Patterns in Walls
by Debra Hicks
The dark-haired man smiled cooly at the camouflaged face barely visible in the dim light of the Chicago park. "The paint's a bit much, isn't it?"
The tall man shrugged, his voice deep, "New game here, William, different from Africa."
The smile turned cynical, "But you haven't changed. Still defender of the weak, huh?"
"What do you want?"
"I need your help. There's a man in Chicago I have to find."
Dark eyes were cold, "He's an escaped felon wanted back in England, and he has something that belongs to me."
"What makes you think I can help you?"
"According to the tabloids the mysterious Jon Sable can find anyone."
Sable slipped silently off his perch on the statue. He was taller than the man he confronted but slighter; cat-like, lean, graceful, relaxed energy.
The man facing him was solid, broad shouldered, muscular, power held impatiently just below the surface. Sable moved closer, searched midnight blue eyes. He didn't like what he found.
"You chased this man all the way from London?"
"Not exactly," was the level reply. "I was to escort him from Toronto back to London."
"You intend to kill him when you find him." It was not a question.
Not a flinch from the other man, "That depends."
"That's my business once we find him." A look flared in his eyes that would have caused sane men to back away. Sable held his ground. As suddenly as it appeared, the anger vanished. The man stared at him, very evenly said, "You owe me, Jon."
Sable had known it would come to this. "That was a long time ago."
"I wasn't aware that obligations had a time limit."
Sable turned away, putting his back to the man, something he rarely did. "You're pushing a lot of bad memories."
The man sighed, obviously searching for a way to convince him. "Jon, I need your help to save a man's life."
"Save one?" Sable questioned. "By taking one?"
"No. That's only if we're too late." There was a shakiness in the accented voice that caught Sable's attention, turned him back around.
He watched the other man, gauging. Finally Sable nodded, "I'll listen." The hunger in the other's eyes changed to hopeful impatience. "I only hope whatever you're chasing is worth it, William."
"It is." There was no hesitation in the strong voice. "And Jon, William died in an Angolan prison. It's Bodie now."
"The van was diverted less than four blocks from lock-up. Two men shot out the tires on the police escort, drove the van off the road, pitched the driver out and vanished." Bodie sipped the hot coffee Sable had handed him.
"That was two days ago," Sable confirmed.
"Chicago police turned up the vehicle yesterday morning." Bodie raised an eyebrow, "I'd heard about you Jon, knew I'd need help. Not my patch, is it? Put the ad in the paper and here we are."
Sable studied the other for a minute, playing over the facts he'd been given. He had taken off the black hood, revealing slightly long, curly light brown hair that stood on end from the static in the cold winter air. "Sending CI5 on escort duty is unusual, isn't it? Why?"
Bodie shrugged, "No idea. We just follow orders."
"We?" Sable questioned.
Bodie's jaw tightened, the hand around the coffee cup gripped harder, "My partner, Ray Doyle was riding with Miller. Miller has him. I'm going to get him back. It's his life that's riding on this little venture."
The voice had been steady, reciting the facts of life with an intensity that Sable wouldn't have expected. He hesitated, not wanting to ask the obvious question, "How do you know he's still alive? There's a lot of empty country between here and Toronto."
"I know Miller," Bodie answered, the doubt tightly reined. "He's a bastard but smart. All his assets in England are frozen. He'll use Doyle as hostage, ransom him back for some of his stolen goodies."
"Will your people do that?"
"No," Bodie said frankly, "but our boss will stall for as long as he can."
"But if your partner is dead..." Sable pushed.
"If Doyle is dead," Bodie regarded him calmly, "Miller's mine."
Before Sable could reply the lock clicked on the front door. A large black man came in, locked the door behind him, leaned his white cane against the wall. "Jon, who's our guest?"
Bodie glanced at Sable, obviously surprised. Sable smiled, "Cheesecake, meet...Bodie, an old acquaintance. Bodie, this is Cheesecake, the man who's going to help us find Miller."
"I am?" Cheesecake kidded, "And what did you bring me in payment for said deed?"
"How does almond chocolate sound to you?"
"Next trip," Sable promised. "We're in a hurry now."
"And when are you not in a hurry?" He moved over to a PC on an old desk. Bodie and Sable moved up behind him as he sat down, "Okay, let's feed the kitty."
"Lawrence O. Miller," Bodie supplied, "American. London resident for the past eight years, until six months ago when he disappeared just ahead of a police pick up."
Cheesecake's fingers started playing the keys. Sable moved, put his hood back on. Bodie turned toward him. "You leaving?"
Sable nodded. "I've got other people to take care of. Don't worry, I'll be back by the time Cheesecake has a lead." He patted the black man's shoulder. "I'll bring the cake."
"Hey, Jon, have you heard the one about the home for English governess that was also a front for a bookie joint? When the police raided the place they were told to search...."
"Every crook and nanny," Bodie deadpanned.
Cheesecake hit the button on a toy laugh box, laughed along with it. He was not used to being upstaged. Sable shook his head as the black man went back to his input. He lifted the window, swung out.
Bodie frowned at the man's exit. "Does he always leave that way?"
"You think it's a bit eccentric?" Cheesecake asked over his shoulder.
"I think it's beyond that, mate."
A deep laugh was the only answer he got.
The window opened without a sound, the dark figure slipped in like a whisper, moved up behind the rotund man at the computer.
"Back so soon, Jon." Cheesecake never paused as his fingers scanned the Braille enhanced printout in his lap. "Put the cake on the table."
Sable did as told, shaking his head at his continuing failure to sneak up on his blind friend. "Where's Bodie?"
"Bed. Jet lag caught up with him."
Sable pulled the kitchen stool over to the computer table, "What have you got?"
Cheesecake shook his head, "Plenty in England. Not much in this country, in fact I can only find one bank account for him here."
"But?" Sable prompted.
"I don't know." Cheesecake floundered, "Something's not right, doesn't fit. The account's private, not business but there seems to be an awful lot of money going through it. I haven't got a handle on it yet but I will." He handed the printout to the tall man, "Check it for yourself."
Sable took the sheet, stood and pulled the hood off. Snow had soaked through, leaving his hair damp, "Have the authorities ever checked out this account?"
"No, no reason to. He hasn't done anything illegal in this country so they have no legal grounds."
"Nothing else? No friends, no holes he could disappear into?"
"Not that I...."
The printer chattered again. Cheesecake let his fingers follow the Braille strip as it flowed by. He cocked his head at an interesting fact; switched his attention to the keyboard and let loose with a quick barrage of typing, then leaned back to await the results.
"Bodie's an interesting character," he observed, "talks a lot but doesn't say much."
Sable snorted, "Never did."
"Where did the two of you meet?" Cheesecake asked hesitantly. He knew more about Jon Sable than anyone alive but it was knowledge gained very slowly, very carefully over many years.
Silence stretched out. Cheesecake was beginning to think it was the only answer he would get when Sable continued, "It was before...before I married. It's a long story; involving regular army, revolutionaries, mercenaries and a naive game warden caught in the middle."
Almost reluctantly he added, "Bodie saved my life, kept me alive, and in one piece."
"But?" Cheesecake returned the prompt.
"But I never felt that he had saved me. He treated it like it was a nuisance, an unpleasant duty that had to be preformed."
Sable spun around to find Bodie leaning against the bedroom door with his arms crossed, "As quiet as ever, Bodie."
"Saving you was a nuisance, and a danger," Bodie finished.
"Why do it?" There was no anger in Sable's voice, only curiosity.
Bodie shifted, looked vaguely uneasy, "Because I'd seen what happened to people like you. I didn't like it."
"People like me? What does that mean?"
Bodie stepped closer, gazed up at the taller man. "You didn't belong in the jungle, Jon. You still don't."
There was no answer, none possible. Bodie turned toward the hacker. "Well?"
"Nothing yet. I may be on to something but it's going to take time."
Bodie slammed a fist into the wall, "We don't have time!"
Sable grabbed Bodie's upper arm before he could throw another punch. "That won't help."
Strong shoulders shook him off. Bodie glared at him, smiled chillingly. "It'll make me feel better."
"Come on." Sable reached for his hood. "I assume you have luggage somewhere?" Bodie nodded, looking suspicious. "When Cheesecake finds what we need things will break fast. You need a change of clothes, a hot meal and another few hours sleep."
"I'll wait," Bodie growled, flopped down into a saggy chair.
Sable frowned, started to argue but was interrupted by Cheesecake, "Bodie, it's going to be a least three to four hours. You sitting there worrying isn't going to help you or your partner or me. Go on, get out of here. You need to be ready when the time comes."
For a moment Bodie glared at both of them, pouting, stubborn but finally even he couldn't argue with the good sense of being fresh when the action started. He stood up, grabbed his heavy coat. "I need to check in, but we can bring my stuff back here after we eat. I'll sleep here." He glanced at the window, looked over at Sable with a challenging glitter in his eyes, "Your choice, mate."
Green eyes scanned the rumpled, expensive gray suit Bodie wore, "I wouldn't want you to muss your suit."
As he pulled the hood on Bodie opened the door, "Do you have a car or do we go by Batmobile?"
Cheesecake chuckled. "I like having you around, Bodie. It saves me a lot of effort."
The trip to Bodie's hotel was made in silence. Sable sensed the concern his companion was trying to hide. It was not something he had ever thought to find in the hard ex-mercenary. He glanced sideways at the man, remembered the determination he was capable of, remembered also the cold, easy death he had seen him deal out.
Memories returned in a rush as he followed the other man up to his room. He and his guide had been hit by a band of revolutionaries. The other man was killed, he had been left to die after being robbed and beaten. Bodie had found him, taken him back to camp, tended him, promised to get him back as soon as possible. Two days later the unit was overrun by a squad of regular army after being betrayed by the villagers they had been hired to train. The others in the group had wanted to leave him. Bodie had carried him out. Three weeks, and many miles later the exhausted merc had left him in the care of some missionaries in Zambia and vanished.
"Where did you go after Zambia?" he asked as they entered. He didn't miss the fact that Bodie had casually, carefully scanned the room.
"Angola," he answered flatly.
Bodie moved to the phone, got an outside number, asked for an overseas operator. Sable did his own check of the room. There was a packed bag on the bed, an attaché case sitting next to it. Sable frowned, knowing instinctively what was in the case. On the table was a two day old Toronto newspaper. He picked it up, read the headlines about the escape.
Behind him the conversation turned explosive. "You knew! Bloody hell! You threw Doyle to the wolves!" Bodie came to his feet, "No more! When we get back...."
He sat down, took a deep breath, face set, "No...sir. I do have help, sir." He ripped open the desk drawer, grabbed pen and paper. "Yes, sir. Briske, R. Yes, sir."
The phone slammed down. "What was that about?" Sable asked.
"Damn him." Bodie turned, every muscle tight in anger, "Cowley. Our boss. The bastard knew! He knew there would be a break. It was a set up all along to get something on Miller's silent partner. The bloody FBI is even in on it."
Sable waited. Finally Bodie's temper cooled to a low simmer, "We've got another lead, Richard Briske, Miller's American partner. And," he sighed, "now we've got a time limit. By six this morning Miller demands the contents of his London account transferred here and converted to cash. That's to be delivered to a location he'll pick. Then he'll release Doyle."
"You don't believe that," Sable stated.
"Would you?" Bodie demanded. "They end up with the money and I end up with a dead partner."
Sable glanced at his watch. "That gives us seven hours to find them. Gather your stuff and let's get something to eat...."
"We can grab some takeaway on the way back to Cheesecake's." Bodie lifted his bags.
Sable was the first one in. Glancing at Cheesecake he said softly, "You haven't found anything important yet."
Cheesecake looked confused but nodded to his slender partner, slipped a printout under the keyboard just as Bodie stepped in and threw his case on the old couch.
"Richard Briske..." Bodie started.
"Miller's partner," Cheesecake picked up. "While Miller is legit in this country, Briske is clean in England."
"They launder each other's money," Sable guessed, "funnel it through the legal businesses they both own in each country."
Cheesecake nodded. "Neat. No one's been able to get anything on Miller in this country until now."
"What else?" Bodie asked.
"Sorry, that's all I've got for right now." He flinched slightly expecting another punch to his wall.
Bodie only nodded, lips pursed tight. "Damn, damn."
Sable moved over to him, "We can't do anything yet. Why don't you shower, try to rest a little."
"Yeah, okay," Bodie conceded quietly. He took his bag, disappeared into the bedroom.
As the door closed quietly behind him Sable moved nearer. "What did you find?"
"Plenty." Cheesecake reached for the hidden printout. "I'm still confused by some of it. Like why make a break? A good lawyer and he would have been out in a couple of years. Now he's wanted in three countries. But right now the important thing is this: Briske owns four possible locations in the downtown area; all warehouses or closed businesses. Your man is probably in one of them."
"If he's still alive."
"Jon, did you hear the one about the fish dinner at the monastery? They had a fish friar and a chip monk." The laugh box clicked on then off. Cheesecake added, "I tried to get floor plans for you but that department of the city records hasn't been converted to computer yet."
"Some people are still a little backwards," Sable joked. He took the offered sheet, "They're scattered all over," he glanced at his watch, "and we've got six hours."
Cheesecake frowned. "They've made contact then?"
"Yes, a straight ransom. Money for Doyle."
"What's with sending Bodie to the lockers?" Cheesecake asked.
Sable moved to the table, eased his gun out, sat down to check it, paying careful attention to the special sight, "I'm going alone."
"Like bloody hell you are."
Sable turned in the chair. Bodie was leaning against the door again, a black leather jacket held in gloved hands. He had shaved, his black hair lay wet against his skin where he had dunked his head in the sink. A black pullover, black pants and a shoulder holster now covered his solid frame. There was a threatening, hunting look to him that eclipsed Sable's without the help of paint. Bodie smiled, it didn't reach his eyes.
"You never were a good liar, Jon."
"I'm going alone, Bodie. It's my...patch."
Bodie moved forward, smooth, dangerous motion. He stood square before Sable, eyes dark, "He's my partner." He smiled again, challenging, "If you think you can go without me--try. You're good, Jon, and it is your...turf, but I'll follow."
Sable locked determined gazes with him. Bodie was right, and he knew it. His odds of losing him either in a car or on foot were slim despite his unfamiliarity with the city. But the arguments still remained. If Bodie went, someone could die. He had hoped that if he went in alone, and if Doyle was dead, he might stand a chance of getting the men responsible into custody before Bodie got to them. Now, staring up into the midnight blue eyes he knew that no matter what he did Bodie would kill anyone involved in the death of his partner. It was Bodie he would have to stop.
Sable nodded, turned back to the gun. "You go."
Above him Bodie whistled softly. "Oh, nice, mate," he held out his hand, "May I?"
Sable passed the gun over. Bodie ran an experienced hand over the smooth metal, raised it, flicked on the laser sight, let it track across the wall. He nodded approval as he handed the special weapon back to its owner. "Very nice." He watched as Sable tucked it back into the holster.
There was a moment of puzzlement. The weight of the weapon had told Bodie it wasn't loaded, "You do plan on loading it, don't you?"
The remark had been mostly in jest. The silence that followed told him the answer was deadly serious. Cheesecake could sense his disbelief through the darkness. Bodie stared back and forth between the two of them.
"You've got to be joking!" Disbelief, sent his voice up, "What the hell are you playing at?"
Sable stood up, towered over him, his own anger flaring to match the Britisher's. "Leave it, Bodie. You don't know anything about it."
"I know you can't shoot a man with an empty gun."
"Exactly." Sable rarely gave explanations but the fact that Bodie was going to have to trust him made him offer one this time. "Bodie, after you left me I went back to Rhodesia. I married, had a beautiful daughter. Seven years. Then they were murdered. I hunted down and killed the men who did it."
Bodie's anger melted a little as he remembered the idealistic young man he had saved years ago. "You did what was necessary."
"No. Killing is never necessary. And I won't kill again."
"That's a pretty stupid ideal for someone in your line of...."
"And I won't stand here and be lectured to by a cold-blooded, hired kill...." Sable stopped himself.
"I know what I am, Jon. It doesn't scare me."
"It should," Sable said coldly. "This isn't getting us anywhere." He turned away, added lightly, "Besides you'd be surprised how easy it is to get someone to surrender when they see that laser sight on their chest."
"You're counting on that to keep you alive, are you?" Bodie laughed, there was no humor in it, "Christ, you're worse than Doyle! At least he accepts the rules of the real world." He poked Sable in the chest, "You, Jon, are living in a bloody fantasy and it's going to blow up in your face. Well, not with Doyle and me around."
He snatched the printout off the table. "I'll find him alone."
"In five hours!" Sable barked. "We can stand here all night or we can go rescue your partner."
The truth stopped Bodie. His anger slowly turned into a look that was calm, level, not quite sane. "I don't give a toss how you get yourself killed, Jon. I don't even mind it being my arse on the line. But," the room went icy, "if anything happens to Doyle because that thing isn't loaded I will kill you."
Very deliberately he drew his own gun, checked the load. Completely professional now he reached into his pocket and took out two small communication units. He handed one to Sable. "Borrowed these from the local constabulary. We'd better keep track of each other. I wouldn't want to accidentally shoot you in the dark."
Without another word he went to the window, pushed it open and slipped into the night. Sable started to follow, was halted by a hand on his arm. The look on Cheesecake's face was one of confusion and worry.
"Did he mean that, Jon? About his partner?"
Sable patted Cheesecake's hand, "Bodie's never said anything he didn't mean."
The first building was a nightmare; an old shirt factory, four stories, abandoned before either of them had been born. Timbers creaked with every step, rats squeaked out from under foot and plaster dust rained off the graffiti-covered walls. They stayed in constant contact, sweeping through the building a cautious floor at a time. It took over an hour to cover. The place was empty.
The cold set in over the fine sweat raised by their scouting. Adrenaline high, nerves tight, they sat in the car for a minute to get back on level. Bodie reached into one of the many pockets in his loose black pants, produced a flask. He took a long draft, held it out to the other man. Sable took it without comment.
It was nearing dawn by the time they reached the second building. It was small, only two stories, newer than the first. There was a huge 'for sale' sign in gaudy colors on the side nearest the L. 'Danger: Do Not Enter' signs dotted the outside walls. The windows were boarded up, weathered plywood stark against the fire-blackened stone around it.
There were no lights or any other sign that anyone had been there in years but when they stepped out of the car familiar senses screamed warnings at them. They crouched by the car, thankful that the give away white snow had melted to leave dark, damp streets. Sable motioned with his gun for Bodie to move first.
Bodie shook his head, whispered, "I'm bringing up the rear this trip."
Sable sprinted across to the building, moving at a smooth run. He edged toward one window whose plywood had long since rotted away, disappeared inside. An instant later a pencil sized red dot appeared on the car next to Bodie's shoulder. Bodie moved, just as silently, just as gracefully, across the open space and into the same window.
The fire had left little cover on the first floor, a few scattered remnants of walls burned from the top down. There was no second floor, the roof clearly visible. The fire had started on the second floor leaving the floor they stood on only pitted in places. The two dark men exchanged looks. Desperation was starting to color Bodie's face. He took a hesitant step away from the wall. The old floor sagged minutely under his weight. "Basement," he mouthed across to Sable.
Sable motioned for them to split up to find the entrance. Bodie nodded. They stayed close to the walls, used the small piles of burned debris for cover.
Sable was half-way down the end wall when he saw the light shining up through a gap in the old floor. He reached for the transmitter, stopped. Across the open space Bodie was only a vague shadow. It was possible he could get down before Bodie realized he was gone. Dismissing the idea as hopeless he moved the mike near his mouth. "Here. There's a light under the floor."
Bodie came across the open space fast, crouched, entirely silent. Sable motioned down. The British agent leaned over, tried to peer through the small opening, couldn't make out anything. With a sweeping wave of his gun he said, "How big?"
Moving along the wall Sable stopped barely ten feet away. Thinking together they each gave a slight tug at the boards under them, testing the strength. The old oak gave enough to tell them going straight down was possible. Sable could feel Bodie's eagerness, his high of promised action. He had never experienced that feeling.
"Once we hit," Bodie reminded him, "they'll know we're here. We'll have to move fast."
They moved back a few feet, took two long strides and came down feet together on the rotten planks. The wood gave with a crash. They hit feet first, rolled for the nearest, nonexistent cover. A man stood next to a three-legged table, sterno can blazing under a wire stand, coffee pot in hand. Acting fast he threw the pot at Bodie, clawing for his gun with the other hand. Sable hit him, one punch that sent him to the floor without a sound.
A partially open door stood on the right. Bodie threw himself against the wall, peered into the hall on the other side. There was only darkness and silence.
He turned on a pen light, moved into the hall, kicked open the first door. His gun fanned over an empty room. Sable took the room opposite, equally empty. There were two more doors, each room empty, then the hall divided, continuing in one direction, becoming a stairway in the other.
"Sub-basement," Bodie yelled, plunging down the stairs as Sable moved in the opposite direction, taking the next door down easily.
There were no doors at the bottom of the shaky stairs, only several dozen square feet of open space, marked off by rusting support beams. Bodie's light swept the filthy floor, froze over a crumpled still form by the back wall. Cautiously but with mounting dread he moved across the room.
The light hit blood streaked, tied hands, and panic overtook caution. He moved over to the body, stepped over it, scared to look down. When he did two frantic green eyes looked up at him.
"Ray! Jesus, I...."
Doyle moved suddenly, somehow twisting and arching back he hit Bodie square in the stomach with both feet, sending him staggering backwards. The wall he'd been standing next to exploded with gunfire, showering Doyle with chips of brick. Bodie landed hard, the gun flying out of his hand. He rolled; reached for it, shots hit the ground between him and the weapon. He stopped, hands away from his sides, rose slowly.
"Hello, Bodie." Miller's voice chuckled out of the darkness, a battery powered overhead light switched on. "Briske said you'd never find me here but I knew better."
Miller moved into the sparse light, gun in hand. He was younger, taller than either of the agents with nervous eyes and a smile no one would trust. He stood over Doyle, "Shame about your timing. I just came back. Twenty minutes earlier and you could have saved Doyle here without any trouble." He kicked the bound agent.
Bodie moved automatically to stop him. The gun jerked up, stopped him. Miller smiled, "You know, of course that I only need one of you alive for the exchange. Your choice, Bodie. You first," the gun dropped to his partner, "or shall Doyle have the honor?"
"If anybody goes first," a calm voice echoed out of the darkness, "it's going to be you, Miller."
Miller froze, the gun still on Doyle. A small red dot appeared on his right side. The voice turned authoritative, a teacher explaining something very slowly for a backwards class. "See that red dot, Miller? That's a laser sight. Where the laser sights, the bullets go. These particular bullets are in a .357 Magnum. One slight squeeze and you get the whole clip."
Color drained from Miller's face. Bodie stood still, hands clenched at his sides, eyes checking the location of his lost Browning. If Miller called the bluff it was the only chance any of them had.
Time hung suspended like their breath in the cold air. Slowly Miller started to raise his hands. It all went wrong at once. Miller spun, gun coming down, a shot snapped toward Sable. The shot was fast, off target. Sable threw himself to one side. Bodie dropped, rolled. Miller turned back, gun coming down toward a totally helpless Doyle. Bodie's hand closed around the gun grip. Three shots echoed around the small chamber. The two from Bodie's Browning took Miller just under the heart, knocked him backwards, his single shot striking sparks off the floor next to Doyle's shoulder. The vibrations bounced around the walls for a long second. Bodie took a deep breath to make sure he remembered how, then scrambled over to his partner.
The gag came off first. "Took you damn long enough," Doyle said hoarsely.
Bodie cut the ropes from Doyle's legs and hands, eased it away from the chafed wrists. Doyle moaned slightly as he tried to shift.
"Easy, sunshine, give it a chance," Bodie said. He was vaguely aware of Sable checking Miller's bloody form.
Bodie shifted, pulled off his jacket. Lifting Doyle up so that he was resting against his chest, he wrapped the coat around him. One arm held Doyle in place while the other hand kneaded stiff shoulders. Doyle very slowly stretched his cramped limbs.
"He's dead," Sable said, crouching next to them, eyes on Bodie.
"Yeh," Bodie commented, "and we're not."
"You just killed a man. And it doesn't bother you?" Sable asked roughly.
Hard blue eyes looked over at him, "I know what I am, remember Jon?" The eyes softened as he noticed Doyle staring at Sable. "Need to get you to a hospital, Ray."
"I'm okay..." Doyle started.
"You've got no circulation in your hands or feet, your teeth are rattling, and the rest of you feels like a bloody ice cube. Now shut up." All this was said in a tension-roughened whisper that gave Bodie's voice a strangely gentle quality.
Sable would have never thought it possible, "I'll call an ambulance, and the police. I won't be here when they come." Bodie nodded understanding. "Come to Cheesecake's when it's all over."
Sable stood, was stopped by a hand on his arm. He looked down at the dark-haired man.
He didn't answer.
"Sit down," Cheesecake pulled out chairs for his two guests, his manner more remote than the first time Bodie had come in but still polite.
Sable was already seated in an overstuffed chair near the window. He was dressed in street clothes now, the disguise of his darker profession stripped away. He seemed both younger and wearier as he watched Bodie hover around his partner before sitting to share the couch with him.
Bodie's whole attitude was different, marked by an easy smile and relaxed manner. Gone was the formidable, cold mercenary that had contacted him only three days earlier. The man sitting opposite him was still a tough, experienced professional but there was an air of contentment around him now. The same feeling reached him from the slender, curly haired agent that shared the couch. Sable felt a wave of envy go through him.
Bodie smiled, "You know, I just noticed you two look a bit alike. Except for Doyle being scrawnier."
Both of the other men ignored his comment. Sable looked over at Doyle, still surprised that this was Bodie's partner, "How are you?"
"Fine." Doyle held up his hands, white bandages showing just under the sleeves. "A little rubbed, a few bruises, nothing we haven't had before."
Cheesecake suddenly appeared in front of them, handed each a piece of cheesecake smothered in blueberries. Bodie's face lit up. Doyle's smile was more polite than enthusiastic. Bodie said, "Thanks, mate."
Cheesecake sat down at the table with a big slice of his own. "So, how did things work out with Briske?"
"Perfect," Doyle answered since Bodie was too busy with his cake. "They opened Miller's second set of books, which more than proved that he and Briske were fronting for each other."
"Why the break?" Cheesecake asked.
"Miller was so paranoid about Briske finding someone to replace him while he was in stir," Doyle explained, "that he blackmailed him into springing him. Said he'd turn the records over to the police otherwise."
"Honor among thieves," Sable said flatly.
"And the Cow was right again," Bodie reminded Doyle, "damn him."
"Yeah, well, he didn't count on them taking me along for the trip," Doyle said. "Not that it would have stopped him."
"Won't next time either." Bodie leaned over, ruffled his partner's curls, "But not to worry, Goldilocks. I'll save you, same as always."
Doyle winced at the use of his least favorite nickname, "Had to have help this time, didn't you? Bad sign, Bodie."
Bodie continued to grin, finished off his cheesecake without further comment. Doyle dutifully passed over the last few bites of his to the larger agent. Neither paid any attention to the move. Doyle stood up, crossed to stand in front of Sable.
"Bodie said thanks but I didn't get a chance." He held out his hand. "Thanks."
Bodie watched, worried for a fleeting moment that Sable would refuse. But he took Doyle's hand.
"It was an old debt repaid." Sable stated, his meaning clear to Bodie.
"Nice trick that, using the laser," Doyle commented. "Bodie used that one once. Saved my hide."
"Yeah, but mine was loaded," Bodie said cheerfully, finishing off his partner's cake.
It took a minute for the full meaning of his statement to register with Doyle. His eyebrows went straight up. "Unloaded? The gun was.... It was a bluff?" Sable resisted the urge to flinch away from the sudden temper erupting in front of him. "Jesus Christ! What the hell were you trying to do? You could have...."
"Ray." Bodie joined him, laid a hand on the tight shoulder. "It worked out. That's all that matters."
"All that matters? You dumb crud," Doyle snapped, "he could've gotten you killed!"
Bodie turned his angry partner away. "Go downstairs, I'll be along."
Doyle jerked out of his hold, glared at both of them like they had grown wings. But he left, giving a fast "Thanks" to Cheesecake. Bodie watched him leave.
Sable regarded Bodie in puzzlement. "I thought you said your partner didn't approve of killing?"
"He doesn't." Bodie walked to the window, watched as his partner came out onto the icy sidewalk, "And despite what you think, neither do I. I'm sorry for you, Jon."
"Why?" Sable demanded softly, somehow chilled by the strange statement.
"Dying is easy. Killing isn't. But sometimes you find something worth killing to protect."
"Protect? Or avenge?" Sable asked. "I did that, Bodie. It didn't bring my family back."
Deep blue eyes regarded him levelly. There was no answer. Bodie moved toward the door. "Thanks for the help, Cheesecake. Goodbye, Jon."
The door creaked shut behind him. Silence claimed the room. Sable went to the window, parted the flimsy curtains and a moment later watched Bodie emerge to join Doyle on the street. Even from here he could see Doyle resume the argument. Bodie threw an arm around the smaller man's shoulders, shepherded him into a waiting taxi.
Cheesecake cleared his throat, "Jon, did...did you hear the one...."
Sable was gone, the door closing softly behind him.
-- The End --
Originally published in British Takeaway 3, Nuernberg, circa 1988