A Special Working of Gravity
Let yourself be drawn silently by the stronger pull of what you truly love.
Ray fixed his gaze on the gunmetal grey of the prison's iron door and waited for it to open. At first he had sat in the relative warmth of the car. Now he stood impatiently, arms folded against the December chill, the wind whipping at his hair and stinging his eyes. He had been up since dawn, watching every minute pass until the afternoon and had arrived half an hour earlier than he needed to. Now Bodie was half an hour late and a sudden darkness had fallen as the distant mid-Winter sun disappeared.
When he had first come here it had been June. Hot and cloudless and impossible to believe Bodie would see only one hour of daylight that day. Impossible to believe he would share the scrap of rationed sunshine with thieves and rapists and murderers. Real murderers.
It was winter now, and out here, away from the town, the cold set in quickly. The last time he had seen him, Bodie said the cells were perishing. Bitter cold. Ray had left the heater on in the flat so it would be warm when they got home. They would probably find the place burnt to ashes. This was exactly how their luck was going.
A doomy clang of bolts and locks announced the prison door opening. A moment later Bodie finally appeared. Finally.
He shook hands with the guard who escorted him, raised a hand to greet Ray and did not turn when the door slammed shut behind him.
Bodie wore the grey suit and white shirt he had put on for the last day of his court case. His tie was perfectly knotted, unlike on that day when, between the two of them, they could not muster a steady enough hand for a halfway decent job.
Bodie's smile was warm as he made his way through the parked cars to Ray. His smile even reached his eyes, a place it had deserted these last six months. Ray folded him into his arms as soon as he was within reach.
They held each other in a fiercely tight and, on Ray's part, long-imagined hug. For all of Bodie's wandering hands and his own more guarded expressions of affection, they had never hugged before. Hugging wasn't very CI5, after all. But through these last months when the only decoration on the pistachio green walls of the visitors' room was a sign saying 'no physical contact,' this hug had become a private goal of Ray's. And he didn't care how nancy it was; he was bloody well not letting go if he could help it.
Bodie did not seem inclined to let go either. He had let his forehead drop into the crook of Ray's neck and buried his face in his jacket. Ray's old red tartan seemed to carry with it the residue of a hundred stakeouts and fire fights. There was something of the inside of the capris about it, of smoky pubs and greasy spoons, the sofa in the CI5 rest room and the polished wood and leather of George Cowley's office furniture. No matter that Ray regularly shepherded it to the drycleaners, it seemed always to have its history woven into its fabric. A history Bodie was determined to breathe in.
Bodie's suit smelled like carbolic soap and the inside of a locked cupboard. So did Bodie for that matter. It was time to go, and Ray reluctantly released him.
"Absolutely," Bodie said, gripping Ray's arms. "I don't think much of the service in this hotel."
"Yeah," Doyle said, opening the car door for him. "I heard it was being knocked down to a four star."
Bodie was still smiling as they drove out of the grounds. He did not spare the prison a final glance, but Ray, turning once, saw it silhouetted in the afternoon darkness like an animal preparing to pounce.
Bodie pointed at the dashboard. "Oi, this is my car. Bloody hell, would you jump in my grave that quick?" Ray shot him a guilty grin. "What happened? Did you blow yours up again?"
He got a few minutes reprieve before he had to answer that one.
"Where are we going?" Bodie asked later when they had negotiated the winding road through the moors and Ray missed the turning for London.
Bodie knew the moment the foreman of the jury announced the guilty verdict, he ceased to be an employee of CI5. As soon as he lost his job, he lost his flat. He did not know that Ray himself had stayed an employee of CI5 for approximately four minutes after Bodie had been escorted from dock to prison van. Four minutes was as long as it took to find an unsurprised Cowley in the confusion of the milling courtroom, throw down his ID, give up his service weapon, and resign without notice.
The upshot of those four minutes of high drama was he also became jobless, homeless and, incidentally, car-less with both his own and Bodie's goods and chattels to deal with.
Sometimes Ray thought there was a special working of gravity keeping him and Bodie from ever straying too far apart. When he found out where Bodie was to be held, he rented a flat in the nearest town, packed up the one non-CI5 car they had between them with whatever would fit, and drove there within the week. It could have been Neptune; he probably still would have gone.
"Did you quit the squad?" Bodie asked after a moment of frowning deduction.
"I couldn't stay, Bodie."
"Ah Ray, why did you do it? You had a good job there, a future."
"You had a good job and a future, and Cowley stood by and watched you go to jail for doing your job. How am I supposed to work for an organisation like that?"
"Cowley did what he could, you know he did. But when it comes to a choice between the existence of CI5 and one operative, there's no choice really."
"It was never as clear cut as that. It was pure politics, and he could have done more. He should have."
"Well, he got me out eighteen months early. That's not nothing."
"You had to serve a sentence. You've still got a conviction on your record, Bodie. A conviction for manslaughter."
"You don't have to remind me. But it's always a possibility in our line. An innocent man died. One of the ones we were supposed to protect, and I shot him."
"He died because a pack of terrorists hijacked an embassy, and it only got this far because he had an ambassador for a dad. If it had been some poor sod off an estate, no one would have tried to shut down CI5, and you wouldn't have been put up as the scapegoat."
"I think you should go and get your job back," Bodie said stubbornly. "That's all."
Ray regretted the argument. "Sorry mate. Let's not talk about it now."
Ray had rented a furnished flat in Plymouth. It was cheap and shabby but had a good-sized living room overlooking a scrap of park. The first bedroom was a double, and the second a box room with enough space for a single bed and little else. That morning Ray had moved his clothes out of the double and Bodie's in, making the bed with new sheets.
"You've been living here all this time?" Bodie asked as Ray showed him the flat.
"Yeah." He pointed to the bathroom. "There should be loads of hot water if you want it, and then there's a pub down the road that does the best steaks, and I've been saving the barmaid for you."
"What have you been doing for work?"
"Security guard," Ray admitted. Bodie looked horrified.
"Say it isn't so, mate."
"It's not so bad, on Tuesdays I cover the lingerie department."
"I see," Bodie said knowingly. "You stand around in women's underwear."
Ray went to pour them both drinks, and when he returned to the living room, Bodie had wandered to the window. He was looking out at the landscape of skeletal trees and the housing complex just beyond, nothing more now than grey outlines and a dot-to-dot of lights.
His hair was shorter than it should be, and he had lost too much weight, but his soldierly stature was undiminished by what he had been through. Ray's heart caught unexpectedly.
"I joined the merchant navy out of Plymouth," Bodie said.
"Yeah? Not Liverpool?"
Bodie shrugged. "There was a ship due to leave that took me on," he pressed his forehead to the glass as though he expected to see it returning for him.
Ray joined Bodie at the window. They tapped their glasses together, and Bodie made a show of savouring his first sip of whisky.
"I'm probably going to be unconscious on one glass after six months dry."
Their eyes met over Ray's answering smile, and it dawned on him there was nothing now to stop them standing in the same room together, whenever they damn well felt like standing in the same room together. Suddenly, horribly, the realisation was too big, and he thought he was going to cry. He tried to turn away from Bodie but found himself pulled back. With one strong hand Bodie pushed Ray's head on to his shoulder. He held him firmly even when Ray swallowed the sobs and didn't cry.
"It wasn't so bad, Ray," Bodie said. "Compared to the place in the Congo, it was the Ritz. The lads were all right, my cellmate was nowhere near as bad-tempered as you, and I've had worse food. It was worse for you out here wondering.
"And I know what you've been doing as well. The governor used to complain to me about you. I know you've been checking out all the inmates and vetting the newcomers to see if any of them might have a grudge against CI5 or me. I know you got the Connor boys transferred out. I had a job teaching car maintenance to the lads, I know you did that. And I know from my solicitor you've been trying to get me an appeal. You've been going at this full-time for me."
It was true. He had spent hours on the phone, he had written letters; he had called in every favour and begged a few more. He had been prowling around the perimeter of the prison like an angry dog. Literally once.
"You're the one person who's never let me down in my life, Ray. I won't forget that."
Ray pulled away at last, conscious he was pushing his luck when he tried to speak. "Just have a drink, you soft sod."
Bodie smiled slowly, and they moved to the sofa and armchair. He let Ray refill his glass before continuing the conversation they had started in the car. "Look Ray, I know you don't want to hear this, but you've got to speak to Cowley --"
"Knock it off, mate. I'm not going back without you."
"Speak to Cowley. Don't chuck in your career for nothing."
"Your loyalty floors me, it takes my breath away. But I'm out now, I'm fine, and we've both got to live. I know what to do; I survived for years before I joined the army. But we've got to go our separate ways because I'm not dragging you down with me."
"Are you talking about a mercenary job?" Ray said when he realised what Bodie was getting at. "Oh no, mate, you're not going Oliver's Army on me, not after all this time."
"I've already had an offer, all right. One job paying enough to see me through the next few years."
"What offer? Where?"
"It doesn't matter where," Bodie said coldly.
"How can it not matter? You're off your head."
"Have you got a better idea, sunshine? Because if you have, I'd like to hear it."
He hadn't. Not really. He'd had some unexpected fantasies lately about running a business with Bodie, a gym or something, and having the kind of quiet life he assumed his former partner would not be interested in. Every other possibility more in their line banged up against Bodie's criminal conviction. He'd hoped Bodie would have something up his sleeve. Not this though.
"Please, Bodie, give it some time. We just need to figure something out."
Bodie stared at Ray with unreadable eyes and then shrugged. "All right."
Later, after dinner, Ray moved impatiently about the flat, making cups of tea and forgetting them, stretching out on the lumpy sofa, not settling to TV or reading, but not ready to go to bed, late though it was, exhausted as he was.
Dinner had not gone well. The food was good but Bodie, shockingly, had not much appetite. The prison wall seemed to be putting solid brick between them still, and they had failed to connect, perhaps for the first time. Conversation had been an effort, tripping and falling flat, snagging on forbidden topics, like the past, the present and the future.
Ray had pointed out the pretty barmaid, but Bodie had just wanted to go back to the flat and sleep, uninterrupted by other men's nightmares. That's what he said anyway, but the light was still bleeding out from under his bedroom door. Ray could hear him now, drawing back the curtains and opening the window.
He did not have anything particular in mind when he knocked on Bodie's door.
"Come in, Ray."
The room was already cold but Bodie stood by the window in only a T-shirt and boxer shorts presenting a rare sighting of arms and legs. Well muscled but pale and bearing the scars of his adult years. Bodie closed the window but did not turn.
"Feeling claustrophobic?" Ray asked coming to the window. As clues went, it wasn't exactly cryptic. Bodie did not reply but took a handful of Ray's shirt in a closed fist. Before Ray had time to fathom this curious gesture, Bodie kissed him.
It did not feel like their first kiss. The soft warmth of Bodie's lips, the rough brush of his stubble, the exploring tongue were recognisable to Ray as the distilled essence of their ancient history. But this rationalisation came later; at the time reason deserted him, and he just kissed Bodie back.
Soon Ray became aware of the response of Bodie's body to his, and it was he who moved next. He sank down to his knees to push away the boxers and take him into his mouth, bringing him to climax guided by the hand in his hair and soft, alien gasps.
Shocked but not appalled at what he had done, he let himself be pulled up by the shoulders and kissed again. He was on the bed and partially undressed before he remembered to respond, and when he remembered, his heart and belly caught fire and the firm hand and bruising mouth had little more to do.
Bodie misinterpreted the shiver rippling through Ray and pulled the sheets and blankets over him. Resisting the hand Ray put out to him, he switched off the light and got into bed. He lay back folding his arms in an odd, defensive gesture across his stomach and chest.
Ray pressed his forehead to Bodie's shoulder as he fell asleep. He was grateful for the connection and too astonished to wonder why Bodie had not really looked at him since he came into the room. He soon slept too, laboriously constructed card cathedrals of insomnia at last cascading down. When Ray woke it was mid-morning and Bodie was gone.
When he gathered his wits sufficiently about him, he realised that if Bodie had gone for a walk or to get a newspaper he wouldn't have packed a bag and taken his passport and bank book. And when he was not to be found at the train or bus station, he realised he had no idea where he had gone.
The CI5 legend concerning the Bodie and Doyle partnership held that Ray was the complex one. He was the philosophical one, the intellectual one and the temperamental one. Bodie on the other hand was supposed to be Mr What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get -- dangerous when required but, on the whole, a laid back kind of guy.
Those who believed this failed to appreciate Bodie's skill at presenting his fašade to the world, failed to appreciate that his scars were not just on his skin, that he had seen things and done things even know-all CI5 operatives could scarcely imagine.
Ray might have the occasional tortured moment. He was bloody well only human after all, but he was sure he would never write a note to the person he was about to walk out on saying 'I love you' and then rip it into eight pieces and leave it in the kitchen bin to be found when there was next a teabag to be chucked out.
Was Ray supposed to understand from this that -- on second thoughts -- he wasn't loved, or that it wasn't exactly the right moment to mention it? Which it wasn't, because it just upset him even more. The final draft, which he eventually found on the telly, just said 'sorry'. Probably this was worse.
He looked at the jigsaw puzzle of a love note on the cracked formica surface of the kitchen counter and wondered exactly what he was doing here. The move to Plymouth, financed from savings and the appalling security job, seemed stupid and embarrassing now. What exactly were his expectations of Bodie? Given that when he had made his move west it had never been a conscious intention to sleep with the man. Had he expected them to form some kind of echo of their CI5 partnership, spend their life together based on no practical necessity? Yes, he supposed he had. He had tied up his future with Bodie's without bothering to consult him.
Stupid it may have been but there was undeniably an obligation. He had a responsibility to Bodie. A responsibility formed and cemented through all those years shoulder to shoulder in the CI5 trenches and not least because the son of an ambassador was dead from the first of two risky shots fired solely to save Ray's life.
But Bodie had absolved him of any obligation by leaving and Ray also needed to put what they had behind him. There was nothing between the two of them except a job neither of them had done for almost a year.
By the next morning he had given up the flat and the security job, packed up the car and left for London. The bin-stained, torn up note was in the pocket of his jeans.
He arrived in London late in the evening without a definite destination. Not wanting to face a night as solitary as all but one of his nights had been for the last six months he avoided the Camden B&B he'd had in mind and stopped at a phone box to call Murphy. Murph had a whispered debate with his wife and told him the couch was his for the night.
Their two year old was already in bed by the time Ray reached the house in Streatham. Murphy and Lisa were clearing away the debris of dinner and bedtime while a silver Christmas tree in the corner of the living room gave a multi-coloured twinkle reminding Ray of the time of year.
Murphy too, gave his usual multi-season twinkle. He ruffled Ray's hair, clapped him on the back and put a beer in his hand.
"It's good to see you, mate. Things haven't been the same without the pair of you."
"I heard Bodie was out," he said later, after dinner, when they were contemplating the tree over another beer.
"A couple of days ago."
"That whole business was a bloody scandal," Murphy said and not for the first time. "Cowley's been after the Home Sec about it since the summer."
"Yeah, I know. He should be sainted."
Murphy kept looking slightly to the left of Ray as if he was looking for someone who ought to be there. Ray was used to this; he got it a lot when Bodie wasn't standing next to him.
"Where is he?"
"I don't know. He took off." Ray tried to keep the hurt out of his voice but Murphy heard it.
"Give him time," Murphy said wisely. "He'll get in touch."
"We don't work together anymore, Murph. Why should he?"
"Come off it, Ray," Murphy said, as if he had uttered something so stupid it did not justify a reply. Some of the rest of the squad had Bodie and Doyle married with kids since the seventies. A far cry from the few minutes of anxious jostling the night before last.
The night on Murphy's sofa was a mistake. He listened in the semi-darkness to the sleepy snuffling of the baby and the drowsy conversation between husband and wife and felt lonelier than he ever had in his empty flat.
It was hours before he managed to block out Murphy's gargantuan snoring and fall asleep. Not long after, a biscuit-scented baby with a dummy in his mouth woke him handing him a shoe.
"Hullo," he said accepting the shoe. When he sat up Murphy put a mug of tea in his other hand.
"Better get up. Cowley's coming to see you." The baby blinked owlishly at him. "That's not him."
The sentence finally sank in. "Why?"
"Maybe he wants to give you your job back."
"I doubt it," he said philosophically. "Not after what I said to him when I resigned."
"What was that?"
"I can't remember."
Murphy grinned. "Maybe he's forgotten too."
"Very likely. Oh yeah and thanks for grassing me up. I'll sleep in the car next time."
The baby handed him his other shoe and he took the hint, heading for the bathroom to splash water on his face and prod hopelessly at sofa-flattened hair.
He was at the kitchen table, on his second cup of tea, having his hair inspected by the baby when the Cow descended from on high.
"Hello, sir," he said out of habit.
"Doyle," Cowley replied looking disapprovingly at his former agent and his current state of unshaven, slept-in-his-clothes dishevelment. "How are you?"
"Fine, thanks. You?"
Cowley glared at him. "Understaffed."
"Come for a walk with me," Cowley said.
Ray shrugged and got to his feet.
It was the sort of smoky, frost covered winter morning Ray had learned to feel at home with since his early days in London on the beat. It suited him better than the knife cold of the North or the cold he had experienced on the Moors which sometimes felt like the end of the world.
In another life he would have dragged Bodie out for a run on a morning like this, now he plunged his hands in to the pockets of his flying jacket and kept pace with Cowley's uneven tread. They headed for the nearby Common, the old spy in Cowley instinctively seeking out the most isolated spot for their meeting.
"I know he's out now, but I think we should still try to get Bodie leave to appeal," Ray said. They had been following one of the footpaths through the Common, passing only dog walkers stamping out the cold while their dogs skittered on frozen puddles. "Without the conviction on his record, he could get his job back."
"Is that what he wants?"
Ray hesitated. "He should have the choice."
Cowley stopped and turned to Ray. "I've been told he's got no grounds for appeal. So have you. He pled not guilty but didn't challenge any of the evidence. There's nothing to appeal."
"He wasn't acting recklessly; he made a mistake. He never would have been outside that embassy if he hadn't been trying to save the lives of the people inside. That has to count for something."
"Evidently not, Doyle. Not according to the jury."
"The jury were biased by the newspapers."
"Aye," Cowley said. "You may be right."
The court case had been unfolding at the incomprehensible pace of a nightmare when, one early June evening, the Israeli ambassador was shot by terrorists outside the Dorchester Hotel.
Ray had been suspended along with Bodie while the investigation and court case were underway, but he knew the ambassador's shooting was a significant loss for CI5. It was presented in the press as a CI5 failure because CI5 were already in the news for shooting another ambassador's son. Columnists in tabloids and broadsheets started debating the existence of CI5 as if they, and not other security services, had responsibility for the ambassador's protection.
Ray believed the consequences of the ambassador's bullet wound were the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and Bodie's guilty verdict. He knew the invasion was a serious thing too.
They reached a walled garden called the Rookery, normally favoured by kids bunking off from the Catholic school across the road but deserted at such an early hour. He followed Cowley through an ivy covered archway to a murky pond. Frost had settled on the sparse winter planting around it giving the impression of a half-completed Christmas card.
Cowley sat heavily on one of the benches, puffing out a cloud of breath. He was showing his age, Ray thought, which hadn't been true even six months ago.
"I wonder if you recall our friend, Colonel Ojuka?" Cowley asked finally.
"Ojuka? Yeah, just about." Colonel Ojuka had visited the UK in the previous year to ask for help against the military junta ruling his country, Batan. The trip had been eventful. "He's done well for himself."
"He's ousted the junta and his party have taken power. He's also been persuaded to promise elections within a year."
"I'll believe that when I see it."
"You're right to be sceptical, but by all accounts the government is genuinely popular."
"They're nationalising the mining industries and using the profits for social projects rather than lining the pockets of businessmen and generals."
Cowley gave him a surprised look.
Ray shrugged. "I've had a lot of time on my hands with the Guardian."
"Well I'm glad you've spent your time so fruitfully," Cowley replied dryly. "And I'd agree the country could benefit from the stability Ojuka brings."
"So why are we talking about Batan?" Ray asked. "Bearing in mind I don't work for you any more."
"I'm well aware of that," Cowley said sharply. "And I'm not asking you to come back to a crypto-fascist organisation that throws its operatives to the dogs for political favour."
Ray winced as his resignation speech came flooding back, but he couldn't apologise, not with Bodie so hopelessly lost.
"Eloquent, aren't I?" Cowley glared at him and he changed the subject. "So, go on then, why Batan?"
"I'm sure your copy of the Guardian has informed you of Batan's immense mineral wealth."
"Iron ore, coal and possibly uranium, possibly oil."
"And a romantic myth of diamonds, which attracts the worst kind of adventurer."
"Of which, Peter Armstrong." Cowley took a photograph from his breast pocket and handed it to Ray. It was a surveillance shot of a man taken as he came out of a pub. He was in his late fifties, tall, broadly built with a hard, angular face and short, greying hair. Ray studied the picture before giving it back. "Peter Armstrong was a Lieutenant in the eighth army during the war."
"Weren't you in the eighth army?"
"I was." Cowley stared down at the picture. "Armstrong was discharged and served a short sentence following the discovery of an armaments theft ring."
"He was nicking guns. What for?"
"For money. Since then he's been in the Middle East and Africa doing what he can to make more. He's mainly involved in arms dealing and gun running, but he has also led mercenary troops and trained private security. We think he has more sophisticated plans for Batan." Cowley shuffled the photograph back into his jacket and took off his glasses, looking up at Ray. "He's in London now to recruit what appears to be a small army."
"To take to Batan?"
"To engineer a coup and displace Ojuka, putting in his own, more corporate-minded local man as dictator."
"Blimey, that's a bit proactive. The Colonel's not going to like it."
"Indeed, and I'm doing what I can to prevent this adventure going ahead. Though frankly, we have little evidence to proceed on at the moment."
"You need evidence? Times have changed."
"I can manage without the commentary, Doyle."
"Do you want me to try and stop him? Is that what you're asking?"
"No, I can't ask that, you're a civilian." Cowley fixed him with an assessing gaze. "I want you to stop Bodie working for him."
"Bodie? What makes you think he's got anything to do with Armstrong?"
"I've a man undercover in the pub Armstrong is using to do his recruiting. Or I had until Bodie walked in yesterday. He ducked out before Bodie recognised him."
"I didn't know Bodie was in town."
Cowley nodded, seemingly unsurprised at the admission.
"Armstrong isn't recruiting any thug off the street. He wants skilled men, ex-service, ex-agencies. Men dishonourably discharged or fallen on hard times. Or wasting their time in dead-end security guard jobs." He spared a moment to scowl at Ray and let him know he had been keeping track of him.
"If Bodie hasn't told you what he's planning, it's because he knows you won't approve. And Doyle, believe me you don't approve of Peter Armstrong. If Bodie throws his lot in with him, he will be so far on the wrong side of the law, there will be no going back."
"Where do I start?" Ray asked.
When Ray got back to the house, Murphy was waiting for him.
"Has he talked you into coming back?"
"He didn't even ask."
"You're kidding. What did he want then?"
Ray told him about Armstrong and his plans for Batan.
"Ojuka? Wasn't he the geezer with the four wives?"
"Yeah, that geezer, Murph. Though I think he's probably struggling by on three after what happened."
"Do you really think Bodie would be daft enough to get back into that game?"
"He's daft enough. More than. He even admitted it. But this job is extreme even for private army work."
"Desperate times," Murphy said.
"They're that all right. But he's not going to listen to me, is he? I tried to talk him out of it back in Plymouth. I obviously made a big impression because ten minutes later he was gone."
"If anyone can stop the lad going to the bad, it's you."
"Not when he's made up his mind, Murph."
Murphy checked his weapon before holstering it and shrugging on his jacket. "Listen, mate, Cowley likes to claim he rescued Bodie from a life of crime, but all he did was offer him a job. Everyone knows it was you who gave him a reason stick with it."
Ray dismissed the notion. "You're joking. I nearly walked out a hundred times. It was Bodie who stopped me."
"I'm not saying it didn't work both ways, but you two were the best, and the old man needed you. He had you working all hours on the toughest jobs. Operation Susies and god knows what. I know you both loved the job and I know the old man matched you hour for hour, but how many weeks had you been on without a day off when that man got shot?"
"It's not the sort of job where you clock watch."
"Even so. I'm only admitting this because, since you left, it's all fallen to me, but you had it a lot worse than any of us. There was nothing in Bodie's past to say he would have put up with that for more than a year. If he hadn't been partnered with you, he would have packed it in long ago, and you're the only one who can stop him going off now."
Ray shrugged, unconvinced, but touched at Murphy's words all the same.
"I'll have to find him first."
"I'll see what I can dig up about this Armstrong character. Do you need the couch for a few more days?"
"I think I'm going to go to Alf's. Thanks though."
"Yeah, well don't sodding disappear again."
Murphy's garage was currently full of both Ray's and Bodie's stuff as well as Ray's bike. Ray added the boxes he had brought back from Plymouth to the unstable heap already there.
Both batches of boxes had been packed and transported in a hurry, and he couldn't remember now which were his and which were Bodie's. The thought gave him a kind of satisfaction. Perhaps their lives were so tangled it would take more than simple distance to separate them. Perhaps this was the one thing they had in their favour.
"I can't get the car in you know," Murphy hinted.
"I'm not surprised with all this junk," he said, earning himself a look.
The large, double-fronted, Victorian house was run by an old friend of CI5's named Alf. It was called a B&B, but the guests were generally expected to fend for themselves as far as breakfast was concerned. Agents waiting for assigned accommodation to become available often stayed here, so Ray knew it well.
He checked into a plain and basic room on a corner of the third floor. After unpacking his one suitcase, he washed and shaved in the shared bathroom then fell asleep on top of the bedspread, making up for the rotten night on Murphy's sofa. When he woke, it was about four o'clock and he went out for something to eat.
It had been dark for a few hours when he drove to the East End. The pub Cowley had sent him to was called The Drill Sergeant. It was a miserable place with all the charm of a public lavatory and with a constant air of melancholy about it, having lost the 'D' and 'r' from the start of its sign.
It was a busy night, the tables crowded with groups of men and few women. Ray knew the types. This was a place you would go if you wanted to find out who was recruiting. Men back from overseas or getting ready to leave met here. He listened to some of their tall tales and missed Bodie with an intensity that surprised him.
Neither Bodie nor Armstrong came in that evening. Of course they could be anywhere. They could be in another pub or on a plane out of the country, though he hoped the complexities of engineering a coup would delay the departure to Batan for a while longer.
He left his watery beer before closing time having achieved nothing. Driving back to Alf's, he passed a pub called the King George. It had an optimistic chain of Christmas lights strung across the front and a welcoming warmth the Ill Sergeant completely lacked. He wanted to stop and drown his sorrows with a proper drink, but he pushed his way on deciding it was probably best to get a takeaway and go back to his room.
The following day was spent in a futile zigzag across London speaking to Bodie's contacts and acquaintances. He was not surprised to find no one had seen him. Bodie had only been back for a few days and was unlikely to be in the most sociable of moods.
But there was a reassurance in the process that kept him going. It was a relief to be back in London, back on familiar streets, to be back on his adopted home ground.
He was not like Bodie who would be at home anywhere on the planet and on whom the jungle exerted a primal hold. Ray belonged among the sturdy constructions of the greatest and most inexplicable of cities. It was wilderness he found unsettling. The bleak, unmade moors of Devon had made him want London's untidy, slow-travelling river, its banks crowded with buildings and people and history.
Ray went back to the Ill Sergeant in time for evening opening, and this time he got a nod of recognition from the barman. Later, he watched him methodically proceeding from table to table with a damp rag redistributing the dirt in a fair and equitable manner. He stopped at Ray's table.
"Are you looking for work, son?"
Ray shrugged. "Could be. I heard this was the place to find it."
Ray had hoped it would not come to an undercover. He had hoped he would be able to sit down with Bodie and talk him out of this daft plan over a couple of pints. And if that didn't work, chain him to a radiator until he saw sense. But here was an opportunity he couldn't help but take advantage of.
"Are you some kind of copper?" The barman asked. "You look it."
"I used to be."
"Thought so," the barman said congratulating himself on his powers of perception. "What's your name, son?"
"Ray Doyle." They could check him out, and his true history would make an ideal cover story.
"Come back tomorrow."
"Something worth the trouble."
He resisted the King George again on his way home, promising himself a drink there when this was over. He noticed an estate agent's sign over the door and imagined himself proprietor. He smiled at the thought of another possible career change. Another daydream.
When he went back to the Ill Sergeant the following evening, the barman immediately waved him over.
"Upstairs lad, chop-chop, they're waiting for you."
"Who's that then?"
"The labour exchange, who do you think?"
The room he was directed to was a small private dining room, and two men, neither of them Bodie, sat together at a table. Both were in their fifties, and Ray recognised one as Peter Armstrong from the photograph Cowley had shown him. In person he was more striking, radiating a power and energy reminiscent of Cowley himself. Ray sat down uninvited, and Armstrong sized him up.
"You'll have to get a haircut if you want to work for me?"
Ray rolled his eyes and slouched back in his chair, his hands in his jacket pockets. They might suspect him of being an undercover officer, and he had to convince them otherwise if he wanted to get anywhere near Bodie.
"You're Ray Doyle?" Armstrong's accent came from the far North of Scotland, but it had softened with his years away from home.
"That's right. And you?"
"No names for the time being. Can I take it you're the Ray Doyle who worked for George Cowley in CI5?"
"I chucked it in six months ago."
"As I understand it you were one of Morris' best and most loyal men." He unthinkingly referred to Cowley by his old army nickname. "It must have been quite a blow to him when you resigned."
"Yeah well, that wasn't my problem."
"And your resignation followed the death of a member of the public and your partner's court case."
"You must be Eammon Andrews, seeing as you know my life story so well."
"And then you worked as a security guard before coming back to London. Why did you come back?"
"I'm looking for something a bit more challenging, aren't I? And a lot more money."
"Why come to me? What do you know about this job?"
"Nothing. I came here because I know this pub from when it was on my beat. I thought I could make some contacts for overseas work. Where's this job supposed to be, anyway?"
"Does it matter?"
He shrugged and then wondered if he was coming across as too slovenly and insolent. He straightened up and submitted without attitude to a ream of questions from the second man. These were about his fighting skills, weapons proficiency, tactical experience, and so on.
"We'd have to put some of those superpowers to the test before we took you on," the second man said, but he nodded to Armstrong.
"It would be one in the eye for Morris if I got another of his men on my payroll."
Ray looked up.
"Another?" So Cowley's fears had been justified.
"There's one thing I need to do," Armstrong continued. "I'm not taking anyone on for this job without someone I know vouching for them, and as I said, I already have an ex-CI5 man on my books."
Ray was sent downstairs, but he did not have long to wait before he was called back. Armstrong was packing up.
"It's not going to happen," he said.
"It seems you're insubordinate, unreliable and a danger to others."
"Which arsehole told you that?" As if he didn't know.
"The man I've got is a good man, and I trust his judgement."
"Yeah? Well I was with the squad for eight years, and there was nothing on my record."
"I can't afford any loose cannons. The barman can help you find an outfit that's less choosy."
Ray waited in his car for Armstrong to leave. He had the idea of following him, but a couple of the Ill Sergeant regulars soon came out and told him to get lost.
He headed in the direction of home wondering what on earth he could do next to stop Bodie from losing himself to this other, darker life.
He parked the car in front of the King George and decided to drink himself numb there.
He should have known really. If he wanted to find Bodie, he shouldn't treat him like a suspect. He shouldn't waste time with leads and questions and tip-offs. All he needed to do was submit to the gravitational pull that for a few years now had meant he and Bodie were never far apart and mostly in each other's pocket.
Bodie was already turning from his place at the bar as he came through the door. He must have felt Ray's presence like a tap on the shoulder.
Bodie reacted first, closing the distance between them. He grabbed Ray by the arm and dragged him into a narrow corridor on the way to the loos. He pushed him against the wall, pressing close enough for Ray to share his warm, whisky breath.
"Just back off, Doyle, stay out of my life," he barked. "We've got nothing to do with each other anymore."
Some would have been scared off by this stony-eyed stranger, but Ray knew this mask as well as he knew all the others.
"Don't be a twat, Bodie. Let's have a drink."
A ghost of a smile began on Bodie's lips and vanished.
"Leave it alone, Ray. I've told you, we're finished."
"Okay, we're finished, you don't have to see me again, that's your business but--."
"What happened between us--."
Ray cut him short. He didn't want to hear it was a mistake though this was self-evident.
"I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about Peter Armstrong."
"How do you know his name?"
"Don't go in with him, Bodie. What you're getting into will get you locked up for a lot longer than six months, or it'll get you executed, or just shot in the street. And what's more, you'll probably deserve it."
"Well if that's what you think --"
"Me, I'll come and get your body. I'll take you home, make sure your remains get taken care of. I'll go to blinking Liverpool and tell your mum. I'd do right by you, and you know I would, so why won't you listen to me? Why won't you stay with me for more than half a miserable Tuesday?"
"Because," Bodie said evenly. "There isn't a choice."
"You're talking about Batan, Bodie. Batan! Colonel Ojuka would give you a job if you asked him. He had to be restrained from awarding you the Order of the Batanic Bed Chamber last time you met. Why would you want to wreck his country?"
"You don't get it, Ray," Bodie sighed. His hands now rested on Ray's chest, just flat there, rising and falling along with his breaths. "You never will. With you it's the cause that matters, you want to be on the side of the white hats, but that's never mattered to me. It's always been just a job."
"Bollocks it has. If that were true, you would never have given everything you did for CI5, you would never have risked your life every single day."
"Risking your life is the job. I'm not a coward."
"Yes you are. If you go to Batan, that's exactly what you are."
"I need the money."
"You don't care about money," Ray said. "You think there's nothing left for you here. That's why you're doing this. But this is a bad choice. This is the stupidest thing you've ever done in your life. And that's saying something."
Bodie had suddenly had enough and shoved Ray back. Then they were fighting, pushing and scuffling like playground boys who don't really want to hurt each other but can't help but fight. Bodie's fist on his chin put a stop to it and Ray found himself on the floor.
"Christ, this is hard enough," Bodie said. "I tried, I really tried to do things right, to do things your way. I still ended up in the nick. Back where I started. I can't keep trying." He pushed open the door to the bar. "Look, just piss off will you, mate?"
Ray spent a moment on the floor after Bodie had gone, prodding carefully at his jaw. He wondered how far Bodie actually believed this terrible myth about himself - if he really believed himself to be a machine capable of killing if the right coin was pushed into the slot.
3.7, 4.5, 6.2, 2.8. They were identified like guns on a rack, defined by a measurement of calibre and used in similar ways. Taken down, loaded, aimed and fired. Their numbers fell into every day use, supplanting names in ordinary conversation. He understood this was self-protection, one of the ways they stopped the corpses which piled up in imagination from having human faces. It was hardly surprising they would develop shells to keep out this kind of reality.
But for a long time now he had shared his shell with Bodie, and he knew him. Bodie would kill if he had to, but he was no hit man or mercenary, and Ray became angry all over again with Armstrong, the man who had approached him in prison, when he was at his lowest, and made him believe he was.
He did not bother to check Bodie had gone as he pushed through the crowd and out of the pub. When he had stopped driving and realised what he was doing, he was vaulting over the sticky bar of the Ill Sergeant and slamming the scrappy barman into a rack of glasses which came crashing to the floor.
"Gerrof," the man shouted, struggling away from him.
What Ray had not fully thought through was that he had started trouble in a pub full of probable mercenaries who didn't know the meaning of the phrase 'innocent bystander'. He was dragged over the bar, landing on his back on the floor. He got a few punches in all right and did some damage to someone, or at least to someone's shin. But not enough before the lights went out.
He was dumped outside on the pavement. Someone called an ambulance, and when he limped, against advice, out of A&E, it was with concussion, a black eye, a selection of bruises, mysterious pains yet to bruise, an aching back, a twisted ankle and a wrenched muscle in his shoulder. The trip to the Ill Sergeant hadn't been one of his better ideas.
It wasn't the first time Alf had had a damaged CI5 agent in his B&B, and he stuck his head round the door from time to time to check for signs of life. Once he came up with cream of mushroom and buttered Mother's Pride.
So Ray was not surprised to be woken by a knock at the door, but this time, instead of Alf he found Bodie.
"You've got to be joking," Bodie said and caught his arm when the standing up part of the door-opening exercise got too much for him. "Christ, you're a mess."
Ray shook off the hand attempting to guide him across the room.
"What are you doing here?"
"I heard some oik got his comeuppance at the Ill Sergeant."
"How did you know I was staying here?"
"Well, I didn't read your mind this time. Armstrong had you followed."
"Oh yeah, your mate."
"Yeah, my mate." The hand came back more firmly. "Come on, let's be having you."
Ray found himself lying down and his various injuries assessed with a hand as sure as the A&E doctor's, but gentler.
"I trust you'll not be wanting a sick day." Bodie impersonated Cowley as he always used to and drew the covers over him.
"Do you need anything?" Bodie asked. He shook his head and let his eyes close. A hand rested on his forehead then on his cheek. "Ray, is it all right if I stay for a while?"
"Why would you?" He murmured. "We've got nothing to do with each other any more."
"Yeah, I said that."
"I was wrong before," Ray said.
"About what, mate?"
"The stupidest thing you ever did was save my life that time at the embassy."
"No way. That makes all this bearable."
When he next woke, Bodie was still in the chair by his bed, arms folded, watching.
"Nothing's changed," he said. "I still have to go."
"You do that."
His head was clearer when he woke again. Bodie had evaporated leaving the taste of a kiss on his lips. When he got up for the bathroom, he found Bodie's broken love note, which he had left on the chest of drawers. He swept it onto the floor.
At around noon the following day a trio of blurred Murphys arrived.
"Ho ho ho," they said mysteriously.
"What happened to you?"
Ray got back into bed, squinting to bring the Murphy quota down to a manageable one.
"Have you been to Casualty?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. What's up?"
"I just stepped out for a bit, the turkey's in the oven."
Ray frowned. "Is that a code?"
Murphy rolled his eyes. "It's Christmas, Ray."
"Oh," he said. "I must have missed the briefing."
The corner of the room was fitted with a small kitchen area. Murphy filled the kettle and spooned Nescafe into mugs.
"Any sign of young William?"
"He's in with Armstrong. I haven't managed to persuade him it's a bad idea."
"He didn't do that to you, did he?"
"'Course he didn't," Doyle said defensively and then amended, pointing to the bruise on his chin, "Well, just this."
"Don't worry about that. That's his way of saying hello."
While Murphy waited for the kettle to boil he pottered round the room, checking it out as people in their line of work tended to do as unconscious reflex. He picked up the pieces of Bodie's note and placed them back on the chest of drawers.
"I've got a bit of information about Armstrong. Though, by the state of you, you've already found him."
"Go on, what is it?"
Murphy poured the hot water and added the last of the milk. Ray pushed himself up on to one elbow to take his cup, trying to ignore the world starting to revolve above his head. Murphy sat down on the bed with his own cup.
"Did Cowley tell you he knew Armstrong?"
"Did he give me the whole story? What do you think? Did they serve together, is that it? Armstrong knew about code-name Morris."
"More than that, they went through World War Two together. Seems like they were the Bodie and Doyle of the eighth army."
"So what happened? I know he got done for stealing."
"Yeah, he'd got in with a black market ring in North Africa, which evidently Cowley found out about. It was Cowley who put the report in about him, and he was a witness at the court martial."
"Bloody hell." If it had been him and Bodie in the same position, he wouldn't have been able to do it. The revelation hit him. "It would have broken Cowley's heart."
"You did get a bang on the head, didn't you? So the Old Man's probably been keeping track of Armstrong ever since. I wondered why he put a man on him the minute he came back into the country."
"And Armstrong's been keeping track as well. He targeted Bodie out of revenge."
"Oi, what the --"
There was a sudden crack of splintering wood, and before either of them could react the door was kicked open. Ray had time to see a flash of dark metal and a man masked in a balaclava before Murphy pushed him down and a shot was fired.
Murphy stopped moving, and by the time Ray struggled from under him, the gunman had run off.
Blood had started to darken the leather of Murphy's jacket where he had been shot. Ray checked and found him still alive. He packed the wound and did what he could for him while they waited for the ambulance summoned on Murphy's RT.
Ray was sitting against a wall outside a private room in the hospital's surgical ward. He had been waiting for about five, slow hours, and now he was watching Cowley make his way down the corridor. He had been spending Christmas with cousins in Surrey and was dressed in unsettlingly casual tweed.
Cowley knocked and went into Murphy's room where Lisa was sitting with her still unconscious husband. He came out a few minutes later.
"What happened, Doyle?"
Ray told him as much as he knew, watching the growing anger in the old man's eyes.
"This is Armstrong's work. He's trying to cover his tracks. It was foolish of you to pick a fight with one of his associates, Doyle."
"I know that."
"Did you get to Bodie?"
"I couldn't stop him."
"That's unfortunate," Cowley said. "But he's a grown man and must make his own decisions."
"Did you try to stop Armstrong? Back then, when you found out he was involved in the black market."
Cowley looked sharply at him and then shook his head.
"I'd seen the way he was going for a while. Needless to say, he wouldn't listen to me. I thought a shock like a court martial would be enough."
"Instead it pushed him the other way."
"It did." Cowley's expression hardened. "And it's time to put a stop to this once and for all."
"What are you going to do?"
"This is my responsibility. I should have taken steps years ago."
"What steps?" Cowley turned to leave, and Ray limped after him. "Wait, I'll go with you."
He contemplated Ray critically.
"Look at you; you can't even stand up straight. You're neither use nor ornament."
Ray, suitably humbled by the judgement, watched him go. "Well, take someone," he called. "Sir."
A few minutes later he followed Cowley downstairs to get some air. He was out of practice with this type of existence, he thought as he stood in the hospital entrance breathing in the cold and petrol-smell from the ambulance bay.
He felt each of his injuries reasserting themselves as the effect of the last painkiller he had taken wore off and the adrenalin keeping him going faded, too. The thundering and buzzing in his head started up again, and he turned and pressed his forehead to the wall.
He wished he'd had the sense to grab his jacket and some money for a cup of tea before he left with the ambulance, and he decided he never wanted to do this again. He had spent far too many hours waiting in hospitals for friends to live or die, too many hours dodging too many bullets himself. He knew right then he would not go back to CI5. That, at least, was a decision.
Through the uproar in his head, he heard his name urgently called. Before he could react, hands which he recognised as Bodie's turned him round.
The grey sweatshirt he had been sleeping in and the jeans he had dragged on were both filthy with blood and spilt coffee. He had washed the blood from his face before Lisa saw him, but he knew there was still some in his hair.
Bodie began a quick and anxious check for the source of the blood.
Ray realised what Bodie thought and must have been thinking for a few hours, judging by how badly he had lost his cool. He stopped him by taking his hands.
"It wasn't me, it was Murphy."
Bodie looked up and met his gaze, eventually understanding. "Murphy? Is he all right?"
"They're not sure yet. He got hit in the back. The bullet missed his spine, but one of his lungs collapsed. Stupid bastard saved my life."
Bodie held his hands tighter. He was close enough to share heartbeat and body heat with Ray, who needed them both.
"I heard there'd been a shooting in a Camden B&B on the radio news," Bodie said. "I went to your room, and it was a bloody mess. The uniforms on the door said someone had been shot, but they didn't know who. And they didn't know which hospital you'd gone to. I've got no car; there's no public transport. That's why it took me a while to find you."
Ray got a picture of the horror of Bodie's last few hours. "Well, I'm okay, mate. Wish I could say the same for Murph."
He let Bodie's hands go.
"I don't know. But I'm guessing your mates were worried I'd get the law on to them. Murphy was just visiting."
"I didn't -, I didn't know."
"Didn't know what sort you were getting into bed with? Course you bloody did."
He watched Bodie pale and for a moment Ray thought he was going to throw up. But instead his eyes turned cold, and his hand went to his jacket, instinctively checking for the gun holstered there. Ray had seen the gesture a thousand times before. It meant Bodie was going to war. "I'll find out who did this."
"We've got a bigger problem than that, sunshine."
"Cowley's been here. He's not best pleased, and he went off promising to poke a stick into a wasp nest."
"Where did he go?"
"To find Peter Armstrong."
"Armstrong's rented a house in the East End. Do you think the Cow knows about it?"
"Could be, he's had a man on him." Bodie was turning to leave. "Hang on, where are you going?"
"To find him. How much of a head start has he had?"
"Ten minutes, and I'm going with you." He might not be much use but he didn't intend to be left behind again.
Bodie didn't question it. "Is your car here?"
"Nah, it's still at the Ill Sergeant." Miraculously the keys were still in the pocket of his jeans.
"That's on the way to the house. We'll get a cab."
They lost time waiting for what was apparently the only taxi running on Christmas day, but eventually picked up the car and drove east.
Armstrong's house could not have been in a worse position. It was in the middle of a terrace with no obvious access to the back gardens. There was no alternative but to go through the front door.
They had not been there long when another car parked close to them on the corner. It was Cowley's car, and their old boss, accompanied by a younger agent Ray did not recognise, quietly emerged. Cowley nodded to them as if it were a pre-arranged meeting. He looked over at the house where one light was on in the front room.
"Have you seen anyone go in or out?"
"No, but we've only just got here."
"I can get us in," Bodie said. "They think I'm with them."
"You are with them," Cowley reminded him. "Do you know how many live there?"
"Just Armstrong, but people are in and out all the time."
"Let's go then. I want Armstrong alive." Neither Cowley nor Bodie appeared to be questioning which side Bodie would be fighting for.
Bodie looked at Ray critically. "Don't come with us. You've got no gun, you can't fight, and they want you dead."
It made sense. Bodie, even this Bodie who continued to insist there was nothing between them, would risk himself for Ray. He nodded.
Bodie led the small team to the door. Cowley and the other agent stood to the side while Bodie knocked, taking his gun out but holding it out of sight.
Events unfolded quickly. The door opened, and Ray caught a glimpse of Armstrong's second in command who had been part of his interview panel. Bodie had him restrained in an instant, and the other two disappeared inside.
A shot was fired, and Ray, forgetting the plan, ran to the house. By the time he got there, it was over.
Bodie was restraining Armstrong's lieutenant by the door. The younger agent had finished checking the other rooms and was talking to headquarters on his RT. Bodie nodded Ray into the living room just off the hallway.
He found Cowley kneeling over Peter Armstrong's body, his gun still in his hand. To Ray it was clear the man was dead from one shot to the chest, but Cowley kept checking and rechecking the pulse at his neck. Eventually he sat back on his heels.
"I wanted him alive," he said.
Finally he stood up and left the house without another word.
Following the clean-up, Bodie drove them back to the hospital. Murphy was still unconscious, and his condition had not changed in the few hours they had been away.
The visitors' waiting room had been taken over by Murphy's extended family; a well-stocked gene pool of blue-eyed, brown haired brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces decamped from their Christmas reunion. The whole room was vibrating with worry so Bodie led Ray to the quieter end of the corridor where they sat on the floor together to wait for news.
Ray was very far from his painkillers and his head and back and shoulder were not letting him forget it. But these seemed trivial complaints when a dead body had put a bloody scar through Christmas and Murphy, who had stopped a bullet for him, was fighting for his life.
"What do you make of Cowley and Armstrong?" Bodie mused.
"They went way back," Ray said.
"Armstrong was obsessed with him, and I've never seen the old man react like that to a death. Do you think they were...you know?"
Ray dropped his head into his hands to keep out the glare from the strip lighting.
"It's a blurred line sometimes," he concluded.
"Not really," Bodie said after a while. "You okay?"
Bodie slipped his arm around Ray's shoulder. He eased him close until Ray let his hands fall away from his eyes and his head drop to Bodie's chest.
"Go on, I'll wake you if there's any news."
When his various aches woke him sometime later, it seemed natural to find himself folded into Bodie's embrace.
They had never been like this before, he reminded himself. They had been close, but personal space had never dissolved in this way. It was not the strange, distant sex they had shared that had made the difference, but the six bewildering months apart, the months without the one who was always there.
The meaning of this was clear to Ray, but he knew even now Bodie was waiting his moment to leave. This time he did not need a note, he could hear goodbye in every heartbeat.
Lisa came out of Murphy's room, blinking in the brighter light of the corridor and looking dazedly around for Ray. She was too preoccupied at first to register Bodie's appearance at Ray's side as they came to her.
"How is he, Lise?" Ray asked.
She pushed a tired hand through her hair.
"He's better. All his vital signs are improving. They think he'll be able to breathe on his own soon."
"Has he woken up yet?"
"No, and that's what I wanted to say to you. They're keeping him under until tomorrow, so there's no point you staying. He won't be waking up tonight."
"Are you sure you don't want us to hang around, love?"
"No thanks; honestly." She waved a hand in the direction of the waiting room. "I've got the family." She smiled vaguely at Bodie and then the penny dropped. "Oh! You're back." She tried to hug him, but he stopped her.
"Look, you ought to know," he said. "This is my fault."
The swift, questioning anger in her eyes quickly faded. "I doubt it, and I doubt he would see it that way. It's this life you've all chosen. It catches up with you one way or another. You should both know that by now."
They walked down to the ground floor and out into the darkness. It was about one AM and Christmas day was finally, thankfully over. Ray felt the cold in his bones. If he didn't find somewhere warm and somewhere to lie down, he was coming back to this hospital head first.
He suddenly felt fractionally warmer as Bodie draped his jacket around his shoulders. His heart broke a little.
"Are you sure, mate?" he said. "You'll be down to your last four layers of clothes if you're not careful."
"I don't know why I bother."
Bodie drove Ray back to the Bed & Breakfast, and they called a taxi from there. Waiting together in Alf's hallway, they were as awkward as a separating couple finding themselves accidentally together outside the divorce court.
"I mean," Ray said continuing a conversation they hadn't been having. "It's your car, do you want to take it?"
"Nah, keep it for me until I get back."
"Don't do that, Bodie," Ray said wearily. "Don't let me think you're coming back."
Bodie didn't answer.
"Stay with me," Ray said as the cabbie sounded his horn.
Bodie shook his head. "No."
It was immediately clear Ray would not be able to use his room at the Bed & Breakfast. It had received a perfunctory tidy, but the mattress, carpet and wallpaper all needed replacing before it would be habitable again.
He took a careful bath and then, when the painkillers started to take effect, fell asleep on the couch in the guest sitting room.
He woke up late on Boxing Day morning feeling old, his thoughts sluggish and every muscle complaining. He reached up from the sofa to look behind the grey net curtains at clouds darkened and heavy with rain. He tried to remember how long it had been since he'd had anything to eat or drink and became nostalgic for the days when Bodie's spoon-dissolving builders' tea and bacon sarnie doorsteps were a guaranteed therapy for any kind of injury.
He wrote a cheque for Alf to cover his stay and the work that needed doing in the room. Then he packed his suitcase and went out.
He walked to the nearby shops hoping to find somewhere open. A stale cheese sandwich and two Kit Kats were the depressing outcome of his search, but after he had eaten, the world steadied itself and he trusted himself to drive.
He met Lisa at the hospital. She was on her way out to her parents' house to check on the baby and catch a couple of hours sleep. She told him Murphy was out of danger, and he could go in and see him.
Murphy was awake but sleepy, and he smiled as Ray came in. Cowley was there, too. He folded the newspaper he had been reading as Ray came in.
"Hallo, Murph, you don't look too clever," Ray said.
"Look whose talking."
"The doctor says you're going to be fine," Ray said to Murphy. "Me on the other hand, you really messed up my hair landing on me like that." Murphy coughed out a laugh. "So can you be more careful when you're saving my life next time?"
"Do me best," Murphy managed. "Thought you'd been shot and they wouldn't tell me."
Ray covered his hand. "I'm fine, thanks to you."
"The prodigal's been in," Murph said.
"He feels pretty bad about what happened to you."
"So he should," Murphy replied. "But he's done right by me."
"He brought in the man who shot Murphy," Cowley said as Murphy found it increasingly difficult to speak. "Complete with confession."
He'd been busy then, since leaving Ray at the Bed and Breakfast.
"He also came to say goodbye," Cowley continued. "He said he was going overseas."
Ray absorbed this not so surprising piece of information.
"Did he say where he was going?"
"He didn't. But Batan appears safe for the time being."
Cowley got up from his chair and walked to the window. The rain had started, quickly turning from a few spikes to a deluge.
"I'm sorry about how it worked out with Armstrong, sir." He foresaw himself in Cowley's place in years or months to come kneeling over Bodie's body, desperately looking for a sign of life. He understood the regret.
"Thank you Doyle, but we hadn't been friends in a long time."
Cowley put on his raincoat, picked up his briefcase and umbrella. He spoke a few words to Murphy and then turned to Ray.
"There's always a place for you in CI5, if you want it."
"Thank you, sir, but I can't go back," he said with more finality than he felt. "Not without Bodie. Maybe not even then."
"I told Bodie I had too many battles to fight already; I told him I couldn't do anything for him." He opened the door but paused before leaving. "Which seems to be my reprise."
Ray stayed with Murphy as he drifted in and out of sleep, not bothering him with conversation. When Lisa came back, he gave her a kiss goodbye and left.
After the last few days, he was not especially surprised to find Bodie waiting for him by his car. He was wary though, fed up of being left standing while Bodie perfected his disappearing act. Bodie was not moving now though. Seemingly unaware of the rain drenching him through the black leather of his jacket, he watched Ray's approach with a hard, steady gaze. If Ray had not known better he would have thought there were tears and not raindrops tracking down his face.
"I thought you'd be on a plane by now," Ray said.
Bodie took a slim cardboard wallet with the logo of a travel agent from his breast pocket. He handed it to Ray.
Ray took out a ticket. Shielding it against the rain, he read details of a flight leaving tomorrow from Heathrow to Palma in Spain.
"Has civil war broken out again?" He asked.
"Look at the other one," Bodie said.
Looking again he found a second ticket he had not noticed in the pack. The ticket was under his own name.
"I thought," Bodie said. "We could do with a holiday."
Bodie drove them to the King George. He had rented a room above the pub, and Ray at last understood why he had been drawn so irresistibly to the place. The bar was doing a steady Boxing Day trade, but they went straight upstairs to the living quarters.
When they had dried off, Bodie put what seemed to be the reheated remains of the pub's Christmas dinner on the kitchen table and opened a bottle of wine.
"That's very festive," Ray said taking his seat and contemplating the turkey, parsnips and roast potatoes. "Want to pull a cracker?"
Bodie gave him a look and sat down, too. He drank his wine in medicinal mouthfuls without speaking. He had been silent since they left the hospital car park.
Ray had been deafened by Bodie's silences before. They were different to simply not speaking. They meant the processing of chains of thought, the chewing over of the pros and cons of an issue, the internalising of an ocean of emotion. The way Bodie occasionally stole glances at him over the rim of his wine glass made him believe he was the thought, the issue and the ocean. Ray ate; he had a feeling he was going to need his strength.
They both rejected leftover Christmas pudding, and Bodie cleared up while Ray showered. Then he went to Bodie's room. It had seemed a typically shabby bed sit when he first saw it, but now found it warmed by the gas fire and made more welcoming by the muted light of a couple of lamps.
Ray sat in the armchair by the fire listening to the rain against the window. He had a glass of wine, he wasn't hungry, his assortment of pains were fading, his head was clearer and Bodie, miraculously, was just a few steps away. He tentatively designated himself almost human and fell asleep.
When he woke, Bodie was sitting on the edge of the bed watching him. The glass of wine in his hand was almost empty, and the bottle at his feet was empty, too. Ray wondered how long he had been there, not moving, struggling with his next move.
Bodie slowly put down his glass and stood up. After a long moment's pause, he took the wine glass Ray had fallen asleep holding, balanced it on the armrest of the chair, and gave Ray his hand to stand him up. Ray started to speak, but Bodie shushed him.
Bodie brought his hand up to Ray's hair. He explored, sending shivers through Ray as he traced the irregularities of his scalp and the shape of his curls.
Bodie had never touched Ray's damaged cheekbone, but fingers lingered there next, exerting a firm pressure before moving on. They wandered upwards to a bruise just above his eye and down again, to the one on his chin. Ray closed his eyes as Bodie's fingers travelled across his lips. He took the tips into his mouth, but they withdrew, stroking down over his chin and neck, finding the sensitive area where his collar bones met.
"Christ, Ray," Bodie said as he gasped softly.
Bodie loosened the belt of the dressing gown Ray had put on after his shower and pulled it down from his shoulders. His hands travelled to Ray's arms, to his chest with its undeniable darkness of hair and reverently across the scar from last year's surgery.
Close now, Bodie kissed the slope of Ray's neck and shoulder and then hesitated.
Last time there had been no hesitation, just a headlong plummet off the precipice. It had been instinctual, a falling together, an answering of their denied need for each other.
Since then, there must have been thinking. There had probably been brooding. There must have been scrabbling for control. Longing and desire fought off with enough logic to stop a bullet.
In defiance of all previous expectation, this hadn't happened to Ray. He had learnt enough in half a year and one night to know he wanted Bodie full stop any way he could have him.
Where one hesitated, the other acted. He took Bodie's hand, kissed its warm, damp palm and brought it down to his erection, insistent and unarguable beneath the robe. He kissed him, roughly covering his mouth, tasting heat and red wine there.
Bodie stepped back from him, breathing rapidly. Adrenaline had turned him as unstable as a stick of dynamite. Primed for fight, flight or fucking. He made his decision.
Before Ray had time to understand the flash of predatory desire in his eyes, a tumbling avalanche of Bodie had him down on the bed.
He tipped Bodie onto his back and tugged buttons loose to pull his shirt free. Finding a T-shirt underneath he cursed and when Bodie unexpectedly snorted with laughter, he knew this time they would survive.
Much later they lay squashed damply together on the single bed. Ray's arm had fallen asleep a couple of times, so he dragged it out from under Bodie's back. He let his freed hand stroke Bodie's hair, starting to grow out from its harsh prison cut.
"Beautiful," he said.
Bodie turned onto his side, pushed his head into Ray's neck, slung his arm over Ray's chest and fell asleep. Ray dropped his arm around Bodie and held him there. And marvelled. He gave Bodie a shove.
"Don't bloody well leave me again."
"I know, I know."
In the morning when Ray woke, Bodie wasn't there. The note he found on the pillow said, 'back in a tick.'
The tick stretched, so he got up, recovered the dressing gown from the end of the bed, and went downstairs for the bathroom. Then he made himself a cup of tea and had a surprisingly normal conversation with the pub landlady about her retirement plans.
A while later Bodie came back. Ray shouted him in to the kitchen where he appeared bringing a whoosh of cold with him. He put down the bags he was carrying and came to Ray and kissed him. Then they grinned at each other because that had just happened.
Bodie began to dig about in one of his bags. The one from Boots seemed to be full of toothpaste and soap and similar. He pulled out the bottle he had been looking for and tossed it to Ray.
Ray suddenly remembered. They were, improbably, going on holiday.
"Factor fifty thousand. That's good. We haven't seen sunlight since 1977."
"That's what I thought." Bodie had his head in the fridge by then and emerged with a mince pie already half demolished. "We can put that right while you figure out what we're doing with the rest of our lives."
"No pressure then." He looked at the boxes of crisps stacked up in the corner. "Want to run a pub?"
Bodie hooted with laughter. "That's the first sane thing anyone's said to me in a year."
With the kettle on the boil, Bodie sat down with Ray at the kitchen table.
"I bought selotape."
"Oh yeah, what for?"
Bodie took a folded piece of much-taped paper out of his jacket pocket and gave it to Ray. It was the 'I love you' Bodie had written and then discarded. It was neatly reconstructed, its tears taped together on both sides. He must have found it in Ray's case this morning because he had not, in the end, been able to throw it away.
"Walking out like that was unforgivable."
Ray shook his head. "You had your reasons."
"I couldn't handle any of it. Not how I felt about you. Not the way the future looked. But it was still unforgivable,"
"They sent you to prison for sod-all, you were entitled to go off the rails for a bit."
"Was I? Tell that to Murphy. Look, what I'm trying to say is, I'm not running off again. I'm not fucking about with this. This -- us." Ray smiled, and Bodie gave an exasperated sigh. "Jesus, Keats hasn't got anything on me, has he? What I'm trying to say is --"
"Mate," Ray was laughing now. "If I want a speech, I'll tap me glass, all right?"
"Shut up. What I'm trying to say is, I love you," Bodie nodded at the note which Ray still held. "I always have."
-- THE END --