The Cow's Tale: Doyle in the Manger


These boys! Aye, I know, they're grown men when it comes right down to it, but as far as I'm concerned, boys they are and boys they'll stay. Especially my boy; for all he outstrips me by inches and outweighs me by two stone, I still get an urge to turn him over my knee when he's been particularly backward on the job.

Or off the job, come to think of it. That lad's got the stubbornest nature. Can't think where he gets it from.

From the time I first brought Bodie into CI5, I had a partner picked out for him. Not consciously; I don't have a computer stored away in my head, despite my reputation. I seldom admit that, of course. It does me no end of good to be thought omniscient. It's observation and intuition, nothing magical about it, but it's taken a long, hard road to turn it into as fine a skill as it's become. That's not an old man's ego speaking, it's nothing but the truth--and not always a pleasant truth. Many's the day I wish I didn't know so much about so many people. At the very least, my life would be easier. But I've always said that life wasn't meant to be easy. And so my deeper knowledge and my gut instincts told me that ex-copper Ray Doyle was the one for my Bodie, the one that would turn him from a solid agent into half of something greater.

Little did I know.

Or perhaps I did know the whole of it somehow, the same way I often know what Bodie's thinking before he does himself. Perhaps I knew what he needed to make him complete. Or perhaps that's nothing but a heap of sentimental rubbish, it really doesn't matter one way or another in the end. What matters is what happened. As I expected, Doyle and Bodie took to one another with all the peacefulness of nitro and glycerine. It certainly wasn't easy, not at first. But the energy there, the charge, eventually soaked in and ran through them like electric current, fusing them over time into a partnership the likes of which CI5 has seldom seen. I didn't waste time congratulating myself when there was work to be done, but I was pleased. I told them so, mostly when I was giving them a dressing down for one thing or another. No sense in swelling their heads up so far they forget to be careful. It only takes one moment of inattention. The leg reminds me of that most days, even with the new physical therapy, and I take care to pass that reminder on to the Squad. Forcefully.

After a time, the partnership turned into more than I had first intended. Again, I think perhaps I saw it coming before either of them did...that's intuition for you. I distinctly remember when they finally realised it between themselves, because they returned from a week's leave spent together and crept about the halls like a pair of schoolboys. On their best behaviour--certainly not their usual manner. It made me laugh. What were they expecting? Did they think I was blind? And if not blind, did they think I was daft?

I'm no one's maiden auntie. I may be called the Cow (not to my face, of course, unless it's out of my own mouth), but I'm not one, nor gelded steer. I've known and served with different kinds of men all my life, and there have always been those among them who paired up with each other. They've called themselves different things over the generations, and sometimes I can't be bothered to keep up. In fact, I can't be bothered, full stop. What do I care where a man sleeps, as long as he's at my back when I need him? I have better things to worry about.

I suppose a man of my background is expected to be a hidebound martinet. It had certainly seemed that way to that lad Pellin. Poor boy made very sure to insist that he "wasn't a homosexual himself" if he half expected me to put him back in an armlock. And from the way Doyle and Bodie suddenly became good as gold, I think they had a few visions of armlocks and the like as well. Ridiculous.

I left it to them to sort themselves out, and time went on. Doyle stayed wary, as he tends to do, but of course Bodie figured out there was nothing to fear from me. He settled back into his trouble-making ways, and after a bit, Doyle followed. And whatever instinct had led me to partner them, and led them to pair even further with each other, it more than proved its worth over the next few years. They read each other with uncanny skill, and saw one another into and out of situations that would have killed anyone else. If a change in sexual mores could guarantee that sort of death-defying performance from the rest of the Squad, I'd consider making personal involvement mandatory--no matter the gender of the partners--rather than officially frowned on and unofficially overlooked. I wouldn't have to order so many funeral wreaths. So many young lives. A man gets tired.

Och, well. Time's getting on, mustn't get maudlin. As I was saying, 3.7 and 4.5 were living a charmed life, tied together body and soul as they were. For three years they managed it, until even I found myself falling into the habit of believing them immortal. Believing one of those cliches about love conquering all and so forth. And then Doyle, damn the boy, "changed his mind."

That's what Bodie told me, in any case, and believe me it took more than a few stern scoldings backed with a few shared bottles of pure malt to get that much out of him. Not his fault, sir, can't be helped, sir, no harm done, sir. All the while his eyes telling me more than he wanted me to know. More than I wanted to know.

The partnership continued. No reason for it not to, and they were still my best. For the moment. But as Brian might say, the cracks slowly began to show. No longer the easy give and take. No longer quite as telepathic as they had been. Ideas about immortality, about amor vincit omnia, slipped away. I briefly considered writing down the rules about personal involvement in the small print, no longer overlooking anything officially or unofficially, before I came to my senses. But this was putting lines of strain in Bodie's face that years of danger and sacrifice hadn't been able to do. One night after we had cleared away the better part of a bottle of Cragganmore, I asked him straight out why he was so determined to suffer. And the drink and the company had gotten in past his shell, it seemed, because he told me that love doesn't mind being hurt. That was more than I could stand. Hearing that patient resignation, for all the world like a whipped dog, from Bodie of all people--! Well. It was becoming intolerable. I made up my mind to put it right.

Doyle never has been quite as amenable to a lecture as my Bodie (blood is thicker than water, they say). This called for a more subtle approach. The first step was to uncover Doyle's reasons, if he had any. And to that end I called Murphy in to my office for a quiet chat. A good lad, Murphy. Very promising future. He's been learning to specialise in interrogation...but it's much more than bright lights and handcuffs and what our American colleagues call "the third degree." Rubber hoses and that James Cagney nonsense. No indeed, Murphy was learning much more about how interrogation really works, how it ought to work. What it's all about is gathering information from someone whether they're willing or unwilling. Winkle it out of them by hook or by crook...and it's always best if they believe that it was their own idea to tell you what they're telling you. They feel better for having confided in you.

And so Murphy, under my tutelage, lent himself to Doyle as a potential confidant. Nothing obvious, not our Murphy. Simply being there, a familiar face, willing to buy the next round and listen. Quite talented at helping the conversation get onto the subject of Bodie. Doyle's never been one to suffer in silence, that much I know well of him, and I trusted that sooner or later he'd air his grievances. I wanted Murphy first in line to hear them. And hear them he did.

As I half-suspected, the trouble had started with a bullet. The one that had pierced Doyle's heart, in fact. Over a late-night pint, Doyle told Murphy about his memories of being shot--seeing Bodie's face hovering over him in the ambulance. That look, he said, I couldn't bear having Bodie look like that ever again, not if I were the cause. The incredible blankness there, barely suppressing fear and hopelessness. His eyes pinned on Doyle, his life pinned on Doyle. And Doyle--always being one to hug guilt to himself like a hot water bottle--felt responsible for that look and the pain within it. So after a time, he decided that the best way to protect Bodie was to put some distance in, to keep him from getting too involved.

When Murphy finally came round and reported all of this, I poured him an extra dram and sent him on his way. I had some thinking to do. Doyle was a fool. Trying his best to be noble, aye, but a fool nevertheless. Distancing Bodie for Bodie's own good, when it wasn't good at all. If I've learned anything about my boy, it's that he wants to be free to choose his own path, and with it his own pain. For all of his good intentions, Doyle was denying Bodie that much. Something had to be done. And it had to be Doyle making the decision--or thinking he was making the decision--otherwise, none of this would work out properly in the end.

The next morning, then, I contacted Murphy and had him bring Doyle in for a meeting. All very discreet, very hushed and important, the Old Man said he needs to see you right away. And the strangest thing happened as they were passing in the entranceway, now that I think back. Murphy went through, then Doyle, and just as Doyle crossed from beneath the lintel, a brick came loose from the angle of wall and ceiling and tumbled down on him.

He didn't get out of the way in time (which reminds me, I'll be packing him off to Brian next week or thereabouts for a bit of reflex work), and the brick struck him solidly on the crown. Murphy saw him back to his feet and brought him along.

Doyle entered, rubbing at his head, Murphy on his heels, and I went into my part of the scene. Well, Doyle, you can rest easy now. Since I know you want what's best for Bodie, and since your achievements as a team are no longer up to par, I've decided to take him off your hands.

A wee pause to slip on my glasses and shuffle through the papers on my desk; from the corner of my eye I saw Doyle beginning to frown.

I continued blithely--Bodie will be assigned a new partner of my own choosing, someone who will look after him well. Someone like Murphy here, for instance. I think there's real potential there. It was the same way I partnered you and Bodie, after all, and that worked out rather well for a good long time, didn't it now?

I settled on one particular document and tapped the signature line, regarding Doyle with a satisfied air about me. And here's where I'll always think I have that brick to thank. If he had been paying more attention, I have no doubt that Doyle might very well have been a bit more suspicious. He's seen enough triple-think in his time to know that I'm seldom one to take the obvious path. But with his sore head, he was easily made irritable, more than willing to give in to his temper. He turned into the dog in the manger right before our very eyes; I could hardly have hoped for better.

He rebelled, to put it bluntly. No, he said flatly, no you can't, Bodie's mine. I know what's best for Bodie, and it's me. The more outraged his tone became, the better I felt. He knew Bodie would never willingly leave him, and so he had been secure in playing the noble role, supposedly keeping Bodie safe by holding him at a distance. But once I threatened to interrupt his little domestic drama...well, he took the bit in his teeth, and ran away with it.

I argued with him, of course. Bodie always says there's nothing that makes him more suspicious than when I'm being too agreeable. (Have to be careful of that. It's not wise to become predictable at this late stage of the game.) At first I was reasonable, and soothed Doyle while I lauded Murphy; later I let it get to a shouting match. Let Doyle work up his energy, his outrage. Played him like a river salmon, gave him enough line, set the hook just so. The fishing trips with Andy Drake have served me well in more than one capacity; I ought to tell him so next time I see him.

Doyle stormed out, eventually. Murphy and I had a quiet drink to celebrate, and then I sent him after. Supposedly to chase Doyle down and try to make him see reason, but really so I could see the results of my fishing expedition.

Perhaps all that Doyle needed was a good excuse. Perhaps he was tired of his noble decision already. I don't know. What I do know is that the way he went back to Bodie was almost too perfect. Humbly, apologetically, sincerely, he returned and offered himself up. Murphy chased after him and did his token best to convince Doyle not to do it, which of course firmed up Doyle's resolve all the more; Bodie, for his part, showed a bit more wariness than I would have expected. He set some conditions, Murphy said. I think that's best; it's bound to keep Doyle's attention, keep him alert, at the very least.

Murphy lingered as long as he decently could, until the newly-reunited partnership firmly showed him the door, and then he returned to give me his final report. And he told me that Bodie seemed unaccountably concerned about the matter of the brick, of all things. Bodie had set himself to take care of Doyle's bruises and so forth as soon as he noticed them, and upon hearing about the brick he began demanding to know if I had arranged it. Have you ever heard the like? Good thing Doyle went back; perhaps he can keep that boy sane for a bit longer.

When 4.5 and 3.7 came back to work the next day, they were rumpled and without much sleep--will Bodie ever be able to teach Doyle how to dress himself properly!--but the tensions had been erased. They were practically living in each other's skin again, as they had been before. Comfortably settled and on their toes, at one and the same time. And for the next week, I'd catch Bodie watching me and glancing uneasily up at the ceiling; I frowned and lectured a bit more than usual, to keep from laughing outright. I suppose it's another useful addition to my reputation--if they want to believe I can make stones fall from the sky, all the better.

Life's been back to normal. Not easy, not quiet, it never is...but it's the best it can be. The best we can make it. I'm glad this whole bother is behind us, because there's work to do. I'm a busy man.

All right, aye, I'm also glad to see the light back in my boy's eyes again. Both of my boys' eyes. But let me tell you--when I was a young man, if anyone had told me I'd be spending time playing Cupid for a pair of oversized tearaways at my age, I'd never have believed it.

-- THE END --

Published in Virtual Pros, Bovinity Press, 1997

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