The Curse of Drink
With slow, weary steps, the exhausted trio plodded toward Whitehall. Fatigue hung from them like a tattered shroud but there was a firmness to their jaws, an unswerving conviction in their eyes. Or it might have been the sun. The older of the trio was a middle-aged gentleman of average height, portly and balding. His two younger companions shuffled tiredly along beside him. A lovely, slender girl with dark red hair and pale complexion, whose large, over-wide blue eyes gave her the permanent look of a startled sparrow; next to her, a lanky, dark-haired youth whose earnest brown eyes held a clear message...'Space for Rent'. Onward they trudged, ignoring the glory of a newly reborn day; the high-pitched giggles of a group of young school children running past them; the majestic, centuries old buildings lining the streets; the derelict throwing up in the gutter...
When he had initially come across the notation in one of Lewis Vendredi's sales books, Jack Marshak's concern had been tempered by cautious optimism. This time, they not only had the full name of the purchaser of the cursed antique, but also his address and whom to contact in case of emergency. Some of Marshak's elation had died a nasty death when he'd discovered the address was a bunker along the Falls Road in Belfast. But, persevering in spite of it all, Jack had decided to go to Northern Ireland and contact the poor soldier who had, all unknowingly, bought the demonic brew.
The older man's first intimation that this retrieval would be more difficult that he'd originally thought came as he was attempting to sneak out of his office at Curious Goods. Unfortunately waylaid by Micki Foster and Ryan Dallion, the two disaster-prone heirs to Vendredi's dubious legacy had pleaded, begged and whined to accompany him. Micki had been particularly strident, pouting and complaining that Marshak never let her go anywhere or help him at all. Other memorable occasions of when Micki had `helped' came quickly to mind and Marshak had opened his mouth to pithily remind her of those when Ryan had jumped in, flat feet and all. If Micki was going along to help, then he was, too. After all, Uncle Lewis had left the shop to both of them; this made Ryan as equally responsible for finding and retrieving Vendredi's satanic goods. Remembering all the times Ryan had been `responsible', Marshak had been hard pressed not to cry. Caving under the pressure, he'd consoled himself there was not much chance of the Terrible Twosome coming to grief this time. After all, not even Micki and Ryan would be stupid enough to wander off in battle-torn Belfast...he devoutly hoped.
After very little difficulty, the rescue team from Curious Goods had found themselves before the C.O. of the British troops. Things had started to go slightly downhill from there. Dreadfully sorry, old chap, but Sergeant Latimer was no longer in Belfast. Yes, he'd been alive when his 3rd Para Unit was transferred back to Britain. After some tenacious prodding -- and Micki batting her eyelashes until a Force Six gale was produced -- the commanding Colonel Blimp admitted that Latimer's unit had returned to a base in Northamptonshire. Perhaps personnel at the base could assist Mr. Marshak in locating the sergeant.
Marshak's hopes had risen when, after arriving at the base, he had found himself before a career soldier who had clearly remembered the elusive Sergeant Latimer. Stunned into silence, Marshak had learnt that the bottle of malt had been purchased by Latimer as the reward in a tontine. Nine men -- three sergeants and six enlisted men -- had bartered their lives against a bottle of single malt scotch. Old Sergeant Major Beckerman had then gone on to blandly say that the bottle had been an effing poor good luck charm. Of the original nine, seven were now dead from one reason or another. The two surviving members of the ill-fated group were currently in civvy street. When pressed, Beckerman had -- after much searching and blaspheming -- produced an old address for one of them.
Three hours after that, Marshak and Co. were on their way to London. It had taken that long to find the younger members of the team. While some effort had been needed to produce Ryan -- discovered in the arsenal earnestly endeavouring to find out if a bomb really would explode if you banged on it with a hammer like Wile E. Coyote -- Micki's whereabouts were more easily ascertained. A Marshak-induced surprise barracks inspection had soon flushed out the missing nympho. The redhead had bounced out of `D' Barracks smiling, cheerfully assuring the puce-faced sergeant major that she had merely been testing the readiness of his troops.
Shortly thereafter, Marshak had found that his luck had gone from bad to worse. The man he was looking for was no longer at the address he'd been given. Bored with three days of fruitless searching, Micki and Ryan had started complaining and demanding that they wanted to go home. Only when Marshak had bribed them with the promise that they could go sight-seeing, did the tantrums stop. Both juveniles enthusiastically boarded a coach the next day, with Marshak sending good-byes -- and fervent Heavenward prayers -- from the kerb.
Two days later, Marshak had finally struck pay dirt...of a sort. Running to ground the sister of the soldier's girlfriend, he found her baby-sitting her cousin's four screaming kids. Only too willing to have an excuse to pack the brats off to the park, she'd invited the tired Canadian in and chattered non-stop for the next three hours. Emerging with a massive headache and moderate hearing loss, Marshak had glumly acknowledged that his quest was far from over. Time was running perilously short...Williams was dead; there was now only one man left standing. Marshak had to run William Bodie to earth and fast, before the poor soul opened the damned bottle. It had already been five months since he'd come into full possession of it.
It had proven strangely difficult to get an official confirmation that CI5 actually existed. Helpful answers were only given after Ryan had innocently let the cat out of the bag during another fruitless encounter. The official's manner had changed dramatically after he'd stopped giggling. Ever helpful, Willis had apologised and then told them where to find their elusive quarry -- he'd even gone so far as to draw a map. A trifle surprised at the abrupt about-face, Marshak had nonetheless shrugged it off. After all, one should never look a gift horse in the mouth.
Marshak's thoughts were returned to the present as Ryan tugged plaintively at his jacket sleeve.
"Isn't this the place, Jack?" the youngster asked impatiently. Any glamour this trip might have once held for him was long gone. Still smarting from Micki accidentally locking him in the dungeon at the Tower of London, Ryan only wanted to go home.
Looking up, Marshak eyed the disreputable building with some chagrin. Reminding himself that Willis had said the building was not fashionable, Marshak responded slowly, "It looks like it, Ryan." Stopping in his tracks, he sighed, "Now, if only Fate will be kind enough to let William Bodie be present."
"Yeah," agreed Micki, absently tugging her skirt upward and smoothing her hair. She was having a much better time in London than her cousin, managing to pick up several offers from the yeomen and guards at the Tower.
As the trio started up the steps of the unprepossessing structure, they had to execute a smart sidestep to avoid being flattened by two men barreling out the door. Running pell-mell down the stairs, the two men only realised at the last minute that there was traffic in their way. Proving himself an expert at broken field running, the thinner man mumbled something an optimist might have taken for an apology, and kept going.
Halting briefly, the larger man said, "So sorry," in a deep voice and gave them all a brilliant smile. He caught up with his companion after only a few steps.
Next to Ryan, Micki stood, poleaxed, staring down the street after the retreating men. Gradually becoming aware of his sock feeling damp, Ryan glanced at the sky. No, it's not raining... As another drop found its way down his sock, Ryan's eyes narrowed suspiciously and he glared irritably at his cousin.
"For Christ's sake, Micki," he hissed. "Pack in the drooling, will ya? Jeez, it's worse than having a baby along!"
Recalled to herself, Micki shot him a withering look but did get her mouth closed.
Inwardly sighing, the older man continued up the steps and into the building. Sometimes he wished Micki were a cat -- he had just the cure for her... Without checking to see if his charges were with him, Marshak went up to the man behind the glassed-in enclosure.
Leisurely getting to his feet, the guard politely enquired, "May I help you, sir?"
"I certainly hope so," replied Marshak in all sincerity. "I need to speak with Mr. William Bodie concerning a matter of greatest urgency. Is he in?"
"Is he expecting you?"
"No, he isn't," broke in Ryan, "but he'll see us if he wants to live much longer. Time's running out, y'know!"
Taking in the obviously agitated young man, the muted anxiety in the older man and Micki standing quietly to one side, her eyes demurely downcast, the CI5 guard came to an understandable -- if erroneous -- conclusion. So Bodie had at last come to grief! Knowing that Cowley would murder him if he let this sort of nastiness erupt in the building, Anson maintained a neutral facade as he blandly informed them, "Sorry, sirs. Bodie isn't here at the present."
"Damn!" exclaimed Marshak in heart-felt tones. Running a hand over his balding pate, he asked desperately, "Do you know when he'll be back? Or where I might find him?"
Successfully hiding his glee, Anson volunteered, "He and his partner just left; you might be able to catch them up if you hurry." His eyebrows climbed into his fringe when Marshak bellowed in disbelief, "One of those two was Bodie?!" and took off at a dead run.
Tripping on his heels, Ryan and Micki followed, the girl squealing in delight. Shaking his head -- Bodie used to have better taste -- Anson sat back down inside the security cubicle. Maybe it wasn't so bad that he had to fill in while poor Bill was out sick; you certainly saw Life this way. He lit a cigar before reaching for the phone to call the Rest Room.
Outside, Marshak was frantically searching up and down the street. It hadn't been that long; surely the men couldn't have gone too far... But, alas, there was no sign of the elusive duo. Marshak stood there, indecisively biting his lip; he barely heard the other two come up beside him.
"Now, what, Jack?" whined Ryan in frustration. "We just gonna hang around this dump until they come back? Jeez, we almost had him!" He shook his head disgustedly. For one brief, shining moment, things had started to look up.
"No," responded Marshak slowly. Squaring his shoulders, he made his decision. "I'm going to do something I swore I would never do..."
Fascinated, Ryan queried, "What's that?" This sounded promising...
Sighing, the older man half-shrugged. "Let Micki off her leash." Turning to the girl, whose eyes had widened in glee, Marshak snapped, "Find them! Quickly!"
Preening, Micki made a good show of it; turning this way and that, her vapid face screwed up in concentration.
"Will you kindly cut the comedy?" ground out Marshak between tightly clenched teeth.
Giving an indignant flounce, Micki started down the path as fast as her six-inch heels would carry her. The two men followed faithfully. Ten minutes later, after several twists and turns, she stopped in front of wide, smoked-glass doors and pointed.
"Are you sure?" Ryan asked doubtfully.
"Of course I am!" Micki pouted, wounded by her cousin's lack of faith.
"Of course you're sure, Micki," soothed Marshak. As the girl perked up, he went on, "You may not always be right, but you're always sure..."
Smile slipping somewhat, the young woman followed Marshak and Ryan into the pub.
Pausing just inside the doors, Marshak peered through the slight smoky haze in an attempt to spot his prey. He had only seen the men very briefly, so he'd better check the room carefully. Spirits dropping to his shoes, Marshak was turning to castigate Micki when movement caught the corner of his eye. Thank Christ, there they were! Muttering apologies, Marshak pushed through the crowd, heading determinedly toward the back booths.
He was spotted before he was halfway across the room. The smaller, thinner man glanced up and saw his purposeful progress. Watching the Canadian's approach with intent eyes, he said something in a quiet aside to his partner. As he drew alongside the booth, Marshak was speared by two pairs of suspicious eyes.
Not knowing which man was his target, Marshak announced into the air, "Sorry to bother you gentlemen, but I need to speak with Mr. Bodie rather urgently."
"Oh?" Raising a lazily enquiring eyebrow, the larger man leant back against the booth. "Do I know you, mate?"
Aware that he was under close scrutiny, Marshak took the time to also study the men before him.
Tall, wide-shouldered and powerfully built, William Bodie continued to assess him coolly. No expression showed on his classically handsome face or in his dark sapphire eyes. As he reached for his drink, the muted pub light caught the bright glints in the smoothly cropped sable hair. His companion was diametrically opposite -- while slender to the point of thinness, the broadness of the man's shoulders was startling. Long, tumbled mahogany curls cascaded onto an exotic face. Capricious pub light threw the left side of his face into shadow, while highlighting an uneven right cheekbone and narrowed, slanting jade eyes. Eyes which continued to gaze steadily at Marshak, making no attempt to mask their continued suspicion.
Finding it somewhat difficult to concentrate -- with Ryan's adenoidal breathing in one ear, and Micki's excited panting in the other -- Marshak said quietly, "No, we're not acquainted, Mr. Bodie; but I do need to speak with you sir. It's concerning your bottle of malt."
"Eh?" Bodie replied blankly, staring at the bottle sitting in the middle of the table. His bemused expression was mirrored on his partner's face.
"Not that bottle. The bottle of malt from the tontine."
"Oh. Why d'you want it, then?" Intent on Marshak, Bodie failed to notice his partner's flinch.
"Because it's not what it appears to be." Ignoring Ryan's muttered, "You can say that again!", Marshak went on, "Look, Mr. Bodie, the explanation is quite involved. Is there somewhere more private we can speak?"
Looking over at his partner, Bodie caught the other man's shrug. Decision made, he drained his glass and stood. "Yeah. C'mon, then." With the trio in tow, Bodie led the small procession outside to where a small gold Capri Ghia stood at the kerb.
"Sorry," apologised the curly-haired man, a smile twitching at his lips. "You're going to be a mite crowded back there."
"We'll manage," Marshak said shortly, shoving Micki and Ryan into the car over their nascent protests.
Once inside the flat, the older CI5 agent headed straight for the kitchen, leaving Bodie to deal with the locks and their peculiar guests.
"I'll put the kettle on," he called, vanishing through the swinging door.
When Doyle returned to the lounge a few minutes later, he instantly noted the strained atmosphere. "By the by, I'm Bodie's partner, Ray Doyle." Putting the tray containing the tea service and cakes down on the small coffee table, he frowned slightly at his lover. What the bloody hell is Bodie doing; hiding behind me chair like a wally? Sinking into the over-stuffed chair the dark-haired man was cowering behind, Doyle placidly asked, "Anyone care for a cuppa?"
Feeling considerably safer now that his mate was in the room, Bodie edged out from behind the chair. Keeping a wary eye on Micki, the ex-SAS sergeant gingerly sat on the chair arm. While mentally giving the redhead high marks in both stealth and ingenuity (Back to the room as he was pulling the drapes, he had been completely unaware of being stalked until the first grope had landed), Bodie was not prepared to give her the slightest encouragement. It was going to be difficult enough, explaining to his lover what had caused those bruises he felt developing on his arse. Just back in town after ten days solo in Brighton, Doyle was probably already angry enough about this interruption to their precious days off. No need to further fan the flames by giving this bird an opportunity to paw at him.
Seeing that Doyle had finished pouring out -- and resolutely refusing to acknowledge the invitation written large in the vacant blue eyes -- Bodie pleasantly asked, "As everyone now has their cuppa...would someone mind telling me what the bloody hell is going on?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Bodie. I know how strange this all must seem." Putting his cup down, Marshak said, "Perhaps we'd best start by introducing ourselves. My name is Jack Marshak; this is Micki Foster and Ryan Dallion."
As Bodie and Doyle gave a brief nod to each youngster, Marshak continued, "We're from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Micki and Ryan are co-owners of an antique shop called Curious Goods. They inherited the store from their uncle, Lewis Vendredi. Some years ago, while Mr. Vendredi was still managing the store, a Sergeant Neil Latimer purchased a bottle of single malt scotch. The malt had purportedly been bottled in 1781 but, unfortunately, this is not true. Not quite two weeks ago, I learnt of this transaction; it's taken me this long to run the bottle to ground. Although I realise you are deservedly entitled to the bottle as the sole survivor of your tontine, I devoutly hope you will sell it back to me."
"Just a bloody minute here, mate," broke in Doyle as Bodie opened his mouth to speak. "What's with this `me' business? I thought the kids owned the place. And why d'you want it back, then?"
Hoping to avoid the latter question, the older man gave his usual vague response. "I was an...acquaintance...of Vendredi's. Now I assist Micki and Ryan in the retrieval of certain artifacts."
"That's right," piped up Ryan, having finished stuffing himself with cake. He directed a beam at Marshak. "Don't know what Micki and I would do without Jack's help." On Marshak's other side, Micki was bobbing her head dutifully.
"Innit that just special?" mumbled Doyle, then let out a yelp as Bodie's elbow caught him neatly on the third rib.
After giving his lover a quelling glare, Bodie turned back to their guests. "Always did wonder where old Latimer got that bottle. Particularly since he didn't know a bottle of malt from his arse." He shook his head reminiscently.
Holding his breath, Marshak asked cautiously, "Will you sell it back?"
To the Canadian trio's mutual chagrin, Bodie shook his head again. "No. Not even if I still had it." Feeling Doyle tense, he shot his partner a puzzled look. The jade eyes avoided his, making Bodie even more curious.
"What about..." began Ryan.
Interrupting, Bodie put paid to that hope. "No good asking if my friend would sell it. I gave it to him four months ago to celebrate a very special occasion, and he would never part with it. Not even for a million pounds."
Recalling that Marshak had evaded his question -- and desperately wanting to change the subject -- Doyle asked hastily, "Just why are you three so ruddy intent on getting that bloody bottle back?" He added a scowl for good measure.
Not really caring what their reasons might be, Bodie nonetheless added his scowl to Doyle's. Deciding to indulge his partner's `copper's nose', he demanded, "Yeah. What's in the bottle? The bloody Elixir of Life?"
Seeing their faces, Micki whimpered and huddled closer to Marshak, while Ryan swallowed convulsively. Pinned by the twin scowls, and nervously aware it might not be healthy to be caught lying to these men, Marshak tried an last-ditch evasion. "You really wouldn't believe me." He smiled weakly.
Returning the insincere smile, Bodie folded his arms across his chest and leant against the chair back, waiting patiently.
Sighing, Marshak figuratively threw up his hands. "All right," he conceded. "You asked for it." Several quiet seconds elapsed as he worked out what he was going to say. "The whole trouble was, Lewis Vendredi wanted to live forever." Catching their impatient looks, Marshak growled, "It's pertinent, believe me."
Eyeing the perplexed agents, he said, "Vendredi decided there was only one way to achieve his desire. For years, he studied the Black Arts and when he'd acquired enough knowledge, he summoned a demon to him. To this demon, he offered all his worldly goods and immortal soul to Satan in exchange for that one wish." Disregarding the dropped jaws and flabbergasted looks, Marshak went on with the bizarre story. "Lewis was told his wish would be granted if he would sell certain items through his store. Each item seemed innocuous: an antique porcelain doll, an ancient watch fob, a decorative ladies' compact, an old-time radio and so on... But these items were much more dangerous than they appeared; not only did they bring death and destruction to those people who had purchased and used them, they also stole those poor unfortunates' souls.
"Those demonic sales went on for far too many years. Toward the end, Lewis' conscience began to prey on him." Marshak sighed once more. "Or so he told me. Perhaps he was only trying to cheat the Devil out of his end of the bargain. He wrote and told me everything. By the time I could get to him, it was too late. Although his body was never found, the police assumed he'd been brutally murdered...the shop's storeroom was discovered awash in blood."
Marshak took a sip of his now-cold tea and nodded once each at Micki and Ryan. "When his Will was read, it was found that Vendredi had left his shop to his niece and nephew. I introduced myself to them, and informed them of their other legacy: to help me retrieve all those cursed antiques and to lock them away where they will never again destroy innocent lives."
Face incredibly white and strained, Bodie glanced down at his stunned-into-silence lover. "Go get the bottle, Ray," he ordered harshly.
Nonplused, Doyle stared at him. Surely Bodie doesn't believe this bullshit? He was struggling to form coherent words when Bodie spoke again.
"Get the bottle, Ray," he repeated. Voice softening, he laid an apologetic hand on the bony shoulder. "I know I gave it to you, but I want that thing out of our lives. Now."
"I can't!" Doyle ground out.
Bodie's own temper was only precariously reined in. "Look, mate," he said tightly, "just give the man the bloody bottle and we'll fight about it later, all right?"
"I can't do that, Bodie!" Doyle was panicking. Armageddon was to hand.
"Why the bloody hell not?!" shouted Bodie.
"Because I don't sodding well have it, do I!" shot back Doyle, angered to the point of recklessness.
His heated words fell into a deep well of silence.
Watching his lover apprehensively, Doyle waited for Bodie to say something. There was no explosion, however, when brain, tongue and mouth finally re-connected and let Bodie speak.
Shocked past any attempt at discretion, Bodie simply asked, "You gave away my wedding present to you?"
Flinching away from the naked pain in the incredulous lapis eyes, Doyle could only nod and lower his head to stare sullenly at the floor. He knew it was as bad as he'd feared when Bodie said evenly, "We will discuss this later." The tone was deadly for all its calm. "For now, I want to know where that bottle is."
Marshak, Ryan and Micki seemed to realise that something was seriously amiss. Nerves taut, they sat tensely on the settee, barely daring to breathe.
Through sheer bloody-mindedness, Doyle brought his eyes up to meet Bodie's. Although he'd been expecting it, the cold, closed-off look hurt badly. Taking in a large, steadying breath, he answered quietly, "Old mate of mine on the Drugs Squad retired a couple of weeks ago. Gave it to him."
"You gave my bottle of malt to a fucking copper."
Temper flaring, Doyle caught himself just in time. Bodie was right -- now was not the time to air their dirty laundry. Contenting himself with a simple, "Yeah.", Doyle waited for the next act in the farce.
Bodie had seen the flash in the emerald eyes which usually foretold the loss of his partner's formidable temper. Feeling unbearably hurt and betrayed, however, he was past caring. It took several minutes, but when he felt he finally had himself under control, he stated crisply, "Then I guess we'd best go get it back, hadn't we?"
He headed out the door.
Squeezing his eyes shut, Doyle let out a long, weary sigh. "Oh, shit," he exhaled. A deep breath later, he opened his eyes and gestured abruptly at the shell-shocked occupants of the settee. "C'mon, then," he ordered curtly. "No need to piss him off any further."
He waited impatiently at the door as they gingerly filed past. Slamming the door resoundingly behind him, he set the locks.
Exhausted beyond thought, Doyle slowly got out of the gold Capri once he'd parked it in front of the flat. Already over-stressed and over-tired from a tedious op in Brighton, he'd only been able to manage the long drive back to London earlier in the day by reminding himself he was going home and that Bodie would be waiting. Sure enough, his partner had somehow contrived to be right outside Cowley's office when Doyle had arrived to give his report. Shackled by the knowledge of where they were, Doyle had been forced to exchange bland, everyday greetings when all he'd wanted to do was fling himself bodily at his lover. Not surprised to find the ex-merc still loitering about the outer office when he'd emerged, Doyle had instantly suggested home and a meal. Plans were only slightly delayed when Bodie had sheepishly informed him that their fridge was bare; Doyle had settled for a pub lunch and several shots of malt -- on Bodie's expense, of course. Had he known then the trouble Marshak would bring, Doyle had decided he would have shot the older man the minute he saw him headed toward their booth.
The journey to the home of his old colleague had been horrible; although, in all honesty, he couldn't blame Marshak or his young friends. Wisely, all three had held their tongues unless directly spoken to. All through that interminable drive, Bodie had maintained an icy silence which seemed to freeze the very marrow of Doyle's bones. Whenever the lithe agent had glanced at him, Bodie was studiously gazing out his window, hands clenched white-knuckled in his lap.
Matters had soon thereafter gone from bad to worse. Marshak had broken the tense silence as they pulled up to Jamie Whitelock's terraced to announce that he and the others would remain in the car. After knocking at the front door, the two CI5 men had been graciously invited in by the ex-copper. Shame-faced, and very much aware of the hovering thundercloud at his side, Doyle had asked if he might have the bottle of malt back.
Astonished when Doyle had stumbled out his garbled explanation, Whitelock had then looked regretful. Of course Ray could have the malt -- that is, he could have it if only Whitelock still possessed it.
Somehow not surprised, Doyle had listened fatalistically as the older man explained that, while he'd appreciated the obviously expensive gift, his wife didn't allow spirits in the house. Never expecting to see Doyle, the ex-Drug Squad man had therefore given the bottle to his old colleagues to remember him by. Well knowing that drunken lot, Whitelock had said cynically, the bottle had probably been emptied before the sun had set that night. Belatedly remembering his manners, Doyle had thanked the retiree and left, shadowed by the still-silent Bodie.
By the furious look on Doyle's face, Marshak had immediately known their quest had been futile. He had been able to offer a small glimmer of hope, however: There was no way the malt could have been imbibed. The effects of the demon-cursed brew on one man were quite spectacular, and if a whole group of people -- particularly an entire shift of police officers -- had been infected, well, Doyle would have heard about it by now. Not as reassured by that knowledge as he should have been, Doyle had then proceeded to drive the trio of malt-hunters back to their hotel. Decanting them on the kerb, he'd promised to ring them in the morning after he had contacted some of his old mates.
Rousing from his exhausted stupor, the jade eyes widened when Doyle looked around and was unable to find his lover. Where the bloody hell...? Whirling, he frantically searched up and down the quiet street, finally spotting the broad back propped up against a sign post three-quarters of the way up the road. Jogging over to him, Doyle's relief was short-lived when he discovered that Bodie was standing at a bus stop.
"Bodie..." he began tentatively, reaching out a hand, but stopping just shy of touching. He swallowed to clear a suddenly dry throat. "Where're you going, mate?"
Not looking at him, Bodie shrugged. "Whichever hotel I happen to find first."
"H-Hotel?" squeaked Doyle, staring at him, flummoxed.
Bodie continued as though he'd hadn't spoken. "Since we both have the next two days off, I'll send for my things tomorrow. That'll give you plenty of time to rearrange your flat before you have to report in on Sunday."
Doyle finally managed to whisper, "Y-You're leaving me?"
The concept was unthinkable. God, he'd known that Bodie was angrier than he'd ever seen him, that it was going to take considerable time and effort to convince the ex-merc that he hadn't meant to hurt him so, but never, in his worst imaginings, had Doyle thought it would come to this.
"Why, love? Won't you even let me explain?" This time, Doyle did touch his partner; unwanted tears filled his eyes when the hand was brusquely shook off.
"Nothing to explain," Bodie refuted woodenly. "I was wrong, that's all."
"No, oh, Christ, no, you weren't. Please, Bodie..." Blinking rapidly, Doyle attempted to clear his vision. He couldn't cause a scene; not in public. Struggling to compose himself, he almost missed Bodie's barely audible question.
"Why, Ray? Why'd you lie to me?"
Doyle vowed shakily, "I didn't, not ever. I love you, sunshine -- more than words could ever tell."
An eternity later, Bodie finally turned to face him. The raw pain in the cobalt eyes found an outlet in the strained voice. "Then why did you give away what I gave you on our wedding night? I meant what I said then -- that I needed my future to be with you. Didn't you believe me?"
"Of course, I believed you," Doyle declared intensely. "I believed you then, and I haven't doubted you since."
Bewilderment showed plainly on the too-pale face. "Then why, for god's sake?"
"I'll tell you, honestly, love; but could we go back to the flat first?" pleaded Doyle. "I can't talk to you out here."
When Bodie nodded, albeit reluctantly, Doyle released the breath he'd been unconsciously holding and led the way up to their flat. Motioning for Bodie to sit, Doyle waited until he had done so before joining him on the settee. Taking both of the capable hands in his, Doyle looked Bodie straight in the eye as he said earnestly, "Didn't mean to hurt you, mate...as God is my witness; that's the truth. I honestly didn't realise the bottle was that important to you."
As Bodie started to protest, Doyle over-rode him. "Let me finish. Do you remember what you said that night?" As Bodie nodded, his partner quoted, "'Here's the past, sunshine. I'm giving it over to the future.'"
"You didn't tell me it was a symbol of your past!" Doyle burst out passionately. "You didn't tell me it marked you as the sole survivor of your old unit, that so many memories were locked inside. Christ, Bodie; if I had known that, I would've put the sodding thing on the mantle where everyone could have seen it!"
As he watched, the last of the hurt and anger drained from Bodie's face. "Oh."
"Yeah. Oh." Doyle mock-scowled at him. "As it was, I'd thought you'd just gone out and bought the ruddy bottle. Didn't reckon it could be all that good of scotch, what with you being able to afford that old of bottle on our salary. So when I ran into Ted Little and he told me they were giving Jamie a party that afternoon, I gave it to him to give to Jamie as a gift."
Now smiling faintly, Bodie queried, "You reckoned to give an old mate a bottle of scotch you'd decided was worthless?"
"Yeah," Doyle agreed. "Was the perfect gift. Jamie was always as useful as piss in the wind."
Unable to stop himself, Bodie began chuckling. It soon turned into full-blown laughter, somewhat hysterical in nature, as he washed away the tensions of the preceding few hours. Watching his lover with an affectionate smile, Doyle was swamped by a tidal wave of relief and love, the intensity of which left him feeling mentally and physically drained.
A short time later, Bodie's laughter died away. Wiping his eyes, he looked over to where his mate sat slumped against the settee arm, watching him out of slightly glassy eyes with a fatuous smile on the full lips. A bolt of guilt shot through the younger man, recalling how fatigued his partner had been before all the drama had begun. As he rose, he reached out a hand and pulled Doyle up with him, supporting the slighter man as he swayed from sheer weariness. Slipping an arm around the slim waist, Bodie firmly steered the over-tired agent into the bedroom.
"C'mon, then, sunshine," he urged gently. "Time for sleepies."
Content with the larger man's tender dominance, Doyle closed his eyes and stood there passively, letting Bodie undress him and tip him into the wide bed. As the duvet was pulled up, however, the malachite eyes flew open and Bodie found himself held captive by both the hand locked around his wrist and the renewed fear in the over-wide eyes. He had no difficulty correctly interpreting the unspoken question.
"Just going to take a shower," he soothed, easily pulling his wrist free so he could tuck the duvet around the bony shoulders. Brushing back limp curls, he bent over and gave Doyle a small kiss on the forehead. "Be back before you know it," he promised.
As his heavy eyelids started downward once more, Doyle gave him a sweet, sleepy smile and was asleep before his eyes had completely closed. Some small portion of his brain remained alert, however; for when the bed dipped beside him, Doyle instinctively rolled over and plastered himself against the accommodating warmth next to him. He wiggled once, to get comfortable, and then went limp, letting out a tiny sigh.
As they watched Doyle's Capri round the corner, Micki and Ryan announced it was too early to return to their rooms. Underground passes firmly in hand, the two cousins headed off to see London. Secretly relieved that he wouldn't have to try and contrive some amusement for them, Marshak went up to his room, intending to do some heavy thinking. Four hours later, he had been forced to admit that all the thinking in the world wouldn't help at this juncture. There was nothing to be done until the bottle of malt was found.
Standing at his hotel window, Marshak watched the passing traffic. It was a constant here, for the Hotel Dexham stood at the corner of two main thorough-fares. Used to the quiet side streets Curious Goods was situated on, Marshak found the ever-present noise somewhat nerve-wracking. Turning away from the window with a sigh, he went over to the in-room kettle and made another mug of tea. Sinking into the over-stuffed chair, he absently sipped at the hot fluid, his thoughts elsewhere. He prayed with all his soul that Doyle was as good as his word. For all his instinctive trust of the CI5 agent, Marshak was uncertain how much effort the doubting man would actually put into the search. Bodie believed, however, and the Canadian could only hope that he was capable of spurring on his partner. A frown crossed his brow as he remembered his last view of the two Britons: sitting side by side in a small car, they had still been as far apart as the moon and the stars. It hadn't been his intention to start an argument between them. For all his ignorance of the hidden details, Marshak knew it wasn't a petty disagreement. He'd realised, almost immediately, that those men were partners in every sense of the word. Praying that Bodie and Doyle would be able to fight the tug of the demon drink's curse, Marshak sat staring into space.
As intensely as he was concentrating, he was considerably startled when the phone at his side let out a sharp buzz. Figuring it was either Micki or Ryan letting him know they were back, he picked up the handpiece.
He listened with growing astonishment to the prim, officious voice at the other end of the line. Slamming the handpiece into the cradle, he dashed out of the room.
Rolling over, Doyle gave a contented stretch. By the wan light peeking through the curtains, it was still very early. The simple pleasures of Life are best, he mused drowsily; cool sheets, warm flat and hot lover...that just about says it all. Yawning widely, he turned to look at his still-sleeping mate. Bodie, per his usual wont, lay face down, one hand clutching his pillow, the other placed above his lover's heart.
Sometime during the night, the duvet had slipped, leaving Bodie open to his partner's lustful sight. With immense satisfaction, Doyle allowed his gaze to wander slowly over the peaceful body. If he lived to be a hundred, he knew he would never grow tired of Bodie's powerful form. The broad shoulders whose sheer strength made him feel like a child whenever his lover hugged him; the smoothly muscled back and chest, so like that of a Greek statue; the firm, unblemished roundness of buttocks...
A growing frown stole across the sleepily placid face. What the bloody hell are those marks on Bodie's bum? If I didn't know better...
Seconds later, an enraged Doyle was furiously shaking his somnolent partner. "C'mon, Bodie, god damn it!"
As the cerulean eyes blinked and attempted to focus on him, Doyle sprang out of bed and began pacing. He didn't trust himself to get too close to his lover, not at this moment. "Of all the two-faced, double-dealing sods!" he snarled. "And only yesterday you had the balls to accuse me! You self-righteous son of a bitch!"
By now completely awake, Bodie could only gape at the raging man, unable to fathom just what had angered him so. Breaking into the non-stop flow of invective, Bodie patiently enquired, "Ray, what the bloody hell are you talking about?"
Spinning, Doyle glared down at him through stormy emerald eyes, hands clutched into taut fists at his side. "Don't fucking well play the innocent with me; you know damn well what I'm talking about! Where did they come from, sunshine?" This time, the endearment was anything but. "Who did it?"
Still totally at sea, Bodie frowned up at him. "Where did what come from?" he questioned.
"Those sodding finger bruises on your bum!" spat out Doyle. "I'm going to fucking well kill both of you!"
The penny dropped with an audible clang.
"Oh, yeah...those," Bodie said reflectively. "My bum is a mite sore this morning. As much as I appreciate the offer, mate, you don't have to kill her. Breaking her fingers will do nicely."
Caught off guard, Doyle blinked at him. "What the ruddy hell are you on about, Bodie?" he demanded finally.
"The person who bruised me," explained Bodie. "I wasn't best pleased meself, y'know."
His jealous rage draining away, Doyle gave a faint "Oh.", and dropped onto the bed. Several intensely thought-out minutes later, he asked softly, "So what happened, then?"
Giving the downbent shaggy head a fond smile, Bodie replied, "Was that bird, Micki Foster. Turned my back on her yesterday to close the drapes and the next thing I knew, me poor arse feels like Charmin -- pinched and squeezed.
"Oh," repeated his embarrassed and chastised lover. "So that's why..." Letting his voice trail off, Doyle glanced up ruefully. "Decided to protect your virtue by hiding behind my favourite chair, did you?"
"Yeah." Slinging an arm around the slumped shoulders, Bodie pulled his lover tightly against him. "Sorry about all this, sunshine," he apologised sincerely. "Was going to tell you yesterday `cause I knew you'd get upset, but it slipped my mind, what with one thing and the other."
If Bodie had entertained any continuing doubts about his lover's feelings, they had been completely laid to rest by this stormy scene. Doyle's fine fury had been both instantaneous and incandescent, requiring only a small set of bruises to spark the conflagration.
Somewhat diffidently, Doyle raised his head from the wide shoulder. "Not mad at me, then?"
"Nah." Bodie shook his head. "Reckon it was owed after what I put you through yesterday."
"Whatever." Doyle lazily leant over and nuzzled the sensuous mouth. "Mmm," he drawled huskily, "been missing that for ten whole days. `Bout to go into withdrawal."
"Can't have that, now can we?" Falling back against the pillows, Bodie pulled his lover on top of him. "That's better," he decided, nibbling on a full lower lip. "Ready for your fix, sunshine?"
"More than ready," announced his lover and proved it by putting on a liplock that soon had Bodie gasping for breath.
Peeling himself loose from tenacious lips and tongue, Bodie paused long enough to drag some oxygen into his lungs before flipping the other man onto his back. Staging his own strategic assault, he targeted the furry chest and both plum-brown nipples. Doyle moaned deep in his throat, and wound arms and legs, limpet-like, around the strong body. Nibbling and nipping his way southward, Bodie felt his own body reacting enthusiastically. The inevitable and longed-for cataclysm left them sweaty and breathless, panting into each other's mouths and considerably tangled in the sheets.
When next they were capable of noticing such things, the bright morning sun had already claimed the bedroom. Rolling a bleary eye toward the bedside clock, Bodie hazily noted it was only going on eight o'clock. Lots of time to lie abed; not scheduled for any shifts for the next two days, thank god. Comfortably drowsing, Bodie suddenly came awake when his memory jolted loose a fact.
Giving his dozing companion a look compounded of hope and trepidation, he said hesitantly, "Uh, Ray?"
The mumbled "Yeah," was barely intelligible as Doyle's face was buried in his pillow.
"Time to be moving, mate. `S almost eight," Bodie informed him solemnly.
One irritated malachite eye opened and perused him. "So? We don't have to get up today, remember? I, for one, am going to sleep until the crack of noon." The eye shut.
"Ray, we need to talk to your old mates."
"Huh? Since when have you wanted to talk to coppers..." Light dawned, and Doyle reluctantly pushed himself upright. "Shit," he sighed. Running a thin hand through already tousled curls, he looked over at Bodie and asked curiously, "Do you honestly believe this Marshak bloke, then?"
On the brink of fabricating something his sharp partner would buy, Bodie glanced over and abruptly changed his mind. There was no derision or mocking in the jade eyes, just curiosity and bafflement. "Yeah. I think I do."
"Why? Or have you always felt like that about the bottle?"
"Christ, no!" Bodie refuted emphatically. "If I'd felt a bit off about the bloody thing, I never would've given it to you." When Doyle had nodded his understanding, the ex-SAS sergeant continued, "Marshak just got me to thinking, that's all. I know he said you have to drink the stuff before the curse took effect, but maybe there's a certain...aura...to the ruddy thing?"
"Yeah. What if this aura -- or whatever -- if not as evil as the true curse, carries its own tendency to cause trouble? Nothing went right for my mates since Latimer fetched it back from Canada that time he was visiting his sister. The rest of us didn't even know about the bloody bottle until after we'd left Belfast. Once we'd gotten back to base, that's when he told us -- said it would give our little pact that bit more spice."
"Some spice," snorted Doyle. "Eight of `em dead within the next six years."
"'S what I mean! Not just those of us in the pact, either...my entire squad! Ray, the whole thing, not just the drink inside, could be bad juju." Bodie was deadly serious. "It's already caused enough trouble for you and me. I don't want some old mate of yours -- or any other innocent -- getting hurt simply because some old bastard decided he couldn't face the inevitable."
"That's my Bodie," Doyle said gravely, valiantly controlling his grin. "Cool and uninvolved until the bitter end." Avoiding the swat aimed his way, he bounced out of bed and headed toward the loo. "C'mon, then, mate; get the lead out. We just might be able to hand Marshak the bloody bottle this morning. Then it's a whole day and a half for you and me."
Accepting his partner's reasoning with alacrity, Bodie bounded after him.
"Now what?" Bodie asked despondently, giving the crowded and noisy squad room a jaundiced look. "If this Mason bloke took the ruddy bottle with him on holiday, it's too late. `S been a fortnight, for god's sake!"
Doyle wasn't much happier. "Yeah. Leave it to that bastard," he stated gloomily. "Always did enjoy throwing his weight around."
Scuffing the toe of his trainer over the squad room lino, Doyle reflected morosely on his current run of bad luck. Arriving at eight-thirty, the two agents had been gladdened to find the squad room filled to the brim with coppers. Bodie had pursed his lips disdainfully at the noise and clutter, but once he'd been introduced, had unbent sufficiently to chat and joke with several of Doyle's old colleagues. Having kept a wary eye on his unpredictable partner out of the corner of his eye, Doyle had soon relaxed and become deeply enmeshed in a game of `Do you remember when?'
Besides enjoying the re-living of old times, Doyle had used the reminiscent mood to steer talk around to Jamie Whitelock and his retirement party. The knowing looks had told their own story. Genuinely regretful that he had been forced to miss such an epic bash (Cowley had kept both him and Bodie searching through dusty, eons-old records for one, insignificant piece of information. His gratitude when it was finally produced had been overwhelming -- Bodie had been sentenced back to Records and Doyle had ended up in Brighton for the next week and a half), Doyle listened enviously to a spirited recounting of the affair.
Several minutes into the glowing description of the girl who'd popped out of the cake, the curly-haired man brought up the subject of the bottle of malt. Was it true, he demanded fiercely; had Whitelock actually given his expensive gift to a bunch of such notorious alcoholics?
The two ex-colleagues merely grinned, long-inured to such outbursts from the mercurial Doyle. His smile soon fading, Pete Timmons had told a depressing tale. As the party was winding down, DCI Mason had wandered into the still-noisy room. In the midst of giving them all a hearty dressing-down for their unprofessional behaviour, the bellicose Mason had noticed the unopened bottle sitting on Whitelock's former desk. Harumphing and muttering snide comments about everyone being drunk on duty, he had picked up the bottle to examine it. In seconds, his expression and manner had changed. Slipping the bottle into his suit jacket pocket, Mason had loftily informed the coppers that a malt of such age and smoothness was wasted on layabouts like themselves. Presumably, he had taken the bottle of spirits home, for it was not in his office -- they had looked. Five days after the party, Mason and his wife had left for a holiday in Majorca. They were not due back for another week.
"How the bloody hell can a copper afford such a long holiday in Majorca?" complained Bodie, bringing Doyle back to the present. "Unless...he's bent?" His face brightened at the thought.
Unfortunately for Bodie's happy idea, his partner soon put paid to the notion.
"Nah," dismissed Doyle, tossing his curls. "Can't be bent...the witless bugger's too stupid to know anything of value." Flicking a glance at a downcast Bodie, he went on, "Wife's on a good income -- she writes romance novels. Me and the other blokes always reckoned she was getting hers the only way she could."
Absorbing this slanderous statement with narrowed eyes, Bodie nodded thoughtfully. Seconds later, he gave a deep sigh and headed out the door.
"Sounds as if he, at least, deserves the curse," he commented in an aside to Doyle. "Sure hope his missus is a teetotaler, though."
"Yeah," agreed Doyle whole-heartedly, and promptly cannoned into someone coming around the corner. A gasping `woof' was heard and papers flew everywhere.
Automatically stooping to begin gathering up the scattered sheets of paper, Doyle glanced up at his victim and froze. Sodding hell, he groaned silently, why did it have to be WPC Stedman?
Bodie realised from the frigid glare directed downward and the pugnacious look on his partner's face that this was not a meeting made in Heaven. As he eyed the irate woman who waited with barely concealed impatience, Bodie decided his sympathies were entirely with his partner. Tall, bony and emphatically middle-aged, WPC Stedman viewed the world through perpetually narrowed porcine brown eyes set in a cold, stony visage. As the dark-haired man started to look away, something caught the corner of his eye. Frowning, Bodie ran his eyes once more over the skinny body, trying to pinpoint what had captured his interest.
There...her name badge!
When Bodie had an objective, he let nothing stand in his way...not even the decidedly unlovely WPC Stedman. His practiced charm and urbanity to the fore, he soon had the woman steered into a chair before she quite knew what had hit her.
Finished with the gathering of dislodged reports, Doyle stood and held them out -- to empty air. Eyebrows climbing into his ragged fringe, his astonishment was complete when, hearing a familiar voice, he tracked both his missing partner and the WPC to a small canteen off the corridor. His eyes widened in shock as he took in the mind-numbing sight of his macho partner fussing about Doyle's old nemesis like a hen with a newly-hatched chick. The recipient of the effortless charm was blushing rosily and preening under the unusual attention. Bemused and nauseous, Doyle could only prop himself against the canteen door jamb and wonder if he would find Rod Serling under the sagging old settee.
At long last, Bodie glanced up and spotted his partner. Rescuing the reports before they could fall from a limp hand, he ceremoniously handed them over to the female police officer.
"Here you are, then, luv," reassured Bodie. "All accounted for, and in proper order."
"Thank you so much, Mr. Bodie," gushed the older woman, getting to her feet. "It's so refreshing to discover that courtesy and kindness are not entirely absent from the younger generation." Stedman bent a meaningful glare at the slouching Doyle.
Biting his tongue so hard he tasted blood, Doyle recalled himself sufficiently to move out of the doorway as Bodie suavely ushered the old battle-ax out.
Bidding the woman farewell, Bodie started to turn away, then turned back. "You're positive those reports aren't too much for you?" he checked anxiously.
Doyle felt his stomach flip over again, and gave it a strong admonishment.
"Oh, you men!" giggled Stedman, her flushed cheeks giving her the appearance of a dyspeptic clown. "Get on with you, and let a body tend to her duties." A final simpering look, and WPC Stedman was hipping her way down the corridor in her sensible square heels.
"Booodieee," groaned Doyle, feeling his nausea rising again. Giving his partner a pitiful look, he saw a huge Bodie-smirk plastered across the handsome face. "Why'd you go and do that, mate? Getting senile in your old age?"
Extending the smirk to include his lover, Bodie put a hand in the small of Doyle's back and gave a gentle push to start him moving. "Now, now -- mustn't be like that, sunshine," he scolded, guiding Doyle around a corner. "Haven't you heard that no kindness shall go unrewarded?"
"No such thing as kindness with that old cow," grumbled Doyle resentfully. "When she became head of the typing pool, she used to check our reports with a fine-toothed comb. You misspell something or make a mistake in grammar or punctuation, and she'd make you write it all over again until you got everything right. Made all us coppers feel as though we were still in Infant School."
Chin quivering, Bodie made the tactical mistake of looking at Doyle. One glance at the woebegone, aggrieved face and his laughter could not be contained. Propping himself up against a convenient wall, the curly-haired man waited with scant patience. When the giggles and snorts had died down and Bodie seemed more in control, Doyle repeated, "Why did you do it?'
A hand at his aching middle, the ex-merc replied somewhat obscurely, "She's not head of the typing pool now."
"So?" Doyle frowned at his exasperating partner. "Who cares what bloody duties she has now?"
Fighting the urge to savagely thump his infuriating lover, Doyle took a deep breath and asked through clenched teeth, "What are her current duties, then?"
Recognising that his partner was at the end of his never-very-long tether, Bodie slung an companionable arm around the tense shoulders and got them moving again.
"Guess who is DCI Mason's administrative secretary?" he asked in a conspiratorial whisper.
Stopping dead in his tracks, the other man turned hopeful eyes on him. "Does she have the keys to his house?"
"Bottle's not at his place." At Doyle's crestfallen look, Bodie gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "In fact, our grabby little inspector never managed to get it out of the building."
"Eh?" The bemused expression was not feigned.
"She spotted the bottle sitting on his desk when he took himself off to the loo," Bodie explained gleefully, "and handed it off to passing copper with stern orders to dispose of it properly."
A wide grin threatened to split Doyle's face in two. "Oh, boy," he breathed blissfully. "Wish I'd been there for that one." He gave a happy sigh. "Did she say which copper she gave it to?" He clattered down the few steps to the front path.
Following at a more dignified pace, Bodie fished his keys out of his jacket pocket as they came up on his silver Capri. "Yeah. A DC by the name of Weaver."
Doyle threw himself into the passenger seat as soon as the door was unlocked. "Don't know him."
"According to our WPC Stedman, he works out of Vice." Slamming his car door, Bodie started the motor.
Sucking thoughtfully on a tooth, Doyle watched as Bodie skillfully guided the car into traffic. "He not on duty, then?" Bodie shook his head. "We going to his flat?"
Another shake of the dark head. "Nah. The old trout doesn't know where he lives. According to her, though -- god, that woman is a fount of gossip and innuendo!--he's been up at his folks' place on holiday and is due back on duty this afternoon. Reckon we're just going to have to wait."
"Fucking great," Doyle moaned in disgust. Gnawing agitatedly on his knuckles, he turned to stare out the window at the passing traffic.
Doyle bounced up the stairs to his and Bodie's flat, feeling more at peace with the world. After leaving the station house, Bodie had sprung for a sumptuous breakfast at a well-known restaurant. Delighted when he'd discovered fresh melon and citrus on the menu, the curly-haired agent had grimaced when he'd noticed the price, prompting Bodie to ask what was amiss. Glumly pointing out the unattainable, Doyle's jaw had dropped to his feet when Bodie had smiled blithely and proceeded to give their orders to the waiter, complete with fresh fruit.
Although he had enjoyed every bite of that expensive delicacy, Doyle's conscience had stabbed at him painfully. There were times when Bodie's motivations were transparently clear, and this was one of them. Feeling guilty over his lack of faith concerning Doyle's love, blaming himself for his lover becoming jealous and upset that morning, and knowing that Doyle had had something else in mind for their rare days off, Bodie was doing his best to make amends. Well aware that his lover, in this sort of mood, would deny him nothing, Doyle vowed silently to do his best to curb Bodie's excesses and to cater to his wishes as well. When they had finished their meal, he had therefore suggested a stop at one of Bodie's favourite places -- the London Zoo.
The light that had appeared in the cobalt eyes had more than compensated for a boring morning. (Doyle had nothing against zoos in principle -- he just didn't find the odour of unwashed animals and mucky cages to be all that thrilling.) Reluctant at first when Doyle had suggested leaving the attraction, Bodie's enthusiasm had returned when his partner hinted at returning to the flat for some nosh and horizontal R & R. The larger man practically threw Doyle into the Capri in his eagerness to get going.
Unfortunately, the partners' happy and horny plans were due for a setback. Upon ascending the stairs and turning in the direction of their flat, a decidedly unhappy trio was discovered littering the hall in front of their door. Firmly keeping his face neutral, Doyle heard Bodie's bit-off expletive.
Cheered by this sign of solidarity, Doyle was able to say politely, "Sorry. Been waiting long?" as he keyed open the door.
Relieved to find the partners seemed to have settled their differences, Marshak failed to note the suddenly-knowing looks Micki and Ryan exchanged. It was probably for the best, as his tolerance with the cousins was at a low ebb at the present. Following Doyle into the flat, the Canadian responded, "We've only been waiting a few minutes." Peripherally seeing Bodie gluing himself to his partner, he turned an admonishing glare on Micki. Lips pursed in a sullen pout, the redhead flopped onto the settee.
"Have you retrieved the bottle?" the older man asked eagerly. "I know you were going to call me at the hotel, but I thought I'd save you the time and trouble. Also, as I was unexpectedly called away last evening, I didn't know if the hotel had forgotten to pass on a message."
"What happened?" asked Bodie, positioning his assets against a wall and ignoring his lover's rude snicker as Doyle dropped into his usual chair.
"It wasn't my fault! Honest!" burst out Ryan, startling the CI5 agents. "It was a mistake anyone could've made!"
Eyebrows climbing, Bodie looked first at his equally puzzled partner before turning a questioning eye on young Dallion. "What the bloody hell are you on about, son?"
There was a long, uncomfortable silence as Ryan jammed his hands into his jeans pockets and refused to meet their eyes.
"Why, what's the matter, Ryan?" There was a distinctly malicious undertone in Marshak's voice. "If it could've happened to anyone, there's no reason not to tell Mr. Bodie and Mr. Doyle."
Ryan's pleading look bounced off his mentor without leaving a dent.
"Well, you see..." Ryan began haltingly, shuffling his feet on the sitting room carpet, "after you dropped us off yesterday, Micki and me decided we'd do a little sight-seeing." Emboldened by Bodie's look of understanding, he rushed on, "We were just walking down the street when Micki saw this coat in a store window. I need some new gloves, so I thought I'd look around while she was busy."
"Perfectly understandable," put in Doyle, deadpan.
"The men's department was on the same floor as the women's, so while Micki was trying on the coat, I decided to look around. That's all...honest." By this time, Ryan was tearful. "There was this old man behind the counter and he looked just awful. Kept grabbing at himself and saying, `I have to spend a penny.'"
An audible click was heard as Doyle's and Bodie's jaws dropped simultaneously. Marshak just looked at them, shaking his head in pity.
"Every time the old man came back, he looked worse." Between the sniffles and snorts, the sad tale was barely intelligible. "He kept his hand in one suit pocket so I just wondered, y'know, what he had in it. Guessed it must have been some possessed penny, the way he wouldn't let go of it and it seemed to be eating him alive."
Teary-eyed, Ryan gazed at his flummoxed hosts. "Uncle Lewis sold some pretty weird stuff, y'know," he defended himself. "How do we know...? Anyway, I was only trying to help." Past the tears, Dallion was now in his usual sullen state.
Gathering his wits, Doyle queried faintly, "How did you help?" Bodie seemed incapable of speech.
"He threw the old man to the ground and tore his trousers off," Marshak stated baldly, "in the middle of Men's Wear at Grace Brothers' Department Store."
"HE DID WHAT?!" The partners sounded like a chorus.
"You heard me," the older man said glumly. "I received a phone call at approximately seven o'clock yesterday evening asking me to come down to the police station house immediately. My god, the place was absolute bedlam! The old man was stretched out on a bench, being fanned by an older woman with green hair; a young blonde was screeching at Ryan at the top of her voice; Micki had some other poor young man backed into a corner near the file cabinets; and a silver-haired gentleman, in a pin-striped suit, was loudly declaring the old man was ruined for life. Just as I had found out that Ryan had been accused of assaulting a senior sales clerk, in walks this retired-military type gentleman, and some man with big ears. They only added to the din as the military man kept insisting to Big Ears that `This never would have happened if I hadn't been stuck in some absurd meeting.'"
"Christ, what a circus," acknowledged Bodie. He looked admiringly at the Canadian. "How long did it take you to get it straightened out?"
"When I could finally be heard above all the hysterics -- Ryan's, included -- I promised Mr. Rumbold (Big Ears -- floor manager) that Ryan would never step foot in Grace Brothers' again. Then I had Ryan publicly apologise to Mr. Grainger, the senior sales clerk. Mr. Rumbold was kind enough after that to refuse to press any charges, and Mr. Grainger declared he would go along with whatever Mr. Rumbold decided."
"How was I supposed to know the old man only meant he had to use the bathroom?" snapped Ryan, feeling very ill-used.
Sighing, Marshak told the fascinated agents, "According to Captain Peacock (military-type man -- floor walker), Mr. Grainger often gets these `spells' after eating a spicy meal the evening before." Shaking his head, Marshak favoured both cousins with a stern look. "By the time we got back to the hotel, it was after eleven."
"You definitely need more than a cuppa after all that," declared Doyle. He went over to the spirits cupboard and poured out a generous portion of malt scotch. Handing the drink over to Marshak, he enquired sympathetically, "This sort of thing happen often, does it?"
"Too often for my peace of mind, yes," agreed the Canadian, knocking back the liquid in one gulp. "Where do you suppose all the grey in my hair and beard came from? Not that there's all that much left on top anymore." Handing back the glass, he nodded gratefully at Doyle then asked, "Were you able to find the bottle this morning?"
"Uh, not exactly," hedged the slender agent. "But we know who has it. He just doesn't come on duty until this afternoon."
"No one's drank it, then." Marshak almost fainted with relief.
"Unless DC Weaver enjoyed himself on holiday," Bodie mumbled. Seeing Marshak's apprehension, he smiled and assured, "I doubt it, really. According to our source, he's been up at his mum's, visiting. Doubt she'd let him drink a whole bottle of malt, don't you?"
Glancing at his watch, Marshak moved to the door as he said, "It's only one o'clock now; we'll return to the hotel." Gathering up the sulky cousins with a glance, he let them precede him out the door. "When you've retrieved the bottle, would it be possible to bring it to the Hotel Dexham in Bayswater Road? My room is Number Five."
"No problem," Doyle said heartily, visions of an erotic afternoon resurfacing. "We can have it there by six or so."
"Thank you. Until then, good-bye."
Leering boldly at Doyle as he shut the door behind their visitors, Bodie took great pains to ensure all the locks were soundly engaged.
Unimaginable as it might have seemed, the Vice Squad Room was even noisier and dirtier than the Drug Squad's. Gazing around in appalled disbelief, Bodie watched with curled lip as Doyle approached the copper at the nearest desk then, at an impatient gesture, closed in on a battered wooden desk in the far corner. Leaning over, the curly-haired agent must have made some comment, for the blond cop gave a startled jump and quickly hung up his phone. A frown covered the lean face for just a moment before Weaver turned to look across the room at Bodie. Giving what he hoped was an encouraging smile, Bodie saw the young detective constable rise and follow his partner, curiosity written large on his face.
Drawing level with the ex-merc, Weaver said, "Even allowing for my mum's delusions of grandeur, I didn't think I'd done anything to attract the notice of CI5." He waited expectantly, alternating his gaze between the two agents.
Surprised to discover that CI5 was interested in the bottle of malt, Bodie gave the copper a brilliant smile and shrugged. "We're everywhere," he allowed. Doyle can carry the damn ball on this one -- he's the one who brought CI5 into this mess!
Steely jade eyes acknowledged the ploy, but Doyle was all affability when he turned to Weaver. "You'll find us mixed up in almost anything," he stated carelessly. "Sometimes for the most balmy of reasons."
Giving a half-shrug, Weaver recognised the stupidly of bureaucracy. "Tell me about it," he said, sighing deeply. "So...what I can do for the Thunder and Lightening Brigade?"
Never having cared for the nickname, Bodie had to clamp down hard on his urge to commit mayhem. His smile became a trifle fixed.
Quite aware of his partner's views on the matter, Doyle hurriedly said, "This is going to sound a bit strange, mate. Is there somewhere more private we can go and talk? Don't want the whole squad room knowing our business, do we."
Even more puzzled, the young DC stared at them for several minutes before saying slowly, "Yeah, there's a conference room just around the corner -- should be empty."
The last one into the conference room, Bodie shut the door behind him and then leant against it, arms folded. By now, Weaver was becoming seriously alarmed and Bodie's manner was obviously not helping matters.
Catching on to the younger man's anxiety, Doyle hastened to reassure the nervous man. "Ignore him, mate," he advised cheerfully. "That's his normal behaviour."
Fears somewhat allayed, Weaver still kept a wary eye on the broody man at the door as he asked, "What's this all about, then?"
"Christ, I feel like a berk just saying it," Doyle said abruptly, eyes going to the ceiling. Bringing them back down, he caught the stern warning in sapphire eyes: Don't overdo it, pillock! Mentally sticking his tongue out at his partner, Doyle brought his attention back to Weaver. "Oh, well...nothing to do but get on with it."
Thoroughly hooked by this time, the younger man was almost dancing with impatience.
Swallowing his smug smile, the CI5 agent stated, "I hear that a fortnight ago, WPC Stedman gave you a bottle of malt to throw away. Did you?"
Astonishment evident in every line of his body, Weaver had to swallow several times before he could answer. It was obvious that this was the last question in the world he had ever expected to hear. "M-Malt?" he sputtered. "What the bloody hell has that bottle of malt got to do with CI5?"
Motioning him closer, Doyle flung a friendly arm around his shoulders. "Bureaucracy, mate," he informed the other man sadly. Certain how Mason was regarded around the station house, he wasted no time in defaming the senior police official.
"A fortnight ago, DCI Mason had a meeting with the Commissioner but the prior meeting was running long, so he had to wait in the outer office. It seems he noticed a certain bottle of malt on a file cabinet, and after taking a look at its label, he nicks it. I don't know if Mason thought the bottle belonged to the Commissioner's secretary or what."
Seeing that he had the copper spellbound, Doyle carried on with his fable. "Only trouble with that, y'see, is the bottle belonged to certain personage meeting with the Commissioner."
Weaver's bemused expression gradually gave way to one of stunned horror. "Not the...?"
"Yeah." Placidly confirming the man's worst fears, the CI5 agent said, "Boy, did she raise a fuss! Came straight to our guv and demanded we find the `blasted low-life' who had taken her husband's anniversary pressie." Weaver gave a groan at the small confidence. "We've been leaning on the secretary and the rest of the office staff but they've checked out clean, so we decided to go through the Commissioner's appointment book for that day. We found out that Mason was alone in the outer office for almost an hour. Now, imagine our surprise when, arriving to have a little chat with Mason, WPC Stedman tells us that he did have that bottle of malt, but that she found it on his desk and gave it to you to throw away. Did you now...or did you drink it? C'mon, mate -- you can tell us." Doyle's affable camaraderie had undergone a marked change.
Too intimidated to wonder why it had taken the elite CI5 a whole two weeks to check on Mason, the beleaguered Weaver shivered at the barely concealed menace in the cool jade eyes. He had heard that CI5 consisted of psychos and armed services rejects -- there was no joy in being able to confirm that rumour.
Stuttering, he made an effort at self-defense. "I-I never touched a drop of the stuff!" he protested, voice squeaking. "Malt's not my tipple...you can ask anyone!"
"We believe you, mate," Doyle assured him kindly. "Don't we, Bodie?"
"Sure thing, Doyle," drawled the dark-haired man in his smoothest tones. He gave another brilliant smile.
Already dripping with cold sweat, Weaver turned an odd shade of chartreuse when he saw that smile. "Listen," he said desperately, "I really did not drink that malt!" Pinned by twin approving beams, Weaver seemed almost physically ill. Goaded, he blurted, "Hell, I don't even have that bloody bottle!"
Keeping his sinking feeling well-hidden, Doyle casually asked, "Well, then, who does?"
"Binty," was the sullen reply.
Feeling it was time he contributed to the conversation, Bodie growled, "Who the sodding hell is Binty?"
"H-He's my grass." Weaver was pathetically eager to sic the two psychopaths on an old and trusted informant. "He gave me some really good info last week; was able to make a huge bust in porn films. I owed him big, and since Binty loves a good malt, I gave him the bottle. It was just cluttering my desk drawer."
Several quiet minutes passed, then after exchanging a look with his partner, Doyle asked, "What's this Binty's full name and where can we find him?"
"Binty Dundee." Weaver's tongue was practically tripping over itself in its hurry to deliver the wanted information. "He generally hangs out at The Scarlet Cockerel in Wapping."
Giving Weaver's shoulder one last friendly squeeze, Doyle ambled over to his partner. Halfway out the door, Bodie turned back and gave the young copper a warm smile.
"Now, don't go feeling you have to ring Binty and announce us," he mock-scolded. "We just love to surprise people."
Staring fixedly at the closed door, Weaver gradually became aware of an urgent personal need. He bolted, fervently praying that the loo was unoccupied.
Slouched in the passenger seat, Doyle abruptly put an irritated fist into the car panel. "Bloody hell, Bodie," he complained furiously. "Are we never going to find that fucking bottle? We're just going around in circles!"
"You put a hole in the panel, sunshine; Cowley will have you going in more than circles," his partner advised. Bodie pulled over to the kerb in front of a phone box. Giving Doyle no time to question, the dark-haired man hopped out of the vehicle, saying, "Need to tell Marshak there's going to be a slight delay."
Doyle threw himself back against his seat and sulked. Brows lowered, he watched through the windscreen as Bodie made a brief phone call. Once back inside the car, he gunned the powerful engine and tore out into the early afternoon traffic.
Tossed against the door, Doyle grabbed for a hand-hold. "Where the fuck is the bloody fire?!" he snarled as he was once again pitched about as the Capri squealed through a roundabout.
"Those ruddy kids!" shouted back Bodie, apparently thinking that explained everything.
"Bodie, I'm going to count to three; and if you don't tell me..."
Screeching to a last-minute halt at a red light, Bodie took the time to glare at his infuriated partner. "Those damn kids must've been listening when I called Marshak! I tell him what's what, and the next thing I know, he's yelling the kids have scarpered after hearing where to find Dundee. They want to `help'...God save us all." The Capri rocketed off once more.
"Shit!" Doyle swore feelingly.
"Yeah," grunted the ex-merc, continuing to win friends and influence people with his driving. "The only thing we've got going for us is the fact they're tourists -- won't know their way around."
"I wouldn't count on that, sunshine," warned Doyle. "That Micki bird can probably find a bloke faster than you can say Jack Robinson."
Although Bodie didn't comment on the terse assertion, it was evident he agreed...the Capri soon passed Mach Three and steadily gained acceleration.
Blinking reddened, tear-filled eyes, Doyle once more tried to pierce the low-lying smoke bank. From the tone of the expletives and harsh coughing next to him, Bodie was not faring much better. Trying to wave the stuff away was useless; the WHO was probably using this pub as a control for experiments on lung cancer and emphysema.
A yelp erupted from Doyle as Bodie abruptly grabbed his arm. "Look, there's Ryan!"
Following the pointing finger, Doyle saw the youngster propped up against a wall. With a shared glance, the CI5 agents began closing in on the Canadian. Ryan was so intent on the killer darts match going on in front of him that he didn't realise he'd been flanked until he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder. Always easily startled, the young man let out a high shriek. Luckily for Bodie and Doyle, such goings-on were not unusual at The Scarlet Cockerel and, consequently, no one even so much as glanced their way.
Stilling the din by the simple means of placing a hand over Ryan's mouth, Bodie hissed, "It's us, you ruddy prat!"
"Oh," sighed Ryan, collapsing against the wall. A quick recoverer, the normal vacuous beam was soon back in place. "Hi, fellas!" he chirped. "Finally got here, huh?"
As Doyle seemed to be having quiet hysterics, it was up to Bodie to field the inane sally. Long out of patience with the whole mess, it was all he could do to say in a half-civilised tone, "So it appears. Where's your cousin?"
"Over there." Ryan pointed to a secluded table. Preening, he proudly announced, "That's Binty Dundee with her."
Doyle's scepticism metre went through the roof. "How did she find him so quickly?" It should've been fairly difficult to trap Dundee into serious conversation with a total stranger. Grasses were a notoriously shy breed with anyone but their special contact.
"Oh, she just walked in and yelled out that she wanted to talk with Binty Dundee." Ryan's smirk was unbearably smug, although it soon faded to a small frown. "At least, I think that's Binty Dundee. He's the fourth Binty since we got here."
Manfully quelling the urge to pound his head against the nearest wall, Doyle mumbled, "An' down the rabbit hole we go, Alice."
On the other side of Ryan, Bodie seemed in complete agreement with this bit of wisdom.
The Dynamic Duo's misery was broken by a cheerful, "Come on over, everyone!"
Glancing up, they saw Micki gesturing at them. She was smiling happily at one and all, although Dundee appeared less than enamoured at the sudden influx of male bodies. He sat and scowled impartially at all three of them as they sank onto the rickety wooden chairs.
"Isn't this just the most amazing thing ever?" gushed Micki. Giving the agents a coy look, she batted her eyelashes at them by way of afters. "Here was Binty and I talking about CI5, and you two walk in!"
Rendered speechless by this happy bit of coincidence, Bodie mentally contemplated the relative merits of stroke versus heart attack. However, his partner was made of sterner stuff.
Beyond shock at this point, Doyle just regarded the grass calmly as he asked, "You've had dealings with CI5, then?"
Well-knowing CI5's reputation, Dundee had been braced for an explosion of mammoth proportions. Nonplused by this quiet enquiry, it was several minutes before the pint-sized informant could reply, "Uh, y-yeah," he stammered. Collecting himself, Dundee drew himself up proudly and informed them, "Jus' you ask Davy Stuart `bout Binty Dundee! `M a regular o' `is, I am!"
Since he and Stuart were in a mutual loathing society, that information was not well-received by Bodie.
Doyle jumped in swiftly, forestalling the blistering comment poised on the sensual lips. "That's fantastic!" he exclaimed with feigned enthusiasm. "Imagine meeting you like this! You blokes are invaluable to CI5, y'know."
Doyle shot a hasty glance over at his partner, but the warning look was not necessary. Overcome by the sweetness of it all, Bodie appeared to be in a diabetic coma. The table's other three occupants were sublimely unaware of the sarcastic undercurrents.
Exchanging beams with the two cousins, Dundee turned back to Doyle. "'Ear you blokes are askin' after that bottle wot Weaver gives me."
"That's right," Doyle admitted cautiously. "Did Micki tell you why we were curious?" He held his breath. Knowing this dingaling, anything is possible...
"Yeah." Dundee nodded like a drunken owl. "Good fing I did wot I did, innit? Wot with that bottle bein' a state secret, an' all." He looked at them wisely and tapped his nose. Unfortunately, due to all the alcohol awash in his system, his nose moved and Binty ended up tapping himself in one bleary brown eye.
Coming out of his stupefaction, Bodie queried, "What did you do with it?" A suspicious, watery eye swiveled his way, so he pinned on what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
Not entirely convinced, Dundee gave a huge sniff and aimed his answer at Doyle. "Knew t'wasn't right, copper like Weaver `avin' a bottle of malt that good. Figgered he nicked it or summat, an' if there's one fing I can't stand, `s a bent copper." Giving a self-righteous nod, Dundee grabbed up his pint and drained it. Wiping the froth on his filthy shirt, he belched. "So I gives it ta Davy when I's seen `im this mornin'."
"You gave the bottle of malt to Dave Stuart?" Doyle repeated in hushed tones. At long last, the bottle was in their grasp... Stuart hated the stuff; he'd either stuff it into his locker at HQ or dump it down the nearest drain.
Bodie was not so sanguine. "What did he have to say about it?"
"Well, `e did give me this queer look," admitted the under-the-weather Cockney. "Then, `e says `e knows jus' the fing ta do wit it." Giving them all another happy beam, Dundee proceeded to slide under the table.
"Well, that's that," sighed Doyle.
"Will it be hard getting it back, Mr. Doyle?" Ryan questioned fearfully.
Shaking his head, Doyle stood up and stretched. "Nah. Stuart hates the stuff. If it's not in his locker at HQ; he's already dumped it."
"Could we go with you?"
About to issue an emphatic "No!", Doyle forced himself to reconsider. Micki had gotten Binty to tell them where the bottle was, and her story had been ingenuous. Besides, they could just call Marshak and have the older man meet them at HQ. Mellowed or not, there was no way in hell Doyle was going to hand that bottle of malt over to the Bobbsey cousins. Only then becoming aware of Bodie's continued silence, he looked over at his partner and froze; his spine chilling at the look of dawning horror on the classically handsome face.
"B-Bodie?" Speaking through lips that suddenly felt numb, the curly-haired man quavered, "W-What's wrong, mate?"
Shaking himself roughly, Bodie met his partner's apprehensive emerald eyes. "Didn't you hear what Stuart said, Ray?" There was open terror in the cobalt eyes. "Didn't you hear?!" As the curls shook slowly, Bodie rose, his entire body taut with foreboding. "He said he knew just the thing to do with it...just the thing!"
Holding his lover's eyes, Doyle abruptly blanched. "Oh, god...no!" he breathed.
He and Bodie almost got themselves stuck in the pub door as they both tried to exit at the same time.
Tyres squealing, the silver Capri rocked around a corner and into the CI5 carpark. As Bodie and Doyle piled out, a mini-cab drew up and disgorged Jack Marshak. The older Canadian was there courtesy of a terse call sent through the CI5 dispatcher. Scrambling out behind the partners, Micki and Ryan offered Marshak a rambling, excited account of their expedition. Catching the gist of the trouble, Marshak broke into a run in order to catch up with the agents. Bursting into CI5 HQ, Marshak had to brake hard to avoid skidding into the breathless Bodie and Doyle. Close behind, Micki and Ryan were not so lucky, and pained yelps were heard as they met the lift cage...hard.
Only a new trainee, the guard on the security desk was not equipped to deal with the sudden onslaught. Flustered when his officious demands for ID were ignored, he paled and backpedaled rapidly when Bodie turned a coldly furious eye on him.
"Just answer the bloody fucking question!" he snarled between gritted teeth. Not caring that he was demonstrating popular squad opinion of his sanity, he grasped the hapless recruit by the lapels and lifted effortlessly. "Is Stuart in the bloody building?!"
Standing on tiptoes, all dignity hopelessly lost and shaking violently, the terrified guard stuttered, "Y-Yes..."
"How long ago?"
Unable to endure the delay a moment longer, Doyle snapped, "C'mon, Bodie!" and dashed up the stairs. Bodie drew even before the slender agent had gone three paces and the Canadians were only a few feet behind.
Attempting to straighten his suit with hands that shook like leaves in a hurricane, the young guard stared, open-mouthed, after them. So that was the legendary Bodie and Doyle: Yep, the guys in the locker room were right for once. Picking his chair off the floor, he brushed the seat off before he sat. Taking pen in hand, the promising new recruit began writing out his resignation.
Taking the corner at the top of the stairs at Warp Ten, Bodie and Doyle pelted down the corridor. Abruptly, and frightening in its suddenness, a low, off-key humming sound filled the hallway. The two CI5 agents skidded to a halt as though they had hit a brick wall, faces tense and bemused. Marshak, however, had no cushion of ignorance to comfort him.
"Oh, my god," he whispered piously. Brushing past the stunned men, he slowly headed for the door at the end of the corridor. "We're too late... Dear merciful God in Heaven -- we're too late!"
As his voice died away, the far door creaked open and two shattered men staggered out. CI5 agents were well-known for their tungsten steel nerves and ability to adapt to any situation. The broken men cowering together against the wall of the outer office were too incongruous for the mind to absorb. The door only partially closed behind them, the truly dreadful caterwauling from the inner office echoed eerily through the deserted halls.
Taking two giant steps, Bodie grabbed Stuart and threw him against the opposite wall. "You bloody, fucking idiot!" he yelled, beyond all civilised restraint. "What have you done? Answer me!" He dealt the helpless man a harsh shake with each word.
Reaching out with trembling hands, Doyle gently turned Murphy's face away from the wall. "W-What's happened, Murph?" Although terrified, he had to know.
Recognising a familiar face, the tall agent clutched at him with desperate hands as he buried his face in Doyle's tee-shirt.
"I-I couldn't stop it, Ray -- honest! H-He t-took a d-drink and I saw right away s-something was wrong, b-but I-I c-couldn't stop it!" sobbed Murphy. "Oh, the horror...the horror..."
Wearying of torturing a catatonic Stuart, Bodie stalked over to Marshak as Doyle also turned to him. The incoherent, grating noises rose in intensity; a few fragmented, growling sounds ripped into their protesting ears: "...nothing...all...caught..."
"What is it?" shrieked Doyle, clamping his hands over his ears. "What is the curse?!"
The harsh noise reached a high crescendo, then fell silent. An unnatural calm settled over the corridor...broken moments later by shrill screams. Spinning, Bodie and Doyle were in time to see Micki collapsing in a dead faint just inside the inner office door. Bursting in, they knocked aside a plainly paralysed Ryan before coming to dead stop.
Eyes preternaturally wide, jaws hanging, the seasoned agents battled with their senses, unable to come to grips with the diabolic change wrought by the demon's curse.
"It can't be...it just can't be!" refuted Bodie, rejecting the capering image in front of him.
At his side, Doyle let out an anguished moan.
"It's true, all right." Ruthlessly denying the stricken men their illusions, Marshak spoke grimly from behind them. His narrowed eyes never left the writhing, gyrating form standing on Cowley's desk.
Catching sight of his audience, the Thing that had once been George Cowley -- the most feared and respected man in the entire British security forces -- threw back its head and yowled in maniacal triumph.
"Yeahhhh," screeched the Thing, giving another obscene wiggle of its hips. Tie askew, starched white shirt open to its waist, It belted out full throttle (if completely off-key), "You shoulda heard that jailbird sing...!"
"Another Elvis impersonator," Marshak confirmed dully.
Over the sounds of Ryan's retching and Cowley giving it his all, Bodie and Doyle locked eyes...their screams echoing in the lonely halls.
-- THE END --
Originally published in English Gothic, 1995