Remembrance of Things Past


"And then I said, 'I've heard of flying the friendly skies, but ...' " Murphy's tall story flowed to an abrupt halt in mid-sentence.

"Do go on Murphy, you were saying?" Cowley had appeared -- as usual -- out of nowhere. It was one of his less disturbing talents.

"Me, Sir? I was, er, just going sir ..." Murph didn't need to glance at Ray Doyle to know the other agent was trying, unsuccessfully, not to smirk.

"Indeed -- then I suggest you and your partner -- you do remember Morris? -- get going. This is not a recreation centre." Cowley turned on Doyle, who was still smirking, "Doyle, I want to see you in my office. Now."

When Cowley used that tone, you jumped. Fast. "Yes, Sir." Doyle trailed off in the head man's wake, leaving Murphy to contemplate his fortunate escape for a few seconds longer, before going off to collect his partner from the pretty new programmer in the computer room. He wondered what Doyle had done now ...

Ray Doyle, was, uneasily, wondering the same thing. Try as he might, he couldn't think of anything that would warrant being called on the carpet like this. There hadn't even been any "uncalled for" expenses turned in recently. He was so wrapped up in these idle speculations, that he barely noticed the small child playing quietly under Claire's watchful eye -- not the usual drill for Cowley's outer- office, either. This boy would have repaid a thorough second look -- he was about 4 years old, with a head of auburn curls and wide, slanted blue eyes. The face and hair were familiar to anyone who cared to see, even if the colour of the eyes was different.

Cowley didn't speak until he was seated behind his desk. "Sheila Sutton." He sat back, eyeing Doyle as though expecting the name to mean something. Obediently, Ray searched his memory, and got nowhere. The name meant nothing. "Sir?"

"She was a PR representative for British Airways, Doyle. You dated her briefly a few years ago."

Doyle's eyes narrowed, his mind scrabbling around furiously, until, finally, a fuzzy picture formed of a blonde, attractive young woman. They'd gone out for four, maybe five weeks before she'd had it with coming in second to the job. It'd been pleasant up until then, and they'd split amicably enough. No big deal. No emotional entanglement of any significant sort on either side. Why was Cowley dredging it all up now?

Cowley'd been watching the expressions flickering across his face. "Ah -- I see you do recall the young woman after all."

Doyle shrugged, feeling oddly enough, as if he was somehow ... in the wrong. "It wasn't the romance of the century, Sir. Why is it suddenly important now?"

"I'm afraid there's been a complication. Miss Sutton died recently." Cowley paused, giving the impression that he wasn't quite sure how to proceed. Which, of course, was absurd -- Cowley'd never known how not to proceed in his life. Or so his agents thought.

"Died? How?" Doyle felt ... what? Sadness that someone so young should have gone? Maybe, but he firmly pushed the feeling aside. He was fast coming to agree with Morris -- if you didn't care in the first place, you didn't get hurt. Just do the job.

"Smashup three days ago on the M4." Cowley caught Doyle's gaze and held it, "She left a child. A four year old boy -- named Oliver. He's out in the waiting room with Claire."

It took a remarkably long moment before the penny dropped. "Mine? No."

"I'm afraid yes. You have a rather unique blood type -- so does Oliver. One and the same. There are other similarities as well." He handed over a folder, which Doyle obediently read through, reluctant to believe, but bowing to the facts in cold, hard print.

"I had no idea ... she and I ... just agreed it wasn't worth it ... Shelia dropped out of sight." He put the folder down gently as though it might bite. "She COULD have told me!" The cry burst out, against his will. Did she think he was so lacking in a sense of duty ...?

Cowley's gaze had softened, as he said quietly, reading minds as usual, "Some people don't want duty, you know. She probably didn't want anything from you that you couldn't freely give." It was a hell of a situation to find oneself in -- he knew it first hand. George pictured the small, bewildered replica of the man standing in front of him, and sighed inwardly. The situation wasn't good -- Shelia Sutton had been an only child; her parents were dead, so were any relatives. Doyle was all Oliver had, now. It was either custody taken by the father, or a state home --Sanderson of Child Welfare had made that plain. "The first thing, I think, would be to at least meet him."

"Yeh." Doyle wasn't exactly the picture of enthusiasm, and Cowley felt another wave of sympathy for the child caught up in the middle.

Oliver looked up as the nice grey haired man who knew about dinosaurs came back into the room. He was accompanied by a slightly taller, younger man, with hair that was a mop, like Oliver's own.

"Hello," he said. He was a polite, usually outgoing little boy.

"Hello," Doyle returned, feeling self-conscious and slightly idiotic. Father and son stared at each other, having apparently run out of things to say at one and the same time.

Someone else had come into the room -- a dark suited man, what Bodie would have called the typical middle-level bureaucrat. Which was precisely what Sanderson. "4.5, this is Mr. Sanderson of Child Welfare."

"A sad situation, eh, Mr. Doyle? Too bad there weren't any other relatives, but that does happen ... You had no idea, I dare say? I really can't think why Miss Sutton kept it to herself ... young women these days ...

Claire abruptly scooped Oliver up. "Come on, we'll go get something nice to eat." She swept out of the room, pausing only to glare at her husband, Doyle and the official. Oliver, in her opinion, had had quite enough of being talked about like he was an abandoned cat.

Doyle felt like someone who has mistakenly wandered into quick sand. "You're aware of the sort of job I have?"

Sanderson nodded enthusiastically. "Oh dear me, yes. Quite demanding. As I said to Mr. Cowley when we first talked earlier this afternoon, I don't suppose for one minute there is any question of you keeping him. A man with your sort of work, and single ... impossible. Of course, the formalities require that we bring Oliver along when we contacted you ..."

"And if I don't take him, then what?"

"Of course there are viable alternatives ..."

Doyle's eyes narrowed. He didn't like this little man one bit, and he liked the sound of viable alternatives even less. Notwithstanding that until five seconds ago he'd been determined to hand Oliver over to just that. Sanderson was going on, "A state children's home..."

"You mean an orphanage?"

"Well yes -- though foster care is possible. Unfortunately, at the moment we have more children than families willing to take them in.

A murky image of Dickensian workhouses mingled uneasily with the institutional brightness of the one or two children's homes he'd been in, back in his days on the force. He couldn't quite decide which was worse. "You call those viable?"

Sanderson fluttered. "Well, really Mr. Doyle -- if you don't want him -- and there are no other relatives ..."

"I didn't say I didn't want him!"

Cowley opened his mouth to speak, but never got any further. At that moment Oliver darted back in, a rather breathless Claire bringing up the rear.

"He forgot his dinosaur," she said.

Oliver pounced on a large, stuffed dinosaur, with atrociously purple fur. "Humbert," he said happily, as if that explained everything. He hugged the beast, then trotted over to Doyle. "You look like me. This," he waved Humbert back and forth, "is a plush'saurus. Mummy gave him to me. Where's Mummy?"

Doyle swallowed with difficulty. Amazing -- to be done in by someone who barely reached your kneecaps, and was wearing bib overalls with a shirt that had pink elephants on it. I didn't realise they made track shoes that tiny... He glanced over at Sanderson. "Have you brought the rest of his things along?"

''They're at the agency.

Doyle scribbled something on a piece of paper, and handed it over.

"What's this?"

"My ... our address. You can send them there."

"No." Oliver eyed the cereal with extreme distaste, and repeated firmly, "No."

Doyle sighed. "You have to eat dinner." He wasn't quite sure WHY, but Janra had assured him that Oliver would do well on balanced, regularly scheduled meals. "Not," she added "ice cream and chocolate cookies." Though the last had been directed more at Bodie than Ray. Claire had been of the same opinion, and he had bowed to the experts.

The problem was that Oliver didn't see it that way. He wanted to eat when HE wanted to eat. Which might be at 4 in the afternoon -- or, like last week, 4 in the morning. There was more to this parenting business than met the eye. He recalled Bodie's woeful tales of 2 a.m. feedings, and winced. At least he'd been spared that phase. But now he wished he hadn't laughed at his partner. Perhaps some god of children somewhere was getting even.

"Humbert," Oliver demanded. Humbert sat in purple splendour on the kitchen counter. Safely out of reach for the moment. Oliver had been known to, in the early days before Ray had caught on, try to feed unwanted portions to the plushiosaurus.

"Eat first, then Humbert. Come on -- it isn't that bad." Doyle spooned up some of the gloppy looking stuff and his training in counter-terrorism allowed him to NOT wince.

Gingerly, with the caution learned during one month of full time fatherhood, he aimed the spoon at Oliver's mouth. "You know you can do this yourself, and very well too..."

Except when he was being stubborn. Like now. Oliver glared at Ray, teeth clamped together. Doyle sighed again. And put the spoon down. "OK, you do it yourself, mate. But either way, you're going to eat this ... cereal." He tried very hard to infuse a tone of command into his voice.

Oliver was unimpressed. "No. It's yucky. I want Mummie!" There it was again -- despite careful and simple explanations from Sanderson, Cowley, Claire, Bodie and Janra -- not to mention Ray, whenever the chips were down -- which in Oliver's point of view was just about every hour on the hour since he'd come to live with this tall, very nervous stranger -- the cry went up "I want Mummie!" Sheila had been a good mum -- no doubt of that. Ray had checked. And among the things sent over by the agency had been the carefully kept photo albums documenting all the different phases of Oliver's growth, from his first baby picture shot in the hospital nursery, to one taken just the summer before, on holiday in Cornwall. There were locks of hair, notations on height and weight, when he first learned to talk and walk ... it all added immeasurably to Doyle's already heavy guilt trip. Here was all this indisputable evidence of warmth and love and caring, and he -- face it -- he could barely remember what she had been like. The one or two photos of her holding Oliver had jogged his memories somewhat, but Sheila still remained fuzzily indistinct ... acquaintance. Which, he felt forced to admit, was a hell of a thing to be able to say about the mother of one's only child. His only one.

Thoroughly put out at being ignored while this fellow stared off into space, Oliver slammed the spoon into the dish, the impact of which sent it and its contents flying everywhere. Mostly on Doyle.

"Why you little . . ." He checked the bellow almost as soon as it began; Oliver's little face puckered up and fat tears began to spill down his cheeks.

"I don't like you! I want Mummie. Want to go home!"

He was sobbing now in earnest, and truth be told, Ray felt like joining him.

"What's going on -- World War III?" Bodie strolled in, immaculate as ever, taking in the cereal drenched tableaux with a deceptively wide-eyed expression of wonder.

"You could ring the bell once in a while, you know," Doyle grumbled.

"Feeding time at the zoo getting a bit much, is it?" Bodie grinned.

"Yeh, well, I'd like to see you stuff anything down his throat. He won't eat." Doyle walked over to the counter and picked up a towel.

Oliver was still crying noisily.

"I think I guessed that," Bodie said dryly. "Here, you clean up, and I'll have a go. Can't say I blame him -- this stuff looks like wall paper paste."

Doyle looked from his partner to the very unhappy Oliver feeling utterly helpless. "I don't like you," Oliver had said, which was true enough. He had taken to everyone else with happy ease, but not his father. He tolerated Doyle, and made no pretexts about it. His face set into rather grim lines, as he went to work wiping oatmeal off his shirt. That steadfast rejection hurt a lot more than he was willing to let on to anybody.

Parenting must take some sort of inborn talent that he didn't possess. Just look at Bodie. He'd got it. Bodie set about getting the situation in hand. He cleaned Oliver up, dried the tears and dished up more oatmeal, with the ease of long practice.

"Now look, Oliver, I know this stuff is absolutely revolting, but it really doesn't taste all that rotten, and once you eat it, you can have Humbert - and maybe a nice bedtime story, how about it?" Before he'd finished speaking, Bodie had popped a spoonful into Oliver s mouth. The kid had two choices -- spit it out or swallow. He swallowed.

"I can do it myself." He took the spoon from Bodie and began eating oatmeal like it was going out of style, and was his favourite food in the whole world besides.

"Now why didn't I think of that?" Doyle's voice was heavy with sarcasm. Irrationally he felt angry with Doyle [Bodie?] -- who was only trying to help, and with Oliver, who was only four years old. And with himself for being so stupid as to not have thought of Bodie's tactics. He threw the towel into the sink, then stalked out of the room.

Bodie, still keeping a careful eye on Oliver not to mention the disappearing oatmeal, heard the slam of the bathroom door and winced. He knew how Ray felt -- he could remember how it had been when Olivia would wail her lungs out every time he picked up, while all Cowley or Janra had to do was lift a finger in her direction and she'd be all smiles. But then, neither Cowley or Janra had been terrified of Olivia. She had been so tiny, and vulnerable, and the responsibility had been all on him. Suppose he screwed up? In Ray's situation, he'd probably have gone off to Tibet somewhere, to become a hermit. Imagine having to step in after four years, a virtual stranger, and become superdad straight off the mark. No wonder Ray was nervous around Oliver.

Twenty minutes later, he scooped up Oliver, who clutched Humbert and a handful of Bodie's hair with cheerful impartiality and strength, and carried him through to the bathroom. Ray, wrapped in a voluminous terry cloth robe, was shoving his clothes into the hamper.

"Bath," Oliver said, undismayed by the prospect. He liked splashing around in the oversize tub.

"Do you want to supervise that too?" Ray eyed the ... rather cute picture before him sourly.

"Who me? I've got to get home -- you know how terrifying Janra is. It's nearly feeding time at zoo, you know." He handed Oliver over briskly, trying to look down trodden, "I'm completely henpecked."

"I shall tell Janra you said that. Kind of hard to believe, the way you keep grinning." But Oliver offered no protest at Doyle's holding him, (his usual drill was to wriggle away as quickly as possible. "Don't need help," he'd say defiantly...) Bodie's grin was infectious, and Doyle couldn't help smiling back. He was also tired enough to be relaxed, and Oliver, feeling secure, because for once Ray wasn't holding him as if he were a sack of radioactive bombs that might go off at any second, curled sleepily against his father, head drooping on Ray's shoulder.

Posed like that, it was apparent how much they resembled each other, and Bodie shook his head. "Christ, the poor kid's going to look just like you -- the only thing Livvie got was my eyes." A sudden thought struck him: "I'm going to keep her in seclusion until she's 30. Won't be safe with Oliver around ... not with those looks. Can't imagine why but they seem to appeal to women ..."

"Livvie," Oliver said, suddenly wide awake. He had, of course, met the baby. Aunt Janra had even let him hold her - - properly supervised, naturally. He thought she was rather dull -- though she had seemed to appreciate Humbert, which was a point in her favour. Maybe once she stopped falling asleep all the time she'd be worth having about. He found the way the adults -- even Ray -- cooed over her puzzling. Seemed to him incomprehensible in view of the fact that Livvie didn't DO anything.

Both men were laughing; Oliver snuggled closer to Ray, enjoying the sound rumbling beneath his ear. Perhaps Ray did like him after all. Since coming to live with Doyle, Oliver had been forced to conclude that, while, he had managed to enchant the other adults who came his way, the one who was his father remained unmoved. Why else would he be so terribly ill at ease all the time? Just holding Oliver, or helping him dress, or even taking him to the Doctor had seemed to irritate him so much, that he couldn't even talk to Oliver beyond a few stilted phrases, or orders. It never occurred to Oliver that anyone would be terrified of something as small as he was. At any rate, his father wasn't tensed up now, and Oliver basked in a feeling of sleepy warmth.

"I'm away," Bodie ruffled Oliver's hair, and strode out, whistling. "I'll let myself out," he called over his shoulder.

"No kidding," Doyle muttered.

"Humbert's got oatmeal," Oliver informed him sadly. There was a large splash of it resting on the plushiosaurus' hand.

"So he has, I think I can fix it." Doyle scooped up a washcloth from the sink and gravely removed the offending splash. "How's that?"

Oliver beamed. "Great!" He offered no protest to being divested of his jeans, Big Bird t-shirt, and sneakers, and plopped into the bathwater. He putted his plastic boats around, making realistic engine noises, getting Doyle soaked all over again as he enthusiastically went about the business of sinking a large, blue, penguin (a gift from Macklin of all people), over and over again.

"Got you," he giggled, daring to splash his father deliberately.

Doyle, laughing, splashed, gently, back. This was a side of the whole business that he hadn't experienced first hand until now. The fun bit. Up until now it had mostly been scenes like the one in the kitchen, earlier. He taught Oliver a new and devastating way to sink the penguin (imagining it was Macklin himself, if truth be told).

"I want the dragon story," Oliver said, bouncing up and down after his father had dumped him on his bed.

Doyle sat down beside his son, feeling a flow start somewhere deep inside when Oliver plopped himself into his arms. "Oof," he managed. Oliver was still bouncing. "You had the dragon story last night, and the night before that, and ..."

"The night before that!" Oliver agreed. He liked the dragon story, because it changed every time Doyle told it, and because of the sound effects. Doyle, it seemed, could imitate fire breathing with such effect as to produce satisfying shivers down Oliver's back. "Do the long dragon one, the one with the lady dragon named Primrose and the sheep named Harvey ... and the Wizard ..."

"How can I if you don't stop bouncing on my chest? I'm not as young as I was you know ..." Oliver settled down at once, eyes wide. "Once upon a time, there was a very large and brave dragon, who was also very nice. His name was George ..." Oliver had enormous powers of concentration, but even so, he was, Doyle thought, sound asleep by the time the very large and brave dragon, and his good friend Primrose, along with the trusty Harvey (the sheep, to be honest, was modelled closely on Bodie) had begun their rescue of the kidnapped elf, Pamela, ably assisted by the wily old wizard, Feldspar. Who'd've thought I had all this lurking in my imagination. He slowly eased away, and quietly stood up. Oliver didn't stir, and he simply watched him. It was amazing how angel-like he appeared. False advertising, of course. But in the six weeks since the evening when things had come to a head, with Oliver tossing cereal all over the kitchen, everything had turned about. Oliver, for mysterious reasons known only to himself, had finally accepted Doyle. His off duty time (of which Cowley had, quietly, tried to give a bit more of than was strictly necessary ... not that he would have admitted it) was spent getting to know the multi-faceted little person sleeping so peacefully.

They had gone to the zoo (where Doyle spent a great deal of time explaining patiently why it was inadvisable for Oliver to take home a giraffe), with Bodie to a soccer match (a few terrifying moments there when, at the close of the match, Oliver disappeared -- only to turn up having made firm friends with the star player of the opposing team ...), and by far Oliver's favourite -- the local playground. Something Doyle had not previously known existed in his neighbourhood. This, at least, kept him in top physical shape, because Oliver had more energy than Macklin ever dreamed of, Doyle was kept hopping from one place of equipment to the next, non-stop. One of Oliver's favourite activities these days was hanging upside down, from the monkeybars. "I'm pretending to be a bat," he explained reasonably, swinging back and forth gently, arms folded like wings. Doyle had asked "Why?" to which Oliver patiently replied "'cause bats have rayon."' "I think you mean radar," Doyle said. "OK," said Oliver.

He had also been fascinated by the motorcycle Doyle was in the process of reconstructing, piece by loving piece; it was a good thing Doyle was taking his time over it, because Oliver was right there, saying "What's this?" and then he'd stop to try to explain it in terms a four year old would understand. Once Oliver dashed up to Bodie and Janra, who dropped in for the afternoon, and said excitedly, "We just put a new ear on the cycle!" Doyle supposed he'd get over his slight problem with "gs" in time.

He knocked off his musing, bending down to kiss Oliver goodnight. Oliver's eyes opened slightly and he reached up one small hand to pat Doyle's damaged cheekbone. "I like you," he said distinctly, then closed his eyes and dropped back to sleep.

"I like you too," Doyle's voice wasn't much more than a whisper.

Murphy certainly would never have mentioned Oliver at all that evening, as he and the lovely Helen -- Claire's assistant -- sat over drinks in a pub much favoured by civil servants like themselves. If he'd known someone like Tyler was listening. But he didn't know, so he talked. After all, Murphy was as susceptible to Oliver's considerable charm as the rest of the squad (people were still speaking with awe, for example of the curious effect Oliver had on the infamous -- even for CI5 -- Tommy McKay ...).

"I couldn't believe it. If Ray's jaw had dropped any further, he'd've been in deep trouble with the dentist." Murphy was regaling her with the details, having witnessed the scene personally.

"What on earth was Oliver doing with Tommy in the first place?"

"That's the great part -- Cowley sent Bob on to the docks ahead, and told me and Tommy to pick up Doyle. So while I'm checking in with HQ and Doyle's getting some clothes on, out toddles Oliver, right up to Tommy and starts telling him some story about a dragon. When we walked back into the sitting room he's sitting there happy as can be on Tommy's lap going on about wizards and sheep and god knows what all."

Helen grinned. "With our Tommy wrapped up in it all? Come on, you must be joking."

Murphy shook his head. "Honest. Enraptured. First time I've ever heard him talk like a human being -- a normal one anyhow. Or smile in a way that didn't make me want to run for cover. I thought Ray was going to fall over."

Helen laughed. "Too bad no one was there to film it. But what about Oliver -- Ray didn't leave him there alone?"

"Of course not. Bodie's dad lives nearby, he came right on over. I mean -- getting people to watch the kid has been the least of Doyle's problems."

"I guess so. Claire says Cowley can't get over the way his supposedly tough-as-titanium agents have turned into so much pliable mush over children." She took a bite of sandwich, then went on, "So he's going to keep him, them?"

Murphy raised an eyebrow. "Of course he is. Can't turn your own four year old son over to an orphanage for god's sake. Mind you, I wouldn't want to try to cope, but Doyle'll manage somehow. He really loves that kid, you can tell just from the way he talks about him ..."

They eventually went on to other subjects. But by then, Tyler had heard enough to brighten his day no end. How very interesting that Raymond Doyle had a small son that he cared about so much ...

Janra checked to make sure that Olivia was well and truly asleep, then tiptoed back to the sitting room. Oliver was spread out on the floor, crayons strewn around him, making surprisingly good attempts at drawing Humbert -- the only model, so far, whom Oliver had been able to get to sit still for the amount of time he required to capture an image on paper.

"Aunt Janra, why does Livvie sleep all the time?" He continued drawing in Humbert's spots with fierce concentration.

"If only she did. It just seems like it, because babies nap a lot. You did too, when you were little."

He finished a spot, put the crayon down and regarded her seriously. "Yeh, but will she ever been any fun? She's awful small ..."

Janra choked. Slightly. "Well, she'll grow. And before you know it she'll be, er, fun ... that's a great drawing of Humbert. You got his tail perfectly ..."

Oliver beamed at her excellent artistic taste, and resumed work.

She checked her watch. It was just about time to whisk the budding Picasso away for a bath and then to bed. Ray and Bodie were both working -- a case they'd been on for some time was finally coming to a head. So god knew when they'd be back. In the meantime, Oliver would stay right here, sleeping in the guest room.

Phillip was coming over, any time now, for dinner. He was bringing some photographs which he thought she might like to use for the new book, so, when the doorbell pealed, Janra jumped up to answer it without a qualm.

Unfortunately, it wasn't Phillip.

The car phone buzzed harshly, and Cowley -- busy watching while the clean-up team from the anti-terrorist squad moved in to begin cataloguing the piles of guns in the dockside warehouse -- jumped ever so slightly. Any way you cut it, tonight had been ... close. But they'd come out on top. This time.

"Alpha here ... yes ... when? ... Did she give a description? I'll be right there "

And getting closer all the time. "Bodie! Doyle!"

They hopped to, as always it wasn't wise to do anything else where Cowley was concerned, but they walked slowly, obviously tired. Doyle was still limping from the smashing his knee had taken when one of the "bad guys" decided to try a flying tackle on him.

"Sir?" The expression on the old man's face spelled out one thing. More trouble. But there was something more as well. If either Bodie or Doyle had the antennas the more fanciful elements in the typing pool attributed them with from time to time, they would have been quivering.

''Paul Tyler."

Tyler. Doyle remembered first. "About two years ago -- he and his partner were hired to sabotage the 23rd -- or was it 24th? -- round of arms talks here in London. I killed his partner, Tyler disappeared. No trace of him since."

"Well there is now." Cowley didn't know how to go on, and that in and of itself was frightening.

"Like what?" Bodie prodded.

"Tyler must have found out about Oliver. That phone call was from Phillip. When he showed up for dinner this evening, no one answered the bell. He got worried, talked the super out of his key and went to investigate. Janra was just coming round..." George hesitated.

"Is she alright? What about the baby?" Bodie was as close as he ever would get to taking Cowley by his lapels and shaking him.

"She's fine, Livvie's fine." Cowley's gaze centered on Doyle who knew the answer, but had to go and voice the question anyway.

"Oliver? You're saying he took Oliver?"


Kidnap parents are untrustworthy. How many years ago had that case been? Two? Three? He and Bodie's concentration had been not so much on finding the missing daughter of a highly placed research assistant, as in nailing the people he was being forced to turn over top secret plans to. Bodie had been bored stiff keeping constant tabs on the parents, listening in on a wire tap, he had kept busy tracking down this bit of information and that, questioning people; business as usual. Even though it had been his lot to rescue the girl, it was just another job done. The happy ending was nice, but let's get on to the next thing.

Doyle recalled his impatience with the frantic parents, and shook his head. The boot was well and truly on the other foot now.

Now he understood, for the first time, WHY they were untrustworthy. The desperate feeling that you would say anything, do anything, on the chance that it would bring your kid back alive, in one piece, precluded being able to calmly stand by and let the police tell you to do the exact opposite of whatever the kidnappers wanted.

Doyle stared blindly around the small room that he'd made into Oliver's. At the time, a bit put out that he had to find someplace else to store all his odds and ends, too ... That Ray Doyle didn't exist anymore. Now there was the vast stuffed toy collection which had grown even larger thanks to donations by Oliver's fans -- all of the squad, it seemed had managed to meet and fall for him ... and on the bed reposed Humbert, as purple as ever, looking -- at least to Doyle's eyes, forlorn. Like he knew. Ray picked the plushiosaurus up. "Don't you worry, mate. He'll be back soon. Just wait and see. Everything that can be done will be . . ." Ray got a vivid mental image of Oliver laying still and quiet ... "Everything that can be ..." he said again, not finishing because his voice was shaking too much.

The first phone call didn't come in until nearly 48 hours had crept by.

"Hello, Doyle. Enjoying our fine summer weather?" Tyler's voice was lazy triumphant.

Ray knew the drill. Keep him talking. "Yeh, lovely. What do you want, Tyler?"

Tyler laughed. "What do you think? I've got your kid. And if you want him back, you'll do exactly as I say. Otherwise I'll mail him to you. In pieces."

6.2 signalled him to keep in going. Not quite enough time to get a trace.

Doyle swallowed with difficulty. "OK. What do I have to do?"

More laughter. Tyler was really enjoying himself. "Well, now, I think I'll just keep you in suspense a bit longer. It really wouldn't do to let the cat out of the bag too soon, would it? Goodby, Doyle. I'll be in touch."

The line clicked and went dead. G.2 shook his head negatively, tossing his headset down in disgust. "30 seconds too little."

Doyle fought down a strong desire to scream, and dropped his head into his hands instead. Keep up the suspense ... when he got his hands on Tyler ...

CI5 and the police had not been idle in the meantime. They were out in force, doing their footwork, checking and rechecking the slightest lead. Not much of any use turned up, however. They kept at it anyway, doggedly, Bodie and Doyle included.

"I'm sorry," the girl behind the counter was apologetic, "he did rent a car from us, but I've no idea where he intended taking it. All we know is that it wasn't returned."

Bodie had expected as much. "You're absolutely certain he didn't mention anything about a destination?"

She dutifully wrinkled her brow in thought, but came up empty. "No. He was very tight lipped. Barely said two words. I'm sorry."

Bodie nodded, then turned on his heel and stalked out. Tyler seemed to have an uncanny knack for going about virtually unnoticed ...

Outside, his partner was waiting. One glance at Doyle's bleak face as he leant against the car told enough. He hadn't found anything out either. Bodie shook his head in answer to the unspoken question. "Struck out. She says he barely talked, let alone let his destination slip. Bloody wonderful innit? His talent for being invisible."

"Yeh." Doyle's shoulders hunched as he flung open the car door and slumped into the passenger seat. He stared straight ahead as Bodie got in and started the motor. "What do we do now? Nobody's come up with anything, and he hasn't called ... by now Oliver could be dead."

Forcefully Bodie said, "You don't know that. He's having a good time, stringing us along. There's no reason for him to hurt Oliver."

"No reason for him not to. What difference does it make to him? It's bizarre, isn't it? I didn't even know he existed until a few months ago. And now because of me ..."

"Knock it off, Ray! You didn't know this was going to happen -- or that his Mum was going to get herself killed on the M4. These things just..."

"Happen? Right. We were just getting to know each other ... and yet -- I love him. Just as much as if I'd been there from the beginning. Maybe more."

"I know. And we're going to find him. You'll ..."


"Really. But we won't do it sitting here." Bodie nosed the Cortina into noon-day traffic, "And when we do, I'll hold Tyler down while you strangle him. Deal?"

Doyle glanced sideways and met Bodie's look. "Deal."

Murphy tried not to get excited. "You're saying that you did rent a flat to his man?"

The estate agent nodded. "Oh yes, came in about five days ago. He was driving a blue Ford Escort -- had a small auburn headed boy with him. Lots of curls, didn't seem very happy. He left him in the car while signing the papers, and so on."

"And as far as you know they're still at the same place?"

"Yes, in fact, he called in yesterday, requesting another month's lease on the place."

Murphy produced a photo of Oliver, and the man nodded again. "Yes, that's him. Cute little tyke. About 4 or so, I'd say. Looked like he'd been crying though. One cheek was bruised."

Murphy fairly ran out of the small, Georgian fronted establishment, barely waiting until he was in his car before pulling out his R/T.

"There -- you eat this, if you know what's good for you." Tyler slammed a bag of rather limp french fries in front of Oliver. At least the brat had stopped wailing about something called Humbert, and it had only taken that one good crack across the face to shut him up in his calling for "Ray." He glanced over at the telephone and smiled. Tyler knew all about traces. His plan was to keep stringing Doyle along, never talking long enough to let them get a fix, just keep things going for weeks, maybe. If the fancy took him. It certainly was enjoyable. If the brat became a problem in the meantime -- and he was bound to, then a pillow held over the face would solve the difficulty. After all, there was daily trash pickup.

The estate agents he'd picked were small, it wasn't likely that CI5 or the coppers would be bright enough to stumble onto it in a city the size of good old London. At least not right away. There was more than enough time. He'd promised Colin he'd settle the account with Doyle, right and proper. And he'd always kept his promises to Colin.

Oliver nibbled at the fries, miserable through and through. He wanted his plushiosaurus. He wanted real food. He wanted his own bed. And most of all, he wanted Doyle.

"That's more like it, lad! I want every available man on it at once." Cowley slammed the phone down in Murphy's ear, then redialled, barked orders to the communications room, before bombing out of his offices at full speed.

"Base to 4.5." The R/T crackled to life, and Doyle grabbed it.

"4.5 -- what is it?"

Julia's normally tranquil voice was noticeably bubbling with excitement. "Murphy's located Oliver. Address is 3 Beauchamp Place, Streatham. Need I say get there on the double?"

Doyle grinned, for the first time in days. "No you do not. On our [way?]."

Bodie took the next corner at only 90 miles an hour.

They slowed to a halt in front of Beauchamp Place 15 minutes later. It was a huge, anonymous block of flats; Cowley was already there, the place crawling with CI5 agents and regular police.

Doyle was just in time to see Paul Tyler, handcuffed, being led to a waiting panda car.

He dug his feet in when he saw Doyle. "Better luck next time, eh Doyle?"

"You ..." Tyler went down in response to a vicious, well landed punch.

"Did you see that?" Tyler demanded of his police escort.

"See what? Get up, I haven't got time for you to play in the dirt." The cop dragged Tyler to his feet and hustled him off.

"About time you two got here, I was beginning to think you'd never show," Cowley positively ambled over, his voice dry.

"Oliver," Doyle said.

"I mean, we put the call out 15 minutes ago, driving skills not quite what they used to be Bodie?"

"Oliver," Doyle did grab the chief, by the arm. He had a thread of restraint left.

"Is fine." Grinning widely, Cowley pointed. Oliver was just coming out of the building lobby, hand held fast by a policewoman. He was chatting to her animatedly, then stopped when he saw Doyle. His small face lit up ... the policewoman let go of his hand, which was a good thing, because he'd have wrenched it away otherwise, and he took off at light speed, rocketing straight for Doyle, ignoring anyone else in his path.

"Daddy!" Ray had just time to register it was the first time Oliver actually called him that, before a small body cannoned into him. He scooped Oliver up in his arms, his own bone crushing hug more than returned by the small arms looped vice like around his neck.

"I was scared, he wouldn't let me take Humbert ... I wanted you."

Doyle pulled back a bit. "Are you all right? Did he do this?" His fingers traced lightly over Oliver's bruised cheek.

"Yeh. Now it's like yours." Oliver grinned at him, then his arms tightened around Doyle's neck again. He turned his face into Ray's shoulder, saying rather muffled, "Daddy, can we go home now?"

Doyle looked upwards, blindly, registering the hot August sunlight for the first time. For the first time, too, he realised there were tears running down his face. But he was smiling. Just then he felt very, very thankful.

"Yes, love, we can go home now," was all he said, however.

-- THE END --

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