Love in a Cold Country
Written for Discovered in the Mistletoe, on the discoveredinalj livejournal community.
The first flakes arrived across the fells as the afternoon drew to a close. Just here and there at first, like pieces of ash blown from a fire. Then, a great, slow, silent curtain of them.
By that time, Doyle had got through the copse below the ridge and was poised under a hawthorn, one hand on the iron ground. Since his R/T was still sitting on the kitchen table of the farmhouse, Doyle figured he was freelance. While prepared to at least consider CI5 procedures and George Cowley's mindset, he nevertheless focused on a single, immediate priority -- the one that lay quietly out there in the wire. As the light seemed to fade minute by minute, he kept his eyes fixed on that point.
He guessed he would probably judge it wrong.
Go too soon, stiff and hampered by the knee-deep snow, they would pick him off as easy as anything.
But if he didn't go right now ... right now ... the stupid, cloth-eared ratbag was going to become permanently preserved out there, a grisly reminder to all agents never to ignore your partner screeching for you to stay put.
The khaki shirt was becoming indistinct. Nothing but that and a singlet between the freezing, wet snow and the cold, snagged skin, the skin that had felt warm and smooth under Doyle's hands a few hours ago.
Having shouted and shouted for him not to move, when he first got caught up in the wire, now Doyle wished he would. He stared at the fading shape until his eyes hurt. And then, with no plan in mind, CI5 procedures discarded, he found himself heading out into the snowfall, staggering in a zigzag across the white field towards it. All he could hear at first was the flumping noise of his legs flailing through the snow, the parka moving across his shoulders, and his own breathing, disturbingly loud in the heavy, silent air. There was a shot, but it was far off target, swallowed up by the trees. Nevertheless Doyle threw himself down and crawled the last few feet, elbow by elbow. His outstretched arm snaked in under the wire and made contact with a shoulder. The impact caused the shape to shift slightly and the wire tugged in tighter.
Doyle coughed breathlessly, ran his hand right down an arm, closed his stiff fingers around a wrist.
"Give me a sign, numbskull, just a little ... tiny .... sign."
He lifted his head up higher and another wayward bullet sang above, echoing through the moving air with a stifled crack. Far away up on the ridge he could hear other gunfire. Friendly fire perhaps. He ran his thumb backwards and forwards across the pulse point. "I know you're in there somewhere," he breathed, and caught himself sounding like his Mum, relentlessly riding the optimism of the festive season.
Even with the thermal underlay, the arran wool and the fleece lining of his parka, Doyle could feel the freezing cold crawling over him.
"My Mum would have fifty fits if she could see you out here without your windcheater on," his voice squeaked out in the weird silence. "Don't go to sleep, love. Have you out of here in no time ......"
"Ooh, you might need your windcheater, love," his Mum had said, casting a look out of the landing window as she came down the stairs at Briarfield Crescent laden with more things from the loft that he couldn't possibly refuse.
In the hall stood his sisters, one with arms across chest, blaming him bitterly, the other gloomy, the baby scrunching her nose with a treacly hand. Both husbands were still in the sitting-room with their feet up.
"Bye, Ray," they chorused through the open door.
His Mum, miraculously, had found the said windcheater underneath a pile of old coats in the cupboard under the stairs. It smelt of dust and other people's wellington boots. She pressed it on top of the books, drawings and photographs that he now held, a flimsy pine green garment, with a houndstooth-check lining and elasticated cuffs. It would perhaps have kept Raymond's ribcage lightly covered when he was a teenager hanging around the bus station in Derby town centre.
The baby tasted like a boiled sweet when it pouted its lips up for a kiss.
"So great to see you," his little sister quavered.
Through the frosted glass Doyle could see a square-shouldered sillhouette, a giant of a driver standing on the path.
"You'll miss Dad's anniversary," his big sister said, furious.
Ready, everyone? Here we go then. To your Dad, god love him ... he was the story of my life he was ... ooh, nice sherry, this ...
He panicked, having forgotten the precise date. It wasn't that he tried to forget it, just that he tried not to remember it, being as how it had been the worst day ever.
"We may not do anything this year," his Mum fluffed, trying to hug him around the armful of nostalgia. "I'll let you know."
"Bye!" they had all been calling as he had plodded down the slippery path in the wake of the driver. They were all in denial of course, and he couldn't blame them.
What is it you do, though?
Well, I'm a sort-of policeman.
A sort of special sort.
He waved out the back window of the jag. His Mum had been halfway down the path in her slippers, one hand clutched slightly to her neck. However much she appeared to ignore it, she still understood she might never clap eyes on him again. His favourite sister had been on the doorstep with the baby, waving its hand. His other sister had disappeared inside. She was the one with the nous to know exactly what might happen.
"Good time?" asked the driver, completely straight, when they were out of the one-way system and tooling towards the M6.
"Well," said Doyle, digging in the side-pocket of his holdall to find his gun.
He wasn't sure he wanted to give even a thumbnail sketch of Christmas Eve in The King's Head with his Dad's mates. The boozy familiarity of it all had set off a melancholy that still lingered. Or of the hazy turkey dinner, with Bob launching into his annual tirade over something in the Queen's Speech. Even a mention of the match on Boxing Day (a lairy home crowd but a good win) seemed too personal. And not much to say, either, about the in-between days before the phone call when he ate hotpot, took his Mum to the garden centre, and wheeled the baby round the bare, grubby park. All culminating in last night down the Tandoori Palace, waking up at midday with his mouth feeling, as Bodie would no doubt have said, like the inside of a badger's bum, and then the phone ringing just as his Mum handed him a cup of tea.
Leave cancelled by George Cowley, last seen heading for Hogmanay north of the border, now evidently marshalling the troops in the outer reaches of Cumberland.
It had been a funny sort of leave. The traditional rituals had been a good antidote to the weird uncertainties of his life, however much he privately pined for something, and someone, else. There had been comfort and nostalgia, occasionally weighed down by a layering of tension, but it had been leave nonetheless and he had voluntarily handed himself back to his family for a while because he supposed it was the least they deserved. Given that they really knew nothing about him.
At one point his Mum had actually asked, "What about that partner of yours? Mr Brodie? How's he?"
Doyle had felt a prickle on the back of his neck.
Ah yes, well we're kind of having an affair ... and it's bloody fantastic ... but I tell you what, half the time I want to kill him and the other half I want to ... Fuck. If only you knew ..... if only I knew.
"There's a driver on the way, 4.5," the crackly voice had advised him as he had slumped on the stairs with a bowl of cornflakes in his other hand. "Rendezvous with me in Penrith. Oh, and it's been snowing heavily up here. I hope you're well equipped."
Doyle patted the windcheater, now sitting on the seat next to him. He laughed to himself, careless, because it was warm in the car, midwinter in the Cumberland fells was hours away and when he got there he would probably be getting a right old load of attitude from Mr Brodie.
Cowley had watched Doyle stomping up the incline towards him the next morning, booted and scarved. The cold-weather parka he wore looked suspiciously new, suggesting an exorbitant expenses chit was not far behind.
"Happy New Year," said the head of CI5. "I trust you slept well?" The tips of Cowley's ears and nose were nipped and red and Doyle, used to such things being of major importance in Briarfield Crescent, worried about his uncovered head.
"Thank you, sir. I hope you ... well, no ... I suppose you didn't."
A light pursing of the lips. Cowley had passed over the binoculars and gestured out across the snow-covered fell.
"Down there, the farm," he said. "Over the way our targets."
Doyle had hoisted the lenses up to his face, searching for the farmhouse. "They up yet?"
A snort. "One on surveillance at all times, Doyle. It's been a long ten days."
"We're expecting it any time. That's why you're here."
Doyle lowered the binoculars. So far all he had seen were banks of snow, field upon field indistinguishable from its neighbours, the dry-stone walls mere humps of white, a frozen lake in the far distance and grey mountains merging into the sky.
"And it's the real deal?"
"Oh yes. Berthoult's group ... well, a few of them. They've got their own little seasonal arms factory over there," Cowley had said. "The people in the nearest village think they're up here converting the abattoir into a holiday home."
Doyle swung the binoculars up again. This time he managed to focus on the grim huddle of low buildings across the valley. They were whitewashed and hard to make out. Some had corrugated metal roofs. A Landrover stood in the courtyard at the front. Smoke drifted up from the central building which was topped with solid slate.
"How far is it?" he asked.
"Twenty minutes by car, if the road's passable," Cowley replied. "And about five, cross country, if you run."
"Up that hill?"
"We're waiting for Chaudry or Berthoult to come and collect. When they appear I trust you'll be running up it in two and a half minutes, 4.5."
"And the barbed wire?"
"I don't think they care for unexpected visitors."
Doyle shifted his shoulders and then the sights. Below, at Wakefield Farm, something was moving. He tracked a figure coming out of the main door and kicking at the snow. Even at a distance the shape and flow of movement was so familiar that Doyle felt his stomach squeeze up into a little ball, realising that of course it wasn't Christmas in Derby that had been making him miserable. The big sheepskin jacket flapped open revealing the current favourite khaki shirt. Ah yes ... you can take the boy out of the army, but you can never ... He was wearing hiking boots with their laces trailing on the ground and he had a mug in one hand. Bent over, coughing like a smoker first thing in the morning, Bodie swigged, hurled the dregs across the snow and then dangled the mug from one finger.
"Bloody hell," said Doyle.
"What is it?"
"Beard!" said Doyle, outraged.
Cowley frowned at him in irritation and then plucked at his R/T.
Doyle enjoyed watching Bodie jump, drop the mug into the snow and pat his pockets distractedly.
Then came his voice, richly bad-tempered. It was more soothing to Doyle than a hot-oil rub at the Turkish Baths in Bayswater. "Yes, I'm here."
"Good morning. You'll be glad to hear I've got good news for you."
Bodie held his R/T at arm's length and waved the fingers of his other hand at it in a manic v-sign.
"Great, sir. What's that then, sir?"
"Doyle is coming to relieve you."
Only by a Herculean effort involving biting down on his tongue did Doyle avoid a shout of laughter that would have echoed right across the fell.
Bodie's face, even at a distance and under its new furniture, was a picture.
"That is good news, sir," he squawked out.
"Barton will be here this afternoon. You and Dearing can check out by nightfall."
"Ah," said Bodie. "Aaah haah ah."
"Just thinking about being relieved, sir."
"Evidently not before time," Cowley said, snapping off the R/T open frequency and thumping the set into a gloved palm. "Come with me, Doyle. I've more background for you in the car."
Doyle lowered the binoculars reluctantly. He trailed Cowley back down the ridge, aware that the ends of his toes were already beginning to feel nothing.
Having scanned a few files outlining all the movements at the abattoir over the last week, marvelled at the technology available back in Penrith which had produced a barely-intelligible page of text from a completely unintelligible set of notes, and checked his gun, Doyle left Cowley to his backseat phone.
It was certainly dipping zero and would be more than a few degrees below before long. Very glad he had popped into Millets for the parka, Doyle crunched his way along the lane and let himself in the big gate. Someone had been clearing the way down to Wakefield Farm for, although the last set of tyre-treads was long gone, there was a channel just wide enough for a front-wheel drive to get along. Around the corner, through two posts, was the courtyard, and Doyle got his first proper look at the farmhouse and knew why his partner had sounded so very pissed off. Probably never picturesque, the squat, rectangular building was, after many years' neglect, just a hullk of crumbling stone. Most of the windows were boarded up and thorny shrubs were gathered around the rotting wood. A barn and outhouse, equally run-down, stood at right-angles to the house, opposite another building, probably once a stables.
He bent down a few yards from the door, picked up the mug which still lay in the snow, and went in to find out why they hadn't killed each other yet.
Dearing, a grumpy CI5 marksman who no-one wanted to partner, was just coming down the stairs into the kitchen. He was holding a camera by its zoom. On hearing the door opening, Bodie turned around from the big Aga, the only source of heat in the house. He gave Doyle a resentful glare, as if it was his fault that he had been stuck up here for ten days. It was more or less the welcome Doyle had expected.
Up close the new look leant Bodie the air of a particularly disenchanted and sleep-deprived Italian fisherman.
"Blimey," Doyle said, to cover his joy.
Bodie cupped a hand rather defensively around the neatly-cropped black beard. It was very black. Very black and rather sleek. Doyle remembered once drunkenly telling his sisters never to trust a man with a beard. They'd not taken much notice of his advice. One had picked a husband who looked like Giant Haystacks and the other had married an estate agent.
From the intense look coming his way Bodie did not know if Raymond was still having a crisis, or whether the three weeks' hiatus had softened his attitude any. Their last encounter had finished with Doyle throwing him out. Down some stairs in point of fact. Fed up with being messed around, he said. Didn't know whether he was coming or going, he said.
"Coming, mostly," Bodie had quipped hopefully.
"Listen, funnyman. This fucking, stupid ... whatever it is you started .... least you could do is show it some commitment."
"Me?" Bodie had said, the anger kicking in quickly, like it always did, when someone said that word. "So it's stupid now, is it?"
"You're in it, or you're not in it, Bodie. I'm not going to be another one of your casual fucks."
Bodie had found a condescending laugh and delivered it with more conviction than he had felt. "You should be so lucky."
He had expected the door in his face, even anticipated the whoosh of air as it came at him and then slammed. But instead Doyle more or less threw him down the stairs, which under other circumstances might have impressed him. If Doyle had given him the chance Bodie would have pointed out that, had a casual fuck done that to him, he would have smashed through the door and chinned them.
The arrival of Ray Doyle into any room was always like a sugar rush to him, but Bodie didn't think he'd ever betrayed that fact and he wasn't about to begin now. His impulse was to scramble over the table and stick his tongue in Doyle's mouth. His heart actually began to beat so hard that he thought they must both be able to hear it, but all he did was scratch his beard and glower.
John Dearing looked between them. Being in a room with 4.5 and 3.7 was his idea of hell. As far as he was concerned, Ray Doyle was a jumped-up little gobshite, and Bodie was a madman, and an arrogant git to boot. Whatever it was now crackling between them did not even register on his radar.
"'M going up to see the Cow," he said.
"Yeah, all right ... thanks very much, Dearie," Bodie replied, in a sarky voice that made Doyle wince. Dearing's gaze juddered on to him for a second, full of loathing. Then he marched towards the door.
"I don't know how you fucking stand it, Ray," he said as he left.
Doyle whistled silently when the door shut. "You've been rubbing him up the wrong way, haven't you?"
"I'd like to rub you up the wrong way," Bodie said unexpectedly.
Doyle felt the last vestiges of Briarfield Crescent dropping off him like pine-needles from a Christmas Tree.
"Wrong way, right way, any bloody way." Bodie had a glint in his eye but he sounded weary. Suddenly, rather desperately weary. "It's cold in here, Ray. Bin cold for ten bleeding days. Nothing doing over there, and Dearing on my back all the time. And we didn't get Christmas dinner."
"I had a blinding one," Doyle said, taking a turn round the big, uneven flagstones. The kitchen was distinctly chilly, except when you got up close to the Aga.
"Can you imagine," Bodie went on, appearing to hardly hear him. "Half a pint of rancid milk to toast the new year."
"Stop moaning," said Doyle, getting round the table to him. "What's behind that door?"
Bodie looked pained. "That's the pantry," he said.
"The pantry?" Doyle squinted out of the window. He could see Dearing walking away from the farmhouse towards the trees at the top of the ridge. Probably going to complain to Cowley. "What happens in a pantry?" He lifted the latch and pushed open the thick door on to a small room down two steps, shelved on one side, solid wall on the other. The only light source came from a little grate high up at the end, which was nearly covered up. He stepped down into the freezing dark. "Well, well, well," he said, and felt Bodie appear at his shoulder.
"What's so interesting?"
"You are," Doyle said, seizing a handful of khaki shirt and pulling sharply. Bodie toppled down the steps towards him and Doyle shut the door, plunging them into black.
Doyle got his hands inside the sheepskin and tugged at the back of the khaki. He was searching for some skin, and he found it under two layers of cotton.
"Cold," muttered Bodie.
"Layers," Doyle muttered back. Then he felt vertebrae, smooth back muscle. Two dimples, the hard centre of Bodie's coccyx. The beard felt less scratchy than he had thought, even quite soft. Bodie's stance was languid and unresponsive, but Doyle could still feel the pulse of desire beating in his own throat as his teeth bit gently down over Bodie's cool, bottom lip. It was a signature gesture, possessive.
Doyle tracked hands round his waist, fanned them out up the chest wall, heard Bodie's breathing go a little ragged. How many of his favourite places could he reach in two or three minutes? Not many, not with with Bodie going all ragdoll on him.
"Missed you," Bodie's voice came out of the dark.
Doyle's hands stopped. He wondered if he was reading too much into the sound of that voice and if it would have sounded as plaintive if Bodie were actually looking him in the eye at that point.
His lips made contact with an eyebrow. Letting his cheek slide down through the unfamiliar bristle he found Bodie's mouth and locked on to it. In the dark, Bodie was not Bodie. He let himself be kissed.
Doyle got back to the skin again, which was coming out in goosebumps now from the draught pouring through the grate, pulled him closer and at last felt hands slide up over his shoulders, hanging on. The hard points of Bodie's fingertips crept up his neck They rambled through his hair, pressing into his skull, the signal for Doyle to continue. Signs and signals had always been at the heart of it, and even now when necessary they could function on a mix of gesture and expression alone.
When the sound of muffled, crunching footsteps reached them through the little space high above their heads, it was like being disturbed out of a sensory dream.
"Shit," Doyle said, breaking away into harsh reality. "You've got to go."
"We think they've got an RPG," Bodie said sharply and his hand plunked flat on to Doyle's chest. "They're not messing about up there. So concentrate."
"You telling me how to do my job?" Doyle asked, irritated. He could never cope with Bodie's ability to switch in a flash from one state of being to another.
As he was being shoved backwards up the steps, Doyle reached a hand behind and scrabbled for the latch. He was sitting properly at the rickety kitchen table when the backdoor opened and Dearing held it wide for the Chief of CI5 to step in.
Cowley was rubbing his hands, smirking slightly as he looked around. There was half a loaf of Mother's Pride and a curl of butter on the dresser. A big, chipped teapot stood in the centre of the table. Someone's thermal socks were hanging over the rail of the Aga.
"Well, Doyle, what do you think?" he asked, highly pleased with the spartan conditions.
"Oh very nice, sir. Almost a home from home."
Bodie appeared then, his brows hanging grimly over his eyes. He had nipped up to the little room where the telescope was set, just to make sure they hadn't gone and missed something important.
"All quiet, 3.7?"
"As an abandoned abattoir, sir."
"You've shown Doyle the ropes?"
One eyebrow quirked up. "Oh yes. He's done a bit of exploring ... you know, had a bit of a rummage around."
"Good. Well, I'll leave you to it, then, for the moment. Who's coming with me now?"
"Not me," Bodie said, just a beat too quickly for it to sound casual. "I'll wait for Barton. You go, John."
Dearing was the type to be suspicious of generosity, especially when offered by Bodie. Nevertheless he couldn't help but look pleased.
"Will do, then. Ta. I'll get my gear."
As he disappeared off into the back room, Cowley regarded his two crack operatives with an interest both professional and paternal. Doyle had a bit of a bloom back in his cheeks again after a few days of home cooking and adoration down in the peaks, which had been the aim. In fact, he was looking positively flushed with .... something. Bodie's Italian fisherman, on the other hand, was looking like he'd been on the wrong end of a squall of filthy weather in the Adriatic. Cowley pulled at his coat pocket and extracted a small flask.
"Here," he said. "A wee dram ... to keep the wolf from the door."
"Well," said Bodie, that incongruous sunflash of a smile arriving, "I don't normally drink before breakfast, but as it's a special occasion." He produced a tea-cup from the leaning dresser and held it out. Cowley emptied the flask, which made them exchange a look, and motioned to Bodie to go ahead.
"I've another in the car," he said drily as they drained the cup between them.
By the time Dearing re-appeared with his sleeping-bag and rucksack, the flask was back in his pocket and Bodie was whistling as he rinsed the cup in the big, yellow-stained Belfast sink.
"Bye, Dearie," he couldn't help saying.
Dearing did not even flinch. He sent a meaningful look Cowley's way and exited.
"Stay in touch," Cowley said before following him. "I want to know as soon as there's movement. And you don't do anything until I give the order." He turned at the door. "And Bodie ...."
"When I next see you in the squad room, I don't want to be seeing your facial furniture as well." His eyes flicked to Doyle. "And for your information, Doyle, it's not a real beard unless it's red and curly." And the door shut.
"Well here we are ... a nice cosy farmhouse ... just the two of us ... ", Bodie murmured. He came over without even a glance out of the window and planted a big kiss on Doyle's lips. "So, " he said, licking at the whisky taste that was left behind, "jumping me in the pantry ... that your way of saying sorry for nearly breaking my neck?"
"'m not saying sorry for anything," Doyle replied at once, having to work hard to dampen down his immediate reaction to the kiss, which had started in his chest and travelled like a lightning bolt straight downwards.
Bodie's red-rimmed eyes stared at him. "Don't think I don't know what you're playing at, Ray," he said as he backed off. A thumb jerked upwards. "You can take morning watch. I'm going for a kip."
In the draughty silence of the surveillance point, Doyle watched and considered.
First he considered being back at work, being 4.5, who in theory could kill you as soon as look at you, instead of that arty-farty, snaggle-toothed Raymond Doyle at no. 26 that had peeled potatoes with his Mum while listening to the Archers.
"Oh dear," she'd sighed. "Who'd want to settle down with a sort-of special policeman?"
Across the valley the smoke plume seemed to get thicker. He briefly wondered if scumbags generally liked making toast around a roaring fire.
Then he considered that "Mr Brodie" had got so far under his skin and up his nose that he might as well be in his veins. Which was pretty bloody spiteful of him, seeing as how he himself was clearly going to give only so much. As for what he was supposed to be playing at .... well, that was a bit rich coming from the champion game-player himself. Where would he have been on Christmas Day if not sharing a bad-tempered surveillance op in a poxy limestone ruin? Doyle had no idea, although it had been made plain to him where he wouldn't be.
I don't play happy families. I don't play it with mine, wherever the fuck they are, and I'm not going to play it with yours.
Luckily, Cowley had solved that particular argument by deciding to whisk him off on this operation while stamping a big, red APPROVAL on Doyle's request for leave form.
Downstairs a door creaked and boots thumped on the flagstones. Doyle told himself not to be distracted and continued to stare through the lens. Just for a split second, a sound like fireworks exploding far away did not quite register. He clamped a second hand on the telescope to steady it.
"Something!" he bellowed helpfully.
"What?" Bodie demanded from the bottom of the stairs.
"Sounds like a firefight ..." Doyle looked away from the lens for a second as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing. Then he bent his head again. "Fuck me, the whole place is shaking."
He waited for reaction from downstairs but only heard feet, and then hinges creaking. His head popped back from the lens again and he stood straight. "Bodie!"
Bodie appeared below him on the courtyard, coatless, gun in hand.
Had ten days in the wilderness addled his mind, or what? Doyle threw open the window.
"What the hell are you doing?"
Bodie looked back. "Just going to suss it out," he said. "I haven't sat on my arse all this time to do fuck-all when something happens. They could be destroying the lot, or shooting up some fucking farmer for all we know. You can tell Cowley I'm not going to do anything stupid."
"Bodie ..." Doyle warned.
Bodie turned to face him, a touch of Shotgun Tommy in his eyes, took a little backwards step, held out his hands in grinning supplication, and then went.
"Bodie!" Doyle screeched. He nearly tipped up the bloody telescope as he reversed out of the room.
Down in the kitchen he snatched at the R/T, peering out the window as the khaki-clad figure skimmed into the trees. The shirt was still hanging out of his trousers from earlier.
"4.5 ... Alpha, come in ..."
The R/T crackled for a bit in that way that usually meant no-one was going to reply. In this case it meant that the airwaves were full of snow. Doyle tried again.
"Inter ..gunfire ...tar ...prem ..." was what Cowley and Barton heard from the car some three miles away.
"...minutes ... with ... off until .. you ... that, over?" came back at him.
Doyle's thumb hovered over the transmit button, then he dumped the set on the table. Did the old man seriously think he'd hold off while Bodie was charging over there like a crazed shepherd looking for a gang of dangerous sheep? Cowley crackled and crackled, in vain.
The sky was full. Doyle could feel it as he set off across the courtyard, jumped a ditch, crashed through some undergrowth and then vaulted a wall, ending up at the bottom of the steep fields that separated Wakefield Farm from the abattoir. Bodie was about one full field ahead, moving very fast, unhindered by any outerwear. He plunged down a ridge, disappeared into a shadowy plash of copse, Doyle thundering behind in the tracks he had left. There had been a lull in the gunfire, but now it suddenly started up again. There was the sound of glass shattering, the unmistakeable vibration of sub-machinegun chatter, no longer coming just from inside.
Abruptly there was a figure on the rise just above Bodie, gun held aloft. A shot took it down almost as soon as it appeared, and then another one flared out from the buildings. A small white explosion erupted around Bodie's feet, taking him off balance. Doyle couldn't tell if he was hit, but he saw him go backwards into the hardly-visible roll of barbed wire. And then, being Bodie, he tried to get up again.
Doyle knew it would draw fire but he shouted anyway. Even if Bodie heard the exhortations not to move, he ignored them, heaving himself fiercely one way and then the other, winding himself still further in the coils. Either common sense or pain finally kicked in and he toppled down in a heap, still. Doyle blundered into the trees, arms up, thrashing the undergrowth and small branches aside. There was no path in there and Bodie had clearly done one of his Apache jobs because there was no sign of the way he had come. When Doyle got out to the bushes and came to a halt under the hawthorn he saw that the figure in the wire had not moved. Another body lay further up the field and Doyle did what he was supposed to do for the time being. He maintained cover.
The snowfall had started by then, but at least, Doyle thought, it would maybe have the effect of obscuring them from plain view of the crazy people still showering bullets around. However, when he put a foot out of the hawthorn it prompted a wild warning volley, making him jump backwards. So he let more precious time tick by, time for the snow to gather in a layer across the quiet figure.
When he finally got to Bodie he lay there motionless for a while, hand still on the lax wrist. Raising his head only slightly a bullet whined past his ear and ploughed into the ground.
"Keep - fucking - still," a crotchety voice breathed out close by.
"You keep still," Doyle replied, lowering his chin back into the snow, blinking flakes off his eyelashes.
"Can't - fucking - move," the voice came back. It was a clenched-teeth voice. Doyle would have been happy enough for that to have been a sign of real anger. But he knew it wasn't.
"Bit c-cold," Bodie tremored. "'f'you get my drift ... dud-dud-d'you hear that? .... if you get my ..."
"I get it," Doyle said. "Should have worn your coat."
"You dud-don't say."
"You're not hit then?"
Just a grunt in reply. Then, "H-hope you brought .. your w-w-wirecutters."
"Course," said Doyle. "And a flask of tea."
Doyle swiftly translated. "Dunno," he said. "Maybe they went stir crazy."
He lifted his head again but this time nothing. The light had faded quickly and the snow was falling thick and steady, swallowing up sound.
"I'm going to check on the geezer you took out," he said, and rose cautiously up on to his knees. As he moved he registered how stiff the cold had already made him, how hard it was to see anything. The man up the field was dead, and Doyle had enough about him to realise the shot that killed him had been fired from behind and therefore was not from Bodie's gun. Thoughts ticked through his mind as he negotiated his way back, none of them helpful.
He cursed Michael Fish for standing in front of his map wafting a snowflake symbol gently around in his hand when he should have been yelling "Blizzard! Blizzard!"
Most of all, when he found Bodie again, wrapped into himself not hearing, not speaking, he cursed the fact that today was January 3rd. Of all days to choose.
In one of the parka pockets he found a glove. In another his Stanley knife. Hunched over to keep the driving snow out of his face Doyle rejected the corkscrew, the thing to get stones out of horses' hooves and the nail file. The scissors pinged open on their flimsy spring mechanism. Blinking furiously he manoevered a barely-functioning forefinger and thumb into the little metal holes.
"Don't go to sleep!" he yapped in Bodie's ear. "Here, this'll keep you awake." And with a quick intake of breath he snapped the scissors round a barb and pulled. There was an accompanying exhalation. Not dead yet, then. Blood appeared. Doyle held the stiff wire away with his gloved hand, spitting snowflakes out of his mouth, blinking, feeling dizzy.
After a couple more yanks of the pesky little scissors, Doyle had stopped worrying about the damage the barbs were doing, either to Bodie or to the fingers of his ungloved hand, and was worrying about them being buried if they were exposed out here much longer. What was it Bodie said you had to do if you got caught in an avalanche? Dribble, that was it. When you stop moving, dribble, or you'll never work out which way to dig. The bugger was full of useful survival tips. Shame he couldn't hack it in the real world. Doyle began to drag at the prone body, feeling the resistance as the remaining barbs dug in.
First you throw me downstairs ....
Then you rip holes in me ....
And you wonder why I have a commitment problem?
Doyle laboured backwards, pulling the inert body by one arm.
There was a ditch at the edge of the copse, overhung by laden branches and they more or less fell into it. Doyle wanted to move further but his limbs were seizing up. Trying to cover every part of Bodie that he could, he knew he must not think back to the feel of another heart beating to a halt on a cold January day and the words he never got to say. No use either spending time thinking of what to say later because the here and now was what mattered. Keeping him warm. A simple thing.
Doyle drew the body tightly into him, just like he had done before, in the darkness of the pantry, when ... yes ... it had been the next move in the game, turning the tables on Bodie because of that thing he did. That thing that made Doyle throw him down the stairs. The making the running thing, imposing his physical presence and then pulling back in sudden fright like a jumper at Beecher's Brook, leaving Doyle submerged and confused. He did it for a reason of course. Fucked-up fuck. Doyle hugged him. There was really no response this time, no matter how much he pressed his knees around the back of Bodie's thighs, or how urgently he rubbed the bearded jaw under his neck, whispering into his ear, "Stay awake, fucking stay ... don't do this to me today, you complete and utter bastard .....you complete and utter ...."
"Bastard," grumbled Bodie faintly.
Things came and went.
Fully aware that his well-documented reckless streak had got the better of him again, Bodie could only clutch at all the other weird half-thoughts that floated into his senses. The vague guess that something unexpected and violent had happened, for example. The peculiar idea that Doyle was hacking at him with something sharp.
Christ alive, I know you're cheesed off with me, Raymond, but isn't this taking things a bit far?
He had only become aware of the cold for a little bit, that short period when Doyle was prattling nearby. Surprised that he could sink into this morass of sleepy half-consciousness so quickly he had formed a few words. In and out came Ray's voice at once angry and pleading.
Of all days to choose.
Bodie thought his head was bouncing. Thought his arm was trapped. Felt the weight on him, the warm, protective weight. It hurt. And the tingling hurt, which began about the same time as the light pressing on his eyelids, the sound of scraping on stone. A burning sensation was what finally dragged him into a state near awake. All over him, little points of burning, on his arms, his shoulders, his chest. Putting everything together he felt truly awful, truly fucking awful, and ready to fight.
"Oh no you don't," said Ray's voice, near but not very near. "You just settle down."
Being told wasn't enough to make him do it. It was never enough.
"Bloody hell, Bodie, you silly sod ... let me .... OK, OK .... sorry .... there, that what you want? Sorry. Oh shit, here you go .... no, it's alright, it's alright. Come here."
He was shivering, all of a sudden. Tingling and burning and shivering so that his limbs were out of his own control. And then he was done up like a kipper, wrapped in fusty, scratchy blankets, every fibre of which he could feel, with Ray's arms locked around that. His shirt had been flayed off him like a layer of skin and it felt like every fucking barb of wire was still in him.
"You know, my Dad died of the cold. Well .... turns out he had a dodgy heart. But he keeled over in the back garden, in the snow. 'd I ever tell you? ..... I was the only one at home. Saw him go down. Sat with him until the ambulance came. Fifteen years ago today. Always thought he was tough as old boots, me Dad."
Bodie felt himself going away again, unable to keep his attention on the voice. It was frustrating because he suddenly so wanted to say something useful, something sweet and comforting and when it came back again he realised how much he loved it. The realisation was a thing of the moment, superceding everything from three weeks ago. Its owner forced the rim of a cup between his teeth, dripping salty hot liquid past his lips.
"Cup-a-soup," it soothed. "Mmmm, lovely. My favourite. Beef and tomato, drink it up."
Bodie tried to laugh. It was a feeble gurgle that rattled in his throat making his eyes water, and he clutched at the fuzzy-edged shape next to him. It wasn't quite like the best of times, when they were rolled up under the sheets together, preferably at Doyle's, skin to skin, Ray sinking into his post-coital doze, the thumping of their hearts still pounding in their ears. Even through the blankets Ray felt even closer than that now.
When next he heard the voice it made no sense to him at all.
"Yes, well he's not going in it with two corpses ... Mister Cowley."
Bodie opened his eyes. He was lying on the camp bed. He felt as bad as he had ever done except that he was not shivering anymore. In all honesty he could not say that he was warm, but he knew now he was in the side room at Wakefield Farm, there was a pale, stuttering lamplight and Raymond was cross about something. Again. He was standing with his back to the campbed, in the doorway, legs planted apart in the aggressive stance of a bear standing guard at a cavemouth. There was some growling going on between him and some other bear outside. Bodie opened his mouth to ask a question but found that his jaw was wandering about. His attempt at speech caused Doyle to whip around and leave his position, grasping a straying hand and replacing it under the blanket. When the hand looped its way out again he got that sparky, don't-cross-me look in his eyes.
"It's dead simple," he said. "You're not going in that fucking blood wagon."
Bodie's eyes trickled down to where Doyle still held on to his hand under the blanket.
"OK," he tried to say, more to keep Raymond calm than because he agreed. He couldn't really agree, because he had no idea what he was on about. But he knew he didn't want the hand to go.
A shadow appeared in the doorway of the cave. Bodie tried to make his eyes see right, but there was no getting away from it. George Cowley, with big, furry ears.
OK, I'll commit, I'll commit! Just don't let him get me!
Doyle looked up at the intense gaze coming from under the furry-flapped hat and made to snatch his hand away, but Bodie just slammed his eyes shut and hung on for grim death.
"Well now I know you're not dying anymore," Doyle said, grim death having slunk away a few hours ago, leaving Bodie more shipwrecked than ever. The cold had sucked the smooth tone out of his skin and he looked grey and blotchy. "I ought to tell you what I bloody think of you."
Carlisle General Hospital clanked around them in all its Victorian grimness. Once Doyle had won the battle over how to transport Bodie away from the farm, now cut off completely from the lane, they had waited for a signal that another car had got through as far as the ridge. Then he and Mister Cowley, vaguely sulky at having lost, carried him. Peeled away from his blankets and the clasp of Doyle's fingers, Bodie got agitated. Not to mention cold. And he went downhill so fast from there that Doyle was still twitchy from the waves of panic.
Wakefield Farm had been left looking as if a load of antisocial backpackers had crowded through, and up at the abattoir ... two dead bodies for the coroner's wagon, one of whom they couldn't even identify. With two dead and one in custody, Kamal Berthoult's splinter group had apparently imploded before the man himself got there to survey his spoils. Cowley insisted that he was satisfied with the spoils -- heavy-duty, grown-up hardware that would not now fall into malign hands -- maintaining that they would pick up another lead to Berthoult sooner or later. He got a full report from the consultant, handed down two weeks' sick leave and then briskly stated his intention to get on an Intercity 125 to Edinburgh.
"Think he's got a secret lover?"
Bodie's outrageously curled lashes lifted a little at that and then dropped. Doyle's heart heaved. He shifted in the metal chair, the legs scraping across the floor.
A rubbish way to begin the new year. An abortive operation, which he knew from experience always produced unwanted fallout. A reproachful household in Briarfield Crescent, about which he could say the same thing. An anniversary unmarked, which made for a heavy feeling of guilt. And a Bodie too far gone to even raise an eyebrow at Miss Whiplash who was masquerading as the staff nurse on night duty.
"How was Cumberland, love?" his Mum asked down the phone at the end of the corridor.
"Cold," Doyle said, his head bent towards the wall.
"Oh. The job went alright then, did it?"
Doyle regarded the scabby cuts on the fingertips of the hand that hadn't been in a glove. "Well, you know ..." Shit, no, you don't know. "Oh, it was fine. Listen, about Dad's anniversary ..."
"Never mind that, love. Doesn't matter. Long as you're all right."
"Yeah I'm all right."
"And Mr Brodie?"
Doyle opened his mouth and found the words were more or less stuck. "He's fine. He's ..."
Uh ... well, he's the story of my life actually.
The pips went and he put the receiver back on its cradle. His Mum must have heard that sound a thousand times.
"I'll tell you what I bloody think of you," Doyle carried on when he slithered back into the chair. "You ... really ... " His fists clenched. At school they told him he was articulate. "You're ... oh bloody hell, Bodie. Where are we going with this?" Since Bodie was in no position to wound Doyle with something cruel from his considerable stockpile, the question hung where it was. "See, it didn't seem like a good idea ... but I can't help ..... fuck. That's the trouble isn't it. I can't bleeding well rely on you for anything. Not even to tell me I'm making a pillock of myself."
"It's really time for you to go," a starchy voice cut in. "Visiting hours don't begin until ten o'clock in the morning."
Doyle sat on his compulsion to tell Miss Whiplash to shove off. She had poked her white-capped head through the curtains. Red lips, black hair and black stockings. Flaring nostrils. Quite sexy, if Doyle could have been bothered to find such things sexy anymore. He looked up at her speechlessly and something about his expression made her retreat.
"It's OK," Doyle said, unable to stop himself pulling up the sheet a little further even though it was cloyingly warm. "I'm not going anywhere. I've got a gun and I'm not afraid to use it."
"Ha," answered Bodie, going for eyelids up again.
"'Ello, you back with me then?"
"Dunno. You back with me?"
Don't play games now, Bodie. Not now.
"Cheer up," Bodie croaked, looking suspiciously around the dim little cavern created by the drawn curtains. "It'll be different next year."
"Next year?" Doyle asked stupidly, jamming a finger to his lips, although mainly to shut himself up since Bodie's voice was a mere whisper.
"Yeah. You know. Christmas. New Year. Your Dad's anniversary." Bodie shifted in the bed, frowning. His tone was earnest. "We'll make a thing of it."
Short on speech, and bereft of actions as it was, Doyle felt Bodie's version of commitment hit him right between the eyes. He believed in it immediately.
Temporarily leaving behind the contingent of feverish small children and drunks with head wounds, Staff Nurse Wilson took a moment to readjust her cap before Sister did her round, and applied another slash of lipstick. It was almost certainly a futile gesture. The tall man still waiting with his friend had given her a right old glare a while ago. In no way had he suggested that he had noticed, even for a second, how her eyes had travelled longingly up and down him as he slouched up the corridor. He was a dish, that was what he was. A right dish. But obviously didn't have a thing for nurses.
He'd arrived in a car with his beardy, hypothermic mate and a limping Scotsman, a mismatched trio of men with soaked clothing and flinty eyes. They talked in low tones, keeping their words between themselves. And then he'd taken up position behind the curtains while they waited for a bed to become available on the ward.
Wondering if he'd finally got tired and left, Staff Nurse Wilson did another foray.
He was still there, shuffling his lovely bony bum on the seat, leaning one arm around the back of the pillow. And his mate was properly awake now.
"You called me love," Beardy was saying.
"You did. I heard you."
"I called you a complete and utter bastard. The cold must have affected your hearing, mate."
The tall man clicked his tongue.
"You know, we could give this game up, become polar explorers."
"'m allergic to penguins."
There was a distinct double snigger. The tall man extracted his hand from behind the pillow and paddled his fingers wonderingly in the beard, then he let the hand rest and they both remained very still. She could not see the look between them but she saw the bearded man tugging the other's head towards him with an end of tartan scarf and so she let the curtain fall back into place.
Bodie invented his own signature gesture then, and it seemed to work.
"Ray," said the bearded man's voice into the ensuing silence. "You're making a pillock of yourself."
-- THE END --