All Hallow's Eve


Don't worry. I took care of her. She's dead now.

The air on his face had been nippy yet sweet as Bodie and Carol heaved him into the car. Gorgeous blue sky full of autumn light. He wanted to rustle his feet through fallen leaves. Last day of October. All Hallows Eve--Hallowe'en.

She's dead now.

He hesitated at the front door, caught for a moment in the illusion that he could change it all if he could just aim himself right. But Bodie was urging him on into the little hallway, saying, "You get yourself sorted out a bit and I'll fetch your washing. That same place, is it? I could have gone when I was at Tesco's this morning. I'll just have a pee." He planted a brief kiss on the nape of Doyle's neck and brushed past him to the loo.

Braced to defy memory, Doyle wandered into the living room. The thought of the white rug soaked in blood and milk had niggled at him, but it had been taken away. His footsteps sounded where he had been used to silence. There was the indefinable strangeness of a familiar place after absence. Things seemed slightly smaller than he remembered. The Mozart tape was still in the player. He rewound it but didn't set it going.

Bodie emerged from the bathroom. "Won't be long." He hesitated. "Ray--"

"I'm all right." He lifted a hand, brushed the back of his fingers fleetingly along Bodie's jaw. "Go on, then."

Somebody had tidied up the kitchen he had left in disarray all those weeks ago. There was fresh milk in the fridge. Bodie, he thought. Bodie, who had moved through his dreams and wouldn't surrender him to seductive oblivion.

He looked for the snake ring but it wasn't where he'd left it, perched on one of the terrarium's finials. He'd opened his eyes into the purgatory of tubes and machinery and looked at Bodie, willing him to remember the ring, bending his whole strength to that one movement of his finger. It was like unleashing a hunting predator--leopard, falcon, wolf--focused, unmerciful.

The Chinese dogs in the bedroom made him faintly uneasy. He thought of getting rid of them, hiding them in a cupboard, but he'd refused the offer of a new flat, and a pair of ornaments wasn't going to get the better of him. He shifted the dogs to the living room and brought in a couple more of the model soldiers, childhood guardians against the dark, to catch his eye from the bed.

He was still confused about parts of what had happened. His body had been too intent on healing to let him do much more than sleep blank-minded until the last couple of days.

"It's going to be a long haul," Cowley had said. "You'll have to follow orders, Doyle, not go rushing things." The doctors had said the same, but he was grateful that they weren't writing him off, that they seemed to think he would make a full recovery. At the moment so many bits of him still hurt that rushing anything was the last thing on his mind.

She's dead now.

Almond eyes. An enchanting little smile. Hair cut in an odd shape. Craftswoman's hands, competently wielding her tools. Killer's hands clasped around the silenced gun. She'd bent over him and stared into his face after the second bullet, and their eyes had met. The third bullet... Had she wanted to give him that slight chance? Or was it a deliberate cruelty, leaving him alone to bleed to death, withholding the mercy of the coup de grace, the futile battlefield shriving?

I took care of her.

Blood of vengeance on Bodie's hands? There had been something about the way he had said it, hinting at something other than a pursuing kill. A memory nagged, Bodie gleefully recounting: I told her if anything happened to you I'd kill her very slowly.... So tired of vengeance--please God he'd shot her clean and fast.

He'd tried to get his thoughts prepared when they'd told him he'd be allowed home in a day or two.

"I still don't know what it was all about," he'd complained when Bodie made his regular visit. "I keep remembering bits but they slide about in my mind. I need to sort it out. And not with bloody Kate Ross, either. You know she came to see me yesterday, all very friendly. Like a vulture. More grapes?"

"Well, I tried to smuggle you a bottle of organic carrot juice, but the Sister said it was too healthy; you'd been giving them enough grief." Bodie tore open the brown paper bag and set it down on the locker. "Remember when the Cow--"

"Yeah. Bloody waste. Well, peel us one, then. Not got pips in, have they? You went up the fire escape, didn't you? I remember the noise, metal clanging. Put the wind up poor old Mrs Leyland."

"She thought I was a burglar." Bodie pulled a stem of grapes off the main bunch and dangled the fruit over Doyle's mouth. "Sit up and beg."

"Sit up and thump you," Doyle threatened. "Crank the bed up a bit, will you?"

"So you can thump me? Lazy sod." Bodie adjusted the angle of the backrest and twitched the pillow into place. He put the grapes into Doyle's hand. "I thought about ringing all the other bells, but the fire escape seemed quicker. I knew I could get through those French windows, no problem, even if they were locked."

"These been rinsed?"

"Yeah, yeah. Got me well trained, haven't you."

Doyle pulled off a grape with his teeth. "Nice. Ta. She went out that way, didn't she? I thought--thought she'd come back to finish me. Kept flashing on that bloody gun. Funny, it's always like a--shock--when it's a woman. Always have to take a moment to believe it." He absorbed another grape. "Kept having these kind of memory dreams, all mixed up. Dreamed we were in some kind of pub the first time we met."

"A pub?"

"Mmm. And there was somebody watching us, a shadow on the wall behind."

"How was the beer?"

"Funny you can't ever taste stuff in dreams. But I could smell you sweating, so I knew you were real. I knew it was you even when I was still seeing her. Her and the gun. I knew it was you. Kept seeing her coming back, though. Kept seeing.... Keep seeing...." He looked down at the fruit. "Then I couldn't see her at all. You got green ones this time."

"Tasted better. Swiped one of each kind to be sure."

"Always pinching stuff off barrows." Doyle smiled faintly.

"Barrows? Do me a favour, mate, proper shop I got these at. I'd have had to shoot my way out if they'd nicked me. Eat them, Ray. Your lovely little Nurse Carol says you're not eating enough."

"There's this foul taste in my mouth. I could spend a day just cleaning my teeth. Hospital food, too." He chewed another grape. "Everything stewed and boiled and dipped in disinfectant. Nice, isn't she, Carol?"

"She's tasty, anyway." Bodie pulled a grape off the main bunch. "The old juices starting to flow, are they? Nurses scared to come in except in pairs?"

Doyle crushed sweetness between his teeth. "Oh yeah. There's one prescribed every six hours with the tablets. What was her name, her that...."

Bodie stared at the wall. "Mayli. Mayli Kuolo."

"Never asked her name in the shop."

"Don't worry about it now, Ray. They'll be debriefing you in a couple of days, but the Cow says let it alone till you're out of here."

"I dreamed he'd done it already. Kept on and on at me till I remembered her, so I could warn you. Dreamed about you, too--thought she'd go after you next. Keep thinking--"

"Ray, look--" Bodie sat down on the edge of the bed. "Don't worry. I took care of her. She's dead now."

"What did--?"

"Don't worry about it." Those intensely blue eyes were hiding something as they stared into his own, a brief contest in which Doyle yielded for the moment. "You alive is all that matters." He touched the back of Doyle's hand, hesitantly curling his fingers around it.

"I was going to phone you up and ask you to come for dinner. Tell you I--" Doyle stroked the side of Bodie's hand with his thumb. "Lasagne, I thought. Always fall for that, don't you? I went down to the shops and I--"

"Didn't set the locks, you berk." Bodie's fingers tightened, just short of pain. "Not fit to be on your own."

"She might have got me somewhere else. Made a proper job of it. Bodie--"

But there was the clatter of a trolley at the door, and that had been the last chance to talk before Bodie had collected him today.

All Hallows tomorrow. He remembered his short-lived crush on Sally from two doors down when he was eleven. A devout little Catholic, she'd spent every spare moment of the second of November trying to pray souls out of purgatory.

He went back to the living room and looked at the place on the floor where he had lain helpless, like a stranded fish. Bodie had shifted him into the recovery position, staunched the blood, zoomed off down to the car to call an ambulance when the phone wasn't working, returned to kneel beside him. "They're coming, Ray. You'll be fine. Just hang on a bit, all right? You'll be fine." Over and over, words Doyle had clung to, the sound of his voice an anchor in the gathering blackness. He'd wanted to speak, to make amends, to say goodbye. "They're here, Ray, it's going to be fine, oh christ I love you, hang on, all right?" Then the expert hands took over, gathered him onto a stretcher, and the pain that had been hovering at the edge of his shocked awareness suddenly crashed in.

In the ambulance, Bodie recollected duty and asked him who it was, almost shouting the question, over and over, haggard-faced, but there was a strange blankness in that part of Doyle's mind. If he could have forced words past his lips, past the pain, there was something more important to say despite the presence of the attendant, but he could only manage that one tiny twitch of a smile before the oxygen mask cut him off, and then he was so tired, so helplessly hurtingly tired....

She's dead now.

And I'm alive.

Key in the door: "We're screwed, mate. She won't give me your washing. Thinks I'm trying to make off with your knickers."

"Good judge of character, old Rita. What happened to the snake ring?"

"I--squashed it. It's in the car somewhere." Bodie stood and looked at him. "Not getting yourself worn out, are you?"

"Only been home half an hour." Time to start taking control of his life again. "Let's go and get the washing."

"You don't need--"

"Gentle exercise, they said. Ten minutes' walk there and back, that's gentle enough. Goin' stir-crazy."

"I could do with a cup of tea first. Sit down; I'll make it. Quarter of an hour on your bum before you go anywhere, all right?"

"Going to wait on me hand and foot?" Doyle sat down on the sofa and leaned back, trying not to let the discomfort of the damaged ribs and muscles be apparent.

"Make the most of it. Macklin and Craine are already getting your rehab scheduled."

Tea. Bodie beside him. Chocolate biscuits. "Never mind fattening. You've got weight to put on."

"Better than hospital tea." Doyle sipped appreciatively, smiling inwardly at the sound of Bodie happily crunching. "Why did she shoot me, then?"

"Eat a biscuit first."

"Tell me first."

"You start eating and I'll start telling."

Doyle obediently nibbled a biscuit, and Bodie told him.

"How did you kill her?" Doyle stared at the floor.

"Not me. I just picked her up when--"

"Thought you said--you took care of her."

"They put her out on the steps--like rubbish. Shut the door on her. Didn't even stay with her till I came to get her." Bodie's hand clenched round his cup. "Spouted a load of crap that she'd be a martyr and it didn't matter where she died. Like rubbish."

Doyle set his own cup down. "Give it here, you'll break it."

"Like rubbish." Bodie surrendered the cup and almost unconsciously twined his fingers with Doyle's.

"She was dying then."

Bodie nodded, teeth biting into his lower lip. Low-voiced he said: "I went up the steps to get her, and I thought--I could have hurt her, a dozen ways I could have hurt her, made it into agony for her and I knew ways to do it nobody would ever have known. If you'd been dead.... Wouldn't have wanted that, would you?" Bodie brought Doyle's hand briefly to his lips, kissed the palm.

"She was just caught up in the same old game," Doyle said, remembering. "Started looking for justice and got bogged down in revenge. Got it too, didn't she? You think she reckoned it was worth it? Revenge. Stupidity."

"She hardly weighed a thing. She couldn't move. She just looked at me, and I thought how you looked at me.... I thought if it was you there and somebody else came to get you.... I carried her down and they'd called an ambulance; that was something. She asked about you."

"Did she?"

"I held her hand." He looked at Doyle's hand, resting in his own. "Couldn't hold yours. Not then. I thought--I hardly knew her, she tried to kill you, and there I was holding her hand, and she died before we even got her to hospital."

"You took care of her." He squeezed Bodie's hand.

"All right, is it?" Bodie looked at him doubtfully.

"I was dreaming--a lot of things. I was in my coffin and nothing would ever hurt again. I could just stop thinking about it all--but you wouldn't let me. I had to get back to tell're my bloody life." He leaned forward and brushed his lips against Bodie's cheek. Bodie's arm circled him, wary of hurting, and he rested his face against the warm hollow of Bodie's neck. "I was all tangled up with it, scared that loving you would muck us up as friends.... When that van blew up it was like a sort of omen, that I was messing with something that would tear us apart. Then I thought that leaving you standing there when you wanted me to go for a drink--it was me being a miserable bastard would muck it up, not the sex. Being queer doesn't matter. Not caring, that's the sin."

"Never mind sin, Ray." Bodie drew him closer. "Hardly even got started being queer, did we?"

"It was so bloody good, but not worth it if it would screw the rest of it up."

"Yeah." Bodie tightened his arm. "We'll get it sorted out. You get yourself back together, and we'll see where we are."

"Mmm. Let's go and get the washing before Rita gives it to Oxfam."

She's dead now: one more grain of wheat that fell into the ground and died. More like a dragon's tooth--the martyr's harvest of destruction.

The leaves had fallen, but Doyle remembered the childhood trick of looking for next year's dormant buds, the reassurance of life continuing.

He wished he could retreat into the certainties of confession and absolution and redemption that had obviated all complexities for Sally. There was no way he could take a crack at praying Mayli out of purgatory without being in a state of grace, and he was planning to sin most grievously, most joyously, as soon as his strength was up to it.

Amazing grace, he thought, wryly accepting the sweet kernel he had finally winnowed from the husks. Child of the universe. Reborn to acceptance of love as perennial as the grass.

As they approached the laundrette he murmured just loud enough for Bodie's ears: "Hold my hand next time, all right?"

-- THE END --

Originally published in Roses and Lavender 4, Allamagoosa Press, 2001
This version has had subsequent minor revisions by the author

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