glanced down. "What is it? Glow in the dark condoms? Spicy KY?"

"Those are there, too." Smiling, Doyle patted the nearest piece of Bodie. "But I said something special. Why don't you go find out, eh?"

Smiling back at him, Bodie bent over and pressed a quick kiss to the tip of the classic nose before sliding out from under Doyle's head and getting to his feet. He went over to the luggage rack where they had left their bags. Pawing industriously through his mate's neatly packed clothes--and noting the full tube of cinnamon-flavoured lube in passing--the ex-merc suddenly gave a loud cry of triumph.

"God, mate; you're a lifesaver!" As Bodie turned back to the bed, he was enthusiastically tearing the wrapper off a square of chocolate. "Lindt; thanks a bundle, sunshine!" Climbing on to the bed beside the older man, he shoved a whole row of the sweet into his mouth and smiled broadly.

Shaking his head over him, Doyle could not hold back a grin. "You're quite welcome, sweetheart." Feeling less nauseated, he clambered off the bed. "Well, guess I'll take a shower while you're busy." He stopped just shy of the bathroom door. "Just hope I'll be able to reach my back--didn't bring me sponge, y'know."

His timing faultless after years of experience, Doyle stepped aside just before getting run over by the bigger man. His sniggers were abruptly cut off when a strong arm snaked out and bodily yanked him inside the small room. Seconds later, the door was firmly closed and the sound of the latch being thrown was clearly heard.

Lifting his head, Bodie blearily recognised the intrusive noise as the bedside phone. Reaching out, he snagged the handpiece and dragged it to the pillow beside his ear. "'Lo," he mumbled.

Snuggled next to his long-time lover, Doyle grumbled under his breath and rolled onto his other side. "Tell the Cow we don't want any," he instructed sleepily. For all they had not left their hotel room the night before, it had been an extremely tiring night for both men.

However, Bodie wasn't listening to him. The voice on the other end of the phone line had identified itself and Bodie was stunned by what was being relayed.

Wondering why his partner was being so uncharacteristically quiet, Doyle rolled back over just as Bodie snapped, "Yeah, thanks. We'll be there in half an hour."

"Be where in half an hour?" Doyle demanded irritably. Glancing at their small travel alarm, he went on, "Sod it, Bodie; it's only half past five! So what if they've got O'Houlihan back. The flight doesn't leave until nearly eleven; we've got plenty of time to handle the bloody paperwork."

"They've got O'Houlihan, all right," Bodie grimly informed him as he threw back the bed covers and climbed out. "All three or four pieces of him."

"What?!" Doyle came bolt upright, malachite eyes shocked. "What the hell happened?"

"Don't know; Kolchak didn't say. Sounded very peculiar, though; very uptight about something."

By now, Doyle was also out of bed and brushing his teeth. In a synchronicity learned over their years as partners, they went about their toiletry, switching places at the sink with unconscious timing. Doyle grabbed the buzz-box razor and ran it over his morning stubble.

"Well, you have to admit," the older agent said consideringly, "it doesn't reflect too well on his department. Here he promised the Old Man Liam O'Houlihan on a silver plate, and first he loses him, and then he lets the bastard get hit by a train or something. Bet you he's already called Cowley and you know how the Cow loves those sorts of surprises.

Bodie was sitting on the bed, tying shoelaces. "You could be right, mate." As he waited for Doyle to finish dressing, a happy thought struck him. "You know the best part of this whole mess, Ray?"

"There's a best part?" Doyle asked cynically as he grabbed his jacket.

"Yeah," Bodie answered happily. "Not only do we get to leave this morning after all, but it's Kolchak, not us, who'll be catching the flak this time. After all, Cowley can hardly blame us, now can he?"

Doyle's face brightened. "Yeah. London, here we come!"

Thirty minutes after receiving the phone call, Bodie and Doyle were showing their IDs to an uniformed officer at the security desk of the basement level of the police building. The officer thoroughly scanned the CI5 warrants, then waved them toward a long, dimly-lit corridor. Quickly striding down that hallway, Bodie suddenly leant over and whispered in his partner's ear, "Amazing, isn't it?"

Doyle gave him a curious look. "What is?"

"How, no matter where you are in the world, all morgues look and smell alike."

"Yeah, you're right." Brow furrowed thoughtfully, Doyle mused, "Wonder what that says about us humans?"

"Take it from me, sunshine," Bodie told him firmly, "you don't want to know. Look, there's Kolchak."

Standing in the doorway of a room at the end of the hall, the Homicide captain glanced up from his conversation with a short, burly man in a blood-stained white coat. "You London boys are quick," the cop commented, looking at his watch. "Or do I not want to know about the broken speed laws?"

Stopping beside him, Bodie gave a brilliant smile. "Speed laws?"

"Uh huh, thought so." Kolchak turned back to the other man. "I know it's a bit redundant, Doc; but I'll need the autopsy ASAP."

His fleshy lips pulled into thin line, the doctor snapped, "For all the good it will do us!" He turned back into the room. "I'll do my best."

As the doctor was closing the door behind himself, Bodie and Doyle got a momentary glimpse of what appeared to be a large slab of bloody, badly torn meat lying on the autopsy table.

Swallowing convulsively, Doyle burst out, "W-What the bloody hell?!"

Bodie's face was impossibly grim and set. "No accident could've done that to him," he refuted tensely.

"I didn't say it was an accident," Kolchak answered mildly, leading the way up a flight of narrow, dirty stairs.

"Christ, what was it, then?" demanded Doyle. "It looks like something's been chewing on him! Where was he hiding out...the local zoo?"

By this time, the three men had entered the corridor outside Homicide. Even at this early hour, it was bustling with detectives and uniformed officers.

Heading toward his office, Kolchak glanced over at the curly-haired agent. "No. The car was found near some rundown warehouses along the river. O'Houlihan's body was discovered in one of the derelicts." He ushered his visitors inside his office and motioned for them to be seated. Pressing a button on his intercom, he asked the tinny voice which answered for some coffee.

Giving the cop a cold look, Bodie declared quietly, "You are going to tell us what the bloody hell is going on, aren't you."

Well-knowing that particular tone of voice, Doyle quickly laid a hand on a tense forearm. "Cool it, sunshine," he warned.

Kolchak watched interestedly. "He always this hot-headed?" he asked Doyle.

Inwardly bristling on Bodie's account, Doyle was barely able to reply civilly, "No. He just doesn't appreciate being kept in the dark by someone we're supposed to be cooperating with. Hates not knowing the whole story, y'see." He looked Kolchak straight in the eye. "Makes two of us. What the sodding hell are you hiding?"

Kolchak sank into his chair with a sigh and, to their surprise, calmly asked, "I don't suppose you two would consider just leaving this morning as planned? I mean, it's not as though Liam O'Houlihan could ever stand trial. I could always send a copy of the autopsy report later if your boss wanted it."

Nonplused, the two CI5 agents just stared at each other for a moment, then turned their stares onto Kolchak.

"Did I hear you correctly?" queried Bodie in patent disbelief. "What the bloody hell is it, a ruddy state secret?! What, you Yanks have trained wild animals to track and kill escapees?"

"I wish it were that simple," confessed the American. At that moment, his door opened and a stocky, balding man walked in, carrying a tray laded with mugs, sugar, cream and a large coffee urn.

"There you go, Captain," the man said as he set the tray down on the paper-strewn desk. Pulling a large paper sack from under his arm, he also sat that down and opened it. "The doughnuts are even fresh." He then left, after taking one.

Momentarily distracted by the mundane process of fixing their coffee and helping themselves to the sweet pastries, Bodie and Doyle asked no further questions. After a few quiet minutes--filled with contented chewing and drinking--Doyle decided he'd had enough of the mystery. I mean, how bad can it be? Everyone has their share of nutters--this one is just particularly vicious. Maybe it's some sort of cult thing and Kolchak is too embarrassed to admit it.

Bodie, not surprisingly, was thinking along the same lines. "Reprieve's over," he announced abruptly. Taking a sip of his hot coffee, he gave the cop a penetrating look. "Want to tell us what's really going on, and why you're in such a big hurry to get rid of us? Because, y'see, I have the definite impression that's not the first time a corpse has turned up looking all chewed."

Kolchak sat silently hunched over his coffee for several more minutes. It was obvious he was mulling over how much and what to reveal. Finally, he raised his head, a strange look on his face. "Well, why the hell not," he muttered, apparently to himself. Shrugging, he went on, "Don't blame me if you don't like the answers."

"Why not let us be the judge of that," Doyle suggested sternly. "Give over--it can't be all that bad."

"Oh, yeah?" Kolchak gave him a cynical look. "Remember, you asked." Re-filling their mugs, he then took a deep breath before saying, "You're right, O'Houlihan's not the first to be found in that condition. He's the seventh, and every damn one of them has been found down near the river within a three mile radius. It's been going on for ten days, and we're completely baffled."

Doyle frowned at Bodie, then switched his gaze to the big American. "So you've got some kind of nutter down there. He'll slip up eventually, and you'll nab him."

"Yeah, you're probably right," Kolchak stated tonelessly. "It's just that..."

"Just what?" prompted Bodie impatiently.

"I've been a cop for over thirty years," Kolchak reported, apropos of nothing. "This isn't the first time."

Doyle was lost. "First time for what, damn it?!" he asked confusedly.

"The first time there's been a set of killings like this. Twenty-seven years ago, when I was still riding a patrol car, there were a set of murders just like these. Just like these," he repeated intensely.

"I take it the killer was never found?" queried Doyle. Kolchak shook his head. "The same killer, or a copycat?"

"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" A grim smile on his face, Kolchak continued, "Except that wasn't the first time, either."

The CI5 agents were startled into silence. Kolchak settled back in his chair and eyed them wryly. "Three years before I was born. The same M.O., the same lack of clues. They never caught that one, either. Very curious, however. One thing."

"What's that?" Bodie asked.

"The killings, you see. They were exactly twenty-seven years before the murders when I was a patrolman. My grand-dad told me all about `em when I was seven or eight. He was a retired beat cop; over forty years on the Force. Said he could remember at least two other times when the same killer had struck. Each time, twenty-seven years apart."

It was Bodie who found his voice first. "Are you saying," he asked incredulously, "that for over one hundred years, some nutter--or group of nutters--have been killing people every twenty-seven years?! That's impossible!"

"Told you that you might not like the answers," Kolchak answered patiently. "Look it up if you want to, son. It's a matter of public record--it always makes the papers."

"My god," breathed Doyle, aghast. "How do you avoid a public panic every twenty-seven years?"

"Well," admitted the police captain, "back in the old days, it was much easier to just hush up the murders. Nowadays, we have public apathy going for us. You know, read about one mass murder, read about them all. Few people bother to make the connection."

"My god," repeated Doyle. "All the murders were exactly the same?"

"The number of victims vary each time; back in my grand-dad's day, the killer actually got two people a night. But the M.O.'s the same--the victims are literally torn apart, and then portions of the body are taken. And," Kolchak added warningly, "It always goes on for two full weeks. Fourteen more, no less."

"Ruddy hell," groaned Bodie. "There's four more nights to go!"

Kolchak gave him a dirty look. "You don't have to remind me, son."

Doyle gathered his scattered wits and brought the conversation back to their reason for being in New Orleans. "Has Cowley been told about this?" he asked with bated breath. There was no way in hell he was going to tell the Old Man the fantastic story they had just heard. Doyle wanted to live a while yet. He had an ongoing bet with Bodie that the dark-haired man's teeth wouldn't last past age sixty due to all the sweets he consumed. Bodie's revenge for the bet had been swift...but pleasurable.

"What kind of fool do you take me for?" complained Kolchak. "I informed your office that your man had been found murdered, but no cause of death had yet been established. Just before I phoned you, a young lady called and said your Mr. Cowley had been informed and that he would await a call from you on the autopsy."

"Gee, thanks, mate," Bodie returned sarcastically. "You're all heart."

Kolchak looked stubborn. "Are you going to tell him?"

"Are you insane?" shot back Doyle. Bodie looked positively ill at the mere thought.

"Yeah, that's what I thought." Kolchak sat back, satisfied. "Look, if it'll help you with your boss, you can tell him that we've even got the FBI down here sniffing around, searching for the killer, or killers."

"FBI?" Bodie lifted an eyebrow. "Surely you haven't told them that outrageous story?"

"Actually...I have," confessed the older man. "These two are different," he explained defensively, interpreting the two men's shared look with little difficulty.

"Different?" Doyle was sceptical. "How so?"

"For one thing; when they arrived, one `em asked me if I thought something weird was happening, something not natural. Also, he knew about the other series of murders--told me it wasn't impossible they could be related."

"Ruddy hell," Doyle said thoughtfully. "Maybe these two know more than they're letting on. Where are they; can we see `em?"

"They're still out at the warehouse where O'Houlihan was found," stated Kolchak. "I told them about you two, and the guy said to `wander on down', if you wanted."

"Nice of him," muttered Bodie under his breath. Tilting his head, he looked at his partner questioningly. "What d'you think, mate? Should we pop down and see what they know?"

Rubbing his nose, Doyle said reluctantly, "Maybe we should call the Cow first. He might want to leave it as it is."

"Use my phone," invited the American, rising to his feet. "I have to use the facilities, anyway, and I need to check on the progress of a couple of other cases." He exited, leaving the two partners alone in his office.

Guessing what was behind the pleading, wide-eyed, green gaze, Bodie gave a much put-upon sigh and picked up the phone. Within moments, he had an outside line and was waiting for his call to London to go through.

"Oi," Doyle whispered apprehensively, "what're you going to tell him?"

"The truth."

"Bodie, you crazy sod; you can't do that!" Doyle was horrified. "He'll think we're drunk or something and put us in Records for the rest of our lives!"

The other man was adamant. "You should've thought of that before you conned me into doing the dirty work."

Half out of his chair so he could physically restrain his insane berk of a partner, Doyle knew the jig was up when he heard the unmistakable bark of their Fearless Leader. Slumping back onto his chair with a low moan, Doyle contemplated the feasibility of a murder-suicide decision. Raising his head, he forced himself to listen in on Bodie's part of the conversation; snapping emerald eyes promised dire retribution.

Affecting not to notice the green-eyed lasers burning a hole through him, the ex-merc blithely carried on with his report. "No, sir," he was saying blandly, "the autopsy report hasn't come through yet, but Doyle and I saw the body, and it's pretty obvious what caused O'Houlihan's death. He was hacked to pieces."

Biting his tongue so hard he tasted blood, Doyle swallowed the urge to grab the receiver from his partner. It would only be an undignified struggle and Cowley would surely be peeved at the interruption. Closing his eyes, the slim agent saw his whole life pass before him.

Dimly, he heard Bodie say, "Yes, sir, I'm aware it sounds a bit far-fetched. Unfortunately, it seems New Orleans has a serial killer running loose down by the docks. Liam O'Houlihan was his seventh victim."

Doyle suddenly remembered how to breathe.

Winking knowingly at him, Bodie continued, "Yeah, a real vicious nutter, this one is. Wouldn't happen in Britain, of course, but you know the Americans. Never happy with a simple shooting; they always have to go one better."

Bodie listened for several minutes, then, "Should Doyle and I just catch our flight, sir? I mean, there's nothing we can do here. The locals don't need our help; the FBI is in town." Bodie ended the phone call with a level, "Yes, sir."

He replaced the receiver and leant back, grinning smugly.

"Well?" demanded Doyle impatiently, fighting the urge to throttle his aggravating partner.

Bodie just shook his head at him.

"Bodie!" Doyle practically screamed the name.

Wincing, Bodie shook his head to clear it, but the irrepressible grin remained.

"Not to worry, sunshine," he soothed. "The Cow said, and I quote, `Och, you might as well come back."

"All right!"

Bodie found himself at a dead run trying to keep up with his rapidly vanishing partner.

Four hours later, two dejected men were once again in Kolchak's office. Ranting at the top of his lungs, Doyle considerably startled an entire squad room, not to mention passersby for five blocks, with the volume and creativity of his invective. How dare they have an air controller's strike just now! Weren't those people aware that he and Bodie needed to get back to Great Britain? It could be a matter of gravest national security!

As for Bodie, he sat quietly, a sombre, broken man.

He and Doyle had been mildly curious over the hubbub at the teeming airport, but had not considered it might concern them. Intent on getting back to London as quickly as possible, Doyle had breezed up to the ticket counter, ignoring the discontented mutterings around him. He had then experienced the worst shock of his young life. The counter assistant, looking much frazzled, had been firm: there would be no flights out--either domestic or international--in the foreseeable future. The airlines were hoping to get replacements in the towers, but that could take some time.

Staggering back to his partner to share the happy news, Doyle had come up with a desperate plan. Rent a car and drive to the next-nearest international airport; maybe by then there would be flights available. Bodie had agreed instantly and off they'd headed for Auto Rental Alley.

There, they'd sustained another shock to their delicate systems. Approximately half the population of Louisiana had had the same idea...only much earlier. There was not a car to be found. Nowhere. Nada. Zip. By this time, Doyle was practically hysterical and Bodie was not much further behind, when another happy thought struck them.

What were they going to tell Cowley?

With Bodie threatening suicide, Doyle had been forced to place the unwanted phone call. Shaky hands dialed the number while a fervent plea went Heavenward...God was taking the day off. Less than pleased, Cowley had let rip, although he did stop just short of accusing them of engineering the strike so as to get some paid holiday time. Abruptly cutting his tirade short--the dour Scot had realised that he was yelling at someone at transatlantic rates--the Controller had delivered the coup d'grace. Since they were to be so conveniently detained in New Orleans for an undetermined length of time, they could put their energies to good use and assist the local police in finding the killer of a British subject.

End of subject...the matter was closed.

So here we are again, Bodie thought morosely. He wanted nothing more to do with this op. Not that he believed Kolchak's story about a rampaging monster that appeared every twenty-seven years to make mince meat pies out of humans. No intelligent man in his right mind would even consider that fable, but still... He had absolutely no desire to go anywhere near that waterfront; be it day or night. The way his luck was running at the moment, Ray stood a better than even chance of becoming a young widower if they went down to the docks.

Realising from the quiet that his partner had finally run down, Bodie re-focused his attention in time to hear Doyle say disgustedly, "We might as well meet with those FBI blokes. They back yet?"

Shocked, Bodie opened his mouth to remonstrate when there came a knock at Kolchak's door.

"Come in," called the captain. "Oh, it's you two."

Bodie's interest in the newcomers was below minimal, but an odd noise from Doyle made him glance around.

Coming through the door was a petite redhead, well-built without being the least voluptuous. She was dressed in expensive casual clothes; her shoulder length hair was tied back and her cool blue eyes gave the impression of missing nothing. The tall, lean man behind her was also dressed professionally; his soft brown hair was neatly groomed. He subjected the two CI5 agents to a calm hazel-eyed study.

Kolchak performed the required introductions. "These are the two FBI agents. Agent Scully," he indicated the woman, "and Agent Mulder. This is Doyle and Bodie, from London."

Mulder grinned. "Which is which?"

"I'm Bodie," the dark-hair man piped up. Doyle seemed positively tongue-tied. "He's Ray Doyle."

It was very hard to keep a civil tone when all Bodie wanted to do at that moment was thump his partner. Hard. Doyle was behaving like a total prat, staring at Scully as she'd entered and now studiously ignoring her, save for brief, fleeting glances. Refusing to call the knot in his stomach by its proper name, Bodie settled for regarding the female agent icily.

Feeling more awkward than he had since his teenage years, and fully aware of the accusing lapis eyes boring right through him, Doyle tried to defuse the tension in the room. "Sorry for staring," he apologised somewhat suavely to the young woman. "'S just you remind me of someone."

Hearing the words too late, Doyle cringed inwardly. Way to go, Doyle. That'll really make Bodie feel better. Writing a mental note to himself to talk to his jealous partner as soon as possible, Doyle re-surfaced to hear the woman ask with a slight smile, "Is that good or bad?"

Bodie gave a nonchalant shrug. "Depends on whom you ask." He turned a neutral gaze on Doyle. "Or when."

Giving the stubborn sod a look that promised he'd deal with him later, Doyle quietly asked, "Why did you ask Captain Kolchak if he thought there was something unnatural about the murders? Everything, including the twenty-seven year time span, could be the work of a group of cultists. Just a different person, or persons, each time."

"Exactly what I said," answered Scully, pouring herself a mug of coffee from a large urn sitting on top of a filing cabinet.

Grinning again, Mulder said, "Scully and I never agree about the existence of unacknowledged..."

"Unproved and undocumented," his partner inserted smoothly.

"...phenomenon," finished Mulder, as though she hadn't spoken.

Intrigued despite themselves, the CI5 men exchanged a look. Catching Doyle's slight nod, Bodie carried on, "Bet that makes for an interesting working relationship. But what about my partner's question?"

"Oh, it's interesting all right," admitted Mulder.

Well aware that Mulder had done a neat dance around his initial question, Doyle stated, apparently to the four walls, "Y'know, Bodie and I can be very stubborn when we put our minds to it."

"Like mules," came the dutiful echo.

Scully and Mulder shared a glance, then, with a small shrug, Mulder declared, "It's a long story. Care for a late lunch on the U.S. Government?"

"Thought you'd never ask," agreed Bodie with alacrity, getting to his feet.

Shaking his head ruefully, Doyle followed him from the room.

Giving the quiet, tastefully decorated room an approving look, Doyle took an appreciative sip of his ice-cold lemonade. Swallowing, he idly commented, "Bit strange, isn't it? I mean, a couple of FBI agents who go around investigating paranormal phenomenon? Didn't know Uncle Sam had that in his budget."

Chuckling quietly, Mulder told him, "Scully's job is to disprove all my wild claims and accusations. At least, that's her job according to the brass." Finishing his soup, Mulder laid down his spoon and asked, point-blank, "Are you really sure you want to hear this? Because of my ideas and theories, I'm generally considered a screwball by most everyone I meet."

"We're not most everyone," Bodie replied.

"Besides," continued Doyle, "there's no law that says the accepted way of thinking is always correct. `There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, etc., etc... Try us, you might be pleasantly surprised." He gave an engaging grin.

Waiting until the empty lunch dishes had been removed, and fresh coffee had been brought, Mulder began, "This series of killings, here in New Orleans, is nothing new. In fact, the first recorded account of murders matching this M.O. comes from the Native Americans, almost two hundred years before the first Caucasians arrived. Passed down from generation to generation by their shaman, the tale is of a huge monster which arises from the swamp every twenty-seven years to rend and eat human flesh. The beast only appears when the weather is at its hottest, and it always departs after two weeks.

"The monster didn't break its cycle when the Europeans arrived. Every twenty-seven years, sometime between mid-July and mid-August, there would be two weeks of bloody murders. No one was ever convicted in any of the crimes; no real forensic evidence has ever been found. The victims were all horribly mutilated; ripped apart and their hearts and livers taken. Sometimes, their screams would be heard, but by the time rescue could reach them, it was always too late. The only traces ever left were large, mis-shapened footprints leading back into the swamp, and clumps of Spanish moss scattered all over the victim and the scene."

Bodie glanced over at Doyle. It was obvious his partner found the story engrossing. Determinedly maintaining a bored facade, the younger CI5 agent asked calmly, "I supposed O'Houlihan and the others...they each had the heart and liver taken, and bits of Spanish moss found all over `em?"

Doyle leveled a fulminating glare at his recalcitrant partner, but Mulder didn't appear offended. "Yes, and odd, wet footprints were found leading to a large sewer pipe which connects directly with a swampy area just off the river, near the international docking pier."

Sitting back, Mulder caught the waiter's attention and asked for the check. Giving Doyle a half-grin, he reassured him, "Don't worry, Mr. Doyle. Your partner's attitude is quite understandable. Besides," Mulder paused to sign the credit card voucher the waiter had produced. "I have a feeling Mr. Bodie believes me more than he's comfortable admitting."

Fighting not to flinch from that disconcerting assessment, Bodie enquired, "Are the police planning on staking out that area of river front tonight?"

"Not the complete river front." Scully shook her head. "They've tried stakeouts in the past, and found nothing. Every time they've set one up, either nothing happens or a murder occurs elsewhere. It could be the perpetrators have some pull inside the police department. However, Captain Kolchak has agreed to stake out the sewer drainage pipe, as that seems to be the only clue we have at this time."

Admitting to himself he should grow up and stop feeling so insecure, Bodie decided he liked Scully's brisk efficiency. Despite his determination to remain aloof, he found himself giving her a wide, approving grin. "That should do it, don't you think?" he remarked. He lifted an eyebrow at Mulder. "I mean, if that's the killer's entrance to that portion of the water front, then Kolchak's men will grab him if he so much as sticks his nose out of the bloody pipe."

"We hope," Mulder said cynically. "I just wouldn't hold my breath if I were you." Standing, he effectively put paid to Bodie's incipient argument. "Kolchak said he'd notify us if anything happened. See you then."

Nodding in turn at Doyle and Bodie, Scully made her good-byes and followed her partner from the restaurant.

Still sitting at the table, Bodie found himself under a fierce, green-eyed attack. Grinning sheepishly, he just shrugged.

As he started the car, Mulder glanced over at his partner. "What do you think of our British friends?"

"They seemed sharp enough." Scully idly looked out the window at the passing cityscape. "They would have to be. From what I've heard, CI5 makes the SAS look like mentally defective, ninety pound weaklings." She gave her partner an amused glance. "I do have my doubts about Doyle, however. He was much too ready to believe you."

Long inured to such insult, Mulder just grinned at her.

Apprehensively eyeing his prowling partner, Bodie could not stand the taut silence any longer. They had been back in their hotel room for over fifteen minutes, and still Doyle had not spoken a word to him. Lapsing into a brooding silence as soon as the FBI agents had left the restaurant, the lean figure had begun pacing the moment they'd entered their room.

"Ray?" Bodie began hesitantly. "You still mad at me?"

Startled out of his introspection, Doyle looked over; unease and worry showed clearly in the younger man's cerulean eyes. Keeping his face severe, he walked over and stood in front of his lover, hands on his hips. When Bodie started to wilt under the intense scrutiny, Doyle could no longer keep up the act.

"Ah, sunshine," he said soothingly, bringing up a hand to cup the downcast face. "No need to look like that...I'm not mad at you." Seeing Bodie immediately perk up, he continued repressively, "Although I should be, you pillock. What the hell did you have to go and act like that for? Don't you trust me?"

"'Course I do!" Bodie hastened to reply. Asperity edging his voice, he went on, "You were the one who thought she looked like Anne. The way you kept looking at her, then at me...what the bloody hell was I supposed to think?!"

"Sorry about that," apologised Doyle, sitting down beside Bodie and putting an arm around the wide shoulders. "She did startle me a little at first, `cause she's small and red-haired like Anne. But then I got to worrying that you'd think I was thinking about her, and I didn't want you to get upset, so I tried not to look at her...but I couldn't do that and not be completely rude, so..." he released a long breath.

Sighing, Bodie laid back against the bed, pulling his partner with him. "Daft sod," he scolded softly, cuddling the smaller man unashamedly. "What am I going to do with you?"

Pulling back just enough to give Bodie a complacent smile, Doyle then tucked his head under Bodie's chin. "I'm sure you'll think of something," he answered confidently.

Finally regaining his strength, Doyle rolled off Bodie's back to lie snuggled next to the larger frame. "You okay?" he panted, his breathing and heart rate yet to return to normal. Bodie's reply was unintelligible, but Doyle took his answer from the sated and fatuous smile on the pale face.

His ears still ringing, it was several minutes before Doyle realised the phone was sounding off loudly. "Oi, mate, the phone's ringing," he lazily informed his partner, poking him in the ribs.

"Yeah, it is," confirmed Bodie, burying his head in the pillow.

Venting a long-suffering sigh, a thin arm reached over Bodie's somnolent form. "Yeah. Doyle here."

Even through the lingering afterglow, Bodie felt the lean body tense. Instantly alert, he rolled over and sat up beside his now upright partner. Barely waiting for Doyle to hang up, he queried urgently, "What is it?"

Doyle just looked at him, his round face pale and pugnacious.

The penny dropped. "Christ, not another one."

"Oh, no," snapped Doyle viciously, throwing back the bed cover. "Try another two, instead."

"Two?!" Bodie's jaw dropped. "Where the bloody hell were the ruddy coppers?" he demanded roughly, climbing out of the bed.

"Those were the ruddy coppers!" Doyle shouted, stalking rigidly over to his clothes and beginning to throw them on. Seconds later, flicking a glance at Bodie who was just as hurriedly doing the same, his voice softened. "Sorry, mate."

Not pausing in the act of zipping his cords, Bodie looked over and winked at him. "Someone picking us up?" he asked, sitting on the edge of the bed to put on his shoes.

"Yeah, Mulder and Scully. That was Mulder on the phone." Doyle finished tying his trainers' laces, straightened and ran a hand through tangled curls. "Bloody hell," he moaned, glancing at the travel alarm. "It's only one o'clock!"

"Monsters have a lousy sense of timing," quipped Bodie. Turning as he put his jacket on, he found Doyle standing in front of him, jade eyes rueful. "What?"

Thin fingers played with Bodie's jacket collar as Doyle said softly, "Sorry about this, sunshine. Know you didn't want anything to do with this."

"Yeah," acknowledged Bodie, not bothering to dissemble. "But not because of Scully." He needed Doyle to understand that.

"Know that, too," reassured Doyle. Leaning over, he took the sensuous mouth in a long, possessive kiss.

Reclaiming his lips several intensely pleasurable minutes later, Bodie ruffled the other man's already disordered curls. Going over to the hotel room door, he opened it. "C'mon, Trouble," he urged lightly, "mustn't keep J. Edgar Hoover's finest waiting."

Heading out, Doyle patted his lover's firm backside by way of a full stop.

The drive down to the docks was accomplished in almost total silence. Once the two CI5 agents were in the car, and Mulder had pulled out into the light early morning traffic, Scully had given them all she knew. At twelve thirty-seven, the night watch aboard the Nishnabotna had reported hearing screams and gunshots a short distance upriver. While the radioman called the police, the second mate and two burly seaman had grabbed powerful flashlights and gone to investigate. The second mate had also prudently armed himself beforehand. They had arrived at a scene of complete carnage just as the first rubber-burning police car screeched onto the docks. There were no signs of the killer--just two bloody masses of tissue which had once been living human beings, and huge clumps of Spanish moss everywhere. The second mate had glanced at his watch as the police cars screamed to a halt around was twelve forty-three.

It was four grim people who climbed out of the car at the docks. The kaleidoscopic strobing of blue and red police lights, the bright glare of intense white searchlights, all lent the scene a macabre carnival air. Face set in unyielding lines, gait rigid and controlled, Kolchak stalked amongst the melee, stopping now and then to bark out an order. Catching sight of the four visitors, he angrily motioned them over. They gathered around the livid police captain, Bodie bringing up the reluctant rear.

"Nothing! Absolutely fucking nothing!" spat out Kolchak as soon as they were within hearing range. "The ship's crew got here in under five minutes, three patrol cars were right on their heels--still nothing! It's like the bastard vanished into thin air!" Almost incoherent with rage, the captain paced frenetically. "I knew better," he shouted to no one in particular. "I fucking well knew better! Shit, why the hell did I let you talk me into this fucking nonsense?!" Halting in front of Mulder, this last was directed at him.

"Because you knew it was the only way to catch the creature," Mulder replied levelly. "You said so yourself."

A few moments of hard-breathing silence then, running a hand through his thinning hair, Kolchak took a deep breath and admitted, "Yeah...I know. I just didn't expect..." Glancing over, he answered the question on Bodie's and Doyle's faces. "Twenty-seven years ago, we staked out an area just about two miles south of here: there were eight of us, and back-up was less than three minutes away. By the time I could reach him, there wasn't anything left of my partner to recognise."

Unconsciously moving closer yet to Bodie, Doyle asked, "What now?"

"Now? Now we search the whole fucking area. Again," growled Kolchak. "I want this thing found...tonight." His voice was implacable.

Fighting against his instincts, Bodie said curtly, "Best lend us a torch or two and point out which ground to cover. Doyle and I are strangers here, remember."

A curly head had snapped around to stare at him, but before Doyle could get his mouth open, Mulder stepped in.

"Scully and I are going to back-track through the drainage pipe. You're welcome to come along with us--if you're sure you can handle muddy bogs and swamp."

Holding out his hand as he took a powerful flashlight from Kolchak, Bodie just gave him a superior grin. Also receiving a flashlight, Doyle gave a short, dry chuckle.

"Mate," he drawled, "take our annual refresher course and ask us that again, will you?"

Grinning, Mulder turned to Kolchak. "Got any radios you can spare?"

"Yeah," answered the police captain. "In my car."

As Bodie started to automatically follow Mulder and Scully over to Kolchak's vehicle, Doyle caught his arm, holding him back. Completely serious, he held his partner's eyes. "You don't have to do this. We don't have to do this. We can either stay here, or go back to the hotel and let the Yanks carry on."

"Yeah, and what would Cowley say if he found out we skulked behind like a pair of frightened kids?"

"Fuck Cowley! He doesn't have to know, and if he finds out--I'll deal with it."

"C'mon, sunshine," Bodie told him gently, putting a hand in the small of Doyle's back to move him along. "Let's go find the big, bad salad monster. Sooner we do, sooner we can go home. `Course," he mused thoughtfully, "that still hangs on when we can get a ruddy plane out of here."

Snorting, Doyle allowed himself to be propelled toward the waiting FBI agents. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to relax. Bodie was right; they'd never hear the end of it if they let Mulder and Scully go off alone. The ex-merc had practically admitted to over-reacting. Yet... Experience had taught Doyle that, when Bodie came over all twitchy about an op, there was generally hell to pay. Chewing on his lower lip indecisively, Doyle vowed he would stay extremely close to his partner. If nothing happened, Bodie could later have a real howl over him being a wally. If something did...

Forcibly repressing a shudder, Doyle glanced up. Mulder and Kolchak were pouring over a map, Bodie and Scully peering over their shoulders.

"Right," concluded Mulder. "We'll go into the bayou approximately four, five miles. By then, the sun will be coming up and we'll never find it during the daylight hours." He looked intently at Scully. "What do you say, partner? Ready for another wild and crazy adventure?"

The words were frivolous...the tone was not.

"Why not?" replied the woman, shrugging theatrically. Her tone matching Mulder's, Scully said, "I've nothing better to do at this time of night."

"Onward and upward, then," Bodie said cheerfully. Making a sweeping gesture, he smiled sweetly at Scully. "Ladies first."

"Thanks. I think."

Wearily wiping the perspiration from his forehead, Bodie fought to ignore his ever-increasing sense of doom. His hackles were rising, his back itched and it was all he could do not to jump at each and every noise of the night-time swamp. A hundred feet to his left, Doyle straightened from examining a large clump of rotting vegetation close to the odourous water.

"Nothing," called the lithe agent. To Bodie's right, Mulder and Scully waved their flashlights in acknowledgment before heading deeper into the swamp. Catching his breath, Doyle asked worriedly, "You okay there, mate?" The waves of tension flowing off Bodie were practically visible.

"Yeah." Attempting to reassure his partner, Bodie gave a wry smile. "Too many memories, `s all."

Only partially convinced, but willing to let it go for now, Doyle decided to forge on.

Lost in thought, it was some minutes before Bodie realised his partner had gone on without him. "Damn it, Ray," he expostulated tiredly. "Don't be getting too clever for your own good."

There was no reply.

Spine tensing, Bodie called out again. "Ray?"

When several seconds passed without an answer, Bodie surged forward recklessly. Uncaring he was shouting his lover's name over and over, Bodie plunged toward the spot he'd last seen Doyle. A short distance away, he could hear Mulder and Scully calling out to him as they splashed back through the swamp. Bodie didn't take the time to answer them. His worst nightmare had just come true.

Stumbling out from behind a massive cypress tree, Doyle fretfully rubbed at the large lump on his forehead from where he'd run into a mist-hidden tree branch. His head was already aching ferociously and Bodie's yells were not helping matters any. Understanding his lover's fears, however, he just gave a wave of apology and forced himself not to snap at the other man.

At sight of Doyle, Bodie skidded to a halt in the murky water a few yards from his partner. "You all right, sunshine?" he asked, concerned.

Raising his head to offer a curt reassurance, Doyle's breath froze in his lungs. He was to forever remember those microseconds of warped time.

Rising slowly out of the fog-laden, jet-black water, a ponderous phantom gradually took shape behind Bodie. The creature was at least half again as tall as the dark-haired man and heart-stoppingly broad. It appeared to be comprised of nothing but rotting swamp vegetation and clinging Spanish moss. In the fitful reflection of the flashlights, a huge, gaping maw became clear; light glinted off fearsome, pointed teeth and three-inch claws at the end of the beast's massive arms.

In reality, less than ten seconds had elapsed, but to Doyle, it had seemed an eternity. When he could finally force his paralysed mind and body to obey him, the creature was already drawing back one deadly paw in preparation to strike.

"Bodie!!!" he screamed, putting all his terror into that one brief, but precious, word.

Reacting instinctively to Doyle's horror, Bodie dropped like a stone into the turgid water. He felt a swoop of air rush over his head, as though something had just missed him. Ears ringing from the retorts of Doyle's HP Browning, Bodie rolled to one side and finally got a chance to see what his partner was shooting at so frantically. Refusing, in spite of the evidence of his own senses, to believe what he was seeing, Bodie could only gape.

Shrugging off the bullets as though they were no more than minor irritants, the Beast let out an earth-shattering roar and took another swipe at the man lying--frozen with shock--at its feet. Finally forcing himself to move, Bodie stumbled to his feet, only to fall against the mossy bank. Fumbling out his own gun, Bodie emptied the entire clip into the beast's foul-smelling torso. It was to no avail; the nightmare inexorably reached for him again with a speed that was shocking in a creature of its bulk. Rolling away, Bodie fetched up with a jar against a log, half buried beneath the water.

Abandoning his useless weapon, Doyle leapt at It, only to be caught full in the chest by a stunning back blow. He flew through the air as though he were no more than a feather, to lie crumbled at the base of a cypress.

"Ray!" screamed Bodie, scrabbling once again to his knees. His terrified gaze on the unmoving form of his lover, the younger CI5 agent failed to see the creature was advancing once more. Peripherally hearing Mulder's warning yell, he started to turn but was not quick enough. Bodie just had time to be aware of a searing, furnace-hot agony along his entire left side before the darkness swallowed him.

Climbing shakily to his knees, Doyle heard Bodie's choked-off grunt of pain. His heart seemed to stop at the sight which greeted his dazed eyes. Easily lifting Bodie, the monster slung the limp form over one huge shoulder. Giving a triumphant roar, It stopped just long enough to check on the other humans whereabouts before whirling and vanishing into the mist.

A roar of his own erupting, Doyle jumped to his feet and shot after the thing bearing his lover. Unheeding of Mulder's and Scully's shouts and pleas, he tore through the marshy underbrush in the creature's wake.

Panting, Mulder stopped long enough to yell, "Radio Kolchak and have him bring bloodhounds! Wait here for him, Scully!"

Without another word, he plunged after the crazed CI5 agent.

Every breath a harsh gasp, heart threatening to pop out of his chest, Doyle still continued his mad pursuit. He ignored his body's fervent demands for rest, knowing that as long as he kept the monstrosity in sight, as long as the foul thing knew there was a chance of attack, It wouldn't be able to stop and kill. It didn't matter that he was rapidly approaching exhaustion, or that he was weaponless--so long as he kept after the monster, Bodie would live. Ruthlessly squelching his mounting fear, Doyle stubbornly refused to admit the very real possibility that his lover was already dead. That reality was simply not acceptable... had never been acceptable, nor would it ever be.

Doyle kept running.

Suddenly, It halted. Cautiously advancing to within fifty feet of the Beast, Doyle braced himself against a half-submerged tree, his entire body shuddering as he attempted to catch his breath. Malachite eyes narrowed, he studied the bizarrely tentative creature. If he didn't know better...

A hand came to rest on his left shoulder. Whirling, he was just able to check the killing blow. He glared hotly and snarled, "What the bloody hell are you trying to do?! Die young?!"

Cold sweat running down his face, Mulder swallowed heavily and asked, "Why has It stopped?" He hoped he sounded calmer than he felt. If Doyle hadn't managed to pull his blow...

"Don't know." Regaining his breath, Doyle felt a glimmer of curiosity. "Looks like he's trying to make up his mind about something." Hope flared quickly. "Maybe he'll just let Bodie go."

"Maybe," answered the FBI agent absently. He flicked a look at the luminous hands of his watch. "It's almost five...the sun will be coming up in fifteen, twenty minutes. That could be why he's so nervous."

"Mm." Bodie still wasn't moving. Maybe he's playing dead until an opportunity for escape comes along. Not knowing how badly his partner was injured, Doyle could only pray that was the case.

Apparently coming to some decision, the creature proceeded onward. Without speaking, the two men followed. For another fifteen minutes, the bizarre game of hide-and-seek continued: the mammoth monster with its unconscious burden picking an increasingly hesitant path, two stubborn and exhausted humans resolutely following. In the still that precedes the day, just as the sun was beginning to peer over the dark horizon, the Beast halted again. Surprisingly, It lowered the still-unmoving man to the ground before rising swiftly. Poised, it seemed to be looking for something, dark eyes unceasingly quartering the swamp around it. To the men waiting with bated breath, the creature seemed to be giving off wave after wave of nervous anticipation.

Bodie gave a low moan and moved slightly.

Unheeding, Doyle started forward. Grabbing a tense forearm, Mulder hissed, "Are you crazy?! That thing will kill you both!" When the CI5 agent jerked his arm away, Mulder grabbed Doyle's arm again, hanging on tightly. "For god's sake, man--listen to reason! You can't help your partner if you're dead!"

Glaring at the American out of cold eyes, Doyle said, "Bodie needs me." He was not prepared to argue the matter.

"Bodie needs you alive!" shot back Mulder, straining to break the other man's single-minded obsession. "He needs you to start thinking, to start planning on how to get both of you out of this alive." Doyle's expression didn't change, but something flickered in the stormy emerald eyes. Taking that as a good sign, Mulder persisted, "Why has It stopped like this? Doesn't that strike you as just a bit odd?"

Reluctantly conceding that Mulder was right, Doyle briefly closed his eyes, taking a deep, steadying breath. Forcing his wire-taut muscles to relax, he admitted grudgingly, "Now that you mention it; yeah, it does. Not that I pretend to know that much about this sort of critter." Watching the monster intently--and not letting himself react when Bodie uttered another low, agonised moan--Doyle speculated, "Y'know, this sounds ridiculous, but it sure looks as if It's waiting for something, doesn't it?"

"Yeah," agreed Mulder, "and It doesn't seem all that happy, either." Edging his cautious way to a shrub closer to the Beast, he waited for the other man to join him.

In front of them, the creature abruptly stiffened. Releasing a low, grinding growl, It went into a defensive crouch, guarding its intended prey. With marked reluctance, Mulder and Doyle followed Its line of sight.

Majestically rising from the misty swamp, another unnatural creature took shape. More human-like than the Beast, it stood well over seven feet tall, with a body-builder's muscular physique. It, too, appeared to be composed of swamp vegetation, although Doyle swore there seemed to be more than a spark of human intelligence in the man-like eyes. Swiftly taking in the tableau of two obviously fatigued men hiding in the bushes, another man lying bleeding and moaning beneath the clawed behemoth, the Swamp Thing bellowed a challenge and rushed forward. The Beast accepted the challenge with a roar of its own.

The battle was joined.

The entire swamp seemed to reverberate with the creatures' deafening war-cries. Taking advantage of the no-hold's-barred fight, Doyle sprinted toward his partner. He had to drop suddenly in mid-stride to avoid a massive clump of Spanish moss and rotting vegetation thrown his way. An abrupt strident cry made him re-focus on the battle once more, blinking to clear his vision. He was barely aware of Mulder coming up beside him.

Locked in a full-nelson, the Beast was steadily weakening. A sudden, convulsive jerk of the man-creature's wide shoulders brought a crack as though a tree had been felled. Emitting one last, high-pitched squeal, the Beast wilted and then slumped, unmoving, into the churned up swamp water. The only sound was the harsh, panting breaths of the victor.

For several long moments, no one moved. Then, as Doyle watched, horrified, the triumphant man-creature waded from the swamp toward his lover.

"Oh, god...No!" he screamed in sudden, sick fear.

Mulder had to use all his strength to stop the distraught man from rushing forward.

But the large, leafy hands were strangely gentle as they peeled back Bodie's blood-sodden jacket and shirt. Crooning softly, the human-like thing pulled some moss from the swamp bank and laid it firmly against Bodie's torn side. A faint glow seem to emanate from the ministering hands and the injured man's shuddering moans soon ceased. Only when the flow of blood had eased, did the Swamp Thing raise its head and seek out Doyle and Mulder. Giving what could only be termed a wide smile, it gestured for them to come closer.

Fiercely needing to get to his lover, Doyle threw off Mulder's hold and scrambled over to Bodie. Dropping to his knees, he tenderly laid the dark, tousled head in his lap. Finding the sapphire eyes open and looking at him, albeit fuzzily, Doyle smiled shakily. A large green hand came to rest on his and the agent looked up into gentle hazel eyes.

"Do not worry; he will live," the CI5 agent was told in a deep, grating rumble. "But he still needs a doctor's care, for he has lost a great deal of blood and I can do nothing about the infection that is beginning. Get him to a hospital as soon as possible."

Exhausted past wonder, Doyle could only nod his head in acknowledgment. Then, as the creature lumbered to its feet, he forced his over-stressed brain into gear. "Wait!"

Pausing, Swamp Thing looked over its shoulder at him. "Yes?"

Unconsciously caressing Bodie's muddy, wet hair, Doyle asked quietly, "Could I please know whom to thank?" Again glancing down at the weary head resting in his lap, Doyle let loose a brilliant smile.

Smiling knowingly, the creature reached out and softly stroked tangled mahogany curls. "You can thank Alec Holland."

In the distance came the sounds of baying bloodhounds. Smiling broadly once more, the Swamp Thing said, "Farewell," and slipped into the murky water. In moments, not even a ripple betrayed where he'd stood.

A soft knock giving ample warning, Doyle had time to pull back from his lover before Scully's head appeared around the hospital room door. Setting himself on the edge of the bed, he gestured Scully, and the following Mulder, in.

"Not interrupting anything, I hope?" Mulder asked with a wicked grin.

Doyle and Bodie just stared at him with bland faces.

Smacking him on the upper arm, Scully gave her partner a quelling look and queried politely, "How are you feeling, Bodie?"

The ex-merc glowered impartially at everyone.

Attempting to control his twitching mouth, Doyle hastened to explain, "Hates hospitals, doesn't he. Won't be able to get a civilised word out of him until they let him go."

Giving his partner the evil eye, Bodie tried to answer pleasantly. "The wounds are stitched and healing nicely. Don't need any more blood, according to the doctors. Haven't had a fever in over twenty-four hours. So what the bloody hell am I still doing here?" he concluded, aggrieved. At the ensuing chuckles, he closed his eyes and sulked.

"Relax," laughed Scully. "Dr. Medford said you could leave in two more days. That's not so long, is it?"

"Besides," chimed in Mulder, "the first international flights aren't scheduled to begin for another three days. Lie back and enjoy yourself."

Bodie opened one cobalt eye and glared at him.

Snickering, Doyle told his disgruntled partner, "See, sunshine? Told you no one was going to feel sorry for you."

Grinning widely, Mulder started toward the door. "Scully and I have to be going; we need to catch a plane to the West Coast. We just stopped by to see how Bodie was doing and to say good-bye."

Getting to his feet, Doyle shook hands with both FBI agents. "Take care," he told them. Bodie also shook hands all around, then laid there with a smug smile on his face when Scully brushed a soft kiss against his cheek.

As the door closed behind them, Bodie said, "Ray?" His face and tone were tentative.

"Yeah?" prompted his lover as he re-seated himself on the edge of the hospital bed.

His memory of particular events foggy and uncertain, Bodie frowned thoughtfully. "At the end, there--in the swamp--were you really talking to a big, green bloke?"

"Yeah," replied Doyle gently.

"Oh." Brow furrowing, Bodie demanded, "What were you talking about?"

"I was thanking him."

"Oh," repeated the man in the hospital bed. A few mulled-over minutes later, "Why?"

Smoothing back the dark fringe, Doyle answered quietly, "He saved your life, sunshine. What else was I to do?"

Taking several minutes to digest this, Bodie then queried, "Who's Alec Holland, then?"

Remembering the bizarre tale Mulder had told him--not content with the mystery, the FBI agent had checked into the name--Doyle said firmly, "No one to worry your head about, mate."

Seeing the look in the jade eyes, Bodie decided to agree with him.

-- THE END --

February 1995
Originally published in English Gothic, 1995

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