Tea and Sympathy
(Story 10 in the Building to Last universe)
November 25, 1984
Today is Chris's birthday and I'm feeling blue. It's been almost a month since the shooting, and I'm just beginning to put my life back together.
It was stupid, really. We were on our way out of HQ when we ran into Bodie and I stopped for a short chat. Chris told me he'd bring the motor round front. When my partner walked out the front door, he stepped right into a sniper's sights. A moment later, Christopher lay dead, half his head blown to bits by a dum-dum bullet.
I don't remember much about the funeral. The Atwoods buried their son in a small churchyard in West Sussex. They never knew about my relationship with Chris. To them, I was just someone who worked with their Christopher. I didn't speak to them. It was a bit late for that sort of revelation, and I remember thinking how frail Chris's father looked.
I guess I'm over the first shock, and I'm learning how to deal with the grief. But there are still things I can't discuss with Kate Ross...
I put my journal away when I heard the chimes. It was Bodie at my door. Not that it was a great surprise. Ever since Chris's murder, Doyle and his partner had been doing their level best to mother-hen me. For a while there, every time I turned round I tripped over one or the other of them. They backed off a bit after the time Bodie followed me into the loo and I asked him if he got off on water sports. That's one of the few times I've ever seen the ex-merc blush.
"Hallo, Bodie. I looked round my front steps. "Where's your better half?"
"Leeds." Bodie shut the door behind him.
"Why'd the Cow send him there?" I heard the kettle shriek.
"Cowley didn't." Bodie followed me into the kitchen. "Julia, Ray's oldest sib, knocked us up about half three in the bloody am. She dragged Raymond off to the train. Family Problems."
"A shotgun wedding in the offing?"
"Nah." Bodie's voice was dry as dust. "More like a shot-gun divorce. Fiona, Ray's youngest sister, called Julia from a women's shelter. She's left her husband and taken the kids with her."
"Oh?" I shoved teapot, cups and Cadbury chocolate biscuits onto a tray.
"Yeah." Bodie sighed. "Julia thinks Fi's husband is a wife beater. Anyway, she and Ray are headed north to sort it all out."
I sat down on the settee and poured the Earl Grey. Bodie got the bikkies.
"How are you, Murph?" he asked through a mouthful of crumbs.
"A bit blue," I admitted.
"Want to talk about it?"
I flashed Bodie a small grin. "You and Ray must get tired of me bending your ears."
Bodie shrugged. "What are friends for?"
"You'd do the same for one of us."
"I hope I never have to." I tried to loosen my death-grip on the teacup for fear it'd shatter in my hands. "How do you stand it?" I asked quietly. "Working with your lover, I mean. Knowing that one of you could be killed."
Bodie's eyes slid down to the carpet and his shoulders hunched in discomfort. "The same way you and Chris did, I guess."
"By ignoring the facts?" I snapped.
Bodie looked at me in surprise. "Didn't you two ever talk that out?"
"Of course not." I couldn't keep the sarcasm out of my voice.
"We weren't very good at...communicating." Bodie picked up a lot more than I meant him to. "I thought the two of you were...happy together."
"We were happy. Some of the time, anyway. At least at first." I kept turning my cup round and round in my hands.
"What happened?" Bodie asked softly as he put a hand on my shoulder. He's a born toucher, but he only does it to people he likes.
"I found out how much Chris hadn't told me." There was a cold, hard knot in my middle. "I found out he'd lied to me."
"Two weeks before Chris was killed," I interrupted, "I came home a bit early and found him...with a woman..." My voice quit on me.
"They were in bed together!" I yelled as I stood up. "In our bed! He said she was his bloody fiancee! " I jerked away from Bodie's outstretched hand and threw my teacup against the far wall. It exploded, scattering fragments all over the carpet. I left the mess lying there, walked over to the window and stood staring out on the rain-swept street.
"Chris lied to me." My voice was hoarse. "He lied to her. He lied to his parents... He even lied to Cowley and Kate Ross." I leaned my forehead against the window-frame.
"I thought I had it all. The perfect relationship. Someone to share with the way you share with Ray. And all the time the bloody bastard was cheating on me... She wasn't the first, you know. Chris admitted that much...and it wasn't only women..." I heard Bodie take a startled breath.
"I was faithful to the lying sod!" I lashed out and felt plaster smash under my fist. "God knows what the cheating, lying bastard has let me in for!"
"You didn't...take precautions?" Bodie asked hesitantly.
My hand began to hurt. "Oh, yeah. We practiced safe sex. Condoms and spermicides. We were good little lads. But after the first few months...we weren't as careful. I knew I hadn't been fucking around, and I thought Chris hadn't, either."
"Have you seen a doctor?"
"Yeah." I knew I sounded bitter.
"What'd he have to say?" Bodie asked urgently.
"She," I automatically corrected him. "Pamela Browning at HQ dispensary. I thought seeing someone I trusted might make it easier... That's a bloody laugh! I felt like I was being raped!"
"R-raped?" I'd never heard Bodie stutter before.
"D'you know how they test gay men for sexually transmitted diseases?" I didn't give him a chance to reply. "They shove a swab down your throat. Then they take this long, very thin brush and push it up your bum. After that, they take another one and stick it up your 'urethra'. Do you know where your bloody 'urethra' is?" I turned to look at Bodie's shocked face. "It's that tube up the middle of your fucking cock!" I started to shake as I remembered the examination. Browning had been gentle, but I'd almost passed out just the same.
"Jesus!" Bodie exclaimed.
"I'd never felt so humiliated... shamed...and fucking angry! Right then, if Chris hadn't been dead, I'd've killed the bastard!"
I don't know when Bodie moved, but I suddenly felt his hand grip my shoulder. He looked fuzzy and I realized I was crying, and that I had been for some time. He took me into a comforting hug.
"This is the first time you've talked about all this, innit?" Bodie asked softly.
I just nodded as I leaned into his solid warmth. It was absolute heaven to be able to let go for a bit.
After I'd cried myself out, I drew back. Bodie handed me a handkerchief--I had to take it with my left hand as my right was beginning to swell. I blew my nose, then excused myself and went to the loo. All that tea and emotion had caught up to my kidneys.
When I came out, Bodie was back on the settee and he had my first aid kit, the one I keep in the kitchen, in front of him. I should've known he'd notice what I'd done to my hand.
"Let's have a butcher's." Bodie's eyes warned me he wouldn't take no for an answer, so I gave in gracefully.
As 3.7 cleaned my split knuckles with peroxide and cotton lint, I let my eyes roam round the room. Bodie had been busy. He'd swept up the pieces of shattered teacup and had poured me a fresh cuppa.
"What did Browning find?" Bodie asked abruptly as he taped gauze over my wounds.
"Nothing. I've been tested for syphilis, gonorrhoea, Chlamydia...AIDS. It was all negative. But I'll have to go back in three months and then six months after that to be tested for HIV just to make sure... If there are no antibodies, then they wait another six months and test again. It's like having a death sentence over your head that could strike at any time." I felt as limp as a used tissue.
"Why the hell did Chris do it?" I could hear a little bit of my own rage in Bodie's voice.
"He hated being gay." I heard Bodie make a small grunt of protest, so I turned to look at him. "It really was as simple as that. He didn't want to be gay. He fought it all his life. His family never knew he was bent. His parents are rather stuffy and middle class. Chris always gave them his 'best little boy in the world' act. I don't think he could've coped with his father finding out that he was 'one of those'. Ultimately, nothing else mattered to him... Not even me."
"Murph?" Bodie's voice was full of confusion. "I don't understand. You and Chris bloody well lived together. Everyone on the squad knew about it. And the two of you introduced Ray and me to the gay scene here in London. Chris always acted so...comfortable about being gay. Now you're telling me he was a bloody closet-case? It doesn't make sense."
I gave Bodie a tired smile. "It didn't to me, either, even after Chris explained it to me."
"How could he bloody well explain...?" Bodie couldn't find the right words.
"The bird, you mean?"
"Among other things." Despite his anger, Bodie was gentle as he wrapped and taped my injury.
"When Chris first joined the squad, I thought he was straight. He didn't send out any signals at all. And I thought he was bloody beautiful. We worked together on the Leopold op, that counterfeiting ring. I fell head over heels in lust, and thought I hadn't a chance. So I went to Cowley and asked him not to partner me with Atwood again. And I told him why."
"How the hell did the two of you get together?"
I grinned at him. "Would you believe it all started when we both tried to cruise the same fella in a gay bar?"
Bodie just shook his head.
"Chris told me that I wasn't the only one to be struck by instant lust. He couldn't get me out of his head after the Leopold business. I was like an itch he couldn't scratch. Chris knew that I was double-gaited. It's pretty much of an open secret round HQ. But he was afraid to approach me. Remember, he'd been denying that he was bent and he didn't have a lot of experience. Up until he was posted to CI5, he'd never spent much time in any of our larger cities. Anyway, Chris proceeded to give himself an education. He started doing the clubs, letting fellas pick him up, learning what men do to each other. He figured that London was large enough that, as long as he was discreet, no one who mattered would ever know. Then the two of us tried to cruise the same fella and ended up going home with each other instead. After that, we just slipped into the habit of seeing each other at least a couple evenings a week. Chris suggested that we ask to be partnered, and I had to tell him what I'd told Cowley. He wasn't best pleased, but he didn't discuss it with me. Anyway, I told the Cow that our working together was no longer a problem."
"Did you tell him about the two of you?"
I could see Bodie was intrigued. "Yeah. 'S funny. Cowley didn't even blink. You'd think he already knew..."
"Why did Chris let you tell the Cow? If he was so dead set against anyone finding out he was gay, that doesn't make much sense. And his educational fling in the clubs..."
"Chris'd been so repressed all his life. Then his feelings for me, the relative openness of the gay community here in London, and the freedom of being able to do something about his attraction towards men--I think it all went to his head. He went a bit crazy; had to try it all."
"But... The two of you living together... Wasn't he afraid of his parents finding out about that?"
"The way Accommodations keeps moving us about, and the way CI5 vets our incoming calls gave Chris an excuse. He just routed all his mail and telephone messages through HQ. Besides, according to Chris, he fell in love with me. I don't know about that, but I do know he loved the freedom of living an openly gay life. Anyway, he claimed that his feelings for me kept him from thinking straight."
"Yeah." Bodie's voice was heavy with irony. "Straight definitely wasn't the right word for anything having to do with him."
I took my hand back. Bodie'd done a good job of bandaging it.
He went back to a point that had puzzled him. "If Chris was so caught up in the gay scene, why'd you find him in bed with that bird?"
"Chris's father had a stroke."
"Chris had decided that he was happier out of the closet. Cowley knew, and it hadn't changed anything. You and Ray knew, and it just made us better friends. Besides, he never really liked having it off with the birds--he just did it because it was expected of him and because it was good camouflage. Then his father landed in hospital and Chris went down to West Sussex to comfort his mum. The doctors told the family that stress could bring on another stroke, one likely to kill the old man. So Chris got to thinking about what would happen if his da ever found out about us. That's the weekend that my lover got engaged to the daughter of an old family friend. In fact, he told me that he'd decided to break up with me...go back into the closet. But he couldn't do it."
"Still trying to have his cake and eat it as well?" Bodie's voice was pure sarcasm.
"Yeah." I felt hollow inside. "Anyway, four weeks later, his fiancee shows up on our doorstep, Chris decides to prove to her just how much of a man he is, and I walk in on the two of them in bed."
"What did you do?"
"Called him a two-timing bastard and left. You and Ray were on stakeout or I might've shown up on your doorstep. Instead, I got royally pissed at The Hoof and Claw. Eventually, I went back to the flat. I don't know what Chris told the girl, and I don't care. She was gone by the time I got there. By then, Chris had decided that the whole thing was all my fault. He even blamed me for seducing him--which I never did! We had a horrible row and he told me everything...or as near as makes no difference. He even admitted having one-offs with different blokes after we moved in together. Claimed that there was nothing wrong with that because everyone did it."
"God," Bodie murmured. "What'd you tell the stupid bastard?"
"Told him that everyone didn't do it... That I for one didn't cheat on my lover. Then he asked me if that's what we were. Lovers, I mean. It was like I didn't even know him. There I'd been living with the sod for six months or more, and been having it off with him for longer than that, and I didn't know the first thing about him."
"Why didn't you move out?"
"I was going to," I admitted. "But, next day, Chris apologized. He told me he was all at sixes and sevens over his father's illness, but that he loved me and wanted another chance."
"And you believed it?" I could hear the scepticism in Bodie's voice.
"I wanted to believe it. I was in love with the bastard, and I wanted to believe that he loved me, too. I wanted to believe that love would conquer all and that we'd live happily ever after--just like a bloody Mills and Boon romance. That holiday we had scheduled in the Lake District was supposed to help us sort the whole mess out. Instead, Chris walked into that bullet and I finally admitted a few things to myself."
"That our relationship was doomed from the start, for one. It never would've worked, no matter how much I tried to keep it going."
"It does take two to build a marriage," Bodie commented.
"That's what I want--a marriage and stability. No more of this hole in the corner, dirty weekend, shameful secret sort of stuff." My feelings were raw as chopped liver.
"I hope you meet the right person..." Bodie started to say.
I cut him off. "Woman," I said firmly. "The right woman. I'm tired of being lied to, cheated on and treated like a piece of meat. There'll be no more promiscuous gay lads or self-hating closet-cases in my life. Chris was right about one thing--most gay men are promiscuous, even with the threat of AIDS. And there'll be no more fraternization on the job. My next lover will have to be someone with a sane, mundane job that has nothing to do with guns, violence or killing. Your relationship with Ray may work for you, but I couldn't face losing another lover that way."
"Women can do every bit as much lying and cheating as men," Bodie cautioned. "And you can get killed crossing the street just as easily as you can working for CI5."
I knew my friend was right, but I couldn't agree with him. "That doesn't change how I feel about it."
"Have you talked to Ross about this?" Bodie asked.
"Not yet." I sighed heavily. "The first time...I knew I couldn't hold myself together and tell it. And...I guess I didn't want to fall apart in front of the resident shrink."
"I can understand that." Bodie's never been one of Kate's fans. "How do you feel?"
"I hope so." He tried to lighten my mood. "I think the Cow is ready to reassign you. At least, he wants to see you in his office first thing Monday."
"Unfortunately, it's much more likely that he wants to tear a strip off me for what happened in Files the other day."
"I never did get the straight of that." Bodie grabbed another handful of Cadbury biscuits. "All I heard was that you'd upset Fern. Anson is ready to kill you. When Fern's upset, she's just not in the mood."
"Missing his conjugals, is he?" Anson and Fern had been married just over nine weeks. The wedding had been the CI5 social event of the year.
"Have a heart, mate! The honeymoon is hardly over! What did you do to the old girl, anyway?"
I scowled. "I told the Country Mouse to bugger off back to Yorkshire."
"The Country Mouse? You mean, little Sheleagh Fitch?"
"Yes," I said shortly.
"What did she do? Step on your bunion, tread on your corn?"
"If you must know, she's trying to save me from a life of depravity," I said dryly. "Someone told her about my relationship with Chris. Now she's convinced that if she can get me to have sex with her, I'll be magically cured...or incurably straight...I don't think she's quite sure which. Anyway, she's been on and on at me for weeks now. I finally got tired of being reasonable and told her to go do the other thing. I'll never convince her that fucking her won't make me hetero, and that the reason I don't want to bed her is that I plain can't stand her moralistic snobbery."
There was an odd look on Bodie's face--part shock, part laughter and part embarrassment. "D'you get that much? Birds trying to save your soul via their bedroom, I mean?"
"Too bloody often!" I snorted. "There've been at least half a dozen over the years."
"That's a relief," Bodie replied. At my stony glare, he went on. "I was beginning to think I was the only one who attracted the barmy types. They don't seem to try it on with Ray."
"No? Have you ever told him about the 'bedroom martyrs', as I call them?"
"Nah." Bodie shifted uncomfortably. "He'd only laugh his loaf off."
"Maybe Ray thinks the same thing about you. Could be they've been trying it on with him as well and he's just not mentioned it."
"You think so?" Bodie asked.
"Yeah. Gay and bisexual men tend to run into that idea over and over again. Personally, I find it even more offensive than outright revulsion at my lifestyle. Why don't you ask Ray about it?"
"I would've before, only it was so stupid..."
"I know. If I hadn't been tired and upset, and if she hadn't been chasing me for so bloody long, I wouldn't've snapped at Sheleagh that way."
"She deserved it," Bodie said flatly. "And I'll tell Fern the same thing."
"I don't think Fern knows what the Mouse has been up to."
"It's time she learned about her protege, then. And it's time for me to get home. Ray said he'd try and call me this evening." Bodie grabbed the last couple of chocolate bikkies as he got up.
I walked him to the door. Just as he started out, Bodie paused and turned back. "Are you sure you're going to be all right, Murph?"
I smiled. "Yeah. I feel a lot better. When you talk to Ray... Tell him what I said. I want him to know. I'd tell him myself, except...I think it's going to take all I've got to bring it up with Ross."
"You are going to tell her about this, then?"
"Yeah. I'm going to need a lot of help coming to terms with it all. You have to admit that Kate's a damned fine therapist, even if you don't care for her as a woman."
"As a woman?" Bodie snorted. "As a member of the human race, more like. I'd rather talk to Herbie."
I snickered at the thought of 3.7 trying to hold a conversation with Dr. Ross's computer. Bodie grinned back at me.
"Take care of yourself, mate." Bodie thumped me gently on the chest. As he started down the steps, my friend turned back, "And don't forget--8 a.m. in Cowley's office Monday morning."
"I won t. Take care, Bodie. Give my love to Ray."
"Chance would be a fine thing! Ray's married to a jealous bloke, so I'll give him your regards. Anything warmer, you deliver yourself!"
I was still smiling as I shut the door. After I rinsed the teapot, I decided to finish the entry in the journal that Dr. Ross had talked me into starting. It was a bit awkward with my injured hand, but I managed:
Bodie dropped by this evening. I think that he was feeling a bit lonely, as Doyle left this morning for Leeds.
I finally got up the bottle to tell him about Chris...about the lying, the fiancee, the other men. It went better than I thought it would, though I'm surprised that I don't feel more embarrassed at the way I broke down in front of him. It's a relief to get it off my chest. Now I don't have to pretend that Chris was a bloody plaster saint. I asked Bodie to talk to Doyle (not that he wouldn't've, anyway--I don't think the two of them have much they keep from each other, and I envy them that).
I'm not looking forward to talking to Dr. Ross. She doesn't agree with my decision that my next lover has to be female. Maybe she'll change her mind after I tell her about how Chris lied and cheated on me.
'S funny. Bodie didn't say much, but I think he thinks I'm wrong, as well. I can't tell him that the reason I fell so hard for Chris was because he looks so much like Bodie.
It's bloody ironic, really. Once I got to know Chris, I found out he wasn't anything like Bodie. Oh, they're both tall, dark and handsome, and they both have blue eyes--but other than that, they aren't a bit alike. Can't make that mistake again. And if I go looking for another male lover, I'm liable to take form for substance. At least if I go looking for a woman, I won't fall into that trap.
I'll have to tell Kate that it was a good idea for me to start keeping a journal. It helps me organize my thoughts and gives me some sort of perspective on this whole crazy mess. Thank God I've got friends like Bodie and Doyle, and a governor who makes sure that his people get all the help that they need. Whether they want it or not.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Chalk and Cheese 10, Whatever You Do, Don't Press! (Agent With Style), 1992