Murphy hurried up the steps and let himself into the building, brushing rain from his face. Doyle's flat was the last of the bunch, the last he had to vet before he could go back to the little that was left of his richly deserved sick leave. Cowley, never one to let sleeping agents lie, had ordered him on the vetting round, implying that Murphy should make himself useful if he was going to break his arm off-duty. He'd thought he'd have one more full day before having to report back to work, but that was life with George Cowley.
Unlocking Doyle's flat, Murphy entered into darkness; curtains and blinds had been drawn closed over all the windows. He flipped the light switch, then set quickly to his task. Every active agent was assigned to vetting duties once in a while, an arrangement unique to CI5. Murphy suspected that Cowley assigned them to it as much for training the vetting agents as for gathering information. It wasn't unknown for Cowley to plant the odd clue in an agent's flat. You did not want to be called in to Cowley's office the day after you went on a snoop.
Murphy moved from the living room to the kitchen. Dishes were stacked neatly in the sink, unwashed. Doyle had been summoned on short notice to Manchester, filling in for Cowley at an international conference. Peering into the refrigerator Murphy noted that there weren't any perishables. Lax shopping? More likely Bodie had been by and taken care of anything that would spoil. Murphy glanced again at the dishes--there were, apparently, some things that even Bodie wouldn't do for his partner. There was nothing else of interest in the kitchen.
The rumour at HQ was that Doyle was being groomed to eventually replace Cowley. He and Bodie were the most senior agents now and more often than not they had the running of ops, with Cowley spending more time in the halls of power than out in the field. Of late, Doyle had been accompanying Cowley into those halls, the two of them proving to be remarkably effective together. It was no secret that Doyle had been slow to heal from his most recent shooting. Doyle had been passed fit, but clearly his field status would change within a year, if not sooner. Although the rumour that Bodie was carrying Doyle in the field Murphy didn't believe. Only a fool would continue to work with a partner who wasn't making it, and Bodie had never been that kind of fool. But, just as clearly, changes were in the air, and possible opportunities as well. Murphy couldn't see Bodie leaving active status until he was forced to it by his own inability, and that was still several years away.
The bedroom showed clear signs of hasty packing. Systematically, Murphy worked his way through the debris, and moved onto the wardrobe and the chest of drawers. He didn't expect to find anything. You didn't last long in CI5 if you weren't obsessive about keeping secrets--the organisation's as well as your own. That tension between men trained, and naturally inclined, towards secrecy, yet working in an organisation that allowed for no privacy manifested itself in many ways. In Bodie's flat the furnishings changed between each vetting, and sometimes they were very odd indeed. Doyle's flat was nearly maliciously cluttered, taking twice as long to vet. Murphy groaned when he saw the state of the drawers.
A little while later, however, he found the receipt, followed by the photograph.
The pub was filling up, the after-work crowd pouring in for the start of the weekend. Murphy sat alone at a table, ignoring the glares of other patrons who wanted the table for their own parties. In CI5 you learned to defend your own, regardless of appearances. Bodie would be along eventually, and they would need the minimal privacy that the table would provide for them.
One part of Murphy's mind was alert to the crowd around him, aware of the smoke, the conversations, the laughter, but the other part of his mind was circling round the same questions he'd had ever since he'd left Doyle's flat. Was it a plant? Was it true? What was he going to do? His duty was clear, so what was he doing in this pub, waiting for Bodie? Murphy took a long drink from his beer.
He hadn't seen Bodie since Anson's funeral, two weeks ago. They'd all turned out for the sendoff, old and new alike, agents still on the squad and those who'd left or been invalided out. Afterwards, those who'd known Anson best had gathered at the Red Lion, an ever-dwindling group of old hands. Doyle had led the toast, with Bodie standing close beside him, as always.
The receipt he'd found could be explained. There were all sorts of plausible reasons for Doyle to have been inside Heaven; it wasn't just gays who frequented the dance club. But the photograph was damning. There was no mistaking Doyle in that photograph, and no mistaking what he was doing with the other man. Murphy shifted in his seat, tapping his glass, then wiping away a drop of moisture. It was one thing to encounter gays as part of the job, or to talk about tolerance for what didn't affect you, quite another to see your colleague like...that.
Well, what Doyle got up to in his private life wasn't anyone's concern. But if he was picking up men, frequenting gay clubs, hell even if he was in a committed relationship--he couldn't be Cowley's successor. Doyle would know that, so he had to have been hiding it, until chance had brought Murphy to vet his flat at the wrong time. Had Doyle always been gay? Was this a new thing, a breakdown after years of denial? There had been a lot of women in Doyle's life--were they cover? Had Doyle known about the photograph--indeed, who had taken it? Doyle wasn't stupid enough to have left evidence like that in his flat. Unless he'd grown careless, or forgetful in the haste to get to Manchester. Could the photo be blackmail--or a plant? In the end, none of that mattered as much as the simple fact that the photo showed Doyle fucking a man, and, judging by the look on his face and the way he touched him, this wasn't anything new. The photograph wasn't a fake.
Murphy looked up as a shadow passed over him. Bodie settled into the seat across from him, beer in hand.
"Murphy. How's the arm?"
"I'm back on tomorrow."
Bodie nodded and took a sip from his beer. He looked tired, his eyes rimmed with red. The Squad was short-handed again, with Anson gone and Norris out for at least four months.
Murphy took another long drink. "I heard Norris will recover."
"Yeah. We were lucky there."
"Except for Anson."
Bodie sighed. "Except for Anson. Bloody cock-up."
Bodie's mouth twisted. "The minister was pleased. No civilian casualties."
"Ah, the joy of being expendable. What did Cowley say?"
"A few choice words. In private." Bodie drank more of his beer.
Murphy studied his glass. "Does it get easier?" So many who'd died--Anson, Cook, Roy, Marriott, Nelson, Tucker. More before he'd joined, of course, men he'd heard about but never worked with. Even more agents had been invalided out.
"What do you think?"
Murphy looked up into Bodie's impassive face. But he could read that expression, years of experience opening Bodie to him where once he would have thought him uncaring. Murphy gave him a crooked smile. "I think--"
He was interrupted by another voice. "Murphy! How are you? When are you coming back for good?" Jason Burnett approached their table looking, as always, absurdly young for a CI5 agent.
"Tomorrow, more's the pity."
"I saw you at HQ today--eager to get back, are you?"
Murphy glanced at Bodie, wishing Burnett had held his tongue. "Mad, quite mad."
"Have to be to work in this mob, mate." Bodie leaned back in his chair, a speculative look on his face as he gazed at Murphy.
Burnett cleared his throat and Murphy swung his eyes to him, catching an odd, abashed look on Burnett's face.
"Bodie," Burnett said, then hesitated. Murphy looked from Burnett to Bodie.
"I heard you ran into Doyle before he went off to Manchester." Bodie's voice was neutral.
"Yeah." Burnett looked away for a moment, then back at Bodie. "He was right. I blew it. I--"
"Doesn't matter. Just don't forget it. Learn from it." Bodie drank his beer.
"I will. Thanks." Burnett backed away from the table. "I'd better get going. I just stopped off for a drink before picking Con up. It's good to see you back, Murphy."
"Cheers." Murphy watched in some amusement as Burnett beat a hasty retreat towards the door. "He wasn't really interested in me at all."
"Feeling slighted?" Bodie smiled.
"A bit, yes. I'm usually the one stuck breaking in the new agents and all they can see are you and Doyle." They fell for the aura, the cool competence--wanting to either beat the top team or be like them. Murphy couldn't blame the recruits; he'd wanted to measure up to Bodie, too. Still did, now and then. He sometimes wondered what Bodie thought of them all. "What happened, anyway?"
Bodie shrugged. "Nothing much. It was the Healy op--it blew up in our faces. He miscalculated when there was a firefight. I was hit. A crease. It was inexperience more than incompetence."
Bodie raised his eyebrows. "Me or him?"
"Burnett, of course."
"Oi, I was the one who was shot."
"Yeah, but you didn't run into Doyle afterwards."
"Ray and I had a short but pointed discussion all our own."
Murphy grinned and drank the last of his beer. "I had one of those once."
"Survived the experience, did you?"
"Barely. It was the first time I worked with you--remember that? Harrodene and bowler hats. What was that girl's name? Gretta?"
"Gerda." Bodie broke into a broad smile. "That was a long time ago--was that really the first time we worked together?"
"Yeah. I was nothing but a lad, of course."
Bodie snorted into his beer. "Of course. I remember the short trousers. What was Doyle on about?"
"Apparently I wasn't supposed to listen to you when you told me to stay at the door of the bank and you went on inside."
"He was very articulate."
"Yes, I've heard him on the subject." Bodie finished his beer, placing the glass on the table. He looked pensive, his mouth compressed.
"That's why I followed you up that bloody chimney a year later."
Bodie glanced across at Murphy. "What, because of Doyle?"
"But it was a brilliant plan."
"I ended up shot!"
"Hazard of the job, mate." Bodie grinned, then stood. "Same again?"
"Ta." Murphy watched as Bodie threaded his way to the bar counter. Reviving old memories hadn't been his intention. Maybe it was inevitable. Bloody hell. Murphy moved his empty glass forward two inches, then pulled it back. Why the fuck couldn't Doyle have kept his...proclivities hidden? Stupid bastard.
Bodie returned, two beers in hand. He gave one to Murphy, then settled again in his chair. "What's this all about, Murphy? I get the idea that you wanted more than to meet for a drink."
Murphy looked up into blue eyes and saw the wariness there. He looked down again. "I just wanted to catch up with the Squad. I hadn't heard about you and Burnett."
"You were at HQ today."
Murphy shrugged and silence fell between them, feeling oppressive. He glanced at Bodie. "Do you ever think about getting out?"
Bodie eyed him, then nodded as he sipped his beer. "All the time."
"So am I, mate." Bodie's grin was slightly malicious as he set the beer down. "You know it's natural to think about it after you've been hurt." Bodie nodded at Murphy's arm.
Murphy made a dismissive gesture. "This wasn't on the job." He looked up. "Or were you talking about yourself?"
Bodie shook his head. "Not for that. It's been a long time since I was seriously injured on the job."
"But you still think about getting out."
Murphy looked at him thoughtfully. "Doyle's injury wasn't so long ago."
Bodie's face tightened for a moment before he reached for his glass. "Long enough."
"Was he thinking about getting out?"
Lashes veiled Bodie's eyes. "You know Doyle. He might quit on his own, but he wouldn't let an injury force him out."
Murphy wiped moisture from the rim of his glass. "They're saying he's slowed down."
"Not to notice."
"They're also saying Cowley's grooming him."
Bodie's eyes lifted to his, unreadable. "Sounds kinky." He picked up his beer.
Murphy leaned back, studying Bodie. "I'd've put my money on you. Succeeding the Old Man, I mean."
"Nah. Not interested, mate. Besides, some people have long memories."
Bodie grinned and toasted Murphy with his beer.
"What about Doyle?"
"Are we back to the kinky grooming? Mind you, I can see why."
"You've heard the speculation."
Bodie looked shocked. "I never listen to rumour."
"I'm serious, Bodie. Do you think Doyle would go for it? Do you think they'd accept him?"
Bodie shrugged. "Doyle's a chameleon. If he wants it badly enough, he'll fit in."
"Does he want it?"
"How should I know?"
"You're his partner. You know him best."
Bodie's gaze didn't falter, his eyes expressionless. "As well as anyone can, maybe. That's not saying much."
Feeling his way carefully, as if through a minefield, Murphy sorted through what he wanted to say, what he wanted to find out. "I know what he means to you."
"You've made it obvious enough, both of you. When he's hit; when you're hit." They'd been partnered all these years, longer than any other team on the Squad. How could Bodie not have known, then? Bodie would be the first to know, wouldn't he? Especially if Doyle had grown careless.
Bodie leaned forward, his hand closing around his glass. "Why all the questions, Murph?" His eyes ranged over Murphy's face. "What are you up to, eh?"
"What do you think of Doyle replacing Cowley? The truth."
"The truth? He's not suited to it." Bodie's face was still, his eyes steady on Murphy.
Bodie took a long moment to answer. "I think you know why. Don't you?"
Murphy stared at him, at the man he'd willingly follow into hellfire and bullets. He nodded slowly, then he looked away, unable to hold Bodie's gaze.
"I reckon I can guess what happened. Cowley had you working today, didn't he? Vetting. Poor bastard." Bodie shook his head, reaching for his beer.
"Me? Or Doyle?"
A slight grin tugged at Bodie's mouth. "All of us, mate. Everyone who works for George Bloody Cowley." Bodie took a long drink from his beer.
So many years on the Squad, so many sacrifices. What was it worth? Murphy's heart was pounding, as if he was on an op. Stupid reaction. But then he could be throwing his career away on memories and loyalty. "I can give Doyle his chance. What I found can be lost." Murphy absorbed the silence for a moment, then looked up at Bodie. "If you want me to."
Bodie's expression didn't change. "Why?"
"For all he's done; for all you've done." Beneath the table, Murphy's hand clenched, then eased. He'd made his choice.
Bodie sighed. "It's more than we deserve, mate. Thank you, but no."
"Is what he is." Bodie's voice hardened. "He's not suited to Cowley's job. I know that now."
Murphy looked at him, wondering, hearing an underlying tone in Bodie's voice--something close to accusation, close to pain. Had Bodie only just found out? Murphy's stomach tightened. "He threw it all away, didn't he? The stupid bastard. A damn good agent, but he threw it away for...what?"
Bodie's eyes lifted to his, and this time Murphy had no trouble deciphering his expression. It crossed his mind to be grateful that he wasn't Doyle, that he'd never betrayed Bodie's trust.
"I don't want to talk about that."
"I'm sorry." After a pause Murphy continued, "He'll be finished."
"What will you do?"
"You'll be able to stay with the Squad."
"It's nothing to do with you."
Bodie shrugged. "Maybe." He picked up his glass.
"You'll be partnered again."
Bodie's narrowed gaze met his. "Are you applying for the position?"
"They'll stand in line, you know that."
Draining the rest of the beer, Bodie placed the glass down on the table, then stood. "Cheers, mate." He smiled, then walked away.
Murphy drank the rest of his beer, his mind turning over new possibilities and opportunities.
It wasn't often in CI5 that you were given the opportunity for true jubilation. Too often even the victories came at too high a price for celebration. This time, however, it had been one of those rare endings to an op: few injuries, no deaths among the agents, and they'd beaten the bastards. Murphy couldn't stop grinning--every time he saw one of his Squad mates he'd light up. Passing Sally in the hall, he grabbed her in a hug, receiving a quick, fierce kiss for his enthusiasm. Coogan. John Bloody Coogan. They'd nicked him, right and proper this time. Caught as he had been, resisting as he'd done, there was no bloody way Coogan was slipping away from this one. They had him.
There wasn't a man or woman on the Squad who hadn't worked for this. Years it had taken, going right back to that first year when Coogan had escaped them and, in the process, had nearly brought CI5 down through judicial second-guessing. Getting Coogan had become the goal of every agent on the Squad, old and new alike, as the failure was rehashed. It was an op that constantly simmered on a back burner, flaring up from time to time but never quite ready to conclude--until last night.
Stuart and Sally had been detailed on Coogan's case this time, as the last piece slid into place. And then they'd all joined in the hunt, moving in on every one of Coogan's operations, shutting them all down, fighting through any resistance. Murphy had been at Coogan's house, staking it out with Burnett and Connor, when everything had blown up. They had been pinned down, unable to stop a fleeing Coogan, when Bodie and Doyle had arrived. After a short, fierce firefight, they'd isolated Coogan, placed him under arrest, and delivered him to Cowley. All very professional, all very legal. Coogan would be in prison for the rest of his life.
Murphy entered the rest room, finding only Bodie there, seated at the table, a cup of coffee in front of him. Most of the Squad had been sent home to sleep; only those with final reports, or a summons from Cowley, were still hanging around.
"I thought you'd be off home." Murphy selected a cup from the shelf, then peered doubtfully at the coffee. He reached for the kettle.
"I'm waiting for Doyle. Cowley wanted to see him. You know why."
Bodie's quiet voice froze Murphy, hand still poised over the kettle. He'd forgotten. Or, to be more accurate, it had slipped from his mind when staying alive and stopping Coogan had taken precedence.
Doyle must've arrived back from Manchester just in time to join Bodie at Coogan's. There hadn't been any time to think about what he'd found at Doyle's flat. Murphy had just been grateful for the intervention, grateful for the lethal skill that Doyle had displayed when he'd taken out one of Coogan's bodyguards, freeing Murphy and Burnett to act. They'd all worked in synch then, trapping and taking Coogan. It was nearly impossible to reconcile the image of the Doyle he'd known for six years with the man he remembered in the photograph. Doyle, a bloody poof. How could he have hidden it from all of them?
Murphy felt the joy wither within him. They hadn't lost any men, but Connor and Garretson would be laid up for awhile. Bodie and Doyle had proved their worth, their experience--and Murphy had given the photograph and the receipt to Cowley two days ago.
Placing the kettle in its stand, Murphy turned to Bodie. "Cowley could've talked to Doyle last night."
Bodie's smile was sardonic. "And invited him along to get Coogan?"
Murphy frowned, as aware as Bodie how unlikely that was. "Bloody hell."
Bodie's smile deepened. "Do you really think Cowley wouldn't use him when he needed him? Coogan took priority."
Oh, yes, that would be the way Cowley would play it. Never one to waste an opportunity. "Do you think he'll offer Doyle a choice?"
"Give up one or the other? What do you think?"
Murphy shrugged, feeling oddly defensive. "One mistake."
"Getting caught is the worst sin. Doyle will never be Controller." Was that satisfaction in Bodie's voice?
"No." Murphy turned as the kettle whistled. He prepared his tea in silence, then joined Bodie at the table. Sipping his coffee, Bodie appeared completely at his ease, but Murphy caught the tension in the way Bodie sat in the chair. "Cowley would be a fool not to keep him in CI5 in some capacity. Maybe even on the Squad."
Bodie shook his head. "Too late for that. Anyway, can you see Doyle going for it?"
"No." Murphy lifted his cup, then set it down again. "But, Christ, Bodie."
"Regrets?" Bodie's voice was pure mockery.
Murphy looked at him. "I did my duty."
"Yeah, you did that."
"It's Doyle's bloody fault!" The words came out more forcefully than Murphy had intended. He drank his tea, not looking at Bodie.
"So it seems."
Murphy glared at him. "What are you saying?"
After a moment, Bodie sighed. "Nothing. Drink your tea, mate."
Murphy did so, taking in the familiar comfort. He should leave; the last thing he wanted to do was to see Doyle. But Bodie would be losing his partner, through Murphy's actions; the least he could do was to see it through with him. If Bodie hadn't wanted Murphy there, he'd've got rid of him by now.
How could Doyle have been such a bloody, irresponsible fool? "How long have you known, Bodie?"
"That Doyle's a poof." It was the first time he'd said it out loud.
Bodie raised his eyes from his coffee. "Ah. A while."
"You didn't report it."
"It wasn't relevant." Quiet voice, absolute truth. Murphy would bet Cowley would've bought it, too. But then, what was, possibly, controllable in an agent was an impossibility in the head of CI5. Doyle had to have known that.
"Why didn't he keep his bloody head down, then?"
At that a genuine smile lightened Bodie's face for a moment. "We are talking about Doyle."
With a gesture, Murphy conceded the truth of that. There was no way Doyle wouldn't have stood out amongst the agents, especially not with Bodie as his partner. Bodie, who had known Doyle's secret, and kept it. Obviously, he hadn't been threatened by it. Abruptly, Murphy put his cup down. "How long is 'a while'?"
Bodie leaned back in his chair. "Wondering about me, are you?" A malicious glint stole into his eyes as he watched Murphy. "Tainted by association, eh?"
Murphy shrugged, then shook his head. "Sorry." He poured more tea into his cup. "What will you do?"
"You asked that on Friday. I still don't know."
"You must've thought about it?"
Shrugging, Bodie lifted his cup. "It depends."
"On Cowley? You have to know he'll want you to stay."
Drinking his coffee, Bodie stayed silent.
Murphy leaned back in his chair. "When I first met you I didn't think you'd live this long."
A slight smile curved Bodie's mouth. "Is that right?"
"Bloody maniac, that's what you were. But you've changed in the last years."
"You don't take those kinds of crazy risks anymore."
"Doyle would disagree. In fact he did, just before he left for Manchester."
Murphy dismissed that. "You know what I mean."
Bodie looked at him. "I found a reason for thinking first."
"The perspective of age."
A smile lingered in Bodie's eyes as he tilted his head. Murphy was baffled by the expression on Bodie's face. Bodie finished his coffee.
"I'd partner with you." Murphy said it quietly.
Bodie set his cup down. "I've been ten years with Doyle."
"And your future is looking decidedly grim." A voice spoke from the doorway. Murphy startled badly, taking in Doyle leaning against the door frame, arms folded, radiating anger. Doyle sent one searing look Murphy's way, then fastened his eyes on Bodie.
"All finished, mate?" Bodie's voice was light, but Murphy saw the hand on his thigh tighten into a fist.
"You could say that."
Bodie was silent.
"Did you think I'd choose differently? You bastard."
To Murphy's surprise, a smile crossed Bodie's face, and his hand relaxed.
Doyle stared at him, eyes narrowed. "I made it back from the shooting. I told you--"
"It wasn't that," Bodie overrode him. "I didn't interfere with that."
Murphy swung his gaze to Bodie, then back to Doyle, who was still staring intently at Bodie but, oddly, the anger seemed to have diminished.
"I was coming out of the field." Doyle's voice had gentled a bit.
Doyle was still for a moment, only his eyes alive. "I'd've pulled you out."
"I don't want out. There's nothing for me here out of the field." Bodie stood, his hands on the table, gripping the edge. "You don't get it, do you? Do you think I was blind after the Healy op? Did you think I didn't see? What the fuck did you expect me to do, Doyle?"
"The game's over, sunshine. Get it through your thick skull. You're not bloody Cowley! I damn well won't let you try." Eyes riveted on Bodie, Murphy's stomach clenched, as if in anticipation of a punch. No, it couldn't be....
Doyle's voice was harsh. "You didn't bloody well give me a choice!"
"Oh, you always had one, sunshine. I just forced the issue."
They stared at each other, Doyle's breath coming quickly, Bodie as still as death. Murphy's eyes moved quickly from one to the other, his stunned brain trying to regroup.
Doyle broke first. "Maybe I wanted both."
"Pipe dream." Bodie's voice was still hard, uncompromising.
Doyle's temper flared. "Why?"
"You're not staying here without me. And I saw what it'd do to you if I stayed in the field." Murphy closed his eyes, the breath knocked from him. Fool, he'd been a bloody fool! He bit down hard and opened his eyes.
Doyle slammed his hand against the wall. "Fucking Burnett! Why'd you have to get hit?"
"Because you weren't there." Bodie took a deep breath. "Because, for a moment, I didn't care."
Doyle's eyes blazed. "You didn't care?"
"No. I'm not going back to that life." The ghost of a smile washed over Bodie's face. "You won't let me."
Staring, Doyle shook his head once. "I could kill you, Bodie."
Bodie looked down at the table. "Yeah."
"You bloody well knew what my choice would be."
There was a pause. "No. I was never sure."
"Fool." But the venom was gone from Doyle's voice. "Okay. But did it have to be like this?"
Bodie shrugged. "I've watched your back for ten years, Ray. I'm not stopping now. You're not suited for Cowley's job."
Doyle laughed, a short burst of sound. "You made sure I wouldn't get that, regardless of anything else."
Bodie shuffled his feet. "Yeah, well--"
With obvious, malicious relish, Doyle said, "We're both unemployed, sunshine. Have you thought about that?"
Doyle smiled, showing his teeth. "Cowley would like a word with you."
Bodie blanched. "Fucking hell, Doyle."
"That's apt." Doyle strolled forward until he stood just in front of Bodie. "Shall we go and pack instead?"
Slowly, Bodie smiled, and he reached out to brush Doyle's cheek with his fingertips. "Yeah."
Doyle grinned, then he turned to Murphy and flicked something onto the table in front of him. Murphy found himself staring down at the photograph he had found in Doyle's flat. The identity of the other man in the photograph was glaringly obvious to him now. Idiot. Cowley would crucify him.
"To remember us by." Doyle's smile didn't reach his eyes. "Good bye." Doyle walked to the door.
Murphy looked at Bodie, unable to speak. Bodie grinned, and it was somehow all the worse that Murphy couldn't see any malice in the smile, only contentment. "Take care of yourself, mate. I reckon you're on your own." He strode after Doyle.
As they went through the doorway, Murphy heard Doyle's voice one last time. "On the way to your flat you can explain to me what you were doing at Heaven, Butch."
Bodie's reply was lost as the door closed behind them.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Roses and Lavender 6, Allamagoosa Press, February 2007