post-Everest Was Also Conquered
Bedfordshire and back, a round-trip of four hours, brought them into Hammersmith Broadway at coming up to ten. London felt harsh and brassy-bright after the pastel shades of Mrs Miller's little house. The neon of a fried chicken outlet caught Doyle's eye, but not on his own behalf.
Bodie's chin lifted momentarily from the cradle of his hand. "Could've murdered that lasagne," he said, "Bit late now, she probably fed it to next door's dog."
Doyle was only dimly aware of who the 'she' in question was. Somebody new and shiny, who liked to cook, and who lived next door to someone with a dog. That was as much as he knew, except for the suspicion that Bodie wouldn't care much when she dumped him over repeated failures to turn up for layers of pasta in a bechamel sauce.
"You didn't have to come."
"Doyle," Bodie said in an oddly patient, toneless voice, "I had to come."
"Surprised you didn't polish off those teacakes back there." Doyle flexed his hands around the wheel, glanced over and then back to the road again. "I didn't have much of an appetite either, but as she made them ... thought it was polite."
In fact he had only managed to chew his way through half a teacake, mouth dry as a dust-bowl, while Mrs Miller talked about her Tony as if he wasn't dead and then drifted inexorably on to his older brother Bob, whose life and RAF career had ended shockingly on the side of a mountain in Cyprus two years ago. She undoubtedly already knew how the next days, weeks and months would unfold, and that making teacakes for those who came to console her might actually help in its own ridiculous way.
Bodie had taken one look at the crowd of photographs on the mantelpiece and then stared out at the roses. When the talk had turned to funeral arrangements, he had perched on the arm of a wingback chair and watched his partner of three hundred and seventy seven days saying and doing all the right things. Not for the first time he wondered how Doyle managed to keep his natural compassion in safe storage while they were crashing about at the sharp end of the job. Not to mention how he could fish the damn thing out again in no time at all, always finding it in perfect working order, however grim the intervening time had been. Bodie thought he'd lost his somewhere, if indeed he'd ever had any at all. By the time they were nearing his flat the combination of maternal grief and net curtains had robbed him of speech as well.
Doyle, on the other hand, was full of wild compulsions and wanted to chat. When they arrived at Bodie's and there was no offer to make him a cuppa or invitation to pop round to the pub he realised he would have to go home and think of someone to ring up. He wasn't at all sure how to characterize the feeling he had when Bodie jumped out of the car, slammed the door shut and stomped up his steps without a backward glance.
A fellow operative, much more experienced than Tony Miller, had been killed two months into their partnership and back then they had stuck together doggedly, drinking into a shared oblivion and nursing one another through the hangover, the organizational post mortem and the funeral. This time, although for all intents and purposes they were better mates, there had been a seismic shift, and it was shaping up to be powerful enough to sink Everest through the base of the Himalayas.
Doyle felt it like he felt most things that mattered, a prickle through blood, bones, gut, right through to his nerve endings. At the bottom of the road his next compulsion made him swing left, right, right and right again, bringing him back to the bottom of the steps.
Bodie had slithered out of his suit jacket as soon as he had got inside, launching it across open space where it landed on the back of a lamp. He hopped into the dark kitchen while taking off one shoe. Kicked the other off under the table. Opened the fridge noisily, glared inside and then shut the door so hard the whole appliance shuddered.
The last few hours had been torture and he hardly knew what to do with himself. Not hungry. Not sleepy. Just numb from the neck down. Although he didn't feel like going to bed he cleaned his teeth and had a piss. Then he paced around while tugging ineffectually at his tie. His eyes hurt.
No point shedding tears over Tony Miller's brave mother. No point shedding tears because he himself didn't have a worthwhile parent, a brave one, a foolish one, or any other kind. There was, clearly, no point in shedding tears over anything at all. His eyes would just have to go on hurting.
When the doorbell rang he knew it was Doyle. Letting him in without a word he shuffled back to the kitchen. Only the lights in the glass-fronted cupboards were on. Bodie stood at the sink slugging back a glass of water.
Doyle took the glass from his hand as he finished and put it down on the worktop.
"You didn't have to come to Bedford," he said.
"Told you," Bodie replied, "I did have to. That kind of stuff ... can't do it ... no reason to leave you on your tod." He shrugged uneasily. "Bit of a 101," he said. "Give me anything but grieving mothers." He crossed his arms over his chest.
Doyle shook his head. "Nah," he said. "Dunno what yours is yet, but it isn't that." He considered the defensive posture thoughtfully. "I'll find out one day."
With superhuman effort, Bodie banished the fierce heat behind his lids. Doyle was standing there on one hip dangling his car-keys. He looked as sure of himself as he had looked all day. As he had looked at Mrs Miller's while he had stepped up to try and take some of the terrible weight that had come crashing down on her.
The car-keys clattered on to the kitchen table.
"Just wanted to make sure you were all right," Doyle said, explaining himself.
"As you can see, I'm fine."
"Going to ring the lasagne girl?"
"Gone off lasagne?"
"It's fine in moderation," Bodie said.
"Shall I go then?"
There was so much to hear in those four words that Bodie thought he might be about to capsize and he really didn't want to. No good capsizing when you can't feel your arms and legs. He kept himself going for the moment with a feeble dog-paddle.
"You were great today, Ray, with Tony's Ma, really got to hand it to you, mate..."
"Mate," mimicked Doyle chidingly. "Stuff that, Bodie."
Bodie got a hold on his tie and wrestled with it again. Impatient, Doyle stepped forward and slapped his fingers away. He put both his hands up, loosened the knot with one, and then slid the whole thing gently from side to side with the other. When it hung round Bodie's collar like a scarf he pulled it off in a swish of silky sound, wound it round his fist and dropped it neatly behind him on to the table.
"What's this?" Bodie muttered, appalled at the sudden thought that Doyle was playing a joke on him that he wouldn't be able to stand.
"Dunno," Doyle said, "let's just see."
He moved on to the shirt buttons, getting two open before Bodie tensed up.
"Don't faff, Doyle," he said under his breath and got hold of Doyle's wrists in a tight grip, pushing them away. In under five seconds he had pulled the blue plaid shirt out of Doyle's jeans and popped the buttons.
"Chinese burn," Doyle protested, nursing one wrist. "Don't think much of your seduction techniques." He expanded his bare ribcage as he felt air moving across it, then he finished Bodie's buttons, just as slow as before.
"What is this?" Bodie asked again.
"Just giving you time to think," Doyle said. "I know you don't normally think very hard before getting your kit off, but this time you should."
Bodie knew a look into Doyle's eyes would put him at risk of falling in and getting lost. Instead he focused on where Doyle was resting one hand, tucked into the waistband of his suit trousers. Sucking in some air didn't help.
"Don't know," he said.
"What don't you know?"
"Christ, Doyle, you're this decent bloke ... bloody good at his job ... got your head straight ... this isn't ..."
Shit, you sound like such a dozy tosser ...
"So you're sure you don't want it?"
"Well I ..."
"You do want it?"
Bloody Doyle, with his hair you could dance about in.
"This is no good," Bodie said, one hand pushing against Doyle's chest, his fingertips scrunched up in tension.
"Seems good to me," Doyle replied, pushing back.
"Sooner or later, Ray, one of us will go and do a Tony Miller. Then there will we be? Eh?"
"Fucked," Doyle said, pulling him closer. "Totally fucked. But in the meantime ..."
"You're convinced about this, aren't you?"
"Like I said, let's just see."
Bodie felt the odd vibration of his own heartbeat thumping against Doyle's breastbone.
"You'll regret it you know," he said.
"Yeah I know. You'll be more trouble than you're worth, you'll break my heart and kick it around. Then you'll get shot and I'll curse your name to the grave."
"But let's do it anyway?"
"Yeah," said Doyle. "Let's."
"But .... not tonight."
Doyle leaned back and grinned. "I knew you wouldn't be easy."
"Believe me," Bodie said, "I've never turned down an invitation to a fuck in my life before. Take it as a compliment."
"Well, I was thinking of a bit more than just a fuck actually."
Bodie did up a couple of buttons wrong, leaving his shirt hanging lopsided, and pushed Doyle to an arm's length away, feeling a pin-sharp nipple and wincing from the pleasure of it. "Listen, Doyle, I don't know about anything more than just a fuck."
"Well never mind. I hope you'd at least make it a good fuck."
Bodie scratched his chin, gaze wandering from muscular belly to shaggy chest, finally meeting the bright, got-it-sussed eyes. "Every time," he promised. "Now get the hell out of my kitchen."
"It'll be no good trying to pretend this didn't happen in the morning," Doyle told him, allowing himself to be manhandled up the hall towards the front door. Bodie got hold of the zip of the leather jacket and did it up in a noisy sweep, so fast that Doyle yelped in surprise.
"Nothing did happen," Bodie reminded him, unlatching the door and pushing it open. He watched Doyle sidle into the doorway.
"This is a work in progress though, right?" Doyle questioned. "I mean, you can't deny that something nearly happened."
"I can deny anything I damn well please," Bodie replied. "Good night."
He shut the door firmly, a rush of cold air under his lopsided shirt.
"I'm not going to give up you know," Doyle said through the panels.
"Of course you're not, you randy old toad," Bodie muttered to himself as he turned away up the hall.
"Yeah, well sweet dreams to you an' all," came a muffled response.
Talk about ears like a hawk.
Footsteps clattered down the stairs. Bodie treated himself to a small smile. He was hungry now and the numbness was wearing off. If he wasn't much mistaken, what he'd been waiting for all his life would be on the phone by midnight.
Just enough time for a cheese and pickle doorstop.
-- THE END --