The Scarsdale Pact
Written for "Discovered in the Brandy Butter" on the discoveredinalj livejournal community
A coach arrived at the Hotel Masaryck a convenient five minutes after the kitchen had closed. The dining room was muggy with smoke and five gloomy guests at a line of separate tables were still drinking their coffee. They watched the arrival from the banquettes ranged against the back wall which looked out through glass doors into the lobby.
Pavel, on duty at the reception desk, observed everything from his position leaning on the pillar by the stairs. The wheezing vehicle emptied its passengers on to the frosty street outside, and he stayed where he was until the last of them had struggled up the steps with their bags, meandered across the patchy, mustard-yellow carpet and were standing in a shuffling group at the desk. Only then did he exhibit any signs of life, wandering over and greeting the party with a casual, "Guten abend."
"Bob Billings, Bass Charrington," said a bulky man with a moustache and a pile of passports in his hand.
"Yes," agreed Pavel, reverting to English and squinting down at the big, black register. "Five rooms. Five nights. You play football."
The passports were spilled on to the desk.
"These I keep," Pavel said. "You have letter of recommendation?"
Billings took a folded piece of paper out of his inside pocket and handed it over.
"Signed by your blokes and our blokes," he said wearily. He'd been on this trip four times now, and they had never yet managed to arrive before dinner. His only hope was that their favourite cellar was still open a few streets away and that its beer and sausages were as fine as ever.
Travelling non-stop from London to Prague by springless coach was no joke and the lads had run out of Mars bars and cans of Carling Black Label just after Frankfurt. Not to mention the extra passengers foisted on him at the last minute -- by the Chairman no less. They hadn't touched the Carling but one of them had put away three Mars Bars in one go. Sportswear salesmen, he'd been told, although they were a centre-forward and a right-back if anyone asked. Billings knew nothing more than that the Chairman had friends in high places, and that a cultural exchange visit was a good way to get a visa.
"Ours not to reason why," he just said to the lads if they asked. Now he took the keys from Pavel and handed them round. "Johnno, you're with me and Ron ... Paul, Steve and Wilson in 40 ... Tommy, Neil, Basher together ... You two ... And the back four in number 42. See you down here in half an hour."
"You two" had been hanging around at the back of the group and Pavel eyed them curiously. They looked significantly more like football players than any of the rest of the party, and for that reason alone he was wondering what on earth they were doing here. One of them, wiry and wild-haired, was leafing through the newspapers on a small table. The other, standing stock-still, was somehow taking everything in without appearing to be looking at anything in particular. Both of them looked fit and strong, while their team-mates sported a variety of jowls, bellies and hangovers.
When the keys were assigned, the group headed for the lifts, all carrying identical kit bags stamped Bass Charrington Brewery F.C. Pavel smirked a little to himself. He was also a veteran of these trips and the English factory team hadn't managed a winning visit since 1974. While he was looking for a pen he became aware that Milos from the Ministry of Culture had come out of the dining-room and was now approaching the desk, cigarette still in hand.
"I've seen most of them before," Pavel told him impatiently. "They'll go out for a meal later then drink in the bar. Football matches all day at the university. Every night, dinner here, drink in the bar. The coach comes back for them on Friday morning."
Milos just looked at him and held out a hand for the passports.
Up on the fourth floor corridor most of the team had dispersed to their several rooms and only the rogue centre-forward and right-back remained, looking up and down before letting themselves into room 49. The taller, wild-haired one held the door open for the other who felt about for the light switch and then made a noise of disgust when he found it and flooded the room with cold, creamy light.
Doyle shut the door behind them and threw his bag down. "I know what you're going to say," he said, looking at the bed.
Bodie was standing under the light, hands on hips, staring at it, a narrow, dark wood structure with a notable dip in the middle. A scratchy woollen rug was folded in a triangle at the foot while two scrawny pillows jostled for space at the head.
"That's bloody typical that is," he said, giving it a tentative press. "Bloody typical."
Not a comfortable bed, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a double, and the Hotel register said that it was theirs for five nights.
Doyle ran a hand through his hair. Bodie turned on the bathroom light and peered in.
"Nice deep bath," he said. "Shame there's no plug."
When Doyle still didn't say anything, Bodie scowled at him and headed for the telephone, which was connected to a hole in the wall out of which numerous wires poked. He picked up the heavy black receiver as if he were about to perform a magic trick, and the remaining wires fell out on to the carpet. "Oh dear, room service is off. We'll have to think of something else to do."
Doyle, poker-faced, was unzipping both the bags, rooting for what they needed. Bodie's gun was in a roll of socks and his own taped to some redundant shinpads. They caught each other glancing at the bed. Bodie opened his mouth to say something but Doyle shushed him. "Don't," he said. "Don't say a word."
"Fuck," said Bodie.
"That's a word."
"More than a word, mate, it's a crying, bleeding shame."
Doyle made a hissing noise through his teeth. "It's not like we're here on a dirty weekend," he said, tossing the gun. "'s already nearly nine."
"Ten minutes," Bodie said as he tucked it into his armpit. "That's all I'd need. Tell me you don't fancy it."
"I don't fancy it."
"You lying toad."
"Come on," Doyle said. "We need to go." Typically, he was obliging himself to stay focused, already bristling with nerves and resistant to levity, but some wayward impulse made him tug at Bodie's gaping coat as he got to the door. "Better wrap up warm, mate. Catch your death out there."
Bodie, who always flipped between states of relaxation and tension with confusing ease, removed the lapel from Doyle's grip pointedly. "I've got me hat," he said, fishing it out of a pocket and jamming it on his head. "Three pairs of socks. How cold can it be?"
"Minus five," Doyle said, "and dropping."
Bodie smiled suggestively. "Damart longjohns?" he said, and opened the door.
The corridor outside the room was empty, and although they could hear retreating footsteps on the marble no-one was there when they rounded the corner. The lift itself was sluggish and smelt of cheap cologne. Downstairs, Pavel was no longer at the reception desk and the glass doors of the dining-room were closed. Doyle looked inside as they passed but the tables were cleared and the room seemed empty. The lobby, in all its dreary functionality, was silent.
Shockingly cold air hit them as they went out the double doors at the entrance. A lone taxi was sitting opposite with its light on but they ignored it, turned right and began to walk. By the time they got to the end of the street, they knew they were not alone.
A wadge of grey apartment blocks led away from the Hotel Masaryck, through trees, a park and unlit shopping streets. Hardly anyone was out and about on such a bitter night except, when they got nearer the centre of town, the odd pair of Russian soldiers, armed to the teeth but only on the lookout for the relief duty. They moved at speed, winding randomly to throw their pursuers, neither speaking nor slowing down until they'd made it to the first landmark they could identify and then into the nearest, darkest alley.
"What time d'you make it?" Doyle asked in a whisper, poking fruitlessly at the unfamiliar layers wound around his arm.
Bodie, leaning slightly forward into the dark, brought his head in like a turtle. He shook his own arm, glanced at the winking silver that appeared between leather glove and sleeve, and then leaned out again.
"2150, or near enough ... "
Every breath Doyle took blew out in a fug of vapour. Something dripping from above had found its way down the side of his scarf. He pushed off from the wall to get away from it but that made Bodie hold up a warning hand. Doyle froze, although actually he was already frozen. From head to toe, despite the thermal layers.
"Come on," he said, cross about something, although he wasn't sure what, "we can't stand in here all night. We must have lost them."
"All right." Bodie shifted around. "Let's see if they get on to me. If they do, you can skip off and do the business."
"Forget it," Doyle told him. "Remember what the old man said."
"I know, I know ... don't get picked up, don't get separated. That's all well and good, Curlytop, but I don't think even Cowley bargained on a tail this quick. Why'd they follow us anyhow?"
"Who else is there?" Doyle said. "Everybody else is still playing with their broken telephone. In any case, smartarse, there's a third rule Cowley forgot to mention."
"A third rule?"
"Don't be a stupid pillock in a place where you don't speak the language and you don't have a bloody clue where you're going."
Bodie considered that. "You could be right."
Doyle muscled in front of him, eyes roving each side of the square. They could hear the sound of traffic far away, the clanking noise of pots being washed up in the back of a restaurant and the steady dripping from the pipe overhead.
"Reckon we backtrack," he said, "get the bridge behind us and then bear right."
Bodie snorted. "Keeping out of sight at all times of course."
"Course. Listen, chum, while you were having a kip through Germany I was committing the street-plan to memory."
"So where are we now?"
Doyle pursed his lips. "Um, somewhere near the bridge," he said.
"That's impressive that is."
Bodie followed, nevertheless. They had no choice but to make their rendezvous, whoever was sniffing around. If truth be told, he was rather enjoying himself. Despite the relatively settled past few years, the attraction of foreign climes was as strong as ever, and Bodie felt a sense of liberation in being out of his normal habitat and out of range of Alpha Charlie's transmitter. Could have done with somewhere a bit hotter, mind you. And could have done with Doyle being a bit ... warmer.
"'sromantic," he puffed when they had verified that the bridge was behind them and they had borne right for several hundred metres through a criss-cross maze of little cobbled, residential streets.
"What?" Doyle said, almost in a snap. "What are you on about now?"
"Romantic," Bodie repeated, "being here." He gestured fulsomely across the street at a neat little church with a faint red light aglow up in one of its many little white spires.
"You've got a funny idea of romance."
"At least I try."
Doyle didn't want to get into a "what's that supposed to mean?" argument while they were running blindly around the streets of Prague so he bit his tongue. Whatever it was they were indulging themselves in at the moment, there didn't seem to be any romance involved as far as he could tell. Since the night they'd finally come to a kind of understanding in the pub -- the Scarsdale Pact, as they dubbed it when laying in a sweaty heap in Doyle's bed -- Bodie had been playing with the whole thing like a cat with an exciting new toy. He'd be all bright-eyed and full of flashes of manic energy one minute, and then walk off disinterested the next. And now Mr Instant Gratification was suggesting that he was the romantic one. Bit bloody rich, Doyle thought.
"Cafe Karoliny," he said finally.
"Yes," Bodie agreed patiently, "I was at the briefing too. But you're the one who committed the street map to memory."
"Remind me again why you're here?"
Bodie tutted. "To keep you out of trouble, Raymond. As always. Where next? Third clocktower on the left?"
"Keep proceeding in an easterly direction," Doyle said.
"But let's avoid those chappies with the kalashnikovs shall we?"
Several double-backs and a long jog later, Doyle got them to Cafe Karoliny, which appeared at the far end of a major thoroughfare and which they approached cautiously from an unlit street blocked by building works. A sprawling, well-lit establishment, it sat on the bottom of the five floors of an old, green-roofed building with entrances from two streets and a tram stop just outside the main doors. Given the temperature, the encroaching fog and the time of night it was positively bustling with activity.
Bodie consulted his watch again. "Go on," he said. "We're ten minutes late." Before letting Doyle go he yanked the end of his scarf, adding, "Take it easy, I'll be here or hereabouts."
Doyle gave him the ghost of a smile, his face pinched from the cold, and then stepped out of the shadows. Bodie watched him cross the street, his heart suddenly clambering into his mouth to see him so starkly exposed after they had spent the last two hours pressed into the dark. He saw him glance around as he passed inside the main doors and become lost to view.
Inside, the cafe was jammed, mostly with men, although a waitress with pale hair and a fierce expression gave Doyle a questioning look. He sailed past her, tracking his way through the sprawl of tables to three booths against a mirrored wall. At the one nearest the door to the toilets sat a man with slick grey hair, his back to the front door. Doyle slid into the seat across from him. He knew the one-time military attache Christopher Johnson from the thick scar that puckered the skin by his left eye, travelled down his cheekbone and faded out at his jaw.
"Most honoured," Johnson said in a nicotine-ravaged voice, "A CI5 courrier no less. We thought you boys preferred to stay in the warm. Any trouble getting in? Which one are you?"
"Where's your second string?"
"Keeping an eye out."
"We had company."
Johnson raised the more mobile of his eyebrows. He picked up the small coffee cup in front of him and sipped. There was an empty one on the table and an untouched carafe of water. When he'd replaced the cup his hand, quivering slightly, reached for a packet of Russian cigarettes on Doyle's side of the table. "Order coffee," he instructed, seeing the waitress approaching and then sat back as if he thought he was about to witness a show.
The waitress paused by their table, her haughty expression softening dramatically when she beheld the new customer with his startling springs of hair, shiny from the damp air, and faint five o'clock shadow. Beauty was in short supply in the Cafe Karoliny and now it had just pitched up out of the night and was sitting before her looking out of place and faintly exotic.
"Videnskou kavu," Doyle requested, keeping it short, meeting Johnson's unblinking gaze through the smoke which now hung over the table. "Prosim."
When Doyle moved his eyes and smiled directly at her, the waitress smiled back before moving away, possibly the first time she had done so in more than a week. Johnson sat forward again, almost smiling himself.
"Very good. They told me Major Cowley wouldn't send small potatoes. What've you brought me?"
Doyle, who felt light-headed from the tension of delivering his lines in reality rather than in the vacuum of CI5's basement, removed a packet wrapped in Christmas paper from his coat. It had been weighing him down all the way from London -- the information inside was like gold-dust -- and he was more than glad to hand it over. "Photographs and a tape," he said. "Recorded the evening of the Embassy hit."
Johnson quirked his brow again at the sight of the shiny silver and green. "How kind," he said. "To bring it all this way. I hope it will be worth the effort." Tearing open one end of the packet he tipped out a cassette, which he pocketed, and then placed two grainy photographs on the table-top in front of them.
"Cowley needs them identified," Doyle said. "We lost a good man because your lot weren't doing their job properly."
Johnson shrugged. "Perhaps your man was a fool." He looked closely at the photographs, glanced up at Doyle nervously, and then said, "Shit."
"KGB?" Doyle asked.
"No." Johnson looked angry and sounded rattled. "This is Voskovec. Zdenek Voskovec. And this one is Kasimir Pesek. Both Czech security. Shit. We don't know about this. We worked with these men."
"Not anymore," Doyle said, mentally filing the names. "You sure about them?"
Johnson made an impatient gesture of acquiescence and then he looked sharply at Doyle and said, "What?"
"Second string," Doyle told him. "Something's up." He had seen Bodie enter by the main doors, locate him in a second and make a cut-throat gesture. "You need to go."
Johnson got to his feet and pushed back his chair. "Tell Cowley he'll hear from me," he said, and disappeared before Doyle had time to move. At the main entrance, Bodie was shoving himself back out through the doors, thereby halting the progress of two men in grey coats and fur hats who were trying to come in. Doyle locked eyes with the waitress who was even now advancing down the aisle carrying his coffee in a little white cup and saucer. He hastily tipped a pocketful of loose change on the table and, since two hours with a short-tempered CI5 language coach didn't equip him to express profuse apologies, he slid out of the booth and bolted for the side entrance.
At the front of the Cafe Karoliny, Bodie was engaged in a brawl being conducted in full view of all the customers sitting in the window and a small group outside the door. A contralto squeak echoing along the street announced the arrival of a tram. By the time Doyle arrived several more people alighting from the central car seemed to have entered the fray for no obvious reason other than that they sensed a good kicking being administered to representatives of the occupying powers.
Doyle bundled in. He thought it was the quickest way to extract a Bodie who was so caught up in things he was about to get his right leg run over by the tram as it moved off again. He managed to get to him just as he gave a swipe at the nearest fur hat.
"Time to shoot the crow, sunshine," he said, catching at the crook of an arm. Somehow he didn't stagger as Bodie's weight popped out of the melee and cannoned into him.
Both of them knew the best way out was in front of the rapidly accelerating tram but Doyle was still shocked by the volume of the klaxon that the driver hit. He almost felt, or imagined he felt, the metal bumper graze his calf, and then they ran.
By the time they turned uphill away from the centre, they had to pause for breath, and Doyle indicated the hat that Bodie was still grasping in his fist. "Nice bit of bunny," he said. "Do Flopsy and Mopsy know?"
Bodie dropped the hat, his attention caught by movement out in the dark behind them. "They're still here," he said, clapping a hand between Doyle's shoulder-blades. "Move it."
They sprinted to the end of the street, taking a sharp right that nearly made Doyle skid on the icy surface. Up ahead the road was illuminated by the headlights of a car parked in the centre. Doyle heard Bodie say "No, no, no," and grapple to get hold of his sleeve, pushing him back in the opposite direction. Thirty metres up the other way a group of shadows emerged from a small side road and broke into a run towards them. There was only one other way to go and Doyle heard his own voice say, "Oh bastards" as they pulled up in the middle of a gloomy forecourt of boarded-up shopfronts to which there was only one entrance. And only one exit.
"Six," Bodie panted as he reached into his coat.
Doyle clamped a hand on his arm. "We're not shooting our way out of this," he said through gritted teeth.
Already someone was haranguing them in what could have been Russian, or it could have been Czech. Men in dark clothes, none in uniform, were slowing down on their way into the forecourt, realizing their quarry had no escape route.
"You can't count, mate," Doyle said.
"Well if we're not shooting," said Bodie, "what are we doing?"
"We're being nice and calm," Doyle said, beginning to raise his hands.
"Don't get picked up," Bodie reminded him, as if that were good enough excuse to engage eight men in a firefight.
Now is not the time, Doyle thought. Now is not the time for maverick.
"Sparta Prague," Bodie then said out of the blue. "Dobry, dobry," and he smiled. Evidently he had been listening to Doyle rehearsing his condensed Czech phrasebook. "We sell sporting attire," he went on. "Look, I've got a sample here ..." but as he reached into his coat a large black pistol was levelled at his forehead by the only man not wearing a hat and Bodie rather regretted his unintentional theft. Someone else rummaged in his coat from behind and extracted his gun. Doyle's followed. They were searched for identity papers, the lack of which sparked a heated conversation and made them push Doyle around between them as if they couldn't decide who should deal with him first. His hands were still up but he had a decidedly pissed-off glitter in his eye. However, with the pistol still rammed between Bodie's eyes he didn't want to make any false moves.
A string of barked sentences issued in his direction from two of the men at the front of the group, while several others peered with interest at the booty. Doyle didn't think it sounded like "we're going to shoot you." He didn't think it sounded like "we're going to arrest you" either. What he did think, but didn't quite have time to communicate, was that it sounded suspiciously like "we're going to kick the shit out of you."
Bodie, though, had never agreed to nice and calm in the first place. Seeing Doyle pushed around had made him feel illogically on the offensive.
"Listen, my Mars Bars have worn off now, so fuck the lot of you ... go on ... fucking shoot me and see what you get!"
A split-second of mystified silence followed. The hatless man looked to his leader for advice and immediately lost control of the situation. The moment the heavy barrel was lowered Bodie threw all his weight behind his elbow, which he delivered in and up, almost lifting the hatless man off his feet. Doyle just put his head down and charged. Stiff with cold, unarmed, outnumbered ... it seemed pointless to try anything fancy.
Five minutes later they were alone, guns, watches and currency gone. Doyle lay on his back looking lopsidedly up at the misty night sky behind the curlicues of a dimly-lit spire. He thought he had been out for a bit, heard a car driving away and realised he was bleeding from the nose. When he rolled over and got to his knees he saw Bodie crouched next to him examining his knuckles.
"Don't do that again, Bodie, all right? Don't ever bloody do that." He got to standing and hauled Bodie up with him, mindful that the ground was hard as iron, covered in a film of ice-crystals.
"What'd I do?"
"Invite them to shoot you!"
"I. Was. Joking."
"Well they didn't know that!" Doyle yelled, back-handing him so hard and unexpectedly across the shoulder that Bodie staggered and a spasm of pain shot through his own fingers.
"They didn't understand a single word I was saying," Bodie justified himself. He rubbed his shoulder, wounded by the attack. Jesus ... Doyle had certainly put a lot of anger behind that. He studied him from under his brows doubtfully. "What are you so pissed off about?"
Doyle didn't respond, just turned away. Bodie, who tended to embrace rejection like an old friend, tottered round to face him.
"In the fight between you and the world," he chided, dabbing at the spongy bruise coming up on Doyle's bottom lip, "back the world."
"Come again?" Doyle asked, feeling the anger draining out of him.
"Kafka," said Bodie vaguely. He took a stumbling step backwards and pressed himself against the wall behind in order to remain upright with more confidence. "Lived round here."
"Oh right, yeah," Doyle agreed through the buzzing in his head. He didn't like either Bodie's compensation into his left side, or the huffing sound of his voice. "Isn't he the one who wrote about a bloke who became a lizard or something?"
"An insect, Doyle. He woke up in bed one day and he'd turned into a giant insect."
"Yeah, hate it when that happens. Why don't you sit down?"
"Why don't you?"
Doyle rubbed at his kidneys with feeling. "They weren't secret police," he said. "Or they'd have taken us in."
Bodie bent himself in half gingerly. "Maybe Johnson's got other enemies. Reckon they were all over that cafe. Bunch of bloody thieves." He shivered.
"Changed my mind," said Doyle reaching out, "Don't sit down."
Bodie looked up at the proffered hand. "Give us a minute," he said, and slid to sitting, his legs slumping out across the cobbles.
Doyle took a hunted look round, then went down to his haunches. "It's freezing out here, Bodie, and we need to make that rendezvous. What've you got?"
"Dunno. Popped a rib maybe. Got a kick in the orchestra stalls and all."
"Kiss it better?"
"Ha ruddy ha."
"Are you going to be able to - ?"
"What? Walk ten miles with galloping hypothermia? I might."
"Seriously," said Doyle. "Mustn't get cold."
Bodie let his chin droop on to his chest momentarily. Then he slapped one gloved palm down on the ground and held up the other, gloveless, to Doyle whose warm fingers slipped around his icy ones. He didn't make a sound as he allowed himself to be levered up to standing again, but Doyle saw all there was to know in the scrunched face and closed eyes.
"It really is about ten miles, Bodie," he said quietly. "So you need to tell me."
Bodie opened his eyes with a jerk. Although he was sure about being desired, he was never quite sure of being cared about and he assumed Doyle had made the Pact on the basis of the former rather than the latter.
"Don't give me any of that Florence Nightingale shit, Doyle," he said gruffly, "I'm fine now I've got my breath back."
There was a lot of energy to be wasted telling Bodie he wasn't fine when he had decided he was, so Doyle didn't. Instead, he re-wound his scarf. "Back to the centre," he said, "and then we head due west." Bodie said nothing, just invited Doyle to lead on.
Avoiding one or two military patrols rolling down the bigger thoroughfares, they made it within a half hour or so, emerging finally from the backstreets near a closed metro station, its entrance steps gritted with salt. In front of them stretched a wide open space with dull shops and buildings on both sides, dominated by a statue of a man on horseback. There must have been a market here earlier, evidenced by the cluster of wooden booths, their roofs sparkling with frost under the streetlamps. There was only one open to the street now, steaming faintly, and behind which stood a very little old man muffled in layers of wool.
"Good King Wenceslas," Doyle muttered as they avoided two drunks having a barney at the foot of the statue. He glanced up. "Check out that spear."
"This isn't a sightseeing trip, Doyle. You can look at bollock-naked regents some other time."
"No," protested Doyle. "I meant his spear, his real spear ... he ... oh never mind."
Bodie grunted something. He put a hand to one knee and bent over again. Doyle's hand hovered over his back but he didn't touch down.
"Wait here," he said.
When Bodie straightened up again, wincing delicately, Doyle was at the other side of King Wenceslas, standing at the wooden booth, his sillhouette unfamiliar in the shroud of his big coat.
"Get this down you," he said, when he had made his stiff and cautious way back. "It's hot."
Bodie's unresponsive hands attempted to cup themselves around a thick-bottomed glass. Doyle didn't help him although he wanted to.
"I know you were holding out for cabbage and dumplings," he said, "but this is all that's on offer."
Bodie took a clumsy gulp and then sniffed the liquid. "Cloves," he said in disgust.
"Just drink it."
Bodie obeyed. They stood under the statue and drank the hot wine toe to toe and almost nose to nose. And they stared at each other, quiet for a change.
"Tell me again what we agreed," Doyle said after a bit. He had asked himself the question over and over again ever since the Scarsdale. Whatever it was, they had both understood it at the time but it had eluded them ever since.
"Oh I don't know," Bodie said. He tipped the last of the liquid, along with a mouthful of orange peel, down his throat, then he pushed Doyle's glass away from his mouth and kissed him hard. All he wanted right now was to drive away the cold and the pain in his side with the warm centre of Doyle's lips, sweet with cinnamon.
A kiss had marked the Pact, too, but that had been more of a salty banging-together of lips and teeth, nothing like this. "I don't believe it ..." Doyle had ground out at his final thrust, amazed to find himself up to his bollocks inside Bodie, stunned at the runaway train which had sped past all warning signs and seen him scrabbling to get hot, hard flesh into his mouth, nearly out of his mind with desire and then nearly weeping with relief that finally, finally, after all these months, he knew. And Bodie, silent, but taking in long, slow, steady breaths, had bucked him off and they'd tried to kiss but they were both too shocked and drained and uncoordinated.
It didn't feel like that now, although somehow, having Bodie hanging off his lips desperate for comfort was equally perfect. Even so, Doyle couldn't quite respond at first. His punched mouth throbbed and he was sure men kissing at the foot of King Wenceslas was just the kind of hideous treason that would get them arrested and shot. Bodie's tongue curled luxuriously against his.
"Don't know what you see in him," one of his girlfriends had said once, jealous of Bodie like they always were, one way or another.
"He's a bloody good kisser," Doyle had said and she'd laughed at the joke.
Bodie pulled away at the self-same moment Doyle was about to kiss him back, to jettison caution and restraint, and just fall into it, just for a moment or two.
"Don't think I can breathe if I do that anymore," Bodie said. "Here you are," and he dumped his empty glass on top of Doyle's, studying his face for any signs of disappointment. The chink sounded loud and lonely. The old man seemed to have shut up his booth, so Doyle went and put the glasses on the ground next to it. When he got back Bodie was bent over again.
Doyle put the hand down this time, stroked some encouragement.
"Only eight miles to go," he said.
Bodie spoke from his stoop. "We should come back some time," he said. "When they've kicked the Russkies out. Give it fifteen years."
"You'll have left me by then," Doyle said.
He heard Bodie laugh painfully. Far down the square a small military vehicle drove out of a side road and began lumbering in their general direction.
"Up to it?" Doyle asked, turning the strokes into a warning pat.
"Don't start," Bodie grumbled as they moved off.
And Doyle really had to hand it to him. Not until the last hour did Bodie falter. Despite everything, the lack of sleep and food, the bitter cold, and especially his dented ribcage, he kept up the pace, through miles of dark suburbs, until they reached fields turning grey in the gathering dawn, lined by spiky silver trees. He didn't say much except to ask Doyle once if he remembered what Johnson had told him.
At the rendezvous point, just as planned, a blue Skoda was waiting, its driver standing in the road smoking. When he saw them coming out of the fog he began a slow walk towards them.
"Becherovka," he said, handing a flask to Doyle who was the first to reach him.
"Ta," Doyle said and took a swig. Something white-hot burned all the way down his throat. His eyes watered up as he passed the flask to Bodie.
"Dobry," the man said. "Good?"
Bodie wheezed as the liquid suffused his bronchials. "It'll do," he managed hoarsely, passing the flask back as the man gestured to the open back doors of the Skoda. They limped around to opposite sides.
"So the Scarsdale Pact," Bodie said, pausing to put his hands on the roof. "Want to know what we agreed?"
Doyle stopped with one leg inside the car and stared at the hands, and at him, glad beyond measure to hear him talking. "Go on."
"Simple," Bodie said. "Don't get separated." He made to duck into the car and then looked up again as if he had forgotten the main point. "Ever, that is. And when the Russkies do get booted out, five years, ten years, twenty years .... we'll come back."
Doyle was still staring as Bodie disappeared, slamming shut the door. He climbed in and as the car moved off he looked hard out of his window. There was really only one way to respond.
"Nah, don't fancy it," he said.
"You lying toad," said Bodie and shifted across the seat so he was near enough to catch Doyle's hand and drag it under his coat.
-- THE END --