The man lay awake in the chill darkness, hands behind his head, staring through the iron grill at the hard brilliance of the stars. His pallet was lumpy, and like the single blanket, it stank. So did he. Over the months he had become used to his own smell, the livestock that inhabited bedding and clothing, the greasy tangle of beard, and hair grown curly with length. Not so long ago--and he almost smiled--he'd been known for his fastidiousness, his immaculate appearance. But his guards did not believe in creature-comforts and Western hygiene, and his special category did not gain him any privileges.
Special category--political pawn. But not for much longer. This time he did smile, lips curving up, eyes glittering with amusement and anticipation. There was a lot of diplomatic wheeling and dealing going on, and not only between Iran and Britain. The KGB was in there batting, along with BOSS and the CIA. They hadn't made the headlines, though. Too important for that.
The smile became a chuckle, and from outside the door he heard the nervous shuffle of feet. He laughed again, this time at his guard's expense. He'd been under constant surveillance ever since his initial capture, and he'd been a troublesome prisoner, given to violent non-cooperation, reckless escape attempts, and a seemingly incurable penchant for vicious verbal attacks that would have goaded his captors into a frenzy of retribution if he wasn't so necessary to them.
His value lay in what he'd been a year ago, what he was now, and what he'd done to end up in this stinking hole. In himself he was unimportant, but as a gaming piece he was vital. Ex-CI5, now a mercenary, only survivor of a small team of experts hired by Iraq to demolish an atomic plant purchased from God alone knew where but probably Russia, he could be the final catalyst that would fire up a Jehad. Their storm of hatred against the USA had burned down to smouldering coals, and now the Iranians needed another excuse for an orgy of destructive religious fervour. It could either be Britain, or a renewal of the war against Iraq--both, if fanaticism won over political expediency. For as far as Iran was concerned, he was proof of Britain's alliance with the Iraqi enemy, though they had given up attempting to make him admit he was still a government agent. They did not need a confession. Their own belief made him what they wanted him to be.
For BOSS and its like, he was a point of principal, and the prize in a deadly game of power-politics and espionage. His knowledge was nearly a year old, but could still prove damaging in some hands.
He didn't give a damn about them, either.
He was, purely and simply, a living weapon in a war made his own by hard cash, owing nothing to duty, love of country, or honour.
Mercenaries don't give a toss about right or wrong, causes, politics, or ideals. They fight for whoever pays the highest wage. All his adult life he'd been nothing else, regardless of official job-descriptions. Labels--and causes--were for fools, for those who should have known better. You are only here once; you take what you can get, take it all while the taking's good. And when the reckoning comes due, you pay up and pretend it's no big deal. In a world where someone is always after a slice of somebody else's property, a good fighter can find a fitting niche for his talents.
However, it doesn't always work out like that. Instead of the battlefield, he had a prison cell, eight by four by seven high. Bit of a letdown, that, for one of the best in his chosen career. Correction--he had been one of the best.
Right from the start, when he'd realised what it was he was good at, he'd aimed for the top. Almost made it, too. Would have made it if he hadn't fucked it all up.
He wasn't sure exactly when the rot had set in--certainly it wasn't a new thing--had happened a long while ago, slowly, insidiously. Looking back, there were a handful of occasions that might have been the beginning of it. Like going back to England, joining the Paras, trying to make out he was as normal as the rest of the squaddies. Sod it, most of 'em didn't know what real war was like, and Northern Ireland was a bloody picnic compared to some of the bush-wars he'd been part of. Should have stayed in the bloody jungle.
The SAS had been okay--more like kindred spirits you might say, and some of his mates in the mercenary squads had been ex-SAS. They knew what the score was. But CI5 was another matter entirely. It may not have been his first mistake, but it sure as hell had been the biggest one.
Yes. In retrospect, it hadn't ranked among his best ideas. Had seemed like it at the time, admittedly--reasonable pay, the work he enjoyed, the spice of danger he'd grown addicted to, all set in brick-and-concrete jungles where he could live in civilized luxury and still be a mercenary. But the pay wasn't so special, considering his credentials, and he'd been teamed with another operative. Sure, he could take orders along with the rest of 'em, work as part of a unit, and do it damn-well. He'd trained for that kind of work in a mercenary camp in the African bush, and neither the Paras nor the SAS could equal their methods, though the latter came close. But when it came to the undercover stuff, he was far better on his own. He didn't need backup. A partner could be one hell of a liability; always best to trust no one but yourself. Besides, he didn't need anyone. Hadn't he proved that, to himself as well as to others, often enough? A loner, playing a solo hand. No one to look out for, no one to rely on except the one person you know you can trust. And if you let yourself down--well, tough luck. Only had yourself to blame--
He jerked his hand away from his throat, from the empty place where the silver chain should have been. Blame. It was a pretty good one-word reason why he was stuck in this hell-hole, if he was inclined to look for them. He wasn't so inclined, but they breached the barricades he'd set up anyway; reasons he had been assiduously burying for the last nine, ten months. He'd been successful, managing to forget most of the time why he was doing what he was--not for pay any longer. Oh, no. For something else entirely. He would prefer to call it revenge of a kind, though it was aimed at no particular person or thing; rather at the bloody world itself, and the sick societies that needed men like him to handle the dirty work.
He smiled, a bitter twist to the arrogant mouth. High-sounding words. But when he had to strip away all the fancy talk, all the camouflage, there was only one thing left; the hunger to kill and to be killed--to stop the hurting and emptiness like a creeping cancer inside him. To cancel out the blame, and to pay, at long last, the price he had been denying.
"So, mon vieux," said the deep velvet voice of Tarquin, aka Jean Pierre, Gunther, Carlos, Stanis. Nom-de-guerre Tarquin, accent French because he was in France. The top man; more than arms dealer, more than mercenary commander, his identity and nationality were as much a mystery to his own men as to the officials of a dozen countries that were hunting him. "It has been a long time."
"Yeah," absently. His hands caressed the polished walnut stock of the .22 hunting rifle from Tarquin's personal armoury, fingers sensing the grain of the wood, the metal of guard and trigger and barrel cool under his expert touch. Using the familiar feel and smell and weight to block out the rawness of recent memory.
"You want something, non?" Tarquin persisted, knowing this one of old. "You would not be here without a reason, I think."
"For old time's sake, Tarquin."
The elegant, aquiline features split into a smile, magnetic eyes hooded.
"But of course, mon cher. Whatever I can do--what is it you require?"
"Ah, I see,"--and he chuckled, gaze raking over the hard features and glacial eyes of the younger man. "Life as--uh--a civil servant is at last too dull for you, yes?" The almost gentle amusement was wasted on his companion.
"You could say that." Even and expressionless, as it had been from the first, his voice hung in the opulent room with frosted clarity.
"So I expected." Tarquin poured Grand Armagnac into antique crystal goblets, raised his in salute. "You are not of the breed to run with petty officialdom, mon cher. The only surprise is that you stayed with it as long as you did. How many years?"
"Nearly six." Five years, seven months, eight days.
"Incroyable. But now you have seen the light, yes? And wish to return to your true vocation? Of course, yes. You and I, Bodie, we are two of a kind."
"No," Bodie said. "Not quite. The war, Tarquin."
"Ah, yes. The war. Any war, my young friend? It is truly that which you desire? There could be a place for you once again in my organisation--"
"No." The refusal was curt, uncompromising. "A war. I've had my fill of organisations. I want to get out into the field. The front line."
The last three words said far more to the mercenary leader than Bodie knew or intended, but nothing showed on the sophisticated mask. Tarquin knew there was a thinking head on the stocky shoulders, a quick intelligence that he had used before and could use again. It was certain he could be persuaded, the old patterns of discipline imposed. Tarquin was a past master at combining psychological and physical dominance. It had been more than nine years since he had last seen Bodie, but he did not doubt his own ability. He had always brought defeat to the younger man, forced him to accept it, yet leaving him enough of his pride and self-respect so that he would also respect the victor. There had been those who tried brute farce alone to break Bodie. They had failed, though superior physical strength may have given them an illusion of victory, and Bodie neither forgave not forgot that kind of defeat. As Krivas had discovered.
Tarquin always kept tabs on his old lieutenants, and he'd learned with interest of Krivas' final encounter with Bodie, over in England. This time Bodie had won, decisively. Krivas, however, was not dead. Crippled and brain-damaged, he drooled and giggled in a high security hospital. But Bodie had never borne Tarquin such a grudge.
"Your resignation was sudden, mon ami," he drawled, watching Bodie sip the brandy. "Was it entirely voluntary, on your part?"
"Yes." Scarcely tasted, the expensive liqueur was put down on the onyx coffee table. "I didn't come here to socialize."
"I do not do business without the social niceties, mon petit. Surely you remember that?"
"I remember. But I've got my own way of conducting business these days."
"Your manners were certainly less brusque, Andre-Philippe."
"So I've been told." If he resented the use of his given names, Bodie did not show it. "A war, mon vieux," a sudden venom in the chill voice. "If you can't provide one, I'll find my own."
"Have you not yet learned patience?" Tarquin sighed. "I've heard good reports of your Major Cowley--has he taught you nothing?"
"Why don't you go and ask him?"
Suddenly the warning signals shivered through the nape of Tarquin's neck.
"Bodie, why have you left CI5?"
"No one's looking for me, if that's what's biting you." The contempt took the mercenary by surprise, stung him. "I resigned. All above board. Can you or can you not provide a war?"
"Gently, mon loup. Drink your brandy. There are certain possibilities we can discuss. South America, South Africa, the Near East--do you have a preference?" Never before had Bodie required such careful handling; it was a challenge, the kind that put that certain deadly zest into living. Besides, he did not permit any of his subordinates--past or present--to throw off the yoke. They might think they were away clear, running free--until he touched the reins, lifted the whip, and they found themselves moving to his controlling hand. He drew himself up to his full height, some four inches taller than the Englishman, and held the bleak gaze with a black, compelling stare. "The Iran-Iraq situation has settled into a semi-permanent blood-letting," he said. "I have supplied men, weapons, specialists, to both sides. In my safe there is a request from an Iraqi colonel for an explosives expert to sabotage certain oil installations."
"I'm an expert," Bodie said. "Who and where is he?"
"You go too swift, Andre-Philippe," Tarquin drawled. "Come, sit down," indicating the wide couch. "Tell me about CI5 and Major Cowley? It is an intriguing combination."
"Cowley is CI5," Bodie said, not moving. He broke open the gun. It was unloaded.
"So tell me of him."
"The day you need to be told about a mob like CI5 is the day you should retire." The response was immediate and unyielding, and a dangerous glint appeared in Tarquin's eyes.
"Do you seek to goad me, mon petit?" he murmured. "Is it a contest you wish?"
"No," said Bodie. "A war. That's all."
"And am I to be the first battle in that war?"
"Only if you get in my way. The colonel's name, Tarquin."
"First tell me why you have this--aggression--in you. I am not your enemy, Andre-Philippe, and you have come to me for help. So why show your teeth, my brown wolf?"
"Business transaction, not help," Bodie corrected.
"Very well. How will you pay me?"
"Name the price."
"The life of your Major Cowley."
"No deal. Try again." The silence stretched. "Okay." Bodie put down the gun, turned to go. "Iraq is address enough. I'll find him myself."
Tarquin let him get as far as the door.
"Your partner," he said quietly. Bodie stopped. "His name is Doyle, I believe? Is he still with CI5?"
"In a manner of speaking." Arctic, precise, nothing showed in face or voice save that total control. "I don't have a partner. I work best alone."
"Yet you were teamed with--Doyle--for all of your time with CI5. You worked well together. Major Cowley considered you and he to be his best unit, yes?"
"Yes," said Bodie, reaching for the door handle. "We were."
"I'll give you your Iraqi, Andre-Philippe," Tarquin announced. "No payment. No deals." He picked up the barely touched goblet, brought it to him and put it into his hand. "Drink, mon petit. For old times' sake." His fingertips remained cool on Bodie's wrist. "Why be in such a haste to leave?"
Bodie looked down at the lean brown hand, then up at Tarquin's face.
"No dice," he said. "I don't play Games. Not anymore. Not since I got out of Africa."
"Shall we contest that statement?" the man smiled. Bodie smiled back, a feral rictus that bared his teeth, and with a glitter in the blue eyes that did not belong to sanity.
"It's not available for contest. Neither am I. Try it and I'll tear your guts out." A flat statement of fact, and Tarquin let out his breath in a scarcely audible sigh. One did not always succeed, but it happened so rarely that he could accept the occasional defeat with equanimity. The hand that now controlled Bodie was one of far greater power than his own. His curiosity, though, was fired, and while there were missing pieces in the puzzle, a pattern of a kind seemed to be emerging, one that he had seen before in others.
Some soldiers were fighting machines; highly tuned, finely balanced, and the more deadly and efficient for it. But inevitably, that very efficiency took its own toll, and if the commanding officer failed to follow elementary precautions, the Bodies of this world became--unsafe. A danger to others and to themselves. Of course, given time and the right handling, the situation would resolve itself. The man would either break, unwind, or be killed. He would give his over-tuned, over-trained, adrenalin-addicted brown wolf time. And if he survived his war, then he would stage this meeting again. The outcome would be very different. Bodie had been a first class aide de camp a decade ago. He would be so once more.
"You've got a visitor," said Mahdi, lounging in the doorway, automatic rifle held with negligent ease. He had spent two years at Reading University, and spoke pretty good English.
"Really?" Bodie did not pause in the slow execution of the karate kata. He liked to keep fit, and in the confined space some of the basic exercises were enough to maintain supple muscles and swift reflexes.
"Sven Bjornsen." If the guard was waiting for him to show interest and curiosity about his first visitor since his capture, he was disappointed. Nor was his disinterest feigned.
"In a minute. When I've finished."
Mahdi scowled, rifle centering on Bodie's stomach.
"Now," he snapped. "You may have some of the others walking round you on toe-tips, but not me."
"Tip-toes, sunshine. Thought it was a sin to be Westernized these days?" But he continued with the stylized movements, making of them a kind of ritual.
"Come on out, you crazy bastard!" Mahdi yelled, flinging the cell door wide. Bodie laughed in his face, and one kata flowed into another. Baffled and furious though he was, the guard did nothing, which once more underlined Bodie's suspicions that until his ultimate fate was decided the orders from the Revolutionary Council were that he was to remain relatively unscathed. Or at least, photogenic enough for them to make political mileage out of him.
Eventually he became bored with the baiting-game, and allowed Mahdi to escort him out of the cell block into the hard white light of the courtyard.
Bodie sauntered along, hands in pockets, refusing to be hurried. There were other prisoners about, crouching in huddles in the meagre shade. Locals, all of them, not a military or foreign type among them. Iraqi prisoners-of-war were kept elsewhere, while he had been shifted from prison to prison over the months in an effort to hide his whereabouts if not his existence. From the fixed stares that followed his progress, his reputation had lost nothing in the telling. He threw back his head and laughed.
"Shut up!" Mahdi hissed. "I should shoot you for the mad dog you are!"
"What were you studying for, in England? A degree in cliches?" he sneered, mirth becoming a blistering contempt. "You're a poser, Mahdi, a posturing hypocrite, like the rest of your breed," and he spat in the dust. Deliberate provocation, an old familiar pastime for him, and the younger man did not react to the goad. Teeth gritted, colour high, he stayed four strides away, gripping the rifle white-knuckled. "That's right, sunshine," Bodie smiled at him with an almost tender regard. "Play it by the book. But I've got my eye on you, and don't you forget it." He owed Mahdi a few knocks; when he had first been captured, everything of value had been stripped from him, triggering a berserk response that the Iranians took great pleasure in quelling. For days, weeks, he refused to accept that he had lost the one item that was beyond any price to him, but gradually the senseless violence returned to ice-cold control. Cuts, bruises, damaged bones, all had healed. But the instinct for revenge was undiminished. Bodie always paid his debts, including the last per cent of interest. He'd paid most of them back in sudden, vicious attacks during those early weeks, and it was his one regret that the interrogation team was out of his reach. Mahdi, however, was not, and he did not intend to let him off the hook. Sooner or later....
To Bodie's amusement he was conducted to a shower block, told to strip, and given a bar of strong soap. The cosmetic treatment extended to fresh clothes; green trousers, battle-blouse and combat boots, all set ready for him.
He stayed under the shower until the water ran cold, and the impatience of his guard became a tangible force. The former made more impression on him than the latter, and when he finally emerged there was an invigorated bounce to his stride and a feral devil in his eyes. He would have liked to get rid of the beard, but clearly that wasn't on the cards.
In clean clothes, hair rubbed dry and combed, body electric with aggression, he did not have the appearance of a man held in close confinement and physical privation for nine months. The surprise showed on the face of the Swedish envoy, along with a certain amount of wariness.
"William Bodie?" he asked as the door closed, leaving them alone in the bare room.
"Yes." Bodie pulled out the chair, sat at the table, confident and tautly in control. "What are you doing here?"
Bjornsen blinked, taken off-balance.
"We've been trying to see you for months now, since we first learned you'd been captured," he said, accentless voice stilted, formal. "Are you well? How--"
"Why?" Bodie repeated patiently.
"You are a British citizen. No one is sure how, when or where you were captured, nor why--"
"You mean they're not saying?" Bodie snorted, and laughed. "Come off it, mate."
"There've been extravagant claims made against Britain and Iraq, and they hold you up as proof. They're making you out to be another--"
"Have you thought," Bodie interrupted casually, "this room is probably bugged?"
"It is a possibility," Bjornsen shrugged. "I have been told it is not."
"It doesn't matter," Bodie said. "I know what they want me to be. Unfortunately, I can't oblige. Talk freely, Mr. Bjornsen. They won't learn anything they don't already know."
The envoy hesitated.
"Are you attached to MI6?"
"No," he grinned. "I'm a mercenary, that's all. A hired expert."
"But not so long since, you were an agent."
"That was a year ago. I was an operative for CI5--Criminal Intelligence. Purely domestic. I resigned."
"And became a mercenary."
"I'd been one before. I was with the Strike Force. Tarquin's mob. Maybe you've heard of them? I packed that in to join the Paras, and ended up in CI5 via the SAS. Now I'm back with Tarquin. That's all."
"What were you doing when you were captured?"
"Four of us had blown up a small atomic reactor. Half-built. We didn't get away."
"A what?" The Swede was astounded. "They said it was an oil installation!"
"That was my first job. This was a reactor. Air-cooled. According to the Iraqis, it was probably provided by the Russians."
"Iraq hired you?" Bjornsen had difficulty keeping his voice under control.
"From Tarquin. They wanted a demolition expert. So they got one."
"And the other men with you--also mercenaries?"
"Yeah. Freelance, and not much cop. I'd've been better off going in alone. Still, I did what I was sent to do," he added with professional satisfaction.
"Are you sure it was an atomic plant?"
Bodie gazed at him scornfully. "No, mate, it was Brighton Pavilion. Some of the stuff was marked with the Cyrillic alphabet."
"Oh." It was clear, even to a disinterested observer, that questions burned on the man's tongue. But he returned to the mundane with his next words. "Is there anyone you'd like me to contact for you? Family? Friends?"
"You are sure?"
There was a pause.
"You are well-treated?"
"But not before?"
"They thought I had information, and they're traditionalists. Which means they prefer the bastinado to sodium pentothal. When they discovered they got the same answers with ancient and modern, they eased off." There were other reasons why his captors were more circumspect, but he saw no point in mentioning that at the moment.
"But you were tortured? This could aid your case--"
"Come off it, sunshine," he snapped. "Forget the Human Rights speech. The Geneva Convention doesn't apply out here. I'm a mercenary. I knew the score when I went into this, and I'm not shouting now. Fortunes of war, and all that," and he smiled. Bjornsen looked away.
"Mr. Bodie," he said carefully, "we've heard that others are showing an interest in you."
"Yeah, I've heard that, too. Russia, South Africa, America. While Britain will probably try to twep me."
"Terminate with extreme prejudice. It's Americanese. An ex-CI5 agent would be useful to anyone wanting to do some infiltration back home. They wouldn't like that, so--"
"You are wrong."
Bodie shrugged. He didn't care either way. Bjornsen glanced at his watch.
"My time is almost up--I'm hoping that having allowed one visit, they'll allow another. Is there anything I can bring for you?"
For a moment Bodie almost told him not to bother. Then realized that he would probably be provided with clean clothes and a shower again. And there was something he wanted.
"Yes," he said slowly. "When they got hold of me, some bastard stole a chain I was wearing. A silver chain. I want it back."
"A-- Is that all?"
Bodie frowned at him. "Yes," he said.
"But if it was stolen once, it would be again."
The frown became a smile of ineffable sweetness.
"Oh, no. Not now. That was before they cottoned on."
"Uh--to what?" Bjornsen cleared his throat.
"I am not exactly sane," Bodie said gently, "and I'm very, very, dangerous."
There was another pause.
"But--why is it so important to you? I mean, surely there are other, more--"
"No. Just the chain."
"Oh. Your cell--the conditions are good?"
"By whose standard? Ask the locals what their jail is like. I've got an edge; there's only one of me these days. Apart from that, I'm treated little differently."
"The others that were taken with you, you were imprisoned together, then?"
"No. Don't know what happened to them, I didn't see them after I was captured. Some were wounded, that I do know, but--" he broke off and shrugged, clearly unconcerned with the fate of his erstwhile companions. "What I meant was, I don't like sharing a cell, and I made sure they knew it."
"Er--how?" The question came out reluctantly.
"I killed them, Mr. Bjornsen," came the gentle answer. "What else?"
"I--see." He cleared his throat again. "The men with you on your mission; do you know their names, nationalities?"
"Tariq was Libyan, Hal and Barry were Australian, ex-Nam. That's all the names I knew."
"Mr. Bodie," Bjornsen leaned forward, elbows on the table between them, but whatever he had to say was cut off by the entry of a couple of uniformed men. "Time's up. I'll see what I can do." The envoy seemed eager to leave, and Bodie smiled at his retreating back. Idly he wondered what else was behind the visit, if Bjornsen was more than he appeared. Then wondered why he was still alone in the room. More visitors?
He sighed, and settled himself more comfortably in the hard wooden chair. He'd done a lot of waiting around in CI5, him and Doyle. He'd found it irksome then, to his partner's amusement, and he hadn't changed that much in the last year. Sitting about watching houses, people, cars; you name it, they'd watched it. Sometimes for days on end.
Cowley switched on the tape recorder.
"Is that the Police?" A hurried whisper from the speakers. "I want to speak to the Specials." A woman's voice answered, cool, efficient, requesting name and business. She was interrupted. "The Special Branch. The ones that deal with bombers. Hurry it up, miss, this is urgent." There was a tremor in the man's voice--of tension, fear, perhaps. Bodie shifted in his chair. Doyle didn't move. Elbows on knees, chin resting on his fists, he was concentrating. "Oh, Gawd, someone's comin'--take this down--Harry Wallis, paper shop, Fitzalan Street--make it quick but keep it dark--" A tinkling sounds as of a shop doorbell, and the phone was slammed down. Cowley stopped the tape.
"Lambeth," he said quietly. "Harry Wallis sells newspapers, and he has a memory for faces. He says he's seen Hassan Hamad several times over the last couple of weeks. He is sharing a basement flat with a pair of Irishmen. It's taken Special Branch four days to pass this on," he finished, a bite of displeasure in his voice.
"The P.L.O. demolition man?" Doyle said. "A nasty combination."
"How did Wallis cotton on to him?" Bodie asked.
"Recognised him from the front page splash when he was nearly blown up by that car-bomb last year." Cowley took photo-fit pictures, held them out to his operatives. "The Irishmen. He knows them as Mark and John Monroe, brothers. They are Mark Toomey and John-Joseph Clarke. Other than the change of name, we know nothing against them."
"We don't?" Doyle seemed surprised.
"Not yet," Cowley said smoothly, and stood up. "You can drive, 4.5."
Sitting in the back of the Rover, Bodie's thoughts were circling round the unlikely mixture of Irish and Palestinian. Hamad was good at his trade--was he passing on his skills to the I.R.A.? It was a possibility sound enough to get the Old Man along, and anyhow, Hamad wasn't supposed to be in the country.
"How did Hassan slip in?" Doyle asked, and Bodie grinned to himself. Great minds think alike, another instance of the telepathy they both professed to take for granted. "Thought he did a bunk when he got a taste of his own medicine?"
"Was probably his own bomb," Bodie cut in. Cowley ignored the interruption.
"He had. And how he returned through the security net without being picked up will also be part of our investigation. If the ID is positive."
If. Bodie was prepared to place money on it.
"Paper shop up ahead, said Doyle. "Where do you want me to park?"
"In the next street," Cowley said, crisp and businesslike. "We'll walk back. Bodie, you'd better have a talk with Wallis, find out if he has any more information."
"Yes, sir." He could be businesslike, too. When he felt like it.
The three men split up at the newsagents, and Doyle got in the parting shot.
"Oi," he said, and Bodie paused, hand on the door. "No buying up his porno stock. You are a clean-living boy."
"Probably already got 'em all. Want to borrow?"
Doyle's reply was an obscene gesture as he walked off at Cowley's side. Bodie grinned, and pushed open the door. A gust of wind jerked it away from his fingers, and it slammed back against its rubber stop, chimes jangling.
"Shut the bleeding door!" Wallis yelled, splaying his hands over the fluttering pages of magazines.
"Sorry, mate." Bodie heaved it shut. "You ought to have one of those automatic closing things."
"I 'ave. It's called yer arm," the man snapped. "Bloody kids broke the spring months ago."
"Shame," he said, and flipped his ID out of his pocket, opening it with a practiced flourish. "Like to talk to you about 58A, Mr. Wallis."
"You're a bit late, old son."
"What's that mean?" Bodie frowned.
"My delivery lad says their papers are backing up, and so are the pints. There was two days of bottles sittin' on their doorstep this mornin' when he turned up with the papers."
"Nothing's been cancelled, then?"
"Nope. But I ain't seen any of 'em for days, now. Usually one is in 'ere for fags or sweets or a mag or two."
"Damn," said Bodie.
Doyle sauntered casually past the railings, shot a swift glance down the steps to the basement flat. Six full milk-bottles stood in a neat formation, several papers and brown envelopes protruded from the letterbox. He swore, and returned to Cowley, waiting at a bus stop a short way down the street.
"Could be they've done a moonlight flit, sir," he said. "Two or three days deliveries piling up down there. Weren't Special Branch keeping an eye on them?"
"They were. No activity, the reports said. Damn it, how could they have missed anything as obvious as that?"
"Unless they're still in there and can't get out?" Doyle suggested.
"A falling out of thieves? I doubt it. No activity means just that, and I don't think a fight and its sound effects would have been overlooked."
"I'll check it out," he said.
"Wait for back-up, 4.5. Bodie'll be along in a minute."
"I'm not that stupid," Doyle grinned. "Sir. I'll take the back door, he can have the front." And made for the alley that cut between terraces, waving a casual direction to his partner as he emerged from the shop. Bodie's raised hand signified understanding, and Doyle broke into a run, loosening the Walther in his shoulder holster as he went.
The alley sloped down, and a sharp right turn took him into a back road of dilapidated sheds and outhouses. It reminded him of the streets he'd grown up in, and a wry smile twisted his mouth before he evicted the distraction. All his concentration was needed in the here-and-now.
58A showed no more sign of life at the back than it had at the front. The back door was set into the flight of steps that led up to 58B, but he didn't try the handle. Instead he peered through the dirty, curtainless window; a sink full of mugs and plates, and beyond it a table littered with beer and coke-cans, and a greening loaf. He took out his r/t.
"3.7," he said.
"Here," came Bodie's voice, "sitting on the bloody door-step like Orphan Annie. What's it look like from your end?"
"Marie Celeste. The window doesn't look to've been tampered with. I'm going in."
"It's my turn to try for the medal," Bodie pointed out.
"I'm queue-jumping. Besides, the back way is less likely to be booby-trapped. Stay put and I'll let you in if it's clear." He didn't wait for his partner's reply, but stowed the r/t in a pocket and examined the window frame again. There was no sign of wiring, but he didn't take a chance on opening it. He brought out his gun, worked the slide, and a swift jab of his elbow broke the lower pane of the sash. Glass fell into the sink, harsh, brittle sounds in the silence of the flat. He waited, but there was no response from inside.
Transferring the automatic to his other hand, Doyle carefully removed the rest of the glass and climbed in, the erratic wind blustering the first drops of rain on the remaining pane and his shoulders.
The kitchen had the stale smell of old cooking and sour milk, and his nose wrinkled in subconscious distaste. But there were no other odours, as of bodies several days dead. Not that he had seriously expected there to be. What was more likely was a going-away present from Mr. Hamad.
The connecting door was open, and he walked carefully through, eyes checking for wrinkles or lumps in the worn carpet. But there were none, and, from the undisturbed dust at its edges, it had not been lifted for a very long time. The living room was large, with a heavy dresser against the partition-wall, a couch, a divan, and a truckle-bed sharing space with a couple of armchairs, a TV set and a coffee table. On this was a jumble of oddments that drew Doyle's attention like a magnet. Wire clippers, short lengths of flex, scraps of insulating tape.
A bomb had been made here. Maybe more than one. And the birds had flown, to plant them--where?
Doyle reached for his radio, switched it on.
"Bodie, come on in the back way. By the look of it, they--"
The wind gusted through the glassless window, caught the door behind him and slammed it, and Doyle's world erupted.
The explosion flattened Bodie on the steps, but he was moving before his ringing head had cleared. Door and window frame hung awry, and he wrenched his way in, a terrible, tearing pain beginning under his ribs.
The wall between kitchen and living room was down, smoke and dust heavy in the air. Plaster and lathes sagged from the ceiling, and furniture was tossed, wrecked, as if by a giant's careless hand.
From outside came screams, and Cowley's voice.
He shut out the sounds, listening for another voice, movement--please God let there be something--and heard nothing but the slide of settling rubble, the creak of timbers.
"Ray?" he whispered, dust grating in his throat.
As from a vast distance, he could hear Cowley issuing orders, keeping people back--there might be gas mains fractured, more explosions--
"Ray?" he said again, louder, easing cautiously into the shattered room. And saw the tangle of hair, greyed now by dust.
Doyle lay on his back, half-pinned by slabs of masonry and the ruins of the dresser. One arm was out-flung, the other bent beneath him, and he did not move.
With frantic haste Bodie swept rubble from chest and face, sought for and found the ragged pulse in the man's throat, blood welling warm over his fingertips.
"Bodie?" Cowley's voice.
"He's alive." His own voice sounded very loud. "He's alive."
"The ambulance is on its way." Bodie didn't hear him. The bruised lips moved, dust- and blood-caked eyelids flickered.
"Take it easy, Ray," he whispered. "You're going to be okay." He reached for the outstretched hand, found it, felt the fingers quiver in his grasp, but they did not close. Blood was a widening pool beneath Doyle's head and shoulders, bright liquid under a film of falling dust. Too bright. With infinite care, he slipped one hand under his neck, the other searching for the source-injury.
"Don't move him, lad," a gentle murmur at his side.
"He's going to be okay," he said. Cowley didn't answer.
Slivers of wood, piercing like spears. Splinters of bone under ripped fabric, colours spreading into red. A straining, bubbling whistle of sound that was Doyle's effort to breathe. Matted eyelashes lifted on dazed, unfocussed eyes, and Bodie crouched closer.
"You're going to be okay," he said. "Ray--hold on, for God's sake." The eyes moved, seemed to be searching for him, blank and unseeing. And the blankness was replaced by a growing terror that gouged into Bodie's mind. "Listen to me--I promise you--it's going to be okay." Sirens filled his ears with their banshee mourning, but he was concentrating on the struggling breath, willing it his own strength, watching the panic fade from the man's face.
"Come away, lad." Cowley's hands on his shoulders, urging him up. "Let the experts get to him."
Yes. Get him to hospital. Slowly he slid his hand from under Doyle's neck, his fingers tangling gently through wet curls, and when he stood up there was a broken chain in his hand. He stared at it for a moment. Ray valued that. He'd be mad as fire if it was lost. So he would have it mended, and he'd give it to him when they let him out of hospital.
"He's going to be okay," he told Cowley. "I promised him."
But promises are as easily broken as silver chains, and Ray Doyle died during the shrieking Valkyrie-ride through London streets.
"No," said Bodie. His voice was quiet, calm. "He's not. He's going to be all right. Can I see him now?"
"He is dead." Cowley matched him for calmness. "He died before they could get him here."
"He didn't stand a chance," the doctor said. "Spinal injuries, fractured skull, broken pelvis, ribcage, massive internal damage--irreparable. I'm sorry."
"I promised him," Bodie explained, but they didn't seem to understand that. His head ached, he felt cold--chilled to the bone--and vaguely sick. A nurse came into the room, carrying a phial and hypo in a kidney dish.
"Yes, yes," the doctor's voice was intended to be soothing. "Roll up your sleeve, please."
"What's that for?" he demanded.
"You're in shock--"
"I'm okay, for God's sake. All I want to do is see Ray, and go home and get my head down."
"Aye," said Cowley. "You do that, laddie. Then I'll drive you home."
They took him to a white, bare cubicle. Silent monitors were ranked along one wall, their electronic eyes dull.
Doyle lay stretched out on the examination table, covered completely by a sheet. That annoyed Bodie. How the hell did they expect him to breathe properly? But the Doctor folded it carefully back over the still chest, and the illusion he'd clung to as a drowning man clings to driftwood could no longer be sustained. Dust and dried blood were matted in Doyle's hair, but his skin had been cleaned. Gauze lay over his right side where broken ribs jutted through torn flesh, but the deep wounds left by the removal of the wood-slivers were uncovered and unclosed. Bloodless, bone and tendon showing white--Bodie lifted his gaze to his partner's face. No panic, no terror marred it. Expressionless and remote as an effigy on a tomb, eyelashes dark on the pallor, uneven cheekbone standing out in the stark light, the familiar face was bruised and grazed and lifeless.
As he had known he would be, from the moment he had crouched beside him in the wrecked basement, because he had seen enough death and destruction to know when a man could live and when he could not. And he had promised--
"I'll go home, now," he heard himself say, turned and walked away. Then Cowley was at his side, a hand on his arm, detaining him.
"Stay overnight, Bodie."
"No. I'm okay. I'll tell his family."
"I'll do that."
"Like hell you will. I'll pick up his personal effects first thing tomorrow. And his letters."
"I want them, Cowley. Hamad and his Irish mates."
"Aye. So do we all."
"They're mine." He rounded on the older man, his face as calm as his partner's, and as dead. "They are mine." There was an unspoken threat in the three words, and a warning. Cowley nodded.
Bodie sat silent and apparently relaxed at Cowley's side throughout the journey. As he had during the race from Fitzalan Street.
Doyle was dead. Pain seared through him, but somehow it was oddly separate, happening to someone else. Doyle was dead. Not the first friend, partner, he'd seen killed, not by a long shot. Men he'd liked, trusted, respected, dead in a variety of ways. Death comes as the end. The phrase seemed familiar, and he wondered where he'd heard it. Finis. R.I.P. Friends Romans countrymen I come to honour Caesar not to bury him not yet because his killers still live vengeance is mine cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war and fill the gap with English dead and bright life-blood spreads liquid ruby-- He became aware that his right hand was closed tight in a fist, nails digging into his palm, fingers caked and glued together with dried blood. No longer red but black-brown. And in his palm was a silver chain. Warm. He did not open his fist, that would let in the cold. Life is warmth. So why did he feel so cold? He wasn't dead. Was he?
Bodie didn't remember the drive to his apartment. He awoke as if from a daze to find himself standing in his living room, Cowley pouring whisky into a glass.
"Drink this, lad, then go and clean up." A quiet order, and force of habit dictated obedience.
But first things first.
He closed the bathroom door, ran the hot tap in the hand basin, and put his fist under the water. Blood flowed again. Doyle's blood. And as the water grew warm he turned his hand and opened it. Washed clean, the bright metal glowed under the steady stream, and he stared at it, hypnotised, until the pain of near-boiling water forced him back to awareness.
Carefully he dried the chain, and found the jump-ring missing. But the clasp was intact, undamaged, and it accepted the first link in lieu of the ring. He fastened it around his neck. It lay warm on his skin, almost sentient. Perhaps it retained something of the essence of the man who'd worn it less than two hours ago. Slowly it thawed the chill in him, and the wrenching agony that hovered at his shoulder was pushed a little further back, held at bay.
The door opened and Cowley was at his side, a hypodermic poised in his hand. The needle plunged through jacket and shirt, stung in his arm. A sneaky trick. Must have brought it from the hospital. Doctors don't give up. Neither do I. I promised.
His right hand was clenched on his thigh, nails sunk into his palm, and he was holding his breath. He let it out in a shuddering sigh. That was a debt he hadn't been able to pay. Hamad, Toomey and Clarke had died the same day, a freak accident that deprived him of the catharsis of revenge. Their car had been hit by another on the approach road to Heathrow, and five people had been killed when the bombs they were carrying exploded.
The bomb that had killed Doyle had been under the kitchen floor, a trembler device set to go when weight was put on a loosened board just inside the back door. The shockwave caused by the wind-slammed living room door had been enough--more than enough.
Shudders racked through him, and he fought for control, without the bastion of the chain to protect him. But nothing showed on the marble coldness of his face. Nothing showed. Dust to dust ashes to ashes black soil dropping on the small casket of ash all that was left of Ray Doyle-- Fire consumes and cleans, its heat a counterfeit of life, a false vitality, none of it as real as the warmth that had been caught in a silver chain--stolen from him--
Muscles locked to immobility, sweat standing out on his forehead and darkening the green shirt at the armpits and between his shoulder blades, Bodie won his battle. So that when the door opened, he was able to greet the newcomer with his lazy, contemptuous smile.
"Bodie," the man nodded. "I'm Gregor Nagy." The name might be Hungarian, but the accent wasn't.
"Yes?" he said politely. "The Canadian Nagys, I presume? What's your claim to fame, friend?"
"I'm a journalist," an easy amusement on the clever face.
"No kidding?" Bodie marvelled. "What's your day-job?"
"Did you have a nice chat with Sven?"
"Oh, yes. Tea and cucumber sandwiches. What do you want?"
"Our Iranian pals already have that. So does Sven. Why should I repeat myself to you?"
"Greater rewards. They're clearing the courtyard. In a minute we can walk about in the fresh air and talk."
"There's no such thing as fresh air out here," Bodie said. "I get all the exercise I need, and you've read my file. So what have we left to talk about, Gregor, old friend?"
Nagy raised his shoulders in an oddly oriental shrug.
"Okay, I've seen your files. They make interesting reading. I don't think I'd've recognised you, though, even without the beard. You've lost a hell of a lot of weight."
"Pathetic, isn't it?" Bodie lost patience. "Jack in the small-talk, mate, and get down to business."
"Uh-huh. Let's take a walk. And if you're thinking of jumping me, don't. I'm not carrying, not even a toothpick."
"What makes you think, sunshine," he murmured silkily, "that I need weapons?"
"I know what you can do," Nagy said quietly. "I also know what you want."
And Bodie walked silently at his side through doorways and corridors and out into the deserted courtyard.
"I'm not going to beat about the bush," Nagy said, taking out a cigarette and lighting it. "Moscow would like to offer you a home from home. We can get you out of here, no problem, and quickly, because the Council are coming down on the side of holy righteousness, and they aim to drop Britain in the shit. You will be publicly executed. After due trial, of course. According to the Koran. Are you familiar with the Koran, Bodie?"
"As a matter of fact, yes," he smiled. "Do go on, old chap."
"There's not much else. BOSS would like to offer you a permanent vacation in South Africa, America would like long and discreet talks with you about the people you know, the safe-houses, the sleepers, the contacts. So would we, and America has nothing to bargain with."
"What do you have?" Bodie drawled.
"You'd be surprised how detailed your file is in Moscow. And of course I've gotten up to date with the last nine, ten months. Fascinating, trying to work out your motivations."
"Oh? You think I've got 'em, do you?"
"Yes. Strong ones. Revenge, for starters, if a kind of aimless revenge. Isn't it time it was directed?"
"Maybe," he conceded. "On the other hand, maybe not. Why should I want to drop Home And Country in the mire?"
"Not England. CI5. George Cowley."
"I think you should be writing novels. Apart from the fact he would never give me the rises I deserved, why the Old Man?"
Nagy reached into his pocket, brought out a photograph.
Head half-turned, heavy red-brown curls raked by the wind, green eyes slitted against the sun, lips twisted in a slight smile--
"Agent 4.5, Doyle, Raymond," Nagy said quietly. "Killed on duty April 14th of last year. You were going in on an empty flat where a known explosives expert had spent some time. There was a booby-trap. Doyle was killed, you were uninjured. Cowley sent you in. He should have called up your specialist teams, sent in the backroom-boys who're trained for that purpose, not field operatives. I know it, you know it, yet George Cowley is still alive. Frankly, that surprises me."
"Life," said Bodie softly, "is full of little surprises."
He did not touch the photograph, and his face was schooled into a bland, smiling mask. "Do you have anything else to say before I break your neck?"
"You told Sven you wanted the chain that was stolen from you. Silver." He tapped the photo, finger on the vee of the open-necked shirt where a thin pale curve of metal showed against tanned skin and dark body-hair. "This one, perhaps? Not much to bring away from a five year partnership, I guess. But Sven can't produce it, he's only here under sufferance. I'm a friend and ally, and they want that reactor replaced. A matter of days, and it's yours again--call it an earnest of our good faith. You agree to our terms, and you'll be safe in Russia within a week."
"What are your terms?"
"All you know about CI5, and about anything or anybody we care to ask you."
"You reckon they want that plant badly enough to swap me for it?" Bodie sneered. "I should bloody think not. You don't know these people so well if--"
"Oh, no," Nagy interrupted. "We'll spring you. The way we'll do it, they'll blame it on the Yanks, or the British. Think about it, Bodie, and I guess I don't have to remind you that MI6 would very likely want you eliminated. I don't need your answer yet. Give it to me when I bring you your keepsake, okay?"
"Okay," he agreed.
"Fine. Want this?" holding out the photo.
"No." Bodie shook his head and smiled that sweet choirboy-smile. "I don't need it."
The cell was a haven. A place with strong walls and a door that was shut, a window heavily barred. No way out. No way in, either, unless you had the key.
Bodie sat on the bed, knees drawn up, arms wrapped around, shoulders against the wall, and carefully considered what Nagy had had to say. Or tried to. But memory and concentration conspired against him, and other images drifted across the screen of his closed eyes.
--Tangled head bent over the Magnum, heavy gun turning lightly in the sure, thin fingers; broken, cleaned, put back together, each movement deft, economical. Then the draw from the shoulder-holster, the size of the Smith & Wesson .44 almost incongruous in that narrow hand. A desultory conversation in the quietness of the empty house; death and the hereafter--jokey, light, because at that time, more than usually, they were aware of the nearness of death, were prepared to face it, accept it--
Killed on duty April 14th. No time to prepare then. No time to accept. Just a shattered body and terror in a dying man's eyes.
What had he been afraid of? The endless dark? Nothingness? Or living--back broken and brain-damaged--
"I wouldn't have let that happen," he said. "I'd've pulled the plug out for you."
The spoken words hung in the stifling air, an acknowledgement that exposed the hidden flaws in his armour. The long-buried hunger in him turned its saw-edged blade deep in his stomach, and it had gained strength during its dormant months. The terrible isolation that had been eating at him since his capture broke through the barriers, and he curled over his knees, biting back the tearing sound of anguish that choked in his throat. He was alone. Always had been. Always would be. His choice--important to remember that. He didn't need anyone--partner, friend he didn't need--
But the litany didn't work anymore.
There had been times, in the early weeks of his captivity, when he had hated Doyle. When he had retreated so far away from the pain that friendship, loyalty, trust, became bitter and corrosive reversals of themselves. And sometimes he had hated him for dying. But he could not sustain it. Instead he tried to shake himself free, to step sideways and deny the very reason why he was in Iran at all--Doyle was just the man he worked with, an unnecessary partner, superfluous to his requirements, but required by the format laid out for CI5-- He'd cast the words like runes, and most of the time he managed to convince himself they were truth.
Most of the time.
But not now.
It was time, Bodie realised, to start settling his debts. All of them. Including the ones he owed Ray Doyle, starting with April 14th.
That was hard. To go back, to face--and accept--the weight of blame. Nagy had said Cowley was at fault. Perhaps. But the major part of it lay on his shoulders. If he had gone in first, they would have found the bomb-making debris first, would have cleared out and left the place to the backroom boys. There would have been no broken window to let in the blast of wind that had slammed a door and detonated a bomb....
And then he was given a second chance. Ray was still with him, and the chain was the link. As if the life had bled out of the man and into the metal. For a few weeks Doyle was there, and Hamad's bomb was a non-event, had not devastated two lives. All but tangible, so clearly visible in his mind's eye that he took the familiar presence for granted after a while, Doyle walked through the days at his side. Alert, abrasive, his expertise overlapping and complementing Bodie's, his own brand of compassion counteracting Bodie's callousness--two halves of one unit. For a few weeks.
Then he had let him be killed again.
Eventually he slept, still huddled in his corner, and lost reality in the kind of dreams that had not come to haunt him for months.
The second raid was a replay of the first up to a certain point; a bush-skimming night flight by chopper, Barry at the controls. Then a half-mile dogtrot along cold dusty tracks to the hidden jeep, and Tariq had driven them through foothills to their destination.
Come midnight, the vehicle was stowed away behind boulders end brushwood, and they were bellied down on the crest of a ridge gazing across a dark valley to their objective. There was no moon. Night-glasses showed clearly enough the scars of new roads through old fields, the spoil heaps left by heavy plant machinery. It was the surface of an alien world, blighted by war.
The perimeter fence was floodlit, so too was the compound inside. Dozers, scrapers, loaders and diggers were parked haphazardly, made grotesque by stark light and solid shadow. A tough nut to crack. But they knew every building, every store, the timing and number of each patrol. And the Iraqis, at least, were pleased with the standard of their specialist team; four men--plus one.
It had taken Bodie some while to become fully aware of the presence at his side. The chain around his neck had brought a feeling of closeness right from the start, but it was not until the first raid over two weeks ago that he realised Doyle was there. He didn't question it. Where else would his oppo be, but guarding his back? From then on Doyle shared his life as he had before; commenting, contributing, reacting, responding. There was no more aloneness, no more silent pain. They were a team again.
He was there now, and Bodie did not have to turn his head to know it. Doyle would be lying beside him on the rough ground, dressed as he was, face smeared with blacking, eyes squinting across the valley, assessing the task in hand.
Another vague form moved slightly, and stones chinked.
"Isn't gonna be easy," Barry muttered. "Bodie, what'd'you think?" By tacit agreement, the men looked to him for leadership, from the first day he'd arrived. Even Hal, whose mind was locked into the horrifying time-loop of a Vietnam hell most of the time, when Barry and cocaine could not distract him.
"Did you think you were going to tea with Auntie May in Melbourne?" he snapped. "Forget the lights, they're not the problem. Nor are the guards. It's the fence we have to worry about, and that's my department. Move out."
They moved out, heading along the ridge for half a mile then down into the fields to come up to the perimeter from the rear. Four men, plus one.
Then, when they were on the edge of the arc lights' reach, it began to go wrong.
"Sir," said Hal, voice a flat hiss. "Are we taking prisoners for interrogation?"
"No," said Bodie, ignoring the almost soundless groan in his head and Tariq's muttered curse. "No prisoners, Hal. And no noise, either."
"He'll be okay," Barry cut in, defensive as ever.
"He better be." Bodie fixed the Australian with a bleak stare. "Or I'll put him out of his misery myself. Take your positions." Barry opened his mouth to argue, but thought better of it and crawled away, Hal at his side.
'Stupid bugger's crazier than you are,' a familiar voice whispered in Bodie's inner ear.
"He shouldn't be here," Tariq spat. "He could get us all killed."
"Agreed," Bodie said to both of them. "But we're lumbered with him. Until he puts a foot wrong." It was unfortunate that Barry was the best bloody chopperman the Iraqis had, and part of his contract said that Hal went where he did. Vietnam skills, Vietnam casualties. Bodie had no compassion for either of them.
'Poor sod,' Doyle murmured inside his head. 'He'd be better off dead....'
"That can be arranged," Bodie said. "Tariq, keep your eyes skinned."
Bodie sprinted across the levelled ground and flattened by the fence. It was electrified and security rigged, and would require very careful handling. Doyle was close at his side, his quiet confidence providing another layer of steel over Bodie's nerves.
Working with swift skill, he set up the by-passes, his touch and the weight of the gadgetry never enough to trigger the distant alarm. Then he cut one strand, making a gap just wide enough for a man to slide through....
Silent as black ghosts, they followed him into the compound, and Bodie checked each face as they passed him on their way to their pre-planned tasks. Tariq's was a mask of grim determination. Barry looked strained about the mouth, but his eyes were steady under frowning brows. Hal's normally expressionless face was scowling, and sweat sheened his darkened skin.
'He's going to crack--' The thought slid unbidden into his head, but Bodie said nothing. There was nothing he could do. It was up to Barry to keep the broken mind out of Vietnam and concentrating on present-day sabotage in Iran. All he needed was time enough to set his charges and get clear.
He wasn't given it. With the last one set, timer clicking silently round, he started back for the hole in the fence, saw Tariq gliding from shadow to shadow over to his right. Then from his left, where Hal and Barry had their station, came an echoing rattle of automatic fire. Tariq froze, half-turned, and Bodie waved him on, diving through the gap on his heels.
A siren sent out its demented yowling, more shots rang out, and men were shouting. An engine started up, orders were yelled, harsh and staccato.
"Bodie--what about Barry and--" Tariq began.
"Forget 'em," Bodie snapped. "They know the score."
"But the chopper--"
"I can fly it. Move, damn you."
And all the time he was aware of the presence at his side, could feel the electric anticipation in the lean frame, and the added intensity of the green gaze drilling into him as he ran--
Halfway across the valley, the first of the charges went up, and they hurled themselves to the ground as the sky was painted with fire. Then the second exploded, followed in swift succession by the remaining four.
The concussion of the massive detonations rang in their skulls, the shockwaves plucked at their clothing and then they were up and running through the devastated night, all hell let loose behind them, and someone was laughing as they ran.
They reached the jeep without pursuit, paused on the ridge to look back.
The site was an inferno, but there were vehicles moving, headlamps throwing pencils of light across landscape and sky. Small sparks and sharp cracks told of distant shots fired, and from their vantage point Bodie caught brief glimpses of two swift-moving shapes.
His instinct was to leave them behind, to stick to the time schedule and make for the chopper. But green eyes speared him, held him rooted there, and a quiet, almost exultant voice whispered, '--wait--'
So he waited.
Hal burst out of the bushes, and Bodie raised his gun, finger light on the trigger.
"A random patrol," Barry gasped, shoving Hal down behind a boulder. "We walked right into the bastards!" Getting the words out fast, as if to block any contradiction.
"Got me some more ears," Hal announced. "Ain't no one in the mob's got more'n me."
Bodie's gun remained rock-steady on the man's belly, a deadly intent in his stillness, his unwavering stare. "Ears?" he drawled. "Whose ears, Halford, my son?"
"VC, sir." Puzzled eyes squinted at him, plainly wondering at his ignorance. "Figured that since we weren't taking no prisoners, I could collect me some more--" he went on over Barry's furious attempts to shut him up. "Charlie was bloody surprised when I--"
Bodie's shot and the barrage of mortar-fire came together, and the shells exploded around them. One struck the concealed jeep, and the petrol tank went up with a rush of searing flame. But Bodie didn't see it.
Stunned and bleeding, he came round to torchlight scalding his blinking eyes, and pain that gnawed at every bone, slowing coordination, understanding--
Hands caught at him, equipment and weapons were taken with savage haste, then his watch. And fingers fumbled at his throat for the clasp of the silver chain.
A scream of agony shattered through his skull--Doyle's face, twisted, bleeding, terror black in the staring eyes--dying--Bodie's yell of denial, his berserk and desperate retaliation, took the Iranians by surprise, and they would have killed him then if Barry had not chosen revenge. Crouched in the dust, his face contorted with grief and hate, and his gut-shot partner curled in his arms, the Australian made sure Bodie would not find a quick release in death. He told them part of who and what he was--their leader--C15--British Intelligence-- It was enough, and weight of numbers hammered him into temporary oblivion.
But the chain was gone. And when Bodie regained consciousness and a brief, spurious sanity, so too was Ray Doyle.
Nagy walked through the hard light of the mid-morning sun, looking cool, alert, and confident. Above all, confident. Bodie waited for him, relaxed and at his ease, eyes slitted against the brightness.
"Hi," said Nagy. "Been thinking out the deal?"
"Off and on," Bodie shrugged. "My memory's pretty good, y'know. I amaze myself, sometimes, the things I can remember. And without getting a headache."
"We got a deal, then?"
"Maybe. Depends, doesn't it?"
"Oh, yeah. My token of good faith, right? Here," he smiled, and held out his hand, fingers closed.
Automatically, Bodie extended his own hand, palm up, and silver flowed the few inches to coil in the hollow of his palm.
Cool silver, taking no warmth from its brief time in Nagy's grasp.
"Well?" the agent drawled easily, "I hope you're gonna be grateful--I went to a lot of trouble tracking that down."
Link for twisted link, it was identical. But it was cold, empty, and the clasp was securely clipped on a jump-ring.
"A lot of trouble?" Bodie echoed. His voice was little more than a whisper, and the sure knowledge of the duplicity--betrayal--scorched its acid through the hopes he hadn't known he'd built up. "How many bazaars are there in this neck of the woods?" He raised his eyes to Nagy's face, saw the thin, tanned features with unnatural clarity, felt his mouth stretch in a smile. "What kind of fool do you take me for?" he asked, accents mild, almost gentle, and tossed the bright thing aside into the dust.
"Now hold on--"
Whiplash fast, the edge of Bodie's hand chopped across Nagy's throat. The man staggered back, a shout choked to a sickening gurgle, and Bodie followed him, reaching out with deceptive, casual speed. His fingers clamped on the man's windpipe, thumbs pressing deep. He did not go for the carotid, that would make it too quick. Nagy was going to know he was dying.
"It's not our chain," he said, watching with detached satisfaction as blue-red colour mottled his victim's face. Bloody foam flecked the working mouth, and Bodie increased the pressure, bearing down. Nagy collapsed to his knees, body writhing, hands clawing uselessly, eyes bulging with congested blood-- "It's not our chain," Bodie repeated. "Shouldn't have done that, Gregory old friend."
Shouts, and running footsteps thudded on the dry-packed dirt of the courtyard. But he took no notice. All his concentration was centred on the choking man, waiting for the final convulsions-- A rifle butt slammed against the side of his head, and he toppled into a black pit.
"Why did you do it?" they asked him, much later. He laughed, and wouldn't say.
Bodie saw no one but Mahdi for several days, and that graduate of Reading University had little to say for himself. Then the routine was broken again.
Another visitor--but not Bjornsen, he guessed. There was no shower, no clean clothes, not even a fresh bandage for the clotted wound above his ear. It wouldn't be another KGB man, either, not after Nagy. Bodie smiled. No one would try to trick him again, that was for sure.
His visitor was waiting in the cleared courtyard, and there was something familiar in the set of the stocky shoulders. Close-cropped, prematurely grey hair and an old/young face, civilian clothes worn with military neatness, stance erect, almost parade-rest--
"Pascal Juventas," Bodie drawled. "As I live and breathe."
"Bodie." A swift smile, brown eyes guarded but friendly. "I wondered if you'd remember me."
"It's been a long time," he acknowledged cheerfully. "Still with the old mob?"
"Ah. Don't tell me, the Iraqis are demanding a refund. Tell 'em to stuff it--I did the jobs."
"They're not complaining. It wasn't your fault the operation wasn't concluded as planned."
"Too right, mate," Bodie snorted. "Bloody amateurs. So why are you here?"
"Tarquin sent me."
"The Mojahedin think that your release at their hands would both embarrass the Council and block the plans for you. So they bought your freedom from us. Besides, you're more useful to Tarquin back in circulation than shut away in Lubianka. Or Capetown, or Washington. Or dead."
"True," he agreed smoothly. "Going to spring me, are you?"
"Yes. You have no objections, I take it?"
"Objections? Had 'em surgically removed at an early age. Heard about Gregor, did you?"
"Yes," Juventas nodded slowly. "You were a little hasty there, perhaps." Bodie shrugged. "Why did you kill him?"
"He didn't do a good enough job of humouring the insane," he said. "I'd hate for you to make the same mistake, Pascal."
"Oh, no. Not me," Tarquin's lieutenant chuckled quietly. "Nor will I underestimate you. I've known you too long for that, my friend. We'll have you out of here in two nights' time, we'll have plenty of time then to talk over the old days."
"Yeah," said Bodie. "Look forward to it." They shook hands with conscious formality and Juventas turned to go. Then paused.
"I nearly forgot," he said, and brought a folded, dirty envelope out of his pocket. "This is yours."
Bodie took the small packet, and a strange constriction tightened through his ribs. His fingertips seemed to tingle from the contact, and he knew what was hidden inside the creased paper. He kept it closed in his fist, shoved the fist casually into his trouser pocket.
"Thanks," he said, voice non-committal.
Alone in his cell with the swift dusk darkening the sky and deepening the shadows that filled the small room, Bodie unwrapped the envelope. The chain poured into his hand, lay on his palm warm as fingers resting there. The tears that had never been shed burned behind his eyes, but did not fall. Neither changed nor weakened by the long parting, Ray Doyle's presence seemed to form before him in the cell, bringing life to the dead and empty places in his soul, beginning to heal the raw wounds.
And now that he had the strength, he would settle another debt--words left unsaid because he would not admit, even to himself, the vital and necessary part that one person had played in his life. More than partner, more than friend, over the years of working together Doyle had somehow become his conscience, his humanity; had given him a rare companionship, total trust--and also a sanctuary where he need have no guards, no barriers.
Right from the start, their relationship had been bristling with friction, mistrust, a certain disrespect and antipathy. But from those fires they'd forged a partnership without realising it, and that had deepened into respect and reluctant liking.
From his early teens Bodie had lived with danger, knew the way that Death could reach out unexpectedly for a man; and knew the price paid by friends when one died. So he had always consciously held aloof from anything more than a casual friendship.
But Ray Doyle had become much more.
He could not pin down exactly when or why the sexual awareness should have come to change things. But it had, and not as a bolt of lightning. It had grown slowly, as the earlier friendship had grown, unrecognised for the most part. But he could remember the date and place of the first time buried impulses took over and became a reality: November 29th, Doyle's flat.
He smiled in the settling gloom, closed his fingers over the chain, and deliberately conjured the memory.
The insistent bleeping forced Bodie partially awake, and he groped blindly for his transmitter to turn the thing off.
"It's mine," Brenda whispered.
"What?" Her warm weight moved from his side, and after a moment she rummaged in her handbag. The noise ceased.
"I told you, we're on standby. Where does Ray keep his phone?"
"Over there, by the bookshelves."
He reached for the switch of the standard-lamp, switched it on, and propped himself up on one elbow to watch her cross the room. Her naked skin glowed rose-gold in the subdued light, shadows beneath her breasts emphasizing their perfect shape--
"Standby?" He sat bolt upright, realisation dampening the growing arousal in his groin.
"I told you," she repeated, dialling numbers. "I'm sorry, love, but you know how it is. At least," she added, her eyes travelling slowly the length of his body, "we've had fun for part of the night--hello? Nurse Allen--you buzzed me--"
From upstairs came muffled voices, a door clicked, and the second tread down from the top creaked.
"Yes, she is. What's the problem?--oh, strewth. We're on our way." She put the phone down and began to scramble into her clothes as Lucy came into the room, already dressed, a bathrobed Doyle on her heels.
"What's up?" the girl asked, anxious and tense.
"Multiple crash--a couple of artics and a coach-load of pensioners coming back from a day-trip to Paris."
"Oh, God." She looked round for her coat, and Doyle rescued it from a chair, held it while she shrugged into it. "Ray, I'm sorry, but--"
"It's okay, I understand," he said ruefully. "Duty calls. I've had to run out on a few dates myself."
"I'll make it up to you," Brenda whispered, and turned into Bodie's arms, lifting her face for his kiss. Her mouth opened for his probing tongue, and her nails dug into his shoulders as she clung to him.
"I have to go," she murmured.
"Yeah. Just remember where we got to, and next time we'll carry on where we left off."
She giggled. "Promise?"
"Promise," echoed Doyle, face buried in Lucy's red hair. "You better hop it quick, before I lose all control and--stop it--"
"Just want to make sure you don't forget me, lover. Call me tomorrow evening?"
"This evening," he corrected. "Sevenish?"
"Fine. 'Bye, love."
The door shut behind them, and seconds later a car accelerated away.
Doyle heaved a sigh, and wandered to the couch, sat on the arm and investigated the whisky bottle on the coffee table. It held about two inches of liquid, and he took a healthy swig before handing it over to Bodie.
"The biters bit," he muttered. "How many times have we been called in from dates?"
"Too many." But there was no resentment in Bodie. Still half-asleep, Brenda's kiss and teasing fingers had left him floating on a pleasant cloud of drowsy arousal. Doyle didn't look so happy. He squinted up at his partner's profile, and chuckled quietly. Perched on the end of the couch, hunched in his white bathrobe, there was a heavy-lidded languor about the green eyes and a fullness to the shaped mouth that told the story.
"'S not funny," Doyle protested, taking back the bottle. "What I need is a cold shower--and you're in no state to snigger, mate, lying there playing tent-poles without a tent."
"Night's too young for cold showers," he grinned, and collected a very jaundiced stare.
"I gave up jacking off when I was fourteen," Doyle snapped. Bodie sat up and grabbed his hand, held the fingers flat--
"Hmm, no hair on his palm, Watson--"
"Daft sod. Have a drink."
"That's more like it. Just getting down to the short strokes, were you?"
"Not far off. Oh, well. No one's died yet of terminal lovers' nuts. Don't hog all that, for God's sake." He reached too late for the bottle to snatch it back; Bodie fended him off, got a handful of towelling, and instead of pushing, pulled, dropping the empty bottle.
Owlish with surprise and alcohol, Doyle's wide eyes blinked at him from the distance of a few inches.
"You are bloody heavy," Bodie remarked, and kissed him.
There was a moment of frozen astonishment, then Doyle made one convulsive attempt to break free--it wasn't coordinated and all it achieved was further displacement of the bathrobe and the smooth glide of flesh on flesh.
Bodie caught his breath as unexpected pleasure rippled through him, and his arms tightened around the tensed body.
"Of course," he whispered, "if you'd sooner have that cold shower...." He got no answer, but neither did Doyle pull away. "Wassamatter?" A complacent drawl. "Chicken?" and stroked one hand down the lean flank. He felt Doyle shiver, felt his hips press down in an instinctive response--saw the eyes grow smoky and the mouth relax into a half-smile.
"I'll try anything once," Doyle said huskily, and moved again; a slow, sensual stretch that fired the smouldering desire to furnace heat.
Begun as casual expediency, the relationship developed into something else during the four months, though he had refused to admit it. Looking back he could see Doyle's awareness of that subtle alteration, his acceptance of it; and see also that sometimes the hurt had shown when he, Bodie, had deliberately sought to negate the growing commitment, to keep it at the basic level of satisfying a physical hunger.
Time to admit it now. Okay, the sex was great, but after the athletics and the fireworks, the important thing was the deep, quiet pleasure of holding and being held, the enfolding content of lying together, and the pool of peace that spread through his soul when he was relaxed along Doyle's side, strong arms around him, and the steady beat of Doyle's heart under his ear.
He closed his eyes to the prison cell, to the bars stark against the rising disc of the moon, saw instead the strange, almost medieval quality of the bone-flawed face and slanting, feline eyes.
"I love you," he said.
All that remained now was the tying up of loose ends. And he would have only a day to do it. Juventas had said he'd be out of there the following night, and Juventas always delivered.
There was no time for subtlety--besides, that was Doyle's forte, not his. He enjoyed going in mob-handed. He smiled in the darkness, seeing in his mind's eye the expression of exasperation and tolerant affection that crossed his partner's face.
"Okay, Professor. So what else do you expect?" he demanded. "Can't change a leopard's spots, can you? Well, not all of 'em," he added.
That night he slept more deeply than he had for months, awoke in the pre-dawn greyness, and began his day as he usually did, with an hour's concentration on the katas.
Then Mahdi came, and Bodie smiled at him with loving gentleness.
"Bjornsen's back," the guard said. "Out."
He obeyed, his obedience clearly surprising the man, and walked ahead of the levelled rifle out into the courtyard.
The sun hung in the east like a polished brass coin, and the sky was a hazy ochre-grey on the horizon. There would be wind later on. But already the transient freshness had been scorched from the morning, and in a few hours the heat in the courtyard would be blistering.
There was a jaunty bounce to his stride, the blood was singing in his veins, life tingled electric through muscles end nerves, and the aura of danger flared around him like a flourished cloak.
Mahdi was tense, wary as a man walking beside an uncaged predator, but it did him no good. In the centre of the courtyard Bodie turned on him, knocked aside the gun and waded in with silent ferocity.
By the time more guards came running, Mahdi was choking to death in his own blood, and Bodie had the rifle. He did not attempt to keep them at bay, but held the trigger down and scythed bullets across the courtyard at waist-height, his laughter ringing above the staccato chuckle of the automatic-- An invisible fist punched him on the shoulder, hurling him back against the wall. He didn't lose consciousness, just lay there in the dust letting the numbness spread, the heavy gun falling from nerveless fingers.
"That should do it," he said, and beside him Doyle gave a rueful, exasperated snort.
'Mob-handed,' he murmured. 'Dumb crud.'
The trial was too hurried to be even a show-piece, but that didn't matter. He could serve their purpose dead as well as he would alive.
Propped between armed guards, broken shoulder crudely bandaged, wrist manacled to useless wrist, he laughed at them. He taunted them with insults, goaded them with ridicule, a fierce exultant flame burning through him that awed, terrified and enraged his audience. Half in vengeance, half in superstitious fear, the imams passed judgement.
The justice of the Koran was not delayed; they did not wish to let him live through the day. Bodie was taken out to the designated place, and walked to meet his executioner as a victor to his laurels, blazing with triumph.
The man was tall, massive in his robes, and the sword held poised in his hands glistened with a silver purity. Bodie nodded. All his life he had lived by the metaphoric sword. It was fitting he should die by the reality.
They did not have to force him down, nor restrain him. He knelt on the stony ground--but would not bow his head for the blade.
He did not see the crowds, nor the rising sweep of the ancient weapon. He looked into smoky green eyes, and he was laughing as the shining arc of steel sang down.
-- THE END --
Published in Friends Will Be Friends 2, Crevichon Press, 1993