Night of the Living Lemmings
Written for the Jubilee June challenge for "Discovered in 1977" on the discoveredinalj livejournal community, to the prompt "Series of Beacon Bonfires"
"All the women are clamoring for Doyle."
"Eh? What, all of them?"
"Very nearly, sir."
"I had no idea." Cowley was presented with a mental image of Ray Doyle, as he last had seen him. Between the vivid row of healing sutures overlying his left brow and a spectacular black eye, overall he had appeared rather gruesome. "How do you account for his singular popularity?" the CI5 controller asked in open puzzlement.
"Probably a combination of things, but mostly his ability to dance, plus a willingness to wear rather exotic clothes."
"What do you suggest?"
Cowley harrumphed. "I put you in charge of this operation for a reason. Make a command decision."
Jax smiled calmly. "Yes, sir."
"I shall brief the assembled operatives at 1900 promptly."
"That should do wonders for morale, sir."
Cowley grinned wryly. "I should think so."
They met in the CI5 gymnasium. It was the only room at headquarters large enough to accommodate that many people at once.
As Cowley examined the young men and women gathered there, he felt a burst of pride swelling warmly in his chest. They truly were a fine lot, fiery, passionate, bright and brave. He had to take a moment to adjust his features from open affection to a more appropriate mien of stern determination.
The Controller cleared his throat before addressing them. "Right then, let's make a start. First, some background for this operation. Yesterday evening a certain prominent peer of the realm, who will remain otherwise unidentified, was given information by his grand nephew, visiting on holiday from school. The lad had been out dancing at numerous night spots, and heard a rumour that quite disturbed his uncle, who promptly reported it to the Home Secretary first thing this morning. Hence the involvement of CI5 in an urgent inquiry."
The crowd stirred as this information was considered.
Skilled as he was in directing major operations, Cowley allowed the group a moment's thought, until his people caught up with him. Then he resumed. "It would appear that this rumour is common currency in London at present. To wit, that a large group of people intend to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee by committing mass suicide."
As he'd expected, the announcement induced vocal exclamations. "Kindly direct pertinent comments to the front."
"Sir." It was Doyle's voice. "Suicide's not a crime." And then in an informative aside to the crowd he added, "Not since 1961. Changed the law then, they did."
As an injunction against "coming over the copper", Bodie immediately applied his one uninjured elbow to nudge his partner in the ribs, which gesture knocked Doyle into Murphy, causing both to stumble, inducing chuckles and cheerful curses from surrounding agents upon collision.
Cowley scowled at Bodie, who instantly stood to attention, all the while openly smirking.
Bodie and Doyle.
The pair of them already had been too long on the SI roll, the Controller reflected. They would have to see action soon, for their own good, or be placed in physical confinement as a danger to themselves and society at large.
"Ahem. Agent Doyle's statement is correct. However, mass suicide on a large scale becomes an event of civil unrest, and therefore is deemed by the Home Secretary to be well within CI5's purview."
"Politics," someone said with a snort. It sounded like Bodie, but he stood so still and attentive, Cowley couldn't be certain. He glared at his agent a moment, just on general principles, before continuing.
"Since we haven't any more definite information, the veracity of the claim, which individuals are involved, how many people, their motivations, means, or even a general location, we have a great deal of investigational ground to cover."
"Sir," Anson spoke up. "Do we know which clubs the peer's nephew visited, at least?"
"Yes," Cowley replied. "However, given that the lethal event might be about to happen at any moment, and what with the immediacy of the Jubilee Celebration, scheduled to start the day after tomorrow with Her Majesty's lighting of the signal fire at Windsor, the Home Secretary has ordered an all-out effort on our part. Therefore I've asked our very own resident expert on the London Music Scene, Agent Jax of A-squad, to formulate a more comprehensive list of entertainment venues which he deems most likely to be on the urban rumours' hottest stops."
Cowley gestured for Jax to take over the briefing.
The younger man began, "You're to pair up..."
"And two by two, board the ark."
Bodie again? Cowley was nearly ready to arrest the fellow, personally apply handcuffs and a gag. Ha.
Jax grinned good naturedly. "We've raided the secretarial, technical and administrative ranks for enough lovely ladies for this duty night. They have, in turn, answered the call by forming an 'attire co-op'. And I have this from Mr Cowley directly, that gentlemen are to dress to their partners' specifications in accordance with the perceived dress code of each venue."
The information was greeted with several audible male sniggers.
Cowley, leaning casually against the wall at the back of the gym with his arms folded over his chest, interrupted the noise to bark out, "That's an order. Cooperate, or I'll know the reason why."
"Any other questions?" Jax asked.
A feminine voice from the crowd this time. "Who gets Doyle?"
"Ah," Jax said. "Agent Doyle has been annexed by the command team."
"Betty, you wicked brat," another woman responded.
Betty, who had been standing patiently to one side, holding a stack of assignment papers ready for distribution, winked. The expression was there and then instantly gone, to be overtaken again by her characteristic look of quiet competence. It was so quick, that nobody other than her boss could quite credit it.
Cowley chuckled to himself.
"Spending?" One of the B-squad this time.
"Transportation and entrance costs are covered expenses. Other than those, you're on your own."
Anson, seriously concentrating on the heart of the matter, asked, "Specific objectives?"
Jax looked somberly over the crowd. "First and foremost, listen to what is being said. Be subtle in your questions. We really don't want to be promoting this rumour, giving people ideas who don't have them already."
Throughout the crowd, various agents were nodding solid agreement, especially the former police officers.
"Second, if you find anyone who has already heard the mass suicide rumour, try to trace its source. Who started this? But more importantly, try to find out details, the 'where, when, and how' of the supposed death event."
Jax glanced over the gathering with a solemn expression on his face.
"Third, be safe. Placing this many operatives on the streets simultaneously could leave CI5 vulnerable. Don't lose your agent-identity to your environment, to playing the undercover role. Those of you who are inexperienced in covert ops are all paired with more senior agents. Defer to their judgment, follow their leads. Anything to add, Mr Cowley?"
The CI5 Controller scanned his people intensively. "I whole heartedly concur with Agent Jax' injunctions. I would just remind you that, once the Queen's Jubilee commences in earnest, our time will be taken up entirely with high priority anti-terrorist measures for the duration. Therefore, you are hereby instructed to enjoy your night out. And that is an order."
The Old Man finished with a broad smile.
After the duty assignments were distributed by Betty and her newly appointed assistant Ray Doyle, the crowd broke into clusters around paste tables, which were hastily unfolded and set up to display the costumery provided by the ladies' clothing co-op.
Whenever possible, Jax had addressed the ladies' choices with respect to type of music preferred. So the location assignments that Betty and Ray distributed generally were received by female personnel with satisfied nods and smiles.
The men occasionally were seen to grimace, but most were good natured about a night on the town with a work excuse to fraternize with the women.
Doyle had saved Bodie for last. When he arrived in front of his partner to proffer the ops assignment, he found his friend seated in a folding chair, his muscular torso stripped to a white cotton vest, his sling removed, and his injured right arm resting in his lap.
Mona, a tech from the computer labs, was working Bodie's hair into red, white and blue spikes.
"Lovely," Ray chortled.
"I am assured by my beautiful colleague that all this coloured muck is water soluble and will scrub out."
"With the added benefit of your hair being quite well conditioned. Egg white's very healthy for the cuticle," Mona grinned, her voice lilting of County Cork, her fingers lovingly caressing Bodie's locks.
"You've got such cute cuticle," Ray fluted in falsetto.
Bodie called out, "Oi, Betty. Be a love, and do something properly outrageous to Doyle's appearance, wont you?"
In response, Betty plunked a fedora with a black and white chequered hatband atop Doyle's mass of caramel curls.
He caressed the brim with his fingertips, performed a nifty jazz pirouette and bowed in dapper style to Betty, who laughed appreciatively. "I am the gangster prototype," he announced.
"A hat? Call that outrageous? There's no justice in the world," Bodie complained, causing Mona to steal a quick kiss from him.
"There, there, you look darling, trust me," she said.
"I begin to feel placated," Bodie responded with a cheeky grin.
Meanwhile Betty had gotten Doyle attired in a black silk shirt and grey pinstripe waistcoat.
"Spiffy," Ray admired his own appearance.
"You look like Al Capone in drag," Anson informed him.
"Tch. Jealousy. So unattractive. Let's have a butcher's, mate," Doyle grabbed Anson's arm, enforcing a halt.
Anson was clad in straight legged flood water trousers that showed off quite a stretch of white socks over black loafers.
"Nice ankles," Doyle twitted him. "Did yer shave yer legs this morning, petal?"
Which pithy comment induced a loud guffaw from Bodie.
In a wonderful parody of affronted dignity, Anson drew away from Doyle's grasp. "Cretin." He turned aside to Melissa from the typing pool and courteously offered his arm to her.
"Be home by midnight," Bodie admonished them as they departed. "Anson reverting to a pumpkin, not a pretty sight."
The jazz cafe was filled to overflowing with excited patrons, drinking, talking, laughing and dancing. The converted back half of a still-functional warehouse was rocking so jovially, the wooden beams of the towering ceiling positively vibrated.
Jax could see Doyle's perpetually busy mind, ticking off the items on a list of building occupancy code violations, along with an equally obvious effort to stifle the urge to comment on them.
Jax' amused glance continued over from the ex-cop to the secretary. Betty had surprised him with her choice of finery. The charity shop-acquired 50s dress she wore was classic, brilliant red with black and white polka dots, overlain with a shiny new vinyl, black and white zebra patterned belt. The outfit looked good on her, and was perfect for the ska setting tonight.
Raymond, he had known, would blend into this scene because he really belonged here.
But after all, Betty's specialty was information-gathering. And she was an intrinsically sympathetic soul who might well read about the two-tone philosophy of world peace and racial harmony, and instantly embrace it all in one smoothly seamless process.
He grasped her hand, drew it to his lips in a gallant kiss, the gesture drawing a roseate blush to her cheeks.
The instant they walked in the door, Jax' cousin Imogen pounced upon Doyle and confiscated him for dance partner purposes. Her graceful, willowy form, quite over six feet in height, clasped Raymond to her in the first slow dance of the evening.
"The Automatics", a newcomer band from Coventry, were giving the crowd one hundred percent of their effort, as if their very lives and souls depended upon the outcome. The audience was loving it.
At the end of the tune, Imogen returned her partner to his friends. "Talon, love," she purred in Jax' ear, after nuzzling it. "He's scrumptious. You haven't been getting him into street fights, what with your wicked ways, have you?"
"Had nothing to do with me. I wasn't even there," Jax protested. "A fuckery dat. Chuck rammed his motor."
"Nasty card," Imogen tsked, stroking a perfectly manicured fingernail lightly over Doyle's injured browline.
"Scarcely feel it anymore," Doyle shrugged and grinned. He wasn't about to let that prior anger retake him and thereby ruin this very promising romp. He pulled out some cash and went to fetch the first round of drinks.
"Ya nuh easy," Imogen remarked, rubbing a soothing hand over her cousin's tense shoulder.
Jax nodded acknowledgment of the fact.
In part, he felt responsible for his two CI5 friends. He wanted them to have a good time tonight, wanted no untoward events to mar their evening. They deserved a break, and himself as well. Work had been grueling lately, and all too frequently, dangerous.
In a larger sense, being in field command of this widespread an operation, Jax felt responsible for all of the CI5 operatives out tonight. If something went wrong, and he was nowhere close enough to render aid? It didn't bear thinking. He kept trying, unsuccessfully, to shake off the futile worry.
It occurred to him to wonder, how did Cowley stand this level of tension on a daily basis?
Underlying that reflection was a worry about Bodie. Jax had only just realized the level of his own distrust for his fellow A-squad agent. His newly focused perceptions had developed soon after the car crash.
He was there to meet Bodie at A and I. The brash man swaggered off the casualty ward, his injured arm strapped to his torso, his stance announcing to the world that it was all a stroll beside the serpentine, as far as he was concerned.
Jax tried to stifle his resentment as he inquired after Doyle's welfare.
Bodie's succinct, "Angel face took another beating, poor sod," forced a boilover.
"Maybe you should have tried harder not to accordion your car into the broadside of a lorry," Jax fumed.
Bodie turned a cold shoulder on him at that, and stalked off to find his own way home.
Jax let him.
Then he found Doyle, perched on an ambulance trolley, parked along a cold white wall. His face was a disaster, purple with contusions, messed with dried blood, the newly stitched suture line emphasizing the old damage to his opposite cheek. Patiently Raymond had been waiting for an extremely busy neurologist to sign off on him, so he could retreat home and collapse.
Jax offered him a ride, which he accepted with a deep sigh.
It was only then, on the transit to Doyle's flat, that the true story had come out.
Before the accident, Bodie had been driving, Doyle riding in the passenger seat. A former criminal detainee, newly released from prison, had recognized Doyle from his Drugs Squad days, and infuriated at the sudden sighting, had rammed his vehicle into the agents' car.
Bodie had been an utterly innocent victim in the incident.
Jax' guilty conscience had troubled him considerably ever since.
Jax tried to make amends, the effort taking various forms. He went out of his way to 'accidentally' meet Bodie, hold a door for him when his one uninjured arm was burdened with a stack of paperwork. Poured two cups of tea and handed one over to the other agent, unasked. Smiled and nodded in passing.
Of all the agents, Jax asked Bodie first which bird he'd like to be paired with for tonight's operation.
Bodie astonished him with his gracious acceptance of the proffered series of olive branches.
Maybe world peace really was a matter of people deciding to shake hands, two at a time.
Jax snorted dismissively at himself. Maybe he was waxing way too philosophical and soppy for a simple night on the town.
He danced delightedly with Betty, holding her slender waist with a light touch. Then he made her night complete by trading partners with Imogen.
He and his cousin snuggled close, watching as Raymond twirled Betty across the floor. "She's in heaven, poor girl," Imogen decided.
"Mismatch," Jax declared. "She's 'nice' and 'sweet'."
"And Raymond isn't?"
"Doyle is whatever he chooses to be."
"Ah seh wan."
"He mi key."
"Champion." Imogen cocked her head, eyed her kinsman archly. "Likely she'll be disappointed if I bed him?"
"Meh. Just don't flaunt it, s'all."
The band suddenly broke into a cheerfully raucous new sound. As the brass section flared and blared, the lead singer enjoined all the "rudies" in the crowd to "stop your fooling around!"
This injunction evoked a generalized flurry of movement that soon organized into the Huntington Beach strut. Side groups evolved into more hardcore skanking.
Grabbing Imogen's hand, Jax elbowed his way over to Raymond and Betty. They formed a ska dance circle then, gleefully kicking to the beat. So joyful was their appearance that other dancers began to insert themselves into the ring, and Jax felt rather hardpressed to keep an eye on his cousin and friends.
After awhile he gave up on that effort, and flung himself jubilantly into the supreme enjoyment of dancing to fine music.
He didn't hear a single word about suicide all night, which surprised him not at all.
Cowley eagerly seized the opportunity to rid himself of Bodie's presence at headquarters.
The lad had been driving his Controller doolally all morning, mixing it up with the other A squad members, ogling the female personnel, cracking rude jokes, ignoring the stacked paperwork on his desk, and altogether dwelling generally underfoot.
Each time someone received an assignment, Bodie stopped for a moment to stare wistfully after their departure, before resuming his disruptive behaviour.
Cowley therefore pounced upon "Operation Lemming", the instant he formulated it in his imagination.
Jax concluded the prior evening's massive operation with a succinct verbal report. "Sir. Beachy Head. Tonight. They've a bonfire planned in response to the Queen's signal fire at Windsor, tomorrow. Tonight, as a protest of the Jubilee, as many people as possible are to fling themselves simultaneously off the highest cliff at Beachy Head."
"Hmm. The complete consensus of your operatives seems unprecedented."
"Yes, sir. Several reports received, all with the same data. Either the information is accurate, or," Jax hesitated.
"It's a rather well organized hoax," Cowley concluded.
"Aw weel," the Old Man scratched thoughtfully at his chin. "Best take it seriously, given the context. Plus some poor, benighted souls may take the hoax seriously, and throw themselves off the brink into the drink despite our instinct to the contrary.
"Yes, sir." Jax laughed at Cowley's artistic phrasing.
"Send Bodie in to my office. And, ah, Doyle as well, I suppose."
"And well done, Jax. Extremely smooth operation."
"Thank you, sir." The agent smiled, seeming much relieved.
Cowley noted the readily apparent level of sober responsibility in his agent, with silent approval. Good man.
Now to the other. An opportunity to set Bodie free without inordinately risking the injured agent's hide. The Old Man shook his head. His only regret was inflicting the op on Doyle.
But Bodie seemed to need his partner today. Ray would have to go too, Cowley concluded.
"Could have driven," Bodie stirred restlessly in his seat, staring out the window of the train at the lovely late Spring weather.
"How?" Doyle grimaced at his partner's absurd assertion. "You're one-armed, and I can't see straight."
Rather than dignify that with a response, Ray opted to change the subject. "How was your dance assignment last night?"
"Beer was drool and the music raucous."
"Rough luck. Was Mona disappointed?"
"Naw. Apparently that was quite her cuppa. Enough leather to saddle the entire Queen's Horse Guard on parade. Birds with nose piercings and safety pins as jewelry. Crowd of blokes, slam dancing. Daft."
"Slam dancing? You never! With your arse bound in a sling?"
Bodie growled, an ominous sound rumbling deep in his thoracic cavity. "She wouldn't let me."
"You said what?" Doyle couldn't help chuckling.
"Mona wouldn't let me," Bodie nearly whined. "The most action I've seen in a fortnight, and I had to stand by and watch, fer gawds' sake."
Ray laughed out loud. "She wouldn't let you?" He imagined the petite Mona actually preventing the great clot from doing something, anything, once Bodie'd set his mind on it. "How'd she manage that?"
"Threatened to go off with one of her mates. Kept chatting them up if I so much as turned aside to sneeze."
"Yer never pouting, Bodie?"
"I don't pout," Bodie declared, pouting hugely.
"There, there. By the way, how'd you think that ever became a comforting phrase?"
" 'There, there.' Why's that meant to sound comforting? Seems like the response to it should be 'where, where?' Or some such. I mean, I ask you. 'There, there.' 'Ta, I feel so much better, now that you've said that.' " Doyle shrugged whimsically.
"You know something? You're quite strange."
"So they tell me."
This enlightened discussion was interrupted by the event of their train pulling into the Eastbourne station.
They were meant to take the bus on toward Beachy Head. But as soon as they descended to the platform, they were approached by a silver haired gent.
"Bodie and Doyle," he stated emphatically.
"Yer right," Ray agreed.
"The Major alerted me to your presence."
He then proceeded to introduce himself. Old service mate of George's, now retired. Volunteer with the Chaplaincy Team at Beachy Head, keeping things in order, you know? The locals there took suicide prevention very seriously, very seriously indeed.
He rocked back on his heels, as if reviewing an entire regiment of crack troops, assembled before him.
Doyle nodded and smiled pleasantly.
The elderly codger looked him over critically before he transferred his look to Bodie. "Are you two certain you're quite fit for duty this p of m?"
"Sure, sure," Ray replied. "Cowley just sent us in as observers. Anything out of the ordinary occurs, we're simply meant to report in to him."
To the old gent's continued skeptical scrutiny, Bodie retorted. "Look on the bright side. We'll serve as object lessons. This is what happens if you fling yourself too hard against an immovable object. Scare 'em off in droves, won't we?"
Plainly, Bodie'd struck a note of discord with his comment. The old gent looked as if he was sucking lime slices soaked in vinegar. "I'll drive you to your post then," he stated succinctly.
Other than monosyllabic replies to direct questions, and plain instructions, it was the last he spoke to them.
"Cheerful old vulture."
"Willem Handjob Pirrip! He'd just got through telling you, they take suicide very seriously here."
"So then you immediately cracked a joke."
"What's your point, mate?"
Doyle sighed, shaking his head. They were poised atop a 530 foot chalk cliff, overlooking a brilliantly blue wash of sea that escaped magically to a glittering horizon.
In the nearer distance, on a similar cliff, could be heard the joyous clamour of the local citizenry. They were building their fuel stack in anticipation of the signal pyre for tomorrow's festivities.
"Can't even imagine wanting to kill meself here," Ray admitted.
"Would take one look at that view and scramble straight away for me canvas and pigments."
Bodie smiled softly, canting his head as he studied Doyle. "Look like you rubbed your face right over your artist's palette."
Ray fingered his bruises gingerly. "Colourful, am I?" he chuckled ruefully.
"End of the rainbow," Bodie assured him. He began awkwardly, single-handedly to unfasten his duffle.
"Lemme do that," Ray offered. "What have we here? Picnic rug, check. Soft woolen blanket, naughty. Fresh crusty bread loaf and a block of cheddar, lovely. Handful of Caramac bars, yum. Beer, superlative. I think I love you."
"Yeah, I know," Bodie grinned.
Together in delightful solitude, they shared the glorious sunset.
Bodie rubbed shoulders with Doyle.
"Sort of wish the bonfire was for tonight," Ray said.
"Naw. Then there'd be a crowd. This is better." After a moment's contemplation, Bodie began. "For swift to east and swift to west the ghastly war-flame spread. High on St. Michaelís Mount it shone, it shone on Beachy Head. Far on the deep the Spaniard saw, along each southern shire. Cape beyond cape, in endless range, those twinkling points of fire."
As if to highlight the poetry, the evening star appeared overhead.
"Well, that's illuminating."
"Lord McCaulay. Piece about the Spanish Armada. Signal fire at Beachy Head's quite a long standing tradition. Downright historic."
"But no lemmings."
"Too far south. Think the little beggars inhabit the Arctic Circle, actually."
"They're cute little rascals, lemmings. Saw some at the menagerie, once. Also read about them. All that bit about lemmings committing suicide's a barge load of rubbish."
"Heard this whole mass suicide rumour's a hoax, too."
"Hope so. Suicide's a damned selfish act. Nasty, messy, cruel to them that's left behind." Doyle sounded as if he knew very well whereof he spoke so bitterly.
Bodie supposed, as an ex-plod and a sympathetic soul, Ray'd had to handle more than his share of those.
Bodie slung his arm over Doyle's shoulders, hugging him closer. "Look at that," he spoke excitedly. Miles out across the cerulean waters, the crimson striped lighthouse flashed rhythmically.
"Nice. 'S' pretty."
Doyle waited for another Bodie-tation of verse, but instead was greeted with contented silence.
The peace was suddenly shattered by the sound of a woman's shriek.
Instantly, Bodie and Doyle were up and hurrying toward the commotion.
"Here now, what's happened?" Ray asked.
It was a young couple, and they looked frightened.
"Dropped my purse," the woman looked positively white faced, peering over the cliff's edge. "Can see it right there. But it's out of reach. What am I going to do now?" she moaned, wringing her hands.
"Your purse?" Bodie demanded, astonished how she could be hysterical over a dropped handbag.
"Not supposed to be out, is she? Husband doesn't know. How's she to get home without her car keys? How's she to get back into the flat without her keys?" the bloke explained.
"Like that, is it?" Ray rolled his eyes. Post matrimonial rumpity pumpity. Two-timing her husband with a boyfriend on the side. Ah, young love. His sympathy felt rather strained.
"You don't know what he's like at home. He's a stinking great brute. A drunken beast."
"Bit of a maggot," her boyfriend agreed. Of course, he would.
Bodie grimaced. Being treated to her entire life story next? He fervently hoped not.
"I want to die," the woman sobbed.
The man clasped her to his chest, stroking his hand soothingly over her back. "There, there," he said.
Bodie bit his lip, restraining his urge to shout, "where, where?"
Ray glared at him, reinforcing Bodie's attempt to stifle himself.
Bodie turned to make a comic face that only Doyle could see. But he slammed to a halt as he realized where Ray's attention rapidly had strayed.
Over the side and down the cliff face.
Doyle commented gamely. "Not too far down. Plenty of holds. Visibility is still pretty good."
"Oh, no you don't," Bodie rumbled threateningly.
"Why not?" Ray drew his partner aside for a more private consultation.
"You can't see straight. Said so yourself, this very same afternoon."
"Said I couldn't drive. Black patent leather reticule on a white chalk cliff. Stationary object, pretty damned hard to miss."
"The light's terrible."
"Well, it's only going to get worse, while we stand about and natter."
"This isn't our problem."
"Likely it will be, soon enough. We walk away, then weeping Juliet there will nudge Romeo into hesitant heroics. Doesn't look all that acrobatic to me, does he to you? And if she doesn't talk him over the side, maybe she'll get desperate, do herself a mischief, jettison herself overboard. Already said she wants to die. That's how it starts, contemplating the act. Or even if she just makes the suicidal gesture, we'll have to treat it like the real thing. Trust me, Bodie, I've a ton of experience in this particular item of human behaviour."
Bodie hated it. But the set of Doyle's jaw was so familiar, his partner just caved.
Raymond on a mission, an immutable force.
Bodie started to unfasten his sling and swath.
"What the bloody hell do you think you're doing?"
"Getting ready for a climb."
"You're not fit."
"That argument didn't work on you. Why should it on me?"
"You're an idiot."
"Likewise yerself, mate. You go on, do your human-fly bit. First sign of trouble, I'm after you, savvy?"
"Right." Ray could capitulate quite as well as his partner.
Bodie pursuing Doyle on a mission, an irretrievably directed object.
So Doyle lowered himself carefully over the edge of the cliff. As soon as the drop point was vacated, Bodie eased his much-battered form down, sitting with his legs dangling. He lined himself up carefully, dividing his vigilance between his partner and their objective. "Concentrate on your holds. I'll coach you toward the purse."
"I can't watch," Juliet declared, burying her damp visage in her boyfriend's shirt front and shuddering.
"Damn," the would-be Romeo muttered. "Maybe this isn't such a damned-good idea."
Bodie didn't ignore them. Instead, quite simply, they ceased to exist.
He stared down at his mate, clinging spreadeagle to the sheer chalk wall. Then he glared at the rocks at the base, a shocking distance down. At the wash of water pounding away there, as if it were striving to rattle the two men loose from their precarious position.
Ray extended his left leg as far as he could, then gradually shifted his weight toward the toe hold.
Bodie leaned dangerously far over the side to gain a better view. "Laterally, six inches, down about four. Easy now. That's it. Your holds are better there."
The ancient Cretaceous wall was wrinkled and roughened where the purse had lodged on a narrow ledge. Ray had no trouble now, clambering along side of it. He grasped it triumphantly, then placed the handle between his teeth and champed down on it.
Then he began his ascent.
It was a slower process, pulling up with his hands. The ungainly purse added difficulty to his moves, forcing his head away from the rock face at an awkward angle, transferring increased pressure to his fingers and toes.
He made it to within a few feet of the top, but this stretch of rock was smooth, worn away by the action of the wind, and therefore, far more difficult to grip.
Ray now had to move toward his right hand for his next hold. He reached high.
"Move your hand down about six. Now ease laterally, more, more. Feel that now?"
Doyle grasped the prominence. With an ominous noise, the hold crumbled.
Hastily, he loosed the handful of scree, listened to it drop and plummet, collide, careen and disappear into dizzying darkness, down, plunging into the tumbling waves.
He gasped through his clenched teeth, through the strap gag. He teetered unbalanced, striving desperately to press himself into the unstable chalk surface.
"Fuck," Bodie muttered. Hastily, he rolled onto his belly, on the very brink of the cliff, and lowered his hips, leaving his long legs hanging there, right over the side. "Ray. Grab me feet. I can take yer weight, swear to gawd I can."
He felt Doyle's hesitation, tangibly thick on the rarefied atmosphere of this frightening perch.
"Do it, Ray. Please, just do it."
"Come on," Juliet's voice called, surprisingly loud in Bodie's left ear.
"We've got a good hold on him," Romeo shouted to Doyle, jarring Bodie's right eardrum.
He only now perceived that they, too, had flung themselves down on the cliff top, and were attempting to secure Bodie's position by clinging to his shoulders.
The world was a rather strange place, he told himself incongruously.
Then he felt the dead weight of Ray's body, his hands gripping clawlike into his calves, pulling on his legs.
He tried hard not to groan out loud, but did anyway.
The other two were shifting awkwardly, trying to make room for Doyle while still securing Bodie.
He felt the sharp edge of the cliff, crumbling against the grinding of his belt buckle. Would the entire rock face give way beneath them?
Surely they were all about to fall.
And his mate, Ray, would be the first and foremost to die. He battled against the imagined impact, the sensation of every bone in his body simultaneously being crushed to hideous extinction.
Bodie lost that fight.
As he shuddered through the imagined pain and came out the other side of fear, he found himself being dragged from the brink, back onto terra firma, by two very familiar, strong hands.
Ray collapsed atop him, and they lay tumbled together in a gasping heap.
"Oh, fuck," Bodie told his partner.
Doyle had given the smilingly tearful Juliet a piece of his mind. "See here, now missus. Time to sort out your situation, good and proper. You can't keep going on this way. If your husband mistreats you, yer need to leave home. Move out, go to live with your family or a chum or to a shelter, or take up residence with yer boyfriend. It's no good keeping on in a bad fix, which'll likely only get worse. See?"
Of course, she'd agreed with him. Bodie doubted she'd follow through on the advice, though, as indecisive as she appeared. Same old thing, he figured.
It was none of his business, now they were gone. And, thank heavens, none of Doyle's either.
The evening, soft and sweet, progressed endearingly into peaceful night. The sounds of revelry on the nearby cliff died a gradual death. Voices faded to oblivion.
Bodie was left with Doyle snugged next to him on the rug. Together they stared up at a million billion stars, sometimes veiled by silver wisps of cloud tapestry, then dancing free to shine, shimmering to entertain the watchers.
Bodie's rug became a flying carpet then. How high he was there, floating, independent of the planet, with Raymond nestled close at his side. How inconsequential any trouble seemed.
Idly, he wondered how many lemmings they had on board. When he wriggled his toes free of the blanket, several sets of ruby eyes in furry faces stared back at him.
"No jumping, you lot," he admonished them solemnly. "No joking either."
They agreed in tiny squeaking voices. No jumping. No joking.
"What's that?" Ray asked him in sleep-muddled tones.
"Just reminding the lemmings about safety and sobriety."
"Course you are," Doyle agreed with a chuckle, rubbing his curls under Bodie's chin until they tickled him awake.
"Been asleep," Bodie admitted.
"Think we missed any lemmings?"
"Naw. They're far too reasonable to hang about here. Going under for another five, I am."
Bodie was pretty much awake now, and contemplating Things in a Doylesian Universe.
Reflecting seriously about villains who suddenly recognized Raymond and rammed into him with high speed lorries and such. Who sent poor old Ray's face through the windscreen and messed about with his features.
Thinking about Jax' scolding, as if Doyle's welfare wasn't already the nearest dearest thing to Bodie's heart in the whole damned universe.
Counting all the birds who really wanted to dance with Raymond, even sweet, nice Betty.
Pondering Cowley, the Old Man apparently striving alternately to keep them and kill them both.
And worrying quite a lot about Doyle's reflexive willingness to fling himself off of high places on behalf of largely incompetent people.
"Ray," Bodie turned to nudge Doyle.
"I have something important to tell you."
"Yeah. You're not a lemming."
"Uh huh." Ray was laughing.
"It's no joke."
"Right. I'm not a lemming."
"See that you remember that in future."
"I shall strive to do so."
"Whenever necessary, I'll remind you."
"Although you are quite furry." Bodie grabbed a handful of Doyle's curls to caress.
"Here, now. Thought you said you weren't joking."
"That's right." Bodie kept one hand busy in the curls, while the other fought against the restricting sling before subsiding. "Mortally serious, that's me," he murmured, nuzzling the soft skin at the back of Ray's neck.
"Raymond. You awake?"
Bodie sighed, gathering Doyle's somnolent form closer to him.
Spread before them, together, the blue of the sea met the infinite blue of the night sky, the mirror of the stars in the water's gleam rendering the panorama truly endless.
Bodie hearkened to squeaky voices, laughing over tiny jokes. He didn't mind the little beggars scampering through his dreamscape.
He was only grateful that the reality of this night had proven largely lemmingless.
Thankful for small favours, Bodie slept too.