by Fanny Adams
Story #13 in the Emma universe
He wanted everything to be perfect -- the food, the wine . . . the feelings. It was a milestone in life, the fortieth birthday, and for Bodie it seemed more a cause for depression than the usual little-boy elation. Ray recalled his own fortieth with wry amusement; remembered how grouchy he'd been all day, only to be coaxed out of his funk by a sweetly loving Bodie who assured him, by deed as well as word, that he -- Doyle -- at forty was at least a third again as desirable as he'd been at thirty. But now, facing his own milestone, Bodie had been, not tetchy and argumentative, but withdrawn, thoughtful and not a little depressed, though he'd done his best to hide the latter from his partner and lover.
Doyle had decided to give in to one of his rare bursts of generous enthusiasm and do Bodie's birthday up right. They were going to the fanciest (and incidentally most expensive) restaurant in London, and Bodie would be informed that no holds were to be barred. Whatever Bodie wanted . . . in all respects. Therapy, Ray decided as he rang up the restaurant and made reservations for Saturday night. What Bodie needed was a night on the town, dressing up, looking fine, getting the eye from a few posh birds along the way, and being treated to the best damn dinner that Doyle was capable of buying for him -- the whole thirties-style rich playboy scene. Maybe Cole Porter would be pounding out a few impromptu tunes in the bar. He giggled to himself and dialed Bodie's number, wondering what his partner would say when he made the invitation.
"Really? For my birthday?" Bodie was idiotically pleased; Doyle could always tell from that little-boy wistfulness that came into Bodie's voice at moments like this.
"Yeah, and mind you dress up proper. I'll not have you embarrassin' me in public, mate."
"You mean I can't spit or scratch my . . . "
"No, nor burp either. I'll divorce you if you shame me."
"Oh, well then," Bodie said. Ray could almost hear the grin from the other end. "I can order anything?"
"Yeah, anything -- caviar, pate, pheasant . . . frogs' toes, pig brains, duck bills, monkey liver . . . "
Bodie was laughing helplessly. "I think I'll stick to the basics," he managed between bouts of laughter. It was good to hear him laugh. That sound had been elusive of late. Then there was a silence. Finally: "Thanks, Ray. That's super."
"Yeh, well . . . just don't get to expectin' it every year is all. Not on my salary."
"You know," Bodie said quietly, "chicken and chips from the local take-away would seem just as nice if I could share it with you."
That was his Bodie, always talking silly, sloppy, romantic nonsense that made Doyle weirdly happy. He found himself smiling helplessly. "Okay then, we'll get take-away instead -- saves me a bundle, mate."
There were sounds of outrage from the other end. "Oh no you don't. I'm getting my fancy dinner or else." Then he described in loving detail what Doyle's reward was going to be. One thing was sure; Doyle wouldn't have to wait to get to heaven to collect.
They arrived a quarter of an hour early, and had drinks in the bar, foregoing their usual whiskies for the house special -- a kind of variation on kir made with strawberry liqueur and champagne. Draped across the flute was a skewer with a single ripe strawberry. They touched glasses and Bodie's eyes said more than he could ever have spoken. Doyle reflected that he lived for those looks. As he lifted the glass to drink, the odor of the strawberry teased him -- elusive and pleasant. It was a good beginning.
They were seated on the balcony, in a far, and somewhat secluded corner of the dining room, from which they could survey the surroundings, but be unobserved in their turn. That was nice, considering that he very much wanted to hold Bodie's hand, and not necessarily under the table.
"Crikey, Doyle, look at the prices," Bodie hissed. There was a look of malicious glee in the dark blue eyes. Bodie was having him on.
"Doesn't matter. You have whatever you want," he said magnanimously, wishing he could count the cash he was carrying yet again. He's brought a hundred and twenty to be on the safe side. Then he made a quick mental tally of the prices and breathed easier. Nowhere near the danger point. "Want wine?" he asked.
Of course. Expensive lover he'd chosen -- worse than any woman. Briefly he wondered if it was worth it, but then he remembered who guarded his back, made him fly with a touch and pushed away the loneliness. Expensive bugger was worth it. They ordered and Doyle asked for the wine list. "What sort?" he asked.
"White. Let's try a German, shall we?" They looked over a list of names, discarding the more familiar ones that they'd tried already, both anxious for something new -- feeling adventurous. "You choose," Bodie said finally. "I have faith in your judgment."
Ray chose a Beerenauslese. It sounded good. "The Josephshofer '71," he said authoritatively to the sommelier who positively radiated approval.
"A very fine choice, sir," he said, whisking away the wine list.
"A fine choice," he whispered to Bodie.
"Oh darling, I'm so proud of you," Bodie whispered back in his lunatic falsetto.
"Prat." Ray was feeling pleased with himself, but he'd rather wished that the prices had been printed on the list. This "fine choice" was likely to set him back thirty or forty pounds. Still, he told himself, Bodie was worth every penny.
A complimentary appetizer was brought -- pheasant mousse with blueberry vinegar and fresh melba toast. The taste was heavenly. Bodie rolled his eyes as he chewed the first bite. "I'm dead. There is a god, Ray, and he likes CI5 men." Ray was inclined to agree.
"Can we skip the rest and just ask for more of this?" he asked, just as the wine arrived. The bottle was held out for his inspection. "Qualitatswein mit Pradikat," he read, giving Bodie a little, sideways glance. Bodie's eyebrow arched eloquently and a little smile played around his lips as the sommelier opened the wine and took his sip.
"Very fine choice," he repeated as he poured a dollop into Ray's glass.
Ray sniffed then took a mouthful of the golden liquid, breathing through his nose as he had been taught to do, and suddenly the word bouquet meant something more to him than just a word tossed about by wine-snobs. It was like breathing in a whole field of wildflowers . . . tasting them. He was startled. No experience of wine had ever prepared him for this. "Lovely," he managed, and a silly smile formed on his face. He had chosen well. Now Bodie would be proud of him.
He watched as Bodie drank, watched the mobile face register surprise and then pleasure. "This is terrific," he whispered.
"Well, I reckoned only the best . . . " He spread the pate and took another bite, flying high on the wine and the approval. This was going to be a perfect night. He was sure of it now.
While they waited for the next course, he surveyed his lover. Bodie looked well turned out as usual, but he looked unusually handsome as well, and Doyle felt a silly glow of pride to be seen with him. What did it matter if they were two men together? They were gorgeous (the glances from the women in the room told him as much about himself as well as Bodie) and for one wonderful night, they were wealthy and infinitely desirable. That they belonged entirely to each other was a heady spice.
Bodie looked wonderful in black and white, Doyle decided as he studied the severe evening dress set off by a modestly ruffled shirt. The only jewelry that Bodie wore was an elegant gold watch. "What're you thinking?" Bodie asked when he became aware of Doyle's scrutiny. The food arrived which put the conversation on hold for a few moments, in which time, Doyle had the opportunity to frame the proper answer.
"I was thinking about you, about how wonderful you look all tarted up like that." He could have sworn that a slight flush rose in Bodie's cheeks. Bodie attacked his cold venison and papaya with an intensity that said he was a bit embarrassed. "I wish we could do this more often just so you could dress up. I feel very elegant tonight."
"You look elegant," was the reply.
"No, really. In a feral sort of way. Like a cat is elegant."
"Alley cats aren't, and that's what I am," Ray said very firmly. Still, all this admiration did wonders for a boy. "And you're a leopard."
"Tiger," Bodie corrected. "Beautiful, intelligent and affectionate . . . and lazy. Give us a taste of that stuff," he demanded, indicating with a short nod, the plate of seafood sausage that Doyle was attacking with relish.
"Pistachio butter," Ray said as he passed a forkful of sausage to Bodie's plate.
"Oh yes, very posh."
"'S'good," Bodie pronounced.
"'Course it's bloody good." They ate happily, basking in the rich and elegant atmosphere, and enjoying the sort of food and wine that was hardly the usual fare of CI5 agents.
"Mind, you couldn't do this all the time," Bodie said as the salad plates were taken away by unobtrusive, white-coated servers. The waiter, dressed as elegantly as many of the patrons, stopped by the table to ask if everything was to their liking. Ray had to admit that everything was superb. Then as the main course arrived, the sommelier refilled their glasses with what Ray had privately begun to think of as distilled roses.
"It tastes . . . " he began, feeling almost silly for the urge to wax poetic about a bottle of wine, "It tastes of something . . . saffron?"
"Oh yes, sir," the sommelier said enthusiastically, "I think it has an earthy quality; very flowery, and a little sweet, though not so much as a Trocken Beerenauslese . . . "
Ray nodded as the man spoke. He had not been inclined to analyze the experience so much as to savour it, to share it with whatever words seemed adequate. "Thank you," he said as the wine-steward drifted away to another table.
"Didn't know you were a connoisseur, old son," Bodie teased. Ray just shrugged and took another mouthful of wine, smiling inwardly.
He had ordered salmon in morel sauce and the cocoa-coloured sauce was studded with tiny morels. It looked beautiful -- his painter's eye was pleased. Arranged about the three-spoked wheel of salmon filets, were tiny new potatoes and asparagus tips. crisp cooked and exquisitely green. In the centre of the plate, the hub of the wheel was a swirled, molded mousse of carrots and . . . he tasted it gingerly . . . parsnips. It was delicious. He looked over at Bodie who was at work over a plate of tenderloin with garlic. The slices of rare-cooked beef looked good even to Doyle; and they were arranged in a semi-circle beneath a garnish of white asparagus and small, crisp haricot beans. Bodie was grinning. "Can we do this again next year?" he asked with glee. Ray found that he was grinning as well. "Next week? Tomorrow?"
Before dessert, the waiter asked again if everything was all right. Bodie nodded and wiped his mouth with a spare, elegant gesture. "Beef was perfectly garlicked," he said. "I had a taste of Ray's as well. Was that salmon roe in the sauce?"
"A little, yes."
"Morels were lovely," Bodie added. "And the asparagus was a nice touch."
Ray was amazed to hear his tough partner speak with such authority about the food. He'd always considered Bodie the archetypal meat-and-potatoes sort of man, with no patience for frou-frou. In fact, Doyle had been worried at first, that Bodie wouldn't enjoy the expensive and decidedly nouvelle French cuisine. All for naught, he realized as the dialogue between Bodie and the waiter continued.
"Are you two in the business?" the waiter asked.
"Restaurant, you mean? No."
"Ah, well you seemed to know food . . . and wine. That's a very wonderful wine."
"Serendipity," was all Ray could think of to say.
"All snobbery aside," the waiter continued, "I think the occasion has to be just right for a Beerenauslese." Below the pristine white cloth, Bodie squeezed Ray's fingers. Ray was feeling strangely drunk and happy. "I envy you," the waiter said.
"Why?" they chorused, both startled. Bodie, however, did not release Ray's hand even though Ray tried to pull away.
"Oh, when we go out someplace it's hard not to make comparisons."
"Instinctive, it must be," Ray squeaked.
"Yes, it is. We're not overly critical, but still, you can't help but compare. Would you like to see the dessert cart?" They both nodded and he motioned for one of the white-coated servers to bring the trolley to their table. "If you don't see anything you'd like I'll bring a menu," he offered before disappearing quietly.
Bodie chose a velvety chocolate-rum cake -- an evil looking tempter that Doyle very nearly succumbed to as well, until he saw the fruit tart -- kiwis, raspberries and fresh peach slices nestled in custard atop a rich, buttery pastry that was more like a biscuit than a cake. They finished the wine with a toast to themselves.
"Wine with chocolate," Bodie said, shaking his head in mock disapproval. "Very bad form."
"To bad form," Ray toasted, draining a last few precious drops. He longed for another bottle to take home with them, with which to celebrate the after-dinner festivities. He was feeling mellow and foolish and loving.
A server brought a plate of pastries and truffles so rich that neither man could finish even one. They ordered coffee and brandy, Bodie settling for Courvoisier but Ray choosing Calvados -- once tasted in his not entirely misspent youth and never forgotten. The heady odor of apples rose from the glass as he warmed it in the palm of his hand, and the potent and fiery caramel-coloured liquid ignited tiny fires all along its path as the very best single-malts could do. It was the perfect way to end the meal.
"My god, you're beautiful," Bodie whispered. Ray turned a sultry glance on him and rewarded him with a smile, feeling only a little guilty. He should have said that to Bodie tonight. Bodie looked beautiful. Bodie was beautiful. The world was beautiful. He watched the patrons left in the now nearly empty dining room, and wondered if any of them, rich as they undoubtedly were, felt as happy and tranquil as he felt.
The wine-steward stopped back to take the empty bottle from the ice bucket and to say goodnight, and Ray asked for the wine label. Nice souvenir, that. He brought it in a little dark blue envelope emblazoned with the restaurant's logo and stamped on the back with the date. Then a server brought the bill in a similar envelope. Ray picked it up quickly so that Bodie, a nosy piece, couldn't look at it. This was Ray's treat and Bodie was not to worry about such trivialities.
The total was unbelievable. It was so impossible that Ray couldn't take it seriously. It must be a mistake, he told himself, running quickly over the column of figures. And what stood out, in the centre of the column, was Josephshofer Beerenauslese . . . one hundred and twenty pounds. A tiny voice inside Ray's head was shrieking hysterically, but all Ray could do was laugh weakly.
"Do you think we're competitively priced?" It was their waiter, standing beside him, looking for . . . what? Approval of this outrageous, impossible total?
"Ah, yes, well . . . as far as my experience goes, I expect . . . " The total was well over two hundred pounds. He didn't have the cash to pay the bill. He lost the thread of the conversation, but Bodie seemed to have picked it up. Two hundred and three pounds . . . eighteen pee. It wasn't possible. This couldn't be happening to him. Belatedly he realized that the prices had been printed on the wine list, albeit without any indication that the number -- the bloody, outrageous, impossible number -- was not the bin number or the wine number but the price. He had simply not been prepared to believe that a bottle of wine could cost one-two-zero. It had to be the bin number. That was it, they'd charged him the bin number. The wine was probably a thirty pound Moselle from bin one-two-zero. The little voice made one last squeal of useless protest and expired. Charge it, charge it.
"Oh . . . dear . . . God," he whispered, feeling for his credit-card case and finding nothing.
"Ray, you're white as a sheet." Doyle handed him the bill and searched frantically for his credit cards. There was a strangled sound from Bodie. "I don't believe this." Then: "Have you got the money?"
"Bodie, I can't find the Barclay's card." Bodie began to chuckle. "What's so sodding funny?"
"This," Bodie said waving the offending slip of paper. "It is sort of funny, Ray . . . "
"No it bloody well isn't!" There was no credit card case. It was not on him.
"How much do you have?" Bodie pulled out his wallet and a terrible pang of guilt mixing with the fear. This was Bodie's birthday after all. He couldn't let him pay the . . . Suddenly there was a moment of utter relief as Ray remembered tucking his card behind his I.D. He pulled the wallet out again and his fingers touched plastic. Success! He took the bill out of Bodie's hands, tucked the card into the envelope and laid it on the table where it was retrieved by the waiter.
"Ray . . . I'm not going to let you pay for this by yourself," Bodie was saying when Ray was in condition to notice things again.
"Forget it, Bodie. I said this was my treat and I meant it." Ohpleasegod, he added silently, let there be enough open credit on the card to cover this.
"I'm ser . . . " Bodie's offer was cut off by the return of the waiter. Doyle signed the slip, tore out his copy and tucked it and his card back into his wallet.
"Let's get outta here, Bodie."
They walked back to Ray's car, each silent, lost in his own thoughts. Then suddenly, inexplicably, Bodie started to laugh again. This time, though, it was not a nervous chuckle, but rather a huge belly laugh, so draining that he had to lean against a large blue Mercedes in the carpark. He was doubled over and the tears poured down his face.
"Damn you, Bodie, stop it! Stop laughing! BODIE!" he yelled, but to no avail. Bodie was hysterical with laughter and Doyle wanted to kill him. It wasn't fair.
"The look on your face," Bodie choked. "Ray, you have to see how funny this is."
"I don't see anything of the sort. Bodie, I don't . . . " And then there was the slightest glimmer of humour. It wasn't funny, but it had a foolish side. Ray had to smile. It was amusing in an absurd way, he realized as Bodie slid down the side of the Mercedes and landed in a heap on the ground, laughing like a drain. Well, it really was rather funny now he thought about it. And suddenly Ray began to laugh too, the same huge, relentless laughter that had assailed his partner a few moments before. He laughed until he cried, until he hurt, and Bodie did the same.
Finally, drained and aching, they hauled each other to their respective feet and went to find the car. "My God, do you believe what we've just done?" Ray asked as he unlocked the doors. "We just drank a hundred and twenty pound bottle of wine."
"Was lovely," Bodie offered.
"Still, I don't think it was worth it, do you?" By way of reply Bodie simply shrugged.
"I suppose it depends on your priorities, doesn't it? I mean, if you value good wine . . . great wine, then it was worth it."
"Do you? Value good wine, I mean."
"I like the good stuff if that's what you mean. Yeah, I value it -- more than things, I guess. That was a damn fine wine you chose."
"Dumb luck," Ray said sulkily.
"No, more like serendipity, like you said. I don't think I'll ever forget that taste."
"No, nor will I," Doyle admitted dreamily, conjuring the taste-memory of the distilled roses and saffron and gold, unlike anything he'd ever tasted in his life. He'd never understood how anyone would pay a thousand or more for a single bottle of wine, but he'd never had a bottle like this one before. It made everything he'd ever tasted pale by comparison. "That was the most extraordinary bottle of wine I've ever tasted," he said.
"Right. And if we'd known the price, would we have ordered it?"
"Not a chance."
"So . . . " Bodie made an expansive gesture and Doyle grinned. Leave it to Bodie to rationalize even this away.
"Don't you dare tell anyone," Doyle warned sternly.
"Who would I tell?"
Bodie was wounded innocence. "Nah, just Murph and Emma, and Alec . . . and the guys in the ops room on Monday morning, and your mother . . . "
"Oh, my God, Bodie, don't you ever tell my mother. She'd skin me alive. She'd kill me . . . and she'd never speak to me again either." They were both quiet on the way back to Ray's flat.
"Y'know, I still feel guilty," Ray admitted as he locked the door and went in to where Bodie was pouring nightcaps. "Like someone is going to come after us."
"Yeh, big Yank coppers with guns blazing and handcuffs . . . " He buried his face in his hands and shook his head. "I feel as if we have to answer to someone for this."
"We could confess to the Cow and let him give us penance or something. Two weeks of surveillance."
"Well, it wasn't that horrible," Ray protested as Bodie switched out the light and drew him towards the bedroom.
"Ah ha, I've got your number now, Doyle. You don't feel guilty enough to put up with a fortnight of boredom."
Ray turned in the circle of Bodie's arms and took him in a warm, whiskey-flavoured kiss. "I don't really feel guilty about anything anymore. You do that to me, Bodie." They kissed again, then broke apart without speaking, each going to one side of the bed to undress. Doyle opened the bed and climbed in under the covers, watching Bodie fold his clothes and lay them on the chair beside the bed. He was so handsome, Doyle reflected, it was amazing that Bodie was his lover, his almost exclusively, rather than being eaten up by dozens of adoring bedmates.
Bodie slipped in beside him, cool and smooth like living marble. "Bodie, you're beautiful."
"Naturally," he responded, but he avoided Ray's eyes. Shy. That had been a revelation for Doyle.
"It's your birthday. How do you want it?" By way of answer, Bodie guided Ray's hand down to touch his cock. It was not erect, but was a little swollen, the tip with its single glistening eye peeping out from the tip of his foreskin. Doyle pushed the skin back gently and Bodie shivered at the touch, always exquisitely sensitive. The cock jerked under his fingers and began to gorge with blood. Bodie's hand was stroking Ray's penis with firm, gentle motions. And all the while they kissed softly, tongues teasing and lips brushing with the hesitation of new lovers, tasting . . .
Bodie, when he was erect, rolled on top of Ray, arranging their cocks so that they lay side-by-side between their bellies in the way that Ray had always secretly fancied allowed their cocks to kiss -- nonsense, he thought and quite rightly kept for private fantasies . . . and yet, suddenly he found himself saying it to Bodie who whispered, "yes, of course, lover," and kissed him softly, moving in a slow dreamy was against Ray's smaller body. He laid his head down on Ray's shoulder and held him close as they moved together in a shared rhythm of the most exquisite tenderness. "I need you," Bodie whispered.
"I love you," was Doyle's response, and his reward was a curious brightness in Bodie's eyes. They came together which was a perfect ending. Between them the slick stickiness, crystalline threads stretching from body to body . . . crystalline droplets on Bodie's long dark lashes. "Happy birthday, Bodie." It had been perfect -- the food, the wine . . . the feelings. A milestone.
-- THE END --
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The exchange rate, for those who care about that sort of thing, is $1.50 per pound. Curious Yanks, take note. I chose this rate because I have not got any special insight into the rates of the future . . . if I did, I'd be a rich lady, nu?
Also, I know this is a sappy story. Tough noogies.