Loose Change 2
Sequel to Rediscovered in a Graveyard
Rubbing his face tiredly and hoping he looked more alert than he felt, Murphy ambled into the faded elegance of their current Operations Room, ignoring the battered cherubs leering down at him from the cornice. It had been a heavy night, not helped by the fact he had set the alarm an hour too early.
To his intense regret he saw that the only occupants of the small room at this ungodly hour were Warren and his erstwhile partner, Nick Tenby. Their presence here, rather than at the Training Centre, where they were both instructors, demonstrated just how diverse this operation was going to be. Their age and classification meant they rarely worked in the field now; in Warren's case Murphy felt only gratitude for that fact.
As the door clicked to a close behind Murphy Warren's voice came to an abrupt halt, resuming the moment he saw who had entered the room.
"Murphy," he acknowledged in a richly fruity voice, before he returned to his monologue.
Waiting for the vending machine to discharge its sludgy contents into the beaker Murphy found it was impossible not to listen to Warren. He soon realised he was not the cause of the righteous indignation currently exercising the older man.
" - cocky little bastard wants taking down a peg or two. His partner's no better. Got away with bloody murder while he was down with us - nothing but a thug. The place was a shambles by the time they'd finished demonstrating how brilliant they are. They broke damn nearly every rule in the book. No discipline, that's their trouble. A spell in the army would do them the world of good."
So lost to the more obvious delights of the nubile centerfold he was viewing that he failed to notice the moustache and bow-tie which had been penned in, Tenby gave an uninterested grunt. He didn't bother to remind Warren that Bodie had spent a number of years in the paras and SAS.
"And what's more, the Old Man lets the pair of them get away with it," continued Warren, a note perilously close to a whine in his voice while he ignored the fact that Cowley was seven years his junior. "It makes you wonder." He looked up to include Murphy.
"Makes you wonder about what?" Murphy asked, in the hope of taking his mind off what he was drinking. It wasn't as if he wanted much, just a good, strong cuppa.
"Bodie and Doyle, of course."
Murphy gave a mental groan and stopped listening, his expression one of bland inattention. Warren approved of no one within the squad, with the possible exception of Cowley. His dislike of Doyle stretched back to Doyle's first month as a trainee. Having an ex-Met. marksman as your pupil wasn't necessarily a good thing, particularly when the pupil in question was a cocky, unforgiving sod like Ray Doyle.
Murphy let Warren's catalogue of grievances wash over him as he finished his beaker of tea/coffee/drinking chocolate/chicken soup sludge. It didn't matter what you selected, the result always tasted the same.
The room was filling up now as bleary-eyed agents drifted in; those old enough to remember him avoided the corner Warren was occupying.
Murphy felt adrenalin kick in, achieving what his drink had failed to do. He'd been resenting the loss of his undercover job; now some of that resentment faded. This had all the signs of being a big op. When he had a choice in the matter he preferred to work solo but he had nothing against team work and this had all the signs of being a one of the biggest operations CI5 had been involved in since he'd joined.
Crumpling his beaker before disposing of it, Murphy finally appreciated what must lie behind Warren's latest gripe. The news had spread as far as the typing pool already. No agent enjoyed assessing another, although the system made sense; who else could understand the needs of CI5 half so well? The training centre had been a sore point for too long. After the recent unfavourable report made by Bodie and Doyle, Cowley's top team, perhaps something would be done about it.
Murphy's opinion of Warren's abilities as a small arms instructor was pungent and to the point. It had remained in the privacy of his head, even under severe provocation. Doyle had never resisted provocation in his life. By all accounts Doyle had not only shared his opinion of Warren with the man himself but had then repeated that opinion, verbatim, in the assessment he and Bodie had prepared for Cowley a few weeks ago. And Warren, still smarting, didn't have the sense to leave well alone.
Stifling a grin at the thought of Bodie and Doyle faced with Warren's endless platitudes about team spirit, Murphy murmured an excuse to the older man before escaping to get another drink. A glance at his watch reassured him that there were only fifteen minutes to go before Cowley was due to start his briefing.
The crowded room was buzzing now; everyone high on anticipation and tension; the atmosphere crackled with surplus energy waiting to be put to use. It manifested itself in the odd moment of lunacy.
Murphy was careful not to think of the faces missing from the room, the people who would not be tumbling in at the last moment with some lame excuse. That was the best reason he could think of for staying solo. Mel Richards and he had been together for only four months when Mel had taken that bullet in the back. Four months. No time at all, unless you worked with a bloke fourteen hours a day, six or seven days a week.
Solo was best, Murphy reminded himself briskly, as he tried to thrust the memories aside.
In need of distraction he went off to join Steve Newman in setting up Pete Connors, one half of the latest team to have come on operational strength. Quickly picking up the story so far, Murphy wove his own elaborate additions to the tale, his face and manner suitably grave.
"You're putting me on," said Connors, looking doubtfully from Newman's deceptively youthful looking freckled face to Murphy's casual elegance.
"'s true," Murphy assured him. "The Old Man was not amused."
"Ignore him, Pete," advised Doyle from over Murphy's shoulder. "This one wouldn't know the truth if it bit him on the arse. You should be ashamed of yourself, Murph."
"Oh, I am, I am," lied Murphy, turning to give the new arrival a grin of welcome. "I see you got back from Cardiff all right, then."
"Only just. The natives weren't at all friendly. Mornin' Pete. It's getting a bit crowded, isn't it. Cowley's dredged up just about everyone we've got."
"Even Warren." There was a note of warning in Murphy's voice. "You're not his favourite person, you know."
"I should hope not. Warren? Strewth, things must be bad. He couldn't organise his way out of a wet paper bag." While critical, Doyle's voice was pitched not to carry beyond the small group. He visibly pushed the minor annoyance of Warren's existence to one side before sharing a bright smile impartially between his two companions.
"Right, back to the important things in life. Has anyone got any change? I'm supposed to be getting Bodie a tea, not standing here enjoying myself."
Murphy gave an exaggerated snort of disbelief as he made a show of checking his jacket pockets. More innocent in the ways of the world, Connors obligingly handed over some coins.
With a nod of thanks Doyle ambled away, exchanging colourful insults about his still enviable suntan as he elbowed his way through the cluster of people around the vending machine.
"Independently wealthy, are you?" Murphy asked the younger agent.
"Pardon?" Conners was politely confused.
"Word to the wise. Unless you want to spend the rest of your career keeping Ray Doyle supplied with tea and anything else he can persuade the machine to cough up, keep your pockets empty of change," Murphy advised him, slandering Doyle with a happy familiarity.
"I resent that," said Doyle mildly, rejoining them in time to hear the end of that and make an educated guess as to what had been said about him. "Tea, no sugar, that right?" he added to Connors.
Still surprised by the trivia some agents could recall with little apparent effort, Connors nodded and relieved Doyle of two of the beakers, passing one to Murphy.
Taking a sip of whatever had been bought for him, Murphy gave an unrepentant grin. "Resent it all you like, mate. One of these days I'll sit down and total up how much I must have lent you over the years. You'll need a bank loan to pay it back."
Doyle gave him a look of disillusion. "You'd do it, too, wouldn't you. Still, that's the Irish for you."
"Isn't Doyle an Irish name?" wondered Connors.
"Ah, but I was a bouncing baby bastard," said Doyle with a seraphic smile.
"Haven't changed much either," added Murphy, knowing he was safe from retribution while Doyle was handicapped with the two remaining beakers. Stepping back to let someone through, he inadvertently stepped on Bodie's foot.
"Strewth, can see you're as light on your feet as ever," Bodie groaned, limping theatrically on the wrong foot. "That mine?" Reaching over Murphy's shoulder, he removed a beaker of tea from Doyle's hand, took a sip and grimaced.
"Might have known you'd turn up," Murphy complained. "One of you I can stand, but the two of you together is more than anyone should be asked to take. This pair should carry a government health warning," he added to Connors. "If you know what's good for you, you'll steer well clear of them."
"Too late," said a warm, rich voice. "The rot's already set in." Tim Rice helped himself to some of his partner's tea.
Bodie's indignant rebuttal was interrupted when a too-loud voice made its presence felt.
" - had my doubts about them from the time they were teamed. They must be the biggest security risk we've had since - "
As Bodie stiffened and made to move toward the voice, Murphy caught hold of the sleeve of his jacket.
"A prat like that isn't worth the bother," he said quietly, serious now.
His expression bland Bodie gave him a look of incomprehension.
"OK, have it your own way," sighed Murphy.
He realised he had been concentrating on the wrong partner when he saw Doyle, his face alight with malice aforethought, drifting through the crowd to where Warren sat. A number of speculative glances tracked Doyle's passage, wondering how he would react to Warren's malicious provocation.
Bodie followed the direction of Murphy's gaze, his own expression betraying only amusement by this time.
"Relax, Murph. If Ray ever belts him one, that won't be the reason why." In typical Bodie style, his reassurance offered oblique confirmation of yet another set of rumours Murphy had heard.
"Oh, and Murph - Not that I mind, but this is a bit public, innit?" Bodie glanced to where Murphy still held him close.
"One day," Murphy promised, releasing Bodie without haste.
"Join the queue, my son." Assessing Murphy, Bodie raised an approving eyebrow. "You're looking unusually smart today. What's it in aid of - got a new bird, have we?"
"That's none of your business, but if you must know, yes."
"Thought that must be it when I noticed you'd even cleaned your shoes. I hope you've had a chance to get her used to our hours because this looks like we're going to be rather busy for a while." While he spoke Bodie continued to scan the now packed room.
Everyone seemed to be of the same opinion; and they were all riding high on suppressed expectancy. Most of the agents were milling around, ignoring the shabby chairs as they caught up on all the latest gossip, lying extravagantly about their own exploits and the size of the expense claims they had slipped past Cowley's eagle eye.
Undaunted by the general lack of interest in his pronouncements and accustomed to his voice carrying the length of the armoury sheds, Warren made himself heard through the ebb and flow of other conversations. While he mentioned no names, each innuendo and barb was obviously directed at the man leaning against the wall behind him.
Standing with a negligent hand propped on a narrow hip, Doyle was still smiling. Knowing how little that could mean, Murphy edged his way over to Warren, prepared to engage him in conversation rather than witness the start of World War Three when Cowley came in to find two of his agents squaring up to one another.
" - who's to say it'll stop there. It could permeate the entire squad and then where would we be?"
Sinking into one of the vacant chairs circling Warren, Murphy said only, "Well, I'm secure." His wrist dangled limply over the arm of the chair.
There was a blessed silence while Warren tried to work out what Murphy might be talking about.
The chair arm dipping made Murphy glance around in time to find Doyle perched beside him.
"Well, well, well. I wasn't expecting to see you again so soon, Warren," said Doyle, with an affability that would have been suspect at the best of times. He ignored Murphy, except to sling an arm around his shoulders as he draped himself half over him.
"No, I don't suppose you did," snapped Warren, some of his certainty fading as he met Doyle's shark-like smile. He lost the thread of his conversation totally when Doyle began to caress Murphy's throat , his gaze on the dark head beneath him.
Relaxed in his chair Murphy struggled to keep a straight face and, more importantly, not to twitch. He'd always been ticklish around the neck, as Ray had discovered years ago from Mary in the typing pool.
Meeting Bodie's amused gaze through a gap in the crowd Murphy decided to call Doyle's bluff. He settled his hand over a warm, denim-clad thigh.
Doyle's expression didn't change but his fingers stilled for a moment before resuming their gentle caress of dark hair.
Watching the two men seemingly engrossed in one another, Warren was momentarily at a loss for words.
"You can't sit there doing that," he spluttered eventually.
"Doin' what?" inquired Murphy, as his hand slid further up a thigh wiry with muscle. If it came to a choice he'd stick with Karen, for all her complaints about cellulite. The sensation of the stringy muscle that was Ray Doyle was doing nothing for him at all. Besides, what if Ray didn't back off? What if he had to keep on going?
"You look like a pair of bloody pansies," Warren growled.
"'ello, petal," offered a harsh voice.
Stuart approached them like the Seventh Cavalry, then recognised that his help was not required. "How you doin', Doyle?" he asked without much interest. He plonked himself on the other arm of Murphy's chair before giving Warren the sort of look he usually reserved for pimps and Tax Inspectors.
"Better," said Doyle honestly, "than I expected to."
Maintaining the role allotted to him only with difficult, Murphy gazed up at him in limpid surprise. "You never guessed how I felt about you?" he cooed, in the closest he could get to dulcet tones.
From the sudden tension in the thigh beneath his hand and the beginning to twitch muscles in Doyle's face he realised that Murphy was on the point of losing it completely.
"Nah," said Doyle in a strangled, husky voice. His hands cradled Murphy's face with tender care. "I'd given up hope, hadn't I." As he leant closer Murphy could see the laughter threatening to choke him.
But Ray's just parted mouth was uncomfortably close. "If," Murphy breathed, barely moving his lips, "you're thinking of kissin' me, don't."
Warren gave a strangled grunt of disgust, heaved himself out of the armchair and stalked off to search for a more sympathetic audience.
Aware that he and Murphy were now the centre of attention, some ribald advice coming from the back of the crowd, Doyle was sorely tempted. But he knew Murphy; he was just capable of letting him kiss him, and then exacting retribution at a later stage.
"I can't do it, mate," he said with sorrow, his voice carrying into the muted hubbub with a carefully considered clarity. "It wouldn't be right, in the circumstances." He put a brave face on his disappointment.
Not quite sure what was coming next, rightly distrusting the gleam in Doyle's eyes, Murphy gave him a wary look.
Patting Murphy's cheek, Doyle rose to his feet. Taking one of Murphy's nerveless hands he wrapped it around Stuart's.
Having lost all interest in the pair of idiots on his left in favour of a far more compromising conversation taking place on his right, Stuart was oblivious.
"I hope the pair of you will be very happy," intoned Doyle. Tipping a relaxed Stuart into Murphy's lap, he disappeared into the cover of the chuckling crowd, which had begun to offer the unlikely pair advice on what to do next.
Belatedly catching on to what had been going on, and full of good humour at the thought of a big op. ahead of them, Stuart remained where he had been pushed. Milking the moment, he gazed lovingly into Murphy's eyes.
"Are you goin' to cripple the aggravating sod or shall I do it?" he murmured, tucking his head under Murphy's chin.
Raising the tatty, mouse-coloured head, Murphy gave him a slow, sweet smile. "Gerroff, you're breaking my legs, you maniac. Give us a kiss, then we'll go and get Doyle."
"Christ, you're as mad as he is," said Stuart with conviction. With some ungentle help from Murphy he resumed the vertical. 'Where did Doyle go?"
Grinning, Murphy left the chair. "As far away as possible, if I know Ray."
The crowd parted helpfully to reveal Doyle, clinking the handful of coins he had liberated from Murphy's pocket during their tender moment together.
"I thought you said you were out of change?" he accused with a look of wide-eyed reproach.
"I lied. You've got better at picking pockets. Have you been takin' lessons?" inquired Murphy with suspicion, irritated that he hadn't spotted Doyle at it.
"Yeah, Billy Miles spent the afternoon teaching Bodie and me some of the finer points," Doyle admitted. He backed away as Stuart and Murphy began to stalk him. "Bodie, where are you when I need you, mate?"
Hands in the pockets of his black leather jacket, Bodie shook his head. "Sorry, flower. You've been fickle once too often. Besides, I thought I told you not to pick any more pockets? And now you know who the expression 'bent copper' was made for," he added to the room at large.
"Doyle was a copper?" exclaimed Tim Rice, missing the untroubled admission Bodie had just made to the entire squad.
"Yeah, the terror of the streets, weren't you, sunshine," Bodie called, enjoying Warren's expression because he knew that, along with the majority of the agents in the room, the older man understood him perfectly.
"Only when I was off-duty," said Doyle defensively, just before he yelped as Murphy made his move.
Rice and Connors exchanged a puzzled glance before they tried to make sense of what was going on around them. A middle-aged man was pouring over a stack of Playboy magazines, oblivious to all the noise, while various people exchanged money, some grudging, others gleeful, although what the bets had been they had no idea. Even more puzzling, Bodie was being congratulated by Jax, while Murphy had Doyle in an armlock.
"Is it always like this?" Connors asked of no one in particular.
"Most of the time," conceded a dry voice at his shoulder. "When you have quite finished." Cowley did not need to repeat himself.
Within a few minutes everyone was seated, waiting for him to begin.
Forty minutes later the room was empty except for the heaps of crumpled beakers.
-- THE END --
Written September 1982
Published in HG Collected 1, Doghouse Press, 2000