by Ellis Ward
On the morning of George Cowley's funeral, the dawning sun painted the Town of London burnished gold. Standing at his kitchen window overlooking the park with mug of coffee in hand, Ray Doyle watched the spectacular orange and yellow display and wondered cynically if Cowley had personally commissioned this impressive weather for his last day on earth.
Since Saturday, when the great man had been felled in his steps by a massive heart seizure in the corridor outside his office, the heavens had wept copious tears - unlike his many detractors and those who had long resented his influence upon the Prime Minister, who had mourned his passing with aching eulogies. For ten years Cowley had held sway, his opinion on matters of internal security (and, truth be known, other topics technically outside his official purview) worth a fortune as far as the Prime Minister was concerned. And maybe, Doyle thought wryly, it was she (who seemed of late to view herself nearer deity than earth- born creature) who was responsible for the lustre of this fine morning.
Ten years had passed since Doyle had accepted Cowley's offer of continued employment, albeit under very different circumstances from his days as a CI5 agent. In fall of 1981, CI5 had been disbanded owing to budgetary constraints and growing public outcry, though the former had carried far more weight than the latter. Initially, Doyle had reserved comment regarding Cowley's offer; after a shattering upheaval in his personal life, he had accepted.
In the intervening years, Doyle had not come to regret his decision. Though never entirely of one mind, he and Cowley had worked ably together. Doyle had learned a great deal from his mentor - and Cowley had seen to it that Doyle's influence was as envied as his own. The doors to Whitehall stood open to him at all times - especially now, when the Prime Minister looked to him to take on Cowley's job.
Her proposal had been made within hours of Cowley's dying, she taking the time to personally meet with Doyle in his own office. He had promised her a response the Monday after the funeral. It was only Thursday now, but he thought he would accept. Maybe.
He ate a plate of toast and finished his coffee. In the shower a short while later, it occurred to him that he might just miss George Cowley. The thought amused him, for there had been times he had actively plotted Cowley's demise - but only ever in the privacy of his own mind and only then as a result of extreme - and in Doyle's opinion, unnecessary - provocation. For George Cowley, the most important thing in the world had been his beloved England - her way of life, her history, and her troubled present. The individual, any individual, had always fallen a distant second - Doyle included.
Understanding, Doyle had never asked for more. He had not wanted special consideration when he had served Cowley as a CI5 operative; he had not looked for it once he had become Cowley's right-hand man. Yet there were occasions when Cowley's single-mindedness had grated; occasions when Doyle remembered all that had once been his.
On the way to the churchyard, Doyle ran through a last mental checklist to assure himself that, concerning the disposition of Cowley's remains, he had obeyed his employer's every instruction, which had been neatly detailed on a lengthy document entrusted to him several years earlier. Accordingly, Doyle's had been a fraught week, what with funeral arrangements, public announcements, and personal notes to take care of - along with the daily tasks demanding his attention. Even his evenings had been commandeered for the sorting through, and organizing of, Cowley's personal effects.
The earliest arrival, Doyle parked his car and strode up to the front door of the stone church, where he was met by the servant of God chosen by Cowley himself to speak his praises before the crowd yet to form. In retrospect, Doyle suspected that Cowley had, in a way, looked forward to this day. After all, he had already buried most of his enemies and far too many of his friends.
All as he had requested, Doyle went out into the churchyard and had a leisurely stroll round. It threatened to be an interminable day, so he switched off his brain and let the sights and sounds of England in early April surround him as he walked along, the sun glinting off his collar-length, loosely curled hair. He stopped by the freshly opened hole where George Cowley would be laid to rest and squatted down for a look inside: dark, loamy soil, softened after weeks of winter rain.
Contemplating that claustrophobic, uninviting emptiness, Doyle reckoned that he would opt for cremation, come his time. Then he smiled: Come his time, it would make no difference.
The first to arrive, Doyle was also the last to leave. He had graciously endured all the kind words of those who tendered their condolences, had tolerated as well the invidious glares of those who plainly wished he had been buried along with his former employer. A piercing breeze had come up, and despite the lavish sunshine, the morning had turned chill. Disinclined to linger, people had begun to depart. Doyle had watched them go, keeping his frozen fingers away from the comfort of his pockets through force of will, the elegant suit selected for this day being unequal to the task of keeping him warm. He had waited, and still he waited, until only he and the custodians of Cowley's grave remained. Ultimately leaving the gravediggers to their undertaking, Doyle returned to his car. There he paused, eyes raking the churchyard, the lane outside the church, the few cars remaining alongside the curb. There were no other mourners. Not yet, anyway.
Were Doyle to wait, he was convinced that his vigilance would be rewarded. But if he had avoided the services, he would avoid Doyle also. And what, really, was the point of forcing an encounter?
Acknowledging this unpalatable fact in that deepest part of him that had nevertheless refused to give up through all these years, Doyle stepped into his car. With a last, dispirited look round, he started the engine and drove away.
Alone in the semi-detached building overlooking the park, Doyle took up his just-made sandwich and a can of lager. He went out the front door, down the stairs, and stopped at the entry to the ground-floor flat. Tucking the can under his chin, Doyle snaked a large, metal ring holding four keys out of a pocket, manoeuvred the appropriate one into the lock, and gave it a turn. Once inside, he pocketed the keys, pulled the door to behind him, and had a habitual, cautionary look round as he entered through the foyer.
Nothing was out of order. Having left Cowley's apartments late the night before, Doyle could vouch for that with certainty. Several boxes - packed by his own hands - occupied the centre of the lounge floor. Depending on the solicitor's reading of Cowley's will, most of this - clothing, books, records, bedding, kitchen linen and cookware - would be given to charitable organizations. Thus had Doyle spent his recent evenings.
After placing his lunch on the desk in Cowley's study, Doyle went from room to room, throwing open the windows to allow the fresh April air to wander throughout unchallenged. He settled down, compelled by reluctant purpose, while longing to be outside on this glorious day. Cowley's solicitor, however, had requested certain papers be brought with Doyle on the morrow; also, it was a good opportunity to verify the contents of Cowley's records. Doyle preferred to have these last charges off his shoulders as soon as possible.
One of the keys opened Cowley's desk. In fact, of the four, only one of them was unknown to him, even though this duplicate collection of Cowley's personal set had been given to him several years back. Taking a huge bite of his cheese and pickle sandwich, Doyle mechanically chewed while sliding out the middle drawer. As expected, it contained only writing implements (mechanical pencils, Biros, a gold-plated fountain pen), paper clips, a stapler, paste, stick-pins, and other basic office odds-and-ends. Doyle considered dumping the lot into one of the small, empty boxes littering the floor, then decided it against it: Whoever inherited this desk would likely find all of these things useful.
In the top drawer to the left, there were other mundane office staples: telephone directory, a sheet of paper covered with frequently rung government numbers, a tiny dictation machine in its handsome leather case, spare batteries and cassette tapes for same, a couple of extra rolls of calculator tape. Doyle rifled through the contents, neatly reordered everything, and shut the drawer.
Suspended files filled the bottom drawer. Doyle was familiar with their contents, which included maintenance agreements for the computers (upstairs and down), household equipment (boiler, cistern, refrigerator, cooker, television, etc.), and vehicles - both the Rover and Doyle's Vauxhall, for which Cowley paid the upkeep. Information concerning the cleaning service, gardener, and building repair was organized in each properly labelled folder. These were given no more than a cursory glance; Cowley had long ago instructed him that whatever arrangements had been contracted for would continue for a period of three months beyond his death - more than enough time for Doyle to prepare the property for disposal, as well as find another place for himself.
Doyle raised his head, staring at nothing as he remembered the day Cowley had persuaded him to share the newly-purchased building with him. "The top floor is self-contained and wholly private. We need see each other no more than we do now. Should you elect to live here, I will charge no rent, only utilities."
Some time had passed before Doyle had understood that in actuality, Cowley had wanted his companionship far more than a trustworthy tenant. They had never become friends in the usual definition of the word, but it had not been uncommon for them to take the occasional glass of George's favoured single malt with desultory conversation of an evening.
Sitting back in the old, comfortable leather chair, Doyle concentrated for a moment on his sandwich. With the windows open, sounds from the street intruded on his solitude. He could hear children squealing as they chased a ball, the random thud as it struck the tarmac, shouts as it soared upward, indictments as it was seized, and subsequent thuds as it plummeted down again. Incongruously, he found the commotion enjoyable. Life, he supposed ironically, must go on.
Shoving his plate aside, Doyle stubbornly applied himself once more. He continued to rummage through Cowley's private papers, finding, as he had known he would, the financial paperwork in the bottom drawer on the right. He flipped through the files, marvelling anew at Cowley's amassed wealth, which had increased considerably since Doyle last had been shown these documents. With his usual foresightedness, Cowley had ensured that Doyle would act as his lieutenant in any situation - at work or at home. Nothing was to be left to chance; Cowley had known exactly how he wanted the loose ends of his life bound up, and Doyle was to be the needle and thread of his wishes.
Finished at last, Doyle collected the three pertinent files and stuffed them into a large envelope. On the outside he scrawled the solicitor's name, pressed the gummed flap to seal it, and set the lot aside while he locked up the desk.
He went from window to window then, shutting both sash and curtain at each. A moment later he was outside the door, burdened with empty beer can, crumb-strewn plate, and the solicitor's envelope, struggling to secure the lock. Scarcely had he won the battle and pocketed the keys before a shadow loomed outside the street-door, bringing Doyle up sharp. He waited a second, watching the letter-box; but nothing tumbled through. Instead, the bell to his apartment sounded, only audible at this end of the stair because he was listening for it.
"Who is that?" he called aloud.
"Courier," came back through the glass. "From Mr. Roland Lea."
Roland Lea - Cowley's solicitor. Frowning, Doyle removed his two handfuls of pottery and paperwork to the floor and opened the door. A young man stood without, helmet visor pushed up on his forehead and worn leather jacket zipped to the middle of his chest.
"Mr. Raymond Doyle?"
A clipboard with a sign-off sheet was thrust toward him. "Please sign on line - " The young man bent forward to refresh his memory. "Eight."
"What am I signing for?" Doyle asked reasonably.
"Lock-box, sir." He pointed toward the back of his bike, at the gleaming metal container strapped to its saddle.
"From Roland Lea? You're quite certain?"
"I know him, sir. Deliver for him regular-like."
Doyle accepted the clipboard and signed on the eighth line. The young man took it back with naked relief; quite obviously he had begun to think that Doyle might refuse. "Thank you, sir." He strode to the pavement and freed the box from its restraints, storing the clipboard in its place. As he handed it to Doyle, he said, as if by rote, "Mr. Lea said to inform you that you already have the key."
"I - ?" Doyle remembered his ring of duplicate keys: He knew exactly which one Lea meant. The courier stood, waiting. Brought back to his surroundings, Doyle slipped a hand into his pocket and brought forth a couple of coins. The man thanked him and hurried back to his motorbike.
Hefting the box in his hands, Doyle gauged its measurements with ease: nine inches by twelve by three. Guessing that this was something to do with Cowley's estate requiring his attention, but wondering why Lea had seen fit to send it round by private courier, Doyle stepped into the flat, bolting the door behind him. Balancing can, plate, and envelope on top of the metal box, he mounted the stairs. Later, he would marvel that his usual warning instincts should so totally fail him on this occasion.
Doyle puttered about, binning the empty beer can, rinsing off his plate, making a cup of tea, playing back his phone messages (none of which required immediate attention), all the while determinedly ignoring the metal lock-box abandoned on the coffee table in the lounge. He stood by the window while the kettle boiled, willingly distracted by the children in the street, the silent passage of wispy, unthreatening clouds from the north, and the pedestrian traffic on the pavement. All was as it should be - though everything had changed. Ten years ago he had undergone a spell uncannily like this, suffering then as now a pervasive numbness and lack of direction.
This time, however, he knew what he must do - or, rather, what he could do, if he chose. The flow of his life would be little changed - at least until another PM or party came into power. Surely, upon that eventuality, he could re-evaluate and take another decision concerning his future.
He took his mug into the lounge, eyeing the lock-box with the first twinges of uneasiness. What on earth could Lea have sent him? And why now? It must, logically, be tied somehow to Cowley. Was it something that Cowley had not wanted him to see until he had died? Perhaps it was something so highly sensitive, that Cowley dare not even let him know of it until there was no alternative.
Giving the tip of his nose a flick of the thumb, Doyle strolled to the sofa and sat down. He took a quick sip from his tea, set the mug on a slate coaster, and regarded the perplexing object. Why was his heart- rate accelerating? And why did the breath catch in his throat and sweat form on his palms?
Growling a mild expletive, Doyle shoved a hand into his pocket to fetch forth the ring of keys. Unerringly separating out the one he wanted, he slid it into the lock and thumbed the release. The catch gave easily, the hinges parting soundlessly.
Inside lay a large envelope. Across the outside, written in Cowley's hand in bold letters, was a single name: Bodie.
Doyle closed his eyes.
Images, long repressed but never eradicated, washed over him. Partners, friends, bedmates. They had been everything to each other ten years ago - nine years and eight months ago, to be exact. Once CI5 had been marked for the chop, it had been time for them to move on. Together. Cowley had asked Doyle to stay, to assist him in his new role as advisor/consultant to the Tory PM. He had made it clear that he would have preferred to keep them both; but, given their personal involvement -
Almost immediately, one of Cowley's contacts had found a position for Bodie as bodyguard to a wealthy scion under threat of kidnap - in Paris. Doyle and Bodie had agreed that Bodie should take the job while Doyle settled their affairs in London. As soon as Bodie had found them a place, he would get word to Doyle by way of a third party - Doyle's mother. Regarding this detail, Bodie had been adamant. When Doyle had chided him for his cloak-and-dagger mentality, Bodie would only say that he had his reasons.
Doyle had humoured him. A week had passed, then two. After three, Doyle had suffered doubt, irritation, then blue-flame anger. And then a letter had arrived, brought to London by his mother, who had recognized the importance of this communication thanks to the accompanying note which had urged her to give the enclosed letter to Doyle as soon as possible.
It had not contained what Doyle had expected.
Slightly unsteady fingers searched for purchase on the large envelope. Through touch alone Doyle determined that the contents were extensive. Forcing a finger under one corner - it was a tight fit - Doyle managed to extricate the envelope with a minimum of fuss. Not much to his liking, he saw that a second, sealed packet lay wedged in the bottom of the box. It, too, bore a name, penned in Cowley's florid hand: Doyle.
Doyle forced a thumb under the gummed flap of the first envelope and tore it open. Inside were twenty, perhaps thirty, sheets of paper. Doyle lifted them out all at once. The one on top, stunningly, was a proof page, folded in half, covered with photos of Bodie. Each was dated, with the earliest of the lot labelled June 1982. Bodie, Doyle was little surprised to see, had aged a bit through the years - but only a bit. Still handsome, he had been caught in many poses and tempers: happy, reflective, bored, angry, weary, remote.
Not far into 1983, he had lost the cherubic look that once had driven women - and Doyle - to lusty distraction. In its place was a pared- down, unfriendly exterior, which was by no means less attractive, but markedly different. Bodie appeared to have been fitter than ever, all severe lines and angles where once there had been an illusory softness. After four or five years, that harsh edge had given way to a less formidable indifference, which had continued, so far as Doyle could tell, to the present - or at least, January of this year.
Unaware that he was scowling deeply, Doyle laid the sheet flat on the coffee table. He was fascinated by that changing aspect, wondering what he would think of its owner were he to meet him today. Not that he would, of course; surely, Bodie would see to that?
His curiosity awakened, Doyle turned to the first of the typed reports - for reports they were, each one having been compiled by the various employers to have replaced George Cowley. Documenting Bodie's life over the last nine-and-a-half years, they cited his exploits, his friendships, and his personal involvements. Of the last, there had been astonishingly few. None had persisted beyond a week or two, and all had been female. Finding no comfort in this intelligence, Doyle paid closer heed to the injuries Bodie had suffered since 1981: a bullet wound that had reduced the movement of his left arm in 1983; bashed ribs incurred in a bar fray in south London in 1985; and a broken ankle that had been slow to heal in 1989.
Enjoying, in an odd way, this peek into Bodie's past - and, marginally, his present (address and phone number noted in each report; he could ring him at this very moment should he be so mad as to want to) - Doyle was unprepared for the last item: a single slip of aged, thermal, photocopy paper. It was a handwritten letter, in his writing, but nothing he had ever written.
The letter was concise to the point of rudeness: Dear Bodie: I've changed my mind. After thinking it over, I've realized that I need someone I can rely on. And let's face it, mate, your track record is the pits. It wasn't an easy decision, but I've decided to stay with Cowley. Nothing you can say will change my mind, so don't bother trying, okay? It really is the best for both of us. If you think about it, I know you'll agree. Bye, Ray.
A full minute elapsed before the significance of this document penetrated his uncomprehending brain. And then, for a shocking moment, Doyle thought he might be having a coronary. His body flushed both hot and cold, and his head filled with a rushing, deafening noise. But it was only reaction, as to a particularly jarring blow - which in a way, this discovery had been.
The letter was an excellent forgery, more than impressive - quite sufficient to convince even someone who knew his singular scribble that he had written it.
What had Cowley done?
Bodie's face stared up at him from the coffee table: Bodie as he had aged and changed through the years. Suffused with an anger quite unlike any he had ever known, Doyle shook free of his paralysis and removed the envelope bearing his own name from the lock-box. Inside this one was another, smaller envelope - an exact match to the one hand-carried from Derby to London by his mother nearly ten years ago. The gaily coloured stamp was the same, as were the Portuguese cancellation marks. The outer seal was undone; with the ball of his thumb he pushed the flap out of the way and pulled the edges apart. Two items were within: a duplicate of the note given to Doyle's mother, which had asked her to "take the enclosed to Ray, with your own hands, as soon as possible," and another sheet of paper, folded in threes and sealed with cellotape.
With a surge of deja vu that almost dizzied him, Doyle withdrew this replica of the letter he had received in the fall of 1981. The paper was old, its seams embedded in the fabric, the cellotape brittle and easily breached. As trembling fingers painstakingly drew the folds apart, then smoothed the page flat, the first line leapt out at him - and he saw at once that this was no replica after all.
"The Algarve's as great as we've always heard--perfect, Ned says (you remember old Ned? Runs the boathouse)--perfect, he says, for honeymooners."
It was dated 15/09/81.
Doyle closed his eyes, blindly refolding the letter and gently restoring it to the envelope. His thoughts spun like leaves in a cyclone. There was nothing he wanted more at that moment than to grab George Cowley by his crepey throat and throttle the truth out of him. Though he had some idea of what Cowley had done - it was obvious enough, wasn't it? - Doyle could not fathom the why of it. He knew he had been important to the old man's schemes, but he could not possibly have been that important.
Not enough to destroy his relationship with Bodie.
With sudden clarity, Doyle strode across the floor to the end-table where one of the flat's phones was installed. He picked up the handpiece, flicked open the address book kept beside the phone, and dialled a familiar number.
A man answered at the other end, stating the last four digits in the old way. Doyle said abruptly, "Geoff, it's me, Ray. Let me talk to Betty. It's important."
"Sure, old man. Hang on, I'll give her a shout."
Geoff was as good as his word; he fairly hollered down the phone into Doyle's ear. "Here she comes, son."
A wait of seconds was ended by the voice of George Cowley's secretary. "Ray?" she greeted tentatively.
All at once, Doyle was at a loss for words. To his uncertain knowledge there was only one other person in the world who knew George Cowley better than he: his secretary, Betty Cranham-Crabb. It was to her Doyle had instinctively turned for answers he did not have. But how to ask her?
"Ray? Are you there?"
"Yeah. Sorry, love. Look - Betty, I must see you. Can I come round?"
For a moment Betty did not reply. "Now, d'you mean?"
Another silence; this one longer. "Betty?"
"Yes, all right. Yes."
Sensing reluctance, but not daring to probe over the phone, Doyle said, "I'll bring wine."
"You don't have - "
Doyle disconnected. He had known Betty for years - since joining CI5, in fact. She was a guileless, pleasant, and extremely efficient and capable secretary, whose one great failing - in Doyle's eyes, anyway - had been her unswerving devotion to George Cowley.
Betty knew why he had called; it had been there, in her voice.
It was nearly two when Doyle found a spot at the end of the street of Betty's block of flats. Out of second-nature he locked the car, looked both ways before stepping onto the tarmac, and adjusted his step to avoid tripping over the opposite curb. He was operating on auto-pilot, his mind focussed on the afternoon's revelations virtually to the exclusion of all else.
Betty was waiting for him when he came into the garden. Nearly wringing her hands, she gestured for him to follow. "Come into the kitchen, okay?"
He sat at the breakfast table, then waited while she prepared tea, poured it to his specifications without being asked, then perched on the chair across from him with her own mug gripped tightly in front of her.
"You know why I'm here." He stood the bottle of claret in the centre of the table.
"Mr. Cowley warned me."
He tugged the envelope containing Bodie's letter from an inside jacket pocket and held it up for her to see. "You knew about this, too?"
She nodded slowly, unhappily. "Mr. Cowley said he needed you. He - Well, he knew what you and Bodie were planning."
Turning her eyes ceilingward, she mumbled, "He bugged your office, and your flats, and your cars. He always knew what was going on with his operatives."
Doyle could not conceal his distaste. "I don't understand, Betty: Why go to all this trouble? You must've known what was involved. Christ, Cowley had to've got the cooperation of the GPO to do this!"
"Yes," she whispered. "You can guess, Ray, but you'd never know the half of it." She raised her mug unsteadily; her lips were trembling.
Stretching out a hand, Doyle surrounded a wrist. Her eyes widening with alarm, she lowered the mug to the table.
Squirming to free her arm, Betty replied miserably, "All that's not important. How he did it, I mean. It was why he did you've come here, right?"
"You and Bodie were the only two he ever really trusted. If he'd been able to keep you both he would have - if you hadn't got involved with each other."
"How long did he know about that?" Doyle asked grimly.
"I told you, Ray: Your offices, your cars, your flats, everything was bugged. He probably guessed before you and Bodie ever did anything."
Odd how that knowledge could sting after all these years. Doyle smiled mirthlessly. "He would've preferred Bodie, though, wouldn't he?"
Betty shrugged. "Maybe, at first. He always liked Bodie, y'know. Reminded him of himself, when he was a lad."
Blinking restively before Doyle's cold stare, Betty pressed on, "Before long, he was happy it was you who had stayed with him. He knew Bodie, and though he may have liked him better - but only a little - he came to rely on you. Your strengths, your instincts, your - how did he put it, lateral thinking - and your," she faltered, "your loyalty. They were all very important to him."
"He hired a forger."
"To write a letter to Bodie, and another to me."
Betty's lips formed a thin, guilty line. "Yes."
"It never bothered you, what he did?"
"I didn't know!" Betty cried out softly. Tears had come into her eyes. "Only later, when you became Mr. Cowley's second, I wondered - I came across his pay-off for the forger and asked him about it. He had not wanted me to find out. But he admitted it, then swore me to secrecy, saying the damage had been done. He said that Bodie would never believe you if you tried to tell him the truth. I - I thought he was right."
"So you said nothing."
"He needed you, Ray! He cared for both of you, y'know? It didn't make him happy to break it off between you and Bodie. But his job was hugely important - surely you must see that? And it was your help he needed."
Studying his hands without seeing them, Doyle said evenly, "Let me get this straight: Cowley didn't stop at just ruining it between us, right? Those reports on Bodie - they were made by Bodie's employers, that was obvious. And all those employers were hired by Cowley so that he could keep an eye on Bodie, is that right?"
Betty's eyes went wide. "No. Well, not always. I mean, they really did want Bodie to work for them. Only, Mr. Cowley paid them to report on him, so he'd be able to keep a file on him."
"Not for himself?"
She scowled. "No. Of course not."
"And what did he think I would do with it?"
Astonishingly, her whole demeanour brightened. "You'd know the truth, then, wouldn't you! And you'd be able to fix things, if you wanted."
She honestly believes that, Doyle realized with a dull shock. Fix things, indeed!
"Betty - "
"Yes?" She looked worried; he wondered just what she saw in his face at that moment.
"If someone had done this to you and Geoff, what would you have done?"
Her eyes fell. "I don't know."
"No, I dare say you don't." Doyle rose, his tea untouched. He felt gutted - gutted and raw. "Anything else you think I ought to know?"
She raised her head; her eyelashes were wet and spiky. "He always said he would make it up to you. Somehow."
Doyle turned away. "I'll let myself out," he muttered. Once in the garden, he ran, his long legs scissoring across the lawn, over the low rail fence, into the street, and all the way to his car.
On the journey back to his flat, Doyle stopped at his local for a drink. One drink turned into two, two into three. He sat alone at the rear of the crowded room and idly studied the other patrons. In his pocket the letter from Bodie remained untouched; he simply could not bring himself to read it.
He found it curious that he should be so affected by this turn of events. Somehow, he had persuaded himself that he had survived the trauma of Bodie's defection unscarred. To discover now that he had lied to himself so thoroughly was deeply unsettling. And it gnawed at him that they had both been played for such fools - though he could take some small pleasure in the conviction that Bodie had been even more foolish than he.
Within two weeks of receiving the forged letter "from" Bodie, Doyle had travelled to the Algarve. There he had sought out Bodie's friend Ned, who had been unpleasant, unfriendly, and almost violently unforthcoming. Doyle had interpreted his cruelty as an embarrassed defence of his old mate's rotten behaviour - after all, Doyle had only known Ned through Bodie; they had developed no ties of their own.
But Bodie had already cleared out, too ready to believe the lies fed him by Cowley's forger. Had he trusted Doyle so little? Or had that been an excuse to put an end to a relationship that was beginning to demand more from him than he was willing to give? Not that Doyle had ever sensed such conflicting emotions in him. On the contrary, Bodie had seemed to revel in their love affair. It was impossible now to believe that for Bodie, ebullient and loving as Doyle had then known him, the novelty had worn off.
Yet it had to be acknowledged that Bodie had never tried to make contact with him. Unless - Unless Cowley had made it impossible for him to do so? The thought bolstered Doyle's trammelled spirits. He left the table, wended his way through closely packed tables and chairs, and stepped out of the smoky, body-heat-saturated closeness of the pub into the invigorating, sweet-scented air of early April. Above him stars were visible, winking brilliantly in the depthless abyss of night.
Realizing the time, Doyle collected his car and drove slowly home. A little drunk - both from liquor and melancholy - he let himself into the upstairs flat. His stomach was empty and protesting its mistreatment. Doyle strolled into the kitchen, after absently tucking the letter retrieved from his jacket into a breast pocket, and set about grilling a couple of slabs of toast. Not long afterward, while the tea brewed, butter melted on the still-steaming toast, and the oven cooled, he wandered back into the lounge.
Bodie's proof-sheet caught his eye. He picked it up and proceeded to examine each photo - even though all were already committed to memory. The man had aged well, there was no denying that. He had retained the patina of youth while tempering the too-smooth perfection of that handsome demeanour with enough wear to attest to the passage of time. Enough, one might say, to distinguish him. For all his rough-and-tumble ways, Bodie's face remained unflawed, the eyes darkly blue and sardonically amused, the beguiling mouth arrogantly broody.
What, Doyle wondered, had Bodie done with his life these past ten years? By now he must have a whole new collection of far-fetched tales and amusing anecdotes spun out of gruesome reality for eager listeners. Even knowing the truth, Doyle had enjoyed Bodie's yarns; for that matter, Bodie had enjoyed telling them. To him.
Upon that thought, emotion, acidly painful and too long denied, rose up inside him like bile, taking him unaware. Before he quite realized what had happened, his eyes burned with unbearable grief, glittering moisture blurred his vision, and his bottom lip stung, held ruthlessly in place by sharp teeth, which refused the animal cry of anguish that strove to erupt. Gulping hard, he fought to regain control.
Like a squall, the moment was upon him and gone. Doyle dropped his head into his hands, breathing hard. A glance at Bodie's photo sheet filled him with bitter desolation.
Scrubbing at his face with the back of a hand, Doyle retrieved the reports with the other. They had been gathered for him, Betty had said, not for Cowley. He flipped through each page, unwittingly delaying the moment, until he came upon the latest one. It was there, clearly typed and underlined, just as he remembered it: Address and phone number.
Jaw set, Doyle strode across the room to the lounge extension. Before he could think it through, before he could even question the impulse, he had dialled the number at the top of the page.
His stomach clutched at the first pair of rings. Sanity began to filter back into his brain upon the second. And, then, before he could disconnect, Bodie himself answered.
That voice, ten years unheard, destroyed Doyle between one heartbeat and the next. He let out a sudden, pent breath.
"Who is that?" Bodie demanded coldly.
Shamed by his cowardice, Doyle closed his mouth lest another sound escape. He carefully laid the handpiece back in its cradle. For a full moment he stared at it, gaunt-faced and pale.
And then he fled. Stuffing the letter back into his jacket, he paused only long enough to collect his gloves and scarf and to winkle the keys for his motorbike out of his jeans pocket.
The sky was grey with the advent of dawn before he returned.
Ashen-faced and giddy with exhaustion, Doyle drew on his running togs with a notable lack of enthusiasm. Two hours of sleep was precious little to go on; but clamorous dreams had driven him from his bed, where he had fallen, fully clothed, upon reaching his flat amidst bird song and the first rays of morning.
Though the therapeutic effects had not lasted, his directionless ride had done him some good. Shrouded in darkness, Doyle had travelled through the Downs, north and south, finding himself near midnight at the top of Kithurst, high above the surrounding countryside, gazing bleakly at the crystal-bright stars overhead. Some while later, he had stopped at the edge of the Devil's Punch Bowl, seeing only an immense nothingness in that great hollow.
Frozen through and insensible from long hours of being perched on the bike's leather saddle, Doyle had finally made his way home. The darkened downstairs flat, and the lights burning heedlessly out of the upstairs windows had reminded him at once why he had run away.
Through all the miles, he had accomplished a great deal of thinking: about his future, about Bodie, and about his jumbled feelings concerning both. Where the morning before he had been fairly certain of his plans, now Doyle was dubious not only of his hard-won abilities but of his ambitions as well.
Emotions seemingly in check had proved to be but falsely docile, only waiting for a moment of weakness to slip their leads. It had been a long time since he had felt so irresolute, so nearly out of control. And it worried him.
Outside, the day was fine, overflowing with sunshine and blue sky. His spirits lifting, if only negligibly, Doyle walked briskly to the park. After a few moments he began to trot, letting recalcitrant muscles ease into the strain before he fell into a run. Two circuits constituted a mile. He was up to four before his reserves kicked in; then it was child's play, an old habit never forsaken.
Eight circuits later, as he flew past the west end of the pond, he spotted the newly-arrived, dark-haired man who sat on the wooden bench, tossing crumbs to the ducks. Back turned toward the footpath, his shoulders were broad and compactly muscled - noticeably so, even through black leather; his hair, short and curling slightly, as it always had, on the collar of his polo-necked shirt; the ears neat, exposed to the fresh breeze, and burning pinkly at the tips.
For a frozen instant, Doyle feared his heart might leap out of his chest - if it didn't stop altogether. The man ignored him as he ran past, his attention steadfastly fixed on the ducks. Doyle thought, fleetingly, that he had not been seen at all. In his gut, the panic began to recede: Perhaps he had been wrong; perhaps that had not been Bodie, but someone else, someone who only looked like him -
He was lying to himself. Worse, he knew he was lying to himself. But if it was Bodie, why hadn't he spoken? To give him a chance to order his panicked thoughts? Had Bodie seen the panic on Doyle's face?
Awash with embarrassment, shock, and not a little dismay, Doyle knew the answer, and knew as well that his shattered expression had not been responsible for Bodie's reticence. It was merely his way of giving Doyle the advantage: He could run right up to his own front step if he so desired, never say a word of acknowledgment, never look back - or he could brave Bodie's presence and -
And they would have a pleasant little chat?
How've you been, mate? Did you hear about Cowley? What the fuck are you doing here, Bodie?
Doyle continued to run, his trainered-feet pounding the gravel footpath, his face taut with the cold, his ears contradictorily hot. The icy sweat clinging to his body - not generated by his exertions - informed him that some functionary of his bodily hierarchy had already made the decision - it was simply waiting for him to act upon it.
At the far end of the park, heading back toward the duck pond, he slowed to a jog, then a lazy lope, then a walk. He wanted at least to have his breathing and pulse back under his command when he confronted his former partner.
"You've had it all, you greedy buggers," Bodie was muttering to his coterie as Doyle stepped off the path onto the grass growing round the bench. The ducks scattered at his approach, loudly objecting to his impertinence. Exuding thwarted indignation, they struck off in the direction of the pond.
As casually as he could, Doyle took up the unoccupied end of the bench, a good three feet separating him from Bodie. The ducks ambled toward the edge of the water, exchanging seemingly random squawks and honks as they pottered along.
"Had a letter from your guvnor," Bodie said conversationally. "Seems - ten years ago - he intercepted something I wrote to you."
Doyle filled his lungs with air, then slowly let it out. "Yes." Direct as always, was Bodie.
"You've seen it then?" Like Doyle, Bodie stared out over the pond, tracking the birds, so cumbersome on land, now fluidly gliding upon the surface of the water.
"I - No. I haven't read it."
"Ah." Silence fell between them. Doyle let it stretch, afraid that if he spoke, he would almost certainly say the wrong thing - mainly because he could think of nothing right to say.
"Funny," Bodie remarked, "how the mind works. I couldn't tell you what I ate for lunch yesterday. But I recollect every word of that letter. Had to be just right, y'see?"
"Why?" Doyle asked faintly.
Bodie's voice was pleasantly bland: "Was afraid you'd change your mind, of course."
One of the ducks disappeared under the water. A few feet away, another followed suit, both in search of something to supplement Bodie's crumbs.
"Don't suppose you'd want to hear it?" The words were tendered affably enough; but Doyle, who once had known this man almost better than himself, heard the challenge underlying them. In truth, he wasn't ready; somehow, he expected he might never be.
Head tilted back, eyes fixed on the demarcation between new-leaf green and cerulean blue, Doyle said, "Why not?"
"You sure?" Bodie asked smoothly. "Wouldn't want to chance boring you after all these years."
Doyle dared say nothing. If he began, he might not stop, all the anger, bitterness, and betrayal pouring out of him like corruption from a lanced abscess.
"Well, since you're sure," Bodie said gently. "Here goes: 'The Algarve's as great as we've always heard - perfect, Ned says (you remember old Ned? Runs the boathouse) - perfect, he says, for honeymooners. I've rented a cosy little cottage from him not far from the beach. I reckon if you get this letter before the end of the week, you can be here by the first.' " Bodie's voice hardened, his words clipped and emotionless. " 'You're going to love it, Ray. It's bloody fantastic. But, hurry, will you? I'm feeling like a one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest. No fun being alone. Hate to admit it, but it must be love. See you soon. Bodie.' "
The words stopped; immediately, silence crowded in. The two ducks had long since surfaced, one working its jaws, the other making soft, grumbling noises. Bodie clicked his tongue. "Sorry to disappoint you, old son. Never claimed to be a poet, you kn - "
Bodie slowly turned and looked at him. Doyle met that luminous stare, so well remembered - and hated almost as long as it had been loved.
Ten years had done little damage to Bodie. His eyes were clear and blue, set off by lustrous black lashes; his nose curved up as charmingly at the tip as ever; and his mouth sang a siren song without the twitch of a lip. New lines about the eyes and the mouth there were, and Doyle saw them, but on Bodie they added character rather than signalled decline.
"I had a letter, too," he countered quietly. A splash from the pond gave him an excuse to direct his attention elsewhere. Watching the luckless duck submerge in a renewed search for food, Doyle said flatly, "The one I got said, 'Sorry, Ray. Can't handle it. You know me, so you'll understand. Best thing for both of us.' "
Bodie shifted suddenly, reaching into his back pocket. He dug out his wallet, and from its leather recesses plucked an aged, stained piece of paper. Between first and middle finger, he held it out for Doyle's inspection.
"I've seen it," Doyle said wearily. "The one you supposedly got from me." He shot Bodie a pained look. "Cowley saw fit to leave me a copy."
"Good of him." Bodie returned the wallet to his pocket. The piece of paper he methodically tore into miniscule squares.
Caught by a gust, the scraps rose into the air and swirled away. Doyle said, "Wouldn't believe it, y'know? So I tried to run you to ground a month or so later. By then you'd gone, of course - something your Ned was well chuffed to inform me."
"Ned?" Bodie sounded startled. "The bastard: He never said a word."
As though by magic, the duck popped onto the surface again. This time, it looked to have been successful.
Glancing sidelong at his former partner, Doyle asked neutrally, "Have you eaten?"
Bodie shrugged. "No." His face relaxed. He drawled, "The beard looks good on you. Got a lot of grey in it, though, doesn't it?"
"Hides the scars," Doyle said flippantly.
The smile died in Bodie's eyes. "Serious?"
"No." Doyle actually laughed. "You always were too gullible, mate." At Bodie's expression, he instantly sobered. "Wasn't refer - "
"Doesn't matter. You said something about food?"
"I - Yeah. My flat's only about - "
"I know where it is. I brought my car - unless you'd rather walk."
"Your car'll do."
Clad in clean jeans and a loose sweater, Doyle came into the kitchen to find Bodie well in control of breakfast. He had left him in the lounge with a cup of coffee to tide him over while Doyle had repaired to the shower. Bodie, however, had set to with a will: There were fresh tea, a rack of toast and two plates filled with fluffy, perfectly scrambled eggs.
"I found a plate of stale toast on the counter," Bodie announced. "You didn't mean to save that, did you?"
That had been Doyle's dinner from the previous evening. "No," he said. At least he had stored the envelope with Bodie's files and photos safely out of sight in his bedroom cupboard.
Misinterpreting that steely tone, Bodie waved an apologetic hand round the kitchen. "Sorry. Suppose I ought to've asked."
"Don't be an idiot. Was just - Never mind. Let's take this lot into the lounge; more light in there." He set about putting action to his words.
Once settled on the sofa, Doyle began to pick at his food. To his disbelief, he found that he was well and truly famished.
"So will you take up where Cowley let off?" Bodie asked, raising his mug to wash down a mouthful of toast.
The subject of Doyle's work with Cowley, being reasonably safe territory, had been discussed during the drive to Doyle's flat. "Haven't absolutely decided," he replied honestly. "Could if I wanted to. I learned a lot from the old bugger."
"And live here?" Bodie gestured at their elegantly appointed surroundings.
"Unlikely," Doyle said wryly. "The old man paid for all of this."
"So maybe he left it to you."
"Or you." He studied Bodie questioningly. "It's only a guess on my part, but the lawyer did ring you, didn't he?"
"Yes." Bodie spread his hands. "He wants me there. Why, I don't know. Probably so Cowley can deliver one of those beyond-the-grave condemnations. After all, I left him."
"I meant to," Doyle said softly.
"You never had a chance, old son." Bodie took a savage bite of his toast. "He got what he wanted."
"Not really. He wanted you."
Bodie raised his brows. "Me?"
"Always were his favourite, weren't you?"
Making a dismissive gesture, Bodie argued, "But you thought like he did - double-think, triple-think."
Doyle picked up his mug. "Sometimes."
"That's why I tried to get you to come along ten years ago, rather than wait here for me to find us a place. Never trusted him, y'know?"
"Did you suspect that we'd been bugged?"
"No. But I knew he was capable of it - or something like it. If you'd - "
" 'Life in a word: if,' " Doyle quoted.
"Ray - "
Doyle drank from his mug. "Hm?"
"Why didn't you read the letter?"
"No point. Can't put the clock back. And, maybe - "
"Maybe I guessed. Years ago."
"Then why didn't you do something about it?" Bodie snarled, his voice low and harsh.
"I tried, remember? But you'd already done a bunk. So fast, I thought you must've been happy to be shed of me." He hesitated, not certain just how much he wanted to admit. "But I stayed with Cowley, in case you changed your mind."
Bodie stared at him blankly. "I - don't understand."
"That way," Doyle explained sardonically, "you'd've known where to find me."
Something of Doyle's anger must have been palpable: Bodie actually flinched. "Oh. Reckon I thought about trying to look you up. Once or twice."
White-mouthed, Doyle prodded, "But?"
"Convinced meself it had only happened sooner, rather than later."
"All the good things - good mates, good jobs, good times - they never last," Bodie replied matter-of-factly. "You know: Things change."
Doyle felt the heat rise in his face. "You thought that would've happened with us? Did you have a time-table, Bodie? A couple of weeks? A month, maybe?"
Stubbornly, Bodie said, "You'd've got bored with me, Ray. Eventually."
Hollow-eyed with controlled fury, Doyle said, "Oh, undoubtedly."
Staring down at his plate, Bodie whispered, "At least that's what I told myself, y'know, after I got your - Cowley's - letter. The more I told myself that, the more I believed it. Made it easier."
Doyle rose in one, surging motion, and hurled his half-filled plate against the wall behind Bodie's head. It crashed with a hugely satisfying clatter. "Easier for both of us," he agreed acidly. He stalked from the room, hands shaking with the urge to smash Bodie's face against the wall, too. Quit of the flat, he shot down the stairs, through the door, and exploded into sunlight.
On the front step, half-blinded by the brightness of the day, Doyle halted. He could not leave, though he desperately wanted to. Being with Bodie had often been like this, involving frighteningly intense emotions; however, those emotions had almost always been allied to a deep-seated love that had provided a sort of balance.
Did anything of that love remain?
Glowering ferociously, Doyle wheeled round on one heel and strode back into the building. He went up the stairs with a sense of renewed purpose. If anything yet existed between them, anything worth building on, he would not find it outside - not alone anyway.
Bodie turned from the wall as Doyle entered the lounge. In one hand, he held a wet flannel, which he was applying with some vigour to the mess Doyle had made. Totally expressionless, he met Doyle's stormy gaze.
"Leave that," Doyle said baldly.
"Right." Without another word, Bodie tossed the cloth to him. He retrieved his jacket from the back of the overstuffed chair, and stoically prepared to leave.
Doyle disappeared briefly into his bedroom while Bodie put on his jacket. Upon his return, he found Bodie already on his way out, so he followed, lagging a few steps behind, and automatically locked up as he went. When they reached the street, Bodie continued onto the pavement, his heels clicking as he marched away.
"Oi!" Doyle called. "My car's over here."
Casting a disinterested glance over his shoulder, Bodie paused. "And?"
Doyle lifted the small metal case, fetched from his bedroom, for emphasis. "Still carry a shooter?" He flicked a finger in the direction of Bodie's chest, then patted his own left underarm for clarity. "It's in your car, isn't it?"
"I've a permit."
" 'Course you do." He indicated the metal box. "Glock 17. Ever fire one?"
Bodie said mildly, "I know of 'em. Prefer my handguns to have a bit of substance."
With a knowing smile, Doyle said, "You'll change your mind, butch, after you've had a go at this." He led the way to his Vauxhall.
"Where we off to then?" Bodie asked, bemused.
"Mayfair Shooting Club - soon as we stop at your car so you can collect your shooter. Still have the Smith & Wesson?"
" 'S a good gun. A bit posh, isn't it - the Mayfair Shooting Club?"
"Cowley provided my member's fee. And the membership's good through the end of the year." He added meaningfully, "Guests are allowed. I'll have his money's worth out of it."
Bodie confessed, "I've always fancied a look inside."
"You'll like it," Doyle assured him, settling behind the steering wheel. He grinned sharkishly. "A lot."
An hour before noon, Bodie and Doyle emerged from the world of muzzle- flash, hearing protectors, and perforated targets. The sky overhead had softened a little, shades of powdery blue mottled here and there with white, puffball clouds - none of which portended rain, but which, overall, were quite fetching.
"You've kept your hand in." The admiration in Bodie's voice was genuine. He strode alongside his former partner into the underground car park.
" 'Ve had to," Doyle explained. He sighted the Vauxhall and veered toward it. Here the sun held little influence; all was dank and uncomfortably chill. "Not that different from what you've been doing, really."
"You, George Cowley's minder?" Bodie gave a rude laugh. " 'S that why you've been asked to replace him, then?"
"Not exactly," Doyle capitulated, dropping into the driver's seat and reaching across the interior to unlock the passenger door.
"I should hope not." As he climbed inside, Bodie asked, "What do I owe you for the ammo?"
"Nothing. Cowley's estate can pick up the tab." The engine caught and held, the idle dropping to a low, solid hum.
"Good piece, your Glock."
"Just takes a little getting used to, a plastic pistol."
"There's word of a Model 21 in the works." Doyle smirked at him as he nosed the car into sunshine. "In your choice of calibre."
"Hm. It'll take a hole out of your wallet, as well, I expect."
"They all do that." Plaintively, Bodie shifted subjects: "Can we eat now? I'm bloody starved."
Doyle smiled inwardly. It appeared that Bodie was as intent on their remaining together - at least for today - as he was. "Where?"
"Know a fairly well-stocked kitchen just outside Hammersmith."
Green eyes flickered. "Your flat?"
Bodie said measuredly, "Yes. Need the address?"
"No. Was in that dossier I mentioned."
"Ray - It was you rang last night, wasn't it?"
Recalling the shock wave of recognition triggered by the sound of Bodie's voice, Doyle replied slowly, "Yes." Then: "I've been through that neighbourhood; bit upmarket, isn't it?"
"Looking after the rich and famous has its compensations."
"Tolerable, are they?" Doyle asked lightly. "The rich and famous?"
"For the most part."
"And if they aren't?"
"At my price, patience and tender loving care are part of the contract."
"Happy with it?"
"It's a job."
Searchingly studying the man next to him, Doyle wondered, "But what would you do, if you could do anything at all?"
Outside Bodie's window, closely packed houses and miles of pavement gave way to gardens blooming with yellow daffodils, pansies, and early purplish lilac. "Anything?" Bodie repeated musingly. "That's simple. I'd see to it that George Cowley died nine years and eight months ago."
The words were delivered calmly and without inflection. Unfazed, Doyle let them roll over him. Cruel though they were, they yet applied a kind of balm to that part of him still smarting from Bodie's desertion.
A little later, he drew the Vauxhall to a stop in front of a handsomely kept block of flats. "Here?"
"Yes. Ground floor at the back."
Inside the flat, Doyle followed Bodie's instructions to make himself at home by peering with unabashed curiosity into each room they passed on their way to the kitchen.
"Even has a garden," Bodie said proudly, with a jerk of the head in the direction of the back door. He rolled up his sleeves while Doyle wandered off for a look.
"Do all that yourself?" Doyle asked upon returning.
"Yeah." He gave Doyle a self-deprecating grin. "With the sort of company I keep, digging in the dirt and planting a few things is good therapy."
Doyle leaned back against the wall beside the door, watching Bodie cut slabs off a loaf of bread. "So who're your clients? Or do you have regular ones?"
"Depends. Worked for the Duchess - you know which one I mean - for a few months the year before last." Bodie sketched a wry face. "She, um, took more than a professional interest. You know. Thought it best to remove myself before I had 'The Company' on my back."
"Still irresistible, hm?" Doyle said with mock sympathy. "Who else?"
"Let's see - " Expertly, Bodie put together ham, cheese, and pickle sandwiches. "Wore a full vest for three months while that nasty bastard Rogers was in town."
"You looked after him?"
"Paid what I asked, didn't he. He went away satisfied - and alive."
"Parkland had a go at him while he was here; I saw that on the news. Didn't you cop one? I'm sure they said - "
"The vest took the brunt of it. Had a bruise in the middle of my chest the size of a dinner plate for over a week."
"In your element," Doyle murmured. The incident had been reported in the British press, as he recalled; but there had been no mention of the injured bodyguard's name. As it had only happened in February, Cowley had not provided him with a report - or so Doyle assumed. "Who're your working for now?"
Devilish glee lit Bodie's face. "Larry Shimmer."
Doyle's eyes rounded. "What - that gay rock star?" He tilted his head curiously to one side. "Sleep with him, too?"
Cutting the sandwiches diagonally in half and piling them onto plates, Bodie answered bluntly: "No. I never mix pleasure with business." He raised his chin arrogantly. "Not anymore, that is." Turning to open the refrigerator, he snagged a couple of cans of ale and placed them on the counter. "Larry's a good bloke. Gave me a couple of days off so I - " Bodie hesitated, as if uncertain of what to say. "So I could take care of things."
"Back at work tomorrow?"
Absorbing this with a niggle of displeasure, Doyle asked, "Where are the facilities? Didn't notice on our way in."
"Use the one off the top of the stairs; the bog down here is 'under repair,' as they say."
"Back in a tick."
The upstairs bathroom was pleasantly furnished and scrupulously clean, not a stray sock or sliver of soap to be found. Doyle completed his business, and started back toward the first tread of the stair. Then, on impulse, he strode quietly down the long landing and stepped through an open door that gave entry, as he had suspected, to the master bedroom.
Details were gathered within seconds: lots of wood, polished to a warm glow, no-nonsense curtains and nets, and a double bed with a sensible counterpane. Doyle had talked him out of that hideous fake-fur thing years ago, and apparently Bodie had never bothered to replace it.
His gaze was seized by a framed picture, mounted on a small, metal tripod at the end of the chest of drawers. Disbelieving, he drew nearer. Slowly, as he made out what it was, he began to chuckle.
Downstairs in the lounge, Bodie was raising a clatter. "Did you fall in, Doyle?" he called.
Making no effort to answer, Doyle snatched up the picture and took it with him.
"Nice, this," he commented, entering the lounge, the framed picture held between both hands for best viewing.
Seated at the end of the sofa, plate in lap, Bodie looked up. His face drained of colour; almost immediately it glowed radiantly pink.
The photo had once been one of Doyle. All that remained was a halo of curly brown hair, a hint of ears, and a portion of throat - the face having been painstakingly shot away.
Attempting to conceal his chagrin, Bodie said gruffly, "I'm going to replace it with one of Cowley." He gestured Doyle toward a second plate of sandwiches, set on the end table next to an overstuffed chair.
"Hm." Doyle sat where indicated, taking a moment to prop the picture against the brass stem of the table-lamp before reaching for a bulging triangle of bread and fillings. "Remember that one I took of you the summer of '80? You remember: Brighton. Rare snap, that was. All hairy legs and your navel sticking out."
"I shot the crotch out of it."
Amusement flared in Bodie's eyes. "But did you frame it?"
"Better than that - I kept it under my pillow until it fell apart."
Smothering a giggle, Bodie choked out, "Liar."
Doyle took a bite of his sandwich. "Not about the crotch."
Unguardedly, Bodie said, "That's my Doyle."
"Was," Doyle amended, not ungently. "Was your Doyle."
Expression shuttered, Bodie picked up his sandwich and resolutely stuck it into his mouth.
"Looked for you at Cowley's funeral," Doyle announced conversationally. "Reckoned you'd at least put in an appearance."
"Was there," Bodie assured him tonelessly. "Waited till everyone else'd cleared out. Took your sweet time about leaving, didn't you?"
"Had to make sure everything went according to plan." Doyle licked his fingers clean of spicy pickle. He was somewhat staggered to discover that he had laid waste to an entire sandwich, though that grateful spot inside him seemed to confirm it. He ventured carefully, "This morning you said you'd 'heard from my guvnor.' When was that exactly?"
"Day after he died. Betty - " Bodie interrupted himself to take a swig of beer. "Betty rang me with the news. Said Cowley had left something for me. Said I ought to see it as soon as possible - and could I come round right away?"
"Something?" Doyle pried the pull ring off the beer can and methodically positioned it on the edge of the coaster.
"A note, written by Cowley - still knew the old bugger's hand after all this time, would you believe it? - sealed in an envelope. All it said was, 'Your letter of 15/09/81 was confiscated. The letter from Ray Doyle dated 14/10/81 was a forgery, as was a similar letter to Ray Doyle, postmarked 15/09/81.' "
"And you went to Betty's flat to see this, yes?"
"The day after Cowley died - Sunday? You've known since Sunday?"
A harassed look flitted across Bodie's features - features gradually becoming more familiar to Doyle, slightly changed though they were. "Betty talked me out of paying you a visit right away; said you'd be off-balance at first, and probably angry. She said - "
"You've become very tame, haven't you?" Doyle observed.
Ignoring the sarcasm, Bodie persevered, "She said it might be better if you found out the truth from Cowley - so to speak."
"I see." Doyle bit into the last wedge of sandwich with the violence of a shark tearing into a swimmer.
Face wreathed with misery, Bodie offered no apology.
And none was owed, Doyle admitted to himself. It had not occurred to him till now what instinctively he had understood since finding Bodie on that park bench early this morning: Bodie had sought him out, though he could easily have left the past unexhumed. More than that, even under threat of rejection, he had been painfully honest with him.
What had the last ten years dealt Bodie? The dossiers left him by Cowley had been exactingly complete; but no number of obbo reports could ever unveil the inner man lurking beneath Bodie's cautious exterior.
Perhaps the question he should ask was, Why had Bodie waited for him this morning? And why had he spent the better part of the day in Doyle's company?
Doyle slouched bonelessly in the overstuffed chair. He was warm, fed, and altogether too comfortable for the first time since George Cowley had fled his mortal husk. "Tell me," Doyle said placidly, "what you've been up to these last years."
The request made Bodie wary. He parried, "Betty said you were given fairly detailed information on me."
"The basics: where, when, how, who with. I'd like to hear it in your words. From the beginning."
Doyle smiled at the suspicion in Bodie's voice. "Why not?" he asked reasonably.
Sitting back, Bodie crossed one leg loosely over the other. A thought brought a curve to his lips; he glanced across at Doyle who was watching him with lazy appreciation. Doyle's expression seemed to give him pause; but Bodie composed himself and began to speak: "After I left the Algarve, I took my time returning to England. For a while, I didn't think I'd ever come back. Met up with an old mate of mine - Jepley, Paras. He was doing a bit of minding for an American boxer - nobody'd you'd remember; went down pretty fast after my one and only gig for him. Jep talked me into helping him out for a couple of nights...."
Listening to every word, floating on the solacing ebb and flow of Bodie's voice, Doyle felt himself relax from the inside out. Ten years ago he would have traded his soul for this moment; but, unfortunately, ten years ago, he could not have appreciated the unutterable preciousness of it. Only now, after the emptiness, the anguish, and the unwilling resignation that had conspired to make each day of the last decade of his life a joyless hell, could Doyle apprehend the enormity of what he had - at least for this day - regained.
"You falling asleep, sunshine?" Bodie asked, the words little more than a caress of sound so softly were they spoken.
"No," Doyle replied, not bothering to open his eyes. "You were talking about Oman - where you bolted following the cock-up in Germany with your pal Jepley."
Bodie laughed. "Never do a good job for the prince in Oman, unless - "
"He isn't prince anymore," Doyle reminded him.
"No, that's right. But when he was, if you pleased him, he'd reward you with any woman - "
"Or man. Or goat, camel, or chicken you happened to express an interest in - yours for a night of carnal delight."
"Must've made for a very satisfying bolt-hole."
"No." Bodie's voice dropped a note. "Told you - "
"You don't mix pleasure with business anymore. So what did you ask for - in return for your services?"
"Air fare to New Zealand, actually. 'S nice there, Ray. And it's great in Oz, too, where I ended up a few weeks later. Different way of looking at things, they have. The stories I could tell you...."
As Bodie related one tale after another, grim and lunatic adventures alike, Doyle allowed himself to unravel, his entire being at peace just under the surface of consciousness. He did not mean to sleep, only to rest, to make up for the wakeful nights and driven days. Nonetheless, Bodie saw to it that he did, the intentional drone of his never- forgotten voice lulling Doyle in a way no lullaby ever could.
"Doyle." A strong hand, a blunt-fingered hand, the touch of which he had just dreamt, shook the cobwebs away. "Ray. Time to wake up."
Slowly, leisurely, Doyle let awareness flow back into his body. His back was a bit knotted up, slumped as he was in the overstuffed chair in Bodie's lounge, but he was also amazingly well rested. His sleep- drugged eyes focused on Bodie's face, only a few inches away from his own. It seemed perfectly normal to awaken to that face, and to see affection and concern shining from those extraordinary eyes. Doyle smiled. Unthinkingly, he murmured, "I do still love you, y'know?"
Bodie turned away. He would have bolted altogether, save that Doyle captured him with one hand round a solid wrist. "Wrong thing to say?" he breathed.
"No." Bodie's voice broke. He raised his head, eyes liquidly brilliant. "I - Only - "
Casting off the last vestiges of sleep, Doyle sat up all at once, pulling Bodie toward him, and easily overcame his resistance as he tumbled into Doyle's arms.
"Sorry," Bodie muttered raggedly, ducking his head in an effort to hide his face.
Cradling him against his chest, Doyle comfortingly kneaded Bodie's hunched shoulders. "Don't." Of all the horrors of the world - and Doyle had had the misfortune to witness most of them - only a despairing Bodie was beyond bearing. "Please, don't."
" 'M sorry." Bodie struggled to regulate his jerky breathing, his efforts causing moist air to gust across Doyle's throat. He clung to Doyle as an injured child its mother - or a lost lover his recovered mate. With fingers digging into bony flanks, Bodie crowded so closely Doyle could scarcely fill his lungs - and Doyle did not mind at all.
"It'll be all right," Doyle promised. "I swear it."
Ten years dissolved in an instant. It was, Doyle mused, as though the sun, blazingly radiant and warm, had come out after an age of rain. Bodie was in his arms again, and - more importantly - in his life. There he would remain, if Doyle had anything to say about it. In that moment, he could not even find it in himself to hate George Cowley for his unconscionable behaviour. All that mattered was this moment: Bodie, alive, healthy, whole - here.
"It'll be all right," he said again, forgiving himself the wobble in his voice and the wetness on his own cheeks: He had never been happier.
An hour and a half later, having been ushered through a crowded foyer, relieved of the requested financial documents which Doyle had collected from Cowley's desk the previous day, and given tea by Roland Lea's secretary, Doyle sat with Bodie in the solicitor's chambers to hear the reading of George Cowley's will. Doyle recognized several of those present, among them Betty and her husband, Cowley's housekeeper, a couple of Whitehall cronies, and the "Iron Lady" herself.
Roland Lea joined the small group exactly at the designated time. A former Army man, he comported himself rigidly in the austere leather chair behind his wide desk. From one of the drawers, he withdrew a file folder; from this he began to read.
The legalese was daunting but not entirely impenetrable. Once the bequests were read, there was no question at all as to what Cowley had done with his personal wealth. Bodie seemed stunned to discover the magnitude of his former employer's fortune - and his generosity. Though none in attendance went away empty-handed, Bodie and Doyle were granted the lion's share of Cowley's estate, including his London home, his late model Rover, and an impressive sum of money. The catch, if it could be considered such, was that each of those bequests had been left to them jointly.
Roland Lea called for questions; when none were forthcoming, he bid everyone good day, and assured them the estate would be settled with all due haste, thanks to George Cowley's foresight and business acumen. As everyone drifted out of the solicitor's office, he quietly bade Bodie and Doyle remain a few moments longer.
When the chamber was empty save for the three of them, he plucked a sealed envelope from the desk drawer and extended it impartially.
"What's that?" Bodie asked archly.
"Something I was instructed to give you, in the event you and Mr. Doyle appeared here together today."
"D'you know what's in it?" Doyle asked.
Thoughtfully, Doyle took the envelope from Lea's fingers. "Is there anything else?"
"Nothing, Mr. Doyle. Do not hesitate, I beg you, to ask anything at all concerning Mr. Cowley's wishes while the estate is being settled. I have worked with you before, Mr. Doyle; you, perhaps, know something of what to expect."
"Yeah, I do. Cowley never cared much for lawyers - but you were the exception. That says a lot."
"Thank you," Lea said drolly. "We will discuss the details next week, but for now, be assured that your household costs are being handled by a special account until ownership of your portion of the estate has been transferred."
"Good to hear. Cheers." Hands were shaken, parting noises made. Bemusedly, Doyle led the way down the stairs and out of the building. He gave Bodie a quick once-over to see how he was taking this turn of events. A frown lay heavy upon the other man's features.
Doyle unlocked the passenger door, handed the sealed envelope to Bodie, and ambled round to the driver's side. His door stood open, awaiting him, thanks to Bodie. He slid inside and started the engine.
"Read it," he commanded, albeit without urgency, and concentrated on guiding the car away from the curb.
"Don't know that I want to."
"Nothing more he can do to us," Doyle said reassuringly. "He's already done his worst."
Sighing, Bodie grudgingly obeyed. Inside the envelope was a single sheet of paper, Cowley's message penned by hand. " 'Gentlemen,' " Bodie began, " 'I offer no apologies. Unfortunately, there are times when only profound personal sacrifice can maintain balance in an ordered society. While not by choice, your sacrifice has played an important part in preserving this balance. Regrettably, at the time I assumed the role of advisor/consultant, your relationship could not be overlooked. I handled that obstacle in the best, least damaging way I knew how.
" 'The years lost to you will not be many - if for no other reason than that there are not many left to me.
" 'You may not wish to accept the items I have bequeathed you. As you'll have guessed, Doyle, it is my way of making amends. By leaving the house, the car, and a substantial bank account in both your names, I have ensured that you will work together. Beyond that, you may salvage what you may.
" 'You were my best men.' Signed," Bodie muttered, " 'George Bloody Cowley.' "
"Really?" Doyle asked, his normal tone effectively masking a seething anger.
" 'Course not. The bastard." Bodie began to rap his fingers on the inside door panel.
Narrowed eyes fixed to the road, Doyle declared with forced good humour, "Time you had a look round your new home, don't you think?"
Bodie's fingers stilled. "Your place, you mean?"
"Our place, now. I don't intend to move, y'know? The upstairs is taken. Best you had a look at the downstairs, then."
"Where Cowley lived."
"Why - " Bodie paused, as though uncertain how to broach the subject. "Why did you live with him, Ray?"
The question - an obvious one, really - yet brought Doyle up sharp. Marshalling his thoughts, he began hesitantly, "Free housing - I only paid my share of the utilities. Convenience - we often worked all hours on some problem or other." Doyle allowed himself a rueful grin. "And he needed me. His doctor let on eight years ago that Cowley was ignoring his advice, not taking care of his ticker. When he proposed my living in the upstairs flat, I - well, I reckon I felt obliged to take it."
"That's what Betty said."
"That the Cow needed you. More than you needed me. More than I needed you."
"He was wrong."
Bodie did not argue.
The late afternoon sun was dropping into a hazy sky when Doyle led Bodie into the building he had shared with George Cowley. Acting the perfect estate agent, he walked him through each room, explaining about the boxes containing Cowley's possessions, which he now knew could be distributed to charitable agencies.
"You weren't serious, were you?" Bodie asked.
"Me taking over Cowley's flat. I mean, there's more space in here, and the furnishings are - Jesus, Doyle!" "Bit of all right, isn't it?"
"Ray - "
"I'm happy where I am, Bodie. Got everything I want - well, almost everything."
Bodie stared at him, all the humour gone from his face, eyes dark and probing. "What would you think about selling up?"
Raising his brows, Doyle silently prompted him to continue.
"Both of us, I mean. Split the money. Buy something else if you like. Or travel. Emigrate to Oz, maybe."
Doyle replied quietly, "I've decided to take over Cowley's job."
"Invisible advisor on domestic security?" Bodie said contemptuously.
"In the main. That's how Cowley insisted on it. Makes things a lot easier."
"Is that what you want?"
"Yes," Doyle said firmly. "If you'll come to work with me. As I did with Cowley."
Bodie's expression was unreadable. "May not last, y'know? Your job, I mean. There're rumours afloat that the Iron Lady's time may be running out."
"No revelation there; she's made a lot of enemies. I reckon she's got another year at most. And that's fine with me: Wouldn't want to waste the rest of my life trying to advise idiots how best to look after themselves."
"And then we'd travel?"
Inwardly relishing that unselfconscious we, Doyle murmured, "Why not? But not Australia. Couldn't bear winter in June."
Almost imperceptibly, Bodie relaxed. "Conformist."
"You have uncovered the ugly secret about me."
"Always knew it - for all you liked to accuse me of the same thing."
"Conformist and conservative, that's you - the worst possible combination."
"Says you," Bodie shot back.
"Yeah." Heart beating a little faster, Doyle gave his ear a pull. "I've shown you everything down here. Would you like to see my bedroom now?"
Bodie blinked. "Very much."
After locking up the downstairs flat - and handing the key to Bodie - Doyle bounded up the steps to his front door. Intensely aware that Bodie was right behind him, he waved him inside, securing the door, and ushered him through the foyer to the corridor which gave access to the bedroom.
He sauntered a little way inside while Bodie remained in the doorway. "Fairly basic, as you can see," Doyle said, clearing his suddenly uncooperative voice. "Wardrobe, chest of drawers, linen chest, night table, second night table - and bed."
"Nice arrangement." Hands balled at his sides, Bodie appeared to be waiting for some signal from Doyle. "Is the bed as comfy as it looks?"
"See for yourself."
But Bodie remained where he was, watching Doyle.
Sensing something of Bodie's uncertainty, his own doubts and fears wrapped like a hand round his throat, Doyle said, "It'll take us a long time to make up for the last ten years. I think we can - if you want to try."
Bodie's hands slow uncurled. "Yes, I want to. More than you can know."
"Don't," Doyle contradicted him, "be too sure about that." With a few deliberate steps, Doyle eliminated the distance between them, giving Bodie all the time in the world to avoid his impending kiss.
Bodie chose to meet it without demur, his mouth warm and welcoming. As Doyle pressed nearer, the kiss deepened, changed from gentle to needful, from needful to desperate. Within seconds Bodie was clinging to him, a husky, pained sound resonating in his throat.
"Ray," he moaned, gasping for breath.
Doyle took his mouth again, devouring Bodie's lips, then dropped to the long, faintly stubbled throat, alternately biting and sucking, his starved senses fairly overloaded with the miraculous reality of his long-lost lover.
Never had Doyle been quite so maddened with the need to possess. In a haze of lust and tenderness, he impelled Bodie toward the bed, where they stripped each other bare, allowing sensitized skin to revel, unfettered, in the shared warmth of their bodies. With impressive patience, they relearned one another, reviving old skills and employing new talents developed in their time apart.
Completion - attained far too quickly but with devastating intensity - left them both shaken, all their carefully constructed defences demolished.
"Missed you," Doyle choked out. "God, I've missed you."
"Shh." Holding him in a crushing embrace, Bodie stroked Doyle's unruly curls. "And me. Love you, Ray. You know that, don't you?"
On that score Doyle no longer had the least doubt. "Yes."
They subsided into silence. Drifting on the edge of sleep, Doyle roused when Bodie ran an inquiring finger alongside a rib.
"Where'd this come from?" Bodie asked.
"Knife. Meant for Cowley, as I recall."
"And this?" He touched a riven spot on Doyle's left upper arm; it had healed badly.
"Bullet. Again, was aimed at - "
"Cowley. Too bad you deflected it."
"You're allowing your personal feelings interfere with your work, Bodie," Doyle said, in perfect imitation of George Cowley's distinctive burr.
Letting out a sigh, Bodie mumbled, "He was right. But that happened years before you and I got to grips."
"He knew that, too."
"Did he say so?"
"Only once, in passing. Wouldn't let him talk about you. Only - Well, I wouldn't, that's all."
"Ray - "
Doyle stretched an arm across Bodie's chest. The rise and fall of his respiration provided him with a link to rationality - otherwise he might fear that all of this was no more than an impossible dream. "Hm?"
"It's hard to hate him outright, y'know?"
"Yeah. I mean, he did try to...fix things."
"In his usual cold-blooded way. I suppose we ought to thank him for that much, at least."
"He could have left us in the dark." Bodie brushed his lips against the corner of Doyle's mouth.
"And if he hadn't told us the truth, we would never have guessed - worse, we would never have asked." Doyle returned the kiss, taking his time, lost for a moment in the wonder of it. Breaking away with regret, he said, "Just goes to show that some things never change. The old bugger's dead, but he's still calling the shots."
"Not anymore. Not now," Bodie said firmly.
"Hold that thought." Doyle chose his next words with especial care, his voice deceptively hushed. "I think I should warn you, Bodie - I'm not letting go this time."
"Don't intend to give you that option, do I?" Bodie replied dryly. "But - well, what if your new boss doesn't approve?"
"She's not Cowley, mate. But if she tries, we're away - to Canada, America, even Milton Keynes if we have to. Right?"
Bodie's giggle was muffled by Doyle's fingertips, once more exploring his mouth. "Absolutely." He captured Doyle's hand, putting an end to his ticklish assault. "Reckon I'll have to change my ways, then."
"You'd rather be a bodyguard?" Doyle exclaimed softly.
"Not that. My resolve, y'know, about keeping business and pleasure separate. It could, um, present difficulties for us, don't you think?"
"No problem," Doyle countered staunchly.
"Really. Only - we'll leave off snogging during office hours, okay?"
"Okay." Bodie's silent laughter rocked the bed; it gave Doyle an excuse to snuggle closer. "Ray."
"Here's to the next ten years." He kissed Doyle's palm.
Propping himself up on an elbow, Doyle looked down at his new, old partner, whose expression betrayed not only his repletion, but a remarkable degree of contentment as well. "And the ten after that," he vowed, bending forward to reach Bodie's mouth. They made lazy love for a long time, floating on satiety leavened with exhaustion. Bodie fell asleep first, his arm possessively heavy upon Doyle's flank by then. Drowsily, Doyle watched him a while longer, finding that he quite liked - as well as loved - this older Bodie. For the most part, the years had treated them kindly. They were still young enough to enjoy life, but wise enough to know what was most important.
And for all their promises, Doyle knew the months and years ahead would not be easy. After all, he and Bodie had not changed that much. But of one thing he was certain: Only death could separate him from this man now.
He smiled to himself, rubbing his head against Bodie's shoulder. In its way, that thought was actually quite reassuring - after all, he could cope with death far more easily than the machinations of George Cowley.
-- THE END --