"I'm free!" carolled Bodie, appearing from behind the door. He grabbed his startled partner and gave him two smacking kisses, which left Ray Doyle, though he didn't know it, with one bright lipstick oval on each cheek.
Doyle brushed Bodie off, cackling, and stood back to admire him for a moment: Bodie was decked out in the full regalia of a pantomime dame, black wig, hooped crimson skirt, garish make-up, eyelashes six inches long wafting up and down like a punkah-wallah, and a very large bustière.
Doyle had to laugh. Bodie was so superbly incongruous and so happy as he gave Doyle a twirl, the better to admire his red and white spotted bloomers. Then his eye roamed over Doyle critically.
"Couldn't you think of anything else, Ray? You had that one last time."
"Only one left in the shop," Doyle retorted, strutting in, resplendent in small gold loin cloth and jungle sandals.
"You think you look good in it, you mean," Bodie said amused: old Ray liked to get his kit off, bare his nipples to the world, and if you were shaped like he was you probably would, too.
Opening the door to the kitchen-through diner-through-lounge let out a pulsating wall of noise. You might be daunted if you were of a sensitive nature: Cowley's top agent kept on walking, right through to where fifty people or more milled about in various peculiar costumes and a haze of smoke hung in the air. The steady beat of music thumped on and on. Doyle shouldered his way between the Knave of Hearts, a mummy trailing bandages and a headless camel to get to the bar, where he helped himself to a large Scotch and some melting ice cubes fished from a glass bowl.
"Did you bring me a present?" Bodie asked in his ear, and Doyle turned around and regarded him with smoky green eyes.
"Oh, thanks," Bodie scoffed, unsurprised. "Only me birthday, innit?" He watched Doyle take one swallow, his eyes closing as the Scotch hit home, taking another slowly. Dark chest hair dived between Ray's taut brown nipples almost to his belly button. "Should have a jewel in there, mate." Bodie jabbed it with a cruelly carmined fingernail.
"You're getting confused. This is Tarzan, not the Arabian Nights."
"Anyone give you a feel as you swung your way up the stairs?" Bodie asked, eyeing the brevity of the twisted cloth knotted around Doyle's hips.
"Only met a dog," was Doyle's response to that, and Bodie laughed, patted him kindly on the shoulder, and vanished into the crowd..
Doyle drifted for a while on the fringes of society, listening in to snatches of conversation here and there, acknowledging a few people; he was not in a party mood, had only come to please Bodie, whose evening would be spoilt if he did not turn up; but then again he was probably going to spoil it anyway before the night was out.
He wandered after a while through the last arch into the lounge area, where there was the latest trendy Knightsbridge accessory, a conversation pit. It was padded with black and gold stripey cushions, and perched above it was a white television on a swivelling stalk. The couple entwined to one side on the cushions seemed not to notice his arrival as he vaulted the back and took the seat opposite; he sprawled back, sipped his drink, and after a moment noticed that the television was showing a blue movie -- and not one Bodie would have been able to rent down the local corner shop, either.
The couple left soon afterwards, joined lips leading the way to Bodie's bedroom. Doyle kept his eyes fixed on the screen, taking sips from his glass from time to time. People blundered past behind him occasionally but soon gravitated back towards the drink and the food. It sounded like a great party, it was going with a swing. Good for Bodie. How old was he? Not thirty, surely. Twenty-nine? Four years older than Vickery, then. But then Vickery had joined the squad unusually young.
The cushions dipped and a very large flamboyant dame brandishing a whisky bottle dropped beside him in a flourish of skirts. It said in a deep voice, "How's my timing for a refill?"
He extended his glass. "Thanks. Make it a big one. Where'd you get this film, Bodie?"
Bodie winked one outrageously fringed eye. His wig had slipped a little to one side. "Fell off the back of a lorry, doncha know." His normal voice resumed. "Nah, Murph copped a load of 'em down Soho when he was waiting for Harry B., remember? Nice little earner for someone: Cowley took 'em in, but -- " Bodie sighed soulfully, " -- this one got lost on the way." He looked at Doyle, who was gulping back a hearty swallow of drink, eyes fixed all the while on the screen. Bodie's eyes followed his.
"Not gay, is it?" he asked.
"It's everything," Doyle answered. "Only thing hasn't put in an appearance is a donkey, and that can't be long."
Bodie's eyes were drawn down to the loincloth, which had lifted away from Doyle's flat belly like a silken tent erecting on the desert sands.
"But you like it," he observed.
"I wouldn't say like it," Doyle said tartly, and then he caught the drift of Bodie's blue-eyed gaze. "Yeah, well, that's just a natural reaction, innit? And that's just exactly why there'll always be a market for filth, Bodie."
"So long as Men are Men," Bodie intoned, and then he popped a hand onto Doyle's bare thigh, entering into the spirit of his own costume with relish: "A hard man is good to find, young Sir -- !"
"Geddoff." Doyle swatted at him half-heartedly, only sharpening up his defence when Bodie's large and capable hand actually wrapped itself around a handful of tautened loincloth. "Bodie -- !"
"Nothing's safe, is it, you old slapper, you?" came a new voice from behind. "You wanna watch her, young lad, she's been through the ranks and now she's after the officers."
Anders, fellow agent, acknowledging Doyle with a slap on the shoulder, while Bodie got an enthusiastic hug and a bottle: "How's young Vickery doing then, Ray? Hear you were down the ozzie earlier."
"Okay, " Doyle said. His voice was very quiet, and his eyes flicked back to the screen and stayed there.
"Cramp 'is style for a bit, won't it? An' him heading to be the brightest star in Cowley's heaven. Where'd the bastards get him?"
"Left lung, right ventricle."
"Go and get a drink, Anders," Bodie said, watching Doyle's fingers knead and pinch up the stripey fabric of the settee. "Got a bit of catching up to do in that department, haven't you?"
"Good idea, Widow Twankey. You look the business, man! -- the business!" and he rapped his knuckles on the pink plastic protuberances worn by his host, laughed loudly and crudely, and slipped away into the crowd.
Bodie stayed. His partner just sat there, legs apart, eyes fixed on the screen.
"Doyle?" Bodie queried quietly. You would have had to be watching with every fibre of attention not to miss the tiniest shake of Doyle's head, and thereby all the colour fled away from the day and left it grey.
"Oh christ." Bodie's head dropped back on the sofa; he sighed. "When?"
"Two hours ago," Doyle answered; he had not looked at Bodie yet but now he did, tilting his head that way. "I didn't want to spoil the party, you know?"
"It was quite quick. He didn't come round at all."
"How old was he?"
"25. Married. First kid due as we speak."
"God," Bodie said softly. "Life's a shit and then you die, eh?"
"That's about it... Even Cowley's cut up about this one."
Everyone had liked Steve Vickery. Young, enthusiastic, gifted. Now dead.
For a few moments their eyes dwelled together on the screen where various human beings celebrated the fact of being alive in the most direct way possible. But after a while Doyle sighed, slapped Bodie on the thigh. Beneath the fabric of the skirt the knobs of suspenders bumped against his palm. "Better go and circulate, mate -- it's gonna look odd otherwise."
"You gonna be okay?"
"Yeah, fine. Nothing that hasn't happened before, is it?"
Bodie's rouged and embellished face stared into his, oddly enough not unattractive, a very handsome woman, you might say. Twin fluorescent earrings in the shape of cherries dangled beneath his ears; his pale skin was gilded with cosmetics. Yet looking out at Doyle from this stranger's face were the eyes of the man he knew better than anyone. Bizarre. He didn't know if he liked the way it made him feel, but it was better than other things waiting in the wings for him to feel. Exciting, in a way. Rather wicked.
He lifted a hand to brush some loose strands of coarse black hair away from Bodie's face; it worried him, the way it kept draping itself where it did not belong. "I'm okay, Bodie, you don't have to hang around. I'm not about to top meself or anything. Just -- not in the mood to mix and be merry, all right?"
"Stay on when they've all gone," Bodie said, brow creased, "Have a drink with me."
"Okay," Doyle said. "Of course I will," and there was a silence. He looked at Bodie a moment longer. "You'll have to take the costume off, though, Bodie, you're starting to look too good to me."
"Ooh," Bodie camped, "I should be so lucky," and he minced his way off through to the next room.
The film had finished, grainy lines and a hiss of static coming from the TV. Doyle looked around for the remote, couldn't find it. In the next room he could just see Bodie's dark head and bouncing cherry earrings next to a mop of red curls -- Jennie Allen from the office. Be a nice birthday present for Bodie, that, Doyle reflected, getting up and kneeling to attend to the video. Good luck to you, mate. Wouldn't hurt her, would it, to impart a bit of feel-good factor to Bodie on his birthday?
The film began to run again as he took his seat once more and he let himself sink down, sip his drink, get engrossed.
"What are you doing here all by yourself?"
He jumped, almost spilling his drink. Christ almighty, Nell Gwynn. AKA Jennie Allen herself, long red hair and a D-cup: ideal for the role. She was sinking gracefully onto the cushion next to him in a flurry of lacy petticoats. Never kick a gift horse in the mouth, didn't they say? His arm slid around her as the retort left him -- "Waitin' for you of course, darlin' -- " and his mind effortlessly supplied the exchange which must have taken place -
Do me a favour, Jen -- go and cheer up Ray for me, he's a bit low tonight -- delivered in Bodie's best beseeching tone, deep blue eyes beguiling her
Well, thank you, Bodie. He was highly amused by that. Greater love hath no man, than he lay down his bird for a friend.
He put his drink down with exaggerated care and turned towards her. "What have you been up to, 4.5? You've got lipstick on your face," she said, looking at him critically.
"That's Bodie's," he heard himself say, and laughed, cracking up. Then, "Ssh," he hushed her query with his finger, eyes flicking up as his attention was caught by the film, and her pretty nose wrinkled as she followed his gaze.
Which irritated him enough to make him pursue it: "Is it? Only natural, isn't it?"
"Just because it's natural doesn't mean we have to have it rammed down our throats, does it?" she said tartly, an unfortunate choice of metaphor which amused him hugely and he laughed, spluttering into his drink and almost choking, which earned him a very straight look; but he was just drunk enough not to care which way it went. It was Bodie who fancied her: he could take it or leave it. She let him kiss her, anyway, and cuddled close to him without too much reluctance, even though he had hardly anything on. Didn't delve into the loincloth, sadly, but then you couldn't expect that, after all. In your teenage years you could be dangerously misled by movies like this one: girl coming on hot and strong for it five seconds after you caught their eye -- Yeah, come to think of it, if Jennie'd read the script she should be wrenching down the cloth by now, eyes aglow, licking her lips at what she found within
This improbable image made him choke with laughter, pull away from the kiss, rub his nose, grinning. "What's the matter with you, 4.5.?" she asked, resigned, quite tolerant really; Cowley's agents ran on a taut, fast fuse, everybody knew that.
"Too much drink. Come here." He drew her nearer again and began to investigate the rounded tops of her breasts and the intriguing creamy plunge between them.
"Ray," she pushed him off, "Everyone'll see -- "
"No-one here to see. Unless the TV's two-way and there's a squad on eyeballs' peerin' through it -- "
A drenching thought if ever there was one. But he wasn't really in the mood anyway. Not for sex, not tonight, with all the courtesies and attention to another person which it would necessarily entail, now that Men were New and Women had Needs. He would have to work too hard at it, when all he knew he could manage for certain was a quick hard drive towards oblivion, all by himself, no room for passengers.
And by tomorrow a report of his performance would be all round the section. No thanks.
He kissed her again, had one last friendly feel around the Nell Gwynne bustline -- "You've done your duty, sweetheart. I'll remember you in me will. Off you go and play now, go on."
"Mm?" She lifted her head: eyes, a lighter blue than Bodie's, stared into his.
"That was -- " he paused, swallowed, feeling the sourness of alcohol rise in his throat -"lovely, darlin'. But it's one of those nights when I'm best left alone." He smiled, lip lifting, head tilting. "You can get me another drink while you're up." And he reached out for his glass, put it into her hands.
People came and went. Some sat by him and watched the film for a while. Some of these went swiftly into the bedroom thereafter; it must be getting full in there. The movie was on its third run-through by now: he was getting to know the plot really quite well, and it could be summed up in about a sentence.
Vickery should have been here tonight, though it would have been just a passing visit: for while his body lay bloodless on the self-draining mortuary slab his wife too lay in hospital with some problem of pregnancy (a closed book to Doyle), about to give birth to their first child.
First and last.
Wonder if he had a costume ready for tonight. Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen...
"How you doing, mate?"
Bodie again, on another visit. The wig slipping to one side and one of the earrings gone. He looked unusually flushed.
"Rough out there, is it?" Doyle asked sympathetically; he tipped his head back and looked up into Bodie's face. Bodie frowned down.
"You sure you're okay?"
"Bit of a headache. " He closed his eyes as Bodie's fingers brushed through his hair, probed his temples for the pressure point. "Oi, not too hard."
"That better?" A gentler touch, which his jangled nerves interpreted as more intimate than Bodie had probably intended it. He moved his head away, unsettled.
"Isn't it about time they were all going home?"
Bodie's hand dropped away; he looked out into the next room. "They're drifting away now. Drink's run out."
"An' who can blame it," Doyle said grimly, and then burst into a giggle, and Bodie laughed with him, and fed him more drink till the pain left him, floating away on a cloud. Then Bodie went and Doyle slipped into a troubled doze, huge aggressive bottles with long skinny legs in running shoes pounding past, heading angrily for the exit. Stevie Vickery's last breath and then stillness, the staring horror in his open eyes, the flat line on the monitor running on and on and on, the machine-screech of a pointless siren call for help -
He had jumped then, and he jumped now as the echo of it flashed through his dream-state but he did not really wake.
A chorus of Happy Birthday roused him at one point and he joined in loudly where he sat, pounding the cushion beside him for emphasis, hoping Bodie would hear his voice in the next room and know he was there.
And then he slept again, almost naked, head drooping to one side, glass dropping from one limp hand to the plush white carpet; the glass stayed intact as it rolled, then settled on its side. One or two brown drops slid quickly to the rim, crept over, slunk into the pile and vanished. Doyle slept on and did not dream.
Dipping, then bouncing... Doyle opened his eyes to see his partner flopping heavily into the place beside him. "A'right?" Doyle yawned, and dredged up a sleepy smile.
"Yeah, " Bodie said easily, bending forwards to a tray placed on the floor. "Mostly gone home now, just a few left passed out on the floor."
Bodie shrugged. "No worse than any I suppose... The bed's got someone on it, d'you mind staying in here? Not cold, anyhow."
Bodie was pouring a very expensive brandy into two balloon glasses from a dark and elegant bottle. "This one didn't run out then?" Doyle commented with a small grin, reaching out, taking the glass, rolling it in his palm the way you were supposed to.
"I chained it down. It struggled, but -- "
Made him smile, anyway. Bodie could always make him smile, even at the most inappropriate moments. Defusing bombs, after shootouts while people lay around them dead, in Cowley's office with the old man in a strop: Bodie's black wit would whip out wickedly and crease him up. The TV had gone static again. "Run the film, Bodie. You'll like it."
Bodie reached out to press the buttons. "Will I?"
"Yeah, it's got its moments. Cheers. Happy Birthday."
"Hardly, is it?" Bodie said unsmiling, but he raised his glass, knocked it firmly against Doyle's and took a swallow of his brandy.
Doyle swilled it around in his mouth, grimacing. "Mmm... good, this, innit? Nah, but life goes on. Don't think about it any more tonight."
And that really was the only way. Carry on, don't think about it: after all, it wasn't as if it could ever happen to you.
Doyle shifted around, lifting his legs up onto the settee, ran a hand down his chest, sipped at his brandy and looked across at Bodie, who was at that moment engrossed in the film; the wig was off, leaving his hair unusually tousled, both false eyelashes gone (but then Bodie's own were hardly less black or less silky): one cherry earring remained, gypsy-style, lips perhaps a little redder than lifelike. He looked a little like a black-and-white photograph, tinted prettily with an afterthought of artificial colour as they used to do before the advent of polychrome. The costume had gone; back on its hanger, presumably, ready to be returned to the hire shop in the morning. Now Bodie wore an old black T-shirt and boxer shorts: it was a hot night.
Even so, Doyle shivered, skin bare to the midnight air.
Bodie noticed: "Cold? I'll get a couple of blankets," but he didn't move, eyes returning to the screen. Doyle kicked off his sandals and put his bare feet into Bodie's lap. Bodie looked down at them.
"Didn't paint your toenails this time," he observed.
"Had a rush to get 'ere." He passed on from that quickly: "Thanks for sending me Jennie."
Bodie twisted his head to look at him. "How'd you get on?" Mildly curious.
"She was okay. Sweet. Did her best, but -- " He shrugged. "I dunno, I just wasn't in the mood."
"Funny," Bodie said wryly, and inclined his head towards the TV without looking at it, "I got the feeling that you were."
"Yeah, well. I must be getting old. Sometimes it's just too much trouble -- you know?"
"Yeh. I know."
There was silence for a little while. Bodie watched the film; Doyle watched Bodie.
"You looked good tonight," he said quietly.
Bodie's expressive mouth drooped. "As a dame -- ?"
"Yeah," Doyle said, and then a little crease of amusement appeared in his cheek. "Hey, maybe it's time to start worrying about meseif, d'you think? When my partner in drag looks better to me than Nell Gwynn."
"You didn't tell her that, did you?" Bodie said with a crooked little grin, and they laughed for a moment together. "Want some more of this -- ?" he waggled the bottle, but Doyle shook his head.
"I'd say I'd had enough, wouldn't you?" He shook his head, slapped himself on the belly, tutting. "If Cowley knew what I just said -- 's probably a sacking offence, innit?"
"What is?" Bodie asked, his voice dark, deep, easy.
"Wishing you were a woman." His eyes opened wide and dwelt on Bodie.
Bodie took his time, had a drink, rolling his brandy glass around in his hands and looking at it. "D'you mean you wish I was a woman? Or wish you were?"
To hell with it. "Either of us." God, he must be drunk. Might make Bodie's birthday a night to remember, all right, but not, perhaps, for the right reasons.
On the other hand, there were other, crueller things abroad to shadow this birthday of Bodie's... a little drunken flirtation in the dead of the night seemed nothing beside it. Tonight he did not have the resources to take on a stranger; but this was only Bodie, and Bodie could look after himself. Would tell him to shut up, go to sleep, if he was talking nonsense, which he probably was. He dug his toes into the bare muscle of Bodie's thigh, stretched out to arch his whole body, flung his arms above his head, and yawned: "Don't remind me about this in the morning, will you?"
"I won't," Bodie said, and looked him over, the near-naked body sprawling over his, scrawny sprinter's muscles, shallow navel so unlike the deep crease of a woman's: such an intimate sight, that peculiar little knot of skin there on view on the surface of the flat belly; and then dark hair travelling down the centre of his body and disappearing into the twist of cloth about his loins. The general pose not so much Tarzan, more -- Jesus of Nazareth. After crucifixion.
Oh, it was one of those nights, all right, drink and talk and tragedy all whirling around in his mind, but a certain strange opportunity seemed to be in the air: Doyle's toenails dug cruelly into the soft skin of his inner thigh, and Bodie said, frowning, "In fact -- "
Doyle looked at him, heavy-lidded, drowsy-eyed, waiting.
" -- I won't remind you about this, either." And Bodie shoved Doyle's feet gently off his lap and knelt upon the floor, hands upon his own thighs, looking up.
Fighting to focus, Doyle looked into depths of midnight blue and lost himself; brandy-scented breath brushed his cheek, followed by Bodie's fingertip, tracing the outline of his lips: and then came Bodie's mouth, settling over his, kissing him once, perfectly gentle.
Do I really want to do this? Doyle shut his eyes, and opened his mouth. Bodie immediately moved in closer, taking advantage of that; the kiss became real.
Bodie's tongue lazily caressed his and lit him up like a circuit, power flitting from nerve to nerve, waking up, ready for the countdown. On fire with it, Doyle slipped a demanding arm around the man kissing him, taking his hand and pressing it down to his chest, closing the strong fingers around his nipple then leaving him to toy with it any way he wished. Bodie's mouth tasted of lipstick, his skin still smelt lightly of cosmetics, much as a woman's might; perhaps that was why this seemed as natural as anything he ever did.
But the arms closing around him were strong, constricting; if he didn't throw them off he was helpless, but helpless, for once, seemed to be exactly what he wanted to be. Bodie was here, there was nothing to worry about and nothing he needed to fight. He gave a sigh and relaxed, slumping against the cushions of the sofa, compliant and exposed.
Looking at him, Bodie felt strangely wounded, fit to die of whatever this sickness was. Doyle was so tense tonight, worryingly strung-out; the look of him earlier had stabbed at Bodie's heart like a thorn. Those strange eyes, dwelling inwards on some intimations of mortality; the way he had looked when Anders -
He had wanted so much to take that look away. Anything. He would do anything it took. From the simple comfort of a kiss on to -- whatever.
He fondled each nipple in turn, softly, thoroughly, pinching it into a peak: Doyle sighed and arched his back. Bodie leaned forwards, brushed Doyle's ear with the merest whisper -"Let me bring you off, Ray?"
Doyle's eyes came hazily open and he looked at him, a velvety, secretive whisper leaving him: "What did you say -- ?"
Bodie looked into his eyes, took hold of his hand, and whispered clearly: "Shall I make you come?"
Doyle turned the hand in his and pressed it right over his heart, pleasure-seeking. Bodie's fingers immediately began to stroke his nipple again, circling, pressing, teasing gently. The smile that shaped Doyle's mouth as he looked down made Bodie's heart stop, then surge; and Doyle said to him softly, deeply: "Shouldn't encourage me really, should you?"
Bodie rested his cheek against Doyle's for a brief moment, nuzzling him, feeling the rasp of Doyle's chin against his own girl-smooth one. "You need it..."
"Do I?" Doyle sighed; he closed his eyes again, but one hand reached out to find and then settle on Bodie's hair, twisting it around and around his fingers.
Bodie moved his head under the gentle caress, and spoke from the absolute heart of himself: "I worry about you. Take it all so hard, don't you?"
"You're so sweet when you're drunk, Bodie."
"Yes," Bodie whispered, "and so are you," and he kissed his mouth again, tongue sweetly teasing, delicate and thrilling. His hand followed the line of hair from nipple to belly, smoothing it down in its course; then his fingers reached for the knot of the ridiculous loincloth and began to work it free.
Doyle's eyes came open at the intimacy; he stared out across the room, up at the film where people pranced and postured and formed peculiar shapes with one another. The touch of Bodie's fingertips was sweet...
And as he leaned back and pressed himself into Bodie's hand he knew he was a long, long way away from the world, fatigue and alcohol swimming through his brain and lifting him out of reality: but not so far out that he did not sense that there was trouble waiting in the wings, that bran for breakfast and a whole fleet of Hail Marys wasn't going to sort this one. But it was, it seemed, the sweetest of sins... He sighed, and let his gaze drift on the TV as Bodie jerked him off swiftly, and Bodie's lips touched his cheek as he whispered to him warmly, intimately, definitely leading him on: "Is that what you'd like me to do, Ray? To you?"
It threw him like a switch, lashes sweeping down as he came, sweet honey-fire in his loins bursting upwards towards his heart and warming him all through; and then the last thing he knew was the touch of Bodie's lips close to his mouth as he drifted away into sleep.
Bodie moved very quietly through the house, turning off lights, ruthlessly ignoring empty bottles, glasses, half-eaten plates of food, the inevitable party debris. Like everything else, it would all have to wait until tomorrow.
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow...
He shook out two grey blankets from the airing cupboard and returned to the lounge; Doyle had turned onto his side on the wide couch, peaceful and still, breathing deep and even. The loin cloth had come off: Bodie picked it up, folded it and put it to one side, then he covered Doyle with the blanket, and still he didn't stir.
Bodie lay down on the floor and pulled the other blanket over himself, closing his eyes, finding instant darkness inside his own head.
The clock struck two. So: it was already tomorrow.
His guts ached still, with a sort of sadness, an unfulfillment that had nothing to do with the faint sexual charge wired up inside himself, but everything to do with dread: of tomorrow? Of dark times to come?
Doyle had been so very drunk. He might not even remember.
Bodie smiled, grimly, and tightened his fingers on the wool of the blanket. Oh, Doyle would remember all right. Hell to pay.
But at least they were alive. And life was, after all, so very much more dangerous than death: Death, Bodie was sure, could spring no surprises. For Stevie Vickery there would be no more beginnings. Even dangerous ones.
Bodie closed his eyes and slept. Behind him, despite him, Time ticked on.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Unprofessional Conduct 7, Gryphon Press, 1997