"You wanted to see us, sir?" As Doyle voiced the soft enquiry, Bodie shut the office door and came to stand beside his partner.
Gesturing for them to be seated, Cowley pulled a fat file from his blotter and tossed it to the curly-haired agent. "The Life and Times of Dr. Ewan Monaghan," he explained tersely. "Great Britain's foremost physicist and international authority on magnetic wave resonance. He received the Nobel Prize in 1974 and was reliably rumoured to be the front runner for this year."
Being as his partner was busily flipping through the file, Bodie offered himself as sacrificial goat. "Yeah, so?" Ignoring the pale blue glare directed at him, the ex-merc merely stared back, expectant.
"Dr. Monaghan was found dead this morning next to a wheat field outside the village of Asheby in southern Wiltshire. He had been reported missing two days ago by colleagues. Before you remind me this is a police matter..." Having anticipated his top pair, the Controller watched smugly as Doyle closed his just-opening mouth. "...I would remind you that Dr. Monaghan held a Class AAA security clearance."
Curiosity noticeably unaroused, Doyle tried to inject some enthusiasm into his voice. "Received death threats, did he? Or interest from known terrorist groups?"
"As it happens, Doyle; he did not. At least as far as his family and friends were aware."
Reading over his partner's bony shoulder, Bodie frowned. "Says here he worked out of a lab in Aberdeen. What was he doing in Wiltshire, then?"
"A cogent question, I agree." Cowley glanced at the clock on his wall. "The local police have been informed that CI5 is taking over this investigation. You will liase with a Sergeant Albert Mitchell in Asheby; he will fill you in on any further developments. Questions?"
Taking the query in the spirit in which it was intended, CI5's ace operatives shared a cynical glance and hastily exited. Hearing his office door shut with a sound that was not quite a slam, Cowley gave a slight grin and returned to the papers overflowing his desk.
Giving the brooding figure slumped in the passenger seat of the silver Capri a troubled frown, Bodie reassured lightly, "'S all right, Ray. Waited this long, didn't you. Few more days won't make that much difference."
Jarred out of his introspection, Doyle glanced up with a blank look. "Eh?"
"Well, it's pretty obvious you had something big planned for this weekend." Eyes firmly on the road lest he give himself away, Bodie failed to note the abrupt increase in tension in the slender body next to him. "The way you and Moira have been going at it just lately, reckoned you had something special on with her."
Unobtrusively relaxing, Doyle waved a dismissive hand. "Nah. Broke it off with her a fortnight ago; while you were still on that op in Liverpool."
Having been certain that Doyle was getting ready to ask the lovely blonde to marry him, Bodie barely bit back a relieved "Thank god!" Aware of a curious air of anticipation surrounding his partner since Bodie had returned from up north, the younger agent had believed Doyle's current girl to be the cause.
Never been so glad to be wrong in me life. "Oh?" he said aloud, chancing a quick sideways glance. "Sorry about that, mate."
"No need," Doyle declared easily, then went on to thoroughly confuse his partner. "Was me that ended it; not Moira. Getting too serious, wasn't she. Started talking about rings and such."
"But I thought..." Bodie protested feebly. Taking a deep breath, he started again. "You two have been going at it hot and heavy for months! I figured you wanted to marry her."
"Didn't want to spend the rest of my life with her," mumbled Doyle, turning to look out his window.
"What are you on about, Doyle? Thought you wanted to settle down and all that?"
"I do!" Doyle turned back, jade eyes strangely haunted. "But not with her, all right? She...she wasn't the right one, Bodie."
No, Moira hadn't been the right one, Doyle reflected sadly. He'd known that fact from the beginning; and even knowing it, had still actively encouraged the relationship. Desperate to fill the gnawing emptiness inside himself, Doyle had willfully flung himself into the affair, praying that he'd finally found an acceptable surrogate, someone to take the place of the one he'd convinced himself was beyond his reach. It was only when Moira began dropping not-so-subtle hints about diamond rings and white dresses that Doyle stopped to consider what he had let happen.
Two weeks prior, meeting the woman one evening for dinner as planned, Doyle had soon put an end to Moira's hopes. Thoroughly exhausted after a sleepless night, he had, nevertheless, remained quietly determined. Standing mute, he had silently taken the hurt tears, and later, the angry abuse. When he had finally made it behind the wheel of his motor, Doyle had felt mentally and physically pulped. However, the resolution he'd made the night before, remained. This was the end; never again would he knowingly lead a girl on like that -- it wasn't fair to either of them. It was past time to come clean to Bodie, and take his partner's reaction like a mature adult. With that resolve large in his mind, Doyle had carefully laid his plans. Now, all he had to do was wait for Bodie to get back from Liverpool and the timing to be the right. His patience had finally paid off, the time was at hand, and wouldn't you know it...George Cowley strikes again!
About to expostulate further, Bodie noticed the troubled, almost pleading, look in the wide eyes. Something was definitely bothering his partner, but now wasn't the proper place to go into it. Changing the subject, he asked, "'S there any clue in his file what Monaghan was doing in Wiltshire?"
Flashing him a grateful look, Doyle grabbed the file from between his booted feet. Mahogany curls bounced as he shook his head. "According to this, the Head of the lab where he'd been working the past fifteen years said Monaghan had approached him ten days ago about taking a personal leave. Since the good doctor hadn't even taken a holiday in thirteen years, the Head didn't feel he had any right to refuse. Monaghan didn't say why he wanted the leave, and the Head didn't ask.
"Monaghan's missus says her husband received a phone call from someone he seemed to know the night before he requested the leave. All he told her was that he was going to take some time to `help out an old school chum' and she wasn't to worry. Mrs. Monaghan last spoke with her husband three nights ago per telephone and he appeared excited about something, but he wouldn't tell her about what. According to her, this was unusual as he normally always shared his work with her. They spoke for several minutes about purely personal matters, then he rang off."
"Hmm." Silent as he negotiated a dithering driver, Bodie gave a perplexed frown. "Cause of death?"
"Doesn't say really," muttered Doyle, again perusing the scanty police report.
"Ruddy report doesn't say," the lithe agent repeated in exasperation. "Report's barely a couple of sentences. Just a bulletin that Monaghan was found at 0645 this morning by colleagues, there had been massive blood loss and no one apparently saw or heard anything."
"Must've used a knife or something, then," mused the larger man.
"Think so, wouldn't you," agreed Doyle. Frowning, he glared at the file. "So why the bloody hell doesn't this file just say that -- why only mention massive blood loss?"
Bodie shrugged. "Who knows? Got a suggestion for you, though."
Doyle eyed him suspiciously. "What's that?"
"When we get to Asheby, you can ask Sgt. Mitchell that very same question."
"Shut up, Bodie."
Albert Mitchell turned out to be short, paunchy and balding, with a tomato-red nose. Quite able to read his partner's evil mind, Doyle quickly stepped in front of the ex-merc, managing to trod on his left foot in the process. Ignoring the wounded look with the ease of long practice, he showed his ID and stated, "I'm Doyle; he's Bodie. What've you got on the Monaghan murder?"
Sneezing violently several times, Mitchell blew his nose before deigning to reply. "Not much more than we had when I sent that report."
The CI5 agents shared a look of astonishment.
"Why the hell not?" demanded Bodie. He gave the sergeant a look of intense dislike as more explosive sneezes filled the air.
"This isn't London, son; things take a bit longer here," Mitchell said thickly, employing a rather well-used handkerchief. "Sorry," he apologised. "Got allergies."
"Really?" marveled Bodie ingenuously.
"Hasn't an autopsy been done?" queried Doyle, drawing the irritated Mitchell's attention away from his aggravating partner.
"Not yet. Nearest pathologist is over in Wyndham, and he won't be able to take a look for another hour or so. Lorry and two motor pile-up just outside of Baybridge last night; he's been a little busy this morning."
Digesting this news in silence, Bodie merely asked, "So where's the body, then?"
"Down the hall, last door on your left. It's not a pretty sight."
Swallowing his automatic comeback, Bodie headed down the hallway, leaving Doyle to deal with the hayseed copper. Upon entering the room in question, however, he was reluctantly forced to agree with the rural sergeant and he hadn't even viewed the body yet. The police report had mentioned massive blood loss; Bodie was now willing to wager that Mitchell had understated matters a trifle. The sheet covering the scientist's body was completely soaked in blood; there were several large patches of the fluid which hadn't completely dried yet. Inwardly steeling himself, Bodie walked over and gingerly lifted the sheet.
He almost dropped the edge of it in shock.
Because of his misspent youth, Bodie had seen human bodies in every state of death and decomposition, but this... Huge, jagged rents covered Monaghan's face and upper torso; lifting the blood-stained covering higher yet, Bodie saw the gaping valleys entirely covered the nude body. Very little of the outer skin was intact, but what remained was bloated and blackened. Grimacing distastefully, the ex-SAS sergeant lightly placed a finger on one of those areas and prodded -- it felt spongy and slick. The hairs on the back of his head suddenly stood up and there was a peculiar crawling sensation along his spine. Bodie abruptly became aware of the cold sweat pooling in his armpits. The CI5 agent backed away, hurriedly dropping the sheet. He felt in urgent need of a shower.
So intense was his concentration on the horrific remains that Bodie failed to hear the door open behind him. The first he was aware of his partner's presence was when a husky voice commented into his left ear, "Bit gory, isn't?"
Bodie abruptly found himself on the other side of the room without being conscious of getting there. He fired a fulminating glare at Doyle and shoved his visibly shaking hands into his jacket pockets.
Watching this performance with rounded eyes, Doyle opened his mouth, then closed it, having thought better of what he'd been about to say. His mind whirled -- he couldn't ever recall seeing Bodie react in that way. Knowing full well it would take time and patience to pry the reason for his odd behaviour out of the dark-haired man, Doyle put the incident on the back burner and nodded at the sheet-covered figure.
"What happened then?"
Taking several calming breaths, Bodie managed to reply in a close approximation of his usual tone. "Got me, mate."
Doyle gave him a curious look and went to lift the sheet.
Crossing the room in two swift strides, Bodie put a restraining hand on Doyle's. "Take it from me, sunshine," he advised seriously. "You don't want to be doing that."
Startled anew, Doyle gazed into his partner's pale, grim face. The sapphire eyes were darkened with a confusing amalgam of emotions, but they held his steadily. Fighting a rising disquiet, Doyle answered evenly, "You're probably right, mate. Have to do it anyway, though, don't I."
Leaving Bodie's hand on his, he flipped back the sheet.
Bodie felt the lithe form go rigid; heard Doyle swallow heavily several times.
"Oh, my god." It was almost a prayer. "What the sodding hell could have done that to him?!" The usually husky voice was high-pitched with revulsion. Jaw set, Doyle raised shocked eyes to Bodie. "You reckon a wild animal got loose? Looks like something's clawed him to death."
"Doubt it, mate." Bodie shook his head. "When most carnivorous animals attack, they usually go straight for the jugular or the soft belly. Instant kill that way. When you might have twenty other predators trying to steal your dinner, you don't take the time to use it as a scratching post."
"Besides, look at the edges of the wounds; they bend outward, not inward."
Unwillingly forcing his eyes down again, Doyle confirmed the ex-merc's observation. "Jesus. You mean whatever did this to him came from inside the body?" He gave an audible swallow.
"Seems that way, doesn't it."
Slamming the Capri door after getting in, Bodie looked over at his partner. "Where do we go from here?"
"Know where I'd like to go," Doyle murmured peevishly, running a hand through his curls. Bodie grunted in agreement. "But being it's afternoon closing time, reckon we should head out to where they found the body."
Bodie closed his lips over an instinctive refusal. "Where might that be?" he queried, attempting to speak casually.
Doyle, however, was not taken in by the apparently insouciant attitude. "South out of Asheby for about three miles. Keep left at the fork in the road; another two miles after that, there's a right-hand turn overgrown with rhododendron bushes and marked with a crumbling red brick wall. Follow that for about a mile, then there will be a small dirt track leading off to the left. The track dead-ends at the scientists' encampment."
Already well out of the village, Bodie gave him a puzzled look. "Scientists? You mean Monaghan was camping out with someone else?"
"Yeah, two other blokes according to Mitchell. Oi, here's the fork. But that's not the best bit, mate."
"Also per Mitchell, there's two other groups of ruddy scientists camped out in Farmer Welles' wheat field -- seven of `em altogether; well, six, now."
Turning to stare at him, Bodie almost missed the rhododendron-covered lane and had to hit the brakes hard. Sliding around the corner on two wheels, he pulled past the overgrown bushes before stopping the car. Ignoring the bitter rumblings concerning his lack-of driving ability, he fixed an incredulous eye on Doyle and demanded, "What the bloody hell is so ruddy interesting in a wheat field?!"
"Crop circles." Doyle said succinctly. Biting his cheek so he wouldn't grin, he continued, "Y'know, Bodie -- that's where..."
"I know what crop circles are, Doyle," growled the younger man. "'S where some nutter goes out in the middle of the ruddy night and knocks over some stupid grain just so he can make a crazy design." The dark head shook in disbelief. "Scientists want to study that?"
Bony shoulders lifted with a shrug. "Beats the hell out of me, mate." Personally, Doyle was in complete agreement; obviously these blokes had more time than common sense. "Anyway..." as Bodie started up the Capri once more, "...there's two guys from Cambridge and two more from some society in London. Monaghan's group was the largest; there are two others from Oxford in that one. There's even a Yank in the Oxford bunch."
A gusty sigh was the only response.
Stealing a quick look at his partner, Doyle took in the still-pale face, set jaw and white-knuckled hands gripping the wheel. Whatever was bothering Bodie was clearly no trifle; in their over five years together, Doyle could never recall seeing him so spooked. The few times the ex-SAS sergeant had gotten twitchy, all hell had soon broken loose. The possible causes for this extreme behaviour scared the trousers off Doyle. He was realistic enough to admit that now was not the ideal time to tackle Bodie about his current bizarre manner; it would be better to wait until they were in their room at the inn. A sudden surge of resentment flashed through him. Hell, this isn't what I planned for this weekend! Gazing sullenly out his window, Doyle mentally waved good-bye to his fantasy.
The remainder of the short drive was accomplished in silence.
Braking to a smooth stop before a large, dirty-white canvas tent, Bodie killed the Capri's engine. Aware of his partner's speculative look, he climbed out, giving the area a close scrutiny to buy himself more time. Doyle was not the only one mystified by Bodie's strange actions; Bodie, himself, was alarmed by his panicked reaction to Monaghan's body and his almost overwhelming urge to run in the opposite direction. Run fast and far -- destination not important -- so long as it was nowhere near the wheat field where the scientist's bloody corpse had been discovered. Stubbornly telling himself that the problem was simply that he was still exhausted from the solo Liverpool op and all he needed was several good nights sleep, Bodie shoved his unease to the back of his mind.
"Wonder where everyone is?" Doyle questioned quietly, coming up alongside him.
"Who are you looking for?" came a high tenor from their right.
Whirling, they saw a thin man of medium height approaching the camp. He had short, sandy hair, a studious, earnest face and wore thick, dark-rimmed glasses. The stranger was laden with notebooks and carrying a squat, square box which gave off loud, measured clicks.
Recognising a Geiger counter when he saw one, Bodie lifted an eyebrow. "Didn't know this area was hot," he remarked, tensing.
"Oh, it's not...not really." Giving the CI5 agents an absent look, the man deposited his load of notebooks on a crate in front of the tent. "At least, here it's not. The crop circle measures somewhat higher, but it's still well within acceptable safety parameters."
"We're from CI5, Mr...?" Doyle paused expectantly.
Focusing suddenly, the man said, "Oh, dear. You must be here about Ewan." Extending a hand, he went on, "Dr. Geoffrey Alcott, Cambridge."
Shaking his hand, Doyle announced, "I'm Doyle; he's Bodie. This isn't Dr. Monaghan's camp, then?"
"Oh, no. His party are across the field, directly opposite the circle. This is my camp; mine and my partner's, Paul Lassiter."
"Mr. Lassiter still out in the field?" queried Bodie, squinting in that direction.
"No, actually, he's back at Cambridge for the moment. Unfortunately, our portable gas spectrometer failed yesterday and he had to return to university to get a new one. I expect him back later this afternoon; as of yet, he doesn't even know about this unfortunate occurrence."
"So you're aware of what happened to Dr. Monaghan?"
The shudder Alcott gave was not feigned. "Yes. It was myself, and the young graduate student from Oxford, who found him. Or what's left of him, to be more precise. Poor Ewan -- I only realised it was him upon seeing that ring on his right hand. It had been his father's, and Ewan always claimed it brought him good luck."
"He was already dead when you found him?" asked Doyle.
The scientist nodded. "Pardon my discourtesy," Alcott apologised suddenly. "Do have a seat; take any crate."
As the two agents seated themselves, Alcott reached into a nearby box and held out a bottle of lager to each. They accepted gratefully.
"It's really quite simple," continued Alcott. "I was out at first light this morning, checking my instruments for any activity. Also out were Mr. Sutcliffe and his friend. The first I knew of any problem was when Dr. Lyndon called out from their camp, wanting to know if anyone had seen Ewan Monaghan. It seems he had gone out for a walk two nights previously and hadn't returned. We didn't know that until this morning...the rest of us, I mean."
"You blokes all camp out here and no one noticed he was missing?" Bodie said sceptically, sharing a disbelieving look with Doyle.
"Oh, we don't camp here," Alcott blithely informed them. "No, we're all in rooms at The Hurlton Arms in Asheby. We drive out every morning. Mr. Welles would only allow us to research this phenomenon as long as we promised to keep the disturbance down to a minimum."
"So...?" prompted Doyle.
"So when I missed him yesterday morning, I just assumed he'd left on some errand for his team. Dr. Lyndon himself believed there must have been a sudden emergency at home. He didn't begin to worry until he called Mrs. Monaghan last evening and discovered that Ewan hadn't returned there. He contacted the police immediately, but they didn't seem all that concerned. So he thought about it overnight, and asked this morning if all of us would help look for Ewan.
"Young Mulder and myself were looking in the stand of trees on the northeast border of the field. Suddenly, he tripped and quite literally fell over the poor man. Ewan was practically under a shrub, only his lower legs were protruding." His face becoming an odd shade of green, the scientist took a quick swig of his lager. "We -- that is, Mr. Mulder and myself -- debated on whether one of us should stay with him while the other went for help. Then, we decided that, as there was obviously nothing anyone could do for Ewan, we would both return and alert the others." Alcott shook his head, sighing deeply. "Poor Dr. Lyndon -- he and Ewan had been friends since boyhood."
"So," mused Bodie, "Monaghan's body was left unattended until the local coppers arrived?"
"Well, in all honesty, I can't swear to that, Mr. Bodie." Sheepishly, Alcott explained, "Once we'd informed the others, Dr. Lyndon immediately drove into the village to notify the police and I...well, I was very shaken, as you can imagine. I hadn't known Ewan as long as Thomas Lyndon -- only about ten years or so -- but to find him like that... Well, it shook me," the scientist added, almost defiantly. "I came straight back here and drank several small scotches. I don't know if anyone else saw Ewan or not; I haven't asked."
Doyle finished his lager, then stood. "Thanks for the drink, Doc. Where will you be if we need to speak with you again?"
"Either in camp here, out at the circle or at The Hurlton Arms," replied Alcott. "I expect to be here for at least another three to four days."
Bodie nodded in acknowledgment, then he and Doyle started for the wheat field. They had only gone a few steps, however, when they heard their names called. Turning back, the agents found Alcott staring after them, a thoughtful expression on his serious face.
"I don't want you gentlemen to think that I'm trying to tell you your business -- I wouldn't even if I could -- but, it just struck me as being so odd..."
"What's that, Dr. Alcott?" Bodie questioned patiently.
"Well, poor Ewan, the state of him! The fellow looked positively chewed, if you catch my meaning, but there wasn't all that much blood present."
"Not much blood?" echoed Doyle.
"That's correct." Alcott gave them an solemn look. "The only blood present was the fluid on and directly under him; there was no blood around the shrub or elsewhere. I confess I only noticed after Mr. Mulder had pointed out this discrepancy. No blood whatsoever except what was on Ewan's body. Most peculiar, don't you think?"
"Most," agreed Doyle. He gave Bodie a shove to get him moving; clearly feeling every tense muscle in the broad back, even through Bodie's shirt and light jacket. "Thanks again, Doc."
Once they were out of earshot, he said, "What d'you reckon?"
"Not a lot." A shrug of the wide shoulders. "Monaghan might've been killed anywhere and just dumped in those trees. Wouldn't be any blood about then, would there."
Bodie's eyes were constantly quartering the vicinity; he seemed unable to keep them still. That, combined with the unyielding set of the stubborn jaw, helped decide Doyle. He realised he was more than likely just begging to get his skinny neck broken, but this had gone on long enough.
"Bodie-mate." As the older agent had known it would, that form of address stopped his partner dead in his tracks. Desperately trying to appear non-confrontational, Doyle asked quietly, "What's wrong, sunshine?"
"Don't know what you're on about, Doyle," returned Bodie, voice even. He didn't know for himself why he was so nervy; sure couldn't tell Doyle that! His partner would just grin and tease Bodie about getting old.
"Don't give me that." Doyle pulled his sunglasses off, the better to see him. "When you get uptight, nasty things start to happen. I'm beginning to spend half my time looking over me shoulder."
Reluctantly meeting his partner's eyes, Bodie saw only puzzlement and a warm concern in the malachite depths. He capitulated with a rueful grin.
"No need for that, mate." Scanning the area once more, he turned back to Doyle with a helpless shrug. "Not sure meself, Ray. Just...ever since I saw Monaghan's body, seems as if someone's doing a tango over my grave -- if you get my drift."
Bodie watched, his anxiety not hidden as well as he believed, as Doyle mulled that over.
Coming to a decision, the ex-copper queried neutrally, "Want to go back to the inn, let me finish up out here?"
For a moment, anger flared in the lapis eyes. "That was a bloody stupid thing to say."
Doyle said nothing, just continued looking at him levelly.
Biting back a flash of hurt betrayal, Bodie abruptly wheeled and stalked toward the centre of the field. Moments later, he halted just as suddenly and faced his partner. "I'm not running away from this, Ray."
The head of mahogany curls shook slightly. "That never crossed my mind."
Having said that, Doyle continued on to where faint voices could now be heard. Shaking his own head, Bodie followed, a grin twitching at one corner of his mouth.
Cresting a small rise, the two agents stopped and stared incredulously. Before them, stretching ahead for several hundred yards and to their right and left, a patch of wheat had been cleared. Whole swathes of the grain lay perpendicular to the ground, yet the stalks did not appear to be broken or bruised. Interspersed among the flattened grain were large patches of undamaged crop.
"That's not a circle!" Doyle blurted out. He felt vaguely cheated.
"Yeah," agreed Bodie, tilting his head slightly to get a better look. "Looks more triangular, doesn't it?"
He practically jumped out of his skin when an American voice said from behind him, "Not all crop circles are circular."
A tall, lanky young man came up to them. "The term `crop circle' currently denotes an area of disturbance in a crop. It's not meant to be descriptive of the disturbance itself."
A wide grin lit the angular face as he surveyed the startled agents. The youth was dressed in jeans and a light-weight tan tee shirt as befitted such a pleasant spring day. Sunlight glinted off warm brown hair; the hazel eyes squinted in self-protection against the brightness. A slender hand thrust out.
"Sorry. I'm Fox Mulder, Oxford University."
"Mr. Mulder." Bodie shook hands. "I'm Bodie; this is my partner, Ray Doyle. We're from CI5."
For just a moment, the young man stared blankly at him, then the penny dropped with an almost audible clang. "Oh. You're here about Dr. Monaghan. Sgt. Mitchell said someone would be coming by."
Doyle put in his two pence worth. "Yeah. Is there somewhere private we can talk?"
"Sure. C'mon, my camp's this way." Mulder took off at a right angle from the cleared area.
In less than a hundred yards, the agents found themselves in an encampment identical to Geoffrey Alcott's. Mulder waved them toward several packing crates. "Make yourselves comfortable. You'll have to excuse me for a bit; I have to record the readings from the test well and prepare the soil samples for the lab."
For the next several minutes, Bodie and Doyle watched in silence as the American jotted down figures from a crumpled piece of paper in his tee shirt pocket into a grey loose-leaf notebook When Mulder put the notebook aside, he pulled on a pair of disposable gloves and began to pull small clods of earth from the steel bucket he'd been carrying.
Doyle observed mildly, "Didn't realise that a physicist would be interested in dirt."
"We're checking to see if there is any contamination or molecular changes within the circle," Mulder calmly replied. "Besides," he continued with a grin, "I'm not a physicist -- I'm a graduate student in psychology." The grin grew wider at their bemused looks.
Briskly finishing his task, he took off the gloves and came to sit on a crate next to Bodie.
"It's for my thesis," he explained. "I'm doing a dissertation on aberrant behaviour. When I heard about this crop circle and that Dr. Lyndon would be investigating it, I put in a request to come along. You have to admit, anyone who would get a thrill out of playing with some wheat fields has got to be pretty aberrant."
"Aberrant?!" snorted Bodie, shaking his head. "Over here, we've got a simpler name for `em, mate. We call `em `nutters'."
Mulder chuckled. "Apt," he confessed, "but not very scientific. I can just see Dr. Harrelson's face if I'd hand him a paper and say, "Here's my thesis on nutters." I'd be kicked out of Oxford so hard and fast, I wouldn't need British Airways to get home."
"Got a point there," conceded Bodie.
Watching his partner closely without seeming to, Doyle was glad to note the subtle signs of relaxation. Cursing inwardly, for he knew his next question would shake the ex-merc's equilibrium once again, he kept his eyes on Bodie even as he queried, "Dr. Alcott tells us you and he were the ones who found Monaghan this morning." He bit back an oath as Bodie paled slightly and tensed.
"Yeah." Mulder gave a grimace of utter distaste. "I didn't even see him there, he was so far under the bush. I was just walking along, calling his name; the next thing I know, my nose is in the mud. When I turned back to see what I'd fallen over, there he was... Dr. Alcott came over to see if I was all right -- I guess I froze -- and it was he who identified Dr. Monaghan."
"Dr. Alcott also said it was you who noted there was no blood anywhere else except immediately around the body," put in Bodie, grimly determined to carry on as usual. He felt much better when Doyle glanced across and gave him a wink.
Unaware of this by-play, Mulder just nodded. "Yeah," he said again. "I'd noticed right off there was something funny about the scene, but it took a few minutes for what it was to sink into my brain...first three or four minutes, I was too busy trying not to lose my breakfast." The last was said with much self-disgust.
"That's not uncommon," consoled Doyle. "First time you've seen a death by violence?"
"First time I've seen a death, period!" clarified the American. "My family and friends are alive and well, thank you."
"You kept your head pretty good, then," Bodie complimented quietly. "Knew how to use your eyes, too."
As Mulder sat there and grinned, a small beep was heard.
"Damn," swore the grad student, getting to his feet.
"Trouble?" Doyle wanted to know.
"Nope. Just means the gas chronograph is ready; I need to start analysing today's soil samples."
Catching his partner's eyes, Bodie lifted an eyebrow and gave a slight jerk of his head. Rising, he said, "Just one more thing, and we'll leave you to it. Can you point out the stand of trees where you found Monaghan?"
Only Doyle knew how much it had cost the dark-haired man to ask that question. Stubborn sod, my Bodie, he mused admiringly.
"Sure." Mulder pointed off to the right a couple hundred yards. "You see that grove of beeches -- the ones that come right down to the field? Just inside those."
"See you later, mate." Bodie sketched a salute as the agents left.
"Yeah, and good luck with your samples," added Doyle.
"Thanks." Mulder waved them off.
"You reckon he's telling us everything?" Bodie asked as they walked along. He felt the sting of pollens in his nasal passages and sneezed, twice.
"Bless you," returned Doyle automatically, his mind elsewhere.
Hearing the distracted tone, Bodie gave him a perplexed look. When Doyle still had said nothing by the time they'd reached the stand of trees, Bodie commented, "Penny for `em."
"Eh?" Re-focusing, Doyle saw the curious look his partner was giving him. Belatedly hearing Bodie's last statement, he gave a wry grin. "Waste of your money, mate." Seeing that Bodie was impatiently awaiting a sensible answer, he gave a half-shrug and admitted, "Was thinking about what it would've taken to do that to a human body."
Gritting his back teeth, Bodie gave an attenuated nod. "Suppose it could've been some sort of poison? Something exotic?"
Remembering the travesty of a human body lying in that small room in Asheby, Doyle shuddered. "Have to be bloody damn exotic to do that, wouldn't you think? Poor bastard looked as though he'd been blown up from the inside."
"Good as way to describe it as any, I reckon."
As they'd been talking, the agents had been surveying the area inside the tree line. The earth was still somewhat muddy from the rain which had fallen the day before, falling on already saturated ground. There was clear evidence of several sets of footprints around a small, bushy shrub.
Going over to it, Bodie squatted down for a closer examination. "No signs of struggle or anything," he reported. "Must've just been laid where Alcott and Mulder found him." Giving the shrub a frown, he wondered, "Why not put him completely under it? If you were going to hide a body, why leave his legs sticking out?"
"Yeah." Doyle had been checking the surrounding region. "One thing's for certain," he declared, coming up beside his partner, "whoever did it must've had an awful lot of blood on `em." He gestured behind them. "No drag marks; Monaghan was carried here. Considering his wounds..."
Bodie's only reply was a wrinkle of the pert nose.
"Not much to see, is there," complained Doyle. He slapped his partner on the back. "Don't know about you, mate, but I'm in favour of a pint."
"Excellent idea." Bodie effortlessly rose to his feet. "Let's get one; after we've gone back to the cop factory. Surely the autopsy must've at least been started by now."
"You sure about that?" The words were out before Doyle realised it. Hanging his head, he kicked at an unoffending twig. "Never mind me, mate," he said, shame-faced. "Go ahead, give us a kick where it'd do the most good."
"Ta, but I think I'll pass on that, sunshine."
The curly head came up with a jerk at Bodie's tone of voice. Chin flapping, Doyle saw the affectionate smile on the sardonic mouth.
Successfully hiding a chuckle at the wary look in the jade eyes watching him, Bodie headed back toward their vehicle. He threw over his shoulder, "Must be something more interesting we could do with that bit of your anatomy."
Flummoxed, it was several minutes before Doyle could get his legs moving. He broke into a jog to catch up.
"Dr. Weston, this is Bodie and Doyle, CI5," Mitchell introduced nasally. Blowing his nose again, he took himself off.
"Gentlemen." Weston gave a courteous nod. He was a tall, extremely thin, elderly man with a head of almost pure white hair. "I assume you're here concerning that unfortunate fellow." He indicated the table where the scientist's body lay.
"Yeah," responded Bodie, swallowing unobtrusively. "D'you have cause of death yet?"
"I know what caused him to die, but as for a cause of death... There were any number of contributing factors, but I believe what ultimately killed him to be shock and massive hemorrhage due to the rupture of every organ in his body."
"What?!" Bodie was dimly aware of the equally aghast look on his partner's face.
"I couldn't agree with you more, but there it is." Weston shook his head. "Right down to the reproductive organs."
"But..." Feeling his genitals start to shrivel in empathy, Doyle swallowed and tried again. "Isn't that a little unusual, Doc? I was a copper before CI5, Bodie was SAS -- we've never seen anything like this! How could it have happened? A beating?"
"It certainly is unusual, Mr. Doyle. This is the first time I've encountered such a thing and I've been a pathologist for over thirty years. As for a beating..." Weston shook his head once more. "Even the most severe beating or blunt-force trauma -- say, from being hit by a speeding train -- would not have left these sort of ruptures. The organs burst from the inside; the pressure built up internally until the tissues could not withstand it any longer and exploded. It is impossible to account for such an occurrence...unless..." The pathologist's voice trailed off.
Both agents pounced on the hesitation. "Yes?" prompted Doyle, first to get the question out.
"I'm aware this sounds quite far-fetched...two years ago I was attending a seminar in Houston, Texas and the attendees were permitted to tour NASA Control. Because of a friend of a friend, I was able to observe the necropsy on one of the experimental animals." Weston paused.
"Well?" asked Bodie, impatiently.
"This animal had been in a hyperbaric chamber for some reason. Unfortunately, the chamber malfunctioned and all the air pressure was abruptly pumped out; creating, in effect, the total vacuum of space. The chimpanzee had not been wearing a pressure suit, and the poor thing just exploded because of the massive difference between internal and external pressure. Its body afterward was in much the same condition as Dr. Monaghan's."
"But how could something like that happen outside of one of those chambers?" Bodie wanted to know.
"That's just it, gentlemen," Weston said, shaking his head once more. "It can't. I won't be able to say for certain what killed this man until I run some more tests."
"D'you reckon we should ring Cowley?" Doyle asked somewhat hesitantly.
They were currently in their room back at The Hurlton Arms, Bodie pacing incessantly while Doyle watched with worried eyes from his perch on one of the beds. Since leaving Weston shaking his head over Monaghan's bloody corpse, Bodie had not spoken more than a dozen words. He doesn't seem to be upset, Doyle decided, just...broody.
That observation gave him the courage to query softly, "Still got ghosts doing the tango?"
Several minutes passed while Bodie continued his measured pacing. Just as Doyle was despairing of ever getting an answer from his exasperating partner, the larger man heaved a deep sigh and flopped down on the other bed.
"Yeah. Only now they're jitter-bugging. What's worse, I've got the nasty notion that I've seen something like this before -- just can't remember where or when."
"Could it have been in Africa?" questioned Doyle tentatively. His time in Africa had never been Bodie's favourite conversational topic.
The ex-merc merely shrugged. "Don't think so, mate. But then again, you'd think I wouldn't forget something like this in the first place, wouldn't you."
"Wouldn't be one of my better memories," agreed the lithe agent. "So, you reckon we should ring the Cow?"
"And tell him what?" Bodie demanded. "Weston said he wasn't able to determine cause of death yet. What've we got to tell him?"
"I was hoping you'd have a brilliant idea," sighed his partner.
Grinning, Bodie reached over and ruffled the tousled curls. "Let's at least wait until we've interviewed everyone. We've still got to talk with this Lyndon feller, plus Lassiter, Sutcliffe and his friend. Think we should go back out there?"
"Nah. Let's wait until they come back to the inn for the night. Over a pint or two, who knows what'll come out."
"You think one of `em did it." It wasn't a question.
"Let's just say it's not beyond the realm of possibility. Christ, Bodie; whoever did that had to have plenty of smarts, plus knowledge on how to operate scientific equipment! That sound like anyone you know?"
"Yeah." Bodie didn't dispute the idea. "But did you see a hyperbaric chamber out in that wheat field? Know you didn't, `cause there wasn't one there. The murderer would've had to cart Monaghan to the nearest one, which is probably London; I have no idea if Cambridge or Oxford has one. All that would've taken some time, and prior exact knowledge of Monaghan's whereabouts. Lyndon told the local boys Monaghan went out for a walk alone Tuesday evening, and the landlord backs him up."
"Then you don't think it was one of them?" Doyle asked curiously. "Who else could've had the knowledge and the means?"
"We don't know for sure how Monaghan died," Bodie said irritably. "Even the doc wasn't sure. Just because the body resembled some blown-up chimp doesn't mean he died that way. For god's sake, Ray, there's no need to turn this into some kind of science fiction story!"
Seeing Doyle's eyes widen at the unwarranted vehemence in his voice, Bodie closed his lips over his next statement and rolled over, burying his face in his arms. Tensing as he felt the bed dip next to his hip, Bodie was completely taken aback by the gentle rubbing along his spine. Contrarily, this only made him feel more nervous. It wasn't like Doyle to be this forbearing. First this afternoon and now this... By this time, Doyle should be ripping into him in fine fashion, demanding to know what Bodie was keeping from him and blasting him for being so old-maidish. This new, soft side made Bodie uneasy; it was almost as though he didn't know his partner anymore and that scared him.
"'S all right, mate." The husky voice was practically inaudible. "Know you don't want to talk about it, don't I. Just wish..." Doyle didn't finish the sentence.
Abruptly rolling over, Bodie surprised a most curious look on his partner's round face. Catapulting to his feet, Doyle jerkily walked over to the window and stared fixedly out the window at the busy high street.
For his part, Bodie remained frozen where he was. He had to be imagining things, hallucinating -- there was no way Doyle... Feeling his stomach tighten into a hard knot of anticipation, the dark-haired man attempted to gather his scattered thoughts. A frontal assault had never worked with his partner; he would have to use a flanking manoeuvre. God, if I'm wrong about this...!
"They back yet?" Bodie had never had to work so hard to keep his voice level.
An awkward shrug proceeded the determinedly casual reply. "Don't think so. No new motors in the carpark."
Doyle unconsciously held his breath. Maybe he was just being paranoid...he had to be, because if Bodie had actually noticed anything untoward, Doyle knew he would've been flat on his back on the floor by now, nursing a bruised jaw. But then again, he argued with himself, if he truly believed his partner to be so set against the idea, why had he planned the romantic weekend so carefully?
Jerked back from his thoughts by the small squeal of protesting bedsprings, Doyle stiffened as he felt Bodie come up behind him. He relaxed as he heard the innocuous words, "Let's go down for that pint now, mate. Think we've earned it."
Uncertain if he should laugh or cry over the missed opportunity, Doyle meekly followed the broad back from the room.
Two pints of Guinness later, Doyle was feeling more mellow. Just have to keep your mind on the job, he admonished himself sternly. Look at Bodie; something about this case has him as nervy as a nun in a gay pub, but that's not stopping him from doing his job. Past time to follow his example, Doyle decided, and put the old hormones back where they belong.
Hearing his and Bodie's names called, Doyle glanced up to see Mulder headed toward their table in the pub's back garden. Following the young American were Geoffrey Alcott and four strangers. "Don't look now, mate," he said in a quiet aside to his partner, "but I think we're being stalked by the scientific suspects."
Bodie gave a rude snicker into his pint, but had his face under control by the time the men made it over to the table.
"Hi, guys," greeted Mulder, with a wide smile. He pulled up a nearby chair and sat down next to Doyle, motioning the others to seat themselves. "I knew you'd want to talk to everyone," he explained to the bemused agents, "so I figured it would be easier if we all showed up together."
"Very resourceful," acknowledged Doyle, deadpan. He flinched when a hard boot toe made contact with his shin under the table. Oozing injured innocence, he favoured his partner with a pathetic glare.
"Ta, mate," Bodie said into the small silence.
"You know Dr. Alcott and myself." Mulder pointed to a short, stocky man next to Alcott. "This is Paul Lassiter. Next to him is George Sutcliffe, then his friend, Todd Dent, and this," the youth indicated the medium-built man with graying blond hair next to him, "is Dr. Thomas Lyndon. Gentlemen, Mr. Bodie and Mr. Doyle, from CI5."
"Anyone for a pint?" invited Bodie. There was an unanimous assent. He stood, thumping Mulder on the back. "C'mon, then, mate. Give us a hand."
Alcott observed, "That was certainly very nice of your friend."
Bringing his narrow-eyed scrutiny back from watching his partner at the bar with Mulder, Doyle struggled to keep the irritation from his voice as he answered, "Don't worry about Bodie, Dr. Alcott. Knew it was my round, didn't he." He managed a light chuckle.
The group at the table were still laughing over the pungent observation when Bodie and Mulder reappeared, laden with four pints each. After setting Doyle's in front of him, Bodie pointedly held out his right hand. He looked startled at the resultant burst of laughter from the scientists.
"Never mind, mate," Doyle informed him blandly. "'S not important."
"I bet," returned Bodie tartly. Sitting, he took a deep pull off his pint. He always got nervous when Doyle had that angelic look on his face.
Reading his partner's suspicions with ease, Doyle hid a grin. Equanimity restored, he asked mildly, "Did you get that piece of equipment you needed, Mr. Lassiter?"
"Finally." The deep voice was slightly annoyed. Without any prompting, Lassiter rushed on, "Bureaucratic red tape! Do you know, Mr. Doyle, it took me until almost two this afternoon until I could get a replacement! The Chemistry Head had a spare, but would he loan it to me? Of course not. I had to get permission from the Chancellor before he would give it to the `lunatic fringe'. The utter gall of the man!"
From the sympathetic looks on their faces, it was apparent the others had already heard all about it.
"Happens often, does it?" queried Doyle.
"Too often," sighed Lyndon. "Our respective institutions may half-heartedly sponsor our research, but they don't have to like it. Particularly if the theory under investigation does not fall within `accepted' scientific parameters."
"Hear, hear," chorused Alcott and Sutcliffe.
Bodie and Doyle shared a puzzled frown. "I don't get it," Bodie said slowly. "I know you all work for different universities, but you're all researching the same bloody thing. Aren't you just duplicating each others' efforts?"
"Sometimes, Mr. Bodie," put in Sutcliffe. "The main thing, however, and the most controversial item according to normal academic minds, is the conclusions we draw from the data. Here, at this table, there are three separate theories on how crop circles are formed. We are all striving to prove our own pet theory is the correct one."
"That's controversial?" Doyle asked doubtfully. "What's so controversial about some nutters having a thing for a grain field?"
"That's just it, Mr. Doyle," Alcott responded eagerly. "We don't believe `nutters', as you term it, create the crop circles. The crop is never destroyed, but there are always molecular changes within the stalk. All stalks are always perfectly whole, just bent perpendicular to the ground. You ever tried bending a wheat or corn stalk by hand? Believe you me, they tend to break very easily unless handled extremely gently. To do an area the size of Mr. Welles' circle would take many painstaking hours; surely someone would notice, wouldn't you think? Yet, no one has ever witnessed a crop circle being formed. Not here in Great Britain, nor anywhere else in the world."
"Also, these designs are always perfectly formed, symmetrical, if you will." Lyndon put in. "How could a man, or a group of men, maintain that sort of accuracy in the middle of a field in the dead of the night without lights or surveying equipment? Yet, there's never been any tracks or marks found near the disturbances except those made by the farmer himself."
Doyle paused thoughtfully. He hadn't really thought about it like that. Aware of his partner's slowly increasing tension, he abruptly decided to see just what it was about this case that had the big ex-SAS sergeant so upset. Besides, he shrugged to himself, Lyndon had him curious.
"All right," he admitted quietly. "Then what do you think caused the bloody thing?"
"Now that's a loaded question at this table," Dent said dryly. "Do you want to hear all three ideas or just the one?"
"All of `em." Doyle's attention was purportedly centred anywhere but on the taut figure at his side. "Who wants to go first?"
The six men looked at one another for several minutes, indecisive. At last, the curly-haired CI5 agent said, "Well, how about you, Dr. Lyndon? What do you believe happened?"
"A plasma vortex," the scientist promptly replied. "That's why I wanted poor Ewan here -- he was the expert in magnetics."
Bodie relaxed so abruptly that Doyle was half afraid he'd fall over. He cleared his throat and said, "Uh, Doc? Bodie and I don't speak any foreign languages. You want to go through that again -- in English?"
Lyndon's chuckle coincided with Bodie's heart-felt, "Yeah."
"Sorry, Mr. Doyle; I'll begin again. A plasma vortex is commonly called `ball lightning'. You know what that is?" At both their nods, Lyndon continued, "A plasma vortex happens in an area of strong magnetic attraction, usually sparked by lightning strikes. The Salisbury Plains have long been known for their magnetic properties. The rains which fell ten days ago in this region were accompanied by a brief, but severe, electrical storm. Several strikes of lightning into the dense iron deposits underground would be enough to generate a tremendous electromagnetic force. Now, as quickly as the vortex is formed, it tends to dissipate almost as rapidly, releasing a surge of energy equal to several hundred tons of TNT. Thus, your crop circle is formed. In the morning, when the farmer checks his field, all he finds is the disturbance, the electromagnetic energy has dissipated, leaving behind no visual trace."
"That still doesn't explain how there can be patches of untouched grain among the flattened," argued Lassiter.
It was obviously a long-debated point between them for Lyndon merely shrugged and answered, "Variations within the electromagnetic field."
"I'm sorry, Dr. Lyndon," asserted Sutcliffe, "but I still can't see how a random ball of electromagnetic energy could create such diverse and artistic shapes."
"Oh, so you favour the `vandalism by humans' theory, then," noted Bodie.
"I believe in adding in the human factor, yes, Mr. Bodie, but by no means are these crop circles acts of malicious vandalism," Sutcliffe said earnestly. Seeing the sceptical gleam in the agent's eyes, he leaned forward and went on intently, "I believe the crop circles are formed by humans, true. Humans, using the powers all of us have locked away in our minds. Look how close Stonehenge is to all of this; it can't be a coincidence."
It took all of Doyle's considerable willpower not to laugh out loud. Refusing to look at Bodie, whose left eyebrow was twitching madly, he managed to sound almost normal as he queried, "So you think crop circles are caused by...druids?"
"Of course not!" Sutcliffe discounted scornfully. "Not the druids, Mr. Doyle -- espers. People who use their God-given psycho-kinetic talents. Natural artists who use a natural canvas. No one is harmed, gentlemen; least of all the farmer. The vast majority of his crop is still usable for harvest."
Into the silence created by that bit of inescapable logic, the landlord bellowed, "Mr. Sutcliffe or Mr. Dent...telephone!"
Both men hurriedly excused themselves, although Dent tarried long enough to explain, "That must be Annabel Flint -- a psychic friend of ours. She was supposed to accompany us, you see, except she fell over her cat and broke her ankle. Most unfortunate, indeed. She promised to ring if she found a replacement." He, too, scurried off.
Doyle made the tactical mistake of looking at his partner.
"I know, I know," Lyndon acknowledged ruefully. "But he really is a very nice man, and he doesn't seem to mind that we just can't accept his theories. I've met him at one or two other crop circles; he's always quite professional and courteous."
Doyle wiped his streaming eyes and looked over at his partner. Bodie was holding his ribs and struggling to bring himself under control. Maybe now, thought the older agent, endeavouring to stop his own gurgles, Bodie will see there's nothing to be nervy about. My god, espers! I bet Alcott's idea is somewhere along the lines of Lyndon's; after all, they're both accredited scientists.
"Well, I reckon that just leaves you, Dr. Alcott." Bodie finally had himself under control. With a hint of a smile, he asked, "Which is it -- ball lightning or druids?"
"Neither, I'm afraid," refuted the scientist, although he chuckled briefly. "In its own way, my theory is just as irresponsible and fantastic as Mr. Sutcliffe's; at least as far as the scientific community is concerned."
"Why's that, Doctor?"
"Because I firmly believe that crop circles are deliberately and meticulously formed by extra-terrestrials."
So stunned was Doyle by this non-logical answer, he failed to notice that Bodie had lost all his colour and was starting to perspire heavily. "Extra-terrestrials, Dr. Alcott?" The agent chose his next words with care, striving to keep his scepticism well hidden. "Please don't take this wrong, but isn't that as far-fetched as druids and espers?"
"Quite the contrary, Mr. Doyle." Alcott didn't seem offended. "I, along with several other million people, believe we are not alone in this universe. From there, it is a simple step to the theory that aliens have visited this planet and are continuing to do so."
"But government studies done in Britain, America, France and Russia have proven that purported UFO's to be any number of common objects," protested Doyle. "High-atmosphere planes, weather balloons, satellites, marsh gas...you name it. They can't all be wrong!"
"By no means are they all wrong," Lassiter said. "In most reports, careful investigation will reveal very ordinary answers. But do you realise, Mr. Doyle, that out of every one hundred UFO sightings, between seven to twelve are not verifiable? That is to say, no logical explanations can be found for the occurrence."
"That is correct, Mr. Doyle," replied Alcott. "So it is not beyond the realm of possibility that alien craft are using these disturbances in fields to try to communicate with us; we've just been unable to decipher the messages as yet. I believe the circles are made by the aliens' spaceship hovering over the field, then manipulating the craft's energy. Magnetic and radiation levels are always higher than normal within a crop circle."
"Still..." Doyle was still unconvinced. Druids were bad enough, but UFO's? A person's credibility could only stretch so far.
Apropos of nothing, Alcott asked, "Did you recognise the pattern in Mr. Welles' field?"
"No; should I have done?"
"No, not really -- especially as you were observing it from ground level. The design is usually only fully apparent when viewed from the air. We had a helicopter up taking photos that first morning. Would you like to see them?"
"Sure." Doyle shrugged. "Why not?"
Reaching into his breast pocket, Alcott pulled out several small prints and handed them over. Doyle took them and quickly sifted through the four photos.
"It is unusual," he admitted grudgingly. "Looks like some sort of triangular whatsis, doesn't it." The area photographed was a perfect isosceles triangle; in the middle were three stands of undamaged crop. The first group, at the far left of the triangle, was shaped to look like a backward letter `c'. The second group was approximately fifty feet to the right; the third only ten feet further. Both of them were straight vertical lines appearing to be twenty or thirty feet in length. Giving a bemused shake of his head, Doyle tossed the photos at his partner. "What d'you think...Bodie?"
For the first time since Alcott began talking, Doyle glanced at the younger man and his stomach clenched in fear. The powerful form was rigid; the ashen face saturated with cold sweat. Bodie stared at the photos lying innocently on the table, eyes over-wide and glassy.
"Sunshine?" Doyle was halfway out of his chair.
Rising as if pulled by invisible strings, Bodie took two stumbling steps backward before abruptly wheeling and dashing out the back garden gate. Uncaring what the others thought, Doyle was after him in an instant. Skidding through into the alley, he was in time to see Bodie tearing around the corner of the pub. As swift as Doyle was, however, by the time he reached the corner of the building, there was no sign of his partner. Coming to an impatient halt at the mouth of the alley, he agitatedly scanned the noisily bustling high street. Sodding hell, Bodie couldn't have gone too far!
A hand fell on his shoulder. Nerves tight, he whirled, only just remembering to check the instinctive response. "What the bloody hell are you playing at?" he grated out between clenched teeth, slowly relaxing his right hand.
Noticeably pale all of a sudden, Mulder gave an audible swallow before saying somewhat diffidently, "I...I thought I'd help you find Bodie." Taking in a steadier breath -- young as he was, he knew he'd been seconds from instant death -- the American went on in his normal tone, "The way he was moving, it looks like you'll need all the help you can get."
"Is that so?" Doyle mocked savagely. "What the ruddy hell would you know about it?"
"I just want to help."
Damn it all, I don't have the time to stand here, listening to this git blithering on! "All right," he snarled. "Just stay out of my way."
Biting his lower lip in frustrated anxiety, Doyle wasted a few more minutes looking about indecisively. He had absolutely no clue as to where Bodie might have gone once he'd hit the main road.
"He's frightened," Mulder said suddenly. "Where would he go?"
Whirling on him to fiercely deny that ridiculous charge, Doyle abruptly closed his mouth again. To the day he died, he knew he would never forget the look of unreasoning terror in the usually cynical cobalt eyes. Fighting back a wave of nausea at the memory, he forced himself to think rationally. They were both strangers here -- where would an upset Bodie go?
A patiently waiting Mulder gave a small grin at the sudden intent look.
"Is there a pond, lake or river -- some sort of water pool -- around here? Something quiet, perhaps with trees along the bank?" Doyle asked tersely.
"There's Michael's Pond just north of Asheby; it has a few trees."
Doyle took off in a quick jog, Mulder flanking him. A few silent minutes later, the American broke the tense silence.
"What makes you think he's there? He doesn't even know the pond exists, does he?"
"If there's a body of water around, Bodie will find it." Flicking a glance at him, Doyle elaborated brusquely, "He likes to pitch pebbles...it helps calm him down."
Fifteen minutes steady jog along a twisting, potted lane brought the two men within sight of the pond. Slowing to a walk, Doyle began visually searching the tree-lined banks for his partner. He was about to give up in despair when a sudden gust of wind shook a large willow right on the pond's edge. Catching a glimpse of brown corduroy through the greenery, he let loose the breath he hadn't noticed he'd been holding. Motioning for Mulder to stay where he was, the ex-copper came up behind Bodie, swearing as he inadvertently stepped on several dry twigs. The resulting crack was deafening in the tiny glade.
Bodie crashed to his feet; staggering, he almost fell in the pond and had to grab hold of the tree to steady himself. Breathing heavily and rapidly, the sable-haired man stared at Doyle, giving no indication he recognised him. Taking in the tense immobility, the gleam of white knuckles where a capable hand clutched a tree branch and the colourless, fear-twisted face, Doyle froze. He didn't want to risk panicking Bodie any further.
A low, quiet voice reached his ear. "He doesn't know it's you," asserted Mulder. "Talk to him -- softly -- let him know it's you and that everything is all right."
Doyle was hesitant. "You sure?"
"Yes. He's in shock; he's not seeing what's around him at the moment."
Abruptly remembering that Mulder was only a piece of paper away from being a psychologist, Doyle nodded and started forward, only to halt again as the American warned, "Don't move -- not yet. He's going to view it as threatening. You've got to calm him down a little first."
Doyle nodded again, then took a steadying breath. Striving for his usual acerbic tone, he called, "Is that you, Bodie? What're you doing hiding in the trees, you prat? Everything's all right; you can come out now."
No change, but at least he hadn't spooked him further. Again taking a deep breath, Doyle tried again. "It's okay, mate," he reassured quietly. "I'm here now; nothing's going to hurt you." Greatly encouraged by the tiny flicker in the white-rimmed eyes, he gently coaxed, "C'mon, sunshine, give me your hand. `S only me...not going to let anything happen to you. C'mon...give us your hand." Doyle slowly reached out with his own, daring now to take a few, tentative steps.
Blinking rapidly, Bodie seemed to suddenly come awake. Slurring his words, he asked hoarsely, "R-Ray? `Zat you?" He seemed to be having trouble focusing.
Giddy with relief, it took all of Doyle's willpower to walk casually up to his partner. "Yeah, Bodie-mate; `s me."
Beginning to tremble like a man with ague, Bodie looked around wildly. "W-Where are we?" Words falling over each over, he begged, "How'd I get out here, Ray? I don't remember coming here. Where are we?"
"'S all right, sunshine," soothed Doyle. Coming up to the shaken man, he comfortingly gripped a tense shoulder.
"Last thing I remember is being in the pub... Oh, god." Bodie flinched and, impossibly, whitened further. "Oh, dear god." His shivering increasing, Bodie opened his mouth, but all that came out was a deep groan.
Utterly unable to stop himself, Doyle threw caution to the winds and yanked the larger man into a fierce embrace. Melting against the wiry frame, Bodie buried his face against Doyle's neck, arms locked around his partner's back. Completely forgetting their audience, Doyle gently rocked Bodie, crooning soothing nonsense into his ear.
A soft knocking intruded on the room's peacefulness. Reluctantly leaving his post on the side of Bodie's bed, Doyle opened the door a crack and peered out.
"Oh, it's you," he said tiredly, stepping aside to let Mulder in.
"How's he doing?" queried the grad student. Seeing the sleeping form, he halted abruptly. "I'll leave."
"Nah, `s all right," refuted Doyle as he closed the door. "When Bodie sets his mind to it, he can sleep through almost anything. `Sides, I want to ask you something."
"How did..." the agent began slowly, "...how did you know Bodie was spooked? Was it really that obvious?"
He had spent the last hour beside his sleeping partner, thoroughly castigating himself for allowing the situation to even develop. Replaying in his mind the conversation in the pub, Doyle was bitterly ashamed that he had allowed Alcott to monopolise his attention to such a degree he'd failed to notice Bodie's increasing distress. He was more than certain everyone else had; only he -- supposedly Bodie's best mate -- had been oblivious. Almost physically sick with self-loathing, Doyle had promised his sleeping partner that he would get him back to London as soon as possible. The hell with Cowley; he'd think of something to tell the Old Man. Becoming aware Mulder was speaking, Doyle dragged his mind back to business.
"If you're worried that Alcott, Lassiter or Lyndon saw what was happening," Mulder stated, "don't be. They thought he'd suddenly been taken ill. I told them he's resting and that it's probably a touch of flu."
Doyle gave a relieved sigh. "Ta, mate."
"As for me, I didn't notice anything wrong until after Dr. Alcott began speaking." Mulder paused; his next words were careful. "Has Bodie been acting...unusual...since you two got to Asheby? More tense than normal?"
Doyle quickly hid his surprised start, but he knew the other man had seen it. "Yeah, he's been a bit nervy just lately." The admission was almost forcibly pulled from him. "Not unexpected, that. He's just finished six weeks solo undercover with the IRA; stupid pillock came within a cat's whisker of getting himself blown to pieces. Any man would be a mite jumpy after that." His eyes strayed back to his partner.
"What are you going to do now?"
Bringing his gaze back to the other man, Doyle steadily met the hazel eyes. "What d'you think? As soon as Bodie wakes up, I'm taking him back to London. Then, I'll come back and finish this op."
"The bloody hell you will."
Doyle and Mulder both spun at the emphatic statement. Ignoring the younger man, Bodie glared at his partner.
"Neither of us is going to London," he declared pugnaciously, "not until we've solved this thing."
Emerald eyes narrowing, Doyle gave glare for glare. "You are going back to London," he declared evenly, "if I have to knock your ruddy head off and carry you. End of discussion."
Fighting a headache of mammoth proportions, gut knotted with tension, the ex-merc was only precariously hanging on to his temper. "I'm not leaving, Doyle. I'm not going to live the rest of my life as a coward." Ruthlessly overriding his partner's protest, he ground out, "I have to know why I ra...behaved like that. I have to know. And the reason for all of that is somehow tied up with this op."
"If you want, I can help you with that."
The soft offer stopped Doyle in his tracks. Only just quelling the urge to thump some sense into his silly sod of a partner, Mulder's interjection was not well received. "What the sodding hell can you do?" he spat. "Wave a magic wand and it'll all go away? Mind your own effing business!"
Mulder stood his ground. "Sorry," he said imperturbably, "I'm fresh out of magic wands. How about hypnosis, instead?"
Bodie jumped in quickly. "Hypnosis? D'you really think it'll work?"
"Hypnosis?!" The word was practically a screech. "I can't believe I'm hearing this!" Temper fully on the boil, Doyle glared impartially at them both. "What the bloody hell good will hypnosis do? Bodie's never been to sodding Asheby before, let alone met any of that group of effing nutters until today. Of all the stupid, idiotic, irresponsible, half-witted statements I have ever heard, this just has to take the bloody cake!" Running out of breath, he stopped and ran an agitated hand through his curls. "What's so ruddy funny?" he demanded belligerently.
"Nothing, sunshine," denied Bodie, the soft smile remaining on his lips. Eyes on his disheveled partner, he said to Mulder, "Let's get this thing over with; I'm ready if you are."
"You sure? It's probably not going to be pleasant."
"Oh, yeah; he's sure," Doyle grumbled disgustedly. "The stupid sod's always sure -- especially when he's wrong." Turning his back on the American, he stood looking down at Bodie. "You know you don't have to do this; there's nothing you have to prove. Not to me...not to anyone."
Bodie met his eyes unflinchingly. "I have to prove it to me." Unexpectedly breaking eye contact, he gave a small shrug. "You heard Mulder; `s not going to be nice. You can leave if you want, Ray -- no hard feelings."
"I ought to break you bloody neck for that remark," Doyle stated conversationally. "Shut your gob and sit down...and for once in your stubborn life, be cooperative, all right?"
Biting back a chuckle, Mulder watched as Bodie saluted, then swiftly sat himself in the room's only chair. Dropping onto the edge of the bed closest to him, Mulder ordered softly, "Close your eyes and relax, Bodie. Picture yourself looking down a well; a deep, calm well. All you can see is the water; it's cool and dark, not a ripple showing..."
Ten minutes later, after having almost given up twice, Mulder was convinced that Bodie was finally completely under. Sitting back, he glanced up at the anxiously-hovering Doyle. "Well, where would you suggest we start?"
"Haven't the foggiest," Doyle confessed sheepishly. "He's never been like this the whole time I've known him, and we've been partners since October, 1975."
"Oh." Mulder chewed on his lower lip for a minute. "You two must be really close after all that time, able talk to each other about everything. Is there anything he absolutely refuses to discuss? Anything, no matter how small, that he just hasn't mentioned?"
Brow corrugated with deep thought, Doyle mulled the question over. True, there were several things Bodie didn't like to talk about -- being a merc, his time in Africa and serving in Belfast. He didn't like to talk about them, but Doyle had learnt that if he just kept quiet, every now and again, Bodie would volunteer some information. Occasionally now, Doyle would even ask an out-right question and Bodie, almost absent-mindedly, would answer. Never said a whole lot, of course, but over the passage of years, Doyle had come to know a great deal more about Bodie's past than his partner was aware.
Doyle knew there was only one period in his partner's life that was a complete blank to him; a constant itch in his `copper's nose'. Praying that he was right -- and that Bodie wouldn't hate him forever for what he was about to suggest -- Doyle took a deep breath and looked up.
"He ran away from home when he was fourteen," he said baldly. "Try...try before that, when he was a kid. Christ, I don't even know if he has a family!"
"When he was a kid," Mulder repeated flatly. Something indefinable flickered briefly in the hazel eyes. "All right."
Patiently going backward from the moment a rebellious and hurting Will Bodie had set off for Southampton, Mulder found nothing in the tragically common-place tale to account for such an extreme delayed reaction. Physically and mentally abused by an alcoholic grandfather, Bodie had enthusiastically welcomed the chance to study at the public school his grandfather had attended...anything to get out of the reach of the old reprobate. One rainy evening, however, seven months after he'd started, his grandfather had unexpectedly arrived, drunk and determined to `visit' his grandson. Frantically appealing to the school's headmaster not to permit the interview, Bodie had been devastated when the unorthodox visit had been allowed to take place -- unsupervised. Angered by Bodie's very public recalcitrance, his grandfather had thoroughly taken his revenge.
Immediately after that encounter, young Will, stiff and still bleeding, had simply vanished into the cold early March night.
Quietly instructing Bodie to rest, Mulder tiredly ran his hands over his face. "It's not unusual for abused children to suppress those painful memories," he told the ashen-faced man next to him. "Those memories can sometimes resurface and cause emotional or even mental problems. But, Ray -- Bodie hasn't suppressed those memories, ugly as they are. He told us about them much too readily for that. He buried them -- deep -- but that's only because he'd decided he didn't want to think about them anymore. It was a completely conscious decision. This can't be the source of his problems since coming to Asheby."
There was no reply.
Turning his head, Mulder realised that the curly-haired man had probably not heard a word he'd just said. So still he might have been carved from stone, Doyle's anguished gaze was fixed on his partner. Recognising the onset of shock, Mulder was reaching for him when Doyle slowly turned away from Bodie.
Slowly shaking his head, the CI5 agent said tonelessly, "No, you're right. Not this."
Initially as a street-wise kid roaming the East End jungle, then later as a young copper patrolling the same filthy streets, Doyle had painfully learnt the depths of cruelty and evil to which the human mind could sink. Picking up the bloodied pieces after a father's murderous rage, watching helplessly as a nine year old `star' of child pornography jumped out a four-storey window in front of him, the young constable had come to realise that a child's innocence was no shield against an adult's depravity. That knowledge had always left him shaking and sick with rage...to find that his cynical, know-it-all, black-humoured, marshmallow-hearted Bodie had been a member of that tragic group produced a swell of hatred so cold and intense that Doyle momentarily stopped breathing. Only recalled to himself when he caught sight of the worried look on Mulder's face, Doyle forced himself back to the issue at hand.
Swallowing past the boulder in his throat, Doyle turned a bloodless face toward Mulder. He seemed completely unaware of the tears streaming down his cheeks. "D'you remember, you asked him which grandfather it was, and Bodie said, `Me Mum's da and she always told me stay away from the bloody bastard.' If his mother wouldn't let Bodie be around his grandfather, what was he doing living with the old man?"
"He'd had to live with him," the American said in a tone of discovery, "because either she abandoned him, or died, and there was no one left to take the boy."
"Yeah," Doyle agreed grimly. "And, somehow, I don't believe she pulled a bunk; she'd had to have known who'd get custody."
"So you think whatever happened, occurred before Bodie went to live with his grandfather." Mulder gave a thoughtful nod, then frowned. "Whatever it was, it would have to pretty damn traumatic, even worse than the living hell of his grandfather."
"I know." Doyle's whisper was barely audible.
Returning his attention to the silently-waiting Bodie, Mulder asked quietly, "Do you hear me, Bodie?"
"You've been very upset since coming to Asheby. Why?"
Since the beginning of the hypnosis-induced interview, even while relating the horrors of his childhood, Bodie had remained calm and unemotional. Now, for the first time, a hint of unease entered his voice. "Don't know. Just know I want to get out of here."
Deciding against a confrontation at the moment, Mulder asked instead, "Get out? Go back to London, you mean?"
Pursing his lips, Mulder gave Doyle a quick glance. "You could drive back, Bodie. I'm sure Ray wouldn't mind; he could stay here alone."
Even through hypnosis, Bodie erupted at that. Shooting to his feet, he yelled, "No! He can't...he just can't..."
By this time, Mulder and Doyle were also on their feet. "It's all right, Bodie," Mulder said softly, persuasively. "Ray is right here. He's here and he's safe. Sit back down."
He held his breath apprehensively until Bodie, plainly reluctant, re-seated himself.
"What the bloody hell was that in aid of?" demanded Doyle in bewilderment.
"You heard him," Mulder said levelly. "Whatever it is that's scaring him, he's even more frightened about you staying on alone. And that," he concluded somewhat defiantly, "is what I'll use to pry him open."
Before Doyle could protest, Mulder had swung back around. "Bodie, can you hear me?"
"Why can't Ray stay in Asheby by himself?"
"He can't, he just can't!" Shaky and higher than normal, Bodie's voice still held absolute determination. "I won't let him!"
"Why won't you let him? Don't you trust him?"
"Don't be so bloody stupid." This last was said with deep contempt.
In spite of the tension filling the room, both Doyle and Mulder had to grin at that.
"Why can't Ray stay in Asheby by himself?" Mulder continued inexorably.
Bodie's face was sheened with sweat, the emotional turmoil clearly visible for once. He bit his lip until it bled, but he still didn't answer.
The American was unrelenting. "Why can't Ray stay here alone?"
"Because they'll get him, the fucking bastards!" The sudden roar was unnerving. "He's mine! I won't let them take someone I love again!"
"Who are `they'?" Mulder demanded. "Who wants to take Ray from you?"
The belligerence and aggression seemed to drain out of Bodie. "They can't have him," he repeated, panic-stricken. The glazed eyes abruptly overflowed with tears. "They already took Dad, Mum and Bobby. I won't let them have Ray. I won't!"
"Who are `they', Bodie?" questioned Mulder gently. "Who took your parents and Bobby?"
"The people from the sky." Shivering constantly, Bodie sniffed. Abruptly, eerily, his voice sounded decades younger. "An' it was all my fault. "M so sorry, so sorry. Please, Mummy, 'm so very sorry. Don' be mad at me anymore."
Biting back a moan, Doyle took a step toward his tormented partner; he found himself brought up short by Mulder's outstretched arm in his path. Poised on the edge of annihilation, some quality in the grad student's face finally reached him. Forcing himself to take deep, calming breaths, Doyle gave a curt nod of understanding and moved back.
Totally enmeshed in the nightmarish memory, Bodie needed no further prodding to talk. His speech patterns became those of the child he had been as he stumbled to explain the bizarre events of that long-ago warm spring night.
He sat, slumped, in the back of the car, miserable. His birthday hadn't gone the way he'd dreamt it would. Instead of it being a happy celebration of his having reached his fifth year, Mummy and Dad were fighting, and Bobby insisted it was all Will's fault. Bewildered and hurt, Will couldn't think of what he'd done wrong to cause so much anger.
True, Dad had been more than two hours late getting home from work, but why should that mean their trip to the fun fair would be canceled? It was open until midnight; Will had heard the advert on the telly. Why would that make Mummy yell at Dad about always breaking his promises? Why was Dad yelling back nasty things about Mummy being too lazy to learn to drive? Dad had shouted at Bobby to get in the motor, and that had made his older brother mad at him. Dad said they were going to the fun fair for Will's birthday, no matter how late it was, but the child could tell his father was practically spitting fire at the idea. Eight-year old Bobby just stared out his window at the countryside as night fell and completely ignored Will.
Everyone hated him. Huddled against the door on his side of the car, the birthday boy cried quietly and wished he knew what he could do to make everything all right again. He'd been completely unaware of anything untoward until a hurtfully bright light shot into the car and Mummy screamed.
The next few minutes were a jumble of bright light, strange noises and a dizzy, nauseating feeling.
When his eyes could focus, young Will had been frightened to find himself standing in a cold, echoing room that seemed to go on for ever and ever. Hearing a whimper off to his left, Will's eyes widened at the sight of his brother in some sort of cage. Try as he might, Will could not make his legs move, to go to his brother. He called Bobby's name again and again, but the older boy never answered. Will finally followed his brother's line of sight.
He let out a scream of undistilled terror.
Things...ugly, slimy, crawly grey things...all over Mummy. Touching her, pulling at her, hurting her...
A roar of rage came from his right. Snapping his head in that direction, Will saw his father launch himself at the monstrous things hurting Mummy. He saw his father abruptly slam to a halt when a shiny metallic object flew out of nowhere and attached itself to Dad's chest. A strange look came over Dad's face. Shocked and uncomprehending, Will noted the strange markings on the shiny object: something that looked like a backward `c' and two straight lines. The shiny thing began to glow and make a funny sound.
Will shook his head desperately. No, this wasn't happening. Dad wasn't blowing up like one of those funny, big balloons...Dad had told him that didn't happen to real people. It wasn't happening...it couldn't be happening... Dad wasn't puffing and swelling...wasn't turning black and purple...his eyes weren't bulging grotesquely out of their sockets...his tongue, thick, protruding...
Bodie screamed. Shaking so hard his teeth could be heard to rattle, he threw himself into a corner. Wrapping himself into a tight ball, he rocked violently back and forth. The screams degenerated into a keening wail.
"Sweet Christ." For one too-long moment, Doyle was frozen in place. Fearing they'd pushed Bodie too far, too fast, he forcibly broke through his paralysis and dropped to his knees beside his traumatised partner.
Mulder was there also. "We have to finish it! Ray, we have to finish it!"
A molten green glare lasered across the small space between them. "Haven't you done enough already?" hissed Doyle viciously. One thin hand rested on Bodie's dark head, stroking constantly.
Flinching, Mulder bit his lip and looked away.
Taking an audible breath, the CI5 agent curtly apologised, "Sorry, know you're only trying to help." He was considerably startled by the gleam of tears in the hazel eyes as Mulder turned back to him. "Look, I..." he began awkwardly. "Oh, shit. Just finish this, will you? I don't know how much more I can take."
"You think it's easy for me?" Expecting no response, Mulder rushed on, "I'm not doing this to be cruel, Ray. If we don't help Bodie come to terms with these memories, who knows what'll happen the next time they start to surface? In your line of work, he could get either himself, or you, killed. Or, like a great many abductees who can't handle the repressed pain and terror, who've been told their memories are only hallucinations, he could just suicide."
"Not Bodie," Doyle denied flatly, but there was a wild look in the jade eyes.
Mulder turned his attention back to Bodie. For ten minutes, he coaxed and cajoled the younger man to relax, told him that it was just a memory and could not hurt him now; Bodie gave no indication he'd heard him. Finally, praying that he was doing the right thing, Mulder gave the code word to end the hypnotic session. Slowly, ever so slowly, the cries stopped and the shivering lessened. It seemed to take forever for Bodie to halt his frenetic rocking and lift his head.
"What happened to your father, Bodie?" Mulder asked the question as gently as he could, dreading the reaction it might provoke.
But Bodie seemed purged of all emotion. Cobalt eyes dull and reddened, he stared at the wardrobe in front of him. "He blew up. There was blood and bits of him all over; I was covered in the gore of it. He blew up...just like Monaghan."
Horror-struck, Doyle reacted instinctively. "My poor Bodie," he murmured shakily, tenderly drawing the shattered man tightly against his chest. "My poor love."
Shuddering, Bodie sank into the healing warmth. "I never saw Mum or Bobby again." His words were somewhat muffled as he refused to raise his face away from Doyle's comforting chest. "I always remembered everyone as having died in a car wreck on the way to the fun fair. Dad had said he was so tired he could run into a tree; I thought that's what had happened."
"It wasn't your fault, Bodie," Doyle informed him gently. "None of it; your parents' fight, Bobby being angry. You know that, don't you? Even if they had died in a wreck, it was out of your control. As for the other... Forgive yourself, sunshine...you were only five, little more than a baby. Events just overtook you."
There was no verbal answer, but Bodie hung on tighter and went limp against him.
Looking over, Doyle asked the American, "Why did they let Bodie go? Why kill his father and take his mother and brother?"
"Who knows, Ray?" Mulder replied helplessly. "Who knows how they think? Or why they do what they do."
Several quiet minutes passed. Then, feeling somewhat redundant, Mulder climbed creakily to his feet. He had just reached the door when he heard Bodie call his name. "Yes?" he asked, turning back.
"Thanks, mate." His face was still wan, and the grin was a pale ghost of its usual smirk, but Bodie was obviously on the way back. "I mean that."
Mulder shook his head. "No problem."
He was turning away again, when Doyle quietly remarked, "You knew didn't you? Somehow, you've always known what was wrong."
Mulder gave a half-shrug. "The way Bodie reacted to those pictures and Dr. Alcott's statements were a dead giveaway."
"No one else made the connection," Bodie denied fiercely. "So why did you?"
Reaching out, Mulder opened the door and made as to leave. Suddenly, he stopped. For several minutes, he just stood there, then he faced the agents again. There was a small, infinitely sorrowful smile on his face; the hazel eyes were distant and haunted.
"When my little sister Samantha was eight, she was abducted by aliens. They took her away right in front of me. I couldn't stop them."
The door closed firmly behind him.
"Necrotising Fascitis!" There was sheer astonishment in the Scottish voice. "The skin-eating disease?"
"Yes, sir. That's what Dr. Weston said; it's all in his autopsy report." Bodie had no doubts on that score. He and Doyle had helped the pathologist compose it.
Not that it had been all that difficult to convince him. The blood toxicology and other lab work having come back negative, Weston had been utterly nonplused and confused. Then, Doyle had gently pointed out that, because no official cause of death could be determined, Weston would have to call a Coroner's Enquiry. In that event, he would have to get up on the stand, in front of hundreds of witnesses, and testify under oath that Ewan Monaghan had seemed to die from injuries he could only have received in the vacuum of outer space. Backpedaling madly, Weston had vehemently denied that he'd meant the remark to be taken seriously...he had only been speculating. Everyone knew the mere idea was ludicrous. The diagnosis of death by hemorrhage secondary to necrotising fascitis was quickly scrawled forthwith on the death certificate.
Doyle took up the narrative. "According to Weston, southern Wiltshire had four cases a month or so ago. He believes -- and Bodie and I have no evidence to contradict him -- that Dr. Monaghan caught a lift back to the field that evening to check on his instruments. As he started to walk back to the village afterward, he was suddenly overcome by the high fever that accompanies the disease and he collapsed. It was just sod's luck the poor bastard fell among all those trees and shrubs where no one could see him."
Frowning thoughtfully, Cowley pulled off his glasses and swung them by one horn. "Why didn't someone in the field hear his calls for help? Surely he would have done so."
"If he could have." Bodie gave an elaborate shrug. "Weston says that sometimes the fever and infection can be so overwhelming the victim never regains consciousness."
Mentally holding their breaths, Bodie and Doyle waited. If Cowley was the slightest bit suspicious... But, for once, luck was with them. Due in the Prime Minister's office in precisely forty minutes for the annual all-out warfare known as budget negotiations, the Scot had no time for mysteries where none seemed to exist. Tossing their report onto a pile on the corner of his desk, the CI5 Controller tersely dismissed them and, wonders of wonders, grudgingly gave them three days off.
Exiting the office so quickly they were mere blurs, Bodie and Doyle allowed him no time to re-consider his generosity.
They were in the carpark before Doyle thought to ask, "Where are we going?"
Unlocking the passenger door of the silver Capri, Bodie calmly ushered his partner inside. "Your place," he replied confidently, as he slid in behind the wheel.
"My place? All right."
Curiosity finally getting the best of him, Doyle asked some minutes later, "Not that I mind, but why my place exactly?"
Braking smoothly at the red light, Bodie gave him a cocky grin. "Thought you had some big plans going."
"Plans? Oh." Blushing furiously, but refusing to admit it, Doyle gave a cheeky grin of his own. "That I do." Leaning back in his seat with a contented sigh, he gestured airily out the windscreen as the light turned green again. "Home, then, James, and don't spare the horses."
The Capri left a strip of rubber on the tarmac as it accelerated.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Other Times and Places 6, OTP Press, 1995