Twist of Fate
The flat was chilly and seemed oddly quiet, though the city was rarely very noisy at this hour of the morning. Doyle supposed that it might simply be that he was too aware of the contrast with the din which would be echoing through the streets if the population of the country were aware of the seriousness of the international situation. After all, most people did not react to the threat of annihilation with calm resignation, or with any more grace than they greeted any unpleasant reality. No, faced with catastrophe, they looted, set fires, got into fist fights, got blind drunk, and pursued any other activity which let them forget that they were human, and mortal. Some few, he supposed, would hide themselves away, as if the shelter of plaster, brick, steel or concrete could shield them from Armageddon; it would make no difference in the end. The furious energies of fusing atoms would blast into non-existence the coward and braggart alike, rich man and poor, friend and enemy, the bloody-fisted brawler, the drunk sprawled unconscious in the gutter, the mother and infant, sister and brother, father, aunt, uncle, grandmother and grandfather. Utter destruction was a wonderfully egalitarian force.
And it made no difference that most of those who would die, their bodies not burning, but flashing into vapour in the instant of however many bombs' detonation, had little idea of the likelihood of that event. The situation was grim--they'd been told that--but they hadn't been told the bitter truth: that this time, the heads of state who held the fate of the world hostage to the press of a button seemed bent upon using the power they held. There was no evidence that, this time, either side would blink. This crisis would never be recorded in books, to be analysed by scholars and politicians, or learned by schoolchildren. Hours, that was the estimate Doyle made of his future, and that of humanity, based on what Cowley had told them earlier in the day. It would not be more than that, not unless a miracle pulled the world back from the brink it seemed set upon marching over. That Cowley had dismissed them at the end of the briefing was as persuasive as the facts he'd shared with them. If there had been any hope that something might be saved from the oncoming calamity, Cowley would have required them to do what they could to serve their nation--and he hadn't. Doyle couldn't begin to imagine the impact that making that decision must have had upon George Cowley, a man who had spent his life facing challenges and dealing with them, unfailingly idealistic in his aims, relentlessly pragmatic in his means; the man had stated the facts in a steady voice, pale as if he'd a grievous wound draining his life's blood away. "May God have mercy upon us all," he'd said at the end. And was he now seated in his office, a glass and a bottle of single malt in front of him, or was he on his knees in church? Doyle found that he didn't care to speculate. It was Cowley's private business, and it would, after all, come to the same thing in a very little while.
And what could he do? Get drunk? Get into a brawl? Take his gun and do his damnedest to see that just one of the fools who had driven the country and the world down this dead-end road died a little before everyone else? None of those choices would do any good. Ring his mother and his sister--and rouse them out of a sound sleep to allow them to know how brief a time they had left to live? Doyle grimaced. Not much of a favour to do them, was it? And if he were to ring and not tell them, the very fact that he'd chosen the middle of the night to do so would tell them that something was up. No, on the whole he thought that he'd leave them to what he hoped was a peaceful slumber, no matter whether that was a decision he ought to be making for them or not.
Should he find some willing bird and see if he could succeed in timing what was known as the little death to coincide with the big one? He knew that the thought of imminent death was supposed to be a marvellous spur to the libido, but he suspected that in his case, if he were to put that theory to the test he'd find he was flogging a dead horse. He wondered how many of his fellows had come to similar conclusions after Cowley had dismissed them--or were they all off somewhere screwing their brains out, one last time? Doyle shrugged, a rictus bearing some resemblance to a smile crossing his face briefly. He'd never know. No more morning-after sessions in the rest room, with everyone trying to outdo each other with stories of sexual prowess and phenomenal staying power. No more anything, in a few hours.
Funny. He'd always thought that if he knew he had only a short time to live, that he'd cherish each instant, making the most of time which would grow more precious as the moments slipped away. Wouldn't have thought that he'd spend his last hours by himself, feeling the inevitability of mortality wrapping ever closer about him--like a shroud.
Doyle shuddered, wishing he could think about something else, if only for a minute or two. He would have welcomed one of Bodie's black jokes to put death and cataclysm into perspective. He would have welcomed Bodie's company even more, but his partner had been the second one out the door after Cowley had finished speaking to them, and Doyle hadn't seen where he'd gone when he left the garage, pulling out with a screech of tyres just as Doyle got there. Wouldn't have helped to try to follow him; he'd obviously wanted to leave by himself, and given the few seconds' lead that it would have taken Doyle to reach his own vehicle, Bodie would have been too far ahead for Doyle to know where he'd gone. Breathing exhaust fumes and burnt rubber, Doyle had stood there, watching as the rest of his fellow agents left the garage, listening as the sound of racing engines faded into the distance, before he finally put his own hand out and opened his car door. He'd driven home in a blank, anaesthetised daze, leaving the car at the kerb, unlocked.
That had been more than two hours ago. He'd made a pot of tea, the motions coming automatically to him. The warm curve of the cup between his palms had been a kind of comfort, seeming by its solid physical presence to deny what his mind knew to be true. Now, the cup sat next to the sink, empty, and Doyle had nothing to fill his hands, and his mind was rather too full of thoughts which had nothing of comfort about them.
He reached for the phone, knowing as he did so that it was an act of futility. He dialled a number he knew better than his own, and listened to the intermittent tone which told him that the instrument on the other end was ringing. Doyle kept the receiver pressed to his ear; the tone seemed after a while to dictate that he breathe in and out with the same timing, but he found that he grew dizzy when he did so. The plastic of the receiver grew warm and slippery in his grasp, and he held it more tightly.
Doyle breathed in sharply--
--and then said nothing at all, for there was no phone in his hand, and he was sitting on something soft and giving, not standing on unyielding lino, and the room about him was dark and quiet. His heart was going like the clappers, and he could feel a cold sweat breaking out on his face and under his arms. He smoothed the soft woollen blanket which lay over him with a hand which was a little unsteady, his fingers finding the familiar spot where the satin binding was coming loose. He reached behind himself and pulled out the pillow which lay at the head of the bed and shook it out, restoring some of its fluff, before stuffing it back where it had been. Mindless fussing with his surroundings couldn't enable him to defer acknowledging the truth for more than a few seconds, though, and comprehension slid into his consciousness like a stealthy, keenly honed carbon-steel blade.
"It happened," he told himself. That second after Bodie had answered the phone. And it had felt like...like he'd been a tennis ball, on the receiving end of a hundred mile an hour serve. It had been over too fast for him to feel any pain, but the impact had been absolute. It hadn't been heat that he'd felt, nor light that he'd seen; it had been as if in one brief instant all his nerve endings had fired, protesting violently against more stimulation than they could handle. It had been no dream. No mere nightmare could have carried with it this sense of complete conviction. So why the hell--how the hell--did he find himself sitting up in bed and not atomised into non-existence? He sat there and breathed for a few moments, then stood up and walked the few feet to his bathroom, feeling the cool solidity of the floor against his bare feet with a kind of wonder more usually reserved for experiences rare and marvellous. The water from the tap was cool and refreshing; he splashed his face with it, and then drank down a glassful. He set the glass back down beside the sink, misjudging the placement of it and swearing as it tipped itself onto the floor and shattered.
"Shit." He reached for the light switch, found it after a brief fumble at the wall, and flicked it on. He picked up the larger pieces of glass, carefully, and moistened a flannel to pick up the smaller shards which had scattered across the floor, as he didn't fancy the idea of having to pick slivers of glass out of his feet. Standing up, splintered glass and cloth in hand, he was turning to leave the bathroom when he caught sight of himself in the mirror.
His hair was shorter than it had been before. Quite a lot shorter--as it ought to have been. Doyle could remember asking the barber to neaten it up, the morning before. He could also recall quite clearly that he'd been nowhere near a barber for the past six weeks. He set the broken glass down in the sink and held onto the edge of the counter as the conflicting memories swirled through his mind. Was like one of those pieces of optical trickery where you looked at it one way and it was a vase, then blinked and it was two people looking at each other. And it wasn't just the barber, Doyle realised dizzily; mutually contradictory memories lay in wait for him everywhere, springing up with every thought which came to him. He'd visited the barber; he hadn't. He worked for CI5; no he didn't, he taught martial arts and self-defence at Conner's Gym. His mother and sister shared a small house not a half-hour's drive away; he didn't know where they lived, and he hadn't seen either of them in ten years. He'd been on the phone with Bodie when the bombs went; the bombs were nowhere in evidence, and who the hell was Bodie?
Doyle's stomach did a flip-flop, and he swallowed hard. Damn it, he knew the life he'd lived, the memories which were really his, and Bodie was his bloody partner, that's who he was! Leaving the bathroom, Doyle found himself in front of the phone, dialling. The receiver on the other end of the line was picked up after three rings.
"Hello?" The voice was not the one Doyle had expected, and it sounded irritated.
"Murphy? Put Bodie on, would you?"
"Nobody named Bodie here, and did you know it's three-thirty in the morning?"
"Stop farting around, Murph, and put my partner on the phone!"
"Listen, whoever you are, you want to be a little more careful when you dial the phone this time of the morning, and if you can't do that, I'd suggest that you sleep it off and try again when you wake up." There was an aggrieved-sounding click, and the connection was severed.
Doyle stared at the phone in disbelief. It had been Murphy; there was no doubt of it. He dialled the phone again.
"Murph? You're not playing some kind of practical joke, are you? 'Cause it's not funny."
"Listen to me," Murphy's voice told him grimly, "I'm not in the habit of playing practical jokes on complete strangers who ring me in the middle of the night. And if this phone rings again tonight, you'll regret it."
Doyle listened for a moment to the hissing silence which succeeded the click of disconnection, then replaced his own receiver gently upon the hook. At a loss, he wandered through the flat, noting with a stunned lack of surprise that it was the same flat he'd had before, though the furnishings were not. He went into the kitchen, and made himself a pot of tea, finding that the mugs had migrated to a different shelf within the cupboard and that the tea was, inexplicably, currently residing in a brightly coloured tin he'd never seen before--although when he thought about it, he could recall it perfectly well. Confounded, Doyle took his steaming mug over to the kitchen table and sat down to drink it.
All right. He was inclined to rule out the possibility that he'd lost his mind and that what he was experiencing was madness, first-hand. He'd never known anyone as far gone as he'd have to be in order for his own personal reality to be this disordered who'd got any closer to rationality by simply thinking things through. Worked the other way round, if anything, and that implied a futility to any effort he might make which Doyle rejected out of hand. No, there was another explanation; he just had to discover what it was. He went over to the desk, paused a moment, thinking, and then opened the wrong drawer, finding the tablet of paper there, precisely where he'd known it wasn't--and known it was.
Sitting down again with his tea, Doyle drew a line down the centre of the page and began listing the things he knew to be true about the world and his life, starting on the left with the destruction of life on Earth--and on the right with its apparent continued existence. On the next line down, he wrote, "Bodie"--and on the right side of the page, he drew a question mark. After filling four pages with mutually exclusive pairs of facts, memories, and observations, he stopped and read through what he'd written down, not just noting the contradictions between left side of the page and right, but looking for patterns, and evaluating what those patterns may mean. The process seemed to lessen the gyrating confusion in his mind, and in the end, he thought he had an idea of what he was looking at, though the mystery of what had happened to him was scarcely lessened thereby.
What he had before him was a list of details about two different lives, each of which he could recall living--but while those lives differed from each other in many respects, what Doyle recalled of his childhood consisted of an uncomplicated and singular series of events. It was as if his life had...branched, back when he was about fifteen. One branch led to his time in the Police, and to his joining CI5 and meeting Bodie, and to the series of events which had followed the invasion of the Falklands by Argentina, culminating in atomic holocaust--for Doyle found himself unyieldingly convinced that what he had experienced for an infinitesimal instant, as he'd stood there listening to Bodie answer the phone, had indeed been the inferno of the world's ending. On the other branch, the one where he had got his hair cut yesterday and Murphy denied knowing Bodie--this branch--he'd never been a copper. He had instead finished his studies in art school before going on to a series of varied occupations when being a penniless artist had approached too uncomfortably near to being a starving artist, and had fallen into his current position at Conner's Gym through sheer good luck. The Falklands? On this branch, the war had blown up, then blown over, with a good many harsh words, and some casualties on each side--but not a world's worth. Here, humanity was still balanced on the brink, and hadn't yet toppled over it.
And yet, as fine as it was to find himself alive, and the city apparently still whole around him, there was an emptiness to this world he had come to. Doyle nodded to himself. He'd sorted it out now. As clearly as he could call to mind both sets of memories, the ones which seemed to belong to this reality he now found himself inhabiting felt less real, somehow, than the ones from the world he'd left behind. It was, in a way, as if he could remember living in two different cities, and one was the London he'd known as home, and this other was another town, one that he knew from long ago and far away.
A jangling clatter from the bedroom startled him briefly, before he got up and went in to silence the alarm clock. Six o'clock. It was morning--the first morning of his two weeks' holiday, Doyle recalled with a start. He raised the blinds at the bedroom window and looked outside. A lovely June morning, with blue skies overhead, and a few puffy white clouds. The homely sound of sparrows cheeping came through the opened window. He stood there and watched and listened for a few moments, breathing the morning air, and cherishing an experience he had not expected to know again. After a while, he reluctantly turned away from the window, for there were things he needed to do.
Finding Bodie came first on the list, though Doyle didn't know where he might be found in this world. If Murphy didn't know him, and if this Murph worked for CI5, then the Bodie Doyle found here might not be the same Bodie he'd known before, but he wouldn't be so very different, surely. Doyle didn't question the urgency which demanded that he find his partner--or the man his partner was in this world--any more than he questioned the necessity of breathing. He'd lost the life he knew; he'd lost a world, but he refused to accept that he'd lost Bodie. Doyle poured himself a bowl of muesli and started planning how to go about finding him. The problem of what to do after that could be dealt with later, he told himself, trying to ignore the question of just how he was going to go about convincing Bodie, never a notoriously trusting soul, that he had a new best mate he'd never heard of before. He'd think of something when the time came.
But first he had to find Bodie. That might be difficult, Doyle admitted to himself. He started with the most obvious thing he could think of: the phone book. No W.A.P. Bodie was listed, though there were a few Bodies with other initials scattered about in places like Bromley and Sidcup, as well as in London proper. That may mean that Bodie's number was unlisted, certainly, or perhaps that he did not even live in London; but as he thought about it, Doyle realised that in this world his partner might conceivably have a different name. He'd never find Bodie if his name were actually Smith or Jones or Terwilliger. On the other hand, if he was Smith or Jones or Terwilliger, maybe he did work for CI5; there were enough other similarities between Doyle's old world and this one that that was possible. Start with what he knew, then. Murphy existed here, and had answered to that name, at a phone which in the old world had been installed in a CI5 flat. All right, he'd see where Murphy might lead him.
The battered yellow Mini which was parked on the street below started willingly enough when Doyle turned the key in the ignition, but had about as much get up and go as an octogenarian with a bad case of arthritis, and Doyle had to adjust his customary driving style to suit it. It was frustrating to be cut off by everyone and his cousin just because he couldn't get his vehicle to accelerate at a reasonable pace, and annoying as hell to be on the receiving end of irritated horn-blasts and rude gestures from drivers impatient with his creeping progress and in a hurry to get to work. Doyle gritted his teeth and bore it, reminding himself to be thankful that he had a car to drive, even if it was a dust-bin seven. The contents of his current bank account--he'd checked the figures before he'd left the flat, just in case--would have covered the purchase of a new bicycle, but not much more than that.
He found the block of flats where Bodie had lived, and drove down the street slowly, observing the street and the cars parked along it. Among their number was a silver Capri whose licence number he recalled having seen in the CI5 motor pool. This went a good distance towards relieving a nagging worry he'd been trying to ignore: that in this world, the phone he'd called might well be installed in another flat, and he might have brought himself to the wrong address. A car pulled away from the kerb as he drove down the street for the second time, and Doyle did not hesitate to park his Mini in the spot thus provided, settling in to watch and wait as long as necessary. He found that he felt better; the sense of confusion which still hung over him had receded somewhat. Doing something about a problem was always better than worrying about it. As he sat there waiting, the uneven springs of the seat beneath him made him shift position now and again, and the cracked vinyl caught at his jeans whenever he did so, but the little yellow automobile wasn't as unpleasant as many of the situations he'd found himself in before when on stakeout--and he couldn't help but think that finding Bodie was a far better goal than pinching some drug-runner or petty miscreant. He hadn't had time to become more than a little cramped when the door opened and Murphy appeared, climbing into the silver Capri and pulling smoothly out into traffic.
Following him through the morning traffic was a challenge, both because Doyle didn't wish to be spotted, and because his vehicle wasn't up to the kind of high performance driving he had used to take for granted. If the roads had been less congested, he'd never have managed it, but as it was he kept Murphy's Capri in sight with little difficulty, until the other man pulled his vehicle into the same carpark Doyle had entered himself a thousand times--before. Rather than following him in, Doyle drove past the carpark, finding a place a few streets away that he could wedge his car into and then walking back. As he neared the building, he went over the story he'd worked out, hoping it would suffice. Might need a little improvisation along the way, but Doyle had never had a lot of trouble with that.
CI5 did exist here--or something very much like it did. As soon as Doyle entered the building, that much was clear from the security precautions he could see were in place. Others, he knew, were there, but not immediately apparent. He walked over to the desk and the fit young man who sat there. His pleasant features seemed familiar, and Doyle placed him without much difficulty, coming up with his name an instant later. Tommy Bates. Doyle was immeasurably cheered when he read that same name on the man's identification badge. One more similarity to add to the total.
"Hello. Do you have an appointment?" Bates asked him.
"No...or at least I don't think so--but the bloke told me to come and see him if I ran across that information he wanted," Doyle said.
"And who was that?"
"Well, that's the problem," Doyle said, giving an apologetic grin. "Can't remember 'is name--but I remember the twenty quid he promised me if I learned anything!"
"And he told you to come here?" Bates asked, doubt plain in his voice.
"Uh, not exactly," Doyle said, striving for the same ineffectual whine he'd heard from informant after informant. "But I lost the phone number. Reckoned I could find him here, though--it's CI5, right? Met him here once before."
"I did," Doyle said, then added, with an apologetic shrug, "uh, after the constable who'd nicked me for speeding about six months back brought me here."
"It's true. See, I was driving a car I'd--borrowed--and they found something in the boot that got 'em all excited, and they wanted me to tell where and when I'd picked the car up from."
"So I was wondering if you could tell the bloke I talked to before that I'm here now and I heard something new that I think he'd like to know about."
"And you don't know his name, right?"
"All right. Tell me what he looks like, and we'll see--but you'd better not be wasting my time. They don't pay me to play twenty questions with the public." Bates' expression made it clear that he could have used another word than public to describe Doyle.
Doyle grinned. "He's tallish, 'bout six foot, built solid, but not fat, short dark hair, blue eyes, funny crooked eyebrow." He sketched a jagged line in the air with his forefinger. "'Orrible sense of humour."
"Could be Dawes, except for the eyebrow. Did he have a mustache?"
"No, he's clean-shaven. You sure you don't know him?"
"Not from that description."
Bates was obviously losing interest. Doyle knew that his description of Bodie had been vague, but to have described him in the detail a CI5 agent would have used would have been too likely to arouse suspicion--a suspicion Doyle could not afford. Trying to maintain an optimistic frame of mind, despite his uncomfortable awareness that anyone who knew Bodie ought to have recognised him by that description, vague or no, Doyle searched his mind for another tack to try. He knew that if he couldn't come up with anything better than he already had, he'd be back out on the street within minutes. He thought for an instant and then inspiration struck. "You have a piece of paper and a pencil there? I can draw you a picture of him."
"No, really. I can! I'm an artist, I am."
"All right," Bates shoved a pad of paper and a pencil at him. "Show me--artist."
Doyle sketched a quick likeness of his partner, wishing for a piece of proper drawing paper and his favourite pencils as he did so. It did not take him long; Bodie, smiling, stared at him from the page, unexpectedly lifelike. Doyle blinked. That last year of art school and the practise his other self had had since did make a difference. He felt reluctant to relinquish his creation, but he handed the pad and pencil back to Bates anyway. "That's him."
Bates shook his head. "He's not one of our lot. Looks kind of familiar, though. Maybe he's with some other agency. Could have been visiting here, I suppose."
"You want to tell me what's so important, then? I could pass it along if I see him again."
Doyle shook his head, dejection sweeping over him. Bates would note down whatever story Doyle fabricated for him, and then it would be filed and probably never looked at again. "No. Think I'll go back home and look for that piece of paper with the phone number on it. Thanks all the same." He turned and hurried out of the building before Bates could begin to think of detaining him.
He sat in the yellow Mini for a couple of minutes before starting the engine. Perhaps it had been unrealistic of him to hope to find Bodie so quickly, but it was always tempting to hope for the best when you wanted something badly. Still, just hoping was not going to get him any further forward, and neither was sitting here in the car. Doyle started the engine and drove himself home. Picking up the pad of paper from the table where he'd left it, he turned to a fresh page. He'd learned in the Met to be methodical when setting out to find someone; success often lay in not overlooking even the most remote possibilities. As he no longer had access to all the sources of information he'd had in CI5, or even in the Police, it might well take him longer; but Doyle was resolved to keep looking until he found his partner, if it took years. Pacing and thinking, and returning to write upon the pad at intervals, in the space of a couple of hours Doyle had filled the page with a list of places to go and things to investigate which might help to lead him to wherever Bodie was in this world.
Starting at the top of the list, he pulled out the telephone directory again, and rang every Bodie listed, starting with A.E. There was no answer at four of the numbers; the people he spoke to at the others denied knowing any William Bodie, or any other Bodie who fit the description Doyle gave them. Refusing to be discouraged, he noted the numbers which needed further investigation, and then went down to the street again and climbed into his car, whose interior now resembled that of an oven, thanks to the strength of the afternoon sunshine. He rolled down the one window which worked--briefly considered smashing the other, but didn't--and drove off. He didn't have any difficulty finding the garage where he remembered Bodie had stored the car and other items he kept against the day he might need them. The door was locked, but that didn't stop Doyle for more than a few minutes, even though he didn't have the tools he usually liked to use, and had to improvise from the bits and pieces he found in the toolkit in the boot. The contents of the garage were a musty disappointment: someone was using the space to store old furniture and a quantity of shabby boxes, and Bodie's car was nowhere to be seen. Just to be thorough, Doyle investigated the contents of a couple of the boxes, finding a selection of children's clothing and an assortment of old textbooks and school papers. Someone named Jeffrey had had a terrible time learning his multiplication tables. Putting everything back in place, Doyle replaced the lock on the door, and went back to his flat.
Doyle ticked the second item off his list, then drew a deep breath, and expelled it forcefully. If it took a while to find Bodie, then it took a while; impatience wouldn't get him anywhere. He picked up the newspaper he'd picked up on his way back from the garage, and scanned the headlines. Same things seemed to be going on here as had always done back home. A group protesting against nuclear power had had to be forcibly removed from where they'd chained themselves to the fence surrounding a generating plant. There was a new scandal brewing in the investment industry. Some fool of a businessman had got himself kidnapped, then shot trying to escape his captors. He'd got away, all right, but the kidnappers were still on the loose. Doyle read between the lines of that story and shook his head. Why was it that those blokes always seemed to think that knowing how to run their companies qualified them to deal with anything? Jones was lucky he hadn't been killed--though his stay in hospital might persuade him to a little more caution in future. He paged through the rest of the newspaper, catching up on current events which his other self had paid little attention to. Finished, he dumped it in the bin, sighing. Nothing there to help him in his search. He picked up his list and considered what to pursue next.
Over the next two weeks he had little success in his quest, though he spent most of his waking hours at it. Oh, there was a moment--when he found the record of Bodie's birth--when his heart beat faster and his spirits lifted. Until that instant, Doyle hadn't let himself dwell upon the possibility that in this world, his friend may not even have been born; upon finding proof of his existence Doyle felt an immense relief. But soon after that, the trail went stone cold. He went to the town of Bodie's birth, delving into the records of every church there, but while he found the church where Bodie's baptism had been recorded and the rector even remembered the family--vaguely--all Doyle could learn beyond that was that the family had moved away before Bodie's second birthday, and that no one seemed to know where they'd gone.
Nowhere else did Doyle find even a whisper of his friend's existence, though his search sent him zigzagging back and forth across the country like a tourist determined to pack as many miles into his holiday as possible. One by one, the items on his list had been ticked off, and he found himself no closer to his objective. On the Monday, discouraged, but not defeated, he went back to work at the gym, for he needed the income his job would bring. He might have looked for another source of employment, but the work suited him well enough, and paid enough to keep body and soul together--and a little over, usually, though that little seemed miniscule indeed as the expense of train tickets and petrol, and of five quid here and ten there to help encourage the flow of information ate away Doyle's slender reserves.
Over the next few weeks, he kept looking, whenever he could think of somewhere new to look, and he also went back over ground he'd already covered, hoping to find something on a second or third inspection that he'd missed the first time around. It took most of his spare time, but Doyle didn't begrudge a moment of it. It wasn't as if the rest of his life was all that compelling. He could remember, when he cared to think of it, what he'd been used to do here for entertainment on his time off. There had been the occasional film or visit to the theatre; there had been nights out drinking in the Sword and Anchor with a few of his co-workers; there had been Peggy. These days, films and the theatre didn't appeal--Doyle was too busy--and his co-workers eyed him askance, and didn't seem inclined to request his company. He wasn't very surprised at this; at times, he felt like an impostor in his own life. Peggy...Doyle recalled enjoying going out with her, and staying in with her, but when he thought about her, remembered her face, her voice, the lush generosity of her body, the memories seemed faded and lacking in savour. He rang her one evening, wanting to let her know that she wouldn't be hearing from him again; it was only fair to tell her. She hadn't been in; her flatmate had told him, giggling apologetically, that she was out with someone else. Doyle put her out of his mind; seemed that Peggy could look out for her own interests.
He did take a few hours to go over back issues of the Times, concentrating on the record of the conflict in the Falklands. It held a kind of morbid fascination for him, trying to pinpoint what, exactly, had been different. What was it that had caused one world to be destroyed, while this one still lurched along from crisis to crisis? What had triggered an exchange of missiles, instead of bullets and harsh words? As best Doyle could work out from what he remembered, and from the information available to him here--and he knew that the public never were told everything--it had had to do with the unstable nature of the world debt structure. Once the financial interests of the City of London--in his old world--had called in the massive debt Argentina owed them, and had manipulated matters so that other interests had done the same, events had gone steadily and rapidly downhill. The Argentinean government had defaulted, and that had been the proverbial nail gone missing from the horseshoe which had brought down a kingdom--or in this case, the world. Governments around the globe had toppled into financial panic, one after the other, as it was revealed that they were based on little more than an extended network of debt and insolvency, and as the rot spread, those at the head of nations which had yet evaded the worst of the chaos, in a desperate grasp after something which was already fled beyond their reach, had postured and threatened each other, and at the last, had carried out their threats. It would have been a good example of laughably short-sighted stupidity--if it hadn't cost so much. Doyle could cheerfully have seen the ones responsible for pushing their respective buttons pilloried--or worse--and he was uncomfortably aware that in this world those men were probably in the very same positions of responsibility. This world was likely very little more stable than the one he'd left. There wasn't anything he could do about it, though, except hope that the balance might be maintained.
He also spent a little time with canvas and oils, and the portrait that he completed was hung in the lounge, where he could see it morning and night: Bodie, clad in a black rollneck, with a serious expression on his face. Doyle tried not to get into the habit of talking to the portrait, but the temptation was strong, especially at times when he was feeling particularly discouraged, which was more and more frequently as weeks went by and he had nothing to show for his search. Sometimes, he wondered just why, out of four billion people, he had escaped the ruin of his world. What had he been saved for? What good was it? Then, he'd pull himself together, as best he could, and go on.
Driven by encroaching desperation, he even went back now and again and parked within view of CI5, watching who went in and who went out, though he knew that that was not without risk if he were noticed. It was not beyond the bounds of possibility that Bates had, for some reason, been lying when he said he hadn't recognised that drawing of Bodie. Or so Doyle told himself as he watched. He saw men who had been his friends and co-workers, others who had been acquaintances, and still others whom he didn't recall having seen in his old world--but he didn't see Bodie.
August turned to September; the days got shorter. Towards the end of the second week of the month, it turned cooler; on the Friday it began to rain. The smell of autumn was in the air. Doyle got off work that evening, went home and cleaned up, ate dinner and then drove down to watch the entrance of CI5 again. He smiled wryly to himself as he found a spot to park and settled in for the evening. Some blokes went down to the pub of an evening; some went to the cinema or out dancing with a bird; here he was, sitting in his car, watching and waiting for someone who wouldn't even know him if they were to meet. Almost anyone would have thought it a futile way to spend his time; Doyle adjusted his position, stretching, and continued his watch. The sun slanted into the west, peeping out from under the clouds, the light falling horizontally across the streets and buildings, sending shadows striding eastward. Doyle looked up and down the street, by now recognising most of the vehicles still parked there. There was a newcomer among the familiar vehicles, too: a blue Escort tidily parked a little ahead of him and across the street. Someone waiting inside, too. Probably picking up a date, or waiting to give someone a ride home.
No. Doyle frowned as he focused upon the silhouette of the man waiting in the car not thirty-five feet from him. Almost hidden, lying just at the juncture of the opened window and the door panel, was a shape he knew well, even at this angle. Instincts which had had little opportunity to operate over the past few months were making the back of Doyle's neck itch. What was a man with a gun doing, waiting outside CI5? His intentions weren't benign; that was almost certain. Then, before Doyle could debate the merits of going into CI5 and reporting it and probably being arrested, himself--he found out. A dark sedan appeared on the ramp which led to the parking area, and as it turned onto the street, there was the unmistakable sound of gunfire--from two directions. The sedan rocked, skidded, and came to a halt slewed across the roadway.
Doyle was out of his car and crouched on the pavement behind it almost before he knew it, his hand diving towards a gun he no longer wore. He swore softly to himself, peering over the bonnet of the Mini as the gunfire continued, the sounds of shots and echoes rattling back and forth from the buildings on either side of the street The man from the blue Escort was firing steadily towards the dark sedan and the men concealed within it, who were returning the gunfire. Two guns there, Doyle gauged, but three men, and they were under fire from up ahead somewhere, as well.
"Damn it!" he muttered. It had to be CI5 up there in the sedan, and someone they were protecting. And whoever was shooting at them must be extraordinarily eager to get at their quarry, or they'd never have dared to start anything here. With all this racket going on, there'd be reinforcements here within seconds--but seconds might be too long. One of the guns from the sedan fell silent. Blockage? Or had one of the agents inside been hit? Didn't matter; they were now outnumbered, and Doyle found that he could no longer stay where he was and do nothing. Reaching down and tugging off his right shoe, he weighed it in his hand, then stood and lobbed it at the open window of the Escort in one swift motion, ducking back down behind his car in the next instant. Not much of a projectile, the shoe hit the edge of the window and bounced inside, doing little more than distracting the gunman for an instant--but that was long enough. The sound of squealing tyres and racing engines came reverberating from the entrance to the carpark, and just before three cars burst out of it and onto the street, the Escort pulled away from the kerb, joined by a white van from further down the road, and they raced away, pursued by two of the cars from the carpark.
Doyle stood up, raising his hands above his head, as two men exited the newly arrived car, one going to the sedan, one heading in Doyle's direction. He knew the state of mind they'd be in, and had no wish to become an incidental casualty.
"You! Stay where you are!" shouted the man advancing towards Doyle at a cautious jog.
"Was plannin' to," Doyle replied, raising his voice just enough to be heard. The door on the near side of the dark sedan opened, and a man got out--Murphy. Doyle couldn't help smiling; it felt almost like old times--but he reminded himself that the old times he remembered would mean nothing to these men. He did not protest when the man approaching him first patted him down for weapons, then grabbed him by the arm and urged him roughly back towards the vehicles, though he felt a little awkward walking down the pavement. Diddle, diddle dumpling, my son John, he thought to himself, suppressing a smile as he hobbled. One shoe off, and one shoe on. There was the sound of disagreeing voices from inside the dark sedan, and then another man exited the car, adjusting the fit of his suit jacket as he did so, and Doyle stopped dead where he was.
It was Bodie.
Doyle jerked himself impatiently free of the hand on his arm, and shouted, "Bodie! Here!"
Idiot, he castigated himself, a second later, as the agent beside him regained his hold upon Doyle's arm, with a grip which wouldn't as easily be dislodged. What the hell did he expect Bodie to make of some stranger yelling at him? He saw the dark head turn in his direction, and knew that he was imagining the way the blue eyes widened as they met his. Wishful thinking, it had to be. But then--
"Doyle? Ray Doyle?" Bodie called, disbelief plain in his voice.
"Yeah," Doyle managed to say, though his throat felt oddly tight.
Bodie took a couple of steps toward him, and was intercepted by Murphy, who spoke to him in an urgent undertone.
"Damn it, I know what kind of risk I'm taking," Bodie said loudly. "None. And if you don't want me to walk away from you and your department, you'll take your hands off me right now and let me go say a word or two to my mate, there." He shouldered past Murphy and walked up to where Doyle was standing.
"Long time, Ray."
"Yeah. Too long." Doyle stared at his partner, taking in every detail. Bodie looked--prosperous. Dressed in a dark suit whose cut looked very expensive, with a silk tie in impeccable taste, his shoes were the sort which would have cost Doyle a month's salary. "I'm not sure I understand--"
Bodie stopped him with an abrupt gesture, shaking his head minutely, then turned back towards Murphy. "My friend and I have a lot to catch up on. Is there any good reason he can't come with us? I'm sure you have some questions to ask him. No reason we can't kill two birds, is there?"
"That's settled, then. Doyle?"
"All right." He smiled, appreciating how neatly Bodie had manipulated the situation to their benefit. "Do I dare ask where we'll be going?"
"Better not. This lot get all twitchy if you ask 'em too many questions." He looked at the man standing beside Doyle. "Ahh, I think you'll find he'll come along quietly now." He turned and took a couple of steps toward the sedan, then turned back. "Well? You waiting for something, then, Johnson?"
"No," said the man still holding Doyle's arm. He steered Doyle over to the sedan and ushered him inside, to sit next to Bodie in the rear seat. Going around the vehicle, he leaned in the opened window and peered at the man sitting in the front seat. "How're you doing, Harry?"
The man raised his left arm; there was a hole in the fabric of his jacket and a red stain spreading around it. "A bit perforated," he said in affectedly posh tones.
"Mmm. You'll have to have that seen to," said Johnson. "Can you manage? Murph and I need to get these two under wraps." He opened the car door.
Harry gave a one-shouldered shrug, then climbed out of the car. "Reckon so." His accent had slipped from posh to decidedly plebeian. "I'm not going nowhere until he gives me back my gun, though." He leaned back in at the window and glared at Bodie.
"Oh, that." Bodie said. He reached inside his suit jacket and extracted a pistol from his waistband. "You dropped it, after all. Thought I might find it useful."
"Uh-huh." Harry took the gun from Bodie. "'S only useful if you know how to use one."
Doyle laughed. Murphy gave him a narrow-eyed look, then spoke to Johnson. "You want to get us out of here? Cowley won't take it kindly if we get a ticket--even if it is for parking illegally and not for speeding."
Johnson climbed into the driver's seat and started the engine, then took off with a squeal of rubber against tarmac. If Doyle hadn't had the benefit of many a breakneck dash through the city courtesy of Bodie's driving, he might have found himself alarmed by the speed with which they were going, but as it was, he just braced himself where he sat and paid attention to what was important: Bodie.
"Do you know what--?"
Bodie cut him off. "Later, Ray. I'm sure there're lots of things for us to talk about, but we wouldn't want to bore anyone else with it, would we?"
"You're probably right," Doyle said, looking at the back of Murphy's head. "Even if they weren't bored, they wouldn't be able to make much of it, would they?"
"Probably not. Think it's a case of you had to be there."
Doyle snorted. He didn't know what Bodie's experience had been, but he was looking forward to comparing notes with him--once they were alone. He leaned back in his seat and flexed his foot against the plastic mat on the floor, feeling little bits of gravel rolling beneath his stocking-clad toes. For the first time since he'd escaped the cataclysm, he felt as if he could relax. He turned his head slightly so that he could keep an eye on his partner. It was so good, knowing he was here, and safe. Bodie caught his eye, and winked.
But just how safe was Bodie? If Harry and Johnson were CI5 agents, why were they minding his partner? It didn't look as if he were a prisoner, so they must be protecting him against someone. Because of something he knew, or some threat he posed? That was just one more thing Doyle needed to learn, he supposed. The someone who felt threatened had evidently learned, somehow, where Bodie would be this evening, and had set up the attack Doyle had helped to frustrate. There was an information leak, somewhere. Well, whoever was responsible for that would soon find that they were not dealing with what they thought they were. Bodie was no average citizen with no idea of how to protect himself, and while that might have become apparent to those in CI5 who'd had more than a little to do with him, they could have no idea that Doyle was equally able to protect himself, and Bodie, if necessary.
The car went over a stretch of rough road. Doyle looked around, taking more of an interest in his surroundings. While he was still adjusting to the idea that he'd found Bodie, keeping his partner safe was far more important than sitting here thinking about how amazing it was. They were in an industrial section of the city, with warehouses all around. The stink of diesel exhaust was pungent in his nostrils. The car took a sharp left, then jolted up a slight incline and halted with its bonnet just short of the warehouse on their left. Almost before the vehicle came to a halt, Murphy had his door open, and had trotted over to the large, sliding door, which he pulled open. Johnson drove the car inside the warehouse, and Murphy pulled the door closed behind them. The door moved smoothly, making very little noise despite its appearance. Doyle nodded to himself. Battered and dirty the door might be, but someone had taken care to keep the rollers oiled and the tracks clean.
After making a quick survey of the interior of the warehouse--a task made easier by the lack of contents--Murphy gave a quick thumbs-up. Johnson opened his door and climbed out of the car. "This way," he said, bending to release the seat-back lever.
Bodie got out of the car, followed by Doyle. Flanked by the two CI5 agents, they walked across the oil-spotted and rust-stained concrete of the floor to the opposite wall. There, Murphy motioned for them to stand to one side of a door set near the corner of the wall. Releasing the dead-bolt, which slid back in well-maintained silence, he turned the knob and opened the door, slowly. Seemingly satisfied by what he saw when he peered outside, he waved the rest of the party on. They went across a narrow alley-way, into another warehouse, and into a grey van which was parked inside. Stowed inside the van, in the windowless cargo compartment behind the driver's seat, Bodie and Doyle made themselves as comfortable as they could, seated opposite each other on the piece of short-piled carpet which overlay the metal deck of the van. It seemed to be Murphy's turn to drive, this leg, while Johnson rode shotgun in the seat beside him.
It had been a neat enough changeover, Doyle had to admit. Probably enough to throw off most pursuers, though he hadn't noticed any sign that they'd been being followed. Better safe than dead, though, especially when it was Bodie who appeared to be the target. They were headed west, it seemed; the last vestiges of the evening light were fading from the patch of sky he could see through the windscreen. The light from the headlamps of passing vehicles provided a kind of erratically stroboscopic illumination. Doyle looked across the van at Bodie, and nudged him gently with one foot. Bodie's eyes gleamed at him.
"Hey, yourself," Bodie said quietly, and patted his ankle, and then left his hand there.
Doyle leaned his head back against the wall of the van and shut his eyes, content. It didn't matter that he didn't know where they were going; it didn't matter that he had to piss, nor that the van didn't seem to be equipped with a bottle he could have used for that purpose. He heard Bodie's stomach rumble from where he sat. "Noisy bugger."
"Not my fault. Think the commotion back there upset their plans for feedin' me. Last thing I had to eat was lunch."
"Look at it this way. It could have been the last thing you ever ate," Doyle suggested.
Bodie shook his head, a motion distinguishable as a blur of dark hair against the lighter grey of the side of the van. "They may not be our lot, exactly," he said, his voice barely carrying over the road noise, "but they're not bad."
"Mmm," Doyle said. "Later, then?"
After a while, Doyle fell into a half-doze, conscious of occasional low-voiced conversation from the two agents in the front of the van, of the hum and rumble of the road beneath the tyres, and of the warmth of Bodie's hand upon his ankle. When the sound of the tyres changed, he stirred back to alertness. The van slowed and turned, crunching over an uneven gravelled surface, then came to a halt. There was little to be seen through the windscreen: a white wall just in front of them, reflecting the light from the headlamps, and some kind of dark evergreen foliage massed to one side. Murphy turned off the engine and the lights, opened his door, and got out. They sat there in silence for a few minutes, then Murphy came back and leaned in the passenger side window.
"All clear, inside."
Johnson nodded, and got out of the van, going around it and opening the rear doors. Fresh air rolled into the van, and Doyle inhaled appreciatively as he scrambled out, standing and stretching muscles cramped by too-long inaction. It smelled of autumn, of open fields at night: a hint of rot, the tang of tilled earth, a trace of burning leaves. Beside him, Bodie sighed, then cracked his knuckles.
"Inside," Murphy said, and they filed up the flagstone path and through the door of the bungalow.
They found themselves in a compact front room, furnished with a carpet which was more brown than any other colour, and with a pink sofa which was on the shabby side of comfortable. Bodie went to the kitchen immediately, of course, while Doyle sought out the bathroom with some degree of urgency. Relieved, he washed his hands and made a quick survey of the house before rejoining his partner. Johnson and Murphy were in the front room, eating and talking quietly. Over the waist-high partition which divided the front room from the kitchen, Doyle could see Bodie seated at the kitchen table, a couple of cans of coke and a large plate of sandwiches in front of him. He had not waited for Doyle before beginning his meal, but gestured at the sandwiches with an expansive wave when Doyle came into the room.
"Can see I'd better help myself quickly, before you finish the lot," said Doyle, picking up a sandwich and taking a bite. He blinked, swallowed, and took a second bite, relishing the mingling of flavours: crusty, fresh bread, tender flavourful ham and mustard. "Not the kind of sarnies I'm used to on the job," he said.
"Not on the job, are we," Bodie mumbled indistinctly, around a mouthful of sandwich. He reached for his coke and drank thirstily.
"Mmm. Could say that." Doyle raised his eyebrows and tilted his head towards the front room.
"Yeah. Good thing, too. Going to be glad to get some rest tonight--right after I finish dinner, probably."
Doyle took another large bite of his own sandwich, and chewed luxuriously. "Sounds like a good idea to me, but what about those two?"
"Them? They'll be stuck keeping watch, mate."
"They going to want to keep tabs on the pair of us all night, then?"
"Don't think so. I've been here before--they've been keeping me here all week. The bedroom's reasonably secure--it's in the back, and the window's not only barred, but the ground slopes down away from the house there, so it's a good way up off the ground. There's also a bramble hedge just underneath which is so full of thorns that it'd discourage almost anyone."
"Helpful, that," Doyle remarked. "But--"
"You wondering what they're going to be thinking about us, then?"
"Had crossed my mind. It's not like they know us, to know any different."
Bodie shrugged. "Do you care what they think? If they want to make something out of nothing, they can."
"So long as it doesn't keep 'em from doing their job."
"Oh, I think the fear of Cowley'll keep them on track, no matter what they think."
"Cowley?" Doyle said, a dozen questions in the one word.
"Yeah." That answered most of them.
The plate of sandwiches was soon reduced to crumbs, and Bodie leaned back in his chair with a sigh of repletion. Doyle looked at him and shook his head, before draining the last swallow from his can of coke.
"You don't have a leg to stand on," Bodie said lazily. "You must have accounted for half that lot."
"Maybe, nothing." Bodie said firmly. He stood, and called to the two agents in the other room. "Oy! My friend and I are knackered. Any reason we can't doss down for the night?"
Murphy came over to them and leaned his lanky form on the divider. "Need a couple of answers from your friend Doyle, first." He raised his eyebrows in interrogative fashion.
"What do you want to know?" Doyle asked, wondering how far his powers of invention were going to be strained.
"How you came to be there in the street this evening, for one. Bit of a coincidence, wouldn't you say?"
"Yeah. Could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw him there," Doyle said. "Him and me, we're old mates. Lost track of each other a while back. I was sitting there in my car, checking the A to Z--got a bit lost on my way to a restaurant I'd heard about--and all of a sudden all hell breaks loose."
Murphy gave a tolerant smile. "Expect it did seem a little bit like World War Three."
Doyle looked at him for a moment, at a loss for words. "Not exactly. Korea, maybe, or Viet Nam."
"Chicago in the 20's?" Bodie offered, miming machine gun fire across the kitchen.
"Could be," Doyle said, with a brief grin. "Anyway, I don't say it was the smartest thing I ever did, but it seemed like those blokes in the Escort and that van had an unfair advantage over you lot, and I just reacted before I thought."
"You might have got yourself shot," Murphy said.
"I might have," Doyle admitted. "But I didn't. And then I saw him--" he nodded towards Bodie, "--there on the pavement. Couldn't believe it, after all this time. Seems like we've a couple of lifetimes to catch up on."
Bodie snorted. "At least."
"And that's all there is to that," Doyle said. "What else did you want to know?" He yawned.
Bodie leaned forward, his elbows planted on the table. "Can't the rest of it wait until morning? I'm sure you'll get more sense out of Doyle when he's had a bit of shut-eye. And I could do with some rest, too."
Murphy shrugged. "If that's what you want. There is only the one bedroom. Only the one bed, come to that. You say you're good friends--?"
Bodie snorted. "Good enough--especially as there's about an acre of mattress to that bed."
"Your business, I reckon," Murphy said. "Just let me take another look in there to make sure it's clear, first." He ambled over to the doorway opposite the bathroom, opened it, disappeared inside for a minute or two, then came out again. "All yours."
Bodie looked at Doyle and cocked his head. "After you, sunshine," he said, in a voice which must have been clearly audible to Murphy and to Johnson, who was clear across the other room, talking on the phone in a subdued voice.
"Berk," Doyle said, quietly but distinctly. Bodie just grinned at him, and knowing full well that it would achieve him nothing to protest further, Doyle threw up his hands in defeat and walked over and into the bedroom. Bodie had been right: the bed was huge. Placed over against the far wall, it took up more than half the room, dwarfing the ladderback chair and the wardrobe which stood in the other two corners. Could probably have held two or three separate orgies in it at the same time. He turned to say as much to his partner, but Bodie had stopped to pay a visit to the bathroom.
After a moment or two, Doyle heard a flush, then the bathroom door opened and Bodie came out.
"Wash your hands?" Doyle said, unable to resist the question.
"Just for you." Bodie closed the bedroom door, then tugged at the doorknob to be certain the latch had caught. He removed his suit jacket and hung it over the back of the chair, then turned and stood there for a moment, looking at Doyle.
"Yeah, I'm glad to see you, too," Doyle said, understanding his partner's feelings. He moved over and sat down on the edge of the bed, bouncing a little to test the mattress. Definitely orgy material. "Are you really that tired?"
Bodie gave him a pitying look. "Has your brain gone soft, then? Of course not. This was just the easiest way I could work out that we could get a chance to talk without someone else hearing what we had to say."
"You sure the room's clean?"
"It was yesterday, best I could tell. And think about it, Doyle: it's not like we're talking about anything incriminating, after all. Expect that most folks'd call it closer to fairy tales."
"Mmm. Or the Twilight Zone. And I reckon it is unlikely that those two will be listening at the door, after the way you were carrying on," Doyle said. "Though, if there were only one of 'em here, curiosity might've had a say in it." He took a breath, and let it out. "Just what do you remember, then?"
"Remember?" Bodie asked. "I haven't lost my memory, Doyle. Lost a world, didn't I."
Doyle closed his eyes, and nodded. "Me, too." He felt the mattress dip beside him, and the warmth of another body along his left side. "Thought I'd lost you, too."
There was a rap on the door. Doyle started. "Mr. Jones?" Murphy asked, through the still closed door.
Bodie grimaced in irritation. "Yes?"
"It's an early start again tomorrow. Thought you might like to know."
"All right. Is that all?"
"Good night, then." Bodie turned back to Doyle.
"Jones?" Doyle asked. "You incognito, then?"
Bodie shook his head. "It's my name, here."
"William Andrew Philip Jones?" Doyle said incredulously.
"Go by William A.P. Jones, most of the time."
Doyle stared at him.
"Really. C'mon. We may as well get comfortable while we talk. Got a lot to talk about." Bodie moved up to sit propped against the wide, leather padded headboard, and patted the space next to him.
Doyle leaned over and pulled off his left shoe and dropped it on the floor beside the bed, then crawled up to sit in the designated spot. "Wait a minute. I know that name. You were in the papers. Got yourself kidnapped. And shot. And you're rich," he said accusingly.
"Wasn't me. Was him. The other me, that is."
Doyle looked over at him. "Work that way with you, too?" He paused for a moment, seized by an insecurity born of months of not knowing where--or if--his partner existed. Bodie'd been shot. He hadn't been acting as though he were injured--but then he'd been known to disguise such limitations before. "Back then, the papers made it sound like you were, well, not at death's door, but not fit to be bounding around the way you've been, even at the rate you heal. You all right?"
"Yeah. They made it sound worse than it was. Bullet scraped along my ribs, is all; not much more than a scratch. Picked up another scar to go with the collection. Though, I don't have much of a collection here, come to that."
"Uh-huh. Weird, isn't it? 'S one thing to wake up in hospital with a scar you didn't have before; it's another to find you don't 'ave ones you did."
"That's not the half of it," Bodie said vehemently. "I woke up in the hospital that morning, and found that I wasn't who I knew I was--or I was, but I was somebody else at the same time. They were both me, but everything around me said that I was this Jones bloke. Wondered for a while if maybe the other side had got me and were trying out some weird sort of brain-washing set-up, so I played it canny. Good thing, that. Don't know how the doctors would have taken it if I'd told them the truth--especially as I'd got a knock in the head somewhere along the way. Think they'd have decided I'd lost a few bricks off my chimney." He looked levelly at Doyle. "I began to wonder about that, myself, especially when Cowley showed up. He didn't know me, you see. Treated me all polite, he did, like someone he wanted to persuade to cooperate with CI5--which he did, it turned out. He acted like I was a member of the public! Me!" Bodie shook his head. "He talked about the good of the country, and how he hoped I'd be public-spirited enough to help CI5 out."
Doyle laughed. "Must've made a change from, 'On your bike,' at least!"
"Yeah, but I kept wondering when he'd twig to the fact that I wasn't exactly who he expected me to be and what he'd do when he did. You know Cowley."
Doyle nodded. "Can see that that'd make a bloke a bit nervous. If the bloke knew Cowley, that is. He's the same, here, is he?"
"Seems to be--as far as I could tell. Haven't seen him from the same perspective I'm used to, though. Still, going by what I've seen of Murph and the other agents I've had anything to do with, he can't be much different from our Cowley."
"Mmm," Doyle said thoughtfully. "That could have good points and bad."
"That had occurred to me," Bodie said. "I've been being very careful about what I say."
"So, why is William A.P. Jones bein' looked after by CI5, then?" Doyle asked, returning to a matter of slightly more immediate interest.
Bodie laughed. "Because I'm an idiot."
Doyle gave him a sharp look.
"And don't you go sayin' you've known that for years," Bodie said, giving him a punch in the shoulder. "It's the me from here that's an idiot. Or he was. Best I can figure out--and it doesn't make all that much sense to me when I think of it now, even though I can remember that it seemed to, back when I...he...thought of it--" be broke off to grimace in frustration. "Damn! There just isn't any way to talk about this that doesn't make it sound like I've lost my mind. Split personality doesn't even come close!" He shook his head.
"I've had the problem, myself, you know," Doyle said. "Just tell it the way it comes; I think I'll be able to work it out."
"All right," Bodie said. "I was bored, I think. Had enough money that I didn't need to worry about it. Had a job that kept me interested most of the time--but there was something missing. I'd done the things which seem to be traditional in those circumstances: tried rock climbing, did some diving, got myself a fast car and found out how fast it'd go, even tried some parachute jumping." He grinned. "Made a hash of it the first time out: broke my ankle. Didn't have the training I got in the Paras, you see. But all that wasn't enough, even though it was fun. Well, I could've left out the broken ankle, but it healed up soon enough. It was while I was laid up with that, that I got the idea. Was on crutches, and couldn't climb, couldn't race, couldn't do a lot of things--so I spent more time at the job than I'd been doing for a while.
"I call what I do consulting. Seems to describe it as well as anything else. I find out what someone needs, then I find out where that something is to be found, and then I put the something and the someone together--for a fat fee, usually. Started out when I was at University--and you needn't raise your eyebrows like that, Doyle. I graduated, with a degree in Economics."
"Hmph. Just trying to imagine you in cap and gown, is all," Doyle said. "Economics?"
"I'll show you the picture some time, if you like," Bodie offered. "And the sheepskin."
"That'll have to do, mate. Not going to wear the mortarboard again for anyone. Anyway, I started out back then, finding things that some of the more well-to-do of my classmates needed, whether it was a place to spend a dirty weekend, or a reference book they needed for a paper, or whatever. Made enough money doing it, after a while, that I was able to stretch the money from my Da's insurance to cover all four years at University."
"Your father?" Doyle interrupted him. "Thought you were an orphan, brought up in foster care."
"I was, there. I'm not, here." Bodie shifted where he sat, reaching into his back pocket and pulling out his wallet. He flipped it open and pulled out a photo. "See?" he said, beaming with quiet pride, "that's my mum."
"Looks like you," Doyle said, looking at the image of a dark-haired woman of middle age. Blue eyes looked levelly out at the world from above a mouth set amongst smile lines. A small lump rose to lodge in Doyle's throat as he thought about his own mother. Blasted into nonexistence in his own world; lost to him in this one. Maybe he could find her, once he got this business with Bodie settled, see if they could work out the things which had come between them. "She's a widow, then?"
"Yeah." Bodie snorted. "Twice, as it happens."
"Uh-huh. My father died at Suez, here--instead of coming back and making my mother's life a living hell. And then beating her to death. Here, he's just a marker in a graveyard," Bodie said, with some evident satisfaction, "and Mum remarried when I was four. Bill Jones was good to her, and to me."
"So, that's where you got the Jones."
"Yeah. He adopted me when he married Mum. Was a good father to me, too, and I know the difference, believe me. Da died when I was sixteen--heart attack--and then it was just Mum and me. She insisted that I go to University, wouldn't have it any other way, went back to work, herself, so that we could use the insurance money for my tuition. She doesn't have to work now, of course. Bought her a nice house just as soon as I could afford it, and she knows she doesn't have to want for anything."
Hearing the calm satisfaction with which Bodie spoke, Doyle shook his head in wonder. His hard, self-sufficient, stand-offish loner of a partner had got himself a family. "Imagine she's proud of you," he said. "Dutiful son, and all." He grinned.
"I'll introduce you some time," Bodie offered. "Anyway, to get back to why I'm here--"
"Mmm," Doyle said. "'Ave got a bit off the subject, haven't we!"
"--I got bored. Had built up a business by that time, consulting. The work itself wasn't boring; it was a little bit of everything. Found what people wanted or needed, what businesses wanted or needed, sometimes before they knew what it was, themselves. Made quite a reputation for myself; people came to me to ask for help, instead of me going to them to offer it. Made quite a bit of money, too. Had hired on more people as the demand grew; at first it was just so that I could have someone else do some of the legwork, but every now and again, someone would show a bit more initiative, and if I thought they were reliable, I'd let them do a little more than just legwork. By the time I broke my ankle, in February, I had five people working for me as consultants. I'd thought I could trust them all. I was wrong."
"Happens to the best," Doyle said.
"That's as may be, but I was not pleased when I found out. Had more time on my hands than I knew what to do with because of that bloody ankle; spent more time on the paperwork and reports than I'd been in the habit of--and found something rotten, hidden not quite carefully enough. One of my employees--bloke by the name of Harry Gorner--had taken it upon himself to 'consult' for a group which wanted to obtain an assortment of firearms and high explosives. I should've gone to the Police with that information, right then, but I didn't. I decided to sort out the mess, myself. Unfortunately, I didn't know quite as much about how to go about that as I do, and I got myself caught."
"And got away again, if the papers had it right, almost without a scratch."
"Nice of you to put it that way. If you'd been there, you'd have called it a cock-up. Hell, if I'd been there, I'd have called it a cock-up. Woke up in the hospital, as I said, confused as hell, and the next thing I knew, Cowley was talking about how I could serve the good of the nation by acting as a decoy. A few words in the right ears, a careful set-up, and he could lay his hands on the terrorist group that'd kidnapped me--and which was probably still after more in the way of arms than anyone with good sense would be comfortable with their having--and I could be sure that my company was rid of a bad apple. Heard him out, and decided that the wisest thing I could do was to play along, while I tried to work out what was what. Settled back into my life, as best I could. Felt odd, that, sometimes: almost like I was playing a part.
"CI5's been keeping me under observation for months, waiting for everything to come together, so they could nab the whole cell at once. I was beginning to think that it never would, and getting damned tired of finding things for Gorner to do and pretending not to know what he'd been up to. Then someone took a shot at me through my study window last week; missed me, but took a chip out of my favourite piece of sculpture. Cowley brought me in, and stuck me out here for safe-keeping while he got everything set up for the final play in the game. Or so I reckon; he didn't exactly fill me in on all the details. This morning, they fetched me in to Headquarters, on the pretext that they needed me to look at a line-up of suspects." Bodie looked over at Doyle, who had raised his eyebrows well up into his fringe. "Yeah. I thought so, too. Had to be a set-up. And it turned out it was, too."
"None of the blokes they lined up for me looked at all familiar; I told 'em so, and when they loaded me back up in that car, I knew something was up. It's the one with the bullet-proof window glass, you know. I remember Cowley grumbling about the cost when he got it, back there, before; wasn't likely I wouldn't recognise it, here. You know the rest. We got out on the street, all hell broke loose, and here we are."
"Yeah, here we are," Doyle said. He looked over at Bodie, then reached for the silk tie around his partner's neck, took it in a firm grasp and tugged. "And what I'd really like to know, now that we've settled how you got yourself into this particular fix, is why--" he gave the tie another vigorous tug, "--you took off the way you did, back there, before. Damn it! You didn't even give me a chance to tell you goodbye." His throat started to tighten as he remembered the way Bodie had rushed away from that last meeting at CI5, and the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness which had rolled over him then.
"Ray! My tie!" Bodie coughed a little for dramatic effect. "My throat!" He put his hand on Doyle's and tried to pry it free.
Doyle let go of the tie and snatched his hand back. He set his jaw and stared at the wall opposite them. He could feel Bodie looking at him.
"Doyle? Oh, all right. I'm sorry." Bodie joggled at him with his elbow. "Promise I won't do it again, okay?"
"Damned right you won't do it again," Doyle said vehemently. "And you still haven't said why."
Bodie sighed. "Not going to be put off, are you. I wasn't thinking too clearly at the time, that's all I can say. Don't know where I thought I was going; all I wanted was to get away." He fell silent.
Doyle looked over at him, saw the sombre expression on Bodie's face, and sighed.
"I did realise what a stupid idea that was before too long, you know," Bodie said. "It took me about seventy miles to realise that I couldn't run away from what was coming, so I turned around and went home." He shrugged. "I had a bottle of single malt whisky in the cupboard; thought it'd be a shame to have it go to waste along with everything else. Was on my way out the front door with it in my hand, headed towards your flat--just hoping you'd be there--when the phone rang. I answered it--and it happened, and next thing I knew, I was waking up, in hospital, here."
"Were you there?"
"And, what?" Doyle said. "The world ended, and I wound up here, just like you. Only I didn't know that at the time."
"Unforgiving bugger, aren't you," Bodie said without rancour. He heeled off his shoes, and reached across Doyle to drop them on the floor beside the bed. He hooked a toe under the blanket folded at the foot of the bed, pulling it up and tucking it in around Doyle and himself with exaggeratedly fussy movements. "And you're always stroppier when your feet are cold."
Doyle looked sidelong at him.
Bodie batted lightly at his thigh through the blanket. "Think nothing of it, sunshine. Now, tell me what you've been doing for the last couple of months. And for the past thirty years or so."
Doyle sighed. "You're incorrigible."
Bodie nodded. "Uh-huh. I'm also waiting for an answer."
"It's a dull story, really," Doyle said. "I was born, went to school, grew up, got a job. Didn't join up with CI5."
"I'd worked out that much for myself," Bodie said. "You married?"
"Eh?" Doyle said, startled. "No. I never found anyone I wanted to stay with for good and all. You?"
Bodie laughed. "No, I'm not married either. Never seemed necessary. So, what have you been doing since you got here?"
"Working. 'Ave to keep body and soul together some way, you know," Doyle said. "Oh, and trying to find you, of course. Might have been a little easier if I'd known your name was Jones. If I hadn't happened to be there on the street today when all the trouble started, it might've taken me forever."
"Huh-uh." Bodie shook his head. "Not forever. Doyle's not as common a name as Jones. I'd have found you."
"Would have thought you'd have done that already if you'd been looking," Doyle said, a little plaintively.
"Nit." Bodie reached over and brushed a clenched fist gently past Doyle's chin. "Didn't know you'd be here, did I? For all I knew, I'd find Ray Doyle, and he'd think I was a stranger." He smiled slowly. "I wouldn't have let that stand in my way for very long, mind you, but I wanted to get this trouble with Gorner sorted out first. Didn't think it'd be a very good start for a friendship, you know, if I put you at risk. And with this business with Gorner the way it is, bein' around me might have done that. Hell, it did. You could've got yourself shot comin' to my rescue today."
Doyle let out a long breath as a little knot of tension dissolved itself within him. With the resources William A.P. Jones had at his command, Bodie ought to have been able to find Doyle with little difficulty, and it had been difficult to keep from wondering why he hadn't done so. It was reassuring to find that there was a reason that he hadn't, even if it was a Bodie-type reason. "I can look after myself," he pointed out.
"I know you can," Bodie said equably. "And it's no end encouraging to me--especially as Gorner's still out there." He rolled his shoulders, stretched, and yawned. "Sorry. Long day."
"Mmm. Yeah," Doyle agreed. "You want to catch a little sleep? I can keep my eyes open a while longer."
"Keeping watch?" Bodie asked. He rapped his knuckles against Doyle's forehead. "Knock-knock. Anyone at home? You forget that that's not our job anymore. There are two stalwart CI5 agents out there in the other room who have the responsibility for that sublime task. We can sleep, while they keep watch. I don't think it's a big risk for us to take." He pushed the blanket back and climbed out of the bed.
"Oh. Yeah." Doyle watched as Bodie went over to the ladderback chair. He took his suit jacket off the back and laid it on the chair seat, then took off his tie, smoothing it between thumb and fingers before laying it on top of the jacket. He unbuckled his belt, then caught Doyle watching him and did a little shimmy, grinning, as he lowered his trousers. Draping the trousers over the back of the chair, he doffed his shirt, and spread it neatly over the trousers, then replaced the jacket, with the tie draped over all. Clad only in his pants and his socks, he fetched his shoes from beside the bed, and placed them under the chair before climbing back onto the bed, bashing Doyle's shins with his knees on his way.
"So, you want to get the lights, then?" Bodie asked, pulling the blanket up over himself and scrunching down in the bed until his head lay comfortably on the pillow.
Doyle looked over at him. "Me?"
"You're on the outside, mate. Makes sense, unless you want me climbing over you again to get to the switch."
Doyle just looked at him for a moment, then shook his head. "Think I'll 'ave enough bruises as it is, thank you." He threw back the blanket and went over to turn the lights off. The room was very dark. Doyle stripped off his jeans, then found the chair by feel and dumped the jeans on the chair seat. He felt his way cautiously back over to the bed and climbed into it, settling down under the blanket beside his partner with a sense of vast comfort. A hand, invisible in the darkness, came over and patted at him.
"Good night, mate."
Doyle lay there for what seemed a long time, listening to the quiet, even breathing beside him. As his eyes adapted to the darkness, he discovered that he could see stars through the barred window. Pretty things, sparkling away up there. Looked the same as the ones he'd left behind. Thinking about things lost, and things found, Doyle drifted off into sleep.
"Doyle, wake up!" Bodie was shaking him. Doyle came abruptly up through layers of unconsciousness with a sense of extreme dislocation, unable for a moment to tell where or when he was. Bodie. Oh. The world settled into shape around him, and he blinked his eyes open. It was still dark.
"What?" he asked.
"Shhhh. I heard a car drive up. Don't know who it is. Thought we both ought to be awake, just in case."
"Mmm. Not a bad idea." Doyle was already climbing out of the bed, senses alerted. He found the chair without making a noise, grabbed his jeans and climbed into them, moving out of the way so that Bodie, a warm presence just behind him, could get to his own clothes. Doyle was just doing up his zip when the door banged open, and light flooded into the room. Bodie stood there beside him, trousers in his hand, eyes squinting against the glare.
"I should like," said the unmistakable voice of George Cowley, "an explanation from you, Mr. Jones. Just what is going on here?"
Bodie stepped into his trousers, did up the zip, and took his shirt from the chair. "I'm getting dressed," he said.
"I can see that. I can also see that you're not alone. Mr. Doyle, is it?"
"Yes," Doyle answered.
"I thought as much. You fit the description, though we did not have a name to attach to it until yesterday evening." Cowley turned to Bodie. "I hesitate to imagine why you have vouched for this man when you cannot know much more about him than his name."
"You'd be surprised," Bodie said.
"Oh, I'm surprised already. I'd thought you understood the degree of caution necessary in this situation. If I'd known that you were inclined to put yourself and my agents at risk for no reason--"
"Wait just a minute," Bodie broke in. "I think that you might do me the justice of listening to what I have to say before deciding that I'm guilty of whatever crime it is I'm supposed to have committed."
Stung by the condemnation he had heard in Cowley's voice, Doyle added, "I'm no risk to any of your men, unless they do something to put me or Bodie--Mr. Jones--at risk themselves. Something else you might bear in mind is that Murphy and Johnson were also involved in the decision to bring me here. No one had to hold a gun to their heads and force them. Talk to them about that before you assign all the blame to anyone else."
Cowley looked him coldly up and down. "How I deal with my agents is a matter which is none of your concern. When you both have finished dressing, I will see you out in the other room." He turned and left.
Doyle looked at Bodie. Bodie shrugged. "'S all right, Ray. It's not like he can kick us out into the street the way he could back there, before." He pulled his shirt on and buttoned it up.
"But he can," Doyle said, reaching for his single shoe and pulling it on. "He can't put us out of our jobs--but he can keep me for questioning for just about as long as he wants, and I don't think he's going to be easy to convince when I try to tell him why I went to CI5 headquarters looking for you, months ago."
Bodie grimaced. "We'll think of something." He knotted his tie neatly, then put on his jacket.
"Uh-huh," Doyle said, "I'm sure he'll believe us, just like he always believed our expense reports, right? And what about the fact that if he likes, he can also put you back out there where Gorner and his lot can get at you, without a shred of protection? You know there's not nearly as much a civilian can do to protect himself as CI5 can. You're a civilian now, don't forget it!"
"We'll think of something," Bodie repeated.
Doyle glared at him. "Something? Yeah, let's start out on even more of a wrong foot than we are already. Tell Cowley some half-baked story he can disprove in two minutes, and then where are we? Up the creek even further than we are already. I think our only hope is to tell him the truth."
"The truth?" Bodie's voice squeaked just a little as it hit an octave above his usual range.
"The truth." Doyle gave a cheerless smile. "At least we'll be able to keep that straight without too much trouble. He'll get the same story from both of us. And think about it: we can tell him things about CI5 which no civilian ought to know."
"Oh, great. That'll have us up for treason, if we're not careful," Bodie said morosely.
"Look on the bright side, mate. We've still got our health. Come on; let's go." Doyle waved his partner out the door, and then followed him.
Murphy and Johnson were in the kitchen, both of them with that chastened and exceedingly uncomfortable look which the certain prospect of a talking-to by Cowley could give a bloke. Doyle spared them a sympathetic thought as he passed, but put them quickly out of his mind, knowing that he'd need all his wits about him for the coming confrontation.
In years to come, Doyle would occasionally have nightmares in which he relived the next few days. Bodie and he were taken to CI5 headquarters and then Bodie was taken off in one direction while Doyle was taken in another and placed in a room which was comfortable enough--for a cell. They gave him adequate food and drink, from an uninspired menu, and he was treated civilly and allowed to sleep, with the lights burning twenty-four hours a day, admittedly, but that didn't keep Doyle awake overlong. But the questions went on and on. By the time the third day rolled around, Doyle had started to wonder uneasily if he were destined simply to disappear. It wouldn't be so very difficult to arrange. He didn't know the men who questioned him; their faces were unfamiliar. They were not introduced to him; he thought of them as Baldy and Curls, names which, though irreverent, did little to lighten his heart as the days wore on. He tried his best to answer the questions given him with the truth, but after having gone over the same material time after time, with the questions coming at him from one angle and then from another, unrelentingly, he found it difficult to avoid becoming confused, especially as any variation in the way in which he expressed the truth as he knew it prompted renewed questioning. It gave him a new perception of what it must be like to try to maintain a false story in the face of such an interrogation. They wouldn't tell him whether Bodie was undergoing the same experience. He thought that they weren't as likely to "disappear" Bodie; that'd make too big a splash to pass unnoticed. Doyle tried not to think of how easily his partner's death could be blamed upon those who had already tried to take his life.
On Wednesday morning, the beginning of his fifth day in custody, Doyle looked up from his breakfast of oatmeal when the lock to his door rattled. He tried to resign himself to another interminable session of trying to recall the details of his and Bodie's shared experience in CI5. The door opened, and Baldy and Curls walked in, followed by George Cowley. Cowley seated himself in one of the two chairs in the room; Baldy and Curls stood behind him and to either side. Doyle put his bowl of oatmeal down beside him on the cot, and looked at the three of them. It occurred to him that no matter how this came out, he had once more seen George Cowley as a man in control of himself and his destiny, and not as the despairing soul who had watched the closure of all options for survival and had bidden Bodie and him and all the rest farewell at the world's end. It was something, at least.
"Mr. Doyle, I have rarely heard such a farrago of unlikely imaginings in my life," Cowley said, "and yet you seem to be able to keep the details of your story consistent."
Doyle shrugged. "It's always easier to remember the details of the truth. I've watched you supervise enough interrogations to know I didn't stand much chance of deceiving you; the truth seemed my best option."
"So you say," Cowley said. "Tell me about Barry Martin."
Doyle blinked. Curls had seemed taken aback when he'd mentioned Martin's name the morning before, and had kept him talking about Colton and Culbertson for some time. "You've heard all I had to say, I'm sure. May well have seen me at the same time, too." He nodded towards the mirrored window in the wall to his right. "I can't think of anything to add to what I said then. If you missed any of it, the tapes ought to make it clear enough for you. Or ask Bodie--Mr. Jones--he'll support what I've said." He leaned forward and spoke earnestly, "The only thing is, sir, if Martin's around here somewhere and you decide to check up on him, don't turn your back on him after that. I'm not saying that he's a bad 'un here, too, but he might be--and 'might be' is worth being careful. It was only chance that you didn't break your neck when he shoved you downstairs, back there. I'm not sure chance would work the same way twice."
"Back there in the world you came from, you mean," Cowley said. "In a world that blew itself to damnation over the Falklands and international finances."
"Yeah. That one." Doyle sighed. "I only know two: that one and this one. I can keep them straight in my mind; it's just difficult to talk about it so that it makes sense to anybody else."
"Aye. Mr. Jones has complained of the same difficulty." Cowley paused before going on. "You didn't know Mr. Jones before you saw him on the street the other day, if what you say is the truth."
"No, but I knew Bodie," Doyle said. "And just like I seem to be more me from there than I am me from here, he's more Bodie than he is Jones." He heard what he'd just said and shrugged an apology. "Sorry. That's just the way it comes out."
"I understood what you meant, Mr. Doyle. I would advise you to remember, though, that Mr. Jones as he is today may not be the man you remember from your other world."
Doyle looked up, his attention caught by Cowley's seeming acceptance of his story. "D'you mean--"
"I mean exactly what I say." Cowley stood. "You will accompany me, Mr. Doyle, to the conference room." He gestured, and Curls opened the door and stood aside. "If you'll lead the way?"
Doyle grinned and stood up. "Round the corner, up the stairs, and down the hall on the left, right?"
The conference room was where Doyle had remembered its being. Bodie was seated at the long table inside and he looked up as the door opened, met Doyle's eyes, and smiled.
"About time you showed up," he said
Doyle shrugged. "Talk to 'im," he said, waving at Cowley, who had followed him into the room. "If I'd had my choice, I wouldn't have spent more than a day or two downstairs. The view's lousy." He suspected that his complaint was less convincing than it might have been; the grin on his face refused to go away. He went over and sat down opposite Bodie. No one seemed to take exception to this, and his spirits rose further.
Cowley sat down at the head of the table and opened a folder which lay there. He took off his glasses, polished them, and replaced them. "It seems, despite its apparent unlikelihood, that there is some truth to the story you two have been telling." He shook his head. "Your namesake, Mr. Doyle, created an adage which seems custom-made for this situation, though I doubt that he could have imagined its use in these circumstances."
Bodie leaned back in his chair and raised one eyebrow. "You're saying, then, that though we may be improbable, we're not impossible?"
Cowley gave him a quelling look, and Doyle laughed out loud. "Don't mind him, sir; he does his best to be both." He sobered. "Excuse us if we seem a little off-balance, won't you? It's a difficult to keep track of the fact that, even though we used to know you back there, you don't know us at all. And I have to admit, if we'd gone to our Mr. Cowley and told him the story we've been telling you, he'd probably have locked us up and thrown away the key."
The look Cowley gave Doyle was one Doyle had seen on those features many times before. "If you want to ask why I decided to give credence to your story, ask me," he said, "and stop your havering."
"All right," said Bodie, "why do you believe us?"
"Barry Martin." Cowley said the name as if it left a bad taste in his mouth.
"Ahh," said Doyle. "So he is crooked here, too."
"Aye, and the evidence that we've uncovered against him so far is beyond what you two could have fabricated, had that been your aim."
"Is he still alive?" asked Bodie.
"The surgeon says that he ought to make a full recovery," Cowley said.
"Mmm. You must have taken him by surprise, then," Doyle said.
"I believe so," said Cowley with the air of a Scottish cat who'd just swallowed a flock of budgerigars.
"Good," said Bodie. "We're free to go, then, Doyle and me?"
"All in good time," Cowley chided. "There are a few details left to be dealt with still."
Doyle nodded. There would be. He thought he could put his finger on at least some of what Cowley wanted from them, but he didn't say as much. Best to let the Controller get to it in his own time. Bodie must have reached much the same conclusions, because he also sat and waited, without saying a word.
Cowley cleared his throat. "First, I understand that you have some artistic ability, Mr. Doyle." He pulled a sheet of paper from the file in front of him.
Doyle grimaced as he recognised the sketch he'd drawn of Bodie, months before, when he'd visited CI5 Headquarters. "I imagine that made you think twice when it showed up," he ventured.
"Oh, aye. It did that," Cowley said drily. "You may consider yourself fortunate that Mr. Jones survived to confirm your story. You'll both grant, by the way, won't you, that it will cause less confusion if we continue to use that name?"
Doyle said, "If it's all right with him, it's all right with me."
Cowley put the sketch back down on the table. Bodie reached out a hand and tweaked the paper around so that he could look at it right end up. He gave it a moment of unblinking scrutiny, and then raised an eyebrow at Doyle, who shrugged.
Cowley made an impatient noise. "Would you be able to make a similar sketch of the man who was firing from the blue Escort?"
Doyle shook his head. "I'm afraid I didn't see enough of him; the light was behind him. It was sheer good luck that I spotted the gun in time to do anything."
"Even without your intervention, I believe that my men would have been able to deal with the situation," Cowley commented drily, "but as it happens, it is fortunate that you chose to become involved, even if you aren't able to supply us with a likeness of the man you saw."
"Got away, did he?" Bodie asked.
"No. He lost control of his vehicle while trying to escape, and it crashed and burned, with him still inside. His features were rendered unrecognisable, his hands were beyond fingerprinting, and his accomplices are being close-mouthed about his identity. I had hoped that Mr. Doyle would be able to help us to identify him, but as that is not the case, we will have to wait for the results from the autopsy and hope that that will suffice. In any case, I have another request I would like to make of Mr. Doyle, and of you, too, Mr. Jones. Bearing in mind that the world you--ahh--came from and this one are most likely not identical, I still believe that you may have information which could be of value to this organisation. If knowing the details of the cases you have worked on could help us to prevent another situation like the Martin affair, I would be well pleased, and if you would be willing to take some time over the next few weeks to share that information with us, you would be doing a service to your country."
Doyle looked over at Bodie, who gave a minute nod. "All right. We can do that. I would like you to consider one more thing, though. I've told you, and I think Bodie probably has as well, the things which led up to the end of it all, back there. You're in a position to hear things that we don't; you have access to those who decide policy, who can make the right decisions or the wrong ones. Please, Mr. Cowley, think about what we've told you, remember it. Maybe if it all starts to go wrong again, you might be able to do something to stop it, if you realise soon enough."
Cowley looked at Doyle and at Bodie, very soberly. "Oh, aye. I have thought of that, and there are a few suggestions I plan to make to the Minister when next I see him."
Might be interesting to watch the newspapers to see what kind of upheaval occurred in the Government over the next few weeks, Doyle thought to himself. If one or more of the imbeciles whose counterparts had driven the nation down the road to ruination were chucked out on their ears, so much the better.
Cowley was shuffling the papers in the file back into order. "In the meantime, you are both free to go. Mr. Jones, I believe that you may go back to your home and your business without undue anxiety. Your associate, Mr. Gorner, and the rest of his group have all been dealt with, and will not be able to threaten your life further. You may be called upon to testify in his trial, but I am certain that you will consider that time well spent.
"I am also sure that both of you are aware that it would be counterproductive for either of you to share your story with anyone outside this organisation." He handed Bodie and Doyle each a card. "If you will each call my secretary some time in the next day or two, we will set up a meeting to begin our discussion of your CI5." He stood. "Thank you, gentlemen. If you will wait here, someone will come to escort you out of the building and drive you to your homes."
Doyle said, "That won't be necessary for me. My car's parked outside, down the street, or it ought to be. I could even give Bodie a lift home if he likes."
Cowley paused at the door. "I'm afraid you couldn't, Mr. Doyle. Your car was impounded on Saturday, as part of our investigation."
"I could get it out of the impound lot, couldn't I?" Doyle asked. "You won't need it any more, surely."
"No," said Cowley, "but it will need some repairs before you will be able to drive it home."
Doyle sighed, thinking of repair bills and his bank account. "What happened? I didn't think it had been hit, but I suppose a ricochet could have got the radiator, or something."
"Nothing so violent, or I would have authorised the repairs myself, at CI5's expense--under the circumstances," Cowley said. "According to the memo I received after it had been towed to the impound lot, there appears to be something amiss with the electrical system. You'll need to see about having it towed to a garage for repairs." On that note, he went out the door, leaving Bodie and Doyle alone in the conference room.
Bodie said, "That oughtn't to be a problem, Doyle. I know a place; they do good work."
"Yeah, and I bet they charge an arm and a leg, too," Doyle said morosely.
"Couple of toes, maybe," Bodie said. "Don't worry about it. C'mon home with me, why don't you. You don't have anything planned for this afternoon, do you?"
Doyle thought for an instant, and then laughed, his mood lightening. "I'm already late for work, I reckon. I'll give them a ring a little later and explain why I've been gone. A few more hours can't hurt." He laughed again, and shook his head. "Didn't it make you feel at home again, having Cowley tell you what to do and not?"
"Yeah. Almost expected him to tell us we were overdue with our expense sheets."
"Uh-huh. At least we won't have to worry about writing the reports. We'll just have to tell what we know and he'll have someone else do it."
"Someone whose expense sheets are late, no doubt," Bodie said, "and they'll be less than enthusiastic about the assignment."
"Too bad," said Doyle. "If you think about it, it does make a good story. Like something out of Wells." He grinned. "If only Cowley hadn't told us to keep quiet about it. I could have told it to The Sun and made a fortune. Damn."
"Yeah, it's rotten luck," Bodie commiserated. "Could have been the start of a new career for you."
The CI5 driver drove them competently and silently through the midday traffic to Bodie's home. Doyle had expected something a bit more posh than an efficiency flat, given the clothes Bodie was wearing, but he hadn't expected what he saw when they arrived. It wasn't quite a mansion, but it certainly wasn't a hovel either. Well-proportioned, it rose from the ground as if it had grown from it, the mellow colour of the brick harmonizing with its surroundings. The front gate gave onto a compact but well-designed garden; a variety of ornamental shrubs, some of which he recognised, decorated the area, and gracefully shaped flowerbeds flowed here and there, with asters, petunias and alyssum providing colour and sweet scent. The pathway led up to a sturdy-looking door with a brass knocker in the shape of a lion's head. Bodie unlocked the door and let them inside.
"Just let me check on a few things, all right?" Bodie asked, walking across the black and white tiled floor of the entryway towards the door on the right.
Doyle mumbled an affirmative, and followed him, goggling a little at his surroundings. The way the woodwork gleamed, the place ought to have reeked of beeswax, and he wondered how long it took to dust and polish the collection of antique edged weapons which hung on the walls. Bodie was rich. Right.
The kitchen was well-stocked with modern appliances and equipment, all arranged with an eye towards ease of use. Doyle wondered what it would be like to cook in a kitchen where you didn't constantly meet yourself coming and going. He leaned against the doorway and watched as Bodie went to the refrigerator and inspected the assorted slips of paper which were attached there by small magnets. He scanned them rapidly, then went to the telephone mounted on the far wall and dialled a number.
"Janey?" he said, "Yeah, I just got back. Same business as before, but I think this'll be the end of it. I need you to check on a couple of things by tomorrow. See if you can find out the supplier Jorgenson used last year for that project of his, and see if Tompkins has been to France lately. Last couple of months, anyway. Give me a ring here tomorrow afternoon and tell me what you find out, and let me know if there's anything that can't wait until Monday. If not, I'm going to take a few days off and I'll see you then." He listened for a moment, then laughed. "You could say that." He paused. "You, too. 'Bye."
He turned to Doyle. "That's taken care of, then. Everything else ought to run itself for a few days, and we'll have time to catch up over the weekend without worrying about who's after us with automatic weapons."
"And without worrying about what Cowley's going to do," Doyle added, not disputing Bodie's assumption that they would be spending not only that afternoon but also the coming weekend together.
Bodie said, "That, too, of course. Now, let's see about getting you home so you can get a pair of shoes to wear. I think that sock must be worn nearly through by now."
Doyle lifted his right foot and peered at the sole. "Think it is, except for the dirt."
"Well, you can't wear mine, not unless you're wanting to be trying out for Madame Butterfly." He lifted his own foot, peered at it and winced. "Never could understand that business with the foot-binding."
The automobiles in the detached garage at the rear of the house were as highly polished as the woodwork in the entryway had been. Doyle won a small bet he'd made with himself when he saw that both a Mercedes and a Jag stood there, chrome shining, tyres spotless.
"Lamborghini's being worked on, I suppose," he said as Bodie unlocked the Jaguar's doors.
"Nah. Damned thing wouldn't stay tuned longer than a fortnight. Got rid of it last year. More trouble than it was worth."
Doyle blinked. He'd been joking, or thought he had. "Ah." Have to remember that this Bodie was not the live-at-the-edge-of-his-income Bodie he'd been used to lend the odd quid to. The drive to his flat took much less time than it would have in Doyle's old Mini; the Jag wove effortlessly in and out of traffic, and Bodie's driving skills were as sharp as they'd ever been. Bodie found a place to park which was only a block away from Doyle's flat, and they left the car there, though Doyle had a few uneasy thoughts about that, given the nature of the neighborhood. It wasn't that the neighborhood was so very bad, but the Jag stood out among the other vehicles parked along the street like a Norton among a herd of mopeds, and might well attract unwanted attentions.
The lift was out of order. Again. Doyle picked up his mail from the rank of boxes in the lobby, then led Bodie up the four flights of stairs, and unlocked the door to his flat. He went directly to his bedroom and found his spare pair of trainers without any difficulty. Donning them, and glad finally to be walking around on two shoes, he went back out to join Bodie.
"Same flat you had before," Bodie commented as Doyle came back into the lounge. "Different stuff, though." He was looking at the portrait hung on the wall. "You've improved your technique."
"Yeah, I thought so, too. Hadn't expected that to come out nearly as close to the original as it did--especially without a model to work from." Doyle looked at his partner and smiled, seeing him with a new appreciation. Born, perhaps, of his artist's perception of colour, line and form, it prompted Doyle to notice the shade of Bodie's eyes, the hue of his skin, and the darkness of his hair. Not the stark black of a raven's wing or the chilly, hard black of anthracite, it was instead a deep brown which seemed to imply warmth. Then, there were the lines of his body, concealed and yet revealed by the way his clothes draped over and around it. Doyle's fingers itched for a pencil. How to capture that sense of movement in potential, to show that impression of energy contained which was his partner? A black and white sketch in pencil, perhaps, exaggerating the shading just a trifle to help imply motion. If he could achieve something to match the image in his mind, it would be the best work he'd ever done. Perhaps he could talk Bodie into sitting for him some time. He'd joke about it, certainly, and probably be an impossible subject. Be just like Bodie to play about instead of sitting still, or to tell jokes until he had him laughing so hard he couldn't draw a straight line. Doyle could just imagine him at that, making jokes about life studies classes, doing a slow strip, maybe. Now, there was a thought, Bodie posing nude. Doyle gave himself a little shake. Not in this lifetime, or any other.
"Guess it must be all the practise I got here, drawing and painting instead of walking a beat," he said, a little belatedly. "On the other hand, this flat isn't what my other one was. The heat is dodgy, and the paint's seen better days--as you can see." He flicked a finger at the windowsill, where the paint was peeling away in alligator scales. "Think CI5 must take better care of its properties than my landlord does." He sorted through his mail, finding a good deal of advertising material, a few bills, and one envelope whose return address was Conner's Gym. He ran a thumb under the flap of the last and pulled out the sheet of paper within, then swore softly.
"What's the matter?" Bodie asked.
"Should have expected it, I suppose," Doyle said, "after bein' gone for the better part of a week. Lost my job, haven't I." He ran his hand through his hair and frowned. No car, no job, nearly no bank account.
"Don't fret yourself, Doyle. You'll get another."
"Uh-huh. Have you had to find a job recently?" Doyle asked, an acerbic note in his voice.
Bodie shrugged. "Haven't had to, I'll admit. But you don't have to worry, you know. We're mates, aren't we? All for one, one for all?"
"There were three musketeers, Bodie, not two," Doyle pointed out, in a mood to be difficult.
"So? If you thought about it, you could say there's four of us here in the room, in a way, and it was the Four Musketeers after D'Artagnan joined up," Bodie said patiently. "And you don't have to worry. You would've felt like you could ask me for a loan if you'd needed it back there, wouldn't you?"
"Yeah, but I don't think I would have needed it quite this much. It's one thing to borrow a few quid to buy a set of speakers for the stereo; it's another when you're needing to borrow money just to pay the rent next month."
"You're that skint?" Bodie asked, an incredulous note in his voice.
Doyle looked down at the floor. There were his trainers, worn and grubby; a few inches away on the shabby carpet were Bodie's feet, in Bodie's shoes, clean, shiny, and hand-tooled if he didn't miss his guess. The contrast was a bit pointed. He thought about the Jag and the Mercedes, and about the look he'd had at Bodie's home. "You needn't sound so shocked, mate," he said. "Some of us aren't used to living in the lap of luxury. I'll manage."
Bodie reached out and gave him a little shake. "If 'managing' means you'll be doing without a place to live, I'd just as soon you didn't. It's not necessary. You don't need to go out of your way to prove that you can take care of yourself; I know that already."
"Yeah? It doesn't sound like it."
Bodie stepped back from him and gave him a straight look. "If you hadn't got yourself locked up at CI5 for nearly a week--because of me--you wouldn't have lost your job. I'd owe you something on that count even if we didn't know each other any better than William Jones and the Ray Doyle who was born here did. Besides that, I don't see any purpose to your putting yourself through any more grief than I know you've already had these past few months, just for the sake of being obstinate. If you don't let me help you out, I'll--" Bodie paused, then made an impatient gesture, "--I dunno what I'll do. Let you go your own way, I reckon. Nothing else for it. You're a stubborn bugger when you've a mind to it." He grimaced. "Seems to me that if you're going to treat me this way, there wasn't much point in your trying so hard to find me. Are we friends, or aren't we?" The tone of Bodie's voice was more belligerant than coaxing, but the underlying concern was plain. "Can't you just say yes, thank you?"
Doyle took a deep breath, ready to continue the argument, but then paused before speaking as it occurred to him to wonder how he'd feel if his and Bodie's circumstances had been reversed. It would be hard to stand by and let his partner scrape by with next to nothing while he lived a life of affluence. Whether an act ought to be defined as selfishness or as generosity could occasionally depend upon the circumstances involved; perhaps on this occasion pride was a luxury Doyle had better forego, if not for his own sake, then for Bodie's. "Yes, thank you," Doyle said at last. "But it's just a loan. You do understand that, don't you?"
Bodie smiled at him, a sunburst of warmth in his eyes. "Yeah, I understand that, you stroppy bastard. Now, since you don't have anywhere else you need to go today or tomorrow or the next day--do you?--d'you want to come back to my place now? We can get started on the weekend a little early."
Doyle shrugged, deciding that he could worry later. "May as well. Let me get some things together. Only take me two minutes." He went back into his bedroom.
"Not going to make me ask you pretty please, then?" Bodie called to him.
Doyle grinned at the holdall he was packing. "Not likely," he replied, raising his voice so that Bodie could hear. He stuffed a pair of socks into the corner, then went to the bathroom, where he gathered a few essential toiletries together. Coming back out into the lounge, he said, "Here. Let's get going. I'm starved." He handed the holdall to Bodie. "And dinner's on you." In for a penny, in for a pound.
"It's lunchtime!" Bodie protested as they left the flat. "I'm not planning to wait hours before I eat!"
"Then lunch and dinner are on you," Doyle said, with a deliberately baiting tone. Bodie just gave him a look.
They stopped on the way back to Bodie's home and picked up a quadruple order of chicken and chips--necessary, as they had the Four Musketeers to feed, Bodie pointed out. The food looked somewhat out of place served up on the spotless dining table, but Doyle decided that if it didn't trouble Bodie, then he wasn't going to let it bother him--even when Bodie brought out a pair of crystal wineglasses and a bottle of very good white wine to go with the food.
"Got to make a toast, Doyle," Bodie announced. "To old friends, and to new beginnings." He clinked his glass against Doyle's, and drank.
Doyle joined him, then said, "And to the Four Musketeers."
Bodie grinned at him and clinked their glasses together again, and they drank.
The chicken and chips succeeded in filling the void in Doyle's stomach, and they must have done the same for Bodie, because the pace of his eating had slowed considerably by the time the last drumstick had been gnawed clean and the last chip consumed, and it took him some time to finish his portion of the chocolate cake he fetched from the larder.
"Mrs. Vedamuthu is a dab hand at a cake, Doyle, see if you don't agree. She leaves early on Wednesdays, but she always makes sure there's something special in the cupboard for me as a treat."
"Your cook, is she?" Doyle asked.
"Not full time," Bodie said. "She keeps the freezer full, and sees to my supper if I'm eating at home during the week--except on Wednesdays--and she keeps up the house. There is another woman who comes in once a week for the heavy work, but Mrs. V makes sure my shirts are ironed, and takes messages if the phone rings while I'm gone, and such. And Mum approves of her; that goes a long way."
The cake lived up to Bodie's praise; Doyle ate his own piece with much enjoyment, revelling in the velvety texture of the cake and the rich taste of the chocolate. When they had finished the wine, Bodie collected some burgundy from a well-stocked cellar and led Doyle back upstairs to the sitting room. There, seated in a pair of leather armchairs which were almost obscenely comfortable, they talked until the wine had gone, then worked their way through the best part of a bottle of Glenmorangie, still talking.
After hearing more about the life Bodie had led in this world, Doyle found himself thinking, as he related the particulars of his own progress through art school and onward, that had Bodie been just William A.P. Jones, he could have had very little interest in the Raymond Doyle of this world. They had very little in common, after all. That thought disturbed him for some reason. Having found his partner after having looked for him long past the time when he would have advised any stranger in a similar circumstance to give up, he couldn't quite get over the feeling that there was still something missing. Perhaps he had just got used to that feeling, and it would go away after a while, rather like it took a while for the adrenaline to subside after you'd been involved in shooting it out with someone and had a near miss. He turned the talk to reminiscences of times they'd spent together, and found that that eased him, even though there was a bitter tang to the pleasure of speaking of places and people who were no more.
When the clock on the mantel chimed midnight, Bodie looked up at it, and made a small grunt of astonishment. "That late already?" he said.
"Time flies...." Doyle commented, his head lolling back against his chair as he turned his head lazily towards Bodie, smiling as he met his partner's eyes. Seeing Bodie's answering smile was a familiar pleasure, and one he'd gone too long without. His gaze traced familiar features, and he thought of how much he'd missed this--just spending time with his friend, someone he knew he could trust with his life, someone who knew him as no other did. He lifted his glass and drained the last few drops of amber fluid from it in a silent toast to someone he'd found he cared for more than he'd known before he'd had to do without him. Like water and the well running dry. Was a pity he couldn't say as much out loud, but there were limits to what a bloke could say to a friend without its sounding funny. No, not really funny; it was just something you couldn't say.
"Yeah. But it's another day tomorrow, and we started early today. C'mon--there's a guest room all made up and ready." Bodie rose and came over to stand beside Doyle's chair. He lifted a hand, then let it fall to his side once more. "Don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to sleeping in a real bed, not those excuses for cots we've been sleeping on for the past few days."
"They gave you a cot?!" Doyle asked mock-incredulously, knowing that Bodie would pick up on it.
Bodie laughed. "Poor flower. Bet they made you break rocks all day long, too."
"Yeah, in between the questions--and with me fists. Cowley's too tight with his money to pay for sledgehammers." Doyle made a face to indicate how ill-done-by he'd been, but couldn't maintain it for more than a few seconds in the face of Bodie's obvious amusement.
"Uh-huh. Well, then, you're tough enough that you oughtn't mind the room I've in mind to give you for tonight, then. C'mon." He reached out, clasped Doyle's hand for just a moment, pulling him to his feet, then led the way out of the room and down a hallway, wavering only slightly as he walked. He stopped at the door on the left side and opened it, waving at the interior. "There you go. Sleep tight." He turned abruptly and started to walk away.
"Bodie!" Doyle called.
Bodie paused and half-turned. "Yeah?"
"Uhh--where are you going to be?"
"I'm going to be sleeping," Bodie said in an over-patient voice, "so I reckon I'm going to be in my bedroom."
"You know what I mean," Doyle said, unwilling to explain further why he felt such a strong need to know exactly where his partner was going, especially as he wasn't certain himself why that should be so. Insecurity was a damnably discomfiting thing, and he didn't want to give it any more room in his life than he had to; start giving in to it and before he knew it he'd be wanting Bodie to be right there within reach--all the time.
Bodie sighed. "All right. If you wake up in the night and want a drink of water or something, I'll be down at the other end of the hallway, in the room at the end." He raised his eyebrows. "That all right with you?"
Doyle grimaced. "Sorry. Yeah, it'll be fine. Sleep well, okay?" He went into the room and closed the door after him. After testing the springiness of the mattress, Doyle stripped off his clothes, used the facilities offered in the adjacent bathroom, and slipped gratefully into the embrace of the blankets.
The room was dark and quiet, the bed wonderfully comfortable. Doyle had had enough to eat and a little more than enough to drink, and he was tired to his bones. He ought to have had no difficulty in falling asleep, but though he lay there quietly and tried to still his mind, thoughts and images swirled through it incessantly. Worry about his finances was one of the strands which spun through his consciousness, looping and snarling itself about others until he had difficulty untangling them. Bodie. No, he'd found Bodie; he could stop worrying about that now. Nice home Bodie had himself here, one of the perks of being rich. Funny to think of that: Bodie being rich. Could indulge in his taste for nice clothes here, expensive, tailored suits, and not even have to worry about getting them dirty or torn or shot through with bullet holes some day when the job didn't go well. Didn't have to worry about a lot of things, now, that he would have, before. Lot of differences here. Bodie was still Bodie, though, except that he was William Jones here. Not quite the same. Not his partner; Bodie stood alone, here. How proud he'd sounded when he showed Doyle that picture of his mother. And a University degree...Bodie....
Doyle finally slipped into a restless sleep, and was awakened too short a time later by the sound of the wind battering at his window. A tattered grey light was stealing in under the edges of the clouds. He lay there for a little while, snugly warm under the weight of the blankets and tempted to doze, listening to the wind and mulling over the things he needed to do to get his life back in order. Check the newspaper for job listings. That came first on the list, he supposed, though even with a new job in hand--not something to be taken for granted--things could never return to the way they had been. Change happened, and the best you could do was to adapt to it. If you were lucky, you were able to keep some of the things you valued most. And some of the people, if you were very lucky. Doyle threw back the covers and rolled out of bed. It was a new day, and he'd found Bodie, and surely he could deal with the rest of his life. He dressed in the pullover and jeans he'd brought from his flat, pulled on his trainers, and left the room.
The door at the end of the hall was open. Doyle peered inside. Yeah, this had to be Bodie's bedroom. It was furnished with the same combination of comfort and restrained elegance as the rest of the house, but unlike the room Doyle had slept in, which bore no signs of a permanent resident, this room was lived-in. The bed had been made, but the wardrobe door was ajar, and there was a silk robe the colour of Bodie's eyes slung over the back of the armchair which stood by the window.
"Bodie?" Doyle called.
"In here," Bodie's voice answered him from beyond a doorway at the far side of the room. A bathroom, it had to be. The steamy warmth of a shower still lingered in the air, scented with soap and shampoo. Doyle went over and stood in the doorway. The bathtub was large and deep enough to satisfy any sensible sybarite; the towels hung on the--Doyle reached out a curious hand, and yes, it was heated--towel bar were plush and fluffy. Bodie was faced away from him, but caught his eye in the mirror and smiled a hello. He ran a comb through his hair, smoothing the already orderly strands, and turned around. He was dressed in a pair of navy cords and a light blue shirt, looking well-rested and full of energy.
"Sleep all right?"
"Yeah. Wind woke me up," Doyle said.
"Would have been up before long anyway," Bodie said.
"Uh-huh. You wouldn't have wanted to miss breakfast, would you?"
"It's a limited time offer, then?" Doyle said, raising his eyebrows. "No breakfast after eight o'clock?"
"Mmm, well, after then, you'd have to make do with whatever's in the kitchen."
"Oh. I see. You're going out for breakfast?" Doyle said.
"You want to come with me?"
"Won't cost you a farthing," Bodie said cheerfully. He walked over to the door of the bedroom. "We don't need to leave for a few minutes yet. D'you want to see the rest of the house?" He stepped out into the hallway without waiting for a reply.
As he followed, Doyle said, "Don't think that I don't know you're up to something, Bodie. I know you."
"You think you do, Doyle."
"And I know you always want the last word."
"If that's what you want to think."
Doyle let it go, as it seemed that Bodie was determined to keep on until he got the last word. Irritating bugger. He grinned to himself as he followed his partner down the hall. Just like always. There was nothing about the rest of the house to dispell the notion that it belonged to someone who did not need to pinch pennies. The library was full of books. Doyle made a comment to that effect and watched Bodie laugh.
"Of course it's full of books, Doyle. That's what a library's for."
"I know that, you berk. I suppose I just never thought of you havin' this many books."
"Didn't get them all at once," Bodie explained, as if to an imbecile. "Started out with a few when I was little--Kipling and Jules Verne--"
"And Beatrix Potter?" Doyle interjected.
"Over in that corner." Bodie pointed towards a shelf close to the floor whose contents were slimmer, shorter, and more brightly coloured than the other volumes in the room. "If you need something to read at bedtime, feel free to come borrow Peter or Jemima or any of their friends."
Doyle laughed. "If I have trouble sleeping, maybe I will."
"Just so long as you don't ask me to come and read 'em to you."
"Wouldn't you?" Doyle said. "If I asked nicely?"
Bodie looked down his nose at him. "I should think you could read them to yourself, Doyle."
"Wouldn't be nearly so much fun," Doyle complained.
"You can come and ask me if you get stuck over any of the big words," Bodie offered.
"I'll do that." Something on a shelf at the other side of the room caught Doyle's eye. He walked over and inspected it. A small bust carved out of walnut, it smiled blindly at the room through slightly slanted eyes. The mouth and the tightly curled hair looked familiar, too, despite the splintered chip gouged out of the chin. Doyle turned and gave Bodie a questioning look.
"It's been here for years. And, yeah, I see the resemblance, too. Weird, isn't it."
"Oh, ta muchly."
"Berk. You know what I mean."
"Reckon I do. Where'd you find it?"
"Was in a small gallery near the office I had at the time. Walked through one day and saw it, and bought it--for more money than I'd have been able to justify to anyone else."
Doyle gave a reminiscent smile. "Yeah. I got half. Kept me in turps and fish 'n' chips for nearly a month."
"What, did you think it was just a coincidence, then? Self-portrait, that was. One of my best pieces." He drew a finger across the flaw in the chin, and winced. "Sweated blood over it. Hell, I drew blood over it. Carved a chunk out of my finger with the chisel. Stuck to painting and drawing after that--it's safer."
There was a room which obviously did duty as an office, with a fine mahogany desk, and not just one, but two computers, and a telephone which looked so sleek and aerodynamic that Doyle suspected that it may have been designed in a wind tunnel. The exercise room next to the office was outfitted with a rowing machine, a bench and a set of weights, and a treadmill equipped with so many leads and dials that Doyle imagined that using it would be the next best thing to going to the doctor for a physical exam. He refrained from looking for a switch which read "Turn your head and cough." Enough was enough.
"Impressive," he said. There was a control dial on the wall near the door. Doyle twitched it on and music welled up in the room. Wagner, of all things.
Bodie grinned. "Yeah, isn't it," he said, raising his voice to be heard over the music. "C'mon. We don't want to be late."
Doyle turned off the music and accompanied Bodie down to the garage, where they climbed into the Mercedes, with Bodie in the driver's seat. The morning was grey and rainy, though not very cold, and the gusty wind hurled the raindrops against the car in a staccato attack, but the automobile was quite comfortable to ride in, warm and dry, and Doyle found the subdued rhythm of the windscreen wipers to be an oddly satisfying sound. Their journey took less than an hour, but Doyle's stomach was growling audibly long before they reached their destination. As they turned onto a pleasant suburban street, he wondered just where it was that they were going, and was surprised when they turned into the drive of a well-kept but unremarkable home. White painted shutters gleamed against the ruddy brick of the house; large planters filled with scarlet geraniums sat to either side of the front door. There was no sign declaring the establishment a restaurant, no placard advertising breakfast for hungry travellers.
"You lost, then?" Doyle asked. "Forgot your A to Z and need to ask directions?"
"No. We're here. Come on in." Bodie raised the knocker and let it fall, then put his hand on the latch, opened the door and stepped inside. "Come on, Doyle. You're letting the heat out."
Doyle stepped into the house, looking around himself with some curiosity. They stood in a comfortable front room, furnished with a sofa and two overstuffed chairs, a large console television and a stereo system. A fire was burning in the fireplace in the corner. The carpet covering the floor was thick and plush underfoot, the pattern in shades of blue toning well with the cream colored sofa and chairs. An arched doorway led off to the right. Bodie turned his head in that direction.
"We're here," he called out.
"Here where?" Doyle muttered to himself.
"Did you bring your appetites?" The question came from beyond the doorway, in a woman's voice. "Come on into the kitchen, unless you're too grand of a sudden."
"C'mon, Doyle." Bodie led the way through the doorway into a cozy kitchen filled with the scents of breakfast.
Doyle scarcely noticed the odours of sausage and toast, though his stomach growled at him. He looked at the woman standing in front of the stove, her hands busily attending to the cooking of an outstanding meal, and stopped in his tracks. "You're Bodie's mother," he said, startled into incautious speech.
She turned her head and favoured Doyle with a quizzical look. "I'm my William's mother, yes. And you must be Ray Doyle."
"It's a nickname Ray uses for me, Mum," Bodie was explaining. "He took to it when he heard it, for some reason."
Doyle wanted to drag Bodie out into the other room and ask him a few pointed questions--just how had Bodie's mother known who he was, for example--but didn't quite dare. Under the circumstances, he confined himself to smiling brightly and nodding like an idiot.
"Don't let my son embarrass you, Mr. Doyle," Bodie's mother said. "I can see that he didn't tell you what to expect here this morning." She smiled and gestured towards the kitchen table, which was set with three place settings. "It's just breakfast, as you can see, and you're welcome to eat it with us if you like. When William rang to say you and he would be here this morning, I made sure I had enough to feed us all."
"Uh, thank you," Doyle said. "I am hungry." As if to corroborate his statement, his stomach growled again.
"Pour your friend a cup of tea, William, and don't just stand there smirking."
Bodie broke into laughter. "All right, Mum. Wouldn't want Doyle to think I'd been raised by wolves." He went over to the table and pulled a chair back from it. "Here, Doyle. Sit."
"Sit? You Barbara Woodhouse, then?" Doyle looked at his partner, and gave a half-hearted woof.
"Oh, come on, Ray. Stop being such a berk. Drink your tea, eat your breakfast, and tell my mother a few lies. She knows the truth; anything you could invent would only entertain her."
Doyle sat, then cocked a look at Bodie. The truth?
"Don't let my son pull the wool over your eyes, Mr. Doyle. He tells me just what he thinks I ought to know, and no more--but he never lies to me about anything important." She came over and served steaming helpings of scrambled eggs onto the three plates on the table. Returning to the stove, she pulled a platter from the oven and returned to the table, apportioning sausage and bacon and crisply fried potatoes, then fetched a rack of toast to the table before she sat in the chair at the head of the table. "Here. Eat." She smiled, an expression heartwrenchingly close to one Doyle was used to seeing on his partner's face. "If I know my William, you daren't wait too long or he'll eat this lot himself, and you'll end up with nothing."
"Aww, Mum, would I?"
"In an instant," she replied severely. "Now, sit down and eat your breakfast like a civilised person. You wanted to introduce your friend to me; you've done so. Now, let him enjoy his breakfast. I should think that that's the least you can do."
Bodie gave an abashed grin, and sat himself down in the remaining chair. He took a forkful of eggs to his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. He looked over at Doyle. "Eat, will you, mate? Or do you think there's something wrong with the grub?"
"No," Doyle answered, lifting his own fork. The eggs were perfect, not too hard, not too runny. "Lovely breakfast, thank you, Mrs....Jones."
"You're welcome." She took a decorous mouthful of egg and toast, chewed and swallowed. "My William has always has such an appetite for breakfast. I'm glad to see that he's found a friend with the same appetite."
"Never you mind, now, Billy-boy. I won't embarrass you any more than you deserve."
Doyle looked at the pained expression on his partner's face and laughed. "I expect she has you there, mate! There's nothing like the ones who know you best to make you squirm."
"You be careful now, Doyle. Remember all the things I know about you," Bodie warned.
Bodie's mother reached across the table and gave Bodie a rap on the knuckles. "Behave." She turned to Doyle. "William hasn't told me much about you, Mr. Doyle, except that you're friends. Where did you meet?"
"Call me Ray, won't you?" Doyle said, prompted partly by a feeling that it would be appropriate for Bodie's mother to use his first name and partly by a wish to sidestep the question for a moment.
"All right. If you'll call me Barbara."
Doyle groaned inwardly. Why had he had to make that imbecilic comment about Barbara Woodhouse? He considered apologising, but decided it would be better to let it go.
"I don't think we need stand on ceremony, do we?" Bodie's mother continued. "Where did you meet my son, Ray?"
Doyle paused, then gave a mental shrug. What harm could it do to tell the truth? Provided he couched his response in vague enough terms, it ought to be safe. "Met 'im in my line of work, ma'am. Barbara."
"And that is--?"
"I've done a lot of things over the past few years," Doyle temporised.
"And he's an artist at all of them," Bodie interjected. "You should see the portrait he's done of me."
"You're an artist, then?"
"Among other things," Doyle said, staring at his hands. Hands of an artist? Perhaps. Hands of a killer? Certainly--but he didn't think he'd mention that to Bodie's mother.
Bodie gave a little start. "Ray? I've just had a thought."
Doyle raised his eyebrows. "Should I make a note of that?" he asked.
"No, really. Don't be difficult, Doyle. What would you say to painting a portrait of Mum?"
"I--" Doyle say, and then reconsidered the refusal he'd been about to utter, and took a forkful of eggs to his mouth instead. It wasn't as if he had anything else, like a job, to claim his time in the immediate future, after all. And it would be an intriguing task. He took a closer look at his partner's mother. He knew the eyes and the smile already; putting them onto canvas would be a pleasure. He wondered if Bodie's hair would go grey about the temples in the same pattern as Barbara's had. He nodded slowly; there was also the fact that Bodie's mother was obviously quite important to him. Would it do any harm for Doyle to get to know her better? "All right. If Barbara doesn't mind giving up some time to the project."
There was a delicate furrow between Barbara's brows. "Is that the real reason you brought your friend over this morning, William?"
Bodie shook his head, rather more emphatically than Doyle thought the question merited. "No. I told you the reason on the phone this morning. I wanted you to meet each other." He looked at the serving dishes on the table, and helped himself to two more sausages, eating them in slow, judicious bites.
Barbara looked at Bodie and nodded. "All right, then. I just wanted to be sure I didn't misunderstand you." She took a sip of tea. "How much time will you need, Ray?"
Doyle said, "I'm not sure. It depends on how it goes. If you could spare me an hour or two to get started, I'll know a little better. Some time in the next week or so?"
"I think we can arrange that. Could I have your phone number? Then I could call you later this week when I know what time would work out best."
Bodie pushed his empty plate back an inch or two. "Ahh, Ray's staying with me for a few days, Mum," Bodie said, "maybe longer, if I can talk him into it."
"Of course," Barbara said. "That's that settled, then. William, if you're through eating, I have a favour to ask of you."
"You've decided to change the curtains in the front room again, and you want me to hang them for you?" Bodie asked.
"No. I'd like you to fetch a carton from the attic for me, if you would. I could do it myself, but it's heavier than it looks."
Bodie stood. "Don't worry, Mum. I'll be glad to get it for you. That's one of the things sons are for, isn't it? Which box is it that you want?"
"You'll know it. It's the Campbell's Soup carton on top of the stack of boxes on the right."
"Oh, Mum--!" Bodie protested. "Not that one."
"Yes, that one. Now, march."
Bodie rose, with the look of one condemned, and left the room. Doyle looked after him, bemused. The role of dutiful son, while new in a way to his partner, did seem to be one that he enjoyed playing. Doyle spared a thought to wonder in passing how much of a change Barbara had noticed in her son since June. She'd scarcely be likely to ascribe it to anything like the real cause, however, and she and Bodie seemed comfortable enough together; it couldn't have made much of a difference. Doyle took a last bite of fried potato and chewed it with satisfaction.
"So, Ray, you're stopping at William's home for a while, are you? He doesn't invite many people there."
"Mmm. We've a lot to catch up on," Doyle said. "Lost track of each other for a while, and it's only a few days ago that I caught up with him."
"And I can tell that you're glad you did so."
"Yeah. I'd missed him," Doyle said, then noting Barbara's gaze upon him searchingly, added, "A bloke finds a friend like Bodie once in his life, if he's lucky."
"Ah. I see you're a man of some discernment. A woman likes to know that her son's friends appreciate him as he deserves."
Doyle caught a hint of a question lurking in Barbara's statement. "You needn't worry about that, ma'am. Barbara. I know Bodie. I know what he's worth--and I don't mean how much money he has. Money doesn't mean a thing next to who he is." He rose, picked up his plate and Bodie's, and carried them to the sink. "But you don't know me well enough to know I mean what I say, do you. That's all right. I'm just glad Bodie has someone else who'll look out for him." He found the dishwashing liquid and filled the sink with hot water and suds. "No, don't get up," he said, as Barbara made as if to rise. "You cooked breakfast; it's only fair we should wash up."
"If you're washing up, Doyle, I'll wipe," Bodie said, entering the room carrying a box. "Here you go, Mum. Try to restrain yourself, won't you?" He set the box on the table, moving the crockery aside to make room.
Doyle came back and picked up Barbara's plate, peering into the box as he did so. It was full of photograph albums.
"Never you mind those," Bodie admonished him. "Get back to the dishes." He rolled up a tea towel and snapped it menacingly in Doyle's direction.
"All right," Doyle said, "but only so long as you understand that I'm doing this because I'm a good guest, and not for any other reason."
"You saying you don't feel threatened?" Bodie asked, looming at him darkly.
Doyle laughed in his face. "Am I supposed to? You'll 'ave to do better than that, mate. I've been threatened by experts."
Bodie grinned back at him, showing all his teeth. "I know you have. But I reckon none of them knew where you're ticklish."
"Now wait just a minute!" Doyle said, backing up against the sink. "That's not fair."
"I know," Bodie said. He put the tea towel down next to the sink and advanced on Doyle, wriggling his fingers.
"Boys, boys." Barbara looked up from the photo album she was leafing through. "If you don't want to do the washing up, leave it for me, but I don't want any broken dishes in my kitchen."
Bodie stepped back a pace and made a show of putting his hands in his pockets. "Later, Doyle," he said threateningly.
Doyle handed him the tea towel.
When the dishes were all clean, dry and put away in the cupboard, Doyle stepped back from a spotlessly white sink and dried his hands.
"Very nice," Barbara said. "Thank you, Ray."
"What about me?" Bodie asked plaintively.
"You, my boy, are going to come over here and sit down," Barbara patted the chair next to her, "and we're going to show Ray some photographs, if he likes." She raised an eyebrow at Doyle.
"Yes, ma'am, I think I'd like that," Doyle said, as much to bedevil his partner, who was making hideous faces at him from behind his mother's back, as for any other reason. He sat down, and prepared to be entertained.
He had never seen any photos of Bodie as a child, but there was no mistaking the face which smiled out at him from the black and white images so carefully affixed to the pages of the album. Here was a very young Bodie, smiling at the camera, blond hair curling around his head.
"Pity your hair darkened so much as you grew up, dear," Barbara said. "You looked so sweet and angelic there. No one would ever know that you had just picked every single tulip from my flowerbed."
"I was making a bouquet."
"It would have been more effective if you'd waited until the flowers had bloomed," Barbara pointed out. "Still, they did bloom the next year, so there was no real damage done."
Here was Bodie, a little older, whooping with laughter astride the shoulders of a dark-haired man.
"That's Bill," Barbara said, "my second husband."
"Yeah, Bodie's told me about him," Doyle said. "Said he was a good father."
"He was that, and a good husband, too."
Here was Bodie, gap-toothed and grimy, in short pants and skinned knobby knees, football clutched in both hands.
"I remember that one," Bodie said. "I made the boys on our street let me play, even though they tried to tell me I was too little."
"They didn't know how determined you could be," Barbara said, "or how scrappy. I think I used a whole bottle of iodine on your knees and elbows that spring."
As Doyle saw page after page of the album, saw Bodie at every stage from blobby infant to lanky, awkward-looking teenager, he couldn't help but compare what he knew of his Bodie's childhood, little though it was, with this record of a boy's life. This was the boy Bodie would have been if he had not had an abusive sot for a father. He found himself smiling at the thought that now, Bodie had a different childhood he could remember if he chose.
Bodie standing proudly in cap and gown, a colour photograph this time. His hair was longer than Doyle had ever seen it, poking out from beneath the fabric of the cap, and curling up at the ends.
Doyle looked up at his partner. "Economics?" he said.
"Yes, really," Doyle said. He noticed Barbara's eyes on him and tapped the photo with a forefinger. "You must be, too," he said to her.
"Oh, yes," she said. "I always knew William was bright, but I wondered sometimes while he was growing up whether he'd go on to university or do something else with his life. Always such a one for taking a risk, he was. Broke his arm jumping off the roof when he was twelve."
Bodie grinned sheepishly. "Was playing Superman."
Doyle guffawed, then apologised to Barbara. "Sorry. It's just that that's so like him. And I know his arm healed up all right."
Doyle turned the page of the photo album, to discover that he'd come to the end. "That's all?" he said.
"That's all for now," Bodie said firmly. "Don't want you to learn all my secrets at one go." He closed the photo album and replaced it in the box. "You want this put back up in the attic?" he asked his mother.
"No. It's past time I brought those albums up to date. I've a whole shoebox of loose photos from the last three years which need to be organised and mounted," Barbara said. "Will you put them in the front room, next to my chair?"
"All right." Bodie lifted the box and took it through to the front room, then came back. "I know you have a pottery class this afternoon, so I think Ray and I had better be going."
At this obvious cue, Doyle stood up. "Thank you for a very nice breakfast, Barbara--and for showing me your photos."
"Don't forget to say that you've had a very nice time, Doyle," Bodie prompted, with a sly look.
"And I've had a very nice time," Doyle added, casting a quelling glare at his partner. "C'mon, Bodie, before you put your foot in my mouth again." He grabbed Bodie's arm and tugged.
"All right, all right," Bodie said. "Thug. I'll call you, Mum. Thanks for the breakfast, and for being nicer to Doyle than he deserves. Ouch!"
"I barely touched you," Doyle said, then waved an apologetic farewell as Bodie dragged him out of the front door.
"Thug, yourself," he said to his partner as Bodie started the car.
Bodie grinned at the road ahead. After a while, he asked, "You want to go for a drive instead of heading right home? See the sights?"
"They ought to be the same as they ever were," Doyle said.
"Yeah," Bodie agreed. "D'you want to go?"
"All right," Doyle said, agreeably. If Bodie wanted to go for a drive, that was fine with Doyle. The rain and grey skies might be enough to make most people call the day dreary and wish to stay inside, but most people didn't have the advantage of driving around with Bodie, whose sly wit and mordant observations could make Doyle laugh almost any time. Besides, after having been without Bodie for far too long, Doyle found that the idea of being almost anywhere, with him, sounded good.
The rain had slowed to a fine drizzle by the time they finally returned to Bodie's home, and the clouds had brightened to a lighter shade of grey, though midday was long past. There were even a few patches of blue sky to be seen over towards the southwest. With the car parked neatly within an inch of its previous position, Bodie ushered Doyle out of the garage with a flourish of his arm. Carrying his jacket over one arm, Doyle walked across the gravelled drive, incautiously turning his back upon his partner, which he almost immediately discovered to have been a mistake. A lightning attack by fingers which knew exactly where to dig at his ribs in order to cause the most reaction made him jump, yelp, and drop his jacket on the wet ground.
"Bodie--!" he growled, turning and glaring at the miscreant.
Bodie sniggered, then jumped back out of reach and made long bacon, turning and sprinting towards the path leading to the house as he saw the expression on Doyle's face. Leaping over the flowerbed, Doyle gave chase, cutting across the lawn in order to gain a few instants' advantage. The grass, treacherously slick beneath the soles of his trainers, betrayed him. Doyle skidded on the heel of his right foot, tried to compensate, overbalanced, and went down flailing.
The ground was cold, very damp and surprisingly hard. The rock his left arm landed against, placed, Doyle supposed, in the flowerbed for decoration, was even harder. He opened and closed his tingling hand a couple of times, making certain that it still worked, then rolled over and sat up.
"Doyle?" Bodie was crouched beside him. "You all right?"
"Fine. Clumsy. Macklin would have me on toast."
"Look at it this way, mate: at least we don't have to worry about him any more!"
"You do have a point there," Doyle said. He climbed to his feet, brushing at his the mud and grass stains streaking his body.
"Missed some," Bodie observed, rising to stand beside him. He reached out and turned Doyle around in a circle. "Your bum's covered." He swiped at it, a little harder than necessary. Doyle gave him a dirty look. "And you're bleeding." He put a hand on Doyle's left wrist and raised it for Doyle's inspection. A slow trickle of red threaded through the brown mud which was smeared over Doyle's arm from the tip of his little finger nearly to his elbow, where his rolled-up shirtsleeve was sticking to his skin. He pulled it loose and winced as he noticed that there wasn't much skin left there for it to stick to.
"That must be why it stings," Doyle observed. He went over and picked up his jacket, shaking it to free it of the gravel which clung to it.
"C'mon, sunshine. Let's get you cleaned up."
The house was warm and smelled of baking bread. Bodie led him into the kitchen and over to the sink. "Get that washed off; I'll get the elastoplasts." He dropped Doyle's jacket on the back of a kitchen chair and left the room.
Doyle ran the water until it was warm and then set about cleaning the grime and bits of gravel out of his scrape. Dish soap worked as well as anything else he'd ever found; stung just as well, too. He picked at a bit of loose skin which was hanging by a shred, crooking his elbow to peer at the spot, then turned as he heard a sound behind him. A small woman of indeterminate age was standing there, arms akimbo, inspecting him with her head cocked to one side as she tapped her left toe slowly on the tiles. Dark hair was gathered up into a tight knot on top of her head, and her beady black eyes glittered from under delicately arched brows.
"You're dripping water on my floor," she said, and there was a definite hint of who are you and what are you doing here in her comment.
"I--ahh--" Doyle said, turning slightly so that his hands dripped into the sink, "I'm staying here for a little while. Ray Doyle. I'm a friend of Mr. Jones. You must be Mrs. Vedamuthu?"
She gave a short nod, and continued looking at him until Doyle started to feel self- conscious. "You'd best treat my lad right, then," she said finally. "He doesn't deserve anything less."
Doyle blinked at her, unwilling to take offense, but wondering why he should have aroused such a determined defense on behalf of his partner. Did he have "insensitive clod" written all over his face of a sudden? "He's my friend," he said finally. "He knows he can trust me."
"Doyle--?" Bodie came into the kitchen carrying disinfectant, tape and bandages. "Oh, I see you've met Mrs. V. You've introduced yourselves, then?"
"More or less," Doyle said. "Hadn't quite got round to tellin' her how much I enjoyed her chocolate cake last night." He turned back to the sink and sloshed some more water over his arm to rinse the soap away, then looked around for something to dry it. The tea towel lying folded neatly next to the sink would have served, but it looked so pristine that he hesitated, wondering if getting bloody water all over it would be as serious a lapse as dripping water on Mrs. V's floor.
"Doyle's crocked up his arm, as you can see, Mrs. V. Here, mate, don't just stand there dripping. Dry it off." Bodie picked up the tea towel and draped it over Doyle's arm, patting at it gently. "Now, sit down and let me see what the damage is." He steered Doyle to a chair at the kitchen table.
"You don't need to coddle me," Doyle protested, reaching for the bottle of disinfectant. "I can take care of myself."
"I know you can," Bodie said, holding the bottle out of Doyle's reach. "We settled that before, didn't we? Doesn't mean you have to." He took a square of gauze and wet it with the disinfectant. "Besides, maybe I enjoy seein' the tears come to your eyes when I do this." He dabbed at the raw area with the gauze.
Doyle hissed, obligingly, though it didn't really hurt that badly; he'd ignored injuries which had been far more painful--and more serious--on many an occasion. There wasn't time to worry about a few drops of blood or a couple of square centimetres of skin when you were chasing someone down an alley full of jumbled rubbish or trying to work your way around them from behind inadequate cover so that you could take them out of action before they could shoot your partner. Bodie usually didn't insist upon patching him up personally, either, any more than Doyle made a habit of swabbing Bodie's injuries clean for him and bandaging his cuts and scrapes. If it was something minor, you could take care of it yourself; if it was more serious than that, there was the CI5 infirmary, or if there was no other choice, hospital. For whatever reasons, though, Bodie seemed set upon doing this for him, and Doyle found himself willing to acquiesce. It wasn't unpleasant to sit there and be taken care of. Bodie's breath grazed across his skin, a more suble warmth than the touch of his hands. He looked at the dark head bent over his arm as Bodie concentrated on his task. The ends of Bodie's hair swept so neatly down to his nape; it made a bloke want to flick at them with a finger just to disarrange them a little. The way they looked, they'd feel soft as feathers. Soft and warm.
"How's that?" Bodie moved back a little so that Doyle could see. The scrape was red and angry looking, but clean, and it had nearly stopped bleeding.
"Looks fine. I think I'll live."
"I should hope so. Now, just a little antibiotic cream, and then a dressing, and we'll be done." He squeezed a ribbon of cream onto the area, spreading it with a gentle forefinger, then laid a bandage over it, sticking it down well with tape around all four edges.
"That ought to feel good when I take it off," Doyle observed.
"I can do that for you, too, if you like. All part of the service." Bodie grinned as Doyle winced in anticipation.. He took one more close look at his handiwork and then stepped back. "There. Done. Oh--except, how long has it been since you had a tetanus jab? Lockjaw's nothing to mess with."
Doyle looked at him doubtfully. "Are you serious? Get 'em regular as clockwork, don't we?"
"We used to," Bodie said, with pointed meaning, inclining his head minutely towards Mrs. Vedamuthu, who was engaged in doing something intense with vegetables and a sharp knife over on the other side of the kitchen. "How long has it been, really?"
"Oh." Doyle sorted through memories. "Um, quite a while."
"Then taking care of that is next on the list."
"You're not content with pouring antiseptic on me; you want to stick needles in me, too?"
"Oh, not me personally, mate," Bodie assured him, "but I have a friend who'll be glad to do it--once you've changed those clothes. You're a mess, Doyle."
Bodie's friend turned out to be a doctor with what looked like a very prosperous practice. Certainly, its location alone would have demanded a significant outlay, even had the building not been the small architectural gem it was. Stepping over the spotlessly white doorstep, Bodie led Doyle into a reception area decorated with fine furniture, including a desk of warmly glowing cherry wood behind which sat a dignified looking receptionist.
"H'lo, Marie," Bodie said. "Mark said he could spare me a couple of minutes. Is he tied up right now?"
"He ought to be free shortly," she replied. "If you'll just go on into his office, I'll tell him you're here."
"Fine. It's through here, Doyle." Bodie went over to a door in the far side of the room, opened it and waved Doyle inside.
Bookcases lined two walls of the office, filled with bound copies of various medical periodicals. The bookends which rested on those shelves which weren't completely full were--different. Doyle's attention was caught first by the pale, fine-grained stone from which they were carved, but it was held by their shapes. They were copies in marble of themes which might more ordinarily have been viewed in a museum--painted on a vase from ancient Greece--and were rather more explicit in their execution than Doyle would have expected to find outside of a very private collection.
"You're staring, mate."
Doyle blinked, and refocussed on his partner. "Mmm. Must admit that I'm not used to seeing stuff like that in a doctor's office." He shrugged off his jacket; the room was well heated, and almost too warm for his taste. The antiseptic scent he was used to in a doctor's office was overlaid by a spicy floral aroma which emanated from a crystal bowl full of potpourri which sat on the desk.
"It's just anatomy, Doyle."
"Anatomy in action. Active action."
"You shocked, then?" Bodie's voice held nothing but simple curiosity.
"Surprised, maybe." Doyle said. "Not shocked." He grinned at his partner. "You ought to know that much about me by now. Seen a lot, haven't we? Not much shocks either of us." He took another look at the bookend on the top shelf behind Bodie. Seemed an unlikely position for any two people to enjoy getting themselves into.
"Will, you old bugger--it's been too long!" A light tenor voice floated into the room.
Doyle looked up to see a startlingly good-looking man entering the room. Tanned, blond, and blue-eyed, he walked with the assurance of someone who knew his place in the world and was well satisfied with it.
"Mark," Bodie said, standing and walking towards the other man, "it's good to see you, too." He clapped him on the shoulders. "Want you to meet Doyle, here--"
"Let me guess," Mark broke in, "the pair of you have found yourself in need of a little medical assistance of the more confidential kind, eh? Never you mind; you can always count on your good friend Mark when you need a bit of penicillin to clear something up. Haven't let you down yet, have I?"
Bodie turned a dull red as Doyle watched, the colour flushing up in his cheeks and then spreading up over his forehead and down to where his neck vanished into his poloneck. "It's not penicillin we need, Mark, and that was a long time ago. Doyle's a friend. He bashed his arm on a rock earlier today, and we thought he ought to get a tetanus jab. That's all."
Bodie's voice was flat, but his hand was clenched into a fist where it hung by his side, and he wasn't looking at Doyle.
"Sorry," Mark said, stretching the word out with a singsong intonation. "Truly. Put my foot in it, haven't I. Didn't mean anything by it, you know."
Bodie relaxed, with a visible effort. "Never mind. You couldn't have known. Spilt milk." He turned to Doyle with a wry smile. "Nothing like the ones who know you, right?"
Doyle shrugged, feeling ill at ease more because of the discomfort Bodie so obviously felt than because he was embarrassed on his own behalf. Yes, it was startling, but he'd rather not go jumping to conclusions before it was necessary; he'd have to work out what this disclosure would mean to him and Bodie when he had had time to think about it. "Pleased to meet you, Mark," he said, deciding to go on as if nothing untoward had been said. He stuck out his hand. "Ray Doyle. Sorry to bother you on short notice like this, but William said you wouldn't mind." He supposed that he'd get used to calling his partner William or Mr. Jones some time, but it still felt odd. Still, no point in confusing people who'd never known Bodie.
Mark took his hand and shook it firmly. "I don't. Glad to meet you, Ray. Let's see this arm of yours, then."
Doyle shook his head. "Nah, the arm's fine." He held it up, elbow forward, to show off Bodie's handiwork, and ran his finger over the bandage covering the scrape. "All washed up, disinfected and everything. Just need a tetanus shot."
"All right, then. Just let me get what I need, and I'll be right back." Mark left the room.
Unsure of what to say, Doyle settled for what he hoped was a pleasant silence, and as Bodie seemed disinclined to burst into speech, the room remained quiet until Mark returned, carrying a capped syringe and a cotton swab.
"Just give me your other arm, then, and up with your sleeve," Mark said, suiting his actions to his speech. "Little dab of alcohol, and a little jab--there--and Bob's your uncle. Now, this'll likely be a little sore for a day or two; that's normal. If the soreness lasts any longer, or you notice any redness or unusual swelling around the injection site, give me a call."
"Thank you," Doyle said, not mentioning that he was well aware of what he could expect from a tetanus jab. He jostled Bodie with his elbow. "Say thank you, mate."
"Thanks, Mark," Bodie said. "I know you're busy."
"Always have time for you, Will-me-lad. Give me a call some time, won't you? We'll have a drink."
"All right. Next week some time, perhaps," Bodie said.
"I'll look forward to it." Mark escorted them out of the office and bade them goodbye at the door.
Neither Bodie nor Doyle broke the silence between them until they were back in the car, and headed towards Bodie's home. With the car stopped at a traffic light, Bodie turned towards Doyle. "Bit of a surprise, eh?"
Doyle raised his eyebrows. "Among other things. Wouldn't have expected the degree in Economics, either."
"Not exactly the same sort of thing," Bodie pointed out. The light changed and he pulled forward through the traffic.
"No," Doyle agreed.
Bodie took a quick sidelong glance at him. "So, what do you think?"
"I think..." Doyle began, and then thought better of what he'd been going to say, "I think it'd be a good thing if we put off this discussion until we're back home."
"You saying that you don't trust my being able to drive and talk at the same time?" Bodie asked. "Or that you'd rather be able to walk--"
"Walk out?" Doyle interrupted, anger sparking suddenly to life within him as he anticipated what it seemed Bodie was about to say. "Is that what you think of me? You're my friend--my best friend." He paused and swallowed. Unbidden, the bleak reality of his life in this world washed over him. Acquaintances he had, though not many; but beyond that--? "My only friend. You're all I have left from before, and no matter what else I may be, I'm too selfish to want to walk away from that."
"And what if I'm not exactly what you think I am?" Bodie asked. "What then?"
"I--" Doyle took a deliberate breath and swallowed his retort. "Let's talk about that when we get back, okay?"
As they walked into the house, Doyle could see Bodie draw breath to continue the discussion they'd begun in the car, but Mrs. Vedamuthu, and dinner, intervened. The main course was a succulent stew, which filled the kitchen and dining room with a scent which would have drawn a hungry man for miles, barefoot, across frozen tundra, and the crusty homemade rolls which accompanied the stew were a perfect accompaniment. Crisp green salad with a pungently flavorful dressing awaited them on the table in a sparkling glass bowl. A full-bodied burgundy was just the thing to set off the flavours of the food.
"Just leave the bottle on the table, Mrs. V, and we'll be fine," Bodie told her, after she'd served up the stew and the rolls at the kitchen table. "We'll see to putting the dishes in the dishwasher; no need for you to stay longer."
"I don't mind stopping," she told him.
"I know you don't, but we have what we need." He smiled at her. "Could we have a curry for tomorrow night?"
"Will Mr. Doyle be staying to eat dinner with you then?" she asked.
"I think so."
"I won't make it quite as hot as usual, then," she said.
"You needn't go to any extra trouble on my behalf," Doyle said. "I like it hot."
She raised her eyebrows disbelievingly, but didn't go so far as to say anything further on the subject. "All right. I'll be in in the morning, then. I'll be doing the laundry tomorrow, remember, Mr. Will. If Mr. Doyle has some things which need washing, just show him where the basket is and I'll do his along with yours."
When she'd left, wearing a raincoat of an unnaturally bright shade of yellow, Bodie turned to Doyle. "Always organising me, she is."
"Mmm." Doyle took another bite, finding that he was enjoying the food despite the unresolved tension between him and his partner. They ate in silence for a while, until Doyle cleared his throat. Bodie looked up from his plate.
"Nice and homey, this," Doyle said, gesturing around them.
"Yeah. I like eating in here sometimes."
Silence fell again. Doyle bore it for a while and then spoke again. "I didn't smell the stew cooking when we were here before," he said.
"Mrs. V fixes a lot of things ahead of time. There's a freezer in the cellar full of food. The microwave oven cooks it up in no time."
"Must be convenient," Doyle said.
After another interval of quiet, broken only by the sounds of chewing and swallowing, Doyle laid down his fork. "If you're not exactly what I thought you were, you're still Bodie. You're still my friend. Aren't you?" Suddenly aware once more of their relative positions in this world, Doyle considered the position he'd find himself in if Bodie were to deny their friendship. He'd have--not nothing, but not very much. And what did that leave him that he could offer Bodie as a friend? Just himself. What if Bodie had changed? Would he still want Doyle for a friend? They didn't have a lot in common in this world, after all.
Bodie had stopped eating and was staring at him. "Have you lost your mind, Doyle?" There was surprise and something close to outrage in his voice. It made Doyle feel much better.
"Maybe," he admitted, pushing his plate away from him far enough that he could prop his elbows on the table, positioning the left one with a little caution.
"There's no maybe about it if you're going to talk that way," Bodie said vehemently. "I'm all you have from before? That works both ways, Doyle! You're the only one who knows me--me, Bodie, not William bloody Jones, with his money and his successful business and his happy childhood and his mother and the darkest thing about his past a couple of peccadillos he could brag about in the pub if he was the kind of person to want to. The life I've been living the past few months? It's not mine; it's his! But I held it together, thinking that just as soon as this mess with Gorner was cleared up, I'd go and find you--"
"--whoever you were here, anyway. Wherever you were. Didn't expect you to be exactly the same, here, didn't even hope for that, but I knew we'd get on. You're you and I'm me; how could we not?"
Doyle tilted his head to one side and gave Bodie a long look. "Then what are you worried about? You're you; I'm me. Any little differences, we'll deal with."
"Some people wouldn't call it such a little difference, my bein' a fart-catcher."
Doyle raised his eyebrows. "How could I object? You're so genteel with it." He reached out and brushed at Bodie's shoulder with his knuckles. "Besides, it's you here that's gay, isn't it? Or are you saying that you were, there, too?" The expression on Bodie's face was a give-away. "You were. Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"Nothin' to tell." Bodie grimaced. "Never did anything about it back there--never even really admitted it to myself. Wasn't the kind of thing I could see myself going in for; it was something that no real man would ever consider. Learned that before I ever went to school, had it pounded into me for years after. I think my father must've thought I was a little too--pretty."
"Maybe it was the blond curls," Doyle suggested with an over-innocent look, choosing to employ a touch of humour over addressing how wrong-headed Bodie's father had been. Even if Bodie, at four years of age, hadn't been the image of a tough little bruiser that some fathers thought a boy ought to be from the time he was out of nappies, that was no reason for his father to have thought any the less of him. Would he have thought his son more "manly" if he'd been bald, cross-eyed and snaggle-toothed? More fool he, if he would. Beauty at any age was something to be appreciated. Hell, as much as he'd bite his own tongue before admitting it to his partner--he didn't think that Bodie would appreciate hearing it right at the moment--Doyle had to concede to himself that Bodie the man was as beautiful as Bodie the child had ever been. But he could have had a face like the proverbial back of the bus, and Doyle would still have valued him as highly; there wasn't a man to equal him as a partner and a friend. Looks didn't matter when you reckoned the worth of a person; it was what was inside him that made the difference.
Bodie snorted. "Could have been. Didn't notice that it seemed to make any difference to him once I'd got older and I'd got my hair cut and it wasn't blond any more. Grew up, left home--not necessarily in that order--and in the Army and SAS I wasn't about to jeopardise my position by thinking about changing my luck, so I stuck with the birds. Then, there was CI5, and Cowley, and you, and the same thing applied, only more so."
"I can see how that might make you think twice." Bodie hadn't mentioned the mercs; Doyle decided not to press the point. "Thinking about Cowley finding out--it'd be enough to make anyone uneasy."
"Yeah. Then, I found myself here, and I remembered growing up here. Made me feel different about it. Here, without my father beatin' seven shades of shit out of me at every verse end, I got to be about fifteen, and found that I was looking at the other boys at school more than I was looking at the girls. Found one of my mates who seemed to feel the same; we gave it a try, and I didn't look back."
"You liked it."
Bodie gave him a scornful look. "Yeah, I liked it. Remember thinking that it belonged somewhere between ice cream and breathing. Think about it, Ray. It's not anything that makes getting along in this life any easier! There's always someone who thinks it's clever to snigger at you because of it, or some yobbo wanting to prove his manhood by bashing the hell out of anyone he thinks is a little different. I've always been able to take care of myself, but bein' obliged to can be a nuisance."
"You don't get a lot of that, do you, not in your position?"
"You'd be surprised," Bodie said. "Ray, being gay isn't something I chose; it's what I am. The only choice involved was whether I was going to lie about it--to myself or to anyone else. And here, I didn't lie."
"Oh." Doyle thought about it for a moment, then shrugged. "All right. I reckon that if it's all right with you, it's all right with me."
"Yeah?" Bodie said. "Have you thought that all the way through?"
"I'm gay. You're staying with me, in my house. For starters, have you thought about what that'll look like?"
Doyle blinked at him, then burst out laughing. "People'll think I'm gay, too? What the hell difference does that make to me? Let 'em think what they like. I've already lost the job I had here, I don't have to worry about Cowley thinking I'll be a risk to the department, and you're the only friend whose opinion I care tuppence about."
A smile bloomed across Bodie's face. "That's my Doyle. Always eager to avoid trouble by going along with what the majority thinks is right." He raised a cautionary finger. "I'll be sure to remind you of this the first time you come home with a bloody nose, my son."
Doyle bristled. "Let 'em try."
Bodie just grinned, then he leaned back in his chair and patted at his midriff. "Don't know about you, but I could go for some more of that chocolate cake."
Doyle considered the messages being sent by his stomach and then nodded. "Sounds good."
The rest of the evening was uneventful; after clearing up the kitchen, they repaired to the sitting room and relaxed, talking. Classical music of Bodie's choosing played quietly through the excellent stereo system. Having cleared the air with Doyle, Bodie seemed more relaxed than he had been earlier in the day, and Doyle, for his part, found that he was also more at ease. Even though life had changed and he knew that he would never be able to regain what he'd had before, it was still worth living. Like a man who has just seen his home and all his possessions destroyed in smoke and flames, but whose family has escaped to stand beside him, healthy and whole, Doyle considered the relative importance of what he had lost and what he had regained, and felt himself luckier than he deserved. The night before, he and Bodie had held their own private wake for a world that was gone; tonight, they drank to what they yet had.
Celebration appeared to require less scotch than grieving. Just before midnight, Doyle looked at the dregs of his second drink and smiled down into his glass.
"What're you grinning about?" Bodie asked lazily, nudging him with his foot.
"Just thinking about Cowley. We're going to drive him round the twist, you know. Triple-think won't be enough any more. He'll need quadruple at least, in order to deal with the information we're going to be givin' him."
Bodie shook his head. "I think we're going to discover that a lot of what we have to tell him won't be news to him at all, though I don't know if he'll be inclined to tell us that. We're civilians here, after all; we'll only hear as much from him as he feels we ought."
"That won't be much," Doyle observed. "Never was, come to that."
"Yeah, but he'll be telling us even less, now. Expect he won't be very forthcoming about how much we tell him he didn't already know. But it's not like he's been living in a vacuum here, you know. It doesn't pay to underestimate the Cow, under any circumstances. It's just lucky for us that he hadn't twigged to Barry Martin yet, or we might still be locked up at CI5."
Doyle winced. "Wouldn't fancy that at all. It's not nearly as comfortable as here."
"Glad you like the accommodations." Bodie mused for a moment. "Wonder if Cowley's started thinking about the other possibilities yet."
"Yeah. If the two of us landed here, there could be others who did, as well. If so, I wouldn't be surprised if they landed in the loony bin. Not everyone's as well adjusted as we are. Suddenly finding that they have two sets of memories would be enough to send most people screaming to a psychiatrist." Bodie leaned back in his chair, and laced his fingers behind his head. "That's not all, either. If there're two worlds, ours and this one, why shouldn't there be hundreds?"
"Or millions," Doyle agreed after a moment. "You have been thinking about this."
"Oh, I haven't come to very many conclusions," Bodie admitted. "Reckon that flitting from world to world must be pretty rare--and for the two of us to do it? Not very likely, is it? We probably couldn't count on it again under similar circumstances."
Bodie shrugged. "Won't come to that, most likely. I'd lay money on Cowley to see that the same thing doesn't happen here, no matter what happens with Argentina and world finances. Or whatever. Can't be sure, of course, but then you never know that lightning won't strike you out of a blue sky, either."
As if to support Bodie's statement, a peal of thunder rumbled through the house. Both men laughed edgily, startled.
"No, I wasn't thinking about that," Doyle said. "It just occurred to me to wonder how we can know that we're both really from the same place. Could be that I'm not really the Doyle you knew, but just a little different."
"And I'm not really the Bodie you knew?" Bodie asked. "I don't think so, mate, and we don't need to go comparing notes about what we remember in order to be sure, either. We'd know the difference."
"Maybe so," Doyle said, not wholly convinced. There wasn't much a bloke could be entirely certain of in life; why should this be different? Taking something for granted was one of the best ways to ensure that it'd turn on you. Later, after he had bidden his partner goodnight and retired to bed, Doyle was still subtly disturbed by the idea of losing Bodie--and yet being left with an almost-Bodie so close to the man he knew that the difference might go unnoticed. But he blamed the drumming of the rain on the roof and the intermittent rumbles of thunder for his wakefulness. Absurd, to be lying in such a comfortable bed and not to be able to get to sleep. Eventually he fell into a troubled half-doze, disturbed each time he rose towards consciousness by the idea that it had been so very unlikely, him and Bodie finding each other here. It pestered him, the more so because he couldn't seem to think of anything that he could do to make their finding each other more likely--if that were ever needed in the future. It was frustrating to know that he would be helpless in such a case, the force ranged against him as amorphous and inexorable as fate, or gravity. Perhaps it was fate. Doyle had never much liked the idea of predestination, and it was no more to his taste now. After what seemed hours of corrosive disquiet, he eventually dipped entirely beneath the waters of unconsciousness, sleep claiming him belatedly but overwhelmingly.
A bright flash awakened him, or perhaps it was the crash of thunder which followed almost immediately thereafter. He sat up in bed, his heartbeat pounding so loudly in his ears that he could not hear anything else. The night was dark, unrelieved by moon or stars, but the lights of the city reflected off the clouds and seeped into the room through the half-drawn curtains. The unfamiliar furnishings were shadows and shapeless forms scattered along the walls and huddled in the corners of the room. Doyle took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He wasn't a child, to be frightened of a storm, was he? Next thing he knew, he'd be bleating about monsters in the wardrobe, or crocodiles under his bed. He pulled the blanket up and tucked it in around himself snugly. There. His heart was slowing, finally. Nothing to be scared of; he'd just been startled, that's all. Bolt of lightning hitting as close as that one had would be enough to startle anyone. Had been like a bomb going off--
Doyle shook his head. No, it hadn't. Had been lightning. And thunder. That's all. Nothing more. Nothing apocalyptic, no end of the world. Not at all.
But, could he really be sure of that? What assurance did he have? For all he knew, that flash could have been the dawn of Armageddon, Mark II, and the world of Ray Doyle, artist and ex-instructor at Conner's Gym, and of William Jones could have been annihilated just now, sending him skipping across possibilities to land in another reality. Again. He looked around the room. Was it the same as when he'd closed his eyes? Was Bodie asleep in his room down the hall, or was someone else there, the person who belonged there in this world?
Doyle gritted his teeth and reined in his imagination, or tried to. Staring into the darkness, he listened to the sound of his own breathing, and told himself to be sensible. He had as much success at it as many another person who had tried to tell him what to do. It might have been five minutes or twenty that he sat there, trying to persuade himself into rationality, until finally he muttered an imprecation and swung his legs around and got out of bed. Cursing himself for a fool, he left his room, leaving the door open for the minimal amount of light it would offer, and stumped down the hallway, the chilly air tracing over-familiar fingers across his skin. The pyjama bottoms he wore might as well have been made of gauze for all the warmth they offered. Outside the door to Bodie's room, he paused, gooseflesh crawling up his backbone like a herd of caterpillars. He grimaced horribly as he considered the utter idiocy of what he was doing, then tapped at the wooden panel lightly before turning the doorknob and opening the door.
"Bodie?" he said, in a voice barely over a whisper.
A shape by the window moved indistinctly in the darkness. "Ray? What's wrong?"
"Nothing?" The shape came closer, until Doyle could feel the warmth radiating from his partner's skin. He smelled like soap and Bodie, and Doyle felt the tension draining out of him like water down a storm drain.
"Nothing." Doyle raised a hand and patted at Bodie's shoulder. Bare skin over muscle and bone, it felt good against his palm and his fingers, and he let his hand linger a little longer than he might have, had it not been dark, and quiet, and the middle of the night. Could almost make believe he was asleep and dreaming.
"Nightmare?" Bodie asked.
"No," Doyle said. A nightmare, had this been one, would have been full of fear and anger, and he would have been wishing to be somewhere else. He stepped a little closer to the living warmth of his partner, his hand still resting on Bodie's shoulder. There was nowhere else he would rather have been, and fear and anger had no place here. "Just needed to know that you were here. You know how it is sometimes--an idea gets hold of you in the night, and it won't let you go, or maybe it's that you can't let it go. Then, there was that flash of lightning--did you see it?--and the thunder was like a bomb going off, and all of a sudden I found myself wondering--"
Bodie chuckled. "Nit," he said affectionately. "You didn't find yourself with another set of memories then, did you?"
Doyle felt like an utter imbecile, and an exigent one at that. "No. You're right. I'm sorry I bothered you." He lifted his hand and would have stepped away, but was halted when Bodie reached out and caught at his retreating hand, then let it go.
"No. Don't be. It's all right," Bodie said. "I do know how it is with fancies that get into your head in the night. To tell the truth, maybe it's a good thing you came in here just now."
"Yeah?" Doyle said. "Something worrying at you, then?"
"No. Not really," Bodie said slowly, "as long as I remember to keep track of what's real and what can't be."
Had that been wistfulness? "What is it that can't be?" Doyle asked. "Is there anything I can do?"
Bodie took a deep breath and let it out on a sigh. "That is the question, isn't it."
"Stop bein' evasive," Doyle said. "You ought to know better by now. If there's something you want from me, just ask."
"Just ask. Like that. Doyle, you don't know what you're saying."
"Like hell I don't." Doyle grabbed Bodie by his upper arms and gave him a little shake. "Damn it, what is it?"
Bodie shook his head, a movement emphatic even in the concealing darkness. His eyes glinted as they caught the stray light from the window. "That's it, you see. You don't have a clue. I tell you about me, and you say, 'You're gay? Okay, Bodie, fine, Bodie,' and you don't once stop to think that it could have anything to do with you."
"With me?" Doyle's voice jumped an octave, but an instant later he wondered why he'd been surprised. "All right, so maybe I didn't think of that. Call it stupidity if you like; not much else'd explain my being so obtuse. Come on, let's sit down and you can tell me about it." He gave his partner a little shove towards the bed, and crowded him backwards until the backs of his knees hit the bed and he sat down abruptly. Doyle stood in front of him for a moment, then went over to the window and closed the drapes with a decisive movement. He dragged the armchair back over to the bed and planted himself in it in front of his partner. He leaned to his right and reached out a long arm to turn on the lamp which stood on the table at the bedside. Bodie blinked at him in the sudden wash of light. His skin seemed almost to glow against the dark blue bedding.
"So," Doyle said, "tell me."
Bodie got a mulish look around his mouth and kept silent, though he did fold his hands across his crotch in a defensive manner.
Doyle cocked his head to one side, suppressing a treacherous impulse towards leniency. Letting Bodie off now would do him no favours in the long run. "We have all night, you know." He scooted forward in his chair and nudged Bodie's knee with his own. "Don't you think I'll understand?"
"Maybe I'm afraid you will." Bodie edged away from him a fraction of an inch--as far as the bed would allow him to retreat without being obvious about it. He grimaced. "Can almost hear you saying, 'So you want me? Okay, Bodie, fine, Bodie.'"
"You'd rather I got all offended, then?" Doyle asked, trying to be reasonable. "Make up your mind! If it is something to do with me, then I want to know about it. I thought you said you'd had enough of lying about this--do you want me to do your lying for you by pretendin' I never heard you say what you did? What the hell do you want, mate?"
Bodie closed his eyes, then opened them and looked off at the far side of the room; he could have been staring across miles of open space. "What I don't want is for you to be casual about it."
"Casual. About you." Doyle leaned forward and poked at the centre of Bodie's chest with his forefinger. "You don't know what you're talking about if you think I could " he stopped poking and let his hand rest flat against his partner's chest, "--I could " There wasn't enough air in the room. "Your heart's goin' like the clappers, did you know?"
Bodie looked at him, a smile slowly broadening across his face; the crease had gone from between his brows. "Yeah, I know. And yours?"
"Uhh, yeah. The same."
"Thought it might be." Bodie reached out and traced a finger lightly across Doyle's lips.
"How did you know?" Doyle asked, striving to keep his voice even.
"Might have something to do with the look on your face."
Doyle laughed, a trifle breathlessly. "Sod."
Bodie raised an eyebrow. "Not yet."
"Oh, stop mucking about and ask me to come to bed!" Doyle exclaimed impatiently.
"Didn't occur to you that I might've been waiting for you to ask me?" Bodie said, but he scooted over on the bed and patted the space next to him invitingly.
"It is your bed," Doyle pointed out, moving onto the appointed spot with some alacrity. The cotton fabric was smooth and fine beneath him, and warm where Bodie had been sitting. The caterpillars returned, marching over his skin in hordes. He shivered and rubbed his hands over his arms.
"Cold?" Bodie asked.
"Uh, no," Doyle said. He offered a lopsided grin. "A little nervous, I reckon."
"Butterflies in your stomach?"
"Not quite." Doyle gave a little hiccup of laughter. "What d'you want to do?" This was the damnedest stilted exchange he'd had in bed with anyone since--did it matter? He turned towards Bodie and lifted a hand to touch his chest, tracing a finger down the delve over his breastbone.
Bodie drew in a sharp breath. "That'll do nicely, for starters."
"Yeah?" Doyle said. "You're the expert, mate. Don't tell me I'm the only one with ideas."
"Ideas?" Bodie said, his glance kindling. "I'll show you ideas." He reached for Doyle, threading one hand into his hair and urging him closer.
Doyle didn't resist the motion, but neither did he reach to pull Bodie to him. He was suddenly acutely conscious of how strange this would have seemed to him just months, just weeks ago. Bodie was his partner, his friend, a man he'd eaten with, drunk with, fought with. They'd been as close as this before, physically; why did it feel so different now? How could he have wrestled with Bodie and not felt this rush of urgent sensation before? Trying to make sense of it was like trying to resolve double vision from a blurry smear of colour and form into a scene he could recognise--or perhaps, Doyle thought, a little like when he'd had to try to resolve the confusion he'd experienced when trying to deal with two sets of memories.
"Something wrong?" Bodie asked, pausing.
Doyle shook his head. What did it matter that it had taken him this long to work it out? Bodie was here, and that was enough of an answer for him. "Nothing in the world," he said, and leaned forward until his lips met Bodie's.
With a moan, Bodie lurched at Doyle, kissing him ravenously and ungently. One hand clenched convulsively into Doyle's hair while the other moved across his body, stroking and rubbing, grasping and squeezing. Whatever vague thoughts Doyle had been able to form in the brief time he'd had to consider how it might be with him and Bodie, none of them had included this assault upon his person--not exactly. If it had been anyone but Bodie yanking him about like this, tumbling him over, squashing the breath out of him, relentlessly bony knees bruising him, Doyle wouldn't have stood it for a moment. But it wasn't anyone else, it was Bodie, and the intensity of his partner's need spoke to Doyle in a way he couldn't deny, even had he wished to. The hoarse voice mumbling indistinct obscenities in his ear was also mumbling his name, over and over and over again, and the hands which took such liberties with him were careful for all their urgency. Doyle felt an answering urgency cascade through him, and he wrapped his arms around Bodie, and heaved and surged beneath the weight blanketing him.
It wasn't comfortable, it was awkward and rushed and utterly without finesse--and it was over far too quickly. Bodie thrust against him, the scorching heat of his erection poking at him in imperative fashion, and for a few brief seconds they achieved some kind of shared rhythm, jolts of galvanic sensation surging through them as they moved, sliding against each other, until it was too much to endure. Doyle shouted, convulsing, and felt Bodie's hands tighten on him as he tensed and shuddered through his own release.
The lamp was still on. Doyle opened his eyes and rolled his head a few degrees so that he could look at Bodie, who was lying half-on, half-off him, his head and shoulders resting beside Doyle's, while their legs were entwined in a complicated tangle. Bodie's eyes were closed, and his mouth was curved in what could have been seen as a smug smile--but his expression held more peace than it did self-satisfaction. There was a drop of sweat making its way down his temple towards already dampened strands of hair; Doyle leaned over and swiped at it with his tongue, relishing the salty taste.
Bodie's eyes snapped open. "Always thought you'd be good," he said to the ceiling.
Doyle raised his eyebrows, then gave his partner a jog with his elbow so that he'd look over and see that he'd done so.
"Oww. Don't have to do that, Doyle. I'm payin' attention."
"I should hope so," Doyle said. "Begin as you mean to go on, that's what I say."
"Mmm, yeah?" Bodie said hopefully.
Doyle propped himself up on an elbow and looked severely down at his partner, who gazed back at him benignly. Doyle flopped back down on the bed. "Give me a few minutes, all right?"
"What, you're worn out already?"
"I don't know what you ex--" Doyle began defensively, but was cut off by Bodie's chuckle.
"Probably just as well, so'm I." Bodie waited a moment, then added, "Said you were good, didn't I?"
"Berk. You don't need to spare my feelings; I haven't been that quick off the mark in twenty years."
"Seems to me I was in a bit of a rush, too."
Doyle gave a luxurious stretch, feeling sweat cooling on his exposed skin. "Yeah, we could take it a little slower next time." His pyjama bottoms were bunched around his right ankle. Hadn't taken the time to take them off, had they; just shoved them out of the way, more or less. He kicked them off, then ran his toes up and down Bodie's shin. He reached over and stroked a hand across Bodie's arm. "You're all over gooseflesh, you know."
"Are you surprised?"
"No. It is a little chilly in here."
"It's not that, and you know it."
Doyle smiled slowly. "Reckon I do. You mind if I carry on?"
"What do you think?" Bodie stretched out across the mattress in relaxed and shameless invitation. "Have a go."
Doyle surveyed the prospect before him, a tactile feast laid out for his delectation: eyebrows, lips, chin and nose; hands and feet, toes and fingers; chest, shoulders, thighs, abdomen and genitals; hairy skin and skin innocent of the least bit of fluff; white skin and tender pink skin, blushing a deeper shade as he watched. "Where to begin: that's the question," he observed. "I think...here. Let's take our time, shall we." He reached out and laid his hand flat on Bodie's thigh, then rubbed a little, thumb moving back and forth. "You've lost a scar here, you know. Was that piece of angle-iron you fell on that time. And the one that was here," Doyle traced his fingernail across an unmarked portion of Bodie's forearm, "was from where that lunatic typist stabbed you with a biro when we were takin' in her boyfriend." He stroked and patted at this and that place where Bodie's skin had been marked, before, listing the injuries which had caused them--those he knew. It was a lengthy undertaking, and when he'd finished, he sat back on his heels, pensive rather than aroused.
"What is it, Ray? C'mon back down here and tell me."
Doyle went willingly into his partner's arms and drew him close, the warm touch of skin against skin subtly reassuring. "Was just thinking, your not bein' in CI5 isn't altogether a bad thing. Less risk to life and limb--well, most of the time. And provided you can put up with the lack of excitement and don't go chasing off and bash your skull in while doing something imbecilic like falling off a cliff for the sake of a thrill or two."
Bodie gave him a little nudge. "That goes for you, too, but I don't see that that's worth your stopping what you were doing just then. There's more to it, isn't there."
"Mmm. Sorry. Didn't mean to tease."
Bodie made a rude noise. "Don't be such a dolt. What's eating at you? You'll tell me eventually. We have," he said meaningfully, and with an atrociously melodramatic German accent, "all night."
Doyle rolled away to lie on his back. "I dunno," he said. "It just doesn't seem right, me being glad we're both here, and out of the line of fire, when we left everyone we knew to die in that hell-storm. I think about them, the ones that died right away, and the ones that may still be dying--burned and crippled and starving. And here I am, warm and safe and healthy."
"Perfectly natural to be glad we're not burned and crippled and starving, I should think," Bodie said, then sighed. "It's not fair, what happened. Life isn't. But we're not responsible for World War Three. You didn't push the button, nor did I. If we could've kept it from happening, we would've." He rolled towards Doyle and cupped his cheek in a warm palm. "If we'd died there, it wouldn't have changed a thing, except we'd be dead now. Hell, we are dead there--I'm sure there's nothing left of you or me except a bit of charcoal and maybe a shadow against what used to be a wall." He reached down and pulled the blankets up over them. One of the pieces of tape securing the bandage on Doyle's arm had come partially loose and stuck to the nap of the blanket. Bodie detatched it and stuck it carefully back down where it belonged.
"Oh, that idea makes me feel ever so much better," Doyle said, but he turned back towards Bodie and kissed him. "It's not that I'm sorry that we're here together, you know. I couldn't be." He was silent for a long moment. "But it feels wrong for me to be so happy about it."
"I see. You're happy, but the universe isn't perfect, so you have to be unhappy. Makes sense."
"Not when you put it that way," Doyle admitted. "But that's the way I feel sometimes."
"Yeah, you do, don't you." Doyle made a self-deprecating face. "Glutton for punishment, that's you."
Bodie raised an eyebrow and waggled it. "Not in recent memory."
"Oh?" Doyle said, curiosity stirring to life within him. "Plain vanilla suit you, then?"
Bodie grinned. "Wondered when you'd get round to asking questions."
"I'm wondering when you're going to get round to answering 'em," Doyle said pointedly.
"Just gathering my thoughts," Bodie explained.
"Such as they are."
"You want to hear what I have to say, or are you going to keep interjecting comments like that?"
"Ohhh, that's promisin'," Doyle said. "Interjecting and all."
"As I was saying--" Bodie waited a bit, continuing when it appeared that Doyle had finished interrupting him, "--though perhaps you weren't listening at the time, I never did anything along these lines. Don't suppose you're interested in hearing what I used to get up to with the birds."
"Know most of it already, I should think," Doyle said. "You weren't ever what I'd call shy about bragging about your--ahh--prowess."
"My prowess?" Bodie lifted the blankets up a few inches, looked downward beneath them and then back at Doyle. "Never had any complaints there."
Doyle gave him a quelling look.
"All right, all right. Plain vanilla? Yeah, mostly. Tried a bit of the other, early on. Young and stupid: you know. I'd heard about some of the things some of the blokes seemed to like, and wondered what the attraction was." He shrugged. "Still wondered after I'd tried it. Seemed unnecessarily involved, even when it wasn't particularly uncomfortable, especially when I got more out of sex without all the fancy trappings. If leather turned me on, it'd be easier to get off by rubbing myself around on the sofa."
"Might leave a mess," Doyle pointed out.
"You think the other doesn't? Straps and scarves and apparatus and such to pick up and sort out afterwards, and then there's getting the whole lot cleaned."
"Uh-huh." Doyle sniggered at the look that got him. "Don't say you're shocked. Kink's not reserved for brown-hatters, you know. Couple of girls I went with for a while in Art School--here, not there--could've shown you that, if you'd any doubts. And I saw a few things in the Police--there, not here, of course--that would've had your eyes bugging out. Sometimes it was the ones you'd never think it of: little old white-haired grannies with collections of this 'n' that that straight out of Torquemada. Always thought it must've played hob with the arthritis and rheumatism, myself."
"Perhaps it's a way of taking their minds off it," Bodie suggested, "though I'd've thought a couple of Disprins would've been easier. As for me, it didn't take long for me to decide that I liked what I liked, and it wasn't ever much trouble finding someone who liked the same."
"You needn't be so polite, Doyle. You thinking of the brick Mark let drop? Yeah, sometimes I made a mistake, found out later that someone I'd spent time with wasn't who or what I'd thought he was. Picked up the clap from Brian; I'd thought we were exclusive, but it turned out he was as faithful as a hunk of shit. He'd got it from someone I'd thought was a friend, too. It taught me to be a little more--ah--selective after that."
"Not all that different, then."
"From being straight? Not that way, at least. You start off looking for quantity, but once you grow up a little, you learn that quality is better."
"Should I be flattered?" Doyle asked. "Or are you talking about someone else you've known recently?"
"Oh, you're quality, sunshine; go ahead--be flattered if you like." Bodie ran a fingernail down Doyle's back, then looked pleased at the reaction Doyle couldn't have hoped to conceal. "And I know you, better than William Jones ever knew anyone he got involved with. Bloke can be looking for quality and still be taken in by window-dressing. Did you wonder what Mrs. V had against you? Wasn't you, Doyle, and as soon as she gets to know you, she'll unbend. Gareth moved out in January--and he took the silver plate and all the loose cash he could find in the house with him. Don't think she would've minded quite so much, but he left the kitchen in a state: cupboards all higgledy-piggledy and the drawers dumped on the floor. Mrs. V doesn't like anyone interfering with her drawers."
"I'll keep that in mind," Doyle said solemnly. "And since January?"
"That your delicate way of askin' if you're going to be confronted by an outraged boyfriend sometime soon?"
"I wouldn't 'ave put it that way, meself."
"You didn't." Bodie grinned. "Nah. After Gareth decamped, I concentrated on work for a while, then I crocked up my ankle--and before I knew it, CI5 was looking over my shoulder and it was all go after that. Once I was here, and I'd got out of hospital, even if I'd wanted to hie myself off and find out for myself what it was like sleeping with a bloke, I didn't have time. You've a clear field with me, petal."
"Good. You are planning on keeping it that way, aren't you?"
"Do I look as if all my brains have dribbled out of my ears? Of course I am," Bodie said. "And if that should make you feel as if you've been placed under an obligation to do the same, so much the better."
Doyle pondered for a moment, then looked at Bodie, catching an expression on his face that he didn't care for in the least. Smug certainty sat on those features much better than doubt. "Don't look like that. I was just thinkin' that it wasn't an obligation exactly, and I was trying to work out just what it was. A covenant, maybe, or a pact."
"If you like."
"I do," Bodie said solemnly.
"Then, I do, too," Doyle pledged. "Seal it with a kiss?" he suggested.
Bodie nodded, then leaned forward and pressed his mouth to Doyle's, lightly at first, and then more insistently, his hands moving over Doyle in urgent, arousing patterns. Doyle returned the kiss, enthusiastically, discovering the way the muscles in Bodie's back flexed and bunched as he moved. Bodie rubbed and pushed at him; the surging motion made Doyle ache for more, and he found that his feet were scrabbling at the mattress as he sought for purchase to increase the contact between them. It wasn't enough. Doyle growled, and clambered on top of his partner. That was better. He pushed, thrusting hard, and Bodie wriggled under him, and then Doyle's cock was sliding between Bodie's thighs, through pressure provided by warm, clenching, sweaty muscle. The blankets slid down Doyle's back, unnoticed, while he yelled and pushed harder. Bodie's mouth was open, panting; his eyes were slits of glazed blue. He grabbed at Doyle, fingers digging into his buttocks, pulling as Doyle pushed, and with each stroke, Doyle felt the searing rigidity of Bodie's erection branding his belly. The heat between them grew to incandescence and just before it seemed that it must incinerate them, Bodie tensed and groaned as he spent himself. Flayed by sensation, Doyle gave one more thrust and joined him.
Slumped over the form of his still puffing partner, Doyle wiped his face across a convenient portion of the bedding, blinking as the sweat stung his eyes.
"Ooof. Doyle, I love you, but you're too bloody heavy."
"Oh." Doyle slid off to the side and then poked at Bodie with his index finger. "That better?"
"Would be if you'd stop tryin' to excavate my ribs," Bodie complained, without rancour. "Come here and be nice."
"Mmm. All right." Doyle moved obligingly so that they were snuggled together. "That nice enough for you?"
"Well, what? What more could you want? Here we are, nice and warm and comfortable. We don't need to worry about our next meal or the roof over our heads. You're good-looking, I'm talented." Doyle paused, then added, "And add to that, I love you too, and I think we're both headed for an early grave--due to terminal sexual exhaustion."
"Ah." Bodie's voice was smugness itself.
"That's what you wanted?" Doyle said. "Thought it would have been obvious--'specially to someone who's so certain of his--prowess." The mattress was shaking slightly as Bodie tried to suppress his chuckles. "You've no need to worry, sunshine. I've decided you had it right, all those years ago--with one small addition."
"With the right person," Doyle said, "it does come somewhere between ice cream and breathing."
-- THE END --
Originally published in No Holds Barred 16, Kathleen Resch, 1997