Baiting the Trap
George Cowley was ushered into the office at precisely nine in the morning. As the heavy door closed behind him, the Controller of CI5 moved forward with slow dignity to take the hand of the man who was rising from behind the desk to greet him. A firm handshake, Cowley noted with approval, but he suspended all other judgment for the moment. He'd known villains in plenty who'd met his hand just as firmly, all the while plotting his downfall.
"Mr Cowley. Good of you to see me on short notice," Mr Penworthy said warmly. Hint of seriousness about the man, though, which added to his dignity. Cowley sat when the man waved him into the comfortable chair beside the desk, watching the small nervous motions the man used to straighten a stack of papers on the desk.
"Mr Penworthy," Cowley said as he sat down. "I must say, you have intrigued me with your message. A matter of security, I believe you said?"
"Yes. I...really, this is quite difficult." Penworthy's white moustache twitched as he drew his face into severe lines. He sat down, not looking at Cowley as he went on speaking. "I hope you will not take the remarks I am about to make in any way personally. It is not my intention to criticize the way you run your department. I have the utmost respect for CI5 and the work it does."
"I am gratified to hear that, Mr Penworthy, but I confess I find your remarks somewhat ominous." Cowley made himself comfortable and waited for the man to get to the point.
"Yes. I apologize. It is only that the matter is of some delicacy and I am sure you must see that in my position, it is necessary to...to sometimes do distasteful things in the line of duty."
"I understand the necessity entirely," Cowley assured him, with what patience he could muster.
"You would, of course." Penworthy paused, and then sighed. "A matter has come to my attention."
"And does this matter involve CI5?" Cowley asked, hoping to accelerate the process. He had another appointment at ten, and at this rate he would be extraordinarily late for it.
"Yes. To be specific, two of your agents. Two of your top agents, in fact." Penworthy picked up a card from the desk and read from it, although it was patently unnecessary. "Ray Doyle," the man intoned, "and William Bodie."
"Yes, my best team," Cowley agreed, watching a small tic suddenly become active in the man's cheek.
"Some information has come to this office," Penworthy said quite slowly, "Which indicates that these two agents are..." he licked his lips, "unsuitably involved."
"I see. Unsuitably involved in what way? In what activity?" Cowley wanted to know.
"In...each other. They are participants in a...a homosexual liaison."
"I...see." Cowley took a small black notebook from his pocket and sorted among the three pens in his pocket for the slim black one with the fine point. "I hope you don't mind if I take notes, ask questions?" Cowley asked. He intended to do so anyway, of course, but given the hue of the man's face, Cowley determined to give him a little more time to sort out his composure. "Now," Cowley said briskly, "please tell me how you came about this information."
"It was overheard by one of my staff members." Penworthy interpreted Cowley's inquiring look and added, "Jonathan Fellows. In his pub. Two civil servants were discussing the...affair."
"Did he obtain the names of the two?" Cowley asked, pen poised.
"Geoffrey Flagstone and Alan Drowinsky. They are clerks, I believe. Whitehall."
As Penworthy spoke, Cowley wrote several lines in his neat, crabbed handwriting, nodding to encourage Penworthy to go on.
"Did you question them?" Cowley asked, when Penworthy did not volunteer more information.
"No. My man did investigate, however. He has a friend who works in CI5. He sounded the man out about Bodie and Doyle. It appears that they have been partners for some years. Quite well known, in a quiet way, for exploits of...er, bravery and a certain flamboyant style?"
"They could be described in that manner, yes," Cowley said dryly. "Your man's name?"
"Oh. Steve Dolan."
"And his friend in CI5?" Cowley asked, not betraying by his tone that he was quite curious on this point.
"I didn't ask. Is it important?"
Cowley didn't answer directly, but said, "I should like the name."
Penworthy nodded, said a few words into the intercom, and turned his attention back to Cowley. "We were not able to confirm the rumour, I am afraid, although we did hear the two men are very close, that they spend their off-duty time together almost exclusively and often spend the night at each other's flats. In light of the potential for a security problem--the blackmail factor, as I am sure you know--I thought it advisable to inform you at once. We can't have that sort of thing encouraged, can we, Mr Cowley?"
Mr Cowley was saved an answer by a discreet knock at the door. The young man who had ushered Cowley in came in on cat feet, moving across the thick carpet silently to hand his employer a folded paper before he stole out again. Penworthy opened the paper, read it, and then handed it to Cowley. Cowley read it, noted the name of one of his B team operatives, and mentally promised that young man a verbal skinning, for he had not reported that interview. If he had not understood that he was being milked for information, even by a friend, he would get an additional measure of his superior's wrath.
Cowley handed the paper back. "Thank you," he said. "If you could answer a few more questions? What was the date that the first conversation was overheard? And then the date your man talked to my operative." He wrote rapidly as the answers were supplied. "Have you discussed this matter with anyone else? I need all names. You understand that, true or not, this sort of gossip is quite dangerous?" Cowley asked.
"Of course. That's why I called you. To the best of my knowledge, my men were quite careful. We made inquiries, of course, but we did not ask for the information directly." Penworthy looked quite smug at that.
"A list of the people to whom the inquiries were made would be of use to me," Cowley told him. Then he stood up. "I thank you for bringing this matter to my attention. I shall investigate, of course."
"I felt it my duty. I knew you would be concerned for the reputation of your department. And, of course, those types of people are a security risk." Penworthy held out his hand again. Cowley made sure the handshake was as brief and unenthusiastic as he could make it. A faint frown appeared between Penworthy's heavy brows.
"Your concern is appreciated. Please report to me if you hear any more along this line." Cowley gave a nod and headed for the door, glancing at his watch. He had just enough time to make it to his next appointment.
A busy morning, with only a snatched lunch and an occasional cup of tea before an equally busy afternoon, made it impossible for him to take the time to summon Bodie and Doyle into his office. It was just after five when he called them in. He heard them in the corridor, understanding from their conversation that they had been almost out the door and were bemoaning the fate which had not let them get away a minute earlier.
When they came in, they showed none of their impatience, but waited with open faces for their orders. Cowley studied them quietly. His best team. Handsome, well-muscled men, with a competent air and a hint of danger about them. Doyle's hair needed trimming again, but any feminizing effect the heavy curls had was countered by the blueness of his jaw and the irregularity of the damaged cheekbone. Bodie, beside him, was dressed in a new black jacket and was wearing a new bruise on the edge of his jaw. Too close to the car bomb which had blown up, Cowley decided as he recalled what their assignment had been that day. They'd been up since dawn, he remembered.
In sympathy he said, "I shall make this short." He unfolded a large sheet of paper, four feet long on each side, which completely covered his desk. They came nearer. "I've had another report. Here," he said, pointing with his pencil. "Penworthy. Higher up this time. He reported two weeks after he heard the rumour, but not before he did a little investigating. He'll have spoken to his superior, although he did not inform me of that." Cowley's lips pinched together in annoyance. "He's shown me a loose pair of lips in our own organization as well." Cowley wrote notations beside the names of the men who had been involved in the gossip and investigation, ending with a flick of his wrist which threw the pencil away from him. He stared at the paper before him. On it was a chart of the government offices, with lists of the men and women who worked in each. A full third of the paper had penciled-in remarks and dates.
Doyle came around to stand at his shoulder and look down. "This lot shares the same building with last month's report. Never realized how gossip travels," he added.
"And I never realized how useful your liaison with Bodie could be. An exercise in the patterns of communication, aye, but more than that. The way a department head approaches me tells me much about the man, about how he views his job and what sort of trouble he'll likely be up to." Cowley pulled out a two inch thick file and added his notes from this morning to the stack inside. "Four men have attempted to blackmail me with this information. Not for money, but in order to have a handle on me, to manipulate CI5. I've given them free rein, and one of them is trying for the big leagues, has given me to know that if I do not slide into his pocket he'll move against me. This last one, though, was fairly straightforward in his approach. He's titillated, and he likes the idea of causing you to lose your jobs, of being a person who can affect, if not kings, then at least his peers."
"Nice to know we've been of assistance," Bodie said slyly, his slight grin directed at both Cowley and Doyle.
"Oh, I'm still annoyed with the pair of you. I've waited a year for you to get that nonsense out of your system!" Cowley scowled at Bodie as if hoping to see said nonsense falling out of him even as he spoke. Bodie did not oblige him, but grinned again.
"Not likely to happen," Doyle said, speaking for them both. "Seems the opposite, in fact. I'm becoming quite fond of him," he admitted, unaware of having spoken the understatement of the decade.
"I'm afraid you're stuck with it, Mr Cowley. We're still in love, still sleeping together," Bodie said.
Cowley snorted at the word 'love' but didn't argue. He had been convinced when they first came to him that it was a temporary aberration, a bit of sexual exploration which they would work out of their systems. It was galling to be wrong, to acknowledge to himself that he did not know these two men quite as well as he thought he knew them.
"And look at the bright side--eventually you'll have this whole page filled," Bodie went on.
"Aye." Cowley did not sound pleased about that. He had started the project as a way to save something from the major disaster of discovering his best team had taken up a homosexual relationship. He had gone to the Minister and asked for permission to set up a plan for ferreting out potential rotten spots within the government agencies. Rather to his surprise, he had not only got permission, but some funding. He now had an agent working on the problem full time. He also had Bodie and Doyle, the perfect bait for his trap.
Any mistake the lads might make, any revelation of their relationship, only freshened the bait, starting another round of the game. Another quiet warning from a decent man or woman in office, or another underhanded attempt to manipulate the system. Those who chose the second option were investigated completely. Some had found their careers stalled, others were eased out of public life. Still others were in place, watched, used for one reason or another, in one way or another. The Minister was pleased.
It was so useful. The interest human beings took in the sex life of others guaranteed a continual cycle of revelation and reaction--and meanwhile, his top two agents lived, relatively unmolested and certainly free to continue their affair. They willingly reported any blackmail attempts, and meanwhile, their fellow agents had come to accept the situation. Some knew of Cowley's charts and files and intent, and others did not. Some came to Cowley privately with their concerns, and were commended for their loyalty and confidentiality. Others blabbed what they knew, either to the public or to others, and were hauled in for what was obviously a very necessary warning. Bodie and Doyle, one way or another, kept CI5 at its best.
Cowley sighed. It wasn't what he would like, but the situation was not without its uses, and so he folded the chart, closed the file, and said to his best team, "Go home. I don't want to see you for twenty-four hours."
Bodie sprang up, his face alight, and Doyle was at his side in an instant. "Yes, sir!" Bodie said, as he took hold of Doyle's arm and hauled him towards the door before their boss could change his mind. Doyle went willingly, and Cowley rather fancied he saw the birth of a sexy, promising look in those green eyes. It made him irritated, and he slammed the file into the drawer and turned the lock with rather more force than the action required. He sat, staring at the door they had closed behind them, wondering why he had given them twenty-four hours when he had not intended to do so.
Those two had always been able to get under his skin. He'd been upset when he found they'd fallen into bed together, but it hadn't made any difference in the way they did their job; it was possible they were even better than before. The way they seemed to read each other's mind on the job was uncanny. Why hadn't he fired them when he'd discovered their folly? Why had he constructed this elaborate trap to make use of it? It had been a far more successful snare than he had ever imagined. Had he given them the extra time off in gratitude?
Had he come to accept their relationship? Even approve of it? The thought made him uneasy. He preferred to think of it as a tool, as a tolerated necessity. Approval?
Cowley snorted at the very thought. Acceptance. That's all it was. Acceptance of something he could not change, but meant to use as long as he could make it serve him. He stood up and went for his coat. For once, he would leave the office on time. He thought about going home for a much needed evening of quiet relaxation; he thought about getting enough sleep for once. He would not think of what use Bodie and Doyle were going to give to their unexpected day off.
Once in his car, enduring the heavy traffic which his usually longer hours spared him, he thought again of the twenty-four hours he had granted to 3.7 and 4.5. They deserved it, he thought as it began to rain and traffic slowed even more. They had come to him promptly only a few days after they had begun their liaison. They had told him all of it, and offered their resignations if he wanted them. They had agreed to his proposal to use the relationship for his own purposes. If everyone he dealt with had that level of integrity, his job would be much simpler.
He decided he would not think of them as being at home, having sexual congress. He wouldn't even think of it as making love. They were in a CI5 flat, in a CI5 bed...baiting the trap.
-- THE END --
Originally published in No Holds Barred 6, Kathleen Resch, 1994