To Sir, With Love
January 16, 1990
He had been called by some 'The Ahab of the Service,' yet it was a large group which gathered for the service: royal representatives, high officials, minor officials, foreign dignitaries, past associates, friends...and CI5. Especially CI5. At the head and foot of the flower-bedecked coffin, as though protecting it, stood two men--one dark-haired, blue-eyed and what some would have classified as 'gorgeous,' powerfully built, with an air about him that brooked no argument; the other was auburn-haired, green-eyed, deceptively slight, with features some would have classified as 'beautiful,' and an endearing human flaw: a broken cheekbone. The rest of the men and women of CI5 positioned themselves around these two as well as the casket, perhaps protecting both.
To the many other attendees, this was no surprise. CI5 took care of their own.
Now George Cowley was gone, his death coming as a swift and unpleasant shock to most, who considered the controller with such awe that the running joke had been--even Death would have to ask permission to enter.
There was also the long-running betting pool throughout the officialdoms of the world as to how long it would be before his leg decided it had had enough. Cowley himself had bet on the date August 29, 2000--his birthday.
On January 14, 1990, that bet was lost and Death was given permission.
One Week Later
"God, the hypocritical old bastard," hissed Ray Doyle as he emptied the drawers of the oaken desk. "Here he was always tellin' us about keeping our lives in order and he's the pack rat!"
A deep chuckle answered him from inside a large, walk-in cupboard. "Know what you mean, Ray. Half this stuff we could sell to the British Museum and retire on the profits alone."
Doyle snorted rudely in reply.
"But," the deep voice continued, "this is only his office. We've still got his flat yet to do."
Doyle sighed. "Bodie, did anyone ever tell you what a bearer of good cheer you can be at the worst of times?"
Concerned now, Doyle hurried over to the door of the cupboard, worried that his partner had, as he often would, tried to move something far too heavy for even his considerable strength. If that was the case, Bodie's back was in peril.
"What's the matter, love? Muscles not--?" The words died on Doyle's lips as he beheld the state of his partner.
William Andrew Phillip Bodie, terror of CI5, nemesis of evildoers almost everywhere, sat propped against the wall of the cupboard, a scrap of paper in his hand, tears running freely down his cheeks.
Doyle knelt, took the paper from the unresisting fingers and read the seven-digit number written there. Sinking down slowly next to his partner, he joined Bodie in the overwhelming memories it conjured up...
Bodie whistled a jaunty tune as he entered the corridors of CI5. Today was St. Valentine's Day, the day for lovers, therefore Bodie didn't care whether the grin that lit his handsome face--even to his sapphire blue eyes--showed for all to see. He did not care that his step held more bounce than usual; Bodie was definitely a man in love. All was right with his world...until he heard a sound not unlike that of a wounded bull elephant.
"Out! And if you pull such nonsense again, I'll have you out so fast, you'll reel from the blow!"
More than slightly puzzled, for the voice belonged to George Cowley, CI5's controller, Bodie drew near with extreme caution. The first person he encountered was Colin Murphy. The expression on Murphy's face worried him, for the tall, handsome agent had such a philosophical bent on life that it was hard to anger him.
Deciding on the direct approach, as opposed to sympathy, Bodie greeted his friend. "Hullo, Smurph. Who got up on the wrong side of the bed, then?"
For a moment, Murphy glared at him, then recognition set in and his expression softened. "The Cow's on the warpath, Bodie." He jerked his thumb the way he had come. "Leg must be giving him hell."
That caught Bodie's attention. "Oh? Why do you say that?"
Before Murphy could answer, the lift doors down the hall slid open and Ray Doyle emerged. His smile died as he took in the two men's grave faces. He came to stand by his partner and lover, his strange green eyes questioning.
"Seems the rumours we heard are true, Ray," Bodie acknowledge the unspoken look. "While we were out of town, Cowley's leg got worse." He nodded at Murphy. "And his temper."
"Rumours," the brown-eyed man snapped. "Bloody realism, if you ask me. And I did nothing, I tell you. Nothing!"
Bodie laid a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Steady on, Murph. I take it this has been going on a while?"
The agent calmed under Bodie's touch, smiling faintly. Bodie had that kind of presence--calm, solid, reassuring. A mate to be counted on in any situation.
"Sorry," Murphy sighed, "but it's been bloody hell since you two've been gone, Bodie. You and Doyle've been the lucky ones. Would've sold my soul to've been with you on that op, instead of here."
"And you think it's his leg?"
"No 'think' about it. I know it. While he was yelling his lungs out, you could see the pain in his eyes."
There was a moment of silence. Bodie broke it. "Then it's time something was done about it, don't you think?"
Before either man could realize Bodie's intentions, the dark-haired man was almost at Cowley's door. With a speed Macklin would've approved, both agents reached him at the same time, drawing him away.
"Bodie, don't be a fool!" Murphy hissed. "Didn't you hear anything I said?"
Bodie disengaged himself from his friends' grasps firmly but gently. "Hear very well, I do. Now both of you hear me. Ray, go down to the carpark and have Cowley's car readied. If the driver is there, tell her we won't need her. Murph, I don't want anyone getting through this door, I don't care if it's the Queen Mum herself. Clear?" He looked from one to the other. Several seconds passed, then nods of confirmation.
The last words Bodie heard just before he entered the office were Murphy's to Doyle: "Knew your partner was a crazy sod; didn't know he was suicidal."
Bodie allowed a smile. Besides the gentle insult, there had been something akin to awe in that voice.
George Cowley, a fair enough man under normal circumstances, listened to the closing click of his office door--a click that spoke of deep hurt and controlled anger. A weary sigh escaped him with the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.
Georgie, you're a coward, his inner voice chastised him, its tone one of disgust and disappointment. What have you to say for yerself? What will be your excuse this time, eh?
Cowley sighed again. He knew there was no excuse for his behaviour toward 6.2 just now. Murphy had only entered the lion's den to pass on the message that Brian Macklin would like a word with him in the gym whenever Cowley's schedule would allow it. The lad had done absolutely nothing to incur his wrath.
Damn leg, he swore, pounding at the offending body part with a strong fist. All these years you've troubled me only when I deserved it. Why now?
You should listen more to your body, laddie, the inner voice replied. You should've attended to it years ago, and well you know it.
Oh, aye! Well I know it, he agreed. We've had this argument many times. But lose my leg in the process? No, thank you.
The inner voice sneered, ready to retort with oft-rehearsed lines when a soft knock landed on the door.
"Come," Cowley snapped.
Bodie entered at the summons and immediately came to attention under the controller's glare. Cowley allowed himself a small smile for his favourite, though unknowing, agent. The smile quickly disappeared. Purposefully allowing the silence to grow, Cowley studied the man. Yes, Bodie was one half of his best team and, when anchored with Colin Murphy, part of a very efficient trio.
Cowley chuckled to himself. Efficient, aye, but this one had a habit of going slightly astray at the best of times. Not to say that Bodie didn't follow orders. Far from it. Yet when given those orders, the agent demanded good reasons for obeying them. 'Because I said so' didn't work. And as to the going astray, Cowley had to admit that it was at these times that 3.7/4.5's assignments usually came to a swift and most satisfying conclusion.
The focus of his thoughts shifted restlessly, bringing Cowley's attention back to him.
"Yes, Bodie, what can I do for you?"
"Permission to speak freely and candidly, sir," came the crisp response.
Cowley leaned back in his chair, favouring his leg. "Granted." As Bodie went to parade rest, he added, "Sit down, man."
"No, thank you, sir. I'll stand."
Pale blue eyes narrowed, taking in the agent's grave face. "Very well," he conceded. "I'm listening."
"Good. Because what I'm about to say I hope to say only once." Bodie approached his superior's desk, leaned forward and rested his hands on the oak top. "I do not think much of a commanding officer who can order his men to care for themselves, yet ignore himself in the process. That kind of martyrdom is stupidity."
"You said you were listening, sir," Bodie cut in.
Cowley glared, his eyes raking the younger man, when his leg gave a great stab of pain. Agony sliced through his being like the sharpest knife as he clutched the offending limb with one hand. The other moved to massage the muscles, but was caught in a strong, gentle grip. He stiffened, then sighed, as Bodie's hand began to knead the calf. When the episode had passed, Cowley closed his eyes, breathed deeply, then reopened them to find himself staring into eyes normally a deep sapphire blue, now almost black with concern.
"Better?" Bodie asked.
"Aye," Cowley whispered, straightening himself in the chair. "Please, lad, what is your point?" He suddenly felt twice his age and very, very tired.
Bodie remained kneeling by the controller's chair, steadying the man, almost feeling his pain. His anger returned, but now it was only that of an annoyed father for a disobedient child. "My point, sir, is that you can demand we take care of ourselves, harp on the advantages of being in excellent condition, even throw us to Macklin and Towser--or Ross, if it's mental. Yet, look at you. You don't practice what you preach." He gestured expansively, taking in the present situation. "Here you are, making excuses, running slipshod over everyone." He stared grimly into Cowley's pale eyes. "What you did to Murphy wasn't worthy of you."
The pain was worsening again, pushing Cowley's temper with it. There was a very pregnant pause as he rode out the agony. Then, "I fail to see--"
"--What business it is of mine?" Bodie finished, not bothering to hide the sarcasm in his voice. He smiled, a feral smile that usually meant no good to its receiver.
For all his bluster, Cowley shivered in the face of it.
"As I was saying, sir, that wasn't worthy of you. And if I let you, I'm certain you'll sit here playing God all day. Therefore, I'm going to call your private doctor, ask him to ready you a room at Charing Cross, and then I'm going to take you there."
The two men stared at each other for some time. Finally, Cowley returned his agent's feral smile with one of his own.
"Ah, I've got you there, Bodie. You can't call him. Only I have--" He stopped as Bodie, who had picked up a nearby pad, scribbled a number on it and held it under his nose.
"Any more excuses, sir?"
The smugness grated on the controller's already raw nerves, but he matched it. "Aye. Might I ask how you intend to 'take me there'? My driver is off today and the pain..."
Bodie's smile grew. "Oh, not to worry, sir," he crooned. "We can do it one of two ways: you can walk out with dignity or--" He paused for effect. "--I can carry you out and down to the car."
Cowley was on his feet instantly, his anger overriding the pain in his leg. "That will be enough, 3.7!" he roared. "Who the hell do you think you are?"
Totally unperturbed by his superior's outburst, Bodie rose to his feet as well, answering without hesitation. "Someone who cares, sir. And someone who will not take 'no' for an answer. Now, which is it to be?"
Slowly, Cowley reseated himself, realizing that the younger man was right. Any more excuses to put off the dreaded operation and he would soon be crippled for life, retired and replaced--a fate worse than death to him. Looking up at Bodie, he smiled wearily, grimly, knowing this favourite tearaway would indeed carry out his threat, especially when he knew his actions were justified.
Making his features stern, Cowley held up his hand in surrender. "All right, laddie, save it. I can see you've got it all taken care of." He leaned back, regarding Bodie beneath half-closed lids. "Including my guards, of course."
It was a last ace to play, but Cowley already knew the outcome.
"Of course, sir. Since Doyle and I have just come off duty, we'll take the first watch. We'll be in the operating theatre when the doctor puts you to sleep and in the recovery room when you wake up. By that time, Brian'll have taken care of the rest."
The statement was made with such confidence that all Cowley could do was rise and get his coat. "Aye. Well, let's get on with it."
Bodie's grin widened. "Always happy to follow orders, sir," he replied, reaching for the phone.
To those who witnessed it, the memories would remain forever of the instant betting pools that sprung into being with equally swiftly rising odds as to the exact moment William Andrew Phillip Bodie would come flying through the closed office door and whether it would be head or feet first. Then, the unabashed awe as the door finally opened. George Cowley gave his orders to Macklin, then under his own power, walked past his gathered agents into the lift. Bodie followed, his 'Oh, ye of little faith' look mocking the ones who had bet against him.
And it would forever remain a mystery to all but the oldest veterans at Charing Cross Hospital as to why a simple phone call and the name of George Cowley would cause two of the most respected surgeons to go off down the hall, arm in arm, voices gleefully raised in song: "At last, old chap, we'll do it! We'll do it! We'll do it! He never thought we'd do it, but indeed we will!"
"Ah, hell, Ray, I miss the old so-and-so," Bodie whispered, finally rallying himself.
"Yeah," Doyle sighed. "Ironic, innit?"
"That just after the Cow's operation, the doctor who performed it got his legs broken in an accident and died on the table. Cowley went on to outlive him."
Bodie nodded, took a last look at the number and crumpled the paper, tossing it into the dustbin. "Yeah," he finally responded, "the doc gave him nearly eight more years of life--almost pain-free. Time enough to pick a successor and make sure that C15 would outlive him. Maybe that's why he had To Sir, With Love engraved on his headstone. He and the doc went back a long way."
"The rest of the mob didn't know that, y'know," Doyle murmured. "They thought we'd picked that out. Didn't mind, though. Seemed fitting for a man like Cowley."
Bodie smiled sadly. "Yeah."
"At least he got to see in the New Year. Seemed determined to have a good time at the party."
"Yeah," Bodie said again. "Murphy noticed that, too. Said the Cow even popped the punch."
Doyle's eyes grew wide. "What? Cowley? Our George popped the punch?" He shook his head disbelievingly at the thought of the controller following a CI5 tradition of dumping a small bottle liquor into the punch bowl when he believed no one was watching. "Are you sure it was Cowley?"
Bodie shrugged, chuckling. "That's what Murph said."
"Fantastic," Doyle murmured in awe. "The man never ceased to amaze me."
His use of the past tense sobered Bodie. "Yeah," the agent sighed for the third time, saying nothing, but saying everything.
Doyle nodded in agreement.
There was another moment of respectful, reflective silence, then both men returned to their work.
-- THE END --
Originally published in The Hols of CI5, Whatever You Do, Don't Press!, 1991