Under the Tree
Under the tree.
A tilt of the head told 3.7 that 4.5 had seen it as well. Bodie pushed off, crouching low to take advantage of the cars in the car park. Doyle remained where he was, gun in hand but held against his thigh so that there would be no betraying glint of metal. It was a cold night. He kept his face turned towards his collar so that the white mist of his breath did not give him away either. His heartbeat seemed loud to him, but that was because the night was so still. It was after midnight and cold. Anyone with a grain of sense was at home in front of a roaring fire.
Bodie had reached the last car and was perhaps twenty feet away from the cluster of battered trees which had once been part of someone's garden. Now a brick wall separated them from their more fortunate brethren. The trees on this side had suffered careless drivers and small boys and large dogs. One of them was currently enduring a small man who had climbed up into the thin bare branches and was trying to make his way onto the top of the brick wall.
Doyle waited, and so did Bodie, watching as the man teetered and then pushed himself off onto the wall and then dropped to the ground on the other side. When he was out of sight, Bodie eased out of his concealment and sprinted for the wall. He did not bother with the tree, but pulled himself up smoothly so that he could peer over the wall. With one hand he gestured to the left. Doyle went left, keeping close to the building, not only to hide from prying eyes but to stay out of the cutting wind for as long as possible.
Bodie went over the wall as soon as it was safe, and Doyle watched as the bent figure of the man eventually emerged at the end of the block from a small gate. He set off at a brisk pace and Doyle followed him. Bodie was nowhere in sight, but Doyle knew he was contacting Alpha and then would circle around and pick up their car. Doyle would have been jealous of the warmth Bodie would soon have if he had not been relatively grateful for not having to throw himself over icy walls. Doyle paused as the man he was tailing paused, and he used the moment to blow on his cold fingers. He decided it was safe to tuck his gun away. The man no longer looked back often, and they were on the street now. He could just imagine what Cowley would say if he were detained by a well meaning copper.
If Froukes got away, then three weeks worth of effort would have to be duplicated. He was their only clue to a ring of second-class terrorists who had discovered that petty harassment was as useful as bombs if employed correctly. Sugar in the petrol, glue in the keyholes, tyres gone missing off of guarded automobiles. Little stuff--except that they were moving on to bigger things, or another group was duplicating their methods. Too many questions, not enough answers meant that Bodie and Doyle were out on the streets two days before Christmas, freezing off their balls, following a man who had just finished nailing shut the door of a popular restaurant so that the owners, in the morning, could not open the doors for business without an hour of hard work. There would be the expense of a new door, as well.
Petty, but both Bodie and Doyle, knowing that their boss connected the matter to a murder which had not been solved and the sudden resignation of a government officer, were as careful as they followed this man as they would be under other circumstances.
The man didn't seek transportation, but hiked steadily along, hands in his pockets and head bent against the wind, and Doyle followed. Eight blocks away, the man turned and entered a block of old houses. Some of them had been converted into flats, some were smaller. Most of them had been built after the war with the exception of three in the middle of the block. It was the largest of these into which the man disappeared, and Doyle stopped behind a hedge and murmured into his r/t. Soon after, a shadow joined him. Bodie.
"It's colder," Bodie said, and Doyle ignored that brilliant whispered observation to gesture to the back of the house. Bodie shrugged and went to climb another wall. Lights went on in the house. Doyle was just about to lift his r/t to his mouth and ask for further instructions when a car drove up. Two men got out and hurried into the house and the car drove away. It began to snow, a circling dance of light flakes. Doyle frowned and reported the new information sourly.
"I want an identification on the two new men," Cowley ordered. Doyle resisted sarcasm only because a plan had come to him as he hunched against the rising wind.
"Care to authorize a little B and E?" he asked too sweetly. He had noticed there was a full bottle of milk on the steps of the house to the north. Chances were, the owners were away. The windows of that house looked directly across into the well-lighted windows of the house they watched.
He could almost hear Cowley weighing the options. Then the clipped tones asked him for the address and told him to proceed. Doyle tucked the r/t away, knowing that the extra paperwork involved would probably give him nightmares later, but, for the moment, getting inside would make it all worth it.
Bodie had listened in, of course. He would be in the back. Just as well Cowley let them get inside, because in only a few minutes there would be enough snow on the ground to mark their every move.
He straightened and began to walk up the street with the hurried stride of a man who was cold and who wanted to be home in front of a fire. He assumed the air of a man who had a right to be where he was, and when he reached the door, he brought out not a key, but the small pack of lock picks. It was simple enough and in only a moment he stepped inside.
His impression that the owners were away was supported at once by the cold inside. Almost as cold as it was outside, but at least the wind couldn't get him here. It was dark, but a little light came in from the windows. Silently he made his way through the house to the back. A door opened up from the kitchen into the postage-stamp-sized garden. Bodie stepped in at once, brushing snow from his hair and his shoulders. Doyle nudged him and they went back to the front room, where the window looked out to the south. Carefully, Doyle lifted the starched curtain aside a fraction of an inch. Nothing could be seen except the distortions and shadows which said someone was moving on the other side of the closed curtains in the other house.
Bodie said, "Upstairs."
Doyle understood at once. The curtains were not the right size for the long old-fashioned windows. A valance had been put along the top, but there was still several inches at the top where there was no curtain. If there was a window upstairs just above this one, then they might be able to look down into the room.
"You go. I'm going to find the heat," Bodie said quietly and faded from Doyle's side.
Doyle took out the small torch he carried in the pocket of his coat and first looked over this floor. Kitchen to the back, bathroom and pantry/laundry to the south of that. The large room in front held couch and chairs, television and stereo. It was comfortable but not distinguished in any way. The other small room beside it contained a battered wardrobe, a jumble of boxes and a table which someone had started to refinish.
Doyle closed the door gently and headed for the stairs. They were carpeted, but he went cautiously, not expecting to meet anyone but still ready for any eventuality. At the top of the stairs he paused. He had expected to find a hallway here, with several closed doors to investigate. The place had been remodelled into one big room, open to the stairs. There was only one door there, which opened up to reveal a huge bathroom.
The main room was done with hardwood floors covered with a scattering of carpets. In one corner, bookcases and comfortable chairs made a small library. In another, a desk and table were covered with a clutter of papers. His light danced from one spot to another, and he was careful to keep it down. He found the bed, a king sized model without headboard and covered with a thick duvet, pushed up against the wall and just under the window they had hoped to find. Doyle snapped off his light and moved forward. He had to climb up onto the bed to reach the curtains and move them aside.
He grinned in the dark. The view was perfect. It was a little like looking down from heaven from this angle--his best view was of the tops of heads. Still, he could plainly see the three men seated around a table. Tea things were scattered over the table and the man they had followed, Froukes, was still eating. The other two had cups of tea in front of them but were ignoring them. There was an argument going on.
Doyle scooted back, heeled off his boots and then crawled back onto the bed, pulling the compact pair of binoculars out of one pocket even as he tucked his torch back into the other. Just before he edged the curtains aside again he pulled a fold of the spread over his freezing feet. Far below, he could hear the muffled clank of the heating plant stirring to life. He knew better than to expect Bodie right away. If he knew his partner.... Even as the thought crossed his mind, he could hear the tiny sounds of a cupboard door opening, and then the louder sound of the refrigerator door. Trust Bodie!
He didn't blame him, though. They hadn't eaten since noon, and that only a hastily snatched sandwich as they drove. Doyle was hungry and thirsty and did not care if he had to pay restitution out of his own pocket. It would be worth it just for something hot to drink and something solid to eat. He turned his attention to the men he watched, waiting for one or the other to turn his head or look up.
It was almost twenty minutes before he heard Bodie's step on the stairs. He spared a quick glance behind him as Bodie walked in.
Oh, very nice," Bodie said, pausing to study the room, the bed. "What I can see of it."
Doyle's eyes had adjusted to the gloom. "There's a table at the foot of the bed you can put that tray on."
Bodie grunted and followed the instructions. "Any joy?"
"Actually, yes. Guess who the white-haired bloke is down there?" Doyle spoke in a quiet voice, even though there was no real need for it any more.
"This time of year? Saint Nick?" Bodie joked, even as he filled a cup and handed it to Doyle. "Hot," he warned. The scent of the tea was rich in the dark, but there was another smell, too.
"Toast?" Doyle identified, and realized he had run out of hands.
"Yeh. I made plenty, though, so don't worry about it. Who'd you see, then?"
Doyle savoured his triumph. "Brookhart."
"Hell!" Bodie said with reverence. "Who else?"
"Take a look at that man with his back to us. He remind you of somebody?" Doyle asked, handing the glasses over. As Bodie moved forward, he added, "Take off your shoes, mate. This is delicate fabric you're putting mud on. Cowley's going to go shrill if he has to spring for cleaning bills as well."
Bodie obeyed, then crawled forward to look, even while he said, "You just want a chance at the toast."
"Too right," Doyle said from the middle of a well buttered slice. His hand reached for another and he realized the size of the stack under his hand. "You did the whole bloody loaf!"
"Why not? Might as well be hung for a loaf as a slice. It was in the freezer. As long as I had to hack it apart anyway...is that Newhold?"
"That's what I thought as well." Doyle swallowed and reached for his r/t, which was on the bed beside Bodie. He made his report to Cowley, then took another blissful bite of toast.
"What is a little tiny bug like Froukes doing with big bad spiders like that?" Bodie wanted to know. His hand reached blindly back. Doyle put toast in it.
"The old man's done it again. New Scotland Yard is going to have to eat a few words," Bodie chortled softly.
"Hummm," Doyle said, taking a cautious sip of the tea. It was just right now and he downed the lot. "They still arguing?"
"Wish I could read lips. Something about Birmingham. Maybe."
"I'm going to search around that desk, see if I can find some paper." Doyle wiggled backwards off the bed and then padded barefoot across the room. The air was just a bit warmer, but no heat had seeped into the floor yet. Even the bits covered by throw rugs were cold. He got out his tiny but powerful torch again and pointed it this way and that. He hurried as he pawed through the papers looking for a notebook or clipboard, but it was almost a minute before he found something which would suit, a pad of paper behind which he put a large book.
"Ready," Doyle said as soon as he returned to the bed and once again covered his feet with the thick bedding.
"Froukes' main contribution is no, no and no. Brookhart is for something and Newhold is against it. Brookhart is insisting on it now. Newhold keeps shaking his head. He keeps gesturing."
Doyle was writing it down. He stopped when Bodie stopped, and poured them both more tea.
"Brookhart's yawning. I wish he wouldn't," Bodie said, and then yawned himself.
Doyle gave him a pinch--mostly ineffective as it had to be felt through three layers of cloth--and fought back a similar reaction. He snuck a look at his watch. It had gone three.
"He's at the phone. Can't see...it's a lot of numbers close together but...at least he's turned to face me directly. He's shaking his head again. He's listening more than talking. You'd better call in."
Doyle had already done so. His report to Cowley was greeted with dour silence and an acknowledgement which was cut off even as the words were spoken. Doyle gave the unit a scowl, wishing it could travel through the distance and pop out in the old man's face.
"It's the bombing Murphy was working on. It broke tonight, too. The old man is running two ops at once," Bodie explained.
Doyle wasn't much mollified, but he found solace in another slice of now cold toast. "That should ruin a few holidays."
"Short staffed and calling in everybody they can reach," Bodie agreed. "Two days before Christmas, don't the....wait. Phone call over, now he's turning on the radio. Can even see the dial. Do you suppose he's just in the mood for music?"
This time, when Doyle called in the information, he got Jax, who said he'd be taking over for Cowley. Jax was just out of the hospital with a bullet wound in his shoulder, which told them exactly how things were back at HQ.
They finished the tea and the toast, and at last the men next door finished their argument. Another phone call was made. Doyle, who was watching then, even got most of the number, and they decided it was not the number called before. Twenty minutes later, a black car pulled up in front. Brookhart left. He did not see the car which eventually followed him down the street. Ten minutes later, a taxi came for Newhold. It, too, had a tail as it drove off through the new-fallen snow. Froukes turned out the lights and presumably and sensibly went to bed.
Jax greeted the news with news of his own.
"He wants us to do what?" Doyle demanded, sure that he had heard wrong.
"Stay there. Sleep in turns, keep watch on the house and follow Mr Froukes if he goes anywhere." Jax sounded bored.
"Jax! We've broken into someone's house! I don't want to be here when the owners return." Trouble, delays, arguments--who needed it?
"Mr Cowley says he thinks your diplomatic skills are up to it. Says you're to show them the fine print. By the way, the house is owned by one Wilson Dormer, and he's a bank clerk, single and probably gone to visit his mum for the holidays because he has the whole week off." He signed off at once.
What Doyle said next was a mumble into which a word or two which could be understood occasionally intruded. None of them were nice. "I need a pee," he announced, and left Bodie to stare out the window at the dark house.
When he came back, he announced, "CI5 does not know everything about Mr Dormer."
"Such as the fact that he does not live alone?" Bodie suggested.
"How did you know?" Doyle demanded, irate at having his news received as no news at all.
"There's a note on the counter reminding Will to put the note out for the milkman. The note to the milkman is under a magazine and asked him to start delivery again the 27th."
Doyle let his irritation show. "And you only just now mentioned it?"
"We were busy. Besides...."
"The first note is signed 'Mark'."
"That's what I said," Bodie agreed, and as he spoke he reached forward and took hold of Doyle's jacket, pulling him close. Then he snatched a quick kiss which slid off Doyle's lips and landed mostly on his chin as Doyle jerked away.
"Not here!" Doyle backed clear off the bed and fumbled for his boots. "We said we'd keep it away from the job," he reminded his partner. His partner, and, for the last month, his lover.
"I've got my eye on the house," Bodie assured him, "and it's not like anything is going to happen over there. I bet Froukes is asleep this very minute."
"I know that, you know that, but if he left while we were having it away, Cowley would have our balls in our ears."
"He wouldn't know what we'd been up to," Bodie protested, but he didn't make another attempt to get closer to Doyle.
"Oh, you'd rather he just thought we were incompetent on general principles, instead of incompetent because we were wearing our brains with our balls?" Doyle wanted to know. He found his boots, but before he could jerk them on, Bodie spoke again.
"Take over for me? I need a pee, too."
Doyle couldn't deny that it was probably true, for Bodie had gone for even longer than he without a break. He leaned against the wall and stared out through the glasses, his eyes gritty and sore and his temper on edge because he wanted nothing more than to lean back on this huge wonderful bed, take Bodie in his arms and love him into exhaustion. Which, given the state they were in, shouldn't take over ten minutes.
But they had decided from the beginning not to let their new relationship affect the job. For four weeks, they had been careful to keep their hands and even their glances to themselves. To his surprise, it hadn't been that hard.
Or, it hadn't been that hard when they were active. On the street was one thing. In bed was another. He blinked his eyes. It was changing outside. False dawn. It would be just a little lighter outside for a bit, and then the real dawn would try to push through the heavy grey clouds. It wouldn't make it. The weather forecast was for grey skies and snow through Christmas.
Day after tomorrow, now. It was Christmas Eve, Doyle remembered. At home, he had a package wrapped and hidden under his bed. Would Bodie like it? Did Bodie have one for him? They didn't have the habit of exchanging real presents, just little jokey things like obscure bottles of beer and odd magazines. But everything was different now.
Bodie. Christmas. He blinked his eyes again, feeling the red in them, and the exhaustion which lapped at the edges of his consciousness. Ten years ago he could stay up all night and never notice. He was getting older, and he didn't like it.
Bodie came back and sat on the edge of the bed. "What would you like first, sleep or food or window duty?"
"Bodie, that's a singularly stupid question," Doyle said, fighting back a yawn. "The real question is, you first, or me?"
"I asked you that on Saturday," Bodie said in a low voice.
Doyle flushed. They had made up their minds to try the joys of sodomy the first time they got two days off in a row. It hadn't happened yet. It was not likely to happen in the near future. Bodie had teased him for days, considering the question of who went to his knees first from every angle, making Doyle restless because Bodie's arguments for each possibility were equally attractive.
"Bodie," Doyle warned. Then he said, "Give me just a half hour, then wake me up and I'll be able to give you an hour."
"You're on," Bodie said, and took the glasses from Doyle.
Doyle shrugged out of his coat--it was almost warm enough not to need it--and crawled under the covers, clutching a soft pillow to him and falling asleep before his head had properly touched it.
He woke fifty minutes later when Bodie put a hand on his shoulder. "My turn, sunshine," he said, and pulled Doyle into a sitting position, thrusting the glasses into his hand.
Doyle sat up, noticing that it was getting light outside. He didn't need the glasses, and set them aside. To his surprise, Bodie had not taken his place on the bed, but was pulling a bit of the duvet up over him where he was.
"You won't be comfortable that way," Doyle warned. It was going to make it hard to move around without disturbing Bodie.
"Yes I will," Bodie said, and fell asleep half curled around Doyle, his face turned towards him and a hand just touching Doyle's thigh.
Doyle felt a flush creep over his face. Bodie made him feel...both cherished and guilty. It was flattering to have Bodie want to be close to him and embarrassing because he himself had crawled away and fallen asleep on the other side of the bed without a second thought. Was exhaustion enough of an excuse?
It was funny, he thought, shifting to find a more comfortable position. Bodie was the one who had less experience with domesticity. Unlike Doyle, he had never even shacked up with a lady for more than a few months at a time. Bodie had always been one for grand gestures, such as a dozen red roses, rather than the small ones, such as.... Doyle let himself smile. Such as giving his lover an extra twenty minutes sleep? Maybe that came into the category of a grand gesture after all. Perhaps he hadn't noticed Bodie's small courtesies because they hadn't been directed at him?
Slowly, the night world turned into morning bustle. The sound of traffic picked up and became a steady background to the other noise of a waking world. The lances of light made new shadows, new patterns. Doyle, leaning against the wall, careful not to pull the curtains out of line, watched the house, but he was very aware of the man beside him. He was still tired, but there was a new energy in a new day. The toast seemed long ago. He reached out behind him, finding the teapot and hefting it. Empty. He shrugged. A dog barked. Milk was delivered to the house he was watching. He recorded the time, the company and a description of the man who swung down with the bottles. That was the only occurrence of note in the two hours before he woke up Bodie.
"Wuh?" Bodie asked, waking up fast, the way he always did, but immediately collapsing back into sleep as he registered no danger. Doyle shook him again. This time, Bodie groaned and sat up. He looked around, focused on Doyle, and then paused, letting his eyes look their fill. Doyle punched him in the arm.
"Your turn to sleep?" he asked, looking at his watch and then meeting Doyle's eyes. He couldn't exactly make a fuss about Doyle giving him extra time when he had done the same for Doyle, so he gave him a look and pulled himself over to the window.
"I'm going to cook something." Doyle pulled on his boots, looking around the room and seeing it clearly for the first time. "I didn't notice the tree last night," he said as he stood up. Bodie took a quick glance behind, taking in the table under the north window and the small artificial Christmas tree there. The baubles which hung from it were an odd assortment; obviously they had meaning to the two men who lived there. Under the tree were two presents. The larger one was wrapped in green foil, with a huge red bow. The smaller had been tied up by a person unused to such tasks. The sloppy arrangement of holly patterned red paper was held together more by luck than from the efforts of the rather battered gold ribbon.
"What do you suppose is in them?" Bodie speculated as he turned his attention back to the brick house next door.
"Don't you dare," Doyle said, knowing well the way his friend's mind worked. He went down the stairs quickly. There were so many details he had not seen last night. The pictures on the walls, the patterns on the carpet. It was a nice place to live, he decided, as he explored cabinets and cupboards.
Breakfast was going to be eggs and bacon. There was nothing fresh in the house, but he did find coffee and there was more bread in the freezer. Last loaf. He moved around the kitchen with smooth economy, finding things in logical places and coming to feel an affinity for the two men who lived here.
Twenty minutes later he was carrying two well-filled plates up the stairs, coffee balanced on the plates and forks tucked into his back pocket. He was greeted with appropriate enthusiasm, and they ate, taking turns watching out the window and talking about the possibility that Froukes would be up and about. Both of them hoped the man would sleep until noon. It was decided that whoever was watching would be the one to follow the man, since it might take too long to wake the other. That settled, Doyle shoved the plates onto the floor and settled down for his turn to sleep. He took a page from Bodie's book and slept with his head near Bodie, near enough for the other man to reach out and run his fingers through his curls. Doyle moved his head enough to press a kiss against the big hand, and then he let himself drift off. Bodie's touch did not disturb him, although he woke a little when Bodie traced a finger down his side and up to his hip. He mumbled for Bodie to stop it and then drifted off.
Doyle woke to the static of the r/t. He lifted his head, one hand running through his limp curls, the other supporting him. Bodie had the glasses up to his eyes while he spoke into the r/t held close to his mouth.
"Three. Brookhart and two others, not Newhold. They all arrived on foot within ten minutes of each other. Froukes is serving pastry and coffee to them." Bodie ended his transmission and looked over at Doyle. "Good morning."
"Is it?" Doyle pulled his watch over to his face. Almost eleven. He snarled at it soundlessly and let his body collapse back to the comfort of the bed. For some reason, he was more exhausted now than he had been before. His body felt betrayed and wanted to return to the heavy delights of slumber.
"For some. Jax is sending in more foot soldiers to follow this lot when they leave. He wants to know what sort of a conference centre they're running over there. Here comes another one," he added, lifting the r/t again.
"Ugly bloke," was Doyle's considered comment as he sat up. The new man was stout, with a florid face and irritated manner--if one could judge by the way he leaned on the bell.
"More ways than one. That's Hammerhill."
"It isn't!" Doyle was wide awake now, his eyes glittering with interest. Hammerhill had a cousin in America who was a drug czar, a cousin in Spain in jail for political crimes and a spotless record of his own. Much had been assumed and little proven about the elusive man.
"I'd like to take that one down," Bodie said, changing the focus on his glasses as the door opened and Hammerhill entered. "He's trying to take charge, I think. More arguments. Take over, will you? I need to pee."
Doyle was eager enough to do it. He adjusted the glasses to his liking, bending to let Bodie by, then bracing himself. He took over the reporting, too. Jax told him they already had two men outside and signed off abruptly. Doyle settled down to a lotus-like position.
Bodie, when he came back, said, "That looks uncomfortable. If we pulled the bed back a foot or so, we could sit properly." Before Doyle could say yea or nay, Bodie had taken hold of the bed and heaved it away from the wall. Doyle cursed, tumbling onto his back. Bodie grinned, kissed him swiftly while plucking the binoculars from Doyle's hand. "Tsk. Lying down on the job, mate?"
"You bastard. Just for that, you can...."
"What?" Bodie asked. As he sat up, Doyle had been distracted by what he had found between the bed and the wall. In the dust on the wooden floor were a handful of magazines with extremely interesting covers.
"Well, it's proof, if we needed it, which we didn't," Doyle said, pulling one up and flipping through it. "My, my."
"What?" Bodie demanded again.
"Somebody is an arse man," Doyle replied, stopping at one illustration and turning the magazine sideways in order to get the best view.
"Found their stash of eye candy, did you?" Bodie snatched a second's quick look and very reluctantly returned his eyes to business.
"Yes." There was the sound of fluttering pages. "Hummm. When we get some experience, say in ten years or so, we should try this thing with the rope and the pulley."
"Berk. Nature gave us all the equipment we're ever going to need." Bodie reached blindly over, closed his hand on Doyle's knee, and squeezed.
"So you keep telling me. Shut up and let me look."
"You could at least describe it for me."
"And distract you?" Doyle pulled away, and, still looking at the page, he went to the bathroom. There, he quickly used the facilities, shaved using a disposable razor which should have been disposed of some time ago, washed the bits he thought were most in need of it and then lingered there, back to the sink, head bent over the magazine.
It was becoming warmer to the south. His cock stirred, responding to the images of splayed legs and bobbling cocks, thick penis disappearing into an open mouth, a raised arse, a tight fist. The pictures of cocks thrust to the limit into variously posed bodies were the ones which caused him the most problems. He and Bodie were going to do that. Just like that. Soon. He swallowed, closed the magazine abruptly and left the room.
"Take care of a little problem, did we?" Bodie asked.
"It's a big problem and it's not taken care of, thank you. We're on duty."
"Duty." Bodie made it a dirty word.
"What's happening now?"
"I think they're spreading out a map. Get the paper, will you?" Bodie leaned forward as far as he dared, as if that extra two inches were vital. "It's a map of a coast line...the channel. A red mark just north of...Scarborough, and he's tapping it. Making a point. Now he's folding the map up again. I hope Cowley can make sense of this."
"No. You wish you could make sense of it. You like getting to the bottom of puzzles." Doyle flipped the page, ready again, but there was nothing more.
"Almost as much as you do," Bodie agreed. "They're trading briefcases now. The brown from Brookhart going to the tall one, and one from under the table to Froukes. Why don't they open them and check the contents, the way they do in the movies?" he complained .
"Real life, mate. Black car pulling up. Who's getting ready to leave?"
Doyle put the r/t to use and then he and Bodie watched everyone but Froukes leave. All but Brookhart walked. Perhaps they had cars waiting for them at a distance or preferred public transportation.
"Are we having anything special for our Christmas Eve dinner?" Bodie asked as Froukes went into another part of the house and there wasn't even anyone left to watch.
"Tuna? There's stuff in cans," Doyle explained.
"There was a roast in the freezer."
"You're assuming we'll be here all day and into tomorrow." Doyle made it half a question.
"We could be. There were potatoes, too. I saw them."
"Where?" Doyle challenged.
"In a basket in the pantry."
"You want me to cook," Doyle said, with justified suspicion.
"The thought had crossed my mind. Make the holiday special." Bodie spared a moment from the binoculars to meet Doyle's eyes.
"Special. I'm here, isn't that special enough?" Doyle teased.
"That's it," Bodie explained, eyes hidden by the glasses again. "It's...." It seemed hard for him to say.
"Our first Christmas?" Doyle suggested, trying to make it sound flippant, less important than it was. Having Bodie want to make it special caused his chest to tighten and his mouth to go dry. He and Bodie might be lovers, but they had never talked about what it meant, where it might go. Doyle had not slept with a woman since the first night Bodie had touched him, and he thought it was the same for Bodie. Did Bodie want what Doyle wanted?
"Right." A short word, almost snapped out.
"Good. Do you want me to watch for awhile?"
Bodie said, "I want you to go find us something for a meal."
"Why is it always me? You're not trying to put me in a feminine role, are you?" He said it lightly, but the real question was serious.
"Who was the one who took your clothes to the laundry?" Bodie demanded.
"You, and you let them starch my blue shirt," Doyle remembered.
Bodie ignored the complaint, thinking his point was made, and it was. Doyle understood that a job had to be done, and the gender of the person doing it didn't change what the person was. He even understood that when it came to cooking, Bodie had never acknowledged that there were temperatures other than high. Cooking was, if not a mystery to Bodie, then at least a challenge he would rather not face on a daily basis.
"It's this house." Doyle did not take over the binoculars and he didn't go cook. He settled down on the bed, stretched out, leaning on his hand so that he could watch Bodie and his reactions.
"What about this house?" For all that there was nothing to watch, Bodie was watching it diligently. Too diligently.
"These two men have settled down together. There's a cozy corner for two and a Christmas tree on the table. Same as I am, you're wondering if we'll ever have that."
There it was, plain between them. Bodie said cautiously, "Do you want that?"
"If I can have it. Only works if both parties agree, you know."
"So you want promises?"
Neutral tone. What was Bodie thinking?
Bodie's lips thinned. "On what?"
"On what they mean to you." Doyle sat up, looking at the unmade bed, at Bodie's back and side. He wished he could see Bodie's eyes.
"I keep my word," Bodie said flatly.
"Except when you choose not to."
"You're a bit fickle yourself," Bodie pointed out.
"On the things that count?" Doyle asked.
"Do we count?"
"Damn!" Doyle was off the bed, striding around the room, a whirling bit of temper. "Why can't you say what you mean!"
Bodie lowered the glasses at last. "Why can't you?" he countered, his scowl hiding his true feelings as well as the glasses had.
There was silence then, with Bodie looking at the house across the way, although not through the glasses, and Doyle staring again at Bodie.
Bodie at last spoke again. "Want to live together?"
"Then we will."
"Cowley willing or no."
"Could be difficult," Doyle said, cautiously.
"That means you love me."
"Does it?" Bodie asked.
"Yes." Doyle said it firmly.
Bodie nodded. "Good. If you take over here, I'll go make something to eat.
Doyle only laughed and loped down the stairs. He adjusted the thermostat--it was too hot down here, although just right upstairs--and then went on to the kitchen. Thirty minutes later he had a roast in a slow oven and sandwiches on a plate, with a fresh pot of tea and a rather stale bag of crisps.
Bodie reported nothing happening both to Doyle and to Cowley, who had finally let Jax go home. Then they both took turns snatching a bit of sleep while the day grew greyer and finally became night.
They ended up eating roast beef and potatoes in the dark, while sitting on the bed and watching Froukes eat cake and beer and talk on the phone. They no longer had to try to see what was dialled, for Cowley had a tap on the phone long since.
"Christmas Eve," Bodie said, as if suddenly realizing.
"Um?" Doyle was the one with the glasses, and he glanced at Bodie.
"Let's go unwrap the presents under the tree."
Doyle laughed. "You've been wondering what's in there since we arrived."
Bodie didn't deny it. "And you haven't? We'll wrap them up again, won't we? They'll never know."
"Taking over a house, eating their food, using their bed--even if only as a base of operations--and now you want to open their presents as well?"
Bodie said, "Well, it's not as if we have presents of our own to open."
"You didn't get me a present?" Doyle managed to sound irate but not upset, but there was an undercurrent to the question.
"Of course I got you a pressie."
Doyle nodded. "That's all right, then. Are you going to ask if I got you something?"
"If it's the unlabelled package wrapped in red paper in your closet, then no."
Bodie stretched. "Comes with the job. I still want to look at those presents."
"Curiosity. What kind of men do you think these two are?"
Doyle put his mind to it, thinking over the house, the contents. "Quiet. Between twenty-five and thirty-five years old. One of them has a moustache. Been living together for at least a year. Modest income and they pay their bills on time."
"I don't know. What do you think?"
"I have an advantage. I went through the drawers earlier."
"I thought you were looking for a new pen."
Bodie said, "I was. Couldn't help but see other things, could I?"
"Two different bank accounts. Only one name on the bills. They didn't leave together for their Christmas. I'd like to know just what their relationship was."
"And you think you can learn that from what's under the Christmas tree?"
"Why?" Doyle asked, again.
"I want to know if they...if these are the sort of people I'd like to know."
"Because you don't know any gay couples and you want to see how they are, what their relationship is? You think that has something to do with us?" Doyle wanted to put the glasses down, but he kept them trained on the house. It was better this way, and he didn't want to stop the flow of words from his normally reserved partner.
"Not with us, but with...." Bodie stopped, not able to put it into words. "How many friends do you have who are established couples?"
Doyle took some time to think about that. He had friends who were married, but in most cases he knew little of their wives, their lives at home. Most of the men he drank with were either single or acted as if they were. They kept their home lives separate from work, and what social lives they had with their families were not mingled with what social events were shared with co-workers. Most of his friends were from his years with the police, with CI5. He kept in touch with few from his school days. Was it the same with Bodie?
Bodie poked him.
"Your point. Very few. Especially established couples like this. It's still not a good reason to open their most private gifts to each other."
"Probably not their most private gifts to each other," Bodie whispered in Doyle's ear. Doyle gave him a one-handed swat.
"You still can't justify it."
"Not to them. To me. I want to see...them."
There was silence which Doyle did not attempt to break. He knew Bodie would either tell him or change the subject.
"I think we'll have to meet them at least once."
Doyle risked another glance at Bodie, although it was hard to see much in the gloom.
As if Doyle had asked why, Bodie continued. "They'll know somebody was here, even without one of those statements Cowley has them send out with the reimbursement cheques. They won't know it was us. They'll just know strangers went through their house. Strangers saw what they are, and they might be...."
Frightened. Worried. Feeling threatened.
"Cowley doesn't like personal contact. We couldn't tell them anything."
"We don't have to tell them anything. They'll figure it out if we say it the right way. They won't feel so invaded if they think we are the same as they are."
Doyle wanted to make a comment about seeing a new side of Bodie, wanted to tell him that he recognized the sensitivity behind the thoughts. There was something else involved. Not that he had a hard time believing that Bodie might have a kind impulse, but he knew his partner well.
"So you want to know what sort of people you will be telling our biggest secret to, even if you're doing it obliquely."
Doyle said, "Just do it then. Open the gifts up--you don't need my permission."
"I do if I want you to open one of them. Everybody should have something to open on Christmas Eve." Bodie shifted, rocking the bed slightly as he moved to the other edge to climb off of it.
Doyle sighed. "Fine. Go get them." Bodie was already padding over there.
"Wish we could turn on the fairy lights, but we'll have to do with the glow of the torch instead. Which one do you want to open?" Bodie asked, coming back to the bed.
"The heavy one."
"Right." There was the rustling of paper, carefully separated from tape.
"What is it?" Doyle asked, his curiosity getting the better of him when Bodie didn't speak right away.
"New electric razor and a bottle of Brut, with a note. 'I love the way you smell', it says."
"Wrap it back up again," Doyle ordered. "Not a really personal gift. Sounds like the man is hard to buy for. Rather like you."
"I'm not hard to buy for!"
"If a person wants to spend money on chocolates, no."
"Had a hard time thinking of what to get me, then?" Bodie asked, fishing blatantly for a clue as to what Doyle had got him.
"No. Take over here, it's my turn," Doyle said as Bodie finished putting the package back to its original form.
Bodie willingly made the switch. Doyle found it harder than he had thought it would be to loosen the tape and release the ribbon without leaving any sign it had been done--and in the dark as well. When it was open he used the torch briefly and then reported.
"The newest Dick Francis and inside, two tickets to some sort of play." Doyle immediately began to wrap it up again.
"I like his taste in books anyway. Doyle, I hate to say this, but I think our friend over there is putting on his coat." Bodie was lifting the r/t, reporting it at once.
Jax was on the other end again. "3.7, you follow him. There's nobody else available. 4.5 is to observe until midnight and if no one returns to the residence, is to come here. Have fun, boys."
Doyle returned the gifts to their place under the tree. "I expect we'll meet tomorrow," he said, gathering plates while Bodie slid on his boots and coat, checked his holster and his gloves.
"At home, if not before. It's my place this week," Bodie reminded him.
"He's at the door. Merry Christmas," Bodie said, and kissed Doyle quickly before running down the stairs. Doyle moved to the window and watched Froukes leave, followed a few minutes later by a shadow.
"Merry Christmas," Doyle sighed, wearily picking up the binoculars again.
It was strange to be in the house alone. No one came to the house he watched. In the cool quiet, he watched the snow begin to fall again. White Christmas. Bodie. Their first Christmas together. Not that either of them had religious beliefs which made the holiday itself special. It was just a marker, a way of measuring the year and matching the traditional with the present.
He thought about Bodie and his desire to meet the two men who lived here. Two men who went their separate ways for the holidays. Of course, they had their own private gift exchange afterwards, probably with a meal or a night out. Probably it was kindness which kept their mothers and their cousins from knowing the truth. If they were like so many people, the two or three days they gave their families at Christmas were the only time they really spent with the old folks. The rest of the year, they were free to share with the one who meant the most.
Having to lie, or at least, not tell the truth, to the family, though. That bothered Doyle. Hiding. Being careful. Manipulating the truth. Agents had so much of that in their daily life. A part of him wished they could leave those games behind when they went home. But they went home to CI5 flats. There was no way to escape the work they did.
At midnight Doyle unfolded his cramped limbs, stood and stretched. He called in on the r/t. After pushing the bed back against the wall, he gathered up the plates, the utensils and the garbage and took it downstairs. He put everything to rights except the dirty dishes before checking his gun, pulling on his coat and then sliding out the door. He locked up behind and set off into the night.
It felt good to move again, to let the exercise move the blood. He could feel his thinking clear as his stride lengthened. It came to him, as he headed into the wind, that maybe it wasn't hard to understand why Bodie was interested in Wilson Dormer and Mark Black. It wasn't their relationship he found interesting, or how they might react to having their home invaded. Bodie, he decided, wanted the two men to know that Bodie and Doyle were a couple. Maybe he wanted to see approval in somebody's eyes, or just wanted to have someone else know. They couldn't have the banns read, or get married, but in the eyes of a couple, they, too would be a couple. Funny, how the mind works, Doyle thought as he turned the corner. A rush of love for the silly sod filled his heart. In the distance, church bells were ringing.
So they would meet Dormer and Black and maybe something would come of it and maybe it would not. Changes had already been generated because of their Christmas Eve in a stranger's house. Next year there would be a tree to put the presents under, and they would have roast beef for dinner, maybe even in bed. Traditions started in the oddest ways. One thing he knew. He'd be with his lover when the holidays rolled round. He was, he decided as he hunched into his collar against the bite of the wind, a lucky man. He lengthened his stride, hurrying to get out of the weather, hurrying to Bodie. A very lucky man.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Under the Tree, Noel Silva, 1992