The Return of Emma
by Fanny Adams
Story #8 in the Emma universe
It never rains but it pours.
When I saw that little cat face tilted up to me and heard the soft voice say, "Well, hello, 'Uncle' Bodie", I felt rained on.
"Emma, I thought you'd taken the veil," I said as I kissed her half-heartedly. Christ, but she'd turned into a little raver. She'd learned how to dress and was nicely tricked out in fancy French clothes. She'd grown breasts, too, I noticed.
"Sticks and stones, you lump. Where's my father?"
The receptionist was staring at us with unconcealed interest. "My better half is in the loo. Want me to drag him out?" She shook her head. "What have you been up to since last we saw you?" I took her arm and steered her to a more private place.
"Where you taking me?" she demanded, pulling away.
"Very exclusive club." There was a look in her eyes; one I've seen in Ray's eyes all too often. "Just want you to be comfortable is all, Minx. Come back to open a bawdy house, have you?"
"I don't know why he puts up with you," she grumbled.
She was a bit taller than I remembered, though still on the smallish side. She looked less Ray-ish, but altogether desirable. "Crikey, but you Doyles hold a grudge. What 'as poor old Uncle Bodie done to you lately?"
"You're still breathing," she snapped. Then she looked up and past me. "Da!"
Ray was stunned. A dozen expressions crossed his face in a moment, then he seemed to shut off all emotion. "Look what the cat dragged in, Sunshine," I said.
"What a surprise. What are you doing here, Emma?" Cold as ice. For as long as I've known Ray, he's been capable of turning on and off like a bloody light. I've never known if it was protection or if the truth is he really just doesn't care. Poor Emma was even more baffled and I had to feel sorry for her.
"I...I thought...can we have dinner?" she asked.
"Tonight?" She nodded. "Yeh, I suppose. All right with you, Bodie?"
Emma said nothing, but she glared at me as though this mood of Ray's was all my fault. Christ, maybe it was. I never know any more. "I think the minx has the impression that you just asked me to join the two of you for dinner," I said. "Not so, Minx," I added before Ray had a chance to make a comment that would make the situation worse. "Your old Da would never be that callous. You two have a lovely dinner, and think of Uncle Bodie when you order the steak au poivre." I chucked her under the chin. "Order the most expensive wine, Minx," I told her and winked.
I watched them leave together, feeling...oh, I don't know. Not left out precisely; more like an old piece of furniture that everyone uses, but no one takes any notice of until it falls to bits under you. It'd been bad lately and Ray didn't seem to notice. Don't know--maybe it was just that I was getting old...inside where nobody could see or measure the effect with their fiendish gadgets.
Cowley was there beside me suddenly. "Who was that with Doyle?" he asked.
"Emma." When he greeted that with fact with a blank look, I added, "His daughter, Emma."
"Oh, aye, I'd heard she was here," he said, fanning a stack of papers with an impatient gesture. "Come with me a moment, will you?"
I followed him to his office where he eased himself into that big, comfortable chair of his and indicated I was to sit as well. "Tell me about her, Bodie," he ordered.
What could I tell him? "She has better taste in clothes than when she left," I volunteered weakly.
"Why has she come back?"
"She doesn't confide in me," I snapped. "She doesn't like her uncle Bodie. Why do you ask? If that's not too forward a question," I added as I took in his look of annoyance.
"Och, perhaps it's just that I have a suspicious nature. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Doyle doesn't seem to have much of a relationship with any member of his family, much less with this daughter of his, true?"
And I had to admit that it was, indeed, true. Emma's last visit had left him confused, depressed, and guilt-ridden. She'd been an angry, rebellious sixteen-year-old then, running away from an indifferent mother to a father she barely knew; demanding...what? I don't think any of us--Emma least of all--knew what she wanted from Ray. I thought, then, that I could well have been seeing Ray at that age, and despite the hostility between us, Emma took hold of a little bit of my heart. I'd never quite forgotten that scrawny little hell-cat. However, I wasn't anxious for a repeat of those days.
"Where has she been?"
"Again, I'd have to say that I don't know."
"Hmmm.... I don't suppose she told you how long she was planning to stay, did she?" I shook my head. "Well...it's a matter of routine, you know," he told me, and I knew I was going to be sorry I ever joined this mob. "I want you to find out these things. Find out why she's back...why she's really back."
"Don't you think it might be the simple desire to see her family again?" I ventured, unwilling to take on this assignment.
"As I indicated, laddie, I have a suspicious mind. She's an unknown quantity."
"She's just a kid, sir," I protested, knowing it wouldn't do any good.
"All right, but I don't like it."
I started at reception where I was given the address and phone number that Emma had entered into the book. Then I drove by the place. It existed, that was the first good break. It was an average building--nothing special. I stopped by to talk to the landlord and he confirmed that Emma did indeed live there with two other girls, and had been for about a month. Interesting. It had taken her a month or better (depending on how long she'd been in town) to come round to see Ray. He asked if they were in any trouble and I reassured him that they were model citizens and that my little investigation had to do with a job application that Emma had made. He was duly impressed, but I warned him that it wouldn't be wise to discuss this matter with anyone. "Security," I told him in my most confidential voice. I asked him if he knew where she was employed now and he told me that it was a boutique, but that he had only a vague notion of where it was located.
"Marie Tass-something," he offered. "Me wife knows where it is--she has it written down somewheres. D'you want me to...."
"No, thanks, I know the place," I told him. Posh place too, I thought.
Then I went home. That night, like so many other nights recently, the silence bothered me. It seemed almost threatening, like the silence that sometimes fell between me 'n' Ray these days--not that companionable silence we used to know but a silence of things left unsaid, unsettled, and it reminded me of growing up, when the bad times were always so silent.
That night I sat alone in my flat and did nothing at all--just stared at the walls and listened to the silence; and I realized that I wanted to go home. Funny thing was, I didn't know where that was--not here and certainly not the house where I grew up. I was so tired and I needed to go home and I just didn't know the way.
Emma was at Ray's flat the next morning when I went to pick him up. She was reading a French magazine.
"Bonjour, Bodie. Ca va?"
"All right. Where's your Da?"
"Shower. We painted the town last night and he's feeling it. I told him he should drink plenty of water before going to bed."
"My, you're just a fountain of information." I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat opposite her.
"Do you think we can call a truce, Bodie?"
I shrugged and sipped the coffee.
"God, I know I'm late, don't say anything," Ray announced as he dashed out of the loo, wrapped in a towel and leaving wet footprints on the rug.
"Didn't plan on it." I followed him into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed. "Did you two have fun last night?"
"She's grown up a lot, Bodie. You'd be surprised." He yanked a pair of slacks off of a hanger and dropped the towel.
"No, no, I wouldn't. She's like her Da, after all. She staying?" I picked up the hanger he'd tossed on the bed and replaced it in the closet.
"Guess so." He splashed on some cologne and pulled on a beige sweater that made him look beautiful. "She has a flat and two flat-mates, she says, and a job in a shop. I have a good feeling about this, Bodie. I think she's going to make something of her life." He turned a dazzling smile on me. "I'm really happy to have her back," he admitted. "C'mon, let's hurry."
We dropped Emma at her flat and roared off, arriving fifteen minutes late and received a proper dressing down from the Cow, who asked Ray why he looked as though he'd just swallowed the canary, and me why I was looking so glum.
"My daughter's come back, sir," Ray said.
"It's that time of month, sir," I added.
"Cheeky," Cowley grumbled. "Very well. Doyle, you're working with Jax, Fowler and Ende on that surveillance job you were briefed on several days ago...you do recall the job?"
"And the briefing, yes sir," he replied with a grin. "What about Bodie?"
"I think I can keep him busy. On your way, Doyle."
Ray raised an eyebrow at me, but said nothing more. He left the office.
"What have you found out so far?"
"That the address is legitimate, that she does, indeed have two flat-mates--I have their names here." I handed him a slip of paper. "Marie Tessera is the boutique where she works."
"Very impressive," he muttered. "Take these down to the computer room and...."
"Do a cross-search on all the names etcetera," I finished. He frowned. "Right, sir?"
"Aye," he growled, "but stop anticipating me."
"Shall I bring you a printout, sir?" I asked, and received a glare for my troubles.
There was no information in the CI5 files on Sandra Teis or Rosemary Laurent, Emma's flat-mates. I cross-checked with police files and found that, apart from a few driving violations on Sandra's records, neither girl had ever had trouble with the law. I did find that Emma had had a few youthful scrapes with the law when she was about thirteen years old. Nothing major, but I marked the information for retrieval all the same.
The flat where they were living was owned by Nathan and Glenna Penman (I'd spoken to Nathan the day before). No record of anything questionable there. They'd owned the building outright for about fifteen years. No major financial troubles--at least, none on record. They seemed comfortable, but nothing more.
Marie Tessera was an elegant place as I recalled (had a girl once who worked there...in lingerie. No end of jokes to be had from that). Neither it, nor its owner, had any record of legal troubles, either here or in Paris or Barcelona where her other shops were located. Paris.... I wondered if Emma had been in Paris for at least part of the time she'd been gone.
I checked with immigration files and sure enough, I found that Emma Doyle Preston had re-entered the country about six weeks ago. She had been living in France. On a hunch, I checked on her flat-mates and found that Rosemary Laurent had also entered the country on that day. Undoubtedly they had met in France. I checked to make sure that Rosemary was a native of this country. She'd been born in Jersey in 1956; mother, Mary Lang and father, Stephen Laurent, formerly Etienne Laurent from Brittany.
Then I talked to Carolyn who was said to be able to coax any further information out of any source, and asked her to sweet-talk the French computers to find out if either Emma or Rosemary had been in any trouble while they were in France.
"That'll cost you, Bodie, the French are very tight with their information."
"Ah, but I have faith in you. What's the price, love?"
"Done." She grinned at me and started typing. "I'll want a printout in about an hour," I told her.
"Two, Bodie. I told you they were hard to sweet-talk."
"And while you're at it, I marked some files for retrieval. Can you print them all out---two copies?"
"For dinner at Eco's and your company, my beauty, anything. What marker did you use?"
"Romeo, as always."
She giggled and went on typing with a vengeance.
About two hours later, I stopped back and picked up the printouts. "Nothing shady on either girl," Carolyn told me, obviously disappointed in the utter lack of information. "They were living in Paris for about a year, working at Marie Tessera's Paris branch. That's it."
"Well done, my love. Tomorrow night?"
"Friday night, if it's all the same to you, Bodie."
"I'll pick you up after work, then," I told her. It was worth it, really. She was a wizard with a computer terminal.
"Bring plenty of money," she admonished, as I left the computer room. I took a printout to Cowley, keeping one for myself.
"I haven't been able to find any problems with Emma or the girls she lives with, or the place she works," I admitted as Cowley looked over the information I'd brought him.
"Good, good. Now I'd like you to visit the personnel offices of Ms. Tessera. Find out what they think of Emma...." I sighed audibly. "Is there something wrong, Bodie?"
"I just wonder, sir, if this isn't a bit on the paranoid side?"
He glared. "Paranoid?"
"Perhaps that was too strong a word, but I do think that the information we have will tell you that it's unlikely that Emma has come back to subvert this country...or this organization."
"I have a...quirk, Bodie," he said with one of his dangerous smiles. "I like to have all the information I need before I make any decisions."
"I consider my wrists slapped, sir. Anything else, sir?"
"When you've done with her employers, I want you to talk to Emma."
The woman I spoke to at the personnel office, an attractive, elegant middle-aged woman with a white streak in her dark hair, was enthusiastic about Emma. "Madame recommended her--she worked for Madame in Paris--and, of course, she has proved to be an asset...may I ask, Mister Bodie, what this investigation is about?" Her grey eyes were sharp and intelligent. She wouldn't be easily fooled, I decided.
"Yes, of course. Her flat-mate has applied for a job with a government agency. I have to investigate all of her connections; you understand," I added with a charming smile.
"Of course, but her flat-mate is Rosemary, is it not? She is leaving us?"
"Not Rosemary, Sandra, the third girl in the flat."
"Oh, yes. That's a relief. What else can I tell you?"
"About Rosemary," I offered.
"The same. Madame recommended them both. I understand that the girls had grown tired of Paris and wished to return to their own country. I will tell you, in confidence, that both of them are being groomed for more important positions in our organization. Perhaps that will tell you how they are thought of."
"It does, yes. Thank you for your time. I must ask you to keep this conversation in confidence as well."
She nodded. "You have our word, Mister Bodie. We are well-known for discretion."
I smiled, remembering some of the stories Sukey had told me about the ladies who shopped at Marie Tessera.
I made my report to Cowley and left for the night. I ran into Doyle in the hall. "Miss me?" I asked.
"Not much," he said, falling into step. "Just when Fowler starts to tell dirty jokes."
"Because I can never remember the ones you've told me."
"Nice to be wanted," I muttered.
"Oh, I don't mean it. Course I missed you, you prat. What've you been doing?"
"Investigations," I said with a groan. "Employment."
"Gettin' to be that time of year, is it?" he asked as we walked out to the car park. "Havin' a load of green recruits in soon?"
"Looks that way. Means we'll be doin' classes some days instead of being shot at though."
"Which is worse?" he asked with a crooked grin. I admitted that I wasn't sure.
"Busy tonight?" I asked. He hesitated. "Have something going, do you?"
"Thought I'd call Emma, why? Have something in mind?"
It may have been my imagination, but I thought I detected a sparkle of interest in his eyes. It had been a long time since we'd been to bed.
He shrugged. "Don't suppose she'll mind much. She probably has a date anyway. Popular girl."
"Mmmm," I said.
Perhaps Ray and I had come to the point in our relationship where the sex was better occasionally rather than regularly. That night was good---better, in fact, than many we'd known in the last year, better than many I'd known with other partners in the past year. And still, I was left with that sense of emptiness that seemed to be growing inside of me. When we finished, I wanted him to go. I knew that he would go and I wanted it over with. It was only a matter of time before his going would be so unbearable that I'd stop sleeping with him just to avoid it.
While he was dressing, he asked me why I was so unhappy.
"Not unhappy," I said with perfect truth. I was beyond that---unhappiness was an active emotion.
"Pull the other one. You've not been yourself--really yourself for months now. Even Cowley's been remarkin' on it."
"Tch, the old busybody."
"C'mon, Bodie, tell Uncle Ray." He sat on the side of the bed and caught my jaw with his hand, turning my face towards his. "What's wrong?"
I sighed. "Don't know, Ray. Just feeling lost, I suppose. Not important."
"Course it's important," he contradicted. He tipped his head and looked hard at me. "Is it me?" he asked with a flash of insight that I'd not believed he possessed.
He gave a heartfelt sigh and slipped under the covers, pulling me into his arms. His jumper was fuzzy and it tickled my nose. "Like gettin' blood from a turnip," he grumbled. "Anyone ever tell you how infuriatin' you are sometimes?"
He chuckled and so did I. It felt good, lying there with my arms around him in an utterly sexless embrace. "Tell me what you're feeling."
For better or worse we were closer to each other than we were to any members of our families. For better or worse.... I told him that I didn't exactly feel anything. I told him that if I was lonely or depressed or angry or sad or any of a thousand other things that could be categorized, I could fight the feeling, but this emptiness was a defeat in itself, I had no resources against it--I'd never experienced it before. If I had to call it something, I'd say it was a profound case of spiritual exhaustion.
For a long time we were both silent, then Doyle asked, "Is it that you want to quit the job?" The words 'and me' hung in the air almost as if they'd been voiced.
"I don't know," I said truthfully. "Maybe you should go now, Ray. I'm rotten company tonight."
He pulled away and shrugged. "If you want." When he was gone I switched the radio on and fell asleep to Debussy.
The next day, I drifted down to Marie Tessera to find Emma. She was busy with a customer when I entered, so I pretended to be interested in hats while I waited. There was a little red one that suited Emma.
"Bodie, what are you doing here?" she asked, mixed fear and irritation on her face.
"Came to see if you'd like to have lunch with me today, Mi...Emma."
Her eyes, so like her father's, grew wide for a moment, but then she smiled that crooked, cynical smile. "Why?"
"Just to talk." I set the hat on her curls, tilting it forward slightly. "Very soignee," I observed, and she smiled.
"You, me, Ray...the weather, whatever you want to talk about."
She removed the hat, looked at her watch. "Wait here," she told me, and disappeared into the back. When she returned, she had her coat on. "Let's go," she said.
"How was Paris?"
There was little indication of surprise. "Nice. Damp sometimes. Ever been there?"
"Years ago," I told her. "It suited you, I see." And indeed, it had. She had gone from awkward, insolent adolescent to being an elegant and sophisticated young woman in eighteen months. She seemed far older than her years.
"Was that a compliment?" she asked. The waitress brought a carafe of wine and poured it.
"Of course. You asked for a truce, didn't you?"
"So I did." Her eyes narrowed. "You're fishing, aren't you?"
I gave her my best 'don't-know-what-you're-talking-about' look and lifted my glass. "To truces," I proposed.
"To...conversation," she countered and touched her glass of wine to mine.
"How did you come to work for Tessera?" I asked, genuinely curious.
"She picked me up in a restaurant." Well, quel surprise! Emma was looking smugly superior at being thought outrageous and wicked.
"Did she? How interesting. I assume that you mean picked up in a sexual sense?" She nodded. "What an interesting eighteen months you must have had."
"Madame was good to me."
"So I see. You're living proof that a determined Frenchwoman can make a silk purse out of...ah, raw silk." I smiled and I saw a flash of anger in her eyes. So much for truces. "Have you dropped this bomb on your father yet, or were you waiting for some more opportune time; while visiting your grandmother, perhaps?"
"He knows," she said, sipping her wine. Secretly, I doubted it. "So you don't have to go running to him with it."
"Oh, believe me, Minx, I couldn't care less."
"My darling, who you sleep with couldn't interest me less. Do remember, though, when Madame gets tired of you, you may become an embarrassment; you may be looking for a new job."
"Madame takes care of her...friends," she insisted.
Just then our lunch arrived, so the conversation was suspended for a few moments.
"What makes you the expert?" she asked me as she tucked into an enormous seafood salad.
"Oh," I said, trying to sound offhand, "I've been known to dabble. More wine?" I'd shocked her, though she did her best to hide it.
"Yes, please. Dabble?"
"Sleep with men," I said, elucidating.
"Does Da know?"
"Does it bother him?"
She ate quietly for a few minutes. "Does he?" she asked at last, her voice very soft. This child was no fool.
"Em, you know that's not for me to say." I was wishing now that I'd never tried to countershock her.
"Of course." She recovered nicely. "Well, I suppose we have something in common," she said.
The rest of the conversation was mundane enough. I did manage to get her to talk about her time in France, about why she'd come home, and about her plans for the future. It all seemed fairly innocuous. Cowley's suspicious streak should be eased somewhat now, I decided.
I walked her back to the shop and, before I left her, I bought the little red hat and presented it to her. "I can't bear the idea of some old dowager wearing this," I told her. Damn thing cost a fortune, but her expression was worth every penny.
"You know," she said, just before she left me, "you're not so bad. Call me sometime." Then she was gone and I suddenly felt a jolt of desire that made me weak. It had been a long time since I'd felt anything so intensely, and it had taken something of Ray to do it. I wanted her badly.
I knew I could have her too.
I managed to drag myself through a few more weeks, feeling restless. I thought a lot about Emma, about her 'call me', but I did nothing about it. Guilt, I guess. It wasn't that she was too young for me--she was old enough for what I was feeling--not even that she was my lover's daughter. I think I felt guilty because I wasn't sure that I wasn't using Emma as a Ray-surrogate. I liked her; didn't want to use her just to keep the loneliness at bay, so I stayed away for a while.
Ray had found himself a new girl and was seeing quite a bit of her. I was pretty much on my own, so, one evening I rang Emma's flat and asked if she'd like to have dinner with me.
"I've eaten, but I wouldn't mind a drink," she said. "Shall I meet you somewhere?"
"No, I'll come get you."
All the way to her place, I wondered why I was doing this. I wasn't kidding myself that all I had planned was a friendly drink and a game of darts and then chastely back to her flat before eleven. I wondered if she was anticipating too.
She was wearing a crimson dress and the little red hat, and she looked glorious. "I guess I can't take an elegant woman like you to the local, can I?" I asked her.
"I hope not," she admitted with a grin. I took her to a nice place I knew--one I use to impress the special birds. She approved.
"You look lovely, Em."
"Why thank you. I didn't know if it would matter to you."
"Because I'm a lump? Even lumps know style when they see it."
"You're not a lump. You're very attractive," she said. She seemed a little shy about saying it.
"I always thought so," she added.
"I remember." Then we both laughed.
"Wasn't I awful?" she asked, shaking her head. "I can hardly believe that it was less than two years ago. I have grown up a lot."
"That you have. Ray was surprised."
"Was he pleased?" She sounded anxious.
"Very. He's happy to have you back." This was all wrong; if we started talking about Ray, I would be taking her chastely back home.
She must have felt the same, because she changed the subject very suddenly. She talked about the shop, and a little about Madame. "You know," she said with a little sigh, "since I met her I haven't been with anyone else. And now I'm here and she's in Paris. I miss...."
"Men?" I supplied.
"Very much. I prefer them," she confessed, running a red-lacquered fingernail over my palm.
"I seem to recall that you did."
She tilted her head and gave me that look that Ray uses to melt me, but when Emma did it, I felt the fire begin to catch again. From that moment there was no doubt that we were going back to my flat to make love, so we relaxed and enjoyed our drinks and each other.
It was beautiful, coming to life again. As I drove back to my flat, Emma sitting a discreet distance from me, radiating her excitement, I felt new, vital...and though I couldn't have claimed to be happy, precisely, I did feel a kind of elation that was almost breathtaking.
Just inside the door, she came into my arms for the first time, and we kissed almost hesitantly, tasting each other, testing the feelings. When we parted and she looked at me, I saw that she was both startled and pleased at the electricity between us. We kissed again, and she made little noises of pleasure in her throat. "Let's go to bed," she whispered.
Under the crimson dress she was wearing very expensive lingerie from her shop--red camisole and lacy red panties. She pulled the camisole up over her head and I reached round her, cupping her small breasts in my hands, kissing the back of her neck. Her perfume was flowery-spicy, like carnations. She giggled.
"Ticklish," she whispered.
"Neck or these?" I asked, giving her a little squeeze. Her nipples were hard against my palms.
The panties stayed on during much of the foreplay--I like the feel of lace and satin. But then I slid them down and parted her legs and used my tongue on her. Here her perfume mixed with the warm, musky woman-scent I've always loved. Those long, slender fingers of hers managed to get purchase on my hair, short as it was, and she pulled it rather hard while I went down on her. Like Ray, she didn't say much, but made those little inarticulate sounds that rose in volume when I did something very right.
I was drowning in the sensations, in the scents, in the feeling, like a dead man come to life again. I moved up and kissed her, letting her taste herself on my mouth. "Let me," she begged, reaching down between my legs, but I was already hard, so she wound her legs around my waist and urged me into herself.
She was small, but slick with excitement, so I wasn't afraid of hurting her, and she moved with me, meeting each thrust with an upswing of her narrow hips, working for her own pleasure and mine. And like Ray, she wasn't shy about announcing that pleasure. One sharp, wordless cry faded into those tiny erotic noises as she clung to me, moving erratically until I climaxed as well. I felt wonderful. I felt whole again and I loved her for being the agent of my rebirth. She pulled me down against her chest and held me close, stroking my neck and shoulders, crooning wordlessly, like a mother with a fretful child.
"You're fantastic," she said, much later.
"Thank you." I kissed the tip of her nose. "You're very special."
It was so easy after that. We saw each other a few times a week, and each time the sex was fine and the talk was easy and I found that I cared about Emma because she was Emma and not because she was Ray's daughter.
But with Ray, it wasn't easy. I felt as though I should tell him about my relationship with Emma, but there never seemed to be a good time or a good way to do that. Each time I went to bed with her, each new erotic plateau I reached with her seemed to put me farther away from the possibility of reconciling Ray to the situation. And the next time that Ray and I made love, it was a disaster. No communication at all, but rather, a mindless release.
"I don't know," he said as he dressed afterwards. "You've seemed better these last couple of weeks, but not.... Bodie, what's happened?" He met my eyes and for a moment I sensed something like a profound unhappiness in them, but it was gone a second later and in its place was that cool, careful look that I hated. "Gone off me, 'ave you?" he snapped. "Been gettin' enough elsewhere?"
"I wouldn't go a bundle on your technique," I grumbled as I mis-buttoned my shirt in my haste to dress and be away. I was unaccountably angry with him...with myself. It had all gone too far to avoid the hurt.
"Pot calling the kettle black, if you want the truth. I've had more finesse from a vibrator."
"You'd know all about that, wouldn't you, mate?" I asked nastily.
"At least...mate," he drawled, "I don't have any hang-ups in that direction."
I was about to point out that people with the morals of alley cats rarely do, but felt a sudden rush of horror--what were we doing to each other, and why? And then Ray, in that eerie way he has, read my thoughts.
"Bodie, why are we doing this to each other? I'm sorry, I didn't mean what I said."
I wanted to pull him into my arms and hold him the way Emma had held me. "Nor did I," I admitted. "I wish...." What? That he could believe I loved him, I guess.
"What?" he asked. He was sitting up on the bed, legs tucked under him.
"That we were other people. Maybe we'd have a chance then."
He didn't understand, though, and dropped the subject by offering me a drink before I left.
Ray tore a muscle in his leg the next day and was ordered to bed by one of the CI5 doctors. Never one to waste an opportunity, Cowley sent me up north on one of those assignments that new agents usually draw, which meant that it was fairly simple and terribly dull. I spent four days up in Aberdeen learning why it was called 'The Granite City', and thinking very seriously about the directions my life seemed to be taking lately.
I had a choice to make. On one side there was Ray. I'd hoped that someday we could have something more special between us...well, I suppose you could say that I hoped that someday he'd love me as much as I loved him. There--the truth at last. I was his friend, probably his best one, but beyond that I couldn't hope for any sort of commitment. Without thinking, I'd resigned myself to being with him until he decided to walk away.
And then there was Emma. She was eighteen and prone to say 'I love you' at awkward moments, but for my part, though I wasn't in love with her, I did care for her very much. What Emma offered was what I'd never really considered having...permanence. That may have seemed occasionally tempting, but I wasn't a man for home and family and a safe nine-to-five job in some office...not just then, anyway. Christ, eighteen years old! I should have had my head examined. But it was tempting to be loved even by someone who might change her mind at twenty-one.
I was kidding myself, of course. I'd made the decision before I knew Emma existed. What I had with Ray...no, what we had together was what we wanted, what we needed. From that first moment when Cowley had set us against each other in training, there had been something important between us. In my sappier moments, I'd call it love, but I guess the truth was harsher--together we were a perfectly-functioning unit (Killing machine Ray called it), and until that unit was no longer useful, we would stay together. Even that harsh truth was better than the thought of parting from him.
I didn't see Ray at all when I checked in. Betty told me that he was probably down with one of the therapists being tortured. But she said that Emma had called that afternoon, asking me to ring her back as soon as I checked in.
"What's happened, Minx?" I asked her.
"Nothing's happened, Bodie. I just wanted to talk to you before you made any plans for tonight is all. Have you seen Da?"
"No. You want to get together?"
"I want to cook you dinner. I've chased my flat-mates out for the evening. You will come?"
"Of course," I told her, though I dreaded it. I'd have to break with her that evening. "I have to stop home first and shower. Eight all right?"
"Perfect, see you.... Love you," she said and rang off.
Hard? It was going to be almost impossible.
As always, she looked good enough to eat that evening. Just inside the door, she threw her arms around me and hugged me tight with a little squeal of excitement. "I missed you," she said, tilting her face up for a kiss. "Dinner won't be ready for an hour," she whispered.
I told her that I thought we could find some way to occupy ourselves.
I loved the feel of her so much that I found myself wondering if there wasn't some way to juggle the both of them. I thought--god knows why--that Ray might possibly understand and Em, having eclectic tastes herself, might not disapprove of living with her father's lover. How we endeavour to deceive ourselves, eh?
She was yawning and stretching and rolling around like a little cat afterwards and I caught hold of her waist and pulled her against myself. "Em, I...."
She smiled. "I know," she said.
"I might. You want to talk about the future, don't you?" Damn Doyles were always anticipating me!
"Am I that transparent?" I grouched, but Em refused to be daunted.
She just laughed and said, "A little."
"I have something to tell you anyway," she admitted. She sat up and hung over me. "I told Da."
For a very long moment I refused to believe that she could mean what I knew she meant. "Told?"
"About us. I told him. I had to."
I was seeing my life pass before my me. "Em, don't you think you might 'ave discussed this with me first?" I asked, sick with dread now. Ray not only would flay me alive with that tongue of his, he'd walk away from me forever.
She seemed a little surprised at the idea. "Why?"
"It does concern me, you know," I said, a little louder than was strictly necessary.
"Don't get so excited, Bodie. He took it very well."
Oh boy, I thought, am I in trouble. I got out of bed and paced the bedroom. "What did he say, exactly?"
"I don't remember...why?"
"Because I want to know, Em. What did he say?"
"Something about him being very happy for both of us. Bodie, what's wrong?"
"I don't think you should have done it," I said. "I wish you'd talked to me first." I felt my carefully constructed life start to crumble and I realized that whatever happened, I was to blame as well.
Emma pulled on a silky blue robe and sat down at the edge of the bed. "I don't understand why you're so angry with me, Bodie. I did what I thought was right. It was wrong not to tell him."
"You're right, of course," I admitted, barely hearing her over the chaos in my own head.
"So why are you so upset?"
"Because I sleep with your father as well," I blurted, hardly caring that the truth might hurt her.
After a long silence, she asked, "You what?"
I repeated it.
Then there was a scene. She called me every name she could think of--some in French--and threw things and broke other things, and bit me when I tried to calm her down. So I let the storm pass, and when it was over, I wiped the tear trails off her face. "I think you should go now," she said.
"Don't you think we ought to talk about this?" I asked her, but she shook her head.
"No, I don't want to talk to you right now. Please go."
"Would it help to tell you that I'm very sorry?" It sounded lame to me, but it was all I could offer.
"Not much," she admitted. There was a finality in her words and in the sound of the door closing behind me.
The next morning I met Ray in the ops room. He smiled and I felt something curdle inside. "Nice trip?" he asked.
"Fine. How's the leg?"
We chatted inconsequentially for a few minutes while I tried to decide just what tack to take.
"Ray, can we talk?" I asked, tired of dancing around the subject. "We are talking, aren't we?" And I saw a flash of anger under the mask.
"I mean about why you're angry."
"Yes, you are," I insisted. He walked away.
The next time I saw him was in Cowley's office, at a briefing. I wasn't paying attention and received a sharp reminder that while I was on CI5 payroll, I was to do my daydreaming on my own time.
The Cow handed Ray a slip of paper. "Matthew Stuart," he said and Ray nodded.
"I know the name."
"Critic, art historian," Cowley supplied.
"Oh, yeh, I've read a few of his books. Knows 'is stuff."
"I'm sure he'd be gratified by your approval, Doyle. Now, I've arranged for Stuart to give you both a crash course in art history. I want you to be able to talk intelligently about art...."
"All the social graces in CI5, eh sir?" I asked, and saw Ray suppress a smile.
"You will also spend a day or two with Durant in the photo lab, brushing up on technique. By the end of the week, I want the two of you to be at ease with art--contemporary art in particular. You're going to write a book about it...with pictures. That's all."
"I'll tell you the rest when you're prepared. That's all."
Since protests were worse than useless with Cowley, we left his office in silence and made for the car park.
Once in the car, he switched off the radio. "All right, Bodie, you wanted to talk. I'm going to go first. I don't know what possessed you to sleep with my daughter--I don't really care--but I want to tell you that I think it's the lowest.... I didn't believe it at first. For chrissake, Bodie, she's just a kid!" I was glad to be behind the wheel since his driving is erratic when he's this agitated.
"She's a grown woman, Ray," I corrected, "and she has a life of her own."
"Which includes you, is that it? Do you think it was fair to start this thing considering our relationship?"
I admitted that I didn't. What I wanted to say to him (but knew I couldn't) was that it might not have happened if I'd had from him anything warmer than detached affection.
"The only thing for it is for you and I to stop." I was tempted to point out that we virtually had in any event. "I assume you and she are going to continue this relationship?" he asked, a bit too arch.
"No, it's over," I told him.
"I told her about us."
He went a funny shade of grey. "Don't even joke about that, Bodie."
"I'm not joking. Honesty being the order of the day, I felt that she should know."
"You did it out of spite, didn't you?" he demanded, the grey becoming suffused with red as he became angry.
"Not at all." I pulled into a layby because I had the feeling that an explosion was building. I remember thinking that the next five minutes would settle the rest of my life. "Go ahead," I told him, "get it out. Say it all."
But he was too angry to rage at me. Instead, I felt the ice between us grow thicker, colder. "I think you're...." He groped for an awful-enough word.
"Just say it's all over, Ray. It's what you want to say, isn't it?" Maybe it was better this way, I decided. How had I let myself love him so much? I wondered. I had no one but myself to blame.
"No, I want to make you suffer." His voice was quietly dangerous.
"You're good at that," I told him, truthful at last, when the truth hardly mattered.
For the rest of the day we were all business--cordial, even sharing the odd joke, but under the surface was something I'd never felt between us. I didn't have a name for it, but it was unsettling.
Beyond that moment, we were like strangers to each other.
Emma was waiting for me outside my flat that evening. "I'd like to come in," she said. I offered her a drink, but she refused. "I wanted to talk to you, Bodie. It's important. Please sit down and listen." I did as she asked. "What you said, what you did," she began, "hurt me. I hated you both for lying to me, but then I realized that by not telling Da at the beginning, I'd done the same. I'm going to talk to him when I've finished here." She rolled her eyes and smiled wryly. "I'm not looking forward to that," she admitted. "I think I made mistake with you as well. What we feel for each other is nice, but it's no great passion, is it?"
I shook my head. "Nice though," I agreed.
"Maybe I'm making another mistake now, but I feel that I have to go away for a while to think about my life." She was twisting her gloves in nervous hands.
"Back to France. I have a place in the Paris branch. I told you that Madame takes care of her own."
"Ray's going to be unhappy," I told her, moving to her side.
"Perhaps, but at least he won't have to worry about his daughter beating his time."
I had to laugh at that. "No fear, Minx. He couldn't care less what I do. It's you he worries about."
"Don't be too sure," she told me. "I want to go, Bodie. I was happy there."
I took her hand in mine. "I'm going to miss you, Minx. You're a comfortable little cat."
"Miss you too. What a pity it didn't work out. We have so much fun together." She pulled free of my grasp and stood up, straightening her skirt with a businesslike gesture. "Wish me luck with Da, will you? I'll need all I can get."
"I don't envy you," I told her quite truthfully. Then I kissed her goodbye.
And then I was alone. How would it be, I wondered, the next time Ray and I were alone together? Would he be venting his anger on me in subtle ways, or would he just not care anymore? Sometimes I wondered what my obsession with that little bundle of ice and vinegar said about my personality quirks. Masochistic? Hadn't thought so until I met Ray. Doormat? Oh, maybe. What I do for love.... Love...Starved? No, not so much starved as addicted to a something tasted only in moments when all the barriers came down between us--a sweetness I'd never known in any other human being. Perhaps it was for that taste, so very rare and sweet, that I endured the vinegar.
I argued with myself that some things are best sampled and forgotten, and that other people could offer other things equally special, but I didn't believe it--not really. In all the years of my life, I'd never known anyone who completed me the way he did. That we had even without the love.
And so I knew that if Ray was willing, we'd go on in the way we always had. Nothing much had changed.
Early the next morning I was wakened by the doorbell. The voice on the intercom said, "Ray. Can I come in?"
I buzzed and opened the door. "You look like hell," I observed.
"Underslept." He pushed past me into the flat. "I just dropped Emma at the airport. Can we talk?"
I nodded. "Coffee?" I asked, checking the clock on the desk. Six-thirty! We weren't due at Stuart's until noon.
"No, not yet. Bodie, what are we going to do?"
I didn't pretend not to understand the question. "The way I see it, Sunshine, is that we have two possibilities--we split up everything, or we just go on the way we've been doing."
"That's what I thought. Which do you want?"
I thought about it for a while. "To go on, I guess. You?"
"Same. Why, Bodie?" He looked bleak.
"Because we belong together," I said simply. That was the bottom line. "And because I love you."
"I need you," he whispered. "I couldn't leave you if I wanted to."
"Do you want to?" I asked, looking away from the bowed head and dull curls.
"Sometimes I think so, but I always end up like this...lonely. She's gone away, you know." He raised his head and looked at me.
"I'm sorry, Ray. I feel partly responsible."
"Partly, yes, but so am I responsible for her going. Do you know, you're the only person who hasn't walked away from me?" It was said without emotion--a bald statement of fact--but it touched some part of me that was still vulnerable to his pain, and I went to him, and held him close.
"I won't ever walk away, Sunshine, I swear."
I took him in my bed more to comfort than out of desire, and our lovemaking was quiet; no great floods of passion that morning. He needed me. It was something I'd never considered before. And it was enough--an unlooked for gift.
When he woke, he was more himself. "Maybe after this we can become art critics," he mused. "Probably pays more."
"Safer," I observed.
"Yeah. So, what d'you reckon this is about?"
"Maybe we really are going to write a book...neo-impressionist influences on fourth-form papier-mâché sculpture."
He chuckled. "P'rhaps Cowley is a closet artist and wants us to do a monograph on him, you know; Watercolours of George Cowley--volume ten."
I groaned. "Spare us that. Well, he'll tell us when he's ready. He's a close one; very cool."
"I suppose." Then he said, "Why do you love me?"
"I've never been able to decide. I think it's your sweet nature."
"Very funny. But straight up, Bodie, why do you?"
"Because you're you. I don't know. Why?"
"You're the only one who does," he said in a faraway voice.
I responded with an Anglo-Saxon word and he laughed. "You have a daughter who loves you, and a mother...."
"My mother? Let me tell you about the Widow Doyle, Bodie. When I was ten she said to me 'There are times I wish you'd never been born.' I never forgot it."
"Hasty words," I reminded him. "You've never done it?"
"She meant it," he insisted.
"I doubt that. And Emma."
"She doesn't like me either."
"You're starting to whine," I told him. Poor bastard believed that nobody loved him but me.
"Oh, Ray, for heaven's sake, did you love her?" I demanded. "Really love her?"
"No," he admitted. He pulled the sheets up over his head. "Why won't you let me wallow a little?" His voice was muffled, but I thought I detected laughter in it. Occasionally his sense of the absurd came to his rescue.
"Because I love you too much to want to see you rolling around in self-pity." I pulled the sheet down to see a glint of laughter in his eyes...and something else.
"How much time do we have?" he asked, crawling on top of me.
"Enough to make it memorable."
"Is that a challenge?" he asked, nipping my throat.
"Could be." I ran my hand down his spine, letting the fingers trace the shape of the vertebrae. All bone and muscle, he was. I stroked down over his backside, his flanks, and up to cradle his cock and balls. "How?" I whispered.
"I want you inside me." He bent over my groin and took me into his mouth. I shut my eyes and let him pleasure me. "Where's the KY?" he whispered, making it sound like love words. He stroked it all over me, then straddled me again. "Ready, Butch?" he asked.
He rocked back, guiding me into his body and pressing down in one smooth movement. He was very relaxed. "Oh, nice," he moaned, his slick hands moving restlessly on my chest and stomach. "Nice, eh, Bodie?"
I lifted my hips by way of answer and he pressed down to meet me, rose as I withdrew. "Christ...." The word hissed out between clenched teeth. I could feel him contracting around me--ripples of sensation. It had been a long time.
I rolled over on top of him suddenly. "Let me do this properly."
"I thought you'd never ask." He wrapped his arms and legs around me. "Don't spare the horses." He laughed as I started thrusting into him. We made it last.
Afterwards, I collapsed on top of him and he kept his arms and legs wrapped around me, holding me inside him. "Don't tell me it's over yet," he begged.
"I'm only human," I mumbled into his shoulder. "Was good, wasn't it?"
"Fan-fucking-tastic. You are some lay, beautiful." He brushed my hair back. "Gettin' a bit long. I like it though. Curls when it's damp." He smelled wonderful, wafts of him drifting around me whenever he moved. "You know, I didn't think when I came here today, that we'd ever do this again. I'm glad I was wrong." He caught my face between his hands. "Did we make the right decision, Bodie? It feels right."
I told him it felt right to me as well. I didn't tell him it was more than I'd hoped for.
I thought about Emma--wished I could have given her more.
-- THE END --