A Birdwatcher's Guide to Cornish Ghosts
Part 3 in the Birdwatcher's Guide to Cornish Ghosts series. See also Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, and Part 5.
"It's not much to look at is it? You wouldn't exactly call it homely." Doyle stood in the middle of the outhouse, hands resting casually on hips, staring critically around him.
Bodie, trying hard to suppress his irritation, couldn't quite manage it. "It's a bloody wash-house, Doyle. What do you expect?"
It was true. With its white-washed walls and flagstone floor the wash-house was as bare and as functional as it was possible to be. The tin baths used to wash and rinse the washing stood against one end of the room, a mangle at the other. Stretched across the ceiling was a line to be used on days when the weather was too wet to dry clothes outdoors. Warm and welcoming it was not. In fact, Bodie reflected, it was possibly chillier than he would have expected on a late spring day.
"Per'aps he do think it should 'ave a few home comforts?" Mrs. Trembath suggested. Bodie noted the twinkle of amusement in his housekeeper's eyes as she folded dry washing in the corner. "We could bring in an easy chair or two, put a nice rug on the floor…" she added.
"Invite Queen Alexandra to tea!" Bodie interjected, warming to the game. "She could perform an official opening ceremony." Bodie's voice became regal. "Ai name this wash-house…"
"Yes, all right you two!" Doyle cut in, clearly irritated.
The housekeeper frowned, ignoring Doyle completely. "Do 'ee think 'er and all 'er toadies would fit in 'ere?" She looked around doubtfully. "I s'pose we could put a few chairs in the yard – if it were a nice day…"
"Could we save the music hall act for later?" Doyle scowled at them both in turn and Bodie strove to be serious with only limited success – that particular character trait not being a notable part of his make-up to date. "We're here for a purpose," Doyle added.
"Well, I don't know what you'm expecting to find," the housekeeper said then, her expression making it only too clear that she considered this a waste of time and that Doyle was more than a little touched in the head.
"Do you feel anything?" Doyle asked Bodie.
Bodie shook his head. "No. But then it isn't something I can turn on like a tap. It's like it creeps up on me when I'm not thinking about it. The minute I do start to pay attention to it, it often disappears. And sometimes not. It's hard to fathom."
Doyle's frustration was quite apparent and Bodie was sorry that he couldn't be more help. These days chief among his priorities was keeping Raymond Doyle happy. It wasn't always easy. His lover expected a lot from life and a lot from the people who associated with him. More of a realist Bodie knew that people usually did what was best for them rather than what was best for others, regardless of outward appearances. Consequently, he suffered less in the way of disillusionment than Doyle but found himself affected, nevertheless, due to the upset Doyle experienced when people let him down. He badly wanted to smooth the path of his lover's life but as a realist, knew it would not always be possible. All he could do was his best; the knowledge that that might not always be enough caused him to sigh inwardly.
Doyle was now walking around the walls smoothing his hand over bumpy surfaces and knocking at various points with his fist. Bodie presumed he was looking for hidden apertures but it was clear he was having no luck whatsoever. Disappointed for him still, he glanced at Mrs. Trembath to find her indicating towards the doorway with a nod of her head. Bodie looked in that direction and found that Rascal had appeared and was sitting outside, about a foot from the door.
Moving towards him, Bodie held out his hand. "Come on, boy. Inside."
Rascal woofed quietly, looked agitated, but didn't move.
"Come on," Bodie urged, "it's all right. There's nothing to hurt you in here."
"Nothin' you can see," Mrs. Trembath said suddenly. "Dogs is funny. When Uncle Billy, over Boswedden, died 'is old dog, Maudie, who Mother was looking after, set up such a howlin' you never would believe. Gave Mother a proper turn. She knowed afore anyone else that the old fella was gone."
Doyle was leaning against the wall, arms folded, listening to her intently. Bodie let his gaze roam the man's delectable form. Snug tweed trousers fitted perfectly over slim hips, outlining curves that Bodie knew were ever his own undoing. He shifted his gaze away quickly. Outside, if not in here, the day was warm and Doyle had his shirt sleeves rolled up revealing strong forearms, his lightly tanned skin a nice contrast to the crisp white of his cotton shirt. Their housekeeper was rightly proud of her whites and Bodie silently thanked her for being partly responsible for the view he was appreciating. But then Doyle would look good in a coal sack. Better still, in nothing at all. Bodie speedily adjusted his thoughts once again but not before locking gazes with Doyle and seeing in the intensity of his green eyes the same hard need he was himself experiencing.
"That's an interesting story," Doyle observed. He moved forward then, sliding a quick glance at Bodie as he did. The message was clear: fun later, lots of it. Bodie wondered whether all who were deeply in love, as they were, shared this kind of mental telepathy.
Going to kneel inside the door, a couple of feet in front of Rascal, Doyle held out his hand. "Come on, boy."
Bodie could see the man's thinking. If Rascal was going to move for anyone it would be for Doyle. Man and animal seemed to have developed a shared affinity and Bodie smiled to himself. Dogs always had good taste.
It was obvious Rascal wanted to come inside. Each time Doyle beckoned he edged forward an inch at a time and it would have been funny except that it was clear the dog was becoming distressed.
Bodie put a stop to it. "Enough. He wants to be in here with you but something is terrifying him. This isn't kind. Take him in, Mrs. Trembath, and give him something nice to eat. A treat."
Mrs. Trembath shook her head as she went past him. "You'm soft in the 'ead, Mr. Bodie. You oughta put a sign up on the gate. 'Waifs and strays welcome here! The more the merrier!'" She glanced at Doyle as she said it and Bodie coloured in embarrassment, knowing that what she said was true; he was a soft touch.
They were left alone and Bodie turned to Doyle. Once again the man was leaning against the wall, watching Bodie intently.
"Well, I'm sorry there's nothing to see here. I suppose it was to be expected, it is years ago after all," Bodie said, apologetically.
"It's all right."
"Haven't learnt anything, though, have we?"
"Oh, I don't know."
Bodie regarded him, his mouth slightly agape. "What?"
Doyle straightened up and moved forward. "Well, I've discovered that I quite like the fact that you're 'soft in the 'ead'," he said, mimicking the housekeeper's Cornish burr and smiling gently.
Bodie blushed. "Can't help it. Just the way I am."
Doyle nodded, thoughtfully. "I know."
That soft look was in Doyle's eyes again and having its usual bewildering effect on Bodie. It both pleased and alarmed him. The knowledge that he could inspire such devotion was thrilling. Beyond compare. Nothing in his experience had prepared him for the love of another human being like this. He'd tried to remember his parents' marriage and had recalled a relationship that had appeared to be remote, polite, not in any sense passionate or even affectionate. Perhaps things had been different in the bedroom? Naturally he didn't know. He'd never before questioned it. His friends' parents were the same as his own and thus he'd assumed that was the norm. Clearly there was more to the middle-class Victorian marriage than met the eye – but polite society dictated that you were not demonstrative in public. And that was what alarmed Bodie. The affection in his lover's eyes was there for all the world to see if they cared to look. Most people didn't care, either too wrapped up in the daily grind of keeping themselves and their families alive, or simply turning a blind eye. But there were those who took an unnatural interest in the lives of others, whose main interest in life was making mischief, who thrived on the secrets of their neighbours. Bodie knew that he and Doyle had the kind of secrets that that kind of person would find irresistible and the thought scared him half to death.
"Look…" he began.
"Come on," Doyle smiled, cutting him off. "Let's get in there before she gives that dog your tea."
Bodie's eyes widened in horror and he shifted.
Penzance was teeming with life, it being Thursday and a market day. The main thoroughfare, Market Jew Street, was full to capacity with stalls displaying all manner of produce and heaving with those intent on selling their wares or finding a bargain, browsing the day away or stealing what they couldn't afford or weren't prepared to pay for.
The day was warm and the smell of hot, perspiring bodies was all pervading. It mingled with the muskiness of game hanging aloft. Kippers hung, row upon row filling the air with a smoky fragrance that only the strong willed were equipped to resist. Farmhouse cheeses sweated in the heat and green vegetables, picked that morning, already showed the effects of sitting in the sun too long.
You could buy anything here. And not only merchandise of the culinary type.
Bodie had witnessed with his own eyes money changing hands and a surreptitious arm slipped around the waist of a pretty girl then led away to who knew where; one of the boats in the harbour perhaps or an alleyway where needs of a carnal nature could be slaked, away from prying eyes.
On one occasion, some five years ago, he himself had slipped between two stalls to examine a piece of wood a stall-holder was selling. Bodie had smiled at the man, his gaze lingering over fair, rugged good looks. The wood, he thought, was pine and would make a decent small table for a corner of his bedroom but realising he had no way of getting it home on his bicycle he'd smiled his thanks and went to move away.
The stall-holder, tall, blonde-haired, slightly older than Bodie, moved quickly behind him, blocking his exit and standing so close that Bodie could feel his warm breath on the back of his neck and the infinitesimal pressure of his body against his arse.
"You like?" the man whispered.
Foreign. Bodie nodded, feeling a frisson of excitement beginning to build. "It's nice. Solid," he said running his fingers over the grain of the wood.
"Is hard," the man kept his voice low but shifted his abdomen in a movement so slight it almost wasn't there but Bodie had, without a doubt, felt the light touch of a stiffening cock.
Bodie turned his head to look him straight in the eye.
"Norge," the blonde-haired man told him, holding his gaze, though Bodie had not asked.
Norwegian. He looked too long and too hard into Bodie's eyes and Bodie read the message and sensed the man was only too aware of the effect he also was having.
"Timber for the mines?" Bodie asked, still holding the other man's gaze. He knew the Norwegian boats came into the port of Penzance often during the summer with wood for the local mine shafts.
The man nodded. "Some pieces not suitable. Sell them here in market. Is good wood. How much you like?"
"A lot," Bodie conceded, stroking it, "but getting it home…"
He felt the man suck his breath in consideringly. "You live near beach? I sail boat and leave wood on beach for you."
Bodie held the Norwegian's gaze, frowning slightly. "But why should you? You don't even know me."
A knowing smile spread across the man's face. He looked around warily. When his gaze returned to Bodie, Bodie could see he was weighing something up. "You do me favour, wood free, I deliver," he said eventually.
Their was no denying in Bodie's mind what it was the man wanted. Bodie's stomach contracted and his heart beat hard against his chest. This was a situation he should run a mile from. It was nothing to do with the price of the wood. He knew he could afford the piece. It was all to do with the excitement of the unknown. The unknown he suspected was the real him; the unknown that was experience, that would tell him if he really wasdifferent to other men, that would confirm he was not the only one, that he was not unique, that males other than him craved the bodies of their fellow men.
He should run.
Instead, Bodie looked around, his eyes darting here and there. "We can't… not here," he said, hesitatingly.
"Come." The Norwegian had then spoken quickly to a fellow countryman on the next stall, taken Bodie by the arm, and led him off.
By the time they were three streets away and it was clear they were heading for the harbour, Bodie was starting to panic. This was madness. If he allowed himself to be taken onboard ship anything could happen. He could be beaten, raped, killed even…
Coming to a halt he stared at the blonde-haired man. He was beautiful enough to take your breath away. Slightly taller than Bodie he was possessed of hair the colour of primroses: so pale it was almost white. Physically it was clear he worked hard for a living but it did him no disservice having created a body that was well-honed and muscled in a way that was causing havoc with Bodie's equilibrium and giving him an erection.
Blue eyes regarded Bodie steadily as they stood in the street. "You change minds?"
Bodie smiled at the man's quaint English and wished it weren't so utterly charming. He also wished it was a simple case of changing his mind… "No," he admitted. "But…"
"Ship not place you want go?"
Bodie indicated with a slight nod of his head that this was so.
The Norwegian glanced quickly around before taking Bodie by the arm once again and leading further down the street. They turned suddenly into a narrow alley, at the end of which was an abandoned outhouse. As he was ushered inside by the all too eager foreigner, Bodie decided he must have used this place before.
What followed – a swift undoing of buttons; the man's huge workman's hands holding both their cocks, stroking, rubbing; Bodie's come erupting from him in cascades that ran down the Norwegian's stomach onto his pubic hair; the sounds of their joint passion mingling in the dinginess of the shed; the sweat he could feel on the man's forehead as it rested against his – was something that Bodie had since strived to blank from his mind. It was hardly more than a fumble, he knew that. He also knew that other than this one instance his record was unblemished. There were plenty who could not say the same. It didn't matter. The crux of the matter was that he had lied to Doyle. His lover thought he was completely inexperienced. Bodie had told him so hadn't he? And Ray had no reason to disbelieve him.
As the two men had recovered in the shed, Bodie had had no idea that one day he would be with a man who would be everything to him; that he would have cause to regret this act. Back then he had been swamped with a feeling of joy and well-being after intense physical release. And at last he knew he was not alone.
"I am Per," the Norwegian had muttered hoarsely into his ear. "Thank you, much. I need."
The wood had been duly delivered at the appointed time at Priest's Cove, Bodie and his Norwegian exchanging no more than knowing smiles in the presence of other sailors from the ship. And the wood had made an excellent table in his bedroom, holding an oil-lamp and a photograph of his mother. Bodie wished he could look at the piece of furniture without thinking of his misdemeanour.
Some time later, after they had explored the market and were approaching the gardens that housed the library, Bodie looked across at Doyle. He was happily clutching some perfumed soap he'd purchased for what Bodie considered to be an extortionate sum. He could tell him… admit that he had had this one sexual experience. After all, it had happened long before they'd met and should not impact on their loving, stable relationship. But Bodie knew it would. Doyle might say that the fumbling, desperate act he had committed was sordid, disgusting. Whether it was or not was open to debate but he was certain that Doyle in his insecurity over Bodie's commitment to him would lash out, if not physically then verbally. And his tongue was more than well equipped to do a great deal of damage.
Busy wrestling with his conscience Bodie suddenly realised that Doyle had disappeared into some bushes. Following him into the dappled darkness he found the man relieving himself against the trunk of an elderly rhododendron. Taken aback, Bodie turned his back and moved to stand in front of Doyle to shield him from prying eyes.
"It's all right," Doyle said, "there's no one around. When you've got to go you've got to go. A liquid lunch has to go somewhere."
"Some of us had food to soak it up," Bodie reminded him, trying to blot out the noise coming from behind and not quite succeeding. Why was it that everything his beguiling partner did fascinated him? It wasn't decent. Doyle didn't know it but he was in no danger whatsoever from anyone else in Bodie's life, neither past nor present and no matter how alluring. The fact was, he was lost in love with Raymond Doyle, besotted, utterly transfixed and hypnotised by the man.
"Each to his own." Doyle was saying.
"Just hurry up," Bodie muttered, covering thoughts he didn't want to have with a display of irritation.
"Finished, Miss Prim and Proper!" Doyle declared.
Bodie could hear the laughter in his voice and experienced a momentary urge to wipe the man's smugness savagely away. It left him as soon as it had arrived. He turned to find Doyle still holding his cock.
The man raised his eyebrows and wiggled them suggestively. "Thought you might like to…" He bounced his member in his hand a couple of times. "You know…" He hardened in front of Bodie's eyes.
Yes. As a matter of fact Bodie did want to 'you know' with Doyle. But they could easily be caught here in the park and then what? He was damn sure the park-keeper would not be lenient with a couple of sodomists caught red-handed in the bushes. They'd doubtless end up in prison where the beautiful Raymond Doyle would soon discover that Bodie wasn't the only man in the world with a use for his delectable body.
Bodie shuddered inwardly. "Not here, Doyle. If we get caught…"
Doyle sniggered. "Might be worth it." The smile disappeared off his face as he regarded Bodie's serious expression. "Just joking," he added quietly. "'Snice sometimes, to just do it when I want… not to have to wait." He held Bodie's gaze with green, assessing eyes. "You've turned me into an instant gratification sort of a man. Not entirely my fault in my opinion."
Despite himself, Bodie laughed. "'Six of one, half a dozen of the other' as a certain woman of our association would say."
He stared at Doyle, still holding the blatant invitation snugly in his hand. A tiny bead of fluid pooled suddenly in the eye and an astonished Bodie watched as it ran freely over soft velvety flesh and ended dangling by a long glutinous thread just inches from the ground. It was Bodie's undoing. Unable to control himself he turned Doyle roughly, pushed him hard against the tree and brought them both to mutual and blissful relief.
The library was quiet. Bodie assumed that accounted for the librarian's warm welcome. Miss Tripp had little else to occupy her on this far from eventful afternoon and perhaps any distraction was welcome. The woman smiled at Doyle and then turned to allow an even wider smile to encompass Bodie. Her teeth were too big, her eyebrows met in the middle forming a bridge over a nose that would have made a Roman Centurion proud and, worse, she had an unfortunate habit of blinking too much. He'd once been horrified to find himself nodding in time to the blinking and only by a great effort of will had he been able to stop. But Bodie's sexual preference was for men and thus the librarian's appearance was of no account whatsoever; it couldn't have mattered less. She had always been pleasant to him and nothing was ever too much trouble. He smiled back.
The result of this was as usual. The woman became flustered suddenly, dropped things and lost control of her mouth. It never failed to amaze Bodie. He glanced sideways at Doyle who winked surreptitiously at him, lips twitching. Bodie frowned questioningly and Doyle looked away as though afraid to meet his gaze.
Behind the desk the assistant known, Bodie recollected, as 'Rose', scowled at the scene being played out. This woman was a different kettle of fish to her superior. If Miss Tripp ever moved on and Rose took over the running of the establishment, Bodie suspected his trips to the familiar and friendly little library would be numbered.
As they made their way upstairs, Bodie looked ahead at Doyle, leading the way. The staircase was narrow and deserted and he had an enticing view of the man's arse as he climbed. He put a hand up to encase one cheek and allowed it to rest there until they gained the top, giving a proprietorial squeeze before moving off to find what he was looking for.
The comforting smell of old books enveloped him, welcoming him into their domain and Bodie became engrossed in the business of searching through ornithology volumes. Doyle wandered off and it wasn't until much later that Bodie remembered that his lover was even there with him.
"Bodie, look at this!"
Bodie was at that moment trying to commit the image of a snow bunting to paper, wondering if he ever would get to see this rare little bird this far south, and his willingness to speak to Doyle was on the cool side of lukewarm. He made a sterling effort nevertheless. "Mmm…"
"Oi! I said, 'Look at this'."
"Mmm?" Bodie's response was still distracted. Not bothering to look up he was hoping Doyle would take the hint and go back to wherever he'd come from.
Sadly, the taking of hints and the subsequent acting upon such awareness was not one of Doyle's stronger points. He came to stand behind Bodie. "What the hell is that?"
Bodie thumped his pencil down on his pad. "What does it look like?"
"I wouldn't like to hazard a guess. Give me a clue. Or three."
Bodie's glare could have turned a lava flow into a glacier and shifted it manually. "It's a snow bunting."
"A snow what?"
"A snow bun… look… Doyle… the illustrator of my last book was knocking ninety and did it for a nominal fee and the love of the thing. Alfred died two years ago and I'm faced with doing it myself now."
The seat beside Bodie creaked noisily as Doyle settled himself onto it. "That was inconsiderate of him."
Bodie directed a quelling glance at his tormentor. "You know I didn't mean it like that."
Doyle slid the pad towards him. "So this is a snow bumpkin?"
Bodie knew he wasn't but rather than encourage him he let the matter go.
"I don't think," Doyle ventured, "its mother would recognise it."
"Well, that's as maybe, but beggars can't be choosers and I can't afford a genius."
Doyle shrugged. "You can afford me." He grinned impishly and winked. "I can be persuaded into all kinds of favours when I'm kept well serviced with good regular oiling."
Bodie felt an all too familiar stirring despite having scratched that particular itch only a couple of hours ago. Reluctantly – this was hardly the time or the place – he brought his mind back to the present. "I don't see how you can help," he said, frowning.
In answer, Doyle turned to a fresh sheet. "Go and get on with something else," he ordered.
Some half-hour later Bodie returned from another section and found a beautiful depiction of a snow bunting lying on the desk where he'd been sitting. Doyle's style was not as precise or as detailed as old Alfred's but in the drawing's fluid, easy lines the bird was easily recognisable and so was the character of the man he loved. And quite clearly that man could draw.
Bodie looked around: Doyle was nowhere to be seen. Taking the artwork with him he went in search of the artist and found him snoozing in an armchair by a window, the mid-afternoon sun falling across his face and colouring his tight curls a shade of russet more suited to autumn than early summer.
Seating himself opposite, Bodie watched him while he slept. It was hard to credit the speed at which Raymond Doyle had become the cornerstone of his existence. The love of his life. The description hardly did justice to the tumultuous emotions he was now living with on a day to day basis, the passion that existed between the two men.
Bodie's usual outlook on life was not to question things too closely. What happened, happened. Worrying things to death was not his style. But this was something out of the ordinary, precious, and as such bore closer scrutiny. Doyle was a gift, perhaps God-given, perhaps not; religious musings were also not his style. But the facts, unpalatable as they were, had to be faced: what could be given, could also be taken away. And what would Bodie do then? How would he cope? He could imagine grief akin to the death of a loved-one. A raw, excruciating pain that never went away. He reflected upon the secret he held inside. Should he wake Doyle and simply tell him that he was not the first to lay hands on the more private parts of Bodie's anatomy? It would be the sensible thing to do…
Opposite him Doyle stirred. Heavy lidded eyes, drugged with the remains of sleep, regarded him. Bodie's resolve ran for cover. The enormity of what he had to lose was born in upon him as his lover smiled, breathed in and then exhaled contentedly. His eyes closed again and Bodie was just thinking he'd gone back to sleep when he spoke. "Nice dream. Trying to go back to it. You were showing me how good you are at oiling. Very skilled, you turned out to be. But the horse kept trying to gallop instead of trot, which complicated things…"
A laugh escaped Bodie's lips and he grinned broadly. Far too much to lose… "You didn't tell me you could draw," he said then.
"You never asked. And the truth is, I haven't for years."
"Well, you don't appear to have lost your touch, this is excellent. Can I use you? To illustrate my book I mean."
Green eyes that were barely slits looked across at Bodie. "It's one of my favourite occupations."
"Being used by you."
Once again, Bodie fought stirrings from deep within. Doyle moved his leg until it was splayed out over the arm of the chair. On display for Bodie was his groin, the material of his trousers tented and providing ample proof, if Bodie needed any, of his liking to be used by his lover. The futility of fighting this runaway train flooded over Bodie but an effort was required to save them both from themselves in this all too public place. "What was it that you wanted to show me?" he asked.
Wrong question. He knew it even before Doyle had flicked the top button of his trousers open and commenced lightly stroking himself, all the time watching Bodie from beneath lowered lids.
A need to have some control over his own destiny made a last stand in Bodie's besieged mind. He stood quickly, hauling Doyle to his feet at the same time. "I could throw you over that chair and fuck you into oblivion, Ray. God knows I bloody want to," he said, his physical need colouring his voice with a rough arousal that belied what he was about to say. "But prison is an ugly place and I don't want to go there any more than you do. So show me what was getting you so excited before you did the drawing and we'll fuck like rabbits tonight, when we're alone."
He pulled Doyle to him then and did up the button of his trousers before casting a swift look around. Seeing nothing and no one he stole a hard, possessive kiss, licking the man's full lips with the tip of his tongue before breaking away.
Doyle stood with his eyes shut, a blissful smile on his face. "Love it when you come over all masterful," he murmured. "Gets me so damn hard…"
"Sorry." Doyle's eyes snapped open. "But it's not all my fault, you know."
"Well, whose is it then?"
Doyle sniggered. "Ask Miss Tripp."
Bodie had no idea what he meant. "Explain that," he demanded.
"I mean, Light of My Life, that looks like yours would tempt a saint. And as such I'm not the only one as fancies you fit to drop!"
The penny still hovered mid-air. Bodie faced Doyle, frowning.
Doyle let out an exasperated sigh. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. What is it Mrs. Trembath says…" He trailed off, clearly trying to remember.
"Bugger it, Ray, my housekeeper's been collecting sayings since she was a twinkle in her father's eye, she could write a damn book… several as a matter of fact!"
"Handsome is as handsome does," Doyle interjected triumphantly.
Bodie regarded him, mutely, for a long moment. "Meaning?" he said at last.
"Meaning, that for a man who is handsome to the standard of your average Greek god you are surprisingly modest and it's to your credit but…"
Bodie was feeling oddly discomfited. "'But' what?"
"A fair proportion of humanity lusts after you, Bodie." Doyle's voice was quiet as he made his point. "We can't always be made responsible. Miss Tripp turns into a gibbering idiot when you smile at her. And I want you all the time. It never lets up. Not for an instant. Do you understand?"
It was strange, Bodie decided, what love could do to you. He was sure both of them had been reasonably content before they'd met. Blissfully unaware of the obsession that lay ahead. It made him wonder. "Do you mind?"
"What you've done to me? No."
"Before was somebody else's life. Another Raymond Doyle. I have a new life now and it's with you. The fact that my trousers are permanently too tight," he wriggled his hips adjusting himself as he did so, "is an inconvenience I have to learn to live with. I wouldn't change a single thing, Bodie. Nothing."
A warm blanket of contentment settled over Bodie. "Nor me," he said, a mixture of emotion and embarrassment giving his voice a rough edge. "So what is it you wanted to show me?" he asked, deciding that a change of subject was definitely in order.
The warmth of Doyle's gaze was adding to Bodie's happiness, the man had not taken his eyes off him and as he moved away it seemed he only did so with reluctance.
"There's a book I want to show you." Doyle returned to the desk they had previously been occupying.
The volume looked to be fairly old. Around the middle of the last century judging by its state, which would put it in at around eighteen forty or fifty. Publishers often didn't date books back then so there was no real way of knowing.
Doyle opened the book. "It's about shipwrecks off this part of the coast, the extent of wrecking that kind of thing."
Bodie ran his hand over the book's pages – his love of books was almost religious he suspected. "It's beautiful."
"It's more than that. Look…" Doyle turned to where he'd marked a certain page with a slip of paper. "There's a section here about a ship that went down off the coast between Land's End and Cape Cornwall, purported to be carrying a Chinese princess."
"That rings a bell, didn't you spin me some yarn about a haunting to do with a Chinese princess?"
Doyle nodded. "Some of these yarns might sound a bit far fetched and sometimes they are, but others have a basis in truth. The facts may have been exaggerated over time or altered to suit someone's agenda. But look at this. No date is known for this wreck but it's thought to be around the seventeen eighties or nineties. The authorities never actually found the body of this princess or the expensive jewellery she was meant to be carrying with her." He turned a few more pages to another section. "This bit lists a few of the families who were involved in the smuggling trade, their men imprisoned and so on. Look."
Bodie looked to where Doyle's finger was pointing. "Pendarvis," he read. Reading on, it seemed that numerous men of that family had been prosecuted and imprisoned for crimes as heinous as smuggling, aggravated theft and even suspected murder, though nothing had been proved in that case. "Well, we knew they were a villainous lot, Ray. It doesn't tell us any more than we knew before."
"It means something. I can feel it in my bones. What if the Pendarvises had something to do with what happened to the survivors of this wreck and the jewellery? It's hardly stretching a point to imagine the most prolific smuggling family in the area having some hand in proceedings, is it?"
"No," Bodie conceded, "it isn't. But what has it got to do with the haunting in my house and the missing daughter?"
"Possibly nothing at all. Except… what if it all happened at the same time?"
Bodie regarded Doyle for a long moment. "We don't know that."
"No, we don't," Doyle agreed. "So, why do I feel like we were meant to find this?"
"I can't account for that," Bodie admitted, and he couldn't. With a history of odd happenings like his he would be the last to condemn another for such feelings. "But it would be a huge coincidence if it turned out to be the case," he pointed out. "Beyond belief."
Doyle smiled, knowingly and moved towards Bodie. Slipping an arm around his waist he said softly, "One day, Bodie, I'll tell you a few things about coincidences." He moved closer and Bodie had the oddest feeling he was about to be kissed.
"Excuse me." The voice cut through the air like the crack of a whip Bodie had once seen and heard at one of the old wild-west shows of his child-hood, making him jump every bit as much now as then.
The two men were immediately apart. It was the library assistant, Rose. Bodie was instantly alive to the very real danger they were in. He glanced across at Doyle who was moving surreptitiously away from him and towards the woman. It could have been worse; they could have actually been kissing. As it was, it was quite dark in here away from the window. A magistrate might be persuaded that the woman had been mistaken in what she saw, or that Doyle's arm was around Bodie because he felt unwell. As though to underline this Bodie sat down, took his handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his brow.
"My friend is unwell," Doyle pronounced.
Bodie reflected that there were benefits to being in love. One being the manner in which the loved one often knew what the other was thinking. This was one of those occasions. If they were lucky they might just get away with this. Bodie glanced at the woman and realised with a sinking heart that it was unlikely she was fooled. The woman's expression had not softened one iota at Bodie's apparent suffering. He even doubted the woman was possessed of a countenance that differed very much to the one she habitually wore. If she did, he for one had never been witness to it.
"The library is closing in ten minutes," the woman suddenly said. "All members to vacate the premises by then. Please return books to their correct places."
She turned on her heel and left them then, the hem of her black dress making a soft scraping sound as she moved across the floor, reminding Bodie of a story he'd once read where some unnamed terror was edging its way slowly across the room towards the hapless victim's bed. He shuddered.
"You all right?" Doyle's voice broke into his wild imaginings.
Bodie nodded. "She knew."
"Probably. But what can she do? Her word against ours."
Bodie wished he had Doyle's confidence.
As they made their way across the main part of the library on the ground floor, Miss Tripp stopped what she was doing and came to the desk.
She looked pointedly at the two men and smiled, her eyes swivelling towards her assistant, Rose, in what to Bodie looked like warning to be cautious. "I'm sorry you feel unwell, Mr. Bodie," she said. "It happens a lot at this time of year. The upper stories are a trifle airless and if one is especially engrossed in what one is doing it is easy not to realise that one is feeling a trifle faint. Are you quite recovered?"
For once the woman seemed not to be flustered at all and it occurred to Bodie that she was making a point for the benefit of the other woman. It made him feel immeasurably better. "Much better," he told her. "I can't imagine what came over me."
She smiled winningly. "I'm so pleased. We'll see you again soon, I hope?"
Bodie nodded and he and Doyle bid her 'good-bye'.
They stopped outside the entrance and Bodie breathed a sigh of relief. They might just have got away with that.
"We're doomed," observed Doyle.
Bodie looked at him sharply. "What do you mean?"
"Did you notice the termagant's name?"
"Rose. She's called Rose," Bodie replied. "Ironic really, eh? Like calling a wild tiger, 'Fluffy'."
"The name-plate on her desk said, 'Trevaskas'," Doyle told him. And with that he went to stand by the gold plates attached to the wall at the entrance to the library and pointed to the one that named the chairman of the library committee. "Colonel William Henry Trevaskas. Maiden sister I'd say, wouldn't you?"
Bodie's shoulders slumped. "Now what?"
Doyle shrugged as he walked past. "Wait and see."
The letter, when it came, was uncompromising. The library committee, it appeared, was checking its membership, due to the long waiting-list that existed to join the exclusive little library. Mr. Bodie had not used the library above four times in the past year and there were others with a more pressing need. His membership was hereby revoked.
Bodie sat heavily onto a kitchen chair. A wet nose touching his hand made him jump. When he looked down Rascal was regarding him with huge sympathetic eyes; Bodie put an arm around him and hugged him tight.
"Bad news?" Mrs Trembath was washing the breakfast dishes and Bodie could see concern in her eyes.
"Sort of," Bodie replied. "My library membership's been taken away."
His housekeeper's face registered her shock. "Do them say why?" She dried her hands and came to take the letter from him, holding it away from her so that she could read it without her glasses. Her hand dropped to her side then and she stared at him, plainly astonished. "But it ain't so! You'm always in there 'mongst they fusty old books!"
Bodie nodded but naturally there was no way he could tell her the real reason behind the letter.
The back door opened then as Doyle returned from the privy. "Anything wrong?"
"'Course," she continued, ignoring Doyle. "You know what 'tis?"
Bodie knew only too well, but was intrigued to hear his housekeeper's opinion on the subject. "What?"
"Will somebody tell me what's going on?" Doyle was standing in the middle of the kitchen now, hands on hips.
"You ain't posh enough for 'em. No Lord this or Lady that in your background; your ma and pa made their money through honest trade. That don't do for some toffee-nosed folk. Don't you worry none. My Aggie got herself a new position last week. Doin' for a gentleman over Botallack, just moved here from foreign parts. Exeter, I b'lieve she said. She tol' me he got a 'ouseful of books all about Cornwall. Kind, she said he be, thoughtful: a real gentleman. I bet if we was to ask he'd let you use his books."
"Will someone please tell me what is going on here!" Doyle's patience, never a particularly robust entity, had finally snapped.
In answer Mrs. Trembath thrust the missive at Doyle. He read it through and then looked up at Bodie. They exchanged a long look before Bodie broke the contact, not wishing his housekeeper to read anything into it.
Doyle's lips thinned into an angry line.
"Don't you be swearin' in my kitchen," the housekeeper warned before he had a chance to say anything.
It was clearly causing Doyle an effort to follow this order. "This is not fair."
Bodie got to his feet and took the letter off his lover. "No. But you know as well as I do it'd be pointless to protest."
He gave Doyle a pointed look and knelt to pet the dog, receiving a sympathetic lick to ease his troubles. Looking up just then he was in time to catch the exchange of looks between Doyle and Mrs Trembath. A mutual understanding? He wasn't sure. Doyle turned his back to Bodie and Bodie saw him shrug at the woman. The woman's voice was low, not intended for Bodie's ears. "Tis nothin' personal. Them just scared witless of your sort. Ignorance ain't confined to the uneducated. Never was… Take 'im to see my Aggie's gentleman. You won't be sorry."
They turned their attention back to him and Bodie pretended deafness. It was difficult to take in the implications of what he'd just heard. He'd suspected his housekeeper of being well aware of the situation that existed between him and Doyle. But this was the first time she'd hinted at such by actually saying so. It added to his confusion and misery. The thought of never again spending hours in the company of so many beautiful books, of losing himself for whole days, was a blow of considerable proportions. He'd been robbed of something precious and for what? The fear and ignorance of those not intelligent enough to realise that the likes of he and Doyle were no threat to anyone. He looked up at the two most important people in his life – and realised with a jolt that despite all he was lucky. He did at least have them. There were many who could not say they had two people in their lives who loved them unconditionally and he could see from the expression in the eyes of both Doyle and Mrs. Trembath, that he was one of the fortunate few.
"I'll tell my Aggie to ask her gentleman if he would like some visitors," the housekeeper said. "She do reckon you two would like he." She went back to the dishes then and the two men exchanged wry glances.
"Shall we take Rascal for a walk?" Doyle suggested.
The magic word had been uttered. A previously sad and sorrowful dog, supplying comfort to Bodie, became a young pup again, prancing round the kitchen, jumping for his lead and barking his wholehearted support for the proposal.
"Dear God, take 'im outa my kitchen," Mrs. Trembath ordered in no uncertain terms. "An' you go with 'un. Three undisciplined males in one room be the outside of enough!"
"It could have been worse," Doyle was saying.
They were sitting on the downs looking across at Land's End with Sennen Cove nestling far below them, the small harbour wall bearing the brunt of the sea's ferocity on this cold, blustery day. A strong wind was sending huge clouds scuttling across the sky, creating a patchwork of blue, white and grey that was ever changing so that if you took your eyes off it for more than two seconds the scene had altered again as though some insane artist was continually splattering paint across his canvas, never satisfied with the effect he was achieving.
Rascal was ranging far and wide, sniffing at scents and chasing things unseen to the human eye, returning every now and then in the hope that one of his men might throw a stick or have something in his pocket for a hungry dog to eat.
The elements were working their usual magic on Bodie, focussing his mind, enabling him to see things clearly. "I know," he said. "But I'll miss that library. Apart from the books and the loss of access to research, it was where I first saw you."
"You're sentimentally attached to it, you mean?" Doyle was laughing.
Bodie coloured. It was no secret to himself that the sentimental half of the partnership was him. Doyle was emotional in many respects, he clearly loved deeply and felt the injustices of the world almost as a personal insult. But when it came to sentiment it was Bodie who wept for humanity – himself and others – and in secret.
An elbow nudged him. "'Sall right. I won't tell anyone."
"You don't know the half of it."
He had Doyle's attention now. "Eh?"
"You don't know what I did in there after you put in an appearance, do you?"
"According to you, spent a lot of time lusting after me."
"Mmm," Bodie confirmed. "And that sort of thing can lead to er… problems."
"Do you mean what I think you mean?"
Bodie didn't reply. He stared out at the white capped waves thundering onto the beach below, a small knowing smile on his face.
There was a long silence and then, "Bodie?"
"Well, you were looking particularly luscious that day and what's a fellow to do when things take their natural course? I'm only human after all!"
"The theology section was particularly quiet that day..."
Doyle lay back on the springy turf and covered his face with his hands. The shaking of his shoulders indicated that he was laughing silently and Bodie grinned.
"You're going to hell, you know that, don't you?" Doyle said. He sat up again then and sighed. "Wish I'd known. Would have come in there and given you a hand. So to speak…"
Bodie snorted. "And got us arrested as well as banned."
Doyle leaned back, supporting himself on ram-rod straight arms. His head flopped back and the wind took full advantage, whipping his russet curls into a frenzy of snake-like tendrils. Bodie was hypnotised, feeling, not for the first time, that his lover was like some elemental being; a living, breathing part of the ancient landscape that surrounded them.
"I'm sorry," Doyle said suddenly, sitting up and breaking the spell.
"What for?" Bodie shook himself; Doyle was no more or less a man than himself.
"Being partly responsible for getting you banned."
"It's not your fault."
"Yes, it was. You warned me but I didn't take any notice. Decorum's never been my strong point. Think it, say it, do it. I don't think much about consequences. And this is the result."
"I'm as much to blame. When it comes to you I have no control."
"It's me that needs controlling!"
Bodie smiled. The idea of tying his lover down, of somehow restricting the man's actions and reactions was absurd. Even had he known how, the idea was an anathema to him, an affront to the views he now held on the wrongness of caging and taming wild animals. Doyle was Doyle. It was quite possible that tamed he would lose his appeal. Bodie was as certain as he could be that the unpredictability of the man's temperament was part, if not all, of his attraction. The man was like a plugged volcano. You never knew when he would erupt and Bodie loved it and understood why thousands of people chose to make their homes on the slopes of the most dangerous of volcanoes. "Over my dead body," he said quietly, and meant it.
"It's a good job we haven't brought Rascal," Doyle observed. "This place is full of bloody cats. And seagulls!"
Bodie laughed. "They say they're the reincarnations of dead Mousehole folk. The place has such a hold on them they're prepared to come back as cats and seagulls just to be here."
And Bodie understood. Of all the villages in this part of Cornwall, Mousehole was his favourite. Its narrow winding streets, lined with small granite fisherman's cottages climbing higgledy-piggledy to the top of the surrounding hills, fair teemed with life.
Fishing was the life-blood of the village. But the ocean which put food on the table sometimes required recompense and the cost was a high one: the lives of the men who harvested the sea.
"So, where are we staying?" Doyle asked as he neatly directed his bicycle around a large seagull which then gave him the evil eye. "And why aren't we going home tonight?"
"I need some drawings of different gulls," Bodie explained for the umpteenth time. "Herring, Great Black-backed, Glaucous, Common… and this is the best place…"
"Yeah, all right, all right, so there are more species of ruddy gulls here than ideas of what goes into a Cornish pasty. But I could do all that and we could still be home for supper and a nice warm bed," Doyle complained.
"The bed being the main bone of contention."
Doyle was silent for a moment. "I didn't say that," he said defensively.
"But the fact that we'll have to have separate rooms in Mrs. Harvey's bed and breakfast establishment is not exactly filling you with the joys of this glorious Spring day?"
When no answer was forthcoming Bodie sighed inwardly. "It's only for two nights, Ray. I thought you might like a short holiday. It'll give Mrs. Trembath a chance to do the Spring cleaning she's been muttering about for weeks. Believe you me when she starts hefting rugs around and moving the furniture you're better off out of it! And I do need the artwork." He realised his voice was taking on a whining, pleading note and was immediately irritated with himself – and Doyle – for forcing him into it.
"Two nights?" the man beside him suddenly said.
"Just two nights."
Doyle suddenly lowered his voice. "How am I supposed to go that long?"
Bodie guffawed loudly. "We'll think of something, don't worry. There are plenty of dark allies round here at night."
Beside him Doyle was smirking. "That had better be a promise. One of my favourite things – dark allies – and yours too I notice. Two nights is going to stretch you as well."
Bodie had no intention of admitting to such a thing but knew his lover was right, nevertheless.
"It's pretty here," Doyle observed. "I think I should put in some background."
"It's a bird-book, not a travelogue, Ray." Bodie lowered his glasses and looked down at Doyle. The man was sitting on the wall of the pier, legs askew, sketch-book propped on his knee, looking towards the village. Bodie was facing the other way, observing the bird-life on St. Clement's Isle which lay half a mile off shore. The island was besieged by sea-birds, their noisy clatter crossing the distance and creating a raucous, tuneless symphony of bird-calls that mimicked that of those here in the village.
"More natural to have them in a setting," Doyle remarked.
"Alfred just used to put the bird on the page."
"Yes, well… more than one way to skin a cat. And if you've got birds in a setting like this, I'd say use it."
Bodie shrugged. "If you think it would work."
Doyle smiled. "Trust me."
Looking over his shoulder Bodie could see he had a point. His depiction of the herring gull that stood sentry on a nearby post was definitely enhanced by the background of the harbour and fishing boats Doyle was sketching in. And the man was skilled. Somehow the picture proclaimed, 'Warm Spring day, sea breezes, ocean choppy, Bodie and Doyle content.'
"She didn't like me."
Well, Bodie was content. Doyle's mind and body were never still long enough for contentment to get a decent grip. Bodie slid a sideways glance at the man. "Who didn't?"
"The landlady of our bed and breakfast place."
Bodie gave Doyle his undivided attention. "How did you work that out?"
A slight shake of Doyle's head told Bodie that the man had no concrete evidence but knew all the same.
"Well… you know what these people are like, Doyle. They can be insular. You have to earn their trust."
"Was more than that. And anyway, people who run tourist accommodation can't afford to be insular if they want to make any money."
Bodie went to sit beside his friend and emitted a long, drawn out breath. "It's only for two nights."
Doyle was just giving the gull on his page an appropriate beady eye and suddenly the whole picture came alive. "Hmm," he said, appraisingly. "I think I'll call him Eric. Eric the Beak."
Doyle was regarding his plate with disbelief. "What is this?"
"Shhh," Bodie warned, "she'll hear you."
"What is it?" Doyle persisted, clearly not caring whether their landlady heard or not.
"My grandma used to eat tripe and it didn't look like this!"
Sensing trouble, Bodie hastened to placate the man. "It's cooked with onions and a white sauce. Try it, it's actually quite tasty and very nourishing." And to illustrate this point of view he attempted to eat heartily. It wasn't easy. The dish was eatable but tripe had never been a favourite of his.
"The lining of a cow's stomach?"
"I believe it is!" Bodie said, as though confirming a fascinating piece of information.
"I'm not eating it."
Bodie sighed inwardly. This was a classic case of six of one, half a dozen of the other. There was no doubt that Raymond Doyle was a fussy eater. 'Finicky', Mrs. Trembath called him and it was true: he was. But Bodie had taken mental note of his friend's assertion that Mrs. Harvey did not like him and had watched. Reluctant as he was to admit to it, he had to agree that Doyle seemed to be correct. There was a cold look in the woman's eye's when she regarded him and her tone when addressing him bordered on the insolent. He wondered therefore, whether the woman had deliberately cooked a dish for their evening meal that she knew many people had not the stomach to eat.
"Did you hear me?" Doyle's question interrupted Bodie's deliberations.
"Yes. Look, Doyle, these people are not well off…"
"We're paying for this!"
"I know but…"
"No 'buts' about it! You don't want to cause a scene. You'd rather I went hungry than offend a woman who's clearly taken a dislike to me."
Doyle's anger was building rapidly and Bodie could feel the situation slipping quickly out of his control. "It's not like that," he denied. "How do you know she's…"
The door opened and they fell silent.
Bodie regarded the diminutive figure of their landlady standing by the door. Spanish blood there, he speculated, probably from the sacking of the village hundreds of years ago by Spanish ships. Her hair had clearly once been lustrous and dark but was now streaked with grey and swept severely back off her face into a tight bun. Sharp, brown eyes looked from one man to the other, appraising, waiting… as if, Bodie reflected, she were actually hoping for a confrontation. But why? Bodie had stayed here twice before and although the woman had never been anyone's idea of friendly, she had never displayed this kind of hostility. Never tried to give him tripe…
Still hoping to avoid nastiness Bodie conjured a smile from somewhere. "No, we're fine…"
"My friend might be but I'm not." Doyle's voice cut him off and the silence that ensued could have swallowed them all whole.
"And why might that be?" the woman's small mouth tightened and Bodie saw the light of battle appear in her eyes.
"I don't eat offal."
"Too good for it are 'ee? Plenty of folk 'ud be grateful for that…"
"Well I'm not 'plenty of folk'…"
"I can see that."
"Then I might be forgiven for asking why we've been given this to eat seeing as we're paying guests."
"'Tis good, nourishing food!"
"It's bloody cat food!"
The woman gasped and Bodie knew a moment of sympathy. "Doyle…"
The scraping back of Doyle's chair interrupted him. He stood, regarding them both. "It's quite clear neither of you want me to eat decently tonight so if you don't mind I'll take myself off to somewhere that isn't trying to make me vomit."
He stalked across the room and as the door slammed behind him Bodie rested his elbows on the table and covered his face with both hands.
When he eventually looked up the woman was regarding him steadily, her gaze unflinching. "He'm full of 'isself," she said suddenly. "What do a nice fella like yourself want with 'is sort?"
Bodie got to his feet. "I'll pack our bags," he said shortly.
The woman did not bat an eyelid.
Mousehole was possessed of five drinking houses in all. Bodie had started with what he considered to be the most salubrious and was just closing the door on the stomach-turning stench of stale beer, human sweat and urine that accompanied the least. He stepped away and took several deep breaths. If Doyle's sensibilities were offended by a dish of tripe and onions then looking for him in there had been a trifle ridiculous. But it had been his final option; he had now run out of alternatives.
Bodie had procured a room at his first port of call – The Anchor Inn – a pub which didn't pretend to be fancy but was nevertheless clean and served decent, if plain, food. It would do. The landlord had apologised and said they were full, apart from one room; if he and his friend didn't mind sharing they were welcome to it. Smiling grimly to himself Bodie accepted the offer, the irony of the situation not lost on him.
Leaving their bags in the room and their cycles padlocked in the yard behind the inn, Bodie had set off in search of Doyle.
He shivered now and pulled his jacket closer around him, turning his collar against the stiff breeze that was coming in off the sea. It had been dark for several hours, the streets lit only by lights showing in the windows of the few cottages where the inmates had not yet gone to bed. He could hear the ebb and flow of the tide on the small beach and the thunder of waves hitting the far side of the harbour wall. Another time and he would have been full of exhilaration at the evidence of nature's elemental forces; tonight it merely fuelled a loneliness that threatened to engulf him.
Where had Doyle gone? Bodie was trying desperately to quash feelings of panic. Somewhere along the line he must have missed him – en route from one pub to another possibly. The village was a rabbit warren of narrow streets and alleys, and you could lose a herd of elephants, let alone one slightly-built individual who perhaps had no wish for his whereabouts to be discovered.
There was nothing for it – he would have to retrace his steps.
Three pubs revealed nothing again, and nor did Bodie's poking around in every nook and cranny he could find in the streets. He had also approached several passers-by, most the worse for drink at this late hour, and none of whom had seen a curly haired young man.
There were only two left now, The Anchor, where he would now be staying, and The Kings Arms. As he neared the establishment he stopped once again to question a passing woman. She smiled winningly and promptly propositioned him. Bodie politely declined but pressed a coin on her hoping it would loosen her tongue.
"Try round the back o' The Charlie," she laughed. "I heared a fella there, a while ago, givin' my sis, Rosie, a good seein' to. Makin' a right song and dance 'ee were too. Like he never 'ad a woman in 'is life! Too dark to see who he was. Could be he paid 'er for another go and them still at it."
Bodie's blood turned to ice in his veins. Please God, no… "The Charlie? What's that?" he asked, striving to keep despair from colouring his voice.
"Bleddy 'ell, you'm ain't from round 'ere," the woman guffawed. "'Tis the King's Arms… named after King Charles, like. Mind… I dunno which one… both of 'em did like a bitta skirt they do say, so 'tis quite fittin' really, seein' 'tis the best place for we to ply our trade…"
Bodie left her deliberating on the whims of kings and made for the back of the pub.
The place was utterly silent and completely dark. Whatever had been going on here was now finished. In utter frustration he kicked out with one foot and it connected with what he assumed was an old bucket. It clattered around the yard and a cat yowled, scooting past him in its panic and making Bodie jump out of his skin.
Then he heard the noise.
It seemed to come from somewhere around the back where the yard became a passageway. Bodie crept, as quietly as he could, towards the opening.
He stood looking into a black hole that had clearly been used as a urinal – and one or two other things besides. Bodie wrinkled his nose in disgust, wanting to hold his breath and not take the stench in. Aware as he was that people had bodily needs and functions that sometimes veered out of control when too much drink was consumed, this was, nevertheless, the absolute limit.
A sudden groan brought him our of his reverie. Someone was in there and in distress. It might be Doyle. He moved quickly, a small part of him wondering what he was treading in as he moved along the alley.
At the end he found what he was looking for: a heap of something. His hands groped and encountered bits of wood, damp rags, other things he didn't wish to identify. And then… a body.
Bodie grabbed at it and shook it lightly. It groaned again. "Who is this? Speak to me!" Bodie insisted. "Come on wake up!"
"Ouch!" It was Doyle. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Bodie!"
Relief and anger warred within Bodie. Anger won. "Well, I could ask you the same question. Are you drunk? You certainly smell like a bloody brewery. What the hell are doing down here? That whore hit you over the head and pinch your money after you'd seen to her, did she?"
Doyle was trying to sit up and, losing patience, Bodie grabbed his arm and hoisted him unceremoniously to his feet. The man's gasp of pain made him momentarily regret his unfeeling haste but the pang did not last long.
"Can't remember," Doyle muttered.
"Can't remember what?" Bodie demanded.
"Bloody hell. You stink do you know that? And not just of beer. What the hell have you been doing?"
"Don't knowww…" Bodie mimicked, unable to restrain an urge to be cruel in the face of his own hurt.
"Get me out of here, Bodie." Doyle's voice was a hoarse whisper. "I think there's blood on my face and I feel like I've been used as a punch bag."
Bodie got a grip on himself. Regardless of his own feelings he had to get Doyle somewhere safe to see what the damage was. He put the man's arm over his shoulder and slowly they made their way out of the yard.
The landlord of The Anchor was sweeping up and stopped what he was doing to stare at the two of them. Bodie let Doyle slide down onto a chair in the now empty tavern.
"Look 'ere," the publican said, "I don't want no trouble. This is a respectable establishment."
Bodie looked down at Doyle. It was clear he had taken a beating. There was blood on his chin and around his mouth, one side of his face was swollen causing the eye to look closed and he was doubled up clutching his stomach. A suspicious stain on one sleeve led Bodie to suppose he also, at some stage, been sick. "We need a constable. It's not his fault he's been beaten up," Bodie told the landlord.
The man looked doubtful. "I don't know about that…" he began.
"Yes, nobody much seems to, I notice." Bodie spared Doyle a pointed look. "So, while everyone gives things due consideration perhaps you would help me get him upstairs?" The landlord hesitated. "Now!" Bodie's tone was menacing and he took a step forward to reinforce his stance.
The publican sprang forward then, muttering an apology. He told Bodie he hadn't meant to be unhelpful but his sister was married to a local magistrate and he had to keep a respectable house for her sake. Bodie didn't ask why. The answer didn't interest him even remotely. As they climbed the stairs his mind focussed grimly on Doyle and how it was humanly possible for a man to leave a house in a normal, albeit angry, state and hours later end up looking like a pack of hungry dogs had been at him.
Upstairs at last, they lowered Doyle onto the bed.
"I'll fetch the constable," the publican said.
"If you would be so kind." The man looked at Bodie and Bodie directed a cold stare at him. "And a doctor."
The man nodded and went.
The constable closed his notebook. "Not a lot to go on, I'm afraid." He was a big man. What was left of his hair was fair and wispy and he regarded Bodie out of clear blue eyes, his gaze unwavering. For some obscure reason Bodie felt he could trust him.
"Doctor was disgusted!" The landlord's wife was holding the bowl of water that she and Bodie had used to wash Doyle's wounds. The doctor had given Doyle something to make him sleep and it had worked quickly.
"If'n decent folk can't walk abroad without being set 'pon I dunno what we'm coming to in Mouse'ole," the woman continued. "Last week poor ole Mrs. Curnow, a widow-woman from up Paul, was robbed of the money she wuz goin' to use to pay for 'er funeral! Come right into 'er house they did and took the money from under 'er mattress while she was in the yard 'angin' out 'er smalls!"
Bodie opened his mouth to tell the constable that he was sorry he couldn't be more help but the publican's wife had more to say it seemed.
"Tis disgustin'. And look at poor Mr. Doyle! Doctor said he do look like he bin set upon by the hounds of 'ell," she added with feeling. "Just look at 'is poor face."
They looked. A large bruise covered one eye and was spreading slowly across his cheek. His lip was cut and swollen and several further cuts, several inches in length, were on his chin and neck. It looked like he'd been attacked with a broken bottle and as such this was likely not the work of a prostitute. And, judging by the bruises covering his body more than one man had been involved in the beating. Bodie had not mentioned the prostitute to the constable, though it was possible that she and the men were accomplices. For a start he wasn't certain that she even existed but also if the publican and his wife suspected Doyle might have had doings with one, and this had been the result, their sympathy would almost certainly be short-lived and they would find themselves out on the street.
"You better find out who did this," the woman was now saying to the constable. Bodie regarded the man with no small amount of sympathy.
"I'll do my best, of course, Mrs. Richards, but you know as well as I do that we got foreign fishermen in at the moment and they comes and goes all the time," the constable told her.
"Odd that nothing was taken though," Bodie speculated. Though he knew Doyle had had little money on him.
The constable nodded. "Most peculiar, sir. Most peculiar."
Mrs. Richards left them then and the constable looked appraisingly at Bodie. "Did you say, sir, that you left a guest house to come here?"
Bodie nodded. "It was over a dish of tripe and onions," he said, and shrugged. "Mrs. Harvey's over on Reginnis Hill."
"Hmm. Not everyone's cup of tea," the policeman muttered.
"Well, it's clean and the place has a nice view," Bodie replied absently.
The man looked up. "I meant tripe and onions."
"Oh. Yes. No. Well. Not that struck myself to be honest but grub is grub, eh?"
The constable nodded. "Luckily missus, ain't so keen 'erself so we never gets it. I say lucky as she don't take kindly to criticism about her cookin' and if she put it in front of me I'd feel obliged to eat it."
Bodie decided to keep to himself his mental observations on burly policemen who were afraid of their wives. The truth was, Cornish women were a force to be reckoned with, especially after they'd reached a certain age it seemed to him. Their natural demeanour seemed to be grim bordering on ferocious.
The policeman was frowning. "Did Mr. Doyle say anything to Edna Harvey? About the tripe, I mean."
Bodie took his mind back to the scene. "Well, only that he didn't eat offal. Is this relevant?"
The constable sighed. "See, the Harvey's are a bit of a rum lot. I went to school with 'em and they was always in trouble. The boys for fightin', the girls for spite. Edna was in the habit of sticking sharpened pencils into other girls if they said somethin' to upset her. She didn't like it if they happened to be prettier; she didn't like anyone getting more attention: jealousy were part of her make-up. But it didn't matter much. You got the feeling she were just looking for excuses sometimes. A menace she were. And now there's two new generations of 'em. And them clannish, the Harveys."
Bodie stared at the policeman for a long moment. "He said her tripe and onions was cat food."
The man's eyes widened and he closed his notebook. "That would be a hanging offence in my household. I don't like to think what Edna Harvey would make of it."
"Doyle said he thought she'd taken a dislike to him the minute we arrived."
The constable regarded Doyle as he slept, his russet curls splayed across the pillow. "You stayed there before?"
Bodie nodded. "On my own. Twice."
"None. I can't understand it."
The constable shook his head. "Who knows how the human mind works, eh Mr. Bodie? Who knows…"
Bodie undressed slowly. He was having trouble processing the events of this evening. How had a simple two day trip turned into this fiasco? It would be easy to blame Doyle and the combination of his temper and tendency to be finicky, but it was clear the fault was not all his. Could the constable really be hinting that whoever had accompanied Bodie would have fallen foul of their landlady? It was absurd. Absolutely ridiculous. And at this hour of the morning too much for him to take in.
Pulling back the bedclothes he climbed into bed. Doyle didn't stir. Whatever the doctor had given him had knocked him out. Bodie looked longingly across at his partner. What he needed right now was reassurance, a comforting cuddle. He needed to be told that Doyle loved him, that he hadn't got drunk and fucked a prostitute and that Bodie was still the most important person in his life. None of which was going to happen. Not tonight and maybe not tomorrow either.
"Now, now, don't 'ee take on so!"
Bodie turned from the letter he was writing to regard the goings on behind him. The publican's wife was fussing over Doyle who was fussing right back at her. In normal circumstances Bodie would have laughed. But things weren't normal. Not only was his lover bruised and battered after his beating, he had made it clear on waking that there was now a rift between the two men. Bodie had reached for him, hoping that the longed for comfort of last night might be forthcoming: it was not. Doyle had literally flinched at Bodie's touch and Bodie had withdrawn immediately.
At some stage they needed to talk; Bodie knew it. He also realised with no little dismay and a smattering of resentment, that that would only happen when Doyle was ready. As was usual, they would dance to his tune.
The landlady went on her way and Bodie regarded Doyle, gingerly trying to eat a boiled egg. "You all right?" he asked tentatively.
A curt nod of the head was the only response he received.
"Do you need any help?"
A shake of the head this time.
Bodie sighed inwardly but persevered. "I'm just writing to Mrs. Trembath to tell her what happened. We'll be here longer than I thought, so she needs to know."
"Going to tell her I went with a prostitute are you?"
His words chilled Bodie to the bone. He stared at Doyle tucking into his breakfast and wondered how the man could eat at all. It was rare that Bodie lost his appetite but it had completely deserted him today. He had discovered misery and it was a black, insidious, creeping thing that fed on you, body and soul. It seemed fitting somehow that its appetite surpassed even Bodie's and obliterated it completely. He went wordlessly back to his letter forcing his pen to form the words on the page, but it was hard: his hands, it seemed, were as heavy as his heart.
Seagulls wheeled overhead, their raucous cries reminding Bodie of children at play. He looked up, trying to conjure some enthusiasm for their antics but it simply would not come. He'd come out this afternoon, leaving Doyle to sleep, desperate for some fresh air and space to think. Having spent all morning cooped up with a monosyllabic Doyle, the atmosphere broken only by the visiting doctor and Mrs. Richard's to-ing and fro-ing with drinks, Bodie was practically at screaming point. His attempts to talk to his truculent partner had been met either with a wall of silence or sarcasm – it appeared to be all the same to Doyle; Bodie even wondered if the man was enjoying it.
He expelled a long breath and began to walk, not knowing or caring in which direction he went.
The hill was one of several that led out of the village and Bodie stopped to admire the view. But even that simple pleasure was denied as the problem of what do about Doyle refused to be ignored. He had tried apologising several times, knowing full well that events weren't entirely his fault but hoping, nevertheless, that it might ease the tension somewhat and placate the man. It hadn't. Doyle had continued to sulk. Was the man determined to make him suffer? And if so, for how long?
"Ah, Mr. Bodie. I'm glad to see you here."
Bodie jumped and turned to see the village constable approaching him. He smiled a welcome, relieved that at least someone was seeking his company.
"I've been sniffin' around a bit," the man said. "Picked up one or two hints as you might say. Had a word with Edna Harvey too. Said she didn't know anything about what happened, of course, but she never could look you in the eye when she was lyin' and she couldn't today. I'll get to the bottom of this, don't you worry."
Bodie nodded, coming to a decision. "Um… Constable, when I was out searching last night I spoke to an er… prostitute. At least… she propositioned me so I assume… you know…"
"Oh, yes – I gets your drift. We don't have many in the village and they serve a purpose with all the foreign fishing boats we gets in. Not that I encourage it mind! But if they keeps it quiet and all, I tolerate them, that's all I'm saying. Any trouble and they'll find themselves in clink."
"I understand. It's just that this one pointed me in the direction of the yard where I found Mr. Doyle. She said her sister – Rosie I think she called her – was there with a customer."
Bodie found the policemen eying him steadily. "You didn't mention this last night, sir."
"No," Bodie confessed. "I didn't want to say anything in front of the publican and his wife in case they threw us out on the street."
"And, in your opinion, was that customer likely to have been your friend?"
Bodie emitted a long drawn out breath. "In all honesty – I don't think so. But I can't be one hundred per cent sure."
"But you think not?"
Bodie shook his head wordlessly. "He'd had a few drinks but nevertheless…" he trailed off.
"In my experience men are either the type to go with they sort of women or they ain't. Drink don't usually come into it. A few pints and they still know what they're doin', too much and they can't er… well I'm sure I don't need to spell it out?"
Bodie grinned ruefully. "Er, no."
The constable nodded. "Good. Well, if you ain't doing anythin' special I think perhaps we oughta pay Rosie and Polly Tonkin a visit. Wife gets a bit uneasy when police business takes me among folk she don't approve of, so a bit of moral support won't come amiss."
Hoping his amusement wasn't too obvious Bodie went after the stoical policeman who had a wife whose word was clearly law.
They turned into a small row of cottages in the back streets of the village. 'Hovels' was a better description. Sanitation was obviously non-existent in these run-down houses and small children in abundance played amongst the squalor, their mothers yelling abuse at them in language that made even Bodie blush.
"This way." The policeman led him to a cottage mid-terrace and rapped on the door. "Police! Open up Rosie, I want a word."
Urgent scuffling from within suggested they were interrupting something and when the door opened and a man pushed past, his cap pulled low over his face, Bodie's suspicions were confirmed.
Bodie followed the constable inside.
He looked around a room that boasted a rickety table, several chairs and very little else that made a house a home. Through a door was a small room and he could just see an ancient old stove with a pot of something cooking. The smell was not appetising, mingling as it did with that of human sweat and damp.
Two women were present in this room, both adjusting their clothing and making very little effort to hide the fact. One, Bodie thought he recognised as the prostitute from the night before but couldn't be sure. He assumed this was Polly, the other, her sister, Rosie.
Rosie spoke. "What you want comin' round here unannounced like this, Roland James? Scarin' our customers away. How we meant to feed our kiddies if there ain't no money? Eh?"
Bodie wondered if the kiddies were as a result of husbands dead or gone or whether their profession had resulted in them. Either way it seemed to him a tragic state of affairs.
The constable frowned. "Customers? I only saw one and don't you be tryin' to tell me there ain't plenty more where he come from!"
The two woman looked at each other. Polly smirked. "Some gentlemen pay more for the attentions of two women. A customer like that is worth his weight, even if 'ee do like 'is arse whacked while 'ee's a pokin'."
Bodie turned away, scratching his ear and trying not to laugh. The policeman's eyes were wide, his face red as he fidgeted with the belt around his middle. He was sure the man had probably heard it all before but equally sure the such 'delights' were not on offer from the woman who ran his household and warmed his bed.
"We ain't come 'ere to listen to that kind of filth," the constable told her indignantly.
"Well, what 'ave ee come 'ere for then? Assumin' it ain't for an orgy," Rosie said, winking at Bodie and fluttering her eyelids. "'We generally find the men's more interested in each other than we, don't us, Poll?"
Polly laughed, sneakily. " Yeah, desperate to get their thing up other men some of 'em. It'd make your 'air turn white… an innocent like you," she said, looking straight at the policeman.
"Now listen 'ere…" the constable blustered.
It was time to intervene. "We need your help," Bodie interjected, trying to calm the situation. If they weren't careful they would learn nothing here. He turned to Polly. "I spoke to you in the street last night, didn't I? I was looking for my friend, do you remember?"
The woman stared at him, indecision very apparent in her eyes. "So, what?" she shrugged eventually.
"I found him. In that alley that leads off the yard at the back of what you call The Charlie. The place you said you thought your sister had a customer."
"So, if you found 'im what 'ee worrying about?" Polly clearly did not want to meet Bodie's gaze and was staring truculently at the floor.
"He'd been worked over – badly."
She shrugged again. "'Tain't nothin' to do with me or Rosie."
Bodie reached into his pocket and dug out a pound note – an amount that would put food in the mouths of this family for many days. He turned to Rosie. "I was hoping you'd tell me who your customer was and whether or not you saw anything."
He fingered the pound note and hoped it was enough; their all too obvious reluctance indicated it might not be.
"We can't 'elp you. We don't want no trouble 'ere," Rosie muttered suddenly.
The constable had been standing quietly, watching but he took a step forward then. "Well, you got it. One way or another. So answer this gentleman's question."
The woman gave him a long look and sighed heavily. "'Twasn't 'is friend," she said, with a finality that told them she was hoping that would be the end of it.
"How do you know that?"
"Cuz I knowed them both an' 'is sort," she nodded in Bodie's direction, "don't mix with the likes of them."
"Both?" The policeman looked astounded.
Rosie bristled and then raised her chin defiantly. "Yeah, 'both'. And I never saw no one else."
"Where did they pick you up?" Bodie asked.
"In The Charlie. One of 'em came in and took me round the back to 'is friend. 'Appens all the time. Nothin' to make a song and dance about."
There was more, Bodie was convinced of it. The woman was looking anywhere but at them and he was certain it was not shame about the details of her profession; he considered both women to be a long way past that.
He took another pound note out of his pocket. The two women's eyes widened perceptibly and the constable's eyebrows went skyward. Bodie hoped he had the sense to keep his peace.
"Regular customers are they?" Bodie asked, his voice quietly intense.
The atmosphere in the cottage fairly crackled.
It was Polly who eventually spoke. "Them's 'special occasion' types."
Rosie looked alarmed. "Poll…" she hissed.
Polly was looking at the money in Bodie's hand. "We don't owe the likes of them no loyalty," she spat out. "We've both 'ad more'n one black eye for our troubles and don't 'ee deny it, sister."
"Special occasion?" Bodie queried.
Polly nodded. "Certain…" she hesitated, "'appenings do get 'em excited… needin' a woman… if you gets my meanin'."
Looking across at the constable, Bodie could see that he too was wondering what on earth was coming next. Bodie gazed at the money in his hand, rubbed the notes between two fingers and lifted his eyes to meet Polly's once more. "Such as?" he said quietly.
The two women exchanged glances. This time it was Rosie who spoke up, clearing her throat noisily. "Dishin' out a beatin' to some poor devil is their idea of fun. Gets 'em excited. Gives 'em a need for a woman after they done it. And sometimes you get a whack too, dependin' on their mood. 'Tis a funny old world, eh?" She regarded him defiantly, daring him to say anything, it seemed to Bodie.
Nothing could have persuaded him to utter a single word of contempt. The ways of the world were not exactly unknown to him but this was beyond appalling and these women, already firmly on the scrap heap of life, had suffered enough.
"I didn't see your friend," Rosie suddenly added. "I 'ad no idea where they bin or what they bin doin'. When you needs the money you learns to keep your mouth shut and ask no questions."
Bodie acknowledged her with a curt nod, saddened and disgusted at the depths to which some members of his sex were capable of sinking.
"You going to tell us who they were?" the constable asked warily.
Rosie eyed the money once again. Ashamed for no reason he could fathom, Bodie stepped forward and handed it to her. They had already earned it.
The woman stared at the notes as though she hadn't believed Bodie would actually give them to her. Her sister stepped forward and touched them too. "Long time since we got money without 'avin' to open our legs," she said, wonderingly and was silent for a long moment. Then, "Jimmy 'Arvey and his cousin Ned. Scum they be. Want lockin' up but it ain't gonna happen cuz of we. Understand they'd stop at nothin' that family, if they knowed we'd spoken out. An' I mean nothin'! And despite what you might think we loves our kiddies and we don't want nothin' to 'appen to 'em."
Bodie believed it. He signalled to the constable with a slight of his head that it was time they left. The policeman nodded in reply and they went.
The two men leaned over the railings and looked out over the harbour. The tide was coming in and Bodie absently noted several ringed plovers scuttling around the beached fishing boats, foraging for food in the damp sand.
The ocean stretched away to the horizon and several fishing boats could be seen ploughing though the waves, heading, Bodie assumed, for waters teeming with mackerel.
It was beautiful and ought to be filling him with a deep sense of contentment and well being. And if it weren't for his feelings of compassion for the two prostitutes and the situation with Doyle, it would have. Bodie took a deep breath and expelled it wearily.
"I'll get them one day," the policeman declared, misconstruing Bodie's sigh. "We ain't going to prove they beat up your friend. There's no evidence and no way in hell Poll and Rosie are going to testify and anyway they didn't really see anything. But don't you worry – cocky buggers like them eventually makes a mistake and when they do I'll 'ave 'em. But that's no consolation to you, I know…"
It occurred to Bodie that he could dish out revenge himself. He was certainly angry enough to wait in some dark alley and lay into either of these men. But such a course of action would be foolishness and would probably end with Bodie with a knife in his gut. A trained fighter he was not.
He turned to face the policeman. "But why? Why did they do it?"
The constable shrugged. "Because they could. I daresay Edna told 'em what he said about 'er cookin' and you say she took an instant dislike anyhow?" Bodie nodded an affirmation. "An insult to her is an insult to the family. 'Tis like the Mafia round here sometimes. And, when all's said and done, ruffians like that hardly need any excuse to inflict a beatin'. Love it, they do. Lording it over everybody, letting them know who's boss. They got the upper hand at the moment but 'twon't always be that way let me assure you. I'm getting two more policeman afore Christmas and then we'll see what's what. I'll let you know if anything develops."
Bodie nodded, aware that it was doubtful anything would, but not wanting to keep the man from his business any longer. "Thank you for all you've done," he said.
The constable shook his head. "No need to thank me, Mr. Bodie. I'm only too aware it ain't enough."
He went on his way then and Bodie made his way slowly back to The Anchor.
The curtains were still drawn and Doyle appeared to be still asleep. The room was claustrophobic so Bodie crept to the window and opened it as quietly as he could.
Behind him Doyle stirred. "What are you doing?"
Bodie drew the curtains back and turned to survey the invalid. "Letting some air in, it's stuffy in here."
"And what if I say I don't want fresh air?"
"Well, I'd say that was a terrible shame," Bodie remarked and walked away leaving the window wide open.
Doyle sat up, wincing. Bodie sat down and looked across the room at him. His mass of curls was tangled and dishevelled. His nightshirt which he always wore unbuttoned practically to his midriff, with the sleeves rolled up, had slipped off his shoulder. One nipple was thus exposed and a fair degree of chest hair. He looked like a male version of a tart after a particularly heavy night: except for the cuts and bruises.
Doyle realised he was being watched. "What?" he said belligerently.
Bodie smiled mirthlessly. "And you've even got the attitude to match," he observed.
"Eh?" Doyle scratched his chest and winced again as his bruises reminded him of their existence. "So, where have you been while I've been getting my beauty sleep? Knockin' on doors trying to find out which whore I poked last night?" He sniffed inelegantly and ran his hand through his curls.
Uncomfortably aware that this was closer to the truth than he would have liked, Bodie nevertheless kept his nerve. The way to handle Doyle was not to back down. If the man sensed weakness he would poke at it until it became an open wound.
Bodie narrowed his eyes and steeled himself. "Didn't need to. The village constable already knew."
It was rather satisfying, Bodie decided, to catch Doyle out. With wits as sharp as a carving knife it was a rare occurrence and Bodie knew a moment of sweet triumph as Doyle's eyes widened in surprise.
There was a moment of shocked silence. Then, "What d'you mean?"
"I mean I spent quite an interesting afternoon with two prostitutes."
The feeling was a delicious one. Eventually, of course, he would have to tell him the truth but right now Bodie was enjoying the sight of a confused – even fearful – Raymond Doyle, far too much to spoil the game with too hasty a display of honesty.
"Yes, two. I paid them well for their services, naturally. Very er… forthcoming, they were."
The long silence stretched between them like the Valley of Death. Doyle was clearly waiting for Bodie's nerve to break, for some sign that the man was joking. Not yet…
"So," Bodie said, smiling matter-of-factly. "We have to work out some way of getting you home."
Doyle blinked. "Home?"
Bodie nodded and tried to look appropriately challenged by the problem.
"Have I got one?"
It was almost Bodie's undoing. The man was sitting on the bed looking pathetic – an injured, dishevelled, sad looking urchin, albeit a grown-up one. "'One' what?" he said, deciding to hang on to his resolve for just a few more delectable moments.
Doyle swallowed hard. "Home – have I got a home, Bodie?"
Bodie frowned. "Well, what is it they say? 'What's sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander'. Is that how it goes?"
"I wouldn't bloody know. Just tell me what you mean in plain English."
Bodie shrugged, carelessly. "I did what you did. We're quits."
Doyle closed his eyes tight, screwing them up, his agony plain to see. Bodie got to his feet unhurriedly and went to sit beside him on the bed. Slipping his arms gently around him, he placed tender kisses on the parts of Doyle's face that weren't injured, finishing with a long, sweet kiss on his mouth, trying hard not to hurt him.
With his head resting on Bodie's shoulder, Doyle sniffed several times. Bodie pulled him tighter against himself and the man winced. "Sorry," Bodie said, "seems I'm determined to make you cry one way or another."
"I'm not crying!"
"Fine," Bodie said and handed him a handkerchief to blow his nose.
"You seem remarkably unaffected by this," Doyle observed accusingly from behind the handkerchief.
Bodie cleared his throat. "Well, that could be because I'm the only one of us that knows the truth."
Doyle straightened and looked Bodie in the eye. "Meaning?"
"Meaning that perhaps I should have said, 'I didn't do what you didn't do, either'. Sort of…"
Green eyes that had no clue what he was talking about regarded him steadily. "Kiss me again."
"You really don't remember do you?"
It was much later and Bodie was lying on his back, in bed, watching a spider crawl across the ceiling. Doyle was curled up beside him, one thigh lying across his groin. The combined evidence of the enthusiasm of their reconciliation glistened on Bodie's stomach and Bodie smiled to himself as he remembered Doyle's aggression and possessiveness as he'd taken control of their love-making, with blatant disregard for his injuries. Perhaps there was something to be said for falling out after all?
Doyle's head shook. "No. It's gone. I remember going into The King's Arms and having a couple of pints. But nothing after that. Can I assume I didn't fuck a prostitute against a wall?"
Bodie was silent, his lips twitching. A dig in the ribs told him the questioner wanted an answer. "Would you know how?" he asked.
"Doubt it." Doyle's lips were warm against his neck. Every now and then the man licked a spot just below his ear, with the tip of his tongue, and Bodie squirmed pleasurably as he did so again. "So, what did happen to me?" Doyle persisted.
"Can't be sure, so nobody's going to get arrested. But we think calling Edna Harvey's tripe and onions 'cat food' was your biggest mistake."
"What?" Doyle raised his head to look Bodie in the eye. "Tell me that's your idea of a joke."
Bereft, Bodie pulled Doyle back to his original position. "Stick your tongue in my ear," he urged, a blissful smile lighting up his face as his lover did as he was told. "Mmm. That's nice. Nibble a bit. Mmm. Harder. Bite. Yesss."
Bodie felt a fresh erection building and gave himself a lazy, exploratory stroke. Then, not wanting to be selfish, he gave Doyle one too, causing the man to open his legs wide, affording Bodie better access to his cock.
Stroking himself and Doyle, lazily, contentedly, Bodie slowly told him of the events of the afternoon, pleasuring them both deliciously as he did so.
"So, I didn't do it," Doyle murmured eventually.
He was pulling on Bodie's nipple, twisting it between two fingers. Bodie's reply was decidedly shaky. "No."
"They beat the shit out of me, which got them so excited they…"
"That's right. Pull on it with your teeth… lick… that's it." The blood in Bodie's veins began sing and beside him Doyle emitted a long, quiet moan.
"They did the whore, not me…" Doyle muttered thickly. "Christ, Bodie I think I'm going to…"
And he did, all over Bodie's hand and chest. Bodie sniggered. "That'll teach you to think overmuch about whores."
He felt a hand squeezing his balls and suddenly it was all over for him too, and blackness descended.
"You two ain't safe to be let out on your own!"
Bodie and Doyle stole a guilty look at each other, like miscreant schoolboys lining up before the head-master. In another life Bodie considered Mrs. Trembath would certainly have made an excellent head-mistress of a girls' school.
"Look at 'ee!" she said to Doyle.
"I'm all right really," Doyle muttered.
"And I'm The Queen of Sheba," the housekeeper fired back. She turned to Bodie. "And 'ow did you come to let this 'appen?"
"He's not my keeper!" Doyle interjected as Bodie opened his mouth to say something. "He can't be held responsible for me hating tripe and onions."
It wasn't often his housekeeper was rendered speechless but she stared at them now, her mouth agape. "If this be one of your silly japes," she said eventually, "then let me tell you, 'tis only you two thinks it's funny."
"No joke," Doyle replied, and Bodie wondered if he was ever going to be allowed to speak. "I was rude about the landlady's tripe an onions and she set her psychotic family on me. Two of them anyway. My own fault."
"And where was you?" she asked Bodie.
Bodie sighed inwardly. He'd known this cross-examination was inevitable and he supposed he could just tell her to mind her own business. But that wasn't the kind of relationship he had with her – in all but name she was practically family and he just couldn't bring himself to do it. "Looking for him," he said reluctantly.
The woman frowned and turned to Doyle again.
"I went off in a huff," Doyle admitted. "Strops are my speciality, you know that."
Her eyes went heavenward. "You'm want your 'eads banging together, you two."
"Well, it has to be said," Bodie felt he should point out, "that tripe and onions is not an obvious choice to give paying guests. Not that many people like it and it wouldn't be my own first choice if I'm being honest. Not even close."
The woman's wrath subsided. "No. I quite enjoys it but Mr. Trembath can't abide the smell of it cooking, so I never cooks it at home. Our Arthur's wife, Minnie, do make it for me when I visits her over Pendeen. I never 'eard of anyone bein' beat up over it though. Are you sure?"
Bodie shook his head. "No, but the constable thinks the people that did this don't need a sensible excuse for violence and though he can't actually pin this on them yet thinks it won't be long before they're locked up. He's going to keep in touch."
Mrs. Trembath emitted a long breath. "Lord 'elp us, I don't know what we'm comin' to in Cornwall. Here… take your post and sit 'ee down before 'ee do fall down."
The two men seated themselves at the table and she went to fill the kettle. Rascal came in from outside and sat beside Doyle to lick his hand. The welcome Doyle had received from him on their arrival home, an hour before, had been nothing short of rapturous and Bodie had had to pull the dog off eventually in case his enthusiasm injured Doyle further.
"You all right?" Bodie asked Doyle.
Doyle nodded. "We took it easy so I'm a bit saddle-sore but in one piece. Hello, Rascal. Have you missed me?" The dog looked up at him adoringly as he stroked his soft, velvety ears.
Bodie couldn't help but smile as he examined his post; a missive from an elderly aunt with too much time on her hands; the butcher's bill; a note from a book-shop in Birmingham that Bodie had hoped might come up with a copy of a book he wanted: they couldn't; a letter from John Harvey; a small package of unknown origin. Bodie opened the letter from John and studied it.
Eventually he put the letter down and regarded the mutual admiration society that was Doyle and Rascal. "How would you like to stay a bit longer, eh Rascal?" he said.
The dog emitted a high pitched whine. "I think that means, 'yes'," Doyle grinned. "Why? What's happened?"
"John is staying on a bit longer. A couple of weeks perhaps. Things are more complicated then he thought. If it's not convenient we're to write and let him know and he'll come home. I'll let him know it's fine. That all right Rascal?"
A short 'woof' informed him that it was.
Bodie reached for the small package and examined it. Generally speaking he tended not to receive many packages that he wasn't already expecting and he couldn't imagine what this was. He turned it over in his hands; the address was written in a hand that seemed to him undisciplined, written either in haste or by someone who had little patience for taking time over writing. The postmark on the stamp was illegible.
"You won't find out what it is unless you open it," Doyle told him.
Mrs. Trembath handed them their tea and put some saffron buns in front of them. Doyle reached for one immediately and Bodie made a silly cross-eyed face at him.
"Missed your cooking, Mrs. Trembath," Doyle announced.
The housekeeper paused, mid-stride, on the way across the room and turned to stare at him. She and Bodie exchanged an astonished glance.
"I reckon I know which side my bread is buttered," Doyle observed, smiling widely.
Bodie groaned at the terrible pun and tore through the envelope. He pulled out a letter which clearly had something inside. Unfolding the paper he found himself holding a silver bracelet which seemed somehow familiar…
And then he was screaming. Raw pain ripped through him. Hot, burning, agony. He was vaguely aware of Doyle on his feet, of Mrs. Trembath shouting, of fingers prizing his own apart and then nothing as his head made contact with the table.
A cold flannel was bathing Bodie's forehead as he came round. He was lying on a sofa and wondering how he'd got there, he was sure he'd been in the kitchen, about to help himself to one of his housekeeper's cakes.
"I hope you didn't eat all the buns, Doyle," he murmured, seriously.
The flannel was removed by Mrs. Trembath, soaked again and replaced. "I think 'is mind's wandering," she said.
Doyle stepped forward holding a letter. "Are you all right?" he asked.
Bodie nodded and slowly sat up. "What did I just say?"
"That you thought McNabs 'ere might have eaten a plate load of buns," the housekeeper told him. "Where I do come from that's called 'takin' leave of your senses'."
Bodie began to laugh.
Doyle and Mrs. Trembath exchanged worried glances.
"I'm all right," Bodie reassured them. "What happened?"
"This," Doyle said, and held out the silver bracelet.
Bodie eyed it and mentally backed away. "Is that the one Mary Davey showed us?"
Doyle nodded. "That's right. She's sent it to us. Apparently she was trying some jewellery on one night before she went to bed. She got into bed to read with this and a couple of other things, still on, and fell asleep over the book. She had a terrible nightmare about being burned alive, a sort of a waking dream. She thinks it was this and doesn't want it in the house anymore."
"Dear God." The housekeeper shuddered.
Reading through the letter Bodie saw that it was just as Doyle had said. The letter was short and to the point, the work of a frightened woman and Bodie felt he could hardly blame her. He handed the letter back to Doyle.
"Well, what do she expect you two to do with it?" Mrs. Trembath asked.
"We showed an interest in it," Doyle told her. "Perhaps she didn't want to throw it away and thought sending it to us was preferable." He held the thing in his hand and stared at it. "It doesn't affect me."
Bodie thought the man's voice was almost wistful and hastened to reassure him. "Be glad! The experience is not exactly pleasant."
"Let me see." The housekeeper held out her hand.
Doyle hesitated. "Are you sure?"
She nodded. "I never seed a ghost or 'ad anythin' peculiar 'appen in my life. I'm not expecting to start now."
And it didn't. She held it with no reaction whatsoever. Standing, she took it over to the window and looked closely at it. "'Tis a funny thing," she said, almost to herself.
"I know that," Bodie replied, tartly. Doyle put his hand on Bodie's shoulder and squeezed. Their eyes met and they exchanged a mental message; Bodie nodded surreptitiously to indicate that he really was all right.
"No," Mrs. Trembath said, her voice considering. "I mean 'tis funny that this reminds me of somethin'."
Both men spoke in unison. "What?"
"Well, Grandma Trembath was always goin' on about a bracelet her mother 'ad lost as a girl. Silver. With pretty little hearts on it. Like this. I was just married to my 'usband and we young 'uns thought 'er mind was wandering, which it was… she thought the 'ouse next door was a brothel and accused the vicar, when he came to visit, of goin' there for sins of the flesh. 'Twouldn't 'ave mattered quite so much if parson didn't enjoy a drop or two and 'alf the time couldn't remember where he'd been the night afore…"
Bodie could not resist the temptation to ask. "Is this the one who was found on someone's grave one morning?"
"That's he! Parson Trethewey – found sprawled on Mother Matthews's grave. The whole Matthews family turned Methodist after that. Well, you would wouldn't 'ee? Not that there was any 'arm in Parson really. I don't think he could 'elp 'isself. 'Tis sad really…" she trailed off, clearly looking into a past the two men couldn't see.
Doyle interrupted her thoughts. "But… this couldn't be the same bracelet. Could it?"
The housekeeper considered. "Well, we're related to Mary, or Mr. Trembath is. Cousins twice or three times removed. 'Tis possible it was mislaid or stolen and taken over there by somebody. I never really thought it existed but the coincidence is queer, don't 'ee think?"
Bodie and Doyle exchanged glances as Rascal came to sit between them. The dog looked from one to the other.
"What do you think, Rascal?" Bodie said.
The dog woofed.
"Well, Rascal certainly thinks so," Doyle grinned.
"Get on!" the housekeeper scolded. "All 'ee knows is it's time for 'is grub." She handed the bracelet back to Doyle and went into the kitchen with Rascal hot on her heels.
Doyle came to sit beside Bodie. "It's nice to be home."
A warm glow stole over Bodie and he knew it was caused by Doyle referring to his place here with him as 'home'. It was clear they both had some adjusting to do. Strong relationships were not, after all, forged overnight. They required hard work and constant attention over many years. But he and Doyle would make it, he was sure of that. The foundations in this particular 'home' were rock solid.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Secret Agent Men 4, Devious Developments Press, October 2004