"Sit down," Cowley said, and they sat, as obedient as dogs at Crufts.
He studied them, feature by feature, letting the silence grow, examining the two utterly different faces. As he had known he would be, Bodie was the first to become restless, impatient. Doyle remained impassive. Neither man spoke.
Cowley nodded, a silent assent to the question he had been asking himself since Cavanagh's visit.
"Sir William Maitland," he said, taking a photograph out of a file and putting it in front of them. They stared at the image, a grim-faced man in his late fifties, white hair thinning, a white moustache above thin lips and a stubborn chin. "Richard Maitland." A second photo joined it, a young man, dark hair cut short, eyes frowning at the camera. It was a handsome face, marked with a sullen nervousness, skin pale, eyes dark-ringed, jaw jutting with an inherited stubbornness.
"Looks familiar," said Doyle. "Do we know him?"
"No." Cowley's smile was entirely mirthless. "He bears a marked resemblance to Bodie. They could be a twin."
"What?" Outrage from Bodie. "Not bloody likely! He doesn't look a bit like me."
"Yes, I see what you mean," Doyle said thoughtfully. "Sending him in as a ringer, sir?"
"Yes. Something like that. Pay attention, Bodie. Sir William is an old friend of mine, we went to school together. So too is Joel Cavanagh." A third photo appeared; another man in his late fifties, dark hair greying at the temples, swept straight back from a high forehead. "Joel had been meaning to look me up for some time with a problem of his own, but was not sure if it was CI5 material or not. After a meeting with Sir William and a comparing of notes, they decided their two problems could well be one.
"Sir William is the head of the Constable Research Unit at Cambridge. Last month, his chief assistant's son was caught going through his father's research notes. They had a row, the boy ran out. The next morning he was found hanging in the orchard. Suicide. He left a note which Sir William kept from the police. It is somewhat ambiguous; our experts reckon it was written under the influence of drugs, and certainly cocaine was found in the boy's system at the post mortem. However, it does tie in with some of the things he'd yelled at his father during their quarrel. The boy was under pressure from an unidentified person or persons to obtain information on the Research Unit's current project--a so-called miracle-drug--the lever being blackmail with some unspecified photographs, and the lad's addiction to cocaine. He had been an habitué of some rather expensive London nightclubs, and this is where the two problems become one. Joel is the leader of a 1930's style dance band that plays alternate nights at two of these clubs. He was in Intelligence during the War, and he is convinced that one of the clubs is being used for some kind of underhand activity. He thought drugs, but it could also be blackmail."
"Does it link in with any other security leaks, sir?" Doyle asked.
"Possibly. We've no concrete proof, but what we could have here is a gang who specialize in industrial espionage using inside contacts through blackmail. There have been a number of cases over the last year that could fit this pattern. The relevant files are here for your perusal. I intend to put a stop to their activities, and have come to an arrangement with Sir William and Joel. And Richard Maitland." He glared at Bodie, and daring him to speak out of turn. "He is Sir William's only child, and is something of a black sheep. He's spent the last six years in San Francisco, living a somewhat bohemian life, and has been estranged from his family since he was sent down from Cambridge. The official reason was drug-taking--cannabis. What was not general knowledge was that he had also been caught in a compromising situation with his History don. His time in San Francisco reflects the same indulgences; drugs and a series of homosexual liaisons." He broke off, the better to appreciate Bodie's expression of dumbfounded and outraged horror. Doyle, his face contorted with suppressed laughter, leaned over and patted Bodie's knee.
"Never mind, sweetheart," he snickered. "It couldn't happen to a nicer girl."
Bodie took several deep breaths, and controlled himself.
"I see, sir," he said through gritted teeth. "I'm supposed to stroll into this bloody club, pick up a feller and get myself blackmailed. Right?"
"Something like that," Cowley agreed cheerfully. "Maitland has been flown back to this country and is safely stowed away in our care. Sir William will let it be known that he is anxious to be reconciled to his son, providing he gives up his rackety lifestyle and settles down to a respectable job with a respectable girl who'll become a respectable wife. In the meantime, Richard Maitland will appear in London under another name, attached in some way to Joel Cavanagh's band. Do you play an instrument, Bodie?"
"Triangle," Doyle supplied, ribaldly delighted.
"Guitar," Bodie snapped. "And piano. But I don't like 1930's music."
"You'll learn to like it," Cowley said. "Joel has just gained a pianist."
"Who," Bodie snarled, "do I pick up? Anybody?"
"No. A casual pick-up is too random. There would have to be a lot more at stake, more to pressurize Maitland with." His gaze moved to Doyle, and the wide grin faded to wall-eyed wariness.
"Oh, no. Not me."
"Yes," said Cowley.
"He's not my type!" Bodie protested, his own grin growing as Doyle's disappeared. "Far too butch and hairy."
"He won't be by the time we've finished with him," Cowley said grimly.
"Now wait a minute!" Doyle yelped. "There's no way--"
"Oh, yes, mate!" Bodie interrupted. "If I'm going to be made the laughing stock of CI5, there is no way I'm going to leave you on the outside to stir up more bad jokes at my expense. You're going to be right in there with me!"
"Exactly," said Cowley. "Doyle, can you sing?"
"'Course he can sing," Bodie cut in. "Pour enough alcohol into him and the trick is to stop him. No one knows more verses of Eskimo Nell than he does."
"No," snapped Doyle. "I can't."
"Then you're going to have to learn. I want you to be a visible part of the Cavanagh outfit, and Joel is prepared to stretch a point and let you take over his vocal spot. If you're good enough. If not, we'll have to think of something else." Doyle heaved a sigh, glowering and sullen in his chair.
"Yes, sir," he muttered. "I take it you've got it all worked out, sir?"
"Yes. Bodie, make a start on these files--that one is Richard Maitland from birth to this morning. Memorize every last word. Doyle, come with me. They're waiting for you in the basement."
"Oh, Christ," he moaned. "The things I do for my country." Bodie laughed and blew him a kiss as he trailed in Cowley's wake.
The resources of CI5 are many and various, and the gentleman waiting for them in one of the small basement photographic studios was not known to Doyle. He eyed the immaculate pinstripe suit and lavender shirt with some distrust, was appraised in his turn with speculation, amusement and appreciation.
Cowley did not perform introductions.
"Sit down, Doyle," he snapped. "All right, Jason, what do you suggest?"
"A change in his expression for a start," the man sighed. "The photos were useful, but I want to see what I'm working with."
"Poker up, 4.5," Cowley ordered. "You're not getting out of this, so make the best of it."
Doyle muttered under his breath and schooled his features into a blank mask.
"That's better." Jason walked round the chair. "An extraordinary face," he said thoughtfully. "The hair first, I think. A lightener to bring out the auburn in it. Reshape the eyebrows slightly, just enough to emphasize that arch, and darken his eyelashes. They are beautifully long, but the ends are bleached out. "
"Mascara?" Doyle bleated, horrified.
"Heavens, no, dear boy." Jason chuckled. "A semi-permanent tinting. You'll be amazed at the difference it'll make. It will also take years off your age. We're aiming for middle twenties."
"Oh, God," he groaned.
"How long will all that take?" Cowley asked, ignoring him.
"An hour or so. We'll be ready for the photographs by then, I should think."
"Good. I'll be back. Doyle, cooperate."
Cowley returned to his office. Bodie was well into Maitland's file, an expression of settled gloom on his face.
"This--pillock is a right twat," he announced as Cowley entered. "How's Ray doing?"
"Simmering. How good a singer is he?"
"Not bad, if he doesn't fool around," Bodie conceded. "How in hell's name do you intend to turn that nutter into a fairy queen? Sir?"
"Window-dressing, Bodie. You'll be surprised. Leave the file for now, you can read it later. Your name is Richard Maitland, but you'll use the name of Foster, that being your mother's maiden name. 4.5 can go in as Ray Duncan. You met him in San Francisco, and you have a settled, virtually married, relationship, strong enough for you to be reluctant to let him go, even with the parental fortune at stake. You are dominant and possessive, and known for your chancy temper. I don't think you'll have much trouble with those characteristics, do you?"
"Huh. Probably not, sir. But Doyle isn't going to be happy with the fairy queen role."
"He'll manage. Joel is auditioning all this week at these two addresses. You'd better be good enough for him to be justified in hiring you, so practice all you can. I just hope Doyle can pass muster as a vocalist. Once you're in, concentrate on establishing yourself as a bona fide pianist, with Ray Duncan as resident boyfriend. Don't go hunting trouble, inviting contacts with the opposition, just play the piano and keep house. Sir William will be hiring a private eye to track down his lost sheep--we'll stage the reunion and the ultimatum, and let events take their course. You can get rooms at this address, it's a ten minute walk from one club, twenty minutes from the other. The rent is cheap, they have vacancies, and it is in an unquestioning neighbourhood. Equity cards--you'll both need 'em. Ray Duncan is also going to register with a couple of model agencies. But the only stage work you've both done was in the States. You're down to your last few pounds, so need jobs to pay the rent--you'd better blow some of your expenses on a cheap piano."
"Not at the moment, sir."
"Good. Get on with your reading," and he left him to it.
Doyle scowled at his reflection, the angry belligerence at odds with the effect Jason was still striving to achieve.
"What the bloody hell am I supposed to do when this case is wrapped up?" he demanded. "Walk around with a bag over my head until it grows out? I look like a raving poof!!"
"You do not!" Jason snapped, exasperation overcoming self-control. "Androgynous is the word, and it does not mean the same thing."
"It does in my book, sunshine," Doyle snarled. "This is ridiculous! I'm not going to be able to live this down."
"You are a strikingly attractive young man," Jason pointed out from the region of his left shoulder.
"Striking being the operative word, mate," Doyle snapped. "Have you finished with me?"
"No, not yet. We need photographs."
"What for, for God's sake?"
"Model agencies," Cowley said crisply, coming in and shutting the door firmly behind him. "Good heavens. A remarkable transformation, Jason."
"Don't you start!" Doyle yelled.
"It's amazing what a few small details can achieve," Jason agreed, complacently. "Of course, his present attitude is wrong for the created image, but once he is into character out on the street, he shouldn't be faulted."
"He'd better not be." Cowley fixed angry green eyes with a cold blue stare. "On your feet, 4.5. We need publicity shots. Carry on, Jason. Don't mind me," and he took over Doyle's vacated chair, favouring his bad leg.
"These aren't going to be mug-shots, Ray, so relax," Jason said, voice chatty, as of one passing the time of day with a bomb that might explode if the wind changed direction. "And, er, you'd better start getting into your skin. I mean, start thinking and moving like Ray Duncan."
"Oh, strewth." Doyle sighed, and minced onto the small dais surrounded by spotlights. "How's that, ducks?"
"Awful," Jason snapped. "The boy is not the Camping Queen of Islington! Underplay, Ray, underplay. Be subtle about it! Make him fey, ethereal--he doesn't flounce, he drifts. Use your eyes and eyelashes, your mouth, the way girls do to you. But be subtle about it," he repeated earnestly. "Forget the stereotype fem gay. This boy has got to have class, and a lot more beside, if Maitland is to risk his father's anger and money for him."
"Why did I ever join CI5?" Doyle complained. "Okay, I'll do my best. I'm cooperating, so tell me what to do."
"Move and freeze as I tell you--turn and look to the top left--good--you'll have to wash your hair every day to keep that soft aureole effect--look straight at the camera and tilt your chin up--hold it--that's fine--and you'll have to shave as many times a day as you need to, to keep beard-shadow away. Undo your shirt to the waist--hands on hips--keep your chin tilted--good. Do you have any jewellery? Chains?"
"Got a silver one I used to wear."
"No good. It has to be gold for your colouring. George?"
"Get what you think suitable," Cowley said plummily. Doyle groaned.
"Have you forgotten the wedding ring?" he demanded, acidly.
"No doubt Richard will provide one, when he can afford it," Cowley said, and Jason chuckled; unnecessarily, in Doyle's opinion.
Bodie yawned, stretched, and rubbed the back of his neck. Cowley came into the office with a deceptively brisk stride, a twitch of a smile about his mouth and a sheaf of photographs under one arm.
"Finished Maitland's dossier?" he asked. "Good. Read it again. Later. Take them all home with you and brief Doyle. He's waiting for you in the car."
"In the car?" Bodie repeated, eyebrows climbing.
"Yes." The twitch became a definite smile. "He refused to walk through more corridors than he had to, to get out of here."
"Poor old sod." Bodie grinned. "What've they done to him, sir? Tarted him up like a Christmas-tree fairy?"
"Not exactly." Cowley spread the coloured photos in front of him in a wide sweep. "Take a look for yourself."
"Good God," said Bodie, blankly. He'd been expecting a parody of Doyle's aggressive masculinity, not a feline, fine-boned androgyne with the face of a flawed and fallen angel, and the shock unhinged his jaw. "Good God," he said again. "Never mind about getting a job. I could hire him out by the hour and rake in one hell of a profit."
"You do, and it'll be taken out of your salary," Cowley countered immediately.
"Naturally," Bodie sighed. "When does this job start? Officially, that is?"
"As far as you're concerned, it already has. I suggest you leave Doyle at his flat to read the files, then go and rent the rooms--on foot. You can't afford a car. You can move in tomorrow morning. Get a move on, before Doyle changes his mind and hands in his resignation."
"Yes, sir." Bodie grinned, and left at a fast lope.
Doyle was a disgruntled silhouette hunched in the passenger seat, coat collar turned up about his ears, half-masking his face. Bodie leered at him, tossing the wedge of folders onto the back seat, and climbing in under the steering wheel.
"Okay," he said brightly. "Let's have a look at you. Bloody hell, Ray, I wouldn't have thought it possible." Doyle glared at him, eyes startlingly green under the mane of copper fire.
"One crack, one smartass remark, and I will rip your guts out with my bare hands," he breathed, sorely tried.
"Wouldn't dream of it." Bodie swallowed the chuckle that threatened to break through his control. "What did they actually do? Apart from make your hair redder?"
"Just drive, will you?" Doyle snapped. And refused to open his mouth until he was back in the safety of his own flat, and had taken a few swallows of coffee.
"So what did they do?" Bodie repeated, peering closely at him. "Makeup? Your eyes look different."
"No!" Doyle stiff-armed him away. "He used a lightener on my hair, some kind of dye-stuff on my lashes, and sort of reshaped my eyebrows. Satisfied?"
"That's all?" Bodie was startled.
"What did you expect? Plastic surgery?" Doyle yelled.
"Okay, okay," Bodie soothed, aware that this was no time for flippancy. "Calm down, Ray. It's only window-dressing," borrowing Cowley's phrase, "and the job isn't going to last forever. I'd better go and see about this damn flat--shall I bring back a Chinese take-away? There's a hell of a lot of paperwork to get through."
"Yeah. Okay. Thanks." Doyle looked at him, and for the first time a smile took away the scowling mask. "Sorry. Those bastards back there gave me a rough time getting out to the car."
"I'll bet they did," Bodie said, ruefully. "Don't get me wrong, Ray, but you look like a million dollars, and there was me expecting the Queen of the May."
"Hah!" Doyle snorted, the scowl back in place. "The word, according to Jason, is androgynous."
"Is it? I'll take his word for it. Won't be long, and keep the door on the chain, okay?"
"Sod off!" Doyle yelled, and he beat a fast retreat.
Bodie left the car several streets away from the apartment block, a four-storey Victorian edifice divided into eight flatlets. The landlord inhabited the basement, and reluctantly heaved himself up flights of stairs to the second-floor apartment, treating his prospective tenant with a wheezing monologue of rules and regulations: no pets, no children, no radio or TV after midnight. Bodie speculated wild-eyed on the possibility of everyone turning into pumpkins at the witching hour; the landlord looked as if he had been interrupted halfway through his vegetable transmogrification.
As a flat, it made his own apartment seem like an annex to Buck House. A bedroom, a living room, a bathroom that was merely a curtained alcove containing a bath with a hot water geyser and an antediluvian flush-toilet, and a kitchen that was an uncurtained alcove containing a sink, a work top, a fridge of sorts, and a smaller water heater. All mod cons?
"Meters are in the broom cupboard. Rent's a month payable in advance, one month's notice to be given or payment in lieu," the landlord recited, as Bodie gazed around him at the old, worn furniture. The place smelt stale, but not damp.
"Can we bring in a piano?" he asked. "I'm a musician "
"Yus. But you don't play after midnight."
"Uh, okay. Do we have to be in by midnight?" he added.
"Please yerself what bleedin' time you come in, mate." Watery brown eyes raked him in mild contempt. "D'you want it 'r not?"
"Yes," said Bodie, smiling with all his teeth. "Can we move in tomorrow?"
"Yus. As long as the rent's paid, you can move in when you like."
Bodie pulled notes out of his hip pocket.
"How much?" he said.
On the way back to the car, he stopped at a junk shop, cleared cardboard boxes of paperbacks off an aged piano sitting on the pavement, and prodded a few keys. They seemed to work, so he stretched his fingers and attempted a shaky run at some scales. The thing seemed to be more or less in tune. A period of fierce haggling with the proprietor followed, at the end of which Bodie was the proud possessor of a piano with terminal woodworm, a music stool likewise afflicted, and the stool's contents; a goldmine of old sheet music. All for fifteen quid.
He made a quick sprint to the phone box a few yards away.
"Hi, Cuddles," he warbled, as Doyle's voice answered. "Guess what I've just bought us?"
"For God's sake, Bodie--"
"Our house-warming pressie, just to show how much I love you."
"A piano, and I'm not going to be the only one to get a hernia shifting it. Come on over and give me a hand getting it up to the flat."
"Second floor. It's not that large, as pianos go."
"Yes, I know. You love me too. It's Charlie's Emporium on Carters Lane. Know it?"
"Yes! Where did you park?"
"In front of the hat shop in Thackeray Road."
"Okay, I'll be there. Why don't you sit and practice your scales? Lover-boy." And the phone slammed down.
When Doyle arrived at the junk-shop, he found Bodie doing just that.
"Sometimes I wonder about you," he grumbled. "Has it got castors?"
"You're the only person I know who can make castors sound like a social disease." Bodie grinned. "It's got three. Isn't it lucky?"
"Isn't it just. I'll take the stool-thing, you can bring the piano."
"Try again, you didn't get it quite right. How about if we tie the whole lot together with string, we can get it there in one go."
"You are insane!" But he was laughing, suddenly infected with Bodie's particular brand of madness. "Okay, Butch, where's Home Sweet Home?"
"Down there, across the road and round the corner."
"Christ. Oh, well, let's get on with it."
Between them they manhandled the piano to the house and up the stairs, settling it in pride of place against the wall in the living-room. And propped the corner with the missing castor on a pile of sheet music to level the thing up.
"There," said Bodie, standing back and admiring it as if it was a personally created work of art. "I'll nip back and collect the stool. Why don't you give it a quick polish?"
"Not bloody likely, mate," Doyle snorted. "Look at the state it's in! If we stay here for any length of time we could infect the whole building with woodworm."
"No chance," he said with boundless confidence. "Oh, by the way, the bed's a double. Lover-boy." And he disappeared down the stairs, whistling.
"Maniac!" Doyle yelled after him, before realizing he had an audience. He shut the door on the curious stares from across the hall, and took stock of the flat, mentally listing the things that would have to be ferried in. Then suddenly realizing he was thinking like, of all things, a housewife, he gave himself a swift metaphorical kick. It wasn't time yet to get into the role of Ray Duncan.
But it was. A tentative knock on the door brought his head round. Not Bodie, since he had the keys. He opened it cautiously on the chain.
"Yes?" he said to the man and girl on the other side. She was white, the man West Indian.
"Um, Ann and John from upstairs. Number Five," the girl said. "Just a sort of welcoming committee, and to say if you need any help, just let us know."
"Oh. Thanks." He took the chain off the latch, and opened the door wide. "Ray Duncan," he supplied with a measured amount of wariness. "We're not moving in until tomorrow, officially. Just bringing in the odd bit."
"We heard." The man grinned. "You play it?"
"No, my--uh--Richard is the pianist." His eyes slid momentarily from their faces, and the girl blinked at him. He could almost see the data banks shift in her mind. It appealed to his sense of humour. "Is he with a group?" Ann asked.
"No, not yet, but he's looking. Hey, I'm sorry, I can't offer you a cup of coffee, a beer, or anything--"
"Don't worry about it." Her smile was unforced. "That's one of the things we've come down to offer."
"Yeah," said John. "The kettle's just boiled, and there's beer in the fridge. Come on up."
"We'll be glad to, as soon as--" Bodie chose that moment to reappear, carrying the stool on his shoulder.
"Hi," he beamed. "New neighbours already? I'm Richard Foster; call me Dick."
"Ann and John," Doyle supplied dutifully, "from Number Five upstairs."
"With refreshments on tap," she continued. "Just come on up when you're ready, don't bother to knock, the door'll be open."
"Thanks," Bodie said appreciatively, then caught Doyle's gaze on him, and softened his grin into a smile. "There you are," he went on, dropping a casual arm about lean shoulders, "told you the natives would be friendly."
They had not talked out the character of Ray Duncan, all their concentration being given to Richard Maitland, his father, and the collection of relevant files. Doyle had decided vaguely on one or two points, based on Maitland's projected character and on Jason's instructions and opinions, but had not had the chance to discuss anything with Bodie. But the man had to be established right now, so he could only pray that his partner would react correctly. He stiffened under the casual embrace, head averted.
"Yes," he muttered. "Should have listened--excuse me," and ducked into the flat.
Bodie rose to the test, his mind sliding into overdrive and supplying the necessary inspiration.
"Ray's over-reacting to England," he said quietly, not letting his startlement show. "We're not long back from 'Frisco. They are a lot more uncritical over there. So," he let a note of belligerence creep into his voice, "you better know right from the start, if you don't already. Ray and I are lovers. We live together. Gays. Queers. Homos. Whatever label you want to put on it."
"Hey, man." John shrugged. "Different strokes for different folks. At least you won't be making a pass at my old lady."
The hard arrogance relaxed into a grin.
"That's right," Bodie said. "Or at you, mate. Not my type. You going to move in on my feller?"
"Nope." John's answering grin was very white in his dark face. "He ain't my type."
"So now we can be friends?" Ann chuckled.
"Friends," Bodie agreed, shaking both their hands. "All I have to do now is convince Ray he's not about to be burnt at the stake. That's why he left England in the first place; got beaten up by a pack of yobs out queer-bashing," and tapped his right cheekbone. "Plastic," he said succinctly. "We'll be with you soon." And he slipped inside the flat.
Doyle was waiting for him, an indolent sprawl on the misshapen couch, a Cheshire Cat grin on those subtly altered features.
"You sneaky bastard!" Bodie hissed. "You dropped me right in it with that vanishing trick."
"Ah, but you coped, didn't you?" Doyle was unrepentant. "Besides, I decided it would fit Duncan; when in doubt, duck out."
"I'll remember that. Did you hear what I said?"
"Yes. Inventive, and beautifully macho, my friend," Doyle purred, eyes glinting under lowered lashes.
"So tell me more about little Raymond Duncan," Bodie growled, standing over him, arms akimbo.
"Not so much of the little, Butch," Doyle drawled.
"You'll always be little to me, Goldilocks," he retaliated. "Come on, my shrinking violet. It's time to be insecure upstairs." He took hold of Doyle's wrist, pulled him to his feet, and towed him out of the door. "My God," he muttered, "we're going to have one hell of a reputation around here without even trying." Across the hall, the door snapped shut.
"Hold on a minute!" Doyle hissed. "Will you cut out the caveman act?"
"That's Foster's image," Bodie snickered. "Here we are, Number Five. Don't be bashful."
"Wait. What do I call you?"
"Richard's too formal, Dick is for everyone. So what do I, as resident hot-water-bottle, use for a name? Butch?"
"Not bloody likely. You serious?"
"Yes. Something informal, personal, and unsloppy."
"Oh." Bodie racked his brains. "According to his file, Maitland was nicknamed Dickon when he was a kid."
"That'll do fine."
Six large, battered suitcases brought clothes and other basic necessities up to flat Number Four, and they spent most of the morning emptying them out and stowing the stuff away in drawers, wardrobe, cupboards and shelves. All the clothes had been provided by CI5, and every item down to underpants and socks had come originally from the West Coast of America. Bodie's selection was no different to his own choice of wear. Doyle's was. Gone were the loose, comfortable shirts, pullovers and jackets, worn jeans and cords. In their place were styled denims, cords and slacks, closefitting shirts and tops that emphasized the slimness of his build while camouflaging the whiplash strength, with a selection of fashionable jackets to match the ensemble, and a heavy gold choker that glinted expensively about his throat.
"Bloody Jason," Doyle muttered, holding up a cheesecloth shirt, white embroidered on white. "I wouldn't be seen dead in this."
"Oh, no, it's very you." Bodie grinned. "Positively bridal. Don't flex any muscles, Ray, you're likely to get through a hell of a lot of seams."
"Sod off," his supposed-lover told him, and pulled on a nearly-new Arran sweater and a jacket, heading for the door. "I'd better go and register with these agencies. You better get in some practice on that monstrosity, or you'll never land the job, and we'll all be in the shit."
"Okay. Here, you'll need your key. And the pin-up pictures," tossing envelope and key across the room. Doyle caught them neatly and stowed them away about his person. Then he pulled a wry face, took a few deep breaths, and pushed himself into Ray Duncan. Bodie grinned and blew him a kiss.
"Good luck, but stay off the casting couch," he said. "And don't accept lifts from strangers."
He got a wounded glance from wide green eyes.
"As if I would," said Ray Duncan, reproachfully, and drifted out.
Left to himself, Bodie snickered and shook his head. The transformation from Doyle to Duncan was a fascinating spectacle. He also found it slightly irritating, though he could not pin down exactly why it should be so. He didn't try to pin it down. Bodie was not given to self-analysis.
The contemptuously discarded cheesecloth shirt caught his eye, and he picked it up, put it away in the wardrobe, stacked the last suitcase on top of that scarred piece of furniture, and studied the bed. It looked secure enough. He sat on the bare mattress and bounced. The springs creaked. Loudly.
Sheet, pillows and cases, duvet and cover were all that was needed to make the bed habitable, and didn't take him long to put together from the pile of stuff tipped from a suitcase. Then he turned his attention to the piano.
The sheet music wedged under the castorless corner was exchanged for a couple of paperbacks, the stool was emptied, and he spread the lot over the table. It was a motley collection, but contained some useful items among the dross; songs from the 30's and 40's, and several booklets devoted to the lyrics of Noel Coward. The remainder he discarded.
Flexing his fingers and wondering if he could remember how to read music, Bodie sat at the piano and did a scale or two. It was not noticeably out of tune, even after its journey and elevation in the world, and he amused himself picking out half-recalled favourites on the stained keys. He was surprised at how much he did remember, and with jaunty confidence sorted out one of the Coward collections and opened it at the title that had previously caught his eye.
"This one's for you, Ray-baby," he snickered, and attacked 'Mad About The Boy', providing his own vocal accompaniment.
Doyle visited three agencies recommended by Jason, was interviewed, photographed and filed, then headed for the first of Cavanagh's auditioning addresses.
At nearly midday on a Tuesday morning, The Paradise Grove was closed for business, though music could be faintly heard from within. He investigated a side-alley, discovered a door and a sign. 'Auditions 9 to 1 Monday to Wednesday. Thursday to Saturday at The Mandalay.' Doyle went in, slipping unobtrusively into the empty restaurant and joining the group of hopefuls on the edge of the small dance floor. Joel Cavanagh, recognisable from his photograph, sat with another man at a table opposite them, and on the stage a sweating middle-aged man played a sedate jazz on the piano.
Doyle studied Bodie's potential competition. Age-range and appearances were varied, but most of the younger ones displayed hairstyles not unlike his own, or carefully casual shoulder-length locks, with or without California-style sun-bleach. Bodie, Doyle decided, regardless of how he played, at least could look like a 1930's lounge-lizard, and that was what Cavanagh wanted, judging by the shots out front. Bodie, the Lounge Lizard. That amused him, and he swallowed back his involuntary chuckle.
The music stopped.
"Thanks, Harry." Cavanagh's voice was quiet, but it carried well. "I'll let you know by Saturday. Mark Wells?"
"Yes, Mr. Cavanagh." A blond-brown youth with a pronounced American accent stepped forward. Accent false, Doyle decided.
"Vocals and piano?"
Wells' performance wasn't bad in Doyle's estimation. What Cavanagh made of it he couldn't guess. A hand tapped him on the shoulder, and he jerked round to face the raised eyebrows of a harassed-looking man in his forties.
"You're not on the list," he hissed.
"Uh, no," he whispered back. "I'm only here to find out if the auditions are still running."
"Until Saturday. Come on out into the office, I'll take your details."
"Okay." And Doyle followed meekly in his wake.
"It's not a question of come-one-come-all," the man said, as the door marked Private closed behind them. "Joel likes a bit of order in the chaos of life. Sit down, Mr.--?"
"Duncan. Ray Duncan."
"Paul Newley, business manager. Okay, Ray, previous experience?"
"Uh, it's not for me. I don't play the piano, only sing."
"We're auditioning for both," Newley said, patiently. "So I'll take both sets of details, if you're interested, and make two appointments. You first. Previous experience?"
Doyle dutifully trotted out the background already arranged for himself and Bodie, all of it verifiable.
"Ever sung 30's-style before?" Newley said at the end.
"No," Doyle answered. "But there's no harm in trying, is there?" and offered a tentative smile.
"None at all. But I'll give you one hint, Ray. 30's-style means just that, all the way through. You and Foster come along to the Mandalay, Thursday, at ten."
"Yes, sir. Thank you."
On the way back to the flat he stopped at a phone box, and put a call through to Cowley's office.
"Audition's Thursday, sir," he said crisply. "For both of us."
"Good," Cowley said. "Joel will be keeping an eye out for you, and an ear. Bodie had better be good enough, and so had you. I've got some advice to pass on. No hamming, no extravagant gestures, deadpan it. You've got music tapes in the flat, listen and learn, but don't strangle your voice trying to be an exact replica."
"Thanks. But, sir, Duncan's image isn't your 30's look-alike, either. The hair, and that."
"Unimportant. A dress-suit and a red carnation will be all that's necessary, Doyle," Cowley snapped. "Don't make difficulties."
"No, sir," he sighed. "Well, it was worth a try...."
"And here's some more advice, from me. Once you're in and Foster has been identified as Maitland, stay with the characters at all times. Cameras and recorders can be hidden, remember. All you have to do now is just make sure you get the job." And the line went dead.
"Yeah," said Doyle to the handset. "And I just might keep it. Bet he pays better than CI5."
The next stop he made was at a supermarket, where he stocked up on some basic groceries, trudging the last few streets with loaded carrier bags.
The piano could be heard as he opened the street door, and he paused briefly to listen. Mellowed by distance it wasn't too bad. The melody even sounded familiar, a lively tinkling tune. Then he placed it. 'If I Had A Talking Picture Of You'. He laughed, and ran up the stairs humming along with it.
"That's out of the Ark," he said as he let himself in. Bodie glanced round with a grin of welcome.
"Don't knock it, this could be our bread and butter. Talking of which, I'm starving."
"So'm'I," Doyle said with asperity. "I don't suppose you thought of getting us any lunch, did you?"
"'Course not," Bodie snorted. "You're the home-maker in this set-up."
"Don't bank on it, sunshine," he retorted. "I could well go on strike. Advice from Cavanagh via Cowley: no overacting on stage, we've got to be deadpan."
"Oh." Bodie's face fell. "No candelabra, no rhinestone jackets?"
"Right. How're you getting on?"
"Pretty well. Why?"
"We audition at 10 on Thursday."
"That was quick. You better get your act sorted out, mate, and I don't mean just the songs. Can you read music?"
"The words, yes. The dots and squiggles, no."
"Oh. Thank God you've got a good memory."
"Yeah. We'll eat first, though, or my guts'll be giving their own recital. Cowley also said we should stay with the characters 24 hours a day."
"Bloody hell." Bodie gaped at him. "That's a bit steep."
"You're not kidding. Once we're in with the band, and the Maitland cover is blown, no more Doyle, or Bodie. Oh, well, all in a day's work. What do you want? Sausage, beans and instant mash?"
"If I must."
"Knock my cooking, sweetheart, and it's divorce," Doyle warned him and took his groceries off to the kitchen alcove. Behind him the piano gave forth notes, and Bodie soulfully warbled his way around 'Mad About The Boy.'
The previous evening, once they'd extricated themselves from the hospitality of Number Five, they had concocted a life history and rounded out the personality of Ray Duncan. Now it was as firmly rooted in two photographic memories as Richard Maitland's career and character, and Doyle could step into his alter ego without noticeable pause, maintain it without much effort. Which was as well. There was not much time left to them before the man's fully public debut.
Rehearsals in the afternoon went well, Doyle surprising himself, and Bodie, once he had found the knack of producing a relaxed, poker-faced style of singing. His voice was a pleasant, untrained tenor, and fitted the aged songs well. But how he would get on in front of a microphone and an audience was another matter. In thirty-odd years and varying careers, it was something he'd not done before. Bodie, who claimed to have played jazz-piano in a dive in Cape Town, was unsympathetic. What was an audience, after all? They had played undercover parts before where a shaky portrayal would have meant death. Joel Cavanagh, his band, and the clientele of several nightclubs would be a piece of cake.
A knock on the door cut short the argument, and Ann's voice came muffled through the peeling wood.
"It's only me, not the Noise Abatement Society," she called, and Doyle opened the door, gesturing her in with a smile. "You two sounded really good from upstairs."
"Thanks. Would you like to go down to The Mandalay and tell Cavanagh?" he said ruefully.
"Ignore him." Bodie grinned. "The fool's getting stage-fright already. We audition Thursday."
"Great! I'll keep my fingers crossed," Ann said. "I'm not stopping--just thought you'd like to know you've got something, even if it's not exactly Motorhead."
"I'll let you into a secret," said Bodie. "It's not our kind of music, either. But a job is a job, if one or both of us can land it."
"Yeah," she said with feeling. "I don't think much of waitressing in a Wimpey bar, but--" She shrugged, gave them a smile, and left.
"Odd, isn't it," Doyle said. "She's accepted that we're as queer as nine quid notes, but bet you she'd raise all hell if she found out we're CI5."
"No takers. What say we go out tonight, Lover-boy?"
"Where to? Back row of the local flea-pit?" Doyle quirked an eyebrow at him.
"Yeah. That or the Paradise Grove. You dress up all pretty, and we'll check out the lie of the land."
"The Mandalay is the questionable place," Doyle pointed out.
"True. But Cavanagh is at the Grove tonight, and I want to see in the flesh the guy who not only went to school with George Cowley, but is also an old friend."
"Okay." He chuckled. "But it's a pricey joint."
"Stick to orangeade, then, my flower. How much cash have we got left?"
Their financial situation would have been grim if the expenses handed out by Cowley had to last an indefinite period. As it was, they felt able to afford a snack in Ann's Wimpey bar before walking on to the Paradise Grove.
Bar prices were high, the clientele were fashionably, expensively, dressed, and a swift glance at a menu impressed Bodie as much by the dishes on offer as the amounts charged for them. Doyle paid more attention to the music, making mental notes of the song titles performed by Mr. Cavanagh. And Bodie, because he was trained to notice such things, made mental notes on the number of men whose glances strayed too frequently to Doyle's intent features and slim body.
"Do you know," he murmured intimately in Doyle's ear, "I reckon if I slapped a price ticket on you, we could clear Cowley's salary by midnight." Ray Duncan's wide, feline eyes turned to him, and the full lips were almost inviting.
"You bastard," Doyle breathed. "You want a mouthful of fist?" Bodie choked his hoot of laughter into a coughing fit, discovering the delights of a new game: baiting Doyle when Doyle was unable to respond as he would wish offered up endless possibilities. But any coherent reply he might have made was deflected by the approach of a tall, wry-featured man.
"Evening, Ray. Sussing out the band?"
"Uh, as a matter of fact, yes. Dickon, this in Mr. Newley, Joel Cavanagh's business manager."
"Evening," said Bodie, taking the offered hand. "Dick Foster." There was a cynical amusement in Newley's eyes, a swift appraisal that took stock of them both. (Bloody hell) thought Bodie. (Is it as obvious as that?) And felt Doyle move a little away from his side.
"Yes, of course," Newley said. "The Thursday audition. See you then." He moved on, greeting more people by name.
"That's our cue to leave," Bodie said quietly. "Got all you need?"
"Just about," Doyle nodded. "It's getting to be a little crowded around here." There was an angry glitter in his eyes that did not belong to Duncan, a cold edge to his voice, and he moved closer to Bodie with an almost aggressive grace. "Okay, Big Boy. You're supposed to be the protector, so protect me, or I'm going to damage the next piece of crud that gropes me." It was spoken in an icy whisper that would have been inaudible to anyone else, and the suppressed fury and outrage made Bodie's day complete.
"Come on," he said, taking Doyle's elbow. "Let's get out of here." And managed to step hard on several pairs of expensive shoes as he ushered him away.
Doyle was still fuming when they got back to the flat, and Bodie's stomach hurt with the strain of keeping his hilarity in check. To let it out would be to trigger an explosion of atomic proportions, and he had had experience in the past of Doyle's rare rages. This was neither the time nor the place for Armageddon.
"Decided on your songs?" he asked, keeping his voice neutral.
"Yes. 'Heaven Can Wait', 'Penny Serenade', and 'Dancing In The Dark'," Doyle snapped. "We've got the music for them, haven't we?"
"Yeah. In the stool, just under the Noel Coward stuff. You want first crack at the bathroom?"
"No, go ahead. What're you going to play?"
"Whatever you've chosen," Bodie said, surprised, heading for the curtained alcove.
"No. I think we should go in separately, not as a duo."
"Okay." He shrugged. "Doesn't make much difference, I suppose. How about 'It's Only Make Believe'? And 'That Old Black Magic'? 'Love Is The Sweetest Thing'?"
"They'll do. We've got 'em all here, at any rate." Bodie could hear him rummaging around in the piano stool, then the quiet lilt of a song as he ran through the lyrics half under his breath.
"You've got a pretty good voice," he announced. "Better than Cavanagh's."
"Sod off," said Doyle vaguely, and Bodie went back to his ablutions, relieved that the Doyle temper appeared to have been safely defused.
"Hurry up and put the lights out," he said on his way through to the bedroom, a towelling robe over bare shoulders and pyjama pants. "God knows how long that last ten pence is going to give us."
It was Bodie's boast that he could sleep on a clothesline, and certainly an uneven mattress and springs that spoke at the slightest movement proved no obstacle. The last thing he remembered was the light tenor voice drifting easily through a melody. It was an excellent soporific.
He was awakened by a hard prodding finger, and a disgusted complaint in the darkness.
"Bodie! Shift your misbegotten carcass, will you? You've got two-thirds of the bloody bed!"
"You sleep on that side, not in the middle! Shift!" and he was heaved bodily out of the way. Doyle slid into the vacated space, and settled himself with an economy of fuss. "Meter's run out," he said. "G'night."
"Ungh," said Bodie. "Divorce you t'morrow."
His next awakening was kinder, a smooth transition from sleep to awareness in a cool, bright dawn light. A glance at his watch supplied the time. 7.43.
Bodie yawned and stretched, and cautiously sat up. Doyle was a neat curl of limbs beside him, hair a riotous tumble of copper in the sunlight that managed to get through the gaps in the curtains. Dark and long, his lashes were a fan-spread that any girl would envy, and Bodie grinned down at him. (Poor sod never knew what kind of a face he had until Cowley and Jason mucked about with it--hardly the stuff to launch a thousand ships, but it could easily run to a row-boat or two. Pity Duncan was a spineless drip.)
"Rise and shine, my sweet," he carolled, and planted a swift kiss on Doyle's brow, bounding out of the bed like a stag to avoid the immediate retaliation of a jabbing fist.
"Bloody maniac." Doyle groaned. "What time is?"
"Time we got up. We've only one full day of practice, and that's all. Can't waste a minute."
"Are you always this bloody-cheerful in the mornings?" Doyle demanded, stretching long muscles.
"Yes," said Bodie succinctly, hitching up sliding pyjamas. "Except when I'm hung-over. What's for breakfast?"
"Christ." He sighed, and crawled out of bed. "You're going to be a bachelor all your life, mate. No girl would be daft enough to put up with you." Bodie leered at him, eyeing him from head to foot, from tousled hair to white pyjama pants balanced precariously on his hips.
"Who needs a girl?" he drawled, and collected an exasperated glare.
"You will, sunshine," Doyle said. "This job isn't going to be over in a week. A month of celibacy won't bother me much, I've got self-control. Reckon you can take it?"
Bodie was momentarily speechless. That aspect of the case hadn't occurred to him.
"Start praying I can," he said when he found his voice. "And practice keeping your back to the wall in case I can't."
"Cowley doesn't like his operatives getting too close." Doyle grinned. "Think again. Lover-boy."
"Huh." Bodie conceded a temporary defeat, and took himself off to the bathroom while Doyle ambled out to the kitchen and the kettle.
Come the afternoon, and they ambushed Ann, kidnapping her from her door and bribing her with coffee to be a critical audience. More usefully, it was another opportunity to give Doyle a chance at Duncan, sustaining the character over a period of time.
Ann's reactions to Duncan's self-effacing insecurity was something Bodie found fascinating to watch; far from being reserved, she treated him with an unconsciously maternal affection, as if he was an unfledged and semi-helpless cuckoo-chick in need of care and protection. An interesting pointer to Maitland's attitude to his lover, Bodie realised. More than dominant, more than possessive--Doyle had said it yesterday--protector. An easy role for him to play, but Duncan was a direct antithesis to Ray Doyle all along the line.
"Dickon." The quiet voice filtered through his thoughts, and a long-fingered hand rested lightly on his shoulder. "You're miles away. Ann's spoken to you twice."
"Uh, sorry." He directed his best smile at the girl. "Guess it's my turn to start the nerves. Give me a third chance?"
"I said come to tea tomorrow, and we'll help you celebrate or mourn," she offered.
"We won't know until Saturday, probably," Bodie said, "but tea would help us through the post-audition depressions. Thank you." She blinked at the warmth of his smile, and Doyle moved suddenly to the table, shuffling through the sheet-music there with exaggerated concentration, and Bodie realised he was letting his own reaction to a pretty girl get the upper hand. Maitland may well have swung both ways, but right now he was supposed to be happily 'married'. "Thanks, Ann. We'll be glad to come. Excuse me while I soothe some ruffled feathers," and walked across to Doyle. Deliberately he put his arms around him, pulling him back into his embrace, aware both of Doyle's involuntary tightening of muscles, and of the girl's smiling departure. He did not release his partner until the door had clicked shut.
"Dumb bastard," Doyle grunted. "You damn-near blew it that time."
"Yeah. Sorry," he said ruefully. "Never played a queer before. Just can't help eyeing up the girls."
"You've got it easy," he said. "If she leans close and pats my knee again, I'll probably rape her. I am not her kid sister."
"Thought you said you could cope with celibacy?"
"I can cope," Doyle insisted. "Come on, let's run through our programmes one more time."
"Ray," said Bodie quietly, suddenly serious as another previously unthought-of aspect hit him. "There's something else you're going to have to cope with, especially when we're into these creeps full-time."
Bodie put his arms round him again.
"This," he said, tightening his hold on the abruptly stiffened body. "Duncan isn't going to jump like a goosed kangaroo every time Maitland touches him. He's possessive, remember? He's going to be staking his territory. Making sure the world knows Duncan is his. Right?"
Doyle thought about it.
"Right," he agreed, and relaxed. "But he won't be so keen on too much public demonstration. Not in Good Old England."
"True. But, Ray, they've got to have a blackmail lever. So they've got to see enough to have enough. So--" He paused, and grinned down at the frowning face, an unholy joy building in him. "How good a kisser are you?"
"My girls don't complain," he said, warily.
"Neither do mine," and covered Doyle's mouth with his own. He won a grunt of surprise and indignation, and Doyle jerked his head back, breaking the kiss.
"That isn't going to work, sunshine," he said. "They'll have to do without the passion. This is one tango that isn't going to get off the ground."
"Yeah. We can't both take the lead in the dance, and I'm not giving way."
"That's Doyle speaking. Not Duncan. Bet it suits him down to the ground, being wanted."
Doyle heaved an exasperated sigh.
"Bodie. I've got news for you. It doesn't do a thing for me, or Duncan. And if you don't let me go, you're going to get a painful introduction to my knee."
"I'm the macho one, remember?"
"Any minute now, you won't have much left to be macho with."
"Spoilsport," Bodie snickered, and released him. "How about a coffee break?"
"Good idea." Doyle moved away with a light punch to Bodie's midriff and an indulgent shake of his head. "Bloody clown."
But Bodie had a point, Doyle admitted to himself. Whoever was running the operation at The Mandalay would require more than a public announcement of the Duncan-Maitland relationship. Well, they would cross that bridge if or when they came to it. He did not relish the prospect--it had felt very strange being kissed by a man, and while he'd put up with it if he had to, it was not an experience he would choose to repeat.
If the Paradise Grove was a classy establishment, The Mandalay topped it by several notches. Even in the cruel clarity of the morning, the stacked chairs and bare tables could not detract from the deep red and gold opulence. According to the billing out front, the Joel Cavanagh Orchestra split the week with Harry Jackson And His Band, who Bodie, judging by the photos, announced to be Glen Miller clones. Doyle didn't argue.
Newley had met them at the stage door, ticked them off his list, and sent them on through to join the half-a-dozen already waiting.
They waited their turns in silence, ostensibly watching the opposition, but paying as much attention to the place itself, and the staff that moved unobtrusively about their tasks.
"Ray Duncan?" Cavanagh said finally, and Bodie nudged Doyle in the ribs.
"Good luck," he muttered, and got Duncan's unsure smile. (Never mind the singing, you're a bloody good actor, mate.)
"He's very nervous," said the only other applicant left. Which was true. Acting couldn't provide the fine sheen of sweat on upper lip and mismatched cheekbones.
"He'll be okay," Bodie said flatly.
And Doyle was. The three songs were sung without any evidence of strain, the delivery relaxed, diction having a bell-like clarity he hadn't used in their rehearsals. It was a competent performance, good enough and different enough from what had gone before to justify Cavanagh's 'Come back this afternoon, Ray, and we'll see how you sound with the full band.'
Bodie got the same quiet remark, as did the third man, another vocalist, and he found himself ridiculously pleased even knowing that the result had been virtually a foregone conclusion.
The second audition went as smoothly as the first, and afterwards Cavanagh sent the other vocalist on his way, and took the two of them into his office.
"Congratulations," he said, gesturing them to chairs. "I'm glad George managed to find a couple of lads who wouldn't compromise my reputation."
"Your reputation?" Duncan reverted to Doyle with startling abruptness, the extent of the change taking the bandleader by surprise. "What about my reputation?"
"Take no notice of him." Bodie grinned. "He still hasn't got over being beaten into second place as the Stud of CI5."
"Hah!" Doyle snorted. "Mr. Cavanagh, who else in your set-up knows who we are?"
"No one. This is entirely between William, George, and myself. And you two. How much in these particulars is genuine?" tapping the sheets Newley had filled out.
"None of it, on my part," Doyle admitted. "God's Gift here reckons to have played jazz in a Cape Town honky-tonk, but no one believes half of what he says--"
"It's true!" Bodie snapped, affronted.
"How long were you there?" Cavanagh asked.
"Well, six weeks," said Bodie, "but--"
"But you can play the damn thing," the band leader finished for him. "Okay, boys, you're in. Dick, our wardrobe will provide a black dress-suit and a range of shirts and bow-ties. We vary the colours show to show. Ray, you'll be getting a white suit, coloured shirts. When you're signed up, you can go down to the dressing room and get fitted out. Buttonholes are also worn--these'll be provided at the beginning of every show. Rehearsals one to four every afternoon bar one. We're on stage from nine to two, three days here, three days at the Paradise Grove. Mondays are free. If you want to take private bookings for that day, you can. As you're both new to the kind of music we play, you can take a pile of sheet-music back with you, along with the projected programmes for the next week. Ray, I've ticked the numbers you'll be singing. In between your songs, you can sit at the bar, in the dressing room, up on stage, wherever you like, but be ready for your cue, or else."
"Yes, sir," he grinned.
"Dick, you'll be involved in most numbers. Do well, and I might give you two your own spot in the show. Sign here and here. Salary is paid weekly, at the Friday rehearsal."
"Uh, any chance of an advance?" Bodie suggested hopefully. "Our expenses weren't exactly generous, and we had to buy a piano--"
"We can manage," Doyle cut in, glaring at him. "Have there been any further developments since your last report to Mr. Cowley, sir?"
"No. I haven't managed to find out if The Mandalay staff are involved, or--"
"We'd rather you didn't try, sir," Bodie said quietly. "CI5 are already checking out all possible connections, staff and customers, and it would be best if nothing was done on the inside."
"Yes, sir," Doyle went on. "Our instructions are to sit tight, go along with the charade with Sir William, and wait for them to make the first move."
"Fair enough. But if I hear the odd remark, I'll pass it on." Clearly, old habits died hard.
"Mr. Cavanagh." Bodie leaned forward. "What will the reactions be from the rest of the band to the arrival of a couple of housekeeping queers?"
"This is show-business, Dick." Cavanagh's smile was ironic. "You're not an isolated case, you'll find, and you'll get no stick from the ones who are straight. There's at least one of my lads you'll have to defend your--er property from," he gave Doyle an apologetic nod, "and there'll be customers, male and female, who'll pay special attention to you both."
"Strewth." Doyle groaned. "Can't help thinking this assignment would be easier if we were gay."
"Listen," said Bodie, with deep feeling, "by the time it's over, we'll either be at each others' throats, or bent as a bloody hatstand. Anything else we should know, sir?"
"Uh--no, I don't think so," Cavanagh said over Doyle's crack of laughter. "Just be back here for rehearsals at one sharp."
They stood up, and Cavanagh watched Doyle's alert competence become Duncan's almost ethereal reserve and feline, drifting grace.
"Good luck," the bandleader said. "I'll take you along to the dressing room; Tad will measure you up and have your outfits waiting for you Saturday."
The celebratory tea at flat Number Five went very well, as Doyle let enough of his own somewhat caustic sense of humour and personality through Ray Duncan's reserve to give that otherwise bland character a strength and life of his own--hidden fires behind the mask--another reason for Maitland to be hooked to the exclusion of all else. Bodie toasted him with a healthy slice of Marks and Spencer Swiss roll. If he could project some of that on stage, in front of an audience, Cavanagh needn't worry about compromising anything.
On Saturday night, Doyle could and did. A motionless, solitary figure in the spotlight, white suit, blood-red carnation in the lapel, a dark green shirt, and hair a fiery lion's mane, he sang the old love songs without overt emotion, yet somehow conveying the impression of a cat poised to leap--the machismo of the potentially dangerous--with nothing fey or retiring about him at all. The applause was more than polite form, and he came over to the piano with a feral bounce to his stride and a chatoyance in the green eyes.
"Not bad," Bodie murmured. "Didn't forget a word," and beamed up at him with proprietorial pride.
"Play your cards right, and I'll give you my autograph," Doyle countered, finding audience-feedback a very potent wine.
"Play your cards right and I might take you home with me tonight," Bodie snickered. "Keep on coming out of your shell, my fire-cracker, you'll knock their eyes out."
"Thanks for not saying closet," Doyle purred, and drifted offstage, heading for the beer and fruit-juices stocked permanently in a fridge in the dressing room.
The band had one more number before the interval, giving Doyle time to down a glass of lime juice in comparative peace. His hands, he noted, still had a tendency to shake.
"Congratulations," said a smooth voice, and he jerked round. Harvey Lowe approached, smiling. Doyle did not like the smile, or the slowly appraising eyes of the older man. He had already been warned about the clarinettist and his tactics.
"Uh, thanks," he said. He and Bodie had not advertised their supposed relationship by word or gesture, deciding that it would fit with Duncan's character to wish to keep it hidden until he was more at ease with those around him, and sure of their acceptance. It now looked as if the time for the public announcement was near.
"Did I hear you say you're new to the 30's style? Well, you made a damn-good start." Lowe moved in closer. "Still nervous?"
"Yeah. A little." Doyle retreated to the fridge, poured lime and lemonade into his glass.
"Get me a beer, will you?" Lowe asked, and followed on his heels. When Doyle held out the can, the man's hand folded over his. "How was 'Frisco?"
"Foggy." Jerking free and attempting to edge away. The move was blocked.
"Don t be unfriendly, Ray," drawled Lowe.
"Back off!" he snapped.
"Temper, temper," and a hand reached out to rest caressingly on his hip. He knocked it away.
"Look. Keep your hands to yourself, mate. I don't want to know." And he resisted the urge to sink one swift punch into the man's stomach.
"Playing hard to get, Ray?"
"I don't play at anything! Back off!"
The rest of the band crowded in, forming a welcome distraction, and some took in the situation at a glance. It seemed to cause no surprise.
"Hey, Harv, leave the kid alone," from Alan Brett, drummer. "Ray, you did real fine out there."
"Thanks," he said stiffly, as irritated by being called 'kid' as by Lowe's advances and confident smirk. Suddenly Bodie was at his side, and the clarinettist flinched back a pace as a polished shoe landed hard on his instep.
"Oh, sorry," Bodie said earnestly. "How clumsy of me. Out of the way, Raymond my boy. Never stand between a man and his beer. Anyone else want one while I'm here?"
Angry, bristling like a cat with its fur rubbed the wrong way, Doyle retreated to a corner, but was not permitted to isolate himself.
"Hey," Brett again. "Don't let Harv put the wind up you. He gropes anything that moves--it's his glands, or hormones, or something. You'll get used to him. Best thing is to treat him with amused tolerance--that bruises his ego and he'll leave you alone, more or less."
"I'll remember that. Thanks," so genuinely heartfelt that Brett laughed, and slapped him on the back.
"Thought you were going to give him the old knuckle sandwich for a moment--wouldn't blame you either, but he's the best bloody clarinettist we've got, and the Old Man wouldn't be happy. You've worked in the States? Where? How long have you been back?"
"The West coast. Left about a month ago. Money's just about run out, so this was a Godsend."
"I'll bet. Were you out there long?"
"Eighteen months or so. How long have you been with the band?"
"Seven years, give or take a few. Part of the fittings now, like the rest of 'em. You and Dick are the only new boys for four, five years. Vince, on bass guitar, was the last one."
"Did he flatten Lowe?"
Brett hooted into his beer can.
"Nope. Took him on. Wore the old faggot out in a week, and let it be known. Harv wouldn't speak to him for days."
Doyle snorted his amusement, and shook his head.
"I'll try the amused tolerance. Or a fist," he said.
"So I should think," Bodie said in his ear. "Hi, Alan. You wouldn't believe the blue funk this one was in at seven o'clock."
"Yes, I would." Brett grinned. "You two know each other?"
"Yes," said Bodie. "From way back. Good old 'Frisco. The Golden Gate. The Smog. Ray Duncan..." and ambled away again. Doyle glared daggers at his shoulder-blades.
"You forgot the cable cars," he called.
"The what? Trams, Ray. They were trams," coming back with another can beer. "Alan, does that aging pervert grope automatically, or does he check first?"
"Purely a reflex action--only the Old Man is safe, and he's had a few close calls. He got you?"
"Someone assaulted my left buttock. I presume it was him. And, Ray, if you don't wipe that Cheshire Cat grin off your face, it'll be more than your left buttock that cops the assault."
"Amused tolerance, according to Alan," Doyle told him, "is the best deterrent."
"Very likely. I will be both amused and tolerant when I've busted his jaw. Will Cavanagh sack me if I put good old Harv in hospital?"
"Probably." Brett laughed. "He's our star clarinettist."
"In that case I'll wrap his bloody clarinet around his prostate gland. For God's sake, Ray, don't let him grope you in that suit. His sweaty hands will mark it up as bad as a coalminer's," and wandered off again before Doyle could make a fitting retort.
"Dick can manage Harv," Brett prophesied. "Make sure you can, too. He'll get as much out of you losing your rag as active cooperation. There's the Old--time's up. Good luck for the second half," and gave him a cheerful slap on the back. "Sock it to 'em, kid."
Other congratulations and salutes followed Doyle through the door and to the wings, where he found an unoccupied stool to perch on and waited for his cue, watching band and audience.
The nightclub was crowded, every table taken, the dance floor packed, and the bar doing brisk business. Automatically he checked faces against the card index of his memory, found some matches, and made mental notes. Drug pushers, dealers, one specialist in blackmail and bunco, a known fence, and a couple of big society names known to Fraud Squad, but no Organisation men.
"--and now, ladies and gentlemen, I have great pleasure in introducing to you once again, our new vocalist, Ray Duncan--" and he found himself stepping into the spotlight, losing sight of audience and dancers beyond the stage.
"Well done," said Newley, his smile for both Bodie and Doyle. "Don't know what kind of music you made in 'Frisco, but you suit ours like hands in a pair of gloves."
"But don't let it go to your heads," Cavanagh said crisply, his voice carrying above the noisy chaos of the dressing room. "Dick, you're tending to swing that piano too much. We're a dance band, not a jazz combo. Ray, you're in too much of a hurry to get offstage, and you nearly missed several of your intros. Practice 'em, get it right. Apart from that, you're passable." And went on his way, a friendly smile taking the sting from the words.
"Passable!" Bodie groaned, and collapsed into a chair. "I thought we were bloody marvellous."
"You would," Doyle said. "But that's what the Boss-man said. So keep on practicing."
Doyle chuckled, and headed for his small patch of dressing room, took off his jacket and hung it up, carefully removing the carnation and laying it on the table. He got rid of his tie, took off his shirt and reached for a hanger to put it on, and stiffened as a hand slid over his ribs.
"Lowe, I'm warning you," he snapped, stepping away.
"Now, Ray, don't make a scene," the man drawled quietly. "Why won't you be friendly? Is it too public for you? Come back to my place, we could have a drink and discuss 'Frisco." The hand snaked out again, curved over the contours of his buttock before he could get clear. "You've got a beautiful body under all that window dressing--and some interesting scars--you must have had some excitement in your life?"
The temptation to react as himself rather than Duncan was almost overwhelming, and unconsciously his body took on a subtly altered stance, the preliminary to lightning-fast and violent action. But Bodie's hand on his shoulder checked him, and he relaxed, letting Maitland have his say.
"Just take it easy," Bodie said. "I'll deal with this. Harvey, I guess I was too subtle for you last time, so I'll spell it out in words of one syllable. Keep your grubby paws off Ray. He doesn't want your questionable attentions, and there is no reason why he should put up with them. If I catch you pestering him again, I will damage you quite severely. Is that understood?"
There was silence in the dressing room by then, and the cool, menacing voice cut clear to interested ears.
"Staking a claim, Dick?" Lowe sneered. "What gives you the right--"
"I don't have to stake any claim, friend." The menace was now a chilling threat, and Lowe suddenly sensed danger. The game abruptly lost its thrill for him. "Ray is not, and never was, up for grabs. He's booked, spoken for, otherwise involved. And if you lay a finger on him again, I'll break every bone in your body!"
"I see." Lowe's voice was high, scared. "So that's how it is--"
"Yes. Don't poach, Harvey. I don't like poachers."
"And I don't like threats." Lowe tried a bluster, using the arrival of the band-leader to preserve precariously balanced safety.
"That's not a threat, it's a promise," Bodie cut in. Cavanagh stepped between them.
"That's enough," he said quietly. "You've got your fingers burned this time, Harv. Leave Ray alone in future. Dick, this is not San Francisco, and I won't tolerate brawling regardless of the provocation. There's no real harm in Harvey, and no need for overreaction on your part. If you had made it clear from the start that you and Ray were together, this probably wouldn't have happened in the first place. Shake hands, have a drink, and forget the hassle."
After a pause, the two men grudgingly obeyed, and general conversation started up again. Doyle caught Brett's eye, and got some satisfaction out of that gentleman's patent amazement. It was all he could salvage from an incident that, necessary though it was, he found infuriating and irksome. He had the sneaking suspicion that Bodie had enjoyed it from beginning to end.
But the scene was not quite played out. As they prepared to leave the nightclub, Lowe gestured Bodie to him, and Doyle eyed the short conversation warily. Bodie's attitude was all aggression, the older man's conciliation, and the CI5 operative returned to his waiting partner with something of a swagger to his stocky shoulders, though his poker-face gave nothing away. They walked out into the night, Bodie's arm across Doyle's shoulders.
"Harv wanted to know how long we'd been together, and how--uh--serious it was," he reported when the club was out of sight behind them. "So I told him, and that it was as near a marriage as makes no difference. Made me a formal apology, he did."
"Would this face lie? Swore he'd never come between a man and his--wife--" and broke off with a grunt as Doyle's elbow connected forcibly with his ribs. "He then complimented me on my choice--the hair, the eyes, the mouth--oh God the mouth--that cheekbone, the way he moves--"
"For God's sake!" Doyle snorted.
"--the neatness of the ass--several times, that one--the mouth again--he was all but slavering. And I said yes. Wasn't I lucky? All of it mine."
"Complacent bastard," disgustedly.
"You wouldn't play me false, would you?" Bodie demanded, outraged.
"Not with the likes of him," Doyle promised. "Your rivals, Lover-boy, are about five foot five, blonde, brunette or redhead, shaped like that, and without unnecessary equipment between their legs. And believe me, you're nowhere in the running."
"Fickle," Bodie sighed, removing his arm, and they continued on their way in amicable silence.
The preliminaries were now over. The operation proper was underway.
By the following Saturday, Bodie and Doyle were fully accepted members of the band, on easy, friendly terms with all of them, their wives, girlfriends and boyfriends. Even Harvey Lowe. Who, while it could not be said that he managed to keep his hands away from Doyle's anatomy, did not make the mistake of pressing his attentions too far. It was a close-knit community, and once the Duncan-Foster relationship had been tested out and found unassailable--and Foster over-swift to defend his property against trespassers of either sex--they had been taken in without reservation. The clientele of the two nightclubs had likewise accepted Cavanagh's new vocalist, greeting his appearance on stage with stirs of interest and applause. He had rapidly collected a small following that appeared most nights at whichever club the band was playing, and they became the standing joke--the Duncan Appreciation Society, or Ray's Harem--a joke that Bodie suffered from in his Maitland identity as much as his partner did.
Their days and nights now had a settled routine, beginning with the jogging sessions late mornings. This was a useful innovation, providing exercise, much-needed fresh air, escape from the confines of flat and clubs, and from their alter egos. It would also give Cowley the opportunity of a meet, but to date he had not taken it up. They neither saw, nor had contact with, any member of CI5.
After more than a week of being almost constantly in each other's company, Doyle had expected the strain to show, the niggles, the personality clashes to start, but it didn't happen. A certain amount of adaptation on both sides, and their lives worked together like well-oiled machinery. The easy companionship born of mutual trust and respect could be interpreted in other ways, and in the outside world people took their closeness for granted, no one raising an eyebrow at the protective possessiveness of Richard Foster. Nor did Doyle object to its public manifestations. He was used to Bodie's arm around his waist or shoulders, the sly and ribald comments whispered with lips touching his ear, just as he was now accustomed to sharing the bed with him, occasionally having to defend his right of tenure against a restless sleeper, and sometimes waking in the mornings with a neatly-cropped dark head burrowed into his shoulder, a possessive arm across his chest.
Though Monday was a free day, they did not break the established pattern, and started it with a brisk jog. Their destination, as usual, was the small park and recreation ground not far from the flat, and finally they saw a familiar face. 8.3 with an overweight Labrador in tow, idling along the paths.
Bodie and Doyle paused for breath, collapsing on a convenient bench seat. Some five minutes later 8.3 arrived and sat down, opening up a newspaper while the dog settled thankfully at his feet, neither man nor beast showing any interest in the two track-suited men at the other end of the bench.
"Catch the next Hyde Park bus. Upstairs. You've got twenty minutes," came from behind the formidable barrier of the Times Literary Supplement.
"On your feet, slacker," Doyle said, prodding an apparently comatose Bodie. "Rest-time's up."
"My God," Bodie groaned. "Can't a man suffer cardiac arrest in peace?"
"No." And loped off, leaving him sprawled on the bench.
"Hey!" A shout of indignation, and Bodie took off, sprinting after him. The Labrador half-raised its ears, opened one eye. 8.3 merely turned to the next page.
On the front seat of the upper deck sat George Cowley, needing only a peaked cap to complete the resemblance to a commander on the bridge of his frigate, patrolling for U-boats. Doyle and Bodie sat behind him. But for a pair of leather- and denim-clad teenagers at the back, they had the top of the bus to themselves.
"Friday night, 7.1 will be at The Mandalay to identify Maitland," Cowley said without preamble, taking a photograph out of his pocket. "This is Martin Dent, private detective, hired by Sir William to find his son. He will also be there. He could well turn up at the Paradise Grove before then; we've fed him enough clues to direct him to both places. 7.1 will be an old Oxford friend."
"Understood." Bodie sighed. "That'll be another one we'll have to flatten when this is over." Doyle grunted.
"Any word on The Mandalay personnel, sir?" he asked.
"I was coming to that, 4.5," Cowley snapped. "Frank Russell, the manager, appears to be the head of this particular operation. He's working with Joseph Marshall and Kevin Rourke, and no one else as far as I can tell."
"Marshall and Rourke are both regulars at The Mandalay," Doyle said. "Spotted 'em the first night we played there."
"Joey's drugs, Kev's blackmail and bunco," Bodie said. "An interesting combination."
"Yes," said Cowley. "Who in the band uses drugs?"
"Alan Brett smokes pot on occasion," Doyle said quietly. "Marshall is not his supplier. Two others have old convictions for pushing and using cocaine, but kicked it years ago. Are any of them involved?"
"No. Everyone has been checked; they are all in the clear. It seems pretty certain it's a three-man op. They've started to move in on Lisa Murray, daughter of one of the research team of Western Chemicals. She is going to be taken out of their reach, and we'll offer them Maitland. 7.1, by the way, will be using the name of James St. John."
"Yes, of course," Bodie burbled happily. "I remember him well. Chumley ffortesque-Smythe Minor. You'll just adore him, Ray."
"Will I? Sounds interesting--how much can I adore him?"
"Hardly at all, sugar. Behave, or I won't tie you to the bed tonight."
"Spoilsport." Doyle tossed his head.
"That's enough," Cowley said dampeningly. "There's no need to make public exhibitions of yourselves. Have a good jog round Hyde Park, boys," and limped for the stairs.
Dent appeared at the Paradise Grove late on Wednesday evening, stayed at the bar for an hour, and left. Thursday afternoon he was in a parked car, watching the nightclub, and trailed them back to the apartment house after rehearsals were over. Friday evening, he was in the bar at The Mandalay. So too was 7.1, a very large fair-haired young man in his late twenties, along with Kevin Rourke, and several freelance Journalists.
The stage was set, and by the unholy glitter in his eyes, Bodie had the bit between his teeth.
"He's got 3.2 with him," Doyle murmured. As usual between his numbers, he was leaning, nonchalant and elegant, against the piano. Bodie had already identified the vapidly pretty brown haired girl giggling on 7.1's arm.
"Has he really? Chumley's changed his luck, then."
"Don't go over the top. Cowley won't give you an Oscar for it."
"Would I do that? You're on stage, Bright Eyes."
To applause and the introduction to 'Penny Serenade', Doyle drifted out into the spotlight, while Bodie watched from the corner of his eye the tall fair head and its partner move around the dance-floor. Five minutes later, a waiter delivered a note to the pianist. Would he be the guest of James St. John during the interval, at the bar for a large scotch. Bodie scrawled 'Make it a double' on the bottom and sent it back.
Bodie threaded his way through the crowd, and a long arm shot out of the press, reeling him into a bear hug.
"Dick Maitland!" 7.1 whooped with the exuberance of arrested development. "Knew it was--couldn't believe my eyes--what the hell are you doing pounding a joanna in London? Last I heard you were in 'Frisco."
"Chumley ffortesque-Smythe!" Bodie responded, hammering him in the region of his kidneys. "Minor! How the devil are you? The name, these days, is Foster. Got it? F.O.S.T.E.R.?"
"Is it?" Blank amazement. "Why? Oh. Yes. I see. The old man doesn't know you're back?"
"Right. And he isn't going to know. Chumley, don't tell me you're swinging both ways at last--who is this?" beaming toothily at 3.2. "Great Aunt Amelia, I presume?"
"Jane Westlake." 7.1 grinned and turned to the girl. "Told you he was insane, didn't I?"
"Yes," she said, doubtfully. "I thought your name's Jim--"
"Probably," Bodie cut in. "But he'll always be Chumley Minor to me," patting the man's cheek. "When did they kick you out of the Dreaming Spires?"
"They didn't. Got my knuckles rapped, but managed to stay put. Shame about you getting it, though."
"My God, that was years ago," Bodie said scornfully. "Best thing they ever did for me. What are you doing these days?"
"Foreign Office," announced 7.1. "Off to Brussels and Geneva tomorrow. You know; the Under-Secretary's secretary's assistant?"
"Oh, yes. You sharpen the pencils and fill up the paper-clip dish," he said wisely.
"Just about. How long have you been back?"
"Not long. Chumley, my little Minor, do me a favour and don't spread it around you've seen me. I'd just as soon stay clear of the family."
"Oh, yes. Quite. Foster." The blond head nodded earnestly. "Won't tell a soul."
"How is the old bastard, do you know?"
"See him now and then," 7.1 admitted. "'Course, he doesn't know me from Adam, thank God. Looks the same as ever, lost a bit of weight, I suppose. Still top dog with the Constable Unit--going great guns, they are."
"Naturally," Bodie said, voice acid. "Where's that double whisky, cheapskate?"
"Ready and waiting. Been hearing about you from the barman." 7.1 winked and nudged him in the ribs as he handed over the glass of amber liquor. "Still up to your old tricks, I hear."
"Leopards," said Bodie, showing his teeth, "never change their spots. Tell me, Great Aunt Amelia, has he told you about his spots? No, I thought not. My vices are run-of-the-mill by comparison. This hulking brute, the pride of the rugger team, could give us all lessons--and did. Rubber, you know. And whips. And what he did with tapioca and blancmange--"
"Don't we get an introduction?" 7.1 interrupted, the light of battle in his eyes.
"To whom, my Minor Chumley?"
"Your current companion, the oh-so-stunning redhead. Jane is dying to meet--"
"Good Lord, no. Not a chance. That is one redhead I ride close herd on. All poachers will be rapidly hospitalised, results guaranteed. Listen, I have to go now, the interval's practically over. When are you back in London?"
"Next month. Maybe the four of us could get together then?"
"Make that a date. Mondays are free, so just give me a call here or at the Paradise Grove any other time in the week."
"Great. Be good, Dick."
"I'm always good. You're the one who used to need the practice." And he extricated himself from the crowd, carrying the whisky with him, stepping on Martin Dent's feet as he did so. Rourke had been within earshot as well, and Bodie congratulated himself on a job well done.
He reaped the fruit of his labour the next morning. Their leisurely twelve o'clock breakfast was interrupted by a swift tattoo on the door, and Doyle let in a wide-eyed Ann, clutching a newspaper.
"This is you, isn't it?" she demanded, pushing it into Bodie's hands as he left the table to greet her.
"Pardon?" he said blankly. "The Mail? Somehow I would have put you down for The Star, or The Daily Worker."
"What's up?" Doyle asked. "Coffee, Ann?"
"Please--wouldn't have bought it, only I saw you over the shoulder of the man in front of me on the bus."
"Well, you didn't make the front page." Doyle smiled, peering over his arm. "Here you are, Ann, already sugared and stirred. Maybe the club was raided without us noticing."
"Must have been." Bodie grinned. "The likes of us don't make the dailies."
"You did. The society page," the girl said.
"What?" Suddenly serious, he leafed through to that page, and low down on the left his own face stared out at him, cool, arrogant, and supercilious in dress-suit and bow-tie. Beside him was a shot of Sir William Maitland, climbing into a car. "My God--"
"'Earlier this week Sir William Maitland was seen leaving the Harley Street Clinic of Mr. Ralph Courtney, the acclaimed cancer specialist,'" Doyle read aloud over his shoulder. "'Sir William refused to comment on his vigil, saying it was a routine check-up, nothing more. His estranged son, Richard, plays with the band at a well-known London nightclub. The two have not been on speaking terms since Richard was sent down from Oxford for drug offences, but rumour has it Sir William is anxious for a reconciliation--'" his voice trailed away, eyes on Bodie's set face. "Cancer specialist?" he whispered. "Dickon--"
"Don't say it!" Bodie yelled, throwing the paper across the room. "He told me years ago he'd live his life without a son--so he can bloody-well go on with it all the way through!"
"Looks like I dropped a bombshell," Ann muttered, putting down her coffee and retreating to the door.
"He'll survive." Doyle produced an uncertain smile. "At least it won't be sprung on him at the club. He'll have time to get his act together. Thanks, Ann."
Bodie waited until the door closed and the girl was halfway up the stairs, then he pounced on the scattered paper.
"That Cowley's a crafty bastard," he grinned. "Take a good picture, don't I?"
"Sure," Doyle agreed tolerantly. "Everybody's pin-up boy. Should have been Page Three in the Sun."
"That, my flower," said Bodie, hooking an arm about his waist, "is reserved for you. Shall we go out and spit in the world's eye?"
"Why not?" Doyle prised himself free with casual expertise. "Wonder if we'll fall over the Jim Rockford of Tottenham Court Road?"
"Bound to," Bodie said. "Bet you a tenner Russell is more in evidence today."
"What do you take me for? I don't bet against dead cert."
As they left the house, both gave the street a swift raking glance that missed nothing, certainly not the blue Ford Escort and its passenger parked across the road. Dent was still earning his fee.
The short paragraph in the Daily Mail had gone the rounds of the band, they discovered, and Bodie had some leg-pulling to put up with. His tolerance, though, was noticeably strained, and a worried frown seemed to be a permanent fixture, at odds with his scornful rejection of any idea that he might get back on good terms with Sir William.
Just before the end of the rehearsal, a phonecall came for him. Bodie took it in Newley's office, and returned to the stage grim of face.
"He wants me to pay him a visit," he said to Doyle, ignoring the others around them. There was no need to say who 'he' was.
"Dickon--it wouldn't hurt just to talk to him," Doyle said quietly.
"No. You don't know what the old bastard's like, he'll--"
"No, I don't. I haven't known you that long. At least go and hear what he has to say."
"Don't need to. I could quote it word for word from umpteen speeches he made on the subject when I left Oxford."
"That was six years ago. People change."
"I haven't. Not the way he'd want, or what the hell are you doing in my life?"
"Whoa," said Cavanagh. "Family wars come after rehearsals. Back to the piano, Dick. We'll try 'Talking Picture' once more. Ray, pay attention to your cues."
The two men returned to their places, both aware of the distant, shadowed figure of Frank Russell standing on the far side of the dance floor.
At the end of the afternoon session, Bodie and Doyle left the nightclub and walked. They had no particular goal, just aimed to give the impression of earnest and troubled discussion to whoever decided to tail them. Dent did not, but Rourke did. He was good, but not good enough to escape detection, and the CI5 operatives played to their one man gallery for all they were worth.
Eventually Bodie entered a phone box, dialled a number and spoke briefly. He came out with a thunderous scowl, and they retraced their steps, moving quickly, too quickly for Rourke to entirely efface himself, and snatches of conversation reached the man's ears.
"At his club, midday tomorrow. I might miss part of the rehearsal."
"The Old Man'll understand, in the circumstances. He'll--" and they passed out of his hearing.
"Hooked!" said Bodie gleefully as they caught a bus back towards their flat.
"So I should hope," Doyle said, relaxing in the seat. "We put enough into it. What's he sound like, Sir William?"
"A frightfully English version of Cowley. Called me Richard, he did."
"I see. So it's bangers and mash and the old school tie at The Club. At least no one'll be tailing or bugging you there. You do realize, don't you, we've got to tighten up our act? From now on it will have to be Duncan and Maitland twenty-four hours of every day?"
"Yes, my love. From good morning cuddle to goodnight kiss."
"Just be very careful, Bodie." Doyle stood up as their stop approached. "Or you may end up having to marry me."
"With Cowley to give you away?"
"Complete with shotgun under his arm."
"Sir Bill as Matron of Honour, and Joel for Best Man?" Bodie elaborated happily. "And you in white lace--" But got no response. Doyle was already on the pavement.
Their flat had been searched. Expertly and with a minimum disturbance, but the tiny details leaped up to be noticed by trained eyes. They stayed in character, keeping conversation to musical matters and the occasional bitter comment on the perfidy of Sir William, while Doyle fixed a quick meal.
When they left to walk to The Mandalay, they were not followed.
Ten minutes before the band was due to go on, Bodie was called to a phone.
"Hi," said a familiar voice.
"Chumley Minor," Bodie said grimly. "And how is Brussels? Or is it Geneva and would you know the difference?"
"You'll regret yesterday, Bodie," 7.1 promised. "Joey Marshall went through your love-nest this afternoon. He took nothing away, and the place is clean of bugs. We've fitted a bleeper, and we'll warn you if one gets planted."
"I'm supposed to believe that?" Bodie demanded querulously. Russell's office door was ajar, and the room occupied. "Listen, as long as they lubricate your throat, you'll talk to anyone."
"Dent has completed his assignment for Sir William," 7.1 went on, "and he questioned enough of The Mandalay staff for it to get to Russell's ears that a P.I. was looking for Richard Foster. Or Maitland. Russell, Rourke and Marshall are under close surveillance."
"That's all very well. I now have the old bastard on my back wanting the big reconciliation scene. This, Minor Chumley, I don't need, as he will almost certainly have some ultimatums I have no intention of accepting. So if you think you are going to walk in and console my redhead, you've got another think coming." Bodie was enjoying himself. So, too, was his fellow agent, who had purposely kept the blockbuster for the finish.
"An hour ago Rourke moved into a bed-sit across the road from you," he said. "Posing as a member of Special Squad. The girl has been put into a bed-and-breakfast round the corner, all expenses paid. He has taken in field-glasses and camera equipment--you can place money on the telephoto lens being present. He'll be one floor higher than you, with direct views into your two main rooms. Your instructions are to remain in character at all times. But don't get 4.5 pregnant. Cowley won't like it."
"He won't be getting it," Bodie snapped, and put the phone down. Then his sense of humour reasserted itself, and he returned to the dressing room, his amusement masked by a frown. As he passed Russell's office, he got a brief glimpse of the man working at his desk, head industriously bent.
No one seemed to pay undue attention to Joel Cavanagh's pianist, nor were they tailed on their way home. The walk, though, was conducted as usual--close in step with Bodie's arm across Doyle's shoulders--and he took the chance to relay 7.1's information without the risk of eavesdroppers.
"Oh, Christ," Doyle sighed. "Bet that dandelion-headed moron enjoyed telling you that."
"Put it this way. I think 7.1 is getting a lot of job satisfaction at the moment. But once this case is wrapped up, he'll find that life will sour very quickly. However, it wasn't unexpected, just a bit premature," Bodie went on. "Which means that there are a few things you're going to get used to awful fast."
"Yeah?" guardedly, mistrusting the mournful tones and evil glitter of narrowed eyes.
"Of course." Innocent surprise. "We'll have to provide a little more for his home movie than wandering around holding hands."
"Bodie," Doyle said, a warning in his voice. "I know damn-well you're only doing it to get up my nose. So don't push your luck. It's bad enough being groped in earnest--you trying it just for the hell of it is beyond the limit."
"I don't know what you mean," Bodie said, all hurt virtue. "I'm passionately in love with you--haven't you noticed?"
"No," said Doyle. Which was a mistake.
"Then I'll have to prove it to you," Bodie drawled, leaned closer and delicately bit Doyle's ear.
He reacted as if he had collected a wasp sting.
"You bastard! Not in the bloody street!"
"Okay," said Bodie, willing to please. "Upstairs, then."
"Behave, or you'll sleep on the couch for the rest of this case!"
Doyle was awakened by footsteps running down the stairs. It sounded as if the perpetrator was wearing hob-nailed boots, or wooden clogs, and it successfully dug him out of a deep, comfortable sleep.
He lay there for a while, then focused on the alarm clock at the bedside, and groaned. Bodie was still asleep, curled into his back and occupying the middle of the bed, and Doyle glared at his unconscious partner. No matter that they started out on opposite sides of the bed, come the morning, Bodie always seemed to have ended up with the lion's share of it. There was no justice in the world.
He slid out from under the quilt without waking him, and padded into the living room, drawing back the curtains. Sunlight flooded in, making him blink. He yawned, stretched until his spine creaked, then went into the kitchen.
The gas meter needed feeding, so he went through Bodie's coat pockets until he found coins of the correct value, put them in, and bullied the cooker into producing a flame for the kettle. By the time it had boiled he was washed and shaved and more than ready for a cup of tea.
He poured two mugs and took them into the living room, collected Ann's discarded Daily Mail and a ball pen, and sat at the table with the crossword spread in front of him.
"Tea's poured," he called absently, filling in One Across.
He didn't hear Bodie's approach, the first warning he had was hands sliding round upper arms and chest, then lips and teeth fastened onto the side of his neck.
"Bodie!" a yell of outrage.
"Stay in character, 4.5," Bodie admonished as he jerked round. "We have a Peeping Tom, remember?"
"I'll bloody-well kill you--" he began, but the words were stopped by a kiss that offended every one of his instincts. Bodie's mouth was hard, demanding, attempting to force his mouth open and assert a dominance that Doyle had no intention of permitting. It was also cold-bloodedly deliberate, part of Bodie's perennial needling campaign, part of the rivalry that permeated all aspects of their relationship. And typically, Bodie had picked his time well, when he was at a disadvantage, unable to break free. The watcher across the street made sure of that. He had to put up with it, take the temporary defeat, and bide his time--but he would not open his mouth for the victor.
Finally Bodie raised his head.
"Good morning," he grinned.
"Good morning," Doyle echoed. "I hope your tea is cold. And I've got news for you. You're a lousy kisser. No finesse at all."
"Practice makes perfect," Bodie said smugly, eyes on the swollen lips and the darkening mark on Doyle's throat above the heavy gold chain. "What's for breakfast?"
"Not me," he snorted. "And if you're dining at Daddy's club, my Dickon, you'd better not have too much to eat now."
"No?" Bodie touched a fingertip to the bite-bruise. "I've put my brand on you," he announced with complacent satisfaction. Doyle grunted and returned to the crossword, pointedly ignoring him.
Hands resting lightly on the lean shoulders, Bodie studied him with amused irritation, and tried another goad.
"Good old Harv should see you now," he murmured. "He'd eat you alive, Pretty Boy." The muscles under his hands tensed, then relaxed. He got no other reaction. It was, in any case, a misnomer, he decided. There was nothing fragile or effeminate about the half-naked man in the sunlight. Slender-boned and narrow-hipped he might be, but Doyle had a whiplash speed and tensile strength, the same dangerous arrogance and beauty as the big hunting-cats--a predator, a proven killer-- Illogically a kind of anger grew in Bodie, tightening his muscles, setting his jaw, and pulling down the strongly arched brows. They--Cowley, Jason, Cavanagh, and himself--had taken that deadly masculinity and covered it with the housecat meekness of Ray Duncan, and the contrast was almost offensive--but at the same time the situation had a similar appeal to prodding sticks at a caged panther, just to see how long he'd put up with it and what would happen--
Bodie chuckled, the transient anger fading into cheerful speculation, and he bent to kiss the mark he'd left on the smooth throat. With any luck it would show above his shirt-collar. Doyle did not react to that stick either.
"If you're making toast," was all he said, "do some for me. What was Leningrad before it was Leningrad?"
"St. Peter-something," Bodie said after a moment's thought, and ruffled the uncombed curls. "You're going to have to be a little more demonstrative, my passion-flower, or Patrick Lichfield over there will be smelling a rat."
"Yes, Dickon," said Doyle meekly. "A semi-precious stone beginning with P, seven letters?"
"Pearl," Bodie said with monumental confidence, and wandered into the kitchen alcove. "Any sign of him?"
"Can't be sure. The curtains are still half-drawn, same as they were when we got home last night. Peridot, cloth-head."
"Never heard of it. Hey, don't you let Harv get too friendly when I'm not around. I may not be back until two, half-past."
"No, Dickon. Vegetable named after the Holy City? Something-something T--"
"Jerusalem artichoke," Bodie supplied.
"Well, you got that one right. Which club is it?"
"Same as Cowley's."
"Oh." Doyle looked up, and laughed quietly. "Stay clear of the steak and kidney pudding, sunshine."
"Listen, after all this time of your League-of-Nations cooking, steak and kidney pud would be a welcome relief."
"Haven't noticed you leaving any."
"A starving man will eat anything."
"I'll remember that. You'd better get a move on--seen the time?"
"Christ!" and Bodie loped through to the bedroom. "Finish the toast, will you?"
Immaculate in a dark suit, cream shirt and brown tie, Bodie brushed his already neat hair into a smoother cap, then glanced at his watch.
"God knows how long this'll take," he said. "Expect me when you see me."
"Ask him about George," Doyle said. His back was to the window, so his wide grin did not have to be kept behind a mask. "You never know when background information like that could be useful."
"Very true. I'll give him the third degree over dessert. All set for the big farewell scene?"
"You're only going to visit Dad, not the upper reaches of the Amazon," he pointed out, but when Bodie held out his arms he drifted into the circle, and his own arms slid around his partner's ribs under the jacket. "He better be taking pictures of all this. I feel a bloody fool."
"Yeah?" Bodie stroked his hands down the bare spine, face turned in against Doyle's hair, the curve of jaw and throat. From across the street it was quite a touching tableau. "It's okay, it doesn't show. You using a new aftershave?"
"No. Get your hands off my pants." Doyle leaned back, tolerant amusement on the uneven, haunting features. "Don't give up the needling, do you, Bodie?"
"Nope. Be good."
"Yes, Dickon." He raised his face for the kiss, dutiful, mechanical, then stood away.
"I've seen more effort put in by a piece of wet fish." Bodie grinned. "Stay clear of Harv," and left.
Doyle sighed and shook his head, and padded into the bedroom to dress.
A period of thought during his solitary walk to The Mandalay, and Doyle had Duncan's reactions sorted out. On the one hand wanting his lover reconciled with the family, on the other, afraid of losing him through parental opposition. Vulnerable and insecure, his would be an isolationist policy; sit quiet in his own little corner, and maybe the world wouldn't see him. When Maitland got back from his dinner date, depending on what had been said, and how it had gone, Duncan would stick to him like glue. However, if he was lucky, it might even put the wind up Bodie, a small compensation for the increasing tedium and irritation of the job.
He discovered that the band would not permit Duncan to creep into a corner. Alan Brett, straight as a die, appointed himself surrogate watchdog and deflected the renewed attentions of Lowe with a Maitland-like determination that both amused and annoyed Doyle. From what was carefully not said, he gathered that they had also speculated on the possible outcome of a reconciliation with Sir William, and had come to the conclusion that Duncan would probably find himself ditched. Which meant that the ground was already prepared for the next phase, without any further spadework. This pleased him, as it was not only a measure of the validity of their created characters, but made for a more fluid, natural flow of events, with Duncan and Maitland as the pivots rather than the triggers. He always had been in favour of the dropped pebble to start the avalanche. Bodie was the one who set the explosives under the snow crest, whether it needed it or not. 'Professor', his partner sometimes called him, with scathing indignation, and certainly he was astute enough to know there was a time and a place for explosions. But not in the midst of Joel Cavanagh And His Orchestra.
Bodie turned up at a quarter to three, while the band was tackling a new arrangement of 'Begin the Beguine', a number that did not require a vocalist, and the CI5 agents went smoothly into the next act of the drama.
Doyle came to meet him, for the first time taking the initiative in their supposed relationship, grasping the lapels of Bodie's jacket and standing very close, their bodies almost touching.
"How did it go?" he asked quietly. Bodie pulled an expressive face.
"Not too bad," he said. "The whole thing was quite civilised in fact. Frightfully British." He folded Doyle into a public embrace, something that would not have been permitted before. "See? Told you not to worry."
"Did he--" he began, and broke off, eyes wide and anxious, searching Bodie's features.
"Mention you? No, lover, he did not. Neither by name or insinuation."
One arm still around the slim waist, Bodie approached the stage and Cavanagh's wryly smiling face. "Sorry I'm late, sir," he said.
"It's all right, Dick. This time. How's your father?"
"Fair to middling."
"And that specialist he visited in Harley Street?"
Bodie looked away and there was a pause.
"They haven't had all the results in yet, sir," he said evenly. "But it looks as if it's malignant."
"I'm sorry." The quiet sympathy in Cavanagh's voice got a muted echo from the rest of the band, and Bodie cleared his throat, tightening his hold on Doyle.
"Thanks," he said. Then, brightly, "Well, the show goes on, I guess. Do you still need a pianist?"
"I do. On stage, lad. And you, Ray."
For the rest of the rehearsal it was business as usual, but once they'd retired to the dressing room for beers and discussion before leaving for their respective homes, Bodie discovered he had acquired an extra shadow. He found it somewhat unnerving after a while.
"What's with the clinging vine imitation?" he demanded on their way back to the flat, safely out of range of any eavesdroppers.
"Duncan. Making the most of Lover-boy while he's still got him around," Doyle said, leaning into Bodie's shoulder. "It's what you wanted, isn't it? More demonstrativeness?"
"So I'm demonstrating. Damn it, there's no pleasing some people."
"Huh," said Bodie, sensing that battle was joined again. "We'll see about that. What's for tea?"
"Had chicken in white wine at the Club," he sighed.
"Then you won't want spaghetti. You can make do with a jam buttie. I'll have the Bolognese."
"Bloody gannet. So what did Sir Bill have to say?"
"Quite a bit. But I'll tell you later. We're nearly home, and I need a coffee." And they walked in silence the rest of the way.
As Bodie opened the front door, Doyle caught a brief movement on the periphery of his vision. Rourke was on duty in the bed-sit opposite.
Leaving the Bolognese pan to soak, Doyle dried his hands and returned to the living room. Bodie was on the couch, legs stretched out, leafing through a magazine.
"Okay," Doyle said. "So you and Sir Bill have started a mutual admiration society. What did he have to say about Cowley?"
"Make yourself comfortable." Bodie patted the threadbare cushions beside him, and Doyle joined him, kicking his shoes off and curling up, his head on Bodie's shoulder. "You're getting too good at this," he grumbled, arm around the relaxed body.
"Stay in character, 3.7." Doyle snickered. "What about Cowley?"
"A right little tearaway. Devious as they come and bloody-minded to boot."
"What else is new? We already know that. When's the ultimatum being staged?"
"Tuesday, at the Grove. He's booked the table. He did tell me this story about Cowley, Cavanagh, a traction engine and a local inn--"
"So how do we play it? Can't make it too much of a Public Scene."
"It'll be in character for Maitland to blow his top."
"Yes, but not for him to back down afterwards. Which brings us back to the blackmail lever. He's got to make at least a token show of acceptance."
"That's true." Bodie squinted down but could not see Doyle's face, only a mass of auburn hair. "Any ideas?"
"You and Sir William can sort out your bit between you. But the main shouting match should be between you and me--probably in the dressing room. 'Okay, Daddy needs you, but what about me?' and so on. A split and reconciliation, or maybe a faked split, if we can get cooperation from some of the band. Either way, I'll move out of here--try to resign from the band--play the wounded, discarded lover."
"Scarlett O'Doyle," Bodie cackled. "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn--it should work pretty well. Where'd you go?"
"Don't know. Cavanagh's place, maybe, or Alan's--how about Harv's?"
"No way!" His reaction was forceful, immediate, and entirely his own. "You keep your anatomy out of that ancient faggot's clutches!"
"Jealous, Dickon?" Doyle chuckled, tilting his head back, the feral amusement in his eyes showing that he knew damned well that Maitland was not the source of that statement.
"Don't be stupid," Bodie growled, discomfited. "Of course not! It's just that you're likely to lose your rag and break his jaw for him. Which will ruin the whole bloody assignment!"
"Me? Lose my temper? That's rich, coming from you!" he snorted. "Okay, not Harv's. I'll book in somewhere. When do we fight? Interval?"
"No. After the show. Sir William's booked the table for eight, so I'll stay with him until the band's on stage, go back to him during the interval, and we can claw each other's eyes out at the end. I'll go on with him, get back to the flat at about three, four, that'll give you chance to clear out. How's that sound?"
"We'll phone around tomorrow, during the jogging session. Let Cowley, Cavanagh and Sir William in on the scenario. Y'know, Ray," he went on, mournfully, "I'm going to miss you."
"Good. Maybe you'll appreciate me more. Always told you I was too good for you."
"God, you're cruel."
"Yes," said Doyle, bouncing to his feet before he could be caught back. "Want some coffee?"
"Yeah, thanks. Then we should get our Tuesday act sorted out as far as we can. I reckon a course in RADA should be part of CI5's training scheme."
"Suggest it to the Cow next time you see him."
If Sir William was suffering from nerves of any kind it didn't show, and the evening's drama went as per schedule. Even the unexpected sight of Marshall at the next table, within earshot of a raised voice, did not put the older man off his stride.
The early part of the evening was comparatively simple. 'Safe' conversation with his 'son' on general family topics, a catching-up on six years of news, as well as sport and politics. The time he spent alone while the band was on stage he used to great effect, carefully planning his speech of ultimatum while studying the red-haired singer with a wall-eyed wariness that was not entirely feigned. They had previously agreed that emotional rather than financial blackmail would be used by the elder Maitland, and he eased into the run-up with all the skill of a diplomat. Bodie was delighted. And when the crunch came, it was beautifully delivered.
"--so you see, Richard, with results like that, Ralph is going to have to operate, regardless. I'm not complaining. I've had a damn-good run for my money, but--"
"There are new techniques--" Bodie interrupted.
"I know. Which is why I'm staying with Ralph. The man is brilliant. Richard, the past is the past, and the future isn't exactly hopeful. All I have is the present, and I want to fill it with all that I value most. Including my son. We both said a lot of hasty words--but I'd like to think it's water under the bridge, now. Come home, Richard."
"Home?" Bodie said quietly.
"I'd like that." Wistfully. "We used to be pretty good friends, once."
"We can be again. I'll have to cut down on the time I spend with the Unit--doctor's orders--there would be more opportunities for us to get to know each other again. Well, Dick?"
"I--sir, I have a contract with Mr. Cavanagh--"
"Contracts can be bought out."
"Yes, I know, but I couldn't just walk out and drop him in it. The band has to have a pianist."
"I'm glad you've finally learned responsibility," Sir William said quietly. "I'll arrange it with Cavanagh."
"I'll need another job, sir," Bodie pointed out. "Or do you expect me to sponge off you. Again. I've become quite good at being self-sufficient." There was a certain edge to his voice, and Marshall, ears straining on the next tables, was aware of the unspoken name hanging between the two men.
"You can find one. In Cambridge."
"Why not here, sir? There are worse things than playing piano in a dance band, and it's something I do well."
"No. I need you at home. And there are some aspects of your life here that I cannot and will not tolerate."
"Ray," Bodie said softly, eyes on the snowy linen of the tablecloth.
"Exactly. What you do when I am dead is your affair. While I live, I will not have my son involved with a--"
"Don't say it. You don't know him or anything about him! He's--"
"So you will terminate your liaison, at once, and inform Cavanagh that you're leaving the band."
"No! I can't do--"
"Dick." A husky whisper, and suddenly Sir William's face was that of a tired, frightened and desperately lonely old man, as if he had forgotten for the moment he was speaking to a virtual stranger wearing his son's name. "Please come home. I need you with me, lad."
Startled and shaken, Bodie stared at him, and anger sparked in the weary eyes.
"Damn it, boy! Who means more to you?" Sir William barked. "Your father, dying of cancer, or a mincing homosexual?"
Bodie came clumsily to his feet.
"We'll talk later, after the show," he said. "I have to go."
"Tell him, Richard!"
"Yes, sir." A whisper forced from him, and he retreated from the table, supremely confident of a job well done, deserving of Oscars and laurel wreaths.
However, it was not over yet, and he had cut it fine. The rest of the band were already taking their places. He did not look at Doyle, nor acknowledge the uncertain, "Dickon?"
The dressing room argument had been choreographed down to the last detail, and it flowed along its preset course with the ease of well-oiled clockwork, every word, gesture, and intonation judged to a nicety for maximum impact. Its effect on the band was interesting--dumbfounded amazement, disbelief of eyes and ears, and a general sympathy with Duncan.
"--but you said it didn't matter what happened, you weren't going to be dictated to by him," Doyle said, standing dazed in the middle of the large room. They had started by keeping their voices to a whisper, but Bodie was nearly shouting.
"I know what I said, damn it! He's dying, Ray! He needs me!"
"All of a sudden, he needs you. What about me?" Bitterness and pain in the quiet voice. "You knew about the cancer yesterday. And yesterday you said nothing would change. So what has changed, Dickon?"
"You don't understand!"
"That's for sure."
"He's my father!"
"Who threw you out six years ago! What happens if he's not as ill as he thinks? If surgery and treatment cure him? You'll be out on your ear again! Lover-boy! Or is that what's changed? Suddenly gone straight, have you? What miracle did that? Dad's cancer, or Dad's cash?"
"You bastard!" Fist clenched and raised. But he didn't strike. "Okay. Play the Tragedy Queen. But find yourself another audience. Harv, you want him, he's all yours!" and slammed out of the room. Doyle stared after him, face blank, frozen, then turned and walked, apparently blind, to his corner. Brett was waiting for him, grim of face.
"Here," he said, putting a glass in his hands. "Drink it. All of it. Straight back."
The neat whisky burned his throat, and he gave a convincing coughing fit.
"Ray--" Lowe's voice, anxious, concerned, and he flinched away from the outstretched hand. Someone got hold of the clarinettist and forcibly removed him from the vicinity.
"Okay?" Brett asked quietly.
"I--yes." He managed to put a shake into voice and hands, and wished he could produce an interesting pallor to go with it. No one seemed to notice the omission, though, and he was cynically amused by the support and sympathy offered. He kept his features blank, stunned, as of one in shock, and Brett poured another shot of whisky into the glass, made him drink it, and Doyle decided he'd better show signs of life before he ended up pissed as a newt. As if he'd heard a cue, Cavanagh appeared in front of him.
"Ray?" the bandleader said. "What the devil triggered that?"
He shook his head, and Brett answered for him.
"Sir William, at a guess," the drummer said. "Seems like Dick was given a choice--" He broke off and shrugged.
"That I gathered. I've just been told to find another pianist."
"What?" Brett gasped.
"He was generous enough to tell me he'd work until I found a replacement. But Maitland Junior--and Senior--will find that contracts are not so easily broken."
"S-sir--" Doyle's stammer was beautifully done.
"If you're going to try and break contract as well, Ray, I'm sorry. It's not on." Cavanagh was sympathetic, but firm. "You make sure you're back here at one tomorrow." He gave the hunched shoulders a friendly squeeze. "You'll get over it, son. It's not the end of the world. Chances are it'll blow over anyhow, you know what a hothead Dick is."
"Yes, sir." Head bowed, it was an almost inaudible mumble.
"Want a lift home?" Brett offered. "My car's out back--"
"No--I--thanks, but--" Without stopping to change out of his stage clothes, Doyle pushed past him, running from the dressing room.
He didn't stay more than a few minutes in the flat, long enough to tip clothes, washing and shaving gear into a suitcase, and left again. He flagged down a late cruising taxi, and told the cabbie to take him to the nearest hotel that would give him a room for what was left of the night without emptying his pockets.
He ended up in a plain, Spartan room in the Grosvenor, a place that had seen much better days. But it was clean, not too pricey, and the room was his for as long as he wanted it--cash a week in advance. The springs didn't creak either, and he crawled into bed congratulating himself and Bodie on a fantastic piece of acting.
When Bodie returned to the flat, there was not a lot of evidence of Doyle's rapid departure. Only the empty spaces.
There was an empty space in the bed as well, and Bodie found it difficult to sleep. Some miles away across the city, so too did Doyle.
The next few days started easy, and became more and more difficult. Their public fronts of cool disdain towards each other were not hard to maintain; the problem lay in the tension that grew between them. It should not be there--its cause and the fuel that fed it was rooted partially in boredom, in the day-to-day routine of a case that demanded little of them in the way of swift, hard action, did nothing to pump the adrenalin of danger through their veins.
For three days, while Maitland argued and pleaded with Cavanagh for the release of his contract, and Duncan appeared to exist silent and unhappy behind invisible walls, the tension grew, until it could almost be seen crackling between them. Inevitably the band put its own interpretation on it; George Cowley, if the circumstances permitted, would have sent them on a tough refresher course, an exercise nearly as dangerous as the real thing, to burn off the excess energy. Alan Brett opened a book and took in bets on how much longer the 'ex-lovers' would stay apart.
Sir William was a regular visitor to the clubs, following the band's customary change of venue. He would arrive just before the interval, Bodie would join him at his table during the break, and he'd leave half-an-hour or an hour after the music began again. He made repeated attempts to persuade Cavanagh to release his pianist's contract, but the bandleader would not shift an inch. At the clubs, Marshall and Russell watched developments, and Rourke stayed at his post opposite the flat, but it was the Maitlands who were the focus of attention. They were under almost constant scrutiny, while no one bothered to watch Doyle at all, except CI5.
The two agents had no contact with each other; the hours spent in near proximity could not be called contact, and communication was made virtually impossible by the closeness of the watch on Bodie. The telephone was the only method available, and it would have to be Bodie that made the call, as there was no phone in the apartment house. But no calls came to the Grosvenor for Mr. Duncan.
Their fellow operatives were not so restricted. Bodie had a brief conversation with 8.1 in the park, and at the same time Doyle encountered 3.2 in a department store. The instructions passed on were the same--stage the reunion Saturday afternoon, before, during or after the rehearsals. Doyle was to wait for Bodie to make the first move.
The penultimate phase of the case, and Doyle greeted it with fervent relief mixed with some wariness. Leaving the scenario and script up to Bodie could well be an error of judgment--God knows what the lunatic would stage, and he would be expected to follow right along, forced to make a prat of himself while his head-banger of a partner was laughing himself sick up his sleeve. Well, he, Ray Doyle, would perform a frontal lobotomy with his boot if Bodie went over the top. He'd had about as much as he could stand of Duncan's passiveness, more than enough of Maitland's macho possessiveness, and he was going to start asserting himself before long.
He arrived at The Mandalay ten minutes early, but was not the first-comer. Bodie sat at the bar in desultory conversation with the barman, a large glass of spirit in front of him. He seemed to have been there for some time. Doyle ignored him, heading for the stage and the shortcut to the dressing room via the wings, the tension that quivered in every nerve and tendon tightening up one more notch. (Come on, you bloody-minded sod,) he thought. (Get this over with, for God's sake.) Bodie must have caught the aimed thought.
"Ray." A bark, almost. "Hold on. We have to talk."
He did not hesitate, nor give any sign of having heard.
"Ray! Damn it, will you stop!"
He nearly laughed aloud. (Not bloody likely, sunshine! Come and get me, Lover-boy.)
Footsteps ran across the dance floor as he ducked into the wings and sprinted past Russell's office, automatically registering the quiet murmur of one side of a telephone conversation. Right on cue came Bodie's bellow of 'Ray!' and a hand grabbed his shoulder, slamming him up against the wall.
His reaction was instinctive, lightning-fast and unDuncan-like; a karate stab to Bodie's throat that was only just deflected, and for a brief moment they were poised on the edge of violence. And Bodie knew it, by the feral brilliance of the laughter in his narrowed eyes. It was at times like these that Doyle seriously doubted his partner's sanity. He'd seen that look often enough in wildly inappropriate situations to know it for what it was. But he had never pandered to Bodie's waywardness, and this was no exception. He did not know it, but the same savage amusement was in his own eyes.
"Now, now, 4.5," Bodie mouthed. "Stay in character."
"I am, 3.7, believe me," he hissed back. "Don't push your luck."
"Ray," said Bodie aloud, a note of pleading in his voice at odds with the devil in his eyes. "I've got to talk to you."
"Nothing to say," Doyle snapped, driving his knee at Bodie's groin, the blow half in earnest. Bodie twisted his hips and took it on his thigh. "Let me go."
"Just listen to me--please--" countering with a short jab to the smaller man's stomach, and it would have winded him if he had not been tensed, ready for it. Schoolboy scuffling. "He's making me choose, and I can't. Ray--he's a sick old man, dying, maybe--but I can't put you out of my life." The odd, choked abruptness in Bodie's voice was caused by suppressed hilarity, but it served well for deep emotion. Doyle did not intend to make it easy for him.
"I'll make the choice for you," he said. "You're out of my life, Maitland. It's over. Finis. Caput. R.I.P. I don't need you or anyone else to louse up my life. Let me go."
"I can't. I need you, Ray," announced with an expression of Bassett-hound soulfulness that strained Doyle's self-control to the limit, as did the jab to the kidneys that accompanied it.
"Big Butch Maitland doesn't need anyone. Least of all a Tragedy Queen." He struck back with a knee as well as words, enjoying himself. The prickling of his nerve-ends told him Russell was standing behind his door, listening, and any sounds from their covert battle could be easily mistaken for Duncan trying to get free. "Go find yourself another bed-warmer, Lover-boy."
"You're the only one I want," Bodie said, the overbearing complacency that never failed to infuriate Doyle when he was the target of it back in face and voice. "You can't get away from me. I know too much about you--which buttons to push--what you need from me--we can't throw away all our months together as if they never happened--"
"Can't I? Watch me." But Bodie's arms closed around him, the hard, arrogant mouth clamped down on his, and short of fighting him off in earnest, Doyle had to accept it. Then over Bodie's shoulder he caught a glimpse of Brett's grinning face. A public reconciliation, yet. So he closed his eyes, let his mouth be forced open, melted his body the length of Bodie's, and gave a good imitation of total surrender. He could almost taste Bodie's surprise, along with the whisky on his lips.
Brett began a brisk handclap.
"Does this mean the divorce is shelved?" he enquired, as Bodie released Doyle with startled abruptness.
"Yes," he snapped.
"Good. But for God's sake leave enough of him to perform on stage." The drummer snickered, and sidled past them towards the dressing room.
"Alan, wait," Bodie said quickly. "I--uh--look, do us a favour and keep quiet, please? I don't want my father to find out, he's got enough to contend with."
Brett's features sobered.
"Yeah. Sure," he said. "Didn't think of that. How is he?"
"Not nearly as fit as he looks. They've found out he's got a heart condition as well."
"I get the picture. No shocks, no trauma, so no Ray. Don't sweat. My lips are sealed. But how are you going to stop the rest of the guys guessing? It's pretty obvious, you know." Doyle glared at him, affronted.
"We'll manage, somehow," Bodie got in before his partner could speak his mind with un-Duncan forthrightness.
"I'll believe it when I see it." Brett grinned, and disappeared into the dressing room.
"Bloody fool," Bodie grunted. "Ray, don't cut out on me again--we'll talk after the rehearsals, okay?"
"It won't work." Doyle pushed himself back into the role of Duncan.
"Yea, it will. We'll make it." There was a frown beginning on the Bodie brows, and it pleased Doyle to see it. All the same, it was time for Duncan to stop playing hard-to-get.
"Playing both ends against the middle, again, Dickon?" he murmured.
"Just until we know how the old guy is, after surgery. Could be I'll be able to talk him round."
"And pigs might fly."
"I have to try. You're very special to me, Ray." Again the soulfulness. "Do I have to convince you of that, all over again?"
"Yes," Doyle said, and twisted past him before he could be grabbed into another unwelcome embrace. Russell had enough to be going on with.
They spent the rehearsal dutifully ignoring each other, left the club separately, and Doyle found Bodie lying in wait for him behind a telephone kiosk round the corner from The Mandalay.
"Back to the flat," Bodie said, falling into step beside him. "Patrick Lichfield is still in business. Do we keep the two places, or are you going to move back in?"
"Be better to keep the two," Doyle said. "After all, if we're supposed to be hiding it from Sir Bill, I'm hardly likely to bound straight back in."
"I suppose not." Bodie scowled at an empty beer can, and kicked it into the gutter.
"What's up?" Doyle grinned. "Miss me?"
"Hell, no. Ann's been giving me a hard time."
"She has?" He glanced at him, surprised. "How come? Been trying to fix you up with a nice heterosexual date?"
"No. She's been nagging at me for kicking you out--or driving you out. Hasn't made up her mind, yet. Either way, it comes down to my fault."
"Of course," Doyle said, primly.
"Huh. You're the blue-eyed boy in Flat Five, okay. The poor little hurt Innocent. Christ, if only she knew."
"It's my youthful charm."
"Yeah? You're three years older than me, mate," Bodie snapped, irritated.
"Sour grapes," Doyle snickered. "Three years, five months. You're prematurely aged by your life of sin. I'm hungry--what's for tea?"
"Tea?" he echoed blankly. "I don't know."
"What's in the fridge? Or the cupboard?"
"How the hell should I know? I've been patronising the chippie down the street."
"Strewth." Doyle sighed. "You really did miss me, didn't you? Or at least, your belly did."
"The way to a man's heart is through his stomach," Bodie proclaimed sententiously. "According to my old SAS instructor. I cannot tell a lie--my ulcer is deprived of your various spaghettis, lasagnes, and curries."
"Tape-worm, more like."
"Maybe." He kicked at another can, sent it clattering under the wheels of a passing bus. "I'll be bloody glad when this lot's over!" A sudden explosive complaint. "Too tame by half. Nothing's happening, Ray. No action--no results--dull as some fucking vicarage tea-party! I might as well be a pianist--or a pen-pushing civil servant! I didn't join CI5 to be bored out of my skull!"
"It's not all fast cars and fancy weapons, you know that," Doyle said wryly. "So far it's been quiet. Rourke and Marshall may well have records of non-violence, but Russell's an unknown quality. He could well turn nasty when the crunch comes."
"Yeah, well," Bodie growled, discontent in his voice and in his hunched shoulders. "I'm fed up with pussyfooting around."
"Sure," he said, with heavy tolerance. "Everyone in the mob from Cowley down knows you get your kicks from your poor man's James Bond impersonations. You're a nutter, Bodie."
"Good God! Look who's talking!" he retaliated. "Crazy as a bed-bug, you are, mate. Only you hide it, kid people along. But you don't fool me!"
"Judging by your own standards again?" Doyle leered.
Bodie opened his mouth for acid comment, then realised they were nearly at the apartment house, and Ann stood on the top step, a wide grin growing on her face.
"Ray!" she exclaimed, and hugged him as he climbed to the front door. "You're back together? That's marvellous! Don't let him treat you like a doormat anymore--or I'll bang your heads together!"
"It's not definite," he said defensively.
"Yes, it is," Bodie cut in. "Definite, but unofficial." He hooked an arm around Doyle's waist and pulled him close, the possessive gesture second-nature by now. But the tension was electric in the lean body, and he knew it was only a matter of time before Doyle's patience ran dry. "I don't intend the old chap to find out."
"Don't blame you. Take better care of him, you may not get a second chance," giving them both a hug and slipping past them, turning left along the pavement. "See you later," she called.
"Not bloody likely," Bodie yelled back, and pushed Doyle into the house.
"What the hell does she think I am?" Doyle snarled. "Retarded as well as perverted?"
"Yes," his partner agreed, cheerfully. "The real Ray Doyle is showing through--"
"You wait," he promised, wrathful and bristling. "When this stinking job is over, I am going to wipe the floor with you."
"Yeah? You and whose army? Can't be done, mate."
"No." Bodie grinned. The argument had taken them up the stairs to the door of the flat, and he unlocked it, ushered Doyle insides shut it behind them and set the safety chain, all with smirking deliberation. "Home, Sweet Home," he sighed. "C'mere."
"What I want is a cup of coffee, not your body," Doyle snapped. But he came to meet him, let himself be taken into an embrace. "You sure he's still there?"
"He's there. Our lads are in the next flat taking pictures of him taking pictures. Didn't your contact tell you?"
"No, she didn't."
Bodie's arms tightened.
"Little Lucy Brown."
"Damn it. You get all the luck. Where?"
"My room at the Grosvenor," Doyle lied happily. "She's quite a girl, our 3.2."
"Don't believe you."
"Please yourself. Was thinking of asking Cowley to reassign me as her partner," he went on. "She thought it was a good idea as well."
Speechless, Bodie glared down at him. The mask was Duncan's, all wide-eyed guilelessness and gently smiling mouth, but the hard complacency belonged to Doyle. So too, did the coiled-spring tension.
"Pull the other one," he snapped. "Cowley wouldn't wear it, for a start."
"Wanna bet?" Doyle leaned back and laughed at him.
"You sneaky sod," Bodie growled. "Banking on me not breaking your neck with our snap-happy friend out there, eh? Think again, Lover-boy." With angry strength he hauled Doyle's jacket and shirt over his shoulders, ripping fabric in his carelessness, and threw the tangled garments across the room.
"Rape!" Doyle yelped, with a kind of savage delight, and prepared to sell his virtue at a very high price. But first he let himself be manhandled into the bedroom, where, once behind closed curtains, the scene that had begun as grand passion for Rourke's benefit, became a violent, riotous wrestling match devoid of sexual overtones.
The result was inconclusive, hampered as they were by lack of space and the necessity of not inflicting any real damage on each other. Or visible marks. So Doyle refrained from hanging a fist on Bodie's arrogant mouth, concentrating on using his greater speed to keep out of the stronger, heavier man's grasp, and get in painful blows to stomach and kidneys. Stalemate. And in the end, they collapsed across the wrecked bed, grinning like idiots and exhausted.
"Welcome home," Bodie panted. "Hope to God this place isn't bugged."
"Nah," wheezed Doyle. "We'd've got word if it was. It's the neighbours we should worry about, sunshine. Gawd knows what they're making of the last half-hour's sound effects."
"Rape, indeed," Bodie sniggered. "I think there's still some beer in the fridge--go and get us a can?"
Doyle grunted assent and scrambled off the bed. He got nearly to the door before Bodie stopped him.
"Hold it," he said. "Think again, Ray."
"You step out there and you walk into Mr. Kodak's viewfinder."
"So we are supposed to have spent the last half-an-hour or more having it off with gay abandon. Do either of us have a clothes fetish?"
Doyle glanced down at trousers and socks and shoes.
"Forgot," he said, stripped to his skin, and wandered across the living room to the kitchen-alcove.
"Pose prettily," Bodie warbled, stretching out with his hands behind his head. "You'll make Page Three yet."
"Jason should have taken shots of you starkers. Very decorative."
"D'you want this beer in the can or over your head?" Doyle demanded, returning with cans, cheese, apples, and a packet of sliced bread.
"You're not taking me seriously," Bodie sighed.
"Take you seriously?" Doyle repeated. "Why should I? Or are you trying to convince me you are queer?"
"Bi," Bodie explained. "Swing both ways." A hoot of derisory laughter was all the reaction that stick got. "It's true!"
"Sure it is," he snickered, dropping the food on the bed. "Really turn you on, do I?"
"You better believe it."
Hands on his hips, Doyle studied him from head to foot.
"Burning with lust, are you?" and waited for Bodie's earnest assent. "Then you better see a doctor, sunshine, because if you've got a hard-on, I'll need a magnifying glass to see it. Give it a rest, Bodie. It isn't going to work."
"Worth a try." Bodie grinned without rancour. "Needling you is all the fun there is in this lousy set-up. Still, I know how to get your goat easy enough."
"Fooling yourself," Doyle said, and excavated a paperback from under the bed, collected an apple, a chunk of cheese, and sprawled belly-down on the quilt, book open.
Bodie opened a beer-can.
"No, I'm not," he said. "Maitland gets you mad as fire, staking his claim, putting the moves on. All I have to do is come on the heavy macho bit, and all your hackles go up. Like a bloody porcupine. Even when we've got an audience. Or maybe because we've got an audience," he added, with a sly glance at the intent profile. Doyle grunted and turned a page, clearly paying little attention. White teeth bit into the apple with a healthy crunch. Idly, Bodie wondered what Doyle would do if he made a serious pass at him--when there was no audience to dictate his response. Probably do his damnedest to kill him. An instant of memory-recall played back the brief moment outside Russell's office, when Doyle's body had seemed to come alive in his arms, mouth opening, taking his tongue--a shivering tautness rippled through his stomach, and he sat bolt upright, meeting his partner's enquiring gaze with an angry glower.
"You forgot the pickles," he snapped.
"So strip off and fetch 'em yourself," Doyle mumbled through apple. "Or go without."
Bodie went without.
They stayed in the bedroom until eight o'clock, Doyle making occasional forays for food and drink. There was little conversation, since he became totally immersed in his paperback, and Bodie drowsed, catching up on sleepless nights.
When he awoke, Doyle was dressed and tugging a comb through his tangled hair.
"I'm going to have this lot cut off as soon as we've felt Russell's collar," he grumbled, seeing lazy blue eyes on him. "Shorter then yours."
"Wouldn't suit you." Bodie yawned. "My face is masculine perfection, mate, and can take a severe style. Yours isn't and can't."
"Modest bugger," Doyle sneered.
"Yes," said Bodie. "It's part of my natural charm. Come on, Goldilocks. It's time to face our public."
"Why don't you go over and offer to sign the photos?" he suggested bitterly, trailing after him into the living-room. "Listen, you can do what you like with Russell and Marshall. Rourke is mine," concentrated venom in his voice.
"Lucky Kev. Okay, my flower, make like you love me," and turned to take him in his arms.
"The only person who loves you is you," Doyle snarled. "You have a narcissistic complex that--" and Bodie, his memory conveniently editing his fleeting reaction of the afternoon, took the lead in another scene for Mr. Rourke's family album.
"You wait," Doyle hissed when he could speak again. "I'm going to break a rib for every time you do that!" And stalked out, spine rigid with fury.
"Am I getting to you, Raymond?" Bodie enquired, oozing virtue. It was not dignified with a reply.
Their 'reconciliation' stayed a secret from the band, since Alan Brett had, unwittingly, provided an efficient smoke-screen in his attempts to defend Duncan from unwanted attentions. To his amazement, horror, then amusement, within hours of witnessing the Duncan-Maitland reunion, Brett found himself listed in the running for the singer's next boyfriend. It was a situation that neither agent was slow to exploit, Doyle for protection from Lowe's increasingly persistent advances, and Bodie because it appealed to his warped sense of humour. Every so often he would corner Brett and hiss veiled threats from behind smiling teeth. He did not, however, find Lowe so amusing; nor other serious contenders for Duncan's body. The rest of the band gave Brett some unmerciful leg-pulling, and no one except Doyle noticed that Lowe's attitude was subtly changing towards him.
Two o'clock came as a welcome relief, and they left the club separately, meeting as before. They returned, not to the flat, but Doyle's room at the Grosvenor.
Marshall followed them as far as the hotel's front entrance.
"They'll have this place sewn up by tomorrow night," Bodie commented as Doyle shut the bedroom door behind them. "We'll have more cover at the flat."
"Yeah, but that isn't the name of the game, is it?" Doyle snapped irritably. Apart from Lowe's growing intensity, one of the waiters had propositioned him, the bass guitarist had made it clear he was willing to step into Maitland's apparently vacated place in his life, and his own instincts had been too long held back on a tight rein. Also, he was tired. Insufficient sleep since their 'quarrel' cutting lines and planes that Duncan should not have, even under the strain of his broken love-life.
"You need your beauty-sleep, mate," Bodie said, and collected a cold, vicious glare for his concern.
They prepared for bed in silence, and Bodie lay awake a short while in the darkness, speculating as to where a camera could be set up. The room wasn't large, with a minimum of furniture, so electronic eyes and ears would be in the walls or ceiling. CI5 would locate them within minutes of their planting and pass word along, but it wouldn't make their act any easier.
Beside him Doyle was curled into a neat, slow-breathing huddle, asleep almost as soon as the light went out, and he wondered if he could drop off as quickly. Insomnia rarely affected him, and he could not work out why it had chosen this time to hit. Unless it was lack of exercise. Bodie stretched, yawned, and let himself go, sinking into the deep pool of sleep with a sigh of relief. They'd cope with the day's problems when the day dawned. Right now he intended to beat the restlessness of the last handful of nights, and if Doyle's snoring kept him awake, he'd heave him out of the room, let alone the bed.
Insomnia did not afflict either of them, and Bodie awoke mid-morning lying along Doyle's side, face turned into the hollow of his throat. Doyle was still deeply asleep, and did not stir as Bodie carefully disengaged himself, a wry grin growing on his face. The octopus-habit formed through many years of bedding girls continued to make no distinction between the sexes of his sleeping partners, and Doyle had given up complaining about it in the first week of the operation.
He debated with himself whether or not to wake the sleeper, decided against it and slid out of bed. The room had an en suite bathroom which he made use of, borrowing Doyle's shaving gear, and he dressed leisurely, resisting the impulse to whistle one of the band's numbers.
Before he left, Bodie scrawled a quick note--'Thanks for a wild night, and don't play fast and loose with Alan or I will divorce you. Luv, Dickon.' Then went back to the flat to fix himself a large breakfast-cum-lunch from various tins, packets, and odd items in the fridge. Doyle had been right in one respect--he'd missed his cooking.
Sunday evening brought several developments, one of which neither CI5 nor Russell's group were aware of until later. Just before ten o'clock, a slim, blond young man walked into The Mandalay, an expression of guarded wariness on his face, and he paused in the entrance to the restaurant. His gaze was intent on the band, focusing on the immaculate dress-suited figure at the piano. From his vantage-point, the visitor could see little more than the back of the neat head, part of the angle of brow, cheekbone and jaw, and the set of the stocky shoulders. It was enough, though, for him to identify the pianist. But he was partially blocking the doorway, and a quiet 'excuse me' moved him aside with a swift apology that faltered on his lips. Sir William did not notice, and carried on to his table.
Even knowing that Sir William would recognize neither his face nor his name, the young man did not stay. He left the club, went round to the rear entrance, and eventually found himself in a corridor with poor lighting and labelled doors. 'Dressing Room--Band' was large, cluttered, and empty. Several marked 'Private' contained vacuum cleaners, broom, etc., and one was an office, occupied by a harassed, wry-featured man working on a pile of letters and bills.
"Uh, sorry," the intruder said. "D'you think you could help me?" His voice was a pleasant American drawl. "I'm an old friend of Dick Maitland's--thought I'd call in and say hullo while I'm passing through. Could you give me his phone number or address so I can give him a surprise?"
Newley looked up at the earnest blond face, and controlled a knowing smile. Old friend? Foster, or Maitland, or whatever he called himself, clearly had taste. This one looked like a semi-starved Greek god, out of a similar stable to Duncan. Oh, well, his not to reason why, and with that affair over, there was no need to be discreet on their behalf.
"I should think I could," he said easily. "He's not on the phone, but here's the address," writing it down and pushing it across the desk. "Late morning and early evening are the best times to catch him home. We keep pretty strange hours at the clubs."
"Yeah, thanks. Uh, don't tell him I called, huh? Like I said--"
"It's a surprise," Newley murmured. "Okay."
"Thanks." And the door shut behind him.
At the Grosvenor, in the room above Doyle's, Marshall was busy with hacksaw and hand-drill, making little noise and less debris, setting up a camera. Microphones he did not bother with, working on the theory that actions speak louder than words. They already had some interesting shots of the pair, and now only needed a film to add weight to the blackmail lever.
Meanwhile, back at The Mandalay, Doyle continued to have problems with his would-be suitors, and Bodie grew increasingly short-tempered watching the by-plays and unable to do anything about it. On the one hand Doyle's portrayal of Duncan was faultless, on the other, he told himself, it was only a matter of time before his partner--first class agent and ex-cop though he was--lost all patience and told the whole crew where they got off in highly un-Duncan-like terminology. Or broke arms. It infuriated him to have to watch Doyle put up with the overly familiar hands and smiles that would be proprietorial if they could, so he did not have to guess what it was doing to his partner's temper. Consequently he did not spend the whole of the interval with Sir William, returning to the dressing room to see Doyle and Vince in apparently close conversation, the guitarist's hand resting lightly on the back of Doyle's neck. His advance on them was blocked by Brett.
"Jealousy's showing," the drummer said quietly. "Cool down, Dick. Ray isn't going to take him on." Startled, Bodie stared at him.
"I know that," he snapped.
"Then take it easy. You're as jealous as hell, and it's showing."
"I am not!"
"Okay, have it your way. But if poor old Vince ends up in a back-alley beaten half to death, you're suspect number one," Brett grinned. "A real dog in the manger."
"Shuttup," Bodie snarled, and stalked out. The drummer shook his head and moved in on the twosome, collecting a grateful, quirking smile from one of the pair.
"Thanks, Alan," Doyle said, when Vince gave ground under Brett's brusque command to 'hop it'.
"Should have told him to bugger off," the drummer said.
"I did. In slightly different words. Alan, why do people take a flat no as playing hard to get?"
"Funny you should say that. My wife used to ask me the same thing before we were married. Next time tell him it's the wrong time of the month."
"You're a bundle of laughs," Doyle growled.
"That's right. Resident comedian. Here's another giggle--you better go and calm your feller down before he kills someone. Like Vince, or Harv, or that spotty waiter." Doyle looked at him, surprise lifting his brows.
"Dickon's okay," he said. "He knows I don't play round."
"Knowing it in his head is one thing. Knowing it in his guts is another, and right now he's pretty steamed up about Vince. Good grief, kid, you've been living with him for how long?--do you need to be told how possessive he is?"
"I know that, but--"
"But nothing. Sure he trusts you, but he's having to stand by and let open season be declared on your body without doing a thing to protect you, and it's driving him crazy."
"Okay," Doyle said quietly. "Thanks, Alan." And he headed for the door, his irritation well hidden. Bodie was over-doing it. Again.
His partner was a brooding, hunched figure, hands jammed into coat pockets, kicking his heels in the corridor. Doyle took a swift glance into Russell's office as he passed. It was empty.
"'Ere," he said quietly. "You're making Alan sweat. What's up?"
"Nothing," Bodie snapped. "Brett's got hold of the wrong end of the stick."
"What's wrong?" Doyle persisted.
"Fed up with the bloody job!" Bodie exploded. "Sick to the back teeth with it!"
"Keep your voice down," he cut back, voice little more than a whisper but with a bite to it all the same. "We're in the last phases and okay, it's a slow show, but carelessness can blow the whole thing--"
"I don't need a fucking lecture!"
"I know. You need excitement. Adrenalin. Tell you what. We'll go down to the Black Horse, and you can play merry hell on the Space Invaders machine."
Fury twisted across Bodie's face, followed by a kind of rueful amusement.
"Not good enough, Professor," he said. "I want blood. Anybody's. All I need is an excuse."
"You're improving. Time was, you didn't even need that."
"Huh." Bodie shifted uncomfortably, and Doyle's smile was of exasperated tolerance.
"What, no come-back?" he chuckled. "You're getting old, sunshine."
"No. Just jaded. No job-satisfaction anymore," Bodie said soulfully. Then caught a glimpse of movement beyond Doyle. Russell was coming along the corridor. "An audience," he muttered. "Damn."
"Yeah. On his own."
"He's got enough on us," Doyle said, and bolted for the dressing room, the very speed of his retreat underlining the clandestine relationship of Maitland and Duncan. Russell disappeared into his own office with a knowing smirk on his face while Newley, who had been behind him, frowned thoughtfully. Was the split permanent, or temporary? If temporary, was it now healed--or in the process of healing? And if so, should he mention the American? In the end, he decided against it.
Bodie persuaded Doyle to go back with him after the show, arguing that with a free day ahead of them, Duncan and Maitland would be expected to spend as much time as possible in each other's company, and the flat would be a more logical place. Besides, they had not heard any details of the camera-plant yet, and it wasn't worth the risk. Doyle did not need much persuading. Sooner or later, he and Bodie would have to go to that hotel room and provide footage for the blackmailers. The flat, even with Rourke across the street, was almost a haven.
Lowe had done much to strengthen this feeling during the rehearsal, the show, the interval, and afterwards as the band changed back into street-clothes. He'd sat beside Doyle, ignoring his frosty reception, and started a rambling monologue to which the CI5 agent had paid little attention. Until he realised that what Lowe was coming out with was a lot more than his usual propositioning. He, as Ray Duncan, was being offered a place in Lowe's apartment--a room of his own, no strings attached--the protection of a 'settled' relationship without that relationship extending to the sexual commitment. Lowe would wait until he was ready. Ray Duncan was very important in his life, and he was sure that given time to get over the break-up with Maitland, Ray would come to feel the same way about him-- Doyle had interrupted him there.
"I don't know," he'd said. "Right now I don't want any kind of involvement with anyone."
"I understand that. There're no strings, Ray."
"Can I think it over?"
"Yes, of course." There was an eagerness in the older man's voice that Doyle had found oddly painful to hear. "Take as long as you need. Whatever you decide, Ray, I'll be a good friend to you. Nothing less, certainly, and hopefully, a hell of a lot more." Doyle had taken a deep breath.
"Don't hope too much, Harv," he had said, quietly. "You'll never know how much Dickon meant to me. And still does." (God, pure soap-opera!) And he thanked his gods that Bodie did not hear that.
Lowe had left him after that, without his usual grope at thigh or buttock, and Doyle had given a small sigh of relief. So when Bodie met him along the street from the club, he'd needed little more than the suggestion to head for the flat.
Bodie dropped his arm across his shoulders and fell into step beside him.
"Did Good Old Harv give you a hard time?" he asked lightly.
"Yeah," Doyle muttered. "Read me that lecture on patience and tolerance, will you?"
"Tell him to fuck off."
"Can't. Not now."
"Why not?" Bodie demanded, his arm tightening.
"Wouldn't be in character," he said, and gave a brief resume of Lowe's offer. "Duncan would at least think about it--and the old goat isn't fooling around, Bodie. He means it, every word. He really wants me!"
The outrage in Doyle's voice triggered a partially swallowed attack of snickering from Bodie.
"Told you ages ago you'd knock their eyes out," he grinned. "Just don't forget who you belong to, Lover-boy."
"Cut that out!" Doyle hissed. "How'd you like it if you were on the receiving end of the hearts and flowers?"
"Wouldn't like it at all, mate," he said, pokering up with admirable control. "He's not my type. Maybe we should let him in on our secret?"
"No. Too risky. Sod it. Complications we don't need."
"I dunno. Was getting a bit dull, wasn't it? A few fireworks might liven things up. Alan's already told me off for being a dog in the manger--think I'll--uh--pursue that tack. In the meantime, why don't you languish at Alan? He's safe enough, and if I know him, only too glad to play along with us."
"Maybe," Doyle grunted without enthusiasm.
That night, Bodie slept the sleep of the innocent-and-pure-in-heart. Or that of the totally-devoid-of-conscience. But Doyle lay awake for a long while, listening to the muted night-city sounds and the quiet breathing of the man at his side. He envied Bodie that, wishing savagely that their roles could be reversed; let him cope with Lowe and the others and still maintain his designated character. He'd damn-soon lose his bloody-minded delight in needling at every opportunity.
Eventually, he fell asleep, was half-wakened by Bodie as he rolled against him, but the hiatus was only momentary. He was used to it by now and ignored him, drowsily ran a list of girls through his mind. He'd grown accustomed to sharing a bed, and did not fancy sleeping alone unless he had to. Luckily the list was long enough to give variety without any kind of commitment. He turned into Bodie's shoulder and slept.
With Bodie serenading his own reflection as he shaved, and the kettle whistling on the stove, Doyle nearly missed the sharp rap on the door. He started towards it, then stopped. Duncan wasn't supposed to be there.
"Door," he said, sticking his head through the gap in the curtain.
"So answer it," Bodie suggested.
"Can't. I'm not here."
"Oh. Blast it." He hitched up his pyjamas and made for the door. "It's probably only Ann."
"Yeah. So give her a thrill. Show her your chest."
Bodie squinted evilly at his grinning partner and, shaving foam still over his lower face, jerked the door open.
"Hi, Dickon," said the blond American, moving in close. "Can I come in?"
Bodie stared at him, a sudden sinking feeling in his stomach.
"Bloody hell," he whispered. "--Ray Duncan!"
"Who?" said the stranger, frowning.
"What?" said Doyle, coming out of the kitchen. He was wearing jeans and nothing else, hair freshly washed and dried; Duncan at his most ethereal--the American's eyes raked him from head to foot, an expression of startled horror growing on his face. He would have turned on his heel and departed at speed, but Bodie's free hand clamped on his wrist, and he was hauled into the flat. Bodie shut the door, wiping his face as he did so.
"Don't make a fuss, lad," he snapped. "Keep smiling--it's Old Home Week. Ray, we have got a spanner in the works."
"Looks like it. Smile, friend." He advanced, shook a cold hand before it could be snatched away. "We've a Peeping Tom Camera across the street."
"Quite." Bodie beamed, slapping him on the back, pumping his other hand with enthusiasm. "Come on, make with the long time no see bit."
"You're not Dickon." A statement of fact.
"Ah, but they don't know that. You're Ray Duncan, aren't you?" and Bodie smiled down at him from his extra two inches with loving delight. "A random factor, thank God. My adrenalin has just woken up."
"What the shit is going on here?" the American exploded, trying to free himself from the deceptively easy-held grips. "My God--you could be his twin--apart from the scars-- Where is he? What's going on?"
"Whoa, sunshine," Doyle said quietly. "Just take it easy."
"You Colonials are too excitable," Bodie said archly.
"Pack it in," his partner snapped at him. Then fixed the stranger with a bleak green stare. "What's your name?" A policeman's bark, and it got the almost instinctive responses.
"Lloyd. Gary Lloyd. Who--"
"Ray Duncan," said Doyle, his smile mirthless.
"Richard Maitland," Bodie lilted.
"Like hell you are!" Lloyd flared.
"Why don't we go into the kitchen?" Doyle suggested. "Rourke can't see into there."
"Good idea," Bodie enthused. "We can have a cup of tea while we're at it. You do drink tea, don't you?" to Lloyd.
"Bodie. Pack it in."
Lloyd stared from one to the other, clearly confused, scared, and angry.
"What kind of trouble has Dickon gotten into?" he demanded.
"Would you believe pregnant?" Bodie offered.
Doyle took hold of Lloyd's arm, just above the elbow, and ushered him into the kitchen alcove. It looked casual enough, but his fingers bruised through suede jacket and shirt.
"He's a nutter," he said. "You'll get your questions answered, maybe, when you've answered ours. Where are you from?"
"'Frisco. You're cops?"
"No. What's your connection with Maitland?"
"If you know enough about Dickon for him to pretend to be him, you know about me," he snapped.
"Ah, but you're not in his file," Bodie said. "And he hasn't said a word about you, either."
"So give me one reason why I should talk?"
"Only one?" Bodie chortled, cracking his knuckles. "It's very pretty, isn't it?"
"Pack it in!" Doyle blared. "CI5, Lloyd. Attached to the Home Office."
"Never heard of it," he growled, but his shoulders slumped.
"We don't advertise."
"Okay, so what do you want to know?"
"Plenty. But we can talk in comfort. Form a friendly group in the living room, and remember to smile, kid."
Lloyd looked at the hard, feline face, his initial impression totally revised, then studied Bodie's features. Blue eyes brilliant, arrogant mouth curving in a smile of genuine pleasure--Lloyd felt the nape of his neck prickle.
"Okay," he said again, nervously turning back to Doyle. "Dickon's in big trouble?"
"No," said Doyle. "No trouble at all. He has agreed to help us, and has dropped out of sight. He's having an all-expenses-paid rest cure at a very exclusive country club. How long have you known him?"
"Just over two years."
"You lived with him in 'Frisco?"
"Yeah. We--I moved in with him a couple of months after we met."
"You're settled together?" from Doyle.
"Yes." Said without defiance, only confidence.
"Hearts and flowers," Bodie sighed. "So what are you doing here? Don't you trust him?"
"Yes and no." Lloyd managed a rueful smile. "Besides, I didn't know what had happened to him--or why. I got back to the pad and found him gone, along with some of his clothes, his passport, and a valise. The crowd across the hall from us said a couple of heavies took him away. Heard them identify themselves as FBI. I asked around, found a friend who'd seen him taken onto a London plane. That was it. Zilch. I figured it was maybe a drugs bust, though Dickon hadn't touched any of the hard shit for two years. I was expecting them to pick me up, but they didn't. So I figured he'd kept quiet about me."
"He had," Doyle said grimly. "So what brought you over here?"
"There's a small English enclave on our block, some of them have the papers sent over, and Dickon's photo was in one."
"My photo," Bodie corrected.
"Yeah, well, you look a hell of a lot like him. At a distance. From some angles."
"And you wondered what the hell is he playing at, and caught the first flight out?" Doyle steered him back on track.
"Yeah, just about. So what is coming down?"
"Industrial espionage and blackmail," Doyle said. "What do you know about his father?"
"A lot. He's a big wheel in a high-powered research group at Cambridge University. But Dickon isn't involved in--"
"Didn't say he was. We've got us a trio of geniuses who got their espionage done for them by pressurizing someone with access, and then selling it. With Sir William's and Maitland's cooperation we're giving them a blackmailable son of a scientist-father."
"Oh. That's why the Feds heisted him out of the country?"
"My God. Where is he? Have you talked to him?"
"Classified, and no," Bodie said. "I've watched film and listened to tapes, that's all. There's nothing wrong with him that a swift kick in the backside won't cure."
"Dickon's okay!" Lloyd snapped.
"And you, sunshine, are a liability," Doyle said coldly. "Keep smiling. We'd better phone him in, Bodie. Cowley can park him somewhere safe."
"We'll have to keep him out of Sir Bill's way, that's for sure," he said, nodding. "The old goat'd throw a fit. He's wall-eyed enough about you, flower. Our Blond Bombshell here would just about put his blood-pressure through the roof."
Lloyd's jaw jutted angrily, and a flush darkened his tanned skin.
"You see," Doyle went on, catching back his attention before he could voice the retort on his lips, "we're in the last phases of this case, and we don't intend to have it balled-up. Going to cooperate, Lloyd?"
"And if I do?"
"Bargaining, sunshine?" He smiled, eyes hooded, agate-hard.
"Yeah. I want to see Dickon."
"One track mind, the child has," Bodie marvelled. "Isn't love wonderful?"
"How the hell would you know?" Lloyd flared. "Back off, Mr. Straight! You don't know a damned thing about where it's at!"
The light of battle lit up Bodie's face, and Doyle groaned.
"Bloody idiot!" he snarled at Lloyd. "Did you have to start him off? Bodie, if you make one out-of-character--"
A crisp knocking at the door cut him off, and the tableau froze.
"Hold on, I'm coming," Bodie called. "Who is it?"
"Good morning, Richard," came Sir William's voice. Doyle grabbed Lloyd's arm and towed him into the bedroom, hissing a command for silence as he shut the door.
"But he knows you're--" the American whispered.
"Yes, but the cameraman across the street doesn't, and he's got a clear view into both rooms--don't look, stupid! And shuttup! Sir Bill doesn't know about you, does he?" Effectively silencing Lloyd.
"Morning, sir," Bodie said briskly, opening the door. "Caught me in the middle of ablutions. Come on in."
"Is Ray here?"
"In the bedroom. Like a bloody Whitehall farce. Didn't expect you to turn up round here--checking up on me?"
A wintery smile crossed Sir William's grim face.
"To all intents, yes. A message from George to you both. Can you hear me, Ray?"
"Yes, sir," from behind the closed door. "Loud and clear."
"The hotel room is set up--camera only. The film loaded is suitable for night photography."
"Damn," Doyle muttered, his back to the window.
"George is sure you'll invent something suitable," Sir William went on, his own doubt and misgivings evident in his voice. "He seems to expect rather a lot from his operatives."
"Yeah," Doyle snapped. "Life, Liberty, and Sacred Honour. If that nutter in there with you is laughing, I'll--"
"Temper, temper, 4.5," Bodie carolled. "Anything else, sir? Like camera position?"
"Oh. Yes," he said. "Far right hand corner of the ceiling, as you come in the door. Marshall has booked the room above Ray's. Richard, your instructions are to arrange a leave of absence with Joel for next weekend, Friday through to Monday--you'll come back to Cambridge with me. George intends to nudge them into using the blackmail lever within the next few days, to take advantage of your presence in Cambridge."
"Okay. What's on the cards, now, sir?"
Sir William glanced at his watch, and smiled.
"Lunch at the Club, my boy. You'd better finish shaving and get dressed. When all this is over, Ray, we'll all have a slap-up meal at the best place in Town."
"Sounds like a good idea, thanks," Doyle said. "Sir, would you pass a message on to Cowley for me?"
"Yes, of course. Fire away."
"I need an urgent meet with him as soon as it can be arranged."
"Right. Nothing serious, I hope?"
"Nothing we can't handle," Doyle said, his smile at Lloyd without amusement. "Just a minor complication. But the meet is urgent."
"I'll tell him. Hurry up, Richard."
Bodie retreated to the bathroom-alcove, and Doyle dived for the bed, getting rid of a pillow, leaving the remaining one, with its single head indentation, in clear view for when Bodie opened the door.
"Neat touch," Lloyd whispered. "You've done this before."
"Shuttup." Doyle snatched up shirt, jacket, socks, and shoes, and finished dressing with silent speed, ducking back behind the door as it opened to let in Bodie.
"See you later, mate," Bodie said cheerfully, not looking at him as he climbed into his clothes. "Don't talk to strange men, and don't you dare two-time me, or--"
"Bodie!" Doyle growled.
"--I won't send you a postcard from Cambridge. All ready, sir. After you."
The flat door closed behind them, and Doyle stalked out of the bedroom.
"Bloody-minded bastard!" he exploded.
"He's a lot like Dickon," Lloyd said tentatively.
"Then you're welcome to the pair of 'em. Come on. Right now you're sticking with me."
"Hold on. We've got a lot of talking to do."
Lloyd flinched under the hard stare, but stood his ground.
"I want to see Dickon. You can fix that. If you won't, I guess I can stir up some shit in this case of yours."
"You poor sod," Doyle said, a kind of contemptuous pity in his voice that cut at the American like a lash. "Hasn't it dawned on you yet? We're not cops. We're not CIA, FBI, MI5 or 6. We don't answer to anyone but the Home Secretary and our immediate boss. Cause a fuss, and you'll disappear. No questions asked, no trace. At the best, you'll be on the next flight out to the States, and your passport will be impounded by the Feds."
"I'll take the chance," Lloyd said stubbornly. "If I cooperate--"
"Don't give up, do you?"
"No. I could make your cover solid, or blow it wide open."
"If we leave you in circulation," Doyle pointed out. "Don't push your luck, sunshine, or you can say bye-bye to Dickon for good. Come on, let's get out of here."
"Out." Again the vice-like grip above his elbow, and Lloyd found himself out on the stairs.
"Where are we going?" he demanded nervously.
"You've just dropped in from 'Frisco, right? Looked up a couple of old friends and now you do the tourist-bit. That's how you traced him here, isn't it? Went round the nightclubs until you saw him, got an address with the 'old friend from abroad' gambit?"
Irritated at being read so easily, Lloyd scowled at him.
"How'd'you know I didn't tail you back here?"
"Bloody hell." Doyle sighed, eyes seeking guidance and strength from the cracked ceiling. "Because we're damn-good at our job, and you are still wet behind the ears. Now shut up and listen to me. Until I can hand you over to someone else, you are going to stay right where I can see you; that means no sloping off, no careless chatter, and a whole lot of cooperation. If anybody should ask questions, stick to the story, and don't you blow my cover, or you'll wish you'd never been born. Just remember that virtue brings its own reward."
"Okay." Lloyd eyed him warily. "So what is your cover? You better fill me in on your version of Dickon as well. Could take a while to get me off your hands." He sounded almost eager. "Well? How 'bout it?"
"You won't be around long enough for Russell and his crew to pick up." Doyle snorted. "As soon as we're out of that door, we're old mates, Gary. Don't forget."
And they walked out together, two slender young men dressed with casual elegance, both with the kind of charisma that could draw a second glance from passers-by.
Lloyd got his briefing on the Maitland clone, its Duncan appendage, and the present set-up, and found it uncomfortably close in many ways to his own reality. He also found it far easier to relate to Ray Duncan than he did to the cold-eyed dangerous man called Doyle. Bodie he preferred not to think about--his likeness to Dick Maitland was more than unsettling.
They ate lunch in a small pub off the King's Road--hot pie and chips and strong English beer--and Doyle said quietly into the conversation, "Our tail's just come in--don't look."
"Marshall." They were wedged into a corner seat, table in front of them, safe from eavesdroppers. "Don't panic. The home team's here as well."
"Is it?" weakly.
"Yeah. Keep smiling, Gary. You're doing okay, so far."
"Is this Cowley guy here?"
"Nope. Come on, I want the rest of your life-story."
"Not much more to tell." Lloyd shrugged, staring into the depths of his pint. "Graduated from college, tried a couple of jobs, then split. Headed for California and 'Frisco. Figured it would be easier--less painful--to be what I am out there. Got me a job with a small electronics firm--product design engineer--and met Dickon. He hauled me out of a bad situation, I helped him kick horse, and we've been together ever since."
"Two years is a long time," Doyle said.
"Yes and no. For a casual relationship, it is. But what we have isn't casual. Oh, sure, it isn't easy. We fight like hell sometimes, and every now and then he goes off the rails and screws his way through the gay bars. Or I get sick of his possessiveness and walk out, find me a macho stud just to prove to him he doesn't own me body and soul. But it doesn't mean a thing."
"Just like a regular married couple," Doyle said wryly, fascinated and repelled at the same time.
"Yeah. That's it," Lloyd agreed. "Love isn't a respecter of persons, Ray. Until Dickon, I swung both ways, still do, sometimes. And if I'd met a girl who made me feel the way he does, I'd've married her, forgotten about the gay side most of the time. But I didn't. When the lightning bolt hit, it was Dickon. And that was that. Can I ask you a question?"
"Sure. Don't guarantee an answer, though."
"You're straight, right?"
"Ever made it with a man?"
"So how the hell are you and Mr. Machismo going to give those creeps the film they want?"
"Dunno. Any suggestions?"
"Grass and amyl nitrate. You won't give a damn whether he's male, female, or a life-size Barbie doll."
Doyle threw back his head and laughed.
"No thanks, sunshine. I've already had more than enough of Bodie's version of Maitland, and I don't like the way he kisses. I've an idea his idea of action between the sheets would be more like rape with me on the receiving end. That is not my scene."
"Could be fun." Lloyd grinned slyly. "Don't know what you're missing."
"Don't intend to find out. Drink up, kid, it'll put hair on your chest."
Lloyd snorted, but obediently drank his beer.
"There's a few English-style bars back home," he volunteered. "But nothing like the real thing. Neither's the beer. I could get hooked on this."
"Didn't the boyfriend tell you about it?"
"Yeah, but I figured he was putting me on. Where to now?"
"Westminster, St. Paul's, Buck House, the Tower-- Yeah, the Tower of London, I think." They were heading through the crowd as he spoke, and as they passed a certain man at the bar, Doyle said, "You'll like the Tower, Gary. All Americans do. It's very old."
"'Kay. I'll try and remember that."
They boarded a bus, managing to leave Marshall on the pavement, and 9.7 got on at the next stop.
"Head for the office. Cowley's waiting," he said quietly. "Don't worry about your tail--he's being watched."
"The office?" Doyle frowned. "Bit of a risk, isn't it?"
"You argue with him, 4.5. I'm not going to."
"Gary Jefferson Lloyd," Cowley said evenly, fixing the young American with a basilisk eye as soon as he walked in the door. "You have had an eventful life, one way and another," closing a file on his desk. Lloyd caught a brief glimpse of his own photograph, several police record sheets, before the cover came down, and was staggered at the speed the information had been gathered in from the U.S.A. He shrugged, doing his best to hide his nervousness.
"That was a while back," he said. "It's different, now."
"Yeah," said Doyle. "He's grown up."
Cowley ignored the interruption.
"You've been told something of the operation you so very nearly jeopardized?"
"Uh, yeah, some," he said. "Look, I don't want to make trouble, sir, and I'll do whatever you want that'll help. I just want to see Dickon."
"He means it," Doyle put in. "Have you told Maitland he's here?"
"Then it might be an idea not to, sir. Unless you can put Gary in the safe-house with him. If he finds out he's here, he could take off and come looking for him, and we'll end up with two Maitlands running around London."
"That would be your official recommendation, 4.5?"
"Sir William's opinions in the matter are, of course, immaterial?"
Doyle faced the sarcasm with a hint of an expression that might almost be cynical amusement.
"Yes, sir. They're both over the age of consent, and there's no law in this country forbidding a homosexual relationship between two consenting adults. Besides," he went on, recognizing the glitter of irritation in his boss's eye, "there's the possibility that Maitland doesn't give a damn about him anymore. The affair could have cooled off and died a natural death as far as he's concerned."
"No," said Lloyd.
"True," Cowley said. "However, Maitland is getting more restless the longer this case goes on; a little distraction might take his mind off the confines of the house."
"I'll keep him in one place," Lloyd promised, a spark in his eye. Doyle swallowed a chuckle.
"On the other hand," he said, "If he really wants to help us out, he could take on my hotel room and Bodie, and perform for the camera. He'd be a damn-sight better at it than I would."
"Sure," agreed Lloyd. "Anything you say."
"And what of Bodie's--uh--cooperation?" Cowley purred, mellifluously unimpressed.
"Grass and amyl nitrate," Doyle said, deciding it was the best idea he'd had for a long time. "I have it on first rate authority it's an unbeatable combination."
"Then I trust you'll remember that, should such extreme measures be necessary." Cowley's voice was acid. "So you're willing to cooperate, Mr. Lloyd?"
"Yes, sir. But I'd sooner be with Dickon."
"I'll bear that in mind. However, our first priority will be to get you out of London. You've booked into the Post House at Heathrow for five days."
"Uh, yes, sir. Though I did tell them it could be less."
"Spend the rest of the day sight-seeing with Doyle, then. Collect leaflets on coach-tours of the country, and leave everything to us. An agent will contact you at your hotel in the morning. 4.5, he's your responsibility for now."
"Thanks. Sir," Doyle muttered.
"Will I get to see Dickon?" Lloyd persisted.
"That," said Cowley, repressively, "remains to be seen. Just follow instructions, Mr. Lloyd."
"Come on, sunshine." Doyle tapped the American on the shoulder. "The Tower of London. Marshall's probably already there."
Bodie was waiting with undisguised impatience when they finally got back to the flat, loaded with grocery bags and brochures.
"About time you two showed up," he growled. "Was beginning to think you'd eloped. Come to think of it, why is he still tagging along?"
"Cowley's working on it," Doyle said. "How did it go with Sir Bill?"
"As usual. He's not a bad old coot. We've got the weekend all tied up--huntin', shootin', fishin', and some of the finest malt outside of the Cow's personal store."
"Lucky sod. You've really got jam on it, this assignment. There's no justice in the world."
"Very true, mate. Well, me blond beauty, how do you like London?" He beamed at Lloyd, and got a scowl in return.
"Don't call me that," he snapped.
"Feeling our oats, are we?" Bodie cackled, delighted to find another target for his endless supply of needles.
"Leave the kid alone," Doyle cut in. "Don't forget Rourke."
"Ah, yes. The Kodak King. Okay, let's be domesticated. Come and sit down, Gary-From-'Frisco, and tell me the story of your life while Ray fixes us something to eat. Did anyone tail you?"
"Marshall," Doyle said, heading for the kitchen. "We dropped him long enough to get to Cowley, picked him up again at the Tower. Spread out the brochures, Gary, let Rourke get a good eyeful. Put Bodie in the picture while you're at it."
"Tomorrow's assignments, cloth-head. You're disappearing, remember?"
"You sure I can't stick around and help out?"
Doyle came back with a tray loaded with mugs of coffee, cold ham pies, assorted salads, and biscuits.
"Positive. Much as I'd like the substitution," he grinned. "You're safer out of it. Or don't you want to be with Dickon?"
"Hey, that old guy is gonna--"
"Mister Cowley, Junior, may drop you in Maitland's lap, or he may chew you up and spit you out," Bodie said cheerfully. "Either way, you say 'Yessir' and like it. What substitution?"
"Me," said Doyle. "Gary volunteered to take you on in the hotel room for Marshall's blue movie." Effectively rendering Bodie speechless for all of thirty seconds.
"He's not my type. Lover-boy. I don't go for blonds. Only redheads."
"It's okay. We had that covered as well."
"Yeah," said Lloyd. "Grass and amyl nitrate."
Bodie choked on his coffee.
"Not bloody-likely," he snorted. "I prefer to know what I'm doing and who with."
"Okay. Whichever way you want it," Lloyd said helpfully. "I'll wear a red wig if it'll make it easier for you."
"Raymond," said Bodie, wounded, "are you trying to set me up?"
"Would I do a thing like that?"
"Like a bloody shot. I know you, mate!"
"You think you do," he corrected. "Well? We could stage a fight here and now. I'll walk out and leave you to it--"
"Bastard. Better still, why don't you make us some more coffee?"
"Chicken," said Doyle with some satisfaction, and made more coffee.
The brochures were made much of during the meal; passed around, spread out, and not mentioned at all. Lloyd had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of questions, most of which did not get answered, and eventually he took himself off to find a taxi back to his hotel. He would be under constant surveillance the moment he left the house.
"He's not a bad kid," was Doyle's verdict. "A bit wet behind the ears, but he'll grow out of it."
"Grass and amyl nitrate, eh?" Bodie was still indignant. "What makes you think I need garbage like that? Come and be sociable, Raymond," he went on, patting the cushions beside him on the couch, "and tell me what our Blond Bombshell had to say for himself."
"Quite a bit," Doyle said, joining him, relaxing into the arm that closed around his shoulders. "And about Maitland. Have you put any coins in the meter?"
"Not recently. Why? What have you got in mind?"
"Nothing much. With any luck the lights will go out pretty soon."
"Ah-huh. I get the general idea. Passion on the couch. Still, it's better than passion in the hotel room under that flamin' camera."
"Just don't get too enthusiastic, Bodie. I'm sick to death of your bloody caveman act."
"Which makes it far more interesting," he snickered. "Okay. I'll behave."
"You better," Doyle growled. "Y'know, if Cowley does decide to ship Gary back to the States, that young punk could throw more than a spanner in the works."
"Fat chance," turning to slide both arms about him, lowering him to the cushions. Doyle kicked off his shoes and stretched out, his own arms around Bodie's neck.
"Watch it!" he snapped.
"I am, my flower," kneeling beside the couch and carefully unfastening Doyle's shirt-buttons. "Fancy Dirty Dick having a piece on the side--and not telling. Trust the Yanks to louse it up."
"Typical. You'd think they'd have the horse-sense to pick 'em both up and ship 'em out to us," Doyle grumbled. "It's not as if they were hiding anything, over there."
Bodie dropped his head to the hollow of his throat.
"Ah, but I expect someone said 'pick up Maitland', so they picked up Maitland. Nobody said anything about hauling in whoever he was shacked up with. Still, I suppose it says something for the prat, keeping quiet about the kid," he said, lips touching on warm skin and warm golden chain. "How do you think this looks from across the street?"
"How the hell would I know?" Doyle snapped, irritated. "Go over and ask."
"Maybe I will. Later."
"And Gary's not a kid. He's the same age Duncan's supposed to be."
"You said it first. A kid. And wet behind the ears."
"Yeah, well." Doyle shifted restlessly as Bodie's fingers traced patterns over his chest and ribs. "He's got something up his sleeve."
"Think so? What's the matter, Ray? Ticklish?"
"No. Your hand's cold. Wonder what Sir Bill will do when he finds out about him?"
"His nut. If he finds out."
"Bound to. Especially if Cowley lets Gary go to Maitland. Sir Bill is in contact with him, isn't he?"
"Yeah, phones him up regularly, as far as I can gather. You seriously think that little twerp can cause us trouble?"
"Yes. But only if he's kept away from the boyfriend. Gary has a one track mind."
"You don't say." He rested his cheek on Doyle's chest, vaguely aware of the steady heartbeat, the scent of clean skin, the unhurried rise and fall of his breathing. "You're comfortable," he said, stifling a yawn. "Hairy, but comfortable."
"Falling asleep on the job, 3.7?" Doyle snickered
"Not at all, flower," Bodie murmured. "Just enjoying the view. You really are very decorative. Didn't the Bombshell make a pass?"
"Nope. I'm not his type."
"Duncan may not be, but I'll bet even money Doyle is," he said. "He goes for the macho types."
"Then you'd better watch it," Doyle snapped, "Dickon."
"Spoiled for choice, isn't he?" Bodie chuckled. "Okay, 4.5, give us your report. What did he have to say for himself?"
The meter, for once, cooperated. The electricity cut off as Doyle got to the interview in Cowley's office, and as Bodie started work on the waistband and zip of the flared denims.
"Saved by the bell," Doyle said thankfully. "Get your hand out of my crotch."
"Spoilsport," Bodie snickered, cheek resting on Doyle's stomach. "I've got an idea."
"For the hotel room. If we choreograph it right, we could fake a good fellatio scene. That should keep 'em happy."
"Why the hell didn't I stay in the Met.?" Doyle wondered aloud. "I'd probably be an Inspector by now."
"Too tame for you." Bodie grinned, sat up and planted a swift kiss on the side of his partner's mouth. "Come on, let's get to bed. I'm whacked."
Doyle left the flat in the early morning, returning to the Grosvenor for a shower, a change of clothes, and a large breakfast. For once, Bodie had stayed on his own side of the bed all night, and he had not woken up with an unshaven chin on his shoulder. It had made a pleasant change.
"Good afternoon," said Brett, slapping Doyle's back by way of greeting. "Who's the blond? Or should I say whose is the blond?"
"What?" Doyle paused in the side-alley, eyes guarded. "What blond?"
"The fancy specimen Sam saw you with yesterday," the drummer grinned. "Does Dick know?"
"Of course he does. Gary was a good mate of ours in 'Frisco."
"Glad to hear it. Everything still okay between you two?"
"Good. Grit your teeth, kid. You'll be getting some stick about your blond. Sam's a blabbermouth."
"He's not my blond. You're the love of my life now, remember?" acidly.
"Am I likely to forget it?" Brett sighed. "Even the wife's beginning to wonder. At least Dick hasn't broken my neck yet. I'm the only one he doesn't mind getting near you."
"That's because you're safely straight." Doyle covered his irritation with a smile. "Don't mind, do you?"
"Nope. Wouldn't miss this for the world. It's better than Chipperfields Circus any time." Doyle laughed and shook his head.
"Circus is right. A bloody fiasco from beginning to end. Do me a favour and keep Harv away from me? He's getting too serious by half, and I keep on telling him he doesn't stand a chance."
"Will do. What about Vince?"
"I can handle him. I think. Should have brought Gary along, introduced them. He'd keep Vince off my back."
"So why didn't you?"
"He's rubbernecking round England, starting today," Doyle said. "We'd've both shown him London, only Dick's father turned up at the flat, carted him off to lunch at the Club. Damn near gave us heart failure. He wants him to go to Cambridge for the weekend, as well. D'you think Joel will wear it?"
"Shouldn't think so. He doesn't like short notice of days off."
But Cavanagh gave the required leave of absence, albeit grudgingly, and his displeasure was evident to anyone with average hearing. Once again Dick Maitland--or Foster--was out of general favour, since the necessary rearrangement of musicians to cover the one who covered the piano affected most of them. That suited Bodie well enough; he merely let the dog snarl from the manger, further offending everyone, including Doyle, and ensuring that he would be given a wide berth by the majority of people. He did not expect Russell to make his move at this stage of the game, but at the end of the rehearsal the manager was waiting in the corridor as Bodie left the dressing room on his own.
"Can you spare a minute, Dick?"
"Okay," he said with bad grace, and followed him through to his private office.
"How's your father?" Russell asked, gesturing him to a chair. "As well as can be expected, I hope?"
Bodie, his ill-humour unfeigned, eyed him sourly as he sat down. "He's okay."
"Good. I understand you'll be staying with him for a few days?"
"Yea." He did not intend to make it easy.
"On your own?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Pity Ray can't go with you. But I suppose Sir William would just about burst every blood vessel he has if you turned up with our singing star in tow."
"That's over. Finished with," Bodie snapped, getting to his feet. "And either way, it's no business of yours--"
"Finished?" Russell drawled, leaning back in his chair, smiling up at the scowling face. "Is it? How's your father's heart-condition? Could he take finding out you've not only been lying to him, but that Ray is still very much in your life?"
"What--" Bodie took a swift pace forward, and the snub nose of an automatic appeared over the edge of the desk, freezing him in his tracks.
"Temper, Dickon." Russell's smile did not waver. "I'm an expert with this, a member of my local hand-gun and rifle club. Do you know guns? It's not a very heavy calibre, but at this range a .22 can kill as surely as a Magnum."
"You wouldn't dare."
"I wouldn't kill you, certainly. Stomach wounds are not necessarily fatal, just excruciatingly painful, and I am entitled to defend myself against your well-known violent temper. Everyone in the Grove and the Mandalay knows about your temper, Dick. I'm surprised Ray has stuck with you so long--he seems a sensible enough boy. But then he likes a bit of rough, doesn't he?"
"What kind of game are you playing?" Bodie hissed through clenched teeth, part of him bitterly disappointed that Doyle couldn't hear this conversation.
"I don't play games," Russell said. "What do you think these'll do to your father?" taking a large manila envelope from the drawer in front of him, and emptying the contents across his desk. Photographs. Bodie picked one up. Himself and Doyle. Even knowing that the scenes had been carefully posed, he was surprised by the sexuality displayed in the prints, without one shot of an explicit act of sex. Embraces, caresses; and none of the anger, resentment and passive reluctance that Doyle had expressed at the time had come through to the camera. He wondered if Cowley would let him keep the prints; there was ammunition here to plague his partner for years to come....
"What is this?" he grated. "Blackmail?"
"Yes. Photogenic, isn't he?"
"You're out of luck. I don't have any money."
"Your father has. But luckily for you, it's not what I want.'"
"Information on the Research Unit's latest project."
"'You're crazy! I don't know a damned thing about that!" he shouted.
"No, but you can find out. I'm sure you'll be able to get access to it quite easily, with a little bit of ingenuity," Russell snapped. "'And you will. Or Sir William will be getting these, and a couple of video films."
"All I can say is I admire the athleticism and inventiveness--not to mention the stamina--of the pair of you." Russell pocketed the gun. "Well? Are you going to cooperate?"
Bodie's eyes were narrowed to dangerous, glittering slits.
"And if I tell you to go to hell? And warn him?"
"You wouldn't be so stupid."
"There's nothing on those damn things to say when they were taken. He knows that Ray and I were lovers--"
"Were? Still are, Dickon. Come now, be sensible. Or do I have to take other steps to persuade you? Even if you do warn him, and if he believes you, how much strain can a man in his condition take? Malignant cancer and a dodgy heart? Going to take the risk?"
Stocky shoulders slumped, defeated, and Bodie slowly sat down.
"What do I have to do?" he muttered.
Doyle was waiting for him not far from the club.
"What kept you?" he demanded.
"I," said Bodie in martyred tones, "am being blackmailed."
"They've bitten? That's early."
"Are you complaining? We can still perform nights of passion and steaming lust at the Grosvenor, if you like."
"No thanks. Wouldn't have thought they'd got enough on us, though."
"They have. Believe me. I've seen the photos. Enough to curl a man's toes, if he was that way inclined. I'm not supposed to tell you, by the way. Or the police, naturally."
"Naturally. Any mention of Gary?"
"Nope, nary a word. Did you know we're on video?"
"Yes. Russell admires our athleticism, inventiveness and stamina. Don't laugh, 4.5."
"I'm not," Doyle lied unsteadily. "He must be bloody sure of us to say that."
"You haven't seen those photos. Pretty hot stuff." He sounded smug, complacent, and Doyle glared at him.
"You're weird," he sighed, half irritated, half amused.
"Yeah. But you love me all the same."
"Daft sod." Doyle grunted. "Going to phone it through to Cowley, or tell Sir Bill this evening?"
"The evening will do. Y'know, Russell's a cool bastard. With any luck," he went on hopefully, "he'll give us some trouble."
"Maitland could give us trouble," Rourke said. "He's a chancy bastard--could well go off at half-cock and do something stupid."
"We've got the photos," Marshall said, lighting a cigarette. "They'll be enough. Won't they? Especially if he swallowed the video-tape."
"He swallowed it. Yes, they're enough, but I think he'll need to be reminded we've got him over a barrel. As soon as he's on his way to Cambridge, I'll see to it."
"They'll be heading back to the flat at the moment, do you want them tailed still?"
"No. Could be he'll be looking for it now, and I don't want you spotted. Kevin can stay put, and if Duncan keeps the hotel room, stay with the camera, otherwise, take it out. We've got Maitland on the hook as far as the blackmail material is concerned--it's his bloody unpredictableness that could be the problem."
Talking quietly to Sir William at his table, Bodie passed on the new developments during the interval.
"Thank God." Deep-felt relief was in the man's voice. "Damned if I know how George can cope with this year in and year out--if I didn't have a heart condition when it started, I should think I've got one now."
"It isn't over yet, sir." Bodie smiled. "Can't say I'll be sorry to see it tied up though. It may not be the hairiest job we've handled, but it's the most tedious. Poor Ray's getting to the homicidal stage."
"And you're not?"
Bodie chuckled, a rich, happy sound.
"Not now," he said, raising his glass and draining the wine. And froze for a split second. A familiar blond-topped figure appeared across the room, turned towards him, smiled briefly, and moved easily through the crowd, heading for the door marked 'Private' that led to the dressing rooms and offices.
"--used to the spice of danger in the SAS?" Sir William was saying. "George told me a bit about your background."
"That's right," Bodie answered, smoothly. "Before that the 19th Paras, before that Angola, before that the Merchant Navy, and before that, Birkenhead."
"You've crammed a devil of a lot in your young life, my lad."
"I do my best," he said. "How's the real Richard holding out?"
Sir William chuckled dryly.
"He's finding it irksome to say the least," he said. "But he's sticking to it."
"It's none of my business, but how are you two getting along these days?" Bodie asked casually.
"Pretty well, considering." Sir William studied his plate. "I suppose I've become a little less intolerant, and he's become more purposeful in his outlook, more considerate. He intends to go back to San Francisco, though. Won't change his lifestyle."
"Takes all sorts," he said. "Sir, I've got to go--a problem just came up. Give my love to Uncle George."
Lloyd hesitated briefly outside the band's dressing room, unsure of his reception, but determined to go through with it. He knocked and went in, eyes searching through twenty or more faces for the one he knew, then saw him, edging away from an overly familiar arm across his shoulders.
"Looking for someone?" a voice said at his side.
"Uh, yeah. Ray."
"Ah. The blond American," Brett said. "He's right. You could keep Vince off his back. Thought you were sightseeing elsewhere?"
"Changed my mind. Okay if I come in?"
"You are already. Ray! You've got a visitor!"
The auburn head turned, and though he was watching for it, Lloyd saw nothing more than surprise and pleasure cross the uneven features. Doyle escaped from the guitarist and came forward.
"Gary. Shouldn't you be on that coach-tour today?"
"Yeah, I should. But I figured I'd see more of London first. Can we talk?"
"Sure, but not for long. The band's due on in five or six minutes." He led the way out into the corridor, round a corner to a shallow alcove formed by a fire exit, and stopped. As he turned, the mask fell away. "You bloody fool! What kind of stupid stunt are you trying to pull?"
"I figure I can help," Lloyd said stubbornly.
"Help!" Doyle hissed. "The only way you can help is by staying where you're put! It was all arranged to get you out of London, probably to where Maitland is--so why the bloody hell did you skip?"
"No one said so." Lloyd did not meet the angry gaze. "And that Scottish guy reminded me a hell of a lot of my father, so I figured--"
"There was an agent with you. How did you give him the slip?"
"The guy who brought the tickets? He stuck with me as far as Stratford-on-Avon. I got rid of him in the men's room. Told him he could come in with me and hold my--uh--hand, if he wanted. He stayed outside on the platform. I got out by the emergency exit, headed for the railroad station."
"You dumb crud." The scathing contempt brought a flush of colour to Lloyd's face.
"Now hold on--"
"Shuttup. The bait's been taken. All you're likely to do now is create a monumental balls-up!"
"Oh. There has to be something I can do--"
"Why? What's so all-fired important about mucking in with us? We're not playing cops-and robbers, James Bond crap."
"I know. I--guess I--just wanted to--kind of rearrange some folks' opinions of gays," Lloyd muttered. "You don't have to be a limp-wristed bitch-queen just because you're gay."
"'Some folk' being Sir William."
"Could be. You as well, maybe, and the other guy--Bodie--my Dickon as well. You all treat me like I was straight out of 5th grade."
"Yeah. Retarded," Doyle said, sympathy partially counter-balancing his anger. "I've been on the receiving end of some of that. But, for Chrissakes, Gary, this could get rough. We can't take responsibility for your hide!"
"Don't expect you to. Listen, there was a guy in there putting the moves on you. Can't I do anything to get him off your back? Or be a liaison between you and your boss while Bodie and Sir William aren't around?"
"That'll be up to Cowley, not me, and I can't see him wearing it. Never mind trying to convince Sir Bill you're upright and manly even if you are crazy about his son--don't you think you'd better talk it over with Maitland? Find out what his plans are when all this is over? If he has made peace with his father, your situation could change."
"You reckon he's going to ditch me?"
"I don't know about that," Doyle shrugged. "But chew on this. He's possessive, protective, right?"
"Is he ever!"
"So what will he do when he finds out you've been deliberately sticking your neck out just to impress Dad--and him?"
"Beat seven kinds of brick-dust out of you. Take my advice, sunshine. Don't risk it. Now you'd better clear off, before Bodie does it for him. Did he see you come in?"
"Then hop it. He's a very bad man to cross. And, Gary, so am I."
"Yeah, I guess I know that," he smiled ruefully. "Okay, Ray. I'll behave. What do I do? Get the next train back to Stratford-on-Avon?"
"No." Doyle fished in his pockets, but being stage-clothes they were empty of all but a handkerchief. "Got paper and pen? Good." He reeled off a number, repeated it as Lloyd wrote it down. "That's Cowley's home number. Get a taxi to the West End, lose yourself in a crowded place like a high-class pub--call him. And do exactly what he tells you."
"Okay. Good luck, Ray."
"You too, kid. Now beat it out the back way, fast."
Bodie was waiting for him in the dressing room, a thunderous scowl on his face. But Cavanagh was also there.
"Break's over, boys," the bandleader said crisply. "On stage."
But Bodie wasn't listening.
"What the hell is Gary doing hanging around here?" he demanded, cornering his partner.
"I don't have to answer to you," Doyle bit back.
"Dick." Cavanagh pushed between them. "Fascinating though the intricacies of your private life may be, I'm still paying you to play the piano. On stage."
Bodie slammed out of the door, but Doyle was detained, Brett's hand on his arm.
"Please, do us all a favour," the drummer said. "Get back together with him, Ray. We all appreciate that maybe his father shouldn't know, right, boys? But World War Three is going to break out any time, and someone could end up hurt. Not that you're leading anybody on--but it's getting to the stage when we can't even pass the time of day with you. In fact, he's worse now than before your split up. Do something. Please?"
Doyle looked into grave eyes, and shrugged.
"Okay," he muttered, dropping his gaze to hide his irritation. "I'll do what I can. But don't bank on me getting through."
"Pull the other one." Brett grinned, slapping him on the back. "You can twist that hardcase round your little finger if you want to."
"If I want to," Doyle said quietly. "I'm not his doormat." And walked away.
For the first time in a while, Bodie and Doyle left the club together, but angry tension sparked between them. It was something of a temporary armed truce, and neither spoke until they were back at the flat, all curtains drawn.
"You're overacting again," Doyle said, disgusted. "A bloody prima donna!"
"Never mind me! What the fuckin' hell was Lloyd doing there?" Bodie exploded. "He was supposed to be--"
"I know where he was supposed to be," Doyle yelled back. "The stupid bastard changed his mind and walked away from his escort--and don't give me your 'sending a boy to do a man's job' beef! Gary's going to toe the line from now on--why don't you?"
"Okay, you were mad about the kid turning up, but the way it came over in the dressing room, they've decided the dog in the manger's got rabies! Will you stop acting like a bloody maniac! It's stirring up too many backlashes. Even Alan's asking we cool it down, let the band know we're back together. What in hell's name has got into you?"
"Nothing! Except having that empty-headed fairy waltz in at this stage of the game!"
"Gary's been taken care of. He's not done any damage--but you're making the damned show far more complicated than it need be--and that is a danger!"
"I am not! Okay, I lost my temper when he floated in, but--"
"But nothing! You nearly blew it! Now we've got to play up to the band again, as well as string Russell along."
"Well, only for a few more days," Bodie muttered, forced on the defensive, and disliking it. "At least you won't be plagued by Vince and Harv any more. Or that waiter."
"Yeah. All I've got to put up with is you!" Doyle snapped. "And right now it's a pretty poor option!" He did not wait for Bodie's answer, but stripped off, washed sketchily, and climbed into bed, turning the light out. His partner was a silhouette in the living room, standing somewhat dejectedly by the couch.
Eventually, he, too, prepared for bed, and slid under the quilt.
But it is difficult to stay angry with someone while sharing a bed with them; especially when you awake in the morning to find a possessive arm heavy across your chest, and two thirds of your pillow annexed.
Doyle yawned and stretched, the movement making little impression on his companion. Bodie's arm tightened, he mumbled something, and burrowed deeper into the pillow.
"Gerroff," Doyle grunted, nudging him.
"Mnngh?" said Bodie, not moving, so he prised himself free and padded into the kitchen to put the kettle on.
While it was boiling, Doyle washed, shaved, pulled on trousers and shirt, hauled back the curtains, then made a pot of tea and sat at the table with a paperback and a wedge of bread and marmalade.
"Tea's poured," he yelled, filling two mugs. There was no reply, and he did not repeat himself, concentrated on book and breakfast instead.
He sensed Bodie's approach before he heard him, and did not react when arms closed around him.
"Morning," he said, turning a page.
"Morning," Bodie echoed. "Is our friend still over there?"
"Yeah. Got a glimpse of him as I drew the curtains."
"Well, my flower, are we publicly reconciled?" There was flippancy in the light tones, but with an underlying seriousness that Doyle did not miss. It was as near as he was likely to get to an apology.
"I suppose so," he said, and should have been prepared for the mouth that fastened on his throat. "Bodie! You're worse than a bloody leech! Will you pack it in!"
"Just renewing my brand," he said smugly, studying the deepening bite bruise with the eye of a connoisseur. "You have changed your aftershave."
"Haven't. It's yours. All my stuff's at the hotel."
"So it is." He inspected the unmarked side of Doyle's neck with some speculation, and Doyle hunched into his shirt collar.
"Bodie," he warned.
"Stay in character, 4.5," whispered in his ear.
"Playing hard to get?" nibbling on an earlobe.
"For God's sake! The show's virtually over!" fending him off.
"You don't love me any more," Bodie complained.
"Too right, sunshine," he snorted. "You wait. When I've put Rourke away, I'm going to start in on you!"
"Promises, promises!" Bodie hooted, and eyed him slowly up and down. "Yes, definitely decorative. Tell you what, why don't you move in with me when this case is closed? I could do with a resident cook and bed warmer."
"Get lost!" Doyle snapped. Then, a few moments later, "Anyhow, you couldn't afford me."
"Expensive, are you?"
"Very. Did you tell Sir Bill about Gary?"
"Nope. Just Russell. Why did he come back?"
"Two reasons," Doyle said. "First off, he wanted to prove to Sir Bill that being gay doesn't mean you're a--quote--limp-wristed bitch-queen--unquote. Secondly, he wanted to show Maitland he's a fully responsible, intelligent and mature adult who doesn't need to be wrapped up in cottonwool and kept in a glass case."
"Oh. Seems like pretty dumb reasons to me."
"You're not Lloyd. Or Maitland. Besides, he decided Cowley was like his dad and therefore Would Not Approve, so he'd probably end up kicked out of the country without being given a chance to--"
"--see Dickon," Bodie interrupted. "Poor little sod's got it bad."
"Yeah. Hope Maitland appreciates him."
"He does. Sir William told me he aims to go back to 'Frisco when it's over."
"Good. How about letting me go? My tea's getting cold."
"Okay." But first he turned his face into Doyle's neck, putting another love-bite on the smooth skin below his ear.
"You don't have to do that!" Doyle yelled, struggling to free himself. "They've got all the shots they need!"
"Oh, yes. I forgot," Bodie said, complacent as a cat with cream, and released him, then sat at the table and stirred his tea vigorously. "Why don't I get breakfast in bed? Bet Gary brings Maitland breakfast in bed."
"Gary probably is breakfast in bed," Doyle pointed out, returning to his book.
"That's true. Listen, you better steer clear of Vince--and Harv--when I'm not around to keep tabs on you."
"Don't start that again," Doyle said wearily. "Give it a rest, Bodie."
"I mean it," soulfully.
"You're flogging a dead horse."
"I dunno. You're getting ratty. --Gad, you're beautiful when you're angry, Cynthia!"
Doyle gritted his teeth.
"Try it next week and see what happens."
"Armageddon, sunshine. With you on the receiving end."
"Can't wait," Bodie drawled. "Okay, okay--pass the sugar, please?"
A cryptic message from Cowley, via Sir William, who clearly did not understand, told the two agents that Lloyd was tucked away in the same safe-house as Maitland. Other than that, Wednesday and Thursday were a repeat of their early days in the band--their relationship less openly displayed, perhaps, but with Maitland's possessive protectiveness standing between Duncan and the rest of the world. The would-be suitors kept their distance, and peace of a kind descended; Bodie was his usual bloody-minded self and fiercely eager for the action to start, while Doyle began to wonder if he was suffering from a form of claustrophobia. Someone was going to pay for it. Several someones. First Rourke, then Bodie. And maybe if the opportunity arose, the Maitland original, as well.
Russell gave Bodie his instructions during a break in Thursday's rehearsal, handing over the tiny Minox camera and several film cassettes at the same time. He told him exactly what was wanted--formulas, research notes, diagrams, experiment details--promised the exchange of photos and video, and repeated his warning on recklessness. Sullen and sneering, Bodie heard him out, then:
"This isn't going to work twice," he said. "As soon as I hand this lot over, we're going back to the States."
"Please yourself." Russell shrugged. "One time is all I require. I don't use the same source more than that. On your bike, Dickon. And keep your mouth shut."
"Fuck off!" And he stormed out.
Once away from the club though, his mood was sunny complacency thinly covering the feral anticipation of the predator waiting to close in for the kill. All that suppressed energy had to have some kind of outlet, and he found it in needling Doyle, prodding more sticks through the bars, using all of Maitland's dominating possessiveness to goad his partner as near to the end of his tether as he dared.
Doyle had no choice but to put up with it, but come the walk home after the show, his patience was on the last notch. Bodie's arm around his shoulders, the smug proprietorial attitude and supreme confidence, were the penultimate straws.
Friday morning Bodie awoke early, was alert and crackling with energy as soon as his eyes opened on the new day. It was 9 o'clock, he'd had six hours solid, and saw no reason why his partner should be permitted to sleep on.
He sat up, threw back the covers, and prodded Doyle in the ribs.
"Come on, mate. Rise and shine. How about a cup of tea?"
"Shurrup." The naked sprawl of limbs curled into a ball, and he groped for the quilt. Bodie grinned.
"Wake up, flower," he purred, and slowly ran his fingers the length of Doyle's spine, from nape to tailbone. Doyle uncurled with a jerk.
"Pack it in," he growled. Then saw the time. "Bloody hell! What are you, some kind of a sadist?"
"Quite probably. --You look ravishing in the dawn light, Cynthia."
"When are you going to get fed up with this stupid game?" Doyle groaned.
"When it doesn't get up your nose," he was told, and Bodie leaned closer. "Maybe it's time I got my breakfast in bed," he drawled. "Shall I spread you with marmalade or--"
"Sod off!" and Doyle rolled away, bouncing to his feet out of Bodie's reach.
"That's become awfully over-worked, my flower," he grinned. "Can't you think of anything else?" He stretched, lay back on the pillows, arms behind his head, a smirk lifting the corners of his mouth, and watched Doyle pull on his trousers. "Wonder what Gary's Dickon would make of you, Lover-boy."
"He," said Doyle, zipping his fly, "prefers blonds. Like all gentlemen. When is Sir Bill collecting you?"
"Tennish. Will you miss me?"
"Nope. I'll be glad to see the back of you," he said sourly. "I could do with a bit of peace for a few days." Bodie laughed, and blew him a kiss, receiving a snarled obscenity for his trouble.
Doyle stalked out of the bedroom, and Bodie listened to the morning ritual. It was louder than usual. The kettle banged down on the stove, the curtains ripped along on their runners, crockery clattered around, and a grin of anticipation grew on his face.
He waited until Doyle called him for his cup of tea, mildly surprised that one had been poured for him, and came to lean on the bedroom doorframe. Pale sunlight was firing the auburn head bent over the inevitable paperback, gleaming on the contoured muscles of shoulder and back. Decorative wasn't quite the word for him, Bodie decided, but it would do for the time being. He sauntered over to the table, and started to administer the usual morning embrace. He was fended away with more vigour than he considered necessary.
"Don't be difficult, flower," he grinned. "Remember Candid Camera?"
"Fuck the camera," Doyle snapped. "That's it. No more floor show. They can make do with what they've got." He stood up, shoved past Bodie into the kitchen alcove, returning with a handful of sliced bread, butter and marmalade. They were slammed onto the plate at his place. "You want breakfast, get it yourself. I'm not your bloody servant." He resumed his seat and picked up his book.
"Temper!" Bodie crowed, delighted. "Cynthia, Cynthia, does this mean you no longer care for me?" a sob in his voice.
"Listen, crud-head," Doyle said, dangerously quiet. "The game is over. What does it take to get through to you?"
"We are feeling our oats, aren't we?" he chuckled, came close and glided his hands over Doyle's shoulders and chest, lips caressing his throat above the gold chain.
Doyle sat frozen in his chair, anger vibrating through him. The last straw.
"Okay," he said suddenly. "Right from the start you've done your damnedest to convince me you're as bi as a bloody oyster, and a sex maniac to boot. With the only objective I can see of finding out how far you can push me before I lose my temper and break your fucking neck."
"Would I do that?" A wounded cry from Bodie. It was ignored.
"But it's not going to work like that. Because I'm calling your bluff." He stood up, stalked to the couch and turned to face him. "Come on, Bodie. I'm all yours. Make love to me. Right here and now."
Dumbfounded, Bodie stared at him, a lean, feline figure, pride and challenge taut in every muscle--the dangerous predator, nothing of Duncan's house-cat sleekness at all.
"And the camera?" he drawled, hiding his unease.
"He can film it in Technicolor, wide-angle screen, and wrap-around sound. Come on, Bodie. Put your money where your mouth is."
Bodie took a deep breath, stitching a smile on his face. Bluff and counter-bluff--and the memory of the corridor came back--Doyle's mouth opening for him
"Okay. You win," he said lightly. "It was a rotten trick to pull." He started for the kitchen. "Think I'll have some orange juice, want some?" He heard quiet laughter and a hand grabbed his shoulder, spinning him round, then his head was caught in a steel grip.
"You bastard." Doyle smiled mirthlessly. "How would you like a taste of your own medicine?" And took the startled mouth in a kiss that was as cold-blooded and savagely demanding as the ones that had been inflicted on him.
Trapped by the camera across the street, as Doyle had often been, Bodie could not strike out. He had to stand there, and his hands clamped around Doyle's wrists, beginning to lever himself free by sheer strength since a battle was out of the question. But the hard mouth and darting tongue were trying to force his own mouth open, and if that happened-- Blood was pounding in his head, and a shaft of something approaching panic stabbed through him (--it shouldn't be like this--), then slowly he discovered subtle changes: Doyle's mouth softening, no longer demanding, the tongue-touch light along his lips, and a shivering started in the pit of his stomach. His mouth opened without conscious volition, and he took Doyle's tongue as his had once been taken, heard and felt the gasp of pleasure, felt the same shockwaves surging through his own body, and was too stunned to even begin to fight them. He released the braced wrists, sliding his hands up the arms to draw Doyle closer. There was no resistance at first, their bodies met and seemed to merge, hungry and urgent-- Then Doyle came to his senses; muscles tensed and he wrenched away. Bodie did not attempt to prevent it; watched him step back a pace, and controlled the urge to follow him.
"Big joke," the smaller man whispered. His breathing was fast, ragged, and the green eyes were darkened with desire, shock, and a growing fury.
"I'm not laughing," Bodie said huskily. He let out his breath in a shaking sigh and slowly crossed the space between them.
"Sod off!" An explosive snarl as he reached out a tentative hand, and he let his arm fall.
"Didn't know that would happen," he said. "Maitland and Duncan are finally getting to us." He managed to inject some lightness into his voice, needing the excuse to lessen the implications of the storm in his blood. It wasn't his fault that there was a swelling heat in his groin, an avid hunger in his body, it was Maitland--while the need, emotional as well as physical, that was behind it he refused to acknowledge.
Doyle was not appeased. Appalled by the reactions of his own body, his immediate response was resentment, anger--then he belatedly remembered that Bodie had been hit by the same avalanche, was as shaken as he was. There was a tangle of conflicting impulses in his head, not made easier to sort out by the turmoil in his body.
"You bloody-minded bastard," he said softly. "Hoist by your own petard. But I'm not going to be your Duncan."
"Don't want you to be," Bodie answered, and that was the absolute truth. What he wanted, Duncan could not supply. He took a step forward, and Doyle did not retreat. "What do you want?" he asked.
"Me?" off-balance. "--I don't know--" an honesty spoken before he had a chance to think. But he was moving as he said it, moving into the arms that had suddenly reached out for him, and he was holding and being held, feeling the heat and shuddering tension in the powerful body pressed to him.
Slowly Bodie bent his head to Doyle's mouth, this time savouring the taste of him, and after a few seconds of restraint Doyle's body came alive in his arms. There was none of the passiveness of Ray Duncan in him, and a crazy kind of delirium burned through Bodie. He was barely aware that he was shaking, that his bones seemed to be melting. All he knew was that his blood was turning to a terrible sweet fire in his veins, and that nothing in his life had prepared him for what was happening.
A crisp rhythm rattled on the door, breaking them apart with the effectiveness of a deluge of ice-water.
"Oh, Christ," Doyle groaned, then started to laugh, albeit shakily. "Sir Bill, I bet you." He sounded both disappointed and relieved.
"Can't be. Can it?"
"Go and find out," Doyle said and started for the bedroom. But Bodie followed him, unwilling to let the moment end.
"Maybe it isn't," he said, gathering the lean body into an embrace and discovering restraint again. The knocking was repeated, and he swore. "Who is it?"
"Richard, are you out of bed yet?" Sir William's voice, and he swore again as Doyle twisted free.
"Yes, sir. Be right with you." He took the bathrobe from the back of the door and pulled it on, belting it tight. "Don't go away," he whispered. Doyle smiled, but did not speak.
Bodie opened the door, and Sir William walked in, his wintry smile somewhat more reserved than usual.
"All set?" he asked.
"Just about," Bodie said. "As soon as I finish dressing. Has Cowley arranged the stuff for me to photograph?"
"Yes. It's at home, ready and waiting. Damn good material, as well. Would fool an expert, until he tried to put it together in a lab."
"That's fine. Pull up a chair and sit down, sir--won't be a minute." He ducked back into the bedroom and dragged on his clothes. Doyle was a silent, motionless figure leaning against the wardrobe, but he was aware of shadowed green eyes on him, watching every move. That insidious pleasure began to curl through his guts again, and he straightened from tying his shoe-laces to meet the steady gaze.
"Bodie," Doyle whispered. "Come here."
He did not need the command, though to hear it was fuel to the fire, and they came together in a convulsive embrace. This time nothing was held back.
"You remember what I said," he murmured against the hungry mouth. "We've got some unfinished business to attend to."
"Bastard." Their voices were little more than breaths, indiscernible to any but themselves. "Don't count on it. I'll be sane by then."
"You're not now?" interested.
"High as a bloody kite." A moan, as Bodie's hands moved down his spine. "How in God's name did you do it?"
"Was going to ask you that."
"Cut it out. You've got to go," and pushed him away. "Go on, clear off. And keep out of trouble."
Reluctantly Bodie released him.
"Yeah. You, too. Or I'll bloody-well kill you myself." He scooped up the suitcase packed the previous evening and left without another word or backward glance.
They drove in silence for some time, Bodie covertly watching the grim profile of the older man. Something was obviously on Sir William's mind, and he had a pretty good idea what it was. But it was none of his business, and he did not intend to give him an opening to bring up the subject.
Sir William made his own opening.
"When did you find out about the Lloyd boy?" he demanded, voice cold, hostile.
"I suggest you ask Major Cowley, sir," Bodie countered. "He's in control of this operation."
"I see. Perhaps I had better rephrase that. You've met him?"
"What does he want?"
"There's a one-word answer," he said, "but I don't think you'll like it."
"Money. How much do you think he'll settle for?"
"You can try offering him cash, but be ready to duck pretty fast," Bodie said ironically. "The one word I had in mind was 'Dickon'."
Sir William made a sound of disgust.
"I see," he said again.
"No," Bodie heard himself say. "I don't think you do."
"Pardon?" The hostility was back, which did not surprise him.
Having opened his mouth and put his foot in it, Bodie was obliged to continue.
"How much do you know about him?" he asked.
"Nothing. Other than he's American, and he's moved in with my son. On George's sanction as well, which frankly amazes me."
"Did Cowley tell you?"
"No. Richard did. Why?"
"And the stupid prat told you nothing about the kid?"
"If you are referring to Richard, he did not. So what is it I don't see?"
"The set-up with Lloyd. He and your son have been living together for two years. He didn't come over here to get paid off, but to find out what had happened to his feller."
"Two years!" Sir William was aghast. "Oh, my God!"
"Well, he's no one-night stand," Bodie said, voice sardonic. "Don't knock it, sir. Love's Young Dream had kept Junior on the straight and narrow. If you'll pardon the expression."
"What do you mean?"
"Your son was hooked on heroin. That's a nasty habit. Lloyd helped him kick it. You want to talk to Ray about horse, what it can do to you, what it takes to go cold turkey, and what it takes to nurse someone through it. He was with the Drugs Squad for a while."
"I know about the hard drugs. The Unit has done research on them." Sir William sounded shaken. "What's the boy like?"
"Early twenties, blond, blue-eyed, damned good-looking, and no more effeminate than you are. He's got pride, stubbornness, initiative, intelligence--when he uses it--but not a lot of common sense. He also thinks the sun shines out of Dickon's backside, and you'll have a hell of a hard job convincing him otherwise."
"I can't answer for him!" Bodie snorted. "Gary's pretty confident the insanity's mutual."
"Oh, my God!" Sir William said again. Bodie lost patience.
"Which would you rather?" he said, voice harsh, brutally frank. "Your precious son screwing his way through every gay bar he can track down, maybe giving ten-buck blow-jobs in alleyways to feed his habit, or settled in a one-to-one arrangement that's as near a marriage as makes no difference? Think about it. Pull over at that garage ahead. I'll drive the rest of the way while you work it out for yourself."
Temporarily struck dumb, Sir William obeyed, and did not speak for half-an-hour. Then he sighed, rubbed his hands over his face, and shook his head.
"I can't change a life-time's standards in a few moments," he muttered. There was a pause. "Two years!"
"Keep on thinking, sir." Bodie grinned. "You'll get there."
"Damn it! Will you stop laughing at my expense!"
"Sorry." But Bodie was unrepentant. "While you're thinking, don't forget the heroin."
"The--? No. D'you suppose I'm in his debt for that?"
"Yes. Not that he'll ever try to collect."
"Oh." There was another long silence. "You say he's not--er--obviously gay?"
"That's right. Wouldn't know it unless he told you."
"Oh. Yes, well, perhaps Dick should have said something about the boy," he mumbled. "About his background, and everything."
"Probably he will, if you give him chance. Or chat to Ray. The kid opened up quite a bit to him, and he might tell you."
"I think I'd sooner hear it from Dick," he sighed. "Perhaps we'd better shelve the subject and find another topic of conversation. I've enough food for thought to last me quite a time."
(Yes,) thought Bodie. (Gary, petal, you owe me one.)
The front door had been long since closed, but Doyle did not move. He refused to think about the minutes before Sir William's arrival and let the empty silence of the flat cool fever, sooth confusion, steady the erratic race of his pulse. When his bones no longer felt as if they'd been turned to jelly, and the aching fire in his groin had gone away, he finished dressing and began to tidy away the breakfast debris.
They'd left two mugs on the table, he noticed; a piece of carelessness and a dead give-away since he was supposed to be a dark secret. Well, if Sir Bill had seen them, he hoped he'd not made it obvious. It was a stupid, elementary mistake on their part, not excused by-- He chopped off that train of thought and carried dirty crockery through to the kitchen.
Two sharp raps on the door. He froze.
"Ray? It's Russell. Dick told me you're here--" A panting voice, as of someone who'd run up flights of stairs. "Open up, Ray--something's happened--"
Warily Doyle approached the door, his spine prickling. But he would have to play this according to the blackmailer's rules from now on. He jerked open the door.
"Dickon?" he blurted. "What's happened to him? He's only just left--"
"Take it easy, lad. He's okay," Russell said earnestly. "It's Sir William--a heart-attack--Dick's taken him to hospital, phoned me and asked if I'd bring you to him. He's pretty upset." And all the time he was being ushered out of the flat, across the landing, down the stairs. (Very neat,) he thought. (And plausible.)
There was a car idling at the kerb, a cream Austin Princess, Marshall at the wheel. Russell opened the rear door for him, slid into the front seat, and Marshall sent the car away at speed.
The manager turned in his seat, easy, relaxed, a smile on his mouth that did not reach his eyes.
"Sit tight, Ray," he said, the snub of a small pistol showing over the seat-back.
"What the hell--?"
"I need Dick's full cooperation. You're my guarantee. Don't do anything stupid, and no one will get hurt. In a couple of hours, you're going to make a phonecall to Cambridge, and that's all I need from you. When Dick comes back with what I want, you're both free to go, no strings, no more hassle." He tossed a piece of heavy fabric to him. "Put that over your head, tie it, and lie down on the seat. Or do you want a somewhat messy hole in your left shoulder?"
Doyle opened out the hood and obeyed.
For half an hour the car twisted and turned through the city streets, finally pulling into an enclosed space. The engine was cut, and Doyle was hauled out, bustled through a door, along a short, uneven path out in the open, then into a house and up flights of stairs. Finally he was pushed into a room, and the hood removed.
The window was blocked out by nailed boards half-covered by bright curtains, but otherwise it was a small, comfortable bedroom.
"First of all, Ray, a phonecall to Joel. You've got laryngitis, won't be in for some days," Russell said, and Marshall brought in a telephone on a long extension lead. "Joe, give the lad a bad throat, will you?"
Doyle struggled, but ineffectively, and Marshall's arm locked painfully about his neck, bruising and choking him.
Ignoring the scuffles and gasps, Russell dialled Cavanagh's home number, and signed for Doyle to be released. Coughing and fighting to draw breath, Doyle half-collapsed across the bed, and Russell held the receiver against his mouth.
"J-Joel?" he croaked, when Cavanagh's voice sounded in his ear. "It's Ray--I'm not too well--laryngitis--won't be in for a few days."
"Ray? That's awful sudden--are you skiving off?"
"No." Doyle coughed. "I swear it--"
"Well, you don't sound too good, that's for sure. Are you at the hotel? I can come on round, in case you need anything. Have you seen a doctor?"
"Uh--I'm contagious--you'd better not. I'll be okay soon. See you then."
And Russell put the phone back on its rest.
"Good boy," he smiled. "We're going to get along just fine."
The house was a small Queen Anne mansion on the outskirts of Cambridge, set in six acres of grounds. It was secluded, quietly luxurious, and guaranteed to suit Bodie's taste for the finer things in life. But he was given little opportunity to explore initial impressions.
The housekeeper met them at the front door.
"Major Cowley has been ringing, Sir William. He wants Mr. Maitland to phone him at the office immediately."
"Thanks, Mrs. Jarvis--the office is through there, Richard. Help yourself."
Unease tightening his stomach, Bodie dialled, finding no reassurance in the crisp, matter-of-fact Scottish voice that answered.
"3.7? You made good time. A new development. 4.5 has been--uh--abducted." There was a certain wry humour in Cowley's voice that Bodie did not appreciate.
"Russell and Marshall collected him soon after you left, put him in a car and drove away."
"He went without a fight?" Fury, disbelief, was harsh in his throat.
"Of course. He did not appear to be under duress at the time. Joel received a call from him some thirty minutes later, saying he'd got laryngitis, wouldn't be in. He said 4.5 sounded as if he had it as well. Very hoarse and coughing."
"What do you mean--of course!" Bodie yelled. "He wouldn't let those bastards take him without--"
"Bodie!" A sharp bark of command. "Use what little sense God gave you! Russell obviously needed Ray Duncan, so Ray Duncan is who he has. And Duncan had no reason to be suspicious of him. We've followed the car, we know where he's being held, theirs and Sir William's phones are tapped; no doubt they'll be contacting you."
"Yes." Bodie's rage and concern became transmuted to ice-cold deadliness. "Russell said something about taking other steps to persuade me not to be hasty."
"He appears to be a man of his word. Go along with them, 3.7. I'll be with you in two to three hours."
"Yes, sir." He put the phone down.
"Trouble?" Sir William asked quietly.
"Yes," Bodie said. "For Russell."
Doyle had been searched, his pockets emptied, his watch taken. All that was left with him, apart from the clothes he wore, was a handkerchief and the gold around his throat. None of his questions were answered, any resistance was choked out of him with brutal efficiency, and Doyle had added Marshall's name to his vendetta list.
As soon as he'd been left to his own devices, the door closed and locked, he began a systematic exploration of his prison. It did not take long. The window was solidly blocked, with not even a crack between the boards to let him get a glimpse of outside surroundings. The small en suite bathroom had only a toilet, hand basin and shower. All mod cons, but totally uninformative. He went back to the bed, stretched out and relaxed. He would wait and see what they had in mind before making any move of his own.
Several hours passed, as near as he could judge, before his next visitation. The lock turned, and Russell came in carrying the telephone. Behind him was Marshall, with Doyle's case from the hotel room.
"Time for your phone call to Dickon," Russell announced. "Don't look so apprehensive, Ray. Nothing's going to happen to you. Let me put you in the picture, set your mind at rest, so to speak. Sir William Maitland is a distinguished scientist, did you know? He also, as I'm sure you're aware, does not appreciate his son's--er--exotic taste in bed-partners. So, with the aid of some photographs, we've persuaded Dick to film certain research notes. He is inclined to be uncooperative, and you're here as added incentive to behave."
"Photographs?" Talking was painful, but not impossible.
"Yes. Of you and Dick. Ripe enough to give the old man instant cardiac arrest. Especially since he believes you're out of his dear son's life."
"I see. And when you've got the film? Do we end up in the Thames with our throats cut?"
"Good Lord, no. I'm a civilised man, Ray. This isn't America, you know. No, there'll be no violence, no killing. Neither of you will inform on me, because you'll both be implicated if it comes to a court case, with the inevitable backlash on Sir William. And I won't put the black on you because I never use the same source twice. I deal in industrial espionage, not blackmail for its own ends. Besides, Dick intends to return to the States as soon as you both can, and that would put you out of my reach, wouldn't it?" He was dialling numbers as he spoke, and there was a pause. Then, "Good afternoon. Mr. Richard Maitland, please. My name is Russell. Ah, Dick. Enjoying your visit home? Yes, I'm sure you will. I've someone here who'd like a few words with you." He put the receiver into Doyle's hand.
"Dickon?" he croaked.
"Are you okay?" iron control in the quiet voice.
"Yeah, I'm fine," he broke off to cough. "Apparently I'll stay that way as long as you do what they want."
"How did they get hold of you?"
"Told me Sir William had had a heart attack and you'd taken him to hospital, phoned Russell and asked him to ferry me to you."
"So bloody simple."
"All the best tricks are."
"Okay. Sit tight. I won't put a foot wrong. See you as soon as I can."
"Yeah. Take care. For God's sake don't let your dad catch you at it."
"He won't. I want to talk to Russell." Doyle passed over the handset, watched the man's face set into a smooth, smiling mask as he listened to Bodie.
"You're not in a position to threaten anyone, Dick," Russell said after a few minutes. "But I'll overlook it on this occasion. Ray is alive and well, and will remain so. You can speak to him every day until you deliver, at which time he's all yours again, along with the negatives and video film. No, we'll call you. Tomorrow evening, 9.30." He put the phone down, satisfaction on his face. "Well done, Ray. You handled that very well. You've obviously more backbone than I thought. What would you like for lunch?"
"Lunch?" Doyle repeated.
"We're not going to starve you. Chinese, Indian, chicken and chips--"
"Chicken and chips it is. See to that, please, Joe. Coffee as well. Do you have a habit, Ray? Cannabis, coke, heroin--?"
"No. I don't touch that stuff."
"Fair enough. If you change your mind, let me know. I can provide anything you need; uppers, downers, grass, anything." He started to leave, then turned back. "Oh, yes. While I think of it. Don't try to escape. For one thing, this place is more secure than any of Her Majesty's establishments--no one's got away yet--and another, there will be repercussions for Dickon if you attempt it. Just be patient, and you'll be walking out of here on Monday."
Patience was something that Doyle had in full measure, but he did not find it easy getting through the rest of the day. He was left alone much of the time, given too many opportunities to think, and it was not the operation and its new twist that exercised his mind. He avoided thinking about Bodie as much as he could, but after Marshall had told him to go to bed and had taken away the supper tray, he had unpacked his pyjamas, washed, crawled between the sheets, and found it impossible to shut the man out of his head. So instead he attempted to analyse what had happened, to find out why it had happened--and to decide what, if anything, he was going to do about it.
The what was simple enough. He had been suddenly overwhelmed, in the space of a few seconds, by a hunger and a need he did not know was in him until it awoke, and the sheer intensity of that sexual awareness was, in itself, outside his experience. So also was the fact that the cause and the focus of it was a man. Bodie.
The why was a lot more complex, and he could find no reasons, only more questions. Why hadn't it come to them before, when they were in far more intimate proximity--performing for Rourke's camera--sleeping together? He'd lost count of the times he'd woken up with their bodies close as sardines in a can, Bodie's arm around him, head on his shoulder. So why hadn't desire hit then? What was different about that one time? Memory provided part of the answer, perhaps; his own fury and resentment, deciding to pay Bodie back in his own coin for the humiliations of passive acceptance--the feel of Bodie's mouth under his, shocked, angry--and then he'd sensed fear, a kind of panic. Abruptly his own anger had died, and instead of taking he wanted to give--and that was when the world had turned upside down,
Had there been warning signs within his own body? Had Maitland started the beginnings of that incredible fire in his blood? He did not think so. The kisses, caresses, had been mechanical--more of an irritation than a pleasure--and the one time a kiss had deepened, when he'd opened his mouth for Bodie's tongue, the man had been so startled he'd almost let him go. And he, himself, had felt nothing. Only a tension in his stomach that was neither pleasure nor revulsion. The 'why', therefore, was unanswerable. It simply was. What to do about it was another matter entirely.
In spite of his previous fooling around, Bodie had been as ambushed by it as he'd been. That electrifying awareness had been mutual--'Unfinished business'--Bodie had said, but did he want it to happen again? Did he want that quicksilver fire searing through his blood, until all his being was centred on his partner's hands and mouth and powerful, vibrant body? His own body said yes by its response to the thought, but the cool, intelligent mind said no, be cautious, be circumspect, consider the implications, the side effects--Cowley, security, the day to day danger of his job, and not least, Bodie himself. That irksome, infuriating possessiveness was Bodie's own as well as Maitland's. If they developed a sexual relationship, how would that possessiveness--and protectiveness--affect their work efficiency? On the other hand, one or both of them could be dead next week, next month, and there shouldn't be any unfinished business left behind.
He settled himself under the blankets, knowing he wouldn't sleep well, and knowing now why he hadn't slept his first few nights at the Grosvenor. The bed was empty.
Regardless of the blackmailers' record, Cowley was taking no chances. Their previous espionage operations, as far as CI5 could discover, had followed a similar pattern to the Maitland set-up, and no one had been killed or injured. But with arrests to be made, Cowley wanted the exchange to be carried out on ground of his choosing. Bodie did not argue. A sleepless night in a large, lonely bed had done nothing to sweeten his temper, and Sir William found his temporary son unnerving company. He was too cold, too controlled. And underneath was violence.
Cowley, too, could read the signs, would have been surprised if they were not there. Bodie was, after all, a highly efficient agent--at times a killing machine, and as with all weapons, you aimed him at the target and pulled the trigger.
At nine-thirty Saturday night, with Russell's phone-call right on time, Bodie dropped Cowley's tactics into the game.
"Russell," he said. "I've got all the stuff you wanted. I'm coming back to Town tomorrow, not Monday."
"That's not part of the plan. Dick." Russell's voice had an edge to it.
"Look, I'm not trying to swing anything--I just want this lousy business over with, and Ray safe out of it," he said, managing a note of shaking desperation that had Cowley nodding his approval. "Please, Russell, you've got all the cards--what the hell can I do? You can afford to let me have some kind of safe-guard, can't you?"
"Safe-guard, Dick? Don't you trust me?"
"No. Not with Ray at stake."
"What safe-guard do you want?"
"The time and place for the hand-over to be of my choice."
"Tell me when and where, and I'll consider it."
"Tomorrow afternoon, quarter to one, the restaurant-bar of The Mandalay."
"Too many people around."
"They needn't know what's coming down. As far as they're concerned, Ray's throat's better, I've come back early--we're having a friendly chat and a drink while we wait for the rehearsal to begin."
"And that's your cover against bullets in your respective brains? All right, Dick. I'll accept that. But if you do not have the films I want, you are going to regret it. So will Ray and your father. I have a very long arm."
"I've got the stuff," he insisted. "Can I speak to Ray?"
"Of course. Briefly."
Unfortunately, 'briefly' just about covered it. They had no opportunity to say more than a quick 'Are you okay?' and 'I'm fine. Are you--' before Russell cut the connection. Then it was back to the waiting.
The lock clicked over, and Doyle tossed aside the paperback, came swiftly to his feet, and was waiting, tensed and ready, when Marshall came in alone. The man grinned at him.
"Nervous? You don't have to be. Here." He held out the contents taken from Doyle's pockets--keys, coins, a comb, his watch and the dark hood. "No lunch today, the boyfriend can treat you. Come on."
"For real. What's the matter? D'you think we had the concrete overcoat lined up for you? You've spent too long in the States, sonny. Half-an-hour in the blindfold, and it's all over bar the shouting. Put it on."
Wordlessly, he obeyed, trusting in luck and his reading of body-language that Marshall was too relaxed and at ease to be near the point of committing murder.
"Where's Russell?" he asked.
"At The Mandalay, checking things out."
"You're really going to let us walk away?"
"Sure." Marshall took his arm and guided him out. "Of course, even if we weren't, we'd hardly say so, would we?"
Just before they reached The Mandalay, Doyle was ordered to sit up, take off the hood. He discovered Rourke sitting in the front passenger seat, a gun in his hand.
"Who the hell are you?" he demanded, wide-eyed.
"Not your fairy godmother," the man snapped. "Don't do anything stupid, Curly, or I'll damage the other cheekbone. This will be in my pocket, lined on you every second of the time it takes to make the exchange. So remember, we're all pals together, right?"
"Right," he whispered, swallowing hard. And said a pious thank you to his personal god for arranging that Rourke should be within his reach at the culmination of the case.
They entered the club through the kitchens, going straight to Russell's office. Doyle saw no one from CI5, and no one from the band either. But he could hear music from the restaurant--too early for rehearsals, and the sounds were modern Jazz: an impromptu jam session could cause a problem.
Russell looked up from his desk as they came in, smiling a welcome.
"Good morning, Ray. Take a seat. Dick should be arriving in about a quarter of an hour. Coffee? Sure? You look as if you could do with something. How's the throat?"
"Good. I'd hate to think we'd harmed your singing career. You've got a damned good voice, and with the right kind of breaks, you could make it to the Big Time." Doyle was dumbfounded. The man was genuinely concerned. "Joe, wait out front for Dick, will you? Kevin, when they're at the bar, come and let us know. Have some coffee, Ray. I've put a shot of whisky into it."
Out in the restaurant, Joel Cavanagh had problems of his own: half a dozen stubborn musicians who saw no reason why their jam session should not go on until the rehearsal, and two weighty hand-guns in his pockets.
"There's new arrangements I want to talk over," he snapped, "and I don't want to repeat myself! So go on back to the dressing room and quit acting like prima donnas!"
"Speak of the devil," Brett grinned, and waved a drumstick. "There's Dick. What's he doing here today? What'll you bet he's fallen out with the old man again--"
"Shut up," Cavanagh said quietly, aware that he was about to run out of time. "Get off-stage. Now." He could tell by the way Lowe's eyes widened and focused that the second CI5 agent had appeared. "Move!" injecting a bite of command in the lowered tones that had them instinctively obeying, though not without protest.
"For God's sake, Joel," Vince grumbled. "You got out of the wrong side of the bed or something? Okay, boys. Let's humour him. What about Ray and Dick?" veering for the front of the stage and the bar.
"I'll get them along later." Cavanagh caught his elbow. "Off-stage. All of you."
"Wait a minute," Brett said abruptly. "What's going on over there?"
Bodie's eyes flashed once to Doyle's face, then fastened on Russell. He took a small package out of his pocket, laid it on the bar.
"Someone asked me to drop this in for you," he said easily. "How's the laryngitis, flower?"
Doyle smiled. Rourke was on his left, Russell at his right, and Marshall was at Bodie's side. Spoiled for choice.
"Miracle cure," he said, voice arctic-cold.
Russell took a sudden breath and stepped back, hand reaching inside his coat.
Doyle's yell was pure exaltation, and the edge of his palm slammed under Rourke's sternum with enough force to drop the man like a felled ox. At the same time Bodie hurled himself at Russell, driving in with fists and feet, not giving him a chance to draw his gun.
Marshall turned and ran. Doyle started after him, then Cavanagh shouted from the stage.
"Ray!" and tossed the Walther towards him. Doyle snatched it out of the air, crouched, gun extended, rock-steady.
"Marshall!" a harsh yell. "Stop right there or I'll take out your knee-caps!" The man staggered to a halt.
"I'm not armed!" he screeched. "Don't shoot!"
Cowley limped into the restaurant, snapped cuffs on Marshall's shaking wrists, and Doyle spun round, pouncing on Rourke. He was crowing for breath, writhing in helpless agony, and Doyle let him drop, a savage disappointment on his face. So he decided Bodie had done sufficient damage to Russell.
"Playtime's over, sunshine," he snapped. "Leave enough to question."
"Spoilsport." Bodie's smile was wolf-vicious. "I've been promising myself this for weeks."
"3.7!" a bark from Cowley. "I don't want him in a hospital bed. Well done, lads. And not a shot fired."
"Pity," Bodie murmured, removing an envelope from Russell's pocket. He checked the contents and handed it over to his superior.
"Some people are never satisfied." Doyle's smile was equally fierce, and he turned to the stage, raised the gun in salute. "Thanks, Joel."
"You're welcome," the bandleader said. "That was quite a show your boys put on, George. They're pretty good."
"Not bad, but could be better," Cowley corrected him dourly, giving Doyle two more sets of handcuffs. "Well, Joel, does it bring back The Good Old Days?"
"Something like that." Cavanagh's smile was rueful. He came down from the stage and joined them, six astounded musicians on his heels. "I'd forgotten what it's like to be scared shitless."
"You did okay," Bodie said, eyeing the heavy bulge in the bandleader's jacket. "Could that be mine, by any chance?" he asked.
"It is." Cavanagh pulled out the Browning and handed it over. Bodie received it with a sigh of relief.
"I've finally discovered what's been climbing my nose the whole of this operation," he beamed.
"What's that?" Cavanagh smiled. "Acting the gay?"
"No. Working naked," kissing the gun barrel. He became aware of incredulous eyes on Doyle and himself, and the numbers grew as the rest of the band crowded in. "Think you're going to have some explaining to do, sir."
"What in God's name is going on?" Brett finally found his voice.
"Don't take any notice of him," Doyle said. "He thinks he's James Bond. Joel'll explain, Alan. As much as he can."
"Explain what?" Lowe's eyes did not leave Doyle's face.
"Ray and Dick were working undercover to stop a blackmail ring," Cavanagh said quietly.
"Setting themselves up to be blackmailed?" Vince cut in. "Sneaky bastards!" admiration in his voice. "Bet you're not even gay, are you?"
"That's right." Doyle's smile was cold. "We're not."
"My God, it was a bloody good act. No wonder no one could get anywhere with you. Never mind, Harv. At least you know now you don't have a rival to be jealous of. Come and have a drink, old son." He winked at Doyle and led the clarinettist to the bar.
"You're police?" Brett demanded, eyes bulging.
"No," said Bodie, affronted. "Not at all. We're civil servants." It was his favourite job description.
"They wouldn't have that nutter in the Force," Doyle grunted. "Even the SAS kicked him out."
"They had you in the Boys in Blue, flower," Bodie grinned, "they can't be that fussy."
"Pack it in," Doyle warned. "You're next on my list, remember?"
"Oh, yes. I remember."
But Cavanagh was paying little attention to the by-play. He had other things on his mind.
"Look," he said earnestly. "Can I persuade you two to work through tonight's performance before you go back to being civil servants? George, how about it? Will you give them the go-ahead?"
"They won't be able to stay for the rehearsals, but you can have them for this evening. I owe you that, at least." Two pairs of indignant eyes fixed on him.
"I knew I should have stayed with the Met..." Doyle said, disgusted.
With three prisoners to interrogate, details of all previous operations to extract from unwilling heads, Bodie and Doyle did not get away from the building off Whitehall until eight o'clock and they reached The Mandalay with barely enough time to climb into their stage-clothes.
The band had greeted them without reserve, and with a rabid curiosity that had a barrage of questions lined up for the first opportunity to voice them. They were also intrigued by the discernible differences. As far as the pseudo Maitland was concerned, the protectiveness had disappeared, and the possessiveness was tucked away behind a ribald and abrasive tongue. The aggression was still there, was nearer the surface, perhaps, but what most found more alarming was to find that same aggression in Ray Duncan. He was an equal match for his partner, the insecure, vulnerable facade gone as surely as if it had never existed. In its place was an easy-smiling, cold-eyed hunter, disciplined and dangerous. Only the names stayed the same and it was odds-on they weren't genuine.
Ray Duncan's appearance on the stage was given a spontaneous round of applause--he'd been missed, it seemed, and his bruised throat did not affect his singing. Cowley, in the audience for the first time, was more impressed than he would show.
"Passable," he said to Sir William. "I can see why Joel is threatening to be difficult about the contracts."
"Well, I, for one, am damned glad it's over," the man smiled. "I'm too old for those kinds of antics. Never was my style, anyway. Not like you and Joel. What are their names, George? I can't go on calling them Ray and Richard."
"You can stick to Ray--Ray Doyle. And Bodie is--Bodie. He doesn't appreciate the use of his given names. Lord knows why, they're perfectly respectable and reasonable, but then, that's Bodie." He glanced at the empty place-settings; five of them. Sir William saw the direction of his gaze, and his jaw set.
"I don't want it, but I can't prevent it," he said, on the defensive. "But if Rich--Bodie is right, then he stopped Dick destroying himself with heroin. So I'm in his debt."
"Give the boy his chance, Will. Both of them. I know it's not what any father would want for his only son, but at least it's a settled relationship."
"You know, at one stage I was beginning to wish that Dick would be a little more like your lad--" he started wistfully. Cowley nearly choked on his whisky.
"Good grief! Thank your lucky stars he isn't! Dick--and Gary--you can cope with, the Bodies of this world belong in CI5 where men like me can direct them for their own, and everybody else's, safety."
"You think so?"
"Yes. They've just come in. Relax, Will. Gary isn't wearing sequins." Sir William spluttered, scowled, then chuckled ruefully.
"I deserved that," he sighed.
By the time Cavanagh, Bodie and Doyle joined the table during the interval, the somewhat strained atmosphere had become far more relaxed, partly through Cowley's skills and partly by Sir William discovering that Lloyd had a keen interest in experimental electronics. Richard Maitland, uncannily like his counterpart in dark dress-suit and white shirt, was at first hostile and reserved towards the newcomers, a contrast to Lloyd's open friendliness. But Bodie was no respecter of persons, and after initial verbal sparring a tacit truce was observed, and the vicious sense of humour that they both shared was spread around the table. Doyle had the same streak of repartee, and after a while, Lloyd, then Cavanagh joined in, and Sir William was torn between outrage and amusement. Cowley sat back and watched, a small, inscrutable smile on his face.
Cavanagh glanced at his watch, and stood up.
"Break's over," he smiled. "Will, Dick, Gary, I hope you'll come to The Mandalay and the Grove again. Soon."
"I think we will," Sir William said. "The music isn't their scene, I know, but the food is excellent. Thanks for all you've done, Joel. And you two," raising his glass to the agents.
"All part of the job," Bodie drawled. "I hope this isn't the slap-up meal at the best place in Town you'd promised us?"
"No. It isn't," he chuckled.
"Got room for two more?" Maitland put in, and his father's smile warmed somewhat.
"Yes, I should think so," he said. "I'll be in touch, Ray, Bodie. Thanks again."
"Don't forget you've jobs to go to in the morning," Cowley said smoothly, fixing his operatives with a bleakly amused stare. "I understand the band has something laid on in the dressing room?"
"Yes, sir. Just a few drinks," Doyle said, poker-faced. "We'll pack up the flat and report in tomorrow noon."
"Good. You'll be starting a refresher course as soon as you do. You've been living soft for too long, you're losing your edges. Don't be late."
"Soft?" Bodie was scandalised. "--pounding a joanna day in, day out--Doyle's cooking--"
"Yes," said Doyle. "What do we do about that piano?"
"He can take it home with him," Cowley suggested.
"Not bloody-likely!" Bodie protested. "You haven't seen the woodworm in that thing. Can't sleep nights, listening to them chewing away on one side, Ray snoring on the other."
"Told you it's a terminal case." Doyle grinned. "We could always donate it to MI5. Come on, Lover-boy. The last lap."
"Thank God." He dropped his arm across the lean shoulders and gave the table an outrageous wink. "Like his white outfit? Bridal, positively bridal--but I don't think much of the honeymoon chosen for us--"
"Pack it in," Doyle snapped. "Or I'll start breaking your ribs here and now."
"Stay in character, 4.5," Bodie snickered. "You can't get rid of Duncan just yet. Maybe I should auction him off-- Okay, okay--truce."
The celebration in the dressing room was still going strong when its two main causes extricated themselves and escaped to the white Capri parked at the back of the club.
The drive to the flat took only a matter of minutes, all of them filled by Bodie's complaints on the lack of fight put up by Russell and his partners. He'd clearly expected better things of them. Doyle let him ramble on, barely listening. By no means drunk, he was relaxed and cheerfully complacent--another operation successfully tied up, and the few loose ends would be dealt with in the course of the questioning. It was a shame Marshall hadn't given him an excuse to visit retribution upon him, but life was full of minor disappointments....
"Ray?" Bodie said. "We're home. You going to sit there all night?"
"Nope. What do we do with your piano?"
"It isn't mine. Technically it belongs to CI5. I bought it out of the expenses, remember?"
"Oh, yes. Then if it's anyone's, it's Cowley's." A wide grin slowly grew across Doyle's face. "I think it would look rather nice in his office."
"I agree," Bodie said solemnly. "How do we get it in there?"
"Very carefully," he said. "Tomorrow night--tonight, I mean. We can hang on to the keys, pick it up round about nine or ten, leave the keys with Ann to give back to Shylock."
"Raymond, you're a genius."
They climbed out of the car, headed into the house and up the stairs.
"After all," Bodie went on, "we couldn't possibly leave it where it is, infecting half of London."
"It may as well infect the other half while it's at it," Doyle agreed. "That or we give it a Viking funeral in the street."
"Cremation," Bodie chuckled opening the door and ushering him into the flat. "Cruelty to woodworm, mate. Brr--strikes cold in here."
"I'll be glad to get back to my own place," Doyle said. "What's that smell?"
"Funny. --Sour milk--"
"Well, you were heisted Friday, and this is Monday morning," Bodie pointed out logically. "And if you didn't get a chance to clear the breakfast things--"
"I didn't. Damn."
"A housewife's work is never done," he murmured slyly. "Going to leave it?"
"No. What state are the meters in?"
"I'll feed 'em both. We could always have black coffee?" pushing coins into slots.
"Not for me." Doyle disappeared into the kitchen alcove, and Bodie heard the familiar 'whoof' from the water heater as it started up.
He wandered over to the piano, lifted the lid and ran his fingers over the keys. But his mind was on other things. Doyle appeared to have forgotten their unfinished business. He smiled wryly. Well, he'd been given fair warning--'Don't count on it, I'll be sane then.'--and it looked as if he was. Not by word or gesture had he given any sign that he was thinking about it, let alone wishing to complete it.
Bodie played the first few bars of 'Penny Serenade'. There was one way to find out.
"I'm going to bed," he called.
"Okay. Just don't hog all the mattress."
"As if I would," he grinned.
Decision-time, Doyle acknowledged, washing the last of the breakfast crockery and leaving the lot to drain-dry. He could either sleep on the couch, or join Bodie. If he chose the latter, it was highly likely that their 'unfinished business' would not remain so. He reviewed his options again, aware that it could be an irrevocable decision. The degree of pleasure he'd experienced on Friday was unique, and implied further heights to come--if an embrace could engender that kind of intensity, what more could they generate between them with the night and the bed at their disposal?
Desire struck through him; wildfire searing in his blood, and a self-mocking smile twisted his face. If he slept on the couch, he'd be faced with similar choices every time they had free time together. And what of Bodie? It would be most uncharacteristic of the man not to press an advantage--if he still wanted this new aspect of their relationship. But did they need this new aspect? Would it be worth the risks involved? Security--Cowley--and underlying all of his indecision the certain knowledge that death could come any time.
He washed, turned out the lights and walked quietly into the bedroom, undressed and stood by the bed. He did not need light to know that Bodie, as usual, would have possession of the major part of the mattress. The desire grew, joined by an emotion he could not identify, and he slid under the quilt, reaching for the warm, naked body.
Bodie grunted his surprise, half-pinned down by Doyle's weight, and quiet laughter rippled near his ear.
"Asleep?" Doyle whispered, and did not wait for an answer. Lips and teeth fastened on Bodie's throat, shocking a gasp of pleasure and pain from him. "My brand," Doyle murmured, mouth touching his leaping pulse.
"Thought I'd have to remind you," Bodie said huskily, arms locked around him, holding him close, then slowly slipping down Doyle's spine, cupping the lean buttocks, welding their groins together. Doyle moaned, and arched against him. There was no more time for doubt, decisions, restraint. Their mouths joined, and incandescent fire burned away coherence and self-control alike.
Rain beating on the windows slowly seeped through layers of sleep and Doyle came partially awake. They had to move out today, he remembered. Therefore it was tipping it down out there. Sod's Law. But regardless of the weather, he was warm, comfortable, drifting in a heavy-limbed languor that had little to do with sleep or the lack of it. He lay along Bodie's side, thigh across thighs, head on his shoulder, arm around his chest, and he was held there by Bodie's unconscious embrace. Not that he wanted to move away. Not now. There had been a time in the night when he'd tried to slam on the brakes, to regain the control taken away from him, but it had not lasted long under the combined campaign of Bodie's mouth, tongue, hands, and urgent body. The man had known what he was doing, as well. Each touch, caress, was sure and confident, and it was no wonder that he, completely inexperienced in sex when it came to a male partner, had been swept away by the deliberately invoked maelstrom. The surprise was that anyone, male or female, could have driven him to an ecstasy he'd not thought possible to attain. But Bodie had, and he remembered that damnable complacent chuckle echoing in his ears as orgasm had shattered through his helplessly convulsing body. He'd claimed his revenge, later, winning from Bodie the same total capitulation, lifting him to the heights he'd known, the complacency scorched away along with any vestige of control.
Wide awake now, Doyle turned his head a little and kissed the damp skin of Bodie's throat. He tasted of salt, smelt of aftershave and sex, and Doyle kissed him again, tongue tracing the line of his collarbone. Bodie sighed, arms tightening, body moving in a slow, sensual stretch. But he didn't wake up.
Carefully, Doyle freed himself, and, propped on an elbow, he studied the sleeping face. Even with the heavy beard-shadow, Bodie somehow managed to look ridiculously young and oddly vulnerable, a new view of him that put a strange bittersweet ache into Doyle's chest. But Bodie had not appreciated the revenge visited upon him, once he'd got breath and control back--Doyle had seen, and recognized, that he'd been almost scared by the loss, having the initiative taken from him. That aspect was obviously as new to him as it was to Doyle.
"Hard luck, Lover-boy," he whispered. "Can't have your cake and eat it." And his eyes drifted to the love-bite he'd put on Bodie's throat. His brand. It wasn't alone now. There was a random pattern of them across collarbone, breast, the jut of Bodie's hip, and the joining of groin and thigh. His own body was similarly marked. Not so much brands as deeds of ownership, right down to the small print....
Bodie's eyes opened, hazy-blue, heavy-lidded and sated. Their gazes met.
"You," he murmured, reaching up to touch fingertips to Doyle's throat, "are a fantastic lay."
"You're not so bad yourself." Doyle smiled. His neck was bare of gold, because in the early part of the night Bodie had taken off the choker that belonged to Duncan and hurled it across the room.
"Marshall marked you up." A frown pulled down the strongly arched brows.
"Probably where his arm was over the chain."
Doyle chuckled, laying his head back on Bodie's shoulder.
"That was four hundred quid's worth of 18 carat gold you chucked away," he said. "If it's lost or busted Cowley'll do his tank, and dock it out of your wages. And you'll have to explain why--"
"Not bloody-likely!" Bodie snorted. "Can you see his face? 'Sir, it is lost or broken because I intended to screw 4.5 through the floor, not Ray Duncan--'"
"That reminds me," Doyle said. "Who taught you?"
"Just idle curiosity," he said, trailing his lips across Bodie's skin to the corner of his mouth. "You knew exactly what to do to drive me clean off my head, so I wondered who taught you how."
"Someone in Angola," Bodie said quietly, after a pause. "He didn't exactly teach me, and I didn't go overboard the way you did. He just made sure I enjoyed it. That way it wasn't rape." He fell silent, and Doyle's lips and hands soothed away old tensions. "It wasn't my choice, and I didn't have the strength or skill then to win the fights. So when I lost--" He broke off and shrugged, tightening his hold on the quiescent body, half-afraid to find restraint. There was none, and he relaxed. "It was better than rape, anyhow. But nothing like last night. And I was always on the receiving end." There was another pause. Then, "If it comes to knowing the mechanics, flower, who taught you? I seem to remember you doing a pretty effective job on me once or twice." A smile was in his voice, and his hands stroked lazily down Doyle's spine, finding all the sensitive areas with uncanny precision.
"You did," he whispered, back arching, skin tingling under the caress, pleasure coiling through his blood to centre on his groin. "Just tell me this--where do we go from here?"
"We're not going anywhere for at least an hour," Bodie drawled. "After that, if we can still walk, back to work. The old daily grind." But his arms tightened again, locking Doyle close against him, and his mouth set to a stubborn, wilful line. "I'm not going to let this go," he said abruptly. "Ray--"
"You're not going to have the chance," Doyle interrupted. "Shuttup. You talk too much, Bodie. Can't you think of anything else to do with your mouth but flap it?"
"Stuck with you, am I?" smugness back in his voice.
"Yes. Until I get cheesed off," Doyle added, but he was laughing as he said it, so Bodie let it pass without any real qualm. There were other ways of passing the time than talking, especially with the refresher course looming in their immediate future. The chances for this kind of privacy would be few--if not non-existent--until they returned to London. The time was not to be wasted.
When the bedside clock showed eleven o'clock, Bodie slipped out of bed, leaving Doyle a relaxed, naked sprawl drowsing in the wreckage of the bedding. He washed, shaved, dressed with silent speed, then remembered the gold chain that had offended him the previous night. He wasted precious minutes hunting for it, finally finding the thing under the wardrobe, and dropped it into his jacket pocket. Luckily the clasp wasn't broken, though a cover story wouldn't have been difficult. Marshall could have done it when he choked Doyle out. He pushed down the useless anger and went quietly about the task of putting their belongings together.
There wasn't a lot to do. Their clothes were already packed into suitcases, Doyle's shaving gear was in his case, and his own was still out for his partner to use. That left the bed--which was still occupied--and the food.
He emptied the cupboards and fridge, loading the contents on the table, and stared at them. There was more than he'd thought there would be, but it didn't seem worth the effort of carting the stuff back to their respective homes.
As he put the kettle on for belated cups of coffee, he heard Doyle quietly singing one of Duncan's numbers in the bathroom.
"Pack it in!" he called. "You can forget that 30's rubbish now!"
All he got was a cackle of laughter and another verse of 'Penny Serenade'. He grinned to himself. There was a comfortable, completed warmth deep inside him, as much emotional as physical, but he did not bother to analyse it. Right then, life was looking very good.
Ann solved Bodie's food-problem. She tapped on their door as they were finishing their coffee, and was welcomed with enthusiasm.
"We're off," Bodie announced. "To pastures new. Help yourself, luv," and aimed a sweeping gesture in the general direction of the table.
"Off?" she repeated, bemused.
"Yeah," said Doyle. "Do us a favour and take the lot--but not the piano. It's got woodworm and probably Dutch Elm, and we're coming back for it later on tonight."
"We have a fitting resting place for it," Bodie continued. "A loving, caring home for geriatric pianos. We'll drop the keys in to the old goat downstairs--rent's all paid up to the end of the month, so he's done pretty well out of us. "
"But--" she tried again.
"Got to go," Doyle said. "We're supposed to be in Whitehall by twelve, and if we're late we are going to be for the high-jump."
"We are, anyway," Bodie growled. "We have a date with an eccentric and irascible Scotsman who has a perverted idea of what's good for us. Soft! Hah!"
"Thanks, Ann," Doyle smiled his best stun-at-five-paces smile. "It's been great knowing you. Good luck, girl." He lifted her into a bear hug and a kiss that left her breathless and weak-kneed, released her into Bodie's arms, and her startled questions were silenced by his mouth.
"'Bye, little girl," he smiled as he let her go. "Be good--or careful--"
"We've got six minutes!" A groan from Doyle. "--Sod it! The chain!"
"I've got it." Bodie patted his pocket. "Lead on, my flower. If we're late, we're late. He can't do any worse than he has already."
"Want to bet?"
"Ray--? Dick--?" But the door had slammed behind them, and their footsteps were clattering down the stairs, voices raised in acrimonious discussion as to who was going to drive the car.
So it was that Tuesday morning, with his two allegedly top operatives on their way to a certain establishment in Berkshire, Cowley entered his office at 7.00 a.m. to discover some extra items of furniture. A battered piano, one corner wedged up on a box-file and riddled with wormwood, and a stool, leather seat cracked and faded, its wood-work similarly afflicted with tiny holes. On top of the piano stood a tin of yellow paint and a brush. Below it on the music-stand was an open leaflet of music. The lyrics caught his attention. 'When I pretend I'm gay / I never feel that way / I'm only painting the clouds with sunshine'.
Cowley was not amused.
-- THE END --
Based on an idea by Calliope, who developed it in a different direction in her story Painting the Clouds, which was later published in Uncharted Waters 11, Crevichon Press, 1994.