Legacy of Temptation

by


Day One - Tuesday Evening

"Damn it, Bodie! D'you think I'm enjoying this any more than you? A palm slammed down on the surface of the table, and the resultant report ricocheted about the dining room like a stray bullet.

Exasperated blue eyes, glaring out of an inordinately pale but profoundly handsome face, shot up. At the evidence of frustration so clearly etched on the woman's open features, Bodie bit back the angry words that lay coiled on the tip of his tongue and breathed hard through his nose, causing finely arched nostrils to flare almost elegantly.

"No," Bodie acknowledged. "Of course you're not. Sorry, Allison."

The woman shook her head at him, smooth, dark hair swinging fluidly around her face. A tiny smile peeked through the rigid set of her mouth, slowly but determinedly creeping upward to breach the weariness in chocolate brown eyes. "I'm sorry, too. I shouldn't've shouted." She relaxed back in her chair, body molding limply to the unyielding wood frame. "Audits are always horrid."

Bodie summoned a wry smile. "The audit itself is usually a doddle. It's the preparation that's 'horrid.'" Using the pads of his fingers, he rubbed gently at his eyes. "And it's been a rough couple of weeks. Bloody madhouse. Beginning to think I should move a cot in."

"Now there's a thought," Allison winced. "Look, I'll just put the kettle on; what d'you say?"

"No." Bodie rose, the chair scraping on the linoleum floor behind him. "I'll make the tea this time; you did it last."

"Thanks, love."

Pausing in the kitchen doorway, he grinned back at her. "But feel free to carry on, won't you."

"Bastard. You know what you--" The door buzzer sounded imperiously, drowning out whatever she had meant to add. Allison glanced across at Bodie, who had hesitated in the doorway. "You go ahead," she said. "I'll see who it is."

"Cheers."

Bodie glanced at the clock hanging on the wall behind the kitchen sink as he shoved the uncapped kettle under the water. It had only gone eight, but even with the switch to Summer Time, the day was already full dark.

His mind was empty as he waited for the kettle to fill, oblivious to everything but the sound of water pouring out of the faucet, the hollow insistence as it impacted noisily against the metal walls.

This was his fourth audit with Allison; their fourth year as partners. Recommended to him by a good mate from the Army, Allison had proved to be every bit as knowledgeable and reliable as his friend had promised. With his electronics training and her on-hands computer experience, they had quickly come to admire one another's skills and sharp minds--and the deadly persistence that carried them through that dreadful first year in which they had had to fight long hours and an unresponsive public to establish themselves in the computer repair industry.

It had not been easy. Along with a keen love of computers and an unholy talent for tinkering, Allison was blessed with a good comprehension of the business world. More than once, overwhelmed by the unanticipated roles he was forced to play--fast-talking salesman, tutor, confidant--Bodie had been tempted to throw in the towel and admit defeat. Allison, made of sterner stuff, would never hear of it, and each and every time had bolstered Bodie to continue.

In their relatively short time together, they had managed to find a niche in the burgeoning world of computer users. This, despite having briefly employed the services of a marketing representative, who had distressingly overextended their fledgling operation to the point where they had been incapable of keeping up with a multitude of new accounts without working themselves to death or going bankrupt by having to take on a fleet of new personnel to meet the crush.

After that notable disaster, things had settled down. They had kept on one of their temporary hires who loved to work long hours for reasonable but unspectacular pay. Heather Wood was computer adept in the most arcane way; Bodie sometimes referred to her as "witch." She often arrived with the pale advent of dawn and rarely left before the rush-hour traffic had slowed to a trickle. Quiet but personable, where Allison could be gregarious to a fault and Bodie impenetrably distant, the young technician had proved to be the perfect addition to their little shop.

For the most part Accurate Computer Services--ACS Ltd--elicited TPM contracts from firms which either had extant equipment, or those for which ACS recommended and expedited purchases. As a rule they performed all their repairs in the shop; but there were a few insistent--and surcharged--accounts for which they plied their trade on site.

After four years Bodie had almost completely adjusted to the new pattern of his life. Generally, he was content. It was easier now to forget certain episodes of the past, to place behind him the events and people who only rarely now visited his dreams. Life was--

"Bodie! Didn't you hear me?" Allison's clear, vibrant voice cut through the cotton wool of Bodie's thoughts and brought him sharply back to the present.

"Cor!" she tsked, watching him dump surplus water out of the brimming kettle. "You'll use any excuse for a kip, won't you?"

"Audits do that to me," Bodie retorted smartly. "If we could bottle it for the millions, it would be an excellent anti-insomnia aid." He plugged in the flex and pushed the rocker switch to ON. "Who was that at the door?"

"Bloke to see you." At the startled look leveled her way, Allison defended herself, "I tried to call you, but you didn't answer. He said he'd wait while I fetched you; refused to even step inside."

Bodie frowned. "I wasn't expecting anyone. Certainly not tonight."

"I haven't seen him before." Her mouth curved into a crooked smile. "But then you don't often bring anyone home with you."

"Snoop," Bodie said, unoffended. "You get to finish this lot, then. Be back in a tick--I promise."

Bodie strode into the common corridor which led to the front door without foreboding or expectation, but with a pronounced touch of impatient curiosity. Outwardly at ease, the braced stance he assumed before turning the brass knob was nevertheless one that owed much to his earlier life.

At the sound of the door drawing open, the man on the front step spun round, poised seemingly for flight. Stove-pipe thin from the hips down, his shoulders and arms were contrastingly broad and well-developed, their size emphasized by an old leather flier's jacket--despite the man's hunched-forward posture. He was almost as tall as Bodie, but there all similarity between them came to an end. Where Bodie's hair was short and smooth, hugging the well-shaped curve of his skull, this man sported unruly, thick brown curls, long enough to get caught inside the fur collar of his jacket and profuse enough to obscure the high slope of his brow. His mouth was full, but uninvitingly compressed. The natural promontory of his right cheekbone had been replaced by a harsh ridge, although the alteration clearly had occurred some years before. Most commanding, however, were his green eyes, stabbing out from beneath lush dark lashes. Wide-set and slanting, and startling in their intensity, they lent an almost oriental cast to the round face.

Taking all this in within the space of two rapid heartbeats, Bodie did not fail to note that the man was according him the same thorough inspection.

"You're Bodie?" he asked abruptly, voice low and husky. The sound of it incongruously raised the small hairs on the back of Bodie's neck.

"Bodie, yes."

A fleeting grimace touched the man's face and was gone, so quickly Bodie questioned whether he had actually seen it. "A mutual friend suggested I see you."

"Really?" Bodie asked lightly. He was uncomfortably aware of the other man's scrutiny, still boldly raking over his features one by one.

"Father Keegan." The name was stated without inflection, yet it struck at Bodie like a challenge.

He stiffened. "Why should--?"

"He said you could help me." The words cost the other man; he fidgeted from one foot to the other, and for the first time glanced away.

Covering well the shock that gripped him at the man's announcement, Bodie said flatly, "He was wrong."

The other's face drained of color, "He said--"

"He made a mistake." Bodie's voice was deliberately harsh. Yet it gave him no satisfaction to see a bleak acceptance dull the green eyes.

"Right." Standing a little straighter, the man stepped down to the pavement, his shoulders racked as if with a sudden chill. A few steps away, he hesitated and looked back over his shoulder.

"What's the matter, Bodie?" he asked hollowly. "Something go wrong with the last person who asked for your help?"

Furious words bubbled up inside Bodie's throat, but the other man was already striding down the concrete path, long legs carrying him toward the street at an angry pace. He shut his mouth tightly over scalding outrage, compelled to watch the other leave in silence.

In less than a minute, the lean figure had disappeared round the corner where Sherwood Park Road and Robin Hood Lane came together, the smart tattoo of his bootheels fading until lost even to Bodie's keen hearing. There came the snarl of a powerful engine, followed at once by the shriek of rubber spinning on the road.

Still Bodie stood there, his racing heart gradually slowing to normal. The sourness of the man's disappointment lingered, tainting Bodie with a guilt he had not known in many years. "Who the fuck are you?" he hissed under his breath.

Staring into the distance, Bodie recovered himself with an effort. "Damn you," he muttered, and turned back into the house and its too-bright lights.

"Who was that?" Allison asked, leaning against the dining room door-jamb, her head canted to one side. She straightened as she took in Bodie's black expression. "Bodie?"

"Don't know," he replied tersely, the two words conveying more of his inner turmoil than he would have liked. Meeting Allison's concerned gaze, his own eyes pleaded indulgence. "Tell me there's tea," he said, with a faint smile. "We still have a lot to do, y'know."

"Hm." Allison clearly would have liked to pursue the subject; but they had agreed to certain ground rules when they had taken on the house, and implicit respect of each other's privacy was at the top of that list. Neither had ever faltered in honoring their agreement; Allison did not begin now.

Once settled at the kitchen table again, Bodie ruthlessly gathered his disjointed thoughts and concentrated upon the matter at hand. For all his determination, however, the tormented face of his visitor came back to haunt him. He'd seen that look before: desperate, nearly shattered, raggedly composed. It was the way a person looked after facing the abyss.

Wishing he had not denied him, but well aware that he could have done nothing else, Bodie cursed the stranger and Father Keegan with equal fervor.

He hoped the man would be all right.




Day Two - Wednesday

The following dawn was nothing more than a grayer shade of night. Rainy and overcast, the gloomy weather was a suitable backdrop to Bodie's dour mood. Despite having concluded the preparations for the audit well after midnight, he had risen early, chased out of the warm comfort of his bed by the nightmarish horrors invading his dreams. Consequently he was irritable and sullen as he drove into Merton, his expression wreathed in clouds as dark as the lowering sky.

The lights in the office-cum-workshop of ACS Ltd on the Broadway spilled out onto the pavement through uncurtained windows, yellowly welcoming amidst the gloom. Bodie had never realized how much he had come to depend on Heather's propensity for making an early start. It was more in his nature to work late into the evening than to build time in the morning. His black mood eased just a little at the evidence of Heather's presence: When he arrived at his desk, the heat would already be on in the building, and a fresh pot of tea would be ready to pour.

He drove on past, guiding the Vauxhall Cavalier through streets as yet uncluttered by other motorists, to the car park a short distance away. Snagging a somewhat better than usual stall, he parked with care then secured the vehicle. It was a relief to come out of the cold, clammy concrete structure into the pallid light of day. The walk to the office was very brisk in the early hour, rain falling lightly but with an icy edge.

Bodie keyed the front door, then paused to brush glistening drops off his hair as he rubbed the soles of his shoes back and forth on the entry mat.

"That's not ever you, Bodie?" Heather's voice came to him from the rear half of the company's let space.

"Good morning, Heather," Bodie greeted, hanging his jacket on the hatstand.

"There's tea," she called.

Palming his hair flat against his head, Bodie went through the office space to the back. Heather sat at one of the two long work-tables which lined the east and west walls, her dark head bent over a disemboweled Compaq.

"You're a treasure," Bodie said affably, tipping milk out of the jug into a stained cup. "When was the last time you had a rise?"

"Memory fails," she replied without looking round. "But if you're offering, I'll be happy to accept."

Bodie set the pot back on the tea-platter and raised the steaming mug to his mouth. "Hm. Lovely."

"You're here early," Heather commented unnecessarily. "Even for an audit week."

Mug in hand, Bodie wandered round the room, making a mental inventory of their current projects. He paused behind Heather to watch her work. Her long fingers were as steady and capable as a surgeon's, graceful, too, in their cautious movements, removing screws from the chassis of the desktop machine.

"After spending two weeks making sure the accounts are up-to-date, trying to repair a bung computer is immensely appealing."

"So hire someone to manage the accounts. You know both you and Allison detest doing it," Heather suggested.

Bodie sighed, setting the cup on the work-table he called his own. As he sat down, he rolled up his sleeves, and loosened the tie he always wore on the off-chance he might be required to visit a client's home. "We're only just breaking even as it is," he said.

There was no reason for dissimulation with Heather: she knew the company's financial situation as well as he and Allison.

She turned and smiled reprovingly. "Well, a little better than that. So take that rise you've been promising me for a year and a half and use it to pay an outside firm for time-sharing accountancy services."

Hooking his anti-shock metal bracelet round his left wrist, Bodie hesitated while Heather's words registered. "That may not be such a bad idea, moppet."

"Moppet," the woman snorted, and disdainfully turned her attention back to the circuit board cradled in her hands.

Heather's suggestion helped distract Bodie as he installed a serial port on a 286. Her idea certainly had merit; even if it wasn't fair to her to continue postponing the long-justified increase in wages. He'd often thought of offering Heather an interest in the company; but given the volatile nature of the computer industry he could not predict whether that would be a long-term investment, or a swift method of consuming her meager savings. Allison had been agreeable when he'd mentioned it to her; but she had also suggested that a little more time to see how things went--both with them and the business--would be advisable.

He was still mulling their options when Allison came in with the slim, well-dressed woman who represented the accountancy firm employed by their loan-holder. Delicate features, a rosy complexion, and beautiful blond hair made her very easy on the eyes--and Allison's eyes were full to overflowing.

Bodie allowed himself a secret smile, and shifted gears once more to cogitate the diversity found in human sexual attraction. While he could comprehend without difficulty what Allison found stimulating about this woman--after all the standard of beauty among English-speaking countries was fairly consistent--she stirred not the slightest spark of interest in him. Nor did Allison, for that matter--Allison, who was tall and dark and--depending on one's viewpoint--either full-figured or voluptuous, with a beautiful oval face, a sweetly curving mouth and sparkling eyes.

The stranger at the door last night, on the other hand, did so with a vengeance.

"Damn." Bodie spent a moment retrieving a screw that had fallen into the casing of the PC he was putting back together. He would rather not have thought of the man with the penetrating green eyes and whipcord body. And boisterously curly hair, and tempting, sensuous-looking mouth, and--

It had been months since he'd had sex with someone other than his right hand: an acceptable situation for a cautious man like him. While adept at sublimating his sexual needs through dedication to work, Bodie would eventually acknowledge his body's pitiable plight--made clear to him in no uncertain terms--and finally, he would act upon it. His body didn't often state its position quite so vociferously, however.

"Bodie, you remember Hazel Bell?"

He rose politely, scrubbing his hand on a spotless cloth. "I wish I could say I'm pleased to see you again, Miss Bell, but I do hate this yearly ord--process."

The woman smiled warmly, and allowed her hand to linger in Bodie's clasp. "Allison's told me. Believe me, you aren't the only one who feels that way. Most of the bank's clients do, unfortunately."

Bodie gently freed his fingers and nodded toward Allison. "It's Allison's turn to guide you through the paperwork this year. But if there's any way I can assist you, you only have to say."

Allison waved the woman toward the front of the building. Behind the auditor's back, Bodie shrugged at his partner. Wrinkling her nose in reply, Allison fell into step behind her.





By early afternoon, Bodie had caught up most of his outstanding work and was ready to play errand boy as an excuse to get out of the shop. Usually picking up and delivering units for repair was Heather's responsibility. The late nights and added stress of the last couple of weeks had taken their toll, however, and Bodie wanted a little time to himself.

After an unpromising start, the day had turned out inordinately fine. Clear blue skies, bright with sunshine, had banished the morose clouds of morning. Drawn irresistibly to the daylight, Bodie loaded up the small company van, then returned to the office one last time to collect his jacket and case.

"Oh, Bodie, thank Christ I caught you."

"No," he told Allison, both hands raised like shields. "It'll take me at least an hour to deliver this lot. I don't have time--"

"Bodie, you must! This is an important account, one of those that Josh signed up for us."

"Oh, no, Allison!"

"Please, love. The client's name is Raymond Doyle, and he lives just a few streets away, on Aylward. He rang first thing this morning and I meant to get to him; but there just hasn't been time, you know that."

Bodie screwed up his face into a grimace made especially grotesque just for her. "Surely this Doyle bloke can be put off till tomorrow?"

Allison sighed. "It's in his contract: six-hour response time. He paid for that clause especially."

Teeth bared, Bodie muttered, "Bloody Josh."

"So you'll do it?" She tugged her lower lip between her teeth, biting down lightly. "Someone needs to stay in case Hazel has questions. If you'd rather--"

Bodie raised his hands again. "God, no. What's his address, and what's his problem?"

"You're a brick, Bodie. On my desk. I'll fetch the telephone sheet."

To please himself, Bodie spent the next hour and a half seeing to the return of all the repaired equipment before driving to Raymond Doyle's house. He ranged from Wandsworth to Croydon and finally back to Merton. Contemplating his final stop did little to improve Bodie's frame of mind, as much for the lack of convenience it necessitated as for the fact that it had interfered with his plan to take the rest of the day off. ACS Ltd had very few contracts which required on-site maintenance; this, unfortunately, was one of them. For obvious reasons such accounts were more difficult than most to service. After all, a technician could not bring all the tools of the trade in a small leather case; and inevitably he or she would spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to please the customer--and still end up having to take the disabled unit in.

Resigned, Bodie turned the van down Aylward Road, perversely refusing to take pleasure in finding a space right outside Raymond Doyle's upmarket residence.

Well-tended, the house gleamed with a recent coat of paint; the garden path was newly scrubbed, and even the gate shone with a fresh application of black enamel. The garden, with its immaculately cropped and richly grown lawn, was edged with an abundance of daffodils and tulips--both of which were guarded by wall-flowers--magnolia trees, and budding rhododendron and camellias. Cocking a faintly jaundiced eye at this evidence of domesticity, Bodie let himself into the garden through the small wrought-iron gate, and walked up to the front door.

He pressed the bell and prepared to wait, giving his eyes free rein to roam over the beautiful flowers that surrounded him. Movement caught his attention: through the glassed-in porch, he could see a shadowy outline approaching the frosted window of the inner door. Straightening, he resisted the urge to check the alignment of his tie, well aware that few could match him for sartorial distinction--it was one of his few weaknesses.

The inner door opened and a man stepped out, reaching for the handle of the entry door. He froze, eyes locking with Bodie's in mutual startlement. Recognition, dismay, and suspicion flowed over the other's unforgettable features in rapid succession.

Schooling his own face to impassivity, Bodie lifted his case. "I'm from ACS. Are you Mr. Doyle?"

Whether he was Mr. Doyle was of no concern to Bodie at that moment; he was most certainly the stranger who had come to Bodie's door the night before. In the unkind light of day, the man appeared haggard, with sullen purplish circles hollowing his eyes and deep shadows emphasizing his cheekbones.

For a ghastly moment, Bodie almost panicked. Had Father Keegan referred Doyle to him for his computer skills, rather than for--? But, no. Bodie forced himself to think calmly: Doyle already had a computer firm on tap, and was shelling out extortionate sums to retain it. No, that wasn't why Doyle had approached him. Yet, absorbing his appearance, Bodie suffered a pang of intense regret that this man should have come to him for help, and that he had denied him. If only Father Keegan had not been the one to--

Coming to an unspoken decision, the man unlatched the outer door and held it open. "I'm Doyle. D'you have some sort of ID on you?"

"Of course," Bodie said evenly, unable to call back the color that flooded his cheeks. He pried the laminated card out of his breast pocket, thankful that he kept it there as a matter of course, for it was rarely called into use. Holding it between thumb and forefinger, he held it out for Doyle's inspection, then waited with servile dumbness for his certain dismissal.

To his astonishment, Doyle's mouth stretched into a grin. "Just my bloody luck," he said wryly. "Please forgive my manners, Mr. Bodie." He pushed the door wide. "I'll show you where the miserable brute is."

For an instant, Bodie faltered, won over by that self-deprecating smile despite himself. Whatever had driven Raymond Doyle to seek Bodie's dubious assistance most certainly had not broken his spirit.

He went into the house, stepping past its slightly-built owner, who closed and locked the door behind them. With the invitation of a wide-spread hand, he was directed up the stairs. Proceeding without comment, Bodie took in the genteel quality of the furnishings, and wondered what sort of work Raymond Doyle performed to afford such an expensive home.

At the head of the stairs, he stepped to one side to give Doyle room to precede him. Lithely striding forward, Doyle walked down a small corridor to an open doorway. There he stopped.

"In here," Doyle said, and gestured Bodie into the room ahead of him.

Just inside the door Bodie paused to take his bearings. The room was comfortably-sized. A large desk commanded the space under the window that faced out over the garden; perpendicular to that stood another long table upon which squatted an old Compaq XT Deskpro. A small printer loomed at its side, paper curled round the platen, awaiting the computer's command. Along the third wall stretched a huge bookcase, filled from top to bottom with hardback and softcover books. Bodie accorded these a cursory glance as he left his position at the door and started for the computer.

"Oops, sorry, guv." A rough-hewn voice came to him from behind the computer desk when Bodie unintentionally toed the sole of another man's boot.

"No, it's my fault. Didn't see you there," Bodie apologized. He glanced back at Doyle, discomfited to find the man's eyes darkly intent upon him.

"Electrician," Doyle said, answering Bodie's unspoken question.

"I was only told your computer went on the blink; no details." He jerked his head toward the man on the floor. "Did your mains take a surge?"

Doyle said, "Something like that."

A trace of bitterness was audible in the soft voice. Bodie said encouragingly, "Tell me what happened?"

The man shoved his hands into the back pockets of his trousers and turned away, as though unwilling to meet Bodie's gaze.

Covertly devouring the reed-like form with his eyes, Bodie took in skin-tight jeans, faded and threadbare with use, and Doyle's oversized, cotton shirt, which flared wide at the throat.

"I don't know precisely what happened, Mr. Bodie. About 9.30 last night I was working at the computer when the lights began to flicker. The power went out--but only for a second, perhaps less. There was a loud crackling sound and the screen blanked. I turned everything off. When I tried to bring the system up this morning, it seemed to cycle on--all the lights and beeps sounded right--but the screen refused to display anything."

"Well, that gives me an idea of what to look for. I'll see what I can do," Bodie said.

"Thank you. If you need me--either of you--I'll be downstairs. Just give a shout."

"Right."

According the room another quick look as Doyle took his leave, Bodie began to remove his jacket. He peered over the back of the desk at the electrician who was hunkered down on his knees, fingers separating electrical wires.

"What d'you think happened?" he asked.

A young face, surrounded by haystack blond hair, peered up at him. "That, I couldn't begin to guess. Something queer, though."

"Queer?" Bodie concentrated on rolling up first one sleeve, then the other.

"In my opinion." Quiet sounds of activity continued for a few seconds while Bodie flipped the rocker switch to power on the CPU. Leaving that to warm up, he engaged the printer, which came on immediately. Listening with one ear to the normal hum, clicks and beeps of the computer, he ran a self-test on the printer; it worked perfectly. When he looked back at the video display, while reaching around to the back of the printer to switch it back off, he found the screen blank, although the small lamp indicating an active current was lit.

"There are three wall sockets in this room," the electrician announced.

"Yes?" Bodie fiddled with the contrast and brightness knobs--to no avail; the screen remained stubbornly dark. He flipped the rocker switch on the computer and monitor to OFF and waited for the hard drive to spin itself out.

"All the computer stuff--the printer, the computer, the video display, all that--were plugged into a power strip which was connected to the wall socket behind this desk."

"Go on." Bodie disconnected the keyboard and monitor from their respective ports, then shifted them to the uncluttered surface of the other desk. He carefully lifted the CPU and rotated it until the back of the casing faced him.

"This socket was fused," the man said in a hushed voice. "As if it'd taken a lightning strike or something."

Bodie considered that, lining his screwdriver up with the first of a great number of screws that needed removing. "Might it? Have taken a strike?" he asked reasonably.

"No storm, you see. And according to the local power services, no widespread surges," the man said sharply. "That lamp over there, the one by your head: It was plugged into the socket on the other wall, and switched on. Running on the same circuit, mind. There's not a blessed thing wrong with it. You're plugged into another circuit entirely, which is why you have power to that computer right now--in case you wondered. Just this socket went toes up. The way it looks, that computer should be a heap of melted metal and plastic"

Frowning to himself, Bodie slowly built up a pile of tiny, grooved screws. "And that plug point: How long have you been working at it?"

"For nearly two bleeding hours. Since the socket was the only thing damaged, I should've been able to replace it, and be on me way."

"But?"

"But the replacement I installed damn near fried me when I hooked it into the mains. And before you say anything, the power was disconnected until I switched it back on to check the socket."

"You mean, when you plugged something in, it blew the socket again?"

"That's right. And it shouldn't've done that."

Bodie removed the last screw from the back of the computer and began to jockey the outer casing away from the chassis. "So what're you doing now?"

"Replacing the bastard again; what d'you expect?" the man replied truculently.

"You're the expert," Bodie said flatly. "How could that have happened?"

"According to everything I know about electrics, it couldn't."

With a scraping sound that never failed to set Bodie's teeth on edge, he freed the outer shell from the body of the unit and set in on the floor, propping it on its side against the desk. "So the only things plugged into the socket were the computer and its peripherals?" The electrician nodded.

"And of that lot, the only items that appear to be damaged are the computer monitor and the wall socket--although I can't be sure something didn't happen to the CPU itself until I can hook it up to a working video display." Bodie added the last phrase more to himself than to the electrician.

"You want to know something else?" the other man asked softly.

Bodie said equably, "Sure."

"The power strip--y'know, the one everything was plugged into: You'd expect it to have been fried--just like the socket--now wouldn't you?"

Bodie leaned to the side to stare hard into the other man's eyes. "You're saying it wasn't?"

"Absolutely untouched it was."

"That doesn't make any sense," Bodie argued.

"Nothing about this job does, mate," the electrician said with certainty.





Bodie spent an hour checking the interior of the computer. He probed connections, examined microchips particularly susceptible to irregular electrical currents, pulled and reseated circuit boards, thoroughly cleaned out every nook and cranny, and replaced the power flex, even though the old one appeared to be in excellent condition.

While he worked, the electrician finished with the wall socket and took himself off to reconnect the power to that circuit. Just as Bodie was inserting the last screw into the back of the casing, he returned. Stretching tiredly, Bodie idly watched as the other man attached a gadget to the socket, apparently to test the current. There was a satisfied grunt, and the electrician gingerly plugged the lamp directly into the lower socket. He gave a soft whoosh of relief when the lamp switched on at his touch, unaccompanied by untoward electrical activity.

"Well, that's got it. At bloody last."

"Congratulations," Bodie said sardonically.

"Is it working?" Both men looked round as Raymond Doyle came into the room. In his hands he bore a tray with pot, mugs, and tea-things. "Thought the pair of you could use a break."

"Great," Bodie said, happily accepting a mug to which he added sugar and milk. Reminded for the last couple of hours that he had neglected to eat lunch, he ignored his conscience and took a small handful of chocolate biscuits from the tray and gulped them down.

"The wall socket's back in order," the electrician answered Doyle's question, after refusing tea for himself. He was busily restoring tools to his box. "Only just got it."

"Any idea what caused it to blow out?" Doyle asked.

"Not one, guv," the man replied. "But I've checked it out and you shouldn't have any more trouble. If you do, just ring my office and I'll be round soon as I can."

"Thank you," Doyle said. "If you're through here, I'll write you a check."

The two men walked out of the room, leaving Bodie alone. He left the chair he had been sitting in--for too long, according to his back and hips--and began to wander round, tea and biscuits in hand. Stopping in front of the bookcase, he idly scanned the titles. While a lover of books himself, he had never hoarded them as Doyle obviously did. There were many he recognized, far more that he didn't. A small stack lay sideways at the end of one row. The name of the author fairly jumped out at him: Raymond Doyle.

Bending closer, he read the titles: HARMONIOUS TONGUES, JIGSAW PUZZLE, BLACK SHEEP, HONOURS EVEN. Tempted, he raised a hand to take one of the books down when he heard the tread of Doyle's feet on the stair. For no reason he could think of, Bodie moved to the opposite end of the bookcase and continued his loitering there. When Doyle appeared, glancing from Bodie to the bookcase, Bodie raised his mug and drained it.

Popping the last biscuit into his mouth, he commented, "You have no idea how much I needed that. Thanks."

Doyle nodded abstractedly. "So, what's the prognosis?"

"Just about to test it. I can't say positively until it's powered up, but I won't be surprised if I have to take it in."

"Look, Mr. Bodie,I have--"

"I'm sorry," Bodie interrupted firmly. "I know it's in your contract that all repairs take place on-site. The inside of your CPU checks out fine. I'm just afraid you may have a display problem."

"And you can't fix that here?" Doyle asked bluntly.

"VDUs can be dangerous; they pack a huge charge. I'd rather do it where neither of us is at risk."

Doyle opened his mouth to say something Bodie guessed would be scathingly direct. Instead, he pressed his lips together in a hard line, and turned toward the window, arms folded across his chest. Bare to the elbows, Doyle's forearms were darkly haired, and tautly muscled. Greenish-blue veins stood out prominently against the backs of his wrists and hands, even visible over the bend of his knuckles.

"So when will I have it back?" Doyle asked, his even voice belying the tension betrayed by his rigid body. He spun round to face Bodie.

Caught out in his observation, Bodie met the green eyes a little guiltily. "Sometime tomorrow."

"Certain of that?"

"As I can be at this point. I still haven't checked out the hard drive. Everything appears to be all right, but until I can--"

"If you can't, I want a loaner. That's in my contract, too," Doyle said.

"Right. Whatever you were working on: was it backed up?"

"For the most part," Doyle replied, the bleak set of his face implying he may have lost more than he liked. "I can't waste time retyping everything, so I try to be careful that way."

"Good. I'll do whatever I can to preserve the contents of the hard drive, in the event it's damaged."

"Thanks." Doyle's arms fell to his sides, and he looked levelly at Bodie. When he didn't immediately speak, Bodie wondered uneasily if he meant to bring up their unpleasant meeting of the previous night. But all he said was, "I have a schedule to meet, and I'm already behind."

It was more explanation than Bodie had any right to expect. He nodded. "It'll only take a couple of minutes right now to see where we stand." With the monitor and keyboard reconnected, Bodie rocked the switch into the ON position and waited while the unit warmed up. As he had anticipated, however, the screen remained blank, and no amount of adjustment to the contrast and brightness controls could alter the situation. "That's it, I'm afraid." He took a disk out of his case and used it to park the heads of the hard drive.

Once the unit signalled that its task had been fulfilled, Bodie said, "I'll have to take it in." Not waiting for Doyle's response, he disengaged the power to the VDU and the computer, and set about preparing them for travel.

"Can I help you carry anything down?" Doyle asked resignedly, as Bodie closed up his case and pulled on his jacket.

"You needn't do that," Bodie declined. "Part of the job."

"Bugger the job," Doyle countered succinctly. "Why make two trips?"

Startled into a grin, Bodie admitted his gratitude. "That would be helpful, thanks."

With a speaking look, Doyle took up the monitor and keyboard and headed for the stairs. Bodie followed, carrying his case in one hand and the computer under his other arm. At the door, Doyle set his burden on the occasional table and saw to Bodie's passage, incidentally ushering him outside.

When Bodie was on the pavement beside the van, finding that the day had quite faded to darkness, he set his case down on the ground long enough to winkle his keys out of his pocket. As he drew the rear entry open, Doyle appeared at his side, balancing the cumbersome VDU and the more manageable keyboard in his arms.

"Ta, mate," Bodie murmured, concentrating on stacking the delicate items between blocks of foam padding kept in the van for that purpose. "Sorry I couldn't get you back on-line," he said frankly, squaring his shoulders as he faced his client.

"So am I," Doyle replied with a sigh. "Look, I've just remembered that I have an appointment in the morning, so don't bother coming round till about 1.00, okay?"

"I'll remember that." Bodie hesitated. He felt foolish pretending that last night's encounter had not taken place; and even though he was loath to say anything about it, he wanted to apologize--not for the denial itself, but for the brutal way he had issued it.

As if reading the intention in Bodie's eyes, Doyle backed away. "Good evening, Mr. Bodie," he said, arms pressed close to his body against the gathering chill. With that, he walked round the low fence to the gate, hair caught by the wind and whipped wildly about his head.

Recalled to himself, Bodie pulled the door to the van shut and latched it, surreptitiously watching Doyle until he vanished into the house. "Fuck and bloody fuck," he muttered. At the driver's side, he let himself in and strapped on his belt. The epithets continued as he fired the ignition, a seemingly endless stream of them reverberating in the interior of the car as he drove toward Sutton.




Day Three - Thursday

"Bloody hell!" Heather exclaimed. "Is that you again, Bodie?"

In sharp contrast to the anemic dawn of the previous day, the morning had made a grand entrance, swathed in clear blue skies that stretched endlessly in all directions, untainted by the slightest premonition of rain. Bearing the first rays of the newly risen sun on his shoulders, Bodie stopped long enough to shut and lock the front door.

"Good morning, Heather," Bodie replied. After hanging up his jacket, he went straight through to the workshop, stripping off his tie along the way.

Raymond Doyle's computer lay where Bodie had placed it the evening before, following his return to the shop. His fingers had itched to start on it right away, but by then it had gone nearly 6.00, and Bodie had been feeling the effects of his troubled sleep from the night before. Under normal circumstances, he would have been prepared to work into the small hours, but he had known he lacked the concentration--and energy; and he always hated leaving a project undone.

Upon his return home, Allison had commandeered him for a brief discussion, spilling all the latest regarding the progress of their audit. Having interrupted her own dinner to capture Bodie, she had generously offered him a plate as well. Accepting with unfeigned pleasure, Bodie had wolfed down his portion as though he were starving. Without asking, Allison had served him a second helping that had been larger than the first, and continued to comment on Hazel Bell's virtues.

"She's straight, isn't she?" he had stated, wiping his mouth with a serviette.

"Of course," Allison had chuckled. "Aren't they all?"

"'They' being all the people you find attractive?"

She had cocked an eye at him. "And you. What about that bloke last night? He was gorgeous--and probably straight as your gran."

"Don't you go maligning my gran," Bodie had laughed softly. "And what're you on about, calling him gorgeous?"

"Don't have to want him in my bed to think he's pretty, now do I?"

"You're absolutely right."

"I am?"

"Yeah. He was bloody gorgeous."

Bodie had chosen not to mention that he had seen "that bloke" again, nor that his name was Raymond Doyle--one of their clients.

Upstairs later in his own flat, Bodie had attended to the day's post. Half of it was dropped immediately into the rubbish bin beside his desk, the other half laid aside for payment a few days hence. Shortly afterward, he had attended to his nightly ablutions before crawling under the duvet and drifting at once into an effortless slumber.

An hour before dawn he had come fully awake, clinging to the fragments of a dream which had rapidly eluded him the more he had tried to recall it. Giving up for the strain, he had been certain of only one thing: Raymond Doyle had been a featured, if hapless, player.

Along with the vestiges of his dream, the desire for sleep had abandoned him. Seeing no point in pottering about the house when there was something constructive to be done, Bodie had readied himself for the day and then had undertaken the half-hour's drive to Merton Park in the dark.

"How's the audit coming along?" Heather asked, slapping a mug swirling with hot, milky tea on the table beside his hand.

"According to Allison, swimmingly."

Standing a moment to watch Bodie remove the signal cable which joined Doyle's computer to the VDU, Heather murmured, "Because of Miss Chiming Bell?"

Bodie took a quick sip of tea, wincing reflexively as his tongue and the roof of his mouth protested at the sudden increase in temperature. "You don't like her?"

Heather shoved her hands into the pockets of her corduroy trousers. "Nah. Hasn't got anything to do with me, has she?"

"But?"

"Allison tends to go overboard; I mean, it's obvious, Bodie."

Bodie looked up at the woman, his blue eyes made darker with question. "You think there's a problem?"

Heather shrugged. "Nah. I take it back. 'S just me." She reached out and ran a long finger across the outer edge of the computer.

"Thought you two'd worked that out ages ago."

"So did I," Heather confessed ruefully. "It's a different story when she's flirting right under my nose." She laughed; the humor in it almost rang true. "Don't mind me. It really was for the best; we aren't at all compatible."

"It hasn't affected your work," Bodie told her. "But maybe it was unfair of me to ask you to stay on?"

Wavy hair moved softly across the woman's forehead as she gestured her denial. "I like it here; you know that." She looked across at him, her gaze unguarded. "Most of the time."

Bodie opened his mouth, but Heather lifted a hand to forestall him. "No, that's all right. Drink your tea. You came in early to work, not to listen to me moan."

"You don't moan," Bodie assured her. "But you're right, I've got to get this unit back on-line before the afternoon."

"Right." Heather went to the teapot and replenished her own cup. "You want a scone?" she asked. "I bought some last night and actually remembered to bring a few in."

"Oh, yes, please."

Fortified with two thickly buttered scones and a topped-off cup of tea, Bodie geared himself for work. His first task was to replace Doyle's signal cable with one that Bodie knew to be functional; the monitor did not work. Next he replaced Doyle's monitor with another; it performed no better than the old one.

"Ah ha," Bodie gloated to himself. "Now we're getting somewhere."

He stripped the computer of all peripherals and cables and set about removing the myriad screws that held it together. With the case off, he spent another minute extricating the visual display controller card from the chassis. Subjecting it to minute examination under his magnifying glass and close-work lamp, he soon found the miniscule crack that had been virtually invisible to him yesterday in Raymond Doyle's study. It ran, finer than a strand of hair, along the top of the microchip that regulated voltage to the board. He could replace the board in toto, but if this chip alone were exchanged for a working one, and the original board reused, he could save the company considerable expense.

It was a time-consuming task, but Bodie revelled in it, removed from the rest of the world while he gently disengaged the soldered chip from the board and just as gently replaced it with one that had been salvaged from another unit. With an air of anticipation, he did not bother to reattach the outer casing, but reconnected the power and signal cables, and switched the machine on.

The computer responded promptly, its front display lamps indicating that it was going through the normal self-test process. At first the VDU remained blank, but as Bodie watched, willing it to work, small, phosphorescent green letters slowly took shape in the middle of the screen.

There should have been a cursor prompt, in the upper left-hand corner of the display. Instead, squarely in its center, the letters G-R-E-S-S-I-L were prominently exhibited.

A sliver of disquiet trickled down the ridge of Bodie's spine. The word--name?--was familiar. But Bodie could not place it, and somehow he suspected he did not want to.

"Good lord, Bodie, are you already here? Steady on!" This as Bodie jumped as though he had been struck. "Didn't mean to startle you," Allison apologized with a smothered giggle.

"Good morning, Allison." He glared good-naturedly up at her. "Was deep in it." Sparing a glance for the large-faced clock hanging on the opposite wall, he complained, "Don't tell me it's after seven already?"

"Already?" Allison helped herself to tea and a scone. She waggled her fingers at Heather in greeting. "How long have the two of you been at it, then?"

"Bodie arrived just before six," Heather declared. "Been beavering away ever since."

Allowing the conversation to flow around him, Bodie concentrated on getting his heart rate back in line. He glanced up sharply as Allison returned to peer over his shoulder.

"That's curious," she remarked.

"Very." He shooed her away. "Go on. Surely you've got something better to do than breathe down my neck."

"Ooh, tetchy," Allison murmured, but obediently wandered into the office area.

"That is odd," Heather commented, coming over to observe Bodie's screen. "Did you just type it in?"

"Nope," Bodie said flatly. "It appeared all on its own when I repaired the monitor display card. Somehow this must've got stuck in the card's memory."

"Impossible. It can't store anything; that's read-only memory."

"So I've been told."

"This is the unit you went out to work on yesterday afternoon?"

"Hm. Took some sort of power surge. There was an electrician there replacing a plug point."

Heather stared at him, her eyes round and disbelieving. "A wall socket? And this thing was connected to it?"

"That's right."

"Should've blown its socks off. Or, barring that, the communications port--that's always the first to go."

"Yeah. But the damage seems to be focused in the visual display circuitry."

"That's the original card?"

"Yeah. I switched out the power regulator to see if I could reuse the board."

"And that's what came up?" An impish smile touched the woman's mouth. "So-- Who's Gressil, then?"

"Haven't a clue," Bodie said. He raised his head and fixed his flinty gaze on Heather. "And haven't you anything better to do?"

"Ooh, tetchy," Heather said, her voice and intonation a perfect replica of Allison's.

Bodie chuckled. "Get outta here. Jeez."

Left to himself at last, Bodie attempted to establish communications via the keyboard. After several tries, he was prepared to concede defeat. If, as he suspected, the unit was responding, nothing was being reported to the visual display. And none of his efforts at clearing the memory erased the letters on the screen.

Frustrated, Bodie once again shut the unit off and stripped all the cables away. Automatically grounding himself to prevent shock, he reached inside the open case and pulled out the controller card. It was inches from the computer when, astonishingly, Bodie was stung by a short, but unignorable, jolt of electricity.

"Bastard!" he hissed, dropping the circuit board on the table, over-setting his half-full mug. Luckily, the cup tipped over the edge of the table, and what fluid remained spilled noisily onto the floor.

"You all right?" Heather asked, worriedly twisting round in her chair.

"Fine. Just dumped my tea."

"Oh. Thought--" But she hesitated before the daunting force of Bodie's inimical glower. She countered with a haughty face. "I'd offer to help you mop up, but some of us have work to do."

"Cheers," Bodie growled softly. With a baleful glance at the unreliable circuit board, he took a moment to tidy his surroundings before heading for the tea table. There he set about making a fresh pot. While it brewed, he stood scowling at his workstation, thinking furiously.

The circuit board should not have been able to shock him; it was incapable of storing a charge. Certainly, he might have transmitted a burst of static electricity to the board, but not one of that magnitude--and most certainly not after the bloody thing had already been in his hand for several seconds.

G-R-E-S-S-I-L.

That should not have been there, either.

Remembering the electrician's succinct observation of the previous day, Bodie murmured to himself, "'Queer' doesn't begin to describe it."

A few minutes later he was back at work on Doyle's computer, having disposed of the damaged circuit board by carrying it between the jaws of a pair of insulated pliers to the rubbish bin behind the building. He did not question why he went to such an extreme--and after a single glance at his still forbidding mien, neither did Heather.

Having installed a new circuit board fresh out of the box, Bodie turned the computer and monitor on and waited for what seemed the hundredth time for the unit to warm up. It was almost anticlimactic when the cursor prompt appeared. Bodie performed a thorough diagnostics check that eventually reported Doyle's hardware to be in excellent repair. Relieved yet baffled, Bodie then used a utility program to survey the files presently loaded onto the hard drive. Nothing registered as having been damaged outright. Luckily, Doyle had been meticulous in keeping his hard drive properly supervised.

Briefly, Bodie accessed the word processing software and pulled up the most currently written-to data file. He scanned through only enough of it to determine that it was a piece of fiction. Whether the complete file was there, he could not know; Doyle would have to determine that.

Satisfied at last, Bodie shut the unit off and prepared it for travel. He set it on the corner table where they temporarily stored items to be returned. A glance at his watch informed him that the morning was still very young.

Yawning mightily, he went back to his table and studiously applied himself to the remaining workload.

The hours before noon passed unremarkably. Bodie made great progress in catching up his backlog. Mindful of Doyle's words regarding the afternoon, Bodie took his time over lunch at a cheap cafe he frequented, which was only a few streets away from the office. The day continued fair, although a few clouds had begun to scuttle across the sky, like fluffy thieves preparing to make away with the light.

Back at the office afterward, Bodie was gathering the components of Doyle's computer with the intent of carrying them to his car, when Heather informed him that she was hip-deep in a problem that showed no signs of immediate resolution and asked if he could make the deliveries again today. Realizing it would put him behind, Bodie nevertheless agreed, especially as he'd had no intention of returning to the office after dropping off Doyle's computer.

Fortunately, there was only one distant delivery--and that was in Epsom, a straight shot south on the A24. Coming back, Bodie's luck wavered outside Ewell, where he came across an accident involving emergency vehicles. Opting to work his way round by using side-streets rather than wait, he found himself in Merton at half past three, and outside Doyle's house at a quarter to four.

Carrying the computer and the keyboard through the low-set iron gate, Bodie came to a stop at the door and pressed the buzzer, uncomfortably aware that he was late, and that it had been important to Doyle that he have his computer back as quickly as possible.

A minute passed, followed slowly by another. Brows lifting, Bodie thumbed the buzzer once more, wondering if Doyle had neglected to return from his meeting after all.

Movement on the pavement caught his eye. He nodded to a young girl dressed in school uniform, heavily burdened with a bulky hold-all. All eyes and long, strawberry-colored hair, she gazed owlishly back.

A soft sound from inside the building drew Bodie's attention back to the house. Through the frosted glass of the inner door, he thought he saw a human-sized shadow. The shadow slowly transformed into Raymond Doyle, eyes puffy, hair bedraggled, loose pale green shirt open almost to the waist, a glint of gold at his throat. He stared at Bodie for a long moment before registering the significance of the computer base and keyboard in his arms.

"Sorry," he muttered. "Please, come in."

Forgoing comment, Bodie stepped past him into the foyer, and there waited.

Sheepishly, Doyle ran a hand through his hair while tugging ineffectually at the edges of his shirt. "I fell asleep," he admitted. "Expected you earlier."

"Had to make some deliveries," Bodie explained. "I got here as soon as I could."

By degrees Doyle was coming awake. Muzzy eyes were a fathomless shade of green, the relaxed mouth soft and heavy with unintentional allure. He gestured off-handedly toward the staircase. "Can I get the rest of it for you?" he asked in a voice husky with disuse.

"No." Bodie spoke more sharply than he'd meant to. "Why don't you sit down? I've obviously just woken you."

"'S all right," Doyle said indifferently, rubbing his hand over his jaw. He had clearly been up and about at some time during the day, for his heavy beard was only now beginning to stubble up.

Refraining from further comment, Bodie concentrated on negotiating the stairs with his unwieldy load. In the study, he arranged the computer on the desk where he had initially found it. Taking the power flex out of a pocket, he plugged one end into the back of the computer and the other into the new wall socket. Once the keyboard was reconnected, he was ready to collect the monitor.

Halfway down the stairs, the front door swung inward and Doyle appeared with the visual display unit clutched to his chest.

"Thanks," Bodie said. He made no effort to take it from the other man, leading the way back up to the study, instead.

Once there, Doyle set the monitor on the computer base. Stepping out of Bodie's way, he stood back to watch as he rejoined the two units with the signal cable.

Flipping on the power switch, Bodie said, "Found the problem this morning; it was in the visual display controller card. Once I replaced it, the 'brute,' as you called it, worked like a charm."

"Could you tell if anything had been damaged?" Doyle asked, sounding very alert now.

"Didn't appear to be. But you'll have to check your data files to see if anything is missing."

Just then the computer beeped its readiness, and the blinking cursor appeared on the screen. Doyle lowered himself into the chair in front of the table and typed in the date and time at the prompts.

"I should've put in a clock for you," Bodie commented. "So you wouldn't have to bother with that."

Doyle cast a quick smile over his shoulder. "Just as well, really. It helps me to gather my thoughts." He typed in the command to access his word processing program. Once that had been loaded into the working memory, he pulled up a data file--the same one Bodie had briefly scanned. "Fantastic," Doyle breathed. "It's all here; well, missing a paragraph, perhaps. But no more than that." He heaved an eloquent sigh. "You have no idea how grateful I am."

Bodie laughed softly, "Think I can guess." He took the work order form out of his jacket pocket and laid it on the table in front of him, extending his pen for Doyle's use. "If you'll just sign this."

As Doyle complied, Bodie said quietly, "I don't imagine it's important, but there was something a bit unusual."

In the middle of writing his name, Doyle hesitated, eyes fixed on the work-order. (Yes?"

"I managed to bring the system up using the old controller card; but it was quite obviously damaged. Strangely enough, though, a name--or a word--appeared on the screen."

Doyle sat unmoving, the pen frozen in his hand.

"Does the name 'Gressil' mean anything to you?" Bodie asked.

For an instant, Doyle gave no indication that he had heard. Then he was surging upward, as powerfully as if he had been launched, plowing into Bodie and forcing him back against the wall.

"You bastard!" he shouted, his face unrecognizably feral.

Taken off-guard, Bodie yet quickly managed to recover himself. Bringing training to bear that Doyle could not have guessed at, Bodie peeled the other man's hands away from his throat and spun him round, not stopping until it was Doyle who stood pinned to the wall. Bodie crushed him there with his wider and heavier frame, primed to respond to the least hint of renewed aggression.

The fight had gone all out of Doyle, however, for as soon as Bodie stepped watchfully away, he slumped forward, wrapping his arms around his chest, moaning deep in his throat. "Christ," he whispered, "how could you have known?"

The color had fled from the round face, making empty eyes stand out in stark contrast. Without considering the implications, Bodie put an arm round the other man and bundled him outside the room, into the corridor and down the stair. He only stopped when he spied the dining room off the main corridor. Pushing Doyle into a polished wood chair next to the table, Bodie demanded bluntly, "Where d'you keep your spirits?"

Doyle's head jerked up at the question. He stared at Bodie as though he could not believe his ears; and then he began to laugh.

Bodie contemplated striking the man, for there was no doubt in his mind that Raymond Doyle was on the edge of hysteria, if not already caught in its grasp. Counseling himself to explore other methods first, Bodie cast about for something, anything, that might be of use, before spying a cupboard only a few feet to his left. He sensed with certainty that if Doyle kept liquor in the house, it would be stored there. He was right.

Bodie snatched out a three-quarters full bottle of whisky, poured a generous helping into a glass taken from the shelf above, and took it to Doyle. The other man did not struggle as Bodie braced one arm behind Doyle's curly head, and with the other, slipped the rim of the glass between his parted lips. Inhaling for another burst of machine-gun cackling, Doyle was luckless enough to suck in some whisky as well. Wild laughter mingled with strenuous coughing, exhausting the man until he bowed limply forward. Bodie kept a hand on Doyle's back, rubbing firmly.

"Oh, Christ," Doyle whispered raggedly.

"Better?" Bodie asked.

"No." Doyle brought both hands up to scrub at his face. "I'm sorry."

"Are you?"

Blinking painfully, Doyle squinted up at Bodie. "Of course I am," he snapped.

Pleased that the distinctive voice had returned to normal, Bodie held the rest of the whisky out to him. "Why don't you drink this, then, rather than wasting it. After you've finished, we can discuss how I'd like you to make amends."

Shutters closed over questioning green eyes, but Doyle took the glass and knocked its contents back with one swallow. His face contorted as the alcohol scorched a path down his throat, but there was no repetition of the choking fit. He thrust the empty glass toward Bodie, who took it at once and set it back on the counter in front of the cupboard doors.

"Come to dinner with me," Bodie said simply.

The request so far from what Doyle had apparently expected, his face went briefly blank.

"Dinner?" he echoed stupidly.

"With me. I'll even let you pay."

At that Doyle's eyes jumped up to Bodie's face. "I--"

"Come on," Bodie said cajolingly. "Famous author like you can surely afford a meal for two."

"Famous--"

"Saw the books on your shelves upstairs. Didn't touch 'em, mind, so I haven't a clue what they're about. But you must be famous to someone. They do sell, don't they?"

Doyle seemed to be having difficulty tracking Bodie's conversation. "A few," he replied vaguely. "But then--"

"Where's your jacket?" Bodie interrupted. "We can take my van."

"Look, Bodie, I don't know what you're up--"

"We can discuss that over a meal. Oops, where're your shoes, sunshine?"

Doyle suddenly laughed. To Bodie's infinite relief, however, it was untouched by the lunacy evident just a short while before. "Are you always this bloody domineering?" Doyle demanded.

Forestalling a lisping denial just before it could fling itself off his tongue, Bodie shook his head. "Shoes and jacket," he said.

Unselfconsciously wiping involuntary tears from his cheeks and lashes, Doyle let out a pent-up breath. "Okay. Give me a minute, though. I smell like a distillery."

"I'm not going anywhere."

That earned Bodie a hard look. Doyle curbed whatever he might have said, however, and walked quietly out of the room.

Bodie was standing at the front door a few minutes later when Doyle returned. More than half expecting to be summarily thrown out on his ear, Bodie forcefully repressed a grin of pleasure at the sight that greeted him.

Doyle had traded his shirt and trousers for a comfortably-cut western-style shirt with snap closures and very close fitting blue jeans; the outfit set off with a pair of three-inch high cowboy boots.

Keeping his assuredly unwelcome appreciation carefully restrained, Bodie scooped the battered leather jacket he had seen two nights before off the hatstand and handed it to Doyle.

Outside the sun was westering, and the heavens had grown heavy with cloudcover. Bodie led the way to the van, musing on the peculiarities of life. Two short days ago--less, actually--he had refused to speak with the man climbing onto the seat beside him; now he was actively laying claim to his time.

As soon as Doyle was belted in, Bodie started the engine and pulled the van into the street. They bucketed along until the clutch, which had a tendency to slip, properly engaged. Turning north, Bodie glanced across at Doyle. The other man sat quietly, hands lying limp in his lap, his gaze directed straight ahead.

"So, tell me what kind of books you write," Bodie said brightly.

He felt the weight of a piercing stare.

"Codswallop, mostly," Doyle informed him.

"But it sells, right?"

"Adequately, yes."

"I knew a writer once, when I was in the Army," Bodie reminisced. "He was never published, of course; wrote a lot of blue stories about blokes on leave."

"Too bad he didn't go for print; there's a market for it."

"Yeah?" Bodie remembered McCullough and some of the stories he had written. "He's dead," he mused aloud. "Guess he had to give it up."

Bodie bit his lip, aware again of Doyle's filleting gaze.

Doyle chose to say nothing, and they rode the rest of the way to the restaurant in silence. As they entered the building, the robust odors of garlic and onions embraced them. They were greeted by the hostess, who took them to a small table beside a window.

"Hope you like Italian," Bodie said politely. He had lost all confidence in his usual ability to converse comfortably with strangers--more so with the unnaturally quiet man seated opposite him.

"Love it," Doyle said. "This is a great place."

The overt lack of enthusiasm made Doyle's words a mockery.

"Right," Bodie murmured.

The edge of Doyle's menu suddenly tapped down insistently on top of Bodie's; Bodie fumbled to keep it upright.

"I meant that," Doyle announced, when he was assured of Bodie's attention. "I've been here before, and it is a great place. Just hope I can do the food justice."

"Oh." Bodie submerged himself once more in his menu, wishing the blood would stop rushing quite so violently in his veins. There was something immensely disconcerting about being the center of that verdant stare; he had not felt so inept in years.

Their waiter arrived soon afterward. They were early for dinner by most standards, although a few other booths had been taken already. Ordering a light meal to begin, Bodie requested a bottle of wine to accompany it, silently seeking Doyle's approval when he announced his choice.

Doyle seconded it without hesitation and added his selection to the young man serving them. Barely had the waiter left them before Doyle said, "Tell me how you came to work on computers."

Fascinated by the man's incomparable resilience, Bodie allowed himself a tight grin. "Are we making small talk, or do you really want to know?"

A weary smile smoothed the hard lines of Doyle's mouth and eased the bruised look in his eyes. "We are making small talk, but I would like to know, yes."

So Bodie began to relate his stint in the Army, and how he had been trained in electronics with specialization in computers. Onto the bare bones of dull fact he added layers of interesting and amusing anecdotes. Raymond Doyle was an excellent listener, seemingly held rapt by every word Bodie uttered. Curiousity blazed in Doyle's face; he spoke only to ask questions, until Bodie suddenly realized that he, a professedly private man, had told Doyle more about himself than he had ever revealed in one sitting to another person.

In the course of their conversation, the meal was served. Doyle picked at his food, shifting it this way and that across his plate until Bodie caught him out. In Bodie's opinion, Doyle could ill afford to shun a single calorie, not to mention the vast numbers available here. So he inveigled and bullied, until Doyle conceded to indulge him.

Pasta was downed with sweet red wine, made sweeter yet by the sinfully rich dessert and heavily sugared coffee that followed. Bodie inconspicuously contrived to give the lion's share of the wine to Doyle, but manfully laid waste to his own dessert with rolling eyes and histrionic groans that indicated he had dangerously tampered with the physical laws of unequal external and internal pressure.

To Bodie's disbelief, it was nearly eleven o'clock when they finally left the stuffily warm restaurant and returned to the van. Doyle was giggling and swaying, but managed to make it to the car park undamaged. Inside the vehicle, he leaned back, legs sprawled wide in front of him, hands resting at his sides on the full-width seat. He slanted a sweet-faced look at Bodie, who was operating the wipers to rid the windscreen of evening dew. Hyper-conscious of that languid regard, Bodie slowly turned to meet it, wondering dazedly when he had lost his perspective regarding this man, but uncomfortably aware that he had.

And now he was in danger of betraying himself, very badly. If he made a single, more-than-matey gesture toward Doyle, he risked far more than his job, and something of far greater importance to him: his self-esteem. Bodie had never put himself on the line when emotional stakes were involved. He dared not begin now.

"Time to take you home, mate," Bodie said, keeping his voice deliberately impersonal.

Doyle continued to grin for a few seconds. "Home. Ah, home." Then he closed his eyes, and the strain and exhaustion were back. The laugh lines round his mouth appeared abnormally deep; the hollows lurking beneath his eyes threatened to swallow them whole.

Steeling himself not to touch, Bodie savagely twisted the key in the ignition. The engine came alive, rumbling with quiet strength beneath the bonnet. Bodie drove off with especial care, bleeding the clutch to avoid unnecessary jerks and jolts.

Doyle fell into a doze beside him, rousing dopily when they stopped at the first few lights. Before long, he didn't stir at all, and when he slid sideways to rest against Bodie's shoulder, Bodie was not all surprised.

He guessed that Doyle would not appreciate the tender picture they made, but did not have the heart to waken him. Whatever was driving Doyle to the precipice of exhaustion--and they had not discussed the topic once during their evening together--it allowed the man precious little time to rest and recover.

Bodie slowly guided the van into an empty spot several houses down from Doyle's residence on Aylward Road. In the forty-five minutes it had taken to drive back to Merton, Doyle had gradually drifted downward to lie on his side, his marred right cheek propped upon Bodie's thigh. He seemed to be sleeping soundly now, and Bodie hated to disturb him.

Removing his hand from the still-engaged key, he steered the van back onto the street. At the end of Aylward Road he turned onto Leafield, retracing much of his route from earlier in the day to the A24. Through the night he drove, with no clear destination in mind, using the heat generated by the engine to warm the inside of the van until it was as snug as a den.

If the motion of the car afforded Raymond Doyle the respite he so desperately needed, then that was what he would have. In fact, if he must drive all night to keep Doyle at peace, Bodie would happily do so.

Such abiding trust deserved nothing less.




Day Four - Friday

"Good grief, Bodie. What cat dragged you in this morning?"

Bodie accepted the mug of tea proffered to him with a wan smile. "And good morning to you, Heather."

Splitting her concentration between Bodie's rough appearance and the filling of her own cup, she murmured, "You look awful. Shouldn't you be home in bed?"

"Didn't get much sleep last night," Bodie replied shortly. He tempered his response with a shrug. "But it was worth it."

"Oh, really?" Heather's twinkling dark eyes raked over his solid frame from head to toe. "Thought you gave up the cottages."

He pretended to take a swipe at her jaw. "Brat. Never did that, and you know it."

"Hm." The news seemed to please her. "Just be sure to remember how good 'it' was when Allison comes in, eh?"

"What's up with Allison?" Closing his eyes, Bodie took a long, bolstering swallow.

"Chiming Bell found a discrepancy in the ledger. Allison tried to pull the invoice, but it wasn't in the file. One of your accounts," Heather said in conclusion.

"Fucking wonderful," Bodie muttered. "You don't happen to know which one?"

"Ferguson, George."

An articulate brow sketched an incredulous arch. "Everything I've ever done for the old toad has been properly filed in his folder. Did she mention a specific date? Old Fergie tends to be a frequent complainer."

Heather's face corkscrewed theatrically with the effort of recall. "January? Yes, I think it was January--this year, of course."

"Of course," Bodie agreed. Taking his mug with him, he went to the office portion of the building and sought out the appropriate file drawer. A very few minutes later he returned to the work-room, waving a pink piece of paper like a flag of triumph. "Right here. Don't know how she could've missed it."

"Perhaps Hazel was too near finished with the audit for her liking."

"Catty, dear."

"Unless, that is, you filed it in your usual, unique way."

Bodie grinned. "It was right where it belonged: between the hanging file and the folder."

Heather chuckled, shaking her head. "She'll no doubt thank you for that, anyway."

Draining his mug and promptly refilling it, Bodie ventured quietly, "Allison still being a prat?"

Heather shrugged. "Nah. Allison's not a prat; I am." She smiled at him over the rim of her mug. "So who's the lucky bloke?"

Bodie tapped the edge of his nose.

"Be that way, then," Heather snorted. "Just don't forget to invite me to the wedding."

"You can be assured of that, moppet. I'll expect you in your best morning suit and most garish tie."

"And which one of you intends to wear the dress?" she shot back.

"Bugger off, you cow." Bodie choked back a laugh. "Bitch."

Chortling, Heather did just that, loudly humming "She Loves You" as she returned to her work-table.

Three new projects had come in during the previous afternoon while Bodie had been out. Sipping his tea as he glanced over the work orders, Bodie's mind almost immediately began to wander.

Last night had eroded some of his long-standing cynicism regarding humankind. After driving out of Merton, he had taken the van onto the A24 toward Leatherhead. Curled up beside him Doyle had slept soundly, his cheek pillowed by Bodie's leg, one long-fingered hand hooked over Bodie's knee. Doyle's state of exhaustion had been shockingly patent--as far as Bodie was concerned any bloke who could manage even to doze in the poorly-slung van would have to be more than half-dead; Doyle, on the other hand, had slumbered deeply for several hours.

Over miles of dark roadway Bodie had driven, until he came to the Burford Bridge Roundabout. There he had taken the turn which led to Box Hill. Travelling that late at night there had been no other traffic, for which Bodie had been grateful, as he had drastically slowed the van to negotiate Zig-Zag Road. He had forgotten that there were two sleeping policemen on duty, as well, until the first one had joltingly reminded him. Even then, amazingly, Doyle had not stirred.

At the summit, Bodie had driven past the tea rooms to the car park. There, under trees which still bore mute testimony to the savagery of the '87 hurricane, he had at last switched off the engine and doused the lights. Quietude, cloaked in darkness, had surrounded them.

Taking his hand from the steering wheel, Bodie had allowed it to lie on Doyle's shoulder, fingers spread wide to encompass as much of the other man's warmth as could be gleaned through the leather sleeve. It had occurred to him that Doyle was probably not comfortable in this awkward, twisted position; but he had chosen not to wake him, for fear that Doyle would demand to be taken home immediately. After the behavior he had witnessed earlier in the evening, Bodie suspected that an aching neck and sore back would make up the least of Doyle's problems.

For the moment, here with Bodie, Doyle had no problems. Content to sit immobile, Bodie had settled back in the thinly cushioned seat, studying the shadows created by starlight, and the ever-changing patterns made by branches shifted by a cold, fidgety breeze.

Sometime after one, Doyle had finally come awake, stretching cramped limbs and spine as he took in his surroundings without recognition. "Where are we?" he had asked.

Ridiculously cheered by Doyle's unconcerned acceptance of his presence, Bodie had answered, "Box Hill." Without waiting for Doyle to comment, he had started the engine, and turned the van in the direction of Merton. Sitting dopily upright and rubbing his face, Doyle had finally taken note of the time.

"Great company, aren't I?" he had muttered.

"I've suffered worse," Bodie had remarked truthfully.

Although he must surely have had questions, Doyle had fallen silent then, attending to the roads by which they had returned to Merton, making no attempt to engage Bodie in mindless chat. When at last Bodie had pulled up outside his house, Doyle had turned to him and said simply, "I ought to apologize--but somehow--( his forehead wrinkled with mild disbelief-- (I don't think I need to."

"Point to you," Bodie had said. "Good night."

"Good night."

He remembered nothing of the drive home, not even the brief stop at the shop to return the van and collect his Cavalier, mind and heart swathed in a hitherto unknown contentment that made all else of little or no consequence. Punch drunk with it, he had crept through the hall and up the stairs to his flat so as not to disturb Allison. Despite the late hour, he had made some cocoa and listened to the radio, distracting himself with a bit of ironing and mending until he had gradually unwound.

In the morning he had awakened before full light, his mood buoyant, but not overly optimistic. His liking of Raymond Doyle did not alter the fact that Bodie was gay while Doyle was almost certainly straight--at least to Bodie's seasoned eye. He knew men who could dissemble astonishingly well, but even they exhibited cracks, if one knew where to look.

But he could not deny the enjoyment of Doyle's company, even if the facade presented to him the night before had been one very likely far removed from Doyle's normal demeanour. There was no question that Raymond Doyle was a man under abnormal stress; Father Keegan's suggestion that he seek out Bodie's questionable expertise made that a given. Yet Bodie could not help but admire the strength of will and resilience evinced by someone caught in an untenable situation--and Doyle was holding up remarkably well. If he still wanted Bodie's help--and Bodie intended to find out if he did--Bodie was of a mind to render it.





The morning progressed slowly, but, fired with purpose Bodie cleared his table in record time. When Allison and the auditor arrived just after nine, he greeted his partner with the disputed invoice and was promptly subjected to a mild denunciation for carelessness. Much to his displeasure, Hazel Bell then took him aside and proceeded to explain to him what her company expected in the way of cooperation. Since he could not refute the fact that he had been slack in involving himself till now, he sat through the lecture politely; he even went so far as to take notes. Not unaware of the effect his appearance had on the young woman, he took pains to keep her on track whenever she strayed into personal matters, having no desire to mislead her, yet determined to avoid a personal statement that would prove embarrassing to them both.

It was Heather who finally rescued him, plaintively laying claim to his expertise, and stealing him out of Hazel Bell's thwarted grasp. In the work-room, Heather directed Bodie to a faulty circuit board that had been consigned to the salvage pile. They exchanged conspiratorial winks and he dutifully set to work dismantling it for component parts, something he had planned to do ages ago, but had either lacked the time or the inclination. Both, luckily, were available in plenty now.

At half past eleven, he made excuses all round, and promised to be back by two. Outside he discovered that the day had become clear and fine, just as it had promised at dawn. It was Friday, and the weekend was at hand; there was nothing that could dampen Bodie's high spirits. He walked to Wimbledon tube station and there joined the morning crowd. At Embankment he switched to the Northern Line, and at last came out of the subway at Tottenham Court Road Station across the way from Foyle's.

Darting across the street as soon as traffic thinned enough to make the run a degree less than suicidal, Bodie snubbed the venerable old bookstore in favor of its next-door associate, Waterstone's. After rapidly skimming the fiction section without success, he went up to a cashier and asked where he might find Doyle's books.

"You'll have better luck at Collett's," the cashier told him expressionlessly. "They carry a larger supply of that sort of thing than we do."

Allowing his imagination free license as to what "that sort of thing" might be, Bodie left the store and jogged the short distance down Charing Cross to Collett's. This time he bypassed the shelves and went straight to a cashier, who was perched in a small booth several inches above floor level.

"JIGSAW PUZZLE, HONOURS EVEN, HARMONIOUS TONGUES, and BLACK SHEEP by Raymond Doyle," the man mused. "Oh, yes, of course. We sold our last copy of HARMONIOUS TONGUES just two--or was it three--days ago? I can't remember."

"You're not going to send me to Foyle's, are you?" Bodie objected wistfully. Despite boasting one of the best inventories of books in the western world, Foyle's was commonly despised for its antiquated check-out system and the legendary indifference exuded by its employees.

The cashier smiled thinly. "No. You'll have your best luck at a small shop in Bloomsbury, actually: Gay's the Word. D'you know where that's located?"

"Ah--no," Bodie said, his thoughts racing far ahead of his tongue. "Would you have the address handy?"

A pencil scratched softly across a scrap of paper. "Here you go," the man said. "Quite easy to get at. Marchmont Street is just across the way from Russell Square Station."

"Ta, mate," Bodie said, and took the paper from the man's hand.

A few minutes later he was hurrying through the turnstiles at Tottenham Court Road Station, grateful that he had purchased a day ticket rather than a round-trip fare as he had originally been tempted to do.

The platforms and trains were packed with lunch-time travelers; Bodie barely succeeded in squeezing himself into the nearest coach. Immediately the doors closed behind him, and he had to duck his head to avoid injury.

Blessedly, Russell Square was only two stops away, although a change of trains was necessary at Holborn. Spewed onto the platform from the crowded coach, Bodie groaned as he recalled that this station did not have escalators, but three irritatingly laggard lifts--of which only two were ever in service. Weaving through the press with agility, he hurried up a short flight of stairs and rounded the corner--only to discover several people already waiting for the next opening of the lift doors.

Nearly five minutes later, Bodie sighed with relief as he stepped out onto the pavement in front of the station. Ignoring the rumbles of his neglected stomach, he trotted across the street, and from there it was only a short distance to Marchmont Street.

The bookstore was perhaps a quarter of a mile away; Bodie almost didn't see it, both eyes firmly fixed on the sandwich shop across the street. Recalling himself at the last moment, he backtracked and went inside. The unassuming atmosphere of the shop put him at ease at once.

There were only a few browsers in the book-packed confines of the small building, and a young, long-haired man in charge of the cash register. Deciding to give himself the pleasure of finding the books on his own, rather than requesting their whereabouts, Bodie began a lazy search through the shelves which took him in slow stages through the non-fiction section and magazines, before finally bringing him to the novels. Slowly, allowing the anticipation to build, he worked his way from A to D. A secret smile tugged at the corners of his mouth when he spied Doyle's name; it grew wide when he saw that all four books were amply represented.

Inordinately pleased, he carried his newfound treasures to the cashier. Stripping two tenners and a twenty out of his billfold, Bodie absently noted to himself that he would need to visit his cash point soon. A soft sound from the young man packing his purchases brought Bodie's head up. There was the faintest intimation of a smile on the fellow's mobile mouth; he paused for only an instant to study Bodie's selections.

"Have you read them?" Bodie asked.

Light brown eyes scanned Bodie's face a little shyly. "I have."

"Good?"

"Oh, yes."

Bodie raised a brow interrogatively. "Which is your favorite, then?"

Thin fingers shuffled through the books and came up with HARMONIOUS TONGUES. "This one, I think."

"Is it better than the others?"

The young man shrugged, boldly meeting Bodie's gaze. "Don't laugh, will you?"

"No."

"It's very romantic--but not at all smarmy. I enjoy a good love story now and then."

Pocketing his wallet and picking up the packaged books, Bodie gave the man a friendly smile. "Thanks, mate. I'll try this one first."

Bodie could feel the weight of the cashier's stare on his back all the way out of the store. There was little question in his mind that, had he asked, he would have had company for the evening; perhaps the night. But the thought to ask did not occur to him. In the last hour or so, Christmas had arrived very, very early: Bodie now knew that Raymond Doyle was gay.

Engrossed in the publishing teaser on the back cover of HARMONIOUS TONGUES, Bodie forgot all about the young man in the bookstore and the sandwich shop across the street, until he arrived back at Russell Square Station. After a quick consultation with his watch he knew he had no choice but to catch the first available train to Wimbledon in order to complete his next errand without making himself unconscionably late.

At a quarter past one Bodie surfaced in Wimbledon. After setting a brisk pace, he turned into the churchyard at St. John Fisher fifteen minutes later, breathing somewhat quicker than usual, but exhibiting little in the way of his exertions. Stepping into the central portal, he paused a moment to let his eyes adjust to the dim lighting. An older woman sat in one of the back pews on the right. The rest of the church appeared to be empty save for the kneeling figure of a man three rows behind the chancel rail.

On silent feet, Bodie strode down the center aisle. Churches meant nothing to him, for he did not believe in God; but he respected their dignity and their intended purpose--regardless of the constancy with which their builders failed to achieve their goal of curing mankind of his failings. He slid into the pew behind the black-cassocked man and sat with hands hanging between his knees, waiting.

As the pulse beating in his throat dropped back to normal, Bodie could hear the susurrant, one-sided dialogue taking place in front of him, although not one whispered word was distinguishable from another. Almost five minutes passed before the priest concluded his prayer and raised himself stiffly onto the hard wooden seat.

"Bodie," he said, speaking in the hushed, but welcoming tone Bodie remembered very well.

"Yes. How are you getting on, Father?"

"Come, come, Bodie; tell me why you're here."

Grinning affectionately at the man's back, Bodie murmured, "Raymond Doyle."

"He did speak with you, then?"

"I sent him away," Bodie said honestly. "Why did he come to you?"

The priest shifted round to face him. He was an older man, with a kindly face that encouraged the spilling of confidences. Bodie had known him for four years and counted him a friend. He trusted and respected Father Keegan in a way he did few individuals.

"He had questions," Father Keegan replied obliquely. "I suggested that you might have the answers."

"Without warning me?"

The other man took the mild rebuke in stride. "I meant to ring, to let you know I'd given out your name. But I only said he should contact you; I made him no promises."

Bodie sighed. "Just as well, really. D'you know anything about him?"

The man contemplated Bodie's question before replying. "A little. His mother visited me on occasion, not long before she died."

"And Doyle?"

"She spoke often of him; always with love. He's been polite and friendly to me when we've met. I was surprised to find him so troubled."

"Then you wouldn't label him a loony?"

"By no means. I've always thought him a well-adjusted lad."

"He's Catholic, then?"

The priest shook his head. "No. C of E--but not active, I believe." At Bodie's expression, the other man shrugged his ignorance. "And I don't know why either of them came to me--although Mrs. Doyle did ask that I be prepared to hear her son out, should he ever seek my advice. But it wasn't advice he wanted, when he came to me last Friday."

"Friday!"

The priest waited patiently until Bodie explained, "He was round my place on Tuesday."

"He did express reluctance when I recommended you to him," Father Keegan noted. "And there was obviously a great deal on his mind."

Frowning, Bodie asked, "Why exactly did you tell him to come to me?"

Father Keegan returned Bodie's searching gaze unblinkingly. "He wanted to know about demons. I told him I knew of no one who has researched the topic as thoroughly as you."

Bodie clicked his tongue softly. "And here I thought you were matchmaking."

The priest's eyes darkened fractionally in the dim light. "I-- He isn't--?"

Nodding in contradiction, Bodie only just refrained from smirking. "Don't worry. Whatever's on Raymond Doyle's mind regarding me, sex is probably the least of it."

"Bodie--"

He held up a hand to stop the priest before he could continue. "We've had that conversation before, mate." He pressed his fist against the priest's shoulder. "And I appreciate the concern, even though I don't think it's needed. After all, I don't believe in--"

"Anything. Such a waste, my friend."

"Perhaps." Bodie stood up. "I'm glad I came by; it's been a while since we chatted."

"You know you're always welcome."

"I appreciate that. Thanks for the info, Father. Take care, won't you."

"And you."





Bodie arrived back at the office on the stroke of two. The remainder of the afternoon turned into a tedious exercise in reduced productivity; Bodie simply could not keep his mind on his work for more than two consecutive minutes before drifting off in search of some way to re-establish contact with Raymond Doyle. Heather was out making deliveries, and Allison was in the death throes of their audit. So he sat alone in the workroom, drinking innumerable cups of tea and counting the hours, and then minutes, until five o'clock.

Hazel Bell announced that she would be in on Monday to finish things up; Bodie managed to stitch a reasonably intelligent expression on his face while she packed her case and readied herself to depart. Allison sighed dramatically when the other woman had gone; apparently lust had given way to exhaustion. Bodie intemperately gave voice to his thoughts.

Before Allison could set upon him with verbal knives, as she so clearly wished to do, Heather reappeared. Lips pursed, but withholding comment, Allison went back to the office while Bodie and Heather tidied their workstations, preparatory to leaving.

Finally, it was five o'clock, and Bodie had shut off the lights in the workroom, locked the front and back doors, and was slipping into his jacket when Allison took a phone call. He was holding the door open for Heather when Allison informed him that the call was for him.

"Tell whoever it is that I've already gone," he whispered pleadingly.

Allison gave him a killing look, then spoke resignedly into the phone: "I'm sorry, Mr. Doyle, he's--"

"Wait!"

At that, Allison clapped a hand over the mouthpiece, and snarled, "Damn you, Bodie!"

"Sorry, Allison," he said fervently. "If it'd been anybody else--honest!" This, as she slapped the handset into his palm with stinging force.

Snatching her things off the desk, she started for the door. Pausing with hand on the latch, she glanced pointedly back at him.

"Thanks, Allison," he said contritely.

With an air of saintly suffering, Allison heaved a heavy sigh and sketchily waved good night.

No sooner had the door closed than Bodie said a little breathlessly, "Doyle--you still there?"

"Yeah. Did I catch you at a bad moment?"

"Nah," Bodie chuckled. "Just trying to avoid the Friday night stampede."

"Oh." There was an awkward lull, during which Bodie sought frantically for something to say. Before he could formulate a remotely clever comment, however, Doyle said, "Look, I want to thank you for dinner last night. And-- for afterward. I feel an absolute idiot, falling asleep like that."

"Don't--" Bodie began.

"Let me finish," Doyle insisted. "I'd like to repay you. But I reckon you have something planned for tonight?"

The diffident tone made Bodie smile softly to himself. "Actually, no. What'd you have in mind?"

"Dinner. Eight o'clock at the Village Taverna in Wimbledon--unless that's not convenient for you?"

"No, that's perfect; it'll give me a chance to go home and change."

"Great." Even over the telephone line there was no mistaking the lightened tone in Doyle's voice. "I'll see you at eight, then."

"At the Village Taverna. Right."





The Village Taverna was a popular restaurant, renowned for its Greek fare. It also had sequestered booths for those less inclined toward the boozy good spirits encouraged there. By the time Bodie arrived back in Wimbledon freshly bathed, shaved and rested, the streets in the immediate neighborhood were thickly lined with cars. Wondering what model vehicle Doyle drove, Bodie squeezed his Cavalier into a tiny space between another series Vauxhall and a Renault 9.

The evening was cool and damp, and Bodie had dressed in black corduroy trousers and a black polo-neck shirt. Topping all off with a coat-styled leather jacket--also black--Bodie was scarcely aware of the temperature; but he likely would not have been, even if rain had been pouring down.

A little uncertain where to look for Doyle--would he wait outside or in?--Bodie made a slow approach to the door of the restaurant. Finding no one dawdling on the pavement, he went through into the foyer. Doyle turned from his study of the patterned wallpaper at his entry, and the two men immediately began to size each other up.

Bodie's heart leapt at sight of him; immediately, he castigated himself for the wholly uncontrollable reaction. Clad in moleskin trousers that formed a second skin from waist to upper thigh, a loose pale green shirt that was almost certainly silk, and a cream-colored, bulky-knit jacket with sleeves rolled up, Doyle gave off waves of cosmopolitan indifference that attracted Bodie like a hummingbird to nectar.

At once he ordered his expression to one of matey greeting; if Doyle noticed the difference, it was not revealed on his own guarded face.

"You hungry?" Bodie asked ingenuously. "My stomach thinks my throat's been cut."

Doyle slowly smiled. "I am, actually." He cocked his head toward the entryway which led into the restaurant proper. A besuited gentleman hastened to meet them as soon as they came into sight, and spoke to Doyle by name.

Feeling a little out of place(this was Doyle's turf, not his(Bodie followed silently as they were taken to a table near the back of the building, well removed from other diners. They were given menus, drinks orders were requested, and they were promptly left to themselves.

"Nice," Bodie said, raising his brows. "You own shares in the business or something?"

"No," Doyle replied, grinning faintly. "I made special arrangements."

"Oh." Heart once more slipping into the fast lane, Bodie said the first thing that came to mind. "You're looking--better." He'd almost said 'great.' "Last time I saw bags like those under your eyes was at Heathrow."

"Thanks, mate," Doyle chuckled sardonically.

"How's the computer working, then?"

"Perfectly." Doyle toyed with his artistically-folded napkin, taking it apart before very carefully restructuring it to its stylish shape. "Lost very little of the file I was using when it blew." He looked across at Bodie.

Reading uncertainty in Doyle's mien, and cautious as to how to address it, Bodie greeted the arrival of their drinks and the brief interruption it offered with relief. Doyle tasted the wine and approved it; their glasses were filled and their server departed, giving them a few minutes longer to mull over their menus.

"Do you want to tell me how it happened--how the computer was damaged in the first place, I mean?" Bodie asked.

"D'you really want to know?" Doyle asked a little coolly.

The wine in the bubbled glass shimmered like liquid sunshine as Bodie slowly spun the stem in his hand. "Tuesday night, when you asked for my help, and I refused: do you remember what you said?"

Doyle shrugged. Lifting his chin, he answered, "Yes. It was rude of me, I know, but I felt a fool--and I was angry."

"It isn't easy for you to ask for help, is it?" Bodie realized, hardly aware that he had spoken his thoughts aloud. Before Doyle could contradict him, he went on, "But you were right; someone I cared for got hurt very badly because of me; because he misunderstood something I said."

His face shedding all traces of belligerence, Doyle breathed, "Sorry."

"You couldn't know," Bodie pointed out. "By the way, I spoke to Father Keegan today." He waited while that penetrated; Doyle cast him an uneasy glance.

"He said that you have questions. He also said that he told you that I might have answers to them."

"And what else did he tell you?" Doyle asked.

"Very little; he's a man you can rely on." Bodie essayed a disarming smile. "If you still want to ask, I'll do what I can to answer."

Gripping the fragile stem of his wine glass with dangerous strength, Doyle demanded, "Why?"

"Because I respect you?" Bodie did not mean to sound flip. But Doyle frowned at him. He went on, "There's something strange going on in your life; something so strange it drove you to seek help from a total stranger who only might be able to help you. But whatever it is, however awful it may be, it hasn't kicked the legs out from under you. I respect a man who won't back down."

Some of the tension drained from Doyle's body. He sipped his wine and began to run a fingertip around the base of the glass. "You're guessing, though, aren't you?" he chided softly. "Maybe this 'strange' thing is my own invention."

Bodie hazarded a grin. "Mr. Doyle, if you were capable of tampering with your computer to the extent I uncovered, you wouldn't need my services--or anyone else's--to repair it."

"What d'you mean?" Doyle asked.

"Someone--or something--wrote its name into your visual display controller card's memory. That's not an easy trick to accomplish without a fair degree of computer knowledge and the assistance of certain software. Now, it's remotely possible that you could be setting me up for your own reasons." He brought up a hand to still Doyle's embryonic objection. "But I don't think you are. In the first place, the software necessary to do what I've just described is not easily obtainable; in the second, I doubt that you have the training required to put it to use."

"But it is possible," Doyle said flatly.

"Anything is possible," Bodie stated.

At that moment their waiter returned to take their orders. Having spent little time in looking over the menu, Bodie asked Doyle to suggest something for him. Doyle did so without hesitation, apparently anxious to expedite the man's departure.

As soon as he had gone, Doyle asked, "What happened to that bloke; the one you said got hurt?"

Bodie set his wine glass down very carefully. "We were in Africa at the time. I--prefer not to talk about Africa."

His expression calculating, Doyle pressed, "Did he survive?"

Remote blue eyes gave away nothing. "Yes--if you consider a lunatic asylum 'surviving.'"

"But you still hold yourself accountable; even though you said he misunderstood you."

"It's an old adage, isn't it: a little information can be more dangerous than too much. And I didn't know very much then." Tension sang through his body; becoming aware of it, Bodie inconspicuously forced himself to relax. "He didn't believe in the forces he was trying to control--and they got the upper hand."

"Because he didn't believe?" Doyle said musingly. Then: "And what do you believe in, Bodie?"

The question was not unexpected; Bodie was only surprised it had not been asked sooner. He said expressionlessly, "Nothing."

Doyle blinked. "But--"

"Nothing structured, I should say. I don't believe in God; certainly not the Christian one." Bodie took a sip of his wine and let the silky liquid coat the tender linings of his mouth before swallowing it down. "I don't believe in ghosts and ghoulies. I don't believe in demons or devils any more than I credit the existence of angels or saints." With each word, Doyle's eyes grew darker. "I don't believe in any of the so-called paranormal as people have defined it." He gave Doyle a full-faced smile, pleased to see that the other man was not so far gone as to be immune to its effect.

"Then, what--?" Doyle stumbled.

"The operative words being 'structured' and 'defined by people,'" Bodie stressed. "Which is not to say that strange, inexplicable things do not occur. They do. It's the conclusions arrived at by so-called experts that I take exception to."

"So--something that most people would call a ghost, you would perhaps describe as an--oddity?" Doyle interpreted falteringly.

"Yes."

"And why," Doyle wondered, "did you develop this theory? Or are you just naturally cross-grained?"

"Maybe; although I don't think that was a factor at the time. In Africa I saw things I never expected to see; and then I encountered some curious goings-on in Belfast. I was always interested in such things, but after, that I started to read about the phenomena I had witnessed, and the more I read, the more I realized how little consistency there was to be found." Bodie drained his glass. He did not protest when Doyle refilled it from the carafe stationed at their table. "A belief in ghosts, demons, werewolves, vampires--all the inhabitants of the so-called paranormal--is common to most cultures throughout the world. But the characteristics of such things vary from one culture to another, and can often be loosely defined, even in the same society. For example, something labeled as a ghost by one person could be named a demon by another."

"I'm not sure I follow," Doyle said.

Bodie rubbed his jaw as he reflected how best to proceed. "Reams of pages have been written categorically explaining one phenomenon or another; but they are, all of these explanations, nothing more than opinion, conjecture. No two ghost stories are precisely the same, although they may share certain elements; no two tales of possession describe the same overt manifestations of demon control, although the symptoms may be similar. The phenomena, the events, the manifestations may well occur; but it is the people who specialize in such things--students of the occult--who classify and analyze them. It is my belief that such people are not necessarily the best arbiters of what these phenomena, these experiences, really are."

"Even though they're the ones who have provided all the documentation," Doyle said on a note of comprehension.

"Right."

"So," Doyle continued thoughtfully, "if the explanation for any given weird phenomenon is open to conjecture, then the standard solution for how one deals with it cannot be relied upon, either. Is that what you're getting at?"

"Yes."

"I hate to tell you this, Bodie," Doyle murmured, "but I don't think your theories give me anything to cheer up about."

Bodie licked his finger and skated it lightly round the rim of his glass. An ethereally sweet ringing rose into the air between them. "That isn't magic," he said, tapping the lip of the glass for emphasis. "It's a physical phenomenon. I think the various aspects of the paranormal are no different; but perhaps we don't have the ability--or the tools--to properly study and understand them."

Doyle slouched back in his chair, forearms resting on the edge of the table. Head bent a little to one side, he regarded Bodie without artifice. "Then if I describe what's been happening to me, you can tell me what the so-called experts would say, and how they would recommend handling it. True?"

"Very likely, yes."

"But you're also saying that the solutions they would propose won't necessarily work. Also true?"

"Again, yes."

Doyle's troubled gaze dropped to the wine glass now centered in the triangle formed by Bodie's fingers and thumbs. "Then there's no point in bothering you with it, is there?"

Bodie hated the defeated look in Doyle's face; but he would not lie to the man to eradicate it. "I didn't say there were no solutions; only that traditional ones may not be the panacea you're hoping for."

"Don't know that I'm up to a bout of trial and error," Doyle informed him with a bleak laugh.

"Have you discussed this with anyone else?" Bodie asked, his voice soft with understanding.

"No."

"Not even your close friends?"

"I have acquaintances, Bodie; no close friends. I prefer it that way."

"Fair enough," Bodie said affably, unperturbed by this antisocial attitude, but pleased at what it implied: Doyle was unattached. He opened his mouth to speak, but their waiter returned at that moment with their meals.

The heady aromas went right to Bodie's stomach, which sharply and publicly proclaimed his heinous negligence. Doyle, however, surveyed his dish as though it might crawl off his plate and attach itself round his throat.

"Ray." Bodie's voice was pitched low so that their server could hear nothing as he walked away. "You're going to tell me everything, and we will do something, I promise."

Apparently dismayed that his vulnerability should be so obvious, Doyle took pains to cover it. "After what you've just told me, I don't see how--"

"You're tired; exhausted, I suspect. It's clear you haven't eaten properly for some time, too. So dig in and relax. There's nothing to threaten you here. Come on. Just humor me, will you?"

As Doyle stared into Bodie's eyes, some of the wounded look began to fade. He dredged up a pale smile. "All right."

Bodie's ravenous hunger must have communicated some of its urgency to Doyle; for though he started slowly, eventually his own plate gave mute testimony to his efforts. One course followed another, until even Bodie was suffering the discomfort of gluttony.

Signalling their waiter, Doyle ordered coffee for them both, then grinned across at Bodie who was unobtrusively stretching to ease the fit of his snug waistband. "Better?" he asked.

Bodie snorted. "I think I should be asking you that."

"I am, thanks."

They paused while the table was cleared and coffee served. Warming his long fingers around the small cup, Doyle said quietly, "I think it started about five weeks ago."

"You think?"

Doyle shrugged, his shoulders peaking under the heavy sweater. "I'd wake up feeling tired, out of sorts; like you do when you've had a nightmare. Didn't think much of it at first. Until it began to get worse."

Bodie listened without interruption as Doyle described the fragmented nightmares he had experienced. They had bothered him only two or three times a week at first; always intense, disturbing and lingering. At some point after the second week, odd episodes began to occur: items dropping suddenly--and loudly--to the floor from a previously safe perch; odors, strong and overwhelming, filling a room; noises generated by no physical agent; and worst of all, a sense of another's presence--not necessarily human.

"It got to the stage where I thought I would go mad; that I already was mad," Doyle said, his voice so low Bodie could hardly hear him. "I tried to deal with it rationally; after all, nothing like that had ever happened to me before. And, looking at it that way, I could discern a pattern."

"What sort of pattern?" Bodie asked, unwittingly dropping the register of his voice to match Doyle's.

"Except for the dreams, all the strange bits take place between nine and one. The dreams, unfortunately, seem to happen whenever I sleep."

"Do they vary?" Bodie asked. "Or is there a pattern to them, too?"

Doyle took a deep breath, his eyes distant. "They've never--been coherent." He gave a tiny laugh. "Not that most dreams are. But there's usually a certain logic to normal dreams--or normal nightmares, for that matter--no matter how bizarre they may be. These-- They're like a kaleidoscope of images and senses and words."

"What sorts of images? Senses? Words?" Bodie asked encouragingly.

"Unspeakable faces, ugly colors, hideous odors, emotions that have despicable form-- I can't explain, Bodie; they don't make sense. The words are crude for the most part, sexual in nature but mostly perverted and sickening." He stole a glance at Bodie from under dark, thick lashes. "And there's the name Gressil; in my dreams. It must refer to someone--or some thing."

"What's your overall reaction to the nightmares?" Bodie questioned. "You said they're 'intense, disturbing, and lingering.' What else?"

"They frighten me. If you hadn't noticed." Doyle went on, his clipped laugh raw. "It feels as though something is trying to get at me--to climb inside me--through my dream thoughts."

Bodie swallowed. "And the manifestations: d'you have any associations with them?"

"Not good, if that's what you mean." Doyle forced another laugh, which came out mirthlessly brittle. "It's like something challenging me; daring me to defy it."

"Do you have a sense of oneness about this 'it?'"

Doyle stared at him. "What d'you mean?"

"Could there be a single consciousness behind everything?"

The idea seemed to disturb Doyle; his face briefly contorted with revulsion. "I guess I hadn't thought of that."

Bodie gave him time to consider the question thoroughly, watching the mutable expressions that chased across that compelling visage.

"Not just one," Doyle decided at last. "But not many, either."

Bodie smiled faintly. "Tell me what happened the night you came to my place."

"All hell broke loose," Doyle said, wincing. "I'm trying to meet a deadline; I have a book due Tuesday week. Plus I've been proofing galleys for another which the publisher is pressing me for by this upcoming Friday." He drew a wry face. "The timing of all this shite could've been better. After I left you I came right home and tried to get some work done on the story. At nine o'clock things started up again, but I was determined to ignore it. That worked until almost midnight. Up till then I was able to pretend that nothing was unusual; that the room didn't reek of cheap, brassy cologne; that my books weren't throwing themselves off the shelves one by one; that my ears weren't ringing from the assorted screams and howls that came out of nowhere--" Composed, but betraying the cost of that self-possession in ashen features and trembling hands, Doyle hesitated. "I'm--not absolutely certain what happened. But something--something tried to take form in that room."

"In the study?" Bodie prodded.

"Yeah. I tried to pretend it wasn't there, Bodie. But I could feel it coming nearer, surrounding me, whispering filthy things in my ears. I even imagined I could feel its breath on my cheek--like the stench from a cesspit. It demanded that I recognize its presence, that I--surrender myself to it. And I--I guess I finally snapped. I think I shouted; told it to go away; told it that I would never acknowledge it." Doyle sucked in a long breath. "It didn't like that. The air-- seemed to crackle; there was a roaring noise, so loud I could feel the vibration of it through the floorboards. Things began to fly about the room." He caught his hands together, clasping them tightly. "There was an incredible explosion--or something that sounded like an explosion--and the next thing I knew it was one o'clock, and everything was back to normal."

"What d'you mean, 'the next thing you knew?'" Bodie asked, quietly appalled.

The thin shoulders sketched a shrug. "I--must've fallen asleep--" his lip curled "(or fainted--or something. Came round with my head on the keyboard. The lamp on the desk was working--not flickering any more; and the computer seemed to be on, but the VDU had blinked out."

"And the next night?"

"Pretty quiet," Doyle admitted. "More like it was in the beginning. Just a little noise and stink." He rolled his eyes self-effacingly. "But then I stayed in my room from eight o'clock on."

"So there are areas in the house that are less affected than others?"

Doyle bit his lower lip. "Yes. The kitchen and my bedroom. Worse are the lounge and study."

Suspending one hand over the other, Bodie asked, "Do those rooms line up, by any chance? Y'know, the study and lounge; the bedroom and kitchen?"

Doyle's brows went up. "They do, y'know. Just like that."

"And you've never experienced anything like this before, in all the time you've lived in the house?"

"No. And that's nearly thirty years."

"So you were born there? Or moved there shortly after? You can't be more than thirty now."

"Nearly thirty. No, I wasn't born in the house itself; but that's where my mum and grandad were living at the time."

Bodie shoved back his sleeve and took note of the time.

"Am I keeping you?" Doyle asked.

"Don't be so touchy," Bodie said reprovingly. "It's almost 12.20. This lot will be booting us out in another ten minutes. Could I talk you into inviting me round to your place for tea?"

The question seemed to steal the breath from Doyle's lungs. "You don't believe me. You want proof, is that it?"

"Nothing like empirical evidence," Bodie said gleefully.

"And if there's nothing to see?" Doyle's eyes had become cold and angry.

"Then we'll be able to drink our tea in peace," Bodie retorted. "C'mon, Ray. This isn't like taking your car to the garage to perform for the mechanic." He reached for the bill, only to have it torn out of his hand.

"I invited you out," Doyle snapped. "This is mine."

"You paid last night," Bodie argued.

"And immediately fell asleep on you--literally."

"Don't remember complaining." They started across the still fully-occupied restaurant to the cash register. As Doyle disregarded him, Bodie wheedled, "You're going to make me feel like a kept man."

Doyle shot him a frosty glare. "You hardly look the kept type, Bodie. And anyway, I'm the wrong gender, aren't I."

"Kept is kept," Bodie muttered defiantly.

It took longer than Bodie would have liked, as they had to wait in a queue three customers deep. Exiting the restaurant at twenty to, Bodie asked the make of Doyle's car so he would know which one to follow home, and so that they might arrive together. As it turned out Doyle's car, an older, pristinely-maintained Mercedes, was parked only a short distance down the street.

They drove through the streets of Wimbledon and Merton unhampered by traffic, the exhaust from their cars billowing hugely in the moist night air. Doyle snagged a place near the front of his house; Bodie was not so lucky, and had to park several lengths farther down.

Waiting out front, Doyle stood facing the house, staring at the wide window that overlooked the garden. As Bodie jogged up, Doyle pointed at the curtains, at the spot where the two panels of fabric came together. In the chalky light of the streetlamp, the material could be seen to swing gently from one side to the other, as though stirred by an idle finger.

Impatiently marking the time, Bodie said urgently, "I want to go inside."

"Bodie--" Doyle's teeth were chattering. He shut his mouth against the betraying sound, and whatever else he may have intended to say. With keys in hand, he strode resolutely up to the gate, and fumbled the latch open. No sooner had he unlocked the exterior door of the enclosed porch than they could hear the front inner door silently swing wide.

Not waiting for Doyle's invitation to enter as well, Bodie brushed past him and stepped into the foyer. Over his shoulder, he asked, "Lights?"

"To your ri--" Doyle began; he gave a soft grunt as the bulb over their heads sprang to life, blazing brightly.

"Useful, that," Bodie commented, unfazed. He gestured to the closed door on their left. "Lounge?"

"Yes." The single word was little more than an abrupt sibilant. Bodie reached out and took the latch in hand. The door yielded easily, and he pushed it inward. It moved without sound. Peering into the room beyond, Bodie thought it was awfully dark--far darker than it should have been with light spilling from the hallway. He took a tentative step forward, his foot coming to rest on the threshold.

"No!" Doyle gasped, grabbing Bodie's arm and jerking him backward. "There's something in there," he whispered anxiously. "Bodie, don't!"

Reluctant to take his eyes off the room, Bodie yet cast a quick glance back at Doyle. "You stay here," he said, breaking Doyle's vice-like grip. "It isn't waiting for me."

Despite the steadiness of his voice, Bodie was not unaffected by the little he had seen so far, although all of it could easily be explained. With his senses stretched to their limits, he entered the room. At once the darkness seemed to encroach, creeping nearer like tendrils of fog off a river. Heart pounding high in his chest, Bodie took another step. The air was laden with a scent so overpoweringly sweet it threatened to bring up his dinner. Funny, how it had not been there when Bodie had first come into the room. A smell that strong should have spread throughout the entire house--.

A tiny buzz, like the whine of a mosquito, skittered past Bodie's ear. It circled him, or so he imagined, passing from one side to the next. And then it was heading for the doorway.

It isn't waiting for me, he had said with assurance. But it was searching for Doyle.

"Ray!" he shouted, twisting round and lifting his foot to run. Somehow the few paces he had taken into the lounge had become fifty. Something weighted his legs, so that each forward lunge was sluggish and ungainly, as though he were trying to hurry through deep water. "Ray, get out!" His own ears reported nothing, even though he had bellowed as loudly as he could. Truly frightened now, not for himself but for Doyle, Bodie gathered all his strength and lurched forward against the treacly restraints--

--and barrelled hard into Ray Doyle, slamming him into the corridor wall opposite the lounge door. Bodie felt the breath go out of the other man, and heard his cough of pain. They ended up on the floor in a snarl of arms and legs, Bodie trying valiantly but failing to prevent Doyle's elbow from splitting the corner of his lip.

"Damn-it-Bodie," Doyle whooped. "What-the-fuck-were--"

"Catch your breath, Ray," Bodie urged, finally getting his heels under him and pulling himself off Doyle, who remained sprawled on the floor.

Furious green eyes spat up at him, losing none of their venom even when Bodie reached out and gave him a hand up. Having attained a shaky vertical, Doyle summarily shrugged off Bodie's support, choosing to lean heavily against the wall instead.

Belatedly glancing down at his watch, Bodie confirmed his guess: it was just past one in the morning.

"Are you all right?" he asked as Doyle began to straighten up and brush himself off.

"Perfectly." The word was bitten off at both ends. Doyle took his handkerchief out and thrust it into Bodie's hand. "You're bleeding," he advised him coldly. He started off with measured tread toward the end of the corridor.

"It didn't get you, then?"

Doyle came to an abrupt stop and speared Bodie with a frigid look. "The only thing that got me was you. What'd you think you were playing at, anyway?"

Briefly lost for words, Bodie asked stupidly, "You didn't feel it?"

Looking Bodie over carefully for the first time since he had erupted without warning from the lounge, Doyle finally recognized the signs of shock in the other man's face. "Something happened."

"Yeah." Bodie could be curt, too. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Doyle assured him. "There was nothing going on out here after the lights came on. But I thought you were-- Well, never mind what I thought. What happened to you?"

"You thought I was winding you up. No, don't deny it," Bodie said, dabbing at his lip with Doyle's handkerchief. It came away stained with bright red blood.

Doyle, however, made no effort to contradict him, staring shamefacedly straight ahead.

"I wouldn't do that to you, Ray," Bodie said tiredly. "Look, I really could use that cuppa you promised--and then I'll tell you about it, okay?"

"Come on, then, trouble." Doyle spoke lightly; but he could not conceal the shadows that wreathed his drawn features, nor hide the sick worry in his eyes.




Day Five - Saturday

A nagging headache ushered Bodie into awareness the following morning at dawn. Groaning self-pityingly as he realized what time it was, he dragged himself out of bed, forced down a couple of Anadins, then crawled back under the covers. Lying very still in the vague hope of luring sleep back to his too-active brain, Bodie found himself recalling the previous evening in minute detail.

Following the curious episode in the lounge, he and Doyle had adjourned to the kitchen where Doyle had occupied himself making tea. Watching him with idle appreciation, Bodie had continued to staunch the flow of blood from his battered lip. In a very few minutes Doyle had piled the table with teapot, mugs, milk and sugar, and a plate of assorted biscuits. He had waited until Bodie's cup was prepared to his specifications and tasted, before demanding to know what Bodie had experienced.

"There was something in there," Bodie had replied. "I had the feeling it looked me over before deciding I was of no interest; then it went--somewhere else. I was afraid it was heading for the corridor, and I wanted to warn you--but something slowed me down."

Doyle had listened to him without interruption, eyes averted as he stirred his tea, the spoon circling, circling in his hand.

"But that could all have been generated by my own mind," Bodie had stated harshly. "Supplying the sensations and images I expected to witness."

The spoon had stalled in its mesmeric motion. Head coming up sharply, Doyle had pinned Bodie with a brooding stare. "D'you really believe that?"

"No," Bodie had said with a defiant grin. "But you didn't see it; weren't even aware of what I thought I was going through. Subjective observation doesn't carry much weight with me."

Perplexed, Doyle had carried on staring. "Is that meant to make sense?" he had asked querulously.

"It means," Bodie had explained, "that I expected to encounter something, and I did."

"So you believed me."

"That you believe something odd has been going on, yes. But there are ways to get at people, Ray. With the sophisticated equipment available these days, all sorts of bizarre effects can be achieved."

"So what did you learn tonight, if anything?" Doyle had asked stiffly.

"Not much, to be perfectly honest with you. All that I thought happened here a few minutes ago could have been fabricated. That's one of the first things we'll have to disprove: that there's no human involvement; y'know, someone playing an elaborate joke."

"That's possible?" Doyle had exclaimed, aghast.

"Unfortunately, yes."

"And if it isn't a prank?" The roughened timbre had sent a shiver down Bodie's spine.

"If it's a genuine paranormal influence, there is probably a reason for it. If we're lucky, we can find out what it is."

"In time?" Doyle had whispered. "It's got worse, Bodie; I told you that."

"Maybe," Bodie had replied, determined that Doyle should not foster any illusions. "And I may not even be the person to help you."

"If not you, who then?" Doyle had inquired angrily.

"I can give you the names of some so-called experts."

"Are they better than you?" Doyle had cocked his head at Bodie challengingly.

"Listen, Doyle, I don't do this for a living, y'know. I'd like to help you, but I can't make any promises. It isn't like repairing your computer; nothing like it at all. If you want me to help, I'll try. But you'll have to cooperate with me. And you'll have to trust me."

Doyle had dropped his eyes toward his cup again, watching the untouched liquid slosh dangerously close to the rim as he rocked the mug between his fingers.

"All right," he had conceded with obvious reluctance. "Father Keegan said I could trust you." Sighing, he had looked up at Bodie, his expression so despairing Bodie had wanted to step round the table and haul him into his arms. "Will you help me?" Doyle had asked.

"Yes," Bodie had promised.

Not long after, having arranged to come back the following day, Bodie had taken his leave. At two in the morning, the streets had been deserted, which had been to Bodie's advantage, for his mind had not been on the road. Doyle, face drawn and dispirited, had remained at the forefront of his thoughts all the way to Sutton. Even as he had finally stretched out on his mattress, Bodie had not been able to rationalize the corrosive, lingering guilt of leaving Doyle alone.

And now it was morning; Saturday morning. Bodie had had less than three full hours of sleep to gird him against the impending day. Partially numbed by the Anadins, Bodie's head finally began to feel better. Never one to lie about, he decided to put his time to good use. Dressed in a fleecy grey tracksuit and trainers, Bodie let himself out, unaccosted by Allison. Once on the pavement, he broke into an invigorating lope.

The day was cool and clear--an immediate source of revitalization. Not a cloud sullied the azure sky, the air undisturbed by the faintest breeze. Letting his eyes wander, Bodie was surprised to discover that spring had crept in without his noticing. Flowers were in evidence everywhere, their riotous blooms stunningly offset by verdant lawns. Never much of gardener himself, Bodie nevertheless recognized the most common varieties: daffodils trumpeting their reawakening, magnolia trees bedecked with pale pink blossoms, tulips timorously unfolding their petals to greet the morning, even forget-me-nots, brightening the side of the path at St. Nicholas' churchyard. He should have realized the season had changed when he had visited Doyle's house the other day; but, tired and disgruntled, he had simply found the beauty of his garden a source of annoyance.

On Bodie ran, past the employment agency and food market, across the street and up the road to the train station; from there, he angled down the High Street toward home. A few people were venturing forth despite the early hour and the fact that it was Saturday. On a day like this, the sunshine was not to be ignored.

Soon Bodie was back in Sherwood Park Road, thudding down the pavement to the house on the corner. He let himself in and padded silently up the stairs to his flat, breath almost back to its usual unhurried rate by the time he stripped off and stepped under the shower.

The run had restored his equilibrium; all sluggishness cast off, he was bursting with purpose. Towel-drying his hair, Bodie roamed about the flat, gathering paper and pencil. He began to jot down notes while his breakfast cooked and the kettle boiled. Writing while he ate, he hardly noticed scraping up the last speck of toast from his plate, so engrossed was he in ordering his thoughts on paper.

Once the list was compiled, Bodie checked the time and saw that it was too early as yet to show up on Doyle's doorstep. So he busied himself with tidying the flat and changing the sheets on his bed. The post arrived, and he sorted through it, finding nothing of any immediacy, but taking the time to pay a few bills and to balance his checkbook.

At last it was half past eight, and he decided to wait no longer. As he tripped off the front step to the garden path, Bodie lifted his face toward the sun, sensuously absorbing the tentative warmth that caressed his cheeks. Taking the unseasonable temperature as a good omen, Bodie whistled a cheerful tune as he climbed into his car and started the motor.

In half an hour he was parking in the same space he had used such a short time before. As he strode up the pavement to Doyle's house, Bodie surveyed the exterior of the building with an eye to detail. He guessed the house had first gone up in the '30s, possibly a little earlier. From the roof to what was visible of the foundation, there were no signs of decay or neglect. And while the garden had recently been tended to, the ground closest to the building appeared to be solidly packed.

Sparing a purely appreciative glance for the array of flowers colorfully decorating Doyle's garden, Bodie went up to the front door and pressed the buzzer. Resuming his inspection while he waited, Bodie stepped over to the large window facing out from the lounge and painstakingly studied the frame and the glass. Realizing that Doyle had not yet answered, Bodie thumbed the buzzer again, and turned his attention to the window on the other side of the house, which faced out from the foyer.

He was interrupted by the arrival of a sleepy Ray Doyle. Unshaved, uncombed, and dressed in jeans, a long-sleeved cotton shirt that had been mis-buttoned from the middle of the chest down, and a gold neck chain with a pendant attached, Doyle's ragtag appearance was not in the least off-putting. Rather, there was something vastly appealing about his abandoned-waif demeanour that not even Bodie, held firmly in his thrall, could define.

"What the fuck are you doing here so fucking early, Bodie?" Doyle moaned.

Absurdly charmed, Bodie banked down a smile and said, "Told you I'd be back. Woke you, did I?"

"How'd you guess?" Doyle pushed the glass door wide, gesturing impatiently for Bodie to pass through in front of him. "Jesus, how long have you been up?"

"Ages. You, on the other hand, should probably go back to bed."

"Too late for that," Doyle said scathingly. "Since you're here, you can start the tea." He retained the presence of mind to shut and lock the front door. Turning to find Bodie standing within a foot of him, Doyle considered the other man's alert expression and natty attire, and grimaced his opinion. "You make my eyes hurt," he said ungraciously. "Looking so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. There ought to be a law against people like you, y'know that?"

"Me? Christ, Doyle; it's criminal for anyone to be as bloody gorgeous as y--" Bodie almost bit off the tip of his tongue, so suddenly did he snap his mouth shut.

Gaping, Doyle appeared to come fully awake all at once. "Gorgeous?"

Too practical to believe he might get away with denying it, Bodie said sharply, "You must know you are. The way you flash it about; the tight trousers you wear." And then he wished he had said nothing at all, for the shock on Doyle's face gave way to intense caution.

Straightening, Doyle jammed his hands into his back pockets. "Are you gay?"

"Yes." Half expecting ear-burning censure, Bodie was stupefied when a slow grin spread across Doyle's full mouth, laying claim to it with the familiarity of a lover's kiss. "You may not believe in God, mate," Doyle said cryptically, "but something's been awfully kind to me just lately."

Before Bodie could interpret that remark, Doyle freed one of his hands from snug-fitting denim and gestured in the direction of the kitchen. "Well, go on; let me get cleaned up and I'll be back down in a few minutes."

In the kitchen, Bodie was slow to orient himself as to precisely what he was doing, even without Doyle nearby to wreak havoc on his concentration. Everything finally clicked back into place, and he took the bread out of the bin and began to cut large slabs for toast. Halfway through the loaf, he suddenly remembered the tea, and at once filled the kettle and switched it on. Through trial and error, he came up with clean mugs, a single plate, cutlery, marmalade, butter and milk. These he was in the process of scattering over the surface of the sink sidebar, when a husky voice spoke from the doorway.

"Just one thing I want to know before we go any further," Doyle announced.

Stacking toast onto the plate, Bodie mentally braced himself and turned round. "Yes?"

Still wearing jeans, Doyle had traded the cotton shirt for a loose, warm sweater that came down to his narrow hips. The sleep had been washed from his eyes, dark beard stubble removed, and fractious curls mercilessly tamed. "What is your Christian name?" Doyle asked.

Prepared for far worse, Bodie answered without hesitation, "I'm overendowed. It's William Andrew Phillip."

"And which d'you prefer?"

"None."

"Why ever not?" Doyle sniffed loudly and followed his nose to the plate of warmly aromatic bread. "I only asked for tea," he reminded Bodie. "Answer the question."

Studying his morning companion archly, Bodie said, "I was named for my father. Only Mum wasn't sure which one it was--if you get my drift."

"Oh. William, Andrew, or Phillip." Doyle had the temerity to grin. "Spoilt for choice, eh?"

Fascinated by Doyle's fearlessness in the face of a tried-and-true intimidation tactic, Bodie gave way to a smile, too. "Never looked at it that way, I reckon."

"Can see why you might not." Clutching marmalade, milk jug, sugar bowl, and cutlery to his chest, Doyle nodded toward the remaining items and said, "Bring that lot, will you; we'll eat at the dinner table like civilized folk."

Bemusedly obedient, Bodie soon found himself sitting opposite Doyle in the large, comfortably appointed, joint dining-and-sitting room; sharing out slices of toast in equal measure.

"So what's on for today?" Doyle noisily savored his tea, leaving the last doorstep of bread to Bodie.

"First I want to inspect the house."

"Inspect it?"

"Top to bottom, inside and out. To rule out the possibility of someone playing a prank."

"Some prank," Doyle said, impressed.

"And then I'm going to ask you a load of questions. About the house, about you, your family, the neighborhood."

"Swell."

Bodie wiped his fingers on a serviette and reached for his tea. "I'll be taking notes, too; hope that doesn't bother you."

Rubbing his nose with the edge of his forefinger, Doyle said, "So long as you don't try to flog my story to the SPORT, I reckon that's all right."

Bodie mimed a fierce shudder. "Wouldn't think a well-known literary figure like yourself would even know about such a tawdry publication."

Eyes narrowed speculatively, Doyle murmured, "Is that how you found out that I'm gay? From my books?"

Placing his mug squarely on the table in front of him, Bodie replied, "Yes, but not the ones upstairs. Told you, I didn't look at those."

"Go on."

"I saw them--the titles, I mean--with your name on them. So I went out and bought my own copies, didn't I. Expect your royalties will show an increase directly proportional to the decrease in my bank account. Those bloody things aren't cheap, y'know."

"Why should you buy them?" Doyle asked, clearly baffled.

"Wanted to see what you write. You come highly recommended, in case you're wondering."

"Oh, yes?"

"The bloke at the bookshop on Marchmont. Said your novels are romances that aren't dodgy--or words to that effect."

Head canted a little to one side, Doyle asked softly, "Your finding out that I'm gay: Did that have anything to do with your decision to help me?"

Not having really considered his motives, Bodie took a moment before attempting a response. "I don't think so, Ray," he said at last. "That night on Box Hill made me realize just how bad things had got for you. And that was two days ago."

A firefly of a smile twitched across Doyle's face. "It's okay, Bodie. Was curious, that's all. You come highly recommended, too, remember? By Father Keegan. Don't think he would've handed me over to an opportunist, do you?"

"Not our Father Keegan," Bodie agreed. He stood up and stretched. "Right. After I clean up this lot, would you rather I start inside the house, or out?"

"Your choice," Doyle shrugged. "D'you need me along?"

"Nope. So long as you're not worried about me making off with the family jewels."

"Precious few of those about," Doyle scoffed. "No, leave this; I'll take care of it. I'll be upstairs on the computer, if you want me." In fact, he had already cleared most of the table, and disappeared into the kitchen before Bodie had extricated notepad and pencil from his jacket pocket. The jacket itself he left hanging from the back of the chair where he had parked it.

"Out, I think," Bodie muttered to himself. Dressed warmly in a rich brown polo-neck top and black corduroy trousers, he went to the front of the house. Leaving the door slightly ajar so he could let himself back in, he went through the enclosed porch onto the front step.

For the better part of an hour and a half, Bodie meticulously examined every inch of the building's exterior, paying especial attention to windows and other sites of entry. He traced all wires and pipes from the point of penetration outward as far as he could follow them. Helping himself to a fold-out ladder, which he spotted leaning against the garden shed at the end of the back garden, Bodie extended his efforts to the upper stories, including the roof and rain guttering.

After thoroughly--and gingerly--going over the entire surface of the roof, even randomly checking individual tiles, Bodie at last made his cautious way to the ground. Under the pretext of properly storing the ladder, Bodie performed a quick search of the garden shed. Satisfied that nothing could have escaped him, Bodie returned to the sunlit path and started back toward the house.

The door to the conservatory opened, and Doyle poked his head out. "You finished snooping about out there?"

"Yep."

"Find anything?"

"Not a sausage."

"Come in, then." As Bodie slipped past him, Doyle remarked, "You left the front door unlatched, y'know. It's Saturday, mate; a mob of Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons could have got in. And you know what they think of people like us."

"A thousand pardons," Bodie muttered, struggling to keep a straight face. "I think it's unlikely they would have waltzed right in, though. The ones I've met have been consistently polite and well-bred."

Doyle pressed his fist to his chest. "Mea culpa. Will it bother you if I follow you about? Could use a bit of a break, if you don't mind."

"'Course not." In fact, Bodie found the prospect pleasing. "It is, after all, your house."

"All right, then; I'll give you the grand tour."

More than happy to let Doyle precede him, first down the hall and then up the stairs, Bodie intentionally trailed behind, enjoying the view thus presented to him. At the first floor landing, Doyle stretched up to reach a thin piece of cord dangling from the entryway to the loft. He pulled it down and a ladder unfolded, reaching all the way to the floor.

"After you," he said, and this time gestured Bodie ahead of him.

It was dark in the loft, and musty; but floorboards had been laid and electricity installed, and soon there was a low wattage lamp burning that give more than adequate lighting. Small pieces of furniture and several teachests were neatly stacked near the back; clear of the walls, they allowed access to all corners of the room.

"Travel light, don't you," Bodie commented.

"Mum wasn't keen on clutter," Doyle explained, good-naturedly. "It's in the genes."

"Funny, your study isn't this tidy."

Doyle cast him a sidelong look. "I work in the study."

"Ah. Yes, of course."

Responding to Bodie's teasing with a grudging grin, Doyle asked, "So what are you looking for?"

"Anything that doesn't belong," Bodie replied, crouching forward to avoid bashing his head on a rafter. Bent almost double, he began to inspect the seam formed by wall and floor. He followed it all around the perimeter of the room, scrupulously probing at every suspicious gap and hollow, especially around the water tank. "You wouldn't have a torch handy, would you?" he asked, after first ensuring that Doyle was still present; the other man could be remarkably quiet.

"Here." Suspended from a hook on the wall near the loft entry, was a small metal torch. Doyle scooped it into his hand and carried it to Bodie.

"Thanks, mate."

Using the narrow beam to pierce the shadows around the upper reaches of the roof, Bodie spent another ten minutes learning more about Doyle's loft than Doyle himself had ever known. Switching off the torch, he walked over to the teachests. "What's in here?"

Doyle was sitting on the edge of the stair well, legs slowly kicking back and forth over open space. "Some of Mum's things and Grandad's. Few bits and pieces of mine. Have a look, if you want."

"If you're sure?" Bodie waited, hand poised over the canvas cover which protected the nearest teachest.

"You've got permission, remember?" Doyle said, amused. "The whole house, top to bottom, inside and out. There's nothing to hide. Oh, get on with it."

"You're a rare man, Doyle; if you've got nothing to hide." He prodded cursorily into each chest, noting as he went that for all the neatness of the stored articles, everything was coated with a heavy veneer of dust that would have announced the slightest tampering like a blaring klaxon; this dust had lain untouched for several years.

"Guess I'm through up here," he decided. Handing the torch back to Doyle, he lowered himself down the ladder. A few seconds later, Doyle joined him, and between them they closed the hatchway.

From the loft, Bodie proceeded to the upstairs bedrooms. Originally there had been four, but Doyle had remodelled one into his study. Of the back two, one was small and contained a narrow cot, a wardrobe, an occasional table and a small dresser. This room showed little evidence of use. The other back bedroom was considerably larger, and ready for occupation. A comfortable-looking double mattress and bed frame took up a third of the space. Beside it stood a two-drawer dressing table, and against the opposite wall were a long chest of drawers and a tall wardrobe.

Shadowed by his untalkative companion, Bodie checked floorboards, plug points, and rocker switches, going so far as to pull off the cover plates so he could peer behind. He pried at skirting-boards, and wall and door mouldings. There was nothing to be found under the carpet or behind the curtains, but Bodie left nothing to conjecture.

By the time he had concluded his inspection of Doyle's upstairs bathroom, Bodie was convinced that no house could lend itself better to such a thorough going-over. Even the tub was done in a snap, standing unframed on clawed feet below a wide window. The airing cupboard was nicely accessible, and with the aid of another borrowed torch, Bodie was able to see all round the pipes and shelves contained therein.

Doyle's room was the largest of the upstairs bedrooms. Light and airy, it featured a well-sprung double bed. A handsomely stained oak wardrobe took up the better part of one wall. There was a huge chest of drawers on the opposite side of the room, and left and right of the head of the bed were small bedside tables with lamps. In here the floor was carpeted, but blessedly did not extend to the walls, or beneath the bed. Bodie repeated his routine, scarcely conscious now of Doyle's watchful presence.

It was backbreaking work, for much of it was conducted folded over, or on hands and knees. As, sometime later, Bodie straightened from his perusal of the skirting-board behind the computer desk in the study, Doyle finally broke his self-imposed silence.

"D'you have any idea what time it's getting to be, mate?"

Rolling his shoulders forward and back to ease the strain, Bodie shot a look at his watch. "Time flies--and all that."

"Well, I'm for a sandwich. Be down in fifteen minutes if you want one, too."

"Right."

Despite the fact that Doyle had been an unobtrusive companion for the better part of the morning, Bodie was made highly aware of his absence. But he slogged on, expending his greatest effort in the study, for it was the most disordered room he'd so far encountered. For the sake of thoroughness, Bodie felt compelled to check behind and under every piece of furniture, as well as skirtings, electrical outlet cover plates, lighting fixtures, and the great bookcase that commanded one wall. He even went through each book, for they made excellent hiding places for small electronic devices.

When, with a heavy sigh, he returned the last volume to the lowest shelf, Bodie heard a low chortle from the doorway, and twisted round on hands and knees to find Doyle leaning against the jamb, smiling at him.

"You're a persistent bugger, I'll give you that," he pronounced.

"How kind," Bodie muttered. He climbed to his feet, rubbing the small of his back.

"Take a break," Doyle urged. "Fresh tea and cheese sandwiches," he threw in seductively.

"Oh, yes, please," Bodie surrendered. "You've got a fantastic house here, Doyle--but it's bloody big."

Tripping down the stairs in front of him, Doyle tossed over his shoulder, "One of its charms."

"Writing gay novels must pay well, then?" Bodie asked, following at a more sedate pace.

"Not likely. Actually, Mum had a secret hoard. Set me up quite nicely, so long as I don't go mad with it."

"Nice," Bodie murmured. He paused in the kitchen long enough to rinse off his hands, while Doyle reached deep inside the refrigerator, searching for something.

In the dining room, the table was prepared with one place setting; Bodie happily fell into the chair apparently left out for him. A plate was heaped high with sandwiches, each one thickly filled with cheese and pickles. As Bodie lifted one up between both hands Doyle joined him, placing a jar of brinjal chutney at his elbow.

"Great," Bodie grunted his approval. He was prompt in making use of the offering, slathering spicy aubergine spread inside the top piece of bread. In a state bordering bliss, he took a huge bite and began to chew industriously.

"You done in the study?" Doyle asked.

"Hm hm."

"I'll take that for 'yes.' If you need me, that's where I'll be." Doyle waved once and was on his way.

"Thanks for the food, mate," Bodie called after him. It occurred to him as he sat there filling the empty spot in his stomach, that this should be a most curious situation to find oneself in; yet, Doyle seemed not the least bit distressed. In fact, there was an air of serenity about him that Bodie had not previously observed in their short acquaintance.

A problem shared is a problem halved.

That was likely part of Doyle's improved state of mind; but Bodie thought credit must be given to his incredible resilience and stamina. Ray Doyle, he decided, was someone well worth knowing.





It was late in the afternoon before Bodie had completed his search of the house, the grounds, garden shed and garage. He now had first-hand knowledge of every room in Ray Doyle's house, from the loft to the cellar. He had peered into every crack and crevice along the way, with special emphasis given to the lounge and the part of the cellar that was situated below it.

The latter was nothing more than a storage area, where larger pieces of furniture, which had fallen into disfavor, had come to reside. Massive wardrobes and an old chesterfield ranged against the wall that faced the front of the house, along with two china cupboards, a displaced dining suite, and a couple of old overstuffed chairs. Here, too, electricity had been installed, so Bodie had been able to carry on his investigation with a minimum of inconvenience. With the cellar as dusty as the loft overhead, Bodie could tell right away that nothing here had been disturbed in a long time, either.

Lastly, Bodie had done his rounds in the garage which bordered the property line just beyond the back garden. Doyle's lustrous green Mercedes was housed within, along with a few tools hanging on the walls, and very little else. Unlike some people, Doyle did not seem inclined to store everything for the coming millennium. For that, Bodie was most grateful.

At a few minutes past four, Bodie returned to the house via the conservatory, and found Doyle in the kitchen patiently waiting while the tea steeped.

The curly head came up at Bodie's arrival, a pleasant expression greeting him. "So, what have you found?"

"Nothing. The place appears to be completely clean--in more ways than one."

"That's good, isn't it?"

"Depends," Bodie equivocated. "Whatever's been causing your disturbances does not appear to be of human origin, in any case."

"See what you mean," Doyle said, his brow furrowing. Stepping forward in stockinged feet, he poured tea into two mugs and gestured at Bodie to make free with the sugar and milk. "Biscuits in the cupboard by your head, if you want some."

"I know," Bodie said, with a crooked grin.

"Oh--of course. You'll have seen it all, won't you. The kind of pants I favor, the drawer where I keep the condoms, the whips and chains--."

Bodie just managed to swallow before he began to laugh. "The whips and chains, I missed."

"And the condoms?" There was a glint of faintly malicious humor in Doyle's wide-set green eyes.

"Those, I saw. Nice colors. And spiked, too."

It was Doyle's turn to nearly choke. "Liar."

Bodie helped himself to the tin of biscuits. Doyle declined with a shake of his head when offered some.

"Now what?" Doyle asked.

"If you're ready, it's time to spill your guts."

Doyle rolled his eyes. "Not much to spill, mate. But let me go up and shut off the computer before we begin. I'll meet you in the lounge in just a tick." Leaving his tea on the sideboard, Doyle bounded out of the room.

Enjoying the fluid grace of the other man's departure, Bodie balanced the two mugs and the teapot on the large, square biscuit tin and adeptly carried all into the lounge. Quite familiar with the layout of the room now, Bodie glanced about, remembering the curious sensations he had suffered in this very room the night before.

The spring sun slanted in through the front window, filtered through lace curtains, casting its light over the appealingly decorated room. The walls were painted a pale hue of green, a color reflected in the floral pattern of the fabric covering the sofa and a large upholstered chair. The rug under the rosewood coffee table was old but well cared for, its shades of deep brown and rust still vibrant enough to add warmth to the room. Placing the pot on a platter apparently kept there for that purpose, Bodie found coasters for the mugs and arranged them on the table. Then he sat back, letting his mind idle, simply content to be here.

Hard to believe this house could be the repository of paranormal phenomena.

There was a soft sound, and Bodie bestirred himself enough to unshutter his eyelids. Doyle crouched a few feet away, on the other side of the coffee table, caught in the act of retrieving his mug.

"Go ahead and have a kip if you like," he told Bodie.

Looking down into the earnest face, Bodie realized that Doyle's attraction extended far beyond his wholly appealing exterior: he was a generous, good-hearted human being, as well. "I'm all right," he assured him quietly.

For a long moment they gazed at each other, charting the contours and shapes of faces, eyes, noses and mouths that made them characteristically unique. Suddenly aware of what he was doing, Bodie essayed a tenuous smile. "It may be a bit difficult keeping my mind on the job, mate," he said candidly.

That seemed to be the right thing to say, for Doyle relaxed back onto his heels, a broad grin baring his teeth. "Wait till nine; I'll be the last thing on your mind then." Snaking a narrow hand into the tin of biscuits, Doyle said briskly, "I brought your notepad and pencil out from the dining room; they're on the table next to your tea."

"Thanks. Might as well get started, then," Bodie said, readily matching Doyle's businesslike manner.





"So, you were only four or five months old when your old man did a bunk?" Bodie asked, pencil hovering over the surface of his notepad.

Seated cross-legged on the floor on the other side of the coffee table, Doyle closed one eye in concentration. "Hm. He left in August--so I'd've been four months."

Doing a swift, silent calculation, Bodie remarked, "Got a birthday coming up, have you?"

"Sunday week."

"I'll have to remember that," Bodie murmured. "You never heard from him--your dad, I mean?"

"Nope. Guess he wasn't interested. For all I know he's dead."

"Did your mum ever talk about him?"

"Not much," Doyle said. The topic of his father not only did not appear to disturb him, it seemed hardly to interest him at all. "Went through a phase at school when the other kids teased me about it; children can be right little beggars. When I asked Mum about him, she said he had arranged to visit someone he knew in Basingstoke and just never came home. She rang the police, and they looked into it. She said they eventually decided he'd moved on."

"Did she seem angry about that?"

Doyle shook his head. "By the time she saw fit to tell me, ten years had passed. She wasn't bitter at all, come to think of it. Maybe she felt she was better off without him."

"You mentioned to me a day or so ago that your mum and grandad were living here when you were born. So was this your grandad's house?"

Finishing the remains of his tea, Doyle set the mug on the coffee table and loosely clasped his hands together in his lap. "Grandad bought the place in 1934. Mum would've been in her middle teens by then."

"She must have been very old when she had you," Bodie commented.

"Practically menopausal," Doyle agreed, waggling his brows. "Grandad moved here to be nearer his doctor; had a weak ticker. Mum took care of him from the time she was young."

"And your gran?"

"Died when she was twenty-four; end of the Great War. Caught flu when Mum was only three."

"How'd your grandad manage to raise your mother?"

"According to Mum, Grandad's sister Maggie cared for her and Grandad until Mum was fourteen. Maggie was considerably older than Grandad, though, and eventually went into a home. After that Mum took over."

"Caring for your grandad, y'mean?"

"Yeah." Something flared in Doyle's face. "Oh!" He studied his joined fingers with a look of consternation. "Nah, that's silly."

"What?" Bodie prodded.

Spreading his hands wide, Doyle said, "Just a thought. Crazy, though. My grandad--well, he was involved with the Spiritualism Movement."

Bodie rested the notepad on his knees and leaned forward. "Carry on."

"That wouldn't have anything to do with me, Bodie; my grandad died before I was born."

"Why on earth did he get involved with that lot? Ah--your gran, right?"

"Right. Maggie used to talk to Mum about it. She strongly disapproved. Grandad didn't have time for either of them, as he was too wrapped up in trying to contact his wife via some medium or other--so she used to keep company with Mum; told her things she probably oughtn't to."

Forehead wrinkled, Bodie said, "The Spiritualism Movement peaked about the turn of the century--although it did continue to have supporters into the thirties and early forties."

"Well, my grandad didn't peak until 1959. He was still deep in it when he died; so Mum said."

Thoughtfully watching Doyle's face, Bodie said, "Didn't you say some of those teachests contain your grandad's things?"

"At least two of 'em do. Full of books, diaries, letters. Most of that stuff's probably falling apart by now; but you're welcome to dig in." Doyle laid his palms on the carpet behind him and leaned back. "D'you seriously think there might be a connection?"

"It is unlikely," Bodie agreed. "And you've already said that nothing unusual has ever happened in the house before. Not in your memory, anyway. Oh, I'll want to see the architectural plans, by the way. Can you get them for me?"

"Easily. I'll ring the lawyer on Monday. Should have them in a day or two."

"Ray?"

Doyle stopped wiggling his toes backwards and forwards and raised his head questioningly. "Hm?"

"Are you hungry yet? It's almost seven, and I'm starving."

"Poor lad. Yes, all right." Doyle stood up, surging high on his toe-tips, stretching his arms ceilingward, then coming down flat on his feet, hands on hips. "So what are you in the mood for? I've got fish, fowl--"

"I'd rather go out," Bodie declared.

Doyle considered this for a moment. "Yeah, good idea. Getting a full night's rest is rather addicting, y'know."

"Don't count on getting to bed too early, though, old son," Bodie warned him, shoving off from the sofa. "I still have a load of questions to ask you."

"Can't we do that tomorrow?" Doyle asked, beleaguered.

"Nope. I've got other plans for tomorrow."

In the process of collecting empty tea mugs and assorted clutter, Doyle hesitated. "Bodie, I have galleys that need proofing and a ruddy novel I have to turn in next week. I--"

"You can work on it tomorrow afternoon. Once I know which way to go, I can work on my own, and I'll be out of your hair, okay?"

Unconvinced, Doyle contented himself with a skeptical moue, and strode silently to the kitchen.





"They're all buried in Northchapel," Doyle said, resting the rim of his wine glass against his lips. "Granddad and Gran in one plot; Mum in the other. There's even space for me with Mum, if I like."

"Something to look forward to," Bodie commented dryly. He glanced about the restaurant and sipped his own drink. "Tell me about your Mum's death. You said she had a stroke in--what--'83?"

"1982. She had two, actually. The first one landed her in hospital with the usual side-effects: paralysis all down one side, her speech practically ruined. Her mind tended to wander after they'd managed to stabilize her. Before she could recover to any great extent, however, she had another stroke. That one finished her off."

"Were you with her when she died?" Bodie asked.

"No. It happened early in the morning. I'd last seen her the night before. Thought she was doing better; that was the most active she'd been since before the stroke. She kept trying to tell me something that night, but all I could make out was 'under the door,' or something like that."

"Under the door in the hospital--or her room at home?" Bodie wondered.

Gazing moodily into lambent fluid, Doyle said, "Don't know. The ward sister finally asked me to leave, so Mum would quiet down. The next morning they rang me to say she had died in her sleep. Another stroke, a massive one."

"You were twenty-two," Bodie mused. "Ready for freedom, I imagine."

"Mum was a good old girl," Doyle said defensively. "She didn't cramp my style, if that's what you mean. In fact, I still miss her sometimes."

Bodie opened his mouth to ask another question, then chose to wait as their server appeared with their meals. Distracted by the predictably enthusiastic response of his stomach to the arrival of his dinner, Bodie almost forgot what the question was.

Moving his fork into position, he remembered. "You had the house remodelled after she died, didn't you?"

"Once the estate was settled, yes. Mum'd never said anything about her investments, but somewhere along the way she'd put together a bundle of 'em, and they were all in my name. Out of the blue, I was a wealthy bloke. Quit my job and took up writing full time. I toyed with the idea of selling the house; that's when I had it redone, to modernize it a bit. As you say, it is a bloody big house."

"What changed your mind?"

"Hated to leave it. Knew I couldn't match its worth anywhere else; and it was paid for. Seemed silly not to keep it."

Bodie forked steaming rice into his mouth, then winced as the heat assaulted tender linings. Eyes watering, he sucked air over his tongue until he could swallow.

"Are you all right?" Doyle asked, fork suspended between plate and lips.

"No." With a grimace of pain, Bodie tried to put out the fire with wine. "What's the matter; can't bear to see a grown man cry?"

"Only when it's from self-induced burns. Better?"

Bodie patted at the corners of his eyes and helped himself to another drink from his glass. "I'll be fine, soon as I learn how to eat without injuring myself." Abruptly changing the subject, he asked, "Did your mum know about you?"

That spurred a tiny, mocking smile. "Y'mean, me being 'that way inclined?'"

"Presuming you have no other deep, dark secrets," Bodie conceded, cautiously blowing on his food before delivering it to his mouth this time.

"She never came right out and asked; no. But I'm sure she knew," Doyle replied.

"Why?"

"When I was sixteen she sat me down and told me that my life was my own, and it was important that I respect it; that I must never allow any sexual partner to abuse me or to take advantage of me; that I must take responsibility for my own well-being; that certain sexual acts could be extremely detrimental to my health; and that in order to take care of myself I should be as strong as I could be. And then she said that she loved me and would always love me."

Grinning at the picture of the young Doyle--all curls, eyes and long legs--undergoing such a lecture, Bodie quipped, "Didn't you ask her to explain what she was on about?"

"Don't be a berk. I followed her advice, of course. Started working out, running, building up my endurance. Read everything I could on gay sex and the sorts of problems gays encounter. By the time I started experimenting, I knew exactly what I would or would not allow; and I've always stuck by that."

"And how old were you?" Bodie questioned. "When you started experimenting?"

"Eighteen."

"You've had serious relationships?"

For a long moment, Doyle stared at him measuringly. "Only a couple. In each instance it was the other guy who broke things off. So, if you're looking for a spurned lover in my background, you're not going to find it."

"How long since the last one?"

"This is pertinent, isn't it?" Doyle asked.

Chagrined, Bodie felt his cheeks color. "It is."

Grinning sardonically, Doyle said, "About three years ago."

Expression determinedly neutral, Bodie said, "Any occasional partners since then?"

"Half a dozen," Doyle replied.

"And how long--"

"Since the last one? Six weeks ago, or thereabouts."

"What about cottaging?"

Doyle's answer was bitingly prompt. "No."

Gingerly, Bodie persevered, "Do you--well, y'know--give yourself a little hand-relief in between, then?"

Doyle smothered a gurgle of laughter. "I can't believe you're sitting there asking me these bloody personal questions in that priggish tone of voice. Yes, of course, I do. Don't you?"

Face flushed, Bodie took a deep breath. "And it satisfies you?"

Green eyes raking over Bodie's face, Doyle said sultrily, "I try to give myself a good time, yes."

Bodie gave up; he dropped his head into his hands and began to laugh helplessly. "Are you quite through?" he asked when he had himself under control again.

"Think I should be asking you that, don't you?" Doyle shot back.

"Behave, Doyle. This is a scientific inquiry."

"Oh. Do pardon me."

Keeping his face straight with an effort, Bodie said, "One last question, and I'll let you finish your dinner in peace."

Doyle leaned forward, elbows braced on the table, his face cupped in both hands. "Yes?" he simpered.

Lower lip twitching, Bodie said sternly, "D'you know anything about your father's background?"

Abandoning the siren pose, Doyle muttered, "Damn, and here I thought you'd be asking about my bowel habits next." After brief consideration, he said, "No, I really don't. Mum said she never knew much about him, either. He was a few years younger; bit of a layabout was the impression I had, though she never came right out and said so. And I never heard any mention of family; y'know, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, from his side."

"Did he leave anything behind when he disappeared?"

"Bloody little. There was a box of clothing I found when I went through the things in the loft. Chucked the lot out; don't know why Mum bothered to save 'em."

"Any pictures of him?"

"Only this," Doyle said, reeling the gold neck chain Bodie had noticed before out of his shirt. Placing the locket in his hand, he pried it open with a thumbnail. Bending forward again, he stretched the chain to its full length so Bodie could make out the tiny faces embedded in the two golden leaves.

"Have you always worn this?" Bodie wondered, laying a finger behind the locket to adjust its angle.

"Nah. It was Mum's. She'd let me play with it when I was small. Came across it again a while ago. Just-- thought it'd be nice to wear."

Elizabeth and Timothy Doyle stared out of well preserved black and white photos. There was something of the younger Doyle discernible in both parents, but Bodie decided he resembled his mother most. They shared the same roundness of face, full mouth, and curly hair, although Elizabeth's long locks appeared to be a lighter color. From Timothy Doyle, Ray had got the uncommon shape of his eyes, and straight nose. Luckily he had missed out on the shrewd expression and haughty tilt of head. Timothy Doyle had been a handsome man, who, even in a thirty year old picture, exuded smug confidence in his attractiveness.

"In all those years, your mum never remarried," Bodie commented, releasing the locket to Doyle's hand.

"Never went out with another bloke that I know of." Doyle opened the collar of his shirt and shook the chain back into place.

"Must've caused a stir back then; y'know, a woman her age getting married and turning up pregnant soon after." Doyle had already told Bodie that his parents had been together only a year in all before his father had gone away.

"Expect it did. Might have been one reason Mum was so adamant that I look after myself when I started going out."

Bodie dedicated himself to his meal for a few minutes, silently observing that Doyle had eaten well, without encouragement, for the first time since he'd met him. After washing the last bite down with the remains of his wine, Bodie asked, "How would you characterize your childhood, Doyle? Happy, sad?"

Doyle laid his fork down and wiped his mouth with his serviette. "Bit of both, I reckon. Overall? Not unhappy."

"And now that you're an adult?"

"Better now, I think. I'm doing what I want to do; and I'm fairly successful at it."

"Is it enough?"

Doyle reflected ruefully, "It's more than most ever have. I'm not complaining." Raising his glass to his mouth, he studied Bodie curiously. "Do I get to ask you anything I like now?"

"You can ask," Bodie replied flippantly.

"Supposing you find a cure for what ails me-- What will I owe you?"

Bodie was tempted to state some ridiculous demand--A night in bed with me--but chose to say instead, "I'll let you know at the time, eh?"

His eyes dark with interest, Doyle accepted that with a slight nod.




Day Six - Sunday

Just after noon the following day, Bodie found an empty space to park his car on Aylward Road. The weather continued in its unlikely trend of warm, clear mornings and hazy, increasingly cloudy nights. Not a hint of moisture had fallen over the last seventy-two hours, however; the glorious days made one believe, misleadingly, that summer was putting in an early appearance.

Bodie had slept in, after staying up far into the previous night. Following dinner, he and Doyle had taken in a film, a piece of heterosexual fluff that both had enjoyed more for the leading actors than for any purported plot. They had hunted up a late-night cafe afterward and dawdled over coffee before starting back to Merton Park.

In the comparative luxury of Doyle's car, Bodie had been happy to sit back in his very comfortable seat and watch Doyle drive. There was an innate gracefulness about the other man that some might have described as effeminate. More in tune with the grey areas of human sexuality, Bodie was not among them. He simply accepted Doyle as he was, a unique combination of aggression and placidity, softness and unbending hardness. It intrigued Bodie that he could not predict which of those attributes would come to the fore in Doyle's personality at any given moment.

And, he had to admit, Doyle was very appealing to the eyes. Bodie loved to watch the fluid ripple of taut forearm musculature as Doyle shifted from one gear to the next; the pull of denim straining over hard thighs as he worked the clutch and brake; the deft, abbreviated movements of long, narrow hands and fingers as they guided the steering wheel left or right.

For the rest of the night, they had kept their conversation on a desultory level, wandering from topic to topic. Although they had skirted specifically personal disclosures, they had revealed much about themselves in their comments regarding the various subjects they had traversed.

Only after they had pulled into the garage at the end of Doyle's back garden, had Bodie breached their unspoken boundaries to ask Doyle a fairly intimate question: How had he come by his chipped tooth and battered cheekbone?

Climbing out of the car, Doyle had unhesitatingly replied, "Happened when I was twenty. Bloke wanted more than I was willing to give."

Shaken by the degree of reaction that had boiled up inside him on Doyle's behalf, Bodie had not attempted an immediate comment. "And what about him--the other bloke?" he had managed, at last.

Smiling softly to himself, Doyle had brought to mind a predator who has just experienced a very satisfying kill. "Broke his arm, smashed his nose, and left a few of his teeth on the pavement."

"Before or after he shattered your cheekbone?"

"He didn't shatter it, Bodie," Doyle had replied. His healthy laughter had ruffled the late-night stillness. "The only damage he did to me was this." A fingertip had prodded at the uneven edge of his left front tooth. "This--" The same finger had slowly traced over the silicone prosthesis implanted below his right eye, "occurred when I stumbled and bashed my face against a brick wall trying to get away before the lads from the Met could arrive."

"And did you?"

"'Course not," Doyle had said scornfully, lifting his eyes heavenward. He had led the way to the door which opened onto the back garden. "Mum fetched me from hospital a week later; she even somehow saw to it that no charges were filed against me."

"However did she pull that off?"

"The other bloke disappeared. Heard about him later, through a mutual acquaintance."

As Bodie had followed Doyle down the unlit path toward the conservatory, he had asked, "Does it ever bother you; the cheekbone?"

"Aches when the wind blows cold." Doyle had stopped a few feet away from the house, gazing up at the first floor curtains overlooking the garden. "And it's been known to put off the occasional bedmate because it feels a bit strange."

Bodie had tilted his head back to see what Doyle was looking at. One of the lace curtain panels was moving, as if shifted by a hand or a breath of air. Glancing down at his wristwatch, he had noted the time: 12:59 am. Standing next to Doyle in the darkened garden, Bodie had waited with pent breath, watching the curtain panel until it had become completely motionless.

"Show's over for tonight, folks," Doyle had murmured, and continued toward the door.

Under the pretext of wanting a coffee before heading for home, Bodie had accompanied Doyle inside. While Doyle had seen to the kettle, Bodie had slipped upstairs to make a quick inspection of all the rooms; he had not rejoined Doyle in the kitchen until he had checked through the entire house.

Other than a rapidly dissipating scent of cologne, there had been nothing in the house to betray a foreign presence.

In the kitchen, Doyle had been leaning against the sink-counter, and upon Bodie's arrival had gestured to the mug waiting for him. Reading Bodie's intense expression accurately, Doyle had asserted lightly, "You get used to it after a while."

Bodie had drunk his coffee, eschewing discourse. A few minutes later he had rinsed out his mug and told Doyle good night, leaving him in the glassed-in front porch. During the drive to Sutton, it had not been the image of a lace curtain twisting eerily in a nonexistent breeze that had consumed his thoughts; rather it had been the ambition of exploring a misshapen cheekbone and a chipped tooth. Arriving home without mishap, Bodie had distractedly prepared for bed, wondering how Doyle's former lovers could have chosen to leave him--and what it would be like to run the tip of his tongue under the roughened edge of that beguiling, broken tooth.





Pocketing his keys, Bodie came up to the iron gate. Hunched over to reach the latch, a spot of bright color half hidden by the pyracantha shrub caught his eye. Soon he made out a wine red shirt tucked into denim.

"Doyle?" he called softly, pushing his way into the garden.

"Is that you, Bodie?" Bodie was presented with the tantalising view of Doyle's jeans-clad derriere backing out from under the treacherous fingers of the thorny bush, brandishing a pair of secateurs in one gloved hand. Rocking back onto his heels, he quickly balanced himself, eyes on Bodie's face the whole time. "Was just going to ring you in a few minutes."

"Why?" Bodie asked, vaguely aware that he was smiling broadly in response to Doyle's uncomplicated grin of greeting.

"Make sure you got home all right last night."

"Thought you'd want a lie-in," Bodie confessed. "You were still in bed when I got here yesterday."

"Been up since six," Doyle informed him smugly.

"Not for any--"

"Nah, nothing woke me. Was trying to catch up. Told you, I have a couple of deadlines to meet by next week."

Bodie pointed at the gardening tool in Doyle's hand. "So what're you doing out here playing in the dirt, then?"

"Needed a break. Have you eaten yet?"

"Nope. Thought we might--"

"Eat here, I hope. I'm really not all that keen on eating out, Bodie." He scrambled to his feet. "Would you mind if I cobbled together something, instead?"

"Would I mind! Just don't want to impose, mate."

"That's settled, then. Let me gather this lot up and--"

"No. Pass me the gloves and I'll do it. You want everything hauled to the skip in the back?"

"Yes, please." Doyle at once handed the gloves over to Bodie, along with the pruners. "There's a sack for cuttings behind the shrub."

Bodie nodded and shooed the other man away. It took only a few minutes to pick up the short lengths of pyracantha that lay scattered at the base of the plant. Pricking himself no more than three times, Bodie decided that the good deed outweighed the damage. With the bundle of leavings--now greatly vilified--he went into the house, pretending to doff a cap as he passed Doyle in the kitchen.

"You're lucky I'm the tolerant type," Doyle upbraided him. "That stuff doesn't belong in the house, y'know."

"Sorry, guv. I wiped me feet and I made sure nothing fell out of--"

"Out with you, lout!" Doyle gave a tolerant sigh.

Appreciatively sniffing the unmistakable odors of bacon frying, Bodie was prompt to comply. The sun shone down warmly on him as he took his burden to the skip behind the fence. The lawn showed signs of recent mowing and edging; Doyle had been very productive in his brief "break."

"Load of work to keep this place up, sunshine," he remarked upon re-entering the kitchen. Washing his hands at the sink, he closed his eyes and revelled in the smell of freshly made bacon and egg sandwiches.

"It's okay when I have the time," Doyle said, ferrying two plates into the dining room. "Bring the tea, will you. Mugs, etc., are out here."

"Right."

Companionably working his way through the two huge sandwiches Doyle had prepared for him, Bodie felt as though he hadn't a care in the world; and if he did, he couldn't be bothered to fret over them just now.

Something of his serenity must have communicated itself to Doyle, for he asked, "Did you forget to eat breakfast?"

Attending to his tea, Bodie said, "No, do I look thinner?"

"Not at all. But you are acting awfully damned pleased about a couple of bacon sarnies, that's all."

"Don't talk yourself down; they're good bacon sarnies." He eyed Doyle closely. "How'd you get on last night?"

"Went right to bed." His shoulders described a slight shrug. "Dreamt a bit; but no more than usual."

"The same kinds of dreams?"

"Every night. Woke up a couple of times, but went right back to sleep."

"The dreams are no more intense than they've ever been, then?"

"Not that I can tell. I don't like them," he elucidated. "But I can handle that better than--the other."

Swirling his mug between his hands, Bodie announced, "I'd like to take a drive today, but I need you to go with me."

"Bodie, I--"

"Won't take long," Bodie argued, anticipating Doyle's resistance. "Just down to Northchapel and back. Then I want to get your grandad's things out of the loft. After that you can pretend I'm not here."

"Could never pretend that," Doyle said with certainty. "Why Northchapel?"

"The churchyard. Want to see where the family's buried. Any objections?"

Doyle gave him a less than pleased expression. "Except for neglecting my work, none."

"Good."





They struck out for Northchapel within the hour. Doyle proclaimed that he would enjoy doing the driving, and as the Mercedes was a considerably better road car than the Cavalier, Bodie was in total agreement. Not surprisingly, the sunny weather brought forth other travelers like worms onto the pavement, and the A24 was fairly slow going until they had passed the junction with the M25. The traffic continued to thin once they had gone round Guildford and picked up the next leg of their journey.

Relaxed by Doyle's competent driving and the sonorous tones of the music issuing from the speakers, Bodie allowed himself to be lulled into a state approaching slumber. He startled very slightly when Doyle broke the silence.

"Tell me what you think is going on."

The question brought Bodie's eyes open with a start. Glancing about to gauge their whereabouts, he scrubbed at his face pensively. "Don't know if I can."

"Why not?" Doyle slowed the car as they entered the village of Milford. "You must have some idea."

"Unfortunately, I have too many ideas," Bodie said sourly.

"Meaning?"

"Remember what I told you about the interpretive aspects of the paranormal? Well, it's especially applicable in this case."

"You're saying you can't pinpoint what sort of paranormal activity is taking place?"

"Basically, yes. There are indications of(for lack of a better phrase(demon influence: your feelings of something trying to get into your head, the fact that you have been given a name to associate with a specific demon--"

"Gressil? That's a specific demon?"

"Finally thought to look it up this morning. Old Gressil was a member of the First Hierarchy of the angelic court, the third in the order of Thrones, and known for tempting men with impurity and uncleanness."

Stopped by traffic lights, Doyle slowly took his gaze off the road and turned to stare at Bodie.

"Seriously," Bodie said, answering the other man's unspoken question. "He even has his very own adversary; bloke named Bernard--whoever that is. Ray--the light's changed."

Doyle shifted into first like an automaton, guiding the car left onto Cherry Tree Road, accelerating and steering like a well-oiled machine. "Could I have seen that name?" he asked, falteringly.

"Of course you could," Bodie said placatingly. "Might have seen it in passing in some library--or maybe a bookstore; and for some reason or other it stuck in one tiny little brain cell waiting for the right moment to spring into the spotlight."

Bright green eyes stabbed at him malevolently. "Don't joke about this, Bodie."

"Then don't take it so bloody seriously. Yes, it's a real name for a demon some idiot priest made up way back in the 1600's. That doesn't mean such a thing exists. And anyway, I told you Gressil's only one aspect of all this."

Doyle concentrated on entering the roundabout that gave way to the Petworth Road. "What else?"

"The other likely explanation is poltergeist activity. While poltergeists are said to be nothing more than irritating spectral pranksters, they can also be held responsible for altering perceptions of normal, everyday events and things--and so cause individuals to imagine that far more aggravating influences--like demons--may be involved. Poltergeists are renowned for causing physical phenomenon; such as, independent movement of objects, and noises and odors emanating apparently from nowhere."

The car picked up speed as they headed south toward Northchapel. His attention superficially on the soft green scenery surrounding them, Bodie was actually intensely focussed on his companion.

"Anything else?" Doyle asked crisply.

"The least likely possibility, in my opinion, is that this is a haunting. But there are elements present that could support an argument for treating your situation as such."

"For example?"

"The obvious ones, really: things going bump in the night; the awareness of another's presence, good or evil; most especially, the fact that your manifestations occur at a specific time, repetitively."

Doyle's mouth twisted into a humorless smile. "So--I'm either bedeviled by demons, poltergeists or ghosts. And which d'you think is the likely candidate, Bodie? In your expert opinion?"

Not liking the brittle edge to Doyle's voice, Bodie said blithely, "Told you before: I don't believe any of that rubbish."

"Humor me," Doyle said sharply. "If this were caused by supernatural powers, which would describe my circumstances most closely?"

"It doesn't apply, Ray," Bodie contended. "That's like asking if this car were purple, what color should the driver be. Logic does not pertain to the supernatural."

Doyle's hands tightened about the steering wheel. "Bodie." His voice was low and harsh. "Don't treat me like a moron, okay? We're playing at semantics: supernatural or paranormal phenomena, they are still phenomena. You say we don't understand how the paranormal functions and have historically created the 'supernatural' and the rules that govern it, to make it comprehensible. Maybe there's a reason for that; maybe sometimes the 'rules' of the supernatural work."

Impressed by Doyle's quick intellect even while he found it unnecessarily self-indulgent, Bodie said evenly, "Poltergeist activity."

"What?" Doyle asked blankly.

"I'd say you were suffering from poltergeist activity."

"Why?"

"It's more all-inclusive of the various phenomena you've experienced--including one notable feature I haven't mentioned."

"And that is?"

"Poltergeists are usually associated with individuals who are sexually immature or dysfunctional."

Doyle's brows climbed toward his curls. "What the hell has that got to do with me?"

"You wanted the supernatural, you've got the supernatural," Bodie answered unsympathetically. "Told me yourself you haven't got a steady lover; that your last contact was six weeks ago. You don't even do the cottages."

"That's bloody thin, mate," Doyle bit back, eyes narrowed to slits. "There're a lot of blokes who don't stoop to cottaging to get their end away."

"You don't approve?" Bodie asked.

"And I don't disapprove," Doyle snapped. "Whorehouses for straights, the lavs for gays; some of us would rather get it elsewhere, that's all."

"But often enough?" Bodie asked silkily.

Doyle's mouth compressed into a thin, angry line. "Maybe not. But I refuse to be just another faceless fuck. You can keep your cottages, Bodie. If that makes me a 'sexually dysfunctional individual,' then that's what I'll remain."

"Even if your sexual difficulties are a factor of poltergeist activity?"

Doyle slanted a long, searching look Bodie's way. "Are you suggesting that if I go out and get myself fucked, all this noise and bother will go away--" he clicked his fingers loudly, "--just like that?"

"Maybe," Bodie said, pleased with the neutral tone of his voice. "And maybe not. There are no hard and fast rules when dealing with the paranormal, remember?"

"So, you're not offering your services, I take it?" Doyle asked tauntingly.

Very softly, very intensely, Bodie said, "Be careful, Ray. I'm not easy, and I come with strings."

Doyle curled his lip. "Sounds kinky: 'coming with strings.' Maybe I can work that into one of my books."

"From what I've seen of your novels," Bodie shot back, "you don't require any instruction from me."

Shifting into a lower gear, Doyle signalled a left turn. "But I could always use your knowledge of cottaging, I suppose," he said cuttingly.

The car rolled to a stop a few yards away from the driveway to a churchyard. With a flick of the wrist, Doyle killed the engine; they had arrived in Northchapel.

"Can't help you there," Bodie said wearily.

"No?"

"No. I've never done the lavs," he told Doyle. "I think they're counter-productive."

"Why would you think that?"

Ignoring Doyle's sarcasm, Bodie explained, "It's easy to proclaim yourself sexually independent--y'know, gays aren't straights, so we don't need to live by outdated, straight mores: romance, love, and marriage. It's easy to go that route because we aren't offered the option. If we didn't have the cottages, the clubs, the discos, maybe we'd channel all that sexual energy into something positive."

Eyes riveted on Bodie's face, his anger supplanted by unwilling fascination, Doyle ventured, "Romance, love, and marriage?"

"Yes," Bodie said simply. He opened the car door and stepped onto the gravel verge. Hands shoved deeply into his pockets, he studied the old stone church and the great metal gate which presently stood invitingly open.

As Doyle came round beside him, Bodie asked, "Will you show me where they're buried?"

"Of course." The long, denim-encased legs ate up the distance between the road and the end of the drive at the back of the church. Bodie followed behind, noting the tense lines of Doyle's shoulders and back. The short, crunching sounds of Doyle's bootheels digging through the gravel finally gave way to soft thuds when they reached the grassy knolls of the churchyard proper.

Headstoned graves from centuries past mingled with those of a more recent era. Tall horse chestnuts, as yet unleaved, promised shade in the months to come. Its fruit, the characteristically dark brown conkers, littered the deep lawn, crackling underfoot as they were pressed into the yielding earth.

Bodie joined Doyle at a pair of graves far distant from the church itself, under the spreading arms of one of the tallest chestnuts. A large, well-weathered stone bore the names and dates which recorded the lives of Doyle's grandparents. Elizabeth Lulham had been born in 1894 and had died in 1918. Her husband, Raymond Lulham, had lived from 1885 until 1959. The plot next to theirs was unmarked.

Bending nearer, Bodie said, "Is this where your mum is buried?"

"Yes. They asked me to wait for a few years before placing a headstone; takes a while for the ground to settle, y'see. Ordered the stone a long time ago; just haven't got round to having it put up. That's no excuse, though; should've had it done long before this."

Bodie ran his hand, palm down, over the grass covering the woman's grave, working his way slowly up to the top. He found nothing; nor had he expected to.

"Should've brought flowers," Doyle commented, squatting down a few feet from Bodie. He twitched a gangly weed from his grandparents' plot and tossed it aside.

"We will another time."

Doyle's head came up at that; Bodie awkwardly realized what he had said, and the implication that went with it. But Doyle only smiled. "Yeah. By then, she'll have the stone I promised her."

Briefly, Bodie examined the other plot; his luck was no better with this one than he'd had with the other. Brushing his hands on his trousers, he stood up. Doyle remained where he was.

"I'll wait for you in the car, Ray," Bodie suggested.

Doyle shook his head. Climbing to his feet, he said, "That's all right; I'm ready to go."





They were back in Merton Park by half past three. Doyle garaged the car, and they walked side-by-side through the back garden to the conservatory door. Conversation on the drive home had been minimal, both men deeply absorbed in his own thoughts.

Just before turning onto Aylward Road, it had penetrated Bodie's mind that Doyle was one of the very rare people with whom he felt comfortable enough to be totally silent. But since so much about the man already appealed to him, he was not at all surprised. He wondered just what Doyle thought of him, however. He remembered too well his own body's reaction to Doyle's taunting suggestion that Bodie should offer his sexual services on Doyle's behalf. If Bodie had thought it would do Doyle any good, he would have pushed him to the ground at the side of the road in Northchapel and taken him there and then. Such action would certainly have gone a long way toward easing Bodie's particular complaint, anyway.

The more time he spent in Doyle's company, the more Bodie recognized that his long-established defenses against emotional encumbrances were beginning to crumble. The circumstances were less than auspicious, however, and he could not hope for Doyle to reciprocate so long as his advances might be perceived as taking unfair advantage. If the remarkable congruence Bodie sensed between them really did exist, then they would have a future together, whether he stated his case or not. He suspected he must be prepared for a lengthy wait.

A light thump upon his shoulder brought Bodie back to the present. "I asked you," Doyle said loudly, "to get the milk out of the fridge."

"Oh, right." Bodie had been standing in front of the appliance, lost in his ruminations, as Doyle prepared tea.

"Is a penny still the going rate?" Doyle asked.

"What, for my thoughts? Not worth it, mate."

"You seemed to find them interesting enough. Biscuits behind yo--" Doyle didn't bother to finish the sentence, for Bodie had already reached into the cupboard for the half-empty tin.

Doyle led the way into the lounge and set the tray on the coffee table. Sitting beside Bodie, he added sugar and milk to one cup and handed it to him. Bodie was quietly warmed by the gesture.

Snagging a biscuit out of the box for himself, Doyle slumped back against the sofa cushions, hooking one long, lanky leg over the other, resting his mug upon his chest.

"What was the purpose of going to Northchapel?" Doyle asked. "What were you looking for?"

"Signs of defilement," Bodie said succinctly.

Doyle closed his eyes. "Sometimes," he murmured tiredly, "I think this is all an incredibly bad joke."

"A joke it isn't. C'mon, mate," Bodie gave the booted foot a shake. "Don't let it get you down now."

Green eyes, lusterless from exhaustion--both physical and emotional--slowly rose to settle on Bodie's face. "Just tell me it'll get better," he whispered.

"Would you believe me, if I say it will?" Bodie asked wryly.

"Yes."

Heart beating fast and hard in his throat, Bodie lifted his other hand to Doyle's face. Lightly cupping the warm, faintly stubbled flesh, Bodie said, "I'll do everything I can, Ray. I promised you, and I meant it."

Dark lashes drifted downward; Doyle turned his cheek into Bodie's palm. Stunned, Bodie set his cup on the coffee table, then took the half-eaten biscuit and cup from Doyle's hands and placed them on the table as well. He slid nearer, taking Doyle carefully into his arms.

The other man made a soft sound, then went willingly into the protective shelter of Bodie's embrace. Head tucked into the curve of Bodie's neck and shoulder, Doyle said hoarsely, "I shouldn't do this."

"Why not?" Bodie asked, hugging Doyle closer. "Everyone needs to be held once in a while. Even bloody-minded, independent blokes like you."

That elicited a chuckle. "Is that how you see me?"

"It's how you want to be seen, isn't it?"

Doyle tilted his head back rebelliously. "That's very perceptive of you. Have you known all along that I'm really made of mush?"

Bodie's hand came up, his wayward fingers intent on tracing the full, beguiling mouth. Retaining control at cost, Bodie redirected the action upward, and plucked teasingly at a droopy curl. "If you are, you wouldn't know it by me."

As Doyle continued to study Bodie's face, his thumb, where it lay upon Bodie's waist, traced small, ticklish patterns. Bodie, acutely aware of the contact, doubted that Doyle had any idea of what it was doing to him. Caught between near-discomfort and searing pleasure, he suffered the dual sensations in silence.

"Were you serious about the poltergeist thing?" Doyle asked enigmatically.

Bodie stared back at him, uncertain how to answer.

"If I asked you to make love to me to test the theory," Doyle clarified gravely, his pupils dilating until they were deep, black wells surrounded by green speculation, "would you?"

A surge of wanting, fierce and hot, rose up inside Bodie, threatening to overrun logic and sanity until the unequal contest left him trembling. "You're a menace, Ray Doyle," Bodie said, in a voice like crushed gravel. Tilting Doyle's head back against his arm, Bodie kissed him, allowing their mouths to meet for no more than seconds, somehow ignoring the invitation made by Doyle's moist, parting lips. He drew away with vast regret, his clamoring desire reflected in Doyle's flushed cheeks and unfocussed gaze. "No," he said softly. "Not to test the theory. I don't believe in poltergeists."

For a moment it was not clear which of several tumbling emotions Doyle would settle upon, though frustration, anger and unwilling humor were all present in force. His sense of the absurd came his rescue, however, and he began to smile rather shakily. "And you're a bastard, William Bodie." His hand dropped from Bodie's waist to his buttocks, and there bestowed a stinging pinch.

"Yow!" Bodie complained.

Rubbing his fingertips firmly over the little hurt, Doyle said, "You'll live." He pulled away, removing all contact, and reached for his lukewarm tea. "D'you want some help bringing down the teachests?"

Unreasonably pleased by Doyle's acceptance and apparent understanding of his rejection, Bodie said, "Sure. Then you can get on with your writing."

"Ta, mate," Doyle said sardonically. "Oh, and that reminds me: I'll be in London most of tomorrow; meeting with my editor."

"I have work myself, so I won't be round till the evening, anyway."

"Shift yourself, then, sunshine. Iain will gut me if I'm not ready to go over the pages I promised."





The two teachests containing Raymond Lulham's effects were filled to the tops and over. Once taken from the loft to the landing, they were more easily maneuverable, although still very heavy. Doyle insisted on helping Bodie carry the unwieldy containers downstairs. They parked them in the lounge by unspoken agreement, then Doyle departed for his study.

Not certain what he had expected to find, Bodie was nevertheless unprepared for the sheer quantity of books, diaries, accounts ledgers, and notebooks containing correspondence and observations accumulated over four decades. In the loft, Doyle had mentioned that when Lulham had died, Doyle's mum had given away his clothing and some of his less controversial books, then had neatly stored away all that remained.

Still somewhat distracted by the memory of Doyle close-held in his arms, Bodie began to sort and sift automatically. Before long, he had created several stacks and piles, organized according to type. Wondering just how useful it would be to go through all of Lulham's things, Bodie nonetheless felt that the old man was their best candidate for a tie-in with the paranormal. Fools who dabbled in supernatural practices occasionally conjured far more than intended; perhaps Lulham had done so as well.

At half six, Doyle appeared long enough to cadge money toward a take-away from an establishment that also conveniently delivered, even on Sundays. Having been increasingly reminded of his own stomach's state of distress, Bodie was more than agreeable.

Forty-five minutes later, he joined Doyle in the kitchen to heap his plate with a chinese meal he did not recognize--nor did he bother to inquire about--and to grab a lager. Doyle disappeared upstairs again, and Bodie returned to the lounge.

For the most part, Lulham's effects were in quite good condition. Pages of the older diaries were yellowed and very fragile and the ink badly faded, but as they dated to the turn of the century, even the earlier items had survived the years very well.

The books were in even better repair, handsomely bound and printed on sturdy paper. The authors and titles were to be expected: Podmore's STUDIES IN PSYCHICAL RESEARCH and THE NEWER SPIRITUALISM, Prices's FIFTY YEARS OF PSYCHICAL RESEARCH: A CRITICAL STUDY; and books by Saltmarsh and Von Schrenck Notzing, amongst others. And there was one by a notable defender of Spiritualism whom modern readers seldom associated with fringe cults; Bodie looked forward to pointing the author out to Doyle. The books he set aside, for they could tell him nothing new; in fact he had already read most of them, some years before.

Grateful to Doyle's grandfather for his organizational meticulousness, Bodie carefully skimmed through the binders in which correspondence had been filed according to date and the name of the writer. Following a hunch, he worked his way through to the "D's," grinning with delight when the name he sought appeared before him.

After that, he settled down to work, trying first of all to place Lulham's personal papers in chronological order. The account books covered only two decades; the diaries started in 1900, when Lulham had been fifteen years old. They continued for fifty-eight years, ending abruptly on December 31, 1958.

Realizing that he had a major effort ahead of him--and possibly a wasted effort, at that--Bodie set to it with a will, concentrating first on the ledgers, for those would probably impart little in the way of useful information.

He was right; but only because Lulham had coded everything for his own benefit. Words and names were abbreviated, the latter often reduced to no more than two letters--and sometimes only one. How the man had managed to leave Doyle's mother the small amount of money she had in turn invested in Doyle's name, Bodie could not begin to speculate. For much of Lulham's income--a small inheritance from his parents, and a pension earned as a result of an an injury suffered in the British trenches at Ypres in 1914--went toward the single-minded obsession of somehow re-establishing contact with Mrs. Lulham following her demise in 1918. Mediums had been hired, researchers engaged, letters written soliciting advice. All associated expenses had been painstakingly noted down in his ledgers; to Bodie they were pathetic reminders of the extremes to which an individual could be driven by love.

He shivered a little, absently noting that with the advent of evening the temperature must have dropped drastically. He wrapped an arm about himself, keeping the other free to leaf his fingers through onion-skin flimsy papers.

Despite Lulham's excesses in regard to his dead wife, he had been a responsible father to his daughter, Elizabeth, who had been named for her mother. In his precise, tiny hand, Lulham had stipulated a comfortable allocation for her needs, including an excellent education.

Flipping rapidly through the ledger toward the later years, Bodie rubbed irritably at his arm, urging his seemingly sluggish circulation to greater efforts; since Africa he had come to detest the cold.

"Bodie."

The quiet voice cut through his concentration like a blade. Bodie looked up sharply to find Doyle standing just inside the door of the lounge. Doyle was watching him closely, his expression comprising equal parts of caution and disquiet.

"What is it?" Bodie asked. "Is something--"

"It's gone nine."

For an instant, the meaning of Doyle's words failed to register. Then Bodie was rising, scooping up Lulham's diaries and ledgers as he struggled to his feet. "Help me get this lot into the dining room, will you, mate?" Without waiting for Doyle to reply, Bodie took his burden out of the room at a half-trot. He should have realized what the encroaching cold meant, should have recognized the altered ambience in the room that had put him on edge. Returning to the lounge for another armful, Bodie held open the dining room door for Doyle, now heavily burdened, to pass through. A quick glance informed him that Doyle had brought the correspondence and note binders. Bodie went back for the books.

Stepping into the lounge was like walking into a meat locker. Steeling himself, Bodie went over to the stacks of books and gathered up as many as he could carry. At the doorway, Doyle met him; Bodie dumped the books into his arms and went back for more.

He was halfway across the floor with the last batch, when he felt the air begin to congeal around him. The overpowering scent of too-strong cologne, sweet and fruity, joined forces with the acrid smell of some sort of tobacco.

Hovering in the hallway, Doyle said urgently, "It's beginning, Bodie!"

Bodie gave him the books and gently shoved him toward the dining room. "Are you through upstairs?" he asked, as Doyle hesitated. The round face was shock-white, Doyle's eyes huge and dark.

"Yes. What are you doing?"

"I'm going to see what happens. Wait in the dining room, will you?"

"Don't be stupid," Doyle said angrily.

"I need to watch it from beginning to end," Bodie spoke adamantly. "But you--"

Doyle spun away without another word. Feeling slightly abandoned despite Doyle's obedient action, Bodie turned back to face the room. His notepad and pencil lay on the coffee table where he had left them. The lights shone steadily; there was nothing about the room to indicate it had undergone a radical change. One step over the threshold, and that image was immediately dispelled. The cold became even more intense; testing it, Bodie shifted his weight onto his other foot, so that he stood once more in the corridor--the temperature was easily thirty degrees warmer.

As he rocked forward again, Doyle's voice commanded, "Wait."

Bodie glanced round just in time to catch the bulky knit sweater that was hurled at him. His face grimly set, Doyle commenced to wrap himself in another of equal thickness.

"You forgot to mention the cold, y'know," Bodie remarked ironically.

"So I've got a bad memory." He made to walk past Bodie, but was stopped by a hand on his arm.

"Slowly, Ray," Bodie requested. "You're the catalyst, mind."

"Am I? You're certain of that?"

"Call it an educated guess."

"What d'you want me to do?"

"Wait in the dining room?" Bodie requested, with no real hope that Doyle would agree.

Doyle shook his head. "Other than that?"

"All right, then. Let me go in first; get my bearings."

Granting him that much and no more, Doyle waited unhappily in the corridor while Bodie gingerly re-entered the room. "Bloody hell," Bodie gasped, as the abnormal chill penetrated his body. The sweater was helpful, but against this sort of cold Bodie suspected that a roaring fire would prove ineffective. He paced out the perimeter of the floor, his senses wide open and assimilating information, assessing and measuring incorporeal elements that should not have existed. Teeth chattering, he then criss-crossed the room, again gauging variations from one location to another, sometimes only inches apart.

Glancing up at last, he found Doyle's quizzical, concerned gaze upon him, and gestured him in. He went to the sofa and sat down, picking up his pencil and pad.

"What was that all about?" Doyle asked, at once folding his arms tightly over his chest.

Bodie realized that the cold must have slammed into him like a blow to the heart. Waving his hand to his other side, he said, "Sit over here; I think you'll find the cold a little more bearable."

Skeptically, Doyle obeyed, eyes widening as he absorbed the perceptible difference. "You're right," he breathed.

"That's what I was doing. The cold is at its worst right there," Bodie indicated a large area just left of the window, which extended to the wall separating the room from the corridor. "And so is the smell--bloody vile, isn't it?--and the feeling of--something here."

"You sense that?"

"Tough to ignore," Bodie remarked. He gave Doyle a sidelong glance; he met green eyes that regarded him with new respect.

"So whatever it is, it's centered over there?"

"Or below, or above. Your study is right overhead; in fact, that's where the outlet was blown, isn't it?"

Following Bodie's pointing finger, Doyle acknowledged that he was correct. "Why didn't it affect the one down here?"

"Because, sunshine," Bodie reminded him gently, "you weren't down here when it happened."

Doyle frowned at him. "What d'you mean I'm a catalyst, then?" he asked, his voice low and guarded.

Approving Doyle's instinctual effort to avoid bringing attention to himself, Bodie responded in equally soft tones. "I think you're the focus, somehow. This thing--whatever it is--may do damage when you're not around, but it would be negligible."

"But there is something."

"Unfortunately, yes." As he spoke, Bodie was drawing a crude sketch of the house. When he had finished, all three levels, cellar, ground floor and first floor, had been blocked out. Major pieces of furniture and windows were indicated.

"D'you want to come with me?" he asked Doyle. "I need to check out the study."

"Should I?" Doyle questioned. "If I'm the cause of this thing going off, is it safe for you to be with me?"

Bodie favored him with a smile as he tried to bank down a shiver from the still-falling temperature. "I'd rather you stay close, if that's what you mean."

"But is it safe for you?" Doyle insisted.

"Until we can determine what we're dealing with, I can't answer that, mate." Briskly patting and rubbing his arms, Bodie went to the door. "You coming?"

A shockingly loud noise, seemingly emanating from directly overhead, made both men jump. Doyle's eyes widened and he leapt to his feet. "My computer!" he snarled, and would have bolted into the corridor if Bodie had not snagged his arm in passing, and spun him round.

"Hang about, Ray!" He automatically steadied the man against him. "Slowly--and together."

Frustration lent Doyle a feral look, but he nodded agreement. Barely in the corridor, where the temperature seemed quite normal, and the reeking smell of cologne at once lessened, their ears were assaulted by another great, crashing sound.

"Damn it, Bodie," Doyle raged, trying to break free from the grip Bodie had on his wrist.

"Don't be stupid." Bodie would not release him. "What if it's luring you up there; what if it wants to separate us? You said there have been noises before; are these so different?"

Composing himself with visible strain, Doyle said harshly, "Louder, yes."

"C'mon, then," Bodie said, hoping he sounded more confident than he felt. "Let's look."

Halfway up the stairs, the lights on the first floor landing flickered. A step ahead of Bodie, Doyle faltered. Bodie moved on past him, one arm stretched behind to encourage the other man to stay his distance.

The door to the study stood open. Bodie waved a hand inside and encountered the same frigid temperature that characterized the lounge. From here he could see that the computer was untouched, even though in the darkness it was little more than an amorphous shape shrouded by its vinyl dust-cover. Reaching inside the room, Bodie switched on the wall lamp and flooded the room with brightness.

Gesturing at Doyle to remain in the corridor, Bodie walked inside. As he had done downstairs, he followed the outline of the room, marking where the cold was most intense, and where the unbearable stench of a man's too-sweet cologne was most concentrated. "The same," he said to Doyle, who was watching uneasily from several feet away.

The lights went out.

"Bodie!"

"'S all right, sunshine," Bodie said firmly. "Stay where you are; but whatever you do, don't come in here."

"Bodie, what are you--"

"Listen to me, Ray." Bodie spoke calmingly, providing counterpoise to the sharp note of panic in Doyle's voice. "I'm walking toward the door, and I need you to speak to me. Ray?"

"Here," Doyle said breathlessly. "Jesus, Bodie, can't you hur-- Oh, thank God; give me your other hand, too, mate."

From one second to the next, Bodie forgot how to breathe. Standing mid-step--alone and untouched--in the study, his thoughts fused, and for what seemed an eternity, he could not think at all. Then he was lunging forward, without consideration for possible consequences, and he was fighting the same unnatural resistance that had hampered him two nights before.

"Ray!" he shouted, but even to his own ears his voice seemed to come from a vast distance away.

Heart pounding violently, the struggle to place one foot in front of the other rapidly threatened to exhaust him. Yet it never occurred to him to give up, to leave Doyle to whatever had reached out and touched him with a human hand.

"No!" Doyle's voice, high-pitched and horrified, tore into Bodie's ears.

With a superhuman burst of strength, he pitched forward--

--and impacted with Doyle, who was dropping bonelessly to the floor.

Hunched forward, Bodie ran his hands swiftly over the other man, verifying to himself that this was, indeed, Ray Doyle. Then he scooped him up and slung the slim figure over his shoulder. With his ungainly burden tightly held, Bodie made for the stairs.

Blinded by the darkness, he was forced to go slowly. Every inch of the way he felt bitter cold emanating from the walls, extending icy tendrils toward them. Something dropped with a thud onto the landing behind him; something that sounded very like a huge footstep.

Picking up his pace, but not daring to go any faster for fear of falling and hurting Doyle, Bodie listened intently. It came again, louder this time--and closer. Teeth clenched, Bodie agonizingly stretched out his foot and felt for the next step, knowing he must be very near the bottom of the stair by now.

Thump.

Nearer still it came, frighteningly loud, and with the muffled complaint of creaking boards that were incapable of bearing a monstrous weight.

"Bodie--"

Stricken with the certainty that Doyle must not waken before he had been got safely out of the house, Bodie clung to the banister rail and stumbled the last two steps to the ground floor, frantically balancing himself with one hand and almost wrenching his arm out of its socket in the process. At once, the inhuman tread behind him quickened--thump, thump--and Bodie was flat out running for the front door. He grasped the metal knob; his hand was slick with sweat, and would not give him purchase.

And then it was right behind them; Bodie could feel the vibration of the thing's weight on the floorboards under his feet. With a howl of frustration, he jerked at the knob again, and this time, blessedly, it turned in his hand. The air thickened around them as Bodie ripped the door open; he thought he would be smothered by the heavy, inescapable odor of cologne, mingled now with the stink of corruption.

"Bo--"

"No!" he shouted, and ducked low to avoid bashing Doyle's head on the door frame as he whipped out of the house and into the enclosed porch. Allowing only enough time to pull the main door shut behind him, Bodie burst through the outer door and onto the garden path a split second later.

"Bodie, what--?"

Bodie had no breath to spare in conversation. He bent forward and eased Doyle off his shoulder, then looped a hand round the man's waist and marched him forward, more than half carrying him still. Through the little metal gate and down the path to the pavement he propelled him, aware from Doyle's muffled imprecations that he was regaining consciousness--and memory--with every step.

At his car, Bodie thrust Doyle into the passenger seat and buckled him in; seconds later he was behind the steering column and grinding the key into the ignition. The engine caught, and Bodie swivelled the wheels onto Aylward Road with a screech.

As he drove past Doyle's house, the lights came back on.





"Why won't you tell me what happened?"

"Because I don't know what happened," Bodie replied tersely. He had just returned from the kitchen. With no regard for the polished veneer of the dining room table, he slapped a steaming mug of tea down on the wood surface in front of where Doyle sat.

They had arrived at Bodie's place in Sutton only moments before. Confused and angry, Doyle had questioned him for the entire duration of their ride; Bodie had remained stubbornly incommunicative.

Standing stiffly in front of the window overlooking Robin Hood Lane, Bodie asked, "What d'you remember?"

There was a moment before Doyle replied. "You were in the study; I was waiting in the corridor. The lights went out. I--"

Eyes closed, Bodie rested his forehead against the windowpane. "Yes?"

"Bodie."

He turned at once, incapable of ignoring that soft, helpless sound in Doyle's voice; it did not belong there.

Doyle was staring at him from across the room, his face empty of all expression. "I thought it was you--but it wasn't, was it?"

With a slow gesture of denial, Bodie destroyed what had apparently been the other man's fragile hope. "Oh, God," Doyle whispered, and dropped his head into his hands.

Bodie crossed the distance separating them with three long strides. Curving a hand around Doyle's skull, fingers buried in thick, rich curls, Bodie said quietly, "Come with me into the lounge, Ray. Please."

Doyle slowly looked up at him, his eyes haunted.

"Come on." Bodie urged him forward, placing a hand under Doyle's elbow to guide him to his feet. Displaying the first sign of independence since they had arrived at the flat, Doyle forcibly shook him off. Bodie pointed toward the doorway, and led the way. In the sitting room, he went to the sofa and sat down, leaving the invitation to join him clear but unstated.

"Do you remember what happened after that?" he asked, when Doyle stopped in the middle of the room and there continued to stand, hands shoved deeply into his back pockets.

Doyle nodded jerkily. "Something was holding me; you, I thought. You called my name, but your voice seemed to come from a long way off. That didn't make sense, because I thought you were already there with me. And then you--the thing I thought was you--changed." He closed his mouth abruptly and scrubbed a hand over his face.

"Changed how?" Bodie pressed.

Doyle's eyes settled on him with intense dislike. "It became cold and smooth all over; but not like flesh; like--" He caught his breath. "And then--it tried to kiss me, and I knew it couldn't be you. It tried--"

He pivoted on heel and strode out of the room. Bodie contemplated following, but instead waited for the measured tread of Doyle's bootheels clicking toward the door to the outside landing. A moment later, Doyle surprisingly returned carrying his tea.

"I don't reckon you got anything useful out of what went on in my house?" Doyle asked, his remote manner defying Bodie to offer comfort where obviously none was needed.

Taking in the straight posture and jutting chin, Bodie felt something in his chest increase its stranglehold on his heart. "A fair bit, actually," he contradicted mildly. "Not the least of which is that it didn't like you going away for so long."

Doyle's eyes widened, and very slowly he began to respond to the rueful tone of Bodie's statement. "You think that's why everything turned to shit tonight?"

"From what you've told me, there's been a straight-line progression since all this began. Each day it's become a little more enthusiastic. Tomorrow will be worse yet."

"Tomorrow?" Doyle managed a tiny smile. "Don't you mean, tonight?"

"You want to go back now?" If he said yes, Bodie would do everything in his power to change his mind.

"Later. After one, when things ought to be back to normal. I have to, Bodie."

"I understand." And he did. Doyle had his own life, and it was important to him that he live it as ordinarily as possible. So far, the phenomena had operated on a fairly regular schedule. The day might come when that was no longer true; it was to be hoped that that day had not already arrived.

"Well, there're TV, cards, and magazines. Or the bed if you want to catch up on your sleep."

Doyle offered him a smile of gratitude unfettered by misgivings. "Thanks, mate. I'll take the bed, if you don't mind. I'm bloody knackered."

"Right. 'S downstairs, just past the loo and the bathroom. Make yourself at home, Ray."

At the door, Doyle paused. "You wouldn't want to join me?"

"I--"

"Just to sleep," Doyle assured him. "Although you could read--or do whatever you like. Just thought it'd be nice to have someone with me."

"'Whatever I like' might prove disruptive to your sleep," Bodie told him wryly.

"Nah," Doyle grinned engagingly. "You're the most principled person I know."

Bodie laughed; in his opinion, the assessment did not apply. "You're on, sunshine. Go on down; I'll just tidy up here, okay?"




Day Seven - Monday

The day bloomed like a great yellow poppy, the sun's brightness filling the sky over Merton Park. Half asleep, Bodie robotically parked his car in the garage and walked with the same mechanical economy of motion to the office. Exhausted as he was, it was foregone that he would be useless for the better part of the day; but Bodie also knew for a fact that Allison would gut him should he fail to make an appearance on the final day of the audit.

He owed her better than that; although he doubted that a comatose partner was quite what Allison would have wanted. Stepping through the door, his nose picked up the commanding scent of freshly brewed tea and steered him unerringly toward it. As he rounded the corner into the work-room, he was greeted with a dramatic gasp.

"Good God, Bodie," Heather exclaimed. "What on earth have you done with yourself?"

"Good morning, Heather," Bodie hailed her in return. He shrugged off his jacket and grappled with his tie. There would be a few hours yet before Allison and Hazel Bell appeared to torment him.

"Are you all right?" Heather asked with genuine concern. She set a mug brimming with frothy creamy-colored liquid on Bodie's table and bent over to peer into his drawn face.

"Yes; just very, very tired." As she continued to stare at him, Bodie added, "Was up with a friend. I'll be fine."

Heather canted her head knowingly to one side and gave him a cheeky grin. "And does your friend look as shagged out as you do?"

Surrendering a laugh, Bodie shook his head. "No, you baggage, he does not. He slept, while I kept watch."

"Is that what they call it these days?" She scampered off when Bodie prominently displayed his fist and a warning look.

Bodie broke into a huge yawn, his jaws cracking with the force of it.

"Oh, look, Bodie," Heather said reasonably. "Why don't you crash out on the fold-up cot? I'll wake you before Allison comes in."

"Nah, I can't. Only came in early so I can be out of here before five. Don't worry about me, love. Honest."

Heather took him at his word, and left Bodie to unhurriedly ease himself into the day's routine. When Allison strolled in with Hazel Bell at her side just after nine, Bodie was considerably more in tune with his surroundings, and functioning with an almost clear head.

After going through a final check-list with Allison, Hazel requested Bodie's presence in discussing the recommendations her firm had compiled for improving ACS Ltd's accounting system. For the next hour and a half, Bodie found it increasingly difficult to keep awake, his eyelids obdurately drifting downward every few seconds. When the seemingly interminable interview at last wound down, Bodie almost missed the fact that he was finally free to go. Hazel Bell stood up and extended a hand to him, which he automatically took in one of his own.

"Thank you, Mr. Bodie," she said pleasantly. "Your suggestions concerning the use of a time-sharing service are right in line with our own conclusions."

Scarcely cognizant of having opened his mouth at all, Bodie made polite noises and excused himself to return to his current project. In the work-shop, he went directly to the teapot, praying that there would be a last, lukewarm cup.

Heather left her table, and sauntered over. "It's hot, mate; could hear you lot finishing up."

"Bless you, moppet," Bodie said fervently. "By the way, I think you saved my life."

"Did I?"

"All that noise you made about a time-sharing accountancy service, d'you remember?"

"'Course I do. What, did you present it as the latest and greatest idea to hit ACS Ltd?"

"Hazel Bell thinks it's just what we need."

"And Allison?"

"She was stunned. Didn't think I could come up with a useful proposal to save my unworthy soul."

"She's right; I'm the one who came up with it."

"I'll be sure to tell her that--next time you're in the hot seat."

"Cheers."

At twelve o'clock, Bodie tried to ring Doyle, remaining on the unanswered line for a full minute before recalling that Doyle had told him he would be in London for the day. To recover the productivity lost during his session with Allison and Hazel Bell, Bodie worked through the better part of his lunch hour. Despite his best efforts to concentrate on the job, however, Bodie's mind wandered often, returning again and again to the hours spent lying in bed with Ray Doyle in his arms.

Doyle had been on the brink of collapse when he had curled his reed-like form on the mattress, fully clothed except for his shoes, waiting for Bodie to lie beside him. For Bodie it had been a frightening and wonderful moment; frightening because he wanted Doyle so very badly, and wonderful because he had never known such earnest trust. A moment later they had stretched out side by side, close enough to share body heat.

After a brief adjustment to make themselves comfortable, Doyle had given up a huge, dragging sigh and closed his eyes. Soon after, the steady rise and fall of his chest had bespoken deep slumber. Watching over him, Bodie had suffered no desire to sleep, himself. This would be too special, too ephemeral to be wasted.

At one o'clock in the morning, Bodie had reluctantly roused the exhausted man. Letting him get his bearings, Bodie had pressed a chaste kiss to Doyle's forehead, and urged him upright. Soon thereafter he had driven his passive companion to Merton Park. Accompanying Doyle into the house, Bodie had performed a swift inspection for his own peace of mind; even though it had been evident at the instant he had stepped over the threshold that nothing preternatural held sway there any longer.

Reassured by Doyle's sleepy-eyed lack of concern, Bodie had waved goodbye and let himself out. Back in Sutton, he had collapsed once more on his own bed, imagining that some tenuous vestige of the other man's essence yet lingered on the pillow.





As the day lengthened, Bodie became increasingly fidgety, glancing at his watch or the clock on the wall every few minutes, until the afternoon seemed to crawl. Faced with too much time to think, Bodie eventually realized he must review the events that had taken place in Doyle's house the previous evening. It was not something he particularly wanted to do; the incident had got decidedly out of hand.

He had asked Doyle what the other man had experienced; intentionally, he had said virtually nothing about his own observations. There was a reason for that: in the time-honored tradition of subjective research, shared perceptions tended to obfuscate the reality of an unusual occurrence. Aware of that fact, Bodie knew himself to be less likely to fall prey to the syndrome, and so he had withheld information until Doyle had related his impressions of the night's visitation.

Bodie was not altogether certain that he cared to share his.

Just after four, Bodie began to set his table to rights. Heather had left on her delivery rounds a few minutes before, so he shut the lights off in the work-shop and started out. Allison caught him at the door, but only to exchange a few words. They had seen little of each other over the last week, and she was curious how he was getting on. Promptly at half past four, Bodie made his escape.

The house on Aylward Road stood silently inscrutable, unveiling none of its secrets as Bodie drove up. He was compelled to park some distance away, but the day was uncommonly warm and pleasant, and he had no complaints as he strolled back to the neatly tended structure.

A long burst of the bell did not reward him with Doyle's presence, so Bodie tapped at it again, playing a short, monotonal tune. Still, Doyle did not appear, and Bodie wondered if he had arrived too early. Almost upon the thought a wine red saloon car pulled up and braked to a stop out front. Bodie recognized the back of Doyle's head and his wide shoulders through the passenger window; the driver, whom he could see clearly from this angle, was unfamiliar to him.

Grinning softly to himself, Bodie looked on--his insides suddenly twisting when Doyle accepted a warm kiss from the other man. To Bodie's mind, it went on forever, although in reality only seconds passed before Doyle laughingly extricated himself from the driver's grasp, and climbed out of the car.

Firming his grip on a soft-sided attache case, Doyle shook his head to himself as he navigated the pavement to the metal gate. Something made him look up; at sight of Bodie he broke into a huge smile. "Bodie!" he exclaimed warmly.

"Ray."

His comparatively cool response seemed to confuse Doyle. "You been here long? I'd hoped to be back an hour ago, but Iain and I--"

"Only about five minutes. Your timing," he said smoothly, "is impeccable."

Casting him a wary look, Doyle stepped up to the enclosed porch and unlocked the door. "C'mon, mate," he said. "See what we can drum up to eat."

Keeping a tight rein on his suddenly all-too uncertain emotions, Bodie silently followed the other man into the house. Doyle was dressed in pale green cotton trousers and a dark blue shirt unbuttoned to the center of his chest. He haphazardly cast off a black sports coat that he had carried in draped over his arm, onto the small oddments table next to the hatstand in the hallway. Lagging behind, Bodie paused to hang it neatly on a hook, using the action as an excuse to order his precarious thoughts before they could get away from him.

"What'll it be?" Doyle called from the kitchen. He was bent in half, peering into the freezer, as Bodie came in. "There's pizza, fish fingers, shep--"

"Nothing for me, thanks."

"You've already eaten?" There was a vaguely injured lilt to Doyle's voice.

"Just not hungry."

"Oh." With that, Doyle straightened up, heedlessly toeing the door shut.

"We need to talk about last night, Ray," Bodie said.

Folding his arms across his chest, Doyle asked, "What about it?"

"I think we were set up."

Doyle frowned at him. "You said there were no indications of human--"

"Not by a person; by--whatever it is."

Eyeing Bodie suspiciously, Doyle reached for the kettle and began to fill it with cold water. "What d'you mean, 'set up?'"

"It made us believe in monsters. We both panicked."

Doyle slammed the kettle onto the counter and plugged it in, flipping the switch with the ball of his thumb. Reaching for the box of tea bags, he said, "I know what I felt."

"You thought you felt something. Where the human body's concerned, if you can convince the mind of something, there isn't a lot to choose between the two."

With the milk jug in one hand and his other hand propped on his hip, Doyle said evenly, "I don't know what you mean."

"Fear is an excellent tool in subjugating someone. Frighten someone badly enough, and they--"

"Faint in a puddle on the floor. I haven't forgotten, Bodie."

Bodie sighed softly and continued as though he had not been interrupted, "--and they can be made unusually receptive."

Doyle set the jug on the counter. "Receptive to what, precisely?"

"All kinds of suggestions. Once a bloke's will has been broken down, he'll be agreeable to almost anything."

"Like what?" Doyle asked bitingly. "Letting his editor kiss him?"

Stung by Doyle's anger, Bodie said caustically, "Well, you did want to find out if getting fucked would appease your poltergeist."

Doyle's mouth fell open, and he blinked in disbelief. "Silly me," he said hoarsely, "thinking you might like the honor of testing that little theory."

"If I'd thought--" Bodie began savagely. Some foreboding that he was fast approaching the unforgivable stayed his tongue.

But Doyle goaded, "What? If you'd thought what?"

"If I'd thought it would rid you of your problem, I'd've fucked you through the bloody floor, mate," Bodie replied, tossing caution by the wayside.

"How noble of you, mate," Doyle sneered. "Aren't you relieved that I haven't managed to impose that particular hardship on you."

It was Bodie's turn to take pause. "Hardship!?" he repeated, blank-faced.

The kettle clicked, and Doyle turned away. "Well, fucking me's obviously not the most appealing thing in the world to you, now is it. After all, I've only made it perfectly clear that the idea is fine by me." Head bent forward, Doyle concentrated on sloshing scalding water into the teapot, flicking his fingers out of harm's way just as a good portion of it missed the rim and slopped onto the counter.

All Bodie's burning resentment evaporated like a molecule of moisture flung into the heart of the sun. He stepped up behind Doyle and gently laid his fingers on the other man's shoulders. "I won't take advantage of you, Ray," he said quietly.

Doyle would not look at him. "How can it be taking advantage if it's what I want?" he asked gruffly.

Kneading the tensed muscles reassuringly, Bodie murmured, "Okay, it isn't only that. It's me, too: I won't be a temporary comfort to see you through a rough patch."

"Is that what you think?" Doyle demanded. He twisted round, staring hard into Bodie's eyes. "'You aren't easy, and you come with strings.' Are you telling me, if I want you--under those terms--that I've got you?"

Held captive by wide-set, slanting green eyes, Bodie said simply, "Yes."

For an instant, Doyle did not react. And then, very slowly, his whole body began to relax. "Thank God for that. I'd hate to think I was falling in love all on my own."

Bodie brought his hands up to rest on Doyle's shoulders again; carefully, he slid them further upward until they encircled the strongly muscled neck. He whispered defeatedly, "No chance of that, sunshine."

Doyle leaned forward, offering his own embrace. "Oh, Bodie. Don't ever scare me like that again, please."

"Scare you?"

"Yeah. Acting so distant; so--polite." He rested his cheek against Bodie's temple, idly rolling his head back and forth. "The bloke in the car is Iain McDonald; he's my editor. He's been a friend--never a lover--for six years."

More than a little embarrassed, Bodie muttered, "Does he kiss all his writers that way?"

"Only the ones who let him get away with it," Doyle replied, chuckling ironically. "Barry--his lover--says he's 'affectionate.'"

Cradling Doyle's head between his hands, Bodie stepped back so he could look into Doyle's eyes. "Ray, I'm sorry--"

Doyle bent forward and silenced him with a kiss. "I can take jealousy; possessiveness; even hatred. But not indifference, okay?"

"What--?"

"What I'm saying Bodie, is that when you get bored of me, just don't pretend about it. I will understand."

"What in bleeding hell are you on about?" Bodie demanded.

Doyle shrugged. "I'm not very interesting. 'M bloody dull, in fact. I don't like doing the clubs, and I believe in monogamy. That's not enough for most blokes, y'know."

With sudden insight, Bodie asked, "Those other fellas you were involved with: is that what they said?"

"Not in so many words," Doyle admitted grimly. "But I usually get there in the end."

"Lunatic," Bodie said without condemnation. "Don't take this wrong, mate, but I'm awfully grateful that they were so easily put off." He touched Doyle's cheek, tracing a line from the outside of the straight nose to the corner of the full, bemused mouth. "'Cause I'd never have had a chance with you otherwise, y'know."

"Bodie, you--"

The words were lost in Bodie's kiss. When Doyle would have resisted, Bodie gathered him closer, putting every ounce of sincerity and affection into his touch. The kiss lasted a long time, gently apologetic, sweetly healing, and vastly stirring.

When they finally drew apart, both men were breathing deeply, their eyes dark with hunger. Doyle raised a finger to Bodie's lips and drew their outline with a gossamer touch. Smiling softly, he stepped away and opened the door to the refrigerator. "So is it pizza, or--?"

Warmed by Doyle's comprehension of his need to take this one step at a time, Bodie merely laughed. "Pizza, please."





Settled at the dinner table, they lingered long over their meal, discussing all that had occurred the night before. Bodie questioned the other man extensively, trying to gain an overall idea of what Doyle had experienced. He jotted everything down on his notepad; everything and anything that might prove significant.

Laying his notes aside for a while, Bodie let Ray get on with his galleys while he began to pick through Lulham's personal effects. The diaries had been shifted to a corner of the floor beside one of the comfortable chairs, which stood near the door to the conservatory. Balancing the ones he had selected in the cradle of one arm, he took them back to the cleared table.

"Y'know," he declared softly, "We were lucky nothing else was disturbed last night. I'd certainly have hated to lose your grandad's papers before getting a good look at them."

"No." Doyle's terse response spoke volumes.

Bodie bowed his head, affecting remorse. "Sorry, won't bother you again."

"No, you fool, wasn't referring to you interrupting me." Doyle tugged his lower lip roughly between his teeth. "Didn't mention it to you last night, but the more I think about it, the less likely it is that it could've been an accident."

"Ray. I'm lost here. What could've been--?"

"Okay, okay--don't get yourself in a lather." Infuriatingly, Doyle then waited until Bodie had settled back in his chair and was affecting the appropriate degree of calmness before deigning to continue. "There was a book on the floor near the foot of my bed when we got back last night. At first I thought it must've fallen. But I remembered later today that I'd left it on the bedside table."

"And what was the name of it?" Bodie asked intently.

"A MAN OF INTEGRITY. 'S just something I've been reading off and on for the last few weeks--y'know, before I go to bed at night, to relax." He smiled wryly. "It's a great book."

"Wasn't asking for a review, Ray," Bodie informed him, perversely pleased when Doyle made a face at him. "Is there any chance that you left it on the bed--and just forgot about it in all the excitement?"

"Maybe," Doyle replied, unhappily. "Suppose it's possible that I set it on the duvet before I fell asleep."

"The bed was made, though, wasn't it? If it'd been on the duvet, you would've noticed if you'd kicked it onto the floor, surely?"

Doyle pulled a mocking face. "I haven't been firing on all cylinders just lately, mate. No 'surely' about it."

"Hm." Bodie mulled this over with mixed feelings. He wanted to believe that Doyle was responsible for the seemingly innocuous occurrence; but if he wasn't, then Doyle's room--to date the least affected area of the house--may have become vulnerable. "Tonight," he said suddenly, "when things get rolling, I want to check the house from top to bottom. I'd rather you weren't in the building at all while I do that--if I know you can't be hurt, then nothing can get at me--" He raised a hand to stave off Doyle's imminent objection. "But since I know you'll insist on staying, I want you to promise that you won't step foot out of this room. And before you say anything at all," Bodie found he was becoming very adept at reading Doyle's mercurial expressions, "just remember that things don't get crazy right off. It takes a little while for the manifestations to build up strength. And I swear I'll be very fast, okay?"

Thoroughly affronted at having been anticipated so easily, Doyle sat back in his chair and eyed Bodie blackly. "Anything else?" he asked belligerently, after allowing the moment to stretch.

"I think that'll suffice for the moment," Bodie came back cheerily. "Promise me, Ray."

"I'll give you fifteen minutes," Doyle said flatly. "We were out of the house last night by half past. Fifteen minutes, mate; no more."

"Done."

For the next hour they quietly pursued their separate tasks; Doyle attending to his galleys; Bodie struggling through Raymond Lulham's crabbed penmanship. Starting with the diary for 1958, Bodie skimmed through the month of December, stopping when his eye was snagged by mention of Doyle's father, Timothy, on December 20th. It wasn't much; Lulham only said that Timothy Doyle seemed a pleasant enough lad, and bright, and that he looked forward to conversations with him come the new year. "TD" cropped up a few more times, but Bodie gave the references the briefest of glances, as they all seemed to reiterate the same sentiment: Lulham liked him.

The diary came to an end on December 31st with Lulham proclaiming himself content with life--and death. He had finally come to accept that if he could not achieve his fondest wish in this world, it would surely be granted to him in the next.

Chilled, Bodie deciphered that to mean that Lulham had sought a means of communicating with his dead wife throughout the whole of forty-one years left to him after she herself had shed her mortal coil. Seized by a thought, Bodie picked up his notepad and began to flip backward through the pages. Yesterday, in Northchapel, he had recorded Lulham's dates of birth and death, and according to his own less than impressive hand, Lulham had died on September 25, 1959.

So, what had become of the diary for that year?

Bodie spent a few minutes going through each and every diary--again--just to ensure that he had not misordered the lot. Halfway through the exercise, he remembered that he had made an inventory when he had first shuffled through Lulham's things. His notes verified his suspicion: there had been no diary for 1959.

"What's up?" Doyle asked.

"Probably nothing," Bodie said, his exasperation unconcealed. "Is there any chance that some of your grandad's things might have got shoved into another of those teachests up there?"

"No. I went through everything when I had the house redone in '82. I made sure each teachest was clearly marked as to what it contained; repacked them myself. Why?"

"I'm missing your grandad's diary for 1959. He died in September of that year. He was bloody religious about keeping up the entries. Wonder what became of it."

"That is odd; especially since Mum saved everything else of his."

"Damn," Bodie said, stymied. "Anything could've happened to it, I reckon. He may have chucked it out; maybe he became ill and was bedridden for the rest of his life. Although--"

"Yes?"

Bodie left the table and returned to the stack of books, binders and ledgers that constituted the remainder of Lulham's effects. Picking up a ledger, he skipped through the pages to the last instance of badly faded notation. "Just as I thought: he was marking down expenses and income right up till the 23rd of September 1959." He looked quizzically at Doyle. "D'you have any idea what killed him?"

"Heart. Told you he had a dicky ticker, remember? Gave out on him, Mum said. Not long after she married my dad, in fact."

"How long?" Bodie asked.

"Within the month. By the way, all that stuff'll be here later this week. Y'know, you wanted to see the plans of the house?" he explained in response to Bodie's mystified expression. "I rang the lawyer this morning and told him I need them. Everything's kept together: birth certificates; Mum's marriage certificate; title-deeds to the house and my car; everything. The lawyer's office said he was out of town for a couple of days, but his secretary took the message, and promised to have the things sent on by special delivery as soon as he approves it."

"Good. I don't think there's any rush, Ray. Just want to be thorough." He gave a loud tsk. "Well, there's nothing I can do about the last diary, I guess." Laying the ledger back on the pile of books, Bodie saw the binder of correspondence and remembered what he had intended to show Doyle the day before. "But there is something here I think you'll find interesting."

"Sherlock Bloody Holmes!" Doyle exclaimed a moment later. "What was he doing corresponding with my grandad?"

"He was a prime defender of Spiritualism, believe it or not."

"Arthur Conan Doyle?"

Grinning at Doyle's disbelief, Bodie nodded. "Got involved in it during the First World War. Promoted it staunchly for the rest of his life. One of those books over there was written by him."

Scanning, enchanted, through the badly faded letter, Doyle chuckled to himself. "This is fantastic! What a pair of old loonies."

"D'you suppose the writing talent goes with the name?" Bodie asked, straight-faced.

"What, Lulham or Doyle?" Doyle retorted. He closed the binder and handed it back to Bodie. "Should have that preserved, eh?"

"Hm. Could probably even sell it, if you'd a mind to."

"Philistine. This is a family heirloom."

Bodie cocked his head inquisitively. "And what family will you bequeath it to?"

"Ah, yes, the ultimate condemnation of homosexuality: abandoning the family name," Doyle intoned with suitably clerical solemnity.

Sniggering in agreement, Bodie said, "Read somewhere that prior to the 1600's, it wasn't considered terribly aberrant at all, men loving men; as long as the lineage was seen to, of course."

"Yeah. Poor blighters."

They subsided into silence again. Trying to get a handle on Raymond Lulham, Bodie picked up the diary for 1918, and skipped to the page that recorded Elizabeth Lulham's passing. He turned back a few pages, to trace the beginning of the illness that had killed her. She had been sick for three weeks before succumbing, and through all those days, Lulham had documented her decline. Through his unembroidered account, Bodie shared the man's initial concern, which had soon given way to wrenching grief. Raymond Lulham had been deeply in love with his wife of four years; the reality of his loss had nearly put him in the grave as well. He mentioned frankly his contemplation of suicide; only his fear that killing himself might separate his immortal soul from his wife's had stayed his hand. And there had been their daughter, Elizabeth, his wife's namesake. He had loved the child dearly; but at three years of age, she was more distraction than comfort. Still, he had recognized the cruelty that would be done to her, were he to take his own life.

The rest of that first year, he had barely muddled through. Since Ypres, he had not been a well man, his injury slow to heal, his quiet nature battered by the horrors of war. The death of his wife had taken away the consolation her presence had given him. By December of that first year, it was quite clear that Lulham would make no effort to come to grips with his grief; it had occupied him to the exclusion of almost all else.

By the middle of 1919, he had begun to remark upon the efforts made by spiritualists in contacting the dead. At first scathingly contemptuous of their attempts, it had not been long before Lulham was remarking upon mediums who were reputed to be genuine "sensitives." In October, he had engaged his first medium--with disappointing results. Urged on by new associates who shared his quest, Lulham had not given up.

Throughout the evening Bodie read the chronicles of Raymond Lulham's life, a rising disquiet prickling at him as he learned of each new effort directed toward establishing contact with the late Elizabeth Lulham. Little else had commanded the man's thoughts for any length of time, and those few items that had, had been dismissed quickly in passing. Tiny Elizabeth, for example, had grown from chubby, wide-eyed infancy to quietly flowering womanhood with far less than a diary's worth of scribblings to tell her tale.

After Lulham's sister Maggie had gone into a home, young Elizabeth had taken over her aunt's role--and that of her mother's before her--with the aplomb of an old woman. Unassuming, and to all appearances negligently naive, she had been the recipient of her father's careless affection--but only so long as she had not deflected him from his sole purpose in living--the worship of a woman long dead.

They had moved into the house on Aylward Road in 1934 so Lulham could be near his doctor. His health, never robust following the Great War, had deteriorated just prior to that period. The move to Merton Park, and improved medical standards seemed to reverse that trend. Before long the old routine had been re-established, and father and daughter had settled in. To Bodie's mind, the relocation from Northchapel had been the only activity of note in nearly sixteen years.

By the time Bodie reached 1944, he was well and truly disgusted with Raymond Lulham's whinging obsession. And, although there was no concrete evidence to support his theory that Lulham's dabbling in the "unknown" was the root of his grandson's current dilemma, Bodie had uncovered several references to less than savory practices--all of which Lulham had thoroughly researched. It was the mention of Aleister Crowley that brought him up sharp in his chair, a soft curse erupting from his lips.

"What're you on about now?"

Doyle's tart demand shattered Bodie's reverie. He looked up to find Doyle entering the dining room with a fresh pot of tea and a plate of biscuits. Not quite oblivious to the other man's movements, he had nevertheless completely lost track of the time; it was nearly half past eight.

"Aleister Crowley. He died in 1944," he said tiredly. "You were right, y'know?"

"About?"

"Your grandad--he was a lunatic."

Doyle sat down and began to pour tea into both mugs. Idly picking up a biscuit when the mugs were full, he muttered, "Crowley--that the devil-worshipping bloke?"

"Hm. Some people just considered him a free-thinker. But he was a satanist, yes."

"And my grandad knew him, too?"

"No; he mentioned his passing. Raymond Lulham stayed on the side of angels--although he had an unfortunate tendency to neglect the living."

Biting into a biscuit, Doyle began to chew thoughtfully. "My mum?"

"Number One on the list of those neglected."

"So you think he's responsible for all this? My granddad, not Crowley."

Rubbing his eyes with his fingertips, Bodie mumbled, "Maybe. I think he certainly opened the door, for all that he was a silly old man who didn't know what he was doing."

Closely examining the remains of the chocolate-coated sweet, Doyle commented, "Must be dreadful to love someone that much." He popped the last bite into his mouth.

"He did love her," Bodie conceded. "At first. After that it became a fantasy. Your grandad should've died in 1918 with his wife."

Steadfast green eyes scoured Bodie's tired face. "Funny, that's what Mum used to say."

"Did she ever let on how she felt about her old man?" Bodie asked, raising the mug to his mouth.

"Mum didn't often speak of him. Whenever I asked her questions, she'd get this faraway look in her eyes. Kind of sad, kind of wistful. And then she'd laugh and say my grandad probably had the shock of his life when he died and met up with gran again. She liked to think her mum gave him a bloody good rollicking for all those years he had wasted because of her."

"I dare say he could've used it a good forty years sooner," Bodie said darkly. He set down his mug and picked up the diary he had been reading. "I think the last fourteen years will have to wait until tomorrow," he remarked, sticking a slip of paper between the pages to mark his place. "By the way, your handwriting is very like your grandad's. Hope you didn't inherit anything else from him."

"Give over. Your eyes are going," Doyle snorted at Bodie's ominous pronouncement.

Giving his watch another glance, Bodie returned to his notepad. Finding an unmarked sheet, he took up his pencil and sat a moment, ordering his thoughts. Soon, the graphite tip was scratching across the page, composing a list of several items. Bodie was unaware of Doyle's continued attention until the other man spoke, his voice seemingly loud in the evening quiet.

"What's that you're writing?" Doyle asked.

Uncomfortably aware of the sudden rapid-fire pulse in his throat--Doyle had startled him badly--Bodie said, "Just jotting down what we know about this 'thing' of yours."

"Sorry, mate," Doyle corrected him archly. "I don't claim ownership." He reached out and laid a finger on the head of the notepad. "Let's have a look."

Bodie allowed him to turn the pad round to face him, inconspicuously taking steadying breaths.

"One:" Doyle read aloud. "It is not neutral." He shot Bodie a sardonic grin. "I'll agree with that; the damn thing hates me. Two: The presence seems to be concentrated on the west side of the house; specifically, the lounge and study. Other rooms have yet to be tested. Hm." Doyle turned his wrist over to read the dial of his watch. "Soon to be rectified, eh? Three: The presence implies masculinity; cloying scent of cologne mingled with tobacco odor. Four: The manifestations seem to be confined to the period between nine pm and one am; this could be subject to change." An exaggerated frown caused the corners of Doyle's mouth to droop. "Great thought, that."

"Doesn't tell us much; not really," Bodie said moodily.

"Bodie." Doyle waited until troubled blue eyes rose from their scrutiny of the list. "I don't expect you to fix all this. Just-- Well, having you on my side has helped--loads."

"Thanks, sunshine; but something needs to be done. You can't live like this forever."

"I bloody well know that. But it isn't going to last forever, is it?"

"Meaning?" Bodie asked warily.

"Meaning that it's getting worse. More intense. Stronger."

"And?"

"Something's gotta give eventually. It gets what it wants, whatever that is--or it doesn't. I don't know; you're the expert."

Bodie folded his hands together and stared down at his thumbs. "It wants you, mate. And it isn't going to get you so long as I have a part in all this, okay?" He flicked his wrist over and checked the time again. "It's almost nine. You'll stay here?"

Doyle scowled at him. "Said I would."

"You promised you would. I'm holding you to that."

"Fifteen minutes," Doyle reminded him implacably.

"Right."





On the stroke of nine, Bodie left the dining room, after pausing only long enough to place a light kiss on the crown of Doyle's head. Despite his calm demeanour, he had been aware of the increasingly charged nature of their environment for several minutes. Or, maybe it was only his imagination, fed by the vexation of reading Raymond Lulham's selfish discourses for two and half hours.

Wasting no time, Bodie methodically went into every room in the house, starting with the lounge. Knowing that the phenomena would not build to fever pitch for some time yet--at least, he hoped they wouldn't--he decided that he should leave those rooms that seemed to be least susceptible to visitation for last; otherwise he might not determine if they were affected at all.

As had occurred the night before, the lounge rapidly exhibited extreme cold and objectionable odor. Bodie noted to himself that the transition was quicker this time, and took off at a jog for the study. Here, too, things were already happening; he did not linger to witness the plummeting temperatures and overpowering stench of cologne. From the study he hurried to the loft, bringing the fold-up stair down in one, fluid movement. He scurried up and paced the perimeter of the attic. Unsurprisingly, the phenomena were less pronounced here, and seemingly limited to the west side of the room.

Heart rate escalating, Bodie skidded down the stair and restored it to the accessway. Next he made brief stops in the two secondary bedrooms, the bathroom and Doyle's room. The smaller of the two bedrooms--on the west side of the house--was minimally affected; the other not at all. Doyle's room was completely normal.

Thudding down the stairs to the ground floor, the hair at the nape of Bodie's neck lifted as he neared the lounge. Bypassing it entirely, he walked back down the corridor to the doorway which led to the cellar. Fervently hoping the lights would stay on until he had finished his inspection there, he trotted down the concrete stair. Somewhat to his consternation, there was little of the frigid cold to be discerned--not even on the side of the house that gave off such an abundance of it. He made a complete circuit of the enclosure, getting as close to the walls as the stored items allowed. Puzzled, but keenly conscious of time's swift passage, he turned his back to the cellar and headed for the ground floor again.

Closing the door behind him with a soft sigh of relief, Bodie performed a cursory inspection of the kitchen and the bathroom under the stair. Both were notably chilly; conversely, the conservatory, even on the west side, was largely unaffected.

With thirty seconds to spare, Bodie slipped into the dining room, almost bowling over Doyle, who was just reaching for the latch.

"Thank Christ," Doyle said tightly.

Bodie gripped a wiry shoulder and smiled at the other man. "Take it easy, mate."

"I'm fine," Doyle said indignantly. "What'd you find out?"

"Nothing much. The cellar isn't as chilly as I expected. Overall, the cold and stink are confined to the west side of the house. The lounge and study are still the worst."

A loud thud sounded from somewhere in the house; both men visibly jumped. Biting his lower lip, Bodie tried to gauge where the noise had originated. He turned to Doyle and saw that the round face was stubbornly set; his heart sank.

"Ray, I think we should leave."

"No. You said it made us panic last night. I won't let it do that again."

"This isn't a contest of wills," Bodie said severely. "Or one-upmanship, either--although, if it is, that thing has us hands down."

"This is my house, Bodie," Doyle rasped out. "And I'm tired of being chased out of it."

"Ray--" Bodie didn't bother finishing what he had been about to say, for somewhere, something huge crashed into something solid; the very walls seemed to shudder about them. Without another word, Bodie began to gather a few items that he wanted to survive this night: Lulham's later diaries, the accounts ledger, the correspondence binder. He even scooped Doyle's galleys off the table and carried the lot to the conservatory. He went to the outer door and placed everything in a large carry-bag on the counter that served as work space for the washer and spin-drier that resided below.

Doyle cynically looked on as Bodie unlocked the door and returned to the dining room. Their eyes met and held; Bodie gave him a lop-sided smile. "Might as well sit down and make yourself comfortable, then."

Taking his own advice, he lowered himself into the chair at the table, arranging the pencil and notepad before him. For a moment, Doyle hesitated, head inclined a little to one side, as if listening for something.

"Ray?"

"Noth--" The single word was obliterated by a ferocious thump, which seemed to come from right outside the door. Doyle's eyes saucered, and he took an involuntary step backward.

At the same instant, Bodie half-rose, muscles tensed for action. Seconds passed and the sound was not repeated. All about them, the normal hums and creaks of the building carried on with exaggerated loudness. Gradually Bodie eased himself back into the chair.

Doyle chose to remain standing, hands flexing and unflexing, as he stared at the closed door.

"C'mon, Doyle, why don't y--" Bodie's heart nearly leapt out of his chest at a sudden, savage pounding at the door. The sheer magnitude of sound made it impossible to think. It filled his ears, and echoed in his head like cannon going off inches away. Fighting its stunning force, Bodie surged to his feet once more, sparing a sharp glance for Doyle, who had fallen back yet another pace.

Within seconds the terrible banging ceased. The resultant quiet was almost as devastating as the volley of noise. Creeping forward, Bodie began to interpose himself between Doyle and the door.

A minute went by, and another. Bodie smothered a gasp when a palm came to rest lightly on his left shoulder-blade.

Doyle increased the weight of his touch, rubbing Bodie's back firmly. Standing very close, he said contritely, "'S only me."

Bodie managed a shaky grin. "Noisy bugger, isn't it?"

"'S a wonder the neighbors haven't complained," Doyle agreed.

"Ray, I really think--" He flinched back, pressing up hard against Doyle, as the pounding began again. This time it went on for several minutes, unbelievably gaining in ferocity. As inconspicuously as possible, Bodie inched Doyle backward, toward the door to the conservatory. Alarms were going off in his head, demanding that they leave now.

But Doyle resisted, firmly placing a hand round Bodie's waist and standing very still. Short of throwing him off balance and slinging him over his shoulder, there was nothing Bodie could do. When the vehement thumping finally spent itself, Bodie was sweating, despite the coolness of the room.

Struck by this sudden realization, Bodie opened his mouth to speak just as Doyle remarked, "The temperature's going down in here, too."

Swallowing hard, Bodie said, "Yeah."

Doyle turned to him. "It wants to scare us again. But, Bodie--can it actually hurt us?"

"I can't answer that, Ray. Just remember one thing: it blew the socket in your computer room."

Doyle raised both hands, balled into fists, in front of him. "Damn it, I want to fight this fucking thing!"

"Know that, sunshine," Bodie said placatingly. "But it's got the edge over us, and you--"

He broke off. A faint, indefinable scraping sound had started on the other side of the door. In Bodie's mind it conjured an image of a paw, begging entry. But the relatively innocent image was barely formed when the noise became louder, harsher, like a sharp utensil methodically and forcibly being dragged over wood. Or, perhaps, more accurately, like a huge claw being raked across the panel of the door--

Shivering in the unremitting cold, Bodie was struck with a deep, unthinking dread. "Ray, I want to go now."

Bodie's calm but emphatic statement seemed to impress Doyle as his previous requests for cooperation had not. Staring hard into Bodie's eyes, he gave a brief, reluctant nod. "All right."

He had left it too late.

The combined stench of sweetness and rot beset them simultaneously; in less than a second, the remaining warmth in the room was eradicated. Without thinking, Bodie lunged in front of Doyle just as the door burst inward, the shattering of timber accompanied by a blood-curdling roar. He threw up his hands as a malicious wind blasted into the room, lifting objects and hurtling them about as though they weighed nothing. Something smashed into the wall lamp that curved over the table. The room was plunged into darkness.

Bodie felt Doyle stumble behind him, and as the other man had not relinquished his hold on Bodie's waist, Bodie almost toppled onto him. Like frightened children they righted themselves and bolted away.

Their nemesis projected a massive presence, deafening them with inescapable noise, stealing their breath with its horrid stench. Blinded by total darkness, they made for the door to the conservatory at the cost of unavoidable bruising. Furniture that should have been across the room somehow materialized before them, obstructing their retreat.

Distance became warped; even time slowed. For Bodie it became a major task simply to place one foot before the other, to suck air into his lungs, even to string random impulses into thought. He began to believe that his heart would burst with the strain of maintaining his sense of reality; yet he did not falter, carried on by the link of Doyle's arm about him, and his about Doyle. No matter what happened, he would not let Doyle go.

NO!

The howl of outrage nearly took Bodie off his feet, smashing into him from behind like a physical blow. He twisted his head to look back, and yelped as his cheek was torn open just below his left eye. Something had sliced out at him through the dark, something that even now was surging toward him, almost close enough to touch-- And then he was falling, his hands seeking frenziedly for Doyle, who had been snatched away.

"Ray!" he cried.

Desperately struggling to his knees, pulses pounding furiously, Bodie was sickeningly aware of the presence behind him, its breath hot and fetid upon his back. In the next second it would be upon him. If he did not get up immediately, it would have him; if he did not move, it would--

Bodie was lying face-down in soft, damp grass. The mingled scents of plant clippings and rich soil filled his nostrils. Prickly grass blades poked itchingly into his right cheek. All at once there were arms pulling him upright, forcing him to make unsteady legs bear his weight.

"Ray?" he whispered.

"Right here," Doyle assured him huskily. "You'll be all right, mate. Put your arm round me, so I can get you to the car, okay?"

Suffering the uneasy impression that he had lost an unmeasured span of time, Bodie concentrated on following Doyle's instructions, discovering that all his strength was needed simply to keep himself vertical and mobile, even with Doyle's assistance.

Before he knew it, he was in the garage and Doyle was angling him into the passenger seat of the Merc. Comforted by the gentle stillness of night and Doyle's nearness, Bodie tried to shake off his disorientation. The belt was drawn across his shoulder and buckled at the hip. With his head lolling limply and rather painfully against the neck support, it took Bodie a moment to register the significance of Doyle's words as he closed the door: "Be back in a minute, Bodie."

Comprehension struck him all at once. Gathering all that remained of his strength and wits, Bodie reached for the door handle, fully prepared to return to the fray. Just then Doyle reappeared, the over-full carry-bag sagging cumbrously from one hand. Sinking back against the seat with a sigh, Bodie accepted that Doyle had somehow managed to return to the house and retrieve Lulham's diaries and his publisher's galleys without sustaining injury to himself. As he let his eyes quiver downward, he decided that it felt good to let someone else take control for a while; to let someone else take care of him.

He only wanted to know why he should need taking care of in the first place.





After ten o'clock there was little traffic between Merton Park and Sutton to slow travel. Soothed by the contained purr of the car's engine and its gentle motion, Bodie almost fell asleep along the way. Doyle, however, jarred him out of it every time he came close, either by word or touch. A little disgruntled, Bodie guessed that Doyle had a reason for his perverseness, and therefore kept his temper at bay. It was easier to settle back and allow his eyes to slide shut after each intrusion, than to waste energy on complaint.

Almost successful in sliding under the surface one last time, Bodie was awakened by Doyle's voice announcing, "We're here, mate. D'you need any help getting out?"

Looking about with a puzzled expression, Bodie recognized their location at once: they were parked on the south side of Robin Hood lane, just across the road from his flat. "'Course not," he groused thickly. "What d'you think?"

Despite his objections, Doyle appeared at his side of the car very quickly; and although he did not offer to give Bodie his shoulder, he remained near enough to catch him should Bodie even hint at taking a fall. They walked slowly across the street and onto the path leading to the old building. The air was heavy with dew, and brisk, but to Bodie it smelt sweet and fresh--perfect counterpoint to--

He came to an abrupt stop on the doorstep. "Did it get me?"

Eyeing him uncertainly, Doyle shook his head. "Never had a chance, sunshine."

"I don'--"

"Let's get inside, Bodie. You fell; something hit you from behind. You've got a hell of a knot on the back of your head. Look, just give me the key, will you?"

Without argument, Bodie handed it over as soon as he could extricate the ring from his trousers pocket. Doyle deftly unlocked the door and pushed it open, then waited for Bodie to precede him. Bodie's head was beginning to throb violently by the time he started down the communal hallway to the flight of stairs that gave access to his flat.

Halfway there, a female voice called, "Bodie?"

He lurched to a stop and turned, almost plowing into Doyle who had been following right on his heels. Reaching out automatically, his hand was met and held by Doyle's--and that was how Allison found them when she peered through her kitchen doorway.

"What on earth--!"

Letting Doyle go without hurry, Bodie summoned a pale grin. "'M all right."

Allison's eyes were riveted to Bodie's bloodied face and rumpled clothing, and the man beside him, whom she clearly recognized from their meeting of a week before. "You're bleeding, Bodie. D'you--"

"You should see the other guy," Bodie assured her, secure in the knowledge that she never would. "Don't worry, Allison. I'll be in tomorrow."

She scowled speakingly at him. "Wasn't worried about that. And I won't butt in where I'm not wanted--but if you need anything, just ask, okay?"

"Right. Good night, Ali."

"Sorry if we disturbed you," Doyle added in a low voice.

"You didn't. Good night, both of you."

They made it up the two flights of stairs to Bodie's flat without mishap, although Bodie's head was threatening to come apart at the seams, from the bridge of his nose to the first cervical vertebra. Using Bodie's keys once more to gain entry, Doyle ushered the flagging man into the kitchen. There he directed him to a chair beside the dining table while he availed himself of water, a flannel, and a towel. With these stationed on the laminated surface at Bodie's side, Doyle soaked the flannel and began a gentle dabbing of Bodie's burning cheek.

Saying nothing while Doyle ministered his injury, Bodie was supremely conscious of the other man's nearness. Doyle's concern was almost palpable in its intensity; Bodie felt rather guilty for being the source of it.

"Tell me what happened after I went down," he requested, gasping involuntarily when Doyle brushed a particularly sensitive patch of scraped skin.

"Dunno, precisely," Doyle replied, artlessly. "One minute you were right beside me; the next, you were down. I didn't stop to think, Bodie. I just found you as soon as I could and dragged you outside. Wasn't easy in that pitch blackness, y'know."

Bodie regarded the hollow-eyed, gaunt-faced man bending over him with wonderment. "I wouldn't have blamed you if you'd kept going, Ray! You were a lunatic to stop for me; it's you it wants."

"And it doesn't care who gets hurt in the process. You can't think much of me if you think I'd leave you to that."

Quite guilelessly, Bodie stated, "I think entirely too much of you."

"That's bloody obvious, you idiot. It's my fault you were injured tonight, and I'm sorry. I should've listened to you when you said you wanted to go."

He leaned nearer and stared hard into Bodie's eyes. Bemused, Bodie thought he was about to receive a kiss for his chivalry. His illusions were shattered when Doyle announced practically, "Don't think you're concussed; your pupils are the same size, anyway."

"That's reassuring," Bodie muttered. "You been writing gay medical books lately?"

Doyle snorted. "No-- But I did have to research the trauma associated with head injuries for one of my standard gay books. Lean forward, will you; I want to look at that bump on your skull."

"Feels big enough to be visible from across the room," Bodie said acidly. He rested his cheek against his forearm, which was still stretched upon the table-top, half drowsing as cautious fingers probed around the nape of his neck. With Doyle this close, he could smell the faintly acrid bouquet of his sweat, feel the soft current of his breath, even sense the heat emanating from his body. Drifting on images, he gave a shout and jerked involuntarily when Doyle found the precise center of his injury. With great strength of will he managed to hold himself very still as Doyle carefully parted the hair and set about washing the area clean.

"Barely broke the skin," Doyle reported. "Just a sodding great lump. I've finished; you can give up the stoic act now."

"Trying to get a rise out of me, were you? I thought you were digging about a bit more keenly than you needed to," Bodie said accusingly.

Ignoring Bodie's calumny, Doyle took hold of Bodie's arm and pulled him out of the chair. "C'mon, mate," he said indulgently. "We'll take turns in the loo; you can gulp down a couple of tablets if you've got 'em, and then it's bed for you."

Bodie cast the man beside him a searching look. "And you?"

"'M afraid you're stuck with me for the night. I will take the sofa, if you'd rather."

"The bed's the same size it was last night," Bodie reminded him. "If that's all right with you?"

Doyle grinned wryly at him, the amusement in his voice easing the rocky expression in his tired green eyes. "Perfectly. Let's go. Quit stalling, will you?"

A short while later, they lay together--untouching--in Bodie's double bed. For the first time since confronting the enormity of Doyle's predicament, Bodie was restored to peace: Here, Doyle was safe.

He reached out until the tip of one finger came to lie against Doyle's upper arm; he simply wanted to establish some contact that would verify the other man's continued presence. Doyle shifted in response, rolling over and gazing expressionlessly into Bodie's face. Light from the street-lamp leaked through the curtains and cast its pale glow on Doyle's uneven features. He smiled and Bodie fancied he could even discern a chipped tooth.

"C'mere, mate," Doyle said hoarsely, and gathered Bodie into his arms.

Bodie went willingly, letting himself be molded to Doyle's angular form until they were tightly curled together. Doyle's heat surrounded him, banishing the chill from his own skin, and sank deep into the battered core of him.

Relaxed, content and nearly pain-free, Bodie slowly yielded to the night. His last coherent thought before darkness claimed him was one of marvel that an evening that had gone so appallingly wrong should end up so brilliantly right.




Day Eight - Tuesday

A butterfly-soft touch brushed against the lashes of Bodie's left eye, causing him to twitch. His body was heavily weighted with sleep; he was warm, and his head did not hurt, yet for some unremembered reason, he was certain that it ought to.

There was a promise of heat in the very faint glow of the first light of day; their spell of singularly fine weather seemed to be holding. Stirring a little as he drowsily took stock of his present situation, Bodie realized that he was not alone in the bed; and he knew at once who shared it with him.

Opening his eyes and focussing with slow anticipation, he found Doyle lying scant inches away, stretched out on his side, head propped up on the support formed by elbow and hand. Doyle was watching him. The duvet had fallen away from his shoulder, revealing his lean, darkly pelted chest to the lowest ribs. Curly locks were dauntingly perky at this ungodly hour, tumbling across Doyle's forehead and hanging heavily upon the solid stretch of his neck; the gold chain and locket lay prominently upon his collarbone.

Having been caught in the act of reaching toward Bodie's face once more, Doyle left his hand suspended over Bodie's nose. As Bodie moved his head forward, nudging the parted finger and thumb, Doyle lightly pinched the slightly upturned tip.

"How's the headache?" he asked in a low, rough-edged voice that sent adrenalin effervescing through Bodie's veins.

"Taking a breather at the moment."

Doyle curved his fingers round Bodie's cheek. The ball of his thumb traced the contours of the heavy jaw and chin.

"How d'you test, Bodie?" he asked, eyes on Bodie's mouth as he challenged the weight of his pouting lower lip.

"Test?" Bodie repeated blankly. He took a deep breath. "Oh. That test. I haven't, actually."

Doyle's hand stilled. "No?"

"I--" Bodie drew a wry face. "The truth of the matter is, the first time I was with a man was six years ago. By then, Aids was very well known. I've never done anything but safe sex, Ray. Y'know, played a bit of chop sticks, a little frottage. And always, always with a Durex."

"For no more than that?" Doyle asked mildly.

"Wouldn't've been safe otherwise, now would it?"

"For six years," Doyle commented thoughtfully. "And before that?"

"Women. I was in Africa with a group of Mercs; the Army for a few years. Avoided the locals, no matter where I was, till I got home. Which doesn't mean I couldn't've picked something up--I do realize that. Just because a person's clean doesn't eliminate the possibility. D'you want me to test for it?"

Doyle broke into a smile. "Hardly think that's necessary, old son, based on what you've told me."

"Good." Taking that as license to proceed, Bodie squirmed nearer and curled a hand round Doyle's waist, his body responding at once to the silken feel of the other man's skin under his fingers. Marking the pronounced boniness of his ribs, he murmured, "Going to have to fatten you up a little, I think."

"Taking over the cooking, are you?"

Bodie shuddered dramatically. "Not on your life. Believe me, you wouldn't want me to, either." He followed the progress of his hand as blunt-tipped fingers raked through feathery chest hair. Rubbing a thumb over a small, rose-brown nipple, Bodie watched fascinated as the skin contracted and the nub formed a tight peak.

"Bodie--."

Meeting Doyle's searing green gaze, Bodie felt himself hardening at the unmistakable desire writ large on Doyle's face. Closing the remaining distance between them, Bodie placed his mouth on Doyle's, revelling in the soft texture of the other man's lips, the smooth dryness, the welcoming pliancy.

He would have deepened the kiss, but Doyle drew away. "You don't want to know, do you?" he demanded, exasperatedly amused.

Befuddled and desperately missing the pleasure of Doyle's mouth, Bodie shook his head. "Know what?"

"About me. About how I test."

Relieved that Doyle was not about to curtail their fledgling activities, Bodie summoned a crooked grin. "It isn't important."

"Not important! Bodie, I could--"

Bodie ended Doyle's protests with a fervent kiss. Then he said, "Let me finish, eh? You've already told me how you feel about cottaging and the like. You're not promiscuous, Ray. What else do I need to know?"

Doyle answered tartly, "But d'you know that I've always been that way? 'Course you don't. I have been tested, Bodie."

Understanding that Doyle needed to discuss this before they went any further, Bodie let his head drop onto his upper arm and waited patiently.

"I just want you to know that I'm not that much more experienced with men than you are," Doyle said awkwardly. "The things you mentioned: I've done those. And I've done some sucking--as the doer and do-ee." He frowned as Bodie suddenly smiled. "But only ever with sheaths on."

Bodie's brows went up. "So why were you tested?"

"Paranoia. You begin to think think you can catch it just by being gay, these days. But I've never been all that trusting of the petroleum industry, either--even for a bit of sucking."

"Prefer lambskin, meself," Bodie said jokily. He touched Doyle's face, backbrushing the thick new growth that sprouted darkly on his cheeks. Closing his eyes, he molded his mouth once more to Doyle's, immediately lost to the glorious sensation of those full lips yielding to his.

When Doyle broke their contact once more, Bodie could not contain a soft moan.

"The results were negative, in case you were interested, you lout," Doyle said dryly. "And it was the full-blown job; not just a screening."

"And if you'd turned up positive, it wouldn't've made any difference. I'd still want to be with you." Holding Doyle immobile, Bodie rubbed himself hard against him. "I'd still want to make love to you."

With their heated bodies pressed tightly together, Doyle groaned, "It would've made a world of difference, Bodie." He began to work his hips, his hands gripping Bodie's flanks. "Between skin and plastic--and skin and warm--hard-- skin."

Bodie couldn't agree more, but at that moment, words eluded him. His entire being was concentrated on filling his senses with the man who lay beside him. Apparently driven by a similar imperative, Doyle was the one to re-establish their kiss, lightly licking Bodie's lower lip until he willingly opened for a more intimate touch. Taking Doyle's tongue into his mouth, Bodie tasted long and deeply, finding the unique flavor of Raymond Doyle more beguiling than the most exotic delicacy.

Hands roamed over smooth flesh, delving into secret and not-so-secret places. Before long their legs were twined together in a tight plait, balancing them against the forceful thrusts of their lower bodies. Making soft, helpless sounds, Doyle suddenly arched back, his fingers digging into Bodie's flanks. As Doyle clung to him, cool slickness wetting his belly, Bodie focussed completely on his partner to the neglect of his own aching need. Wanting this release to be amongst the best Doyle had ever known, Bodie continued to fondle and caress with feathery, undemanding touches, until Doyle sagged against him, his breathing gradually regaining its normal pattern.

Stroking Bodie's neck and shoulders, Doyle finally raised his head and lethargically met his interested gaze. Utterly at peace and not shy about letting Bodie see it, Doyle bestowed a tender kiss on the corner of Bodie's mouth. Then his eyes dropped to Bodie's weeping tumescence and his contented smile widened. "No more Durexes for you and me, mate," he vowed, and slid down the mattress to bend over Bodie's hips.

"Oh, God," Bodie gasped, as he was taken into Doyle's mouth. He could have told him that he was wasting his time, for the mere thought of Doyle running his tongue over the hard, swollen length of him had thrust Bodie right to the edge. In the next second, engulfed in the wet, hot sheathe of Doyle's mouth and lips, Bodie went over it, hands mindlessly kneading thin, taut-muscled shoulders in a rhythm that matched the pulse of his orgasm.

A moment passed. Bodie forced his eyes open and turned his cheek upon the pillow to look down at the head resting on his abdomen. All he could see were luxuriant auburn curls, dark upon his own fair skin. Bodie reached out and carefully insinuated his fingers into the pleasantly heated mop.

"Thank you," he whispered, not yet sure of his voice. "That was perfect."

"You're perfect," Doyle corrected thickly. Bodie heard the emotion in Doyle's voice before registering the source of cooling dampness on his midriff. He rolled forward to take Doyle into his arms, then gathered him against his chest and held him there with possessive strength. Bodie had no words to tell Doyle how important he had become to him; so he tried to convey it by shear dint of presence. If a man could know he was cherished through touch alone, then Doyle could harbor no doubts concerning his standing in Bodie's life.

Mundane considerations intruded, however, and Bodie was reluctantly forced to relax his grip on his new love long enough to snag the tissue box off the bedside cabinet to rescue bedsheets in imminent danger of sharing the sticky remnants of their pleasure. Helping himself to a handful, he deftly mopped Doyle's ejaculate off them both, then lobbed the soiled wad over the side of the bed.

Lying back with a sigh, he found his arms full of demonstrably affectionate Ray Doyle.

Undemandingly kissing him, Doyle took a long time to savor Bodie's mouth before settling down again. With his head on Bodie's shoulder, he continued to lightly caress and fondle for a while; his fingers slowed until the cessation of movement and the slow, steady pattern of his breathing gave away the fact that he had fallen asleep.

Keeping in mind that he must soon leave Doyle's side and prepare for work, Bodie's own hands glided over the lithe form until the thought was incorporated into a semi-dream. He was fast approaching full-scale slumber when Doyle came awake with a start. Jarred back to consciousness, Bodie sensed mild distress and responded accordingly, making soft shushing noises and comfortingly massaging Doyle's back and shoulders.

"What is it?" he asked.

"I--" Doyle shivered, then hugged Bodie ferociously. "Don't you have work today?"

"Damn!" Sitting bolt upright, Bodie shot a glance at the bedside clock as his dormant headache sprang to life. "Nearly half past seven," Bodie said through clenched teeth. Indulging himself one last time, he gave Doyle a thorough kiss, then slipped out from under the covers. "Promised Allison I'd be in. Damn and double damn." Pulling on his dressing-gown as he headed for the door, Bodie said over his shoulder, "I'm sorry, mate."

"'S all right," Doyle assured him, scrubbing his eyes as he sat up. "Need to get back to the house, anyway."

That brought Bodie to a full stop. "Ray," he began, turning to face him. "Stay here, why don't you? At least until we find out--"

"I can't, Bodie." Doyle's rueful expression tempered the sharpness of his words. "I--dreamed again."

Bodie walked back to sit on the edge of the bed. "Like the ones you've had before?"

Scowling bitterly, Doyle nodded. "Exactly. And if that can follow me, maybe the other can, as well." Eyes shadowed, he looked to Bodie for understanding. "It's getting stronger, isn't it?"

Bodie lightly squeezed one of Doyle's long thighs. "We can handle it."

"Can we?" Doyle asked bleakly. He raised a finger to Bodie's puffy cheek. "It hurt you last night. I won't let it do that again."

"It won't--rather, we won't give it a chance to. If you want to go back to the house, we'll both go."

His eyes lightening at the "we" in Bodie's statement, Doyle nonetheless persisted, "Are you sure, mate? If you want out, I'll understand."

"I'm sure." Bodie underscored his verbal commitment with a gentle kiss. "And now I've got to get dressed. And so do you; you've got to drive me in."

"D'you have something I can wear?" Doyle asked, casting a less than enthusiastic glance at the sloppy pile of clothing he had abandoned on the chest of drawers the night before.

"Of course. We're close in size, though the trousers will be a tad large. You can change back at your place."

"Right." Doyle thumped Bodie lightly on his upper arm. "Go on, then. Hop it."





By observing the scantiest of clean-ups and skipping breakfast altogether, they were on their way to Merton Park within twenty minutes. As Bodie had suspected earlier, the mercury was already rising, the day was still, and the sky was a rich, deep shade of blue.

"Summer's early," he remarked as Doyle turned the Mercedes onto Aylward Road.

"Won't last," his companion stated glumly.

"Spoilsport."

Doyle came up with a moderately successful grin. "There's your car, m'lud."

"Yeah. But I've got a few minutes, yet. Mind if I come in for a cuppa?"

Tipping his head to one side, Doyle said quietly, "Be honest, Bodie."

Bodie reached out and covered Doyle's hand with his own. "All right. I just want to walk through the place with you; or I can do it alone, while you make a cuppa."

Twisting his hand about, Doyle linked their fingers together. "We'll do it together. You've got tea waiting at your office."

Bodie drew a comical face. "And the third degree. Heather will do her nut when she sees this." He gestured vaguely at the swollen, red scratch on his cheek.

"So offer to show her the goose egg on your head, too. Are the Anadins helping?" Doyle had recommended those just before leaving the flat; even though Bodie had mendaciously argued that his head was not bothering him at all.

"You'll be reading my cards next. Yes, dear, it's quite all right." The dull thump had grown to a sickening throb when he had stepped into Doyle's car. Bodie had put it down to vestigial memory--the last time he'd been in this vehicle, his head had been drumming like an all-percussion band.

Alighting onto the pavement, the two men paused to look over Doyle's house. From the outside it appeared perfectly normal. Not a curtain hung out of place, the door stood properly shut--nothing untoward might ever have occurred here. Doyle led the way to the small iron gate, then held it open with unthinking courtesy for Bodie to pass through. Fishing his keys out of the soft chocolate-colored corduroys he had borrowed from Bodie, he startled rather badly when a strident voice announced his name from several yards away.

"Mrs. Barberino," he responded coolly, shifting sideways to face the large woman who glared at him from over the fence that separated their properties on the east.

"I must ask you to do something about the noise, Mr. Doyle," the woman said icily. She was large and florid, her hair an unlikely copper hue that stood out from her face in implacably stiffened waves.

"Noise?" Doyle asked. From his tone of voice and rigid expression, Bodie could guess that these two had never been close neighbors--except in proximity.

"In your conservatory last night. It sounded like a brawl; not at all appropriate for our quiet little neighborhood, you know."

"Ah," Doyle said sweetly, "like your niece's wedding reception last month?"

The woman's ruddy complexion deepened to brick red. Mouth tightly pursed, she declared, "Mr. Barberino wanted to ring the police. I discouraged him. Please see that it doesn't happen again." Triumphantly, she showed him her teeth. "Good day, Mr. Doyle."

Head held high, she disappeared into the front door of her house.

Looking on with some amusement, Bodie prodded the other man. "Let's go, sunshine; unless you want her to hear your teeth grinding from here?"

"Cow," Doyle growled. He keyed open the door; this time he did not offer Bodie the lead.

Inside, all was as absurdly unexceptional as outside. Doyle went through the hall to the dining room, Bodie crowding close behind. Impossibly, the room looked untouched, not a piece of furniture, not a knick-knack, not a lamp out of place. Face sheet-white, Doyle went to the lighting fixture over the dining table that had burst into a thousand pieces the previous evening, and switched it on; it glowed pleasantly yellow in the gloom of the curtained room.

Doyle turned toward Bodie, his expression too tightly constrained. "It did it again, didn't it?"

Refusing to meet Doyle's stare, Bodie roamed slowly about the room, checking the walls and furniture for evidence of nicking or outright destruction. As Doyle had already determined, none was to be found.

"Looks like it," he admitted with a heavy sigh. He turned round and came face to face with the other man.

"We didn't imagine it," Doyle said fiercely, stroking a careful fingertip under the bruised scratch on Bodie's cheek.

"Neither did your neighbors, sunshine," Bodie said hearteningly. "Buck up, mate. Let's do a quick turn through the house, and I'll be off." Before Doyle, in his self-absorbed misery, could divine what Bodie was about, he had been roughly hugged and kissed.

"Idiot," he murmured, leaning willingly into Bodie's grasp. "If you think that's going to stiffen my resolve, you're working on the wrong end."

In full agreement, Bodie dredged up a laugh, which was almost immediately smothered by Doyle's insistent mouth. It would have been very easy to concede to the other man's uninhibited passion; especially since all Bodie wanted at that moment was to strip Doyle bare and love him insensible.

"Ray-- Ray, please--"

Flushed and dark-eyed with desire, Doyle unwillingly loosened his hold. "Your own damn fault, mate." He waved a hand at the prominent ridge in Bodie's trousers, but refrained from actual contact. "Wouldn't take but a minute."

"An accurate assessment of my current staying power, thanks to you," Bodie agreed testily. He stole a last, chaste kiss, ran a thumb along his groin to ease the lay of his genitals, and stalwartly turned from Doyle's appreciative stare.

"Conservatory first," Bodie grunted, eliciting a chortle from Doyle. That unfeigned gurgle of amusement more than balanced the cost of Bodie's present state of discomfort. Taking Doyle's hand in his, Bodie dragged the other man alongside without resistance.

Like the dining room, the conservatory was untouched. Caught on a sudden thought, Bodie asked, "How did you manage to get Lulham's things and your galleys out of here last night? I forgot about them completely."

Doyle's face relaxed into a smug smile. "That's because you don't have a commitment to submit those galleys to your boss two days from now. Iain will have my hide, paranormal phenomena or no, if I fail to deliver."

"So long as he doesn't try to kiss you, that's all right."

Doyle canted a brow at him. "Oh, really?"

"Yes, really." He stopped and looked hard at Doyle. "And you can make the same request, mate."

Stepping near, Doyle took Bodie's face between his hands and brought their mouths together, slowly, tenderly, and without lust. "Deal." He backed off, taking hold of Bodie's hand again. "You're stalling, Bodie. There's the rest of the house to do, and then you've got to be off, remember?"

Bodie did, but the sense of urgency had easily escaped him, distracted as he was by baser impulses.





At five and twenty past eight, Bodie drove the Vauxhall into the car park, searched at length before finding a slot, then was compelled to leave it in a space almost as far from the ground entrance as could be had. Walking briskly to the office, he raised his battle-scarred face to the sun and gloried in its warmth; he ought to have left his jacket at home.

Blessedly, Allison was on the phone when he entered the building; Heather, however, seemed to have been waiting for him.

"Bloody hell, Bodie!" she exclaimed at sight of his face.

"Good morning, Heather," Bodie said, finding an honest smile despite the interrogation he anticipated.

"Tell me about this wall you have a thing for," she invited faintly. Before Bodie could reach the tea service, she had begun to fill a mug for him, adding milk and tea in the measures required to please his palate. "Or does it have a thing for you?"

"Wasn't a wall," Bodie amended. "In fact, this bugger was huge, with scales, fingernails that your last lover--what's're name, Sheila--would've killed for, and breath like a cauldron. Any other questions?"

Brimming with amusement, Heather said, "Just one: You're not serious?"

Bodie took a long, lush swallow of tea. "Actually, I am."

Unflappable as always, Heather did not even twitch. "Well," she said thoughtfully, "I've exorcised a computer or two in my day-- Not that they're the same, I expect, but if I can do anything to help, you only have to ask." She added intensely, "I mean that, y'know."

In the face of such unquestioning loyalty and concern, Bodie was frankly overwhelmed. "If you weren't the wrong sex, Heather--and if I hadn't just got myself engaged--I'd ask you to marry me."

Unimpressed, Heather made a rude noise. "And you'd be well relieved when I turned you down flat. Besides, you're the wrong sex; not me!"

"Quite right," Bodie chuckled. He extended a hand and flicked a finger under Heather's pert nose. "So what sort of crisis have we got today?"





While no emergencies had come to roost prior to Bodie's morning arrival, there were numerous projects requiring his attention. The early hours flew by despite Bodie's wayward mind, which frequently slipped its lead and raced back to the day's beginning: snuggling under the duvet with Doyle. From there his thoughts would logically turn to the snogging they'd indulged in at Doyle's house; and thence to the going-away cuddle he'd been accorded at Doyle's front door.

The man entranced him, bewitched him. Rarely one to question the whys and wherefores of his own motives, Bodie was especially loath to question Doyle's, lest he inadvertently shatter the charm that had drawn Doyle to him--not only for his help, but for his affections. Not unaware of his own physical attraction, Bodie nevertheless had long suffered a sense of inadequacy--perhaps in large part, because he had denied his sexual orientation for so many years.

And of course, it was early days yet--and their liaison had been formed under rather special circumstances. At this point, Bodie could not know if Doyle were confusing need for a friend with his need for a lover--

There, Bodie willingly shifted his concentration to other matters. In over his head already, he could see without close examination that he would be badly hurt should Doyle choose to end their relationship once his life had been set to rights. In that event, there would be nothing for Bodie to do but to set about rebuilding his demolished shields one by one. But only then--and not before.

By noon, Bodie's head was reminding him of the abuse it had taken the night before; he changed his plans of working through lunch to having lunch in. A few minutes past twelve, Doyle rang to say hello. They spoke briefly, for Doyle was allowing himself only a quick break before returning to the arduous task of proofing; arduous, because he could scarcely keep his mind centered long enough to read two words in sequence without, in his words, meandering off into detailed daydreams involving Bodie.

Well pleased to learn that Doyle was in a similar state of abstraction, Bodie nonetheless urged virtuous application for both of them. He promised that he would be over that evening as soon as he could get free. Ringing off, he found his mood greatly improved and his headache considerably less punishing--although the latter may have been the result of the judicious downing of painkillers just before Doyle's call had come through.

Using his few moments of idle time to begin Doyle's book, HARMONIOUS TONGUES, Bodie idly munched on the cheese sandwich Heather had picked up for him from a nearby cafe, and sank effortlessly into the world of two men very much in love but, unfortunately, given to miscommunication.

Too soon, he was brought back to reality by the clock striking one. Conscientiously placing the paperback back in his jacket pocket, Bodie set to the remainder of the day's chores with a will. He wanted, if possible, to leave a few minutes early; there were a few errands that he must undertake before returning to Aylward Road.

Shortly after two, Allison stopped by for a few minutes. Respecting Bodie's privacy, she did not quiz him regarding the previous evening; she wanted only to see for herself that he was well. Like Heather before her, she offered her assistance, should he require it. Recognizing that Allison's offer was no less gratuitously made than Heather's, Bodie was warmed that his co-workers were so predisposed to come to his defense. Before leaving Bodie to his own devices, Allison also reminded him that she would be out of the office the following afternoon, while attending a seminar on the maintenance and repair of laserjet printers.

Filing away that bit of data--which he had, in fact, forgotten--Bodie went back to his current project.

At twenty to four, he tidied his workstation and bade Heather good night. Dark brown eyes atwinkle, she wordlessly handed him a box of sticking-plaster. Groaning loudly, Bodie pretended to take a swipe at her jaw. Then he laughed. "Thanks, moppet; I'll keep it at hand."

The roads to Sutton were heavily congested with end-of-day drivers. Bodie nevertheless made reasonable progress, and reached his flat just after five. He collected what he needed without delay. Upon checking the refrigerator and bread bin, he piled a few items into a carry-bag; they would spoil if not eaten soon. On the way downstairs, he stopped and collected his mail, shuffling through it swiftly before stashing the lot in his breast pocket.

Soon after, he was on the road again, heading north toward Merton Park. It was with relief that he pulled up outside Doyle's house. Plagued by thoughts of Doyle alone in this inhospitable environment, Bodie tried to assuage his conscience by telling himself that the pattern of Doyle's manifestations was holding steady--and therefore accorded them a measure of control. Yet he sighed aloud as he walked up the pavement to the gate. His mind would be at greater ease if Doyle would live elsewhere for a while; dreams or no dreams.

Within seconds of sounding the buzzer, Doyle released the latch and let him in. Standing aside in unspoken invitation, Doyle looked down at the suitcase in Bodie's hand. His expression giving nothing away, he raised his head and met Bodie's eyes.

"Temporary--for now," Bodie said, stepping inside. "At least until we get you squared away."

A soft smile lifted the corners of Doyle's mouth. "Do I look as though I mind?" he asked, responding to the hint of defensiveness in Bodie's voice. Mindfully closing the door, he took the case from Bodie's hand and set it on the entry rug. Moving nearer, he did not wait for Bodie's permission to fold him into his arms nor to kiss his mouth long and welcomingly.

Too many minutes of the day had been spent envisioning just this type of greeting. Instantly inflamed, Bodie began a single-minded assault on buttons and press-studs, wanting Doyle's warm, naked skin exposed to his touch. Vaguely aware that Doyle was working with equal fervor toward the same goal, Bodie only knew a vast relief when their bodies came together and they found a desperate rhythm.

Within a very few minutes, the sweet release he sought was his, a susurrant groan drawn from his chest and taken into the warm depths of Doyle's mouth. Bodie floated on a peak of exquisite hyper-sensitivity for just a few seconds, absorbing Doyle's gliding thrusts without thought. As soon as he had recovered, he began once more to take an active part.

Doyle let out a tiny sound, his hips rocking forward and back with short, sharp jabs. Sensing the imminence of Doyle's orgasm to the second, Bodie used his hands, cupped round Doyle's downy buttocks, to increase the force of his movements.

And then Doyle was clinging to him, his essence wetly mingling with Bodie's. "Oh, Bodie," he sighed. "Love you--"

Supporting the endearingly limp body, Bodie marvelled at the other man's lack of inhibition and his willing vulnerability. Inhaling Doyle's musky, pleasant scent, cheek cushioned by silken soft curls, Bodie realized that he had never been happier.

"Hi, mate," he said facetiously, his big hands roaming over Doyle's back beneath the half-unbuttoned shirt.

"Hm." Doyle wriggled his pelvis, moving slickly against still-tender skin. "Been thinking about that all bloody day."

"How'd it compare?" Bodie asked, interested.

"Let's just say that my imagination failed me, eh?"

"And mine. Hold on," Bodie said as Doyle loosened his fierce hold on Bodie's neck and shoulders and prepared to step back. Extricating a handkerchief from his pocket, he swiftly unfolded it and put it to use.

Giggling at Bodie's ticklish touch, Doyle tried to shrink away, only to be caught close and laughingly kissed once more. "Bastard," he said without heat, once Bodie finally released him. Kicking his bare feet out of his trousers legs, he unselfconsciously turned and padded toward the stair.

Watching with heartfelt appreciation, Bodie gave a low wolf-whistle. He broke into a wide grin when Doyle waggled his bottom for greater effect. Abandoning his own rumpled clothing and shoes, he lunged after the other man with a growl, and chased him all the way to the upstairs bathroom.





Seated once more at the dining room table, galley sheets, diaries and ledgers spread about them, Bodie and Doyle quietly passed the early part of the evening. Bodie had suggested while they dressed that they ought to go out for dinner about nine. Readily agreeable, Doyle's only stipulation was that he must have as much done on the galleys prior to that time as possible.

Bodie's first task upon changing his clothing, had been to place his things in the spare bedroom, much to Doyle's displeasure. But Bodie had made it clear that while he remained in Doyle's house, he believed it would be safer if they kept separate accommodations, if for no other reason than not to draw attention to their involvement. He had not mentioned that in attempting to hide something they would very likely make it obvious; but he thought it could not hurt to try.

After a brief argument, Doyle had given in. He was vocal in pointing out that he would have preferred that Bodie take up residence in his bedroom, but that his presence in the house would suffice--for now. To seal their new relationship, he had given him a house key for his own use, and watched with satisfaction as Bodie had attached it to his key-ring.

Afterward, they had gone to the dining/sitting room. There Bodie picked up where he had left off the night before, opening the marked page to Raymond Lulham's ruminations and observations, while Doyle red-lined his forthcoming book.

Bodie skimmed through Lulham's diaries for 1944 and 1945 before taking a few moments to brew a pot of tea. He found it astonishing that the whole of the Second World War had gone on around Lulham--and the man had remarked upon it only in passing, so engrossed had he been in forming some link with his dead wife.

Dutifully returning to his task after fortifying himself with a mug of scalding tea, Bodie plowed his way through the last five years of the '40s. Not surprisingly, strict rationing and the political climate of England in 1949 had impressed Raymond Lulham almost as little as the war years of 1939 through 1945.

Ranking right up there with the Second World War had been Lulham's daughter, Elizabeth. She had progressed from early womanhood to middle age without so much as a very minor fanfare. Her remarkable loyalty and sense of duty had warranted only the occasional comment; it was perhaps lucky for her that she had not resembled her mother to any great degree.

That was Bodie's less than generous conclusion as he closed the diary for 1949 and added it to the stack of those already perused. "Your grandad wasn't only a loony," Bodie stated aloud. "He was also a tiresome old bastard."

Rubbing his face with the flats of both hands, Doyle stifled a huge yawn. With his cheek propped up on one fist, he prompted, "What'd he do now?"

"Nothing," Bodie complained dispiritedly. "The world and stars revolved around your dead gran, and nobody and nothing else mattered a whit."

"Hard to believe such a useless old bugger could be responsible for the live-in nightmare, then, isn't it?"

"In a way," Bodie agreed. "But he must've done it all unknowing; tampering with things better left alone. Your mum certainly wasn't responsible. And yet--"

Gazing at Bodie from under heavy lashes, Doyle asked, "Yes?"

"It just doesn't fit, that's all," Bodie said abruptly. "For one thing, there's a gap of thirty years between your grandad's death and--" His eyes widened with sudden comprehension. "A pact?" he whispered to himself. "That could be it, I suppose. But that means the original document must be stored somewhere within the house. If it were, that would provide the focus, and by extension, a power base to build from."

Doyle fixed his companion with an uneasy glare. "What are you wittering about, Bodie?"

"A theory," Bodie said, brought back to his surroundings by Doyle's sharp query. "Don't ask, because I'm probably way off the beam. Nothing to support it, after all," he muttered. "Even though I went through this whole bloody place with a fine-tooth comb--"

"Didn't you say something about dinner?" Doyle interrupted pointedly.

"Din--" Bodie shot a glance at his wrist-watch. "Christ it's twenty to. Why didn't you say something?"

"I just did," Doyle asserted. "Let's take these things upstairs. They should be all right in my room, since nothing seems to be bothered in there when we're not about."

"Yeah; all right." But Bodie's mind was still on the possibility of Lulham having taken his remorse beyond Spiritualism. Since he had viewed him from the first as the foolish, but unwitting source of Doyle's problems, Bodie now wondered if Lulham's low-grade madness had eventually driven him to delve into the black arts as well.

Plodding up the stairs to Doyle's room with his arms full of diaries and ledgers, lost in his thoughts, Bodie ran right into the other man, who had come to a precipitous halt just inside the doorway.

"Ray, what're you--"

Inhaling noisily, Doyle took a step to one side, pointing down at the object on the floor near the foot of his bed.

"A MAN OF INTEGRITY," Bodie said flatly. He took his burden to the chest of drawers and piled everything next to the other items Doyle had salvaged for him the night before. "I take it you didn't leave this here?" he asked lightly, squatting down to pick the book up.

"No," Doyle said tightly. "Left it in the study. I'm sure of it."

"Hm." Turning the fairly slim novel this way and that, Bodie queried, "Have you finished it yet?"

"Who's had time?" Doyle bit back.

"Just how much of it have you read?"

"Maybe half. Told you, it's a great book." With a wry expression, he added, "It's a romance; gay; the hero reminds me of you."

Whimsically pleased, Bodie stood up and handed the book to Doyle. "So maybe it likes you, too." At Doyle's warning scowl, he leaned forward and planted a soft kiss on Doyle's mouth. "C'mon, it isn't throwing itself at us, or doing anything else hostile--and we need to go."

In fact, finding the book had cost them precious minutes. Doyle silently removed himself from Bodie's touch and placed the book on top of his galley-proofs. They pulled the door closed behind them and started down the stairs. Less than halfway to the ground floor, they discovered that time had somehow skipped ahead of them.

"D'you smell it?" Doyle said, hushed.

"Of course," Bodie answered sharply, wrinkling his nose. "Shift yourself. Grab your jacket and--"

On the last step of the staircase, the air turned frigidly cold. Hurrying past the lounge, they didn't even stop at the hatstand, but snagged their outerwear off the hooks and headed for the door.

Doyle grabbed hold of the metal knob. He twisted it hard--then twisted it again, with no effect. "Bodie!"

Bodie brushed him aside without question, dropping his jacket as he clasped the knob with both hands. There was no resistance; the metal fixture turned freely. It simply would not engage the latch. "The conservatory," Bodie snapped. "Go!"

This time, they ran. Once past the lounge, the temperature returned to normal and the fruity scent of cologne faded. Doyle reached the back inner door first, and it yielded easily to his touch. The conservatory outer door, however, would not budge; neither would the patio doors, which gave access to the back garden through the dining room.

"Stand back, Bodie," Doyle ordered, wrapping his leather bomber jacket round his forearm. Turning his face away, he swung his elbow up and smashed the entire side of his arm against the large window plate of the left-hand patio door. A yelp was torn from him as the glass withstood the blow--completely unaffected. "Jesus!" Doyle gasped.

Without waiting for Doyle to make another attempt, Bodie threw himself against the whole door, using his shoulder as a battering ram. Despite the considerable strength he brought to bear, the door remained undamaged.

"That's torn it," Doyle snarled. "Upstairs!"

Catching his breath against the pain radiating out from the apex of his shoulder, Bodie rasped out, "Okay. Go on, I'm right behind you."

Together they pounded back toward the staircase. Doyle faltered as the cold slammed into them with stunning force. Bodie shoved him forward, propelling both of them onto the first step, reeling a little with pain and the certainty that they must have scant seconds before being caught unprotected--although what sort of sanctuary Doyle's room might provide, he could not hazard a guess at.

"Oh, Bodie," Doyle breathed, braking abruptly. He was thrown off balance when Bodie once more plowed into him from behind.

Instinctively steadying the other man, Bodie's gut tightened with apprehension at the shocking note of terror in Doyle's voice. Throwing his head up, Bodie froze at sight of what awaited them, tightening his grasp on Doyle's arm with a heedlessly vicious grip.

Spilling off the first floor landing, the Thing that hovered before them was enormous. Stretching from the floor almost to the ceiling, it seemed to be composed of some sort of greasy smoke; but unlike any smoke Bodie had ever seen. Writhing and twisting in upon itself, the thick, sooty substance began to form pseudopods that suggested tree-stump legs and branch-thick arms before their very eyes. A large, bulbous protuberance sprouted from the pinnacle of the column, vaguely suggesting a kind of obscene head--

Doyle made a grating sound deep in his throat. "Behind us!"

Not bothering to look, and realizing almost too late that he was being made thrall to the abomination at the head of the stairs, Bodie pushed past him, again catching hold of Doyle's arm as he went. He tugged hard, expecting a struggle. Doyle came at once, his teeth chattering loudly in Bodie's ears.

On the last step but one, Bodie stopped. He shouted in a stentorian voice, "I adjure thee, most vile spirit, to depart. Go out, thou scoundrel, go out with all thy deceits."

For a second, no more, the Thing stood unmoving. In that instant, Bodie barrelled into it, eyes tightly shut, holding his breath against the noxious stench, and concentrating on the reality of Ray Doyle at his side. Bodie didn't know whether the jumbled phrases stolen from the Order of Exorcism possessed the power to stall the creature; or if the Thing had simply been taken aback by his effrontery. Perhaps--horrid thought--the terrifying manifestation was no more than an illusion. Philosophical rumination was at the bottom of Bodie's immediate concerns, however, as he dragged Doyle through the heart of the Thing. A claustrophic wispiness--like a sultry mist on a summer's day--briefly closed around them. Praying that momentum would carry them forward, he opened his eyes to discover that they had in fact made it through to the other side and were already at the mouth of the corridor.

Doyle's room stood open, almost beckoning. Not letting go Doyle's arm, Bodie roughly hauled him inside. Once over the threshold, he took hold of the door and slammed it shut, even turning the lock for good measure.

Next he stalked to the window and tried to open it. When it refused to give, he picked up the heavily-built chair from its place beside the wardrobe with a muttered curse. With all his strength he flung it at the window--and barely escaped injury when it bounced back at him, not even scratching the surface of the glass.

"Enough, Bodie," Ray said. He had been backing away from the door for the last few seconds. Now he came alongside Bodie and gently pushed him to one side.

Chest heaving from his exertions, Bodie looked askance. Then he heard it too: The same scraping, scratching noise they had heard the previous night.

Doyle let out a long, shuddering sigh. He turned to Bodie and stared straight into his eyes. "Was that Gressil, then?"

Bodie summoned a faint smile. "If it wasn't, you have an appalling vermin problem, sunshine."

A violent pounding came from the corridor--as though heavy objects were smashing loudly against either wall. When it stopped, which it did very quickly, the silence was overwhelming.

The hands on the clock-face at Doyle's bedside caught Bodie's eye: 9.06. Things were developing far more quickly than ever before. Last night at this time, Bodie had been able to pass unmolested through every room in the house; tonight they had been driven to seek refuge almost immediately.

"Something's gotta give," Doyle had said. What task must this thing accomplish before it would be allowed to return to its own world--and by what deadline must its task be achieved? I don't believe, Bodie thought. I don't.

"What'd you see behind us, Ray?" Bodie asked quietly. "Y'know, when we were on the stair."

Doyle did not want to discuss it; that was clear from his expression. "Not sure," he answered in measured tones. "Had a glimpse of something nasty--but it was more impression than substance. D'you know what I mean?"

In the midst of nodding his understand, Bodie jerked violently as a riotous clamor began in the corridor outside the room. Doyle crept unobtrusively nearer, linking his fingers with Bodie's. His hand was damp with sweat, but very cold. Bodie rubbed it between both of his, unaware that his own palms were equally clammy.

It was some moments before this barrage stopped--only to be replaced by a return of the determined clawing at the door. When the insidious cold began to well between the bottom rail of the door and the sill, bearing with it the noisome cologne-and-tobacco odor, Bodie knew that the Thing must be right outside. Taking a deep, steadying breath, he tensed in preparation.

Doyle's fingers curled tighter round Bodie's hand; he whispered Bodie's name, the two syllables painfully loud in the unnatural quiet.

The door exploded inward. Amidst a shower of splintered wood, the frame disintegrated, and the latch was torn out. Just outside, the awesome, sinuous column of smoke loomed, its shape emulating some mutated form of humanity--although its constantly shifting outline made a definitive description impossible. It resembled nothing so much as a strange creature comprising worms or snakes; all squirming and slithering in constant motion. The arms and legs, only implied before, were now fully configured--but they, too, were deformed. The head suggested something reptilian, narrowly sloping forward into a blunt snout. Only its eyes, black and soulless as a bottomless pit, were still--and fixed now on the two men, who stood frozen in place before it.

Numbed, Bodie yet retained the presence of mind to push Doyle behind him when the improbable phantasm lurched forward, a huge mockery of a foot--or hoof?--crashing down on the threshold.

No.

Bodie had not spoken; nor had Doyle. If they had, their voices would never have carried over the racket pummelling their ears--not even across mere inches.

The word impacted upon the creature, however; for it very obviously hesitated. Fury, like a river of blood, tinged the Thing a deep, ugly red. It reared up, hissing its rage, and stepped forward once more.

NO.

This time the Thing actually stumbled backward, as though physically repelled. Its frightening maw, displaying long, jagged teeth, yawned wide and let loose a vicious howl.

Breaking free of his paralysis, Bodie dove toward the door. Just before he could reach it, however, it swung smoothly shut--and silently locked itself. Agape, he recovered himself and drew away, wondering a little queasily what they would be contending with now.

Doyle came up silently beside him and tugged at his sleeve.

Biting back a shriek, Bodie glared tensely at him.

"The door," Doyle said blankly. "I saw the frame torn apart. But look at it, Bodie: It's like new."

Absorbing Doyle's words, Bodie flinched again when there came another tremendous roar and infuriated pounding, far more malicious than before. The Thing railed outside the room, bashing rabidly against one wall and then another. For several minutes this went on. Occasionally the noises gravitated toward the bedroom door, but for the most part they remained centered farther down the corridor.

"Your room," Doyle said expressionlessly, his gaze faintly abstracted, as though he were listening to something far removed.

"What?"

"It's in the room where you left your things. Can't you tell?"

Since the noise had long since deafened him, Bodie's sense of direction was badly skewed as well. "Doesn't matter," he said firmly, constrained to speak in strident tones just to be heard. Turning to Doyle, he placed his arms about Doyle's neck, and drew him close.

Taken aback, Doyle said worriedly, "Bodie?" He softly stroked Bodie's hair.

"Just--want to hold you." A volley of pounding against the bedroom door made him grit his teeth; a trickle of sweat rolled under his collar. "Ray--" Voice pitched high with discovery, Bodie announced, "The cold's gone in here; did you notice?"

"You're right." Doyle snuggled closer all the same. "And the stink--I can breathe again."

"Thank God for small favors," Bodie said sincerely.

A series of jarring thumps echoed outside; to Bodie it sounded like a brawl. Embracing Doyle with tender protectiveness, he said with a rusty laugh, "Providing that bloody-minded fucker doesn't put in another appearance--we've only got three and a half hours to go, mate."

"Oh, Christ," Doyle said hoarsely, and began to chuckle helplessly.





At one in the morning, Doyle's house abruptly fell silent. Having been counting the seconds for the last two minutes, Bodie closed his eyes and exhaled long and heavily. Doyle, who lay in the crook of Bodie's arm, cautiously raised his head.

For nearly three hours they had waited while chaos besieged the house beyond the bedroom door. The fierce din had continued unabated throughout; sometimes drifting farther away--into the next room or downstairs; and other times heart-stoppingly just without.

At the stroke of one, the melee stopped, as suddenly and abruptly as though a switch had been thrown.

With one hand flat upon Bodie's chest, Doyle pushed himself upright, and turned toward the door.

"It can tell the time," Bodie commented.

Doyle spared him a castigating look before hoisting himself to the edge of the bed.

"What're you doing, Ray? Leave it till tomorrow, why don't you?"

"Can't," Doyle replied tersely, and took to his feet.

Dragging himself onto his bottom with great reluctance, Bodie groused, "'Course you can. Watch me: I'll show you how."

"I have to know what it's done to the house. If I wait until morning, it'll be because I'm afraid," he went on implacably, "because I'm certainly not asleep."

"But you are tired," Bodie pointed out.

For just an instant, Doyle's face hardened, his mouth compressing into a thin line. But if he intended to lash out in anger, something in Bodie's expression stilled his tongue. "And so are you, mate," he said ruefully. "Stay there. I won't be long."

"Don't be an idiot." Bodie rose creakily and lumbered across the floor. "You want to make me look like a ninny; moaning after only a few days of this madness. You've been going through it for weeks."

"Not like this, I haven't." Doyle waited for Bodie to join him. "It's gone to hell--no pun intended--just lately." He retracted the lock and mindfully opened the door.

The corridor was empty. Despite all the sound and fury that had filled the narrow confines for the previous four hours, not a hint of damage greeted them. Bodie pulled the door wide as Doyle began to step through, determined that Doyle would not venture into something ugly without him.

"Besides," Doyle said defiantly, "I'd like some cocoa."

"The truth will out," Bodie sighed. "Let's go, then."

As they made their way downstairs, Bodie realized that whatever signified the Thing's presence--beyond the monstrousness, the cold, and putrid scent--was well and truly gone. It might never have existed outside their overimaginative minds, for all the evidence it had left behind.

He peered into the lounge to confirm that nothing was amiss. A few yards away, the kitchen gleamed with chrome and enamel; hardly the appropriate backdrop for a slavering beast. Too tired to lend much thought toward analyzing the seeming paradox, Bodie reached into the cupboard for the tin of drinking chocolate while Doyle poured milk into a small pan.

"What d'you reckon did it?" Doyle asked, switching the element on under the pan.

"Did what?" Bodie bent over to ferret a spoon from the drawer.

"Drove that thing away--and kept it away?"

"I don't know what that thing is," Bodie reminded him. "If we knew what lay behind all this, we might be able to come up with a few of the answers we're already lacking."

"I didn't feel it, y'know," Doyle said obliquely, his brow furrowed. "Not the way I can sense the other."

Bodie allowed himself a weak grin at the ludicrousness of their discussion. But comprehending the content of Doyle's statement almost subliminally, he said, "You mean, the thing in the bedroom--the one that protected us: It didn't weigh down on you, it wasn't oppressive."

"Right." Green eyes narrowed to dark-fringed slits. "You had the same feeling, then?"

"Or lack of feeling," Bodie corrected. "Even though old Beelzebub didn't get back in, I couldn't detect anything in there with us that was keeping it out, y'know?"

"Yeah. Yet when the door closed before you'd even touched it--I thought we'd had it, mate," Doyle admitted.

"Was hoping you hadn't noticed that little detail." A film had formed over the surface of the milk; Bodie took the pan off the element and poured half the contents into Doyle's mug.

"That's because you didn't notice that I was almost on top of you when it happened." Doyle prodded the other mug forward to be filled. He leaned back against the sideboard and closed his eyes. "Whatever it was, though, I think we owe it our lives."

Dismay flitted across Bodie's face. He finished draining the pan into the second mug, then stuck it under the faucet to rinse. With the spoon in hand, he blended the powdery mix with steaming milk, watching his companion out of the corner of his eye all the while.

"Here, Ray." He pushed against Doyle's forearm, jarring the other man out of his reverie. "Take the chill off."

"After a night like this, I don't know if there's enough cocoa in the world, Bodie."

Bodie blew on his sweet drink before sipping it. "There's me," he offered.

Doyle's eyes softened; he took a step nearer. "And I wish I knew what I've done to deserve you. If you hadn't been with me tonight--"

"You'd've managed; just as you have from the start."

For a moment Doyle considered this; then he shook his head. "Not tonight. It would've had me. Thanks for being here, mate."

Bodie leaned forward and brushed his lips against Doyle's forehead. "Come to bed; we're both tired."

"You don't need to persuade me, y'know," Doyle smiled.

Turning lights off as they returned upstairs, Doyle hesitated before switching off the lamp in the corridor. "Just a minute, Bodie."

More than halfway to the bed, unbuttoning his shirt one-handedly, Bodie groaned and came to an abrupt halt. Pivoting on heel, he trudged back to the doorway. He waited there while Doyle disappeared into the spare bedroom at the far end of the hall.

The sharp intake of breath alerted him at once. Abandoning his hard-done-by pose, Bodie covered the few yards' distance between the two rooms in less than seconds. Had there been any possibility that the creature resided only in their minds, that option, categorically, had been eradicated. Savagery previously only hinted at had been let loose here. Bodie's clothing had been dragged out of the drawers and shredded, as if with long, serrated talons; then tossed about the room like confetti. The case used to transport his things stood in two distinct pieces several feet apart, the sides deeply torn and punctured--irreparably butchered.

Nothing else had been touched.

Doyle twisted round, his face stricken.

Bodie shook his head and reached out for him. "Looks like I'll need to borrow your things again tomorrow, mate."




Day Nine - Wednesday

"My God," Heather exclaimed from the work-room doorway.

"And good morning to you, Heather," Bodie replied amiably.

"What on earth on you doing here?" she demanded. "You look bloody awful."

Bodie slipped off his coat and hung it on the rack. "Careful: that's the sort of compliment goes right to my head."

"I'm serious, Bodie. Are you okay?"

He took in the unfabricated concern wreathing Heather's face, and said, "Not exactly. But I don't think you need to ring for a stand-by medical team just yet." Passing through the front office into the work area, he asked, "Where's Allison? Bit late for her to be showing up, isn't it?"

"She rang a bit ago and said she won't be in. Going right to the seminar from home."

"Oh, damn," Bodie sighed, and slumped into the chair at his work-table. "Forgot about that."

Heather poured him a cup of tea and set it by his hand. "There's worse."

Rolling bleary blue eyes tinged with pink pitifully up at her, he said, "Go on; I'm beyond pain."

"I can see that. Had a call just after eight; bloke wants a computer system set up this afternoon. Payment on completion. But he wants it today, or he'll go with someone else."

"And you told him we'd be happy to take his money."

"Of course. I'll do it, so long as you're here to cover the office," Heather offered.

Bodie groaned. "Thanks, sunshine. But you know as well as I do that the components won't be ready till this afternoon--and then they'll have to be delivered and set up." He raised his brows. "Software, too?"

She scratched her earlobe. "DOS, Word Star, Ventura and Lotus 2.2."

Letting his eyes fall shut, Bodie sipped at his tea, finding it vastly soothing in its warmth and robustness; Heather's tea was always brewed until the caffeine could stand up and step out of the pot. "At least thirty diskettes; am I right?"

"Hm." She added, very softly, "And it's in Walthamstow."

"I'm glad I'm already an atheist," Bodie groaned. "I'd've hated to be disappointed at this late date."

"As I said--" Heather began.

"Yeah, I know. And thanks. But it's hardly fair to you. No, I'll take care of it. Just wake me from time to time, will you?" Only then realizing he had been too tired to remember to loosen his--no, Doyle's--tie, Bodie knew the coming day would be a travail he would much rather forgo.

He and Doyle had overslept. At half past seven, Doyle had sleepily mumbled something about the time; at a quarter to eight, he had rolled Bodie onto his back and kissed him awake. At first too groggy to appreciate Doyle's efforts, Bodie had only begun to savor Doyle's attentions when his mind had tardily kicked in and shattered the pleasant interlude.

Feeling like something left in the bread bin too long, Bodie had rushed about preparing himself for the day. Grateful to Doyle for the mug of blackest coffee that awaited his return from the bathroom, he nevertheless had had no time for more than a couple of scalding slurps before racing out the door to his car.

They had exchanged a few words, none of which Bodie could remember with any clarity. He thought Doyle had said something about ringing him later in the day. If he didn't, Bodie would certainly find the time to let him know that he would be getting home late tonight.

Stalwartly ignoring his state of exhaustion, Bodie settled into the day's routine. Heather, as usual, picked up the slack in her no-nonsense way. Intensely grateful to her unstated consideration, Bodie truly wished he could give her the rise he often joked about. She was a gem of incalculable worth.

Doyle's call came through just after noon. He was hard at work on his book, having finished the galleys earlier in the morning. The following day he would be traveling to London to discuss the changes he had made. In the meantime, he was under the gun of another deadline: this one for the revised draft of his newest novel.

Just hearing Doyle's husky voice markedly raised Bodie's spirits. How the other man could cope with the schizophrenic reality of his current situation, he could not guess. He came to the conclusion that Doyle's personality must be remarkably well adjusted to resist the temptation of surrender--or madness. Most people would have given up long ago under the same circumstances.

Deciding fresh air might whisk some of his muzziness away, Bodie set out on a walk. At first he rambled down one street, and up another. He was not surprised, however, to discover himself standing outside St. John Fisher's some time later. Yet he hesitated before going inside, not certain how Doyle would react to Father Keegan being involved in his personal affairs. Still, Bodie was nearing the end of his rope. Things were deteriorating too rapidly for him to have any degree of confidence that they would come out of this untrammelled.

Inside, the church was dimly lit and much cooler than the sun-drenched pavement. Bodie's timing was excellent, but not unexpectedly: Father Keegan always kept himself available during the noon hour, should one of his parishioners require his counsel. The black-cassocked figure was standing to one side of the chancel rail, tending to a vase of beautiful yellow daffodils and purple irises, when Bodie came in.

He glanced up at the soft click of Bodie's tread. "Bodie."

"Father. How are you?"

"I am well. You, on the other hand, look positively appalling."

"Between you and Heather, I think I may have to change my beautician."

"Heather's still with you, then? Tell her I've missed her at mass."

Bodie drew a wry face. "Your God doesn't precisely encourage our sort's attendance, I'm afraid."

Father Keegan scratched at his temple with a crooked finger. "That isn't true; but you didn't come here to discuss the Church's stance on homosexuality--especially since we've had that argument before. How is Mr. Doyle?"

Thrusting his hands to the bottoms of his pockets, Bodie hedged, "He's been better. Look, I--" he faltered, the implausible words poised uncomfortably on his tongue. Forging ahead before he could back out, he said sharply, "What's the Church's stance on exorcism these days, then?"

Father Keegan frowned. "Much as it has been throughout this century; very slow to respond until a watertight case has been established." The priest refrained from asking the obvious question, for which Bodie was grateful.

"So if I ordered one up, it wouldn't be ready by this evening?"

Mildly amused, Keegan replied, "We don't have take-away service, if that's what you're asking."

Sliding the tip of his shoe across the ancient stone floor, Bodie muttered, "Is there anything you can recommend, then; y'know, in the way of--defense?"

Keegan took a moment to ponder the inquiry, once more scratching the steel grey hair at his temple. "Religious artifacts have been known to have a contrary effect--depending on the type of demonic infestation involved. Is it so very bad, Bodie?"

Bodie only looked at him.

The priest sighed. "Holy water may be of use. Come, I'll fetch you some."





In the afternoon, Bodie took the van to Croydon and loaded up the items Heather had ordered from their supply house. Yawning constantly, he headed north toward Walthamstow.

The remainder of the afternoon passed by like a disjointed dream. He arrived at the new client's place of business before four. As the room intended for the computer's new home was temporarily occupied, he was compelled to wait an extra half hour before gaining access. Once he was allowed to begin set-up, the time went quickly. To his great relief, all the components were in excellent working order, including the laser printer, scanner and modem. Working methodically and neatly, Bodie soon had everything self-tested to his satisfaction. For the next two hours he loaded software and configured each package to meet the owner's specifications, then tested it all to ensure that everything meshed properly.

At seven o'clock, he was finally on his way back to the office with a sizable check in his possession--and the paperwork for a TPM contract. Giddy with lack of sleep, Bodie stopped on the road just long enough to use a call-box to ring Doyle. Annoyed to encounter an engaged line, he hopped back into the van and continued toward home.

Just before eight he turned onto Aylward Road, having made a brief stop at the office to return the van and recover his own car. It was already very dark out, and the warmth of day was rapidly being superseded by the chilly advent of full night.

Determined not to disturb Doyle, Bodie used his new key to gain entry. The house was quiet but brightly lit. After draping coat and scarf on the hatstand, he walked straight past the lounge--knowing Doyle would not be there so late in the evening. Standing in the corridor, he poked his head into the dining room, but the lights were out.

He considered announcing his arrival, in case Doyle should wonder who was thumping about downstairs, but changed his mind as the writer would probably not welcome the interruption during the few hours he could use the computer. Besides, Doyle was expecting him. Detouring into the kitchen on his way to the first floor, Bodie helped himself to a lager and a nearly full packet of crisps--anything to appease the gnawing demands being issued by his stomach.

More than half asleep on his feet, Bodie shoved a handful of crisps into his mouth, washed them down with a long swig out of the bottle, and aimed himself toward the staircase. He lumbered onto the first step of the daunting flight of stairs, promising himself a quick kip before the evening's festivities started.

On the second step, Bodie discovered that the revels had already begun.

The cold struck first, nearly doubling him over. Within seconds, the dreaded smell arose, thick, like something solid, threatening to lodge in his lungs. A miasma-like atmosphere settled heavily onto the staircase, dimming Bodie's sight, oppressing him with its pervasive presence. Retaining the one clear thought that sanctuary waited upstairs, Bodie gathered himself to press forward.

A low, mocking sound stopped the blood flowing in his veins. There on the landing stood the malevolent beast, its constantly moving exterior sickeningly disorienting. The black holes that served as eyes seemed to zero in on Bodie, chilling in their empty appraisal, inescapable in their fathomlessness. The lager and crisps fell from numb fingers, bouncing off the edge of the step and crashing to the corridor floor below.

Aware on one level of his mind that the Thing had set this trap specifically for him, Bodie was first and foremost concerned with his immediate prospects for survival. He was quick to grasp the possible benefit of the creature being at the head of the stair; the way below should be clear. But even as he swung round, a scuttling, scraping sound came from the lounge, riveting him to the spot.

Bodie had seen similar creatures before in Africa. There they grew to be the size of a woman's foot. This one was ten times that. Solidly, unreflectively black, the scorpion's segmented body effectively blocked Bodie's escape. Knowing that the arachnid's significance somehow must have been plucked from his mind did not mitigate the surge of revulsion that made him catch his breath and swallow hard against the panicked cadence of his heart.

The enormous pincers waved menacingly at him, two eyes in the center of the head staring with the same black emptiness exhibited by the Thing at the head of the stairs. For an instant, no more, Bodie was struck by the image of Pendleton lying dead in the hot sand, his lifeless body made living again by the ceaseless motion of the great scorpions plucking at it. That memory had remained with him for years, waking him sweating and nauseated more times than he could count. It returned less frequently now; Bodie had not dreamt of Pendleton for over a year.

With a massive thump, the Thing recalled him to the present: It was starting down the stair. Bodie cringed back against the wall, trying to marshal his frantic thoughts. But as before, it was almost impossible to think, the stench and cold deadening all logical impulses.

What would Doyle do when he found out--

Bodie's heart, already drumming impossibly fast, skipped a beat. Doyle. Was he safe in his room? Had he been given some warning that the clockwork monster no longer kept to its schedule?

Doyle!

Unconsciously speaking aloud, Bodie growled, "If you've hurt him--" He took a step toward the Thing, fear for himself utterly vanquished. "Asmodeus, Balberith, Sonneillon, Carnivean: those I will summon," he said viciously, "and give them the name of Gressil."

The creature shuddered at Bodie's threat--but whether in fear or anger, Bodie had no way of knowing. The Thing reared back, then, its neck slowly gaining length and momentum as it bore the fanged, reptilian head over and down, straight down, toward Bodie.

Searching desperately for anything that would work as a weapon, Bodie's hands patted against the small flask of holy water given him by Father Keegan. Wrestling it out of his coat pocket in one smooth, sure motion, Bodie tore off the cap and dashed the liquid into the Thing's face, ducking down at the last possible moment before it could tear into him.

With a screech of agony, the monster clumsily reeled backwards, pawing at its smoking countenance with flailing limbs. It had not moved far enough, however; there was not enough room for Bodie to slip past. A sympathetic skreeing sound tore his eyes from the beast to its confederate below. He winced as the scorpion-thing began to hoist itself onto the bottom step.

"Oh, Christ," he whispered.

The Thing let out a tremendous roar, huge pustules, suppurating and putrid, springing forth where the water had splashed against squirming flesh. With taloned appendages spread wide, the creature lunged toward him once more--and Bodie knew there would be no delaying his obliteration this time.

He was wrong.

A light, blindingly brilliant and pure, sliced through the fetid gloom. Dropping to his haunches, Bodie curled himself into a compact ball, expecting annihilation.

"Bodie!"

That was Doyle's voice, improbably near, hoarse as if with over-use. Bodie dared not look up, suspecting fraud, his one attempt at defiance having failed him miserably. And yet hands gripped his shoulders, forcing him to uncoil from his protective crouch. "Bodie, damn it, we don't have much time," Doyle shouted.

Performing an enormous act of faith, Bodie opened his eyes, wanting more than anything to believe that this was truly Ray Doyle. But Doyle was no more than a hazy outline to Bodie's flash-shocked eyes, and he resisted.

"Bodie, for fuck's sake!" Doyle cried out. Before Bodie knew what the other man intended, he had been hoisted upright and thrown over Doyle's shoulders. Then he was carried at an uncomfortable jog to the top of the stairs, across the landing and into the corridor.

Just as he was borne over the threshold into Doyle's room, something huge and shriekingly loud could be heard following in their wake. Doyle swung round and kicked the door shut. Outrage echoed from one end of the corridor to the other, the Thing's mindless frustration clearly audible even through solidly-built walls.

"Ray, put me down," Bodie wheezed, his chest crushed against a bony shoulder.

Half-collapsing under Bodie's weight, Doyle was already complying, crouched forward to roll Bodie onto the bed. Before Bodie could regain his breath, however, Doyle had climbed onto the mattress beside him, and was fiercely enfolding him in his arms.

Not in the least inclined to complain, Bodie clung back, welcoming the warmth which only slowly began to impinge on his frozen body. The soft words whispered into his hair were drowned out by the mindless racket thundering in the corridor. Equally soft kisses caressed his face, unmistakable even without words; Bodie basked in the frazzled affection they evinced.

Helplessly quivering, Bodie said loudly, "Ray, I'm all right."

"No thanks to me," Doyle snarled. "God, Bodie, I'm so sorry."

Baffled, Bodie asked, "Why?"

"Couldn't warn you. And you wouldn't be here at all if it weren't for me, damn it!"

"So?"

Suspecting sarcasm, Doyle arched back and glared into Bodie's face. "What d'you mean 'so?'"

"So I'm here because of you; I came into this with my eyes open, remember?" Bodie's hand, still trembling with reaction and unearthly chill, cupped Doyle's anxious face. "Just tell me what happened? I rang you earlier, but your line was engaged."

Doyle grimaced. "Hadn't used the phone at all until half an hour ago, when I tried to reach your office. The line was dead."

"Half an hour ago?"

"From the extension in here." Doyle fretfully rubbed his cheek against the warming curve of Bodie's palm. "I was in the study, working at the computer, when I heard a sound in here. Like something falling." He jerked a shoulder in the general direction of the foot of the bed. "That bloody book was lying on the floor again. I picked it up and sat down to skim through it--why always that same damn book? And while I was doing that, the door closed. It happened so quietly, I didn't even notice it at first--and then I could hear noises from downstairs."

"You couldn't get out," Bodie guessed.

Doyle nodded. "I tried everything. It's never started this early before, and there was no way I could warn you." The green eyes darkened with anger. "Suddenly the noise stopped--all of it. Must've been when you came in. I screamed like a maniac for you to stay away, but you must not have heard me."

"Thought you were up here beavering away," Bodie said lightly, wanting to erase that pained expression from Doyle's visage. "Which reminds me: I think I must've spilled a bottle of your best and a bag of crisps all over the stair."

"Fuck the stair."

"Ray--it's okay. I'm not hurt; you got me out of there just in time. Tell me how?"

That brought forth a mildly sardonic scowl. "Don't worry; I'm not going to have a fit. Scared the bejesus out of me, mate, that's all. Heard you--yell."

"Scream, more like," Bodie said drolly.

"And I couldn't get to you." He shrugged and dropped his eyes. "Guess I went a bit berserk; tearing at the door with my bare hands, shrieking like a lunatic. The door--just opened. Whatever's on our side must have come with me. It did something--I'm not sure what. But the Thing didn't like it. Gave me the chance I needed to get to you."

"Not 'our' side, sunshine," Bodie amended mildly. "Your side."

"Maybe. It didn't have to help you, though, y'know."

"And let you do yourself an injury? Although you have, haven't you: Look at your fingers."

Doyle obeyed, unperturbed to discover blood caked beneath his fingernails. "Doesn't matter," he said evenly. "So long as you're all right?"

"It does matter--and yes, I'm fine." Bodie stretched forward to kiss Doyle's mouth very gently. "Thanks, sunshine. Oi--I think it's quieted down a little."

"Probably already worn itself out, the prick." Neither man had noticed that the noise had drifted downstairs, and was now, for the most part, very sporadic.

"Might be something to that," Bodie murmured, wriggling closer to Doyle's warmth. "For the bugger to manifest itself outside its usual cycle may require an extra drain on whatever it uses for energy."

"Let's just hope it didn't blow my computer again," Doyle grumbled. "Christ, Bodie, I'd hate to lose all I managed to do today. And Iain would slaughter me."

"Ah, the artistic temperament." On a long exhalation, Bodie let his eyes fall shut, exhausted beyond self-preservation.

"Hm. Just bear in mind who'll have to repair the equipment, eh?"

Bodie only groaned, a hair's breadth away from the sleep he so desperately craved. Now that Doyle's nearness had eradicated most of the cold, and the building had fallen quiet, Bodie was bonelessly relaxed.

"All right, Bodie," Doyle murmured. He chivvied the man out of his shoes and jacket, removed his tie and unbuttoned his shirt. Nestling Bodie in the crook of his arm, he wrapped the duvet around them both. "I'd help you out of your trousers, too, but I don't want to take any chances till the witching hour's over, okay?"

"Hm." Bodie would not have argued had Doyle stripped him bare, so long as he could continue to lie in Doyle's sheltering embrace, no matter the consequences. Never one to rely on another willingly, Bodie realized that he was becoming dangerously dependent on the other man.

At the moment, however, his fear of weakness was no more than a niggling concern. In Doyle's arms, he was safe, and he could rest. Shock had drained him to the core. All he wanted now was sleep.




Day Ten - Thursday

"I've decided you have to move out."

Those words greeted Bodie first thing the following day. Sitting up against a pillow, the duvet draped about his waist, he held a cup of steaming tea that had been thrust into his hands, not yet awake enough to take in the total import of Doyle's words.

"Sorry?"

"It isn't safe for you here," Doyle said ruthlessly. "I don't want you hurt any more."

Doyle was half-perched on the foot of the mattress, neatly groomed and clad in a handsome suit and tie. Only seconds ago, he had snatched Bodie from sleep's clinging web--and the taloned menace of a fanged nightmare.

"This is a bit sudden, isn't it?" Bodie's tongue was sluggish in the dry vault of his mouth, and his heart still beat too fast.

"Things are getting worse. You could've been badly hurt--maybe killed--last night."

Trying to collect his thoughts, Bodie took a moment to sip his tea. "And you? Will you come with me?"

Most of the tension drained out of Doyle's body, like water down a sluice. "If you'll have me. Just for a few days, of course. Till I can figure out what to do."

Vastly relieved, but hiding it well, Bodie drank more of his tea before attempting speech. "There are a few options still left to us. Didn't get a chance to tell you last night, but I saw Father Keegan yesterday."

"Yes?" Doyle prodded warily.

"I asked him about exorcism; mainly because the words I threw at old B. the evening before seemed to slow the bastard down. But it's a lengthy process--as the RCs don't believe in demonic possession, of a house or person--much more than anyone else does these days."

"And other than that?"

"Not that it will do much good, but I haven't finished going through your grandad's papers. It's possible I may yet find something in them."

Doyle's mouth formed a crooked line. "You mean, you really don't want to pack it all in?"

"Not so long as you're involved, no." Bodie gazed at him over the rim of his mug. Doyle had been remote and formal when Bodie had first pried his eyes open; his defenses were visibly crumbling.

"It bothered you last night," Doyle said suddenly, as though he had been hoarding this thought and now was prepared to share it. "You couldn't sleep."

Flushing, Bodie muttered, "It brought back some unpleasant memories."

"You've seen that thing before and you didn't have nightmares," Doyle argued softly.

Bodie drained his tea but continued to hold the mug between his fingers, concentrating on its residual warmth. "Not the one at the bottom of the stairs."

"There was another?"

Not quite repressing a shudder, Bodie said, "You didn't see it?"

"Maybe I wasn't looking; maybe I was more concerned about winkling you away from the ugly bugger at the top of the stairs," Doyle mused.

"It was probably an illusion," Bodie admitted. "It may have been, anyway."

Doyle made an exasperated noise. The night had been little kinder to him than Bodie. His face was tinged with grey, and small lines had settled about his eyes and mouth. Two fingertips of his right hand and one of his left were wrapped in sticking plaster. Last night, Bodie knew, Doyle could have remained safely in his room; but he had thrown himself into the fray--and had been kept up all night for his efforts.

Spurred by remorse, Bodie explained, "It was a scorpion--a huge one. I've always hated the little bastards; this one was much worse."

"Christ," Doyle breathed. He bit his bottom lip, apparently gauging Bodie's mood. "Have you been stung? Is that why they bother you?"

"Africa," Bodie replied curtly. "Found 'em all over a mate of mine." At Doyle's muffled grunt, he went on, "He must've fallen into a nest when he died. They don't generally bother people unless they're provoked." His blue eyes deepened several shades until they were as black as coal. "But I'll never forget it; the way they swarmed all over him. Had nightmares for years. I'm sorry I kept you up, Ray."

"You idiot." Doyle rose and came to the head of the bed. Sitting next to Bodie, he draped his arms around Bodie's neck. "I didn't tell you that to make you feel guilty. And you didn't keep me up; I'd just touch you and you'd go right back to sleep."

He took Bodie's head between his hands and kissed him with disarming gentleness. "Wish I didn't have to go to London today," he said. "But I've got to review those galleys with Iain and some of his cohorts. Look, pack a kit for me, will you, and I'll meet you here as soon as I'm done in London. We'll spend the night at your flat. If you're sure you don't mind?"

Bodie yanked Doyle close and answered with a thorough kiss of his own. "Don't you be an idiot. When are you leaving?"

"In two minutes, or I'll be late catching the train. No, don't say it: I need the walk. Iain's bringing me home--oh, and that stuff you wanted from the lawyer--y'know, the plans to the house, all my important papers--should arrive in the morning's post. You're welcome to go through the lot." He took Bodie's mouth one last time, long and regretfully. "I've got to go. See you this evening."

"Right." Bodie reluctantly released Doyle's hand.

At the doorway, Doyle paused. "Promise you won't shout?"

"Why should I--? What have you done, Ray?"

"Rang your office; said you'll be out all day. Said you aren't feeling well."

Bodie leaned back against his pillow, closing his eyes with affected dismay. "Oh, bloody hell, Doyle. You've just given Heather enough ammunition to last a lifetime."

"Because I made the call?" Doyle asked uncomfortably. "I'm sorry, Bodie. You were obviously exhausted and I couldn't bring myself to wake you. Didn't mean to--"

Bodie laughed, interrupting Doyle's apology. "I'll survive. Heather's okay. It'll make her feel good to hold something over me."

Doyle sighed.

"It's nothing to worry about, Ray. Honest. Go on, then. Don't you have a train to catch?"

Green eyes slanted warningly at him. "Yeah. One other thing: Take a look at my computer, please? I haven't had the bottle to switch it on."

"There'll be a bill waiting for you," Bodie said meaningfully.

Doyle's mouth parted; he ran his tongue lightly over the soft, smooth surface of his lower lip. "Hope I can meet your fee."

"Oh, I'm sure you can, sunshine." Bodie's eyes slowly traced the outline of Doyle's slim, besuited form. "Get out of here, you; before I ask you to stay."

That made Doyle smile. "Love you, Bodie. Bye."

With Doyle's farewell echoing in his ears, Bodie sank back against the pillow. He had been given no chance to reply, but that fact did not concern him: Doyle must know by now how he felt.

He could probably go back to sleep, although after the horrors of the night, Bodie was not keen on subjecting himself to the vivid images that would undoubtedly reappear. The grumblings of his stomach settled the question; he would get up and have breakfast.

Bodie took his time in the shower, standing for several minutes under the driving, hot water, focusing on its therapeutic effects to the exclusion of all else. When finally he stepped out, he was almost overheated--but fortified, all the same. He scrubbed his teeth and scraped the stubble from his face, feeling markedly better when he was freshly dressed in a bright red track suit from Doyle's wardrobe. After towel-drying his hair, Bodie tidied the bedroom, leaving the window open while he made the bed, to let the musty air escape. Noting how smoothly the frame slid shut when he was through, Bodie could not help but remember how resistant it had been only a couple of nights before.

After a quick glance into the study--the room was dark and Doyle's VDU blank--Bodie went down the stairs to the first floor, approaching the bottom step with the tiniest flutter of queasiness in the pit of his stomach.

There was, of course, nothing there to bear witness to the awful creature that had terrorized him last night. Unwittingly breathing a sigh of relief, he walked into the kitchen and put the kettle on for fresh tea, having discovered that Doyle had already emptied and rinsed the pot. His thoughts wandered while he gathered eggs, bread and bacon.

Today he would go through Doyle's papers, and then he would try to finish off Lulham's diaries--not that he really expected to uncover anything of use there. For all that the man had been foolishly led astray by one spiritualistic medium after another, Lulham had had nothing of malice in him. His neglect of daughter Elizabeth had been unintentional: Once she had come of age, he had let her manage the household budget, allotting a quite substantial amount of money for her to command. Which meant that he had respected her intelligence, if not her feelings--and furthermore proved that he was aware of her, if only distantly.

It must have been lonely for her, living here in this large house with an old man who preferred to dwell in the past. When Doyle's father had come along, she must have reached out to him like a drowning sailor spying a life-raft. And what had the bounder done? He had taken what was on offer obviously--or there would have been no Raymond Doyle. In fact, now that Bodie thought about it, Ray had been born only seven months after his parents' wedding. While it was possible that he had been premature, babies born two months early in 1960 had rarely survived those first critical hours following birth. The medical technology of the time had simply been unequal to the task of supporting tiny, unformed infant lungs until they could function on their own.

So--

Doyle's mother had succumbed to his father's advances without benefit of marriage. Certainly not unheard of in 1960, but rather unlikely, under the circumstances. What must old man Lulham have thought of it?

Or had he ever known? According to Doyle, Lulham had died within weeks of the couple marrying. In all likelihood, though, it must have come as something of a shock. Doyle had said his mother was in her mid-forties when he was born; how old, then, had Doyle's father been?

Elizabeth Lulham Doyle must have thrown caution to the winds, seizing what she perceived to be her one opportunity to escape the confinement of her lusterless existence.

Bodie finished his breakfast just as the morning's post arrived. Along with a few letters and bills was a largish packet from Doyle's lawyer. Deliberately putting it aside, Bodie took the time to clean the morning's soiled dishes and to straighten the kitchen. With a fresh cup of tea, and the large packet under his arm, Bodie returned to the dining table just after nine.

Running his thumb under the flap, Bodie pried open the self-sealing envelope and began to extricate several documents. A sizable blueprint had been folded into eighths; apparently it had been stored that way for a long time, as the creases were deeply scored into the thick paper. Individually filed in neatly labeled envelopes were Doyle's birth certificate, the title papers to his house and car, and Elizabeth Lulham and Timothy Doyle's marriage certificate. These items Bodie would peruse later. At the moment he was more interested in the plans to the house. Unfolding the architectural drawing carefully, he stretched the corners wide, and flattened the ridges down with his palms.

The original plan had been drawn up in 1934, the year the house had been built. Lulham had bought the building and its surrounding property new. The oldest outlines of rooms, structures, and piping were in faintest blue. Through the years, Lulham had made a few changes, though nothing of any great significance. The porch had been enclosed in 1958, and the garden shed had been built that same year. Both structures were indicated on the drawing in a deeper shade of blue. In 1982, Doyle had put up the conservatory and installed central heating. The other remodelling--floors retiled, walls stripped of paper and covered again with paint, plug points added--were not noted here, as they had not affected the structure of the building. Otherwise the house stood as it had for close on to sixty years.

Going over each room on paper and comparing it with its matching image in his mind, Bodie scoured the house from top to bottom. As he had expected, there were no secret hidey-holes or expertly designed nooks, each floor and room represented just as he knew them.

Until he reached the outline for the cellar.

Leaning nearer, his eyes narrowed, Bodie studied the pale blue markings, unaware that he was holding his breath until his lungs began to ache.

"A potato cellar," he whispered.

Seldom encountered in these days of modern refrigeration, they had been fairly common before 1950. So, even though Bodie's heart made its presence known in the accelerated pace of its beat, this new information very probably meant nothing at all. Since there was no indication that the small underground chamber had been filled in or walled off by an outside contractor, the work must have been done by Lulham, Elizabeth, or Doyle's father--but not by Ray, who surely would have recognized the significance of such a hidden room. There had been no mention of the chamber at all in Lulham's diary, which along with ongoing commentary regarding his efforts to communicate with his wife, contained the utterly boring day-to-day notations of life--and should certainly have warranted some comment. Perhaps Bodie simply had not read that far yet.

Regardless of the identity of the person who had closed off the small room--for whatever reason--Bodie wanted to explore it. So far it was the only aspect of the house he had not physically examined, inch by inch--and, most important of all, the bloody thing lay directly below the cold spots in the lounge and the study. Is that why there had been no phenomena in the main cellar; because it was cut off from the rest of the floor?

Bodie would have preferred to contact Doyle before hammering through his walls; he might, after all, object. But, he reminded himself, Doyle had given him liberty to do whatever was needed. And it was imperative in Bodie's mind that he check out that room.

Veins singing with anticipation, Bodie bounded upstairs and changed out of Doyle's clothing into a pair of his own slacks and what looked to be an older shirt of Doyle's. From the house he walked through a misting rain to the garden shed and there collected everything he thought he might need: torch, gloves, hammer, chisel, pick, shovel, and several plastic rubbish bags.

As he returned to the house, it crossed Bodie's mind that perhaps he should wait until someone could accompany him; someone who could keep an eye on things while he toiled away at demolishing Doyle's cellar. He decided it couldn't be helped; best to strike now, early in the day--and while Doyle was out of the building. Bodie still believed that Doyle was the catalyst resulting in the wayward manifestations; the one thing they had yet to attempt was leaving Bodie alone in the building between nine and one--or, if they were to go off last night's schedule, any time after eight.

Refusing to dwell on the possibilities, Bodie secured the doors to the back garden and carried the unwieldy armful of tools to the cellar entry. He flipped the light switch on. The clean, neatly ordered room that had once struck him as unnoteworthy now loomed like a yawning gullet.

Feeling foolish, but determined to put his mind at ease, Bodie took a moment to jam the door open before proceeding. Looking down into the brightly lit storage area, he took a deep breath and walked onto the first step.

He spent an hour moving old, peeling wardrobes and china cupboards, and musty, overstuffed, and massively heavy chairs away from the east wall. Already sweating despite the cool and damp, Bodie measured the distance between the north and south foundation walls one step at a time, rapping increasingly tender knuckles lightly against the plaster surface. Having estimated where the cellar should be located, Bodie was rewarded by the betraying, hollow thunk that answered his tap at a point more than halfway across the chamber--and located right beneath the lounge. Outlining the opening of the cavity with patient soundings, Bodie came up with dimensions that described a space roughly door-sized--although this particular door would be considerably shorter and narrower than modern building requirements would specify.

Taking the chisel and hammer in hand, Bodie began to chip away at the heavy plaster coating, progressing slowly lest he encounter resistance in the form of concrete foundation work. He was amazed that the original designer had incorporated this underground chamber into the building's foundation walls; it was not standard construction.

Before too long he had chipped away sufficient plaster to reveal a sturdy wooden surface. Bodie continued until the entire boarded-over opening was exposed. The top of it came to the middle of his chest, and it was not much wider than his shoulders. Shoving debris aside with his heel, Bodie tapped against the wood, trying to gauge the thickness of the boards. There was clearly open space behind, and the slats were less than an inch thick. He swung the pick up onto his shoulder, braced his legs apart, and brought the sharp edge forward, driving it into the old wood.

He broke through at once. A faint, overly sweet odor wafted out of the darkness, causing Bodie to hesitate in the middle of jerking the pick free. Steadying himself, he began again, setting up a brisk rhythm until he had the top half cleared away. Using the head of the heavy tool to clear the floor, Bodie bent a short distance into the doorway and peered inside.

He could see at once what the architect had intended; the concrete walls extended into the front garden for a short distance, shoring the entry to the potato cellar. Rather than going out level with the foundation, the cellar took a sharp turn downward.

"Lovely," Bodie muttered. He was not particularly fond of holes, having spent a couple of very uncomfortable days in a noisome African one several years back. Taking off a work glove to wipe the sweat from his brow, he picked up the torch and pointed it down into the shaft. Fragile-looking steps led downward for several feet; a dark shadow on the west side of the pit indicated that the potato cellar angled back under the cellar proper.

Knowing that he must go down into that narrow opening, Bodie nevertheless put off the moment by systematically destroying the rest of the original boards. There was no question in his mind but that the source of Doyle's disturbances resided in this hole; nor was Bodie in a hurry to confront it. Accordingly, once the way was clear, he spent several minutes gathering detritus and scooping it into the rubbish sacks.

After standing those against the far wall, Bodie took up the hammer and the torch and entered the entryway. The first step, obviously old and rotten from damp and woodworm, almost crumbled beneath his weight. Catching his breath following a tremendous surge of adrenalin, he took a moment to recover himself before striding across the cellar to fetch the ladder that was stored beneath the stair. More than long enough to reach the ground and provide ample clearance at the top, it was strongly built and in good repair.

Noting by his watch that he had been at it for less than an hour, Bodie positioned the ladder to his satisfaction, tested it for balance, and swung himself onto the first rung. It was not a comfortable fit, for the shaft was quite narrow, and the ladder took up extra space. Bodie did not like the idea of going down blind; but short of descending head-first, dangling from a rope, there was little to be done about it.

He stepped off the last rung onto solid ground. Swallowing hard against a desert-dry throat, he swung the torch round, brushing a scuttling spider aside with a grimace of distaste, and bent forward to look into the small chamber.

It may have begun as a potato cellar, but at some point in its history, someone had widened it into the size of a small room. All the hair on the back of Bodie's neck rose as he played the bright beam over the interior. Just inside, the floor dropped down another foot, allowing Bodie more than enough headroom to stand upright. Heavy beams, treated with oil or resin to protect them from the damp, had been brought in to buttress the sides and ceiling of the chamber; most of them appeared to be in remarkably good condition. The earthen odor almost obscured the over-ripe scent of too-strong cologne--but not quite.

Lips compressed into a tight line, his skin crawling with barely banked down apprehension, Bodie swept the light over each wall in turn, finally bringing the beam to a stop upon the simple structure that occupied the center of the chamber. Made of wood, it clearly exhibited signs of rot. About four feet high, its purpose was easily recognizable: Here stood an altar.

If he'd had any doubts, the paraphernalia littering its surface, seen mostly in illustrations and photographs before, removed them at once. There were the obligatory upside down crucifixes, candles in obscenely shaped sconces, knives, goblets, and other wooden instruments Bodie couldn't identify, for they had deteriorated beyond recognition.

Squarely placed in the middle of the altar lay a large book.

Simultaneously exhilarated and struck through with dread, Bodie warily left the relative safety of his position by the opening and went deeper into the chamber. No more than ten feet by ten feet square, the room was dominated by the wooden altar.

Was this where old man Lulham had retired to spin his spells, invoking dark powers beyond his comprehension, and further still beyond his control? Disgusted and angry, Bodie reached for the book and gingerly grasped the leather binding.

The torch went out.

Bodie's heart stopped. For an instant, he felt something--several somethings--crawling over and around his fingers. Biting his lip, he retained his grip only through sheer bloody-mindedness, squelching the image in his mind of black, gleaming scorpion bodies taking hold of him with their pincers, arching their tails over their backs, their stingers jabbing downward--

His breathing harsh in the confined space, Bodie forced himself to take one step toward the opening, followed by another, and yet another, until his hips came into painful contact with the wooden frame of the ladder. Not relinquishing his convulsive hold on the book for an instant, Bodie blindly sought the bottom rung of the ladder, and steadfastly made his way up to the cellar above. When he stood on the top step, poised to leave the entrance to the underground chamber, he flung the book across the concrete floor. His torch blinked back on, and Bodie cast its yellow glow over his tingling right arm, teeth clenched so tightly his jaws threatened to cramp.

There was nothing. Not on his hand, nothing on his arm. Light-headed, Bodie stepped off the ladder and onto solid ground. Without pause, he crossed the room to retrieve the book. Seconds later, he emerged from the cellar, heart in his throat, his body drenched with perspiration.

Shaking violently, he carried the book to the dining room and slammed it onto the table. "All right, you son of a bitch," he said raggedly, "I've had more than enough of you."





An hour later, Bodie thought his eyes would give out, despite the brilliant light pouring in through the kitchen window. The book, which had apparently been in the underground chamber for at least thirty years, was so delicate it had begun to fall to pieces, even under his scrupulously careful touch. No name betrayed ownership on the inside cover, nor anywhere within the pages of the book. There were illustrations of arcane devices interspersed with incantations, paeans to the demon Gressil, and ritually-worded invocations. The last page seemed to be a pact with the demon; it summoned the devil's servant and demanded everlasting life upon culmination of a terrible sacrifice. Bodie's Latin had never been very good, and in any case, he suspected that whoever had written this rubbish had restructured the language to suit himself. The print on this page was in even worse repair than that found in the rest of the book. Whereas the bulk had been committed in a water-based ink that frequently faded away to nothing, the writing here was rust-colored--where color could be ascertained at all--and flakey, as though composed of a substance much thicker than ink.

Bodie knew what that substance had been, and his certainty only fueled his already simmering anger. If this was the work of Raymond Lulham, the old man had gone right round the twist before he had died. What precisely he--or whoever was responsible--had promised to Gressil--in blood--in return for everlasting life had been lost to the ravages of time, as was most of the idiocy in the book.

Amidst the outrage, however, was a sense of accomplishment--Bodie had certainly found the source of Doyle's disturbances. Weighing against that, however, was a sense of frustration: he had failed to pin-point a connection to Doyle. There should have been some mention of him--or the child he had been--either a description of him or better still, some personal effect. On a hunch, Bodie folded the covers back upon themselves so he could peer down the spine. The book crackled ominously in his hands. With ruthless determination, Bodie took out his pocketknife and slit the leather sleeve; first one side, then the other. Peeling back the flap from the front cover, Bodie spied the tiny dark ringlet at once. Soft as down and vaguely reddish, it had been pressed flat by time.

"Bastard." The single word slipped between his lips on a breath of utter disgust.

He plucked the silky hair out of the secret place, meticulously ensuring that not even a single strand was left behind. Digging about in his pockets with his other hand, he finally came up with his handkerchief--neatly folded and unused--and wrapped the small clump in its cotton depths. After storing it in his breast pocket, he took up the large envelope that had contained Doyle's papers and stuffed the book deep inside, piling the aged fragments that had crumpled under his touch in with it.

Bodie wanted nothing more than to destroy the book. He did not believe in evil--but he did believe in malice. The person who had clipped off a child's lock of hair and used it to summon dangerous powers was not only a maniac, but a menace as well. It was not Bodie's place, however, to judge what should be done with it; that must be Doyle's decision.

Loath to leave it intact for any longer than absolutely necessary, yet not daring to let it out of his sight, Bodie closed the envelope and wrapped an elastic band around it to keep it sealed. Remembering the other items that had been sent round by the lawyer, Bodie took a moment to sort through them. When he came across Doyle's birth certificate, he studied it thoroughly. As Bodie had suspected, Doyle had either been conceived out of wedlock, or Elizabeth Doyle had given birth to a very large newborn--one which had weighed in at well over seven pounds.

And what had happened to Timothy Doyle?

To all appearances he had been a rat: he had certainly seduced Doyle's mother and scurried away shortly after their child's birth. Or maybe Lulham's influence had worn him down--although by then, Lulham had been dead, Bodie corrected himself. A drifter, Timothy Doyle had been. Thinking of the young man's photo in Doyle's locket, Bodie guessed that the suave bounder had somehow hoped to get his well-manicured hands on Elizabeth Doyle's money. When Lulham had died, he must have left the lot to Elizabeth. And she must have made it clear that the money would remain with her. What better reason for Timothy Doyle to take his roguish self to more congenial climes?

Ray Doyle had not fared well with his male relatives.

None of the other papers were pertinent to Bodie's inquiry. Bundling everything into a neat stack along with Doyle's post, he contemplated--with a sense of anticlimax--what he would do with the remainder of the afternoon.

The high-pitched double ring of the telephone nearly launched him from his seat. Pretending to clutch at his chest and letting out a squeaky laugh, he grabbed up the packet and hurried into the hall. The shrill announcement pierced the air once more before Bodie slipped his fingers under the handset and jerked it off the cradle. "3645."

"Bodie!"

"Ray, what is it?" Bodie's voice deepened with concern; Doyle sounded almost frantic.

"Are you all right?" Doyle asked sharply. "Tried to ring you a bit over an hour ago. There was no answer."

"I'm fine." He briefly mulled how much he should say. "I've found something."

For a moment Doyle did not comment. Then: "Yes?"

"It's a book. Oh--and I've bashed a hole in your cellar wall. Did you know, sunshine, that you have a rather big potato cellar under the house?"

"I-- A potato cellar?" Doyle repeated, the last syllable rising noticeably. "You are joking?"

"Not a bit. Show you when you get home. How're things going with you?"

"Making progress. I've already told Iain I want to leave by three."

"Just make it back well before dark," Bodie said heavily. "I've a suggestion to make as to what we ought to do--but that'll be up to you."

"You're being very cryptic," Doyle said a little uneasily. "You don't think old Beelzebub's got the phone bugged, do you?"

Bodie muttered darkly--and predictably, "He's certainly got me bugged. I'm about to go up and take a look at your computer. Did you switch it off this morning? The monitor didn't appear to be on when I looked in this morning."

"Yes. There was only a C-Prompt on the screen, so I just cut off the power." Not letting Bodie change the subject entirely, Doyle remarked, "Your digging about belowstairs: does that mean the packet arrived from my lawyer?"

"It does. The blueprint disagreed with my tour of the building. By the way, did you know you were born at 2.17 in the morning? That's a bugger of a time to be opening pressies, mate."

Doyle's chortle was edged with exasperation. "Depends on what's being opened, doesn't it. Okay, I'll let you off the hook till I get there; and anyway, Iain's semaphoring away at me to get off the line."

"Right. See you this evening, then. And, Ray--"

"Yes?"

"Love you too, y'know."

There was a short pause. "Was hoping, anyway." The pleasure evident in Doyle's whispered reply made Bodie tingle with warmth. "Good to hear I was right. Watch yourself, Bodie."

Following a quick round of good-byes, Bodie replaced the receiver, his fingers lingering on the plastic as though it were a physical link with Doyle. Casting a baleful glance at the packet in his other hand, he returned to the kitchen to wash up before deciding to cobble together something for a late lunch.





The meal was a slapdash affair. For once Bodie's appetite faltered; he could hardly choke down the sandwich and crisps that made up his menu. Burdened by a hot mug of tea--and the unwelcome packet--Bodie finally made his way to the study.

The computer proved to be less of an ordeal than Bodie had feared. Last night's trauma must have come in the form of a minor surge, for the system performed perfectly. Bodie accessed Doyle's word processing software and checked through his current data files. While some of the data had undoubtedly been lost at the time of the power fluctuation, Bodie knew that Doyle was a conscientious user who frequently wielded the SAVE function; he had probably suffered only minimal damage.

Simply to pass the time until Doyle returned home, Bodie did a thorough inspection of the computer's hard drive. He searched for lost clusters and found a few. Organizing them into a file, he then typed the information out to see if any of the data were worth saving. Finding a great deal of gibberish, he deleted the file altogether. Whatever harm had been done, it would be easier for Doyle to recreate the information out of whole cloth, than to spend endless hours trying to piece it together from the gobbledygook that remained.

Bodie then employed the disk manager to reorganize the hard drive into compressed form. Slumping tiredly in Doyle's chair, he glanced about the room for something to distract him while the program followed his instructions; from experience he knew it would be several minutes before the computer would be ready for further commands.

His eyes lit on Doyle's novels, laid sideways at the end of the shelf. He rose and stretched achingly, then took HARMONIOUS TONGUES in hand. Returning to the chair, he slid down until he was resting more on his spine than his bottom, put his feet up on the edge of the desk, and began to thumb through the pages until he found the spot where he had left off seemingly centuries before.

Within minutes he was engrossed in the tale to the exclusion of all else; even the beep from the computer signalling completion of its task did not faze him. Doyle's use of language, imagery and pacing was impressively adept. His characters were compelling, yet realistic; attractive, yet flawed. It was not long before Bodie had forgotten his original, days-old motivation for wanting to read the book in the first place; spellbound, he read only to find out what happened next.

Two hours later, it was the toot of a horn sounding twice in quick succession that roused him from his intense absorption. Shifting up awkwardly, he peered out the window onto the street below--just in time to see Doyle's curly head disappear from view beneath the slope of the roof.

Brought back to the present all at once, Bodie took note of the time--just past 4.00--saw that the computer was still idling patiently, and switched it off. Drawing a grotesque face as his back gave a twinge after being bent in the same position for so long, he marked the page he had been reading and closed the book. He halted abruptly at the door, remembering the packet, jogged back to retrieve it, then started down the stairs at a smart pace.

Doyle paused in the middle of shutting the interior door to the porch at sight of him, his eyes traveling over Bodie with manifest appreciation. "What've you got there, then?" he asked.

"The little something I mentioned on the phone. How'd it go with Iain?"

"Great. He had a few suggestions concerning some of the changes I'd made, but we worked it out at his office."

As Bodie left the last step, Doyle reached out and took the packet from him. He bent down to set his attache case on the floor and dropped the packet beside it. Then he straightened up and, standing very close to Bodie, stared straight into his eyes. Without touching him in any other way, Doyle leaned just near enough to press his mouth to Bodie's lips, turning his head slightly to improve their fit.

Holding his breath, Bodie moved closer. Their kiss deepened until Doyle let out a low, vibrant groan. He slid his hands up along Bodie's arms to his shoulders, then round his neck and face. Cradling Bodie's dark-capped skull in slender fingers, Doyle continued to explore his mouth, insinuating the cool tip of his tongue inside.

Struck mindless with ferocious need, Bodie snaked his arms downward until his hands were filled with Doyle's wool-clad buttocks. He pulled the lean body full against him, feeling Doyle's heat and hardness through his trousers. That contact against his own erection set Bodie's pulse-points throbbing.

Incapable of prolonging the moment, Bodie brought his hands back round to Doyle's trouser clasp, which he swiftly and dexterously undid. He lowered the zipper, and shoved the snug-fitting fabric, along with stretchy nylon pants, off Doyle's hips, hurriedly baring him to his fevered touch. As Bodie took him into one big hand, Doyle broke their kiss, and gasped aloud.

Shaking free of Doyle's slack touch, Bodie went down to his knees, working his hands under the hem of Doyle's shirt. Running his fingers upward over the sharply ribbed chest, Bodie sought out Doyle's nipples with his fingertips at the same moment that his mouth found and devoured his hardness.

"Ah, Bodie," Doyle breathed, thrusting carefully into the warm, velvet haven offered him.

Withdrawing one hand, Bodie pried his own trousers open and took hold of himself, stroking and squeezing in cadence with Doyle's movements. Doyle's obvious pleasure made the blood hurtle through Bodie's veins. It gathered in his abdomen, and heavily filled his genitals.

In response to Bodie's attentions, Doyle began to move faster, his fingers racing over Bodie's shoulders and neck, threading through his hair, tracing the outline of his lips, ceaselessly, hungrily touching him. "Oh, Bodie," he cried hoarsely, continuing to keen softly as he stopped moving altogether, and spurt convulsively into Bodie's mouth.

Bodie suspended all efforts toward his own release until Doyle inhaled a long, shivering breath and slumped onto the floor beside him. Smiling faintly, Doyle extended both hands and wrapped them about Bodie's tumescence. Kissing him lightly, Doyle whispered against the corner of Bodie's mouth, "Shall I suck you?"

Taking Doyle's head in his hands, Bodie lustily savaged his mouth. "No, just touch me--and kiss me. Hm. Yeah, like--hm--that. Oh, that's--hm--perfect, Ray. Hmmm."

Clinging to Doyle's shoulders, lost in another searching kiss, Bodie pressed into that knowing manipulation, fully confident that Doyle would take him where he most wanted to be.

He was not disappointed.

Seconds later the two men sagged together, buttressing each other upright. "You're bloody wonderful," Doyle murmured, languidly laying a trail of tiny moist kisses along the curve of Bodie's jawline from his ear to his chin.

"Not so bad yourself," Bodie managed with a soft laugh, underlining his statement with an enthusiastic hug. In fact, the lanky figure encompassed in Bodie's arms gave him more pleasure than he would ever have thought possible.

"Can I assume that means you're feeling better?" Doyle asked whimsically, cocking his head to one side and gazing tenderly at his lover.

Absurdly enchanted, Bodie informed him, "I'm knackered, actually. Had a busy day."

"So I gathered. What's this about smashing a hole in my cellar wall?"

Wrapping his arms tightly about the other man to savor his warm presence a moment longer, Bodie muttered, "Let's get cleaned up first, eh?"

Unquestioning, Doyle relaxed into Bodie's embrace, his fingers describing lazy, intricate patterns on the nape of Bodie's neck. When Bodie released him, Doyle raised his brows, his green eyes undemanding. He brushed the tip of one forefinger under the still bruised scratch beneath Bodie's left eye. "So what's the balance of my account with you now?"

Vaguely recalling their conversation of the morning, Bodie winked at him. "Wiped clean, sunshine."

Doyle's smile was doubting. "You're easily satisfied."

Bodie shook his head. "That's just the point, mate; I'm not."

"Oh." Doyle molded their mouths together, his soft touch pleading Bodie's response; Bodie could not have resisted had he wanted to. A moment later, Doyle tried to climb to his feet and almost fell over, ankles and knees entangled in underwear and trousers.

Extending a steadying hand, Bodie came up alongside him. As he realized what Doyle was doing--lapping lightly at the semen in his palm--he could only stare.

"Next time I get that while it's still warm," Doyle decided. After stepping out of his clothing with great dignity, he started up the stairs. Bodie bemusedly followed--only to stop mid-step to return for the packet Doyle had abandoned on the floor.

"D'you want your case up there?" he asked.

Taking in the object that had recaptured Bodie's attention, Doyle frowned. "Nah. I'd just have to bring it back down when we're eating; some things in it I want to go through yet tonight."

Aware that he had unintentionally put a damper on their mood, Bodie went quietly with Doyle to the upstairs bathroom. There Doyle commandeered the toilet to relieve his bladder, while Bodie washed his hands and genitals with a warm flannel, all the while marvelling to himself at this unforced, but wholly natural intimacy.

"What's the book called, then?" Bodie asked, trading places with Doyle. "The one you were working on with Iain."

Patting his hands dry on a towel, Doyle replied, "MASTER OF THE REVELS. Kind of a science fiction thing; my first, actually."

"And when can I expect it to arrive at my local WH Smith's?" Bodie asked lightly.

Doyle shrugged. He picked up the clothing that had been plopped onto the floor upon entering the bathroom. There came a noticeable chunk, and something shiny rolled out of a trousers pocket and collided with Bodie's stockinged foot. "About four months from now. You're welcome to read it before then, of course." He bowed down to retrieve the object, placing a hand on Bodie's thigh to maintain his balance.

"What's that, then?" Bodie asked, twisting a little so Doyle could maneuver more easily in the cramped space.

"My locket." Doyle held it up to the light. "Broke the clasp today."

"How'd you do that?"

"Tried on a jacket in Marks & Spencers; found out the hard way that my hair had got caught in the clasp. Damn. I do need that case up here after all. Be right back." With that he was out the door and thudding down the stairs, leaving a bemused Bodie to trail after.

He waited on the landing for Doyle, finding the sight of the other man unselfconsciously striding about clad only in a white shirt and undone tie appealing beyond words.

Doyle glanced up and caught Bodie watching him. Something in Bodie's expression apparently amused him, for he struck a pose with head bent back, adding a haughty smile for effect. "Like what you see, sailor?"

"Very much."

Sprinting up the steps two at a time, Doyle came up alongside him and looped an arm about his shoulders to direct him down the hall to the bedroom. "I've got a few things for you; hope you like 'em."

About to protest, Bodie registered the banked-down excitement in Doyle's face and kept the words at bay. "What sort of things?" he asked. As Doyle placed the case on the chest of drawers, Bodie began to divest himself of his trousers. He reached for the tracksuit that lay on the duvet at the foot of the bed.

Doyle flipped open the latches that secured the case and raised the lid. Inside, next to a rubber band-bound stack of papers, was a carry-bag emblazoned with the distinctive blue and white Marks & Spencer logo on the plastic surface. From this Doyle extricated two shirts--one eggshell blue, the other palest green--and two pairs of trousers, one of which was dark blue corduroy, the other chocolate brown wool. "Here you go," he said with a flourish.

The tracksuit crumpled redly onto the mattress. "Ray--"

"This was owed, Bodie," Doyle anticipated him. "The things you brought round the other day were destroyed; least I can do is replace them."

"You don't have to--"

"I want to. And it is owed, so don't think that I'm trying to buy your affections--although if I thought I could, I would probably try," he added with unconscious charm.

Lifting the blue shirt up, Bodie objected, "But this is silk!"

"And it'll look great on you. Try it on, will you? I got the sizes off the remains of your other gear--which I threw away, in case you hadn't noticed. Let's have a look, sunshine."

Favoring Doyle with a faintly peevish expression, Bodie complied. The silk warmed instantly upon his skin. "Don't think I lost many silk shirts," he felt compelled to point out. "Mainly because I didn't own any." He hooked the last button in the last buttonhole and took up the blue cords.

Doyle nonchalantly strolled around behind him. Stepping close, he slid his arms across Bodie's chest and sensuously spread his fingers wide. "Okay--the truth? I bought the shirts for me. No--not for me to wear; for you to wear so I could enjoy you in 'em."

Sighing, Bodie leaned back into Doyle's arms. "Oh, well, in that case--"

Doyle kissed the sensitive skin at the lowest point of Bodie's earlobe. "Very nice," he commented, the pads of his fingers skimming with featherlight caution over the easily snagged fabric. "Now the other one."

"I will; but later, okay?"

Idly kneading Bodie's nipples through the silk, Doyle said, "It's that packet you brought up with you; you want to talk about it, don't you?"

"We've got to," Bodie agreed. "The day's fading, and I'd rather not wait till nightfall."

Doyle's hands stilled. He leaned forward and rested heavily against Bodie's back.

"Ray, what's wrong?"

"Nothing."

Clutching Doyle's cold fingers close to his heart, Bodie waited for his uncharacteristically passive companion to elaborate. A moment of absolute silence went by.

"It's just-- I--" Doyle's mouth twisted to one side; Bodie could feel the contorted outline of the full lips against his skin.

Doyle began again, "After last night all I could think about was getting away. Kept imagining how great it would be to stay at your place tonight; how unusual. D'you know, Bodie, I'm beginning to think a haunted house is normal: three bedrooms, two baths, central heating, and a demon."

"But you dreamed at my flat, too."

Fitfully toying with a button on the silk shirt, Doyle conceded, "True. But there I don't worry about something trying to tear your heart out."

Bodie squeezed Doyle's hands. "Just one more night, Ray. I think this book is the answer, but we'll have to stay here all night to be certain. Let me show you, okay? And then I'll tell you what I want to do. I'd've taken care of it before you got home, but I thought it should be your decision."

For a few seconds Doyle's weight grew more noticeable. Then, drawing himself upright, he sighed, "Okay, mate."





Bodie lifted the kettle and poured boiling water into the teapot. In the other room, Doyle sat at the dining table, slowly working his way through the book from the underground chamber. Dressed again in the comfortable tracksuit, Bodie had had the foresight to fetch the handkerchief containing the small lock of hair out of his shirt pocket; it lay now on the dining table at Doyle's elbow.

Bringing out the tray complete with tea-things and biscuits, he interrupted Doyle in the midst of examining the slits in the front and back leather binding.

"What happened here?" he asked Bodie, raising the book out of his path to make room for the tea service.

"Found that," he pointed at the handkerchief, "in it."

"A hanky?" Doyle questioned obtusely.

Bodie grinned at him. "No." He prolonged the single word for effect. He reached out and ruffled Doyle's curls. "Inside you'll find some baby hair; yours, I believe."

Distaste flickered across Doyle's face. He set the book down. Plucking at the soft folds of the white cotton, he peeled it open to reveal a single auburn lock of very fine hair nestled in its depths. "So what does it mean?" he asked.

"Well," Bodie said in a calculatedly didactic tone, "my Latin is sketchy at best; but from what I could translate, this is the 'Book of Gressil.' Chock-full of prayers and incantations in the miserable sod's name."

"You think my grandad was responsible for this?"

"There's no way to prove that, as you well know. But it does seem likely."

Doyle folded one corner of the soft fabric back over the relic of childhood. "Thought you said he was a harmless lunatic."

"An obsessed lunatic," Bodie amended. "I'm guessing that he pitched over the edge at some point."

"And that last bit--that's a pact written in-- blood?"

"That's what I think, yes."

"And Grandad was offering me up as a sacrifice to his chosen demon?"

Hearing his own hypothesis spoken aloud gave Bodie pause. "No," he exclaimed with sudden revelation. "No, of course not." Vexed, he went on, "He couldn't've--your grandad was dead before you were even born. And that means it wasn't him cut off that lock of hair."

"Oh." Doyle raised his head and gazed blankly at Bodie. "Who, then?"

More to himself than to Doyle, Bodie muttered, "Well, it could've been him who set it up--and that could be your mum's hair--y'know, from when she was tiny."

"Then why did nothing ever happen while Mum was alive?" Doyle queried. "Bodie, that doesn't make sense."

Bodie's face darkened with a fierce frown. "Sorry, you're right. And, therefore, your grandad is probably not the villain of the piece--even though he may have been involved to some degree. After all, he laid the groundwork, didn't he?" His eyes narrowed astutely. "And there's no way it could've been your mum. Just no way. So maybe, just maybe, it was your--"

A bitter smile tightened Doyle's mouth when Bodie came to an abrupt stop. "My dad; that's what you're thinking, isn't it? Better and better. And that would explain why the old prick ran off, wouldn't it? Mum found out what he was up to and sent him packing."

Wishing he'd had the sense to keep his thoughts to himself, Bodie murmured, "Maybe. It still leaves questions unanswered, though: Why, for example, did this hocus-pocus start up just recently, and not long before? And, more to the point: What is the point?"

Doyle stabbed a finger at the book. "The pact: It's a contract for eternal life, in exchange for some terrible sacrifice. That was how you understood it, wasn't it?"

Shrugging, Bodie said, "As I said, my Latin's hardly up to par."

Doyle ignored the equivocation. "And that's my hair--probably my hair, since I'm the one to have been most affected. So, consider this: The deal with Gressil was struck just after I was born--but there was a time limit worked into it, unlikely as that may seem. Y'know, something along the lines of 'sacrifice the kid within thirty years, or forfeit life everlasting.'"

Not much liking Doyle's caustic tone, Bodie commented, "All right. That could explain why things have been getting so much worse just lately; your birthday is only a few days away."

"Cheers." Doyle set his hand, palm-down, upon the book. "Not only was my grandad a nutter, but my father wanted--maybe still wants--to feed me to his pet spawn of Satan, so he can live forever."

Bodie forced a laugh. "Or it could all be the result of, I don't know, a glitch in time. You know--whatever the loonies were dabbling in thirty years ago has only recently spilled through to the present. And, remember, Ray, the identity of the instigator is conjectural. We have no way of even verifying who all the participants were."

Doyle leveled a hard green stare at Bodie. "And at the moment, irrelevant. Based on what we do know, what d'you propose I do about all this?"

"Destroy the book," Bodie replied at once. "That should effectively break any link with you."

Regarding him speculatively, Doyle asked, "Destroy it how?"

"By fire. That's the usual recommendation. Fire is supposed to purify. Personally, I think it works because it eliminates the possibility of...reanimation." He knew his next words would not be well received. "And it should be done where the magical charm was hidden; in this case, in the potato cellar."

Doyle almost managed to conceal a shiver. "The potato cellar I didn't know I have. You want to do it now, don't you?"

"Right now. That bastard surprised us last night, Ray. We've about an hour of daylight left; maybe less. That doesn't necessarily give us any protection; but, in my opinion, the earlier the better."

Withdrawing his hand from the old leather binding, Doyle raised his fingers to the light and studied them with a frown on his face, as if expecting to see that some taint had been transferred from the book to his hand. "D'you really think this will set things to rights?"

"I think it's worth a try," Bodie said, wishing he could offer the unqualified assurance that Doyle needed to hear at this moment.

Nevertheless, Doyle fabricated a thin smile. "Good enough for me."

Bodie hoped it would be good enough for both of them.





In the merciless light of the single brightly burning bulb, Doyle surveyed the damage done to the cellar wall. Casting Bodie a speaking glance, he murmured, "Hope you intend to repair this mess."

Bodie's answering laugh was a hollow chuckle. He knew Doyle was unnerved; it showed in his rigid posture and unfluid gait. "Part of the service," he promised. "Let me go down first."

Without waiting for agreement, Bodie stepped onto the top rung of the ladder. Bracing himself with one hand on the side rail, he used the torch which was clasped in the other to light his way.

The dank hole had not changed since his last visit. Cold and faintly noisome, it yielded grudgingly to the torch beam, heavy shadows persistently adhering to the corners. Bodie cast the light over the altar, the ground beneath, and the strongly shored up ceiling and walls.

"Bodie?"

Bodie pulled his eyes away from the darkness he so distrusted. "'S all right," he said, his voice unintentionally rough. "You can come down."

Doyle muttered something profane, but silently and swiftly negotiated the ladder. "Hell of a potato cellar," he remarked, coming to stand at Bodie's side.

"That's what it was called on your house plans. It has since been remodelled," Bodie replied sardonically. He wondered if the tension building inside him were palpable. "There's the altar," he said unnecessarily, since Doyle had already gone round to inspect it. "Along with a few odds and ends well known to satanists everywhere." Gesturing with the beam, he indicated the blasphemous objects scattered across the table's surface.

Fingertips hooked in his back pockets, Doyle took a slow turn about the crude wooden structure, occasionally bending closer to scrutinize individual items, but scrupulously avoiding physical contact with anything. Sharing the light, Bodie approached the altar and laid the book down on its center. From a fleece-lined pocket he drew out the handkerchief and unfolded the corners to expose dark baby curls. These he scraped onto the leather binding.

"Over here, Ray," he said softly, then waited until Doyle had joined him. After passing the torchlight to him, Bodie produced a small box of matches. "Say nothing until I give the all-clear, okay?"

Doyle nodded. He was as wound up as Bodie, eyes alert, and frequently displaying whites all around.

Striking a match Bodie said forcefully, "Depart from here, ye cursed--"

He lowered the teardrop of flame onto the book where the baby hair lay.

"--into everlasting fire--"

The hair crisped at once, shrivelling into ashes.

"--which is prepared for the devil--"

The leather began to char, a black stain spreading out over its surface like crude oil on a calm sea.

"--and his messengers!"

The book erupted into flames. Great gouts of fire shot upward as though attempting to escape, only to fall back into the inferno where they were consumed and reformed. Bodie stood unmoving, even when the impossibly intense heat threatened to engulf him as well.

Images painted in flame teased his retinas, defying him to give them credence. He dared not, for that way lay certain madness; but neither could he look away. Living things unknown to earth twisted and struggled amidst the violent cleansing. Wordlessly they pleaded for help; huge-eyed and hopelessly tormented, their mouths great black O's of terrible anguish.

Clenching his teeth, Bodie refused their entreaty, knowing that they were no more real than the scorpions he had imagined on his hand earlier in the day. But beside him, Doyle made as though to step forward, tentatively reaching out. Bodie blocked him just as a tongue of fire licked dangerously near, seeking contact.

Doyle gasped, but as Bodie had requested, otherwise remained silent. He did, however, edge closer so that his arm brushed against Bodie's. And there he waited, watching mesmerized as the fire slowly burned itself out. Before long even the terrible images disappeared amidst the dancing flames, and the flames themselves no longer seemed to twist and quiver in agony. Finally there was nothing more than a smear of dense soot-like substance on the altar-top, unnaturally inky-black and oily-looking.

Bodie proceeded to destroy the various wooden bits of paraphernalia lying about, one by one. These he tossed into a pile behind the altar. Next he started on the table itself, smashing the legs with well-placed blows from the flat of his shoe. When it had been reduced to rubble, the rotted wood having offered little resistance, Bodie was panting as though he had run for miles. He turned to Doyle.

Green eyes came to rest on him uncertainly.

Bodie said, "That's it, sunshine. For what it's worth."

Playing the beam of torchlight over the pitiful remnants, Doyle murmured, "There was no smoke."

"What?"

Doyle flicked his hand out dismissively. "No smoke at all. There ought to've been smoke, Bodie."

A gurgle of laughter spilled out of Bodie's mouth; in seconds he was whooping with it. "Smoke? The bloody thing was so old and damp-struck, it shouldn't've burned at all. Certainly not so quickly as that!"

Doyle glared at him.

Bodie came closer and cupped the round, cold face in his hands. "I'm sorry. I wasn't--"

"Never mind, Bodie," Doyle said shortly. "It's just--" He threw his arms round Bodie's solid strength and warmth, and crushed him to his chest. "Can we leave now?"

"Of course. Here, give me the light; you go ahead."

Doyle responded at once. In three great strides, he crossed the floor to the ladder, and hoisted himself up to the concrete level above. Right behind him, Bodie stepped off the top rung a few seconds later, and for what he hoped was the last time. He switched off the torch. Heaving a great sigh, he said, "And now we wait."

"Until nine," Doyle said bleakly. "God, I hope you're right."

"Me, too," Bodie said. He tipped his head toward the stair, and together they made their way upward to the fading glow of day.





Bodie could hardly keep his eyes open. Just before 8.00, he finished HARMONIOUS TONGUES. Entranced by the story and its characters, whose happiness he had come to care about more than he liked to admit, he continued to muse about what he had read for several moments afterward. Doyle had made his fictional lovers work hard for their eventual happily-ever-after; realistically, Bodie doubted such disparate personalities would long survive in an intimate relationship. But he wanted to believe that they would, because each man provided completion to the other--a pleasant dream, certainly; but Bodie believed in dreams, so long as they did not compromise one's grasp of reality.

Half an hour later, he was drifting on the periphery of sleep, exhausted from the week's ordeal and the day's events. Shortly after closing the door on the cellar stairs, he and Doyle had repaired to the kitchen and there had mustered up a small meal. Eating in silence, for a while they had been immersed in their separate thoughts. Afterward, Bodie had begun to do the washing-up, with Doyle hovering beside him. Unable to bear that nervy presence for a second longer, he had finally captured Doyle in his arms, smothered him with a luscious kiss, then pushed him away toward the door.

"You have a story to write," he had said sternly.

Raking the fingers of one hand through his hair, Doyle had bit his lip. "Are you sure?" he had asked, eyes criss-crossing Bodie's face in search of honesty.

"Absolutely. You keep hovering about like a vengeful wraith, and I'll be trying to exorcise you next."

To Bodie's immense relief, Doyle had actually smiled. "Right." Then he had reached out to Bodie again, wrapping an arm about his neck while the other had circled his waist. "You're really special, you know that?"

Bodie had happily inhaled the musky-sweet fragrance of Doyle's hair, nuzzling contentedly behind his ear. "You're the special one, sunshine. I'm just grateful you're willing to make do with an untalented clot like me."

That had garnered him a none-too-gentle clout against his shoulder. "Silly prawn." Doyle had kissed him then, holding Bodie's head immobile while he licked and nipped his way about Bodie's mouth and tongue, stealing his breath and making him tremble with anticipation. "Later," Doyle had declared. And then he had gone, his warmth and signature scent lingering headily in Bodie's senses.

Applying himself with stubborn determination, Bodie had finished in the kitchen and bypassed the study in favor of the bedroom. There he had made himself comfortable on the mattress, back propped up by a pillow against the headboard, and had begun to reread favorite passages, one ear cocked to the tip-tip-tap-tap of the computer keyboard across the hall.

"Bodie."

Doyle's voice brought him instantly awake. Doyle stood a few feet away, gazing down upon him with a fond expression wreathing his face. "Didn't mean to startle you," he said apologetically.

"'S all right," Bodie mumbled. He straightened up, rubbing roughly at his sleep-numb face.

"It's almost nine," Doyle announced, even as Bodie shot a look at his watch.

"Did you shut off the computer?" Bodie asked.

"Yeah." Doyle shrugged. "Bloody quiet so far," he said hesitantly optimistic.

"Good. How's the story coming?" Bodie stood and stretched.

"Making progress," Doyle replied. He was scuffing one foot back and forth over the tasseled rug beside the bed. "Need to have this rewrite done by Tuesday, then I'll be off the hook for a while."

With his left leg crooked over the right, Bodie put on his shoe. "What d'you do in between?" he asked, well aware that they were nattering foolishly; well aware, too, that it was necessary to maintain some modicum of sanity. "Y'know, when all the drafts and revisions are done?"

"Go back to plotting out the next one." Doyle reached out and smoothed a recalcitrant tuft of hair flat against Bodie's skull. His fingers slid down to Bodie's spine and from there stroked outward to the ball of his right shoulder. "Told you I'm a boring sod," he said ruefully.

Bodie tied the bow on his other trainer, then spread his legs apart so he could bring Doyle into the circle of his arms. "You just keep thinking like that, sunshine," Bodie advised him. "Otherwise you'll discover just how dull your standard electronics technician is; me more than most." He pressed his cheek against Doyle's chest, at the bottom of his ribcage. The solid thud of Doyle's heart filled his ear; to Bodie it was a magical sound.

Drawing his knees up one at a time, Doyle climbed onto Bodie's lap, his arms hooked together behind Bodie's neck. "Is that what you are?" he murmured, brushing his full mouth across Bodie's parted lips. "My standard electronics technician?"

"As long as you want me," Bodie whispered, gently snagging Doyle's bottom lip between his teeth and sucking it slowly into his mouth.

After a blissfully sweet kiss, Doyle rubbed his cheek against Bodie's temple and asked, "D'you mean that?"

"Unfortunately, yes."

"Unfortunately?" Doyle's green eyes probed guardedly at Bodie's upturned face.

"Always intended to keep my distance," Bodie disclosed a little unwillingly. "I don't like getting hurt, Ray. Easier to keep things on a just-friends basis."

Doyle touched the tip of his straight nose to Bodie's slightly up-tilted one. "You loved that bloke in Africa, didn't you? The one who wouldn't listen to you?"

Bodie hesitated. "Yes. Didn't call it by its real name, then. But, you're right; I did."

"It's not fair, is it," Doyle commented softly. "There are so few people like us; yet our hearts, our bodies, react as if everyone--not just gay blokes--were fair game."

Yielding to a grin at Doyle's yearning remark, Bodie said, "You've lusted after a few straights, too, I take it?"

"Of course," Doyle scoffed. "But that's not really what I meant. 'S just the odds are against us, y'know. The chances of my finding you--under normal circumstances--would've been very remote, indeed."

"But you did. And, thank God you were signed with ACS, or I'd never have met you again."

Doyle grinned. "Must've thought you had a right nutter on your hands that ni--" He broke off mid-word, head turned slightly to one side, listening.

"It's nine o'clock," Bodie said, also hearing the chimes of the downstairs clock.

Sitting back on Bodie's legs, Doyle asked matter-of-factly. "What now?"

"We give it fifteen or twenty minutes, I think. Maybe an half hour. Last night could've thrown it off its stride."

"And then?"

"And then we check out the house. Room by room."

"Brilliant idea," Doyle said dryly. "What do we do till then?"

Despite a small fireball of heat that flared in his groin at Doyle's wanton look, Bodie shook his head. "Not that, mate. We wait here chastely and discuss your book. You know, HARMONIOUS TONGUES. I just finished it, and that thing is great."

Effectively distracting his lover, Bodie spent the next thirty minutes elaborating in loving detail what he had liked--and had not liked--about Doyle's book. Doyle seemed to enjoy hearing Bodie's remarks, and was amused by the scope of his reactions.

By 9.30, they were sitting together on the edge of the mattress, Doyle gigglingly fending off Bodie's attempts to extract the author's inspiration for a specific sex scene found near the end of the novel. "Purely imagination," Doyle contended. "Told you I haven't ever--" He raised a hand from Bodie's thigh. "It's gone half past."

"Right. We'll continue this conversation later. With an imagination like that, I don't know if I'm quite safe."

Doyle prevented Bodie from getting to his feet. "You'll always be safe with me," Doyle said with a wicked smile.

Dragging himself off the bed--successfully this time--Bodie arched a brow at his companion. "Somehow that worries me more than anything else you've said to date."

Doyle extended a hand and waited patiently until Bodie had pulled him to the floor. "So where do we start?"

"Wouldn't you rather stay here until I get back?" Bodie suggested half-heartedly.

"Leave it out, Bodie. We do this together; my house, my demon, remember?"

"I haven't forgotten; though if I had any doubts that we'd removed your spectral vermin, I'd be more inclined to argue. Let's go, then, trouble; I'm knackered."

Yet it was Bodie who set the pace, and that pace was decidedly cautious. They started in the study, which was no cooler than would be expected for this time of year; there was no unusual odor, only the collage one encountered in a smallish room containing a well-used computer, printer and many books. Bodie glanced at Doyle who met his searching look with a dismissive twitch of his shoulders.

Cursorily they checked out the remaining upstairs rooms, including the bathroom; all were as they should be.

Having encountered too many unpleasant surprises in this house to proceed with confidence, Bodie warily led the way downstairs, reducing his speed to a crawl as they neared the lounge. But here, as in the study, nothing was amiss. Perversely, the room seemed strangely empty without the reek of a man's too-sweet cologne, and was almost overly warm in comparison to its recurring sub-Arctic temperatures at this time of night.

Emboldened, Bodie walked inside and made a circuit of all four corners. Doyle watched from the door, a tiny smile hovering hopefully at the corners of his mouth. Bodie waved him in, and Doyle readily joined him.

Repeating Bodie's actions precisely, Doyle came to a stop a few feet away. "Nothing," he breathed, and waited for Bodie's confirmation.

"Nothing," Bodie agreed.

Nor was there anything in any of the other ground floor rooms. For added measure, Bodie unlocked and opened the front doors and, a moment later, the doors to the conservatory. He even pushed open a window, inhaling fresh, crisp air before shutting and locking it again.

Jubilantly following in his wake, Doyle's face fell when Bodie announced, "Now the cellar."

Obviously curbing his tongue on what he would have liked to say, Doyle merely stated, "Good idea." But he looked drawn and pale as he walked alongside Bodie to the cellar door.

"You don't have to go down there," Bodie commented sympathetically. "The place is clear, mate. I just want to put my own mind at--"

"Shut up, Bodie," Doyle interrupted. "Never have liked this place, that's all."

Bodie did not bother to question the veracity of that statement. He had picked up the torch from the kitchen table, but the bulb overhanging the cellar worked perfectly. This room was much colder than any of the rooms abovestairs; but that was hardly unusual, as cellars were renowned--even desired--for their lack of heat. Wine thrives in it, Bodie mused, controlling a shiver as his skin prickled.

The stairs creaked under their combined weight as they walked down to the concrete floor. Mindful of what lay beneath them, Bodie was grateful to the unknown architect who had engaged such foresight in shoring the underground chamber. Otherwise, this floor could long ago have become part of it.

As before, he did a turn about the entire room, skirting wardrobes, overstuffed chairs, occasional tables, and the chesterfield before arriving at the opening that gave entry to the potato cellar. Face pinched, shivering in his light sweater, Doyle came up beside him.

Bodie flipped on the torch and shone it into the small alcove that surrounded the hole leading down. He noted that the ladder still stood where he had left it. Giving Doyle a thumbs-up gesture, he lowered his weight to the first rung. With heart beating more quickly than normal--even making its presence known in his throat--Bodie cast the torch-beam over the floor and packed-earth walls. As he removed his foot from the ladder, he started violently as something darted across the floor a few feet away.

Swinging the torch round as though it were the elongated snout of a rifle, Bodie fixed the beam on a small brown shape that froze for an instant in the blinding light, then scurried away, drab gray tail held high.

"Bodie!"

"'S all right," Bodie chuckled painfully, not needing to ask Doyle how he had known of his fright; they were on an instinctual wavelength that defied explanation. "Just a bloody mouse."

Doyle's sigh was audible in the depths of the small chamber. A moment later he stepped off the last rung of the ladder and walked into the room. "Just as we left it," he said, his voice muted.

"Yep." Bodie played the light slowly over the interior, letting the beam rest on the black ashes of the book. "And this was where it originated, y'know. This room lies right beneath the lounge, and the lounge is beneath the study."

Standing unobtrusively close to hand, Doyle asked, "What shall I do with it? Have it filled in? Is it dangerous?"

"Not dangerous. Look at those oiled beams--two or three would suffice for a room this size, I think. Here, there are eight, probably less than a foot apart; with transverse bars for extra support. Not to mention those that are bracing the walls. No, whoever put this up was building for the ages."

"So just closing it over will do?"

"If you can't think of anything better, yes." Bodie gave him a reassuring look. "I'd already intended to board it up again, unless you choose otherwise."

"Board it up," Doyle decided shortly. His shadowed eyebrows were strikingly arched in the pale glow from the torch-beam. "Wonder if Mum knew about it."

"May have been your grandad's," Bodie speculated. "In which case it may even have been your dad who finally closed it up. Your mum never spoke badly of either of them, y'know," Bodie noted. "Could've been someone else your grandad latched on to was responsible."

"Reckon you're right," Doyle murmured. He pivoted on heel and looked beseechingly at Bodie. "But I think I'd prefer that it be blocked up again."

"I'll get the materials on Saturday. C'mon, sunshine," Bodie urged softly. "Time you put me to bed. I have a job to go to in the morning."

Doyle summoned an affectionate grin. "Unlike certain lead-swinging authors you know?"

"Well, I didn't like to say--"

"Let's go, you." Throwing a last look over his shoulder, Doyle murmured, "It may be absurd, but I'll probably rest easier once Saturday's come."





An hour later, they lay bundled together beneath the downy warmth of the duvet, recovering from an extended bout of loveplay and its logical, if strenuous, culmination. Cushioning Bodie's head on his shoulder, Doyle continued to caress the broad neck and throat, sleepily placing cool kisses on the smooth-capped head. "Was supposed to let you go to sleep, wasn't I?"

"Hm," Bodie agreed with satiated contentment. "Maybe I'll be of a mind to complain in the morning."

Doyle gave a low laugh, the irresistible rumble reverberating against Bodie's chest. "Not too bad, was it?"

"Considering it lasted longer than our previous record of thirty seconds, I'd say it was quite nice, actually."

Doyle squeezed him suffocatingly. "You accusing me of being fast off the mark?"

"You mean, you weren't just in a hurry before?" Bodie asked innocently.

"Bastard. Strangely enough, I never noticed you having any trouble keeping up."

"Ooh," Bodie gasped. "That's cruel, that is."

Doyle's mouth spread into a smile. "Think I'm going to enjoy living with you," he murmured. "Although I suppose now your job here is over, you'll want to return to your own flat?"

It was a question Bodie had not really considered. His instinctive response was that he would move in at once, let go the lease on his place in Sutton, and hope for the best. Common sense argued against doing that; after all he and Doyle had only known each other for just over a week. Although they seemed more than well-suited, within a month's time familiarity may have bred indifference or disillusionment, if not outright contempt.

Yet, during the space of a very few days, Bodie had come to greatly appreciate the pleasures of waking beside a warm, caring body; one focussed upon him to the exclusion of all else. Although if he were honest, he must admit that it went well beyond that; for Doyle had already become more important to him than he really cared to examine. Never before had he been prepared to promote another's well-being to the detriment of his own; not even in the the Mercs where a partner guarded another's back as keenly as his own. With Doyle that commitment had overridden even Bodie's sense of self-preservation: he would do literally anything to keep Doyle safe.

"What would you think about my moving in?" he asked, taking a pinch of soft flesh at Doyle's throat between his teeth.

"Permanently?" Doyle's voice was completely lacking in inflection.

"If it works out. We could give it a few months; see how we get on. If you want to give it a try, of course." Bodie licked soothingly at the spot he had just nipped.

"Oh, Bodie." Doyle spoke in a husky burr. "You have no idea how much I'd like that."

Hugged with an exuberance that almost caused damage to his ribs, Bodie gave a muffled laugh. "We'll have to work out the essentials: how much rent I'll pay; how much--"

"Don't be stupid," Doyle said forcefully. "We'll split the household bills, but that's all. The house itself is paid for; I won't charge you rent when I don't pay any."

"And when you decide you don't want me anymore, just say so; right, mate?" Bodie said with quiet intensity. "I promise I'll go without making a scene."

Doyle's gentle caresses ceased. "Don't know that I can make the same promise, mate. Don't know that I'll ever want you to go."

Rearing up on his elbow, Bodie stared down into Doyle's face. In the darkened room, he could make out the glint of Doyle's eyes and little else. "'M just trying to be practical, Ray. We've only been together a few days, under unusual circumstances. Maybe we're both going into this half-baked. But I can tell you one thing: I've never been happier, and I've never wanted to be with someone more."

Doyle's smile flashed in the gloom. "Same here, Bodie. And, anyway, it's foolish to fret about it at this point. Just-- Well, don't think that I feel this way because I'm grateful for what you've done for me. I am; more than you know. But it goes beyond gratitude. I'll just have to prove that to you as we go along."

"Fair enough." Bodie spent a long, pleasurable moment kissing Doyle's pliant lips. When he'd finished, he sank back down into wiry, possessive arms, unutterably exhausted--and well pleased with it.




Day Eleven - Friday

"Hurry up, mate. It's almost eight."

Puffy-eyed and lacking energy, Bodie pulled his necktie into socially acceptable alignment, and glared dully at himself in the mirror. Doyle had wakened him an hour ago, cajoling him from the warmth of the bed and down to the kitchen for breakfast. Bodie, who rarely managed a meal first thing in the morning, except on lazy days, had choked down a bowl of cereal and strong coffee. Despite feeling somewhat restored, he refused to admit to his improved condition in view of Doyle's inhumanly cheerful mood.

Without question, he felt as though he had been done over by a small army of thugs. For Doyle to be exhibiting such little wear and tear, Bodie certainly was owed a good sulk--at the least. The subject of his ruminations came into the bathroom behind him, looking unaccountably chipper and spry. Doyle's mirror image smiled at him as he stepped right up to Bodie, pressing his full length against Bodie's back and legs and accorded him a friendly hug.

"Gorgeous," he pronounced.

"'M glad you think so," Bodie said sourly.

Doyle rubbed his cheek upon Bodie's shoulder, watching Bodie's reflection in the looking glass. "Don't be grumpy. After today, we have the weekend."

"Which you intend to spend at the computer; be honest, Ray."

"It's going along rather well," Doyle said defensively. "I ought to be able to do a fair bit today. And then we'll--"

Regretting his comment the second it had slipped free of his mouth, Bodie said swiftly, "Don't be a goose. Take as long as you need. I can entertain myself perfectly well."

Doyle did not believe him; his skeptical expression said it without benefit of words.

Turning in the circle of Doyle's arms, Bodie placed his hands upon the narrow waist. "Don't mind me, okay? I'm dragging arse this morning, and you're all sunshine and smiles." He bestowed a tiny kiss on Doyle's mouth.

"Sorry," Doyle murmured. "Woke up this morning and I could tell that things really are back to normal. Except better: You're here."

Bodie applied the balm of another cherishing kiss. "Gone and got yourself engaged to a neanderthal, haven't you? Can you really feel a difference?"

A bright beaming smile was his answer. "I didn't dream last night, Bodie," he said significantly. "Not that dream, anyway. First time in bloody ever."

"I'm pleased for you," Bodie said softly. At Doyle's good-natured scowl, he insisted, "Really! Even if you do wear me out just looking at you."

"That's all right, then," Doyle said. He ran his fingers through the silky hair that brushed Bodie's collar. "What d'you think about fucking, Bodie?"

Dizzied for just a second by the sudden change in topics, Bodie said poker-faced, "Love to; but I'll be late if we do."

Dutifully chuckling, Doyle said, "I'm serious, mate. A lot of blokes don't even like the idea. Have you ever thought about it?"

"It's crossed my mind a time or two," Bodie confessed.

"And?"

"And--what with Aids and all, that's all the further it went."

Doyle raised his brows. "Well, if you want to take it further than that, I'm game. Just thought you should know."

"Jesus Christ, Ray," Bodie exclaimed softly, clutching Doyle so closely to him that he could feel every point of contact from lips to toes. "How d'you expect me to get through the day if all I can think about is that?"

"The same way I will: concentrate on it, plan how you'll go about it, imagine every sensation until you know exactly what you want. And then we'll do it. Tonight."

"You're a bastard, Ray Doyle," Bodie moaned, burying his hands in thick, dark curls and trapping Doyle's head between his palms while he possessed the willing mouth. "And I must go. We'll talk about it later, okay? Don't want to rush into that. But I( We'll talk later."

Bemused in turn, Doyle nodded. "Right. I'll ring you--if that's not a nuisance?"

"Any time." He was kissed with that singular attention to detail that characterized Doyle's better efforts--then rudely pushed away.

"On your bike, then, sunshine. See you this evening."

Inconspicuously adjusting himself through the fabric of his trousers and sighing with some exasperation, Bodie cast Doyle a meaningful glance, then bolted out of the room and down the stairs.





"Oh, you are here," Allison announced as Bodie walked through the door.

Before he could fabricate an equally disparaging greeting, she added, "Are you sure you ought to be? You still look terrible, Bodie."

Bodie slipped off his jacket and hung it on the coat-rack. "I'm all right," he said more energetically than he felt. "How'd things go yesterday?"

"We managed without you," Allison replied. "And we got our report back on the audit."

Looking at her askance, Bodie prompted, "And?"

Allison's brown eyes twinkled. "And we did great. Hazel said the bank was satisfied."

"And we're going to the pub for lunch," Heather added from the door to the workshop. "To celebrate. God, Bodie, should you be up and about?"

"Good morning, Heather," Bodie replied with a grin. "So let's have it: who took Doyle's call yesterday?"

"I did," Allison said with a certain smugness. "Is this the same chap who came to the house Tuesday a fortnight ago, and this past Tuesday, when the pair of you came stumbling in, looking as though you'd been in a punch-up?"

"The same," Bodie said with a good-natured grin. "Shouldn't happen anymore."

Loosening his tie, he started for the tea station in the workshop. "And I need to talk to you about letting go my lease, Allison."

She followed after him like a child's pull-toy. "You are having me on, aren't you?"

"Not at all," he said, slopping milk into a mug. Behind him Heather was noticeably engrossed in dismantling a dot matrix printer. "My agreement is good through June; but I'll be moved before then."

"This is awfully sudden, Bodie."

"Don't worry, Ali," he said. "If things don't work out, I'll find another flat."

"Maybe you'll have changed your mind again by June," she said reasonably. "Let me know by then. There's no rush."

"That's good of you," Bodie said with feeling. "The extension won't be needed; but I appreciate the concern."

"Not worried about you," Allison informed him with a smile. "You're a great tenant, that's all. I'll hate to lose you." She walked back through to the front offices, saying over her shoulder, "I have errands to run; clients to visit. Be ready to leave by half past eleven, the pair of you. I'll be back by then. There's a list of names on my desk-pad if you need to reach me."

Listening to the sounds of her departure with half an ear, Bodie carried the tea to his work-table and stood surveying the accumulated projects. As soon as the front door closed with a distinctive bang, Heather said, "So when do I get to meet the lucky bloke?"

"Soon," Bodie said. "You'll like him, Heather."

"He must be special, if you're moving in with him," she said.

Bodie sat down and raised the mug to his lips. "He is."

Heather canted her head to one side, eyeing Bodie with amusement. "That's fairly definite. I do believe I hear wedding bells."

Smiling softly to himself, Bodie murmured, "You could be right, moppet."





Doyle rang at 10.00 to see how Bodie was getting on. They spoke for less than a minute; just long enough for Bodie to tell him that he would be out for a longish lunch, and to ask how the novel was coming along. Doyle enthusiastically reported great progress. He told Bodie to enjoy his lunch and that he might ring again briefly in the afternoon.

The call had come at the perfect time, as Bodie had been on the verge of ringing Doyle, admittedly to check up on him. For all that Doyle's tormentor seemed to have been vanquished, it was difficult for Bodie to accept that the deed had been accomplished with such relative ease. Well, his shoulders might not characterize his efforts as ease, but considering what they had been coping with....

Doyle's cheerful voice had assured him that all was well at home. At home. Feeling a trifle foolish, Bodie realized that he was already beginning to think of the house on Aylward Road in that manner--but only because Doyle lived there and would be sharing it with him.

Thoughts of Doyle--never far from Bodie's mind--reminded him of the morning's conversation, and Doyle's remarkable offer. Bodie had known full well what Doyle was referring to when he had said that some blokes did not like the idea of fucking. For some, the prospect of sticking a prick up another man's arse was disgusting in the extreme; for others it was the role of playing the passive partner--and apprehension of pain--that put them off.

To Bodie, who had experienced the act with women, the notion was tantalizing in the extreme. As he had told Doyle, however, he had never expected to engage in that particular activity with another man--certainly not given the risks associated with it. But with Doyle, who had been as sexually circumspect as he, such activity would be an experience to look forward to; not something to fear.

Tonight, Doyle had said. But it would not be tonight, and Bodie would not take Doyle first. He would render that privilege to his lover. The very thought suffused him with heat.





Promptly at half past eleven, Bodie and his female companions locked up the office and made their way to the Emma Hamilton. The morning was fine and clear, in direct contrast to the previous day's rain and cold. The pub was crowded by the time they arrived; nevertheless Heather succeeded in claiming a table for them. For the next two hours, they shared a friendly lunch and several friendly drinks. Allison began to probe Bodie regarding Doyle's background. Warmed by alcohol, Bodie let out that Ray was a writer--and was astounded to discover that Heather, who had hitherto not connected Bodie's Ray Doyle with that Ray Doyle, had read and thoroughly enjoyed his books.

For the remainder of their celebratory lunch, she regaled them with anecdotes from each of Doyle's novels, at one point shamelessly asking Bodie if she could have an advance peek at Doyle's two newest--and long-awaited--efforts. Absurdly proud and flattered to encounter a fan of Doyle's works--virtually in his own back-garden--Bodie made no promises but assured her he would tell Ray of her interest.

Soon they were back at the office, all infected with Friday afternoon fever. Since he had been out yesterday, Bodie offered to man the works if anyone wanted to leave. Both Allison and Heather opted to take him up on the offer. Bodie was left to his own devices for the remainder of the afternoon.

Peaceful and undemanding, the day slowly drew to a close. Bodie rang Doyle at 3.00--and instantly tensed at the curt voice that answered. Doyle soon allayed his fears by explaining that he had been reworking a particularly intractable sequence and was ready to bash in the computer out of frustration. Bodie cheered him by relating Heather's comments. To Bodie's amusement, Doyle seemed astounded that anyone had not only read all four of his books, but was capable of quoting lines of dialogue and descriptive phrases. In a considerably better frame of mind, Doyle moved on to more mundane topics, including what he intended to prepare for dinner.

Bodie's lip-smacking approval sparked a rich, ear-tickling chuckle from Doyle. Ringing off, Bodie returned to the few chores awaiting his attention, and started counting the minutes until he could lock up and leave.





The lights of Doyle's house on Aylward Road radiated welcome as Bodie found a place on the street for his Cavalier. As he walked up the pavement, he studied the building with the thought in mind that here was a place one could be happy for a long time. At the end of a terrace, the house stood out in dignity of construction and pride of upkeep.

Employing his key with a sense of belonging, Bodie caught sight of an archly observant Mrs. Barberino and, smiling sweetly, waved to her. Before she could recover from her surprise, he had entered the enclosed porch, and was standing on the front mat.

"Ray," he called, removing his jacket and hanging it on an empty wooden peg.

"In the kitchen," Doyle's voice filtered to him down the corridor.

Bodie went there at once, nostrils flaring at the aromas of frying chops and simmering carrots. Doyle took a few steps from the cooker, slinging an arm about Bodie's wide shoulders and reeling him near for a ravenous kiss, while his free hand continued to stir the pot of vegetables.

"Think I'd as soon eat you," Bodie decided, taking his time to taste Doyle's mouth and ear, working his way down to lick and bite at the strongly muscled neck and half-exposed chest.

"Go ahead, then," Doyle gasped, pushing his hips forward as Bodie unbuttoned his shirt to the waist. Driving his tongue into the neat navel, Bodie made short work of the belt and trousers clasp, dropping the zip and pushing his face right down into Doyle's groin.

Doyle moaned, holding himself upright with one hand on Bodie's shoulder, the other hand dangling dangerously near steaming water. Completely lost in Bodie's ministrations, he soon dropped the spoon altogether and took hold of Bodie's head with both hands. "Oh, come here, you maniac," he breathed, and brought Bodie alongside him. At once he made a concentrated assault on Bodie's clothing, baring him to his hot touch. Mouth planted on Bodie's yielding lips, Doyle roughly kissed him as he brought their bodies together and began the grinding rhythm that would bring them both satisfaction.

Circling his hands up and down Doyle's lean back before lowering them to grip taut, softly downed buttocks, Bodie held his ground and let Doyle do the hard work.

Slowing the pace as they both drew nearer their goal, Doyle murmured against Bodie's throat, "Aren't we a little old for a knee trembler?"

Eyes half-closed and floating on exquisite sensations, Bodie replied brightly, "Hm?" Running a finger along the length of Doyle's erection, he seized it suddenly and pumped with fervor, watching Doyle's eyes narrow to slits, while the color in his cheeks deepened, and the full mouth widened into a silent cry.

Aroused beyond words, Bodie once more broke free and bent over to engulf Doyle's hardness with his mouth. Too close to stall any longer, Doyle let him do as he would, whimpering huskily as Bodie slid a finger into his sweat-moist cleft, carefully searching for the sensitive opening. As he gently probed, Bodie was rewarded by Doyle's helpless, groaning orgasm. The taste of the man, he decided, was inspiring, for Bodie found himself right at the point of no return himself, having done little to get there.

Gingerly removing himself from Bodie's mouth, Doyle brought Bodie back up alongside him and languidly indulged in another kiss, savoring his own salty-tart semen on Bodie's tongue. Then he went down on wobbly knees and emulated Bodie's actions precisely.

His entire body throbbing to the cadence of Doyle's movements, Bodie could scarcely bear the pleasure of Doyle's tongue wrapped about him, sucking him up against the ridged top of his mouth and working him with perfectly applied pressure. He allowed himself a single glance down at Doyle, but the sight of him kneeling before him, that bewitching mouth working so assiduously on his behalf, took Bodie right to the pinnacle; and there he soared for several rapturous seconds.

He slid to the floor at last, gazing dopily into Doyle's face, further enchanted by the other man's equally abstracted expression. "The hors-d'oeuvres were absolutely spectacular," Bodie pronounced with precision.

Doyle sniggered and flopped forward into Bodie's lap. "This is bloody uncomfortable; I hope you know that."

"Was worth it, though."

Lying there with his face propped against Bodie's thigh, Doyle commented, "It was that." He sniffed ostentatiously. "Is that the carrots I smell charring?"

"Very likely," Bodie said.

Tilting his head back to peer up into Bodie's face, Doyle tsked disapprovingly. "You must have it bad--or maybe you just don't like carrots?"

Looping a ringlet round his finger, Bodie came back, "I like you."

"Silvertongue. C'mon, sunshine; shift yourself. Oh, ick--what a mess."

Stealing a kiss as Doyle briefly poised on all fours, Bodie asked curiously, "How come it's never like that in your stories?"

"Literary license," Doyle said glibly.

"Something else I've noticed." Bodie struggled to his feet. "You never refer to the 'membrum virile' as a cock or prick. It's always an 'erection' or 'manhood,' or 'shaft.' You're never shy?"

Taking hold of Bodie's hands, Doyle let himself be pulled up into Bodie's arms. "Everyone uses cock and prick these days--so I don't. A writer's got to be innovative to stand out of the crowd."

"'Erection' is innovative?" Bodie asked, impressed. "Hadn't thought of it that way." He mouthed Doyle's shoulder as the other man peered past him to check the state of the lamb. "So it's not a carry-over of a repressed childhood, then?"

"Didn't have a repressed childhood," Doyle said. "Mum told me everything I needed to know early on." He stretched to remove the pan from the heat, and placed it on a trivet.

"Can't imagine," Bodie said candidly. "You were lucky to have a good mother."

Doyle centered himself in front of Bodie, rubbing his hands up and down Bodie's arms. "Even as a child I thought so. Wish you could have known her."

"You don't think she'd have minded?"

"Told you before: I'm fairly certain that she guessed about me ages ago. Now--tell me you're ready to eat, or your chops will be a shade darker than your hair--and probably as appetizing."

"That sounds like a comparison a writer would make. Let me just rinse off, eh? What about you?"

Doyle produced a remarkably lascivious smile. "Was rather hoping you'd offer to do that for me. Pining away for a little personalized attention, I've been."

"Come 'ere, then, 'andsome." Standing beside the kitchen sink they rinsed off, idling away more minutes with unhurried caresses and kisses. Afterward, restored to proper attire, Bodie laid the dining table while Doyle dished up. Settled at last in the dining-cum-sitting room, Bodie took a huge bite of lamb, swallowed it down with a swallow of lager, and asked, "Have you got beyond the rough patch, then?"

Doyle's face went blank. "Oh, that one. Yes; just after I rang off." He poked at a chop with his knife, then sliced it into a perfect square. "Bodie?"

"Hm?" Contentedly chewing a mouthful of carrots that were a tad overdone, Bodie experimentally jabbed his fork into the pile on his plate.

"You told me that you don't believe in anything 'structured.' If that's true, how did you know what to say yesterday; y'know, in the hole under the cellar?"

Using his knife to compress a chunk of lamb onto his fork, which was already thick with carrots, Bodie replied, "I didn't. I mean, just burning the book was probably sufficient."

"Then why the incantation--or whatever that was?"

"More snippets from the Order of Exorcism. I call it the shotgun effect. It can't hurt to have too much ammo against something like...that." He shoved the forkful into his mouth. Speaking around his food, he went on, "Perhaps you didn't notice, but that's the same tack taken in the 'Book of Gressil.' It was made up of several variations of old, standard incantations. Whoever compiled that lot wanted as much insurance as possible."

"Okay. But by having used that approach, aren't you admitting to the power of religious convention yourself; and along with it, the existence of evil?"

Doyle's reasoning processes made Bodie smile with approbation; he had a great liking for intelligent people. "First of all, I said the important factor was the fire, remember?"

Doyle pulled a face. "To break the link, yes. The link between me and-- What?"

"Something we might describe as evil," Bodie said, wetting his throat with another gulp of lager. "But only because anything that doesn't play by our rules, and can hurt us, is always categorized as 'evil.'" He doggedly took another bite. Waving his fork in the air, he went on a little thickly, "Almost every culture believes to some degree in a spirit world that co-exists, or overlaps, with our own. And, not surprisingly, each culture has different ways of preventing such 'otherworld' inhabitants from entering ours. Given that strange things really do occur--manifested by paranormal phenomena in various guises--it could be logical to suggest that those so-called spirits have different cultures of their own. That would explain why, for example, one form of magic will work when another won't. Rather like giving English commands to a German dog; it may understand 'attack' in German, but it won't respond to the English equivalent because it doesn't recognize it."

Doyle's plate remained almost untouched. Staring at Bodie agog, he exclaimed quietly, "You talk about these spirits as though they were a tribe of wayward primitives."

"Perhaps they are--or something similar. Wayward to us, certainly, because their mores are not the same; yet they do often exhibit a marked level of intelligence."

"You'd describe their world as a parallel universe, then? One that corresponds to ours, but only occasionally overlaps?"

"Not necessarily," Bodie said, trying to gauge Doyle's expression. He rather wished he had not been quite so forthcoming with his hypotheses, since he couldn't determine how Doyle was reacting to them. "They may even live in this one, either separated from us by dimensions we don't yet comprehend--or perhaps they're just normally outside our range of senses."

"Good Lord."

Hands spread wide on either side of his plate, Bodie made reassuring noises. "It's only a theory, Ray; and not even an accepted one at that. It appeals to me because it bypasses the usual requirement for a deity and the afterlife--and the nature of spirits as a facet of either of those. If, like me, you're an atheist, how else can you explain supernatural phenomena without denying their existence out of hand?"

"What you're saying is that we aren't dealing with ghosts--or spirits--but some other form of life?"

Bodie winced. Skepticism fairly dripped from Doyle's words. "I don't know that 'life' is quite the term to use, but essentially, yes. Sometimes, humans accidentally--or intentionally--find a way to influence these creatures--creatures that I'm postulating, mind! Maybe someday we'll develop the technology to examine this parallel world, or dimension, or whatever it is--if it exists. After all, it's been said that we know more about the moon than we do our own oceans. Or maybe--I'm just a steaming great nit."

Ignoring the last statement, Doyle probed, "So they're not ghosts--the spirits of dead people, I mean?"

The corners of Bodie's mouth quirked upward. At last he had an inkling of what Doyle was puzzling out. "And perhaps they are. It's been proposed that some spectral manifestations are simply the visible residue of a person's energy signature. Possibly very strong personality complexes do not completely disperse once the host flesh has ceased to function, but actually remain intact and viable to some extent for a while afterward."

Sitting back in his chair, Doyle picked up his fork and knife and held them motionless over his plate. "I hate to admit it--simply because it sounds so outlandish--but your theory makes sense to me, Bodie. Y'know, I used to wonder when I was a lad if different religions would be taken into account when a person died; or if everyone was shoved into the same persuasion whether he or she liked it or not."

"A Protestant heaven, a Hindu heaven, a Catholic heaven--each to his own, you mean?"

"Uh huh. With your theory there is no religion to coerce anyone. In fact, there probably is no afterlife--except for those 'signature energy complexes' you mentioned. You didn't make that up, did you?" His expression betrayed sudden suspicion.

"No, me old fruit. Would I?"

"In an instant. But just to take things a step further: How does all this--" he waved an encompassing hand, indicating the house around them "--fit in with your theories? Was old B. lured over by someone with the intention of striking a deal?"

"The book we destroyed implies definite purpose as opposed to your grandad merely dabbling, yes."

"And all the tormenting that's been going on: that was old B. acting on orders?"

"Hard to say categorically. Since we didn't give him an opportunity to complete his assignment, it's surmise whether he was being obnoxious to drive you away, or he had real intent to harm you."

"Lovely. Then what gave us sanctuary; y'know, in our bedroom upstairs?"

Briefly distracted by Doyle's use of the word 'our' in reference to his bedroom, Bodie was slow to respond. "Don't think I can really answer that. It seemed to me at the time that the Thing was physically repelled when it tried to enter the room. But I don't know if that was the case, or if some sort of previously established protective aura simply denied it admittance. That could mean the difference between an active agency and a prepared environment. Sorry, mate."

"It would be nice to know," Doyle said musingly. He looked across at Bodie. "But now I reckon we never will."

"You'll forgive me if I hope you're right."

Doyle laughed. "I'm glad you destroyed the book," he said, sobering. "Seems a bloody dangerous power to have, wishing monsters on people."

"It is. That book should never have been written. The kind of power you're talking about is not only dangerous, but unpredictable. It isn't unheard of for a demon to turn on its invoker."

"There you go again," Doyle stated tartly. "You refer to that ugly bugger as Beelzebub and a demon; but isn't that contradictory to all you've just said about it having nothing to do with God, or the Devil, or religion?"

Smiling sweetly, Bodie replied, "No. Language exists for convenience. Whether you call them demons or paranormal energy complexes, they would smell as sweet."

Doyle groaned as if in agony. "Or not. I think I shall have to take my revenge later for that terrible allusion. All right, I concede. The next time I'm haunted by an evil-smelling demon, I'll politely suggest that it bugger off to its own dimension, or sphere of influence--wherever it came from--and leave me alone." Shoving his plate to the center of the table, he picked up his can of lager and began to rub it between his hands, rolling it first forward and then back.

Eyeing him knowingly, Bodie said mildly, "I think I hear your computer calling."

Doyle grimaced. "Would you mind?" he asked tentatively.

"Not at all. Off with you. I'll take care of this lot. And then I can get on with my reading. I take it you didn't lose much from your document?"

"Only a half-page, amazingly enough. You really don't mind?"

"Go on. Don't worry, I'm not clever enough to realize you only want me as unpaid labor instead of for my beautiful body," Bodie teased. "And why don't you take your plate upstairs with you? You hardly touched anything."

Doyle stretched across the table and planted a light kiss on the top of Bodie's head. "'M not hungry, thanks. If you feel up to a pot of tea and some bikkies later, however, I would probably not refuse."

"Big of you." Bodie tweaked the tip of Doyle's nose, then watched him lope out of the room. Inexplicably pleased with himself, he began to gather food-stained dishes and cutlery in preparation for washing up.





By half past eight, Bodie had worked his way through 1956 in Raymond Lulham's diaries. After completing his self-imposed chores in the kitchen, he had tossed about the idea of starting another of Doyle's novels. Following a brief, internal debate, he had decided in the end that he should at least try to finish the task he had originally set for himself and read through the last of the diaries. Not that he expected to find anything of real interest, and certainly nothing of import.

Starting with 1950, Bodie learned that Lulham's wealth had largely insulated him and his daughter from the unpleasant realities of rationing and a post-war Britain that continued to suffer the effects of a shattered economy. His efforts to contact his dead wife had never ceased, although they had gone through cycles like moon phases, waxing and waning with intensity as he underwent disappointment and apparent success, one after the other.

Little was said of Elizabeth Lulham, his daughter. She flitted on the hazy outer edges of his life like a noon-day shadow, scarcely seen and irritatingly intangible. What her thoughts had been of this time, Bodie could only imagine. By then she had been forty-one years old, an old maid who had spent nearly her entire life caring for a dotty old man who had been singularly unconcerned about her.

Lulham had noted occasional contacts with other people interested not only in Spiritualism, but also divergent aspects of the arcane arts. He seemed to have a deep abiding suspicion of magic, however, especially in its darker forms. This facet of Lulham proved very frustrating for Bodie, since he yearned to indict the man for the summoning of Gressil. Yet in fairness, he even entertained the possibility that Elizabeth may have resorted to goety to escape her father; although Bodie found it difficult to reconcile such actions with the woman Doyle had described as his mother. Not to mention that his logic failed when taking into consideration the demon book and the lock of hair--and, most importantly, Doyle. There were such things as familial hauntings, which carried down through several generations, always focussed on members of a certain lineage. Had Elizabeth set such madness in motion, surely she would have taken pains to forestall the certain eventuality it would have begot--providing, of course, that she had realized what she had done.

Bodie closed the diary on 1956, shaking his head to himself. It was only a gut feeling, but he could not hold Elizabeth Lulham accountable for Doyle's situation. Worse, he had no better evidence that Raymond Lulham had been responsible, either, for all that he would have liked to assign all the blame to the old loony.

After checking the locks and shutting off the lights in the lounge, Bodie took himself upstairs. Doyle was still in the study, typing in spurts. Long pauses were followed by violent keyboard activity. Leaving him undisturbed, Bodie went on down the corridor to the bedroom. Despite the early hour--and the previous night's unbroken slumber--he was tired; an early night would not go amiss.

Crouching over the chest of drawers to winkle out clean underwear from Doyle's collection--tomorrow he would fetch his own--a glimmer of gold caught Bodie's eye. Doyle's locket lay abandoned on the edge of the polished wood. Picking it up between forefinger and thumb, Bodie pried open the casing and gazed for a moment on the faces of Doyle's parents.

Elizabeth Lulham at age forty-five had still been an attractive woman. There was a remoteness in her calm gaze and pleasant features, a touch-me-not quality that Bodie had occasionally glimpsed in her son. Timothy Doyle, on the other hand, looked open and self-satisfied; rather smug with it, in fact. Frowning a little to himself, Bodie wondered what it was about the man that put him off. Ray's father wore a narrower face than his son, which made the almond-shaped eyes they shared far more feline and calculating in the father. Had Bodie known nothing about the man, he would have disliked him for his appearance alone. There was simply something about him--something perceptible in an old, tiny, black-and-white photograph that Bodie found unappealing.

"Dad gave that to Mum just before he bunked off," Doyle commented from the doorway. He stood slumped against the molded frame, causing Bodie to wonder how long he had been there.

"Have you always worn it?"

"Nah. Mum used to show it to me from time to time, especially when I was small. She had no other pictures of him, and occasionally I'd ask about him."

"That's right; I forgot you told me that." Bodie snapped the locket shut and set it back down on the chest of drawers. "Did you give up on the writing, then? Or are your fingers hurting?" he asked casually, his eyes raking over Doyle's lithe frame as though he had not seen him all day.

Smiling faintly at Bodie's unsubtle perusal, Doyle replied, "Neither of the above. Just-- Force of habit."

An expressive brow hitched upward.

Doyle said blandly, "It's almost nine."

"Oh." A wealth of comprehension filled the low interjection. Slanting his eyes sidelong at Doyle, Bodie murmured, "Want to make an early night of it, then?"

Doyle's grin faded. "I'd love to. But I've decided to press on today and tomorrow, so we can have all of Sunday together. Is that all right with you?"

"Of course." Bodie went to Doyle; they stepped into each other's arms. "Stop worrying that I'll feel neglected. Was just getting ready to have a bath and turn in."

Confusion darkened Doyle's eyes. "Thought we'd arranged to--um--to do something special tonight?"

Pulling Doyle closer, Bodie inhaled his familiar scent, so much a factor of Doyle's uniqueness. "And you just turned me down. Make up your mind."

Doyle conceded a rueful laugh. "Was hoping you'd stay up a while, I reckon."

"For what you have planned, I'll need my wits about me. Besides, I told you I want us both to be ready."

Leaning back, Doyle gazed, amused, into Bodie's eyes. "And you're not?"

"Neither of us is at the moment, you sod. I'm knackered, and you're distracted. Not the best scenario for that, in my opinion."

Watching Bodie's mouth, Doyle murmured, "You're right. Get your rest then, sunshine. Don't think I'll be able to wait much longer."

Bodie squeezed him roughly. "You've waited thirty years; you can hold out a few hours more." He steadied Doyle with hands molded to tensed buttocks, and rubbed his groin up hard against his, assuring him wordlessly that he had not lost interest.

"Bastard," Doyle whispered, eyes shutting of their own volition as his body gave an answering throb.

Bodie began a kiss that flared almost immediately into passion, fueled by his own aching desire and Doyle's enthusiastic cooperation. Nevertheless, he soon conscientiously gentled their ardor with soothing caresses, reluctantly drawing away until their mouths separated with an erotically moist sound.

"Hnn," Doyle complained.

"Don't know what you're grumbling about," Bodie growled. "I was planning on a hot bath."

That garnered him no more than an unsympathetic snort. "Serves you right. Oh, Bodie-- Jesus, I want you," Doyle stated helplessly.

Bodie could not resist one more quick kiss. "And you shall have me. Tomorrow night. After you've finished what you need to do."

"Bastard," Doyle muttered again. "Oh, all right." He released Bodie and stepped away, as though physical separation were necessary to enforce his resolve. At the door to the study he hesitated. "There's nothing out of the ordinary; not a trace of cold or stink. Had you noticed?"

"Just recently?" Bodie gave him an arch look. "Probably wouldn't've noticed if there had been."

Doyle shook his head and returned to the computer.

Despite his flippant remark, Bodie pottered about for a bit, not even acknowledging to himself that he was doing so to keep an eye on things. By half-nine, nothing untoward had developed--no noisome odors, no sudden drops in temperature, no ugly creatures hovering on the threshold--so Bodie finally ambled into the bathroom and turned on the taps.

An hour later he stopped briefly in Doyle's study, disrupting the writer's efforts only long enough to abscond with a fervent kiss. And then he went across to the bedroom, where he climbed under the duvet alone.

As sleep closed in around him, Bodie's last waking thoughts were of what he might get Doyle for his birthday, which was only a day away. Respiration slowing, heart rate dropping, his body warm and relaxed, Bodie seized upon the perfect present just as he slid under the surface of consciousness: a sturdy neck chain for Doyle's locket. He had missed the supple length of gold lying warm across Doyle's collarbone, brushing over soft dark chest hair, slithering sensuously through Bodie's fingertips as they caressed the broadly-muscled throat. The chain must be a heavy one, not easily broken; with flat links, rather than round; and--

Bodie slept.




Day Twelve - Saturday

Refreshed following a full ten hours' slumber, Bodie was clear-eyed and energized on Saturday morning. Doyle had awakened him very briefly at one o'clock, letting in a chill draft when he had crawled into bed to lie with him. Having torpidly accepted the cool, wiry arms that had come to surround him, Bodie had peacefully rested his head on Doyle's shoulder, not at all disgruntled at the disturbance. With his lips pressed against the steady pulse of Doyle's throat, he had readily drifted off again.

In the morning, he had roused in an empty bed, the distant rattle of the computer keyboard announcing Doyle's whereabouts from across the hall. Realizing at once that his presence would be an encumbrance which Doyle would fare better without, Bodie had cleaned himself up and dressed, preparing to spend the day on his own. With a mug of tea in hand, he had visited Doyle just long enough to ruffle his curls and inform him that he would be gone until after noon. Doyle had taken the news, and the stirring of his hair, with a hint of dismay. Soon thereafter his doubts had been laid to rest--Bodie's lips on his eyelids, the tip of his nose, and finally his mouth, had provided effective argument against any stirrings of guilt.

The roads to Sutton were pleasantly uncongested. Bodie took his time, absorbing the scenery of Morden, Rose Hill and Sutton Common. For all that the southern counties had enjoyed a spell of dry weather of late, the grounds were lushly verdant, and flowers provided bursts of color everywhere. The forecast for the day, according to the radio announcer, included bouts of rain and snow later. Bodie hoped to have his errands completed before the weather turned.

Sherwood Park Road greeted his eyes with neatly tended gardens, brilliant hues springing forth everywhere, from thickly grassed lawns, which were edged with daffodils and tulips, to the tall, fecundly blooming magnolia trees. Pansies lined the path to the front door of Bodie's building, their painted faces bent upward toward the sun.

Bodie let himself in and quietly ascended the stair. In all the years he had known her, Allison seldom rose before late on weekends; treading softly on a Saturday morning was second nature to him.

Unaired for several days, his flat was stale-smelling and closed-in. Bodie set to his chores at once, dusting and hoovering, with a feeling of being rather out of place in the rooms he had called home for four years. Since he had never been able to abide disarray for any length of time, his domestic duties were quickly accomplished, allowing him little opportunity to mull over his changed circumstance.

Settling at the dining room table with a cup of tea, he sat in the frigid breeze from the open kitchen window whilst sorting through his post. Wielding pen and checkbook, he deftly put paid to the few outstanding bills that had accumulated; nothing else that had arrived in the mail commanded his immediate attention--or interest--and was put aside for later examination.

In less than two hours he was ready to lock up again. A large hold-all, weighted with several items of clothing and personal bits and pieces, hung from one hand as he checked windows and door; that, in his opinion, comprised all that was necessary for the moment. With the bag stored in the boot of his Cavalier, Bodie slipped behind the steering wheel, and started the engine. He was ready to face the shops in Sutton.

Sutton High Street, closed to vehicular traffic, was teaming with the human variety at eleven on a clear, fresh Saturday morning. Maintaining a brisk pace, Bodie went to the small jewelry shop located behind Alders. It took him only a few minutes to select an appropriate replacement for Doyle's broken neck chain. The one he purchased was almost a trifle ostentatious--and certainly very expensive--but the clasp and links were unobtrusively reinforced. From there he strode past a few stores to Boots, where he bought a large tube of lubricating jelly along with some other toiletries, flicking not an eyelash as the clerk gave him a quick, assessing glance while he made his purchase.

At the Safeway grocery store a few streets away, he picked up enough food to tide them over for a few days. Having seen the sort of meals Doyle preferred, Bodie was able to buy with confidence, and returned to the car with two carry-bags brimming to the plastic handles with tempting edibles.

On the drive out of Sutton, he stopped at the DIY store. Needing only replacement boards to close over the entry to the potato cellar, he was in and out within minutes. Slate-colored clouds were scudding across the sky when he nosed the Cavalier onto the roundabout at Morden Hall Road; by the time he arrived back on Aylward Road the wind was rising and there was ice in its caress.

Two trips were necessary to empty the car. Doyle, alerted by Bodie's thumping about downstairs, lent a hand on the second journey. He hefted the load of boards onto his shoulder and, unasked, transported them belowstairs to the cellar.

Minutes later, watching from the door at the head of the stairs, Bodie met him on the top step.

Doyle caught him in strong hands and shoved him against the jamb, his mouth coming down hard and demanding on his. The reaction of Bodie's body was predictable and immediate; his arms went round the tensed frame, hands sliding upward to sink into thick, sweet-smelling curls. Opening at once to Doyle's fervor, Bodie spread his legs apart to ease the impact of the other man's forceful hip movements and to give himself room to grow within the confines of his too-snug trousers.

While wholeheartedly pleased by Doyle's reception, Bodie nonetheless pondered--on a less involved plane of his mind--what the cause of it might be. After all, he had left Doyle deeply immersed in his writing only four hours before; at that time, Doyle had been--

Tilting his head back to accommodate Doyle's mouth as he bit-licked the length of his throat, Bodie gave forth a knowing chuckle. "Been rewriting the sexy bits, have you?"

Sucking Bodie's earlobe into his mouth, Doyle mumbled, "Hm." He dipped the tip of his tongue into the ear itself and swirled it round. "How ever could you tell?"

"Since my charms were eminently ignorable this morning, I have to suspect some other stimulus. Should I be insulted?" Bodie shivered as Doyle's oral explorations became more penetrating.

"Not in my opinion," Doyle replied. He tempered his devouring kisses with gentler, nuzzling ones. "It made me think of you, of course. And thinking of you made the sequence I was working on that much more realistic. Will it bother you if I write you into a story some day?"

"Me?" Bodie dropped his head onto Doyle's shoulder, floating on the light caresses drifting up and down his back. "Why ever should you want to?"

"Because you're interesting--and because I always write about people I know."

Bodie grinned to himself, rubbing his cheek against Doyle's sweater. "And who do you know? Haven't seen you with many other people since I entered the scene--or have you put all your callers on hold until the house is more hospitable?"

"Don't have many callers at the best of times; not even when the house is being less stroppy," Doyle replied.

"'Stroppy!'" Bodie snorted. Considering the manifestations he had witnessed in this very house, 'stroppy' was far too mild a term.

"And for your information, I meet people in many places: there are acquaintances at the publishing firm, the pubs--even the discos."

Bodie's hands stilled on Doyle's ribs. "You do the pubs?" he asked. "Gay pubs?"

A husky chuckle tickled Bodie's ear. "I have been known to put down a pint or two there, yes."

"Oh."

"What does that mean, 'oh?'" Doyle asked.

"Nothing, really."

Stepping back a pace, Doyle placed a finger under Bodie's chin and forced his head up. "I don't go there to cruise, Bodie. Don't tell me you believe that stupid myth that gay blokes only ever get together to find a fuck for the night."

"It isn't that," Bodie said honestly, meeting Doyle's inescapable green glare unflinchingly.

"Then what? I told you days ago that I hadn't been with a man for over six weeks. And he was a friend of Iain's. I didn't pick him up at a nightclub or pub."

"I haven't forgotten."

"And?"

"And, nothing. I believe that you don't do the pubs for sex."

"Then explain why you reacted like tha-- Oh. It's the pubs themselves, isn't it? What have you got against them, then? Or gay discos, or gay nightclubs, for that matter? Christ, Bodie, you're gay yourself."

"That's rather obvious," Bodie said lightly. "Okay. You're right: I don't really approve. I think they can make us vulnerable."

"In what way?" Doyle asked, taken aback.

"By overstating what we are. If I want a drink, I go to my local; not my 'gay' local. If I want to be with people, I can step into a crowd--any crowd--and there I am, surrounded by people."

"Most of whom are straight, and would despise you for what you are," Doyle pointed out brittlely.

Thrusting out his bottom lip wryly, Bodie said, "Yeah, well, being a poof is one of the less offensive things about me. If my past experiences with the Mercs or Army were known, everything else would take a backseat." He looked straight into Doyle's eyes. "Anyway, my sexual preference is nobody's business. Gay is only part of what I am--like being Liverpool Irish, or blue-eyed, or--"

"--or incredibly good looking?" Doyle suggested innocently.

Bodie's lips thinned. "Whatever. But that's all it is; only a part of me--and sometimes a very unimportant part of me."

Withdrawing his touch completely, Doyle folded his arms across his chest. "Sounds like a galloping case of denial to me, mate."

"You're welcome to your opinion, mate. But I think everyone should be encouraged to take care of himself. I don't need anyone but me. If all the gay support groups in the world were to disappear tomorrow, I wouldn't lose any sleep over them."

Very softly, Doyle asked, "And what if someone needs you, Bodie?"

"I can only take responsibility for myself," Bodie said frankly. "If someone loves me--and I love him back--then we've made an agreement between us. Otherwise it's nothing to do with me."

Something in what Bodie said seemed to quieten Doyle's concerns. "And will it annoy you if I continue to visit the pubs now and again?"

Bodie gave the question due consideration before replying. "I wouldn't mind being invited, if you want company."

"To keep an eye on me?"

An indulgent smile tugged at Bodie's mouth. "No; just to be with you. If you'd prefer to go alone, I wouldn't insist."

Head cocked to one side, Doyle regarded his companion measuringly. "But would you resent it eventually? I enjoy gay pubs; I like being with other gay people."

Uneasiness stirred in Bodie's insides. "I don't know, Ray. I prefer to stay to myself."

As if sensing Bodie's insecurity, Doyle came close again, his hands curving around Bodie's waist. "So we'll make adjustments. Sometimes we'll do gay pubs; sometimes we'll do straight pubs. Don't think for one moment I'll give you up because you're homophobic."

"Homopho--" Bodie was literally lost for words. Before he could organize his thoughts, Doyle began to laugh out loud. "You're a toad, Ray Doyle," he announced without heat.

"You're hardly one to speak, my love," Doyle countered smoothly. "And you never said: what will you do if I write you into a story?"

Trailing his hands from the nape of Doyle's neck to the undercurve of his buttocks, Bodie murmured, "So long as my partner is green-eyed and mop-topped, I shan't mind what you do."

A lewd chuckle slipped from Doyle's mouth. "I've never written myself into a character. I mean, there are bits of me, of course--"

"Just make sure they're the good bits," Bodie interrupted generously. He tilted his head to one side to line his mouth up precisely with Doyle's. After a sweet, searching kiss, he murmured, "Do we get to pick up where we left off, or are you ready to return to business?"

Thick black lashes slowly fluttered upward, revealing murky sylvan depths. "I had every intention of saving myself for tonight. Didn't mean to get into a sweat."

"You're young enough to do it more than once a day," Bodie said with silken assurance. "I'll take care of your immediate discomfort, if you like."

Doyle gave a shaky sigh and pressed nearer. "Don't tempt me, please. Jesus, Bodie, you must think I'm sex-mad the way I go off round you. You'd never believe that I can be quite restrained when I want."

"If that's true, and it must be--how else would you go six weeks without--then, I'll take that as a compliment." He straightened his arms, inexorably pushing Doyle away from him. "Back upstairs, then, mate. I'm wanted in the cellar anyway, soon as I get these groceries stowed."

Hand on his hip, Doyle regarded his companion with open affection. "You do deserve better, Bodie," he said ruefully.

"Yeah, well, I'll make do, won't I." Amusement glimmered in Bodie's eyes. He touched a finger to Doyle's lower lip. "Later, sunshine."





Using tools from Doyle's garden shed, Bodie had soon reduced the strips of lumber into equal lengths. Once the boards had been sawn to size, the work went quickly. Equipped with nails and hammer, Bodie began at the bottom of the entryway and worked his way board-by-board to the top. Even with fastidious attention to detail, he managed to completely seal the opening in half an hour. Clammy and chilled in the unheated confines of the cellar, he decided that the plastering could wait until the following day--or summer. When he had finished, he spent several minutes restoring order. He swept up sawdust and wood chips and replaced the ladder, which had been moved to one side, under the stair. And then he took the tools back to the garden shed, officially ending his day of laboring and carpentry.

Snow flurries danced on a bracing wind when Bodie strode back from the garden, catching on his hair and jacket, melting upon his eyelashes and lips. Overhead the sky was leaden with mingled dark and pale white clouds, heavy with moisture. Bodie exhaled strongly, his breath steaming in the cold air. The wind whipped it away, tearing the pale puffs to tatters in an instant.

Feeling pleasantly gritty and self-satisfied, Bodie was at the foot of the stairs on his way to the bathroom to wash up, when he heard voices from the study. Giving his brain no time to process this startling information, Bodie pelted up the steps and burst into Doyle's study. Hands clenched into fists held prominently to the fore, he skidded to a stop at sight of an older man leaning over Doyle at his shoulder, their eyes on the VDU in front of them.

Conversation ceased, both men swivelling round to stare at Bodie, who belatedly recognized Doyle's editor, Iain McDonald. Flushing before the surprised eyes of the two men, Bodie slowly brought himself upright, and dropped his hands to his sides. "Sorry," he mumbled, and spun on heel to escape.

"Bodie, wait!" Doyle called.

With the sound of blood rushing in his ears, Bodie hardly heard the squeak of Doyle's castored chair as he shoved away from the computer stand, or McDonald's gasp of pain when the wheel rolled over his toe.

"Bodie."

Caught inside the doorframe, he took a deep breath and reluctantly turned to meet Doyle's anger. To his amazement, he was taken into a firm hug of greeting, a light kiss pecked against his cheek.

"You two haven't met properly yet," Doyle stated, linking his arm through Bodie's elbow and hauling him back into the study. "Iain McDonald, this is Bodie."

Wincingly lowering his foot from a cautious massage, McDonald extended a hand. "Hello, Bodie."

"Iain." Feeling a fool, Bodie held the other man's hand in a cordial grip for a few seconds too many.

"Iain stopped by to check up on me. He's been afraid you'd be a distraction; that I'd miss my Tuesday deadline because of you." Doyle cocked a brow at Bodie. "Now he's seen you, he'll be even more impressed when I hand the bloody manuscript over to him on time."

"Needn't worry about him, Iain," Bodie said, bluffly concealing the fact that he felt an absolute idiot. "Got a one-track mind, he has."

"Which has been quite firmly centered on you, old son," Iain remarked. "He hasn't been able to talk about anything--or anyone--else since he met you, y'know."

Made distinctly uncomfortable by this line of conversation, Bodie artlessly returned the older man's stare. McDonald was pleasantly craggy-faced, his eyes pale blue, a stern lip-line betraying his Scots ancestry. Dark hair, stranded with coarser grey, receded from his forehead like two hemispheres laid side by side.

"Leave off, Iain," Doyle chided. "Bodie's shy, and I won't have you embarrassing him."

"Bodie," Iain said appraisingly, "appears to me quite capable of looking after himself."

"Thanks, mate," Bodie said, beginning to warm to the other man. Extricating himself from Doyle's grasp, he gave a little wave and headed for the corridor. "Good to meet you, Iain. You'll have your novel when Ray promised. Excuse me, please, but I'm a mess."

"Certainly, old chap. Must be off myself, in fact; otherwise Ray'll be accusing me of slowing him up."

"And he'd be right," Doyle said sweetly. "C'mon, then."

Glancing after the two men as they went down the stair, Bodie noticed that Doyle scrupulously followed behind, as though herding the older man on his way. For a moment he watched Doyle's lithe stride carry him to the inside door. His eyes lingered on the tight, jeans-clad legs and bottom, the checked flannel shirt that emphasized broad shoulders, and the bouncy auburn curls that cascaded onto Doyle's collar.

Tonight. A frisson of heat surged into his groin as he imagined that lithe form draped over his back, plunging rhythmically into untouched depths.

"Jesus," he breathed, and blinked hard to clear the image. No one had ever had such an effect on him before; consequently, Bodie found the intensity of his feelings a trifle disconcerting. Recalling himself to his purpose, he continued to the bathroom, where he stripped off. Using a flannel dunked in very warm water, he performed a quick washing-up, saving the whole-body job for later in the evening--at which time he would make certain that he was perfectly spotless.

Carrying his soiled clothing with him, Bodie padded to the bedroom and reached the door just as Doyle mounted the landing. They stared at each other a moment, Doyle feasting his eyes on Bodie's nearly nude frame.

"Don't know if I can concentrate, whilst you're traipsing about like that." The deliberately neutral tone of Doyle's voice clashed shockingly with the predatory gleam in his eyes.

"Give me a minute, and all the bare bits will be under cover."

Doyle swung his hand around and stared down at his wristwatch. "Bodie--"

"You can wait," Bodie anticipated him severely.

"Am I so obvious?" Doyle asked with a mocking laugh.

"Only to someone who's suffering the same complaint. I would happily accommodate you, sunshine; but I have things to do as well. So take those lecherous peepers off me."

"You're a cold bastard," Doyle remarked.

"Seeing as how you've just stripped off the last of what I was wearing with those prying eyes of yours, it's hardly surprising."

Allowing himself a last, all-encompassing look, Doyle said woefully, "Could I talk you into it, if I tried?"

Affection creased Bodie's face. "Ray, you could have me on my back--or my belly--in an instant, if that's what you want."

Doyle licked his lips, then clamped them tightly together. "Get dressed, you, before my will-power is shattered." He gave a low, rasping growl. "I hope Iain will be happy."

Stepping delicately into the bedroom on bare feet, Bodie turned and murmured, "At the moment, I suspect he's the only one who is. Ray--"

Thoughtfully scratching at his chin, Doyle stared at Bodie's chest, eyes dropping lower by the second. "Hm?"

"Sorry about that; y'know, when I came pounding into your study. Heard voices--and I just didn't think."

Doyle shook his head, grinning. "Gave us both a shock, you maniac. Though Iain'd keel over on the spot." At Bodie's wretched expression, he added, "He couldn't know that our nerves aren't quite back to normal yet. You've nothing to apologize for, Bodie."

Reaching into the wardrobe and taking out the new pair of corduroy slacks, Bodie asked, "How much did you tell him?"

"About old Beelz? Nothing specific. Said you were helping me with some problems with the computer. He doesn't understand electrics--or electronics--any more than I do. Left it at that."

Encased in warming trousers, Bodie pulled a heavy polo-neck shirt from the chest of drawers. He had been directed by Doyle to store his clothing there upon arriving home, despite his arguments that he would be overrunning Doyle's space. "He seems a good bloke," he proffered. "Tell him I didn't mean to come on like the heavy brigade." Bodie poked his head into the close-fitting neck, temporarily blinding himself. There was the softest of sounds and Doyle was there, his mouth attached to one defenseless nipple, a cool palm stimulating the other with a slow, circular motion.

Effectively ambushed, Bodie made no attempt at resistance, his whole body thrumming to the swabbing stroke of Doyle's hot tongue and the delicious abrasion of his hand.

Just as he was leaning into Doyle's touch, he was released. When he grabbed out to recapture his torturer, there was nothing to be had but empty air. "Doyle!" he shouted, dragging the shirt into place over coldly shrunken peaks.

In answer he heard Doyle's footsteps treading across the corridor. "Just thought you should know how I'm feeling," Doyle announced, voice tart and unrepentant.

Contemplating various methods of revenge, Bodie finished dressing. The fillip of aggression triggered by Doyle's sensual teasing simply heightened his sense of anticipation. Strung out as they already were, tonight should prove to be quite spectacular.





With a mug of tea and the remainder of Lulham's diaries, and his ledgers, Bodie stretched out on the sofa in the lounge. He took his time over the two diaries, for they were the last of Lulham's observations of his world and the individuals who had peopled it.

Nothing of note had occurred in 1957 or 1958--until Timothy Doyle had come on the scene mid-December, appearing one day soon after a mild autumn had yielded to the stern coldness of winter. A captivating man, according to Lulham, he had boasted credentials that had met with the old man's liking, although Lulham had not been specific as to what those credentials had represented. Bodie could easily surmise.

Breaking with his tradition of mentioning Elizabeth only in passing, Lulham had reported in the last few pages that Timothy Doyle had disquieted her; in his words, "Beth is not sure of him." Dismissing her concerns with his usual self-centered indifference, Lulham had put her reservations down to feminine vagaries.

Finding it difficult to credit that Elizabeth Lulham had been so painfully docile in the days before the "Swinging Sixties," Bodie was forced to remind himself that she had really been a member of the previous generation--her father's generation--more so than her own. After all, she had been forty-five at Doyle's birth in 1960.

Setting Lulham's completed diary for 1958 next to his empty mug, Bodie folded his arms across his chest and contemplated his feet, which stood propped upon the armrest, wool-warm toes pointing ceilingward. He pondered the fact that Elizabeth Lulham had found Timothy Doyle off-putting late in 1958; yet, in September 1959, she had married him. Raymond Doyle had come into the world a mere seven months later. That spoke either of a change of heart--or coercion, to Bodie's mind.

Grimly, Bodie suspected the latter. Illegitimacy, despite having gained a degree of acceptance in the last three decades, had imposed a considerable stigma in 1959. Even a strong-willed woman would have been hard-pressed to undertake such a burden; Elizabeth Lulham, after forty-five years of repression and neglect, had probably never questioned the necessity of marriage under those circumstances.

Bodie would have given much to have met her. How a woman like her, raised in such miserable conditions, should have retained the equilibrium she had evinced in raising her son, Raymond, was beyond him. Not that all people viewed homosexuality as a disease or punishment from previous sins; but few were as supportive of the individual as she had obviously been. Given the details of her background, it was a wonder that she had not beaten her young child for every minor infraction--if for no other reason than to "get even" with the man who had caused her to be lumbered with him in the first place.

Lazily stretching out a hand to the coffee table, Bodie picked up the ledger book which he had cursorily examined in the first days after fetching Lulham's effects from the loft. Within moments he was sitting upright, all attention, as abbreviations and comments which had made little or no sense a week ago, suddenly crystallized. Well accustomed to Lulham's method of using initials to reference his acquaintances after first introducing them by name in his diaries, Bodie registered at once who "TD" signified, and berated himself for not having done so a week ago. "TD" was, of course, Timothy Doyle, Raymond Doyle's errant father.

Doyle had come into Lulham's employ the third week of December 1958. Thereafter, he had performed certain "services" for Lulham on a weekly basis at a minimum, sometimes more frequently. The ledger, which encompassed the days prior to Lulham's death in September 1959--as the diaries had not--cited compensation for Doyle's expenses: travel, lodging, and meals. By February of 1959, Doyle had moved into the house on Aylward Road, at which time his expenses account had been replaced by a salary and free room and board.

These expenditures continued throughout August 1959. Only three entries had been inscribed under the month of September of that year: one was for the household money, handed over to Elizabeth at the outset of each month; the second was for the local registry office, a pittance paid which had changed Elizabeth Lulham to Elizabeth Lulham Doyle. The third, made on September 23, 1959, recorded Lulham's purchase of a wedding gift for the couple; a modern refrigerator--small compensation, surely, for a woman being handed over to her seducer. Suspected seducer, Bodie corrected himself.

Elizabeth Lulham Doyle had not carried on the use of Lulham's ledgers to record her expenses; September 23, 1959, had been the last entry in the book.

So what had he learned? he asked himself. Precious little, really. Of only one thing was he fairly certain: however unlikely, Timothy Doyle was the likeliest of the two men to have dabbled in something other than spiritualism. In Lulham's employ, he had been given free rein of the house--and access to Elizabeth Lulham.

And was it a coincidence that Lulham had died shortly after his daughter's marriage?

Bodie would probably never know.





Shortly after six, Bodie took Lulham's diaries and ledgers into the dining room and piled them onto the floor along with the other odds and ends that had belonged to Lulham. Feeling a little out of kilter, Bodie tried to name a reason for his edginess and ultimately decided that he was simply peckish. Somewhere along the way, he must have missed a meal; that would account for the hollow sensation under his ribs.

In the kitchen, he threw together a dinner of pizza heated in the oven and a salad made up of all the bits and pieces that caught his fancy. Balancing half the meal on a tray along with a bottle of lager, he carefully negotiated the stairs. He smiled to himself at the clicking of Doyle's keyboard, which announced the writer's industry from the landing.

"Bodie, you're fantastic!" Doyle greeted him, nose lifting at the hot scent of pizza. He collected a kiss and his plate, then waved bemusedly in response to Bodie's silent gesture of parting.

Having spoken not a word, Bodie returned to the kitchen to retrieve his own plate. He wolfed the lot down in the dining room, gazing incuriously about the room as he ate. With the exception of the conservatory and the enclosed porch, the house itself was unchanged from the time Lulham had lived there. Doyle had mentioned remodeling after his mother's death in 1982, which explained the updated look to the place. No old, garish wall-paper covered the walls, nor tired, threadbare rugs the floors. Instead the walls were painted in neutral colors, offset with framed posters and eye-catching fabric hangings, and the carpets were plushly piled and of varying, rich hues. Betraying its age only in its design, Doyle's house was comfortable and welcoming.

In view of its tranquil ambiance, it was hard to believe that only two days before, this very house had reeked with preternatural danger.

Knocking back the remains of his lager, Bodie took his soiled plate into the kitchen and rinsed it off in the sink. At this moment he wanted nothing more than to whisk Doyle away from the Great Eye of the computer and into the bedroom, where he would then happily have his way with him. Well aware that Doyle might agree, only to resent the intrusion later, he contemplated how else he might spend the last hours of the evening.

Remembering the neck chain he had purchased earlier in the day, he bounded up the stairs to the master bedroom. The locket still lay on the chest of drawers where Bodie had left it the night before. Adroitly pocketing it, he went to the wardrobe and ferreted out the box containing Doyle's gift from its secret place in his jacket. He also recovered the tube of lubricant; with a glance at the door, he went round the end of the bed with the intention of placing it on Doyle's bedside table.

Halfway there, Bodie's toe connected with something solid. He almost stumbled in a reflexive effort to lessen the force of the blow, afraid he had damaged something of Doyle's that had fallen to the floor. His eye glimpsed the object as it shot under the bed.

Dropping down to his knees, he peered under the framing board. The small, rectangular shape had moved less distance than he had imagined. Knowing with absolute certainty what it was before it filled his hand, Bodie tried to ignore the sinking sensation that curdled his recent meal.

He rose up, but for a moment remained there kneeling, leaning forward against the bed, elbows digging into the fluffy duvet as he stared at the innocuous title of the book: A MAN OF INTEGRITY. He could not recall where he had seen it last; but he knew without question that it had not been abandoned here.

Getting to his feet, Bodie placed the tube prominently on the table beside the headboard. Then, reminding himself that, hitherto, nothing had been allowed to enter Doyle's room that might injure them, he transported the book along with Doyle's present down to the lounge.





The locket slid easily onto the chain, aged gold coupling with new to form a handsome combination. He raised the chain and pendant up to the light, admiring the craftsmanship of both pieces. Satisfied, he then arranged them inside the gift box, letting the chain swirl downward to make a coiling nest for the locket, then covered the box with the lid. He placed the lot on the coffee table to give to Doyle later.

A little grimly, he picked up the book. After studying it from every angle, he opened it to the first page, and began to read. Intent upon determining the significance of this particular book, Bodie nevertheless soon found himself deeply immersed in the tale itself. The characters captured and held his attention, each being realistically and unflinchingly drawn, but endowed with an underlying humanity that redeemed their frequently less appealing qualities.

The person whom Doyle had admired--and had compared to Bodie--was strong to the point of inflexibility, but also committed to a personal code of ethics that mitigated his outward indifference. All the same, he was a self-centered, remote person, notable for stunningly generous acts that were removed from ulterior motives; but also for slamming the door on anyone who attempted to get too close.

In the end, his barriers did not completely crumble, but they weakened enough to let in the man who had loved him despite all. Theirs would not be an uneventful future, but through mutual respect and caring, they would likely prevail.

All of which made for a very satisfying tale, but failed miserably in answering any of Bodie's questions as to why this solitary book should regularly draw attention to itself.

Sprawled out once more on the lounge sofa, he decided then that he would not tell Doyle what he had deduced from Lulham's ledgers--mainly that Timothy Doyle had possibly indulged in the blackest of magic--for that was no more than conjecture at best, and rank calumny at worst--nor that he had almost certainly seduced Doyle's mother into marriage.

Nor would he mention that this bloody book had once more made a nuisance of itself by obstructing the bedroom floor--for no discernible reason.

Perhaps he was just too tired to interpret the information given him. In any case, now that the manifestations had been routed, Bodie felt no urgency to unravel all the remaining loose ends; and it wasn't beyond the realm of possibility that the book had simply bounced off the foot of the bed at some point during the day. At least that's what he told himself.

Casting a glance at his watch, Bodie noted with triumph that it was nearly ten. That was all the proof he needed that things were--for the most part--back to normal in the Doyle household. Serenely warm and relaxed, he curled up on his side and went to sleep.





"What's this?"

Bodie roused out of a pleasant slumber just as Doyle sat on the edge of the sofa at his waist. Blinking muzzily, he summoned the energy to lay a heavy hand on Doyle's thigh.

Holding the small box between long fingers, Doyle leant forward and applied a leisurely kiss to Bodie's sleep-soft mouth.

"For you," Bodie murmured, the blood heating in his veins as he remembered what they had planned for this night. "What time is it?"

"Just gone one. Why aren't you in bed?"

"Waiting for you. Are you finished?"

Doyle kissed him again, his mouth curving into a grin as Bodie's large hands fell upon his shirt and clumsily began to undo the buttons. "For the weekend," he murmured against Bodie's lips. "I can review the changes I made on Monday when you're at work." He squirmed as blunt fingertips seized a nipple.

"Inside that, for your information, is your pressie. Today's your birthday--that is, it will be, in about an hour and a half." Bodie dragged Doyle's slight frame down on top of him. "Happy early birthday, sunshine."

Doyle seemed to lose himself in Bodie's urgent caresses and open-mouthed kisses, readily yielding to his loving attentions. But all at once he drew away--forcefully extricating himself when Bodie resisted. Determinedly holding Bodie's hands immobile, he said huskily, "Hang about, mate. We'll do this properly--in bed--in a minute. Let's see what you got me, eh?"

Unable to relinquish all contact, Bodie continued to stroke Doyle's ribcage beneath the warm cotton of his shirt, while Doyle pried open the small box.

"My God, Bodie," Doyle breathed. "This must have cost a bloody fortune." Dipping his fingers inside, Doyle withdrew the chain and lifted it up until it hung at full length, the locket dangling at the end.

"Here." Bodie scooted onto his backside and took the strand of gold from Doyle's hand. "Let me put it on you." He hesitated. "If you like it, that is."

His face contorted into a mocking scowl, Doyle heaved a long-suffering sigh. "It's perfect. The chain is beautiful--and I still like the locket, if that's what you're worried about. Don't know what my old dad was up to--if anything--but it doesn't really matter at this point. Thanks, Bodie." Taking a moment to favor Bodie with a slow, worshipful kiss, Doyle then shifted about so that his back was facing toward him, raising the hair off the nape of his neck.

The length of gold had been gauged just right; it formed a glimmering circle round the base of Doyle's neck; not too tight, not too loose. Carefully closing the clasp, Bodie brushed his lips against the sensitive skin at the nape before reaching round to take Doyle's hands in his. Holding them pressed against Doyle's chest, he absorbed the other man's warmth and presence with vast pleasure. Bodie decided that this reality was far better than any dream could ever be.

"You ready for bed, then?" Doyle asked softly.

"Past ready."

Together, they went round the house, verifying that all the doors were locked and windows shut. Meeting at the foot of the stair, they smiled a trifle tentatively at each other--then burst into self-conscious laughter.

"It's crazy, isn't it," Doyle commented thickly. "Just two blokes going to bed together."

Bodie rested a hand on Doyle's chest, then slowly trailed it down to his waistband and below. With his fingers loosely cupped round rapidly responding genitals, he brushed gently over the fabric encasing them with his thumb. "Two virgin blokes. There is a difference."

Taking hold of Bodie's hand and stilling its motion, Doyle said unemphatically, "We don't have to do it that way tonight; not if you don't want to. Not ever, if you don't want to."

Bodie turned his hand so that their fingers meshed together. "I want to. Been waiting patiently all day for this. If you'd rather put it off--"

"Don't be an idiot. If I hadn't promised Iain that bloody story by Tuesday--"

"I know," Bodie interrupted. "So, since we're agreed, why are we standing here prattling?"

Doyle's expression lightened. "Because neither of us has ever done this before, and we're both a little nervous?" He looked intently into Bodie's face. "But I want you. I want to be in you, and I want you in me. And I don't want to wait any longer."

Cradling Doyle's cheek with his free hand, Bodie placed a soft, dry kiss upon the tip of Doyle's patrician nose. "Well, that's certainly decisive enough. C'mon, then."

At the corridor outside Doyle's bedroom they parted: Doyle into the bedroom; Bodie into the bathroom.

Bodie's ablutions were very swift but thorough. He was forced to concentrate, for his mind wandered constantly to the prospect of Doyle's touch, the taste of his mouth, the blunt heat of him pushing inside-- Never had he been so aroused by the mere idea of sex. The possibility that he might disgrace himself by being too stimulated skittered amongst his thoughts; he was determined that that should not happen, without a clue of how to avoid it.

In the act of stepping out of the shower, he was handed a rich blue bath sheet. Shooting Doyle a startled glance, he reached out and took it a little clumsily, his every sense seized by the reality of his companion.

Standing naked before him, Doyle was the embodiment of everything he'd ever wanted--and clearly as enthralled by the idea as Bodie himself.

"God, Bodie," Doyle breathed, and kissed him.

Fighting hard against the imperative to haul the reedlike form into his arms, Bodie focussed on the pressure of Doyle's full mouth, the velvet curve of his tongue, the perfect taste of him. He drew away with head pounding, his body betraying its urgency with total disregard for his pride. "Your turn in the shower; get in there. I don't fancy being fucked against the bathroom wall."

Eyes dark and very expressive, Doyle nodded abruptly--then bent in half to take Bodie's erection into his mouth. With a quick, lush lick, he was gone, leaving Bodie trembling and biting his lip to hold back a gut-deep moan.

After drying off, Bodie went into the bedroom, needing to place physical distance between himself and Doyle. He draped his dressing gown over the footboard and peeled back the duvet. Despite the chill of early morning, his body felt flushed and very warm. In another minute, he would be sweating freely.

Bodie closed his eyes, directing his sprawled limbs to release their tension, and began to take slow, steadying breaths. So intense was his concentration, he heard the faint thump of pipes when the taps were turned off, the chink of plastic rings when the shower curtain was pulled aside, and even felt the moist air pour into the corridor and bedroom when the bathroom door was opened.

Doyle stood at the doorway, shedding his dressing-gown, eyes riveted on Bodie's pale body. Dropping the single piece of clothing onto the foot of the mattress as he came inside, he bent a knee and climbed onto the bed, moving upward to straddle Bodie's hips.

Impaled by Doyle's improbably hot green stare, Bodie could not have stirred had he tried. The heat where their bodies met threatened to burn him, intensifying the anticipation.

Slowly and with the grace of a raptor, Doyle lowered himself onto Bodie's recumbent form, his softly downed chest brushing like silk against Bodie's skin. When Doyle began to kiss him, Bodie could restrain himself no longer; his arms locked round the bony torso of the other man and crushed him close. Trapped between their bodies, their erections were hard and pulsing.

Bodie raised his hips and increased the pressure, hands roaming over fascinating curves and detailed musculature. His fingers bracketed the prominent outline of Doyle's spine then stretched to encompass the unyielding plates of his shoulder blades. Down and around his hands floated, marking Doyle's washboard chest and the well-toned, but vulnerable space between ribs and pelvis. His hands went back again to dip into the tender curve of his spine, then dropped lower to ride on the swell of twin hillocks. Doyle's buttocks warmed Bodie's palms, and he was stirred in turn, his penis twitching and lengthening beside Bodie's erection in response to his kneading massage.

"The tube's on the table," Bodie said, his voice cracking on the last word.

Doyle kissed him once more. Carefully redistributing his weight, he stretched out and collected the lubricant, then sat back on Bodie's thighs while he twisted off the small cap.

Entranced by Doyle's set expression, Bodie studied absorbed green eyes while Doyle's long fingers squeezed out a largish blob of clear gel onto the fingertips of his other hand. Replacing the cap, Doyle finally looked down at Bodie, his brows arched.

"Shift off, and I'll roll over, okay?" Bodie murmured in reply to that silent query.

Bending forward to support himself on his elbows on either side of Bodie's head, Doyle held his hands clear while he took Bodie's mouth in a long, indulgent kiss. "I love you," he said.

"Time you proved it, mate." Dismayed by the betraying timbre of his own voice, Bodie made a gargoylish face while Doyle lifted up, so as to give him room to turn onto his belly. Sprawled on his abdomen a second later, Bodie crooked up a knee to give his heavy genitals room for comfort.

At once Doyle began to stroke Bodie's back and shoulders, his caressing, silken touches followed by wet, searching kisses. Lower he moved, until the tip of his tongue was flicking at the furrow separating Bodie's buttocks.

"Oh, God, Ray, please," Bodie half-whimpered.

Resting his cheek against Bodie's hip, his breath softly scudding across tingling flesh, Doyle pried apart the two hillocks and slid gel-laden fingers between. Probing gently, he found the entrance to Bodie's body and there initiated a slow, undemanding investigation. Fingertips traced the contours of the hidden place, lightly outlining the sensitive tissue that radiated from the opening, circling tighter and tighter until they slipped shallowly into the orifice itself.

The breath froze in Bodie's lungs; he stiffened at the as yet negligible, but intriguing pressure. He was rewarded by a penitently soothing kiss on his right buttock, and then the return of Doyle's tongue, etching liquid heat down the unexpectedly tender crevice, which led to the spot where Doyle's finger still experimented.

Under that dual stimulation, Bodie began to ease his hips forward, mindlessly pressing himself into the smooth sheets. Doyle made a muted sound, and readily joined in the cadence of Bodie's slow thrusts.

Bodie hardly noticed when Doyle's finger fully penetrated him, the heated pressure in his groin beginning to obscure all else. Joined by a second, however, it seized his attention both for the discomfort and concurrent shock of pleasure it gave rise to. Taking harsh breaths through his mouth, he almost ordered Doyle to get on with it; for with each passing second, he skidded nearer the breaking point. He very much wanted Doyle embedded inside him before he let go, but he could not voice his thoughts for fear of producing a most unmanly squeak.

Apparently in tune with what Bodie was suffering, Doyle briefly withdrew his touch, giving him a chance to catch his breath. His hand was back in seconds, however, delivering more gel and a third finger. Groaning out loud, Bodie endured the tender ministrations in an agony of self-denial.

"'S all right, mate," Doyle whispered, the toll of his extraordinary patience evident in the ragged edge of his voice. He awkwardly repositioned himself between Bodie's thighs and bodily lifted the other man to his knees.

Forearms clasped before him, Bodie sank his teeth into rigid muscle as Doyle applied a final, shivering caress. Feeling the tip of Doyle's cock probing at him as it sought the optimum position and angle, Bodie waited suspended until Doyle moved forward at last. The pressure built immediately from minor discomfort to racking pain. Gasping, Bodie bit harder into his arm, conscious that he must not tense up, or he would likely make it worse, yet incapable of observing his own counsel.

For an instant Doyle hesitated, his fingers digging into Bodie's hips. Bodie could feel the strain of tenuous control shuddering through Doyle's entire body. Preoccupied by the painful spasming of his insides, however, Bodie could do nothing to offer encouragement.

Doyle's restraint proved to be short-lived. Without warning, he pushed hard, burying himself inside Bodie right up to his hips. Hanging onto him as though for dear life, Doyle mumbled in a frayed voice, "Sorry, sunshine." A drop of sweat fell onto Bodie's back. "Don't want to hurt you."

"Don't be daft." Bodie almost managed to sound normal. "It's better now. Are you okay?"

"Me?" Doyle exclaimed. "Oh, Bodie."

"That's-- all right, then," Bodie assured him wincingly. "So go ahead. Do it."

"'Do it,' he says." Doyle choked back a laugh. Biting ungently into Bodie's shoulder, he whispered, "As if I could stop."

With one hand at Bodie's waist and the other curling round his half-wilted erection, Doyle began to do as Bodie suggested, slowly withdrawing until the compliant sheathe almost expelled him. He thrust back inside, a barely audible grunt exploding from his lungs. Establishing a careful inward and outward glide, he somehow contrived to fondle and milk Bodie's swollen shaft in matching rhythm.

Bodie's cramping muscles at last gave up their resistance, rather to his surprise. With the pain gone, he could suddenly concentrate on unexpected pleasure. Shattering sensations sang through his groin with each invading movement where before he had known only aching pressure. Cautiously at first, he attempted to rock with Doyle's movements, as opposed to simply absorbing them, and triggered a notable response from his partner.

Doyle moaned deep in his throat and rocked faster, clutching at Bodie with hands that reflected his urgency. Finding himself swept up in the pace of Doyle's passion, Bodie emitted a groan himself, seeking release in Doyle's loosely gripping palm. A reckless energy gathered in his groin, lifting him higher--higher-- The instant broke, and he began to spasm helplessly within Doyle's tightened grasp.

Seconds later, with every fiber of his being as supple as warm honey, Bodie felt Doyle fill him one last time, his misshapen cheek crushed against Bodie's back, slender arms locked convulsively round his chest.

A while later, Doyle slumped forward, taking the bulk of his weight off Bodie's vulnerable back with one hand spread wide on the mattress while with the other he continued gentle, sweeping strokes. "You're mine now," he proclaimed softly.

Bodie yielded to a silly smile, pleased beyond words that Doyle should feel so strongly. "You mean, you're stuck with me," he corrected with satisfaction.

"I may even be stuck in you," Doyle snorted under his breath. "Don't suppose you're ready to do that to me just yet?"

"Christ," Bodie exclaimed, laughing. "I'm surprised my heart's still beating. Ah--" he bit off a cry, unprepared for Doyle to pull free of his body.

"Did that hurt?" Doyle asked, concerned.

"No." Bodie gave him a rueful look. "Just got used to having you in there."

Doyle chuckled heartlessly while contradictorily planting an ethereally tender kiss squarely in the center of Bodie's back. "Lie down, then, sunshine. I'll fetch a warm flannel and clean you up."

"Not on your life," Bodie objected, emphasizing this statement by wrapping his hand round Doyle's slender wrist and tugging him down. "I want a long, long cuddle--unless you feel the need for a wash yourself."

"Nope." Doyle lay on his side and dragged Bodie into his arms. "This is what I want. Just thought your bottom would appreciate a little TLC, that's all."

Snuggling nearer, Bodie murmured his appreciation. "'M okay. You did that very well, y'know. Anyone'd think you've had practice."

"You must inspire me," Doyle said drowsily. "The truth is, I almost came the instant you offered me your backside. Thanks, mate: A birthday present and a wedding gift, all on the same night. I feel special."

Bodie felt Doyle pause as the significance of what he had said registered in his own ears; Doyle's uncertainty made him smile. "That'll make it impossible for us to forget our anniversary, then, won't it," he declared practically.

Sighing, Doyle clasped him even nearer. Lips against Bodie's hair, he whispered, "Absolutely."




Day Thirteen - Sunday

It was just before two in the morning when Bodie was roused by the slithering sensation of fluid creeping down his legs. Deciding that a visit to the bathroom was in order, he placed a drowsy kiss upon Doyle's forehead. With elaborate caution, he slowly disengaged himself from the other man's limbs.

Face wreathed in shadows, Doyle lay utterly at rest, his chest rising and falling with slow, peaceful respirations. Smiling fondly to himself, Bodie padded silently out of the room, wrapping the warming folds of the dressing gown around him as he went. It amused him to realize that they had gone from high anticipation to utter completion in just under an hour. They would have to do something about improving their endurance.

The house seemed inordinately quiet in the early morning hour; every extraneous noise, even the muffled scrape of his foot on the bathroom sill, carried loudly upon the still air.

Once ensconced in the bathroom, Bodie ran only a trickle out of the taps, wetting a flannel and applying it where it was most immediately needed. He was rather sore, but that had been expected. And in any case, he had suffered far greater hurts during his early adventurous years; a sensitive bottom, earned on behalf of his and Doyle's pleasure, was a source of pride.

"Bodie."

Doyle's voice came to him through the closed door, sounding as though he was just outside.

"In here," he called.

He turned off the taps and dropped the flannel into the laundry bin. As he arranged his dressing-gown and sashed the waist, it occurred to him that Doyle had not replied.

"Ra--"

"Bodie?"

This time Doyle's call came from farther away; Bodie guessed he was heading toward the landing.

"Ray, I'm in here." Reaching for the door, he took hold of the latch and gave it a turn.

The door knob spun like a Catherine wheel.

Annoyed, Bodie wrenched at it roughly, thinking perhaps the tumbler had slipped free of the holding screw.

"Bodie!"

"Doyle, damn it, I'm in--" The cold struck him all at once, piercing the pitifully thin fabric of his dressing-gown, and seemingly cutting clear through to his heart. "Ray!"

His face contorted with horror as the never forgotten stench of sickening sweet cologne poured into his nostrils, numbing his brain with its terrible significance.

"Jesus! RAY!"

Shaking with anger and fear for Doyle, Bodie threw himself at the door without thought for himself, choking on the too-familiar odor that seeped in the wake of the dreadful cold. Once, twice, he slammed his shoulder viciously against the edge nearest the frame, trying to force the jamb. When it did not yield, he fell back a couple of paces and heaved himself at it with all his strength. Something seemed to crack in his upper arm. Pain seared along several nerve endings simultaneously, like molten fire.

Ignoring the numbing sensation that followed, Bodie simply backed up and propelled himself across the short distance once more. This time the impact nearly put him on the floor. Reeling from the brutality of the self-imposed blow, Bodie staggered to maintain his balance. Then he steeled himself for yet another assault.

Before he could move, however, a white light began to coalesce around the frame of the door, wisping through the jambs and under the sill. Bodie fell back a step as it flowed into the bathroom, so blindingly bright it made his head ache. He raised a hand to guard his face, eyes squinted half shut. The light was cold for all its incandescence, lacking any of the heat one would expect from such a powerful illumination. It washed out every hint of color in the small room, covering the surface of the door like a living fog.

"If you hurt him, I'll find a way to make you regret it," Bodie promised furiously, shrinking farther away from the overwhelming presence only when he could do nothing else.

All at once the door slammed outward from its frame, into the corridor, smacking hard against the opposite wall. Stunned, Bodie took a hesitant step forward, head still averted to shield his face from the brilliant glare that filled the space between him and freedom. To his horror, the light billowed into the small room. With impossible speed, it was upon him, engulfing him before he could even contemplate retreat.

Shutting his eyes tightly and hunkering down to afford himself some slight protection, Bodie sensed something probing at him--something sentient. It explored him with a gossamer touch, feathering over the boundaries of his consciousness, as if seeking a way inside. For an instant, he believed that this intelligence--or whatever it was--was attempting to forge a link with his mind. There was no time to examine the sensation, however, for the fanciful impression was gone almost immediately.

Opening his eyes uneasily, he found that the room had returned to normal; the fierce brightness had disappeared. Drawing himself up to his full height, Bodie saw that the damage to the entrance--and a way out--remained.

"Ray," he whispered. Not questioning where he must go, Bodie bolted through the open doorway. Down the corridor to the staircase he ran, taking the steps three at a time. On the ground floor, he raced to the door leading to the cellar.

He pulled at the doorknob; it resisted him. Once more Bodie used a shoulder as a battering ram, heedless of the pain to follow. Imbued with new strength, he snapped the jamb off the frame with one blow. Emitting a great, creaking sound, the cellar door began to swing inward. Thoughtfully rubbing his arm, Bodie flung the door aside and walked onto the first step.

The cellar was dark, save for that part of the wall that had hidden the opening to the potato cellar. There, a faint light glowed. Bodie winced at sight of the new boards, splintered edges jaggedly pointing outward, as though something had erupted from within. He jogged down the steps as soundlessly as possible, and strode rapidly across the concrete floor. At the shattered opening, he paused, assessing the brute power required to burst through inch-wide boards as though they were toothpicks.

He must have been wrong about the "Book of Gressil."

Scraping past dangerously sharp slivers, he twisted sideways into the small alcove which surrounded the hole to the potato cellar, unhappily reminded that he had removed the ladder only this afternoon. He squatted down and braced his hands on the outer lips of the narrow shaft. Inhaling deeply, he dropped into the musty hole, landing with a loud thud on legs that seemed impervious to the concussion.

He stepped into the chamber.

Here the cold was debilitating, and the putrid reek of cologne was so overpowering as to cause the gorge to rise in his throat. Raymond Doyle knelt on the earthen floor, his dressing-gown hanging slackly open, exposing his throat, collarbone and chest. His eyes flicked upward, hopelessly touching Bodie's face. Otherwise he seemed incapable of voluntary movement, stiffly suspended like a marionette.

His puppeteer stood behind him, an arm slung round Doyle's shoulders, the other moving suggestively beneath the smooth fabric at his waist. Bodie recognized him at once--but for a moment he simply could not believe his eyes.

In Doyle's locket, this man had been human--or more accurately, alive. This horrible creature was gruesomely ruined. Half-eaten away, his face implausibly retained a trace of handsomeness. His eyes, once so like his son's, now shone with a mad light, shrewdly calculating and unswerving in their intention. Decay defined him, and yet he was heedless of it, standing proudly upright, a slight smirk curving his disfigured mouth.

To one side and a little behind him loomed The Thing, its terrible visage turned toward Bodie, fearsome jaws ceaselessly moving. Familiarity made it no less hideous, its writhing exterior sickening to behold.

Into this tableau Bodie unfalteringly walked, his expression fixed, hands held loose and ready at his sides. Two guttering candles lit the room from sconces stuck into the walls on either side of the chamber, the flickering light the last thing one would suspect a reanimated corpse might need--or want. Bodie stopped a few feet away from Timothy and Raymond Doyle, very conscious of the interested attention of The Thing, but resolutely ignoring it. Doyle's eyes followed him, then fell shut, as though he could not bear to see Bodie here.

Concentrating fully on Timothy Doyle--or what was left of him--Bodie said flatly, "You will let him go."

The apparition of Doyle's father smiled, betraying a mouth filled with rotted teeth and squirming maggots. "After I have waited so long?" he said mockingly. His voice was queerly pitched and thickened; Bodie could not even imagine what lurked in the cavity of that throat. "He is promised to Gressil. I tricked him into waiting for thirty years, but he will wait no longer." As he spoke, his hand stroked Doyle's chest beneath the dressing-gown, gliding lower toward his abdomen.

Keeping himself still by main force, Bodie growled, "I would not let you have him before; do you seriously think I will let you harm him now?"

"You have no choice." The arm circling Doyle's throat rose caressingly. "It is a pity, I agree, for he has become a pretty thing." He leaned nearer, brushing his face against Doyle's temple, putrid skin dangling from his chin. A glint of light captured Bodie's attention; around Timothy Doyle's neck was a dirt-encrusted chain, and at its lowest point there hung a dully tarnished locket.

Comprehension made Bodie's stomach turn over: Timothy Doyle's locket was an identical mate to the one caught round Raymond Doyle's throat--placed there by Bodie's own hands. "Let him go!" he shouted and sprang forward.

Something stopped and held him. Stricken with outrage, Bodie found that his muscles had been made subject to another's authority, and disdainfully ignored his frantic commands to move against Doyle's captor.

Timothy Doyle withdrew his hand from the inside of Doyle's dressing-gown and waved it in the direction of the creature. "You may have him," he said graciously, and gestured toward Bodie.

The Thing roused at once, rising off its haunches and opening its terrifying mouth, teeth working up and down in preparation. Its huge form dwarfed the humans as it stood on barrel-wide legs. The very ground quivered beneath its weight.

Reacting instinctively, Bodie tried to wrench free of his paralysis--and was stunned to discover that control of his body had been returned to him. A glimpse at Timothy Doyle's gloating face told him that he was not being given an advantage; perhaps The Thing simply preferred to run down its prey. Bracing himself before the cold and terror could swamp him, he deliberately blanked his mind and replaced the resultant emptiness with a savage, unalloyed hatred.

And then his ears picked up the scuttling sound of feet--many feet--on the ground behind him.

Doyle's eyes widened with panic, focussed on something near the entrance to the potato cellar. Without looking, Bodie knew what waited there. Oblivious to all else but the blood-lust rushing in his veins, he kept his gaze fastened on the middle ground between Timothy Doyle, who was lovingly--and purposefully--twisting Ray's head to one side, dangerously bracketing it with his slowly constricting arm; and The Thing that even now lumbered across the few feet of distance that separated them.

Unthinking, Bodie flung out his arm, hand spread wide. Light, white as purest snow and devastatingly bright, shot from the ends of his fingers and smashed into The Thing, incredibly halting it mid-stride.

Still subject to startlement, Timothy Doyle rose up in alarm, just as Bodie lunged at him. Knowing he could not wrench Doyle from his father's grasp without causing him harm, Bodie grabbed for the locket lying on the corpse's breast. Snatching it away, he stumbled backward, fully prepared to fight to the death to prevent either of his adversaries from regaining possession of the talisman.

Timothy Doyle let out a blood-freezing scream, his face stricken with astonished horror. His enchantment broken, Doyle broke free and promptly sprang away. Throwing himself head over heels, he tumbled across the earthen floor to Bodie's side.

"Bodie," he whispered raggedly, flinging a quick look over his shoulder at the creature that prevented their escape, before returning his overwide stare to the babbling, pitiable figure of his father--and the beast that now turned its unwelcome gaze upon him.

"NO!" Timothy Doyle shrieked. "You cannot let him do this!"

Released from the binding light, Gressil let out a thunderous roar and lurched toward his invoker. With a beckoning motion of one razor-sharp extremity, it summoned its confederate.

Bodie's eyes narrowed as the enormous scorpion entered his field of vision. His hands bit into Doyle's forearms as the segmented arachnid skittered past them, tail bobbing over its head, pincers snapping open and closed.

"Oh, God," Doyle gasped, his voice drowned out by Timothy Doyle's high-pitched wail.

The man who had sought Doyle's death scrabbled desperately to the farthest depths of the chamber, arm flung over his decomposed face, as though it might provide some protection. Gressil bellowed triumphantly and tore into him: the forearm disappeared between fanged jaws. There was a hideous, crunching sound, and the demon bobbed low for another mouthful. Timothy Doyle's keening cries reverberated deafeningly about the chamber as he was devoured, Gressil relentlessly plucking gouts of flesh from his upper body as though he were a malformed daisy, while the scorpion ripped him to bloody shreds from waist to toes.

Bodie watched transfixed; from the way that Doyle trembled, Bodie guessed he, too, was incapable of looking away.

Timothy Doyle died his second death horribly and painfully, the last scream to exit his mouth abruptly terminated when his head split like an overripe grape between Gressil's teeth. Nothing of him was left uneaten. Not even the tatters of his ancient clothing remained.

Dripping with gore, the demon directed its black stare upon the two men who huddled at the opposite end of the chamber. It gestured vaguely at the scorpion near its massive legs--and with a dry, crinkling sound, the huge insect dissolved into dust.

Bodie scrambled to his feet, hauling Doyle up alongside him. Trapped as they were, resistance was pointless. Nevertheless, they stood as one to face the monstrous thing, their legs planted in the soft earth, fisted hands held at ready.

The creature seemed to study them for a long, unbearable moment. Slowly, its jaws opened, reptilian lips peeling back to form a grisly smile. Claw-tipped upper limbs folded in upon the column of The Thing's chest, its legs edging together. The writhing exterior seemed to blend into a single flowing surface, which moved faster and faster until Gressil once more resembled the tower of inky smoke that had first appeared to them. The terrible, unique aspects of the demon's face blurred as still the column spun, slowly extending upward into the ceiling and straight down into the earth below. With a startling snap, The Thing separated into two parts. Like the whipping tail of a snake, the remains of the creature vanished in opposite directions, leaving behind a fragile tendril of smoke, wafting on the chill air. Soon, that too had dissipated into nothing.

Bodie stared stupefied into the empty chamber, aware in the back of his mind that the temperature had risen markedly, and the air was unsullied and breathable again. "It's gone," he marvelled. "They're all gone."

"Yeah," Doyle remarked. He slumped heavily against the hard-packed wall. "Happy birthday to me."





Dawn arrived, foggy and grey. A heavy mist muffled the sounds outside the house on Aylward Road, cocooning its inhabitants in a sort of timeless otherworld. As the day lengthened, the fog continued, its sheltering shroud encouraging confinement.

Blue eyes, deepened to a rich shade of cobalt, looked round with sleepy tranquillity. The bedroom was unchanged from a few hours ago, two dressing-gowns hanging from opposite bedposts, an empty glass filmed with the remains of a goodly measure of single malt whisky standing on the bedside table, and two gold lockets--one bearing evidence of its lengthy stay below the earth, the other burnished from frequent handling--lay side by side on the chest of drawers, their chains sprawled about them.

Shifting to a slightly more comfortable position, Bodie took extreme care not to disturb the sleeper in his arms. Doyle let out a soft sigh and simply molded himself closer to Bodie's frame, auburn curls spread over Bodie's throbbing shoulder.

Bodie did not think that the aching muscle, or the bone beneath had been seriously injured. Even if they had, he would have done nothing that might precipitate Doyle's awakening.

After they had made their way out of the underground chamber--Bodie having boosted Doyle out, and then hoisted out himself with Doyle's assistance--they had gone straight upstairs to the drinks cupboard. Bodie had knocked back a finger of Scotch while Doyle had swallowed two. With the glass replenished, Bodie had herded his companion to the first floor bathroom. Doyle had scarcely blinked at the vision of the door leaning drunkenly against the corridor wall. Eschewing the shower, Bodie had filled the tub with steaming, very hot water, and had heedfully ushered Doyle into it.

Shivering with reaction, Doyle had left his toilette to Bodie, who had willingly scrubbed the other man clean. Hair dripping, Doyle had allowed himself to be swathed in a bathsheet and wiped dry. When Bodie would have bustled him into the bedroom, however, Doyle had refused to go, choosing to wait until Bodie had performed his own clean-up(as much a ritual as a necessity. Insisting upon aiding him in turn, his efforts had been a little awkward and uncertain, but very thorough.

Together they had crawled into bed, Bodie still unobtrusively keeping an eye on his companion, Doyle altogether too quiet and abstracted.

"D'you want to talk?" Bodie had felt compelled to ask.

Doyle had shaken his head. After draining his glass, he had lain on his back, Bodie's hand clasped over his heart in both of his.

"C'mere, Ray," Bodie had insisted softly. Giving Doyle no opportunity to protest, Bodie had taken him into his arms and cradled him warmly, trying to communicate the depth of his caring through touch alone.

His breathing erratic, Doyle had fought back tears, returning Bodie's embrace with wordless desperation. Throughout the interminable hours of darkness, he had not slept.

Nor had Bodie. Exhausted, and lightheaded with it, Bodie nevertheless had determined that he would be available should Doyle need him, if for no other reason than to provide conversation. In silence they had curled together beneath the cozy folds of the duvet, Bodie's light, reassuring caresses continuing for a long time.

It was in the last hour just before dawn that Doyle's body had finally given up its struggle. With the too-thin form wearily draped over him, Bodie had known to the instant when Doyle had succumbed to sleep. Bodie kept watch over him for a few minutes more, wishing illogically that he could forestall the memories that would surely assail the other man come morning.





A glance at the bedside clock informed Bodie that it was now nearly noon. The morning fog had burned off, and a clear, fairly warm day had emerged. While not refreshed, Bodie felt better for his few hours of slumber. In brilliant daylight, the night's events smacked of nightmare--or hallucination.

His eyes alighting on the two lockets, Bodie knew that Timothy Doyle's treachery could not be dismissed as mere hallucination. However construed, their experiences last night had been real--painfully so, as his shoulder was swift to attest.

"It's over now, isn't it? Really over?" Doyle asked, his roughened voice startling Bodie, who had not sensed the other man's stirring.

"Must be. You heard him yourself: Old Tim's agreement with Gressil ended on the date and hour of your thirtieth birthday," Bodie said matter-of-factly.

"So destroying that book had nothing to do with things quieting down for a few days?"

Bodie rolled onto his side so he could look into Doyle's face. "It may have done something. Although, thinking back, I realize that you had taken the locket off the same afternoon that I found the book. Burning it may have had an effect on-- Gressil and the others; there's no way of knowing for sure."

A harsh smile touched Doyle's mouth. "You can say it, Bodie: My old man was out to do me in."

"And he failed. I could tell you to count yourself lucky; out of two parents, at least one of yours was worth having."

Doyle studied his fingers where they lay on Bodie's collarbone. "True." His eyes came up, wide and filled with unspoken appeal. "She was with you, wasn't she; my mum?" he whispered.

Rubbing his nose against Doyle's, Bodie murmured, "Dunno. Maybe."

"That thing you did with your hand--when good old Timothy set his bastard friend on you: I never saw you do that before." There was the faintest hint of humor in Doyle's voice.

"Neither have I," Bodie said honestly. "You wouldn't know about this, of course; but when you went downstairs, I was stuck in the loo. The door handle wouldn't work, just like the downstairs doors before. Something came into there with me; the same something that stopped Gressil from getting into your bedroom all those nights." He brushed his temple fretfully against Doyle's forehead. "It--seemed to touch me. In here--in my head. It may have been your mum, Ray. I don't know. But whatever it was, it wouldn't let you be hurt."

Doyle pushed disarrayed hair off Bodie's forehead and pressed a comforting kiss on his brow. "You were crazy to follow me. If you'd failed, you'd've been next on the menu; you know that, don't you?"

Essaying a slight shrug, Bodie murmured, "I couldn't've done anything else, sunshine. I need you."

Doyle's face crumpled. He dragged Bodie close. "Oh, Bodie."

"Shh. 'S all right, Ray. 'S all right, now." For a long time, Bodie held the other man, stroking him firmly, whispering soft reassurances while Doyle softly wept. When shamefaced he tried to pull away, Bodie would not let him, employing loving restraint until Doyle had subsided. Judging his moment to a nicety, Bodie finally handed him an edge of the sheet to wipe his face on. Groaning under his breath, Doyle did not demur.

Continuing to gently rock him in his arms, Bodie savored Doyle's warmth and the fresh, clean scent of him, allowing his eyes to idly roam round the room. It felt good to lie here, holding his lover close; to know that he was finally safe from harm. Glancing about, he passed over the chest of drawers, dismissing the two lockets at once; he would take them apart later--although he was already fairly certain of what he would find in their sealed casings. The two dressing-gowns, domestically slung over HIS and HIS bedposts, however, made the corners of his mouth creep upward. Then his gaze fell to the floor at the foot of the bed.

Bodie's heart advanced a beat.

"Under the floor," he stated. "Not 'under the door.'"

"What?" Doyle bent his head back, lifting pink-tinged eyes toward him.

"Your mum. When she was dying, remember? You told me she said 'under the door.' But that wasn't what she said, Ray."

Aware of Doyle's uncertain scrutiny, Bodie planted a kiss between the lambent eyes and wriggled out of the covers. Near the foot of the bed, he went down on his heels. Lifting up the edge of the carpet, which ended at the bedframe, he curled it away, then pinned it in place with his left knee. His fingers glided over the exposed floorboards, moving searchingly back and forth. They came to an abrupt halt once he precisely gauged the spot where they had always found A MAN OF INTEGRITY.

"Here," he announced.

Perched precariously over the side of the mattress, Doyle looked on perplexed. "Bodie?"

Bodie broke into a huge smile. "You stay there; back in a tick." With that he whipped his dressing-gown off the bedpost and forced his arms through the holes--almost to the detriment of the threadwork--and pounded down the stairs. He hesitated in the conservatory to pull on a pair of Doyle's mucking boots. A size and a half too large, they flopped clumsily on the garden path as he raced to the garage. Wrenching the door open, he found what he wanted immediately. Whisking the crowbar off the work table, he hurried back to the house, finding his mode of dress little comfort in the bright, but chilly sunshine. Doyle waited at the door to the conservatory, suspicion shadowing his face.

"What are you going to do with that?"

"Pry up some floorboards. You can put on the tea, if you like," Bodie said generously.

"The floorboards in the bedroom?"

"Yes. That's what your mum was referring to. She stored something in the space beneath. After all, that was her room before you remodeled the house, wasn't it?"

Following a couple of paces behind, Doyle said sharply, "I never told you that, Bodie."

Turning on the top step of the staircase, Bodie said blankly, "Didn't you?"

The two men regarded each other uneasily. Then Doyle reached out and gave him a shove. "Go on, then, mate. Let's see if you're right."

Sitting cross-legged on the bed once more, Doyle watched in silence while Bodie inserted the sharp end of the iron bar into the tight crevice that separated the wooden strips. Bodie levered one up with care, eliciting a drawn-out groan from the varnished wood.

Giving Doyle a fleeting glance, he muttered, "Don't worry, Ray. Need to pick up some boards and jambs to repair the wall and those battered doors, anyway. A couple more for the floor in here'll be no problem." Repositioning the iron shaft, he inched the neighboring board up beside the first one. When there was enough space to fit his fingers around it, he took hold of the slat with both hands and jerked it upward, tearing it loose of the crossbeams.

"Bodie." Through the narrow opening, a small box, its surface layered with many years of dust, could be seen. "A cigar box," Doyle whispered.

"That's what it looks like," Bodie agreed, making short work of the second board. With heart pounding, he reached inside and slowly eased the box out. Through the veil of dust he could make out colors, reds and blues that had once been gaily exuberant; they formed a frame for the picture of a man. "Prince Albert, isn't it?" he observed inanely. With a ceremonious air, he passed it up to Doyle, who looked for a moment as though he would refuse to accept it.

"Shall I leave you to it?" Bodie asked, placing the box in Doyle's lap when he did not move.

"Leave me to it?" Doyle repeated.

"Maybe you want to be alone when you open this," Bodie explained, speaking slowly and distinctly. Doyle's unreadable expression troubled him.

Gathering the box in his hands, Doyle said, "Of course not. I-- It's just--"

"Let's take it downstairs. We'll clean it up first, shall we?"

Doyle's head rose abruptly at Bodie's placating manner. "Don't worry, mate," he said with some sharpness, his remote abstraction falling away. "I'm not about to go off my chump just yet. This-- Well, it's a bit overwhelming, y'know?"

Reassured and a little amused by Doyle's pugnacious expression, Bodie simply nodded.

"You're humoring me," Doyle said accusingly. "Come on, then, you. Let's take it downstairs. I'll tidy it up while you start breakfast."

"You're hungry?" Bodie blurted out--then immediately wished his tongue excised.

Doyle favored him with an intimidatingly contemptuous look. "Shouldn't I be? Or would you rather I remained traumatized for the rest of the day?"

Thoroughly chastised, Bodie stretched up and took Doyle's face between his hands. "That's not what you think, surely?"

It was Doyle's turn to shake his head. "A joke, mate. A bad one, true; but if I don't joke about all this, I'm afraid I will go mad."

Bodie brought his mouth up to meet Doyle's. At the instant of contact, Doyle commented, "Your hands are filthy."

Chuckling, Bodie turned a soft, dry pressure into a lavishly entailed exploration of Doyle's mouth. "Fastidious sod," he grumbled afterward.

"Not anymore," Doyle corrected him. He leaned forward and laid his head on Bodie's shoulder. "Thanks, Bodie--for last night; for now. Love you, too, y'know."





Doyle took the box to the conservatory. There he applied a soft cloth to wipe the surface clean. Bodie had been quite right: Prince Albert's face was revealed in crisp delineation--as though the box had been stored under the floorboards only weeks before, rather than however many years.

"Yeah, thought that was him," Bodie mused when Doyle tilted it for his inspection. Bodie stood in the kitchen, toasting bread and preparing tea. In his pocket were the two lockets; they struck him as being excessively heavy for such small items--or perhaps he was simply over-aware of their presence.

They carried their repast into the dining room. Bodie set the lockets on the table beside his plate, along with his multi-blade pocketknife. Observing this in silence, Doyle placed the box several inches to one side.

For all that it was Doyle who had requested something to eat, he only picked at his food, drinking two cups of tea and downing a half-slice of toast.

Bodie contrarily dove into his meal with appreciation. Draining his mug, he pushed the plate to the edge of the table, then set the mug beside it. Taking up the knife, he unfolded one of the thinnest blades. With Doyle's locket in hand, he slipped the sharp edge into the joining where the back casing fit the body of the gold pendant. Employing just the right amount of pressure, he popped open the back, prepared to catch the concave fitting should he be lucky enough for it to come right off. Held in place by age and the precision of workmanship, however, it clung tenaciously to the pendant.

Bodie put the knife on the table. With careful strength, he pried the back off the locket and set it, bowl-side up, on the table. Then he turned the locket sideways and tipped out a tiny lock of auburn curls. Glancing across at Doyle, Bodie found green eyes narrowed as if with pain, studying the evidence of his father's deranged ambition.

Saying nothing, Bodie repeated the process with the second locket, his nerve endings unaccountably crawling as he braced the soiled metal in his palm. The back casing of this one was even harder to remove. After several unintentional scratches, and a gouging nick to his left hand, Bodie at last forced it open. A second tendril of baby hair was revealed. Bodie tipped the shallow bowl over, allowing the small curl to fall onto the table next to the first one.

At Doyle's haggard look, he said, "I knew there had to be something of yours for the creature to focus on."

"Sick bastard," Doyle muttered. Bodie presumed that he was referring to his father.

He left the table then to collect an old ashtray that had belonged to Doyle's grandfather, which was kept at ready for visitors who smoked. After setting this on the table, he placed the two clumps of hair inside, taking pains to ensure that every precious fiber was accounted for. With matches used for lighting the table candles, Bodie fired the two sprigs of hair. They burned instantly, flaring briefly when the flame reached its highest temperature. It consumed itself quickly, leaving only contorted ashes in the basin of the metal receptacle. Bodie stirred these still-smoking bits with the blade of the knife, then spread them flat across the bottom.

"Is that it?" Doyle asked.

Scrupulously examining the locket Doyle had worn, Bodie stated, "You started wearing this about six weeks ago, didn't you? About the time the dreams began."

Forehead wrinkled with thought, Doyle at last nodded his head. "Yes. Was going through Mum's jewelry casket one day. Just--decided to wear the damn thing." He raised his brows. "Or maybe it wasn't me that decided?"

"Maybe," Bodie agreed. "But then you've always been fascinated with it. I think if there'd been any form of suggestion involved, you'd have been under Gressil's influence from the start." He opened the two wings of the locket and gently removed the two pictures. Nothing lay hidden behind them. "Of course not. That would've been too obvious," Bodie muttered to himself.

Timothy Doyle's locket he left untouched after snapping the outer casing back into place. When Doyle's was restored, he slipped the locket off the chain. "Don't reckon you'll want to wear the chain alone?" he guessed, unable to conceal his chagrin.

"Of course I do." Doyle shook his head with affection. "I don't blame you, if that's what you think," he chided, as Bodie came up behind him, and draped the chain around his throat. Touching a finger to the smoothly meshed links, he murmured, "It really wasn't your fault, you do know that?"

Bodie bent forward and encircled Doyle in his arms. "Should've twigged to the fact that you hadn't been wearing it that long. I guess I overlooked it because it'd been around all these years."

"And that's because you couldn't know what old Tim had arranged. Forget it, Bodie."

"Can you?"

Doyle cricked his head back, looking up into Bodie's eyes. "Yes," he said. "But it'd be nice if you'd like to lend a hand now and again--just to see that I do."

"That's no hardship, mate," Bodie said sincerely. He leaned near to appropriate a kiss; Doyle willingly surrendered several. "What about your mum's box, Ray?" he whispered.

Distaste flared across Doyle's face. "Right," he said flatly. When Bodie would have returned to the opposite seat, Doyle caught hold of his wrist and held him in place. "But you get to stay right here."

"Okay," Bodie said agreeably. He had felt the slight tremor in Doyle's grasp.

Arranging the cigar box squarely on the table in front of him, Doyle briefly framed it between his fingers. With both thumbs he gingerly forced the lid open. A musty smell rose into the air.

There were only a few items within. On the very top lay a yellowed envelope, on which had been written "Ray" in firm, beautiful handwriting. Doyle delicately lifted the envelope out, and gravely studied it from all angles. He made no effort to unseal it.

"Your mum's hand, isn't it?" Bodie asked.

"Yes."

A short stack of pictures were next; there were three altogether. The first featured Elizabeth and Timothy Doyle, their infant son held between them. A handsome, smug Timothy Doyle grinned into the camera alone on the second. The last had captured Timothy Doyle proudly cradling four-month old Raymond.

"And here's Grandad's diary for 1959," Doyle announced unnecessarily. He passed the narrow booklet over his shoulder to Bodie without inspection.

The last item in the cardboard box was a square of tissue-paper. Fingers suddenly shaking, Doyle took it out and gently unfolded it. A pressing of forget-me-nots lay in the center, their color untouched by time, bright yellow centers surrounded by deep blue petals.

Blindly, Doyle twisted round and reached out. Bodie drew him into his arms and held him. "Shh," he murmured. "C'mon, Ray, it's all right."

"Didn't realize what a baby you were getting, did you?" Doyle sighed abjectly.

"An idiot, maybe--for thinking such a thing," Bodie said fondly.

Doyle jerked his head to the side as he gently pushed Bodie away. "Go on. Sit yourself down and tell me what Grandad Lulham had to say in 1959."

Bodie brushed his lips against Doyle's tear-spiked eyelashes, tasting salt. He made a loud smacking noise, pleased when this conjured a fragile smile.

Nineteen Fifty Nine had been a major turning point for Raymond Lulham. While he had been incapable of recanting his belief in the spirit world, eventually even he had been forced to concede that Timothy Doyle was an opportunist and a scoundrel, but unfortunately--in his opinion--a gifted one.

Doyle toyed with the pictures of his parents and himself as a child, examining each one minutely, while Bodie read sections from Lulham's diary aloud. For the first six months of 1959, Lulham had remained wilfully blind to Timothy Doyle's machinations. Then he had begun to suspect his lodger of devil-worship--or worse. In summer of that year, Lulham had fretted over how to confront the young man; for despite his unsavory interests, Doyle had actually seemed to establish contact with the long-dead Elizabeth Lulham, and Lulham was loath to alienate him.

Only in July, when he had learned that his daughter Elizabeth had been drugged and seduced by the man in his employ, did Lulham begin to realize the harm he had brought about. With no clear proof of Doyle's activities, and blinded by his own concerns, his first and strongest reaction had been to encourage the woman to make a better man of Doyle by marrying him.

Elizabeth had refused--until September, when she had learned she was pregnant, a fact which had filled Lulham with bitter outrage--and a degree of relief. Willingly, he had funded their wedding after exhorting Doyle to refrain from any unseemly practices he may have blundered into. Reassured by Doyle's lies, he had stated his heartfelt hope that the wretched fellow might yet make a sound mate for his much older bride.

Two weeks later, on the day before his death, Lulham had found the chamber under the cellar, its certain purpose and the shocking artifacts installed therein stunning the old man's sensibilities. His last entry had recorded his intention of warning Elizabeth that very evening--and of asking her forgiveness.

"Old Tim murdered him," Doyle said expressionlessly, when Bodie turned the last page of the diary.

"Seems likely." Bodie watched Doyle's hands; the long, thin fingers ceaselessly shuffled the pictures, one after another. "The letter will probably tell you the rest of it," he said quietly.

Doyle's eyes fell shut. "Don't I know enough?" he asked wearily.

"Only you can decide that." Bodie stretched out a hand and gripped Doyle's forearm. "How about another cuppa?"

An attenuated nod was his only reply.

When Bodie returned to the dining room, Doyle was missing. Placing the two mugs on the table, he noted that Elizabeth Lulham's letter lay on the table, still unopened. A quiet sound from the conservatory caught his attention; Doyle stood at the outer door, looking out over the back garden.

Joining him there, Bodie curved his arms around Doyle's waist. Resting his chin on a sharply-ridged shoulder, he asked, "You okay?"

"Just grand," Doyle replied, covering Bodie's hands with his. "You think I'm overreacting, don't you?"

"To the fact that your old man was a lunatic, who probably murdered your grandad? No; in fact, I think you're taking this all very well."

"It's more than that," Doyle breathed. "Don't you realize? He was down there. Old Tim never buggered off thirty years ago."

In fact, that glaring observation had somehow completely escaped him, and Bodie said as much. "Guess I haven't been thinking very clearly myself," he muttered.

"You must know who killed him," Doyle persisted.

Bodie squeezed his slight companion reassuringly. "Reckon I do now. She must've thought you should know, too. 'Under the floor,' remember? And that bloody book: She wasn't trying to get you to read it; she just wanted you to notice where she was leaving it."

"So why use the same ruddy book time and again?" Doyle demanded querulously.

"Who knows?" Bodie gave an elaborate shrug. "Maybe it had something to do with the title. Maybe what influence she had was limited. It's only a suggestion, mind--but you ought to read her letter. Maybe you'll find the answers there."

Doyle exhaled heavily. "You're right." He twisted fluidly in Bodie's arms, coming round to face him with a determinedly composed expression. "She was a good woman, Bodie."

"She was the best, sunshine," Bodie corrected him, brushing his cheek against Doyle's soft hair. "She saved your life--and mine."





"My dearest Ray," Doyle read aloud, "I have sat all night beside your cot, wondering how I can possibly describe the terrible events of the last months--and far more importantly, the criminal act I have performed this night. If I believed you were safe, I should certainly say nothing at all. But Timothy Doyle was an evil man, and I fear--if it is in any way possible--that he will attempt to strike at you, even from beyond his grave. Because of that, you must know all."

Bodie studied the other man while Doyle recounted Elizabeth Lulham's very personal hell. Doyle's face was calm, his voice even, only the faint unsteadiness of his hands revealing anything of his inner turmoil.

Through him, Elizabeth Lulham Doyle spoke of her antipathy toward the too-charming, intense Timothy Doyle. She had maintained her distance in the early days, avoiding him because he had made her uneasy, but incapable of adequately explaining her reasons to her father, who had dismissed them as absurd and unfounded. As Timothy Doyle had gained ascendancy with Raymond Lulham, he had become more forward with Elizabeth, contriving to create situations that would bring them together, alone.

Eventually the day had come when he had arranged for her father to be out of the house. They had taken their evening meal together, after which Elizabeth had fallen into a deep, dreamless sleep. When she had awakened, she had discovered herself in Timothy Doyle's bed, with Timothy Doyle beside her. He had spared her nothing in describing what had taken place between them. Upon Raymond Lulham's arrival back at his house, Timothy Doyle had brutally informed him that he and Elizabeth had acted irretrievably--but that he would make the situation good by marrying her.

Lulham's fury had been profound, but short-lived; he had grown dependent on Doyle's supposed connection with "the other side," and the old man had been terrified of losing that tenuous link with his wife. Elizabeth had turned down Doyle's offer, suspicious of his motives when she was well aware of their age difference and her own fading looks. When she had realized she was with child, she had resisted the inevitable as long as possible. The specter not only of her own ruined reputation, but that of her father--and impending offspring, as well--convinced her at last that she had no other choice but to marry the villain.

Her worst fears had been realized when Raymond Lulham had died suddenly of an apparent heart seizure within days of her wedding. Upon discovering that he had been excluded from her father's bequests, Timothy Doyle had railed at his wife ferociously. She had withstood her husband's storming rages, trying to make the best of a hopeless predicament. With the unhurried passage of time, he had accepted his circumstance, learning to use Elizabeth's anxiety for her unborn child to achieve his desires. Reluctantly she had established a stipend for his personal use, guaranteed for the duration of their marriage--or the length of his natural life.

In April, Raymond Doyle had been born. For the first time in Elizabeth's life, she had found a purpose and joy to her existence. Her child had been a bonny boy, a little sickly, but sweet-natured and alert.

Cautious never to leave him alone with his father, Elizabeth had nevertheless fallen ill in the infant's second month. Upon wakening from a fevered nap, she had been unable to find her child, who had gone missing from his cot. Panic-stricken, she had hunted throughout the house, disregarding her own weakened state--only to come across him in a bundle of dirtied blankets near the door to the potato cellar. Timothy Doyle had not responded when she had called out to him. Having looked no further, she had carried the child up to her room, where she had examined him closely for injury. Finding none, she had brought him to her bed and there he had remained with her.

When her husband had turned up, she had interrogated him with cold fury. He had denied all knowledge of the child's mysterious removal, and when she had refused him the privilege of holding his son, he had expressed hurt and resentment. Standing her ground, Elizabeth had soon thereafter begun to seek out Timothy Doyle's secrets: where he went and what he did. She had taken up her father's diaries, and discovered to her horror the many terrible secrets he had failed to divulge before his death.

Not long afterward, she had stumbled upon Timothy Doyle's intention: He had promised her son to a demon named Gressil, his life to be sacrificed to assure eternal carnality for his father. After her initial shock, Elizabeth had deliberately and with full presence of mind plotted Timothy Doyle's demise. It had taken her the better part of a month to gain some small portion of the man's trust, persuading him to include her, however minimally, in his arcane practices. She had made him believe that she suspected nothing, well aware that he thought her no more than an old stooge, but one that had finally come to acknowledge his potential greatness. Trading on his incredible arrogance, she had lured him down to the potato cellar one warm evening in August. There, just after nine pm, she had felled him with a spade, which she had secreted in the shadows only a few hours before. Believing him dead, she had dug up the ground where his "altar" usually stood. Once the hole was as deep as she could manage, she had wrestled the man's body into it, and covered him over.

Atremble with delayed shock, she had then stumbled up the stairs to check upon her slumbering child. Soon after, she had made a thorough sweep of the house, collecting most of Timothy Doyle's personal effects--all those items that he would have taken with him, had he run out on her. When she had done, she had gone back down to the potato cellar with the intention of interring those things with him--only to find that he had not been dead at all, but only gravely wounded. In her absence, he had struggled partially free of his shallow grave, succeeding in extricating his bloodied head and one arm.

Gathering her strength once more, Elizabeth Lulham Doyle had taken the spade in her hands. With two violent blows, she had ensured absolutely that the man who had intended to murder her son would threaten him no more. At that moment she had heard the faint tolling of the upstairs hall clock: It had gone one in the morning. Throughout that warm, summer night she had toiled to restore her husband to his place in the earth. By morning, she had quite finished. The story she had prepared for the police had been committed to her memory as exhaustively as though it were the truth. She had left the altar and the book intact, prepared to display them to the police if it were necessary. With Timothy Doyle dead, she did not believe the dreadful artifacts could do her child any further injury.

"I absolve myself of nothing," Doyle continued in a hoarse, dry voice. "I killed your father because he would have killed you. Forgive me, my darling child. It is a terrible thing I have done, but I could not let him harm you. Yet, despite all he did--and I know this must sound foolish--I do not hate Timothy Doyle. Because of him, I now have you--and you, my Raymond, I love more than the world.

"You will grow up believing your father abandoned us. It would be kinder to tell you that he is dead, but since I must inform the police that he appears to have abandoned us, I dare not tell you otherwise. And I would never let you share the burden of my guilt. If you are reading this letter, you now know the truth. I wilfully murdered my husband. The fact that he was a madman who believed himself to be in league with powers of darkness makes me no less a murderer in the eyes of the law. There are, indeed, those who would proclaim my crime more heinous than his.

"I do not know if he was truly capable of calling forth evil spirits--but he believed he could. My greatest fear is that he was right. If Timothy Doyle can keep his part of the agreement with his demon--and he boasted that he had tricked it into allowing him several years in which to do so--he will. He will try to harm you, even though he is dead and should be capable of nothing. I wish I knew how he meant to bind you to him; it was something I could not get him to say.

"Perhaps, my beloved son, I am as mad as Timothy to credit his lunacy at all. But you must be forewarned. If, somehow he attempts to honor his contract before my death, I will do all in my power to stop him. If I am dead, I trust this letter will provide you with the knowledge you need to deflect his purpose.

"Oh, my lovely boy-- I so hope and pray that nothing will ever come of this. May you live a long and happy life. Know that I shall always love you.

"Your mother, Elizabeth."

Doyle laid the last sheet of the letter on the table.

"Your poor mum." Bodie could think of nothing else to say.

In a remote voice, Doyle stated, "I was right: She killed him."

"Too bad it didn't take," Bodie muttered tartly.

That brought Doyle's head up. Staring at Bodie darkly, he demanded, "You think it was all right, what she did?"

Bodie glanced away. "Let's just say I'm grateful. Otherwise you wouldn't be here now."

The full upper lip curled into an eloquent sneer. "And old Tim would be immortal. How does that fit in with your theories, Bodie?"

Refusing to be baited, Bodie said flippantly, "Demons are tricky buggers. They can be controlled, but they don't like it. Your dad hardly looked like someone about to embark on his second coming. I suspect Gressil had a hand in that; y'know, fulfilling his agreement but not quite the way your dad may have wanted."

"So you think Gressil would've reneged?"

"He wouldn't've had to," Bodie smirked. "Just how popular d'you think old Tim would've been with his face falling off; leaving little bits of himself everywhere he went?"

As if annoyed by Bodie's attempt at humor, Doyle deliberately turned his attention back to the letter spread open before him. A frown touched his brow; he reached out for the still-unfolded tissue-paper. Sight of the remarkably preserved flowers caused the lines in his forehead to deepen. "I almost wish she hadn't left me this. I could pretend, then, that none of it ever happened."

Lips slightly compressed, Bodie asked, "D'you think that would be fair to her?"

A moue of irritation flitted across Doyle's face. "Maybe not." His voice rose sharply. "But doesn't it worry you at all, Bodie?"

"Worry me?" One brow angled upward in consternation. "Doesn't what worry me?"

Doyle levelled solemn green eyes at him. "Me. My grandad was a nutter; both mum and dad were murderers. Maybe it runs in the family, y'know?"

It took all Bodie's strength to hold back a grin. "Now tell me, Ray--honestly--have you ever felt a homicidal twinge in your life?"

For an instant real anger flared in Doyle's face. He looked down and commenced a study of the flowers in their tissue-paper bed, still held in his palm. "I have, Bodie." His head came up defiantly. "There's an Alsatian from up the road that regularly soils my flower beds. And the Barberino's next door; well, there are times when death would be too good--"

Bodie broke out laughing. "Justifiable homicide, I'd say. A berk you may be; a nutter, no."

Repressing an unwilling smile of his own, Doyle pointed out, "And you're certifiable not to consider the possibility."

Leaning forward on his elbows, face alight, Bodie murmured, "Must be why I fit in so well here. Or should I say, you fit me so well?"

Allowing unabashed affection to banish the shadows from his face, Doyle left his chair and came to crouch down at Bodie's side. He lowered his head to Bodie's lap, eyes slanted upward. "It's still my birthday, y'know."

"I hadn't forgotten," Bodie whispered, every nerve-ending in his belly coming wide awake as Doyle ran a finger along the inside of his left leg. He wondered if Doyle was intentionally instigating a tried and true method of obliterating uncomfortable thoughts.

"And you're what I want. In me, this time."

Cupped in Doyle's warm hand, Bodie spread his legs wider. "You're getting me hot, sunshine--and we have things to do," he said admonishingly.

"Like what?" Doyle pulled the stretchy band of material off Bodie's hips and snaked his hand inside. There it closed around half-erect flesh, assiduously encouraging its growth.

"Uh--Want to ring Father Keegan; see if thinks anything should be done before we board the cellar up again."

Doyle rubbed his cheek against Bodie's dressing-gown, pushing the fabric off a softly-downed thigh with the point of his chin. "Then?"

"Nip-- over to B & Q's and pick up some new boards so we can repair-- your floor and the door jambs." Bodie leaned further back in the chair, his hands sliding into Doyle's hair.

"And then?" Doyle wondered, his mouth moist and searching at the damp juncture of Bodie's thigh and groin.

Trying to regulate his breathing, Bodie whispered, "Take a drive down to Northchapel. Return--some things to your mum."

Doyle's activities abruptly ceased. "What things?"

Inhaling deeply, Bodie stretched out an arm and carefully retrieved the tissue-paper off the table. "These, at least."

Bending his head back at a sharp angle, Doyle looked full into Bodie's face, his expression grave. Then he nodded. "The locket and the pictures, as well. The other locket--"

Bodie interrupted, "Thought that should go to Father Keegan. Let him dispose of it however he thinks best."

"Right." Returning to his original purpose, Doyle guided Bodie's still-interested cock into his mouth, and gently began to apply lavish, wet suction. Without warning, he pulled away, letting Bodie slip free. "With all that to do, I suppose I ought to stop so we can get on with it?" he offered helpfully.

"Only if you'd rather die first," Bodie countered dangerously.

Setting his lips against the cooling tip of turgid flesh, but tauntingly taking things no further, Doyle remarked, "You do fit in, don't you?"

A fierce growl erupted from Bodie's mouth. Catching Doyle under the arms, he jerked him roughly against his chest, then lifted them both to their feet with sheer brute force. "You are a prick, Raymond Doyle," he said dangerously. If this what Doyle wanted, he would have it. Before Doyle could argue the point, Bodie had him on the carpet in front of one of the overstuffed chairs, invading the fragile defenses of the other man's dressing-gown with vengeful directness. Doyle aided Bodie's efforts as much as he hampered them, initiating an intensely sexual contest that quickly got away from them both.

The mock battle ended abruptly when Bodie's over-stimulated body reacted violently--if predictably--to Doyle's promiscuous hands and mouth. Doyle yielded soon after, clinging desperately to Bodie as warm fluid pumped between bellies that were already slick with Bodie's essence.

Hazy, forest green eyes slowly blinked open. Doyle murmured, "You can ring Father Keegan now."

"Thanks, mate," Bodie said with the proper note of gratitude. Letting himself sprawl heavily on his lighter companion--who at first lacked sufficient breath to object--he admitted, "Was afraid it might slip my mind."

"Thought so." Doyle sighed creakily. Then: "And thank you. I really needed that just now."

"Any time, sunshine." Bodie rolled to the floor and curled protectively around his slender companion. "Any time at all."





It was nearly three in the afternoon before they returned from their trip to the DIY store. An hour before, following a long, languid shower with his lover, Bodie had spoken with the priest and arranged for him to come by about half three.

Dressed and shaved, they had driven to the store and picked up the items on their list. The day was drizzly and cold, pregnant clouds threatening rain, or even snow. Back inside the house, Doyle had helped Bodie carry most of the boards downstairs. While Bodie had set about sawing them to the desired length, Doyle had made for the kitchen, promising to brew a pot of tea and prepare a couple of plates of sandwiches.

Brushing sawdust from his hands half an hour later, Bodie was just stepping into the ground floor corridor when the door buzzer sounded. Hearing Doyle greet Father Keegan, Bodie carried on down the hall to the kitchen. There he washed his hands and face, determined to remove the fine grit of pulverized wood before it could take up permanent residence in his eyebrows and eyelashes.

"Bodie," Father Keegan said warmly, as Bodie emerged into the corridor. The older man was dressed in street clothing--blue jeans and a plaid shirt topped with a heavy woollen sweater and battered leather jacket.

Shaking his hand, Bodie said, "Thanks for coming round. There's something we'd like your opinion on."

With Doyle leading the way, the three men traipsed down the stairs to the clammy cellar. While waiting for the priest to arrive, Bodie had restored the ladder in the shaft to the underground chamber. Unhesitatingly, Doyle swarmed down the rungs to the earthen floor, his torch beam brightly reassuring in the gloom.

The priest went next, followed by Bodie. The man's gaze hardened at sight of the candle sconces on the walls, and the dismantled altar on the ground. "Do you want to tell me exactly what's gone on down here?" he asked quietly.

"You really wouldn't believe us," Doyle said unencouragingly.

"There are a few items over there that you'll probably want to examine." Reluctantly, Bodie went forward and pointed out the accumulation of upside down crucifixes, phallic figurines, and talismans which lay beside the lengths of ancient wood.

The man's features wrinkled with distaste. Shaking his head, he bent over to look at each object closely. "Leave them here for the moment," he said finally, straightening to his full height. "But I'll want a cloth sack to take them with me." He paused. "Unless you mean to keep them?"

"Not if I have a choice," Doyle averred. "You're welcome to the lot."

"Tell me this:" the priest requested. "Were acts--rituals--performed down here? It seems an obvious question, but I must know."

Doyle nodded. "If you mean, the black arts, then, yes." Gnawing his lower lip, Doyle added, "And murder."

"Murder? You're quite certain of that?"

Hands jammed deep into his back pockets, Doyle answered the question with an affirmative nod.

Tsking, the priest surveyed the small room. "Are the remains still present?"

"I--don't think so," Bodie ventured. Actually, for all he knew the hellish spectacle they had witnessed last night had been a metaphysical manifestation rather than reality--at least partially: The real Timothy Doyle may yet be rotting below the surface. Bodie had not wanted to say as much to Doyle; that was one of the reasons he had summoned the priest. "Would it make any difference?"

"No. Not with what I have in mind to do." He drew a small, venerable, leather-bound book out of a pocket. "All right. You two can be off. I'll need about an hour." He fixed them both with a steely look. "Please do not disturb me unless it is absolutely necessary."

"We can stay--if you want any help," Doyle said haltingly.

Regarding Doyle kindly, the priest murmured, "You look exhausted, Ray. I suspect you've already done enough for one day. Leave it to me, okay?"

Grateful to the man for being so understanding, Bodie unthinkingly slung an arm round Doyle's shoulders and pulled him round, bustling him toward the opening. Slow to pick up on the significance of Doyle's wildly waggling brows, Bodie belatedly removed his companionable touch, and glanced sheepishly back at the priest.

Father Keegan only smiled. "I would be censured for saying such a thing, but I cannot believe there is evil where there is love." With that, he opened the book and, in the steady glow of the lamp, began to turn pages.

Taking the hint, they quit the underground chamber by way of the ladder, Doyle once more in the fore. Holding the rails steady while Bodie stepped off the last rung, he asked concernedly, "D'you think he'll be okay alone?"

A cobweb hung from Doyle's hair; Bodie reached out and removed it. "I think so. We do know what the agreement entailed, Ray. Timothy Doyle's power has been obliterated. Just thought it wouldn't hurt--"

"To have the priest come out and purify the place--and, not coincidentally, set my mind at ease. How'd you come to know me so well, so quickly?"

"Don't really know you at all," Bodie said with mock hauteur. "But I'm learning as fast as I can."

"Hm." Doyle applied a light blow to Bodie's shoulder. "Thanks, mate. Come along, then. You ought to be starving."

"God, yes. Seem to recall your offering tea and sandwiches a million years ago."

"Lucky for you I've made these specially not to go stale, eh?"

Unconvinced, Bodie only grunted.





Bodie spent the remainder of the afternoon swinging a hammer. With Doyle at his side, providing assistance and desultory conversation, he repaired the floorboards in the bedroom, then extracted a promise from Doyle to varnish them in the morning so that they would be dry by evening.

The door to the bathroom proved a little more difficult. Between them, they managed to get it rehung and fairly well balanced. Unattended, however, it tended to swing wide open. When Doyle pointed this out, Bodie suggested he might like to hire a "real" carpenter. Assuaging Bodie's bruised feelings with a kiss, Doyle announced that the open bathroom door would merely add another dimension to their relationship: Sort of a built-in peep show. That earned him an affectionate cuff on the chin--followed immediately by a luxurious hug.

After that, they clattered down to the ground floor to restore the jamb of the cellar doorway. Bodie was almost finished when Father Keegan's head appeared at the top of the ladder in the alcove, just visible from Bodie's vantage point.

"Oi," the older man called. "D'you have that sack I asked for?"

"Right here," Doyle replied, and strode over on long legs. Out of the back of his waistband, he retrieved the leading end of a thrice-folded pillowcase that was faded and a little threadbare with age. "Will this do?"

"Perfectly," the priest said approvingly. "Thank you."

As Doyle started to follow him down, Father Keegan forestalled him. "No, it's all right," he said. "I just need to collect those things--and I'd rather you don't go in there at all--if you can avoid it."

"Not going down there is something I can easily do," Doyle assured him. "But d'you mind telling me why I shouldn't?"

"I've sanctified the ground," the priest explained. "Although it would be better if this chamber were completely filled in."

"Will blocking it up be sufficient?"

"Yes. Just-- Well, if you ever sell the place, have someone seal it properly, will you?"

Doyle gestured his agreement. "You still haven't said why."

Keegan shrugged, his face tinged a pale rose color in the stark light of the overhead bulb. "Personal opinion, you understand. But once a place has been defiled, I doubt whether even blessing rites can completely remove the taint." Seeing a hint of alarm in Doyle's face, the man added, "It is perfectly safe, Ray; I'm sure of that. But I suppose an appropriate analogy would be--well--wearing dead men's clothing. Not quite the done thing, if it can be avoided."

"Or are you just spouting superstition?" Bodie asked from the bottom step of the cellar stair, having listened to every word of the two men's conversation. He strode across the concrete floor to join them.

"Perhaps. As I said, it's a personal opinion."

An unspoken communication passed between Doyle and Bodie. Doyle murmured, "I'll do as you say, Father. And if it makes you feel any better, Bodie and I plan to board up the opening as soon as you've finished."

"It does, thank you." He flashed them a quick smile. "Right, then." The greying head disappeared down the ladder once more.

Without another word, Bodie began to remove the jagged remains of yesterday's hard work. Doyle put himself to use by gathering the bits already strewn on the ground, cautious of flying splinters and unseated nails as they were systematically disengaged from the framing posts. With uncanny awareness of each other's movements, they safely removed the bulk of the mangled woodwork before Father Keegan finally reappeared at the opening, the bulkily filled pillowcase slung over his shoulder.

As he stepped across the sill into the cellar proper, he stated hopefully, "You will tell me what went on here some day, won't you?"

"Maybe--" Doyle began.

"Some day," Bodie finished.

"I understand," Keegan said, unperturbed. "Well--I'll just take care of this lot. All that's left down there now is the rotting wood from the altar."

"You knew that's what it was?" Bodie asked.

"What else? The other bits--including the sconces that were on the walls--are in here." He patted the sack. "Perhaps you didn't notice, but they too were profane. A most unpleasant collection, I must say."

"We quite agree," Bodie said heartily. "Thanks for coming round, Father--and for taking care of all this."

"We're very grateful," Doyle added.

The priest brushed their gratitude aside with his usual phlegmatic manner. "Although I've had pleasanter chores this day, none has been more important," he said blandly. "Get on with your work, why don't you, Bodie. Ray can show me out."

Effectively dismissed, Bodie watched amused as the two men went up the stairs; he waved a hand when Doyle cast a telling look back over his shoulder. Suspecting that Keegan wanted to chew Doyle's ear about something--and guessing that the 'something' might be them--he bent his back to the job at hand. He was not surprised when several minutes passed before Doyle's familiar tread measured the cellar steps.

Bodie was in the middle of sweeping up the rest of the detritus from the now-denuded opening when Doyle came up alongside him. Mindful of sharp edges and hidden nails, Bodie scooped up an armful and dumped the fragmented bits into the rubbish bin, which had been brought down earlier.

"So what did he want?" he asked, dropping to his heels to gather up a second load.

Doyle's voice crackled with repressed mirth. "I think he was worried about my intentions. Thinks a lot of you, does Father Keegan." He guffawed at Bodie's dropped-jaw disbelief. "In fact, if I didn't know better, I'd think he was hot for you himself. 'Course, given that he's a priest, maybe--"

"Jesus, Doyle!" Twigging belatedly to the glint of malice in Doyle's eyes, Bodie let out an admiring laugh. "You're a menace; have I told you that?"

"Think I may recall mention of it, yes." Doyle picked up one of the boards they had cut to size, and propped it up between the frame formed by the existing walls. "How's the shoulder? And hand me that hammer, will you, along with a batch of nails, please."

Taking the opportunity to pinch Doyle's bottom as he complied, Bodie commented, "It's fine. You were joking, weren't you?"

"Only about Father Keegan lusting after you. If he does, he hides it very well. About your shoulder: I saw those bruises, y'know. What'd you do, try to tear down a door?"

"Ha ha; why would I do that?" Slightly irked, Bodie jammed balled fists onto his hips. "Are you saying he actually questioned you about us?"

"He did. Don't take on so, Bodie; he didn't threaten to thrash me or anything--or you for that matter. Just wanted to be sure that I'm not out to take advantage of you." The hammer came down on the head of the nail with a perfect, powerful stroke.

"And you expect me to believe that you didn't mind him asking?"

"After what he's done for us?" Doyle gauged the board's alignment, then sank a second nail into the opposite end. "By the way, I gave him old Tim's locket on the way out. Could see he wanted to ask me about it, but he refrained. 'S a good man, is Father Keegan."

"He is that. Ray--"

"Hm?"

"About those boards you're tacking up there--"

Doyle took a step back and eyed his handiwork critically. "Reckon you think you can do a better job, do you?" he asked dubiously.

"Not that," Bodie said mildly. "But unless you want to replace the ladder--"

"Bugger!" Doyle exclaimed.

"What, here?" When Doyle glared at him, Bodie raised both hands defensively. "Well, you've already shown a certain talent for innovation--and I'm an optimist, okay?"

Flushing, Doyle made a production of putting the hammer down on the floor before stepping into the alcove. "An optimist," he began pedantically, "would anticipate buggering me on a soft mattress and smooth sheets, rather than cold, ungiving concrete. Unless you're kinky?"

Shoving in beside Doyle's thin frame, Bodie helped him wrench the ladder out of the shaft, then guided it through the narrowed entrance. "Is it kinky if I find the prospect of buggering you appealing--no matter where it happens?" Bodie asked ingenuously.

Doyle shot him a grin. "I'll ask you that in ten years, and see what your answer is then, eh?"

"After ten years with you, my knees may not work any longer," Bodie said pragmatically, carrying the ladder to the niche beneath the stair where he neatly stowed it.

"You are an optimist," Doyle decided, shaking his head to himself. He picked up the hammer and took up where he had left off.





Once the wall was boarded up, they quickly plastered it over, employing rather more diligence than skill, with the result that they trowelled almost as much of the gooey white substance onto themselves as they managed to apply to the new boards. Afterward they tidied the floor and hauled the rubbish to the skip outside the garage. Well pleased with their industry, they then thoroughly freshened up before sitting down to a light meal.

"Hasn't been much of a birthday, has it?" Bodie commented.

"Can't say that I've had worse," Doyle acknowledged. "But tonight on the way back from Northchapel, you're going to take me to dinner--and then we'll come home, and you'll give me another birthday present."

"To make up for the one that went wrong?" Bodie asked plaintively.

"You mean, this?" Doyle ran a finger under the gold chain circling his throat. When Bodie gave him a wry look, Doyle reached out and gently twisted his nose. "Don't be an idiot. Told you it wasn't your fault. And anyway, I was referring to certain activities you've promised to perform in bed tonight."

"Oh--that."

Uncertainty touched Doyle's eyes. "But only if you want to; if you're not too tired."

"Unlikely, since that's one of the things that's kept me going today," Bodie said chidingly.

Doyle tipped his head to one side. "And what else has kept you going, then?"

"You," Bodie replied simply. "Just being with you. Have you noticed, Ray? We're a good team together. 'S almost as though we can read each other's minds."

"I had." Doyle relaxed back in his chair. "In fact, I can read your thoughts right now."

"Can you?" Raising a mug filled with hot, milky tea to his mouth, Bodie gave Doyle an expectant look over the rim.

"Yes," Doyle whispered. "You're wondering if you can talk me into sharing a cup of ice cream out of the freezer."

Suspended for an instant between laughter and indignation, Bodie finally proclaimed admiringly, "That's amazing."

Grinning widely enough to display his chipped tooth, Doyle rose from his chair. "And the answer is 'yes.'"





Darkness already surrounded the tiny village of Northchapel when Bodie pulled the Cavalier to a stop outside the church grounds and turned off the engine. Dousing the head lamps, he cast a sidelong glance at Doyle. Dressed entirely in black, as Bodie was himself, Doyle was scarcely more than a shadow at his side.

"Ready?" Bodie asked, his voice kept low out of deference to the pervasive quiet.

Displaying the cigar box nestled in his hands, Doyle said, "Yes."

With the interior light switched off to avoid calling attention to their presence, the two men climbed out of the car. After closing the doors as noiselessly as possible, they strolled along the verge to the stone wall that enclosed the area of the churchyard nearest the road. As Bodie had expected, the gate was closed, and looked to be locked.

After easily scaling the wall and dropping with twin dull thumps onto the other side, they walked slowly through the unlit grounds, respectfully stepping clear of mounded graves, headstones, and footstones, angling toward the chestnut tree that grew near the site where Doyle's mother and grandparents lay.

"Where'd that come from?" Bodie asked, surprise raising his brows at sight of the broad headstone that marked Elizabeth Doyle's grave.

"Ordered it up after we visited last week," Doyle informed him, running his hand along the stone arch.

"You are joking," Bodie said disbelievingly. "Nobody'd ever get it here as quickly as that!"

"They will if you pay enough money. And I told you, I had it done years ago; just never arranged for it to be put in place," Doyle said. He played the red-filtered torchlight over the rough surface. "They even got it right."

"'Elizabeth Lulham Doyle, Beloved Mother,'" Bodie read softly. "Well done, Ray." He squatted down beside the headstone, probing at the sod at its base. "Great. They rolled the lawn back when the workmen fitted the stone. Makes it easy for us."

Hunched down on the other side of the grave, Doyle helped Bodie peel the thick sod a few inches away from the headstone. Bodie continued to hold it clear while Doyle unfolded the entrenching tool they had brought along, and began to dig. He made the hole a little deeper than wide, but only big enough overall to accommodate the cigar box. The soil he extracted was put into a plastic sack, so as not to mar the surface of the grave; nor did they wish to leave any evidence of their activities.

When he was satisfied with the proportions of the depression, Doyle slid the brightly colored box into it, and tamped it down tightly. The displaced earth followed, until the bulk of it had been compressed on top. At Doyle's signal, Bodie let go of the heavy sod and pressed it back into place.

Suddenly Bodie reached out and tapped Doyle on the shoulder. "Back in a sec. Forgot the flowers." He bolted away before Doyle could object.

Eyes well adjusted to the dark by now, Bodie made his way easily through rows of graves. In fact he moved with such stealth, he almost trod on a cat passing on the other side of the stone wall. It froze at his unexpected appearance, badly startled to find his foot poised overhead. With a bad-tempered hiss, it arched its back and bounded away.

Smiling wickedly, Bodie hurried to the car and reclaimed the bundle of flowers from the backseat. All had been taken from Doyle's garden--except for the small clump of forget-me-nots, which Bodie had discovered outside the back gate whilst emptying the rubbish bin into the skip. Altogether, they formed a stunning display. Doyle had hesitated at sight of the small blue and yellow flowers; then, smiling faintly, he had nodded his approval and added them to the others. Wrapped in wax paper for protection against the elements, there were daffodils, tulips, magnolia blossoms, early-blooming rhododendron, pansies and, of course, forget-me-nots.

With the lot held secure in the crook of his left arm, Bodie made his way back to the gravesite, guessing that Doyle must have had enough time to himself by now.

He found the other man kneeling forward, still smoothing the sod into place. "Here you go, sunshine," Bodie whispered, and thrust the flowers toward him.

A glint of teeth bespoke Doyle's welcome. "You give them to her. After all, she does know who you are."

"But you--"

"No, really, I've been thinking about it. Mum was the one who took care of us in the bedroom. And she's the one who kept shoving A MAN OF INTEGRITY in our faces. She chose that book because of its title, Bodie; because it made her think of you."

"Me?"

Bodie's squeak elicited a throaty chortle from Doyle. "Remember I told you about the main character? She must've hoped that I'd puzzle it out; that I'd wonder why something that brought you to mind would keep indicating a specific spot on the floor. Or maybe she just hoped that you'd work it out, because you were the man I thought so much of."

"The logic is a little contrived." Bodie wrinkled his nose for emphasis.

"And neither of us made the connection until after the event, so it's all conjecture anyway. You know what's really ironic about all this?"

"You tell me," Bodie said, carefully taking the flowers out of the wax paper. With an eye for detail, he placed them one by one in the small, specially designed recess in the narrow skirting of the headstone.

"My grandad. He wasted the better part of fifty years, ruined Mum's life, and damn near got me murdered--all because he was trying to communicate with the dead." Doyle grunted eloquently. "The old bugger succeeded--and he'll never know."

Bodie ran the flats of his palms over the damp tips of the lawn, wiping off clinging bits of plant refuse. "Your grandad was a selfish man, true; but I can't condemn him completely, Ray."

"No?" Doyle asked skeptically.

"I mean, he was wrong to do what he did; we both agree on that. But I can understand why he did it. If I lost you--"

"You wouldn't try to summon me back from 'the other side,'" Doyle said repressively.

"Perhaps I wouldn't," Bodie conceded. "But only because I know that you wouldn't want to be bothered."

"Bastard."

"And then again," he went on, blithely ignoring Doyle's epithet, "maybe I would. You matter that much to me." At Doyle's sharp intake of breath, Bodie said firmly, "In any case, your mum's life wasn't ruined. If she'd never had you, Timothy Doyle would have been just one more unpleasantness to cope with in her life. A very strong woman, was Elizabeth." Feeling closer to her than he could ever feasibly explain to Doyle, Bodie smiled to himself. "As things were, I doubt that she resented old man Lulham or mad Tim at all. She was quite pleased with her bonny lad, y'know. Still is, come to that."

A muted sound informed Bodie that his words had struck home. He reached across the grave to enfold long, cold fingers in his warming grip.

Muffling a sniffle, Doyle said, "I do know that. Even after last night--you and me together in bed--she did what she could to save us."

"And why shouldn't she?" Bodie asked with quiet intensity. "Even Father Keegan believes in love; and that's a fantastic admission coming from him." He rolled Doyle's hand over so he could place a kiss on the inside of the wiry wrist. "You ready to go home now, sunshine? We have a birthday to celebrate, if you recall."

Doyle squeezed Bodie's fingers in reply. Not letting go, they rose to their feet. Together they walked down the length of Elizabeth Lulham Doyle's grave. At the foot of it, they paused, looking back at the flowers and the new headstone.

"She'll like the forget-me-nots," Doyle murmured. He pulled Bodie close and brushed his lips against the other man's faintly stubbled cheek. "'M glad you thought of 'em." Dropping his gaze to the grave, he spoke in a voice filled with love and respect. "Thanks, Mum," he said. "I'll not forget what you've done for us." He grinned knowingly at the man beside him. "And neither will Bodie."

Hand in hand, the two men strode away.

Behind them, under cover of beshadowed darkness, a tiny, silent breeze sprang up. With a butterfly-soft touch, it swirled over the bouquet of flowers, caressing each bloom in turn. Petals fluttered helplessly, releasing variegated scents, both sweet and tart.

On the other side of the wall, two car doors slammed and the muffled roar of an engine rose above the quiet. The solid sound of metal working with metal announced the engagement of the transmission; immediately thereafter, the car turned back onto the road to London.

In the graveyard, the playful breeze briefly stilled, as though preternaturally marking the passage of the vehicle and its occupants. A moment passed, and a cotton wool hush descended on the chilly graveyard.

A single forget-me-not began to twirl gracefully in place. With seeming joy it spun, leaves outflung, blue petals held high. After several seconds it stopped, petals trembling. Then, to the stirring of surrounding blades of grass, it began again, and this time, the other flowers were lifted up, as if frolicking on the exuberant breeze. The wind settled at last. Scattered over the crisp-scented grave, the flowers formed a riot of color.

Elizabeth Lulham Doyle had come home.

-- THE END --

Originally published in Other Times and Places 2, OTP Press, 1991
Lightly edited by the author in 2006




AUTHOR'S NOTES: First and foremost, my heartfelt appreciation goes to Ann Steele for ongoing advice regarding things British, and the "loan" of certain aspects of her life and environs. As she knows, I am forever indebted to her.

HARMONIOUS TONGUES, BLACK SHEEP, JIGSAW PUZZLE, HONOURS EVEN, and MASTER OF THE REVELS must, of course, be credited to HG--the Raymond Doyle of CI5 we all know and love is nowhere near as talented (well, in other ways, I suppose). But if he were a writer, I'd like to think that he'd rank right up there with her.

A MAN OF INTEGRITY is the title of a story by Jane Carnall, which has nothing to do with PROS (and as most fans will immediately recognize is taken from the STAR TREK episode, "Mirror Mirror"); but it is an excellent Spock/McCoy story. I highly recommend it to those interested in ST slash. I co-opted the title because, like Doyle's mum, I too think of Bodie as a man of integrity--and the appellation seemed particularly appropriate here.

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