Companion piece to "Dispatches"

The first time Doyle saw a body was in his own living room.
His first suicide showed him it was the ugliest way to die.
His first drug overdose set him on a path he'd never regret,
But his first murder nearly made him resign.
And whereas the first men dead from bullets he fired at least had it coming,
the same couldn't be said for the first one dead at his hands.
The strangest time was being outside his own body, and nearly getting lost.
But the worst, the one that almost killed him, was seeing the body of the man he loved.

Derby, 1956

"Ray? Come on, love, you've got to come down sometime."

Ignoring his Auntie Brenda, Ray wrapped his arms tightly round his legs and rested his head on his knees. He didn't want to go downstairs. Mum was down there, laid out in the front room so everyone could come and say goodbye. But Ray didn't want to say goodbye. Not to Mum. If he said goodbye then she wouldn't be able to take him to the pictures on Saturday, and Ray desperately wanted to go. Dad never had time. He was always on duty.

"Raymond! Did you hear me? Grandma Doyle will be here in twenty minutes and she'll be expecting you to be ready."

And if he went downstairs, they'd expect him to bring his suitcase--the full one next to the wardrobe--and then they'd expect him to get into the taxi and leave. He didn't want to leave and go and live with Grandma and Grandpa Doyle in Derby. He wanted to stay here. At home. With Bobby and Richard and Dad. He didn't have to go to school, he could get a job in the factory like his brothers and he wouldn't need anyone to look after him.

Burying his face in his trousers, Ray dug his fingernails into his palms and bit back the tears. He was eleven. Too old to cry. His brothers hadn't cried, so he shouldn't either.

"Ray? Ray!"

Auntie Brenda appeared round the door tying her pinny, her hair escaping from its pleat. She looked a bit like Mum, Ray thought, even though she was blonde. Dad said it came out of a bottle but then he didn't like Auntie Brenda very much.

"You all right, love?" Her face twisted up in concern and she came and sat on the edge of the bed and patted his hand. "Missing her, are you. Course you are. She was your mum. You have a good cry then and come down. I'll make Grandma Doyle a nice cuppa for when she arrives."

Half an hour later, the door went and Ray heard his Grandma's voice echo up the stairs.

"Is the lad ready, Brenda? I've only got an hour before the train goes."

"He had a bit of a turn, Mrs Doyle, but I'm sure he'll be down in a mo."

They must have gone into the kitchen, since that was all Ray heard. He sat on the bed for another few minutes before wiping his eyes and getting up. All this moping around wasn't getting the babbie a new frock as his mum used to say. It was about time he pulled himself together and got on with things.

His case was heavy but he managed to wrestle it down the stairs and left it standing by the front door. The kitchen door was closed and through it, Ray could hear his Auntie and Grandma talking. With any luck they'd stay in there. He didn't want an audience.

The handle on the living room door creaked when he turned it and he paused, freezing in place in case anyone heard. They didn't. At least neither of them came out to see who was creeping around. Finally he pushed open the door and slipped inside.

This room had been out of bounds for the last two days. Ever since the coffin had been brought home from the undertakers. It was there now, standing on wooden trestles in the middle of the carpet. The rest of the room looked the same as it always did. White cloth on the table and ornaments carefully arranged. It was their best room, not the one the family used everyday, and it smelt of Sunday afternoons.

Fists clenched at his sides, Ray tiptoed towards the open coffin, his eyes half closed. What would he see? Would she still look like Mum? Or would she look like Frankenstein?

Leicester, 1963

"My mum died. When I was eleven." Ray glanced up at Paula then went back to studying his fingernails. "It gets better after a bit. You won't miss him as much."

Dark circles round his friend's eyes showed how much she was missing her dad right now and Ray's heart broke for her. Life wasn't fair, but then in his experience, it never was. If it had have been, then Ray would have got to go to university and not ended up working down the Co-op. But then he wouldn't have met up with Paula and that would have been a real shame. He liked Paula. He'd like to know Paula better, but now probably wasn't the best time, all things considered.

Slipping an arm around Paula's shoulders, Ray tugged her gently against him. Let her mourn. It hadn't been that long since she lost her Dad. Only three months.

"If it wasn't for our Jimmy, it'd be okay," she sniffed. "But he's all over the ruddy place. Coming home all hours and making Mum's life a misery. We dunno what to do with him, Ray, and Mum's at the end of her tether. She's bothered we'll have the police round next. It's awful!"

That last came out as a wail and Ray gulped. He didn't know what to do with a wail. He didn't know what to do with the sobs either, but patting Paula on the head and letting her wipe her mascara on his shirt seemed to work.

It took her a while but eventually Paula cried herself out and Ray left, promising to come back in the morning to pick her up for work.

A week later, Paula was still subdued and during Thursday, Ray treated her to lunch at the cafe. Paula sat opposite him, her blonde hair as bedraggled and tired looking as she was. The circles under her eyes were no better.

"You get any sleep at all in the last week?" Ray asked around a bite of sausage sarnie.

Paula glanced up briefly from the banana milkshake she was massacring with a straw and shrugged. "A bit. Jimmy was half-cut when he got home last night and him and mum had a blazing row. He--"

She choked a bit and Ray changed seats so he could put his arm round her. "What is it, petal?"

No answer. Just a shiver of Paula's shoulders. Ray took a second to consider Jimmy Franklin. Six foot two if he was inch, with a temper to match. And not Ray's favourite bloke, either. They'd had more run-ins since Ray moved to Leicester than was healthy for either of them, culminating in the fight when Ray had taken a knife to Jimmy to stop the older boy thrashing him for the umpteenth time.

Paula's dad, an ex-miner, had been the only one who'd stood a chance of keeping the lad in line.

"He getting handy with his fists, is he?" It wouldn't come as a surprise. And Patty, Paula's mum, was only a little bit of a thing.

Paula nodded and sniffed, wiping her nose on her sleeve. "Mum had a rotten black eye this morning." Darkened, desperate eyes met Ray's. "I told her she should tell the coppers but she's terrified of him."

Wishing there was something he could do beyond offering a sympathetic shoulder, Ray hugged Paula firmly. There were some right bastards in this world, in no mistake.

As usual, Ray gave Paula a lift home at the end of their shift. He stopped his bike outside the house and held his hand out for the helmet. Paula took it off and shook out her hair.

"Coming in for a cuppa?" she asked.

Ray checked his watch. It was only six and the film he wanted to see didn't start until seven thirty. "Yeah, okay. Got any biccies?"

Paula laughed as she unlocked the front door. "Mum's probably got something in the cupboard. Go and have a dekko while I get changed." She ran off up the stairs and Ray spared her retreating bottom an appreciative look before heading through to the kitchen. No sooner had his hand closed around a packet of chocolate digestives than an almighty scream rattled the windows.

Not stopping to think, Ray took off up the stairs, nearly losing his footing as the mat at the top slid away from under him, and skidded to a halt at a bathroom door. Paula was standing--no, frozen in place--hands over her mouth, staring at the bath, and the screaming was going on and on and on.

Ray followed her line of sight and nearly joined in. The bath was crimson, as was the body lying in it. Not naked--Patty would have hated that--but decently dressed in a nightie with the sleeves pulled up so she could slice deep gouges into her wrists. The only thing that wasn't red was Patty's face, which looked like it was floating above a sea of blood.

"Fucking hell." The words came out in a gasp.

And suddenly Paula was all over him, tearing at his hair and his collar, pushing and shoving and tugging, and all the while she was crying, "Ray? Ray. Do something! Do something!"

Fending her off as best he could, Ray pushed her gently against the wall and tentatively approached the bath. Was Patty actually dead? She had to be, surely. There was so much blood. All down the tiles and the sides of the bath.

He reached out for Patty's hand, scared but determined to check, just in case there was something he could do. The bath water was cold, almost jelly-like from the congealed blood and when he touched Patty's hand, her skin was the same temperature, and strangely dry and lax and rubbery. She was definitely dead.

Setting his face to support rather than grief, Ray turned to Paula who was weeping. "I'm sorry," he said.

Birmingham, 1968

"Ah, Christ." Ray pushed the door to and took a deep breath before opening it again. The place stank to high heaven. They must have been dead for at least a week. God knows how the neighbours hadn't noticed before this.

Covering his mouth and nose with his hankie, Ray unclipped his radio from his belt. "Oscar tango seven to Control. Send an ambulance to one three five Corporation Street." He paused, took another look at the bodies, and added, "Tell them not to hurry. I don't think these two are going anywhere."

It was a drug overdose, had to be with all the paraphernalia lying about the place. Made him wonder why he bothered trying to keep the streets clean when people like this were so determined to do themselves in anyway.

After a cursory look around, Ray closed the bedroom door and headed for the living room. He could open the window in there for a few minutes without worrying about disturbing a possible crime scene.

The living room was as squalid as the rest of the flat with food containers and empty cans scattered all over the floor. Actually that was pretty unusual; in Ray's experience, druggies tended to spend all their money on dope, not food. Shrugging, he stepped out onto the balcony for a breath of fresh air and paused to appreciate the view. It was pretty spectacular from up here, but they weren't nice, these high rises. They isolated people, and like animals in little cages all stacked on top of each other, the residents ended up turning on themselves. He had a horrible feeling it was going to get worse before it got better as well.

"And what are you gonna be doing, mate?" he asked himself. "Picking up the pieces?" He was having second thoughts, and not for the first time. Joining the police had been more a default decision than a choice. Taking up where his dad left off. Anything had to be better than dead end jobs, which was where he was heading before he signed up.

Now he wasn't so sure it had been the right thing to do. The police force he'd joined wasn't what it was cracked up to be. More an enforcement squad than really there to help Joe Public. Maybe he'd be better off doing something like social work. Grinning at the ridiculousness of the idea, he moved back into the flat and was about to close the window when he caught a sudden movement out of the corner of his eye. There was something out there, under a pile of boxes in the corner. A dog maybe?

Cautiously, and loosening his truncheon, Ray approached. "Come on, then," he whispered in what he hoped was a calming voice. He didn't fancy being on the receiving end of a half-starved pet.

The boxes shifted and face--a human face--peered out at him. It was a kid, no more than eleven or twelve, filthy and terrified.

"Jesus, what are you doing out here?"

No answer, just a trembling of a lower lip. Ray couldn't even tell if it was a boy or girl. Squatting down, he held out his hand and tried again. "Come on, then, I'm not gonna hurt you."

This time he got a frantic shake of the head and the kid burrowed back into the boxes. Heaving a sigh, Ray crept closer and tugged aside a couple of strategically placed pieces of cardboard. It was a girl. As skinny as a rake and dressed in a tatty old dress. She stared up at him through dark liquid eyes and shuddered.

He had to win her trust, somehow. If he tried grabbing her, she might wriggle away and end up going over the railings--a forty-foot drop straight on to concrete.

Taking a seat against the wall, Ray pulled his emergency chocolate bar out of his pocket. "Here, you fancy a piece of this?"

When he got a tentative nod, Ray smiled, broke off a chunk and held it out. The arm that reached out was grey with dirt and scarred from wrist to elbow with track marks.

She was an addict. The bastards! What kind of shitheads got a kid this age hooked on drugs?

Fighting the urge to go smash some heads, Ray handed over the chocolate and watched as it vanished greedily inside a black-rimed mouth. Another chunk went the same way, but the third he held hostage until the girl crawled out from her hidey-hole.

When she was close enough to touch, he grabbed her arm and yanked her into his lap. For a moment she fought like a wild cat--an eerily silent wild cat--and then went limp. Ray held her tight, more a hug than restraint and after a few minutes, it was returned. Slowly her eyes closed and she fell asleep, snuggled into his warmth as though she'd discovered the last safe place on earth.

Ray smiled down at her and ran a hand through her dirty hair. This is why he did it. What made it all worth while. This and catching the bastards who'd fed the girl's head in the first place. Careful not to disturb his bony teddy bear, he unclipped his radio and updated his message to control. "Better tell that ambulance to get a move on, after all," he said. "I've found someone else."

London, 1971

It was a complete dive but far enough away from his usual stamping ground that his face wouldn't be known. Picking up his first pint and whisky chaser, Doyle gazed around the pub, searching out a back corner where he could get drunk in peace. The high proportion of men to women for once didn't bother him. It was actually something of a relief. Men, even queers, tended to recognise the signs of someone determined to get plastered and steer well clear. He might have to fend off a couple of advances, but they were mercifully free of responsibility. And more responsibility was more than he could handle right now.

After downing several drinks, he finally felt ready to confront the memories. It had been a busy day, booking Haydon and sorting out all the paper work. Not to mention going round to see Sid's missus--Sid's widow now, Ray reminded himself. And hadn't that been fun and games.

Christ, it could so easily have been him. Next time it might be. He was senior officer on this beat now, so it was his responsibility to go in first.

It was getting worse, out there on the streets. When he joined up back in sixty-seven, guns were unusual. These days they were ten a penny and every gangland thug owned one. And here was him armed with nothing more offensive that a stick. What the bloody hell was he supposed to do when confronted by a gun-wielding criminal, threaten to play rounders with him?

Morose didn't begin to describe Ray's mood. Moving to the Met was supposed to put him somewhere he could help, but yet again he was chasing around picking up the pieces after the bad boys had finished and trying to stitch peoples lives back together. Maybe he should put in for that promotion to CID, now Preston and Montgomery were history. He wouldn't mind working under DS Richards. Nice bloke, honest as the day. But then there was the rest of them, all balled up and scratchy about having some of their own taken down by a uniform boy. Oh, yeah, they'd be real friendly.

Eight pints later, morose had given way to pickled. CID seemed a world of impossibility away and Ray was deep in his cups, oblivious to the world around him.

"Anyone sitting here?" A voice asked.

Ray managed to raise his head far enough to see the man speaking to him. Early forties, fair hair, smartly dressed. Waving his hand in the general direction of the disputed chair, Ray mumbled, "Help yourself, mate."

"Actually I was thinking of joining you."

The man sat down--without so much as a by your leave, Ray thought, a little aggrieved. If he'd been less drunk, he might have objected, but as it was, it was all he could do to focus. "Not gonna be much company," he said.

"That's all right. I'll just enjoy the view."

Bugger. Queer pub. Ray had forgotten. Blinking blearily, he levelled a gaze at the interloper and said, "You making a pass at me, 'cause I've gotta tell you, I'm not bent." Considering his recent thoughts about Preston et al, that thought struck Ray as being uproariously funny and he chuckled out loud.

"You have a nice smile," the man said. "I'm Pete, by the way." He held out his hand.

Ray took it. Firm, dry and warm. A good, manly, handshake. "Nice to meet you. 'M Ray."

"Like a ray of sunshine."

Okay, that was definitely flirting. Putting on his best scowl, Ray replied, "Not feeling all that sunny at the moment."

"Bad day?"

"The worst. Me partner got shot." Where the hell had that come from? He wasn't in the habit of spilling his deepest darkest secrets to blokes he'd just met in the pub.

"Shot? Crikey, that's horrible."

"Tell me about it." Swaying slightly, Ray picked up his glass, glaring at it when he found it empty. "Bugger." The bar was miles away, or might as well have been.

"Haven't you had enough?"

"Nope. Can still think, therefore I'm still too sober." Lurching to his feet, Ray staggered in the general direction of the bar, and tripped over the carpet. A strong hand caught him by the collar before he hit the floor and hauled him back upright, where he stood, confused and waving, somewhat like a palm tree in a strong breeze.

"I really do think you've had enough, you know. Let me call you a taxi."

Clenching his jaw, Ray glared up at his rescuer. "I said," he muttered through his teeth, "I'm all right. Now will you damn well leave me alone."

The man--Pete--held up his hands and backed away, leaving the route to the bar clear. Ray staggered the final few feet and slammed his glass down. "Same again, mate."

"You sure?" The barman was looking doubtful.

"What the bloody hell is wrong with you lot!" Somewhere beneath the alcohol, Ray recognised he was getting belligerent, but he didn't care. Hell, if he couldn't get stroppy today of all days, then when could he let off steam? "All I want is enough sodding beer to make me feel better and all you lot want to do is take me home to bed. Well, I ain't doing it! Do you hear! I'm not fucking bent!"

The gutter outside the pub was wetter than an Eastend whore's knickers and smelt almost as bad. Groaning pathetically from a bump on the head--courtesy of being unceremoniously evicted from his cosy drinking hole--Ray managed to crawl as far as a side alley before he threw up. Christ, but he felt awful. That last whisky chaser had been a very bad idea. A very bad idea indeed. But when he closed his eyes, shivering from cold and too much to drink, he could still see Sid's body sprawled across the floor.

"Come on, sunshine." It was that voice again. What was the bloke's name? Paul? Peter? Pinky? Something with a P, anyway. "You may not want my help, but you're getting it."

Aided by having a rigid body to clamber up, Ray found his feet and leaned heavily against the wall. There was a taxi in front of him, its 'For Hire' lights glowing. "'S a taxi," he said.

"That it is," Pete replied, "and you're getting into it. Think you can manage?"

"'F you 'elp."

"I've got you." The strong arms were back, steadying him as he wove across the pavement aiming at the open car door.

Waking up the next morning with an incredible hangover in a strange bed, Ray supposed he must have made it. Though for the life of him, he couldn't remember anything beyond those few inches of pavement. Rolling over, he whimpered and hid his face in a pillow that smelled faintly of Old Spice.

There'd been a man. Last night. In the pub. Ray vaguely remembered him. Peter? No, Pete, that was it. He'd been nice. Very helpful considering how obnoxiously Ray had behaved.

"Awake are you?"

Ray winced and cracked open his eyelids, only to flinch when light hit his retinas. "Don't think so," he whispered. "Think I'm dead."

"You deserve to be." The bed sank a little. "Even if you hadn't been incapable of giving me your address last night, I still wouldn't have left you alone. People have died from being that drunk, you know."

"What the hell are you? A doctor?"

That garnered a chuckle. "Yes, actually."

Ray opened his eyes wider and stared at the man whose bed he'd slept in. "You're kidding."

"Why? Because we met in a pub frequented by homosexuals?" A frown creased Pete's brow. "It is quite possible to be both bent and in a profession, you know."

"Yeah, no, erm...." Mentally cursing his hangover, and his mouth, Ray pulled himself upright and rubbed his hands through his hair. "Look, can we try that again. I've got a rotten headache and the last thing I wanted to do was insult you. And as you can see that's all I'm managing to do."

A broad grin transformed Pete's face, made him look ten years younger and turned him from mediocre into a good looking bloke. "I've something that may help with the headache at least." From atop the bedside cupboard, he produced a glass of water and two tablets. Ray looked at them suspiciously. "Only aspirin, I promise. Trust me, I'm a doctor."

The pills did help. Well enough that Ray was able to grab a couple of hours extra sleep. When he woke, to the smell of fresh coffee and the sun streaming in through the bedroom window, he felt a hundred percent better and more than ready to face the day. His clothes had vanished, so after using the loo and throwing around enough soap and water that he could stand to live with himself, Ray commandeered a robe off the back of the bathroom door and set off in pursuit of breakfast.

"Morning, sunshine, you're looking better." Pete smiled over the top of a newspaper as Ray entered the kitchen. "There's coffee in the percolator if you'd like some."

"Sounds perfect. Mug?"

"Apart from the one on your face, in the cupboard over the sink."

Ray chuckled. He was a right card, was Pete. Not at all what Ray expected when someone said queer. Theoretically he knew that all homosexuals couldn't be the swishy queens he often ran into when on duty, but somehow that had never sunk in on a practical level.

Mug in hand, he joined Pete at the table and began reading the back of the paper. As Pete turned the page, the headline came into view. 'PC shot dead in line of duty.'


All the memories last night's alcohol had been designed to forget came flooding back. Pushing his half-full drink to one side, Ray stood up.

"I should go," he said. "Thanks for, erm, bringing me home and such."

Pete lowered the paper and looked askance at him. "Much as I hate to spoil everyone's fun, are you sure you wish to leave right this minute?"

Ray frowned, his brain still not as bright as it should be, until Pete indicated the robe. "Right. Yeah. I couldn't find my clothes, I hope you don't...." He paused. "Just out of interest, where are my clothes?"

"I sent them out to be cleaned. You might not remember but you were horribly sick last night."

"Ah, right." Wind removed from his sails, Ray subsided back into his chair.

"I can probably find something you could borrow if you're in a terrible hurry, but at least finish your coffee first."

Pete looked so woebegone that Ray didn't have the heart to refuse. As Pete busied himself washing up, Ray remained at the table, staring off into space and thinking about Sid. They'd been mates. Had worked together for three years. When Ray had transferred to Met, Sid had taken him under his wing and adopted him. Taken him home to meet the wife and invited him round for home cooked meals.

"Was that the shooting you were referring to last night?"

"What?" Startled out of his reverie, Ray blinked at Pete and then looked down at his fingers, which were slowly tracing over the news headline. It wouldn't do any harm to tell Pete about Sid's murder, would it? The man was a doctor. "Yeah. I, ah, I was first on the scene. He was my partner."

"You're a policeman."

"For my sins." At least until he handed in his resignation.

Pete took Ray's mug, refilled it and his own, and then sat back down. "You don't sound terribly sure. Having second thoughts about our choice of career are we?"

After a good slurp of coffee, Ray shook his head. "In all honesty, yeah. It's getting harder and harder to do the job. Sid was shot by a gangland boss, but it could just as easily have been a kid or a druggie. It's like a war, only in this one only half the army's armed and it's not the good guys."

"All the more reason to have men like you doing it."


Pete put down his mug, reached over and his finger down Ray's broken cheekbone. "Did you get this on the job?"

"Yeah, up in Brum. A half brick."

"And what happened to the person who did it?"

"He's in the nick."

"Hmm." Pete nodded and drew his hand back. "What about the man who killed your partner?"

"Recognised the car and picked him up straight after." Being able to tell Jessie that her husband's killer was already under arrest was about the only thing that had allowed Ray to face Sid's widow.

"So thanks to you, two violent men are now off the streets, unable to harm anyone."

"I suppose. But two more have probably taken their place by now. I told you, it's getting like a war out there."

Pete cocked his head and smiled slightly, then he sat forwards and leant on the table. Serious talk time, Ray thought, bet this'll be fun.

"You probably know this but, when someone's admitted to casualty, their injuries are assessed to see which ones are likely to kill them. Those are the ones we treat first. There's no point in putting a plaster on splinter if the patient is bleeding to death from a severed artery."

"Yeah. Triage. So?"

The hand returned and briefly stroked down his face. "Don't put yourself down, policeman Ray. In your own way, you're doing the very same thing. You're stopping the wounds that could kill, it's up to the rest of us to heal the other ones."

Lost for words, all Ray could do was stare, open-mouthed. He'd never looked at things quite that way before. His time in the force had been eaten up in a never-ending whirl of trying to protect and help everyone. And when he couldn't, when there weren't enough hours in the day or days in the week, he went home berating himself for having failed.

The doorbell rang. Pete patted his hand as he stood up. "That'll be your clothes. I asked them for the urgent service. I'll be straight back."

While Pete dealt with the laundry man, Ray turned his attention to the paper and the photograph of Sid. Was he trying to save the patient by treating splinters? And if he was, then what could he change? He couldn't put crimes through triage; police work didn't happen like that.

Or did it.

Maybe the answer was to do what doctors did; work out which wounds he really wanted to heal and specialise. Join CID and the drug squad, perhaps the firearms unit. Maybe try and get noticed by that new mob, CI5. Take his place as part of a team instead of trying to fix the world alone.

It was an idea, and it was certainly worth a try.

London, 1977

Three bullets into Costa and one into Georgi. Both dead?

Hands shaking, Doyle checked for a pulse at Georgi's neck and then opened a channel on his RT. "Two dead. Neither of them us. We did okay." He could hear the break in his own voice as he spoke, but was powerless to correct it.

And then Bodie went for him.

Twice he tried reasonable and Bodie, the proverbial bull in a china shop, just kept going. Finally grief and terror got redirected into temper and he snapped back. "And if I had fired from the door and missed, who was standing in the window?" Bad enough he was responsible for two men's deaths. Having his partner on his conscience.... Doyle turned away, blinking back tears. It didn't bear thinking about.

He watched them load the bodies into an ambulance. Bodie was off with Cowley. Ray, accustomed to the antagonistic dynamic in CID, used to think he was sucking up to the boss, but observation showed it was more about guarding his CO's back than hanging on his every word. It made the behaviour acceptable.

The two blanket covered forms disappeared behind closed doors and the ambulance pulled away. Two men dead, by bullets he'd fired. Oh, they probably weren't the first he'd killed. There'd been shoot-outs before during the two years he'd been with CI5, but they'd been the sort of long-range free for all where anyone could have been responsible.

This was the first time he'd had to shoot at close range, the first time it was up-close and personal. The first time he'd looked into his victim's eyes as they'd died. And it hurt in a way he could never have imagined.

"Cheer up, sunshine." An arm slung around his shoulders accompanied the words.

Doyle offered his partner a wan smile and got his hair ruffled for the trouble.

"Look at it this way," Bodie continued, insightful and irrepressible as always, "it was us or them and we're too beautiful to die young."

London, 1978

He'd read the same paragraph twenty times and the book wasn't even interesting. Sighing, Doyle considered a getting a beer and decided he couldn't be bothered. And if there was an element of hair shirt wearing in that decision, so be it. Paul Coogan might not have been an innocent but he certainly didn't deserve to get beaten to death by a trained killer.

In his time on the force, Doyle had seen it a couple of times; boxers or martial artists who let their tempers get the better of them. He'd always sneered at them. Thought less of them than the ones who killed in cold blood or for money and drugs. Anyone with training should know better.

He should have known better.

When it was all over, the 'Trial by Mather' and the political posturing, Doyle took himself off alone, eschewing Bodie's company for the evening. He probably should have invited the bastard along. If anyone could provoke his temper it was Bodie in a fatuous mood.

The words they'd exchanged during that brief but passionate row came back to Doyle as he drove.

"You know what they've made of me, don't you? Do you know what they've made of us?"

But that wasn't strictly true. Bodie was already a killer when he joined CI5. A mercenary and Special Forces, you didn't get more of a killer than that. And Bodie seemed to shed guilt like water.

Changing down a gear, Doyle pulled on to the motorway and put his foot down. He hadn't a clue where he was going, but at this speed, he'd get there fast. It turned out to be the coast, the cliffs at Dover, and gazing out over the glittering port lights, he tried to come to terms with what had happened.

Would he end up like Bodie eventually? Seeing every death as inevitable, an accident, as casual as a jog in the park. Christ, he hoped not. For all his bravado, Doyle knew that it was something deeply damaged in his partner's psyche that allowed him to do that. He'd never enquired as to what, and probably never would. There were things it was better not to know.

Turning his attention to his own hand, Doyle made a fist and stared at it. This, this piece of him, had killed a man. No longer part of his body, it was now a weapon, but unlike a gun, he couldn't put this down. He couldn't hand it in with his ID and walk away. Resigning wouldn't take away the responsibility any more than it would take away the guilt.

Was that what made him human?

Last year, during that hideously long day when Bodie had been missing, Cowley had called them chalk and cheese. At the time, Doyle thought he was referring to their techniques. Bodie tended towards the simplistic, hit first ask questions later method and yet rarely, if ever, lost his temper. It was all cold and calculated. For himself, Doyle knew he thought too much and could let it incapacitate him at times. And when he did act, it tended to be impetuous, driven more by emotion than reason.

But what if the old man had been talking about something else. What if he saw Doyle as way of showing Bodie the humanity he'd misplaced down the years. He certainly allowed Doyle his head whenever his conscience troubled him. Look at the Haydon affair.

The more Doyle thought about it, the more he was convinced he was onto something. With the clean sea air blowing in his face and the muted sounds of the port below him, logic was easier to come by. Playing Bodie's conscience didn't make the guilt any easier to live with, but it gave him a reason to rise above it.

Laughing, Doyle flopped back into the grass. He'd never seen himself as Jiminy Cricket, but Bodie as a wooden boy was bloody hilarious.

London, 1982

The hospital was a-bustle with movement, all of which passed Doyle by without a sideways glance. He stalked the corridors, searching. For what he wasn't sure, but some sixth sense said he'd know when he saw it. He bypassed gynaecology and the labour ward on his travels--they didn't hold the answer--but found himself drawn to men's surgical and the small psychiatric ward.

In the latter, some of the patients noticed him. Something of a novelty. He couldn't ever remember being seen before. Though, since his memory was getting more fragmented by the second, that wasn't surprising. Just how long had he been wandering anyway? Could be anything from an hour to a whole day.

He knew his name was Doyle, Raymond Doyle, and that he was looking for something, but that was about it.

"Piss off!" a wild haired fat woman screamed at him. "You ain't supposed to be in 'ere."

Blue-clad nurses rushed her, pushing past Doyle as if he wasn't there, and pinned the woman to the bed. The woman continued yelling, her gaze fixed on him even as the drugs started to work. It wasn't a comfortable place to be and, really, Ray couldn't see why he'd come in the first place. He was pretty sure that what he was looking for wasn't here.

The list of possible places felt like it was getting shorter, along with the time he had available to find whatever it was he was looking for. He turned out through yet another door and stared up and down the corridor. In one direction the lights were bright, so bright that it hurt his eyes to look at them. In the other, it was dimmer, almost dark towards the end, and even turning that way made Ray's body ache. That wasn't where he wanted to go and he'd already taken a step towards the light when a man strode past him muttering to himself.

"Bastard. Ungrateful bloody bastard. Thought he'd stopped doing this."

Ray's head whipped round; the voice was familiar. He'd heard it somewhere before; therefore he must know the man. And maybe the man knew him, or at least what the hell he was looking for. Even seeing him made everything just a little clearer and the long dark corridor that had appeared so frightening now seemed to offer welcome.

Three running steps brought Ray alongside the preoccupied man and another let him get in front. He danced backwards, gazing at the scowling face and racked his memory for some clue as to why this man, of all the people he'd seen in the hospital, should have this effect on him.

The man was dark-haired and handsome--or would be if his features weren't twisted up. Right now brilliant blue eyes were glowing with rage, the nostrils on that classic nose flared, and the generous mouth drawn into a tight line. Something had hurt this familiar stranger and he was lashing out, at himself by the looks of things, though Ray had the feeling someone else would end up on the end of that caustic tongue sooner or later. For some reason he was rather hoping it would be him, except the man couldn't see him.

A brisk right turn left Ray floundering in the man's wake and by the time he caught up, he was standing by a closed door glaring through the glass panel at a bevy of white coated figures working on someone in the bed.

Ray approached slowly. There was something in that room he didn't want to see. Something he was scared of.


No, that was wrong. It wasn't fear. It was more like a deep-seated anxiety. If he saw what was in that room, in that bed, then something would happen, something he either didn't want, or wanted so much that it hurt.

"Come on, you bastard, don't do this to me!" The man had his palm pressed against the glass, his head forward, desperate eyes fixed on the drama playing out. "You can't die. What would I do without you, eh? Who else'd nag me stupid for eating the wrong stuff. Christ, sunshine, I need you."

Ray felt like an eavesdropper listening to this beautiful tough guy with the telltale bulge of a shoulder holster under his jacket. Something in the tone of voice told him these particular words would never have passed those lips if the man had known there was someone around to hear them.

"I didn't kill her, you know. Wanted to. When they dumped her on the doorstep like an empty for me to pick up. Thought about it. No one knew she wasn't dead and it wasn't like her embassy cared. A bit of pressure in the right place and...." A fist thumped against the doorjamb. "But I couldn't. Damn you, Ray, I couldn't. I couldn't kill her and still look you in the eye. If morality's catching, mate, you've gone and ruddy infected me."


Knowledge caught him in its web at the mention of his name. He remembered everything--who he was, what he did, the shooting, the girl, the dreams, the agony of continuing to live. He remembered who the man was, the man he'd thought beautiful without societal norms to censor his emotions.

Bodie. Partner. Best mate. Eternal pain in the backside.

He wanted to say something, to reassure Bodie that he was okay, but his body--the one busy dying inside that room--demanded his return. He was being dragged back whether he wanted to go or not, and as he went, a whisper followed him.

"Love you, sunshine. Can't keep doing this without you."

"Bodie? Bodie!" Pain blossomed in his chest and his breath skipped and rasped. Slowly something other than pain, a secure warmth gripping his right hand, penetrated Ray's brain.

"I'm here. S'all right, mate, I'm here. Thought you'd finished all that dying on us, old son. You staying this time?"

Ray opened his eyes. There, next to the bed, smiling like someone who'd been given all his Christmases and birthdays at once, sat Bodie, the only one who could have persuaded him to return.

"'M staying."

London, 1983

After the stitch-up came together, it was all action stations and Ray didn't have a chance to turn round twice until Rashad was neatly packaged and sent back to whatever welcome awaited in his home country. Hopefully a firing squad. If anyone deserved a death sentence, it was that sleazy git.

Then it was everyone back to Ray's place for drinks and self-congratulatory slaps on the back. In the kitchen, Ray put the finishing touches to a plate of hors d'ouvres, knowing that Bodie would moan if there was nothing to eat, and thought back on the day. Specifically that episode in the warehouse.

Bodie hitting the ground after the shot was fired was supposed happen. Bodie being clipped by the car and lying still after Rahad had made his escape wasn't.

Heart in his mouth, Ray had sprinted over to his fallen partner, calling his name. "Bodie!"

No answer. No movement. Christ. He was dead. It was all too easy, as Ray knew. The human body was a woeful confusion of resilience and vulnerability. A blow to the head at the wrong angle and death could be almost instantaneous.

He rolled Bodie over and pressed his ear to his chest, willing that strong heart to still be beating. It had to be. He couldn't be dead. Not before Ray'd had a chance to share the insights he'd gained while in hospital. They'd been so busy; what with that debacle with MI6 and then Bodie off playing bodyguard to Susan Grant.

Oh, admit it, Ray. Not the chance, the guts. It's one thing caring about your partner and another asking him if fancied having it off with you.

Muscles had jerked under his head and for a moment Ray thought he was feeling a final gasp, until Bodie chuckled.

"Never knew you cared."

The bastard. The selfish, uncaring, thoughtless berk. Who doesn't know how you feel, so you can't blame him for mucking about. It's not his behaviour that's different, it's your feelings. A year ago, a stunt like that wouldn't have bothered you at all.

Lost in a world of his own, Ray didn't hear the front door open, and consequently nearly swallowed his tongue when the object of his thoughts called through from the hallway. "Evening, sunshine. Got everything ready for our esteemed visitors?"

"Oh yeah, Cowley and a whore. All ready for 'em." Ray winced; the quip had come out more bitter than sarcastic.

Unfortunately Bodie had noticed and was levelling a glance in his direction. "Just because the lady is generous with her affections, Raymond, there's no call to pass judgement."

God, he could be a pretentious bugger when he put his mind to it. Still, what he'd said was uncalled for, so Ray accepted his scolding without comment.

"You pick up the wine?" he asked instead, turning around at the clanking that told him Bodie had.

"Only half a dozen bottles of the best champagne."

"Half a dozen...." True to his word, there, lined up along the counter were six green bottles with shiny gold caps. "Is the old man paying for those?"

"I bloody hope so. Fifteen quid a bottle they set me back."

Ray gave the bottles another considered look. "Christ, that lot cost more than my wardrobe."

"It shows."

"Oh, ha ha. Here, give us a hand taking this lot through." About to pass over the food, Ray hesitated and handed the glasses to Bodie instead.

"What? Don't you trust me?"

"About as far as I'd trust a fox in a henhouse, mate, now get a move on."

As Bodie sauntered out of the room, Ray cast a fond eye after him. Yeah, his feelings had changed, there was no doubt about it. So maybe he should put his money where his mouth was and actually say something. What was the worst that could happen? Bodie planting him one and leaving CI5. But he wouldn't, would he? Not after the things Ray had overheard in the hospital.

Always presupposing it wasn't a combination of drugs and wishful thinking. For all Ray knew, Bodie could have been laughing up his sleeve.

Nah. His partner had been there for him when he got out, and there's no way he would have put up with Ray's mood swings as he fought to get back on the squad if he hadn't meant what he said.

Deciding that it was now, or never, and wanting to act before he talked himself out of it, Ray grabbed the plates of food and followed Bodie through into the living room.

"Bodie?" he said when he got there.

"Yeah?" Bodie glanced over his shoulder, saw the food and homed in on it, forcing Ray to swing the plates out from under his predatory fingers.

"Leave it out, will you, these are supposed to be for everyone. Anyway, I wanted to talk to you."

Bodie backed off, pouting as Ray popped the plates on the coffee table and stood guard over them. "What about?"

"It's about you and--"

The doorbell went.

"That'll be Cowley and Anna. Let 'em in, shall I, or do they have to sing for their supper."

Resigned to never getting a chance to talk when both time and emotion were willing, Ray nodded. "Better had. The Cow'll never forgive us else."

There'd be another chance, there had to be. Ray wasn't going to risk losing the most important thing in his life, not when he'd finally worked out what it was.

-- THE END --

October 2005

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